Odds and Dead Ends: The danger of the future in ‘A Warning to the Curious’ by M. R. James

“May I ask what you intend to do with it next?”

“I’m going to put it back.”

The 1972 Christmas adaptation of the classic M. R. James ghost story, A Warning to the Curious, perfectly captured the unique terror of the story, a terror that was at the heart of most of James’ classics. In the tale, an amateur archaeologist finds himself on the trail of an ancient Anglian crown said to protect the ancient kingdom from invasion, but is pursued by its ghostly protector intent on keeping it hidden. What drives the story is that the past should remain in the past, admired from a distance but never defiled for personal gain, lest destruction be wrought on more than just the individual.

For note, I’m going to discuss the story in detail, so, spoilers ahead. Just a little warning to the curious.

The idea of a ghostly companion isn’t something new; for one such example, Sheridan Le Fanu used a disturbing rendition of a demonic presence in Green Tea, about a man who had his third eye opened to a demon, which takes the shape of a monkey with glowing red eyes that haunts his every waking moment. As James was a great admirer of Le Fanu’s work, and helped compile several volumes of his stories, he would have obviously been aware of this story, and the ghostly companion idea.

For James, however, he uses this device for more than just scaring people. James in his personal life was most at home in the old libraries of Cambridge and Eton, as a medievalist and scholar. He was, for all intents and purposes, very much afraid of radical changes of life, especially through technology and social upheaval. The First World War is said to have affected him tremendously, to hear and know of his students, and friends, dying in the trenches abroad. All of this helps us understand where James comes from when his story puts so much emphasis on maintenance of a status quo, of letting the past lie.

It’s interesting to me that in both the original short story and the BBC adaptation, the main character, Paxton, is going through a period of personal lifestyle change. In the short story he is in the process of moving to Sweden, and spending a last few weeks in England before he follows his belongings abroad. In the BBC version, Paxton has been a clerk for twelve years before his company folded the week before, and he decided to follow up on the story of the Anglian crown as a result of nothing else to do, and nothing left to lose; a chance of making a name for himself. The curiosity in finding an ancient relic, and using it to begin a new life (economically and socially on the screen, as a metaphorical omen of good luck for a new beginning in the original), morphs into Paxton’s eventual undoing.

Even the title spells out the intended meaning of the text; don’t let your curiosity get the better of you. And that in both versions of the text, the re-burial of the crown doesn’t deter the spirit from pursuing Paxton, is further proof that the uncovering of the artifact is not simply a physical defiling of the past, but an endangerment on a larger scale. By removing the crown, there is danger of the shores being invaded, bringing about that social upheaval and radical change that James feared so much. To deter others from doing likewise, and having knock-on effects which negatively influences the wider world, the guardian of the crown must end Paxton’s life. This punishment for curiosity is famously central to H. P. Lovecraft’s stories. Lovecraft would have had the protagonist end up insane, or gods breaking through into our dimension in some way. Lovecraft himself wrote of M R James in many letters and articles, praising him as a master of weird fiction, so the connection between the two writers is certainly there.

In our own days of great social change, with the world going through unprecedented times, the antiquated verse of James’ ghost stories might seem a little stilted. Yet he seemed to express that fear in all of us with the best, that the change overcoming the world might contain some ghosts to be feared. How we choose to take his warning for the world, is up to us, but it seems chilling nonetheless that James was putting into fiction exactly what many people fear will happen if one kicks the hornet’s nest of the past. For an old-fashioned Victorian like James, he wanted the comfort of his history. For any change to happen, we must be prepared to face whatever consequences we unleash.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-If you want more M. R. James, here’s a link to an article I did a few years ago, comparing the device of very literal ‘deadlines’ in James’ Casting The Runes and Koji Suzuki’s novel, Ring: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2018/08/06/odds-and-dead-ends-analysis-of-casting-the-runes-and-ring/

Paranormal/ Hauntings Month: The Old Charlseton Jail by Violet Tempest

 

Excerpt from: Legends of Old by Violet Tempest

The Old Charleston Jail, located at 21 Magazine Street, Charleston, SC is well known to locals as being haunted. Some refuse to go near this structure while thrill seekers buy tickets from Bulldog Tours for guided tours. The long history of this jail does give creditability to its many hauntings. Having been used as a prison for over 200 years there was a great deal of suffering that occurred on the grounds and in the cells. (pg. 72)

My personal experience of the tour and afterward:

When our daughter was eleven years old, my husband and I decided it would be fun to start a Halloween tradition of going on a different Ghost Tour in Charleston, SC every year. These would allow us to spend time as a family and introduce our daughter to Lowcountry History.

The area goes back to 1670 when settlers landed on the shores of the Cooper River, founding what is now known as Charlestown Landing. Our first tour was a family friendly tour of the old churches and graveyards in Downtown Charleston.

Two years later we decided to take it up a notch. That’s when we took The Haunted Jail Tour.

By this time our daughter was familiar with the lore of the area, and like us she found the old tales intriguing. Little did we know that the tour would change our views on ghost tours.

We booked a tour for the Saturday before Halloween of 2008. It was chilly evening, and the tour didn’t start until after dark. WE made an event of it, like we had done in the past. Going out to dinner, and our daughter invited her best friend to go with us. The four of us were looking forward to a fun spooky filled evening.

We arrived at the Old Jail with about 20 minutes to spare, so we, along with others who were arriving for the tour, had to stand outside while the tour in progress finished up. Standing on the sidewalk we could hear an occasional loud bang followed by a scream or two. The girls moved to the sidewalk opposite the street, and we weren’t too far behind them. Even across the street we could feel the heavy despair that hung around the old building and grounds.

Finally, the tour ended, and it was time for us to take ours. Friendly, joking banter floated around as strangers teased one another. Nothing that anyone in the group took seriously. I mean, everyone knows the noises on these tours are false.

Right?

Before we could enter, we were told the rules; the most important was to stay together, no one was to wander off. Then the tour began. Standing outside the front entrance our tour guide told us that what is now known as the old jail started out in a hospital for the homeless and other impoverished people.

Years later, in 1802 that building was torn down and replaced with the building that currently stands. Over the years the building that was designed to hold 128 prisoners would at times have so many occupants that there was standing room only. Not only inside, but outside as well. The grounds would be packed with barely enough room for the prisoners to move, and men and women were placed together. They did not separate them.

As you can imagine, the conditions created disease, and many died before they were released. The city kept a body cart on the property where the dead bodies were stacked on top of one another.

When the cart was full, it was then driven to the river, and the bodies dumped. Our guide said that there were many times the bodies piled up before they decayed and so another site, further down the river, would have to be used. Her words painted a vivid image and my flesh crawled as my mind carried me back to that time.

That wasn’t the end of the horror she painted for us.

We followed her inside, and she showed us the shackles that are still on the walls. The torture devise varied from room to room. Our guide told us how the prisoners who were considered the worst of the Charleston population were tortured, shackled, and starved.

Next, we went up the narrow staircase and saw the huge rooms where,  in the winter there wasn’t any heat nor, of course, in the summer any air conditioning.

The criminals weren’t shown any kindness.

These harsh conditions made it almost impossible to survive. It is approximated that by the time the jail closed in 1939 over 10,000 people died on the property.

It was in the last room where we heard the tale of Lavina Fisher, according to legend she’s the country’s first female serial killer. And yes, while we were in the room a loud bang sounded out. Where exactly it came from I cannot say. The sound echoed all around us. Now, even though I have experienced the unexplained since I was a small child, I was skeptical.

“But surely it was Lavina?” some may be asking. I do not know. Personally, I feel it was all sound effects the tour company added to give their customers a thrill. I can tell you the despair that bore down on us before we started the tour did not leave me. There were times that it felt like someone was behind me, but when I looked no one was there. Other times a cold reached my bones that wasn’t from the chilly autumn air.

Throughout the whole tour I couldn’t shake the feeling of evil all around me.

No one was injured on the tour, and everyone took plenty of pictures. Nothing unusual showed in ours and driving away we talked about the history that we had learned that night. Little did we know that our experience with the old jail was far from over.

Over the next year our daughter and I could not shake the feeling of something watching us at all times. Even in our sleep. After a couple of months things progressed. Our daughter began staying in her room all the time and was always sleepy and moody. We chalked it up to her becoming a teenager, even though that didn’t squelch our concerns.

Then she started showing me her sketches. They were full of an evil crawling out of the darkness of her closest. It wasn’t until one night while she stayed with a friend that I discovered what was really happening to her.

My dear husband snores, and when I say snore I mean shake the walls snore. So that night I was awoken by what can only be called an Earth-Shattering Rumble, I went down to her room and crawled into her empty bed. The snoring was tolerable down there, and I eventually fell back asleep. How long I was asleep I do not know. But while I lay there on my right side, under her comforter, deep asleep,  I felt something jump on the bed, placing hands and feet on either side of me, startling me awake.

At first I thought it was our dog, and I turned to pet her and get her to snuggle up beside me.

What I saw was not our dog.

From the streetlight that peeked through the curtains, I could make out the thing on my daughter’s bed straddling me was a deep, dark, green. Its skin was slimy in appearance. Its squished face did not have a nose, but instead two slits located where one should’ve been. Two glowing red embers for eyes, and a thin, toad-like mouth. When it saw me, those lips pulled back in a snarl showing me sharp, pointy, yellow teeth.

That snarl told me it was not expecting me to be there. It raised its thin right arm and swung claws like a big cat at me.

I jumped from the bed. My muscles quivering, my heart pounding.

“How dare you! You meant to attack my daughter!” I said. The creature jumped down off the bed, and with a laugh that was full of evil, made its way toward me. I did the only thing I could think of.

I stood there in the room, shaking my head, anger filling every pore of my body. “No! You will not get away with this.”

I placed my right palm in the air, toward the ceiling, toward the universe. With my left hand I pointed at the creature and with every fiber of my being I said the only thing I could think of.

“I call on the power of the one who created me. I call upon the power of the supreme one to send you back to the depths of Hell from which you came from!”

As those words left my lips, I felt a warm energy enter my right palm, surge down my arm, through my core, before shooting out my left arm. A bright blue beam shown from my left hand.

The creature’s eyes grew big. Its slimy face filled with fear as its mouth opened in a silent scream. Then it was gone, and I was left standing alone in the center of my daughter’s room.

Looking around, I realized what had happened. A demon had come to attack my daughter and to its surprise found me instead. My heart felt like it was going to beat its way out of my chest, and my body trembled as fear started to take the place of anger. Finally satisfied it was gone, at least for the night, I turned and walked quickly back to our bed where my husband was still sound asleep, his snores now a sound of comfort. I slid back under our covers and laid there the rest of the night.

Sleep did not return.

Come morning, I got up and went back into the room. The bed was still a mess like I’d left it and in the light of day, the previous night’s experience seemed unreal. My mind quickly brought up the images of my daughter’s sketches and I knew that thing had been after her. And I also knew where it had come from.

For some reason it latched on to us at the jail. Coming home with us; a sort of supernatural souvenir.

I talked to my daughter and husband about what happened that night and that’s when we found out the creature had been terrorizing her. It had thrown her clothes across the room. Even lifted her up and spun her around. I told her what I had done, and that I hoped that took care of it.

She changed rooms to what was the spare room. Who could blame her?

Never again has the creature made an appearance and no longer do we feel like something is watching us from the shadows. I will tell you this, The Old Charleston Jail is one place I refuse to go back to.

If you decide to take the tour remember this, there’s no telling what souvenir you will end up with.

To learn more about The Old Charleston City Jail and other South Carolina Lowcountry legends read Legends of Old by Violet Tempest with Bonus Feature section with short stories never before published.

Available as Kindle Unlimited, eBook, and paperback on Amazon.com. Click link above to purchase.

Logbook of Terror: Ruins Of Castle Rocca Sparviera!

The ruins of Castle Rocca Sparviera!

After a frightful and dreary travel in which I mistakenly visited the wrong location and was chased from a decaying castle by the rotted corpses of a mob of re-animated skeletons, I finally arrived at my destination: the ruins of Castle Rocca Sparviera. A chilly night had fallen and a storm brewed overhead, hiding the moon and stars behind layers of thick, foreboding clouds. Thunder cracked nearby and with only the light of my electric lantern to guide me, I set out to explore the ruins. 

I walked the perimeter of the formerly grand castle, treading carefully over rocks and desolate mountain terrain, wondering what lonely spirits might be left wandering these hills. After hiking to what seemed to be the edge of the property, I turned and strolled along the inner side of a disintegrating wall. After several minutes I halted to take stock of my surroundings and, up ahead, saw a spot of soft light swaying in the darkness. Could it be a fellow explorer making camp and a fire for the night? I hurried on my way to find out. 

Upon drawing closer, I saw that the light was pouring out through a doorway in another crumbling wall. I stepped through and found myself in a great dining hall. My head swam in disbelief, for the hall and all its contents were in pristine condition. The stone walls and floor were clean, polished, and intact. High wooden beams secured the solid ceiling and the entire room was alight with the soft glow of a myriad of candles. The luscious aroma of fresh cooked meat, bread, and vegetables drew my eyes to the huge table in the center of the room. A disembodied voice called out to me, welcoming me home, inviting me to feast. The ghostly voice spoke in French, a tongue completely foreign to me, yet I understood the voice’s every word.  

Smiling guests materialized around the massive banquet table, their regal clothes in tatters and covered in dust and cobwebs. Their gray skin was spotted with deep holes, from which worms wiggled in and out, and blood and pus trickled in rivulets over decaying flesh. With loud, hollow voices the dinner guests beseeched me to join them. Entranced, I approached the table. 

Thunder crashed over the high ceiling. A fierce flash of lightning lit up the table and I saw before me, two children, their flesh roasted, their small bodies chopped in pieces and placed carefully on garish silver platters. Their heads were intact. The two dead little girls turned their eyes to me. Help us! Help us! They pleaded. 

Lightning and thunder exploded. Rain poured from the ceiling. The pieces of the children joined and melded together, forming the hacked children into morbid wholes. Once reformed, they rolled off the great table and crawled toward me. The dinner guests sang a church hymn while their bodies melted in the rain. I felt the children’s small, dead hands grasp my ankles. Feast with us! They screamed at me. Feast with us! Their small eyes burned bright red with horror. I gasped. Shocked out of my trance, I broke the children’s hold and ran. 

Once out of the banquet hall, I ran to the path at the edge of the property. There, I saw a woman in royal dress. She stood upon a large rock. Tears stained her face. She held her arms high and screamed a curse into the night. I felt a sudden surge of heat behind me. Turning, I witnessed what surely could not have been: a fully intact castle engulfed in flames of grief and fury which were so intense, not even the deluge of rain could quench their angry burn. The royal woman turned her fierce eyes on me. I knew at once –it was Queen Jeanne! With terror in heart, lantern in hand, and my satchel over my shoulder, I sprinted away down the mountain, desperately hoping to outrun the curse that the queen was casting. 

I do not know how long I ran. Dawn seemed to arrive without warning and I was back on a road with the warm sun drying my sopping clothes. Not far into the morning I was able to secure transport with some locals who were en route to a nearby village. They spoke clear English and we began to converse. When I remarked on the previous night’s storm their faces turned grim. They inquired if I had been at the ruins during the night. I confirmed that I had. The driver shook her head and said that the region had seen no rain for over a week. The driver’s companion held up her left hand. Her skin was maligned, covered in burn scars. She said that she too had seen the queen, apparently too closely. 

After the kind couple dropped me off, I acquired proper food and lodging. I have resolved to stay in this quaint and pleasant country village until I receive my next assignment. The past several nights have been difficult. Sleep eludes me, for whenever I close my eyes, I see those of the dead children staring up at me.

Haunt Jaunts: Monster-Mania Con Exorcist Bus Tour

Among the horror fests listed for October on Haunt Jaunts Paracons & Horror Fests page is Monster-Mania Con, which happens October 4-6, 2019 in Hunt Valley, Maryland. Their tagline is “Meet Horror’s Hottest Stars.”  And they’re not kidding.

The Celebrity Lineup

Stars you can meet and have your photo taken with include:

  • Bruce Campbell from Evil Dead 1 & 2, Ash vs. Evil Dead, and Army of Darkness.
  • The Scream Cast Reunion – Neve Campbell, Matthew Lillard, Jamie Kennedy, and Roger Jackson (the voice of “Ghostface” will be there.
  • Stars from Stanley Kubrick’s The ShiningLisa and Louise Burns (a.k.a. the “Grady Twins”), Danny Llyod (“Danny Torrance”), and Lia Beldam (“Woman in 237”)
  •  Virginia Madsen and Tony ToddCandyman.
  • Halloween Movie Franchise Stars – Danielle Harris (who has also appeared in other horror films), and Sandy Johnson (“Judith Myers,” Halloween ’78), James Jude Courtney (“Michael Myers,” Halloween ’18)

These are just some of them. There are a lot more, all of which can be found on Monster-Mania Con’s Guests page.

But in addition to seeing celebs, watching horror movies and shopping the vendors, Monster-Mania Con also offered a bus tour.

The Exorcist Tour

Monster-Mania Con The Exorcist Tour logo

I say “offered” because it’s sold out, but it’s still worth writing about because what a great idea for a tour, right?

Here’s what lucky tour goers can expect:

  • Includes a visit to the famous The Exorcist Steps, House and also the famous Tombs Restaurant, which was featured in the film.
  • The movie will be shown on the bus during the tour.
  • The bus is equipped with bathrooms and heat/air conditioning to keep everyone comfortable.

Check-In?

Do you go to horror cons?

Do you have a favorite horror movie or horror celeb? If it’s not The Exorcist, which movie do you wish there was a tour to see the sites for?

Logbook of Terror: Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House

More than any other human invention, I find firearms to be the most tragic, heinous, and unnecessary. Yet I found myself walking the halls of a mansion built with the blood money earned from the sale of untold thousands, perhaps millions, of the life-taking invention known as the Winchester rifle. A yawn escaped my mouth as the tour guide expounded upon the lavish architecture which surrounded the small group of which I was a part. Terminally bored and feeling that I could fare better on my own, I walked away to explore. 

First a left turn, then a right, then another left, another left, and a quick jaunt down a hallway full of windows that looked into more interior spaces. Alone with my thoughts, I indulged my personal scorn for automated weapons of all ilk while I followed one twisting and winding passageway after another until I had absolutely no clue as to where I was. I told myself not to worry, turned around, and went back the way I’d come, all the while listening intently for the voice of the tour guide, or the voices of the tour group to hopefully guide me along. Every turn led to another turn which led to another turn. Then, I saw a door ahead which looked familiar. Feeling heartened, I hastened to it and swung it open. Behind the door stood another door. I opened the second door to find yet a third, which opened onto a brick wall. Confounded, I closed the doors and made another attempt to find my way back to my starting point. A nervous fear set in, a sinking dread that I would be lost in this house and become stranded alone once business had ceased for the day. But, then I heard them: low murmurs, voices from somewhere nearby. My fear lessened. With stealth, I followed the sound in hopes to be led to the tour group. 

As I approached a closed door, I could clearly tell that the voices were just on the other side. Believing my troubles to be over, I opened the door and crossed the threshold into a dimly lit room. Two women sat at a round table in the center of the room, an oil lamp burning between them. Upon my entrance, one of the women –an elderly lady in solid black clothing, with a shock of unkempt white hair and wrinkled skin- looked up in my direction. The lamp light illuminated the woman’s eyes, of which only the whites were visible. She shook in her chair, announcing that the spirits were among them. The other woman demanded to know what the spirits wanted. I calmly told the elderly one that I was most certainly alive, not a phantasm as she claimed. She told the other woman that I wanted revenge for the deaths of my people. I protested and denied any desire whatsoever for vengeance of any sort, telling the woman that I was simply lost and looking for my tour group. The old hag explained to her companion that I was doomed to wander the halls of the mansion for all of eternity and that she must construct more halls for me to walk. Then it struck me –I must have happened upon a dramatic scene intended for the tour! I smiled to myself as I went to the room’s door, which seemed to have closed on its own, probably due to a wind or an old, uneven floor. I grasped the doorknob and turned. It was stuck. I jiggled the handle and pulled at the door. It did not budge. I glanced back at the two women. They sat closer to one another, staring at me, their hands intertwined. I slammed my hand on the door and yelled to be let out of the room. The women jumped in their seats. The elder shouted at me to leave at once. I told her I was trying but the door was stuck. Again she commanded me to begone. Frightened and frustrated, I returned her shouts with screams of my own. The women shrieked and huddled together. I cursed aloud and desperately twisted the doorknob in the opposite direction. The door latch clicked and the door swung open with a great gust of wind. The two ladies howled in fright. Just before I walked out, I looked back at the table to see it deserted and the room cloaked in gloom. I shuddered and tripped over my own feet as I hurried down the hall.

For what felt like ages I wandered twisting and turning corridors and passages. Daylight was fading. My heart raced. There had to be a way out of this dreadful house! I turned down yet another unfamiliar passageway and noted the scent of sawdust lingering in the air. The faint sound of a hammer on nails floated to me. I followed the sound to another door. I flung the door open. Entering an unfinished room, the ambient noise of heavy construction assaulted me. I held my ears and fell back out into the hallway. A gunshot rang out, its sharp report shattering my nerves. Another shot exploded at my back and echoed down the hall. I pitched forward and ran. A thousand invisible hammers beat on the wooden walls, the sound enveloping me, ripping at my eardrums and sending waves of pain through me. Hammers and guns escalated in their violence and intensity, creating a mad symphony that threatened to crush my skull. Peals of laughter joined the cacophony. I fell to my knees, screaming for the noise to cease. Blood began to flow from my ears. Please, please stop! I begged. The reverberations only increased and were joined by the sounds of sawing, sanding, and scraping. I struggled to my feet and stumbled down the corridor. A man’s coughing, the sound of someone taken violently ill, came from a room to my right. I looked and saw a middle-aged man, prostrate in a large bed, coughing up what appeared to be pint upon pint of dark, heavy blood. A doctor and a nurse attended the man while the younger woman from the previous room sat by the bed and wept. My skin crawled. I lurched down the hall and fell down a flight of stairs. 

My screams bounced off the stairwell walls. When I stopped tumbling, I opened my eyes. The tour group was gathered around me, eyeing me with curious stares. The tour guide knelt at my side and informed me that I must have fainted from the heat. After being helped to my feet I saw that I was still in the same room in which the tour had begun. It appeared that I had never left the group after all. The tour guide explained to the group that only the very weakest and worst guests fainted. A woman to my left suggested that they ought to simply shoot me so as to make for certain that I wouldn’t ruin any more of the tour. A hearty round of agreement sounded among them, and they all drew their rifles on me. The tour guide instructed the group to fire on her command. I pleaded to be spared. They laughed. The tour guide yelled, Fire! An explosion of gunfire filled the air. My body came apart in a hail of bullets. Blood showered the smiling faces of the tour group. My limbs fell from my body, severed by the storm of ammunition. I felt bullets enter my brain and erase all of my memories and thoughts, the last of which was, why didn’t I call my mother and tell her I loved her when I still had the chance.

I woke up screaming, still in the rocking chair on the Winchester Mansion’s front porch where I had decided to sit down and wait until the tour began. The guide walked out onto the porch and announced that the tour would begin momentarily. I lept from the chair and ran for my life, never considering looking back at that accursed abode. 

Logbook of Terror: Alloa Tower

Alloa Tower, Scotland

Why do I always seem to end up being chased by the ghosts of dead children? What did I ever do to them to deserve their seemingly endless scorn? Perhaps because I often end up at their haunting grounds? Whatever the reason may be, I hadn’t any time for further contemplation. On that terrifying night in Scotland at the fearful Alloa Tower, all I could do was run for my life.

After taking the official tour and listening to the tour guide’s tales of the Curse of Alloa Tower and its accompanying paranormal legacy, I was left to my own devices and I wandered the grounds aimlessly, soaking up the eerie atmosphere. I was having such a relaxing evening that I began to think that the grounds might not be cursed or haunted after all. However, when I stumbled upon the dungeon, the curse, in fact, became all too real. 

The dungeon was awash in the soft light of candles on each wall. Shadows played on the ceiling, distorting my view of the room. A cold breeze whispered over my shoulders. The hairs on the nape of my neck stood on end. I shuffled backward to leave the dungeon and collided with something soft. I spun ‘round. Before me was a monk in tattered black robes, hovering several feet off the floor, his face hidden in the darkness cast by the hood of his robe. He pointed a rotted, decayed finger at me. A voice bellowed forth from the figure. The words swirled around me, echoing off the chamber walls in ancient Latin. The dark monk floated toward me, pointing and chanting. I ducked and ran around his side, exiting the room through the arched doorway from whence I had entered, and bolted up the stairs.

The stairs emptied out into a long, pitch-black hallway. Was this the way I’d followed to the dungeon? Peering deep into the darkness, a dim light appeared at what I thought to be the end of the hallway. Cautiously, I held out my hands and walked forward. The light began to grow larger and brighter as I advanced. Perhaps it was someone with a flashlight or a lamp? Then, I saw the light quiver and wave. And then I heard it: horrid feminine shrieks of agony screaming forth from the flames. Then there were footfalls. And again: the light -shining brighter than ever, smashing through the dark, making everything all too clear with an overwhelming suddenness that threatened to shatter my sanity. With arms outstretched, a burning woman hurled herself down the hall, faster than I had ever seen any human move. Having only the dungeon stairs at my back and the woman ahead, I feared this was my doom, and that I would perish in agonizing, phantasmal flames. Closing my eyes, I pressed myself tight against the wall and waited for the end. A blazing wave of heat swept past me. My heart stopped. I opened my eyes to see the burning woman descending the dungeon stairs. Torturous screams and cries erupted from within the dungeon, flying up the stairs and filling the hallway. I was spared! I turned away from the dungeon and fled. 

As I ran further down the corridor, the screams from the dungeon were soon replaced by the sound of pounding hooves. Beating out a rhythm on the stone floor, closer and closer they came, until they were right on my heels. My foot caught on an uneven stone. My body pitched forward and I crashed to the floor. Instinctively, I threw my arms over the back of my head. The ghostly steeds passed over my trembling body and the sounds of hooves, neighing, and snorting faded into the all-consuming darkness of the hallway. Gathering my wits, I got to my feet and pressed on. I had to find a way out of this dreadful passage. 

I felt my way along the stone wall, placing my footfalls with care. My hands slipped, I fell into an open space, and I was engulfed in dismal, horrible black. No sight, only the dank smell of the centuries old structure accompanied by the sound of my own short, rapid breaths. Then, three tiny dots appeared, hovering before me. The dots grew into shining orbs, illuminating the surroundings. 

I stood in the center of a large room which may have been the great hall at one time. The orbs bobbed up and down and then floated away toward a towering, arched doorway. Perhaps a way out! My heart pounded and my mind gave thanks to these mysterious new friends who were leading me to safety. I followed the floating orbs through the doorway. 

We passed through the doorway and walked along another corridor. After turning a corner and entering another room, the orbs began to grow and change shape. As they danced and jittered and pushed and pulled at their form, something else began to grow out of the stone floor. Miserable cries bounced off the stone walls, coming from a man growing out of the floor. He wore the pitch-black abbot’s robe and glared at me with sinister blood-red eyes. The morphing orbs cast an eerie white glow over the risen clergyman, who towered above me. A scepter grew out of the palm of his right hand. Blood dripped from a large crystal attached to the end. He pointed at me and recited his famous curse. Reasoning that he must think I was the Earl, I knew that I had to make a hasty escape lest the curse befall me. Quickly, I backed away. Noting the light in my peripheral vision, I turned toward it.  Where the orbs had been there were now three ghastly children, dressed in regal splendor, glowing, a pale white luminescence emanating from their bodies. They screamed and ran at me. 

I ran with the cries of the children spurning me on, fleeing down hallways, twisting, turning, hurling through dark, empty spaces until by some miracle I spilled out of the tower and collapsed in its surrounding yard. The ghost children were nowhere in sight, nor was the abbot or the monk or the burning woman or the horses with their hooves of hell. I was alone. The night was silent. I gazed up at the tower. Feeling as if I’d run for miles upon miles, I pondered how so many rooms, and the labyrinthine passageways, could possibly be contained in such a structure the size of which I saw. There was only one answer: they could not. Unless… 

No. No, no, no, no! I could not ponder the possibilities or the depth of the dark magic that the abbot left on these grounds when he shouted forth his curse. With all my remaining strength I left the grounds to seek residence for the remainder of the night. In all my days, I pray that I never return to this cursed abode. 

Odds and Dead Ends : Scaring Ourselves Silly | Monsters and the Uncanny Valley

We all love a good monster. Be it Godzilla or King Kong, werewolves or cenobites, we can’t get enough of them. Guillermo Del Toro has made a living out of them, and nobody in their right mind would begrudge him that. But when we think of being scared, perhaps what touches the nerves more than anything else are not the big, lumbering beasts towering above us. It’s those fiends that come close to being human, just one step away from actually being us.

This concept is known in the field of robotics as the ‘uncanny valley’. Coined initially by Masahiro Mori, the basic idea of it is that there is a distinct, graph-able curve in people’s emotional responses to the verisimilitude of a robot to people. Essentially, when you start to make a robot look like a person, people view it more favourably. Then, suddenly, as you keep going, there’s a point where it’s not completely robotic, but not completely human, and it’s in this stage when we have a strong feeling of revulsion or disgust. When it gets close to being indistinguishable from us, it becomes so lifelike that we view it favourably again. This dip into disgust is the uncanny valley.

The theory of the uncanny itself was used by Sigmund Freud in his 1919 essay The Uncanny as a way to explain why we’re so creeped out by dolls and waxwork figures and the likes. He goes back to the original German for uncanny, unheimlich, and its roots in the word heimlich which roughly means to conceal or hide. He proposes that we find something uncanny because it is a revealing of social taboos and ideas which we try to hide in everyday life. This eventually gets linked on to concepts of the id and the subconscious, which is really the subject for another article altogether.

But what does all of this mean for our monsters? How can we link these concepts together in a way that impacts our understanding of our favourite horror villains?

Well perhaps this doesn’t apply for the big Kaiju as such, but maybe it helps explain why we’re still chilled by vampires, ghosts, and ghouls. The brain sees their general shape and recognises them as human, or at least, very human-like. Yet there’s always something just a little bit off, be it the pallor of their skin, or the sharp claws or teeth, which sets them apart and makes them disturbing to us. Going back to Del Toro, think of The Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth. He’s got a recognisably human shape (based off Saturn in the painting Saturn Devouring His Sun by Francisco Goya), but with the skin stretched over the frame, the nostrils flared with no bridge, claw-like talons, and eyes in his hands. He’s started off human but been warped.

Even cursed or possessed dolls have something off about them; the animation of a human avatar is almost the very concept of the uncanny valley, with the robot being substituted for a doll, but the basic principle remaining. Toys are essentially us, preserved in miniature, and when they rise up against us, the human part of their design strikes a chord with us.

This is perhaps why we find masked killers a distressing concept. The shape is human, and the mask is human-like, but it doesn’t change, and as humans learn to see the face as the main projector of emotion when it doesn’t alter during extreme acts of violence, we slip down the slope of the valley. Masks such as those belonging to Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers, fairly blank and devoid of emotion, would, therefore, represent something uncanny. Also very often the mask represents a demon or spirit (thinking of films such as Onibaba or Scream) which conjures up concepts of possession by an unseen force. This might explain why we’re so focused on the killer’s mask in these films, because they are themselves imbued with that uncanny quality which makes them memorable beyond the killer behind them.

Think of the Scream franchise, where the mask comes to represent something much deeper, a force of evil in itself. When you see someone without the mask, they’re normal, but as soon as the face is obscured, they become terrifying, a body for the murderous will of the mask. And the mask and the murderous intent has the power to transfer its ownership from one person to another, like a spirit darting in and out of its possessed victims. Even think of the numerous killers that take on Jigsaw’s role in the Saw films. As soon as you come into possession of Billy, leading the charge of the traps, you become Jigsaw, the embodiment of John Kramer and his will to put people to the test of their drive to survive. We dip from being too human to being something slightly removed.

The idea of the uncanny valley even feeds into ghosts. Think of Kayako and Toshio from the Ju-on films. Though it sounds funny, how many of us were deeply disturbed when Toshio, a pale little boy, opened his mouth and meowed? When Kayako came crawling down the stairs, her throat croaking like a door very slowly opening? This concept of uncanniness transfers over to the sounds we make, affecting us when someone’s voice is not what it should be. This is something obviously well known to anyone who has watched The Exorcist in their time.

And so whilst the big monsters from The Ritual and Cloverfield might scare us, they don’t get anywhere close to instilling that distinct feeling of unease which those humanoid villains which nestle in the uncanny valley have the ability to do. When vampires flash their fangs, with blood in their eyes, we see something hiding inside the human form. When we see Schwarzenegger doing his own repairs in The Terminator, we find lines between humanity and inhumanity blurred. From now on, he looks just like us, but we know he isn’t.

And when we transfer over to imitation narratives such as The Thing or The Body Snatchers, suddenly we’re even more scared, because any one of us could be them. Now the uncanny transfers into paranoia, and we have to rely on looking out for the uncanny to alert us to danger. We have to fall back on something terrifying to keep us calm. In a way, we hope for something uncanny to confirm our fears. And that, more than anything, is scary.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: KJudgeMental

Bibliography

Cloverfield. 2007. [Film] Directed by Matt Reeves. USA: Bad Robot.

Finney, J., 2010. The Body Snatchers. Great Britain: Orion Publishing.

Freud, S., McLintock, D. & Haughton, H., 2003. The Uncanny. New York: Penguin Books.

Friday the 13th. 1980. [Film] Directed by Sean S. Cunningham. Unites States of America: Georgetown Productions Inc.

Godzilla. 1954. [Film] Directed by Ishiro Honda. Japan: Toho.

Goya, F., 1819 – 1823. Saturn Devouring His Son. [Art] (Museo del Prado).

Halloween. 1978. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Falcon International Productions.

John Carpenter’s The Thing. 1982. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Universal Studios.

Ju-On: The Grudge. 2002. [Film] Directed by Takashi Shimizu. Japan: Pioneer LDC.

King Kong. 1933. [Film] Directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack. USA: RKO Pictures Inc..

Onibaba. 1964. [Film] Directed by Kaneto Shindo. Japan: Kindai Eiga Kyokai.

Pan’s Labyrinth. 2006. [Film] Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Spain: Telecinco Cinema.

Saw. 2004. [Film] Directed by James Wan. USA: Twisted Pictures.

Scream. 1996. [Film] Directed by Wes Craven. United States: Dimension Films.

The Exorcist. 1973. [Film] Directed by William Friedkin. USA: Hoya Productions.

The Ritual. 2017. [Film] Directed by David Bruckner. UK: The Imaginarium.

The Terminator. 1984. [Film] Directed by James Cameron. United States of America: Hemdale.

 

Logbook of Terror : Doll Island

A fictional representation of a real Cursed Location – Doll Island

I never should have taken the doll down from that twisted, blackened tree. I wish to heaven that I’d left its decayed, plastic corpse where I’d found it. But I’d promised my dear niece Tabitha a truly unique character to add to her growing collection of morbid and obscene figurines, and I would be damned if I was going to leave this cursed island without it. Taking a doll, just one of hundreds of thousands, seemed an innocent offense. I assumed that surely no one would notice its absence. Alas, I had been wrong… Dreadfully wrong.

The tourist group was easy to break away from. I waited in the shadows of a dense grove of tangled trees, observing until the last ferry boat had returned empty and the employees were gone for the night. Apparently, not even a single one of the workers had the courage to stay on the island after dark. When the last failing rays of sunlight gave way to the deep purple glow of sunset, I left my hiding spot and walked among the dolls. Thousands of eyes of every color and type stared at me, tracing my every footstep. Vegetation rustled beneath my shoes. Insects sang and welcomed the oncoming night. I breathed in the humid air, the odors of age and neglect, of rot and decay, that floated around me. A voice whispered behind me, high-pitched, like a whistling in the wind. I stopped. I shuddered. My eyes darted back and forth. Smiling doll faces, half-melted and faded by the sun, glared back at me. Cold fear slithered down my spine. Hairs rose along my neck. High, hollow laughter echoed through the trees.

I quickened my pace. I had to find a suitably awful doll and escape this place before I ended up in the trees myself.

In the steadily increasing dark, I rounded a curve and walked along the edge of the canal. Another laugh flitted through the air. I froze and looked into the trees. There, above me, I saw her: a most wretched, withered dolly hanging just within arm’s reach. Thin blonde hair covered in green mold, weaved itself over a grime-covered, cherubic face. A tattered and faded pink dress clung to the doll’s body. Her eyes pierced my heart with their cold stare. It was then that I knew. She was the one. Tabitha would surly adore her!

Retrieving the dolly from the tree proved to be as easy as I’d hoped. The twine holding the toy in place practically disintegrated in my fingers as I unwound it from the doll’s limbs. Night had fully fallen and I held the doll up, inspecting it in the moonlight. She was wonderfully awful–a truly unholy relic indeed!

After carefully placing her in my roomy satchel, I set out to find shelter for the night, as after a good night’s rest I planned on blending in with the first tour group of the morrow and taking the boat back to Mexico City as if I’d been with them the whole time. Nary had I taken a dozen steps when I heard the sound of quiet splashing among the lilies in the canal.

I stood in place and listened. My mind told me that any creature of the water could have made that sound but my heart told me that it must be something far more sinister. A trickle of sweat broke on my brow. I turned. With eyes wide, I saw her standing atop the lilies–the girl whose legend told of her drowning in the canal so long ago. She pointed a ghostly finger at me. Her black eyes stared like the marble eyes of the dolls. A thin, watery whisper crawled from her throat.

“Llevar a su espalda, ella me pertenece a mí!” The girl floated across the water toward me, her phantasmal form radiating a soft white glow, illuminating the mud, moss, and slime that clung to her tattered dress.

My mind told me to run but my feet would not obey.

“Llevar a su espalda, ella me pertenece a mí,” the girl repeated, her dark eyes fixed on the satchel slung over my shoulder.

Although I needed no translator to know that the girl from the water wanted me to fix the doll back in her resting place among the tangled tree limbs, through my limited Spanish vocabulary I knew that she was saying, “Bring her back, she belongs to me.” However determined as I was to bring a gift home to my adored niece, I would do no such thing.

Fueled by purpose and terror, I ran along the canal. The words of the girl floated on the wind and stung my ears. Still, I did not stop. A feeling of some strange possession came over me, warping my sensibilities. With my feet and heart pounding, my voice wailed in my mind, repeating, “She will never have her back. The doll is mine!” I then determined to commandeer my own vessel and leave the island at once after which point I would trudge back to the city on foot. I had lost all sense of reason. Onward to the docks–like a madman–I ran.

The drowned girl’s voice grew from a singular moan to a choir chanting a miserable command. Voices assailed me from every angle. I saw them in the trees. Small mouths of porcelain and plastic moved in their ghastly cadence. My eyes watered and my skin grew cold.

All the island’s dolls cried out, “¡Traerla, ella nos pertenece a!” Again and again they demanded, “Bring her back, she belongs to us!”

I shrieked at the dolls to cease their infernal wailing. Then, running across a tangle of roots, I lost my footing and crashed to the ground. I writhed about as if one stricken with demons, the rising chant of the dolls’ voices bearing down on me, enveloping me, tearing at my collapsing sanity. Cold, wet hands grasped my collar. The girl from the canal shook me and screeched. Her mouth stretched wide. Fetid brown water–mixed with blood–gushed onto my face, filling my gaping, scream infested mouth. I choked on the vile liquid.

The girl gazed deep into my heart with her pitch black eyes as water rushed from her mouth, pounding onto my face. Instead of splashing off my skin, the water held place and rose as if the girl were submerging me in a body of water.

I cried for mercy. Bubbles floated up through the water. The grim visage of the girl swam above me, fading, becoming murkier by the second. I felt my satchel slip from my shoulder. I sank deeper into the water, the pale moonlight barely visible above. I echoed a final plea for the girl to let me live before the water entered my lungs and my eyes fell shut.

What may have been moments or mere seconds later, an old man was beating on my chest and shouting at me in Spanish. Gasping, I rolled to my side and spewed bitter water from my mouth. I was on the bank of the canal, the full moon shining down. A young boy who carried towels and wore a shocked expression stood at the old man’s side. The old man sighed, shook his head, and helped me to my feet.

After leading me to their hovel, while drinking tea and drying off by the fire, the young boy explained in broken English how he and the old man lived on the island, that they were the keepers of the dolls, and that they had found me face down in the canal, on the verge of drowning. In return, I told them my tale of the girl who had pursued me and of the voices of the dolls which had driven me to the brink of madness. I inquired to the man and the boy if they had my satchel, and that’s its contents were of great import. They simply nodded and told me to try to sleep.

Dawn broke early on the morrow and cast a brilliant, sweeping glow over the island. Although the sun was warm and welcoming, it could not wipe away the previous night’s terrors. I shivered as I followed the old man and his young companion along the path to the docks. While en route, I dared look up into the trees. There the doll sat on her perch among the gnarled limbs, precisely where I had found her the night before. Upon seeing me, her eyes brightened and her lips curled. A faint laugh echoed from her chest and I fell to the ground screaming.

Two days later I regained consciousness in a hospital in Mexico City. I was informed that an old man and his grandson had admitted me and that I had been in a most fearful state, raving about dolls that wanted to kill me and destroy my eternal soul. I had been subdued and placed under watch. The physicians had seen this before and were apparently not surprised.

The next day as I rode the bus out of Mexico City, I vowed to never again trifle with dolls. Although I surely wanted to bring a present home to my dear Tabitha, she would have to grow her collection of foul figurines without my assistance.

 

Odds and Dead Ends : An introduction to the Giallo

Most people have a fair understanding of the classic slasher flick. Made popular by Halloween in 1978, with predecessors including The Town That Dreaded Sundown, Black Christmas, Psycho etc, the idea of killing people off one by one has been immortalised by the formulae refined by films of this type. However, the slasher film is very closely linked to the Giallo (roughly pronounced jea-low), a type of Italian film which was very popular in the sixties and seventies, and bred a slew of filmmakers still admired and imitated today. This article won’t be a comprehensive discussion of the Giallo, as I’m a fan of the genre and not a scholar of it, but it will hopefully provide an introduction to those not aware of it, and give you a couple of movies to add to the ‘to-be-watched’ list.

Originally, gialli were cheap crime paperbacks, a bit like pulp novels, that were printed by Mondadori and trademarked with an instantly recognisable yellow cover. Hence this gave birth to the term Giallo, meaning ‘yellow’. These were mostly translations of Agatha Christie, Edgar Lee Wallace, Arthur Conan Doyle, and other similar authors. It’s important to make a distinction between the types of crime fiction, however. Gialli focused more on the graphic violence and the sleuths, rather than gun-toting noir police work. As Gary Needham says:

The publication of gialli increased throughout the 1930s and 40s, however, the importation and translation of the 1940s “hard-boiled” detective fictions from the US were prohibited from publication outright by Mussolini on the grounds that their corrupting influence and glamorisation of crime would negatively influence “weak-minded” Italians. (Needham, 2002)

Despite some of the restrictions, the Italians began writing their own gialli, and the literature boomed in the ’30s and ’40s. By the late ’50s, it had started to make its way across to film. The main mastermind behind its initial translation to the screen was Mario Bava, a film legend in his own right. After all, it was his film, Black Sabbath, which gave the band their name, who helped invent and pioneer the Heavy Metal genre of music.

Though he made a splash in ’63 with his film The girl who knew too much, it was his 1964 film, Blood and Black Lace, which really kicked things off. Dispensing with the police-procedural elements of previous films, Bava upped the sex and violence, turning the stalking sequences into major set pieces in their own right. Despite being a financial failure at the time, it has gone on to be critically appreciated and influenced dozens of filmmakers after. It set the template of what was to come after. It also introduced the killer in a black coat with black gloves, very much like Jack the Ripper, which would be the usual getup for Giallo killers as time went on.

A few years later, the most influential Giallo filmmaker would take up the mantle. Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage incorporated a twisted, convoluted plotline with stunning visuals that earned him the nickname ‘the Italian Hitchcock.’ The film was an international success, and still has one of my personal favourite twists of all time. He followed this up with Four Flies on Grey Velvet a few years later, and then release one of his masterpieces in 1975, Profondo Rosso (Deep Red).Deep Red Poster

Around the early seventies, Sergio Martino also released films such as Torso, All the colours of the dark, and the incredibly titled, Your vice is a locked room and only I have the key. Lucio Fulci also breaks onto the scene here, directing films such as A lizard in a woman’s skin and Don’t torture a duckling in the early seventies. I’ve already written an article on Fulci here on HorrorAddicts.net, and I’ll include a link to that at the article’s end.

Because of their frequency of production and release at this time, gialli ended up like the Saw films did, with each film trying to out-do the previous in terms of twists and turns. I recall hearing Luigi Cozzi talk about this in relation to when he and Argento were batting around ideas for a film in which someone foresaw their death, then had to try and explain how it happened without psychic powers. The film, Profondo Rosso, was eventually made without Cozzi’s involvement, but he does own a horror memorabilia shop in Italy named after the film.

The gory death sequences continued throughout the seventies, continuing into Argento’s most famous film, Suspiria, which had a remake released last year. The brutal opening death scene with a body crashing through a stain glass window is as in horror history as Johnny Depp’s demise in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, and Goblin’s score for the film is something you find yourself humming walking down the street. Filled with vibrant colours and haunting imagery, it’s still shocking even today.

By the time the eighties came around, however, the Giallo was beginning to fade. Fulci’s return to the genre after doing his Gates of Hell trilogy were fairly laughable (Murder Rock is just funny, and there’s not a person in existence that can’t think of The New York Ripper without saying ‘quack’. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it and you’ll understand what I mean), and Argento has been making movies to this day, but nothing of any real note after the mid-eighties with Phenomena and Opera. The American slasher had taken the spotlight, and even that was, by the late eighties, beginning to run down its original formula.

These films are still influential, however. The film Abrakadabra, released last year by the Onetti Brothers, is a wonderful homage to the giallo, nailing everything from the groove-rock soundtrack to the quick zooms and grainy footage. Gialli are a wonderful time, those made around the late sixties/early seventies especially, as they have their own unique vibe, shooting style, and soundtracks. Unlike the slasher or the ghost story, it’s something that I highly doubt will ever make a proper return, but will stay immortalised as the brilliant pieces of cinema that they are. Sleazy, shocking, suspenseful; the Giallo is one of a kind.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: KJudgeMental

FURTHER READING ON HORRORADDICTS.NET

Bibliography

A Nightmare on Elm Street. 1984. [Film] Directed by Wes Craven. United States of America: New Line Cinema.

Abrakadabra. 2018. [Film] Directed by Nicolas Onetti Luciano Onetti. Argentina/New Zealand: Black Mandala.

All the colours of the dark. 1972. [Film] Directed by Sergio Martino. Italy: Lea Film.

Black Christmas. 1974. [Film] Directed by Bob Clarke. Canada: Ambassador Films.

Black Sabbath. 1963. [Film] Directed by Mario Bava. Italy/France: Emmepi Cinematografica Societe.

Blood and Black Lace. 1964. [Film] Directed by Mario Bava. Italy: Emmepi.

Don’t Torture a Duckling. 1972. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Medusa Produzione.

Four Flies on Grey Velvet. 1972. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: Seda Spettacoli.

Halloween. 1978. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Falcon International Productions.

Lizard in a Woman’s Skin. 1971. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: International Apollo Films.

Murder Rock. 1984. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Scena Film.

Needham, G., 2002. Playing with genre: an introduction to the Italian Giallo. [Online]
Available at: http://www.kinoeye.org/02/11/needham11.php
[Accessed 20 07 2019].

Phenomena. 1985. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: DAC Film.

Profondo Rosso. 1975. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: Seta Spettacoli.

Psycho. 1960. [Film] Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. United States of America: Shamley Productions.

Saw. 2004. [Film] Directed by James Wan. USA: Twisted Pictures.

Suspiria. 1977. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: Seda Spettacoli.

Terror At The Opera. 1987. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: ADC Films.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. 1970. [Film] Directed by Dario Argento. Italy: CCC Filmkunst GmbH.

The New York Ripper. 1982. [Film] Directed by Lucio Fulci. Italy: Fulvia Film.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown. 1976. [Film] Directed by Charles B. Pierce. USA: Charles B. Pierce Film Productions, Inc..

Torso. 1973. [Film] Directed by Sergio Martino. Italy: Compagnia Cinematografica Champion.

Your room is a locked vice and only I have the key. 1972. [Film] Directed by Sergio Martino. Italy: Luciano Martino.

Logbook of Terror : Plague Island | Poveglia Island, Venice, taly

Plague Island!

Pressing the sharp tip of the chisel hard against the young woman’s temple, I screamed at her to settle down and hold still. I was her doctor, I knew best. I kept telling her this, over and over, my voice rising in pitch and volume, my patience diminishing, my contempt for these unruly patients increasing. Didn’t they understand that I only wanted to help them? As I’d told her, I just needed to get inside her brain. If I could remove the plague infected section which caused her insanity, she would be cured, and then we could all leave this god-forsaken island. I steadied the chisel and raised my mallet high to strike.  

The male patient on the gurney to my right struggled against his restraints, spouting off some rhetoric about not hurting her. Oh, the cries of the insane, how they bore me! “Leave her alone, don’t hurt her! Please, doctor, please!” Always with the begging and pleading. Such weakness; how it sickens me! I am far above this station –a genius such as myself has no business in these wretched climes. How did I get here?

I felt my hands shaking. A sudden, agonizing jolt wracked my brain. Static, as if that of an olden television set in between channels, spit flurries of white across my vision. The well-lit operating room became a dirty, decaying chamber full of cobwebs and ruin. The female patient in front of me was tied to a grimy, rust-covered gurney, held tight by some type of colorful rope that I did not recognize. The man beside me was also strapped down with a similar colorful rope. He wore strange clothes which I’d never before seen: a coat made of a material unknown to me, orange and shiny and slick, that made odd swooshing noises when he turned beneath his restraints. As well, his shoes and trousers were indeed not from a time familiar to me. He howled at me in protest, his face turning red, spittle flying from his mouth, clenching his fists and struggling. I shook my head and blinked my eyes. It must be the ghosts again, I thought. When will they cease with their torments?

My eyes turned back to the male patient. He was once again dressed in his urine stained gown, his wrists bound with white cloth that held him to an almost clean gurney. I smiled. He screamed. Turning back to my female patient, I raised my mallet once again. 

A hard punch landed in my gullet. I doubled over, dropping the mallet and chisel. My patient had somehow wiggled free of her restraints. Curses! Another blow landed hard on my back, sending me to my knees. The woman was screaming. I could hear rustling cloth. She was freeing the male patient. No! They cannot escape! I must complete my work! I cried out for them to halt, snatching up my surgical tools and rushing after them as they fled the operating room. 

I gave chase to my patients through the corridors of the hospital, dodging pale and dirty patients who wandered the halls, their black eyes staring. Their mouths hung open, emitting a green vapor and filling the air with moans of pain and horror. How strange, the hospital’s residents seemed to appear almost translucent. Had they always looked as such? As we rushed past, the loitering patients turned to follow. 

Determination blazed in my mind –these two would not get away!  We scrambled through another short hallway, down several flights of stairs, and burst through a service entrance, out into the night. I grinned. I had anticipated their steps. As I suspected, they were heading for the tower! 

The sweet smell of rot and burned corpses filled my nostrils as I ran. The moans of the following patients echoed behind me. The screams of the two escapees led the way in front of me. Sweat poured from my brow, raining down my skin, stinging my eyes. I called out, commanding them to halt. I was their doctor, why weren’t they listening? Without looking back, my two patients rounded a corner and disappeared through the arched tower door. 

The ghoulish moans increased behind me, growing closer and closer with every step. I glanced back to see an endless stream of pale, rotted and decomposing patients hurtling toward me. They seemed to move effortlessly, as if floating at an ever increasing velocity, howling, crying out for my doom. Their empty eyes burned terror into my heart. These foul beings were not my patients; these were the cursed apparitions, back to torment me again! But they would not have their victory. I ran on, fleeing into the tower. 

Pursuing the living while being pursued by the dead, I pressed on, up and up the tower steps. Finally, reaching the top, I burst into an open room. Cool night air poured in through the open windows that lined the walls. I cried for my patients to show themselves. Without word, they pounced from the shadows, both assailing me at once. Grappling with one another, we stumbled back and forth. The male patient leveled a blow to my side. He screamed fiercely at me, calling me by a foreign name but speaking as if he knew me, telling me that some ghoulish force had taken control of my mind, begging me to halt my rampage. There was another flash of static –fierce and hot- and a quick, jarring memory filled my mind: A chance meeting at a café in Venice, a boat, a secret trip to a haunted island. Then my wits returned. I knew it was but a ruse, for he was my patient and I, his doctor and there was but one objective: to free him from the clutches of insanity. 

During our struggle, none of us had noticed the crowd of apparitions that flooded into the room. Icy hands gripped my shoulders, neck, and arms. My patients screamed anew, crying out for help. The female patient shouted in my face. I blinked. I saw her. It was Clarice, an American traveler who, along with her fiance Michael, had befriended me two days prior. We had met in the city. I had invited them to join me on my paranormal adventuring. 

I saw my own hands. I saw my own clothes. I remembered who I was. Horror filled my being at the realization that I had attacked my companions. But there wasn’t time to worry about that, for the ghosts were throwing us off the tower.

The three of us fell, screaming into the night. A dense bank of mist which surrounded the tower’s base swallowed us away. I waited for the impact of solid earth and the smashing of my brittle bones but such pain and agony never arrived. I floated in the mist, calling out to my friends, pleading for their forgiveness. Their voices echoed back at me from somewhere deep inside the fog. Then it came- the dreaded crash, only, it was soft. I rolled along the ground and came to a stop. The mist had deposited us at the island’s edge. We three watched in shock as the fog left us, floating out to sea and fading into the night. 

It seemed as if we screamed until we had no voices left. Just before dawn we were rescued by a passing craft helmed by local fishermen who were kind enough to ferry us back to Venice. Upon returning, my fellow adventurers and I vowed to never set foot on Poveglia again, the cursed plague island. May its malignant ruins one day be buried deep beneath the sea!

Haunt Jaunts: ScaryRentals.com, Would You Use It to Book a Room If It Really Existed?

Several months ago I watched a horror movie on Netflix called Truth or Dare. Which I believe first aired on Syfy in 2017.Door with an unlucky 13 on it

Here’s the premise of the movie:

Eight college friends head to a “Haunted Rental” for Halloween. But when they replay the game that made the house infamous, they awaken an evil spirit intent on stealing their souls.

It wasn’t one of my favorites. (In fact, I’m not even sure I finished watching it.)

However, the “Haunted Rental” part? That totally caught my eye. Especially when the characters talked about how they found the haunted house they all gathered at on a site called ScaryRentals.com.

The first thing I thought when I heard that was, “OMG, that’s a brilliant concept. Is it real?”

Of course, I had to see. Sadly, no.

The producers missed out on a chance to promo more of their movie. Because oftentimes that’s a fun way for books and movies to engage with viewers/readers more. Create a website people can visit for extra tidbits. Although, maybe they didn’t have a budget to indefinitely host a website?

It’s been my intention for years to add a Spooky Stays section to the Boo-K It! part of my site, Haunt Jaunts. I’m an affiliate marketer for both Expedia and Hotels.com, both of which book rooms in some allegedly haunted hotels. Might as well try to earn a little website maintenance money in the process, right?

But have I done it yet? Nope. Kind of like how I mean to write about all of my paranormal travels, but never do. (Something I discussed in my “Haunted Jaunts with Courtney Mroch” intro post here on HorrorAddicts.net.)

Anyway, I know of a lot of haunted places sites. There are also a lot of “most haunted hotel” type lists, some of which are specific to AirBnB and VRBO rentals.

However, the closest “Scary Rentals” type website that I know of is Haunted Rooms. They have a pretty comprehensive list of haunted hotel rooms and such available in each state.

Before I travel anywhere, I always Google “haunted hotels + city name.” If they’re convenient to where we need to stay, I’m able to afford them, and they have vacancy, I book it!

So I’d totally use a site like ScaryRentals.com. What about you?

Haunt Jaunts with Courtney Mroch: An Introduction

Hello, boos and ghouls!

Self-introductions are always awkward, aren’t they? There you are, in front of strangers, trying to tell them who you are.

Maybe you’re in a room. Maybe it’s just a small office before a job interview or something. Maybe a larger one, like a presentation room at a convention.

Or, maybe like I am now, via the World Wide Web. Which in some ways makes it less awkward. Or at least less intimidating. I don’t have to see how many people have shown up –or have not shown up, as the case may be. (Which is even scarier. No one wants to feel ignored and unseen.)

So who I am, this new Addict joining the writing team here at HorrorAddicts.net?

Well, for starters, my name is Courtney Mroch. From the time I was able to read I wanted to be like them. The people who created the beloved books I’d devour one after the other.

I didn’t know what kind of author I wanted to be, apart from fiction. But as far as genre? No, that wouldn’t be decided for a few years.

Speaking of genres, I have published fiction in a few different genres: romance, mystery, thriller, suspense, and horror. Usually as some combination of two or more of them. For instance, my last novel, The Ghost of Laurie Floyd, was what I like to call a romantic suspense meets whodunnit with a paranormal twist.

But in my late 20s/early 30s I also felt called to write non-fiction. Mostly personal and travel essays. My essays tend to be more mainstream, but my travel interests are much like my fiction reading interests: dark, scary, spooky and macabre.

I had no confidence in my early travel writing because it wasn’t genuine. It was imitation. I was trying to emulate other travel writers people found popular. I hadn’t found my voice yet. Or, again, my “genre.”

By my late 30s, thanks in part to a battle with cancer and my fascination with jaunting to haunted places, I found the travel niche I wanted to work in: paranormal tourism.

I launched my blog, Haunt Jaunts, in 2009 and have continued to write about my haunted travels ever since.

Well, sort of. I’ve actually traveled quite extensively since 2009, both internationally and domestically. From Alaska, California, New York and Georgia to Turkey, England, Greece, and Singapore…these are just a few of the places I’ve been.

But I rarely write about my own travels. I always mean to, but…I don’t. Why? I don’t know. It’s complicated. It’s like I want to share what I’ve seen, but I also want to save it for some other time that never seems to come.

Odd, right? It is. So what do I write about then? Haunted places themselves, people within the paranormal community, spooky events, horror movies…I am at no loss for things to write about. In fact, that’s why I applied to write for HorrorAddicts.net. I’ve got 50 Evernote notebooks full of post ideas. (And that’s no exaggeration. The exact number is 51.) I could put them all on Haunt Jaunts, I guess, but… I’d also like to bring some more awareness to Haunt Jaunts. I’ve heard one way to do that is to put myself out there on different blogs and in different spaces.

So here I am.

What will I write about here? I’ve already got an Evernote list with some ideas, such as:

  • Would You Use Scaryrentals.Com If It Was a Real Service?
  • 10 States Where Clowns Will Be Delivering Donuts This Halloween
  • Come Unhinged This Fall with the Winchester Experience
  • A New Reason to Make a Trek to Dubai: Zombie Apocalypse Park
  • Places You Can Watch Horror Movies Where They Were Filmed

The titles aren’t set in stone, but it gives you a taste of what’s to come. We’ll start there and see what other dark paths we find to explore on this journey.

For now, I’ll thank you for your time. I look forward to getting more acquainted with each other. (You can give me a sense of who you are and your likes by checking-in with comments and such. You never know, something you may say or suggest may spark my muse and be the catalyst for another post. Love when that happens!)

Until next time, stay spooky (especially when others discourage it!) and ciao for now! ~ Courtney

Guest Blog : Haunting at Ocracoke by Trinity Adler

Haunting at Ocracoke by Trinity Adler

I had a ghost experience. There, I said it. It’s true. It wasn’t a nightmare, not a daydream fantasy or drug hallucination, an actual ghost visitation and not just any ghost either, a famous one. The path was set when I listened to a friend’s recommendation for an inn on the North Carolina coast. My European roommate had visited the place on her first trip to the states. The picture she drew of the inn, cheap, romantic, near the beach ticked off every box on the list for a trip with my beau so we booked rooms for a weekend over spring break and headed for the coast.

After debarking the Ocracoke ferry at Ocracoke island we made our way to the inn. At that time, the island mainly attracted local fishermen. We had no trouble finding the small two-story building that greeted us with a plain painted sign, “Ocracoke Inn Vacancy.” 

The kindest description of the inn would be rustic. The old porch in front looked like an offering to the local termite gods. Its collection of tiny rooms did have private baths, although ours could open to share with the next room if needed. That room was unoccupied so the bolt locks stayed in place for our stay. The hot water was sporadic, and the place had no air conditioning to cool the sticky mid-Atlantic coast air. In summer our room would have felt like a sauna but in Spring it topped out at muggy. 

All of the other guests were fishermen. A few brought their wives. We could hear every sound through the paper thin walls. One of those ladies complained with no mercy to her husband about the accommodations. In the blush of young love, we overlooked the paint worn walls, the humidity, the water issues, the creaking floors and lumpy beds. We promised each other we would never be like the older, unhappy couples around us and would remember this inn as a wonderful romantic story to share with our kids someday. We spent our first day walking over the little island visiting the wild ponies and the beach. Before returning to our room we visited the mini grocery bait and tackle store to pick up some sandwiches and a bottle of cheap, peach flavored sparkling wine. We retired early.

Romance, beaches and wine did their work polishing the locale. We were lucky to be on the second floor facing the island’s little inlet so a breeze kept our room comfortable as we slept. I guess it must have been around one, maybe two in the morning when I woke up. I could see moonlight streaming through the window. The lightweight white cotton curtains rustled a little, casting shadows in the room. For some reason that seemed odd to me. At first, I thought, “Oh yeah, window’s open, it’s just the breeze.” But there wasn’t a breeze and next to me, my partner snored on in the night.

I took a breath and, for a moment, a short moment, I thought “Go back to sleep, nothing’s wrong.” Then I saw one of the bigger shadows move and fear overtook me before I could take another breath. In the moonlight by the window, the changing shadow became a threat. I could see a large man standing between the footboard of our bed and our window staring, just staring at us while we slept. I knew to the depths of my soul this person intended harm to us. 

I forced myself to pretend sleep. I didn’t dare move. I didn’t want the intruder to figure out I’d become aware of his presence. I thought he must have climbed up the old porch roof and come in through the window. Elbowing my fiancé under the coverlet for help didn’t work, he kept snoring. The man stayed still, watching us from his position at the foot of the bed. 

I had to keep my breathing at a regular rate despite my pounding heart and my throat tightening enough that I had to fight the urge to choke or cough. He kept watching us. I tried pinching my lover to no avail. My efforts to avoid the notice of the burglar failed. He began to move around the end of the bed, walking closer to me. 

Hot terror and panic flooded my body. I was experiencing an overwhelming feeling of malice directed towards the two of us in the bed. I knew these would be the final moments of my life. The man started to lean down over us. I couldn’t look at him now. I didn’t want to see that shadowy face up close. I couldn’t stay frozen waiting to die.

I shut my eyes and began screaming for all I was worth, at the same time I started pounding on my beau to wake him up. I lashed out towards the intruder with my other arm. I couldn’t seem to hit the man who menaced us. He must have been dodging my every blow. I kept thinking ” No, I won’t leave the world murdered. Not tonight! Not now!”. I continued doing my best to summon help loosing howls that could rival fire alarms.

My new love finally woke up. He sat up and began shaking me violently. Something made a bang like a door slammed. He kept urging me to wake up. Me? I’d been up an hour! He grabbed me and yelled “Wake up, wake up! You’re dreaming! Open your eyes and stop yelling! I’m here, I’m here”. I opened my eyes but I knew I wasn’t dreaming. I didn’t see the attacker anymore, only my lover. 

“Where is he?” I asked.

“There’s no one here. It’s just us.” 

“No, check the bathroom, the doors, the windows, under the bed. Someone was in here and he was going to kill us!”

“What? If someone’s here, I’ll find him!” 

My partner bounced out of bed and examined the door, locked from the inside. He checked the bathroom connecting door. The bolt sat where we left it, firmly in its place. He found nothing under the bed and he noted someone had painted over the screen locking it onto the window. A book had fallen on the floor by the bed so that explained the banging sound. We both went to see if someone was in the hall. 

If there was an intruder outside you wouldn’t have been able to find him. The only men in the hallway were fishermen zipping up their pants and looking for the woman who’d been begging for help a few minutes earlier. All the men on our floor were up and ready to save a damsel in distress. 

They were not amused when I had to apologize. I told them I thought someone was in our room. My partner said it was a nightmare before pulling me back to the room with “C’mon, let’s go back to bed. I’ll hold you. You’re safe, it was just a dream.” He got more than a few dirty looks before we went back into the room.

Holding me wasn’t going to work after my experience. I told him “Listen, I don’t want to stay here another night. We saw a couple of signs for a newer motel on the other side of the island, I’ll overdraw my bank account if I have too, but we’ve got to change motels tomorrow. I can’t stay here. I just can’t.” 

He agreed. In a few more sleepless hours we were down at the front desk asking the manager to check out. 

“Good Morning Miss. How was your room? The man behind the desk knew damn well my room was a horror. The fishermen were out the door by dawn and I’m sure if they hadn’t reported my screams they left notes about it for management. 

“You know good and well I had an intruder in my room last night.” I said.

The man behind the desk seemed very interested but not in a way that signaled surprise or that apologies were in the offing. 

“What kind of intruder Miss?”

I described the whole event starting with the man standing at the window watching the two of us at the foot of the bed up to his approaching the bed to lean over me. By the time I finished, a little crowd of guests there for breakfast had gathered from the line at the dining room nearby. They could hear my complaints. Most of them couldn’t resist eavesdropping on my complaints after the screaming overnight.

“Someone either has a way onto your porch roof and windows or they have keys to the rooms but I want a refund. I won’t stay here even one more night.” 

The manager was calm although his demeanor and smooth Southern drawl didn’t soothe my temper. If anything, it only heightened it.

“Happy to give a refund Miss. But ya’ll should know plenty of women have had the exact same experience you’ve described. This place here is known for the ghost. He’s been annoying lady guests of this inn for ’bout 200 years. You never heard of Edward Teach? Blackbeard the Pirate? Kilt’ right out in that inlet, right there.” 

He pointed towards the front porch overlooking the inlet and continued his explanation. 

“He ‘n his crew fought it out with the Queen’s men right in view of the inn. This place was likely one of the last buildings on land he saw from his ship when he got beheaded. He visits a few of the female guests in the inn every so often. Always was known for having an eye for the ladies. Doesn’t hurt anyone, just looking under the beds for his head.” 

The manager smiled as he finished. Some of the scattering of people behind us giggled about it. For me, this was beyond creepy. He seemed delighted at my story and thrilled there was a little crowd there to overhear it. I guess nothing helps fill a dilapidated old property like a resident ghost. 

All of the ghost talk made me angry again. “Blackbeard? Blackbeard’s ghost? Right. Terrifying women is how you keep this dust trap booked? You may do a good job with theater here but think about this, you could give someone a heart attack with tricks like that. Now, give me my money back!”

My boyfriend didn’t say a word, he’d dropped back a little way from the counter during my tantrum. I thought he was still numb from lack of sleep and more than a little embarrassed at my behavior but the manager opened the till.

“Yep, here you go Miss.” 

The money for our prepaid two night stay was returned. After we left, my new Yankee partner became effuse.

“That was amazing! I thought they’d throw us out and we’d have to sleep in a tent after waking everyone up last night. You rocked. I can’t believe you got our money back!” 

We checked out and moved across the island to the other inn, a newly built motel. We had one more day to stay at Ocracoke over spring break. We felt lucky there were rooms left at the newer place. The manager of the haunted place called ahead. The hotel owner was waiting for us at the Edward Teach Inn and we got the same room rate. Because of the ghost we were treated like celebrities at the new place. They wanted to hear every detail of the haunting. The new inn’s name was a little creepy after our experience, but this motel had solid locks, hot water and air conditioning. We left the Ghost to his preferred rooms over at the Ocracoke Inn. All I cared about was the Sunday ferry trip off the island.

Odds and Deadends : The Mummy (2017): A Universal Problem

I love a good monster movie. And when it was announced years ago that Universal Studios were reviving their classic monster movies, I, like the rest of the horror world, had a small heart attack. Then Tom Cruise got attached to The Mummy and we realised that they were going all in. It was going to be mind-blowing.

Until it wasn’t.

I’m going to outline my thoughts as to why the rebooting of the iconic collection failed, and I’m going to split it into the following three categories:

1) The film itself.

2) The heritage and genre.

3) The Marvel effect.

  • THE FILM ITSELF

The MummyThat the other two categories feed into this general discussion of the movie as a whole is not to be ignored, but this first category ignores that the film is part of a larger narrative and just focuses on the filmmaking and storytelling itself.

The first glaring issue is the over-reliance on CGI set pieces used to try and carry the film. From large green screen sandstorms to a plethora of unrealistic zombie mummies, the film might as well have been completed animated. The worst part of it all is that these set pieces come thick and fast, with no rhyme or reason, or sense of proper narrative timing. You look at a Marvel movie (such as the new Spider-Man: Far From Home), and you notice that they normally break it up into three main parts. A fight early on, one in the middle, then the big wind up for the third act. It’s your basic three act structure with a large action sequence in each, and it allows the movie to have the downtime to build on its characters. Even movies such as those in the James Bond or Mission Impossible franchises will do the same sort of thing, with a sprinkling of smaller sequences here and there, but it’s still just the three big moments. The Mummy has so many that the rhythm is off. It just doesn’t feel right.

And it also means that parts, such as the desert sandstorm near the beginning of the film, are irrelevant. We saw the crows take off after the sarcophagus when it is airlifted away, and it is these birds that will bring the plane down. Why is the sandstorm needed? To add a little hint of ‘danger’? To make sure the audience doesn’t forget we’re in the desert? It makes no sense. When the sandstorm blows through London in the final act, it was a wonderfully gothic image, capitalising on the fear of outsiders and things that shouldn’t happen. But having this be a singular, major event that cut out communication lines, throwing all the heroes into confusion, would have been wonderful, and saving the sandstorm for this moment would have made it seem much more threatening. As it is, we’ve already seen a sandstorm do nothing. Why should we be scared of this one? Short answer: we aren’t.

One of my other issues was the lack of subtlety in the film in any department. The scares were ham-fisted attempts at CGI skeletons that didn’t take the time to allow the tension to build. And the amount of exposition is ridiculous. Jekyll’s opening speech gives most of the plot away, and leaves no mystery as to what is to come. It’s bad filmmaking and bad storytelling at the best of times, leading to a picture that rushes from one big scene to another, and has to have things spelled out quickly in between each blockbuster moment to make sure we’re following along. It’s nowhere near efficient craftsmanship.

  • THE HERITAGE AND TONE

When Universal said they were reviving the monster movies, audiences wanted horror. They wanted to be scared, brought back to being a kid. Universal, wanting to compete with summer blockbusters, changed their classic horror into an all-out action thriller with a few horror elements scattered around. There’s even some funny moments scattered around, such as when Jenny yells ‘Get her, Nick!’ to Tom Cruise’s character as the newly revived Princess Amanet heads towards them in the forest. Really? ‘Ger her, Nick!’? It’s not the movie audiences wanted, or were promised.

Because the movie goes for a grander scale, the horror, when it is there, never really hits. Sure, give your plagues and your zombies an apocalypse to try and bring about, but even these focus on a small group of survivors. Think Night of the Living Dead or 28 Days Later. Horror is deeply personal, and you have to make sure it feels personal to a protagonist we connect with, in order to make us truly feel it.

This is something Bram Stoker did wonderfully in his novel The Jewel of Seven Stars, a personal favourite novel of mine, and one I’ve already discussed on HorrorAddicts.net ( I’ll put a link to my analysis of the character of Queen Hera from the novel at the end of the article). Stoker’s tale presents an ancient Egyptian threat rising from the dead, like The Mummy, but for two-thirds of the narrative, everything is confined to one house and plays out like a murder mystery. It’s closed and confined, and because of this we empathise with the characters because we know them intimately. When the terror comes, we feel the fear because we’ve put ourselves in their shoes. As a result, the possible apocalypse after the book is finished feels much more worrying.

  • THE MARVEL EFFECT

The Dark Universe is Universal’s attempt to replicate the success Marvel Studios have had with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The trouble is that Marvel seems to be the only ones that have really cracked the format. Disney tried it out into Star Wars, but the bad reception to Solo halted their plans for possible Obi Wan and Boba Fett films. The DC Universe has its fans, but has never really caught the approval like Marvel has, and only recently has Aquaman and Wonder Woman really hit the box office hard. One can only wait to see how the Godzilla monster-verse goes on, but if the reviews I’ve seen of Godzilla: King of the Monsters are anything to go by, it doesn’t look good.

The Mummy’s primary problem is that Universal threw all their chips in too early.

The film isn’t just about the eponymous mummy, but the introduction to the whole world. But rather than sneak in suggestions and nods, and build the whole thing up slowly, whilst still allowing each film to be its own unique piece, they’re already interconnecting everything at the very heart. The beating heart of this connection is the Dr Jekyll, head of the Prodigium organisation. However, instead of letting Jekyll just be an incidental part of the storyline, or his true identity being a big reveal at the end of the film, they made him integral to the movie.

This has multiple risks. It risks sidelining the main focus of the movie, the mummy herself, and it risks, if you’ll excuse the vulgar phrasing, Universal blowing their load too early. Universal didn’t keep their powder dry. Hold Jekyll and Hyde back and you’ve got a whole other movie in store to unleash. If The Mummy goes down, you’ve got another shot. Notice how Marvel, in the first Iron Man film, only announced Nick Fury in the post credit scene. They could easily have cut it had the test screenings been bad, and simply kept it as a one-off movie that made a decent splash, whilst also jettisoning the movie from a wider connected universe if they needed to. They can even bring Iron Man back into the storyline in 10 movies time if it takes them that long to get into their rhythm.

The Dark Universe, complete with logo at the beginning of the movie, announces very plainly that everything goes together. You’ve got obvious nods to Dracula and The Creature from the Black Lagoon in the jars Prodigum has in its stores, clearly showing Universal’s intention to use them at a later phase. In one, opening movie, we’ve got four of the classic monsters together. All we needed was someone to be invisible, and Jekyll to have a daughter marrying a doctor called Victor Frankenstein, and Universal would have taken down almost every monster they had in their arsenal in one go.

In a bid to outdo Marvel with their interconnected universe, the producers relied on the fan base of the monsters of the past to carry the movie with references and nods all by themselves. In the end, when these fans didn’t get what they wanted, Universal were left canning the other projects they had set up. Their interconnected world had crashed at the first hurdle, and because the rest of their plans were integral to the first film being a hit, it set up a chain of dominos that knocked the other films down.

One can only hope that Leigh Whannell (and Blumhouse, I believe) will have the sense to work slowly, building up a series of films that are tense, scary, and operate by themselves, which have the potential, but not the necessity, to interlink later on. Whannell has already established himself (along with James Wan, ironically directing movies in another connected universe, having released Aquaman last year), at being able to bring about an interlinked horror franchise with The Conjuring universe. Let’s hope that he can learn from the mistakes that Universal made with The Mummy, and slowly bring us the spectacle we all wanted, and still want, to see.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Follow him on Twitter: KJudgeMental

My article on Queen Hera from The Jewel of Seven Stars can be found here: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2018/09/05/odds-and-dead-ends-resurrecting-the-queen/

Bibliography

28 Days Later. 2002. [Film] Directed by Danny Boyle. United Kingdom: 20th Century Fox.

Aquaman. 2018. [Film] Directed by James Wan. USA: DC.

Creature from the Black Lagoon. 1954. [Film] Directed by Jack Arnold. USA: Universal Pictures.

Dracula. 1931. [Film] Directed by Tod Browning. USA: Universal Pictures.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters. 2019. [Film] Directed by Michael Dougherty. USA: Legendary Pictures.

Iron Man. 2008. [Film] Directed by Jon Favreau. USA: Marvel Studios.

Night of the Living Dead. 1968. [Film] Directed by George A. Romero. USA: Image Ten.

Solo: A Star Wars Story. 2018. [Film] Directed by Ron Howard. USA: Lucasfilm.

Spider-Man: Far From Home. 2019. [Film] Directed by Jon Watts. USA: Marvel Studios.

Stoker, B., 2009. The Jewel of Seven Stars. United States of America: Seven Treasures Publications.

The Mummy. 2017. [Film] Directed by Alex Kurtzman. USA: Universal.

Wonder Woman. 2017. [Film] Directed by Patty Jenkins. USA: DC.

 

Logbook Of Terror: A Worker’s Cemetery

 


A Worker’s Cemetery

“All people who enter this tomb who will make evil against this tomb and destroy it: may the crocodile be against them in water, and snakes against them on land.”

I hate sand. And here it is everywhere, on everything. I think that possibly it is everything. In stark contrast to my previous assignment of the lush, humidity-drenched Louisiana, Egypt’s is a parched, brittle landscape, heated beyond belief by a sun whose only reason for existence it seems is to torture me. I arrived at the cemetery grounds with trepidation, fearing what I might encounter there. However, milling around the site with a group of light-hearted tourists soon lifted my spirits; surely, there could be no lurking danger on this oppressively hot and sunny day. 

As the gaggle of sight-seers formed a cluster around an information plaque and the entrance of a tomb, I strayed from the group, lost in my thoughts about what life may have been like for the souls resting at this place. I descended a ramp that stopped at what appeared to be a stone door that led to nowhere. Strange, I thought. Why would they build such a thing? While I pondered the philosophical significance of a doorway to nowhere, I ran my fingers along the carved outline of the entryway. All was quiet. The murmuring voices of my fellow explorers were dim and faded. A soft, hot breeze flitted by, carrying a woman’s whisper. My eyes darted around but saw no one nearby. Again, the hot wind caressed me, and with it, the voice, the sultry sigh, the exotic hush. Was the voice hidden in the wind, or was the woman’s sigh the breeze itself? Could it be the breath of the goddess Hathor lighting across my cheek? Feeling suddenly faint, I leaned against the door and rested my forehead against a stone block. A grating, the sound of stone grinding against stone, resounded. The block sunk into the door, and the door eased open. A putrid current of air flowed out from within, curling around me, wrapping me up in invisible tendrils of the most morbid odors of death and decay. My feet moved against my will and I was drawn into the tomb! 

The phantom limbs pulled me deeper into the tomb. I saw a dim light looming in the darkness ahead. The eerie gleaming grew brighter, taking shape, morphing and transforming until its diabolical metamorphosis was complete and before me hovered a gigantic, all-seeing eye.  The eye of Horus? Perhaps. I had no more time to ponder for a single blinding beam of light like a ray of pure sun shot out from the great eye, striking me in the center of my forehead. Ancient powers and secrets infused my being. The mighty wind continued to swirl around me, taking solid form, turning to cloth that spun and wrapped tight around my arms, legs, head, and torso. Helpless, I could only watch as I was covered in filthy, soiled gauze. Hot breath and a fetid stench filled the dark corridor. Evil laughter bounced off the stone walls. A crocodile’s snarl belched up from some unseen depths of the chamber. 

The eye took its light from me. I stumbled in the purest darkness I had yet to experience, spinning until my newly bound hands struck stone and I steadied myself against the wall. Though my cloth bindings were tight, I began to shuffle along with focused steps, determined to make my way out of this dreadful tomb. The rasps of my shuffling steps were soon accompanied by hissing; a horrid chorus that rose in volume and proximity with every passing moment. It was the serpents of the tomb, coming for my body and soul. Alas, the curse was upon me! 

Straining against my cloth bonds, I ran from the serpents, screaming for my life. Through the gauze that covered my eyes I dimly saw sunlight peering in through the still open door. Salvation was within my grasp! Just as I felt the snakes at my heels, I burst forth from the tomb into the unforgiving Egyptian sun. 

With my arms outstretched, I cried for help. Upon hearing my exclamations, the nearby group of tourists turned my way. Shrieks of horror erupted from the small group as they fled from me. I screamed for them to return, begging for their help, but my words came out a garbled mess, muffled by the cloth over my mouth, turning my words to nothing more than tortured moans. 

I heard the persistent hissing closing in. I glanced back. Droves upon droves of serpents slithered from the tomb. I threw out my hands and again pleaded for assistance. The sight-seers rushed the tour company van in a panic. The tour guide gestured wildly, pointing at me and running away.

My next bout of shouting was due to the pain caused by the armed guards who accosted me and tossed me violently to the ground. I writhed beneath their hold, protesting, shouting to be saved from the advancing serpent horde. One of the guards screamed at me in broken English, admonishing me to hold still while I continued to yell one word over and over: snakes. He leaned down and shouted to me that there were no snakes, only sand and sun and frightened tourists, whose visit to the cemetery I had just ruined. 

Assuming that I had somehow accessed a hidden passageway, dressed myself as a mummy, and reappeared to scare my fellow tourists as part of a “stupid and typical American stunt”, I was held under protest at the gift shop until the local constable arrived. Thankfully, with the help of my official credentials and a phone call on which my dear employer, the ever lovely Emerian, was able to persuade the local authorities that I meant no ill will, I was released under the single condition that I would never, ever return. I assured them I would absolutely do no such thing, and, once freed from my cloth bindings, I went on my way, shaking the dust from my shoes. Now here in this safe space, days later, the hissing of the pursuing serpents, the horrible eye, the stench of death seeped into the mummy’s cloth that bound me –all these terrors torture my mind. Oh Egypt, when will you set me free?

Logbook of Terror: Myrtles Plantation

Myrtles Plantation

Even in the deepest, darkest hours of the night, the summer air of Louisiana is thick and oppressive. It bears down on me with a hot, wet weight that makes me want to sink into the ground and go to sleep. But I am not here to sleep. I stare at the massive Myrtles Plantation house that looms before me, an imposing giant cloaked in bleak black and mystery. A nervous fear trickles down my spine. I’m not supposed to be here, roaming the grounds at night, but I knew that to get the real story, I couldn’t simply tramp through the house in the daylight hours. Despite the rumors, despite what I had read online regarding sightings of spirits and apparitions during the day, the only time for me to visit this cursed abode was while the rest of the world slept.  

I let out a deep, steadying breath. Not a single light burned within the house or on the grounds, allowing me to approach in stealth. As I neared the steps leading up to the sprawling wrap-around porch, planning to seek entry through one of the windows on the lower level, a voice, its tone wrapped in the sludge of alcohol, beckoned to me. I turned. A lone man leered at me, pointing a pistol at my chest. I froze. No longer calling out to me, his pale lips emitted ghostly whispers that I strained to hear. His gaunt framed staggered toward me. The pistol held higher, he steadied his aim. I held up my hands and pleaded with the man to leave me be. His only response was to whisper to himself while his eyes bore into me with their insane glare. I screamed for him to halt. The pistol fired. Then I was looking up into the Spanish moss that swayed gently in the tree limbs above me, my hands clutched against my breast, my blood flowing out between my fingers. My ears rang from the pistol’s explosive shot, and within the ringing, I heard the mad laughter of the gunman. I struggled to my feet and stumbled up the stairs and onto the wooden landing. The insane cackling followed. 

I flung myself at the front door, grasped the handle, and turned. Miraculously, the front door flung open. I fell into the parlor and staggered to the steps which led to the home’s second floor. A young woman in an antebellum dress hurried through a doorway. She addressed me kindly and helped me to my feet. My only thought -obsessive, irrational, playing in a wretched loop- was to reach the seventeenth step. I had to climb the stairs, I told the girl. She grasped under my arm and steadied me. I looked into her face. Oh, how horrid was the sight! So pale, so ghastly, was her rotting skin! So foul her aura! So putrid her aroma! She had endless black holes for eyes, maggots and worms fell from her gaping mouth, and brown swamp water trickled from her ears. She shoved me onto the stairs. Horrid screeches creaked from her mouth, creeping out past the maggots and worms that squirmed and crawled on her mouth and chin. 

Seventeen, seventeen, seventeen… the number boomed and echoed in my skull, my final destination nearing as I counted each successive step, crawling with one hand while the other was held tight against my bleeding chest. My breaths were short and full of agony, my vision blurry, and the iron rich smell of my own blood filling the air. Only one more… 

When my hand hit the seventeenth step, an unseen force pulled me into the stair and I plunged into complete and total darkness. Wind rushed through my hair in a deafening roar as I fell and fell and fell, until…

I felt soft ground beneath me. Moonlight floated over my body. I ran a hand over my chest. My shirt was dry. I sat up. I was behind the great house. Glancing over myself, I saw that I had no injuries to speak of. My pounding heart slowed. As I sighed with relief and moved to get to my feet, hands thrust up through the ground, grabbing my wrists, tearing into my ankles. I screamed in terror. More hands shot out of the earth and ripped at my clothes and skin. I writhed in horror, fighting off the fiendish limbs. At last, I tore away, rolled, and sprung to my feet. I turned to run and an arrow pierced my side. I fell to my knees, howling. Blood gushed from the wound. I clutched the arrow to pull it from my flesh. I began to pull and another, deeper, older voice called out to me. 

A band of Native Americans stood before me. It was the chief who addressed me, demanding to know why I had chosen to dishonor his people by building my home on their sacred burial grounds. I pleaded with him, fumbling my words in hopes of explaining that it was not I who had built the house and that I was but an innocent traveler. The natives responded by brandishing their hatchets. The chief pointed at me and, with a dire expression on his face, uttered an admonishment in a tongue unknown to me. With grim faces, the tribesmen set upon me. I closed my eyes, cried for my life, and waited for the blows to begin. 

A soft hand touched my shoulder and I heard myself stop screaming. I opened my eyes to a sunny day and a group of tourists circled around me. A young man, his hand still resting on my shoulder, asked me if I was alright. Indeed I was not, I replied. 

I stood and ran from the plantation grounds. I must have run untethered until I reached the nearby town, though I cannot clearly recall, for the horrors of what I’d seen the night prior still plagued my mind and heart, as they surely will for days and weeks to come. Indeed, this cursed plantation is a home which I shall never visit again.

Odds and Dead Ends: Scary Shadows | Analysis of H G Wells’ ‘The Red Room’

 

H. G. Wells might be more known for his science-fiction novels, such as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, but some of his short stories might as well have been written by H. P. Lovecraft. The Red Room is a straight up ghost story in the same vein as M. R. James. It’s a little gem of a story, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts as to what makes it such a delight.

The Red Room details the protagonist taking up a challenge of sorts to stay in a cursed castle bedroom overnight. The opening sets this up nicely in what might now seem a cliché. The opening line that ‘“I can assure you,” said I, “that it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me,”’ is reminiscent of Jack Torrance in Kubrick’s The Shining saying ‘“That’s not going to happen to me”’ when Ullman speaks of the previous caretaker going insane.

This single line perfectly sets up the beginning of the character’s arc (from skeptic to believer), tells us the genre of story (supernatural), and the character of the protagonist. His skepticism is reinforced when he says that ‘I half suspected the old people were trying to enhance the spiritual terrors of their house’. He is ‘abbreviated and broadened to an impossible sturdiness in the queer old mirror at the end of the room.’ He sees himself as a rock, immovable against anything that passes his way. However, the mirror has changed his appearance, and just as he sees himself to be a rock in a storm, his faith is soon to be changed.

The protagonist’s disbelief in ghosts is due to a fear of age and dying. It is said that he is ‘“eight-and-twenty”’, which is twenty-eight for those who don’t speak century old English, making him a young man. This is in contrast to the three elderly people who apparently live in the castle. This fear of their age presents itself when the protagonist remarks that ‘There is, to my mind, something inhuman in senility.’ Age removes human qualities, and so something very old is to be seen as disgusting, or feared. Spirits, dead for many years, must be terrifying to him.

As the protagonist leaves the group for the room, they are described as ‘dark against the firelight’, which is one of the many allusions to shadows peppered throughout the opening. This further links them to the spirits that will eventually come to haunt our protagonist. Just a little later the protagonist himself expands on this idea, even remarking that ‘their very existence, thought I, is spectral.’

Along with this is the line ‘“It’s your own choosing.”’ This line is repeated like a mantra throughout the opening, and though it may be a bit overdone, the message is clear. By disobeying the warnings given, he brings the doom upon himself. This cliché also gets played up in The Cabin in the Woods, when the group ignore the warnings not to go up to the cabin. You get what’s coming to you.

Soon, even before we enter the room itself, Wells drops the recurrent image that will pervade the remainder of the piece, that of moving, sentient shadows fighting against the candlelight. There’s something very primal about this opposition, very simply a play of light against dark, of good against evil. ‘My candle flared and made the shadows cover and quiver.’ That the shadows are anthropomorphised, being said to have ‘came sweeping up behind me, and another fled before me into the darkness overhead’ is disturbing. Light has to be controlled by man, dependent on him, but the dark can move as it wishes.

The repetition and enhancing of this play of ghostly shadows is what drives the remainder of the piece. ‘The door of the Red Room and the steps up to it were in a shadowy corner.’ The protagonist must move into the realm of darkness if he is to attempt to hold out against it. The room itself is a ‘huge shadowy room with its black window bays,’ full of dust and ‘black corners, its germinating darkness.’ And against all this the candlelight has very little effect, ‘a little tongue of light in the vast chamber; its rays failed to pierce to the opposite end of the room.’

Despite being disturbed by ‘some impalpable quality of that ancient room,’ the protagonist tries to ‘preserve my scientific attitude of mind,’ and examines the room ‘systematically.’ He lights several candles throughout the room, illuminating all that he can, but despite this he still puts his revolver ‘ready to hand.’ Have all his efforts been in vain? He tries to maintain that he is in control of his emotions and that his ‘precise examination had done me a little good,’ and yet ‘I still found the remoter darkness of the place and its perfect stillness too stimulating for the imagination.’ All the build up at the beginning of the story begins to pay off, as our anticipation for ghosts and ghouls overrides the common sense saying that there is nothing there. Every mention of a black spot, a shadow in the rafters, is somewhere we search for ghosts in between the lines, looking for subtext. We are literally jumping at shadows.

A draught enters the room, and soon the candle in the alcove begins to flicker, which ‘kept the shadows and penumbra perpetually shifting and stirring in a noiseless flighty dance.’ An attempt to light more candles gives us his humorous remark that ‘when the ghost came I could warn him not to trip over them.’ Though this line is obviously a joke to himself, he’s brought ghosts into his everyday vocabulary, thinking of them as existing in his world. He’s begun a path away from disbelief into acknowledgement.

And then the candles start to go out.

Now that Wells has ratcheted up the tension by implication alone, he brings on the scares. The alcove, where the deepest shadow has been, is suddenly in darkness again. A candle has gone out. When trying to relight it, two more go out. The shadows do not give him time to bring back the light, and immediately move in for the kill. Again the comparison of the darkness to calculated activity is drawn, as ‘the flames vanished as if the wick had been suddenly nipped between a finger and thumb.’ The protagonist moves closer and closer to hysteria, and ‘a queer high note getting into my voice somehow.’

The protagonist, hysterical, again breaches into the realms of ghostly belief by exclaiming that ‘“those candles are wanted… for the mantel candlesticks.”’ He begins to fight against the shadows’ continuous extinguishing of the candles, ‘the shadows I feared and fought against returned, and crept in on me, first a step gained on this side of me, then on that.’ It is a fight that he can only lose because as was said many times at the beginning, it was a fate of his own choosing.

And yet the ambiguity is still maintained, because the draught was never initially shown to be ghostly in nature, and when he picks up another candle, ‘abruptly this was blown out as I swung it off the table by the wind of my sudden movement.’ Wells continually holds the reader in suspense of wanting to see something overtly supernatural, so that we voraciously follow the protagonist’s stumbling with our own clumsy speed, running headlong through the pages. It is Wells at his finest.

His escape from the room is even deliberately non-supernatural, battering himself up by his own stumbling in desperation and anxiety. And in the end, the final revelation of the nature of the malevolence in the room is a beautiful touch. ‘“Fear that will not have light nor sound, that will not bear with reason, that deafens and darkens and overwhelms.”’ It is described as being a supernatural force, but it is entirely possible to view it as a kind of mass hysteria. Somewhere creepy that instills fear that causes people to essentially, accidentally kill themselves in terror. The disorientation of a sudden acceptance of the possibility of spirits, of the loss of a guiding light, combined with his fear of age and decay, all fuel a Todorovian fantastic story. It’s a wonderful touch to end the piece.

In conclusion, The Red Room is a masterfully crafted ghost story that should be remembered with the best. A great build up to a frantic fight of the rational vs. the irrational part of the brain, with memorable descriptions of the sentient shadows, in a spooky gothic castle. It’s inspired my own work[1], and I hope that you’ll find something delightfully spooky from it as well.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: KJudgeMental

Bibliography

King, S., 1977. The Shining. United States: Doubleday.

The Cabin in the Woods. 2012. [Film] Directed by Drew Goddard. USA: Mutant Enemy.

Todorov, T., 1975. The Fantastic. New York: Cornell University.

Wells, H. G., 1896. The Red Room. [Online]
Available at: https://repositorio.ufsc.br/bitstream/handle/123456789/157356/The%20Red%20Room%20-%20H.G.%20Wells.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
[Accessed 23 06 2019].

Wells, H. G., 1897. The War Of The Worlds. United Kingdom: Pearson’s Magazine.

Wells, H. G., 1931. The Time Machine. New York: Random House.

[1] For those interested, the piece in question, The Voice-Snatcher, will be released in The Sirens Call #45 at the end of June/beginning of July.

Logbook of Terror: Jump! (the dog suicide bridge)

Overtoun Bridge, Scotland

The voices screamed in my head. Insistent, unrelenting, the words pounded against my skull with their morbid demand: “Jump, Jump… JUMP!”

I hovered between the final two ramparts on the right side of the bridge. In crossing the structure, I’d neared the end of the bridge, I was almost to safety, but the voices stilled my movement. A malignant force beckoned me to the edge of sanity until I stood trembling, preparing to throw myself onto the rocks below. How did I get here? I was just out for an evening stroll. I must remember…

Ah, yes. Following dinner, I’d gone out for my customary evening constitution. I wandered aimlessly through the Scottish countryside, absorbed in the beauty that surrounded me, making mental notes so not to lose my way back to the inn where I was staying. After some leisure minutes had passed, I felt a presence behind me. Turning, I saw a large dog of an unknown breed, dirty and soaking wet, some paces behind me. Thinking strays were probably common here in the country, and not feeling threatened, I continued on. A short time later I again sensed that someone or something was following me. I glanced back and there again was the same large mongrel, only this time, the canine was joined by another dog of large size, yellow eyes, and filthy black, wet, mud-caked fur. The crisp air rushed over me, chilling my bones. Something about those dogs wasn’t right, something… I stopped, not giving my imagination another inch, and merrily pressed on with my country walk.

Evening settled into dusk, and a large moon loomed on the horizon. Fog drifted over the lane. I whistled and took in a deep breath of the fresh air. While relishing the chilly air, I wondered about the dogs I’d seen. Could they still be behind me? I listened intently and only heard the sounds of my own footsteps and the breeze caressing leaves of nearby trees. No padding paws, no panting –nothing but the quiet of the countryside and the day seeping into night. Considering my fears, I laughed under my breath. Dogs don’t follow people around on their evening jaunts. The thought is preposterous!

I told myself not to turn, not to look, then promptly stopped and spun around. Before me stood a pack of at least a dozen dogs of medium to large size, all of them sopping wet, covered in mud and filth, their eyes hollow yet fixed intently on me. I gulped. I stepped back. They stepped forward. The largest dog of them all, the first I’d seen, stepped out in front of the pack, barked, and showed his teeth. My blood froze. The alpha dog leapt forward, the pack followed closely behind, and I hurled myself along the path.

Trees rushed past me while the moon lit my steps and I rushed into an unavoidable wall of fog. Gray and white covered my vision. My feet and heart pounded in unison. I smelled water and the cooing of a flowing stream came to my ears.

I looked down. I was no longer moving. I stood still, my hands on the cold stone of this ancient, cursed bridge. And, to my right, there they were –the dogs, slowly stalking toward me, drenched in fog, their voices in my head screaming as one, commanding: Jump, jump… Jump!

I clenched my eyes shut and cried out for them to stop, to leave me be, to let me go. Suddenly, cold hands were grappling at my limbs, pulling me, pushing me to the ground. I thrashed and screamed to be set free. Then, a soothing voice, telling me I was safe. I opened my eyes. A kindly woman and man knelt over me. I recognized them as the keepers of the inn.

After bringing me to my senses, the couple helped me to my feet and we began our walk back to the inn. Along the way they explained that they’d heard my terrified cries and had run out to find me at the bridge’s edge, appearing as if I intended to throw myself into the stream below. Horrified and embarrassed by my own actions, I thanked them profusely for saving me from any possible self-harm and vowed not to take another solitary evening stroll for the remainder of my stay at their lodging. As we entered the inn I remarked that I was glad the pack of dogs had not attempted to follow us back from the bridge. The innkeepers fixed me with a curious look. I’d been all alone, they said, there hadn’t been a single dog in sight.

Logbook of Terror: Trans-Alleghany Lunatic Assylm

Trans-Alleghany Lunatic Asylum, WV

Despite my loathsome misgivings toward any address with the words “lunatic” and “asylum” in its name or description, I agreed to visit this dreaded famed and supposedly “haunted” locale to investigate. I may sound like a cynic, a non-believer, but the truth is that I believe too strongly and that is why I despise such a place as this.

I know beyond any doubt that it is indeed cursed, that even its bricks and mortar waver in an unearthly trance –caught between worlds- and that I chance becoming infected with the lunacy myself.  For madness lingers, defying death, living on past the mind in which it once dwelt. It is in the walls, in the decomposing rot that lines the ceilings, and surely in the lonely apparitions who wander the dank, cob-webbed corridors of this derelict monument to insanity.

I could feel the terror building in my chest even as I approached the massive gothic structure, its peaks looming high above me in the West Virginia sky, looking down with a mocking sneer. Yet, even with the horror filling my bones, I entered this grand monolith to the wreckage of malformed minds. I simply could not help myself, for I had to know what lies behind the veil of sanity, and the tickets to the overnight ghost tour for which I had registered were apparently non-refundable.   

An hour after my entry into the asylum, I found myself on the fourth floor. Dusk had traversed the bridge into night. My senses had registered to the gloom which surrounded and enveloped me and I let the shadows wrap around me like a comforting blanket. Thankfully, I was in the company of a small group of fellow believers, the “tour group”, who walked the halls with me in a shared reverential fear. We whispered among each other as we listened for the moans of the trapped souls, staying close together, hoping for a glimpse of the otherworldly; even as we dreaded its presence.     

We took watchful steps along the corridor. Our eyes darted nervously back and forth. Even in the dank cold, sweat pricked my skin. The gloom thickened. A lonely laugh echoed down the hall. We halted, our small group frozen where we stood. Again, seconds later, the laugh, high and thin, filled with bleak mirth. Another laugh darted out behind us. Heads spun in different directions. Then, a moan, a dirge of confused sorrow and fear, rang out of the last room on the left.

Photo by Amanda Norman

My hands trembled. A cold breeze cut through me. I saw my own breath. It formed a ghastly image near my face, a visage with a demonic smile which hovered within arm’s reach. The image grinned at me, and, as it faded, whispered my name. I twirled and screamed, and I saw that I was suddenly, utterly, alone.

I called out for my fellow paranormal seekers. Answers in the form of moans and giggles from the rooms lining the hall were the only answers I received. I stumbled backward. Pale figures in glowing white gowns shuffled out of the rooms, through thin doorways, turning toward me, their faces fluid, contorting, their expressions waxing and waning between grimaces and grins. They held their arms out to me, beckoning me to them. Closer and closer, the spirits floated and whispered my name. How did they know me? Was I once one of them in another life? Their contorting mouths opened wide. The ghouls screeched in unison. Black, horrid clouds of insanity poured forth, filling the air, surrounding me, pressing in, holding me close.

I fell to the floor, calling out for help with the dark pouring down on me and the dead whispering my name, over and over, picking at my mind, slicing at my soul. The dark, the madness, the whispers, the laughter, the cries –make it stop! Make it stop! Make it stop!! I wailed in the bleak and the black and the dank and the dark.

Hands on my shoulders shook me awake. Or was I ever asleep? I opened my eyes. I was in the center of the fourth-floor hallway. The odor of urine and disinfectant drifted over me. A fly buzzed over my cheek. Harsh fluorescent lights beamed down on me. The faces of two nurses filled my vision. I slid back on the slick, tile floor, retreating in horrified confusion.

One of the nurses smiled at me. “Now, how’d you get out here again? You know you aren’t supposed to be in the hallway.”

I mumbled, attempting to explain. Somehow, my words scrambled and didn’t come out right. Why can’t I speak?!  I shouted something unintelligible. My eyes watered with horror.

“Now, now, don’t you be afraid,” the other nurse says. “Let’s get you back to your room.”

I cried out as the two asylum nurses hoisted me from the floor. My legs went limp and they dragged me through the corridor, all the way to the last room on the left. I groaned in protest, attempting to explain. Why couldn’t they understand that I wasn’t a patient? Why weren’t they listening to me?

***

That was last week or maybe last month or last year, I can’t be sure. But I am sure that I must find a way out of this godforsaken abode. Every day more patients arrive. I now share my room with five others. The nurses rarely walk our hall and whenever I see one I plead my case for release, telling them in the plainest of terms that I was never meant to be in this place, I was just a visitor! In my earnestness I often grab at their arms, hoping to impart my sincerity and the dire nature of my situation upon them. They look at me with disgust in their eyes and yell at me to leave them be and to “stop yammering.”

This written communique may be my last hope. I was able to smuggle it into yesterday’s mail, addressed to our San Francisco headquarters, and it is my most sincere prayer that a fellow staff member will read my account and take immediate action, for I know not in which dimension I now reside, but I believe with all my heart that the skills and imaginations and divinations of the ones in our organization will once again rescue me from certain peril. Godspeed you addicts! You are my only hope!  

Logbook of Terror: Tamerlane’s Tomb!

A fictional representation of a real Cursed Location – Tamerlane’s Tomb

It is a brilliantly sunny Saturday afternoon. Birds are chirping overhead, the sky is a radiant, cloudless blue. A soft breeze carries laughter and conversation of nearby tourists to my ears. It is a beautiful day, and I am scared out of my mind.

I can’t understand how these crowds of people file and shuffle in and out of this grand, horrid mausoleum without a seeming care, visiting the burial ground of a blood-thirsty conqueror, of a state-sanctioned maniac, a psychopathic butcher who brutalized and murdered millions. Yet here they are; the masses, oohing and aahhing in awe and wonder. They don’t know. They can’t hear them, but I can; I can hear the whispers of the deadTimur reconstruction03.jpg

I want to leave but the dead won’t let me. There seems to be an invisible wall or force of some sort keeping me here. Every evening for the past week I’ve followed the train of mindless tourists as they leave to board the shuttles that will take them back to the resorts, and every time I near the property’s edge, I blink and I am back in the tomb. Last night I was able to climb aboard one of the shuttle buses. I didn’t know where it was headed and I didn’t care, as long as it carried me away from this cursed place of blood and murder and damnation. Once I was seated and the bus began to move, my heart was cheered with thoughts that I was able to be gone from this cursed place. About a block away, I was overcome with tremendous weariness and fell into a deep slumber. When I awoke, I was alone on the stone floor of the tomb, my hands pressed fast against the resting place of the bones of Timur the conqueror. I cried aloud into the night and no one heard me or came to my aid. And still the dead, the countless victims of Timur, whispered in my mind, filling me with horror. Their voices swirled around my head, spinning faster and faster. I saw oceans of blood spilling into the tomb. Waves of crimson crashed against the stones. I rose and ran from the oncoming flood. Falling, my head crashed against Timur’s earthly cell and I fell into blackness.

When I came to the sun was high in the sky. I was dressed in clean clothes, in line with a mob of tourists filing into the tomb, with no memory of how I’d gotten there. A tour guide spouted off facts about the dreaded conqueror. My hands shook. Sweat broke on my brow. Immediately, I fetched my pen and pad from my satchel which was slung over my shoulder as usual and began scribbling the words you now read. Please send help immediately, for last night while my mind swirled in the deepest dark, the spirits charged me with a heinous duty which I must carry out for it weighs on me with the weight of immense obsession. I must open Timur’s resting place. I must disturb his bones. I must activate the curse anew and bring chaos, world-wide war, and terror to the earth! The spirits demand their vengeance, I am their servant, and I must obey! Please, for the love of all that is good and holy, please send help now; stop me before it is too late!

Logbook of Terror: Lake Ronkonkoma

Lake Ronkonkoma by Russell Holbrook

A fictional representation of a real Cursed Location – Lake Ronkonkoma

Watching the sun set over Lake Ronkonkoma, with the streaks of orange and yellow light glistening and reflecting off the water, is a breathtaking experience. On that particular evening, I was so moved by the sight I had tears in my eyes. After several minutes of gazing at this natural wonder, pondering life and the universe, and feeling an enveloping sense of awe at the wonders of our world, I decided to finish rowing across the lake and have dinner at the Light House. Although my friends had all told me that crossing the lake in my rickety craft was a bad idea at best, I’d decided to do it anyway, because, after all, well-intended advice is made to be ignored.

I rowed in silence, easing my boat along with wide, sweeping movements of the oars. My craft glided across the water, sending out ripples in its wake. While passing the center of the lake I peered down into the water. My eyes searched the darkness. I wondered if it could possibly truly be bottomless, as some of the locals claimed. I tried to fathom an endless expanse of water, ebbing and flowing down into eternity. Perhaps there exists a parallel dimension beneath the water’s surface? A watery heaven or a liquid hell, one filled with mermaid angels and another full of demonic denizens of the deep? No one knows and perhaps no one ever will. I stopped my musings and focused on reaching the Lighthouse. The late summer light was fading and my stomach was growling. I rowed faster.

About a hundred or so yards from shore, as I mentally perused the restaurant’s menu, thinkin of what I might order, a loud thud rang out from the bottom of the vessel. My heart jumped into my throat. My eyes shot to the floor of the boat. It was still fully intact. The craft rocked back and forth. I cried out and grabbed the sides. Another crash rocked me from side to side, nearly capsizing me. A third crash lifted the front end before letting it crash back into the water. I screamed and slammed my oars against the water, panicking to speed myself to shore.  Cursing and wailing, I screamed for help, thrashing the oars furiously against the water, fleeing for my life. Closer and closer I came to the sandy shore and hope filled my heart that I would survive.

The Legends of Lake Ronkonkoma-1Mere feet from the water’s edge, she ascended from the water with a shrill, horrifying cry -the lady of the lake, flying through the air before me! Frozen with fear while simultaneously enraptured by the lady’s morbid beauty – her grand, pale curves, her blank eyes, her wet, pitch black hair. She landed in front of me, her bare feet lighting on the floor of my boat, her hands wrapping tight around my throat. Before I could acclimate my mind to the reality of the events that had suddenly turned my life into a living nightmare, I was pulled from my boat and thrust down into the murky depths.

I flailed my arms and legs, I wrestled with the water maiden’s hands, but it was no use, for her strength could not be overcome. Down, down I went, further and further into uncharted depths. The pressure on my frail human frame was so intense that I passed from pain into ecstasy. Seeing that my life was fleeting, the lady released her grip on my throat. She took my hands in hers. I watched her bare breasts sway in the water’s ebb. Tiny fish and creatures of the deep eased past, observing our descent. The lady ran a soft, silky finger over my cheek, and, just before my skull imploded, I thought I saw her smile.