WWW All-stars Judges

We want to give a big THANK YOU out to our Wicked Women Writer’s All-Star judges!

FIRST JUDGING PANEL

Michele Roger, Rhonda Carpenter, H.E. Roulo, and Killion Slade

michelerrcheadshotsmallHE ROULO 1killion

SECOND JUDGING PANEL

YOU! The listeners and readers of HorrorAddicts.net!

THIRD (tie-breaking)  JUDGING PANEL

L. Marie Wood, A.F. Stewart, Shannon Lawrence, Laurel Anne Hill, and Courtney Mroch

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THANK YOU ALL FOR MAKING THIS
WICKED WOMEN WRITER’S ALL-STAR Contest
a success!

Wicked Women Writer’s All-stars: Meet the Contestants


wwwbannerHAJaq3-250smJaq D Hawkins
is the author of The Goblin Trilogy, which includes Dance of the Goblins, Demoniac Dance, and Power of the Dance. She has also written the Airship Mechanoids Steampunk series which begins with The Wake of the Dragon and will continue with The Winds of Winter Storms due in 2021.


DM Slate photo - dmslate94D.M. Slate is an author of dark fiction and suspense, whose first novella was released in 2009. She enjoys writing short stories and flash fiction, as well as full length novels. Slate resides in Colorado with her two teenage children, alongside a house full of animals and reptiles.


stacyfileStacy Fileccia teaches 8th grade English and used do technical writing and math tutoring. A coffee and chocolate lover, she lives in Ohio with her husband, 8 kids, 3 dogs, & a snake. Scribbling in many genres—often at practices and appointments—she has been published by Sirens Call, and won the 2016 Most Wicked Woman Writer contest.


DaphneStrasert-1920x1080-1024x577Daphne Strasert is a horror, fantasy, and speculative fiction writer from Houston, Texas. She has published many short stories through HorrorAddicts.net, Dark Water Syndicate, and Crimson Streets. When not writing, she plays board games and knits. Her interests include monsters, murder mysteries, and things that go bump in the night.


Nachingwriterpic2019Naching T. Kassa is a wife, mother, and writer. She’s created many short stories and co-created three children. She lives in Eastern Washington State with her husband, Dan Kassa. Naching is a member of the Horror Writers Association, Head of Publishing for HorrorAddicts.net, and an assistant at Crystal Lake Publishing.

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

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

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

SFX: BELL TOLLS

NARRATOR

PREY UPON THE WICKED

By Naching T. Kassa

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

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

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

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

OMEN MU

(HIGH NASAL VOICE)

What has happened, my Komen?

KOMEN DARU

(LOW HEROIC VOICE)

Plattu has been killed. His blood depleted.

MU

How?

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

MU

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

DARU

Which specimen was it?

MU

Number 13.

DARU

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

MU

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

DARU

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

MU

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

DARU

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

MU

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

DARU

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

MU

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

DARU

What do you suggest we do?

MU

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

DARU

Then we will go to the library first.

MU

What of Plattu’s body?

DARU

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

SFX: FOOTSTEPS (WALKING AWAY)

SFX: FEMININE GIGGLE

MU

Wait, my Komen. What was that?

She is behind us!

SFX: FOOTSTEPS (RUNNING BACK)

DARU

There is no one here, Mu.

MU

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

DARU

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

MU

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

SFX: TRANSITIONAL MUSIC

NARRATOR

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

MU

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

DARU

I do not recognize these things. What is Garlic?

MU

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

DARU

What about—a Crucifix?

MU

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

DARU

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

MU

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

DARU

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

MU

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

DARU

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

MU

I have. The information cannot be found.

DARU

Then, it is not important.

SFX: TRANSITIONAL MUSIC

MU

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

DARU

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

MU

My Komen—

DARU

Enough. Do as I say.

MU

As you wish, my Komen.

NARRATOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the chambers of his heart.

13 THE VAMPIRE

(LAUGHS)

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

DARU

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

VAMPIRE

What is that?

DARU

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

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

Die, foul beast!

SFX: LAUGHTER

DARU

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

VAMPIRE
Where did you people get your information?

DARU

From the Orb, the vessel of all knowledge.

VAMPIRE

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

DARU

We have colonized many worlds this way

VAMPIRE

You think yourself superior to those you conquer?

DARU

Of course.

VAMPIRE

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

DARU

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

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

DARU

W-Who?

VAMPIRE

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

DARU

Let go of me!

VAMPIRE

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

DARU

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

VAMPIRE

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

DARU

Noooo! Please! Aaahhh!

SFX: BELL TOLLS

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


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

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

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

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

Zandra’s Kiss

By Stacy Fileccia

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

She shuddered.

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

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

The door burst open. 

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

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

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

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

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

Jaws aching, she could barely breathe.

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

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

“Goot, goot,” Bertrand kept saying.

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

Would she drown?

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

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

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

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

But “woman” she was not. Not anymore. 

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

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

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

But Zandra’s other captors had already run away. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait. What? What does that mean?”

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

“Why didn’t my … sister … do that?”

“Too young, I guess.”

Zandra didn’t know what to say.

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

“Did he do it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zandra hissed, “Let’s go.”

END

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


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

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

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

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

The Blood of Sorus

Daphne Strasert

The book didn’t belong in a museum. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slowly, her eyes adjusted to the gloom. No… that wasn’t it. She blinked, spots of light coming into focus, then spreading. A web of blue light flicked into existence, spreading like a spiderweb over the chamber. Sanosa’s breath caught in her throat. The vines that covered the walls of the chamber came to life, filling the darkness with pulsing light. The reflected luminescence bounced off her scales and turned them from green to turquoise. They covered the walls, the floors, even the ceilings. The chamber stretched far further than Sanosa had realized. Now that it was lit on all sides, she could feel her own insignificance.

Following the track of light, Sanosa saw that the vines converged in the middle of the chamber floor, rising over a central pillar, covering it in their glow. There the vines grew thickest, crisscrossing over each other and pulsing brightly with light. If the vines were arteries, then surely this was the heart of the chamber. 

Sanosa crept forward and pulled the book from her pouch. It was thick, nearly the width of her palm. She could still see the outline of scales. Thousands of years ago, a Sorian had given their life to make this tome. Sanosa’s blood boiled at the thought of how it had been treated. It was a sacred sacrifice—a grave and corpse bound together—yet the Estranhos had displayed it like an insect stuck with pins. 

Sanosa would put it back to rest. 

A wound of snapped and shriveled vines covered the pillar where the marauding estranhos had dug through to steal the treasure before. Only a few new growths had taken their place. Sanosa swept them aside to reveal the stone underneath. As they snapped, they splattered her with their glowing contents. 

This was it. This was where the book had belonged all along. Sanosa offered a few reverential words and placed the book on the stone. 

As its weight settled, the chamber brightened, the vines’ light growing to an almost painful intensity. Sanosa stared around her at the suddenly bright space, then looked back down to the book. Vines wriggled and writhed over its surface, tendrils growing into the spine and cover. The book glowed. It pulsed in a strong, steady rhythm, sending shockwaves through the vines that that now joined it. Sanosa ran her hand over the cover and felt an answering shiver from her bones. 

She should leave. A distant part of her, an instinct much, much older than even than this chamber, warned her away. But as she turned to leave, her feet stuck fast to the floor. Her muscles seized against the sudden weight pulling them down. Sanosa looked to her feet only to find them entangled in the vines she had stepped onto only minutes before. They shifted and twisted around her, growing up her ankles. 

Sanosa jerked in their grasp, trying to wrest herself free, but they clung more tightly. She cried out as the first of them dug inward, piercing her skin and burrowing deep. Another followed. Then another. Her blood flowed thick over the vines and floor. Sanosa cursed and struggled more intensely. 

The floor rumbled underneath her, a deep, rhythmic thump. In the dark of the cave, vines rustled against stone, sounding oddly like whispers. Sounding like something calling to her.

Her bones creaked and cracked. Vines burrowed into them, splintering them from the inside, taking their place. Her muscles screamed in protest, stretching and bulging, fueled by the bioluminescent fluid pumped into her by the vines. 

She could feel them, writhing and wriggling under her skin, reaching ever further inside to the deepest parts of her. They wound through her veins, bloomed in her lungs, filling her.

The chamber pulsed around her, a thundering heartbeat that overtook Sanosa’s own. The whispers grew louder. They spoke of pain and retribution. They called for blood… more than Sanosa could ever supply. 

The room shrank around her, the ceiling rushing down as if in freefall. But no… no… it wasn’t the room that was shrinking. She was growing. Enormously. Impossibly. 

The vines crawled up Sanosa’s spine. The last of her ineffectual struggles died away with a flash of pain in her temples. And then she felt it: Sorus. The beating heart of the planet was within her. She felt every rustle in the underbrush, every whisper of the wind. She felt the deep wounds of the mining operations digging into her skin, the searing of her flesh as farm developers razed the forest with fire. Rage boiled over.

Sanosa screamed, or tried to. The sound that came out was nothing like her voice, nothing like any voice. Instead, a roar erupted from her throat, shaking the walls of the room. 

Whispers grew to shouts in her mind. She must rid Sorus of this invasion, of this infection. Only blood would heal the wounds. Only the blood of the Estranhos.

Sanosa was huge now, far too large to fit through the entrance through which she had come. But that wasn’t a problem. She could always make another exit. And she had so much work to do. 

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


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

Wicked Women Writer’s All-star Competition: D.M.Slate

wwwbannerStory Title: International Cuisine
by: D.M. Slate
Object: Android Body Part
Cultural Influence: Filipino

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

International Cuisine

By D.M. Slate

Max pushed her chair away from the table, stretching her legs out and patting her full stomach. Smiling in delight at her new-found-friend, she asked, “How was your dinner?” 

“Amazing.”, Jamison replied. “Food in the Philippines is always great, though. How about you, Ms. Vlogger Extraordinaire – what did you think?”

Chuckling, Max tried to sound official, “The adobo was killer. Literally to die for. It was stewed to perfection! And the lumpia – mmmmmm – deliciously crisp with a fresh veggie crunch. Pair that with the seaside table and a gorgeous sunset – are you kidding me – nothing could make a travel vlogger happier.”

A waiter approached, placing a single egg on the tabletop between them. Max’s smile vanished. Snarling her lip in disgust, she watched in horror as her date carefully peeled the top of the shell away, exposing the partially formed duck fetus inside the boiled balut egg.

Jamison grinned and leaned forward in his chair. “Want a bite?”

Recoiling, Max leaned back further, informing him, “That’s NEVER gonna to happen.

The burly man held the egg into the air with and let out an excited, “Cheers” before tipping the shell to his lips and gulping. Max cringed and looked away, but it was impossible to escape the crunching noises coming from his mouth. 

Taking a swig of warm beer to wash it down, Jamison laughed in response.  

“So you’re seriously leaving tomorrow morning?” 

Nodding her head, the young woman agreed. “Yup. On to my next destination. It’s my job.”

They locked eyes for a second before she looked away. Max swiveled in her chair, peering down the beach. “What’s down there?” 

He grunted. “Nothing. This cafe is the end-of-the-line. There’s only jungle, wildlife, and a swarm of hungry insects beyond that.” 

Pouting, Max replied, “Awwww. That’s too bad. I’d love to get some last-minute shots, but, if it’s too dangerous… then, I guess I understand.”

He gave her a skeptical look. “Alright, alright. Let’s go.” 

They stood and Max put her purse strap over her shoulder, before swiping her wind-blown hair away from her eyes. She felt him watching her arm.

The Navy commander’s voice was timid as he asked, “Uuuh. I know we’ve only known each other for like a day, but I feel like I need to ask about the back-story on your robot arm.”

Her eyebrows raised in amusement, but Max was used to the question by now. “Technically, its called a prosthetic, but robot arm works too.” She looked thoughtfully at the device. “Let’s just say that I bit off more than I could chew, on one of my early adventures… and that was a bad decision. I was just young and inexperienced at the time.”

Jamison apologized. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t’ve asked.”

Max shrugged.  “It’s ok. I’ve come to appreciate the capabilities of my replacement appendage.” She smiled wide and made a proud fist with her prosthesis.

The couple walked near the water’s edge, hand in real-hand, as the sun dipped further behind the horizon. Following a curve on the beach, the small village disappeared from view behind them. Max stopped, removing her phone to shoot a closing video for her next travel segment. 

Jamison stood close to her. “Is there anything that I can do to help?”

Shaking her head she replied, “Nope – I just want to capture the serenity of this moment.” They stood in silence as she recorded, immersing her viewers into the darkening tropics.

As soon as she was done recording, he asked, “What’s your favorite part of your job?”

The young woman thought for a second. “I love getting to see so many beautiful destinations and learning about different cultures and lifestyles – but I think my favorite part of what I do is partaking in the international cuisine. It’s amazing how much tastes vary from one location to another.”

He nodded. “Are you ever scared, traveling alone?”

Max laughed, whole-heartedly. “Nah. People aren’t really that scary.” 

Changing the subject, she pointed to the sky. “Look, you can see Mars tonight.” As they gazed out at the vast universe the vlogger sighed, “This view makes me homesick.” 

The commander interlocked fingers with her once again, asking, “So, where do you call home?”

She shrugged. “I’ve travelled so far that its getting hard to remember, honestly.”

Jamison turned to face her, looking deep into her eyes. 

His forehead scrunched in confusion. 

“Wow. The light from the moon reflecting off the water makes your eyes look like they’re glowing. How awesome – I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Max replied with enthusiasm. “Yeah, that is kind of crazy, huh?”

He raised his hands up to her chin, shifting her face toward the moonlight, inspecting.

Max blinked, sending her inner eyelids sliding sideways across her orbs. 

Jamison recoiled and screamed, attempting to pull away, but Max’s prosthetic hand was already clasped around his wrist. His eyes were wide and filled with agony as she tightened her grasp, crushing his bones. A final effort on her part finished the job, popping the hand from the end of the arm. Blood spewed from the amputation and the commander now stared at the mangled limb in shocked silence, mount agape.

Wasting no time Max lunged forward, projecting her serpent-like tongue into his open mouth. He choked as it worked its way down his esophagus into his chest cavity. 

Max curled the end of her tongue and yanked with all of her strength, ripping his innards out of his mouth. Her tongue retracted and she swallowed the delicacy in one single bite. 

The commander’s limp corpse fell to the sand, gurgling. 

Her attention shifted to her prosthetic, which was still grasped Jamison’s severed body part. Max chuckled at the irony – they were still technically holding hands. How cute.

Max licked her blood-stained lips, before descending her second row of razor-sharp teeth. Bringing his hand to her mouth she chomped off the pinky finger, munching on the snack.  

Satisfied, she complimented herself out loud. “I knew that was going to be the perfect dessert. North American with a hint of Filipino – Deeeeeeelicious!”

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


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

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Spanish Netflix Horrors

Spanish Netflix Horrors!  By Kristin Battestella

At times, it’s tough muddling through the foreign Netflix content and re-branded continental originals padded with run-of-the-mill scares. Fortunately, this trio of short and long form international Netflix productions featuring Basque witch hunts, Mexican demon hunters, and transatlantic wartime mysteries provides plenty of unique thrills.

Coven of Sisters – Burning pyres and whispers of witches communing with Lucifer jump right into the 1609 Basque torment in this award winning 2020 international/Spanish Netflix production. Seventy-seven executions and counting mar the beautiful cliffs, picturesque ships, and moss forests as royal judges seek out maritime towns where women have been left alone and apparently up to no good. Excellent carriages, armor, frocks, and stoneworks provide a period mood as our happy girls weave and dream of far-off places. They are captured and stripped with bags over their heads and fear is evident thanks to questions about summoning Beelzebub. The girls point fingers at each other – wavering from confident of their innocence and nonchalant about the witch accusations to quivering and afraid after beatings and shaved heads. Tension builds in the one-room unknown as suspicions and confessions raise the frazzled interrogations and double talk entrapment. Guards ask if they offer themselves to Lucifer while prodding with needles and searching their bodies for any devil’s mark. Where did the devil stick his tail in them? Did they dance? Dancing spreads fanaticism! There are no fast intercut montages or fake outs toying with the audience, just in scene interplay with eerie screams and uninterrupted singsong. They make up chants and have their jailers procure oddities for this supposed sabbath ritual, but it isn’t a game when those sinister captors devoutly persecuting every blasphemy readily jump to devilish conclusions. Men wonder if they are bewitched by the tempting supple, pressing the weary girls into saying what they want to hear, and these daughters stall to avoid the stake, hoods, torches, and shackles until their sailing fathers return. They hope to escape during the full moon, so one tells a wild tale with preposterous twists in hopes of taking the blame to save the others. Supposedly learned, religious men bemusingly believe every fantastic turn, and after witnessing all our recent stateside strife, it’s not surprising how this kind of pitchfork hysteria and mob idiocy spreads. If they want to see a witch’s sabbath, the girls may as well make fools of them complete with mushrooms, contortions, and flying. This is an excellent presentation on allure, hypocrisy, and consequences in a unique, horrible history setting made easily accessible thanks to several subtitle and language options.

Diablero – This 2018-20 Mexican Netflix series based on the book by the late Francisco Haghenbeck is oddly structured with fourteen episodes ranging between a few forty-minute episodes and mostly shorter half hour entries. Despite steady directors and a regular writer’s room, the pace is uneven, treading tires over demonic puzzle pieces while prologues each episode give the viewer the same information twice. Voices are soft compared to loud violence, and the subtitles don’t exactly match the spoken languages. Silly tentacles, levitations, and in-your-face demon roars are unnecessary, and the hot priest in a towel is weird, too. Fortunately, shadowed stabbings, hooded attackers, and demonic abductions are frightening. Edgy music and Mexico City panache accent the last rites, chaos, and evil spirits trapped in bottles. There’s a lot to establish with ecclesiastics, creepy ephemera, steampunk gadgets, and mystical mixed cultures. However great characterizations anchor the quicksilver weapons and uneasy alliances. Career-oriented cardinals and ineffective police can’t help with these demonic problems, but others struggle to accept why God allows these things to happen, if he ever even existed, or if humanity has been abandoned. Missing bodies, occult symbols, burned flesh, deceptive encounters, eerie eyes, and demonic dissected lab rats deepen the scary while seedy criminal shenanigans provide sassy humor. Despite knife standoffs, morgue switch-a-roos, and intriguing connections between pregnant women, simpletons, abused nuns, and significant birth dates; it takes half the First Season to get anywhere with the secret organizations, intertwined family histories, and spells. Our Priest is correct in saying events happen for nothing and they should investigate properly. Seeing the abducted daughter amid demon chases, false escapes, and no reception close calls don’t let us wonder about her fate. We can read such meanwhile but here the detours detract from what should be a much more focused story. Unnecessary psychic demon vessels with cool headphones, uncomfortable self-harm emo angst, and awkward man of the cloth flirtations waste time by creating more problems – slowing plot progression and stumbling on to one piece of information per episode. Their diablero dad asks why they didn’t come for his help sooner when the answers were right under their noses. Subtle possessions, the Church knowing more than it’s saying, and evil conclaves toying with life and death are much more chilling. Nahuatl invocations, Latin exorcisms, salt circles, and demon summonings add horror while nightmares, violence at the altar, and scary witches with freaky voices provide great revelations. Bewitching teas, earthquakes, four horsemen of the apocalypse parallels, archaeological clues, dark caverns, and evil children finally bring our players together as our reluctant heroes wax on what they’ll do if they survive amid traffic jam humor and #endoftheworld selfies. The intense action, quality demon effects, ulterior motives, and faith are well done as bittersweet reunions and meteorite cover-ups lead into the more colorful Season Two. Despite some resolutions, our crew struggles against demon drugs, slimy goo, and dominatrix diableras. Some want to be normal but demons ruin the dinner date with messages from the other side. Gas oven rituals and hidden nightclub comic relief escalate to Mictlan barges of the dead and in limbo rescues. Monster exorcisms fail against mad science experiments thanks to mystical keys, surprising murders, grave digging, and cranky undead relatives. Chosen children, angel possessions, family flashbacks, and deals with death are repetitive and players from the First Season are dismissed for new characters. The anonymous villain clichés are also unnecessary as are lez be friends baiting and the frigging sex with the priest, but fortunately, the plot is more personal and taut in Year Two thanks to diablera training, reincarnation, and demon mind games. Thunderstorms and haunted house encounters are well done alongside monstrous transformations, bloody smoothies, funerals, and sacrifices. Shootouts and revenge culminating in surprising deaths and a bemusing if left open for more finale. The intriguing story, great world-building, and fine characters meander with one step forward, two steps back frustrations, but the good versus evil adventures come together in the end. Without such unfocused structural flaws, this could have gone on for another two seasons.

High Seas – The twenty-two episode 2019 Spanish murder mystery Alta Mar jumps right into the action with stowaway suspense, albatross omens, and murder aboard a post-war luxury cruise liner en route from Spain to Brazil. High-end period detail including hats, gloves, brooches, satin, stoles, frocks, and cigarettes matches the Art Deco splendor, sumptuous colors, inlaid woodwork, and divine staircases. Impressive ship visuals and Titanic engineering specs provide scale alongside maze-like halls, askew angles, turbulent waves, and thunderstorms. Jazzy ballads and grand ballrooms create mood before intrepid writers, telegrams, cryptic conversations, and suspicious midnight rendezvous raise the disappearances, accusations, and blackmail. In debt Lotharios, lecherous in-laws, and handsome officers clash with underbelly workmen and disgruntled servants, and the episodic chapters allow time for plots high and low. Course changes and defying orders question who’s in charge – the aging captain, wealthy owners, angry shareholders, or the slimy ship detective? Ominous cargo holds, stolen lipstick, lockets, typewriters, and ransacked rooms escalate to man overboard emergencies, fires, and promises to take one’s secrets to the grave. Intertwined crimes are resolved as new twists and turns are well balanced between the dramatic love triangles, faked accidents, and fishy business deals. Microfilm clues and poisoned cocktails reveal previous conspiracies, past motives, and Nazi gold. It’s dangerous to wander the secret passages amid power outages, red lights, and increasingly dark corridors, yet surprising deaths aren’t what they seem thanks to mad doctors and tick-tock countdowns. Blinding blows, chases, castaways, and an SOS start Season Two alongside tarot cards, psychic clues, and seances. Crackling intercoms, bloody bodies on the bed, ghosts, dead women walking on deck, spooky phone calls, and more paranormal are not out of the blue, but rather a natural progression of the escalating circumstances. However, is the vintage Ouija an elaborate ruse or are there really evil spirits starboard? The ship becomes a character of its own with messages on the mirror, old fashioned spy gadgets, lifeboat rigs, and daring escapes. Too many lies, betrayals, and forged letters acerbate wedding shocks, secret pregnancies, and business takeovers. There are some soap opera slaps in the face, too! Shipwreck deceptions and bodies in trunks culminate in one final kicker before Year Three takes a new course from Buenos Aires to Mexico. Our writer published a novel about the cruise experience, but strange suitors at the bookstore and a spooky antique shop lead to British Intelligence and objectives to track down an incoming passenger who’s really a Nazi doctor carrying a deadly virus. It’s fun to see who’s back for better or worse – same crew, servants in new ship staff positions, fresh crisscrossing romances. A second sister ship will travel behind with expensive cargo, but a man is shot on the first night out and bodies end up in the car boot in the hold. Do you up security and alarm the passengers? Those who know about incriminating notes are indisposed via fevers, injections, and Luger murder weapons. Bandaged patients aboard provide intrigue amid suspicious radio transmissions, magic disappearing acts, and dark room suspense. Missing photographs, doppelgangers, and torturous know-how, make for shady alliances, but one can’t worry about scruples after an innocent man is dead. Code decryption, trick lighters, and secret cameras uncover planted evidence, sinister green tubes, and ruinous revenge as gaslighting, threats, and mutiny lead to armed standoffs and shocking gunshots. Concentration camp survivors recall sadistic doctors who enjoyed what they did, but evil lookalikes slip up thanks to disguises and a scrumptious masquerade ball with perfect lighting, glam, and gowns. Life or death maydays raise the outbreak finale, yet it is strange to see vintage masks, quarantines, and plague panic these days.  Rescue warships would rather sink than save, but vaccines come in the nick of time – with a twist or three. The destination pacing and cliffhangers are easy to marathon, but it’s a pity Netflix turned its back on this series. Nothing here is superfluous thanks to Shakespearean asides, whispers in the gallery, and well done mysteries. Obviously, this not being full-on horror may disappoint some, however, the period atmosphere, sweeping melodrama, and gothic twists remind me of Dark Shadows’ earlier years.

Netflix also has a bad habit of not promoting its branded foreign content. It’s apparent their current model is quantity over quality, populating its catalog with as much original and proprietary premieres as possible – presuming you’ll binge one and stay for the next recommend similar click and chill. Remember, it’s in their best interest to keep you streaming. Sometimes that works and you find great shows! However, more often than not it means unique movies get lost in the shuffle, and shows that deserve more time are dropped after a few seasons. This leaves a lot of unfulfilling filler – especially in the horror and genre categories which seem to have the most flotsam and jetsam.

For More International Scares, Visit:

Mexican and Spanish Vampires

Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Jean Rollin Saucy

Ciao Horrors

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Tales from the Darkside Season 4

Still Enough Gems in Tales from the Darkside Season Four

by Kristin Battestella

The 1987-88 Fourth season of the George Romero produced Tales from the Darkside provides a darker horror bizarre in its final twenty episodes beginning with the smuggled artifacts, Egyptian statues, and golden sarcophagus in writer Robert Bloch’s “Beetles.” Although the premise is familiar, the petrified corpse, gem eyes, and eponymous scarabs create a great atmosphere and ominous warnings – return the mummy to its tomb or suffer the cursed consequences. The unheeded desecration leads to more hysteria, insects, and death throws, setting the mood for the season alongside the dolls, mannequins, and stuffed animals of “Mary, Mary.” These are our lovely photographer’s friends, and the photoshoot trickery for the video dating service calls is weird, pathetic, and sad. A real-life friendly neighbor is too scary – she can’t hide behind any facade and live vicariously in this orchestrated illusion. However, the warped horror escalates once the dummies start talking back. The new owner of an infamous haunted townhouse in “The Spirit Photographer” also intends to use rare technology and mysticism to prove the paranormal to his rational friend. They’ve spent their lives seeking evidence or to debunk, obsessing over life after death and paranormal explanations in an interesting two-hander mixing real science, ectoplasm gadgets, and ghostly images. Some of the supposedly irrefutable photos and phantom wails are laughable, but the eerie messages, stakeout suspense, and deceased drain on the living provide great ambiance. “The Moth,” by contrast, is brimming with rural mood thanks to a humble cabin and spellbooks that won’t burn. Debbie Harry’s (Videodrome) stabbed by a jealous wife and her angry mother thinks she is a wicked girl for the water rituals, broken clocks, branches, and circles in blood. Our daughter intends to come back – so long as her mother captures the moth that comes out with her dying breath. The religion versus the devil, who’s right and sinister, is well-done thanks to counting the sand to keep out evil, creepy conversations, and deadly twists. Writer Clive Barker (Hellraiser) adds holiday melodies, trees, and presents to the underlying menace in “The Yattering and Jack” with angry apparitions, cracked mirrors, and apparent poltergeists. Unexpected family visits escalate the supernatural and pleas to Beelzebub as carols turn to fiery smoke and devilish demons debate the rules found in Job regarding tormenting a good man into admitting evil exists. Tales from the Darkside presents another disturbing December demented–possessed turkey dinner and all.

A horror writer dad videotapes his scary movie adaptation for his squabbling kids while mom’s on a long-distance call in Stephen King’s (Creepshow) “Sorry, Right Number.” Flashing call waiting buttons and desperate pleas for help, unfortunately, leave mom worried. She knows the voice but it isn’t their collegiate daughter nor sisters or grandma. Our husband thinks it was a prank or wrong number, and the family dynamics change thanks to the understandable apprehension. The bad feeling continues in the night with damaged door locks and well-developed suspense that keeps viewers invested right up to the twist. A passive-aggressive bill collector in “Payment Overdue” threatens unpaid folks and enjoys scaring kids who answer the phone with how their parents are going to jail – getting the job done with no exceptions until she receives a raspy call from a supposedly dead claim. It turns out she doesn’t like being on the receiving end of the harassment, and the fearful frustration phone acting isn’t phoned in like today’s television with abrupt smartphone conveniences. A mysterious man delivers the payment from the deceased dialer – an avenging angel forcing our overly confident go-getter to face the chilling pleas before it’s too late. Tales from the Darkside has several similar stories in a row here with devils and telephones, but the excellent turnabouts make for a strong mid-season before a plump lady who’s tried all the guaranteed weight loss gimmicks in “Love Hungry.” Amid talking to her plants and crumbs everywhere, she spots an ad for ‘your weight is over.’ Soon a small earpiece arrives allowing her to hear the painful screams of the foods being ingested. It’s both an amusing and disturbing way to ruin dinner, and it’s amazing no one else has thought of the horror of considering body, environmental, and self-worth statements from the fruit pleading not to be eaten. Now that she has a pair of glasses revealing the food in question, it would be murder to eat them but she has to eat something – leading to hunger, paranoia, guilt, and a bitter finale. Period clothing, spinning wheels, and old-fashioned décor belie the 1692 Colonial Village in “The Apprentice” as a contemporary student applies for a re-enacting job. The magistrate insists on no sign of the twentieth century allowed, but our coed doesn’t take her apprenticeship seriously. Smoking, flirting and telling the puritans to lighten up and not have a cow lead to stocks, hangings, and debates on using so-called witches as a scapegoat to bind a struggling society together. Horror viewers know where this has to go, but it’s a real treat in getting there.

“The Cutty Black Sow” continues Tales from the Darkside’s late superb with trick or treating, fireside vigils, and an ill grandma who doesn’t want to die on All Hallows’ Even. Scottish roots and Samhain lore combine for deathbed delirium about the titular beast and warnings to stay safe inside the stone circle. The young grandson is left to make sense of the ravings, trying to finish protection rites he doesn’t understand in this unique mix of candy, masks, and contemporary Halloween fun alongside old word spells, rattling windows, glowing eyes at the door, and home alone frights. The spooky darkness and chilling what you don’t see is dang creepy even for adults! However, a cranky old wife is unhappy with her husband’s junk in director Jodie Foster’s (Flightplan) “Do Not Open This Box.” She wants new things – including the titular package that a strange mailman says was delivered by mistake. He insists he’ll pay anything for the unopened box’s return, and our browbeating lady sees an opportunity for a reward. While she shows up her friends with ostentatious jewels, her husband only asks to invent something useful to others. Our carrier also has a midnight deadline and a limit to his gifts, and his repossession notice exacts a fiery turnabout. In returning director, Tom Savini’s “Family Reunion” dad Stephen McHattie (Deep Space Nine) does whatever it takes to find a cure for his son – taking the boy from his mother and remaining on the move as chains, snarling, shadows, and howls handle the surprise. Prior torn shirts and accidents send mom to child services; and despite nightmares, pain, and the urge to run free, the boy wants to be with his mother, leading to wild confrontations, hairy threats, and superb revelations even if you already know what’s what. Barking dogs, parakeets, kitchen timers, coughing, and ominous toys also foreshadow the noisy horrors for the babysitter in “Hush.” Her charge has been experimenting in his father’s workshop – creating a noise-eating robot with one freaky suction-like hose. Initially, the primitive gadgets seem hammy and the premise simple, but the accidental activation and broken controller lead to heavy breathing, beating hearts, and some quite disturbing, slightly sexual imagery.

 

Of course, it wouldn’t be Tales from the Darkside without a few awkward entries including the impromptu champagne and sensitive puppeteer forced into a private performance for a hammy gangster in “No Strings.” Cliché accents, vendettas, dumb shootouts, and sexism litter an already silly premise, and the supposedly scary pantomime is just dull. Yuppies also get what they deserve in “The Grave Robber” – another Egyptian piece with hieroglyphs, explosives, a creaking mummy, and yes, strip poker. It’s laughable in all the wrong ways, and Divine (Hairspray) likewise can’t save the corny jokes, offensive portrayals, and stereotypical visions seeking the obnoxious titular leader of “Seymourlama.” Will these terrible parents sell their indulged son for shiny trinkets? Although disturbing, the attempted mix of satire and sinister misses the mark. Downtrodden scriptwriter Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) also doesn’t believe his innocuous neighbor with a dog named ‘Diablo’ can help him achieve movie-making power in “The Deal.” Hellish quips contribute to the deja vu, for we’ve seen this plot previously on Tales from the Darkside as well as in other horror anthologies. This isn’t bad in itself, just derivative. The shutter clicks and outsider point of view trying to solve humanity’s mystery in “Going Native” is stilted and drab, too. Our photographer regrets joining this bizarre reverse therapy group with dark robes, rage, aggression, and creepy innuendo. It’s all trying to be lofty about the human condition with on-the-nose debates about why we let advertising dictate what we value, obsess with wish-fulfilling television, and use sex to alleviate solitude but everything falls flat. For its time maybe this was provocative, however, it’s run of the mill after better Tales from the Darkside episodes, and the steamy, alienated analysis could have been better explored on Tales from the Crypt. Unfortunately, from Nicky and Ruthie to the bad accents and red hair, the I Love Lucy spoof in“Barter” is just plain bad. A rambling, ammonia-drinking alien salesman gives mom a gadget to freeze her son – providing some peace and quiet amid all her good gollies and household hints. Of course, everything goes wrong, and the attempted parody completely drops the ball as Tales from the Darkside ends with two clunkers. Likewise contending for worst in the series is “Basher Malone.” Its gritty music, seedy crowd, and wrestling cliches are terribly dated alongside some macho, blue lasers, and a masked man coming out of a portal behind the soda machine?

Fortunately, that Tales from the Darkside introduction is as creepy as ever, and the crawling bugs, icky corpses, gory faces, choice monster effects, and ghostly overlays remain effective. Hellish red lighting, dark silhouettes, nighttime eerie, fog, and thunder invoke horror despite small-scale sets and one-room storytelling. There are often only a few players per episode, too, but the acts flow as conversations rather than relying on flashing editing or visuals over substance. Through the frame views, mirrors, reflective shots, and basic camera ruses accent good old-fashioned corded phones, big cordless phones with those giant antennas, answering machines, long distance calls, operators, and Ma Bell references. There’s big old computers, tape decks, record players, radio reports, boob tubes, and the rush to find a blank VHS for the VCR amid nostalgic antiques, retro lamps, classic tunes, and period piece clutter. The obligatory eighties cool with big hair, excessive make-up, lots of pinks, and terribly glam fashions, on the other hand, woof! Strangely, the Tales from the Darkside DVD Special Features includes two more episodes – odd spin-offs or backdoor pilots that sadly went no further. Wills and flirtations mix with black roses and exotic pursuits in “Akhbar’s Daughter,” for sheer near nudity, steamy silhouettes, and threats about what happen to the last suitor add to the sense of forbidden danger. By day, the tantalizing lady is not what she seems at night – leading to ominous portraits and gross consequences. Instead of wasting time on silly entries, it would have been interesting to see Tales from the Darkside grow into this more mature vein, and “Attic Suite” has a desperate paycheck to paycheck couple contemplating how to get rid of their elderly, costly aunt and gain her insurance policy. Auntie herself wishes she could starve herself to death for them, and we believe how sad and bitter the options are as the dire needs escalate in another serious, demented, and twisted plot. These two extra entries should have replaced the last two clunker episodes, which send an otherwise fine season and overall perfectly demented series out on a cheesy note. Compared to timeless horror series before like The Twilight Zone or upping the saucy Tales from the Crypt after, Tales from the Darkside is steeped in low-budget eighties sinister. Season Four’s eerie goods live up to the series name, and Tales from the Darkside remains watchable with memorable if bizarre vignettes and frightful storytelling.

For More Scary Television, check out:

Tales from the Darkside 1 2 3

Penny Dreadful 1 2 3

Tales from the Crypt 1 2 3 4

The Munsters 1 2

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: “House” Horrors

“House” Horrors by Kristin Battestella

These contemporary horrors both foreign and domestic tackle suburban scares, refugee horrors, family vengeance, and home haunts.

His House – Horror follows a Sudanese couple relocating to England in this 2020 Netflix release starring Wunmi Mosaku (Loki), Sope Dirisu (Black Mirror), and Matt Smith (Doctor Who). Perilous refugee boats begat detention, weekly asylum stipulations, and finally a newly assigned address – a dirty tenement they are lucky to have all to themselves. Despite having already been through so much, our couple laughs until they cry over their gratitude, hopeful for a new start before eerie echoes and shadows that move by themselves suggest there is more afoot than faulty electricity, peeling wallpaper, and holes in the plaster. Well done lighting schemes and dim sunlight through small windows create a moody palette for the background apparitions, ominous hands, kitchen oddities, and eyes watching from within the walls. Flashes of past troubles, childhood fears of the night witch coming to get them, and new scary experiences build tension. Husband and wife both have encounters they don’t admit, and tearful conversations with dark door frames in the background put the viewer on edge with our characters. We think we see or hear something rather than having everything given away thanks to flashlights, masks, tool mishaps, and disorienting figures in the dark. Cultures clash amid the horrors as our refugees struggle to be part of the community, reluctant to use tableware and getting lost in the maze of lookalike attached houses. Cruel neighborhood kids shout “Go back to Africa” and a kind but clueless doctor doesn’t know how to listen to the pain of tribal wars, butchered families, and doing what you have to do to survive. Our couple insists they are good people but must remain on guard against deep-seeded racism even in such crappy conditions. Lazy office workers complain that their falling apart house is “bigger than mine” so they shouldn’t be dissatisfied and “biting the hand that feeds them” – forcing the fearful to retract any moving request and hide the truth about apeth witches and ghostly torments. Although the Dinka dialogue is unfortunately not always translated, it’s superb that this is told from the appropriate angle. This isn’t a yuppie white couple choosing to ignore the spooky house warnings just to get out of the city and play unreliable scares with the audience. Eerie visuals, surreal waters, fog, and candlelight visions combine the personal horrors, supernatural, and real world frazzled as the demands to repay what they owe escalates from wet footprints and flickering light switches to monsters in the floor. Deceptive happy moments and psychological experiences take us to other places without leaving the congested house – reliving why with upsetting revelations that can only be put right with blood. This is a tender story about living with your demons; an excellent example of why horror from other perspectives need to be told.

The Housemaid – Covered furniture, candlelight, staircases, slamming doors, and screams get right to the gothic afoot in this 2016 Vietnamese tale. The grand French plantation in disrepair is out of place among the beautiful forests – reeking with a deadly history of cruel overseers, abused workers, shallow graves, and angry spirits. Rumors of mad wives, dead babies, decaying corpses, drownings, and bodies never found provide horror as the titular newcomer obediently does the housework during the day before the power goes out at night. It’s forbidden to speak of the dark family history, and mirrors, lanterns, and dramatic beds infuse the creepy with Jane Eyre mood. Arguments over sending for a distant doctor or using Eastern medicine for the wounded man of the house give way to sheer bed curtains, sunlight streaming through the window, and a touch of Rebecca in the steamy fireside romance. Unfortunately, a snotty, two-faced, racist rival addresses the awkwardness of the help pretending to be the lady of the house amid resentful servants, war intrigue, classism, and the vengeful ghostly Mrs. roaming the halls. The cradle draped in black rocks by itself, but it’s only for effect as jump scare whooshes, flying furniture, roar faces in the mirror, dream fake-outs, old photos research, and visions of the past create an uneven contemporary intrusion when the period atmosphere is enough. Roaming in the scary woods just for the sake of bones and panoramic ghouls is unnecessary when we should never leave the congested house. Indeed, the horrors are superior when anyone trying to leave the manor encounters a terrible but deserving end. Questionable retellings, confusing ghostly revenge, disbelieving interrogations, and flashbacks within flashbacks play loose with point of view, but a not so unforeseen twist clarifies the demented duty over love begggeting the horror. Some viewers may be disappointed that the movie trades one kind of horror for another and has too many endings. This has its faults and uses western horror motifs as needed to appear more a mainstream rather than low budget foreign film. The social statement characterizations are much better than formulaic Hollywood scares, and the throwback Hammer feeling, period accents, and gothic mood combine for unique horror and drama.

Skip It

A Haunted House – I’m not a fan of found footage films, so this 2013 horror comedy parody from Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie) mocking the genre seemed like it would be fun. Plain text warnings of recovered recordings, assorted camera angles, and onscreen timestamps open the winks as the new camera and young couple moving in together don’t mix thanks to his dog, her boxes, his arcade games, and her dad’s ashes. Affection, sass, and bemusing stuffed animal foreplay are ruined by hair in curlers, open bathroom doors, and awful farts in the night – making for refreshingly real relationships and humor. No blind spots in the video coverage mean catching the maid up to some saucy, and racist, voyeuristic security camera guys who want your passwords. Fetishizing friends want to swap, the gay psychic wants to know if they’ve had same-sex encounters – all the white people are envious opportunists and that’s nice to see in a genre so often dominated by such caucasity. Sleepwalk dancing and what happens during the night silliness caught on camera escalates with getting high and mocking the usual sheets, smoky imagery, whooshing, and Ouija boards. Our couple jumps to conclusions about the haunting over noises, misplaced keys, doors moving by themselves, and kitchen mishaps, but neither is a catch and a lot of incidents are more about their own faults and problems. They probably shouldn’t be together horror or not, and some of the not addressing their own issues is too on the nose serious or uneven alongside the humor. The misogyny is akin to women often being haunted and not believed in horror, but nothing is scary because the overtly comedic attempts are out of place against the formulaic encounters. There’s an imaginary friend, pervert ghost, demons, a deal with the devil for Louboutins, and the final act is an old hat exorcism meets Poltergeist parody crowded with male ghost rapacious and more unnecessary homophobic jokes. There’s promise in how the camera brings out the voyeur in us all, changing us once we’re in front of it by revealing our true selves or why we’re weary of the lens. A taut eighty minutes with bemusing commentary on the genre’s flaws could have been a watchable, but the dumb and offensive shtick goes on for far too long – becoming the monotonous horror movie it’s trying to send up thanks to a surprising lack of personality.

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FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Kindred the Embraced

What Could Have Been with Kindred: The Embraced

by Kristin Battestella

Based partly on the Vampire: The Masquerade role playing game, Fox’s 1996 Kindred: The Embraced is an eight episode miniseries cut short despite enticing vampires and gothic atmosphere. Ventrue vampire Julian Luna (Mark Frankel) is prince of San Francisco and ruler of the Kindred clans – a precarious alliance between Lillie Langtry (Stacy Haiduk) a Toreador nightclub patron, underground Nosferatu Daedalus (Jeff Kober), and Brujah mobster Eddie Fiori (Brian Thompson). Their masquerade to live among humans is threatened by detective Frank Kohanek (C.Thomas Howell) and reporter Caitlin Byrne (Kelly Rutherford) – who falls for Julian, further complicating the interconnected love triangles and vampire peace.

Rooftop chases at dawn open the hour-plus premiere “The Original Saga” alongside quick detective exposition and gunshots intercut with ledge leaping culprits, stakings, and victims set on fire in the sunlight. It’s a very nineties, busy start crowded with back and forth cop and vampire perspectives. The charred body is enough to start the investigation without the cheap action, and you need a flow chart to figure out who everyone is thanks to the world building and clan intrigue dropped in the dialogue – who belongs to the Gangrel gangs or Brujah mobsters, who are moving in on another Kindred’s territory, which ones abide by the masquerade rules to hide from humans, which clans are loyal to whom. Fortunately, the steamy vampire dinner date with steak very, very rare leads to one drop of blood on the white dress, sneaky scalpels, morgue drawers, and chilling kills. One-on-one conversations and hypnosis add to the tasty and sensuous, invoking the gothic atmosphere amid graveside vigils, moody mirrors, and shaving mishap temptations. In its early hours, however, Kindred: The Embraced is dominated by guests of the week and newly embraced vampires when the main Phantom of the Opera forbidden romance in the third episode “Nightstalker” is a much nicer bittersweet. Uneven A/B plotting and sagging police arguments hamper the superior Kindred stories as vampire killers are held for psychiatric evaluation. There’s a fine line between schizophrenia, blood lust, enchantments, and predators. Saucy shadows reveal our Kindred ills and charms as precarious clan war talk escalates to action halfway through the series – finally turning Kindred: The Embraced where it needs to go with guns drawn, vampire standoffs, and mob strong arming that should have come much sooner than the sixth episode, “The Rise and Fall of Eddie Fiori.” The Kindred front at the Dock Workers Union seems pedestrian and this arc was made to wait as if it were less important than the police plots, but clan peace is bringing down the business for Brian Thompson’s (Cobra) Brujah leader Eddie Fiori. The Brujah clan prefers carnage to reason, and Eddie sets up crimes only to act like the Kindred would be safer if he were in charge. Shapeshifting killers, head choppings, decoys, stabbings, and assassination attempts caught on camera provide enough gothic horror without resorting to more of that intrusive cop drama. A vampire using a private investigator is unnecessary in a blood feud, but it’s superb when the rival ladies get to sit face to face as the Kindred point fingers over who has blackmail photos or is sleeping with a journalist. Council meetings and swords resolve any broken vampire rules – damage the peace and you will pay.

Ironically, the wire tapes, moles, and crazy cops in the second episode of Kindred: The Embraced “Prince of the City” contradicts the pilot movie. You wouldn’t know this show was about vampires as enemies suddenly become friends over a cup of coffee and traitors are discovered or forgotten from one scene to the next. It’s a terrible entry and probably deterred a lot of viewers from continuing with the series week to week. “Live Hard, Die Young, and Leave a Good Looking Corpse” is also a great title, but an anonymous, obnoxious Kindred is embracing groupies and leaving them in the streets, again wasting time when the regular players have so little. Kindred: The Embraced could have opened with a newly turned against her will vampire learning the ropes point of view, but debates that could delve further into such assault parallels somehow end up boring and repetitive here. Police dismissing the monster stole my baby claims in the second to last hour “Bad Moon Rising” are unnecessary, too, as evil and ugly Nosferatu vampires abducting babies for blood sacrifices and Druid rituals are terrifying enough. Our vampires fear this banished Kindred wishing to return the clans to a more primitive sewer dwelling state no masquerade needed. Why demand vampires wear suits and drink blood in wine glasses when they can take it all? Kindred explaining their own rules to a sneering cop every single hour gets old fast compared to female Nosferatu, Carmilla references, chains, and ceremonial blades. “I only drink red” quips and garlic braids in the kitchen winks add to the Kindred: The Embraced mythos – some vampires can feed and go out in the sun while others gain more powers under the full moon. Direct questions about who’s making love or poisoning whom lead to tender moments among humans and vampires waxing on whether it’s them or us who are the real monsters. Suave Kindred fang out for both moonlit showdowns and juicy fireside passion as rivals try to exploit the clan war opportunities while the prince is away at the vineyard in “Cabin in the Woods.” Angry Brujah are determined to put bodies in the empty family cemetery plots while hooting owls, creepy forests, and eerie fog accent fiery flashbacks, attacks in the woods, white wolves, and Kindred truths too fantastic to believe. Past betrayals coming to light and vendettas are revealed, but only the precious healing blood can save the sacrifices and sad choices. Here at its end is where Kindred: The Embraced finds how it should have always been.

Of course, the series should have never strayed from it’s true and unfortunately gone too soon star Mark Frankel (Leon the Pig Farmer) and his Kindred prince Julian Luna. He keeps a tenuous peace between the clans, but Julian’s conflicted about being their judge, jury, and executioner. Despite his slick widow’s peak and cool control, it’s easy to see what gets to him, as Julian continually protects humans and associates with the descendants of his family from before he was embraced. He makes others toe the line about the masquerade yet Julian is sentimental himself, often going with banishment or failed punishments that force more finite, deadly resolutions. Although everyone tells him otherwise, Julian thinks we all can coexist, and he actually might not be that great a leader if his rivals can push his buttons with personal vendettas in hopes of inciting a full out clan war. Fortunately, Julian is nothing if not shrewd. He commands loyalty and respect, orchestrating ploys against his enemies that leave them out in the sunlight and begging to get into his trunk. No matter the pain or peril to himself, Julian does what he has to do to keep the peace above all else. He admits he was a violent henchman in the past, but his loves and human attachments make Julian want to be a better man. Journalist Kelly Rutherford (Melrose Place, but with whom I always confuse Ally Walker from Profiler, and also with Amanda Wyss briefly on Highlander: The Series. Nineties genre blondes, man!) is writing an article about Julian being a mysterious and powerful businessman, but he never gives interviews. He buys the newspaper and makes Caitlin editor, but she doesn’t sit behind the desk, seeking out the hot cases herself and dismissing the spooky connections that lead back to Julian. Caitlin struggles to listen to her conscience when he’s around, foolishly more curious despite how little she knows. The relationship is stagnant at times, never really advancing until the finale, but the chemistry forgives the blinded by love stupidity as truths and tearful revelations make for well done human versus vampire emotions. Stacy Haiduk (SeaQuest DSV) as Toreador leader and Haven club owner Lillie makes loose alliances as needed, using her allure for power, jealousy, and to support the arts. Her club is a sanctuary and Lillie saves a young musician with her embrace, but rock stars aren’t super discreet. She protects the wrong vampires and Julian insists they are no longer lovers but she makes her presence known by spying on Caitlin when not biting, flirting, and having her dalliances, too. Ultimately, Lillie still loves Julian and dislikes when he lies, expecting the truth after what they’ve been through together. This is a complex character – Lillie will stab a person in the back and do it with a smile and we don’t blame her. She deserved more time and Haiduk’s eyes are fittingly enchanting I must say.

Detective C. Thomas Howell (The Outsiders) is top billed on Kindred: The Embraced, but Frank Kohanek is a terribly over the top eighties does forties cum nineties, generic copper. The edgy delivery and angry scene chewing jars with everything else, and point blank the series would have been better without him. Frank starts so full of hate and thinks all vampires are monsters even as he is helped and protected by Kindred, but turns a vampire killer over to Julian because his law can’t handle them. His entire police element is unnecessary since the Ventrue already has Erik King (Dexter) as their inside cop Sonny, but he isn’t featured half as much. Sonny’s reveals happen way too soon, leaving him to ride shotgun with Frank as the stereotypical Black cop partner, and Kate Vernon’s (Falcon Crest) seductive Alexandra also has her melodrama cut short when Kindred: The Embraced sets up her supposedly great romance with Frank but then tears it apart in one episode. Channon Roe (Bio-Dome) as perpetually scowling Gangrel biker Cash doesn’t think being embraced is all it’s cracked up to be, and he’s actually not that good of a bodyguard because he’s always making moon eyes with leather jacket bad girl Brigid Walsh (Army Wives) as Sasha. Although the motorcycle double entendres are cliché, Julian doesn’t want his last human descendant to be embraced, forbidding the romance between Sasha and Cash. She doesn’t believe the hear tell monstrous, but Sasha is quickly caught between the love of one clan and the hate of another. We know what to expect from an episode named “Romeo and Juliet,” but the secret rendezvous, gang killings, and family payback does what it says on the tin in fitting vampire style and shows what Kindred: The Embraced can do. Jeff Kober (China Beach) is immediately excellent as the Nosferatu leader Daedalus, decrepit and living underground but suave in a smoking jacket as he does Julian’s dirty work. Daedalus loyally does the series’ scary with a calm and quiet chill but falls in love with a beautiful singer. The “Nightstalker” hour should have been devoted to him, and we notice his absence in weaker episodes. Kober isn’t made up to be that much of an ogre, but Daedalus is ashamed of his own clan and dabbles in alchemy to enchant and change his appearance, for who would love him? He disposes of a nasty vampire doctor for hurting children and befriends an ill boy who asks if he is a monster. Daedalus wants to embrace him, but it is of course against the rules. It’s another fascinating dilemma that deserved more time on Kindred: The Embraced but c’est la vie.

Although there are no subtitles on the two-disc DVD edition of Kindred: The Embrace and the full-screen picture is flat; unlike today’s overly saturated digital grading, the nighttime scenes aren’t uber dark thanks to practical lighting and ambiance. Some shaky cam zooms and herky-jerky handheld aren’t so smooth now, but contrived police action is brief and choice dolly zoom horrors and great vampire eyes forgive poor fire effects. Picturesque Golden Gate Bridge scenery and San Francisco skylines at dusk contrast charred bodies, morgue toe tags, lunar motifs, and wolf overlays. Lavish wallpapers, draperies, artwork, water fountains, and grand staircases make up for that then luxurious nineties pink marble while creepy underground lairs, candelabras, and scary paintings create an edgy industrial. Red silk, purple satin, crushed velvet, and suave men’s suits provide allure; women’s fashions are both nineties runway sheer and flowing old fashioned with tantalizing slips and camisoles rather than then taboo nudity. Beheadings, skulls in the incinerator, heartbeats, and flexing jugulars provide chills while brooding nineties music invokes a sexy, classy simmer. Stained glass ruins, graves, greenery, and roses create a sensuous, romantic melancholy as Kindred: The Embraced remains a fine mix of modern debonair and gothic mood. That beeper though, with the fake giant screen and super easy to read analog text…lol. With eight different writers and six different directors, obviously, no one thought of having one cohesive narrative back then. Maybe twenty-five years ago cross-medium interactive content was unfathomable, but today such a franchise with books, games, official social media, and RPGs would be massive. Kindred: The Embraced was caught in the middle – a series that didn’t stand on its own but nor did it satisfy the built-in audience of Vampire: The Masquerade. Having gaming source material may have even contributed to viewer confusion as Fox shuffled the airings around and potentially out-of-order episodes seemed lacking in information. Of course, had Kindred: The Embraced stuck to its roots instead of wasting time with nineties cop show intrusions, the vampire love triangles, and intriguing clan wars wouldn’t have been so crowded. Revelations that could take several seasons happen in the first hour, and it’s tough not to shout at the what-ifs and ponder what Kindred: The Embraced could have been. Fortunately, Kindred: The Embrace is easy to marathon, remaining entertaining as a fun introductory piece for younger horror lite audiences as well as vampire fans and nostalgic viewers looking for gothic panache.

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Women in Horror Month: Always the Fool by Melissa R. Mendelson

Always The Fool by Melissa R. Mendelson

I was meant to be home today, but they called me in, ignoring the pass day. The operator was vague. Some kind of babble about someone calling out sick, but we were all assigned to certain days. If something came up, if someone was sick, the deliveries would be held until the next day, but if I dared question the system, the fine would be heavy. I was already broke.

I reported to the dock at nine a.m. My pay was docked one hour. The system did not care for traffic or construction or any other kind of delay. Work started at eight a.m., and my locker was stuck. It took forever to jar the door open, throw my stuff inside, and slip into that uncomfortable, gray plastic suit. The gloves were even more uncomfortable, and I couldn’t find my face mask. But they didn’t punish me for that.

“One delivery,” the guard said to me as the door opened. “Take it down to the inferno.”

“One delivery? I was called in on my pass day for one delivery?”

“You got a problem with the system?” The guard watched me shake my head. “Good, and where’s your damn face mask? Those fumes will kill you.”

“I don’t know. I think someone was in my locker.”

“Well, you got one delivery, and then you’ll be sent on your way. Just hold your breath.” He signed the clipboard that he held, making a strange, red mark by my name. “Cart’s waiting.” He raised his eyebrows up at me, and I slowly moved away. “What a waste,” he muttered.

I steadied my hands along the cart. Sometimes, they were so heavy to push, but this one was light. The grab slab on the flatbed was the same size, width and height, but it weighed nothing. I was tempted to open it, but I never wanted to look inside those things. I never wanted to know what it was that I was pushing into the inferno. I would not question the system. One delivery, and then I would be on my way like the guard said.

I stepped into the warehouse. I pretended that the cart was heavy, taking my time to the inferno. I could smell it already, an ugly, burnt smell. Where the hell did my face mask go, and who would have taken it? I glanced up at the corridors along the warehouse, spotting others pushing their gray slabs to the inferno, some returning this way with empty carts to reload. One delivery. What a joke.

“Put a face mask on,” a youth remarked as he skid by. This did not bother him. Instead, if he racked up enough deliveries, he could leave early and game all night. That’s what he lived for, but those older knew better. There was no escape from the system.

“Delivery.” I finally made it to the steel doors. Maybe, I should have quickened in pace. I wanted to go home not to game but to sleep. My dreams were pleasant, unlike this harsh reality. I swiped my badge over the panel, but it did not turn yellow. “What the hell? It worked yesterday,” and I swiped again.

“Supervisor notified.” The operator’s voice boomed overhead. She was always cold, indifferent, hardly human, but that’s how she survived. “Please, wait,” she said.

My stomach flipped. I had the rationed meal. One bowl of oatmeal and a glass of milk with a few lumps. I was not privileged for more better quality food or drink. Sometimes, after a successful week, I would be rewarded with a chicken or fish dinner and not that gray stuff that they called meat. I haven’t had that kind of dinner in a long time.

“Collar?” The supervisor appeared on the scene. He stood six feet back. “Collar,” he repeated.

“6543219,” I said.

“Right. Pass day?”

“Today,” I answered, and he caught the annoyed tone. “Called in,” I said. “One delivery.” I hid my tone that time. “Here to deliver.”

“Come inside.” The supervisor swiped his badge, and the steel doors opened. “No face mask?”

“No,” I answered.

“Try not to breathe.” He smiled as he said that, and I did not like that smile. He followed me inside. “You were here for the visit last week?”

I pushed the cart into the dim room, pretending it was still heavy. I felt the fires from the inferno, an ugly machinery with various doors for various floors, all leading to the same end result. Burned. “Yes, I was here,” I said, trying to hold my breath, but I could already taste that smell.

“And you saw him?”

“What?” I realized that the supervisor was close, and I cringed. “Saw who? The Auditor?”

“No. Not the Auditor. Him.”

I knew who he was talking about. I passed by the dining room and saw all that food stretched out on the decorated conference table. I was so hungry, but I did not dare to venture inside, even for a bite. That’s when I realized that he was there at the head of the table, eating like a pig.

“You saw him.” That was not a question. “You watched him eat.”

“Okay. Yeah. I saw him, and I watched him eat. Can I throw the delivery in now?”

“He didn’t like that. You watching him eat.” The supervisor walked away from me. He approached the gray slab on the flatbed. “He reported you, and that’s why you are here.”

“That’s why I was called in on my pass day for one delivery? Because of that? Watching him eat?”

“Yes.” The supervisor did not look at me. He stared at the gray slab. “Do you ever question what it is that you are always burning?” He watched me shake my head. “These gray slabs are large, large enough for a human body.”

I paled at his words. “Excuse me,” I said.

“They are large enough for human bodies,” and he threw open the gray slab, revealing nothing inside. “Get inside,” he said.

“What? Wait. We’re burning people? Alive?”

“Get inside.” I noticed the gun in his hand. “Your choice. Alive or Dead.”

“For what? Watching him eat his fucking food?”

The supervisor’s finger wrapped around the trigger. “You offended him, and this is your punishment. Get inside the gray slab.”

“There has to be another way. Please,” I begged, and the gun went off. The bullet pierced my leg. The next hit my shoulder. I realized that he did not want to kill me. He wanted to burn me alive. I burned so many people alive, and I never realized it. But my supervisor knew, and he knew exactly what he was doing now. And for what? The system? “Please,” I screamed as he lifted me up and threw me into the gray slab.

“Save it,” and he slammed the gray slab shut.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Melissa R. Mendelson is a Horror and Science-Fiction Author.  She has been published by Sirens Call Publications, Dark Helix Press and Transmundane Press.  Her short stories have also been featured on Tall Tale TV.  She is currently working on completing her Horror novel, Ghost in the Porcelain, which surrounds an evil, porcelain doll.

Historian of Horror: The Answer, My Friend, is Bowen in the Wind

The Answer, My Friend, is Bowen in the Wind…

by Mark Orr

A strange title, you might think, but it’s one born of long hours of contemplation of a writer whose works I’ve read for decades, and yet have had a hard time getting a handle on for this contribution to my little corner of the Horror Addicts realm. Her ghostly yarns written under this pen name have been anthologized extensively, but have impacted the popular culture outside of the confines of literature remarkably little. Two of her historical romances were made into silent films with significant casts. A handful of her suspense novels, all written under one of her other several pseudonyms, Joseph Shearing, were filmed either as theatrical releases or for television in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Only three of her many spooky short stories appear to have been adapted into other media, either during her lifetime or in the decade after her demise. And other than the occasional podcast, Libravox recording, or other internet-based venues, nothing since.

Nor is there any single work so inextricably linked to her name that to mention one invokes the other. Lady Cynthia Asquith has her “God Grante That She Lye Still”, Charlotte Perkins Gilpin her “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Edward Lucas White his “Lukundoo”. She was praised by no less a literary giant than Grahame Greene, although she was dismissed as a writer of “bad adventure stories” by the somewhat-less-impressive-but-not-totally-to-be-sneered-at Colin Wilson. Speculative fiction luminary Fritz Leiber considered her 1909 novel of Medieval witchcraft, Black Magic, to be brilliant. Weird fiction aficionado Sheldon Jaffery compared her work favorably to that of Mary Wilkins-Freeman, Edith Wharton, and the aforementioned Lady Asquith. So, why so small a footprint on the culture at large?

She was born Margaret Gabrielle Vere Campbell on a small island off the southern coast of England on the first of November in 1885. Her father was an alcoholic who died in a London street. She was raised by an emotionally detached mother in genteel poverty. She married twice, her first husband dying of tuberculosis three years into the marriage, and bore three sons and a daughter. The girl died in infancy. Bowen wrote her first novel, the violent historical epic, The Viper of Milan when she was only sixteen, and eventually produced over one hundred and fifty volumes of historical romances, biographies, popular histories, and supernatural yarns before her death from a concussion in 1952 at the age of sixty-seven.

Perhaps it is the plethora of pennames spread over several genres that have diffused her influence, for there is nothing inherently inferior in the work itself. Her short horror stories, frequently revolving around bad marriages or rakehell ‘gentlemen’ using ladies of quality but poorly, most certainly do compare favorably with her peers. So, the question remains: why so few adaptations of those tales?

Alfred Hitchcock himself took a run at her twice. The first was his 1949 historical epic, Under Capricorn, which starred Ingrid Bergman, who had played the wife but poorly used by her own nefarious husband in the 1944 Hollywood version of Gaslight. The second was for the seventh season of his television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. “The Silk Petticoat” aired on January 2, 1962, and was the thirteenth episode of the season. Appropriate, n’est pas? It was based on Bowen’s short tale, “The Scoured Silk”, written in 1918 and included in her collection, The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories. Michael Rennie, who had been the visitor from another world in The Day the Earth Stood Still in 1951 and Jean Valjean in Les Miserables the next year, starred as the not-quite-as-nice-as-he-seems husband who takes a second wife without being quite done with the first.

Of the other theatrical adaptations of Bowen’s works, a couple do have genre connections without being themselves horror films. Blanche Fury (1948) starred Valerie Hobson as the unhappy bride of Michael Gough and doomed lover of Stewart Granger. She had previously wed a mad scientist in Bride of Frankenstein and a lycanthrope in Werewolf of London, both in 1935, and later became engaged to a serial killer in the delightful black comedy, Kind Hearts, and Coronets, in 1949. In real life, her second husband was an English politician turned sex fiend and alleged Russian spy John Profumo. Perhaps she ought to have avoided marriage altogether.

Gough had a long career as a movie villain, in Horrors of the Black Museum (1959), the kaiju gorilla picture Konga (1961), the 1962 Hammer version of The Phantom of the Opera with Herbert Lom as the Phantom, the caged-animals-gone-wild movie Black Zoo (1963) and the Amicus anthology film Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), before reforming himself enough to appear four times as Batman’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth. He did play a more sympathetic role in Hammer’s Horror of Dracula in 1958, but that was an anomaly. Granger went on from this picture to replace Errol Flynn as the hero of big-budget swashbuckling adventure movies in the 1950s such as King Solomon’s Mines, Beau Brummell, Scaramouche and The Prisoner of Zenda, and played Sherlock Holmes in a 1972 television version of The House of the Baskervilles to something less than general acclaim.

So Evil My Love was made as a feature film in 1948 and for television in 1955 for the Lux Video Theatre series. The movie starred Ray Milland, star of genre films The Premature Burial in 1962, the only one of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe adaptation for American International Pictures that didn’t star Vincent Price; X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes in 1963; and the exceedingly cheesy Frogs in 1972. The television version starred James Mason, who as Captain Nemo wrestled with a giant squid in the 1954 Disney film, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and who as Professor Lindenbrook in 1959’s Journey to the Center of the Earth encountered several monstrous denizens of that region. He also played Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper film, Murder by Decree, in 1979, with the late Christopher Plummer as Holmes.

Moss Rose is the closest any of the feature films based on Bowen’s novels came to being possibly considered a horror picture. Made in 1947, it starred Victor Mature, caveman hero of One Million Years B.C. (1940); Ethel Barrymore, helpless old lady in the 1944 classic, The Spiral Staircase; frequent villain in myriad second feature horror movies George Zucco as the butler; and Vincent Price, playing against type as the police inspector tasked with unraveling the mystery and preventing the untimely demise of leading lady Peggy Cummings at the hands of a serial asphyxiast. Set in the Victorian era, it stylistically and thematically resembles the aforementioned Gaslight and Spiral Staircase, as well as other horrific thrillers like Hangover Square or The Lodger. So, yeah, maybe it is a horror picture, even if it is so very unlike Bowen’s ghost stories. I refuse to reveal whether or not the butler did it, by the way.

As for the other two television adaptations of her spooky yarns, I have so far been unable to track down videos of either “Avenging of Anne Leete”, the 166th episode (!) of the second season of the NBC series Matinee Theatre, aired May 23rd, 1957, or “They Found My Grave” from the Canadian series Shoestring Theater, aired February 12, 1961. The former starred future Simon Templar and James Bond Roger Moore, future Avenger John Steed Patrick McNee, and future mother to Richie Cunningham Marion Ross. The latter starred Kay Trembley, who had a bit part in Veronica Lake’s last movie, the abominable Flesh Feast, in 1970. Both tales are among Bowen’s best, and one could wish for a more accessible adaptation for each. But one must not hold one’s breath, apparently.

Her horror novels have pretty much gone out of print apart from the occasional independent or micro-press electronic editions, although her short stories do still pop up in anthologies assembled by the true cognoscenti of the genre, as they have since at least 1929 when mystery maven and creator of Lord Peter Wimsey Dorothy L. Sayers selected “The Avenging of Anne Leete” for the horror section of her landmark collection, The Omnibus of Crime. Dennis Wheatley included Black Magic in his “Library of the Occult” series of paperbacks in 1974 for Sphere, who also published The Spectral Bride the previous year, but if there’s been a dead tree version of any of the supernatural novels since, I haven’t found any evidence of such an endeavor. 

Since Marjorie Bowen passed on more than twenty-seven years before Sonny Bono, on behalf of Disney Studios, got Congress to push the copyright laws back into the antediluvian era in which Mickey Mouse was born, her entire oeuvre seems to currently be in the public domain. Many of her works, including most if not all of her shorts, are available from 

Project Gutenberg https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/41727 

Project Gutenberg Australia http://gutenberg.net.au/plusfifty-a-m.html#bowen 

Open Library https://openlibrary.org/authors/OL27801A/Marjorie_Bowen 

Ray Glashon’s Library http://freeread.com.au/@RGLibrary/MarjorieBowen/MarjorieBowen.html 

Libravox https://librivox.org/author/12478

and the Internet Archive https://archive.org/search.php?query=%28%28subject%3A%22Bowen%2C%20Marjorie

An online biography by Jessica Amanda Salmonson (much more in depth than the one I provided above) can be found here: https://web.archive.org/web/20081204234335/http://www.violetbooks.com/bowen.html and information on a new print biography, The Furies of Marjorie Bowen, by University of Kansas associate professor of film and media studies John C. Tibbetts here: https://news.ku.edu/2019/12/06/book-aims-revive-interest-forgotten-weird-fiction-writer 

I don’t know about any of y’all, but I’m saving up for that one. 

I also want to point out that Valancourt Books has a new edition of The Bishop of Hell and Other Stories coming out in March of 2021. I would encourage the populace to support that very worthy publisher by purchasing a copy from them rather than scooping it up for free from the internet, despite its contents being public domain. I intend to do so. Valancourt is an invaluable resource for rare and wonderful horrors from years gone by. They did not pay me to say that, nor would I accept money from them to do so. I value them that much.

https://www.valancourtbooks.com/the-bishop-of-hell-and-other-stories-1949.html

Regardless of where they are to be found, I do hope the frequenters of this space give Marjorie Bowen’s stories a look. They deserve better than to be forgotten. And, as always, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Merrill’s Musical Musings: Ro’s Recs /Women Get Spooky

Ro’s Recs: Women in Metal 

Heavy Metal and Horror will forever be intertwined. Ever since the first notes were played by founding fathers Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, the two genres began a relationship that is symbiotic. Women didn’t always have a role front and center in the music, but that, my fellow horroraddicts, is changing. 

The women carrying the dark torch in music these days are inspirational and powerful. Their musical styles and their backgrounds may vary, but they’re continuing to prove that women can rock hard and they continue to explore the dark recesses of society that horror fans love to dwell in. Check out these bands and find some new favorites. 

Spiritbox, hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, features lead singer Courtney LaPlante, whose voice is absolutely mesmerizing. From their name to the imagery in their videos and their dark lyrics, Spiritbox is a horror fan’s dream band. I guarantee if you give a listen, LaPlante’s vocals will have you spellbound. 

In this Moment from Las Vegas, Nevada, are veterans of the metal scene. Rock Goddess Maria Brink not only brings her unique vocal styling full of emotion and drama to the band’s hard rock sound, but her lyrics explore everything from the horrors women experience to dark fairy tales and pagan symbolism. If you EVER have the opportunity to see the band live, do not miss out. Here is a clip from a collaboration with the Metal God, Rob Halford of Judas Priest.    

 The Napalm label’s artist Tetrarch has a sound that will appeal to fans of Linkin Park as well as heavier metal bands like The Amity Affliction. Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, and now LA-based, the band features guitar player Diamond Rowe who proves that chicks can rock hard! She was also the first Black female lead guitarist to be featured in Metal Hammer magazine. Their video for I’m Not Right has a horror feel to it that I can totally vibe with. Anyone who’s been bullied can relate! 

Code Orange, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a band I discovered after hearing Corey Taylor from Slipknot rave about them. Their music has an intensity to it that reminds me of Slipknot and is filled with time changes, unique sounds, and creepy effects that make my black heart happy. The video for Underneath, which features guitarist Reba Meyers on vocals, is a sci-fi/horror show that all of my fellow horroraddicts will dig. Check out the band and the video, which was directed by @maxmoorefilms

 

And on the harder edge of the metal scene, you can find long-time metalcore veterans Straight Line Stitch from Knoxville, Tennessee. Lead vocalist Alexis Brown is fierce. Her vocal stylings travel effortlessly from screams to melodic choruses. Check out their video for Black Veil.

I am always seeking out the best in new music and you can read my reviews and recs here on HorrorAddicts.net as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @rlmerrillauthor. Stay Tuned for more Ro’s Recs and Merrill’s Musical Musings… 

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R.L. Merrill writes inclusive romance with quirky, relatable characters full of love, hope, and rock ‘n’ roll. You can find her at https://www.rlmerrillauthor.com and on the socials as @rlmerrillauthor. You can also find her Hope, Love, and Queeromance posts over at www.queeromanceink.com

 

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Coast 2 Coast Horror

I am so very excited about this post guys! I’ve teamed up with Lady Shasha, the host of What Did I Just Watch? to bring you a three-part mini series to celebrate Black History Month, WiHM, and all things horror.

The Daughters of the Dark, Lady Shasha host of What Did I Just Watch and Crystal Connor, A Trusted Name in Terror joined forces to bring you a 3 part mini-series to celebrate Black History and Women in Horror month!

Get to know Lady Shasha …
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHrhUeOoE7C46NKJcrdTNUQ

https://www.facebook.com/wdijwcommunity

https://twitter.com/horrorfreq

Women i n Horror: Infection by E. A. Black

Hello, Horror Addicts! I write horror as E. A. Black. I’m on social media as Elizabeth Black. I live in Lovecraft country on the northeast coast of Massachusetts. If Innsmouth were a real town, it would be a ten minute drive from my home.

My story, “Infection”, which appears below, originally appeared in the anthology “Teeming Terrors”. Here’s the blurb for the book:

Nature. Filled with wonder, beauty, majesty and mystery. Also filled with things that want to kill us. Normal things, little ordinary things. Things that creep and crawl. Things that fly, swim, scuttle and slither. Things that you might expect and be rightfully phobic about … as well as things you may have never imagined as a threat. Individually, maybe they wouldn’t be. But that’s just it. They aren’t coming for you individually. They’re coming for you in swarms, in flocks and hordes, in masses and multitudes. They’re coming for you by the thousands. They are … TEEMING TERRORS.

“Infection” is one of my favorite stories that I have written, and I’m happy to share it with Horror Addicts for Women in Horror Month. Enjoy!

Infection

By E. A. Black

April Jones was cursed with a stubborn husband. John Jones had been weeding the garden and mowing the lawn this hot July 1st when he ran over strange circles in the grass. Fearing a wasp infestation, he dug into the grass around the circles and poured bug killer into them, despite Mrs. Jones telling him she thought that was a very bad idea. As usual, he wouldn’t listen to her. At least a swarm of nasties didn’t emerge from the grass and sting him.

Oh, no, it was worse than that.

The wound on his calf started as a rash accompanied by fever and chills. A day later, the flu symptoms had passed but his lower leg swelled up, and it was painful to put any weight on it. Tiny pustules erupted where she presumed the bite originated, but there was no bull’s eye so it wasn’t a brown recluse bite. Maybe there were wasps in the grass and one of them stung him, but she had never seen a wasp sting as angry as this. She begged him to go to the doctor but he refused, having the temperament of a mule.

By dusk on July 4th, the pain was excruciating and she finally succeeded in talking him to going to the emergency room. The wound nurse took one look and immediately ordered him to a room overnight for observation. She feared MRSA. Being ordered to stay in the hospital terrified Mrs. Jones. She wasn’t used to being on her own, and who knew how long her husband would be hospitalized? This wound could have been more serious than she and Mr. Jones had originally had thought, and MRSA was nothing to sneeze at. The nurse also ordered a CAT scan since she suspected he had an abscess. Mr. and Mrs. Jones waited in his room for the CAT scan results when he began to squirm with an uncomfortable look on his face.

“April, something’s very wrong. It feels like something’s moving in there.”

“What do you mean, moving? Why didn’t you tell the nurse?”

“I was too scared. It’s probably just my imagination. And the rash is warm to the touch. Are rashes normally like that?”

“None that I’ve seen. I told you to not dig up the lawn. You never listen to me.”

“Don’t nag me now.”

“Something stung you?”

“What else could it be?” He doubled over, gripping his belly in his arms. Mrs. Jones placed a hand on his shoulder to comfort him, but in her fear she really had no idea what to do to help him. She had never before felt so useless. “Oh, God, I’m gonna be sick. Something’s wrong. It’s bad. I don’t like this.”

Blood erupted from the center of the boil to trickle in a thin line down his leg. Pus oozed from the small opening. The tissue around the wound had darkened, turning nearly black. In a panic, since she knew enough about wounds to know black tissue meant dead tissue, Mrs. Jones rushed into the hallway to see if the doctor was on his way. She overheard the nurse said something to the doctor about necrosis, and her stomach seized in fear. The doctor turned her way and caught her eye. She saw alarm and concern on his face as she waved him down.

He quickly made his way to Mr. Jones’s room with the wound nurse on his heels. Mr. Jones had turned on his side on the bed, clutching his stomach. All the color had drained from his face, and Mrs. Jones knew the color had drained from her own as well.

“I think I’m going to throw up. It’s open and I’m bleeding. The pain is terrible. Can’t you give me something?” Mr. Jones wailed.

“I’m Doctor Frisorra, Mr. Jones. I’m going to open it up and scoop out the infection.” The doctor said. He was a surly sort but his caustic demeanor didn’t hide the alarm in his eyes. “The CAT scan revealed an abscess about the size of a baseball, but your entire lower leg has swelled up. I don’t know why you feel sick. You shouldn’t, but once the infection is gone I’m sure you’ll feel better. We’ll put you on an i.v. of antibiotics and keep you here overnight for observation. Let me get it out of you first and then we’ll give you some painkillers.”

“Something’s moving in there. I feel it crawling around, lots of things, tiny things. Oh, God, it hurts.” Mr. Jones buried his face in his pillow. “Please, get it out of me. Now!”

“Okay, Mr. Jones, I need you to calm down. I can’t open your leg with you thrashing about. Lie on your back and I’ll get started.” The doctor said.

“John, lie back.” Mrs. Jones said. “You’re going to be alright but you have to do what the doctor says.”

He turned onto his back and shoved a fist in his mouth, squinting his eyes in pain. The doctor turned to the wound nurse.

“Gauze and alcohol.” He said.

She handed him both. He poured alcohol onto the gauze and then swabbed the wound and the rash around it. Then, he tossed the waste into a trash can with a red bag inside with biohazard symbols on the plastic.

“I’m going to inject a numbing agent into your wound, Mr. Jones. This will help you with the pain. It’s a topical painkiller.”

The wound nurse prepared the injection and handed the syringe over to the doctor, who injected close to the wound’s opening. A high-pitched but faint buzzing droned around Mrs. Jones, as if it came directly from the wound but much like a cricket’s chirping it was hard to tell exactly where it came from. It sounded similar to air being let out of a balloon. The noise was shrill and angry, but so faint she thought she imagined it. Maybe it was an I.V. alarm going off down the hall. The nurses let those things beep forever, but somehow, Mrs. Jones doubted that was the case. That noise came from her husband’s wound, and it scared her.

“Did you hear that?” Mrs. Jones whispered.

The doctor looked up. “I’m not sure what that was. Let’s get the wound opened and cleaned out. Scalpel.” He said.

The nurse opened a small package to reveal a sterile scalpel, which she handed to the doctor. Mrs. Jones held her breath as the doctor’s steady hand approached the wound, which by now had turned a deep shade of rose with black edges and yellow pustules erupting on the surface. Mr. Jones gripped his t-shirt in his fists so hard his knuckles had blanched. Terror etched across his face. What the hell was wrong with his leg? Was it a brown recluse bite after all?

The doctor leaned over his leg and cut down the center of the boil. Blood gushed out, running down his leg and staining the bed linens. Creamy yellow pus filled the wound. As the doctor picked up the instrument to scrape out the infection, that shrill keening sounded again, coming directly from the opening he had cut.

Mrs. Jones backed away, closer to the bathroom.

The doctor inserted the instrument into the wound, and Mrs. Jones was shocked to see it disappear nearly an inch into his calf. When he scraped along the inside, Mr. Jones cried out in agony, but Mrs. Jones barely heard him. Hundreds if not thousands of tiny mites flew from the wound’s opening, covering the doctor’s white jacket so thickly it appeared to be crawling. They flew onto the nurse, who swatted at them, screaming and howling with surprise and terror. Mr. Jones screamed and crept up the bed towards the wall, but the mites surrounded him, flying in his face and against his arms and legs until they held fast.

Then they began to bite.

A cloud of the creatures attacked Mrs. Jones, but she managed to swat them off as she ran to the bathroom and shut the door. They nipped at her arms and face, biting her with their sharp, tiny teeth. They tore into her skin, drawing blood and stinging her as if she were dying by a thousand paper cuts. She slapped at them, pulled them from her hair, stomped them onto the floor. 

As she wrestled with the creatures, the screaming started outside the bathroom door. She recognized her husband’s shrieking and feared opening the door to rush out to help him. What were those things doing to him? Getting a closer look at the ones she had swatted, she leaned over a dead one on the sink.

The creature was about an inch long and dark green. It had two legs instead of the usual six or eight she expected from an insect or arachnid. It also had two tiny arms with fists it held into balls. She pried one fist open with a fingernail to reveal talon-like claws, sharp as needles. What was left of its head sported blonde hair and a strangely humanoid face. Gossamer thin crepe wings folded along the back.

What kind of insect was this? Was it an immature locust? These creatures moved in swarms, just the way locusts did. The problem was she’d never seen a locust that looked like this. She’d never seen a live locust period, but she had seen pictures of them. This was no locust.

She thought back to the rings her husband found in the grass as he mowed the lawn, and how he dug into a few of them to see the damage they did to the soil. She wracked her brain until she remembered where she had read about rings in the grass.

Fairy rings. Her husband had disturbed a nest of fairies. She stared at the creature as if she viewed a particularly noxious bug. These were not the sweet little Tinkerbelles of Disney movies. These fairies were the vicious and malevolent beings from folklore – and they took up residence in her lawn and in her husband’s leg.

And now they were loose in the hospital.

Screaming in the room and down the hall intensified until it reached a crescendo. Heart racing with dread, she leaned against the door, holding it shut as tiny bodies slammed into the opposite side. Scraping sounds like needles being dragged along the door grated from the other side as if they tried to claw their way in. She stared at the tiny being on the sink, wondering how something so small could cause so much damage.

It twitched.

She wailed.

It shrieked a sound like a tea kettle boiling. As it reared up it split open down the back. Another larger creature emerged from the shell. Now, it was nearly three inches long. Mrs. Jones wondered how many others had molted. She recoiled from it, fearing to even approach it, but as it cried in outrage she gathered her resolve and picked it up between thumb and forefinger by the hair. It writhed in her grip, wings flapping, jaws snapping, trying to claw her with those talons. Glaring at her, it hissed the word “die” over and over again. She started at the sound of its high-pitched voice hissing in English. She nearly dropped it, but she held fast.

Her fingers felt sticky, as if they were covered in slime. The same sticky substance smeared on her arms, legs, and face. She used her free hand to wipe it off her cheek only to streak it further along. It smelled of violets. In fact, the fairies themselves smelled of wildflowers. Mrs. Jones wore a perfume similar to the scent. Could the stickiness have come from their bodies as they rubbed up against her? 

The screaming from the other side of the door had stopped. Fearing what lay behind the door but knowing she had no choice but to free herself, she opened the door. As she took her first two tentative steps out of the bathroom, the fairy in her hand ceased struggling and became quiet. When Mrs. Jones looked into the room, her heart nearly stopped in shock.

The stench of gore and feces slammed Mrs. Jones in the face amid that strange scent of wildflowers. Doctor Frisorra lay on his side, hands clawed in front of his mangled face. His white lab coat was covered with so much blood and tissue it had turned crimson. Heart racing with dread, she looked to the hospital bed where her husband lay. His mouth was open in a scream cut off by violence. Lips and nose decimated and eyelids gnawed away, his face forever would hold a surprised and outraged expression. The skin had been clawed and eaten away from his forehead, cheeks, and chin, leaving muscle and tendons exposed. His hands could not protect his face from the onslaught, since his fingers had been gnawed down to the bone. Blood covered the bedsheets. Mrs. Jones clamped a hand over her mouth, trying to hold back a wail of grief and horror. In her fear, she let go of the fairy in her other hand, and it flew out of the room and down the hall. 

Following the creature, she walked into the hall to be greeted by carnage. Moans of pain and wails of terror echoed along the blood-smeared walls. Nurses crawled along the floor, many with their eyes gouged and eaten out, groping about blind. Stunned, Mrs. Jones made her way down the hallway dodging bodies and slipping in blood. She never before felt so alone. Normally her husband took charge, but now she had to fend for herself. She didn’t think she’d last long, not in her frazzled and frightened condition. She paused by every open door, expecting a wall of the detestable vermin to attack her. She sped down the hallway until she reached the Emergency Room exit. 

The creatures were gone but they couldn’t be far. Where did they go?

An ambulance idled in the entryway. Two EMTs sprawled on the ground at the back of the vehicle. The sky was strangely dark. When she took a closer look upward, panic took over and she urgently sought a place to hide. The creatures filled the sky, blocking the setting sun. They swarmed like insects, attaching themselves to the hospital buildings and rapping their soft bodies against glass. Several grasped rocks and slammed them into windows, attempting entry. Red brick teemed black with the creatures. 

She froze in place, fearing if they noticed her they’d attack. Where had they all come from? They certainly couldn’t all have come from her husband’s wound. She didn’t have time to ponder. What to do, what to do? Her car was in the parking lot across the street. If she walked slowly they might not pay her mind. It was only 50 feet away. If she could make it inside her car and drive away – maybe home – she’d be safe.

Maybe. It all depended on how widespread their reach was.

She held her arms against her body and cradled her head close to her chest, trying to make herself look as small and as unassuming as possible. The creatures flew above her, making a high-pitched humming sound presumably from the flapping of their wings. A few zoomed in front of her as she walked, and she gasped at the sight of them, but they ignored her. She wasn’t sure why, but they had sniffed at her and then went their merry way. Maybe her violet perfume and the residue they left on her skin sent them away? Could they have mistaken her for one of their own?

They flitted about in a hurky-jerky motion like hummingbirds, but not nearly as endearing. Several of them dive-bombed her, nearly getting caught in her hair. It took all her resolve to resist swatting them away. One stopped long enough to give her a quizzical look. It hissed at her, tossed a pebble at her face, but then it flew away, paying her no more attention. 

That one was much larger than the one she held at in the hospital bathroom. It was at least four inches long and a vivid blue. Most of the ones flying about her were the size of the palm of her hand. She passed a tree and saw bodies clinging to it, but upon a closer look she realized she gazed at empty shells – molted skin left behind as the creatures grew.

Finally reaching the road, she was about to take a step into it when a Toyota roared past, wavering all over the asphalt and even jumping onto the sidewalk. Mrs. Jones leaped out of the way before the car could hit her. As it sped by, she saw the driver inside fighting a cloud of creatures so thick the inside of the car had darkened to pitch black. The car zoomed past only to crash into a utility pole and burst into flames. The explosion hurled Mrs. Jones backwards onto the grass. Human screaming amid the shrill cries of the fairies assaulted her ears, and she clamped her hands over them so she would not hear the terror in that person’s voice. The clouds of creatures overhead flew to the wreckage, giving Mrs. Jones time to race to her car without being noticed.

She fumbled with her keys, her fingers not working well enough to grip them. She dropped them as she watched the creatures wailing around their fallen comrades. Stooping over to pick up her keys, her trembling fingers dropped them again. Damn it, woman, get your act together! One last time, she gripped the entire keychain in her hand and shoved the car key near the lock but missed, scraping the blue paint on the door. Finally, she aimed the key at the lock and nailed her goal. Turning the lock, the audible click attracted the attention of the creatures. 

She tore open the door and hauled herself inside just as a swarm of bodies reached the door. Three of them were caught on the door, hissing, spitting and cursing her. When she slammed the door shut, they sliced in half. Their bodies fell to the car’s floor, convulsing in their death throes. The rest slammed against the door and window, howling their outrage at her getting away from them. A cloud descended upon her car, slapping the glass and banging their fists against the sides and roof. Thankfully, they had grown so much they were too large to fit into her ventilation system so they didn’t get into the car through the air conditioning and heating vents. She put her key in the ignition, turned over the engine, and high-tailed it out of the parking lot. 

She needed to get home. Alone, she cried as she drove, not sure what to do to get herself out of this miserable situation. If only Mr. Jones were with her. He’d know what to do.

With a start, she remembered her 24 year old son Paul was home. She grabbed her phone and dialed his number but he didn’t pick up.

Oh, God, I hope he’s alright. 

It was hard to see the road through the bodies but she drove in as straight a line as she could. Turning on the windshield wipers, she shoved fairies aside until she could see her way in front of her. Fireworks celebrating Independence Day lit up creatures that flew overhead. She hit the accelerator until she reached 40 MPH and then hit the brakes. Bodies hurtled from the car, landing on the road in front of her. She pressed down on the gas again and drove over a multitude of little bodies, the car bumping as she drove. They crackled and squished as she drove over them, and she used her squeamishness to continue on her journey. The clouds of creatures seemed to go on forever. Could she safely make it home? First, get onto the main road into town, and then she could worry about her son.

More fireworks burst overhead, competing with the full moon. Mrs. Jones turned on the radio, hoping for some answers.

‘… lock yourself in your homes and board up all entryways including doors and windows. The cause is unknown. The Army has been notified and is on its way to town…”

Switch to a different station.

“… seems to be contained to Norwich, Massachusetts. There are no reports of infestations in nearby Rockport, Ipswich, and Gloucester…”

She lived on the edge of Norwich. If she could get home, get Paul, and get out of town they might be safe.

The ten minute drive home seemed to stretch on for hours. A yellow corona exploded overhead followed by myriad red starbursts. The fireworks provided a strange backdrop for the clouds of fairies following her home. They slammed into her windshield, grasping at the wipers and trying to break them off but they did not succeed. Spraying them with windshield washer fluid only pissed them off even more. Why did John have to go dig up those infernal rings in the grass? 

If he hadn’t, would they have only emerged later to catch them even more unawares?

Neighbors had been ravaged as the creatures had attacked. The Clark children two doors down from her home lay sprawled in the grass, bodies torn as they had played with a Frisbee. The scent of burned meat wafted from a smoking grill. Mrs. Clark lay facedown on the porch, her head on the bottom step and her feet on the top. A tray of burgers spilled onto the ground. The paperboy’s bike lay in the middle of the road. The boy himself had made it as far as the tall oak in Mrs. Jones’s front yard. Fairies squatted on him, tearing at his clothing and chattering amongst themselves. They stopped chattering to watch Mrs. Jones drive by. The sight sickened her. She knew the paperboy quite well. Gave him a gift every Christmas. She didn’t get along with the Clarks but no one deserved an end like that.

She pulled into her driveway, crushing the creatures beneath her tires as she put the gear into park. Paul’s car was in front of her, and it was covered with bodies that by now had grown to be nearly a foot long. They gaped at her from inside the car. Only a half hour ago they were the size of mites. Molting and growing quickly, their formidable natures astounded her. How much larger would they get? Their colors ranged from vivid blue to deep hunter green and violet. Some stretched their wings and wrapped them around their bodies as if they were chilled. Every one of them stared at her from the porch, the stairs, inside Paul’s car, the sills and the roof. Thousands of glowing eyes glared at her. How was she going to get into the house? And was her son alive?

The shutters on both floors had been pulled and locked. The creatures had torn her prized rose bushes to shreds, and she felt a pang of sadness over the loss. There would be many losses today. Before stepping out of the car, she doused herself with perfume hoping to keep them at bay. Fearing her son had succumbed to their attacks, she unlocked her car door and quietly opened it one inch.

The fairies didn’t move. They only continued to stare at her. Why were they so quiet? Was it her perfume? She could only hope.

She opened the door, gently moving several of them out of her way. They appeared to be resting, as if exhausted but not exhausted enough to sleep. Dormant, their hive mind dozed enough for her to emerge from her car and take tentative steps to the porch. One or two lashed out with their sharp claws, drawing blood on her ankles, but she didn’t flinch. With slow movements she took five excruciating minutes to make it to the porch and the front door. She took her key, turned it in the door’s lock, and opened the door enough so she could slip inside her house without the creatures following.

The living room was quiet and dark. No fairies lurked within. Smoke filled the first floor. Ah, Paul must have cooked steak again. He always smoked up the house when he cooked beef. The smoke may have repulsed the fairies enough to keep them outside.

There was no sign of Paul. She resisted calling out his name or making any noise out of fear she’d attract the creatures’ attention and they’d swarm again. 

The only way to find him was to go door to door until he revealed himself. What if she found him as mangled as she found John? No, don’t think about that. Just find him. 

She walked through the empty kitchen and opened the bathroom door to find no one. That left the second floor. She climbed the stairs, careful to not make the third step creak the way it always did. Moving with stealth, she reached the landing and heard thumping sounds coming from one of the back bedrooms. Fearing Paul was being mauled, she raced to the door, opened it, and went inside.

“Paul, we have to get out of here…”

Fairies perched on tables, chairs, and shelves. They clung to the curtains in front of a broken window. When they heard Mrs. Jones’s voice, they came to life and flew from their perches to swarm around her, clawing at her face, her hands, and her bare legs. Wailing, she waved her hands in front of her to fend them off but they only came on stronger; wave after wave of bodies crashing into her. Sliding down the wall as they tore at her hair and bit her forearms, she crumbled in a ball on the hardwood floor. They pushed on the door behind her, slamming it into her lower back and causing pain to shoot into her spine. Then, she felt two large hands grab her feet and pull her through the door’s opening.

“Mom, are you hurt?” Paul said as he shut the door and locked it. The fairies beat against the frame from the other side in a futile attempt to get out.

“I’m okay. What are we going to do?”

“I’ve packed for us. I called you but you didn’t pick up.” He pointed to two suitcases. “Where’s John?”

Mrs. Jones cried. “He didn’t make it.”

“The radio says they’re only here in Norwich. If we can get in the car and make it out of town, I think we’ll be fine.”

“I hope you’re right. I told John to leave those grass circles alone but he wouldn’t listen to me–”

He squeezed her shoulders. “They’re coming from those holes in the back yard. I watched them from the window. I already called 911. The Army is coming to plug them up but we have to get out of here. Now.”

They quietly walked downstairs, Mrs. Jones holding one suitcase and Paul holding the other. More than anything, she wanted to hole up in her house and wait until the Army dealt with the miserable vermin, but she no longer felt safe in her own home. The only thing to do was to leave with her son and wait until it was safe to return, assuming it would ever be safe. She’d never feel safe in this house again.

Before he could open the front door, Mrs. Jones explained their curious behavior in light of her perfume and the sticky substance they left on her skin. She sprayed Paul all over with violet scent. She prayed the fairies wouldn’t attack.

Paul opened the front door, drawing it out as slowly as he could. The bodies on the porch had increased. To her surprise, the creatures had moved but they continued to sit as if dozed. Some sprawled in circles on the porch – large circles, small ones, several where they sat stacked atop each other. They chanted in a language she couldn’t understand, but what they sang resembled an incantation. While they acknowledged her presence as well as Paul’s, they neither attacked nor lashed out. It was as if they operated from one mind and that mind was too preoccupied to pay any attention to the two humans who made their way to Mrs. Jones’s car.

Mrs. Jones swept them aside in slow motions with her feet as she made her way the four feet to the steps. She gazed at her destroyed garden in the direction of the holes where her husband had dug out the fairy circles. Rather than pour from the holes as she expected to see, the creatures flew into them, searching for what remained of their stomping grounds. Fireworks continued to illuminate the clouds of fairies that flew overhead. Such a strange sight – a festival of independence marred by creatures that rendered all humans in Norwich helpless to defend themselves. 

Once they reached the car, Paul placed the suitcases in the back seat, all the while moving as slowly as possible. Neither he nor Mrs. Jones called attention to themselves lest they attract unwanted and tragic attention. Rather than slam the door shut, he closed it with a gentle click. The sound boomed in Mrs. Jones’s ears, and she watched the fairies but they did not attack. Mrs. Jones walked to the passenger side, opened the door, and took the front seat. Paul made it to the driver’s seat without difficulty. Once inside, he placed the key in the ignition, turned it, and the car roared to life.

They sat in total silence, watching how the creatures reacted to the car’s engine. A few pounded on the windshield and stomped on the roof. One stood in front of Mrs. Jones, gnawing at the windshield wiper and scratching its substantial claws against the glass. It was nearly a foot long with filmy wings the hue of an oil slick and a body the color of brick. The malevolence on its face terrified Mrs. Jones, but she clenched her jaw in silence. Paul put the car in reverse and pulled out of the driveway. 

“Let’s head to Gloucester.” Mrs. Jones said. “The radio said they didn’t get that far.”

Paul turned the radio knob.

“… have invaded Rockport, Gloucester, and have been seen as far as Beverly Farms.” Beverly Farms was 15 miles away. She checked the gas gauge.

There was less than a quarter tank of gas in the car.

Maybe by the time they reached Beverly Farms the creatures would have moved on. She gazed out the window. Fairies converged on the grass, tore apart bushes, and danced on telephone lines. Starting up the car must have roused them from their stupor. She turned her head away in horror as a gang of them attacked a German shepherd chained to a pole outside a split-level. Paul drove along the narrow one-lane road out of town, and Mrs. Jones closed her eyes in her futile attempt to ignore the sound of bodies crunching beneath the tires. Her heart raced and she picked the cuticles on her fingernails as they drove in silence save for the radio that just announced the fairies had been seen 40 miles away in Boston.

Maybe they’d make it safely out of town before they ran out of gas.

__________________________________________________________________________________

The idea for this story came to me after my husband spent some time in the hospital with an infection in his leg. It was pretty gross. I based John Jones in the story on him, and he got a major kick out of me killing him off, LOL. We have very bent senses of humor. Here’s a conversation we had about his leg.

Me: “Your wound is really disgusting. Make sure you do what the doctor tells you. Don’t be stubborn.

Him: Me? Stubborn? Never!

Me: Yes. You. Stubborn. That thing looks like it’s going to burst any moment. You know what’s going to come out of it?

Him: Puss?

Me: Spiders!

Him: You have watched far too many horror movies. That’s why I love you.

Me: I love you, too!

Here’s where to find me on the web:

Elizabeth Black – Facebook https://www.facebook.com/elizabethablack

E. A. Black – Blog and Web Site http://eablack-writer.blogspot.com

E.A. Black – Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/E.A.-Black/e/B00BBWHMFM

E. A. Black – GoodReads (I didn’t create this page. I’d like to thank whoever did, if I knew that person’s identity.)

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6468111.E_A_Black

Elizabeth Black – Newsletter http://eepurl.com/b76GWD   

I’ve just started a new writing gig with a game company. It’s so new I don’t have much to report yet, but I will say I’m having a blast. I’m now a game developer! I’m also finishing my first horror novel. Here are my latest appearances in anthologies:

Jester of Hearts – my story is Trailer Trash Zombies

Wicked Women: An Anthology of the New England Horror Writers – my story is The Fetch

The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories – my story is The Storm

Horror For Hire: Second Shift – my story is A Job To Die For

Fark in the Time of Covid: The 2020 Fark Fiction Anthology– my story is A Skirmish Outside Beaufort

 

 

 

Women in Horror: Mary Shelley

By Daphne Strasert

Mary Shelley is best known as the author of Frankenstein, a keystone work of the horror genre. Shelley’s legacy is a confused one, since her major work has been muddled by the reinterpretations of the monster in movies and television. However, her original novel remains popular in its own right and is still being critiqued and admired to this day.

But we aren’t here to talk about Frankenstein. We are here to talk about Mary Shelley.

Filled with passion, scandal, and devastating personal tragedy, Mary Shelley’s life reads like a gothic romance in its own right.

Mary Shelley was the daughter of prominent feminist and philosophical thinkers. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died soon after Mary’s birth, leaving her husband to raise Mary. He exposed Mary early on to radical political ideologies, setting Mary up for a lifetime of activism.

When she was 16, Mary met Percy Shelley, a married man of 21 with whom she began a romance. They met clandestinely in the same cemetery where her mother was buried and it is commonly said that she lost her virginity on her mother’s grave.

Despite her father’s disapproval, Mary left with Percy (along with her step sister, who was likely also one of Percy’s lovers) for France. When they finally returned, Mary was pregnant with his child. Unfortunately, their daughter was born prematurely and died soon after.

Mary and Percy continued their affair and were finally married a few years later after Percy’s wife committed suicide. Neither was particularly committed to the institution of marriage but married in a bid to show stability so Percy could have custody of his children (he was eventually deemed morally unfit).

The Shelleys believed in free love—something Percy seemed far more enthusiastic about practicing than Mary—and maintained an open marriage. The Shelleys were determined to live the free-spirited lives of artists, regardless of if they had the means. Percy found himself frequently hiding from creditors and the Shelley’s left the country multiple times to avoid debtors’ prison. Yet, with the uncanny ability of the generationally wealthy, they managed to avoid both destitution and respectable careers. Instead, they spent their married life traveling to the various rented villas of friends such as Lord Byron.

It was during one of these holidays that Mary conceived the idea for Frankenstein. Lord Byron proposed that each member of the party write a ghost story. After a few days of struggle, Mary was inspired by galvanism and the prospect of reanimating the dead to write Frankenstein. The manuscript was finished a few years later and published anonymously.

During this time, Mary’s tumultuous personal life continued. She had two more children, both of whom died in their early years. Her husband was caught in the middle of a scandal regarding the adoption of a girl who may have been his illegitimate child with Mary’s step-sister. Mary plunged into a deep depression, during which it seems writing was her only solace. She did eventually have another son, the only one of her children to survive to adulthood.

In 1822, Percy Shelley went sailing with friends. He never returned. His body washed up on a beach three days later. Mary Shelley was left a widow at 24. She had been with Percy for only 8 years. Still, she was devastated at the loss of her husband and mourned him the rest of her life.

She returned to England with her son and dedicated the rest of her days to her writing and the editing of her husband’s poems. She contributed her time and money to helping women, often those who were shunned by society. Mary never remarried despite her popularity with men and many offers. She claimed that she had already married a genius and could only marry another.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley died in 1851 at the age of 53. A woman who had lived her life by defying expectations had one more surprise for her family: in her desk drawer, her son found the calcified heart of Percy Shelley, which Mary had kept since his death.  

Mary Shelley’s legacy lives on through the many interpretations of her work as well as the mystique of her personal history. A woman far ahead of her time, she lived true to herself in a way only she could.

Historian of Horror : Staccatos From The Black Lagoon


When my daughters were young, we listened to Dad’s radio station when Dad was driving. This was back in the days when you were lucky if your vehicle had even so much as a cassette player, so I, being a child of the 60s, had oldies radio stations mapped out for the entire route, wherever we might go. As we passed through Dalton, Georgia, for example, we would let the Chattanooga oldies station go and switch over to the Atlanta station. And so on, all the way down to the southwestern tip of Florida, a frequent destination.

When I was home, all the buttons were set to the local oldies station, WMAK-FM, until that horrible morning in about 2003 when I got in my car and discovered that the station had changed format overnight to ‘whatever we want to play’. Which was not oldies, and not acceptable. After my first “Dude, where’s my radio station?” reaction, I found another one to program all the buttons for, but eventually had to give up and buy a car with a six-CD changer. It was a rag-top Mustang, so that was all right, but I still missed the spontaneity of wondering what great song by the Beatles or the Supremes or Marvin Gaye or Joni Mitchell that Coyote McCloud (God rest his soul) would offer up after this brief message from our sponsor.

Before that horrible day, however, my daughters’ friends would often ask, “Why does your dad listen to so many TV commercials?”, after I’d dropped them and my offspring at the skating rink or movie house or factory for their twelve hour shifts gluing labels onto bottles of shoe blacking. Even in those halcyon days, television advertisers mined no-longer-current popular music for the soundtracks of the mini-dramas designed to entice you to buy their specific brand of depilatory or laxative or breakfast cereal, which my less-enlightened passengers confused with my choices in musical entertainments. Think Bob Seger and Chevy Trucks.  

At least “Like a Rock” makes sense. Trucks are supposed to be tough and solid, like a rock. They should have more mobility than your average boulder, but that’s beside the point. The song fits the commercial. Not all do.

I recall one ad for a cell phone company that used a song from 1973 by the glam-rock band T-Rex. It’s a great piece with a driving guitar hook, but somehow ‘Twentieth-Century Boy’ just doesn’t seem quite right for a 21st Century technology. Similarly, the one for some product I was too appalled to remember suggested that supreme happiness was attainable only by using said product via the medium of having a lovely young lady rip rapturously through what opera buffs know as ‘The Staccatos’, smiling ludicrously as she (probably) lip-synced whatever coloratura soprano actually sang the aria from which they were so rudely plucked. For ‘The Staccatos’ are notoriously challenging for even an experienced diva, and anyone who can do them well can make a lot of money singing them regularly at the Met or La Scala or Covent Garden. I couldn’t recall ever having seen her perform them onstage, on television or in a video, hence my suspicion that she was a shill.

They are also not a part of a happy aria. Not even close. ‘Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen’ (usually shortened to ‘Der Hölle Rache’) is about as far from being the light, pleasant piece the advertisers apparently believed it to be as possible. It is dark, it is direful, it is full of horrific forebodings. The title, which is, as is usual for operatic arias, the first line, translates to “Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart’. Which seems to me unlikely to inspire much confidence among average consumers – but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are masses of Americans ready to insert something or other into one or another of their various corporeal orifices the creation, manufacture, and marketing of which was inspired by the wrathful rage of His Satanic Majesty. 

For various reasons not appropriate for expression here, it occurs to me that perhaps there are such people in this country who are comfortable with a proposition of that nature. Regardless, I only saw the commercial once, and never again, so, maybe there aren’t. That does leave us with this question, though: What makes this either horror related, or women in horror related?

The piece is often referred to as ‘The Queen of the Night’ because that is the character who, in the second act of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s final opera, Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute),  sings it. Die Könegin der Nacht, as she is called in the opera’s original German, is an amalgamation of every evil sorceress and wicked stepmother in all the fairy tales of The Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault combined. She has decided that one Sarastro, high priest of the cult her daughter has joined, needs to be killed, and is such a horrific monster of a being that she hands the girl a knife and tells her to do the dirty deed herself, or be disowned and cursed.

As is often the case, the true horror lies in the presentation, and for this, one must needs judge how much menace and terror each great soprano is capable of bringing to the stage. Some bring more, some less. Some none. And a few, well, they just bring it.

Many have sung the role since 1791. The best are probably lost to the mists of time. The first was Mozart’s own sister-in-law, Josepha Hofer, who sang it to great acclaim for ten years. Alas, the technology to record the human voice wasn’t available for almost a century after Mozart’s demise, which occurred two weeks after the opera premiered. Fortunately, we do have quality recordings of many more recent divas essaying the role so that it is possible for me to pick a specific one to recommend, one in which all the fear and terror the Queen of the Night herself is capable of inflicting is brought down most brutally upon her poor offspring. And upon a receptive audience.

There are certain roles in opera that have become closely associated with specific singers in the minds of those of us that enjoy the artform. We might not all necessarily make the same connections, but I suspect we would understand why someone else might. I think of Aida, for example, and Leontyne Price comes to mind. Mention Medea, and Maria Callas pops up. Lucia di Lammermoor, Joan Sutherland. Violetta from La Traviata, Anna Moffo. For some, Lucia Popp is inextricably connected to her first starring role, which was The Queen of the Night, and I can see why some might feel that way. There are those who consider her the greatest Queen of all time. And again, I can see why, if only at a distance of nearly sixty years and based solely on the one audio recording we have of her performance. Which I love. She had an incredible voice and a technical mastery of it that made it truly magical. However, for me, the crystalline clarity of her divine instrument was just a little light for the weight of the horror that the role demands. The Queen is not a being of light, or lightness. The one video recording of her in the opera was from 1983, and she played the daughter, Pamina. This seems to me a more fitting role for her, if only in consideration of the one prima donna I and many opera buffs agree was, and still is, the best ever.

I would like for the populace to pay particular attention to the following video at the two minute and nine second mark. As was once said of Cruella DeVille, if this doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will. Prithee, watch it before continuing on. I’ll wait for you, right over here. 

 

That is German soprano Diana Damrau. She has practically made a career out of playing this part. There are several videos on YouTube that showcase not only her skill as a singer, but as an actress able to project the appropriate menace the role calls for. This one, though. This one gets to me at that 2:09 mark, when she lifts her gaze to yours and snatches the very soul from your helpless body.

Ahem.

Women characters in operas are so often the tragically unwitting victims of careless or thoughtless or ruthless men, it’s refreshing to see a true villainess dominating the stage. And, so, The Queen of the Night is my nominee for the great female monster of her medium, even if Mozart couldn’t resist a happy ending for this work. 

Curses, foiled again.

Speaking of women being the victims of the male villains in their lives, I would like to commend to the populace Mallory O’Meara’s recently published biography, The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick. Patrick was one of Disney’s first female animators and went from there to Universal Studios. In 1954, she was the primary designer of the head of the costume for the titular star of the classic horror film, Creature from the Black Lagoon. The studio planned a publicity tour with her playing Beauty to the Gill Man’s Beast, but the head of Universal’s makeup department, Bud Westmore, was having none of that. He took all the credit, got her fired out of his infantile masculine jealousy, and she was virtually forgotten. 

That just pisses me off. What an asshole.

The book is quite well-written, and is available in hardback, as a trade paperback, and as an ebook. Highly recommended.

I can sense that we’re getting to the point that I can almost feel through the internet ether the seismic quiver of eyes glazing over and rolling back, so I’ll wrap this edition up by offering the populace a small lagniappe: a few of the sources I use in my research for your own perusal. 

Please do feel free to browse around in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database.

http://www.isfdb.org/

I suspect you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a few familiar names there. Yes, including mine, although their entry on my works is woefully inadequate. Guess I’m going to have to crack the whip on them.

My entry in the FictionMags Index is marginally better, I suppose, given that most of my shorter yarns have appeared in anthologies rather than magazines. 

http://www.philsp.com/homeville/FMI/0start.htm

It also contains information about my mystery work, as opposed to the ISFDb. Which is appropriate. Still, they’ve missed a few entries. Gonna have to fix that.

Fantastic Fiction is a goldmine of information, although it doesn’t separate out the non-genre works from those that are specifically horror.

https://www.fantasticfiction.com/

Still, I recommend it highly, despite there being no entry on your humble correspondent, at all. Quelle horreur.

Enough. I shall have mercy on you all and call it a night. As always, my friends, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Women In Horror Month: Why Do Women Writers Write About Monsters or Ghosts?

Why Do Women Writers Write About Monsters or Ghosts?

Why would women write about monsters or ghosts? I am sure some readers say stick to writing romance or fantasy. But women have just as much right to write the scary stuff and about monsters as do their male counterparts. After all, in the long run, it’s all about the story.

At BBC.com, an article mentioned how women writers “often found the supernatural a way to challenge and condemn their role in society.” It seems male writers have dominated supernatural fiction, like M R James, Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Oliver Onions, and others. But female writers have been on the horror scene in the past, too. Shirley Jackson, for instance. She wrote The Haunting of Hill House, the only story that has scared me in the daytime, in a room full of people. Others had to do it at night, with me in a room alone. Susan Hill, who wrote Woman in Black, is another. A classic ghost story from 1892 is Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The author’s nameless narrator, suffering from post-natal depression, is confined to bed rest under the care of her doctor husband, when begins to lose her mind. Confined to an old nursery with ghastly wallpaper, she sees strangled heads and unblinking “bulbous eyes” in its pattern. Eventually, a skulking female figure appears, seemingly trapped behind the bars of its design. Is it the narrator’s own hidden self? When her husband enters to find her tearing down the wallpaper, she tells him, “I’ve got out at last. And I’ve pulled off most of the paper, so you can’t put me back!”

Do women authors use ghost stories to exorcise their resentments over societal restrictions? The ghost in their tale is the ultimate outsider – an absent presence, all-seeing and yet unable to partake of life in any meaningful way. Do we have insight differently from male writers? Can what a woman writes be more downright frightening than what a man writes? Does the way we pen the words on paper or type onscreen haunt the person as they read? Maybe we even make the monster sympathetic. Still horrifying, but a monster the reader will care about and cheer on. Or not.

Looking for some great spooky reads? Next time, check out female horror authors. I am sure readers already know about; Anne Rice, Sarah Pinborough, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Caitlin R. Kiernan. Others you can check out are Tanith Lee, Elizabeth Massie, Lisa Morton, Yvonne Navarro, Carrie Ryan, Cherie Priest, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Kari Kilgore, Susan Schwartz, and much, much more. Take a step away from traditionally published authors and try out indie writers as there are great reads by them, too. An excellent place to find more women horror writers is at Horror Writers Association. Try someone new today. 

Instead of picking up the latest Stephen King novel or of books written by other male horror authors, try several feminine writers instead. We just might bring “SCARE” to a whole new level.

Journey to worlds of fantasy, beyond the stars, and into the vortex of terror with the written word of Pamela K. Kinney.

Https://PamelaKKinney.com

Bio:

Author Pamela K. Kinney gave up long ago trying not to listen to the voices in her head and has written horror, fantasy. science fiction, along with six nonfiction ghost books ever since. Her horror short story, “Bottled Spirits,” was runner-up for the 2013 WSFA Small Press Award. Her horror poem, “Dementia,” included in HWA Poetry Showcase Volume VII, won “Best Poem: for 23rd Annual Critters Readers Poll (2020).

Besides writing, Pamela has acted on stage and film and investigates the paranormal for episodes of Paranormal World Seekers. She is a member of Horror Writers Association and Virginia Writers Club.

WOMEN WRITING HORROR: A Listicle of Women to Read

WOMEN WRITING HORROR by Renata Pavrey

Horror is my favorite genre in fiction and I read across all of its sub-genres including true crime, psychological horror, comedy horror, from novels to short story collections, dark poetry and anthologies. A random search for horror books throws up the usual fare from Stephen King, Joe Hill, Josh Malerman, Kealan Patrick Burke. While I have loved books by all these writers, women authors in the genre don’t show up as easily, with the exception of Shirley Jackson and Mary Shelley for their classic works. I thought back to all the books I’ve read and the ones in my to-read list and came up with this listicle of horror stories from women writers. These include translated books as well as original language ones, novellas, novels, collections, prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction by writers, translators, editors, and publishers who create terror through words. From historical fiction, science fiction, young adult, satire, to mythology, folklore, speculative fiction, re-telling of true events, and dark verses – take your pick. Since February is coming up, I compiled a list of twenty-eight women in horror – one book recommendation for each day of the month.

  1. Agustina Maria Bazterrica – Tender is the Flesh

A virus has eradicated animals, and humanity turns to cannibalism for its source of meat as humans are domesticated, mass produced, and slaughtered. Translated from the Spanish, a nauseating and provocative satire that blends science fiction with horror.

       2. Ally Blue – Down

An underwater, paranormal suspense fest surrounding the discovery of a rock-like sphere that causes humans to mutate and turn into horror versions of themselves.

       3. Alma Katsu – The Deep

Historical fiction horror set around the events of the Titanic and its sister ship the Britannic. The maritime disaster and World War I are caught in sinister happenings in this supernatural thriller.

       4. Cassandra Khaw – Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef

A novella about the dual life of a sorcerer and soldier, combining horror and comedy with Malaysian and Chinese mythology.

       5. Christina Henry – The Ghost Tree

YA horror about missing people and terrifying visions of monsters dragging remains. Ghostly trees, creepy children, witches and curses – almost like watching a horror movie.

       6. Christina Sng – Dreamscapes

Horror, fantasy, and science fiction come together in this poetry collection that addresses the darkness within. Verses that serve to unsettle and terrify, proving how poetry can be more impactful than prose.

       7. Elizabeth Kostova – The Historian

A historical fiction Dracula story moving across time and place with shifting narrator perspectives. A debut vampire novel that interweaves history with folklore and makes for a riveting read.

       8. Fernanda Melchor – Hurricane Season

Mythology and terror from Spanish literature, with the English translation maintaining the grim, intense and graphic prose of its original source in this portrait of a Mexican village and its witch.

       9. Francine Toon – Pine

A haunting tale in the Scottish highlands, filled with intrigue and eeriness, alternating between terrifying and heart wrenching, spooky and suspenseful in equal measures.

       10. Gemma Amor – Dear Laura

A novella of lifelong obsession, this dark, twisted tale about penpals stands out for its brilliantly atmospheric writing.

       11.Jennifer Hillier – Wonderland

Psychological thriller, amusement park, serial killer – gruesome and wicked as you set out to solve crimes.

       12. Jennifer McMahon – Winter People

Historical fiction meets fantasy in this chilling story of missing people and secrets galore.

       13. Joyce Carol Oates – The Doll Master

A collection of short stories that borrows its title from an obsession over dolls, and leads into an unsettling world of abominations and mystery.

       14. Kaaron Warren – Into Bones Like Oil

A haunted house novella with an unconventional narrative and storyline, and an interesting take on the ghost story.

        15. Kathe Koja – The Cipher

Winner of the Bram Stoker award for Best Debut Novel, The Funhole does not live up to its name. A black hole that calls out and launches a journey of obsession, darkness, and blinding terror of classic horror in spectacular prose.

        16. Laura Purcell – The Silent Companions

There’s nothing like historical fiction for a dose of gothic horror. An asylum, a haunted mansion, intriguing journals, hidden secrets – a creepy ghost story that grabs the attention from beginning to end.

        17.  Laurel Hightower – Crossroads

An exceptional novella dealing with the horrors of heartbreak and grief, and things coming back from the dead. An emotional and devastating read that shows you just how diverse the horror genre can be.

        18. Lee Murray – Grotesque

A collection of monster stories that range from mythology to legend and science fiction offering a dip into Maori folklore and French history, zombie attacks and adventures. Packed with action and gore, the stories are a delight for monster fans.

        19. Lisa Kröger – Monster, She Wrote

Why read one horror story when you can read about them all? A non-fiction horror book about women who pioneered the genres of horror and speculative fiction; writers who defied convention and crafted some stellar spooky tales. From ghost stories to psychological horror, intriguing trivia and reading recommendations, a book about books not to be missed.

        20. Lucy A. Snyder – Sparks and Shadows

A dark fantasy collection of short stories, poems, and essays. Twisted tales in myriad settings, witty and diverse, horrifying, amusing, and thought provoking.

        21. Mariana Enriquez – Things We Lost in the Fire

A short story collection of the macabre, mixing magical realism with gothic fiction in this astonishing treat from Spanish literature brought to us in English by translator Megan McDowell.

        22. Mariko Koike – The Graveyard Apartment

Detective fiction and horror writing come together in this translation from Japanese literature of psychological horror set around a graveyard. Deborah Boehm brings this to us in English.

        23. Michelle Paver – Thin Air

A historical fiction ghost story set in the Himalayas. Nature can be brutal enough, but what if it isn’t the only thing you’re battling? Subtle supernatural elements, more psychological rather than physical, can be more horrific at times.

        24. Nalo Hopkinson – Skin Folk

A short story collection of magical realism, science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction interweaved with horror. Storytelling at its best.

        25. Samanta Schweblin – Fever Dream

Some more magical realism from Spanish literature is this surreal nightmare of an otherworldly story. Menacing, unsettling, and thoroughly absorbing in its usage of horror to explore current world issues.

        26. Taeko Kono – Toddler Hunting

An exceptional collection of Japanese short stories that explore the dark side of human nature and antisocial behavior. Lucy North translates to English to bring us a startling and disquieting world.

        27. Yoko Ogawa – Revenge

Another dark treat from Japanese literature in an experimental format of seemingly unrelated short stories coming together to form a larger novel. Bland settings and ordinary people up the ante of terrors lurking in everyday life.

        28. Yrsa Sigurdardottir – I Remember You

Scandinavian Nordic noir of isolation and remoteness; horror based on true events. Translated from the Icelandic, a ghost story that proffers the chills.

~Three bonus books for the women who lead the way as editors and publishers~

  1. Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn – Black Cranes

A collection of short stories by Asian writers, highlighting the dual themes of women in horror and Asian women writers. A smorgasbord of mythology, legend, folklore, science fiction, comedy horror, satire, dark fantasy.

       2. Aiki Flinthart – Relics, Wrecks, and Ruins

A collection of science fiction and fantasy with horror to showcase the remnants of humanity and celebrate a legacy. 

        3. Tricia Reeks – Meerkat Press

The publishing house comes out with some very different but very good books, in equal parts weird, unique, and dark.

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Renata Parvey is a Nutritionist by profession; marathon runner and Odissi dancer by passion. Driven by sports, music, animals, plants, literature and more. Reads across several genres and languages, and loves the world of horror – in both, books and movies.

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Women In Horror: Regrets by Jess Chua

Regrets by Jess Chua
“Sophia was a bohsia, okay? End of story.”Irfan put out his cigarette as he strolled home with his best buddy, Dinesh.“What is it with girls and women nowadays?” Dinesh said sadly. “They used to be so sweet and gadis baik (good girl types).”

“Nowadays, love stands for legs-open-very-easily.” Irfan looked around at the leaves rustling in the breeze. “Glad Sophia was just a one night stand. That’s all she was worth.”

Sophia, he thought. Pretty face…cute curves…and a little bit of a birdbrain.

She had a thing for bad boys with motorcycles. Irfan was the hot bad boy that many girls found irresistible.

It was too bad that she had recently gotten into a terrible highway accident involving a drunk rider. Sophia hadn’t made it out alive.

“Do you have any regrets?” Dinesh asked.

“About?”

The two young men let the silence in the air do most of the talking. Sophia had become a stage five clinger relatively quickly after hooking up with Irfan. Perhaps her absence was somewhat of a relief if Irfan wanted to be honest about it.

“Anyway, I’ll see you tomorrow. I—” Dinesh froze for a second as he felt something ice-cold rush through his body. The impact was almost enough to knock him off his feet.

The voice of a banshee screeched: “The baby was YOURS!!!”

When Dinesh turned around, Irfan was lying eviscerated on the ground. A pale ghostly image with Sophia’s face and bloodied hands hovered over Irfan’s dead body before vanishing off into the woods.

Perhaps Irfan would have expressed some regrets, if he was still able to respond.

###

Author Bio: Jess Chua is a writer and editor for a personal development podcast. Her microfiction was a runner-up in the Mysterious Photograph contest at Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She enjoys yoga, healthy cooking, and spending time with her pets. Her website is www.jesschuabooks.com

Women in Horror Month

 

This month we are celebrating Women in Horror Month here at HorrorAddicts.net. This month we will bring you contemporary women writers, women writers of old, women movie directors, actresses, characters, and even artists who have brought to life some of those scary monsters we have nightmares about.

You’ll meet women who look like demure housewives but pen horrible, frightening beings who suck your blood! You will read some newly written material and some treasures from the vault.

You’ll hear some of the joys and the challenges of being a woman trying to make her way into the genre, let alone getting to the top of the gravestone.

Join us daily as we celebrate Women in Horror during February.