Book Review: The Butcher’s Tale

Hello Addicts.

Imagine a future where people addicted to reliving other peoples’ memories they will give up everything for the experience. That is where former shock jock, Johnny C. Vid, finds himself at the beginning of The Butcher’s Tale by Nicholas Walls.

In the future, a new technology known as Vicarious Reality (VR for short) has become a popular past time.  It allows you to experience your greatest fantasies without actually doing them yourselves.  Even though it is someone else’s memories, you feel like it is happening to you.  The sights, the smells, the excitement, all feel like the real thing when it is nothing more than a replay piped through a physical connection in your brain.  That is where we find Johnny C. Vid, a former popular shock jock, turned unemployed and homeless VR addict.  So desperate for a fix, he goes to where his current supplier obtains his recordings in the lowest levels of the city. It is there that he finds a massive man wearing a pig mask hunting for people to torture.  It doesn’t take long for Johnny to find himself impaled on a meat hook, wishing for death.

The first half of this book was a good read for fans of slasher horror tales.  The amount of blood and violence is on par with what you’d find in a “Friday the 13th” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movie.  Johnny also gives off serious Captain Ahab vibes as he remains focused only on his pursuit of destroying the man in the pig mask, whom he calls “The Butcher.”  The reason “The Butcher” tortures his prey is also clearly given: he too is a VR addict.  The difference? He rips the recordings from his victim’s minds so he can relive every juicy moment of pain, fear, and anguish.  For Johnny C. Vid, it’s not some noble quest to vanquish the demon but straight-up vengeance.

What took me out of the story was, after the midpoint, the narrative shifts from horror to space opera/spy thriller.  To me, it felt a bit disjointed after Johnny got his revenge, and the horror aspect ended.  Overall it is a good read, but only if you look at it as two books, an original and the sequel, for the price of one.

Until next time, Addicts!

D.J. Pitsiladis

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Logbook of Terror : Doll Island

A fictional representation of a real Cursed Location – Doll Island

I never should have taken the doll down from that twisted, blackened tree. I wish to heaven that I’d left its decayed, plastic corpse where I’d found it. But I’d promised my dear niece Tabitha a truly unique character to add to her growing collection of morbid and obscene figurines, and I would be damned if I was going to leave this cursed island without it. Taking a doll, just one of hundreds of thousands, seemed an innocent offense. I assumed that surely no one would notice its absence. Alas, I had been wrong… Dreadfully wrong.

The tourist group was easy to break away from. I waited in the shadows of a dense grove of tangled trees, observing until the last ferry boat had returned empty and the employees were gone for the night. Apparently, not even a single one of the workers had the courage to stay on the island after dark. When the last failing rays of sunlight gave way to the deep purple glow of sunset, I left my hiding spot and walked among the dolls. Thousands of eyes of every color and type stared at me, tracing my every footstep. Vegetation rustled beneath my shoes. Insects sang and welcomed the oncoming night. I breathed in the humid air, the odors of age and neglect, of rot and decay, that floated around me. A voice whispered behind me, high-pitched, like a whistling in the wind. I stopped. I shuddered. My eyes darted back and forth. Smiling doll faces, half-melted and faded by the sun, glared back at me. Cold fear slithered down my spine. Hairs rose along my neck. High, hollow laughter echoed through the trees.

I quickened my pace. I had to find a suitably awful doll and escape this place before I ended up in the trees myself.

In the steadily increasing dark, I rounded a curve and walked along the edge of the canal. Another laugh flitted through the air. I froze and looked into the trees. There, above me, I saw her: a most wretched, withered dolly hanging just within arm’s reach. Thin blonde hair covered in green mold, weaved itself over a grime-covered, cherubic face. A tattered and faded pink dress clung to the doll’s body. Her eyes pierced my heart with their cold stare. It was then that I knew. She was the one. Tabitha would surly adore her!

Retrieving the dolly from the tree proved to be as easy as I’d hoped. The twine holding the toy in place practically disintegrated in my fingers as I unwound it from the doll’s limbs. Night had fully fallen and I held the doll up, inspecting it in the moonlight. She was wonderfully awful–a truly unholy relic indeed!

After carefully placing her in my roomy satchel, I set out to find shelter for the night, as after a good night’s rest I planned on blending in with the first tour group of the morrow and taking the boat back to Mexico City as if I’d been with them the whole time. Nary had I taken a dozen steps when I heard the sound of quiet splashing among the lilies in the canal.

I stood in place and listened. My mind told me that any creature of the water could have made that sound but my heart told me that it must be something far more sinister. A trickle of sweat broke on my brow. I turned. With eyes wide, I saw her standing atop the lilies–the girl whose legend told of her drowning in the canal so long ago. She pointed a ghostly finger at me. Her black eyes stared like the marble eyes of the dolls. A thin, watery whisper crawled from her throat.

“Llevar a su espalda, ella me pertenece a mí!” The girl floated across the water toward me, her phantasmal form radiating a soft white glow, illuminating the mud, moss, and slime that clung to her tattered dress.

My mind told me to run but my feet would not obey.

“Llevar a su espalda, ella me pertenece a mí,” the girl repeated, her dark eyes fixed on the satchel slung over my shoulder.

Although I needed no translator to know that the girl from the water wanted me to fix the doll back in her resting place among the tangled tree limbs, through my limited Spanish vocabulary I knew that she was saying, “Bring her back, she belongs to me.” However determined as I was to bring a gift home to my adored niece, I would do no such thing.

Fueled by purpose and terror, I ran along the canal. The words of the girl floated on the wind and stung my ears. Still, I did not stop. A feeling of some strange possession came over me, warping my sensibilities. With my feet and heart pounding, my voice wailed in my mind, repeating, “She will never have her back. The doll is mine!” I then determined to commandeer my own vessel and leave the island at once after which point I would trudge back to the city on foot. I had lost all sense of reason. Onward to the docks–like a madman–I ran.

The drowned girl’s voice grew from a singular moan to a choir chanting a miserable command. Voices assailed me from every angle. I saw them in the trees. Small mouths of porcelain and plastic moved in their ghastly cadence. My eyes watered and my skin grew cold.

All the island’s dolls cried out, “¡Traerla, ella nos pertenece a!” Again and again they demanded, “Bring her back, she belongs to us!”

I shrieked at the dolls to cease their infernal wailing. Then, running across a tangle of roots, I lost my footing and crashed to the ground. I writhed about as if one stricken with demons, the rising chant of the dolls’ voices bearing down on me, enveloping me, tearing at my collapsing sanity. Cold, wet hands grasped my collar. The girl from the canal shook me and screeched. Her mouth stretched wide. Fetid brown water–mixed with blood–gushed onto my face, filling my gaping, scream infested mouth. I choked on the vile liquid.

The girl gazed deep into my heart with her pitch black eyes as water rushed from her mouth, pounding onto my face. Instead of splashing off my skin, the water held place and rose as if the girl were submerging me in a body of water.

I cried for mercy. Bubbles floated up through the water. The grim visage of the girl swam above me, fading, becoming murkier by the second. I felt my satchel slip from my shoulder. I sank deeper into the water, the pale moonlight barely visible above. I echoed a final plea for the girl to let me live before the water entered my lungs and my eyes fell shut.

What may have been moments or mere seconds later, an old man was beating on my chest and shouting at me in Spanish. Gasping, I rolled to my side and spewed bitter water from my mouth. I was on the bank of the canal, the full moon shining down. A young boy who carried towels and wore a shocked expression stood at the old man’s side. The old man sighed, shook his head, and helped me to my feet.

After leading me to their hovel, while drinking tea and drying off by the fire, the young boy explained in broken English how he and the old man lived on the island, that they were the keepers of the dolls, and that they had found me face down in the canal, on the verge of drowning. In return, I told them my tale of the girl who had pursued me and of the voices of the dolls which had driven me to the brink of madness. I inquired to the man and the boy if they had my satchel, and that’s its contents were of great import. They simply nodded and told me to try to sleep.

Dawn broke early on the morrow and cast a brilliant, sweeping glow over the island. Although the sun was warm and welcoming, it could not wipe away the previous night’s terrors. I shivered as I followed the old man and his young companion along the path to the docks. While en route, I dared look up into the trees. There the doll sat on her perch among the gnarled limbs, precisely where I had found her the night before. Upon seeing me, her eyes brightened and her lips curled. A faint laugh echoed from her chest and I fell to the ground screaming.

Two days later I regained consciousness in a hospital in Mexico City. I was informed that an old man and his grandson had admitted me and that I had been in a most fearful state, raving about dolls that wanted to kill me and destroy my eternal soul. I had been subdued and placed under watch. The physicians had seen this before and were apparently not surprised.

The next day as I rode the bus out of Mexico City, I vowed to never again trifle with dolls. Although I surely wanted to bring a present home to my dear Tabitha, she would have to grow her collection of foul figurines without my assistance.

 

Logbook of Terror : Plague Island | Poveglia Island, Venice, taly

Plague Island!

Pressing the sharp tip of the chisel hard against the young woman’s temple, I screamed at her to settle down and hold still. I was her doctor, I knew best. I kept telling her this, over and over, my voice rising in pitch and volume, my patience diminishing, my contempt for these unruly patients increasing. Didn’t they understand that I only wanted to help them? As I’d told her, I just needed to get inside her brain. If I could remove the plague infected section which caused her insanity, she would be cured, and then we could all leave this god-forsaken island. I steadied the chisel and raised my mallet high to strike.  

The male patient on the gurney to my right struggled against his restraints, spouting off some rhetoric about not hurting her. Oh, the cries of the insane, how they bore me! “Leave her alone, don’t hurt her! Please, doctor, please!” Always with the begging and pleading. Such weakness; how it sickens me! I am far above this station –a genius such as myself has no business in these wretched climes. How did I get here?

I felt my hands shaking. A sudden, agonizing jolt wracked my brain. Static, as if that of an olden television set in between channels, spit flurries of white across my vision. The well-lit operating room became a dirty, decaying chamber full of cobwebs and ruin. The female patient in front of me was tied to a grimy, rust-covered gurney, held tight by some type of colorful rope that I did not recognize. The man beside me was also strapped down with a similar colorful rope. He wore strange clothes which I’d never before seen: a coat made of a material unknown to me, orange and shiny and slick, that made odd swooshing noises when he turned beneath his restraints. As well, his shoes and trousers were indeed not from a time familiar to me. He howled at me in protest, his face turning red, spittle flying from his mouth, clenching his fists and struggling. I shook my head and blinked my eyes. It must be the ghosts again, I thought. When will they cease with their torments?

My eyes turned back to the male patient. He was once again dressed in his urine stained gown, his wrists bound with white cloth that held him to an almost clean gurney. I smiled. He screamed. Turning back to my female patient, I raised my mallet once again. 

A hard punch landed in my gullet. I doubled over, dropping the mallet and chisel. My patient had somehow wiggled free of her restraints. Curses! Another blow landed hard on my back, sending me to my knees. The woman was screaming. I could hear rustling cloth. She was freeing the male patient. No! They cannot escape! I must complete my work! I cried out for them to halt, snatching up my surgical tools and rushing after them as they fled the operating room. 

I gave chase to my patients through the corridors of the hospital, dodging pale and dirty patients who wandered the halls, their black eyes staring. Their mouths hung open, emitting a green vapor and filling the air with moans of pain and horror. How strange, the hospital’s residents seemed to appear almost translucent. Had they always looked as such? As we rushed past, the loitering patients turned to follow. 

Determination blazed in my mind –these two would not get away!  We scrambled through another short hallway, down several flights of stairs, and burst through a service entrance, out into the night. I grinned. I had anticipated their steps. As I suspected, they were heading for the tower! 

The sweet smell of rot and burned corpses filled my nostrils as I ran. The moans of the following patients echoed behind me. The screams of the two escapees led the way in front of me. Sweat poured from my brow, raining down my skin, stinging my eyes. I called out, commanding them to halt. I was their doctor, why weren’t they listening? Without looking back, my two patients rounded a corner and disappeared through the arched tower door. 

The ghoulish moans increased behind me, growing closer and closer with every step. I glanced back to see an endless stream of pale, rotted and decomposing patients hurtling toward me. They seemed to move effortlessly, as if floating at an ever increasing velocity, howling, crying out for my doom. Their empty eyes burned terror into my heart. These foul beings were not my patients; these were the cursed apparitions, back to torment me again! But they would not have their victory. I ran on, fleeing into the tower. 

Pursuing the living while being pursued by the dead, I pressed on, up and up the tower steps. Finally, reaching the top, I burst into an open room. Cool night air poured in through the open windows that lined the walls. I cried for my patients to show themselves. Without word, they pounced from the shadows, both assailing me at once. Grappling with one another, we stumbled back and forth. The male patient leveled a blow to my side. He screamed fiercely at me, calling me by a foreign name but speaking as if he knew me, telling me that some ghoulish force had taken control of my mind, begging me to halt my rampage. There was another flash of static –fierce and hot- and a quick, jarring memory filled my mind: A chance meeting at a café in Venice, a boat, a secret trip to a haunted island. Then my wits returned. I knew it was but a ruse, for he was my patient and I, his doctor and there was but one objective: to free him from the clutches of insanity. 

During our struggle, none of us had noticed the crowd of apparitions that flooded into the room. Icy hands gripped my shoulders, neck, and arms. My patients screamed anew, crying out for help. The female patient shouted in my face. I blinked. I saw her. It was Clarice, an American traveler who, along with her fiance Michael, had befriended me two days prior. We had met in the city. I had invited them to join me on my paranormal adventuring. 

I saw my own hands. I saw my own clothes. I remembered who I was. Horror filled my being at the realization that I had attacked my companions. But there wasn’t time to worry about that, for the ghosts were throwing us off the tower.

The three of us fell, screaming into the night. A dense bank of mist which surrounded the tower’s base swallowed us away. I waited for the impact of solid earth and the smashing of my brittle bones but such pain and agony never arrived. I floated in the mist, calling out to my friends, pleading for their forgiveness. Their voices echoed back at me from somewhere deep inside the fog. Then it came- the dreaded crash, only, it was soft. I rolled along the ground and came to a stop. The mist had deposited us at the island’s edge. We three watched in shock as the fog left us, floating out to sea and fading into the night. 

It seemed as if we screamed until we had no voices left. Just before dawn we were rescued by a passing craft helmed by local fishermen who were kind enough to ferry us back to Venice. Upon returning, my fellow adventurers and I vowed to never set foot on Poveglia again, the cursed plague island. May its malignant ruins one day be buried deep beneath the sea!

My Darling Dead: Episode 7 | The Assassin

The captain of the guard, Bortix Legional, stood atop the walls, looking down into the valley. It smelled like rain, and he was looking forward to being indoors for the night, having done his share of guard duties in seasons past. He was distracted from his vigil by the clattering of footsteps as a figure made its way up the dim steps. 

“Beggin yer pardon, sir,” the voice of Klinden the guardsman said, mounting the last step and turning to join Bortix at the battlements, “but there has been an unusual report from the northern realm.”

Bortix rolled his eyes. “There are always unusual reports from the northern realm, Mister Klinden,” he said. “Continue.” He reached into his shoulder bag for his pouch of tobacco and pipe, loading it and striking a match as Klinden continued. 

“Farmer in the near north sez that he came into his abode and beheld a man who resembled a rat. He ate a dead mouse, then attacked the farmer, until the farmer was able to subdue him.” He grinned a little. “Not a pretty sight. Took a rock, an’–”

“I can imagine, thank ye.” Bortix inhaled and sighed. “What the ‘ell am I s’posed to do about it?”

“That’s a good question, sir,” Klinden said, nodding. Bortix glowered at him.

A young cadet named Stroveta sprinted up the stairs and skidded to a halt. “Sir! There has been an assassination attempt upon the queen!”

Bortix stared. “Say again, soldier?”

“Chap with a camouflage robe managed to sneak in somehow, the queen disarmed him herself before he could put a blade in her but she’s not happy at all. She commands you attend her in her chamber after you interrogate the prisoner. Sir!” The cadet threw a salute and stood awaiting further orders. 

Bortix raised an eyebrow at Klinden. “Mind the watch, Mr Klinden. Cadet, back to your post.”

The queen and her daughter had long been students of self-defense, learning from Bortix how to disarm and disable in case their guards should fail in some regard. Bortix, while instructing them, gravely advised that failure on the part of his soldiers to protect the royal family could result in execution, but that a headless guard would never bring the queen or her daughter back to life. So when the man posing as a servant made a wild stab in Hespa’s direction, she reacted without thinking, snatching the man’s wrist, applying pressure to a point in his wrist and twisting his numb hand up behind his back, forcing to him to the ground. At a shout from her, five guards burst into her chamber, swords drawn, spears at the ready. They beheld their monarch standing behind a stranger who was kneeling before her, tears running down a very red face with an expression of agony as she jerked his arm ever higher between his shoulder blades. 

“This scum attempted to put a blade inside me,” snarled Hespa, breathing heavily as she addressed the first guard. “Find out who he is and where he comes from.” She jerked his arm up savagely and a loud, wet pop reverberated in the chamber and in the ears of every guard. The man sucked in a breath to scream but before a sound could escape his throat the queen’s voice was hissing in his ear. “Suffer in silence or I will end you myself right now.” In her hand suddenly appeared a long slim blade, the tip a fraction of an inch from the man’s eye. He shut his mouth, tears streaming down his face as the soldiers jerked him to his feet and marched him from the room. 

Hespa paced back and forth in her chamber, her mind still racing. Her narrow escape bothered her, not because of her own mortality but because it spoke to the lack of security from which the castle suffered. She was not in the habit of looking at her servants as they attended her and only the quick movement in the reflection of the window had alerted her in time to turn and block her would-be assassin’s arm.

There was a knock and Bortix stood in her doorway. “Your Highness.”

“Enter, Bortix, and tell me that the slime has divulged his master and purpose and departed this realm,” the queen snapped, moving to pour herself a glass of amber liquid and sip from it as Bortix made his report. 

“Lady, the assassin was sent by the kingdom of Heyworth, in retaliation for the death of the prince murdered by the Princess Alasin.”

The queen’s eyes grew wide and she swallowed half her drink. “Did you learn anything else?”

“Nay, milady. Alas we were unable to get anything more out of ‘im, for the techniques employed to acquire as much knowledge as we did left the prisoner so diminished that he expired shortly after sharing that information.” A ghost of a smile flitted around his mouth.

“Good,” muttered the queen.  

Alasin stood at her window, staring into the darkness and at her reflection. She blinked. It blinked. She smiled. 

It did not.

“Good evening, Princess.” 

Alasin jumped and whirled, half raising a hand to strike before she saw it was the wizard.

“Sapius!” she gasped. “Announce yourself!”

“I apologize madam, I merely acted in haste to inform you of your mother’s wishes.” He spread his hands apologetically.

“What is it?” Alasin asked, her hands shaking. “What does she want?”

“It regards the fate of Prince Heyworth, madam.”

“His fate was known to my mother and she was unbothered by it,” Alasin said, doing her best to maintain her composure. 

“Yes, but that was before she had survived an assassin’s attempt to dispatch her as retribution for your crime.” The wizard’s voice was flat, but chills reverberated from it. 

Alasin froze, her eyes moving back toward Sapius slowly, her face an expression of horror. As if on cue, there was a knocking at her chamber door. “Milady, guards.” 

The princess’s face was the color of parchment as she stammered out “Enter” and looked with terror to Sapius, who only smiled in that infuriating manner. 

The guard who entered was a simple man. He had been a farmer before he had tired of the physical labor and joined the armed forces. He had no  time for theater nor playing games and was a favorite to play cards with, for his face was an open book. Alasin read on it now, fear and loathing as the guard looked at her. 

“Princess, the queen bids you join her in her chamber.” He stepped back, into the corridor, spear at the ready, waiting for her.  

“You could not honestly have thought that your secret would not travel.” the wizard said, sounding severe. “Three soldiers beheld you in the act of murdering the prince. We had them killed as soon as possible, but it was too late. They have told, and those have told, and it didn’t take long for spies to relay the word to Heyworth kingdom that Princess Alasin murdered Prince Heyworth with her poisoned blade. It took even less time for a cadet to spread the word that the queen has already narrowly escaped assassination.”

Alasin’s eyes grew huge. “You mean… does everybody know?”

“You may draw that conclusion, Princess,” said Sapius.

Odds and Dead Ends: Scary Shadows | Analysis of H G Wells’ ‘The Red Room’

 

H. G. Wells might be more known for his science-fiction novels, such as The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, but some of his short stories might as well have been written by H. P. Lovecraft. The Red Room is a straight up ghost story in the same vein as M. R. James. It’s a little gem of a story, and I’d like to share some of my thoughts as to what makes it such a delight.

The Red Room details the protagonist taking up a challenge of sorts to stay in a cursed castle bedroom overnight. The opening sets this up nicely in what might now seem a cliché. The opening line that ‘“I can assure you,” said I, “that it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me,”’ is reminiscent of Jack Torrance in Kubrick’s The Shining saying ‘“That’s not going to happen to me”’ when Ullman speaks of the previous caretaker going insane.

This single line perfectly sets up the beginning of the character’s arc (from skeptic to believer), tells us the genre of story (supernatural), and the character of the protagonist. His skepticism is reinforced when he says that ‘I half suspected the old people were trying to enhance the spiritual terrors of their house’. He is ‘abbreviated and broadened to an impossible sturdiness in the queer old mirror at the end of the room.’ He sees himself as a rock, immovable against anything that passes his way. However, the mirror has changed his appearance, and just as he sees himself to be a rock in a storm, his faith is soon to be changed.

The protagonist’s disbelief in ghosts is due to a fear of age and dying. It is said that he is ‘“eight-and-twenty”’, which is twenty-eight for those who don’t speak century old English, making him a young man. This is in contrast to the three elderly people who apparently live in the castle. This fear of their age presents itself when the protagonist remarks that ‘There is, to my mind, something inhuman in senility.’ Age removes human qualities, and so something very old is to be seen as disgusting, or feared. Spirits, dead for many years, must be terrifying to him.

As the protagonist leaves the group for the room, they are described as ‘dark against the firelight’, which is one of the many allusions to shadows peppered throughout the opening. This further links them to the spirits that will eventually come to haunt our protagonist. Just a little later the protagonist himself expands on this idea, even remarking that ‘their very existence, thought I, is spectral.’

Along with this is the line ‘“It’s your own choosing.”’ This line is repeated like a mantra throughout the opening, and though it may be a bit overdone, the message is clear. By disobeying the warnings given, he brings the doom upon himself. This cliché also gets played up in The Cabin in the Woods, when the group ignore the warnings not to go up to the cabin. You get what’s coming to you.

Soon, even before we enter the room itself, Wells drops the recurrent image that will pervade the remainder of the piece, that of moving, sentient shadows fighting against the candlelight. There’s something very primal about this opposition, very simply a play of light against dark, of good against evil. ‘My candle flared and made the shadows cover and quiver.’ That the shadows are anthropomorphised, being said to have ‘came sweeping up behind me, and another fled before me into the darkness overhead’ is disturbing. Light has to be controlled by man, dependent on him, but the dark can move as it wishes.

The repetition and enhancing of this play of ghostly shadows is what drives the remainder of the piece. ‘The door of the Red Room and the steps up to it were in a shadowy corner.’ The protagonist must move into the realm of darkness if he is to attempt to hold out against it. The room itself is a ‘huge shadowy room with its black window bays,’ full of dust and ‘black corners, its germinating darkness.’ And against all this the candlelight has very little effect, ‘a little tongue of light in the vast chamber; its rays failed to pierce to the opposite end of the room.’

Despite being disturbed by ‘some impalpable quality of that ancient room,’ the protagonist tries to ‘preserve my scientific attitude of mind,’ and examines the room ‘systematically.’ He lights several candles throughout the room, illuminating all that he can, but despite this he still puts his revolver ‘ready to hand.’ Have all his efforts been in vain? He tries to maintain that he is in control of his emotions and that his ‘precise examination had done me a little good,’ and yet ‘I still found the remoter darkness of the place and its perfect stillness too stimulating for the imagination.’ All the build up at the beginning of the story begins to pay off, as our anticipation for ghosts and ghouls overrides the common sense saying that there is nothing there. Every mention of a black spot, a shadow in the rafters, is somewhere we search for ghosts in between the lines, looking for subtext. We are literally jumping at shadows.

A draught enters the room, and soon the candle in the alcove begins to flicker, which ‘kept the shadows and penumbra perpetually shifting and stirring in a noiseless flighty dance.’ An attempt to light more candles gives us his humorous remark that ‘when the ghost came I could warn him not to trip over them.’ Though this line is obviously a joke to himself, he’s brought ghosts into his everyday vocabulary, thinking of them as existing in his world. He’s begun a path away from disbelief into acknowledgement.

And then the candles start to go out.

Now that Wells has ratcheted up the tension by implication alone, he brings on the scares. The alcove, where the deepest shadow has been, is suddenly in darkness again. A candle has gone out. When trying to relight it, two more go out. The shadows do not give him time to bring back the light, and immediately move in for the kill. Again the comparison of the darkness to calculated activity is drawn, as ‘the flames vanished as if the wick had been suddenly nipped between a finger and thumb.’ The protagonist moves closer and closer to hysteria, and ‘a queer high note getting into my voice somehow.’

The protagonist, hysterical, again breaches into the realms of ghostly belief by exclaiming that ‘“those candles are wanted… for the mantel candlesticks.”’ He begins to fight against the shadows’ continuous extinguishing of the candles, ‘the shadows I feared and fought against returned, and crept in on me, first a step gained on this side of me, then on that.’ It is a fight that he can only lose because as was said many times at the beginning, it was a fate of his own choosing.

And yet the ambiguity is still maintained, because the draught was never initially shown to be ghostly in nature, and when he picks up another candle, ‘abruptly this was blown out as I swung it off the table by the wind of my sudden movement.’ Wells continually holds the reader in suspense of wanting to see something overtly supernatural, so that we voraciously follow the protagonist’s stumbling with our own clumsy speed, running headlong through the pages. It is Wells at his finest.

His escape from the room is even deliberately non-supernatural, battering himself up by his own stumbling in desperation and anxiety. And in the end, the final revelation of the nature of the malevolence in the room is a beautiful touch. ‘“Fear that will not have light nor sound, that will not bear with reason, that deafens and darkens and overwhelms.”’ It is described as being a supernatural force, but it is entirely possible to view it as a kind of mass hysteria. Somewhere creepy that instills fear that causes people to essentially, accidentally kill themselves in terror. The disorientation of a sudden acceptance of the possibility of spirits, of the loss of a guiding light, combined with his fear of age and decay, all fuel a Todorovian fantastic story. It’s a wonderful touch to end the piece.

In conclusion, The Red Room is a masterfully crafted ghost story that should be remembered with the best. A great build up to a frantic fight of the rational vs. the irrational part of the brain, with memorable descriptions of the sentient shadows, in a spooky gothic castle. It’s inspired my own work[1], and I hope that you’ll find something delightfully spooky from it as well.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: KJudgeMental

Bibliography

King, S., 1977. The Shining. United States: Doubleday.

The Cabin in the Woods. 2012. [Film] Directed by Drew Goddard. USA: Mutant Enemy.

Todorov, T., 1975. The Fantastic. New York: Cornell University.

Wells, H. G., 1896. The Red Room. [Online]
Available at: https://repositorio.ufsc.br/bitstream/handle/123456789/157356/The%20Red%20Room%20-%20H.G.%20Wells.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
[Accessed 23 06 2019].

Wells, H. G., 1897. The War Of The Worlds. United Kingdom: Pearson’s Magazine.

Wells, H. G., 1931. The Time Machine. New York: Random House.

[1] For those interested, the piece in question, The Voice-Snatcher, will be released in The Sirens Call #45 at the end of June/beginning of July.

My Darling Dead: Episode 1 – The King

 

 

As a hurricane is preceded by calm, the kingdom of Dandoich had known peace and prosperity for many years. The townsfolk fought, argued, lied, cheat, stole and generally behaved as humans do, but they were content within their sphere of existence. There had been the odd uprising against this noble or that plantation owner, but it was swiftly quelled by the kingdom’s royal guards, often without too much bloodshed. A true civil war had not happened in centuries.

King Wendell had been ruling the throne for over sixty returns of the season and had taken care to extract the maximum enjoyment from his posting as he was able. Wary of the fate of his own father, Rockney the Beheaded, he exercised his kingly power with discretion, well aware that he was ultimately at the mercy of his own people whose population far outnumbered him. As a result he was well loved by his subjects, who knew their grievances would be fairly heard out and attended to in a fair and just manner.

Today, the bells were tolling as though for a wedding, but with one tone missing. The bell carrying the middle C note had been silenced, and the altered tone of the bells told of the christening of the princess, and all hastened to the square to bear witness. Christenings were the common practice in the kingdom, but the christenings of royalty were done by a fairy, and many of those living in the kingdom today had never beheld a fairy in the flesh. They were mystical beings, rarely seen unless they chose to reveal themselves.

Queen Hespa looked at herself in the mirror, her gown’s dark green blended with her red hair nicely but she could have shattered the mirror and used its shards to cut her own throat. Her smile remained frozen as her ladies in waiting bustled about her, adjusting a stitch here, a loose end there, an unbasted seam somewhere else. They were a hive of activity about her and she wondered, once again, if today would be the day she would take her own life.

The king, ensconced in his own chambers, looked up from the wench servicing him to beckon another to refill his glass with the honeyed mead he preferred. Another set his ceremonial crown on his head, and he could feel his neck creaking. He never wore the enormous heavy thing except for formal occasions, and his daughter’s christening would definitely qualify if nothing else would. He took a mighty drought of mead and hiccuped. It was his third such mug, but with the fairy Esmeli appearing tonight, he would need all the strength and nerve he could get. He glowered at the servicing wench, who had paused for breath.

“Did I tell you to stop?”

Dutifully, she returned to polishing his boots.

The princess Alasin, not yet two months old, wriggled in her crib as her nurse changed her. She had no idea that her very existence would bring about the ending of the way of life that so many generations before her had enjoyed. She did not know that her father’s affair with the fairy Esemli would plunge the kingdom into turmoil for years to come. She simply slept, dreaming baby dreams, oblivious to the world around her.

Two guards stood at the entrance to the castle, bedecked in garlands and flowers to mark the christening day. Both felt like the posterior of an equine, but knew better than to remove them. The only soldier who had done so was now on latrine duty for being out of uniform.

“Cor,” grunted the larger guard. “’ot as ‘ell today.” He spit.

The other nodded, yawning and exposing several yellowing teeth. “Aye.”

“’most noon,” said the first, squinting at the sky.

The second looked to the sky as well, nodding as he did. “Aye.”

“I never seen’t a fairy before,” the first continued, looking up at the sky as though he expected her to drop from the clouds. “They purty?”

The second licked his lips, unaware he had done so. “Aye.”

The first guard chortled and scratched himself. “Where do a fairy come from?”

“D’no,” the second said, shrugging. In his mind, he came upon a fairy in the woods, missing most of her clothes, chest heaving. His manhood throbbing, he walked up to her and…

“I’ll thank you, sir, to remove that filth from your head this instant,” a cool voice whispered in his ear. The guard jumped a mile, colliding with the larger guard who was still staring at the sky.

Esemli stood with her hands on her hips, long blonde hair waving in the gentle breeze. Her dark green tunic and leather boots were of the deepest forest greens and browns the guards had ever seen. Her green eyes matched them perfectly as they radiated scorn at the second guard, who at that moment felt the size of a worm.

“A thousand apologies, Milady,” he stuttered, stumbling over his words as inane jabber raced through his head. “I was… you see we…”

Esemli held up her hand and the guard’s voice froze in his throat, though his mouth still worked, attempting to speak. “Do not finish. You will go inform the Lord Wendell that I have arrived and await his pleasure in his receiving room.” So saying, she lowered her hand and swept past them through the door they guarded as the larger guard followed, leaving the second guard to regain control of his vocal cords and pray the fairy did not speak of his discourtesy to the king.

When King Wendell arrived in his receiving room, the windows had been covered and the torches burned with a dark red light, casting large shadows in the room’s corners. Esemli’s blonde locks were a muted bright spot in the dim room, and the king made his way toward her, blood rushing unbidden to his loins.

“My lady,” the king said gravely as he approached her.

Esemli turned, the shadows giving her face a sinister cast as she smiled and dropped her tunic from her shoulders. “My lord,” she whispered, and moved to greet him.

Queen Hespa stood outside the receiving room door, listening to the sounds coming from within. There were no tears from the queen, only rage. With the strength of fury she raised a foot and kicked the door open with a bang. The sun was behind her coming through a window slit and it fell neatly through the door and illuminated the king atop the fairy.

Horror Addicts Online Writers Conference – A HOW How-to Video!

 

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz answers Your Questions about the HorrorAddicts.net Online Writers Conference and explains some of the Forum Technology and Live Events happening at HOW.

 

 

Join us February 24-28 for Writing Workshops, Author Videos, Publisher Chats, and More. It’s Free to sign up and So Easy you can do it in your Purple Peter Cushing PJs – say that Three Times Fast!

 

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