The Last Stop – by CM Lucas

Dust devils encircle a dingy blue Pontiac Sun fire as the summer sun’s rays reflect off the few exposed areas of clean finish. The looming shadow of The Last Stop diner begins to overtake the Pontiac. The antiquated eatery bakes in the scorching New Mexico heat, while inside hungry patrons fair no better.

The buzzing of a single osculating fan blows hot, dry air in customers’ faces; perspiration dripping from every inch of exposed skin, relief from the heat only coming from tepid ice tea and warm root beer.

Swaying back and forth on his stool sits a man fidgeting with his paper napkin. Sitting at the center of the counter, the man periodically peers up from his napkin, glancing at the various customers, peering over at the entrance and back to his napkin. The man wipes the excessive perspiration from his brow and runs his trembling hand along the scruff that adorns his scarred chin.

“You ready, darlin’?” asks the waitress with a large, comforting smile.

“Uh, y-yea, Um… I-I’ll have the s-strawberry sundae,” says the man, briefly making eye contact before returning his gaze to his crumpled napkin.

“Ran out about two hours ago. Ice cream’s a hot commodity in heat like this, darlin’. Anything else?” asks the waitress as she fans her freckled skin with a menu. The man shrugs his shoulders and continues to fiddle with his napkin.

“You ok, darlin’? You seem a little nervous,” asks the waitress, flashing her comforting smile the man’s way. The man rises from his stand, reaching into his pants to retrieve a large pistol.

“Everybody, get the fuck down. Now!” yells the man, waving his pistol wildly in every direction. The customers begin to scream with fear. An elderly couple freezes in place, the businessman within the far corner drops to the floor, and the newly-wed couple close to the window embraces as the man jerks violently within the diner.

“You. G-get your hand up w-where I can see them,” says the man; his hands trembling. pointing at the register, the man aims his pistol at the cowering waitress.

“Start emptying t-the register,” demands the man. The waitress, wide-eyed and frozen in place, struggles to respond.

“Do it! Now!” yells the man as his pistol gets closer to her face. Tears begin to stream down the waitress’ face as she empties the contents of the register into a plastic bag. The man twists around to survey the diner. Spotting the businessman with a cell phone in his hand, The man rushes over; his pistol now directly in the businessman’s face.

“Put that fucking thing down!” screams the man. The businessman drops his phone and begins to cower in his chair. The man turns his attention to the newly-wed couple as the young bride begins to wince in pain. the man moves toward the woman with a furrowed brow. The young bride drops to the floor, revealing her enlarged stomach. She clenches her stomach as her husband rushes over to his bride.

“Hey, hey, hey! Get back to your-” the husband throws his arms in the air.

“Please, My wife’s pregnant,” says the husband, cradling his wife’s head as she moves to her back, panting and moaning.

“Oh, God. I think she’s going into labour!” Yells the waitress.

“E-everybody, shut up,” says the man, moving around frantically.

“You have to do something,” says the waitress. The man continues to tremble.

“W-what?” asks the man.

“To help her. You have to help her,” screams the waitress. The diner’s begin to panic as the young bride’s contractions being to worsen.

“Shut up! Everybody, s-shut up!” shouts the man as he makes his way over to the pregnant bride. As the man’s heart pounds within his chest, he glaces down at the bride, moaning in pain. The man kneels to the floor.

“What d-do I have to d-do. I’m not a fucking doctor. You do something,” says the man, pointing at the husband. The husband begins to move toward his bride’s legs, but his wife firmly grasps his arms.

“No, John! Stay… Ah! Stay h… Ah,” says the bride as her contractions worsen.

“You have to help her,” screams the waitress. The man wipes the sweat from his brow and moves toward the bride’s legs.

“W-what do I do?” asks the man as he trembles in place.

“Talk to her. Make sure the baby doesn’t fall to the floor,” says the businessman.

“… You’re going to b-be ok. Y-you’re doing good,” says the man softly. The bride begins to wince and gyrate; his screams echo through the diner as the man positions his hand beneath the bride’s legs. The young bride continues to moan as the contraction worsens.

“T-that’s It. Y-you’re ok,” asserts the man; his hands trembling. The bride gives a final push as the newborn’s head emerges. The rest of the body begins to show with the final push until the newborn is within the man’s shaky arms. The bride begins to sob with joy, as does her husband. A collective sigh of relief washes over the diner as they temporarily forget the situation they are in.

The man hands the newborn baby over to its parents. He rises to his feet and begins to weep uncontrollably. Suddenly, the police burst into the diner. With their weapons drawn, The man puts up no resistance, placing his hands behind his back as the police place him in handcuffs. The man is placed in the back of the squad car. As the squad car begins to pull away, the man glances at the diner. Paramedics being to arrive at the scene, escorting the newlyweds out of the diner.

The bride glances at the man in the back of the squad car. She smiles and mouths ‘thank you’ at the man before the police car pulls away. The man begins to well up before he smiles back and nods.

No. Don’t you do it, you fuck. You can resist, the man thinks to himself as his pulse begins to race. Suddenly, the man begins to sweat profusely, his heart smashes against his chest. The man closes his eyes tightly as he struggles to conceal his pronounced canine teeth. A deluge of perspiration pours down his forehead as the narrow slits that are his pupils dilate as the man focuses on the diner. The man breaks free of his restraints, reaching through the cage that separates him from the officers in the front of the police car. The flesh on the man’s arms rips and tear as his talon-like fingernails plunge into the neck of the officer driving the police car. Blood sprays across the windshield as the police car collides with a telephone pole. The fire from the exploding squad car gains the attention of the patrons within the diner.

The new mother grips her child as she rushes toward the diner’s window. Her eyes well up as she glances into the vertical pupil eyes and panting tongue of the man who minutes ago helped bring her newborn baby into the world.

End

Book Review: SAIR BACK, SAIR BANES by Anthony Engebretson

A book review by Renata Pavrey

With a catchy title and cover, Sair Back, Sair Banes certainly piques the reader’s interest. I love books about folklore from around the world, and this novella set in Scotland was placed on my to-read list as soon as publisher Ghost Orchid Press mentioned it.

Genevieve takes a trip from America to connect with an old family friend of her now-deceased parents. Her father loved the outdoors and adventure, and often spoke about his love for the Scottish people, customs, lore, and legends. He also regaled Genevieve’s childhood with stories of the kelpie – shape-shifting horses that inhabit water bodies.

Genevieve’s host lives right next to a loch, and she encounters a drowning horse on her first day. But no one else was around to see the horse struggling and disappearing beneath the cold, dark waters. Nobody owns a horse around here, as far as anyone can tell. Was Genevieve imagining it, was someone playing a prank on her, or is there more to the legend of the kelpies? An over-friendly bartender, an icy pub owner, people going missing, a killer on the loose, trauma of parental abuse and suicide – Sair Back, Sair Banes packs a punch within its few pages.

The phrase ‘Sair Back, Sair Banes’ comes from an old folk curse, about a problematic horse in Scottish history. Blending folklore and legends with modern themes of loneliness, isolation, mental health, along with family history and relationships, Anthony Engebretson takes the reader on a trip through the Scottish landscape and culture. His story has one story and many stories; where the protagonist could be anybody, as could the antagonist. A place where spirits could be good and people could be bad; where there’s more to our ancestors than the stories they pass on. I loved this interweaving of themes and emotions – a well-written story that gives the reader something to ponder upon, much after having finished the book.

Sair Back, Sair Banes is Anthony Engebretson’s debut book, although he has written short stories for several anthologies. This was my first time reading this author, and I’ll certainly look forward to more from him. Ghost Orchid Press is known for featuring unpredictable, but brilliant writing. From the body horror Blood and Bone, to the eco-terror Chlorophobia, and the haunting collection Palimpsest, I look forward to their new releases. Sair Back, Sair Banes is another stellar book from their repertoire.

Spooky Locations: The Axe Murder House of Villisca, Iowa

By J.S. O’connor

When thinking of a “Spooky Location”, it’s easy to think of the paranormal. However, a real-life tragedy can be more terrifying than the paranormal. The Axe Murder House of Villisca, Iowa is both – a paranormal location as well as a real tragedy that took the lives of eight people and still remains unsolved over a hundred years later. 

Villisca, Iowa is a small town with a population just over one thousand located in southeastern Iowa. It fits the definition of a “blink and you’ll miss it” town. It’s a peaceful-looking town with the exception of one house with a bad reputation.

 The story of the murders is as follows: Lena and Ina Stillinger spent the night at the Moores’ house after church on a Sunday. The next morning, the Moores’ next-door neighbor, Mary Peckham, had not seen the Moores and placed a call to the brother of Joseph Moore. When they entered the home, they discovered the bodies of Joseph Moore, his wife Sarah, and their six children: Herman, Katherine, Boyd, and Paul, and the Stillinger Sisters. The children were between six and twelve years of age, with the murders estimated to have taken place after midnight. All had been brutally butchered with Joseph’s own axe. The murderer has never been found. The list of suspects for the murder is long, including a serial killer Henry Lee Moore to a State Senator Frank F. Jones, who may have hired someone to carry out the murders, and everyone in between.  

Even though the house has been renovated a number of times since 1912, the current owners have been hard at work returning the house to its former self. Currently, the owners offer paranormal tours and overnight stays to the curious. Some may say that turning a tragic murder into a paranormal tour is an insult to the people who tragically lost their lives. Others would say that it is a way of keeping the memory of the Moore family and Stillinger sisters alive and never forgotten. Whichever you believe, it’s important to remember and honor the people who have lost their lives.  

Work Cited:

 The Official Site of the Villisca Axe Murders of 1912, https://www.villiscaiowa.com/index.php. 

Book Birthday : HorrorAddicts.net Press presents…Clockwork Wonderland.

 

HorrorAddicts.net Press presents…Clockwork Wonderland.

HorrorAddicts.net Press presents…

Clockwork Wonderland.

Clockwork Wonderland contains stories from authors that see Wonderland as a place of horror where anything can happen and time runs amok. In this book you’ll find tales of murderous clockworks, insane creations, serial killers, zombies, and a blood thirsty jabberclocky. Prepare to see Wonderland as a place where all your worst nightmares come true. You may never look at classic children’s literature the same way again.

Edited by Emerian Rich
Cover by Carmen Masloski
Featuring authors:

Trinity Adler
Ezra Barany
Jaap Boekestein
Dustin Coffman
Stephanie Ellis
Jonathan Fortin
Laurel Anne Hill
N. McGuire
Jeremy Megargee
James Pyne
Michele Roger
H.E. Roulo
Sumiko Saulson
K.L. Wallis

With Foreword by David Watson

Hatter’s Warning by Emerian Rich

Starting off with a poem from the Mad Hatter who warns us, our time is running out and Alice the queen of Wonderland is after our heads and our souls.

Jabberclocky by Jonathan Fortin

A drunken clock repair shop owner and his abused son receive a visit form the Mad Hatter who has an evil plan to bring a murderous Jaberclock to life. Only the Cheshire Cat can save the day or is he as mad as the Hatter?

Hands of Time by Stephanie Ellis

The Queen of Heart’s executioner and timekeeper are looking for an apprentice and a new set of hands to kill and kill again to run the queen’s clock.

Clockwork Justice by Trinity Adler

With only one day and two clues, a bloody torn card and carrot tarts, Alice fights to prove she’s innocent and avoid losing her head to the Red Queen’s executioner.

My Clockwork Valentine by Sumiko Saulson

Unlike the White Rabbit, Blanche Lapin does not carry her timepiece in her pocket, but in her chest. It’s a Victorian-era clockwork pacemaker and if it’s not wound every forty-eight hours, she will die. When the key is stolen, the thief who has it will let her die if she doesn’t declare her love and stay with him forever.

Blood will Have Blood by James Pyne

There are many Wonderlands and a young woman is trapped in one where she is expected to be the new Alice. It’s a place where the rivers are filled with corpses and that’s not even the worst of it. The only way out is by wearing a clock necklace that needs blood for fuel, but what happens if it runs out?

Midnight Dance by Emerian Rich

Wonderland is being overrun by zombies. Mr. Marsh and The Mad Hatter are in a race against time to jam up the clockmaker’s clock and stop the undead apocalypse. If they can’t the apocalypse will start over and over as the clock strikes one.

A Room for Alice by Ezra Barany

When Alice is locked in a blood-splattered room and poisoned by D, she must behead the Queen of Spades within fifteen minutes in order to get the antidote. Can Tweedle help, or is he part of the problem?

Frayed Ears by H.E. Roulo

Caught in a child’s fever-fueled dream, The White Rabbit, The Scarecrow, and other storybook characters soon discover that story time is coming to an end and maybe so are they.

King of Hearts by Dustin Coffman

A prequel story to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, this tale explains how the Queen became mad, and why she hates the name Alice so much, though it has nothing to do with the real one.

Riddle by N. McGuire

A steampunk take on the infamous tea party, with a killer twist.

Tick Tock by Jaap Boekestein

To hear him tell it, a heroic wild card fights against the usurper Alice and puts Mary—the true Queen Of Hearts—on Watch World’s throne. Is that what’s really going on?

Gone a’ Hunting by Laurel Anne Hill

Alease goes rabbit hunting, but she’s the one caught in a place where she will have plenty of time to think about what she’s done.

The Note by Jeremy Megargee

Cheshire Cat tells a story about the changing, horrifying world of Wonderland and why he has to leave it.

Half Past by K.L. Wallis

A woman follows a mysterious man though the subway and travels back in time to the late 1800s, where she finds that instead of the patriarchal norms of the past, she is in a Wonderland where women are the superior sex and moral boundaries cease to exist.

Ticking Heart by Michele Roger

A woman on a train goes to visit Alice in a war-torn steampunk Wonderland, which is very different than the one we know.

To read the full story and more Clock-inspired, Alice Horror, check out Clockwork Wonderland.

Free Fiction : Seeing Out the Monkey by Ann Folks

Alice showed me into the Medical Sciences Research Institute. The pouring rain outside ran in sheets down the floor-to-ceiling windows. Lightning flashed far away in the dark sky.

She handed me a key card and we walked to the elevator that went down to my janitor’s closet in the subbasement. Taped on the back of the door was a calendar and newspaper clipping about the previous janitor that just retired on his 67th birthday, October 1, 2021.   “No more crazy monkeys!” was scrawled across the calendar.  

     Upstairs, Alice explained, “You are almost the only one in the building, the other cleaner quit already.  Phillip works on the animal cages on the       top 3 floors. Your card won’t work on those, put his phone number into your phone. When you need to clean those floors, call him and he’ll               unlock the doors. So just pull the trash, push in the chairs, questions?”

     “Do the keypads on the swipe boxes have codes?”

     “Only for an emergency. Do the month and year, so this being October, the code would be 1021. Again, the top three floors have a different,              longer code. Only Phillip knows it, don’t try to guess, three wrong tries, and you’re locked out or in, depending on where you are. “

     “Leaving…”.  And she was gone. 

Pushing in the chairs was easy, pulling the trash, was somewhat difficult. Some of the trash cans were overflowing. These labs hadn’t been cleaned for days. The lights flickered; beeping came from some of the equipment. On the 7th floor, scurrying footsteps of animals upstairs rattled.  The storm grew closer, the lightning lit up the lab.  I called Phillip. He answered panting.

     “Yeah?” 

     “Hi, I’m the new cleaner and …”

     “On my way down”. He hung up. 

A thirty-something man, of large build, with a limp, walked out of the elevator. He was sweating.

     “Look, I have a situation with Nero. Here’s my card. Just open the doors as you need them.  But do NOT come up to 10.  Nero always acts                freaky during storms, but this one is the worst.  They adjusted his meds and he’s almost uncontrollable.  I’ll find you when I get him back into        his cage.”

He turned around and got back on the elevator. 

     “Remember. Stay off 10”.  The doors closed.

***

On 8, the lights were out. I turned on my phone flashlight. Cockroaches and mice scurried into dark corners.   Puppies and kittens with electrodes attached to their heads whimpered and mewed.  Water was dripping somewhere. Lightning illuminated the lab. I screamed when suddenly something jumped on me, and claws dug into my back. It was just a cat, as scared as I was. It jumped off. I ran out of the lab.

On 9, still dark. Lights flickered on and off.  Open cages were perched on stainless-steel tables, but no animals.   

I was happy to be finished.  I turned to leave the room when I heard Phillip scream from above on 10, the forbidden floor. Another scream emanated from upstairs, furniture was being overturned and something crashed to the ground.  In the elevator, I pushed 10. I had to see if I could help Phillip.

When the elevator doors opened, it took a minute for my eyes to focus. Blood was everywhere. Bleeding from a large wound on his thigh, Phillip sat propped by a desk.  A monkey with a prosthetic leg and one real and one fake eyeball was staring, grinning wickedly, blood dripping from his mouth. I saw a cabinet with glass doors and fruit inside. I threw some grapes at Nero. He ate the grapes, staring back and forth at us. 

     Phillip said, “he’s going to kill us.”

I tiptoed towards Phillip, past Nero. He kept staring at us, back and forth.

I used rags from my cart to try to stop the bleeding. We struggled into an office and locked it. 

     “I’ll call the police and wait with you”. 

      Phillip whispered. “No, you have to let them in. No access.”

      I asked, “Why is Nero so crazy?”

      Whispering again, “Afraid of lightning. The code, it’s his ‘rith day”

He passed out.

I dialed 911.

***

Outside of the office, I blocked the door with a desk.

Lighting flashed again, the room went dark, and uneven footsteps and screeches followed me. 

 I screamed when Nero suddenly jumped on my back. His hand reached around and yanked at the key card from behind. The lanyard started to cut off my air. Searing pain shot through my shoulder as his teeth sunk into my collarbone.  Still screeching, he bit the lanyard and it snapped off my neck, letting me take a deep breath. His jaw moved down to my forearm and spinning around I slammed him against the block wall. He fell down.

I ran to the stairwell and found the code box. I had three tries. I tried today’s date, nothing. The newspaper clipping said he retired on 10/01/2021. Nothing. He was 67. 10/01/1954. It clicked and flashed green, and the door to the stairwell unlocked.  

A searing pain shot through my other shoulder. He was on my back and wouldn’t let go. I ran down the stairwell, slamming him into the walls, the railings, even the steps when I fell. He still wouldn’t let go. Finally, I saw his head leaning way over my shoulder as if he was trying to see where he was going. I ran towards the wall at the 4th floor landing and cracked his head as hard as I could into the block wall. He went limp and fell from my body. I picked him up and threw him down the rectangular hole the banister made down the levels. He landed with a metallic thud on the concrete below. 

I limped as best as I could to the front doors and let waiting police in. They found Phillip, they loaded us in the ambulance. 

It’s the last time I’ll work in the same building as a monkey. 


 

Ann Folks is a beginning writer and so far has only entered her stories into writing contests. I really liked this one and it’s been entered into a contest but it didn’t place. I got some decent reviews on it so I tweaked it and I’m submitting it here to see if I get some good input. All comments are welcome.

Terror Trax: Interview with Amulet by William Zimmerman

  1. Where did the project name, Amulet come from?

Stephanie Stryker: I’ve always wanted my band to be called Amulet. It’s mystical, fancy, and mysterious.

  1. Who are your main inspirations?

MJ Phoenix: Punk, new wave, reggae, and funk genres. Also, Stephanie herself.

SS: NIN and Manson are in my musical DNA, along with goth classics like Sisters of Mercy.

  1. What non-musical things inspire your music?

MJ: Heartbreak, each other, despair, general dissatisfaction, darkness.

SS: Beauty in darkness, esotericism, and occultism. Mysteries of the unknown and exploring those topics.

  1. What actor/actress could you most identify with? Why?

MJ: Leonardo DiCaprio he’s a great environmental advocate.

SS: She’s just a character, but Lily Munster. I love her dark housewife lifestyle and she cared deeply for her family and home. She’s got that take-no-shit sass to boot!

  1. Where was the coolest place to play? Where did you enjoy yourselves the most?

MJ: Small venue with a packed house and good vibe. Public Bar Live in DC was great, so was Ottobar in Baltimore.

SS: 100% agreed with MJ. The vibe of a crowd enjoying the music is the best part of a venue.

  1. What are your favorite horror movies?

MJ: Nosferatu. Not a horror movie, but I love Cat People.

SS: I love witch, occult, ghost, and vampire-themed movies. I also love all the dark fantasy classics with Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and friends.

  1. What was the scariest night of your life?

MJ: When I was marooned on a roof rack of a speeding car going between Nepal and Katmandu. Long story…

SS: I saw Limp Bizkit in 1999 and was very close to dying in a mosh pit. Thankfully, someone pulled me out, but I lost my JNCOs and chain wallet to the pit. Can this story be any more 90’s?!

  1. If you could bring back greats who have passed on, who would be your undead opening band?

SS: David Bowie and Type O Negative, but we’d be okay opening for them ;).

  1. Final thoughts / Anything you want to tell the Horror Addicts?

MJ: If you feel like writing a song, do it! Go with your inspiration.

SS: Be true to yourself. Authenticity is so valuable and it helps people relate to you.

Join our mailing list and follow us on social media to get updates on upcoming events and releases. We are coming out with new music, photography, music videos, live shows, and more.

Our website is amulettheband.com, and follow us on Instagram and Facebook at @amulettheband.com

(Fan contacts…)

Website/Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Bandcamp?

Music video for our track Vampire:

Free Fiction: Long Time No See by James Peace

It had been at least three years since I had last seen John. I wondered if “best friend” was still applicable, given the circumstances. Somehow semantics were the last thing on my mind. Who left a voicemail in this day and age, anyway? Only John. His social and emotional ineptitude let him feel, think and act with not a single care for what others found acceptable or “in”. I admired that in him. He was the opposite of me, as I was confident and outgoing. I went to the parties, did the drugs, drank the shots. I had my own place way before he even considered leaving his parents’ home. Yet still, in a way, he had always been far more “free” than me.

Of course, that was back when we were in college. After we parted ways, the journey of life took…different routes for each of us. I ended up enlisting and following a boot’s lifestyle for a few years. John collected degrees like stamps and hopped between part-time jobs. We tried to meet up and connect for cultural events or each other’s birthdays. Life inevitably takes its course, though. Over time our get-togethers dwindled from once a month to once a year. For a long while, not even that. By the time I was 26, I hadn’t spoken with the man I loved as a brother in two years. We met at his family’s summer house by the northern coast for a pair of days. Bars, a casino, the beach, and a penthouse all to ourselves. Still, it hadn’t ended on the best of terms.

Three whole years had passed since then and here I was, tripping over every piece of furniture in my house. I dodged the third lego piece behind the corner of the stairwell, saving myself quite a bit of grief, and went down into the basement to get my duffle bag. At times, I had to question whether my son left these out of negligence or if he was trying to show his old man that he could hunt “big animals” too. Adorable little runt.

Throwing the duffle bag over my shoulder, I dialed my wife’s number into my phone. Life in the army, both during and after Bootcamp tended to prepare one for pretty much anything. The habits of getting up early, making one’s bed, and keeping a bag ready for sudden departures hadn’t been lost on me. With the house locked, the dog fed and the woman of my life appeased with promises of a weekend getaway, I threw the bag onto the backseat and left. Unlike my 99 Astra, life sure had a way of coming at you fast. Much like said Astra, though, I took pride in being a tough bone to chew on. After the dishonorable discharge, bouncing back wasn’t the easiest thing in the world yet I did it nonetheless. I took a couple of swigs from my pocket flask to steel myself against the cold and carried on.

On the way, I lost myself to the roads of memory. The teenage years spent with John, playing video games and geeking out with the other nerds in our group of friends. The wild nights of college when I ran out his patience with the latest of my dramas and mischiefs. I remembered the nights I spent having dinner at his place, his parents still sent me a gift when my birthday came along every year. Great people, all of them odd in their own harmless way. These had been some of the best times of my life. Sure, there were mistakes made along the way, but I for one never liked to dwell on the past.

I found the town by sundown and the coastline was deserted as I’d expected. With the rain and the cold, nobody stepped foot in it. His house was pretty isolated, a couple of miles away from the center. It was very characteristic of his family to keep a comfortable distance. As I slowly rolled into his driveway, I could see the lights were already on. I parked the car and took in a deep breath.  I forced down over half of the contents of my flask, replacing the sobering chill with a vigorous burn.

I stepped outside the car, shaking off the tension in my legs and back, and looked over to his porch. There he was, waving down at me with a big grin on his face. His hair was oily and black, his features rough and germanic. You could see a hint of eastern in his eyes. He wore the same black button-up shirt and brown chinos he’d worn three years before when we “made it big”. I missed him with all of my heart. I didn’t bother waving back as I opened the backseat door. Reaching my duffle bag, I grasped around for a small box and cold steel. As I pulled the Winchester M21 out and closed the door, I slid the two slugs into their respective barrels, glancing at the corner of the yard. The small dirt mound was still where I left it. Where I’d left him. I was holding in my right hand the same gun that had blown a hole through John so cleanly that a dessert plate could have easily fit through. Right through his trusting heart. Right through the shirt that thing, whatever it was, was wearing. I’ve never considered myself a man of prejudice, but dead things should stay dead and certainly not leave voicemails to their former friends.

Turning my attention back to “John”, I could see he was no longer waving at me. In fact, he was no longer smiling, either. Swallowing my fear, I took aim.


 

A young author from Western Europe, 24 years old, fascinated by all things horror and interested in publishing his own horror novel. Currently in the military, pursuing future involvement in Special Forces. Loves people, dogs, and the three F’s of life.

Free Fiction : Come Dine With Me by Pete Kijek

I never imagined in a million years that when I submitted the advert in the local paper asking to have someone for dinner, that someone would actually respond!

The advertisement was only short, necessity and a price per word dictated that. ‘Lonely 41-year-old male seeks like-minded individual for evening meal. Non-smoker, pref. non-drinker, must enjoy secluded weekends away and keeping fit.’ I must confess to being somewhat hesitant to submit, yet submit I did and paid for a four-week run. 

Towards the end of the third week, I received a response. A woman from Tettenhall had written back, saying that she wanted to meet! I read through her profile. She was thirty-five, single, no children, and had recently moved to the Midlands from Durham as a mature student. She sounded ideal! 

I wrote back, asking if she wanted to meet for coffee first, as I understood that simply going for dinner with someone could be a bit daunting for a single woman these days. She replied saying that she would be up for coffee, and we arranged to meet the following Saturday in Coffee Moments in the Wulfrun Centre.

I will confess right now, I have never felt so anxious as I did that Saturday sitting at the shopping centre waiting for her to turn up. I had lost count of the number of times I had re-positioned the little Chicaboo monkey on the table in front of me, propped up on the sugar dispenser.

I knew it was her the instant she stopped outside the shop. Light brown hair tied in a loose ponytail, stonewash blue jeggings and a camel-coloured turtle neck jumper, and a purple cross-body tote bag. She wasn’t fat, but not entirely slim either – I guess the politically correct way of putting it was that she had curves, the classic hourglass figure. In short, she was gorgeous! Far too good for the likes of me.

She grabbed herself a cappuccino and came and sat down at my table. Her name was Lauren, and we sat for hours just talking to each other. I had never known anyone to be so attentive in their listening, so engaging in their conversation. I honestly believe that right there and then was the moment I fell in love with her.

We arranged to have dinner the following weekend, at my place. Now, I must confess, I have never hosted anything like a dinner date before. I mean, I’ve seen stuff on TV, but this was the first time I had ever tried something like this myself. Our first meal together had to be something truly special and unforgettable. I even managed to coax the twins from Number 16 down the road to be a part of it, and when they turned up that afternoon, already dressed in smart, waiter/waitress-y clothing, I could not have been more excited!

The doorbell rang just after 7pm, and I went to get the door. Lauren was there in the most stunning little red number, and I ushered her through to the lounge whilst I ran her coat upstairs quickly.

Coming back down, I entered through the dining room, bringing two flutes and a bottle of prosecco with me, the cork already popped. Lauren took a glass, and I poured the fizzing liquid, eliciting a small giggle as I accidentally spilled some on my hand. 

Holding my eye contact, she softly took hold of my hand, bringing it to her lips and lightly licking the prosecco from my skin. To say the evening was already perfect would be an understatement. I had never known a woman like her. She was entirely bewitching, and I was held entranced by her spell.

I beckoned to her to enter the dining room, where I placed the bottle and my glass down on the table before seating her as every gentleman should.

Disappearing briefly into the kitchen, I returned with a small bowl of tomato soup in each hand. I placed Lauren’s bowl before her, then sat down to mine. 

The conversation was magical. I can honestly say I have never laughed so much – we just clicked, if that makes sense? It was like we had known each other for years, for centuries. 

With the soup course over, I stood placing my napkin carefully on the table and suggested she come with me into the kitchen, as I had a surprise for her. This main course would be to die for! Everything had happened so perfectly, running smoothly and according to plan.

Lauren stood and took my hand, as I led her into the kitchen. 

Taking care to walk over the plastic sheeting that covered the floor and every work surface, I led her to the chest freezer on the far side of the kitchen, being careful not to knock the bags containing the somewhat sanguinary corpses of the house’s previous occupants.

Opening the freezer, Lauren’s eyes widened with anticipation as the chilled but very much alive twin children looked up at both of us, abject horror and despair displayed on both their faces. 

Lauren indicated the boy, which was ideal as I had already provisionally hoped to have the girl. Taking them from the chiller, we led them to the huge island table in the centre of the kitchen, laying them down side by side, and taking hold of the knives with which we would prepare our feast.

“You’ve really outdone yourself this time, Claudio,” said Lauren, as she pierced the flesh of the boy, his screams muffled by the tape around his mouth.

I simply looked at her, lovingly, the charade of being strangers evaporating as I opened the girl from collarbone to navel and started peeling the skin back to reveal the tender morsels within.

“Well,” I replied, “I’ve got another hundred and fifty years to think up the next dinner.”


 

 

Once, many moons and 1 failed marriage ago, I started writing a high fantasy novel, on the urging of my now ex-wife. I really enjoyed what I was writing, and probably would’ve carried on had things not gone awry at home. It is now 2021, I have a new wife, and a new novel idea to write about, which I am currently writing. I have also found a penchant for writing horror. I live with my family, emotional support hound, Fallon, and am addicted to Coco Pops and Hula Hoops

Interview with Eugen Bacon by Renata Pavrey

 African-Australian writer, Eugen Bacon, whose works span across prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction, talks to book blogger and staff writer Renata Pavrey.

 As part of the upcoming release of her latest book, Mage of Fools, I got the chance to interview author Eugen Bacon, thanks to the publishing house Meerkat Press. I have read and loved other books from this publisher that specializes in speculative fiction, and had also interviewed Bacon about her previous books. Here, I get to talk to her about her newest dystopian novel that revolves around storytelling.

        From the blurb:

       In the dystopian world of Mafinga, Jasmin must contend with a dictator’s sorcerer to cleanse the socialist state of its deadly pollution. Mafinga’s malevolent king dislikes books and, together with his sorcerer Atari, has collapsed the environment to almost uninhabitable. The sun has killed all the able men, including Jasmin’s husband Godi. But Jasmin has Godi’s secret story machine that tells of a better world, far different from the wastelands of Mafinga. Jasmin’s crime for possessing the machine and its forbidden literature filled with subversive text is punishable by death. Fate grants a cruel reprieve in the service of a childless queen who claims Jasmin’s children as her own. Jasmin is powerless—until she discovers secrets behind the king and his sorcerer.

Renata: Hi Eugen, Congratulations on the release of your latest book. You have written The Road to Woop Woop – a collection of short stories, and Speculate – a co-creation of vignettes with Dominique Hecq. Mage of Fools is a dystopian novel. What’s your experience switching between writing forms and styles?

Eugen: I’ve always found it natural to switch mid-text across forms and genres, wearing different faces, hats, and cloaks.  I think it’s because of the immersion I find in writing, and our world is not black and white. I love experimentation, bending boundaries. I tend to resist boundaries that restrict text, and I approach a work with an openness to how a story may morph and shape itself. 

One of my recent stories is a blend between a short story and a script. Some of my short stories have prose poetry hidden in them. Some of my novels have short stories hidden in them. Some of my creative nonfiction—like ‘Inhabitation: Genni and I’ (Sydney Review of Books), where I talk to my other self, or ‘The New Seduction of an Old Literary Crime Classic’ (LitHub), where I pay homage to Peter Temple—integrates excerpts of fiction or poetry in it. 

I love the fluidity of text, as a literary enthusiast, Roland Barthes would have it.  

Renata: Your books fall under the umbrella of speculative fiction – alternating science fiction, fantasy and horror. Is there a genre you prefer, both as a reader and writer?

Eugen: My favourite genre is literary speculative fiction, where imagination is the limit. An introduction to my upcoming collection, Chasing Whispers by Raw Dog Screaming Press, describes my work as ‘towards an Afro-irreality’. Except for a time travel novel (Secondhand Daylight) that I am co-writing with a European slipstream author, Andrew Hook, I never start a story thinking that this is going to be science fiction, fantasy, or horror. 

Renata: Stories occupy an important place in Mage of Fools, where reading is banned and characters try to sneak in their daily dose of storytelling. The novel is peppered with the names of authors. Who are your favorite authors? Any favorite books you would recommend?

Eugen: I was only recently talking about Anthony Doerr and look forward to reading his latest historical and speculative fiction Cloud Cuckoo Land. Peter Temple’s dialogue is genius. 

And Toni Morrison is subversively in Mage of Fools, where I imagine her language in my stories. Anyone who hasn’t read all this Nobel prize-winning author’s fiction is missing big time. 

I am inspired by selfless people, like Nelson Mandela, who give of themselves so generously. 

I also have on my reading list a hardcover copy of Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, written by Octavia Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, illustrated by John Jennings.  

Renata: When writing speculative fiction, what goes into world-building? How do you balance imaginary scenarios with real-world issues; the new with the familiar?

Eugen: The reader must find familiarity in the worlds we create, however strange, through the nature of our worldbuilding, whose intent is to demystify. Credibility is a necessity in any imaginary world. 

It all depends on the size of the story, its nature or setting, where it wants to take me, to determine whether it is a primary world (that resembles our real world) or a secondary world (mostly invented and dissimilar from our real-world). 

But even in a secondary world, an author may want to introduce themes and issues pertinent in our world today, and how the protagonists in those invented worlds deal with them. This is the author as an agent of change.   

Renata: Your writing is often poetic and lyrical, starkly contrasting the dark themes explored. Is this merging of prose and poetry deliberate, or does the narrative lead you?

Eugen: The narrative talks itself, the characters guiding it. Language is important and, in my mind’s eye, is always the musicality of the text. 

Renata: The cover of Mage of Fools mixes the traditional with the futuristic. Could you tell us about the story behind the cover?

Eugen: Ask the publisher, Tricia Reeks of Meerkat Press! She’s the closet designer, discovering herself. She asked for my art preference, and I said something African, maybe a mask. 

Renata: Thank you, Eugen, for taking out time for this interview. We wish you all the very best with Mage of Fools, and other books that follow.

Eugen: The pleasure is entirely mine. 


About the author: 

Eugen Bacon is African Australian—her books Ivory’s Story, Danged Black Thing, and Saving Shadows are finalists in the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards. Eugen was announced in the honor list of 2022 Otherwise Fellowships. She has won, been longlisted or commended in international awards, including the Foreword Indies Awards, Bridport Prize, Copyright Agency Prize, Horror Writers Association Diversity Grant, Otherwise, Rhysling, Australian Shadows, Ditmar Awards, and Nommo Awards for Speculative Fiction by Africans. Eugen’s creative work has appeared in literary and speculative fiction publications worldwide, including Award-Winning Australian Writing, BSFA, Fantasy Magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Bloomsbury Publishing, and Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction. New releases: Danged Black Thing (collection), Saving Shadows (illustrated prose poetry). In 2022: Mage of Fools (Meerkat Press), Chasing Whispers (Raw Dog Screaming Press) and An Earnest Blackness (Anti-Oedipus Press). 

Website: eugenbacon.com / Twitter: @EugenBacon

 

Free Fiction: This Year’s Costume by Peter Kijek

 

     “Alice! Where’s my costume?” Danny shouted to his sister from upstairs in his room, “I can’t find it?”

     “Down here, on the sofa, where you left it,” she yelled back as she gathered the suit hanger from the back of the dining room chair. “Come down and get it yourself!”

Danny raced down the staircase and into the lounge with all the haste a nine-year-old boy could muster.

     “This was such a great idea Mum had for Halloween this year!!”

Alice had to admit, this idea did go one better than last year’s costume, where they pretended to be mini demons whilst Dad sat in the car, and they beat the roof with his ‘severed head’. They loved to go all out to provide a real scare for the neighbourhood, and last year’s was horrific but immense fun. They’d moved to a new area shortly after, just before Christmas, and this Halloween was a great chance to not only top last year, but to show the new neighbourhood kids what Halloween was all about.

Upstairs in her room, a typical bedroom for a twelve-year-old girl, she unzipped the case and carefully took out the hanger that held her costume in place. It was perfect, absolutely historically accurate to the turn of the century period. It was a replica of the clothes worn by Susan Buckley who, along with her brother John, was reportedly photographed outside their house with their mother sat between them, axe in Susan’s hand, their mother’s head in John’s. The photograph had since been debunked, with experts claiming to know how the original portrait had been doctored to make it look like the kids had decapitated their poor mother. Whether it was real or not didn’t matter, it was a great urban legend and a great idea for a Halloween costume!

With the dress on, Alice pulled on the boots that came with it and dusted herself down in front of the mirror to flatten out any last-minute creases. Her hair was already tied up in an untidy bun. Brilliant, she thought, I look just like Susan Buckley! She grabbed the small axe from her bed, already stained with blood for that authentic look, and stepped out onto the landing. 

     “Are you ready yet?” she called to Danny, knocking on his bedroom door.  The door opened, and he stepped out, pulling at the collar with one finger to loosen it from chafing him. 

     “This shirt itches,” he complained.

     “That’s the starch,” explained Alice, “It helps with the authenticity.”

The children made their way downstairs, excited at the prospect of their costumes this year. Such a shame that their father wouldn’t be there to see the fruits of their labour, but that was okay, they understood the time of year and that he’d no doubt be buried in something keeping him extremely occupied. 

     “Is Mother ready?” asked Danny as he grabbed the shopping bag from the table.

     “She’s outside, sat on her chair,” replied Alice as she moved towards the front door, “She’s waiting for us. Now, come on! Some of the local kids are coming, I can see the lights from their mobiles.” Opening the door, she ushered Danny outside to the chair on the front lawn where their mother sat.

     “Here they come,” she whispered to her brother, “Get ready! As soon as they see us, they’ll want to take photos, just like the Buckley children!”

Standing on the opposite side of his mother to where Alice was, Danny reached into the shopping bag and pulled out his mother’s head, blood still dripping from the ragged flesh where Alice had hacked it off earlier that afternoon. 

Alice quietly moved her head to one side, to whisper to Danny. “I don’t know how we’re going to top this next year? Here’s hoping Uncle Mark has some good ideas….. ?”

_________________________________________________________________________

 

Once, many moons and 1 failed marriage ago, I started writing a high fantasy novel, on the urging of my now ex-wife. I really enjoyed what I was writing, and probably would’ve carried on had things not gone awry at home. It is now 2022, I have a new wife, and a new novel idea I am currently writing. I have also found a penchant for writing horror. I live with my family, emotional support hound, Fallon, and am addicted to Coco Pops and Hula Hoops. Find Peter on Facebook.

Free Fiction: A Handful Of Bones by Anita Dénes

Bird bones, bird bones, rattling in my hand. Small and brittle. I listen to the soft clicking sounds they make as I shake them, cast them like dice on the worn carpet to tell me answers.

They’re not really the bones of a bird, though, they belong to a child or used to. A child with black curls and a quick smile. I’m holding her finger bones, or maybe a part of her foot.

Does that frighten you? Then you’re in the wrong place, love. And anyway, I lied. They’re squirrel bones, you can see a rib, can’t you, and children don’t have ribs that small.

Well, not once they’re born, anyway. Maybe these are child bones, after all, dug up from a worse place than the wet earth.

You decide what they are and what I am, if what I tell you is a lie or a truth. They called me Lügner, back in the old days – it means ‘liar’. Amazing how much a truth can sound like a filthy lie if you decide you don’t like what you’re hearing.

So what do you want to know? Your future? Someone else’s? Do you want to hear how to stop a treacherous heart without being discovered, or give life to a dry womb?

No. You wouldn’t have journeyed this far for that. Mother Lügner’s home is hidden in the whistling reeds, the capricious swamp, and it takes a brave one or a fool to find it. Or someone who has burned every single bridge, even the one she’s walking on.

Tell me, love, or I can’t help you.

You’re so young and lovely like I never was even when my hair was still dark and I had all my teeth. I should hate you for that. But how could I hate you when you sit there crying?

Don’t waste water like that. We don’t have much of it. Wipe your eyes, now, quiet down, and tell me what you want.

The creatures from the mountains, yes, of course, I know them. If you want to know how to avoid them, you need more than my words, I have no power over something that is not human anymore.

You… want to become one?

Oh, I haven’t had a laugh like that since the ash began falling from the sky. Tell me what you really want, and I will grant it to you just for cheering me like that.

Oh.

You were not joking.

You want to cast away your humanity, all you have left in these black days. You want to become mindless, a slave to hunger and cold and nothing else. A beast preying on the few of us that are left, your own family, maybe. You are running from something, but why do you want to run that far?

What have you done?

Ah. So that is why you went so pale when I said I was holding a child’s bones. Hard times beget harder measures, and hunger is the lord of us all.

Did you hold your brother’s bones when your stomach was full?

Don’t run away, love. You will drown in the swamp if you stumble around sobbing like that. I couldn’t care less about what happens to you, but I don’t want the carrion birds near my house. Or your… friends.

Yes, I will help you, if only just to get you out of here. Let us hear what the bones have to say.

Click-click-click, the sound of your future. A handful of bones finding you the road to damnation.

What is that little smile I see on your lips? Are you that eager to throw away all that you are, just to forget?

I cast the bones from my hand. Let us see.

That rib pointing at your foot, that is the direction you will have to go in once you leave my house. Through swamp and wood and snow, follow the line even if the path curves away from under you. Don’t lose it! Straight on until you run into this little vertebra, see? That will be a hill.

You will need to go into that hill, down in its hollowed-out stomach. Just follow the staircase, long ago laid bare by storms more vicious than you have lived to see. You will find a doorway at the bottom of the stairs, the door ripped off its hinges before you were born.

That is where those things came from. The first they feasted on were the people who made them.

You will find the cache in the secret room, untouched inside the hill. Untouched because no one in their right mind would open one of those crates, but you are not in your right mind anymore, are you, love?

They will look like little bottles of clean, cool water, but make no mistake. They are what you need. Open one and drink from it.

It will hurt.

Five of those bottles emptied into a city’s water tank were enough to wipe out thousands of men, women, and children. Drink only enough to moisten your mouth. Even I don’t know what will happen if you drink more.

No one can tell what you will look like once the agony passes. Eight limbs, maybe, eyes all over your skin, or a snout to crush a skull with. All of those at once, even. The tumors will kill you in a few years, of course, but for those few years, you will be free to roam and forget.

You are smiling once again. You disturb me, love, and few things disturb Mother Lügner these days.

You have not told me everything.

Oh. Oh.

That taste of flesh… You cried because you hated it.

And you smile now because you crave it.

Get out.

Get out!

My old heart races so. She will go where I said, no doubt, and destroy herself.

Man on the cross, forgive me. I should have lied to her.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Anita Dénes grew up in Transylvania as an avid reader, and later writer of strange stories, both in English and Hungarian. She published her first short story in a Hungarian magazine at the age of 20. Now, at 23, she is an aspiring author dreaming of publishing a full-length book one day and working on mysterious and macabre tales in the meantime.

Free Fiction: Pockets of Posies by Nexie Maryln

Remember that one nursery rhyme Ring Around the Rosie? Well in this case two kids were in the woods when they heard the nursery rhyme through the wisping fall wind. Here is their story.

One day in October near Halloween, Lyla and Kyla were walking in the woods as the wind picked up putting an utter chill in the fall air when the twins heard a faint sound of a music box and as they neared the end of the woods the sound grew louder and louder so before the twins left the woods, they went exploring and found an old plantation style house was the source of the music. They ventured into the gate with a loud creak. The music stopped and they saw a little girl emerge from the broken door. She couldn’t have been any older than 4 or 5 years old. She looked very scared and was in ripped clothes.

     “Maybe she is homeless?” Lyla asked Kyla.  

Unbeknownst to the girls, the little girl Rosiee was the victim of a game of ouija board Ring Around the Rosie, where they summoned a demon who wanted to “play” with the little girl and her family. As they followed her in, they felt this unfamiliar feeling that made them uneasy. They ventured further into the home not trusting their gut to leave immediately.  Once they caught up to the little girl, they looked at the room and realized that they had fallen into a trap of the demon that possessed Rosiee. With her head cocked to one side, Rosieeand giggled as her eyes turned black and her face slowly began to slide off as her body grew two feet taller. By the time the girls turned to run Rosiee took the form of the demon that possessed her.

As soon as the girls got to the door it slammed shut, trapping the girls who were now cowering in fear. The demon rushed over to the girls and consumed them just like she had the family. 

So if you see three girls beckoning for you to come in. Run for your life before it is too late and you fall victim to the demons of Ring Around the Rosie. 

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Nexie Maryln is a short story author that wants to do this full time.

Free Fiction: He is Coming by S.Tierney

Under bough and moonlight, we bide, the twilight breeze fluttering the hems of our white cotton gowns. Behind us, staving the chill while preventing retreat, a semicircle of elders support burning torches, their grimaces of paternal anticipation veiled behind a portrait mask. 

Before us, awaiting us, beckoning us: a fruitless and endless and altogether lifeless density of brambles, an entwined jungle of octopus tentacle with talon-like thorns for suckers. The wind causes the vines to grind together, sounding a scratching akin to a butcher’s tools being sharpened – yet shortly we must attempt to achieve what the moonlight cannot. Upon the dimming of the moon behind a cloud we must penetrate this barbed mass, run headlong into its jagged crush without a moment’s hesitation, all in an attempt to reach the other side. 

This is the way of it–

And so we are away. Gowns flapping. Faces preemptively scrunched. The initial thorns cut the deepest, fangs puncturing, biting our momentum. Immediately we are lodged, imprisoned within nature’s chains. In animal reflex one cannot help but raise their hands to their face, fearing scars and lacerations and the likely loss of an eye. But this is a mistake. Although we are all virgins to this ceremony and therefore inexperienced, the best of us know instinctively that one’s hands are better put to use not in preservation but in parting. Reach for those brambles! Tear them from their roots! Yes, just as our cheeks, our palms will soon be glossy with blood, that loose skin between the fingers spliced from so much snagging; yet these torments must be ignored. We must hasten. Endure. Suffer. Clench. Scream if you must, cry out! But whatever you do, do not hesitate, not even for a moment.

For He is coming.

He moves faster than us, compelled by a purpose comparable with a predator’s lust. He carves through the brambles with all the impulsion of a stag trampling roses, following those paths of least resistance which we have so courteously made ready. Yes, we benefit from a head start, that interval between the thinning of the clouds and the returning of the moon; but He has strength on His side, power, size, and a rampant desire to capture those laggers who have fallen behind. 

Dare you look over your calloused shoulders you would see that His lumbering structure is barnacled with faces. Masks, to be exact, sunken wicker skulls with only a lacquer of meat depicted across the bone. Not only is His face concealed as per the elders; He is draped in masks as though a stone clustered with oysters, His ribs and shins and forearms and spine consumed beneath armor-like myiasis of haunted expressions, each more pained and repentant than the next. This spore of woven faces seems to cry out as He thrusts them through the brambles, the wailing mill of thorn against willow akin to teeth down a blackboard – not that He fosters any heed. The thorns are nothing to Him. He feels no pain. He only wills the chase. His chase. Our chase. With each stride, He surges faster, grows more determined–

Should you maintain the inclination to escape, you must do the same.

It is impossible to know how deep you are into the brambles – it is all one endless, seizing tract. You may have grappled through an acre or an inch of it, for an hour or a lifetime; and all you have to show is a gown torn to ribbons. Your flesh fares little better, gashed raw that it is. At least be thankful that you are still moving, still breathing, even writhing – which is more than can be said for your fellows…

Having previously been cocooned within a company as numerous as a flock of doves, now the flock is dissipating, His ravenous hawk bringing down you fledglings beak by beak. A begging squawk is stifled within the brambles, snuffed out like a candle. Moments later and out goes another. Then another. Between the vines, you catch a flash of cotton as it is snatched away, pale and bloodied. You feel yourself alone, isolated; you fear you too will soon be snatched, for you are freezing and fretting and all-but naked and exhausted to your soul – yet you must endure, just a little further. Another inch. Another lifetime. Look, the brambles are thinning. The light beyond them swells! Of this, you convince yourself if only to drown out the howling reality that He is almost upon you. Within the reflective beads of blood and sweat and dew and tears which cling to the vines ahead, you see His charging form glinting in the moonlight, unblinking eyes staring hungrily, bared teeth snapping like those of a pack of hounds. As though an extension of his wicker the brambles seem to harden, converge, wrap around you. The light…it is so close now. One final push. One final tolerance of laceration and suffering and-

You collapse to a bed of wild and welcoming grass, the brambles renounced behind your swollen ankles. Your breath is hurried, moist exhalations swirling around the smoke from the semicircle of torches which stand over you. An elder in a red gown lifts your head and presses a chalice to your lips. You swallow as best you can – the tart fluid bubbles over your chin. A mask, a robe, and a torch are awarded – and a second sip.

Thankful, you roll over and glance behind you; each indistinguishable from the other, His wicker masks peer out from the brambles, more innumerous than before. 

And then, in accordance with the moon, they recede.

____________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

S. Tierney is an author of novels, comics, and several acclaimed short stories – which have been translated into audiobooks – and the novella ‘Kin’. Find more of his work on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scott-Tierney/e/B00J21D0O6?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1641651813&sr=8-1

 

Free Fiction: It’ Hard Out There For A Cryptid by Andy Martin

Devil let Dogman push his advantage, his strength, his reach, but Dogman’s big haymakers were too wild to really connect, claws too short and too dog to do much damage, and when Devil felt Dogman’s whole weight shift forward for the kill Devil dropped back on his wings like he was done for but then kicked out with both hooves, catching the mutt high on the chest. Dogman hit the sand like there wasn’t a bone left in his body.

Devil followed through and landed more or less upright on his hooves, that spot on his back, right above his tail, absolutely screaming. He’d feel that one in the morning.

     “Welcome to New Jersey kid,” he said, wisps of smoke and sulfur for punctuation.  

Dogman’s eyes were rolled over white but he was whimpering so he’d live. 

     “Don’t feel bad. I’ve been pulling that move since the 18th century. One time I turned a grass ape’s head completely around like that, so count       yourself lucky.” He grabbed a handful of Dogman’s pelt and dragged him toward the creek. “Let’s get some water in you.”

***

     “Anything?” Buddy said, his phone on selfie mode as checked his headlamp.

     “I’ve barely got any bars, no, wait, wait, I got it. You’re good,” Steve said, turning his phone with the aftermarket lighting and stabilization rig             toward Buddy. He got Buddy framed up, the pine trunks behind him looking like rotted teeth in the glare of the big light. “Rolling.”

     “What’s up Youwatch, this is Cryptid Buddy coming from deep in the Jersey Pines, but tonight we’re not talking about Jersey Devil, tonight             we’re talking about-”

***

Dogman was on the shore, shaking cedar water from his fur and spitting blood. Devil hopped off a stump and stretched hard, maybe too hard, because Dogman flinched and whined.

     “Relax pal. We’re good.” Except for my back, which is not good, Devil thought. “Friends?” Devil said and offered a claw. Dogman shrunk and           Devil turned his claw palm down, let him come in for a sniff.

     “Good boy. See? We’re fine. Look kid, I was young once too, I get it. 1909? I was all the rage. People were so scared of me, they couldn’t keep       my name out of their mouths. I was chasing trollies and closing schools. I mean, it wasn’t quite the 18th, when I was eating babies and                  burning churches, but I loved it…until some kid in California willed me into existence and a Bigfoot kicked my ass.”

***

“Dogmen. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Devil of Ben Franklin’s day is no match for these carnivorous Cano-sapiens, and I have exclusive information that animal mutilations are on the rise in the Pine Barrens and there have been numerous sightings of large humanoids-”

Steve was fighting to keep up with Buddy in the soft sand, the pines crowding the road and throwing menacing shadows in the camera light-

***

Dogman stopped licking his paw and made a little whine.

     “Look, I get it. You’re holed up somewhere, sleeping that deep sleep, and you feel it, or smell it, or whatever. That scared, eager mind. That            delicious belief. But kid, we’ve all got our patches. I still feel that pull from all over the country, not like ’09, but it’s there. Maybe it’s because          everyone, everywhere, is from New Jersey, but either way, lots of people, all over the place, they step in the woods at night, they think of me.”

Dogman whined again and looked anywhere but at Devil.

     “But you know what? Colorado ain’t my patch. Florida ain’t my patch. Bodwin Moor ain’t my patch. Jersey is my patch, and I still get plenty of         Boy Scout trips out here to keep me going strong. I need a pick me up, I just land close to one of those little circles of tents and scream like         hell, plant that seed of terror that those kids will carry for the rest of their lives and years from now, they’ll be around a campfire and telling             their own kids about what they heard one night, and that’s me, going strong for another few years. You try to be everywhere where someone         thinks they see a Dogman and you’ll burn out. Or some old-timer like me or the Opogo is gonna clean your clock-”

Devil snapped a claw at Dogman.

     “Hey! There’s places you’re meant to be and places you ain’t. The Pines are mine. I’m not pissing on hydrants in Michigan, so do me the                 same      courtesy, you get me?”

Dogman nodded, his eyes still anywhere but on the Devil and skulked into the night.

***

      “What was that?!”

Steve did like he was supposed to and whipped his phone back and forth across the logging road, the sand wetter now, like maybe this was a bad idea and they were walking into a bog.

      “I heard it too!” Steve hissed, but it wasn’t only a stage whisper. Somewhere way out in the night, he’d heard some sort of low moan, half-animal, half-human but all hurt. It left his balls crawling. 

     “There! There!” Buddy shouted and backed up, squelching in the wet sand, banging full on into Steve, the camera spinning, Steve sick to his         stomach and cold all over at the same time. 

Steve heard wings beating, big ones.

     “Buddy, we gotta go,” he said. 

     “What is it?” Buddy asked, more a moan than words, all the bravado gone and then the moon winked out and winked back on, something                huge and black flying over the road, the shadow bending off to the right like it was circling back-

The scream hit them, and Steve pissed Mountain Dew in his pants and they were both running, no thoughts of Dogmen anymore because only one monster rules the night in New Jersey.

 

——————————————————————————————————————————-

 

 

 

Andy Martin is an archaeologist and musician living in South Philly with his girlfriend and cat. He sings songs about shipwrecks and survival cannibalism for the band Clamfight. His fiction has appeared at Cultured Vultures and Necrology Shorts, and he’s authored or coauthored archaeology articles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Free Fiction: Wolf by JS O’Connor

You embrace me like two long-lost lovers meeting once again. But as I embrace you, I can feel you change. I release you but your arms are strong and I am trapped. 

“Please,” I beg. But you tighten your grip.

Your hands grab my arms. Your nails are daggers. I begin to cry. But I can’t look away as you show me your face. Gone are the beautiful green eyes. Gone is your handsome and soft face. Gone is your short blonde hair. Gone is the man I fell in love with. Gone is the man I married. Red eyes look at me now. A face like a dog, or coyote, or maybe a wolf look at me now.

Tears roll down my cheeks. I know what’s about to happen. “I love you,” I whisper. “I will always love you.” But you are silent.

Soon I feel your teeth enter my flesh. Blood runs down my chest. I look to a photo hanging on the wall. A happier time. A time you no longer remember. I try to speak your name, but I can’t. I struggle to breathe. The light begins to fade and soon all is dark. 

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J.S. O’Connor is a staff writer for HorrorAddicts.net who currently lives in Bettendorf, Iowa. He lives with his wife, three cats, and one dog. He writes during his free time.  you will also enjoy reading his “Spooky Locations” Features here on our blog.

Historian of Horror : The Prehistory of the Horror Comic Book; or, Ten Cents a Scare

As I have already pointed out in this space, the first continuing original horror anthology comic book was American Comics Group’s Adventures into the Unknown, which debuted in 1948 and ran for 174 issues. But, you might well ask, surely there were spooky comic books before then?

And so there were, starting all the way back in the days even before Superman debuted in 1938, buried in the middle pages of anthology titles, nestled between the superheroes, cowboys, and ace aviators. There were legions of ghost detectives, beginning with DC Comics’ Doctor Occult, along with a variety of second-string sorcerers, magicians, and prestidigitators all more or less based on the newspaper comic strip, Mandrake. Captain America and the other superheroes at Timely Comics regularly fought vampires, mummies and reanimated corpses on their way to becoming the stars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Charlton’s Yellowjacket Comics began inserting brief adaptations of the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe beginning with the third issue, cover-dated November, 1944. I’ve already written about the four-color muck monsters inspired by Theodore Sturgeon’s short story, It. And so on. Monsters and other supernatural menaces were, until after the end of the Second World War, regularly used but not deemed worthy of being featured in their own titles.

With one exception – Classic Comics #13. This Gilberton publication, later known as Classics Illustrated, adapted the great works of literature into comics format well into the 1970s. The August 1943 issue featured Robert Louis Stevenson’s horror novella, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – the first comic book devoted entirely to horror. But not original horror, and not an anthology. Not yet. That took four more years.

Avon Comics began around 1945 as an off-shoot of Avon Publications, a paperback and digest-sized magazine house specializing in speculative fiction and suggestive love stories. Eerie Comics #1 was an early effort, cover-dated January 1947. Legendary comic book artist Joe Kubert and Airboy artist Fred Kida contributed, along with Bob Fujitani, who also created the cover. Despite the provocative image on the front of the book, sales were poor and no follow-up issues were published. 

By the time the title was revived in 1951 for a seventeen issue run, it was only one of dozens, if not hundreds, of horror comics of its time, distinguished only by its inclusion of early work by artist Wally Wood. Avon never became a major player in the comic book industry, despite some very attractive publications, including a one-shot adaptation of the 1932 Boris Karloff film, The Mask of Fu Manchu, in 1951. Wood contributed both cover and interior art. There was also a backup story drawn by African-American penciller Alvin Hollingsworth, who not long afterwards left comics to become a noted fine artist. By the mid-1950s, Avon Comics was no more. Avon Publications survives to this day as a romance novel publisher.

But they were the first to envision the future of horror comic books. Before Tales from the Crypt, before House of Mystery, before Strange Tales, before This Magazine is Haunted or Ghostly Tales from the Haunted House or Creepy or Chilling Adventures in Sorcery, Avon established the format for so much to come. 

Well, somebody had to get things started. A minor player does something that has a major impact – isn’t that the essence of what we like to think of as being the very story of America? 

 

I do have a lagniappe to offer the populace this time out – a follow-up to my last post. It never ceases to amaze me how often things come to my attention almost immediately after I hit that old ‘send’ button, things that are vitally relevant to the post just submitted. Case in point, my tardy discovery of The Hound of the Baskervilles comic strip adaptation in January. 

And so it was within a few days after shooting off my post on the French-language Angoisse publications. I only just now learned of a website from which English translations can be purchased of some of the volumes I wrote about previously. Black Coat Press has a massive catalog of French novels, anthologies, and collections for sale both as e-books and dead tree editions. I am seriously lusting after their Maurice Limat volume, Mephista. I encourage the populace to browse around their website if they are so inclined. There’s bound to be something to pique the interest of the discriminating reader. 

Next time, we’ll venture into the realm of popular music, and drop in on a Haunted House inhabited by numerous recording artists, including Johnny Fuller, Jumpin’ Gene Simmons, and Sam the Sham himself. Ought to be fun.

And so, valedictorians of the vile, until we meet again…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Free Fiction: Last One Alive by Kiera S. Ray

On a bright and early Sunday morning in Chicago, everyone disappeared except one person his name was Bret. He woke up to silence and looked around with the strangest feeling that he was alone. He shouted “MOM” then “DAD” but no one answered.  The only thing he could hear was his heart beating with excitement. In the end, Bret didn’t know what was coming later on that day.

Bret was cleaning and decorating getting ready to throw a party he then called his mom and dad to see where they went, but the phone went straight to voice mail and then blew up in his face. His heart sunk. He quickly ran to the house phone to try again but the same thing happened, it went straight to voicemail.

Bret was frightened and quickly ran outside to see the streets empty.  All he could hear was silence. He freaked out but quickly calmed down so he could see what was going on.  He turned on the TV to watch the news. Nothing popped up.

Bret was starting to worry that he was the last one alive on earth. But then he thought to himself,  This is awesome!

Later on that day a zombie outrage would be happening and Bret didn’t know anything about it. Time passed and Bret decided to take a nap. He was woken up to a siren going off. He quickly got out of bed to see ships coming out of the sky with zombies all wanting his blood.  He freaked and quickly thought to block off all doors but the zombies were stronger.

Bret quickly ran out of the house, jumped his former neighbor’s gate, and quickly ran up the next street thinking he had escaped, but he only ran into trouble. The zombies had the whole street blocked off and the only thing Bret had was a knife that he picked up along the way. He started to kill the zombies and eventually he killed all of them with his strategic thinking.

Bret went to find a hiding spot but that wouldn’t stop anything because he was the last one alive so they could smell his fresh human blood anywhere. He went to an old cabin of his grandfather’s to hide there and was surprised to see his older brother Lucas hiding. With a disturbing look on his face, Lucas was rocking back and forth freaking out about what was going on and where is everyone? That’s when Bret told him that they were the last people on earth. Lucas’ mouth opened and he screamed in terror, “ THIS CAN NOT BE REAL PLEASE TELL ME THIS ISNT REAL”

Bret responded,

“I’m sorry Lucas but this is real and now is not the time to lose yourself. We have zombies to kill… “

They went to find weapons and they were ready to fight …

They went to find the zombies and started killing them brutally because they were fear-driven. Lucas didn’t last long before a zombie tore him apart. Bret saw it and broke down to his knees with anger and regret. 

He quickly got up and started slicing and shooting zombies one by one, but he wasn’t good enough and he eventually died a hero right along with his brother. During that time he didn’t forget that he left his precious home earth to a family of cold-blooded, killing zombies.

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Kiera S Ray is 18 years old and resides in Memphis, Tennessee. She recently took on a passion for writing short stories of any genre but loves romance stories most. She loves that we are taking a chance to read a short story she has written. We look forward to reading more and wish Kiera much writing luck in the future.

Spooky Locations : Joplin Spook Light

Joplin Spook Light

by J.S. O’Connor

Growing up in rural Missouri, I heard of all sorts of spooky locations: the woods outside of town when the sun goes down, a lonely dirt road at night, a bridge that is falling in on itself, and many abandoned buildings that are explored by the local youth. All of these can be spooky in and of themselves but none are quite as spooky or unexplained as the Joplin Spook Light.

The Joplin Spook Light, also known as the Hornet Spook Light, or the Tri-State Spook Light is a phenomenon that takes place along the Oklahoma-Missouri border on a gravel road near the small town of Quapaw, Oklahoma.

The Spook Light is a ball of light or orb that can be seen off in the distance with the size of the light varying. The mysterious light travels up and down the road or hovers high above the treetops. It has also been known to appear within vehicles or above passing people as they walk along the road. 

The origin of the spook light has rational explanations as well as paranormal ones. It’s easy to say that the light can be from the headlight of a car off in the distance or even a natural light from one of the nearby towns. But according to legend, the spook light was seen in the location before cars or any other man-made light brightened the area. It could also be explained as ball lightning or some other natural explanation such as electrical discharge. However, the oldest legend of the spook light is that of the spirit of a young Native American and her lover leaping to their deaths after eloping and being pursued. Another legend is that of a miner looking for his wife and children who went missing after being attacked by Native Americans. 

Whatever the explanation of the Joplin Spook Light or Hornet Spook Light, whether natural or paranormal, if you find yourself driving along a gravel road along the Oklahoma-Missouri border and see a light off in the distance, I wouldn’t stop and investigate. But again, that won’t stop the Spook Light from investigating you! 

__________________________________________________________________________

Work Cited:

The spook light: Joplin, Mo – official website. The Spook Light | Joplin, MO – Official Website. (n.d.). Retrieved February 18, 2022, from http://www.joplinmo.org/575/The-Spook-Light 

  

      

Free Fiction: The Mighty One by P. M. Thomas

My mind is like a record, left on playback, constantly looping, never stopping, always repeating the same notes, over and over and over. Ad nauseam.

I’m amazed I’ve lasted as long as I have. Most men would have lost it in less than a year. But not me. For over two decades, I have been hearing the same record play the same tune. From the tender age of a boy, it began – a small note, something others would have ignored, but not I.

I listened to the melody, got caught in its vicious trap, its intrusive cycle. Sealed in the routine of the song, the melody grew stronger every day and thereon, it took total control, dominated my mind, controlled my life.

It almost destroyed me on several occasions. Luckily, I managed to survive; luckily, I managed to hold on to the slither of strength I had left.

I suppose you’re wondering, why don’t I just switch off the record and stop listening to it? I have tried, believe me, dear reader, I have tried.
Every time I attempt to block out the endless loop, it always comes back, louder and louder.
What does my mind play, I hear you ask?

Words. Words of great disturbance, words of darkness, words that must be purified. Cleansed of their evil. Decontaminated with the light of goodness.

Now, I hear you say, they are only words … Can words cause harm?

Oh, dear reader, I shall shed light on why these dark words must be purged of their vileness in order to prevent any harm that their wretchedness could bring.

It’s because of the Mighty One.

Who is that? I hear you wonder. Allow me to explain. The Mighty One is a being of omnipotent power, a being that processes my thoughts in a heartbeat and can make them happen.

The Mighty One resides in the far reaches of my consciousness. We are linked – we are one, it and I. We both determine the fate of the world.

I did not ask for such a heavy responsibility, the Mighty One chose me and made me the guardian of all life. You can’t even begin to imagine how hard it is having to hold all our lives in my mind.

My mind. The battlefield. Where every minute of every hour of every day is spent battling the dark words with the words of salvation.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m crazy.

You could be right. Of course, you could be wrong.

Who’s to say that my mind doesn’t have the power to cause pain and misery if the dark words were ever processed by the Mighty One?

The world is a mystery; who knows what incredible things lurk behind the veil of reality, the mask of sanity, the logic of reason?

There is a good chance it all could be in my head. Maybe I have a disturbed mind that needs to make an average guy like me seem important to the world. Or could there be a phenomenon that this mind of mine contains? My mind … the key to the destruction of someone, of everyone and – worst case scenario – of the whole wide world.

Not to mention, the key to destroying my very self if the words wished to.

Might I be a man with an overactive imagination sparked into overdrive, no longer able to tell reality and fantasy apart? Or might I be a guardian, keeping the world and all lives within the world existing every single day, non-stop?

Whatever I am, I stand on the fine line between life and death, good and evil, light and darkness, purity and corruption, peace and mayhem, hope and doom, existence and oblivion.

I suppose you are wondering by now… what are the dark words that may or may not cause catastrophic effects?

You’re not going to like the answer but I can not tell you what the words are. To even speak of them or write them could cause the catalyst. The dark words must remain sealed in my head.

You may not care about risking the possible end of your life, another life, my life or all life in the world, but I do.

I’m afraid I can not take such a risk to indulge your curiosity.

Fret not, dear reader, for while I am unable to give you the apocalyptic words, I can give you the words of salvation that were given to me by the Mighty One.

And when you read these words, think of the difficult struggle that I, your sole protector, must do to keep you going to bed, safe and sound, every night.

There is no rest for me, there is no peace for me. I have a duty that I must uphold till the day I die.

And to you sceptics out there, those who do not believe me, those who feel I am mad or making this up: continue to live your life as you wish, in bliss.

Whether I am a guardian or not, these are the words I must repeat endlessly to keep you all alive and well as I sit here on my own, day in, day out, locked in my little white room.

 

Oh Mighty One, protect the world.

Oh Mighty One, protect all life.

Oh Mighty One, protect me.

Oh Mighty One, do not unmake the world.

Oh Mighty One, do not unmake all life.

Oh Mighty One, do not unmake me.

Oh Mighty One, never forsake the world.

Oh Mighty One, never forsake all life.

Oh Mighty One, never forsake me.

Oh Mighty One, have mercy on all life.

Oh Mighty One, have mercy on me.

Oh Mighty One, give all life strength.

Oh Mighty One, give me strength.

Please, Mighty One, please.

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P.M. Thomas is an author from Birmingham, UK. He has always had a love and passion for the art of storytelling, especially when it’s associated with horror.   Find more of his work at: https://philipbrocklehurst3.wixsite.com/p-m-thomas

HorrorAddicts.net Press Presents: Two Book Birthdays Today/Horrible Disasters and Plague Master Sanctuary Dome

Horrible Disasters

hahdfront-coverA Horror Disaster Anthology
Available now on Amazon.com

HorrorAddicts.net proudly presents Horrible Disasters. Thirteen authors from around the globe share their visions of terror set during real natural disasters throughout history. Travel back in time to earth shattering events like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and the Winter of Terror avalanches, 1950. What supernatural events went unnoticed? What creatures caused such destruction without remorse? Stock your emergency kit, hunker in your bunker, and prepare for… Horrible Disasters.

Cover Art by: Thierry Pouzergues

Edited by: Larraine Barnard

authors:
Emerian Rich
H. E. Roulo
Dan Shaurette
Steve Merrifield
Mark Eller
Laurel Anne Hill
Timothy Reynolds
Ed Pope
Jennifer Rahn
Chris Ringler
Philip Carroll
Mike McGee
Garth von Buchholz

Proceeds to benefit Disaster Relief by way of the non-profit agency, Rescue Task Force.

Historian of Horror : Boo-La-LA!

I am obliged to admit to being at a bit of a disadvantage this time out. While I did take one year of French in the ninth grade, that was almost fifty years ago. The next year, I switched to German. I took three years of it in high school and another couple in college. Although my Deutsch is very rusty after not using it for so long, I can still usually parse out fairly simple passages. I’m way past being able to read philosophical treatises, but I could probably manage the back of a cereal box.

On the other hand, I find I have to rely on what shared vocabulary English has with the Romance languages to make much sense of them. There’s a bunch, thankfully, so I can sometimes get through extremely simple bits, especially if I have some understanding of the context. So, when I chose to write today about a French publisher of horror novels, I was forced to call on whatever residual skills and knowledge I possessed along those lines because there is darn near diddly on the history of that enterprise in English on the internet. 

What in the world was I thinking?

Oh, well. Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together…

Our story begins in 1949 with Fleuve éditions, a publisher of popular novels. Their subsidiary imprint, Fleuve noir, specialized in a variety of genres arranged in separate collections – Spécial Police and Espionnage, which are pretty much self-explanatory; Anticipation, which was for science-fiction; and Angoisse, horror. Angoisse roughly correlates to the German word, Angst, which most English readers will no doubt recognize as being a component of that essential ingredient of horror, le frisson, that I keep going on about, that anticipatory shiver we all crave when delving into our favorite genre.

Angoisse was active from 1954 to 1974, with 261 books published. Based on the fewer than half of the novels I’ve been able to track down any information on, their most popular authors included Maurice Limat (September 23, 1914 – January 23, 2002), who split his efforts between Angoisse and Anticipation; Marc Agapit (pseudonym of Adrien Sobra, October 12, 1897 – September 21, 1985); Dominique Arly (November 8, 1915 – November 8, 2009); André Caroff (February 8, 1924 – March 9, 2009); and Dominique Rocher (July 6, 1929 – September 13, 2016). There were also occasional translations of American stories, including Donald Wandrei’s 1948 novel, The Web of Easter Island, published as Cimetière de l’effroi.

Limat was a prolific writer in several genres. His detective character, Teddy Verona, debuted in 1937 and became an occult detective when Limat went to work for Angoisse, beginning with 1962’s Le Marchand de Cauchmars (The Merchant of Nightmares). Limat wrote twenty-four Teddy Verona books for Angoisse, thirteen of which pitted him against the very naughty Mephista, beginning in 1969. Limat continued to write his adventures until 1981.

Agapit’s first novel for Angoisse, Agence tout crimes, came out in 1958; his last, Le Dragon de lumière (The Dragon of Light),  in 1974, a total of forty-four books. If he ever wrote a series with continuing characters, I can’t tell.

Dominique Arly wrote nineteen Angoisse books. Five featured one Rosamond Lew, all published in 1970 and 1971. Dominique Rocher contributed ten, none in any series that I can figure out.

Caroff had a series about the nefarious Madame Atomos that ran to seventeen volumes, plus one novel published under the Anticipation imprint, Les Sphères Attaquent (Attack of the Spheres), in which she was renamed Madame Cosmos. Along the way, she created a younger version of herself, Miss Atomos, who switched sides and fought against her ‘mother’. Comics publisher Aredit put out twenty-four issues of a Madame Atomos comic book beginning in 1968, most based on the series novels, the remainder adapted from other works by Caroff.

There were others, of course, including the house name Benoit Becker, under which several writers wrote pseudonymously; André Ruellan, who wrote under the name Kurt Steiner; and Agnès Laurent, which was the pseudonym of Hélène Simart. And so on for 261 volumes of scary French goodies. 

One of these days, I really need to drop around at some community college nearby and take a few courses in that most lovely of languages so I can finally read some of the books I’ve alluded to above. Might as well brush up on my German while I’m there since there are similar houses on the far side of the Rhine River that not only reprinted the Angoisse books but published long series of their own horror titles. But that’s another column, for another day.

 Next time, we’ll take a look at the very first horror comic book, Avon’s 1947 one-shot, Eerie Comics #1. Until then, aficionados of angst…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Free Fiction: Seconds Left For Tomorrow Melissa R. Mendelson

The clock hands rested across the nine and the eleven. The red second line convulsed, struggling to break in-between. It pushed forward, then fell back. It refused to give up, shaking so hard that it might just snap, but it slipped forward. An inch forward. It was stuck again.

I closed my eyes. The hum of the lights overhead did not help. The breakdown of the seconds did not help. The shouting outside did not help. If only the world could just stop. Stop for one damn minute.  Let me concentrate, and I closed my eyes, drawing in a breath. Come on. Focus. You can do it. Just focus.

“Damn it! Will you all outside shut the fuck up?” I stared at the thin walls, knowing that they heard me. “Thank you. I need to concentrate.” I sat back in my chair and closed my eyes. “Someone turn off the fucking lights,” and the hum died.

I could see it now. The black, square object spinning wildly. Its hum was silent but deafening. It could not leave its orbit. It was stuck like that red second line, convulsing, threatening to break. I slipped forward, pushed back by its electric field. Never had I dealt with such resistance. I reached for it. My hand touched it. I was thrown against the wall, and the wall cracked.

“What is the obstacle here?” the suit asked.

“The obstacle?” I laughed, wiping the blood from my nose. “It won’t let me near it.”

“So, what’s the problem?”

“Are you deaf, man? It won’t let me near it.”

“Don’t you control that thing?”

“There is no control,” I said. “We have a mutual relationship. At least, we did.” I looked down at the blood on my hand. “Something’s wrong,” I said.

“No shit, buddy. We’re on the brink of war, and we’re barely surviving the viral outbreak. You were our last resort.”

“I’m sorry.” I waited for the suit to help me up. Instead, he sat in my chair. “Sure. Just leave me on the floor,” I said. “I’m fine here.”

“None of us are fine, if we can’t see tomorrow. We need to… I need to know. You’re the man that can see the future, and you need to see if there is a tomorrow.”

“I’m trying! I never had this obstacle before. I could always see tomorrow and the tomorrows after that. Too much is happening right now.”

“There is always something happening in the world,” the suit said.

“No. Not like this. It’s like the floodgates were thrown open, and there are too many variables in play. There might be a tomorrow, but what kind of tomorrow? There might not be a tomorrow, but then what did we do wrong today? What did we do yesterday that set off the end of the world? Let’s face it. We are at the end.”

“Try again. Take a moment, and try again.”

“I’ve been at this all day. I just have this really bad feeling.”

“That it’s over?”

“No. There will be a tomorrow, but not our tomorrow.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means buckle up. Whatever is coming our way, there is no stopping it.”

“So, you’re giving up?”

I didn’t answer him. I knew what I had to do. Something bad was coming. Something really bad, and I didn’t want to see it. There was only one thing left then to escape that fate. I found the black, square object spinning wildly in its orbit. I grabbed hold with both hands this time, and I didn’t let go. The electric field pierced through the fabric of my being. My mind split apart. Before I snapped into oblivion, I caught a glimpse. I saw the world from yesterday, and it was burning in orange flames.

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Melissa R. Mendelson is a horror, dystopian and science-fiction author,                                                                        whose short stories have been published in Sirens Call Publications,                                                                                        Dark Helix Press and Transmundane Press.

You may find her work at: http://www.melissamendelson.com

Free Fiction : The Glubb by Brittanty Erickson

The Glubb

There once was a lady with no hair. She smoked 5 packs a day in front of endless Golden Girl marathons. She ashed on the couch, ashed on her carpet, her sink, her cats, the parrot ate butts as a snack. She loved to ash in her tub while she sat on the loo. She never used the tub, but once in a while, she’d pour the rest of her Old Milwaukee down the drain, which was clogged with food and ash. The smell was more than rancid. She would often see a mass move in the corner of her eye but always disregarded it as her own mind playing tricks.

She had no kids. Her parents had passed. But, this was more than depression and misery. A spiral of emptiness, a void. She began to think, “Why would anything be real?” 

With her cat snuggling her, fur matted with ash, she stroked his tail. She was laying on the couch, waiting for ‘The Price is Right’ to end. Then she heard a slurping sound. She ignored it as the building’s pipes were in bad shape.

In the bathroom, the mass began to grow. The parrot had disappeared the day before. She figured, “He must have flown away when I chucked out the cans.” She went to have another loo. Walking down the ash-ridden hallway, cancerous dust puffed from her feet. She angled her arm around the corner to turn on the light. It was covered in a moist, unfamiliar material. She reached for her smartphone and clicked the power to light the screen. She heard a loud POP and saw ash fall from the walls. 

“Grhhh-ggh,” came from the tub. She found herself unable to move when she noticed feathers plastered to the walls.

The mass continued down through her tub, into the lower pipes. A man was bathing below, getting ready for work. When he raised his razor to his cheeks, he felt a tickle on his foot. He jerked, cutting his cheek down to his chin. 

“Dammit!” He screamed. The bath began to fill with a black substance. Touching his cheek, he saw red, not black. The water became a dark grey and began to gurgle. It slipped into his pelvis and used his gut to travel through to his wound. The man felt dry, too dry to move. His skin began to shrivel, his hair fell out. The cut on his cheek began to ooze black.

The mass traveled back down the drain, searching for an exit. The pipes of this complex led to the sewer. Soon the city was to become monotone.

Frightened by the explosive amount of ash, the lady was in disbelief. “It’s not real, it’s not real,” she said to the ash. 

The lady laid back down on her couch. She stayed inside her home until she needed groceries 2 weeks later. She never ran the water, and lived strictly on diet-soda. She grabbed her one key and began her walk out of the door. No point in locking it, nothing to steal. 

As she walked, ash flew from her toes. It was such a normal, homely feeling.

It was unusually quiet inside the building, but outside was unusually loud. A gurgling, burping could be heard from the sewer grate under her apartment. She trembled and hugged her flannel jacket closer to her skin.  

She lived only 2 blocks away from her grocery stop. Instantly, she noticed the market had no employees. The food was starting to rot. There was a rancid smell coming from the shop doors. She grabbed a bag and started stealing cans and boxes of non-perishables. On her way back home, no one passed her, no one was walking across the street. She could only hear the “grubble-glubb,” from the sewer beneath.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

Brittany Erickson is a 30-year-old mom who enjoys writing stories and poems. She lives in rural Iowa, USA, always has.

Free Fiction: The Buck by Sam Clattenburg

The Buck

When Amanda awoke all she could think of were those sharp hooves breaking through her windshield. Lying next to her in her overturned pickup truck was a bloody mess of hair, glass, and blood. So much blood- everywhere. She felt a prick in her arm. Antlers. Attached to those antlers was a set of stone-cold dead eyes. Life completely drained; pupils mid-dilated. For a very brief moment, she felt compassion because this wasn’t in her plan. As she admired those eyes and lifted a hand to stroke its face, an unexpected kick of the beast in her car knocked her out once again.

This time when she woke, the buck had disappeared. Like it had never been there in the first place. Broken glass shards remained but no blood. Had she dreamt it all? Didn’t she just hit a deer?

She unbuckled her seatbelt brushing off bits of glass shards, all the while looking around to get a sense of her surroundings. But there was nothing particular that stood out as familiar to her. In fact, when she looked one way it was just a  crumbled up unkempt dried out old paved road lined with a multitude of trees with multicolored leaves all in varying stages of decay. A glance in the other direction offered the same exact view. Same cracks in the same dried-up old pavement. Same trees. Then she saw it. Standing across the road with not a scratch was the buck. Easily a ten-pointer. She knew because her Daddy hunted her whole young life and the ten-pointer was the coveted prize of hunters.

How can that be? Must be a different deer. She looked over to where her car lay crumpled up in the ditch. Damn Japanese cars ain’t worth a shit, she heard her father’s voice in her head. He had died three years prior from lung cancer. Then she saw it. She saw herself lying on that seat, face pushed up against the driver’s side window. She was still in that car. 

Amanda looked herself in the eyes. One had started to turn black and bloody- clotted with blood. Lying next to her was the eviscerated buck. She turned quickly to where she had just seen the buck only seconds before. It was gone. 

She heard what sounded like hooves clacking on that crooked busted up road. She turned around slowly in fear of what she may see…

Expecting to see the deer she had seen only moments before, instead stood before her some kind of blasphemous beast. Something straight out of the Old Testament. It… He must have been at least eight feet tall. From the waist down it was almost humanoid, only more grotesque. Transparent skin revealed giant green and blue pulsating veins in those muscular legs housing hooves at the ends instead of feet. The top half could only be described as a wolf/man, easily five-six hundred pounds of pure powerful, frightening muscle.  On top of its head were those giant horns, the ones that belonged on that buck.  A long dog-like snout drew her eyes up to meet its own yellow shining eyes.

The smell hit her in the face like a pound of sulfur, wet dog fur, and feces. It leapt forward stopping inches from her face where it let out a terrifying howl. Emitting the foulest smelling breath you could imagine. Like hot garbage, complete with fish rotting out in the desert sun. It took Amanda’s own breath away as she coughed, gagged, and screamed. 

Out of instinct, she turned to run. She would run into the woods amongst the trees for safety. Before she got six inches away she felt the hairy, inhumanly strong arms of that beast pull her back. Back… back… It was now running with her; her face being gashed open by branches and foliage. She had no idea where she was going… But she knew she wasn’t going to be coming back. She knew she only had herself to blame. She had been killing since she was a teen. Her Daddy showed her how to hunt and gut.  Hunting became her obsession. It began small with neighborhood cats, dogs, then finally and inevitably that escalated to some children going missing in her small town.  No one will ever find them.  That was her plan. Her plan was to leave before she was caught. People were talking and in small towns…  Rumors hold weight.

In the end even, when her Daddy was sick, she felt the most compassionate thing to do would be to slit his throat and end his suffering quickly. She knew he appreciated it even though he seemed unprepared, maybe even a little shocked. But she knew.. He knew. He always knew. 

This was her fate.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

 

Sam writes mainly short fiction and horror reviews. I’ve been previously published in the 2013 Anthology by HorrorAddicts.net titled, “A Horror Addict’s Guide to Life”. I can be found posting movie review reels on IG lesgeek or on TikTok or blog  shereallyneedsapriest

INTERVIEW WITH CAITLIN MARCEAU –WRITER OF ‘PALIMPSEST’

For Women in Horror Month, short story writer, poet, and creator of the horror collection Palimpsest, Caitlin Marceau talks to book blogger and staff writer Renata Pavrey.

Renata: Hi Caitlin, Congratulations on the release of your latest book. While you have been featured in anthologies before, what made you come out with a collection of your own?

Caitlin: Thank you so much! I’m over the moon by the reception this book has had so far! It’s such a dream come true for me and I’m so grateful to everyone who’s helped make this book a reality. 

When it comes to why I wanted to put this collection together, I think it was exactly that: because I’ve been in so many anthologies before. Some of the books are out of print, others are pretty hard to find, and I hated the idea of these stories being so scattered. I wanted to centralize my work while giving these stories new life. 

Renata: Several stories from Palimpsest have been published in other books and magazines, and even performed live. How did you decide which stories and poems to pick for this book?

Caitlin: Oh man, picking the stories for this collection was like pulling teeth. I struggled, doubted every single one of my choices. Ultimately, I tried to focus on the stories I was most proud of, stories that had gone out of print, and—most importantly—pieces that I felt best represented my body of work. I wanted them all to be diverse enough so that everyone could find something to enjoy, but cohesive enough that they complemented each other. 

Renata: You are a prominent name in the contemporary horror writing scene. Your stories range from supernatural and paranormal events to domestic violence and body shaming that are rooted in reality. How do you strike a balance between real versus imagined horrors?

Caitlin: First, can I just say that that’s an incredible compliment to be given? I’m absolutely honoured by it.

As for finding a balance between real versus imagined horror, I wish I could say there was a formula for getting it right, but I really just go with my gut when I’m writing. I believe that the real world is already pretty scary and doesn’t need too much help from me to be terrifying. So, kind of like cooking, I season my stories sparingly when it comes to imagined horror and add more in if there’s not enough kick to it. 

Renata: The stories in Palimpsest are set around locations in your native Canada, but there’s a universality in the topics you cover. How challenging is it for a writer, to write local while addressing a worldwide audience of readers?

Caitlin: I think the great thing about storytelling is that so much of it is universal. Everyone understands loss, love, family, individuality, and all those fun foundational themes we see in writing. I think the same can be said about what scares us. So, for me, although it has its tricky moments—like when I use regional language people outside of Quebec might not know—it’s not as difficult as people might think! 

Renata: Your writing is impactful in few words, and your poetry is often a class apart. Do you prefer writing prose or poetry? How do you decide which form would be better suitable for a particular theme/story idea?

Caitlin: Thank you so much! That’s so kind of you to say! 

Truthfully, I’ve always been partial to prose. Usually, when I’m deciding how to approach an idea, I’ll write an outline, and then—depending on the length of the outline—I’ll know whether it needs to be a short story or a poem. I’ll also opt for poetry if I have a really strong emotional connection to the material or if I’m in the mood to play with form. 

Renata: Are there any favorite books or writers in horror you would recommend we read? Who are your literary influences?

Caitlin: There are so many incredible authors out there that it’s hard to pick a favourite, but I can tell you some of the authors I’m loving right now! Off the top of my head, I’d probably encourage people to check out Sonora Taylor’s Someone to Share My Nightmares, Hailey Piper’s Queen of Teeth, anything and everything by Antonia Ward (the brilliant editor of Palimpsest), and I’m a huge fan of the talent that’s appeared on Mark Nixon’s Shadows at the Door: The Podcast. (Hannah Butler and Christopher Long’s stories are especially brilliant, as are Nixon’s Professor Troughton tales and “Slender Chances.”)

When it comes to literary influences, it would probably be Tamora Pierce because of the advice she gave me when I was a kid. She told me to write the stories I wanted to read, and that’s what I’ve done every single day since then. 

Renata: Running is a common activity across some of the stories in Palimpsest, along with ice hockey, video games, and hiking in the woods. What are your hobbies – any sports or creative pursuits besides writing?

Caitlin: Plenty, but as the least athletic woman in Canada, I can promise you that almost none of them are sports-related! I really love playing video games and right now, for some reason, I can’t get enough of Back 4 Blood. When it comes to art outside of my writing, a lot of people don’t know this about me, but I’m also a visual artist so I draw all the time.

Renata: Palimpsest is striking from start to finish. What’s the story behind the title and the cover?

Caitlin: Thank you so much! I’m delighted you think so! 

For the title, I really wanted something that conveyed the idea that a lot of these stories were previously published but had been given a second chance. Eventually, I settled on Palimpsest, which means “something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.” 

As for the cover, I knew that I wanted a white background because of all the snow in my stories and I loved the idea of being able to incorporate a silhouette somewhere, but that was it. Antonia Ward (editor at publishing house Ghost Orchid Press) is super talented because she took all nine million of my vague ideas and made them into something beautiful. 

Renata: Thank you, Caitlin, for taking out time for this interview. We wish you all the best for your newest collection, and look forward to more of your writing. 

Caitlin: Thank you so much for having me! It was a blast and I really appreciate it! 

About Caitlin Marceau:

Caitlin Marceau is an author and lecturer living and working in Montreal. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing, is a member of both the Horror Writers Association and the Quebec Writers’ Federation, and spends most of her time writing horror and experimental fiction. She’s been published for journalism, poetry, as well as creative non-fiction, and has spoken about horror literature at several Canadian conventions. Her debut collection, Palimpsest, is available from Ghost Orchid Press and her second collection, A Blackness Absolute, is slated for publication later this year. For more information, visit her at the links below. 

Social media/website links:

caitlinmarceau.ca

twiter.com/CaitlinMarceau

facebook.com/CaitlinMarceau

instagram.com/CaitlinMarceau

Book links: 

https://geni.us/palimpsest

https://ghostorchidpress.square.site

 

Free Fiction : Susurration by Jarred Allen Schulte

             Awake. 

             Cold. 

             Numb. 

Rolling to his side and scrambling to his feet he took in his surroundings. 

A dark and terrible thing had taken place here. Black and red candles, burned to their nubs, were strewn all around. The charred and broken remains of disfigured beings, their sizes and shapes leading him to believe they had once been children, were arranged at each point of a strange and mesmerizing pattern that had been drawn upon the floor. 

At the center of the cryptic symbol lay a makeshift altar of wood and stones, upon which sat what remained of a skull. The face bloated and sloughing off, the lips peeling back in a permanent grimace, neck ragged and torn. 

Aghast at the scene, he stumbled from the temple to find the surrounding town in ruins. The light was beginning to drain from a sickly sunset. Dusky yellows and oranges painted the surrounding miasma casting a dull glow all around. 

The ground surrounding the temple and spreading in every direction as far as the eye could see appeared foul and blighted, the houses and shops in a state of extreme disrepair, as if left to rot for ages. Possessions inside homes seemingly left where they were last used, pots on stoves with molding meals, brackish water pooling in bathtubs half drained through evaporation.

No other remains could be found, human or otherwise, no one squatted in the rotted-out hamlet. He came to realize something even more disturbing… no animals wandered the streets, rats didn’t skitter between cupboards, no crows lined the rooftops. There was nothing making even the slightest of sounds beyond the rotting leaves blowing through the ruined dirt paths. No grass had grown up, and vines did not choke the lattices. The town was not just abandoned, it was utterly, and completely devoid of life. 

As night gripped the hamlet tighter, he continued his desperate search. 

Wandering the streets and peering into the blackness of doorways whose doors had fallen from their hinges he caught the glint of a torch. 

Or so he thought. 

Darting across the street to where he had seen the fleeting glow in the window of a home whose glass still remained, he rushed inside only to find no traces of passage in the layer of filth and dust that caked the floors. But in the dark closeness of the small entryway, he could see the glow again. 

The wind blew a shrill whistle through the home’s jagged wooden teeth. Upon the left wall was cast a faint and putrid glow, dim at first but growing brighter as he moved closer to inspect the source. 

Only, there was no visible source. The glow seemed to move as he moved, growing dimmer and vanishing as he moved further from the wall and into the house. Moving across the room and toward the window, he saw the glint once again, this time with a clarity that made his chest catch. 

Reflected in the window was the form of a man, his clothes in tatters, a sleeve missing to reveal a sickly and pale arm, grizzly carnage appeared to have dried over his chest and shoulders. What had caused the man’s shock was not the state of the other man’s dress, but rather the head that crowned the gore coated shoulders. 

The swirling mass that sat atop the ragged neck could best be likened to thick steam the color of spoilt custard. Putrid, shifting tones of yellow, brown, and green coalesced into a vaguely head-like form. Opalescent shapes shone in the dark recesses where eyes belonged, the creature seemed to grin as it was noticed by the man. 

It was horrific, but mesmerizing at the same time. 

The man attempted to take a step back to put more distance between the creature and himself when his heel caught on the remains of a woolen rug causing him to tumble backward. The shape in the window lurched out of sight and the man searched the floor for a makeshift weapon in anticipation of the creature’s attack. The sleeve of his torn shirt catching on the splintering edge of a brittle but serviceable table leg, he clambered to his feet brandishing his makeshift club at the doorway.

No creature bounded through the darkness; no fiend fell upon him. He was alone and frightened. 

And yet…

His pulse did not quicken, no adrenaline raced through his veins, he didn’t even draw the gasping breaths of a terrified man. His body was still, completely. 

Chancing a glance at the window again he could just make out the shape of the creature, fainter with distance but still there. It seemed to be waiting for him to come charging through the doorway to attack it. 

Then it dawned upon the frightened man… the creature held in its hands a length of what seemed to be rotting wood. Rotting wood that could very well have once been the leg of a table. 

The man turned fully to see the creature. The creature turned with him. It lowered its club as the man lowered his. 

Moving nearer the filth-coated window, the creature followed suit. Leaning in closer to each other, the light becoming brighter as the face of the creature neared the glass. 

He raised his left arm; it raised the right. Both arms wore a sleeve of torn cloth hanging by shreds to the shoulder and the wrist. The man’s pale hand went to his mouth to stifle his own scream, finding only empty space. All the while his horrid reflection seemed to be stifling a maniacal burst of laughter. All the while he had no throat from with which to let loose his anguished cry of horror. 

All that could be heard throughout the town was the rustling of leaves scratching and scrabbling across the empty streets. A dry and raspy screed, as though the town itself were issuing a cry of anguish from its own ragged and dusty throat.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Jarred Schulte, while new to the world of fiction, is not new to the written word. Having spent the last four years using his skills with the written language to help others find love in the high-pressure Online Dating industry, this Kansas native turned Floridian, is finally getting to flex his muscles in a more creative manner. Growing up on a steady diet of thriller, fantasy, and horror novels, Jarred credits his stylistic tendencies to the likes of King, Koontz, Jordan, Lovecraft, Goodman, and Hill.

To find more of Jared’s work: https://medium.com/@jarreds1 

Historian of Horror : Unnatural and Unkind


Oft have I digged up dead men from their graves 

And set them upright at their dear friends’ doors, 

Even when their sorrow almost was forgot. 

And on their skins as on the barks of trees, 

Have with my knife carved in Roman letters, 

“Let not thy sorrow die, though I am dead.” 

The old question of who wrote the works of William Shakespeare has a simple answer: It was a guy named William Shakespeare. Although there are a few plays on which he might have had some help from a collaborator or a mentor, the vast majority of his oeuvre is his and his alone. The base canard that Francis Bacon or Ben Jonson or someone else wrote his stuff was made up out of whole cloth a century and a half after he died and was thoroughly discredited by the 1950s. His contemporaries, including the insanely jealous yet utterly adoring Jonson, certainly thought he himself wrote the thirty-nine plays.

That said, there is at least one for which a collaborator does seem likely. His sixth play, Titus Andronicus, is so unlike any of the other tragedies that it almost seems as if he did make use of a partner with a special interest in what centuries later would be regarded as Grand Guignol theatrics. Not that the others weren’t bloody affairs with graphic deaths aplenty, but there is a gruesome mean-spiritedness about Titus that sets it apart from the relatively restrained Hamlet or Macbeth.

As well, its ridiculously convoluted plot seems more in keeping with some of the comedies, in so far as time and space and even perception seem to have a malleable quality that forces events into a structure that is not altogether reasonable. War, conquest, human sacrifice, a contrived marriage, murder, mutilation, the framing of innocent victims, and a back-and-forth of revenge and counter-revenge culminating in the villainess dining upon the corpses of her sons baked into a pie comes across as less Richard III and more Theatre of Blood. And indeed, food critic Robert Morley suffered much the same fate as the Empress Tamora in that classic Vincent Price film. Thankfully, Diana Rigg escaped the fate poor Livinia had inflicted upon her in Titus Andronicus.

Scholars suspect that one George Peele, a dramatist known for excessively gory plot contrivances in his own plays, was Shapeapeare’s partner for this Roman bloodbath. Given the state of copyright protection in Elizabethan England, in that it did not exist, there is no way of knowing how much, if any, of the mayhem was contributed by Peele, or even if Titus is more Peele than Shakespeare. Meticulous records simply weren’t kept, as there was no financial incentive to do so.

In terms of a more modern comparison, think of what might have resulted had James Fennimore Cooper collaborated with Edgar Allen Poe. Or David Lean with David Lynch, or Spielberg with Cronenberg. Seemingly discordant combinations, granted, but given the talents involved, not without interest.

I suggest the populace decide for themselves. Director Julie Taymor’s 1999 film Titus, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange, is available on YouTube. In the manner of many Shakespearean adaptations of that decade, Titus is set in an ambiguous period filled with anachronistic artifacts and has a very stylized presentation, so be ready to have your notions of what is and is not Shakespearean challenged. Which is a good thing. Don’t bother listening for grand declarations a la Hamlet’s Soliloquy. The best lines go to the very bad person Aaron, Tamora’s Moorish consort, who relishes his myriad misdeeds maybe a little too much. Indeed, his cheerful villainy presages Othello’s Iago, although that unworthy at least required an actual motive to rain down chaos and death upon the unsuspecting head of the Moor of Venice. Aaron is a firm believer in evil for evil’s sake. 

In Hamlet, Shakespeare managed to winnow the large cast down to only two named survivors, Horatio and Fortinbras. In this much earlier play, there were three – Titus’s brother, one surviving son, and young grandson Lucius. I suppose the Bard needed more experience to get rid of that additional victim. 

I bid the populace to return to this space in a fortnight’s time for an overview of the history of French publisher, Editions Fleuve Noir, and their horrific output by authors such as Maurice Limat, Dominique Arly, and Benoit Becker back in the 1960s. I might have to brush up on mon Français, as the last time I studied that language was in 1971. I will, however, endeavor to persevere. I do hope the populace appreciates the lengths your Historian of Horror is willing to go to to bring you enlightenment, education, and entertainment.

Anyhow. 

Until next time, my fellow tourists in the tombs…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Book Review : PALIMPSEST BY CAITLIN MARCEAU

Review by Renata Pavrey

I was introduced to Caitlin Marceau’s writing through her short story, Gastric, from Blood & Bone – a body horror anthology, where she addressed fatphobia. In limited words, Caitlin created an impact with her take on body shaming and the horrors of superficiality. When I heard the same publisher, Ghost Orchid Press had signed Caitlin on for a collection of contemporary horror, Palimpsest was immediately put on my to-read list.

With a mixture of prose and poetry, Caitlin takes the reader across the Canadian wilderness, canals and bridges, frozen landscapes, and frosty tales that chill to the bone. The stories range from diseases of the mind and body, encounters with demons and ghosts, bullying and domestic violence, werewolves and shapeshifters, ice hockey and distance running. Caitlin’s prowess as a writer illuminates every page of Palimpsest, with every story different and outstanding in its own way. You know her settings are local, but her stories have universal appeal.

My favorite from the lot was Stuck – the perspective and narrative were just brilliant. There’s absolutely nothing happening and everything happening. It reminded me of Shirley Jackson’s covert style of horror, where the real terrors are what happens between the lines. Jackson’s wry sense of humor also finds its way into some of the stories. A few of my other favorites were Infected (about ill people in denial of their illness, only to go around spreading diseases in their stubbornness), Conqueror (an ode to video games and online players, and the person behind the avatar), The Midas (the supernatural world is no match for the real world, as a deep-sea diver faces off nature’s watery inhabitants), Hunger (very real horrors of cabin fever, frostbite, and hypothermia).

The stories and poetry have all been featured in other anthologies, magazines, and performed live over the years. Besides Gastric, I had only read one other piece from Caitlin – the poem Metamorphosis from the horror poetry anthology, Under Her Skin. So, I was thrilled that she put together this collection of some of her finest writing. I usually space out anthologies and collections – reading a story or two between other novels. Palimpsest is one of those books that keep the reader hooked throughout. You want to spend more time in Caitlin’s world, with its horrors and everything she offers the reader. Every single story warrants its own review. They’re all so good! And the cover is stunning, too.

My rating – 5/5

Spooky Locations: The Black Angel of Iowa City

The Black Angel of Iowa City

by J.S. O’Connor

If you were to take a stroll through one of Iowa City’s cemeteries you might be greeted by a nearly ten-foot black statue with large wings. The cemetery in question would be the Oakland Cemetery and the ten-foot statue would be the Black Angel. A lesser-known local legend, but a legend that is just as frightening and deadly. 

The legend of the Black Angel is relatively young, as the statue was built in the early 1900s and the origins of the legend are a mystery.

The legend is as follows, if you give the angel a kiss or deface the statue in any way, you will be greeted by death. It is also said that the angel gets darker in color every Halloween for every victim it has taken.

The color change could be easily explained by the statue being made of bronze and bronze gets darker when left outdoors for extended periods of time. If the color of the statue has an explanation, then what about the image of the statue itself? Despite the color of the angel, the angel itself is not what you would expect to see. The angel’s wings are not extended to heaven but rather turned inward almost folded in and the angel is looking down instead of towards the sky. The artist commissioned to make the statue was born outside of America and gave the depiction of an angel that Americans are not used to seeing. As for where the angel is looking it is looking to the artist’s son who is buried near the angel. 

Even though the image of the Black Angel is grounded in reality, this legend has still persisted since the early 1900s. It’s true that the Black Angel is rather sinister-looking, but once you know the reasons behind its appearance, the Black Angel is more beautiful than sinister. With that being said, I wouldn’t suggest tempting fate and giving the Black Angel a kiss any time soon. 

Work Cited:

The black angel, Iowa City, Iowa. RoadsideAmerica.com. (n.d.). Retrieved January 22, 2022, from https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/16409 

 

Interview with Daphne Strasert – Wicked Women Writers Allstar Winner – 2021

Interview with Daphne Strasert – Wicked Women Writers Allstar Winner – 2021 – Interview by  Blog Editor Kate Nox.

NOX:  Congratulations Daphne, on being the Wicked Women Writers Allstar Winner of 2021! How does it feel to have your work honored in this way? 

Daphne: Thank you so much! It feels really great to have done well, especially against such a great group of competitors. I’ve come a long way since I did my first writing competition with Horror Addicts (The Next Great Horror Writer Contest in 2017) and I was happy to be able to share my growth as a storyteller.

NOX: Tell us a bit about your writing history. What made you decide to be a writer? What did you write at first? What are your proudest moments/ awards won/ stories published?

Daphne: I started writing when I was in high school. I wrote fanfiction at first but gradually realized that I had my own stories and my own characters that were waiting to come out. I finished my first novel, Lunatic, right after college. Joining the HorrorAddicts.net Next Great Horror Writer contest was a stroke of luck. That was where I wrote my first short stories. I’ve since had many short stories published (including in the last FOUR anthologies for HorrorAddicts.net!). Most recently, my story “Swipe Right”–about a werewolf on a date with a sasquatch–won an honorable mention in a contest for On The Premises (you can read it here).

Nox: Your winning story, The Blood of Sorus, is a great piece.  How did the idea come about and how long did it take you to write it?  

Daphne: The idea for The Blood of Sorus came about fairly quickly after I was invited to join the Wicked Women Writers All Star Competition. Brazil was assigned as my cultural component, so I researched various aspects of the culture, history, and environment there. I became enraptured with the Amazon Rainforest and how it seemed to have a life of its own. While the concept took only a few weeks to fully form, I didn’t finish the final draft of the story for nearly six months.

NOX: Reading The Blood of Sorus, I particularly enjoyed your descriptions of the dark temple and could feel the danger lurking. Do you have a secret for making such descriptions work?

Daphne: Especially with horror, less can be more. The reader’s mind is always able to fill in something far darker and scarier than I could ever describe. By supplying just enough details (the drip of the water, the rustling of the vines), I can suggest far worse things. In horror, the reader always knows that something scary is just around the corner. I like to make use of that preexisting fear.

NOX: I love your thoughts on the reader! ! Did you find any challenges as you wrote? Any stumbles along the way?

Daphne: In order to create the appropriate length audio fiction, the story itself had to be SO SHORT. The Blood of Sorus came out at just about 1,300 words, which is very little space to do the sort of expansive world-building that science fiction horror requires. The story just kept growing, wanting to be a longer work. I had to chop a lot of good ideas out to keep it the correct length.

NOX: Winning this contest secures your title of Wicked Women Writers ALLSTAR! What are your plans going forward after winning this unique competition?

Daphne: I am still writing, though I’m focused more on novels right now. I have a few novels close to completion that need editing before I submit them to publishers. Of course, I’ll probably write a short story or two as a nice break! Hopefully, those will be published this year.

NOX: Have you any advice or encouragement that would be helpful for new horror writers reading this interview?

Daphne: Keep writing! You have wonderful things in your mind just waiting to get out. The best way to get better is to write them down. No one writes something perfect on their first try. Find some writing friends who can give you honest, constructive feedback. And submit your work! You may not think it’s good enough to be published, but you would be surprised. Don’t reject yourself from a submission call if you feel you have something that fits.

NOX: Thank you for talking with us and congrats once again on being The Wicked Women Writer’ Allstar 2021 Winner. I  know you also have been a finalist in the Next Great Horror Writer Contest.  Tell us what’s ahead for you. And what else can we read of yours?

Daphne: Hopefully, the next big thing for me is a published novel! But until then, you can always read more of my writing on my website www.DaphneStrasert.com and follow me on social media as @daphnethewriter.

PROJECT GEN-X – AN INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA ROWLAND

PROJECT GEN-X – AN INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA ROWLAND

By Renata Pavrey

In a unique anthology of monster, folk, paranormal, and psychological horror as glimpsed through the lens of the latchkey generation, twenty-two voices shine a strobe light on the cultural demons that lurked in the background while they came of age in the heyday of Satanic panic and slasher flicks, milk carton missing and music television, video rentals and riot grrrls. 

These Gen-X storytellers once stayed out unsupervised until the streetlights came on, and what they brought home with them will terrify you. 

Featuring brand new fiction from Kevin David Anderson, Glynn Owen Barrass, Matthew Barron, C.D. Brown, Matthew Chabin, L.E. Daniels, C.O. Davidson, Douglas Ford, Phil Ford, Holly Rae Garcia, Dale W. Glaser, Tim Jeffreys, Derek Austin Johnson, Eldon Litchfield, Adrian Ludens, Elaine Pascale, Erica Ruppert, Kristi Petersen Schoonover, Rob Smales, Mark Towse, Thomas Vaughn, and Thomas K.S. Wake.

As a follow-up to my wonderful reading experience of the book, I interviewed editor Rebecca Rowland, for an insight into how Generation X-ed was conceived, created, and curated.

Hi Rebecca, Congratulations on the release of your latest book. How would you describe the experience of working on a project with other writers, versus individually writing a book?

It’s a completely different animal. In the first anthology I edited for Dark Ink Books, I included one of my own stories; I haven’t done that since. It’s too difficult wearing both hats: as an editor, you have to see the work through the eyes of the reader while simultaneously having the backs of the authors who have contributed to the project. With my own stuff, I just write what I like and rarely consider how readers might respond: I trust in the editor and the press owner to assess and dress it properly for public view. It’s much more exhausting to be an editor, unfortunately, but it’s even more rewarding on some levels as long as I know I’ve done right by those who’ve contributed their work.

Generation X-ed is a niche genre: horror stories set in the eighties and early nineties. How did the idea for the anthology come about?

A few years ago, I made a conscious effort to read and review more independent dark fiction. I also tried to break out of my (painfully awkward, typical writer-introvert-) shell and get to know some fellow independent horror writers. What I found was that more than three-quarters of those horror authors were my age: we shared the same formative experiences in media, music and culture. I was born smack in the middle of Generation X, a group I didn’t really understand the significance of until I was well into my thirties and forties. Now, I look at my generation and I realize, there are touchstones we share that helped shape us into the people we are as adults: the satanic panic, the latchkey phenomenon, the Challenger explosion (witnessed live in our classrooms), the emergence and disappearance of Mtv, and so forth. I happen to think our formative experiences are the most nefarious, which might explain the wealth of horror fiction that has sprung from Gen Xers!

The stories cover a range of horror sub-genres from psychological and paranormal, to comedy and sci-fi. Was this intentional, to feature stories across the horror spectrum?

The Renaissance of the slasher film occurred during Generation X’s childhood/early teens, and the birth of cable television and VCRs (coupled with looser supervision by our parents), made access to hardcore horror relatively easy. When I first conceived the collection, I did imagine it would be focused on the splatter and gore of that subgenre: the X lends itself so well to that, visually and thematically. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that our influences weren’t limited to slashers. Each of the authors chose an individual (real or fictional) who had an impact on him/her as a horror writer. The range makes me realize I did the right thing broadening the parameters of the fiction I wanted to include.

All the writers belong to the latchkey generation and have explored their personal experiences with movies, books, music, political and historical events from the era. How did you gather stories and authors for this project?

I wrote up the call for stories, letting writers know the word count range and that we were really only requiring two things: that the writer be a member of Generation X and that the horror story include something (subtly or otherwise) specific to the generation. As the submissions came in, I was pleasantly surprised: the caliber of writing and the uniqueness in story arcs made whittling the final count down to twenty-two very difficult. There were definitely some stories that it pained me to turn away, but the ones I selected all had one thing in common: they were exceptionally well-written, and they stayed in my head hours or even days after I first read them. I wish I could give a more objective analysis of why these twenty-two ended up together, but my best explanation would be it’s part luck that these gifted authors chose to trust me with their creations, and it’s part my own gut reaction. 

While readers born and growing up in the 70s and 80s would find resonance in the references, the stories are so well written and compiled to be enjoyable for everyone. Did you have a reader audience in mind while conceiving this anthology? As an editor, how challenging is it to cater to different reader tastes when curating a collection?

So far, I’ve been fortunate enough to curate collections where the focus has been something to which I am already drawn, and I know readers are going to choose a book based on whether its nucleus is something that already jives with their preferences. I know putting out a collection that appears age-specific is risky; however, one of the nicest feedbacks I’ve received from reviewers is my commitment to diversity in style and approach, and therefore, I’ve always kept that in mind when I am cutting down the “likely yes” pile to the final lineup. 

I am drawn to read anthologies myself because of the variety: I don’t expect to love every entry, and I don’t expect readers of the anthologies I curate to love every story. However, I never want a reader to find s/he doesn’t respond to multiple stories in a row. Even if the stories have a common thread, I take care to either follow one story with another from a completely different subgenre, or, if the subgenres are the same, make certain back-to-back tales utilize different points-of-view, or possess similar narrators who make very different choices. That way, there really is something for everyone. There are sly winks in Generation X-ed that will resonate specifically with those who are a part of the generation, but the heart of the collection, the things that creep and unnerve and scare the bejesus out of us no matter when we grew up, is what gives it life, so I hope everyone who enjoys good storytelling will take a look. 

Generation X-ed releases on January 26, 2022. 

Links to purchase:

https://rowlandbooks.com/generation-xed#f5bed466-d8ae-4abf-a6cb-8b7d887bb01c

 

Free Fiction: The Bunny Man by BrandonTanczak

The bunny man in the ice cream truck gives girls & boys a cool treat.

But one wrong quip and the bunny man

will take you off your feet! Stowed in the cold turning to ice 

A small debt to pay for not being so nice 

The children dream of aiding the bunny man 

Scooping ice cream according to plan 

No at all being the wiser 

Of the fudge dipped Billy Kaiser. 

The bunny man is not mean or scary 

Just don’t bring up what he did to Terry. 

With his big eyes and long ears floppy 

Crooked bucktooth smile, a hare a tad bit choppy 

The music chimes and the children run 

The bunny man says ‘here comes another, oh what fun’ They rush with glee into the summer heat 

For their frozen mystery treat. 

Billy, Tommy, Ryan, and Jill 

Line up to get their fill 

Vanilla swirl, chocolate sprinkle, and mint chocolate Chip With joy coming from the bunny man’s furry grip 

Poor little Tommy is ready to cry 

He wanted a cone but was short a dime. 

‘How badly do you want it?’ The bunny man replied. Tommy pouts ‘so badly that I could just DIE’ 

The bunny man smirks with a devilish grin 

‘Well, you’re in luck, my friend. Go around back and hop on in’ Tommy runs to back, his eyes wide with wonder 

Not fully understanding of the spell he was under 

The doors kick open and the dry ice mists 

The bunny man’s smile suddenly twists 

Snatching Tommy up rather quick 

The truck speeds off, disappearing like a magic trick 

The next day the bunny man comes back 

Showing the kids his brand new snack 

The children ranted and raved over the new flavor 

Double scoops of Tutti Tommy Craver.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Brandon Tanczak is a filmmaker and writer from Philadelphia PA.

He and his wife Jill run Jerks Productions, an art collective, and horror film production

team. Jerks specialize in an art-house style of horror focusing more on psychological

and emotionally driven characters and situations rather than blood and gore.

Book Review: GENERATION X-ED edited by Rebecca Rowland

GENERATION X-ED,  An anthology of horror from the latchkey generation

Book review by Renata Pavrey

A unique collection of horror stories that pay tribute to the seventies and eighties. Generation X-ed turns back time with twenty-two writers who offer a glimpse into the horrors of the past. Videocassette players, slasher flicks, satanic cults, paper maps, cable repairs, alien invasions, summer vacations, creature features, rock and grunge music – the reader is transported into an era filled with cultural references that range from books to movies and music.

A challenge for the editor in not only collecting well-written horror stories adhering to the theme but also finding writers from generation X, who have mined their memories for an eerie array of tales for the reader. From VHS tapes to MTV, hairstyles and clothes, movie theatres and film stars, political events, and manmade disasters, the writers take us through time and place with very different stories, but all bound by their connection to the 70s and 80s.

My most favorite story was How I Met Kurt Russell by Rob Smales, which takes us through the movies and characters played by Kurt Russell. In a narrative hilarious and unnerving in equal parts, Smales addresses the horrors of identity, fandom, and superstardom. I just loved his horror-comedy, the subject of his story, and the route of exploring serious themes through humor. Some of my other favorites were In From The Cold by Adrian Wayne Ludens (the nostalgia of old photographs), A Genealogy of Hunger by Thomas Vaughn (a stellar piece of speculative fiction), Pay Heed to the Preacher Man by Eldon Litchfield (about small towns and creepy residents), Naming The Band by Elaine Pascale (hierarchies and dynamics between band members), Birnam Hall by L. E. Daniels (sheer brilliance in writing about sexual assault without actually writing about it, as a mirror to unreported cases), Stand Beside Me Now by Tim Jeffreys (for his take on haunted houses), Parker Third West by Dale W. Glaser (for his deep dive into dorm life), The Shade by C.O. Davidson (dealing with death and grief).

The stories are a mixed bunch, but they’re all entertaining in the way each of us interprets horror – as children, teenagers, and adults. Although the cover depicts a slasher anthology, the collection covers sub-genres of horror from cosmic to sci-fi, psychological and paranormal, folk horror, and horror-comedy. Highly recommended for readers from the latchkey generation, who have lived through the era and will identify with the references. But it’s really just for everyone, to enjoy the coming-together of an exceptional bunch of writers. Kudos to editor Rebecca Rowland for accomplishing this task.

My rating – 5/5

Historian of Horror: Third Time is Definitely NOT the Charm

Third Time is Definitely NOT the Charm

I suspect we’re all at least somewhat familiar with the Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s. The Frankenstein monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, these are all iconic figures in the history of our favorite genre. In two separate cycles, from 1931 to 1936, and then from 1939 to 1948, the Universal gang were the first more or less unified cinematic universe, fighting each other as well as villagers carrying torches and pitchforks, monster hunters with stakes and silver bullets and tana leaves, and the occasional sane scientist going up against the mad ones.

Universal also produced a few lesser series, unconnected to the primary bunch of horror films, including the Creeper films of Rondo Hatton, the Captive Wild Woman trilogy, and the six little pictures that are the focus of our attention today. One of them, anyhow.

Since all popular culture in America is in one way or another connected, we have to go back, back, back into the dark and abyss of time that was 1930. Major publishing house Simon & Schuster began issuing mystery novels in that year under the imprint of Inner Sanctum Mysteries. Eleven years later, radio impresario Himan Brown initiated a program under that title that began on January 7, 1941, complete with a creaking door and a sardonic host, the first of his kind, named Raymond Edward Johnson. 

In 1944, Universal decided to get in on the fun by casting their new big horror star, Lon Chaney, Jr., in a series of low-budget films under the Inner Sanctum banner. These were distinct tales with no connection to each other, nor to the larger continuity of the Universal Cinematic Universe. The second film, Weird Woman, was the only one with a truly supernatural theme, and the first film adaptation of Fritz Leiber, Jr.’s 1943 novel, Conjure Wife.

Conjure Wife first appeared in the pulp magazine, Unknown Worlds, in the April 1943 issue, and in expanded form has been reprinted many times by numerous publishers. It’s the tale of Norman Saylor, a sociology professor at a small American university. Being a rational man, he objects when he discovers that his wife, Tansy, has been helping his career by the ritual application of magical spells and talismans. He forces her to dispense with all her occult gear and practices, not realizing that the wives of the other faculty members are performing the same services on behalf of their own spouses. Things start to go terribly wrong for Norman’s career until he is forced to admit  

Weird Woman downplays some of the supernatural elements in the story but is still quite outré. Frequent Chaney co-star Evelyn Ankers (The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Son of Dracula) appears as one of those arrayed against our hero in a rare villainous performance. Anne Gwynn, who a year later would appear with Chaney in House of Frankenstein, played Norman’s wife, renamed Paula. 

The film moves along pretty briskly for its sixty-three-minute length, although like all the Inner Sanctum pictures it slows a bit whenever Chaney indulges in the whispered internal monologue voiceovers that were a feature of the radio program. Those were effective and useful in a purely auditory medium but unnecessary on film. Alas, Chaney insisted on them, and being the BMOL (Big Man on Lot), he got his way. 

I’ve not been able to track down the first television adaptation of the novel, a thirty-minute version for the second episode of a minor series called Moment of Fear (aired July 8, 1960). The best adaptation is by far the 1962 British film, Night of the Eagle. Also known as Burn, Witch, Burn, it stars Peter Wyngarde, who initially passed on the role but spotted a flash car he fancied. He reconsidered, asking the exact cost of the vehicle as his fee.

The film itself is quite beautifully mounted, and the script by Twilight Zone collaborator Charles Beaumont doesn’t shy away from the supernatural elements inherent in the story. Night of the Eagle is one of the best English horror movies of the early 1960s.

Alas, nothing as complimentary can be said of the most recent version, a made-for-TV movie from 1980 called Witches’ Brew. Frankly, its cheese factor tends towards the Limburger end of the stinky scale. I recommend sticking with the book itself, and the first two extant adaptations, because the third is not, as the title of this essay indicates, very good.

Oh well. Until next time, then…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Free Fiction: Cherry Hill By CM Lucas

One last beam of sunlight peeks out from the horizon and reflects off the curves of a spotless Dodge Ram as it hurdles along a dusty service road.                                                                                        

“Where the hell is… Ah! There she is,” says the man as he scratches his salt & pepper beard and attempts to steer while adjusting the collar of his security uniform. His name is Clive Queenan, and he’s running a bit late. Hunching over the steering wheel while adjusting his legs, Clive squint’s as he reaches his destination atop Cherry Hill.

As Clive pulls into the parking lot, he exits his truck, stretches out, and glances at Cherry Hill Psychiatric Hospital. An imposing structure; its cracked bricks glow red in the setting sunlight; its glass-less windows creak while dangling shingles bob in the breeze. Long, slender branches from maple trees surround the building like elongated fingers.

“Christ, this place looks like it went to hell and back,” Clive says, glancing up as his hand rests atop his brow, blocking out the setting sun. 

Clive makes his way to the front door. Flaking paint floats to the ground as he grips the doorknob and enters the dilapidated building.

“Hello?” Clive says, pulling out his cell to check for any missed calls.

“Service sucks out here,” Clive says.

“Hm. Where is this dude?” Clive asks, looking about the foyer. The missing floor tiles and cobweb-draped ceiling are accompanied by an undisturbed layer of dust. 

This place is a tomb… A goddamn creepy tomb, Clive thinks, leaving a trail of footprints in the floor dust.

“Quite the shit pit, am I right?” the booming voice echoes through the foyer and bounces in Clive’s ears as he twists around and peers up at the man standing atop the staircase. The man smiles as he limps down the stairs. The smallest beam of light from the retreating sun peeks through the glass-less windows and reflects off the man’s hairless head. 

“Shit!” Clive says, clutching his chest.

“I scare ya there, buddy?” asks the man as he adjusts his glasses.

“I’m good. You must be, Darren. Sorry I’m late,” Clive says. The man reaches the foyer and hobbles over to Clive with a smirk on his crimson mustached face.

“What the hell’d you do to wind up watchin’ this toilet bowl?” asks the man as he peers up and extends his hand toward Clive for a handshake.

“I volunteered. Double time and a half to watch this place,” Clive says, glancing down, shaking the man’s hand vigorously.

“Skip. Everybody calls me Skip… no clue why, but It seems to suit me,” Skip says.

“Gotta love nicknames, huh? I’m Clive,” Clive says, looking about the area. Skip furrows his brow.

“Clive? You don’t run into too many Clives in Cherry Hill,” Skip says with a smirk on his face.

“No doubt. My mother’s from England. Every time I got my ass kicked in school because of my name, I always remembered to thank her,” Clive says, chuckling. Clive follows Skip as the duo walk through the foyer.

“So, what’d they tell ya about this place?” asks Skip, adjusting his glasses.

“Not much. Just that this place gets ransacked almost nightly,” Clive says, fiddling with his belt.  “Kids trying to hot wire the bulldozers and excavators. All that good stuff.” Clive continues, “not sure why they need two guards for this type of thing, but hey, double-time and a half, who cares,” Clive says as the duo enter a lengthy corridor. Clive glances at the hallway’s calcium and lime-covered concrete walls. The sun-bleached doors and glass-less windows seemingly stretch to infinity.

“When’s this place set to be torn down?” asks Clive as the pair head down the corridor. Skip snickers.

“What? What’s so funny?” asks Clive.

“They tell ya anything else?” asks Skip. Clive furrows his brow.

“No. Like what?” asks Clive.

“Place is supposed to be haunted,” Skip says. Clive stops. Skip twists around to face Clive.

“What do you mean? We’re talking little spooky friends, here?” Clive asks, flashing a smirk.

“Hey, that’s what they say,” Skip says, glancing up at Clive. Skip continues, “Look, I don’t believe in all that ghost tripe. I only believe what I see with these peepers of mine, ya know?” 

“I hear ya. I read about the shit that went on here before it closed down. Way scarier than poltergeists and all that, huh?” Clive says as the pair exit the corridor and enter the basement. Skip hits the light switch and the duo make their way down the creaking stairs.

“Alright, you’re down here. Other than those lil’ bastards tryin’ to take joyrides in the bulldozers, we also find these shits down here screwin’ and smokin’ up,” Skip says.

“I’m watching out for that? Sweet,” Clive says sarcastically.

“The perks, right?” Skip says. “I’ll be up on block A watchin’ paint crack. Have fun,” Skip says, heading upstairs.

“Hey, Skip! Around what time should I-” Clive is interrupted by the slamming of the basement door. 

“Alright, then,” Clive says, sitting down on a small stool. As Clive plays around with his cell, he hears a shuffling in the darkness. Peering up, Clive pays it no mind. The shuffling returns with increased volume. 

“What the hell is that?” Clive asks. Pointing his cell toward the darkness.

“Don’t be that guy, Queenan. Get your shit together,” Clive says. The shuffling, now sounding like erratic footsteps, draws closer. The sound of metal dragging along the ground now accompanying the shuffling.

“Skip?” Clive says softly. A loud crash brings Clive to his feet.

“You’re a funny lil’ bastard, Skippy,” Clive says. Venturing up the stairs, Clive attempts to open the door, only to find it locked. 

“Hey, Ha-ha! Joke’s over. Come on, open the-” the shuffling gets louder. Clive begins to pound on the door.

“Skip… Skip! Open the goddamn door!” Clive says as the noises get louder. 

“Skip!” Clive yells, pounding on the door. He begins to slam into the door as the noises get closer. Clive presses up against the door; he fumbles for his cell and points it down the staircase. The light from the cell illuminates a rat scurrying up the stairs grasping a soup can in its mouth.

“… Fuck me,” Clive says, chuckling. Clive wipes away perspiration from his brow and sinks to the top step as the door opens.

“Fucking hell, Skip. Sorry about that. Wait till I-” Clive stops as he peers up to face Skip.

“… Who are you?” asks Clive.

“I’m Darren. Sorry, I’m so late. I tried to call you, but the reception up here is the shits,” Darren continues, “are you alright? You sounded like you were freaking out down here. What happened?” asks Darren. Clive furrows his brow while staring at Darren.

“Darren? You’re Darren? … Where’s Skip? And why-” Clive asks before Darren interrupts.

“Skip? Who the hell’s Skip?” asks Darren.

“I…,” Clive pauses. 

“Look, man, I get it. No need to be embarrassed or whatever,  the place is fucking spooky. It’s supposedly haunted too,” Darren says,  “Oooo!… Sorry, man. I, uh, I’m not much of a believer in that silly shit, you know?” 

End.

Free Fiction: Itsy Bitsy by Brandon Tanczak

The itsy bitsy spider went down the water spout, which is my shower head. I was going through my normal shower ritual; use the toilet first then shave. I like to shave before I bathe myself to wash off any hairs that would stick. The water runs warming up, steam starts to rise. I grab my toothbrush and paste, I’m a multi-tasker. Before running the shower I went to adjust the shower head and there it was. 

The itsy bitsy spider was hanging out above the shower head basking in the steam, maybe this was part of its shower ritual? I jump and drop my toothbrush and paste it into the tub. I caught my breath, why was I scared? Sure, it has more legs than me and pointy teeth that may or may not contain a venom that will paralyze me giving it the opportune time to lay its eggs inside my eyes! 

But I am ten times larger and the bigger we are the harder we fall. I did the only thing I knew to do. I ran and grabbed a shoe! After wrapping a towel around myself, of course, I am not letting myself be THAT exposed. Having eggs laid in your eyes is bad enough but even worse while being naked. 

I grab both shoes, you know just to be safe. I make a loud CLAP, spider sandwich hold the mayo. The crushed corpse falls into the tub, no egg-laying today! I run the water to let the corpse wash down the drain and proceed to shower. I bathe just like you one body part at a time. I lather my hair with my two-in-one conditioner/shampoo, I am a multitasker remember? I let it sit while I wash the rest of my skeleton sack I call a body, then move on to my teeth. Brush, rise, spit. 

Now, the final task of rinsing the two in one out of my hair. I turn the heat down and let the water cool. GLUG GLUG comes from the drain, I pay it no mind. I close my eyes and dunk my head under the cold water. GLUG GLUG grows louder, faintly heard over the rushing water. I keep my eyes closed and bask in the water and let myself melt. 

POP! The drain opens up and a flood of water comes through rushing over my feet. My eyes open and I see the water, must just be building up because I’ve been in here for a while now. I turn the heat back up, turn away from the drain and close my eyes again. I let the steam rise again. GLUG GLUG! Two very large, long, hairy, brown appendages come up from the drain and fight their way out. They extend and something comes through the drain and rises in the steam behind me. 

All of a sudden the water has stopped hitting me. I open my eyes and the room has now gotten darker. I didn’t hear the light bulb blow out, weird. Confused, I turn around, and standing over me I see is a ginormous, brown, hairy, wet spider. The bitsy spider is no longer itsy and now I have a reason to be scared. Not only does it have more legs than me I am one hundred percent sure those pointy teeth are venomous and now it’s ten times larger than me. 

The last thing I remember is its large brown legs wrapping around me. I woke up on the bathroom floor, the shower water is still running and the room is filled with steam. I have this irritating throbbing pain in my left eye and everything is blurry. Must have landed on my face.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Brandon Tanczak is a filmmaker and writer from Philadelphia PA.

He and his wife Jill run Jerks Productions, an art collective, and horror film production

team. Jerks specialize in an art-house style of horror focusing more on psychological

and emotionally driven characters and situations rather than blood and gore.

Guest Blog: “The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows”

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows

By Geneve Flynn

Featured Author: Lee Murray

Southeast Asian mythology is much less familiar territory for many horror fans. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies are well-known, creatures such as the tiyanak, the penanggalan, the pontianak, and the nukekubi are less so. Does that make them scarier? Let’s dive in and see.

Tortured Willows is a newly released collaborative collection of sixty horror poems by four of the authors from the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Christina Sng, and Geneve Flynn showcase some of these creepy mythological creatures in their poetry. In this blog series, we chat to each of the contributors about their monsters.

Please say hello to Lee Murray.

GF: Hi Lee! Congratulations on your wonderful poems! Please tell us a little more about Tortured Willows, and what inspired you to create this collection.

LM: The response to Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, an anthology comprising fourteen stories by horror writers of Southeast Asian descent, has surpassed all our expectations, so a second volume of some sort seemed inevitable, although perhaps not quite so soon! Nor had I expected that second volume to take the form of a poetry collection. Tortured Willows arose out of a discussion between you, me, and Angela Yuriko Smith not long after the Bram Stoker Award announcements. We were all still reeling about the reach of the book and the broader dialogue the stories had provoked, when someone (okay, it might have been me) suggested that a collaborative poetry collection might allow us to expand on, and even deepen, the dialogue introduced in Black Cranes through use of media other than prose. What if we were to write a collection of poems that explored the themes of otherness and expectation as they applied to our own diaspora? Perhaps we could reach an even wider readership? Angela, always effervescent, was wildly enthusiastic. Poet Christina Sng, whose novelette “Fury” (her longest work to date) features in Black Cranes, also felt she had more to say. You said yes. That’s when the terror set in. While I was thrilled to work with my Crane sisters again, I’m fairly new to poetry other than as a consumer of it, so what followed was one of the most intensely terrifying periods of my writing life. I was a fledgling poet with only around a dozen poems published previously. What did I know about writing a cohesive series of poems which might dovetail with work by experienced, acclaimed poets like Angela and Christina? But, keen to learn more about the New Zealand-Chinese diaspora as it applied to women, including in my own family, I dived in, using poetic forms and historic archives to structure and inform my work. I approached each individual poem as a tiny story whittled down to its bare bones. And of course, since Tortured Willows is a collection of horror poetry, it seemed as natural as air to turn to Asian myth and monsters for added inspiration.

GF: I loved getting a glimpse of some of your very personal experiences as part of the New Zealand-Chinese diaspora. Your poem “tiyanak” draws a comparison between being drained from the many demands and expectations placed on Asian women and the care of a grotesque vampiric baby. Please tell us more about this creature.

Picture attribution- ShareAlike 4.0 International CC By SA4.0

LM:  The tiyanak is a monster of Filipino origin, although similar creatures exist in other Asian cultures. The creature is formed when the body of a dead foetus or infant is inhabited by an evil spirit, or it occurs as the result of a union between a demon and a human. Often found mewling in the forest by hapless travellers, the tiyanak is an insatiable and vengeful vampire, appearing as helpless human baby at first, and later, when it has ensorcelled its victim, it reveals its true vampiric and parasitic self, even as it devours them. The creatures are said to have bloodshot eyes, pointed ears, and tiny sharp teeth. In some versions, they have elongated limbs and wrinkled old-man skin, which they shed in the same way a snake does. Author Isabel Yap describes the creature beautifully in her story “Grass Cradle, Glass Lullaby” in Margrét Helgadóttir’s gorgeous anthology Asian Monsters:

“I held you against my heart and let you rest there, and I could feel your red eyes boring into my skin, hear you hissing. I was afraid, but love is like that. Sometimes, it requires bravery, asks us to quell our fears. Your teeth! Your eyes—fire dancing! And the way all of your skin creased around your face, into terrible wrinkles…” (page 67).

Gabriela Lee is equally eloquent in her story “Rites of Passage” which appears in Black Cranes, describing the monster’s “red-rimmed eyes that do not have a speck of white—the entire sclera is firelight bright” (page116), its smile as “blood coated” (page 116), and its skin darked by the sun and some slick substance that seems to coat it from head to toe” (page 115). For me, the tiyanak was the ideal metaphor to describe the expectations placed on Asian women, who are socialised to sacrifice their own desires in favour of family and community, even to the point of death. This is a lesson I have learned well, so much so that I find it hard to say no. As a result, there are times when I’ll still be awake at 2- or 3am for nights on end, working on other people’s projects at the detriment of my own goals. I wrote “tiyanak” at just such a moment. Here is an excerpt from the poem:

innocence

it latches on

as ever

slivering flesh

to gorge on blood and milk

its tiny claws grip-grasping

tiny teeth rasping

feed me, feed me

GF: Such a chilling image, so perfect to depict how expectations can drain us dry. You reference another creature, the nine-tailed fox in “fox girl.” Where does this myth come from, and what does it symbolise in your poem? 

LM: The inspiration for my poem “fox girl” was Rena Mason’s gorgeous story “The Ninth Tale” from Black Cranes. Of course, I already knew of the shape-shifting fox spirit of Asian mythology (among them Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese) and the nine mortal iterations the creature must go through in order to return to the celestial realm as her true self, but Rena’s story was so beautiful and so imbued with magical folklore that I was inspired to revisit those tales again. In general, the fox spirit takes the form of a beautiful woman while still retaining some of its fox attributes: paws, ears, or even the tails representing the lives it has lived. Consider this first paragraph of Rena’s “The Ninth Tale” from Black Cranes, for example:

“The fox spirit straightened the skullcap, moist with blood, atop her head then stepped over the headless corpse from which she’d taken it. Her hind paws transformed into petite, human lotus feet adorned in pointy shoes embroidered with golden silk. This visit, her name would be Júhua, like the chrysanthemums woven in the fabric near her toes. The eight tails behind the fox spirit became long braids, winding themselves into intricate loops and circles, concealing the bone that aided her in keeping a human guise.” (page127).

The story, and my subsequent reading, got me thinking about how fox spirits are outsiders, women travelling through time and across lands while wearing another person’s skin, all with the view to achieving enlightenment and (hopefully) returning to their home in the heavens. I likened their journeys to the Asian diaspora in New Zealand, and I was lucky enough to secure a fellowship to write a short poetry collection on this theme. “Fox spirits are very lucky,” writes Ho Pham in Vixen. But that isn’t always true for the women whose form the creatures inhabit. As I dived into New Zealand’s newspaper archives, I uncovered some horrific tales about Chinese women’s lives here, and although I intend to explore the notion further, I was immediately prompted to write a poem and capture my reactions. “fox girl,” a terzanelle, was the result, the repeated lines intended to show the ongoing iterations of the creature’s lives and the common themes of otherness and persecution. Here are a few stanzas from the poem:

in a former life, in another time

a fox girl departs from the land of jade

in a former life, in another time

to a distant cloud where fortunes are made

nine obedient wives, all refugees

a fox girl departs from the land of jade

amid ugly tongues and eyes that won’t see 

one hangs herself in her husband’s kitchen

nine obedient wives, all refugees

*Watercolour by Lee Murray.

GF: Oh my goodness! I love both the poem and your stunning artwork. The fox spirit illustrates the diasporic experience so beautifully. 

Thanks so much for introducing us to some of the mythology that features in your poetry. If you’d like to read the poems mentioned in this blog series, Tortured Willows is available from Yuriko Publishing.

 ____________________________________________________________________________________

Praise for Tortured Willows:

Tortured Willows bleeds, sobs and howls with rage.”—Stephanie Ellis, writer and poet, co-author of Daughters of Darkness

“Thought-provoking, unapologetically brutal, and downright unsettling, Tortured Willows is a collection unlike any you’ve read before…and one you’re not likely to forget. Murray, Flynn, Smith and Sng have not just raised their voices, they’ve roared them into the pages, and the result is simply superb.”—Rebecca Fraser, award-winning author of Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract.

“In Tortured Willows, the many veils of a woman’s heart are peeled back, revealing multi-layered petals of an aching beauty, rooted on a stem of vulnerable resistance.”—Jamal Hodge, director, writer, visionary

“This is a brilliant book, insightful and scintillant. Construed as a thematic sequel to the award-winning Black Cranes (the anthology edited by Murray and Flynn and containing fiction by Sng and Smith), it may also be viewed as a distillation. The theme is strong, but the lessons reach beyond it. Cutting across rhetoric and euphemism, Tortured Willows will hold meaning for whoever dares read it.”—Kyla Lee Ward, Bram Stoker Award®-nominated poet

Tortured Willows

Bent. Bowed. Unbroken

The willow is femininity, desire, death. Rebirth. With its ability to grow from a single broken branch, it is the living embodiment of immortality. It is the yin that wards off malevolent spirits. It is both revered and shunned.

In Tortured Willows, four Southeast Asian women writers of horror expand on the exploration of otherness begun with the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.

Like the willow, women have bent and bowed under the expectations and duty heaped upon them. Like the willow, they endure and refuse to break.

With exquisite poetry, Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn invite you to sit beneath the tortured willow’s gravid branches and listen to the uneasy shiver of its leaves.

 https://www.amazon.com/Tortured-Willows-Bent-Bowed-Unbroken/dp/1737208334

Lee Murray is an author, editor, screenwriter, and poet from Aotearoa-New Zealand. She is the winner of 12 Sir Julius Vogel Awards, three Australian Shadows, two Bram Stokers, and a Shirley Jackson Award, and has been a finalist in the Aurealis, British Fantasy, and Imadjinn Awards, among others. Her work includes military thrillers, the Taine McKenna Adventures, supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (with Dan Rabarts), and short fiction collection, Grotesque: Monster Stories. Other works include non-fiction title Mark My Words: Read the Submission Guidelines and Other Self-editing Tips with Angela Yuriko Smith, and several books for children. LitReactor’s Editor of the Year for 2021, Lee is the curator-editor of eighteen volumes of speculative fiction, among them Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women (with Geneve Flynn). She is co-founder of Young NZ Writers and of the Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Fiction Writers, HWA Mentor of the Year for 2019, NZSA Honorary Literary Fellow, and Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow for 2021. Tortured Willows, a collaboration with Angela Yuriko Smith, Christina Sng and Geneve Flynn was released in October 2021. Read more at  https://www.leemurray.info/

Historian of Horror : Riverdale’s Resident Sorceress

Once upon a time, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit, and John L. Goldwater decided to get into the nascent comic book publishing business. Using their first initials, they started MLJ Magazines, Inc. Their first title, Blue Ribbon Comics, hit the stands in September 1939. A couple of months later, Pep Comics premiered, featuring the first patriotic American super-hero, the Shield. And so on. 

MLJ put-putted along, never becoming a major player in the growing super-hero market, never challenging any of the Big Three of the time, DC, Fawcett and Quality, for supremacy. Their heroes were all second-banana types, not making much impact outside of their very narrow lane other than a brief, regional radio show based on the Black Hood. Until 1941, that is.

The twenty-second issue of Pep (December 1941) introduced a buck-toothed, red-headed teenager named Archie Andrews, along with his fellow adolescent attendees of Riverdale High School; Betty Cooper and Jughead Jones. Nothing exceptional, on the surface, but for some reason, Archie clicked with a public that had so far not paid much attention to MLJ’s product. By 1946, the company was renamed Archie Comics, and the super-hero line was abandoned in favor of the adventures of Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica Lodge, Reggie Mantle, and the rest.

This is not their story, however. Fast forward to those halcyon days of the early 1960s, when the supernatural was infiltrating the culture like never before. We’ve talked about this in past columns. Monsters and ghosts, and witches, were everywhere. Not even the stable, steady, reliable and, to be honest, tediously repetitive world of Archie Andrews was immune. 

Okay, I’ll admit to not being much of a fan of Archie and his world in my early days of reading comic books. The stories seemed to be a lot of variations of the same themes – Betty and Veronica fought over Archie, Reggie tried to sabotage Archie’s efforts to date one or the other of the girls who, inexplicably, adored him, and Jughead avoided girls altogether in favor of hamburgers. I did dip into the publisher’s brief effort to revive their super-heroes from the 1940s under the secondary imprint of Radio Comics, but I had already discovered DC and Marvel by then. Superman and Spider-Man got my twelve cents, not Fly Man or the Shield.

Anyhow, Archie Andrews. Repetitive his adventures might have been, but his world had spawned dozens of titles by 1962. One, Archie’s Madhouse, contained more jokes and games than anything resembling a story. Still, Archie and crew dominated the title for the first dozen issues. Beginning with the thirteenth issue (July 1961), however, monstrous beings slowly edged the Riverdale gang out of the title. Archie and the rest made token appearances on the covers and in the interior features, but the seventeenth issue (February 1962) didn’t even accord them that courtesy. 

And so it went until issue #22, cover-dated October 1962. Instead of the usual Frankenstein, Dracula, and Wolf Man variations, the first story introduced a beautiful blonde teenaged witch named Sabrina, her cat/familiar Salem, and head witch Della. No last names, yet. The story, such as it was, laid down the rules of witchcraft; basically, the inability of witches to sink in water or fall in love. 

Subsequent stories were pretty much about Sabrina’s efforts to get around the not-falling-in-love rule, her habit of misdirecting love potions or being forced by her superior witches to sabotage her high school’s sporting events. Which was not, by the way, Riverdale. She attended Baxter High School in those years. In fact, she had no interactions with Archie and his gang at all until she joined the Saturday morning cartoon show, The Archie Comedy Hour, in 1969. She had acquired a boyfriend, Harvey, by then, and her two supervising witch aunts had been identified as Hilda and Zelda. Still no last name.

Pseudo-band The Archies were the stars of the cartoon show. They had a number one hit in the United States, a Monkees reject called Sugar, Sugar. The band was in reality a group of sessions musicians assembled for the purpose of recording bubblegum songs for the show, some of which were disseminated on the backs of cereal boxes. I had a few of those. Concurrently, Sabrina was finally integrated into the comic book world of Riverdale, starting with an appearance in Archie’s T.V. Laugh-Out #1. She got her own cartoon show in 1970, and a year later her own comic book title which ran for seventy-seven issues, until 1983. An elementary school version of her also ran in Little Archie from issue #59, cover-dated May 1970.

In 1972, Sabina was recruited to be the hostess of a horror anthology titled, Chilling Adventures in Sorcery, as Told by Sabrina. That only lasted two issues, then it carried on without her under a new title, a new imprint, Red Circle Comics Group, and a new artist, Gray Morrow. Red Circle lasted as long as the comic did, nine issues altogether. Everything was Archie after that, as Sabrina popped up in a variety of the company’s titles through the 1980s and into the 1990s, including annual Christmas Magic issues.

Sabrina and her aunts finally got a last name, Spellman, in 1996, in a television movie and subsequent series that ran for four seasons on ABC and an additional three on the WB. Another couple of animated series and a pair of sequels to the movie followed. More comic book titles also came and went over the years, including a manga-inspired series. 

The whole world of Archie was rebooted in 2015 into a more adult version, called New Riverdale in the comics, and two years later on television as simply Riverdale. Sabrina appeared in the comics from the beginning, but only recently dropped in on the television show after three years in her own in the separate series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

So, there you have it. Next time, we matriculate to university to take a look at the classic novel of witchcraft on campus, Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife, and the three films based on it. Hope you’ll join me in two weeks for that. In the meantime, here’s a little lagniappe – a tasty treat from my favorite early 80s cheesy girl band, Toto Coelo. Enjoy.

Until next time, my loyal pundits of the peculiar…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows” Guest Blog by Geneve Flynn

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows

Featured Author: Christina Sng

Southeast Asian mythology is much less familiar territory for many horror fans. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies are well-known, creatures such as the tiyanak, the penanggalan, the pontianak, and the nukekubi are less so. Does that make them scarier? Let’s dive in and see. 

 Tortured Willows is a newly released collaborative collection of sixty horror poems by four of the authors from the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Christina Sng, and Geneve Flynn showcase some of these creepy critters in their poetry. In this blog series, we chat to each of the contributors about their monsters.

Please say hello to Christina Sng.

GF: Please tell us about the themes you explore in this collection.

CS: I explore themes of justice and vengeance as well as traditions in Singapore.

GF: Those are threaded through your work so beautifully. It’s wonderful getting a glimpse into Singaporean culture and mythology. Your poem “Pontianak” features a vengeful female spirit. Where does it come from and how did you add a twist to her legend? 

Picture Attribution: “Kuntilanak-post” by scarysideofearth is licensed under CC BY 2.0

CS: Pontianak was the first ghost most children my age heard about (apart from the “real life” headhunters which were infinitely more scary to us). We were often told to be good or the Pontianak will come and get us. Only when I was older did I read that she only haunted men, usually flagging them down from the side of the road; she had a beautiful face, long black hair, and a flowing white dress. Here are a few lines from my poem:

She stood by the road alone

In her white flowing dress.

The night was moonless,

The streetlight, broken and bent.

The wind promptly picked up,

Gently billowing her hems.

While doing research for this book, I realized a lot of the traditional horror stories centered around women ghosts out to get men. Why? Who came up with these stories? Elders who were men? Possibly, in this patriarchal society. 

Her mother always told her,

Never get into a car with a stranger.

She nodded, fearless this time.

The worst had already happened.

In this day and age, we know there’s another side to the story. The woman’s side. The atrocities that happen to women every day all over the world are too often silenced by society. 

So I tell the woman’s side of the story. Give her a voice. Because we are human beings with thoughts, feelings, and dreams as well. We have volition. We exist. Here are our stories.

GF: The characters in your poems have an unquiet fury that is very powerful. Your poem “Flat” gives voice to a character in the strange urban myth of the flat-faced woman. How did you hear about her and what does she symbolise in your work? 

CS: Oh gosh. As a teen, the flat-faced woman freaked me out so bad. This was a story told to me by someone and I don’t remember who and how. During those days, these stories were often not written down and were just told from person to person. But the details of the story have been preserved in this poem. 

She turned toward me,

Hair parting like the Red Sea.

I gasped 

And screamed uncontrollably.

She had no face!

Where it should have been

Was flat and featureless,

A face of clay before it was molded.

As I grew up, I no longer feared her. Instead, I wondered what led her here. What was her story? Now, I know. It’s the story of so many domestic violence victims, except she came back and she found justice for herself and then, for others.

GF: Thanks so much for introducing us to some of the mythology that features in your poetry. If you’d like to read the poems mentioned in this blog series, Tortured Willows is available from Yuriko Publishing.

Praise for Tortured Willows:

Tortured Willows bleeds, sobs and howls with rage.”—Stephanie Ellis, writer and poet, co-author of Daughters of Darkness

“Thought-provoking, unapologetically brutal, and downright unsettling, Tortured Willows is a collection unlike any you’ve read before…and one you’re not likely to forget. Murray, Flynn, Smith, and Sng have not just raised their voices, they’ve roared them into the pages, and the result is simply superb.”—Rebecca Fraser, award-winning author of Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract.

“In Tortured Willows, the many veils of a woman’s heart are peeled back, revealing multi-layered petals of an aching beauty, rooted on a stem of vulnerable resistance.”—Jamal Hodge, director, writer, visionary

“This is a brilliant book, insightful and scintillant. Construed as a thematic sequel to the award-winning Black Cranes (the anthology edited by Murray and Flynn and containing fiction by Sng and Smith), it may also be viewed as a distillation. The theme is strong, but the lessons reach beyond it. Cutting across rhetoric and euphemism, Tortured Willows will hold meaning for whoever dares read it.”—Kyla Lee Ward, Bram Stoker Award®-nominated poet

Tortured Willows

Bent. Bowed. Unbroken

The willow is femininity, desire, death. Rebirth. With its ability to grow from a single broken branch, it is the living embodiment of immortality. It is the yin that wards off malevolent spirits. It is both revered and shunned.

In Tortured Willows, four Southeast Asian women writers of horror expand on the exploration of otherness begun with the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.

Like the willow, women have bent and bowed under the expectations and duty heaped upon them. Like the willow, they endure and refuse to break.

With exquisite poetry, Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn invite you to sit beneath the tortured willow’s gravid branches and listen to the uneasy shiver of its leaves.

LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Tortured-Willows-Bent-Bowed-Unbroken/dp/1737208334

Christina Sng is the two-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Collection of Dreamscapes and A Collection of Nightmares. Her poetry appears in numerous venues worldwide and has garnered many accolades, including prizes and nominations for the Elgin Awards, the Dwarf Stars, the Rhysling Awards, the Pushcart Prize, and honorable mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and the Best Horror of the Year. Visit her at christinasng.com and connect @christinasng.

 

Historian of Horror: They Really are a Scree-um…

It was the spring of 1969. I was in fifth grade, and the school I attended was having some sort of carnival. There were games with cheap trinkets for prizes, a cakewalk, and a rummage sale. That’s where I found it – the 1965 novelization of The Addams Family television show, written by Jack Sharkey. I think they were asking a nickel for it. I grabbed it up, of course. I’d been a devoted fan of the show during its initial run from September 18, 1964, to April 8, 1966, because, well, of course, I was. 

That’s more than can be said of the creator of the characters and their milieu. Charles Addams thought the creepy old Second Empire house in which the Addamses resided wasn’t creepy enough. It was too clean, too well-maintained. Lurch was simply too good a butler, apparently.

As well, Gomez and Morticia and family were, in Charlie’s considered opinion, much too nice. In the single panel cartoons he’d been creating for The New Yorker since the late thirties, his creatures were most definitely not at all nice in any recognizable sense of the word. They were mean-spirited, malicious, and gleefully vicious. Moreover, their house was supposed to resemble nothing so much as a crumbling wreck, and Lurch ought to be closer to Frankenstein’s Monster than to Mr. Belvedere. The family from the television show impressed him as being more Ozzie and Harriet than Sawney Bean. Quick, go ask your grandparents who Ozzie and Harriet were. We’ll wait. Sawney Bean you’ll probably have to Google. At least until I get around to scribing one of these essays on that particular family’s nefarious misdeeds. 

All that didn’t stop Charlie from cashing the checks he got from ABC, but he didn’t exactly go out of his way to give the impression that he was sorry that the program only lasted for those sixty-four episodes. I, of course, was, but there is a resilience at that age that I envy in my declining years. Not even in concert with the nearly concurrent cancellation of The Munsters was I as devastated as I now, in retrospect, think I ought to have been. There were, to be sure, still a fair number of other psychotronic shows on American television in those days, and no reason to think that the regular broadcast of supernatural-spooky-adventure-packed programming would end.

But it did. By the time I acquired Sharkey’s book, the TV landscape was shifting towards serious detective and spy dramas, non-confrontational counter-culture humor variety shows, and news programming in prime time. Get Smart was out, Mission: Impossible was in. The much-too-edgy-for-the-CBS-censors Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was out, the funny but never really controversial Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In was in. The Addams Family was out, and 60 Minutes was in.

At least we still had The Beatles. Wait, what?!?!?!?

Oh, well.

As I mentioned in the last installment, John Astin selected Gomez as the name of the character he would play, the half-mad, lustful pater familias. He had most recently co-starred with Marty Ingles in a sitcom about a pair of incompetent carpenters, I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster. I have a vague recollection of having seen it once or twice. I don’t recall having been impressed, but I was five years old. What did I know?

The object of Gomez’ hammed-up affections was played by Carolyn Jones, who had a more impressive horror pedigree than her TV husband. She appeared in two of the most significant horror films of the 1950s, the 3-D extravaganza House of Wax with Vincent Price in 1953, and the first adaptation of Jack Finney’s novel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in 1956. 

Uncle Fester was Jackie Coogan, a silent-era child star who discovered upon reaching maturity that all the money he’d earned acting alongside Charlie Chaplin and other major film stars of that era had been squandered by his parents. A law to prevent that was passed and was in fact called The Jackie Coogan Law. Forty-three years after achieving fame in The Kid, he shaved off what little hair he had left and stuck a trick lightbulb in his mouth on weekly television. 

Grandmama Frump was the delightfully named Blossom Rock, sister of the leading cinematic soprano from Hollywood’s Golden Age, Jeanette MacDonald. I don’t recall Grandmama belting out any operatic arias, but I bet she could have, between concocting her famous still-writhing dinners. Yummy! Blossom had a long career as a character actress in dozens of films, including I Married a Witch (1942), Gildersleeve’s Ghost (based on the radio show, 1944), Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954), and She Devil (1957).

The kids were Lisa Loring as Wednesday and Ken Weatherwax as Pugsley. Charlie might have had a point about them. They were cute and sweet, and wholly unlike their counterparts. Lisa grew up to be a lovely soap opera star. Ken quit acting to work behind the camera. 

Lurch was the six-foot-nine-inch Ted Cassidy, who later lent his ultra-deep voice to a number of Saturday morning cartoons. Like Rondo Hatten, he suffered from acromegaly, although in his case the disease manifested itself in altitude rather than hideousness. Ted was also the main portrayer of Thing T. Thing, the disembodied hand that was always ready to, um, help out around the house. An assistant director pinch-hit when Lurch and Thing were in the same scene. Thing was created for the show, although there was a 1954 cartoon in The New Yorker with a pair of disembodied hands changing the record on a phonograph. 

Cousin Itt was created for the second and final season of the show. Felix Silla, who at three-feet-eleven-inches was in great demand for roles suited to his stature for the next forty-five years, donned the long blond wig. In later incarnations, the second ‘t’ seems to have been used inconsistently. This disparity has caused numerous online arguments and more than a few bar fights, one is inclined to suspect. 

The family showed up on television again in 1973 as a Saturday morning animated program, with only Cassidy and Coogan returning to provide the voices of Lurch and Fester. Academy Award-winning actress Jody Foster was the voice of Pugsley. Think about that next time you watch The Silence of the Lambs. The show only lasted sixteen episodes.

Most of the original cast returned in 1977 for a TV movie, Halloween with the New Addams Family. Blossom Rock had suffered a stroke not long after the original series ended and was unable to participate. She passed away the next year at the age of eighty-two.

Ted Cassidy underwent heart surgery for a condition related to his acromegaly in 1979 but did not survive the operation. He was only forty-six. Carolyn Jones died of colon cancer in 1983, at the age of fifty-three. Jackie Coogan was sixty-nine when he passed away from heart failure in 1984, and Ken Weatherwax died of a heart attack in 2014. He was fifty-nine. Felix Silla was eighty-four when he passed on in April of 2021. Only John Astin, at ninety, and Lisa Loring are left. She’s six months older than I am and looks a lot better than I do. Astin was the only one of the original cast to participate in a second animated series, in 1992

The 1991 big-budget adaptation starring Raul Julia, Angelica Huston and Christopher Lloyd spawned a sequel, Addams Family Values, in 1993. Of all the reboots and re-imaginings, I think this brace of movies might have met or even exceeded Addams’ expectations. Alas, Raul Julia’s death from a stroke a year later ended the possibility of any further misadventures. 

None of the original show or feature film casts were around for the 1998 revival series produced in Canada and shown on Fox in the United States. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever seen any of the sixty-five episodes. A direct-to-video movie, The Addams Family Reunion, starring Tim Curry and Daryl Hanna, was released the same year. Carel Struycken returned as Lurch, having played the role in the two feature films. A 2010 Broadway musical and a pair of animated features in 2019 and 2021 complete the family’s saga to the present time, other than for a much-too-short series of not-even-remotely-officially-sanctioned-by-the-Charles-Addams-Estate YouTube videos starring Melissa Hunter as the Adult Wednesday Addams. Very funny stuff.

I wonder what Charlie would think about all that? Whatever his thoughts on the other goodies briefly described above, I suspect he’d be okay with Adult Wednesday Addams. Don’t you?

I no longer have that slim paperback book I bought at the school rummage sale in 1969. Somewhere along the way, I sold it or traded it, or lost it. I did recently find another copy on eBay. It cost me a bit more than a nickel. Not the fifty-four bucks Abebooks wants for theirs, but enough to buy a large-sized Big Mac meal and have some change left over for the Ronald McDonald House. It was worth the expenditure. I plan to hang on to this one. My wife says I really need to lay off the Big Macs, anyhow.

Many thanks to Linda H. Davis for the information in this and the previous episode. Her 2006 book, Charles Addams: A Cartoonist’s Life, has been an invaluable resource, along with the several collections of his cartoons I have in my collection. Highly recommended.

Coming up in our next installment, I’ll be examining the almost sixty-year adolescence of Riverdale High School’s perpetual student and resident teenage witch, Sabrina. It ought to be fun. Until then, oh ye questors after the quirky and the questionable…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Guest Blog : “The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows”

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows

Featured Author: Angela Yuriko Smith

Interviewer: Geneve Flynn

Southeast Asian mythology is much less familiar territory for many horror fans. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies are well-known, creatures such as the tiyanak, the penanggalan, the pontianak, and the nukekubi are less so. Does that make them scarier? Let’s dive in and see. 

Tortured Willows is a newly released collaborative collection of sixty horror poems by four of the authors from the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Christina Sng, and Geneve Flynn showcase some of these creepy critters in their poetry. In this blog series, we chat to each of the contributors about their monsters.

Please say hello to Angela Yuriko Smith.

GF: Hi Angela! Please tell us a little more about Tortured Willows, and what inspired you to create this collection.

AYS: In some ways, I think this collection created itself. I wrote a lot about the spirit of the Uchinanchu people and I feel like they were so happy to have a little bit of recognition they refused to let me write tame poetry and move on. I learned more about myself and my family in the time I wrote these poems than I have in my entire life. It was the hardest and best thing I’ve written yet.  

GF: That sense of personal resonance is so clear in your collection: as if you were a tuning fork that had just been struck. Speaking of personal resonance, your poem “The Nukekubi” is based on a real experience, which makes it even more chilling. What is a nukekubi, and when did you encounter her? 

Picture attribution:  https://www.evanseasyjapanese.com/nukeku 1

AYS: A nukekubi is a type of ghost whose head detaches from her body so she can travel. It is said to drink blood and cause harm for the sake of it. Incidentally, for all the Pokemon fans out there: Misdreavus is inspired by a nukekubi. I’d never heard of a nukekubi until I started doing this research and someone mentioned it. When I asked them to describe it I had chills because they were describing one of the ghosts from my teens. I was in Sweetwater, Tennessee which seems an odd place for an Asian ghost. I always thought she came with the house but now I wonder. Here are a few lines from my poem:

Like slick tentacles

her neck cords trailed to the ground

disembodied face

soaked wet from drowning

or perhaps from her own tears.

She couldn’t tell me.

GF: That sends ice down my spine; much creepier than the Pokemon version. As well as malevolent spirits, your collection features a benevolent creature called a shisa. What are they, and what do they mean? 

AYS: Here’s a photo of two shisa I painted recently. shisa were at the beginning of my Uchinanchu rabbit hole, which is appropriate because they are guardians that sit on rooftops and by doors (and anyplace else you can squeeze them) so I like to think they were guiding me in. They are related to the lion dogs in other Asian cultures, but one of the big differences with shisa is they are always a male and female pair. The Okinawans feel that men and women are different but of equal importance. The male dog always has his mouth open to drink in the luck and frighten away the demons. The female keeps her mouth closed to keep the luck in and seal out demons. I read somewhere that all shisa are alive, and all shisa are benevolent guardians. This probably explains why they are everywhere in Okinawa. As soon as I discovered shisa I became obsessed, but there aren’t as many here in the US so I had to make some of my own. They hang on my front door now. These lines are from my poem “Dreaming of Shisa”:

There can never be

too many shisa.

Crouching on rooftops, watching

beside the front gate.

Ryukyu lion dogs—

he breathes the luck in. She holds

her breath to keep it.

GF: Your paintings are gorgeous—such perfectly balanced guardians. Thanks so much for introducing us to some of the mythology that features in your poetry. If you’d like to read the poems mentioned in this blog series, Tortured Willows is available from Yuriko Publishing.

Praise for Tortured Willows:

Tortured Willows bleeds, sobs and howls with rage.”—Stephanie Ellis, writer and poet, co-author of Daughters of Darkness

“Thought-provoking, unapologetically brutal, and downright unsettling, Tortured Willows is a collection unlike any you’ve read before…and one you’re not likely to forget. Murray, Flynn, Smith and Sng have not just raised their voices, they’ve roared them into the pages, and the result is simply superb.”—Rebecca Fraser, award-winning author of Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract.

“In Tortured Willows, the many veils of a woman’s heart are peeled back, revealing multi-layered petals of an aching beauty, rooted on a stem of vulnerable resistance.”—Jamal Hodge, director, writer, visionary

“This is a brilliant book, insightful and scintillant. Construed as a thematic sequel to the award-winning Black Cranes (the anthology edited by Murray and Flynn and containing fiction by Sng and Smith), it may also be viewed as a distillation. The theme is strong, but the lessons reach beyond it. Cutting across rhetoric and euphemism, Tortured Willows will hold meaning for whoever dares read it.”—Kyla Lee Ward, Bram Stoker Award®-nominated poet

Tortured Willows

Bent. Bowed. Unbroken

The willow is femininity, desire, death. Rebirth. With its ability to grow from a single broken branch, it is the living embodiment of immortality. It is the yin that wards off malevolent spirits. It is both revered and shunned.

In Tortured Willows, four Southeast Asian women writers of horror expand on the exploration of otherness begun with the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.

Like the willow, women have bent and bowed under the expectations and duty heaped upon them. Like the willow, they endure and refuse to break.

With exquisite poetry, Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn invite you to sit beneath the tortured willow’s gravid branches and listen to the uneasy shiver of its leaves.

LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Tortured-Willows-Bent-Bowed-Unbroken/dp/1737208334

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Angela Yuriko Smith is a third-generation Uchinanchu-American and an award-winning poet, author, and publisher with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. Publisher of Space & Time magazine (est. 1966), a Bram Stoker Awards® Finalist and HWA Mentor of the Year for 2020. To find out more visit angelayurikosmith.com.

Historian of Horror : They’re Creepy and They’re Kookie, Mysterious and Spooky…

You can already hear it, can’t you? You see the title above and your brain automatically connects to the theme song Vic Mizzy composed fifty-seven years ago, the one bouncing around in your head right now, complete with finger-snaps. The one that has been used, with a few variations, for nearly every iteration of the characters for whom it was created in 1964. Doodle-di-doot-snap-snap!

“Why?”, you ask. 

“For what reason was the catchiest television theme song ever written by the hand of mortal man created?”, you wonder. 

“Where did these altogether ooky people come from?”, your enquiring minds want to know.

Well, get a witch’s shawl on and find a roost that you can crawl on. I’m about to tell you everything there is to know about The Addams Family. 

Snap-snap.

During the recently completed podcast season, I used one of my entries to elucidate upon the difference between pulp magazines and slick magazines. Pulps, you might recall, were cheaply produced efforts filled with lurid, sensationalist popular scrivenings by now virtually forgotten authors, at least outside of our particular area of interest. Great stuff, very often, but nobody ever got rich writing for the pulps. The slick magazines, on the other hand, were printed on fancy, coated paper with great stories for which the authors were paid well enough that some of them did live quite comfortably on the remuneration they received for those pieces of much more impressive literature.

The pulps tended to be genre-specific. The ones we might have been most drawn to had titles like Weird Tales, Unknown Worlds, Dime Mystery, Horror Stories. The slicks published all genres, as long as the quality of writing was high enough. Their roster included The Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper’s, Collier’s Weekly. The ultimate goal of pulp writers was to sell to the slicks. Ray Bradbury made that transition. Few others from our favorite genre did.

Along with fiction, and non-fiction, many of the slicks featured single-panel cartoons. The New Yorker, in particular, is still highly regarded for them. Some years ago, a coffee-table collection of the best cartoons from its long history sold very well. Prominent among the artists who created that treasure trove was one Charles Addams.

Born on January 7, 1912, in Westfield, New Jersey, Charles Samuel Addams was a bright, quirky, mischievous child who grew up to be a bright, quirky, mischievous adult. After attending the Grand Central School of Art in New York City, he got a job retouching crime scene photos for True Detective Magazine in 1933, excising the blood and gore that were frowned upon in the periodicals of the day. He had already placed some cartoons in The New Yorker beginning by then and was soon a regular contributor. The August 6, 1938 issue began featuring the characters we’ve all come to know and love, the degenerate, demonic darlings of the Addams Family.

None of them had names yet, and for a while, there was only a painfully thin woman with dark hair who looked vaguely like the Morticia-yet-to-come and a hulking, bearded butler. By the November 25, 1939 issue, the butler had shaved and looked very much like the Lurch we would come to know and love. The first cartoon showing a recognizable Morticia cuddling with a recognizable Gomez appeared in the issue dated November 14, 1942. The caption read, “Are you unhappy, Darling?” to which the future Morticia replied, “Oh, yes, yes! Completely!”

And so it went for over twenty years. Children were added, a boy and a girl who enjoyed playing with chemistry sets, building model guillotines, and collecting warning signs. A round-headed creeping relative dressed in a black ulster began skulking around the family’s crumbling Victorian manse and frequenting horror films at the local cinema. The cast was gradually assembled. 

Addams was drafted in 1943 and wound up in the Signal Corps. Given that he was a large, physically impressive man and reportedly an excellent shot, one is tempted to wonder whether or not the Germans might have wisely contrived by surreptitious means to arrange for him to not be assigned to a combat unit. Not long after induction, he married his first wife, Barbara Jean Day, who has been said to have resembled Morticia. As did his other two wives. Charlie seems to have had a type.

What Charlie lacked was any desire for parenthood. He loved children, as long as they belonged to someone else. After eight years of trying to convince her husband to adopt, given that they had been unable to conceive, she left him. 

A few years later, another Barbara came along who not only resembled Morticia more closely than her predecessor had in looks but also in personality. She was physically abusive and unfaithful. In 1955, without his knowledge or consent, she made a one-year deal with the McClure Syndicate to have Charlie’s cartoons appear in Sunday newspapers. The contract she signed on his behalf gave her 50% of the proceeds. Under the title Out of This World, they appear to be redrawn versions, or perhaps early drafts, of cartoons that had already appeared in The New Yorker. By the time that one-year deal was up, “the bad Barbara” had been jettisoned and Charlie was once again on the prowl for another Morticia surrogate.

He found one in my hometown, Nashville, Tennessee. Tee Davie was married and pregnant. As she slowly segued from her marriage to Buddy Davie to being Charlie’s frequent companion, Charlie’s aversion to children reappeared. She was stunning, and he liked stunning women, but the notion of being a parent put the kibosh on what had promised to be a permanent attachment. Tee and Buddy gave their marriage another try while Charlie made the rounds of more eligible females, including actresses Greta Garbo and Joan Fontaine, as well as presidential widow Jacqueline Onassis. 

He and Tee did eventually reconnect. They were wed in a pet cemetery in 1980, and were still married when he passed away from a heart attack on September 29, 1988.

The one constant in his life throughout was the work. His cartoons became an institution, and sales of The New Yorker were bound to have been boosted by his presence in nearly every issue. Random House put out the first hardback collection of them, Drawn and Quartered, in 1942, complete with an introduction by Boris Karloff. Simon & Schuster took over production in 1947 with Addams and Evil, followed by Monster Rally (1950), Homebodies (1954), Nightcrawlers (1957), Black Maria (1960), The Groaning Board (1964), My Crowd (1970), Favorite Haunts (1976) and Creature Comforts (1981), as well as The Chas Addams Mother Goose (1967).

In 1963, during the time when plans were underway to adapt the cartoons to the small screen, toy-maker Aboriginals, Ltd. came out with a set of large cloth dolls based on the Addams characters. They named the girl Wednesday. Addams wanted to call the boy Pubert, but that name would have to wait a few decades. He settled on Pugsley, which he found on a map of the Bronx as the name of a stream. Charlie appeared in publicity photos for the company, including one taken in his New York apartment with his crossbows, raven statue, and suit of armor prominently displayed around him, cradling Wednesday in his arms and menaced by Pugsley lurking above and behind him on the back of his chair. 

Charlie concocted the name of his feminine ideal during the development of the television show while looking up morticians in a phone book. Her doll stood four feet tall and cost $19.95. It’s a little more expensive now. Charlie wavered between calling the pater familias either Repelli or Gomez. He asked John Astin, the actor who would soon be playing the role, to choose. Astin went with Gomez. Lurch and Fester suggested themselves as names appropriate for the characters, as did Grandmama Frump. And so was born the first adaptation of Charlie’s cast of reprobates into another medium. But not the last, and every subsequent live-action or animated version is but a shadowy reflection in a warped mirror of that short-lived television series.

Which we will examine in more detail in the next installment, a mere fortnight in the future.

Until then, patrons of perfidiousness…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Legend of Horror : George A. Romero: Hail To The Zombie King by CM Lucas

 Hail To The Zombie King

Growing up in New York in the early 40s was no small feat. The realities of organized crime and World War Two were enough to shape the mindset of an aspiring filmmaker from the Bronx to that of a doomed future for humanity. George A. Romero’s bleak worldview became glaringly apparent on October 1, 1968, when he let loose upon the world, Night of the Living Dead, a terrifying story of the reanimated dead attacking and consuming a group of survivors hiding within a small farmhouse. 

On the surface, Romero’s vision of a world plagued by the flesh-eating living dead is simply a visceral creature feature (nothing wrong with that). But, the subtextual coverage of social issues and identity politics is where it truly terrifies. Using a zombie apocalypse allegorically to showcase the true plague that continues to ravage humanity. Intolerance, tribalism, and humanity’s inhumanity toward man are all subjects broached within the horror masterpiece. 

Within Romero’s storied career, he has often attempted to infuse his films with social awareness. Not satisfied with simply scaring an audience with supernatural spectacle, Romero forces his audience to peer into the societal underbelly and reflect on humanity’s current, past, and future atrocities with only the slightest shimmer of hope. Much more terrifying than zombie-infested streets is when human beings are subjected to the realization that the true enemy is glaring back at them every time we look into a mirror.

However, there’s more to this dread-filled visionary than doom and gloom nihilism. Romero’s cheeky, whimsical side is often on display within his films. Whether it’s a zombie experiencing an unfortunate “haircut” from the blades of a helicopter in Dawn of the Dead, or the lovable “Bub” giving a final salute to the deplorable Captain Rhodes before his gruesome death. 

With the recent release of Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, the living dead are more prominent than ever. And while George Romero may have passed, but his legacy continues to live on in the form of the modern zombie. Paving the way for such properties as The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later and even Shaun of the Dead, Romero fought the battle of the indie filmmaker and won the hearts of millions of devoted fans who watched in awe as his decaying, putrid creations ravaged the world of cinema.

Free Fiction: Bliss by Webster Grubbs

A man walks silently down an abandoned dusty road. Along the path are vast oceans of waving grass. He paces slowly in silence, focusing on the road in the distance, watching it curve over the horizon. The sun above him crossed over and soon set, drenching the man in blinding shadows. He continues, wading through the drowning darkness. A shimmer of light dances across the field, cast by the full rising moon. 

Over the horizon comes a pair of bright lights, undoubtedly headlights of an approaching vehicle. The man walks on, taking note of the lights as they approached. Soon it was within sight and he stepped to the side of the road, stopping and watching. Upon seeing him, the dusty truck pulls to the side of the road. A lone man exits the vehicle, approaching the stranger slowly.

“Hey, you alright? It’s awful late to be wandering around the back roads.” He says, receiving no response. 

“You deaf or somethin’? It’s dangerous out here. You wouldn’t be the first to get lost out here.” Again, he receives no answer. He approaches the stranger, looking at his face.

“Or maybe you know that. Have I seen you before?”

The stranger turns back to the road and resumes walking. He speaks finally as he leaves. “Maybe so. Been around here for a while; Lotta people seen me here or there.” 

A sheet of rain settles over a small town, filling the air with sounds of water on rusting sheet metal roofs. A hooded man follows the road into the street. He finds his way into the local pub, taking refuge from the rain at a small back table. The locals take note of his presence but ignore him. The few visitors look over their shoulders, curious of the man. No one in the room speaks to him, and they only speak of him in hushed whispers between fleeting glances. 

The man sits, silent and unblinking, staring at the wooden corner wall. He remains deathly still as he waits. An elderly lady gathers her meal and slowly makes her way to the man’s table. She sits across from him and smiles warmly.

“Hope you don’t mind me takin’ a spot here with ya. You seemed kind of lonely. I know people don’t typically prefer to be alone. Tell me, how are ya doin’ ?” She asked, looking up to the man’s young, bearded face. 

He remained silent but did glance at her as she sat.

“Not much of a talker? That’s fine. Some people go on blabbering for too long anyways. Get themselves into all sorts of trouble. Sometimes you just gotta know when to hush up.”

The man nodded slowly, looking back up to the corner of the room. 

“I guess you’re waiting on the rain to stop, yeah? I’ll let you be then.” The lady said, turning to stand.

The man shook his head, looking back to her. “Before you go…would you like to hear an old song? It’s from my childhood, and I quite like it.” He spoke in a half-whisper.

The woman turned back to him and listened as he began softly humming an ancient tune. The old woman found herself enchanted by the song, getting enveloped by the notes of the man’s humming. Moments later the siren’s call was over, and the lady snapped from her trance. 

“Oh, that was pretty.” She exclaimed, looking across to the man. Across from her, however, was an empty seat. Shocked, she looked across the bar, finding it desolate. She looked out the door and saw but a muddy road leading to the building surrounded by carpets of shining broken glass. 

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I’m a small-time horror author, writing when I have free time from a busy life.