Odds and Dead Ends : New Slains Castle / Dracula’s Scottish Home

You always find stuff that you didn’t know when preparing these articles, and this little nugget it happens is my find of the week. It’s been well reported that Stoker got part of his inspiration for Count Dracula from Vlad Dracula III (Vlad the Impaler), though retro-actively working the figure into his idea, rather than being originally inspired by him. I was also aware that one of Stoker’s colleagues, actor Henry Irving, who worked at the Stoker-owned Lyceum Theatre, was widely considered another inspiration for the character. However, I was not aware that one of the largest inspirations may have come from New Slains Castle, up in Aberdeenshire, in Scotland.

Admittedly, my Stoker knowledge is, depressingly, severely lacking. The extent of it goes to lots of Dracula and its various adaptations, my undying devotion to The Jewel of Seven Stars (which people who read my section here a lot will know I bang on about constantly, but damn you, it’s an incredibly bleak and unnerving novel), and Lair of the White Worm on my phone which I’ve sadly never gotten around to. So it surprised me to discover that this castle, which is mentioned in The Watters’ Mou and The Mystery of the Sea (more well-read readers can confirm this for me), may not only have inspired the castle in Seven Stars, but also Dracula’s castle, particularly a specific octagonal room mentioned in the novel. It turns out that Stoker frequently went on trips to the area on holiday, and so would not only have known the area very well, but most likely been very familiar with the castle, both its location and grounds, and its interiors.

A brief history lesson first. The old castle was built in the early 14th century by John Comyn, part of the Comyns family who held it for many years. In 1594, it was attacked by King James VI of Scotland (who was also James I of England, successor of Elizabeth I, final ruler of the Tudor family) as the then-owner, Francis Hay, 9th Earl of Erroll, was leading a rebellion against him. The old castle was mostly destroyed with gunpowder and cannon-fire, though remnants of it remain to this day. It remains a ‘scheduled monument’, a title given to architecturally important monuments in the UK and as such protected against change and modification.

The new Slains Castle (The one we’re interested in) was built by Hay upon his return from exile (the uprising hadn’t gone too well) a little ways up the coast. Originally a tower house and courtyard, it was expanded and changed over the years, with wings and towers built up as the centuries went past. In the mid 1800s, a complete redesign was ordered, turning what was there into a more contemporary, Baronial-style castle, giving it granite facing update. Large gardens were designed and laid out only a few years before Stoker visited for the first time. The whole thing was eventually unroofed not long after WWI, and has remained derelict ever since.

The history lesson over, this brings us back to Dracula, and the octagonal room in question. The novel has a small passage which reads as follows: ‘The Count halted, putting down my bags, closed the door, and crossing the room, opened another door, which led into a small octagonal room lit by a single lamp, and seemingly without a window of any sort.’ (my copy, p 21). It turns out that New Slains Castle has a similar room, specifically octagonal in design, and considering Stoker knew the castle well, the very unusual design seems to be a big red flag alerting us to the fact that New Slains is indeed where he got it from. Coupled with the fact that Stoker is rumoured to have been staying in, or near, the castle at the time he was beginning to plan, or even write, Dracula, it’s not too far a stretch to say that, even if parts of the castle weren’t intentionally lifted and transported to the rugged hills of Transylvania, there was more than likely a subconscious application.

Obviously, the location in the novel is nothing like the coastal views of the Scottish ruins, and there doesn’t seem to be any reports or rumours of ghouls, ghosts, or sunlight-fearing vampires lurking in Slains Castle. I would assume it’s now in the ownership of the National Trust, or some other organisation, so I’m not sure if you could just rock up and have a look around, but if you are ever in the area, might be a fun time to go and check out the real Castle Dracula.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @KJudgeMental

Postscript: People interested in following up on this topic might want to check out When Brave Men Shudder: The Scottish Origins of Dracula, by Mike Shepherd. I haven’t read it, but it’s got an introduction by Dacre Stoker, great-grand-nephew of Bram, and plenty of 5 star reviews on Amazon. Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-Brave-Men-Shudder-Scottish/dp/1907954694

David’s Haunted Library: Two from Crystal Lake Publishing

Ugly Little Things: Collected Horrors by Todd Keisling is a collection of stories that explore what happens when people are pushed to their limits.The first story called A Man In Your Garden sets up the anthology perfectly. It’s about a man who believes a stranger is standing on his lawn. The man is scared but is there, someone, really out there or does he have an overactive imagination. I love how this story shows that sometimes we are our worst enemy.

Another good story here is Saving Granny From The Devil, this is a coming of age story where a young kid name Todd gets help from the devil. Flash forward a few years and the devil is coming for Todd’s Granny and Todd makes a deal to save her. The problem is that while Todd’s heart is in the right place, he may have made the wrong decision. We then see how his actions affected his life and his Granny’s. What I like about this story is the idea presented that love lasts forever and maybe the devil isn’t such a bad guy. Todd Keisling shows that he has a gift for creating deep characters that you can’t help but care for even when they do wrong.

My favorite story in this collection is When Karen Met Her Mountain. Karen comes from a religious father who recently died and not too long ago she had a miscarriage that she hasn’t mentally recovered from. Tragedy strikes when a religious cult shows up and kidnaps her husband. The Cult is messing with the wrong woman and Karen is going to make them pay.  I liked how you see Karen’s personality change as she hunts down her victims and then towards the end we find out that her therapist believed something like this would happen if the wrong trigger was pulled. The ending of this one really surprised me, this is a woman pushed to the edge and comes out stronger and more vicious.

The last story in the collection is a novella called The Final Reconciliation. It’s about a progressive rock band called The Yellow Kings, four kids with big dreams set out on their first tour. Little did they know that their first album would only be heard once and would cause the death of nearly 200 people. This story is a twist on an old mythology and a story of four kids achieving their dreams and worst nightmares at the same time.This is another coming of age story as the kids are working to leave the rough backgrounds that they come from.

Ugly Little Things is a book about the human spirit but the human spirit doesn’t always triumph. Even when you get what you want there is a dark side to it and that’s what Ugly Little Things is about. This is a book that’s shocking and disturbing but most of all it’s a look at what happens to people when they can’t handle the horror of life.

We’re all fascinated by things that are strange, odd and just plain different. Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders edited by Doug Murano is an anthology that embraces weirdness. When you start reading this book you know to expect the unexpected from the first story. In Larue’s Dime Museum by Lisa Morton. The story follows a woman who is obsessed with the past and finds two photos that transport her back in time. I loved how this story opens leading you to believe it’s about a circus style sideshow. Then you start to realize it’s really about a photographer and a woman who wishes to be in another time. I loved the descriptions of the setting and hearing about the woman’s daily routine and how she sees the world around her.

Another good story in this anthology is Chivalry by Neil Gaiman. In this story, an old woman finds the holy grail in a second-hand store and before long Galaad comes on a quest to bring the grail to King Arthur’s Knights Of The Round Table. The woman does not want to give it up. Galaad keeps coming back with extravagant gifts and finally offers three gifts to the woman and the woman accepts two in exchange for the chalice but the one she rejects is a huge surprise in the story. I love how the woman rejects the gift and her reaction after Galaad leaves her. At this point you are left to wonder is she crying because she liked the attention from Galaad or is it because she really wanted the third gift. This story is a must read.

Another good one is the Wildflower, Cactus Rose by Brian Kirk. This is a completely original story about a woman who goes in for surgery to take care of a sleep apnea problem. She comes out mutilated and thinks her life is over. Her new gifts seem to change her life though as she finds it easier to do the right thing.  There is a good message in this story about how the way you look doesn’t affect the life you choose. In reality, it’s our attitude that either draws people to us or pushes them away. The world is a mirror, you see what you want to see.

This book is full of great stories and one of the best is Clive Barker’s Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament. This is an odd story about a woman who almost dies due to a suicide attempt. She then discovers she can make men do anything she wants and kill people with a simple thought. This one is fascinating because it is told from two perspectives and there is a bizarre love story involved. This tale can be described as a journey as you watch Jacqueline change as she understands her power and you watch the men around her change as they figure out what she can do.  Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders is a speculative fiction anthology that is a must read.

http://www.crystallakepub.com/

 

Clockwork Wonderland Author Interview: James Pyne

Horroraddicts.net publishing has recently published our 5th anthology called Clockwork WonderlandThis is a book where anything can happen and time runs amok. In this book lies tales of serial killers, insane creations, a blood thirsty jabberclocky, and zombies. Clockwork Wonderland includes 15 tales that make Wonderland into a place of horror where all your worst nightmares come true. One of the authors in this anthology is James Pyne who took some time to tell us about the book and his writing:

What is your story in Clockwork Wonderland called and what is it about?

“Blood Will Have Blood” is about a large clock pendant once owned by the White Rabbit and now is the property of Alicia Henderson. This particular clock has a large appetite for blood. Without it, it stops ticking and if it stops ticking really bad things happen.

What inspired the idea?

Once I read the submissions guidelines for Clockwork Wonderland, the image of the original Alice hanging from a tree branch popped up and it went from there. I’ve been a Wonderland fan for years so this was right up my alley. I’m excited to be part of this anthology!

When did you start writing?

It all started with Hardy Boy books. One day I was walking home from elementary school reading a “A Figure in Hiding,” volume 16 in the original Hardy Boys series. I was bad for reading while walking home and it made me a target for bullies. One such bully blindsided me as I was walking across a wooden bridge arching over a brook. He pushed me on the snow and was ready to punch me silly until seeing my Hardy Boys book next to us. He started bashing my face with it, shouting how he hated people who read and how the only people he hated more was the people who wrote the books. He warned me I better never write or he’d cut my hands off. I didn’t listen and still have both my hands. That bully did me good in the end. I’d thank him if I could.

What are your favorite topics to write about?

Dark Fantasy and Horror are my comfort zones but I occasionally stray into other genres from time to time.

What are some of your influences?

I’m all over the place when it comes to my influences. John Gardner (Grendel. Sunlight Dialogues. The Art of Fiction). Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Knut Hamsun. Margaret Atwood. Sade. And tons of others. In the dark fantasy and horror fields: Karl Edward Wagner, Clive Barker, Stephen King, Lucy Taylor, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson. William F. Nolan. Harlan Ellison. H.G. Wells. One of my favorite short stories of all time is “Evening Primrose” by John Collier. We’ll give life in general and family and friends and strangers, especially creepy ones, the rest of the credit for my influences.

What do you find fascinating about the horror genre?

There are no limits if you’re willing to go there. I don’t live by the belief there’s nothing new under the sun. There’s always new ways in scaring people because we as a species find new ways in hating and killing each other and come up with new inventions that need to be scrutinized and exposed in the horror genre. I love the fact horror can be graphic but the best kind, in my opinion, is the kind that hits home no matter how fantastical it might be. I love everything about horror. Shades of horror can be found in the greatest literature. The dog hung by a handkerchief from Wuthering Heights is a perfect example. More times than not, you’ll find some form of horror in the greatest literature. Some kind of fear that hits home hard like a baseball bat to the face.

What are some of the works you have available?

To be honest, after many years of learning the craft, I just started submitting back in March 2016. I was slaughtered the first few months. Then my first horror story was published in James Ward Kirks Ugly Babies 3 anthology in May. Early June 2016, Dorthy Davies of Thirteen O’Clock Press gave me the best critique I could ever get. She showed me where I was going wrong and sixty-three published stories later, I haven’t looked back. This isn’t bragging. This is a shout out to anyone out there that doubts their art; don’t. You can do this. And if an editor takes time from their valuable minutes to bitch slap you awake, embrace it. Don’t run away from it.

What are you currently working on?

I have two novels on the go but haven’t visited them much due to flooding the market with short story submissions. I’m trying to make up for lost time and make new friends in the horror field along the way. But this month I’ll be working on both books. The first, Big Cranky, is a mythological soap opera and has a little of everything, from Lucifer to Death and his lovely wife Santa Muerte, with almost every pantheon of gods and goddesses throughout the world. It’s been a wild ride to write and you know what, it’s time to get back on. The other novel I’m working on is Woe, a very graphic horror novel with, I hope, a unique heroine who’s forced to adapt if she wants to survive in my version of Hell.

Where can we find you online?

The best place to keep updated on me is my Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jjamespyne  Feel free to add me, everyone.

David’s Haunted Library: Alethia and Drawing Dead

Little Ridge is an odd little town, there is an island somewhere off the coast but no one seems to remember where it is. It all started when a couple of the town’s residents started to disappear. One day Thettie Harper and her family discover one of the missing people it causes problems within the whole town. Thettie’s one ally is Lee and it’s up to them to find answers.

What really might be causing the problems in the town is the lake itself. There is something evil in that lake below the island that is haunting Little Ridge This is a book about the horror of losing your memory, what we leave behind and terror itself.

Aletheia by J.S. Breukelaar is about the damage that has been done and the damage that will happen. The story has elements of the supernatural and a love story to it. This is a complex character driven novel that you really have to pay attention to in order to get all the details right. Most of all I loved the mood of the story and the fact that it has to deal with how choices we made in the past change how thing will be in the present. Aletheia is a book that builds slowly to a good ending and if you like a well thought out ghost story you will like it.

http://www.crystallakepub.com/

Faolan O’Connor grew up in New York City and joined the mob at an early age. He worked as a hired killer in order to get power, respect, and money, but little by little it destroyed his family and everything he loved. One fateful night in 1935 he goes out to perform his last hit, hoping to die in the process. What he gets instead is immortality from a vampire and the boss of New York, Darcy Killian. Faolan’s whole world changes but not how you think it would.

Faolan already led a life of violence and destruction, but as a vampire, his feelings start to change. He wants power but he wants to help his city too. The only way he can do that is by taking down the boss of New York, Killian. He may have a lot of enemies but he makes a lot of friends on the way, if he plays his cards right he may get redemption and the power he desires.

Drawing Dead by Brian McKinley is a novel about vampire mobsters set during The Great Depression in New York City. Just the way this novel feels when you start reading, hooked me right away. The Way Brian describes the surroundings and the characters showed that he really did his homework on what life was like in organized crime and in the Depression. When you read this book you feel like you are right there with the characters and you know them personally.

It’s hard to pick out my favorite scenes in this book since there were so many. The one I loved was after Faolan wins a promotion from his boss, he decides to return to his mother’s home because he feels the need to reconcile with all of the evil and destruction he has caused in the past. When he gets there he finds that his mother has passed and there are squatters living in his boyhood home. At this point, he has to decide to let his vampire instincts kick in and kill the family or have mercy on them. What he does is a total surprise and shows how Faolan is evolving as a character. Another part that really stands out is a scene where a vampire named Frank shows that he is not the evil monster that we think he is, but if you find out his secret, it could be the last secret you ever find out.

There is also a great scene where Killian shows Faolan what he has planned for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Killian’s vision sounds like it’s a step in the direction of what America is like in the present day with small businesses becoming a thing of the past and corporations running everything. As Faolan is hearing this, he is thinking that he doesn’t like this New York of the future and loves his city the way it is. While reading this I found myself wondering how Faolan would change as a character when he reaches the present day. Since he is a vampire he would still be around.

Drawing Dead could be considered a masterpiece, It’s a tale of redemption that works as a horror novel, a crime novel and it fits nicely into the historical fiction category. Though what really makes this novel great is how complex the characters are. Each of them has good and bad points, even the main villain doesn’t come across as pure evil. This was a novel that for me was hard to put down and you don’t have to be a vampire or organized crime fan to love it, my favorite parts were all the references to the 1930’s. Brian McKinley is an author to watch in the future and there will be more books to come in this series.

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

DavidsHaunted

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Press Release: I Bathory, Queen Of Blood

NEW RELEASE

 From Creativia Publishing

 I, BATHORY, QUEEN OF BLOOD

FROM AWARD-WINNING AUTHOR, CAROLE GILL

Now available from renowned horror author Carole Gill. I, Bathory, Queen of Blood is her long-awaited blood-soaked chiller based on the life of the infamous Hungarian Countess Erzsebet Bathory.

In present day New York, a woman is writing her memoirs…

I%2c Bathory%2c Queen of Blood CompleteBorn in 16th century Hungary, Damita wasn’t always known by her current name. A human monster with absolute power, she murdered and tortured for pleasure.

Obsessed with her looks, when her trusted servant Darvulia told her how to  reverse any signs of aging, she began bathing in blood. Her servant girls were the source and the bodies piled up.

Never tried because of her name and position, she was walled up in her castle. She lived another four years before succumbing to death. But love would not permit this. She was raised up by the vampire, Anton who had fallen deeply in love with her.

Spanning centuries and concluding in modern day, this is the story of Damita, previously known as Erzsebet Bathory – The Blood Countess.

Carole Gill is well known to fans of the horror genre for her award-winning and bestselling Blackstone Vampires series which won her the coveted,
eBook Festival of Words 2014
Best Horror: The House on Blackstone Moor and
Best Villain: Eco

I, Bathory, Queen of Blood is available from myBook.to/QueenofBlood 

Available in kindle and paperback .

http://carolegillauthor.blogspot.co.uk/

Press Release: Crystal Lake Publishing Presents: Tales From The Lake Volume 3

Crystal Lake Publishing has just released Tales From The Lake Volume 3 and includes a story from Sumiko Saulson. Sumiko was the featured author on episode 109 of the horroraddicts.net podcast, she has also written various articles for the horror addicts blog and has an article in The Horror Addicts Guide To Life. Sumiko Saulson’s story is called Enclosures and you can find out more about her here:

https://sumikosaulson.com/

The TALES FROM THE LAKE legend continues with volume 3 in this popular series.

Dive into the deep end of the lake with 19 tales of terror, selected by Monique Snyman.

31437640Tales from the Lake Vol. 3 features ghosts, monsters, assassins, alternate dimensions, creatures from the deepest depths and the darkest parts of the universe.

Join “Maybelle” by Mere Joyce in a world where books become real enough to cause both pleasure and pain. Avoid the sounds of “The Cruel” by Harper Hull, lest you want to come to a terrifying end. Travel across the world to see what terrors lurk in an abandoned hospital with “Hush” by Sergio Pereira.

This non-themed horror anthology is filled with suspenseful stories, terrifying thrillers, tragic tales, mystifying mysteries, and memorable adventures that will leave you wanting more. Let these modern urban legends prickle your imagination, share it around a campfire, and revel in the magic of Crystal Lake’s exceptional authors.

The Owl Builder by D. Morgan Ballmer
Tragedy Park by Chris Pearce
Enclosures by Sumiko Saulson                            Woe Violent Water by Lily Childs
The Cruel by Harper Hull
Red Scream with Little Smile by Paul Edmonds
Maybelle by Meredith Cleversey writing as Mere Joyce
Rodent in the Red Room by Matt Hayward
The Deeper I Go The Deeper I Fear by Natalie Carroll
The Pigmalion Pigs by Mark Allan Gunnells
Chemical Oasis by Tommy B. Smith
Hush by Sergio Pereira
The Reaper’s Fire by Kenneth W. Cain
Effigy by Kate Jonez
Scents of Fear by Steve Jenner
The Bet by Amy Grech
A Hand from the Depths by Dave-Brendon de Burgh
The Monster of Biscayne Bay by Roxanne Dent
The Song at the Edge of the Unfinished Road by Patrick Bates

Foreword by the editor, Monique Snyman.

Proudly represented by Crystal Lake Publishing.

“A solid anthology representing the best in horror fiction, with tales that will stay with you for some time.” — Ben Eads, author of, Cracked Sky

download


Links:
Amazon:
http://getbook.at/Lake3
Goodreads:
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31437640-tales-from-the-lake-vol-3

http://www.crystallakepub.com/

An Interview With A. Craig Newman

Our featured author for Epispde 128 of the HorrorAddicts.net podcast is A. Craig Newman. He grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and was raised on the works of Stephen King. Recently A. Craig Newman answered a few questions about his writing:

What is your story for episode 128 about?

3ab6fea455b8b4fedce5461374d4672ab6bd6b19“Randall’s Visit” is about a man who is talking to his therapist while being plagued by the spirit of a little girl.

When did you start writing?

I’ve been writing since 1984 when I was 10. I was telling my dad a story one day and he told me to write it down so he could get some sleep. Been writing ever since.

What are your favorite topics to write about?

Insanity is a frequent feature in many of my stories. I also like to explore sex, religion, power, and the abuse of all three. I like twist endings that makes the reader want to go back and see what clues they missed. Hence, I say my stories are written to be read twice.

Who or what inspires you?

I draw a lot of inspiration from my life. I’ve been the guy on their therapist’s couch working out his demons. I hope to help the reader escape from their reality for brief moments and enjoy a trip down the rabbit hole.

What do you find fascinating about the horror genre?e7586778cd932d0101b886dfa1b6cbbe8f758800

Horror seems to be a warped take on many concepts found in faith and religion. As a man who grew up in the church and even wanted to be a minister at one point, I find it fascinating to explore the flip side of belief.

What are some of the books you have available?

Burn” is about a man in pain who takes drugs to relieve his suffering. But he isn’t careful and with this relief comes new consequences for his actions.
“Dierste Hamelin and the Pied Piper” is my update to the old fairy tale. Dierste hires Piper to take care of a pest. All goes well until she has to pay.
“Wages of Sin” is about a future were the punishments for certain crimes are more creative than today. The reader sees two women punished for the crime of loving each other

Soon to be available ( hopefully by the time this airs) is my first published full length novel, “The Apocalypse Plan”. Michael and Liz are FBI agents on the task force investigating the destruction of the United Nations building. As they follow the trail, they come face to face with their own demons and secrets and End Times Prophecy .

Where can we find you online?

Here, my books can be purchased and more information about me can be found. https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/ACraigNewman

http://www.acraignewman.com/

Grant Me Serenity: The End Part 2

gms

“Well now,” Len said pleasantly, not moving. “I see we have quite a quandary.”
“Yeah?” Harding sneered. “I don’t see a quandary. You don’t get moving, there’ll be a bullet in your head before you can think about saying goodbye.”
“How are you going to do that without having to explain a lot of things to them?” Len nodded at the door leading to the hallway which opened to the parking lot. Decent group tonight, judging by the amount of door-slamming and the volume of residual chatter as the AA members who smoked lit up around the ashtray. “I don’t see a silencer on that gun of yours. Your arm must be getting tired, by the way.”
Harding’s face was frozen in the sneer but his eyes had filled with an uncertainty Len recognized. His arm, whether genuinely tired, or inspired to be so by the power of suggestion, began to tremble.
Len began to move forward, hands held out to his sides, a placid smile on his face. Harding raised the gun anew. “Get moving out that back door motherfucker, I swear to Christ I’ll blow your fucking head off. Don’t push me.”
“Oh I’m sure you would,” Len replied, still coming forward, still with hands out. “I’m not as heavily armed as that man but my pockets are full of shadows. Who knows, one of them could be an automatic.”
“Shut up!” Harding’s gun pointed at Len’s head, then his stomach, then his chest. “Just shut the fuck up and get out the door!” His voice had risen noticeably.
The smile dropped off Len’s face. Only some had seen the look which replaced it, most of whom were dead. “Last chance, EX-detective. Put your gun away and leave. You can continue being whatever you are now instead of what you will become.”
“Fuck you!” Harding raised the gun again and aimed it between Len’s eyes. “This is your last fucking chance!”
Len sighed, and plunged his hand into his pocket. Harding, his nerves strung tighter than a guitar string, fired.

“The jury finds the defendant guilty of the charge of murder in the first degree.”
The words hung in the courtroom, leaden. Guilty. Murder. Harding could scarcely believe it. Hearing the jury recommend the death penalty was even more surreal. Death penalty? For him? What the fuck had happened? How had he gotten here?
His mind whirred through the past like a flipbook. Yesterday’s meeting with his lawyer. Good record, recovery, acquittal is a sure thing, blah blah blah. The weeks leading up to that meeting, the trial, the hell of being torn apart in front of crowd, a judge, a newspaper, with the press, always the press out for his blood, and some days those four smirking faces from the church in the crowd, right there but unattainable. The months of incarceration prior to that whole media frenzy, pacing his cell, desperate for time with his lawyer, because then, only then, did he feel like he was making progress, moving forward. The weeks immediately afterward, when he had been in the purgatory of jail, not knowing what was coming, only knowing it was taking its sweet time and that it was going to be bad, then being proved correct in his worst assumptions. That horrible night he had been taken into the police station in the humiliating perp-walk, handcuffed past his peers, some of them gawking, some shaking their heads, some smirking like the pieces of shit they were. His mug shot, the most painful moment of all, somehow, was when they had fingerprinted him. Finally the ghastly night in the basement of the church when he had somehow, like a fucking idiot…

A small round dot appeared between Len’s eyes, visible for a split second before his head jerked back and threw him to the floor, arms flying out, hands open, nothing but emptiness inside. Unarmed.
“No,” Ed groaned, dropping to his feet beside Len and dropping his gun. “No, oh God oh God NO!” he screamed, pawing desperately at Len’s hand, as though by magic he could make a weapon appear in it. He slapped Len’s legs, hoping to manifest a gun in a holster, a knife in a pocket, something, anything, oh holy fuck not again…
“Oh my God!”
This new hellishly unwelcome voice cut in. Ed jerked his head around, eyes bulging, staring at the first alcoholic to enter the room, a matronly woman in a pink pants suit, whose face was hidden behind her ringed hands, horror in her eyes.
Ed held out his hands to her, numbly glad he had dropped the gun, his mouth working on excuses, somehow blurting out, “I can explain…”

His last meal was a big decision, and Ed thought about it long and hard. Finally, he settled on Shepherd’s Pie, sauerkraut, and pistachio ice cream, washing it down with two cans of Mountain Dew. He immediately regretted it upon finishing, wishing instead he had ordered beef stew, or ravioli, but that was just who Ed Harding was. Had he ordered all three, he would have wished for something different. As he sat there, tasting the sauerkraut and fishing errant strings of it from his back teeth, a guard appeared at his door. It was time.
As he was being strapped in to the chair, trying to keep from hyperventilating, the door in the back of the death chamber opened. Dr Pudge entered. Missy followed. She looked straight at him, with not a hint of recognition. His jaw dropped.
“Hey…”
The guard, moving so swiftly he seemed not to move at all, fixed a gag across Ed’s mouth. The room returned to its normal silence as the necessary plumbing was hooked up to Ed’s body. His eyes grew huger as he saw Jerry, Jessica and Paul sitting in the gallery. No one else was there. Paul smiled and waved. Jessica glared. Jerry’s face was a mask.
The guard, seeing the prisoner was ready for execution, made his speech. “Edward Harding, you have been sentenced to die by a jury of your peers. Do you have anything to say before sentence is carried out?” The guard removed the gag, and Ed filled his lungs.
“Listen to me. This is the truth. That crazy bitch there,” he nodded in Missy’s direction. Her face didn’t move. “and those three assholes–” nodding toward the gallery, “are psychopaths! Murderers! I killed one of their little group after they sat around telling stories about how they’d done it as kids! Ask them! Go on!”
The guard nodded as though he believed every word. This was not the first time someone in the chair had screamed accusations with their last breath. It would not be the last. He looked at Missy. She nodded in return, and began opening valves in her deadly dance. Ed was still ranting as he noticed his eyes growing heavy. He began to yell, but by then, it was over.

Until his eyes opened.

“Oh, there he is, I told you he’d wake up, didn’t I?” A woman’s voice, nearly crowing with delight. Horrible to hear. Horribly familiar.

“Well done, Missy,” a male voice said.

Ed was shivering, but could not move. Was he still in that god damn death room? Was his execution still going on? Then why did the ceiling look so much darker?

A stinging smack on the side of his face brought the ceiling in to focus. He shook his head and looked around him just in time for the rolled up towel someone was snapping to take him in the eye and nearly gouge it out by the feeling, holy shit he had never felt that much pain in an eyeball and what the FUCK was going on..?

“Did that rouse you a bit honey?” Another female voice was crooning next to his ear. “Wouldn’t want you to sleep through Len’s memorial now would we?” She had just finished the last word when a fist smashed into Ed’s nose, bending it to the left with a crack. Ed howled.

“Cool it,” the first woman said. “There’s no rush, and we want him to stay conscious at least for a little while.” Harsh laughter.

The abuse ceased and Ed shook his head, trying to clear his vision. His right eye was a stinging slit of agony misted with red, but the left was taking things in all too well. His mind began to process them.

He was in a chair, arms behind him, stripped to the shorts and soaked. Apparently he’d been doused with water to wake him up. He tried to bring his hands around front and found, to no real surprise, that they had been restricted behind him. He pulled, expecting to hear the clank of chains and heard… nothing. No movement either. They had glued his hands together behind his back, as though he were rubbing them together. He could not move so much as a finger.

They stood around him, over him, surveying him. Missy still wore her business suit but her hair had come out of its bun.

“Curious? I bet you are.” A hand dropped into her pocket and procured a little glass vial. “I just switched out the deadly stuff for some sugar water and switched you for some other corpse on the way out of the morgue, once I declared you legally dead.” She grinned, and Ed felt his blood run cold.

“Brilliant, doctor,” Jerry said, and applauded her. Paul and Jessica joined in, giving Missy a well deserved ovation.

“Thank you,” she said, giving them a curtsy and turning to give one to Ed as well. “Len has been cremated long since, but we waited to have the memorial until you could join us for the fun. It wouldn’t be the same without you.”

Ed could only look on in dumbstruck horror as she picked up the briefcase sitting beside her and turned to place it on a counter nearby. She opened it.

Fluorescent light ricocheted off the angles of the cutting tools filling the briefcase. Razor blades, scalpels, assorted knives and something which looked horribly like a cheese grater grinned at Ed with shining teeth.

Ed began to blubber.

Jerry reached forward and took a scalpel. Jessica grabbed a razor blade. Paul took a large butcher knife. Missy took her favorite, the cheese grater, and the small salt shaker that came with it.

Ed began to plead, to threaten, to bargain, forgetting that for all intents and purposes, to the world, Ed Harding was already dead.

The four of them lined up, Missy at their lead. They would continue taking turns, until the sport had worn off. But it would take a while. They were in no rush.

Ed began to scream.

Missy walked forward, her eyes searching for the perfect patch of skin to begin her ministrations. Behind her, she heard them praying.

Grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.

THE END

**********

Jesse Orr was born and raised in Alaska and has no idea, nor do his parents, when or how he began reading and writing; as is the case with so many things, they just are. Moving to Seattle in 2007, he settled down to a life of recording and performing music as well as writing whatever caught his fancy. He has a dog named Mr Dog and lives in West Seattle.

https://www.facebook.com/murd3rweapon5

Free Fiction Friday: Mould and Blood

 

Mould & Blood

By DJ Tyrer

 

Black & RedThe estate echoed to the sounds of anger. Locals had gathered to protest against the closure of the Sure Start Centre and, in no time at all, they’d been joined by black-hooded anarchists who’d taken the opportunity to stage a generalised riot. With an ironic twist, the shattering of the Centre’s windows would mean it would be closed a while regardless.

Malcolm turned away from the sight of a masked and hooded figure waving a black-and-red bicolour flag in the midst of the glass fragments, and headed away as quickly as possible, back to his flat.

He wondered what the country was coming to: overwhelming immigration, war, cutbacks, riots – it was worse than the ‘80s. The whole country was collapsing into anarchy! What it needed was an old-fashioned dictatorship to sort things out. He spat in disgust when he saw the large graffito that covered the wall beside the door to his block, a sinuous design in red and black: obviously the work of those anarchist yobs, marking their territory in their battle with the police. Bring back the birch, he said. Bring back hanging! Even hanging was too good for them!

Inside, the block was no better than the rest of the estate. The stairwell stank of stale urine and was scattered with rubbish. It was crumbling and vandalised. It was just typical of the system that he was stuck here, in this waking nightmare of poverty and broken dreams, whilst some foreigner was milking it and living in some mansion, pumping out dozens of kids! He kicked a half-empty can of bitter down the stairs in frustration.

Malcolm’s own single-bedroom flat was just as bad. Tiny and cramped with walls caked with mould. He’d been onto his landlord repeatedly about the blight, but nothing had been done. It was like smacking his head against a brick wall trying to get something done about it and he’d more or less given up on it, accepting the smell and constant chestiness that went with it. On the news, the Housing Association had even attempted to blame the tenants for the mould in their own homes, as if they were all to blame for leaks and condensation. That was typical!

A loud bang made him jump. Some idiot had detonated a firework in the undercroft of the building. Loud noises and bright flashes seemed to satisfy simple minds.

He’d just settled down to watch the telly – not that there was really anything worth watching despite all the extra digital channels – when there was a knock on his door. He ignored it, but the knock was repeated. Probably idiot kids. The knock was repeated for a third time.

With a sigh, Malcolm hauled himself up and out of the tired old beige sofa and made the short walk to the door.

Looking through the peephole, he could see a youth in a black hoodie. It looked like one of the yobs he’d seen earlier. He wondered what he wanted. He couldn’t see his face and that made him nervous. There seemed to be a badge, maybe a gang emblem, like the head of a court jester, on the chest of his hoodie.

Fitting the door chain, he opened the door a crack and asked what he wanted. The figure raised his head to look at him and Malcolm saw that it was Steve, a kid from down the passage. A bit of a berk, like all the kids these days, but not too bad, and, being from his floor, owed a certain measure of neighbourly respect.

“I need to come in, Malc,” Steve said.

“What?”

Steve looked kind of agitated and sounded sort of strange, like he was high on something; hardly an uncommon occurrence around here, although he’d never known Steve to go on a drug-fuelled rampage like some of his peers.

“I need to come in, Malc. I gotta come in, right now; gotta show you summit.”

“Show me what?”

With an inarticulate cry of frustration, Steve slammed into the door, the security chain ripping easily away from the damp-rotted wood of the doorframe. The door slammed into Malcolm, staggering him backwards into the flat.

Steve burst in, shouting something about laughing that made no sense to Malcolm but sounded exactly like the crazed ramblings of a druggie. Malcolm recoiled in fear; he could see a knife in Steve’s hand. He’d read about youths flipping out on drugs and going on a killing spree. Or, maybe this was a gang initiation. Maybe it was both.

Malcolm looked wildly around for a weapon with which to defend himself, but there was nothing. It was in that moment that Steve’s knife found him, plunging into his side, once, twice, then a slash across his throat. The last thing he saw before darkness engulfed his vision was a swirl of red upon black as blood sprayed across the mould-caked wall. The last words he heard were “The joke’s on you!” None of it made any sense.

Ends

 

DJ Tyrer is the person behind Atlantean Publishing and has been widely published in anthologies and magazines in the UK, USA and elsewhere, including State of Horror: Illinois (Charon Coin Press), Steampunk Cthulhu (Chaosium), Tales of the Dark Arts (Hazardous Press), Cosmic Horror (Dark Hall Press), and Sorcery & Sanctity: A Homage to Arthur Machen (Hieroglyphics Press), and in addition, has a novella available in paperback and on the Kindle, The Yellow House (Dunhams Manor). This story previously appeared in the collection Black & Red, available from Atlantean Publishing.

 

DJ Tyrer’s website is at http://djtyrer.blogspot.co.uk/

 

The Atlantean Publishing website is at http://atlanteanpublishing.blogspot.co.uk/

 

Grant Me Serenity – Ed

gms

Surprise, Motherfucker!

My name is Ed and I’m an alcoholic. That’s how I came to be in this room, waiting to attend an AA meeting, after being one my whole life. Learned from my dad, and he was one of the best. Tasted my first beer at five I think. Didn’t do me much good at the time but what did I know. Fortunately I learned from dad how to pretend not to be an alcoholic at the same time, and I’ve been pretty good at it since. It got pretty bad when I got about high school age, went away when I joined the military. Just too damn tired to drink. It was after I got out and police work started to get dull that I started to drink, just a few beers during lunch, then rolling around with a nice buzz, chewing mints, smoking cigarettes and listening to the radio. Eventually, the lunches got longer, the buzzes afterward became outright drunks, and since I was plainclothes, eventually a uniform saw me weaving a bit too much and flipped his lights on. I’d smoked my last in the bar and I was out of mints so when I opened the window and he smelled my breath, he didn’t care about the badge I showed him.

I happen to be acquainted well with the daughter of a local judge, and through his grace my little indiscretion never saw the light of press, nor police report. But everybody knew. I could see it when I walked through the station, when I passed someone in the hall, when my path coincided with another guy on the uncomfortable shared walk to the restroom. I could see it, and what’s more, I could feel it.

But I didn’t stop. Not even then. I just stopped not hiding it. The beers at lunch became bourbon sipped throughout the day from a flask which was often refilled, and I lived in fear of straying too far from a white or yellow line when I drove. But I didn’t stop. I couldn’t. You all understand that, don’t you? I’m pretty sure that given what I’ve just listened to, you all know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re just lucky you don’t puke afterward.

Then, after months that seemed like years of ridicule, an old buddy was short a man and asked if I could get my shit together and jump on his team for serving search and hopefully arrest warrants on some goon somewhere. I didn’t care. Second-string or not, someone was looking at me as more than just a fuckup. Naturally I made sure I was properly drunk at the time so I didn’t lose my nerve or anything, and naturally,  I overdid it. Subconsciousness, maybe? Who the fuck knows. All I know is when we were walking up the path to this house, I was weaving worse than when I was pulled over on the road, the guy behind me is hissing under his breath “Get it together for fuck’s sake you fucking drunk” and the guy in front is following the leader, and hisses back “shut the fuck up, it’s too late now” because the boss was mounting the step and the show was about to kick off.

So to make a long story short, the door opens, the guy runs, we chase him through the house. He goes upstairs, like a genius, and gets cornered in the bathroom. Like in The Shining or some shit. He’s locked in there, hollering he’ll die first, fucking pigs, blah blah, and the sarge is doing his usual COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP routine. I’m still seeing double at this point and my stomach is doing a weird queasy thing that never means good news. So naturally, the sarge tells me “Harding, cover that goddamn door and if anything comes out without its hands up AND empty you fill it full of lead. Any questions?” I shook my head, afraid to open my mouth and vomit on the sarge under the best of circumstances. He turns back to the door and I pull my gun on it, trying like hell to draw a bead on something, anything, that looks like more than a doubling mirage. “The door is coming down” bawls the sarge, “so get your goddamn hands out of the way, then put them up and walk out!”

Two guys bring up a ram. Just as they’re about to start their charge, the door flies open and the guy comes out. I don’t even know his name. All I know is he’s got a gun and I start shooting. I pull the trigger over and over, aiming at first one of the blurred visions I’m seeing, then the other. Left, then right, then between them, back and forth, until I realize the gun is empty. I wonder how long it’s been empty and I shake my head. That motion and the concussions of the gunshot with the gunsmoke in my nose is what did it in the end.

That was my lowest point. Vomiting my liquid breakfast onto my feet in front of a squad of SWAT guys after emptying my gun into an unarmed man with, it turned out, nothing but a shadow in his hand.

My friend’s dad the judge had a bit harder time covering this one up, not because of the man I’d killed, but because a number of the squad were of the opinion that there should be nothing covered up. In the end, they settled for my resignation. But as I said, people talk.

“So now,” Harding said, holding his gun on each of them in turn as he spoke, his hand trembling but not drunk. Not for two years. “Now, when I bring you all in and it comes out that I arrested you in the course of attending my AA meetings after years of sobriety–” The gun came to rest on Missy. Harding exhaled, and grinned.

 

Free Fiction Friday: Dead Babies

Dead Babies

By Alex S. Johnson

 

A familiar absence, and the location of dread.

They were saying things that made no sense. The baby couldn’t be dead. Not her valiant Tommy. She’d seen the sonogram, the ultrasound, the brave little boy kicking through waves of rippled blue.

When they received the news of her pregnancy, Sarah Loveman and her husband James celebrated a miracle. The doctors had told them she couldn’t conceive, not at her age, but they’d been proven wrong.

Stillborn. What did that mean? Sarah batted at the iron rails of the hospital bed and glanced around: sterile whites, shining steel, the smells of antiseptic solution. The nurse hovered over her and put a damp cloth to her forehead.

“I’m so very sorry, Mrs. Loveman. We did everything we could. His heart just stopped beating.”

And how could she have been missing through the delivery? Sarah wanted to be fully awake and aware, to greet her newborn infant, to cradle Tommy to her breast. Anticipated the sweet smell of the clean little boy.

James came to her side. He looked worn. He passed his fingers through his thinning grey hair. “Honey…”

“Just hold me,” said Sarah. “Hold me close.”

“After this, I’m afraid…”

“I know.” The tears began to course slowly down her cheeks. “Could you get me a tissue, please? I don’t want you to see me like this.”

“You’ve experienced a trauma, Mrs. Loveman. It’s very natural to feel strong emotions after all you’ve been through,” said the nurse. Her voice was warm, but there was a calculated professionalism behind it. Sarah wondered how they kept their cool. Maybe they didn’t, maybe it was all a façade. Like the blue wallpaper, the mobiles, the baroque music she’d played for the developing fetus. She had nursed fantasies of Little League and soccer practice for him, teaching him the rudiments of math—the rest she would leave to her husband, who didn’t panic when equations became knotty and complex.

“Let’s go home, dear.”

She leaned on him, on his strength, on his patient assurances, as they made their way to the van. Behind the wheel, James was quiet, glancing over at his wife from time to time to check how she was taking it.

Rather than the freeway, he took side streets, which added about half an hour to the ride. He pulled into their driveway, cut the engine and placed the van in Park. Then he went to the passenger side and slid open the door.

“I can walk on my own, thanks darling,” said Sarah in muted tones.

***

The doctor’s orders were for bed rest with plenty of fluids and a liquid protein diet. In a few weeks, Sarah felt stronger, strangely stronger than she had after the miracle happened. She began to take walks in the park, phoned her friends and eventually summoned the will to begin work again. Her boss at the agency was sympathetic and told her she didn’t have to plunge back into the fray so soon, but she told him she wanted to, needed to consume herself in productive labor.

Then one night she heard a voice. It wasn’t audible outside, but seemed to emerge from within her belly and send sonic tendrils to her brain.

“Mommy? Why did you leave me here in this place? I’m scared.”

She shook herself awake. James stirred beside her and returned to his dreams.

Carefully, so as not to wake him, she made her way down the stairs on tiptoe and brewed a pot of Earl Grey. She sipped the hot tea slowly and watched the sugar cubes melt in the cup.

The voice began again. Sarah caught glimpses of a warehouse with a corrugated aluminum façade and high, rectangular casement windows on three sides. It was as though she were downloading a thought stream, a current directed to her drowsy brain. She recognized this place.

It lay across the railroad tracks that bisected the industrial section of Howard Heights, which predated even the old Latino neighborhood. The building was twenty minutes away.

Should she leave a note? Sure. Your wife is receiving telepathic messages from her dead son, and following up on them. Perfectly reasonable.

Then what would she write?

“Honey, I’m taking the van for a drive. I need to get my thoughts in order.”

That might work. Especially in the early days of their marriage, she’d gone off on little early morning expeditions. James had written this eccentric behavior off to her need for independence—unlike him, Sarah was introverted and had to recharge her psychic batteries on occasion, not so much isolate herself as focus her energy to meet the challenges of her life.

Moving down the hallway of their two bedroom house at the base of Mt. Jefferson, she slipped out of her nightgown and grabbed an old, comfortable grey sweatshirt from the closet, black denim jeans and ankle boots. She draped the nightgown across the back of the rattan chair in the dining room, along with the note.

And caught a glimpse of herself in the full-length mirror at the end of the hallway. A pale, auburn-haired, slightly frumpy woman in early middle age, hell-bent on some crazy plan to rescue Tommy, her son, who was dead at birth.

Maybe she was losing the plot altogether. She’d heard about women like her who began to mentally disintegrate around her age, never to fully recoup their marbles. She had visions of men in white coats with soft, soothing voices and sharp syringes.

Locking the door behind her, Sarah pressed the button on her key chain and the van let out a brief yelp. Then she was driving, down past the perennially dry river with its concrete abutments and ugly gang graffiti, past the colorful markets advertising dry goods and hot chiles and varieties of ice cream unknown to the gringo palate, across the tracks and into the heart of the industrial section where something—a phantasm, a neural hurricane, a hormonally induced nightmare—awaited her. But she had to know, one way or another.

She parked at the end of the alley across from the warehouse and looked up. Pale rays of sunlight touched the top windows. The air was cool but she knew it would be simmering in a few hours. The sky was a washed-out, milky blue haze.

“Please, hurry…”

Sarah went up the back steps to the door that for some reason she knew was unlocked, even though it refused to budge when she jiggled the doorknob. She tried it again and it burst open, nearly causing her to stumble.

The air inside the long, cramped corridor smelled like machinery and dry rot. Guiding herself by touch, she found a switch in the wall and thumbed it. A battery of fluorescent tubes shuddered to life and insects swarmed around them, ink blots with wings. She walked towards the service elevator and pushed the button, but though the UP triangle blinked, there was no movement. To the right were the stairs that led to the loft space that had formerly been a sweatshop, now abandoned, as far as she knew.

She took a deep breath, then began to climb the stairs. The whitewashed walls seemed to seep, dribbling liquid pictures that coalesced and vanished when she tried to examine them.

The voice in her head escalated to a scream.

Then, without any discernible transition from the darkness of the stairwell, Sarah suddenly found herself in a cavernous, high-ceiling room flooded with light so bright she had to squeeze her eyes shut for a moment, adjusting to the glare. When she opened her eyes, she saw steel girders supporting row upon row, stack upon stack of tiny cages, in which hung suspended forms covered in membranous sacks. At the foot of the cages ran a strip of metal with plates identifying the contents of the cages.

“Mommy!”

“I’m coming, Tommy, I’m coming!” Her heart battered against her chest. She then saw the cords and tubes emerging from the sacks, the tubes coursing with some kind of blue gel.

When she saw a ramp leading to the tiers of cages, she ascended it, boots clacking against the steel, and paused at the first level.

Her child was somewhere in here, somewhere among the cocoons.

And then she was standing in front of WXB-12, and the scream in her head disappeared into a black space.

The sack wriggled.

She tried to push a hand through the bars, but there wasn’t enough room. Applying pressure, she found that the bars were made of some soft metal she could easily bend. Inside the cage, she reached up and felt the side of the sac.

“Hold on, Tommy, Mommy’s here.”

Standing on tiptoe, she could just reach high enough to pull the sack down from the bottom. It pulsed in her hands—her son, alive.

Finally she had him in her arms. Gently, she began to peel away the membrane, which came off in her hands like pieces of caked-in soap.

The form inside was grey, with blue lips and closed eyes. A tube attached to its umbilicus appeared to be feeding it the gel.

“Tommy?”

Her son was still.

She pulled at the nozzle at his navel, and the tube came out with a wet plop. The blue gel began to squeeze out onto the floor of the cage like toothpaste.

Then Tommy opened his eyes.

He smiled, the toothless, sinister grin of the neverborn.

And the rottenness inside her miracle child poured forth.

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

Alex S. Johnson is the author of two novels, Bad Sunset and Jason X IV: Death Moon, the collections Wicked Candy and Doctor Flesh: Director’s Cut,the co-author of Fucked Up Shit! with Berti Walker, as well as numerous Bizarro, horror, science fiction and experimental literary stories, including works published in Full-Metal Orgasm, Bizarro Central, Gone Lawn, Ugly Babies Volume 2, Master/slave, +Noirotica III, Cthulhu Sex, The Surreal Grotesque, Cease, Cows, and many other venues. He is the creator/editor of the Axes of Evil heavy metal horror anthology series He has also been a music journalist for such magazines as Metal Hammer, Metal Maniacs and Zero Tolerance and he is a college and university English professor. Johnson currently lives in Sacramento, California.

Grant Me Serenity-Flashback

gms

“Mommy, hurry up!” Missy, aged 9, fussed at her mother. Len and Dennis were already going down to the river and if she didn’t hurry she’d be left behind. Not on purpose, she knew. Her brothers were always glad, often eager to have her along. They always said she wasn’t the typical little sister. But they weren’t the typical older brothers. They had not ditched her rather, than minding the brat, they had been unable to contain their eagerness, and left before Mommy had finished braiding her hair. They couldn’t possibly be across the second field by now but she’d have to run to catch them, and if they were lost in the woods before she found them she’d have to stay home, because Daddy told her never to go in the woods without someone else until she was older.

“Young lady, if you don’t hold still I’m going to braid your hair to this porch!” her mother barked, yanking the attempts at pigtails back into place and setting her daughter’s head. “Don’t move this time and you can go!”

Missy tried not to move but she couldn’t help craning her head, trying to see that last corner of the last field, the one with the path to the creek through the woods she was never allowed to go in on her own. If she moved just a little more, she could see it and if her brothers were there and she ran and screamed they might stop…

Her mother hauled her head back into place and resumed braiding. “Honestly, Missy, you haven’t the patience God gave a sparrow. You’re going swimming, so you’re getting your hair braided.” Eventually the braids were done, containing her daughter’s long dark hair, but the braids looked like cancerous snakes. Her mother couldn’t help giggling.

Missy looked over her shoulder. “What is it? Are you done? Can I go?”

Barely containing her mirth, she nodded and gave Missy both a kiss on the lumpy braid and a little push. “Yes. Go on honey. I love you.”

The little girl was gone like a shot. Her mother contained her laughter at the sight of the two tumorous reptiles attached to her daughter’s head until they were out of sight.

Missy sprinted down the fence line of the first field and crashed through the shallow waters of the brook separating the two fields. Up the hill, she could see two shapes just beginning to merge with the colors of the forest. She stopped and took a deep breath, stuck two fingers in her mouth and whistled. A piercing blast emanated from her hand, and the two shapes stopped merging with the darkness of the treeline. Gratified, Missy renewed her sprint. Dennis had shown her that trick and after weeks of practicing she had mastered it. That whistle, Dennis and Len assured her, would stop what they were doing. A second would bring them running.

“Hoy!” she hollered, and resumed her run, but at a leisurely jog rather than a full sprint. The two shapes grew arms, legs, a head, and features as she got closer.

“Nice whistle,” Dennis said, giving her a five and she slapped it.

“Not bad,” Len agreed, and immediately turned back to the trail they had just sighted when Missy had whistled. “Come on, let’s go. It’s hot, and I’m hot.”

They all were, and fell into line behind Len. Missy next, and Dennis followed, cataloging as if to himself what he planned to do upon reaching the water.

“First, I wade in up to the ankles. Then the knees, then turn around and back in slowly until it gets up to my waist. Then I can slowly lower myself in and not even have to get my head wet if I don’t want to.” Dennis smiled at the sky, and the sun, whose bounty made this trip necessary. “If I don’t die of heat stroke first.”

After a while, the path narrowed and brush grew up around it. Branches grabbed and Missy was glad of her pigtails now, time-consuming though they had been. They ducked under and hopped over and elbowed their way through brush until they came out at gray sandy beach with crystal clear turquoise water reflecting a blue sky and a few puffs of clouds. In the water were around a dozen children varying from just able to swim to unable to remember how not to. There was a great deal of splashing and yelling and was punctuated by the occasional splash as someone ran up a small ridge and jumped off the six-foot bluff into the water. Len wasted no time in racing up the ridge and creating a massive splash with a war-whoop. Dennis followed suit. Missy, not feeling the ridge and war whoops to be quite her style, waded in and dog-paddled out to where her brothers latched on to her and towed her around in circles.

A boy with long dark hair slicked back on his head paddled up beside them, grinned, and spat water at them. Dennis laughed and splashed at him. The boy splashed back. Immediately there was an all-out war of splashing, spraying and laughter as they battled it out, each seeking to soak the other in the water in which they all bathed. Missy didn’t know anything was amiss until she noticed there were only their three heads instead of the four. She looked around, thinking the boy had gone away to splash someone else. She saw only Len and Dennis, breathing rapidly as they trod water and grinned back at her.

“Where’d he go?” Missy looked around again, then looked back at her brothers.

Len looked down.

Missy looked too.

The boy with the long hair was between them, beneath the surface, his fingers no longer breaking it in their quest for freedom. Their movement had slowed, and were visible about a foot beneath the surface, where they gradually stopped moving.

Dennis winked at her, and Len let out a yell and hauled up on the hand of the long-haired boy, screaming as he did, “Help! Help! Someone get help, I think Harry’s dead!” Dennis now took up the cry. “Help! He’s not breathing! Someone get help!” Dennis nudged Missy, and she gave voice to her own scream. “Help! Somebody HELP!”

Her piercing shriek carried across the fields as her mother hung the laundry out to dry. She shook her head and went on pinning the clothes to the line, an indulgent smile on her face.

“Those kids,” she said to herself, and sighed, not quite ruefully.

 

“Those were the days,” Missy smiled, and looked around at the group. “Back when not getting caught and Mom’s apple pie were the two most important things in the –”

There was movement from the back of the room. Long curtains covered the wall for some reason and the shape now moving independently from them had blended almost perfectly with the shadows and the dark gray of the drapes. This shape rose up from the ground slipped behind the drapes, and clawed them aside with a curse. The fabric fell aside and revealed a man’s face, gray with stubble and haggard, bloodshot eyes framed by not-yet-grayed brown hair falling across his forehead in a greasy mat. He pushed himself off the wall and stood erect, squaring his shoulders and pushing the hair out of his face. Once he had collected himself, he spoke, reaching under his coat as he did for the tools of his trade, fighting to stay upright.

The group had drawn back from the drapes as the shape had moved and now they bunched together as the newcomer voiced their worst nightmare even as he palmed his gun and showed his badge with his other hand.

“Police department. Everybody get on their knees with their hands behind their head. Nobody fucking move unless they want a bullet in the eye.”

I’ll do it too, Ed Harding thought, as he sighted on the younger woman with a hand which would not stay steady. Starting with this sick bitch.

Grant Me Serenity – Missy

GMSMy name is Missy, and I’m an addict. That’s what you guys say, right?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been like this. As a little girl in pigtails and jeans, I remember I would grab the stinkiest chemical out from under the sink and pour the whole bottle down the anthills and watch them run. One day I saw my brother with the magnifying glass trying to light a fire, and it occurred to me how much more personal it would be if I just applied that bit of heat to a tiny ant, rather than drowning them with chemicals. It took most of the afternoon but I finally mastered the glass, and could bring a pinprick of hell to bear on an ant within seconds. Like the hand of God, I smote and smote, unable to control the huge grin on my face. Inevitably though, I grew, and as I did, the ants ceased to hold their interest. Like any addict, I now needed something more.
I saved up my coins and bought a mouse trap. I was so excited the night I set it under our porch. I couldn’t wait to get up the next morning and see if I’d gotten anything. I lay awake for ages, listening for the snap, before waking up to the light of day. I flew out of bed and down the porch stairs in my bare feet. There it was, snapped across the skull of what I later learned was a shrew. Its eyes bulged and there was a deep crimp in its head where the bar of the trap had snapped, but it was otherwise unmarked. I was disappointed. Sure, I had killed it. But it was cold and stiff and I had been asleep while the trap did the actual dirty work hours before, crushing its brain as efficiently and humanely as it had been designed to do. The satisfaction I received from roasting ants was better than this!
Frustrated, I saved my money again. This time, I went to the pet store, a jumpy nervous excitement bouncing my stomach. Straight to the Small Animals section, where a strange thing happened. I looked in the eyes of a white rat with a spot on its forehead, and my original plan evaporated. I did purchase her, but she became my companion rather than my victim, living in my sweater hood and riding on my shoulder as I went about my day. I named her Rat, and cried for a week when she finally passed away.
This inconvenient softening did not help my deeper issue, namely something larger than an ant and less quickly dispatched than a mousetrap. However, thanks to Rat, the easy pickings such as all the neighborhood pets, as well as regular trips to the pet store, were unthinkable. There were times I would look at a random cat curled up on my mother’s car as though it had every right to be there, and I would wonder how bad it would hurt me before I could get it immobilized and start…
Rat’s beady little black eyes regarded me solemnly from my shoulder. I could feel her looking at me, as though she knew what I was thinking, and I would look away from the cat, embarrassed. It was just being a cat. Rat was just being a rat, and the ants were just being ants. They had no say in the matter and knew nothing of malice.
People, though…
More and more I couldn’t stop thinking about a girl in my class at school. Rachel S, I’ll call her, and she was Perfect, with a capital fucking P. She knew it too, and made sure everyone else did. None of the Perfect girls had any problem with me, but if Rachel knew what I thought about as I watched her bitching her way through life, she would never have accepted my invitation to spend the night that Saturday.
The next morning, she was gone. I told my family we had argued, and she had left sometime around midnight. This was not unreasonable, she lived two blocks from our house and there were streetlights the whole way. Besides, she was twelve years old, and she could take care of herself, she said when she left, I told Mom. When she was missed, I told her parents and police the same thing, explaining our quarrel away as over a boy. She was never found, and ultimately it was assumed someone had snatched her in those two blocks and made a clean getaway. Nobody ever asked me about it in any official capacity again.
She was my first person, but I was smart enough to know I couldn’t go around preying on everybody I knew. Once I could get away with, I was sure. Twice, I was pretty sure I could get away with as well, but not sure enough. I began spending time at various summer camps in the woods, where many accidents were possible, and accidents did happen. The worst for me, personally, was when a girl and I fell off a log into a river and were washed over a decent sized waterfall. I broke my leg. The girl I was with broke her back and couldn’t move from the waist down. I pulled her to the bank and she was gone by the time we were found, some two hours later. I told counselors through an Oscar-winning show of hysterics that she had died immediately.

Finally, not being stupid, Mom confronted me, and I broke down, tearfully spilling all of my extracurricular activities and expecting her to call the police at any moment. The last thing I expected was the scolding, the “why didn’t you tell me young lady” and the tour of the basement. I quit going to the camps, relieved to have found a steady outlet. But even so, it wasn’t enough. I longed for a more visceral experience. I thought military or law enforcement might be a suitable outlet, until I went to my first execution when I was eighteen with Mom.
She took all of us when we turned eighteen, just so we knew what the stakes were. I remember equally the lesson, and the executioner. His face was like granite, but his eyes were a volcano. When I read the files on those being executed, I could see why. I knew that look; I had seen it in my own eyes when I caught sight of myself in one of the basement’s mirrors when things were really going down. The fun comes in dispatching someone who truly NEEDS to die.
“So here I am,” Missy finishes, looking around with bright eyes. “Through hard work, luck and the necessary ruthlessness, I became the lead physician, or executioner, or whatever you want to call it. A detailed summary of what these guys have done to innocent people makes injecting them a great pleasure.” A pause. “And every time I do it, I think about what it would be like to lay on the couch  instead of stand beside it.”

Claustrophobia and The Dangerous Type

by Loren Rhoads

The first time I went away to sleep-away camp, I was a junior in high school.  Michigan Tech, a university 500 miles north of my home, was hosting a weeklong writing program. I dragged my typewriter into my assigned dorm room and waved goodbye to my parents, excited to be a real writer for a week.

Almost immediately I met another high school girl there for the program. I really liked her at first.  She seemed sunny and competitive and dramatic. I thought we’d provide a good challenge for each other. I looked forward to reading her stories.

I’m not sure what set her off.  She and some of the guys from the program were hanging around in my room when I went into the large walk-in closet to demonstrate how big it was.  Once I was inside, Nicole slammed the door behind me.

I heard giggling.  Nicole enlisted the guys to help her shove the dresser in front of the door so I couldn’t get out.  They talked loudly about going to dinner while I was trapped.  They slammed the dorm room’s door behind them on their way out.

I didn’t have a flashlight. I didn’t know where the light switch was.  With the dresser blocking the door, the closet was very dark inside.  This was long before cell phones were a gleam in some engineer’s eye.  My parents wouldn’t be back for a week.  I wasn’t due in class until morning.  No one would even know I was missing until then.

I sank down onto the floor of the closet, tears burning at the edges of my eyes.  What if there was a fire?  What if I needed to pee?  If I screamed, would anyone hear me?  Were there people on the floors above or below me?  Would my tormentors only laugh at me more if I begged to be let out?

I decided I was too angry to cry. I tried to figure out what had just happened, what I’d done to be tormented like this. I’d only just met Nicole.  I’d even admired her.  I’d thought she seemed like fun, that we might be friends. Why would anyone be so mean to a total stranger?

I never realized I was claustrophobic until I found myself barricaded in that closet. As I sat there in the blackness, I felt the walls shooting away from me into space.  I felt them contract toward me with every panicked breath.  I couldn’t hear anything but my blood pounding in my ears.  My body flushed with heat, then iced with fear.  I understood why people went crazy when locked up alone in the dark. I wondered how long that would take.

I don’t know how long my classmates left me in there.  Eventually one of the boys felt guilty and they crept back into my room to drag the dresser away from the closet door.

I walked out of the closet under my own power.  Nicole laughed at me.  I let my tears fall finally and asked them to leave my room.  Then I locked the door after them and didn’t open the walk-in closet for the rest of the week.

The experience of sitting alone in the dark directly inspired “Claustrophobia,” the first story I published about Raena Zacari.  That story ended with Raena’s imprisonment in an empty tomb on an abandoned planet.  A feature of the weird stone walls of the tomb was that she wouldn’t age and couldn’t die. She would only wait for a savior who would never come, trapped in her tomb until her claustrophobia burned itself out.

Being locked in the dark by strangers isn’t an experience I would wish on any 16-year-old girl.  Still, I suppose I have Nicole to thank for the In the Wake of the Templars trilogy.  Not only did my confinement in that closet lead to that initial short story, but Nicole’s behavior inspired the villain of The Dangerous Type, the first book of the trilogy.

I’ve wondered over the years if Nicole’s lack of empathy led her to abuse others.  It’s hard to believe that I was the only victim she ever singled out.  She really didn’t know me.  At the time, she blamed me for the length of my punishment.  Apparently, she’d stood outside the closet, listening, waiting to hear me scream for help.  When I didn’t satisfy her by begging to be let out, she decided to leave me in there a little longer, since I “appeared to be enjoying” myself. She didn’t apologize afterward, because as far as she could see, I wasn’t actually hurt by the experience. That complete failure to imagine herself in my place led directly to Thallian, the Imperial torturer who lacks empathy to the point that no one in the galaxy – except Raena herself – seems real to him.

I lost touch with Nicole after that week of camp, even though it turned out that we later had friends in common.  I never forgave her for what she’d done.  I also never forgot the lessons she taught me. My novel The Dangerous Type is the story of Raena’s eventual escape from her imprisonment and the vengeance she takes on the man who knew where she was trapped and never came to let her out.

Hopefully, finally, I have exorcised the experience at last.

**********

Loren Rhoads is the author of the In the Wake of the Templars trilogy, published by Night Shade Books. The Dangerous Type is out now, followed by Kill By Numbers on September 1 and the conclusion, No More Heroes, on November 3. She is the co-author (with Brian Thomas) of As Above, So Below and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. Spy on her at lorenrhoads.com. 

Grant Me Serenity – Field Trip

GMS

The wand whispered over Jerry’s genitals and he closed his eyes, arms akimbo as the metal detector worried the bulge in his trousers.
“Go on sir,” the guard said, and stepped back, allowing Jerry entrance to the Sand County Penitentiary. One by one, the members of the little group were escorted through the security point with more attention paid to their personal areas than was strictly necessary, thanks to the screening process responsible for placing that particular guard. His personal fetishes coincided nicely with this job and he took full advantage of the opportunity to fondle Jessica’s curves. For her part she ignored this lechery, apart from contenting herself by fantasizing about making the guard eat his own penis.
Len led them down a white marble hallway, making for a door at the very end of the corridor with the rest of them forming a flying V behind him. He reached it and stopped, tentatively raising a hand to the knob. The group watched as he grasped the knob, then jerked his hand back.
“What? What’s wrong?” Paul asked.
“Damn thing shocked me,” Len grumbled and seized the offending knob, pulling it open with authority.
Behind the door sat a stairway, arteries leading up and down. Len led them down two flights and about ten degrees of temperature, stopping in front of an imposing looking iron door with what looked like three dead bolts. Len pounded on the door with the heavy gold ring he wore on his left hand, the crack echoing up and down the stairway, vibrating the fillings in Jessica’s teeth.
There was a pause, and the door was opened a crack. Another guard with an enormous black mustache looked out at them.
“Access is restricted down here, sir,” the guard said in a weary voice, one which was clearly used to redirecting idiots. “Take two flights of stairs up, and -”
“Thank you, no, we’re attending the execution of Dennis Arbogast. We should be on the list of witnesses.” Len gestured at the invisible list behind the door.
“Oh.” The guard seemed nonplussed. “IDs?”
There was the expected fumbling as everybody produced their bits of government plastic for perusal by the mustachioed giant, who examined them carefully before opening the door further and ushering them in. He showed no signs of returning their IDs and shook his head when Jessica asked for hers back. “Sorry ma’am, I keep these until you return. It’s the law.”
Jessica refrained from telling him what she thought of the law and smiled sweetly. “Of course. Thank you so much.” For what? she wondered.
They were standing in an area much like a parlor. There was a desk for the guard, a laptop and water cooler, and a phone. There were two doors on opposite sides of the parlor room, with a large 1 and 2 painted on them. The guard consulted a clipboard he had taken from the desk drawer and nodded toward door number two.
“That’s the one you want.”
Len nodded and they all followed him over to the door. It had no handle with which to shock, and Len pushed it open.
Inside was a small stuffy room with three rows of ten chairs bolted to the floor. A wall-sized window covered most of the wall the chairs were facing. Behind the glass was a chair similar to a dentist’s. Except dentist chairs don’t have arms sticking straight out. The room it inhabited was bright white linoleum and the kind of blue-green trim you only see in hospitals.
The group wordlessly took their seats in the front row. They sat quietly as the door swung open again and again, admitting relatives of Dennis Arbogast’s victims and various officials here to witness the humane taking of a human life. In an hour, the room was full.
Len stared straight ahead, neutral, his face blank.
Behind the glass, the show began. Two guards escorted Dennis Arbogast through the door. Arbogast was thin and balding with what had once been a well kept goatee. He was pale, but composed. Any tears had been shed earlier, leaving no trace. He had asked for death, and was not afraid of it. Surrounding the group, a mutter at Arbogast’s appearance from the peanut gallery. Another guard entered and took his place by the door, apparently there to hold the door in place, should it attempt escape.
Two doctors, a man and a woman, were the last to enter. He was a pudgy bald man with cottony wisps sprouting conspicuously from his ears and the slump-shouldered shuffle of a man who has long since given up on life. She was tall and her eyes took in the scene from behind horn-rimmed glasses. Her black hair was twisted up in a severe little bun behind her, and she surveyed the room with an air of unmistakable authority. She spoke a word muffled by the glass and her pudgy subordinate nodded, moving toward the chair upon which Arbogast had placed himself, arms spread as if to be crucified.
The pudgy doctor made a business of inserting the two IV lines, made more difficult by his inability to find a vein on the first try. The lady doctor’s face was immobile, but her eyes betrayed her irritation at the delay. Finally the vein was broached and the needles taped in place. The three bags of chemicals contained in bright red plastic were hung like poison apples from the IV tree. They were connected to a series of tubes flowing into the two IV lines with the same dexterity by the pudgy doctor. In the gallery, not everyone was so sanguine about the delay, and there was a good deal more muttering regarding curiosity as to where the good Pudge had gone to medical school and if he had bothered to earn his degree before starting to practice.
Pudge finally hooked Arbogast up to his demise and stepped back, his face slightly redder than when he started. The woman stepped forward, blatantly checking his work. Pudge watched with no expression as she did this, then nodded, satisfied, and stepped back to the IV.
The guard by the door flipped a switch on the wall. There was a click, and the gallery could now hear everything those in the death chamber heard. The guard began. “Dennis Arbogast, you have been sentenced to die by a jury of your peers. Do you have anything to say before the sentence is carried out?”
Throughout the rigamarole of being hooked up, Arbogast had stared at the ceiling, still as death. Now he raised his head, and looked directly at Len. Len nodded once. Arbogast nodded back, a ghost of a smile playing around his mouth.
“Nah, let’s get this over with so these fine folks can go on about their day. Be seeing you, Len.” Arbogast said cheerfully, then lay his head back down, a peaceful smile on his face. On his left middle finger, he wore a heavy gold ring.
In the gallery, there was dead silence.
The woman reached for the vines connected to the first poison apple. Sodium thiopental had been held from entering Arbogast’s body by the barest of crimping. Now as she opened the valve, it began flowing into his arm, working its magic quickly. Within ten seconds, Arbogast’s eyes had closed for the last time. The next apple was pancuronium bromide, which paralyzed Arbogast’s muscles, notably those which provide respiration; finally potassium chloride’s finishing touch stopped his heart completely. In seven minutes, it was over.
Len had not moved. His face had not changed. He could have been anywhere, but for a single tear.

The flick of a lighter. It was passed around as the group lit their cigarettes. Not all of them smoked regularly, but all of them smoked now, not all of whom with steady hands.
Len broke the silence, speaking for the first time since he had spoken to the guard who had taken their ID. “That’s what we have to look forward to if we step off this tightrope. Some pudgy fuck mangling our veins with an audience for our last death. Sound fun?”
Nobody answered.
Len took a deep drag and coughed, not being one of the regular smoker. “I’m glad I quit these. Who’s hungry?”
Nobody was, but they all nodded.
“Let’s go grab some chow before we head back. We’re just waiting for someone else -” he broke off. “Here she is.”
The group turned as one to see the lady executioner with her hair down coming toward them, all trace of her severe face gone. On it was a radiant smile. She raised a hand, waving. “Hi Len!” Len raised his hand in return, his smile radiant to match. “Guys, this is my sister Missy.

Press Release: Forsaken

Forsaken

Debut Novel by J.D. Barker

“A talented writer with a delightfully devious mind!”
Jeffery Deaver

#1 International Bestselling Author

c49ecf34-cc82-4737-b1e3-0732bd3b4d0aBook One of the Shadow Cove Saga
From the witch trials of centuries past, an evil awakens.

Inspired by Actual Events
Excerpt from the Journal of Clayton Stone – 1692 She was examined today without torture at Shadow Cove township on the charge of witchcraft. She said she was wholly innocent of the crime and has never in life renounced God. I watched as they brought her out. A poor, sickly thing, worn by her time behind the walls of her prison. Her bared feet and hands bound in leather, her clothing tattered to that of ruin. Despite such condition, her head was held high, her eyes meeting those of her accusers. She still refuses to provide her name so we remain unable to search baptismal records, nor has her family stepped forward to claim her as their own. We have no reason to believe she is anything but an orphaned child. I find myself unable to look at her directly in the moments preceding her trial. She is watching me though; with eyes of the deepest blue, she is watching me.
Thad McAlister, Rise of the Witch

When horror author Thad McAlister began his latest novel, a tale rooted in the witch trials of centuries past, the words flowed effortlessly. The story poured forth, filling page after page with the most frightening character ever to crawl from his imagination. It was his greatest work, one that would guarantee him a position among the legends of the craft.

But was it really fiction?

He inadvertently opened a door, one that would soon jeopardize the lives of his family.

She wants to come back.

At home, his wife struggles to keep their family alive. Secretly wondering if she caused it all…a deal she made long ago. A deal with the Forsaken.

For more information go to: www.masterofsuspense.com

What Price Gory?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Fiction Friday: Blood Feud

Our Free Fiction Friday selection for this week is Blood Feud by Sam Siciliano. This book was originally released in 1993 and tells the tale of two ancient vampires that will not rest until the other is destroyed.

Blood Feud is set in Portland Oregon where two vampire’s final battle will take place. One vampire is a master of manipulation and he now thirsts for the death of the vampire woman he once loved. The  woman in question is dangerously seductive and uses her body to possess her victims and now she wants revenge on the vampire who cursed her with immortality. They have been driven through the centuries by the desire to bathe in the other’s undying blood and now the final battle is drawing near.

Some other books written by Sam Siciliano include: Darkness, Blood Farm and The Angel Of The Opera: Sherlock Holmes Meets The Phantom Of The Opera. To find out more about Sam Siciliano go to: samsiciliano.net.

If you want this book leave a comment on this blog post. The first comment gets the book. This is for US residents only.

The Devil Tree

The Devil Tree by Steve Vernon is an alternate history horror story set in the 1800’s. The story begins with Lucas and his wife Tamsen as they are floating down a stream in a raft looking for a place to settle after having to leave their home in shame. The raft hits a log and the couple is thrown into the flowing current. They are rescued by a man named Duvall and brought to a strange valley which is ruled by a giant Jackpine.

Marcus and Tamsen are nursed back to health by Duvall, his wife Jezebel and their son Cord. The valley seems like it could be a good place to start a new life but the giant tree that stands above the valley has plans for them. Everyone has their secrets and the tree feeds upon their emotions.

That’s all I can say about the story in The Devil Tree because it was a little hard to follow. The characters go through quite a few changes in the story, Duvall is shown as being good, then bad then good again and Lucas also seems to change from good to bad. Tamsen stays the same throughout but we find out that she has done some very bad things in the past. The story is about the characters and because the character’s personalities are constantly changing it makes for a confusing story.

Other things I didn’t like about The Devil Tree was how for awhile it looked like Cord was going to be a big part of the story but then nothing was done with him. I also didn’t like how Tamsen declares her love for Duvall but then acts afraid of Duvall a little later in the story and Lucas doesn’t seem to care. Another thing that doesn’t get explained well was the tree’s power, why it was there in the first place or what it was trying to do. I wondered if maybe the tree wasn’t controlling the people in the valley and they were going crazy because they were the only ones there and it was their guilt about their past that was ruining everything.

Despite my confusion with the story there was a lot I did like about The Devil Tree. I enjoyed how metaphors were used, along with how complex the characters were and I liked how everything was described in the story. The opening where the valley was discovered was beautifully done. I also liked when Lucas and Tamsen’s raft capsized and you see how much they love each other as they fight to survive.

Also if you are into horror there are some gruesome scenes such as the the final battle with the tree and the description of the fight between Lucas and Duvall. The way the characters are all  battling their inner demons was also frightening. This book is very dark, I found myself feeling creeped out near the end when it looks like Lucas has finally lost his mind.

I realize my review here is a contradiction but despite its flaws I found myself not wanting to put this book down. It is very well written and I will want to read more from Steve Vernon. It takes a little while to get going and has some story flaws but The Devil Tree is a psychological horror story that you won’t want to put down.

Mr. Peepers and The Quarry

There are three books that I want to talk about in this post. The first one is a short story by a new author named Akela Cooper. Akela has written a few short stories that are available through Biting Dog Press and she has been a staff writer for ABC’s V, She was also a writer’s assistant on Dexter and worked on CBS’s Jericho. She is currently a staff writer for the NBC series, Grimm.

One of Akela’s short stories is called Mr. Peepers and centers around a cat that may be more then just a cat.  A woman named Genny just found out that her brother died mysteriously in a farm house that he recently bought. She goes to the house to investigate and finds out that three other people had also died mysteriously in the house over the last year. When the bodies were found there was a cat named Mr. Peepers by the body and the look in his eyes is not the look of a normal cat. Could Mr. Peepers be the cause of the deaths? If so does Genny have what it takes to put an end to Mr. Peeper’s reign of terror?

When I read Mr. Peepers it kind of reminded me of a Tales From The Crypt episode. It has some humor to it and it has some violent moments that come across as funny and creepy at the same time. The story itself  is well written and even though I thought the ending was predictable, it still worked.  One of the best scenes in the story is where a woman has a run in with Mr. Peepers and things get a little heated. After that, lets just say that she doesn’t see to clearly anymore. 

Another short story by Akela Cooper that I recently read is Tinderbox Blues. A confederate soldier returning from war one day comes to a house of an old slave woman. The woman offers him some treasure if he gets a tinder box out of a pit for her. The solider decides that if the box is more valuable to the woman then the treasure, he must have it for himself and steals the box. Little does he know the box is cursed and he now must suffer the consequences.

Tinder Box Blues has over the top violence with a story that’s a little confusing. It reads a lot like one of Grimm’s Fairy Tales or like a gothic ghost story of the 1800’s. I think the point of the story was to gross out and scare the reader and it does a good job of that. There is some great imagery to this story and it makes the story well worth reading, if you like scary old folk tales you will like this one.

The last book I want to talk about is a novel by Mark Allan Gunnels called The Quarry. The Quarry takes place at a picturesque college campus on the edge of a Quarry named Lake Limestone. The lake is 400 feet deep and the students are warned to stay away from it. It was formed in the 1950’s, when a work truck tapped into an underground spring, filling the quarry and leaving all the work vehicles at the bottom of the lake.  At least thats the story that everyone thinks is the truth.

One student on campus named Dale decides to find out what really lies at the bottom of the lake. He scuba dives to the bottom and comes back forever changed and this is when the horror really starts. People start dying on campus and something evil is stiring. Dale’s friends go on a search for answers to what lies beneath, but what they find has been there since the dawn of time and may be unstoppable.

The Quarry is one part mystery and one part horror. You dont know for sure what is in The Quarry and what is truely responsible for the killings until the very end. The book leaves you subtle hints as to what is going on, but leaves you guessing. The Quarry is not an over the top bloody horror story, its much more reserved then that. While none of the death scenes are gruesome or very long, they are still scary because  Mark Allan Gunnels makes you care about all of his characters and you don’t want to see them meet an untimely demise.

That is what maked The Quarry a great read, because you are invested in the characters. Even for the bad ones you get to know them, you feel for them and you see them change throughout the story. You see Dale change from a popular kid to a raging psychopath. You see his girlfriend go from self assured and confident to questioning everything she once believed and Dale’s freind Emilio goes from a timid coward, to finding out what kind of person he truely is. You also see the supporting cast go through changes, with each one being different from how they started out.

I had a couple of minor complaints about The Quarry. One was  that I wanted a little more action, I think the maint point of the stories was to build strong characters and see how their lives change when faced with extreme circumstances. So I guess to much action would have taken away from the character development, but I thought there were parts where a little more action could have made the story more interesting. My other complaint was that I was a little disappointed with the end. The ending was satisfying but I wanted a happy ending for all of the characters because I liked them so much. I guess its not horror if you don’t kill off a couple of people and make your main characters suffer. The Quarry is a masterpiece and I look forward to reading more from Mark Allan Gunnells.