Black History Month : Interview with M. Lamar


Interview by Sumiko Saulson

M Lamar (born May 29, 1972) is a New York City-based composer, musician, performer, multimedia artist, and countertenor.[2] The New York Times describes his exhibit ‘Negrogothic’ as “a bracing alternative to the dispiriting traffic in blandly competent art clogging the New York gallery system these days, M. Lamar plumbs the depths of all-American trauma with visionary verve.”[3] Hilton Als wrote in The New Yorker of M. Lamar: “he deconstructs the persona of the diva even as he wraps himself in divalike hauteur.”[4]

Lamar was born in Mobile, Alabama, studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute, attending Yale for graduate school in sculpture before dropping out to focus on music.[5] M. Lamar continues to train vocally with Ira Siff, founder and lead soprano of La Gran Scena Opera Company, who was also Klaus Nomi‘s trainer.[6]

Lamar is the twin brother of actress Laverne Cox;[7] in two episodes of the Netflix show Orange Is the New Black, Lamar played his sister’s character prior to her transition.[8][9] Lamar participated in an open dialogue with authors bell hooks, Marci Blackman, and Samuel R. Delany called Transgressive Sexual Practice as part of hooks’ scholar-in-residence at the New School in October 2014.

tps://soundcloud.com/sumiko-saulson/interview-with-negrogothic-artist-m-lamar

About Afrogothic music, literature and culture for February Black History Horror Month, also we have a show (live music) on February 8 but there is a lot of conversation about Beloved, etc… it’s a really good interview. It’s 40 minutes long.

Interview with M. Lamar about the upcoming Vantablack show with Stagefright (my band), Protea and N-Retrograde. We talk about Afrogothic music and literature, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Gothic horror, American Gothic horror and its relationship to the African American community and slavery and the antebellum south. Losing Toni Morrison in 2019. “The Pieces that I Am” and Toni Morrison refusing white centering in literature. Black horror writers, Afropunk,

Whether or not we saw each other at Death Guild in the 90s and why I asked the club to change its logo. Galaxy Chamber and Omewenne and how Stagefright and Protea used to play with them in the 90s. What is Black Eldergoth? Europeans fetishizing Blackness and how that affects Black people in goth culture. My mother dating Gunther Ethan Palmer, son of Warhol Starlet Ivy Nicholson and Ciao! Manhattan director John Palmer. Martin Gore (of Depeche Mode) finding out that his dad was African American and if he should be invited to the Picnic.

Race as a social construct, and what that means? Interracial Blackness, white passingness, our historical relationship to the trans-Atlantic trade route. My mother, Carolyn Saulson, Black Eldergoth and singer of Stagefright. Black centering during and outside of Black History Month.

M Lamar’s relationship to queerness, gender and his identical twin Laverne Cox (he acted as her preop in the series Orange is the New Black).

Loving Blackness and Political Race Theory. Who has the right to claim Blackness?

 

Paranormal/ Hauntings Month: The Old Charlseton Jail by Violet Tempest

 

Excerpt from: Legends of Old by Violet Tempest

The Old Charleston Jail, located at 21 Magazine Street, Charleston, SC is well known to locals as being haunted. Some refuse to go near this structure while thrill seekers buy tickets from Bulldog Tours for guided tours. The long history of this jail does give creditability to its many hauntings. Having been used as a prison for over 200 years there was a great deal of suffering that occurred on the grounds and in the cells. (pg. 72)

My personal experience of the tour and afterward:

When our daughter was eleven years old, my husband and I decided it would be fun to start a Halloween tradition of going on a different Ghost Tour in Charleston, SC every year. These would allow us to spend time as a family and introduce our daughter to Lowcountry History.

The area goes back to 1670 when settlers landed on the shores of the Cooper River, founding what is now known as Charlestown Landing. Our first tour was a family friendly tour of the old churches and graveyards in Downtown Charleston.

Two years later we decided to take it up a notch. That’s when we took The Haunted Jail Tour.

By this time our daughter was familiar with the lore of the area, and like us she found the old tales intriguing. Little did we know that the tour would change our views on ghost tours.

We booked a tour for the Saturday before Halloween of 2008. It was chilly evening, and the tour didn’t start until after dark. WE made an event of it, like we had done in the past. Going out to dinner, and our daughter invited her best friend to go with us. The four of us were looking forward to a fun spooky filled evening.

We arrived at the Old Jail with about 20 minutes to spare, so we, along with others who were arriving for the tour, had to stand outside while the tour in progress finished up. Standing on the sidewalk we could hear an occasional loud bang followed by a scream or two. The girls moved to the sidewalk opposite the street, and we weren’t too far behind them. Even across the street we could feel the heavy despair that hung around the old building and grounds.

Finally, the tour ended, and it was time for us to take ours. Friendly, joking banter floated around as strangers teased one another. Nothing that anyone in the group took seriously. I mean, everyone knows the noises on these tours are false.

Right?

Before we could enter, we were told the rules; the most important was to stay together, no one was to wander off. Then the tour began. Standing outside the front entrance our tour guide told us that what is now known as the old jail started out in a hospital for the homeless and other impoverished people.

Years later, in 1802 that building was torn down and replaced with the building that currently stands. Over the years the building that was designed to hold 128 prisoners would at times have so many occupants that there was standing room only. Not only inside, but outside as well. The grounds would be packed with barely enough room for the prisoners to move, and men and women were placed together. They did not separate them.

As you can imagine, the conditions created disease, and many died before they were released. The city kept a body cart on the property where the dead bodies were stacked on top of one another.

When the cart was full, it was then driven to the river, and the bodies dumped. Our guide said that there were many times the bodies piled up before they decayed and so another site, further down the river, would have to be used. Her words painted a vivid image and my flesh crawled as my mind carried me back to that time.

That wasn’t the end of the horror she painted for us.

We followed her inside, and she showed us the shackles that are still on the walls. The torture devise varied from room to room. Our guide told us how the prisoners who were considered the worst of the Charleston population were tortured, shackled, and starved.

Next, we went up the narrow staircase and saw the huge rooms where,  in the winter there wasn’t any heat nor, of course, in the summer any air conditioning.

The criminals weren’t shown any kindness.

These harsh conditions made it almost impossible to survive. It is approximated that by the time the jail closed in 1939 over 10,000 people died on the property.

It was in the last room where we heard the tale of Lavina Fisher, according to legend she’s the country’s first female serial killer. And yes, while we were in the room a loud bang sounded out. Where exactly it came from I cannot say. The sound echoed all around us. Now, even though I have experienced the unexplained since I was a small child, I was skeptical.

“But surely it was Lavina?” some may be asking. I do not know. Personally, I feel it was all sound effects the tour company added to give their customers a thrill. I can tell you the despair that bore down on us before we started the tour did not leave me. There were times that it felt like someone was behind me, but when I looked no one was there. Other times a cold reached my bones that wasn’t from the chilly autumn air.

Throughout the whole tour I couldn’t shake the feeling of evil all around me.

No one was injured on the tour, and everyone took plenty of pictures. Nothing unusual showed in ours and driving away we talked about the history that we had learned that night. Little did we know that our experience with the old jail was far from over.

Over the next year our daughter and I could not shake the feeling of something watching us at all times. Even in our sleep. After a couple of months things progressed. Our daughter began staying in her room all the time and was always sleepy and moody. We chalked it up to her becoming a teenager, even though that didn’t squelch our concerns.

Then she started showing me her sketches. They were full of an evil crawling out of the darkness of her closest. It wasn’t until one night while she stayed with a friend that I discovered what was really happening to her.

My dear husband snores, and when I say snore I mean shake the walls snore. So that night I was awoken by what can only be called an Earth-Shattering Rumble, I went down to her room and crawled into her empty bed. The snoring was tolerable down there, and I eventually fell back asleep. How long I was asleep I do not know. But while I lay there on my right side, under her comforter, deep asleep,  I felt something jump on the bed, placing hands and feet on either side of me, startling me awake.

At first I thought it was our dog, and I turned to pet her and get her to snuggle up beside me.

What I saw was not our dog.

From the streetlight that peeked through the curtains, I could make out the thing on my daughter’s bed straddling me was a deep, dark, green. Its skin was slimy in appearance. Its squished face did not have a nose, but instead two slits located where one should’ve been. Two glowing red embers for eyes, and a thin, toad-like mouth. When it saw me, those lips pulled back in a snarl showing me sharp, pointy, yellow teeth.

That snarl told me it was not expecting me to be there. It raised its thin right arm and swung claws like a big cat at me.

I jumped from the bed. My muscles quivering, my heart pounding.

“How dare you! You meant to attack my daughter!” I said. The creature jumped down off the bed, and with a laugh that was full of evil, made its way toward me. I did the only thing I could think of.

I stood there in the room, shaking my head, anger filling every pore of my body. “No! You will not get away with this.”

I placed my right palm in the air, toward the ceiling, toward the universe. With my left hand I pointed at the creature and with every fiber of my being I said the only thing I could think of.

“I call on the power of the one who created me. I call upon the power of the supreme one to send you back to the depths of Hell from which you came from!”

As those words left my lips, I felt a warm energy enter my right palm, surge down my arm, through my core, before shooting out my left arm. A bright blue beam shown from my left hand.

The creature’s eyes grew big. Its slimy face filled with fear as its mouth opened in a silent scream. Then it was gone, and I was left standing alone in the center of my daughter’s room.

Looking around, I realized what had happened. A demon had come to attack my daughter and to its surprise found me instead. My heart felt like it was going to beat its way out of my chest, and my body trembled as fear started to take the place of anger. Finally satisfied it was gone, at least for the night, I turned and walked quickly back to our bed where my husband was still sound asleep, his snores now a sound of comfort. I slid back under our covers and laid there the rest of the night.

Sleep did not return.

Come morning, I got up and went back into the room. The bed was still a mess like I’d left it and in the light of day, the previous night’s experience seemed unreal. My mind quickly brought up the images of my daughter’s sketches and I knew that thing had been after her. And I also knew where it had come from.

For some reason it latched on to us at the jail. Coming home with us; a sort of supernatural souvenir.

I talked to my daughter and husband about what happened that night and that’s when we found out the creature had been terrorizing her. It had thrown her clothes across the room. Even lifted her up and spun her around. I told her what I had done, and that I hoped that took care of it.

She changed rooms to what was the spare room. Who could blame her?

Never again has the creature made an appearance and no longer do we feel like something is watching us from the shadows. I will tell you this, The Old Charleston Jail is one place I refuse to go back to.

If you decide to take the tour remember this, there’s no telling what souvenir you will end up with.

To learn more about The Old Charleston City Jail and other South Carolina Lowcountry legends read Legends of Old by Violet Tempest with Bonus Feature section with short stories never before published.

Available as Kindle Unlimited, eBook, and paperback on Amazon.com. Click link above to purchase.

Paranormal/Hauntings: Guest Blog by Violet Tempest

 

by Violet Tempest

Since I’m an author, I view stories as a platform to speak out about experiences I have gone through in hopes my experiences may help others. If for no other reason than for them to know they are not alone. 

That is why I would like to share the following experience with you. 

As far back as I can remember I have seen things others don’t. Felt things others seem oblivious to. In almost fifty years I have had more than one experience with the supernatural and paranormal worlds out there. One such experience happened about eleven years ago. My family and I had moved into a house in a new subdivision. Since the place was new, I’d hoped that we would be left alone by those other worlds. 

My hopes would soon prove wrong. 

We’d lived there for about a year when one night I awoke about two in the morning. My husband was fast asleep. I couldn’t figure out what caused me to wake up and as I lay there, I looked about the room. At first my eyes landed on a shadow form. I kept looking at it, expecting that the longer I looked at it the more my eyes would adjust, and it would just be a trick of the eye. 

But that’s not what happened. 

The black form seemed to move closer. Was this a trick of my eye? Were my eyes being fooled by the outside light that filtered in between the curtains? Still, on my back I just watched as this form seemed to float until it stood at the foot of our bed. There what had been dark forms just moments before took the shape of a woman. 

I sat up, leaned closer, astonished by what I was seeing. Clearly, I was imagining it.

I reached over with my right hand and began to shake my husband, urging him to wake up. As I did so the woman’s features became crystal clear. No longer was she just shadows but before me, at the foot of our bed stood a woman about five feet in height, average build, long dark hair that seemed to shimmer with non-existent light. Her straight hair so long it went past her waist and seemed to disappear behind her. Around her there appeared this glow that allowed me to see her in detail. Her skin softened with age, tanned as if she spent a lot of time out in the sun, and her clothes, well her clothes seemed to be from an earlier time. Say hundreds of years earlier. Around her shoulders she wore a blue shawl that she clutched with her right hand, her dress appeared brown and it was hard to tell if it were made from leather or cotton. 

As I continued to shake my husband awake, pleading with him to wake up, she began to move along his side of the bed. 

“I really need you to wake-up!” I cried out. By this time the figure was at his feet and began to pat the bed with her left hand. 

“Huh, wha?” He mumbled.

“Wake-up. There’s someone in the room with us!” I demanded. Now the woman was at his waist, still patting his side of the bed as if she were trying to make him lay back down.

“What? Where?!” He sat straight up, looking around him. 

At this point this woman stood right beside him, looking at him. 

“Right there!” I pointed at her. 

He jumped out of the bed and turned the light on. 

But by that time, she had disappeared. As if she had never even been there. 

My heartbeat against my rib cage. My hands shook. My whole body trembled.

My dear husband looked under the bed, in the closest, anywhere he could think of. But I knew he’d never find her or anyone else. 

Then he checked the windows and doors. All were locked.

He never got mad at me. He never called me crazy. He believed me when I said I saw something and to this day he still believes me. And that’s why I love him. Because when I see a ghost he doesn’t question me or make me feel stupid. He accepts that I experienced something he didn’t. 

Which is what happened that night. I saw a ghost. Even though the house and subdivision were new, the land wasn’t. Land can become haunted just as buildings do. I don’t believe what I saw was a poltergeist or a ghost that meant to do harm. I believe what I saw was more of an imprint in time. A spirit doomed to repeat a moment of their life over and over for all eternity. 

I never saw her again. Why? Well, for one thing, the very next day we moved the bed to the opposite wall. If what showed itself was a spirit passing through a gateway, I didn’t want another experience like it so we moved the bed. If that’s why I can’t say. I do know for the rest of the time we lived in that house I didn’t see another ghost despite strange things that happened. Items moved. Lights and water turn on by themselves. Things of that nature. 

It took nine years, but we finally moved from that house. Where we are living seems to be free from the paranormal visitors. But I have a feeling that I will experience something else again. Like I said, I’ve seen and felt things from the Supernatural and Paranormal worlds all my life and expect to until the end.

When will be the next time? I don’t have a clue. 

 

To learn more about Violet visit her website and while there sign up for her newsletter.

 

Kid Fears : Naughtiest Girl in the World Fears

Do bad girls and boys really get coal in their stockings? We had a fireplace in my home growing up, but not a mantle so hanging stockings wasn’t one of our Christmas traditions. 

However, I always wondered if we did, would I have always found coal in my stocking? Was it because we were a stockingless household that Santa never brought what I asked for? Was disregarding my requests his way of letting me know I’d been a bad girl all year? (Again.)

I was no peach, I’ll admit. I could be a difficult child. Knowing what we know these days about special needs children, autism and the like, I wonder if I would’ve been diagnosed with something?

I liked routines. Surprises scared me and would often prompt tantrums or withdrawals. If I knew something was coming or my routine would be disrupted, I fared better. But spring an unexpected stop on me? Or my dad having to take me to school instead of my mom with no advanced notice? Expect major drama. 

But I don’t think my parents ever did expect it. Did they brace themselves for the fallout, or did they continue to be surprised by my meltdowns and not connect the dots? 

I’m thinking the latter because they never tried anything different, ie. a softer approach. They expected me to fall in line, and if I didn’t –which I didn’t– I could expect a major butt spanking. This was the 70s and my parents were old school. Discipline involved corporal punishment. Needless to say, I was well acquainted with the practice. 

I never kept count of how many spankings I got each year. Did Santa? I always just hoped each year when Christmas rolled around I’d have been better and Santa knew it. Or at least he’d know I’d tried really, really hard.

But every year it was the same thing: Naughty List. 

In the early years, I’d tell Santa my wishes in person at the mall. When I learned to write, I’d add in a letter. Because maybe that was the problem. He’d seen so many kids –from all over the world– he’d forgotten what I’d asked for. But if it was in writing, maybe I’d get what I really wanted.

Nope. That didn’t help either.

Don’t get me wrong. I got great gifts from my mom and dad. It’s not like I wasn’t spoiled. 

But the big gift that was supposed to come from Santa was never the big gift my heart longed for. 

So until I learned the truth about Santa, my biggest childhood fear was I’d never get off the naughty list. No matter how hard I tried. 

And I did try. My resolution every year aimed for a No Spankings one. I always failed. It made me wonder about the good kids. How did they make it through a whole year without getting in trouble? They must be extraordinary!

And back to the coal…did the bad kids who hung stockings really get it?

Embarrassment prevented me from asking my friends. Plus, Santa always seemed to bring them exactly what they wanted. Who wants to admit they’re the naughty one? I sure didn’t.

But for years I feared: am I the naughtiest girl in the world? 

Kid Fears : Demon Pigs and Other Childhood Frears by Pricilla Bettis

Demon Pigs and Other Childhood Fears

Slobbering pigs frequently defied gravity and appeared outside the window of my second-story, childhood bedroom in Alaska. These weren’t the cute, when-pigs-fly variety with angel-like wings to lift them to the height of my window. These pigs silently hovered, and they were one of my childhood fears. I’m decades removed from those days, but I still remember my three supernatural childhood fears, starting with the demon pigs.

The pigs would arrive one or two at a time. Their overgrown incisors gleamed white in the midnight sun, and they drooled when they spotted me through the window because they had a taste for human flesh. During the Alaskan winters when the night sky was black and endless, the pigs’ eyes glowed red.

Another fear I had was the vampire under my bed. The cavern below the bed frame was the darkest part of my room and a natural place for an undead creature to lurk. Sometimes the vampire’s hand would skitter out, find the glow cast from the ceiling light, and snap back. I wasn’t allowed to go to sleep with the light on, so I’d stand by the wall switch and, leaving one hand on the switch, crouch like a runner about to dash from the starting line. I’d flip the switch as I leapt forward, and I would sprint then hurl myself onto the bed. The idea was to be airborne before my naked feet got close to the underbowels of my bed where the vampire could snag my ankle with his bony, pale fingers. He had thick, grey fingernails that ended in points like claws. Fortunately, once on top of the bed, I was safe from the vampire.

But I wasn’t safe from the witch in the closet. A few times Daddy would humor me after I called for him, and he’d check my closet. (Of course, I couldn’t check the closet myself because that would mean stepping on the floor near the bed where the vampire could get me.) The witch wasn’t a modern Wiccan woman in tune with nature, no, not that kind of witch. She wasn’t even an old hag from a storybook. This witch was wicked and immortal and freakishly muscular. She stood hunched over with her stringy, dark hair hanging to the sides of her white face. Her eyes were yellow either from centuries of age or from the evil coursing through her body. Her fingernails were yellow, too. (What was it with my younger self and the fingernail detail?) She snarled a lot, and her teeth were too sharp.

It didn’t take a psychologist to figure out why I saw (imagined) these creatures. The brain is a powerful thing and can mess with our bodies and our senses. For instance, when I was four I woke up late at night on Christmas Eve and spied my mother placing presents under the tree. No, it can’t be Mommy! It has to be Santa. My young brain was traumatized by the thought that Santa might not be real. I blinked, and my mother became a jolly old man in a red suit. I can still picture him near the tree to the right of the fireplace.

Later, in elementary school, a teacher had a violent meltdown in the classroom. The metal trash can went soaring and landed with the noise of a construction zone. He shoved desks and threw a chair. He yelled words that until then I had only heard whispered in the far corner of the playground. That evening the vampire appeared under my bed for the first time, and while I knew the beast was simply a reaction to my teacher’s outburst, the vampire refused to leave.

As for the demonic pigs, when the neighborhood newspaper delivery girl had a misunderstanding with my parent’s overpayment, she carved a dirty word in our front door and toilet-papered our house. I got in trouble for it. The pigs appeared a few hours later.

I’m not sure when the witch first appeared, but any of the three fearsome beasts could and would pop up when I’d had a tough day.

Nowadays, I manage life’s stressful encounters from the perspective of adulthood, and I no longer see pigs hovering outside my window or worry about approaching my bed in the dark. But I do still choose to believe in Santa.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Priscilla Bettis read her first grownup horror story, The Exorcist, when she was a little kid. (Because, if you think about it, the children’s book The Three Little Pigs is also a horror story.) She snuck the grownup book from her parents’ den. The Exorcist scared Priscilla silly, and she was hooked on the power of the horror genre from that moment on. She blogs about her writing journey at https://priscillabettisauthor.wordpress.com.

 

Guest Blog : Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter by C.A. Verstraete

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt directly from the author, C.A. Verstraete to introduce her writings.

What if everything you heard about the Lizzie Borden story isn’t true … that is, it isn’t complete?

Could it be that the spinster Sunday school teacher picked up an axe that horrific August day in 1892 to fight off an unexpected horror? 

In Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter by C.A. Verstraete, Lizzie Borden does the unthinkable for the most unexpected of reasons… her parents have become zombies. Now Lizzie must not only help save her sister, Emma but try to protect her hometown and even the neighbors who view her as nothing but a murderess, from this deadly scourge.


        Excerpt:

Chapter One

Q: You saw his face covered with blood?

A: Yes sir.

Q: Did you see his eyeball hanging out?

A: No sir.

Q: Did you see the gashes where his face was laid open?

A: No sir.

—Lizzie Borden at inquest, August 9-11, 1892, Fall River Courtroom

August 4, 1892

Lizzie Borden drained the rest of her tea, set down her cup, and listened to the sound of furniture moving upstairs. My, my, for only ten o’clock in the morning my stepmother is certainly energetic. Housecleaning, already?

THUMP.

For a moment, Lizzie forgot her plans to go shopping downtown. THUMP. There it went again. It sounded like her stepmother was rearranging the whole room. She paused at the bottom stair, her concern growing, when she heard another thump and then, the oddest of sounds—a moan. Uh-oh. What was that? Did she hurt herself?

“Mrs. Borden?” Lizzie called. “Are you all right?”

No answer.

She wondered if her stepmother had taken ill, yet the shuffling, moving, and other unusual noises continued. Lizzie hurried up the stairs and paused outside the partially opened door. The strange moans coming from the room sent a shiver up her back.

Lizzie pushed the door open wider and stared. Mrs. Abby Durfee Borden stood in front of the bureau mirror, clawing at her reflected image. And what a horrid image it was. The sixty-seven-year-old woman’s hair looked like it had never been combed and stuck out like porcupine quills. Her usually spotless housedress appeared wrinkled and torn. Yet, that wasn’t the worst. Dark red spots—Blood, Lizzie’s mind whispered—dotted the floor and streaked the sides of the older woman’s dress and sleeves.

Lizzie gazed about the room in alarm. The tips of Father’s slippers peeking out from beneath the bed also glistened with the same viscous red liquid. All that blood! What happened here? What happened?

She gasped, which got the attention of Mrs. Borden, who jerked her head and growled. Lizzie choked back a cry of alarm. Abby’s square, plain face now appeared twisted and ashen gray. Her eyes, once bright with interest, stared from under a milky covering as if she had cataracts. She resembled a female version of The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Another growl and a moan, and the older woman lunged, arms rigid, her stubby hands held out like claws.

“Mrs. Borden, Abby!” Lizzie yelled and stumbled backward as fast as she could. “Abby, do you hear me?”

Her stepmother shuffled forward, her steps slow but steady. She showed no emotion or sense of recognition. The only utterances she made were those strange low moans.

Lizzie moved back even further, trying to keep some distance between her and Mrs. Borden’s grasping fingers. Then her foot hit something. Lizzie quickly glanced down at the silver hairbrush that had fallen to the floor. Too late, she realized her error.


Another Side to the Tale:

But even as Lizzie Borden fights her own battles in court and off, another story begged to be told—that of her long time neighbor and family physician, Dr. Seabury Bowen. He suddenly found his life turned upside down after being the first professional to witness the unexpectedly brutal murder scene firsthand.

Dr. Bowen was a doctor, of course, a man of science used to life and death. But what could prepare him for the scene that awaited him at the Borden household? Would he, and his life, ever be the same?

In The Haunting of Dr. Bowen by C.A. Verstraete, the doctor finds his life changed, even haunted, by what he witnessed that morning. Dare he find the truth and find peace? Will the love of his precious wife, Phoebe, help heal his shattered heart? 

This is a tale of everlasting change… and everlasting love among the darkest of shadows.

Prologue:

“Never did I say to anyone that she had died of fright.

My first thought, when I was standing in the door, was that she had fainted.”

                                      —Testimony of Dr. Seabury W. Bowen, Trial of Lizzie Borden, June 8, 1893

“Why won’t anyone believe me? Why, Phoebe, why?”

Dr. Seabury Bowen shoved back the shock of white hair hanging over his forehead and wiped a wrinkled hand across his stubbled chin.

His appearance, like his surroundings, could stand a bit of major housekeeping, not that he cared a whit. 

“Here, it’s here somewhere,” he mumbled.

The old man rummaged among the giant pile of documents, books, and what-not littering the large walnut desk in his study. Several minutes later, and after the search through dozens of loose papers, he saw the faded red book lying beneath a tottering pile. He pulled at it, sending the rest of the stack falling like so much unwanted garbage.

The good doctor, but a shadow of his once-robust self, flipped the pages. He stared at the offending journal entry before setting the book aside with a heartrending sob. 

Chapter One

“I saw the form of Mr. Borden lying on the lounge at the left of the sitting-room door. His face was very badly cut, apparently with a sharp instrument; his face was covered with blood.”

—Testimony of Dr. Seabury W. Bowen, Trial of Lizzie Borden, June 8, 1893

The man reached toward him with long, lean fingers. Dr. Seabury Bowen blinked and tried to make out the features of the unknown figure standing in the corner. The unexpected visitor had a broad, dark face and what looked like a band across his forehead. Bowen stretched out his arm in turn and jumped when their fingers touched, the jolt surging through him like the electricity he knew would soon replace all the gas lights.

“Seabury, dear, are you all right?” His wife, Phoebe, sounded concerned. “What’s wrong?”

Bowen breathed hard. He bolted upright and held a hand on his chest, trying to catch his breath. Still stunned, he gazed about the room, disturbed at the odd shapes until he recognized familiar things… the bureau, the armoire, the paintings on his bedroom walls. He swallowed and nodded.

 “Ye-yes. I-I’m fine. A bad dream, that’s all it was. Just a dream.”

“A bad dream? Dear, you’re breathing so hard, your heart must be pounding like a drum in Mr. Sousa’s band! Are you sure you’re fine?”

The doctor took his wife’s hand and kissed it, relieved to feel his heartbeat return to normal. He had to admit his reaction worried him for a minute, too. “I’m fine now, Phoebe. Really, it’s all right. Go back to sleep. I’m too wrought up to rest. I think I’ll go downstairs and read awhile.”

He gave her a loving smile before he rose, and slipped on his robe, his thoughts in a whirl. To tell the truth, these dreams or hallucinations or whatever they were, appeared to be getting stronger and more frequent.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

BIO: (C.A.) Christine Verstraete has had fiction published in various anthologies including 100 Word Horrors 3 and upcoming in 100 Word Zombie Bites. She is the author of the Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter series and The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, plus other books. Learn more at her blog, http://girlzombieauthors.blogspot.com or visit her website, https://www.cverstraete.com for more details.

Horror Seeker: Are You Scared? Top 5 Countdown

These days, it’s sad to say that horror has lost a few nuances in subtlety. While there are a few outliers, mostly those of the independent realm that still manage to terrify with atmosphere and story, the jump scare has no doubt taken the place of genuine creativity and effort to scare us. It is indeed a shame; while jump scares are nothing new, and when used appropriately they can be effective, it is but one tool, not the ONLY tool by any means. This over-reliance on the exhausted trope may have even left the average moviegoer numb and impatient to any sort of suspense building element a film might have to offer. So, I am here to remind you of, and hopefully share something new, the chill in your spine. That feeling that makes you check the windows twice at night, and make you second guess looking into the dark again. This is by no means a complete list, only a collection of some of my favorites. So, without further ado…

5: FRIDAY THE 13TH VIII – Jason Takes Manhattan

Arguably, the most questionable addition to this list hence why it comes in at number 5, Jason Takes Manhattan is regarded as one of the more discombobulated installments of the franchise, and for good reason. Taking Jason away from Crystal Lake might not have been the best of choices, but this deep into the story there might not have been much left to explore. So, why not give him a “proper” sendoff and bring Jason to the Big Apple? New York has always been the go to for any film/character in good standing.

Unfortunately, it didn’t really live up to the title. Spending only 36 minutes of an hour and forty run time in the big city, it was kind of a letdown, I think most would agree. It is well known that a number of scenes were cut, but it was not without its moments. One I think everyone remembers is Julius’s death – Jason’s one-punch knockout! But that was just a WOW moment, really.

I’d like to talk about one of the many times we see Jason as a boy, in this case, his ghost, played by Tim Murkovich. It is one of the many times boy-Jason makes an appearance, probably the most in any film, however, he hold a certain level of eeriness to him. Waterlogged, and soggy, Jason appears as a harbinger of doom of sorts, preceding Jason’s actual presence. Kind of like his force-ghost, if I can get away with that! But the moment that stands out is one that is thrust onto us nearly without warning. As our survivors (what’s left of them) drive madly down the alley trying to escape Jason, they, or rather our heroine Rennie, is confronted by the boy-ghost. It is not so much his presence, nor the scene, but rather the camera work/editing that sells this one.

The scene begins at a high pace as they drive off in a commandeered police cruiser after having narrowly escaped Jason’s grasp. Your heart is pumping and continues to increase as everyone in the car is screaming, panicking, lost in their own madness and terror, when suddenly Rennie barrels down the alley toward a waiting apparition, one that only she can see. The scene instantly cuts to her perspective; void of any sound except for the abusive drums as she grows closer. It then borrows a modified soundbite from Psycho, bringing us uncomfortably close to the boy’s deformed, patient stare. For that moment, he is looking at you – I mean YOU! And you can feel it. It only lasts a split second, blink and you’ll mercifully miss it, but for those who don’t, it is one of the few times you can actually feel his presence next to you. This is, of course, my experience. What’s yours?

4: CREEPSHOW II – The Hitchhiker

Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt, there’s nothing quite like it, is there? You don’t really see too much of the horror miniseries these days, but these tales are still worth their weight in blood. If you’re not familiar, I highly recommend them.

SPOILER WARNING just in case. In this particular story, our adulterous woman is in a hurry to get home to her husband, unaware of the lonely man thumbing for a ride on the side of the road; not that she’d have picked him up anyway. Her night takes a turn for the worse when she accidentally runs him down and leaves him for dead. It is here the horror truly begins, opening up what may very well be one of my worst nightmares.

While calming her nerves, she continues on, soon coming to a stop to further calm herself down. Here she notices a figure approaching; a broken stagger of a man, bloody, but alive? – it can’t be… It may have been her own eyes playing tricks on her, until the same hitchhiker then appears in her window, his mangled body leaning desperately in the car as he thanks her for the “ride”.

These films were definitely played up for exaggeration, being derived from the comics of the respective names, but it’s in this short’s persistence and focus that the horror works. The unrelenting vengeful force that just won’t die no matter what you do. No gun, or tactic, or car, in this case, will help you, as the hitchhiker is run over again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and… it goes on! Truly brutal, and in his frantic, almost spell-binding mantra we are taken for a horrifically graphic trip in its own cartoony, over the top way. Goes without saying, thanks for the ride, lady!

 

3: PUMPKINHEAD – Ed Harley meets Haggis the Witch

Haunting; if I had to put this scene in a word, it’s that. When Ed Harley’s boy is killed by some obnoxious teenagers, he seeks retribution through a local witch known for such malevolent things. We don’t know very much about Haggis (the witch), only that the locals are somewhat uneasy about her presence. They know that she’s capable of some terrifying acts; everyone has stories, some have even seen things, such as Ed Harley has when he was younger. It was the memory that had stuck with him, and the same that had brought him here.

The setting hits all the beats for what one might think of when picturing a witch’s home, minus the bubbling caldron. A lone decrepit house lost in the woods, off the grid, severely weathered. Inside, Haggis sits in front of a fire, looking as though she hasn’t moved in decades. Candles are lit all around, and numerous creatures populate the area; rats, spiders, snakes, even an owl, all of which are keeping a close eye on anyone who might enter.

The witch’s makeup and presence are one of the best I’ve ever seen on screen. It doesn’t try to reinvent the mythos; Haggis looks like any old-timey witch, but it’s the effort put into the roll that sells it so perfectly. Florence Schauffler was 68 years old at the time, but her appearance looked as though she were 680. We don’t know as her backstory is mostly left to the audience’s imagination. It is one of the few times where I clamor for a prequel. Who is this woman? Where did she come from? So many questions raised by this brief encounter.

It is a perfect depiction of the consequences when the need for revenge consumes you completely. Presenting itself almost as a fable parents might tell their kids; a cautionary tale on anger and vengeance. It is a hauntingly atmospheric scene, quiet and unnerving in the way it draws the air out of your lungs as even you are afraid to move, worried that Haggis might see.

 

2: PET SEMETARY – Zelda

This was a tough call, as this scene/character has bothered me my whole life. Anyone who has seen this movie and remembers the disturbing performance by Andrew Hubatsek who portrayed Rachel’s sister Zelda. Among many elements, I feel that the fact that Zelda was played by a man only added to the disturbing nature of the character, and the scenes she was in. Though not a monster, or demon of sorts, she is a ghoulish entity which the MicMac grounds use against Rachel, and it is terrifying!

Even to this day, I get chills when I so much as hear her (well, his) voice in my head. It’s one of two movies I have a hard time watching in the dark alone, and that’s saying something. Like many great scenes, it’s a perfect storm of performance, set up, atmosphere, and cinematography that make it work. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can never forget that twisted look; Zelda’s deformed frame writhing on the bed, misshapen and tortured by fate. Unfortunately for her, she was stricken with spinal meningitis which, in the film is exaggerated of course, but is cringing nonetheless.

Zelda is nothing but Rachel’s haunting memory of her departed sister, so she bares no harm other than what Rachel’s guilty conscious weighs on her. Once again, we as the viewer are brought uncomfortably close to her twisted form as Zelda continuously taunts Rachel with a promise of sorts. In a way, it seems like she’s hoping Rachel will suffer the same fate one day as penance for letting her die. The words are repeated again, and again – yelled in fact, like… I don’t even know what to compare it to! All I know is to this day; it still terrifies me to open a door to a bedroom I’m not familiar with. What’s in there? Is Zelda dead yet? Wondering if she’s going to run up to me screaming, “NEVER GET OUT OF BED AGAIN! NEVER GET OUT OF BED AGAIN!”

 

1: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE – Sally and Franklin

After Leatherface’s jarring debut on screen, having just killed three of Sally’s friends, she and her brother franklin are left to wait, and wonder what’s become of them. This final entry wins not for its monster, or blood and gore, but it’s prolonged suspense. The clip below is the best I could find, but the scene is another few minutes longer with Sally and Franklin desperately calling out for their friend Jerry before venturing into the darkened woods.

I go back to Alfred Hitchcock and his definition of suspense. There’s a difference between a bomb going off, and knowing the bomb will go off. Which is more suspenseful? It is the same here; we have already witnessed the horrors that befell Sally’s friends, and what awaits her and Franklin. We know they won’t escape, we know everyone’s dead, we know what is waiting in the dark – WE know! And that is the key element here. We, as the audience know what is to come, we just don’t know when, or how, and I think that is more terrifying than anything. The scare, or the pop if you will, is the catharsis of the moment, and the longer the suspense is, the more it is dragged out, the bigger the pay off. This scene accomplishes this very well!

From the beginning, we learn of Franklin’s condition. A helpless, scared invalid; burden, really, on the group that we struggle to feel sorry for. That is until we get a feel for his point of view. He feels sorry for himself, and it kind of sad to watch. Over time, you do feel bad and begin to empathize with him. Though not entirely idolized as a character, it is his fear you feel resonating from the screen. You can tell how scared he is, how desperately he just wants his friends to come back, and it only gets worse when he realizes the keys are gone, and that they can’t leave even if they wanted to.

The scene is beautifully scored with an ominous droning aura that sounds like it belongs in a cave. But it is looming horror, the pending nightmare that patiently, oh so patiently awaits them. Honk the horn all you like, scream your head off, wait until daylight if you make it that long. Hell, another thing this film does well, is it takes away the security of the light, as most of the horror happens during the day, so you don’t even have that to fall back on.

So many great moments and it bears repeating that I feel it’s a lost art. Subtlety has been forgotten in cinema, unfortunately. The sad thing is, a jump scare will always get a reaction no matter how prepared you think you are, but it’s only as scary as me screaming BOO in your ear when you’re not expecting it. Great for a laugh, but not for a scare, and certainly won’t stay with you as these scenes have done for me. What do you think? Share some of your favorites I may have overlooked! Thanks for reading!

This is The Horror Seeker