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)

HOW CON: Preventing the End

Preventing the End

by Michele Roger

Remember the voice? She spoke to you the moment when it became clear that combining sounds and letters made words, words made sentences, sentences made stories, and stories made friendships in other worlds. She was the one who opened the door to the first book that swept you away and kept you up all night.

Go ahead,she said. Heres the key to this door.Then she handed you a ring of keys (or she did back then, now kids tell me she just shows them how to use the retinal scanner.)

Later on, it was her who reminded you that while Asimov could take you to other planetary systems, if you didnt stop reading him and start studying for your physics test, youd never get into college. Part of you argued.

College-smollege, as long as I have the library Ill be fine. It worked for Ray Bradbury.

Ooooh,she smiled. You never said you wanted to be a writer.

Wait, what? I didnt say that.

Yes you did.

No. I distinctly remember saying the library worked for other authors…”

Mmm Hmm.

Ok, fine. I admit,I myself confessed at this point. Hence why Im a writer. I wasnt cut out for interrogation. Your experience may be different when it happens to you.

And then it started happening.

They walk (and sometimes crawl) across the earth at night. Sometimes they fill the moonless sky. The ghosts just float up and hover over my bed, chilling my bones in an attempt to tell me their story. The witches arrive next and recite terrifying incantations in my ears. Vampires politely wait outside in the garden. They havent been invited inside but they wait patiently. They have a lifetime to sit outside my window and wait for me to fall in love with one of them on a starry, sleepless night.

The broken-hearted lovers who have died tragically are the worst. All they do is cry and moan, begging to tell their tragic story to anyone, particularly me, who will listen. I toss and turn and put the pillow over my head. I tell them to go away. I have a real job I have to get up and go to in the morning. Go haunt another writer.

Instead, they come. Night after night they become more insistent.

Tell our stories or well cast a spell that makes your door to the hallway return back here to your bed.

I protest, But I have to go to the bathroom!

They shrug, Tell it to someone who cares. Better yet, tell our story first.

The weeping ghosts of dead lovers moan louder as they reach for one another in a perpetual, unattainable grasp.

If she tells our story, we might help prevent someone from befalling our fate.

Now, the vampire is spread out impossibly in my window ledge wearing Armani and drinking a glass of wine. A spider is dancing across his fingers.

I could keep you busy for a million lifetimes.His dark, alluring double meaning isnt lost on me. I have to take a deep breath to prevent myself from swooning.

Enough!I shout out to the voice. I didnt ask for this! This feels crazy. I feel crazy!

The reply isnt shouted back. No. Shes far too calm and clever for that. She giggles and its kind of a whisper at first.

Do you remember all the Ann Rice that you read in college? The Clive Barker, the Poe, Steven King, Nancy Farmer? Not to mention your obsession with Pratchett and Gaiman?

Yes. So?I hold up my keys as if to say that I had permission. I jingle them for effect.

She coos. Permission? Yes. But you couldnt possibly think that all those worlds and friends came free.

Uh,is all I manage to say.

No, no. And all those authors you came to love? Theyve paid their debt back as well. Just look at Gaimans basement cave of a library. You must pay back at least a fraction of what you take. Thats how it works. Other writers, librarians, and even ancient historians have always known this.

But, you never said.

She interrupts me. No. I never did say. You did. You said you wanted to be a writer. Here are just a few of the stories that need to be told.She presents the creatures crowded around my bed. When youve finished with these, I will send more.

More?I ask.

Reading and writing never stops,she explains. If they ever do, it will be the end.

The end of what, exactly?I ask.

She sighs. Everything.

HOW CON: Goal-Setting for Writers

Goal-Setting for Writers
by Loren Rhoads

Here we are, at that resolution time of year again. Last year I resolved to vend at as many of my local Comic Cons as possible…you can guess how that turned out.

The goal behind that resolution was to get my books in front of as many new readers as possible. Once I lost the ability to physically place books in their hands, I had to brainstorm other ways of getting the word out. I experimented with organized blog tours, online readings, and reaching out to book bloggers. None of that was part of my original resolution, but all of it supported my goal.

As you think about what you want to accomplish in 2021, spend some time thinking about why. Why do you want to write that new novel? Are you on fire to tell that particular story? Do you have a message you want to get across?  Are you hoping to reach a new readership by including new tropes that will appeal to them? If you know why you’re telling this particular story, it will give you material for the blog tour and interviews you’ll do to promote it.

The sky’s the limit: what do you hope to achieve with this book? Make that your goal. Writing the book is the way you’ll achieve it.

Another of my resolutions for 2020 was to stretch myself and submit my work to a bunch of new venues. I thought I had that locked when I was approved for office hours at the Nebula Weekend and got a lecture accepted for a conference in Texas. Again, you know what happened with those. So instead, I took a chance and submitted a poem — my first poetry submission in (cough) years — and it got accepted. I asked to write guest posts for two of the biggest horror review sites — and those pieces got published. I wrote some new short stories for anthology calls and one of those has already found a home. I have hopes the others will land, too.

Maybe your goal isn’t to reach readers outside your orbit. Maybe you want to build better relationships with the readers you have. How can you get your readers excited about your next book? How do you plan to exceed their expectations?

Maybe your goal is to increase your income. Can you get more work out? Do you want to write “more commercial” work, whatever that means to you? Can you branch out from writing into speaking or teaching?

Maybe you want to stop wasting so much time on Facebook games so you can write more — or is that TMI?  Sorry.  In my case, I am committed to writing two hours a day. If I do more, great! I have promised not to beat myself up if two hours is all I manage. Great things can be accomplished in small amounts of time, if I focus.

Whatever you want to accomplish this year, figure out why. Decide what steps you need to take to make it a reality. Set up a way to track your progress. Post the resolution where you’ll see it. Then work to make this the best year possible.

Loren Rhoads’s new book is the Spooky Writer’s Planner, designed with Emerian Rich to support writers at all skill levels as they brainstorm, create, and submit their work. It’s available in paperback on Amazon or as a printable download on Etsy.

HOW CON: How to write when you don’t feel up to it

How to write when you don’t feel up to it
by Loren Rhoads

Sometimes, especially these days, it’s hard to do the creative work you want to do. I’ve used a bunch of tricks to get around the blocks. I offer them here, in hopes they’ll inspire you.

  1. Make a list. Whether it’s topics you want to explore or scenes that need to be written, it’s easier to begin writing when you have a prompt.
  2. Set an alarm. Promise yourself that you will settle down to write when the alarm goes off. Giving yourself the anticipation of writing time can be inspirational.
  3. Set a timer. Anyone can write for 15 minutes. There’s something about the tiniest amount of time pressure that tricks your brain into thinking it’s on a deadline. Start a timer on your computer, phone, or in the kitchen. You might find yourself pounding out the words to beat the bell. If the words are really flowing, you can always add a second 15-minute sprint.
  4. Make a date with a friend. Whether you sit down together in a cafe (someday!) or meet online for a video chat, it really helps to know that someone else is working alongside you. The key is to find someone who will write, rather than chat.
  5. Put your headphones on. Many writers make a playlist that they listen to only when they work on a particular story or book. Listening to the same music every time you write can train your brain to provide inspiration on command.
  6. Write somewhere else. If you normally write at a desk, try moving to the sofa or the kitchen table or sitting in bed. The simple act of shifting to new surroundings can shake loose the words.
  7. Try a different writing tool. Do you usually write on a laptop? Try writing by hand in a notebook or attach a keyboard to your phone. Some writers swear by word processing keyboards like AlphaSmart or FreeWrite, which only allow you to see a small amount of the text you’re working on. That way you’re forced to move forward, rather than editing what you’ve already done.
  8. Experiment with dictation. The simple act of telling yourself your story can inspire you. Whether you use a dedicated dictation program or simply take a voice memo on your phone, the trick is to speak the punctuation at the end of each sentence. Also, edit while the words are fresh in your mind, or you may have trouble deciphering Siri’s interpretation.
  9. Write first thing in the morning. It’s tempting to start the day by checking email or scrolling social media, but what would you come up with if you listened to your own thoughts first thing in the morning?
  10. Write last thing at night. Take a notebook to bed and draft one more scene before you turn out the light. Do the words feel different as you’re settling in for the night?  Maybe your subconscious will solve a writing problem for you in your dreams.
  11. Step away from writing. Sometimes the best ideas come when you can’t write them down. Go for a walk, wash the dishes, or take a shower. Let your mind play without the pressure of a blank page staring at you. As soon as you finish your break, sit down to record the thoughts that occurred in the interim.
  12. Remind yourself why you write. Do you have a story you’re burning to tell? Do you have a lesson you want to teach? Are you curious how your story will turn out? Clarifying why you want to do this can show you the path how to do it.
  13. Ask “And then what happens?” Sometimes the next scene isn’t clear. You can get wound up trying to figure out what needs to happen. Instead of insisting on what the story needs, narrow your focus until you only need to come up with the next step. Then write that next step…and the next one after that.
  14. Perfect is the enemy of done. Don’t waste time choosing the right word. Put down the almost-right word, enclose it in parentheses, and keep going. You can always fix it later. This works for names, descriptions, and anything you might need to research. Aim for momentum over poetry in your first draft.
  15. Chart your progress. Whether you put a check on the calendar, color in a box on a habit-tracking chart, or simply make note of your word count, record the days you write. If you only write 500 words a day for 100 days, you’ll have 50,000 words for your book in three months. It’s addictive to see your progress.

 

What other tricks have you found for getting the work done? Make your own list, so you’ll have some tools to use next time you feel at a loss for words.

Loren Rhoads is the co-author of the Spooky Writer’s Planner with Emerian Rich.

Book Review: Blackwater Val by William Gorman

Blackwater Val  by William Gorman
Reviewed by Ariel DaWintre

This story revolves around a place called Blackwater Val. The main characters are Richard and his daughter Katie, who is six-years-old. He takes her back to where he is from to take care of some personal things. Richard realizes right away that he has forgotten a lot of his past, but that he is starting to slowly remember. Blackwater Val seems so normal at first, but strange things are starting to happen and a dark past is being uncovered. Although Richard starts to remember his past, what he thinks he knows is not always accurate or true and we learn along with Richard.

I found myself writing a list of what I perceived to be the monsters, ghosts, demons, or bad guys in the story. There seemed to be quite a few. I kept wondering who the bad guy was and was he controlling them all. I liked that even though I thought I knew who the bad guy was, it wasn’t that simple. The story also brought in true facts from the past about the Indians in the area and the wrong that was done to them. Although Blackwater Val is not a true place, the locations around it are. I also found myself looking up things on Google, wondering which parts were real and not. I can now officially say I know a lot more about Suak Indians.

This is a definite horror story and there is blood and guts aplenty. This is a classic good vs evil tale, but nothing is simple as lines are drawn and a battle unfolds. The details and story are clear and you will stay up and be kept engaged and rooting for the good guys to win. The story has several twists that will make you go, “Wow.” There is also an element of magic and special gifts introduced into the story. There is not really a romance in the story but it has a romantic element with a strong sense of family and friends.

The main evil in the story is very twisted and scary and relentless throughout the story. Clearly, Blackwater Val brings out the worst in some people. The author does a great job of bringing his characters to life and keeps you wondering how the story will end and who will come out okay. The story gives a good ending but leaves an opening that not all is settled and done. Can’t wait to read the sequel.

Asian Horror Month: From the Vault: Fortune Cookie by Grey Harlowe

Free Fiction Friday from June, 2015

Fortune Cookie

 by Grey Harlowe

It was their last chance to get dinner; the restaurant scene in town closed in an hour. Max and Claire had been arguing Mexican versus pizza, Paige wanted seafood and Boyd was ambivalent about any option. He was thirty seconds away from just heading home when they stumbled into a Chinese diner, keeping a low profile next to an arcade.

“Let’s try here,” said Max, triumphantly.

The diner had low lights and an old fashioned bar. The four coworkers, who’d worked late at their small office, sat on its round stools eating. The staff, indulgent types, left them alone.

As the meal wound down, Paige cracked a fortune cookie. Boyd, who hated them, moved to stop her. She giggled.

“Superstitious?” she asked.

“No, that’s why I don’t read these. And who’s ever heard of anything this silly actually telling someone’s future?”

Rolling her eyes, Paige opened her tiny white scroll.

“Good health will be yours for a long time.” She smiled.

“Can’t beat that,” Max said, smiling back. Everyone knew the ex-lovers had been considering reconciliation, delayed while Paige endured a cancer scare. The final tests weren’t back, but it appeared she’d dodged mastectomy.

“Indeed,” said Claire. “I’m next.” Slowly, she recited, “A new wardrobe will accompany great change.”

“Like you need improvement,” Paige said. They all nodded. Claire was often mistaken for a model. “Do yours, Max.”

Max hesitated, then read, “You will be successful in your work. Hmm. Maybe Chuck will lay off soon.” Their boss had been giving Max a hard time. Rumor was, Chuck was unhappy with Max’s pitch to a big overseas client. Chuck was impatient for their product, eco-friendly playground material, to go international.

Pressured by his friends, Boyd opened his cookie.

“You will soon be crossing the great waters.” He was greeted with cackling laughter.

“Ouch,” said Paige. “You don’t think that means—”

“What does it sound like? Is there ambiguity there?” Max teased. “No wonder you hate these cookies, bro.”

“Helpful,” said Boyd, trying to stay brave. The reason he avoided fortune cookies was to avoid tempting fate.

He drove home apprehensive.

It turned out, he’d had cause to be afraid.

The next morning at work, he arrived to a grim scene. Paige was in the breakroom, staring at her coffee mug. Max and Chuck were facing off in the doorway of Chuck’s office, clearly having had a harsh exchange. Eventually, Max stormed out. Boyd could hear someone crying in the bathroom. It sounded like Claire.

“What’s going on?” he asked Paige.

“Well,” Paige said, “Claire’s pregnant. I’m surprised we didn’t notice, but she’s been…dressing to hide it.” Paige looked at the wall. Both recalled the ominous ‘new wardrobe’ fortune.

“Gets worse,” she continued. “Claire admitted affairs with both Max and Chuck. Paternity’s up in the air. Max is dealing, but Chuck’s pissed enough he fired him.”

Boyd gulped. He wasn’t shocked; Chuck was a territorial guy.

“How’re you dealing?” This couldn’t have done Paige’s intended reunion with Max any favors.

“Fine, I guess,” she said. “Doc’s office called. My tests are normal.”

It became surreal. Claire fled the bathroom, tears streaming. Paige followed Claire downstairs. Boyd and Chuck soon heard the women arguing in the street, alongside Max’s voice. Then tires squealing. Screams. Paige would enjoy her ‘good health’ an eternity.

After the funeral, Claire disappeared. So did Max, to search for her. Chuck told Boyd that Boyd would take over their new European account, which Max had been successful at securing in the end. Boyd was to leave immediately, courtesy of a trip on the client’s cruise line.

Crossing the great waters after all, Boyd thought bitterly.

The third day out, Max surprised Boyd beside his deck chair. He looked livid. About his firing, his lost women, or both, Boyd decided.

“I’ve felt so guilty,” Boyd said “Mine was the only nice fortune. Here I am, crossing the water.”

“Don’t feel guilty,” said Max, blood in his eye. “Fortune didn’t say you’d be crossing back.”

**********

HarloweGrey Harlowe’s fiction has been featured on Every Writers Resource and Microhorror.com.  She is the 2014 winner of the Saugus.net annual ghost story competition, and has also been published in the journal, The Last Line.

Press Release: A Peculiar Prom Night by R.L. Merrill

New Paranormal Romance 
A Peculiar Prom Night 
By R.L. Merrill

Four sexually frustrated chaperones

Three hapless kids caught vaping in the bathrooms

Two heated kisses

One ghost ship on the San Francisco Bay turns this joyous celebration into one helluva creepy night…

Meet siblings Ramona and Ruben, veteran teachers at Baymont High School. They’ve been chaperoning proms for years, but tonight they’ll need all of their faculties to protect their students from beings who may or may not have evil intentions. Oh, and manage to keep their family’s secret while attempting to get closer to their respective love interests. No problem, right?

 

Available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited 


About the Author:

R.L. Merrill brings you stories of Hope, Love, and Rock ‘n’ Roll featuring quirky and relatable characters. Whether she’s writing about contemporary issues that affect us all or diving deep into the paranormal and supernatural to give readers a shiver, she loves creating compelling stories that will stay with readers long after. Winner of the Kathryn Hayes “When Sparks Fly” Best Contemporary award for Hurricane Reese. Ro spends every spare moment improving her writing craft and striving to find that perfect balance between real-life and happily ever after. She writes diverse and inclusive romance, contributes paranormal hilarity to Robyn Peterman’s Magic and Mayhem Universe, and works on various other writing and mentoring projects that tickle her fancy or benefit a worthy cause. You can find her connecting with readers on social media, educating America’s youth, raising two brilliant teenagers, trying desperately to get that back piece finished in the tattoo chair, or headbanging at a rock show near her home in the San Francisco Bay Area! Stay Tuned for more Rock ‘n’ Romance.

www.rlmerrillauthor.com

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @rlmerrillauthor

Press Release: Fang Me Three Times by R.L. Merrill

New Paranormal Romance Release
Fang Me Three Times: Magic and Mayhem Universe 

The Miscreants #1
By R.L. Merrill 

Three kisses will break the curse, but what if your Prince Charming can’t hold back the fang? 

Cursed witch Wilma Wetter is proud to represent her magical Germanic ancestors as a weather forecaster, even if it means taking a job in a town called Assjacket, West Virginia. While tracking the weather before a historic lunar eclipse, she and her trusty camerawoman Jules come across three ridiculously attractive rock stars wandering in the woods. 

Gustavo “Gus Valens” Valenzuela comes from a rock ‘n’ roll family and has been living the dream since joining his cousins in forming The Miscreants, but a hazy meeting with insistent groupies leaves The Miscreants forever changed. And hungry. 

Gus holds the key to awakening Wilma’s latent powers, held in check by an ancient family curse. Can he help her break it without changing her life forever? And would change necessarily be a bad thing? 

Please Visit https://www.magicandmayhemuniverse.com for buy links!


About the Author:

R.L. Merrill brings you stories of Hope, Love, and Rock ‘n’ Roll featuring quirky and relatable characters. Whether she’s writing about contemporary issues that affect us all or diving deep into the paranormal and supernatural to give readers a shiver, she loves creating compelling stories that will stay with readers long after. Winner of the Kathryn Hayes “When Sparks Fly” Best Contemporary award for Hurricane Reese. Ro spends every spare moment improving her writing craft and striving to find that perfect balance between real-life and happily ever after. She writes diverse and inclusive romance, contributes paranormal hilarity to Robyn Peterman’s Magic and Mayhem Universe, and works on various other writing and mentoring projects that tickle her fancy or benefit a worthy cause. You can find her connecting with readers on social media, educating America’s youth, raising two brilliant teenagers, trying desperately to get that back piece finished in the tattoo chair, or headbanging at a rock show near her home in the San Francisco Bay Area! Stay Tuned for more Rock ‘n’ Romance.

www.rlmerrillauthor.com

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @rlmerrillauthor 

Latinx Month: FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ, The Witch’s Mirror

By Kristin Battestella

The Witch’s Mirror – Oft spooky actor Abel Salazar (The Curse of the Crying Woman) produced this black and white 1962 Mexican horror treat with Isabela Corona (A Man of Principle) as a creepy housekeeper amid the excellent smoke and mirrors and titular visual effects. From a macabre prologue and illustrations to Victorian mood, candles, and rituals, El Espejo de la Bruja has it all – love triangles, jerky husbands, revenge, betrayals, grave robbing, and ghoulish medicine. The plot is at once standard yet also nonsensical thanks to all the sorcery, implausible surgeries, ghosts, fire, even catalepsy all building in over the top, soap opera-esque twists. The sets are perhaps simplistic or small scale with only interior filming, but this scary, play-like atmosphere is enough thanks to wonderful shadows, gothic décor, and freaky, sinister music. Several language and subtitle options are available along with the feature and commentary on the DVD as well – not that any of the dubbing, subtitles, or original Spanish completely matches. The audio is also messed up in some spots, but the script is fun and full of cultish summonings and medical fantasies. Maybe this one will have too much happening for some viewers, as every horror treatise is thrown at the screen here. However, this is a swift, entertaining 75 minutes nonetheless and it doesn’t let up until the end.

Latinx Month: Best Latinx Horror Movies

from Will “the Thrill” Viharo

Naschy and Franco made hundreds of films between them so this is only a small but representative sampling. Here are some of my favorites. Salud!

THE BLIND DEAD quadrilogy directed by Amando de Ossorio 

  1. Tombs of the Blind Dead
  2. Night of the Seagulls
  3. Return of the Blind Dead
  4. Tombs of the Blind Dead

Also by Amando de Ossorio:

  1. The Loreley’s Grasp
  2.  Night of the Sorcerers

Rino Di Silvestro:

      Werewolf Woman

Paul Naschy:

  1. Werewolf VS. The Vampire Woman (aka Werewolf Shadow)
  2. Curse of the Devil
  3. Dracula’s Great Love
  4. The Mummy’s Revenge
  5. Hunchback of the Morgue
  6. Vengence of the Zombies
  7. Horror Rises From the Tomb

Jess Franco:

  1. Vampyros Lesbos
  2.  She Killed in Ecstasy
  3. The Awful Dr. Orlof
  4. The Diabolical Dr. Z
  5. Succubus
  6. Venus in Furs
  7. A VirginAmong the Living Dead

 Listical courtesy of Will “the Thrill” Viharo
http://www.thrillville.net/

Press Release / Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown

Directed by our friend, Frank H. Woodward, this title is now Streaming on Amazon Prime! 

The award-winning documentary Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown is a chronicle of the life, work, and mind of author H.P. Lovecraft.  As told by luminaries of dark fantasy including Guillermo Del Toro, Neil Gaiman, and John Carpenter.

Please be sure to tell us what you think.  Rate, review, and share!

 

Latinx Month: Representation in the Dark

 

by E.M. Markoff

The importance of racial and cultural representation in mainstream media is much discussed these days, as any number of essays, YouTube videos, and social media controversies would show. One thing that I have not often seen discussed, however, is the importance of representation in less mainstream places — in counterculture, in surreal media, in the dark.

Hollywood, unsurprisingly, does not have a great reputation for diverse, accurate representation. As a Mexican-American growing up in deep south Texas, I got used to seeing people like me represented in mainstream media as “the help,” the “comedic sidekick,” the “homewrecker,” the “Latin lover,” or the “narco.” Fortunately, I was able to see myself represented in Mexican media channels, which offered more than the tropes and stereotypes common in Hollywood. Of course, this is not to say that there haven’t been great Mexican and Mexican-American actors in Hollywood that I admired growing up: Anthony Quinn, Dolores del Río, Pedro Armendáriz, Ricardo Montalbán, Cantinflas, and Katy Jurado, to name a few. Even still, in Anthony Quinn’s case, it would have been great to see him play the title role of Emiliano Zapata—an important Mexican revolutionary—in 1952’s Viva Zapata! instead of Marlon Brando.

That type of miscasting is slowly changing thanks to the efforts of BIPOC artists and activists, who have been fighting for decades to make their voices heard. Not that Mexican media doesn’t have its own issues: Colorism and racism against the native indigenous peoples of Mexico are very present, both in media portrayals and in reality. That’s what being colonized does; it tears your identity apart and leaves wounds that only temporarily scab over. 

But as blessed as I was to have access to Mexican media and music, very little of it spoke to me on a personal or spiritual level. Without realizing it, a part of me longed to see myself represented in the things I loved, and I love Horror. 

I love the surreal. 

I love the dark. 

I don’t remember when I first saw David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, but I remember the feeling of hot tears burning my eyes and the llanto, the cry welling in my chest at Rebekah Del Rio’s performance in the Club Silencio scene. Through the character of Rita—played by Mexican-American actress Laura Herring—that moment became personal to me. It allowed me to see myself represented in a film that encapsulated what my heart had always longed to see—a Mexican-American actress in a starring role that was not a stereotype, cast in a surreal film by a director that I admire. Rebekah Del Rio’s powerful performance was the icing on the cake: She was not there as a token element, she was there to further the story by bringing emotion, and damn did she bring it. When Rita cried, I cried. Seeing yourself represented in what you love holds power. 

On the music front, I love industrial and aggrotech, a genre that tends to be very white and European. Or so I thought until I picked up Hocico’s 2004 album Wrack and Ruin. Hocico is an aggrotech/dark-electro Mexican duo hailing from Mexico City. Formed in 1993 by lead singer Erk Aicrag (Erik Garcia) and Racso Agroyam (Oscar Mayorga), they fused the dark, harsh sounds of industrial—along with its rejection of the mainstream—with the danceable beats of electronic to create a sound and an aesthetic that was uniquely their own. Their music videos and live performances often showcase elements (from mariachi to Dia de los Muertos, to Danza Azteca) that are part of their culture—my culture. 

Here was a band that was part of the music scene I loved, yet still were unapologetically Mexican. They had succeeded by being themselves. They showed me that you can be part of a counterculture and still be proud and loud of your culture and who you are. It meant so much to me because I don’t care much for the music some might say I’m “supposed” to be listening to (the exception being música ranchera, which I LOVE!), and sometimes I’ve even been shamed or made to feel guilty for not being “Mexican enough.” 

Back in 2011, I had the privilege of being able to see Hocico perform live in Germany and even had an opportunity to chat with them. Those two Mexican bastards (as they call themselves) are one of my biggest inspirations, and their generosity will always have a special place in my heart; it can be very isolating not seeing yourself reflected in what you love. Being able to see them on a huge stage, in a foreign land, surrounded by foreigners singing along in broken Spanish will always be a powerful moment for me. 

So yeah, I really believe it does make a difference in a person’s life to see themselves reflected in what they love. It’s part of why I’ve made a conscious effort to subtly incorporate elements of Mexican culture into my own writing. Representation is important, but it can’t be limited to the mainstream, because the mainstream doesn’t speak to everyone. We also need representation in the dark. 

About the Author:

Latinx author and publisher E.M. Markoff writes about damaged heroes and imperfect villains. Works include The Deadbringer, To Nurture & Kill, and Leaving the #9.” Under her imprint Tomes & Coffee Press, she published Tales for the Camp Fire, a charity anthology to raise money for California wildfire recovery and relief efforts. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association and is mostly made up of coffee, cat hair, and whiskey.

Connect with her @tomesandcoffee on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook

Visit her at www.ellderet.com or sign up for her Newsletter of the Cursed.

You can find her books in print and ebook on Amazon.

Latinx Month: “Leaving the #9” by E.M. Markoff

Tomes & Coffee Press Presents: “Leaving the #9” by E.M. Markoff

A bewitching tale of life and death, of dreams and nightmares, of the real and surreal. Mexican folklore meets The Twilight Zone in this short ghost story.

Adelia is confronted with strange happenings that threaten to pull her into a dark labyrinth.

Spoiler free interview by L.S. Johnson:

Tell us a little about your story, “Leaving the #9.”

 The story follows Adelia, a working class cook who has worked long and hard for a better life and is finally able to take that next step. With her are her brother, Miguel, and a client turned best friend turned “the grandma I never had.” Her sense of reality is shaken when strange occurrences begin to disrupt her attempts to achieve her dream. The setting was inspired by the ongoing gentrification and displacement of the Mission, San Francisco’s historically Latinx neighborhood. A reader described it as “[a] wonderful ghost story with some excellent unexpected tidbits.”

Your story includes both Spanish and Nahuatl words. For readers unfamiliar with the latter, can you tell us more about Nahuatl, and why you wove it into your story?

I am fluent in Spanish since my mom never learned English, but I only recently began learning Nahuatl. Nahuatl is one of the many native languages of Mexico, and is still spoken today by 1.5 million people. I wove it into the narrative because I wanted to see all aspects of my culture represented in the story. All my works are like this, including the books in my main dark fantasy series, though the references there are not as overt.

Buy the ebook of “Leaving the #9” on Amazon


About the Author

Latinx author and publisher E.M. Markoff writes about damaged heroes and imperfect villains. Growing up, she spent many days exploring her hometown cemetery, where her love of all things dark began. Upon coming of age, she decided to pursue a career as a microbiologist and spent a few years channeling her inner mad scientist. Her works include The Deadbringer, To Nurture & Kill, and “Leaving the #9.” She published the charity anthology Tales for the Camp Fire under her imprint, Tomes & Coffee Press, to raise money for California wildfire recovery and relief efforts. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association and is mostly made up of coffee, cat hair, and whiskey.

Check out author readings, blogs, and other events at www.ellderet.com

Stay connected on Instagram, Facebook, & Twitter@tomesandcoffee

Sign up for her newsletter: www.ellderet.com/newsletter

Latinx Month: Dia de los Muertos by Camellia Rains

Dia de los Muertos
by Camellia Rains

20160710_165211The Mesoamerican tradition of Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is ubiquitous to all Central American countries. However, each country has its own slight variance on the celebration. My mother’s family is from Guatemala so I am quite familiar with this holiday, its traditions, and differences.

Let’s start with the similarities. Like other Meso-American countries, the tradition of Dia de los Muertos can be traced back to the indigenous cultures and their belief and practice of ancestor worship. Throughout Central America the desire is to not only respect the dead, but to revere them. Instead of thinking of them as being gone forever, the belief is they exist in a spiritual dimension, still watching us, still very much a part of our daily lives, and still exerting influence, love, and protection.

The holiday itself is celebrated over a three-day period. Starting on October 31st known as Dia de los Muertos, it then moves on to Dia de los Santos, Day of the Saints, on November 1st, and culminates on Dia de las Almas or All Souls Day on November 2nd….read more in the Fall issue of SEARCH Magazine.

Morbid Meals – Halloween & Dia de Los Muertos treats for kids and adults

For Halloween I wanted to come up with some fun recipes for everyone’s holiday parties, whether they be Halloween or Dia de Los Muertos celebrations. However, I wanted to find new recipes beyond the old standards. So, here is my take on three new tricks to treat your guests.

Graveyard Guacamole Chips and Dip

Graveyard Guacamole

EXAMINATION

It’s the Great Guacamole Graveyard, Charlie Brown! Nah, that just doesn’t have the same ring to it. It does, however, taste really, really good.

ANALYSIS

Ingredients

16oz can refried beans
16oz can chili with beans
1/2 cup salsa
1 1/2 cups shredded chicken and/or pork
1/4 cup buffalo wing sauce
3 Haas avocados, peeled and pitted
1/4 cup salsa
1/2 lime, juiced
1 cup pepper jack cheese
1/4 head of lettuce, shredded
bag of tortilla strip chips (the long rectangular ones)
side of sour cream (optional)

Apparatus

  • 3-quart rectangular casserole dish
  • 3 small mixing bowls

Procedure

  1. In first mixing bowl, combine the refried beans, chili, and salsa.
  2. In second mixing bowl, combine shredded meat and buffalo wing sauce.
  3. In third mixing bowl, make fresh guacamole by mashing the avocados, then combining with lime juice and salsa.
  4. Layer the ingredients as follows into your casserole dish.
    a. First, the beans mixture, then a sprinkling of cheese.
    b. Next, the buffalo-sauced meat, then a sprinkling of cheese.
    c. Finally, the guacamole, and generously sprinkle on the shredded lettuce.
  5. Stick some tortilla chips into the dip to resemble headstones
  6. Serve with remaining tortilla chips and a side of sour cream, for the gringos who can’t stand the heat.

DISSECTION

If you want to add a little extra spookiness to this, find some Halloween-shape cookie cutters, and make your own creepy chips. Use the cookie cutters to cut corn or flour tortillas into spooky shapes. Bake in a 350°F oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until you have crispy critters. Allow to cool on a cooling rack.

POST-MORTEM

This of course makes a great appetizer for a macabre Cinco de Mayo, or anytime you want to spice up a dead (man’s) party. Furthermore, this quite frankly is a balanced meal in of itself, worthy of any gruesome occasion.


White Chocolate “Sugar Skulls”

White Chocolate Sugar Skulls

EXAMINATION

Celebrations for Dia de Los Muertos just wouldn’t be the same without sugar skulls. A new tradition of making skulls, and even coffins, from chocolate is also emerging. Regular sugar skulls take special molds and years of practice (or maybe some meringue powder to help out). They also aren’t eaten when complete — licked maybe, but never eaten.

For our party needs, we’re going to make something a little more edible using white chocolate.

ANALYSIS

Ingredients

12 oz bag white chocolate chips (roughly 2 cups)

Royal icing, in many vibrant colors, fine tip
Or if you can find them “Candy Writers” which are tipped tubes of pre-colored white chocolate candy.

Candy Writers

Apparatus

Procedure

  1. Heat water in the saucepan over high heat until it begins to simmer, then turn off the stove and place the top pan (or bowl) over the water.
  2. Pour your white chocolate chips into the top pan (or bowl). It will take about 5 minutes for all of the chips to melt.
  3. Spoon your melted candy into your skull molds. Allow the candy to harden in the molds, at least an hour. You can refrigerate it to speed this up but your candy will melt faster later. Wait it out naturally if you have the time.
  4. Carefully remove your candy from the molds. If there are any side bits to break off, use a sharp knife to carve them off.
  5. Decorate with the icing or Candy Writers and allow the your decoration to completely dry. If you are able to use Candy Writers, they need to be warmed up in hot water, but they are the smoothest way to decorate these. Since they are chocolate on chocolate, the decorations will stay longer than royal icing will on chocolate.

DISSECTION

You can also melt the chocolate in the microwave, but do this in small batches at 50% power.

Try to smooth the backs of the candy as best you can and don’t let any spread outside of the molds. You’ll have to break off any of these bits and it is hard to do that cleanly.

If your chocolate gets hard on you again as you work with it, it will become less and less easy to melt. The sugars reform bonds that get stronger each time. Turn the heat up on your boiler but only a little bit. If it gets too hot it could burn or seize up.

Also, like Gremlins, do not let your chocolate get wet. This will mess with the fats in the chocolate and then you’ll have nasty little blobs instead of smooth, silky candy. Never cover your melting chocolate with a lid, and do not let your water boil or you could get steam in your chocolate.

If the chocolate does seize up on you or get wet, here’s some tips that can help.

POST-MORTEM

Decorating these skulls with your kids is part of the fun. If they are old enough, they could help you with melting the chocolate. That is if you can keep them from licking the spoon.

You can find chocolate molds in almost every craft store these days, like Jo-Ann’s, Michael’s, etc. There’s also Amazon and eBay if you don’t have a local store with a large selection. For folks like me in Phoenix, ABC Cake Decorating Supplies has a HUGE selection of molds, and you can even buy them online. This is also where I found the Candy Writers which were perfect for the job.

If you want to try your hand at making real sugar skulls, the awesome folks at MexicanSugarSkull.com sell molds and provide recipes that make this traditional labor of love a little more accessible to the rest of us.


Blood Orange Sangría

Blood Orange Sangría

EXAMINATION

I never drink… wine. Ahem. By itself, that is. I do love a good sangría. This is my personal favorite version that I have made for years, for many an occasion. What makes it a special treat for Halloween? Why the blood oranges, of course. Blood oranges from Florida can be found in stores in October making it the perfect season for Blood Orange Sangría.

ANALYSIS

Ingredients

1 cup blood orange juice (from 4 medium or 6 small fruit)
1/4 cup superfine granulated sugar
1 bottle red wine (like pinot noir or merlot)
1 cup brandy
2 small red delicious apples
1 can cold lemon-lime soda (optional)

Apparatus

  • citrus juicer
  • large pot
  • large pitcher or punch bowl

Procedure

  1. Peel and core the apples and chop into small pieces about 1/2 inch to an inch in size. Or if you have one of those wicked spiral slicers, those peel, slice, and core an apple quickly and beautifully. Add these to your pitcher/bowl.
  2. Cut your blood oranges in half and then slice one thin ring from each half. Add these to your pitcher/bowl.
  3. Juice the blood oranges, getting every last little drop. I find electric juicers work best, but there’s nothing wrong with using an old school juicer and some elbow grease.
  4. In the large pot, over medium heat, combine the blood orange juice and the sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  5. To the juice, add the wine and brandy. Stir to incorporate everything well.
  6. Pour into the pitcher/bowl and refrigerate until well chilled, about an hour.
  7. Remove from the refrigerator and add the soda. Stir well.

DISSECTION

You can make a virgin version with pomegranate juice or your favorite fruit punch instead of the alcohol.

If you want to make this when blood oranges are out of season, try to find Cara Cara navel oranges. They have a ruby pink fruit like grapefruit but they are remarkably sweet.

POST-MORTEM

Pour this sparkling Spanish drink into your favorite glass, with or without ice, and enjoy the best of an autumn harvest. ¡Salud, dinero y amor, y el tiempo para gozarlos!

Authors of SLAY – John Linwood Grant

‘AIN’T NO WITCH: CAROLINE DYE, HOODOO AND THE BLUES’
by John Linwood Grant

Hoodoo. Conjure-work. We’re going to the roots of root-work today, with music, material, and musings. My writing flowed this way from an interest in Cunning Folk, both European and African, plus the pleasure of early blues. I also have a love of Manly Wade Wellman’s character John the Balladeer, though that part only came to mind afterwards, when I was looking up early sourcebooks related to hoodoo (more below). The Memphis Jug Band was the real start for me, decades ago, with their “Aunt Caroline Dye (Dyer) Blues”, and it spread from there…

I’ve written about the Northern European tradition of Cunning Folk before. The hedge-wizards, wise women, and more, often – though not always – Christians, who could be called upon for protection against curses, hexes, and blights. Whilst Wicca, historical witchcraft, and voodoo or vodun, are fascinating in themselves, the real roots that interest me in the US are those of hoodoo.

“Because sometimes I’m waitin’ at the crossroads, but I does it how I choose,” said Mamma Lucy. “I ain’t one of your mamalois, voodoo girls or Sant-eria ladies, liftin’ their skirts when you come callin’, neither.”

I’m only a writer, exploring strange places. But you might find what follows interesting. Historically, as with many of the old Cunning Folk, the guiding principle for most hoodoo was belief in God and the Bible. Where Caribbean and New Orleans spiritual movements blended Catholic saints with African belief systems, a lot of hoodoo folk were Protestant in one form or another. Voodoo and hoodoo get confused, but they ain’t the same.

You might call hoodoo a dominant blend of African beliefs, with threads of European herb and symbolic lore pulled in as well. Much conjure-work links back to Ewe and Fon lore from West Africa. The lines got blurred, as people from different tribes and cultures were enslaved and forced together. They sought systems that might sustain at least a fraction of their origins and identity, including shared reference points. With time, some of these developed into beliefs and oral traditions that echoed the lost past but also reflected life in the States.

If this was a predominantly black road, it didn’t automatically exclude whites, because it slowly drew in folklore from European immigrants, especially Germanic ones. It came from the big slave plantations, but as the 19th century progressed, it spread into communities through freedmen and women and had value for many poor and disenfranchised people. It absorbed elements of Native American herbalism and became its own thing. Hoodoo. Rootwork is another name, from the use of medicinal or magical roots and herbs.

(Zora Neale Hurston, who we mentioned briefly last week, wrote a study of Afro-American folklore, including discussion of hoodoo, rootwork and conjuration in her 1935 collection of tales, Mules and Men.)

One written crossover example is The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, a magical text allegedly written by Moses, passed down as hidden portions of the Old Testament. A grimoire, a text of magical incantations and seals, the text circulated in Germany from at least the 1700s, passed through immigrants such as the Pennsylvania Dutch and entered both white general folklore and black Christian hoodoo.

John-the-Balladeer

The direct Manly Wade Wellman link slipped into my mind when I came across mention of Pow-wows, or The Long Lost Friend whilst researching conjure-work. This book crops up in a number of Wellman’s stories. This is another genuine ‘grimoire’ from the 1820s, by one Johann Georg Hohman, and was originally called Der Lange Verborgene Freund.

“Bind,” he said to someone over me. “Bind, bind. Unless you can count the stars, or the drops in the ocean, be bound.”

It was a spell-saying. “From the Long Lost Friend?” I asked.

Wellman, ‘Vandy Vandy’, (1953)

The Long Lost Friend is a collection of spells, charms and remedies for everyday use. Like the Books of Moses, it initially entered hoodoo through the Pennsylvanian Dutch and other groups of Germanic origin.

It crossed relatively easily into hoodoo because it also puts Christianity in the driving seat and emphasizes belief in the Bible as the core. ‘Pow-wows’ was added to later editions, in reference to real or supposed Native American practices.

“The book has remained quite popular among practitioners of Hoodoo… James Foster noted that many shops in Harlem and Brooklyn stocked The Long Lost Friend in 1957.”

Daniel Harms, The Long Lost Friend: A 19th Century American Grimoire (2012)

So, I was traveling 1920s Harlem in my mind a year or two ago, learning, and expanding my Tales of the Last Edwardian, when I saw someone passing through, one of the Cunning Folk who might resonate in her own time and place.

She was old like me, black like I’m not, and a foil to the industrialised, post-Edwardian scientific approach. Bare feet in the earth, and silver dimes around her ankles. A worn print dress on a strong, gangly frame. She used her brains more than she used out-and-out conjure-work, but she knew what she was doing if she had to lay a trick or turn a jinx.

I also knew that she held no truck with oppressive wealth and monstrous laws, that she was plain ornery, her heart with the voiceless.

‘She’ turned out to be Mamma Lucy.

Caroline Dye: A Mighty Fine Vision
If you write about hoodoo from around the early 20th Century, you can’t avoid the blues – which is a good excuse to mention some tracks here. You also can’t avoid Aunt Caroline Dye (not Dyer- the track at the start was named through an error or pronunciation or transcription).

Despite her association with hoodoo, Caroline Dye was a psychic, a fortune-teller – there’s less evidence of her performing the slower root-work, laying tricks or setting up actual spells. And typically, there were more claims made for her and her skills than she made for herself. People went to her for readings, and they went in their thousands, hopefuls looking for answers.

She was born to enslaved parents in Jackson County, Arkansas – or in Spartanburg, South Carolina. There are different versions, both of her origins and her death. The earliest suggestion of her birth is 1810, which seems unlikely, and the more accepted one is in the 1840s. As Caroline Tracy, a name which seems to have come from her family’s original owners (a phrase which should never have had to be typed), she married Martin Dye of Sulphur Rock, sometime after the American Civil War.

Called “one of the most celebrated women ever to live in the Midsouth”, she is said to have died September 26th, 1918 (which would have made her 108 years old – or, more likely, in her seventies). She was buried in Jackson County.

Caroline Dye was supposed to have the ‘second sight’ even when she was young, but became famous for being a seer after the Dyes set up home in Newport, Arkansas, around 1900.

Despite the dates above, others such as Catherine Yronwode of luckymojo.com have compiled evidence that suggests Caroline Dye may have been around longer. One of the problems is that there are mentions of her in music which suggest she was alive in 1930, when Will Shade and the Memphis Jug Band recorded their song about her. This details Dye’s hometown as Newport News, in Virginia, but the song’s music and a verse was lifted from the band’s 1927 song Newport News Blues, so that was probably just convenient (or locally popular).

Some have spoken as if she was around until 1936-37. This may have been the general remembrance of a notable figure. It may even have been complicated by the tendency for famous ‘names’ in fortune-telling and hoodoo to be adopted by later practitioners. So there may have been a second ‘Caroline Dye’, no relation but using her reputation.

Aunt Caroline and the Blues
Dye was “the gypsy” in the 1914 song “The St. Louis Blues,” according to W.C. Handy, who wrote it. He later names her directly, in his 1923 song “Sundown Blues.”

For I’m going to Newport
I mean Newport Arkansaw
I’m going there to see Aunt Car’line Dye
Why she’s a reader
And I need her
Law! Law! Law! She reads your fortune, and her cards don’t lie.
I’ll put some ashes in my sweet Papa’s bed,
So he can’t slip out, Hoodoo in his bread

In 1937, Johnny/Johnnie Temple named her again in his “Hoodoo Woman” song:

Well, I’m going to Newport,
just to see Aunt Caroline Dye
Well, I’m going to Newport,
just to see Aunt Caroline Dye

She’s a fortune teller, hooo, Lord,
she sure don’t tell no lie
And she told my fortune,
as I walked through her door

And she told my fortune,
as I walked through her door
Said, “I’m sorry for you, buddy, hooo, Lord,
the woman don’t want you no more”

Aunt Caroline Dye also crops up in “Wang Dang Doodle,” (1960) by Howlin’ Wolf and Koko Taylor. This is a curious song about rowdy merry-making. It borrows from black oral history, including lesbian nicknames of earlier times. The original reference to Fast Talkin’ Fannie, for example, used a word other than Talkin’.

Tell Peg and Caroline Dye / We gonna have a time…

Dye would read futures and make predictions. Her most commonly quoted method was using cards, as in Handy’s lyrics. It’s said that she wouldn’t help in romantic matters, though, and told people that they should sort their own love lives out. She did offer to find lost people, lost cattle and other items through reading her deck, or through her visions.

“Going to go see Aunt Caroline Dye” became a common saying among black people of the time, and as she grew famous, she became respected by many whites as well. She reportedly died a landowner with a substantial fortune.

In the 1960s, Will Shade spoke of her having wider powers. He said of her:

“White and Colored would go to her. You sick in bed, she raise the sick. Conjure, Hoodoo, that’s what some people say, but that’s what some people call it, conjure.”

Interview by Paul Oliver, Conversation with the Blues

“Seven Sisters ain’t nowhere wit’ Aunt Caroline Dye; she was the onliest one could break the record with the hoodoo.”

A Mojo Number
The Seven Sisters were supposed hoodoo women in 1920’s New Orleans. As usual, controversy surrounds their nature. Some say they were genuine sisters, others that they were just seven black women working together, and it’s even been claimed that they were one woman in different guises. The name also crosses concepts of seventh sons and seventh daughters being special. As with Caroline Dye, they were well known for their psychic abilities or clairvoyance.

They tell me Seven Sisters in New Orleans that can really fix a man up right
They tell me Seven Sisters in New Orleans that can really fix a man up right
And I’m headed for New Orleans, Louisiana, I’m travelin’ both day and night.

I hear them say the oldest Sister look just like she’s 21
I hear them say the oldest Sister look just like she’s 21
And said she can look right in your eyes and tell you just exactly what you want done.

They tell me they’ve been hung, been bled, and been crucified
They tell me they’ve been hung, been bled, and been crucified
But I just want enough help to stand on the water and rule the tide.

It’s bound to be Seven Sisters, ’cause I’ve heard it by everybody else
It’s bound to be Seven Sisters, I’ve heard it by everybody else
Course, I’d love to take their word, but I’d rather go and see for myself.

When I leave the Seven Sisters, I’ll pile stones all around
When I leave the Seven Sisters, I’ll pile stones all around
And go to my baby and tell her, “There’s another Seven Sister man in town.”

Good morning, Seven Sisters, just thought I’d come down and see
Good morning, Seven Sisters, I thought I’d come down to see
Will you build me up where I’m torn down, and make me strong where I’m weak?

Number Seven has its own significance in hoodoo work, as have the other odd numbers.

Conjuration
As to hoodoo itself, apart from mid-century and later commentaries, it’s interesting to read earlier writers. One source is Charles Waddell Chesnutt (1858 – 1932), an African-American author, essayist and activist. Chesnutt was born in Ohio, his parents being “free persons of color” from North Carolina.

His position was odd – Chesnutt was legally white in some States, black in others. In a shameful time of Jim Crow laws in America, many state had a ‘one drop’ rule, which meant that even if you had only a single grandparent or great-grandparent who was black, you could be discriminated against. North Carolina adopted ‘one drop’ legislation in 1923.

Chesnutt’s paternal grandfather was known to be a white slaveholder, and he would have had other white ancestors. Despite his outward appearance, he identified as African American, and apparently never chose to be known as white.

Here are a couple of passages from his essay Superstitions & Folklore of the South:

Conjuration

The origin of this curious superstition itself is perhaps more easily traceable. It probably grew, in the first place, out of African fetichism (sic), which was brought over from the dark continent along with the dark people. Certain features, too, suggest a distant affinity with Voodooism, or snake worship, a cult which seems to have been indigenous to tropical America. These beliefs, which in the place of their origin had all the sanctions of religion and social custom, become, in the shadow of the white man’s civilization, a pale reflection of their former selves. In time, too, they were mingled and confused with the witchcraft and ghost lore of the white man, and the tricks and delusions of the Indian conjurer.

The only professional conjure doctor whom I met was old Uncle Jim Davis, with whom I arranged a personal interview. He came to see me one evening, but almost immediately upon his arrival a minister called. The powers of light prevailed over those of darkness, and Jim was dismissed until a later time, with a commission to prepare for me a conjure “hand” or good luck charm, of which, he informed some of the children about the house, who were much interested in the proceedings, I was very much in need.

I subsequently secured the charm, for which, considering its potency, the small sum of silver it cost me was no extravagant outlay. It is a very small bag of roots and herbs, and, if used according to directions, is guaranteed to insure me good luck and “keep me from losing my job.” The directions require it to be wet with spirits nine mornings in succession, to be carried on the person, in a pocket on the right hand side, care being taken that it does not come in contact with any tobacco.

Modern Culture, volume 13, 1901

His collection The Conjure Woman (1899) is available on-line, and also includes the full essay.

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11666

Passing Fictions
Finally, there is one problem with writing fiction about hoodoo. It’s difficult to get right, and yet sometimes difficult to get wrong. People did make up ‘spells’ to suit them. And there are so many variants – styles of traditional conjure-work can be personal to a practitioner, or peculiar to a geographical area. The terminology varies across the States, and some branches came from passed-down pamphlets, others through family word of mouth. I always try to use versions of recognised conjure-work where I can, preferably form direct folk sources.

But it’s always interesting, anyway.

So Mamma Lucy is around in a number of my stories – ‘Hoodoo Man’; ‘Iron and ‘Anthracite‘, ‘Whiskey, Beans and Dust’, and ‘The Witch of Pender’, plus a few others. I hope she trusts me well enough to keep spinnin’ them tales…


Bio: John Linwood Grant lives in Yorkshire with a pack of lurchers and a beard. He may also have a family. When he’s not chronicling the adventures of Mr Bubbles, the slightly psychotic pony, he writes a range of supernatural, horror and speculative tales, some of which are actually published. You can find him every week on greydogtales.com, often with his dogs.

PR: Unsafe Words by Loren Rhoads

Tagline: Once you’ve done the most unforgivable thing, what will you do next?

Unsafe Words
by Loren Rhoads

In the first full-length collection of her edgy, award-winning short stories, Loren Rhoads punctures the boundaries between horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction in a maelstrom of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. Lisa Morton provides the book’s introduction.

Ghosts, succubi, naiads, vampires, the Wild Hunt, and the worst predator in the woods stalk these pages, alongside human monsters who follow their cravings past sanity or sense.

“With Unsafe Words, Loren Rhoads has created a lyrical kaleidoscope of a collection, whose shifting genres reveal ever-evolving visions of shining beauty and immense darkness. I loved it.”

— Brian Hodge, author of The Immaculate Void

“Loren Rhoads is the writer you want to hold your hand on the long, strange walk into hell.”

— Meg Elison, author of the Road to Nowhere series

“Rhoads has a gift. She takes you deep and, when you come out on the other side, you’re just glad you’re still alive.”

— J. Scott Coatsworth, Captain Awesome of Queer Sci Fi

“If you’re already familiar with Loren’s work, you know that you’re in for an evocative, rich mélange. If you’re just now discovering her…prepare yourself.”

—Lisa Morton, in the introduction


Loren Rhoads is the author of the In the Wake of the Templars space opera trilogy, co-author of a succubus/angel duology called As Above, So Below, and editor of Tales for the Camp Fire: An Anthology Benefiting Wildfire Relief. She’s also the author of a nonfiction travel guide called 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die. In Unsafe Words, the 1st full-length collection of her edgy, award-winning short stories, Loren Rhoads punctures the boundaries between horror, dark fantasy, & science fiction.

Unsafe Words

#scifi #horror #darkfantasy

Comic Review: The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

Reviewed by Sebastian Grimm
☆☆☆☆

As one of H.P. Lovecraft’s inspirations, The Willows by Algernon Blackwood is a classic tale that isn’t known by many. Algernon may be more famously remembered as the writer who influenced writers rather than for his own work. The man himself was an interesting person I would have liked to been friends with. A member of The Ghost Club and a mystic develing into occultism, Rosicrucianism, and Buddhism, he also loved the outdoors.

His story, The Willows, mixes his two loves. The outdoors and creepy shit. He does what rarely is done well. He takes on the realism of camping and being amongst the trees, making you feel you are there with him and adds the fear we all have about the woods. What is the shadow in the woods? What is that sound? Is it simply nature or is there something supernatural watching from a wooded perch?

In The Willows, two friends on a canoe trip down the River Danube encounter ominous masses of menacing willows, which “moved of their own will as though alive, and they touched, by some incalculable method, my own keen sense of the horrible.”

In this comic edition of The Willows, the story is told through pictures and presents a visual representation of the willow monsters that will haunt your dreams. Put together by Nathan Carson and Sam Ford, this edition is either a must-have collectible for Willows fans or an introduction for those who have not read the original story. 

If you’ve read my other reviews, you know I am very picky on artwork. Because of the time period and the nature aspect, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the art. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by Sam’s work and will look for his other endeavors in the future. There is a slight steampunk look to some of the work, but at the same time, I feel he recalls the time period well. Although I am not sold on all of his people depictions because sometimes the humans don’t look the same in one frame versus the other, his creature and animal renderings are phenomenal. I especially enjoyed the full page art pieces he did such as the undine army and the branches being an optical illusion. The facial expressions on the main character are the best I’ve seen. His demon and supernatural cells are the stuff of nightmares. I was supremely happy with the comic in general.

I’d say the story representation was done well. I feel from reading the original story that there were portions that dragged and I wondered where they were going. Being cut with Nathan’s modern mind helped move the story along at a great pace and contributed to allowing Sam the freedom to create the demons he needed to in the art.

Overall, I’d say this is going in the win column for comic adaptations of classic horror works. They kept the original story and built an even better representation of it. I’m giving this comic a strong 4 stars. ☆☆☆☆ 

Sebastian Grimm signing off.

Book Review: Rabid by Kris Rimmer

A Review of Rabid by Kris Rimmer by Patricia Watson

Kris Rimmer’s Rabid is set in modern Mississippi. It opens with a violent, gruesome death that brings two brothers back together for a funeral. Their widowed mom sends her two city boys camping to share grief and renew their brotherly bonds.

Mortal dangers are everywhere during their trip. Adam, home for the funeral on college break, and Toy, not yet in high school, must rely only on childhood memories of their abusive alcoholic dad to survive. Plenty of bad luck, apparitions, and horrible events complicate every step of their adventure. A run-in with rabid creatures is only a part of their troubles.

The funeral, the wildlife encounters, and cave scenes gave a good creepy feel to the work. Mr. Rimmer has said in book blurbs he is a fan of Stephen King. His admiration for King shows in the American boyhood adventure turned bad aspects of this book and the internal monsters that haunt the characters.

The author did keep me turning pages with fingers crossed. His story had regular disastrous surprises, with nice dollops of gore to add to the misery. I would have enjoyed a bit more of the native humidity, and perhaps a few mosquitoes for local flavor. It is the deep South after all. This book is a short, easy read. I finished it one run. It’s an entertaining book to stow in your beach bag.

The Unforgettable Serena Toxicat

The Unforgettable Serena Toxicat
by Sumiko Saulson

I was so fortunate as to have Serena in my life for twenty-five long years, but honestly, it wasn’t enough. I had always imagined that we would grow to a ripe old age, making art in the Bay Area as so many folks around here do.  Serena’s multiple talents took her around the globe, however. She was a singer/songwriter in multiple projects, ranging from her personal project, the catwave band Protea, to performing with Apocalypse Theater, Stagefright, Starchasm, Manul Override, and others. A fashion designer, professional model, painter, and author, she performed burlesque with the Black Widows, and Scry of Lust. For nearly eight years, she lived in Paris, and she traveled to Egypt, where she recorded vocals in the King’s Chamber.

When I interviewed her in 2019, she said this of her writing:

“I’ve often viewed writing as my first real discipline, even though I was already painting. It is a calling, I suppose–unless what I answered was just somebody in the next room blowing their nose. It started out with a play I wrote in iambic pentameter, a 5-heartbeat/10-syllable-per-line rhythm, and staged at Bannam Place Theater in North Beach with the NOMA troupe we put together. I also won a poetry contest at my school. This is was [sic] when I was 17, and that was when saying “groovy,” “keen,” and “grass” was only barely ironic. I’m not sure why I love writing so much. Authors bring friends, rivals and all manner of events into being through the living power of thought. That’s certainly a part of it. Writing has an emotionally and energetically regulating quality, too. It tunes my mood, turns my switch, and makes me feel like a badass witch!”

Her novels included Evangeline and the Drama Wheel, a cosmic sci-fantasy about a cat-human hybrid named Evangeline in a cybergoth band, and Ghosts in Bones, a touchingly candid fictionalized account of a woman who struggled with anorexia nervosa that often mirrored Serena’s battle with the disorder.  Her poetry chapbooks included, You Send Forth Constellations, Paper Wings, and Consciousness Is a Catfish: stealthily grim, subtly spiritual poems. She had short stories in Wickedly Abled, Scry of Lust 1, and Scry of Lust 2.

DeTraci Regular, a friend and colleague, speaks highly of Serena:

“What I’d like to mention is her incredible generosity. She would do all the work of setting up an event and then invite others to essentially just show up. I’d never done a poetry reading before she invited me, despite having written for literally decades. She was so gracious and beautiful at these events, serving as the ‘hostess’ and making sure others got attention while also participating. In all the times I saw her, I never saw her be mean or petty with anyone, and I also saw her be especially gentle with those who really needed it. This was in juxtaposition to her amazing sharp-edged, intensely truthful writing and her many other talents, all of which pulled no punches. And of course she was wonderful with our ocelots and other cats. They trusted her and she trusted them. She was a true original, unlike anyone else I’ve ever known, and I’m grateful for her presence in our lives.”

Serena was an adoptee, and thrilled when she reconnected with her birth family about five years before she passed away. She is survived by her adoptive mother and her brother, Marc Rovetti.

She loved all things feline: cat ears, cat plushies, cat beanie babies, Hello Kitty, and Grumpy Cat.

Serena was very close to her cats and was predeceased by two of them: Isis and Selket. Selket passed away in February, just before shelter-in-place. Her loving concern for her elderly cat, who had feline leukemia, touched many people’s hearts, as seen by their support for the many fundraisers to support Selket. She also raised money for manuls, also known as Pallas Cats, a pet cause of hers. A vegetarian and an avid animal lover, she raised even more money for Isis Oasis, an animal sanctuary in Forestville, CA. Her 2015 event, ManulFest, a day-long music festival at Isis Oasis featuring Gitane Demone, held a special pride for her. It raised money for manuls in Southern California, as well as for Isis Oasis, which is home to ocelots, bobcats, alpacas, and other exotic animal rescues.

Serena’s Cat-Themed Fashion Show on CatSynth TV:

She has left behind an incredible body of work, which includes her books, also available on Lulu, her music on ReverbNation (Protea and Starchasm), and Bandcamp (old Protea and super recent Protea), and her latest on Bandcamp.

With wholesome, girl-next-door pin-up model looks, Serena enjoyed a substantial modeling career. including work in fashion, fetish, and commercial modeling. In fact, if you buy wigs from Spirit Halloween Store in October, you might see her smiling face modeling a Cleopatra haircut wig. Her many eye-catching tattoos, which covered most of her arms and legs, and often equally colorful hair made her a popular alternative fashion model. They contrasted with her. Serena turned 52 five months before she died. At 52, she was still a stunner and highly sought after as a professional model.

Serena was the founder of the Oakland Temple of Bast, where she served as its priestess among colorful murals depicting the cat goddess Bastet and other members of the Egyptian pantheon. Her service to them also led her to become a priestess at Isis Oasis. She worked as a life coach, and many of her self-help videos can still be found on her YouTube Channel, along with videos of her book readings, and musical performances.

As a visual artist, she not only painted, but also created unique fashions adorned with her feline artwork. She even published a Tarot deck featuring feline images.

Another friend and colleague of Serena’s, Bram Stoker Award-Winning horror author Rain Graves, had this to say of her:

“She sang beautifully, and was in a lot of different groups throughout the years. Ephemeral Orchestra, Apocalypse Theater, Stagefright (Sumiko’s band), and Protea were among her many projects and collaborations. She loved collaboration of any sort. It was fun for her to create with others. It helped her inward shyness, which was hidden by the ruse of extrovert. She was more introvert than many knew. Even when she modeled. She knew how to find the light.

When I was starting out as a writer of dark fiction and poetry, around the same time we met, she had written a few things already. They were very esoteric, brilliantly cerebral, and fluid. Evangeline and the Drama Wheel was among these, a little bit later. It was intelligent and stream of consciousness; ahead of its time. A lot of people didn’t know what to make of it, except other writers.

It was also autobiographical. Almost everything she created was, though tweaked and fictionalized to protect her friends and those she modeled characters after. “

French ‘Mau Bast’ Excerpt 2 – Chapel of the Chimes ‘Garden of Memory’ 2019 – -Manul Override

Book Review: Punk Facation ‘Zine

Punk Faction by David Gamage 

Review by VooDo Lynn

Punk Faction was a self-published ‘zine in the 90’s for the hardcore scene in the UK. This book is a compilation of those original ‘zines. Back then, ‘zines were the internet for people, before the internet took off. It provided you with a plethora of important and varied information in your genre, by people who were living it. These books compiled things like reviews of albums and movie directors, letters to the editor, poems, opinion pieces, road journals, and last but not least, articles ranging from vegetarianism, political pieces, the environment, and more.

This publication is from the UK and I am located in the San Francisco Bay Area in California, USA, so there were a lot of bands mentioned that I never heard of, but that’s ok. I enjoyed learning about new music. I read album reviews and interviews with bands ranging from the local Jailcell Recipes, Goober Patrol (which included a recipe for Goober Straws, in case you were interested in the cuisine at the time) and Funbug to the Ramones, Garbage, Mr. T Experience, Rancid, and Green Day.

I read poetry by Steven Jesse Bernstein and “On a Cold Winter’s Morning” by Steve Gamage which painted a very vivid sense of solitude. There were random quotes printed throughout the publication including Milton and Gandhi. Brat Pack director, John Hughes, had a review of his better-known films and Quintin Tarantino had an overview of his success and strategic abandonment of co-creators he left in the wake of said success. There are one-page blurbs on skating, the use of mercury in dentistry, animals in circuses, and my favorite titled one- “I’m Too Sexy for a Job.”

We now come to my favorite part of the book, the articles. Wow, were there some good ones in here. Some of the topics are what you would expect from this type of publication and were not discussed or accepted as it is now, such as cannabis (which isn’t what you would think it’s about), self-publishing, factory farming, and the aforementioned vegetarianism. And then there were the surprises. Topics that were completely unexpected and frankly, those were the things that drew my attention the most.

I read an article on sleeping well and the link (or lack of) between pornography and sexual violence. I learned about hunt saboteurs–something I never even knew existed before now. There was a surprisingly comprehensive and condensed history of the origins of comic books given in an article titled “In Defense of Comic Books.”

My favorite article is “On Dreams.” It starts off on a philosophical note by talking about what dreams are and what their purpose is, if any. The article is well-cited and I read quotes from Cicero, Hildebrandt, and of course, you cannot have a discussion about dreams without mentioning Jung. It then moves into dream interpretation.  I was particularly interested in reading about a scientist that dreamed up an experiment to prove a theory of his, that he then replicated, which ended up working, ultimately winning him a Nobel Prize. Unfortunately, there is no author given, which is sadly the case with many of the articles and blurbs in this book.

I learned a lot from this book. It was kind of fun traveling back in time and reading all this. The only complaint I have is that because of the format of this book–which is basically reproductions of the already photocopied material–I found certain pages to be hard, if not impossible to read. And that’s ok. It is to be expected and what I consider to be an integral part of the ‘zine experience.

Thanks to the internet and YouTube, I was able to enjoy some of the music from previously unknown bands. I read great interviews with bands, including some of the snark I’ve come to expect and appreciate with these types of interviews. I learned some new things about the world and most importantly, I was made to think. This was a great read for me. I love learning about new things, I love art, and I love the DIY attitude and philosophy. If you are feeling like doing a little time travel, you’re into hardcore music, or you are a fan of DIY publications, then this is the book for you.

And remember “…think globally, but act locally…”

Book Review: The Dead Stage by Dan Weatherer

The Dead Stage by Dan Weatherer

 Reviewed by Willo Hausman

The Dead Stage by Dan Weatherer provides a basic description of what it is to write for the stage, followed by 16 of the author’s plays.  At the start, Dan provides us a glimpse into his own personal journey from penning movies to plays, as well as support and advice on how to make progress as a playwright. The book includes many easy-to-digest theater tips, mainly gleaned by interviews from individuals working in the industry.  These insightful contributors are involved in low-to-moderate budget theatre companies and they provide pertinent and passionate insight on how to follow your inspiration and get your creation up and running.

First up is Dan, an accomplished writer of poems, stories, films and yes, plays.  His many accolades and awards are mentioned at the end of the book.  Based in England, all the wisdom offered in The Dead Stage fits just as easily in any location.  Dan provides basic details on how to best get your work selected amongst many submissions.  He offers good points for a novice, encouraging the short and simple route, especially at the start.  Not too many characters and an easy set.

This clear wisdom is followed by valuable tidbits from various theater folk.  To quote a favorite few:

Matthew Spencer (ACTOR): Be brave!

Kate Danbury (Director of the London Horror Festival):  A director must be artistically creative, but a producer must be creatively strategic. And Kate has a taste for the macabre.  We like that!

Ellie Pitkin (THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE BLACKSHAW THEATRE, LONDON).  An aspect of comedy is important to her.  Best to use simple staging, as they’ve had to use unconventional spaces to put up performances.  Casting a celebrity helps get a new work into production.  With fringe theater (not mainstream) it’s easier if you have fewer actors in the cast.

Andrew Crane (BLACKSHAW THEATRE TECHNICIAN):  He likes to be challenged by complicated light and sound cues, but don’t have too high of an expectation on how they are executed.  Depends on the space. Small theaters can be limited in how much technical savvy they can provide.  The bigger spaces have more to play with and usually a higher ceiling, which means better lighting.

Jill Young (ACTOR/DRAMA TUTOR/DIRECTOR): She had an interesting take on teaching and the two important qualities of scripts to use as tools.  Either ‘complete imaginative fiction’ or ‘100% graspable fact’. With the first, students can learn to let their creative play side fly without restrictions.  The second enables them to become a specific character.

Tom Slatter (ACTOR): In terms of changing dialogue a director once told him (and this makes absolute sense): “If one actor struggles with the line, it’s the actor.  If a hundred actors struggle with the line, it’s the line”.

Almost all of the interviewees started out as actors and state that it’s challenging to get new plays read in the theater world, but it is doable. Dan says the easiest route is adaptations of famous (already proven) stories or ideas, but don’t give up on originals.  It is possible!  Keep your first plays simple and direct and not too high budget with crazy stunts that can’t be done in a smaller theater.  Once you are in the door and have a few pieces under your belt, you can explore more epic production styles and start using a few settings, with complicated expensive props and people flying through the air!

Dan’s sixteen stage plays complete The Dead Stage.  Most had a slant of the shadow side, and a touch of dark comedy, which I’m sure is amicable with this group. I will comment on a few of the pieces that initially stood out to me.

BEIGE

Dan’s favorite.  I liked it too.  A dark comedy.  A husband stabs his wife and then as he prepares to ‘off himself’ Samurai-Style to avoid prison, she begins talking from ‘beyond the grave’ and they continue the same sort of bickering they shared when she was alive.  Comes off as more amusing prattle than serious.  I could see this garnering laughs.

A QUESTION OF AUTHORSHIP

Four writers who have all been involved in various theories of who ‘really’ wrote the infamous Shakespeare plays meet up with Arthur Miller in Heaven, where he confronts them to get to the bottom of who really penned the plays.  One by one the writers are omitted from being a possibility till the real William Shakespeare is left.  I have always found all the controversy over these glorious plays a bit of a shamble; why not just give credit to the actual talented man who created them.  Huzzah!

CRIPPEN

A re-telling of a true-crime story.  I find the language stilted though the subject matter and characters are intriguing.  Belle, the actress, is so one-dimensionally mean.  A vain woman and a fun role for an actress to play since she’s so darn nasty. Anyone would want her murdered.  There’s a great creepy scene at the bathtub in this play.  I liked the silent scary visuals.  Marcie and Florie are two silly gabs; I like their gossipy in-tandem speaking style. A touch of comedy.  The play picks up a bit in the court scene finale as we learn interesting unknown aspects; otherwise it’s not my favorite, too solely literal, without much of a definite mood attached.

ELOISE

An old man bemoans the loss of his wife and while reminiscing decides to join her in the afterlife. A nicely direct and poignant piece.

KILLING GARY

A serial killer is interviewed a detective and reveals her strange motives.  Cute.

ONE FOR THE ROAD

A man at the end of this life converses with Death as he finishes this last drink, finding clarity with the inevitable.

FRIENDS LIKE US

A Halloween session with an Ouija Board between 4 friends stirs up a whole lot of drama without needing to contact spirits from the other realms.  Interesting tool to use for truth-telling and exposing secrets, which is the innate purpose of this long-standing ghostly tool.

All in all The Dead Stage is a great device to enlighten playwrights who are fresh to the business, containing good simple easy-to-absorb insight.  I’d only put 4 to 5 of the best plays in this volume though and print all 16 in their own separate book.

Graphic Novel Review: Calcutta Horror by Alessandro Manzetti

Calcutta Horror by Alessandro Manzetti
Reviewed by Sebastian Grimm

As a comic fan and adoring the genius works of Poppy Z. Brite such as Wormwood, Lost Souls, Drawing Blood, and the ever terrifying Exquisite Corpse, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this graphic novel.

Although this is not my favorite art style, I did find a few of the pieces genius that I would happily hang on my wall. The reimagining of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” is a masterpiece. The drawing of Death and a few other pieces piqued my interest. Unfortunately, the majority of the artwork felt unrefined and disjointed to the rest of the book.

I have not read the short story, but I could feel Brite’s touch throughout. It’s difficult for me to say how much of this text was Manzetti’s but I did enjoy the wild ride he took us on in creating this hybrid book. It’s interesting and weird, and almost like you’re on an acid trip. He takes you on a truly savage ride through the streets of Calcutta from the viewpoint of a strange, possible deranged dude. The imagery in the words was what I liked best. Phrases like, “…Blood poured down on the ground like a spool of scarlet silk…” and “…they were no longer people…conduits to a blank universe, the void which Kali ruled…” kept me thinking for a bit. Even weeks afterward, I would think back fondly on one of his phrases. This is the thing that books should do, infect your normal world with bits of their brilliance.

This book is pretty graphic. Not advised for anyone under age, with a queasy stomach, or delicate sensibilities to try it.

For me, the biggest issue I had with this book was the type font and size. It was just too damned small and light. I have perfect vision and I had to pull out a magnifying glass after a few pages because of eye strain. If that was fixed and the art was a little more even, I would have given it a better score because the text was pretty frightening.

This is a 3 ☆☆☆ on the scale. For those who love abstract art and gory, hellish descriptions, this will be a fine read for an afternoon.

Sebastian Grimm signing off.

Free Fiction Friday: Angelus Rose by Loren Rhoads and Brian Thomas

“If Romeo had wings and Juliet a barbed tail, could they find happiness in the City of Angels?”

Author Loren Rhoads gave us an exclusive excerpt of her new book, Angelus Rose.

After their escape from the ashes of Lost Angels, the succubus Lorelei and the angel Azaziel want nothing more than to enjoy each other’s company. Unfortunately, Asmodeus, the Demon Prince of LA, has threatened to devour Lorelei’s new-grown soul if she doesn’t bring about Azaziel’s downfall. Meanwhile, Aza is keeping secrets of his own that threaten the tenuous peace between Heaven and Hell. 

Three archangels come to town to try to set things right, but friendships are fracturing. The demon in charge of fallen angels is sniffing around. And Los Angeles is about to catch fire between a devil and the deep blue sea.


Azaziel fights the ash wraith. Excerpt from Angelus Rose by Loren Rhoads & Brian Thomas

Summoned by a sense of terrible wrongness, Aza dropped through a hole punctured through the columbarium’s roof. Animate powder fogged the heavy air. The room clattered as the metallic urns danced in their niches. Some urns had already smashed through their glass partitions, adding sharp fragments to the swirling filth.

A pair of bodies lay crumpled near a stained glass window. Sweat pasted a coating of ash to their skin. More ash obscured the colors of their clothing. These mortal warders were dead, lungs clogged with bone grit and ash. Noc, the Cambodian cook, lay where he fell, his shirt wrapped around his face in an impromptu mask.

The woman had been Dolores Gutierrez. She lay curled around a book-shaped urn that held the soul of Willy Goldenstern. Aza could feel the boy defying the evil which tried to pry him out and carry him away on a wind of damnation.

Other souls also barely held out. Despite their makeshift containers, each was battered by the growing whirlwind of fouled remains.

Aza wondered how the other angels could have overlooked this possibility. Even if the niches in the columbarium around him weren’t hallowed ground in and of themselves, they were surrounded by it, ideally presenting a safe haven for the loose souls. But no one seemed to have considered removing the urns spaced throughout the structure that had contained the unredeemed dead. Perhaps there simply hadn’t been time.

As the General of Hell drew closer, his influence called to the dust of once-damned flesh. The mausoleum hallway hissed with the sound of whispering voices as the damned entreated the children to join them.

A shape swept up to meet Aza, coalescing into a twisted starfish of soiled gray. Nebulous and solid by turns, the ash wraith struck, attempting to suffocate the angel as it had the mortals.

In the cemetery outside, Aza could have dispelled the wraith with a few powerful strokes of his wings. In the narrow confines of the columbarium’s hall, he had no room for that. Instead, Aza approached the creature, speaking a banishment to drive it back.

The wraith fled around the corner of the columbarium’s corridor, before melting into the wall of niches. It rattled among the urns, trying vainly to open them before its destruction.


Don’t miss out on a chance to chat with the author April 11th, 2pm PST on Facebook

African American Multimedia Conference, Feb 13-17 THIS WEEKEND!

AAMMC 2020 Schedule

Workshops, Panels and Book Signings

“In order to rise from its own ashes,
a Phoenix first must burn.” ― Octavia Butler

African American Multimedia Conference Presenters:

Sumiko Saulson, Linda Addison, Nisi Shawl, Rappin 4Tay, Kevin E. Myrick, Karen Junker, Crystal Connor, Simon Says, Scott Saulson, V’Launce Davis, Lil Twain, Precious Chambers, Lil 4Tay, Franchesca Saulson, Amy Holloway, Kevin Craig West, Meosha Bean

Thursday, February 13, 2020 (Free!)

Expressions Gallery, 2035 Ashby Ave. Berkeley, California, 94703 | 510.644.4930

Pre-Conference Kick-Off with Silent Auction!

Free and Open to the Public, Food and Beverages served.

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm           Sexy Sci-Fi Sisters Book Chat and Signing Event with James Tiptree Award Winner Nisi Shawl, Crystal Connor, Linda Addison, and Sumiko Saulson

Friday, February 14, 2020 (Free!)

San Francisco Public Library, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin Street, 12-5pm

12:00 pm     Registration

12:30 pm     Welcome Speech by Linda Addison

12:45 pm     Remembering and Honoring Our Elders Past

1:15 pm       Narrowing the Digital Divide

2:15 pm       San Francisco Pioneer Awards

2:45 pm       Beyond Us: Black Minds in Horror Short Preview

3:15 pm       Dollars to Diversity: Hollywood’s New Black Blockbusters

4:15 pm       Meet the Authors! Book Signing and Book Chat with

Saturday, February 15, 2020 (Free!)

Melrose Branch, Oakland Public Library, 4805 Foothill Boulevard, 2-5pm

2:00 pm       Welcome Speech by Nisi Shawl

2:15 pm       Creating Diverse Sci-Fi & Horror Characters and Worlds (Nisi Shawl)

3:00 pm       So You Want To Be a Rapper or a Rock n Roll Star? (Rappin 4-Tay)

3:45 pm       Krishna Awards for Black Excellence in Multimedia

4:45 pm       Closing Statements by Crystal Connor

Sunday, February 16, 2020 (Free!)

Marcus Books, 3900 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Oakland, CA, 1-2pm

1:00-2:00 pm         Scary Sisters Horror Book Chat and Signing Event with Bram Stoker Award Winner Linda Addison, Nisi Shawl, Crystal Connor, and Sumiko Saulson

 

Sunday, February 16, 2020

81st Avenue Branch, Oakland Public Library, 1021 81st Avenue, 2-5 pm

Kids 12 and Under

2:00-5:00 pm         Art Circle: Afrocentric Coloring Time!

PG-13

2:00 pm       Welcome Speech by Amy Holloway

2:15 pm       Why Do People Tell Stories about Monsters?

3:00 pm       Making Beautiful Music, Movies, and Books

3:45 pm       Beyond Us Short Film Festival & Talk

4:45pm        Closing Remarks by Kevin E. Myrick

Pride at the AAMMC! Sunday, February 16, 2020

Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, 3207 Lakeshore Avenue

3:00 pm       Reframing the Other – Writing the Other for Black and Queer Authors (Nisi Shawl, Sumiko Saulson)

3:45 pm       Writing While Black, Queer Edition: (Sumiko Saulson, Nisi Shawl)

Pride at the AAMMC! Monday, February 17, 2020

Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, 3207 Lakeshore Avenue

3:00 pm       A Nu Way: Creating Magical Melanated Spiritual & Safe Spaces (Hosted by Irene McCalphin)

3:45 pm       Manifesting from the Margins (Hosted by Irene McCalphin)


Self-Publishing – A Three Class Series at Eastmont

By Sumiko Saulson

Eastmont Branch, Oakland Public Library, 7200 Bancroft Avenue, Suite 211

Monday, February 10, 2020, 5-7 pm Preparing Book Interiors

Monday, February 24, 2020, 5-7 pm Exteriors, Covers, and Ads

Black Goth Takeover at Club Vantablack ($10)

Stork Club Oakland 2330 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, California

Saturday, February 8, 2020 at 9:00 pm – 1:30 am
Performances by M-Lamar, Stagefright, Protea and In Retrograde

Beyond Us: Black Minds in Horror ($10 per night)

Artists’ Television Access, 992 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA

Curator & Horror Host Crystal Connor
Sunday, February 17, 2020, 7 pm – 10pm, Special Guest Kevin Craig West

Monday, February 18, 2020, 7 pm -10pm, Special Guest Meosha Bean

Film Fest: Beyond Us: Black Minds in Horror

Spoiler alert: The Black Guy Doesn’t Die First!

‘Beyond Us: Black Minds in Horror,’
a collection of films curated
by award-winning horror author
and HorrorAddicts.net Staff,
Crystal Connor,
will screen Feb. 16-17

by Sumiko Saulson

“Suffering from multitudes of negative stereotypes, minorities have not traditionally fared well in horror movies. While these negative interpretations still exist, things have begun to improve. Thanks to creators of color, and voices from other marginalized communities, we are now the heroes of our own stories … and no longer are we the first to die,” says Crystal Connor, curator of “Beyond Us: Black Minds in Horror.”

“Beyond Us: Black Minds in Horror” takes place Sunday, Feb. 16, and Monday, Feb. 17, 2020, over the President’s Day Weekend at Artists Television Access, 992 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110, 415-824-3890, from 7 to 10 p.m. on each night. It is a part of the Bay Area Black Independent Film Festival (BABIFF), which is one of Iconoclast Production’s February offerings, along with the African American Multimedia Conference.

During the two-day film festival there will be two special guest filmmakers: Kevin Craig West, flying in from New York, and Meosha Bean, flying up from Los Angeles. Organizer and horror video blogger Crystal Connor is flying down from Seattle. We are still raising money to cover travel and hotel funds for these participants. Email the organizer at sumikoska@yahoo.com if you are willing to help.

Sunday, Feb. 16

7:00 p.m. Special Guest Kevin Craig West

Award winning actor-filmmaker and proud member of SAG-AFTRA and AEA. When not on camera or stage, he enjoys producing, directing, writing and coaching. He also enjoys sharing his talents as a teacher-artist and has worked with many arts in education groups including Theatre for a New Audience, Only Make Believe and Symphony Space. Kevin is the owner of the production company, MoBetta Films, an advisory board member of WAM Theatre as well as Lake Placid Film Forum, former president of Upstate Independents and has served as assistant director of FilmColumbia Festival.

7:15 p.m. ‘The Groundskeeper’

Kevin Craig West stars as “The Groundskeeper” in this short film by Nichole Eckenroad, taking place in Pearl River County Lunatic Asylum, Mississippi, in 1920. Run time: 11 minutes

7:26 p.m. ‘Distractions’

A suspenseful short – in this Twilight-Zone style parable about distracted driving, Dick just can’t stay off the phone. Run time: 6 minutes

7:32 p.m. ‘I Hate Being Black’

Drama short – a conversation amongst buppies about the struggles associated with blackness. Run time: 11 minutes

7: 44 p.m. ‘Orphaned’

After being missing for almost a year, Allen McAvoy returns home to find a family falling apart, and his adopted brother Steve taking care of his wife. The death of his adopted parents sparked his disappearance, and now everyone wants answers, including his biological sister. As a fight over the family inheritance brews in the background, both brothers are thrust into a world where their loyalties to one another and their country are ferociously challenged. Will they be able to mend their own small world, or be a part of the destruction of the world at large? Run Time: 85 minutes

9:00 p.m. ‘Colors in Darkness’

“Colors in Darkness” is an experimental award-winning documentary by Sy Shanti that’s entirely composed of stock footage, stock images, stock sounds and self-recorded interviewee videos of African American authors, writers and content creators discussing the genre of Horror in books, TV and film. Run time: 1:01:51 minutes

Monday, Feb. 16

7:00 p.m. Special Guest Meosha Bean

Meosha Bean is an award-winning actress and filmmaker, voted best upcoming director in 2012 at the New Jersey Film Festival. Owner of MVB Films, established in 2003, her projects include “Dark Rises” (2013), which has an all-star cast, and “Miss Pepper” (2013), a short film that gained almost 30,000 views in one week upon release. Join her for a series of shorts and Q&A.

“Mr. Nightmare: Nightmares That Read into Reality” is directed by Meosha Bean. Run time: 3:12 minutes

“Nightmare at the Cinema: Scary Stories”: We all enjoy going to the cinema to watch a good movie, but let’s not forget about the creeps that go to the movies to watch us instead. Director is Meosha Bean. Run time: 4:55 minutes

7:30 pm ‘Danger World’

In “Danger World” by Luchina Fisher, a 13-year-old girl and her grandpa struggle to survive in a zombie-infested world. Run time: 18:41 minutes

7:50 p.m. ‘White’

In “White” by A. Sayeed Clark, it’s another 120-degree day with five more days to Christmas and hot is the only season left in New York City. Global warming has become a tangible threat and everyone is creating new ways to protect themselves from the sun. Bato and his wife Gina are expecting a baby, but they weren’t expecting it so early. Although they planned to have the baby at home, Gina now requires the services of a clinic for the premature delivery. With no money for the clinic, Bato enters into a race against the sun, the birth, his community and even his own identity to save his family. Run time: 15 minutes

8:05 p.m. Intermission

8:20 p.m. ‘Penelope’

“Penelope,” dreamed up by Maris Wilson, is a modern-day witch – a Venefica, to be exact. Today, in the middle of an isolated forest, she must endure the mystical rite of passage that determines whether her abilities will be used for good or for evil. Run time: 7:29 minutes

8:28 p.m. ‘Wake’

“Wake” by Bree Newsome tells the tale of a repressed woman who murders her domineering father, then, using a local folk magic called “root work,” she conjures a demon to aid her in creating the man of her dreams – but soon finds herself in a waking nightmare. Run time: 21:29 minutes

8:50 p.m. ‘Gorenos’

In Clarence Williams’” Gorenos,” a young man becomes haunted by a supernatural entity in the wake of his 18th birthday. Influenced by films like “Scream,” “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Paranormal Activity,” Gorenos is a fresh and self-aware entry into the horror genre that boasts a hip and diverse cast of new and established talents. Run time 1:21:29 minutes.


Bestselling author Sumiko Saulson writes award-winning multicultural sci-fi, fantasy, horror and Afrosurrealism. Winner of the 2017 Afrosurrealist Writer’s Award, 2016 HWA Scholarship from Hell, and 2016 BCC Voice Reframing the Other Award, (he)r monthly series Writing While Black follows the struggles of Black writers in the literary arts and other segments of arts and entertainment. (S)he is gender non-binary. Support (he)r on Patreon and follow (he)r on Twitter and Facebook.

African American Multimedia Conference, Feb 13-17

AAMMC 2020 Schedule

Workshops, Panels and Book Signings

“In order to rise from its own ashes,
a Phoenix first must burn.” ― Octavia Butler

African American Multimedia Conference Presenters:

Sumiko Saulson, Linda Addison, Nisi Shawl, Rappin 4Tay, Kevin E. Myrick, Karen Junker, Crystal Connor, Simon Says, Scott Saulson, V’Launce Davis, Lil Twain, Precious Chambers, Lil 4Tay, Franchesca Saulson, Amy Holloway, Kevin Craig West, Meosha Bean

Thursday, February 13, 2020 (Free!)

Expressions Gallery, 2035 Ashby Ave. Berkeley, California, 94703 | 510.644.4930

Pre-Conference Kick-Off with Silent Auction!

Free and Open to the Public, Food and Beverages served.

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm           Sexy Sci-Fi Sisters Book Chat and Signing Event with James Tiptree Award Winner Nisi Shawl, Crystal Connor, Linda Addison, and Sumiko Saulson

Friday, February 14, 2020 (Free!)

San Francisco Public Library, Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin Street, 12-5pm

12:00 pm     Registration

12:30 pm     Welcome Speech by Linda Addison

12:45 pm     Remembering and Honoring Our Elders Past

1:15 pm       Narrowing the Digital Divide

2:15 pm       San Francisco Pioneer Awards

2:45 pm       Beyond Us: Black Minds in Horror Short Preview

3:15 pm       Dollars to Diversity: Hollywood’s New Black Blockbusters

4:15 pm       Meet the Authors! Book Signing and Book Chat with

Saturday, February 15, 2020 (Free!)

Melrose Branch, Oakland Public Library, 4805 Foothill Boulevard, 2-5pm

2:00 pm       Welcome Speech by Nisi Shawl

2:15 pm       Creating Diverse Sci-Fi & Horror Characters and Worlds (Nisi Shawl)

3:00 pm       So You Want To Be a Rapper or a Rock n Roll Star? (Rappin 4-Tay)

3:45 pm       Krishna Awards for Black Excellence in Multimedia

4:45 pm       Closing Statements by Crystal Connor

Sunday, February 16, 2020 (Free!)

Marcus Books, 3900 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Oakland, CA, 1-2pm

1:00-2:00 pm         Scary Sisters Horror Book Chat and Signing Event with Bram Stoker Award Winner Linda Addison, Nisi Shawl, Crystal Connor, and Sumiko Saulson

 

Sunday, February 16, 2020

81st Avenue Branch, Oakland Public Library, 1021 81st Avenue, 2-5 pm

Kids 12 and Under

2:00-5:00 pm         Art Circle: Afrocentric Coloring Time!

PG-13

2:00 pm       Welcome Speech by Amy Holloway

2:15 pm       Why Do People Tell Stories about Monsters?

3:00 pm       Making Beautiful Music, Movies, and Books

3:45 pm       Beyond Us Short Film Festival & Talk

4:45pm        Closing Remarks by Kevin E. Myrick

Pride at the AAMMC! Sunday, February 16, 2020

Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, 3207 Lakeshore Avenue

3:00 pm       Reframing the Other – Writing the Other for Black and Queer Authors (Nisi Shawl, Sumiko Saulson)

3:45 pm       Writing While Black, Queer Edition: (Sumiko Saulson, Nisi Shawl)

Pride at the AAMMC! Monday, February 17, 2020

Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, 3207 Lakeshore Avenue

3:00 pm       A Nu Way: Creating Magical Melanated Spiritual & Safe Spaces (Hosted by Irene McCalphin)

3:45 pm       Manifesting from the Margins (Hosted by Irene McCalphin)


Self-Publishing – A Three Class Series at Eastmont

By Sumiko Saulson

Eastmont Branch, Oakland Public Library, 7200 Bancroft Avenue, Suite 211

Monday, February 10, 2020, 5-7 pm Preparing Book Interiors

Monday, February 24, 2020, 5-7 pm Exteriors, Covers, and Ads

Black Goth Takeover at Club Vantablack ($10)

Stork Club Oakland 2330 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, California

Saturday, February 8, 2020 at 9:00 pm – 1:30 am
Performances by M-Lamar, Stagefright, Protea and In Retrograde

Beyond Us: Black Minds in Horror ($10 per night)

Artists’ Television Access, 992 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA

Curator & Horror Host Crystal Connor
Sunday, February 17, 2020, 7 pm – 10pm, Special Guest Kevin Craig West

Monday, February 18, 2020, 7 pm -10pm, Special Guest Meosha Bean

Book Review: Buffy, Return to Chaos by Craig Shaw Gardner

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Return to Chaos
Reviewed by Sebastian Grimm

Buffy fans out there who are craving more Buffy, this will be a fair read. Not a masterpiece, but a good tale that flowed okay.

In Buffy universe context: No Spike, no Angel. Oz and Willow are together, as are Zander and Cordelia. Willow is the nerdy, giggly Willow we remember, so that is fun. Giles is Giles.

It seems like a normal time in Sunnydale when Willow and Giles come up with some weird computer program that can spit out possible dangers based upon what I’m not sure. It seems like they feed in past situations and magic book content and get a printout of what evil is coming. Sort of a much-less cooler Weird Science scenario. No Barbie, no missile. A printout. But the printout seems to confuse matters more than help. Meanwhile, an old Druid and his three young nephews, also Druids, come into town.

The three young guys are interesting and provide the Scooby gang with some playmates. Oz is interested in them because they may be able to cure or at least tame his werewolf nature. Zander likes them because they treat him like one of the cool guys he always wants to be. Buffy even gets to experience a little romantic chemistry with one of them. However, I tend to think of all of the guys as one entity. None of them really stood out as his own person. They came as a package deal. Three for the price of one sort of thing. 

The Druids coming to town was an interesting concept. There was never really anything like this in the show. The new vampire “Eric” was interesting but we didn’t see him too much. I wished there was more of him. I found the older Druid uninteresting. He was trying to do this top-secret mission and captures Willow and all, but his whole concept seemed out-dated and rudimentary. 

A side plot where Cordelia is under a vampire’s spell was weird and maybe not needed. Her ex-boyfriend, an undead quarterback who she affectionately refers to as a “muck monster” was odd and had no real resolution. An annoying cheerleader-turned-vamp was so annoying, I almost put the book down a few times. The vampire controlling the vampire (yes, it’s that confusing) could have been also combined with the annoying cheer girl because they were so similar.

There were a few interesting parts when the gang was together, doing what they do and making plans. I also enjoyed a particular spell occurring in the graveyard where Buffy is attacked by growing vines.

Overall, I missed Spike in this book because he could’ve added some much-needed comedy and coolness to the book. 

This is a 3 ☆☆☆ on the scale. For hungry Buffy fans, it will be a watered-down snack between the rewatching of the series. 

Sebastian Grimm signing off.

 

HA Movie Review: Crawl

Jaws meets Gatoroid in Alligator Eco-Terror Film Crawl

By Sumiko Saulson

Beautiful cinematography, over-the-top acting, and bad writing make the action-packed alligator horror-thriller Crawl seem like the bastard love-child of Steven Spielberg and Roger Corman.  Cormaneseque is an adjective coined to describe movies like the campy 2011 SyFy Made-For-TV Movie classic Mega Python vs. GatoroidCrawl manages to successfully blend the high-budget, high tension, fast-paced, action-packed jump scare a minute drama of eco-terror classics of the seventies like the 1975 Steven Spielberg classic Jaws with a decidedly Cormanesque plot.

Lush cinematographic values and convincing creature effects sell this frightening Florida monster masterpiece about giant, bloodthirsty, frighteningly coordinated packs of hungry gators hunting down college athlete Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and her backstage parent and semi-absentee father, Dave (Barry Pepper). While the special effects and camerawork are all on-point, they don’t completely make up for what the movie lacks in storyline and dialogue.

Dave tells his daughter, competitive swimmer Haley, she is an “apex predator, all the way.” The personal tagline resurfaces several times as she dives in and out of increasingly risky situations. Like her father, Haley is an impulsive risk-taker. That is why, when she finds out that Daddy has gone missing in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane, against all reason and sisterly advice, she runs right out there to save dear old Dad.

Haley finds Dad trapped in a flood-devastated basement with giant alligators circling. The basement area is called a crawlspace, and that, along with the creepy crawly critters that are snapping and biting at Dad, serves as inspiration for the title Crawl.

For about the first half an hour, this seems like a regular eco-terror film with normal alligators and everyday heroes. It’s just then that Haley, Dave, and the gators get progressively surreal and badass. At first, it’s just sort of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in Speed badassery, with Haley being Reeves and dear old miraculously still not dead Dad Dave as the Sandra Bullock damsel in distress badass. 

At this point, Sugar, an adorable fluffy family dog played by Cso-Cso, joins the cast.  From here on out, the film becomes a tense contest to see if Haley, the clear star, can escape with Dave and Sugar. We also cringe and wait to see if this adorable pup Sugar or badass, yet Refrigerator-Girl-Vibe-Dad Dave will die in a bold sacrificial act. Unlike the adorable dog, Dave is picking up injuries like Carl on the Walking Dead. The addition of the family dog slightly reduces the Dad-is-doomed cadence of the whole production.

Spoiler Alert… there is a gas station/liquor store robbery occurring during the trapped in the basement crawlspace scene. Without getting into the fate of America’s Dumbest Criminals, let’s just say, there is a speed boat involved in the heist. During the scene where Haley literally outruns alligators to capture the boat, the film escalates into territory so improbable and badass it’s bad, like Jaws 3D. The Jaws 3D level jump-scare to insanely unlikely outrunning of apex predators ration increases exponentially.

 Then, at some point, cinematic magic occurs. The film achieves an off-the-wall, roller coaster ride of improbability for the remainder of the film of such epic proportions that it seems more like the Evil Dead franchise or House in the Woods than a serious horror film. And guess what? Crawl really works as a parody of every eco-terror action-adventure horror ever. At this point, it’s achieved true greatness, where even the preposterous parts are so bad they’re good.  It gets more and more over the top until the Starship Troopers like ending, where you will swear that Haley is a superhero of some kind who stands for apex predator superiority, American ingenuity, truth, justice, and the American Way. Is it pandering? Or is it brilliant satire?

I give it Four of Five Stars 

(If it’s pandering and Five out of Five, if it’s the brilliant satire it at times, appears to be)

 

Guest Blog: Review of The Witch by Ronald Hutton

The Witch Reviewed by John C Adams

This non-fiction book is subtitled ‘A History of Fear from Ancient Times to the Present’.

I first came across the author and historian Ronald Hutton fourteen years ago when he appeared as a guest in ‘Tales from the Green Valley’, a BBC TV show featuring a year-long project to re-establish a working Elizabethan farm in Wales using genuine techniques. He provided good-natured expert analysis of the Christmas traditions of the time, and it was apparent that he really knew his stuff.

Last year, I was delighted to receive a copy of this book as a birthday present from my teenage daughter (make of that what you will). I was intrigued when I realised that the author was the same expert on pagan custom and history I’d enjoyed watching a decade and a half earlier. The starting point in reading my daughter’s gift was therefore that Hutton would demonstrate the same thoroughness of expertise and knowledge here, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The book is divided into three sections – deep perspectives (on global, ancient and shamanic contexts in the history of witchcraft), continental perspectives (including the legacy of the Egyptians, the reception of witches in the Middle Ages and the early modern patchwork including the Shakespearean age) and, finally, a section on British perspectives on witches and their relationship with fairies, Celticity and animals.

It would probably be helpful for me to point out that Hutton’s book is a history of how witches (including shamans and service magicians, so the term here is used for both male and female practitioners) are perceived by the wider societies in which they reside, rather than a history of witchcraft itself. To that end, excellently researched and thoughtfully presented though it is, readers seeking a practical history of how witchcraft has been practised or even a how-to manual would be best advised to seek out other titles. On the other hand, as histories of witches and their treatment go, it is impeccably argued and detailed.

I’m a great believer in academics presenting their findings impartially and being careful to explain objectively the limitations of their sources, be honest about the extent of our current knowledge, and highlight areas where further research would help. This, as well as the diligence of decades of in-depth research, is where Hutton’s strength lies. He gets right down into the detail, lays it out and provides a justified conclusion, all in very cool, precise language which doesn’t force on the reader a particular point of view based on preconceived notions. Not all histories are created equal! Instead, Hutton goes where the facts take him and gives the reader space to reach their own conclusions as they make that journey with him.

For all the research and detail, this was far from being a dry read. It was fascinating and informative, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Enjoy!

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

John C Adams is a reviewer and writer of horror fiction. Souls for the Master is available for free on Smashwords and for 99p on Kindle.

http://johncadams.wix.com/johnadamssf