Free Fiction: They Did It For Their Freedom – By Dylan Thomas Lewis

 

The sun rose as they moved the slaves young and old through the gates of Cathartra. Off the hardened pozzolana and onto the crude, unkempt path towards the Anglo River. The slaves in their thin, ebony rags amongst the Cathartrans in their flowing, ivory robes. Two days prior, the former had taken captive three of the most powerful families in the land, raiding their property and moving them to the valerian fields in the dead of night. Just before dawn, they allowed one of the captives to flee, instructing him to inform the Council of Six of what had occurred. 

The child dashed through the streets in his soil-stained garments until he came to the council building, a band of warriors stationed at the front. Flamed with righteous indignation, the Council rushed to conduct an emergency session. Noon came and the slaves approached with the three families in their grasp. They did it for their freedom, they said. They wished to speak with the council and negotiate a peaceful resolution between their people. To raise the land as equals under Cathartran law.

The eldest seven were invited to discuss terms. For hours the soldiers stayed planted outside, watching the slaves with distrustful stares that were readily reciprocated. The tension pranced amongst them like a phantom, temptress mare, urging them toward bloodshed until the negotiators reemerged.

The slaves were promised full rights under the courts as well as a mule per person and land at the outskirts of town; roughly forty acres per family. Men were granted entrance into the military and the group as a whole would no longer remain responsible for the trades previously forced upon them. Rather, tasks would be split evenly between them and the Cathartrans and training was to begin immediately so that all could become educated on such matters. Upon graduating from this instructional period, the two groups would come together as a single labor force.

The last promise was, to symbolize their status as true citizens, each slave would be taken to engage in the Rite of Till at the Temple of Kings. In two days time, a party of Cathartrans would lead half the slaves to conduct the ritual while the rest would attend the morning after. This latter group would remain in Cathartra to commence preparations as they awaited the others’ return. Once these terms were announced, the slaves released the families and took camp in the valerian fields while the Council called the soldiers in for the night.

It was noon when the first party marched onto the boats. Cries from the infants had been audible since they left, resounding through the ranks and vexing the Cathartrans’ ears the further they traveled. They docked on the opposite shore and continued on through the Fifteen Fields. Soon the slaves began to sing songs of torment and sorrow. At first, but a single child recited the tunes, though, within the hour, the entire party had joined, rousing a powerful chorus that resounded through the land. Though they spoke in tongues foreign to the Cathartrans, the emotions touched deep within their marrow.

The vocals continued as they entered Brown’s Forest at evening’s dawn, sentiments still rocking like great, granite swings from the gods. From there, the Temple would not be far. As they trudged forward, the grass and trees grew thick and tangled, blocking sunlight from their struggling forms. It didn’t take long for the singing to diminish and eventually die within the darkness, giving once more to the cries of infants.

The Temple was dilapidated, and overrun with vines and other forms of wildlife. A screech sounded in the distance as an unrelenting stench sauntered about. The Cathartrans looked to the building with a familiar air while the slaves gaped with mixed emotions. Even the children fell silent upon arrival. The Cathartrans led them inside, the lone source of light now the torches in hand. Hordes of cobwebs were scattered about the place, all coated in a clean sheet of dust, including the aged, yet dominant obelisk at the center. It reached near the very top of the Temple, inscribed with pre-Cathartran text.

The Cathartrans rested their torches upon bronze sconces as the slaves gathered around the obelisk, vying for proper views. The eldest of the negotiators shuffled to the front and roamed once around the pillar, sliding his fingers across the text in a slow, gentle stroke, pondering as if caught in a profound, yet forgotten memory. He crouched to examine the base, then rose and whispered in a vernacular unrecognizable to anyone. It was as he did this the Cathartrans unsheathed their swords.

****************

Evidence was taken of their deed as a warning for those left in Cathartra; menial objects such as clothing, necklaces, and bracelets. Some then graduated to thieving sections of the slaves themselves. Eyes, scalps, tongues — even severed legs of the children. The survivors gathered their torches and trudged out of the Temple. The return journey through the Forest was cruel and arduous on account of their labor and the blood-soaked robes holding them down.

When they maneuvered their way into the Fields, there was but a single ray of sunshine glistening over the horizon. The last image one could see as it disappeared and gave way to night was that of their demented figures, united in a call to slaughter. Crimson shapes in the dark. Hellish protectors of their way of life. They stepped forward and left the Forest behind them, marching backward through the night. On toward Cathartra, the glorious polis they loved without condition.

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Dylan Thomas Lewis was born on April 8th, 1997 in Kirksville, Missouri. He graduated from Central Methodist University in May of 2019 after serving as co-editor of Inscape Magazine for two years. He writes short stories, screenplays, and music; and is the guitarist for Electronic Rock band Secular Era.

Book Review: Cursed by Richard Schiver

 

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Reviewed by Emerian Rich

For:  Those who enjoy small-town horror stories and mysteries.

Content warning: Suicide, child abuse, child abduction, addiction, prostitution, murder, hanging.

Cursed-Amazon-Kindle - Richard SchiverIn Cursed by Richard Schiver, Susan and her daughter are trying to rebuild their lives after her husband’s death. His absence has left them alone and grasping for a new sense of normal despite their grief. Local contractor and Susan’s possibly new guy, Eric, wants to be part of their world, but can he?

Meanwhile, little kids are being drawn away from their homes by a ghost girl and a supposed witch. This is a curse that’s been infecting the small community of Porter Mines for decades. They are led to a pond and can fall into the pond or into crevices and tunnels that are around it.

Susan’s daughter, Christine, is drawn away and her bunny–that was a last gift from her deceased father–falls into a crevice. Thankfully, Christine is saved by her mom and Eric, but the bunny is lost in the crevice. The Porter Mines witch has struck again!

As the missing children count goes up, the sheriff strives to investigate. The sheriff was just a rookie when the first disappearances happened 30 years ago and he’s been ruminating over them ever since, but now it’s happening again. He hopes he can stop it this time. But when a guy from town returns to exact revenge on those who he feels wronged him, will he mess up the investigation by killing the sheriff? Or is he involved in the decades-long curse?

Although the witch is blamed, it seems pretty clear that she is not what is taking the kids, but who is? Is it a human drawn to the allure of children and reenacting a supposed urban legend? Or is it something supernatural? And when Christine disappears again, the time clock speeds up for Susan and Eric to find her and put an end to this crazy curse.

This novel was a fun read. It unwinds slowly and gives you pieces of different stories and layers of information that have you always wondering if the villain is a supernatural or a human monster. I enjoyed the different storylines and felt like even though we were getting closer and closer to the truth, the other storylines had just as much importance to the tale as the main thread of child abduction. 

Although the main character is Susan, I felt also drawn into the lives of the sheriff and the poor little girl (Twila) who had to put up with an addicted mother. One strange thing that I don’t know was intentional was the similarities between the characters. Although Susan and Twila never really interact, their backgrounds are so similar, it feels like the author is showing us an unspoken camaraderie they carry for one another. Can the abused sense the abused, even without saying a word? Are we seeing a child and then a grown-up version of the same child? Or perhaps the author is showing us that everyone–from the little school girl to the sheriff–have troubles in their lives that are never spoken of, that they are not proud of, that haunt them…and we are all not so different after all. You’ll have to read the book to discover which message he is trying to convey.

This is a great book for readers who enjoy small-town horror like Stephen King’s The Storm of the Century or Koontz’s Phantoms and is available at Amazon.com.

Book Review: Daughters of Darkness II

 

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Reviewed by Emerian Rich

For: Readers who enjoy horror stories written by women, religious conspiracy, spirits, and demon possession.

Content warning: infant death, hate crime, murder, abuse

Daughters of Darkness II is a set of horror stories by women, curated by two awesome horror writers themselves, Stephanie Ellis and Alyson Faye.

Daughters of Darkness - Alyson RhodesMy favorite of these stories is by Lynn Love called, “A Light in the Darkness.” Occupying a large part of the middle of this volume, it takes place in three parts during three different parts of a young girl’s life. Starting out as a melancholy tale about her mother losing multiple children, the story transforms into a story about an evil spirit and the love between a sister and brother. Patricia is a girl who isn’t quite sure of her purpose until she is told a secret hidden in the family Bible. This story is fabulously crafted and left secrets that even I didn’t pick up until the end. It’s got a dark, dismal sort of atmosphere from the start leads the reader on a beautiful road of destiny. Just as I thought I knew what was going on, something else unraveled, leading me down another path. The ending went so fast, I kept looking for more to read! I supremely enjoyed this tale and the story is intriguing enough to launch a series. It very much reminded me of Anne Rice’s Lasher books.

Another great tale is “Hummingbird” by T.C. Parker. Told in two parts, this will excite anyone who likes stories about cults, religious conspiracy, or fanatical religious groups. Although I’ll give a warning, it may be triggering for members of the LGBTQ community, especially if you have ever been treated unkindly by a fanatical religion or members of a church group. Jodie is a lesbian and one of Connor’s moms. A religious group is picketing Connor’s school, warning of the dangers of families that don’t have the cookie-cutter mom and dad they believe is God’s gold standard. As a pretty meek and kind gal, Jodie tries to ignore the madness, but when she’s forced into the drama by one of the more aggressive church members, she has no choice but to become involved. Without support from her partner, she turns to a fellow mom who has a secret of her own. In part two, we get a bigger look into the religious side of things and man…I wouldn’t spoil the reveal for all the world.

If you’re looking for an anthology with longer stories by some great women horror writers, this should be right up your alley.

Free Fiction: The Surgeon of the Forest Floor by Ronnie L. Roberts II

A hike would clear his mind. 

The early Spring air released a bearable yet unsettling frigid feel as the strong breeze swept across the forest floor. Birds chatted in singsong tones while dead leaves shattered under Edward Canty’s worn-out boots. About a mile in and off the trail a clearing of trees revealed stumps in a large but otherwise empty plain. 

One tree remained.

The leaves on the tree were thin crepe sheet cuts, yet to wander off from the summer scorch. The tree, shorter than the surrounding others, remained dead, its leaves whistling and crackling, mimicking the sound of a smooth waterfall. The colors stuck out against the greenery beginning to emerge bottom-up throughout the forest. A short step ladder was flipped open and hidden behind its trunk. Edward walked off the trail through glossy spider webs and outstretched branches. The tree grabbed his attention, its branches flailing wondrously, almost calling to him. 

Scrap piles of rope collected in a scattered pattern underneath the tree. Its base was beginning to rot. The branches reached out just over Edward’s head as he stood in awe and reached for a leaf. He rubbed its surface between his index finger and thumb, carefully caressing it back and forth. 

The leaf was a crispy leather, rough like tree bark, and in some spots as smooth as a green leaf trading his touch with an oily substance sticking to his fingers. Various shades of leaves covered the branches of the tree. Some were light brown, dark brown, and multiple shades of tan. The leaves were tied to the tips of the branches secured by small ties of rope. The leaves danced with the force of the wind, singing in harmony with the crunch of death surrounding it. 

He placed the ladder close enough to reach one particular leaf. He extended his arm for the thicker and heavier one that was causing the tip of the branch to sag. A dark red liquid formed a droplet at the bottom edge. Edward pressed his trembling fingers on the leaf, instantly pulling them back. He studied the liquid. 

Stepping down the ladder, he wiped his hand on the cool forest floor. A distinct rust smell rushed up his nose. The wind continued to cut through the dead tree limbs, branches, and leaves, heaving them into a chiming whirlwind. Edward forced himself closer. One of the leaves had a design on it done in faded black ink. It was stretched and distorted. A tribal design, one you’d pick off the wall at a tattoo parlor. 

The wind died as Edward quickly backed down the ladder and turned around to make his way out of the forest. A thick tree stood straight ahead off the trail, hosting an entanglement of vines twirling themselves up and around its thick trunk. Edward came to a full stop.

A face peeked out from behind it.

It was missing an eye. It’s good one stared at him for a second. Its half-smile crept from behind its half-sewn mouth fastened with thick black string. Its long, white, greasy hair fell down like wet dangling seaweed. The face was neither male nor female. It was pale and eel-like, missing pigments of color riddled with gray splotches.  A fishbone of an arm emerged from behind the tree. It gripped a long scalpel.

Edward’s heart rate soared. The sun hovered high above the forest, warming the back of his head, pushing down on his chest. The face behind the thick tree swiveled like a snakehead towards the trail. The fishbone arms fully emerged pulling the rest of the thin-wiry frame along with it. A hiss spit from behind its sewn-shut lips. 

The thin cable-like limbs and pointed extremities unfolded from the body like a Swiss army knife, each yielding a different shape and jagged edge. The face smiled harder, ripping some of the stitches as a drool of blood crawled down the chin. 

“It bleeds,” The thing said, whispering, smiling, twisting, and turning. It moved like a glitch. Its head seemed to misbehave pulling in the opposite direction of its sharp and pointed body. 

The pale rail-thin figure of a human now stood still. Its motionless arms pulsed and flexed bright blue veins. The half-smile sagged to a frown. A drop of blood flowed from its missing eye.

The creature blinked and lifted his frown to a slight half-smile again. The thin slits on each side of its head pulsated. Its mouth peeled open releasing a mist of exploding energy. 

“Skin,” the thing said. Overweight and beyond petrified, Edward grasped at his meaty chest and released a shriek of pain. The thing studied him, scanning his body for the best cuts, the most robust slabs, the finest decorations for his next tree. Edward collapsed face-first on the dirt path. 

Years of food abuse and cigarettes mixed with sheer terror left him drooling and disordered on the forest floor. 

The thing glitched wildly over to his body, its legs striking the path like wild bolts of lightning. Edward silently endured the sting and pressure that came down on him. First, his forearms, and next his thighs. Then he could feel the agonizing pressure in his back. The thing flipped him over, tearing his shirt open with the razor-sharp scalpel. His stomach ballooned, pushing out and up at the thing. It was smooth and plump. After a few concentrated cuts and drags, the thing had what it wanted. It took only a few minutes for Edward to drop the weight his doctor had pressured him to lose for so long. 

He was now well over his goal. 

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R.L. Roberts II lives with his wife and two kids in Southern Maryland. He enjoys life in general! Mondays are better than Fridays and thinking outside the box is the key to happiness. Accept what is and keep moving forward. https://www.instagram.com/rl_roberts2/

Book Review: Midnight in the Chapel of Love by Matthew R. Davis

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Reviewed by Emerian Rich

For: Readers who enjoy real-life mysteries, music, and self-discovery. This is a slow-burn read with an amazing payoff.

Content warning: sexual content, drug use, some murder-spree description.

Jonny Trotter has spent the last fifteen years running from tragic memories of the country town where he grew up but the black envelopes pushed under his door won’t let him forget, and now that his father has died, he can run no more. Before he can move on to a future with his girlfriend, Jonny must first face the terrible truth of his past and if he can’t bring it out into the light at last, it might just pull him and everything he loves down into the dark, forever.

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Midnight in the Chapel of Love is a slow-burn novel with an interesting payoff in the end. I wouldn’t call this a horror novel per se. It’s more of a mystery with horrifyingly dark paths. During a series of reveals, the reader will try to piece together all the strands of an intricate puzzle. Some lead to dangerous truths and others lead down broken routes with no way out.

Beginning with a glimpse into the past with a Natural Born Killers sort of murder spree, the story quickly switches focus to Jonno, an Aussie man going back to his hometown to attend his father’s funeral. Like most, he’s dealing with ghosts of his past in a town with enemies, friends, and lovers. But as the story weaves on, the reader gets a feeling maybe his secrets are a bit more dangerous than the average homecoming. Through his return home and a series of flashbacks to his youth, the love story between Jonno and his high school girlfriend, Jessica, unfolds as well as a possibly magical cave, the legend of a toxic love affair, envelopes from the grave, and haunted visions.

The love story between Jonno and Jessica is intoxicating. I’ll be honest, I am not a fan of the Natural Born Killers trope, so the first part could have killed it for me right there (no pun intended). I’m glad I stuck with this book long enough to get to Jonno and allow his story to grab me. There is a lot more to Jonno’s story than the love affair, but it’s integral and wild and really pulled me into the story.

Although the story centers on Jonno, it also unwinds a mystery town folk have been wondering about for years. Where is the Chapel? Does it really exist? Does it really test true love?  Has anyone lived to tell the truth about it? Or is it a death trap waiting to part lovers forever?

Is Jonno broken because of the strange occurrence that caused him to flee in the first place? Or did it start younger, with the death of his mom? What do his visions of a bloodthirsty Bonnie and Clyde have to do with his truth and will going home complete him or rip him to shreds?

While I enjoyed the book and found the ending quite something I wasn’t expecting, it is a slow burn and may not appeal to everyone. Be prepared for the long haul, as it unfolds in such a way that you’ll be in a quandary for much of the read. But if you like snapshots in time (late 90s) and alternative/new wave music (there’s a soundtrack in the back that’s to die for) you will enjoy living vicariously through the out-of-control, and uninhabited mind of Jessica. And if you like Jonno (or just like watching someone’s life implode) you’ll become invested pretty quickly.

Free Fiction : Hallowed Cliff By Dylan Thomas Lewis

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

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

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

Eva Meridian Mara

February 21st, 1981 — July 8th, 2021

A Mother 

A Friend

A Person

Rest in Peace

Could’ve thought of better

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

“Apologies, miss — errr — mister.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Fiction : Everything Moved Two Inches by HeavyRadio

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

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

“Close… the… gap…”

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

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

“IT JUST BLINKED”

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

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

I write all my stories in my free time.

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

Free Fiction : Death Job Cover Letter by Bob Gielow

 

November 19, 2021

Lord Hades, God of Death

4 Everlasting Ave

Camden NJ  08104

Dear Lord Hades,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Claire Mortja

claire.mortja@hellmail.com 

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

Author Interview with Nick Roberts


What is your name and what are you known for? 

My name is Nick Roberts, and I’m known for my novels, The Exorcist’s House and Anathema. I’ve also had several short stories featured in anthologies from Sinister Smile Press, J. Ellington Ashton Press, and Dead Sea Press and literary publications such as The Fiction Pool, The Blue Mountain Review, Falling Star Magazine, Stonecrop Magazine, and Haunted MTL.

Tell us about one of your works and why we should read it.

My novel, The Exorcist’s House, was released by Crystal Lake Publishing in May 2022 and is available now in paperback, hardback, Kindle/KU, and Audible. It has since become Crystal Lake Publishing’s best-selling novel to date. Here is the official synopsis: 

In the summer of 1994, psychologist Daniel Hill buys a rustic farmhouse nestled in the rolling hills of West Virginia.

“Along with his wife and teenage daughter, the family uproots their lives in Ohio and moves south. They are initially seduced by the natural beauty of the country setting. That soon changes when they discover a hidden room in the basement with a well, boarded shut and adorned with crucifixes.

“Local legends about the previous owner being an exorcist come to light, but by then, all Hell has broken loose.

“This 1990s horror novel is perfect for fans of family thriller books, stories of demonic possession, exorcism fiction, the occult, or thrillers like The Exorcist, A Head Full of Ghosts, and The Amityville Horror.

What places or things inspire your writing?

Both of my novels take place in West Virginia, and many of my short stories do as well. It’s the perfect setting for a spooky situation. The terrain is so versatile; there are cities, suburbs, rolling hills, woodland areas, and much more. I prefer my horror to be remote, so I veer toward the rural countryside. 

What music do you listen to while creating?

I live with my wife, two young kids, and a bunch of animals. Noise-canceling AirPods are essential. Any music with lyrics distracts me, so I tend to listen to classical music, instrumentals, and movie scores. I’m currently listening to the soundtrack to Requiem for a Dream if that gives you any indication about the tone of my next novel. 

What is your favorite horror aesthetic? 

I love creepy chamber pieces. Give me a cabin in the woods or an abandoned mental institution or a haunted hotel room. As far as films go, I love what Jason Blum and James Wan are doing. Movies like The Conjuring, Sinister, Paranormal Activity, Insidious, and Saw are all brilliantly inventive in their minimalism. Both of my novels have one major setting for the most part. I love to settle into one location and get cozy. 

Who is your favorite horror icon?

Leatherface. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is a perfect film and has the most shocking introduction to the big baddie. When Leatherface jerks open that sliding metal door and thwacks a dude on the head with the mallet sending him into violent spasms gets me every time. The icing on the violent cake is when he drags the body in, slams the door, and that GONNNNG sound effect kicks in. I love his different ideations throughout the years, but the central concept of a human face for a mask and a chainsaw is the definition of iconic. 

What was the scariest thing you’ve witnessed?

When I was around twelve years old, I watched The Exorcist for the first time. It traumatized me, of course, but the real horror happened a few nights later. 

I have twin sisters who had seizures when they were younger. One night, I woke up to use the restroom. I was creeping down the hallway when I heard a bed shaking. I looked into my sisters’ bedroom and they were each in their beds violently spasming in unison. It was Regan MacNeil times two, and I’ve never fully recovered from it. 

If invited to dinner with your favorite (living or dead) horror creator, who would it be and what would you bring?

Jordan Peele. Not only is he a brilliant director, but he’s a horror fanboy. It would be fantastic to discuss his films, and geek out over classic horror movies. I would bring Cuban cigars. I have no idea if he likes them but puffing on a stogie and going on deep dives into obscure horror subgenres is my fantasy.

What’s a horror gem you think most horror addicts don’t know about? (book, movie, musician?)

The Telltale Lilac Bush and Other West Virginia Ghost Tales by Ruth Ann Musick is a childhood favorite of mine. It’s packed full of spooky stories that not only showcase the ghostly side of West Virginia, but it also contains some haunting illustrations. 

Have you ever been haunted or seen a ghost?

I’ve never witnessed anything paranormal. I’m a skeptic, but I want to believe. 

What are some books that you feel should be in the library of every horror addict?

The following books should be in the library of every horror addict:

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

The Shining by Stephen King

The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe

Books of Blood by Clive Barker

What are you working on now? 

I’m currently working on my third novel. It has nothing to do with the previous two, but it is similar in tone and structure. Although I can’t reveal much about the plot at this point, I will say that it is supernatural horror that I know will make readers lock their doors at night.

Where can readers find your work? (URL #1 place for them to go.)

You can follow my future exploits and purchase signed copies of my books at www.nickrobertsauthor.com.

I’m also on the following social media platforms: Facebook @spookywv, Twitter @nroberts9859, Instagram @spookywv, and TikTok @spookywv.

Free Halloween Fiction : Circle of Trust By Ravyn Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                 H. I. G. U. Y. S.

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

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

I moved the Planchette, “Yes”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Toby.” I spelled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This isn’t funny!” Heather screamed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go to hell!” Heather screamed.

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

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

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

“Fuck you!” Heather cried in a scream.

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

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

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

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

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

Becca, her eyes closed, giggled.

“LOL. Hi, guys,” I spelled.

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

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

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

IG Account- Ravyn_Storm

A Halloween Listicle: SINISTER STORIES FOR THE SPOOKY SEASON

 by Renata Pavrey

The days leading up to Halloween are filled with costumes to prepare, décor to get ready, and treats to bake. The final week of October is a culmination of all the spooky excitement building up throughout the month. Yes! We love our horror movies, can’t have enough of eerie podcasts, and then there are books that thrill and chill. Sometimes it’s just so much to take in, with all that’s happening in a horror fan’s favorite time of the year. Here’s a list of Halloween-themed short story collections, so you can dip in your toes when time runs short on Hallows Eve.

~Halloween Horrors by Alan Ryan – A vintage collection for a night of evil. 13 sinister stories of madness and mayhem that show us a side of Halloween far removed from pumpkin lanterns and hot spiced drinks.

~Ghosts, Goblins, Murder and Madness by Rebecca Rowland – 20 tales of Halloween that showcase the wide expanse of the holiday season – dressing up in costume, playing practical jokes, haunted houses, cursed artifacts, the thin line between the earth and spirit worlds.

~Season of the Witch by RJ Roles and Jason Myers – Witches are not just about brooms and pointy hats; cackling as they fly over the moon on Halloween. This anthology from Crimson Pinnacle Press brings together 19 tales about witches and autumn, providing fresh perspectives to cliches and stereotypes associated with the season.

~Literally Dead by Gaby Triana – Hauntings that go beyond ghosts, spirits who want to help the living, festive greetings that travel through time and space, candy that refuses to be digested – an old school anthology from Alienhead Press that presents common Halloween tropes in spooky new avatars by some of the most terrifying names in contemporary horror.

~Halloween Frights by Brandi Hicks and Shelly Jarvis – If short stories take up too much of your reading time, why not sink your teeth into bite-sized drabbles? Spooky ghost kids, zombie trick-or-treaters, suspicious treats, and decorations coming alive – let’s turn to face the darker side of this autumn holiday.

~Forest of Fear (Books 1, 2 and 3) by Zoey Xolton – There are 3 books in the Fright Night Fiction series from Blood Song Books, that present a delectable collection of Halloween horror drabbles.

~Nom Nom by Ben Thomas and D. Kershaw – Another drabble collection that treats us to a smorgasbord of vampires, djinns, werewolves, jack-o-lanterns, clowns, candies, and everything the festival has to offer in 100-word bits of gore from Black Hare Press.

Free Fiction : Eternally by Michael Tennant


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

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

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

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

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

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

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

Book Review: “Netherkind” by Greg Chapman

Hello Addicts,

In the horror genre, the consumption of human flesh and blood is a fairly regular thing. There are plenty of stories about cannibals and flesh-eating zombies, so it is refreshing to see a story that handles things differently. Greg Chapman offers a flesh-eating tale that falls somewhere between the extremes of the living and the dead in his novel “Netherkind.

Thomas leads a solitary life of torment. He has no memories of life before waking in the apartment he calls home, but that isn’t the most disturbing thing in his life. He has a condition where his body decays painfully if he doesn’t eat human flesh every day. It is an uncontrollable need he fights daily, but never wins. He doesn’t know how it started or whether there are others out there with his same condition. That all changes the day he meets his new neighbor, StephanieNetherkind 2

Stephanie is just moving into the apartment building Thomas lives in and does her best to spend time with him. After spending one night together, he learns some horrifying truths about her. She is like him, a consumer of human flesh. When he awakes, he finds the doors to all the apartments on their floor bashed in and the occupants stripped clean to the bone. His new neighbor, who he just had sex with, reveals that she is like Thomas and that there are more like them hiding in the world. She’d been stalking him for weeks, watching him live and kill, just for the chance to meet and get impregnated by him. With those tasks accomplished, she wounds him and leaves him to die.

Rather than succumb to his injuries, Thomas survives and begins hunting for Stephanie. His travels bring him close frequently, but never close enough. Eventually, he discovers another of their kind, referred to collectively as Fleshers. The Flesher,  named Nero and leads Thomas to their kingdom under the city. He discovers they are one of five tribes, each different in their mindset, physical conditions, and abilities.

Thomas’ clan refers to themselves as Phagun. Another group is called Lepers, whose skin is sickly looking and sloughing off, but whose touch is acidic. A third tribe is the spiritual Stygma, followers of a god named Okin. The fourth group of Fleshers are shapeshifters named Skiift, with humans making up the last group. The Skiift, the Stygma, and the Phagun have waged a centuries-long religious war between, partially fueled by the Phagun’s desire to treat humans as food.

There are a lot of twists and turns in the story, which develops into a chosen one tale. What is Thomas’ history and how does it fit into what needs to be done? How does Stephanie fit into the entire picture? The book answers these questions and more.

I liked the story, but found it a little confusing at certain points, particularly when following who was speaking. That aside, I thought Greg Chapman did a good job with this story, particularly with the sensory descriptions. I recommend this book for anyone needing a rainy day or late-night read. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or through your local bookstore.

Until next time, Addicts.

D.J.

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

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

One Year Ago 

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

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

“I’m sorry?” James said, squinting. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Care to sit?” 

The Present. 

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

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

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

One Year Ago. 

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

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

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

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

“What the hell?” 

The Present. 

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

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

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

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

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

The Present.

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

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

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

“They’ll be coming,” James said. 

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

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

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

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

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

“Shoot it!” 

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

One Year Ago. 

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

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

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

“The Daisies?” James asked. 

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

Literally Dead: Tales of Halloween Hauntings by Gaby Triana

Review by staff writer and book blogger Renata Pavrey

Literally Dead is the first book in the holiday hauntings series, set around Halloween. Nineteen horror writers come together to create a collection of spooky tales for the Halloween season. There are stories about haunted dresses and shady bookstores, real-life monsters and costumed creatures, murder victims and ghostly insects, soldiers of war, and civilians affected by war. There are monsters in refrigerators, serial killers disguised as ghosts; suspicious postcards, and corn fields that harbour more than corn. We read about scavenger hunts to collect ghosts, and ghosts that teach us how to get rid of ghosts; physical entities, and demons of the mind. The crew of esteemed authors in the horror genre brings to us an assortment of stories under the theme of hauntings.

With such a narrow theme, I wondered what new ideas the writers would present for Halloween. But each one is outstanding in its own way. The collection covers a range of subjects from war to folklore, including genres of crime and contemporary fiction, with tones ranging from humor to out-and-out horror. Literally Dead brings together common Halloween tropes of haunted houses and spirits to beware of, costumes and candy, and memories associated with October 31st that have nothing to do with Halloween, and presents these well-worn concepts into a rich anthology of holiday horrors. I loved the touch of Chinese, Ukrainian and Welsh folklore and customs associated with Halloween, contemporary social issues and significant historic moments, nostalgia, and beauty associated with a season of darkness.

Some of my favorites were The Ghost Cricket by Lee Murray (a touch of Chinese folklore with a noisy cricket that refuses to be quiet even in death), The Ghost Lake Mermaid by Alethea Kontis (the ghosts of murder victims discuss racism and the law when the color of your skin decides if your corpse gets justice), Ghosts of Enerhodar by Henry Herz (the ghosts of Ukrainian folklore feature against the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine war), Halloween at the Babylon by Lisa Morton (a theatre patron tries to prevent other guests from becoming ghosts like herself), Ghosts of Candies Past by Jeff Strand (a quirky, sugary fest of long-eaten Halloween treats that return to haunt), Soul Cakes by Catherine McCarthy (the living and dead collide at a special time of the year, under the veil of Welsh folklore), Always October by Jeremy Megargee (about a ghost hunter on the lookout for her replacement).

Editor Gaby Triana has done a fabulous job in curating this anthology. A wonderful collection for the spooky season that keeps the reader wanting to read more. It feels like nineteen stories aren’t enough and thirty-one would have been just right – one for each day of the Halloween month. The cover has an old-fashioned vibe with costumed trick-or-treaters and pumpkin baskets, and I love how the book emphasizes the nostalgic aspect of Halloween. There’s a brilliant piece by the cover artist that makes for an equally good read, like the rest of the stories.

Some quotes:

-He didn’t believe in ghosts and haunted houses. Maybe they believed in him.

-You weren’t supposed to run up the stairs of a house that was disproving your assertion that it was not haunted.

-Thoughts crash into my head now; everything falls into place, a well-ordered avalanche.

-An old ghost once told me that if my story faded, I would fade with it.

-The ghostly insect set up a mournful song, the wistful notes as pure and sharp as a mountain stream.

-Are you running from ghosts, or are they running from you?

-Even death couldn’t tame her – if anything, it only seemed to make her more defiant.

-This tradition isn’t to appease her ghost. It’s to keep the ghost in her place.

-Alex had always been a ghost. Long before he died.

-I’d counted twenty-five casseroles. I wondered if they were some kind of charm or talisman. Bringing something not just to feed the grieving family, but to appease the ghosts.

My rating – 5/5

Author Interview : Paul DeBlassie III

What is your name and what are you known for? Paul DeBlassie III, Ph.D., psychologist/writer of metaphysical thrillers to pop off the top on the head with trickster mischief and magic and spinning out this interview for HorrorAddicts.net – great to be with u!

Tell us about one of your works and why we should read it. I’ll go with my latest metaphysical head spinner – Goddess of Everything. Be careful! Folks/readers/reviewers have said it has triggers aplenty, a psychic dynamic I think is a bad/good thing since badness looms large so we can better see what’s behind it, a catch-you-by-surprise, mind-blowing reality. It’s a really decent story – 100 4.5-star Goodread reviews!

What places or things inspire your writing? I’m totally into New Mexico, my homeland with ancestral DNA going back 1000 years. So, plenty of mystery, magic, religion, witchcraft, and horror are floating through the ether sphere. It births the stuff infused in my three horror novels: The Unholy, Goddess of the Wild Thing, and Goddess of Everything.

What music do you listen to while creating? John Lee Hooker is my man for all things conjuring and mystic making, the beat and rhythm and drone of the tunes setting me into a headspace that drives my supernatural narratives into weird dimensions.

What is your favorite horror aesthetic? Well, gotta admit it’s the supernatural thriller razzmatazz that sets my psychic fires going, the works of King, Blackwood, and Lovecraft are major sources of literary fuel.

Who is your favorite horror icon? Without a doubt, no way anyone else compares to the touch, mystery, and metaphysical intrigue of Algernon Blackwood, a true pioneer, and eternal spirit in the world of supernatural storytelling.

What was the scariest thing you’ve witnessed? Oooooh….I’m a clinical depth psychologist who treats the transpersonal unconscious mind, so there’s a storehouse of scary, spinetingling, and horrifying experiences I’ve gone through in forty years of psychotherapy practice I bring to the phenomenological collage painted onto the pages of my novels – wicked archbishops unwittingly or deliberately employing dark magic to access power, patients who willfully have engaged the spirit world for egoic purposes that inevitably scar the mind and generate frightening encounters with the dark side of the Great Unseen. And then there comes to mind the time I permitted a personal lapse of consciousness: I entered a haunted home I shouldn’t have gone into. A spirit attached itself to my shoulder and followed me home – had to do a bit of an exorcism to banish that foul presence – ugh! So, I once heard Stephen King say on a podcast interview, he’d never had experiences with the supernatural; but, for me, it’s quite the opposite. Supernatural occurrences manifest regularly in my life and generate enormous psychic oomph for my novels.

If invited to dinner with your favorite (living or dead) horror creator, who would it be and what would you bring? I wouldn’t go. It’s like Gabriel Garcia Marquez said when asked what he’d do if while walking on the streets of Mexico City, he saw Hemmingway on the other side of the road. Would he cross over and introduce himself and meet the famous man? He said no. He wouldn’t want to confuse the man with the work. Besides, those who’ve passed on – Blackwood and Algernon – hover in my study, whispering plot points and wicked ideas as I write. So, you don’t need dinner when there’s ready access to the ever-present reality of the Unseen World.

What’s a horror gem you think most horror addicts don’t know about? (book, movie, musician?) My surrealist artist wife, Kate, and I are finishing Dark on Netflix, a multi-layered horror flick that dips into alternate realities, choices, and fate. It’s mystifying, mind-bending, and a gem in the horror genre.

Have you ever been haunted or seen a ghost? Oh yeah! We all have been. Sometimes we allow our psychic eyes to open to the fact, and sometimes we don’t. Maybe we don’t want to see into the mystic, fearing what’s there. Depth psychology says shifts of mood and energy indicate psychic triggering of the spirit world, ghosts called forth. Sometimes you see them through the corner of your eyes, or they manifest as a startling mental image (S. King expertly taps into this phenomenon). At times, they work behind the scenes via synchronous events or scary happenings like thinking evil thoughts about someone you’ve held bitterness against and a bird splatters against your car windshield while driving. Ghosts can be bloody!

What are some books that you feel should be in the library of every horror addict? Select volumes of Stephen King (what’s stayed with you over time), and all of Black and Lovecraft. Then, on the contemporary scene, there are so many good writers, I’d say go with and keep on your virtual or literal shelf whatever has had soul nourishment and you feel drawn to pick up again and again over time, open at random, and discover new little supernatural jewels. I just finished, The Exorcist’s House by Nick Roberts. Well done!

What are you working on now? I’ve got Seer: The Case of the Man Who Lost His Soul sizzling on my literary cast iron griddle. You can lose your soul. It’s a tough and scary world that a person trips into when they’ve traded the soul, thinking they can simply get it back by reforming their evil ways, making resolutions, or getting religion. Hah! Not so, my friend, not so. Seerdelves into the phenomenon of evil set against the reality of natural magic and how it plays out with Dr. Ernesto de la Tierra and an arrogant, wealthy patient. They thought playing with dark metaphysical realities was no big thing. Surprise . . . there are no small things with little consequences when it comes to toying with the supernatural.

Where can readers find your work?  I’m a one-stop shopper for all things metaphysical, supernatural, and horrifying – Amazon Author Page: https://amzn.to/3GCBuNL

Logbook of Terror : Horror Addict’s Lament

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

    But not anymore. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Logbook of Terror : The Lady of the Lighthouse

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “That’s right.”

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

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

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

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

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

    “Lauren, it’s me, it’s Douglas!”

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

    “How could you, Donovan?” Lauren wailed.

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

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

Ten Years Later

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

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

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

    “Cool! Let’s get wasted!”

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Black Flames & Gleaming Shadows by Frank Coffman

Review by Stephanie Ellis 

4 stars

Black Flames & Gleaming Shadows by Frank Coffman, pub. Independent, 28 Feb. 2020

Synopsis:

This is Frank Coffman’s second large collection of speculative poetry. As before, the verses herein cross the spectrum of Weird Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Adventure and include examples from sub-genres of these modes of the high imagination. Following his chapbook, This Ae Nighte, Every Nighte and Alle (2018) and his acclaimed magnum opus, The Coven’s Hornbook & Other Poems (2019), this collection of 93 poems (six sequences of poems: sonnet sequences, a “megasonnet” sequence, a sequence in an Old Irish metric, etc) continues in the same tradition. A formalist whose rhymed and metered verses follow in the tradition of the exemplary work of the great early Weird Tales poets such as Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Donald Wandrei, and Leah Bodine Drake, he is also a great experimenter with a broad variety of exotic and cross-cultural forms and an innovative creator of several new ones. His poetry has been published in several magazines, including Spectral Realms, Weirdbook, The Audient Void, Abyss & Apex, Gathering Storm, Phatasmagoria and Lovedraftiana; and in anthologies such as Quoth the Raven, Caravan’s Awry, and Sounds of the Night.

Review:

Black Flames and Gleaming Shadows by Frank Coffman is very much verse in the traditional sense, by which I refer to his employment of recognised forms, for example, the sonnet, or his adaptation of them to create his own variant. Having read, and written much, in recent years in blank or free verse, it took a while to settle back into reading poetry of this style, but settle I did.

During my degree studies, I spent some time on Victorian poetry which led me to the likes of Tennyson and Browning, the latter remaining a favourite, especially with his “Porphyria’s Lover” and “The Laboratory”. Coffman’s poetry took me right back to that place, that sense of enjoyment of a tale told well, in poetic form. One word of advice: this collection is one very much to dip in and out of as I find my brain has a tendency to try and overlay the pattern and rhythm of one poem onto the next – which does the subsequent poem a disservice until you pause, reset and re-read. You might find the same.

From the King in Yellow to King Arthur, Coffman covers a wide variety of subjects, each fitting neatly into the convenient sections: Weird Tales & Cosmic Horror, Vampiricon, Samhain Halloween, Poems of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Myth, Legend, and Metapoetry, Homages & Some Traditional Verse. All are written in traditional form and there is a very useful Glossary of Forms explaining those he uses.

Yet tradition does not mean dry mimicry, instead, he adopts an element of playful homage at times as in “The Spooky Path Not Taken” (a wonderful ghostly take on Robert Frost’s classic) and “It WAS a Dark and Stormy Night” (which is most definitely not the opening line).

Whilst the writing is in this ‘older’ style, the subject matter is often very modern and pertinent to the concerns of today. “The Cyborg Dilemma” questions our advance into a brave new world where biomechanics bring the human and machine into ever closer contact, a synthesis of worrying implications. “Leaving Earth Behind” finishes with a poignant couplet effectively asking – shouldn’t we look after our own planet first before trying to ‘terraform’ others. Strong emotion with the lightest touch can be found in “Fib-on-ac-ci-dent?”, such wistfulness in so few words.

Other poems are akin to the epic narrative verse of yore. The gothic “The Vampire Ball” is surely something that should become a must for reading aloud at a small gathering, by a roaring fire, on a dark and stormy night …

Frank Coffman has taken tradition and made it his own, indeed amongst some of his poems are pleas not to discard the old, simply because it is just that. “Post” starts ‘This age of ours – it seems to me – is flawed/Things and Ideas “Old” must be replaced …  That traditions are deemed anathema is scary.”

With Coffman’s journey not yet done, I’ll finish with his own words from “Verse’s Vagabond”. ‘No rest! So many roads I’ve never gone!/Though I set off at dusk … ‘twill soon enough be dawn.’

Let us all accompany him on his adventure, vagabond readers traveling with him.

Odds and Dead Ends: The Fog Horn/The Legacy of Bradbury’s Lighthouse

There are stories out there that have legacies that transcend their origins. Everyone has heard of Sweeney Todd, but very few could say that he first appeared in a penny dreadful called The String of Pearls. Werewolves changing with the full moon is common knowledge, but we forget that this concept was first properly grounded in the public consciousness by the 1943 film Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man. So many stories have had those they influence outlast their humble beginnings. And so is perhaps true with ‘The Fog Horn’, a short story published by science-fiction writer, Ray Bradbury.

Bradbury is perhaps best known now for his novel Fahrenheit 451, one of the staples of mid-twentieth-century dystopian fiction, featuring a society which has prohibited the possession of books, with the fire department now in charge of creating fires, not extinguishing them, to rid the world of the paperback devils. His other publications include Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Martian Chronicles, and The Illustrated Man, and are also very well regarded. He is, therefore, a damn good writer.

In 1951, Bradbury published a short story called The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. In this story, two lighthouse attendants witness a great creature rising up from the depths. This creature is big, with great eyes that reflect the light of the lighthouse, with a great neck, and a massive, hulking body. The last of a species of dinosaur, it is speculated. It has come here once a year for the past few years now, and the sound of the lighthouse’s fog horn is almost exactly the same as the monster’s, to the lighthouse on the rock, which is described as similarly looking like a long neck on a great body emerging from the sea. The monster attacks the lighthouse, destroying it and trapping the two keepers in the rubble. Having destroyed the thing it believes to be another of its own kind, the monster howls in lamentation and sorrow, before departing into the seas, never to be seen again.

When this story was published, a small monster movie about a monster awakened from the depths of the sea thanks to atomic testing, was in development. The working title for this film was apparently to be called Monster from Beneath The Sea. Upon seeing the story, the producers bought the rights to the story and changed their script around a bit to capitalize on Bradbury’s up-and-coming success. They included a scene where their dinosaur, a Rhedosaurus (completely made up for the film), appears in silhouette, and attacks and destroys a lighthouse, before going on its rampage through Manhattan. The film itself is actually good fun, with some great stop-motion monster effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen, and it finishes off with a nice sequence utilizing Coney Island to have its finale. Meanwhile, the original story, when it is anthologised in The Golden Apples Of The Sun, has its name changed to ‘The Fog Horn,’ and has been called so ever since.

The story, however, does not end there with this little B-movie. When The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms was released, the poster depicted it breathing smoke and fire. The Rhedosaurus doesn’t breathe any such smoke or flame in the film because of budget and other practical reasons, but since when do posters tell the objective truth of a film? This poster attracted the attention of Japanese film producers, who decided to make a similar film. They brought in Ishiro Honda, interwove their own, very recent atomic age fears and memories into the narrative (remember that Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t even a decade past), and created their own beast from the depths of the sea. Thus was born Gojira, or, to western audiences, Godzilla.

So we have a little short story about a dinosaur and a lighthouse to thank for the biggest monster of them all, the cementation of the kaiju as an international force of nature, and thousands of action figures and t-shirts worldwide. And if anyone is an old-school Pokemon fan, go back and watch the episode ‘Mystery At The Lighthouse’, an episode which you probably forgot about completely and yet will instantly remember as soon as you’ve read this. A massive dinosaur-like pokemon with shining eyes emerges from the sea to the summons of a fog-shrouded lighthouse, it’s one of the most haunting images of many people’s childhoods at a certain age. Coincidence?

And then let’s wonder if other lighthouse-based stories have been influenced by this classic short. It’s been stated by Leonard Nimoy that an episode of Star Trek was inspired by the story, but could we also include 2019’s The Lighthouse as having been influenced in some way by Bradbury? Two male lighthouse keepers trapped far away from civilization, seeing ancient things rising out of the depths? Seems familiar. And what about the 1977 serial of Doctor Who, ‘The Horror at Fang Rock’, where again, a lighthouse shrouded by the mists comes under attack from a strange, monstrous presence? How far does Bradbury’s tale’s influence go?

Far beyond what he intended, that’s for sure. The little lighthouse that could, it seems to have a great legacy in the world of horror, science-fiction, and fantasy; one that has left it forever changed.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter/Instagram: KJudgeMental

Shadow’s Love : The Land Below

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Lastor remained quiet, his eyes searching for answers. 

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

Lastor nodded. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “With your wife.”

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

Book Review: From Daylight to Madness by Jennifer Anne Gordon

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Reviewed by Emerian Rich

For: Readers who enjoy Gothic Literature like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

Content warning: baby death, mental illness, harm to animals, gaslighting

From Daylight to Madness by Jennifer Anne Gordon is an emotional trek through one lady’s experience with losing her child at birth and how she is mistreated by her husband, mother-in-law, and eventually a hotel they ship her off to.

From Daylight Cover full gold - Jennifer GordonIsabelle is a young wife in the 1870s who has suffered a terrible tragedy. She’s given birth to a son who dies just after he is born. Her controlling husband and mother-in-law do not allow her to see him or even say goodbye. They take the body God knows where and force her to clean up the blood after the tragedy. They don’t allow a grave marker or any sort of service for him. He was not alive, he did not have a name. They keep her drugged up on laudanum and complain that she doesn’t “mourn properly.” 

Finding she can no longer bear children and won’t pop out of her sadness, they send her on a “holiday” at an institution masquerading as a seaside hotel. At the hotel, things go from bad to worse when she meets a cast of characters with real mental problems. One gal, in particular, is deeply twisted.

All things are not horrible at the hotel, however. Isabelle is able to get out from under her husband and mother-in-law’s thumb and experience a little freedom–something she’s never had in her entire life. She also meets another hotel guest who shows her kindness and a little romance blooms in their shared misery.

First, a warning. For readers who have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, or baby death, this book may be too much for you. The author does a really great job of getting inside Isabelle’s head and making the reader feel the impact of her baby’s death. She is basically haunted–not by a real ghost, but by her grief. She hears her baby’s cry in her head and reminisces frequently about not being able to hold him or say goodbye. She even carries a hatbox with her that she imagines holds him in it, so he is by her side always. 

Passages like… 

“…death had kissed her insides and left her rotting…”

“…Isabelle felt like a fancy dress…poorly made…different parts of her…separating and being held together by straight pins…” 

“…birth leaving her womb nothing more than a tattered old book of gruesome tales better left untold…”

…weave such deep and expressive imagery it’s hard not to put yourself in her place.

The exquisite writing in this book takes place inside Isabelle’s head as she compares the cups of tea and laudanum scattered about the house to little tombstones of her grief, the only sign that her baby ever existed because he did not get a tombstone. 

As a modern woman reading her story it’s difficult because the way others gaslight her is just agonizing. I was infuriated with how her husband and mother-in-law paint a narrative that is unfair and harmful to her. They pass that narrative off to the hotel employees who then drill in the narrative, causing her to constantly question them and herself.

*She had a stillborn, but no…he lived! She heard him crying. 

*She isn’t mourning, but yes she is if anyone was paying attention. 

*She was abandoned by her parents and now has been abandoned again, but no…her parents died, they didn’t mean to leave her. 

People don’t allow her to speak her truth and it made me want to travel to that hotel and make things right. But in the same instance, I know entering the hotel I would just be another casualty hushed up, drugged, and put on the porch to sleep with the other patients, I mean…vacationers.

Although meant for wellness, the island hotel seems a spooky place where spiked tea and her own mental state cause her to lose time and survive in a dream-like state where she isn’t sure what is real or not. She finds a little graveyard of babies there, the truth of that place never fully understood. The hotel is a character itself, akin to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…sunny and bright one moment but hiding dark, dirty secrets the next.

I have to say, I like this book because of how much it jarred me. I went into it hoping to see some ghosts in a haunted hotel but came out of it bloodied by the emotional trip I took with Isabelle. It made me uncomfortable and scarred. If you can handle the harrowing journey, it will be a book you remember for a long time. Just make sure your mental state is strong enough to handle it, tea+laudanum on standby.

Shadow’s Love : Chapter 11/ Enlightenment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It wouldn’t surprise me!”

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

“What?” Audrey snapped.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logbook of Terror: A dirge for Broken Clocks

   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “I’m tired,” the clock repeated. 

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

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

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

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

    “Try now, Father,” Braxton said.  

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

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

    Braxton grabbed his chest. “No!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End.

Logbook of Terror : Fluffy Loves You!

   

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

    Yates chuckled. “It’s so cute.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Yates’ face crumpled. 

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

    A low growl rumbled out of the toy cat. 

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

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

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

    “Fluffy loves you!” The doll chirped. 

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

***

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

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

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

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

    Yates smiled. “She sure is, honey.” 

    Katie ran to her father and leapt into his arms. 

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

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

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

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

    “Yay!” Katie yipped with joy.

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

Shadows Love Chapter 9 : Tortured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“AARRGH!!!” 

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

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

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

Book Review: The Crows of After by Exsanguine Hart

Synopsis:

Don’t leave the dolls alone…

Set in a classic style haunted house inhabited by dolls, fear and other strange things, this poetry collection accompanied by full-colour art explores the self and a series of childhood horrors in an entwining of lyricism, dark fantasy and disturbing imagery.

Review:

Exsanguine Hart is a new poet to me, but having devoured The Crows of After, they are one I will definitely look out for in the future. In this collection, they have created a banquet to feed both the eye and the mind. The world they have constructed on these pages conjured up memories of Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan when the reader is introduced to the castle of Gormenghast – not in the type of building, but in the strange and fantastical atmosphere and landscape within. Interwoven on this canvas are strawmen and automatons, bizarre dreams, and nightmare visions with steampunk edging. The poems imprison you in cages, taunt you with creatures from the ‘crawlspace’, the demons at the door.

The sheer joy of wordplay is evident throughout; ‘Fable’ ends ‘one with the chat/one with death/un with Nine/IX/9.’ The imagery is fantastical and original: ‘They tuck letters of disappointment into/the corners of their lips,’ (‘Accumulated’). And the weird abounds: ‘Her metal arm pulls up the splint. It chafes my/scratches, my fluids pooling in the weave,’ (‘The Waiting Game’).

The crows of the title fly in and out of the poems, dark shadows to disturb, ‘they’re only out to mangle the truth and children,’ (‘Smell of Pies’); ‘A storm approaching, four crows are at the bayonet,’ (‘Falling Apart’). The crows and maggots, scarecrows, and dolls thread the theme of horror throughout the collection to bind it in a lyrical darkness achieved via extraordinary word choice and well-judged alliterative phrasing and slant rhyme.

Dark poetry is having a moment. Recent years have seen some amazing collections appear and this one is no exception.

Logbook of Terror: The Secret Sea

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Logbook of Terror: “It’s The House!”


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

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

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

   Dani looked along. She trembled. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   “Please, don’t go!” Dani begged. 

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

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

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

   All three of them watched Becca enter the dark house. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 BOOKS ABOUT HAUNTED HOUSES by Renata Pavrey

By book blogger and staff writer Renata Pavrey

What is it about hauntings that seem to beckon rather than repel? Buildings possessed by the dead who either want to drive away the living or make them one among themselves. Lodgings that come with a gamut of warnings and rumors that refuse to die, only to have an occupant promptly settle in and find oneself in trouble. Whom does a haunted house belong to – the owner who buys the property, or the ghost that refuses to let go? Horror fiction is replete with books about haunted places – homes, buildings, stores, hospitals. Then there are stories that blur the lines between thriller and horror – the things people are capable of that ghosts would never do, hauntings of the mind that far surpass a spirit’s capabilities. Here are thirteen books that take the haunted house trope and give it a life of its own, from the classic to the contemporary.

The Turn of the Screw – Henry James

A gothic novella that was first published in a series format. The 19th-century classic raises the question of supernatural entities versus imagination, where the reader and protagonist both try to discern what’s real.

The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

Is a house haunted because of its invisible inhabitants, or does believing it’s haunted make it so, or is it people doing the haunting while the ghosts suffer in silence? Blending terror and horror, another gothic story that blurs what’s inside one’s head versus what’s outside, and what one chooses to believe.

The Shining – Stephen King

Ghosts don’t always possess homes; sometimes they linger in hotels too. An isolated location with just three characters for the most part. Where would you go if there was nowhere to go to? Claustrophobia, solitude, loneliness. How would you know if it’s the hotel taking control, or your mind giving it up?

You Should Have Left – Daniel Kehlmann

Originally written in German and translated into English by Ross Benjamin, the novella follows seven days in the life of a screenplay writer in a rented Airbnb, which refuses to let go of its newest resident.

Apartment 16 – Adam Nevill

Sometimes supernatural influences are not happy with single houses; they need to possess entire buildings. An atmospheric novel that blends thriller with horror.

The Graveyard Apartment – Mariko Koike

A Japanese translation that mixes detective fiction with horror writing. If secluded haunted houses were bad enough, what happens when a building stands right next to a graveyard? Psychological horror can be more terrifying than out-and-out gore.

Beloved – Toni Morrison

Ghosts were once people, too. They might have known us. Maybe they loved us, or disliked us tremendously. How do you deal with malevolent spirits of people you knew and loved, but they don’t feel the same? Morrison’s seminal work explores the mother-daughter relationship, and the psychological effects of slavery.

Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

Hauntings need not always be physical entities. Memories can be powerful shapeshifters; taking over one’s mind and body with greater strength than any external force. Another hybrid novel that blends thriller with psychological horror.

The Sanatorium – Sarah Pearse

A former sanatorium, redeveloped into a luxury hotel. Will the ghosts of the past stay buried down, or will the evils of the present beckon them to the surface? A spine-tingling gothic mystery, just like its cold, isolated landscape.

Home Before Dark – Riley Sager

Another novel that shifts between thriller and horror, making the reader question its supernatural occurrences. When the author of a haunted house book is faced with a haunted house, is it just another story?

Horrorstör – Grady Hendrix

Horror need not always be dark, as reflected in this horror-comedy set in an IKEA store. When furniture comes to life, is there more to the products you sit and sleep on?

Seeing – Patrick Winters

How do haunted houses gain their reputation? A tightly-packed novella about a formerly luxurious mansion that has now gained a reputation of being haunted. Atmospheric and eerie writing that subtly creeps up on the reader, rather than in-your-face jump scares.

The Elementals – Michael McDowell

How do ghosts decide whom and what to possess? In a locality of three houses, two are without hauntings, while the third is filled with horror. If you live in either one of the three, would the spirits make your acquaintance?

Where would your next book take you? Step into a room, apartment, palace or hospital, and share space with its ghostly inhabitants as you dive into a story.

Historian of Horror : The Foggiest Notion

Seeing that title, you might be under the impression that this edition’s subject is John Carpenter’s 1981 movie. You would be laboring under a misapprehension. We are discussing the peculiar atmospheric, in more ways than one phenomenon that is at the core of that film, but it just so happens that we are doing literature this time out – English author James Herbert’s 1975 novel, The Fog, to be specific – instead.

No ghostly, leprous sailors lurking in the mists coming in from the sea in this one. Herbert’s fog wells up from a crack in the ground running down the High Street of an English village and drives anyone it comes into contact with it homicidally insane. After committing as many anti-social acts as possible, the victims typically die.

Fortunately, the hero of the tale is the only person in the nation to recover and gain immunity from the murderous vapor, which roams about the countryside, turning its victims very naughty indeed, frequently in grotesquely inventive ways. The novel is suspenseful in the manner of English story-telling of its kind, reminiscent of one of Dr. Quatermass’s adventures for the BBC, but Nigel Kneale’s televised creation never dared show the horrific fates visited on one of the faculty of a boys’ school, for example. 

Entire villages are wiped out before the protagonist is able to convince the authorities to put down their tea and crumpets and do something constructive. His girlfriend gets a dose and nearly finishes him off several times, which complicates his efforts to impel the various ministries to get it in gear and solve the dilemma the government is ultimately responsible for. He does manage to get her into cold storage while various scientists work on a cure. Meanwhile, the fog slithers ever closer to London…

The Fog was Herbert’s second book. Like his first, The Rats, it’s a disaster tale with a scientific explanation. I enjoyed it for what it was, an early effort, somewhat derivative but fun and briskly paced. I have to admit I sort of skimmed over a few lines here and there. There are certain things that can be done to a school headmaster by wanton boys with no self-control that few adult males are apt to be comfortable reading about.

Ouch!

His third book, The Survivor, was a supernatural horror story, as were a fair number of his total of twenty-three novels. Herbert died in March of 2013 at the age of sixty-nine. 

The Fog has not been adapted to film, but The Rats has been under the title Deadly Eyes (1982). A few of Herbert’s other books have also been filmed. 

Speaking of movies, you might have heard of a little film franchise from Japan called Godzilla – the biggest, baddest radioactive lizard in the sea. But not the first. Ray Bradbury’s story, “The Fog Horn”, was published in 1951 in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post, one of those slick magazines all pulpsters aspired to graduate to the pages of in those days. It’s the charming tale of a deep sea creature that is lured to the surface by the dulcet tones of a lighthouse’s fog horn, thinking he’s finally found a mate. Every year, he comes up hoping to find true love, until on his third visit, the keepers turn the fog horn off. In a fit of pique, the thwarted lover demolishes the lighthouse and slips back under the waves.

Two years later, Warner Brothers released a film loosely based on the story with special effects by stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen. The title character of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is a dinosaur awakened from suspended animation by nuclear testing in his neighborhood. Sound familiar? He demonstrates his annoyance by rampaging through New York, passing out a contagious prehistoric disease as he progresses through the city. He is finally cornered on Coney Island, where he discovers he’s too tall to ride the roller coaster.

The film stars B-Movie stalwart Kenneth Tobey, who two years earlier had defeated The Thing from Another World in the Arctic, and two years later would save San Francisco from the five-armed giant octopus in It Came from Beneath the Sea, another Harryhausen creation. Busy guy. Towards the end of his life, he popped up in cameos in The Howling, Strange Invaders and both Gremlins movies, among others. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 85.

***

Speaking of passing away, Italian cartoonist and co-creator of Zora la Vampira Birago Balzano died on March 25, 2022. Zora was a very-much-NSFW fumetto about a 19th Century blonde possessed by the spirit of Dracula. She traveled the world bedding and biting anyone willing to be bedded and bitten. Balzano was eighty-six.

Until we meet again, dear fiends…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Shadow’s Love : Chapter 5 – Torment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: The Man in the Field

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Author Interview : With Naching T. Kassa

Naching T. Kassa https://nachingkassa.wordpress.com/ is a member of the Horror Writers Association, Mystery Writers of America, and a staff writer at Crystal Lake Publishing. She resides in Eastern Washington State with her husband Dan. They are the proud parents of three children and a dog. 

NOX: Our readers may know you as a runner-up in the Great Horror Writer’s Contest, a staff member, writer, and publisher for HorrorAddicts.net.  But a search of the internet shows so much more! Can you give us a rundown of your major accomplishments from your viewpoint? And where you are now?

Naching: Well, I wrote a story called, “The Darker Side of Grief,” which appeared in Arterial Bloom, https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B085QLBYSS an anthology edited by the amazing Mercedes M. Yardley and published by Crystal Lake Publishing, and that book was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award ®. And, I’ve been writing and editing stories for Crystal Lake Publishing’s Patreon series, Still Water Bay, https://www.amazon.com/Guild-Small-Horror-Still-Water/dp/B09MG866BM and producing audiobooks for the series. I’ve also had several Sherlock Holmes stories published by Belanger Books, MX Books, and Mango Books. And my poem, “A Home to Those Who Fly,” appeared in the Blackspot Books Poetry anthology, Under Her Skin. https://www.amazon.com/Under-Her-Skin-Marge-Simon-ebook/dp/B091ZH59G2  

It’s been a pretty exciting time!

NOX: Tell us a bit about your writing history. What made you decide to be a writer? What did you write at first? 

Naching: Oh wow. Let’s see. I’ve always wanted to write, ever since I was little. When I was eight, I used to draw and illustrate monster books for my second grade class. One was about a monster called Henry, who was so ugly, that he had to wear a paper bag over his head. 

In high school, I was very into fantasy and I wrote that for a while. When I had my first child at 33 and decided to be a stay-at-home mom, I started writing horror and mystery. I’ve been writing in those genres ever since.

NOX: Why the horror genre for you?

Naching: I have always enjoyed frightening things so it was natural I would gravitate toward the horror genre. Dean Koontz is a particular favorite. He really inspires my writing. 

Nox: In the Anthology, Crescendo of Darkness, your story, Audition, is a great piece.  The characters are so real and reminiscent of musicians we have heard stories about. Will you share your methods of character development?

Naching: Sure! All of my characters–even the villains–have a moral code they follow, a list of things they will and will not do. This gives them dimension and makes them who they are. Some characters have a flexible moral code, one they can adapt to their experiences, while others have a rigid one they won’t violate.  

A character should also learn and grow during the arc of a story. Ideally, the person they are at the end of the story should be different from the person they were at the beginning. 

NOX: What kind of challenges do you face as you write? Any stumbles along the way?

Naching: Oh goodness, I’m always stumbling. My editing process is a long one. Haha!

NOX: You have written, edited, critiqued, and published. Which part of the literary life do you like best?

Naching: Writing is my most favorite part of the literary life. I just love the creative process. 

NOX: Have you any advice or encouragement that would be helpful for horror writers reading this interview?

Naching: My advice comes in three parts. First, read. Read absolutely everything you can. Read new authors, old authors, authors in and outside of your genre. Just read. Second, learn to accept criticism. Nobody on this planet is a perfect writer (though some do come close!) Put your ego on the back burner. And Third, never ever give up. If you get a rejection, just keep going! The publisher or editor isn’t rejecting you as a person. Keep going, keep learning your craft and you will make it!

NOX: Good advice! Thank you so much for talking with us today but before we go, can you tell us what’s ahead for you. And where can we read more of your writing?

Naching: I have a new episode of Still Water Bay coming out in a few months and John Linwood Grant, Angela Yuriko Smith and I have a Sherlock Holmes book coming out from Crystal Lake Publishing next year. I’m afraid the rest of my projects are secret right now!
You can find my work on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Naching-T-Kassa/e/B005ZGHTI0 

Thank you, Nox! It’s been a pleasure!

Book Review: MAELSTROMS – COLLECTED DARK FICTION ABOUT THE SEA

A review by Renata Pavrey

I love anthologies for the bite-sized stories they provide to read on the go, and also for introducing the reader to a range of writers and writing styles within a compact collection. Maelstroms from Shacklebound Books piqued my interest for its genre and theme of dark fantasy and horror set around the sea. Edited by Eric Fomley, the compilation features an assortment of short stories by twenty-three writers, each one wonderful in its own way.

From mermaids to pirates, haunted castles and dangerous storms, sea creatures and suspicious amphibians, witches and queens, Maelstroms presents a plethora of tales about watery graves. I particularly liked how the authors dissected the narrow theme and explored the depths of their dark imaginations. Each story is so different from the next one, even though they’re all about the same topic. Kudos to editor Eric Fomley for his spectacular selection for this collection.

Some authors like Dorian Sinnott, Taylor Rae, and Dawn Vogel I was already familiar with from their work in other books. The anthology introduced me to new, stellar writers like Ai Jiang, Dennis Mombauer, Addison Smith, and Jenna Hanchey. A few stories that stood out for me were Dangers of the Deep, A Bad Day at Sea, Until There Were None, The Island of Masks, No King Will Come for You, The Ocean’s Choice, Grow, and The Kingfishers Come at Dawn, although I loved all of them – Maelstroms is a very well written and put together collection.

Some quotes:

~There was nothing to row to. Only the sea, filled with the crimes of his past.

~The sky, the very sea, was red. Not the red of blooming sunlight, but the crimson red of blood.

~They said her hair had become stained with blood and that is why it was red. Dead Red Delahaye.

~What tossed us into the sea’s dark waters was not the strong winds that carried us forth, nor the storms that brewed and rocked the ship, but the men who found that we were too many mouths to feed.

~The word slides into the hall like frozen glass.

~…the shadows were so profound that just his weighted leg revealed which side was down.

~…the agony of drowning and the peace of death.

~In the end, her most important lesson was the one the students taught.

~Scattered among the sand are a multitude of stones…, worn affectionately from embraces of the ocean.

~I feed on iron and bone and tears.

~Frost clung to her eyelashes and nipped at her cheeks, tasting her. The winter was hungry.

My rating – 5/5

Book Review: Future Tense: Tales of Apocalyptic Vision

Future TenseHello Addicts,

Apocalypse. It is a word that has so many meanings to so many people. To some, it is the end of all things. To others, it is the end of one time and the start of a new. Both meanings are on full display in “Future Tense: Tales of Apocalyptic Vision” by Michaelbrent Collings.

This is a collection of stories that covers a gamut of horrific settings. It starts with using clones to deter suicides in a totalitarian future; moves on to a society where a computer decides your life; and then lands on a group of friends getting together being forced to play a deadly children’s game. There are post-apocalyptic stories on a global scale, and others covering a more personal perspective. Michaelbrent Collings seems to have all the bases covered.

Since starting doing book reviews for Horror Addicts, I have become a big fan of the author. When I see one of his books, I know I am in for a macabre ride and good storytelling. This collection didn’t disappoint. I don’t want to divulge too many details to keep from accidentally revealing spoilers, but I can say that there is something for everyone in there. There is humor for those who like their funny bone tickled while being chilled, and nasty people getting their just rewards. Even the author appears in a story as well. All will have a fun and scary time.

You can find “Future Tense: Tales of Apocalyptic Vision” by Michaelbrent Collings on Amazon in eBook, hardcover, and paperback formats.

Until next time, Addicts,

D.J.

Shadow’s Love – Chapter 4 – Second Blood

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

Audrey giggled. “What do I do?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you know her?” he asked.

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

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

“Anything interesting?” she inquired sardonically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s mom, sweetie. Can I come in?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then your life will be complete?”

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

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

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

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

Audrey smiled, exposing her fangs. 

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

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

The Last Stop – by CM Lucas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“W-what?” asks the man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End

Book Review: SAIR BACK, SAIR BANES by Anthony Engebretson

A book review by Renata Pavrey

With a catchy title and cover, Sair Back, Sair Banes certainly piques the reader’s interest. I love books about folklore from around the world, and this novella set in Scotland was placed on my to-read list as soon as publisher Ghost Orchid Press mentioned it.

Genevieve takes a trip from America to connect with an old family friend of her now-deceased parents. Her father loved the outdoors and adventure, and often spoke about his love for the Scottish people, customs, lore, and legends. He also regaled Genevieve’s childhood with stories of the kelpie – shape-shifting horses that inhabit water bodies.

Genevieve’s host lives right next to a loch, and she encounters a drowning horse on her first day. But no one else was around to see the horse struggling and disappearing beneath the cold, dark waters. Nobody owns a horse around here, as far as anyone can tell. Was Genevieve imagining it, was someone playing a prank on her, or is there more to the legend of the kelpies? An over-friendly bartender, an icy pub owner, people going missing, a killer on the loose, trauma of parental abuse and suicide – Sair Back, Sair Banes packs a punch within its few pages.

The phrase ‘Sair Back, Sair Banes’ comes from an old folk curse, about a problematic horse in Scottish history. Blending folklore and legends with modern themes of loneliness, isolation, mental health, along with family history and relationships, Anthony Engebretson takes the reader on a trip through the Scottish landscape and culture. His story has one story and many stories; where the protagonist could be anybody, as could the antagonist. A place where spirits could be good and people could be bad; where there’s more to our ancestors than the stories they pass on. I loved this interweaving of themes and emotions – a well-written story that gives the reader something to ponder upon, much after having finished the book.

Sair Back, Sair Banes is Anthony Engebretson’s debut book, although he has written short stories for several anthologies. This was my first time reading this author, and I’ll certainly look forward to more from him. Ghost Orchid Press is known for featuring unpredictable, but brilliant writing. From the body horror Blood and Bone, to the eco-terror Chlorophobia, and the haunting collection Palimpsest, I look forward to their new releases. Sair Back, Sair Banes is another stellar book from their repertoire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Article by Kieran Judge

Twitter/Instagram: kjudgemental

Logbook of Terror: “Look Inside” by Russell Holbrook

“Look Inside”

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

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

   “It’s not a trick; it’s magic.”

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

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

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

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

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

   Shanna clenched her teeth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Book Birthday : HorrorAddicts.net Press presents…Clockwork Wonderland.

 

HorrorAddicts.net Press presents…Clockwork Wonderland.

HorrorAddicts.net Press presents…

Clockwork Wonderland.

Clockwork Wonderland contains stories from authors that see Wonderland as a place of horror where anything can happen and time runs amok. In this book you’ll find tales of murderous clockworks, insane creations, serial killers, zombies, and a blood thirsty jabberclocky. Prepare to see Wonderland as a place where all your worst nightmares come true. You may never look at classic children’s literature the same way again.

Edited by Emerian Rich
Cover by Carmen Masloski
Featuring authors:

Trinity Adler
Ezra Barany
Jaap Boekestein
Dustin Coffman
Stephanie Ellis
Jonathan Fortin
Laurel Anne Hill
N. McGuire
Jeremy Megargee
James Pyne
Michele Roger
H.E. Roulo
Sumiko Saulson
K.L. Wallis

With Foreword by David Watson

Hatter’s Warning by Emerian Rich

Starting off with a poem from the Mad Hatter who warns us, our time is running out and Alice the queen of Wonderland is after our heads and our souls.

Jabberclocky by Jonathan Fortin

A drunken clock repair shop owner and his abused son receive a visit form the Mad Hatter who has an evil plan to bring a murderous Jaberclock to life. Only the Cheshire Cat can save the day or is he as mad as the Hatter?

Hands of Time by Stephanie Ellis

The Queen of Heart’s executioner and timekeeper are looking for an apprentice and a new set of hands to kill and kill again to run the queen’s clock.

Clockwork Justice by Trinity Adler

With only one day and two clues, a bloody torn card and carrot tarts, Alice fights to prove she’s innocent and avoid losing her head to the Red Queen’s executioner.

My Clockwork Valentine by Sumiko Saulson

Unlike the White Rabbit, Blanche Lapin does not carry her timepiece in her pocket, but in her chest. It’s a Victorian-era clockwork pacemaker and if it’s not wound every forty-eight hours, she will die. When the key is stolen, the thief who has it will let her die if she doesn’t declare her love and stay with him forever.

Blood will Have Blood by James Pyne

There are many Wonderlands and a young woman is trapped in one where she is expected to be the new Alice. It’s a place where the rivers are filled with corpses and that’s not even the worst of it. The only way out is by wearing a clock necklace that needs blood for fuel, but what happens if it runs out?

Midnight Dance by Emerian Rich

Wonderland is being overrun by zombies. Mr. Marsh and The Mad Hatter are in a race against time to jam up the clockmaker’s clock and stop the undead apocalypse. If they can’t the apocalypse will start over and over as the clock strikes one.

A Room for Alice by Ezra Barany

When Alice is locked in a blood-splattered room and poisoned by D, she must behead the Queen of Spades within fifteen minutes in order to get the antidote. Can Tweedle help, or is he part of the problem?

Frayed Ears by H.E. Roulo

Caught in a child’s fever-fueled dream, The White Rabbit, The Scarecrow, and other storybook characters soon discover that story time is coming to an end and maybe so are they.

King of Hearts by Dustin Coffman

A prequel story to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, this tale explains how the Queen became mad, and why she hates the name Alice so much, though it has nothing to do with the real one.

Riddle by N. McGuire

A steampunk take on the infamous tea party, with a killer twist.

Tick Tock by Jaap Boekestein

To hear him tell it, a heroic wild card fights against the usurper Alice and puts Mary—the true Queen Of Hearts—on Watch World’s throne. Is that what’s really going on?

Gone a’ Hunting by Laurel Anne Hill

Alease goes rabbit hunting, but she’s the one caught in a place where she will have plenty of time to think about what she’s done.

The Note by Jeremy Megargee

Cheshire Cat tells a story about the changing, horrifying world of Wonderland and why he has to leave it.

Half Past by K.L. Wallis

A woman follows a mysterious man though the subway and travels back in time to the late 1800s, where she finds that instead of the patriarchal norms of the past, she is in a Wonderland where women are the superior sex and moral boundaries cease to exist.

Ticking Heart by Michele Roger

A woman on a train goes to visit Alice in a war-torn steampunk Wonderland, which is very different than the one we know.

To read the full story and more Clock-inspired, Alice Horror, check out Clockwork Wonderland.

Shadow’s Love : Chapter One ~ Jesse Orr

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

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

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

     “Excuse me?”

His eyes returned to her and an eyebrow raised questioningly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     “I have a business opportunity for you, young lady.” He reached up and stroked her cheek. She slapped his hand away and his other came up, pinning her against the wall by her throat. “In that warehouse is several thousand dollars worth of video cameras, lighting, and several of my friends who have been dying for a little beauty like you to test them on.” His grin grew uglier. “Get the picture?”

     She struggled against his hand, trying to scream with what little air she could draw into her lungs.

     “No!”

     “I bet you wish you’d fucked your boyfriend now, don’t you?” he said and tried to kiss her but her boot connected with his shin and he released her with a grunt of pain. With a furious look on his face, he bashed her head into the wall, stunning her. As sparkles overwhelmed her vision, she dimly made out his face coming through the darkness to kiss her again.

Before she could summon the strength to fight, his eyes bulged in surprise as fingers curled around the back of his neck. Another hand snaked around the front, setting its nails into Joe’s throat and tightening. The sharp nails stabbed into his flesh as he screamed, a gurgling wail as his throat was torn out and dropped to the ground. Audrey’s heart sank as the shapeless mass behind Joe dropped the lifeless pornographer’s body to the ground and looked up and directly into her eyes.

He was very tall, his face was as pale as a sheet of paper. Long dark hair framed his high cheekbones and sunken eyes in shadow. Almost before this all registered, he was standing in front of her, nearly close enough to share her breath, staring deep into her eyes. She cowered against the dirty wall, trying to make herself as small as possible.

     “What is your name?” said his voice as if from a distance as Audrey’s world grew darker.

     “A..Audrey…” she whispered. Then the light vanished as the world completely faded away and the darkness claimed her.

 

Free Fiction: Long Time No See by James Peace

It had been at least three years since I had last seen John. I wondered if “best friend” was still applicable, given the circumstances. Somehow semantics were the last thing on my mind. Who left a voicemail in this day and age, anyway? Only John. His social and emotional ineptitude let him feel, think and act with not a single care for what others found acceptable or “in”. I admired that in him. He was the opposite of me, as I was confident and outgoing. I went to the parties, did the drugs, drank the shots. I had my own place way before he even considered leaving his parents’ home. Yet still, in a way, he had always been far more “free” than me.

Of course, that was back when we were in college. After we parted ways, the journey of life took…different routes for each of us. I ended up enlisting and following a boot’s lifestyle for a few years. John collected degrees like stamps and hopped between part-time jobs. We tried to meet up and connect for cultural events or each other’s birthdays. Life inevitably takes its course, though. Over time our get-togethers dwindled from once a month to once a year. For a long while, not even that. By the time I was 26, I hadn’t spoken with the man I loved as a brother in two years. We met at his family’s summer house by the northern coast for a pair of days. Bars, a casino, the beach, and a penthouse all to ourselves. Still, it hadn’t ended on the best of terms.

Three whole years had passed since then and here I was, tripping over every piece of furniture in my house. I dodged the third lego piece behind the corner of the stairwell, saving myself quite a bit of grief, and went down into the basement to get my duffle bag. At times, I had to question whether my son left these out of negligence or if he was trying to show his old man that he could hunt “big animals” too. Adorable little runt.

Throwing the duffle bag over my shoulder, I dialed my wife’s number into my phone. Life in the army, both during and after Bootcamp tended to prepare one for pretty much anything. The habits of getting up early, making one’s bed, and keeping a bag ready for sudden departures hadn’t been lost on me. With the house locked, the dog fed and the woman of my life appeased with promises of a weekend getaway, I threw the bag onto the backseat and left. Unlike my 99 Astra, life sure had a way of coming at you fast. Much like said Astra, though, I took pride in being a tough bone to chew on. After the dishonorable discharge, bouncing back wasn’t the easiest thing in the world yet I did it nonetheless. I took a couple of swigs from my pocket flask to steel myself against the cold and carried on.

On the way, I lost myself to the roads of memory. The teenage years spent with John, playing video games and geeking out with the other nerds in our group of friends. The wild nights of college when I ran out his patience with the latest of my dramas and mischiefs. I remembered the nights I spent having dinner at his place, his parents still sent me a gift when my birthday came along every year. Great people, all of them odd in their own harmless way. These had been some of the best times of my life. Sure, there were mistakes made along the way, but I for one never liked to dwell on the past.

I found the town by sundown and the coastline was deserted as I’d expected. With the rain and the cold, nobody stepped foot in it. His house was pretty isolated, a couple of miles away from the center. It was very characteristic of his family to keep a comfortable distance. As I slowly rolled into his driveway, I could see the lights were already on. I parked the car and took in a deep breath.  I forced down over half of the contents of my flask, replacing the sobering chill with a vigorous burn.

I stepped outside the car, shaking off the tension in my legs and back, and looked over to his porch. There he was, waving down at me with a big grin on his face. His hair was oily and black, his features rough and germanic. You could see a hint of eastern in his eyes. He wore the same black button-up shirt and brown chinos he’d worn three years before when we “made it big”. I missed him with all of my heart. I didn’t bother waving back as I opened the backseat door. Reaching my duffle bag, I grasped around for a small box and cold steel. As I pulled the Winchester M21 out and closed the door, I slid the two slugs into their respective barrels, glancing at the corner of the yard. The small dirt mound was still where I left it. Where I’d left him. I was holding in my right hand the same gun that had blown a hole through John so cleanly that a dessert plate could have easily fit through. Right through his trusting heart. Right through the shirt that thing, whatever it was, was wearing. I’ve never considered myself a man of prejudice, but dead things should stay dead and certainly not leave voicemails to their former friends.

Turning my attention back to “John”, I could see he was no longer waving at me. In fact, he was no longer smiling, either. Swallowing my fear, I took aim.


 

A young author from Western Europe, 24 years old, fascinated by all things horror and interested in publishing his own horror novel. Currently in the military, pursuing future involvement in Special Forces. Loves people, dogs, and the three F’s of life.

Free Fiction : Come Dine With Me by Pete Kijek

I never imagined in a million years that when I submitted the advert in the local paper asking to have someone for dinner, that someone would actually respond!

The advertisement was only short, necessity and a price per word dictated that. ‘Lonely 41-year-old male seeks like-minded individual for evening meal. Non-smoker, pref. non-drinker, must enjoy secluded weekends away and keeping fit.’ I must confess to being somewhat hesitant to submit, yet submit I did and paid for a four-week run. 

Towards the end of the third week, I received a response. A woman from Tettenhall had written back, saying that she wanted to meet! I read through her profile. She was thirty-five, single, no children, and had recently moved to the Midlands from Durham as a mature student. She sounded ideal! 

I wrote back, asking if she wanted to meet for coffee first, as I understood that simply going for dinner with someone could be a bit daunting for a single woman these days. She replied saying that she would be up for coffee, and we arranged to meet the following Saturday in Coffee Moments in the Wulfrun Centre.

I will confess right now, I have never felt so anxious as I did that Saturday sitting at the shopping centre waiting for her to turn up. I had lost count of the number of times I had re-positioned the little Chicaboo monkey on the table in front of me, propped up on the sugar dispenser.

I knew it was her the instant she stopped outside the shop. Light brown hair tied in a loose ponytail, stonewash blue jeggings and a camel-coloured turtle neck jumper, and a purple cross-body tote bag. She wasn’t fat, but not entirely slim either – I guess the politically correct way of putting it was that she had curves, the classic hourglass figure. In short, she was gorgeous! Far too good for the likes of me.

She grabbed herself a cappuccino and came and sat down at my table. Her name was Lauren, and we sat for hours just talking to each other. I had never known anyone to be so attentive in their listening, so engaging in their conversation. I honestly believe that right there and then was the moment I fell in love with her.

We arranged to have dinner the following weekend, at my place. Now, I must confess, I have never hosted anything like a dinner date before. I mean, I’ve seen stuff on TV, but this was the first time I had ever tried something like this myself. Our first meal together had to be something truly special and unforgettable. I even managed to coax the twins from Number 16 down the road to be a part of it, and when they turned up that afternoon, already dressed in smart, waiter/waitress-y clothing, I could not have been more excited!

The doorbell rang just after 7pm, and I went to get the door. Lauren was there in the most stunning little red number, and I ushered her through to the lounge whilst I ran her coat upstairs quickly.

Coming back down, I entered through the dining room, bringing two flutes and a bottle of prosecco with me, the cork already popped. Lauren took a glass, and I poured the fizzing liquid, eliciting a small giggle as I accidentally spilled some on my hand. 

Holding my eye contact, she softly took hold of my hand, bringing it to her lips and lightly licking the prosecco from my skin. To say the evening was already perfect would be an understatement. I had never known a woman like her. She was entirely bewitching, and I was held entranced by her spell.

I beckoned to her to enter the dining room, where I placed the bottle and my glass down on the table before seating her as every gentleman should.

Disappearing briefly into the kitchen, I returned with a small bowl of tomato soup in each hand. I placed Lauren’s bowl before her, then sat down to mine. 

The conversation was magical. I can honestly say I have never laughed so much – we just clicked, if that makes sense? It was like we had known each other for years, for centuries. 

With the soup course over, I stood placing my napkin carefully on the table and suggested she come with me into the kitchen, as I had a surprise for her. This main course would be to die for! Everything had happened so perfectly, running smoothly and according to plan.

Lauren stood and took my hand, as I led her into the kitchen. 

Taking care to walk over the plastic sheeting that covered the floor and every work surface, I led her to the chest freezer on the far side of the kitchen, being careful not to knock the bags containing the somewhat sanguinary corpses of the house’s previous occupants.

Opening the freezer, Lauren’s eyes widened with anticipation as the chilled but very much alive twin children looked up at both of us, abject horror and despair displayed on both their faces. 

Lauren indicated the boy, which was ideal as I had already provisionally hoped to have the girl. Taking them from the chiller, we led them to the huge island table in the centre of the kitchen, laying them down side by side, and taking hold of the knives with which we would prepare our feast.

“You’ve really outdone yourself this time, Claudio,” said Lauren, as she pierced the flesh of the boy, his screams muffled by the tape around his mouth.

I simply looked at her, lovingly, the charade of being strangers evaporating as I opened the girl from collarbone to navel and started peeling the skin back to reveal the tender morsels within.

“Well,” I replied, “I’ve got another hundred and fifty years to think up the next dinner.”


 

 

Once, many moons and 1 failed marriage ago, I started writing a high fantasy novel, on the urging of my now ex-wife. I really enjoyed what I was writing, and probably would’ve carried on had things not gone awry at home. It is now 2021, I have a new wife, and a new novel idea to write about, which I am currently writing. I have also found a penchant for writing horror. I live with my family, emotional support hound, Fallon, and am addicted to Coco Pops and Hula Hoops

Free Fiction: This Year’s Costume by Peter Kijek

 

     “Alice! Where’s my costume?” Danny shouted to his sister from upstairs in his room, “I can’t find it?”

     “Down here, on the sofa, where you left it,” she yelled back as she gathered the suit hanger from the back of the dining room chair. “Come down and get it yourself!”

Danny raced down the staircase and into the lounge with all the haste a nine-year-old boy could muster.

     “This was such a great idea Mum had for Halloween this year!!”

Alice had to admit, this idea did go one better than last year’s costume, where they pretended to be mini demons whilst Dad sat in the car, and they beat the roof with his ‘severed head’. They loved to go all out to provide a real scare for the neighbourhood, and last year’s was horrific but immense fun. They’d moved to a new area shortly after, just before Christmas, and this Halloween was a great chance to not only top last year, but to show the new neighbourhood kids what Halloween was all about.

Upstairs in her room, a typical bedroom for a twelve-year-old girl, she unzipped the case and carefully took out the hanger that held her costume in place. It was perfect, absolutely historically accurate to the turn of the century period. It was a replica of the clothes worn by Susan Buckley who, along with her brother John, was reportedly photographed outside their house with their mother sat between them, axe in Susan’s hand, their mother’s head in John’s. The photograph had since been debunked, with experts claiming to know how the original portrait had been doctored to make it look like the kids had decapitated their poor mother. Whether it was real or not didn’t matter, it was a great urban legend and a great idea for a Halloween costume!

With the dress on, Alice pulled on the boots that came with it and dusted herself down in front of the mirror to flatten out any last-minute creases. Her hair was already tied up in an untidy bun. Brilliant, she thought, I look just like Susan Buckley! She grabbed the small axe from her bed, already stained with blood for that authentic look, and stepped out onto the landing. 

     “Are you ready yet?” she called to Danny, knocking on his bedroom door.  The door opened, and he stepped out, pulling at the collar with one finger to loosen it from chafing him. 

     “This shirt itches,” he complained.

     “That’s the starch,” explained Alice, “It helps with the authenticity.”

The children made their way downstairs, excited at the prospect of their costumes this year. Such a shame that their father wouldn’t be there to see the fruits of their labour, but that was okay, they understood the time of year and that he’d no doubt be buried in something keeping him extremely occupied. 

     “Is Mother ready?” asked Danny as he grabbed the shopping bag from the table.

     “She’s outside, sat on her chair,” replied Alice as she moved towards the front door, “She’s waiting for us. Now, come on! Some of the local kids are coming, I can see the lights from their mobiles.” Opening the door, she ushered Danny outside to the chair on the front lawn where their mother sat.

     “Here they come,” she whispered to her brother, “Get ready! As soon as they see us, they’ll want to take photos, just like the Buckley children!”

Standing on the opposite side of his mother to where Alice was, Danny reached into the shopping bag and pulled out his mother’s head, blood still dripping from the ragged flesh where Alice had hacked it off earlier that afternoon. 

Alice quietly moved her head to one side, to whisper to Danny. “I don’t know how we’re going to top this next year? Here’s hoping Uncle Mark has some good ideas….. ?”

_________________________________________________________________________

 

Once, many moons and 1 failed marriage ago, I started writing a high fantasy novel, on the urging of my now ex-wife. I really enjoyed what I was writing, and probably would’ve carried on had things not gone awry at home. It is now 2022, I have a new wife, and a new novel idea I am currently writing. I have also found a penchant for writing horror. I live with my family, emotional support hound, Fallon, and am addicted to Coco Pops and Hula Hoops. Find Peter on Facebook.

Free Fiction: He is Coming by S.Tierney

Under bough and moonlight, we bide, the twilight breeze fluttering the hems of our white cotton gowns. Behind us, staving the chill while preventing retreat, a semicircle of elders support burning torches, their grimaces of paternal anticipation veiled behind a portrait mask. 

Before us, awaiting us, beckoning us: a fruitless and endless and altogether lifeless density of brambles, an entwined jungle of octopus tentacle with talon-like thorns for suckers. The wind causes the vines to grind together, sounding a scratching akin to a butcher’s tools being sharpened – yet shortly we must attempt to achieve what the moonlight cannot. Upon the dimming of the moon behind a cloud we must penetrate this barbed mass, run headlong into its jagged crush without a moment’s hesitation, all in an attempt to reach the other side. 

This is the way of it–

And so we are away. Gowns flapping. Faces preemptively scrunched. The initial thorns cut the deepest, fangs puncturing, biting our momentum. Immediately we are lodged, imprisoned within nature’s chains. In animal reflex one cannot help but raise their hands to their face, fearing scars and lacerations and the likely loss of an eye. But this is a mistake. Although we are all virgins to this ceremony and therefore inexperienced, the best of us know instinctively that one’s hands are better put to use not in preservation but in parting. Reach for those brambles! Tear them from their roots! Yes, just as our cheeks, our palms will soon be glossy with blood, that loose skin between the fingers spliced from so much snagging; yet these torments must be ignored. We must hasten. Endure. Suffer. Clench. Scream if you must, cry out! But whatever you do, do not hesitate, not even for a moment.

For He is coming.

He moves faster than us, compelled by a purpose comparable with a predator’s lust. He carves through the brambles with all the impulsion of a stag trampling roses, following those paths of least resistance which we have so courteously made ready. Yes, we benefit from a head start, that interval between the thinning of the clouds and the returning of the moon; but He has strength on His side, power, size, and a rampant desire to capture those laggers who have fallen behind. 

Dare you look over your calloused shoulders you would see that His lumbering structure is barnacled with faces. Masks, to be exact, sunken wicker skulls with only a lacquer of meat depicted across the bone. Not only is His face concealed as per the elders; He is draped in masks as though a stone clustered with oysters, His ribs and shins and forearms and spine consumed beneath armor-like myiasis of haunted expressions, each more pained and repentant than the next. This spore of woven faces seems to cry out as He thrusts them through the brambles, the wailing mill of thorn against willow akin to teeth down a blackboard – not that He fosters any heed. The thorns are nothing to Him. He feels no pain. He only wills the chase. His chase. Our chase. With each stride, He surges faster, grows more determined–

Should you maintain the inclination to escape, you must do the same.

It is impossible to know how deep you are into the brambles – it is all one endless, seizing tract. You may have grappled through an acre or an inch of it, for an hour or a lifetime; and all you have to show is a gown torn to ribbons. Your flesh fares little better, gashed raw that it is. At least be thankful that you are still moving, still breathing, even writhing – which is more than can be said for your fellows…

Having previously been cocooned within a company as numerous as a flock of doves, now the flock is dissipating, His ravenous hawk bringing down you fledglings beak by beak. A begging squawk is stifled within the brambles, snuffed out like a candle. Moments later and out goes another. Then another. Between the vines, you catch a flash of cotton as it is snatched away, pale and bloodied. You feel yourself alone, isolated; you fear you too will soon be snatched, for you are freezing and fretting and all-but naked and exhausted to your soul – yet you must endure, just a little further. Another inch. Another lifetime. Look, the brambles are thinning. The light beyond them swells! Of this, you convince yourself if only to drown out the howling reality that He is almost upon you. Within the reflective beads of blood and sweat and dew and tears which cling to the vines ahead, you see His charging form glinting in the moonlight, unblinking eyes staring hungrily, bared teeth snapping like those of a pack of hounds. As though an extension of his wicker the brambles seem to harden, converge, wrap around you. The light…it is so close now. One final push. One final tolerance of laceration and suffering and-

You collapse to a bed of wild and welcoming grass, the brambles renounced behind your swollen ankles. Your breath is hurried, moist exhalations swirling around the smoke from the semicircle of torches which stand over you. An elder in a red gown lifts your head and presses a chalice to your lips. You swallow as best you can – the tart fluid bubbles over your chin. A mask, a robe, and a torch are awarded – and a second sip.

Thankful, you roll over and glance behind you; each indistinguishable from the other, His wicker masks peer out from the brambles, more innumerous than before. 

And then, in accordance with the moon, they recede.

____________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

S. Tierney is an author of novels, comics, and several acclaimed short stories – which have been translated into audiobooks – and the novella ‘Kin’. Find more of his work on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scott-Tierney/e/B00J21D0O6?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1641651813&sr=8-1

 

Free Fiction: It’ Hard Out There For A Cryptid by Andy Martin

Devil let Dogman push his advantage, his strength, his reach, but Dogman’s big haymakers were too wild to really connect, claws too short and too dog to do much damage, and when Devil felt Dogman’s whole weight shift forward for the kill Devil dropped back on his wings like he was done for but then kicked out with both hooves, catching the mutt high on the chest. Dogman hit the sand like there wasn’t a bone left in his body.

Devil followed through and landed more or less upright on his hooves, that spot on his back, right above his tail, absolutely screaming. He’d feel that one in the morning.

     “Welcome to New Jersey kid,” he said, wisps of smoke and sulfur for punctuation.  

Dogman’s eyes were rolled over white but he was whimpering so he’d live. 

     “Don’t feel bad. I’ve been pulling that move since the 18th century. One time I turned a grass ape’s head completely around like that, so count       yourself lucky.” He grabbed a handful of Dogman’s pelt and dragged him toward the creek. “Let’s get some water in you.”

***

     “Anything?” Buddy said, his phone on selfie mode as checked his headlamp.

     “I’ve barely got any bars, no, wait, wait, I got it. You’re good,” Steve said, turning his phone with the aftermarket lighting and stabilization rig             toward Buddy. He got Buddy framed up, the pine trunks behind him looking like rotted teeth in the glare of the big light. “Rolling.”

     “What’s up Youwatch, this is Cryptid Buddy coming from deep in the Jersey Pines, but tonight we’re not talking about Jersey Devil, tonight             we’re talking about-”

***

Dogman was on the shore, shaking cedar water from his fur and spitting blood. Devil hopped off a stump and stretched hard, maybe too hard, because Dogman flinched and whined.

     “Relax pal. We’re good.” Except for my back, which is not good, Devil thought. “Friends?” Devil said and offered a claw. Dogman shrunk and           Devil turned his claw palm down, let him come in for a sniff.

     “Good boy. See? We’re fine. Look kid, I was young once too, I get it. 1909? I was all the rage. People were so scared of me, they couldn’t keep       my name out of their mouths. I was chasing trollies and closing schools. I mean, it wasn’t quite the 18th, when I was eating babies and                  burning churches, but I loved it…until some kid in California willed me into existence and a Bigfoot kicked my ass.”

***

“Dogmen. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Devil of Ben Franklin’s day is no match for these carnivorous Cano-sapiens, and I have exclusive information that animal mutilations are on the rise in the Pine Barrens and there have been numerous sightings of large humanoids-”

Steve was fighting to keep up with Buddy in the soft sand, the pines crowding the road and throwing menacing shadows in the camera light-

***

Dogman stopped licking his paw and made a little whine.

     “Look, I get it. You’re holed up somewhere, sleeping that deep sleep, and you feel it, or smell it, or whatever. That scared, eager mind. That            delicious belief. But kid, we’ve all got our patches. I still feel that pull from all over the country, not like ’09, but it’s there. Maybe it’s because          everyone, everywhere, is from New Jersey, but either way, lots of people, all over the place, they step in the woods at night, they think of me.”

Dogman whined again and looked anywhere but at Devil.

     “But you know what? Colorado ain’t my patch. Florida ain’t my patch. Bodwin Moor ain’t my patch. Jersey is my patch, and I still get plenty of         Boy Scout trips out here to keep me going strong. I need a pick me up, I just land close to one of those little circles of tents and scream like         hell, plant that seed of terror that those kids will carry for the rest of their lives and years from now, they’ll be around a campfire and telling             their own kids about what they heard one night, and that’s me, going strong for another few years. You try to be everywhere where someone         thinks they see a Dogman and you’ll burn out. Or some old-timer like me or the Opogo is gonna clean your clock-”

Devil snapped a claw at Dogman.

     “Hey! There’s places you’re meant to be and places you ain’t. The Pines are mine. I’m not pissing on hydrants in Michigan, so do me the                 same      courtesy, you get me?”

Dogman nodded, his eyes still anywhere but on the Devil and skulked into the night.

***

      “What was that?!”

Steve did like he was supposed to and whipped his phone back and forth across the logging road, the sand wetter now, like maybe this was a bad idea and they were walking into a bog.

      “I heard it too!” Steve hissed, but it wasn’t only a stage whisper. Somewhere way out in the night, he’d heard some sort of low moan, half-animal, half-human but all hurt. It left his balls crawling. 

     “There! There!” Buddy shouted and backed up, squelching in the wet sand, banging full on into Steve, the camera spinning, Steve sick to his         stomach and cold all over at the same time. 

Steve heard wings beating, big ones.

     “Buddy, we gotta go,” he said. 

     “What is it?” Buddy asked, more a moan than words, all the bravado gone and then the moon winked out and winked back on, something                huge and black flying over the road, the shadow bending off to the right like it was circling back-

The scream hit them, and Steve pissed Mountain Dew in his pants and they were both running, no thoughts of Dogmen anymore because only one monster rules the night in New Jersey.

 

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Andy Martin is an archaeologist and musician living in South Philly with his girlfriend and cat. He sings songs about shipwrecks and survival cannibalism for the band Clamfight. His fiction has appeared at Cultured Vultures and Necrology Shorts, and he’s authored or coauthored archaeology articles on both sides of the Atlantic.