Kbatz: Thanksgiving Treats!

Posted in News with tags , , , on November 26, 2015 by kbattz

Pumpkinhead0-1988Tasty Thanksgiving Treats!

By Kristin Battestella

Put the babes to bed and send the boys to the football game while you poor a glass of Chianti and nestle in for these demented families, cannibals, hungry werewolves, thirsty vampires, and more tasty terrors!

Children of the Corn This original isn’t the best, and the entire series is fairly lowbrow in plot and effects. Nevertheless, all those rustling cornfields, creepy kids, and plant worship go a long way for a post-Halloween Harvest marathon. Name players come and go despite the low-budget status; and even if you’ve never actually seen all-count ‘em-seven films, you’ve probably heard of ‘He who walks behind the rows.’ I prefer Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest myself. And to think, I grew up on a farm.

HannibalThis 2001 sequel to Silence of the Lambs obviously has big shoes to fill. Thankfully and blessedly, Giancarlo Giannini (Casino Royale) is great, and the Italian scenery is flat out awesome. Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) is sleazy and so much fun while the twisted Gary Oldman (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) is unrecognizable. Even in the shadow of prior Clarice Starling Oscar winner Jodie Foster, Julianne Moore (The Hours) shapes her own Clarice beautifully. And but of course returning Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins is wonderful. He is without a doubt the star here, and does the most in what seems like less screen time. The one on one dialogue and action sequences are perfect, with fine suspense pacing, intelligentsia horror, class, sexy, and gore. Unfortunately, however great the performances are in getting there, the storyline does meander. Director Ridley Scott’s (Blade Runner) ending is somewhat flat and leaves a ‘What was the point of all this?’ feeling. Nevertheless, I applaud the twisted romantic aspects and creepy for adults only production. Twilight wishes it could be like this.

The Insatiable Sean Patrick Flanery (Young Indiana Jones) and Michael Biehn (The Terminator) are both very cool guys who, after some seriously great stuff, have made their share of clunkers. With that in mind, one wonders if this unconventional 2007 vampire comedy romance can pull off what is so often an uneasy mixing of genres. The mood certainly doesn’t start as horror, and these Average Joe life sucks montages get old fast. Actual time punch cards, full size desktops, pop up aol email, and typing in all caps replete with old lingo such as “shit is wack” and “word”? The funny and sexy in that anti hip sardonic way also tries a little too hard, and the black comedy is uneven between the horror research and dark action. Some jokes work – ordering blood on the web, needing a coupon for a big bag of lime – Biehn is bemusing as a wheelchair bound vampire-hunting badass, too. However, some of the dream-esque flashes are off, and the bare minimum blood and gore and standard sweaty chick in a tank top hardly warrant an R rating. Charlotte Ayanna isn’t necessarily weak, but the character is too cute, hip, and poorly drawn to be sexy, evil, and dangerous. Miss Teen USA a vampire does not make. The end is a bit obvious, yes, and the pace never quite balances the humor and dark or seriousness. This should have been a straight horror comedy instead of some depressing moody thing – and yet this nothing stellar, direct to video fair is good for a fun late night viewing.

Medium Raw – John Rhys-Davies (Lord of the Rings) is good to start this 2010 wolf meets asylum romp. The maniacs and asylum hang-ups are indeed better than the usual haunted madhouse types, but the wolf designs are unfortunately kind of dumb. Writer/director/hero Andrew Cymek (Dark Rising) is a bit too new and weak as well, but the scary ideas and effective killing concepts are played pretty straight. Okay, so the title is totally stupid, the subtitle Night of the Wolf is even worse, the twist is a bit obvious, and there’s nothing superior here. However, the getting there is good with a few better than expected jump moments. Great claustrophobic sets allow room for dark fears to play (even if that dang title doesn’t give the film much of a chance!) and uses of red lighting, cannibalism, kitchens, and more warped fetishes add to the creepy. Modern jagged camera attempts and silly, unnecessary dream/ghost hinges over do it just a bit, but the Red Riding Hood motifs are just enough. Refreshingly not used for sexy boobs and nudity distractions, Brigitte Kingsley (W/D/H’s wife) and a surprisingly fun Mercedes McNab (Buffy) keep it all together along with X-Files alum William B. Davis. I do however, wonder why new horror movies waste time on intercutting cool credits? No one else does anymore.

Motel Hell You just know what the secret ingredient is in this 1980 country cannibal thriller! Ironic use of hillbilly music and television evangelist Wolfman Jack contribute to the charming and quaint but disturbed feeling here – the mix of late seventies styles and early farmhouse contentment doesn’t seem dated at all. Hanging pigs and slaughterhouse gore aren’t too over the top, but enough bloody suggestion and touches of nudity and kinky accent the dark humor and bizarre yet sentimental familial relationships. Rory Calhoun (How to Marry a Millionaire) has some sick and disturbing fun here yet remains strangely endearing, heck, even likeable. Vincent Smith’s reducing the riff raff population and keeping the community fed – it all seems like a real win win, and the winking tone pokes fun at this irony without being laugh out loud. The audience can chuckle at the soothing New Age eight track music amid the escalating events and interfering romance. Who’s next? When will the good guys find out? The pig mask and chainsaw duel in the finale are stupid and not scary now, hampering the otherwise bemusing wit and multi layered action. However, all in all this is some down home simmering and well done entertainment.

Pumpkinhead Lance Henriksen (Near Dark) stars in this delightful 1988 backwoods tale full of deepening vengeance and deadly mayhem. Late Oscar winning creature master Stan Winston (Terminator 2, Jurassic Park) directs this taut, sorrowful thriller beautifully while fellow effects designer and performer Tom Woodruff handles the gruesome titular monster. Understandably, this does make the monster look slightly Alien in stature, but the mystical resurrection and freaky pursuits remain solid thanks to the familial revenge and action torment from Henriksen. Awesome as his design work is, why didn’t Winston direct more? Sweet a character cult favorite as he is, why wasn’t Henriksen a leading man more? His predicament is instantly relatable for parents – how far would you go? Pumpkinhead does what the vengeful aren’t capable of doing, but his deeds consume them nonetheless. Perhaps the shocks, thrills, or gore here aren’t super scary, but these ends justifying the means questions are scary concepts in themselves. Yes, there’s no law enforcement, some redneck dialogue is frustrating, and the middle of nowhere witchery may be too much for viewers wanting more polish. Fortunately, there’s atmospheric red lighting and nighttime photography, and the largely outdoor happenings are perfectly dirty, dusty, and desperate – matching the very effective personal scares, dementedness, and questions on right and wrong perfectly.

Best Thanksgiving Song…Ever.

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on November 25, 2015 by Emerian Rich

A tradition at my house is to watch the Addams Family Values movie. Not only does it have the best Thanksgiving song EVER–Eat Me! But you just can’t fault Wednesday’s attention to detail.

Enjoy your holiday!

Free Fiction…Tuesday! We Have Always Lived in Our Heads by Alex S. Johnson

Posted in News with tags , on November 24, 2015 by Alex S. Johnson

We Have Always Lived in Our Heads

by Alex S. Johnson

giantskullAt first it seemed that we were lost. Abandoned first by our captain, then the first mate, and speedily, the entire crew. Something had spooked them on the shore, in the fog, and they couldn’t wait to scramble down the jointed gray steel ladders into the dinghies and rowboats. Whatever siren or ghost or devil beckoned them from tortured dreams, I still don’t know. But I have my terrible suspicions.

When the storm hit, churning the water into a froth, the skies vast sheets of blackness stuttering flames, we saw them drown. One by one the tiny crafts capsized, and we were helpless as the fierce currents formed whirlpools, sucking the boats in our wake down into a vortex, as tons of water cascaded onto the toy vessels and crushed them like matchsticks.  There was nothing we could do to help them.

Then lightning seized the tackle, and fire streaked down like rivulets of gold. The forecastle began to burn, and the deck smoldered and crackled. The fire seemed like a living thing, so quickly did it consume the wood and canvas. Thick smoke moved through the cabins, and all around me sounded the panicked cries of the other passengers.

I quickly seized a bucket of water and dipped rags, passing them out to my fellows. But they were adults and could endure more.

What worried me most was the children below decks; I feared they would not survive.

They already suffered much terror on the journey, and I thought I could hear them wail through the thick walls of the hold. But I was already delirious from smoke inhalation and could barely keep my head up.

I told myself I needed to keep moving, to save myself before I could render aid to anyone else.

The ship then struck the rocks and the passengers were thrown to the deck, skidding sideways down the slippery planks as the ocean seeped in, and the flames sizzled and snuffed out. The ship groaned and shuddered as it crumpled in on itself.

There was no time left to escape. Those that remained were doomed like the captain and crew to a suffocating, watery death.

Quickly, I grabbed the hand of the passenger nearest me, a young woman named Chelsea–pale skin, ash-blonde hair, sorrowful deep blue eyes. We clutched one another, our hearts beating fast, the water rising on the deck, a ripple of rents yawning in the wood, splinters flying like sparks. The ship lurched again and I must have struck my head on the rigging, because all I remember between that moment and awakening was a merciful dark cloak of unconsciousness.

We had to leave the bodies on the shore; there was no other choice. At first it seemed that without them our tender, smoky forms would simply evaporate, becoming one with the sky and sea. As we proceeded along the sands, the bodies looked like stranded wrecks, flesh sculptures hung thick with draperies of plankton and algae. We couldn’t see our smoke-selves, but found we could communicate telepathically.

And that is when we discovered the heads.

They were titanic, curiously mustachioed and large as houses. We thought they might have been the heads of giants the rest of whom were sunk deep in the surf, but after we had determined that the heads were, if not dead, frozen as in trance, we grew bolder and began to dig around their circumference.

Nothing lay beneath. The heads were self-contained, and whatever life had animated them did not require oxygen or blood flow to thrive.

One of the passengers, a slender young man I came to know as Tony, suddenly cried out. Several of us looked over and saw what had excited him: a passage between the thick, fibrous ropes of mustache hair. Cautiously, we peered within the darkened interior. Expressions of shock, joy and wonder burst from our lips.

These were not merely mammoth heads; they were homes. We found fully equipped kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, attics, crawlspaces, even cozy nooks and dens. We had no idea what material composed the furnishings and rooms; all we knew was it had to be organic.

Over time we settled in, began to build families. Generations of beings made of our smoke-stuff, puffed from vaporous loins, grew from the seeds we planted then. It was clear almost immediately we would have to find other dwellings; if not heads, then at the very least as comfortable and habitable as our original domiciles.

But there were only so many heads. We had a serious housing shortage on what might have been our hands, had we physical form.

Then we remembered the bodies, long abandoned. They would be rotting hulks by now, piles of slick bones. But surely there were others, fresher, to house us.

We selected a small group of our wisest and eldest to make a reconnaissance trip. Their mission was to look for bodies, preferably empty.

When they returned, their report was discouraging. To find untenanted bodies, we would have to turn ghoul, waiting for the moment of brain death to squat inside a new corpse, hiding out until the soul escaped and we could claim residency. As spirits ourselves, this hardly seemed like an ethical course of action. We weren’t cuckoos, after all, just houseless ghosts.

As we stood on the beach deciding on a further course of action, the landscape began to digest itself. The long strip of shoreline vanished; the sky overhead drew close like a drawstring bag, the ocean glimmered like a vast pool of mercury, became a single dot and disappeared, swallowing up the skeletons that had become host to a variety of crabs and other, unknown, jellied things.

Then the head houses slowly faded away, with just a scrap of nose or a bristle of mustache remaining before these too dissolved into nothing.

All we had known for eons suddenly revealed itself to be a mirage. A dream.

The dream trapped in the skulls of explorers who had dared the Sea of Darkness, to find not treasure, honor and reward but permanent incarceration in an astral museum gallery, sitting in boxes of alien glass and metal, gawked at by the descendants of the gibbering, tentacled horrors that had ambushed our expedition and taken trophies.

Our previous existence is not even a memory now. For all intents and purposes, we have always lived in our heads.




Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Welp

Posted in News with tags , , , on November 23, 2015 by notesfromtheauthor

Hours before the sun rose on Oct 127th, 2015, Crystal Connor, with a bag of popcorn, piping hot blueberry pop tarts and a coke, flopped down on the couch and picked up her remote as she ignore her begging dog. For the next two hours her neighbors were subjected to screaming, crying, and expletive outburst…

This is the unedited journal chronicling the harrowing experience her neighbors were forced to endure as she watched, Jonas Govaerts 2014 Welp


Reader discretion is Advised

Entry 1: Now that’s how you do an opening!

Entry 2: Why doesn’t anyone listen to the locals?

Entry 3: No! Don’t investigate.

Entry 4: This is why, God forbid, if I ever had kids I would NEVER allow them to go camping w/a bunch of 20 somethings

Entry 5: Ok, tough guy

Entry 6: OMFG this is not a good idea at all

Entry 7: Now what in the hell,

Entry 8: What the…RUN!

Entry 9: That moment when you find yourself knee deep in dead bodies, call the police and hear his phone ringing among the deceased

Entry 10: No, you need to listen to what the kids are trying to tell you

Entry 11: Poor kids, lol

Entry 12: That’s not Sam

Entry 13: I don’t understand why kids aren’t afraid of anything…this is exactly how shit goes wrong

Entry 14: See! You should have listened to him

Entry 15: WHAT?!! Your just gonna leave them there, their children!!

Entry 16: Oh sweet Jesus

Entry 17: Good! That’s what you get

Entry 18: Wow.

Entry 19: OMFG WOW!!!

Entry 20: (ಠ_ಠ)

Entry 21: I need to turn on all my lights, hug my dog and pray to God.

Plotline: Over-imaginative 12 year-old Sam heads off to the woods to summer scout camp with his pack convinced he will encounter a monster…and he does.

 Who would like it: Fans of classic 80s slasher films, fans of foreign films, and urban legends.

Horror Level: For me it was a solid five

High Points: I loved everything about this movie, and I mean everything from the characters, the pacing, the old school way it was film …everything.

Complaints: None

Overall: I am going to watch this again, it felt so nostalgic, reminding me why I feel in love with horror movies in the 1st place.

Just like the original Friday the 13th and Halloween, none of the characters are doing anything stupid like pulling pranks that will get each other killed, playing with Ouija boards in hopes of conjuring up the devil, or dancing on graves.

These guys were just camping in the wrong place at the wrong time, but they weren’t trespassing. The park ranger knew where they were and told them to keep their cell on, which they did.

And yes, there’s sex but what they did that we (North American’s) don’t was divert the eye from gratuitous nudity which is something I wish more America horror filmmakers would do as well.

This is a slasher film, it’s a violent film, but it isn’t torture porn.

I’ve had my eye on Scandinavian horror films since seeing Ole Bornedal’s 2007 The Substitute but at the time I was consuming so much Korean horror that I wasn’t paying as close attention as I should have, but Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 Let The Right One In abruptly corrected that error.

Even though a strong presence of indie horror and science fiction film writers has rekindled my love for domesticated terror I still watch a lot of foreign horror but with movies like Borgman, Priest of Evil, When Animals Dream, Night Night Mommy, and now Welp, it’s the Nordic/Scandinavian horror movies that are quickly becoming to dominate my movie viewing preference.

Stars: 5

Where I watched it: Amazon Prime


Washington State native Crystal Connor has been terrorizing readers since before Jr. high School and loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys, rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high heel shoes & unreasonably priced hang bags. She is also considering changing her professional title to ‘dramatization specialist’ because it’s so much more theatrical than being just a mere drama queen. Crystal’s latest projects can be found both on her blog and Facebook fan page at:



Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! from Podiobooks.com and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!” 


David’s Haunted Library: Two from 01Publishing

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 22, 2015 by David Watson

Arkham_coverIt was the mid 1940’s and things weren’t going well for Private eye Hank Flynn. He just got out of the war and moved to the mean streets of Arkham. Or out of the frying pan and into the fryer.   Hank has seen terror in the war but that doesn’t compare to what he sees when he is hired by a wealthy socialite to find an artist named Pickman.  Hank’s search leads him into a world of witches, ghouls, black magic and straight into the hands of the Innsmouth  mafia. Hank is up against an evil that he has never experienced and he is the only one that can stop the darkness that threatens Arkham.

Casefile: Arkham is written by Josh Finney and Illustrated by Patrick McEvoy and is an original take on the works of H.P. Lovecraft with a nod to Raymond Chandler. While reading this I felt like I was watching an old 1940’s mystery movie. The dialogue, the way the characters acted and the fact that everyone smoked and wore a hat, made this book feel like an old movie.

Josh Finney’s writing style is excellent, and Patrick McEvoy’s art adds to the creepiness factor. When this book begins there is a sense of dread, The city of Arkham is a dark place and Hank’s knows this but he is hoping for a new start. Right there the reader is invested in the story because you instantly like Hank but wonder in a place where monsters dwell (and we see in the beginning that there are real monsters here)how can you find something to be happy about? 

I love the character of Hank Flynn. There is a scene where his client sends him to a fortune-teller and we hear a commentary of him questioning god. Hank is a catholic but after fighting in the war he is angry with god. He questions religion but he still wants to believe.  Before seeing the fortune-teller he has a great speech where he mentions whether it’s a crystal ball or a bible, the name of the game is to get rubes to part with their hard-earned cash. I love how Hank feels, he is a man looking for answers for his clients and for himself. Later we meet a woman named Glynda, a Wiccan who runs a book store and is one of the few people who Hank seems to trust. I loved how Hank has feelings for her but because he is  Catholic he feels that being with her would be blasphemy. Hank is a man at conflict with himself and Arkham is a place where evil dwels. I found myself rooting for him to get a happy ending despite the world being against him

I can’t say enough good things about this book. The story is good, the characters are deep and realistic and the art is beautiful. Casefile: Arkham is a work of art and a good example of how art and great storytelling can be combined to make the perfect graphic novel. You could tell this book was a labor of love. I hope this book gets enough support where 01 Publishing can turn it into a series because it made me want to seek out more horror comics to read.

1871264301 publishing has more than one book that is inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Whispers From The Abyss is an anthology edited by Kat Rocha that contains 33 stories that were influenced by Lovecraft. I have to admit that I haven’t read a lot of Lovecraft but being a horror fan I still enjoyed a lot of the stories in this book. What really surprised me was how different all the stories were.

Not all the stories here were gems but there was some good ones including Death Wore Greasepaint by Josh Finney. This one is about a down on his luck man named Charlie who runs a cable tv station and a clown named Wilbur who has found his life’s purpose.  I love how this story uses a kids show set in the  present and ties it into Lovecraft’s mythos. Who would have guessed a clown could start the apocalypse. I love how this story describes intestines coming out of a body and then a character says: “I’ll never eat pasta again.” The best thing about this story is that The Octopus King has shown me how to be happy. Read the book and you will understand.

Another good one in this collection is Fear and Loathing in Innsmouth: Richard Nixon’s Revenge by Jason Andrew. This one is set in the seventies and follows a man who is trying to find proof that Richard Nixon is evil. This is an original story that combines a little humor with a little bit of horror. I love the references to Easy Rider, Ron Jeremy and the two quotes that open the story. Anything goes in this one and it has a good twist at the end.

Also getting points for originality is My Friend Fishfinger by Daisy, Age 7 written by David Tallerman. I love that this is written from the perspective of a girl whose parents follow a god that’s different from the one she believes in. If you know Lovecraft’s work you probably know who the god is. I love how this story is told, its like seeing evil through the eyes of an innocent child who doesn’t know what she is in for. The title is deceptive and the story is short and creepy. If you like the works of Lovecraft and Weird Tales in general pick up Whispers From The Abyss and if you like this one Whispers From The Abyss 2 is also available.

Review: Christmas, A Ghostly Gathering by Midnight Syndicate

Posted in News with tags , , , , , on November 21, 2015 by Alex S. Johnson

by Alex S. Johnson

Midnight Syndicate has been a favorite of dark instrumental music fans for over 18 years, and now the Cleveland-based duo of Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka have wrought their monsterpiece.

Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering revisits those aspects of the Yuletide season familiar to Charles Dickens buffs, specifically the spooky and ooky parts. “A Christmas Overture” by Douglas sets the stage for the Syndicate’s magical ride, and you can practically see Jack Skellington whipping on the horses of his pumpkin carriage as they wind through the streets of a sleeping New England village, spreading the gift of grim.

Next up is a version of Tchaikovsky’s “The Sugar Plum Fairy” from the Nutcracker as one might imagine Italo-horror soundtrack greats Goblin playing it. Goosebumps galore ensue. This is followed by “Carol of the Bells,” composed by Mykola Leontovych, a holiday favorite haunted by choirs of lost angels.

Now we descend into “Night of the Krampus” courtesy of an original composition by Douglas. You’d better not shout, you’d better not cry, although you might want to scream and run for your life if this creature of German folklore, a sort of anti-Claus, spies you being naughty. This tune would make a fine accompaniment to a reboot of the old Hammer Films franchise–big breasted maidens hollering in terror, menaced by the Krampus, who is easily scarier than Frankenstein, Dracula, the Golem and the Wolf Man all stitched together in Peter Cushing’s laboratory.

And just when you think Christmas has become too genuinely frightening to serve as a context for hearthside cheer, “Angels We Have Heard on High” sing gently o’er the plains. But with the suspense built up from the previous songs, you might be wary of something dreadful hidden beneath their wings. Which is probably not “Greensleeves,” beautifully rendered here. Which is definitely “Up on the Housetop,” and whatever that might be, it means no good.

Fortunately, this chilling episode is succeeded by “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” although with the Danny Elfman treatment given this Christmas standard, they sound more like the League of Distinguished Gentlemen, gathered in a safe house somewhere in Victorian London as they work against time to foil a dastardly plot that threatens Western Civilization.

Midnight Syndicate 2015

Midnight Syndicate 2015

What’s this “Coventry Carol?” A thing to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. A song that could easily be titled “O Little Town of Deathlehem,” with none the wiser. Whatever is being born this day, it’s probably awful and best avoided for one’s mental health.

Similarly, “Little Helpers,” in another Douglas original, sound like nasty sprites with sharp claws and glowing red eyes, hopping up and down like psychedelic toads with deadly intent. They should be held at arm’s length if you can’t find a steel mesh net and some holy water. Seriously.

Ah, “Sing We Now of Christmas.” Nothing sinister here, right? A sweet, dark and somber rendition of the 15th Century French carol. So far, so not Satan’s coming round the bend. Yet. Suddenly we find ourselves swept into the heart of a “Winter Storm” (a Goszka original this time), and from there “Into the Stillness,” just shy of peaceful, a bit ominous actually…ok, something’s coming to turn the stillness into an abattoir. Could it be “The Parade of the Tin Soldiers?” For sweet little toys, they sound awfully like Stormtroopers from Hell. When, oh when, will it be “Everywhere, Everywhere, Christmas Tonight?”

At last, it’s “Christmas at Midnight.” The chimney has been stoppered up to keep out the Krampus, with pots of boiling oil handy just in case he breaks through the barbed wire and armed guards. The children are shivering in their beds, wracked by nightmares, visions of big black spiders and rotting zombies dancing in their heads. Mom and Dad are with a therapist. And yet, despite all the horror and fear and creeping flesh, it seems we have all survived.

Just in time for the New Year’s Evil.



Free Fiction Friday: Bellamorte by Alex S. Johnson

Posted in News with tags , , , on November 20, 2015 by Alex S. Johnson


by Alex S. Johnson

Rising from her bath, Bellamorte took a moment to regard herself in the oval silver and jewel-framed mirror that stood in the east-facing corner of the tiny hut in the woods. Beside the fireplace hung the copper basin in which she’d heated the water.

Vanity, her good stepmother had called it. Self-regard, a sin for which the consequences were death. Yet, good as she was, Clarissa allowed it nevertheless.

She was convinced, bless her dear soul, that Bellamorte would eventually see the error of her ways and accept the true Savior.

Amazingly enough, all it took was a blush and a bowed head, simple words of a contrition she would never feel, for Clarissa to believe that her stepdaughter was headed down the true path. Give her time, and she would come around to righteousness.

Righteousness, yes.  For Bellamorte, this was her fine 18-year-old figure, droplets of water glistening in the firelight. Miniature echoes of her full breasts, womanly hips and dark thatch. Her waist-length, straight raven hair. Subtly Asiatic eyes.

Her younger sister, Donella, had not been as understanding. Donella clung to her prayerbook and her Bible like talismans. She lectured and read aloud from the volumes the village priest had given her.

Probably for a stiff price, smirked Bellamorte.

But Donella had been dealt with. Sternly, but more mercifully than she deserved. Bellamorte would never stoop to the cruelty of the priest and his kind.

She stoked the fire again with the poker and threw in a sprinkle of the rust-red powder from the pearl-colored sachet.

The fire snapped and sparkled. For a moment, a face appeared in a burst of grey smoke: the Lady of the Castle.

Her face was white as snow and her lips a rich scarlet. Long dark ringlets gathered on her shoulders.

Her eyes: terrible and beautiful at the same time, like the sweet tongues of Hell.

Fair Lady, I will be with thee soon.

Thoroughly toweling herself off, Bellamorte scooped a handful of the unguent–a clear gel that smelled of burning leaves, blood and opium–and carefully applied it, first to her forehead, then her shoulder blades, her breasts, and further south.

Her skin tingled, and at first a strawberry rash burst from the places she had touched. Then the rash receded and the slow bloom of ecstasy traveled in two directions: up her spine and down her flesh.

Deeper down. Crosswise.

Acorus vulgare, Verspertillionis sanguinem, Solanum somniferum, boiled together in oil. Indian Hemp and stramonium. To bind it, the blood and fat of night birds.

Then the charm was firm and good.

Outside the virgin snow spread across the countryside. Stars like diamonds studded the night sky. The moon was pregnant and about to give birth.

Bellamorte reached for the dress, a magnificent creation in violet: shot silk, with a ruffled collar, lacy puffed sleeves, low-cut decolletage, silver hem. She rolled the white silk stockings over her knees. Then the burgundy shoes.

The hut was ever so quiet.

Ever so peaceful.

And she looked and smelled and felt like Magic.

But she was losing time. The Lady was very strict about her new appointments, and Bellamorte did not wish to disappoint.

Gathering together her offerings of love, Bellamorte placed them in the wicker basket and covered it with a blue cloth. She plucked the half-eaten apple from the rude wooden shelf her grandfather had built and took a big bite. The sugar rushed through her bloodstream like living flame.

Now she would go.

She spun before the fire, counterclockwise, stamping out the rhythms of the Rede on the tamped earthen floor.

Bellamorte took one last look around the cottage. Her sister, stepmother and father, still as statues on the hay-stuffed cots. Three gifts for the Lady.

She pulled the thick woolen shawl around her shoulders and poked her head out the doorway, through the apron of cured leather.

Sniffed the air, the clean early-morning scent of nothing.

And bid farewell to the hut in the forest forever.


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