Chilling Chat: Episode #183 – Jonathan Fortin

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Jonathan Fortin is the author of Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus (Crystal Lake Publishing), “Requiem in Frost” (Horroraddicts.net), and “Nightmarescape” (Mocha Jonathan Fortin AUTHORPHOTO-2020Memoirs Press). An unashamed lover of spooky Gothic stories, Jonathan was named the Next Great Horror Writer in 2017 by HorrorAddicts.net. He attended the Clarion Writing Program in 2012, one year after graduating summa cum laude from San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing program. When not writing, Jonathan enjoys voice acting, dressing like a Victorian gentleman, and indulging in all things odd and macabre in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Jonathan is a true gentleman with a terrific sense of humor. We spoke of writing, The Victorian Age, and Lilitu: Memoirs of a Succubus.

NTK: Welcome, to Chilling Chat, Jonathan! Tell us, how did you become interested in the Victorian Age?

 JF: I think it was in middle school when I first became fascinated with the Victorian Gothic aesthetic, thanks to a healthy obsession with Tim Burton movies, American McGee’s Alice, and a number of other dark influences. The Victorian Era had many facets, but it was horror that pulled me to the period. I adored the dark elegance of their wardrobes and architecture, and was intrigued by their stuffy way of behaving. It seemed as though they were navigating a world full of macabre terrors that were best left unspoken–basing their etiquette around their profound fear of the world they themselves had created.

NTK: Do you have a favorite Victorian novel?

 JF: Novels by Victorian authors: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and Dracula by Bram Stoker both come to mind. Basic, I know, but critically influential nonetheless.

Modern novels set in Victorian England: The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox, Drood by Dan Simmons, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and (if I may be permitted to include a very wordy graphic novel) From Hell by Alan Moore.

NTK: Do you have a favorite Victorian movie?

 JF: Crimson Peak, The Prestige, and Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. If we’re including 19th-century America, then also Sleepy Hollow and Gangs of New York. And if we’re including TV, I adore Penny Dreadful.

NTK: What inspired you to write Lilitu?

JF: I’ve long been fascinated by succubi and incubi. When I was in college, I went looking for novels focused on them, but there were only a few, and they didn’t quite give me what I wanted. So, naturally, I decided to write one myself. However, I initially wasn’t sure how to manage it. I was toying with an alternate world setting that just never really gelled, and ended up changing the plot and rewriting it over and over again–never certain where to take the story. I knew that I wanted a reluctant succubus lead struggling with her demonic nature, but the details were a constant state of flux.

Then one day, when I was in a bookstore, a certain cover caught my eye, showing a man in a top hat staring into the London fog. The image was laden with foreboding, and compelled me to pull the book off the shelf and read the opening sentence: “After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.” This novel was The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox, a tale of revenge set in Victorian England. I was hooked. I devoured the novel, enjoying every word, and realized rather abruptly that Victorian England was the perfect setting for my own novel. Suddenly, everything came together: this was a tale of demons in the Victorian era, focused on a succubus brought up in that rigid world and struggling to reconcile her upbringing with the needs of her new form–and in the process questioning all the toxic ideas she was forced to internalize growing up. And so Maraina Blackwood was born.

NTK: What is your creative process like? How do you go from inspiration to final draft?

 JF: It’s all over the place. I’ll usually plot out the entire novel, then change everything as I actually write it. When I eventually get a working draft that I’m passably happy with, I’ll ask writer friends to read and critique it. Then I’ll edit, and edit, and edit some more, until I think it’s finally ready enough for publication. If it gets picked up, that means more edits because the publisher’s editor will need to give it a good look. If it doesn’t get picked up, it means the book isn’t good enough yet, so it needs more edits anyway. Lilitu took more years than I care to admit.

NTK: What do you like most about the Victorian age?

 JF: The psychological complexity. The aesthetics. Their elegant manner of speaking. I also like how deeply hypocritical they were, because it’s ever so much fun to satirize.

NTK: What do you dislike most?

 JF: When you get down to it, the Victorian Era was quite horrible to actually live in. Severely rigid gender roles, miserable science/medicine, incredible poverty, child labor…I’ll often meet other Victorian enthusiasts, and many say that they wish they lived in the Victorian era instead of today. While that’s valid, I always like to remind them that they almost certainly would have been impoverished, and never able to afford those pretty, fancy dresses that they are so keen on wearing. People honestly romanticize the Victorians and are quick to forget that the elegant ladies and wealthy gentlemen they’re so enamored with made up a tiny, tiny slice of the population. That’s beside the fact that things were abysmal for women, even wealthy and noblewomen, as they were not allowed agency over their own lives. It was just a nasty, cruel period, and many are far too quick to forget that.

NTK: Have you written other stories in the Lilitu universe? If so, what?

JF: We have a FREE short story in the Lilitu universe out now, called Lilith in Repose.

It’s a twisted, erotic Dark Fantasy tale about a nun whose church has been taken over by demons…and now they are asking her to join their ranks.

I am also in the early stages of the second Lilitu novel. I’m planning it as a trilogy right now, but that may change as I actually write it. We’ll just have to see.

NTK: What’s your favorite curse word?

JF: Bollocks!

NTK: What’s your favorite curse?

 JF: I can’t think of one, so I’ll improvise. “MAY YOU BE REBORN A DINGLEBERRY HANGING FROM THE CRACK OF SATAN’S ARSEHOLE!” Hmm…when you consider the smell, that would actually be a truly dreadful fate.

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

 JF: I’m currently in the editing stages of an epic Lovecraftian biopunk novel. I’m also almost done with the first draft of a new horror novel centered around an autistic protagonist (I am on the spectrum, so it comes from a real place). Then there’s of course the second Lilitu book, wherein readers will learn of some surprising–and horrible–consequences of Maraina’s actions in book 1.

NTK: Jonathan, thank you so much for chatting with us. 

JF: You’re welcome.

Addicts, you can find Jonathan on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

David’s Haunted Library: Baker: Demons and other Night Things (The Magic Now Series Book 3)

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30832333Baker Johnson has a gift and a curse. He has the ability to read people by just looking at them, but he is haunted by a dark past and doesn’t like to be close to people. At least not living ones. Baker is a demonologist, exorcist, and keeper of cursed objects living in the 1930’s. Baker: Demons and other Night Things by Terry West includes 4 stories about Baker Johnson as he gets introduced into the Night Things universe.

The first story is The Giving Of Things Cold and Cursed and is about Baker inheriting his uncle’s Black Room where he kept cursed objects. To Baker’s surprise many of the objects have been given away and now he needs to clean up the mess. In this story we find out about Baker’s personality and why he does the things he does. Baker is a complex character, he uses his gift because he has to, but he isn’t happy, he just accepts it as his station in life.

The second story is The Servant Of The Red Quill. Here Baker is called to a home of a wealthy collector of Cursed objects, where he has to perform an exorcist on the man’s daughter who is being possessed by a spirit tied to a book written by Marquis de Sade. I loved the concept of this story, I loved that we learned more about The family Baker had and I liked how Baker acts when the demon uses Baker’s family against him. The Baker character grows in this story and I found myself starting to like him despite his flaws.

The next one is called The Dark Alp, this one once again has Baker grow as a character as we see him being haunted by a nightmare demon. Not everything is as it appears in this story, I loved the ending and I loved how once again Baker is confronted with the ghosts of his past but he shows that he is more powerful than his past. In all these stories I loved that there seemed to be a theme of not letting your past define you.

The last story called A Weird Tale ties Baker to the Night Things universe. The story opens with H.P. Lovecraft telling Baker that the old gods are coming and nothing can stop them from destroying the world. These words haunt Baker and that leads to a meeting with Johnny Stucke who pays Baker to hand over a cursed object that might change everything. We see a very different Baker in this story, he now has a team backing him up but he still has to contend with the darkness within. Once again I loved the ending and how it sets up future Night Things stories.

This book also includes a sample of Terry West’s next Night Thing book. If you are not familiar with Terry West’s work this is a good book to start with. West knows how to make memorable characters that are flawed and that you can relate to at the same time. What is interesting about Baker is that he has this dark history but despite that, he still tries to do the right thing and we see the character grow into a different person through each of these stories. Terry West knows what horror fans like to read and this book is a great example of how horror should be written.

 

 

David’s Haunted Library: Camp Arcanum

20959068Three men arrived in Arcanum Ohio with a pick up truck, a camper and seven months to build a renaissance faire. Little did they know that Arcanum is a town where most of the population practices magick and the woods are filled with supernatural creatures. The man in charge is Marc, who along with a love of power tools, has a family history of mental health issues and he doesn’t believe in magick. His beliefs soon change though when he meets a woman named Brenwyn who is head of the local wiccan coven.

Marc is forced to reexamine his views on magick and he has to deal with Jerimiah who is a powerful warlock and Brenwyn’s ex lover. Jerimiah has plans to finish off Marc but not before he uses him to become more powerful. Between the witches, demons and undead skinless bunnies, it’s going to take more than power tools to get the renaissance faire open in time.

Camp Arcanum by Josef Matulich is a comedy with horror elements and an interesting love story. When Marc and Brenwyn meet you see that they are exact opposites but right away their relationship clicks. One of my favorite scenes in this book was when Marc who has a history of schizophrenia sees magick spells being done and believes that he is loosing his mind. He starts to freak out and Brenwyn tries to come to his aide but at the time Marc doesn’t want her help and leaves Brenwyn feeling heart-broken. Eventually they start to accept their differences and work at becoming a couple. What really stuck out for me about this love story is that it didn’t seem too perfect and despite their differences I was rooting for them to stay together.

I also loved how witchcraft was represented in this book, I admit I don’t know a lot about covens, wicca or magick but this book made me want to find out more.  All of the witches and warlocks in this book came across as people you might meet in everyday life and were nothing like the stereotypes that I’ve seen in other books and movies. In fact this book makes fun of those stereotypes. Though it’s not a big part of this book I have to say that I loved how schizophrenia is dealt with in this story. Marc spent a period of time taking care of his brother who has schizophrenia and I liked how he points out that people who have it can’t help how they act. In many books you see people who have mental health issues as being a villain, so I liked that this book treated it like it wasn’t a bad thing.

Camp Arcanum was kind of a mixed bag for me. I thought the story was slow-moving and even though I liked the villain he didn’t seem to come across as very threatening. All of the characters in the book were interesting and I liked the love story between Brenwyn and Marc. This book has some great moments such as Marc using tools to battle a coven of witches and there was a hilarious scene where all the local wiccans gather at a movie theater to watch and make fun of bad movies based on witches. This book is definitely worth your time and the ending is left wide open for a sequel.

25217904The sequel to Camp Arcanium is Power Tools In The Sacred Grove by Josef Matulich. This one picks up right after the first one left off and continues the story of Marc and his crew trying to build a Renaissance faire while fighting off monsters, demons and undead bunnies. The way things are going though the faire may not start on time. Jerimiah is doing all he can to stop construction along with putting a wrench in Marc and Brenwyn’s relationship. Also Marc is still trying to recover after a battle with a large tentacled monster. Hopefully Marc can stay on good terms with Brenwyn and keep his crew in the land of the living.

Power Tools In The Sacred Grove is on par with its predecessor and gives you all the comedy you would expect and more. I liked the further character development on Jerimiah. Jerimiah is more than a black and white villian. In this book you feel a little sympathy for him despite the fact that he is trying to kill Marc and his crew. Jerimiah craves power but doesn’t seem to realize that he is destroying his life in the process.

Another great scene in this book was when the OSHA lady pays a visit to Camp Arcanum and gets more than she bargained for. The exchange between Marc and his workers is priceless and how it ends is hilarious. Once again though I have to say my favorite part of this book is the relationship between Brenwyn and Marc. I like how they are total opposites but seem to work well together anyway.

While I did find this book entertaining, my problem was that it just seemed like more of the same. The first book doesn’t have any closure and this one continues the story. I felt as I was reading that the author could have just edited some scenes out of both books and combined them into one. That being said Power Tools In The Sacred Grove is still a lot of fun.  I love a good mix of comedy and horror and the characters are deep and memorable. I’m hoping we see more from Camp Arcanum in the future.

As Above, So Below and Negative Space

20708447As Above, So Below by Loren Rhoads and Brian Thomas is not your average boy meets girl love story. This story is more of an angel meets succubus, they fall in love and both have agendas type story. It all started when the succubus Lorelei goes into a night club in Los Angeles and sees the angel Azaziel. Azaziel has been cast out of heaven and Lorelei has the task of getting Azaziel to become one of Hell’s minions. Lorelei thinks its going to be easy to turn the angel, little does she know that Azaziel has an agenda of his own.

Azaziel has claimed the soul of a young woman named Ashleigh and wants to use Lorelei’s body as a host for Ashleigh so he can show her a night of love in exchange for him being able to save her soul. After Azaziel puts Ashleigh’s soul in an unsuspecting Lorelei, Lorelei flees and tries to find someone to exorcise Ashleigh from her body. If things aren’t already complicated enough,  the city of Los Angeles is swarming with harpies, demons and angels all trying to get Ashleigh’s soul and punish Azaziel and Lorelei.

As Above, So Below is a complex novel that could be called paranormal romance but it also works as horror and erotica even though the sex scenes aren’t over the top like some erotica books I’ve read. The best part of the book was the characters. Since Lorelei is a succubus that has works for Hell, you expect her to be an evil character. In reality she is a sympathetic character that I liked quite a bit. I felt that she was much more compassionate than Azaziel. I would have thought that Azaziel would be the ultimate good but you quickly find that he is more of a shade of grey. None of these characters acts like you think they would act and the lines between good and evil are blurred.

Another thing I liked about the book was the amount of research that had to go into it. This book gets deep into theology and as I read, I found myself thinking this is probably how angels and demons would really act.  The idea of a human possessing a succubus was an original concept and I enjoyed how there were different situations where each one had to take over the body.

It may sound  strange but As Above, So Below reminded me a little of Romeo And Juliet because it’s a forbidden romance and they represent two groups of people who are at war. There were some memorable scenes in this book, in particular at the end where a battle between good and evil takes place in Los Angeles which also seemed like a character in the book. One of my favorite lines in the book was when Lorelei’s demonic master Asmodeus states that “Demons deal in truth, life is painful.” I found myself liking the demons more than the angels in this book. If you enjoy theology and the idea of angels and demons at war among us, you need to check this book out. You won’t be disappointed.

18336919Changing over from Angels and demons to unexplained phenomenon. I also recently read Negative Space by Mike Robinson. The story follows a painter named Max Higgins who is starting to become popular by collecting photos of missing people and putting them in his paintings. He feels he is giving these lost people a home in his art. His impulse to do this comes from dealing with people disappearing from his life as a kid.  Among them was his father. One day someone recognizes a face from one of his paintings and he has to look into his past to find out why his father went missing.

Negative Space starts with a bang, leaving you with a mystery to figure out as you see mother and son try to defend themselves against some unknown attackers. At this point you get the impression that this story is going to have a lot of action. Then Mike Robinson throws you a curve ball and changes directions as he gets into the main character’s search for meaning  after a tragic upbringing.

The characters in this book were great. I liked how it was set during the L.A. riots of 1992. I liked the use of metaphors in the story. A big part of this book is about describing art and the way everything is described in the story, you get the impression that you’re reading a painting. This book seems to really be about looking for a deeper meaning to everything that happens around us and you have to give the book points for originality. This is a good read but short, I felt that it could have been longer in order to explain more of what’s happening. All in all though it was an entertaining read and different from what I’m use to. I found at the end I was curious to see what else Mike Robinson has available.

This Freshest Hell

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Most people know what its like to feel like an outcast at some point in their life. Lily knows all to well what its like to not fit in but all of that changes when she’s getting harassed by bullies and Maggie the new girl in town comes to her rescue.  Now Lily finally has someone to relate to and is no longer alone in the world. Together they struggle against bullies, rebel against society’s rules and reject anything normal.

Also they share a love of alternative music, have psychic abilities and have both been scarred by a traumatic past.  One of them wants revenge on the person that tormented her and One night the two girls perform a  sinister spell that will bring them the power to get revenge on anyone that has harmed them.  Their desires are fulfilled and they become vampires with an unstoppable blood lust.

This Freshest Hell by Natasha Ewendt is like two books in one. The first part covers about 12 years in  Maggie and Lily’s life and the second part is their life as vampires.  I enjoyed how this book is set up, I related to  Maggie and Lily and didn’t mind that there wasn’t much action right away because I was so into their story.  I enjoyed hearing the girls philosophy on life and how they try to find peace of mind. I can’t say they are trying to find happiness because only one of them seems to be looking for it. One sad part of the book had one of the characters in an abusive relationship saying that she thought she could be normal but it wasn’t possible. Another favorite scene in the book was when Maggie witnesses a bully tormenting an autistic child. She runs to his rescue, kicks the bully to the ground ,as the bully starts to rise  she stares him down while the autistic child runs away. Despite these girls being looked at as freaks by society they are compassionate to others and I found myself rooting for them.

Because the first part of the book made you care so much about these characters it made the part where they became vampires that much better. the two of them change personalities, learn to hunt humans and you see their relationship dissolve as they become creatures of the night. Lily’s first kill was chilling as you see her try to keep her humanity and not give in to her blood lust. Another one was when Maggie gives one of her victims the most gruesome death imaginable. I also loved the description of the mansion the vampires live in which is on an island out in the ocean.

My only complaint about this book was that I would have liked more information on the three ancient vampires that Lily and Maggie live with. What we hear about them is intriguing but I would have liked to learn more. I also thought more time should have been spent on the creature that created the vampires.  I think the main idea for this book though wasn’t that this is a vampire novel but instead it was a book about two girls finding their way in life and Natasha Ewendt did a good job of getting the point across. This Freshest Kill shows that books about vampires will never get old as long as they can make you care about the characters.

 

 

 

What Price Gory?

19453378Demons, a succubus and a man with many faces are just a few of the things that await you in Terry M. West’s What Price Gory? This collection includes eight stories and a sneak preview of an upcoming novella. All of the stories here are good and they get better as the book moves along.

The first story is a tale called Car Nex, it’s about a man named Adam who summons a demon and now hopes to stop it before the demon devours all the townspeople. I loved how all of the characters react when Adam displays why they should help him kill the demon. The demon is described as a shark on two legs and reminded me of the Tasmanian Devil with only one way to stop it.

The next story is Cecil and Bubba Meet A Succubus. This is a simple tale of two underachieving simpletons who get hired by a paranormal investigator to help him explore a haunted house. This is a fun story and at the end of the book there is a preview of the upcoming Cecil and Bubba Meet The Thang. These two characters have been cursed by a gypsy and now they have the misfortune of being magnets for strange creatures. Cecil and Bubba were easy to relate to, it was interesting to see how things worked out in the end and I look forward to their next adventure.

Next up is Held Over which is an original take on zombies. How much would you pay to keep your body alive after you die and what would happen to it? This story has the answers. The fourth story is The Hairy Ones which is about religion and marriage and what kind of horrors people are willing to put up with for the sake of both. This was a story that managed to be disturbing using the power of suggestion rather than being violent.

In The Hermit’s Creepy Pet a man who is trying to become a writer finds inspiration  when a hermit comes to his door claiming to have caught  an urban legend in a bear trap. The writer has his story idea but he also may be biting off more than he can chew. This is an excellent horror story with a little twist.

Put On A Happy Face is the most bizarre story here and would make an excellent horror movie. Deep in the woods lives a young girl and her older brother who wears a mask to show his emotions. He has a happy face when things are going well and an angry face which warns his sister to run far away. I loved the way this story unfolds, you hear what the girl feels is happening and then you hear the brother’s story as he is about to put on his angry mask. I loved hearing about the emotions of the man who comes to the house and how he tries to escape. I also liked the revelation that the sister suspects more than she lets on.

Next is Midnight Snack which follows a man who has taken a wrong turn in life and on the highway. He gets a second chance when he enters a dinner full of demons and learns a hard truth about life. This is a creepy story with a good moral. The last story is What Price Gory? which looks at what an author is willing to do, to become the new king of horror. I liked how the writer gets his dream and his worst nightmare at the same time. What Price Gory? is an excellent horror anthology that will give you nightmares and leave you screaming for more.

HorrorAddictsCon: Jeri Unselt – Free Fiction – Inner Demons

Free Fiction: An Excerpt from Jeri Unselt’s Inner Demons

by Jeri Unselt 

When morning arrived in the sleepy town of Becker, Colorado, police responded to an incident at its main attraction, Hawley Manor.  Something had happened that could potentially rock the foundation of the once peaceful small town to its very core.  Inside what was once a place where the rich and the socially acceptable would party the night away, the bodies of four people were found in various areas of the house, their lives ended in the most painful means imaginable.  It was enough for a veteran police detective to witness a uniformed officer rush out of the bathroom upstairs to vomit.

“What a way to start a morning,” the detective stepped in just as the naked torn up body of a woman that looked to be in her early twenties was being placed in a bag.  “Ah Jeez,” the sight and the scent of death was more than enough for the detective to step out before he too would vomit.

“I take it, you saw it too huh, Lake?” a woman detective stood beside him.  “Kind of reminds you of Tate LaBianca, don’t you think?”

“Why would you say that?” Lake groaned trying to keep nausea from hitting his insides.

“Haven’t you noticed who some of the bodies are?”

“No, Detective Perez, I can’t say I haven’t.”

“Well they already took away Stacey DuPreis, the daughter of fashion icon Francois DuPreis.”

“What?” Lake stepped over to the top of the stairs with Perez behind him.  “I guess another of her all night parties must have gone horribly wrong.”

“I’m not so sure about that Sir; Colin Henderson was also taken away.”

“You mean Pastor Roland Henderson’s son?”

“The same,”

“Holy Smoke,” Lake held on to the wall to keep his balance and sighed.  “Is there anyone else?”

“Yes Sir, there is,” Perez took him downstairs to the living room.  “I’m sure you’ve heard of Evelyn Manning Roberts right?”

“The richest bitch in Colorado?” Perez nodded, “What about her?”  She led Lake to the couch where the body of what was once a finely dressed woman in her early fifties was being placed in a bag.  “Mother of God!” he screamed at the hugely grotesque cut all around her throat.  “It’s from ear to ear.  Why would a rich dame like her be in the same place with all these kids having a good time?”

“Don’t know Sir.”

Lake shook his head, “Maybe that Henderson kid had something to do with it.  He may have been a preacher’s kid, but he’s got a domestic violence rap sheet the size of my left arm.”

“Ah Sir,” Perez timidly spoke up.  “Haven’t you heard the history of this place?”

“History, what place are you talking about?”

“Here?” she raised her voice.  “Hawley Manor.  This isn’t the first time people have lost their lives here.  Thirty years ago there was the head of a warehouse in Denver that brought his employees here for a birthday party and by the Sunday morning, all but one lady was killed. “

“Huh?”

“Yeah, from what I heard the lady said her boss went crazy and killed everyone and then killed himself.  She was just lucky that she went to bed early and he never found her.”

“I guess,”

“But that’s not the first time either,” Perez insisted.  “There’s a legend that those who stay at Hawley Manor are usually found dead within a few days.”

“Come on Perez, like you said, it’s only a legend.”

She grabbed his arm, “If that’s the case, then how come this is usually the setting of a bloodbath?”

“There has to be a logical explanation for everything Perez.”

“Hey Lake!” someone yelled out from outside.  “We got two more outside and it’s bad, very, very bad.”

Lake and Perez rushed outside to the far end to discover the remains of a young male with long stringy blonde hair.  “God,” Lake gasped.

“It’s almost like his insides were squeezed out of him,” Perez turned away in utter disgust.

“Easy Perez,” Lake noticed her vomiting on the sidewalk.

“Do you really think this is all just a legend, some logical explanation?” her chest heaved.  “Huh?”

Lake patted her on the back, “You’ll be fine.  It comes with the job.”  He headed over towards the direction of another body of a man lying flat on his back with his entire chest covered with stab wounds.  However the carnage in front of him wasn’t the focus of Lake’s attention.   “Who’s this?”

Miles away, Lake noticed what looked to be a small Ford pickup truck and what looked to be a man standing next to it.  “Who are you?” he muttered under his breath.  “Do you know anything about this case?”

Barney Leland watched as Hawley Manor was packed like a can of sardines with police and whoever was needed for an event like the bloodiest massacre that Becker, Colorado has ever seen in years.  “I’m so sorry Alex,” he said softly.  “I should’ve gotten there sooner.  I would’ve if it wasn’t for all those god damn delays.”

He leaned against the hood of the truck and gritted his teeth, “Damn them!”   Barney turned to face Hawley Manor, “Damn you!  He should’ve known better than to let her go to that place.  Yes, Alex would’ve been angry with him, but she would’ve still been alive.   “Oh god, Alex,” Barney took a deep breath closing his tear stained eyes.   “They’ll never hurt you again.  As long as I’m alive, no one will ever know that you were there.”

Two days earlier, Barney’s eyes opened the moment the phone rang, “Oh no you don’t.”  He quickly got out of bed and headed towards the living room before the noise awoke his infant son Markus.  He and his wife Alex had just got him to sleep through the night.  Nothing, he vowed was going to ruin that.

“Hello?” Barney grabbed the receiver just as the rest of the phone fell to the floor.  “Shit!”  He picked it up, “Hello?”

“Morning Barney, sorry to wake you up.” The voice on the other line was that of an older sounding man.

“No problem Mick, what can I do for you?”

“I’ve got a problem Barney,” he sighed.  “And I really could use your help.”

“You know I’ll be happy to help as soon as my family and I get back from vacation.”

“That’s just it, I have an emergency load that needs to be in Nebraska by this time Sunday and I don’t have a driver available.”

Barney sat down on the couch, “But Mick, we’ve been looking forward to this vacation for weeks.  Isn’t Mike or Randy available?  What about that new guy Jake McCoy?”

“Mike’s out with a broken back and Randy’s already heading towards the east coast.  I would’ve sent Jake, but he hasn’t finished training yet,” Mick paused.  “If you do this run for me Barney, I promise to make it up to you.”

“All right,” Barney groaned.  “I’ll do it.”

“Great,” Mick sighed with relief.  “Come over today to fill out the paperwork, you’ll have to leave by 6pm tomorrow night.”

“I’ll be in today.  See you then,” Barney hung up the phone.  “Damn,”

“What are you doing Barney?” Alex stood in front of him with her hands on her hips.

“Mick’s short on drivers, Babe.  It’s only a two to three day run.  We’ll take our trip as soon as I,”

“No we can’t, I’m going back to school Monday remember?”

“Right,” Barney stepped back in embarrassment.  “I’m so sorry Alex.”

“You know how much I was looking forward to this Barney,” she continued angrily.  “How could you have forgotten?”  The sudden screaming of their son interrupted everything.  Alex sighed under her breath, “I’m coming Markus.”  She left Barney alone to ponder his judgment error.

“Stupid,” he muttered under his breath.  “Alex!” Barney followed her to Markus’s bedroom.  “I’m a jackass, Sweetie, I did forget.  I’m truly sorry.”  He silently gasped when she looked at him with tears in her eyes, “Babe?”

“I’m not crying because you forgot.”

“Then what,”

“I called over to my grandmother’s house,” Alex explained as she took Markus out of his crib.  “And I found out she passed away.”  She sat down in the nearby rocking chair holding him close.

“What?” Barney knelt down in front of his family.  “I’m so sorry, when did this happen?”

“Two months ago.  I never knew she was sick Barney.  Her maid Consuelo was the one who finally told me.”

Barney shook his head in disgust, “Why am I not surprised that Evelyn didn’t leave you any word.  I mean that’s why we got the P.O. Box.”

“I’ll never understand why my own mother hates me so much; she knew just how close Granny and I were.”

“She meant a lot to you didn’t she,”

“She did,” Alex smiled grateful for his unconditional love.  “Would you be so kind as hold your son while I get up?”

Barney gladly returned the smile, “I can do that.”  He got up to take Markus from her while she stood on her feet.  “Does she know about him yet?”

“Who,”

“Your mother,”

“No,” Alex took Markus from his arms.  “I’m not ready to yet.”

“Maybe its better that she never knows, don’t you think?”

“Maybe,” Alex took a brief moment to stare into his hazel eyes, the ones that she fell in love with two years earlier.  “When do you have to leave?”

“Tomorrow night, just going in to do paperwork today.”

“Then I guess I’ll call Mrs. Chavez to see if she can take Markus for the day,” Alex placed Markus on a table to change his diaper.

“Where are you going?”

“I have to go to her grave Barney,” Alex placed Markus back in his crib.  “Gotta pay my respects,”

“Why don’t you wait until we can do it together as a family?”

“I need to do this by myself Barney,” Alex pleaded.  “Please?”

He groaned, “Be careful Alex, you just don’t know how she’s gonna react to seeing you again.”

If anyone ever had a mother from hell, it would’ve been Alex.  The moment Barney first met Evelyn Manning Roberts, he immediately felt nauseous as if wanting to throw up.  The woman would never win the mother of the year award as far as he was concerned.   She had scolded her daughter in front of him for breaking off her engagement with Colin Henderson.  The mere fact that Alex had caught him in bed with the lead soprano of the church choir wouldn’t change Evelyn’s mind one bit.  Wealth was more important than love, Evelyn had said, and in her mind Barney Leland was no good for her daughter.  Nothing could convince her otherwise.

“You’re right Barney,” Alex suddenly said.  “Getting away from my mother was the best decision we ever made.”  She turned to face him.  “I promise I’ll be careful.”

Jeri Unselt is a native of Colorado who has been writing stories ever since childhood. She started podcasting her first novel, Inner Demons, in 2008. The print book will be released in 2012 alongside a podcast prequel, Inner Demons: Turmoil. She is a member of the Wicked Women Writers, has been featured on several HorrorAddicts.net episodes, and will be in the up-and-coming Wicked Women Writers anthology. To find out more about Jeri, go to: www.jeriunselt.org