Chilling Chat Episode #196 Part I – Lee Murray

chillingchat

Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning author-editor from Aotearoa-New Zealand (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows), and a two-time Bram Stoker Award®-winner. Her work includes military thrillers, the Taine McKenna Adventures,Lee Murray supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (with Dan Rabarts), and debut collection Grotesque: Monster Stories. She is proud to have edited seventeen volumes of speculative fiction, including international Bram Stoker Award®-winning title Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women co-edited with Geneve Flynn. Her latest work, released May 2021, is non-fiction title, Mark My Words: Read the Submission Guidelines and Other Self-editing Tips co-authored with Angela Yuriko Smith. She is co-founder of Young NZ Writers and of the Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Fiction Writers, HWA Mentor of the Year for 2019, NZSA Honorary Literary Fellow, and Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow for 2021 for her poetry collection Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud. 

NTK: How did you become involved with horror and how old were you?

LM:  If horror is what scares us, then I guess I was involved as soon as I could breathe. Although only diagnosed in the past five years, I’ve lived with anxiety (and depression) for most of my life. As a tiny child, I believed that the crunch of the pulse in my ear against my pillow was a wolf prowling under my bed. Yes, I had a rich imagination even back then—and there aren’t even any wolves in New Zealand! Also, anxiety isn’t really acknowledged in Asian cultures, at least it wasn’t back then, so I spent a lot of time worrying about things that made me uneasy. In an anxious mind, scary things escalate. But I guess you’re asking about my involvement with horror writing, which has only really been over the last decade. Taken in by the notion ‘write what you know’, I started my writing career with a light-hearted chick-lit novel, and while I had a lot of fun, and learned a lot about writing, I realised that the plot complications faced by my ambitious but misguided heroine weren’t resonating for me; I wanted to explore deeper issues, topics like otherness, expectation, and oppression, and those themes naturally led me to the dark side. So, not long afterwards, that wolf-under-the-bed experience became “Peter and the Wolf”, a story which appeared in the award-winning anthology Baby Teeth: Bite-sized Tales of Terror. The story went on to inspire a panel discussion, an essay, and is currently being developed as an animated film. It was also where Dan and I started our collaboration.

NTK: What is your favorite horror movie?

LM: Okay, this is where I admit that I don’t watch ‘horror’ movies because I am a wimp. They give me nightmares. Keep me awake. I stayed up late and watched The Trilogy of Terror nearly half a century ago, and it still gives me nightmares. Then there was Friday 13th Part Something, which I saw at the movie theatre with friends at around thirteen, and for weeks afterwards I smashed the wall and screamed in my sleep, so my father put his foot down and said, “No more horror movies for you.” Of course, I still watch some horror because it’s a genre that exists on a spectrum, ranging from unease through to entrails and gore; some movies allow me that horror fix without setting off my rather pathetic threshold for nightmares. The same doesn’t apply to books; I can read extreme horror and it doesn’t seem to have quite the same effect. That doesn’t mean horror literature fails to elicit fear in me—quite the opposite—but my brain seems to compartmentalise those responses, allowing me to distance myself from the imagery as soon as I put the book aside. (I have some horror researcher colleagues, and now I’m thinking I must ask them if this is a known phenomenon…)

NTK: What is your favorite horror television show?

LM: See above. However, I can do the next best thing, and read responses by my learned colleagues to those shows, which gives me great insight into the interpretation, even though I might not have seen the work. For example, I loved reading The Streaming of Hill House: Essays on the Haunting Netflix Adaption edited by Kevin J. Wetmore, perhaps because the essays allowed me to enjoy the programme vicariously, with a measure of distance—book to film to book. Also, those essays were so accessible and scarily entertaining. Recommended.

NTK: What is your favorite horror novel?

LM: Aargh! Such a difficult question because I read so widely in the genre, and there is so much great horror to enjoy. I can see Dan shaking his head, too. How are we supposed to answer this question? We love dark works. You’re asking us to single out just one? How about one for each day of the week? One for different periods of your life? One to reflect a current mood? For summer? For Halloween? For a rainy Sunday afternoon? To encourage a love of dark literature in a new reader? [wails!] How about I tell you about some upcoming works that I have had the privilege to read prior to release, and that everyone should be looking out for over the next few months? For example, there’s Garrett Boatman’s Floaters, coming in September from Crystal Lake Publishing, a historical horror novella which pitches a horde of undead, risen from the Thames River, against the city’s gangs. Pulse-pounding stuff. There’s James Chambers’ science fiction, fantasy, and frankly bizarro short story collection, On the Hierophant Road, coming later this year from Raw Dog Screaming Press. If you like your fiction dark and weird, and superbly crafted definitely grab a copy of Chambers’ incredible collection. Poet Jamal Hodge has The Dark Between the Twilight coming, an exciting collection of speculative poetry exploring abuse and depression; dark themes, but Hodge makes space for hope and restoration. And finally, I’m currently enjoying David Rose’s gritty military horror, Lovecraft’s Iraq. That title, right? I’m about fifty pages in and it’s pretty damn good so far.

NTK: Awesome! Thank you for those recommendations. What inspires your writing?

LM:  Everything. Oh, you need me to narrow it down a bit? In the last year or so, I’ve been focused on short fiction rather than longer works, and I’ve been lucky enough to have had a number of stories commissioned by some fabulous horror editors. In those cases, the editor-publisher typically suggests a theme to write to, and it’s always exciting to come up with something fresh that the other invited authors haven’t considered. I especially like writing at the intersections of culture and have been exploring aspects of my Asian-Kiwi heritage in my work—in poetry, prose, and also non-fiction.

NTK: Speaking as a person of color, how has your experience been in the horror community? What improvements could be made?

LM: In my view, the horror writing community is extremely inclusive, perhaps because horror is already a subversive genre, addressing the things that provoke fear—and, sadly, one of the things people fear most is the ‘other’. Anyone different or out of step. Horror writers get that; after all, we’re the people who write the books that everyone hides under the bed. We’re all weird here, so we’re going to recognise you as one of our own, embrace those differences, and celebrate them. We’re going to hold space for your stories, and not just during WiHM or Pride Month or Mental Health Awareness month. Of course, dialogue is just the first step, but the success of Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women has shown me that the community is not afraid to explore issues like Asian otherness and persecution, even at a time when anti-Asian sentiment is high.

NTK: What inspired Blood of the Sun?

LM: Well, it’s the third book in collaborative supernatural crime-noir series written by Dan and myself, so I guess we can say we were intrigued to see what might happen to our intrepid brother-sister sleuths, Penny and Matiu Yee. The only way to do that was to knuckle down and write it! The book ties together a lot of the story threads introduced in the previous two books, including story arcs for some much-loved characters, and culminates in an epic finale on Auckland’s Mount Maungawhau (also known as Mount Eden). We had great fun writing it once we got underway, but the book had a slow start because not long after we’d penned the first chapters, New Zealand suffered the Christchurch mosque shootings. We’d included a massacre early in the narrative, and it shook us to see something so horrific and so unexpected, at least in a New Zealand context, playing out in real life. It affected us so much that we had to put the book aside. We seriously considered starting over with a completely different narrative, but eventually we decided to push on, and I believe it was the right decision, since the book is arguably our best collaborative work to date.

NTK: What’s it like working as a collaborative team? What is your writing process like?

LM: Writing with Dan has been one of the most frustrating and fulfilling experiences of my life. He’s like my baby brother, vastly annoying yet I can’t help but love him to bits. I think the depth of our friendship is the basis of our success. (Also, because as the Lucy-van-Pelt big sister, I am very bossy and like to get my way!). The Path of Ra series is a dual protagonist narrative with Dan writing smouldering bad boy, Matiu Yee, who walks with one foot beyond the veil, while I write his uptight big sister Penny, who is a science consult to the police. We write chapter-about in a he-said, she-said approach, each of us drawing on our personal backgrounds to inform the characters and the plots, with the bickering yet affectionate tone readers see on the page perfectly summing up our collaborative relationship. (Actually, Dan writes that bad-ass character so well, I have to wonder what he got up to when he was younger…)

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

LM: It’s a negotiation. Sometimes, I’m in control, guiding them through the prescribed plot events, but occasionally they surprise me. Which is as you would expect, because fully authentic characters have all the foibles and whimsy of real people.

NTK: What is your best piece of advice for the prospective mentor?

LM: You’re not making a mini-me; instead, your job as a mentor is to give your mentee the tools they need to be the best version of a writer they can be, in terms of craft and also professionalism, and offered at the mentee’s own pace. (But mentors know all this. Mostly, I want to say thank you to all the hardworking selfless heroes who step up to give their time, expertise, and encouragement to support our emerging writers. You rock!)

NTK: Congratulations on your Bram Stoker Award wins!! How do you feel about the projects which won the awards? What made you choose to do these projects?

LM: Thank you! I’m still reeling from this kind acknowledgement from my horror colleagues. It hasn’t really sunk in. I’m so proud of both these projects. Grotesque: Monster Stories was the response to an invitation by Steve Dillon of Things in the Well, Australia, who encouraged me to put together a collection. His confidence in my work was the impetus, because I wasn’t convinced I was sufficiently established to have a ‘best of’ album. But I looked at my back catalogue, determined that monsters loomed large, selected a few stories to include, wrote some fresh ones, and we released my debut collection smack in the middle of the pandemic. I think that timing had a lot to do with its success. New Zealand’s response to the pandemic has been held up globally as an example of good practice, so perhaps there was an interest in escaping here through story. I’m certain that was the reason, in part, for the success of Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Attacks on Asians were on the rise, and I think readers were looking for stories that explored that otherness, either out of solidarity, or just as a means of informing themselves. And of course, Geneve Flynn and I were absolutely thrilled to be able to assemble such a fantastic lineup of contributors. Our authors simply wrote themselves out of their skins, overwhelming us with the beauty and horror of their work. The Bram Stoker Award has my name on it, but it is their work which resonated with readers. I’m extremely grateful.

NTK: As an editor, what are you looking for in a story? What kind of stories interests you most?

LM: Editors are all looking for the next big thing: something innovative, evocative, ground-breaking. Relevant. Something that lifts the hair on the back of our necks, while at the same time making us shiver at the beauty of it. (But editors are simple creatures too, and at 2 am when we’re reading the 876th submission for an anthology call, any well-crafted story which fits the submission guidelines and isn’t written in Comic Sans is going to make us happy.)

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

LM: My most recent book, released just over a week ago, is Mark My Words: Read the Submission Guidelines and Other Self-editing Tips, which I have written with Angela Yuriko Smith, the publisher at Space and Time magazine and this year’s HWA Mentor of the Year. The book was intended to be a hand-out for a Horror University course we presented for the HWA (which is still available online), but being conscientious Asian girls, we got a bit carried away and our ‘little handout’ turned into a book of close to 50,000 words packed with tips and suggestions from our horror editor and publisher colleagues (including Horror Addicts editors). We hope the book will help writers get their work off the slush pile and into the hands of editors. We also hope it will save our hardworking mentors the trouble of repeating things like ‘use a serif font’ or ‘remove all the TABS!’ ad infinitum. And prompted by our work in Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, Angela Yuriko Smith and I are also working on Unquiet Spirits, a collection of essays exploring Asian monsters, with personal responses from horror writers of the Asian diaspora. Coming up in August, I’ll be taking up my Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship in Auckland, where I’ll be working on my poetry collection, Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud, an exploration of the New Zealand Asian women’s diaspora through the lens of the shape-shifting fox spirit. I can’t wait!

Nightmare Fuel: The Congelier House

For the first Nightmare Fuel of the season, I want to visit a legend from my old hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. Allow me to tell you the tale of the Congelier House, often referred to as “The Most Haunted House in America” and “The House the Devil Built.”

The house was built in the 1860s in the Manchester neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s North Side by Charles Congelier, a gentleman who made a fortune in the South. He lived there with his wife, Lyda, and their maid, Essie. According to the legend, in 1871, Lyda discovered her husband in bed with the maid and snapped in true horror fashion. Grabbing a knife and a meat cleaver, she ended the affair by brutally stabbing Charles and decapitating Essie. Lyda was discovered by a family friend several days later in her rocking chair, gently stroking Essie’s severed head.

After that, the home remained empty for almost twenty years before being purchased by a local railroad company in 1892. The company converted the house into several living quarters for their workers, but shortly after, stories circulated about strange sounds and other activities, including ghostly figures. By the turn of the century, the home sold again, and the legend only gets stranger.

In 1900, an immigrant by the name of Dr. Adolph C Brunrichter purchased the Congelier House. True to a serial killer profile, Dr. Brunrichter was a quiet man who kept to himself in a reclusive manner. Then, on August 12, 1901, a woman’s scream and the bright explosion of light from the house prompted neighbors to call the police. They discovered a woman’s decapitated corpse and a secret laboratory in the basement containing five heads. According to his notes, the good doctor was experimenting on methods to keep the heads alive after their removal. Unfortunately, Dr. Brunrichter vanished without a trace. In 1927, a drunken man claiming to be him was arrested and later released when police could not corroborate his story.

The Equitable Gas Company purchased the house, intending to convert it back into apartments for their immigrant workers to live. Not long after, stories of demonic voices began circulating among the tenants. It was only after two of their own were found murdered in the basement that the workers refused to live there. They blamed it on whatever spirits inhabited the home since there was no way for the killer to have escaped. In 1927, a natural gas explosion destroyed much of the neighborhood, leaving the Congelier House a smoldering crater. Locals believed that the house was transported back to Hell.

As with many other legends, there is more fiction to the story than fact. There are no records of a Charles Congelier having lived in Pittsburgh at the time, nor of the double homicide. There is also no evidence of Dr. Adolph C Brunrichter even existing. At one time, Mary Congelier owned the home, but that ended with the explosion in 1927. While it didn’t destroy the house, broken glass severed an artery in her leg, causing her death. The home was later torn down, along with the other damaged buildings in the area after the explosion. Even without facts to back it up, the Congelier House legend continues to this day.

Until next time, Addicts…

D.J. Pitsiladis

December Theme: Boogieman and Other Childhood Fears

Boogieman and Kid Fears for December

The Holidays bring out the child in all of us. Or so it is said. This December, we at HorrorAddicts.net are all set to remember our youth. The scary way! All of us have childhood memories; some good, some bad, and some just outright terrifying!

Do you remember your childhood fears? Was there a monster in your closet? A troll under your bed? A frightening Santa at the mall? Or something else that kept you awake at night, and maybe still does? 

Take some time out during this busy time of year to recall the Boogieman and other kid fears of your past along with us!

Nightmare November : Recurring Nightmare by Kate Nox

With our emphasis on nightmares this month of November, I have been considering whether or not to write a blog about my own most incessantly recurring dream. On the chance that it may scare up some dreams for you, I present the following:

My nightmare begins rather innocuously as I am climbing up a flight of stairs. Nothing scary about that. I am able to climb two or three stories and continue on to whatever appointed task takes me up. This is where the dream turns dark for me. For some reason, I must quickly descend the stairway. Sometimes I hear a fire bell and everyone starts running down. Other times, something is chasing me and I am so frightened, I turn to run down. At other times I simply have to go to the bathroom which, of course, is on the first floor. 

Several years ago, I had an experience in which I actually thought I had dropped into my most frightening dream. A friend enlisted me to help decorate for her wedding. My job was to wrap the banister of the stairway she and her new husband would descend into the reception hall. I started at the bottom and began wrapping ribbons up the chrome banister, while another friend attached flowers to the bolster at the bottom. In a hurry to get the job done, I proceeded up and up and was almost to the top of the stairs when someone called out to me. Turning quickly to answer, I could see no stairs. I became dizzy as I teetered at the top and rather than fall, I forced myself to sit on the step where I stood. Noticing that I had turned pale and sat down hard, friends ran to my assistance. I sucked in several breaths of air and as my fear subsided, I realized I was staring through a glass side panel below the banister. 

This was frightening to me because in my dream, I turn the corner and find that the bottom portion of the stairway has disappeared. It’s fallen, or its burned or some mean person has removed it! I’m often not sure why–it’s just gone! I can no longer descend the staircase but I need to flee whatever horror is causing my decent. 

Perhaps this is where I should tell you that in my waking life I have an unreasonable fear of being high up off the ground. No walking across any glass balcony dangling over the Grand Canyon for me! And you will not read about me skydiving on my 90th birthday. When faced with this fear, I tend to lose the ability to breathe. On one occasion, my nails drew blood from the arm of a companion who had taken me to ride on the Space Needle. In my fear, I was unable to let go of his arm as we rose above the city. 

The remainder of my dream is spent being terribly frightened and trying to figure out how to get down in spite of the fact that no staircase exists. I cannot see any way to climb down and I cannot force myself to jump to the bottom. My heart is, as one would say, in my throat. I’m so frightened I cry, scream, and beg for help but no one comes to my aid. Thankfully, the dream ends and I am in my bed. Safe, warm, and secure but with a racing heartbeat and rapid breathing.

I have always had vivid color dreams. I have even been in a dream where I decided I don’t have to stay and be devoured by whatever is chasing me. I tell myself, I can simply wake up and escape from the horror. I have never, however, been able to just exit this absent stairway scenario and must wait until the dream ends of its own will. 

I think all dreams have a purpose, but I wonder what the purpose of this dream would be? People who seem to know more about dreams than I have told me this dream means I am feeling in over my head or that I feel I’m involved in something beyond my abilities. Having spent a great deal of my career in a high-stress occupation where many people and events were dependent on my capabilities and presence, I tend to believe this explanation. 

What is your recurring nightmare? Share it with us in the comments!

Nightmare November : Night Terrors by Daphne Strasert – Part 3

Night Terrors by Daphne Strasert

I don’t go to work anymore. I didn’t even call in. They might have fired me. That’s probably why my phone was ringing so much yesterday. It doesn’t matter; I threw it in the garbage disposal.

I can’t sleep. Not even if she isn’t in the house. I still hear it. Scuttling. Scurrying. Like rats on the ceiling. I turn to look at it and it’s gone. I don’t close my eyes. Not if I can help it.

Miela wants me to go to the hospital, see someone in the psych ward. She’s worried about me. As if I’m the one that wakes screaming, hoarse in the middle of the nig ht. As if I’m the one with bruises in the shape of handprints all over my arms. She thinks I’m the crazy one.

“Next Tuesday,” I assure her. “I’ll go next Tuesday if you’re still worried.”

“You said that, but it is Tuesday.”

It’s because I don’t sleep, she tells me. Because I’m not even trying. She begs me, she pleads. Go to a friend’s house, go to a hotel. She can go if I want. What would be the use? The shadows are following me.

It is following me.

When I thought it was a delusion, I was sure that the sleeping pills would work. But they didn’t. I couldn’t relax. Now I realize. My body knows what my analytical mind refuses to accept. There is something in the room. And if I go to sleep, I am at its mercy.

I pretend to fall asleep at night. Miela watches me, not sure what to do. When she finally drifts off, I sit up again and wait. It’s coming. It comes every night. For her. For me. I can’t be sure in the pitch darkness of the room, but the shadows move. They change places.

And then… it touches me. I can’t see it, but I can feel it. It’s not warm, but not cold either. It’s lukewarm, the same temperature as the room. All I feel is the pressure of its body as it passes over me and crawls to her. My heart pounds, first in panic for my own safety, but then in alarm for hers.  It moves over me as if I am unaware, as if I were the nightstand or the lamp.

She shudders and jerks away as it crosses from my body to hers. The air seems to thicken around her and she wakes in earnest, fighting against it. My shock chases out repulsion and for a staggering moment, I am clear of the haze of my insomnia. I grab at her wrists, feel the creature’s body slide through my hands as I try to pull it off. It’s like sinking my hands in mashed potatoes. Everywhere I think I gain purchase, it remolds around me. I am doing no good in this fight. She screams and struggles until it coils around her neck. She fights for air, dragging a hissing breath through her closing throat. I still try to pry the creature, the barely visible, insubstantial assailant, from her body. I do no good. It is unhindered as if I didn’t even try.

And then it leaves, pulling from her body and retreating again into the shadows, into wherever it first appeared. She gulps down air by my side and slips back into sleep.

The creature grows more clear each night that I see it. The shadows no longer hide its form from me.

It advances to the bed, its body white like sun-bleached bones. Each movement is a shaky jerk forward. It seems to be made of interconnected spores, like a cross between moss and cottage cheese. It has no face, at least none that I can discern. It sticks to the wall as if helped by millions of tiny suckers, like an octopus that’s escaped onto land. It does not try to hide or slink from my gaze. I am nothing for it to fear. It crawls across me, passing over my body in its path to her. I don’t breathe as it passes, and it doesn’t acknowledge my presence.

The affect its touch has on Miela is immediate. At the first brush of its tentacles, she grimaces. The skin around where the creature touches grows pale. Her mouth twists and her eyes squeeze more tightly shut. She moves her arms, as if brushing away an insect, but the action is ineffectual. The creature clings to the hand she would have wiped it away with.

She writhes in its grasp, flailing against its innumerable limbs. They bind tighter around her, creeping like vines, like mold growing over her like the steady march of decay.

As the creature reaches her chest, she jerks awake, screaming, and claws at her skin. Each scrape of her nails is ineffectual against its hold. It grips more tightly around her and she descends into panic, her eyes bulging out of her face. The creature slithers in through her open mouth and she gags as it forces its way down her throat. Tears stream down her face as she fails to scream. Her eyes fall to me and, for the first time, I know that she can see me. Really see me. We are sharing this nightmare together. Her gaze pleads for rescue. The creature brightens as she grows pale. The life is sucked from her. She gags against the body filling her throat, but is losing the strength to protest.

As I watch, a glimmer of hope brightens in my chest. Perhaps it will kill her. I don’t try to stop it this time. I’m so weak, anyway. All my fight would be ineffectual. Maybe, this will be the end of it. No more screaming, no more midnight waking. Just peaceful, uninterrupted sleep, uninterrupted by the faceless creature that comes at night. Perhaps this will be the last time.

She falls limp, now supported only by the creature tangled around her. It pulses – once, twice – then grows dim. It relaxes its grip on her, sliding from around her. She takes a great shuddering breath as it retreats. Her head lolls to the side and she falls limp against the mattress. It slithers away, each erratic movement of its body mocking me with the knowledge that it will be back. It will always be back.

It won’t kill her. It will just keep coming back. It will come back night after night as it has always done. And she will keep screaming. A vision of my life stretches before me, an unending series of nights, all blurring into each other without the punctuation of sleep. Just unending terror that will be mine alone to bear.

As the white tendrils of the creature slide away from her, I replace them with my own fingers. Each lovingly strokes over her skin, tracing the scratches where she had tried to free herself. Gently, I place my hands over the bruises on her throat. I feel her throat under my palms, so fragile, the unprotected circuitry of the body. The life force flowing through a single, undefended point. I squeeze. Her throat convulses under my palms. How little effort it takes… just a small application of pressure. She chokes, unable to get air, but all the fight has left her. Her eyes open and she stares at me, the whites wide and terrified.

There will be no more fear, no more struggle. She won’t scream anymore. As the last spasm leaves her body, I collapse, my eyelids drooping as my body falls forward onto the pillow, a smile crossing my face as I slide into sleep.

Nightmare November : Night Terrors by Daphne Strasert – Part 2

Night Terrors by Daphne Strasert

I think there might be a problem with the lights in the house. I never see them flicker, but the light isn’t constant the way that it should be. It’s worse at night, though I can’t figure out why. All the lights are off, there’s nothing that should be coming in. No streetlamps through the curtains, nothing through the living room pane doors. Why do I keep seeing shadows shifting across the room?

No, not shadows. The shadows just react to it. Something else is there, something that pushes the shadows aside like a gauzy, black veil. Miela shifts beside me, not a terror, just a normal repositioning in her sleep. I sit up in bed – I don’t try to sleep anymore – and stare at the wall of the bedroom, watching the darkness ripple like lake water when something massive passes beneath. How am I supposed to sleep when the lights keep moving where there is no source? The longer I watch, the more I see. My eyes adjust to the darkness and forms take shape. Not forms, not really. They only seem to be in the corner of my eye. When I focus on them, they sink back under the shadows.

But there are sounds. Sounds that don’t belong in a house. Rasping, like sandpaper on the stairs. Or a rattle, like dice on a table. I slide from under the covers, pursuing the sound. If there are mice in this house, I swear to God…

As I get closer to where the sound emanated, it seems to shift position, coming from somewhere else, coming from everywhere in the room at once. I twist to follow it, but can’t get a bearing.

Miela jerks in the bed, jack-knifing in the covers. The shrieking starts, muffled by the pillows. I watch, bile rising in my throat. I won’t go to her this time. I don’t care if she does bruise her hand on the headboard.

In medical school, I studied hallucinations and delusions. I read studies and attended lectures on the effect that sleep deprivation could have on the mind. By all accounts, that must be what’s happening to me. It can’t be real, the form that slinks around the room at night, always just outside my line of sight. But it’s there. I can feel it, hear it, smell it. Like baby powder… or dried paste. Too sweet to be healthy. A toxic sort of sweet.

Perhaps it’s better that I can’t see it. Who knows what horror my mind would conjure if I did? Maybe I don’t want to see the thing that rattles in the room, that vanishes when I fix my attention on it.

It can’t be real. I can’t see anything in the inky darkness of the bedroom, so I shouldn’t be able to see the subtle shift of the shadows against the wall, like the branches of a tree dancing through their reflection in the window. But there are no trees in our yard and no light comes from outside the window. And yet the shadows move.

They are real. They are moving. Miela says she can’t see them. But I can. I always can. The scratching and rasping of something moving along the wall. The way reality seems to bend around a monstrous something that comes out from the wall.

I had one of the doctors in the ER prescribe me sleeping pills. I’ve taken three. I should be out like a light. I should sleep through the next week. But I can’t close my eyes. Whenever I think that I will be able to, Miela moves. Or the shadows move. What is it that moves them?

Nightmare November : Night Terrors by Daphne Strasert – Part 1

Editor’s note: Daphne Strasert is a writer of horror, science fiction and fantasy who works out of Huston, Texas.  In 2017, she placed third overall in the Horror Addicts’ Next Great Horror Writer Contest. She offered the following tale of horror for our November Nightmares feature and we thought it so suspenseful that we decided to give it to you in three weekly episodes for your reading pleasure! Enjoy!

My wife doesn’t remember the night terrors.

After all, Miela’s not even awake, not really. Her eyes are open, but unseeing. They aren’t focused on me, but on something that closes in on her from all sides. She shrieks until she chokes on her own bile, terrified tears streaming down her face. She throws punches and kicks at an invisible assailant until she tangles in the sheets, unable to do more than thrash against the bonds.

As a doctor, I’ve treated parasomnia before, but only in toddlers. Miela is decades older than any of my other patients. Medically, I know that the terrors are nothing to worry about. They’re just changes in her brain chemistry as she switches from one deep stage of sleep to another. It triggers the release of adrenaline and a fright response. They’re scary for me, but they don’t hurt her. But when she wakes with a shriek at three in the morning, that’s impossible to believe. Her few minutes of panic are agony for me as I try and fail to console her. The helplessness is the worst of all, holding her hands to keep her from clawing at her neck as if something is wrapped around it. And as abruptly as they start, she falls asleep again. When she wakes in the morning, she doesn’t remember them.

But I do.

Miela warned me, I suppose, before we got married. I was so busy finishing residency, we never had time to move in together. I could hardly ever stay the night. She told me about her troubles keeping a roommate, rounds of medications she’d tried to ease them. Maybe I thought she was exaggerating. Maybe I thought the sleepless nights at the ER had prepared me, that I could sleep through them somehow. I’m a doctor, for Christ’s sake – I’ve had more sleepless nights than I can count. I thought I’d seen sleep deprivation. I thought it couldn’t faze me. Holy hell, was I wrong.

I haven’t slept for weeks, not since our wedding night. I catch a few minutes or so, but each shift of her body jolts me awake. The creak of the house as it settles seems to be the precursor to a scream. Every sigh, every murmur heralds the coming fright. My body refuses to rest, too closely tuned to every movement of hers. Waiting. Waiting for the terrors to start.

And they always do. I can see them coming now. She doesn’t frighten all at once. It begins as a low moan, twitches of protest. She pulls away from something. Then she wakes. Or she seems to. She jolts upright, hands tearing at her clothes and hair. She rakes her nails against her skin hard enough to draw blood. And she screams. Long, unearthly sounds, nothing like what they record for horror movies. It’s worse than that, like something in the clutches of death itself.

Weeks of this. Weeks. She’s tried everything: pills, therapy, hypnosis, acupuncture. Nothing has worked.

I hold her against my body, stilling her as she shakes in my arms. Her screams rebound off the bedroom walls and rejoin to create a maniacal chorus. She struggles against me and pushes me away far enough to punch me in the nose. I let go, clutching my hands to my face. She scrambles across the bed on all fours like a wild creature and I retreat to the far corner of the room, watching her through the pain that throbs in my face. After a few minutes, she stops screaming and falls into an exhausted sleep, a peace I can’t reach.

I take deep breaths, my adrenaline coursing in response to her. The pain in my nose dulls. It’s not broken, but it will be bruised. As I go back to bed, something moves against the headboard. I think it’s my shadow, at first, but it shouldn’t cast that way. Light shifts along the paint, like the reflections of a car’s headlights against the wall, except there is no window there. I squint a little harder, but the effect is gone. All that’s left are the shadows, waiting where they should be.

 

Nightmare : The Monkey Queen

Nightmares aren’t all super scary to other people. In fact, when I say I’m scared of monkeys, people often laugh. But trust me, there is nothing funny about it.

A few years ago I was asked to write about my phobia for Hidden Thoughts Press and this piece describes exactly what sort of chaos monkeys can cause. To read the PHOBIAS book in its entirety, it’s available on Amazon.


The Monkey Queen

by Emerian Rich

As a little girl, I had this reoccurring nightmare. Everything started nice and innocent. I was on a tropical island at a big luau. The dream was extremely vivid and in color, which was rare for me. A volcano in the distance spewed pink ash into the bright blue sky. The jungles were vibrant with life and color. Happy calypso music played in the background. All in attendance cheered as I was carried on a throne of bamboo and deposited at the head of a bedecked table. Dressed in a Hawaiian frock of loud oranges and greens, I sported a banana leaf skirt and flowers around my neck. Atop my head was a wreath weaved from vines and hibiscus flowers. I was fanned by palm fronds and hundreds of exotic fruits were paraded before me.

I remember the taste of the mangos, grapes, kiwi, bananas, and papaya. The smell of the tropical flowers and fruit lulled me into a false sense of peaceful tranquility. Cool ocean air wafted over me as if Mother Nature had found my perfect temperature and set the island’s thermostat to please me. In a word, it was paradise.

I was the only human there, but that didn’t bother me, because I was amongst friends. Snakes massaged my toes as they slithered past. Panthers and tigers yawned as they lay in the late afternoon sun. Macaws and toucans sang gleefully along with the drums beaten by tree frogs in tiki masks.

And then there were monkeys. Hundreds of the primates sat at my table and ate fruit, chattering happily as they paid homage to me, their ruler.

Little groups of two or three monkeys danced before me, putting on a show. They spun and twirled and did death-defying trapeze stunts. Several would come up at a time to honor me, or kiss my feet, or mist me with fragrant water. Some even sang or played musical instruments.

As the sun went down, torches were lit and the festivities got more rambunctious. Soon the merriment became too much for me. The crowd got rowdy and I closed my eyes, thinking I might pass out from exhaustion. It was eight o’clock and I knew I had to get home before my curfew.

As I stood, the music stopped and all the monkeys turned to me. Hundreds of little beady eyes stared, their tails curled upwards into question marks.

They asked a flurry of questions.

“What can we get you?”

“Are you well?”

“Do you need something to eat or drink?”

“Where are you going, my queen?”

I smiled and patted the one closest to me on the shoulder as I said, “It’s been lovely playing with you all, but now I must go home.”

The monkey put his tiny fingers on mine and said, “Oh no, you are our queen. You can never go home.”

I laughed at first, thinking he was joking, but as his fingers tightened on mine, I realized he was serious. Panic filled my heart and I screamed. I jumped down from my royal perch to the damp jungle floor. I ran as fast as I could through the dark jungle, trying to find my way home. I felt like Alice, running from all the cards. Vines tangled in my hair and lashed across my bare arms and legs as if trying to hold me back. I heard chattering and scampering of thousands of little monkeys chasing after me. The path never seemed to get clearer and as I looked around, I saw the menacing stares of red beady eyes at varying levels on trees, vines, and bushes. Every once in a while, I’d feel a scratch on my shoulder or tickle on my ankles and I could never find my way home.

With the touch of a whiskery kiss at my neck, visions of being pulled apart by minuscule monkey nails shook me awake.

My scream would bring Mom. I recounted the tale between labored breaths as my adolescent heart raced and tears blurred my eyes. She’d assure me that no monkeys were or would ever be in the house. Glancing around the room, I would spot several places they could squeeze in. Through the ripped screen on the open window, under the closet door, or from the heater vent leading to the basement. I knew the creatures would invade my home. No matter how harmless or accommodating monkeys seemed, they were out for blood.

I don’t know why I had these dreams. They were so real, they seemed like memories, not simply nightmares. Could they be a product of watching Jungle Book as a child? Were they past life memories or perhaps…a premonition?

As I grew up, my childhood nightmare blossomed into a full-blown phobia. Cute “Hang in There” posters on office walls featuring a monkey can conjure all kinds of horror stories in my mind. They are everywhere! Waiting to pluck out your eyeballs and juggle them for tips.

If you haven’t been terrorized by a hoard of primates chasing you through a jungle, you probably don’t realize just how many damned monkeys are around us every day. Curious George, Bubbles, Planet of the Apes, Barrel of Monkeys, Donkey Kong, Chunky Monkey, monkey emojis, monkey bread, sock monkeys, marmosets, orangutans, baboons, the list just doesn’t end! And don’t even get me started on those friggin’ cymbal clacking organ grinders.

When I hear in the news that some lady’s face was ripped off by a monkey, I’m not shocked. Did you ever see that movie Monkey Shines where a shoulder monkey terrorizes a man in a wheelchair? It should be turned into a public service film. I say, anyone who wants to own a monkey must watch this movie before adopting, because the things are evil, people!

I’ve tried to get over my primate aversion, but I just can’t do it. Photos of the creatures make me shiver. While other people fear typing a word in on Google and having porn or blasphemous content pop up, I panic about the possibility of seeing one of those fanged mouths open in what some would say a laugh, but I say an evil shriek. I wait in fear of the day they will attack, tiny nails digging into my skin, creating infested blotches all over my body. Have you seen the pygmy marmosets that are so small, they wrap themselves around your finger? My skin crawls at the thought of their little bodies embedding themselves under my skin. Chilling!

Despite my distaste for primates, one of them infiltrated my monkey-proof perimeter a few years back when my son was a baby. Being an alternative lifestyle, child of darkness, city dweller, people don’t normally give me things that might have monkeys on them. The Nightmare Before Christmas décor, spiders, and jack-o-lantern gifts abound, but primate nonsense? Not a whisper. I enjoyed this fact until I became pregnant with my son. Suddenly all sorts of cutesy baby gifts poured in, many of them monkey themed. Most of them went straight into the giveaway pile, but there was one soft, fuzzy blanket I fell in love with by touch before I realized its sinister side. When my fingertips found the blanket at the bottom of a pink polka-dot box, it felt like wisps of cloud from heaven. I held the blanket to my cheek for fully five minutes, breathing in the deep scent of baby lotion before my husband said, “Um, did you notice it has a monkey on it?”

Fear pierced my chest. I started breathing heavy and felt a tingle up my spine as if I were being watched. My first instinct was to throw the evil blanket across the room–to distance myself from such a vile, ghastly object–but the touch of the baby soft fabric made me hesitate. Was I being too judgmental, to chastise an item of such sensory enjoyment, just because some manufacturer had wrongly decided to decorate it with the image of my nemesis?

I ultimately put the blanket in the keep pile, somehow knowing my newborn child would adore it. As predicted, it’s become my son’s favorite blankie. Since his birth, I’ve had to endure hundreds of movies containing monkeys. I keep my head turned, eyes focused on something else, praying not to hear the shrill monkey squeals from my dreams. If I happen to miss the appearance of one of these creatures on the screen, my son will point and squeal with delight, “Momma don’t like monkeys!”

You would think my son’s innocent delight of the vile creatures would make them more acceptable in my eyes. That with every trek through the zoo or watching of a primate cartoon, it would get easier to see them, easier to push my fear in the background. No such luck. I’m still just as much a Pithikosophobian as ever.

I guess you could say a smidgen of the fear has gone, but is tolerance the same as acceptance? I don’t think so. I still get nervous when people start talking about marmosets or pretend to be a monkey as they hand me a banana. And every time I wash that blanket, I wonder if the monkey is mocking me. Perhaps one day, the little bugger will peel himself from the plush fleece and hop onto my shoulder, pledging his undying love and pulling at my hair ’til I scream. He may even take me back to Monkey Island.

But for now, the blanket can stay, as long as it behaves, keeps my son happy, and doesn’t sprout miniature fingers.


Update: The blanket did get thrown away (finally) much to my relief. My son is now fourteen and my home is once again a place of tranquil monkey-less bliss. Yet, every so often someone who doesn’t know me sends a monkey emoji or posts a monkey meme and my fear spins once again out of control.

My biggest fear is not the apocalypse. It’s an apocalypse where I am, alone with only primates as my companions. I’ve been told to write that book, that it would be the scariest tale I’ve told yet, but I’m afraid the only one it would instigate nightmares in would be me. And it’s just not worth the price.

Nightmare November : Dare to Dream from the Horror Seeker

Dreams are one of the most mysterious functions of the human mind, and we all have them. Many we can’t remember, but of the few we do, dreams are nothing short of an amazing experience in all their form and splendor, and none so profound as a vivid nightmare that wakes you out of a sound sleep.

Growing up, I became a fan of Nightmare on Elm Street at 3 years old, thank you, Aunt Liz, ha! But it has always been a foundation of inspiration for my writing. Could something like Freddy actually exist? As any fan of the franchise knows, one of Wes Craven’s inspirations in creating NOES was one of the many cases known as Asian Death Syndrome, or more commonly referred to as Night Terrors. These were only called Asian Death because during the 1980’s a sudden wave of sleep-related deaths had occurred amongst a number of healthy middle-aged Asian men in the Chicago area.  Much of the details we see in the movie are direct from his life, according to Wes; Nancy hiding a coffee pot to stay awake, the notion of some real entity trying to kill him, the screams and thrashes during sleep. Though, I think it’s safe to say nothing was brought out of a dream. Ha, oh what a life if that were a possibility! But I digress.

In my continual search for material, I keep a notebook at my bedside in case a potent dream manages to stick long enough for me to write down. However, it is the dark ones I hope to catch, and unfortunately, as we get older, I feel that nightmares become few and far between, but they never stop completely.

So, what are dreams? Well, they are attributed to the processing and organizing of the thoughts of the day, and they are vital in our brain’s ability to recover and recharge. One of the best ways I’ve heard it described is, imagine your brain is a warehouse. On one side all the material (thoughts, etc) are coming in and being shipped from one side to the other. As your day wears down your brain begins to process the material. Now, when you fall asleep its as if a door dividing the warehouse in two closes and our awareness is left on the empty end of the warehouse. Whatever the process is that organizes our brain’s activities we can not see, we can only listen. Dreams, as it is told, are our brain’s interpretation of those sounds. A loud bang, say, could have been anything really, but the experience is subjective to us all, perhaps influenced by our own unique programming. This description has stuck with me for a while, and really, it’s the one that excites the most intrigue. That being said, I’d like to leave you with the last memorable nightmare I have had in recent times.

Like many dreams begin we simply just happen into them with no real awareness of a beginning or an end. See Inception. In this case, it “began” in my car, dawn or dusk, I’m not really sure which, but it was stark, blue, like the fading or coming of a summer sun. Almost immediately I was aware of a presence next to me in the passenger seat. I say presence because, well, you’ll see. There were no words exchanged, no real movement. Only when I was aware, as if it could sense as such, the figure turned and leaned in as close to my face as it could without touching me. It was a faceless thing, dressed normally. It’s head cast in a hooded sweatshirt as Death would look if he were a skateboarder, ha! It said nothing, it did nothing, but it felt as though it was looking into my soul, deep and invasive! I remember being as terrified as ever, indescribable, and dangerously hyperventilating. The most horrifying thing was, I was aware of this on a conscious plane as if I were awake and asleep at the same time and unable to scare myself out of it. Only when my girlfriend at the time who had been awoken by my hysteria, shook me violently for several seconds did I snap out of it.

“Was it the shadow man?” She asked the next morning.

I hadn’t told her a thing up until that point, and yet somehow she knew what I saw. I could think of no better way to describe it. It was A Shadow Man. Having experienced that, I can say it is exactly the kind of dream I hope for and the exact kind of dream I never want to experience again!

Do you remember your dreams, your nightmares? If so, please share. I’m always on the lookout for a good tale to tell. Thanks for reading!

November Theme : Nightmares

Greetings Horror Addicts!

Provided you didn’t eat too much Halloween Candy or drink too much in honor of the dead, you have awakened on the first morning of November! You might be interested to know that we here at Horror Addicts.net have declared November to be Nightmare Month on the blog.

Nightmares are something that most people have, although we do understand that some people don’t dream at all or at least don’t remember their dreams. For those of us who dream in vivid color and gory detail, nightmares can be some of the most frightening events in our lives. And we can’t wait to share them with you!

Researchers say there are several nightmares which are common among human beings. Falling, losing all your teeth, and being chased seem to be the big three, followed closely by appearing naked in public or someone you love dying.

Then there are frightening superstitions about dreams, such as if – in a falling dream – you actually hit dirt…you will die. Or should you tell your fearsome dream before you eat breakfast, it will certainly come true!

This month is here at HorrorAddicts.net we hope you will join us as our writers and guests share some of their spookiest nightmares, as well as book and movie reviews which will certainly give fuel to your late night freights!

We’d love to hear from you about your most frightening nightmares as well!  Tell us just why they scared you so much! In the meantime, Stay Spooky and keep on dreaming!