Kidnapped! The Revival of the Psychological Horror Film by Sumiko Saulson

The Revival of the Psychological Horror Film

Many believed 2016 was hexed. A strange rise in celebrity deaths and rampant international terrorism reinforced the impression. There were viable explanations for the trends, such as Baby Boomers entering their golden years. Nonetheless, the superstition persisted.

The media responded with excessive coverage of real-life brutality. It often included graphic video imagery, such as ISIS executions. News footage became more violent than the latest episode of The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. To worsen matters, with the popularity of social media, people were getting instant updates on the world’s latest tragedies twenty-four seven. Oversaturated by non-stop coverage, our appetite for bloodthirsty gore-centered horror began to taper off. In theaters, we saw a resurgence of the psychological horror film in theaters. Torture porn like Purge: Election Year became harder to find. Creepy, suspenseful horror movies like as Lights Out and The Boy abounded.

Psychological horror relies on suspense and character development. It preys upon primitive fear of the unknown. Classic psychological horror films include Rosemary’s Baby, Psycho and Jacob’s Ladder. While not completely free of the gore and nerve-shattering jump cuts splatter films rely upon, these movies use mystery and dramatic tension to weave a sense of dread.

The VVitch, one of the most successful films of 2016, fits into this subgenre. It creates a chilling atmosphere by introducing supernatural elements gradually to build anticipation. It doesn’t rely on special effects for its punch. Using character behavior to convey danger, like The Shining and The Amityville Horror before it, the movie creates a portentous atmosphere before any real danger comes into play. Ouija: Origin of Evil is another psychological horror film which combines the suspense of psychological horror with more traditional creature makeup, special effects and sound effects. This is similar to classic supernatural thrillers such as The Exorcist, and The Omen

Not all psychological horror films are supernatural. Jordan Peele’s debut horror film Get Out combines science-fiction elements with horror, akin to The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Body Snatchers before it. Like many films in this subgenre, it involves mystery, placing a skeptical protagonist in an unnatural setting that prompts his investigation. In this film, a black man, Chris Washington, goes to meet his white girlfriend’s parents, who live in a gated community. As the audience follows the protagonist through this seemingly ordinary town, a series of surreal, strange events ensue. He notices something is very wrong with the people of the town, and the fabric of reality begins to unwind around him.

While some psychological horror movies such as The Forest and The Conjuring 2 are not very good, award-winning non-comedy horror tends to fall into this subgenre. Only 14 horror movies have ever won Academy Awards. Oscar-winning psychological horror films include Sleepy Hollow, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Misery, and Black Swan. They use careful plotting, excellent writing, and convincing acting to engage audiences instead of cheap thrills, gimmicks, and special effects.

 

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 About the Author: Sumiko Saulson is Sumiko Saulson is a horror, sci-fi and dark fantasy writer, winner of the StokerCon Scholarship from Hell and 2nd Place Carry the Light Sci-Fi Short Story Award. Born to African-American and Russian-Jewish parents, she is a native Californian and has spent most of her adult life in the Bay Area. She ranked 6th place in the Next Great Horror Writer Contest.

Kidnapped! The Rise of Count Slackula by Sumiko Saulson

The Rise of Count Slackula

Come here, one and all! Read for the first time anywhere the true and mysterious origins of the spooky supernatural mouse heroes known as the Mauskavelians. Here the amazing story of the undead superhero mouse Count Slackula.

Once upon a time, there were three laboratory mice. Their names were Mauskaveli, Petricio, and Rogue. The three lived together in a cage for so long that it became quite natural for them to snuggle up at night in a cuddle puddle. They were friends, and lovers, being three mice trapped together in a single cage. The only downside to their carefree life was the presence of annoying genetic research scientists who experimented on them day and night.

They experimented on Mauskaveli to see if they could give her super intelligence. She is now one of the smartest mice in the world. They worked on making Petricio highly sexually attractive and seductive – to other mice, that is. It’s a good thing they’re polyamorous because Petricio is a regular mouse Cassanova. Rumor has it scientists intended to use his musk for human perfumes someday. He didn’t look forward to being dissected. Rogue was originally a test subject for curing male pattern baldness, but the injections they gave him to try to regrow his hair had no effect on his bald spot. However, they did give him strange regenerative powers. His wounds began to heal on their own.

One day, the scientist’s formulas spilled into the bottom of the cage, causing a transmutation process in the uncleaned poop in the tray below. That process leads to the creation of a small, feces-based life form named Dooky. Dooky calls himself a cat-batz and insists that cat poop, not mouse poop, is his true origin.In their free time, the mice and their flying pet poop Dooky played games and pretended to be superheroes. But superheroes didn’t live in cages.

Mauskaveli knew they had to escape.

The three of them busted out of their cage one night and moved into a nice, warm storage room at a print factory. That’s where Mauskaveli formulated her plans to organize a rodent rebellion against the oppressive humans. They snuck in at night to print tiny comic books to educate other mice about the dangers of eugenics scientists and other anti-mouse forces.

Their little team of three was happy, listening to the radio, throwing dance parties for other mice, and loving each other. They called their band of mice Micki Menage. Soon after the escape, they found out that Mauskaveli was pregnant. They weren’t sure which one of them was the father, but they suspected Rogue-9 because the baby was born with the power of necromancy. They named their spawn DeathAngel, because he was a MauzReaper.

Unfortunately, Rogue-9 had a tragic mousetrap accident when DeathAngel was just a pup. The baby mouse shocked the grieving Mauskaveli and Petricio by resurrecting Rogue-9 from the dead. That’s how they found out he was a mouse necromancer.

I am Count Slackula,” Rogue-9 cried as he rose from the grave, “enemy of Nazi scientists and friend to the poor and disenfranchised.” From that day forward, he was known as Count Slackula.

Perhaps you would like to know more about Count Slackula, Mauskaveli, Petricio, DeathAngel the MauzReaper, Dooky the CatzBatz and friends you haven’t met yet like Tumimaus and Joe. Come one, come all, and read the Mauskaveli comic book. Color the Mauskaveli coloring book!

                                                                     Mauskaveli Online 

                                                                 Mauskaveli Facebook 

                                                                 Mauskaveli Comic Book (Print) 

                                    Mauskaveli Coloring Book (Print)

 

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  About the Author: Sumiko Saulson is Sumiko Saulson is a horror, sci-fi and dark fantasy writer, winner of the StokerCon Scholarship from Hell and 2nd Place Carry the Light Sci-Fi Short Story Award. Born to African-American and Russian-Jewish parents, she is a native Californian and has spent most of her adult life in the Bay Area. She ranked 6th place in the Next Great Horror Writer Contest.

Kidnapped! The Ride of Herne and Hespeth by Sumiko Saulson


This story was originally written for the Next Great Horror Writer contest’s campfire story contest. An excerpt ran on the Horror Addicts Podcast Episode 145, but this is the first print of the entire story. The story has since been edited to improve the transitions between the teacher’s storytelling and the student interruptions.

The Ride of Herne and Hespeth

What kind of mother sends her preteen to Halloween Camp? That’s what Denise wanted to know. She could have been trick or treating with friends. Instead, she was listening to spooky stories and having cook-outs. She gazed drowsily into the campfire. The marshmallow on the end of her stick was finally melted. She smashed it onto the square of chocolate atop the graham cracker in her hand. She was about to eat the S’more when Miss Foster’s shrill voice interrupted her reverie.

Children, gather round!” Miss Foster cried. “Pull close to the fire. Watch the sun end his nightly dance with the moon. Can you feel the chill night air rising around you, fog, cloaking your neck? Gather closer to the fire, and keep warm.”

There had been four children gathered round the fire before her rousing speech. Denise winced as a dozen more rowdy kids from Camp Mather crowded around the bonfire, bringing their hot dogs and body odor with them.

The story I am about to tell you is strange but true!” Miss Foster shouted. “The slaughterhouse down the road… did you know was haunted?

Almost on cue, a spine-chilling lowing sound pierced the bushes behind them. It sounded like a wounded man moaning in the distance. Lucy, the girl sitting next to her, jumped, knocking Denise’s S’more into the fire.

Damn it, Lucy!” Denise cried.

The groaning rose to a crescendo before dissipating in the wind. Towards the end, it became distinctly bovine. Could you hear the cows from the slaughterhouse a mile away?”

Sit still, Lucy! Don’t swear, Denise!” Miss Foster barked. “Why are you children always so unruly? Anyway, on with the story… where was I?

It’s haunted by ghosts, but not the ordinary kind. These are meaty ghosts, the skeletal remains of the dead cattle prepared for sale at your local delis and grocery outlets. The tattered bits of flesh that remain on the bone after the carving process begins to stink as the cow carcasses await burial in their mass graves. Have you ever smelled five day old hamburger? Naturally, the meat attracts maggots. The fervent breeding of insects causes the dead cow’s ribcage to rise and fall, almost as if breathing.”

Gross!” Wide-eyed Daniel squealed, quickly spitting out his hamburger.

Gross indeed,” Miss Foster approved. “And an affront to the vegan witch Hespeth. She walked by and saw the cow corpses writhing. Thinking a young calf survived, she ran into the deep pit full of rotting animals. But it was no calf! It was maggots! Some evolved into flies and few into her face. She was quite put off, and immediately hexed the place. She’d been meaning to for a while. Vegan witches hate slaughterhouses, don’t you know.”

If she loves animals so much, why doesn’t she love flies?” Lucy asked.

What she said,” Denise seconded. “Circle of life and all that. Doesn’t she respect it?”

She would respect you becoming part of the circle of life, meat eater!” Miss Foster hissed, pointing an accusatory finger at Daniel’s burger and Lucy’s hot dog.

That’s why she cast the spell… to put humans into their proper place on the food chain. The accursed skeletons lurched forth from their graves. The stink of rotting meat was cloying. A cloud of green malodorous E.coli bacterial surrounded them. Soon, the maggots began to hatch, sending out waves of hungry, carnivorous flies. The angry mob of dead cattle marched towards Camp Mather, looking for filthy meat eaters upon which to enact their revenge.

What’s wrong, Lucy! Are you having trouble eating your hot dog? You keep looking away as I tell this story, almost as if you feel guilty. There are some vegan marshmallow substitutes to roast if you’d prefer vegetarian S’mores…”

Lucy rolled her eyes and kept eating her hotdog.

Fixing her with an accusatory glare, Miss Foster continued. “Frothing at the mouth, hungry jaws snapping … Herne, the head of the heard, moved at preternatural speed towards Camp Mather.

Their first victim was Charlie, a hitchhiker eating a dollar menu hamburger. The herd charged towards him, hooves pounding the dust below. Herne snapped into Charlie’s flesh… angry molars munching his fingers like fresh cud. Green slime oozed from Herne’s open maw and dripping nostrils, mixing with Charlie’s blood as the fingers snapped one by one. The cannibal cow even ate the burger in his hand!

Why are you doing this to me?” Charlie screamed. But he got no answer. Cows can’t speak, you know. They lowed and mooed in laughter. Herne’s accomplices began with the man’s other arm. Soon, they’d ground him between their teeth into a human hamburger. Leaving the blood puddle that had recently been Charlie behind, the hungry pack of roving skeletal cows continued its rapid descent upon Camp Mather.

Am I making you nervous, Denise? Why did you stop eating your beef jerky?”

I’m not afraid of imaginary cow monsters,” Denise smirked.

You should be,” Miss Foster warned. “With no digestive tract to speak of, the herd had no way to digest the well-chewed bits of Charlie. Chunks of Charles fell out of their ribcages and down to the ground, trodden below angry hooves.

The stampede rushed into the side of a Safeway delivery truck, butting against it repeatedly until it toppled over. The driver’s blood-curdling screams were so ear-piercing they were heard by our camp director, Gwen Littleton. If you don’t believe my story is true, just ask Gwen!

Herne himself leaped into the cabin of the eighteen-wheeler and tore his blood-soaked teeth into the tattooed bicep of the driver, Daryl. The driver yelled, “What are you? Friggen zombie cows?” Irritated, Herne bit into the man’s juicy tongue, and yanking his foul-smelling head back, ripped it from his jaw.”

Miss Foster cast an irritated look towards Lucy once more. “Have you ever eaten cow tongue, Lucy? I see you’re eating an all-beef corndog. Do you think Herne would approve?”

Lucy shrugged, stuck her tongue out, and slathered ketchup and mustard on her corndog. Denise rolled her eyes.

Unlike Hespeth,” Miss Foster continued, “Herne was far from vegan. His large, square teeth sunk deep into the man’s lower lip, pulling at it rending flesh from bone. Blood spewed over the steering wheel as another stampeding cow slid it’s incisors into the driver’s jugular vein. The gushing maroon fountain pitched its moist payload with every breath, every heartbeat, and the smell of iron invading the cabin as the windshield was painted in clotted crimson.

The green bile and mossy rot of the original moldering cow flesh combined with fresh human blood and carnage as they tore in. One of Daryl’s extruded eyeballs detached from his head and plastered itself to the center of Herne’s skull. The feast was done. Like a festering wounded cyclops, Herne climbed out of the cabin and headed this way.

Herne’s spectral eyes glowed like goals in the dark. The moment his formed so did like eyes appear in the cattle behind him. Herne, the sole bull in the stampede, was an oddity for a slaughterhouse. Where did he come from?

Some have associated him with Herne the Hunter, the stag antlered aspect of Cernunnos, the Horned God. Others have associated him with Baphomet, the goat antlered god the idolatrous Templars worshipped. Still, others say he descended from the Golden Calf the Jews worshipped coming out of captivity in Egypt. But who cares? I mean, really? If a molding dead cow skeleton is eating you, do you really need to know its backstory?

Like the world’s worst case of acid reflux, the beef from the local slaughterhouse kept coming back up towards Camp Firestone. I suppose it’s because we order so many hamburger patties to keep you kids happy during summer camp. I would, if I were you, consider a vegan lifestyle.”

Suddenly, Miss Foster stood and raised her arms to the sky. There was a gleam in her eye. The gleam quickly rose into a flash, and that flash turned bright red. The hidden moon rose from behind a cloud, round and full, and in its warm glow, the camp counselor began to transform. She stretched out, growing taller and leaner. Bones exploded from below her flesh, upon her skull, a headdress of bovine teeth.

It is I, children. It is Hespeth!”

Looking back over her shoulder, Denise saw two glowing eyes in the dark forest behind her. They were accompanied by a smell… rank, like the meat that went off in the refrigerator last month after the blackout. The electricity had been out for two days. The stench was heavy, cloying. Before she knew it the creature was before her… beside her… hungry.

Denise stared in shock as the zombie bull Herne chomped down on little Lucy’s skull. Jaw agape, tongue dangling, eyes bulging, arm hanging loose to one side, Lucy dropped the half-eaten beef hotdog into the dirt before crumpling to the ground.

 

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About the Author: Sumiko Saulson is Sumiko Saulson is a horror, sci-fi and dark fantasy writer, winner of the StokerCon Scholarship from Hell and 2nd Place Carry the Light Sci-Fi Short Story Award. Born to African-American and Russian-Jewish parents, she is a native Californian, and has spent most of her adult life in the Bay Area. She ranked 6th place in the Next Great Horror Writer Contest.

 

 

Kidnapped! Trick by Selah Janel

I don’t mind quiet Halloweens at home, but they’re not everyone’s thing. I wouldn’t have liked it as a teen, and I think sometimes it’s hard to make that transition from kid to an adult, especially if things feel out of your control. Especially when things are most definitely out of your control.

Trick

Tandy hated staying home on Halloween, but there was no point going out. She hadn’t been invited to any of the good parties, and she sure as hell wasn’t going with her parents to their couples club…thing. She was too old to trick or treat, not old enough to hit the bars, so horror movies and candy duty were the only options left.

Which was why she was curled up on the couch with Baxter the dachshund. Even he looked bored with the B movie on TV. “It isn’t fair. Halloween used to mean magic, like anything, could happen. Now it just means making sure the house doesn’t get egged and pretending to care about whatever the hell the kids are supposed to be,” she grumbled. “Or maybe I just fail at this growing up thing. I seem to fail at everything else,” she sighed, cringing at the memory of failing her Algebra test and how well her parents had taken that. Or her midterm grades. Or losing the money she’d been given for volleyball fees. She dug through the candy bowl to fish out the good chocolate to make herself feel better.

The doorbell rang and she sighed. “I can’t believe this is my life,” she grumbled and opened the door.

And stared at herself. She wasn’t wearing a costume, unless Tandy, herself, was suddenly it costume option this year. No, the girl in front of her had the same long dark hair, the same pajama pants, the same hoodie she was wearing.

She even had her freakin’ face, down to the very same acne scars. It was freaky as sin to see every detail up close in something that wasn’t a mirror. But it wasn’t staring at herself that was the worst thing. No, the small, wicked little smile that had never appeared on her own face was worse. The fact that Baxter went right to her and didn’t growl or even acknowledge the fact that she, herself, was the real Tandy was worse. The words she spoke in her own voice before she stepped inside and raised the knife were the worst of all.

Good, because it’s my life now.”

***

Selah Janel writes weird stuff, both short and long. She has stories in several anthologies and magazines and co-wrote the collection Lost in the Shadows. Her fantasy/cross-genre novel Olde School combines a lot of fantasy and horror elements together (along with fairy tales and the just plain strange), and her shorter e-book only titles explore a range of genres and ideas. Catch up with her and see a full list of her titles at http://www.selahjanel.wordpress.com http://www.facebook.com/authorSJ or follow her on Twitter @SelahJanel

Kidnapped! The Moments Before by Selah Janel

 

Not directly Halloween related, but since it feels like The Year of the Clown, why not? Yeah, warning: Clowns Ahead. I don’t know why I appreciate evil clowns so much, but I totally do. Maybe it’s because clowns don’t bother me, maybe it’s because at least the evil ones pretty much wear their intentions on their sleeve, I don’t know. But the whole archetype intrigues me, as well as people’s reactions to it. Which makes me write little pieces like this. You’re welcome.

The Moments Before

They waited in the toy box, neglected and hidden under other, more comforting toys. They waited in the circus, that razor-edge place of dream and nightmare. They waited in cars, crammed shoe-tip to shoe-tip, nose to nose, stale breath that reeked of peanuts and spun sugar. They sometimes escaped to the real world and showed up at parties, though somehow children always knew better than to look them in the eye. Sometimes, sometimes they’d get lucky and escape from the Other Places, the In Between places, and show up in the Real World to lurk in the woods, or backyards, or under street lamps. Always, always under a shadow, under ‘did I really just see that?’ a film of disbelief. Even then, they waited.

Soon the ringmaster would cue their act, soon the hand crank would play the tune that sent them rocketing out of their boxes, soon the cords would be cut free and they could drop pretenses of entertainment, of magic and face paint, to show what truly lurked underneath. Soon laughter and unease would dissolve to screams and tears, the jokes wouldn’t stop until the screams and pleas finally died down. The car doors would all pop open and their streams of shrieking numbers would come pouring out, soon the thin band of decorum that kept things from getting too out of control would snap. No vigilante mob or well-meaning officials could save anyone. Soon, soon the music would play, the end of the world would come, and the circus would truly begin. Soon, thousands of gleaming, hungry eyes would snap open from Elsewhere, and find that they were finally, finally here.

Soon, the clowns would hunt and everything else would begin.

***

Selah Janel writes various combinations of fantasy and horror, usually put through her own unique filter. Check out her blog at http://www.selahjanel.wordpress.com find her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/authorSJ and catch her on Twitter @SelahJanel

 

Press Release: The Scream Machine by Sam Mortimer a Siren’s Call Publication

Press Release: The Scream Machine by Sam Mortimer a Siren’s Call Publication

Synopsis

Cash carries a disease; one that’s already killed a large majority of the population and something needs to be done. To stop the crisis from escalating, The Solution (a worldwide organization) is formed and rises to great power. They monitor people’s dreams and shape reality to fit their own wants and needs. In an effort to control existence itself, The Solution is searching for what they believe to be the ultimate tool; a person with the ability to master a deep connection with the mysterious, pervasive energy known only as The Ultimate Reality.

Watching her neighborhood decay, her friends and family perish, Elizabeth Reznik needs to find meaning in her life. She discovers her existence is more meaningful than she could ever have imagined. Operatives of The Solution seek her out, take her from her home and perform brutal experiments on her. Their conclusion? Elizabeth is the one they have been searching for; she is the key to gaining complete power.

The stratagem of The Solution is single minded – own the resources and you own the people. And the last resource available is free will. They will own your thoughts, they will orchestrate your dreams; they will dine on your fears. But there is always a cog in the machine… or in this case, a scream.

 

 

 

 

Available on:

Amazon: US | UK | Canada | Australia | Germany | France | Spain | Italy | Japan | Mexico | Brazil | India | The Netherlands

Amazon Print: US | UK | Canada | Australia | Germany | France | Spain | Italy | Japan | Mexico | Brazil | India | The Netherlands

iTunes | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords | CreateSpace (Print)

 

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Sam Mortimer has worked the graveyard shift in law enforcement, attended film school, and has been writing strange stories since age eleven. He loves reading, music, and strives to meet the demands of his five cats.

PRESS RELEASE : The Calling by Brent Abell a Siren’s Call Publication

PRESS  RELEASE: THE CALLING BY BRENT ABELL A SIREN’S CALL PUBLICATION

 

The CallingBrent Abell

Carl Volker has a problem. After waking one morning with a hangover to find his wife gone, he notices a crow stalking around his yard. As days go by with no word from his wife, more and more crows gather.

Frank Hill is sheriff in the seemingly pleasant town of White Creek. Up until recently, his job has been fairly mundane but after a recent spree of murders, bodies are beginning to pile up and Frank has no clue as to who the killer may be.

White Creek has kept its secrets hidden well over the years but the sins of its past are coming to light; the town harbors an evil and the bindings that keep it in check are beginning to unravel.

As Frank and Carl’s friendship is tested and their destinies are revealed, the dead accumulate while the crows watch and The Calling begins!

Available on:

Amazon: US | UK | Canada | Australia | Germany | France | Spain | Italy | Japan | Mexico | Brazil| India | The Netherlands

Amazon Print: US | UK | Canada | Australia | Germany | France | Spain | Italy | Japan | Mexico | Brazil| India | The Netherlands

Kobo

Barnes & Noble

iTunes

Smashwords

CreateSpace (Print)

An Excerpt from The Calling…

Chapter 1:

June 1994

Carl Volker awoke that morning with a hangover that split his head in two and the rooster outside calling out the dawn didn’t make things any better, but instead drove the alcohol’s wedge deeper in his brain. Rolling over, he felt for Maggie’s body and found her half of the bed empty. The early morning light streamed into the window and hit Carl like a sledge hammer. He rubbed his blood shot eyes and pulled the pillow over his head. He drifted off to sleep again, the pillow blocking out the sounds of the rooster and the outside world.

Two hours later he awoke and found the other side of the bed was still empty. He sat up and sniffed the air, hoping to catch a whiff of breakfast cooking or any faint scent of recently cooked food. He smelled nothing and wondered what the hell Maggie was up to. This late in the morning, she usually would have some food cooked up for him before he headed out to the fields for the day. Carl swung his legs over the side of the bed and put on his slippers. His bladder was killing him and his stomach rumbled in hunger.

Carl wandered through the house in his boxer shorts, first visiting the bathroom to unburden his bladder, and then heading down the stairs to fix the stomach issue. He sniffed the air again and was once more denied the smell of breakfast. Stopping in the kitchen doorway, he opened his eyes fully and saw nothing had been moved or used. The skillets lay in the sink where they were left the night before and the loaf of bread sat with no other slices removed. He scratched his head in disbelief.

Where the hell is that woman?” Carl muttered to himself as he sat down at the kitchen table. “Not even any damn coffee either.”

He turned his head to the window to see if maybe Maggie had headed out to the fields to feed the cows and the pigs. From his vantage point, the cows were lined up at the fence waiting for food and the pigs were poking around in their pens seeking a bite. Carl started to be very concerned, not only because he had no coffee or breakfast, but because Maggie seemed to be gone and that was highly unlike her.

Carl began to retrace his steps, only this time he decided to keep his eyes open. The morning hadn’t been kind and his vision remained blurry no matter how many times he rubbed them. He trudged back up the stairs, all of his fifty-two-year-old body protesting every step. This time when he opened the bedroom door, he noticed that Maggie’s clothes were thrown from her drawers and strewn across the floor in a crumpled pile. Carl scratched his head and went to the closet door. Opening it up, he saw that the suitcase was gone. He still didn’t compute what was going on until he peeked into the bathroom and saw her makeup case missing too.

Carl scratched his head again and said, “Well ain’t that a bitch,” to nobody in particular at all.

***

The chores were done by three in the afternoon and Carl decided to leave the field alone for the day. He had to figure out just where his wife went. The last thing he remembered was drinking his whiskey straight from the bottle while Maggie downed glass after glass of wine. They laughed, they drank, they made love, and they drank some more. As he thought back, he couldn’t place anything that Carl thought would make her want to walk out on him. He hung his hat up by the back door and walked to the fridge and grabbed a beer. He removed the church key from the hook besides the fridge and opened his Busch Light. Carl found himself dismayed that supper was not being cooked for him and decided to sit on the porch swing while he finished his beer.

It was when he saw it for the first time; the crow perched in the tulip tree next to the birdbath.

Carl fixed his gaze on the jet black bird that stared back at him; its red eyes burning Carl straight down to his soul. The crow’s beady little eyes unsettled him greatly.

Get the hell out here ya’ bastard!” Carl hollered out to the bird. He reached down and took off his boot. He stood up quickly and chucked the shoe in the direction of the tree. The boot fell far short of its intended target and thudded harmlessly to the ground. The crow called out like it was laughing at Carl and it really pissed him off. First his wife vanished, he still was hung over, and now a damn crow mocked him. After thinking about it for a few minutes, he figured it would be better if he just fired up the Ford and went into town to have supper and get a drink or five at Telly’s Tavern.

Taking one last look at the crow, it spread its wings and took off into the darkening sky. Carl tossed his empty beer can off the porch and went in to get ready to go.

***

An old black man sat up in front of the bar and picked the strings on his beat up old guitar. The instrument looked like it’d been through Hell, but the blues ringing out from it sounded like Heaven to the crowd at Telly’s. The farmers and hands all drank while they tapped their feet and smacked the heavy wooden bar as the music struck a chord with the working men. A cloud of cigarette smoke hovered in the air and the haze grew thicker the further away from the bar one got.

Carl sat hunched over a beer at the bar and he stared off at the various signs hanging behind Telly.

What the Hell wrong with you Carl? You’ve been sitting there quiet as a mouse all evening. Maggie got you in the dog house?” Telly bellowed and laughed.

Ain’t seen her all day,” Carl answered and took a long pull from the beer bottle.

What do you mean you ain’t seen her all day? Don’t you control your wife out there at the farm?” Telly prodded and let out another loud laugh.

You let me worry about her, Telly. Why you got an old Negro in here playin’?”

Times changed a long time ago you old bastard and he picks the best blues strings for miles,” Telly retorted.

Carl took another long pull from his beer and emptied it. Slamming the glass on the table, he tossed a few dollars beside it and got up from his stool. “Well, I gotta go and see if she’s come back yet. See ya tomorrow, Telly.”

Telly watched Carl stager from the bar to the door and he shook his head. If he knew Maggie like he did, her splitting was a permanent thing and she wouldn’t be back no matter how much Carl begged. He’d known Carl since high school and he knew he would never beg her to come back. What did surprise him was if what happened was terrible enough she left, she didn’t say anything. His cousin knew how to argue and she’d let Carl have it on her way out of the door. Someone hollered for another round, so he buried his thoughts and went back to work.

***

The first thing Carl noticed when he pulled his old Ford truck in the drive were the four crows perched along the fence by the well. None of them flew off and their heads followed him as he parked the truck and opened the door. In the dark, Carl felt their bright red eyes burn through him.

Picking up a rock, he hurled it at the fence and it smacked the post with a loud thud. The rock bounced to the ground and the crows sat there glaring at him, none of them taking flight.

Go on! Get outta’ here ya’ bastard birds!”

He ran at the fence waving his arms around like a mad man yelling and screaming. The crows stayed perched and remained still.

Caw, caw, caw, the crows sounded out in unison.

Carl froze a few feet from their perch. They stared at him and he felt his booze laced blood go cold. Their eyes locked onto his and he held their gaze for a moment. Neither moved nor blinked. After a few seconds, Carl turned and stormed off into the house.

Inside, he heard the crows begin their song again. The four birds and their constant calling grated on his nerves as he rushed to the hall closet. Flinging the door open, he grabbed his twelve gauge and broke it open to make sure it was still loaded. Everyone told him keeping a loaded shotgun in the house wasn’t a good idea, but he figured at some point, he’d need to defend his property.

Right now, he needed to clean the yard of some annoying birds.

Here you go you bastards!” Carl cried out as he kicked the screen door open. He brought the shotgun up and fired it at the fence.

Flames danced from the gun’s muzzle and he heard the buckshot pepper the fence posts and rails. The sound he didn’t hear pissed him off. He didn’t hear the crows die. Instead they sat motionless, still perched on top of the fence. Quickly, he cracked the casing open and ejected the spent shell. Slamming another shell in, he closed the barrel and aimed at the fence.

The crows were gone.

Carl walked to the fence and studied it. He found splintered wood along the top rail and on the center post where the crows were sitting. Running his finger along the wood, he felt the deep grooves, but he couldn’t find any blood or sign the crows were even there.

I know I saw them sons a bitches,” he muttered and dropped to his knees. “If them crows were here that long, they must have shit.”

The grass below the fence appeared to be all green without a trace of white. Frantically, Carl ran his fingers through the cut grass and only found clippings from where he cut it three days ago. Shaking his head, he stood up and sulked back to the house. Once inside, he poured a shot of bourbon and watched out the window with his shotgun leaning up next to the kitchen door.

He wanted the crows to return.

********

Brent Abell lives in Southern Indiana with his wife, sons, and a pug who sits around eating the souls of wayward people. His stories have been featured in over 30 publications from multiple presses. His work includes his novella In Memoriam, collection Wicked Tales for Wicked People, and novel Southern Devils; which are available now. He also co-authored the horror-comedy Hellmouth series. Currently, he is working on the second book in the Southern Devils series and the next book with Frank Hill in the White Creek Saga.

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Twitter: @BrentTAbell

Blog: https://brentabell.wordpress.com/