PROJECT GEN-X – AN INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA ROWLAND

PROJECT GEN-X – AN INTERVIEW WITH REBECCA ROWLAND

By Renata Pavrey

In a unique anthology of monster, folk, paranormal, and psychological horror as glimpsed through the lens of the latchkey generation, twenty-two voices shine a strobe light on the cultural demons that lurked in the background while they came of age in the heyday of Satanic panic and slasher flicks, milk carton missing and music television, video rentals and riot grrrls. 

These Gen-X storytellers once stayed out unsupervised until the streetlights came on, and what they brought home with them will terrify you. 

Featuring brand new fiction from Kevin David Anderson, Glynn Owen Barrass, Matthew Barron, C.D. Brown, Matthew Chabin, L.E. Daniels, C.O. Davidson, Douglas Ford, Phil Ford, Holly Rae Garcia, Dale W. Glaser, Tim Jeffreys, Derek Austin Johnson, Eldon Litchfield, Adrian Ludens, Elaine Pascale, Erica Ruppert, Kristi Petersen Schoonover, Rob Smales, Mark Towse, Thomas Vaughn, and Thomas K.S. Wake.

As a follow-up to my wonderful reading experience of the book, I interviewed editor Rebecca Rowland, for an insight into how Generation X-ed was conceived, created, and curated.

Hi Rebecca, Congratulations on the release of your latest book. How would you describe the experience of working on a project with other writers, versus individually writing a book?

It’s a completely different animal. In the first anthology I edited for Dark Ink Books, I included one of my own stories; I haven’t done that since. It’s too difficult wearing both hats: as an editor, you have to see the work through the eyes of the reader while simultaneously having the backs of the authors who have contributed to the project. With my own stuff, I just write what I like and rarely consider how readers might respond: I trust in the editor and the press owner to assess and dress it properly for public view. It’s much more exhausting to be an editor, unfortunately, but it’s even more rewarding on some levels as long as I know I’ve done right by those who’ve contributed their work.

Generation X-ed is a niche genre: horror stories set in the eighties and early nineties. How did the idea for the anthology come about?

A few years ago, I made a conscious effort to read and review more independent dark fiction. I also tried to break out of my (painfully awkward, typical writer-introvert-) shell and get to know some fellow independent horror writers. What I found was that more than three-quarters of those horror authors were my age: we shared the same formative experiences in media, music and culture. I was born smack in the middle of Generation X, a group I didn’t really understand the significance of until I was well into my thirties and forties. Now, I look at my generation and I realize, there are touchstones we share that helped shape us into the people we are as adults: the satanic panic, the latchkey phenomenon, the Challenger explosion (witnessed live in our classrooms), the emergence and disappearance of Mtv, and so forth. I happen to think our formative experiences are the most nefarious, which might explain the wealth of horror fiction that has sprung from Gen Xers!

The stories cover a range of horror sub-genres from psychological and paranormal, to comedy and sci-fi. Was this intentional, to feature stories across the horror spectrum?

The Renaissance of the slasher film occurred during Generation X’s childhood/early teens, and the birth of cable television and VCRs (coupled with looser supervision by our parents), made access to hardcore horror relatively easy. When I first conceived the collection, I did imagine it would be focused on the splatter and gore of that subgenre: the X lends itself so well to that, visually and thematically. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that our influences weren’t limited to slashers. Each of the authors chose an individual (real or fictional) who had an impact on him/her as a horror writer. The range makes me realize I did the right thing broadening the parameters of the fiction I wanted to include.

All the writers belong to the latchkey generation and have explored their personal experiences with movies, books, music, political and historical events from the era. How did you gather stories and authors for this project?

I wrote up the call for stories, letting writers know the word count range and that we were really only requiring two things: that the writer be a member of Generation X and that the horror story include something (subtly or otherwise) specific to the generation. As the submissions came in, I was pleasantly surprised: the caliber of writing and the uniqueness in story arcs made whittling the final count down to twenty-two very difficult. There were definitely some stories that it pained me to turn away, but the ones I selected all had one thing in common: they were exceptionally well-written, and they stayed in my head hours or even days after I first read them. I wish I could give a more objective analysis of why these twenty-two ended up together, but my best explanation would be it’s part luck that these gifted authors chose to trust me with their creations, and it’s part my own gut reaction. 

While readers born and growing up in the 70s and 80s would find resonance in the references, the stories are so well written and compiled to be enjoyable for everyone. Did you have a reader audience in mind while conceiving this anthology? As an editor, how challenging is it to cater to different reader tastes when curating a collection?

So far, I’ve been fortunate enough to curate collections where the focus has been something to which I am already drawn, and I know readers are going to choose a book based on whether its nucleus is something that already jives with their preferences. I know putting out a collection that appears age-specific is risky; however, one of the nicest feedbacks I’ve received from reviewers is my commitment to diversity in style and approach, and therefore, I’ve always kept that in mind when I am cutting down the “likely yes” pile to the final lineup. 

I am drawn to read anthologies myself because of the variety: I don’t expect to love every entry, and I don’t expect readers of the anthologies I curate to love every story. However, I never want a reader to find s/he doesn’t respond to multiple stories in a row. Even if the stories have a common thread, I take care to either follow one story with another from a completely different subgenre, or, if the subgenres are the same, make certain back-to-back tales utilize different points-of-view, or possess similar narrators who make very different choices. That way, there really is something for everyone. There are sly winks in Generation X-ed that will resonate specifically with those who are a part of the generation, but the heart of the collection, the things that creep and unnerve and scare the bejesus out of us no matter when we grew up, is what gives it life, so I hope everyone who enjoys good storytelling will take a look. 

Generation X-ed releases on January 26, 2022. 

Links to purchase:

https://rowlandbooks.com/generation-xed#f5bed466-d8ae-4abf-a6cb-8b7d887bb01c

 

Free Fiction: The Bunny Man by BrandonTanczak

The bunny man in the ice cream truck gives girls & boys a cool treat.

But one wrong quip and the bunny man

will take you off your feet! Stowed in the cold turning to ice 

A small debt to pay for not being so nice 

The children dream of aiding the bunny man 

Scooping ice cream according to plan 

No at all being the wiser 

Of the fudge dipped Billy Kaiser. 

The bunny man is not mean or scary 

Just don’t bring up what he did to Terry. 

With his big eyes and long ears floppy 

Crooked bucktooth smile, a hare a tad bit choppy 

The music chimes and the children run 

The bunny man says ‘here comes another, oh what fun’ They rush with glee into the summer heat 

For their frozen mystery treat. 

Billy, Tommy, Ryan, and Jill 

Line up to get their fill 

Vanilla swirl, chocolate sprinkle, and mint chocolate Chip With joy coming from the bunny man’s furry grip 

Poor little Tommy is ready to cry 

He wanted a cone but was short a dime. 

‘How badly do you want it?’ The bunny man replied. Tommy pouts ‘so badly that I could just DIE’ 

The bunny man smirks with a devilish grin 

‘Well, you’re in luck, my friend. Go around back and hop on in’ Tommy runs to back, his eyes wide with wonder 

Not fully understanding of the spell he was under 

The doors kick open and the dry ice mists 

The bunny man’s smile suddenly twists 

Snatching Tommy up rather quick 

The truck speeds off, disappearing like a magic trick 

The next day the bunny man comes back 

Showing the kids his brand new snack 

The children ranted and raved over the new flavor 

Double scoops of Tutti Tommy Craver.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Brandon Tanczak is a filmmaker and writer from Philadelphia PA.

He and his wife Jill run Jerks Productions, an art collective, and horror film production

team. Jerks specialize in an art-house style of horror focusing more on psychological

and emotionally driven characters and situations rather than blood and gore.

Book Review: GENERATION X-ED edited by Rebecca Rowland

GENERATION X-ED,  An anthology of horror from the latchkey generation

Book review by Renata Pavrey

A unique collection of horror stories that pay tribute to the seventies and eighties. Generation X-ed turns back time with twenty-two writers who offer a glimpse into the horrors of the past. Videocassette players, slasher flicks, satanic cults, paper maps, cable repairs, alien invasions, summer vacations, creature features, rock and grunge music – the reader is transported into an era filled with cultural references that range from books to movies and music.

A challenge for the editor in not only collecting well-written horror stories adhering to the theme but also finding writers from generation X, who have mined their memories for an eerie array of tales for the reader. From VHS tapes to MTV, hairstyles and clothes, movie theatres and film stars, political events, and manmade disasters, the writers take us through time and place with very different stories, but all bound by their connection to the 70s and 80s.

My most favorite story was How I Met Kurt Russell by Rob Smales, which takes us through the movies and characters played by Kurt Russell. In a narrative hilarious and unnerving in equal parts, Smales addresses the horrors of identity, fandom, and superstardom. I just loved his horror-comedy, the subject of his story, and the route of exploring serious themes through humor. Some of my other favorites were In From The Cold by Adrian Wayne Ludens (the nostalgia of old photographs), A Genealogy of Hunger by Thomas Vaughn (a stellar piece of speculative fiction), Pay Heed to the Preacher Man by Eldon Litchfield (about small towns and creepy residents), Naming The Band by Elaine Pascale (hierarchies and dynamics between band members), Birnam Hall by L. E. Daniels (sheer brilliance in writing about sexual assault without actually writing about it, as a mirror to unreported cases), Stand Beside Me Now by Tim Jeffreys (for his take on haunted houses), Parker Third West by Dale W. Glaser (for his deep dive into dorm life), The Shade by C.O. Davidson (dealing with death and grief).

The stories are a mixed bunch, but they’re all entertaining in the way each of us interprets horror – as children, teenagers, and adults. Although the cover depicts a slasher anthology, the collection covers sub-genres of horror from cosmic to sci-fi, psychological and paranormal, folk horror, and horror-comedy. Highly recommended for readers from the latchkey generation, who have lived through the era and will identify with the references. But it’s really just for everyone, to enjoy the coming-together of an exceptional bunch of writers. Kudos to editor Rebecca Rowland for accomplishing this task.

My rating – 5/5

Book Review: Tortured Willows by Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Geneve Flynn and Christina Sng

Review by Daphne Strasert

5 stars

Tortured Willows bleeds, sobs, and howls with rage. The poems stab at the monsters who desecrate, they release spirits to deliver revenge and honour the memories of mothers and grandmothers. The words of these four poets – Lee Murray, Angela Yuriko Smith, Geneve Flynn, and Christina Sng – cannot be ignored. By sharing often intensely personal experiences of otherness, of suffering and prejudice, they reach into your heart and demand you listen.

The driving force behind these verses is the combination of cultural heritage, the definition of woman and the modern-day perception of the poets as ‘other’. Employing a variety of forms, – from sonnet to black-out to blank verse – the poems educate those of us who have been unaware as to the level of suffering of our sisters on the other side of the world. The notes provide further information, book, newspaper, document references to their histories and their realities.

Every poem deserves its place. Lee Murray delivers tragedy in Fox Girl and Exquisite and poignancy in The Girl with the Bellows. Geneve Flynn serves up anger in ‘Abridge’, the cultural practice of ghost brides in ‘Bride Price’, the fears of a mother for her son in ‘Unpicked Stitching.
Christina Sng brings up supernatural revenge in Flat, The Visit and The Last Bus, respect for ancestors in The Offering and the place their ghosts still have in our lives.
Angela Yuriko Smith develops the strength of women in Four Willows Bound, the traditions of the Ryukyuan in Onarigami and Her Hajichi, her sense of difference in The Nukekubi.

In theory, I would list every poem – they all have something to say. In lieu of such a list, all I can say is buy – or borrow – but do read – this extraordinary and eye-opening collection

In the words of Angela Yuriko Smith in her poem, Four Willows Bound:

Four willows stood bound
in their sisterhood, in strength —
unquiet, waiting

They are waiting for you.

Historian of Horror: Third Time is Definitely NOT the Charm

Third Time is Definitely NOT the Charm

I suspect we’re all at least somewhat familiar with the Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s. The Frankenstein monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, these are all iconic figures in the history of our favorite genre. In two separate cycles, from 1931 to 1936, and then from 1939 to 1948, the Universal gang were the first more or less unified cinematic universe, fighting each other as well as villagers carrying torches and pitchforks, monster hunters with stakes and silver bullets and tana leaves, and the occasional sane scientist going up against the mad ones.

Universal also produced a few lesser series, unconnected to the primary bunch of horror films, including the Creeper films of Rondo Hatton, the Captive Wild Woman trilogy, and the six little pictures that are the focus of our attention today. One of them, anyhow.

Since all popular culture in America is in one way or another connected, we have to go back, back, back into the dark and abyss of time that was 1930. Major publishing house Simon & Schuster began issuing mystery novels in that year under the imprint of Inner Sanctum Mysteries. Eleven years later, radio impresario Himan Brown initiated a program under that title that began on January 7, 1941, complete with a creaking door and a sardonic host, the first of his kind, named Raymond Edward Johnson. 

In 1944, Universal decided to get in on the fun by casting their new big horror star, Lon Chaney, Jr., in a series of low-budget films under the Inner Sanctum banner. These were distinct tales with no connection to each other, nor to the larger continuity of the Universal Cinematic Universe. The second film, Weird Woman, was the only one with a truly supernatural theme, and the first film adaptation of Fritz Leiber, Jr.’s 1943 novel, Conjure Wife.

Conjure Wife first appeared in the pulp magazine, Unknown Worlds, in the April 1943 issue, and in expanded form has been reprinted many times by numerous publishers. It’s the tale of Norman Saylor, a sociology professor at a small American university. Being a rational man, he objects when he discovers that his wife, Tansy, has been helping his career by the ritual application of magical spells and talismans. He forces her to dispense with all her occult gear and practices, not realizing that the wives of the other faculty members are performing the same services on behalf of their own spouses. Things start to go terribly wrong for Norman’s career until he is forced to admit  

Weird Woman downplays some of the supernatural elements in the story but is still quite outré. Frequent Chaney co-star Evelyn Ankers (The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein, Son of Dracula) appears as one of those arrayed against our hero in a rare villainous performance. Anne Gwynn, who a year later would appear with Chaney in House of Frankenstein, played Norman’s wife, renamed Paula. 

The film moves along pretty briskly for its sixty-three-minute length, although like all the Inner Sanctum pictures it slows a bit whenever Chaney indulges in the whispered internal monologue voiceovers that were a feature of the radio program. Those were effective and useful in a purely auditory medium but unnecessary on film. Alas, Chaney insisted on them, and being the BMOL (Big Man on Lot), he got his way. 

I’ve not been able to track down the first television adaptation of the novel, a thirty-minute version for the second episode of a minor series called Moment of Fear (aired July 8, 1960). The best adaptation is by far the 1962 British film, Night of the Eagle. Also known as Burn, Witch, Burn, it stars Peter Wyngarde, who initially passed on the role but spotted a flash car he fancied. He reconsidered, asking the exact cost of the vehicle as his fee.

The film itself is quite beautifully mounted, and the script by Twilight Zone collaborator Charles Beaumont doesn’t shy away from the supernatural elements inherent in the story. Night of the Eagle is one of the best English horror movies of the early 1960s.

Alas, nothing as complimentary can be said of the most recent version, a made-for-TV movie from 1980 called Witches’ Brew. Frankly, its cheese factor tends towards the Limburger end of the stinky scale. I recommend sticking with the book itself, and the first two extant adaptations, because the third is not, as the title of this essay indicates, very good.

Oh well. Until next time, then…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Guest Blog: “The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows”

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows

Featured Author: Geneve Flynn

Southeast Asian mythology is much less familiar territory for many horror fans. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies are well-known, creatures such as the tiyanak, the penanggalan, the pontianak, and the nukekubi are less so. Does that make them scarier? Let’s dive in and see. 

  Tortured Willows is a newly released collaborative collection of sixty horror poems by four of the authors from the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Christina Sng, and Geneve Flynn showcase some of these creepy critters in their poetry. In this blog series, we chat to each of the contributors about their monsters.

Please say hello to Geneve Flynn.

LM: Please tell us a little more about the themes you explore in this collection.

GF: There were a few things happening in the cultural and political spaces in Australia when I was writing my poems. There had been allegations of rife sexism, sexual misconduct, and assault within our parliament, and there has been growing fury at how gendered violence has been handled by the press, the justice system, and the government. Tortured Willows offered a place for me to express some of my own anger and frustration at our very “blokey” culture. I also wrote about my experience of racism as part of the Chinese-Malaysian diaspora. They were the some of the same themes I touched on in my stories in Black Cranes; but, in Tortured Willows, using poetry, I was able to explore these themes from different angles and in a more targeted way. 

LM: Your poem “Penanggalan’s Lament”, a favourite of mine, features one of the most gruesome creatures from Southeast Asian mythology. Please tell us more about her and what she symbolises in your work. 

“penanggalanfullj.jpg” by Kurt Komoda is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

GF: The penanggalan is a Malay vampiric creature that is thought to be a woman who accidentally curses herself with black magic in the pursuit of beauty. She is supposed to soak in a vat of vinegar and eat no meat for forty days. However, she breaks her fast early and becomes monstrous. At night, she detaches her head from her body, trailing organs as she seeks out newborns and pregnant women to feed on. 

I immigrated to Australia only a decade or so after the White Australia Policy was abolished. I was often one of the only Asian kids in school, so I faced racism and abuse. I spent a lot of my childhood and teen years wishing I had blue eyes and blond hair. The idea that you could damn yourself in order to look a certain way resonated with me. Here is an excerpt from my poem:

“All you have to do: soak in vinegar,

hide in a vat; no meat for forty days.

You’ll be blue-eyed, fair, perfect, regular.”

The girl agrees, wakes up, still in a haze.

She’s one of them, not chink: so white, all ways.

Goodbye past, so long; she’s full ABC.

But she forgets: each deal you buy, you pay

your life, if you want to have that body. 

 

LM: Hungry ghosts feature in your poem “Inheritance”, a text which I found both evocative and insightful. What are hungry ghosts, and how did you showcase them in your work? 

“The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Photo 6” by feministjulie is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

GF: Hungry ghosts are said to arise when a person commits an evil deed or suffers a terrible death. When they die, they are tormented by insatiable desire for the one thing they sought most in life. The hungry ghost has a swollen belly and a tiny mouth, and can never be fulfilled. I wanted to write about the opportunities denied to Chinese girls and women, simply because they are often viewed as only fit for filial duty. What does it do to a person to be continually told, no matter your potential, you are only good for one thing? Would it turn you into a wraith, forever chasing validation? Here’s an excerpt from my poem:

Was that when you first

began to swell? Your stomach

bulging and burgeoning,

swallowing the bitter,

the burden, the second-hands,

the not-for-yous? 

Did your mouth begin to draw 

closed like a miserly purse

when you were left behind,

your splendid mind with  

only hunger and no choice

but to turn upon itself?

LM: Thanks so much for introducing us to some of the mythology that features in your poetry. If you’d like to read the poems mentioned in this blog series, Tortured Willows is available from Yuriko Publishing.

Praise for Tortured Willows:

“It’s clear Murray, Flynn, Sng, and Yuriko Smith are nowhere close to finished sharing all of the poems within them, but this is a fine rare gathering you’ll want to revisit time and

again.”—Bryan Thao Worra, former President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association

“Women live with spectres gifted to us by our experiences. Tortured Willows breathes life into these shadows, reminding us that what has shaped us has not broken us.”—Piper Mejia, author of The Better Sister & Other Stories

“A haunting, harrowing exploration of obligation, expectation, and sacrifice, poetry as unquiet fury and a lens on both past and present. Told in four unique voices yet speaking for countless silent generations of Asian women, Tortured Willows grips you by the throat and screams into the night, demanding to be heard.”—Dan Rabarts, award-winning author of the Children of Bane series

“This collection of poetry, without a doubt, will forever remain one of my all-time favorites. No matter how hard I pulled at the reins, I could not stop until every last poem was inside of me.” —Cindy O’Quinn, two-time Bram Stoker Award®-nominated author

Tortured Willows

Bent. Bowed. Unbroken

The willow is femininity, desire, death. Rebirth. With its ability to grow from a single broken branch, it is the living embodiment of immortality. It is the yin that wards off malevolent spirits. It is both revered and shunned.

In Tortured Willows, four Southeast Asian women writers of horror expand on the exploration of otherness begun with the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.

Like the willow, women have bent and bowed under the expectations and duty heaped upon them. Like the willow, they endure and refuse to break.

With exquisite poetry, Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn invite you to sit beneath the tortured willow’s gravid branches and listen to the uneasy shiver of its leaves.

LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Tortured-Willows-Bent-Bowed-Unbroken/dp/1737208334

Geneve Flynn is an award-winning speculative fiction editor and author. She has two psychology degrees and only uses them for nefarious purposes.

She co-edited Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women with celebrated New Zealand author and editor Lee Murray. The anthology won the 2020 Bram Stoker Award® and the 2020 Shirley Jackson Award for best anthology. It has also been shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award, Aurealis Award, and Australian Shadows Award. Black Cranes is listed on Tor Nightfire’s Works of Feminist Horror and Locus magazine’s 2020 Recommended Reading List

Geneve was assistant editor for Relics, Wrecks, and Ruins, a speculative fiction anthology which features authors such as Neil Gaiman, Ken Liu, Robert Silverberg, James (SA) Corey, Lee Murray, Mark Lawrence, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Angela Slatter. The anthology is the legacy of Australian fantasy author Aiki Flinthart, and is in support of the Flinthart Writing Residency with the Queensland Writers Centre

Geneve’s short stories have been published in various markets, including Flame Tree Publishing, Things in the Well, and PseudoPod. Her latest short story, “They Call Me Mother,” will appear in Classic Monsters Unleashed with some of the biggest names in horror, including Joe Lansdale, Jonathan Maberry, and Ramsey Campbell.

Geneve loves tales that unsettle, all things writerly, and B-grade action movies. If that sounds like you, check out her website at www.geneveflynn.com.au.

Free Fiction: Cherry Hill By CM Lucas

One last beam of sunlight peeks out from the horizon and reflects off the curves of a spotless Dodge Ram as it hurdles along a dusty service road.                                                                                        

“Where the hell is… Ah! There she is,” says the man as he scratches his salt & pepper beard and attempts to steer while adjusting the collar of his security uniform. His name is Clive Queenan, and he’s running a bit late. Hunching over the steering wheel while adjusting his legs, Clive squint’s as he reaches his destination atop Cherry Hill.

As Clive pulls into the parking lot, he exits his truck, stretches out, and glances at Cherry Hill Psychiatric Hospital. An imposing structure; its cracked bricks glow red in the setting sunlight; its glass-less windows creak while dangling shingles bob in the breeze. Long, slender branches from maple trees surround the building like elongated fingers.

“Christ, this place looks like it went to hell and back,” Clive says, glancing up as his hand rests atop his brow, blocking out the setting sun. 

Clive makes his way to the front door. Flaking paint floats to the ground as he grips the doorknob and enters the dilapidated building.

“Hello?” Clive says, pulling out his cell to check for any missed calls.

“Service sucks out here,” Clive says.

“Hm. Where is this dude?” Clive asks, looking about the foyer. The missing floor tiles and cobweb-draped ceiling are accompanied by an undisturbed layer of dust. 

This place is a tomb… A goddamn creepy tomb, Clive thinks, leaving a trail of footprints in the floor dust.

“Quite the shit pit, am I right?” the booming voice echoes through the foyer and bounces in Clive’s ears as he twists around and peers up at the man standing atop the staircase. The man smiles as he limps down the stairs. The smallest beam of light from the retreating sun peeks through the glass-less windows and reflects off the man’s hairless head. 

“Shit!” Clive says, clutching his chest.

“I scare ya there, buddy?” asks the man as he adjusts his glasses.

“I’m good. You must be, Darren. Sorry I’m late,” Clive says. The man reaches the foyer and hobbles over to Clive with a smirk on his crimson mustached face.

“What the hell’d you do to wind up watchin’ this toilet bowl?” asks the man as he peers up and extends his hand toward Clive for a handshake.

“I volunteered. Double time and a half to watch this place,” Clive says, glancing down, shaking the man’s hand vigorously.

“Skip. Everybody calls me Skip… no clue why, but It seems to suit me,” Skip says.

“Gotta love nicknames, huh? I’m Clive,” Clive says, looking about the area. Skip furrows his brow.

“Clive? You don’t run into too many Clives in Cherry Hill,” Skip says with a smirk on his face.

“No doubt. My mother’s from England. Every time I got my ass kicked in school because of my name, I always remembered to thank her,” Clive says, chuckling. Clive follows Skip as the duo walk through the foyer.

“So, what’d they tell ya about this place?” asks Skip, adjusting his glasses.

“Not much. Just that this place gets ransacked almost nightly,” Clive says, fiddling with his belt.  “Kids trying to hot wire the bulldozers and excavators. All that good stuff.” Clive continues, “not sure why they need two guards for this type of thing, but hey, double-time and a half, who cares,” Clive says as the duo enter a lengthy corridor. Clive glances at the hallway’s calcium and lime-covered concrete walls. The sun-bleached doors and glass-less windows seemingly stretch to infinity.

“When’s this place set to be torn down?” asks Clive as the pair head down the corridor. Skip snickers.

“What? What’s so funny?” asks Clive.

“They tell ya anything else?” asks Skip. Clive furrows his brow.

“No. Like what?” asks Clive.

“Place is supposed to be haunted,” Skip says. Clive stops. Skip twists around to face Clive.

“What do you mean? We’re talking little spooky friends, here?” Clive asks, flashing a smirk.

“Hey, that’s what they say,” Skip says, glancing up at Clive. Skip continues, “Look, I don’t believe in all that ghost tripe. I only believe what I see with these peepers of mine, ya know?” 

“I hear ya. I read about the shit that went on here before it closed down. Way scarier than poltergeists and all that, huh?” Clive says as the pair exit the corridor and enter the basement. Skip hits the light switch and the duo make their way down the creaking stairs.

“Alright, you’re down here. Other than those lil’ bastards tryin’ to take joyrides in the bulldozers, we also find these shits down here screwin’ and smokin’ up,” Skip says.

“I’m watching out for that? Sweet,” Clive says sarcastically.

“The perks, right?” Skip says. “I’ll be up on block A watchin’ paint crack. Have fun,” Skip says, heading upstairs.

“Hey, Skip! Around what time should I-” Clive is interrupted by the slamming of the basement door. 

“Alright, then,” Clive says, sitting down on a small stool. As Clive plays around with his cell, he hears a shuffling in the darkness. Peering up, Clive pays it no mind. The shuffling returns with increased volume. 

“What the hell is that?” Clive asks. Pointing his cell toward the darkness.

“Don’t be that guy, Queenan. Get your shit together,” Clive says. The shuffling, now sounding like erratic footsteps, draws closer. The sound of metal dragging along the ground now accompanying the shuffling.

“Skip?” Clive says softly. A loud crash brings Clive to his feet.

“You’re a funny lil’ bastard, Skippy,” Clive says. Venturing up the stairs, Clive attempts to open the door, only to find it locked. 

“Hey, Ha-ha! Joke’s over. Come on, open the-” the shuffling gets louder. Clive begins to pound on the door.

“Skip… Skip! Open the goddamn door!” Clive says as the noises get louder. 

“Skip!” Clive yells, pounding on the door. He begins to slam into the door as the noises get closer. Clive presses up against the door; he fumbles for his cell and points it down the staircase. The light from the cell illuminates a rat scurrying up the stairs grasping a soup can in its mouth.

“… Fuck me,” Clive says, chuckling. Clive wipes away perspiration from his brow and sinks to the top step as the door opens.

“Fucking hell, Skip. Sorry about that. Wait till I-” Clive stops as he peers up to face Skip.

“… Who are you?” asks Clive.

“I’m Darren. Sorry, I’m so late. I tried to call you, but the reception up here is the shits,” Darren continues, “are you alright? You sounded like you were freaking out down here. What happened?” asks Darren. Clive furrows his brow while staring at Darren.

“Darren? You’re Darren? … Where’s Skip? And why-” Clive asks before Darren interrupts.

“Skip? Who the hell’s Skip?” asks Darren.

“I…,” Clive pauses. 

“Look, man, I get it. No need to be embarrassed or whatever,  the place is fucking spooky. It’s supposedly haunted too,” Darren says,  “Oooo!… Sorry, man. I, uh, I’m not much of a believer in that silly shit, you know?” 

End.

Free Fiction: Itsy Bitsy by Brandon Tanczak

The itsy bitsy spider went down the water spout, which is my shower head. I was going through my normal shower ritual; use the toilet first then shave. I like to shave before I bathe myself to wash off any hairs that would stick. The water runs warming up, steam starts to rise. I grab my toothbrush and paste, I’m a multi-tasker. Before running the shower I went to adjust the shower head and there it was. 

The itsy bitsy spider was hanging out above the shower head basking in the steam, maybe this was part of its shower ritual? I jump and drop my toothbrush and paste it into the tub. I caught my breath, why was I scared? Sure, it has more legs than me and pointy teeth that may or may not contain a venom that will paralyze me giving it the opportune time to lay its eggs inside my eyes! 

But I am ten times larger and the bigger we are the harder we fall. I did the only thing I knew to do. I ran and grabbed a shoe! After wrapping a towel around myself, of course, I am not letting myself be THAT exposed. Having eggs laid in your eyes is bad enough but even worse while being naked. 

I grab both shoes, you know just to be safe. I make a loud CLAP, spider sandwich hold the mayo. The crushed corpse falls into the tub, no egg-laying today! I run the water to let the corpse wash down the drain and proceed to shower. I bathe just like you one body part at a time. I lather my hair with my two-in-one conditioner/shampoo, I am a multitasker remember? I let it sit while I wash the rest of my skeleton sack I call a body, then move on to my teeth. Brush, rise, spit. 

Now, the final task of rinsing the two in one out of my hair. I turn the heat down and let the water cool. GLUG GLUG comes from the drain, I pay it no mind. I close my eyes and dunk my head under the cold water. GLUG GLUG grows louder, faintly heard over the rushing water. I keep my eyes closed and bask in the water and let myself melt. 

POP! The drain opens up and a flood of water comes through rushing over my feet. My eyes open and I see the water, must just be building up because I’ve been in here for a while now. I turn the heat back up, turn away from the drain and close my eyes again. I let the steam rise again. GLUG GLUG! Two very large, long, hairy, brown appendages come up from the drain and fight their way out. They extend and something comes through the drain and rises in the steam behind me. 

All of a sudden the water has stopped hitting me. I open my eyes and the room has now gotten darker. I didn’t hear the light bulb blow out, weird. Confused, I turn around, and standing over me I see is a ginormous, brown, hairy, wet spider. The bitsy spider is no longer itsy and now I have a reason to be scared. Not only does it have more legs than me I am one hundred percent sure those pointy teeth are venomous and now it’s ten times larger than me. 

The last thing I remember is its large brown legs wrapping around me. I woke up on the bathroom floor, the shower water is still running and the room is filled with steam. I have this irritating throbbing pain in my left eye and everything is blurry. Must have landed on my face.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Brandon Tanczak is a filmmaker and writer from Philadelphia PA.

He and his wife Jill run Jerks Productions, an art collective, and horror film production

team. Jerks specialize in an art-house style of horror focusing more on psychological

and emotionally driven characters and situations rather than blood and gore.

Guest Blog: “The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows”

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows

By Geneve Flynn

Featured Author: Lee Murray

Southeast Asian mythology is much less familiar territory for many horror fans. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies are well-known, creatures such as the tiyanak, the penanggalan, the pontianak, and the nukekubi are less so. Does that make them scarier? Let’s dive in and see.

Tortured Willows is a newly released collaborative collection of sixty horror poems by four of the authors from the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Christina Sng, and Geneve Flynn showcase some of these creepy mythological creatures in their poetry. In this blog series, we chat to each of the contributors about their monsters.

Please say hello to Lee Murray.

GF: Hi Lee! Congratulations on your wonderful poems! Please tell us a little more about Tortured Willows, and what inspired you to create this collection.

LM: The response to Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, an anthology comprising fourteen stories by horror writers of Southeast Asian descent, has surpassed all our expectations, so a second volume of some sort seemed inevitable, although perhaps not quite so soon! Nor had I expected that second volume to take the form of a poetry collection. Tortured Willows arose out of a discussion between you, me, and Angela Yuriko Smith not long after the Bram Stoker Award announcements. We were all still reeling about the reach of the book and the broader dialogue the stories had provoked, when someone (okay, it might have been me) suggested that a collaborative poetry collection might allow us to expand on, and even deepen, the dialogue introduced in Black Cranes through use of media other than prose. What if we were to write a collection of poems that explored the themes of otherness and expectation as they applied to our own diaspora? Perhaps we could reach an even wider readership? Angela, always effervescent, was wildly enthusiastic. Poet Christina Sng, whose novelette “Fury” (her longest work to date) features in Black Cranes, also felt she had more to say. You said yes. That’s when the terror set in. While I was thrilled to work with my Crane sisters again, I’m fairly new to poetry other than as a consumer of it, so what followed was one of the most intensely terrifying periods of my writing life. I was a fledgling poet with only around a dozen poems published previously. What did I know about writing a cohesive series of poems which might dovetail with work by experienced, acclaimed poets like Angela and Christina? But, keen to learn more about the New Zealand-Chinese diaspora as it applied to women, including in my own family, I dived in, using poetic forms and historic archives to structure and inform my work. I approached each individual poem as a tiny story whittled down to its bare bones. And of course, since Tortured Willows is a collection of horror poetry, it seemed as natural as air to turn to Asian myth and monsters for added inspiration.

GF: I loved getting a glimpse of some of your very personal experiences as part of the New Zealand-Chinese diaspora. Your poem “tiyanak” draws a comparison between being drained from the many demands and expectations placed on Asian women and the care of a grotesque vampiric baby. Please tell us more about this creature.

Picture attribution- ShareAlike 4.0 International CC By SA4.0

LM:  The tiyanak is a monster of Filipino origin, although similar creatures exist in other Asian cultures. The creature is formed when the body of a dead foetus or infant is inhabited by an evil spirit, or it occurs as the result of a union between a demon and a human. Often found mewling in the forest by hapless travellers, the tiyanak is an insatiable and vengeful vampire, appearing as helpless human baby at first, and later, when it has ensorcelled its victim, it reveals its true vampiric and parasitic self, even as it devours them. The creatures are said to have bloodshot eyes, pointed ears, and tiny sharp teeth. In some versions, they have elongated limbs and wrinkled old-man skin, which they shed in the same way a snake does. Author Isabel Yap describes the creature beautifully in her story “Grass Cradle, Glass Lullaby” in Margrét Helgadóttir’s gorgeous anthology Asian Monsters:

“I held you against my heart and let you rest there, and I could feel your red eyes boring into my skin, hear you hissing. I was afraid, but love is like that. Sometimes, it requires bravery, asks us to quell our fears. Your teeth! Your eyes—fire dancing! And the way all of your skin creased around your face, into terrible wrinkles…” (page 67).

Gabriela Lee is equally eloquent in her story “Rites of Passage” which appears in Black Cranes, describing the monster’s “red-rimmed eyes that do not have a speck of white—the entire sclera is firelight bright” (page116), its smile as “blood coated” (page 116), and its skin darked by the sun and some slick substance that seems to coat it from head to toe” (page 115). For me, the tiyanak was the ideal metaphor to describe the expectations placed on Asian women, who are socialised to sacrifice their own desires in favour of family and community, even to the point of death. This is a lesson I have learned well, so much so that I find it hard to say no. As a result, there are times when I’ll still be awake at 2- or 3am for nights on end, working on other people’s projects at the detriment of my own goals. I wrote “tiyanak” at just such a moment. Here is an excerpt from the poem:

innocence

it latches on

as ever

slivering flesh

to gorge on blood and milk

its tiny claws grip-grasping

tiny teeth rasping

feed me, feed me

GF: Such a chilling image, so perfect to depict how expectations can drain us dry. You reference another creature, the nine-tailed fox in “fox girl.” Where does this myth come from, and what does it symbolise in your poem? 

LM: The inspiration for my poem “fox girl” was Rena Mason’s gorgeous story “The Ninth Tale” from Black Cranes. Of course, I already knew of the shape-shifting fox spirit of Asian mythology (among them Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese) and the nine mortal iterations the creature must go through in order to return to the celestial realm as her true self, but Rena’s story was so beautiful and so imbued with magical folklore that I was inspired to revisit those tales again. In general, the fox spirit takes the form of a beautiful woman while still retaining some of its fox attributes: paws, ears, or even the tails representing the lives it has lived. Consider this first paragraph of Rena’s “The Ninth Tale” from Black Cranes, for example:

“The fox spirit straightened the skullcap, moist with blood, atop her head then stepped over the headless corpse from which she’d taken it. Her hind paws transformed into petite, human lotus feet adorned in pointy shoes embroidered with golden silk. This visit, her name would be Júhua, like the chrysanthemums woven in the fabric near her toes. The eight tails behind the fox spirit became long braids, winding themselves into intricate loops and circles, concealing the bone that aided her in keeping a human guise.” (page127).

The story, and my subsequent reading, got me thinking about how fox spirits are outsiders, women travelling through time and across lands while wearing another person’s skin, all with the view to achieving enlightenment and (hopefully) returning to their home in the heavens. I likened their journeys to the Asian diaspora in New Zealand, and I was lucky enough to secure a fellowship to write a short poetry collection on this theme. “Fox spirits are very lucky,” writes Ho Pham in Vixen. But that isn’t always true for the women whose form the creatures inhabit. As I dived into New Zealand’s newspaper archives, I uncovered some horrific tales about Chinese women’s lives here, and although I intend to explore the notion further, I was immediately prompted to write a poem and capture my reactions. “fox girl,” a terzanelle, was the result, the repeated lines intended to show the ongoing iterations of the creature’s lives and the common themes of otherness and persecution. Here are a few stanzas from the poem:

in a former life, in another time

a fox girl departs from the land of jade

in a former life, in another time

to a distant cloud where fortunes are made

nine obedient wives, all refugees

a fox girl departs from the land of jade

amid ugly tongues and eyes that won’t see 

one hangs herself in her husband’s kitchen

nine obedient wives, all refugees

*Watercolour by Lee Murray.

GF: Oh my goodness! I love both the poem and your stunning artwork. The fox spirit illustrates the diasporic experience so beautifully. 

Thanks so much for introducing us to some of the mythology that features in your poetry. If you’d like to read the poems mentioned in this blog series, Tortured Willows is available from Yuriko Publishing.

 ____________________________________________________________________________________

Praise for Tortured Willows:

Tortured Willows bleeds, sobs and howls with rage.”—Stephanie Ellis, writer and poet, co-author of Daughters of Darkness

“Thought-provoking, unapologetically brutal, and downright unsettling, Tortured Willows is a collection unlike any you’ve read before…and one you’re not likely to forget. Murray, Flynn, Smith and Sng have not just raised their voices, they’ve roared them into the pages, and the result is simply superb.”—Rebecca Fraser, award-winning author of Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract.

“In Tortured Willows, the many veils of a woman’s heart are peeled back, revealing multi-layered petals of an aching beauty, rooted on a stem of vulnerable resistance.”—Jamal Hodge, director, writer, visionary

“This is a brilliant book, insightful and scintillant. Construed as a thematic sequel to the award-winning Black Cranes (the anthology edited by Murray and Flynn and containing fiction by Sng and Smith), it may also be viewed as a distillation. The theme is strong, but the lessons reach beyond it. Cutting across rhetoric and euphemism, Tortured Willows will hold meaning for whoever dares read it.”—Kyla Lee Ward, Bram Stoker Award®-nominated poet

Tortured Willows

Bent. Bowed. Unbroken

The willow is femininity, desire, death. Rebirth. With its ability to grow from a single broken branch, it is the living embodiment of immortality. It is the yin that wards off malevolent spirits. It is both revered and shunned.

In Tortured Willows, four Southeast Asian women writers of horror expand on the exploration of otherness begun with the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.

Like the willow, women have bent and bowed under the expectations and duty heaped upon them. Like the willow, they endure and refuse to break.

With exquisite poetry, Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn invite you to sit beneath the tortured willow’s gravid branches and listen to the uneasy shiver of its leaves.

 https://www.amazon.com/Tortured-Willows-Bent-Bowed-Unbroken/dp/1737208334

Lee Murray is an author, editor, screenwriter, and poet from Aotearoa-New Zealand. She is the winner of 12 Sir Julius Vogel Awards, three Australian Shadows, two Bram Stokers, and a Shirley Jackson Award, and has been a finalist in the Aurealis, British Fantasy, and Imadjinn Awards, among others. Her work includes military thrillers, the Taine McKenna Adventures, supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (with Dan Rabarts), and short fiction collection, Grotesque: Monster Stories. Other works include non-fiction title Mark My Words: Read the Submission Guidelines and Other Self-editing Tips with Angela Yuriko Smith, and several books for children. LitReactor’s Editor of the Year for 2021, Lee is the curator-editor of eighteen volumes of speculative fiction, among them Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women (with Geneve Flynn). She is co-founder of Young NZ Writers and of the Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Fiction Writers, HWA Mentor of the Year for 2019, NZSA Honorary Literary Fellow, and Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow for 2021. Tortured Willows, a collaboration with Angela Yuriko Smith, Christina Sng and Geneve Flynn was released in October 2021. Read more at  https://www.leemurray.info/

Historian of Horror : Riverdale’s Resident Sorceress

Once upon a time, Maurice Coyne, Louis Silberkleit, and John L. Goldwater decided to get into the nascent comic book publishing business. Using their first initials, they started MLJ Magazines, Inc. Their first title, Blue Ribbon Comics, hit the stands in September 1939. A couple of months later, Pep Comics premiered, featuring the first patriotic American super-hero, the Shield. And so on. 

MLJ put-putted along, never becoming a major player in the growing super-hero market, never challenging any of the Big Three of the time, DC, Fawcett and Quality, for supremacy. Their heroes were all second-banana types, not making much impact outside of their very narrow lane other than a brief, regional radio show based on the Black Hood. Until 1941, that is.

The twenty-second issue of Pep (December 1941) introduced a buck-toothed, red-headed teenager named Archie Andrews, along with his fellow adolescent attendees of Riverdale High School; Betty Cooper and Jughead Jones. Nothing exceptional, on the surface, but for some reason, Archie clicked with a public that had so far not paid much attention to MLJ’s product. By 1946, the company was renamed Archie Comics, and the super-hero line was abandoned in favor of the adventures of Archie, Jughead, Betty, Veronica Lodge, Reggie Mantle, and the rest.

This is not their story, however. Fast forward to those halcyon days of the early 1960s, when the supernatural was infiltrating the culture like never before. We’ve talked about this in past columns. Monsters and ghosts, and witches, were everywhere. Not even the stable, steady, reliable and, to be honest, tediously repetitive world of Archie Andrews was immune. 

Okay, I’ll admit to not being much of a fan of Archie and his world in my early days of reading comic books. The stories seemed to be a lot of variations of the same themes – Betty and Veronica fought over Archie, Reggie tried to sabotage Archie’s efforts to date one or the other of the girls who, inexplicably, adored him, and Jughead avoided girls altogether in favor of hamburgers. I did dip into the publisher’s brief effort to revive their super-heroes from the 1940s under the secondary imprint of Radio Comics, but I had already discovered DC and Marvel by then. Superman and Spider-Man got my twelve cents, not Fly Man or the Shield.

Anyhow, Archie Andrews. Repetitive his adventures might have been, but his world had spawned dozens of titles by 1962. One, Archie’s Madhouse, contained more jokes and games than anything resembling a story. Still, Archie and crew dominated the title for the first dozen issues. Beginning with the thirteenth issue (July 1961), however, monstrous beings slowly edged the Riverdale gang out of the title. Archie and the rest made token appearances on the covers and in the interior features, but the seventeenth issue (February 1962) didn’t even accord them that courtesy. 

And so it went until issue #22, cover-dated October 1962. Instead of the usual Frankenstein, Dracula, and Wolf Man variations, the first story introduced a beautiful blonde teenaged witch named Sabrina, her cat/familiar Salem, and head witch Della. No last names, yet. The story, such as it was, laid down the rules of witchcraft; basically, the inability of witches to sink in water or fall in love. 

Subsequent stories were pretty much about Sabrina’s efforts to get around the not-falling-in-love rule, her habit of misdirecting love potions or being forced by her superior witches to sabotage her high school’s sporting events. Which was not, by the way, Riverdale. She attended Baxter High School in those years. In fact, she had no interactions with Archie and his gang at all until she joined the Saturday morning cartoon show, The Archie Comedy Hour, in 1969. She had acquired a boyfriend, Harvey, by then, and her two supervising witch aunts had been identified as Hilda and Zelda. Still no last name.

Pseudo-band The Archies were the stars of the cartoon show. They had a number one hit in the United States, a Monkees reject called Sugar, Sugar. The band was in reality a group of sessions musicians assembled for the purpose of recording bubblegum songs for the show, some of which were disseminated on the backs of cereal boxes. I had a few of those. Concurrently, Sabrina was finally integrated into the comic book world of Riverdale, starting with an appearance in Archie’s T.V. Laugh-Out #1. She got her own cartoon show in 1970, and a year later her own comic book title which ran for seventy-seven issues, until 1983. An elementary school version of her also ran in Little Archie from issue #59, cover-dated May 1970.

In 1972, Sabina was recruited to be the hostess of a horror anthology titled, Chilling Adventures in Sorcery, as Told by Sabrina. That only lasted two issues, then it carried on without her under a new title, a new imprint, Red Circle Comics Group, and a new artist, Gray Morrow. Red Circle lasted as long as the comic did, nine issues altogether. Everything was Archie after that, as Sabrina popped up in a variety of the company’s titles through the 1980s and into the 1990s, including annual Christmas Magic issues.

Sabrina and her aunts finally got a last name, Spellman, in 1996, in a television movie and subsequent series that ran for four seasons on ABC and an additional three on the WB. Another couple of animated series and a pair of sequels to the movie followed. More comic book titles also came and went over the years, including a manga-inspired series. 

The whole world of Archie was rebooted in 2015 into a more adult version, called New Riverdale in the comics, and two years later on television as simply Riverdale. Sabrina appeared in the comics from the beginning, but only recently dropped in on the television show after three years in her own in the separate series, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

So, there you have it. Next time, we matriculate to university to take a look at the classic novel of witchcraft on campus, Fritz Leiber’s Conjure Wife, and the three films based on it. Hope you’ll join me in two weeks for that. In the meantime, here’s a little lagniappe – a tasty treat from my favorite early 80s cheesy girl band, Toto Coelo. Enjoy.

Until next time, my loyal pundits of the peculiar…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows” Guest Blog by Geneve Flynn

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows

Featured Author: Christina Sng

Southeast Asian mythology is much less familiar territory for many horror fans. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies are well-known, creatures such as the tiyanak, the penanggalan, the pontianak, and the nukekubi are less so. Does that make them scarier? Let’s dive in and see. 

 Tortured Willows is a newly released collaborative collection of sixty horror poems by four of the authors from the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Christina Sng, and Geneve Flynn showcase some of these creepy critters in their poetry. In this blog series, we chat to each of the contributors about their monsters.

Please say hello to Christina Sng.

GF: Please tell us about the themes you explore in this collection.

CS: I explore themes of justice and vengeance as well as traditions in Singapore.

GF: Those are threaded through your work so beautifully. It’s wonderful getting a glimpse into Singaporean culture and mythology. Your poem “Pontianak” features a vengeful female spirit. Where does it come from and how did you add a twist to her legend? 

Picture Attribution: “Kuntilanak-post” by scarysideofearth is licensed under CC BY 2.0

CS: Pontianak was the first ghost most children my age heard about (apart from the “real life” headhunters which were infinitely more scary to us). We were often told to be good or the Pontianak will come and get us. Only when I was older did I read that she only haunted men, usually flagging them down from the side of the road; she had a beautiful face, long black hair, and a flowing white dress. Here are a few lines from my poem:

She stood by the road alone

In her white flowing dress.

The night was moonless,

The streetlight, broken and bent.

The wind promptly picked up,

Gently billowing her hems.

While doing research for this book, I realized a lot of the traditional horror stories centered around women ghosts out to get men. Why? Who came up with these stories? Elders who were men? Possibly, in this patriarchal society. 

Her mother always told her,

Never get into a car with a stranger.

She nodded, fearless this time.

The worst had already happened.

In this day and age, we know there’s another side to the story. The woman’s side. The atrocities that happen to women every day all over the world are too often silenced by society. 

So I tell the woman’s side of the story. Give her a voice. Because we are human beings with thoughts, feelings, and dreams as well. We have volition. We exist. Here are our stories.

GF: The characters in your poems have an unquiet fury that is very powerful. Your poem “Flat” gives voice to a character in the strange urban myth of the flat-faced woman. How did you hear about her and what does she symbolise in your work? 

CS: Oh gosh. As a teen, the flat-faced woman freaked me out so bad. This was a story told to me by someone and I don’t remember who and how. During those days, these stories were often not written down and were just told from person to person. But the details of the story have been preserved in this poem. 

She turned toward me,

Hair parting like the Red Sea.

I gasped 

And screamed uncontrollably.

She had no face!

Where it should have been

Was flat and featureless,

A face of clay before it was molded.

As I grew up, I no longer feared her. Instead, I wondered what led her here. What was her story? Now, I know. It’s the story of so many domestic violence victims, except she came back and she found justice for herself and then, for others.

GF: Thanks so much for introducing us to some of the mythology that features in your poetry. If you’d like to read the poems mentioned in this blog series, Tortured Willows is available from Yuriko Publishing.

Praise for Tortured Willows:

Tortured Willows bleeds, sobs and howls with rage.”—Stephanie Ellis, writer and poet, co-author of Daughters of Darkness

“Thought-provoking, unapologetically brutal, and downright unsettling, Tortured Willows is a collection unlike any you’ve read before…and one you’re not likely to forget. Murray, Flynn, Smith, and Sng have not just raised their voices, they’ve roared them into the pages, and the result is simply superb.”—Rebecca Fraser, award-winning author of Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract.

“In Tortured Willows, the many veils of a woman’s heart are peeled back, revealing multi-layered petals of an aching beauty, rooted on a stem of vulnerable resistance.”—Jamal Hodge, director, writer, visionary

“This is a brilliant book, insightful and scintillant. Construed as a thematic sequel to the award-winning Black Cranes (the anthology edited by Murray and Flynn and containing fiction by Sng and Smith), it may also be viewed as a distillation. The theme is strong, but the lessons reach beyond it. Cutting across rhetoric and euphemism, Tortured Willows will hold meaning for whoever dares read it.”—Kyla Lee Ward, Bram Stoker Award®-nominated poet

Tortured Willows

Bent. Bowed. Unbroken

The willow is femininity, desire, death. Rebirth. With its ability to grow from a single broken branch, it is the living embodiment of immortality. It is the yin that wards off malevolent spirits. It is both revered and shunned.

In Tortured Willows, four Southeast Asian women writers of horror expand on the exploration of otherness begun with the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.

Like the willow, women have bent and bowed under the expectations and duty heaped upon them. Like the willow, they endure and refuse to break.

With exquisite poetry, Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn invite you to sit beneath the tortured willow’s gravid branches and listen to the uneasy shiver of its leaves.

LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Tortured-Willows-Bent-Bowed-Unbroken/dp/1737208334

Christina Sng is the two-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Collection of Dreamscapes and A Collection of Nightmares. Her poetry appears in numerous venues worldwide and has garnered many accolades, including prizes and nominations for the Elgin Awards, the Dwarf Stars, the Rhysling Awards, the Pushcart Prize, and honorable mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and the Best Horror of the Year. Visit her at christinasng.com and connect @christinasng.

 

Historian of Horror: They Really are a Scree-um…

It was the spring of 1969. I was in fifth grade, and the school I attended was having some sort of carnival. There were games with cheap trinkets for prizes, a cakewalk, and a rummage sale. That’s where I found it – the 1965 novelization of The Addams Family television show, written by Jack Sharkey. I think they were asking a nickel for it. I grabbed it up, of course. I’d been a devoted fan of the show during its initial run from September 18, 1964, to April 8, 1966, because, well, of course, I was. 

That’s more than can be said of the creator of the characters and their milieu. Charles Addams thought the creepy old Second Empire house in which the Addamses resided wasn’t creepy enough. It was too clean, too well-maintained. Lurch was simply too good a butler, apparently.

As well, Gomez and Morticia and family were, in Charlie’s considered opinion, much too nice. In the single panel cartoons he’d been creating for The New Yorker since the late thirties, his creatures were most definitely not at all nice in any recognizable sense of the word. They were mean-spirited, malicious, and gleefully vicious. Moreover, their house was supposed to resemble nothing so much as a crumbling wreck, and Lurch ought to be closer to Frankenstein’s Monster than to Mr. Belvedere. The family from the television show impressed him as being more Ozzie and Harriet than Sawney Bean. Quick, go ask your grandparents who Ozzie and Harriet were. We’ll wait. Sawney Bean you’ll probably have to Google. At least until I get around to scribing one of these essays on that particular family’s nefarious misdeeds. 

All that didn’t stop Charlie from cashing the checks he got from ABC, but he didn’t exactly go out of his way to give the impression that he was sorry that the program only lasted for those sixty-four episodes. I, of course, was, but there is a resilience at that age that I envy in my declining years. Not even in concert with the nearly concurrent cancellation of The Munsters was I as devastated as I now, in retrospect, think I ought to have been. There were, to be sure, still a fair number of other psychotronic shows on American television in those days, and no reason to think that the regular broadcast of supernatural-spooky-adventure-packed programming would end.

But it did. By the time I acquired Sharkey’s book, the TV landscape was shifting towards serious detective and spy dramas, non-confrontational counter-culture humor variety shows, and news programming in prime time. Get Smart was out, Mission: Impossible was in. The much-too-edgy-for-the-CBS-censors Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was out, the funny but never really controversial Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In was in. The Addams Family was out, and 60 Minutes was in.

At least we still had The Beatles. Wait, what?!?!?!?

Oh, well.

As I mentioned in the last installment, John Astin selected Gomez as the name of the character he would play, the half-mad, lustful pater familias. He had most recently co-starred with Marty Ingles in a sitcom about a pair of incompetent carpenters, I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster. I have a vague recollection of having seen it once or twice. I don’t recall having been impressed, but I was five years old. What did I know?

The object of Gomez’ hammed-up affections was played by Carolyn Jones, who had a more impressive horror pedigree than her TV husband. She appeared in two of the most significant horror films of the 1950s, the 3-D extravaganza House of Wax with Vincent Price in 1953, and the first adaptation of Jack Finney’s novel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in 1956. 

Uncle Fester was Jackie Coogan, a silent-era child star who discovered upon reaching maturity that all the money he’d earned acting alongside Charlie Chaplin and other major film stars of that era had been squandered by his parents. A law to prevent that was passed and was in fact called The Jackie Coogan Law. Forty-three years after achieving fame in The Kid, he shaved off what little hair he had left and stuck a trick lightbulb in his mouth on weekly television. 

Grandmama Frump was the delightfully named Blossom Rock, sister of the leading cinematic soprano from Hollywood’s Golden Age, Jeanette MacDonald. I don’t recall Grandmama belting out any operatic arias, but I bet she could have, between concocting her famous still-writhing dinners. Yummy! Blossom had a long career as a character actress in dozens of films, including I Married a Witch (1942), Gildersleeve’s Ghost (based on the radio show, 1944), Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954), and She Devil (1957).

The kids were Lisa Loring as Wednesday and Ken Weatherwax as Pugsley. Charlie might have had a point about them. They were cute and sweet, and wholly unlike their counterparts. Lisa grew up to be a lovely soap opera star. Ken quit acting to work behind the camera. 

Lurch was the six-foot-nine-inch Ted Cassidy, who later lent his ultra-deep voice to a number of Saturday morning cartoons. Like Rondo Hatten, he suffered from acromegaly, although in his case the disease manifested itself in altitude rather than hideousness. Ted was also the main portrayer of Thing T. Thing, the disembodied hand that was always ready to, um, help out around the house. An assistant director pinch-hit when Lurch and Thing were in the same scene. Thing was created for the show, although there was a 1954 cartoon in The New Yorker with a pair of disembodied hands changing the record on a phonograph. 

Cousin Itt was created for the second and final season of the show. Felix Silla, who at three-feet-eleven-inches was in great demand for roles suited to his stature for the next forty-five years, donned the long blond wig. In later incarnations, the second ‘t’ seems to have been used inconsistently. This disparity has caused numerous online arguments and more than a few bar fights, one is inclined to suspect. 

The family showed up on television again in 1973 as a Saturday morning animated program, with only Cassidy and Coogan returning to provide the voices of Lurch and Fester. Academy Award-winning actress Jody Foster was the voice of Pugsley. Think about that next time you watch The Silence of the Lambs. The show only lasted sixteen episodes.

Most of the original cast returned in 1977 for a TV movie, Halloween with the New Addams Family. Blossom Rock had suffered a stroke not long after the original series ended and was unable to participate. She passed away the next year at the age of eighty-two.

Ted Cassidy underwent heart surgery for a condition related to his acromegaly in 1979 but did not survive the operation. He was only forty-six. Carolyn Jones died of colon cancer in 1983, at the age of fifty-three. Jackie Coogan was sixty-nine when he passed away from heart failure in 1984, and Ken Weatherwax died of a heart attack in 2014. He was fifty-nine. Felix Silla was eighty-four when he passed on in April of 2021. Only John Astin, at ninety, and Lisa Loring are left. She’s six months older than I am and looks a lot better than I do. Astin was the only one of the original cast to participate in a second animated series, in 1992

The 1991 big-budget adaptation starring Raul Julia, Angelica Huston and Christopher Lloyd spawned a sequel, Addams Family Values, in 1993. Of all the reboots and re-imaginings, I think this brace of movies might have met or even exceeded Addams’ expectations. Alas, Raul Julia’s death from a stroke a year later ended the possibility of any further misadventures. 

None of the original show or feature film casts were around for the 1998 revival series produced in Canada and shown on Fox in the United States. I can’t honestly say I’ve ever seen any of the sixty-five episodes. A direct-to-video movie, The Addams Family Reunion, starring Tim Curry and Daryl Hanna, was released the same year. Carel Struycken returned as Lurch, having played the role in the two feature films. A 2010 Broadway musical and a pair of animated features in 2019 and 2021 complete the family’s saga to the present time, other than for a much-too-short series of not-even-remotely-officially-sanctioned-by-the-Charles-Addams-Estate YouTube videos starring Melissa Hunter as the Adult Wednesday Addams. Very funny stuff.

I wonder what Charlie would think about all that? Whatever his thoughts on the other goodies briefly described above, I suspect he’d be okay with Adult Wednesday Addams. Don’t you?

I no longer have that slim paperback book I bought at the school rummage sale in 1969. Somewhere along the way, I sold it or traded it, or lost it. I did recently find another copy on eBay. It cost me a bit more than a nickel. Not the fifty-four bucks Abebooks wants for theirs, but enough to buy a large-sized Big Mac meal and have some change left over for the Ronald McDonald House. It was worth the expenditure. I plan to hang on to this one. My wife says I really need to lay off the Big Macs, anyhow.

Many thanks to Linda H. Davis for the information in this and the previous episode. Her 2006 book, Charles Addams: A Cartoonist’s Life, has been an invaluable resource, along with the several collections of his cartoons I have in my collection. Highly recommended.

Coming up in our next installment, I’ll be examining the almost sixty-year adolescence of Riverdale High School’s perpetual student and resident teenage witch, Sabrina. It ought to be fun. Until then, oh ye questors after the quirky and the questionable…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Book Review: Tenebrae in Aeturnum (A Collection of Stygian Verse) by Benjamin Blake

 

 

Tenebrae in Aeturnum (A Collection of Stygian Verse) by Benjamin Blake, pub. Hippocampus Press, Nov. 2020.

5/5 stars

Benjamin Blake is a new – to me – poet. As someone who has been delving more and more into the world of dark poetry, it’s been a treat to discover a poet who will most certainly draw me back to his work in the future. From the start, he comes up with lines that just make you stop and read them again. I mean the line ‘The nightingale has stopped singing’, evokes so much, a doom-laden phrase that serves as a warning for what is to come. There follows a collection that completely lives up to this expectation of dread. Throughout, Blake uses imagery of death and despair; walls bleed and bodies burn alongside poems of suicides and war, sex, and abuse. The horrors of humanity are laid bare in expressions of beautiful darkness.

The textured and nuanced lines made me stop again and again to repeat them. I am someone who can almost ‘taste’ words and when I come across the right combination it is as if I am eating something solid. For me this collection is a veritable feast – my umami. From that first line to ‘A Sunken Star’ – ‘Some people are nothing but tombs/Filled with dried flesh and dust/And locked from the inside to Elderflower – ‘There are worse things than being alone/And the laughter’s turned to screams’, to A City, a Tomb – ‘What can one do/When they realise that the place they wish to escape from/Is actually where they belong?’, Blake delivers pearls and believe me, there are many more within the pages.

The shadow world of Blake’s poetry is a dark one but one which demands you cross his borders again and again.

Guest Blog : “The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows”

“The Asian Myths and Monsters of Tortured Willows

Featured Author: Angela Yuriko Smith

Interviewer: Geneve Flynn

Southeast Asian mythology is much less familiar territory for many horror fans. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies are well-known, creatures such as the tiyanak, the penanggalan, the pontianak, and the nukekubi are less so. Does that make them scarier? Let’s dive in and see. 

Tortured Willows is a newly released collaborative collection of sixty horror poems by four of the authors from the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, Christina Sng, and Geneve Flynn showcase some of these creepy critters in their poetry. In this blog series, we chat to each of the contributors about their monsters.

Please say hello to Angela Yuriko Smith.

GF: Hi Angela! Please tell us a little more about Tortured Willows, and what inspired you to create this collection.

AYS: In some ways, I think this collection created itself. I wrote a lot about the spirit of the Uchinanchu people and I feel like they were so happy to have a little bit of recognition they refused to let me write tame poetry and move on. I learned more about myself and my family in the time I wrote these poems than I have in my entire life. It was the hardest and best thing I’ve written yet.  

GF: That sense of personal resonance is so clear in your collection: as if you were a tuning fork that had just been struck. Speaking of personal resonance, your poem “The Nukekubi” is based on a real experience, which makes it even more chilling. What is a nukekubi, and when did you encounter her? 

Picture attribution:  https://www.evanseasyjapanese.com/nukeku 1

AYS: A nukekubi is a type of ghost whose head detaches from her body so she can travel. It is said to drink blood and cause harm for the sake of it. Incidentally, for all the Pokemon fans out there: Misdreavus is inspired by a nukekubi. I’d never heard of a nukekubi until I started doing this research and someone mentioned it. When I asked them to describe it I had chills because they were describing one of the ghosts from my teens. I was in Sweetwater, Tennessee which seems an odd place for an Asian ghost. I always thought she came with the house but now I wonder. Here are a few lines from my poem:

Like slick tentacles

her neck cords trailed to the ground

disembodied face

soaked wet from drowning

or perhaps from her own tears.

She couldn’t tell me.

GF: That sends ice down my spine; much creepier than the Pokemon version. As well as malevolent spirits, your collection features a benevolent creature called a shisa. What are they, and what do they mean? 

AYS: Here’s a photo of two shisa I painted recently. shisa were at the beginning of my Uchinanchu rabbit hole, which is appropriate because they are guardians that sit on rooftops and by doors (and anyplace else you can squeeze them) so I like to think they were guiding me in. They are related to the lion dogs in other Asian cultures, but one of the big differences with shisa is they are always a male and female pair. The Okinawans feel that men and women are different but of equal importance. The male dog always has his mouth open to drink in the luck and frighten away the demons. The female keeps her mouth closed to keep the luck in and seal out demons. I read somewhere that all shisa are alive, and all shisa are benevolent guardians. This probably explains why they are everywhere in Okinawa. As soon as I discovered shisa I became obsessed, but there aren’t as many here in the US so I had to make some of my own. They hang on my front door now. These lines are from my poem “Dreaming of Shisa”:

There can never be

too many shisa.

Crouching on rooftops, watching

beside the front gate.

Ryukyu lion dogs—

he breathes the luck in. She holds

her breath to keep it.

GF: Your paintings are gorgeous—such perfectly balanced guardians. Thanks so much for introducing us to some of the mythology that features in your poetry. If you’d like to read the poems mentioned in this blog series, Tortured Willows is available from Yuriko Publishing.

Praise for Tortured Willows:

Tortured Willows bleeds, sobs and howls with rage.”—Stephanie Ellis, writer and poet, co-author of Daughters of Darkness

“Thought-provoking, unapologetically brutal, and downright unsettling, Tortured Willows is a collection unlike any you’ve read before…and one you’re not likely to forget. Murray, Flynn, Smith and Sng have not just raised their voices, they’ve roared them into the pages, and the result is simply superb.”—Rebecca Fraser, award-winning author of Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract.

“In Tortured Willows, the many veils of a woman’s heart are peeled back, revealing multi-layered petals of an aching beauty, rooted on a stem of vulnerable resistance.”—Jamal Hodge, director, writer, visionary

“This is a brilliant book, insightful and scintillant. Construed as a thematic sequel to the award-winning Black Cranes (the anthology edited by Murray and Flynn and containing fiction by Sng and Smith), it may also be viewed as a distillation. The theme is strong, but the lessons reach beyond it. Cutting across rhetoric and euphemism, Tortured Willows will hold meaning for whoever dares read it.”—Kyla Lee Ward, Bram Stoker Award®-nominated poet

Tortured Willows

Bent. Bowed. Unbroken

The willow is femininity, desire, death. Rebirth. With its ability to grow from a single broken branch, it is the living embodiment of immortality. It is the yin that wards off malevolent spirits. It is both revered and shunned.

In Tortured Willows, four Southeast Asian women writers of horror expand on the exploration of otherness begun with the Bram Stoker Award-winning anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women.

Like the willow, women have bent and bowed under the expectations and duty heaped upon them. Like the willow, they endure and refuse to break.

With exquisite poetry, Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn invite you to sit beneath the tortured willow’s gravid branches and listen to the uneasy shiver of its leaves.

LINK: https://www.amazon.com/Tortured-Willows-Bent-Bowed-Unbroken/dp/1737208334

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Angela Yuriko Smith is a third-generation Uchinanchu-American and an award-winning poet, author, and publisher with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. Publisher of Space & Time magazine (est. 1966), a Bram Stoker Awards® Finalist and HWA Mentor of the Year for 2020. To find out more visit angelayurikosmith.com.

Book Review: The Jewish Book of Horror, ed. Josh Schlossberg

Synopsis: Horror is part of the human condition, but few peoples across the ages know it quite like the Jews.

From slavery to pogroms to the Holocaust to antisemitism, the “Chosen People” have not only endured hell on Earth, they’ve risen above it to share their stories with the world.

Whether it’s pirate rabbis or demon-slaying Bible queens, concentration camp vampires or beloved, fearless bubbies, THE JEWISH BOOK OF HORROR offers you twenty-two dark tales about the culture, history, and folklore of the Jewish people.

Review: The Jewish Book of Horror, ed. Josh Schlossberg (pub. Denver Horror Collective) is a dark, informative and entertaining read. I was drawn to this book because I was wondering how can a people, who have endured so much during the history of the human race, create fictional horror and I also wanted to know what was different about ‘Jewish’ horror compared to standard offerings.

The answer is to be found in the rich religious traditions and folk culture associated with the Jewish people, an aspect given a greater voice in the introduction by Rabbi John Carrier. Story settings varied from biblical to present-day to post-apocalyptic. Demons abounded, and I encountered the dybbuk properly. Social mores and expectations were also touched on, whether to be battled against or to attempt to maintain. Some were quiet horror, others less so, nor was the tragedy of the concentration camp shied away from. Religion and the question of faith was central to many.

It’s hard to highlight favourites when there isn’t a bad story amongst them, but a few standouts for me were ‘How to Build a Sukkah at the End of the World’ by Lindsay King-Miller, ‘The Horse Leech has Two Maws’ by Michael Picco and ‘Ba’alat Ov’ by Brenda Toliari.

Jewish horror as a subgenre is unique, it carries the weight of one of the oldest traditions in the world. This is horror from a different perspective and all the more refreshing for it.

5/5 stars

Historian of Horror : They’re Creepy and They’re Kookie, Mysterious and Spooky…

You can already hear it, can’t you? You see the title above and your brain automatically connects to the theme song Vic Mizzy composed fifty-seven years ago, the one bouncing around in your head right now, complete with finger-snaps. The one that has been used, with a few variations, for nearly every iteration of the characters for whom it was created in 1964. Doodle-di-doot-snap-snap!

“Why?”, you ask. 

“For what reason was the catchiest television theme song ever written by the hand of mortal man created?”, you wonder. 

“Where did these altogether ooky people come from?”, your enquiring minds want to know.

Well, get a witch’s shawl on and find a roost that you can crawl on. I’m about to tell you everything there is to know about The Addams Family. 

Snap-snap.

During the recently completed podcast season, I used one of my entries to elucidate upon the difference between pulp magazines and slick magazines. Pulps, you might recall, were cheaply produced efforts filled with lurid, sensationalist popular scrivenings by now virtually forgotten authors, at least outside of our particular area of interest. Great stuff, very often, but nobody ever got rich writing for the pulps. The slick magazines, on the other hand, were printed on fancy, coated paper with great stories for which the authors were paid well enough that some of them did live quite comfortably on the remuneration they received for those pieces of much more impressive literature.

The pulps tended to be genre-specific. The ones we might have been most drawn to had titles like Weird Tales, Unknown Worlds, Dime Mystery, Horror Stories. The slicks published all genres, as long as the quality of writing was high enough. Their roster included The Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harper’s, Collier’s Weekly. The ultimate goal of pulp writers was to sell to the slicks. Ray Bradbury made that transition. Few others from our favorite genre did.

Along with fiction, and non-fiction, many of the slicks featured single-panel cartoons. The New Yorker, in particular, is still highly regarded for them. Some years ago, a coffee-table collection of the best cartoons from its long history sold very well. Prominent among the artists who created that treasure trove was one Charles Addams.

Born on January 7, 1912, in Westfield, New Jersey, Charles Samuel Addams was a bright, quirky, mischievous child who grew up to be a bright, quirky, mischievous adult. After attending the Grand Central School of Art in New York City, he got a job retouching crime scene photos for True Detective Magazine in 1933, excising the blood and gore that were frowned upon in the periodicals of the day. He had already placed some cartoons in The New Yorker beginning by then and was soon a regular contributor. The August 6, 1938 issue began featuring the characters we’ve all come to know and love, the degenerate, demonic darlings of the Addams Family.

None of them had names yet, and for a while, there was only a painfully thin woman with dark hair who looked vaguely like the Morticia-yet-to-come and a hulking, bearded butler. By the November 25, 1939 issue, the butler had shaved and looked very much like the Lurch we would come to know and love. The first cartoon showing a recognizable Morticia cuddling with a recognizable Gomez appeared in the issue dated November 14, 1942. The caption read, “Are you unhappy, Darling?” to which the future Morticia replied, “Oh, yes, yes! Completely!”

And so it went for over twenty years. Children were added, a boy and a girl who enjoyed playing with chemistry sets, building model guillotines, and collecting warning signs. A round-headed creeping relative dressed in a black ulster began skulking around the family’s crumbling Victorian manse and frequenting horror films at the local cinema. The cast was gradually assembled. 

Addams was drafted in 1943 and wound up in the Signal Corps. Given that he was a large, physically impressive man and reportedly an excellent shot, one is tempted to wonder whether or not the Germans might have wisely contrived by surreptitious means to arrange for him to not be assigned to a combat unit. Not long after induction, he married his first wife, Barbara Jean Day, who has been said to have resembled Morticia. As did his other two wives. Charlie seems to have had a type.

What Charlie lacked was any desire for parenthood. He loved children, as long as they belonged to someone else. After eight years of trying to convince her husband to adopt, given that they had been unable to conceive, she left him. 

A few years later, another Barbara came along who not only resembled Morticia more closely than her predecessor had in looks but also in personality. She was physically abusive and unfaithful. In 1955, without his knowledge or consent, she made a one-year deal with the McClure Syndicate to have Charlie’s cartoons appear in Sunday newspapers. The contract she signed on his behalf gave her 50% of the proceeds. Under the title Out of This World, they appear to be redrawn versions, or perhaps early drafts, of cartoons that had already appeared in The New Yorker. By the time that one-year deal was up, “the bad Barbara” had been jettisoned and Charlie was once again on the prowl for another Morticia surrogate.

He found one in my hometown, Nashville, Tennessee. Tee Davie was married and pregnant. As she slowly segued from her marriage to Buddy Davie to being Charlie’s frequent companion, Charlie’s aversion to children reappeared. She was stunning, and he liked stunning women, but the notion of being a parent put the kibosh on what had promised to be a permanent attachment. Tee and Buddy gave their marriage another try while Charlie made the rounds of more eligible females, including actresses Greta Garbo and Joan Fontaine, as well as presidential widow Jacqueline Onassis. 

He and Tee did eventually reconnect. They were wed in a pet cemetery in 1980, and were still married when he passed away from a heart attack on September 29, 1988.

The one constant in his life throughout was the work. His cartoons became an institution, and sales of The New Yorker were bound to have been boosted by his presence in nearly every issue. Random House put out the first hardback collection of them, Drawn and Quartered, in 1942, complete with an introduction by Boris Karloff. Simon & Schuster took over production in 1947 with Addams and Evil, followed by Monster Rally (1950), Homebodies (1954), Nightcrawlers (1957), Black Maria (1960), The Groaning Board (1964), My Crowd (1970), Favorite Haunts (1976) and Creature Comforts (1981), as well as The Chas Addams Mother Goose (1967).

In 1963, during the time when plans were underway to adapt the cartoons to the small screen, toy-maker Aboriginals, Ltd. came out with a set of large cloth dolls based on the Addams characters. They named the girl Wednesday. Addams wanted to call the boy Pubert, but that name would have to wait a few decades. He settled on Pugsley, which he found on a map of the Bronx as the name of a stream. Charlie appeared in publicity photos for the company, including one taken in his New York apartment with his crossbows, raven statue, and suit of armor prominently displayed around him, cradling Wednesday in his arms and menaced by Pugsley lurking above and behind him on the back of his chair. 

Charlie concocted the name of his feminine ideal during the development of the television show while looking up morticians in a phone book. Her doll stood four feet tall and cost $19.95. It’s a little more expensive now. Charlie wavered between calling the pater familias either Repelli or Gomez. He asked John Astin, the actor who would soon be playing the role, to choose. Astin went with Gomez. Lurch and Fester suggested themselves as names appropriate for the characters, as did Grandmama Frump. And so was born the first adaptation of Charlie’s cast of reprobates into another medium. But not the last, and every subsequent live-action or animated version is but a shadowy reflection in a warped mirror of that short-lived television series.

Which we will examine in more detail in the next installment, a mere fortnight in the future.

Until then, patrons of perfidiousness…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Book Review: This Morbid Life by Loren Rhoads

 

Reviewed by B. Nguyen-Calkins

Essays get a bad reputation within my friend group. Essays are wordy, boring, long. Twelve years plus may also put a damper on essays. However, Loren Rhoads’ This Morbid Life is such a fun collection of essays, I will be recommending it to my friends who may not be convinced of the genre’s beauty.

Each piece of the collection is effortless to read. It’s also convenient to read one or two pieces a night. There wasn’t a piece that didn’t make me think, at least for a moment, about life. It’s difficult to declare a singular theme for the collection. Rhoads declared the book as a love letter to all those who accompanied her life. While trying to generalize the book in its entirety, I can think of nothing more than what Rhoads writes- it’s a love letter to life and its people. Rhoads writes with a sincere voice, while still managing to befriend the reader without hesitation. As I read some pieces it almost sounded like I could hear it being told to me. The prose is natural and invigorating.

Though the collection is about life and its morbid irony, each piece has a unique outlook to offer you. I especially favored some over others, but with a work that comes across as personal as This Morbid Life, it’s difficult to say one is better than another. I’d recommend reading the collection from start to finish rather than jumping around. The specific order of the stories is purposeful. You may find yourself going back to reread an essay, a paragraph, or a line. But holistically, each piece builds or contrasts from the previous. 

A great collection or anthology intertwines stories seamlessly. I couldn’t stop reading after finishing one chapter. While I do have favorites, I can’t separate them from the collection. They worked together building a process of thinking for myself. I have a digital copy; however, I would love this in print. As I’ve said, it would be a great collection to read a bit each night. For This Morbid Life, I’ll settle and charge my Kindle.

Legend of Horror : George A. Romero: Hail To The Zombie King by CM Lucas

 Hail To The Zombie King

Growing up in New York in the early 40s was no small feat. The realities of organized crime and World War Two were enough to shape the mindset of an aspiring filmmaker from the Bronx to that of a doomed future for humanity. George A. Romero’s bleak worldview became glaringly apparent on October 1, 1968, when he let loose upon the world, Night of the Living Dead, a terrifying story of the reanimated dead attacking and consuming a group of survivors hiding within a small farmhouse. 

On the surface, Romero’s vision of a world plagued by the flesh-eating living dead is simply a visceral creature feature (nothing wrong with that). But, the subtextual coverage of social issues and identity politics is where it truly terrifies. Using a zombie apocalypse allegorically to showcase the true plague that continues to ravage humanity. Intolerance, tribalism, and humanity’s inhumanity toward man are all subjects broached within the horror masterpiece. 

Within Romero’s storied career, he has often attempted to infuse his films with social awareness. Not satisfied with simply scaring an audience with supernatural spectacle, Romero forces his audience to peer into the societal underbelly and reflect on humanity’s current, past, and future atrocities with only the slightest shimmer of hope. Much more terrifying than zombie-infested streets is when human beings are subjected to the realization that the true enemy is glaring back at them every time we look into a mirror.

However, there’s more to this dread-filled visionary than doom and gloom nihilism. Romero’s cheeky, whimsical side is often on display within his films. Whether it’s a zombie experiencing an unfortunate “haircut” from the blades of a helicopter in Dawn of the Dead, or the lovable “Bub” giving a final salute to the deplorable Captain Rhodes before his gruesome death. 

With the recent release of Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead, the living dead are more prominent than ever. And while George Romero may have passed, but his legacy continues to live on in the form of the modern zombie. Paving the way for such properties as The Walking Dead, 28 Days Later and even Shaun of the Dead, Romero fought the battle of the indie filmmaker and won the hearts of millions of devoted fans who watched in awe as his decaying, putrid creations ravaged the world of cinema.

Free Fiction: Bliss by Webster Grubbs

A man walks silently down an abandoned dusty road. Along the path are vast oceans of waving grass. He paces slowly in silence, focusing on the road in the distance, watching it curve over the horizon. The sun above him crossed over and soon set, drenching the man in blinding shadows. He continues, wading through the drowning darkness. A shimmer of light dances across the field, cast by the full rising moon. 

Over the horizon comes a pair of bright lights, undoubtedly headlights of an approaching vehicle. The man walks on, taking note of the lights as they approached. Soon it was within sight and he stepped to the side of the road, stopping and watching. Upon seeing him, the dusty truck pulls to the side of the road. A lone man exits the vehicle, approaching the stranger slowly.

“Hey, you alright? It’s awful late to be wandering around the back roads.” He says, receiving no response. 

“You deaf or somethin’? It’s dangerous out here. You wouldn’t be the first to get lost out here.” Again, he receives no answer. He approaches the stranger, looking at his face.

“Or maybe you know that. Have I seen you before?”

The stranger turns back to the road and resumes walking. He speaks finally as he leaves. “Maybe so. Been around here for a while; Lotta people seen me here or there.” 

A sheet of rain settles over a small town, filling the air with sounds of water on rusting sheet metal roofs. A hooded man follows the road into the street. He finds his way into the local pub, taking refuge from the rain at a small back table. The locals take note of his presence but ignore him. The few visitors look over their shoulders, curious of the man. No one in the room speaks to him, and they only speak of him in hushed whispers between fleeting glances. 

The man sits, silent and unblinking, staring at the wooden corner wall. He remains deathly still as he waits. An elderly lady gathers her meal and slowly makes her way to the man’s table. She sits across from him and smiles warmly.

“Hope you don’t mind me takin’ a spot here with ya. You seemed kind of lonely. I know people don’t typically prefer to be alone. Tell me, how are ya doin’ ?” She asked, looking up to the man’s young, bearded face. 

He remained silent but did glance at her as she sat.

“Not much of a talker? That’s fine. Some people go on blabbering for too long anyways. Get themselves into all sorts of trouble. Sometimes you just gotta know when to hush up.”

The man nodded slowly, looking back up to the corner of the room. 

“I guess you’re waiting on the rain to stop, yeah? I’ll let you be then.” The lady said, turning to stand.

The man shook his head, looking back to her. “Before you go…would you like to hear an old song? It’s from my childhood, and I quite like it.” He spoke in a half-whisper.

The woman turned back to him and listened as he began softly humming an ancient tune. The old woman found herself enchanted by the song, getting enveloped by the notes of the man’s humming. Moments later the siren’s call was over, and the lady snapped from her trance. 

“Oh, that was pretty.” She exclaimed, looking across to the man. Across from her, however, was an empty seat. Shocked, she looked across the bar, finding it desolate. She looked out the door and saw but a muddy road leading to the building surrounded by carpets of shining broken glass. 

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I’m a small-time horror author, writing when I have free time from a busy life.

Story Review: The Crate by Stephen King

Review by B. Nguyen-Calkins

In the depths of horror literature, Stephen King rises near the level of a modern legend. His works such as Carrie (1974), The Shining (1977), and It (1986) are some of his many works of intense horror and suspense. Yet King shines even in the shortest of stories that may fail to popularize beyond his novels. 

Ever been out in the woods and find something that’s obviously old? Maybe a doll or a magazine, or maybe a box with a locked lid. Immediately, curiosity drove you to open it… surely, whatever inside is worth a look. 

   The curious horror fanatics might be immediately overcome with a sense of dread. The Crate (1982) displays macabre scenes of straight unknown brutality which may justify that sense of dread. What starts with dramatic irony, readers are told of a professor’s experience with an old, unknown crate tucked beneath a staircase. The professor is afraid. He can hardly think, and only a couple glasses of whiskey can help cool his nerves. He explains to his friend of his run-in with the crate, tucked away beneath the basement staircase of the zoology department’s laboratory. “It’s a real crate,” said the janitor who found it. One built with traditional carpentry technique, far dating any living person.  

After reading this story, you may think twice about opening any cob-web-covered boxes. 

The Crate displays merciless scenes of straight unknown brutality. It creates terror for innocent students just trying to grind through their master’s programs, their “long sounds of terror and pain” cut off by something awful. Unsuspecting students and staff (and perhaps more) encounter the crate, only for their fates to be tucked away neatly in a box covered by foreshadowed death. The story is filled with scenes of blood and pain, with descriptions of body horror so vivid you may even hear a broken jaw snap closed behind you. 

And it all comes from one old, nailed-up crate, just waiting to be opened. 

Don’t be discouraged if you think this story has little substance. While describing his experience with the crate, the professor is motivated through chess-like strategies. Read the story again and try to decipher just who his pieces are.  

Who’s to say you won’t be the next person to stumble upon the crate, nailed shut and abandoned in the middle of nowhere. Maybe when you’ve purchased a new home and searched its attic, you’ll find a crate just like it. Will you open it? 

Historian of Horror : Everything’s Just Ducky

I mentioned in my last column that my wife and I traveled down to Key West during our October vacation, where we dropped around to see Ernest Hemingway’s residence. Amongst his remaining effects are the descendants of his famous six-toed cats, currently over fifty of them. They are calm and nonchalant creatures, utterly unimpressed by the hordes of tourists who daily descend upon their abode. They allow themselves to be petted, briefly, after which they do what all cats do. Ignore humans, bask in the warm sunlight, sleep in their preferred spaces, cough up hairballs, whatever. We witnessed all of these activities. If you, like myself, enjoy the company of felis catus, it’s a pleasant experience, apart from the hairballs. If you’re not an ailurophile, maybe F. Scott Fitzgerald has an old house somewhere you could visit instead.

All of which reminded me of a specific case of polydactyly that had a profound effect on my own life and my development as a fan of the fantastic and the frightening. Plus a slightly later instance that was utterly silly but wholly in keeping with a completely different popular genre of the time.

More on that one later. First, we must needs take a look into… The Outer Limits.

I’ve written before in this space that the late 1950s and early to mid-1960s was a golden age of nostalgia for the horrors of times gone by, with new manifestations of frightfulness appearing constantly in all of the then-available media. Television, being by 1958 the dominant common disseminator of culture in the developed world, was filled during the next few years with a variety of spooky and scary, and sometimes amusing, supernatural fare. The Twilight Zone was and remains the best known and most revered, but there was also One Step Beyond, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, 13 Demon Street, Way Out, and The Kraft Suspense Theatre, and that was all just on my side of the Big Pond. Even legendary spukmeister Boris Karloff had his own outlet for televised frights, Thriller, and a second that had to wait for home video to finally be shown, The Veil. By 1963, American audiences were only a season or two away from The Munsters and The Addams Family and The Smothers Brother Show (AKA My Brother, the Angel) and Dark Shadows and Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie and My Living Doll starring the stupefyingly lovely pre-Catwoman Julie Newmar, and all manner of delightfully outré goodies oozing into our homes via the cathode tube. And My Mother, the Car, which was outré, but not particularly delightful. Still.

Have I mentioned what a terrific time that was to be a kid? Well, it was. 

And among all that creepy and kooky and altogether ooky wonderfulness, for a single full season and one half of a second, a mere forty-nine episodes, the Control Voice coming over the airwaves from the ABC Television Network brought us “the awe and mystery that reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits.”

Maybe it was more science fiction reliant than most of the other shows, but there was in each episode what the series’ creator, Leslie Stevens, called a ‘bear’ – some creature from outer or inner space, however one wants to define either of those ideas, that posed a challenge to the human beings with whom it interacted. That was grotesque, that was frightening. That was, in essence, a monster.

Sometimes, though, it was the humans who were the monsters.

On the night of October 14, 1963, for reasons that I to this day cannot fathom, my parents allowed five-year-old me to watch the fifth episode of The Outer Limits, one I still find gives me that same frisson I enjoyed the first time I saw it. Of course, my five-year-old self didn’t quite grasp all the nuances, resulting in a barrage of questions to my long-suffering father. Which is probably why I was not allowed to watch any additional episodes until years later when the show was in syndication. 

That broadcast, by the way, is the earliest specific episode of any television program I recall seeing in its first run. In case anyone was wondering.

The story concerns a young Welsh coal miner recruited by a mad scientist to be the subject in an experiment in accelerated evolution. In the process, he grows a big bald head and a sixth finger on each hand.

There’s that polydactyly I promised above.

The title of this particular episode was, in fact, “The Sixth Finger”, and it starred Edward Mulhare as the mad scientist. Mulhare would, in a few years, be cast as one of the title characters in a sitcom based on the 1947 feature film, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. He did not play Mrs. Muir.

The recipient of that extra digit was played by a young Sottish actor and jazz pianist named David McCallum. Of whom you might have heard, if you are a fan of the military police procedural program, NCIS. He has been Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard for over eighteen years on that show. Hence, the title of this offering.

Anyhow. Our hyper-evolved collier proves to be a dangerously arrogant douchebag in his polydactylic state, so the mad scientist contrives to sucker him back into the booth for another treatment, but instead reverses the polarities and briefly winds up with a Neanderthal before restoring our hero to his normal evolutionary state. 

On May 4, 1964, McCallum returned for the thirty-second episode of that first season, “The Form of Things Unknown”, which was also shown as a television movie under the title, The Unknown. It was intended to be the pilot for a spin-off series that didn’t sell. Probably just as well, given that its failure enabled McCallum to spend the next several years as the taciturn but amiable Russian secret agent Ilya Kuryakin in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968), in addition to a cameo in one episode of the sitcom Please Don’t Eat the Daisies and a one-shot revival TV movie in 1983 most notable for the brief second appearance of George Lazenby as everyone’s favorite MI6 agent. Plus a mention in the thirteenth episode of the second season of NCIS. When the lead character, Gibbs, is asked what Ducky looked like as a young man, he responds, “Ilya Kuryakin”.

Ya think?

McCallum spent the next decade-plus appearing in a myriad of television shows and movies, few of them of much note apart from a single episode of Night Gallery, a mad scientist not named Frankenstein in the mini-series Frankenstein: The True Story, one season as an invisible man, and four as the co-star of the British television series, Sapphire and Steel, alongside Joanna Lumley in between her turns as The New Avengers’ Purdey and Absolutely Fabolous’s Patsy. She was Sapphire, McCallum was Steel. Apparently, no one at the BBC could think of a last name for her characters. He and she guarded our world against extra-dimensional and supernatural threats. Quite a lot of fun. 

McCallum’s genre-related appearances slowed to a crawl in the 1980s and 1990s, ending in a role in one episode of the revival of The Outer Limits in 1997. Since then, he’s spent his thespian skills dissecting corpses and reassembling meat puzzles on behalf of the United States Navy. Still kinda creepy, n’est pas

Anyhow, I’ve provided a list below of McCallum’s horrific and macabre appearances, as well as the other performances mentioned herein. I hope the links all work, and that the populace is able to take a gander at some of his work on behalf of our genre. 

Oh, and that other instance of polydactyly? In 1965, in the wake of the spy craze initiated by the James Bond movies and perpetuated by not only the aforementioned Man (and later, Girl) from U.N.C.L.E, but also the often hilarious spoof sitcom, Get Smart, along with a myriad of others, the Topper toy company came out with a plastic super-secret spy gadget in the shape of a manual digit that you set into the crook of your hand between your thumb and forefinger. It shot darts from the tip, and was called The Sixfinger. “The Most Amazing Toy Ever”, according to the advertising. Everyone I knew had one, or wanted one. It’s amazing what’s important when you’re seven or eight, isn’t it? 

Anyhow.

No, I never had one.

Oh, well.

Until next time, then, thou treasure-seekers of terrors, and of tantalizing tacky trinkets…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

 

The Outer Limits, (“The Sixth Finger” Season 1, Episode 5 October 14, 1963)

The Unknown (1964)

The Outer Limits, (“The Form of Things Unknown” Season 1, Episode 32 May 4, 1964)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968)

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (“Say UNCLE” Season 1, Episode 18 January 11, 1966)

Hauser’s Memory (1970)

Night Gallery (“The Phantom Farmhouse” Season 2, Episode 5 October 20, 1971)

She Waits (1972)

Screaming Skull (1973)

Frankenstein: The True Story (1973)

The Invisible Man (1975-1976)

Dogs (1976)

Sapphire and Steel (1979-1982)

The Watcher in the Woods (1980)

Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen-Years-Later Affair (1983)

Fox Mystery Theater (“The Corvini Inheritance” Season 1, Episode 10 June 8, 1985)

Terminal Choice (1985)

Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Murder Party”, Season 3, Episode 11 May 7, 1988)

Monsters (“The Feverman” Season 1, Episode e1 October 22, 1988) 

The Haunting of Morella (1990)

The Outer Limits, (“Feasibility Study” Season 3, Episode 17 July 11, 1997)

NCIS (2003-2021)

 

Free Fiction: Manny and the Machines by Marc Dickerson 

The father rapped his knuckles lightly on the door. 

     “Manny?” 

Waited a moment before turning the knob and stepping inside. 

Manny lay in bed, blanket pulled up to his chin, staring at the ceiling. The father could  see that he was shivering beneath the covers. 

     “It’s okay, son. It’s just me.” 

     “Dad. I can’t sleep.” 

The father nodded, moved to sit gently on the end of the bed. 

     “Why is that, son? Is something wrong?” 

     “Of course.”

     “Of course?” 

     “Yeah.” 

     “Son, I—” 

     “It’s the machines.” 

The father sat for a moment, looking first at the shadows on the curtains, then at the child. As softly as he could, he said,       “We’re not supposed to talk about them, son.” 

The son stirred a bit, looking uncomfortable. Quietly he uttered, “I know…” Then he lay still again. 

     “They keep us safe. You know that.”  

Manny sat up, loosening his grip on the blanket a bit. “But they’re so loud, dad. Why are  they so loud?” 

They had always been there. For most of his life, for all of his son’s life, their presence was a constant. Always felt. But always tolerated, never questioned. Though now he could hardly remember how it’d gotten this way, how life had become like this. 

This is the way it is, his own father had once told him when he was a boy. 

Since then, it had become second nature to block them out, to ignore them. He didn’t  even notice the sound anymore. 

But now, in the stillness of the bedroom, the father leaned forward, listened, tried to do this with his son’s ears, tried to remember being young and confused, afraid. Staring at the long creeping shadows on the curtains, listening. 

There it was. Faint at first, then fading up like some mysterious hand slowly turning a  dial. A continuous squeal, low and distant. Metallic, cold. Screeching and grinding. Horrible noises, he knew. He remembered. The spectral shriek of steel along the rails, slow and threatening, around the perimeter of the town. Motorized guards patrolling. Watching. Then the dial was adjusted again, the sound fading back into the stillness of the room. 

The father turned to his son. “Now, Manny…it’s only at night. We have the entire rest of the day. Remember what I told you last time?” 

     “I know. Pretend they’re trains.” 

     “That’s right. Trains help people. Just like them. They help us. Keep us safe.” “You always say that. Safe from what.”  

The father pressed the palms of his hands into his knees, gazing down at the floor.  Finally, he rose from the bed to look down at his son. Manny seemed so much older than even this morning. Yet he knew the boy still had much to understand, much to learn about the way things worked. 

     “I’ve forgotten, son. And that’s good. That’s a good thing. See. They make it so we never have to find that out. Which is       why we should be grateful. Why we don’t mind the noise. Talk  about the noise.”   

He looked over toward the window again. Stared at the curtains. The sound came back, echoing in his head. The grating of gears, the harsh mechanical wail echoing around the town.  Steel ghosts. Watching, circling. He pictured them, tried to picture them (it’d been so long since he acknowledged their existence, let alone dare gaze upon them). What he could remember was only a gray blur of machinery. The frightening deliberate speed of efficiency. And above it, a coughing cloud of steam rising into the night sky, obscuring everything, every star. Dark.  Endless, suffocating. He couldn’t even remember what the moon looked like. Had forgotten the moon. 

The father looked back at his son. Felt his composure, his sanity return. The rational  constitution of adulthood. He felt himself ease back into it. He was a parent. And Manny was a  good boy. Curious, like all boys.  

     “Have I answered all your questions?” 

      “I guess…” 

      “Good.” The father rustled the son’s hair. “That’s what I’m here for.” 

Manny stared up at him like he wanted to say something. Then it was gone, the look, the thought. Vanished, like most irrational young childhood thoughts. The father smiled. 

     “Goodnight.” 

He moved across the room, quietly closing the door behind him.  

The father got into bed. Heard his wife’s voice, raspy with sleep. 

     “Is Manny okay?”

The father smoothed out his pillow, settling under the covers. 

     “He’s okay. He’s going to do just fine.” 

In the dark, he could make out the faint image of the mother’s face smiling. “I don’t want him to be afraid,” she said. “He’s such a good boy. Just scared.” 

     “Like all kids.” 

     “Yes. But I worry sometimes. They don’t tolerate it well. Fear.” 

     “No,” the father said, reaching for the lamp on the nightstand. “No they don’t.” The father turned off the light. “But he is      a good boy. Manny is a good boy.” 

     “Yes. He’ll be okay.” The mother lay still for a moment before leaning in, kissing him on the cheek. Then she turned on her side, away from him. He turned away from her, facing the window. The curtains were drawn. Only shadows. 

Shadows and something else. 

The noise. He could hear it. Far off in the night. 

He shifted to lie on his back. Stared up at the ceiling and listened and did not close his eyes. 

Dark, covering everything. 

The father stayed up all night listening to the sound.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Marc Dickerson is a writer and filmmaker from Philadelphia, PA. He has written short stories, graphic novels, screenplays, and now his first novel, ART FARM. Marc also hosts a podcast about cult/b/underground films called Cult Movie Cult. His work has appeared online and in publications such as Culture Cult Magazine and Burial Day. He currently lives in Bucks County, PA with his wife and daughter.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21183349.Marc_Dickerson

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Mute

 

 

 

Plotline: The chilling short explores the complication of middle-aged marriage and the mental distortion resulting from sins and confessions. MUTE delves into the territory of somber human behavior, making the story a fascinating psychological thriller.

Who would like it: Fans who love Stephen King, short stories, tight thrillers, and book to movie adaptations.

High Points: Its very close to the original story.

Complaints: N/A

Overall: Love it!

Stars: 5

Where I watched it: Private screener

 

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Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.

When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net

She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.

http://wordsmithcrystalconnor.com

http://www.facebook.com/notesfromtheauthor

Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! from Podiobooks.com and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!” 

http://podiobooks.com/title/and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after

Free Fiction : Queen of the Flies by Timothy Purvis

TINY LITTLE LEGS flitted across her flesh. She brought her hand down hard. Her teeth gritted as she sat up and turned on the lamp beside her bed. Looking down, the corpse of a tiny gnat lay flattened against the fine blonde hairs covering her forearm. She grimaced.

Addy looked up at the ceiling.

“Son of a—!”

The veins in her head pulsed as she came to her feet and kept her eyes fixated on the swirly patterned white ceiling. A color that allowed her to clearly see the dozens of black dots merely sitting there, staring at her as if they owned the entire apartment.

“You little black bastards,” she growled. “Why won’t you die already?”

Addy looked at her phone. The time said 06:50. Saturday morning. And the job she’d thought she’d finished the night before, all of her efforts, had obviously gone unheeded by the pests. A grimace crossed her face as she entered her walk-in closet and grabbed a shirt. The grimace grew deeper as she shook all of the little gnats loose and threw it on over her shoulders. She put on a pair of jeans, shaking her legs, and buttoning them around her waist. Then headed towards her dresser to grab some socks.

All the while, tiny flies continued to fly around. Taunting her with their audacity to even exist.

You have no idea how much I despise you, little bastards, do you? I do all the dishes, clean all the counters, clean out all the sinks, take out the trash, douse the toilet, do all the laundry, check every, single place that is dank and moist, treat them with spray, and what do I get for it? An apartment full of you cocks! I’m done with it! Time for desperate measures!

She finished dressing, stood up off the side of her bed, and made her way down the hall of her apartment. Little tiny bodies surrounded her as she reached the end of the hall and flipped on the kitchen light. They were everywhere. Covering the walls, the ceiling, even the floor.

Her body shuddered. However, the flushing of her face and the heated hate building in her skull caused her grimace to turn into a snarl.

“Don’t go away, you little turds! I’ll be right back to finish the job!”

Addy turned away from the pulsating layer of insects and cut through her living room. They were there too, of course. Why wouldn’t they be? she figured. She grabbed her keys by the door and exited her apartment.

IT WAS AMAZING how many different varieties of insect repellents and poisons there were. Addy chose some general foggers that included every sort of insect that was likely to be hiding in her apartment. True, there were probably spiders there. And she liked spiders well enough. However, they were obviously not doing their jobs in eliminating the rest of her fly problem.

Let’s see how you manage after a little chemical warfare… She smiled at the thought and went up front to the checkout counters.

“Whoa, that’s a lot of foggers,” the clerk said.

“I have a lot of pests.”

He nodded with a smile, checked her out, and off she went back home. To deal with the menaces who’d taken over her residence. They were pests that needed to be expunged.

Permanently.

***

ADDY RETURNED HOME. She went to work setting up the foggers. Placing one in her bedroom, one in the spare bedroom, one in the bathroom, one in the kitchen, one in the utility room, and one in the living room. The flies seemed to have multiplied exponentially in the time she’d been away. Some were flying. Some were just sitting on the surface of whatever thing they’d found themselves upon. She knew she should cover up her appliances and computer. Her TVs and other sensitive equipment. However, she was exhausted and just wanted them gone. She went through, set all of the bombs off. Left the apartment.

***

SIX HOURS LATER, she returned. They were all dead.

“Finally. I can replace everything else, I’m just glad you’re gone. You little bastards.”

The tang of chemical chaos clung to the air as she went about cleaning up the bodies of the insects and fixing dinner. Remarkably, the TVs still worked and the computer was fine. Nothing a little cleaner couldn’t fix.

At half-past nine, she closed the curtains to the deck doors and prepared for bed. That was when the buzzing began.

Addy looked around, eyes wide, mouth agape.

“What… what’s going on?”

From every vent, every hole in the wall, every nook, cranny, and hold came hundreds of gnats. They swarmed her, covered her body.

“Get off me! Get off me!”

She swatted at them, rubbed her hands across her skin as they covered every each of her existence. They dug into her pores. Her hands slapped down roughly, her skin welting under her own attacks. The scream she gave off was piercing, even to her own ears. She felt them digging into her flesh. Crawling under her skin, an almost ticklish sensation as they made their way up and under her flesh.

“No! No! Noooo!”

Addy fell to the floor clawing at her own skin. Before long the world went black, her mind blank.

***

HOURS LATER, ADDY emerged from her skin that had become a sort of shell. Her mind was singularly focused: Mate. Keep the brood alive. Stop those who would seek her extermination. After all, hadn’t that been the task all along? Finding the right body to bring the brood back to life?

Yes, that was the purpose. That was the need.

She wiped one hairy leg across the myriad of eyes of her bulbous head. The brood was tiny in form, at first. But they grew. They grew and they extinguished the minds meaning to harm them.

After all, they were all pests, weren’t they? And they deserved to be expunged.

Permanently.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Tim Purvis is a writer of many genres. From Science-fiction to romance to fantasy and horror there is nothing he won’t write. He has struggled to get his work noticed, published only once in a Turkish magazine thanks to a pen pal. Yet, he continues to write hoping one day his works will reach a broader audience and he can make a living doing what he loves: spinning the tall tale.

http://cosmicfantasies.com

Book Review : HELLSLEIGH by DC Brockwell


HELLSLEIGH AND THE HORRORS OF INSTITUTIONALIZATION

Review by Renata Pavrey

“They say if you listen carefully, you can still hear the screaming. Because once you enter Hellsleigh, it will never let you leave.”

A parapsychologist gets into a scuffle with a local tramp on the roof of a derelict hospital. They both fall down to their deaths, following which the police unearth more bodies from within the abandoned premises. Hellsleigh was formerly a mental asylum, infamous for its century-old history of two psychiatric nurses who went around killing patients. In later years the hospital was engulfed in a fire. And over time it earned its reputation of being haunted. What exactly is the story of Hellsleigh? Why do people associated with it die? And what was a paranormal investigator doing on the roof covered in blood? Hellsleigh is an interesting supernatural thriller that takes the reader on a ride through the history of its namesake hospital, as we attempt to solve the mystery of the deaths.

Through his fictitious hospital, its past and present, author DC Brockwell raises pertinent questions and topics for discussion on the treatment of mental disorders. The back-and-forth narrative in Hellsleigh makes for an engaging reading experience. The novel begins with Dr. Fiske falling from the roof of the hospital, and as the story progresses we move forward as well as backward, to uncover the mysterious events of the introduction – an ending leading to a beginning. We learn how each of the deceased came to be where they were ultimately found, or at least the parts of them that were identified. A team of paranormal investigators undertaking a non-commissioned project, a group of university students partying in a restricted area, a reporter having his research catch up with his reality – the sequence of timelines, events, characters, historical context keep the reader on edge throughout.

Hellsleigh is a wonderfully constructed story. The supernatural elements are eerie and atmospheric, rather than gory and in-your-face. In a horrific as well as terrific storyline, Brockwell makes the reader consider who the real monsters are – the ghosts of the present or the people of the past. 

Like Brockwell, other authors have also addressed mental health issues through their dark fiction. The Focus Program by KT Dady is a sci-fi horror story that begins with the suicide of the protagonist. He is incorporated into the titular organization that aims to eliminate mental disorders by denying their existence on his death. Dady sensitively touches subjects like the ignorance of society and the denial of problems that are not overtly visible. Similarly, We Are Monsters by Brian Kirk is a medical horror novel focused on schizophrenia and an experimental drug that displaces hallucinations from the mind and sets the monsters free into the real world. 

Horror fiction addressing mental health offers a unique reading experience, by questioning society and the medical fraternity about where the actual horrors lie. In the minds of patients? Or in hospitals resorting to constant drugging to keep patients subdued? Or in societal rejection in terms of jobs and housing? October is dedicated to World Mental Health Day, and the month also celebrates Halloween. In an irony of sorts, mental health issues are still largely misunderstood and misdiagnosed, or ignored and dismissed. The horrors an individual goes through within their own minds and society at large stresses the importance of education and sensitivity in the addressal and treatment of mental health illnesses.

Historian of Horror: And Just a Pinch of Cyanide

I don’t think it would be accurate to say that my wife gave up a sparkling career in the theatre to tie herself down to me, but our first date did occur when she invited me to come to the closing performance of the play she was appearing in at the time, Noël Coward’s Hay Fever. She insisted I come along to the cast party afterward, which turned out to be an entire night of revelry in a variety of venues all around Nashville. Three weeks later, after the consumption of far too many Long Island Teas, we became engaged. The wedding was nine months after that, and despite valiant efforts on both of our parts, we are still married forty years later.

Hay Fever was the last stage production she was in, but far from the first. Before we met, she had won some sort of award that used to hang on a wall in our first apartment for playing Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. I had a vague idea of some of the other plays she’d been in, but the details have faded with the years, as they are oftentimes wont to do with advanced age.

Friday before last as I write this, Landra and I loaded way more than we needed to take with us into my Kia Sorento and motorvated on down to damn near the farthest away part it is possible to reach via a combustion engine driven vehicle of the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida, where we have a timeshare. We hopped the Key West Express for a couple of days in Hemingway Country, and the bulk of six more lolling about on the pristine white sand beach a brisk three-minute walk from our condo on Marco Island. Many adult beverages were consumed during that just-over-a-week, let me tell you, along with much seafood of invariably exceptional quality. Two words: conch fritters. Yum!

At some point, late in the week as I recall, I mentioned that I was going to write my next column for this space on Joseph Kesselring’s 1939 play, Arsenic and Old Lace, and its various adaptations into other mediums. She reminded me that she herself had played one of the aunts in a production several years before we became an item, and opined that if we ever did tread the boards again, I would make an excellent Teddy as her co-star. I agreed as I have been well trained to do. And also because I’ve long thought it might be fun to essay a performance of the harmlessly delusional Brewster brother. I haven’t done any acting on stage since, oh, 1976 – the year, not the musical – so maybe we should pay attention to opportunities to indulge that old impulse to inflict ourselves on the theatre patrons of the 21st Century.

Or maybe not. 

The play opened on Broadway on January 10, 1941, and ran for 1444 performances through 1944. It ran almost as many in the West End in London. Naturally, a film version had to be made. And so it was, as well as broadcasts on radio and, later, television, as late as 1969 in the United States. I am aware of televised broadcasts in Europe in 1971 and 2002, and there are probably more. It is a popular play for amateur revivals anywhere those are apt to occur, and if anyone does deign to produce it in my area, well, maybe Teddy is calling me, after all. 

The story unfolds on Halloween, in Brooklyn. Mortimer Brewster has just married Elaine Harper, daughter of the snooty reverend next door. As they are trying to sneak away to Niagara Falls, Mortimer finds out that his dear, sweet aunts, Abby and Martha, have been engaging in the impromptu euthanasia of lonely old men by the surreptitious administration of arsenic, strychnine, and a pinch of cyanide in their homemade elderberry wine. As their prospective lodgers fall victim to what they’ve been telling their loopy nephew, who believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt, is yellow fever, he removes the remains to the basement. There he will proceed to dig a new lock in his own personal Panama Canal, in which the newly deceased is interred.

Mortimer discovers the latest victim before Teddy can plant him, and decides that it’s time for all concerned to be ensconced in a chuckles emporium. As he’s trying to arrange this, his long-lost brother, career criminal and psychopathic murderer Jonathan Brewster, comes back to his childhood home, accompanied by the inebriated medico who performs periodic plastic surgeries to hide Jonathan’s identity from the long arm of the law. The most recent operation had been performed after Dr. Einstein had watched a horror film, with rather unfortunate consequences for one gentleman whom Jonathan had killed because, and I quote, “He said I look like Boris Karloff”.

Given that Karloff created the role on Broadway, that line pretty much brought the house down every night.

Eventually, Jonathan is caught, Dr. Einstein slips away unnoticed, Teddy and his aunts receive a group rate admission to the Happydale Sanitarium, and Mortimer and Elaine finally take off for their honeymoon.

When three-time-Oscar winning director Frank Capra adapted Arsenic and Old Lace for the silver screen in late 1941, he retained Jean Adair as Aunt Martha, Josephine Hull as Aunt Abby, and John Alexander as Teddy, borrowing them from Broadway for the eight-week shooting schedule. Alan Joslyn was replaced with Cary Grant as Mortimer, full-time Warner Bros. Studios creepy character actor Peter Lorre became the new Dr. Einstein, and various Hollywood stalwarts took the places of the New York crowd. Alas, Karloff was still playing Jonathan on Broadway and was thus unavailable as he was the show’s main draw, so Capra cast Canadian actor Raymond Massey in his stead. Massey was more than adequate in the role. Because the various contracts specified the film had to wait to be released until the play ended its run, it was not released until 1944. By which time Karloff would have been available to play Jonathan.

Oh, well.

It’s a delightfully warped film, very watchable even after seventy-seven years. It appears regularly on Turner Classic Movies and other old movie channels, is available on DVD, and is currently streaming on Amazon Instant. So, you have no excuse for not seeing it. Get to it. Now!

Or as soon as you finish reading this. I have a couple more things to say about Arsenic and Old Lace.

There were several productions done for the radio during the 1940s and into the 1950s, often with Karloff as Jonathan. Karloff reprised the role for television in 1955, but the broadcast has not survived. The only existing filmed version with Karloff appearing as Jonathan is a 1962 performance done on television’s Hallmark Hall of Fame. Tony Randall co-stars as Mortimer. 

In 1969, shortly after Karloff’s passing, former Herman Munster Fred Gwynne starred as Jonathan in a television movie of the play. A proposed theatrical remake planned for Richard Pryor in the 1970s never happened, so that’s pretty much the end of that. Except for my wife’s performance, which was no doubt one of the best ever. Sorry, dear. THE best.

Apropos of nothing I have said heretofore, I will leave you now with one of my infamous lagnappes, a bit of sonic spookiness that popped up on my playlist this morning. Recorded by Jack and Jim in 1959, here is The Midnight Monsters Hop. Hope it meets the populace’s approval.

And so, until next time, nabobs of necrophilia…

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Free Fiction : Sticky Hands by Kenedy Blake

“I hate buying groceries,” I mumble, slamming the car door shut with my foot.

Juggling two large bags full of fruits and vegetables, I suddenly realize I forgot my keys and will have to use the spare. I reach under the mat and feel around until I locate the key.

The key slips into the lock with an audible click and I step inside the cabin.

My Maltipoo, Jasmine, comes running down the hallway, barking viciously at my feet. 

“Hey girl, calm down. It’s just me,” I tell her, rolling my eyes. She continues barking.

Still muttering to myself, I enter the kitchen, set the bags on the kitchen counter, and head to the refrigerator. I twist the cap off a soda and take a long drink.

That’s when I see it.

An open bottle of wine, sitting on the kitchen table.

Now, I may be a bit of an oddball, but I’m not crazy. I did not open a bottle of wine today. In fact, I’m actually trying to cut back a bit. So this makes absolutely no sense at all. 

I continue to stare at the bottle of wine, unsure of what to do next. I’m not going to lie, I feel a little freaked out right now. Mind you, I live in the middle of absolutely nowhere. There isn’t anyone around for miles. My eyes dart around the room, searching for anything else out of place.

I don’t see anything unusual, but to be safe I grab a butcher knife from the drawer and quietly make my way to the second floor, checking out each room with caution.

No one in the closets, the bedrooms, or the bathroom. I begin to relax a little bit and go back downstairs to check out the rest of the cabin. The library, living room and laundry room are empty. I head back towards the kitchen and check the hall bathroom on my way. It is clear as well.

Scratching my head, I re-enter the kitchen and put the knife down.

Suddenly my cell phone rings, and I nearly jump out of my skin.

“Hello?” I say.

No reply.

“Hello?” I say again.

No answer.

Shaking my head, I press the end call button and set the phone down next to a pile of mail.

I freeze.

My name, Alistair Hendricks, is completely marked out on every piece of mail. A black, uncapped sharpie lay next to the pile. Fear begins to creep into the pit of my stomach.

Someone or something is screwing with me.

Suddenly I hear a loud thump come from somewhere in the house. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my suspicions are confirmed. 

There is either an intruder in my house, or I’m being haunted by a ghost who knows how to open a bottle of Chardonnay. 

I almost stop and laugh at the absurdity of the idea of a ghost, but instead, quickly grab the butcher knife and make my way down the hall towards the library. Peeking around the doorway, I am startled to find a strange man holding a glass of wine, browsing my collection of books.

The man doesn’t look threatening; he actually looks quite at home.

A board under my foot creaks.

Before I can duck out of sight, the man whirls around to face me, sloshing the wine over the top of his glass.

“Who are you?” The man demands. “What are you doing here? This is my house!”

My heart is thumping wildly in my chest, but I try to stay calm.

“Sir” I tell the man, “ I’m going to have to ask you to leave. This is my house. Please leave, or a I will be forced to call the police.”

The man chuckles and sets down his glass of wine. “Are you nuts? What the hell are you talking about? This is my house.” He then sees the knife as in my hand, and in one swift motion pulls a gun out from behind his back.

. “Get out.” He cocks the gun. “Now.” 

I open my mouth to reply, but suddenly everything starts to spin, and I collapse onto the floor

 ***

When I wake up, it is dark outside and it takes me a minute to remember where I am and what happened. 

Then I realize that I can’t remember what happened. And why am I on the floor? My hands feel sticky and gross, and there is a strange smell permeating the air. I then hear a bump near the doorway. I scramble to my feet and flick the light switch.

No one’s there.

It is then I notice the red streaks covering the floor. What is that?

My hands still feel sticky…

Why are my hands sticky? 

Something wet trickles down the side of my face. I stumble into the hall bathroom and gaze into the mirror. A gash the size of a golf ball is on my right temple. I grab a towel, wet it, and dab at the wound. Then I realize the shower is running. I take a deep breath, throw aside the shower curtain expecting to see someone in there, but there is only an empty bucket and mop. I shut the water off. I hear a creaking of floorboards but turn around to find no one. My head feels foggy, and I fight to remember the past how-ever-many hours I was passed out. There are more streaks in the hallway, leading towards the kitchen.

My hands are still sticky…

I stumble along the hallway, following the red streaks like the trail of breadcrumbs from that childhood fairytale, Hansel and Gretel. 

I enter the kitchen and find that the red streaks end at the back door. Taking another step, I nearly trip over a box of trash bags sitting on the floor.  

I glance to my left and see that the open bottle of Chardonnay is still there. Grabbing it by the neck, I carry it over to the sink, pour the still half-full bottle down the drain, and chuck the bottle in the trash bin.

There.

Now to clean up these red streaks. 

My hands are still sticky…

  ***

I twist the cap open on the bottle of ammonia and pour it into a bucket half full of steaming water. I then lug the bucket out of the bathroom and into the library and begin to mop up these terribly messy red streaks. I wish I knew what they were and where they came from.

***

I finish mopping and the floors are now spotless, so I decide to take a break and watch some tv. I end up falling asleep on the couch and I am startled awake hours later by the chiming of the grandfather clock. Six chimes, so it’s 6:00 am. 

I enter the kitchen and begin to make coffee, still desperately trying to remember the strange events of yesterday afternoon. I pour myself a cup of coffee and walk over to the window.  I see my reflection in the windowpane and reach up to touch the wound on my forehead.

What happened yesterday?

  ***

Three weeks later

“Stupid dog,” I mutter, gripping the wooden handle of the shovel tighter. “ Why did I ever get a dog?” I trudge into the woods, my steps slow as not to dump any of the dog crap on my new pajamas. “She makes too much of a mess. I’m going to have to find her another home,” I say to myself as I toss the crap into the woods. It lands on top of a large mound of dirt that curiously resembles a shallow grave. 

That’s absurd, I tell myself, shaking my head. I’m the only one around here. Besides,I’d know if there was a random stranger roaming the woods.

Chuckling to myself, I make my way to the shed and prop the shovel up inside the door.

***

I can’t stop thinking about that mound of dirt. It seems oddly familiar. Like I’ve seen it before, but can’t quite remember why it’s there, or how it got there.

I have to investigate it.

I head to the backyard and once again grab the shovel from the shed. When I reach the mound of dirt just past the tree line, I begin to dig. Fear begins to worm its way into my stomach, as I’m scared as to what I might uncover. 

Suddenly my shovel scrapes against something, 

I stop digging, and as I stare at the strangely familiar pile of dirt, it all comes flooding back to me.

The open bottle of Chardonnay. Marking out my name with a sharpie. The strange man. The flash of a knife. Someone screams.

Suddenly I’m dragging something heavy. Red streaks across the floor. A bottle of ammonia.

My hands become sticky… with something.

Am I crazy?

Following the red streaks…

No, it couldn’t be. I couldn’t possibly have…

Did I kill someone?

A car door slams, shaking me out of my unpleasant reverie. “James?” I hear a woman’s voice call out. “James dear, I’m home.” Then I hear a knock. “Open the door, darling. It’s Lydia. I forgot my house key, and I can’t seem to find the spare…”

Ignoring the woman, I drop to my knees and furiously begin to dig with my hands. No, I couldn’t have killed someone…

The woman continues to call out that man’s name.

Digging, digging…

I am covered in muck and grime but I continue clawing at the dirt like a madman. All of a sudden I feel something that feels like fabric… no, not fabric. I wipe away the last bit of dirt to uncover a large lump of black plastic, accompanied by a horrific smell. 

After gagging a few times, I tear open the trash bag and find…

A body. 

I scrambled backward away from the rotting corpse. Did I kill someone without knowing? Surely not.

I look toward the cabin to see the woman where the woman is. She now has her cell phone out and is dialing a number. Then I faintly hear a phone begin to ring on her end.

Then suddenly, there’s ringing in my pocket. 

I quickly reach for the phone inside my trousers and pull it out to silence it, but then I fumble like an idiot and drop it on the ground. It continues to ring.

I grab the phone, push the end call button, and peer through the tree line at the woman, who seems to stare right at me.

“Hello,?” she calls out putting the phone in her pocket. “James dear? Is that you?”

I crouch down, hoping that she doesn’t see me.

The woman starts walking towards the woods, and in a moment appears through the tree line.

“James?” She looks left and right.

I’m now flat on my stomach behind a large log, and I can only hope that she doesn’t notice the shallow grave I uncovered. How would I ever explain that?

I shift my position and leaves rustle underneath me.

“Hello? Is someone there?” She calls out, trying to see through the thick pines and brush. The woman takes out her cell phone again and begins to dial a number.

The phone in my pocket starts ringing

Crap.

I slowly crawl out from behind the log. There’s no point in hiding now. 

***

“Who are you?!” The woman yells. “Why are you here?”

I am standing before the nameless woman, who looks extremely nervous. She shakily holds a can of pepper spray in her left hand.

“Calm down, ma’am,” I tell her, keeping my eyes on the can of pepper spray. “I’m not going to hurt you. My name is Alistair Hendricks, and I live here.”

“You live where?” the woman asks, still firmly grasping the pepper spray.  

I gestured towards the cabin. “I live in that cabin. That’s my home”.

The woman gives me a strange look. “What are you talking about? My name is Lydia Dosher, and I live in that cabin, along with my husband, James.” She looks around frantically. “Have you seen him?”

Before I can answer, Lydia turns her head to the right and sees the trash bag I’ve uncovered and the corpse that lies within it.

She turns back to face me. “What is that?” Lydia whispers. 

“Ummm….” I stammer, unsure of how to answer her. “I was out here and uncovered it. I’m not sure how it got there…” my voice pitifully trails off.

The woman looks at me with uncertainty, then approaches the grave and kneels down beside it. She keeps staring at the body. Just staring.

Suddenly she scrambles backward and lets out a strangled sob. 

“What? What’s wrong?” I ask.

Lydia turns to me, her eyes wide, face as pale as a ghost. “Th-that’s my husband!” She screeches.  “Someone murdered him and buried his body here!” She begins to wail uncontrollably.

I’m just standing here, unsure of what to do. When Lydia finally stops wailing, she gets to her feet and wipes her eyes, smearing mascara across her left cheek.

“I-I need to call the police,” she sniffs. “They can help figure out who did this.”

Her back is now turned to me as she punches numbers on her cell phone.

I don’t want to do this. I really don’t want to do this. 

But I have no choice.

I pick up the shovel and swing it. The hard metal slams against Lydia’s head with a sickening crack, and the woman slumps to the ground

***

“I’m so terribly sorry that I had to do this,” I tell the dead woman, dropping the shovel. “You seemed so nice. It’s a shame you had to go.”

I stand there in the silence for a good moment, then realize what I have to do.

No one can know about this.

So I grab Lydia by the arms and begin to drag her across the ground towards the grave.

Then I roll her into the shallow hole. She lands on top of James with a thud.

There.

Now to cover them with dirt. 

***

It’s been two days since my experience with the grave and now, no matter where I go, she follows me. 

She simply won’t leave me alone. Even as I sit here on a bench outside The Deli, which is a good 45 minute drive from the cabin.

I turn my head slightly to the left, trying not to make direct eye contact with her. She’s just standing there, staring at me.

I shake my head, turn my gaze away for a moment, then look back.

She’s still there.

But, perhaps she’s not real. Perhaps she is just a hallucination, a fictional product of my stressed and troubled mind. That’s what landed me in the psychiatric facility, after all. Seeing things that aren’t there. I was lucky to escape and find that beautiful cabin I live in. Yes, just a hallucination. 

So I decide to ignore her and take a bite of my sandwich. But all of a sudden the air turns cool around me, and my skin starts to crawl.

I realize, with impending dread, that she is right next to me, and she’s not a hallucination. 

She’s real.

Suddenly, Lydia reaches out and places her cold, dead hand on my shoulder, her long dirty nails digging into my skin. She leans close, her icy breath sending shivers down my spine.  A manic  grin spreads across her dirty, blood-streaked face

“ You’ll never escape me, Alistair,” she says, her voice raspy and cold.  “I’ll always be here. I  will torment you until the day you die, then I’ll torment you some more. You picked the wrong couple to murder, Mr. Hendricks.”

My hands are still sticky

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

Kennedy Blake is an author and mother of three. She enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family. Kennedy has been writing since she was nine years old, and has several published works.

Free Fiction : The Photo by CM Lucas

As snow began to fall on that frigid winter morning, Miles Beringer made his way up the rickety staircase into the attic. Every snowfall, he found himself retreating into the dusty, insulation-filled space.

Jam-packed with items collected over the years, Miles would wade through the vast assortment of antiquated nostalgia, sometimes tidying up along the way, but often watching the snow collect on the roof. Miles had come to find that on a winter’s day, nothing was quite like his attic.

“Wow. It’s like somebody comes up here after I clean and ransacks the place,” said Miles as he glanced about the attic.

“Maybe it’s the ghosts,” said Miles, “Nothing better to do!?”

Miles snatched a basketball from a dusty box and began to dribble.

“Beringer makes his way down the court. He fakes right; he shoots… Nothing but net, ladies and gentlemen,” shouted Miles with his arms raised. Miles glanced at a box tucked in a far corner.

Hm. And what secrets might you be hiding within your shadowy, cavernous walls? Glad I don’t talk like that out loud.

Miles made his way over to the old cardboard box. He opened it and began to rummage through its contents.

“I can’t believe it,” said Miles, pulling out an old photo album. Miles opened the old album.

This is crazy. How the hell did I end up with it? Miles thought, peeling back the first page.

Polaroids! Man, I miss them. Damn, I was chunky.‘Just a little baby fat,’ sure, Dad. Oh, no. Shirley, what were you thinking with that hair? Eighties or not, that was just bad.

Miles turned the pages, reliving treasured memories. He comes to the final page and smiles.

“Good times,” said Miles, rising to his feet. A Polaroid falls from the back of the album, landing on the floor. Miles reaches down to retrieve the old photo. As he flipped the picture around, Miles furrowed his brow. Glaring at the Polaroid, he noticed himself in the picture, at his current age.

What the hell is this? I don’t remember this. Of course, I don’t. It’s a frigging Polaroid, genius. They don’t even make those anymore, do they? Where did this come from? This is recent. How? And why would it be up-

A knock at the door forced Miles out of his pondering. He makes his way downstairs and opens the door, revealing a familiar face.

“Hey, Shirl,” said Miles as his dejected expression concerned his guest.

“Hey, Miley… I come at a bad time, or what?” asked Shirley, breathing into her hands and rubbing them vigorously. Shirley makes her way inside. Flipping off her snow-covered boots as she heads into the living room.

“You rearranged the living room. Looks nice. Roomier,” said Shirley, looking about the room. Shirley then returns her gaze to Miles.

“Uh, hello, Little bro! What’s with you?” she asked. Miles peers over at his older sister. Holding up the Polaroid, he hands it to Shirley.

“Do you remember when this was taken?” he asked. Shirley furrows her brow. She then raises her eyebrow and smirks.

“Nice. The Polaroid thing’s a bit much, but it’s nice work. Where’d you get this done?” asked Shirley.

“That’s the thing. I didn’t get it done. I found it up in my attic. It was with one of our old family albums. It was lodged in the back,” he said. Miles pauses, then peers at his older sister.

“Wait, I’m an idiot,” said Miles.

“That’s not breaking news, Miley,” Shirley said with a grin.

“New Year’s Eve. You and Jack were up in the attic. You had this done and put it up there!” said Miles. Shirley glared at Miles, “Ya, Miley. I spend my time having fake pics done up and then plant them in people’s attics during parties.”

“Ok, then what the hell were you two doing up there?” he asked. Shirley continues to view the picture.

“We were…,” Shirley paused. Miles glared at his sister.

“Really? How old are you two?” he said with disgust in his voice.

Shirley remained quiet, squinting as she looked at the Polaroid.

“… Ok, seriously, what is this? Is this one of those holograms that change in the light or whatever?” Miles peered up at Shirley, perplexed. He made his way over as she held the picture up.

“… What the hell? You weren’t in this earlier,” said Miles, his eyes wide.

“What am I doing?” asked Shirley as she continued to squint.

“You look terrified. I-it looks like we’re in the kitchen in this thing,” he said as the pair huddled together.

“This is like one of those ARG deals. And it has Jack written all over it. He loves this shit,” said Shirley, scratching her chin.

“Ok, your husband’s home invasion and privacy issues aside, what do we do?” asked Miles.

“Well, when we did one of these before, we just followed any clues we could find,” Shirley continued, “let’s move into the kitchen.” Miles and Shirley made their way into the kitchen. Miles glances at the photo.

“Look, it changed again. Wait, Why am I?…” Miles paused. Shirley glanced at the Polaroid.

“Is that blood? Looks like you’re being shot or… Shit, Jack! Getting a bit-” Shirley, suddenly startled by the ruckus within the kitchen, peers into the kitchen.

“Ok, get behind me, Shirl. Watch this,” said Miles, grabbing a large glass and filling it with water.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“It’s Jack. He’s in the basement,” said Miles, making his way toward the basement door. Miles pulls open the door.

“Ah-ha! Game’s ov-” a shotgun blast rings in Shirley’s ears as she falls to the ground. A second blast rips through the siblings as a masked man exits the house.

Ten minutes pass as knocks on the door go unanswered. The door opens as a man enters the house.

“Hey, Miles, Shirley! It’s Jack! You guys here? It’s really coming down out there. Jack glances down at the old photo at his feet. The Polaroid reveals a shocked Jack as he beholds his wife and brother-in-law slain on the kitchen floor.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

CM “Spookas” Lucas is a is an aspiring Horror/Science Fiction writer, a free lance writer of articles and reviews. He has recently joined the HorrorAddicts.net staff of writers. Check out his recent article

Free Fiction : Midwinter Terror – by Leonardo J. Espinal 


And as the crescent moon reigned over the starry night, offering a post-impressionistic painting of midwinter gloom chaperoned by the phantasmagoric wind, I direly realized that the grotesque silhouette in the corner of my bedroom, which at first sight seemed to merely be my coat hanger, indeed was that of a malignant creature. Excruciating in the eyes as it was rife with all things ill and heinous while wearing the darkness as an extension of its skin. This dweller of nightmares, bearer of a set of dimly lit, red eyes that lusted for no blood other than mine, slowly made its way towards my impotent body from the most treacherous depths of my psyche.

In the midst of it all, the wind bashed my window relentlessly, akin to a distress call from Mother Nature herself. And to make matters worse, even at the sight of such an abomination, my muscles remained unbothered, for the horror was of mental nature alone.

Thankfully, the illusory Frankenstein, the torrid sweating, my drowning chest, my obstructed breathing, the torture of being unable to move anything but my desperate eyes, and the subsequent agony that the former causes were but a devil I knew like the palm of my hand. Therefore, the following routine was deeply engraved both in my brain and muscle memory: 

  •   Keep my eyes wide open and fixated on the approaching demon, for closing my eyes or in other words, relaxation      only serves to prolong the sleep paralysis. 
  •   Try my hardest to take exhaustively quick breaths in order to elevate my heart rate.
  •   Once my heart rate is adequately elevated, some parts of my body will start to react.
  • That’s when I proceed to wake my body up by focusing all my sheer energy on moving either my toes or pinky       fingers; one of the two because my capabilities while in sleep paralysis often vary.
  •  Hope that my body wakes up from its deep slumber before that monstrosity gets too close. I had always been  f  fortunate enough to wake up before its elongated, sharp fingers reached for me.

A familiar hell indeed, but hell all the same because no joyous dream is too long and no nightmare is short enough. Thus, an extra set of claustrophobic seconds went by in a manner that felt like manually counting each falling grain in an hourglass. Nonetheless, I was able to move my pinky fingers, although moving them while in that state always felt like it required all of my tangible focus and then some.

All while my eyes were laser-focused on the bogeyman whose truculent face had now partially abandoned the darkness and was instead dimly lit by the moonlight cascading through the window. But not to worry, even though my heart may have very well been on the verge of collapsing every time that devil took another step forward, there was light at the end of the tunnel since everything was going down as usual. I could feel my body steadily recovering the most precious scantlings of consciousness, which meant that I was at the cusp of finalizing this ever distressful process. A few moments later, I exhaled the densest petrification of agony one could ever withhold, followed by a cathartic inhale while I closed my irritated eyes in an apotheosis of relief.

At long last, I managed to recover my indispensable consciousness, thus bringing the nightmare to a prosaic end, or so I thought. Just as if Poe himself had delivered the pen and ink of my terror, I reopened my eyes to a vivid Beksinski painting that maimed the latent heart of my senses in a fleeting blink of an eye. Both escaping and screaming proved to be futile, for the certainty of my Kafkaesque demise had rendered my body soulless and my screeches were turned hollow by the wolflike winds of that most wretched midwinter night. This last time around, my ocean of nightmares had spilled over into reality.

_____________________________________________________________

Leonardo J. Espinal is a twenty-one-year-old Honduran, bilingual writer who is currently undergoing his bachelor studies in Argentina. As of today, he possess ten literary publications (articles, essays, and short stories) in American, Spanish, and Argentine magazines. To find more of his work please see: https://www.flowcode.com/page/leonardoespinal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://drive.google.com/open?id=12vo_cARkcmlbeKerhGTJjRXX6d19KOI0

 

Merrill’s Musical Musings: Night Terror

This month’s artist, Night Terror, has recently released their debut on Bandcamp titled Freak on the Inside. It is the product of the artist’s personal experiences and reflects the current darkness in our world. The tracks all consist of straightforward techno beats with some original effects and sounds. I can appreciate where the artist went lyrically and it’s obvious that he poured his heart into this project. Fans of Dark Pop duo Provision and Palace of Tears, who were both previously reviewed on HorrorAddicts.net, will vibe with Night Terror and appreciate tracks like “Falling Time” and “Get Out Of This Place.” Some artists are bravely taking on our pandemic world through their craft and Night Terror chooses to explore the reality we’re living in both literally and figuratively. Their song “Viral Attack” will appeal to those searching for answers during this dark time. 

Thank you all for continuing to support art and music. These uncertain times have forced many artists to re-evaluate their choice to pursue their passion and it’s my hope that most will make it through and continue to create and rebuild. If you like the music we’ve shared here on HorrorAddicts.net, please support the artists. Whether you purchase their work physically in stores or digitally by buying albums on Bandcamp or the iTunes store, it goes a long way toward ensuring we have their art to soothe us and challenge us for years to come. If you have questions or comments, don’t hesitate to comment below or contact me through HorrorAddicts.net. I love hearing from fellow music fans. Thanks for checking out my reviews this season and Stay Tuned for more Merrill’s Musical Musings…

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: On Location: The 26th Annual H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival!

 

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Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.

When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net

She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.

http://wordsmithcrystalconnor.com

http://www.facebook.com/notesfromtheauthor

Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! from Podiobooks.com and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!” 

http://podiobooks.com/title/and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after

Gypsy Mob : Episode 13/ A Cocktail for Tony

Bianca was wrapped in a heavy mass, her eyes staring without seeing over a heaving shoulder. Sounds filtered into her brain, the sounds of sobbing and meaningless words. Time and time again, she heard her name, first in a womans voice, over and over. Then, a mans voice, whispering her name in a breathy, disbelieving way. The voices seemed to ring a bell, but she could not attach any importance to them. She drifted off into the darkness, neither knowing nor caring if she would ever come out of it, aware only that she had made it home. Not that it mattered.

When her eyes next opened, she was lying in a soft bed and a cool cloth was bathing her face. Remembering the last time she was laying on a bed and what happened, she snapped fully awake, her heart hammering. The cloth jerked away from her face as the shadowy figure sitting beside her gave a start. Bianca began scrabbling at the sides of the bed, forgetting she had only one hand with which to grip. She bumped the wall beside the bed and white-hot fire shot up her arm from where her hand had lived for her whole life. She gave a little scream and moaned as cruel electricity seemed to sizzle up and down her arm.

There were words coming through the pain. She heard her name again in that female voice that rang a bell, louder this time.

Bianca, Bianca, shhyoure homeyoure safe

Home. She seemed to recall having made it back there before the world went black. This bed was far too soft to be the one at the Gypsy encampment. There had been no cool cloth bathing her forehead there; the only bathing of any sort she had experienced in that tent had been between clients and she had done it to herself, not paying any particular attention to anything above the waist. The smell was different here. Her brain tried to register it and slowly it leaked through to her consciousness.

The smell was her.

Her things, her room, her house, her mother.

Home.

Mommy! Bianca screamed, throwing herself into her mothers arms. Mommy, mommy, mommy Her stump bumped into her mothers back, leaving a red stain. Her cries of pain mingled with her tears of happiness and relief.

Lucia wrapped her arms around her daughter, holding her close, tears of her own coursing down her cheeks. She stroked the bedraggled hair as the girl clutched at her, seeming to never let her go.

Hush now, Bi, she said, her voice shaking. Youre home now, youre safeshhh

Over her crooning, she could hear the approach of Gilettis vehicle as it turned down the drive and approached the house. The engine sound died and a car door slammed. From down the hallway, she heard the sound of the front door banging open. Bianca heard it too and froze against her mother, silent tears streaming down her face as she shook with the effort of containing her sobs.

Its all right, Bi, Lucia said, attempting to disentangle her daughter. Its just your father.

Biancas eyes were still wide as she looked up at her mother. I dont think its him anymore she managed to choke out.

Footsteps sounded down the hallway, steady and purposeful. Lucia told herself she was being silly, that Biancas hysteria had just infected her. Why would she be feeling this sense of dread at the sound of her husbands approach?

The footsteps stopped at Biancas door. There was a moment of silence where all that could be heard was the breathing in the bedroom, Biancas short shaky gasps and Lucias, growing more uneasy. Then the door crashed open.

The silhouette of Don Giletti framed in the doorway with a machine gun in his arms froze them both for only half a second. Lucia had been married to the Don long enough to be able to read the look in his eyes. It galvanized her to her feet, just as the barrel of the gun swung around and began to fire.

The bullets ripped into Lucias body, spinning her around as the muzzle blasts lit up the dark room in a hellish strobe. Gilettis face was illuminated, its blankness terrifying Bianca as much as the sight of her mother being torn to pieces by automatic weapon fire. There was nothing of the man who had roared with laughter as he carried her around the mansion piggyback as a child. This man had dead eyes, showing no emotion as he continued to pump rounds into the shredded piece of meat that had once been his wife. Bianca cowered in the corner of the bed farthest from the door, attempting to make herself as small as possible, her ears ringing from the gunfire, her eyes squeezed tightly shut.

Suddenly, it stopped. Her belabored eardrums could barely make out the sound of a metallic clicking coming from the gun her father held. Opening one eye the barest amount, she saw him staring blankly at what used to be her mother. Gunsmoke filled the room. His finger tightened again on the trigger, creating that clicking sound. Mercifully, the gun was empty. It clattered to the floor, coming to rest with the muzzle facing Lucias obliterated face.

Oh, mommy!

Giletti shifted his dead gaze to his daughter cowering on the bed, seeming to regard her thoughtfully. Her lips moved, producing a tiny squeak that her ears could scarcely register.

Daddy, please

He unbuttoned his sport coat and reached inside, toward his left armpit. Bianca had seen her daddy around the mansion enough times in just his shirtsleeves to know what lived under his left arm in a shoulder holster. She began to push with her legs, trying to get farther away from him as her voice mewled protestations. Daddy, no, please no daddy

Giletti unfastened the holster snap and pulled out his handgun.

No, Daddy, dont

He clicked the safety off and racked the slide.

Daddy, please

He leveled it at Biancas face.

Daddy PLEASE! she screamed.

There was a moment where she thought she had gotten through to him.

Oh, thank you, God, thank you for

Then there was one more explosion, and all that Bianca Giletti had ever been or hoped to be was splattered across the wall above her bed.

Tony the Nose drove up to the mansions driveway and parked beside the bosss car. Its door was hanging open and it was parked at an angle at odds with the neat parking job usually done. Tony regarded this as well as the keys hanging in the ignition for a moment before getting out and walking to the front door, which was ajar. His big feet made the tiniest of crunches on the gravel drive, belying his massive bulk. Reaching the doorway, he smelled the acrid stink of gunsmoke. Pulling out his own sidearm, he held it down by his thigh, pointed at the ground, his finger on the trigger. Entering the mansion, he hugged the wall as he made his way silently down the hallway toward the room Bianca occupied. There were feet protruding from the doorway, clad in shoes favored by the boss. They were still, their toes facing down. Their owner was lying face down in the doorway, his upper half inside the room. Gunsmoke drifted lazily out of the room. Tony holstered his weapon and walked up to the doorway, no longer making any effort to conceal his approach. It didnt matter anymore.

Bianca was leaning against the wall, what remained of her head cocked forward, her chin on her chest, her skull an open, empty bowl, still dripping. The wall behind her was riddled with bullet holes and chunky red and grayish-white material was oozing down the wall from a large splash mark. Tonys eyes traveled slowly from this grisly sight to the body on the ground in front of the bed which bore only a slight resemblance to the bosss wife. A large pool of blood was forming around her, and Tony was glad he wouldnt have to bother cleaning that one up. Blood soaking into a carpet was a bitch. The third figure in the room was the boss, his head blown open on one side, a spray of brain matter coating the wall to his left, his gun still clenched in his hand.

Tony looked at the sad tableau for a few moments before turning and going down the hall to the bosss study. Opening the door, he went to the safe and punched in the code on its keypad. Don Giletti would have been furious if he knew that Tony was aware of the safes combination, but Don Giletti would not be feeling any way about anything, ever again. Twisting the handle, Tony opened the safe and, pushing aside the box of fine cigars Giletti favored, began pocketing the stacks of cash. He filled all the pockets in his suit coat and pants pockets with bundles of bills, indulging in only a moments regret that he didnt have larger pockets to accommodate more of them. That was all right though; his years of unwavering loyalty to the Giletti family had made him a very rich man. This was just a bonus.

Turning from the safe, he picked up the cigar Giletti had sitting on his desk. Producing a lighter, he set the tip aflame before the tobacco began to smolder gently, its scent mixing with the gunsmoke that had begun to filter through the house in a very pleasant manner. Tony thought that if they could manufacture a cigar that smelled like that, he would actually start smoking them. As it was, he puffed just long enough to ensure the ember was well lit and would not go out before placing it carefully on the windowsill so the ember was touching the gauzy curtains Lucia Giletti had selected for all the rooms in the mansion. They began to smolder, their own smoke adding to the haze and making the smell much less pleasant. That was all right though; he wouldnt be here much longer.

Going to his own quarters, he gathered what few items of value he possessed and deposited them in a leather valise. Pulling one of the curtains down from the windows, he ripped a long shred off of it. Opening a bottle of the rum he favored, he stuffed the shred of curtain into its neck. Pulling a few inches out of the bottle, he stepped back into the hallway. The flames had caught in the curtains and he could hear the crackle and roar of a bonfire coming from the bosss study. Holding his breath, Tony stepped into the office for the last time, just long enough to touch the wick of the Molotov cocktail he had made to one of the flames licking its way eagerly around the walls of the office.

Holding the flaming bottle away from his face, he strode down the hallway towards the main door, hurtling it into Biancas room with an almost contemptuous flick of his wrist. The bottle exploded against the far wall, sending flaming liquid splattering all over the room.

Immediately the flames took hold of the fabric in the room. Wall hangings, curtains, bedding and clothing caught fire as though they had been waiting for the opportunity. With the fire in the office now roaring and advancing down the hallway, Tony retreated to the front door, locking it behind him as he slammed it. Smoke belched out of the windows as he tossed the valise into what was now his car. Turning the key and dropping the shift lever into drive, he paused for just a moment, looking at the mansion one last time. He let out what might have been a sigh.

Squealing the car around in a circle, he pointed its nose up the driveway. Toward the future.

THE BIGFOOT FILES/Chapter Thirty-Five: The Darkness in the Pines

 

The Darkness in the Pines by Harlan Graves is a creature-feature novella about a grieving Vietnam veteran named Howard Ward. Released in May, the story is Book 1 of 3 in a series titled The Beast of Fallow Pines. The Fallow Pines is a mysterious place with a history of missing lumberjacks and miners from the 1900s.

The first sentence – “Howard Ward had seen some shit” – is a perfect opener because it implies Howard is about to see more that he hadn’t seen before. And boy, does he ever.

Howard is an aging former soldier who lives in an isolated cabin amid a primeval forest known as Fallow Pines. Still bitter about the tragic death of his wife, Howard lives a loner’s survivalist life.

The story begins with Howard’s discovery of a decapitated bear soon followed by chickens with their heads torn off, then the inevitable footprint we suspect is Bigfoot’s.

The author Graves incorporates Howard’s Vietnam experience through past memories and dreams without killing the suspense in the present. Graves’ writing conveys the foreboding sense of walking through the woods alone, using the snap of a twig or the silence to effectively heighten the tension.

“The wind hissed through the pines, the branches rasping like dry bones. It carried with it the faint scent of decay.”

Howard’s first encounter with the Beast is watching “a huge black shape” drag away one of his deer kills.

When Howard visits a surplus store to buy a bear trap, the proprietor Tom warns him.

“Careful up there, Howard,” Tom said. “I overheard on my scanner just a week ago how a camper out Fallow Creek way was mauled in his sleeping bag. … Bear ate him like a burrito.”

Of course, Howard is stubborn, at one point telling the darkness, “These are MY woods.”

However, Bigfoot disagrees.

The Darkness in the Pines delivers not one but two epic one-on-one battles between Howard and the Beast. Howard seems to channel Arnold Schwarzenegger from the 1987 film Predator, using his soldier skills to try and kill the Beast.

The three titles in The Beast of Fallow Pines series have generated more than 220 reviews on Amazon averaging 4.2 stars out of 5. I enjoyed Book 1 enough to read the rest of the series. I think fans of cryptid horror will enjoy it, too.

NEXT UP: Chapter Thirty-Six: The Beast of Fallow Pines. I review the 2021 novella by Harlan Graves.

Book Review: Vacuity and Other Tales

Hello Addicts,

This month, I had the distinct pleasure of reading the 3rd annual horror anthology from Tell-Tale Publishing, “Vacuity and Other Tales.” This collection of short stories run the gamut of scary stories and does so very successfully. I found all of the stories fun and exciting, with enough variety to give a palate-cleansing from the more blood-chilling stories at the right moments.

The book begins with the most intriguing story of the collection, “Vacuity.” Julie Duplantier is a young schizophrenic woman whose mental voices take great pleasure in the slow, methodical ways she tortures and murders others. We also see things from the point of view of her doctor, Christian Andreu. His solution is to perform a risky surgery that will silence the voices forever, which he is successful in doing. What everyone realizes, much too late, is that the voices kept something much worse at bay. If you like your stories drenched in blood, this one is for you.

There are stories of missed love during the Crusades, government-sponsored experiments on vampires, a modern take on Hansel and Gretel, and a curse that nearly brings about the pumpkin apocalypse. There is a little bit of everything for everyone in this book. I especially recommend this collection for those cold and stormy nights ahead.

Until next time, Addicts.

D.J. Pitsiladis

Book Review: Followers by Christina Berglin

Review by: B. Nguyen-Calkins

Internet privacy is a scary concept. Anybody, with enough effort, could find your name, photos of you, and even past locations you’ve visited. If somebody wanted to, I’m sure it’d be easy to… you can fill in the blank with any horrifying end. Stalking, online harassment, or worse. Why are we online at all?! 

Followers expresses the benefits of online friendships and social media. When Sydney, a horror movie enthusiastic and reviewer, is isolated and hit with constant passive-aggressive comments from her personal acquaintances, she instead goes online where people may appreciate the details of the genre (however shallow they may be). She kindles relationships online that have meaning to her personal life. And, ultimately, she sees her blog as an escape from her dead-end job. 

With the benefits of an online life comes risk. Are those often-shallow interactions even reading her work? Do those relationships have any substance? Will she ever make a living as a reviewer? Can Sydney live with the constant horror that runs beneath the surface of her everyday online interactions? And what if those interactions meddle within her personal life? The buildup brewed constantly as I found myself questioning each of the people in her life. This justified paranoia ends up hitting Sydney in the face as she struggles with the balance of digital and personal.

The novel works as a contemporary horror piece on multiple levels. Horror fans will look out for references to the genre as a mental trivia. My personal favorite was when characters review independent horror films at a festival. Holistically, the book is also meta-horror. One element of examining the genre explores the guilt of the “final girl,” especially in a progressively worsened situation. Who could be hurt because she posted clickbait photos for her online blog? How much information is too much to reveal to a virtual stranger? Can Sydney handle the repercussions of a demented stalker?

Strap yourself in and be sure to finish the book, because it truly thrives when Sydney finds herself in her own Scream. Sure, the book is initially carried by its prose and its likable (and unlikeable) characters. Christina Bergling sprinkles some interesting prose inside some dialogue and monologues and plays with some of the reader’s pent-up tension. But while the beginning may seem like a story on another shelf, the story’s resolution rightfully places it as a suspenseful, introspective horror. Followers is a worthwhile read, especially for fans of horror cinema. Its tension builds continuously throughout the story, and it extends today’s horror of digital social lives. The story is finished with some jaw-dropping scenes that seemingly come out of nowhere. It felt like Bergling was biding her time to lull the readers in while she waited for the opportune moment to strike.

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: Achoura

 

Plotline: Four childhood friends are reunited when one of them surfaces after twenty years, forcing them to confront a creature straight out of a spine-chilling Moroccan legend.

Who would like it: Urban Legends, international films, family horror, creature features, unpredictable endings

High Points: This movie is super good without being downright terrorizing. This would be the perfect movie for a teenaged slumber party

Complaints:

Overall: I loved it, it stressed me out! lol

Stars: 4

Where I watched it: VOD

 

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Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.

When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net

She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.

http://wordsmithcrystalconnor.com

http://www.facebook.com/notesfromtheauthor

Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! from Podiobooks.com and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!” 

http://podiobooks.com/title/and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after

Free Fiction : El Dorado by Tawana Watson

I didn’t sleep well last night.  I have so much on my mind that turning off my thoughts was impossible, so another sleepless night. 

I can’t believe how bad my insomnia has gotten over the past few weeks and there is not a medication that my doctor has given me that works, it seems sleep for me is a distant memory.  I turn and look at my clock that is sitting on my bedside table, I have to squint to see the time, just like I feared it was time to get up.

Every day is the same thing. I get up, get dressed for work, and leave the house forgetting my breakfast.  However, today, as I drove down the street something inside me, told me that today was not going to be a typical day.

I got to the office with two minutes to spare, I sat at my desk in my small cubicle, and as my computer powered on the word El Dorado appeared on the screen.  I stood up and quickly looked around at my coworkers as they did their morning routine and nothing seemed out of place so I sat back in my seat.  

The word El Dorado glared back at me, so I started pressing keys to try to remove it from the screen but nothing worked. It just stayed there.  After unsuccessfully trying to remove the word with my keyboard skills, I ducked down under my desk and unplugged my computer.  The computer turned off and after I counted 20 I plugged the computer backup and turned it back on.  Unplugging it did the trick and I got to work on my everyday task list.

My day was dull and boring, I thought as I sat at the traffic light heading home. My whole life is dull and boring I thought as the light turned green and I continued on my way.  As I pulled into my yard I noticed a package at my front door, it was strange because I was not expecting anything. So before pulling completely into my yard I put my car in park, got out, and went to retrieve the package.  As I bent down to pick the package up I noticed in red bold letters someone wrote across the top of the package the word El Dorado.

Once in my house, I dropped everything except the package at the back door.  I went into the dining room, sitting the package on the table before going back into the kitchen to get a knife so that I could open it.  At first, I had a strong urge not to open the package, to just throw it away but curiosity got the best of me.  I took the knife and opened the package. 

The only thing I found was a folded piece of paper.  I  took the paper and opened it.  What was written on it gave me chills, it read;

Once you start this journey you can never turn back. There’s much more to life than the things you can see, and to have a glorious life all you have to do is find El Dorado

There are those words again; El Dorado. 

I dropped the paper and before it hit the floor it was consumed with fire.  I stood there in awe for a second or two but then shook it off and remembered I haven’t slept and I could be in the middle of a dream.  So I pulled myself together and continued with my evening.

I turned my bed down and prepared myself for another sleepless night. My cell phone which I left downstairs began to ring. I hesitated about going downstairs to get it but every time it stopped ringing, it would start again so I went to get it.  

When I reached my phone, I saw that the caller id didn’t show a valid number but a weird number of all 6s.  I pushed the talk button, holding the phone to my ear, and before I said hello I heard a voice  in a low whisper say, 

“You can’t turn back, you have to find El Dorado.” 

I dropped the phone and as the phone hit the floor it started ringing again. I cautiously picked the phone back up and held it so gently, taking the phone into the kitchen, then putting the phone in the sink. As I ran water on it, the ringing faded until it completely stopped. 

I started back to my room and as I went up the stairs I had a sense that I was no longer alone. As I reached my room, I saw a sight that I didn’t expect. 

There I was laying in the bed, and my wrist had been cut. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at and as I stood there trying to figure out what was going on, a hand touched my shoulder and a voice said in a whisper, 

“It’s time. I am here to take you to  El Dorado.”

Nightmare Fuel: Tagus, ND

 

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tagus

Hello Addicts,

Earlier this season, I told you about a haunted location right here in North Dakota, White Lady Lane in Walhalla. This week, I want to tell you about another haunted spot in the Peace Garden State rumored to be one of the many Gateways to Hell. Join me on a Nightmare Fueled trip to Tagus, ND.

North Dakota has its fair share of ghost towns. One such town is Tagus, located forty miles west of one of the larger cities in the state — Minot. Founded in 1900, Tagus hit its peak population of 140 in 1940 but has since declined to only a handful of people living there and no open businesses. In 2001, the sole remaining church burned down, possibly due to vandalism. A plaque stands where the building once stood.

It is inside this church that the rumored gateway is. According to the stories, the church was home to Satanic rituals and sacrifices, both human and animal. The stories chronicle bestiality, cannibalism, an upside-down cross on the door, and a stairway that led to the bowels of Hell itself. After the fire, the stairs became filled with dirt to hide their location, but if you stand quietly in the right spot, you can still hear the screams of pain from the tortured souls. Other stories document hellhounds lying in wait to tear your heart out, a phantom train running through town, and a glowing tombstone. The town’s abandoned homes are not spared from the legends either, with people reporting weeping, wailing, and the cry of an infant off in the distance.

All of this sounds like it comes from horror movies or the scariest of books. There may be something to the stories, or they could be urban legends shared to scare around a campfire. Based on pictures of the town, there is a creepy vibe given off. If and when I can make a trip to Tagus, I will certainly share anything that happens there. Until then, the legends of the town will have to tide us over.

Until next time, Addicts.

D.J.

Free Fiction : It Came To The Window by J.S. O’Connor

“I’ve seen it, Jim. I swear to God, I’ve seen it. Get me a drink to settle my nerves. I would prefer whiskey, but I’ll settle for anything strong and keep them coming. What’s that? I don’t know what ‘it’ was or is, but I’ve seen it just outside my window and I don’t think this is the first time it came to the house, but this is the first time I saw it. Another please, no ice this time and I’ll tell you the story. 

“It was nearly a week back when I first saw the tracks walking my property after work. I guess you could describe them as a large chicken with talons the size of a pocketknife. They were up near the tree line in some mud. Didn’t think anything of it. See a lot of tracks living that close to the woods. I believe that was a Monday. Tuesday the tracks were by the garage, but I still didn’t think anything of it. It wasn’t until I heard it. That’s when I thought something strange was happening.  

“Give me another Jim. Nothing like a good whiskey to settle the nerves. I’ll tell you what I heard. 

“It must have been Wednesday night. It was a hard day of work up at the factory and when I got home, I soon found myself at the bottom of a bottle. I’m not proud to say, but the bottom of the bottle is where I find myself most nights. Well for the last two years … but I don’t need to tell you that story. I reckon the entire town knows about it. But it’s the truth. Sitting by the fire in my chair, I remember it being pretty cold and I fell asleep. Don’t know what time Kirby started barking, must have been close to eleven-thirty or midnight and the dog is just sitting there going crazy at the screen door. 

“Got to admit something Jim, I had a funny feeling that night but I played it off that I had too much to drink. I got up from my chair and stumbled to the back door. That damn dog shot off into the night barking. Didn’t think nothing of the dog running off, it’s what he does, and he comes back when he’s good and ready. But that’s when I heard it. I swear, Jim, I don’t know how to describe it. But I heard it. Now I know what you’re thinking, but I have heard every animal from those woods. The sound echoed through the darkness. It’s been three days and I still haven’t seen Kirby. Didn’t sleep the rest of the night. Just sat by the fire with my rifle. 

“Next morning before work I went looking for Kirby. Nothing. No trace. It was like the damn dog just disappeared. No dog tracks. No weird chicken tracks. It was like the night before never happened. When I got home, I picked up where I left off looking for that dog. Still nothing. Didn’t sleep that night and had no bottle and no strange sounds. Everything was silent. 

“Sorry  I’m shaking. No more Jim I think that was my last tonight. Four is enough. 

“Last night was when I saw it. It was at my window, Jim. I sit here not wanting to believe it myself. I had my bottle and my rifle, and I sat myself by the fire. The night was getting late, and my eyes were getting heavy. I must admit that the whiskey kept me from sleep’s grasp and that’s when I saw it. It was looking through my window. Its eyes were a pale blue, I don’t know how else to describe them. Its face was a light grey, but it had no mouth or nose it was just blank. 

“I jumped from my chair, the bottle broke on the floor, and I fired at it. My aim was off and the glass shattered just above its head. But I scared it off, and I ran towards the window. I could see it clearly even though it was pitch black. It ran on all fours like some damn animal, but it wasn’t no animal. Its body was the same color, that light grey, but the body looked more human than the face. I watched it until it got to the tree line and there it stopped and looked back at me.  

“You must think I’m crazy for telling you this and if you don’t, then what I’ll say next will make you think I’m crazy. It spoke to me. How? I don’t know the thing had no mouth, but I heard it. Or maybe it was all in my head, but I heard the word inside enter my brain. I don’t know what it means and I don’t think I do. Then it disappeared off into the woods, and I didn’t stay long either. Got in the truck and drove away, stayed the rest of the night at the motel – most of today too, now that I think about it. Been thinking long and hard about what it told me last night and I got me a feeling that when I get home it will be waiting for me inside my home. 

“Here’s the money for the drinks, Jim. Thanks for listening to an old drunk ramble. Be seeing you soon, maybe.”  

Gypsy Mob :Episode 12/ Conflagration

Zara had left the Italian bitch in her tent, securely tied, only to step outside the tent to see a conflagration in progress. Wide-eyed, she watched flames lick up the base of the nearest tent until it was engulfed in flames, a process which took only seconds. For a moment, she was paralyzed, watching her family’s property go up in smoke. Only for a moment, though, then her paralysis broke and she looked around to see the rest of her clan reacting similarly. 

WHAT ARE YOU DOING!” she screamed, her hoarse voice scaling down a few notches as her vocal cords ruptured further. “PUT THEM OUT!”

Galvanized into action by her cries, the surrounding Gypsies scattered, running for water, for dirt, for anything they could think of. Such a thing had never been visited upon their camp, and they were largely running in circles in a blind panic. One of the huge Gypsies regained his head first and began organizing a bucket line to the rusty pump situated in the field nearby where they had pitched their tents. By then, the flames had reached high enough on most tents that any firefighting activities were largely symbolic. 

It was as the first few buckets were thrown on the fires that the explosions ripped through the night, sounding to Zara like a string of firecrackers on steroids, as though the crackers had been replaced by dynamite and the fuses shortened to nothing. Indeed, that is what she thought was occurring until she saw some of her clan jerk upright in mid-run and fall to the ground, red mist spraying from multiple wounds in their bodies.  

“GET DOWN!” she bellowed, blood spraying from her throat as she lapsed into a bout of coughing which brought her to her knees just as a hail of bullets passed over her. One of the Gypsies right in front of her was not so lucky, blood and brain matter from his ruptured skull splattering all over her. The rest of her clan hit the ground as bullets whizzed overhead. 

“Keep going!” she roared between coughs as the bullets ceased for the moment, waving her arm in the direction of the pump. “Keep buckets going or we are doomed!” Her throat felt as though it were on fire as well but she continued screaming. “The buckets! Now! NOW!!”

The silhouettes of the clan began creeping from their prone positions, to the pump and back toward the fires, struggling to keep a low profile while carrying buckets of water. Over the next few minutes, the lack of gunfire made some of them raise their heads and stop crouching as they scurried to and fro, before machine gunfire lit up the night, this time coming from the middle of the camp. Many of the Gypsies dropped to the ground, riddled with bullets, but this time Zara could see the source of the chaos. A large man with a huge gun strode up the midway, raking everything that moved with fire, the explosions from the barrel lighting up the night and providing her a clear target. 

With rage burning in her, Zara waited until the next pause in fire before striding into the midway, her hand raised in the direction of the gunman. He was faced away from her, the muzzle of his huge gun turned to one side as he hunted for more targets. 

“PIG!” she screamed. As he began turning in her direction, she raised a ragged fingernail to her arm and slashed it open, blood dripping to the dirt as she locked eyes with him, bringing him to a halt. Speaking in ancient Rom, she spoke words she had long known but never said, words that she had been warned never to speak, words she had feared but always longed to recite. The words which would turn a man’s rage and hatred inward and destroy himself. 

The gunman’s eyes grew glassy and the barrel of his gun dropped toward the ground, his eyes never leaving hers. She finished speaking and waved her bloody arm, red flecks flying in his direction. Without another word or shot fired, the gunman turned and retreated down the midway, his steps purposeful, machine gun held at his side, facing down. As he left, the energy went out of her and she crumpled to the ground, breathing heavily as her family’s tents burned around her. 

Tony the Nose had worked his way around the outskirts of the Gypsy camp, setting fire to the tents doused by the Giletti brothers and spreading gasoline to those they had not yet reached by the time the gunfire began. Recognizing the sound of the light machine gun, he could tell that Don Giletti had at last freed the weapon from its mount in the mansion’s gun room and had come for the Gypsies. Falling to the ground, Tony worked his way outside of the gun’s radius of fire, outside the tents that were being shredded by the gun’s bullets. The screams and constant fire did not bother him in the slightest. He had brought about far worse in his time as the Don’s enforcer. 

When the gunfire ceased, Tony waited until he was sure that the gun had gone silent. From his prone position, he could see the bulky figure with the gun walking slowly out of the Gypsy’s camp, back to the vehicle Tony had spent countless hours maintaining and upgrading at the Don’s request. When the silhouette had rejoined the vehicle and sped away, Tony regained his feet, listening to the cries from within the Gypsy camp as he walked toward the nearest tent that had been doused with gasoline and had not yet caught fire. Pulling a lighter from his pocket, he scratched the flint. Flame leaped to the mouth of the lighter and he held it to the base of the tent. The flame licked for a second before igniting the gasoline fumes and licking around the tent with startling speed. Not hesitating, Tony moved to the next tent, and the next, circling the camp until all the tents were once more ablaze. What little progress the Gypsies had made fighting the fires the Gilettis had set earlier was immediately eclipsed. Occupied as they were by their wounded and the carnage visited upon them by Don Giletti’s lesser henchmen, these new flames had surrounded them and were burning inward toward the center of the camp before its inhabitants were able to do more than register their existence. 

From beneath his tuxedo coat, Tony produced an enormous weapon, capable of raining destruction paralleled by the machine gun brought by the Don. Unlike the Don, Tony did not walk down the center of the midway, presenting a clear target. He moved around the flaming tents, waiting for a clean shot at the Gypsies he could see silhouetted by the flames. A quick burst of extremely accurate fire sent the nearest knot of Gypsies to the ground, screaming. By the time any of the survivors reached the corpses and began looking for the source of the shots, Tony had already moved halfway around the circumference of the camp and was dealing death to the newest targets which presented themselves. 

He continued in this fashion until he had circled the burning camp twice without spying anything alive at which to shoot. Following Don Giletti’s footsteps, he strode up the remains of the midway, kicking aside bodies that stood in his way until he reached what had once been the Pleasure Tent. All around him, flames reached high into the sky, licking at the stars as the tents burned to the ground. There he found Zara, her throat ruptured by one of his bullets, attempting to staunch the flow of blood as she painfully pushed herself away from his approach. 

She tried to speak, raising the hand which was not pressed to her throat as blood poured from her open mouth. “You…from…hell,” she rasped, her once light voice now reduced to a liquid gargle.

Tony raised a mammoth foot and kicked her in the head, knocking her to the ground. Before she could stir again, the barrel of his weapon had obliterated her skull in a spray of blood and brain. 

Wiping the matter from his face, Tony strode from the camp, his skin stinging from the heat. As he stood by his vehicle and surveyed the camp, he could not see anything that was not aflame. Pulling another gas can from the trunk of the car, he cracked the vent and the nozzle before spinning like a shot-putter and throwing the can into the center of the conflagration. Upon hitting the ground, gas sprayed in all directions, further enraging the flames which had already taken hold. A miniature mushroom cloud rose from the impact point, the flames eagerly spreading to nearby tents and working their way outward, helped by the night’s breeze.

Without another look, Tony seated himself behind the wheel of his car and drove away from the burning Gypsy camp, headed for the Giletti mansion. 

Historian of Horror : The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization

Except for those living under a rock somewhere, everyone has at least heard of the Big Two comic book companies, if only peripherally. Marvel, with its Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the rest of the Avengers, and DC, with its Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and their associated Justice Leaguers. In those halcyon days of my misspent youth in the 1960s, during what comics fans now refer to as the Silver Age of Comics, there were several other purveyors of four-color delights of equal importance to me and my peers, publishers long vanished and forgotten by all but the most die-hard connoisseurs of the medium. There was the American Comics Group, publisher of the very first horror comic in the late 1940s, Adventures into the Unknown, and of the most powerful comic book character ever created, the redoubtable Herbie Popnecker. There was Charlton, home to a cluster of third-tier super-heroes and several not-altogether-terrible horror comics. Archie was still putting out the occasional super-hero comics starring the Mighty Crusaders, comprised of characters left over from their Golden Age titles of the 1940s, along with the supernatural adventures of Sabrina the Teen-Age Witch. Dell had a few speculative fiction titles coming out, as well as the first comic book to acknowledge the developing war in Southeast Asia that would soon divide the country. Etc., etc., etc.

My favorite, however, was Gold Key, especially their horror titles – Twilight Zone, Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, Ripley’s Believe it or Not True Ghost Stories. They also had the monopoly – inherited from Dell Comics in 1962 – on Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon characters and the various Tarzan titles, as well as television adaptations, including The Munsters, Bewitched, Dark Shadows, and Scooby-Doo. And Turok, Son of Stone, great fun with Native Americans vs. dinosaurs in a lost valley.

What a wonderful time it was to be a kid – and all for twelve cents a copy! I don’t even want to know what a comic book would cost these days.

Gold Key was the comic imprint of K.K. Publications, located in the exotically named Poughkeepsie, New York. K.K., in turn, as I only discovered years later, was owned by Western Publishing. Hence, the title of this piece. Although Western survived as a corporate entity until 2001, it had even by then long since been reduced by the vicissitudes of time and the vagaries of the publishing world to but a shadow of its former glory. At least, in so far as this child of the ‘Sixties is concerned. Its last surviving brand, the Little Golden Books, has been taken over by Penguin Random House. Gold Key itself went belly up in 1984.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

Late in the story of Gold Key, its titles began to appear under an alternative imprint, Whitman. Whitman is actually still around, but only puts out coin and stamp collecting materials. In its heyday, though, under the steady guidance of Western Publishing, Whitman was a major disseminator of multi-media publications. Big Little Books, small, boxy things about popular movie, radio, and comic strip characters, with alternative pages of simple drawings and simpler text, for example. Some of these are worth a fortune today. I have one of the early Lone Ranger editions I got for the relatively low price of $35 some years ago. Yeah, go ahead. Put a hand on it. You’re apt to draw back a nub.

Popular culture characters also appeared in a series of standard-sized hardbound books, also primitively illustrated. I have several based on comic strips that only lack dust jackets to be worthy of funding my retirement, Blondie and Red Ryder among them. There was also a series of mysteries featuring popular female movie stars of the time, including Judy Garland, Deanna Durbin, Shirley Temple, even Gene Tierney, and Dorothy Lamour. And so on.

But all that was well before my time. In my decade, the 1960s, Whitman revived the Big Little Books with fewer pages and more contemporary characters such as the Man from U.N.C.L.E, Major Matt Mason, and the Fantastic Four. They also put out a couple of horror anthologies I still own, books that have gone a long way towards shaping my interest in all things spooky.

Those titles, Tales to Tremble By and More Tales to Tremble By, both edited by Stephen P. Sutton, came out in 1966 and 1968, respectively. I acquired the second one first, in 1968, around my tenth birthday, under circumstances of which I have no recollection. The first one, according to a note I obligingly scribbled inside the front cover at the time for the benefit of my future self, I bought in Texas. That would be over the Thanksgiving holiday of 1969, when my Uncle Allen married my Aunt Jeannie in Plainview, not far from the New Mexico border. That was at the time the longest trip I had ever been on. I’ve since gone farther than that. Don’t recall picking up anything as cool as Tales to Tremble By in St. Petersburg, Russia, though. I did get my wife a replica Fabergé egg for her birthday. She seemed to like it.

Anyhow, the books. By sometime in the 1950s, Whitman had done way with paper dust jackets and started putting out their books with laminated painted covers. I have a couple of Tarzans from that period. The practice continued for the rest of the company’s run. For all I know, their numismatic stuff comes the same way. Not being a numismatist, I have no idea. I only collect coins up until the point that it’s time to convert them into folding green to be spent upon trivialities like food, clothing, and shelter. And books. Lots and lots of books.

More Tales to Tremble By was not the first scary anthology I had read. My elementary school library had a volume of short stories I’d devoured at least a year before. All I remember of it was that it was a hardback book and old even then, probably from the 1930s or 1940s. Alas, the school has long since been sold off by the City of Nashville and absorbed into the David Lipscomb University system. I drive by every so often and experience sadness. 

I miss that book.

Anyhow. THIS book. The table of contents is like a Hall of Fame of short horror tales and writers of the same. To whit — 

“The Red Lodge” by H. Russell Wakefield.

Sredni Vashtar” by Saki (H.H. Munro)

Thurnley Abbey” by Perceval Landon

God Grante That She Lye Still” by Lady Cynthia Asquith

The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson

The Extra Passenger” by August Derleth

Casting the Runes” by M.R. James

The Book” by Margaret Irwin

 

“Casting the Runes”, by the way, was the basis for one of the greatest horror films of all time, 1957’s Curse of the Demon (entitled Night of the Demon in England). 

Every yarn here is a certified classic. The other one, the book from Texas, is likewise:

The Hand”, Guy de Maupassant

The Middle Toe of the Right Foot”, Ambrose Bierce

No. 1 Branch Line, The Signalman” (AKA “The Signal-Man”), Charles Dickens

Adventure of the German Student”, Washington Irving

“The Sutor of Selkirk”, Anonymous

The Upper Berth”, F. Marion Crawford

The Judge’s House”, Bram Stoker

Names to conjure with, surely. I anticipate that I shall devote a future column to each of the authors listed here in the future. Except of course for that Anonymous fellow. Can’t find a blessed thing about him. But the others, for sure.

I hope I live that long, anyhow.

There was at least one more horror anthology from Whitman, Ten Tales Calculated to Give You Shudders, edited by Ross R. Olney. It came out in 1972. My copy was originally owned by someone named Cindy, who seemed to enjoy writing her name out as it appears half a dozen times in various places. She also claimed to have been in love with Huey. I think I acquired it in an antique store when I was in college, but I’m not positive. Great stories in it, as well:

Sweets to the Sweet”, by Robert Bloch

The Waxwork”, by A.M. Burrage

Used Car”, by H. Russell Wakefield

The Inexperienced Ghost”, by H.G. Wells

The Whistling Room”, by William Hope Hodgson

The Last Drive”, by Carl Jacobi

The Monkey’s Paw”, by W.W. Jacobs

“Second Night Out”, by Frank Belknap Long

The Hills Beyond Furcy, by Robert G. Anderson

Floral Tribute”, by Robert Bloch. HIM again.

It’s a good book. I enjoy it. But, you know, it’s just not the same as the others. Not a treasured artifact of my childhood. I guess some things just remain more precious because of the context of their acquisition.

Anyhow. If it hasn’t happened before now, I encourage the populace to track down and read these tales. They are among the foundation stones of our genre, historically important, and wonderfully entertaining. Go, seek. You’ll be glad you did.

And so, until next time, mavens of the macabre…

Be afraid. 

Be very afraid.