Chilling Chat: Episode 178 | A.F. Stewart


A steadfast and proud sci-fi and fantasy geek, A. F. Stewart was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada and still calls it home. The youngest in a family of seven children, she 91998279_2985631954792617_8123098902787260416_nalways had an overly creative mind and an active imagination. She favours the dark and deadly when writing—her genres of choice being fantasy and horror—but she has been known to venture into the light on occasion. As an indie author, she’s published novels, novellas and story collections, with a few side trips into poetry. 

A.F. is a wonderful lady with a very dry sense of humor. We discussed writing, folklore, and villains.

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, A.F.! Thank you for joining us today!

AFS: Glad to be here.

NTK: How old were you when you first discovered horror?

AFS: Good question. I suppose my first introduction to horror was through local folklore and the Nova Scotia ghost stories when I was growing up. Also Grimm’s fairy tales with witches and cannibalism. Probably elementary school age, around age eight to ten.

NTK: Ooh! What kind of ghost stories? Can you give us an example?

AFS: There are so many ghost stories in this province and around all of the Altlantic Candian provinces. One of my favourites is the story of the burning ghost ship that appears off Mahone Bay.

NTK: Cool! Did this story inspire you to become a horror writer?

AFS: No, although the folklore certainly influences my writing. I actually started writing horror by accident. I wrote a nice, sweet short story for a writing group, but it threw my rhythm off and I had writer’s block after that. To bring back the deserted muse, I decided to write a horror story about Jack the Ripper. I’ve never looked back.

NTK: Awesome! Speaking of influences, who is your biggest influence in horror writing? Who is your favorite author?

AFS: I say Ray Bradbury is my biggest horror influence. I know most people think of him as a sci-fi writer, but quite a few of his short stories, like “The Emissary,” are very creepy. And Poe as well, was an influence. My favourite authors are fantasy though, with Neil Gaiman and Guy Gavriel Kay in a tie for first place.

NTK: Bradbury has a distinctive style, almost poetic. You’re a poet as well. Which do you prefer, poetry or prose?

AFS: Poetry, definitely. I love writing both, but poetry is closest to my heart. It’s also a lot of fun to combine horror with poetry and write wickedly dark poems.

NTK: What gets your creative juices flowing? Are you inspired by dreams?

AFS: Strangely enough, I’ve never had a dream inspire my writing. Maybe they’re just too weird. My inspiration comes from many things, usually odd or mundane stuff. One of my recent short stories was inspired by the loud roar of a plane, and a couple of days ago I was contemplating whether you could dispose of a body in the garbage after seeing the recycling truck. And for the record, I decided it was not a feasible method of body disposal.

NTK: (Laughs.) What inspired you to write “Blood on the Looking Glass?”

AFS: That came from a prompt in a writing group. They posted a picture of a woman standing on top of a giant skull, wearing these striped stockings and a pinafore-like dress. It struck me with this Alice in Wonderland kind of looks and the first line of the story, “We’re all mad here,” said Alice, popped in my head. The rest of the story flowed from there.

NTK: Do you outline your stories when you write them? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

AFS: With short stories, I generally don’t outline. I usually start with a beginning line or a paragraph and an ending, either in my head or written down and then join the two together. For novels though, I do scene outlining, character backstories, worldbuilding, maps, and all the fun stuff.

NTK: Do your characters have free will? Or do you direct their every move?

AFS: My characters are stubborn and refuse to listen. I have nice plans all laid out, and then they come along and make announcements that change everything. That’s what happened with Edmund in Chronicles of the Undead; he refused to stay in Oxford and I had to rework part of the plot to set things in London. It happened with the Nightmare Crow as well, who gave me a new motivation halfway through the series. A couple of characters have announced sexual preferences and one decided she was on the villain’s side. They are very irksome, my characters.

NTK: Your characters sound awesome! Which do you like writing more? Heroes or villains?

AFS: Villains! I love writing villains. That’s probably why I have two books of stories from their point of view. The villains get to have more fun, but sometimes they try and take over the book. I had to rein in my pirate in Renegades of the Lost Sea because my main character wasn’t getting enough page time.

NTK: Do you enjoy villains in the movies too? What’s your favorite horror movie?

AFS: I love the movie villains, though I am a bit of a chicken when it comes to horror. I tend towards the more psychological stuff like The Others and Crimson Peak.

NTK: Favorite horror TV show?

AFS: I’m a huge Supernatural fan and I loved Penny Dreadful, and as a big Bruce Campbell fan, the Evil Dead series would be on the list as well. And the Hannibal TV show; I loved that.

NTK: Favorite Horror novel?

AFS: I haven’t read too many horror novels, but Something Wicked This Way Comes would be a favourite.

NTK: Do you have a favorite curse? If so, what is it?

AFS: A favourite curse? Interesting. I like the idea of cursed objects, things that bring the owner bad luck or misfortune. I also like the idea of the Celtic geis, which is a prohibition against doing a certain thing. If they break the prohibition they usually bring terrible calamity or death upon themselves. And of course, the mummy’s curse is always a fun one to play with.

NTK: What does the future hold for you? What books and poems do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

AFS: Right now I’m working on finishing up my contemporary Arthurian legends series, The Camelot Immortals. But I’m also writing a historical paranormal/fantasy series set in Venice that will have a lot of dark Italian folklore and dead bodies. Plus I have a steampunk horror series with vampires on the backburner. And recently I’ve been toying with the idea of a standalone horror novel.

It’s also National Poetry Month, so no doubt some dark poems will pop up on my website.

NTK: Awesome! You’re keeping busy. Thank you for chatting with us, A.F. It’s been fun!

AFS: Thanks for having me, I enjoyed it and yes it was great fun.

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Four: The Road Best Not Taken

“The Road Best Not Taken” by horror author and video game writer Richard Dansky is a treasure I discovered during the Georgia Bigfoot Conference in April. It’s a riveting short story propelled by the eyewitness testimony of a Bigfoot encounter.

“I’ve always been a Bigfoot fan ever since I saw the Bigfoot episode of ‘In Search Of …’ way, way, way, way, way back in the day,” Dansky said in an exclusive interview for The Bigfoot Files. “It’s always been something I’ve been interested in …  reading about encounters people have had with Bigfoot. The story was actually inspired by an account I heard. Reading about that encounter I saw the seeds of a good story in there if I just expand it a little bit.”

snowbird gothic“The Road Best Not Taken” is one of nineteen short stories in Dansky’s collection titled Snowbird Gothic. Dansky is also a video game writer at Ubisoft, and his credits include work on Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Outland, and Rainbow Six: Black Arrow. He also wrote the novel Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands: Dark Waters.

Tom Clancy Dark Waters

While Dansky’s short story “The Road Best Not Taken” is a far cry from the world of Tom Clancy, his tale is a compelling illustration of how a traumatic encounter can alter the path of someone’s life. Narrated in the first person by a second-grade teacher named Barry, “The Road Best Not Taken” is a dramatic eyewitness account of Bigfoot with a twist.

The setting is a beach bonfire where four old college friends – Barry, Sam, Harris, and Jeremy – reunite and catch up on each other’s lives. However, the only real information Barry’s friends want to know is the reason for his breakup with a redhead named Jaimie nine years ago.

“I could tell you what happened, but I don’t think you’d believe me.”

His friends push Barry to explain what happened.

“If I tell you, will you let it go? It’s not a story I want to tell twice.”

And just like that, Dansky expertly hooks the reader, and you feel like one of Barry’s college friends sitting around the bonfire. Like Sam, Harris, and Jeremy, you have to know what happened between Barry and Jaimie.

And what happened was Bigfoot, but not in the way you’d expect.

Barry’s account starts with him driving from Chapel Hill to Elizabeth City to visit Jaimie during his college days. He hits construction an hour east of Raleigh and makes the fateful decision to take a shortcut. He gets lost on the backroads leading to his Bigfoot encounter.

Barry struggles at times to tell the story to his friends because they can’t relate to his experience. He’s like a soldier trying to describe the frontlines of a war zone to civilians who’ve never served in the military.

What elevates “The Road Best Not Taken” is Dansky’s earnest description of the Bigfoot encounter and his empathy for the narrator. Dansky seems to understand how a Bigfoot encounter would affect an eyewitness emotionally and psychologically.

Dansky is a Bigfoot believer himself and knows people who say they’ve seen the cryptid, which may be why “The Road Best Not Taken” feels so authentic.

Richard Dansky.jpg

Richard Dansky

“I have eight friends who have seen Bigfoot, so I’m not inclined to call them liars,” Dansky said. “I have never seen Bigfoot myself. I’m a city boy.”

I asked Dansky why Bigfoot remains so prevalent in pop culture today.

“I think part of it is the mystery of ‘Is it really out there?’ There’s a little bit of realism to it you don’t get from vampires and zombies,” Dansky said. “And part of it is Bigfoot stands for the untamed wilderness, which is still a big part of this country’s psyche, I think.”

“I believe Bigfoot is out there,” Dansky added. “I believe Bigfoot is a large primate, and I hope he continues to confound and amaze us for many years.”

NEXT UP | Chapter Five: Wood Ape. I review the horror novel Wood Ape by C.G. Mosley, featuring an exclusive interview with the author about how the Bigfoot legend inspired his story.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦


THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter One: The Idea of Bigfoot

THE BIGFOOT FILES| Chapter Two: Dweller

THE BIGFOOT FILES | Chapter Three: Swamp Monster Massacre

By The Fire: Episode 147: Challenge 12: Write a 2500-3000 Word Story Featuring a Diverse Woman and an Original Monster of Your Making

Our contest is drawing to a close, we made it to episode 147 of the podcast and the twelfth challenge for The Next Great Horror Writer is to Write a 2500-3000 word story featuring a diverse woman (of color/ethnic/minority) that also contains an original monster of the writer’s making. Our contestants created a monster way back in challenge 2 which they can use for this story, or they can create a new monster. The goal is to test their ability to write a story with a theme involved, they will be judged on creativity, overall story concept, and writing quality.

One thing I wonder about is would it be easier to create a monster or to create a good diverse female character and what would be the theme that would fit both? I think for all parts you are using a different part of your imagination. For a monster you want to try to think of something original but you also have to make it scary, being able to describe the monster and make it come alive is important. For the female character you would have to go into detail on her personality, what makes her tick and why should we care about her? When coming up with both of these creations probably the most important thing would be to make us feel some emotion for them and perhaps this is where the story’s theme would come out of. Whether its fear, compassion or even hatred, if we don’t feel anything and there is no theme, then we won’t want to finish the story.

So our contestants already know something about making a monster but how hard is it to come up with a good ethnic female character? Would it be harder to come up with a woman than a man? Or does that depend on if the writer is a woman or a man? Personally I think coming up with the monster would be much easier than coming up with your lead character because the lead character is the most important part of the story. So what do you think the hardest part of this challenge will be and who do you think did the best job with it? Let us know in the comments.

Dead Horse Summer by Sumiko Saulson

Dead Horse Summer

By Sumiko Saulson

The things that frighten us most are those that remind us of our fragile existence and the terrible ways we can die; like the frozen grimaces on the face of a peat bog man or the ashen screams on the faces of a child found under Mount Vesuvius at Pompeii. Kilauea is the most dangerous volcano in the country according to the US Geological Service – yet thousands of tourists walk on it every day, as though nothing bad is ever going to happen there again. My father didn’t think anything bad would happen there in the summer of my twelfth year. We moved to Hawaii from Los Angeles, and after a brief stay with his mother on Kaneohe, on the island of Oahu, we moved to the Big Island, where he’d found cheap land for sale. He took us on a tour of the subdivision, driving us down the pitted and dusty, unpaved and rust colored roads made up of ground down red volcanic rock. The weight of his car bore down onto the already grooved dirt road, deepening the pair of tire tracks left by the vehicles that traveled this way before us.

It was during our first summer when I came across a pathetic festering corpse of a dead horse in Kalapana, on Black Sands Beach. It was lodged within the rough, onyx-colored sands made of lava rock. The sand had only arrived on these shores mere hundreds of years earlier; they were still sharp and rocky, not smoothed by erosion. My toes poked from rubber-heeled plastic thong sandals called zoris. Hard rocks protruded from the sands, and I smashed my heel painfully against one, causing me to shrink back away from it in pain, blood oozing out against hot skin.

I stumbled away from the rock and landed almost directly on the dead horse, partially hidden beneath a palm tree – the kind that grew out of the tide pools, and were bent sharply inland through some natural force. The crook of the low, bent palm hid the corpse until the last moment, and then I saw it. The water had come up over this dead horse several times, and receded, and what the low tide revealed now was skeletal, with a few places where the hide covered partially protruding bone. It didn’t smell. I had the sense that sea creatures had torn away at most of the flesh, leaving bone with flaps of leathery skin waving over it.

Although the horse’s life was gone, the bones were nonetheless reanimated with teeming life of the tidal pool: green slimy mold-like seaweed, plump brown seaweed, happy little hermit crabs in stolen shells with ambitions of making a new home here in the reclaimed corpse of this horse. The creatures were cranking away, creating this whole new aquatic ecosystem.

But I was only twelve, and unconcerned with the joys of the under denizens of this dead horse suburbia. My pre-teen mind would not absorb the entire ecological gestalt of this thing – in my mind, it was gross, disgusting, nastier than stepping in a pile of dookie. I was just a kid, not some teenager in the throes of an experimental philosophical phase where I was interested in examining the brevity of a jaunt with a livid life condescending into a sleepy death in a fantastic realm of either amazing or horrific possibility where even a horse might sleep with the fishes.

I threw death out the window, and instead turned and ran – screaming! Screaming, running, far, far away from the death of horses into the life of a safe public restroom with its comforting public showers.

I left behind pomegranate waving colors of sea stalks taking root in wet spots on yellowing bones in the red rocks covered in rusty blood into the cold concrete square encasings of cubicles, stalls, with closing casket doors but water… hot and cold water, descending in rainy rivulets from the faucet. Warm water and lily-scented shampoo poured over me, enveloping me, caressing me like love. They washed away hard little black pebbles stuck to my heel by hot gushes of blood, and terrible memories of a dead horse, all down the shower drain and back out to sea.

It is a motion the earth itself would repeat over the years, as the lava eventually poured over the beach, the showers, the streets and the houses, destroying them all. Five years later, the angry volcano came to wash it all away, burying the dead horse beach under fifty feet of lava.

A dead horse wouldn’t have angered Pele, for her battle was with Kamapua’a, the wind god, who looked like a man-pig. He was in love with her, and wouldn’t leave her alone. My aunt told me once when we were traveling from Hilo to Kailua-Kona over Saddle Road never to cross Saddle Road with any pork in the car, because it would anger Pele and she would cause the car to stall. We were to throw any ham sandwiches off to the side of the road as an offering to Pele.

My aunt by marriage is Hawaiian and Portuguese, and she was the one who told me about Ka wahine ‘ai honua, Pele, the earth-eating woman. She taught reverence of her heritage and her ancestors. Not all who lived in Kalapana in the time of my Dead Horse respected Pele. My dad is haole. That means stranger but is used for Caucasian. He and his friends grew marijuana, or pakalo. Back then the high quality weed of the area was known as “Puna Butter” because it tasted so smooth. My brother and I were called hapa – meaning half. We were called hapa-haole or hapa-papolo. Papolo, meaning purple, is the name of a plum – we had a tree of these small, very dark purple plums in our yard in Kalapana – they always splattered down on the hood of my daddy’s Lincoln Continential. Papolo was also the name for the color of the plum, and for African American people.

I don’t think that my dad’s friends growing the marijuana awakened Pele, but I could be wrong. The marijuana plants attracted many loud helicopters that were part of the police drug enforcement program called “Green Harvest”. Maybe it was these copters, swarming over the top of the hillside like flies over a rotting guava that disturbed her? They were generating wind against the hillsides. Hawaii legend says that a huge battle over control of this area took place between Pele and Kamapua’a,. Maybe the helicopters made Pele think Kamapua’a was back to sexually harass her or try to pressure his way back into her favorite home?

Or maybe she was awakened by another thing: My dad and his friends hunted wild boars in the forests but they never left any pork for Pele. Maybe if they had, she wouldn’t have grown angry and taken back her land.

I remember a family that painted the lava rocks gold and sold them to tourists, knowing it was considered unlucky to remove them from the island. They lived high on Kilauea, much closer to Halema`uma`u crater, which was supposed to be Pele’s favorite home. Maybe they were the ones who made her angry. They lived in Royal Gardens Subdivision, which was one of the first places to be hit by the volcano in 1982, the same year we moved away to Hilo.

Pele consumed our old home in Kalapana Gardens in 1986, just six months after the last time we came over from Oahu to visit it. By the time I was back again in 1991, so many landmarks of my childhood were gone. I would never go back to visit the Queen’s Bath in Kalapana, a fresh water spring in a collapsed lava tube surrounded by high cliffs from which we used to jump. I remembered it being as big as an Olympic swimming pool and about eight feet deep, but I would never be able to go back there and dive in. I would never find out it would seem smaller because I grew four inches between the age of fourteen when I last swam there, and adulthood.

The half-dozen neighbors we visited in homes that dotted the sparsely spotted Kalapana Gardens subdivision live somewhere else now. The Star of the Sea Painted Church, where I once attended Catholic services with my friend Stacy, had been moved somewhere else to prevent its being swallowed by lava. It is far away from the long-gone beach, where people used to worship amongst the paintings of the famous and sainted father Damien of Molokai doing his work with the lepers. Two girls giggling outside of the church about the number of times the pastor had them stand up and sit back down again, are long grown. The past has been swept away from Kalapana, along with the landmarks of its remembrances.

The beach of my Dead Horse summer is gone. Pele gave us all an eviction notice. The thick jungle smells of wetland underbrush along the ten mile trip between Pahoa High School – where I attended seventh and eighth grade – and Kalapana Gardens continued for the first eight miles as we headed in. All of the lush greenery ended two miles from my old house on Duff Street now, and the lush smells of sunshine and overripe papaya disappeared giving way to lifeless odors of dust and tar. The ground itself was singed and blackened, and within the coal tar colored surface were rifts and breaks, like the top of an overcooked brownie. The whole area looked like it had been left in the oven too long. I knew then I would never again experience the smell of fresh banana nut bread in the little store at Kaimu.

Where I used to live, there is new coastline stretching out a mile and a half into the sea. We walked out on the rocky surface built of the stuff I once cut my heel on. From here on the roads were destroyed. Our car could not pass, so we walked. Pele’s scorched-earth policy removed all of the palm trees, killed all of the sand crabs, and replaced whatever I remembered with this rugged, uneven surface that cracked like a bleeding skin. The colors were all shades of dark gray and black. Only the clear blue sky with its all-too-high clouds far and away in the distance remained the same. We approached the higher elevations from another angle after we returned to the car: there, we would see hot lava still bursting forth from tubes like fireworks in the night sky, thick and red as blood, blood from the heel of a frightened little girl running.

It is a testimony to the lesson of the Dead Horse of my twelfth summer: the uncomfortable knowledge that old things have to die to make way for the new, even if we don’t want them to. The consumption of Kalapana by Pele continues to this day; and during the month of my fortieth birthday, in 2008 there was an explosion at Halema`uma`u crater. Pele finally completely decimated the Royal Gardens subdivision by taking its last house. She covered what remained of my early adolescence in her hair and her tears – balls and strings of lava – which were flung from Halema`uma`u for the first time since 1982. There are five volcanoes on the Island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island. There are five, but Kilauea is a favorite of Pele and tourists alike.

But by 2009, the US Geological Survey would know that America’s most active volcano was a lot more dangerous than she looked. While there was never a great city the likes of Pompeii to be covered with ash, there was evidence of giant rocks the size of baseballs flung in the air all the way to the shore. The things that frighten us most remind us of our fragile existence and the terrible ways we can die. They make us understand our insignificance.





Sumiko Saulson is a science-fiction, fantasy and horror writer. Her works include the reference 60 Black Women in Horror Fiction, novels Solitude, Warmth, The Moon Cried Blood, Happiness and Other Diseases, Somnalia, Insatiable, Ashes and Coffee, three graphic novels, and the short story collection Things That Go Bump in My Head. She writes for the Oakland Art Scene segment of the She is a native Californian of African American and Russian-Jewish heritage.

The Girl in the Lake by Alex S. Johnson

The Girl in the Lake by Alex S. Johnson

Sam looked exactly–I mean, the resemblance was uncanny–like a little kid who’d woken up extra-early Christmas Day so he could get a sneak preview of the presents piled in front of the hearth. He was about to reach forward and touch the black streak on the pine’s bark when Jeremy cut in.

“Dude, maybe you should just take a picture or something. Shit looks toxic.”

Sam shrugged and withdrew his hand, wiping it off on the front of his t-shirt–made of hemp fiber, naturally–which was a blazing fluorescent green and featured a picture of a bear smoking a bong.

“I guess you’re right, Jer.” He shrugged off his small backpack, covered with patches from various jam bands, and set it on the ground in a bed of needles. “Then again, all this land is saturated with poison.”

Scott coughed. His dad was one of the biggest investors in Green Chemical, and besides, they were trespassing on private property. If his dad even suspected what he’d been up to, he’d wind up losing the last privileges he’d been able to hold on to, and spend every day till his 18th birthday locked in his room puzzling over the higher math. For some reason his dad and I got along fine, even though he liked to call me a “socialist wingnut.” But he hated Sam and Jeremy with a passion.

The sun was setting, shafts of amber light flickering through the pine forest. Beyond the clearing, Lake Soutaine cut a big bite out of the woods, a darker, evil shade of green. Two summers ago it had been pure blue, and not off limits. We used to go there all the time. There was even an ancient tire swing hanging over the water, but the rubber was flaked,  and covered with some kind of white fungus.

“You guys mind if I blaze one?” Sam asked. He passed his arm through the tire before anybody could stop him. “For old times?”

“Jesus, Sam…” Scott started. He slumped his shoulders with a defeated look. I could see in his eyes the flicker of rebellion begin to grow. “Yeah, it’s chill. Fuck it, you know? We’ve come this far.” Then he pulled his polo shirt over his head. Damn, he was cut.

“Don’t even think about it,” Scott added. I smiled. My friends could be dicks sometimes, but they were totally cool with my sexual preferences, and that pretty much trumped any of the crap they gave me. They were dicks to everyone, and to themselves. Sam retrieved a baggie from his pack and plucked a joint from the nest of sticky. “So you guys remember that little girl who disappeared a couple of years back?”

The air was growing cold, and I wished I’d brought my jacket. For some reason Scott was strutting around shirtless like the cock of the walk. I didn’t mind at all. Sam was oblivious as he flamed up the J and wrinkled his nose. It was some old school skunk. I could tell we were all getting a contact high. And just a bit of the paranoia. Which was perfect for Sam’s purposes.

I told you my friends were dicks.

“Let’s make a drum circle,” he suggested. Scott started to laugh, so hard he was choking and red in the face. “Are you fucking serious? Dude, you’re a walking cliche. Don’t we need a drum or two for that?”

“Figure of speech, dude.” Suddenly I think we all realized how long a day we’d had. It felt right to sit down, get comfortable and listen to a scary story. After all, the initial purpose of our expedition–Sam’s idea, of course–to investigate, document and blog about Green Chemical’s despoilment of nature, seemed more and more naive. Of course GC was taking a giant dump on the planet. That was a no-brainer.

“Her name was Tanya,” Sam began. “She was 11 years old when she went missing. You remember her mom going on TV and pleading with the kidnappers. But there was never a ransom note. The case is still open with the police, but most people think she’s dead.”

“Very sad,” I said. “She was a beautiful kid.”


“That she was,” Sam agreed. “But I have a theory. Tanya loved swimming in Lake Soutaine. The day she went missing, the last time she was seen…” Suddenly there was a plop and splash from the lake, as though an enormous fish had jumped. My blood turned to ice. This wasn’t fun any more.

“I think we should get the heck out of here,” said Scott, standing up.

“Oh come on, dude,” said Sam. “It’s just a story. Anyway, my theory is that Tanya drowned. She was a great swimmer, but something got her. Pulled her down. A week later, if you remember, the county closed off this section of the woods and all of Lake Soutaine. I don’t think that was a coincidence.”

“You’re freaking us all out,” said Scott. “Besides, I might as well face my punishment now. My dad’s going to love this–staying out all day on a weekend before finals, stumbling in reeking of weed.”

“No one’s stopping you, dude,” said Sam. “How about you guys?” I shrugged. “Even if I wanted to go, I couldn’t. Basically paralyzed with fear. Please continue.”

“That’s the spirit! All right. So Tanya drowns, and obviously, she dies. But she doesn’t die all the way. The chemicals somehow reanimate her, turn her into a zombie. And she’s…”

“You’ve been reading too much R.L. Stine,” said Jeremy, who up to this point had been silent, his eyes glassy.

“Right behind you.”

I couldn’t move. I felt like some kind of morbid looky-loo at the scene of a traffic accident. Of course there was nothing there. Sam was making this all up; he’d admitted as much.

Because if he wasn’t, then the little girl standing behind Jeremy, half her face rotted off, shiny with algae and glowing like a halogen lamp, wasn’t just some kind of hallucination from the angel dust I suspected the weed was laced with. If he was reporting the empirical facts, as I now believed he was, the blood spurting from Jeremy’s neck stump now was as real as the crater Tanya had scooped from Sam’s face, and the sparks–like a handful of glitter–drifting in the girl’s blind eyes as she turned towards me with a lipless grin.


Free Fiction Friday: The Curse Of Bortegrim

The Curse of Bortegrim

By R J Murray

I was born deep in the valleys of Bortegrim, in a small town which stood a thousand miles from any other.  Within the town stood many a thatched cottage, stone bungalow and wooden barn, nestled between forestry and fields which stretched far into the wilderness.   Due to its remote location, the occupants of the town had to be self-sufficient –  harvesting and growing their own crops, vegetables, and rearing their own livestock.

To those who were unfamiliar with Bortegrim, the town appeared to be as pleasant as any could be, but as is the purpose of this story, I will show you that this was certainly not the case.   For in these parts there existed a mighty curse which, since the beginning of time had infested us like a dark disease.

Such an existence had decidedly haunted our souls and ripped through the heart of our hopes and dreams.  The adults of the town would forbid us from discussing it and indeed denied the very existence of the one who could not be named. 

Most of us learned to forget or at least pretended to forget but as much as I tried I knew that it was not to be; I could not avoid the persistent burden of this dark curse.  Day by day as I looked down upon the valley from my hill, the sight of the affected children struck a terror and a pain into my soul.  Such innocent girls and boys, when just before Christmas had been happy and able, now struggled in vain, limping and stumbling, no longer fitting their shoes, but now forever deformed, forever tainted.

Having always being somewhat different to the people of Bortegrim, I spent most of my time alone, wandering the moors and studying quietly upon my hilltop.  Of course, at times I would walk amongst the other children only to see them pointing their fingers or  whispering accusations such as “Don’t go near Wichita, she dabbles in black magic,” or “Wichita roams with the wolves, she’s dangerous you know.”  But despite feeling more detached from the others it never compelled me to change or to question my interests.  In fact, it pushed me further towards the wolves and towards my magick.

From an early age, I had been drawn to the dark arts, pagan practices and performing rituals.  I had no desire to fit in with the other children and was perfectly content with my given nature.  I was a lone soul and desired the solitude of nature and the company of wolves.

But in spite of my singularity, I continued to be emotionally effected by the curse just as much as the others.

Every year, on Christmas eve, I witnessed the children of Bortegrim shivering and shaking under their blankets in fear of becoming one of the cursed.  At precisely midnight, when the moon had hidden behind the black fog and an unmerciful frost had descended upon the rooftops, the hills would shriek with anticipation for the one who could not be named to descend.

The magpies would forewarn of the impending presence with deadly squawks. The townspeople would dash in all directions, slamming shutters, locking doors, some hiding in cupboards, some diving into underground bunkers. Within minutes, the smell of burning chestnuts would transform into choking gas and radiate the atmosphere with a putrid evil.

They tried as they could but not a million shiny padlocks could keep it out.

The carriage would arrive screeching into the valley, the stench of burning coach tyres and flames flying from the monstrous engine.

Some children would scream hail marys, some would leap around in nervous fits, crawling under beds, rattling off every prayer they could remember and swearing out godly oaths that they had been good children.

Neither man nor beast, the one who could not be named would unleash its terror, creeping unmercifully upon the chosen ones. Scarper, plead and wrestle as they tried, their feeble attempts fell into nothingness.

In through bedroom windows it would thud, bringing a stench of horrifying odour which travelled through every crevice to every room.  Shrieks that almost shattered windows could be heard far into the valleys.  One by one, each child would be grabbed by a claw of black matted hair and wet bulging palms, the fiery breath heaved upon their limbs, rusty fingernails of sharp cutters shredding shoes to pieces, grasping with hunger for what flesh lay inside.

Five toes sliced.  Another five toes sliced. Tossed into the boiling bucket they would plummet. Girls blessed with a long mane would plead in vain, clutching onto their locks in terror as they were unmercifully shredded and sliced, then packed into a wicker basket, leaving the girls clutching their bare scalps in hopeless devastation.

Indeed it lay resolute that this supernatural force could not be haggled with.

Then one year, when it had fallen once again upon the eve of Christmas, I had been cowering up on the hill, listening to the familiar screeching tearing through the soul of the valleys when unexpectedly, at the strike of twelve past midnight, a feeling of doom crept over my senses.  As I cowered upon my hill, I felt the presence of the one who could not be named as he forcefully blazed upward towards the mound, smoke trailing behind his every putrid step, unmercifully delighting in his conquest for devastation.  I knew that it was time, after all the years of bearing witness to other victims, I was now to become one of them.  A layer of black smoke blinded my vision and as the scent of horror immersed me, I felt the clutch of burning hair and dripping flesh, violently grabbing my face, my limbs.  I screamed to the heavens, trying to struggle, trying to resist but my desperate pleas were in vain.  As the tortuous pain struck through my every core, I soon felt myself become limp and helpless.  I cried out in agony to the dark sky, desperately willing the moon to feel my sorrow.


Soon after my fate had been served, I found myself becoming hardened with scorn for the one who could not be named.  As I now stumbled upon the moors, trying to adapt to my new deformity, I developed a force of vengeance in me.  I became determined to defeat the curse which lay upon the valleys.   I refused to become resolved to damnation and sought out with forceful vigour to seek revenge.

Realising that the demon could only be destroyed by an external force more powerful than it, I resolved with a mighty insight what I must do to challenge the curse.

Night after night, month after month, I continued to educate myself in the realms of the other-world.  I learned to channel the unknown divine and I conjured the elements with such purity and strength of plight that it soon created in me the level of skill required for the operation I was to perform.


The next winter, as the town prepared for the inevitable terror to fall upon them, I began to conjure a powerful concoction under the black moon.

As the coach raced towards the terrified community, I positioned myself at my altar – upon the highest hilltop, where I began the potent chanting, echoing out with passion over the vast moors, penetrating the atmosphere with my own supernatural forces.  As I chanted continuously with increasing levels of passionate conviction, a miracle force gradually began to manifest before my eyes.  As the elements crashed below the electric clouds in a ferocious whirlwind, a great blaze of lightening struck the carriage and I watched as the one who cold not be named disappeared in a mist of black smoke.


A year went by and just as before, there had been much calm upon the town until the days leading to the upcoming Christmas eve, where a mighty panic once again ensued.

Then on the evening in question and to the bewilderment of the townspeople, there arrived to Bortegrim a portly man of a kind nature, dressed in red clothing, who brought about triumphant cheer as gifts were placed under fireplaces in every little house in the valley.

The people of Bortegrim wept with happiness and relief.  The curse had been lifted!  Such joyous elation filled the streets.  Overcome with delight, they begged me down from my hill to join them as they danced a merry celebration for twenty one days and twenty one nights.


The following year, as the red man zipped up on his flying coach and departed through the clouds, a sudden storm blew and bubbled and the coach swayed violently in the strong wind.

The heavens had shifted.

As the man wrestled with the elements and I gazed silently from my hill, I could see that his white beard had given way to black matted hair and the smile which had once crossed his face had turned to a dark sneer.

And out of the flailing coach there rained upon the town a golden coat made from hair and a thousand buckets of bloody toes.


10686959_10152289676261899_8223621542015104018_nRJ Murray is a writer and musician based in Scotland.  She is inspired by old gothic authors, weird tales and odd,dark fairy tales.  She has recently published a number of short stories and is currently editing her first fantasy novel.

Visit her blog at:

Free Fiction Friday: Dark Fairy Tale, Ruby by Shyla Fairfax-Owen


By Shyla Fairfax-Owen

Across the town line, parallel to the stream, and a quarter of an hour through the forest, in a small wooden house – that’s where her mother had been hiding. Ruby knew the route well, and had been secretly slinking through it for weeks. However, she had not once approached the door. Her grandmother had been quite stern on the matter. Ruby’s mother was gone, and Ruby was to leave it be.

     The night it had happened – the night Ruby’s mother had disappeared – it had been just the two of them at home. Monsters had stormed their front door, but upstairs mother had hid her in the closet and told not to come out until grandma came for her. “No matter what you hear, no matter what you see, you stay right here and wait for grandma.” So she did. Even when she heard the riotous commotion, and was tempted to investigate. Even when mother crawled out the window, which Ruby could just barely see through the slits in the closet door.

     The intruders hadn’t stayed for long, but it took grandma hours to come to her. Ruby explained that mother had gotten away. Days later, she heard grandma tell Uncle Joe that mother was hiding at the cottage until “it” blew over. Uncle Joe said she’d likely die first – and soon. That stirred Ruby. If her mother was dead, she’d like to see it with her own two eyes; but grandma had many rules. No crossing the town line, EVER. No playing near the stream. No entering the forest, especially at night. Ruby had to successively break each and every one to find mother. But finally, she did, and was very pleased with herself for it. See, Ruby had always been underestimated because of her small stature, young age, and sweet smile. But Ruby was a smart girl, with keen senses, and a precarious nature. Each night, while her keeper slept, Ruby would sneak out of the house, using the very same window as her mother had. Crouched behind a heavy tree trunk, Ruby would watch her mother inside of the cottage – preparing needles, injecting, drooling, and sleeping. Some nights, Ruby would be certain of her demise, but the next night she would find her very much alive, repeating the steps.

     On this particular night, something was different. Ruby had been stomping through the forest as usual, when she heard a sound. It wasn’t any of the usual suspects: a cricket, a crow, or an owl. It was something heavier, angrier, and foul. Ruby tried to silence her trot, but no matter how she tried, she couldn’t avoid crunching twigs as she went. She stopped, and spun around, sure she had felt the shiver of someone’s breath down the back of her neck. But she could see no one. In fact, with the moon sinking behind the clouds, she could hardly see anything at all.

     She breathed slowly, squeezed her eyes shut, and sprung them back open. Still, there was nothing. But in the distance came a howl that instantly spread goose bumps over her arms. Her chest heaved now, a result of her pounding heart. Of course, Ruby recognized the sensation not as fear, but as excitement. The same kind of excitement she’d experienced when she had been chased by a stray dog that she had to kick with all her might to slow down.

     Ruby folded down to her knees and crawled cautiously across the dirt, grass, and rocks, until she found her special hiding tree. As she settled behind it, the noises became clearer, and closer. She heard feet pounding against the ground, stampeding towards her, and then they flew right by. The speed had blurred the culprits at first, but then Ruby saw exactly what they were. Wolves.

     She watched intently as the three wolves approached the cottage. The biggest of them stood on its hind legs and crashed through her mother’s door. The wolves ploughed inside, and Ruby instinctively rose for a better view. She tried to keep her eyes on the rhythmic chaos inside of the house, but it was difficult from such distance. Capricious as she was, Ruby skipped her way up to the little house, knowing the wolves were preoccupied now, and squinted through the dirty windows. To her surprise, the beasts she had seen were men now. Well, two men and one woman. Ruby found it implausible that her eyes could have misled her so. But in that moment, they were definitely human; although more vicious than anyone she had known in her own seven years.

     She watched the violence unfold, mesmerized by the ferocity before her. When the group had finished tearing Ruby’s mother apart, the woman turned her head slightly, as if catching a scent. Her eyes met Ruby’s, and she rose slowly from a crouched position over the bloody corpse, to a rueful standing posture. Ruby thought she should turn away – hide – but she couldn’t take her eyes off the woman. When the men whipped around to face what had stolen the attention of their companion, Ruby ducked beneath the window. Her mind was racing now. She wanted to feel sad for her mother, scared for herself; but she only felt that nagging pit of excitement deep inside of her.

     What was left of the door creaked open softly, and the woman came gently towards Ruby. Ruby let her. Her eyes were soft, despite the blood smeared across her face. The men followed, just as gently. Ruby saw that the men had yellow eyes that were slowly giving way to waves of brown that seemed to liquescence their irises.
The woman knelt before her, smiling maternally, extending a hand. Ruby took it, and could suddenly feel inside of her a strong persuasion; a warmth that would never go away, as long as she stayed by her side.


Bio: Shyla Fairfax-Owen is a tech writer by day and a creative writer by night. Her interest in speculative fiction and dark narratives led her to pursue a master’s degree of Arts, for which she specialized in Gender and Horror. She has now begun the journey of submitting her work for publication, and hopes it continues to be a successful one.

Free Fiction Friday: Mould and Blood


Mould & Blood

By DJ Tyrer


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Show me what?”

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

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

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



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


DJ Tyrer’s website is at


The Atlantean Publishing website is at