Scary Sisters Horror Book Chat and Signing Event, Feb 16th

Sunday, February 16, 2020 (Free!)
Marcus Books, 3900 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Oakland, CA, 1-2pm

1:00-2:00 pm Scary Sisters Horror Book Chat and Signing Event

with Bram Stoker Award Winner Linda Addison, Nisi Shawl,
Crystal Connor, and Sumiko Saulson

Chilling Chat: 10 Quick Questions with Sumiko Saulson

chillingchat

Sumiko Saulson is a cartoonist, horror writer, editor of Black Magic Women – on the 2019 Stoker’s Recommended Reads List – and 100 Black Women in Horror Fiction. Author of MauskaveliSolitude, Warmth, Moon Cried Blood, Happiness and Other Diseases. Comics Mauskaveli, Dooky, Dreamworlds, and Agrippa. She writes for SEARCH Magazine.

1) How old were you when you first discovered horror?

My parents were both big horror fans, and I was watching horror movies in the theater when I was 4 or 5 years old. My mom told me dad took her to see Rosemary’s Baby when she was pregnant with me, but of course, I don’t remember that. I do remember watching Dark Shadows with Mom, Outer Limits and Twilight Zone with Dad, and going to see It’s Alive, the first horror movie I actually remember, when I was about 5 years old. It was about a horrible monster baby who ate people. I loved it! The first horror novel I read was Peter Straub’s Ghost Story when I was 11. I was also reading a lot of horror shorts among the sci-fi shorts in Asimov’s Science Fiction.

2) Who is your favorite author? Who has influenced you?

My favorite writer changes a lot and at the moment it is Toni Morrison, who isn’t even a horror writer but is one of my most-read writers nonetheless. My influences are all pretty mainstream. I picked up The Talisman when I was 12 and added Stephen King to my favorite writer’s list along with Edgar Allen Poe. Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Anne Rice, Dean Koontz, Christopher Rice, Susan Cooper, Frank Herbert. I have ingested so many books by a few favorites that I am sure my writing style has been affected. I am also a huge fan of anthologies and sci-fi, horror, and fantasy magazines where you can gain exposure to lots of different writers in small tastes, and see who you like. I read a lot of Weird Sisters and other horror tale magazines as a teen. Those affected me. Mythologies have affected me a lot. I read a lot of Greek, Roman and Norse mythology as a kid, and as an adult, I casually read both historical mythologies and created mythologies. I should have listed CS Lewis because the created mythology in Chronicles of Narnia impacted me heavily as an adolescent.

3) What inspired you to write your piece?

The song’s title “Under the Water” is from the song of that name by the artist Jewel from the movie The Craft. The story I wrote is about a ship that is being seduced by a giant cephalopod (squid or octopus) type sea monster such as a Kracken who wants her to become a ghost ship. Both the ship and the monster are female. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest was definitely an inspiration, as were Greek and Roman myths about sea monsters such as the Kraken and the Charybdis – a monster whose mouth created whirlpools to drag ships to the bottom of the ocean. The ship would have to sacrifice her human cargo to the monster, so they would become part of a ghost ship. As the ship is dragged deeper into the depths by the cephalopod, she begins to doubt the sincerity of the sea creature because she sees lots of dead seamen from the past and torn up ships. Then, the monster starts talking to her like Armand in The Theater of Vampires did to the woman he drained on stage, about how even if she’s being lied to it would be a glorious noble death so she wins either way. That part of the story was inspired by my former fiance’s battle with drugs, which ultimately ended his life, not long after. I had written a lot of sea stories the year prior about the drowning man sort of feeling being dragged down into the depths of addiction gives one. So this is sort of an allegory. Drugs are seductive and so is the sea creature.

4) How much control do you exert over your characters? Do they have free will?

Some of my characters have more free will than others. It depends on whether the story is world-driven or character-driven. The vast majority of my stories are character-driven, which means that about a third of the way into the story, the world is built, the scene is set, and the characters sort of begin to write themselves. The more free will the characters have, the less technical and more moving the writing is.

5) What did you learn from participating in the contest?

I do my best work short story when I have more time than was allotted during the contest. I have great story ideas, but my ability to follow through and edit them on such tight deadlines is severely inhibited. I’m good at taking, absorbing, and responding to criticism but I dislike it. I am very absent-minded, probably due to having post-traumatic stress disorder. Greg – my ex-fiance – overdosed May 26, 2017, and I could have pulled out of the contest, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to. I am a very determined person. I found out I am tougher than I think I am. I found out I CAN work on those tight deadlines, even if it isn’t my forte. And sixth place out of hundreds who applied and I think 15 or so who competed is not too bad. I also learned that it is really important to have clever story titles. And that I need someone else to proofread my work before I send it in.

6) Would you do it again? What would you do differently?

I don’t regret doing it so I absolutely would. I regret not asking for help after Greg died. I literally sent in the wrong manuscript, and I lost 10 points for not reaching the right word count and dropped from 4th place to 9th place overnight because I made a mistake and sent in the wrong file. It makes me want to cry when I think about it to this day. I had a version of the story that was completed, and I could have sent it in and I definitely would have placed higher – maybe 4th place, if I hadn’t slipped up. I can’t prevent people from dying, but I can ask for support when I need it from my family and friends. On the bright side, I did get the story accepted for Loren Rhoads’ charity anthology, Tales from the Campfire. She said it was her favorite one in the whole anthology! Of course, I edited it twice – once for an anthology Dan Shaurette was working on called Not Today  – he rejected it – and then for a Mary Shelley work honoring anthology of some kind that rejected it. Getting rejected and doing re-writes seems to be a part of the business. And I finally took the judges’ advice and changed the damned story title! It was called Experiment IV, it is now called Unheard Music from the Dank Underground. The advice about avoiding dull story titles was some of the most memorable from the contest. I would say it was an educational experience and that I notice the people who were in the top five are all popping up all over the place and quickly moving ahead in their careers so I think it’s educational, and good experience and people should go for it!

nghwedpsm7) What is your favorite horror novel?

         The Vines by Christopher Rice

8) Favorite horror movie?

        Candyman

9) Favorite horror television show?

        Supernatural

10) What does the future hold for you? What do we have to look forward to?

As you may know, I am the only black author who completed the contest, and even though I made it in sixth, not first place, that alone makes me a winner just because I decided to stick it out and to represent. I totally hate it when I am watching Face/Off or some other horror related contest and the black guy gets voted off in the first or third episode, so I was very determined to stick it out.

I got a lot of interest from black anthologies and people who are interested in horror authors of African heritage. I got three stories in Scierogenous II which is edited by Valjeanne Jeffers and Quinton Neal. I also edited Black Magic Women, a horror anthology on Mocha Memoirs Press. It ended up being on the Bram Stoker’s Recommended Reads list in 2018 and did quite well critically and in terms of sales. I edited Crystal Connor’s YA horror story My 1st Nightmare. I am editing my second anthology, Wickedly Abled, a collection of stories horror, dark fantasy and dark sci-fi by and about disabled people. I am working on Akmani, the fourth book in the Happiness and Other Diseases series and Disillusionment, the second in the Solitude series. I am starting to appear at conventions nationally and not just locally. I’m still churning out short stories and getting into more and more anthologies.

From the Vault: The Inimitable Tony Todd by Sumiko Saulson


From the Vault – So Good, it Bears Repeating.
Heroes of Black Horror History: The Inimitable Tony Todd

By Sumiko Saulson

My first exposure to the versatile and prolific Tony Todd was in 1990, when he starred as Ben Jones in the remake of George A. Romero’s 1968 horror classic “Night of the Living Dead.” Too young to have seen the original performance by Duane Jones, Todd’s take on the role was indelibly etched in my mind moving forward. My budding infatuation with Tony Todd became a full-fledged love affair two years later, when he acted in what many consider his career-defining film, “Candyman.”

Not having seen the original “Night of the Living Dead” until well after I watched the reboot, my first exposure to black representation in horror films had instead been the second in the Romero series of zombie films, “Dawn of the Dead.” In it, Ken Foree starred as the musclebound action hero type character Peter Washington. I was only ten years old, but I loved and rooted for its hero. Like many African Americans, I was proud to see such a positive portrayal of a black man in horror.

Watching Tony Todd in the 1990 remake of “Night of the Living Dead” was a much different experience. By then, I was a twenty-two year old woman and immune to neither an actor nor a character’s sex appeal. Ben Jones as portrayed by the unusually tall and thin Tony Todd, who is 6’5, was not a powerful man of action, but a soft-spoken, thoughtful character that remained poised and dignified in the most unusual and dire of circumstances.

Although both films are about humans trying to survive a zombie outbreak, unlike the action packed “Dawn of the Dead,” “Night of the Living Dead” spends a lot of time with its main characters in hiding or isolation. Ben Jones and Barbara Hamilton, a young white woman portrayed Patricia Tallman who is attacked by a horde of zombies at her parents’ gravesite at the start of the film, first discover and then gradually begin to rely on each other. Ben is a sensitive, soft-spoken character whose demeanor goes against stereotypical portrayals of black men. He rarely loses his temper, even when faced with racism on top of adversity. Along with other characters, the two struggle to survive against unfavorable odds by keeping their wits. Brains and calm and collected mind become more important than brawn and weaponry. Ben’s upbeat attitude in the face of tragedy gives the film heart. Because the Barbara character has more agency in this version than in the original, the Ben character is less the clear-cut protagonist of this film and Barbara’s role is more active and central.

After Candyman came out, I wasn’t the only one swooning over Tony Todd. His portrayal of the story’s iconic urban legend inspired title character was both nuanced and provocative. The movie was written by British horror master Clive Barker and directed by fellow Englishman Bernard Rose. Its subject matter, however, was distinctly American. Set against the backdrop of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green Public Housing Projects, it tells the tale of Helen Lyle, a white graduate student portrayed by Virginia Madsen who is investigating the true histories behind urban legends.

Despite the presence of a central white or white-passing character (the character is allegedly a distant descendant of Candyman), the backstory’s premise is steeped in the history slavery and the restoration. Most of the supporting cast is African American, including Helen’s bestie, Vanessa Williams, played by Anne-Marie McCoy, and Helen’s Cabrini information source Bernadette “Bernie” Walsh, played by Kasi Lemmons. There are several other key African American characters and a wealth of lesser or background characters.

None of the characters, including the protagonist, steal the show in quite the way Tony Todd’s charismatic and frequently sympathetic villain Candyman does. The brooding bad man approaches Helen in a provocative and often flirtatious manner, imploring her to understand the dark history of injustice and terror that lead to his monstrous afterlife. His deeply resonant voice is seductive and haunting. His character evokes such pity and empathy in the viewer that even as a villain, he could be considered a Byronic hero. When pleading fails, Candyman resorts to threats and bargaining. Helen is the hero and the catalyst for the story, but Candyman is clearly its star. In spite of this, and his stand out performance, Todd didn’t win any awards (he was nominated for one, “Fangoria”), while Virginia Madsen won three.

From the start of his acting career, Tony Todd seemed poised for the world of speculative fiction. Although “Night of the Living Dead” was his first starring role, his motion picture debut was as Barrington in the 1986 fantasy “Sleepwalk,” about a Chinese manuscript with mystical powers. Fantasy and horror weren’t his only speculative acting roles. Some of you will remember his appearances on sci-fi television program “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as Worf’s younger brother, Kurn.

Todd is often cast in villain roles, and horror is the genre he is most solidly associated with. He played the villain Grange in 1994’s classic dark fantasy film, “The Crow,” starring the ill-fated Brandon Lee, who died during production. The movie, based on a dark super hero comic book, contained many elements of horror. Grange, a gangster, is merely a henchman of the main villain Top Dollar. However, in classic Tony Todd character style, Grange is the one who discovers that the crow is the source of hero Eric Draven’s powers.

His characters often have dark mystical knowledge, even when they are neutral, or on the side of good. William Bludworth, his character in the “Final Destination” series, is a coroner who has some special magical knowledge of how death (the entity, not the action) operations. Like Grange, William Bludworth can be considered somewhat problematic as a cinematic trope known as the “magical black character.” These are token black mystics who use their special magical knowledge to aid the story’s white protagonists (or in the case of Grange, villain). However, he is a notable character in the series by virtue of being the only repeating character besides Clear Rivers, the original protagonist (played by Ali Larter) to appear in more than one film. Since death never appears in the flesh in the movies, the Bludworth character acts as an anchor for its personification, performing as a medium or mystic of sorts. He appears in more than half of the movies.

The movie “Candyman” spawned two sequels, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) and Candyman: Day of the Dead (1999).  While “Farewell to the Flesh” was well-received and succeeded as a sequel, it lost much of the Afrocentrism of the original 1992 Candyman film. Fay Hauser as Pam Carver plays a significant enough role to prevent Todd from being the token black actor, but the significant decrease in black actors in both speaking and background roles makes certain elements of the backstory a bit more problematic.

In the story, Candyman originally existed as a free black man Daniel Robitaille.  He was an artist and the son of a slave. His eternal torment is the result of having been tortured, maimed, and murdered by a white mob for sleeping with a white plantation owner’s daughter whose portrait he had been commissioned to paint and getting her pregnant. Candyman’s central targets as victims are women who are descend from his bloodline.

The story becomes increasingly problematic with each sequel as the viewer begins to wonder why these descendants of Candyman’s biracial daughter are predominately white. By the third film, one begins to wonder why the blonde starlet (Donna D’Errico) is the descendant instead of her black girlfriend Tamara (played by Alexia Robinson). In a seeming effort to relieve the second movie’s lack of color, the third film takes on a Day of the Dead theme, a series of Latino secondary characters, and a new Los Angeles location. None of this saves the movie, which is by far the worse of the three. Some of the other acting performances were so bad that not even Tony Todd could save it, and it ultimately killed the franchise.

Although these are his best-known horror series, Tony Todd’s notoriety as a horror actor has landed him a number of parts both large and small over the years. He played a parody of himself as an obnoxious, entitled actor in two episodes of the television show “Holliston” entitled “Candyman.” Some of this other movie roles include Ruber in “Dead of the Nite,” a story of ghosts, ghost hunting, and murder; Reverend Zombie in “Hatchet II,” and Reverend Abraham Stockton in “The Graves.”

Tony Todd remains very active in acting and other pursuits and at 61 years of age, is still widely regarded as a sex symbol. He was a voice actor in a 2015 animated treatment of “Night of the Living Dead” subtitled “Darkest Dawn.” Other 2015 forays into horror for the busy actor included Eddie in “Frankenstein,” Detective Johnson in “Scream At The Devil,” Dr. Murphy in  “Agoraphobia,” and the pastor in “Live/Evil.” “Frankenstein” was written and directed by Bernard Rose, co-wrote and directed “Candyman.” Tony Todd also keeps up his creepy bad guy image with a recurring role in the television series “The Flash” as Zoom, an arch-villain who is kind of the anti-Flash. He stars as Detective Sommers in the horror film “Zombie,” currently in post-production.

In addition to his successful movie career, Todd has a substantial history in both Broadway and off-Broadway theater. His onstage credits include Donkeyman in Athol Fugard’s “The Captain’s Tiger,” the title role in August Wilson’s “King Hedley II,” and Reuben Tate in “Zooman and the Sign.” He continues to be active in theater, and is currently starring in Jack Megna’s “Ghost in the House,” a historical piece about Jack Johnson (March 31, 1878 – June 10, 1946), the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion. A victim of Jim Crow laws, the boxer convicted of violating the Mann act in 1913 for traveling with a white woman across state lines for “immoral purposes,” despite a lack of evidence. One of Tony Todd’s personal causes is working with other celebrities to ask President Obama to issue a posthumous pardon to Jack Johnson for his unjust imprisonment.

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sumiko armband

Sumiko Saulson a horror, sci-fi and dark fantasy writer. Her novels include “Solitude,” “Warmth”, and “Happiness and Other Diseases.” She is the author of the Young Adult horror novella series “The Moon Cried Blood”, and short story anthology “Things That Go Bump in My Head.” 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 is a horror blogger and journalist

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.

 

********

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.

 

 

#NGHW News: Interview with Contestant: Sumiko Saulson

 

What do you love about horror?

Horror is the genre we use to tell cautionary tales, to warn humanity of the folly of our ways. It’s the genre that celebrates the struggle of the spunky underdog against nearly impossible odds. Win or lose, we are so deeply mired in the life of that character that we are concerned about his or her future. Horror is a character-centered genre because we need to care about the protagonist in order to relate to his or her fear. For all of the criticisms about how horror desensitizes us, it also forces us to learn empathy for those unlike ourselves, whose struggles we do not often consider, by asking us to take a cold, hard look at man’s inhumanity to man. Using monsters and other supernatural creatures to convey the story creates enough distance from our bad behavior as a species to allow us to think things over without immediately going on the defensive.

What was the first horror movie/story/book/show that you fell in love with?

Although “Planet of the Apes” is generally considered sci-fi, as a child the subtextual plot about the destruction of humanity that replaced us with intelligent apes was my first exposure to dystopic fiction, which many consider being horror. I was terrified when they showed the Statue of Liberty and revealed that this had all happened on Earth and was pretty obsessed with the movie when I was about five. However, the first purely horror film I fell in love with was “Ben.” I saw it with my dad when I was eight – he thought I’d like it because I had a pet mouse. It was a double feature with “Willard”… I absolutely loved it, and the Michael Jackson song as well. I was 8, so you know I thought Michael Jackson was cute – every little black girl in America did back then. But he wasn’t the one I was in love with – it was Ben. I was totally incensed by the cruel treatment of the poor, beleagured Ben by the evil rats and the cruel humans who picked on him because he was a rodent.

Can you describe the sort of horror stories you write?

My primary genre is psychological horror, such as you see on “Twilight Zone,” “Outer Limits,” or movies like the “Stepford Wives” and the recent Peele film “Get Out.”  I also write gothic horror and dark fantasy, but there is always an element of psychological horror, even when there are monsters like zombies. My horror stories are character-driven usually involve multicultural or Afrocentric characters, and often have strong female characters as their central protagonists. There is a lot of range in terms of goriness, depending on the type of supernatural threat and what the audience is, but some of my stories are really violent and relatively disgusting.

Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what?

I often listen to gothic or alternative rock music, punk, grunge, or metal. I also listen to rap, hip-hip, R&B, and soul. It really depends on what the story is. I usually pick out music that I think the character I am writing would listen to. Because it helps me to get into character and visualize the world that character lives in.

Do you have any hobbies besides writing?

I enjoy drawing and painting… in fact, I make comic books and little zines that are mini-comics. I work primarily in acrylics on paper, but also, on canvas or wood. I’ve had paintings exhibited in galleries and cafes. I also enjoy fashion, music, and going dancing.

What is your favorite part about writing?

I find writing very therapeutic.

What is your favorite word?

Proactive.

What is your least favorite word?

Ulcerated.

What turns you on in a book?

Humor. If I don’t like an author’s sense of humor, I am unlikely to find the story particularly interesting, regardless of the genre it’s written in. I can usually identify a particular author by his or her sense of humor once I am familiar with their work.

Why should people be on team Sumiko?

My stories make people think. I think I have something important to bring to the world of horror.

 

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