Women In Horror Month: Why Do Women Writers Write About Monsters or Ghosts?

Why Do Women Writers Write About Monsters or Ghosts?

Why would women write about monsters or ghosts? I am sure some readers say stick to writing romance or fantasy. But women have just as much right to write the scary stuff and about monsters as do their male counterparts. After all, in the long run, it’s all about the story.

At BBC.com, an article mentioned how women writers “often found the supernatural a way to challenge and condemn their role in society.” It seems male writers have dominated supernatural fiction, like M R James, Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Oliver Onions, and others. But female writers have been on the horror scene in the past, too. Shirley Jackson, for instance. She wrote The Haunting of Hill House, the only story that has scared me in the daytime, in a room full of people. Others had to do it at night, with me in a room alone. Susan Hill, who wrote Woman in Black, is another. A classic ghost story from 1892 is Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The author’s nameless narrator, suffering from post-natal depression, is confined to bed rest under the care of her doctor husband, when begins to lose her mind. Confined to an old nursery with ghastly wallpaper, she sees strangled heads and unblinking “bulbous eyes” in its pattern. Eventually, a skulking female figure appears, seemingly trapped behind the bars of its design. Is it the narrator’s own hidden self? When her husband enters to find her tearing down the wallpaper, she tells him, “I’ve got out at last. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!”

Do women authors use ghost stories to exorcise their resentments over societal restrictions? The ghost in their tale is the ultimate outsider – an absent presence, all-seeing and yet unable to partake of life in any meaningful way. Do we have insight differently from male writers? Can what a woman writes be more downright frightening than what a man writes? Does the way we pen the words on paper or type onscreen haunt the person as they read? Maybe we even make the monster sympathetic. Still horrifying, but a monster the reader will care about and cheer on. Or not.

Looking for some great spooky reads? Next time, check out female horror authors. I am sure readers already know about; Anne Rice, Sarah Pinborough, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Caitlin R. Kiernan. Others you can check out are Tanith Lee, Elizabeth Massie, Lisa Morton, Yvonne Navarro, Carrie Ryan, Cherie Priest, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Kari Kilgore, Susan Schwartz, and much, much more. Take a step away from traditionally published authors and try out indie writers as there are great reads by them, too. An excellent place to find more women horror writers is at Horror Writers Association. Try someone new today. 

Instead of picking up the latest Stephen King novel or of books written by other male horror authors, try several feminine writers instead. We just might bring “SCARE” to a whole new level.

Journey to worlds of fantasy, beyond the stars, and into the vortex of terror with the written word of Pamela K. Kinney.

Https://PamelaKKinney.com

Bio:

Author Pamela K. Kinney gave up long ago trying not to listen to the voices in her head and has written horror, fantasy. science fiction, along with six nonfiction ghost books ever since. Her horror short story, “Bottled Spirits,” was runner-up for the 2013 WSFA Small Press Award. Her horror poem, “Dementia,” included in HWA Poetry Showcase Volume VII, won “Best Poem: for 23rd Annual Critters Readers Poll (2020).

Besides writing, Pamela has acted on stage and film and investigates the paranormal for episodes of Paranormal World Seekers. She is a member of Horror Writers Association and Virginia Writers Club.

WOMEN WRITING HORROR: A Listicle of Women to Read

WOMEN WRITING HORROR by Renata Pavrey

Horror is my favorite genre in fiction and I read across all of its sub-genres including true crime, psychological horror, comedy horror, from novels to short story collections, dark poetry and anthologies. A random search for horror books throws up the usual fare from Stephen King, Joe Hill, Josh Malerman, Kealan Patrick Burke. While I have loved books by all these writers, women authors in the genre don’t show up as easily, with the exception of Shirley Jackson and Mary Shelley for their classic works. I thought back to all the books I’ve read and the ones in my to-read list and came up with this listicle of horror stories from women writers. These include translated books as well as original language ones, novellas, novels, collections, prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction by writers, translators, editors, and publishers who create terror through words. From historical fiction, science fiction, young adult, satire, to mythology, folklore, speculative fiction, re-telling of true events, and dark verses – take your pick. Since February is coming up, I compiled a list of twenty-eight women in horror – one book recommendation for each day of the month.

  1. Agustina Maria Bazterrica – Tender is the Flesh

A virus has eradicated animals, and humanity turns to cannibalism for its source of meat as humans are domesticated, mass produced, and slaughtered. Translated from the Spanish, a nauseating and provocative satire that blends science fiction with horror.

       2. Ally Blue – Down

An underwater, paranormal suspense fest surrounding the discovery of a rock-like sphere that causes humans to mutate and turn into horror versions of themselves.

       3. Alma Katsu – The Deep

Historical fiction horror set around the events of the Titanic and its sister ship the Britannic. The maritime disaster and World War I are caught in sinister happenings in this supernatural thriller.

       4. Cassandra Khaw – Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef

A novella about the dual life of a sorcerer and soldier, combining horror and comedy with Malaysian and Chinese mythology.

       5. Christina Henry – The Ghost Tree

YA horror about missing people and terrifying visions of monsters dragging remains. Ghostly trees, creepy children, witches and curses – almost like watching a horror movie.

       6. Christina Sng – Dreamscapes

Horror, fantasy, and science fiction come together in this poetry collection that addresses the darkness within. Verses that serve to unsettle and terrify, proving how poetry can be more impactful than prose.

       7. Elizabeth Kostova – The Historian

A historical fiction Dracula story moving across time and place with shifting narrator perspectives. A debut vampire novel that interweaves history with folklore and makes for a riveting read.

       8. Fernanda Melchor – Hurricane Season

Mythology and terror from Spanish literature, with the English translation maintaining the grim, intense and graphic prose of its original source in this portrait of a Mexican village and its witch.

       9. Francine Toon – Pine

A haunting tale in the Scottish highlands, filled with intrigue and eeriness, alternating between terrifying and heart wrenching, spooky and suspenseful in equal measures.

       10. Gemma Amor – Dear Laura

A novella of lifelong obsession, this dark, twisted tale about penpals stands out for its brilliantly atmospheric writing.

       11.Jennifer Hillier – Wonderland

Psychological thriller, amusement park, serial killer – gruesome and wicked as you set out to solve crimes.

       12. Jennifer McMahon – Winter People

Historical fiction meets fantasy in this chilling story of missing people and secrets galore.

       13. Joyce Carol Oates – The Doll Master

A collection of short stories that borrows its title from an obsession over dolls, and leads into an unsettling world of abominations and mystery.

       14. Kaaron Warren – Into Bones Like Oil

A haunted house novella with an unconventional narrative and storyline, and an interesting take on the ghost story.

        15. Kathe Koja – The Cipher

Winner of the Bram Stoker award for Best Debut Novel, The Funhole does not live up to its name. A black hole that calls out and launches a journey of obsession, darkness, and blinding terror of classic horror in spectacular prose.

        16. Laura Purcell – The Silent Companions

There’s nothing like historical fiction for a dose of gothic horror. An asylum, a haunted mansion, intriguing journals, hidden secrets – a creepy ghost story that grabs the attention from beginning to end.

        17.  Laurel Hightower – Crossroads

An exceptional novella dealing with the horrors of heartbreak and grief, and things coming back from the dead. An emotional and devastating read that shows you just how diverse the horror genre can be.

        18. Lee Murray – Grotesque

A collection of monster stories that range from mythology to legend and science fiction offering a dip into Maori folklore and French history, zombie attacks and adventures. Packed with action and gore, the stories are a delight for monster fans.

        19. Lisa Kröger – Monster, She Wrote

Why read one horror story when you can read about them all? A non-fiction horror book about women who pioneered the genres of horror and speculative fiction; writers who defied convention and crafted some stellar spooky tales. From ghost stories to psychological horror, intriguing trivia and reading recommendations, a book about books not to be missed.

        20. Lucy A. Snyder – Sparks and Shadows

A dark fantasy collection of short stories, poems, and essays. Twisted tales in myriad settings, witty and diverse, horrifying, amusing, and thought provoking.

        21. Mariana Enriquez – Things We Lost in the Fire

A short story collection of the macabre, mixing magical realism with gothic fiction in this astonishing treat from Spanish literature brought to us in English by translator Megan McDowell.

        22. Mariko Koike – The Graveyard Apartment

Detective fiction and horror writing come together in this translation from Japanese literature of psychological horror set around a graveyard. Deborah Boehm brings this to us in English.

        23. Michelle Paver – Thin Air

A historical fiction ghost story set in the Himalayas. Nature can be brutal enough, but what if it isn’t the only thing you’re battling? Subtle supernatural elements, more psychological rather than physical, can be more horrific at times.

        24. Nalo Hopkinson – Skin Folk

A short story collection of magical realism, science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction interweaved with horror. Storytelling at its best.

        25. Samanta Schweblin – Fever Dream

Some more magical realism from Spanish literature is this surreal nightmare of an otherworldly story. Menacing, unsettling, and thoroughly absorbing in its usage of horror to explore current world issues.

        26. Taeko Kono – Toddler Hunting

An exceptional collection of Japanese short stories that explore the dark side of human nature and antisocial behavior. Lucy North translates to English to bring us a startling and disquieting world.

        27. Yoko Ogawa – Revenge

Another dark treat from Japanese literature in an experimental format of seemingly unrelated short stories coming together to form a larger novel. Bland settings and ordinary people up the ante of terrors lurking in everyday life.

        28. Yrsa Sigurdardottir – I Remember You

Scandinavian Nordic noir of isolation and remoteness; horror based on true events. Translated from the Icelandic, a ghost story that proffers the chills.

~Three bonus books for the women who lead the way as editors and publishers~

  1. Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn – Black Cranes

A collection of short stories by Asian writers, highlighting the dual themes of women in horror and Asian women writers. A smorgasbord of mythology, legend, folklore, science fiction, comedy horror, satire, dark fantasy.

       2. Aiki Flinthart – Relics, Wrecks, and Ruins

A collection of science fiction and fantasy with horror to showcase the remnants of humanity and celebrate a legacy. 

        3. Tricia Reeks – Meerkat Press

The publishing house comes out with some very different but very good books, in equal parts weird, unique, and dark.

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Renata Parvey is a Nutritionist by profession; marathon runner and Odissi dancer by passion. Driven by sports, music, animals, plants, literature and more. Reads across several genres and languages, and loves the world of horror – in both, books and movies.

URL:

Women In Horror: Regrets by Jess Chua

Regrets by Jess Chua
“Sophia was a bohsia, okay? End of story.”Irfan put out his cigarette as he strolled home with his best buddy, Dinesh.“What is it with girls and women nowadays?” Dinesh said sadly. “They used to be so sweet and gadis baik (good girl types).”

“Nowadays, love stands for legs-open-very-easily.” Irfan looked around at the leaves rustling in the breeze. “Glad Sophia was just a one night stand. That’s all she was worth.”

Sophia, he thought. Pretty face…cute curves…and a little bit of a birdbrain.

She had a thing for bad boys with motorcycles. Irfan was the hot bad boy that many girls found irresistible.

It was too bad that she had recently gotten into a terrible highway accident involving a drunk rider. Sophia hadn’t made it out alive.

“Do you have any regrets?” Dinesh asked.

“About?”

The two young men let the silence in the air do most of the talking. Sophia had become a stage five clinger relatively quickly after hooking up with Irfan. Perhaps her absence was somewhat of a relief if Irfan wanted to be honest about it.

“Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow. I—” Dinesh froze for a second as he felt something ice-cold rush through his body. The impact was almost enough to knock him off his feet.

The voice of a banshee screeched: “The baby was YOURS!!!”

When Dinesh turned around, Irfan was lying eviscerated on the ground. A pale ghostly image with Sophia’s face and bloodied hands hovered over Irfan’s dead body before vanishing off into the woods.

Perhaps Irfan would have expressed some regrets, if he was still able to respond.

###

Author Bio: Jess Chua is a writer and editor for a personal development podcast. Her microfiction was a runner-up in the Mysterious Photograph contest at Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She enjoys yoga, healthy cooking, and spending time with her pets. Her website is www.jesschuabooks.com

Women in Horror Month

 

This month we are celebrating Women in Horror Month here at HorrorAddicts.net. This month we will bring you contemporary women writers, women writers of old, women movie directors, actresses, characters, and even artists who have brought to life some of those scary monsters we have nightmares about.

You’ll meet women who look like demure housewives but pen horrible, frightening beings who suck your blood! You will read some newly written material and some treasures from the vault.

You’ll hear some of the joys and the challenges of being a woman trying to make her way into the genre, let alone getting to the top of the gravestone.

Join us daily as we celebrate Women in Horror during February.

Meet the Author: Brian Craddock

Brian Craddock is widely published in horror anthologies, establishing a lead in character Richard Dalziel to navigate the majority of his short fiction. Collected, these stories are The Dalziel Files, set around the globe. Of these, “Ismail’s Expulsion”, set in Pakistan, won the Long Fiction Award at the 2018 Australian Shadows Awards. Brian has two novels available: Chuwa: The Rat People of Lahore (set in Pakistan) and Eucalyptus Goth (set in Australia).
CHUWA: THE RAT PEOPLE OF LAHORE
This novel is set in Pakistan, about a woman caught up in conflict between mafia and monsters. The book was shortlisted in the 2019 Aurealis Awards.
I have a sequel in development.
THE CEMETERY CHILDREN
This horror/sci-fi short-story is set in Indonesia, in the future. I was inspired after meeting a group of children in Jakarta who use their local cemetery as a playground, due to lack of public parks to play in. They would put “makeup” on the angel statues, using chalk and crayons.
THE DALZIEL FILES
My collection of horror short stories (free to read on Kindle Unlimited), nominated as a finalist for Collected Works in the 2018 Australian Shadow Awards. Several stories are set in Asia:
  • Ismail’s Expulsion is set in Pakistan (inspired by alleged true-life vampires told to me by a local when I first visited Lahore)
  • Ikiryo is set in Japan (about the Japanese legend of the Ikiryo, the living-dead)
  • Masala Nightmares is set in India (demons and body-snatching)
ATISHFISHAN
A short story, using Lovecraft’s mythos, set in the southern deserts of Pakistan, included in the Lovecraft tribute magazine The Arkham Diaries.

Asian Horror Month – First Ever Ghost Story Game – Angela Yuriko Smith

First Ever Ghost Story Game

Happy Halloween!

Six authors got together to play an impromptu story telling game. Join us and laugh as we try to make up spooky tales on the spot. Thanks to Kate Jonez and Omnium Gatherum for helping bring the Ghost Story Game to life… and thanks for the brave participants: Geneve Flynn, Lee Murray, Austin Gragg, Ryan Aussie Smith and Eric Shapiro.

About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is an American poet, publisher, and author with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. She co-publishes Space and Time magazine with author husband Ryan Aussie Smith. For more information visit SpaceandTime.net

Historian of Horror: All Are Mad But Me and Thee-and Sometimes I Wonder About Thee

All Are Mad But Me and Thee — 

And Sometimes I Wonder About Thee.

by Mark Orr

At the end of the silent movie period, French film director René Clair went on the record as being very skeptical of sound, feeling that it was “an unnatural creation” Cinema as its own art form was a purely visual one, he thought, and the introduction of sound would make films nothing more than recorded stage plays. He relented, and made some truly great sound films, but watching what is, as far as I’ve been able to determine the earliest surviving Japanese horror film, Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Kurutta Ippeji (A Page of Madness), one might wonder if he wasn’t on to something. 

Not that Kinugasa was aware of Clair’s opinion in 1926, or even of his work; there’s no indication that he saw any western films at the beginning of his career. He started in the industry as a female impersonator in 1917, then switched to directing once Japanese studios began using female actors in the early 1920s. It wasn’t until 1929 that he had the opportunity to travel abroad and encounter European films, which makes Kurutta Ippeji all the more remarkable. Stylistically, it would fit very nicely into any one of several European traditions, particularly German expressionism. There is in Kinugasa’s picture more than a trace of what the French called Caligarisme, that most extreme variety of expressionism exemplified by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, to be sure. However, it’s purely a parallel development, as Kinugasa wouldn’t have known Caligarisme in 1926 if he tripped over it. He was talented enough to discover it on his own.

A more impressive achievement is that it truly is a silent film, even more so than any that Clair had directed in France up until that time. There are no intertitles, those cards that pop up periodically in almost all silents with bits of dialogue or expository material. Kinugasa was able to tell a coherent story with no dialogue, no expository material. The images are the story, and they need nothing else. 

The story is, to be sure, a simple one. A man hires on as a janitor at the insane asylum where his wife is an inpatient. He loses contact with reality himself while attempting to extricate her from the asylum against her will, plus deal with his daughter’s disintegrating marriage. His own mental state comes to mirror that of several of the other inmates, and it is in the presentation of their madness and his that Kinugasa creates some truly horrific imagery. It possesses a poetic subtlety that possibly doesn’t translate well into our time for most modern horror fans, which is a damn shame. 

Like almost all early Japanese films, it was thought lost until Kinugasa came across a copy in his garden shed in the 1970s, a few years after his long and very productive career had come to an end. He died in 1982, at the age of eighty-six.

Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday was yesterday as I write this, an anniversary that should be near and dear to the hearts of all horror fans. Poe is also revered by the mystery buffs, who named their most prestigious award the Edgar in his honor. And in his honor, the second part of this celebration of Asian horrors is herewith presented unto the populace.

Japanese mystery writer Tirō Hirai adopted the pseudonym Edogawa Ranpo (sometimes written as Rampo) in 1923. If you say that new name fast, it sort of sounds like Poe’s full name, which was the point, I do believe. Regardless, he had a long and distinguished career as a mystery author, penning numerous novels and short stories.

Which has what to do with horror, Asian or otherwise? you may well ask. Well, like many writers, Ranpo had difficulty playing in his own sandbox. On occasion, he would tinker with other genres. One such time, he came up with what might well be the creepiest tale I’ve ever read. 

A prominent lady writer receives a manuscript from an aspiring author. In it, he tells of his life as a hideously ugly and poverty-stricken chair-maker, a man whose carpentry skills are as great as his social skills are poor. Having received a commission for a large chair to be installed in a fancy hotel, he decides to build one that he can hide in so that he can sneak out and steal from the wealthy clientele. He spends months living in this chair, emerging from it at night to pilfer valuables. He waxes rhapsodic on how various people sit on him during the day, how he could differentiate one type of person from another by how their bodies press down onto his.

After a long time, the carpenter writes, the hotel decided to redecorate, and the chair was sold. And guess what! You’re sitting on me now! The lady author freaks and flees, only to receive a second letter telling her that the manuscript is pure fiction, ha-ha, just kidding. Did you like it and would you help me get it published? It shall be called, “The Human Chair”. This seems like a cheat on a par with The Wizard of Oz having all been a dream. If the second letter is true.

If. 

If not…

Well?

See? Creepy, right?

Ranpo published his story, also called “The Human Chair”, in 1925, in the October issue of the literary magazine, Kuraku. I first read it in David Alexander’s 1962 paperback anthology, Tales for a Rainy Night

It can also be found in Peter Haining’s 1972 anthology Beyond the Curtain of Dark and in Ranpo’s own collection, Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination. And no doubt in others. I encourage all and sundry among the populace to seek it out, in order to see for yourself if it delivers the same frisson to you it did to me the first time I read it. 

And, as always, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Negan at Nekhen by Michael Fassbender

 

Negan at Nekhen by Michael Fassbender

I tend to be a Johnny-come-lately to famous TV programs. I don’t maintain cable or streaming subscriptions, so I catch up with the programs I choose to watch after they come out on DVD, sometimes years later. This year, I am getting caught up with The Walking Dead, and at the moment, I am watching season seven. I am now getting to know Negan.

I knew that Negan was a controversial character. Some fans hated him enough to abandon the series entirely after his brutal debut. Others have considered him the best long-term villain yet; for my part, I haven’t formulated my opinion on that. I’ve been too busy noticing something else. Negan shows how far people have descended from civilization as we know it by serving as a throwback to a style of leadership as old as the late Neolithic. Specifically, he breathes life into something I have read about only recently. 

Since childhood, I’ve maintained a fascination with ancient Egypt. I’ve kept up, more or less, with major discoveries and at least the outlines of Egyptian history as our understanding has shifted over the years. The Egyptians were a civilized and humane people, comparing favorably with most of their neighbors, most of the time. At the earliest stage of their history, though, even they practiced a form of human sacrifice. The burial of a king’s retainers with him after he died went on through the end of the second dynasty, before the first of the pyramids was built.

More recently, I became aware of even darker currents in the predynastic period. Two years ago I read the first two volumes of John Romer’s History of Ancient Egypt. This was a fascinating and thought-provoking work, but the most intriguing of all was his reconstruction of the predynastic, about which we have learned so much in the last thirty years. Alongside the more benign notes, like the importance of cylindrical seals to the formation of Egyptian writing, came the startling revelation of the more brutal side of early chiefdoms in southern Egypt, above all in the important town of Nekhen.

Nekhen, later known as Hierakonpolis, was a major predynastic site that may have set many of the patterns of later pharaonic civilization. It is generally thought that the unifier of Egypt, Narmer, had come from Nekhen, and its patron god, Horus, became the first king of the gods under the unified state. Nekhen provides the earliest example of tomb paintings, significantly including boats as a major image. We also find the earliest examples of the royal Smiting motif in connection with early Nekhen chiefs.

The Smiting motif presents the king with his right arm raising a mace above his head, and his left hand grasping the hair of a kneeling foe. It is understood that the king is about to deal a crushing blow to the head of his enemy. In this historic period, this image was understood symbolically; it represented the king as the champion of the forces of order (a word synonymous with truth in Egyptian) defeating the powers of chaos. 

Primitive versions of the Smiting motif were found at several predynastic sites in Egypt, with at least one estimated to around 3500 BC. While nineteenth-century scholars often thought the image suggested military conquest, more recent scholars tended to assume the motif held the same symbolic significance as it did in later centuries, until it was noted that a number of bodies found in predynastic graves near Nekhen showed the evidence of a crushing blow to the head. The Smiting image was therefore no mere symbol in the predynastic period, but a harsh reality for some members of the population. As this predates the written word even in Egypt, it is unlikely that we will ever know for sure the context of these killings. They may have been human sacrifices, or criminal executions, or something else entirely. The one thing we know with a high level of probability is that they were members of the same population, not foreign captives. Their bodies were buried in the same cemeteries with the same kinds of grave goods as those who died from natural causes, indicating membership in the same society.

In short, the predynastic people of Nekhen witnessed the same grim political theater that Rick Grimes and his team suffered when Negan killed Abraham and Glenn with Lucille. One or more people were killed by crushing blows to the head by a strong man who used the exercise to demonstrate his supremacy, or establish his dominion. With this as the true subtext of both cases, the introduction of Negan in The Walking Dead serves as an eerie parallel to real events taking place half the world and 5500 years earlier.

One might call it a striking resemblance.

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Michael Fassbender is a part-time writer in the Chicago area. His story Inmateappeared in Sanitarium Magazine in 2016; The Cold Girlappeared in Hypnos Magazine in 2016 and has resurfaced in October 2019 in a volume entitled Re-Haunts. But Together We Are Stronghas appeared in the February 2020 issue of Horror Magazine, Miroir de Vaugnacfound its place in Dark Divinations on May Day, and Schattenlenkers Hidden Treasurewas revealed in The Nightside Codex in August. This Halloween, Old Growthbegan spreading in Scary Stuff. You can read about more of his work on his website, michaeltfassbender.com.

Asian Horror Month: What’s Your Lens? by Geneve

Geneve Flynn is a freelance editor from Australia who specialises in speculative fiction. Her horror short stories have been published in various markets, including Flame Tree Publishing, Things in the Well, and the Tales to Terrify podcast. She loves tales that unsettle, all things writerly, and B-grade action movies; if that sounds like you, check out her website at www.geneveflynn.com.au

 

What’s your lens?

By Geneve Flynn

There are rules of craft and objective reasons why a story works and why it doesn’t. Without interrogating which lenses we see through, it can be easy to assume that what makes a story good is universal.

However, writing and editing is very much subjective. There are stories that resonate with me that ring false for you. So much of the reading experience isn’t just the text on the page, but all the stuff you bring to it as a reader. What you’ll imagine will be different from what I imagine, simply because your life experiences, your lenses, are different from mine.

For avid readers, a good chunk of our experiences are based on what we read. The problem is that much of what’s been published historically has been limited in diversity. When we only see stories that show the world through a monolithic lens, we can start to think that’s the only way to read and write.

That can be particularly harmful for a writer, even more so for an editor. There’s a risk of guiding and limiting a narrative to characters, settings, and storylines that are familiar.

When award-winning author and editor Lee Murray and I got chatting at the biennial Genrecon convention in Brisbane, we realized that there were few stories that truly reflected our experiences. We’re both of Asian descent, both women, both writing horrorwhere were those stories? There was an absence of perspective that we wanted to answer.

We went digging and unearthed a wealth of fiercely talented Southeast Asian horror writers, and set about putting together an anthology. Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women was published this September through Omnium Gatherum, and to our great delight, the reviews showed that the anthology was doing exactly what we hoped.

The unique anxieties experienced by Asian women were so masterfully penned here that reading it really was an eye-opening experience. Gingernuts of Horror

“The preconceived notions of both the authors’ identities and of the limitations of the horror genre itself will be smashed to pieces, to the delight of readers.” Library Journal

One of the benefits of fiction from diverse perspectives is that it makes us acutely aware of our own perceptions. It helps us examine how we experience a story. There’s an opportunity to become cognizant of the lenses we carry within us, and to magnify them, or switch them out for something new.

Black Cranes and other publications like it, written by and centering diverse voices, are holding up lenses that show readers, writers, and editors new ways to see. They’re expanding the boundaries of what’s possible, and that can only be a good thing.

If you’d like to read Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, head over to OmniumGatherum’s site: https://omniumgatherumedia.com/black-cranes

Here’s a list of the authors who contributed to Black Cranes. Check them out if you’d like more brilliant dark fiction.

Contributors

Nadia Bulkin: https://nadiabulkin.wordpress.com

Grace Chan: https://gracechanwrites.com

Rin Chupeco: https://www.rinchupeco.com

Elaine Cuyegkeng: https://twitter.com/layangabi?lang=en

Gabriela Lee: https://sundialgirl.com

Rena Mason: https://www.renamason.ink

Lee Murray: https://www.leemurray.info

Angela Yuriko Smith: http://angelaysmith.com

Christina Sng: http://www.christinasng.com

Foreword by

Alma Katsu: https://www.almakatsubooks.com

Asian Horror Month: Book Review/REVENGE by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese)

Book Review – REVENGE by Yoko Ogawa (Japanese)

(English translation by Stephen Snyder)

Review by Renata Parvey

Yoko Ogawa is one of my favorite contemporary writers, and I love how her writing covers a range of genres, all brilliant works in their own way. Revenge is a peculiar book, written in the form of short stories, where each story connects to another – in no particular order – culminating into a larger tale somewhere down the line. More recently, Jane Borges’ Bombay Balchao was another book written in the experimental fiction format – a collection of seemingly unrelated short stories woven together to form a novel. Both Ogawa and Borges are a pure delight to readers with their literary prowess in taking writing – and reading – to a different level.

Coming back to Revenge, it can be termed as a series of dark tales, with sinister elements binding them to one another. The protagonist of one story can be a minor character in another, at times not even named – leaving the reader to decipher who we are reading about, what role they play in each story, are they even connected or does the reader feel so because we assume the stories are strung together. The eerie world created by Ogawa moves across generations, time spans, places – past, present, future, the real world and the supernatural, fact and fantasy all drawn in as well as apart from each other.

An aspiring writer, a murderous landlady, an obsessed bag maker, a singer, a surgeon, a Bengal tiger, a mother, strawberry cake – crossing paths and converging their fates in this dark web of vengefulness. Ogawa can be emotional and unsettling, impassive and heartbreaking, creepy and gentle. Her macabre take on relationships and emotions make this book effectively terrifying. Revenge is not horror in the traditional sense. A passenger train, a bakery, home gardening – the fact that her settings are so bland ups the ante of the terrors that lurk within. Ogawa’s writing can transform a normal scene next door to something downright horrifying – nothing seems out of the ordinary, and you can’t tell when and how the horror crept up on you. The best part is connecting the stories, navigating clues as you wander in this strange world.

Of course, Ogawa’s frequent English translation collaborator Stephen Snyder deserves as much of credit as the writer herself, for marvelously bringing life to her stories. Revenge is a disturbing collection for those who revel in the written word and the beauty she creates with literature.

My rating – 5/5 

Renata Pavrey ~ December 2020

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Renata Parvey is a Nutritionist by profession; marathon runner and Odissi dancer by passion. Driven by sports, music, animals, plants, literature and more. Reads across several genres and languages, and loves the world of horror – in both, books and movies.

Asian Horror Month: Lily Wong Books by Tori Eldridge

Review: Lily Wong Books by Tori Eldridge

If you think a ninja’s life is all about throwing stars and black pajamas, think again. For Chinese-Norwegian born Lily Wong, it’s a mixed bag of fighting domestic abuse, family dynamics and this little issue with the Los Angeles Ukrainian mob. No big deal.

Lily Wong is a heroine for modern times. Gutsy, humorous and bad*ss, she takes on injustice wherever she finds it, using her skills to defend women against those who would enslave them. Loads of action will keep readers turning pages faster than Lily can break a knee cap. There’s even a little romance thrown in to round out the story.

There’s more to Lily than martial arts, however. Author Tori Eldridge brings personal struggles to the table as Lily faces issues of being mixed race, loss of a loved one and how to preserve non-traditional values with a domineering grandmother. Despite her prowess with martial arts, Lily is far from being an inaccessible character. Flawed and conflicted, she’s easy to identify with.

I enjoyed being exposed to new concepts like the kunoichi, a female ninja. Unafraid to touch the hard topics of racism and human trafficking, Eldridge doesn’t disappoint in the second book of her series, The Ninja’s Blade. Lily will go to any means to protect those who would otherwise be victimized. If you are looking for a fast-paced action read with plenty of social value, Tori Eldrige’s Lily Wong series will not disappoint.

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Tori Eldridge is the bestselling author of The Ninja’s Blade and The Ninja Daughter (Lily Wong series), nominated for the Anthony, Lefty, and Macavity Awards for Best First Novel and named one of the “Best Mystery Books of the Year” by The South Florida Sun Sentinel and awarded 2019 Thriller Book of the Year by Authors on the Air Global Radio Network. Her short stories have been published in horror, dystopian, and other literary anthologies, and her narrative poem appears in the inaugural reboot of Weird Tales magazine. Tori’s screenplay The Gift earned a semi-finalist spot for the Academy Nicholl Fellowship.

Before writing, Tori performed as an actress, singer, dancer on Broadway, television, and film. She is of Hawaiian, Chinese, Norwegian descent and was born and raised in Honolulu where she graduated from Punahou School with classmate Barack Obama. Tori holds a fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninjutsu and has traveled the USA teaching seminars on the ninja arts, weapons, and women’s self-protection. Look for the third book in the Lily Wong series in September 2021.

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About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is an American poet, publisher, and author with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. She co-publishes Space and Time magazine with author husband Ryan Aussie Smith. For more information visit SpaceandTime.net

Asian Horror Month:The Genetic Alchemist’s Daughter by Elaine Cuyegkeng

This story was originally published in Black Cranes edited by Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn

‘The Genetic Alchemist’s Daughter’

by Elaine Cuyegkeng

She dreams of death and rebirth on her mother’s table.

The smell of antiseptic: chemicals, artificial cherries and other-fruit. The specimen on the table. Herself, slipping a needle under the specimen’s skin to obtain samples for reconstruction. Finally, the disposal of the body while the new one grows inside her crimson egg, kicking her little amphibian feet. Later, a telepathic matrix imparts an (edited) library of the Prodigal’s memories. This reinforces the desired traits, knitted carefully into the genome.

In twelve days and twelve nights, there will be a single, perfected being: waking in the specimen’s old room with only a vague, uneasy sense of displaced time. There will be no official record, no trace of the original (save for the genetic profiles, buried deep in her mother’s libraries).

Everyone dreams those strange, mundane dreams of themselves performing their daily rites. The genetic alchemist’s daughter is no different; why should she be? But still, Leto Alicia Chua Mercado wakes as if she were a child waking from a nightmare. Leto thinks: there are fragments of bone and marrow in her pyjamas, in her blankets, her bed. For a moment, her hands are viscous with ruby red.

The Genetic Alchemists

Leto is her mother’s daughter, and so, when she wakes, blinking out crimson dreams in the pre-dawn, the day’s business is the first thing that occupies her. Nothing in Leto’s creation was left to chance; the same is true of Chua Mercado Genetic Alchemy.

Below, the family’s laboratories gestate the fruits of several lucrative contracts. Tiny mermaid embryos, for a techno-prince’s private aquarium. A new variant of winged cat: Bengal Beauties, with jade eyes and leopard spots, jewelled peregrine’s wings. Luminous Moths, ordered by an exclusive fashion house for their silk. There are the Prodigals, the human specimens who will be delivered to their families’ holdings, waking in the original’s old room as if from a dream.

And finally, there are the little Seraphim, tiny embryos swimming in their exo-wombs. The bulk of these are still ordered by foreign CEOs—grateful for the assurance of a rarefied offspring, grateful to be spared the inconveniences of caring for pregnant wives. One day, Leto’s mother hopes, the world will be full of them. There will be no Prodigals, no broken creatures in need of repair.

(Leto feels a tenderness for them. She doesn’t know why—perhaps it’s their shared origins. The fact she knows, and they don’t.

Leto’s mother scoffs at that. You’re not a specimen. You’re my daughter.)

But Leto has always been what she is: the girl with all the gifts, Ofelia Chua Mercado’s irrefutable proof. All the world had seen Leto in her womb, the tiny crimson egg Ofelia created. It made Ofelia’s fortune and her infamy. How the Manilero elite were scandalized! Ofelia had created Leto without the help of a husband, without the blessing of the Holy Apostolic Church (or any church), simply because. Priests cried about the dissolution of the family from their cathedrals, pastors from their multi-million-dollar pulpits. But hereditary heads of state, foreign billionaires, Hollywood queens—all of them came clamouring for Ofelia’s service.

Leto’s mother waits for her at the breakfast table. She is a slender woman, not beautiful but magnificent. She has a cruel mouth, a hard face, a hooked nose as if she truly were the witch the more poetic among the Manila elite call her. Her black hair falls in rivulets down her back. No matter the demands of the day, Ofelia Chua Mercado insists on taking this time: the time to sit down and have a meal with family. She didn’t create a daughter just to neglect her. She prides herself on having better husbandry of children. On the table are buttered toast, salted duck eggs, slices of chilled fruit.

“Today’s clients will need careful handling,” Ofelia murmurs, handing her daughter the day’s dossiers. “I know you’ve managed them before, but darling, today, I need you to resist the urge to gloat.

Leto opens the dossiers. She understands the moment her eyes fall on the client’s name. She doesn’t smirk; she knows it’s unladylike.

Ever since she was a tiny thing, old enough to be presented in a sad little classroom with portraits of saints, every single one of her classmates had hated her. They called her soulless. They said: You don’t have a papa. And yet, over time, so many of them ended up on Leto’s table. She carefully explained all the reasons why their families elected them for the procedure. She feels that they’re owed an explanation, but she can’t help feeling some satisfaction. She had never disappointed her mother.

“Not one Prodigal,” Ofelia says, sipping her tea, “but three. Can you imagine that, darling? Imagine if they’d come to us from the beginning. It would have spared them so much trouble.”

It’s an old, old story. It is the puzzle that so many familial dynasties have tried to resolve. How does one halt the decline that seems to seep in the third, fourth generation? Sixteen, eighteen, twenty years old, and their beloved offspring showed signs of delinquency, addiction, general malaise, rebellion, depression, of all things. They showed poor scholarship. How does one save a child from themselves? Eighteen years of Mandarin lessons, ballet or music, and Catholic school didn’t fix them. The Church and the promise of heaven can’t fix them.

Manila might have been horrified by Ofelia, the woman who made a daughter. But as the decades passed, one by one, they crept to Ofelia’s door, and begged her for her help. They turned to her genetic alchemy and, over the years, a whisper network has formed between desperate, gossiping mothers, patriarchs over games of golf and exquisite lunches.

Leto feels her fingers itch. Thinks of the discarded original, turning to ash in the furnace while a new, tiny creature emerges whole from Leto’s artistry. All her fellow heirs have hated her: have always hated her. But here she is anyway, granting them a gift unbidden. They will never even know.

Her mother rises and kisses her cheek. “Good hunting, my sweet girl,” Ofelia murmurs, and Leto blushes.

Her mother knows her, inside and out. Better than she knows herself.

The Dowager

When Leto goes to meet clients, she brings her mother’s wares as if they are the trappings of their self-appointed office. In her arms, she brings a winged cat with snow-white plumage, her little feet ending in owl’s talons and one blue eye alongside jade (feline specimens with heterochromia fetch three times the price). A speckled serpent with a forked tongue wraps himself around Leto’s neck like a regent’s gold necklace (base specimen: Atheris hispida). And finally, after a moment’s consideration, Leto carefully selects amber earrings made from the chrysalises of Luminous Moths. She picks up a rose as white as a funeral, a present for the Dowager. She paints her mouth with a neutral pink (edging towards a baby pastel); lines her eyes with modest shadow (Industrial Revolution—a shade popular among her peers). She takes her little slate and programs the nanites in her hair; they colour it a deep black with only the faintest streaks of a foreign autumn.

Leto understands what the heart wants: it wants a useful young woman, modest and helpful, who will solve all their problems with a flick of her manicured fingers. Leto meets clients because her existence says: you could have a helper, a dutiful, reliable heir. The child you need, if only you had asked for our services from the beginning. She revels in clients’ gritted teeth and fingers pressed into their palms—how they hate being proven wrong! She sits herself at the little table, waits for the client to arrive.

And when the Dowager slips into Chua Mercado’s rooms, dressed as if for a funeral (or a cocktail), Leto can’t help it. She rises up and kisses the Dowager’s cheeks like a fond niece. The Dowager closes her eyes; she smells, very faintly, of very fine, expensive whiskey. She shudders; or perhaps, it’s poor Leopold that terrifies her, the gorgeous speckled band winding himself around Leto’s neck, or Anne-Marie, the snow-white cat purring in her arms. Here is Leto, an unnatural thing, decked out in unnatural things. But the Dowager needs her help.

“I have three daughters,” the Dowager says with a rasp. “And they will all be the ruin of me.” Her elegant hand trembles as she sits in the client’s chair. Outside, Leto smiles; inside, a frisson of schadenfreude ticks upwards in spite of herself. She knows the Dowager’s daughters: they are just like every other classmate who’s ended up on her mother’s table.

“Why don’t you tell me what you need, Tita?” Leto asks. Like the witch in the story. What do you need? What do you lack? What price are you willing to pay?

The Dowager is Eva Maria Romano Iglesia—scion of a saintly house, married to a handsome media pastor in her baby-faced youth. She was a woman alone of all the multi-million-dollar pastors: having inherited the position after his untimely death. She preached in Chanel and pearls, wasp-waisted dresses with billowing skirts, and spoke of love and deference to husbands and fathers. She spoke of the sanctity of the family, this woman with no husband, and adoring crowds of women threw money at her. She was the most vicious of Ofelia’s detractors, when Leto and the exo-womb were unveiled. She called Leto soulless. She called Ofelia a fallen woman, creating a child outside the sanctity of marriage, outside the bounds of God’s intended methods.

But now two tiny granddaughters are dead. A son-in-law is set to be buried tomorrow, and the daughters are locked in their rooms in the family compound.

“I need you and your mother to give me the daughters I should have had from the beginning,” the Dowager says. She almost spits. How it humbles her, to be abandoned so by the God who showered her in gold but gave her delinquent children on which to build her church.

“Our congregation needs us,” the Dowager whispers, clutching her Chanel pearls. An entire congregation of lost souls—expensive women with husbands who loathe them, girls who became pregnant too early. They all find solace in the Dowager and her family of perfect women. What happens when the image that gives them so much comfort comes crashing down?

Leto is never really interested in all the clients’ reasons why this has to be done. She’d rather hear from the specimens themselves. Console them on their deathbeds.

“We’ll need to stagger them out,” Leto says. “One by one, to accommodate schedules for other clients.”

“I want it over and done with, as soon as possible.”

“I understand,” Leto says evenly. And nothing more.

(Really, Leto just wants her to anguish over it, just a little longer.)

Silence settles between them. Leto feels the Dowager acquiesce. No one else can help her. She can’t disappear three young women and gain their replacements, their better selves, on her own. She can’t create a replacement daughter, and raise her, not at her age.

The Dowager is old. She is running out of time.

“No one will know?” The Dowager’s hands tighten around her cane.

“No one will know,” Leto says softly. “From head to toe, down to their cells, they will be exactly the same.”

Leto takes the pale white rose, as perfect as a faerie dress. They named it Blanca Nieve. It smells like a perfumed night. She gives it to the Dowager. Places it carefully on the table, along with a lacquered box containing its food. Ten little nightingale corpses.

“People need to see you leave with it in your hands,” she tells her. “So you’ve had a reason to come to us. Feed it with ten nightingales. You won’t be disappointed.”

The next day, a funeral for the Dowager’s son-in-law is held in her stained-glass church. The cathedral arches are snow-white with roses, and they spill down the steps of the church, singing with bell-like voices.

No one even sees the bones.

Faith

She starts with the youngest. Why not?

They take her from the family compound. They place her, fast asleep, on Leto’s table in the lab. Faith is a delicate snow-white beauty: long limbs, a small head, the fair skin that Manileros prize so much. It’s at odds with Faith’s reputation.

Leto waits, and watches as the specimen slowly blinks herself awake. The upsurge in fear when she realizes that she’s strapped to the table. When she realizes that she’s not alone.

Leto doesn’t see what she does as revenge, as former classmates have accused her when they have woken up to find themselves in her lab. She sits with the specimens, waits for them to wake up. It feels wrong to her, simply destroying the originals without explaining why their families requested the procedure. She hopes that a vague memory of that conversation settles into the client’s cells. When they perform the process, create the new, perfected specimen, the Prodigal will not relapse.

“Faith?” Leto says. Her words come out muffled behind her mask. The girl stops struggling; she recognizes Leto’s voice.

“Oh God,” says Faith, and the pretty girl laughs. “All the stories they said about you are true.”

Leto’s hairs prick up at the back of her neck.

When they were children, Leto was the witch’s daughter. Now, as adults, she is her mother’s right hand, her coolly competent heir and that is where her story ends. All the specimens returned to the client families have had their memories edited: they know nothing of her mother’s labs. But her classmates know nothing of Prodigals, of Leto’s part in the process. They know nothing of the Procedure. It’s in their parents’ interest: that their children know nothing. They’d rather forget the unpleasantness and have their baby back (they never really will).

“Do you know why you’re here?” she asks Faith. Faith laughs and pulls at the straps.

“I killed my sister’s husband,” Faith rasps. “We did it together, you know. Me. Charity. Harmony. We pushed him off the balcony.”

They’d said it was an accident. Pat del Rosario—beloved husband, beloved son-in-law—falling over the balcony in the family’s multi-million-dollar compound. Thank God, the Dowager had board positions on various media boards: his death was announced without mention of murder or suicide. They had locked Faith in her room until the funeral and she had appeared with the rest of the family, her stony face easily interpreted as a perfect mask of dignified grief.

“I did it knowing you’d show up,” Faith whispers.

“You knew nothing of the sort,” Leto says. Her voice is even, but under the table, her hand shakes.

Faith has no reason to believe Leto would show up. She has no reason to believe in her mother’s lab. Leto is not a fairy tale, the way the Prodigals she perfects are fairy tales. They emerge perfect and whole under her fingers, blessed with cool-eyed competence, the smothering of their genetic demons.

“Do you even want to know why?” Faith asks.

“I know you want to tell me,” Leto says.

It doesn’t matter what they tell her; the procedure will go ahead anyway. But it’s as if she’s a confessor tending to a penitent on their deathbed. How can she say no?

You’re not a specimen, Ofelia had told Leto. You’re my daughter.

But still, the fact remains: Leto was created to prove the viability of her mother’s product, the efficacy of her mother’s services. Ofelia edited Leto’s genes. She edited them for beauty, for genius, for musicality, an affinity for maths and languages, all those things that the ultra-rich crave in their children. They like to feel as if their genes have given rise to better stock, better product.

Leto was engineered for obedience, which meant she was inclined to recognize her mother’s authority in all things. Her mother had been frank about this: there was no point in raising a child who spurned all her gifts. From the moment Leto stepped inside a classroom, she had excelled, surpassing her peers. It gave the elite of Manila something to consider, even as they called her soulless. When their beloved babies grew up, showing signs of rot by the time they reached their teens, they turned to Ofelia Chua Mercado and her helpful, perfect daughter. Who swap out imperfect specimens for better ones. Or at least, they edit the genetic code, so they are more inclined to conform to their parents’ expectations. They’re like fairy godmothers, granting obedience as a gift.

Faith had failed from the beginning. Even when she and her sisters were little, when the Dowager paraded them around as her little saints, Faith was infamous for her rage. There was a party, when a group of boys held her down to take her photo (wasn’t it sweet? Babies and their games!). She’d pushed one of them down the stairs, and he broke his leg, right there on the Dowager’s immaculate floors. When they were all older, there was another incident, another more grown college party, when she’d taken out someone’s eye.

The Dowager said: they’d hoped she’d grow out of it. That time and patience and their guidance would temper her. It honestly surprised Leto that it’s taken Faith this long to come to her table.

(Leto’s mother said, scoffing, that they should have edited Faith’s anger out of her, long ago. Leto had wisely kept quiet. She doesn’t blame Faith, the way her mother did. But she knows what traits are desirable and what aren’t—they don’t like rage in little girls.)

And now there’s a dead body that they’ve had to cover up with bribes and ritual, and a snow-white funeral.

“He killed Charity’s babies,” Faith snarls. “Did Mommy tell you that? He killed her girls.”

It was in the dossier—a sad obituary in the Manila Times of the Dowager’s twin granddaughters. But babies often die for strange, unknown, and unknowable reasons. Especially when they’re so small.

“He put stuffed toys in their crib,” Faith says. “It’s a SIDS risk: everyone knows that. They kept telling him to stop; he laughed and kept doing it. Look, she loves her little teddy. What’s the harm? Everyone said: Men don’t raise children, it’s not in them. You can’t expect them to understand. It was Charity’s responsibility: after all, she was their mother.

“Charity couldn’t stay awake forever. She tried. We all did. He found reasons to keep us away. And one day she found him standing over their crib with a pillow—and her baby girls were dead.” She closes her eyes. “A house full of people who were supposed to love them, and they all said she was hysterical. They didn’t believe her. Poor Charity. He barely cried.

“Why would he do that?” Leto asks.

She really shouldn’t have asked. All Faith wants is to unburden herself.

“He wanted boys,” Faith says. “It’s not as if he hid that. He was so disappointed when they came out! And Charity was so happy—his disappointment was such a small thing to her, at least in the beginning. That she loved something he didn’t.”

“Annulment was an option, you know.” It’s not that she objects to what Faith did; it’s that she should have been clever about it. She starts thinking of ways to snip the rage out of her, or at least temper it. They can modify memories to reinforce caution.

“Annulment isn’t part of our brand,” Faith says. “It’s not an option for us. Can you imagine the scandal? Lola would kill us first. Mommy would.”

That, Leto thinks, unfortunately is true.

“I’d have been more careful about it than you,” Leto says. Faith laughs.

“We were past careful,” Faith says. “After he killed the girls. After they all said Charity was hysterical and not thinking clearly. They even blamed her: Lola, Mommy, our aunts. We shut them up when we threw him down the balcony.”

Leto starts prepping her needle. She needs to draw blood; their work is easy, really. They have such a rich source of DNA.

“So what are you going to do?” Faith asks. “Replace me with a soulless little drone? A more palatable version of me?”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” Leto says. “I can’t make or remove a soul. I’d make a version of you that wouldn’t have gotten caught.”

It’s not quite what Faith’s mother would have wanted. It’s not what Ofelia Chua Mercado would have wanted. But there is no one here to gainsay her decision.

She’s not sure why or how she decided this: that Faith is entitled to her anger. But here she is.

“It’s alright,” Leto says, and she is back on familiar ground. “It’s alright. You won’t even remember this happened. The you that wakes up won’t even remember this.” And if the new Faith doesn’t remember and the old Faith is simply erased, does Faith even suffer?

She lets Faith see the tiny little selves, swimming in their little crimson eggs, before she puts her to sleep. It seems to calm Faith: watching tender little creatures made from her bone and marrow. Leto dresses the new specimen herself when she emerges, perfect and whole. The new Faith will be little more calculating, a little less given to rages. If the new Faith does need to act on her rage, she will take better care not to get caught. The Prodigal is returned to the family. The Dowager sends back a message, saying: Faith is much improved. Leto imagines the Dowager breathing a little easier even as Faith is counting her grudges and biding her time. Counting down the days, until it’s all done.

Leto schedules the next two procedures. She takes her time.

Charity

She was the last person Leto had thought would end up on her table.

The middle sister: kind-hearted and soft, the kind of girl who deflected other people’s faults. The fairy tale girl people say they want but, in reality, isn’t equipped to keep a dynasty together. Still, she had that fairy tale wedding, married the boy her family picked for her. The Dowager was very clear about her specifications: they want their sweet girl back, before she went wrong.

Really,” Leto told her mother wearily, over chai tea and congee for breakfast, “they want a Charity who doesn’t remember how much her family failed her. They want a Charity who won’t make them feel guilty, every time they look at her.”

“If that’s what they want to believe,” Ofelia said. She shrugged her elegant shoulders. It’s cheating, but it’s not quite cheating, is it, if a Prodigal is exactly the same, just slightly improved? It’s the improvements they focus on.

Leto didn’t tell her mother about what Faith had said. It’s not that she believes Faith, exactly, but…

When Charity wakes up, when she sees Leto, she looks almost resigned. There’s no shock. Ice pricks at the back of Leto’s neck. Charity should be shocked. Charity should cry for help. Why doesn’t she?

“I knew something was wrong,” she says. “When Faith came back… She wasn’t herself.”

Leto doesn’t answer.

“Poor Faith. Did she feel anything? Was it fast?”

“What can you possibly know about the procedure?”

Charity laughs, a sad little laugh that almost sounds like affection.

“We all talk about it, you know,” she says. “All our old classmates, all our old friends.

None of you were ever my friends. Leto digs her nails into her palms. She is not…she is not supposed to be the monster in anyone else’s story. She’s more than that unveiled creature in the womb, more than the girl in the schoolroom, more than the witch’s baby everyone decided they should hate.

“I’m frankly surprised that you don’t know. I would have thought that your mother would have told you. We could never match you in scholarship, but we’re not stupid. Sometimes an old classmate would show up and…they weren’t quite themselves. They would remember things—but in slightly different ways. We heard about the oldies’ little whisper network. They say there’s a little dungeon somewhere—where all the bodies are kept. There’s a little lab where you clone tiny little creatures to replace us. That you sell our souls yourself.”

Leto’s heart is beating fast.

There is no reason. There is no reason why Charity and her friends should know. The specimens’ memories of her mother’s workshops are wiped. The Prodigals are returned to their rooms, and they don’t remember—they don’t remember anything of their time as tiny little creatures in blood-red eggs, their hatching.

If what Charity says is true and there are whispers of the process, and Leto’s part in it… How could she not know that she has turned into a story she has no control over? How could her mother not know? She feels like she’s back in that dreary little room again: her classmates whispering poison, spinning stories she has no control over.

Charity watches her face. “Do you remember?” she asks. “Do you remember anything—from before?”

“Before what?”

Charity closes her eyes and sighs, as if she is very tired and ready to go to sleep. She opens them again, and her eyes fix on Leto. “I wouldn’t tell your mother about this conversation if I were you.”

“We tell each other everything,” Leto says.

“Do you?” Charity asks. “Do you really? Do you ever wonder about the little gaps in your memory—”

She doesn’t have to pay attention to this. She doesn’t.

“Look at me,” Charity says, her voice soft and urgent. “I did everything my mother wanted. I married a boy she wanted. I gave up the idea of a master’s degree in science. And still—look at where I am right now.” Leto twitches, remembers her dreams of little feet, a crimson world.

“I wasn’t expecting to have to destroy everything I was when I married,” Charity whispers. “I wasn’t expecting to destroy everything I loved. That wasn’t the bargain I thought I made. Do you remember your Bella Norte?

When she was fourteen, Leto had engineered little bees who sang like bells and were nocturnal. As sweet and docile as Charity. She’d been frankly surprised that the Dowager had purchased a specimen from Chua Mercado Alchemy. A birthday gift for her middle daughter, who later became obsessed with beekeeping.

“They never really caught on,” Leto says. That was the trouble with new patents.

“Do you remember?” Charity asks. “Do you remember making them for me?”

Leto just stares. She’d done nothing of the kind. She made them, Charity ordered them, and that was the end of it. Charity sighs, softly.

“I kept beds and beds of nocturnal flowers to feed them. I did everything you told me to, even when you stopped answering my letters.

Nocturnal roses, honeysuckle, lavender. Leto can’t even remember why she made them: only that she did.

“Mommy and Lola never approved. Pat wanted me to stop: they were dangerous to me and the baby. Who knew what they were picking up while they were dancing in the dark? Who knew how reliable the patent was, how docile they really were? I went on a trip to the States; I came back to find most of my hives burned. Lola said: But it’s such a little thing. Mommy said: You have babies now. You won’t even notice they’re gone.”

Charity closes her eyes. “And then the girls turned out to be girls. We didn’t even want to know—he was so sure God would give us what he deserved. I took their blood. I cut their hair. I wanted something to remember them by, just like I kept the bees to remember you.” She breathes in, breathes out. Looks over at Leto, whose face is carefully blank.

She would have no reason. Her mother would have no reason to remake her. Leto is perfect, has been perfect, since the beginning. She was engineered for beauty, for intelligence, reliability. There is nothing that Leto wants, outside of what her mother needs.

“They were right,” Charity whispers. “Oh God, they were right.”

Leto doesn’t answer. She preps her needle.

Listen to me,” Charity says, before she slips off to sleep under Leto’s needle. “You’re not so different from us. Someone should have told you that from the beginning. I’m sorry we didn’t.”

Charity is easier, in many ways. They keep the base genetic profile. They edit her memories. Faith did it. Harmony did it. Charity just watched. Leto goes through an entire album of memories, editing things out, snipping inconvenient ones.

When the new Prodigal wakes in her room, she is more certain of her mother’s authority, of her mother’s love and adoration. The need to defer to her authority. She won’t remember that conversation with Leto, in the lab below.

Leto should talk to her mother. She should talk to her, but something stops her, every time. Leto stays in the lab, watching over the dreaming specimens. Cinderella, over the turtledoves that shake gold and silver over her. She thinks of the ashes of every discarded specimen, feeding her mother’s roses. Faith, Charity, an endless, endless parade of names before them.

And she wonders, she wonders. How many of them were her? How many dreams has she had, of a crimson world and kicking feet? Can she count all the times she might have been remade? She wouldn’t even know when it began, what had been the starting point. She walks into the garden at twilight, where the apiaries of little Bella Norte are kept. Their little feet brush against her cheek like a kiss.

Do you know more of me than I do? she asks them.

Do you?

Harmony

The eldest daughter escapes.

She must have seen the writing on the wall, Leto muses to herself when it happens. The Dowager is beside herself. It would not have happened, it would not have happened, if Leto had done all three of them at once like she had asked.

You should have known better than to let the other girls out, is all Leto thinks. Ofelia lets the Dowager know, calmly, that matters are being handled and shoots Leto a look. Leto understands: she wants Leto to fix it. The foundations of the world her mother is building depends on Chua Mercado’s reliability, their reputation. She needs to undo the damage she’s caused.

But Leto spends some time in the garden, among the specimens and patents that never quite caught on. She spends some time with the Bella Norte bees, waking in the moonlight, settling on Leto’s dress like golden dust.

You made them for me, said Charity. Why would Leto do that? What did she owe her?

She considers that Charity and Faith may be right, that her mother has been wiping her memory, altering her like a story that she can’t quite perfect. She should be terrified. She should be outraged, but all she feels is hollow. She wonders if anger was edited out of her too.

“I don’t know what to do,” she says, honestly, to the Bella Norte bees, as if they could answer her.

They track Harmony down in a shabby little street in Binondo, in a shabby little room. Leto insists on going herself. After all, it was her mistake.

At that, something inside Ofelia seems to untwist and loosen. She kisses Leto on the cheek. She says: She knows Leto will make it right. Everyone makes mistakes. We all learn from them. We make ourselves perfect.

Leto lets herself into the shabby little room, and there is Harmony, waiting.

The survivors of Charity’s bees surround her, drinking sugar water. Harmony is tall and striking, even with her hair slick with the humidity and the lack of care over the past few days. Charity was the sweetheart, Faith was the baby, but Harmony was meant to be their mother, all over again. It must have galled the Dowager, when Harmony picked her sisters over her mother. That was not the natural way of things.

Leto isn’t sure what edits to make to improve those outcomes.

“We all know you’d come for us, you know,” says Harmony. She doesn’t move. The bees settle around her, as if she is their saint.

“So I’ve heard,” says Leto. Harmony raises her eyebrow.

“What do you remember?” Harmony asks, point blank.

Leto says nothing.

“What do you remember?” Harmony asks. “How many times did she make you over, so she could start all over again, a clean slate?”

Leto thinks of the ashes in her mother’s garden. Whether any of them are made up of her former selves. She wouldn’t know when her mother started. She wouldn’t even know where to begin.

“I know about Charity’s daughters,” she says, her voice hollow. “I know about the bees.”

Harmony sighs, and her shoulders slump over.

“We didn’t know,” she says, “if she’d remake you, over and over again. Just to make sure you couldn’t remember. Do you remember? Making the bees for Charity? Do you?”

Leto feels breathless. A little bella norte lands on her cheek.

“She cried when you stopped answering her letters,” says Harmony. “When we passed by each other and you acted as if you didn’t know her. And later—when classmates came back, from rehab, from sabbaticals, from tours, not quite right, well, we all wondered.

It’s like a knife to her ribs. She doesn’t—she can’t feel anything.

Harmony gives her a box.

“I’d do it again you know,” she says, between her teeth. “I would pick Faith and Charity, every time. Every time. Hollow me out, empty me of all the inconvenient things my mother wants gone, and I’d still make the same choice.”

“What’s inside?” Leto asks.

But she already knows.

The Dowager sends payment: all three Prodigals, successfully remade. She even gifts Leto with the survivors of Charity’s bees. They have no use for them, and the girl is getting married again in the fall. Another fairy tale wedding. Then: one for Faith, and one for Harmony. She’s already signed contracts for little Seraphim to be made.

“Well done,” Ofelia says, and kisses her cheek. Another death, smoothed over. Because these girls wanted something outside what they should want.

What does Leto want? Nothing except her work. There’s nothing that her mother left her.

So she creates a second variant of the Bella Norte, from the daughters of Charity’s bees. They have Faith’s anger; Charity’s love; Harmony’s loyalty. And inside, inside, they contain slivers of memory, two baby girls avenged by their mother and aunts.

Leto’s daughters have no debut: they are not presented to the world the way Leto was. Instead, she lets them fly wild.

That year, the Dowager and her congregation will be haunted at night time by bees that sing like wind chimes, that smell of baby’s breath, and build cathedrals inside her church. At her wedding, Charity will turn to look at them, and she won’t know why she feels joy and heartbreak. Faith will wonder as she lets them settle on her shoulders and Harmony will feel a strange peace, even as the bees murder her mother’s congregation.

They’ll say it’s a miracle, that the three of them are left alive.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Elaine Cuyegkeng

Elaine Cuyegkeng is a Chinese-Filipino writer. She grew up in Manila, where there are many, many creaky old houses with ghosts inside them. She writes about eldritch creatures, monsters with human faces and the old, old story of art and revolution. She now lives in Melbourne with her partner.

Elaine has been published in Strange Horizons, Lackington’s, The Dark, Rocket Kapre, and now, Pseudopod! You can find her on @layangabi on Twitter.

FIND MORE BY ELAINE CUYEGKENG 

Asian Horror Month: Meet Black Crane – Lee Murray

Meet Black Crane Lee Murray

Posted on November 6, 2020 by Angela Yuriko Smith

Lee Murray is a three-time Bram Stoker Award®-nominee, HWA Mentor of the Year, an Honorary Literary Fellow of the New Zealand Society of Authors, and New Zealand’s most awarded writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Find her website here at LeeMurray.info.

Lee, your stories are populated by such well developed characters I think they must be fragments of real people you know, reassembled. Which of your stories/characters best represents you?

My character Lucy in my Black Cranes story “Phoenix Claws” is actually me, once upon a time, and my husband is Finn, the partner who loves yum cha brunch but not chicken feet, although he isn’t a plumber and I never took accounting. Also, unlike Finn and Lucy, a new couple who are learning to navigate a relationship with the conflicting demands of blended cultures, my ‘white ghost’ husband and I have been married for more than thirty years.

But the family tradition highlighted in the story exists: I was subjected to it and, to my horror, I have unwittingly perpetuated it. My other story in Black Cranes, “Frangipani Wishes,” is based on true events, never explicitly revealed to me, but somehow understood, in a strange form of familial osmosis. It is one of my saddest memories, and I’m still remorseful that I was the wrong generation, a girl with no power and no real understanding, that I did nothing to intervene. Would I, could I, if it were happening now? I don’t know, and I guess that makes me complicit.

I also wrote myself, or parts of me into my Path of Ra series (Raw Dog Screaming Press) which I write collaboratively with my New Zealand colleague Dan Rabarts. In those stories, Hounds of the Underworld, Teeth of the Wolf, and Blood of the Sun, my character (Penny / Pandora Yee) is a Chinese-Māori woman who I believe shares many of my traits: she’s a stickler for rigour, doesn’t like to break the rules, and tends to overthink things. Like me she is still finding her way as an Asian New Zealander. She’s a scientist (as I was), who struggles to be acknowledged in her field. And Penny loves her family fiercely and would do anything for them, despite them occasionally being as annoying as hell.

I love how you have woven parts of yourself into your work. Two adjectives I would use to describe your writing is ‘powerful’ and ‘dark.’ What are some of your favorite themes to explore in your work?

Early on in my writing career, I learned that I wanted my work to address the things that frighten me, and as an anxious piglet sort who tends to overthink things, there is a lot that keeps me awake at night. If I’m lying in the darkness for hours ruminating on them, then why not write about them too? In my stories, for adults and for children, I’ve addressed global issues like the impact of technology, climate change, the importance of conserving our environment and especially our endangered species, and the very real fear that New Zealanders have of a catastrophic volcanic event. More recently though, my work has tended towards personal themes like loss, loneliness, isolation, persecution, erasure, and otherness, and horror, and in particular monsters and monstrosities, have become the lens through which

I explore those themes; they’re a staple of my work.

Tell us a bit about your heritage and your experience of ‘otherness’. Has this influenced what you write?

Recently a colleague asked me this question in an interview, so I’ll tell you what I told him: I was one of the first Chinese-Pakeha (European) children to be born to a bi-racial couple New Zealand. Not the first, but one of the first. In school, the only other Chinese children were my brother and two cousins. We ate weird food and had slanty eyes, so we got called all the usual things. “Ching-Chong Chinaman!” “Chink!” Yellow Peril!” “Wog!” “Hey, do you know Bruce Lee? Come here and I’ll show you.” Hey, you wing the wong number?”

But our cousins were full Chinese. My brother and I were only half. Which was somehow worse. Apparently, the titer of our blood was important and being only half Chinese meant we were lesser: we weren’t proper New Zealanders and nor were we properly Chinese. Our own family rejected us. My brother and I were five and six-years-old and we were other. I remember my Chinese aunt demanding that I choose whose side I was on. If there was a war with China, what side would I pick? Who did I love most: my mother or my father? How could I answer? Even then, I knew it was an unfair question.

As for whether my heritage and my otherness has influenced my writing, let’s just say that it’s beginning to. More and more those Asian ideals that I’ve grappled with all my life are creeping into my work. Perhaps it’s because I’m suddenly aware I’m fifty-five and long past the age most people ‘find themselves’. Surely by now I should have come to terms with my identity. So what if I’m all grown up and still there is no literature that reflects my Chinese-New Zealand experience? If I want to see that happen, then maybe it’s up to me to roll up my sleeves and make it happen. And perhaps that feeling is what prompted Black Cranes. And the fact that Geneve and I both arrived too early to a conference session, like the good conscientious Asian girls we’ve been raised to be.

The two of us got to talking in the lobby while we were waiting. Where were all the Asian horror writers? Where were Asian women’s experiences being highlighted? We could see a gaping hole in existing horror literature, but would our colleagues feel the same way? Was the timing was right, and would anyone would want to read an anthology of Asian horror? We had no idea. The response from our Black Cranes contributors confirmed they had been waiting for the opportunity, or perhaps they’d been waiting for something and couldn’t quite put their finger on it. And nor could Geneve and I have predicted the positive response to these wonderful stories, even though it’s only been a month or so since the book’s release. We couldn’t be prouder of these writers and their stories.

What has your experience been as an Asian writer? As a writer of dark fiction? How has this changed over time, or not?

I’ve been a full-time writer for fourteen years now, and for most of that time I’ve seen myself as a writer first, and then a New Zealand writer of mainly dark speculative fiction, so perhaps that is also the way I’ve been perceived. It’s only very recently that I’ve been brave enough to envisage myself as an Asian writer, perhaps because for so long my I’ve felt I had to hide that part of myself, make myself smaller, as if being born Chinese in New Zealand was something I should be ashamed of. Now I feel like I need to change that, to push back at that erasure, both from external sources, and also due to my own complicity.

What do you think of common depictions of Asian women in dark fiction? What, if anything, would you like to see done differently?

Geneve summed up those depictions when she wrote the back cover blurb to Black Cranes. We’re a slew of tired tropes: the tiger mums, the sly fatales, the submissive, the studious, and the conscientious. But I think you said best, Angela, in our Black Cranes online launch panel, when you said we need to see authentic diverse nuanced representations of Asian women in fiction. That is exactly what we need: characterizations which reveal us as the complex, richly layered shapeshifters we can be. Portrayals which speculate on futures for Asian women which go beyond the tropes and the traditions. Beyond the petals and the perfidy.

Oh, I love your phrase “petals and the perfidy.” Perhaps that will be another anthology—hint hint? How about other readings? Do you have any recommendations for works that have resonated for you as an Asian horror writer?

Everyone who appears in this book, including Alma Katsu and Tori Eldridge. Please check out the work of our Black Cranes contributors. There is a reason they appear in this anthology. As for other writers whose works have resonated for me, at a certain level, I’ve been intrigued and inspired by the works of writers like American Pearl S Buck (The Good Earth, 1931), Xinran (The Good Women of China, 2002), Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club, 1989), and Jung Chang (Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, 1991), literary works likely not intended as horror but which read that way for me.

Yet my interest in those texts was tempered; I saw them as pertaining to me, but only in a detached and distant way. I recognized certain notions that had filtered through the generations and settled on me here, but also that the New Zealand context had subverted and changed them in various ways. It would have been wonderful to have explored these ideas in my reading, but when I was growing up, the Asian-New Zealand diaspora was largely ignored in literature—and still is.

Even now, I know of no stories which reflect my experience as a half-caste Chinese-New Zealander other than my own work. Perhaps, it is significant that I first saw myself in John Wyndham’s science fiction novel, The Chrysalids, as someone grossly flawed and banished to the fringes, only in New Zealand, where the only other Asian children I knew were my siblings or my cousins, there were no telepathic allies with whom to share my otherness. Finding this shared experience now with my Black Cranes colleagues has been extremely uplifting, and also a little sad.

Can you tell us briefly about your last project and what you’re working on next?

Thank you for asking. As well as Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, this year’s projects included my debut short story collection, Grotesque: Monster Stories, which released in July from Things in the Well, Australia, and Blood of the Sun, the final book in the Path of Ra, a supernatural crime-noir trilogy co-authored with Dan Rabarts, which released from Raw Dog Screaming Press on 4 November 2020.

As far as my plans go, I’d like to carve out some time to work on a poetry project, some scripts, and another Taine McKenna novel. I also have ten short story commissions on the go, and since I’m a slow writer, barely able to complete 500 words a day, I think that’s enough to keep me going for a while.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share this with us, Lee. I have a lot of respect for you both as an individual and as an artists. I’m very happy to share you here today, and look forward to chatting again next Tuesday on the next Skeleton Hour! Remember, you can register for the online event on Facebook here.

Asian Horror Month: Princess Resurrection by Yasunori Mitsunaga

Contrary to what the cover and write up leads you to believe, the star of this manga is not Princess Resurrection.  The true star is Hiro, an abandoned boy who is resurrected to be a slave for the princess. Poor Hiro wakes up in a morgue unaware that he is now undead and wanders to the Princess’s house.

Hiro

Princess Resurrection is nonchalant and uncaring of his life or what becomes of him. As the daughter of the king who stands above all monsters, I guess she has the luxury of being jaded about death.  She wields many weapons such as stakes, swords, jackhammers, and her favorite, a chain saw. Despite the many monsters she massacres, her dress is never damaged. Now, this is a girl we can look up to!

So, let’s see… we have a hell-bent princess, an undead boy, a robot maid, is there someone missing?  Ah yes!  Let’s add a rebellious werewolf girl into the mix.

These books are great. No matter how many times Hiro is “accidentally” killed by the Princess’s weapons or the robot maid says her only word “Hooba”, this story never gets old.

What you’ll find in Volume 1:princessr

  • Hiro wakes up dead and finds the Princess battling a horde of werewolves.
  • Insane hospital employees attempt to make Hiro their savior and then try to kill him.
  • Werewolf girl saves Princess Resurrection from a battalion of squidmen.
  • Extras in the back include a four-page spin-off comic and two pages of translation notes explaining the significance of certain scenes along with a sneak peek at Volume 2.
  • Favorite quote: “You think Hiro’s alright?”
    “He only drowned for one night.  There shouldn’t be a problem.”

What you’ll find in Volume 2:

  • The Princess’s evil little sister visits and infects the house with triffids.
  • A sexy vampire girl wants Hiro for her own and attempts to steal him from the Princess.
  • The Princess battles another horde of werewolves.
  • The robot maid finds an android who she cares for.
  • The Princess kills an eyeball squid creature with a jackhammer.
  • Extras in the back include a five-page spin-off comic and two pages of translation notes explaining the significance of certain scenes along with a sneak peek at Volume 3 which looks to include a mummy army.
  • Favorite quote: While most of the crew is fighting for their lives against triffids, the maid is cleaning up. “It’s a little noisy upstairs… Oh well. I need to vacuum!”

The art in this manga is not pretty and frilly, but it is very well done. Monster art, gory blood, fighting, and a girl who cuddles her weapons? What more can a horror manga fan want?

Merrill’s Musical Musings: Dissonance

Greetings HorrorAddicts. This month we’re listening to the Dark Wave artist Dissonance. Cat Hall has a new maxi-single that’s perfect for fans of bands like GARBAGE, NINE INCH NAILS & INFORMATION SOCIETY. Precipice is a techno-moody piece that is very personal to Hall. Music helps us heal from the tragedies in our lives, and for Hall, it’s been a form of catharsis. After a serious health battle, she’s come out on the other side to share her emotional experience in these three pieces. With remixes by Joe Haze, Diverje, Junior Kain, and Machines with Human Skin all add layers to the composition. Reminiscent of Tubular Bells or early Depeche Mode, Precipice is music to sit with and contemplate. Each element woven together, whether it be effects or harmonies, all evoke feelings of loss and yet are ultimately hopeful. 

Thank you for joining me this month. I hope you and yours are well. I’d love to hear what kind of music is getting you through this tumultuous time. If you want to hear what I’ve been listening to, you can check out my #SpotifyWrapped. If you’re not on Spotify yet, you might want to change that in 2021. Getting a report on your listening habits can be…creepy, but also a great trip down memory lane. Stay Tuned for more Ro’s Recs and Merrill’s Musical Musings… 

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R.L. Merrill writes inclusive romance with quirky, relatable characters full of love, hope, and rock ‘n’ roll. You can find her at https://www.rlmerrillauthor.com and on the socials as @rlmerrillauthor. You can also find her at www.queeromanceink.com writing about Hope, Love and Queeromance. 

Asian Horror Month: BLACK CRANES : A Review in Verse

 

BLACK CRANES: A REVIEW IN VERSE

Tales of Unquiet Women

From voices no longer silent

In this anthology of Asian narratives

Ranging from hilarious, to haunting and violent

A frisson towards an immersive journey

Headlined by Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn

Not merely stories, but an assemblage of shared experiences

And teamwork presented by Omnium Gatherum

Alma Katsu leads the proceedings

Of what follows and what to expect

Asian, women, and horror

Tales of identity, expectation and neglect;

Obligations, traditions, duties and more

Scientists, warriors, princesses, spirits

We can be many things

But we cannot be defeated

A haunting foreword sets the tone

For Elaine Cuyegkeng to kick off with a bang

Pandora’s box of gene editing

Or more attuned to a boomerang;

Snipping out traits and replacing preferential ones

Rarefied offspring too good to be true?

There’s always a price to pay

Specimens or daughters? Are we a ‘what’ or ‘who’?

Nadia Bulkin marshals an uprising 

With Indonesian history and folklore

A princess’s people retrieving her throne

A fight and reclamation at its core;

Who is monster and who is human?

Questions Kapre in his chronicle

Rin Chupeco’s unique love story

Depicts a tale heartwarming and ironical

Beauty, cosmetics, enhancements galore

Two tales from Angela Yuriko Smith

How far would you go to be yourself no more?

Sci-fi abounds; this isn’t myth

White on the outside, yellow within

Patchwork eyes and warring factions all over

Whom do we belong to if we don’t belong at all?

Gift recipient or pushover?

Grace Chan makes a two-fold mark

With hunger and fury, suspicion and doubt

Gabriella Lee’s rites of passage

Aspects of womanhood poured out;

The legend of the nine-tailed fox

Of trickster entities and lotus feet

Rena Mason presents womanhood again

As past, present and future accrete

Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn

In their dual roles of editor and writer

Lend duality with contrasting themes

From heartbreak to horror, and lighter;

Caring for an ailing parent,

A mind-blowing take on pets,

A litmus test of acceptance,

Words – their shining assets

Set the clock ahead with Christina Sng

As we time travel to a zombie apocalypse

An ode to women in the military

Fury is not one to be eclipsed;

The fury of sacrifices to accommodate 

Meeting the expectations of others

Hollowed versions of ourselves

Emptied out; unconsidered druthers

With stories of folklore and legend

From the common to the esoteric

Across geography and culture

From charming to barbaric;

Returning to one’s roots

Or imagining a far-fetched world

From the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore

China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand;

Asian women from wherever they might be 

Scattered across place and time

Breaking notions and stereotypes

That living is not a crime;

There’s no single type of woman

No all-encompassing concept of Asian

The multifaceted identities of horror

And the stories of women who experience their own versions.

                                      ~Renata Pavrey

                                        December 2020

Ranata Pavrey is a Nutritionist by profession; marathon runner and Odissi dancer by passion. Driven by sports, music, animals, plants, literature and more. She reads across several genres and languages, and loves the world of horror – in both, books and movies.

 

Asian Horror Month: Interview With Writer Grace Chan

Interview by Angela Yuriko Smith

Grace Chan (gracechanwrites.com) is a speculative fiction writer and doctor. Her family migrated from Malaysia to Australia before her first birthday. Her writing explores brains, minds, technology, and narrative identity.

Her debut novel, Every Version of You, will be published by Affirm Press in 2022.

Her short fiction can be found in Clarkesworld, Going Down Swinging, Aurealis, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, Verge: Uncanny, and other places. She was shortlisted for Viva la Novella VII. Her short story, The Mark, was nominated for the 2019 Aurealis Award for Best Horror Short Story and the 2020 Norma K Hemming Award.

Her other interests include salt-and-vinegar anything and secretly filming her friends’ post-NYE karaoke highlights. She is terrible at conveying sarcasm. In a decaffeinated state, she may cease to exist.

Grace, thank you so much for spending time with us today. Of Hunger and Fury and The Mark, both have such strong messages built into the story structure. What are some of your favorite themes to explore in your work?

This is still something I’m figuring out, which is part of the fun.

I’m fascinated by both the expanse of the universe and the expanse of our minds. I like writing about the unconscious—that can often take a dark, horrifying turn. I like writing about how technology, especially medical technology, might impact identity, relationships, and culture. I’m excited about works that centre more characters and narratives that aren’t so often centred, and I hope I can contribute to that in some small way.

You have a lot of work published from the likes of Clarkesworld and Aurealis. Which of your stories/characters best represents you?

I think I put a kernel of myself into every story…and then I craft a new character around that. Emma Kavanagh, from The Mark, is a character whose perspective and pain is silenced by society. I drew on the experience of women of colour, of being unheard and unseen, because your voice isn’t the right one for the room. 

With Fiona/Fen Fang, from Of Hunger and Fury, I wanted to explore how an individual can be compressed between two cultures. I’m an amalgamation of my Australian upbringing and my Malaysian Chinese heritage, and I’ve gained a lot of strengths from both. But there are also restrictive, sexist pressures from both cultures—in different ways. As diasporic women, it can be especially exhausting. I’ve also put a bit of myself into Lian, the rational, ambitious main character from my novelette, Jigsaw Children, and a bit of myself into Tao Yi, the protagonist of my upcoming novel, Every Version of You. I think writing allows us to explore parts of ourselves that don’t often see the light: weaknesses, strengths, dreams, fears, and so on.

I think the state of being culturally split is something that often gets overlooked as characters are often a single race in fiction. What are some of your experience of ‘otherness.’ Has this influenced what you write?

My heritage is filled with movement. I was born in Malaysia. So were my parents and most of my grandparents. My great-grandparents migrated to Malaysia from Guangdong. My parents and I migrated to Australia when I was a baby—my father came first, like a scout, and my mother came with me a few months later.

Although my parents are both tertiary educated, displacement and hardships made things difficult. I went to the local suburban primary school, where you could count the number of Asian kids on one hand. At the time, I didn’t think much of the fact that I looked different. But in hindsight, there was always a sense of being an outsider, and needing to prove my place by being a model citizen.

Like many other writers, I fell in love with the local library as a child. I devoured the YA section, but hardly ever found people like me in stories. When I first started to write, my characters were white Australian girls: Emma Smith, Hannah Brown. I remember my dad joking, “Why don’t you call her Emma Tan, or Hannah Chong!” I thought he was silly. I disliked my boring, common, Chinese name, and thought I could never be a writer unless I changed my name to a Western one.

As I’ve ventured into the workforce, I’ve become disillusioned to the myth that dominated my childhood: that compliance to the model minority mould leads to success. My eyes are gradually opening to systemic inequalities in our workplaces and society. It’s a personal and broader journey, fraught with complicated emotions.

I don’t think I purposely set out to write characters who are ‘other’. I don’t purposely make my characters ‘Asian’, or ‘different from the norm’ in any specific way. I just want to write characters that I’m interested in, who have compelling stories. I often find that the loudest voices in the room aren’t the most interesting ones. Many of the best stories are hidden in the quieter minds, in dark corners and buried places.

Wonderful points beautifully said. What has your experience been as an Asian writer? As a writer of dark fiction? How has this changed over time, or not?

I’ve only started to publish in the last couple of years, so I’m very much still in the process of finding my voice. I do feel that being part of a diaspora gives you perspective and power in writing. You’ve always lived with a sense of travelling, of not belonging, and you get rather good at putting yourself into other people’s shoes…or into alternate timelines entirely! 

I’ve gravitated towards darker themes in a lot of my writing. I think it can be a way to acknowledge the darker, more difficult aspects of existence—and perhaps to find commonality and catharsis. It’s also just feels really good to be able to challenge people’s preconceptions and to throw out stereotypes. Asian and women characters are so frequently flattened into two-dimensionality. It’s exhilarating to be able to write slippery, multifaceted, three-dimensional characters that terrify, rage, grieve, crack dry jokes and dreadful puns, and forge their own paths, fiercely.

What do you think of common depictions of Asian women in dark fiction? What, if anything, would you like to see done differently?

I don’t think I have enough knowledge to comment on dark fiction specifically, but I certainly feel that Asian women in fiction are exoticized, sexualised, stereotyped and/or silenced, which is reflective of society. In White Tears/Brown Scars, Ruby Hamad describes the archetypes of Dragon Ladies and Exotic Orientals. Asian women as perceived by the dominant culture are either controlling and unpleasant, or passive, supportive, and decorative.

I want stories about Asian women who are both good and bad, who drive their own narratives, and make up their own minds. I want stories about Asian women who get to adventure, fight, run away, fall in love, not fall in love, destroy their enemies, plot wicked plots, exact revenge, save the world, or be wonderfully ordinary. There are a lot of such stories in SFFH (and, of course, in Black Cranes!). I hope they continue to receive more attention.

I do as well! On that note, do you have any recommendations for works that have resonated for you as an Asian horror writer?

Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling was a reading experience like none other. It took me fifty or so pages to get stuck in, but I became utterly immersed in a world of fox spirits, ghosts, ghost-sex, scholars, trickery, and monsters. It’s playful, eerie, and whimsical, with laugh-out-loud humour alongside horror.

I’ve also enjoyed: The Vegetarian, by Han Kang. Her Body & Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado. Mother of Invention, edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts. Elizabeth Tan’s short story collections, Rubik and Smart Ovens for Lonely People.

All those just went on my list. How about your last project and what you’re working on next? Can you tell us about these projects?

My tentacled, symbiotic, monster story, Mother of the Trenches, will appear in Unnatural Order published by the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. I had a lot of twisty fun with that one, and I’m excited for it to venture out into the world.

I’m also delighted to share that my novel, Every Version of You, will be published in early 2022 by Affirm Press, an independent Melbourne-based publisher! It’s a near-future science fiction novel with a Malaysian Chinese Australian protagonist, and it uses virtual reality and mind uploading to explore themes of identity, change, migration, love, and loss. 

Asian Horror Month: Cemetery Travels/ The gate to Rokudo-san

Cemetery of the Week #142: Chinko-ji Temple cemetery

Posted on July 2, 2014by Loren Rhoads

The gate to Rokudo-san

Chinko-ji Temple cemetery
aka Rokudo-san cemetery
aka Rokudochinnoji cemetery
595 Komatsu-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0811, Japan
Telephone: +81 75 343 6555
Founded: 836 AD
Size: a fraction of an acre
Number of interments: hard to say, since Japanese are cremated and their ashes interred beneath their headstones marked with only their family names
Gates are open: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The buildings open only occasionally. Check with the Tourist Information Center downtown for opening hours if you want to see the paintings of Hell and the Spirit World.
Admission: free
Important to know: The mosquitos in June were fierce, even in the heat of the afternoon. You may want to invest in insect repellent before you visit.

The city of Kyoto was founded in 794. For centuries, it served as the capital of Japan, until the emperor moved his court to Tokyo in 1869. It’s been called the City of Ten Thousand Shrines, but may only have as many as 2000 of them, 1600 of which are Buddhist temples along with 400 shrines dedicated to Shinto, the native religion.

Kyoto’s largest festival of the year takes place in August, when the city observes the Bon Festival, the Japanese celebration of ancestral spirits.

 

The book Introducing Kyoto by Herbert E. Pluschow reports “The Bon Festival begins on August 8 with a visit to Chinko-ji Temple. The location of Chinko-ji (also called Rokudo-san) marks one of the largest grave areas that existed since Heian times. Formerly, it extended from Kiyomizu-dera Temple all the way downhill to Rokuharamitsu-ji Temple and as far north as Chion-in.” Kyoto, a Cultural Guide, adds, “This area was known as ‘the land of the dead,’ a place where the bodies of those who died without family were often abandoned.”

So perhaps there were no monuments to move, no graves to disturb. The area is suburban now, full of houses. Of the massive graveyard, only a fragment remains at Chinko-ji.

The small Buddhist temple of Chinko-ji (also known as Rokudo-san) stands in the Higashiyama neighborhood, just south of Kyoto’s Gion neighborhood. The temple dates to the 9th century. As far as I can tell, the graveyard does not date that far back.

The plaque at the gate says, “A Rinzai-sect temple of the Kenniji school, founded in 836, and commonly known as Rokudo-san. Kyōto’s Bon Festival, Buddhist observance honoring the spirits of ancestors, begins with the tolling of the temple bell. The area is called ‘Rokudo-no-tsujii,’ or ‘the place where this world and the other world meet.’ Reference to this belief appears in Konjaku Monogatari, Tales of Times Now Past. The well behind the Main Hall was believed to have been used by Ono no Takamura (802–852) to commute between the two worlds.”

In fact, the temple still has a statue of Chinese scholar Ono no Takamura, a calligrapher and poet who served Emperor Saga in the early part of the ninth century. Takamura was so eloquent in his descriptions of Hell that it was believed he was an emissary from Enma, the King of Hell. Legend holds that at night Takamura would climb into the well at Rokudo Chinkoji, descend to the underworld, and help Enma judge the dead. In the morning, he’d climb back out, then go serve the Emperor.

Chinko-ji remains a place to pray for “the souls of commoners.” Rokudo-san, the temple’s popular name, refers to the roads to the six Buddhist realms to which a soul may go: 1) Jigoku (Hell), 2) Gaki (the land of the hungry spirits), 3) Chikushou (the land of the beasts), 4) Shura (the land of fighting), 5) Ningen (the land of humans, or our world), and 6) Tenjo (Heaven). Rokudo no Tsuji (the intersection of this world and the next ones, where the six roads begin) is believed to be in the small open square inside the tori gate from the street.

Japanese Buddhists believe that the souls of the dead inhabit mountains, which were Paradise. The bottoms of valleys were Hell. The mountain above Chinko-ji is called Mt. Amida, the Buddha of eternal light who rules Paradise. Some souls were so weighed down that they couldn’t climb uphill and were condemned to roam the earth, causing suffering. The Bon Festival addresses itself to these unhappy souls, which are welcomed back to earth at temples considered gates of Hell.

The welcoming bell is inside this building.

At Chinko-ji, people welcome their ancestors back by ringing the temple’s bell, called “Mukae-gane” or the welcoming bell. Unlike most temple bells in Japan, where you draw the clapper back to strike the bell, this one requires you to push the clapper forward. Legend says that the bell can be heard in every corner of hell and was once heard as far as China.

The building housing the bell stands on the right side of the temple complex. Just past in stands a hall with a statue of Enma and his emmisaries.

Straight ahead from the gate, on the north side, stands the main hall of the temple, which houses a statue of the Buddha Yakushi, who has the ability to rescue the suffering from Hell.

Some of the Jizo

The well that Takamura used to visit Hell still exists behind one of the temple buildings, but it was closed the afternoon when I visited. During Bon, people used to buy pine branches from the temple and lower them down into the well, so that the souls of the dead could grab on.

On the western side of the shrine, a plastic roof shelters a large statue of Jizo, the Buddhist guardian of travelers, children, and the dead. He’s surrounded by 200 smaller Jizo.

Behind the Jizo shrine stands the pocket graveyard. I didn’t open the gate and walk in, even though my family was alone at the temple when we visited. It didn’t feel respectful and I could see as much as I needed from the gate.

The graveyard with sotoba

However, as I stopped to pay my respects to Jizo and take some photos, the sotōba – the wooden blades marked with the posthumous names of the dead – rattled like chattering teeth in a sudden breath of wind.

I was glad when other people came into the temple grounds with us.

Useful links:

great blog post with photos of the temple at O-Bon and the tale of “ghost-raising sweets”

photo tour of the temple

Japanese page for the temple, with a map

photo and more information about the Welcoming Bell

haiku about the Welcoming Bell

A video of the temple at O-Bon:

 

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About Loren Rhoads

I’m co-author of a series about a succubus and her angel. Angelus Rose, the final book, came out in February 2020. I am the editor of Tales for the Camp Fire: An Anthology Benefiting Wildfire Relief. I’m also author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel–and a space opera trilogy.

Asian Horror Month: Last Call by Jess Chua

Last Call by Jess Chua

Mitch slid onto the vacant seat beside the woman in the red hot dress.

“And who do I have the pleasure of speaking to?”

She smiled. “I’m Sasha.”

He was sizing her up—an easy 9 out of 10—with her smooth supple skin and generous curves in all the right places. Mitch had no shortage of women throwing themselves at him and thirsting over his social media selfies. He was a music executive in his early thirties who could still pass off as a decade younger. A charming smile, tousled hair, and the right touch or words allowed him to get away with much more than a lesser mortal could.

“Take Me Home, Country Roads” started playing and the lights coming back on signaled it was the bar’s last call. The patrons didn’t need to head for home, but it was time to leave.

Sasha’s dark hair flowing down her back was mesmerizing. Mitch wondered how nobody else was being transfixed by her. Was she too intimidating, or were people too drunk to care?

He followed Sasha like a dream as she led him to the nearby Maxx boutique hotel.

A faint yet familiar scent permeated the room…the sweet vanilla notes of his last girlfriend’s favorite perfume. Anna. Her name was enough to send a shiver down Mitch’s spine. He briefly recalled the night his hands had closed around her throat when he had had enough of her teary-eyed episodes where they had broken up and made up for the upteenth time. She sure left a beautiful corpse at the morgue.

When Sasha turned around, it was too late: her face had turned into Anna’s. She grabbed him by the throat as soon as the door shut behind them.

“Now we can be together forever,” she said, delivering an icy kiss of death that drained the life from Mitch’s body.

Her words were the same last words Mitch had said to her and all the other young girls he discarded once he had deflowered them.

###


Author Bio: Jess Chua is a writer and editor for a personal development podcast. Her microfiction was a runner-up in the Mysterious Photograph contest at Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She enjoys yoga, healthy cooking, and spending time with her pets. Her website is www.jesschuabooks.com

Asian Horror Month: Meet Black Crane Geneve Flynn/ By Angela Yuriko Smith

Meet Black Crane Geneve Flynn

Previously posted onPosted on November 9, 2020 by Angela Yuriko Smith

Next Tuesday editors and authors from the new horror anthology, Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women will be featured on the next Skeleton Hour, the Horror Writers Association’s monthly horror literature webinar series. Please join Lee Murray, Geneve Flynn, Nadia Bulkin, Rena Mason and myself for this event. You can register for the online event on Facebook here.

Leading up to this event I’ll be posting interviews with some of the Black Cranes so you have a chance to know them a little better ahead of time. Think of questions you want to ask because I believe there will be an opportunity for Q&A in the chat. Today we get a closer look at one of the minds that brainstormed this beautiful book into being—the warm and lovely Geneve Flynn.

Geneve Flynn

Geneve Flynn is a freelance editor from Australia who specializes in speculative fiction. Her horror short stories have been published in various markets, including Flame Tree Publishing, Things in the Well, and the Tales to Terrify podcast. She loves tales that unsettle, all things writerly, and B-grade action movies; if that sounds like you, check out her website at www.geneveflynn.com.au.

Geneve, thank you so much for taking the time to share your work in more depth. What are some of your favorite themes to explore?

I have a background in psychology, so I like thinking about what drives a character and why they make the choices they do. One of my favourite themes is that everyone has a hidden side, especially girls and women, because so much of our lives and our identities are about making others happy, putting others first, about shrinking ourselves. Everyone has a face for the public, and a face that no one sees. That’s the side I want a peek at.

Oh, I like that and I absolutely agree with you. How much of you as creator is hidden in your characters and stories?

I think there’s a bit of me in all my stories. When you’re able to take a deep breath and write authentically, exposing all parts of yourself – the palatable and unpalatable, that’s when a story comes alive. 

In my story “The Fledgling,” I write about a mother’s guilt at failing her children because she’s trying to hold down a career. “Little Worm” explores the dilemma of individualism vs filial duty. It’s a question of who cares for aging parents and the expectations laid at the feet of women in families, especially Asian women, who are often seen as the caretakers, the dutiful daughters, the ones whose first and only prerogative is the family. This is something that’s looming for me at this point in my life, and it was an uncomfortable story to write, but it was honest.

As I’ve matured, I find I’m very much okay with knowing that the monsters in my stories also have a bit of me in them. This goes back to the hidden side of human nature. I think as you get older, you become much more comfortable with allowing that side out, and allowing it to live. I take a certain glee in celebrating the monstrous side.

The monstrous side is my favorite side, I think. As you say, it’s where I am myself. Tell us a bit about your heritage and your experience of ‘otherness.’ Has this influenced what you write?

I’m Chinese, born in Malaysia. When I was young, my family moved around because of my dad’s work. We lived in South Korea for eighteen months, in a visitor’s compound with one wonderful Canadian teacher for all the kids. I’d gotten a taste of a western education, and when I returned to the very strict Malaysian schooling system, I was miserable. I’d forgotten a lot of Malay and Chinese, so I spent my days struggling to understand what I was learning, terrified that I would be caned because my grades were dropping.

We emigrated to Australia when I was about eight years old. The school system was a lot better, but being one of only a few Asian kids, I came up against a lot of casual and not-so-casual racism. It’s waxed and waned over the years, flaring with political campaigns against Asian immigration and multiculturalism, and media reports of Asians “taking over” certain areas with property development. 

My experiences have influenced what I write in that I can easily tap into that sense that the world is an unpredictable, unsafe, and sometimes hostile place. As a young woman, whenever I walked past a group of people, I never knew if I was going to be catcalled, told to “go back to your country,” or left alone.  

How has this affected you as an Asian writer? As a writer of dark fiction? Has this changed over time, or not?

When I first started writing, the majority of what I’d read was by white, male writers. The very idea of writing Asian characters, Asian mythology, and Asian settings didn’t even occur to me. And when it did, I shied away from it, thinking that no one wanted to read stories like that. 

I thought of myself first and foremost as a horror writer, and it’s only with Black Cranes that I’ve embraced being an Asian female horror writer. 

As I’ve attended more and more writing conventions, I’m also delighted to continue to discover the breadth of perspectives in fiction. The hunger for diversity in publishing has definitely changed.

I’ve only identified as an Asian female author relatively recently as well, and I appreciate you sharing that. It’s empowering. What do you think of common depictions of Asian women in dark fiction? What, if anything, would you like to see done differently?

I remember reading the Chung Kuo dark sci-fi series by David Wingrove back in the 90s. The premise was a world where the Han Chinese have become the dominant race. While it was sprawling and ambitious in worldbuilding and scope, the depictions of Chinese culture and women were problematic. The Chinese were seen as a monolithic people, stuck in a cycle of stagnation and tradition. Women and girls were largely sexual objects, wives, and mothers. 

On screen, there are countless examples of Asian women as highly eroticised, almost doll-like creatures. They’re passive, adoring girlfriends, dragon ladies, or martial artists. And very rarely the main character. 

Comics were where I first saw a major Asian female character. My folks owned newsagencies (kind of like corner stores where you can buy newspapers and magazines), and I misspent a lot of my youth reading comics. Seeing Jubilation Lee, an Asian female mutant, in a storyline with Wolverine in the X-Men was pretty special. I was a bit bummed that the writers gave her storyline to Rogue in the movies.

A recent portrayal that I love is from the Netflix horror series, Kingdom, which is set three years after Japan invades Korea. Seo-bi is a female healer, caught in the midst of a mysterious plague outbreak. She’s brave and smart and driven to find out what’s causing the outbreak. She has no interest in romantic relationships. She’s not a wilting flower, needing rescue. Her story doesn’t revolve around a man’s.

These are the characters I want to see and read. Complex, determined, capable women, who drive their own stories.

Do you have any recommendations for works that have resonated for you as an Asian horror writer?

Well, obviously, all work by our wonderful Cranes. I loved Alma Katsu’s The Hunger. I found the examination of the American belief in manifest destiny fascinating. I’ve also enjoyed exploring more diverse works because there’s often that sense of being the other. Chikodili Emelumadu’s writing is wonderful, and I just finished Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones, and The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle.

Oh, yes. The Hunger was brilliant. Can you tell us briefly about your last project and what you’re working on next?

My last project was a charity anthology. Trickster’s Treats #4: Coming, Buried or Not! is the fourth and final Trickster’s Treats anthology brought out by Things in the Well, and it raises funds for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation in Australia. 

I co-edited the anthology with fellow Australian editor Louise Zedda-Sampson, and we were thrilled with the quirky, scary, and inventive stories that came across our desks.

In terms of writing, I’m working on a story about Ching Shih. She went from a prostitute in a floating brothel to the most successful pirate in history, commanding 80,000 sailors at the height of her power. How did she do that? Of course, I have a monstrous answer.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share this with us, Geneve. I’m very happy to share you here today, and look forward to chatting again next Tuesday on the next Skeleton Hour! Remember, readers, you can register for the online event on Facebook here.

Geneve Flynn is a freelance editor from Australia who specializes in speculative fiction. Her horror short stories have been published in various markets, including Flame Tree Publishing, Things in the Well, and the Tales to Terrify podcast. She loves tales that unsettle, all things writerly, and B-grade action movies; if that sounds like you, check out her website at www.geneveflynn.com.au.

Asian Horror Month: Colors, Fox Demons, and Folklore in “The Ninth Tale”

Colors, Fox Demons, and Folklore in “The Ninth Tale” from Black Cranes Anthology

By Rena Mason

It’s never one thing that inspires me to write any story, and the same was true for “The Ninth Tale.” With the popular resurgence of a modernized Huli Jing, (Pinyin – húlijīng) or Fox Demon/Spirit portrayed in anime and video games with a blending of cultures and added superpowers, many of the original stories get muddled and lost to younger generations. Because of my mainly Chinese heritage, which I grew up knowing little about, I wanted to write a classic folktale-style story using the Chinese mythos versus the versions from other countries like the Japanese Kitsune, or Korean Kumiho. 

In Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, a collection of myths, fables, and stories written in the mid 1600s to early 1700s, the majority of the works about the Huli Jing, Songling depicted the demon, and all women for that matter, as villains and the explanation behind men’s troubles. I knew I needed to take that and crush it. So I placed the character, traditionally seen and feared as a powerful woman, and set her in a time when the sexist practice of foot binding was at its peak yet nearing its end with changes occurring in the country’s political climate. Her complete disdain and disregard for the practice along with her sympathy for the women forced or encouraged to do it sets a character trait I wanted for my Huli Jing in the story. 

I’ve always been fascinated by the contrast between the reverence for, and fear of women in East Asian mythos compared to the treatment of East Asian women by their male counterparts throughout history. I’m certain my curiosity began with the first stories I ever heard from my mom about powerful Thai female ghosts who’d enact their rage and vengeance upon their spouses. 

Another component I wanted to incorporate in the story was East Asian interpretations for colors I’d mostly seen used in movies. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I was introduced to Zhang Yimou’s films. JU DOU was the first, and I was mesmerized by the story, but most of all by the colors that cued my emotional responses during different scenes (although I didn’t realize they were having that effect on me at the time). Culturally, I grew up knowing that different colors symbolize different things, and Yimou had tapped into this ingrained knowledge visually. It took me years and several of his movies to figure out what he’d done. Not until HERO was it so obvious and profound. So I was taken aback when I watched SHADOW this past year in its beautiful but bleak monochrome hues. Where were the colors? The lack of them made me suspicious of all the characters. I felt dread and impending doom and not much else. Then it hit me during The Black Cranes Skeleton Hour panel that every character in the movie is a shade of bad, or black, hence the monochrome hues. Yimou had done it again but with the absence of color—genius. PAINTED SKIN, taken from one of the stories in Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, loosely adapted by filmmaker Gordon Chang, uses colors this way in his acclaimed film as well. But could I pull it off in a written story? I had to try. 

Red or vermillion is a popular color in Chinese culture, symbolizing luck, joy, and happiness. It also represents celebration, vitality, and fertility in traditional Chinese color symbolism. Think of the red envelopes handed out for Chinese New Year and on other celebratory occasions, and the “power” tie color businessmen wear with suits. Chinese brides wear red to ward off evil. The color also represents the summer and the element of fire. Red is the only color that has two different and almost opposite meanings, as it can also represent jealousy and anger. 

—In “The Ninth Tale” the Huli Jing sets off on her journey and is excited and feeling happy, so I emphasized that with the scarlet leaves. I pictured her pale skin glowing red underneath the canopy as she headed out of the forest to complete her celestial ascension.

Yellow is an imperial color in traditional Chinese color symbolism, representing power, royalty, and prosperity. It also represents the late summer season, the central direction, and earth. 

—As the Huli Jing meets the farmer in his wheat fields, the yellow represents the future prosperity she would bestow upon him and his family for revering her. (Although banned, Fox Spirit worship is rumored to exist to this day in parts of northern China.)

Gold symbolizes wealth and riches in Chinese culture as well as most other cultures. 

—In the very beginning of “The Ninth Tale” the Huli Jing acquires a pair of slippers embroidered with a gold chrysanthemum. A double meaning, since gold represents riches and the chrysanthemum represents nobility. I also used the color gold when describing the farmer’s wheat fields because good crops are representative of wealth. 

Blue represents the element of wood, and symbolizes freedom, the heavens, immortality and advancement. 

—When the Huli Jing in “The Ninth Tale” meets Xin, her rival, the young woman is pale and underwater with a blue hue to her skin, hinting at Xin’s character being carefree. That she’s feeling indestructible, and wanting advancement.

Green is similar to blue, but also represents harmony, wealth, growth, cleanliness and purity from contamination. 

—In the story, the Huli Jing is often flying and dancing in the air with evergreen branches behind her, showcasing the Fox Demon’s ability to remain unfazed by the ordinary around her. 

Black represents water, and also symbolizes destruction, evil, cruelty, and sadness. Hei is Chinese for black, but it also stands for bad luck, irregularity, and illegality. 

—When the Huli Jing visits her lover Zhang, it is always at night, under the cloak of darkness, and his black hair, and dark eyes, and all the shadows and absence of color in his room portend his “deception” and the evil of his character in the story. 

White represents the metal element in traditional Chinese culture, and also symbolizes purity and innocence. It’s also commonly associated with death, mourning, and funerals in China. 

—From the white light that comes from the Huli Jing when she’s injured, emanating from her celestial self, to their glowing faces in the moonlight, I used a lot of white toward the end of the story to symbolize death and the Huli Jing’s ascension to the heavens. I also used the silver blade to represent the metal element of white. 

In the end, I felt I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do when I’d thought of how I’d wanted to write my Huli Jing story. I’ve never really paid much attention to what colors might mean in stories that I’d read, but I know now that I’ll take a closer look and scrutinize whether or not the author wants me to feel a certain way with the colors they incorporate into their stories. 

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Rena Mason is an American horror author of Thai-Chinese descent, and a three-time Bram Stoker Award® winner of the The Evolutionist and The Devil’s Throat, as well as a 2014 Stage 32 /The Blood List Search for New Blood Screenwriting Contest Quarter-Finalist. She has short stories, novelettes, and novellas published in various anthologies and magazines and writes a monthly column. 

She is a member of the Horror Writers Association, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, The International Screenwriters’ Association, and the Public Safety Writers Association. 

An avid scuba diver, she enjoys traveling the world and incorporating the experiences into her stories. She currently resides in Reno, Nevada but plans to relocate to the Pacific Northwest in 2021. For more information visit her website: www.RenaMason.Ink 

or follow her at:

Facebook: rena.mason 

Twitter: @RenaMason88 

Stage 32: Rena Mason

Instagram: rena.mason 

In the works, she’s co-editing and reading submissions for the next HWA anthology Other Fears slated for publication with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2022. She’s excited to be participating in an anthology that will amplify diverse voices in horror and for her role in representing the long line of great horror from the HWA Presents publications. Her next novel is near completion, and she is also writing some nonfiction, short fiction, and a screenplay. 

 

Asian Horror Month: Black Cranes Unquiet Inspirations by Lee Murray

BLACK CRANES: UNQUIET INSPIRATIONS by Lee Murray

Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women was inspired when two editors of Asian heritage arrived way too early for a panel at a conference in Brisbane. Geneve Flynn and I both laughed that we should fall so deeply into the conscientious Asian girl trope, and that set us to talking. We’d both been raised in predominantly Western cultures. How was it our behaviour was so influenced by our Asian heritage? Did we know any other Asian women writers? Where were the Asian horror writers? And where was the vehicle for our stories? Our voices? Although Flynn and I had communicated online, and I’d enjoyed some of her fabulous stories published by a mutual publisher, I hadn’t met her previously. I liked her immediately, finding her well-read, articulate, funny, humble (and of course, conscientious). Before we’d even entered the panel session, the cogs were turning, the two of us already sifting possibilities for the anthology we would co-edit. 

Fast forward a year, and Black Cranes is a reality, the anthology comprising stories from many of our favourite authors of dark fiction, a hard-hitting foreword from Alma Katsu, author of The Hunger and The Deep, and published by boutique small press Omnium Gatherum behind a glorious Greg Chapman cover. In the short time since the book’s release, Geneve and I have been overwhelmed by the response to Black Cranes, not the least coming from Asian women writers of dark speculative fiction:

“As haunting and versatile as the Chinese erhu, the stories in Black Cranes pluck and bow the strings of the Southeast Asian experience with insightful depth and resonance.” —Tori Eldridge, author of the acclaimed Lily Wong novels, The Ninja Daughter and The Ninja’s Blade.

“A varied and fascinating collection of monsters, full of dazzling landscapes and writers to watch.” —E. Lily Yu, John Campbell Award winner and author of On Fragile Waves. 

But my experience with Black Cranes has gone deeper than just the chance to work with some amazing writers. Two of my own stories appear in the anthology, inspired by my personal experience as a third-generation Chinese New Zealander. ‘Phoenix Claws’ is a contemporary comic horror focusing on that moment when a prospective partner meets the family, an awkward occasion, especially when the relationship involves a blending of cultures. Will the parents like them? What if that person unwittingly stomps on an important tradition? In ‘Phoenix Claws’ an unwritten litmus test of suitability involving chicken’s feet multiplies the awkwardness of that meeting. 

‘Frangipani Wishes’ is a story sucked from my marrow, one of those tales that was never told to me, but somehow I knew it anyway. Perhaps I heard it whispered on frangipani scented winds while on visits to Hong Kong. Because of, or perhaps in spite of their source, these stories forced me to address my ongoing struggle with my Kiwi-Asian identity and the powerful expectations of self-erasure experienced by many Asian women. And in the case of ‘Frangipani Wishes’, a story pieced together from secrets, I experimented with a new-to-me prose-poem format to capture those shadowy origins. Here’s a short excerpt:

Some things you knew already. Some things you knew before you were born; they were revealed to you in the rhythm of your mother’s heartbeat and in the echoes of her sighs. Later, you heard it in the closing of doors, in the scuff of a suitcase, and the low hum of a ceiling fan.

the bitterness of smiles / the perfidy of eyes

That was back when you lived with your bones squeezed sideways into the spaces between the floorboards of your father’s villa, cowering from the sharp tongues of lesser wives and the cruel taunts of your half-sisters. Back when you were waiting to live, when you lived and waited, comforted by the soft scents of your silly frangipani wishes. Embroidering silk dreams, you waited, listening for the hundred-year typhoons that whipped across the harbour, tugging at rooftops, flattening shanties, and stealing away souls. Because only when the winds raged and the waters of the harbour thrashed, only when the villa rattled with unease, only then were the ghosts quiet. Only then, were you able to breathe.

* * *

Since the moment you were born, generations of hungry ghosts swirled around you, teasing the air, your breath, your hair. Not your fault, although First Wife and Little Wife and the entanglements who dwelled in your father’s villa, those living repositories of secrets, they blamed you still. They whispered behind their hands, hiding smiling teeth, muttering, uttering, chattering. Your mother had unleashed them, they said, spawned them as she spawned you, let the starving ghosts escape into the night. A hundred dragon’s teeth could not drive out such demons. Nor a thousand dragon teeth ground to powdered dust. It was as well she was gone.

Your mother might be a ghost herself; you didn’t know. No one had thought to tell you, although they said other things—mean, sunken, tortured things. Things with thin bony limbs and slender necks. Swollen bloated-bellied things which wormed their way beneath your ribs, pushing aside your lungs, where they took up residence: pulsing, and pulsing, and pulsing… You learned to live with them, the tortured, swirling wisps of ghosts and the ugly, swollen pustules lodged under your heart, while you waited for the tempests, while you waited to live, in your father’s villa on the hillside.

A cousin came to the villa. He worked in the textile business and came to weft and weave words with your father. A distant cousin, although not so distant. Little Wife called for you, she liked to see you underfoot, so you squeezed your way up to where the living roamed, hauling yourself from the damp crawlspace, through the gaps in the floorboards. Scrubbed and pretty, you served Distant Cousin tea in the salon, hands trembling with reverence, since he was your father’s guest. You served the sweet red bean cakes that were everyone’s favourite. You nibbled on the crumbs, caught the rifts of conversations, and a waft of sultry sandalwood. After that, Distant Cousin stayed on, stopping to play mah-jong with your father and his friends, their voices murmuring, and the tiles clattering long into the night.

the harbour / glints / in his eyes

Hello, little cousin, he whispered as he passed you days later in the hall, setting your insides aflutter, like the wings of the skylark Little Wife kept in a domed teak cage in her room. Just in time, you remembered to drop your head respectfully and hide your smile behind your hand.

* * *

Ongoing conversations with my Black Cranes contributors made me realise that my dance with themes of otherness and identity was just beginning, their insightful comments inspiring me to dig deeper into my own history. But how would I do that? And would there be any interest in that work? 

No one wants to know. Maybe I should just keep quiet.

In May 2020, New Zealand journalist Karen Tay wrote in Stuff: “To be invisible in this world is to have your stories erased or reduced to the margin, which is how it’s largely been for many generations of Chinese immigrants to New Zealand. But in the past decade, New Zealand’s Chinese diaspora – from Kiwi-born Chinese, whose families arrived as long ago as the earliest Pākehā, to recent immigrants – is taking back the power by writing their own stories. They are no longer striving to keep their heads down and completely assimilate. Instead, these writers are sharing their own truths unapologetically and unequivocally…redefining on their own terms, one story at a time: the immigrant narrative.” 

Could I add my own voice to those narratives described by Kay? Take back my power? Perhaps a longer prose poem narrative in the style of ‘Frangipani Wishes’? 

Cogs turned again.

I consulted New Zealand’s archive site Past Papers, peeking into the lives of Chinese New Zealand women over the past century: a badly beaten Chinese woman falls from the second floor of a Taranaki tobacconist; in Taumarunui, a half-caste Chinese slices the throat of her new-born with a cleaver; in Wellington, a sixty-year-old hangs herself in a scullery. What experiences drove these women to commit such acts against themselves and their families? Could I also incorporate some of those stories alongside my own? I thought of Rena’s charming story ‘The Ninth Tale’ in Black Cranes, a chilling folkloric tale highlighting the Chinese mythology of the fox spirit—and was inspired again. I would write a series narrative prose-poems inspired and informed by real life narratives of New Zealand-Chinese women, connecting them through the various lives of the Chinese shapeshifting nine-tailed fox spirit, húli jīng, 狐狸精, as that creature attempts to ascend to the heavens. 

Still, I wasn’t sure. 

“Above all,” wrote Alma Katsu in her foreword to Black Cranes, “Asian women are supposed to be submissive. Obedient, invisible, without wants of her own, and so content to devote herself to making others happy. This is the expectation I found the hardest. But I found the mere expectation soul-crushing. That anyone could expect another person to negate themselves voluntarily.” Katsu goes on to demand that we “use the power of story to push back on these stereotypes. To show the damage they cause. To show that we’re made of flesh and blood.”

So, with Katsu’s words in my head, and encouraged and supported by my Black Cranes colleagues, Geneve Flynn, Christina Sng, and Rena Mason, I submitted the proposal to New Zealand’s Grimshaw Sargeson Trustees, and was thrilled to be awarded a 2021 fellowship to work on my project, Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud.

“This is something very special,” the award convenor confided when she called to give me the good news. 

Nor am I the only Black Cranes contributor who’s been inspired to continue the discussion opened in Black Cranes. Angela Yuriko Smith, publisher at Space and Time, was already focused on promoting marginalised voices, but it is clear her resolve has sharpened, both in her own writing and in her vision for the iconic magazine. 

“I’ve been diving into all kinds of Thai myths and folklore, ghosts, spirit houses that they actually erect and bring items to, and it’s absolutely fascinating,” Rena Mason wrote in one email to me after the anthology was released. Determined to promote Asian and other marginalised groups and brimming with new project ideas, the three-time Bram Stoker Award-winner is currently working on the HWA’s anthology Other Fears, her first foray into editing. With the HWA anthology also addressing concepts of alienation and otherness and due for release in late 2021, I feel proud that she is continuing this important work.

As far as a sequel Black Cranes anthology is concerned, COVID has put a stop to unexpected conversations with new friends in convention centre lobbies for the moment, nevertheless, the cogs are turning…

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning author-editor from Aotearoa-New Zealand (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows), and a three-time Bram Stoker Award®-nominee. Her work includes military thrillers, the Taine McKenna Adventures, supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (with Dan Rabarts), and debut collection Grotesque: Monster Stories. Her latest anthology projects are Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, co-edited with Geneve Flynn, and Midnight Echo #15. She is co-founder of Young NZ Writers and of the Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Fiction Writers, HWA Mentor of the Year, NZSA Honorary Literary Fellow, and Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow for 2021. Read more at leemurray.info.

Website:  https://www.leemurray.info/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/MonsterReaders

Twitter: https://twitter.com/leemurraywriter

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leemurray2656/

Bookbub:  https://www.bookbub.com/authors/lee-murray

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Lee-Murray/e/B0068FHSC4

Asian Horror Month Announced

Welcome to 2021 and our first theme month of the New Year! Because we here at HorrorAddicts.net strive to recognize and highlight as many different voices in horror as possible, we are excited to welcome you to Asian and Pacific Islander Horror Month. This month we will be featuring Asian authors, their books, movies, and experiences. 

From Japan’s Kaiju (Godzilla) in 1954 to the gothic manga worldwide craze of the 90s and 00s, the world has been in love with Asian Horror and its monsters for decades. Yurei haunt us from every corner, shinigami invade our nightmares of the afterlife, and the recent unique fad of zombies in film terrifies us. Whether you’re a fan of more popular media such as Ringu, Train to Basan, and Death Note, or looking to expand your knowledge through more obscure and little-known stories of the culture, this month we’ll bring you all sorts of Asian-infused delights.  

We hope you will enjoy the thrills, chills, and insight this month will bring you!

Freaky Foodies : From the Vault / Morbid Meals – Killer BLT – Tribute to Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

MorbidMeals2

EXAMINATION

In the cult classic black comedy, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, one of the random acts of violence perpetrated by these deadly nightshades was that a man was attacked by a BLT sandwich. What a horribly boring way to die. If I’m going to go out, I think that should be one killer BLT. Here’s my attempt at such a monster.

ANALYSIS

Yield: 1 sandwich

Ingredients

3 slices of favorite thick cut bacon, pancetta, and/or prosciutto
1/4 cup arugula, or your favorite lettuce
2 Tbsp Creamy Tomato Spread (see below)
1/2 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 slices sourdough bread, or your favorite bread
butter

Apparatus

  • Frying pan, skillet, or griddle

Procedure

  1. Grill the bacon over medium heat until fully cooked and is to your preferred level of crispiness. Set aside on paper towels to soak up the grease.
  2. Butter both sides of each piece of bread and grill until golden on both sides.
  3. Add shredded cheese to one slice of bread, allowing it to melt.
  4. Layer the bacon on top of the melted cheese. Spread some Creamy Tomato Spread on the other slice of bread, and sprinkle on arugula. Put other slice of bread on top.
  5. Cut in half and serve.

Creamy Tomato Spread

Yield: about a cup (for about 8 servings)

Serving Size: about 2 Tbsp per sandwich, to your taste

Ingredients

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp garlic powder (or 2 garlic cloves, minced)
1/4 tsp dried basil (or 1 tsp fresh basil, chopped)
1/4 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped)
1/4 tsp dried oregano (or 1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped)
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
1/4 tsp hot sauce (optional, for a little kick)
6 oz can of tomato paste
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

Procedure

  1. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, herbs, spices, sugar, and salt together and mix well.
  2. Add the tomato paste and yogurt. Mix until well combined and smooth.
  3. Save in an airtight container and refrigerate until needed. This will stay fresh for about a week.

DISSECTION

If you have a panini sandwich press or the like, feel free to use it instead, but I’m partial to an old-fashioned grilled sandwich myself.

POST-MORTEM

I’ve never been a fan of tomatoes on sandwiches. They’re messy and I don’t find their plain flavor terribly appetizing. This spread on the other hand brings all the flavor to the party.

This sandwich pairs wonderfully with a nice hot bowl of tomato bisque, to really show those tomatoes who’s boss.

Freaky Foodies: From the Vault / Morbid Meals – Tribute to Shaun of the Dead – Strawberry Cornettos

MorbidMeals2

EXAMINATION

20160718_191914For ice cream sundae treats in America we have King Cones and Drumsticks, but the rest of the civilized world has the Cornetto. In Shaun of the Dead, a couple of mates share a pair of Strawberry Cornetto cones which were bought while blissfully not noticing the zombies shuffling down the street. Good thing those Cornettos gave them the energy to fight off the zombies and defend the Winchester pub.

A Strawberry Cornetto is described as being “a crispy baked wafer coated from top to bottom with a chocolatey layer, combined with delicious vanilla-flavour ice cream and strawberry fruit ice, topped with strawberry sauce and white chocolate curls.”

That means we could assemble some from a quick trip to the shop to fetch:
Sugar cones, Magic Shell chocolate topping, strawberry ice or sorbet, vanilla ice cream, strawberry syrup, and white chocolate chips. I will describe how to assemble your own sundae cones, but I will also provide recipes for most of the components.

If you want to make strawberry sorbet, strawberry syrup, and vanilla ice cream all from scratch, the recipes follow. If you just want to buy the constituent parts and assemble, feel free to skip past the recipes and move on to the assembly instructions at the bottom.


Strawberry syrup

Yield: 2/3 cup

Ingredients

1/2 lb fresh strawberries, hulled
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Apparatus

  • Food processor or blender
  • Mesh strainer (optional)
  • Squeeze bottle

Procedure

  1. Purée all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender on high speed until blended smooth.
  2. Use a strainer to remove any seeds or pulpy bits, if desired.
  3. Store in a squeeze bottle and refrigerate until needed.

Strawberry sorbet

Yield: 1 quart (4 cups)

Ingredients

1/2 lb fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
3/4 cup sugar
Juice of a medium lemon
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 cups cold water

Apparatus

  • Mixing bowl
  • Ice cream or sorbet churn

Procedure

  1. In a mixing bowl, toss together the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
  2. Add the corn syrup and water and mash the strawberries well. You can also do this step in food processor or blender but do quick pulses to lightly mix the ingredients.
  3. Prepare your churn per manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. Pour the mixture into your churn’s bowl and operate the churn until the sorbet is frozen.

Vanilla ice cream

Yield: 1 quart (4 cups)

Ingredients

2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Apparatus

  • Mixing bowl
  • Whisk
  • Ice cream churn

Procedure

  1. In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until light and fluffy. Then whisk in the sugar slowly until completely blended.
  2. Whisk in the cream and milk until completely blended.
  3. Prepare your churn per manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. Pour the mixture into your churn’s bowl and operate the churn until the ice cream is frozen.

Assembly of the Ice Cream Sundae Cones

Components

6 Sugar cones
Magic Shell chocolate topping
strawberry sorbet
vanilla ice cream
strawberry syrup
4 oz white chocolate chips

Apparatus

  • Waxed paper
  • Adhesive tape and scissors
  • Ice cream cone stand (use an egg carton, some champagne flute glasses, or some other contrivance)

Procedure

  1. Find a contraption that will let you stand your cones upright in your freezer. I think an egg carton would work quite well. If you have fluted glasses that you can easily get the cone in and out of, they could work well also.
  2. Cut pieces of waxed paper to fit around your sugar cones and provide about 2 inches of clearance above the top of the cones. This will provide a mold for the ice cream crown. Set the wax paper sheets aside for now.
  3. Using a squeeze bottle, coat the inside of your sugar cones with the chocolate topping. Make sure the bottom of the cone on the inside has a nice well of chocolate. Prop your cones standing up in your freezer and chill until the chocolate is solid.
  4. Spoon in enough strawberry sorbet into the cone to come up just under the edge of the top of the cone. Return to the freezer until the sorbet is solid.
  5. Wrap the cones in the waxed paper and tape to keep them on. Spoon in soft vanilla ice cream, almost to the top of the waxed paper.
  6. Using a squeeze bottle, drizzle on some strawberry syrup and sprinkle white chocolate chips on top. Return to the freezer and allow these to harden up. These will stay fresh in your freezer for about a week.

DISSECTION

These sundae cones are very simple to assemble whether you make all the ingredients yourself or use off-the-shelf treats. On a hot day, especially here in Arizona, these are so wonderful.

POST-MORTEM

I’ve never personally eaten a Strawberry Cornetto, and I know they are quite beloved in the U.K. and elsewhere. Please accept this humble sundae not as a replacement for a treasured treat, but for one crazy yank’s attempt to know such bliss.

Freaky Foodies: From the Vault REPLAY! Morbid Meals – Holiday Spirits

Originally posted on HorrorAddicts.net December 2014

When it comes to the holiday spirits, I’m not talking about the Ghost of Christmas Past, or that chain-rattling spectre of Jacob Marley. No, I speak of something even more frightening: Holiday Hooch!

As the song goes, “Baby, it’s cold outside.” One sure way to stay warm is with a little nightcap. It’s no surprise that many drinks this time of year are heated up. Hot buttered rum, egg nog, mulled wine, just to name a few. Hot apple cider and hot cocoa shouldn’t be missed either.

So in keeping with the intoxicating tradition, I am sharing three of my favorite drinks that will make the season, and your nose, bright. Just stay safe, my fellow Horror Addicts. We want to see you have a prosperous new year.

Krampusnog

EXAMINATION

This drink is one of my own devising. Instead of mundane eggnog, I leave this as a treat for Krampus. When he visits my very naughty children, this tends to please him and he has yet to torture my kiddos. Clearly they have been very naughty if Santa is not only forgoing the coal, but sending Krampus to punish them. I like to think this drink encourages his mercy. They are just children after all, and I believe that children are our future. Oh, sorry. Almost broke into song there. My apologies.

ANALYSIS

Makes

About one quart
Roughly 5 to 6 drinks

Ingredients

1/4 cup (2 oz) Sanguinaccio Dolce sauce (or melted dark chocolate)
2 cups (1 pint) half & half
1/3 cup sugar
3 large eggs
3 oz brandy or bourbon
3 oz black spiced rum or coffee liqueur

Garnish

dashes of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cocoa powder

Apparatus

  • double boiler, or a large pot with a large bowl that sits snug on top
  • medium saucepan
  • whisk
  • blender

Procedure

  1. First, either prepare a small batch of Sanguinaccio Dolce sauce, or melt some dark chocolate in a double boiler, and set aside.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat up the half & half and sugar, over high heat. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.
  3. In a blender, add the eggs and sanguinaccio dolce (or melted chocolate). Blend on low speed for about one minute.
  4. With blender still running, slowly add the warmed half & half and blend for about 30 more seconds.
  5. Add the alcohol and blend until the everything is frothy, about 2 minutes.
  6. Some people like warm nog. If so, serve immediately. If you and your guests prefer chilled nog, put your blender carafe into the fridge and chill for at least an hour. When ready to serve, put the blender carafe back on the motor and blend for about 30 seconds to combine everything together again and restore the froth.
  7. Pour into glasses and serve with dashes of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cocoa powder.

DISSECTION

This recipe makes just about one quart, a perfect amount for the average blender. If you want to make a party punch bowl version of this, then multiply by however many quarts your punch bowl can safely hold. Just remember that this is an egg-based drink. It is not a good idea to let this just sit around at room temperature.

I used to make this with Kahlúa, as the coffee and chocolate flavors go together so perfectly. Then I discovered Tia Maria, and ditched Kahlúa like a bad habit. I personally find it to be smoother and less sweet.

However, my beloved wife hates coffee. In an attempt to alter this exalted recipe, I have found that black spiced rum adds a deeper spice to the drink as well as a darker hue to the beverage that is in keeping with a drink fit for Krampus. Of course, for a twist on the horror angle, you could try REDRUM. If you try that, let me know how it tastes.

Finally, let’s address the demon in the room. Yes, sanguinaccio dolce is my traditional chocolate sauce for this drink, and yes, it contains pig’s blood. Of course you can melt chocolate or even use chocolate syrup, in a pinch. I do understand if drinking a small amount of pig’s blood turns you off… in a drink made with chicken eggs. And booze. I have had more compliments on this drink when made with sanguinaccio vs. mundane chocolate. In the end, I leave it up to you.

POST-MORTEM

This is delicious any time of year, but I inevitably get asked to make it during Yule and Christmas Eve parties. I hope it becomes a tradition at your home as well. For us it has been Dad tested, Krampus approved.


Bela Mimosa

EXAMINATION

This twist on the traditional mimosa is named after Bela Lugosi and features the juice of blood oranges. It has become a favorite for a toast on New Year’s Eve, as well as for brunch on New Year’s Day.

ANALYSIS

Ingredients

2 oz champagne
3 oz blood orange juice
dash of grenadine (optional)

Garnish

1 slice blood orange

Procedure

  1. In a champagne flute, pour blood orange juice and champagne. Add grenadine to provide extra color.
  2. Garnish with a slice of blood orange.

DISSECTION

It can be hard to find blood oranges year round, but they are in season during the winter. That makes a New Year’s toast with this drink the perfect time to enjoy it.

POST-MORTEM

“I never drink… wine,” said the Count. I’m sure he would have added, “vithout bubbles.” No? How about this… “Bela Mimosa’s dead. Undead, straight to my head.” Admit it. You’re singing that right now. My work here is done.


Twelfth Night Lambswool (Hot Wassail)

EXAMINATION

In the Christian tradition, the Feast of the Epiphany is held on January 6, celebrating the birth of Jesus and the visit by the three wise men. The night before Epiphany is known as Twelfth Night, as it is the twelfth night of Christmastide, following Christmas.

For those that might follow an older path and celebrate Yule instead, Twelfth Night follows as well as the end of the Yuletide celebrations. However as Yule begins on December 20th, this means Yuletide Twelfth Night is December 31st, the end of the year.

In both traditions, there is a toast to good health and good harvest, called a wassail (from the Old English wæs hæl, which means “be you healthy”) which was raised with a drink of the same name.

Hot wassail is a cousin of mulled wines and ciders, but is instead usually made with mead or ale. Lambswool is but one ancient version of the drink which keeps the apple pulp in the drink.

ANALYSIS

Ingredients

750ml (or two 12 oz bottles) honey mead
12 oz hard apple cider
12 oz ginger beer (or ginger ale)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp ground nutmeg
3 cloves
2 cups no-sugar-added applesauce

Apparatus

  • large saucepan
  • blender

Procedure

  1. In a large saucepan, combine the mead, cider, and ginger beer. Add the sugar, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, and cloves. Cook over medium-high heat to dissolve the sugar and meld the flavors together.
  2. Remove the cinnamon stick and cloves, then add the applesauce. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Pour mixture into blender and puree together until the apples form a frothy head.
  4. Serve warm immediately.

DISSECTION

Yes, the traditional recipe requires coring and baking six apples (at 250°F for about an hour) then pureeing them. Normally I’m all about the traditional methods and freshest ingredients. However, we’re talking about making applesauce, which you can so easily purchase. For once, I say use the store-bought jar of applesauce. Just get the kind with no sugar added and no funny extra ingredients.

POST-MORTEM

I love a good mulled wine, but I think a hot lambswool wassail may be the best thing to kill the chill of Twelfth Night.

Freaky Foodies: From the Vault/ Morbid Meals – Tribute to Motel Hell – Farmer Vincent’s Fritters

MorbidMeals2

EXAMINATION

Fritters are a great way to use up some of the leftover meats you have from previous meals, or from any stash you might have lying around. Farmer Vincent’s Fritters were very special indeed, as he used some of his famous smoked meats. Don’t bother asking what kind of meats they were, however. His slogan was “it takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s Fritters.” If you do ever venture down to try his fritters, I would recommend not staying at the nearby MOTEL HELLO. In fact, it is probably much safer all around to make these yourself.

fritters

ANALYSIS

Yield: 8 to 10 fritters

Ingredients

Filling
1 1/2 lb cooked and shredded meats of your choice
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper, to taste
4 strips of bacon
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped, or 1 tsp onion powder
2 garlic cloves, minced, or 1/4 tsp garlic powder

Batter
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup milk or water
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
salt and pepper, to taste

Oil for frying

Apparatus

  • Large mixing bowl
  • Medium mixing bowl
  • Frying pan or skillet

DISSECTION

There are basically two ways to make fritters. One is to mix the meat filling into the batter and fry them like griddlecakes. The other is to make patties or balls then dip them in batter and deep fry. I provide directions for both below.

Procedure

To prepare the filling
  1. In a large mixing bowl, toss together your cooked meats, paprika, cumin, and salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. In a skillet over medium heat, fry your bacon strips until they are crispy as you like them. Set the bacon strips aside to cool and dry on a paper towel-lined plate.
  3. In the rendered bacon fat, sauté the chopped onions and garlic. When the onions are translucent, pour the onions, garlic, and grease into the meat mixture. Crumble the bacon into bits and add to the meat mixture. Mix well to incorporate.
To make the batter
  1. In a medium mixing bowl, beat two large eggs, add the milk (or water), and then whisk in the flour, salt, and pepper. Whisk together until you have a batter with no lumps.
To make the fritter-cakes
  1. If you prefer the griddle cake method, then into your skillet, back over medium heat, add about 2 Tbsp of oil to provide a thick layer of oil to pan fry. Allow this to heat up.
  2. Pour in some of your batter into your meat mixture bowl and mix thoroughly. You may not need all of the batter. The mixture should bind well and maybe be a little loose.
  3. With a large spoon or ladle, measure out enough meat-batter mixture for two cakes. (You can do more if you have room in your skillet or make smaller cakes.) Fry the fritters until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.
  4. Set the cooked fritters aside to cool and dry on a paper towel-lined plate.
OR – To make the patties for deep-frying
  1. If you prefer the deep fry method, then into your skillet, over medium-high heat, add enough oil to provide at least an inch of oil to fry in. Allow this to heat up to about 325°F.
  2. Divide your meat mixture evenly into either into balls or patties. Some meats don’t form one or the other easily, so this will be a matter of experimentation. By using cooked meats, however, you don’t have to worry about under-cooked food if they are too thick.
  3. With a sturdy pair of tongs (or with your hands if you must), dip your meat into the batter and then gently place into the hot oil.
  4. Cook each fritter until golden brown on both sides, about 3 minutes per side.
  5. Set the cooked fritters aside to cool and dry on a paper towel-lined plate.

POST-MORTEM

I like fritters made both ways, and I know this is also a regional thing to prefer one method over the other. Personally, I prefer eating the deep fried patties but they tend to make a bigger mess in my kitchen. Your mileage may vary.

As for serving, the patties or fritter-cakes go well with mashed potatoes and gravy or make excellent sandwiches. The fritter balls are fantastic with honey mustard or sweet-and-sour sauce.

Freaky Foodies Month: From the Vault / Dark Divinations: Breaking Bread

DarkDivBanner

The Inspiration Behind “Breaking Bread.”

By R.L. Merrill

Breaking Bread begins in the home of Fidelia Meek, the Meek Mansion, which is less than two miles from my house. The house is an historic site and I drive past it every week. The home was built in 1869 after William Meek and his family relocated to what is now San Lorenzo in order to plant orchards. He and his partner, Henderson Lewelling, got their start in the fruit business up in Oregon and brought their know-how to California to start anew. The area is now part of the Bay Area suburban sprawl, but the Hayward Historical Society has gone to great lengths to preserve the home. It’s a glorious white building with many windows and turrets. I’ve been inside a handful of times and it always feels full to the brim of stories, almost as if you could run your fingers along the wall or the banister and absorb the history through your pores.

When I discovered the submission call for Dark Divinations, I fell into a rabbit hole of research on the house, the area, and what women of the time may have been interested in. I discovered the use of Alphitomancy—the use of bread to determine one’s innocence or guilt—and away the story went! I was even able to score a couple of tickets to a paranormal investigation of the home one night and though it was a thrill to attend with my pal Karysa and to hear stories about the people who lived there, nothing much out of the ordinary occurred. Still, we got to explore parts of the house that are usually closed to the public, and I loved every moment.

When the place you live in and love is full of history, it doesn’t take much to be inspired.

Merrill_RL-HeadshotOnce upon a time… A teacher, tattoo collector, mom, and rock ‘n’ roll kinda gal opened up a doc and started purging her demons. Twenty-five published works later, with more tucked away in her evil lair, R.L. Merrill strives to find that perfect balance between real-life and happily ever after. You can find her lurking on social media, being a mom-taxi to two brilliant kids, in the tattoo chair trying desperately to get that back piece finished, or headbanging at a rock show in the San Francisco Bay Area! Stay Tuned for more Rock ‘n’ Romance.

 

Freaky Foodies: From The Vault – Morbid Meals – Three Witches’ Stew

EXAMINATION

There are many superstitious actors who will tell you about various curses of the theatre. Like how they can’t wish each other good luck, but rather “break a leg”.

The most famous, however, may be to not say the name of The Scottish Play. This is brought most humorously to light on an episode of Blackadder The Third.

To honor the Three Witches, all items in this stew come in threes. We’ll be making this in our magic cauldron (called a pressure cooker).

ANALYSIS

Servings: 9 serving bowls

Ingredients

3 Tbsp of oil

Three meats
1.5 lbs bone-in mutton/lamb shank
1.5 lbs bone-in beef/veal shank
1.5 lbs gammon joint or ham hocks

Three seasonings
1 Tbsp kosher or sea salt
1 Tbsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp smoked paprika

Three aromatics
3 leeks (or 1 onion), chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced (or 1 Tbsp minced garlic, or 1 tsp garlic powder)
1/3 cup of all-purpose flour

Three herbs
3 bay leaves, fresh or dried
6 sprigs of oregano  (or 1/2 tsp of ground oregano)
9 sprigs of thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme, or 3/4 tsp of ground thyme)

Three brews for the stew
9 oz Scottish ale (like Kilt Lifter)
6 oz Oat stout
3 oz Triple Malt Scotch whisky

Three leafy greens
1 bunch of kale
2 scallions, chopped
3 ribs of celery, chopped

Three roots
3 wee neeps (turnips or small rutabagas, or 3 parsnips), chopped
6 carrots, chopped
9 young tatties (waxy or fingerling potatoes)

Three pints of water

Apparatus

  • Pressure cooker, 7-quart

Procedure

  1. Chop all of the veggies first and set aside in the groups listed above.
  2. Pour 3 Tbsp of oil with a high smoke point (like corn or peanut, or even ghee or  clarified butter; canola is the lowest smoke-point oil you should use) into the pressure cooker. Turn heat to high.
  3. Cut the lamb and beef into large chunks (save the bones) and season with salt, pepper, and paprika.
  4. When the oil begins to shimmer, brown the lamb and beef on all sides. Remove and set aside.
  5. Reduce heat to medium. Saute the leeks/onion and garlic for about 1 minute. Add the flour and stir to combine.
  6. Deglaze with the ale. Then add the stout and scotch.
  7. Place the bones into the cooker first, then add the meat back, and then the rest of the ingredients. Top with 3 pints of water, or as much as you need to just fill under the Max Fill line.
  8. Return the heat to high. Close and lock the lid. Cook on high until pressure valve whistles or rattles, then turn heat down to low and cook for about 33 minutes under pressure.
  9. Remove the bones, bay leaves, and herb sprigs. Meat should be tender and the veggies supple. Ladle into bowls and allow to cool before serving.

DISSECTION

We are using about 1.5 pounds of bone-in meat each because we want the bones for the stock. Once cooked, we’ll have about 3 pounds of meat.

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can use a large crock pot and cook on high for 333 minutes, or about 5 1/2 hours. It is much harder to make what is essentially the stock this way, however.

POST-MORTEM

Definitely serve with whisky or ale or stout. Can’t decide? How about a whisky barrel-aged ale?  Or a Half and a half?

Freaky Foodies : Morbid Meals – Canniburgers from the Vault

MM13EXAMINATION

Have you ever wondered? You know… What does human meat taste like? Putting these recipes together has encouraged me to ponder this question. You know it was going to come up. Well, thanks to Chef Jim Thomlinson of London Mess, we now have an interesting approximation.

Jim and his conspirator, Emma Thomas of Miss Cakehead, partnered with FOX UK to create a publicity event for Season Five of The Walking Dead. They did their research — all book learning, I’m sure — into what cannibals have documented through the years what they thought human flesh tasted like. Jim’s recipe used pork, veal, and beef bone marrow. Fans of the show came to a pop-up grill in East London called Terminus Tavern and were served these burgers with some bacon ketchup on the side.

As I live nowhere near London, I decided I would attempt to make the burgers myself and share the fun. They seemed appropriate for the Death card and this episode’s discussion of zombies.

ANALYSIS

Makes 8 burger patties

Ingredients

1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground veal
1 lb beef marrow bones (or 1/4 lb bacon, minced)
salt and pepper, to taste

Apparatus

  • Large bowl
  • Meat grinder (optional)
  • Frying pan or skillet

Procedure

  1. If you have beef marrow bones, we want to use just the marrow in the bones. It is very easy to push the fatty marrow out through the bones.
  2. Mash the marrow to break it up. Set aside. Freeze the bones for later; they will be perfect for making beef stock/bone broth in the future.
  3. If you don’t have marrow bones, then bacon can be a nice substitute which adds its own familiar flavor. Chop the bacon and set it aside.
  4. If you have a meat grinder, grind up the pound of pork, then the beef marrow (or bacon), then the veal. Mix all of the ground meat together and run it all through the grinder again.
  5. If you do not have your own grinder, then buy ground pork and ground veal, and mix these together with the mashed bone marrow (or bacon) in a large bowl.
  6. Add salt and pepper and mix well to incorporate everything together.
  7. Divide the meat into about 8 patties.
  8. Drizzle a teaspoon of oil into your frying pan or skillet and heat on high until the oil shimmers, about 3 minutes.
  9. Cook the patties until golden brown on one side, about 5 minutes. Flip the patties and cook on the second side, another 5 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, ground meat needs to reach 160°F for safety.
  10. Serve immediately with your favorite fixins.

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DISSECTION

Right off the bat you are probably thinking, “Ewww… beef marrow?!” That’s assuming you got past “Ewww… human burgers?!” Bone marrow is actually quite delicious roasted and spread on toast. I’ve had it at The Salty Sow and it is divine. This is really little more than a rich fat that adds a velvety quality to the burgers. Ask your butcher if they can get you some. My local gourmet store sold some from Rumba Meats.

If you can’t find marrow bones or soup bones at your local grocer, or if you just can’t get past the “bone marrow” factor, I think some strips of bacon would suffice. Bacon is mostly fat and the smoke and saltiness would go well. Just don’t cook the bacon before using it. Chop or grind it right up raw with the rest of the meat.

POST-MORTEM

So… what does it taste like? I don’t have Hannibal Lecter’s palate, but I quite enjoyed them. They were nothing like beef burgers, of course. The pork and veal were a nice complement to each other. The marrow brought it all together in a nice solid patty. I would definitely make these again.

Pair this with a Zombie cocktail and you will have the perfect meal for your watch party for The Walking Dead or iZombie. Hell, I’ll probably serve them again when NBC’s Hannibal premieres June 4th, 2015.

December: Freaky Foodies Month

Congratulations and Salutations Horror Addicts!

As of today, you have arrived in December 2020!

Ahead of you lie 31 days of co-workers offering fudge, your Grandmother sending packages of cookies, and banks and dry cleaners placing containers of candy canes at the service desk!

The holidays of this month are so closely connected to food, that we at HorrorAddicts.net have decided to offer some relief in the form of foods of another nature. Foods more suited to the Horror seeking palate.

We hereby declare December 2020 to be Freaky Foodie’s Month. Please join us for some scary, spooky and gut-grabbing delicacies. Happy horrordays!

 

Latinx Month: Planet of the Dead by Steven Arellano Rose

Planet of the Dead

The moaning wind of the cemetery colony was already attempting to bury the landing pad that Buster Ross had lowered his ship on in the surrounding, desert sand. The funerary agent from Earth ran quickly toward the looming nearly-all-glass funerary building both to escape the storm as well as to meet the master of this literally dead planet. Both pad and building were surrounded by tombstones from nearly every region on Earth, many of the stones rolling with the dunes and sinking into the dark of the hollows. They were stone and metal crops, some of them being simple plaques or stump-size stones barely rising up out of the ground, others more fully risen. Yet a seed lay below each of those stone and metal crops, a seed known as the human corpse. The official name of the planet was Memoria. The Global Government on Earth wanted to be sure its name was as honourable sounding as possible to the ones buried there. Some people on Earth called the planet New Giza for its millions of tombs as well as for its desert geography. However, many people called the planet by a derivative of Ancient Egypt’s City of the Dead; many people called it the Planet of the Dead.

Immediately arriving at the front door, Ross was stopped by a cold electronic voice: “State your purpose for entering, please.”

Ross said, “I’m here to see a Mr. Juan Moreno.”

The electronic voice said, “Thank you. Now please state your purpose for your visit with Mr. Moreno.” While it spoke, Ross noticed that it generated from a speaker on a small, white box framed within the all-glass wall to the left of the door. A tiny bead of an “eye” glowed red in the upper center of the box.

Ross said, “To pick up some bodies and transport them back to Earth.”

The electronic guard said, “Thank you. Now give your name, please.” Ross did that, impatience beginning to well up from within. Then the automated guard told him to state who sent him. And the guard’s questions went on like this another five times. Then a red beam of light streamed out from the ruby eye and scanned him for weapons. When the red light disappeared a loud click sounded from the double front doors and they slid open. Ross entered when suddenly a 20-something girl walked up to him.

Her face was very pale due to the amount of makeup covering it, and she wore dark gray eye-shadow. Her eyelashes were long and black, and, likewise, her hair was also black and shiny. However, although her features were Hispanic, one could tell that her very straight hair was an unnatural color. She reminded him of people he had seen on the Net in encyclopedia illustrations and black-and-white video clips to articles on 19th-century society and ones on the 20th century’s horror movie industry. It was as if she had walked out of a scene from one of those weird, ancient films. She wore a long, black tailcoat with a tight black satin vest underneath and underneath that a snug, white 19th-century shirt. On her head she wore a black derby. The pants she wore were tight, shiny black stirrups that seemed to merge with the polished, black Victorian gentleman’s shoes she wore with the raised heels which made the shoes look more feminine. Her appearance was almost melodramatic.

“Mr. Ross?” she said, with a dead expression.

Ross smiled and stammered, “Tha-, that’s right. I’m here to see Mr. Moreno.” He did not expect to be greeted by such an odd character as this girl, if it could be called a greeting. Saying nothing else, the girl walked over to a somewhat crescent moon-shaped desk that appeared to be built into the marble floor since both were white. There she pressed a key and spoke into a microphone in which, like the key, was built into the desk. “Mr. Moreno, Mr. Ross has arrived.” As it was when she had spoken to Ross, her tone was expressionless. A man’s voice faintly sounded from an inconspicuous speaker on the desk saying he would be down shortly.

After that, the girl said nothing else. Instead, she keyed information into the desk’s terminal without looking up while Ross waited. Her movement and pose were so repetitious and monotonous, they seemed robotic.

“Mr. Ross?” echoed a man’s voice from above. Ross, startled flashed his head up toward the direction of the voice. At the top of the winding metal stairwell was a man who looked to be around Ross’s age, 60.

Ross answered, “Yes?”

“I’m Manuel Moreno.”

Ross introduced himself, although awkwardly. He was shocked at Mr. Moreno’s appearance more than he had been the girl’s. Moreno’s skin was a very pale brown, his gray hair disheveled. He wore a black, Victorian suit. So many youngsters are bad enough, but such an appearance is way out of the norm for a man of any age, thought Ross, proudly patting his short-cut, neatly parted hair.

When Moreno reached the bottom of the stairs, Ross walked up to him and the two men shook hands. Moreno said, “Delighted to have you here, Mr. Ross.” His smile was faint. Then gesturing to the stairway, he said, “Would you kindly walk this way, please?”

Ross walked up the stairs, hesitantly.

Moreno held the door open and gestured to Ross to enter. Victorian and neo-Gothic furnishings made the room appear more a study than an office. One of the few exceptions to the old-style atmosphere was the transparent wall behind the funerary manager’s desk that looked out onto the fields of gravestones.

After Moreno shut the door, he offered Ross a seat in front of the desk lined with armies of miniature skeletons and skulls. Many of these were idealized with the thick, black lines of features in the style of the Mexican Dias de los Muertos. Several others were more realistic appearing. More of these figurines appeared in various places on his bookshelf. Some of the life-size skulls looked so real they looked as if they had just recently been shoveled up from the graves outside. Panting, Ross more than gladly accepted Moreno’s offer. He was too used to taking elevators. However, Moreno had no reaction at all to the walk; he breathed as normally as if he had not even gone anywhere.

Moreno said, “May I offer you a drink, Mr. Ross?” Although he spoke with a tone of weariness, he sounded much more inviting than the receptionist downstairs.

After several pants, Ross, answered, “I would like that a lot, thank you.”

“What would you like?”

Ross said, “Whatever your favourite is, as long as it’s thirst-quenching.”

After sitting down at his desk, Moreno grabbed the receiver to his long necked 1920’s phone and ordered an employee to bring them a bottle of amontillado and two glasses. He said, “We have received news, Mr. Ross, that the descendants of some of our residents have contacted you.”

Ross paused. Then he said, “Residents?”

Moreno looked down, pausing and then said, “It is, you may say, a euphemism for the bodies that rest here.”

Ross stared with bewilderment at Moreno for several seconds before saying, “But they’re already called units, Mr. Moreno, why would they need to be called anything else?”

Moreno looked away from Ross, tightening his lips. Then he smiled, saying, “We like to refer to them as if they were still living since we get so lonesome here on Memoria. It is only myself, and my two attendants—Luther and Felicia–who notified me of your arrival. Both serve as my secretaries, pallbearers, caretakers and morticians. Aside from the three of us, it is only a few gardeners, computer technicians, and, although for an impermanent span of time, some construction workers who are working on my new house. That is not very many people for a planet that is twice as large as Earth.”

“Mr. Moreno, did I hear you correctly?” Ross asked, bewildered. “Did you just call your attendants pallbearers, caretakers, morticians?”

Moreno froze a stare towards Ross for several seconds before saying, “Forgive me. Those are words that have been out of use for hundreds of years. We use a very unique manner of speech in the funeral business here on Memoria, Mr. Ross. It consists of words that you will no longer find except in ancient, or near-ancient at the least, literature,” he gestured a hand to the ceiling-high bookcase to his left. The case held copies of titles that had been out of print for hundreds of years. Although the titles were still talked about, they were only done so for reasons of historical reference. Nobody read bound books such as the ones on Moreno’s shelves for leisure anymore, books from the gothic and horror forms of storytelling.

Eyeing the books, Ross said, “Mr. Moreno, those are amazing. But isn’t it much easier, space efficient and safer for the value of these hardbound books to read . . .” his look of confusion turned to one of coldness as he studied the titles on the spines, “those, on computer? I mean it seems like such a waste of money when you can read literature for free on the Network.” The titles indicated dark, threatening things: titles such as Poe’s Tales of Terror, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lovecraft’s The Dunwhich Horror and Other Tales, among many, many others of their kind.

Moreno said, “Mr. Ross, the Network does not have these books. It only makes available the books that society desires. If a story from centuries ago is not felt to relate to our times, then the Network ‘makes’ it relate to our times by rewriting it. And so we are not reading these authors’ stories,” he gestured toward the bookcase again, “but those of society at large. In addition to that, reading is more than just comprehending the words on the page; it is the holding of the piece in your hand and touching the beautiful pages cut from a dark woodland that is an enormous part of the reading experience.”

“Well I don’t know about that,” said Ross, “but what’s the point in reading a story if it doesn’t relate to the problems that we have to deal with today?”

Moreno countered, “Mr. Ross, the stories of several centuries ago do relate to the problems of the present. We encounter the same basic problems today as our ancestors of several centuries ago did. Though our robbers and murderers that we fear so much no longer commit their crimes on dark streets nor in dark estates, though they now commit them on the Network, or in the average size or smaller home, the same basic cause and effect of crime still lurks in our universe—the cause being the motivations of crime, the effect being the fear that crime brings forth. Those two things do not change. Motivation and fear: both of these stem from the human condition. And we can only understand those problems by examining the past and relating the ones of the present to those that occurred in other forms centuries ago.”

Ross said, “Mr. Moreno, the crimes are the problems, not the motivations, not the fears of the crime, but the crimes themselves.”

“My apologies, Mr. Ross,” interrupted Moreno, “but I think I should make ourselves aware that we should discuss the corpses that you came for; we are very busy here on Memoria.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, we’re going off-topic. I have to be back to Earth by tomorrow, myself.” Ross snapped open his briefcase and pulled out several papers documenting the evidence of the corpses’ living descendants. He began explaining them when he was interrupted by a pounding at the door.

Moreno shouted, “Bring it in.”

The door swung open revealing a young man who appeared to be in his early 20s. He almost looked like he could be a twin brother to the girl, Felicia; his way of dress and bodily features were very similar to hers except the shoes did not have the heightened heals and the hair was much shorter.

Moreno said, “Oh, Luther, I thought you were Felicia with the amontillado.” Then he said sharply, “What do you need?”

Luther said indifferently, “They found another fresh corpse.”

Moreno shouted with a shocked look, “Good Lord,” and jumped up from his chair. He asked earnestly, “In another grave? Another open one?”

Luther nodded, his powdered face without expression.

Moreno hung his head and complained to himself, “Why, damn it all, did they have to do this so early?” Then he turned back to the young man, saying, “Whose body was it this time, Luther?”

“One of the construction workers.”

Moreno asked, “Would the other workers happen to know what he had been doing out there?”

Luther said, “They do not know.”

Moreno turned to Ross. “This has been the third person on the planet who has turned up dead and in a grave. First two of my technicians and now a construction worker. At first we thought the murders were being committed by somebody hiding out in the graveyard areas. . .” He inhaled deeply and then exhaled, “Until now.”

“What do you mean?” asked Ross.

“The construction workers never go out to the graves,” said Moreno, grimly. Then he turned to Luther. “Was there any sign of the method of the murder? Were there hand marks on his throat like the two previous men?”

Luther said, “We do not know; we have not pulled him out yet.”

Moreno said, “Well, then we shall pull him out now.” Then he turned to Ross. “I apologise dearly for you having to experience this matter, Mr. Ross.”

Keeping in mind Moreno’s unusual archaic style of speech and outdated clothes, Ross said,

“This is no game now?”

Moreno said, sounding slightly annoyed, “This is no game; men have actually been turning up murdered here, Mr. Ross.”

Ross corrected, “You mean there have been homicides on Memoria?”

Moreno paused staring at Ross before saying, irritably, “Yes. And the terrible thing is–or maybe the good thing, depending on how you view the matter–the murderer is among us. He can only be among us. We can catch him. As I have already said, Mr. Ross, there are only a few of us on this planet; the killer can only be one of us.”

Ross asked, “Have you called the police?”

“I am the police on Memoria,” Moreno said. “I have gone through the police training, and I am authorized to make an arrest of the suspect if we ever find him or her. This is why the Global Government has not assigned any police or even mere security guards here on Memoria. As we all know, Earth has been in economic crisis since the interplanetary colonial wars. The only security we have here, aside from myself, is Sphinx, our automated guard at the front door who asked you to identify yourself.”

Ross said, “Yes, and she did a really good job of it. She played 20 Questions with me 20 hundred times, which included ‘state your reason for moving the bodies, please.’” He said this with a slightly nasal sound to imitate the guard’s electronic voice. “Come on, why does security need to know that? What other reasons would people like myself have to come to a planet of dead people we don’t even know?”

“Forgive me, Mr. Ross, but I recently programmed her to ask those questions to anybody who comes to the gate from outside due to the incidents I had just indicated: two men have been murdered; now, as we have just been told, there is a third. We thought the murderer may have incoming connections from Earth. Like our mother planet, we must use caution when visitors come to Memoria.”

The Earth funerary agent said, sarcastically, “So like on Earth, everyone’s suspect when a crime is committed here?”

Moreno said with a faint smile of delight, “Suspect! You’re learning the language of Memoria, after all, Mr. Ross! If not that, then perhaps Earth has not lost all honesty in her languages.” As he finished speaking, he caressed a set of Sherlock Holmes novels on one of the shelves. Then he slid open a drawer from his desk and keyed in a call for Earth on his satellite phone within it and reported the murder for the Funerary Department to put on file.

As Moreno, his two attendants, Ross, and the construction crew foreman approached the burial site, the Earth funerary agent and foreman were the only two who were breathing heavily with exhaustion. Ross said, “I think it would’ve been better to have taken the buggy, Mr. Moreno. You people must keep in great shape; I’m ready to die.” He looked around at the tombstones. Then he said, “But if I do, please don’t bury me here; I have known family still living on Earth, thank you.”

Moreno suggested, “You people need to stop depending on so much mechanical transportation; Earth’s become too dependent on it.”

The body lay in the open coffin at the bottom of the freshly dug grave. The corpse seemed to be frozen in terror, eyes wide and mouth gaped open. It looked as though it had seen something too horrible to exist. It made Ross’s stomach sick to the point where he had to swing his head away from it.

Moreno asked the construction foreman, “Mr. Henriksen, do you or any of your men have any notion of how long he had been away from the worksite before you discovered him here?”

The foreman said, “The last time any of us had seen him was just a little before dawn this morning. He was eating breakfast with all of us. Then went out for his morning smoke as usual. After that we never saw him again.” He took a deep, quivering swallow of breath and exhaled, “Until now.”

Moreno further inquired, “He does not often come all the way out here to have his morning smoke?”

Henriksen said, “Not that any of us know of. He often just stands right outside the dining caravan.”

Moreno asked, “And none of you saw him out there when you parted for work?”

The foreman shook his head.

Moreno thanked and dismissed him and then turned to his two caretakers, Luther and Felicia, saying, “Apparently, this murder occurred just outside the dining caravan, and whoever did the killing did so silently and quickly. Take the pulley, raise him up and have it transport him to the morgue. We will perform an autopsy on him later.” Then he turned to Ross saying, “I do not know what the cause of such trouble on Memoria is. Suddenly within the past two weeks, there have been murders. And each victim’s body has been used to replace a resident taken from his grave.”

Ross said, “Mr. Moreno, you keep saying ‘murder’ rather than ‘homicide’. ‘Murder’ has not been in use for centuries. Why do you use this outdated jargon?”

Moreno stared hard at Mr. Ross for several seconds before saying, “As I have already said, Mr. Ross, we get very lonely up here on Memoria. We like to use language that makes our lives and work exciting.”

“You act like incidents such as this are games of some sort,” Ross said, gesturing to the open grave where the bone-white mechanical hand of the pulley was beginning to raise the corpse. “Someone has just been killed and you turn it into entertainment!”

Moreno said, “Mr. Ross, when I said we like to use language that makes our lives and work more exciting, I was not referring to entertainment; I was referring to the living of life itself. Very few people have actually lived life itself for the past several hundred years, Mr. Ross. Too many people have lived their material wealth instead, their automation-made possessions–their cars, their computers, their virtual vacations, their virtual gyms; nobody lives life in its natural form anymore!”

“What does speaking in all these outdated terms have to do with natural life?” asked Ross.

Moreno said, “These terms, Mr. Ross, indicate that natural life can easily be ended by Death at any time, and so it indicates the value of life. When people are always speaking the practical and technical language of today they are only reminded of what is meant to keep preventing death, making them forget the true value of life whose very frailty gives it that value. And that is why I am not a man of the present world and culture, Mr. Ross, and neither are my caretakers. We live in the days when lighting at night did not come as easily as it does in the present day, and only candles and oil lamps provided one’s source of light after the sun had descended to the other side of the earth. Is not fire all we need?”

“You said it again: ‘caretakers’. That gives a very negative connotation to a monument ground to most people now days.”

Suddenly, Luther called out from the edge of the hollowed grave, “Mr. Moreno, hand marks on the neck like the other ones.”

Moreno hung his head in disappointment and disbelief for several seconds. Finally, he lifted it again and commanded to Luther, “Take him to the morgue.”

Ross exclaimed to Moreno, “How the hell can that be? No one from the caravan heard any commotion.”

Moreno hesitated before he said, “Whoever killed him must have had the strength to kill him before he could scream out. Therefore, Mr. Ross, the murderer was not human.”

Ross said, “I thought there was no native life on the planet.”

Ignoring this, Moreno said, “Returning to your argument against politically ‘incorrect’ speech, Mr. Ross, I must make it known to you that I have my own ideas and beliefs of what a graveyard should be like. And as I have just said, I am not a man of the present. That is why I took the position of undertaker here on Memoria, or, if you prefer, since you don’t speak our language, monument ground manager.”

“This, this is, a little unusual,” Ross said. “I, I have to say, very unusual. Such language hasn’t been used for centuries. . . it’s so antiquated . . .“

”Yes, it is, because, you see, ever since Earth forbade its people to speak that dialect, people like ourselves here on Memoria who still speak it have been treated like old people who have no significance to Earth’s societies. Therefore we are antiquated and so are of no use to Earth’s advanced technocratic societies and neither is our dialect.

“Earth’s societies felt that our poetic manner of speaking gave a sense of discomfort and tension for the loved ones of the . . . dead, as we, whether you people like it or not, refer to them here. If we were not treated like old fashioned outcasts, then we were treated like young trouble-making punks. I, of course, am not of youth anymore but I have a youthful state of mind, the very same state that my two gothic caretakers have, and they are of youth.

The ultra liberals hated us for wanting to leave unknown corpses on Earth because they felt it took away space for the living, especially the living who were very poor and who needed housing that they could afford and facilities that could give charity to them. The conservatives hated us not only for wanting to leave the bodies of unknown people in earth that capital-oriented developers wanted to build over, but also merely for the way we dressed.

“Both conservatives and liberals saw the dead who preceded them as non-existent merely because their bodies had no documented identification. And so as with the people buried here on this remote desert planet, we do not exist to Earth either; we are just as dead as the buried residents are.”

The whole time Moreno had been speaking, Ross’s face was paling and his eyes were wide. Moreno snapped, “Now I know most definitely that you are one of them, Mr. Ross, one of the Earthlings who side with the material/technological masses who are so centered on self-gain that they will not consider the bodies of the ancestors who have gone before them.” Then he smiled and asked, “Do you realize how pale you are? You look like I have just told you that . . . I killed . . . somebody.” Moreno’s mocking expression turned to a stunned and angry one. “So simply because I speak, a ‘foreign’ language, Mr. Ross, you think I killed those people? That is exactly the reason why people like myself and my attendants came to this planet, Mr. Ross, because everybody on globalized Earth who lives a little bit of a different lifestyle is under suspicion when something goes wrong. Well now that you suspect me, Mr. Ross, and are going to report me, may I give you a little tour of that house I’m having built? I am certain you already think I am mad.”

Ross said, “Yes I’m aware that you’re mad, and so am I, because you’re taking this homicide very lightly when you’re all so willing to show me your new house. Just what do you need that new house for anyway? You have a free one from the Global Government.”

Moreno reemphasized, “Once again, Mr. Ross, I am not like the rest of the people of society. I desire an older style of architecture. And there is very little we can do about today’s murder; the representatives from the victim’s funerary service on Earth will not be here for a couple of days. The autopsy can wait, so that gives me plenty of time to show you the new house.”

Ross said, mockingly and with accusation, “But you said one of you here on this world has got to be behind these homicides. If you don’t find out who that is now who will be next?”

“Mr. Ross, my attendants who have worked for me for a sufficient period of time and, therefore, whom I trust, will keep an eye out on the area. If anything looks or sounds suspicious they will notify me immediately.”

“Do you have a communicator?”

“Of course. All of the Government’s facilities are required to have one of those damn things.”

Ross said, “No, do you have a portable communicator with you?”

Moreno said, with sudden comprehension, “Oh. A portable communicator is a device too much of the present, Mr. Ross. No, I do not have one.”

Ross snapped, “Because you’re not a man of the present, right, Mr. Moreno? Because if you were, then you would care about keeping up with today’s technology for emergencies like this!”

Raising his voice authoritatively, Moreno said, “Mr. Ross, devices such as your portable communicators, and much of the other damned technology that has grown along with them, including condensed Network versions of our classic literature, is the cause of murders such as the one that has occurred this day. Because of this technology, no living soul cares about life anymore, Mr. Ross, because there is no life. There is only the soulless machine. And because of that there is no mystery. If there is no life, there is no mystery!”

Ross shouted, pointing toward himself, “We are life, Mr. Moreno. And so it’s our duty to take care of ourselves and preserve ourselves as a people, but we can’t do that if we let a killer run around loose! Maybe you’re too secular to understand that! Maybe you take too much advantage of the world’s freedom of belief; maybe you’re just too damn atheist to care about the life of humanity!”

Moreno said, “Mr. Ross, that is exactly the point of my argument: because there is no life, as in natural life, not electronic or biotechnological imitations of it, there is no longer any concept of or belief in the supernatural and, therefore, the mysterious. There is not even any belief in the soul and therefore the consciousness of the other person. Therefore do not dare to blame me and call me an uncaring atheist for not owning an evil device such as these damned portable communicators that basically cause people to avoid natural life, life the concrete experience of our flesh and blood existence, the experience of life as being with people, conversing with them in present time and space rather than just sending apathetic, abstract information to people by way of a cold, unfeeling machine!”

“Mr. Moreno, technology was advanced to solve the world’s problems such as crime like the one that happened this morning. It is a sin against humanity to not keep up with technological advancements all because you’re only concerned about your own aesthetic interest! Or should I say atheistic interest?”

Moreno took a deep quivering breath. Then, gritting his teeth, he said, “Mr. Ross, I am not an atheist and technology has saved none of my family! Death has saved my family, Mr. Ross, Death! He called them through the disease that was inherent in all of my family and they went forth!”

Moreno hung his head, lifted it back up and then said, “Mr. Ross, can I show you the house that I’m building?”

“Please,” said Ross, disbelievingly.

“Follow me.”

As the two men started walking back toward the facility, Ross asked, “By the way, Mr. Moreno, if you’re not an atheist, what religion do you practice?”

The funerary director stopped. He paused staring hard at Ross. Then he said, sarcastically, “I thought religion had no place in government, in our employments, Mr. Ross. Should it be of any concern to you what my religious beliefs are? Now, if you still want to see my house, then I shall show it to you, if not, then we shall retrieve the bodies you came for.”

Ross said with suspicion, “I would like to see the house, Mr. Moreno.”

They crossed the symmetrical-style front yard with the perfectly trimmed lawn and trees in order to get to the back of the government-made funerary building where a small, narrow gate stood. The shadowy structure could be seen looming in the distance before Moreno opened the tan, smoothly painted, wrought iron gate. As the gate swung open absent of any creaks, the shadowy structure was revealed to be a partially built medieval castle. The portions of walls that had already been built over the skeleton consisted of all storm gray stones chaotically cemented together. There was a tower in the front part of the castle. The whole structure looked like some half decaying brontosaurus or giant serpent lying on top of a high Egyptian sand dune, looking as though it were raising its long neck from a fossilized hibernation. A hibernation that any sane person would pray that it would never wake up from.

Ross gasped, “What is this?”

Moreno said, “It’s my house, my house!” He said this with a wide smile, a smile that was like the sudden burst of the sun coming out of the clouds on a dark grey day. It did not match his overall morbid character. Then the sun sunk back into the clouds when he continued in a bitter tone, “Not the Government’s.”

Ross said, “No one builds houses like these anymore.”

“I am very well aware of that; that is the precise reason why I am having this one built.”

Ross criticized, “I have never seen anything like this. Not in real life. The only places I’ve ever saw such horrible architecture is on the Network at certain sites. Honestly, Mr. Moreno, this is very disrespectful to the people who are buried here. It gives a monument ground a very negative connotation.”

Moreno said, “That is the problem with society, Mr. Ross. Man has always been afraid of death; he has always seen it as an arch-enemy of humanity; he has always seen it as the ultimate menace as though it should never have existed. And so throughout history, he has identified it through the dark, deteriorating haunted castle in our literature and films. But ironically, Mr. Ross, it is a part of life. Without death, there can be no life.

“People always try to put off that which is infinitely greater than themselves: they get surgery done on their body parts to prevent themselves from aging (there are no more wise old men or wise old women; in fact, people move as far away as possible from their own parents and grandparents because their parents and grandparents represent the death that they fear since the elderly are so near it); they put chemicals on their scalps to prevent balding or they surgically have them replaced with the scalps of the dead who did not have enough respect for their own bodies and so in their wills gave their parts away to strangers; they put manufactured remedies in their hair to ward off graying; they go as far as having machine organs put into them to avoid their natural deaths! They try to cheat Death, as the old saying goes. But, Mr. Ross, history all the way up to this point has proven that you cannot thwart Death’s plans! But scientists are constantly trying to thwart them. They are now going to the extreme of trying to locate the microscopic organ that stops the overall process of the body’s functioning, that which ‘brings’ about death, so they can remove even it.”

Ross said, “Mr. Moreno, all religions, or nearly all at least, believe in the preservation of life. And that is why most religions try to prevent death.”

“Mr. Ross, Death is Life!”

Ross remembered a biblical saying similar to Moreno’s last statement. It suddenly dawned on him what religion Moreno practiced. However, he asked to make sure, “Mr. Moreno, you having a Spanish surname, I would like to say are Catholic. But I have a big feeling you’re not.”

Moreno said mockingly, but cheerfully, “May I remind you, Mr. Ross, Earth is a politically correct world, and it is politically incorrect to stereotype certain cultures.”

Ross verified, “So you’re not Catholic?”

Moreno shook his head with a proud grin like a child who thinks he’s out-smarted an adult, and then said, “My religion, if you must know–” then his grin turned to one of a solemn expression, “and if you tell the Government and they get suspicious like yourself, then I am willing to die for my religion–my religion is a break-off of my ancestral Catholicism, Mr. Ross.”

Ross guessed, although he knew he was wrong, “You or your family were converts to Protestantism.”

The proud childish grin grew back. “No, it is much newer than any Protestant sect, although there have been similar religions in the most ancient of times.”

“You don’t even worship God,” Ross said.

“Not that god, Mr. Ross. You people were wrong about God nearly all of history.”

“You worship . . . Death,” he said, as much as he dreaded to, with a cold gasp, eyes wide, face pale like the one of the corpse that the bone white pulley had rolled away with. Then he choked out, “Only a worshiper of Death could commit such a homicide as the one committed today.”

Moreno said, “You dare accuse me of a crime solely based on my religion, Mr. Ross? That is complete bigotry and religious intolerance. The function of the World Constitution is to protect us from that. Let me reveal to you, Mr. Ross, that we, the worshipers of Death, believe that He must take his own course. We touch nobody and nothing. We do not make machines that bring on death as people on Earth make machines that prevent it. We do not make machines for capital punishment. As Catholics say that their god is the only one who can punish by death, so do we say the same about our God. We do not even make or give support to euthanasiac devices; one must accept the form of death that our God brings; His will is His will.”

At this, Ross gasped, “You would let ill people suffer, you cold blooded bastard!”

“We are not of cold blood in our beliefs, Mr. Ross, because we prevent acts such as euthanasia in order to save poor suicidal souls from even a worse suffering, the suffering of eternal hell. Therefore we do not stop Death in His course, nor do we influence Him to speed up his course. We leave be the will of Death, Mr. Ross. That is our doctrine.”

Ross interrogated, “Who’s ‘our,’ Mr. Moreno? You and who else? Where’s the rest of your congregation? Just you three? Those two overly pale face, juvenile, gothic punks that work for you?”  

Moreno’s face flamed red as he commanded, “Enough!” Then in a more calm yet firm voice, he continued, “I am through with your insults on our planet.”

“The Government’s planet, Mr. Moreno! You don’t rule this planet, the Global Government does, and the people who support it.”

Moreno said, “And we the people who live here do support it, Mr. Ross, and since we live here you are insulting our home planet merely because of our ways.”

“Yes, that’s right! I am insulting your ways, Mr. Moreno! You people take the time to glorify  your ‘god’, Death, but take no compassion on the ones your god ‘takes’ from the universe; in fact, you show even less compassion to the ones who are still alive, the ones who need euthanasia, for instance.”

“Much in the same way you take no compassion for the ones you send here to get buried because nobody on Earth cares about them; you relocate them, exile them to be precise–but you dare not use that term because you’re ‘not inhumane people’–you exile them off of their own planet like the 19th century Americans did with the Native Americans with their land and like the 20th and 21st century Americans did with my Mexican ancestors in their southwestern United States homeland. You do that because the living don’t remember the names of the dead or how they relate to the dead, and so you tear out their graveyards, their neighborhoods, and transport them over here like garbage, Mr. Ross, like garbage to be dumped in a remote Gehenna!”

“We transport them here because the majority voted for that kind of method to make room for the living.”

Moreno said, “That is all you people are concerned with: that which is alive and present. The people of Earth have no concern for the past nor for the people who made it! Earth fears the past; Earth fears that if the past is remembered then it will be relived and so will stop material progress and keep the wrong people in power; Earth fears that the past will haunt society forever. But, Mr. Ross, Earth forgets too easily what gave us our ideas for the present–the past. If there is no past, there is no present and thereafter no future. Without the past, and so without our dead ancestors who made it, there is no meaning for any of us. We forget our past too much and everything and everybody that make it up. We forget the events that made our present day events, we forget our ancestors, we forget our ancestries, and so we forget ourselves to the point where we are just a people floating around in an infinite, black, eternal midnight universe! We, my two caretakers and I, may be a minority in our religion, Mr. Ross, but we know where our faith lies.”

“In death!” Ross barked.

Moreno raised his voice, “Yes, Mr. Ross, in our eternal, old friend Death! Our tour stops here. You will pick up your bodies now and leave. Remember, I hold authority over who comes and goes here, Mr. Ross. And I do not think you are the kind of person who should come here. Now get your bodies and be gone.”

“That’s true, Mr. Moreno, you do have authority over this planet, I’m sorry to admit. But I will be back with higher authority from Earth, Mr. Moreno, do you understand that? I will be back with higher authority to investigate this case!” He was yelling near to the point of losing his breath. “Because this is all a disgrace to turn a place of burial into one’s own aesthetic theme park. Building a haunted castle on a monument planet! You’re sick!”

The two attendants met Ross at the front gate, Luther saying to him, “The bodies are loaded.”

Ross thanked him without expression and headed back to the ship through the moaning wind.

Luther and Felicia met Moreno in his study. He asked, “Did you load all three of them?”

Luther said they had.

Moreno said, “The weapons too?”

Felicia answered in the affirmative.

Then Moreno said, “Good. It will be the only way that Earth will ever believe us. Earth, that foolish world with its beliefs merely in the so called here-and-now, merely in that which can be explained and rationalized, only that which can be shown in the light! Well, the people of Earth are going to find out that all cannot have light shed on it, not even on things that shed blood, and that we are not above God no matter how advanced in science and technology we are! There is still mystery in this universe–” As he spoke he was looking out the transparent wall behind his desk and then suddenly slumped down onto the floor with no resistance.

Luther checked the old man’s pulse. He looked up at Felicia saying, “Death has taken him.”  

Without expression, Felicia said, “Do we have time to embalm him?”

Luther looked out the transparent wall for several seconds and then said, “We will have to put him in deep freeze. We can’t lose any time. The three generals will be back on Earth soon expecting the squadrons and troops. . . .” He glared at the endless fields of gravestones as he continued, “Whom we have yet to awaken.”

Ross’s ship was already fleeing through midnight black space several miles out of Memoria’s atmosphere when he and his co-pilot heard the sounds from below. The sounds were like three coffin lids dropping.

The End

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

–Steven Arellano Rose

Historian of Horror: Hath Music Charms to Soothe the Savage Breast? Not Necessarily

 

I would encourage the populace, if possible, to at least take a look at the recent Netflix series, Ratched. It will help if you’re familiar with the 1975 film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the one that took home a slew of Oscars for that year, the one in which the television series’ title character was the villain, but that’s not essential. Ratched is a beautifully mounted, albeit severely flawed work, and worth seeing if only for the sumptuous set design. Indeed, every frame looks like a photograph from a 1947 issue of Architectural Digest or some similar slick magazine of its type. The costumes could be out of Vanity Fair, the automobiles from Road & Track. It is gorgeous in its every visual element and blessed with a slightly languid pace that allows the eye to gorge itself at leisure on all that gorgeosity.

While I have several issues with the writing (cardboard and occasionally inconsistent characters, cliched situations, predictable plot points), I cannot fault the technical prowess of those who designed the visuals, or, indeed, the audio. The incidental music is eerily reminiscent of Bernard Hermann’s score from the 1962 film, Cape Fear, as well as Elmer Bernstein’s score for the 1991 remake. One day, I will discuss both film versions of that story in this space, and the music from each, but today I want to talk about the title music from Ratched, for it touches upon one of my passions.

Yes, I am a Baby Boomer, a member of that much maligned, fairly or unfairly, generation that for all its flaws did indeed spawn the best popular music of the past century. And, yes, I grew up a fan of, among others, the Beatles, the band whose massive output of incredible music in the space of less than a decade was not only the ne plus ultra of its time but the sine qua non of all popular music since. But they and the rest of the 1960s artists were not my first musical love.

That would be classical music. Before the Fab Four showed up on the Ed Sullivan Show on that momentous night in February of 1964, I had already begun to sample my father’s record collection. The first piece of music I remember being enraptured by was Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges. I had no idea at the time what that title meant, for although I was able to operate a turntable at that early age, I had not yet learned to read beyond a very superficial level. In fact, I suspect that it was to decipher the tiny print on the back of all those record sleeves that I set about becoming literate so assiduously at such a tender age. 

I still love classical music. It occupies a significant portion of my listening time. I don’t know squat about music theory, but I know what I like. And in the years since I discovered the wonders on those ancient LPs, most of which are now in my possession, new discoveries of what I like have regularly occurred with delightful frequency. 

I think I must have been about thirteen or fourteen when I first encountered the work of Camille Saint-Saëns, or, rather, a portion of one of his works. A radio station in or near Nashville began to broadcast episodes of the Shadow radio show from the late 1930s, the ones starring Orson Welles. The theme music was eerie and compelling, drawing the listener into the outré adventures of He Who Had the Power to Cloud Men’s Minds. No one I knew could tell me what that strange tune was. Fortunately, this was in the early years of a new cultural phenomenon, nostalgia, and every trip to the bookstore revealed a new volume on some aspect of the cultural ephemera of past decades, including radio. I knew of radio solely as a delivery system for current music, but as my dad told me at the time, it was in his youth the primary source of free entertainment in the home – musical, comedic, dramatic. Frightening.

More on that later. I think it was in a paperback edition of Jim Harmon’s 1967 book, The Great Radio Heroes, that I learned the provenance of that snippet of strange music. It turned out to be the middle section of a symphonic poem by Saint-Saëns, Omphale’s Spinning Wheel. Once I knew that, I began to search for more music by this new composer I’d discovered.

Skip years, indeed, decades ahead, and I’d just settled myself into my favorite spot on the couch to watch the first episode of Ratched. At that moment, my wife of nearly forty years came in, and I surrendered that spot, because when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. It’s okay. The seat I gave up is slightly off-center to the TV mounted on the wall opposite, and the spot I almost always wind up in has a more straight-on view. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

For some reason, the subtitle function was turned on, which was fine. I watch a lot of films in languages I don’t understand, and I heartily despise dubbing. Nothing ruins the rhythm of a film than the dialogue being out of sync with the actors’ expressions and mouth movements. Give me subtitles, every time. So, I’m used to them, and made no particular effort to turn them off.

No issues with the first episode, although my lovely bride thought it moved a tad slowly. There was no title sequence that time out, the credits rolling at the end. And for just over five minutes, there was no such thing in the second episode.

And then, there was. I immediately recognized the music playing, although the first bit of it had been lopped off. It was Saint-Saëns’ 1874 tone poem Danse Macabre, a piece I play heavily around Halloween, for it is spooky and creepy and laden with dire forebodings.

And then, I noticed the subtitle that popped up as soon as the discordant violin screeched out its first few notes.[haunting classical music playing]

Say, what? Haunting classical music? Haunting classical music?!?!?!? Does no one at Netflix have access to a decent music library? This piece has a name, a title that has been well-known for one hundred and forty-six years. That’s as bad as people calling the tango Al Pacino danced with Gabrielle Anwar in Scent of a Woman ‘the tango from Scent of a Woman’, as if that’s its title. It’s not. It’s called Por Una Cabeza, and it’s by Carlos Gardel, a significant composer of Latin music in the first half of the 20th Century. It’s not quite as bad as pronouncing Porsche as a one-syllable name, but still, come on! Is it all that much trouble to identify a major piece of music by its actual name?

Ahem. Sorry ‘bout that.

Danse Macabre was based on a Late Medieval allegorical theme of death as the one truly universal reality, and its application in a variety of artistic expressions. Paintings, frescoes and woodcuts depicting souls of all financial stations and every societal stratum dancing their ways along to the grave accompanied by decomposing corpses and animated skeletons were all the rage in the waning decades of the Middle Ages, and into the Renaissance. 

I know most folks think of the term ‘classical music’ as encompassing all that stuff you had to sit through during school field trips to the local symphony hall, but for the cognoscenti, classical refers to the music of roughly the 18th Century, composed by folks like Mozart and Haydn in an organically structured and sometimes excessively ornamental style that reflected the artistic sensibilities of the concurrent Rococo period in art and architecture. During the preceding century, more-or-less, both art and architecture on one hand and music on the other were done in what was known as Baroque style, which was also overly ornamented but with a somewhat more constrained, almost geometrical structure. Kind of. That’s very much a Reader’s Digest Condensed version of things, but not, I hope, totally off the mark. 

The 19th Century in music was dominated by the Romantic period, and Saint-Saëns was very much a Romantic composer. That word does not mean, as applied to the music of its time, what you think it does, just as an opera comique is not necessarily funny. Romantic in relation to the music of composers from Schubert and Beethoven in the early 19th Century to Dvorak and Verdi near the end of the century, and even beyond with Rachmaninoff and Ravel, was intended to produce within the listener a sort of naturalistic evocation of emotions, so that the music inspired more than merely an aesthetic response. It is no accident that the Romantic period in music coincided in its later decades with Impressionism in painting. The intended reaction from the consumer was the same in both areas, an empathic connection with the artist through the medium.

And Danse Macabre did produce an emotional reaction from early critics, indeed. It was not received well at first, as it was considered to be a source of anxiety for those who heard it. As I stated before, I know little about music theory, but I have been given to understand that there are certain key signatures that lend themselves particularly well to certain types of music, and even the emotions those pieces are meant to convey. According to what I have read on the subject, G Minor is one of those keys that tends to invoke dread and angst, and Danse Macabre is in that key. I’m going to go ahead and assume my informant was correct, for it does put the nerves on edge. 

Listen to it throughout that title sequence in Ratched, when and if you’re able to watch it, and see if it doesn’t augment the show’s overall feeling of fearful expectation, even more so perhaps than the story warrants. Then, listen to it in its entirety. 

Then, please don’t tell me you felt nothing from that – no frisson, as it were. I hope you do. I might just worry about you if not, just a little. 

Also, rest assured I won’t leave you hanging regarding all the possibly unfamiliar references above. I will, one of these days, wax poetic on horror as it was used in old time radio programs and operas, comique and otherwise, as well as by other composers, artists, and even architects. I might even explain just what is meant by a ‘slick magazine’, translate the Latin phrases I love tossing around like confetti, and reveal from what major genre work I lifted the neologism ‘gorgeosity’. Stay tuned.

And, as always, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Guest Blog: What’s your Jam? by Michael Fassbender

What’s Your Jam? By Michael Fassbender

Recently, I was browsing on Stuart Conover’s site, The Horror Tree, and I saw an interview with a publisher who got his start with a Punk magazine. While he’s branched out to the realm of fiction, the punk sensibility has never left him. Indeed, “punk” is the second adjective in the list of qualities he’s looking for in prospective stories. For those who have been a part of that scene, the punk sensibility remains an enduring part of their character. 

It’s a sensibility that resonates with many writers, as attested by the gamut of subgenres from Splatterpunk to Steampunk. It’s not one that resonates with me, however. I identify with a competing scene, Heavy Metal, and have done since I was in high school. Superficially, there are certain similarities: music that is played loud and features distorted guitars, and wardrobes that boast a lot of black T-shirts, but there aren’t too many common threads beyond these. 

As art forms, Punk and Metal are created very differently. In Punk, the medium is secondary to the message, and Punk Rock songs tend to be fast, energetic, and haphazard. The band is reminding you that they don’t take anything seriously, including themselves and their music. Metal bands are quite different; they may take nothing else in the world seriously, but they are fiercely earnest in their dedication to their craft. They are perfectionists in their technique, and for those unfamiliar with the genre, surprisingly sophisticated in their composition. Much of the Metal scene has been converging with classical music at least since Randy Rhoads recorded “Blizzard of Ozz” with Ozzy Osbourne in the early eighties. Doubters are urged to listen to string quartet or piano arrangements of Metal songs, such as Apocalyptica’s first two albums.

Both genres relish horror imagery. It just manifests itself differently. Punk horror art takes on a pop culture veneer, almost an Andy Warhol approach. Metal horror art favors the look of medieval woodcuts, Hieronymous Bosch paintings and Grand Guignol-style performance stills. Contrast the imagery of The Misfits and Mercyful Fate, and you’ll see what I mean. Each of these bands exemplifies the horror aesthetics of its team.

We generally don’t hear about a Metal sensibility in horror fiction. We don’t have Occultmetal or Possessionmetal subgenres in the community, but upon examination of my own habits as a writer, I see common threads with the musicians I champion. I share their perfectionist tendencies in terms of technique. Typos and faulty grammar vex me, unless they’re meant to appear in the story as a function of characterization. I was mortified recently when I discovered a continuity error in a story that had reached the final proofing stage. For the most part, I like to think that my stories are in good editorial shape when I present them to editors. Whether or not they resonate with the editor is another matter entirely.

It’s not just about the technique, either. I do take myself and my art seriously. I’d rather give my readers the chills than make them laugh — or score points in an imaginary debate. In terms of horror styles, I have a marked preference for supernatural horror, although this encompasses a number of subcategories, such as Lovecraftian, occult and mythological themes. The same preoccupations reign among many Metal acts, from Scandinavian Black Metal through retro acts like Blood Ceremony and Brimstone Coven. And in execution, I prefer to write my stories in earnest, not with irony. One annoyance I’ve had with the Lovecraftian community is the prevalence of tongue-in-cheek content. Overtly jokey stories and poems only serve to lighten the mood.

Metal and Punk are not the only musical in-groups with substantial linkage to horror. Goth is a third, and it carries its own sensibility to the same literary well. Of the three groups, the Goths probably feel the greatest affection for classic tropes like vampires and ghosts. The differences with Metal are more in the realm of nuance: Metalheads are more likely to present monsters as menacing, and Goths more as misunderstood. Goths are more likely to bask in the melancholy side of the spectrum, and Metalheads incline more to the macabre side. Nor should these three musical genres feel that they control horror imagery in music; other bands have swum the same waters, either intermittently or chronically. Stephen King is famous for interjecting his classic rock obsessions into his fiction.

Herein lies the significance of the exercise. Readers in general, and writers in particular, are likely to discern common threads in the literature that drives them, the films that excite them, and the music that drives them. While the linkage between books and movies is obvious, given the number of stories that came to the screen after success on the page, the relevance of musical taste can be just as significant, at least if the musical interest is a strong one. Horror writers can learn a great deal about themselves and what drives them if they stop to consider their musical tastes and examine their parallels in the fiction they love and the stories they produce.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Michael Fassbender is a part-time writer in the Chicago area. His story “Inmate” appeared in Sanitarium Magazine in 2016; “The Cold Girl” appeared in Hypnos Magazine in 2016 and has resurfaced in October 2019 in a volume entitled Re-Haunts. “But Together We Are Strong” has appeared in the February 2020 issue of Horror Magazine, “Miroir de Vaugnac” found its place in Dark Divinations on May Day, and “Schattenlenker’s Hidden Treasure” was revealed in The Nightside Codex in August. This Halloween, “Old Growth” began spreading in Scary Stuff. You can read about more of his work on his website, michaeltfassbender.com.

Latinx Month : Dark Artist Tehani Farr

As part of our Latinx Month, we would like to introduce you to Dark Artist Tehani Farr. Tehani is a Mexican Illustrator, from a place called Xalapa Veracruz,  her style is Dark fantasy,  she works for metal bands, dark tales, books, festivals, games, etc 

Please enjoy some of her cover art. If you to see more, you can find her work on Instagram: @tehanifarr and also on her website www.tehanifarr.com

From the Vault for Latinx Month : Morbid Meals – Carne Adovada

MM15

To pay homage to the Tarot card theme of the Wicked Women Writers and Masters of Macabre challenges, all of the recipes featured for this season of Horror Addicts will be based on the Major Arcana Tarot cards. First up, a figure that shows up in more than one horror story, The Devil!

Carne Adovada

EXAMINATION

It’s been said that the Devil went down to Georgia, but I’m sure he did so when he was on vacation from his summer home of Phoenix, AZ. As a Phoenician myself, I know he lives here, because I’ve seen him enjoying a Carne Adovada burrito from one of our local hot spots, Los Dos Molinos.

When Bobby Flay came to Phoenix with his TV show FoodNation, he visited Los Dos Molinos and grabbed the recipe for this diabolical dish from Chef Victoria Chavez.

They say that the Devil is in the details, and for this recipe, it is certainly true. Note that both the chile powder and flakes are “New Mexico chile”, which I expect are probably from Hatch, New Mexico. As for a change from the original, we swapped out the fresh garlic that Victoria uses for smoked paprika, which I find adds a wonderful smoky flavor to the dish.

One word of warning, Chef Victoria does not cook anything “mild”. This is the real deal. The hottest bowl of red I’ve ever had.

ANALYSIS

Makes: 10 to 12 servings

Ingredients

6 to 8 pounds pork loin, cut into 2 to 3-inch cubes
2 cups pork (or chicken) broth
1/2 cup New Mexico chile powder
1/2 cup New Mexico chile flakes
2 Spanish onions, chopped
2 Tbsp oregano
2 Tbsp garlic salt
2 Tbsp cumin
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
2 Tbsp black pepper

Apparatus

  • Dutch oven

Procedure

  1. De-bone (if necessary) and cut up your pork loin into cubes about 2-3 inches in size. Set aside.
  2. Into your Dutch oven, add the rest of the ingredients and stir thoroughly to combine, then add in your cubed pork.
  3. Over medium-high heat, cook uncovered for 4 hours. The pork should be very tender, and just starting to pull apart.

P2210013DISSECTION

You can cook this in a pressure cooker for about an hour. Just be warned that the steam from the release is going to kick out a lot of pepper, so turn on a fan or open a window for the initial burst before you turn down the temp.

POST-MORTEM

At Los Dos Molinos, they serve the carne adovada in a burrito — just a flour tortilla saving you from the heat. At home, we like to top baked potatoes with this infernal chili, or add it to quesadillas. You can serve it any way you like. Sour cream is a welcome accompaniment.

For those who can’t take the heat, if you reduce each 1/2 cup of chile down to 2 Tbsp of each, you’ll get the flavor without the fire. But give the Devil his due and try this full force at least once, if you dare.

Submission Call: Haunts and Hellions, A Gothic Romance Anthology

Haunts & Hellions
a gothic romance anthology
edited by Emerian Rich

GOTHIC ROMANCES of old featured a female protagonist dealing with a terrifying ordeal while struggling to be with her true love. Set against dark backgrounds of medieval ruins or haunted castles, the love interest was either a brooding handsome gentleman or a supernatural monster disguised as a gentleman. Following the example of such works as Northanger Abbey, Phantom of the Opera, The Grey Woman, Dracula, The Woman in White, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Witch House and the like, we want your darkest, creepiest horror love story. 

Although we crave gothic romance style, don’t feel the need to paint a damsel in distress. The woman may certainly be the one who saves the day. We are also open to LBGTQ love stories. The main plot should be horror and romance. We don’t like stories written specifically with social or political agendas. Sensual or passionate stories are acceptable but we don’t want erotica or sexually-based stories. No rape. The editor likes horror. Be careful of sci-fi creatures or anything that sways sci-fi or fantasy.

Stories MUST contain: 

  1. An overwhelming sense of menace and dread. Horror must be just as much a part of the story as romance. 
  2. Inclement weather.  ie…fog, rain, snow, hurricane. 
  3. A supernatural horror being or entity. ie…ghost, monster, vampire, werewolf. Being can be the hero, anti-hero, or the being they are battling against. Just remember the editor likes horror. Be careful of sci-fi creatures or anything that sways sci-fi or fantasy.
  4. Set in a spooky location. ie…ghostly gatehouse, haunted lighthouse, dilapidated abbey, crumbling cathedral, terrifying tower, cursed castle, decaying plantation.
  5. Time period 1700-1940. We are looking for the classic gothic romance feeling in whatever time period you choose. Also, if writing a diverse character, please set to time period standards. Know your world, what the political/social rules were and if you break them, make sure it’s plausible. If it’s an alt-history world, make sure our readers understand how it became that way without writing an encyclopedia on the subject.  

Look below for examples of books & movies that have the feeling we are looking for.
No previously printed work and no simultaneous submissions.
We are doing blind submissions. Wow us with your story.
Enter up to two short stories only. Make sure they fit the theme

Manuscript Format:
*Font: 12 pt Courier, Times New Roman, or Garamond.
*Double spaced.
*Your manuscript must be in either DOC, DOCx, or RTF format.
*DO NOT place your name in the manuscript.**
*No header on the manuscript. JUST THE TITLE.

**Again, we are doing blind submissions. Make sure the manuscript is scrubbed of your name and personal info. This could be an automatic decline.**

TO SUBMIT YOUR STORY, CLICK HERE:
https://forms.gle/KKb39vo7Go9FFqGZ6

Deadline: October 31st, 2020, 11:59pm PST
Length: 2,000-5,000 words
Payment: $10.00 USD + digital contributor copy

Return time: Final decisions will not be made until AFTER the submission close date (10/31/20). You should expect an answer within three months of the submission close date. If you do not receive an email stating your manuscript was received within two weeks of submission, please send a polite query to:  ha.netpress@gmail.com

For any other questions, please send an email to: ha.netpress@gmail.com


FURTHER EXAMPLES OF THE GOTHIC ROMANCE FEEL WE ARE LOOKING FOR TO INSPIRE YOUR WRITING: 

Movies: The Hearse, Crimson Peak, Vampire Journals, Dragonwyck, Sleepy Hollow, The Woman in Black, Gingersnaps Back, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Byzantium, Suspiria, Corpse Bride, Mary Riley, Dark City, Kill, Baby…Kill

Books: Northanger Abbey, The Grey Woman, Dracula, The Woman in White, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Witch House, The Yellow Wallpaper

Music: Midnight Syndicate, Valentine Wolfe, Destini Beard, Goblin, Mazzy Star

Musicals: The Phantom of the Opera, Sweeny Todd, Love Never Dies, Corpse Bride

TV Series: Dracula (2013), Penny Dreadful, Dark Shadows (1991), Twin Peaks 

 

Merrill’s Musical Musings : Ro’s Recs October

Ro’s Recs October

Hey HorrorAddicts! I hope you all are staying safe and insane—I mean healthy—during these peculiar times, and I hope, like me, you are taking advantage of all the PHENOMENAL horror offerings this season! MAN! What a great time to be a horror fan! 

One of the best films I’ve watched recently is the Shudder film The Mortuary Collection, directed by Ryan Spindell and starring Clancy Brown. A nod to anthology films like Creepshow and Tales of the Crypt, The Mortuary Collection is at turns ominous, creepy, campy, and MAN does it ROCK! I found myself digging the music so much I whipped out the old iPhone and used Shazam! to try to find out who was responsible for these groovy tunes. Much to my chagrin, the tunes were nowhere to be found.

But thanks to my pal Google, I did a little more digging and I discovered the culprits: The Mondo Boys. This duo has been making music together since they were fifteen and are not only quite adept at creating hauntingly beautiful scores, but at writing “lyric-and-vocal” pieces as well.

For this film, they had the challenge of creating an Elfman-esque/Potter-ish score as well as tunes to go with different eras portrayed in the film. You had a Frat-boy-gone-bad tune in “Little Lover,” a funky throwback in “Suicide,” and the 60s reminiscent back-and-forth in “Find Me In The Fall” that suck you into the theme of that section of the film as though you’d switched on a radio station made of the exact ingredients necessary to evoke the desired emotion. You know it’s the perfect soundtrack when you’re pulling up iTunes or Spotify to download the songs. Ahem…Mondo Boys, if you’re reading, will you get right on that? In the meantime, you can stream the songs on their website.

So, the next time you’re watching a film and think “huh, I wonder who wrote that song? It’s perfect for this scene,” you just might discover that The Mondo Boys are responsible. You can find their website at https://www.mondoboys.com and I encourage you to check out their other projects. The Mortuary Collection is a great film. Check it out and I guarantee you that you’ll be smiling so wide your face will ache by the time it’s through!

That’s it for this month. Stay Tuned for more Merrill’s Musical Musings and Ro’s Recs…

Submission Call: Haunts and Hellions, A Gothic Romance Anthology – Last Week

Haunts & Hellions
a gothic romance anthology
edited by Emerian Rich

GOTHIC ROMANCES of old featured a female protagonist dealing with a terrifying ordeal while struggling to be with her true love. Set against dark backgrounds of medieval ruins or haunted castles, the love interest was either a brooding handsome gentleman or a supernatural monster disguised as a gentleman. Following the example of such works as Northanger Abbey, Phantom of the Opera, The Grey Woman, Dracula, The Woman in White, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Witch House and the like, we want your darkest, creepiest horror love story. 

Although we crave gothic romance style, don’t feel the need to paint a damsel in distress. The woman may certainly be the one who saves the day. We are also open to LBGTQ love stories. The main plot should be horror and romance. We don’t like stories written specifically with social or political agendas. Sensual or passionate stories are acceptable but we don’t want erotica or sexually-based stories. No rape. The editor likes horror. Be careful of sci-fi creatures or anything that sways sci-fi or fantasy.

Stories MUST contain: 

  1. An overwhelming sense of menace and dread. Horror must be just as much a part of the story as romance. 
  2. Inclement weather.  ie…fog, rain, snow, hurricane. 
  3. A supernatural horror being or entity. ie…ghost, monster, vampire, werewolf. Being can be the hero, anti-hero, or the being they are battling against. Just remember the editor likes horror. Be careful of sci-fi creatures or anything that sways sci-fi or fantasy.
  4. Set in a spooky location. ie…ghostly gatehouse, haunted lighthouse, dilapidated abbey, crumbling cathedral, terrifying tower, cursed castle, decaying plantation.
  5. Time period 1700-1940. We are looking for the classic gothic romance feeling in whatever time period you choose. Also, if writing a diverse character, please set to time period standards. Know your world, what the political/social rules were and if you break them, make sure it’s plausible. If it’s an alt-history world, make sure our readers understand how it became that way without writing an encyclopedia on the subject.  

Look below for examples of books & movies that have the feeling we are looking for.
No previously printed work and no simultaneous submissions.
We are doing blind submissions. Wow us with your story.
Enter up to two short stories only. Make sure they fit the theme

Manuscript Format:
*Font: 12 pt Courier, Times New Roman, or Garamond.
*Double spaced.
*Your manuscript must be in either DOC, DOCx, or RTF format.
*DO NOT place your name in the manuscript.**
*No header on the manuscript. JUST THE TITLE.

**Again, we are doing blind submissions. Make sure the manuscript is scrubbed of your name and personal info. This could be an automatic decline.**

TO SUBMIT YOUR STORY, CLICK HERE:
https://forms.gle/KKb39vo7Go9FFqGZ6

Deadline: October 31st, 2020, 11:59pm PST
Length: 2,000-5,000 words
Payment: $10.00 USD + digital contributor copy

Return time: Final decisions will not be made until AFTER the submission close date (10/31/20). You should expect an answer within three months of the submission close date. If you do not receive an email stating your manuscript was received within two weeks of submission, please send a polite query to:  ha.netpress@gmail.com

For any other questions, please send an email to: ha.netpress@gmail.com


FURTHER EXAMPLES OF THE GOTHIC ROMANCE FEEL WE ARE LOOKING FOR TO INSPIRE YOUR WRITING: 

Movies: The Hearse, Crimson Peak, Vampire Journals, Dragonwyck, Sleepy Hollow, The Woman in Black, Gingersnaps Back, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Byzantium, Suspiria, Corpse Bride, Mary Riley, Dark City, Kill, Baby…Kill

Books: Northanger Abbey, The Grey Woman, Dracula, The Woman in White, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Witch House, The Yellow Wallpaper

Music: Midnight Syndicate, Valentine Wolfe, Destini Beard, Goblin, Mazzy Star

Musicals: The Phantom of the Opera, Sweeny Todd, Love Never Dies, Corpse Bride

TV Series: Dracula (2013), Penny Dreadful, Dark Shadows (1991), Twin Peaks 

 

Slay: In Egypt’s Shadows by Vonnie Winslow Crist

In Egypt’s Shadows by Vonnie Winslow Crist

When I saw the submission call for SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire edited by Nicole Smith, my thoughts went instantly to Egypt! Since my teens, I’ve been a fan of Ancient Egypt. I’m sure I was initially attracted to the pyramids, glyphs, art, and desert locale—but later, the longevity of the Egyptian culture was inspiring as well. Myths and legends which last across thousands of years must speak to something at the core of our humanity.

So when writing about vampires, who can live millennia, what better place to set a story than Ancient Egypt? Thus, In Egypt’s Shadows was born.

Of course I wanted my vampire to be handsome, strong, and desirable, but vampirism is often too romanticized. When you think of the bonuses of living forever, you tend to forget the negative. You’ll see your friends and family die. You’ll have to keep moving and changing identities to prevent discovery. Unless you’re in love with another vampire, you’ll endure countless heartbreaks.

The countless heartbreaks part of vampirism also inspired me to write ‘In Egypt’s Shadows.’ I thought, “What if your true love is human, she refuses to change, and you just can’t forget her?” Now, that’s a story I wanted to tell.

My protagonist, Akhon longs for Kebi, his former human life’s love interest. He watches her, dreams of her, and imagines her children could be his. His vampire maker, Nawa, discovers him spying on Kebi again and again. Finally, Nawa convinces him he must leave and begin a new life farther up the Nile. Akhon only agrees with her terms, if she’ll send him a message when Kebi is near death so he can return to Giza.

Lest the reader forget exactly who and what Akhon is, I included him spotting, killing, and feeding on a meal. When done, he coldly disposes of the bloodless body while honoring a crocodile-headed deity:

“Here’s a gift for you, sons and daughters of Sobek,” he said. Whistling softly, he slipped the corpse into the lapping water. Akhon didn’t move as the crocodiles approached, studied him with their yellow eyes, then ripped the unlucky traveler’s carcass into bite-sized chunks and swallowed him.

Quiet as a tomb, Akhon stood on the banks of the Nile, admiring the crocodiles’ efficiency. He smiled as within a few minutes, the children of Sobek finished their meal and there was nothing left on the surface of the water at Akhon’s feet but moonlight.”

The mention of Sobek and his sacred creatures was a way of including Ancient Egyptian culture. I tried to include other small details as well, while not overwhelming the story with too much historical information. But I sure did have fun reading the research material—almost all of which is not in the story!

If you want to discover how Akhon resolves his dilemma, and if he is finally able to be with his true love, Kebi, you can check out In Egypt’s Shadows in the SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire anthology. The collection is filled with wonderfully horrific stories of vampires from the African diaspora.

Vonnie Winslow Crist, HWA, SFWA, is author of The Enchanted Dagger, Owl Light, The Greener Forest, Murder on Marawa Prime, and other award-winning books. Her stories appear in Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Cast of Wonders, Amazing Stories, Killing It Softly 2, Blood & Beetles, Horror for Hire: First Shift, Creep, Mother Ghost’s Grimm 1 & 2, Devolution Z, Monsters, Scary Snippets: Halloween, Re-Terrify, Samhain Secrets, Forest of Fear, Re-Haunt, Coffins & Dragons, and elsewhere. Still believing the world is filled with mystery, miracles, and magic, Vonnie strives to celebrate the power of myth in her writing. For more information: www.vonniewinslowcrist.com

Buy link for SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire: https://www.amazon.com/SLAY-Stories-Nicole-Givens-Kurtz-ebook/dp/B08FM3MC3L/ 

Slay : Inspiration for The Retiree by Steven Van Patten

Inspiration for ‘The Retiree’, a short story by Steven Van Patten to be featured in Slay: Tales of the Vampire Noir.

Most of my short horror stories start with an idea—sometimes inspired, other times flat out ridiculous– that refuses to stay contained. And if you have a parent who refuses to give up their right to share an opinion whether you asked for it or not, or if you are the child of such a person, this is one for you.

The trick is that while the story’s hero is grumpy and probably a little too honest for his own good, he’s also a hero in a few ways that his daughter and the rest of their family never expect. He’s a curmudgeon to the core, right out of an episode of Sanford & Son and yet he’s also self-sacrificing and probably the smartest guy in the room he walks into. That’s old Gideon Hastings for you, a man’s man, facing his end with the same grizzled defiance that he stared down a treacherous life.

Slay: Beautiful Monsters by Valjeanne Jeffers

 

When I first saw the call for submissions to Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire, I was intrigued. This was a call for stories about black vampires – definitely a rarely seen species. Honestly, I can only think of two famous vampires of color: “Blacula” and “Blade.” And I realized that aside from my novel Immortal: Stealer of Souls, I’d never written about vampires, and I’d never written about “traditional” vampires, the kind who drink blood, despite the fact that I love vampires. I decided to try my hand. I was over the moon when I found out Nicole Smith, the editor, had accepted my story for inclusion into this groundbreaking anthology. So, without further adieu, here’s an excerpt from my story, “Beautiful Monsters:”

In the city of Passion, Sanyu perched atop a branch on the edge of town. The slender vampire had skin the color of chocolate, sable-brown eyes, thick lips and braids that brushed her shoulders. She stared down at the barred windows of the Haberdashery Shoppe. She’d been waiting for an hour, and still there was no sign of them. 

The informant was wrong. And daylight is coming.

She heard them. Her preternatural ears picked up the sound of footsteps and, a breath later, a human scent. They came from two different directions and met in front of the Shoppe’s windows. A man who Sanyu recognized as Henry, one of the Sheriff’s police, entered the street on her right. His face was angular, and he had turquoise blue eyes and full lips; his hair fell in soft waves over his forehead. He was dressed in dark trousers and a suitcoat. A red S, outlined in gold, was emblazoned on his breast. The second one, Elise, entered on the left. She was plump and shapely with cropped blond hair and a heart-shaped face. She was dressed in a short skirt, boots, and a belted coat. She stared up at the man with adoring eyes. 

Fool. She’s actually fallen in love with him. 

Elise reached into her coat pocket, pulled out a scrap of folded paper, and handed it to him. “These are all their names.”

“Thank you, Elise,” Henry said. “Your loyalty will be rewarded.” 

Elise inched closer. “I didn’t do it for the money. I did it for you,” she whispered. “I’d do 

anything for you, Henry―anything.”  

Sanyu could hear them as clearly as if she was standing next to them. And she’d heard enough. Her eyes turned gold, the irises split by narrow black bands, and flew down from the branch to land between them. Her movement was only a blur in Elise’s vision. 

But Henry saw her. 

He was too late. Sanyu shoved the silver dagger into his abdomen and his buzzing screams split the silence. He reverted to his true form: an Adze― covered with hair, his head splitting into two antenna to reveal a hooded skull, a mouth with huge fangs and tiny black eyes— and fell writhing to the ground. Elise screamed and whirled about, fleeing down the narrow street.

With a low growl, Sanyu leapt into the sky and touched down in front of Elise to block her path. She stared into Elise’s green eyes, “Quiet!” she commanded in a velvet contralto. The woman fell silent, staring blankly at the vampire. 

Sanyu grabbed the back of Elise’s head and pulled her in a lethal embrace … Clamping her lips onto the woman’s neck, she broke through the soft flesh with her fangs, and drank …

I invite readers to sample this wonderful anthology, surely the first of its kind in the world of nightwalkers.

Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire is available for preorder on Amazon. 

–Valjeanne Jeffers

www.vjeffersandqveal.com

http://tehotep.wixsite.com/scierogenous

http://tehotep.wixsite.com/immortaliiiaudiobook

 

Submission Call: Haunts and Hellions, A Gothic Romance Anthology

Haunts & Hellions
a gothic romance anthology
edited by Emerian Rich

GOTHIC ROMANCES of old featured a female protagonist dealing with a terrifying ordeal while struggling to be with her true love. Set against dark backgrounds of medieval ruins or haunted castles, the love interest was either a brooding handsome gentleman or a supernatural monster disguised as a gentleman. Following the example of such works as Northanger Abbey, Phantom of the Opera, The Grey Woman, Dracula, The Woman in White, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Witch House and the like, we want your darkest, creepiest horror love story. 

Although we crave gothic romance style, don’t feel the need to paint a damsel in distress. The woman may certainly be the one who saves the day. We are also open to LBGTQ love stories. The main plot should be horror and romance. We don’t like stories written specifically with social or political agendas. Sensual or passionate stories are acceptable but we don’t want erotica or sexually-based stories. No rape. The editor likes horror. Be careful of sci-fi creatures or anything that sways sci-fi or fantasy.

Stories MUST contain: 

  1. An overwhelming sense of menace and dread. Horror must be just as much a part of the story as romance. 
  2. Inclement weather.  ie…fog, rain, snow, hurricane. 
  3. A supernatural horror being or entity. ie…ghost, monster, vampire, werewolf. Being can be the hero, anti-hero, or the being they are battling against. Just remember the editor likes horror. Be careful of sci-fi creatures or anything that sways sci-fi or fantasy.
  4. Set in a spooky location. ie…ghostly gatehouse, haunted lighthouse, dilapidated abbey, crumbling cathedral, terrifying tower, cursed castle, decaying plantation.
  5. Time period 1700-1940. We are looking for the classic gothic romance feeling in whatever time period you choose. Also, if writing a diverse character, please set to time period standards. Know your world, what the political/social rules were and if you break them, make sure it’s plausible. If it’s an alt-history world, make sure our readers understand how it became that way without writing an encyclopedia on the subject.  

Look below for examples of books & movies that have the feeling we are looking for.
No previously printed work and no simultaneous submissions.
We are doing blind submissions. Wow us with your story.
Enter up to two short stories only. Make sure they fit the theme

Manuscript Format:
*Font: 12 pt Courier, Times New Roman, or Garamond.
*Double spaced.
*Your manuscript must be in either DOC, DOCx, or RTF format.
*DO NOT place your name in the manuscript.**
*No header on the manuscript. JUST THE TITLE.

**Again, we are doing blind submissions. Make sure the manuscript is scrubbed of your name and personal info. This could be an automatic decline.**

TO SUBMIT YOUR STORY, CLICK HERE:
https://forms.gle/KKb39vo7Go9FFqGZ6

Deadline: October 31st, 2020, 11:59pm PST
Length: 2,000-5,000 words
Payment: $10.00 USD + digital contributor copy

Return time: Final decisions will not be made until AFTER the submission close date (10/31/20). You should expect an answer within three months of the submission close date. If you do not receive an email stating your manuscript was received within two weeks of submission, please send a polite query to:  ha.netpress@gmail.com

For any other questions, please send an email to: ha.netpress@gmail.com


FURTHER EXAMPLES OF THE GOTHIC ROMANCE FEEL WE ARE LOOKING FOR TO INSPIRE YOUR WRITING: 

Movies: The Hearse, Crimson Peak, Vampire Journals, Dragonwyck, Sleepy Hollow, The Woman in Black, Gingersnaps Back, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Byzantium, Suspiria, Corpse Bride, Mary Riley, Dark City, Kill, Baby…Kill

Books: Northanger Abbey, The Grey Woman, Dracula, The Woman in White, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Witch House, The Yellow Wallpaper

Music: Midnight Syndicate, Valentine Wolfe, Destini Beard, Goblin, Mazzy Star

Musicals: The Phantom of the Opera, Sweeny Todd, Love Never Dies, Corpse Bride

TV Series: Dracula (2013), Penny Dreadful, Dark Shadows (1991), Twin Peaks 

 

Slay: His Destroyer by Samantha Bryant

If something happens three times, it’s a trend, right? I’m hoping so because this is a trend I would like to see continue. It happens like this: I hear about an anthology call that excites me, I write a story specifically for it, and they accept the story! That’s what happened with Slay, and it’s happened to me two other times. 

Nicole Givens Kurtz, author, and publisher at Mocha Memoirs Press is a friend as well as a colleague, so you know I follow her all over social media like her own personal fangirl. She’s always doing something exciting in the book world. Something new, innovative, different. When I saw the submission call for Slay, I really wanted to be a part of it. I’ve never seen an anthology like it and the only thing better than reading it would be to have my work included. 

But I’d never written a vampire story, though I’ve read quite a few and watched lots of media including them. I set the idea on the back burner and let it percolate there for a bit, stewing in my subconscious. One night, I had the thought that became the story: Who was His Destroyer anyway? 

One of the most personally disturbing religious stories I can remember from my childhood was the Ten Plagues of Egypt, specifically the tenth one. The one where all the firstborn sons of the land were slain to punish the stubborn Pharaoh. When my grandmother first told me the story, I’m sure she intended for me to feel grateful that our people survived, but instead I walked away frightened by a deity that would kill children who had done no wrong for the wrongs committed by the adults.

In this story, as I know it, there’s not much detail about how exactly the children were killed. Just that “His Destroyer” was sent to perform the deed. 

So, that was the seed of my story: thinking about who His Destroyer could have been and what exactly happened that infamous night in Egypt all those generations ago. 

I hope readers will be as disturbed and intrigued by the answer I came up as I am. 

___________________________________________

Samantha Bryant teaches Spanish to middle schoolers. Clearly, she’s tougher than she looks. She writes The Menopausal Superhero series of novels and other feminist-leaning speculative fiction. When she’s not writing or teaching, Samantha enjoys family time, old movies, baking, gaming, and walking in the woods with her rescue dog. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @samanthabwriter or at http://samanthabryant.com and subscribe to her newsletter at http://eepurl.com/bwgsxD

Slay : Message in a Vessel by V.G. Harrison

Inspiration

My inspiration for “Message in a Vessel”, started as soon as I saw the cover for the SLAY anthology. I knew I wanted a story in that book, but I wanted something different than what I usually write, which is paranormal. So, I went for a sci-fi angle under my V.G. Harrison pen name instead. There’s so much mythology out there about vampires, so I wanted my vampires to be a little different, in that if they were going to outlive humans, then they would probably be technological geniuses in the future. But I also had to ask the question of how would vampires survive, if their only nourishment was blood. “Message in a Vessel”, pays homage to the saying of “use what you know” to do what you need to do. That’s exactly what my brilliant, vampire heroine does. 

Excerpt –

Nobody knew how the disease-carrying mosquitoes would affect us. Thirty years later and a food shortage to boot, and we knew we’d pay the price. Authorities harvested those in prisons and on the streets. The ones who wouldn’t be missed. Then they went to anyone older than sixty-five. The younger you were, the more protected you were. If you were like me, who had parents that could teach you a valuable trade, then you survived the Cleansing Era. 

I sat back in my seat and breathed in a deep breath. Even though we healed better and aged slower, stress was still a part of our lives.

“You look like you need a break, Dr. Jakande.” Cora walked in like her tight pencil skirt kept her tights taped together. She kept her head held high while confidence leaked from her pores. She placed a food card on my lab table. “You’ve been neglecting your allotted daily nourishment.” 

“I’m fine.” My growling stomach probably gave me away. 

“This project means nothing, unless you eat.” She placed one of her bright red fingernails on the nourishment card and pushed it to me. 

“I’m a little busy right now. I’ll go in a minute. Just let me finish this.” I turned back to my computer to review the bioinformatic collection program my team had been working on for the last year and a half. 

“I understand the nature of your work, doctor. But protocols are in place. If you don’t eat now, I must report you.”

I hated this woman. Unfortunately, I would also give anything to be off this project permanently, too. A food break wasn’t long enough.  

“Dr. Jakande?” She leaned close. “Please do not force me to get security to escort you.” 

“Son of–” I slammed my hand down on the counter and shoved my chair away from my desk. “Are you going to lick my lips clean while you’re at it?”

She said nothing. She lifted her head higher as though protocols dictated everything right down to her cold-hearted determination to make sure I followed the rules. Every click of her heels on the marbled floors made me want to reach back and break her neck. Security would be down on me so fast and probably stab me with enough silver knives to make sure I could only work from the neck up. This project only needed my brain. 

I flashed my hand across the keypad and pressed the cafeteria icon.  A flashing arrow directed me to my designated elevator. When I entered, I went to the back and waited as more people entered behind me. 

The view from the moon never got old. The Red Giant space shuttle was the tallest spaceship in the solar system and could carry a payload of more than a half million pounds. Because of the engine thrust, it had to launch from the moon and far enough away not to kill anyone. 

Bio

Science fiction has been my love since I was a little kid who purposely tried to stay up at 11 PM to watch Star Trek. I’ve been writing for a few years now and even though I watch a lot of sci-fi, I don’t read it nearly as much of it as I do paranormal. It made sense to combine the two and come up with my Project Solstice series. From there, it’s been pure science fiction all the way. 

I like to write sci-fi that has some basis in reality. So, whenever I introduce something like the Fine Structure Constant or quantum entanglement, I do as much research as possible to make the story plausible. I don’t like to rehash something that made you fall asleep in physics class, but rather, insert just enough to stir your imagination in the right direction. I guess my overly-priced engineering degree paid off. 

Between the day job, family, and enjoying life as a North Carolinian implant, I’m either hiking, binge watching TV, or trying to connect with my daughter, Jayden, on a cool level. I’m sure I’m failing at that last one, so I’ve resigned to embarrassing myself whenever things don’t go as planned.  

For more information, check out my website at www.vgharrison.com.

PRESS RELEASE: Available Now/ SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire

The publishers of Black Magic Women are set to release another groundbreaking compendium – SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire. The eagerly anticipated anthology will be the first of its kind: a compilation of vampire tales celebrating vampires of the African diaspora.

After a difficult deliberation, the final stories have been chosen and contracts sent to authors. The list of authors whose works will appear in SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire is as follows:

Authors (in order of appearance):
Sheree Renee Thomas
Craig L. Gidney
Danielle Little
Milton Davis
Jessica Cage
Michele Tracy Berger
Alicia McCalla
Jeff Carroll
Steven Van Patten
Penelope Flynn
Lynette Hoag
Steve Van Samson
Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald
Balogun Ojetade
Valjeanne Jeffers
Samantha Bryant
Vonnie Winslow Crist
Miranda J. Riley
K.R.S. McEntire
Alledria Hurt
Kai Leakes
John Linwood Grant
Sumiko Saulson
Dicey Grenor
Lisa Woods
LH Moore
Delizhia D. Jenkins
Colin Cloud Dance
V.G. Harrision

The anthology available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. eBook copies are available for pre-order at: https://amzn.to/2XMTsJF

My Darling Dead : Bastards / Episode 13

Her husband had become just that. A husband, in name only. There were days she did not even see him, so busy was he flaunting his power over the desirable women of the court. More desirable than his queen. 

When the wizard came upon her at her window, weeping silently into a goblet of wine, he was uncertain. But she had imbibed enough already to unload her heart’s anguish onto him. As she wept, she sought solace in his arms. The wizard’s initial reluctance melted as she moved against him, carnal desire replacing sense, lust overcoming caution. 

Afterward, she had forbidden him to speak of it. It was a promise they both kept until she began to show. Fortunately, it was nearing the frost, nobody thought twice about the extra layers the queen now wore. Clothes only covered so much though and finally, making up a story to the distracted king, the queen took refuge in a cabin in the woods with two of her most trusted ladies in waiting. Upon news of his son’s imminent birth, the wizard set out for the cabin. He arrived just as the child made his first cry and, without a word, took the child from the queen’s midwife and vanished, the queen never even laying eyes upon her son. 

Zavier had clearly been waiting long to share this fact and the light shone from his eyes with the intensity of a bonfire. Orteg and Agathas both were stunned into silence. Zavier paced back and forth before them, gesturing wildly as he continued his soliloquy. 

“A bastard by the queen is nothing to anybody. My father knew that, as did our mother, Orteg. They saw to it that I was kept out of the way, a humble pageboy, and learned all I could from my father in the ways of magic, for the day when he would no longer be there and the kingdom required a leader. But as I watched it descend into more and more chaos, I became certain; the queen’s son would have no right over the throne in the eyes of the people, particularly in these troubled times. It would have to be a man who carries the blood of King Wendell himself, who would reunite the kingdom. 

“When I found you, Orteg, I thought my search had ended. Here was a simple, stupid man who would be easy to install as a figurehead, then direct him to do my will, by one means or another.” Zavier shook his staff. “Then Barris and his disgusting sister here decided to place before you an unthinkable choice, one that no father would have made. My entire plan would fall to ruins if you refused to ascend to the throne. I compelled you to dispose of your obstacles to the throne, but instead of accepting your destiny and becoming king, you had to start conspiring with that bloated sack of offal, Barris. I hoped to teach you a lesson watching him die, but you seem to be the same angry self-righteous peasant as you were born, and you have irked me overlong as it is.”

Color rose in Zavier’s face, veins in his forehead standing out as his face darkened. His eyes bulged and he looked quite demented. Orteg tried with all his might to move any muscle and only succeeded in twitching his nose. Agathas whimpered from the cage. Zavier’s eyes shifted to her. 

“Agathas. You have no reason left to live. You realize that, don’t you?” Zavier said, his voice sympathetic though his eyes lost none of their manic gleam. “You know I have to dispose of you as well as this fool or nothing will ever change.” Zavier began breathing heavily as he pulled out his polished staff, running his fingers over its contours lovingly. “For the kingdom. You understand.” He pointed the staff at Agathas. 

Without warning, a blinding light seared Orteg’s eyes. Unable to throw up a hand to cover them, Orteg screwed his eyelids together tightly, though the light continued to grow. Dimly, he could hear Zavier yelling and Agathas screaming. The light was so bright through his closed eyes it seemed loud, shouting in his ears and even though he could not see, he prayed for release…then it came.

Darkness. Orteg ventured his eyes open only to see more darkness. Gradually he heard the snuffling moans of someone laying on the ground nearby. This reminded him of his previous paralysis and he flexed a finger experimentally. It responded, along with its fellows. His entire hand and arm worked as though there had never been any interruption. He clambered to his feet, his legs aching. The darkness was fading and he could make out the room he was in once again. The light had been so bright it had drowned out the pitiful sunshine from outside. 

The moans came from Zavier, laying spread eagled on the floor on his back, struggling to move his lips to form words. Though he trembled with the exertion, no sound beyond his quiet moaning escaped his mouth. Orteg scarcely noticed Zavier though, his eyes were drawn to the fairy Liseem, standing over Zavier, looking more radiant and lovely than ever in her fury. Agathas was similarly gaping at her, making no effort to hide her awe. 

“Zavier, Son of Hespa, bastard child of the crown, you have disgraced the name of sorcery with your foul actions,” Liseem stated, not raising her voice though it filled the entire room and Orteg’s head rang with it. “Due to your haste to grow beyond your status, you shall henceforth be smaller than the eye may readily see, that you may observe the world you may not engage with. Those who do observe you will hate you upon sight and hasten to murder you.” Liseem spun away from Zavier’s horrified expression, raising her hands to the sky and calling out a strange word. 

The light exploded in the room again. Orteg and Agathas screwed up their eyes at once but the light was not nearly so merciless this time. There was a popping sound and the smell of sulfur. The light winked out and Orteg opened his eyes at once. Zavier was gone. Where he had lay on the floor scurried a large cockroach, antenna twitching frantically as it sought to avoid the humans in the room. It rushed at Liseem, then seemed to think better of it, making for the door. 

“My lady?” Orteg asked, a smile on his face. 

“Please,” said Liseem, her own smile radiating light. 

Orteg raised his boot, bringing it down with all the force he could muster. The cockroach crunched under his boot, sending a stream of yellow goo shooting across the floor. Orteg ground his boot back and forth, the crunching sound beneath his foot giving way to the whisper of dirt on stone. When he raised his foot, there was nothing but a wet spot. 

Orteg Bluenote was crowned king of Dandoich before an enormous crowd. From his viewing point, he could see nothing but his new subjects as far as his eye would reach. As the crown was set on his head by Agathas, the roar of the crowd took his breath away. A tear came to his eye, speedily wiped away, lest he show weakness before his new subjects. Agathas stood at his side, her part in the death of the king’s children having been overlooked in the fate that befell Barris. As the king’s adviser, and with Barris out of the way, as the senior member of the council who had run the kingdom for years, she was uniquely positioned to be invaluable to the inexperienced king. Her mind was already feverishly at work, thinking of how best to turn her new position to her advantage.

After the coronation ceremony, the new king was in his chambers, still attempting to grasp the changes in his life over the last few weeks. His family was gone but he had more wealth and power than he could ever imagine. With the blessing of the fairy, he felt invincible. Pouring himself a glass of the finest wine in his chamber, he toasted the window and the moon pouring its light into the chamber. 

Midway through sipping the wine, Orteg heard a noise from just outside the window. It was a scratching sound, as though a cat were sharpening its claws on the stone below the window. As Orteg listened, it became clearer and more pronounced. A snuffling sound, then a high-pitched giggle floated through the window, chilling Orteg’s bones. His innards turned to ice as a hand, thin and bony, with long filthy ragged nails, crawled up over the windowsill. It was attached to an arm, as scrawny and filthy as the hand. Eyes appeared over the sill, dark slits in the dirty, pointed face twisted in a demented grin. 

The brilliant light appeared in the room, making Orteg and the rat creature shield their eyes. As it faded, Orteg saw that the rat creature had entered the room, along with a second and he could see a third scrabbling at the window and (dear Gods) it sounded like there were more working their way up the wall. A figure had solidified in the center of the room, coalescing out of the whiteness into the fairy who had saved him. 

“Liseem!” Orteg gasped. “Thank the gods you are here! You must help me! This creature—”

“These creatures,” Liseem broke in, a nasty grin upon her face, “Will be your doom, Orteg Bluenote.” The fairy touched the face of the first rat creature, delicately pressing her finger against the sharp teeth in the creature’s face. Instantly, all the rat creatures froze. The sound of those climbing the tower ceased. There was nothing but the fairy’s voice.

“Many years before your birth,” Liseem said, turning to face him, “I was in love with a king. The king of Dandoich in fact. Your father.” She fell silent for a moment, looking at Orteg with no kindness in her eyes. “You are of his seed, yet I do not recognize you at all. You are nothing like the king.”

“But—Esemli!” Orteg gasped, his hands clasped before him in an unconscious prayer. “She was in love with the king and was killed by the princess! She has been dead longer than I have been alive! Everyone in the kingdom knows that story!”

“This is where the story ends,” whispered the fairy. “I, Liseem, am the fairy Esemli.” 

A series of images rushed through Orteg’s head. The fairy and the king rutting in his receiving room before being interrupted by the queen. The king groveling as Esemli listened from behind the door, listening as he cast their love aside instead of keeping his promise. Faster, images of the kingdom’s descent into chaos flashed through his mind. Rat creatures feeding on garbage, peasants, each other. Crops rotting on the vine as farmers barricaded themselves in their houses, afraid to tend to the harvest. Esemli laughing, laughing, laughing. 

The images stopped, but the laughing continued. Liseem’s laughter merged into that of Esemli and Orteg knew that she spoke the truth.

“No…” whispered Orteg, feeling as though all blood had drained from his body. 

“Yes,” hissed Esemli, her hatred changed the fairy’s beautiful features into an inhuman rage. “And now, Orteg Bluenote, you shall die carrying on the suffering of your lineage. The kingdom’s spiral into darkness will continue!”

With mad laughter, the fairy vanished. Sound regained its control on the world, the scrabbling sounds of a rat person clawing its way into the room registering first on Orteg’s ear. He realized with a start that his back was against the stone wall opposite the door. The first creature crawled across the floor, its jerky skittering motions sending spasms of horror up and down Orteg’s spine. The thing kept grinning, nose twitching, as it advanced. Orteg tried to make a break for the door, but the creature was too fast, scuttling between Orteg and the door with a drooling grin. There were more crawling in through the window. Cowering back against the wall, Orteg moaned, helpless, frozen in terror as the creatures came for him. 

Agathas had been waiting to visit the new king in his chambers until after he had time to get himself sufficiently drunk. She intended to ask for less oversight on his part as she conducted the day-to-day business of the kingdom, in essence giving her free reign to govern as she saw fit. Under Barris, she had learned from the best and had no interest in the new monarch sticking his nose in her affairs. 

She was lingering in the anteroom below the king’s chambers when the screaming began. The king’s hysterical shrieks brought all within earshot running. Throwing open the door, Agathas and the castle staff beheld the new king, his eyes and throat wide open, gaping in the direction of the door, hand stretched out, even as the humanoid thing that now resembled a rat snuffled and scrabbled at Orteg’s chest, seeking his heart as blood from his neck bathed them both. Other rat creatures prowled the room, looking in corners and under things for their next meal. At the sound of the door, they stopped as one and stared.

Agathas screamed, drawing the attention of the rat creature away from Orteg’s lifeless body. Like a spider, the creature scuttled toward her, eyes twin pinpricks burning brightly amid the face of blood. The next moment, it was flying back, impaled by a long silver spear. Blood ran from its mouth, grinning even as it spluttered for breath. The captain of the guard pushed past Agathas, striding across to the creature. It snarled at him, coughing blood all over his boots as it did. 

The man’s face wrinkled in disgust. In one smooth movement, he drew his sword and struck the head from the creature’s shoulders. It flew across the room, striking the stone wall with a sound like wet sand. Falling to the ground, the jaws gnashed twice, then were still. Looking around, Agathas saw the last rat creature scuttling out the tower window and heard a thud as it hit the ground below. 

“The king is dead,” Agathas said, recovering her composure speedily. “Let it be known throughout the kingdom that the Council once again reigns supreme.” A smile spread across her face. “Inform the council members that their leader has summoned them at once.”

“At once, Honorable Prefect,” said the captain of the guard, sheathing his blade.

“Queen, I think you’ll find, Captain,” Agathas said, smiling an ugly smile. The captain of the guard was only taken aback for a moment, before bowing to her.

“My liege,” he said, already scheming his own rise to power. 

There would never again be another monarch to rule the kingdom. The fairies would see to it. 

Submission Call: Haunts and Hellions, A Gothic Romance Anthology

Haunts & Hellions
a gothic romance anthology
edited by Emerian Rich

GOTHIC ROMANCES of old featured a female protagonist dealing with a terrifying ordeal while struggling to be with her true love. Set against dark backgrounds of medieval ruins or haunted castles, the love interest was either a brooding handsome gentleman or a supernatural monster disguised as a gentleman. Following the example of such works as Northanger Abbey, Phantom of the Opera, The Grey Woman, Dracula, The Woman in White, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Witch House and the like, we want your darkest, creepiest horror love story. 

Although we crave gothic romance style, don’t feel the need to paint a damsel in distress. The woman may certainly be the one who saves the day. We are also open to LBGTQ love stories. The main plot should be horror and romance. We don’t like stories written specifically with social or political agendas. Sensual or passionate stories are acceptable but we don’t want erotica or sexually-based stories. No rape. The editor likes horror. Be careful of sci-fi creatures or anything that sways sci-fi or fantasy.

Stories MUST contain: 

  1. An overwhelming sense of menace and dread. Horror must be just as much a part of the story as romance. 
  2. Inclement weather.  ie…fog, rain, snow, hurricane. 
  3. A supernatural horror being or entity. ie…ghost, monster, vampire, werewolf. Being can be the hero, anti-hero, or the being they are battling against. Just remember the editor likes horror. Be careful of sci-fi creatures or anything that sways sci-fi or fantasy.
  4. Set in a spooky location. ie…ghostly gatehouse, haunted lighthouse, dilapidated abbey, crumbling cathedral, terrifying tower, cursed castle, decaying plantation.
  5. Time period 1700-1940. We are looking for the classic gothic romance feeling in whatever time period you choose. Also, if writing a diverse character, please set to time period standards. Know your world, what the political/social rules were and if you break them, make sure it’s plausible. If it’s an alt-history world, make sure our readers understand how it became that way without writing an encyclopedia on the subject.  

Look below for examples of books & movies that have the feeling we are looking for.
No previously printed work and no simultaneous submissions.
We are doing blind submissions. Wow us with your story.
Enter up to two short stories only. Make sure they fit the theme

Manuscript Format:
*Font: 12 pt Courier, Times New Roman, or Garamond.
*Double spaced.
*Your manuscript must be in either DOC, DOCx, or RTF format.
*DO NOT place your name in the manuscript.**
*No header on the manuscript. JUST THE TITLE.

**Again, we are doing blind submissions. Make sure the manuscript is scrubbed of your name and personal info. This could be an automatic decline.**

TO SUBMIT YOUR STORY, CLICK HERE:
https://forms.gle/KKb39vo7Go9FFqGZ6

 

Deadline: October 31st, 2020, 11:59pm PST
Length: 2,000-5,000 words
Payment: $10.00 USD + digital contributor copy

Return time: Final decisions will not be made until AFTER the submission close date (10/31/20). You should expect an answer within three months of the submission close date. If you do not receive an email stating your manuscript was received within two weeks of submission, please send a polite query to:  ha.netpress@gmail.com

For any other questions, please send an email to: ha.netpress@gmail.com


FURTHER EXAMPLES OF THE GOTHIC ROMANCE FEEL WE ARE LOOKING FOR TO INSPIRE YOUR WRITING: 

Movies: The Hearse, Crimson Peak, Vampire Journals, Dragonwyck, Sleepy Hollow, The Woman in Black, Gingersnaps Back, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Byzantium, Suspiria, Corpse Bride, Mary Riley, Dark City, Kill, Baby…Kill

Books: Northanger Abbey, The Grey Woman, Dracula, The Woman in White, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Witch House, The Yellow Wallpaper

Music: Midnight Syndicate, Valentine Wolfe, Destini Beard, Goblin, Mazzy Star

Musicals: The Phantom of the Opera, Sweeny Todd, Love Never Dies, Corpse Bride

TV Series: Dracula (2013), Penny Dreadful, Dark Shadows (1991), Twin Peaks 

Merrill’s Musical Musings : Ro’s Recs – September

Horror Soundtracks

Greetings HorrorAddicts! I recently finished watching the phenomenal documentary In Search of Darkness. This trip through 70s and 80s Horror canon was full of great memories for me. I remember walking down the street to the video store every day during the summer of 1984 I believe? We had finally gotten a VCR (the kind with a wired remote that allowed you to pause and record only) but alas, we didn’t get cable for many years after that. I’d spend hours watching the greats such as Ghoulies, Gremlins, The Pit, The Nightmare on Elm Street, and so many more with my stepdad, and then I’d go back the next day for fresh, er, blood. These movies and all of the great flicks from that decade had great soundtracks that added so much to the experience. Here are a few of the classics the documentary discussed, not in any particular order:

  • Harry Manfredini and his discofied Friday the 13th Part III 
  • John Carpenter’s Halloween 
  • Ennio Morricone’s score for The Thing
  • John Williams’ Jaws
  • The Shining from Bela Bartok
  • Charles Bernstein’s The Nightmare on Elm Street 
  • Ralph Jones’s Slumber Party Massacre score (which was composed on a Casio!)
  • Day of the Dead by John Harrison 
  • Hellraiser by Christopher Young 

The scores listed above all utilized either an orchestral style or an electronic score. But some movies went for a hard rock sound that mirrored the popular music of the time period. “Rock and Horror live so closely together,” says Slipknot’s Corey Taylor in the documentary.  He names Trick or Treat as a great soundtrack and says, “I will fight anybody who says differently.” The Lost Boys and The Nightmare on Elm Street III Dream Warriors were two examples of movies that had big-name bands on their soundtracks in INXS and Dokken. 

Soundtracks make the film a more visceral experience and give fans a piece of the movie to relive over and over, letting them feel that high. Actor Nick Castle says, “The score becomes the life of the movie,” and Michale Gingold states the Halloween soundtrack “creeped me out before the movie began.” They set the tone and enhance the experience. Horror movies marry music and story to create suspenseful setups with a spectacular payout. All the jump scares and the slow, tear-soaked walks down darkened hallways, the intense use of strings and synthesizers to amp up the effects of the film…all of that adds to our thrills and chills. 

The documentary points out the effectiveness of synthesizer-based soundtracks as well as orchestral scores. I’m certainly a fan of music in all of its guises, but I would love to hear from you. I’ve created this google form and would love for you to chime in on this discussion. Those who fill out the form can also receive a super cool horror postcard from me. Yes! Actual mail from our beloved post office! I’ll share the results from the poll in a future Ro’s Recs. I highly recommend In Search of Darkness, which you can watch on Shudder. Until then, Stay Tuned for more Merrill’s Musical Musings and Ro’s Recs… 

R.L. Merrill writes inclusive romance with quirky, relatable characters full of love, hope, and rock ‘n’ roll. You can find her at https://www.rlmerrillauthor.com and on the socials as @rlmerrillauthor.