Free Fiction : Hallowed Cliff By Dylan Thomas Lewis

The archway stood firm under the shroud of night, its heart spelled in dripping letters: Hallowed Cliff Cemetery. He could still discern the entrance atop the sodden hill despite the starless sky, through the rain and sweeping winds. The image had been blistered into his unconscious. He marched on through the marshy soil as if he could rid himself of it by way of physical exertion, or perhaps cleanse his spirit with heaven’s baptismal waters. He dared not stop for fear of sinking through the earth and residing himself to an unceremonious yet eternal tomb. Though the world would not make it easy. Several times he lost his footing and slid upon the mud before slamming the shovel head into the ground and forcing himself up, carrying on with stubborn consternation. 

He wiped the muck on his pants as he passed under the arch and trudged forward among the aisles. Over the fresh and dying roses, the pink and purple larkspurs. Past endless processions of graves. Stones of granite. Stones of marble. Sandstone and slate. Some brandishing themselves to the eye, almost arrogant in their novelty. Others having been neglected for centuries, their texts gone as if washed away by Mother Nature for some unutterable slight against her. He eyed the years as he went, capricious, interchangeable; like philosophical tauntings from beyond, calling to him, demanding he decipher their unanswerable ponderings. 

The shovel struck into the ground as he removed a pewter flask from the inside of his shirt, then took a swig and stepped to the grave before him. He looked upon the head with bloodshot eyes, compelled to take in the marking over and over again by the light of Zeus and Selene; inconstant; uncertain. 

Eva Meridian Mara

February 21st, 1981 — July 8th, 2021

A Mother 

A Friend

A Person

Rest in Peace

Could’ve thought of better

He drank, then replaced the flask and stepped to the grave opposite. He unbuckled his belt and pissed into the sloshy soil. 

“Apologies, miss — errr — mister.”

He flicked his member clean and redid the front of his jeans, then took the shovel in hand and returned to the opposite grave. With a last look at the stone, he stabbed the shovelhead into the mud and lifted a mound of green and black muck from the earth, tossing it to the side and splattering little balls on the opposing marker. Shovelful after shovelful. Foot after foot. He spent an hour laboring deeper and deeper into the earth, stopping at several points to pour water from his shoes. Finally, he was done, breath unsteady, a salty sweat amongst the rain on his brow. 

A great hole sat before him, four by eight in dimension with a depth of six feet, the lid of a dark red casket peeking out the bottom. He lowered himself in and dug along the side until he found the latch. A light hiss escaped as he undid it, like a snake warning him from its burrow. It drew his thoughts toward the darkness within. Toward the all-knowing nothing entrapping the poor soul inside. It struck him with what he felt was an unnatural reverence. A connection and understanding unique to him and him alone. 

He’d always found an allure to such things. A morbid, yet uncompromising curiousness for the shadows — of both sight and mind. For the implications they presented. The universal and contradictory lessons that fed him without frame left him frozen in place, unable to comprehend what lay before him, regardless of what his conscious mind would admit. The horror. The humor. The eternal void just below the surface of all. 

He lifted the lid by a foot and shined his phone inside. He saw an arm veiled by a wispy white dress, stiff and pale like a cheap manikin. Spitting onto the earth wall opposite, he slid his phone in and let the lid drop, removing the flask and downing what remained. He washed what mud he could from his hands, limbs, and torso, then rubbed his hands across his face and put his head back to run them through his hair. With a final breath, he gave a glance toward the waning moon in the east and crawled inside.

He set the still shining phone on the cadaver’s stomach and burrowed his way next to it, snuggling close with his arm under the neck. His hands grasped the rigor, the penetrating cold. His eyes traced up and down the ghostly vessel. He imagined her origins, physical and ethereal. Tried to unweave the mysteries and intricacies of her being as well as those who’ve come before and will come long after. The marks of his existence and what it all amounted to. The incalculable sum rendered indistinguishable from its antecedents. 

Rubbing his fingers across her cheek, he stared at the unflinching eyelids, decorated with red and black eyeshadow. At the plush raven hair, the light reflecting off it like stars in the vacuum of space, ever-expanding, shifting further and further away. His body began to shake. He smashed his eyes shut and swallowed the snot creeping down the back of his throat. Tears of regret leaked onto his cheeks. A great breath entered his lungs and returned as if unsure of the vitality of its own purpose. 

He reopened his gaze to the eyelids. He reached with trembling hands and placed them directly under. He moved to lift the lids from their perch, but shot back upon touch, reeling as if scorched by some invisible spark. His head hung, he cried harder than he’d ever done. His eyes, half drowned in tears, stared past the light into the darkness and beyond. It stared back. He clutched the body close, burying his head into the bosom as his weeps filled the tomb, echoing back into his shattered sense of self. 

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Dylan Thomas Lewis was born in Kirksville, Missouri. He graduated from Central Methodist University after serving as co-editor of Inscape magazine for two years. He writes short stories, screenplays, and music; and is the guitarist for the Electronic Rock band Secular Era.

Free Fiction : Everything Moved Two Inches by HeavyRadio

The discovery was first made on June 2nd, 2015 by a man named Jaylen Walker, a man plagued with severe OCD. According to him, he noticed the change when the steps to get from his house to the nearby gas station were slightly less than the usual 1,374. Alarmed by this since Jaylen always made sure to retrace his steps. He did so twenty more times until he was positive that it now took 1,373 steps. After police were called into the gas station to perform a wellness check on the man, Jaylen insisted that the city check their census records and that once they did they would see he was correct. One week later, after receiving a hundred calls reporting similar circumstances in their neighborhoods, the city planner Rachel Hennley decided to look into the rumors in order to put the public’s mind at ease. However once doing so, Mrs. Hennely was floored to find that the city did indeed move two inches south since 2012.

Thinking that this could be a result of a major water line rupturing, a small crew was tasked to investigate the source of the movement. Led by Mrs. Hennely, it would take nearly a week for the crews to find anything out of the ordinary. Then on June 16th, one of the contractors named Jackson Lee found a small fissure roughly 2 inches in size roughly a half mile from the initial sighting. It is reported that once Mr.Lee had found the fissure, he had shined his flashlight down the fissure. We do not know this for sure, as shortly after finding the source, Mr.Lee would become inconsolable. After several days, he finally was able to say a single sentence.

“Close… the… gap…”

Unfortunately, Mr.Lee would go on to commit suicide after being released from the hospital. 

Curious as to what had made Mr.Lee so distraught, Rachel Hennely and local geology professor Dr.Neil Gallaghar decided to investigate the fissure further. Once down there, they discovered that the fissure had separated by over a foot since Mr. Lee’s report. Wanting to investigate further, Rachel decided to repel down into the fissure while reporting everything she saw to Dr. Gallagher. As she descended, she noted that the fissure seemed to go down almost indefinitely and would become incredibly spacious. After she reached the end of her rope, Rachel reported that she could no longer see the walls of the fissure and that she was above a massive open space. After pulling out her camera and taking several photos, a scream could be heard echoing from the chasm. Quickly looking at his computer, Dr.Gallagher’s eyes widened. It was a massive, perfectly symmetrical face. He scrolled to the next photo, but before he could look at it, his walkie-talkie exploded with sound.

“IT JUST BLINKED”

He looked back at his computer and screamed. The face was now staring directly at him, and to his horror began to smile. 

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HeavyRadio is a horror writer out of Boston. Currently, in a Master’s program,

I write all my stories in my free time.

I am most inspired by Clive Barker, H.P Lovecraft, and Stephen King.

Book Review: Let There Be Dark by Tim McWhorter

Content Warnings: attempted rape, death, violence

Monsters, ghosts, vengeful spirits, and mankind’s darkest tendencies: welcome to the world of Let There Be Dark, a short story collection by Tim McWhorter. In these pages, you’ll find eight dark tales that will make your skin crawl and your hair stand on end.

A Ph.D. research project takes a twist for the supernatural in “Rope Burns”. A mafia deal becomes a fight for survival in “The Company You Keep”. A couple drunks looking for a scare discover the horrifying story behind a local legend in “The Bridge”. One dark turn follows another (follows another) in “No Saints here”. A struggling farm has a horrific plan for making ends meet in “Pigs”. A pitch-dark haunted house takes fear to new levels in “The Dark Side”. A ski trip goes awry when they encounter a legendary beast on the prowl in “Growing Cold Together”. And finally, an oddities shop seeks to procure the perfect skull at any cost in “Skull Session”.

I was pleased with McWhorter’s ability to make classic horror tropes fresh again. The stories weren’t predictable, which is refreshing after you’ve read a lot (and I’ve read a LOT) of horror. “Growing Cold Together” and “The Dark Side” stood out as particularly good. Sadly, the writing could have used a little more editing, but if you can overlook that, it’s a solid collection. If you enjoy straightforward horror that gets down to your bones, check out Let There Be Dark.

Free Fiction : Death Job Cover Letter by Bob Gielow

 

November 19, 2021

Lord Hades, God of Death

4 Everlasting Ave

Camden NJ  08104

Dear Lord Hades,

Please accept this cover letter and accompanying resume as my application to become Intern for the Assistant to Death, North America – Region 14.  I learned of this position from a posting I found online at HellJobs.com.  

In addition to being dead myself (obviously), I have significant experience caring for and supporting those who are dying.  After earning a Master’s Degree in gerontological nursing, I spent 18 years offering palliative and hospice care to dying patients at three different homes for the elderly.  At Visiting Angels Senior Home Care in Las Vegas, I was selected “Caring Nurse of the Month,” by staff and families, eight times.  At Elder Care of Bemidji, Minnesota, I was selected to train and lead a group of between 15 and 22 hospice volunteers who spent countless hours with our patients and their families.  At Compassionate Care Senior Services in Conway, South Carolina, I was asked by the Director to inform families whenever their loved one died because I “had such a good rapport with families and always knew the right thing to say that would bring them comfort.”  

Although the job description for this Intern position said very little about the qualities for which you are looking, I believe the work in which you are engaged requires a calm demeanor (to help avoid any hysteria from the pre-dead), a facility with language (to clearly explain what is happening), a confident decision-maker (to act, when necessary, without having to always check in with a supervisor), and an ability to look “death in the eye” (if you don’t mind my using this phrase).  I believe that I possess all of the qualities listed above .  

Although it may or may not be smart for me to admit this, I feel I should acknowledge that I also have experience moving the death process along more quickly than would have been the case otherwise.  As you may know if you can access my life records, I was occasionally suspected but never charged by law enforcement for helping terminally ill patients “slip away” more quickly than they might have otherwise.  Over many years of practice, I became adept at applying a combination of increased pain medication (usually Darvon or Demerol) and/or holding my hands/fingers over the person’s mouth and nose to kill folks who were more than ready for their suffering to end.  If an Intern for the Assistant to Death, North America – Region 14 needs to periodically expedite the death process for a human, which I assume will occur for a variety of reasons, then I am your gal.  

Lastly, I think I am qualified for this work because of my recent death experience.  When I tested positive for COVID-19, at home last week, I was told by my doctor to not come into their offices or visit the Emergency Room unless I “was having difficulty breathing.”  I was breathing OK at the time, but respiratory symptoms escalated very quickly overnight.  I woke before dawn the next morning coughing and sputtering, and remembered that my phone was charging downstairs.  I had given up a phone landline several years ago and was trying to not look at my phone screen right before bed or right when I woke up.  Those decisions became fatal when I started coughing halfway down the stairs and fell down so hard I was knocked out.  I must have broken several bones because when I awoke, I could not move my body enough to reach my cell phone.  At one point, my cat Skittles just looked at me lying there and walked away.  I eventually died in pain, not being able to breathe properly, and feeling very alone.  If I am able to, as Intern for the Assistant to Death, I’d like to bring some amount of comfort to those who are experiencing death without any support from a living human.  

Thank you for considering my candidacy for this position.  I look forward to hearing back from you and the hiring committee.  

 

Claire Mortja

claire.mortja@hellmail.com 

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A college administrator by day, Bob Gielow (he/him) spins tales in formats we all use when communicating with each other: text messages, emails, fictional Wikipedia posts, and diary entries all allow him to be clinical and thorough in describing his characters, their thinking and actions … without diminishing his ability to explore the resulting human emotions. Bob utilizes these epistolary styles, and others, to tell tales that frequently explore the most common of human experiences, death.  https://twitter.com/bob_gielow

Free Halloween Fiction : Circle of Trust By Ravyn Storm

“Jamie…Jamie, if you are present, please, give us a sign…we miss you so much!” My best friend, Becca said, circling the Planchette around the Quiji board.

“Yes, girl, we miss you, queen. Show us a sign!!!” My other BFF, Robert chimed in, eyes closed.

I grinned. I was there. It was Saturday night and Halloween. The one night a spirit or entity could choose to walk and be “among the living”. This being my first Halloween on the other side, I was only recently deceased…I was murdered in June. However, the actual ruling on my death was “accidental overdose”.

My friends Becca (cellist, salutatorian), Robert (drum major, top-ten of our class, and “totally gay”), were joined by Demarcus (my once boyfriend, football captain) and Heather (track teammate of mine, fellow cheerleader, honor student, and current girlfriend to Demarcus). In life, I bridged the social gap between Jamie and Robert, and Heather and Demarcus. We were all in the same honor courses at our prestigious high school. Other than that, our group was a two-by-two sandwich with me in the middle.

My “Jamie Sandwich” posse’ was gathered in Heather’s luxurious bedroom. Honestly, her room was similar to a studio apartment. Her parents were wealthy and owned multiple properties in Texas, Florida, and New York. Heather’s room featured a walk-in closet large to house her expansive wardrobe full of everything from Lululemon to Gucci, as well as a small refrigerator (where she hid vodka in water bottles), and a bottle caddy cradling a few bottles of red wine. She had a perfectly made queen sized bed with Vera Wang bedding, a 50inch flat screen smart TV (complete with every streaming service available to mankind), and a small, round table with four cushioned high-back chairs around it.

My friends each occupied a seat at the candle-lit table with their glasses of wine. Each had a hand on the Planchette of the Quiji board. However, Becca would be the voice in charge of asking the questions. Robert was to Becca’s left, Demarcus on her right, with Heather directly in front of Becca. Perfect set-up.

Invisible, I stood between Becca and Demarcus. I began to move the Planchette.

                 H. I. G. U. Y. S.

Robert’s eyes widened as he wrote down the letters. “Hi, guys!” he exclaimed to our friends.

Following proper procedure like always, Becca asked, “Is this you, Jamie???”

I moved the Planchette, “Yes”.

“Stop moving the thing, Robert!” Heather demanded.

“Child, that is NOT me. I do not mess with spirits,” Robert defended, peeking his eyes in her direction.

Heather cut her eyes over to “her boyfriend” Demarcus.

“Babe, don’t even look at me. You know where my hands like to go,” Demarcus said as his non-Planchette hand rubbed Staci’s thigh under the table headed ever so slightly north.

I rolled my eyes. I bit my lip, resisting the urge to grab Demarcus’s “tool” and twist until it came off. I had to be patient. This was making my plan anxiously all the easier.

“Shhhh…” Becca scolded, her eyes remained closed, but she was clearly annoyed by Demarcus’s comment. “Jamie, if this is you, what is the name of your dog?”

“Toby.” I spelled.

“Ooohhhh…” Robert said excitedly, realizing it was me. Robert had a tendency to be dramatic and emotional, I adored him for it. He wore his heart on his sleeve and always spoke his mind.

“Jamie, were you unhappy?” Becca asked with a crack in her voice. I knew where her anxiety originated. There was speculation my “overdose” was a suicide. Deeply empathetic, Becca would never forgive herself if she missed the warning signs.

“No.” I pointed the Planchette. I wanted to reveal myself to her. Give her a hug. She was struggling more than the others without me. But, I had to wait. Wait for the right moment to exact my revenge.

“Why would you overdose, Jamie? It was so scary to watch you die and I will never get over it,” Heather said with fake sadness. She had no idea. I was going to make sure she would never “get over it”.

I started to spell, “F. U. C. K. Y. O. U.”

Robert, writing down the letters, stopped. “Why would she say that to you, Heather?” He asked slowly, staring at the paper, lifting his glaze to her.

Demarcus was now staring at Heather with morbid curiosity. This was playing out perfectly.

“I-I-I don’t know. I loved you, Jamie!” Heather stated, with a wide-eyed look. By now, all eyes were on Heather, just as she preferred. She was always an attention whore.

“We were best friends, since Ms. Gold’s third-grade class. I held your hand as you died! I was there…I was there!” Heather exclaimed with fake tears. She always was such a great actress. Too bad, she’d never get to use her talents after tonight.

“Tell them.” I spelled out. I was angry. Still cloaked in chosen invisibility, I threw Robert’s glass of red wine onto the carpet. Oh well. This was going down. And I was going to enjoy it.

Robert gasped as the glass flew past him, Demarcus’s eyes widened.

“Tell us what, Heather?” Becca demanded, tears in her eyes.

“This isn’t funny!” Heather screamed.

“Did you do something, Heather?” Demarcus withdrew his non-Planchette hand away from her.

“Bitch,” I spelled, moving the Planchette fast with scary speed. I was burning with anger. I could feel my anger translating into the unworldly strength of the undead. It was almost time.

They would find Fentanyl in Heather’s room. She used it to drug me. Slipped it in my vodka soda during our “girl’s night” after summer cheer practice that fateful night. She would later tell authorities I was depressed and dealing with too much stress, but “had no idea I was taking drugs”.  Heather was full of shit.

Heather had been there when I passed out. There, when I could not be revived. There when I died. She called 911 only after she was positive I was dead. She wanted me out of her way. With me gone, she could have cheer captain, track captain, an easy-made route to any college since her “bestie” died (and her parents could afford any school), but most of all, she wanted Demarcus.

That’s it, it was time to reveal myself. Since the Quiji board was actually unnecessary on Halloween to conjure spirits, I started by violently flipping the board and Planchette off the circle table. It all landed with a deafening thud on the hardwood floor. Next, I wanted a more dramatic entrance. I had the candles shoot their flames up to the extended ceiling of Heather’s massive room. As the flames disappeared, and the candles were once again lit in a more normal manner, I appeared.

“Hi, guys,” I said. Then, turning to Heather, my eyes filled with malice, “Hey, bitch”, I said with stone-cold hatred for my murderer, arching my left eyebrow, I said, “I know.” I gave a slight nod toward her accompanied by a little smirking giggle.

Everyone gasped. Becca grabbed Robert’s hand as tears streamed down her face. I felt bad for the next part, but I did what I had to do. With all the invisible force of the undead, I shoved Jamie and Robert back into Heather’s expansive closet slamming the French double doors behind them. I telepathically threw one of the table’s large chairs at the door, locking them inside. They tried in vain to open the doors.

I turned my attention to a now petrified and crying Demarcus and Heather.

“Jamie, baby, what are you doing?” Demarcus stammered. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because she took my life…and now I am taking it back,” I said, with a strange calmness to my tone.

As if on cue, Demarcus started to fall to his knees. His breathing was heavy as he fought to stay upright and awake. And then, just as I had, he succumbed to the lethal amount of Fentanyl placed in his drink.

Heather knelt down beside his body, screaming his name. Demarcus and I would be reunited in death. I grinned a small, evil grin of satisfaction.

We could hear Robert talking to a 911 operator on his cell phone while locked in the closet. Excellent, I thought.

“Familiar sight, huh, Heather?” I calmly inquired.

“Go to hell!” Heather screamed.

“Awe, where do you think I’ve been?” I chuckled, then continued, “By the way, the cops will find your stash of drugs. You might want to get your story straight. I don’t think they’ll believe you twice.”

“So? I’ll tell them-“ Heather started.

“Tell them what, Heather?! Tell them your dead friend came from beyond the grave and murdered your boyfriend while you happen to have massive amounts of Fentanyl in your bedroom? While Robert and Becca will both testify that you murdered us both? Try it.” I invited her.

“Fuck you!” Heather cried in a scream.

I laughed at her. We could hear the sounds of sirens coming closer. I retreated back to my deadly world, out of sight.

A year later, Becca and Robert along with their Quiji board were in Robert’s room sitting on the floor.

Becca, circling the board with the Planchette, began, “Are there any spirits in this room?”

Demarcus and I chuckled as we held hands. With my free hand, I moved the Planchette to “Yes”.

Robert sucked in air and slowly let it out. He said, “Jamie, girl, you know I’ve been in therapy twice a week over your dead ass…but damn, I hope this is you.”

Becca, her eyes closed, giggled.

“LOL. Hi, guys,” I spelled.

We had a good time, the four of us. Before the end of the night, I had another visit to make.

I found myself in Heather’s new, much smaller room. She was now a permanent resident in the Psych Ward of the State Penitentiary. Even daddy’s money could not save her. You know her as “The Fentanyl Killer”. I simply refer to her as “My Bitch”.

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Ravyn Storm is a lifelong reader and avid horror fan, however, growing up in a small town in the piney woods of East Texas, she found herself feeling strange, unusual, and never fit in with the locals. After attending college, Ravyn became a schoolteacher. In 2017, she left teaching to pursue a career in personal training and competed as a national-level bodybuilder. However, her love of the horror genre never changed. Ravyn resides in Dallas, Texas with her husband and two fur babies, Oscar and Louis.

IG Account- Ravyn_Storm

Free Fiction : Eternally by Michael Tennant


He sat calmly, peacefully, on the tree branch. It seemed quite sturdy. It would have to be; it was about to experience a heck of a force. Over a thousand pounds, if his memory wasn’t mistaken. He couldn’t recall which page he’d seen that number on. Maybe it was the rope that would be subjected to that strain. Whatever the case, he was confident that both the branch and the rope were up to the task.

He looked at the knot securing the rope to the branch and hoped he’d tied it well enough. He didn’t subscribe to a belief in a higher power, so he wasn’t worried about an afterlife. Likewise, he gave no credence to the metaphysical, and was thus unconcerned about being cursed to haunt the living with any sort of unfinished business – not that he could imagine what business that might be. He’d prepared a will, had his signature witnessed and notarized, listed his life insurance information, and made sure his passwords and PINs were documented. It wasn’t stories about after death that gave him pause; it was dread for the idea that he might screw this up, as he’d been so good at screwing up in life. Being a statistic, he could handle, as long as that statistic didn’t include the word “attempted.” Failing at life was par for the course; failing at death would be the final push to drive him fully mad.

He checked the knot one last time and felt reassured that it would hold. He slipped the loop over his head, positioned the hangman’s knot beneath the left side of his jaw, and snugged the noose against his throat. The apprehension he’d felt for so long slipped away, and he felt relief, knowing that the end he’d craved for decades was finally upon him. He took a deep breath, let it out, and slid forward off the branch.

Almost too quickly to notice, he’d fallen the five feet and six inches that he’d measured out for the drop. As the knot was pulled violently upward beneath his chin, it snapped his head up, back, and slightly to the right. There was an imperceptibly brief flash of pain as vertebrae separated and his spine was crushed and severed, and then he felt no more, but simply hung there, open eyes turned to the sky. He didn’t feel his lungs expel their last breath, nor did he take notice of his heart’s final beat. He simply watched a dew drop grow fat as it neared the point at which it would drip from a leaf just above him, as he awaited the unconsciousness that should overtake him. But the blissful sleep did not come for him, and the dew didn’t drip.

There was no blackness to envelop him, no light for him to go toward. A hundred, a thousand, a million ideas humans had about what happens after death, but none of them had prepared him for the horror of staring up at that dew drop hanging from the tip of that leaf, eternally.

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Michael Tenant I was an enthusiastic fiction writer and poet in high school, and utterly failed to pursue it in any fashion. I’m now trying to rediscover my imagination and creativity, 30 years later.

Free Fiction : Till Death Do Us Part – by C M Lucas

A posh café bathed in the dwindling sunlight as blue skies gave way to brilliant orange and red. La Fin du Soleil: an outlier in this small rural and very American town, was not only a tourist destination but a bit of a local hot spot. This quaint little café was a spot where potential lovers gazed into each other’s eyes, waxed poetically, and fell head over heels for the stranger sitting directly in front of them. Strangers like Linda and James. 

One Year Ago 

Linda Muller loved La Fin Soleil. A talented artist and self-described creative spirit, Linda would often find herself sipping a café Late while dreaming up her latest piece. Typically, while sipping her late, Linda would glance at the café’s patrons, often making quick sketches of them while they enjoyed their coffee. On one fateful Tuesday, Linda happened to meet the gaze of a ruggedly handsome, down-on-his-luck somber soul. Ordinarily, James wouldn’t give the French café a second look, however, on that Tuesday, James felt almost obliged to enter La Fin Soleil. Upon entering the small café, James ordered a regular dark roast with double cream and took a seat at the far end of the café beside a large window. Linda glanced at James as he continuously stirred his coffee while peering out the window. Linda observed as James’ pale blue eyes seemed to express sadness. Shaking her head softly before running her fingers through her hair, Linda got up from her chair and, with coffee in hand, made her way over to the somber man. 

“Penny for your thoughts,” Linda whispered. James glanced up at the petite woman. The sunlight bathed Lina from behind; her auburn hair looked as if it were ablaze as a large smirk formed on her face.

“I’m sorry?” James said, squinting. 

“Look, I know that’s cliché, but I, you know, I’ve never seen you in here before. You kind of stand out; you don’t look like the type of guy to stop in here, you know,” Linda explained, “and… I don’t know, you look… Is everything alright?” James continued to glance at Linda, furrowing his brow. 

“Am I alright? Uh, I… Yea, I guess. I’m sorry, what is this?” James asked. “I don’t know, you just have this sadness about, you know? I just thought that if I don’t come over and save this guy from whatever-” James shook his head before meeting Linda’s gaze. “Uh, ok, I gotta say, this is a little weird. I mean, I’ve never had anyone come up to me and ask me if I was ok,” James explained, “I mean, what are you, like the nicest woman on the planet?” 

“Yes, but only during the day. At night, I fight crime. They call me The Auburn Altruist,” Linda said with a smirk. James furrowed his brow before chuckling and shaking his head. “That was really corny. I can’t believe I laughed at that,” James said. 

“I can,” Linda said before the pair busted out laughing. 

“Thank you. I, uh, I needed that,” James admitted. 

“I know. I’m Linda,” Linda said, extending her hand. 

“James,” James said as the pair shook hands. 

“Care to sit?” 

The Present. 

Inside Las Fin Soleil, the dusty, undisturbed tables and chairs sat quietly as a small beam of sunlight shone through a crack in the plywood nailed to the window. In the far corner, sat James. Sitting almost motionless, James glanced out the tiny crack between the boards across the

window as the sun shined against his pale blue eyes. A rhythmic sequence of knocking at the boarded-up front door snapped James out of his daze before he headed toward the door. James grabbed a hammer from the floor before removing the boards from the door. James opened the door with a quivering smirk. 

“A regular knock would’ve been fine,” James said before Linda stuck out her tongue. Linda and James embraced before the pair boarded the front door. They made their way over to the far end table as James retrieved two coffee cups and placed them on the table. Linda smiled as she took a seat. James scurried over behind the counter and pulled out two candles. Lighting the candles as he made his way over, James placed the candles in a makeshift holder. “Care to sit?” Linda asked. 

One Year Ago. 

Inside La Fin Soleil, James and Linda laughed and smiled, while drinking their coffee. Minutes turned to hours as the pair continued to delight one another with conversation. “No, I’m serious. She actually said, ‘hit the bricks.’ It’s funny now, but at the time, it didn’t register, I guess. But, yea. ‘Hit the bricks.’And just like that, I was fired after, what? Nine years?” James explained as the pair continued to laugh. 

“Well, It’s great to see you laugh at the situation. I don’t know, It’s like they say, ‘If you don’t laugh, you cry,’ right?” Linda asked. James smiled before shaking his head. “You’re a walking book of clichés, aren’t you,” James asked while smirking. Linda nodded before finishing her late. James and Linda shared a moment of silence while gazing into each other’s eyes. 

“Can I buy you another coffee?” James asked.

“I’d like that,” Linda answered with a smile. As James attempts to get the waitresses’ attention, both James and Linda notice most of the café patrons are distracted by the events on the TV. 

“What the hell?” 

The Present. 

Within the La Fin Soleil, Linda and James both run their hands along the boards fixed to the café’s loan window. 

“Ready?” Linda asked. James nodded before beads of sweat began to form on his brow. The pair pried at the boards with hammers before the boards gave way, crashing to the dusty tiled floor. The dwindling sunlight burst into the café, illuminating everything. 

“Alright, Ms. Muller. After you,” James said before Linda once again took a seat. James smiled before passing in front of the window. Where once one could view the town’s quaint brilliance, rows of charred, dilapidated shops and houses now stand. The partially devoured bodies of the townsfolk lie scattered and still, as bodily fluids filled the streets. One Year Ago. 

“Everybody, quiet,” the waitress shouted before turning the volume up on the TV. Linda, James, and the rest of the patrons watched in horror as the live news broadcast displayed hordes of the undead filling the streets. The reporter began to run for his life before being consumed by the horde. The patrons within La Fin Soleil frantically began to rush toward the exit. Linda 

grasped James’ hand tight as the pair sat still with shock. 

The Present.

“I’ll never forget the first time I saw the light hit your hair. It looked like your head was on fire, but in an angelic way,” James mused. Linda smiled before taking James’ hands into hers. The pair gazed out the window as the last rays of sunlight peaked from behind the clouds. 

“Here’s to the end. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else,” Linda said with a quivering smirk. James lowered his head as a deep sadness washed over his face. Linda peered over at the saddened James. 

“Hey, come on. It’s… Look, I… I don’t know, I’m a fool sometimes. But, you love me for it,” Linda said, winking. James continued to hang his head before Linda gently touched his dimpled chin, lifting his head to meet her gaze. A tear began to stream down James’ cheeks. Linda tried in vain to keep her emotions hidden, but as she glanced into James’ eyes, her golden amber eyes began to well up with tears. 

“They’ll be coming,” James said. 

“… I know,” Linda answered. James gazed deeply into Linda’s eyes, grasping her hands tight. 

“I love you, Ms. Muller,” James said, weeping. 

“I-I-I know. H-How could you not?” Linda said before weeping. 

The pair tightly embraced. James ran his hands along Linda’s back, caressing and softly touching every inch. Linda closed her eyes tightly as tears streamed down her cheeks. Intense pounding on the entrance door echoed through the small café, as Linda and James continued to embrace. The boards began to give way before the café door flew open. 

Linda began to loosen her grip before grasping James with an intense grip. James closed his eyes as Linda began to twitch and flail. Linda’s eyes became vacant and bloodshot as all the colour began to drain from her face.

“Shoot it!” 

Linda lifted her head as frothy mucus spewed from her mouth. James closed his eyes before pressing a small revolver to Linda’s temple. As he fired the revolver, Linda fell to the ground. Linda’s lifeless body lay at the feet of the surviving townsfolk. Each member of the mob stood silent, brandishing weapons and assorted body parts displayed in trophy fashion. James stood trembling in front of Linda. His tears continued to stream down his face as he made his way toward Linda’s lifeless body. Retrieving a wilted daisy from his pant pocket, James reached down and placed the daisy beside Linda’s arm. A wilted peddle fell along a large bite mark that ran along the length of her arm before falling to the floor. James rose from the floor before pushing his way through the mob. 

One Year Ago. 

“What’s her problem? Damn waitress just lost her tip-” James abruptly stopped upon peering over at Lindaas he noticed her attention was elsewhere. 

“Wow. First the waitress and now the very woman who rid me of the blues?” James joked. 

“Huh? Oh, I’m sorry. Do you see those?” Linda asked. 

“The Daisies?” James asked. 

“Yes, I… I don’t know, I have a thing for daisies. They always bring me to a special place, you know? I, uh, yeah, I love them,” Linda said, a slight smile forming on her face before the waitress began to alert the patrons of La Fin Soleil.

Shadows Love: Retribution

Lastor hit the ground, hugging the darkest part of the darkest shadows. The community was being lit with what looked like fireflies in lanterns hung from poles, casting a cool pulsating glow for about five feet. Avoiding everyone, he edged around a building. Just as the mansion came in to view, a voice behind him whispered “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Lastor jumped. The messenger was standing behind him, looking annoyed. “Look,” he said,” if you prefer to be alone, speak now and I will leave you to your own devices. Or, IF you prefer, I can assist you in making the community play into our hands.”

“Then hurry up,” Lastor snarled, his fangs showing. “I want this over with. Yesterday.”

“The mansion has a number of Pinions guarding it. I will distract the Pinions guarding the front door. You will enter, and should not encounter any resistance. Most of the residents are Above now, during the darkness on the surface. The competition is tomorrow, and they must acquire their subjects. You will be able to sense her once you are inside. Get to her quickly. My brother is a coward and will have several protecting him as he attempts to break down your wife’s resistance. You must kill them as well.”

“Gladly.” Lastor’s face split into the nightmare of a smile. 

The messenger loped off toward the Pinions Lastor could now see blocking the door. There was silence. Then yelling and crashing and the Pinions sped off.

Lastor darted across the roadway and was through the door of the council hall in a trice. Just as the messenger said, there was no one there. He concentrated, locking on to Audrey’s aura, blocking all else. He could feel her, so tantalizingly near. He followed her through the council building and in to one of the hallways of the mansion. There was a door ajar, leading to a set of stairs going down further into the earth.

Lastor quietly stepped down several stairs. The stairway was narrow, enough for him to feel buried alive. Quietly he descended the last steps, blood pounding in his ears. He peered around the corner.

Audrey was chained to the rear bars of a cage set against the rear wall. The cage was small, with barely enough room to stand. A small vampire stood before the cage, chains, spikes, leather cuffs and rings adorning his wrists and fingers. His hair hung in his eyes, which he kept brushing back, only to fall into his eyes again. He was flanked by two bodyguards who looked as if they had come from Above. Exactly like bouncers outside nightclubs, so these stood, mountains of muscle and sinew. Only their dark eyes and unnaturally pale countenances belied their inhumanity.

The three had their backs turned, facing the cage. The brat was inside with the door open, taunting Audrey as she hung from the bars, slim wrists bitten by the harsh chain they were bound with. She looked back at the brat defiantly, no fear in her eyes. Suddenly, she raised her head and looked directly at Lastor.

It was as if someone punched Lastor in the stomach and applied a vice to his heart. The shock in her eyes was quickly replaced by fear as all three heads turned, following her eyes to face him. There was a pregnant pause where the four regarded each other. The bodyguards looked uncertainly at the brat, waiting for orders.

The brat stepped forward, peering at Lastor insolently. “Who the fuck are you?”

Lastor’s voice was like ice. “That’s my wife you have chained up there.”

The brat’s eyes widened in horror. He opened his mouth to shout and Lastor leapt forward, striking him hard in the chest, sending him flying into the wall and crashing to the floor, sobbing for breath as a little blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.

The bodyguard on the left lunged at Lastor, who hit him with a kick to the side of his face, breaking the guard’s jaw and rendering him senseless before the rebound carried his head into the wall. The other guard clenched a fist and swung, catching Lastor in the side of the head and sending him flying into the wall. The guard stomped over and lifted Lastor by the throat, leaving his feet dangling as he slammed Lastor into the wall again and again. He clawed desperately at the guard’s hands, feeling himself starting to black out. In the corner he could hear Audrey weeping softly.

Blindly, Lastor’s hands followed the guard’s beefy arms to his shoulders and up to reach his eyes. The guard screamed as his corneas were shredded, and the retinas ruptured, spilling out onto his face. The guard dropped him and fell to the ground, huddling in the fetal position with his hands over his bloody face, agonized screams echoing off the rock. His hands found his deflated eyes resting on his cheek and screamed louder. 

Massaging his own neck, Lastor placed a foot on the guard’s neck and hopped, letting his full weight bear down. There was a wet crunching sound, and the guard’s screams stopped.

Wiping his hands disdainfully on the guard’s clothing, Lastor turned to Audrey. Tears streamed down her face as she looked at him pleadingly. Lastor could almost hear her crying for him inside his head. He walked toward her slowly, his eyes penetrating her, staring deeply inside her soul.

He reached her and stopped. She was trembling. Slowly he raised a hand to caress her face, his fingers drinking in the touch of her skin. She tilted her head a little, still pleadingly staring at him, her eyes speaking a thousand words. As if in answer to her unspoken request, he leaned in and kissed her. 

TO BE CONTINUED

Logbook of Terror : Horror Addict’s Lament

 Mark sat in the breakfast nook, his steaming cup of coffee untouched, staring out at the myriad of ghosts, ghouls, and goblins that adorned his front yard. The day after Halloween was always a difficult time for him, and this year, with his wife having passed on just one week prior, he felt more alone than it seemed right or allowable for a person to feel. Halloween was always their most special time together. No matter what was going on in their lives or in the world around them, they always had their beloved season and their sacred day. They always had Halloween, just like they had each other. 

    But not anymore. 

    Judith was gone and she wasn’t coming back, no matter how hard Mark hoped that she would. So, accepting this fact, he’d endeavored to reach her. He tried all the spells that he could find, went to the local medium, and did everything he could to break through, to make contact somehow, but nothing worked. Even on All Hallow’s Eve, the holiest of all days, when the veil between the living and the dead is thread-bare thin, still…nothing. 

    Mark let out a deep, mournful sigh, then picked his coffee up and sipped it slowly, his eyes still on the yard, his mind churning. Since he’d been unable to contact Judith in the spirit realm, Mark retreated to his first intention: resurrection. 

    There has to be a way to bring her back, he mused, there must! And I’m going to find out and my Judith and I will be together again! 

    Mark savored his coffee. Midnight Syndicate played softly on the nearby stereo. Then, he stood and walked out to the yard. 

    The leaves crunched beneath him as Mark laid down among the Styrofoam headstones. He whispered his wife’s name and closed his eyes while dark clouds rolled in above him. 

    Wind blew over Mark, catching Mark’s thoughts and his grief and carrying them into the ether, through the in-between, to the deep darkness,  where Judith waited and listened. She felt the pain and mourning from her dear husband. And she reached out…

***

    Judith’s decaying hands burst out of the ground on either side of Mark. She scratched and clawed and pulled herself up and wrapped her arms around his torso. 

    Thunder crashed and the sky turned black. The soil opened up, and Judith pulled her loving husband down into the dark soil.

    Mark screamed in horror and confusion. The loose earth spread out around him. 

    “Why do you wake me, my dear?” Judith rasped. 

    “Because I love you! I miss you!” Mark wailed, dirt falling into his mouth 

    “And now, because you couldn’t let me sleep, we will be together, in terror and unrest forever!” 

    Mark fought and screamed for help as his wife forced him into the earth, the soil filling in above them, the decorative tombstones marking their place. 

    And as he sank into the dirt, Mark wished he hadn’t used black magic to bring Judith back.

***

    As the years passed, Mark and Judith’s house sat untouched. Even the most ambitious realtors in town feared the rumors that surrounded the property and refused to go near it. The bank ignored it. The neighborhood children made up stories about the old couple who had lived there, telling tales of how they loved Halloween, that they had become ghouls themselves and that they haunted their own former home. And maybe those stories were true, for on chilly October evenings, are said to be seen sitting in the breakfast nook, sipping tea. And the Halloween decorations are still in the yard and on the house, covered in moss and vines, standing year-round, untouched, forever. 

Chilling Chat: Episode # 216 – R.A. Goli

chillingchat

R.A. Goli R.A. Goliis an Australian writer of horror, fantasy, and speculative short stories. In addition to writing, her interests include reading, gaming, the occasional cemetery walk, and annoying her chihuahua, two cats, and husband.

Check out her numerous publications including her collection of short stories, Unfettered on her website, where you can sign up to her newsletter for free short stories and updates, or stalk her on Facebook.

NTK: When did you first discover horror? How old were you?

RG: One of the first horror movies I remember watching was the original Evil Dead. My older brother rented a lot of horror movies and let me watch them. Evil Dead was released on video when I was nine years old, and I remember loving it, but freaking out when having to run through the darkened hallway to my bedroom after the movie had finished. I was sure there would be a possessed woman at the end about to sing how she was going to get me.

NTK: What is your favorite horror movie?

RG: I absolutely love An American Werewolf in London. So much so, that when I was around 10 years old, I would watch it every day after school for what felt like the whole year. I knew it by heart and still quote from it, semi-regularly. I’m not sure exactly what made me fall in love with this movie. It might have been because I had imaginary werewolf cubs who lived under my bed when I was a kid, perhaps that weird crush on Jack Goodman (initial death, but pre-decomposition – I’m not a weirdo), maybe because it was both hilarious and terrifying. The awesome special effects, particularly for the early ’80s. Actually, all of those reasons and more.

NTK: What is your favorite horror novel?

RG: What a cruel question. Why not ask me which pet I love best! There are a few favorites, that I’ve reread over the years, sometimes it changes a bit, but if I had to pick one, I’d say, The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty.

NTK: What is your favorite horror TV show?

RG: Another tricky question. I suppose because series start off well, then either go off the rails or just disappoint in some way. I really liked the first season of American Horror Story, but the following seasons – not so much.

True Blood started off really well, then got a bit ‘fluffy’ for me.

The first season of Haunting of Hill House was good. What We Do in the Shadows is hilarious, but not really horror.

Maybe I go back to the classics like Creepshow and Twilight Zone.

NTK: What inspires your writing?

RG: Most of the time it’s the call for submission that inspires me. I churn the theme around in my head and hopefully come up with something good. Occasionally I get an idea after listening to a podcast or having a random conversation.

NTK: What inspired you to write, “Lighthouse Lamentation?”

RG: I was listening to the Lore podcast and they told a story about two lighthouse keepers who fought. I can’t remember that story at all, but it got me thinking about how isolated and spooky lighthouses are and that’s how “Lighthouse Lamentation” came about.

NTK: Do your characters have free will? Or do you control their every move?

RG: I control their every move like an omniscient godling. Only once did a character do something I wasn’t expecting. It was amazing and magical and sadly, hasn’t happened since.

NTK: Do you listen to music while writing? If so, what kind? What song or group inspires you most?

RG: I actually don’t listen to music. I think I would find it too distracting and want to sing along. I have developed the ability to completely ignore whatever crap my husband is watching on TV though.

NTK: Do you have any advice for the new writer?

RG: Read a lot, write as much as you can, and start small. Try short stories rather than the epic fantasy series you want to write. This is my personal experience. I’ve had over a hundred short stories published, but my fantasy novel is still unfinished.

NTK: What does the future hold for you? What do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

RG: Horror Addicts can expect a lot more horror from me, I’ll never stop loving it, and maybe one day I’ll even finish that fantasy novel.

Logbook of Terror : The Lady of the Lighthouse

 Lauren was in the lighthouse again. She never knew how she got there. She would just come out of a trance, standing in the lantern room, gazing out at the sea, a half-empty bottle of whiskey grasped tightly in her right hand. It had been the same thing every night for the past week. Lauren felt the mud between her bare toes and the cuts from the seaside rocks beginning to bloom with pain. Then came the voice. 

    “He’s out there, I know it! He’ll come back for me tonight!” 

     The sound of the shrill, hysterical notes echoed in Lauren’s head and throughout the room. “And when he comes, I’ll kill him!”

    Lauren was shocked when she realized that the screaming voice was her own. She threw a hand over her mouth as her eyes bulged. She downed a slug of whiskey to steady her nerves. “I’ll kill him!” She shrieked, not willing the words but instead witnessing their birth. 

***

    “Did you hear that?” Another voice asked a woman, close by. 

    “Yeah, I totally did! And the EVP recorder picked it up too!” A male companion replied. 

    “Sounded like it was a whisper in the wind,” the woman said. 

    “Yeah,” the man said absently as he twirled a knob on the portable digital recorder. “The Lady of the Lighthouse spoke to us. She’s real!” 

    “And this is the night it happened,” the woman said.

    “Yeah,” the man added. “She met her lover here, in the lantern room. He broke the news to her that he was heading out to sea.”

    “But he’d promised her that he would stay with her.”

    “That’s right.”

    “And he broke his promise,” the woman said, her eyes growing pale, a grimace curling her lips.

    “Yeah, he did,” the man said, focused intently on the recorder, his eyes on the small screen. 

    The man was almost too shocked to feel the pain when his companion brought the discarded whiskey bottle crashing across the back of his head. The second blow registered with a bright, piercing pain. The man dropped the recorder and staggered toward the windows. The lantern’s light washed over him as he dropped to his knees. 

    “Lauren! What are you doing?” He screamed.

    “You said you’d never leave me, Donovan!” Lauren shrieked. She brought the heavy bottle down again. It came down on the man’s forearm as he tried to defend himself. 

    “Lauren, it’s me, it’s Douglas!”

    The bottle came down again. It glanced off Douglas’s shoulder, hit the floor, and broke, forming a deadly knife of thick glass. 

    “How could you, Donovan?” Lauren wailed.

    “I’m not him! He’s the man in the story!” Douglas cried. 

    And then she was on top of him, swinging the glass weapon, cutting, stabbing, screaming, crying. Too horrified and meek, Douglas didn’t last long. When she was finished, Lauren left the broken bottle plunged into his neck. Then, the night called to her. The sea was singing against the rocks on the craggy shore. She needed to be close to it, to feel the air on her blood-soaked skin. And it was the last thing Lauren felt before she leaped from the catwalk and the waves crashing on the rocks where she fell, washed the blood away.

Ten Years Later

  Brad smiled maniacally. He said, “It happens every year during the last week of summer. A couple comes up here hoping to see the Lady of the Lighthouse-”

    “That’s the ghost, right?” Brad’s girlfriend interrupted. “And her name was Lauren, just like me, just like all the girls, supposedly?” She rolled her eyes in disbelief. 

    “Uh, yeah,” Brad said, his train of thought broken. He glanced around the lantern room. His eyes lit up and he pointed to an object on the floor. “Look! There’s even a whiskey bottle here, just like in the stories!” 

    “Cool! Let’s get wasted!”

    “It’s empty.” He sighed. “Probably left here by some other kids.”

    “Ugh, this sucks, Donovan, I wanna go,” Lauren huffed.

    Brad turned to her with a wrinkled brow. “Did you just call me Donovan?”

    He didn’t even notice that Lauren already held the bottle tight in her hand. 

Shadow’s Love : The Land Below

“The council is our system of government. They choose everything: the governing codes, Admissions, Subtractions, and the…entertainment,” he said in obvious disgust. Anticipating Lastor’s question, the messenger hastened to explain. “The entertainment is a weekly ritual. It is a competition of torture, its subjects brought by the week’s contestants. Some subjects are convinced they will become vampires at last, fulfilling some pathetic fantasy but most are brought forcefully, as lambs to the slaughter.”

“Truly they have forgotten. Neither life is less deserving, we all deserve to die.” Lastor stopped pacing. “How is it possible no humans know of this?”

The messenger waved a hand dismissively. “Currently, most believe that the sewer line is so precariously balanced geographically that to go in would be near suicide. The sewers break through to a monstrous cavern, with space enough to comfortably hold hundreds, protected from the sun by miles of dirt. Those with admission may come and go as they please, those craving admission must win their favor to gain entry. 

“You are Lady Audrey’s husband. They have been watching one who fits your description since the councilman’s son decided he would marry your wife. If you were foolish enough to go through the proper channels, they would kill you in a heartbeat.”

“How do they know who I am?” Lastor demanded.

“They broke into her mind.” The messenger looked downcast. “As a result, they know everything about you. They know her passion for you is equaled only by yours for her, and that eventually, somehow, they can expect you to arrive. As such, they will watch for you and hunt you until you are in pieces. Or dead, but they do generally prefer pieces. It will be nearly impossible for you to break in and free her and you will almost certainly not survive. There are other ways of liberating your wife.”

            Lastor remained quiet, his eyes searching for answers. 

The messenger took a breath. “You recall that she is to marry the son of a council member.” 

Lastor nodded. 

“You would of course have no way of knowing that I am the council member’s second son. It is to be my brother who marries your wife. Were he to be unable to marry her for any reason, I will immediately be required by the council to marry her. If I marry her, she will be in my control and must obey me, as stipulated by the council code. From there we have but to remove her at our leisure.”

“Clever.” Lastor looked around him and grabbed one of the bartenders who was coming out the service entrance for a smoke and looked him in the eyes. “May I have a cigarette please.”

The bartender nodded demurely and pulled the unopened pack from his pocket and handed it as well as a book of matches to Lastor.

“Thank you,” Lastor said, unwrapping the cigarettes. “You can go now.” 

The bartender nodded again and walked back into the club with a vacant look on his face.

The lighter flickered in the dark, the flame unruffled by the slightest breath of wind. The night felt dead. Lastor rolled his eyes, taking a drag off his cigarette. He squeezed his eyes tight shut for a moment until sparkles danced in his vision. “When do we leave?”

Lastor and the messenger ducked through a wrought iron archway in the oldest part of town, leading down an alley that was practically falling apart around them. Bits of mortar crumbled as Lastor’s long coat brushed past. They picked their way through piles of brick and rubble, following what was only a vaguely beaten path. 

The messenger finally stopped. He crouched down and set his fingers into the manhole cover and pulled it up as easily as if it were a plate. He slid the cover aside and climbed down the rusty ladder. Lastor followed, pulling the cover back behind him and dropping the last ten feet or so to the dirty sewer floor.

Lastor lost count of the twists and turns they made. The scent of ancient human waste overrode all else, and Lastor could no more have scented a den of vampires than heard them.

The tunnel began to glow with an ambient light that gently filled the tunnel, growing brighter slowly. As they rounded a final turn, Lastor’s stomach dropped as the floor suddenly ceased to exist. Hundreds of yards away, he could vaguely make out the other side of what was an enormous cavern. Lastor edged closer to the precipice and peered out over the edge.

It was an amazing sight. The cavern was large enough to fit several Coliseums and a few Chrysler buildings between them. There were buildings in crooked rows, shacks, houses, mansions, what appeared to be clubs, and at the center a large arena, all cobbled together with collected rubbish. From their vantage point, they had a bird’s eye view of the center of the arena, empty but for a single raised platform with an altar. Beside the arena was a giant black building with pillars lining it like bars. The back of the black building was connected to one of the statelier mansions. The whole cavern was lit by the soft greenish-white glow from what appeared to be streetlights.

Lastor tore his eyes away from the building and looked at the messenger. “So. We’re here. Now what?”

The messenger smirked. “Now you go kill my brother.”

Lastor’s eyes flashed and he allowed himself a tiny smile. “Where is he?”

The messenger closed his eyes and was very still, searching as Lastor had done. He was quiet for a moment or two. Then he opened his eyes and looked at Lastor. 

            “With your wife.”

Lastor’s eyes blazed. Before the messenger knew what was happening, Lastor had vanished down the giant ladder to the cavern floor. 

Shadow’s Love : Chapter 11/ Enlightenment

The messenger looked at him approvingly. “She knew you would need some time and told me to tarry a while.”

Lastor was torn between amusement and annoyance. Did she still know him that well? Was he really that predictable? 

“She was…as you say… my wife,” Lastor said, more to himself. He absent-mindedly touched the pocket where her letter was folded and shook his head. “Where do I go?” His eyes narrowed. “How did I not know of this place, this… land below?”

“It is a place of class and civilization – at least that is what they claim. In reality it is nothing more than a cesspool of pompous ostentatious fakes. They have forgotten; that vampires are not gods, merely immortal, victims of circumstance, no more than accidents, or bad timing. They glorify in their status, wallow in it, and deify it.” The messenger shook his head scornfully. “The only ones who crave the land below are those who think they are special, instead of merely different.”

“You still have not explained how I did not know of such a place.” Lastor tapped his foot.

“Think about it, Lastor. Would you seek out such a community? It is relatively new, two or three years strong at most.”

Two years.

Unbidden, Lastor’s mind flashed through the past to a memory from just over two years ago.

  “You don’t know anything about what we are! You just float through the world doing as you please! You never think about what it all means; you don’t care what it all means!” 

Lastor’s eyes narrowed. “And when you learn what it all means, what then? You will suddenly discover your purpose in life? What will they offer you that I cannot?” His tone was scornful.

Audrey’s temper, so near the breaking point these days, was tested again and she had to refrain from picking up something large and heavy and throwing it at Lastor’s head. She contented herself with speaking slowly and clearly, venom dripping from every syllable. “I don’t know, you idiot, but THEY do! That’s the whole point! I DON’T know because of you!”

“They say they know. Nobody knows the meaning of life, Audrey, it means something different for everyone. Nobody can find happiness and meaning for the general population.  Anyone who claims they know it is either manipulating the weak-minded or so self-deluded they actually believe it. Nobody knows why vampires are here. We’re just an accident. A cosmic fuckup.”

“No, you’re just an accident that happened to me! Now I’m stuck like this, something no one knows anything about. At least when I was really human I knew I had a purpose, even if I didn’t know what it was yet, and I knew where I came from. The only way I can stand this is if I at least have some glimmer of what being a vampire means, and you obviously don’t have a fucking clue.”

“What makes you think anyone else does? What makes you think these cretins know anything more than I do? Audrey, the answers you seek DO NOT EXIST. Do you think there are books written with all the answers and I just don’t have them?”

“It wouldn’t surprise me!”

“Go then.” Lastor’s voice was flat and cold, emotionless. 

“What?” Audrey snapped.

“GO ON!!” Lastor roared, eyes blazing. “LEAVE! Go live with your friends wherever they think is good enough, since here obviously isn’t anymore!”

“It never was, I just didn’t know yet,” Audrey sneered, jerking her coat over her shoulders. 

Lastor heard an odd ringing sound in his ears as her voice seemed to echo inside his head and the hateful look in her eyes as she glared at him seemed to magnify, swelling up until her scorn was all he could see, shrouded in red mist.

Without even realizing it, Lastor had crossed the room and lifted her up by the throat, his nails digging in. Trickles of blood dripped down to stain Audrey’s shirt, as he threw her forcefully through the door leading outside. 

***

Lastor blinked, coming to his senses, breathing heavily with the remnants of the red mist still fading. “Indeed.”

The messenger must have guessed what was in his heart, for he quickly resumed talking, grounding Lastor’s thoughts firmly to the present. “The way to the land below is no lighted promenade either. Being underground, naturally, one must go down.” His eyes dropped to a manhole cover nearby.

Lastor’s eyes followed, and then came up to look at the messenger. “You MUST be joking.”

The messenger chuckled. “No. There is an old sewer system that has not been used for decades. It is dry and relatively tidy. Elitists are not likely to sully their feet with mortal filth, I assure you.”

“Well I’m no elitist but I’m not too keen on trudging through sewage, bound for some subterranean promised land.” He pointed a finger at TM. “And you. What are you doing there, if all its residents are phony?”

“I’m sure you will agree, there is benefit in seeming to support the most powerful beings of our kind, artificial as they may be.”

“If you’re lying to me—” Lastor began but TM held up a hand.

“Sir, your lady has already enlightened me as to the consequences of deceiving either of you. I do not wish, as the Lady Spencer has kindly offered, to be bound and gagged by my own intestines as you…er…fornicate in my blood?”

Lastor smiled in spite of himself. “That’s Audrey all right.”

“Ah, but perhaps not for long,” TM said, his face growing dark. “Soon she is to marry the eldest son of the senior member of the Council of Choice, and her personality will be… quite irrelevant.”

Lastor’s smile vanished. “Council…married??”

“Well obviously she would prefer to avoid this eventuality as well, which I daresay is why we are talking now.

Logbook of Terror: A dirge for Broken Clocks

   

Braxton didn’t overreact when the hands of his pocket watch started running backward. Like most things in his life, he thought it was a curious phenomenon that needed investigation. At that same moment, a woman passed him on the sidewalk. She nodded with a smile and said something and while her lips moved to the melody of “Good morning”, the words came out of her mouth in reverse. 

    The woman’s eyes went past Braxton to an approaching man. She waved and called out a greeting, or maybe a name, Braxton couldn’t tell because all of the words were backward. Now alarmed and on the verge of overreacting, Braxton rushed the last few steps to his shop and hurriedly let himself in. Once safely inside the Hands of Time Clock Repair and Curio Emporium, Braxton locked the door and took a deep breath. The sound of his own strained breathing eased and gave way to the most horrific sound of all: silence. Dreadful, terrifying…silence.

    In a shop full of hundreds of vintage clocks, there was not one tick, not one tock. Nothing. Braxton shuddered and ran to the back of the shop. 

    A door led to a dark hallway which took Braxton into the deepest recesses of the Emporium. He burst through a last door and there in the center of a high-ceilinged room loomed a massive clock. 

    The clock towered high over Braxton. It had the gnarled face of an ancient being that seemed almost human but entirely something else. Huge, mutant gears encased in flesh turned in a tired, wheezing rhythm. 

    “I’m tired,” the clock said to Braxton, its voice a creaky drone. 

    “What’s wrong, Father?” Braxton asked. 

    “I’m tired,” the clock repeated. 

    Braxton hesitated, then said, “I saw them outside, speaking backward, and all the clocks in our shop have stopped.” 

    “You can fix me,” the clock said. “You know what you must do.”

    With a deep sigh, Braxton unbuttoned his shirt. With pain in his eyes, he worked his skilled hand through his skin and into his chest. A moment later he pulled out a blood-covered gear. Seeing this, the Father smiled with his crooked mouth. 

    Braxton went to the back of the massive clock. Climbing a tall ladder, he searched through a section of the gears until he found a small cog with a broken spoke. Braxton removed the fractured gear and replaced it with the one from his chest. He climbed down and stood in front of the clock. 

    “Try now, Father,” Braxton said.  

    The clock took a deep breath. Braxton waited. The gears began to grind… backward. 

    Every clock in the shop started screaming. A high-pitched, metallic wailing filled the air. 

    Braxton grabbed his chest. “No!”

    “Yes!” Shouted the giant clock. “It is the end!”

    Blood filled Braxton’s eyes. “Please Father, no!” 

    The clock let out a rumbling laugh that shook the shop. The clocks, watches, and time-keeping devices that filled the shop kept screaming. Glass casings shattered. Gears were pulled backward. Time was erasing itself. 

    Braxton fell to the floor. The pain of all of his gears working against themselves filled his body. He collapsed and his life seeped out of him. 

    And all of the clocks in the world cried out in fear and pain as their gears wound in reverse, and then came to a dead and quiet stop.

   With no gears turning, the earth stopped spinning and drifted off into the deepest darkness of space.

    And the Father clock smiled and went to sleep because he was very, very tired indeed. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End.

Book Review: Falling by Drew Turney

Review by Veronica McCollum

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

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

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

Shadow’s Love : Chapter 10 – Desperate Plea

Lastor was awakened by a knocking at the door of his hotel room. He lifted his head, tasting the brandy. His head spun, punctuated by knocking. Groping his way upright, Lastor scrabbled for the bathroom doorknob, finally found it, cursing, and opened the door. His head did not explode in agony, so he opened his eyes. The blinking red numbers said 10.30pm. At least the sun was finally gone.

But then… who the hell was knocking at his door at 10.30?

“Go away,” he croaked at it. “I’m paid for the week.”

“No, sir,” said the door, polite and calm. “I bring a letter, for your eyes only.”

Lastor rolled his eyes. “From who?”

“The Lady Audrey Spencer.”

The next thing the messenger knew, the door had crashed open and he was suddenly seized by the throat with iron fingers, pulled into the room, and slammed up against the wall as a dark shadow roared “WHO sent you???”

The messenger reached up and adjusted the glasses Lastor had knocked askew. “The Lady Audrey Spencer, sir. She was very adamant about it. I was told –” 

“I don’t care what she told you. Give me the letter, NOW.” Lastor grated, his eyes blazing.

The messenger reached into his pocket and withdrew an envelope. Lastor snatched it and dropped him roughly, breaking the wax seal before the messenger hit the ground. Lastor pulled out the letter and immediately was assaulted by an all too familiar scent that erased any doubts as to the letter’s origin.

Audrey.

My Love

I realize you want me dead for what I’ve done to you. The irony is that I have been dying inside since last I saw you, and if you want me dead, all you have to do is nothing. I no longer understand my actions – their way has escaped me. I know you won’t trust a word of this; you would be a fool to, particularly now, but not half the fool I am for having to say these empty meaningless words: I’m sorry. 

I am betrayed., and now their prisoner. I was first tempted by the answers they dangled before me, only to learn too late that they are nothing more than lies spun by a crafty spider. They will kill me if I try again to escape. Their coldness numbs my aching heart as my blood grows ever weaker and more sluggish. 

Please, Lastor, save me from this. Only you can return me to myself. I do not live without you. I have always been

Yours,

Audrey

***

Lastor’s eyes rose from the letter to the messenger’s face. “Where is she?”

“She is being held in the land below, deep underground,” the messenger said.

“What makes her think I would do anything to help her?” 

“She was your wife before, was she not?”

Lastor crushed the paper and threw it to the side. “I think ‘was’ is the key word there, little man. Now leave, before I kill the messenger.”

The little man brushed himself off and stepped over the rubble in the doorway, stopping to look back at the vampire. “Then you never really loved her anyway.”

Before Lastor could move or react, the messenger was gone. 

Lastor stood with the messenger’s words ringing in his ears over and over, burning into his subconscious. Finally, he moved to the door, barring it as best he could. Going to the dresser, he pulled out a half bottle of whiskey and drained it. Drunkenly throwing the bottle aside and not really hearing it shatter, Lastor stumbled toward the corner which housed the crumpled paper. Unfolding it, Lastor read the letter again, slowly. 

He left the hotel room, barely discernible from the shadows in the dim hall. His long black coat wrapped around him like a shroud, his pale face the only thing to show through the darkness. His eyes, dark and cloudy for so long, now burned with a fiery purpose. The hooker sitting in the stairway saw and hastened to move out of his path, a stained needle still hanging from her arm, teeth as gnarled as her veins. Lastor’s eyes swept over her, noting her indiscernibly. Pausing in his stride, he looked at her. Deaf to her protests, he plucked the syringe from her wasted arm, snapping it beneath his boot. 

“Hey – what the—”

The hooker started upright angrily but Lastor grabbed her face and threw her sideways, knocking her head against the wall. She slumped to the floor, senseless as he stepped over her, wiping his hand fastidiously on his coat.

Stepping out onto the street, Lastor inhaled deeply, tasting the air. Without hesitating, he turned left, following the messenger’s smell.

Lastor pushed a door open and was immediately assaulted by the pounding of industrialized gothic beat. The walls were black with red trim and the babble of voices almost drowned out the music. Different kinds of smoke hung thick in the air. Dimly lit bodies in various stages of undress undulated beneath multicolored lighting. A DJ with a bored face was mixing techno at an elevated console behind a spool of razor wire.

As Lastor’s eyes moved over the room, he spotted the messenger sipping something red from a rocks glass and playing with a cherry stem as he nodded politely at the pretty thing that was chatting him up. As Lastor watched, the messenger stood up and said something to the pretty girl, taking her empty glass, before picking his way delicately through the crowd to the bar. 

Lastor moved between the patrons and materialized behind the messenger, waiting for him to deposit the empty glasses on the bar, before grabbing him by the back of the collar and steering him forcefully through the crowd and out a nearby service entrance. The messenger did not look surprised to see him.

“You will tell me how to get to the land below,” Lastor said. 

 

Logbook of Terror : Fluffy Loves You!

   

The cold, dark eyes of the poofy white mechanical cat gazed up at Yates. The toy’s mouth shot open and, in a sing-song voice it said, “I’m Fluffy!” 

    Yates chuckled. “It’s so cute.”

    “For the price, it goddamn better be,” Poppy said, sitting their drinks on the coffee table and sinking into the couch.

    “You think she’ll like it?” Yates asked. 

    Poppy smirked. “Of course she will, she’s four. And besides, Katie loves cats.” 

    “Why don’t we have an actual cat, then?” Yates asked, looking puzzled. 

    “Are you kidding?” Poppy huffed. “Those things are disgusting.”

    Yates looked down at Fluffy’s innocent, adorable face. The tan eyebrows turned down and the sweet expression became a menacing glare. 

    Yates’ face crumpled. 

    Poppy absently sipped her drink and stared into the images moving across the television screen. 

    A low growl rumbled out of the toy cat. 

    Yates hopped up from the floor and handed Fluffy to Poppy. “Hold this, I gotta pee.” He hurried from the room and slipped up the stairs. 

    Already feeling the effects of her codeine cough syrup and whiskey nightcap, Poppy sat the toy kitty on the table and gave the thing a hard stare. After turning her attention back to the TV show, Poppy had the distinct sensation that she was being watched. Her eyes darted to Fluffy, whose wide-eyed gaze was fixed on her. 

     Poppy narrowed her eyes. “Stop looking at me,” she said. 

    “Fluffy loves you!” The doll chirped. 

    “Yeah? Well, I don’t care,” Poppy replied. 

***

    Yates was looking in on Katie when Poppy’s shrill shrieking attacked his ears. Startled out of the peaceful moment of watching his daughter sleep, he raced back down to the living room. 

    The metallic smell of fresh blood curdled his nostrils as Yates rounded the corner to see his wife sprawled across the couch, her throat ripped from her neck. Fluffy the mechanical cat sat on the coffee table, cleaning a paw, her white fur soaked in blood. 

    Yates stared at the corpse of his wife on the couch. 

    A small voice echoed from the bottom of the stairs, asking, “Is she dead?” 

    Yates smiled. “She sure is, honey.” 

    Katie ran to her father and leapt into his arms. 

    “You’re a genius, little girl, it worked just like you said it would.” 

    “It wasn’t me, daddy, it was the toy maker. He told me Fluffy would help get rid of mean mommy.”

    Yates looked at Fluffy. Smiling wide, he said, “Well, she sure did.” 

    Fluffy’s eyes grew big and bright. Drenched in blood and bits of viscera, she squealed, “Fluffy loves you!”  

    “Yay!” Katie yipped with joy.

    And Yates hugged his daughter tight and thought about the hole at the edge of his vegetable garden. Human flesh does make for wonderful fertilizer, yes it does indeed.  

The Hole by C M Lucas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  To be continued…

Shadows Love Chapter 9 : Tortured

Lastor lay there with Audrey wrapped around him, lost in the past as she dozed. He stroked her hair and she shifted, drawing closer to him, soft sounds coming from whatever dreamland she was inhabiting. 

Lastor remembered the tears she had cried, telling him things she had never been able to confide in anyone else. He remembered how she clutched him to her as she sobbed, desperate to know someone else was there for her, someone who would never hurt her, always protect her. He remembered her cries of fear in her sleep, her fitful whimpers as she tossed and turned, tortured by unknown demons.

Many had tried to “fix” her with counseling, medications, and therapy, but everyone knew there had to be something wrong. In looking, Lastor could not see anything amiss but unhappiness and unnecessary medications clouding her mind. 

She had been off the meds and unhappiness merely a day before the change was noticeable. Lastor had not been surprised. She was giddy, bubbly, and full of life, giggling like a schoolgirl as silly jokes rolled off her tongue. 

Lastor knew his life was nothing special. Spending most of every day in solitude, locked inside his own head, being forced to look in the workings of his mind for entertainment was his choice. Having never been impressed with the intelligence of most of humanity and not enjoying the company of most other vampires left him with little option but to become self-reliant. The numerous times he had associated with others of his kind had led him to the conclusion that excluding him, vampires lorded their status over others, and that biologic superiority demanded respect beyond their years. Disagreeing with the estimations of his kind’s worth and living inside his head sometimes for days on end without speaking a word had left its mark. Lastor had developed very little patience with others, abhorring crowds and keeping his back to the wall at all times. Indeed, it was common for him to be seen in a public setting only as long as it took him to be seen. 

Lastor had more or less resigned himself to being alone for eternity, before happening upon Audrey. All the humans with whom he had attempted to forge any relationship had not lasted longer than a weekend before infuriating him and forcing him to end them. The female vampires he chanced to meet and bring back may have been initially enamored of him, but when they saw the extent of introspection in his life, they left him, talking amongst themselves of how strange he was, even for a vampire. Lastor for his part watched them go, sighing inwardly as his opinion of his own kind was lowered once again, and once again he was left alone, sitting in the dark, chasing his thoughts one by one around his head until they vanished into the nothingness that was there. 

Someone had finally smiled on him. He had simply catered to a whim and indulged in a night of innocent blood, and he had found someone who loved and accepted him for who he was, who he wanted to be, without attempting to change him to fit their notions of what someone should be. This was the sort of thing that happened in bad fiction. Occasionally one might hear of someone taking a chance and having it pay off, but that’s all it ever is, just hearing of another’s luck. Lastor kept expecting the worst, having been bitten enough times to question luck. The surrealism of the nights kept mystifying him. The way time ceased to exist, how the night would fly by until the sun chased them into the dark recesses of the mansion, the hours they spent wrapped in each other’s minds through their eyes, unwilling to look away. When things seem too good to be true, they usually are. 

It came to pass that this was one of those times.

“AARRGH!!!” 

Lastor jerked awake as if trying to stop himself from falling. Breathing hard, he stared unblinkingly at the ceiling, willing the image in his mind to fade. His pulse began to drop, and his breathing slowed. Looking down at the silver ring he still wore on his right hand, he saw his fingers unconsciously curled up into fists. Opening them hurt; the long nails had dug into his palms. Trickles of blood ran down his forearms. 

Reaching for the bottle beside the bed, he squinted at the clock and it’s winking red light. Nine in the fucking morning. Why did the dreams have to wake him so early? Now it was another day of forcing himself to sleep through the world’s waking life from behind shades that only marginally succeeded in blocking out the sun. The residual glow gave him a headache, which another mouthful of brandy did nothing to fix. His unfocused vision lit upon the corpse on the couch, her eyes staring in horror out through her bloody face. He had met her last night, in hopes that she would be capable of taking Audrey’s place. She proved…unworthy.

Standing unsteadily, Lastor moved along the wall clutching the bottle, making his way toward the windowless bathroom, avoiding the blocked portal of light. Locking the door and staunching the gap between the bottom of the bathroom door and the floor exhausted him, and he slumped over once it was done, his heart racing again. Scrabbling weakly across the floor for the bottle, he took a deep drink and exhaled shakily as the warm liquid crept down his throat. Curling up against the glow that remained, he fell into a fitful sleep, haunted by nightmares of memories.

Logbook of Terror – A Bit of Flesh / Russell Holbrook

 

 

  The pictures didn’t fit together in Tommy’s mind. He looked around his workstation, the clamor of industry engulfing him, and wondered, Am I really here? Something felt off, something inside and outside of him. 

    He felt the tips of his fingers. Solid flesh. Mortal. Alive. That was real. He focused on his breathing, trying to steady himself at the sheet metal cutter. A bead of sweat fell into his eye. He squinted and rubbed his forearm over his mop of black curls and his wet forehead, wiping away the perspiration. 

    Tommy shook his head and took a deep breath. Gotta work, the foreman will be making his rounds… 

    He slid the sheet metal into the cutter and when the circling blade dug into the metal and the grinding of metal on metal and the showering of sparks began, the harsh factory world around him came to a dead and sudden halt. Tommy stared at the sheet of metal and the machinery and saw that it was at a standstill, frozen in an angry,  sparking moment. In between fractions of a second, between thoughts, he stood, unable to breathe until he remembered that he could. And then, an ancient, cloaked figure appeared to him in that in-between space of maybe or possibly or what if and said, “Would you like to make a deal?” 

  “A deal for what?” Tommy returned, question for question. 

  “Your dreams,” the figure replied, rolling out an open, skeletal hand. 

  A vision of Tommy, on stage, playing his guitar in front of thousands of adoring fans, rose from the creature’s palm, flickering luminescent like an ancient film reel. 

  Tommy was transfixed by the vision of himself. 

  “Give me a bit of flesh and a splash of blood and I will grant your dreams to you. For a small sacrifice, all can be yours, unless you prefer…this,” the figure said, sweeping his arm out toward the factory floor. 

  “A bit of my flesh?” Tommy repeated. 

    The figure nodded.    

“Yes…” 

    Tommy considered the offer. He gulped down the lump in his throat and muttered, “Alright.” 

    In an instant, the cloaked merchant of destiny was gone, the machines were roaring all around Tommy, and his left hand was being pulled under the hungry blade. As if in a dream, he watched the blade shred off the tips of his first and forefinger. Blood spurted over the gleaming metal, then his world went black. 

           15 Years Later

    People milled around the backstage area of the heavy metal concert, laughing, drinking, and smoking. Tommy had his guitar slung over his shoulder, waiting to go on, feeling the anticipation inside him building. He wandered past a trio of chattering women and stopped next to a man who was dressed in simple athletic attire and was missing his left arm, leaving a vacant spot in the left sleeve of his t-shirt. Tommy looked at the prosthetic fingertips on his left hand, the professionally manufactured ones that had replaced the tips he’d made himself out of wax and leather so many years ago. 

  The one-armed man turned to Tommy. He held a pair of drum sticks in his right hand. Catching Tommy gazing at his fingers, he said, “A bit of flesh, a splash of blood, eh?” 

  Tommy met the drummer’s eyes and recognized a familiar pain. 

  “There’s always a sacrifice,” Tommy said. 

  “Indeed, there always is, and some have to give more than others,” the drummer said with a sideways grin before he excused himself and crossed the room, leaving Tommy alone to wonder who among artists and poets, writers, or musicians, had met the cloaked figure and what they’d given to get what they wanted. An ear, an eye, their voice, their life? Everyone eventually got their turn at the crossroads, he supposed. 

  The roar of the stadium crowd seeped through the backstage area walls. Again Tommy looked at his disfigurement, smiled, and thought, Well, what’s a bit of flesh anyway?

THE BIGFOOT FILES/Chapter Forty-Five: One Step Too Far 

One Step Too Far is a thriller set in the Wyoming wilderness that follows a group of eight hikers trying to find a missing person. Released in 2022 and written by New York Times bestselling author Lisa Gardner, the novel is Book 2 in the Frankie Elkin series. 

One Step Too Far has nearly 9,000 ratings on Amazon with an outstanding 4.6 (out of 5) review score. Top reviewers loved Gardner’s storytelling and Frankie’s character, while the negative reviews criticized the slower pacing and lack of action. 

Frankie is a unique protagonist. A recovering alcoholic, Frankie is your average, middle-aged woman who spends her life searching for missing people who are forgotten by the police, the public, and the media. Her efforts are voluntary, forcing her to live the life of a drifter, but she has a talent for it. 

In One Step Too Far, Frankie ventures well outside her comfort zone and into the great outdoors to help a grieving father find his missing son, Timothy, who disappeared on the first night of a bachelor party camping trip five years ago. His four best friends returned from the trip alive, but Tim disappeared without a trace. 

When Tim’s father Martin organizes another annual search, Frankie joins the group of eight despite lacking basic survival skills. The group also includes three of Tim’s four best friends, a legendary local survivalist named Nemeth, a woman named Luciana with her cadaver dog Daisy, and a cryptozoologist named Bob of the North American Bigfoot Society. 

The pace of the book is as deliberate as the hike to their destination at Devil’s Canyon, but it allows us to watch how Frankie operates. She’s patient and inquisitive. She tries to find out what makes each member of the search party tick. That takes time. So, while One Step Too Far is not an action-packed thriller in the traditional sense, it still manages to ramp up the suspense in between the occasional action scenes by adeptly using slow reveals throughout the narrative. 

Is this a Bigfoot book? Maybe. Maybe not. Bigfoot does provide the one hope for Tim’s father Martin, who promised his dying wife he’d bring their boy home. In a rare moment of vulnerability, Martin tells Frankie why he’s working with Bob of the North American Bigfoot Society. 

“I read about another case they were working on. A young man who went missing in the mountains of Washington. The Bigfoot hunters are particularly focused on that area. … One of the guys gave an interview saying they didn’t know what had happened to the young man, but they could see him taken in by a family of Sasquatch and living happily ever after. I am a carpenter by trade. A man who works with his hands believes in things that I can feel and touch. But that quote … 

“When you lose your child, and I mean lose your son, as in you have no idea where he is, no idea what happened to him, what his last moments might have been like, you need some kind of hope to get you through the day before the terror finds you again at night. I never even thought about Bigfoot five years ago. Now, I want nothing more than to believe.” 

While Martin’s hope is driving the expedition, Frankie’s methodical conversations with each member of the group are unearthing secrets that deepen the mystery of Tim’s disappearance and what happened the night of the bachelor party. The extended climax turns on a couple of shocking twists but ultimately ends with Frankie’s tenacity solving the mystery. One Step Too Far is an interesting read for hikers and Bigfoot enthusiasts who enjoy a more cerebral thriller rather than a violent creature feature.

NEXT UP: Chapter Forty-Six: Kiamichi Beast Expedition 2. I review the 2022 documentary by Master Hughes.

Shadows Love: Chapter 8 / Lost

He was sitting on a bench in a playground. The sun beat down, but instead of the burning and headache the sun normally evoked, it bathed him in a comfortable warmth for the first time in memory. He closed his eyes and leaned back, basking in the sun’s rays; he had almost forgotten.

A touch at his shoulder. Lastor looked down, seeing Audrey laying on him comfortably, her head on his shoulder. Her eyes came up and she smiled, sliding her hand into his and lacing their fingers together as her eyes returned to the playground. Lastor’s followed.

A little girl stood atop the slide, apparently steeling herself. Shutting her eyes, she pushed herself down the chute, her mouth open in a squeal of delight. She landed on her feet smoothly and her eyes shone like twin stars as she beamed at them, the telltale crimson gleam in those eyes that so resembled Audrey’s barely noticeable. 

Lastor awoke with a start, his sheets soaked in sweat. His jaw was sore. He had obviously been clenching it while dreaming. So close… he grimaced, rubbing his jaw. Their last kiss was so long ago he didn’t remember it. How was he supposed to dream of it? 

Pushing himself to his feet, he went to the window, looking out over the darkened city with its thousands of burning lights.  He remembered, fresh amid the fog his recollections had often become, hunting with her one night, though it seemed like forever ago. They had been in the woods, stalking deer just for sport, having fed well of lowlife scum earlier. She had been tracking the animal through a thicket of trees, sticking to the shadows as it fed in a moonlit clearing, gray in the light. The deer had raised its head and Audrey had stopped, dead still amid the trees and shadow. After a cursory scan, the deer resumed its feeding. With a gleeful grin on her face, had Audrey turned from her target and grinned at Lastor. The angle of the moon fell into her eyes, igniting a tiny spark there which Lastor was sure he could have seen for miles. Now, fresh from the dream, staring into the glistening stars, it was like staring in to her eyes a thousand times over. The look on her face as she smiled at him in the moonlight would not leave his mind.

Out of habit, Lastor absentmindedly reached for the half empty bottle of brown liquid on the table before the mirror. His fingers knocked over a dirty glass which had been discharged from active duty after the first fifth had been consumed and he cursed before closing his hand around the bottle’s no longer comforting neck. He swallowed a mouthful, grimaced, and swallowed another. Reaching to a drawer in the table, he took out a half full pack of cigarettes and tweezed one out with a long nail. A match lit the hollows of his face for a brief moment, illuminating his sunken eyes.

Lastor opened up the window and leaned out, breathing the smoggy night sky in to his lungs along with the nicotine, relishing its coolness. He stared blankly at the skyline, at the jutting skyscrapers biting into the sky like teeth. Reaching out, searching…but as usual there was nothing there. Just a blank emptiness where Audrey used to be. Rage rose inside him, white hot and fast. Snatching the bottle up again, Lastor first drained it then shattered it against the windowsill, sending glass raining down on the street onto the heads of those passing by. Holding the bottle by the neck he stabbed the jagged edge at his arm and dragged it upward. Blood erupted from the cut, running down his fingers and dripping onto the floor. Lastor sighed as the endorphins flooded in as well as the fiery pain. 

The blood dripping from his fingertips began to slow. By morning there wouldn’t even be a scar, just a dull ache. But the pain was there, beneath the cells that were beginning to knit together slowly, microscopically. He focused on the pain, nurturing it, encouraging it, letting it fill the space occupied by Audrey’s eyes, the emotional pain finally giving way to a more present physical sensation. His eyes fell to the scarlet puddle soaking in amid the hundreds of stains in the cheap motel carpet, the lit cigarette he had dropped in his rage smoldering its legacy into the fibers until it was snuffed out by his foot. 

            Lastor looked at the moon. It was low in the sky, enough for it to be about ten o’clock. He cursed softly to himself as he pulled a shirt over his pale body and dragged his long black coat over his shoulder. His arm still throbbed, just enough to prevent his mind from focusing obsessively on anything else. Success.

Stepping to the window, Lastor climbed out onto the fire escape, dropping the last twenty feet or so to land soundlessly in the alley. A bum slept nearby, grunting in his sleep, a loaf of moldy bread and a bottle of Jack Daniels in his hands, oblivious to the glass from Lastor’s window which covered him. Lastor paused long enough to relieve the derelict of his beverage and set off down the alley, moving deeper in to the darkness, following the moon.       

            Hours later, Lastor felt nothing. He had sat in a seedy strip club so long that the bartender had told him to order from the bar, buy a lap dance, or get the fuck out. A bartender’s broken nose and some violence later, security had been summoned to come throw him out, only to be knocked hard against the wall. Now, having relieved several more homeless of their liquid comforts as well as an opium fiend of his fix, he was comfortably numb again, acting on instinct – hunting. Even his arm felt better.  

 

Logbook of Terror: The Secret Sea

  

 Mother was screaming. Jax didn’t know why, this type of thing just happened every once in a while. Through his tear-smeared vision, he watched her point at the old claw-foot tub. As if from a great distance he heard her shouting, “Get in the tub you filthy rat! Dirty boys need to get clean!” 

    Faster than Jax could comprehend, her fingers were in his hair and her strength was pulling him towards the tub. Then, despite his protests, he was falling over the side and she was pushing him under. He thrashed and fought with all his might, popping above the water’s surface just long enough to cry out, “No!” and gargle, “They’ll get me!”

    But mother didn’t listen, she simply pushed him back under, because mother didn’t believe in the things that lived in the tub. No matter how much he tried to make her believe, to help her understand, she never did. She always sneered and said, “There’s no creatures in the tub! The only monster here is me.” 

    Jax took a deep breath just seconds before his mother slammed his head back under the water. And that’s when it happened,  just like it had happened every time before. 

    The bottom of the tub disappeared, and Jax found himself descending into the depths, into dark, endless blue. His eyes darted side to side. The tub walls were gone and an endless sea stretched out on all sides. And far below him, Jax heard the sea creatures cry out. 

    The bathroom light shimmered across the surface above. For a brief moment, Jax contemplated swimming toward the dim glow. Still, he knew mother would be there, waiting to struggle with him like so many times before, so instead, he turned and swam into the darkness, feeling that the monsters below certainly couldn’t be as bad as the one above. He suddenly realized that he had been mistaken to fear the creatures of the deep. It was true; mother was right: she was the monster. 

    Deeper and further down Jax swam. His eyes adjusted to the murky depths and he saw wondrous beings that his mind knew no names for, life forms birthed from the water’s imagination. 

    The secret world of the tub whispered their magic to Jax. The creatures surrounded him and sang their power into his being. And while he marveled at the wonder around him, Jax’s body transformed. 

    Fins sprouted from his forearms. His skin became rough and scaly. He breathed in deep, drawing in water and not choking or suffocating but instead becoming invigorated. The mystical song of the sea rang in his ears, and long, sharp claws appeared on his fingertips while webbing grew between his fingers and toes. Along with the changes his body was making, all the fear that he’d held inside was vanquished, and, in its place grew a burning rage. 

    Mother was leaning over the tub, staring into the water, not comprehending where her son had gone, when Jax broke through the surface and attacked her. She was screaming before she knew it, shrieking at Jax, but this time now instead of crying out with rage at her son and life and the world, she wailed in agony and terror as Jax sank his new claws into mother’s tender flesh. He clamped his wonderfully hideous new teeth around her neck and jerked her into the tub, smashing her head against the wall as he pulled her down. 

    Blood filled the tub and Jax dragged mother down, down into the depths of his new, secret ocean home where the creatures of the deep would tear her apart.  

 

Book Review: Eater of the Gods by Dan Franklin

 

Book Review by Daphne Strasert

Content Warnings:

Violence, Gore, Grief, Major Character Death

Norman, an Egyptologist, leads a team of researchers to the tomb of Kiya, a mysterious, lost queen of Egypt. For years, locals have refused to reveal the location of her final resting place, fearing it to be cursed. Norman and his companions don’t believe in any such curse… until they find themselves trapped inside with no way out. And they aren’t alone.

The Eater of Gods is straightforward. It gives the reader exactly what they want from a mummy story. Not that its simplicity makes it any less compelling. The plot is well-paced and balances action with suspense and surprisingly touching moments of emotion. There is nothing particularly twisty or tricky about the novel, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless.

Franklin’s characterization is the star of the show. He creates a small, but diverse cast of characters. Each has a distinct personality conveyed through clever use of dialogue and action. From the lecherous professor (who gets what he deserves) to an over-eager graduate student, to Norman himself, a grieving and broken man fulfilling his wife’s dying wish. It is a fairly large list of characters for such a short and small-scale story, but Franklin manages to craft connections to each of them so that we care about their well-being.

Taking place almost entirely within Kiya’s tomb, The Eater of Gods feels at once both claustrophobic and expansive. The tomb is a maze of tunnels designed not to keep grave robbers out, but to keep something else in. Behind every corner is another trap waiting to spring… Or have they been in this room before?

While The Eater of Gods is a straightforward mummy horror story, the novel is infused with grief. As Norman works through his own emotions regarding the death of his wife and her unfulfilled desire to study the tomb of Kiya, readers also feel the weight of his issues. The Eater of Gods is a sort of love story in that way. While the terror of the tomb is the forefront of the novel, the anguish, and hopelessness that run throughout give it heart.

If you’re looking for a quick, easy read that delivers exactly what’s promised, check out Dan Franklin’s The Eater of Gods.

THE BIGFOOT FILES/Chapter Forty-Four: The Beast

The Beast: A Bigfoot Thriller by Armand Rosamilia is an unabashed creature feature starring a ferocious Bigfoot on a mass killing spree in New Jersey during the summer of 1986.

Published by Severed Press in 2019, The Beast boasts a solid 4.2 (out of 5) with 65 ratings on Amazon. Overall, top Amazon reviewers praised the depth of the characters and the action but wished the author fleshed out the story more.

The Beast follows a pair of teenage twins, Jeremy and Jack Schaffer, who are polar opposites. Jeremy is a geek who plays Dungeons and Dragons with friends Kathleen and Randy, while Jack is a promising athlete who thinks a bit too highly of himself. It’s classic nerd versus jock.

However, the family dynamics are complicated by the twin’s unfaithful father and desperate mother. Bigfoot doesn’t care about human drama, though. The beast pounds an old man and his dog to slush by the end of Chapter 1 and sends another man to meet his maker in Chapter 9 before reality hits the fan for residents of the sleepy New Jersey town. In between, hints of the Bigfoot threat are sprinkled among the tense moments in the Schaffer family drama.

Of course, the initial suspect is a bear on the loose, and soon police officers, park rangers, and news crews are on the crime scene. One police officer, Sara Caine, seems to be the only one with the right combination of common sense and courage to solve the case. But with 250 acres of woods to scour, Sara knows the “bear” hunters will soon be the hunted the moment they enter Bigfoot’s home territory.

When the locals start hunting the “bear,” all hell breaks loose. The author Rosamilia ramps up the action and suspense in a thrilling climax, placing the twins, their friends, and their family in the path of the relentless Bigfoot.

The Beast finishes with a furious clash and a curious twist. Thankfully, both provide what readers of cryptid horror fiction often crave. After all the dust is settled and the blood is dried, The Beast is pure B movie fun in book form with a definite Jaws with claws vibe.

NEXT UP: Chapter Forty-Five: One Step Too Far. I review the 2022 novel by Lisa Gardner.


THE BIGFOOT FILES

Shadow’s Love : Chapter 7 / Addiction

Lastor looked down at the girl, hesitantly approaching the man standing against a shadowy building. He had not counted on this. The man was evil, his black thoughts fairly radiating off him. Lastor had seen his eyes following the girl since she had turned the corner and the thoughts had been broadcast on a plain wavelength even some humans were tuned to. As she approached, Lastor could fairly smell the man’s arousal heating up. Lastor’s lip curled. This girl was his. He had scented her and he would have her. No pervert was going to usurp him.  

He watched as the exchange went on beneath him. The man’s barely concealed glee at her agreement to accompany him screamed joyfully beneath his carefully controlled facade. As he turned to start leading her away, Lastor saw a sinister grin playing at the corner of Joe’s mouth.

Joe’s ugly smile as he stroked her face, was rebuffed and pushed her to the wall practically gleamed in the night. Lastor had waited, just long enough to satisfy his curiosity. He knew Joe‘s plan, but the means to the end intrigued him. And besides, he rationalized, the girl needed to learn. Maybe now she wouldn’t be so quick to trust the next friendly face. But when Joe leaned in to kiss Lastor’s prey, he could not suffer the pervert’s existence any longer. 

Dropping down two stories, Lastor landed soundlessly behind Joe. He reached around Joe’s throat, arresting the latter’s attempt to kiss the girl. A little squawk escaped Joe‘s throat as tiny muscles in Lastor‘s fingers contracted, as he stabbed his nails into Joe’s throat and ripped it out, dropping the mass of flesh and tissue on the ground atop Joe’s body as he let forth a last gurgling wail. The blood smelled foul – tainted. Lastor could smell the AIDS virus. It was not a new acquisition; Joe had been infected for at least a year. Lastor wondered if he had even known.  

He turned his attention to the girl crouched on the ground, shrinking against the wall to avoid both the growing pool of Joe’s blood and Lastor. He was struck by how much prettier she was up close, even in a state of fear. 

“What is your name?”

She gulped, her terror almost palpable in the cool night air. “A-Audrey…” she managed to stammer out before her eyes rolled up and she slumped forward, her mouth agape, right into the pool of Joe’s blood. 

Lastor looked at her for a moment. He had not expected Joe’s intervention, nor his viral condition, and least of all her nosedive into a pool of infected blood. He had originally intended to merely play with the girl, feed from her, and leave her for dead. But now that she was very likely infected with an incurable disease, pity was speaking to him. It did not seem right that an innocent girl, guilty of nothing more than a misplaced trust in a stranger should be condemned to a fatal disease with such a negative stigma attached. 

Maybe as a vampire, she would be more interesting.

Audrey awoke the next night, stretching luxuriously. She looked across the bed at her lover. Lastor was awake, gazing at her through half-lidded eyes, idly toying with his fangs with a long nail. He grinned at her and ran the nail up her spine, causing her to shiver.

“Hungry?”

Brad was a skateboarder, and not entirely awful at it. He could hold his own in the pitched battles that took place in the skate park, but knew when to bow out. He was about to attempt a fakie big spin when he saw a fine piece of ass approaching. She was wearing a slinky black dress and a lot of makeup, which was an instant turn-on for him. He looked her up and down appraisingly as she approached and whistled as she passed by. “Hey babe, lookin’ fine.”

Instead of throwing him a dirty look or pretending not to hear and picking up her pace like most girls, she turned to look at him, staring straight into his eyes, and blew him a kiss, grinning. “Thank you,” she said coyly and continued walking.

Brad looked around at his friends, Jay gave him the thumbs up and Sam waved him on. “Go on man, hit that! She wants you!” Jake whooped, grinning as if he were the one getting laid. Brad grinned and dropped his skateboard, pushing off after the girl.

Before he knew it, he was rolling down a dingy alley, surrounded by trash and cardboard boxes. Not stopping to consider what such a pretty young girl would be doing there, he kicked his board up and called out, “Hey babe!”

She stopped, and slowly turned around, raising an eyebrow questioningly. “Yes?”

Brad smirked, confident in his charm. “Man, your ass is fine, I noticed as soon as I saw you.”

It happened in a blur. Suddenly the girl was on top of him, pinning him to the ground, the look on her face a mixture of revulsion, pity, anger, amusement, and… hunger? He only had time for a quickly muffled scream before her fangs sank into his throat and the world exploded in a spray of his own blood as Audrey jerked her head to the side, ripping his throat out.

 

Logbook of Terror : Feel Good Hit of the Summer

 

“Dude, turn it down!” Lorna shouted at her brother’s closed bedroom door. 

  The maniacally gleeful sounds of the pop hit of the summer blared from inside Ishan’s room. Lorna rubbed her temples before slamming her fist against the door. 

  “Ishan! It’s seven in the morning! Please!” 

  But the song continued. Lorna stood at the door, waiting for some response, waiting until the vapid song with its plastic, manufactured joy, ended. Then, a second of blessed quiet before the music resumed, this time somehow even louder than before. Lorna turned away, rubbing her temples. The headache was coming on again. 

  The song had been inescapable for the entire first month of summer, and it seemed to be getting more popular every day. And now it filled her family’s tiny bungalow. She had to get out. 

                   ***

  Lorna arrived at her favorite coffee shop still dressed in her pajamas, hoping some caffeine would dull her throbbing head. She pulled up to the drive-thru to place her order. Instead of a chirpy voice asking Lorna what they could get started for her, the loathsome song blasted out at her through the tinny speaker, sounding like it was being broadcast from some distant dimension. 

  “Dammit!” Lorna huffed as she sped through the empty lane and around to the front of the building, wondering where the usual morning rush was. She slammed the car to a stop and gazed inside. Disbelieving her own eyes, Lorna hopped out of her Subaru and pressed her face against the glass storefront with her hands cupped around her face.

  Unlike the parking lot, the coffee shop itself was jammed full of people, and they were dancing, every single one of them. Dancing, and bleeding. 

  Tears of blood streamed down the faces of patrons and employees while wide smiles stretched across their blood-drenched visages and a song, the song, the soundtrack of the summer, blasted at a torturous volume inside the store. 

  Behind Lorna cars careened and crashed and filled the street, the drivers spilling out of their vehicles, dancing while crimson tears poured over their cheeks. And the song, the feel-good hit of the summer, filled the air, blasting from every stereo. 

  Suddenly, to her horror, Lorna felt like dancing, and a rivulet of blood seeped from the corner of her eye. 

Book Review: Queen of Teeth by Hailey Piper

Content Warnings: Body horror, medical rape, gore

In the near future, Alpha Beta Pharmaceuticals accidentally unleashes the 00 virus. The virus has varied effects, but in some cases, it causes multiple children to be conceived. Then one zygote consumes the others before birth. These are Chimeras. And one half of their genetic code is the property of ABP. ABP monitors them closely, waiting for the time when one part of the genetic code violently attacks the other, tearing the Chimera apart.

Yaya is one such Chimera, but rather than her body destroying itself, it grows a new consciousness. And teeth. The vagina dentata transforms Yaya’s body and forces her to go on the run to avoid becoming an ABP lab rat. Meanwhile, Magenta, her new ‘self’ is becoming hungry.

Queen of Teeth is engaging throughout, balancing tension-filled action with tender moments of reflection and interpersonal growth. Artfully concealed plot pieces dropped at the beginning return again in a satisfying manner, like a camouflaged Chekov’s Gun. Piper seamlessly blends elements of science fiction, horror, and romance, creating a multifaceted story that never lets up.

Piper’s writing is a solid foundation for a fantastic story. She doesn’t fall into too much exposition, despite a complex world. Her dialogue is light and snappy. There are moments of poetic description. But her best writing is really saved for the scenes of action and body horror. Be warned, the descriptions are graphic and disturbing, so if you are squeamish, you may want to steer clear.

Overall, Queen of Teeth is a fantastic book, an incredible debut novel from Hailey Piper, and well-deserving of its Bram Stoker award (Superior Achievement in a First Novel). If you like body horror, tragic romance, and political commentary in your reads, this is the book for you.

Logbook of Terror: “It’s The House!”


With a frown etched deep into her features, the female officer studied the dark purple welts on Dani’s face. She sighed. “You walked into the door, really?” 

   Dani nodded. “Well, yeah, um…” She paused. 

   The officer’s eyes shot over to Dani’s husband, Mick, who stood a few feet away at the patrol car where a second officer was questioning him. 

   Dani looked along. She trembled. 

   “So, you bumped into the door and that caused you to scream to the point that your neighbors woke up at three fifteen a.m. to report a domestic disturbance?” The cop said, her words cold and jaded.

   “I, um…I hit it really hard,” Dani stuttered. Tears threatened to spill down her cheeks. She fought to hold them back. 

   Softening, the female officer said, “Hey, it’s alright. My name’s Becca. What’s yours?” 

  “It’s…um…I’m Dani,” the terrified wife answered. 

   “Okay, Dani, listen. I’m a domestic abuse survivor. I had a wife, used to knock me around, with her words and her fists. I know what it’s like, so you can tell me. I’m here to help.” 

   The air and tension and fear flooded out of Dani and tears cascaded from her eyes. She exhaled with relief. 

   “That’s good, let it out, let it all out.” Becca patted Dani’s shoulder. “Now, tell me what really happened.” 

   Dani nodded. She sniffled and choked out, “It’s the house.” 

   “No, Dani, not the house. What rea–?”

   Dani cut in, continuing. “It’s the house that’s doing this to me. Ever since we moved in three months ago, it’s been hurting me. It’s tripped me down the stairs, floor boards have come up and hit me, doors have slammed on me; it even tried to crush me in the foldout ladder that leads up to the attic. Mick doesn’t believe me but… I think it’s trying to kill me.” 

   Dani gave the house a quick look and, as if on some sort of cosmic cue, the front door creaked open. She stopped breathing. The door waved back and forth and then slammed shut, rattling the windows in their frames, the reverberations echoing like ghosts howling through the quiet darkness. 

   A scream tore out of Dani. The house grumbled and shook on its foundation. Dani shrieked louder. Becca grabbed her and pulled her to the patrol car. She opened the back door and pushed Dani in.

   “Alright, stay put and you’ll be safe. I’m going to go check the house and, I hate to say it, but, if this is some kind of elaborate prank, you and your husband will both be arrested and taken into custody.” 

   “Please, don’t go in there! It’ll hurt you! It wants blood! Look!” Dani  cried, raising her shirt. 

   A superficial gash ran the length of Dani’s midsection. She hiked up the right leg of her sweat pants to reveal a deep stab wound with wooden splinters around its edges. Rivulets of red ran down her leg. Blood bloomed in the contusions on her face. 

   “Please, don’t go!” Dani begged. 

   Trying her best to be reassuring, Becca said, “Don’t worry; I’ll be right back.” 

   She shut the door, locking Dani in, then drew her gun and walked toward the house. Becca said something to her partner that Dani couldn’t hear. 

   Becca’s partner stayed with Mick and radioed in for back-up.

   All three of them watched Becca enter the dark house. 

   Even through the thick, specially designed police car doors and windows, Dani heard everything. She bristled at Becca’s shrill cries. Tears streamed down Dani’s cheeks. “No!” She screamed, slamming her fists against the glass in useless protest. 

   The dead body of officer Becca Lintz flew out the front door, landed, and rolled to a stop; a hacked, bloody mess lying still on the front lawn, the legs of the kitchen table protruding from her chest, back, and head.

   Laughter, sick and depraved, echoed from deep within the bowels of the house, filling Dani’s mind. 

   The second officer drew his weapon and ran into the house. 

   Mick Frantically rushed to let Dani out of the car. He pulled on the door handle but it wouldn’t budge. As he struggled with the door, a pane from a first floor window of the house smashed itself to pieces. The thick shards of glass flew to Mick and stabbed him in the throat. He fell against the car, blood spurting from his neck and coating the back window in front of Dani. As Mick dropped to the ground, his life fleeing his body, the door of the patrol car opened itself. 

   Dani stumbled out, tripping over her dead husband, weeping. 

   “Why are you doing this?” She screamed at the house.   

   The house rumbled and laughed. Dani got to her feet. She ran to Becca and took her gun, which was still in its holster. Dani raised the gun and pointed at the house. 

   Tremors rocked the house. A torrential flood of blood and guts and entrails spewed out the front door. The force of the crimson wave knocked Dani down. She struggled to her feet and weaved through the yard, blinded by the ichor in her eyes. 

   She heard the screeching of tires and the shouting of voices. She waved the gun and shouted, “It’s the house! It’s the house!” 

Shots rang out. Dani crashed to the ground beside her husband. Staring into Mick’s dead eyes, she grabbed his hand and waited. And as she slipped into oblivion, the laughter of the house rang out in her mind. 

THE BIGFOOT FILES/Chapter Forty-Three: Shadow of the Sasquatch

J.H. Moncrieff‘s 2021 novella Shadow of the Sasquatch follows the exploits of podcast host Nat McPherson after her harrowing adventure at Dyatlov Pass. The book is set more than a year after Nat returns from a tragic trip investigating the mysterious deaths of nine Russian skiers chronicled in Moncrieff’s intensely satisfying 2018 novella, Return to Dyatlov Pass.

Click HERE to read my review of Return to Dyatlov Pass.

Shadow of the Sasquatch opens with a prologue where Riley Tanner — wife of Jason and mother of 10-year-old Brooke — is getting the steal of a deal on a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house tucked into the Oregon wilderness. The reason for the low price is the previous owners were “city people … frightened by night noises,” according to the realtor. It’s not enough to deter Riley who agrees to buy the house.

The story then shifts to Nat McPherson in the midst of a therapy session. Nat once hosted the most popular podcast in the U.S. dealing with supernatural and unsolved mysteries. However, since the tragedy at Dyatlov Pass, her life has spiraled downward. Nat suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder that she medicates with alcohol. Her therapist urges Nat to go back to work to help her struggling financial situation.

A distressed call from the Tanners’ daughter in the middle of an apparent Sasquatch attack prompts Nat to return to action. When Nat arrives in Oregon, Riley explains the creatures only appear when her husband Jason is away on one of his trips as a long-haul truck driver.

When Jason goes on the road again, the creatures return, one nearly killing Nat and sending her to the hospital. While Nat recovers, the Tanners investigate the history of their house and locate the previous owners, Franklin and Elizabeth Riordan, in Phoenix, Arizona. They take a trip to Phoenix in search of answers from the Riordans.

Meanwhile, Nat’s emotional state is shaky at best as she sneaks out of the hospital and returns to the Tanner house to investigate further. Part of Nat wants to exact a measure of revenge on the creatures terrorizing the Tanners after what happened at Dyatlov Pass. And while the Oregon creatures are similar to the ones that Nat encountered at Dyatlov Pass, one major difference troubles her: “If they wanted to kill her, they could have.” Why didn’t they?

The answer is a shocker. The final quarter of Shadow of the Sasquatch hits the reader hard with a couple of stunning plot twists that effectively explain the creatures’ behavior. The epilogue neatly wraps up any loose ends.

Shadow of the Sasquatch is another outstanding entry into cryptid horror fiction by Moncrieff. I suggest reading Return to Dyatlov Pass first to truly understand and appreciate Nat’s state of mind in Shadow of the Sasquatch.

The key to the Nat McPherson books for me is Nat herself. Resilient but vulnerable, Nat is the perfect imperfect character to build a fiction series around. I look forward to hopefully more of Nat’s adventures in the future.

NEXT UP: Chapter Forty-Four: The Beast: A Bigfoot Thriller. I review the 2019 novella by Armand Rosamilia.


RELATED LINK

THE BIGFOOT FILES

 

Shadow’s Love Chapter 6 : Torment 2

She winked at him and kissed him on the cheek, swinging her leg across to straddle him, tightening her legs against his body. She rubbed her cheek against his, whispering in his ear, “Did you miss me, honey? Did you think about me often?”

Aaron swallowed, aroused in spite of himself. “Y-yes, of course…”

She straightened up. “Liar!” She slapped him across the face again, her nails leaving welts on his cheek. Immediately she looked abashed. “Now see what you made me do…” she purred, kissing each of the welts separately, pressing her body back against his. “I’m not mad,” she whispered, chewing on his earlobe. “But I was curious…who was the girl I saw you with the day before you dumped me?”

His mind raced through story after story. “Audrey, please, let me go, I’m not worth this.” he whimpered. “She started it.”

The vampire snorted. “Such chivalry.”

Audrey giggled girlishly. “You’re ly-ing,” she sang and sank a fang into his earlobe. He squealed and jerked his head away from her, tearing the flesh around his ear, tears springing to his eyes.

“Her name is Katherine…” he whimpered. “I didn’t have the heart to break up with you until recently. It was a stupid decision, I’m so sorry.”

“Aww, how sweet. You were trying to protect me?” She caressed his face lovingly, rubbing her body against him. “But you see, I don’t need protection, Aaron…” She could feel him rising and giggled again, grinding herself on him heartlessly. “I’ve wanted to do this for a long time,” she whispered in his ear and kissed him deeply, passionately, rubbing herself harder against him. His breathing quickened and he raised his head to hers, trying to kiss her harder. She could feel his tongue ring and began toying with it, nipping his tongue with her fangs as she felt it slide deeper into her mouth. She latched onto the tongue ring and jerked her head sideways, ripping it out of his mouth. Blood streamed down his face as he screamed and thrashed about, frantically trying to raise his hands to his mouth. 

She leaned over and whispered in his ear, “If you don’t stop screaming, I’m going to bite your tongue out of your mouth, and I’m going to make you eat it.” Instantly his mouth snapped closed. She could feel his whole body shaking beneath her as he fought to keep from screaming, his eyes leaking silent tears. Audrey sat up with a satisfied look on her face, and laughed. 

“I bet you wish you hadn’t left me now,” she cooed and spat his tongue ring back in his face, “but I’m glad.”

She rose from the bed and ran her hand across Aaron’s bloody face, bringing it to the vampire’s mouth. “How does he taste, lover?” she asked. 

The vampire caressed her fingers with his tongue and smiled.

“Weak.”

With a wicked look in her crimson eyes, Audrey pulled the neck of her robe apart further and using her elongated nails, cut a cross in the skin over her heart. She took his hand and brought it to the blood dripping down her porcelain skin and asked, looking into his eyes, “How do I taste?”

The vampire licked his own fingers, savoring the taste of her blood. “Vibrant.” He bent his head and ran his tongue up the blood trickling dripping from the wound, drawing the blood directly from her. Audrey purred and buried her fingers in his long dark hair, pulling his head closer. 

Afterward, as the tide ebbed and reality returned, they were reminded there was another person on the bed. Audrey noted, without needing to probe Aaron’s psyche, that their display of passionate eroticism would require a lifetime and a fortune in therapy bills to deal with. It would be far more merciful to kill him. Upon probing deeper, she found jealousy, regret, helpless rage and buried deep beneath all of them…pure terror. Fear of what these sadistic creatures were going to do to him. This pleased her as much as the sex and she rose from the bed, re-wrapping the robe about herself. Lastor remained lazily reclined on the bed, watching as she went to Aaron’s side. 

“I bet you really wish you hadn’t left me now,” she said teasingly and kissed him on the cheek. “Your tongue, or what’s left, really hurts doesn’t it?”

Aaron made a muffled noise and nodded, his eyes still leaking bitter tears. Audrey nodded understandingly. “Of course it does.” She brought her mouth close to his ear and whispered, “But I am not sorry. No, I am not sorry. This is what you deserve.” Without saying anything more and without warning, she plunged her fangs into his neck, turning a deaf ear on his inarticulate cries of pain and drained his veins until there was nothing left. Once she could get no more out of him and he had stopped jerking and crying, she withdrew from him and went to the bathroom to freshen herself up a bit. She felt liberated and cheerful, and hummed a little to herself as she splashed water on the bloodstains covering her and combed her hair.

Upon returning to the bedroom, she found Lastor dressed and untying Aaron’s corpse from the bed. She blew him a kiss which he returned and went the wardrobe, dressing herself in the clothes she had picked out what seemed like hours ago. After admiring her reflection in the handsome mirror set on the inside of the wardrobe door, she went to help Lastor dispose of Aaron’s corpse. 

They dragged the body to the backyard of the mansion and built a roaring fire from the large stack of firewood outside. As the flames reached ten feet tall, Audrey, only a little surprised at her sudden strength, picked up what remained of Aaron and bodily heaved it into the fire. As she watched it burn, she felt happier now than she ever had in her entire life. 

 

Book Review: Happiness and Other Diseases by Sumiko Saulson

Content Warnings: Explicit sexual content, dubious consent, gore, death, suicidal ideation, self-harm, torture, mental illness

Happiness and Other Diseases

Flynn has had a rough run of it. His life was never great, but lately, his nightmares have been so bad that he’s on the brink of collapse. With few options, he checks into a psychiatric hospital. There he meets Charlotte who tells him that his dreams are oh so very real… and she wants to be a part of them.

Charlotte is a somnali… well, technically, a demi-somnali. She can traverse the dreamworld and mold the dreams of mortals. Her father—a godlike being named Brash—wants her to give him a grandchild, which would allow him and the other somnali to cross into the world of the living. To do that, she needs Flynn.

Together they explore their fantasies, cope with reality, juggle friends and otherworldly relatives, and find what it means to be happy—even if it’s not what people consider “normal”.

Saulson weaves a deep and fascinating world, blending Greek mythology into the modern Bay area. The complicated history of the somnali is made accessible to the average reader. Their characters are multifaceted. No one is entirely good or evil, or even stable. This realism in Saulson’s writing was appreciated, especially with regard to thier treatment of mental health.

While the story showcases healthy communication—both in relationships and in BDSM—sometimes these interactions seem stilted. The story features some seriously disturbing scenes (things I’m not even sure how to tag), but if you go in with an open mind, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how touching this tale of doomed love really is.

If you’re interested in Greek mythology, dreams, BDSM, or just the crazy ups and downs of new love, Happiness, and Other Diseases is a good pick for you.

Shadow’s Love : Chapter 5 – Torment

Waking the next night, Audrey’s eyes opened slowly, adjusting to the gloom much more than usual. As she took in the satin sheets and the dried blood caked on her body, her mind flashed back to memories of the night before. Memories of Joe, tearing her classmate’s throat out, and her first taste of blood. She sat up, running her tongue over her teeth to reaffirm the veracity of present circumstances. The sharp sting as her tongue found her fangs told her that she was wide awake. This had really happened. She smiled a demon’s smile.

The vampire [Audrey marveled that she still did not know his name] was no longer lying beside her. She sent her mind out, searching for him, focusing on his dark red glow almost instantly. Reassured that she had not been abandoned, she turned her attentions to an ornate wardrobe in the corner. Her clothes from the night no longer suited her.

Upon opening it, she received a shock. It was filled with gorgeous clothing forgotten by modern fashion from some lost era. There were corsets, dresses, skirts, gowns, gauntlets, assorted jewelry, and accessories. After an agony of choice, she settled on a leather corset, a mid-length skirt with artful tears up and down it, skin-tight black gauntlets, fishnet stockings, and tall black leather boots. She spent a while admiring the collection of jewelry before picking out a silver ring with a modest bloodred stone set into it that reminded her of the vampire’s aura. She selected a plain leather choker, and set it out along with her other clothes on the hangers set into the doors of the wardrobe, grabbing a black silk robe for modesty’s sake in her quest for the bathroom and closed the wardrobe door. 

Finding an amazing black marble bathroom just down the hall from the master bedroom, she slipped off her robe and climbed into the cavernous bathtub, turning the chrome fists to make hot and cold water pour from a demon’s mouth. As the tub filled, she lay back against a black pillow opposite the faucet, closing her eyes and breathing deeply as the warm water climbed up her body, submerging her slowly. As it neared the top of the tub, she raised a foot and curled it around each fist in turn, shutting the water off. Silence filled the marble bathroom, broken only by the sound of water lapping against the sides of the tub and sporadic dripping, echoing off the smooth marble and lulling her into a dreamlike state. 

She lay there, floating between awake and asleep for a while, before rousing from her stupor and pushing herself from the tub, the water running down her body. Watching the water drain, she saw it was tinged red from the blood on her body. Smiling a little to herself, she searched for a towel, finding a stack of thick black linens in a cupboard. Selecting one, she toweled herself dry and wrapped the robe about herself again, loosely knotting the cord before padding down the hallway and returning to the master bedroom. When she opened the door, she received a shock.

Tied to the bed wearing nothing but his boxers was her ex-boyfriend Aaron, gagged and blindfolded, his shaking visible from the doorway. The vampire was leaning over the binding holding Aaron’s left foot, securing him solidly to the bed frame. At the sound of her opening the door, he turned, a devilish look on his face. “Surprise, darling,” he said, gesturing dramatically towards her prostrate ex.

Audrey feigned a look of girlish excitement. “My slimy worthless two-faced ex-boyfriend? You shouldn’t have!” She skipped across and kissed him hard on the mouth. 

At the sound of Audrey’s voice, Aaron started, jerking against his bonds, yelling through his gag. The vampire reached over and hit Aaron across the face. “Shut up.” Aaron went silent, shaking uncontrollably.

“No, no… let’s hear what he has to say,” Audrey said wickedly, kneeling on the bed beside Aaron’s head and pulling the gag from his mouth, untying the blindfold as well. 

Aaron blinked hard as the blindfold came away, shaking his head and pulling at his hands in an effort to rub his eyes. “Audrey!” he gasped as she came into focus. “Jesus, Audrey get me out of here! What are you doing here? If he hurt you, I’ll-“

She slapped him hard and leaning in close to her ex’s red sweaty face, she purred in his ear, “You’ll what, darling? What will you do to him? Are you gonna “kick his ass” for me?” The vampire snickered. Audrey smiled at him before caressing Aaron’s ear with her tongue and nipping. “I would love to see you try.”

She stood back up and put an arm around the vampire’s waist, leaning up against him and looking at Aaron thoughtfully. “What are your plans for this worm?”

The vampire put an arm around her, feeling no clothing under her silk robe. “I have none. He’s your surprise, you can play with him or dispose of him. Whatever you wish.”

Ignoring Aaron’s muffled squeak of protest, Audrey looked up at the vampire questioningly. “How did you know?”

“Your mind is an open book to me. Last night while you slept, I read. I can only imagine the rage you feel when faced with someone like this. Someone who does not treat you with any respect and takes you for granted. I thought you deserved to treat him for a change.” He smiled. “To… reciprocate.”

Audrey pulled away from him and went to sit on the bed beside her hapless ex, stroking his cheek with the back of a hand, smiling placidly at him. “Aaron, Aaron…I never thought I would ever see you again. I must confess, the thought wasn’t all bad. But I’m glad we have this time together now.”

Logbook of Terror : “What’s in the Fog, Rory?”

Rory bit his bottom lip and pulled his eyebrows close together while his pen darted across the paper. He spoke the line aloud. “The dense fog rolled in from the East.”

   Ah, what a fun first line; very atmospheric! Rory thought with a smile. I’m finally doing it, I’m becoming a horror writer just like I always dreamed!  

  “Ah, the glorious first line, where every writer’s journey begins.” 

  Rory glanced to his left. A middle-aged man wearing a navy blue mechanic’s jumpsuit and three days of gray beard stubble sat bare-foot and cross-legged on the bed. He sighed heavily and lit a cigarette. Rory handed the man an ashtray that was perched on the corner of his desk, half overflowing. . 

   “I didn’t expect to see you so soon,” Rory said. 

   The man shrugged. “You called so here I am. Now, let’s hear that first line again.” He took a long drag from the cigarette and exhaled. 

   Rory repeated, “The dense fog rolled in from the East,” then added, “Articulating the mounting dread of the deepening gloom…” 

   The man on the bed sputtered and stifled a laugh. 

   “What?” Rory asked sheepishly. 

   “Kid, you’re not Edgar Allan Lovecraft,” the man said. 

   “I’m not trying to be…besides, you’re mixing up their names.” Rory gripped his favorite pen tight and cleared his throat. “If you’re not going to         help, please be quiet.” 

   “Sure thing. Sorry, kid,” the man said. 

   Rory rolled his shoulders and adjusted in his creaky, antique wooden chair. “And please don’t call me kid, I’m forty-seven years old.” 

   “Hey, it’s never too late, right?” The man said with a laugh. 

   “That is right.” 

   Rory turned back to his paper and began again, reading to himself as he plunged into the story. “…A veil of impenetrable darkness fell over the land and beckoned the pale shroud of mist toward the coastal New England village…” 

   “Oh my God, I love it! I’m so excited!” The man hollered, bouncing on Rory’s bed, then yelling, “Rory smiled wide and continued to write!”

   Rory stopped smiling and glared at the man. “Why did you say that?”

   “What?”

   “You don’t get to tell me what to do.” 

   “That’s why you hired me, kid.” 

   “No,” Rory said flatly. “I hired you to provide inspiration, not stage direction.” 

  The man held up his palms. “Hey, just trying to help.” 

   Rory let out a deep breath. “Okay. Well, please, just…be patient with me and I’ll let you know when I need you.” 

   “Alright then,” the man said. He lit another cigarette and asked, “But, before you get back to it, answer me this: What’s in the fog, Rory?” 

   Rory tapped his pen on the desk. “Um, I don’t know. It’s just creepy fog, that’s all.” 

  “Just good old, creepy fog?”

  “Uh-hu,” Rory replied, nodding. 

   “Like that creepy fog,” the man said, pointing to the bedroom window with his cigarette holding hand.

   Rory looked. A thick haze of pale fog pushed against the window like a stranger pleading to be sheltered from the terror of the night. His eyes widened in wonder. His pen trembled against the page. 

   “You should let it in, Rory,” the man said. 

   “Why?” Rory asked in a near whisper, still gazing into the swirling fog.

   “It’ll be good for the story. You want to do what’s best for the story, don’t you  Rory?” 

   The fledgling writer nodded. “Yes, of course I do.” 

   “Then open the window.” 

   “For the story…” Rory whispered as he went to the window, turned the latch, and raised the glass.  

   Thick, ghostly tendrils weaved their way into Rory’s room. The fog glided across every surface, filling the space and obscuring every object. Rory stumbled toward his desk. 

   “I can’t see!” Rory screamed.

   “Follow my voice,” said the man, his words bouncing and echoing in thin, distant reverberations. 

   “Why are you so far away?” Rory shouted. 

   “I’m right over here!” The man called back. “Just a little further.”

   Swinging his arms in wide half-circles, Rory lurched forward, crying out against the blinding mist. 

   A neighbor overheard Rory screaming while another saw him pitch forward out of the bedroom window of his sixth floor studio apartment and plunge headlong into the bricks of the courtyard floor. 

   The would-be horror writer’s death was ruled an accident. The police only found two helpful clues. On Rory’s desk sat a tattered paperback titled Summoning the Muse, and a piece of notebook paper, torn away from the pad under it, with the question, “What’s in the fog?” scrawled beneath what appeared to be the beginning of a story. 

Book Review: The Man in the Field

The Man in the Field by James Cooper, pub. Cemetery Dance Publications 10.6.2022 is available on amazon.

Synopsis:

The village: a remote, God-fearing place, governed by ancient rituals that provide eternal balance to the land. Here, people have faith in working the soil, the good Lord above, and their own peaceful community. This is how they have lived for centuries, the Council providing spiritual oversight and the charismatic Father Lynch lighting the way.

As he does every year, according to an age-old custom, the man in the field arrives amid much rejoicing and apprehension. To sanctify the newly planted crops and ensure a productive harvest, the village must make a personal sacrifice in his name. This is the tradition that must be honored. For every blessing, there is a debt to be paid . . .

Mother Tanner, an older member of the village, has seen all this before. She has been born and raised in the shadow of these harsh solemnities and feels increasingly disturbed by them. Celebrating the Turning of the Wheel and exalting in God’s bounty is only half the story; there is much here that she is starting to distrust. Not least of which is Father Lynch himself and his beloved Council. And the enigmatic man in the field, who gazes not at the village, but at the distant horizon, thinking only of the overdue debt and the stroke of midnight when it will be time to collect . .

Review:

The Man in the Field by James Cooper drew me to it with its promise of rural isolation and strange doings. With its ritual nature, it sounded very much like a folk horror, which is a genre I love. It sort of is, but with a layer of dystopia washing over it.

My first impression, as the villagers respond to the sudden—although expected—appearance of the man in the field, is of an isolated community set some time in the past. It reminded me of the setup of the film The Village, being similarly bordered by forbidden woods. As these villagers respond to the man’s presence—the precursor to horrific events portrayed as a ‘blessing’ by the males of the community and by the council in particular—little bits of modern living are dropped in: the references to the city, the discovery of someone watching a video on their mobile phone, the journey taken at the end away from the village. All of this is neatly done, adding to the sense of dislocation and difference of the village and its inhabitants.

At the heart of the story is the relationship between Mother Tanner and Father Lynch. The latter is effectively the leader of the council, whilst the former is someone Lynch considers a challenge to himself, disrupting his authority within the community. When Mother Tanner discovers some of his secrets following the awful outcome of The Offering, she comes under increasingly close scrutiny and is in a position of some danger—from the men, from some of the women, and from some of the strangers in the woods. I still can’t quite believe that the women allow the offering to go ahead if they are the subjugated, but there is little they can do.

The sinister presence of the man in the field is something I would like to have known more about. With his sudden appearance and his continual unmoving position, with his back to the people of the village so they never see his face, he gives an almost supernatural feel to the tale. Apart from his presence denoting the start of the sacrificial ritual and the resultant offering, nothing more is explained.

Throughout the pages, the events are a backdrop to this ongoing ‘duel’ between Mother Tanner and Father Lynch, told with an excellent building of tension and pace. If this is a standalone novella, then I would say that the ending is somewhat unsatisfying. If there is to be a sequel, then it is the perfect place to stop. I also have the suspicion that any follow-up will play more to the dystopian nature of the story than the folk aspect, but that is my own opinion! Regardless of this, I would still highly recommend this atmospheric and weird little tale.

THE BIGFOOT FILES/Chapter Forty-One: Bigfoot 

In 2005, publisher IDW released a comic book series of adult creature horror titled Bigfoot. With art by the late Richard Corben, Bigfoot was written by Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) and Rob Zombie (Halloween), rounding out a major trio of talent for the brief four-part series.

Issue #1 opens in Blackwood National Park in 1973 with Bigfoot displaying his hunting prowess against a deer. The scene then cuts to a happy family of three accompanied by the ominous words: “Nobody should have to live through what I lived through in the summer of 1973.” 

The couple with their 10-year-old son Billy and dog Gomer is driving to a cabin at the ironically named Happy Trails Campground. The writers infuse the 1970s vibe with references to The Partridge Family and Doctor Midnight. Once at the cabin, there’s a sweet family moment featuring a Bambi story, and then it’s off to bed for Billy and time to play for the adults. 

It’s also time for Bigfoot to make a grand entrance. And does it ever, exploding into the cabin like a tank and interrupting Billy’s parents. Billy hears the commotion and peeks into his parents’ room to investigate. What he sees is a full-page shot of a bloodied Bigfoot in King Kong attack mode.

The authorities soon arrive and interview a shell-shocked Billy who can only mumble the word “monster.” The media call it a “bear massacre,” but the sheriff finds Bigfoot prints and covers them up. Issue #1 ends with Billy waking up from a creepy nightmare, setting the table for vengeance down the road. 

Bigfoot #1 is available for free on Amazon’s Kindle and ComiXology digital platforms, and the actual 2005 comic book is for sale through Amazon, starting at $69.83. The first issue received more than 150 Amazon reviews, averaging 4.1 stars out of 5. The other three issues are $1.99 each on Amazon Kindle. The comic books are short — between 22 and 25 pages — but the story oozes elements of old-school horror.

Overall, the plot of Bigfoot #1 is formulaic, but I like the formula. I love creature features and revenge tales, and it doubles my reading pleasure when they’re mixed together. Corben’s artwork captures the brutality of the Bigfoot attack, and the writing is straightforward. Plus, I just enjoy seeing Sasquatch in a comic book, which is as rare as a bona fide Bigfoot sighting nowadays.

NEXT UP: Chapter Forty-Two: Return to Dyatlov Pass. I review the 2018 novel by J.H. Moncrief.


RELATED LINK

The Bigfoot Files

Shadow’s Love – Chapter 4 – Second Blood

“Very good. But when killing in society, you must not leave it this way, with two such telling marks on her neck. In a world filled with skepticism, it is not a great danger, but all it takes is one person to see them for what they are to bring us to an end. Dracula had the same problem.”

Audrey giggled. “What do I do?”

Amy had raised herself up on one elbow, stretching her other hand up to press it against her neck in a pathetic effort to stop what blood remained from flowing onto the carpet. “H..help…” she choked out.

The taller figure turned to her and his face twisted into a nightmarish smile. “You must tear out the throat.”

Amy felt adrenaline shoot through her and began trying to scrabble away from them, her mind, under duress as it was, understandably forgetting they were on the third floor and there was nowhere to go. The figure that was Audrey knelt beside her and she once again felt Audrey’s fangs pierce her throat. As Audrey jerked her head to the side, tearing Amy’s throat out, her neck exploded in a fiery pain that quickly ebbed as the dark circles claimed her, and she slipped into death. 

When news of her demise was reported, many of the teachers in the betting pool who had put money on Amy sat with their newspaper open, holding their coffee, re-reading it first with the secondary interest you feel when your scanning eyes recognize a name. Then as coffee cups dropped their eyes raked the paragraph, finally taking in the details.

Audrey stood and wiped her hand across her mouth licking at the blood covering her fingers. She felt sated, satisfied, but most of all she felt alive. Ironic; now that she was the furthest from life she had ever been she finally felt alive. She looked at the vampire and saw a look of satisfaction on his face. 

“Did you know her?” he asked.

She shrugged. “Did I know her name, had I ever seen her before? Yes. But I didn’t know her. I never wanted to. She was a sad girl whose life was empty but for academic achievements. She thought that because she could pass a class that she was better than everybody else.” Audrey started laughing. “But this isn’t about her.” Audrey smiled, her mind reaching back over her high school career over the many educators she had endured. The teacher’s pool was no secret, and their favorite was likewise well known to the student body. Audrey knew there was more than one educator who would be in serious financial trouble from what she had done, and the ability to matter was physically exhilarating. 

The vampire said nothing but looked at her. She could feel him looking not at her, but inside her, through her, at her soul. 

“Anything interesting?” she inquired sardonically.

He stepped toward her. “Very,” he said and kissed her. His passion ignited hers and she kissed him back fiercely, wrapping her arms around him and pulling him close, her tongue rubbing against his canines as his hands buried themselves in her hair. He broke the kiss and pulled her head to the side, exposing her neck to his hunger. He sank his fangs into her, sucking Amy’s blood from Audrey’s veins. She moaned and tilted her head even further around until she found his neck right in front of her. Acting on a whim, she bit. Her fangs drove into his neck, sucking his blood as he drew hers. She could taste her own blood in his, she could taste Amy’s, and a fiery taste she recalled as his own blood. This only inflamed her desire for him and she bit harder, sinking her fangs in deeper. 

Suddenly they heard a scream. Breaking off their lustful embrace, their heads whipped around to see Amy’s mother standing at the door, her hands over her face, pure terror in her eyes. The phone she had been holding with white knuckles was on the floor where she had apparently dropped it after peering around the corner and seeing the two creatures feeding off each other over her daughter’s torn and bloody body. 

Audrey was frozen, but the vampire uttered an oath. Disengaging himself from Audrey, he threw himself at the petrified mother, plunging his fangs into her throat and drinking from her only briefly before tearing out her throat and dropping her to the ground to bleed out all over the carpet. On the phone, the voice was assuring her that units had begun to roll. He wiped his mouth and looked at Audrey.

“It is time to be gone before those idiotic policemen show up to make things difficult. Come.” He sprang to the window and before Audrey could utter a word of protest, had fallen from sight. She rushed to the sill, looking down, and saw him settling lightly to the ground. 

Audrey leapt to the windowsill. Her stomach churned at the sight of the drop. The vampire had so far been right about everything else, so closing her eyes and hoping with every fiber that she would know what to do, she pushed herself from the window. Instead of the rushing sound accompanied by the sensation usually associated with falling, she felt a gentle descending movement and felt herself touch down softly on the ground. She looked with wonder at the vampire, who gestured and set off at a lope through the alleys behind Amy’s house as the screaming sirens grew louder.

Back at the mansion, Audrey understood to be the vampire’s home, wrapped in his embrace, she could see that her life had finally taken a turn for the better. No longer was she just weird little Audrey Spencer. She was someone to be respected now.

Logbook of Terror: Midnight at the Old Concord Covered Bridge

Whispering a prayer, Jeannie clutched the ornamental cross that hung around her neck while the quiet laughter of children echoed through the darkness of the old covered bridge. She blinked and peered into the gloom, trying to locate the source of the sound. Even with the aid of the sparse light of broken moonbeams, Jeannie saw nothing. 

   “The laughter…i-it sounds like it’s coming from all around us,” Nat whispered, her voice shuddering. “I thought you said they weren’t real.” 

  A loud thud shot through the dark, followed by more hideous laughter. 

   Jeannie and Nat gripped their seats. 

  “I didn’t think they were. I just wanted to creep you out with the story,” Jeannie said. “I’m so sorry.” 

   “You succeeded; I’m terrified so let’s go!”

  “We can’t.”

  “What? Why the hell not?”

   “Because, if you don’t let them get the candy off the roof, they’ll come after you and take something else…something besides candy.” 

   Nat hissed, “I would ask what that might be but I’m pretty sure I don’t wanna know. And I don’t care either. Let’s go!” 

Jeannie hesitated. 

Nat’s emerald eyes, so dark and deep in the gloom, pleaded with her lover to get them out and away, far, far away from the nightmare they’d driven into. 

The pitter-patter of small feet sounded from behind the car, followed closely by evil giggles. And then, grimy hands slapping the car’s trunk.

Without a thought, Jeannie turned the key and fired the car to life. She threw it in gear and peeled out across the old, oak boards, leaving children’s shrieks in her wake. 

As the car barrelled over the boards, the bridge stretched out before them, going on and on, the other side suddenly swallowed into the black and disappearing completely. 

Unable to accept or comprehend what she was seeing, Jeannie floored the gas. 

The engine screamed. The rows of beams above dissolved into the darkness. The walls and floor of the bridge became shifting particles. 

Jeannie and Nat shrieked. The car flew into a void of the purest, most absolute darkness. 

And then, metal and glass grinding and shattering and Jeannie and Nat crashing into each other and bouncing and smashing into the windshield and the front console, their bodies twisting and contorting and breaking under gravity’s strain. Flesh tearing. Bones cracking. Blood spurting and spilling.

A moment later, quiet, soft giggles and bare footsteps approached the heap and mess of smashed metal and flesh. 

The two mutant children leaped into the wreckage. They pulled vital organs from the two dead women and smiled at one another as they ate their morbid meal. 

Licking his lips, one of the children muttered, “Mmmm…candy.” 

The second child grinned. Blood dripped from rows of dagger-pointed teeth. “Sweets for the babies,” he said in a watery voice, before tearing off another piece of raw flesh. 

***

Detective Lumley gingerly plucked the bloody candy bar wrapper off the boards of the covered bridge and dropped it into a plastic evidence bag. 

   “Damn kids!” He huffed. “They never listen.” 

Shafts of early morning light eked into the bridge through the two small side windows. Lumley’s partner, Detective Schow, approached. In the background, a photographer captured grisly images while other officers milled around. 

  “It’s just like last time,” Schow said. 

  “Every generation, they all do this, and no one listens, no one really believes. You can’t try fate; it always ends badly. Damn this waterhead baby legend!”

  Schow patted his partner on his shoulder. “Every town’s got their monsters.” He stepped away and began to walk out of the bridge, calling back, “I’ll get us some more coffee.”

Lumley eyed the candy bar wrapper, honing in on the small fingerprints that he knew he’d never find a match to. “Every town…” he whispered under his breath, let out a heavy sigh, then turned and walked away.

Logbook of Terror : Midnight at the Old Concord Covered Bridge

Whispering a prayer, Jeannie clutched the ornamental cross that hung around her neck while the quiet laughter of children echoed through the darkness of the old covered bridge. She blinked and peered into the gloom, trying to locate the source of the sound. Even with the aid of the sparse light of broken moonbeams, Jeannie saw nothing. 

   “The laughter…i-it sounds like it’s coming from all around us,” Nat whispered, her voice shuddering. “I thought you said they weren’t real.” 

  A loud thud shot through the dark, followed by more hideous laughter. 

   Jeannie and Nat gripped their seats. 

  “I didn’t think they were. I just wanted to creep you out with the story,” Jeannie said. “I’m so sorry.” 

   “You succeeded; I’m terrified so let’s go!”

  “We can’t.”

  “What? Why the hell not?”

   “Because, if you don’t let them get the candy off the roof, they’ll come after you and take something else…something besides candy.” 

   Nat hissed, “I would ask what that might be but I’m pretty sure I don’t wanna know. And I don’t care either. Let’s go!” 

Jeannie hesitated. 

Nat’s emerald eyes, so dark and deep in the gloom, pleaded with her lover to get them out and away, far, far away from the nightmare they’d driven into. 

The pitter-patter of small feet sounded from behind the car, followed closely by evil giggles. And then, grimy hands slapping the car’s trunk.

Without a thought, Jeannie turned the key and fired the car to life. She threw it in gear and peeled out across the old, oak boards, leaving children’s shrieks in her wake. 

As the car barrelled over the boards, the bridge stretched out before them, going on and on, the other side suddenly swallowed into the black and disappearing completely. 

Unable to accept or comprehend what she was seeing, Jeannie floored the gas. 

The engine screamed. The rows of beams above dissolved into the darkness. The walls and floor of the bridge became shifting particles. 

Jeannie and Nat shrieked. The car flew into a void of the purest, most absolute darkness. 

And then, metal and glass grinding and shattering and Jeannie and Nat crashing into each other and bouncing and smashing into the windshield and the front console, their bodies twisting and contorting and breaking under gravity’s strain. Flesh tearing. Bones cracking. Blood spurting and spilling.

A moment later, quiet, soft giggles, and bare footsteps approached the heap and mess of smashed metal and flesh. 

The two mutant children leaped into the wreckage. They pulled vital organs from the two dead women and smiled at one another as they ate their morbid meal. 

   Licking his lips, one of the children muttered, “Mmmm…candy.” 

The second child grinned. Blood dripped from rows of dagger-pointed teeth. “Sweets for the babies,” he said in a watery voice, before tearing off another piece of raw flesh. 

***

Detective Lumley gingerly plucked the bloody candy bar wrapper off the boards of the covered bridge and dropped it into a plastic evidence bag. 

   “Damn kids!” He huffed. “They never listen.” 

Shafts of early morning light eked into the bridge through the two small side windows. Lumley’s partner, Detective Schow, approached. In the background, a photographer captured grisly images while other officers milled around. 

  “It’s just like last time,” Schow said. 

  “Every generation, they all do this, and no one listens, no one really believes. You can’t try fate; it always ends badly. Damn this waterhead baby legend!”

  Schow patted his partner on his shoulder. “Every town’s got their monsters.” He stepped away and began to walk out of the bridge, calling back, “I’ll get us some more coffee.”

Lumley eyed the candy bar wrapper, honing in on the small fingerprints that he knew he’d never find a match to. “Every town…” he whispered under his breath, let out a heavy sigh, then turned and walked away. 

 

Serialized Fiction: Shadow’s Love – Chapter 3 – Dominate

Amy Sinclair was at home, counting the words in her economics paper. The teacher had set a minimum of five hundred words, but Amy was already up to eight hundred and still counting. Five hundred words was only average, for average losers who were satisfied with average grades, an average college, an average job, and an average life. Amy was considered precocious as a child and was in all the honors classes, most nights studying past twelve. The teacher’s pool had her as valedictorian by a long shot. 

“833, 834, 835, 836!” She finished triumphantly. Her jubilation was somewhat dampened by her inability to secure a round thousand. Maybe she could beef up the part on how the oil situations in the Middle East were affecting economics in the United States. That should secure her an A-plus and the usual fawning the teacher heaped on her. It should also secure another day’s worth of righteous superiority over her brain-dead classmates. 

Satisfied with her plan, she scrolled through the pages she had already written to find the offending paragraph. The Middle East was definitely deserving of more than three measly lines. Something would have to be done. 

A knock at her door interrupted her brain’s processing.

“It’s mom, sweetie. Can I come in?”

Swallowing her impatience to finish her paper, Amy replied, “Yes, it’s open.” Maybe this wouldn’t take long. 

The doorknob turned, and her mother, the adult version of Amy with short brown hair framing her round face, and slight body, poked her head around the corner. “What are you up to, hon?”

“Finishing up an economics paper,” Amy said, idly clicking keys with the air of someone arrested in the middle of their work.

“Oh…well I’m going to bed, I just wanted to tell you goodnight.” Her mother came in and kissed the top of Amy’s head. “Don’t stay up too late, bookworm.”

“I won’t, this should only take another ten minutes or so. Good night, mom,” Amy said, patting her mother’s arm and turning back to the computer. Her mother left, closing the door carefully behind her, and padded down the hall to the room that had been hers alone since Amy’s father Charles had been claimed in a car accident the previous year. 

Amy heard her mother’s footsteps receding down the hall and began typing. “In…addition…to…the…previous…facts…” Amy stopped and tapped her fingernails on her teeth. In addition, she had no idea what. 

Another knock at the door. She sighed. Her mother had become so clingy and needy since Amy’s father died. It was painful, yes, but it was over a year ago. She was interfering with her daughter’s work, breaking her train of concentration and how would Amy ever get to college with interruptions like that constantly? 

“Come in!” she said, a note of exasperation finding its way into her voice. Not taking her eyes from the computer screen, she typed gibberish to give the impression she was still hard at work. She heard the door open, and then close. “What now, mom? I’m trying to work on my economics report,” she whined. “If I get a thousand words-“

“Then your life will be complete?”

Amy gave a little scream and spun around in her chair, her heart racing. Audrey Spencer was standing in her room, leaning on the wall by the window as though she had every right to be there. 

Amy did not know Audrey very well. She had been in a few of Amy’s classes and on the few occasions they had been put together for a group project, Audrey had doodled vacantly most of the time, obviously not paying attention while Amy was outlining what they should do on the project and had produced, in Amy’s opinion, mediocre products of a morbid nature. Most of them were so macabre that Amy simply threw them out and redid them herself. Amy wasn’t afraid of Audrey, but Audrey was weird, always sitting in corners, drawing, listening to her iPod. Until one day she had up and vanished from campus. Amy hardly noticed – she wouldn’t have if they hadn’t been in a group project that had been due the day she vanished.

“What are you doing here? It’s almost midnight, what do you want?”

Audrey did not answer. She just continued staring at Amy. Amy’s constitution began to waver under Audrey’s unflinching gaze but was unwilling to blink first. There was something in Audrey’s eyes, a look she had never seen before, and there was also that – Audrey was looking at her. Audrey never looked at anyone, she was always shrouded in a hoodie sweatshirt and kept her eyes downcast. But now she was staring right back at Amy, for what seemed like the first time, looking as though she would like nothing more than to do something very unpleasant to her. For the first time, Amy felt a stab of fear. 

Audrey smiled, exposing her fangs. 

Amy’s eyes widened and she took a breath to scream but before she could make a sound, Audrey was suddenly at her side. While Amy’s mind struggled to process this, she felt the fangs pierce her neck and now she could scream, but it was a soft sound, more like a squeak. She slapped weakly at Audrey, trying to push her away, but all it did was make Audrey pull Amy closer to her, sinking her fangs in deeper.

There were dark circles dancing in Amy’s vision, slowly getting larger as they did, until finally her body went limp and she stopped struggling. Her mind felt padded with cotton. She could hardly see, she couldn’t think. All she could feel was her blood flowing into Audrey’s mouth. She couldn’t do anything more than let Audrey drain her life out until suddenly, the feeling ended. Amy fell to the floor, what was left of her vision registering another figure in the room, and heard muffled voices.

The Last Stop – by CM Lucas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“W-what?” asks the man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End

Odds and Dead Ends : The Best of The Bard: Why ‘Macbeth’ should be considered Horror

Anyone who says that Shakespeare is classy, refined, and ‘proper’, has clearly never read him. Sure he had his moments of genius, but then he also wrote Titus Andronicus, which contains tricking someone into eating their sons, and ends its three hours with fourteen people dead. Romeo & Juliet has a higher human body count than Halloween (Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Juliet, Romeo, and Lady Montague makes six for The Bard, and Judith, the truck driver, Annie, Paul, and Linda make five for John Carpenter). Yet of all his works, Macbeth might be the most mad, terrifying, and downright horrific story he told, and I firmly believe it deserves a higher place in horror fans’ hearts.

            Firstly, a recap for those who don’t know your classics. Macbeth, a general in King Duncan’s army, is told by three witches that he will become Thane of Cawdor, and eventually King. When Macbeth is granted the title ‘Thane of Cawdor’, he plots with his wife to kill Duncan, thereby fulfilling the prophecy. In panic, believing his deed to have been discovered, he sends an assassin to kill his friend Banquo, who might suspect him, after which he hallucinates and is driven into madness during his rule. Meanwhile, a rebel army from England led by Macduff rises up against him, whom he initially does not fear as the witches tell Macbeth that he can’t die ‘“until/ Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill/ Shall come against him.”’ (an impossibility, for trees, can’t walk), and that he can’t die from someone born from a woman. The final scenes see Lady Macbeth driven mad by guilt, and Macduff’s army chop down branches from Birnham wood and carry them in front of them as protection and camouflage. At a final confrontation, Macduff, who was born by C-section, kills Macbeth, and brings peace to the land, and fulfills all the prophecies.

            There are so many points in Macbeth which appear in horror/sci-fi vocabulary and iconography. The three witches are the most obvious, and their lines have filtered into the common tongue without us being aware of it. ‘By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes’ of course gives us Ray Bradbury’s title to his famous novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes and combines with their ‘Double, double toil and trouble,’ speech to make the song sung upon entering Hogwarts in The Prisoner of Azkaban film.

            Let us not forget, however, that their prophecies also bring up that age-old question of free will vs. determinism. Would Macbeth have still become king, been killed by Macduff, etc, had the witches not given him their prophecy? Was their act of prophesying itself fate, or could it have been averted? Therefore, is there something even more malevolent behind the witches, conspiratorially so, which encouraged them to speak to Macbeth and Banquo, and therefore set events in motion? So many stories extend off this question, asking if a foretold fate can be actively avoided, from cheap thrillers like 2019’s Countdown, to the vase scene in The Matrix, to Scrooge’s pleading with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come at his gravestone, ‘“Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they the shadows of the things that May be, only?”’ Philip K. Dick’s novella The Minority Report is based around a man running a company which predicts crime being told he himself will kill someone.

            Then there’s the urban legend that the play itself is cursed. Shakespeare apparently based some of the lines for the witches off actual witches who lived nearby, and in retaliation, they cursed the play, so that it became unlucky to refer to it as ‘Macbeth’, and has become known in acting circles as ‘The Scottish Play’ instead. Exorcising demons as a result of saying the name is still done by superstitious performers, and not doing so will cause bad luck to fall on the production. Blackadder The Third has great fun at this expense in a memorable skit.

            And let’s ignore for brevity’s sake the appearance of Hecate, Greek Goddess of witchcraft and magic and the moon, etc, to the three witches in Act IV. Because that’s just going overboard, and we all know how horror movies love to use Greek myths and legends (see Robert Eggers’s The Lighthouse, and The Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth for more information).

            The play is so dark and gloomy, filled with paranoia and murder, that to ignore how it set the stage for horror stories to come would be remiss. With eight dead by the end (not counting off-screen deaths), the play has a high enough body count to keep any horror fan happy. Conspiring in dark castle hallways to commit regicide by the dead of night is straight gothic, and let us not forget that murder in castles is pretty much where the whole thing started, as Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, the original gothic novel, has this in spades.

            And finally, at a feast in Act III Scene IV, Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo, his friend whom he has had assassinated. At first, accusing others of setting it up as a prank, he is led away, raving and cursing, Lady Macbeth feigning the excuse that he has been prone to fits of madness since childhood. We’re never told whether this ghost is really a phantom or a figment of Macbeth’s overworked imagination, but considering he’s already hallucinated a dagger in Act II Scene I (“Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand?”) it is likely. Yet Shakespeare’s already used one of the most famous ghosts in literature, that of Hamlet’s father on the battlements, years before, so his use of supernatural elements isn’t unknown. And we’ve all seen and read films and stories which hinge on our interpretation as to whether the ghosts are real or not (Jacob’s Ladder, It Follows, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Turn of the Screw; you can come up with your own thousands more examples), which is further proof how the tradition follows on into our modern genre.

            Macbeth has all the violence, superstition, curses, hallucinations, omens, atmosphere, and madness to last a horror addict for a lifetime. It is filled with those little moments that, over the years, millions have been inspired by, creating the network of iconography which helped the gothic stories of the 18th century, the penny dreadfuls of the 19th century, and the cinematic explosion of the genre of the 20th. Film critic Mark Kermode quotes The Exorcist author William Peter Blatty as saying that the play is about ‘the numbing of the moral senses’, and if there’s ever a phrase which applies to horror, I don’t know of it. Macbeth is not just for the classroom; it’s for a horror addict’s life.

Article by Kieran Judge

Twitter/Instagram: kjudgemental

Shadow’s Love : Chapter 2 – Safe in the Darkness

She awoke hours later to silence. Not even distant sirens penetrated the quiet. She tried to sit up and found her arms had been tied over her head, to what felt like a bedpost. Her heart sank. She tried to blink and found she could not. The room was not completely dark, her eyes had been obscured by a blindfold. She began struggling, pulling at the bindings holding her arms above her head in a frantic effort to escape.

“Stop.”

She froze. The voice had come from beside the bed. It was not Joe’s voice though, from which she drew small comfort. “Wh-what are you going to do to me? Please don’t hurt me…”

He laughed, a sound less like mirth than she had ever heard. “How much you hurt depends entirely upon you. If I take this blindfold off, are you going to be good?”

Audrey nodded. She couldn’t think of a time she had wanted to be well more than now. She heard him lean forward and felt the blindfold slip off. Opening her eyes, she saw she was in a room with a four-poster bed and no windows, lit only by two black candles at the head of the bed. She squinted at the shape standing beside her, straining to make him out from the gloom. As her eyes adjusted, she saw the face from earlier, the pale face with sunken eyes, high cheekbones, and the same crimson light shining in the eyes. 

He seated himself beside her and she smelled something like earth, but a coppery metallic smell too. It ignited a spark in her brain that she couldn’t place exactly. 

“I want your blood,” he intoned, and her eyes snapped open. “One way or another, I’m going to get it. You can fight and have it hurt worse than you can imagine, and you will die. Or…” His hand slid down her cheek and caressed her neck. “…you can enjoy it.” He brought his mouth to her neck, scraping long canines against the soft white skin of her throat. She gasped a little and flinched, her autonomic nervous system reflexively trying to pull away. Like a snake, he struck, burying his fangs deep into her neck. She screamed, softly; it was as if her voice had been cut in half by his fangs. She thrashed instinctively about, whatever reservations she had giving full voice to their objections. As the sound of her scream died away, her eyes caught his, and calm struck her – this was not an out-of-control monster. The eyes she looked into were as placid and devoid of evil as she had ever seen. 

She tilted her head, exposing more to him, her lips parted and eyes shut in an expression of ecstasy as the pain completely vanished.  She could feel the blood rushing through her body toward the gash in her neck and trickling out of her. She smelled copper again, but stronger, and she knew it was her own blood. It excited her to no end and she moaned, vibrating his fangs in her neck.

He withdrew them from her, catching a drop of the blood trickling from the wound with a long finger, and brought it to her mouth. Her red tongue flicked out and licked it off his finger. Her eyes opened weakly, devoid of the white spark characteristic of a living person’s eyes. They rolled back and her eyelids fluttered closed. She was dead, but not yet. 

Audrey felt so weak and dizzy, and couldn’t stand to keep her eyes open. She knew if she slept now, she would never awaken, but honestly didn’t care. If she died now, at least she would die happy. She heard the vampire hiss and she felt something warm dripping on her lips. Audrey stuck out her tongue and for the first time, tasted the copper taste of blood, blood that had not come from her father striking her or a pulled tooth. Blood not her own. Her eyes crawled minutely open. He was holding his slit wrist to her mouth, inviting her to drink his blood. 

Upon seeing it there, so close, she felt as though an inner demon had possessed her. The ties holding her wrists to the bed were shredded as she grabbed his arm and pulled it to her mouth, fastening it around the dripping gash in his wrist and sucking the blood from it as if her life depended on it. She could feel her body gaining strength, but not the way it used to feel. She was feeling…invincible. Like she could go anywhere, do anything, and nobody could stop her. But she needed more. She kept feeding, ravenously sucking the blood from his arm until he pulled it away from her, breathing heavily, nursing his wrist.

“That’s enough for now, young one,” he said and licked his wrist.

Audrey was not listening. She was staring, transfixed at herself in a mirror on the wall. Her eyes had lost their dull flatness and now had a crimson shine in their depths when the light reflected just right. Also, she was noticing differences in the way things looked, and sounded, and…she could smell. It was as if all her five senses had been enhanced, and she seemed to have gained more. 

His eyes were on her, and she knew he was sizing her up. “How do you feel, Audrey?”

She ran her tongue across her lips, letting out a little gasp as her new fangs nipped her tongue. Tentatively she reached a finger into her mouth and ran it along her elongated canines. A wicked look came into her eyes and she looked at the vampire. “I want more.”

Logbook of Terror: “Look Inside” by Russell Holbrook

“Look Inside”

Shanna wove her fork into the spaghetti noodles. The pasta wound like worms as the utensil slid through it. 

Shanna’s roommate, Babs, scowled and muttered, “You’re trying to do that trick again, huh?”

   “It’s not a trick; it’s magic.”

   Babs narrowed her eyes and loudly slurped a noodle into her mouth. “It’s the reason we’ve been eating pasta every night for the past week.” 

   “You could cook something,” Shanna replied quietly without taking her gaze from her plate. 

   Babs grumbled, “You know I don’t cook.” She scooped up another fork-full and added, “You just wanna be like the guy in that Naching Kassa story. That was cool but this is just lame.” 

   “Please stop talking,” Shanna said through tight lips. 

   “Spoiler alert: that guy used intestines; you’re just playing with your food,” Babs continued. 

   Shanna clenched her teeth.

   Babs chewed loudly with her mouth open. She yelled, “Spaghetti divination!”  and burst into laughter. 

   Shanna slammed a fist down, leapt across the short table, and plunged her fork into Babs’s left eye. 

   A scream lodged in Babs’s throat as she choked on the food, her hands frantically moving from the fork in her eye to her neck and back again. Her right eye pleaded with Shanna for help. 

Shanna left the table and returned with a carving knife. She pulled Babs away from the table and threw her onto the floor. 

Babs kicked and writhed on the linoleum. Blood and tears oozed from her punctured eye. Shanna reached down and twisted the fork a half-turn. A choked and garbled cry scratched its way out of Babs’ throat. Shanna grinned, yanked up Babs’s shirt, and thrust the knife into her roommate’s belly. 

  The knife moved smoothly through the skin, opening Babs up. Once Shanna had Babs’s midsection spread wide, she twirled her fingers in the dead woman’s intestines, looking for clues and insights into the future. 

Shanna’s brow furrowed. Her lips drew into a thin line. Her eyes narrowed. She held her breath. And she saw nothing. She punched the floor in frustration and then returned to her spaghetti, swirling it back and forth across her plate. She focused more intently and, to her delight, images formed in the red sauce and noodles. 

Shanna saw an ancient tree. Chunks of meat became rocks. Shanna’s eyes widened with excitement, and then bulged in shock as a wet noose squeezed tight around her throat, cutting off her air supply. She slapped at the reanimated hands tightening the intestinal rope that Babs had wrapped around Shanna’s neck.

   “I always knew you’d do something like this,” Babs mumbled, “So I had to have a protective spell of my own.” 

Babs yanked Shanna out of the chair. She peered over and saw the vision in the spaghetti. “Yeah, that looks about right.” She grabbed the carving knife and pulled Shanna out of the kitchen. 

   Shanna kicked and clawed as Babs dragged her from the apartment, using the length of her long intestine that Babs had also used to strangle Shanna. 

   When they were out at the old tree in the woods behind the apartment building, it didn’t take long for Babs to cut Shanna open and string her up by a length of Shanna’s own slimy innards. Once her work was done, the spell ended and Babs collapsed against the tree with her roommate’s corpse swaying in the breeze above her and a heap of Shanna’s intestines coiled on the ground beside her.

   The police never made sense of the crime, although the lead detective swore that he saw something in the pile of intestines strewn over the ground. It was an image that he couldn’t let go of, one that drove him to need to discover more, and set him on the path of holy divination, a path that would make detective Kyle Loring a ghoul of the night, gaining insight from the insides of each of his victims, but with each clue, each divine insight only leaving him wanting and needing more, forever searching, forever hunting, forever seeing, never stopping. And but of all the seeking and questioning, he knows that one thing is for certain: all the answers are on the inside. 

 

Book Review: There is No Death, There are No Dead

Edited by Aaron J. French and Jess Landry

Published by Crystal Lake Publishing

The spirits of the dead exist and they want to communicate.

Spiritualism—the belief that the soul continues on after death and that those souls try to communicate with the living—originated in the 1800s. It reached a fever pitch with mediums traveling all over the world, practicing their craft.

There is No Death, There are No Dead is an anthology of horror stories focused on spiritualism. Whether telling the story of a spirit, a medium, a haunting, or a hoax, communication with the dead takes center stage in each of these tales.

The stories are diverse and unique, but with a carefully crafted thread that connects them into a cohesive collection. The author might explore the origins of spiritualism in the foggy streets of Victorian London or a modern-day medium wrestling with hauntings that are all too human.

I want to highlight one story that stood above the others: “The Shape of Her Soul” by Michele Belanger. This story about a woman who can communicate with spirits explores what it means to be your true self, even if you must wait until death to do so. The writing is engaging and the themes of found family and the desire to be authentic are heartfelt. Belanger brought life (and poignant after-life) to her characters.

There is No Death, There are No Dead was nominated for a 2022 Bram Stoker award. If you are a fan of well-written, thoughtful, and entertaining stories, you’ll enjoy this anthology.

Shadow’s Love : Chapter One ~ Jesse Orr

He tilted his head back and tasted the air. Long used to the stench of the city, he no longer gagged at the various assaults on his senses but was able to distinguish just what he wanted. He had found fear to taste almost as sweet as guilt, and when combined with the innocence he craved tonight, it was almost irresistible. Pulling his trench coat tighter about himself, he set off in the direction of the new blood, tasting the air occasionally, always staying in the shadows.

Audrey was only 20, but she had seen her share of pain. She was now wandering around aimlessly downtown late at night and had already escaped from several would-be johns and was seriously considering going back home to tolerate her parents. She wished someone somewhere would take a chance on one of her hundreds of job applications and hire her, enabling her to perhaps escape her parents’ oppressive rule once and for all. But her poverty continued, the world indifferent to her plight.

She tentatively approached a figure standing alone against a building, sizing him up, ready to run if he made any sudden moves. But he hardly seemed to notice her. His eyes momentarily flicked towards her, but if not for that she would have thought he was oblivious to her existence. He was tall and handsome and looked as though he could work in a bank as easily as lean against a shadowy building. She decided to chance it.

     “Excuse me?”

His eyes returned to her and an eyebrow raised questioningly.

     “Er…I was wondering if you could tell me…where the nearest bus stop is?”

He closed his eyes for a second as if he was thinking. Then he smiled apologetically. “Sorry, I’m hell with directions. I could take you?”

He stepped toward her and she flinched, instinctively stepping back. His face showed understanding. “You don’t trust me. If you like, you can follow me so you can run if I prove untrustworthy.” He grinned ruefully.

She considered his offer torn; he would be hard pressed to grab her if she was following behind him, as quick as she was.

     “All right,” she said. “But don’t try anything funny or I’ll scream,” she warned. 

He nodded and set off, calling over his shoulder, “I’m Joe, what’s your name?”

     “Audrey,” she said, letting him get a good lead before falling in behind him. 

     “It’s nice to meet you, Audrey,” Joe said. “What’s a pretty girl like you doing here at this time of night?”

     “I had a fight with…my boyfriend,” she said with a flash of inspiration. Maybe if he thought people were waiting for her, he wouldn’t try            anything.  “I ran off, but he’ll be worried if I don’t come back.”

They continued like this for a while. Joe led, asking questions and turning appropriate corners. Audrey answered his questions gratefully, pouring out her heart, glad to find someone willing to listen to her problems. 

     “So what did you get into a fight with your boyfriend about?”

     “Oh…um…we…I…he said…” she scrabbled for an answer, not noticing the left they took. “He wanted me to sleep with him!” she blurted,                grabbing a cliché from sex ed. “But when I was running away, he said he was kidding…” her voice trailed off. “Where are we?” They had taken several more turns and ended up in front of a dingy warehouse at the end of a cul-de-sac and she honestly had no idea how they had gotten there. Fear grabbed at her. 

     “He wanted you to sleep with him? You should have realized,” Joe turned around, an ugly leer etched on his once handsome features, “boys            only want one thing.”  

     “What are we doing here?” Audrey asked, her mouth dry. Joe began walking toward her. She retreated until she found she had been strategically positioned against a wall and had nowhere to go. 

     “I have a business opportunity for you, young lady.” He reached up and stroked her cheek. She slapped his hand away and his other came up, pinning her against the wall by her throat. “In that warehouse is several thousand dollars worth of video cameras, lighting, and several of my friends who have been dying for a little beauty like you to test them on.” His grin grew uglier. “Get the picture?”

     She struggled against his hand, trying to scream with what little air she could draw into her lungs.

     “No!”

     “I bet you wish you’d fucked your boyfriend now, don’t you?” he said and tried to kiss her but her boot connected with his shin and he released her with a grunt of pain. With a furious look on his face, he bashed her head into the wall, stunning her. As sparkles overwhelmed her vision, she dimly made out his face coming through the darkness to kiss her again.

Before she could summon the strength to fight, his eyes bulged in surprise as fingers curled around the back of his neck. Another hand snaked around the front, setting its nails into Joe’s throat and tightening. The sharp nails stabbed into his flesh as he screamed, a gurgling wail as his throat was torn out and dropped to the ground. Audrey’s heart sank as the shapeless mass behind Joe dropped the lifeless pornographer’s body to the ground and looked up and directly into her eyes.

He was very tall, his face was as pale as a sheet of paper. Long dark hair framed his high cheekbones and sunken eyes in shadow. Almost before this all registered, he was standing in front of her, nearly close enough to share her breath, staring deep into her eyes. She cowered against the dirty wall, trying to make herself as small as possible.

     “What is your name?” said his voice as if from a distance as Audrey’s world grew darker.

     “A..Audrey…” she whispered. Then the light vanished as the world completely faded away and the darkness claimed her.

 

Free Fiction : Seeing Out the Monkey by Ann Folks

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

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

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

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

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

     “Leaving…”.  And she was gone. 

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

     “Yeah?” 

     “Hi, I’m the new cleaner and …”

     “On my way down”. He hung up. 

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

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

He turned around and got back on the elevator. 

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      I asked, “Why is Nero so crazy?”

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

He passed out.

I dialed 911.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

Free Fiction: Long Time No See by James Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

Free Fiction : Come Dine With Me by Pete Kijek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

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