Daniel Oullette Artist Interview – by William Zimmerman

What horror-related themes have you found to be the most inspiring for your music?

Universal Studios Monsters and Kaiju Films

What horror movie/TV show would you re-score if given the chance?

Are Hallmark Channel movies considered horror? Because they are scary! Hmm… Dark Shadows from the 1960/the 70s would be fun!

What non-musical things inspire your music?

Buddhism, the sea,  Julia Child, Elvira Mistress of the Dark, Gardening, my loved ones because so many are creative.

What film/TV horror-related character would you most identify with? Why?

I think Elvira because of the balance of horror and humor which I love.

How do you handle fear as an artist?

Sometimes I walk right into it and sometimes I walk right beside it or around it. I don’t like to walk away from fear. I walk away from other things like foolishness. Life is always out of our hands a bit. 

What are your favorite horror movies?

Dracula, Dracula’s Daughter, The Others, Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolfman, Pan’s Labyrinth

What was the scariest night of your life?

Is this about something supernatural? A friend and I once went ghost hunting along route 44 in Rehobeth, MA, and ended up having the rubber of the tire break and slap the side of the car. We were sure it was a ghost! There is a fable about a ghost there.

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

Ofra Haza, though I would have to be her opening act. 

Her voice was from celestial realms not yet discovered.

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

Please check out my new album El salón (A Happy Home is a Haunted Home)! It is horror and humor and what I hope is weird fun! 

(Fan contacts…)

Website/Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Bandcamp?

www.danielouellette.net

https://danielouellette.bandcamp.com/album/el-sal-n-a-happy-home-is-a-haunted-home

 

Video YouTube link: 

O lindo sonâmbulo (Um fantasma na minha casa)

https://youtu.be/g5C8Ck-SvNM

 

Free Fiction : The Hole/ Part 2 by C M Lucas

 As Cassidy-Ann entered the room, the overwhelming scent of the fragrant candle combined with twinkling rainbow lights put her at ease immediately. Bright posters of pop 

stars on the walls were accompanied by intricate building block cityscapes scrolling below.

             This is my room, Cassidy thought. As she wandered over to her daybed, Cassidy-Ann picked up one of her many stuffed animals. The fuzzy, purple bear flashed a stitched smile.

  The bedroom door creaked as it slowly closed. Cassidy-Ann twisted around to glance at the door. Peering back around, the young Cassidy-Ann’s eyes widened as the colourful lights began to darken. Her walls once alive with bright pastels were now muted and dull. Cassidy-Ann began to squeeze the fuzzy bear, only to find it thick with moisture. Glancing down, she glanced at her plush bear now tattered and soiled. Cassidy-Ann ran her hands along the unraveling stitches as her eyes filled with tears. She dropped to her knees, clenching the bear tightly against her chest. 

Looking about the room, the girl dropped her bear. She covered her eyes as tears streamed from the spaces between her fingers. Cassidy-Ann peered up at her dresser and paused. She noticed a picture of her family atop the dresser. Rising to her feet, Cassidy-Ann headed toward her dresser. She glanced at the picture. I remember this. This was before mom got sick, Cassidy-Ann thought as a tear rolled down her freckled cheek, she was so beautiful

Cassidy-Ann’s eyes moved along the picture, There’s d-dad… Who’s that? It’s me again, but I look older, she thought,  his arms are around that gir… me, she pondered.

   “Who’s there?” asks Cassidy-Ann as she spun around to locate the source of the noise. T… The closet. It came from the closet, Cassidy-Ann thought, wandering over to the closet. She wiped the tears from her eyes and reached for the knob. 

“A staircase?” said Cassidy-Ann, glancing down the stairs. “H… Hello…,” she said as she took her first step. The stairs creaked under Cassidy-Ann’s feet, while a faint light from the bottom of the stairs bounced in her eyes.

   Smoke… Cigar s-smoke, thought Cassidy-Ann as she crossed her trembling arms. Suddenly, the walls began to close in on her. Jagged bricks compressed and squeezed young Cassidy-Ann as immense pressure from behind caused her to wince. The walls closed in until there was nowhere left to go. The blood vessels in Cassidy-Ann’s eyes began to pop as liquid slowly rose, filling the narrow space.

   Young Cassidy-Ann began to wiggle frantically as the liquid rose ever closer to her mouth. As the liquid slowly made its way beyond her nose, Cassidy-Ann’s submerged, condensed body experienced a final thrust of extreme pressure that sent her careening out of the constricted space. 

   Cassidy-Ann opened her eyes as dim, yellow light saturated the area. Trembling as she rose off the concrete floor, she waved her arm to disperse a thick cloud of smoke in her face. Glancing at the concrete walls stained with tobacco smoke and the rattling water heater, she began to rub her wrists but quickly stopped, placing her hands in her pockets.   The basement… I-, Cassidy-Ann thought before her thoughts disappeared as she rounded the corner.  Her breath visible; her body shivering, Cassidy-Ann froze in place as her eyes widened.

   “D-Daddy?” said the trembling girl as she gazed at the back of the ebony-haired man peering out the lone basement window. His posture arched; his head an inch away from the ceiling as he stood cramped within the basement. 

   Cassidy-Ann motioned toward the man. Her knees shaking as she peered down at her feet, she approached. The plush, purple bear lay at the feet of the man as a cloud of smoke loomed above his head.

   “… D-Daddy?” said Cassidy-Ann. The man peered to his side. He dropped his cigar as the walls dissolved into darkness. The dull, yellow light illuminating the centre of the void as Cassidy-Ann slowly moved away. Suddenly, the man’s eyes met hers as he twisted around. 

“W… Who are you?” Cassidy-Ann asked as her bloodshot eyes began to fill with tears. The man glared at Cassidy-Ann. The deep yellow of his eyes shone as his vertical pupils focused on the trembling girl.  Young Cassidy-Ann fell to the ground as the man began to gyrate violently. 

She scurried away as the man’s limbs began to contort; his clothes ripping at the seams as the man’s body widened and stretched in all directions. As his limbs retracted into his body, the man’s body continued to stretch. Cassidy-Ann covered her eyes as the man growled. A rumbling hiss pierced Cassidy-Ann’s ears as she removed her shaky hands from her eyes.

The eclipsing shadow bathed her in darkness; the piercing, neon glow of the creature’s eyes glared at young Cassidy-Ann. Vertical pupils focused to fine slits as a forked tongue slid along glistening fangs. As the creature Inched closer to the girl, Cassidy-Ann continued to move away. The serpent reared back and lunged forward with fangs extended. Cassidy-Ann leapt out of the way, sprinting into the void. 

   Coming to an abrupt stop, the young girl, forced to a halt as flames slowly rose, encircling Cassidy-Ann, and the giant serpent in a glowing ring of fire. The serpent smiled; viscous liquid oozing from its fangs as it slithered back through the flames and into the darkness.

   Cassidy-Ann twisted every which way to locate the menacing creature. Heavy breathing bombarding her ears from the void, hissing echoing in the darkness.  Cassidy-Ann twisted around, alerted by the sound of shuffling scales as the serpent lunged toward her. Cassidy-Ann vaulted out of the way of the charging reptile as its fangs collided with the concrete floor.

   The girl spun around to view the serpent as the monstrous reptile struggled to free its fangs from the concrete. The creature glared at Cassidy-Ann as she quivered in place. The serpent’s tongue unraveled from its mouth, wrapping around her ankle, pulling her toward the scaled beast’s gaping mouth. Cassidy-Ann struggled, scraping and clawing at the concrete floor, she twisted around to face the menacing reptile.

   Cassidy-Ann sank her teeth into the giant serpent’s tongue. The reptile chuckled as its tongue continued to draw her closer. Cassidy-Ann struck the beast’s fang with her foot, causing it to break. The reptile squealed and retreated into the darkness. Young Cassidy-Ann rose to her feet. Wiping the tears from her eyes, an intense anger washed over her face.

   “Come on!” screamed, Cassidy-Ann as she clenched her fists and glared past the flames into the void. As laughter echoed from the darkness, Cassidy-Ann continued to glare into the void. 

The serpent lunged from behind the girl. Cassidy-Ann bent over, reaching for the reptile’s broken fang as the surging beast’s forked tongue ran along its scaled lips. As the serpent reached Cassidy-Ann, she spun around, plunging the broken fang into the beast’s eye. The serpent continued to speed toward Cassidy-Ann as the broken fang plunged deeper into the beast’s eye until it penetrated the reptile’s brain.

   The serpent fell to the ground. Drenched in the beast’s blood, the trembling girl stood silent. A single tear ran down her flushed, freckled cheek as she turned around to face the serpent. Cassidy-Ann’s dejected mood became dispassionate as the once menacing snake vanished, leaving the cigar-smoking man face down in its place. 

   As she walked toward the man, she noticed the family picture within his hand. Cassidy-Ann dropped to her knees as the man disappeared. The flaming circle slowly faded away as the darkness began to surround her. Cassidy-Ann covered her eyes and wept. 

  As the whimpering softly echoed into the darkness, a small shaft of light from the void peaked out from behind young Cassidy-Ann. The beam of light shone on the family picture, illuminating a young, vibrant Cassidy-Ann.

The End.

Book Review: Falling by Drew Turney

Review by Veronica McCollum

Drew Turney’s book was quite an unexpected treasure. I kept thinking it was almost over and then it would go on with more thrills and chills. The book lives up to its title. The story revolves around the main character Dale and his friends and support system. The story centers around the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The picture you see in the beginning is kind of scary on its own.  Turney does a great job of giving details and making you feel like you are there with the characters. Falling has a lot of the main horror thrills: the paranormal, monsters, gore, and some violence. I liked the book as the author had a good foundation for his story and had some futuristic ideas that were very interesting.

I really liked the arc of the story. I was hooked from the beginning to the end wondering what would happen next. I am not normally afraid of bridges, but it sure made me not ever want to be stuck on them. I felt transported by the book and what was happening to the characters. I don’t want to give away any of the story but the monsters and scientific ideas were exciting and great to read. I always considered falling to be one of my greatest fears, and this book reinforces that! 

The story premise I thought was amazing. I didn’t have any complaints about the book except, that it does have a subject that not all readers will like. The author explains why he kept this in the story and it makes sense to keep the story moving along. The book was very engaging and well thought out. The horror worked well and it had sci-fi horror as well .

Josie Pace Interview From William Zimmerman

 

What TV/movie horror character do you most identify with and why?

I feel like I always identify with the misunderstood villains, I can always see their side of things for the most part. But every time I watch “The Lost Boys” I feel an absolute connection with David…a kick-ass hair connection that is, and who wouldn’t want to be an awesome vampire with platinum hair?

What is the most frightening thing you’ve written about as a lyricist?

I think the most frightening thing I’ve written about is death/ loss of someone close to me. I’ve written about losing my close friend in a car accident and also losing my friend and manager to suicide. It is scary but everyone can relate to losing someone. Writing about it really helps my grieving process and it definitely keeps my memories of them closer to me.

What non-musical things inspire your music?

I pull from emotions from personal experiences, nature, and even solitude. All of these things really inspire songs and pull from deeper parts of myself. I am constantly getting ideas from scents that remind me of past events which bring up emotions and things I have forgotten about.

What is the meaning behind the album name, ‘IV0X10V5’?

We took the name “IV0X10V5” (pronounced noxious) from my song “Battleground”. Whilst shooting the music video, my friend and artist painted the lyrics of the song onto my body to mimic tattoos. Across my collar bone, she painted noxious, but the way that she painted it looked more like how we write it for the album. Almost like leet speak. It just stuck with us ever since then.

If you could re-score any horror movie or tv show, what would it be?

I love the soundtrack to The Craft and I think it would be SO fun to re-score it with some modern music with keeping the feel of the 90s. I’d kill to hear my songs in a horror movie.

What are your favorite horror movies?

I would have to say my favorite horror movies are Scream (1996), Raw, and Donnie Darko. I love the cheesy jump scares of Scream. And both Scream and Raw have some awesome amounts of bloodiness. But the psychological aspects of all three of these movies are so interesting I could watch them a thousand times.

What was the scariest night of your life?

I have quite a few, but one that sticks in my head is when I was flying back to MI from Cali. I absolutely hate flying but I suck it up for the most part and wear my brave face even if I have to bring a stuffed animal on the flight with me. The flight was about 5 hours and I remember it being the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced. At one point we had dropped altitude so fast that my arms flew into the air. I was certain we would be falling out of the sky at any moment. I had put on a movie before takeoff and I didn’t watch any of it. I was gripping the armrests and squeezing my eyes shut for the ENTIRE flight. I was scared out of my mind.

My heart never beat so hard. I remember getting off the flight and being absolutely drained. My arms were sore from gripping the armrests for so long. Not super scary to most but it is one of my biggest fears.

If you could bring back greats who have passed on, who would be your

undead opening band?

There are so many that I would love to bring back. Recently I’ve been listening to Alice in Chains and I would love to bring back Layne Staley, his voice is so iconic and his songwriting was so unique. I would bring back Taylor Hawkins on drums, have to have Jimi Hendrix on guitar and John Lennon on the bass.

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

Thank you for checking out my interview, now “We’re friends till the end, remember?” -Chuckie (Childs Play [1988])

http://www.josiepace.com

https://www.facebook.com/JosiePaceGSM

https://www.instagram.com/josiepacemusic_official_/

https://josiepace.bandcamp.com/

“I’m Begging You” Music Video

 

The Hole by C M Lucas

The moonlight bounces off the screen door’s spotted glass as it swings open and slams against the bricked wall of the back porch. A streak of black hair trails behind a young girl as she sprints through the short grass. Making her way toward a tool shed, the grass noticeably higher around the perimeter, the aging wood panels creak as she approaches the shed’s door.

 Her name is Cassidy-Ann, and she often finds herself retreating to this shed late at night. As tears stream down her flushed, freckled cheeks, she wipes them away with her sleeves.   

    As Cassidy-Ann makes her way into the shed, she has a look about the shed. Squeezing through the space between the workbench and the drafting table, Cassidy-Ann perches up on her tiptoes to reach the light switch. Rubbing her eyes as they adjust to the rich yellow light, she hops atop the splinter-covered bench. Her legs dangled from the bench; her hands rubbing her wrists, Cassidy-Ann’s eyes begin to dry while her breathing stabilizes.

   She peers down at a dark corner of the shed. What’s that? Cassidy-Ann wondered. Sliding down off the bench, squinting as she glances at a pile of wood planks on the floor.    “Who put those there? D-daddy?” She asked. As a large, gap-toothed smile forms across her face, Cassidy-Ann lifts the Cedar planks, uncovering a fresh pothole in the soil. Cassidy-Ann begins to dig and claw at the shallow pothole. Clumps of dirt fly through the air as her gap-toothed smile widens. 

    “What is this?” Cassidy-Ann asked as she uncovered a descending abyss. She peered into the hole. A shaft of faint light shone into Cassidy-Ann’s eyes. After taking in a large breath of air, she crawled into the hole. Descending deeper into the darkness, the shaft’s walls began to narrow. The soft soil walls now ruff and ridged, squeezing Cassidy-Ann’s body as she continued down the hole. 

A surge of pressure pushed young Cassidy-Ann deeper into the abyss. She winced as the pressure increased. A final burst of pressure sent Cassidy-Ann toward the shaft of light, as her hands clasped tightly over her eyes.

    “… Where am I?” asked Cassidy-Ann as she rose to her feet. Brushing the wet soil off her body frantically, young Cassidy-Ann grasped her wrists and begins to rub them. Noticing the nervous quirk, Cassidy-Ann swiftly plunged her hands into her pockets. Peering down at the ground, then slowly glancing up. Music? A tunnel? What is all this? she thought, swiftly moving through the corridor. Cassidy-Ann ran her hands along the grey bricks as she headed toward the source of the music. A small smile formed as she discovered the source of the music.

    “A caro…what’s it called again? A carousel. That’s what…d-daddy called it,” said Cassidy-Ann, slowly making her way forward.

   “Hello?” Cassidy-Ann yelled, her voice echoing back. The carousel’s horses began to bob up and down as she stretched to climb atop the circling ride.  She smiled as she reached down to run her hand along the first horse’s ebony mane. 

She’s so sad, Cassidy-Ann thought as a sudden surge of speed forced the girl off her feet. Twisting around, Cassidy-Ann glanced up as the shadow of the approaching rear horse engulfed her. Cassidy-Ann grasped her wrists, rubbing frantically. 

    As she moved away, the ebony-maned horse toppled over, crashing through the carousel’s base. 

   I… I didn’t mean to, she thought as the carousel came to a stop and the lights began to dim. A jagged hole where once the ebony-maned horse stood grabbed Cassidy-Ann’s attention. On bright red knees, the girl crawled over to the fracture within the carousel’s base. Cassidy-Ann began to slide in.

   The girl struggled as she was clenched tight within the hole’s binding walls. Tears squeezed out of the tightly closed eyes of Cassidy-Ann while the pressure forced her ever deeper into the unknown. It hurts, Cassidy thought as the pressure increased, and the walls tightened around her. With a final burst of pressure, Cassidy was expunged from the hole. Covered in mucky soil, her once colourful clothes now muted, Cassidy-Ann opened her eyes to gaze upon the ebony-maned horse lying in front of her feet. The horse’s cracked snout pointed toward an endless hallway filled with mirrors. 

Glancing up and down as she walked through the hallway, Cassidy-Ann looked about in awe as she passed by the vast assortment of mirrors lining the walls. Cassidy-Ann abruptly stopped as she glanced into the mirror before her. Th… That’s me, but… I look like a teenager, Cassidy-Ann thought. She glared at her distressed, faded coloured clothes. 

With a furrowed brow, Cassidy-Ann glared at the moist filth covering her body. She clenched her fists as her freckled cheeks began to flush. This is your fault, isn’t it? She thought. Cassidy-Ann snarled. She thrust her fist into the mirror, causing it to shatter. 

Suddenly, all the other mirrors came crashing to the ground. Sparkling fragments of glass lay at Cassidy-Ann’s feet. As she stood trembling, A trickle of blood streamed down the back of her leg.

   “… All your fault,” said Cassidy-Ann, her expression now neutral as she glared at a dimly lit door once concealed by the mirror. As young Cassidy-Ann approached, the image became clear. The familiar shade and scent of a gingerbread cookie candle made it obvious to her that this isn’t just a door, but an inviting, comfortable place she knew well. A small smile now adorning her face, Young Cassidy-Ann turned the handle and entered.

  To be continued…

Spooky Locations: Barnard Park, Fremont, Nebraska


By J S O’connor

What makes a location haunted? This is a question that every person interested in the paranormal has asked themselves numerous times and there are a number of different answers. For example, when you disturb the dead. This is what happened with a park in Fremont, Nebraska.

Fremont, Nebraska, is a town with just under 30,000 residents located in the eastern half of the state with a history that stretches back to the early and mid-1800s. Within the city of Fremont is a small but quaint park called Barnard Park with a disturbing history.. 

In the late 1800s, the area that is now known as Barnard Park was a cemetery called Green Grove Cemetery. However, around the same time, as Green Grove Cemetery was created, the city of Fremont also saw an increase in population. Soon the tiny cemetery had reached its limits and needed to be relocated to Ridge Cemetery just outside of the town’s limits. In its place, the city created what is now known as Barnard Park. A park that is still being enjoyed by the residents of Fremont.

However, if local legend is to be believed, when the city had undergone the task of relocating the cemetery, they missed a number of graves due to them being poorly marked.  Several ghost sightings have been reported at night in and around Barnard Park. Some of the sightings include apparitions of men walking around the park at night. One of the most notorious sightings is of a woman who is seen crying over the loss of her daughter who had died on the Mormon Trail in the 1830s. 

So, what makes a location haunted? When it comes to Barnard Park, a nice public park where families go and children play, the answer could very well be disturbing those who have departed.

Work Cited:

Lefevers, D. (2018, October 5). Barnard Park in Nebraska is said to have a haunted playground. OnlyInYourState. Retrieved July 30, 2022, from https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/nebraska/haunted-playground-ne/ 

HauntedPlaces.org. (n.d.). Barnard Park. Haunted Places. Retrieved July 30, 2022, from https://www.hauntedplaces.org/item/barnard-park/ 

 

Band/Musician Interview : Lia Hide

 

  1. What singers or bands inspired you growing up?
    Kate Bush, Dead Can Dance, Violent Femmes, Tori Amos, Smashing Pumpkins, Guns n Roses, Annie Di Franco, Cranberries, NIN, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley
  2. If you could be any TV or film horror character, who would you be? Why?
    I’d be Jack, from The Nightmare Before Christmas, cause I adore, simply adore Danny Elfman!
  3. What non-musical things inspire your music?
    Films, Books, Food, Sunsets, bad relationships, Alcoholic nights, Sleep deprivation
  4. If you could write your own soundtrack to a horror film already out there, which film would it be?
    Donnie Darko, although it’s not really a horror film, so let’s try The Beyond (L’Aldila) – E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà (1981) although that film’s soundtrack is a true gem, a masterpiece
  5. Where was the coolest place to play? Where did you enjoy yourselves the most?
    a. in a roof apartment in Antwerp, with 3 Chinese fluffy chicken. b. in Utrecht, after a gorgeous show we played in an old medieval monastery’s basement theatre.
  6. What are your favorite horror movies?
    I used to love zombie movies, cause they were fun, and I always love the latex effects. After seing the SAW series (up until III) I got disgusted at almost everything that contains torture, and now I only watch vampire or mystery or historical stuff.
  7. What was the scariest night of your life?
    Watching Nightmare on Elm Street 3 – the puppet scene. I still have nightmares about it.
  8. If you could bring back greats who have passed on, who would be your undead opening band?
    Layne Staley with Mark Lanegan and Christ Cornel with an Ennio Morricone conducted orchestra
  9. Final thoughts / Anything you want to tell the Horror Addicts?
    I sometimes lay in bed and think I soak into the mattress all the way to the earth’s core and can hear everyone’s thoughts while descending. I swear I heard your voice, too, one day .. (just kidding.. or not?)

To find more about Lia Hide:

https://www.facebook.com/liahidemusic

 Video YouTube link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnW057t3RGw

HWA Mental Health Initiative BEING A “WEIRDO” by D.P. Wilson

I always wondered why I couldn’t think straight.

Then, when I hit sixty, I got myself a patient with ADHD. He described his affliction as being akin to watching two TV channels at once and trying to keep up with the plots and that struck a profound chord. The body of this article is simply a personal history which leads you back to this point, so why not skip to the Conclusion?

At primary school, my teachers had always called me a “dreamer” and I received many a scolding for simply not paying attention. But I was, as far as I could. My mind was on many other things at the same time. 

Academically, I was always near the top of the class even though the effort it took to study was indescribably superhuman. I did this for my parents, who were pretty much my world. And that’s another thing; I was raised an only child and more or less a shut-in. Mummy and Daddy didn’t believe in letting their little darling rub shoulders with the hoi-polloi, so I had no one with whom to compare my feelings and experiences.

Crucially, it also meant that the normal process of socialization did not take place in my brain and that’s like language; if it hasn’t happened by a certain age, it never will. That part of the brain never develops.

I made it through high school by means of an effort I would struggle to find words to describe while being the “weird kid” who was bullied until he grew big enough to kick the sand right back in their faces.

University life was qualitatively easier although focussing enough to study was still a near impossibility. Having obtained my first degree (psychology!), I dropped out of the mainstream and bummed around France and Italy for a couple of years, then settled in the country, doing physical labour for a wage. I had hoped that the solitude would calm my raging mind. It didn’t.

My second degree was in medicine and I got used to the pain of 120-hour weeks trying to keep my mind on what it was supposed to be studying. I went on to run three clinical practices, teach in college, supervise in the teaching-clinics and act as an expert witness in court.

With the subject of this article in mind, it should have been a big, red hint when I grew bored with this life and decided to move to the Isle of Skye, where I bought myself a restaurant and applied the culinary skills I had learned in France and Italy. 

Thanks mainly to my wife, Ann, it was a success but here’s the point:

During this whole time, ever since I began studying for my first degree, I was self-medicating with alcohol. Vast amounts of alcohol. Every day. Looking back, I see that I was what is now termed a high-functioning alcoholic. For decades. It was the only thing that gave my churning mind some respite.

I got on top of that in my fifties by a simple act of will and, as I sobered up over the following decade, a number of things became clear;

1) I was mildly dyslexic. 

In my school years, dyslexic people didn’t have a problem; they were just “stupid.”

2) I had never achieved socialisation.

This meant that I responded just like a sociopath; by mimicking others.

3) I had an “artistic temperament.”

Whether or not one has any degree of talent, “artistic” individuals feel things far more profoundly than the average and are therefore prone to depression. I was raised in a society where depression didn’t exist. You simply “pulled yourself together” and got on with it.

4) There was still something wrong with my thinking.

My ADHD patient was the trigger for a revelation. 

Naturally, when I was younger, ADHD didn’t exist. Certain individuals were merely “disruptive” or “dreamers” and frequently wound up in the prison system and I could certainly understand why. From my own experience, it wasn’t like watching two TV channels at once; it was like watching four, while someone was playing loud and intriguing music next door.

My mind would thrash itself to pieces on the myriad tiny details of some problem and have them all lined up and standing to attention in seconds, while completely ignoring a major and obvious flaw in the solution.

There are also major elements of imperative instant gratification, as well as an obsessive-compulsive component.

Following our conversation, I decided to do some research and it took no more than thirty minutes to make a self-diagnosis of ADHD. Diagnosing or treating oneself or one’s family is never a good idea however, even if the solution seems obvious; it is quite simply far too subjective in ways that are completely invisible. I was therefore a good boy and consulted a psychiatrist in order to have my diagnosis confirmed. It was. And, to my almost-homicidal irritation, she asked me two questions;

“Why didn’t you see someone earlier?” And;

“There is some effective medication for ADHD these days. Would you like me to prescribe some?”

So, at the age of sixty, with life-long ADHD, dyslexia, depression, alcohol problems and loss of social skills, having been a successful medical consultant and a well-known chef and restaurateur, as well as an author and broadcaster, I was now faced with a young and fashionable head-shrinker criticizing my lack of awareness and offering me some Ritalin!

CONCLUSION

I sometimes wonder, if you are “artistic” in any mode, are you almost bound to have had some kind of mental health issue? In fact, I often wonder if “being a horror writer” could be classed as an issue in itself.

My advice from sixty-three years of unnecessary but rewarding struggle is simple and threefold:

1) TALK about it!

2) See a professional sooner, rather than later.

3) In my personal experience, which is not unique, I have found that writing fiction of any kind is an even more effective way than alcohol, to calm the churning tumult of a disturbed mind and don’t let anyone tell you different! It requires a combination of linear and creative thinking as well as a kind of meditative concentration that excludes distraction.

I am calmer and healthier (both mentally and physically) for it.

Of course, “Why horror?” is a different question altogether. Perhaps we’re all just a bunch of “weirdos”!


 

DP Wilson is a Scottish author and broadcaster who has been, at various times in his life, a food bum, a medical consultant, a lecturer, and a well-known chef and restaurateur. He has written for many years, primarily for his own psychiatric self-defence. His short stories have been longlisted as well as shortlisted for the Crowvus Scottish Horror Prize, published in the anthology; “Seasonal Spectres,” and are broadcast regularly on radio. He has also been published in the prestigious; The Horror Zine magazine.

He lives on the mystical Isle of Skye with his wife Ann and son Finn. Send wine.

HWA Mental Health Initiative : 13 REASONS WHY HORROR SHOULD PUT ON A HAPPY FACE by Nzondi 

 

(An Author’s Responsibility to Mental Health Awareness)

In Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance in his portrayal of Batman’s most notorious villain in The Dark Knight, he said, “As you know, madness is like gravity … all it takes is a little push.”

The film, the actor, and real-life, orchestrated a cacophony that sends a chill up my spine to this very day. When I used to run the ScHoFan Critique Group in the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society, I remember a time when I introduced a story with a suicide narrative. It was then that I learned how using the wrong language could trigger a negative response. I never wrote that story, becoming aware that reinforcing certain stereotypes of people with mental illnesses was dangerous and could cause real-life discrimination and worse, harm. There have actually been novels, which I will not name out of sensitivity to the subject, that led to a copycat effect that increased by more than three hundred and thirteen percent after one of those novels was published. That is a stunning number. In this article, I’d like to discuss if horror writers should start exploring how to develop characters with severe mental illnesses in a fair and more accurate representation, how writing certain stories actually increase copycat responses, and what stories are out there in the horror genres that chose to tread different paths of presenting mental illness.

Does the DC film, Joker: Put On A Happy Face, portray the character as a psychopath or a mentally ill person? The film creates empathy for the character and portrays him as a person that has a difficult time dealing with an array of physical abuse. Since the supervillain first appeared in the debut issue of the comic book, Batman (April 25, 1940), the joker was introduced as a psychopathic prankster with a warped sense of humor. Forensic psychiatrist, Vasilis K. Ponzios, M.D. says, “There is still a misunderstanding to the portrayal of insanity in the Batman films and movies and what it means to be legally insane.” He goes on to say, “For instance, the Joker has been hospitalized at the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane, even though, in real life he probably wouldn’t qualify … Just because a behavior is aberrant … it does not mean the behavior is a result of mental illness.”

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not list insanity as a disorder. According to one article I read, hallucinations, delusions and incoherent speech, which are traits of a severe mental disorder, are not usually the characteristics of a master criminal. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is the main character we all hate to love in a series of suspense novels by Thomas Harris. A brilliant and sophisticated forensic psychiatrist in the day, and a cannibalistic serial killer by night. To my knowledge, the portrayal of that character was not diagnosed with a mental illness. However, iconic horror characters in the Halloween and Friday the Thirteenth franchises play with the idea that psychopathic serial killers are mentally ill. Eventually, both characters are committed to mental institutions. In real life, these characters would be in a penitentiary, and/or on death row.

So how can horror authors take a fresh approach to presenting attitudes of mental health issues? First, before I get into the next subject area of mental health, let me start by explaining exactly what I mean by the copycat effect, or perhaps, a better usage would be suicide contagion. Suicide contagion is the characteristics of media portrayals of suicide, and characteristics of individual adolescents that increase the rate of suicide, and that magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of coverage. A news program may not be as negatively effective as a New York Times bestseller or a hit TV show on the matter. Dr. Madelyn Gould, PhD, professor of epidemiology in psychiatry at Columbia University, believes that indirect influence occurs in both real and fictional characters portrayed in the media.

One fresh approach, that was bold and controversial, was taken by creators of the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, based on the eponymous novel by Jay Asher. According to the CDC, suicide is now the second most common cause of death among teens and young adults, accounting for nearly 6,000 deaths annually in individuals between the ages of 15 and 24. I, for one, do not want to write a novel that participates in any mental health contagion. Therefore, seeing how 13 Reasons Why approached the issue is intriguing to me for my own writing. For one, the executive producers, Selena Gomez and writer/producer, Brian Yorkey, have gone above and beyond in showing their sincere motivations behind adapting the novel for Netflix. There’s a genuine sense of empathy to the subject matter. In the video portion of the teenlineonline website, the creator of the non-profit organization realized that when teens have a problem, they are most likely to go to other teens than to their parents. She set up a hotline using teen volunteers to help troubled teenagers address their problems. 13 Reasons Why resonated with teens because it was a story brilliantly told by young actors.

13 Reasons Why tackled issues like suicide and bullying, head on, yet still presented it in a way that got popular culture talking about these issues, which was the most important asset to helping real-life youths to open up a dialogue with teachers, parents and health professionals. In writing this blog/essay, I learned many things to do and not to do when writing about mental health issues. I recommend that all authors researching these do’s and don’ts before writing about any characters that have mental health issues. As a horror writer, however, you may feel like your story is not there to preach, teach or raise awareness. However, given the fact that there have been documented accounts of novels affecting an increase rate of contagion, wouldn’t you want your literary themes to reflect a more accurate perspective?

I remember hearing at a literary awards show recently, that early science fiction pulp writers didn’t care about whether their science was accurate or not, but today, that is frowned upon in the science fiction community. I remember reading a David Gerrold interview done by JG Faherty of the Horror Writers Association that elaborated with more insightful perspective. In the interview, David explained how the internet is both a curse and a blessing. Like any science fiction writer, he loved to do research, of course for accuracy of his stories. He was discussing research regarding characters in his Chtorr series. The more he thought about the ecology of his species, the more it grew: what was the interrelationships of the species, of plants and animals, the apex predators. I remember he once did a workshop at a GLAWS special speaker’s event and asked, “How are you going to write about a character taking a spaceship to start a colony on the moon if you don’t know about the speed of ships? How far and how long it will take? How will the humans survive on the moon? How do they account for water? Is it shipped to the moon?”

Since the popularity of novels like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Longmans, Green & Co., January 1886), there have been many literary works that play with the concepts of how the human mind’s battle between good and evil interplay between characters with dissociative identity disorder. As brilliant a performance that James McAvoy gave in the psychological horror thriller directed by M. Knight Shyamalan’s Split (and Glass), I challenge you to go back and revisit whether or not the protagonist struggling through twenty-three personalities presented a true depiction of a man with a “split personality”.

Look, I get it. I’ve worked as a stand-in on a show called How To Get Away With Murder, and I have had many conversations with attorneys who say that the show is too sensational, especially in the courtroom. I’m like, “Thank goodness, the creator of the show doesn’t depend on you to write their episodes, we’d be bored out of our minds!” They are the same people who can’t suspend belief long enough to get past the fact that when Bruce Banner changes into the Hulk, he’s always in those purple short-pants, instead of being nude. We are writing fiction, aren’t we? We create a way for the reader to escape reality and travel to worlds of fantasy, science fiction, dystopias and horror. Still, when writing about characters and stories involving mental health, shouldn’t we ask questions that breathe life into the “who, what, when and how” of the tropes we use?

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So how do we get it right?

Here are some facts to know about mental illness by Kathleen S. Allen, an author who also has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree which is a clinical doctorate:

Having depression doesn’t mean your character can’t still have fun or laugh or be social.

A character who has bipolar disorder may have manic episodes or they may not. Bipolar Disorder has a spectrum of symptoms from moderate depression to severe.

No one who has Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly called split personality) would kill someone when they are in one of their alter personality states unless the core personality would also kill. 

Your character would not have amnesia after killing someone. The disorder is rare and some medical professionals don’t believe it exists at all, so be careful using it.

Talking about suicide does not mean your character will push the person into attempting suicide. It was already on their minds.

Your characters don’t stop hearing voices after taking anti-psychotic medication, immediately. 

Sometimes, they won’t stop at all. It may take weeks to months for the meds to work. If they are having a psychotic episode, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to function in their daily lives by going to school, work, maintaining a romantic relationship, or maintaining any relationship. Psychotic patients are not dangerous. Are there exceptions? Yes. But as a general rule, they aren’t.

In conclusion, one of my biggest takeaways from researching horror writing for Mental Health Awareness Month was some of the things we shouldn’t do. 

For example, unless your character is politically incorrect, don’t describe suicide as an “epidemic”, “skyrocketing” or other exaggerated terms. 

Use words such as “higher rates” or “rising”. Don’t describe suicide as “Without warning” or “inexplicable”. 

Do convey that the character exhibited warning signs. 

Don’t refer to suicide as “unsuccessful” or “failed attempt”, or report it as though it was a crime. Do say, “died by suicide” “killed him/herself”, and instead of presenting the act like a crime, write about suicide in your story as a public health issue. 

Hopefully, as horror authors, we can continue to scare the jeebies out of our readers but at the same time, create a story which accurately exhibits archetypes of mentally ill characters, whether they are mad scientists, psychopathic serial killers or characters with dissociative identity disorders that assume their mother’s personality.

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PRELIMINARY QUESTIONS: 

According to Dr. Michael Stone, a forensic psychiatrist at Columbia University, most mass murderers belong to a category of the disgruntled and aggrieved, whose anger and intentions wax and wane over time, eventually curdling into violence in the wake of some perceived humiliation. Does the DC film, Joker: Put On A Happy Face, portray the character as a psychopath or a mentally ill person?

According to the CDC, suicide is now the second most common cause of death among teens and young adults, accounting for nearly 6,000 deaths annually in individuals between the ages of 15 and 24, what are some things that an author can do to stay as far away as possible to contributing to a suicide contagion?

According to one article I read, hallucinations, delusions and incoherent speech, which are traits of a severe mental disorder, are not usually the characteristics of a master criminal, what are some examples in horror where a story got it right and some where it got it wrong?

Forensic psychiatrist, Vasilis K. Ponzios, M.D. says, “There is still a misunderstanding to the portrayal of insanity in the Batman films and movies and what it means to be legally insane, did the writers and filmmakers get it right in their portrayal of the Riddler in the latest DC release, The Batman?

Dr. Michael Stone, a forensic psychiatrist at Columbia University who maintains a database of 350 mass killers going back more than a century says that about one in five mass murderers are likely psychotic or delusional and the figure for the general public is closer to 1 percent, but the rest of these murderers do not have any severe, diagnosable disorder. 

Analyzing his database, Dr. Stone has concluded that about 65 percent of mass killers exhibited no evidence of a severe mental disorder; 22 percent likely had psychosis, the delusional thinking and hallucinations that characterize schizophrenia, or sometimes accompany mania and severe depression. (The remainder likely had depressive or antisocial traits.)

Many of these killers faced “long-term stress,” like trouble at school or keeping a job, failure in business, or disabling physical injuries from, say, a car accident. Substance abuse was also common: More than 40 percent had problems with alcohol, marijuana or other drugs. He says that the majority of people on this spectrum are not deeply ill; rather, they are injustice collectors. They are prone to perceive insults and failures as cumulative, and often to blame them on one person or one group. 

So the question I present to you and anyone else in the audience who has worked in the field of mental health is will mental health treatment make a difference for Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, or Leatherface? Why or why not?

“In almost all high-end mass killings, the perpetrator’s thinking evolves,” said Kevin Cameron, executive director of the Canadian Center for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response. “They have a passing thought. They think about it more, they fantasize, they slowly build a justification. They prepare, and then when the right set of circumstances comes along, it unleashes the rage.”

This evolution proceeds rationally and logically, at least in the murderer’s mind. The unthinkable becomes thinkable, then inevitable. 

Would a hitman be considered a serial killer? If so, does the horror genre or fictional world, in general, portray these characters as having severe mental illnesses? Why or why not?


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Nzondi (Ace Antonio Hall) is an American horror author and is the first African-American to win a Bram Stoker in a novel category. His novel Oware Mosaic won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Young Adult fiction; one of the most prestigious awards given to horror writers in the world. His latest novel, Lipstick Asylum, won Book of the Year and Thriller of the Year awards from SW Book Reviews. It also received a 5-star rating from Readers’ Favorite.

 Among his many short stories that were published in anthologies and print magazines, Hall’s short story, “Raising Mary: Frankenstein”, was nominated for the 2016 horror story of the year for the 19th Annual Editors and Preditors Readers Poll. Additionally, three of his short stories were on the Horror Writers Association Reading list for the 2017 Bram Stoker Awards.

 A former Director of Education for NYC schools and the Sylvan Learning Center, the award-winning educator earned a BFA from Long Island University.

HWA Mental Health Initiative : FINDING YOUR NORTH STAR by Robert P. Ottone

The first time someone told me that my father was “always with me” was at his wake. He was in his casket in the center of the room and just looked … done. Not done in the sense that he was deceased, specifically, but exhausted. As though he was just so over it all. It was a look I’d seen a hundred times and it was fitting in a way that that was the face the mortician was able to put on him. Or maybe that was the face he had on when he passed? I don’t really know. I wasn’t there. 

I had heard that phrase about thirty or so times over the course of his wake, which spanned two days and was attended by hundreds of people. My dad had a lot of friends. People who looked at him like a father figure in many ways. As a teacher, he seemed to “collect strays” in a sense. Kids who grew up in his school district who may or may not have had a fatherly role model-type figure in their lives. I got to know them, too. They became almost like adopted siblings, I guess.

But once Dad was gone, not only had I lost my North Star, the one who guided and supported and nurtured me my entire life (with my mother, of course), something else hit me. The weight of how much he meant to people. This was a new feeling or thought or realization that began to weigh on me. Not only did I lose my father, I lost my closest confidante, my head cheerleader and so much more. We shared a name. In a lot of ways, once he was gone, part of me was as well. Robert Ottone had left the planet and yet, Robert Ottone remained. 

“He’s always with you.” Yes, I know. I have his name.

“He’s always with you.” Yes, thank you. That’s not as comforting as you think it is.

“He’s always with you.” Yes, please stop. There is nothing in those words that matters to me because he’s not.

He’s not with me. I am alone. With his first name. With his last name. Different middle initials, but that’s about it. I’ve even begun to look like him. My hair is graying rapidly. I’ve become forced to wear glasses. I doze off while watching TV on the couch. I laugh at all the same reruns of all the same shows that I used to watch with him. All with him.

Knowing that he was “always with me” had created a burden that had grown to be altogether too much. My wife (then-girlfriend) had been so helpful. So supportive and loving that any time I erupted into tears, she was there to talk me off the ledge. Then, during a panic attack brought on by losing a teaching job that I worked really hard to get, I knew I needed more than just the sweetness of my wife to help me.

I felt the burden of my dad being with me and I needed to lighten the load. I began to read again. I started with the works of Brian Evenson, then segued into John Langan and it all became clear. In reading these two masters, I knew that to help lighten the load of my dad always being with me, I needed to put him on the page. There had to be a way to find a new North Star. A new guiding light or purpose other than my previous one: to make my dad happy and proud.

I needed to transmute my guilt, my sadness, my heartache and anger into something more. Something that was therapeutic and helpful while also allowing me to return to a passion that had been my first love since childhood: writing.

It was in the pages of Sefira & Other Betrayals and Song for the Unraveling of the World that I found a way back. I began to do my best to mimic Langan and Evenson. I will always do my best to mimic Langan and Evenson. Their work, Langan’s in particular, was my North Star back to creativity. In that creativity, I found therapy. The creation of narrative, the crafting of character. It was all there. It was everything I was looking for and more. So very much more.

I discovered others. Lee Murray. James Chambers. Linda Addison. Paul Tremblay. Who were these people? How did falling down the rabbit hole of horror fiction turn me into a fan of so many when all I grew up on was my mother’s devotion to Stephen King and Dean Koontz? 

In reading these authors’ works, I found connective tissue to myself I never thought possible. I had connected to writing in the past, sure, but not on such a level as this. I was reading poetry. I was reading about zombie speed dating. I was reading about a possibly-possessed young girl. I was reading about a young woman from a broken home whisked off by a flying nightmare. 

I began therapy. Through writing and the unburdening of my emotions, I found a therapist during a particularly dark moment when I sat in the parking lot of my best friend’s condo and truly could not pull myself from the depths that I reached out and found help. My therapist, Bill, has given me strategies that I never imagined possible. Strategies to cope. Strategies to understand where my negative emotions come from. He doesn’t pretend to have the answers, instead, he helps me to find the answers. Even if it takes time, I know that my therapist is a light to guide me. Another North Star, in a sense.

My dad is always with me. But he’s in my work now, too. He’s beside me in the classroom when I teach. He’s in the pages of my writing, whether it’s silly, dark, or vicious. He’s in my laughter. Instead of in my mind, lurking in my consciousness, he’s in my heart. He’s in my voice. 

So yeah. He’s always with me. And through writing, through the work of a passionate and caring therapist, I’m alright with that now.


Robert P. Ottone is the author of the horror collection HER INFERNAL NAME & OTHER NIGHTMARES (an honorable mention in THE BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR VOLUME 13) as well as the young adult dystopian-cosmic horror trilogy THE RISE.

His short stories have appeared in various anthologies as well as online. He’s also the publisher and owner of Spooky House Press.

Robert is also an English as a New Language teacher, as well as a teacher of English Language Arts. He can be found online at SpookyHousePress.com or on Twitter/Instagram (@RobertOttone). He delights in the creepy and views bagels solely as a cream cheese delivery device.

HWA Mental Health Initiative: THIS IS ALL OF US by Mark Matthews

“Humans, as a rule, don’t like mad people unless they are good at painting, and only then once they are dead.” ~Matt Haig, the Humans. 

If it’s true that some of the greatest horror fiction comes from the deepest personal pain, that the torment of the writer weaves itself into fiction, then Horror, the way it shines a light on the darkest parts of humanity, is in a unique position to look at mental health. 

The Horror Writers Association is continuing its initiative to honor Mental Health Awareness and how it uniquely affects the horror community, as well as ways to support anyone grappling with mental health issues. 

And this is all of us.

Nobody exists outside the realm of mental health, same as our physical health, it is always in flux and will deteriorate if not tended to. At times we do things for preventative care, at times we drag ourselves into urgent care in crisis, but mental health affects every human. Nobody is in perfect mental or physical health; it exists in scales that continually shift. 

Yet we so often see mental health as existing separate from physical health. We publicly share pictures of ourselves recovering in a hospital bed or openly ask our boss for time off to see a doctor, but talking with a mental health professional is treated as a weakness, something done only in private, for if others know, that seed of shame will sprout inside us and grow.  We offer simplified, insulting solutions, telling those with anxiety or depression, “try taking a walk,” or shame them with, “other people have it worse, be grateful you don’t live in that devastated city of WhatAboutIstan.”

These kind of statements, perhaps spoken with kind intent, are not only unhelpful but misunderstand the complexity and depth. It’s akin to telling someone with cancer to try getting some sleep or eating less carbs. Perhaps something healthy, but it’s throwing stones at giants, and something deeper is most likely needed.  

Talking to a therapist needs to be received the same as going to the dentist. It’s an act we do to take care of ourselves, a sign of self-care and courage that should be emulated. You are no less of a magnificent human being for having depression, anxiety, or any mental health condition than you’d be for having a broken leg from a biking accident, having a cancerous mole, or getting that colonoscopy.

Therapy, in all its facets and components, saved my life. That is not hyperbole. By age 23, I woke up each morning with a drink (god forbid there was no alcohol in the house) and I’d done every drug I could get my hands on.  I had been hospitalized multiple times, was bleeding internally, had alcoholic hepatitis of the liver and a swollen pancreas. I was spiritually despondent, wishing for death, but couldn’t seem to die. Finally, when it seemed my only option, I dragged myself bruised and bloody into a treatment center. I followed that up with years of therapy, major lifestyle changes, and have maintained sobriety ever since. 

Upon relying on the help of others, I went back to get my Bachelors in English and continued on to get a Masters in Counseling. I’ve worked for years with other addicts and alcoholics trying to give back what I had received, and branched out to work in behavioral health.

If only addicts could grant some understanding on what it is like to live with such a diagnosis, I believe the compassion for addiction would grow. Despite years of sobriety and having shed my skin, the snake still persists. I still have it inside me. I can taste it. Hear it. Point to the part in my body where it exists. 

I am quite positive that those suffering from any disorder would wish the same, to give others a taste of understanding of what it is like to live with the disorder so we could stop minimizing and distorting it. Depression isn’t cured by a walk. Anxiety isn’t just a mild discomfort. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a perpetual internal beast that isn’t slayed by exercise alone. 

I still seek therapy and seek it eagerly. I have had a therapeutic relationship that has lasted years and still go back in times of need.  

Fiction has a powerful therapeutic component, for if we want the truth, what better way to find it than through a story? My work is full of addiction horror, with compassion for the plight of the addict but a look at it substance abuse in all its hideous forms. Nothing new to say that the greatest fiction comes from the writer speaking from the wound, those personal places when we stick the proverbial knife in our heart and bleed it all over the page (Que Mick Jagger). Show me someone’s most powerful work, and you’ll see what’s inside. 

Horror writers will always write about mental anguish, with settings such as mental health hospitals and cemeteries, anything that portrays our darker sides and is charged with trauma and the vulnerable parts of our fragile psyche. While I think a certain level of creative license should be granted, there is a duty, I believe, to write about mental health topics with accuracy. We need to do our research. Ask a colleague. Get a beta reader who knows the subject.  This will avoid clichés, simplifying, stigmatizing, and stereotyping. People are not their condition.

Have you seen a piece of fiction where a character who takes medications is a sign of their strength rather than some dark foreshadowing? Nope, that tab of Risperdal is a version of Chekhov’s Gun, bound to have some negative effect in the next chapter.  Works which show a degree of empathy for those suffering, even in the midst of villainous intent, can be the most powerful. 

So much horror fiction is a battle for mental health, navigating the minefield of the external darkness that matches our internal landscape. Heroes, anti-heroes, or whole communities, face down the monsters, and the reader understands they are taking an inward journey, tackling their internal demons personified.

The question then becomes, are we able to do in our personal life what we will have our characters do in our fiction? Look inside ourselves and navigate whatever darkness we find, shining a light through the cracks the way we want our protagonists to do? 

While we are all the heroes of our own story, we are also minor characters in the journey of others. Do we see it just as noble to help others on their quest?   Do we support each other tackling and addressing mental health symptoms, same way we might herald someone in horror fiction? 

By doing so, we can become the empathic catalyst to help each other.

I think Horror Writers have some of the finest hearts around because they are in touch with the fragile nature of humans. In body, mind, and spirit. Among writers of dark fiction are those who are ‘not afraid to go there ’ both in fiction and internal introspection, and also, I suspect, that among us are some of the most hurting, tormented people, who have overcome adversity enough to spin fantastic art.  There can certainly be redemptive value in suffering.  I’ve latched onto this quote from the Virginia University basketball coach:  “If you learn to use it right, adversity will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way.”

I write horror not so much to scare others, but because I am the one who is scared; scared of what’s inside me, what’s inside you, but writing about it makes me feel less alone, more okay with bleeding on the page. It takes courage to show yourself through your words, so we connect when we write and read in a way we never could, had we not faced the fear.    

Disclosing our own battles with maintaining mental health, while it’s nobody’s damn business and shouldn’t matter, can free others to drop the false shame and share openly.

If she’s talking about how Zoloft helped her but Prozac didn’t, maybe I can do the same.  

If he’s sharing his social anxiety and how it feels so disabling, maybe I’m not so strange. 

If he’s offering a sober safe place at StokerCon, maybe I’ll say hello if I’m struggling with the same. (Raises hand – I’ll be in Denver) 

Horror writers can be an example of those who openly support each other with compassion and understanding while writing characters who display humans in all their frightening darkness and magnificent brilliance. The HWA Mental Health Initiative reminds us that we are on the same journey as each of our characters, and can decide how to respond when facing our monsters, and to be the supportive agent of change in the journey of others. 


 

 

* Mark Matthews is a graduate of the University of Michigan and a licensed professional counselor who has worked in behavioral health for over 20 years. He is the author of On the Lips of Children, All Smoke Rises, and Milk-Blood, as well as the editor of Orphans of Bliss, Lullabies for Suffering, Garden of Fiends. In June of 2021, he was nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award. His newest work, The Hobgoblin of Little Minds, was published in January, 2021 and tackles the subject of mental health treatment. Reach him at WickedRunPress@gmail.com

 

HWA Mental Health Initiative : GIVE THEM A PEN AND PUT THEM TO WORK By Ronald J. Murray

Make your demons work for you instead of against you. This is a phrase that I have carried with me for years, and one that’s never exonerated me from the responsibility of confronting my issues directly. Rather, it catalyzed my ability to allow the hardships of life and mind to inspire creation, to find enjoyment even while in the dark.

The writer is no stranger to suffering. I’m no different than any other. Throughout the year of 2019, I was writing Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower, a product of my realization and confrontation of my yet undiagnosed CPTSD and the resultant havoc it wreaked in my life at that time. The cathartic experience of taking my struggles and forcing them into the dark imagery of horror poetry allowed me to find an unshakeable sense of accomplishment, a shining pride in my talent, and to see a way to still cling to an appreciation for life.

Complex PostTraumatic Stress Disorder is linked to multiple traumatic events and is defined as a developmental trauma disorder. Though there are rare instances where the disorder can be developed during adulthood, it’s more often linked to traumatic childhood experiences. Its symptoms are like PTSD in that its sufferer will re-experience traumatic events, avoid traumatic reminders, and maintain hypervigilance against perceived threats in every avenue of life. However, it differs in that it affects emotional dysregulation, causes a development of a distorted sense of self, and can lead to disturbances in relationships. It often mimics Borderline Personality Disorder, and, in my case especially, can be misdiagnosed as such.

This darkness of course followed me into the next year, and it sought vengeance. During a time when so many, including myself, were learning to navigate the difficult struggles of the pandemic and its terrors, I saw the world crashing around me in the form of my first major loss: a decade-long unhealthy partnership came to an explosive close. Blessing in disguise as it was, I found myself suddenly without the home I’d known for years and having to learn to live without a person who’d been there for so long. I was only at the beginning of my journey in facing and healing my previous emotional afflictions, and this needed event exacerbated my symptoms to a degree I’d never experienced.

Lost Letters to a Lover’s Carcass was born through painful labor. Employing my demons, I wrote this collection to help me process this hardship and everything that led to it. More importantly, it reminded me of something almost lost: myself. My drive, my talent, and my lust for creation and its act kept me tethered to this planet and its bountiful, beautiful one-time chance at life. Without me, there is no art to create or, for me, to even perceive and interpret. Without me, there are no experiences and the healthy translation of them into narrative and verse.

But creating art from a place of suffering can paint the process as something that needs suffering to flourish. This is untrue, and a pitfall I’ve been able to avoid with the help of perspective. I’ve seen this misconception among some budding writers that may romanticize the clichéd tortured artist.

While the intermingling of internal and external hardship can be appreciated in this medium and enjoyment can even be found through it for the creative, it is not necessary to create more suffering for the sake of the written word, or to wear it as a writing badge of honor. Because without the appreciation and care for the self, creation can become a chore, or worse, a whirlwind of unhealthy self-criticism and a frustrated pile of unfinished projects.

CPTSD may likely follow me to my far-away death, but I will always find ways to stalk it in its own shadows. I will use it, crush it, and subvert it to find exactly what I need to tell my stories. And through my victories, I’ll bask in the sunlight of the lines and stories and characters that I write, which remind me of who I am: an intelligent, empathetic, and passionate creator.

None of this is meant to invalidate the struggles of others. I can only write from my own experiences and hope that they inspire hope and open the gates to new perspectives. The experiences of others are muddy and complex, and faltering along the path is to be expected. But I’d like to challenge my fellow Horror Writers to continue your therapy, eat your three-square meals, drink your water, be mindful and take time to enjoy the moment. And, lastly, let your work be the light switch on your wall that drives your ghosts back to their graves.


 

Ronald J. Murray is a writer of speculative fiction and poetry living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His published work includes his two dark poetry collections, Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower, which appeared on the 2020 Bram Stoker Awards® Preliminary Ballot and was nominated for an Elgin Award, and Lost Letters to a Lover’s Carcass, from the JournalStone imprint, Bizarro Pulp Press. His short fiction and poetry has appeared in Space and Time Magazine, The Horror Writers Association’s Poetry Showcase Volume VIII, on The Wicked Library Podcast, in Bon Appetit: Stories and Recipes for Human Consumption, and Lustcraftian Horrors: Erotic Stories Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, and more. He is an Active Member of the Horror Writers Association and an Active Member of the Church of Satan.

HWA Mental Health Initiative : Out of the Darkness: A Conversation with Lee Murray and Dave Jeffery

Lee Murray:

I write horror. I also suffer from anxiety, and sporadically from depression. Most of the time, I’ve managed to keep this to myself, but, in recent years, I’ve tried to be more open with friends and family about my mental health. The interesting thing is, in doing that I learned that a lot of my horror colleagues are also pacing to and from at the ramparts checking for danger or engaged in all-out battles with kaiju of epic proportions. Was it time to open a discussion about horror writing and mental health? I consulted my friend, Forever Man author, and psychologist Brian Matthews, who agreed that a discussion was timely, and with his help we put together a panel for 2018 StokerCon, Providence which we called Writing From a Dark Place. We were able to enlist some incredible panelists too, including Brian Kirk, Leslie Klinger, James Arthur Anderson, and Eric J. Guignard. The conference committee welcomed the proposal, and the resulting panel conversation was frank, informative, and warming. Then, some months after the convention, I shamelessly used the panel discussion as the basis of an essay, which was later published in Victoria University Press’ Headlands anthology, along with 33 other New Zealand writers with their own personal stories of anxiety. The Headlands project has led to an upcoming hui (gathering) to bring the writers together for further discussion and a possible documentary on the topic. It seems when you open a conversation about mental health and lift it out of the darkness, a lot of good things can result. For that reason, I welcome this new initiative by the HWA to support Mental Health Awareness. I’m excited (and a little anxious) to contribute to the blog series and to an ongoing conversation about horror writing and mental health.

Dave Jeffery: 

I have worked as a mental health professional in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) for 35 years. I have been a writer of dark and obscure fiction for considerably longer, writing my first horror novella at the age of 13. The novella was poor, but my experience of working with those who endure mental illness over the years has been nothing short of amazing. It is an honour to work with those who endure mental health issues on a day to day basis, they are the brave and mighty, they know true suffering and they have fought for light in the darkness. I know this because I have seen it, holding the hands of troubled souls, witnessed the tears and the trauma. It leaves a person humbled beyond words. 

In his 1964 publication, Madness and Civilization French philosopher Michel Foucault writes, “Mental illness has its reality and its value only in a society that recognizes it as such.” In other words, how we define mental illness as a society reflects how we ultimately treat it. There is truth in that those with severe mental illness are marginalised, the stigma associated with acts and behaviours making more of an impression on how they are viewed rather than on what these people endure. As a mental health professional and a horror writer I have a duty to readdress the balance and ensure the social stereotype of ‘lunatics’ and ‘maniacs’ are challenged from the beginning. Nothing puts me off a book quicker than the thoughtless misrepresentation of mental illness. 

Lee Murray: 

Thanks so much for agreeing to chat with me, Dave. I’m looking forward to hearing your perspective as a mental health professional and a horror writer. 

Naomi Arnold, my editor in Headlands says, “Clinic anxiety is a chronic crushing panic. Sometimes you can function fine, with a faint residual fluttering and a few deep breaths,” She writes. “Other times, it grows until it takes over your mind, your gut, your heart, your breath, your limbs, and everything in your life until your entire being feels reduced to the nub of your earliest brain. The one that pumps adrenaline through your system, puts everything on red alert, shuts down all your body systems and makes every cell scream.” 

I waited until I was 50 for a diagnosis of anxiety. “Oh and by the way, you have depression, too,” the doctor said. 

When I tell them, most people can’t believe it. “But you’re so bubbly and outgoing,” they say. “So smiley.”

It’s true, I do try to be cheery. But it strikes me that a person’s mental health isn’t always evident from their demeanour, and sometimes those who we least expect are suffering the darkest demons.

After the Writing from a Dark Place panel, panelist Brian Kirk wrote to me, and what he said interested me because it’s something I’ve noticed too. He said: “I’ve always found it curious that, in general, horror authors are some of the friendliest and most optimistic people I know. Whereas comedians are typically morose and depressive.” Would you agree with that comment?

Dave Jeffery:

My experience of the horror writing community is indeed one of warmth and inclusion, and an almost overzealous need to help others. I often wonder if there is a compensatory element in that writers are, by nature, insecure entities and perhaps coming to the aid of others has a basis in the desire to create climates in which they, too, feel safe. In their study of personality types, Ando, Claridge and Clarke (2014) concluded that comedians have traits not dissimilar to those who suffer psychosis, so I would certainly agree that comedians overall tend to be somewhat distant in real life. 

Lee Murray:

Kirk also says, The basic commonality I see between works of profoundly troubled people is an extreme kind of sensitivity. A brutally insightful look into our basic human condition.” If what Kirk says is true and people with mental illness have an ‘extreme sensitivity’ and ‘insight’ into the human condition, do you agree that horror writers who suffer from mental illness, make better writers? After all, many of our best-loved horror icons, past and present, are known to have struggled with mental illness—writers like Sylvia Plath, Stephen King, Ann Rice, and Mary Shelley.

Dave Jeffery:

I’m comfortable with the view that those who are ‘in tune’ with the darker side of the human condition can make better sense of how to translate that onto the page. There does need to be balance, of course. My view is that one-sided worldview, for example: the terrible actions of one person or one group of people somehow defining humanity, makes for a dull, cliched narrative, no matter what the intention of the writer. The links between mental illness and creativity has been long established, so I’m not surprised by Kirk’s view on this perspective and would support it wholeheartedly.

Horror and mental illness are effective bed-fellows. Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart is a classic example of how this can be used to incredible effect as the narrator questions his own sanity following his heinous act of murder, and the guilt this generates. Robert Louis Stephenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a less subtle take on the dualities of man and the consequences of wanton action. This concept of two sides to a personality has plagued public perceptions of schizophrenia for centuries. This cannot be laid at Stephenson’s feet as the book is of a time where the renaissance of modern-day psychiatry was a few years away. Do you have any favourite examples of where horror and mental illness have been used effectively? 

Lee Murray:

I was afraid you were going to ask me that. Let’s start with Hamlet, given that I spent my high school years quoting Lady Macbeth’s ‘Out, out damned spot’ soliloquy whenever I washed my hands in someone’s hearing. Other fiction titles addressing mental illness that resonated for me while growing up include Madge Piercy’s classic A Woman on the Edge of Time, The Madness of a Seduced Woman by Susan Stromberg Schaffer, and The Bone People, by New Zealand’s Booker-prize winner, Keri Hulme. More recently, I could add The Drowning Girl by last year’s StokerCon guest of honour, Caitlin R McKiernan and there’s Mark Matthew’s grueling anthology Garden of Fiends with its stellar line-up of authors writing addiction-inspired stories. Your own novella Bad Vision effectively addresses how the system fails sufferers when a man faced with a debilitating mental illness is unable to find support from his doctors, his community and even his wife. And there is Kirk’s We Are Monsters, which won him a Bram Stoker-nomination for First Novel. The book examines two doctors’ approaches to a schizophrenia: one, Drexler, who uses his patients as guinea pigs for his experimental drug treatments, and the other, Alpert, who advocates for therapy. As the story unfolds, a serial killer named Crosby becomes the test subject for Drexler’s latest treatment, but something goes wrong: the medicine alters Crosby’s mind, dragging him, and everyone with him, into a parallel plane where they are forced to face their demons. If we’re talking about translating the darker side of the human condition onto the page, then Kirk has definitely achieved that. 

I’m going to stop there, and let you jump in with a couple of favourites because so many of our horror colleagues are doing excellent work addressing mental illness in their fiction that this could become a very long list.

Dave Jeffery:

Gosh, there are so many to cite, outside of those I’ve mentioned earlier. If I’m looking at recent examples, I would have to say Gary McMahon’s excellent What They Hear in the Dark which focuses on the cost of terrible loss. I also add King’s novel, Pet Sematary, Richard Farren Barbers’s novella, Closer Still and James Everington’s Trying to Be So Quiet as wonderful stories that capture grief and its impact on the psyche. One that certainly lingers in the memory is Phil Sloman’s Becoming David which is a subtle and brilliantly executed exploration of the descent into madness. 

Lee Murray:

For anyone who would like to read more widely, I’ve found an excellent summary of more than 250 mainstream titles featuring mental illness (non-fiction and fiction) on the Bookscrolling website. The page also includes 22 other sources listing mental health and illness titles. 

Dave Jeffery: 

As highlighted in my introduction, the stigma of mental illness is an ongoing issue in society. For someone who works in the mental health field, the frustration when inroads in challenging these issues are swept away by negative, inflammatory media stories is beyond description. Yes, some people have committed terrible acts of violence when they have been in the throes of psychosis, but statistically the mentally ill are more likely to be the victims of crime. It is my view that those with extreme forms of mental illness have become a soft target for society’s ills. When someone commits heinous crimes, they are often labelled ‘insane’ or ‘crazy’ when it has more to do with deficits in their personality or behavioural programming. Perhaps they are just bad people. Many atrocities have been undertaken by governments all over the world and throughout history, after all. These constructs became the motivation for writing Finding Jericho and has been, if it hasn’t come across already, a passion of mine for most of my working life. 

Lee Murray:

I agree the stigma surrounding mental illness is perhaps the most significant barrier to getting support to people in need. As an example, for several years I sat on the committee of our local Alzheimer’s Society, providing community support to the families of sufferers. At that time, the region had two part-time field officers and a growing number of clients. With growing demand, the committee discussed the possibility of purchasing a vehicle, which the field officers would share and which we would brand with the Alzheimer’s Society logos to improve community awareness, another of our stated goals. The field officers were against the idea, preferring to use their private vehicles despite personal cost to themselves. We wouldn’t understand it. Field Officer  ‘Anna’ explained: “As it is, several of my clients have asked that I not park in the same street, and to please come to the back door when visiting, so that the neighbours don’t see.” The field officers were concerned that an Alzheimer’s-branded vehicle would mean clients would refuse valuable help, for fear of friends and neighbours finding out they were suffering from a mental illness. Even the words used to describe mental illness have stigma attached, our local field officers using the less offensive term ‘memory loss’, rather than Alzheimer’s or dementia, when speaking with clients and their families. It’s clear, the stigma of mental illness is a monster in itself.

Dave Jeffery: 

The associations between horrific acts of violence and mental illness in genre media can be exacerbated when such misguided links are assumed in horror fiction. As a horror writer, do you think we have a responsibility to temper this view when we write our narratives? 

Lee Murray:

I think we have a responsibility to write with authenticity. My Writing From a Dark Place panellist, Eric J. Guignard, is of the same mind. He says writers should: “create empathy with real life sufferers by sharing authentic experiences by way of storytelling”. To do that I believe we need to write complex rounded ‘real’ characters, including characters with mental illnesses. And if we also show the missed opportunities for help, those pivotal moments for connection that might have averted those acts of violence, then perhaps we would also see opportunities to affect change. 

I guess that gives us an altruistic reason to write horror, doesn’t it? 

Something interesting I learned recently is that while New Zealand’s Māori and Pasifika population currently have the country’s the highest rates of mental illness and suicide, a study conducted in the 1940s showed that, by contrast, Māori had no discernible incidence of mental illness at that time. Mental illness is a new phenomenon in Māori communities and is largely a product of the pressures of our modern society, arising because the traditional support networks provided by family and community have been broken down.

Baker (1988) reports: “Society had this fear of contamination from mental disease and also a massive denial that it even existed. These concepts were alien to Māori people whose whānau (family) members suffering from trauma were always included within the whanau (family), hapū (subtribe), iwi (tribal) boundaries and given special status.”

I think we have a lot to learn from the traditional Māori approach of inclusiveness and care when dealing with mental health issues.

Dave Jeffery: 

I would agree with your viewpoint. There is certainly a recovery-based ideology prevalent in Baker’s description of Māori culture, and this can be seen in Western values throughout the history. For example, in 1796, Quaker William Tuke set up The Retreat, a facility built in the city of York, UK that was to become the cornerstone of a philosophy of what was called The Moral Treatment. The programme involved giving patients purpose, including them in their decision-making and giving them a meaningful life through the sanctity of work. These are key tenets that we see in the recovery paradigm that is so fundamental to mental healthcare in the 21st Century. Community and inclusion are essential to the concept of reducing stigma. With celebrities using their high profile to share their experiences of mental health issues, I have to say we’ve come a long way, but it is nowhere near enough. 

Lee Murray:

Whether or not it is therapeutic, writing has been known to save people. 

Janet Frame is one of New Zealand’s most iconic writers of dark fiction and the subject of Jane Campion’s 1990 film An Angel at My Table. Almost all of Janet Frame’s work, including her debut novel Owls Do Cry (1957), addresses mental illness and is thought to have been drawn from her own experience. After a suicide attempt, Frame spent eight years in mental hospitals and received 200 electroshock treatments. She was about to undergo a lobotomy, but the New Zealand Society of Authors sent a letter advising the hospital that she had recently won a major literary prize, and instead she was released.

Later, a panel of psychiatrists determined that she didn’t have schizophrenia, a fact which Frame resented, as she wrote in her third autobiography: “Oh why had they robbed me of my schizophrenia, which had been the answer to all my misgivings about myself?”

It introduces a chicken and the egg aspect to the horror-mental health debate, doesn’t it? Which comes first, the horror writer who suffers mental illness, writers who suffer mental illness who are then drawn to dark themes? Why exactly do we choose horror over happier more light-hearted themes, anyway? As a mental health practitioner and a horror writer yourself, do you consider dark themes are therapeutic in any way?

Dave Jeffery:

 I think if done with integrity and skill then, yes, it can be therapeutic. I say with the caveat of recovery, of course. If people relate to the experiences of characters then it reinforces the concept that they are not experiencing these things in isolation, that social context is has given them common ground through the characters. Where it becomes less helpful is where the narrative is delivered in a clumsy way by those who prefer to shock, reinforcing those ever-present societal views of the salivating lunatic who kills anyone they see, a human monster terrorising the innocent. My advice to those who are planning on writing about mental illness in horror fiction is to treat it with the sensitivity as they would gender and race issues. That way you will take the time to consider what the pitfalls are and ultimately write something interesting and, above all, authentic. 


Lee Murray and Dave Jeffery are current co-chairs of the HWA Wellness Committee.

Lee Murray is an author, editor, screenwriter, and poet from Aotearoa New Zealand. A USA Today Bestselling author, double Bram Stoker Award® and Shirley Jackson Award winner, her work includes military thriller series, the Taine McKenna Adventures, supernatural crime-noir trilogy The Path of Ra (with Dan Rabarts), and short fiction collection, Grotesque: Monster Stories. Lee is the editor of nineteen volumes of dark fiction, among them Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women (with Geneve Flynn). Other works include non-fiction title Mark My Words: Read the Submission Guidelines and Other Self-editing Tips with Angela Yuriko Smith, and several books for children. Her short stories and poems have appeared in venues such as Weird Tales, Space and Time, and Grimdark Magazine. Lee is co-founder of Young NZ Writers and of the Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Fiction Writers, an HWA Mentor of the Year, NZSA Honorary Literary Fellow, and a Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow. Read more at https://www.leemurray.info/

Dave Jeffery is the author of 17 novels, two collections, and numerous short stories. His Necropolis Rising series (Severed Press) and yeti adventure Frostbite (Severed Press) have both featured on the Amazon #1 bestseller list. He regularly contributes both articles and short stories for the prestigious genre publication, Phantasmagoria Magazine. His YA work features the Beatrice Beecham supernatural mystery series (Crystal Lake Publishing & Crossroad Press). Jeffery is also the creator of the critically acclaimed A Quiet Apocalypse series (Demain Publishing). His contemporary mental health novel Finding Jericho is currently being optioned as a TV miniseries. 

Jeffery is a member of the Society of Authors and actively involved in the Horror Writers Association where he is a mentor on the HWA Mentorship Scheme, and co-chair of the HWA Wellness Committee. He is contactable through his website: http://www.davejefferyauthor.com

References:

Ando, V., Claridge, G. & Clarke, A. (2014) ‘Psychotic traits in comedians ’. The British Journal of Psychiatry.  204(5)

Baker, R. (1988), ‘Kia Koutou’ IN Walsh, C. & Johnson, S. (eds.), Psych Nurses, 88, Wellington, p.40.

Beaglehole, E., Beaglehole, P., (1947), Some Modern Māori, New Zealand Council for Educational Research, Whitcombe and Tombs Ltd, Auckland.

Foucault, M. (1967) Madness & Civilization. Routledge, London. 

Arnold, N. (ed.) (2018) Headlands: New Stories of Anxiety. Victoria University Press, Wellington.

Tuke, W. (1813) Description of the Retreat. Alexander: York.

 

 

Guest Blog: For A Horror Writer, Inspiration Can Hit At Any Time

By Kaaron Warren

Most writers have an internal voice that runs day and night, even while we sleep. It’s the voice that points out ideas to us, that says, did you hear that, about a snippet of conversation, or see that, about a piece of grafitti or a stray dog trailing a leash, or new shoes neatly placed in the gutter. As a horror writer, that voice can show up in surprising places.

For me, ideas often come hidden in old magazines. There’s something about jumping into the past (and, in a way, seeing into the future because I can find out what happened next thanks to the internet) that sparks ideas for me.

When The Pixel Project approached me for a story for the important anthology Give the Devil His Due, I knew I wanted to write a story where the abuser truly felt the pain of regret and suffering. I just wasn’t sure how.

I flicked through an old Punch Magazine from the 1960s and came across an advertisement for cigars. Two men, one sitting in a leather armchair, one with his foot up on a stool, both completely filled with self-assurance and certainty of their importance. They were in a place called The Steering Wheel Club, which did, in fact, exist at one time.

The idea for a horror story lay hidden under the façade of comfort, companionship and wealth. There were apparently famous steering wheels mounted on the walls and with my horror writer’s imagination, I wondered what sort of men would collect steering wheels behind which someone had died.

Horror stories are a glimpse into the truth.

Glimpses of truth lie hidden in the pages of an old history book. I was glancing through a publication called The Archaeological Journal 1931, and I came across a description of an unnamed woman (who they call Kathleen, but whose name was not Kathleen) who fell in love with a priest, the author says, ‘until he gave her a thorough and well deserved flogging with a handfuls of nettles” after which she saw ‘the error of her ways’ and became a nun. In the Thomas Moore poem, the priest in fact ‘hurls her from the beetling rock’ to her death. The priest comes to regret the loss of her love (not Kathleen, but her adoration) and blesses her to be happy in Heaven, which makes her ghost, which glides mournfully across the lake, smile.

I feel a helpless fury reading this, the same I get when I read about Henry the Eighth’s wives or any other abused ‘appendage’. I’m helpless to change what happened, but through fiction I can affect how I feel about it, and to perhaps gain some small revenge. The good thing about writing horror is that I can make bad things happen. I have people come back from the dead, and ghosts haunt, and I can have Kathleen smile like she does in the poem, but in my story she’ll thrust her ice-cold fingers into his eyes so he will never see god’s beautiful creation again…

Violence against women in domestic situations can be similarly hidden. The face people present to the world (as individuals or as families) can hide the true nature of that relationship. I wanted to be a part of this anthology because while my voice gives me ideas for stories, and I can speak it aloud, there are many, many others who need help, and need the chance to ask for help.


About Giving The Devil His Due (http://bit.ly/GivingTheDevilHisDue

Giving The Devil His Due is a charity anthology featuirng stories where The Twilight Zone meets Promising Young Woman as men who abuse and murder women meet their comeuppance in uncanny ways. Edited by Rebecca Brewer, the anthology features sixteen major names and rising stars in Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror including Angela Yuriko Smith, Christina Henry, Dana Cameron, Errick Nunnally, Hillary Monahan, Jason Sanford, Kaaron Warren, Kelley Armstrong, Kenesha Williams, Leanna Renee Hieber, Lee Murray, Linda D. Addison, Nicholas Kaufmann, Nisi Shawl, Peter Tieryas, and Stephen Graham Jones.  The book includes resources for victims and survivors of VAW worldwide, making it a valuable tool for getting life-saving information to domestic violence victims still under their abuser’s control or rape survivors who are too ashamed to ask for help. 100% of the net proceeds from the sales of the anthology will go towards supporting The Pixel Project’s anti-violence against women work. Find out where to get your copy of the Special Edition via http://bit.ly/GivingTheDevilHisDue. The upcoming Classic Edition will be released on 25 May 2022 by Running Wild Press (https://runningwildpress.com/).

About The Pixel Project (www.thepixelproject.net

 

 

The Pixel Project is a complete virtual, volunteer-led global 501(c)3 nonprofit organisation whose mission is to raise awareness, funds and volunteer power for the cause to end violence against women using  a combination of social media, new technologies, and popular culture/the Arts

 

 

 

Shirley Jackson award-winner Kaaron Warren’s most recent books include the re-release of her acclaimed novels, Slights, Mistification and Walking the Tree (IFWG Australia), Tool Tales, a chapbook in collaboration with Ellen Datlow (also IFWG), a novella Into Bones Like Oil (Meerkat Press), which was shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson Award and the Bram Stoker Award, winning the Aurealis Award, and Capturing Ghosts, a writing advice chapbook from Brain Jar Press. She was Guest of Honour at Genrecon 2018, World Fantasy 2018, Stokercon 2019 and Geysercon 2019.

Book Review: Love and Zombies by Eric Shapiro 

Review by Hailey Knoblock

Content Warning: Brief Mentions of Rape 

Imagine going on an adventure to Las Vegas in the midst of the zombie apocalypse on the hunt to find a girl that was just recently bitten by a zombie so that she can be used in an upcoming porn film?  

Love and Zombies by Eric Shapiro is a humorous, gory, and quick read. Henry, a filmmaker, gets a call one day from his friend Sam Kranson. Sam has a mission for Henry and himself to go out to Las Vegas to find a girl who has been recently bitten by a zombie and to bring her back to a man named Anthony Christopher, the son of the sharks’ casino owner in Vegas. However, Anthony Christopher and the rest of the casino’s intent is to use the girl that is slowly turning into a zombie to be used in a porn film. As well as the mission, Henry also has an addiction to going to strip clubs, so his girlfriend Teresa, is quite anxious for him to be going on a trip alone to Las Vegas. Sam and Henry will be compensated though, if they complete the mission

I really liked how the main character, Henry, kept having flashbacks the whole time of his girlfriend, Teresa, who he had to leave behind to go on the mission with Sam to Las Vegas. The whole time, while the zombie apocalypse is happening, Henry has this internal struggle of thinking about if Teresa still likes him, or if she has left him for someone else. I like how this deep internal struggle that Henry has contrasts with the humor of Sam and Henry’s relationship and the funny situations that Henry gets himself stuck in throughout the novel. 

Another aspect that I really liked about this book was all of the gore that was involved and the violence. The best part is that Eric Shapiro would take a scene full of gore and violence but also make the situation absolutely hilarious.

There is a brief mention of rape in the novel that I would like to point out, but it is only mentioned for a moment in the story. 

The book was enjoyable and hilarious except for the mention of rape. It was fast, fun, and full of gore and violence. The writing was simple and effective and also easy to understand. The storyline was interesting and after the first page, I was hooked. 

I would recommend this book to anyone that likes gore, violence, a little bit of romance, and humor. 

Review Written By: Hailey Knoblock 

Terror Trax : Dave McAnally/ SYS MACHINE – Interview by William Zimmerman

Dave McAnally is the main driving force behind electro-industrial acts, SYS MACHINE, and DERISION CULT and is an extremely prolific artist/songwriter.  Graceful Isolation is the title of the new Sys Machine album available via Bandcamp.  We’d like to thank Dave for his time in this short interview.

You are the main guy behind the projects Sys Machine and Derision Cult.  What are the differences in terms of themes, inspirations, and otherwise?

I’m the main guy behind both of them, but I have different folks I collaborate with.  Gabe Wilkinson from the band Microwaved is involved in various ways on both Sys Machine and Derision Cult.  Kimberly of Bow Ever Down does vocals on 2/3 of the tracks on ‘Graceful Isolation’ and I worked with a number of remixers for that.  Derision Cult really started as sort of my platform to comment on what I felt were big themes in society.  It’s not so much political as is sociological.  I spent a lot of years in the advertising industry and saw firsthand how public perceptions have been manipulated and how big companies will seize on moments and movements to harness anger and anxiety to sell more products.  

Particularly on ‘Charlatans Inc’ I felt like those were important issues to address- especially with what’s all happened in the last couple of years with the pandemic and political agitation in America.  Some of that is more coerced and less altruistic than it appears.  So that’s more me talking about the world at large.  Musically, it’s industrial metal.  It’s me fusing my love of all things thrash, punk, and industrial and I am always fusing other things like blues, jazz, rockabilly, and reggae into it – which are also things I’m really into.   Sys Machine is a different animal entirely.  It started life as experiments with different sounds, synths, and arrangements, and ‘Graceful Isolation’ is really the culmination of a few years of that.  It felt like the right time with the tracks that became ‘Graceful Isolation’ to step up a bit, work with new people and really make something of those tracks and turn them into songs.  I take inspiration from what some industrial artists from the ’90s were doing in the early 2000’s – Van Christie with Eco-Hed, Chris Randall with Micronaut, Mike Fisher with Amish Rake Fight, etc.   There’s some really excellent stuff that got made.  

Can you tell us more about the specific themes behind “Graceful Isolation”, the new album from Sys Machine? 

 Kim’s lyrics deal primarily with isolation, revenge through rising above situations and chasing dreams even when they feel unattainable.   My tracks are almost entirely related to what I was going through while we were putting the tracks together.   I’d quit drinking a bit prior to that and wanted to say something about what that felt like.  I don’t have any point of view about what people should or shouldn’t do in their lives or anything like that.  But the experience of giving that up and sort of looking at the world with a fresh sober set of eyes is pretty profound.  Anybody who’s given up something like that probably knows what I mean.  You see how a lot of notions you had about joys in life are really illusions brought on by whatever vice in question.  So “Drowning in the Past” is sort of a hypothetical conversation I’d have with myself if I could go back and tell my former self what it’s like on the other side of that decision and how there’s really nothing to be worried about.   “Illusions” is pretty to the point about all the distorted realities you can create for yourself in the service of a vice.  

Since this is a horror site, we have to ask some horror-related questions…  What horror movie character would you identify with most and why?   

 Ha!  I was literally just having a conversation with my daughter about all the classic Universal monsters.  Some definitely aged better than others!  But I used to watch those all the time when I was her age (she’s going to be 8).  Anyhow- I think I’d say I identify the most with Dr. Frankenstein (not the monster, the scientist dude).  In the 1931 movie- they sort of touch on how myopic and obsessive he is.  He gets pretty single-minded about his projects, to the detriment of people close to him.   I don’t want to go raise the dead or anything,  I’m definitely somebody who gets tunnel vision and hyper-focuses on things– be it in music or in business or whatever. 

Do you have any particular favorite horror-related films, TV shows, and so on?  

Oh man, we love Stranger Things in my house!  Not sure if that counts.  When it comes to horror, I’m a total occult/satanism guy.  I still think The Exorcist is one of the freakiest movies even till.  There’s another movie from the ’70s that never became iconic like that, but it’s called The Sentinel and it’s another one of those 70’s occult horror films that had to rely on practical effects to bring the scary.  It’s got that same “the older it gets the scarier it gets” vibe the Exorcist does.  But exorcisms, possessions, ghosts, etc– those are my jam.  My wife likes the blood and guts stuff like Saw and the demonic stuff keeps her up at night so we usually watch horror movies in separate rooms haha. 

What’s been the scariest time for you over the past couple of challenging years?  

Definitely when the company I was working at basically buckled under the weight of Covid.  It happened pretty fast because we were so steeped in the travel industry and that was one of the first to grind to a halt.  Anybody who’s been in that position of having the rug yanked out from you career-wise knows what that’s like.  Unless you’re independently wealthy or something things like how you’re going to pay for groceries or the mortgage or whatever, let alone plan for the future become constant stresses.  But like most of those situations, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  I ended up starting my own company and that’s been a huge success.  So much that I’ve since started another business that’s also coming together nicely.  So it was a scary time, but it had a happy ending. 

Thanks for your time.  These last words are yours.  

Thanks for the questions!  You can check out both Sys Machine and Derision Cult on Bandcamp, and we’re streaming everywhere!   Got a big year planned with new collaborations on both fronts! 

For more information:

https://www.facebook.com/SysMachine

https://sysmachine.bandcamp.com/album/graceful-isolation

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William Zimmerman runs the blog noisebeneaththesnow.com and regularly does guest posts for the goth/industrial music arena.

Book Review: The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

Review by Hailey Knoblock

What would you do if you stumbled across a puzzle box that held wonders unknown to man? Would you try to solve it? Or would you push your curiosities aside and leave it alone? 

Frank Cotton, a criminal sadomasochist, has been all over the world and is getting bored with himself and the desires that he indulges himself with. However, Frank stumbles upon Lemarchand’s puzzle box that has been constructed by a master craftsman and is persistent on opening it. Frank expected an insane amount of pleasure to come after opening the box. Instead, Frank got introduced to the Cenobites who are otherworldly beings that understand pleasure as pain and vice versa. Frank opens the box in an old house and the Cenobites come to take him away. A few months later, Frank’s brother Rory and his wife Julia move into the house. Rory thinks that Frank is on vacation somewhere.  However, when Rory accidentally cuts himself and bleeds in the room where Frank summoned the Cenobites, all hell breaks loose. 

I enjoyed reading Julia’s character arc throughout the novel. She first starts off as a passive but beautiful woman who is clearly not in love with her husband anymore. Once she realizes that Rory’s brother Frank never really left the house and is still there, her character changes to a more active role. Female killers always capture my attention and the way she went about picking up men from the bar and bringing them back to her home to kill them was awesome to read about. I feel like a lot of novels don’t go into depth about a female killing someone but Clive Barker gives great detail about the gore. For this novel to be published in 1986, Clive Barker was making bold moves by having one of the main female characters in his novel be a complete savage killer. 

I wish that the novel went more into the Cenobites lore and backstory. The whole story really revolves around Frank and Julia’s love for each other which is cute in a sick and twisted way. However, the film series Hellraiser does the Cenobites justice by expanding their backstory if you are interested in learning more about them. 

If you are interested in reading a book with lots of gore described in detail and a book that has an intense female character, then The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker is the book for you. 

Terror Trax: Cut Like This / Interview with William Zimmerman

 

 

Could you give us a brief background on Cut Like This?

We are an NYC Horrorpunk trio.

What’s the inspiration behind the new single, “The Boogeyman.”?

Freddy Krueger and Insomnia.

What character in a horror movie or TV show can you most identify with and why?

Ash from Evil Dead, he’s a mess but badass!

What are your favorite horror movies?

Evil Dead, The Thing, Aliens

What was the scariest night of your life?

Having emergency surgery!

What’s next for Cut Like This in 2022?

A music video for Boogeyman!

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

We have a horror show on YouTube!

(Fan contacts…)

Website/Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Bandcamp?

www.cutlikethismusic.com

www.facebook.com/cutlikethismusic

www.cutlikethis.bandcamp.com

Insert one of your video YouTube links:

https://youtu.be/mT3jkImwMvs

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

William is a full-time publicist and blogger for noisebeneaththesnow.com.

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

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows

Featured Author: Geneve Flynn

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

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

Please say hello to Geneve Flynn.

LM: Please tell us a little more about the themes you explore in this collection.

GF: There were a few things happening in the cultural and political spaces in Australia when I was writing my poems. There had been allegations of rife sexism, sexual misconduct, and assault within our parliament, and there has been growing fury at how gendered violence has been handled by the press, the justice system, and the government. Tortured Willows offered a place for me to express some of my own anger and frustration at our very “blokey” culture. I also wrote about my experience of racism as part of the Chinese-Malaysian diaspora. They were the some of the same themes I touched on in my stories in Black Cranes; but, in Tortured Willows, using poetry, I was able to explore these themes from different angles and in a more targeted way. 

LM: Your poem “Penanggalan’s Lament”, a favourite of mine, features one of the most gruesome creatures from Southeast Asian mythology. Please tell us more about her and what she symbolises in your work. 

“penanggalanfullj.jpg” by Kurt Komoda is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

GF: The penanggalan is a Malay vampiric creature that is thought to be a woman who accidentally curses herself with black magic in the pursuit of beauty. She is supposed to soak in a vat of vinegar and eat no meat for forty days. However, she breaks her fast early and becomes monstrous. At night, she detaches her head from her body, trailing organs as she seeks out newborns and pregnant women to feed on. 

I immigrated to Australia only a decade or so after the White Australia Policy was abolished. I was often one of the only Asian kids in school, so I faced racism and abuse. I spent a lot of my childhood and teen years wishing I had blue eyes and blond hair. The idea that you could damn yourself in order to look a certain way resonated with me. Here is an excerpt from my poem:

“All you have to do: soak in vinegar,

hide in a vat; no meat for forty days.

You’ll be blue-eyed, fair, perfect, regular.”

The girl agrees, wakes up, still in a haze.

She’s one of them, not chink: so white, all ways.

Goodbye past, so long; she’s full ABC.

But she forgets: each deal you buy, you pay

your life, if you want to have that body. 

 

LM: Hungry ghosts feature in your poem “Inheritance”, a text which I found both evocative and insightful. What are hungry ghosts, and how did you showcase them in your work? 

“The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Photo 6” by feministjulie is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

GF: Hungry ghosts are said to arise when a person commits an evil deed or suffers a terrible death. When they die, they are tormented by insatiable desire for the one thing they sought most in life. The hungry ghost has a swollen belly and a tiny mouth, and can never be fulfilled. I wanted to write about the opportunities denied to Chinese girls and women, simply because they are often viewed as only fit for filial duty. What does it do to a person to be continually told, no matter your potential, you are only good for one thing? Would it turn you into a wraith, forever chasing validation? Here’s an excerpt from my poem:

Was that when you first

began to swell? Your stomach

bulging and burgeoning,

swallowing the bitter,

the burden, the second-hands,

the not-for-yous? 

Did your mouth begin to draw 

closed like a miserly purse

when you were left behind,

your splendid mind with  

only hunger and no choice

but to turn upon itself?

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

Praise for Tortured Willows:

“It’s clear Murray, Flynn, Sng, and Yuriko Smith are nowhere close to finished sharing all of the poems within them, but this is a fine rare gathering you’ll want to revisit time and

again.”—Bryan Thao Worra, former President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association

“Women live with spectres gifted to us by our experiences. Tortured Willows breathes life into these shadows, reminding us that what has shaped us has not broken us.”—Piper Mejia, author of The Better Sister & Other Stories

“A haunting, harrowing exploration of obligation, expectation, and sacrifice, poetry as unquiet fury and a lens on both past and present. Told in four unique voices yet speaking for countless silent generations of Asian women, Tortured Willows grips you by the throat and screams into the night, demanding to be heard.”—Dan Rabarts, award-winning author of the Children of Bane series

“This collection of poetry, without a doubt, will forever remain one of my all-time favorites. No matter how hard I pulled at the reins, I could not stop until every last poem was inside of me.” —Cindy O’Quinn, two-time Bram Stoker Award®-nominated author

Tortured Willows

Bent. Bowed. Unbroken

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

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

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

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

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

Geneve Flynn is an award-winning speculative fiction editor and author. She has two psychology degrees and only uses them for nefarious purposes.

She co-edited Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women with celebrated New Zealand author and editor Lee Murray. The anthology won the 2020 Bram Stoker Award® and the 2020 Shirley Jackson Award for best anthology. It has also been shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award, Aurealis Award, and Australian Shadows Award. Black Cranes is listed on Tor Nightfire’s Works of Feminist Horror and Locus magazine’s 2020 Recommended Reading List

Geneve was assistant editor for Relics, Wrecks, and Ruins, a speculative fiction anthology which features authors such as Neil Gaiman, Ken Liu, Robert Silverberg, James (SA) Corey, Lee Murray, Mark Lawrence, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Angela Slatter. The anthology is the legacy of Australian fantasy author Aiki Flinthart, and is in support of the Flinthart Writing Residency with the Queensland Writers Centre

Geneve’s short stories have been published in various markets, including Flame Tree Publishing, Things in the Well, and PseudoPod. Her latest short story, “They Call Me Mother,” will appear in Classic Monsters Unleashed with some of the biggest names in horror, including Joe Lansdale, Jonathan Maberry, and Ramsey Campbell.

Geneve 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.

Book Review: This Morbid Life by Loren Rhoads

 

Reviewed by B. Nguyen-Calkins

Essays get a bad reputation within my friend group. Essays are wordy, boring, long. Twelve years plus may also put a damper on essays. However, Loren Rhoads’ This Morbid Life is such a fun collection of essays, I will be recommending it to my friends who may not be convinced of the genre’s beauty.

Each piece of the collection is effortless to read. It’s also convenient to read one or two pieces a night. There wasn’t a piece that didn’t make me think, at least for a moment, about life. It’s difficult to declare a singular theme for the collection. Rhoads declared the book as a love letter to all those who accompanied her life. While trying to generalize the book in its entirety, I can think of nothing more than what Rhoads writes- it’s a love letter to life and its people. Rhoads writes with a sincere voice, while still managing to befriend the reader without hesitation. As I read some pieces it almost sounded like I could hear it being told to me. The prose is natural and invigorating.

Though the collection is about life and its morbid irony, each piece has a unique outlook to offer you. I especially favored some over others, but with a work that comes across as personal as This Morbid Life, it’s difficult to say one is better than another. I’d recommend reading the collection from start to finish rather than jumping around. The specific order of the stories is purposeful. You may find yourself going back to reread an essay, a paragraph, or a line. But holistically, each piece builds or contrasts from the previous. 

A great collection or anthology intertwines stories seamlessly. I couldn’t stop reading after finishing one chapter. While I do have favorites, I can’t separate them from the collection. They worked together building a process of thinking for myself. I have a digital copy; however, I would love this in print. As I’ve said, it would be a great collection to read a bit each night. For This Morbid Life, I’ll settle and charge my Kindle.

Book Review : HELLSLEIGH by DC Brockwell


HELLSLEIGH AND THE HORRORS OF INSTITUTIONALIZATION

Review by Renata Pavrey

“They say if you listen carefully, you can still hear the screaming. Because once you enter Hellsleigh, it will never let you leave.”

A parapsychologist gets into a scuffle with a local tramp on the roof of a derelict hospital. They both fall down to their deaths, following which the police unearth more bodies from within the abandoned premises. Hellsleigh was formerly a mental asylum, infamous for its century-old history of two psychiatric nurses who went around killing patients. In later years the hospital was engulfed in a fire. And over time it earned its reputation of being haunted. What exactly is the story of Hellsleigh? Why do people associated with it die? And what was a paranormal investigator doing on the roof covered in blood? Hellsleigh is an interesting supernatural thriller that takes the reader on a ride through the history of its namesake hospital, as we attempt to solve the mystery of the deaths.

Through his fictitious hospital, its past and present, author DC Brockwell raises pertinent questions and topics for discussion on the treatment of mental disorders. The back-and-forth narrative in Hellsleigh makes for an engaging reading experience. The novel begins with Dr. Fiske falling from the roof of the hospital, and as the story progresses we move forward as well as backward, to uncover the mysterious events of the introduction – an ending leading to a beginning. We learn how each of the deceased came to be where they were ultimately found, or at least the parts of them that were identified. A team of paranormal investigators undertaking a non-commissioned project, a group of university students partying in a restricted area, a reporter having his research catch up with his reality – the sequence of timelines, events, characters, historical context keep the reader on edge throughout.

Hellsleigh is a wonderfully constructed story. The supernatural elements are eerie and atmospheric, rather than gory and in-your-face. In a horrific as well as terrific storyline, Brockwell makes the reader consider who the real monsters are – the ghosts of the present or the people of the past. 

Like Brockwell, other authors have also addressed mental health issues through their dark fiction. The Focus Program by KT Dady is a sci-fi horror story that begins with the suicide of the protagonist. He is incorporated into the titular organization that aims to eliminate mental disorders by denying their existence on his death. Dady sensitively touches subjects like the ignorance of society and the denial of problems that are not overtly visible. Similarly, We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk is a medical horror novel focused on schizophrenia and an experimental drug that displaces hallucinations from the mind and sets the monsters free into the real world. 

Horror fiction addressing mental health offers a unique reading experience, by questioning society and the medical fraternity about where the actual horrors lie. In the minds of patients? Or in hospitals resorting to constant drugging to keep patients subdued? Or in societal rejection in terms of jobs and housing? October is dedicated to World Mental Health Day, and the month also celebrates Halloween. In an irony of sorts, mental health issues are still largely misunderstood and misdiagnosed, or ignored and dismissed. The horrors an individual goes through within their own minds and society at large stresses the importance of education and sensitivity in the addressal and treatment of mental health illnesses.

Free Fiction : In the Space of Insanity by Helen Mihajlovic


The Countess Pamela Bohrer had ridden the carriage for miles as she headed towards the isolated land where the medieval Castle Adnarim rested on a hill. The castle had been passed down through generations of the Bohrer family and the Countess had become the sole heir.  

The castle loomed ahead with its high stone walls and six ominous towers that penetrated the night sky. It had one hundred rooms, seventy fireplaces, lengthy hallways and the rows of heavily barred windows gave the impression that the outside world was forbidden entry.

When the Countess arrived, she entered the dark castle, shivering inside its cold rooms. A damp odor filled the air. The moonlight streaming from the pointed windows faintly lit the vaulted ceilings, the dirty ground, the cracks in the walls, and the decaying marble on the fireplace.

“Frederick!” she yelled. 

The silhouette of her servant appeared in a dim doorway. He was a tall man with hollow cheeks and silver hair, who had served her family for two generations. 

“Welcome back to Adnarim Castle Countess Bohrer,” he said. “How was your trip into town?”

“The plague has spread to Vienna,” she said. Her voice quivered. “Everyone must remain in their houses.” 

Frederick’s hands shook as he attempted to lift her bag; the Countess insisted she would carry the bag herself. 

“I would like dinner served in an hour,” she ordered. 

He gave a nod before she ascended the stairs to her bedchamber. 

In the center of the chamber was an ornamented bed made of dark wood. Around it, rich embroideries hung on the walls and the family coat of arms hung by the door: a silhouette of a chiropteran with crooked wings. 

The Countess jolted when she heard a sudden bang. She lit a candle, looking nervously around the bedchamber. She searched under the bed and behind the purple curtains in case of an intruder.  A moonbeam revealed a moving shadow on the wall. Her heartbeat grew erratic. But when she approached the shadow, it disappeared. 

The Countess grew fearful that her anxious temperament would develop to the neurosis that had frequently tormented her for years; whereby she would see shadows and shapes of all sizes that would take the form of threatening creatures, that were a trickery of her senses. 

She was relieved to find that the open shutters flapping in the wind had caused the shadow. She closed the shutters. But upon hearing a loud groan in the hallway, her blood pulsed. She slowly walked to the chamber door and opened it. 

The hallway floorboards creaked beneath her feet as she headed towards the solemn groaning. It grew louder. As she turned the corner, there stood a pale young man, with large somber eyes and black attire, whose form was transparent; she could see the wall through him. 

For a moment happiness rose in her heart; it was her beloved brother William. But when she remembered more than a decade had passed since his death, her face grew whiter than the ghost.

“William,” she said. 

“I am here to warn you,” he said. 

His grim tone frightened her.  

 “Warn me!” her voice faltered. 

“Two men are coming to Adnarim Castle.”

“Who are they?”

“They are dangerous men who mean you harm.”

“I’ve done no wrong to have an enemy.” 

“They are violent scoundrels.” 

“I have nothing of great value to steal. I have sold most of the jewelry for the maintenance of my properties.” But trepidation overtook her as she remembered the several parcels recently bought from various shops in town that were to be delivered to the castle upon her return.

“They’ll steal any of your possessions they can barter.”

Her bottom lip quivered. “I’m afraid they’ll bring the plague.” 

“You must bolt all the doors and stay inside.”

“I’m all alone,” she said. “There’s no one to protect me.”  She looked to the kindness on his face. He had been the only man who had loved her. 

“I miss you, William.”

“Hold onto calm, dearest sister,” he said. “With shrewd thinking, you will prevail.”

He vanished. 

She ran to every door in the castle and bolted it shut. 

***

The Countess sat at the head of a long rectangular table covered in a rich fabric, on a high chair decorated with whimsical carvings. She glanced at her reflection on the chalice, her dark curls with a few strands of silver hung on her shoulders, her large black eyes had dark circles and she wore a flowing red velvet looped up skirt adorned with red ribbon. 

A momentary sadness crossed the Countess’ face as she looked at the empty seats. Memories of childhood tormented her; she often sat alone in the gardens as a young girl, surrounded by the laughter of children running around the large oak trees. Throughout her life, she had grown accustomed to being alone.

When Frederick’s old limbs hadn’t brought her meal to the table an hour later, she charged into the kitchen and came back with a gold dish weighted with salmon and placed a pitcher filled with mead by its side.  

A loud crack of thunder penetrated the night sky as the Countess ate. She turned towards the opened arched window and a look of fright crossed her eyes. She imagined a bolt of lightning striking her balcony and sparking a wildfire burning Castle Adnarim to ashes. She shut the window, grimacing at the dark clouds as the sudden rain thrashed the pane.  

As she stepped back, a drop of liquid fell on her cheek from a hole in the ceiling. The Countess wondered if the liquid held a perilous nature: a dangerous acid that she imagined scalding her skin, eating away each layer of the flesh and leaving her skull protruding. Her fingers anxiously rose to her cheek, reassured that it was merely a drop of harmless rainwater. She exhaled with relief. 

***

After dinner, the Countess headed to the pointed tower of Adnarim Castle containing the musty smell of the thousands of books lining mahogany circular shelves. A few words were engraved on the wall: Everything is too complicated for human beings to understand.   

The Countess sat behind a wooden desk with a quill pen, ink bottle and parchment. She had often come to the tower to divert her attention from anxious thoughts and would spend hours writing her poetry. 

Her mind was haunted by the vision of her brother’s ghost. 

What if William’s warning were to come true? 

She picked up the quill pen longing for a moment of peace while finishing her poem about a brave soldier and the Zanni trickster as he leapt and tumbled. A hint of a smile emerged on her lips as she lingered in her imagination. 

But a sudden bang outside the castle roused the Countess from her fancies; her quill pen fell to the ground. She peered out the casement onto the moonlit courtyard where strange shadows of two figures advanced. She remembered her brother’s warning; her breath grew louder. 

The Countess descended the stairs. She grasped her head at the loud banging on the doors as the thieves endeavored to break into the castle. 

“Frederick,” she called. 

But there was no answer; Frederick had been ill after dinner and had gone to bed early. She grimaced at the shatter of glass; a rock had found its way between the bars on a window.      

The Countess gasped. Many thoughts racing through her mind, she ran to get her bow and quiver of arrows and then rushed to the balcony. She peered over the ledge and saw the silhouettes of two men: one scrawny and the other portly, both continuing to beat on the doors. 

She watched the silhouettes steal her parcel by the door. She thought of what her brother William had told her. “Hold onto calm, dearest sister. With shrewd thinking, you will prevail.” 

Strangely a moment of calm came over her. She aimed an arrow at the thief with the portly form and kept shooting till he fell dead. She aimed another arrow at the scrawny thief, who, having seen his accomplice fall down dead, began to run. The Countess clenched her teeth as her arrow missed him. She pulled out another arrow from the quiver and took her aim. A wicked gleam crossed her eyes as she struck his head and he fell to the ground in a pool of blood. 

***

For several days afterward, the Countess stood guard on the balcony till a late hour. She peered through a handheld telescope, allowing her to see the far ends of the vast land that surrounded the castle. She regretted not having repaired the drawbridge since her last stay here. 

One night, as she marched up and down the balcony, watching for intruders, she saw a figure on horseback riding towards the castle. She shook with fear. 

“Frederick,” she yelled. 

The shape of a man drew nearer. She quickly ran into the house. There was a loud knock on the door. 

Frederick walked wearily to the door but did not open it. 

“The castle holds arms!” said Frederick.

“Who are you?” asked the Countess, from behind the closed door. 

“I am Lieutenant Christoff Alexandra,” he said. 

“We’re not accepting visitors during the plague,” said the Countess. 

“I am from the far east, there is no plague on that side of the river.”

The Countess and Frederick exchanged a contemplative stare. The Countess hesitantly opened the door. 

The man was masked by the night and she caught shades of a navy-blue uniform. 

“May I speak to the owner of the castle?” he said, removing his hat. 

“I am Countess Pamela Bohrer, the owner of Adnarim Castle,” she said. “You may come inside.”

“Countess Bohrer, I am looking for a place to stay for the night.” He said as he entered. His dark brown eyes held a mischievous stare and ebony curls lined his hat. A hint of a smile crossed the Countess’ lips.

 “I must leave for Vienna in the morning.”

“Frederick, show Lieutenant Alexandra to a bedchamber upstairs.” 

The Lieutenant gave the Countess a lascivious look over his shoulder as he followed Frederick up to his chamber. 

***

The next few days brought forth a settled wind; the Countess was pleased that the Lieutenant had extended his stay at the castle. They roamed the gardens as the swallow sang a pleasing melody, spending afternoons under the Magnolia tree.  

“I am the greatest swordsman in the whole of Austria,” boasted the Lieutenant. He drew out his sword and thrashed the air. “I have fought many battles.”

The Countess’ brows rose, mesmerized by his shiny sword. 

When the Lieutenant finally put away his sword, he took out a book from his coat pocket. It was a collection of poetry by Robert Herrick. He read with a soft voice that the Countess found hard to hear.  

How Love came in, I do not know,

Whether by the eye, or ear, or no;
Or whether with the soul it came,
At first, infused with the same;
Whether in part ’tis here or there,
Or, like the soul, whole everywhere.

The Countess’ smile broadened.

When night fell, they both kept warm by the fireplace after a scrumptious dinner. The Lieutenant reached for the Countess’ hand. He moved closer to her and their figures almost touched.

“Do you like to dance?” he asked. 

“But there’s no music, Christoff,” she said. “I will ask Frederick to play the harpsichord.”

Frederick was seated at the harpsichord in moments. 

Christoff spun her around the room, with his light touch. The Countess lifted her head to the heavenly twangs of the music and they both laughed. 

As they grew weary at the end of the night, the Lieutenant gave her a lustful stare and his lips met hers with fervor. A glimmer of hope emerged in the Countess’ eyes, that she had found love. 

To Be Continued Tomorrow…

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Helen Mihajlovic is a published author. Her short story ‘A Dark Love story’ is in the book ‘100 Doors to Madness’ available at Dymocks online bookstore. Other published stories include ‘A Sinister Nature’ and ‘The Temptation of Eve’. All stories are dedicated to her mother and brother.

Free Fiction: The Amulet By Michael L. McKuin


It was a dark stormy night as the man rummaged the shadow filled rooms. He searched in a panic for an item of desire. The lights went out in the neighborhood, leaving all the surrounding houses without power, including his own. That did not distract the man however from his quest for this unknown relic. His hands searched blindly through dressers, closets, desk drawers, and cabinets.

“You will never find it,” a voice whispered in his ear.

Startled, he fell back against the wall knocking down a picture frame that shattered on impact.

“Get away from me!” he shouted.

The man wiped away the sweat from his brow while he straightened himself, deciding to search another room. The door creaked open when he placed his hand against it and gave the door a push.

“It has to be here,” the man muttered.

“You will never find it,” the voice cackled.

The man placed his hands over his ears in a feeble attempt to block out the disembodied voice.

“Get out of my head!” he screamed.

Laughter could be heard echoing throughout the room, a cacophony of a deranged orchestra. The man cursed at himself for ever buying that damned amulet.

After going to a yard sale a few weeks ago he thought it was a great deal. He remembered that he felt a strange pull towards a table placed on an unkempt lawn. A simple old black box with bizarre writing inscribed on a bone inlay across the surface, he could not take his eyes off of the strange box.

He asked the seller what does it translate to and she replied with a shrug that gave way to her knowledge of the artifact, which was none.

Thinking back on it she seemed delighted that he had shown such great interest. The man lifted the lid to have it rest on the hinges. His interest peaked when he saw what seemed to be writing on the lid’s inside that faced him.

‘Chaos is a friend of mine,’ appeared to be engraved by fingernails. 

An old wrapped-up piece of cloth lay before him. He grabbed a corner of the cloth gently and unfolded it to see the prize underneath. His eyes lit up with wonder at a black stone amulet.

“How much?” he asked hypnotically.

“Five dollars and you can have it,” she said.

The man didn’t even hesitate. Before he knew it he had his wallet out and presented the woman with a five dollar bill. She gladly accepted it and relief spread across her face.

He went to take just the amulet, but the woman stopped him.

“No, you must take the box with it.”

The man stared a moment then shrugged. He closed the lid and took the box home with him.

The first few days were fine until he recalled the box he had bought. He couldn’t understand how he had simply forgotten about it, but paid hardly any attention to the thought. 

He glanced at the box and twirled it in his hands. He opened it and took the amulet out while the box found its way to the trash. He then tried on the amulet and kept it on for a few days.

Within those few days, weird things started to happen. It began with disturbing nightmares and things turning up missing. It had progressed as he started to hear footsteps and thuds all over the house. He had thought someone had broken into his home and was playing a deranged sick game with him. Eventually, the footsteps turned into whispers in the dark and the feeling of being watched. He awoke in the middle of the night having his sheets thrown off the bed and claw marks on his body. He was being haunted by an unforeseen presence, tormented by something evil and beyond this world.

He realized it all started when he took the amulet out of the box. The man went back to the seller’s home and she did not answer the door at first but eventually caved in, and once she had he inquired about the boxed item.

She broke down to tears from the guilt of selling a haunted item to him but was relieved from no longer possessing the box and amulet.

“How do I get it to stop? How do I get rid of the evil?” He pleaded.

She nodded her head. “There is only one way. You must give it to someone else before it drives you mad or kills you.”

The man seemed relieved. “So I’ll give it to someone else! As long as it stops, I don’t care! I will give the amulet to someone.”

The woman shook her head. “Not just the amulet. You must give the box as well.”

The man stood silent. “I threw away the box.”

The woman’s eyes became sad. “Then you cannot get it to stop. Even if you give the amulet away, without the box, the evil will still stay with you.”

Now, later that night, the man searched throughout his dark home in search of the amulet. He put it on the bathroom counter when he took a shower, but afterward, it was gone.

“It was just here!” He shouted. Anxiety slithered its way through his bones whilst he frantically searched the house.

He stopped and roared with frustration. “Where are you?!”

“You will never find it.” The voice laughed menacingly.

He felt a cold hand touch his shoulder. The man spun around to the abysmal void.

“Stop it!”

The laughing shrilled in his ears. He was then pushed down to the floor.

“No! Stop it!” He cried.

The laugh abruptly stopped and he heard a low growl as he felt pulled, dragging him across the hardwood floor and into another dark room. The door slammed shut on its own as his screams filled the night until he was heard from no more.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Michael L. McKuin is a horror addict in the worst way. He loves cheesy ‘80’s horror movies and even recent ones. He loves horror novels and real-life haunted places. He finds comfort and escape writing his horror novels and short stories. It’s a way of life for him. A dedicated father of three and his kids are everything to him. Michael spends his day haunted and keeps the ghost and demons that plague him close and can’t let them go.  Stay spooky and keep it weird!

Free Fiction : Sticky Hands by Kenedy Blake

“I hate buying groceries,” I mumble, slamming the car door shut with my foot.

Juggling two large bags full of fruits and vegetables, I suddenly realize I forgot my keys and will have to use the spare. I reach under the mat and feel around until I locate the key.

The key slips into the lock with an audible click and I step inside the cabin.

My Maltipoo, Jasmine, comes running down the hallway, barking viciously at my feet. 

“Hey girl, calm down. It’s just me,” I tell her, rolling my eyes. She continues barking.

Still muttering to myself, I enter the kitchen, set the bags on the kitchen counter, and head to the refrigerator. I twist the cap off a soda and take a long drink.

That’s when I see it.

An open bottle of wine, sitting on the kitchen table.

Now, I may be a bit of an oddball, but I’m not crazy. I did not open a bottle of wine today. In fact, I’m actually trying to cut back a bit. So this makes absolutely no sense at all. 

I continue to stare at the bottle of wine, unsure of what to do next. I’m not going to lie, I feel a little freaked out right now. Mind you, I live in the middle of absolutely nowhere. There isn’t anyone around for miles. My eyes dart around the room, searching for anything else out of place.

I don’t see anything unusual, but to be safe I grab a butcher knife from the drawer and quietly make my way to the second floor, checking out each room with caution.

No one in the closets, the bedrooms, or the bathroom. I begin to relax a little bit and go back downstairs to check out the rest of the cabin. The library, living room and laundry room are empty. I head back towards the kitchen and check the hall bathroom on my way. It is clear as well.

Scratching my head, I re-enter the kitchen and put the knife down.

Suddenly my cell phone rings, and I nearly jump out of my skin.

“Hello?” I say.

No reply.

“Hello?” I say again.

No answer.

Shaking my head, I press the end call button and set the phone down next to a pile of mail.

I freeze.

My name, Alistair Hendricks, is completely marked out on every piece of mail. A black, uncapped sharpie lay next to the pile. Fear begins to creep into the pit of my stomach.

Someone or something is screwing with me.

Suddenly I hear a loud thump come from somewhere in the house. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my suspicions are confirmed. 

There is either an intruder in my house, or I’m being haunted by a ghost who knows how to open a bottle of Chardonnay. 

I almost stop and laugh at the absurdity of the idea of a ghost, but instead, quickly grab the butcher knife and make my way down the hall towards the library. Peeking around the doorway, I am startled to find a strange man holding a glass of wine, browsing my collection of books.

The man doesn’t look threatening; he actually looks quite at home.

A board under my foot creaks.

Before I can duck out of sight, the man whirls around to face me, sloshing the wine over the top of his glass.

“Who are you?” The man demands. “What are you doing here? This is my house!”

My heart is thumping wildly in my chest, but I try to stay calm.

“Sir” I tell the man, “ I’m going to have to ask you to leave. This is my house. Please leave, or a I will be forced to call the police.”

The man chuckles and sets down his glass of wine. “Are you nuts? What the hell are you talking about? This is my house.” He then sees the knife as in my hand, and in one swift motion pulls a gun out from behind his back.

. “Get out.” He cocks the gun. “Now.” 

I open my mouth to reply, but suddenly everything starts to spin, and I collapse onto the floor

 ***

When I wake up, it is dark outside and it takes me a minute to remember where I am and what happened. 

Then I realize that I can’t remember what happened. And why am I on the floor? My hands feel sticky and gross, and there is a strange smell permeating the air. I then hear a bump near the doorway. I scramble to my feet and flick the light switch.

No one’s there.

It is then I notice the red streaks covering the floor. What is that?

My hands still feel sticky…

Why are my hands sticky? 

Something wet trickles down the side of my face. I stumble into the hall bathroom and gaze into the mirror. A gash the size of a golf ball is on my right temple. I grab a towel, wet it, and dab at the wound. Then I realize the shower is running. I take a deep breath, throw aside the shower curtain expecting to see someone in there, but there is only an empty bucket and mop. I shut the water off. I hear a creaking of floorboards but turn around to find no one. My head feels foggy, and I fight to remember the past how-ever-many hours I was passed out. There are more streaks in the hallway, leading towards the kitchen.

My hands are still sticky…

I stumble along the hallway, following the red streaks like the trail of breadcrumbs from that childhood fairytale, Hansel and Gretel. 

I enter the kitchen and find that the red streaks end at the back door. Taking another step, I nearly trip over a box of trash bags sitting on the floor.  

I glance to my left and see that the open bottle of Chardonnay is still there. Grabbing it by the neck, I carry it over to the sink, pour the still half-full bottle down the drain, and chuck the bottle in the trash bin.

There.

Now to clean up these red streaks. 

My hands are still sticky…

  ***

I twist the cap open on the bottle of ammonia and pour it into a bucket half full of steaming water. I then lug the bucket out of the bathroom and into the library and begin to mop up these terribly messy red streaks. I wish I knew what they were and where they came from.

***

I finish mopping and the floors are now spotless, so I decide to take a break and watch some tv. I end up falling asleep on the couch and I am startled awake hours later by the chiming of the grandfather clock. Six chimes, so it’s 6:00 am. 

I enter the kitchen and begin to make coffee, still desperately trying to remember the strange events of yesterday afternoon. I pour myself a cup of coffee and walk over to the window.  I see my reflection in the windowpane and reach up to touch the wound on my forehead.

What happened yesterday?

  ***

Three weeks later

“Stupid dog,” I mutter, gripping the wooden handle of the shovel tighter. “ Why did I ever get a dog?” I trudge into the woods, my steps slow as not to dump any of the dog crap on my new pajamas. “She makes too much of a mess. I’m going to have to find her another home,” I say to myself as I toss the crap into the woods. It lands on top of a large mound of dirt that curiously resembles a shallow grave. 

That’s absurd, I tell myself, shaking my head. I’m the only one around here. Besides,I’d know if there was a random stranger roaming the woods.

Chuckling to myself, I make my way to the shed and prop the shovel up inside the door.

***

I can’t stop thinking about that mound of dirt. It seems oddly familiar. Like I’ve seen it before, but can’t quite remember why it’s there, or how it got there.

I have to investigate it.

I head to the backyard and once again grab the shovel from the shed. When I reach the mound of dirt just past the tree line, I begin to dig. Fear begins to worm its way into my stomach, as I’m scared as to what I might uncover. 

Suddenly my shovel scrapes against something, 

I stop digging, and as I stare at the strangely familiar pile of dirt, it all comes flooding back to me.

The open bottle of Chardonnay. Marking out my name with a sharpie. The strange man. The flash of a knife. Someone screams.

Suddenly I’m dragging something heavy. Red streaks across the floor. A bottle of ammonia.

My hands become sticky… with something.

Am I crazy?

Following the red streaks…

No, it couldn’t be. I couldn’t possibly have…

Did I kill someone?

A car door slams, shaking me out of my unpleasant reverie. “James?” I hear a woman’s voice call out. “James dear, I’m home.” Then I hear a knock. “Open the door, darling. It’s Lydia. I forgot my house key, and I can’t seem to find the spare…”

Ignoring the woman, I drop to my knees and furiously begin to dig with my hands. No, I couldn’t have killed someone…

The woman continues to call out that man’s name.

Digging, digging…

I am covered in muck and grime but I continue clawing at the dirt like a madman. All of a sudden I feel something that feels like fabric… no, not fabric. I wipe away the last bit of dirt to uncover a large lump of black plastic, accompanied by a horrific smell. 

After gagging a few times, I tear open the trash bag and find…

A body. 

I scrambled backward away from the rotting corpse. Did I kill someone without knowing? Surely not.

I look toward the cabin to see the woman where the woman is. She now has her cell phone out and is dialing a number. Then I faintly hear a phone begin to ring on her end.

Then suddenly, there’s ringing in my pocket. 

I quickly reach for the phone inside my trousers and pull it out to silence it, but then I fumble like an idiot and drop it on the ground. It continues to ring.

I grab the phone, push the end call button, and peer through the tree line at the woman, who seems to stare right at me.

“Hello,?” she calls out putting the phone in her pocket. “James dear? Is that you?”

I crouch down, hoping that she doesn’t see me.

The woman starts walking towards the woods, and in a moment appears through the tree line.

“James?” She looks left and right.

I’m now flat on my stomach behind a large log, and I can only hope that she doesn’t notice the shallow grave I uncovered. How would I ever explain that?

I shift my position and leaves rustle underneath me.

“Hello? Is someone there?” She calls out, trying to see through the thick pines and brush. The woman takes out her cell phone again and begins to dial a number.

The phone in my pocket starts ringing

Crap.

I slowly crawl out from behind the log. There’s no point in hiding now. 

***

“Who are you?!” The woman yells. “Why are you here?”

I am standing before the nameless woman, who looks extremely nervous. She shakily holds a can of pepper spray in her left hand.

“Calm down, ma’am,” I tell her, keeping my eyes on the can of pepper spray. “I’m not going to hurt you. My name is Alistair Hendricks, and I live here.”

“You live where?” the woman asks, still firmly grasping the pepper spray.  

I gestured towards the cabin. “I live in that cabin. That’s my home”.

The woman gives me a strange look. “What are you talking about? My name is Lydia Dosher, and I live in that cabin, along with my husband, James.” She looks around frantically. “Have you seen him?”

Before I can answer, Lydia turns her head to the right and sees the trash bag I’ve uncovered and the corpse that lies within it.

She turns back to face me. “What is that?” Lydia whispers. 

“Ummm….” I stammer, unsure of how to answer her. “I was out here and uncovered it. I’m not sure how it got there…” my voice pitifully trails off.

The woman looks at me with uncertainty, then approaches the grave and kneels down beside it. She keeps staring at the body. Just staring.

Suddenly she scrambles backward and lets out a strangled sob. 

“What? What’s wrong?” I ask.

Lydia turns to me, her eyes wide, face as pale as a ghost. “Th-that’s my husband!” She screeches.  “Someone murdered him and buried his body here!” She begins to wail uncontrollably.

I’m just standing here, unsure of what to do. When Lydia finally stops wailing, she gets to her feet and wipes her eyes, smearing mascara across her left cheek.

“I-I need to call the police,” she sniffs. “They can help figure out who did this.”

Her back is now turned to me as she punches numbers on her cell phone.

I don’t want to do this. I really don’t want to do this. 

But I have no choice.

I pick up the shovel and swing it. The hard metal slams against Lydia’s head with a sickening crack, and the woman slumps to the ground

***

“I’m so terribly sorry that I had to do this,” I tell the dead woman, dropping the shovel. “You seemed so nice. It’s a shame you had to go.”

I stand there in the silence for a good moment, then realize what I have to do.

No one can know about this.

So I grab Lydia by the arms and begin to drag her across the ground towards the grave.

Then I roll her into the shallow hole. She lands on top of James with a thud.

There.

Now to cover them with dirt. 

***

It’s been two days since my experience with the grave and now, no matter where I go, she follows me. 

She simply won’t leave me alone. Even as I sit here on a bench outside The Deli, which is a good 45 minute drive from the cabin.

I turn my head slightly to the left, trying not to make direct eye contact with her. She’s just standing there, staring at me.

I shake my head, turn my gaze away for a moment, then look back.

She’s still there.

But, perhaps she’s not real. Perhaps she is just a hallucination, a fictional product of my stressed and troubled mind. That’s what landed me in the psychiatric facility, after all. Seeing things that aren’t there. I was lucky to escape and find that beautiful cabin I live in. Yes, just a hallucination. 

So I decide to ignore her and take a bite of my sandwich. But all of a sudden the air turns cool around me, and my skin starts to crawl.

I realize, with impending dread, that she is right next to me, and she’s not a hallucination. 

She’s real.

Suddenly, Lydia reaches out and places her cold, dead hand on my shoulder, her long dirty nails digging into my skin. She leans close, her icy breath sending shivers down my spine.  A manic  grin spreads across her dirty, blood-streaked face

“ You’ll never escape me, Alistair,” she says, her voice raspy and cold.  “I’ll always be here. I  will torment you until the day you die, then I’ll torment you some more. You picked the wrong couple to murder, Mr. Hendricks.”

My hands are still sticky

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

Kennedy Blake is an author and mother of three. She enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family. Kennedy has been writing since she was nine years old, and has several published works.

Free Fiction : The Photo by CM Lucas

As snow began to fall on that frigid winter morning, Miles Beringer made his way up the rickety staircase into the attic. Every snowfall, he found himself retreating into the dusty, insulation-filled space.

Jam-packed with items collected over the years, Miles would wade through the vast assortment of antiquated nostalgia, sometimes tidying up along the way, but often watching the snow collect on the roof. Miles had come to find that on a winter’s day, nothing was quite like his attic.

“Wow. It’s like somebody comes up here after I clean and ransacks the place,” said Miles as he glanced about the attic.

“Maybe it’s the ghosts,” said Miles, “Nothing better to do!?”

Miles snatched a basketball from a dusty box and began to dribble.

“Beringer makes his way down the court. He fakes right; he shoots… Nothing but net, ladies and gentlemen,” shouted Miles with his arms raised. Miles glanced at a box tucked in a far corner.

Hm. And what secrets might you be hiding within your shadowy, cavernous walls? Glad I don’t talk like that out loud.

Miles made his way over to the old cardboard box. He opened it and began to rummage through its contents.

“I can’t believe it,” said Miles, pulling out an old photo album. Miles opened the old album.

This is crazy. How the hell did I end up with it? Miles thought, peeling back the first page.

Polaroids! Man, I miss them. Damn, I was chunky.‘Just a little baby fat,’ sure, Dad. Oh, no. Shirley, what were you thinking with that hair? Eighties or not, that was just bad.

Miles turned the pages, reliving treasured memories. He comes to the final page and smiles.

“Good times,” said Miles, rising to his feet. A Polaroid falls from the back of the album, landing on the floor. Miles reaches down to retrieve the old photo. As he flipped the picture around, Miles furrowed his brow. Glaring at the Polaroid, he noticed himself in the picture, at his current age.

What the hell is this? I don’t remember this. Of course, I don’t. It’s a frigging Polaroid, genius. They don’t even make those anymore, do they? Where did this come from? This is recent. How? And why would it be up-

A knock at the door forced Miles out of his pondering. He makes his way downstairs and opens the door, revealing a familiar face.

“Hey, Shirl,” said Miles as his dejected expression concerned his guest.

“Hey, Miley… I come at a bad time, or what?” asked Shirley, breathing into her hands and rubbing them vigorously. Shirley makes her way inside. Flipping off her snow-covered boots as she heads into the living room.

“You rearranged the living room. Looks nice. Roomier,” said Shirley, looking about the room. Shirley then returns her gaze to Miles.

“Uh, hello, Little bro! What’s with you?” she asked. Miles peers over at his older sister. Holding up the Polaroid, he hands it to Shirley.

“Do you remember when this was taken?” he asked. Shirley furrows her brow. She then raises her eyebrow and smirks.

“Nice. The Polaroid thing’s a bit much, but it’s nice work. Where’d you get this done?” asked Shirley.

“That’s the thing. I didn’t get it done. I found it up in my attic. It was with one of our old family albums. It was lodged in the back,” he said. Miles pauses, then peers at his older sister.

“Wait, I’m an idiot,” said Miles.

“That’s not breaking news, Miley,” Shirley said with a grin.

“New Year’s Eve. You and Jack were up in the attic. You had this done and put it up there!” said Miles. Shirley glared at Miles, “Ya, Miley. I spend my time having fake pics done up and then plant them in people’s attics during parties.”

“Ok, then what the hell were you two doing up there?” he asked. Shirley continues to view the picture.

“We were…,” Shirley paused. Miles glared at his sister.

“Really? How old are you two?” he said with disgust in his voice.

Shirley remained quiet, squinting as she looked at the Polaroid.

“… Ok, seriously, what is this? Is this one of those holograms that change in the light or whatever?” Miles peered up at Shirley, perplexed. He made his way over as she held the picture up.

“… What the hell? You weren’t in this earlier,” said Miles, his eyes wide.

“What am I doing?” asked Shirley as she continued to squint.

“You look terrified. I-it looks like we’re in the kitchen in this thing,” he said as the pair huddled together.

“This is like one of those ARG deals. And it has Jack written all over it. He loves this shit,” said Shirley, scratching her chin.

“Ok, your husband’s home invasion and privacy issues aside, what do we do?” asked Miles.

“Well, when we did one of these before, we just followed any clues we could find,” Shirley continued, “let’s move into the kitchen.” Miles and Shirley made their way into the kitchen. Miles glances at the photo.

“Look, it changed again. Wait, Why am I?…” Miles paused. Shirley glanced at the Polaroid.

“Is that blood? Looks like you’re being shot or… Shit, Jack! Getting a bit-” Shirley, suddenly startled by the ruckus within the kitchen, peers into the kitchen.

“Ok, get behind me, Shirl. Watch this,” said Miles, grabbing a large glass and filling it with water.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“It’s Jack. He’s in the basement,” said Miles, making his way toward the basement door. Miles pulls open the door.

“Ah-ha! Game’s ov-” a shotgun blast rings in Shirley’s ears as she falls to the ground. A second blast rips through the siblings as a masked man exits the house.

Ten minutes pass as knocks on the door go unanswered. The door opens as a man enters the house.

“Hey, Miles, Shirley! It’s Jack! You guys here? It’s really coming down out there. Jack glances down at the old photo at his feet. The Polaroid reveals a shocked Jack as he beholds his wife and brother-in-law slain on the kitchen floor.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

CM “Spookas” Lucas is a is an aspiring Horror/Science Fiction writer, a free lance writer of articles and reviews. He has recently joined the HorrorAddicts.net staff of writers. Check out his recent article

Book Review: Followers by Christina Berglin

Review by: B. Nguyen-Calkins

Internet privacy is a scary concept. Anybody, with enough effort, could find your name, photos of you, and even past locations you’ve visited. If somebody wanted to, I’m sure it’d be easy to… you can fill in the blank with any horrifying end. Stalking, online harassment, or worse. Why are we online at all?! 

Followers expresses the benefits of online friendships and social media. When Sydney, a horror movie enthusiastic and reviewer, is isolated and hit with constant passive-aggressive comments from her personal acquaintances, she instead goes online where people may appreciate the details of the genre (however shallow they may be). She kindles relationships online that have meaning to her personal life. And, ultimately, she sees her blog as an escape from her dead-end job. 

With the benefits of an online life comes risk. Are those often-shallow interactions even reading her work? Do those relationships have any substance? Will she ever make a living as a reviewer? Can Sydney live with the constant horror that runs beneath the surface of her everyday online interactions? And what if those interactions meddle within her personal life? The buildup brewed constantly as I found myself questioning each of the people in her life. This justified paranoia ends up hitting Sydney in the face as she struggles with the balance of digital and personal.

The novel works as a contemporary horror piece on multiple levels. Horror fans will look out for references to the genre as a mental trivia. My personal favorite was when characters review independent horror films at a festival. Holistically, the book is also meta-horror. One element of examining the genre explores the guilt of the “final girl,” especially in a progressively worsened situation. Who could be hurt because she posted clickbait photos for her online blog? How much information is too much to reveal to a virtual stranger? Can Sydney handle the repercussions of a demented stalker?

Strap yourself in and be sure to finish the book, because it truly thrives when Sydney finds herself in her own Scream. Sure, the book is initially carried by its prose and its likable (and unlikeable) characters. Christina Bergling sprinkles some interesting prose inside some dialogue and monologues and plays with some of the reader’s pent-up tension. But while the beginning may seem like a story on another shelf, the story’s resolution rightfully places it as a suspenseful, introspective horror. Followers is a worthwhile read, especially for fans of horror cinema. Its tension builds continuously throughout the story, and it extends today’s horror of digital social lives. The story is finished with some jaw-dropping scenes that seemingly come out of nowhere. It felt like Bergling was biding her time to lull the readers in while she waited for the opportune moment to strike.

Free Fiction : El Dorado by Tawana Watson

I didn’t sleep well last night.  I have so much on my mind that turning off my thoughts was impossible, so another sleepless night. 

I can’t believe how bad my insomnia has gotten over the past few weeks and there is not a medication that my doctor has given me that works, it seems sleep for me is a distant memory.  I turn and look at my clock that is sitting on my bedside table, I have to squint to see the time, just like I feared it was time to get up.

Every day is the same thing. I get up, get dressed for work, and leave the house forgetting my breakfast.  However, today, as I drove down the street something inside me, told me that today was not going to be a typical day.

I got to the office with two minutes to spare, I sat at my desk in my small cubicle, and as my computer powered on the word El Dorado appeared on the screen.  I stood up and quickly looked around at my coworkers as they did their morning routine and nothing seemed out of place so I sat back in my seat.  

The word El Dorado glared back at me, so I started pressing keys to try to remove it from the screen but nothing worked. It just stayed there.  After unsuccessfully trying to remove the word with my keyboard skills, I ducked down under my desk and unplugged my computer.  The computer turned off and after I counted 20 I plugged the computer backup and turned it back on.  Unplugging it did the trick and I got to work on my everyday task list.

My day was dull and boring, I thought as I sat at the traffic light heading home. My whole life is dull and boring I thought as the light turned green and I continued on my way.  As I pulled into my yard I noticed a package at my front door, it was strange because I was not expecting anything. So before pulling completely into my yard I put my car in park, got out, and went to retrieve the package.  As I bent down to pick the package up I noticed in red bold letters someone wrote across the top of the package the word El Dorado.

Once in my house, I dropped everything except the package at the back door.  I went into the dining room, sitting the package on the table before going back into the kitchen to get a knife so that I could open it.  At first, I had a strong urge not to open the package, to just throw it away but curiosity got the best of me.  I took the knife and opened the package. 

The only thing I found was a folded piece of paper.  I  took the paper and opened it.  What was written on it gave me chills, it read;

Once you start this journey you can never turn back. There’s much more to life than the things you can see, and to have a glorious life all you have to do is find El Dorado

There are those words again; El Dorado. 

I dropped the paper and before it hit the floor it was consumed with fire.  I stood there in awe for a second or two but then shook it off and remembered I haven’t slept and I could be in the middle of a dream.  So I pulled myself together and continued with my evening.

I turned my bed down and prepared myself for another sleepless night. My cell phone which I left downstairs began to ring. I hesitated about going downstairs to get it but every time it stopped ringing, it would start again so I went to get it.  

When I reached my phone, I saw that the caller id didn’t show a valid number but a weird number of all 6s.  I pushed the talk button, holding the phone to my ear, and before I said hello I heard a voice  in a low whisper say, 

“You can’t turn back, you have to find El Dorado.” 

I dropped the phone and as the phone hit the floor it started ringing again. I cautiously picked the phone back up and held it so gently, taking the phone into the kitchen, then putting the phone in the sink. As I ran water on it, the ringing faded until it completely stopped. 

I started back to my room and as I went up the stairs I had a sense that I was no longer alone. As I reached my room, I saw a sight that I didn’t expect. 

There I was laying in the bed, and my wrist had been cut. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at and as I stood there trying to figure out what was going on, a hand touched my shoulder and a voice said in a whisper, 

“It’s time. I am here to take you to  El Dorado.”

Free Fiction : It Came To The Window by J.S. O’Connor

“I’ve seen it, Jim. I swear to God, I’ve seen it. Get me a drink to settle my nerves. I would prefer whiskey, but I’ll settle for anything strong and keep them coming. What’s that? I don’t know what ‘it’ was or is, but I’ve seen it just outside my window and I don’t think this is the first time it came to the house, but this is the first time I saw it. Another please, no ice this time and I’ll tell you the story. 

“It was nearly a week back when I first saw the tracks walking my property after work. I guess you could describe them as a large chicken with talons the size of a pocketknife. They were up near the tree line in some mud. Didn’t think anything of it. See a lot of tracks living that close to the woods. I believe that was a Monday. Tuesday the tracks were by the garage, but I still didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until I heard it. That’s when I thought something strange was happening.  

“Give me another Jim. Nothing like a good whiskey to settle the nerves. I’ll tell you what I heard. 

“It must have been Wednesday night. It was a hard day of work up at the factory and when I got home, I soon found myself at the bottom of a bottle. I’m not proud to say, but the bottom of the bottle is where I find myself most nights. Well for the last two years … but I don’t need to tell you that story. I reckon the entire town knows about it. But it’s the truth. Sitting by the fire in my chair, I remember it being pretty cold and I fell asleep. Don’t know what time Kirby started barking, must have been close to eleven-thirty or midnight and the dog is just sitting there going crazy at the screen door. 

“Got to admit something Jim, I had a funny feeling that night but I played it off that I had too much to drink. I got up from my chair and stumbled to the back door. That damn dog shot off into the night barking. Didn’t think nothing of the dog running off, it’s what he does, and he comes back when he’s good and ready. But that’s when I heard it. I swear, Jim, I don’t know how to describe it. But I heard it. Now I know what you’re thinking, but I have heard every animal from those woods. The sound echoed through the darkness. It’s been three days and I still haven’t seen Kirby. Didn’t sleep the rest of the night. Just sat by the fire with my rifle. 

“Next morning before work I went looking for Kirby. Nothing. No trace. It was like the damn dog just disappeared. No dog tracks. No weird chicken tracks. It was like the night before never happened. When I got home, I picked up where I left off looking for that dog. Still nothing. Didn’t sleep that night and had no bottle and no strange sounds. Everything was silent. 

“Sorry  I’m shaking. No more Jim I think that was my last tonight. Four is enough. 

“Last night was when I saw it. It was at my window, Jim. I sit here not wanting to believe it myself. I had my bottle and my rifle, and I sat myself by the fire. The night was getting late, and my eyes were getting heavy. I must admit that the whiskey kept me from sleep’s grasp and that’s when I saw it. It was looking through my window. Its eyes were a pale blue, I don’t know how else to describe them. Its face was a light grey, but it had no mouth or nose it was just blank. 

“I jumped from my chair, the bottle broke on the floor, and I fired at it. My aim was off and the glass shattered just above its head. But I scared it off, and I ran towards the window. I could see it clearly even though it was pitch black. It ran on all fours like some damn animal, but it wasn’t no animal. Its body was the same color, that light grey, but the body looked more human than the face. I watched it until it got to the tree line and there it stopped and looked back at me.  

“You must think I’m crazy for telling you this and if you don’t, then what I’ll say next will make you think I’m crazy. It spoke to me. How? I don’t know the thing had no mouth, but I heard it. Or maybe it was all in my head, but I heard the word inside enter my brain. I don’t know what it means and I don’t think I do. Then it disappeared off into the woods, and I didn’t stay long either. Got in the truck and drove away, stayed the rest of the night at the motel – most of today too, now that I think about it. Been thinking long and hard about what it told me last night and I got me a feeling that when I get home it will be waiting for me inside my home. 

“Here’s the money for the drinks, Jim. Thanks for listening to an old drunk ramble. Be seeing you soon, maybe.”  

Oblivion in Flux: A Collection of Cyber Prose by Maxwell I. Gold

Oblivion in Flux: A Collection of Cyber Prose by Maxwell I. Gold

Reviewed by A.P. Hawkins

Oblivion calls.

The sound of Näigöths’ leathery wings fills the skies over ruined cities. Nature is corrupted, trees turned to pillars of metal and plastic. Humanity has deteriorated to a mere shade of its former greatness, entranced by lies and unaware of the oncoming storm. They bow to new gods, Cyber Gods of their own making, who offer nothing but empty promises and ravenous hunger.

In Oblivion in Flux: A Collection of Cyber Prose, takes readers on a deliciously horrifying journey through wildly imagined apocalyptic landscapes. With each piece, he paints a picture more wild and weird than the last. The vivid imagery all but leaps off the page, pulling the reader further into the mad, broken world Gold has built. 

Many of the pieces in Oblivion in Flux are loosely connected, weaving a thin thread of story as the narrator struggles to escape humanity’s own creation and remain free in the face of cyber horrors and fates worse than death. Repeated words and phrases at the opening and close of many pieces contribute to the overall feeling of madness and horror and make the reader feel as though they, too, might succumb.

Other pieces feel more separate, unconnected to the story running along in the background. But the themes, of decadence crumbling into decay, of humanity, blinded to the destruction it brings upon itself, come through very strong throughout the collection.

Of all the pieces in this collection, REVES DES CYBERDIEUX: A NATION IN THREE ACTS stood out as particularly powerful and timely. Though occasionally heavy-handed, the picture it paints of bloated politicians fawned over by hypnotized sycophants is extremely accurate and provocative.

Oblivion in Flux is an imaginative and gripping indictment of our time, where the metals and plastics and technologies of our society, our Cyber Gods, have turned, mouths agape, to devour us whole. Gold’s collection of cyber prose is a must-read for anyone who enjoys weird horror.

Ghastly Games: Top Five Horror Related Video Games By CM Lucas

Top Five Horror Related Video Games  by CM Lucas 

Since the beginning of the modern video game revolution (or generation 1), the genre of horror has always been present to varying degrees. Unlike its Hollywood counterparts, horror within the gaming industry has been met with acclaim and admiration. From the early days of the Atari 2600 to the powerhouses that are modern consoles and computers alike, horror video games have captured the imaginations and instilled fear in a way film is simply incapable of doing. From the slight jump scares to the titles that delve into the dark void of the subconscious, here are the top 5 horror video games of all time. 

Silent Hill 1 (PS1) 

Emerging from the foreboding shadow left by Resident Evil, Silent Hill cast off the shackles of its predecessor and took players into a visceral, psychological direction. Harry Mason searches for his daughter within the endless mist of Silent Hill. As his search progresses, the town begins to transform into a twisted version of itself. 

At the center of the chaos, a demonic cult wishing to bring about the birth of “God” with the sacrifice of Harry’s eight-year-old daughter. 

With crucified, mangled bodies adorning walls, and demonic apparitions on your heels, this nightmare come to life will leave you with an uneasiness hours after you’ve finished playing. 

Limbo (PS4, Xbox, PC, Nintendo Switch, ios)

Set within a child’s nightmare, we follow a nameless boy as he travels through a silhouetted forest en route to finding his sister. The terror comes from empathy with the nameless child. The terrified but brave boy is forced to endure the hellish landscape filled with frightening imagery, dangerous pitfalls, and a giant spider, all while trying to find his sister, makes for a horrific and somber experience. 

Uninvited (NES, Macintosh, Commodore 64) 

Perhaps one of the best examples of music and atmosphere compensating for limited graphical capability. The oldest entry on this list, Uninvited, places the player in immediate danger as you wake up within a mangled wreck, seconds from erupting in flames. After exiting the wreck, the player finds themselves at the doorstep of a Victorian mansion. Upon entry, the atmosphere is thick with impending doom, as the empty foyer hints at the house’s evil secrets. 

Immersing the player deeper into the experience by placing you in first-person perspective. Adding to the uneasy nature is the game’s limited, point and click controls; there is no free roaming, giving the player a feeling of helplessness when encountering one of many hair-raising specters. Although visually antiquated, Uninvited has the ability to frighten by setting mood and instilling “nail-biting” dread as you prepare to enter a room or speak to a proper southern belle, waiting within a cavernous hallway. 

P.T. (PS4)

Impending, palpable dread is the immediate feeling you get within the opening moments of this 2014 classic. Appearing mysteriously on the PlayStation Network, P.T. was an enigmatic demo that had players scratching their heads as well as sweating profusely (is sweating the right word?) Much like Uninvited, P.T. places the player in first-person, allowing for a more immersive experience. 

The player wakes within a darkened room, focusing on a face peering in from a slightly opened door. We then enter a sprawling hallway that sets the player in a never-ending-ending loop. As the player traverses the loop, your interaction with the environment brings you closer to solving the puzzle. With haunting audio, foreboding atmosphere, and the feeling that there’s always something behind you, the tension rises as you turn the corner upon each consecutive loop until the inevitable and unwelcome encounter with the ghoulish “Lisa.” 

Silent Hill 2 (PS2, Xbox, PC) 

Not only one of the most psychologically scarring experiences in gaming, but in any medium. Silent Hill 2 is an unsettling journey into subconscious self-torment brought to life. James Sunderland is a man who finds himself in the unenviable position of being in the foggy, desolate town of Silent Hill. After receiving a letter from his late wife, James searches for answers, encountering subtextual creatures hell-bent on him suffer. 

As James traverses the small town, he plunges deeper into the nonsensical, nightmarish underbelly of Silent Hill. Coming face to face with issues of incestuous rape, sexual frustration, bullying, and euthanasia; Sunderland must come to grips with his past sins or suffer in a self-imposed purgatory

________________________________________________________________________________________

CM “Spokkas” Lucas is a freelance writer who enjoys writing Horror/Science Fiction and works as a freelance writerof articles and reviews. He watches movies and plays video games of the horror genre. Look for more articles to come from hin here on HorrorAddicts.net

FRIGHT TRAIN : An anthology of spooky tales set around the railways

FRIGHT TRAIN

An anthology of spooky tales set around the railways reviewed by Renata Parvey

Editors: Switch House Gang

“Anyone who has ever been awakened late at night by a distant train whistle knows there is no lonelier sound. It is a mournful howl from a soulless traveler on a night journey to destinations unknown.”

Halloween arrived early this year with a spooky collection of tales based on the railways. Editors Charles R. Rutledge and Tony Tremblay came up with the concept of horror stories set around trains, and were rewarded with an assortment of stories ranging from Victorian-era ghostly yarns to contemporary thrillers, fantasy, and science fiction, ranging from creepy and humorous to atmospheric and downright gory. Fright Train comprises a mixture of contemporary authors with classic writers and a plethora of suspenseful, horror, and chilling stories set on or around train journeys. I particularly liked the concept of train travel and picked up the collection curious to see how each writer interpreted the narrow theme. The anthology is a ticket in itself to travel to unknown lands with shady co-passengers in suspicious cabins. Switch House Gang has reserved a seat for the reader and the ride awaits!

The collection includes classics like Charles Dickens’ The Signalman and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost Special which have spooked us for over a century. And there are also newer stories about ghost trains, train accidents, missing trains, invisible rails, piercing whistles, vampire and zombie passengers, peculiar drivers, specials that give a whole new meaning to ‘special’, and a host of wonderful short stories that keep you on edge as you ride along with the characters. Themes include broken marriages, dead children, grieving parents, retrospecting the past, seeing the future, predicting alternative realities, journeys to and from hell.

It’s hard to pick a favorite because every story is outstanding in its own way and deserves its own review. They’re so different from each other, while simultaneously adhering to the narrow theme. The haunting tale of motherhood in Amanda DeWees’ A Traveler Between Eternities, as an unborn child takes a train ride; the dystopian rail route of Stephen Mark Rainey’s Country of the Snake; Errick Nunnally’s gore-fest Lust for Life that keeps you guessing till the end who the real killer is; past demons catching up with the present in James Moore’s The Midnight Train; the pandemic world of Scott Goudsward’s Plague Train; the haunted joyride of Elizabeth Massie’s Tunnel Vision; Jeff Strand’s Devil-powered Death Train of Doom that questions parental behavior and its influence on the actions of children; Tony Tremblay’s Pépère’s Halloween Train that focuses on the grandparent-grandchild relationship; Charles Rutledge’s twist on Dracula in The Habit of Long Years; Lee Murray’s cultural fest of Maori traditions and seers, spirit-guides and goddesses assisting a search-and-rescue in Weeping Waters; Mercedes Yardley’s The Rhythm of Grief that navigates the rail crossings between the living and the dead; Bracken MacLeod’s Weightless Before She Falls that distinguishes real monsters from imaginary ones, Christopher Golden’s All Aboard and its eerie 3:18 special. The contemporary writers even make up thirteen in number, to go with the horror theme of the book!

A special mention needs to be made of Lee Murray and Christopher Golden whose stories follow Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle respectively. Fright Train is a spectacular collection in itself, and to be placed next to classic writers is a formidable task. Murray and Golden are absolutely stellar with their standout creations, Weeping Waters and All Aboard. The sounds of the fantail and the shrill whistle of the 3:18 stay with you long after finishing the book.

Some quotes:

-The 3:18 was a ghost in and of itself, ridden by phantoms.

-The night air seemed to ripple, to have texture, just a hint of substance.

-Resentment and blame hung in the air like static building before a thunderstorm.

-An engine, a tender, two carriages, a van, five human beings – and all lost on a straight line of railway! Does a train vanish in broad daylight?

-The fog lay like a thick mist so that people appeared to be dissolving at the ankles.

-The sharp scream of the whistle slashed his eardrums.

-The desert sun pummeled his face like a hot iron fist.

-Does his intention define his evil nature, even if his actions harm nobody?

-You are trapped in the quandary of welcoming the tourist potential of Stoker’s work, but still wishing to change the national image of Romania.

-Pihanga’s tears rolled down the mountainside and onto the plateau.

-There were too many vampires on the train. Inspector Godina rolled his eyes at the motley assortment of Halloween revelers.

-That was the trouble with his gift – it was a feast or a famine – either everything spoke to you, or nothing at all.

-The slow touch of a frozen finger tracing out my spine.

-The stars themselves were weeping, hurling themselves from the heavens.

-They fill their ears and minds and souls with noise, because it’s easier than listening to the quiet.

-This is a train for the dead, and you’re still very much alive.

-He wasn’t a cosmic spiderclown in the sewers. He was a real monster.

The old-world charm of the cover is extremely striking too – it reminds me of those classic spooky movies that showed so much in so little. Atmospheric horror at its best! A good time to revisit Horror Express (1972).

My rating: 5/5 

Claustrophobia Revisited : By Loren Rhoads

Claustrophobia Revisited by Loren Rhoads

The first time I went away to sleepaway camp, I was a junior in high school. Michigan Tech, a university five hundred miles north of my home, was hosting a weeklong writing program. I dragged my typewriter into my assigned dorm room and waved goodbye to my parents, excited to be a real writer for a week.

Almost immediately I met another high school girl there for the program. I really liked her at first. She seemed sunny and competitive and dramatic. I thought we’d provide a good challenge for each other. I looked forward to reading her stories.

I’m not sure what set her off. She and some of the guys from the program were hanging around in my room when I went into the large walk-in closet to demonstrate how big it was. Once I was inside, Nicole slammed the door behind me.

I heard giggling. Nicole enlisted the guys to help her shove the dresser in front of the door so I couldn’t get out. They talked loudly about going to dinner while I was trapped. They slammed the dorm room’s door behind them on their way out.

I didn’t have a flashlight. I didn’t know where the light switch was. With the dresser blocking the door, the closet was very dark inside. This was long before cell phones were a gleam in some engineer’s eye. My parents wouldn’t be back for a week. I wasn’t due in class until morning. No one would even know I was missing until then.

I sank down onto the floor of the closet, tears burning at the edges of my eyes. What if there was a fire? What if I needed to pee? If I screamed, would anyone hear me? Were there people on the floors above or below me? Would my tormentors only laugh at me more if I begged to be let out?

I decided to tell myself I was too angry to cry. I tried to figure out what had happened, what I’d done to be tormented like this. I’d only just met Nicole. I’d even admired her. I’d thought she seemed like fun, that we might be friends. Why would anyone be so mean to a total stranger?

I never realized I was claustrophobic until I found myself barricaded in that closet. As I sat there in the blackness, I felt the walls shooting away from me into space. I felt them contract toward me with every panicked breath. I couldn’t hear anything but my blood pounding in my ears. My body flushed with heat, then iced with fear. I understood why people went crazy when locked up alone in the dark. I wondered how long that would take.

This essay was initially published on Horror Addicts the year my space opera trilogy came out. (https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/claustrophobia-and-the-dangerous-type/) It’s now part of This Morbid Life, a collection of my confessional essays, which came out August 22 from Automatism Press.


Loren Rhoads is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. She was the editor of Morbid Curiosity magazine and the book Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues: True Tales of the Unsavory, Unwise, Unorthodox, and Unusual. Her most recent book is This Morbid Life, a memoir comprised of 45 death-positive essays.

What others have called an obsession with death is really a desperate romance with life. Guided by curiosity, compassion, and a truly strange sense of humor, this particular morbid life is detailed through a death-positive collection of 45 confessional essays. Along the way, author Loren Rhoads takes prom pictures in a cemetery, spends a couple of days in a cadaver lab, eats bugs, survives the AIDS epidemic, chases ghosts, and publishes a little magazine called Morbid Curiosity.

Originally written for zines from Cyber-Psychos AOD to Zine World and online magazines from Gothic.Net to Scoutie Girl, these emotionally charged essays showcase the morbid curiosity and dark humor that transformed Rhoads into a leading voice of the curious and creepy.

“Witty, touching, beautifully written, and haunting — in every sense of the word — This Morbid Life is an absolute must-read for anyone looking for an unusually bright and revealing journey into the darkest of corners. Highly recommended!” — M.Christian, author of Welcome To Weirdsville

The paperback is up for sale at Amazon now: https://amzn.to/3mhZajO

The ebook will be live on Sunday. It’s available for pre-order now: https://amzn.to/3kcFlrP

Get signed copies from: https://lorenrhoads.com/product/this-morbid-life-autographed-1st-edition/

Wicked Women Writer’s All-star Competition: Naching T. Kassa

wwwbannerStory Title: Prey Upon the Wicked
by: Naching T. Kassa
Object: Orb
Cultural Influence: American Indian

*~*Judging panel has not altered/edited this text.*~*
*~*Text is posted as sent by the author.*~*

SFX: BELL TOLLS

NARRATOR

PREY UPON THE WICKED

By Naching T. Kassa

The body of Omen Plattu lies upon the silver floor of the spacecraft Eishu, his long arms bent and broken, his grey skin blanched white.

Komen Daru of the planet Kemu, captain of the craft, stares into Plattu’s face. The eyes arrest his attention and send chills over his thin arms and legs. Plattu’s eyes reflect an image of the last thing he saw, the one who took his life. Daru has seen her face before.

She is human and hideous. Her ash-covered visage is framed by dark, flowing hair. Her small eyes glare. A medallion, fashioned from beads, encircles her neck.

Omen Mu, Daru’s subordinate appears at the opposite end of the corridor and hurries to Daru’s side. He is tall and thin, the psychic energy about him radiates fear.

OMEN MU

(HIGH NASAL VOICE)

What has happened, my Komen?

KOMEN DARU

(LOW HEROIC VOICE)

Plattu has been killed. His blood depleted.

MU

How?

DARU
See these small puncture wounds here in his throat? The blood was drained from here. I believe he was attacked from behind. His arms have been torn from their sockets. It is as though—what is the matter, Mu? You are trembling.

MU

My Komen, this is why I came to see you. One of our specimens has escaped. I believe she is responsible for Plattu’s death.

DARU

Which specimen was it?

MU

Number 13.

DARU

Thirteen! Of all the specimens, she is the most dangerous. Send a message to Central Command—

MU

I cannot, my Komen. The Communications Uplink has been damaged, as has our Navigation Control. We are on an unalterable course to Kemu.

DARU

Our homeworld? Can you imagine what havoc she would wreak if she reached our planet? How could this happen? She should have been in crynation until we reached Star Port.

MU

The cryogenic pod was a faulty one. It thawed and she broke free.

DARU

We must recapture her. Go to the armory. Collect weapons for yourself and for me.

MU

Respectfully, my Komen, I do not think conventional weapons can disable 13—or destroy her for that matter.

DARU

Nonsense. Even though she is dangerous, she is still human. They are weak, fragile beings. You captured her once. You can do it again.

MU

This is no mere human, my Komen. She is an offshoot of the human species, something more than mortal. A great deal of luck went into her capture. We killed her human guardian and took her while she slept. You know she is the perfect killing machine, a creature capable of spreading her own disease over an entire planet.

DARU

What do you suggest we do?

MU

We must consult the Orb. It houses the combined knowledge of every world we have ever visited. It can tell us how to vanquish her.

DARU

Then we will go to the library first.

MU

What of Plattu’s body?

DARU

Leave it here. We will move it to the morgue later.

SFX: FOOTSTEPS (WALKING AWAY)

SFX: FEMININE GIGGLE

MU

Wait, my Komen. What was that?

She is behind us!

SFX: FOOTSTEPS (RUNNING BACK)

DARU

There is no one here, Mu.

MU

My Komen! Plattu’s head…it is gone! She has taken it!

DARU

Why? Why would she do such a thing? What horror have you brought upon this ship, Mu?

MU

The humans have a name for such as she. They call them…Vampires.

SFX: TRANSITIONAL MUSIC

NARRATOR

The library of the spacecraft contains a large and glowing orb. Within its crystalline structure rests the knowledge of every being the Kemu have abducted, killed, or enslaved. It glows a fiery red as Mu accesses the information inside.

MU

I have searched every culture on the water world, my Komen. There are differences but many agree on several points. Here are the weapons used.

DARU

I do not recognize these things. What is Garlic?

MU

Garlic is a malodorous plant grown on the water planet. Unfortunately, we have none of them on board.

DARU

What about—a Crucifix?

MU

A Crucifix is the symbol of a certain deity worshiped there. We can manufacture those.

DARU

It seems crucifixes only keep the creature at bay. They will not kill it. The report states that only a steak through the heart or sunlight can destroy such a beast. Since we cannot return to the system of the water planet, we cannot use the sun. That leaves us only the steak. We have that, I trust. We took enough from the Bovine creatures.

MU

We have enough. The steak we use for sustenance will be a satisfactory weapon should it remain frozen. I am afraid that in its natural state it will be of little use to us.

DARU

Very well. Cut it into shards so that we might pierce the creature’s heart. Then create the crucifixes. Is that acceptable, Mu? Your psychic aura radiates confusion.

MU

I am troubled, my Komen. Thirteen came back for the head of Omen Plattu. Why?

DARU

Who knows the ways of these humans? Have you searched the information in the Orb?

MU

I have. The information cannot be found.

DARU

Then, it is not important.

SFX: TRANSITIONAL MUSIC

MU

We have collected all of the needed items, my Komen, but I do not think we should split up. It is dangerous to hunt this creature alone. Every survival video I have seen, Ghostbusters, Fright Night, The Cabin in the Woods, warns against it.

DARU

Your fear is too great. The Vampire relied upon the element of surprise. It cannot defeat us now that we are prepared. I will go toward the Control Chamber, and you will take the opposite direction.

MU

My Komen—

DARU

Enough. Do as I say.

MU

As you wish, my Komen.

NARRATOR

Mu disappears in the opposite direction and Daru peers before him. He catches sight of a shadow as it ducks into the Control Chamber. The silhouette possesses no discernible source.

Daru clutches the frozen meat of the Bovine creature in his gloved hand. In his other, he holds a crucifix. Without a sound, he creeps toward the chamber. He pauses in the doorway and peers into the room.

The Vampire kneels at the center, her back toward him. A strange song rises from her lips, and a knife gleams in her hand as she cuts her long hair short.

Daru slinks toward the creature. If he can catch her unawares, all their problems will be solved.

He is but inches away when she turns to face him. Her crimson-colored eyes burn in the half-light afforded by the instrument panels around her. Sharp teeth glisten. Her pale countenance would be frightening enough without the smearing of black ash which covers it.

Daru glances at her hands. One is missing two fingers. They have been torn away.

He thrusts the crucifix toward her. Her reaction is not as expected. She does not quail before him in abject terror as the Orb reported she would. Instead, she laughs, and the hollow sound chills 

the chambers of his heart.

13 THE VAMPIRE

(LAUGHS)

That doesn’t work if you don’t believe.

DARU

It does not matter. The item in my other hand will work!

VAMPIRE

What is that?

DARU

A steak! One that I will drive into your evil heart.

SFX: FOOTSTEPS INDICATING A STRUGGLE, GRUNTING, A DULL THUNK.

Die, foul beast!

SFX: LAUGHTER

DARU

Wait…you are still alive. I stabbed you! You’re supposed to burst into flame or crumble into dust!

VAMPIRE
Where did you people get your information?

DARU

From the Orb, the vessel of all knowledge.

VAMPIRE

Oh…the Orb. I hope it is more accurate when describing your people and culture than it is in describing mine. I visited your Orb and it told me many things about your people. It said you were conquerors. You abduct people from their planets, infect them with a virus, and then return them to the population. When the populace has been destroyed by the virus, you invade. Is this true?

DARU

We have colonized many worlds this way

VAMPIRE

You think yourself superior to those you conquer?

DARU

Of course.

VAMPIRE

Wicked grey man! You are as bad as they. Long ago, they gave us blankets rife with smallpox, all so they could steal our land. You are as greedy as those who butchered us so long ago. It will be your undoing. Stare into my eyes, grey man. Look deep and drown.

DARU

No, stay away! What are you doing? I can’t move!
VAMPIRE

You shouldn’t have killed him. If you had allowed him life, I would’ve let you live.

DARU

W-Who?

VAMPIRE

My guardian. The one who protected me by day. He was my husband, more dear to me than the fingers of my right hand. So dear, I tore them from my hand in grief. You have placed these ashes upon my face. I mourn as befits the wife of a Blackfoot.

DARU

Let go of me!

VAMPIRE

Your Orb is an interesting thing but easily altered. You should’ve used the laser. Decapitation is the best way to kill a vampire.

DARU

Wait, let me go. I did not kill your mate. It was Omen Mu!  Please, I will do anything.

VAMPIRE

You disgust me. Clinging to life while preying on the innocent. You have met your match, grey man. I prey upon the wicked.

DARU

Noooo! Please! Aaahhh!

SFX: BELL TOLLS

*~*Judging panel has not altered/edited this text.*~*
*~*Text is posted as sent by the author.*~*


To vote for this story in the 2021 Wicked Women’s Writing All-star Challenge, CLICK HERE
Voting ends: September 15th, 2021

Wicked Women Writer’s All-star Competition: Stacy Fileccia

wwwbannerStory Title: Zandra’s Kiss
by: Stacy Fileccia
Object: Time Travel Device
Cultural Influence: Arabic

*~*Judging panel has not altered/edited this text.*~*
*~*Text is posted as sent by the author.*~*

Zandra’s Kiss

By Stacy Fileccia

Zandra missed her mom. Body aching, Zandra had awakened on the sandy floor of an old wooden shack. Bound—hand and foot—with what looked like sticky, braided hair, she couldn’t even see her special birthmark on her wrist. Blood seeped into her mouth from her swollen lip. That had happened when a bearded brute punched her as he dragged her into an ice cream truck. All she could see now was four drunken men—playing cards on an old picnic table—and a guy, with diamond-stud earrings and a sickening smile, examining a scalpel.

She shuddered.

Three certainties blasted through Zandra’s mind. She’d be tortured. She’d never see her mom again. She’d likely die. If she was lucky. Her heart pounded. The roof of her mouth ached and swelled—like her lip. She took in a deep breath.

Without warning, cards, men, and beer bottles flew in all directions. The lion’s roar of strong wind exploded the air, shaking the shack. With a whip-crack sound, it stopped. No one moved in the resounding silence.

The door burst open. 

Whispered echoes of “Bertrand” poured from her captors’ lips as the man, himself, ignored them. He strode directly to Zandra, grasping her chin and chuckling, “Fighter, eh?” Standing, he said, “Ser goot, gentlemen. Let us get started.”

In the flurry of activity that followed, “Bearded Brute” sliced through Zandra’s ankle bonds, but she had a plan. She landed a kick, square on his squat nose. 

As he howled and Bertrand laughed, the other cardplayers seized her. Her mom’s sweet face dancing in her mind, Zandra heard herself screaming as they carried her across the room, slipped her bound hands over an anchored hook, and hoisted her writhing body onto the bloodstained table. Stretching her painfully, they strapped her ankles to the bottom corners.

Bearded Brute stomped over, looking murderous, but Bertrand wagged a finger, “’Ave your fun with her after I remove her Ghudat Aljilatin.” 

Bearded Brute seethed, turning an almost inhuman gaze to Zandra. He wiggled his fingers in her face. They had odd scars on the tips, almost like closed eyes. He jammed his index finger between her lips and teeth, making her gag as it hit the back of her throat. Something shot from his finger until her mouth was completely full of what felt like the sticky braided hair that bound her wrists. It tasted worse than old earwax.

Jaws aching, she could barely breathe.

Her captors held her down with their stinking bodies, making Zandra feel about as powerful as a butterfly trapped between book pages. Bearded Brute sliced open the left side of her T-shirt.

Pain exploded through her like lightning fire as Bertrand stabbed between her ribs, slicing, cutting, digging. Unendurable. Yet she endured, squeezed to breaking against the warped wood.

“Goot, goot,” Bertrand kept saying.

Not good. Not good. Zandra screamed inaudibly. The roof of her mouth suddenly broke open, causing a flood—that tasted like cotton candy—to fill her mouth and spill from her swollen lips.

Would she drown?

Ignoring her torment, Bertrand sliced away while the nasty gag dissolved into the sweet taste of cotton candy.

Like a psychotic tiger appearing from nowhere, a tornadic wind burst to bloom in the middle of the shack. Sand and surgical equipment flew everywhere. Bearded Brute’s knife flew from his hand into Diamond Guy’s neck, who crumpled where he stood. 

The tornado tipped like a wilting flower until Zandra could see it as if from above. A knife-wielding, ginger-haired woman in peacock-blue medical scrubs stepped through it as the wind whip-cracked and vanished. While the men seemed stunned, the woman slashed through Zandra’s ankle straps.

Except for Bertrand, the men fell into chaos, grabbing for weapons to fight the woman.

But “woman” she was not. Not anymore. 

At first, she looked like a holograph of herself. Then her entire body morphed into something like molten amber. Yet she moved as if she were fully human. Bullets, knives, and more went pelting through the air, but, rather than harming her, the projectiles only slowed as they went through her.

Zandra’s head spun. Had the men drugged her? She couldn’t be seeing a woman of amber stepping through a torrent of bullets. Could she? The amberized woman engulfed Bearded Brute. Obviously unable to breathe, Bearded Brute’s eyes bulged as he fought in slow motion.

“Salt!” screamed Bertrand. “You, fools! You can’t …” He fumbled through his clothes, pulling out what looked like a pistol-sized, metal squirt gun.

But Zandra’s other captors had already run away. 

As Bearded Brute convulsed in death throes, Zandra decided what she saw was real. She spat out the disgusting, disintegrated gag, twisted off the table, and unhooked her still-bound hands. Once Bearded Brute stilled, the amberized woman let him sink through and out of her.

Then she strode toward Bertrand, who shot her. Something white streamed from the gun, causing the woman to catch fire where it hit.

Zandra slammed her bound fists onto Bertrand’s weapon and kicked it away. She tried to run as the woman rolled on the floor to put out the flames, but Bertrand caught Zandra by her long red braid. He held her around the neck, using her as a human shield against the woman rising from the floor.

Inspired, Zandra flung her bound hands in a double fist into Bertrand’s face while back-kicking him in the balls. He fell to the floor on top of her. She felt her ribs crack. Barely able to breathe, new pain exploded in her side as Bertrand stabbed her in the hole he’d made.

Unbelievably, Zandra’s neck elongated. As if she were snake, she whipped around and bit the back of his neck.

Screaming, he pushed through the amber. He squeezed Zandra’s neck, cutting off her air. Growing weak, her neck retracted.

As if they’d been thrown into a pool of partially-solidified gelatin, amber flooded over Zandra’s vision. The woman had engulfed both Zandra and the fat torturer atop her. Neither could breathe. As he struggled for air, Bertrand released Zandra’s neck. Miraculously, the amber around her face opened, and air rushed into her lungs. This time, Zandra’s entire body elongated, and she slid out from under Bertrand while he fought for his life. She coiled her turquoise scales in the corner of the shack, raising her head high, swaying as she let her instincts guide where next to bite.

Bertrand’s entire body had blackened—Zandra supposed—from her venom. Yet he fought with inhuman strength. Hairy, spidery legs shot from his sides and out of the amber. 

From somewhere, a voice screamed, “Cut them off!”

Zandra swooped down and bit completely through a leg. The others retracted. Bertrand soon moved no more. 

Finally, the amber drew away, and the woman reformed, massaging the amber stuff into several nasty wounds. “Thanks for that. He could breathe through the spiracles on his legs.” 

For a tangled minute, Zandra and the woman stared at each other. “Zandra, I’m Qadira. I’m here to help you.”

Serrated protrusions—fangs? Could they be fangs?—pulsed at the roof of Zandra’s mouth. Zandra hissed, “How did you know I’d been kidnapped?” 

Qadira sighed. “It’s complicated. Neither of us is from this time or this world.”

Zandra felt her body shrinking, reforming into human shape. On her arms, she could barely see the faintest outlines of the beautiful turquoise scales, melding into her skin. She said, “I’m … an alien? Some kind of monster?” The thought made her sick to her stomach.

“You’re no more a monster than any other race. Our people are a lot like the humans. We … we crashed on this planet and hid the children from our pursuers throughout … time.”

Longing for her mom, Zandra rubbed her the heart-shaped birthmark on her wrist.

Qadira smiled sympathetically. “Right now, I just want to get the Qalam Almusafir safely out of your Ghudat Aljilatin.” She pointed to Zandra’s side where—Zandra realized—she’d been stabbed with a golden pen, not a scalpel. Like armored guards, vivid turquoise scales still encircled it. Zandra nodded.

Qadira transformed her left hand into the amber stuff. A kind of euphoria washed Zandra’s pain away when the amber swallowed the pen—the Qalam Almusafir. With her right hand, Qadira pulled out the pen and gave it to Zandra. “This traveler’s pen is yours. It will take you to any place or time on this planet. I’ve got one, too, see?” Silent tears slid down the woman’s cheeks as she raised her own pen in the weak light, revealing a birthmark on her wrist uncannily similar to Zandra’s. “Bertrand stole the one he used to find you from my other daughter—your… your sister.”

Zandra gasped. She thought of her mom, the one who had kissed her boo-boos and sang sweet songs to her before bed. “You’re my …”

With unchecked tears, Qadira continued, “Last night, I … I couldn’t get to her in time…”

A slim, forked tongue flicked out from between Zandra’s teeth, tasting … honesty. Qadira wasn’t lying. Zandra choked on a sob.

Turquoise scales flash appeared along Qadira’s arms. “We are Alkubra. The reptile aspect came out early in you. Probably a defense mechanism.”

“Wait. What? What does that mean?”

 “It means you can transform into a giant, venomous snake, closely resembling an Arabian Cobra but with a bright red mark like braided hair down your back. Given enough time, Bertrand would have died from the bite—the Alkubra Kiss, your kiss.”

“Why didn’t my … sister … do that?”

“Too young, I guess.”

Zandra didn’t know what to say.

With effort, Qadira turned her obvious grief into facts. “Bertrand was trying to remove your Ghudat Aljilatin—a defensive gland that causes our bodies to gelatinize.”

“Did he do it?”

“Don’t worry. My Alyt Aldifae will heal your gland.” Qadira held up her left arm to show a missing hand.

Zandra gasped as she looked down at her sided where the pen had been. Qadira’s Alyt Aldifae looked like a mound of honey on her wound.

“No worries. My hand will reform in a couple of months.”

Rubbing her birthmark, Zandra said, “What was that braided hair stuff?”

“The men were Aleanakib, the alien race that conquered our world. They can shoot spider webby stuff from their fingers. Forget about it. They’re dead now, and we need to get out of here before more come. Do you want to come with me?”

Thinking of her mom, Zandra hesitated. “You’re really my birth mother?”

Nodding, Qadira said, “I live with other Alkubra on a beautiful, tropical island.”

Realistically, with her mom dead from the Aleanakib attack, Zandra had no better choice. She nodded.

Qadira pulled a prescription pad from her scrubs and scribbled something with the Qalam Almusafir. “We sign the bottom together.”

Zandra hissed, “Let’s go.”

END

*~*Judging panel has not altered/edited this text.*~*
*~*Text is posted as sent by the author.*~*


To vote for this story in the 2021 Wicked Women’s Writing All-star Challenge, CLICK HERE
Voting ends: September 15th, 2021

Wicked Women Writer’s All-star Competition: Daphne Strasert

wwwbannerStory Title: The Blood of Sorus
by: Daphne Strasert
Object: Alien Tome
Cultural Influence: Brazilian

*~*Judging panel has not altered/edited this text.*~*
*~*Text is posted as sent by the author.*~*

The Blood of Sorus

Daphne Strasert

The book didn’t belong in a museum. 

Especially not one of those stark, soulless off-world mausoleums where the Estranhos took their plunder to collect dust. ‘For preservation,’ they said. Sanosa knew what that meant. The Estranhos would save Sorus’ culture for posterity while they ravaged its forests, pillaged its earth, and drove the Sorians themselves into crowded, dirty slums.

Not this time, though. This time the book would stay on Sorus. Where it belonged. And the Estranhos that found it… well, they wouldn’t be finding it—or any other artifacts—ever again.

The oppressive jungle heat weighed on Sanosa’s scales. Fat droplets condensed over her hide and dripped down her tail. She struggled for each breath, the air around her thick and sticky. Every step forward she met with resistance. Vines and roots leapt out at her feet, refusing to let her pass unhindered. Thorns dug into her flanks. It was almost as if the forest didn’t want her there.

Not that being unwanted was anything new. The Sorians weren’t wanted anywhere. Not even on their own forsaken planet. Sorians eked out an existence in the hostile landscape, always in danger of being reclaimed by the wilds of Sorus. 

The temple loomed up from the shadows with no warning. The massive entrance waited for her like the open maw of the creatures that lived in the river. One moment, Sanosa trod on thick forest foliage, the next on stone.

Stone. In the middle of the jungle. It must have come from dozens of miles away. But here it was, a testament to Sorian ingenuity and dedication. The Estranhos would claim it was their doing. Some ancestral visit thousands of years ago. The Estranhos took credit for everything. 

Just like they took credit for finding the book and the temple they’d pillaged for it. Abandoned for hundreds of years, deep in the rainforest, only the fancy imaging satellites had dug it up from its rest. It never occurred to the Estranhos that the temple was better left unfound. They should have left it to the trees and vines and poisonous snakes that ruled the jungle.

Standing before the cavernous entrance to the temple, Sanosa felt a call to enter, like a rushing tide under her feet that pulled her in. She was all too aware of the danger that lurked all around her, danger she couldn’t see. The underbrush was thick, but the darkness of the temple was even thicker. 

As Sanosa rummaged for her light orb, her fingers brushed across the binding of the book stashed safely in her pack. “Bound in Sorian hide and written in blood,” the museum plaque had read. She shuddered.

She cracked the rusted orb against her palm and it hummed to life, floating toward eye level and casting yellow light all around it.

The orb emitted just enough light to see where she stepped as she entered the temple, but not nearly enough to illuminate the walls or ceilings. Every step took her further from the dangers of the jungle and deeper into the dangers of the unmapped building. Soon, the way through which she’d entered was swallowed by the temple’s own suffocating darkness. 

The orb whined. Sanosa looked at it in panic. It had always been an unreliable tool, but she’d just serviced it. It faltered, flickered, then fell. In the darkness, Sanosa heard the crack as it hit the ground.

The light from outside had faded completely, leaving Sanosa alone in the pitch dark of the chamber with nothing but a steady drip, drip, drip and a rustling of something unseen. 

Sanosa took deep lungfuls of the damp air, trying to calm her furiously pounding heart. It was okay. This would be okay. When daylight broke once more, she would have just enough light to see her way out. 

Slowly, her eyes adjusted to the gloom. No… that wasn’t it. She blinked, spots of light coming into focus, then spreading. A web of blue light flicked into existence, spreading like a spiderweb over the chamber. Sanosa’s breath caught in her throat. The vines that covered the walls of the chamber came to life, filling the darkness with pulsing light. The reflected luminescence bounced off her scales and turned them from green to turquoise. They covered the walls, the floors, even the ceilings. The chamber stretched far further than Sanosa had realized. Now that it was lit on all sides, she could feel her own insignificance.

Following the track of light, Sanosa saw that the vines converged in the middle of the chamber floor, rising over a central pillar, covering it in their glow. There the vines grew thickest, crisscrossing over each other and pulsing brightly with light. If the vines were arteries, then surely this was the heart of the chamber. 

Sanosa crept forward and pulled the book from her pouch. It was thick, nearly the width of her palm. She could still see the outline of scales. Thousands of years ago, a Sorian had given their life to make this tome. Sanosa’s blood boiled at the thought of how it had been treated. It was a sacred sacrifice—a grave and corpse bound together—yet the Estranhos had displayed it like an insect stuck with pins. 

Sanosa would put it back to rest. 

A wound of snapped and shriveled vines covered the pillar where the marauding estranhos had dug through to steal the treasure before. Only a few new growths had taken their place. Sanosa swept them aside to reveal the stone underneath. As they snapped, they splattered her with their glowing contents. 

This was it. This was where the book had belonged all along. Sanosa offered a few reverential words and placed the book on the stone. 

As its weight settled, the chamber brightened, the vines’ light growing to an almost painful intensity. Sanosa stared around her at the suddenly bright space, then looked back down to the book. Vines wriggled and writhed over its surface, tendrils growing into the spine and cover. The book glowed. It pulsed in a strong, steady rhythm, sending shockwaves through the vines that that now joined it. Sanosa ran her hand over the cover and felt an answering shiver from her bones. 

She should leave. A distant part of her, an instinct much, much older than even than this chamber, warned her away. But as she turned to leave, her feet stuck fast to the floor. Her muscles seized against the sudden weight pulling them down. Sanosa looked to her feet only to find them entangled in the vines she had stepped onto only minutes before. They shifted and twisted around her, growing up her ankles. 

Sanosa jerked in their grasp, trying to wrest herself free, but they clung more tightly. She cried out as the first of them dug inward, piercing her skin and burrowing deep. Another followed. Then another. Her blood flowed thick over the vines and floor. Sanosa cursed and struggled more intensely. 

The floor rumbled underneath her, a deep, rhythmic thump. In the dark of the cave, vines rustled against stone, sounding oddly like whispers. Sounding like something calling to her.

Her bones creaked and cracked. Vines burrowed into them, splintering them from the inside, taking their place. Her muscles screamed in protest, stretching and bulging, fueled by the bioluminescent fluid pumped into her by the vines. 

She could feel them, writhing and wriggling under her skin, reaching ever further inside to the deepest parts of her. They wound through her veins, bloomed in her lungs, filling her.

The chamber pulsed around her, a thundering heartbeat that overtook Sanosa’s own. The whispers grew louder. They spoke of pain and retribution. They called for blood… more than Sanosa could ever supply. 

The room shrank around her, the ceiling rushing down as if in freefall. But no… no… it wasn’t the room that was shrinking. She was growing. Enormously. Impossibly. 

The vines crawled up Sanosa’s spine. The last of her ineffectual struggles died away with a flash of pain in her temples. And then she felt it: Sorus. The beating heart of the planet was within her. She felt every rustle in the underbrush, every whisper of the wind. She felt the deep wounds of the mining operations digging into her skin, the searing of her flesh as farm developers razed the forest with fire. Rage boiled over.

Sanosa screamed, or tried to. The sound that came out was nothing like her voice, nothing like any voice. Instead, a roar erupted from her throat, shaking the walls of the room. 

Whispers grew to shouts in her mind. She must rid Sorus of this invasion, of this infection. Only blood would heal the wounds. Only the blood of the Estranhos.

Sanosa was huge now, far too large to fit through the entrance through which she had come. But that wasn’t a problem. She could always make another exit. And she had so much work to do. 

*~*Judging panel has not altered/edited this text.*~*
*~*Text is posted as sent by the author.*~*


To vote for this story in the 2021 Wicked Women’s Writing All-star Challenge, CLICK HERE
Voting ends: September 15th, 2021

Wicked Women Writer’s All-star Competition: Jaq D. Hawkins

wwwbannerStory Title: Naga People
by: Jaq D. Hawkins
Object: Circuit Board
Cultural Influence: East Indian

*~*Judging panel has not altered/edited this text.*~*
*~*Text is posted as sent by the author.*~*

Naga People

Music

Sound of underground train

Kat: Excuse me, can I sit with you?

Hamima: Is someone bothering you? There’s not a lot of people on the trains this time of night.

Kat: You could say that. See that guy in the front of the car, the one with sunglasses?

Hamima: Yeah, sunglasses on the Underground is pretty weird. Is he the creepy guy?

Kat: Not just a creepy guy… um, what’s your name?

Hamima: Hamima.

Kat: Indian, huh? I’m Kat.

Hamima: My family is from India. I was born here.

Kat: Hey, no offence.

Hamima: So what do you mean by not just a creepy guy?

Kat (loud whisper): Aliens.

Hamima: Oh crumbs. Look, whatever you’re on, don’t involve me. I’m getting off at Piccadilly anyway, the next stop.

Kat: Here, take this with you. Please!

Hamima: A circuit board? But it’s so small! How could this…

Kat: It’s what he’s following me for. It’s a key for… look, I know it sounds crazy, but they’re planning to totally eliminate humans from the planet. Without this, the machine won’t work. Just take it! Put it in cement and drop it off a pier somewhere. You don’t have to believe me, just do it anyway.

Hamima: So won’t he follow me then?

Kat: Not if he doesn’t know you’ve got it. Just say what you’re thinking when you get off at the stop, call me a crazy woman. You can even mean it. Then get rid of the thing where no one can find it.

hesitate (music)

Hamima: So… will you be alright?

Kat: I’ll get off at Piccadilly too and lead them up where there’s lots of people. They won’t dare do anything in a crowd. I can lose them.

 Hamima: This is crazy…

Kat: Look, just when we go into the tunnel. The light changes so you can see through his sunglass lenses.

Hamima: Oh my god!

Kat: Do you believe me now?

Hamima: His eyes!

Kat: Like a snake. I know.

Hamima: My grandmother told me a story about Naga People.

Kat: This is no story. Now take the circuit board!

Sound of trains stopping, then running footsteps and a distant scream.

Walking footsteps

Hamima (frustrated): How do I get myself into these things.

Man with Sunglasses: Excuse me, Miss.

Hamima: What are you doing? Let go of my arm!

Man with Sunglasses: If you come with me quietly, there’s no need to make a scene.

Hamima: Come with you where? Who are you?

Man with Sunglasses: You have something of mine.

Hamima: I don’t…

Man with Sunglasses: What did she give you? Do you know who that woman you were sitting with is?

Hamima: Some crazy woman…

Man with Sunglasses: That’s right. She’s a terrorist. She’s tricked you into carrying the key to an explosive device.

Hamima: That’s crazy. She tried to give me a circuit board, but I refused.

Man with Sunglasses: She still has it?

Hamima: It’s just a circuit board. Why don’t you just make another if it’s so important?

Man with Sunglasses: You don’t understand. The sequence on it can’t be duplicated. The plans were destroyed.

Hamima: Then you should be happy if you’re stopping a terrorist.

Man with Sunglasses: You think you’re clever, do you?

Hamima: Clever enough not to accept things from crazy people on the tube.

Man with Sunglasses: Let’s not play games. We know you have it. She has already been searched… thoroughly.

Hamima: How… how do you know she didn’t hide it on the train?

Man with Sunglasses: Stop prevaricating. I can have you dissected if necessary.

Hamima: Is that what you did to her? Is that what that scream was?

Man with Sunglasses: How do you know it was her you heard scream?

Hamima: You said you didn’t want to play games.

Man with Sunglasses: I don’t. Give me the circuit board. Now!

Hamima: Al… alright.

Sound of shuffling in handbag.

Hamima: I… I can’t find it!

Man with Sunglasses: Stop stalling!

Hamima: Let go of my arm! We’re on CCTV you know… why are you smiling?

Man with Sunglasses: We thought of that. We’re being observed by my people. No one is coming to help you.

Hamima: Where are you taking me? Let me go!

Man with Sunglasses: This corridor is unused. We can search you here.

Hamima: Wait! Shouldn’t we go back and look to see if it dropped somewhere?

Man with Sunglasses: Our people are doing that now.

Hamima: I don’t have it, I swear!

Man with Sunglasses: We will find it.

Door opening.

Hamima: Oh thank gods! Security, this man is forcing me to go with him against my will! Please make him let go of my arm!

Security Officer: Empty her bag on the desk.

Hamima: Wait! Let go of my bag. Umg!

Sound of handbag contents clattering on desk.

Hamima: (outraged) You can’t do this! That’s my personal property!

Sound of rummaging.

Hamima: What kind of guard are you? You’re supposed to protect me!

Security Officer: On the contrary, miss, my job is to destroy you and all of your people.

Hamima: Oh my god, your eyes…

Man with Sunglasses: Now you begin to understand. We are everywhere. Here it is!

Security Officer: The key…

Hamima: You mean… that woman… she wasn’t crazy? This really is…

Man with Sunglasses: The end of your kind. This planet is ours now.

Hamima: (hyperventilates, moans)

Sound of fast steps trying to run.

Security Officer: Grab her! Don’t let her get away!

Hamima: (muffled scream)

Man with Sunglasses: What shall I do with her?

Security Officer: Take her through to the break room. Some of us haven’t had our lunch yet.

Hamima: (panicked muffled screams)

Sounds of scuffle and door opening then closing.

Distant scream.

*~*Judging panel has not altered/edited this text.*~*

*~*Text is posted as sent by the author.*~*


To vote for this story in the 2021 Wicked Women’s Writing All-star Challenge, CLICK HERE
Voting ends: September 15th, 2021

Wicked Women Writer’s All-star Competition: D.M.Slate

wwwbannerStory Title: International Cuisine
by: D.M. Slate
Object: Android Body Part
Cultural Influence: Filipino

*~*Judging panel has not altered/edited this text.*~*
*~*Text is posted as sent by the author.*~*

International Cuisine

By D.M. Slate

Max pushed her chair away from the table, stretching her legs out and patting her full stomach. Smiling in delight at her new-found-friend, she asked, “How was your dinner?” 

“Amazing.”, Jamison replied. “Food in the Philippines is always great, though. How about you, Ms. Vlogger Extraordinaire – what did you think?”

Chuckling, Max tried to sound official, “The adobo was killer. Literally to die for. It was stewed to perfection! And the lumpia – mmmmmm – deliciously crisp with a fresh veggie crunch. Pair that with the seaside table and a gorgeous sunset – are you kidding me – nothing could make a travel vlogger happier.”

A waiter approached, placing a single egg on the tabletop between them. Max’s smile vanished. Snarling her lip in disgust, she watched in horror as her date carefully peeled the top of the shell away, exposing the partially formed duck fetus inside the boiled balut egg.

Jamison grinned and leaned forward in his chair. “Want a bite?”

Recoiling, Max leaned back further, informing him, “That’s NEVER gonna to happen.

The burly man held the egg into the air with and let out an excited, “Cheers” before tipping the shell to his lips and gulping. Max cringed and looked away, but it was impossible to escape the crunching noises coming from his mouth. 

Taking a swig of warm beer to wash it down, Jamison laughed in response.  

“So you’re seriously leaving tomorrow morning?” 

Nodding her head, the young woman agreed. “Yup. On to my next destination. It’s my job.”

They locked eyes for a second before she looked away. Max swiveled in her chair, peering down the beach. “What’s down there?” 

He grunted. “Nothing. This cafe is the end-of-the-line. There’s only jungle, wildlife, and a swarm of hungry insects beyond that.” 

Pouting, Max replied, “Awwww. That’s too bad. I’d love to get some last-minute shots, but, if it’s too dangerous… then, I guess I understand.”

He gave her a skeptical look. “Alright, alright. Let’s go.” 

They stood and Max put her purse strap over her shoulder, before swiping her wind-blown hair away from her eyes. She felt him watching her arm.

The Navy commander’s voice was timid as he asked, “Uuuh. I know we’ve only known each other for like a day, but I feel like I need to ask about the back-story on your robot arm.”

Her eyebrows raised in amusement, but Max was used to the question by now. “Technically, its called a prosthetic, but robot arm works too.” She looked thoughtfully at the device. “Let’s just say that I bit off more than I could chew, on one of my early adventures… and that was a bad decision. I was just young and inexperienced at the time.”

Jamison apologized. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t’ve asked.”

Max shrugged.  “It’s ok. I’ve come to appreciate the capabilities of my replacement appendage.” She smiled wide and made a proud fist with her prosthesis.

The couple walked near the water’s edge, hand in real-hand, as the sun dipped further behind the horizon. Following a curve on the beach, the small village disappeared from view behind them. Max stopped, removing her phone to shoot a closing video for her next travel segment. 

Jamison stood close to her. “Is there anything that I can do to help?”

Shaking her head she replied, “Nope – I just want to capture the serenity of this moment.” They stood in silence as she recorded, immersing her viewers into the darkening tropics.

As soon as she was done recording, he asked, “What’s your favorite part of your job?”

The young woman thought for a second. “I love getting to see so many beautiful destinations and learning about different cultures and lifestyles – but I think my favorite part of what I do is partaking in the international cuisine. It’s amazing how much tastes vary from one location to another.”

He nodded. “Are you ever scared, traveling alone?”

Max laughed, whole-heartedly. “Nah. People aren’t really that scary.” 

Changing the subject, she pointed to the sky. “Look, you can see Mars tonight.” As they gazed out at the vast universe the vlogger sighed, “This view makes me homesick.” 

The commander interlocked fingers with her once again, asking, “So, where do you call home?”

She shrugged. “I’ve travelled so far that its getting hard to remember, honestly.”

Jamison turned to face her, looking deep into her eyes. 

His forehead scrunched in confusion. 

“Wow. The light from the moon reflecting off the water makes your eyes look like they’re glowing. How awesome – I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Max replied with enthusiasm. “Yeah, that is kind of crazy, huh?”

He raised his hands up to her chin, shifting her face toward the moonlight, inspecting.

Max blinked, sending her inner eyelids sliding sideways across her orbs. 

Jamison recoiled and screamed, attempting to pull away, but Max’s prosthetic hand was already clasped around his wrist. His eyes were wide and filled with agony as she tightened her grasp, crushing his bones. A final effort on her part finished the job, popping the hand from the end of the arm. Blood spewed from the amputation and the commander now stared at the mangled limb in shocked silence, mount agape.

Wasting no time Max lunged forward, projecting her serpent-like tongue into his open mouth. He choked as it worked its way down his esophagus into his chest cavity. 

Max curled the end of her tongue and yanked with all of her strength, ripping his innards out of his mouth. Her tongue retracted and she swallowed the delicacy in one single bite. 

The commander’s limp corpse fell to the sand, gurgling. 

Her attention shifted to her prosthetic, which was still grasped Jamison’s severed body part. Max chuckled at the irony – they were still technically holding hands. How cute.

Max licked her blood-stained lips, before descending her second row of razor-sharp teeth. Bringing his hand to her mouth she chomped off the pinky finger, munching on the snack.  

Satisfied, she complimented herself out loud. “I knew that was going to be the perfect dessert. North American with a hint of Filipino – Deeeeeeelicious!”

*~*Judging panel has not altered/edited this text.*~*
*~*Text is posted as sent by the author.*~*


To vote for this story in the 2021 Wicked Women’s Writing All-star Challenge, CLICK HERE
Voting ends: September 15th, 2021

Temecula Terror Event!

Temecula Terror, Inland Empire’s Newest Halloween-Themed Attraction Brings Frights to Wine Country

Tickets on Sale Now | Open October 1 – 31, 2021

temecula

This October the Inland Empire will be home (or should we say a haunted home) to an all-new, hair-raising, terrifying haunt: Temecula Terror. Open for 19-days, October 1- 31, Temecula Terror invites thrill-seekers to visit a creepy, small town, off a back road in the Temecula Valley, and step into a Halloween Harvest Carnival… with a sinister intention. Tickets start at $20 USD for adults and are on sale today at www.temeculaterror.com.

Dubbed an Indie-Style Haunt, Temecula Terror is located in Galway Downs, a unique outdoor experience located in the wild, shadowing hills of the Temecula Valley Wine Country. Lit only by the stars in the sky and the event’s carnival lights, Temecula Terror will deliver frights for 19-days with 3 mazes, 2 bars, 1 VIP Bar, nightly live DJ and entertainment, carnival games, local food trucks, a pumpkin patch, and a scare zone with roaming monsters.

“Without giving too much away, Temecula Terror encourages those who dare to make it past the fanfare of the carnival and circus to discover that the small town hidden behind it, in the middle of wine country, is the real haunted attraction and not necessarily the carnival,” shared Jeromy Ball, Bloodshed Brothers.

Zachary Ball, twin brother to Jeromy Ball and other half of the Bloodshed Brothers added, “For those really looking to test their bravery, we dare you to step inside the maze we’re calling 301 Hyde Street – some of our own team members were spooked just going over the build and storyline.”

In addition to the frights, Temecula Terror offers something for haunt-lovers of all ages: Family Fright starts at 5:00pm with a pumpkin patch, carnival games, trick-or-treating, food and more. Then at 7:00pm, as the sun starts to set and hide behind the rolling hills, the sinister scares begin as the monsters and ominous spirits are unleashed.

Bringing to life the biggest “haunt” Temecula has ever seen this spooky season, Temecula Terror tickets go on sale today and start at just $20 per adult (12+ years) and $10 for children (Family Fright). Local event production companies Bloodshed Brothers and Clever Coven have banded together to create the first-year haunt with an emphasis on involving local companies, brands, and stories from the heart of Temecula Valley.

Visit www.TemeculaTerror.com for more information,
to purchase tickets and to stay up to date on
Temecula Terror announcements, sales, and more.

Free Fiction Week: The Invitation by Alice Paige

The Invitation by Alice Paige

The dinner table is set. The two face each other, both smiling sharp smiles highlighted in red lipstick. A smile is a weapon. Both women knew this from childhood. It’s a kind of truth men aren’t aware of. They see the smile, but not the tongue curtained behind the teeth. 

The two women, both with too pale skin, lean forward in their wicker chairs. The blood-red dresses they wear shine and shimmer in the candlelight cast from a ring of quickly melting candles rimming the room. No light shines from the table. There is no room on the table for light as this is where the corpse lies flat on its back, dressed in a black see-through shroud. The corpse’s face is gaunt and grey, desiccated. The old corpse is set out, as if for a funeral viewing. What is a viewing if not invitation to grieve? 

“But this is no funeral,” one of the women says, or perhaps, both the women say at once. They glance towards the single curtained window in the room. 

Outside, the snow falls. It is not a kind snow; it is a hungry snow that drinks sound from the air. The abandoned London streets are swallowed in a blanket of white. This snow mutes sound and is an offering of violence. A silencing. The streets are abandoned, a feat in the heart of London with its sickly, sprawling populace. 

The two women smirk as they stand from the table. Slowly, they walk across the room, bare feet slapping against the dark, wooden floor, the candlelight flickering between their toes. Quickly they move from candle to candle burning clippings of the corpse’s hair. 

“In case you are wondering,” one of the women begins, “this is for you. A welcoming,” the other woman finishes. Each candle flairs as hair burns and smokes. The room is a mix of sick sweetness. There is the potent stench of corpse flesh and burnt hair, but the candles provide a stark, contrasting smell of sweet honey. 

The room fills with a startling sound like rubber bands snapping. The corpse on the table spasms again and again under its shroud as the final clippings of curled, grey hair burn. The legs of the table hop and scrape against the floor.

The two women hurriedly walk to the curtained window together and throw the curtains back. Sickly, grey light spills into the room. The window faces out upon a small, abandoned city square. Both women grab the base of the large window and lift. Painfully chilled air rushes into the room. The sound outside is still muted but, just on the edge of audible perception, there is a labored breathing that seems to invade the room as the window opens. 

The two women walk back over to the table and place their hands atop the corpse. Their fingers slowly intertwine atop the soft, black fabric and their hands rise and fall with the corpse’s chest. The women’s skin goosebumps. They look at one another with cautioned excitement.

 “Are you ready?” they ask the empty room. It is unclear who or what they are speaking to. They wait a moment, and, despite the lack of answer, they seem satisfied. Slowly each woman leans backwards, fingers still locked, and they begin to chant. The two chant in unison at an alarming pace, their bright red lips quickly enunciate each word with a labored intensity. 

“It juts its fingers into the dirt, finds the face beneath, the orbital, the mandible, 

cracks the ossuary, slithers into this shattered church, makes a blasphemous home 

of once  priest, rips the faith root and stem, hungrily gorges on intently scarified 

meaning, is pulled, is plucked, is jutted like sharpened weapon, we call, we demand, 

we twinned sisters, given twinned names, we control the star pointed razor, 

the space beyond space, we space behind face, we who have pulled host from holy grave to give you shape once again demand you take shape once again.”

The twin voices drone on together, echoing off the bare, wooden walls and spill into the town square. 

And that’s when I feel it. A tug in my guts. Not that I have guts. 

It’s a strange sensation, to not have a sense of self until I suddenly have a sense of self. To be thrust into “I” once more. It’s as if I have been here the entire time, watching, but have only now just arrived. The two women fall into silence. I recognize them. We were friends once. Before. Before what? My mind feels like a waterfall climbing to be a river. Entropy turned on itself. A collecting.

My vision shifts as the room rotates, turning on its head. I feel my chest heave and my ribs crack. I cough because I can cough. 

“You’re here,” Emily says. She is the woman to the left of me. Her voice is slightly softer than her sister, Emilia. I could always tell the difference. 

I try to speak but my throat refuses to move. I am on my back. How did I get on my back? I was watching the room from above.

“You need to give it a moment. The body will be able to speak soon,” Emilia says. 

 I glance down to see the shroud covering the corpse’s body. No, not the corpse’s. Mine. My body. I inhabit the corpse. I can feel it around me like swimming in muck. Its skin is so tight. I try to move the tongue in its mouth and the tongue shifts slightly. Suddenly, I can taste. Its mouth, my mouth, tastes like ash and copper. Emily places a hand on my forehead. Her skin is so soft. So alive. 

“We told you nothing would keep us apart Dahlia,” Emily and Emilia say together. 

I scream in this body that is not mine. The corpse’s vocal cords hiss.


Alice Paige is a trans woman, poet, and essayist living in St. Paul, Mn. Her writing largely focuses on topics like mythology and queer love. Her work can be found at FreezeRay Poetry, Crabfat Magazine, Coffin Bell, VASTARIEN, Button Poetry, Luna Station Quarterly and Take A Stand, Art Against Hate: A Raven Chronicles Anthology. She is also a co-host for Outspoken, a Queer Open Mic.

 

https://www.instagram.com/alicegpaige/

Free Fiction Week: The Get Together by Prapti Gupta

THE GET TOGETHER by Praptui Gupta

“Mom are you ready?” I asked.

“Yes dear, let’s go” she replied.

Today my mom and I are very excited. Today we are going to meet with our father after a long time. I can’t really explain how happy and excited I am. After a lot of struggle and patience, we are getting to meet him. But the sad part is the meeting period is very short, just 10 minutes.

On our way, I was thinking what questions I will be asking him. There are so many but I can’t ask all of them. We reached the place after some time. Mr. Morgan was waiting for us. He was the medium through which we are going to talk with him. 

 He was seeing us in a very strange manner as if he hasn’t seen people like us before. Yes, I admit we are different because we are new to this place but yet we look like human beings. 

“Good morning Mrs. Evans, I was just waiting for you and your son,” he said to us.

“Is everything ready? We can’t wait to meet him; hope you can understand” my mom said to him.

“Yes. The whole process is to be of 20 minutes and you can talk to him for about 10 minutes, not more than that, otherwise, it can be risky for me” he said.

Though we were disappointed upon hearing the time limit, we nodded.

Then he took us inside a room. It was a dark room, in fact very dark.

Okay, let me clear the fact. We are going to do planchette. This is the only method and medium of our contact with him.

My mom and I haven’t talked with him since the day we two died in a road accident a year ago but my father survived!!!!

It’s really a special day for both of us. 

THE END


Prapti Gupta is an 18 year old writer from India.

 

To read more of her work: Wattpad

Free Fiction Week: The Smoky Mountain Monster by Terry Pierson

The Smoky Mountain Monster by Terry Pierson

The Smoky Mountains, full of shadowed silence and untouched grandeur, hum with stories and legends. There was a little log cabin in the woods that was said to have belonged to Davy Crockett. At night a deep mist would form over the leaf magenta grounds but no one was ever there to see it. A big rock rose like a monolith from a dirt patch where nothing else had grown for a long time. 

No one ever saw it.  A volcano could have splintered from the ground and moltend the forest while turning the sky to ash and it would be days before someone drove by an adjacent road and noticed. There was no one back here, the world had moved on and left this little stretch of existence to stagnate and freeze in time, with nothing to disrupt its trajectory. It slumbered. 

So it sat for decades, time unfolding with callous change all through the world. Yet these few acres of country stayed oblivious. Technology pushed, leaders grew and died, empires boomed and collapsed, but the few miles of trees around Limestone in southeast Tennessee rested in tranquility without any concern for what was happening beyond the borders. It felt at ease with its place in the world; a soft warm blanket for those who knew it. 

This seemed destined to continue until suddenly it didn’t. Some ambitious men decided to expand the real estate market further from the nearby market center.  In less than a year, something that had been the same for lifetimes, secluded and undisturbed, was abruptly and violently uprooted, dug, plowed, shoveled, ripped, paved, molded, and shaped to be an entirely new area of the world fit for civilization and pleasant circumstances. The land did not agree and moaned its disapproval. 

Families moved in fast and it wasn’t long before the surrounding area was filled with gas stations and school buildings and soccer fields and fast food establishments. Year after year marched forward and before long the place the area had been for so long was forgotten, washed away in a tide of habitation. The development was a success but the earth did not reserve its protest.

The land grew haunted, wrecked by spirits and atrocities. Nothing else was allowed to inhabit this space. The very fiber of existence twisted in repulsion at its new form. There was something that revolted against what destiny was dictating. The new orchestra of everyday life – with all of its humanity and confinement – chafed against the fiber of all that had come before. 

It was calm at first, residential troubles and local folklore. There was a haunted house or vengeful spirit. An entire barn of animals all perished overnight with no discernible cause. Some thought the lake was cursed. A family of five died in a fiery car crash on an unmarked road. A deranged man from a nearby slaughterhouse assaulted an elderly woman in her home. There was something damned in the space itself and it would endlessly produce whatever menace fit the void. 

Generations disappeared down the family conveyor belt and the daily troubles of the place turned to twilight. Rumors of a ritualistic cult rooted in the community took hold. A flesh-eater preyed on the town. Some unknown beast, described in wild testimonies and interviews as a horned slug the size of a dog, turned the area into a tourist spot. 

The 21st century had begun to wane when the fissure finally erupted. A great mass swelled in the land; bony, titanic shoulders lifted the earth into an illusion of mountains where there had been none. In the very spot where Davy Crockett’s log cabin had sat the ground split and a tremor propelled through the surrounding countryside. A creature, unlike anything, ever rose to the sky, carrying the homes and barns and utility poles up to the clouds. All of that cursed land was swept up in an instant and crumbled to pieces on the back of the mile-high gargantuan. It fell back to the land and crashed like haunted meteorites cratering in the surface. 

The mammoth could not be. Its presence stained and contaminated the dimension of humanity. No reason or spirituality could support its nature. The thing was an intruder that trekked its cosmic mud across the carpet of conceived existence.

The impossible monstrosity evaporated to space in a fantastic fog. Time and gravity warped around it in a spectacular display of color that broadcast against the Smoky Mountain landscape. Geography twisted on itself in impossible spirals. Deep recesses swallowed rolling mounds. The seams of reality frayed and stretched as the entity joined the stars. The monster was never there, it couldn’t be. Everyone already remembered the Tennessee canyons as all the land had ever been. 


 

Terry Pierson creates creepy content as Something Spooky on social media. His signature style blends campfire story spirit and prestige horror sensibility.

https://amzn.to/3rHGom7

Free Fiction : RELEASING ANGER by Alan Moskowitz

RELEASING ANGER~Written by Alan Moskowitz

Willem looked up with trepidation as the Father swept into the ornate office and took his place behind the worn oak desk, a tight smile on his weathered face.  Willem forced his body to remain still and upright in spite of the nervous energy flowing through him, urging him to leave, to run away.  To make matters worse the Elder ignored Willem as he fussed with the papers, notes and unopened envelopes strewn across the desk.  A bead of sweat rolled down Willem’s face, but he dared not raise his hand to it.

 “Wipe it,” the old man’s voice cracked.  Willem quickly brushed the offending drops away.  The Elder’s mouth twisted into what passed for a smile. “No call for nervousness Son, that is unless you’re not ready for this final meeting.”

Willem remained silent.  Father snapped, “You may talk.”

“I have studied the Book, Father.  I have prayed with the Flock.  I have fasted for a month.  I have stood vigils in the freezing cold, seeking donations, and I have raised many funds for the Holy See.”

“Yes, yes, I know all that. You would not be here otherwise.  Willem, are you still angry?  Do you still hate?  Is there still, after all your training and sacrifice, is there a part of you that hurts that drives you to self-harm?  Think on these things, use what you have learned from the teachings of our Lord, and answer me truly. ” He picked up an ornate letter opener and slit open one of the envelopes on his desk.  He unfolded the paper within and set to reading it, ignoring Willem in the process.

Willem’s lips moved in prayer as he sought that place inside of himself that knows his true self.   He had hated his parents.  Does he still?  They did their best, they said, in spite of his issues.  Their best consisted of locking him in a closet for behaving like a “demon child” as his mother put it; getting “the belt” across his back for a variety of transgressions from breaking a dish to wetting the bed to being a coward, a loser, and “a no-good waste of sperm.” His so-called normal siblings hopped on that bandwagon and teased and tortured him unmercifully until at sixteen, he ran away.  No one searched for him.

Pain, massive pain, mental and physical traveled with him into the streets, where his life only became worse.  He sought refuge in the alleyways and fetid tents of the homeless and useless, an outcast and a pariah.  First, he blamed himself.  But the continued abuse turned that self-loathing into seething anger, a burning hatred for his family and for all those who still spit on him, kicked him and laughed.  It was only a matter of time before he exploded. 

And one night a young woman walked slowly by his filthy hovel and glanced in at him; one more so-called human being dismissing him.  Not this time, he murmured.  He crept after her, bent on doing her harm, making her pay for his lifetime of hurt.  He came up behind her, hands reaching out to strangle her when she suddenly turned and met his red-rimmed gaze.   Her eyes told him that she knew his pain.  And then she smiled at him, pulled him to her, and told him he was wanted and loved.   

She brought him to the Flock and the Father.  He was nurtured with kindness and love and shown that he didn’t need to carry all that pain, hate, and misery.  That The Lord of us all would show him The Way to a better life, through kindness, forgiveness, and passing the word to others. And it was so.  After a year of study, love, and sacrifice and he was complete.

  The Father’s voice broke through his reverie, “Well, my son, as our Lord has said, ‘now or never.’ He chuckled, a thick deep raspy noise, with not a hint of humor.

Willem’s eyes opened wide and bright, the excitement of knowing he would be granted his place in Flock.   “I am ready to forgive all who have harmed me, Father.  I will do our Master’s work for the rest of my life and pray He will welcome me into his arms.” 

The old man stood, that crooked smile curling his lips as he held out his hand to the boy.  “Welcome Son, I see great deeds are to be done.” 

 Willem stood and gripped the Father’s leathery hand in his. “Thank you, Father.”

‘Now go, begin the work, we are eager for you to do the Flock proud.”  Willem bowed once, turned, and left the sacred office.

Willem stood for almost a minute just staring at the familiar door before he pressed the bell.  He twitched at hearing the familiar ring.   Part of him wished no one would answer, but he quashed that idea and stood fast, his duty clear.

The door opened and his mother stood before him, her mouth opened in shock, “Willem?  What is this?  What are you doing here?” 

“I forgive you, Mother.”

She scowled, “for what?”

“The Lord of us all forgives you too.”

“You went and joined a cult?  My God, you’re still an idiot.”

“Not your God, My Lord.  He has cleansed me, taken my pain, so I can forgive you.” 

“Isn’t that nice; tell your Lord I said thanks for nothing,” she muttered, the familiar sarcasm dripping from her mouth.

Willem brought the razor-sharp letter opener out from behind his back and drove it between the two upper left ribs as taught, twisting it as it reached into his mother’s heart.  His mother’s shocked look, fade with her life force as she dropped to the floor.   Willem pulled the opener free, stared down at his mother’s face contorted with pain and confusion.  “Our Lord forgives too, but He does not forget.”

He stepped over her body and went inside, wondering who else was home.


 

Alan Moskowitz is a retired screen and TV writer living in Colorado enjoying creating genre fiction.

 

To find more of his work see: mosko13@aol.com

New Press: Gravestone Press

Gravestone Press is a new press looking for stories. For more information on the calls, CLICK HERE.

Open calls: 

When They Came For You

Open date : 18 / 05 / 2021 Will close when filled

Horror stories on the theme of those who are coming to get you. Think paranoia, think revenge, think ancient nasty traditions and send me your best darkest stories. My need is for 70,000 words, so get writing!

EYES

Open date : 19 / 05 / 2021 Will close when filled

sensitive things, necessary things, how would we cope if our sight was taken from us… explore the blood soaked world of Eyes – and see (ha!) where the story can take you.

Halloween Haunts

Open date : 19 / 05 / 2021 Will close when filled

Halloween is every horror writer’s dream time, so many aspects to this time of the year. Look further than the conventional Trick and Treat ideas, everyone will have used them by now, look beyond that into the festival itself, Samhain, ancient tradition, ancient – see what you can do. If this isn’t filled in time to be published this year, it will be held over for Halloween 2022 – we won’t let your story get away!

Blood Clots

Open date : 19 / 05 / 2021 Will close when filled

short shorts, nothing over 1000 words, shock your reader with your gory and wild imaginations, please! Sometimes these short pieces can be better than long stories, let’s see what you have in your archives or in your mind… sorry, can’t offer payment for these, not until you write me such outstanding stories we all make money and then I will…



Book Review : Aleister Blake by Valentina Cano

Review by Matt Morovich

An admission before I begin: I’m not that much of a fan of the romance genre.

It’s not for particularly any negative reason, the previous statement isn’t an indictment of the genre, it’s just not a genre that I have had much experience with. Admittedly, it also not one I have a preference for; if I’m going to pick up a book, it’s much more likely going to be horror, science fiction, or fantasy.  Maybe a more accurate statement would be that I don’t have enough experience with the genre to say if I’m a fan or not. 

That said, this book, Aleister Blake

Here I thought it was going to be a horror novel and yet it’s a sneaky, stealthy horror romance.

And that is not a bad thing in the slightest.

Aleister Blake is the story of Nora, a young woman living in Victorian London with her brother Peter. Decidedly working class, the pair work as rat catchers for a man named Sharpe, clearing the homes of wealthier citizens of vermin. Having grown up as orphans on the city streets, the siblings are incredibly close and Peter has done everything he could to keep his sister safe. That said, they are still products of their environment which expresses itself in Nora’s suspicion and dislike for the upper class and her penchant for nicking objects to pawn from the homes of their clients when her brother, the moral compass of the two, isn’t able to stop her. Due to her smaller size and figure, Nora is the quick and nimble one, crawling beneath floors and between walls to catch the rats while Peter helps manage their working relationships to get more clients.

While not a comfortable life, the two of them get by with their work, making a mostly honest living, and things go well until Peter makes the mistake of placing too large a bet on a dog during a rat-baiting when a tip doesn’t pan out. When it is revealed he doesn’t have the money to cover the wager, Peter is stabbed and mortally wounded while his sister watches. Crying for help in a filthy London alley, Nora’s prayers are answered when a stranger appears out of the night to offer her a devil’s bargain: Nora could agree to work for the stranger on a project that he needed her assistance with and he would save Peter. The additional drawback would be that Nora would become invisible to everyone who had previously known her, excising her from her previous life, but, facing living in a world without her brother, she’d rather go on knowing he was alive and unable to see her than for him to be dead, so she agrees. 

And that is how we are introduced to the mysterious Aleister Blake.

The horror of Aleister Blake comes from the same-named character, who, right from the go, is clearly more than he appears. Able to heal mortal wounds with a wave of a hand, he lives in a Tardis-like home that is far larger on the inside than it is on the outside and is staffed with misshapen shadow creatures that flit about silently on the edges of your vision. Over the course of the book, we learn Aleister’s secrets as Nora uncovers more about her mysterious benefactor and business partner and the unsettling nature of his house.

The romance portion of this novel is, you probably could have guessed, the growing relationship between Nora and Aleister. Over the course of the book, the two come to an understanding of each other and gain mutual respect, leading to Nora acknowledging she has feelings for him. To go too much more into either the romance or horror aspect of the novel would be to give too many spoilers, but, to my unfamiliar experience with the romance genre, the relationship seemed to grow organically and realistically.

I’m happy to say that, as opposed to the last two books I reviewed, I enjoyed Aleister Blake quite a bit. Written from Nora’s perspective, she’s an entertaining and realistically written character who I enjoyed getting to be a part of. Her interactions with her brother, Aleister, and others felt real and unlike other female protagonists whose name rhymes with “Smella”, she is competent and realistically flawed. She has a sense of humor, her own fears, and desires, and the end of the novel was refreshing in how it turned out. I particularly enjoyed how Cano wrote the dialogue, it flowed well and sounded like how people actually talk; additionally, the way that Nora and Aleister speak with each other also really emphasized the changing nature of their relationship, becoming more familiar and humorful as they grow closer. 

The only thing that made me frown at the book was, once again, the main threat came down to sexual violence around women, specifically women who had been kidnapped to be trafficked. I will say that there are no graphic depictions of any abuse, only implications of it, but again that was being used as a trope made me roll my eyes a bit. What saved it for me was how little it was part of the plot; it existed, and dealing with the kidnapping was part of Nora’s motivation, but it wasn’t the singular facet of the story nor was it over-emphasized. Part of me wishes Cano had found a different reason for Nora to care about Aleister’s schemes, because of how overdone this sort of thing feels to me, but I could look past that opinion for how much I enjoyed the rest of the book.

I will say that I was hoping that the book would have had more horror. While what was there was well written, I felt like this skewed a bit more toward the romance side of the hyphenated genre than the horror side. The horror had a decidedly PG-13 feel to it, which isn’t necessarily bad, I was just hoping for more. 

If you’re looking for a horror-romance book with an interesting and entertaining female protagonist, I would definitely recommend Aleister Blake.

Religious Horror Month: Exorcism For Fun and Profit by Loren Rhoads

Exorcism for Fun and Profit

by Loren Rhoads

My mom was a school librarian and didn’t place any limits on what I read, figuring that if it was too mature for me, I simply wouldn’t understand it. She limited what I could watch, though. I wasn’t allowed to see The Exorcist in the theater, but she didn’t stop me from reading the novel. Long after everyone I knew was terrified—or claimed they were terrified—by the movie, I checked the novel out of the public library.

The part that struck me more than anything else was Blatty’s introduction, in which a man is tortured in a dirty prison cell with a cattle prod and a bucket of water. I was a farm girl. My dad’s cattle prod lived on the telephone desk in the kitchen, where it was close to hand in case the cows got out. I knew a cattle prod would make a 1200-pound steer sit down. I could easily imagine what it would do to a man.

Blatty’s point was that men did such evil to each other that demonic possession was easy to believe in. It would be decades before I wondered about humans possessing demons.

***

A couple of years after I read the novel, I came home from university one weekend when my parents weren’t home. Of course I invited a couple of friends over to my folks’ place in the country. Because there was whiskey involved, everyone was expected to spend the night.

My memories of that night come in fragments, like a broken kaleidoscope: there was pizza. Under-aged boys. My best friend from high school. It goes without saying there was puking.

In the middle of the night, I crawled out to the family room with my misery. Unable to sleep at the best of times, my friend Martha had the TV on. The only thing she could find to watch in the middle of that interminable night was The Exorcist.

I wonder now if the movie had been edited for TV. I remember the boils and the pea soup and the backbend and the spinning head. The possession was not, by a long stretch, the most horrific thing I saw that night.

Even so, Father Merrin, speaking the rites, lodged in my imagination.

Many years later, Brian Thomas followed the story I’d written about a succubus meeting an angel by possessing my succubus with a mortal girl’s soul. Suddenly, Brian and I were writing the book that would come to be called Lost Angels.

Clearly, if there was a possession, there would need to be an exorcist. I didn’t grow up Catholic, so I don’t know the rituals of the Church. I do know–all too well–how it feels to be a young woman completely out of control, when something else takes control of your body and poisons you. The possession was easy to write. The exorcism worried me. I wanted to get it right, to do justice to my influences.

Poking around in the Brand Bookstore in Glendale with Brian, I came across Exorcism Through the Ages, published in 1974 by the Philosophical Library of New York. It was exactly the book I needed to guide the exorcism of a mortal girl’s soul from the succubus Lorelei. Wheels within wheels: a historical overview of exorcism inspired by a fictional exorcism inspired by the real-life exorcism of Roland Doe…and all of it inspiring the events in the back room at Lost Angels.

Here’s a little taste of the exorcism at Lost Angels:

The exorcism was working. Lorelei felt a dreadful tearing in her chest, like the agony a cell feels as it divides.

Joseph watched her closely. He raised his hands to shoulder height, palms facing her, and began to pray. “Satan, Father of Lies, Author of Evil, look in pity on this your servant, now caught up in the coils of this human spirit. Unravel this angelic labyrinth, break asunder these snares and traps, put this childish ghost to flight. By this sign,”—he drew an upside cross—“let your servant be protected. Keep watch over the inmost recesses of her heart, rule over her emotions, strengthen her will. Let vanish from her flesh the temptations of this human child. As we call on your name, O Satan, allow this child to retreat in grace and in peace, so that this servant of yours may sincerely and steadfastly render you the service which is your due.”

The agony spiraled beyond anything Lorelei had previously imagined. The more she tried to shove aside Ashleigh’s ghost, the more of her own spirit she felt ripped away. Her flesh had turned to stone, galvanized by lightning. She convulsed and arced and struggled, breathing out a steady tormented moan.

Book Review: Death Masks by Kim Richards

Review Written by Matt Marovich

Content warning, there will be a non-graphic discussion of sexual assault and rape in this review.

I finished Death Masks by Kim Richards a few days ago and I’ve been rolling it around in my head, trying to decide what I thought about it. 

After some thought, my take is that Death Masks has two stories, one I enjoyed quite a bit and one I didn’t care for very much at all.

Both stories revolve around Bill. On the surface, Bill is a fairly stereotypical character if you asked for a standard model “IT professional”: out of shape, overweight, plays video games on his lunch break, not much for physical activity, or being outwardly social. If that was all there was to him, he’d be a fairly boring, one-dimensional character, one we have seen in countless other books and media featuring awkward, doughy men who have grown up and managed to make their adolescent computer nerdery their profession. However, what saves Bill from being a caricature is the emotional realism that Kim Richards uses when writing him, in particular regarding his relationship with his girlfriend Dixie, and that is the story, their relationship, that I enjoyed most in this book.

Dixie is the opposite of Bill in pretty much every way. Smaller where Bill is large, conventionally attractive for a woman while Bill is kind of a slob, Dixie is a nurse at the local hospital, a profession that works with people while her boyfriend works with machines. She’s an artist, primarily working with sculpture and plaster casts, and athletic in that she works out, goes jogging, and enjoys social dancing, particularly salsa, while Bill would rather drink a six pack, eat some pizza, and shoot pixel zombies. If Bill was true to the stereotype, he might try to passive-aggressively keep Dixie from the things that she enjoys that he doesn’t care about, particularly if they could threaten his relationship with her (like the dancing), but instead Richards writes him in a mature fashion, that even if he isn’t into the things Dixie enjoys, he supports her love of them because they bring her happiness and feed her soul. Early in the book, in chapter three, we have a great example of this as they go “dancing”, or Dixie goes dancing and Bill watches her. While he does acknowledge the occasional pang of jealousy, the focus is more on enjoying Dixie’s happiness and wanting to support her (it doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous and it’s a turn on for him to watch her dance). The same goes for her art; she has her own space in the basement that he remarks could make a good home office for him so he could do work from home more easily, but that would mean impacting her personal artistic space and he’d rather not. Seeing the consideration he pays her in regards to the things she enjoys (and the fact that she never gives him crap about his own interests that she doesn’t share) was a nice change of pace and a nice break from an otherwise stereotypical character.

The other aspect of their relationship that made me enjoy this part of the book was how Bill tries to support Dixie’s mental illness. Dixie suffers from depression and anxiety, primarily linked to particular times of the year such as fall and winter as well as Christmas specifically. This illness impacts how she interacts with Bill, at times being snappish or making things more difficult as he tries to navigate the complexities of her illness, and impacts her life in all of the myriad ways that depression and anxiety can. Not once does Bill treat her with anything less than respect and understanding and while he does worry about her, he doesn’t make his concern her problem so that she has to manage him managing her illness. He speaks with her counselor to strategize on ways he might be able to help her and he tries to be thoughtful about her condition. As someone who has had people close to him deal with such illnesses, watching Bill do his best to be helpful and take care of Dixie felt familiar and very real in a personal way. 

While those were the main aspects of Death Masks that I enjoyed, the rest of the plot wasn’t to my tastes.

The main conflict of the other plotline of Death Masks is Bill’s interactions with an unknown assailant. Early in the book, Bill has what might be a very minor heart attack and it scares him into action to try to better his health. In order to do this, he decides to take up walking (with the intent to move up to running when he’s in better condition to) and goes to the nearby park. While on his first foray into fitness, he comes across a scene on one of the paths: a thin figure hunched over the fallen body of a young man, another jogger. Thinking the man on the ground is being robbed, Bill tries to intercede but despite the size difference, the attacker being much smaller, Bill is quickly overcome and rendered unconscious. Before he is clubbed over the head with a rock, he looks up into the face of his attacker and sees a skeletal visage looking back at him. 

We as the reader are given glimpses into the attacker’s mind, a serial killer who uses a syringe full of some unnamed drug that almost instantaneously paralyzes those injected with it. We later learn that the killer targets men of a particular standard of physical attractiveness, stalking them from the bushes of the park’s jogging trails before ambushing them and taking them away to be buried alive while still paralyzed. Throughout the book we come to learn the attacker’s motivations, that they are seeking revenge for childhood wrongs perpetrated on them by their brother and his friends, a gang of drug-using thugs and criminals who sexually assault the attacker, first as what they were told was a gang initiation and later on just because they could. 

Can I just say that I am extremely tired of this use of sexual violence in fiction? Need to have a woman with a traumatic backstory? Have her be raped. Got to give a killer a reason for revenge? They were sexually assaulted. Have to put the female main character in a situation where they are in harm’s way? Have the threat be the explicit potential of them being raped. The use of something so serious feels lazy and, to me, disrespectful. With how traumatic real-life sexual violence can be, using it as the defining moment for why the villain is evil feels like it cheapens the reality of it for me and, depending on your reading, might not speak kindly to victims of such experiences. 

That said, the parts of the book that involve the park stalker struck me as unrealistic. A drug that works the same on people of various body types, regardless of how much they are given, without some suffering side-effects from the drug and nearly instantaneously? The police, when they are involved, are needlessly antagonistic and almost painfully disinterested at times. Despite the fact that the killer racks up a nine-victim body count, there is no rising consciousness of people of a particular gender going missing after visiting the park until very late in the book and, even then, the police are almost entirely dismissive of anything Bill has to say. Finally, in the end, Bill realizes the true identity of the killer when he hears their voice, recognizing it, but somehow fails to do so in their first encounter when he hears the killer speak. The twist of the reveal of the killer’s identity wasn’t really much of a twist and despite the killer’s earlier martial prowess, sweeping Bill off his feet, pinning him to the ground, and clubbing him unconscious, none of that was apparent in the final confrontation. 

My other criticism of the book is that the ending felt rushed, the final showdown only a few pages long.

While I feel like Death Masks started out strong, with Bill and Dixie being complex and well-rounded characters, the killer felt flat and disinteresting in comparison. With the rushed ending and some plot details that seemed inserted only to provide ineffective blinds for the killer’s true identity, the unfortunate impression I’m left with is one of a missed opportunity. 

Book Review: The Bonecarver (The Night Weaver Series) by Monique Snyman

Review Written by Matt Marovich

Content Warning: Sexual Assault, Threats of Rape

Before I begin I need to admit that when I chose The Bonecarver to review I wasn’t aware that it was book two in a series and, if I had, I wouldn’t have picked it up having not read the first. While this book doesn’t rely too heavily on the plot from the book before, recurring characters and their past history with the main character might have resonated and made more impact if I had their complete backstory.

The Bonecarver is the story of Rachel Cleary, a teenage girl attending Ridge Crest High in the small New England town of Shadow Grove. Despite its small and sleepy nature, the town of Shadow Grove is one of mysteries that hide a darkness beneath the surface, where terrible events happen but are covered up by those in charge. Only recently recovering from an encounter with a being called the Night Weaver, responsible for the deaths and disappearances of several children, Shadow Grove has moved on in its silent fashion, ignoring the strangeness and tragedy that had befallen it.

We are introduced to Rachel as she is attempting to take her SATs when a panic attack forces her outside, abandoning the test. While in the bathroom to calm down with a small amount of privacy, she helps save her classmate Mercia Holstein from an epileptic seizure. During this encounter, Rachel finds a small, carved figurine of bone in Mercia’s likeness, her pose and expression identical to her in the midst of her seizure. After this, more terrible things begin to happen to people around the town, each preceded by the appearance of a bone carving of the victim in the midst of an accident. After the discovery of a boneless corpse at her school and a frightening encounter with a strange fae, Rachel’s investigation of the threat takes her into the Fae world in search of allies and, when she returns home, she finds Shadow Grove in chaos as she confronts the creature known as the Bonecarver.

The parts of The Bonecarver that I enjoyed most were some of the descriptions. Monique Snyman does a good job of painting pictures of what she would like you to see and experience, often using all five senses to bring you into the scene. Settings are vivid, movement and action are easily imagined, and her take on classic fae like the Sluagh are memorable. The final climactic scene between Rachel and the Bonecarver is particularly theatrical.

That said The Bonecarver didn’t work for me in several ways. The first half of the book felt slow and stilted, taking quite some time to get going (although the second half of the book flowed much more quickly and felt like the actual story she wanted to tell). Discoveries felt awkwardly placed rather than organically made as if Rachel were stumbling through everything by luck, rather than any kind of skill.

While descriptions were vivid, they sometimes didn’t make realistic sense. For instance, we are told that the highschool was originally a “tiny schoolhouse with three classrooms and an outhouse” but has grown into a large, U-shaped building complete with bell tower, auditorium, cafeteria, indoor swimming pool, and enough classroom space to accommodate three thousand students, all of which were made possible by donations from generous alumni. However, despite the influx of money that made such expansion possible, large portions of the school have fallen into disrepair and “quickly [became] forgotten” because they aren’t used (for instance, Rachel notes that the pool was not filled at any point since she started attending high school). Why would a town waste money expanding a school in such a way without the population to warrant it, only to let it become decrepit? If the town received enough money to expand in such a way, did the money then dry up so that they couldn’t afford maintenance on it? Later the story takes us to the local hospital whose parking lot is full of cars placed there by the town council to make the hospital look busy, only they have begun to rust and fall apart, giving the parking lot more of a junkyard feel. Why is the hospital being busy important? How does the decision to fill the parking lot in such a way, when there are no people to accompany those cars, actually do anything to reach the stated goal of appearing “busy”?

The impression I received reading The Bonecarver was that there were often certain settings and scenes that Snyman wanted and so came up with explanations for them regardless of how much sense those explanations made. In order to have a long, protracted chase scene through the highschool, the highschool has to be large enough to accommodate it (including a ventilation system large enough for people to crawl through), despite a small New England town theoretically not needing a school that big. Rachel finds the boneless corpse in the boiler room of the old school house, which is described equally as being part of the physical structure of the modern high school but also considered a distinctly separate part of the high school because of its disuse, but why would the original school house have a boiler room when it had no plumbing? These are just two examples but this felt like a problem throughout.

Another main issue I took with the book was the almost casual use of sexual assault and threat of sexual violence. While in the Fae world, Rachel is sexually assaulted when a soldier sneaks up and grabs her from behind, fondling her breast in the process, before explaining how he’s going to rape her. She’s able to free herself and escape but the whole scene lacks any emotional punch; the fact that a high school girl was able to extricate herself from an adult, professional soldier with a single backwards thrown elbow makes it seem like the scene was written more to provide Rachel a horse to ride to advance the plot. In that case, threatening to have her raped feels like a cheap gimmick to up the danger of the scene that could have had as much gravitas without it.

We also encounter Nova, a king in the Fae world and brother to Orion, the ally that Rachel goes in search of. While he is present in the book, we learn that he has threatened to rape her in the past but despite this they almost have a cordial interaction when she helps him search for something he lost. However, when confronted with his brother, Nova sexually assaults Rachel in front of him by licking the side of her face and telling Orion what he wants to do to her, using this threat of sexual violence to force Orion to agree to leave the Fae world. Again, this feels like this happens because of the math that if violence is bad, then sexual violence must be worse, when it was completely unnecessary for the scene.

It does make a certain amount of sense when you consider that Rachel Cleary and The Bonecarver definitely fall into that subrenre of dark fantasy YA fiction characterized by Twilight, of the young female protagonist who doesn’t know her own attractiveness but most male characters desire. If Rachel’s worth stems from her unrealized beauty and physical body, then it makes sense that threats to her would be based around the thing being valued. Ultimately, this is the main conflict of The Bonecarver and the primary impetus for why the threat of the Bonecarver exists, which is a sad commentary on why these male characters find her to be important.

Ultimately The Bonecarver didn’t work for me but if you’re a fan of YA dark fantasy focusing around a female protagonist meant to be strong, overcoming challenges and defeating threats, then it may be for you.

Press Release: I YA TOYAH Unleashes New Single

Electro/Industrial Artist I YA TOYAH Unleashes New Single & Video, “Out Of Order”
Chicago-based one-woman industrial army, I YA TOYAH has unleashed her highly-anticipated new single & video, “Out Of Order.”  The song comes from the upcoming EP of the same name due out in March.

“Out Of Order” – The Video:
The video is a surreal story of a gradual mental breakdown, caused by an isolation and misinformation fed by media.  It was inspired by the film art of David Lynch and the pandemic.

Video Production &  Scenography: Joel Lopez of Lumbra Productions.
Music: Composed and performed by I Ya Toyah.
Produced by I Ya Toyah and Nick Palazzo.
Mixed and Mastered by Nick Palazzo at Evolution Recording.

“Out Of Order” – The Song:
A pandemic song, “Out Of Order” is expressing the quarantine moods of isolation, uncertainty, chaos and inner distortion.

“I wrote it feeling these emotions and being unable to share them as we all used to- through the togetherness, a hug, and live music experience. In the future the pandemic will be over, but the need for this connection will remain- I hope this song will be a reminder of how we survived this dark time, and how fragile yet strong we all are- even when we are out of order.” – Ania (I Ya Toyah)