My Darling Dead: Episode 11/ The Tipping Point

Bron was torn. The girl was not much larger than his own daughter, who was docile enough during his visits to her at night, but the tone of her voice made him uneasy. He stood, uncertain, adjusting his wilting manhood through his dirty trousers. Alasin continued to stare at him, hands on her hips, making no effort to cover herself. 

Then his sneer returned, along with his erection. “No one would believe you,” he said, unfastening his trousers. “An’ if they did, no one would care. Yer name’s dirt ’round ‘ere, Your Highness.” The sneer sounded in his voice as he shot the bolt to the front door. “Yer mine.”

His insolence made Alasin’s blood boil. She had never wished harder for her poisoned blade, to plunge into the fat greasy man over and over until the walls were red with his blood. He started toward her, one hand reaching into his pants to grip whatever was in there, the other holding his pants up so they did not fall until he reached her. In spite of the wizard’s drug, Alasin felt the touch of fear. Bron smelled it on her. His member grew in his hand and his pace quickened. Involuntarily, Alasin retreated as he advanced upon her, backing until her legs encountered the bed behind her. They buckled, spilling her backward on to the mattress and the dead man. 

Bron was on her almost before she could react. His slobbering breath assaulted her nostrils as his tongue lolled from his mouth, drooling on her as he scrabbled between her legs with one hand, holding one of her arms immobile above her head with his other hand. Her free hand flailed, striking him, her short nails finding no purchase in the fat man’s flesh. Her arm went wide, searching for anything, and her hand closed around a sturdy wooden handle just as she felt something unspeakable and wet attempting to burrow between her legs. 

The blacksmith’s hammer glanced off Bron’s head with the first blow, sending him reeling away from her. Alasin shoved herself to her feet, getting a better grip on the handle just as Bron turned back to her, blood streaming from behind an ear. 

“Whu…you…b-b-b-” he said, and lurched toward her, arms reaching out as his pants fell around his ankles. His face drooped on the side she had hit him and one eye was bloody and dilated. He tripped and would have fallen had Alasin not swung the hammer once more with all her strength, caving in the side of his head and sending him to the ground. He spasmed once and she hit him again, and again, and again until nothing was left of his face and she realized she was screaming. 

She stopped, dropping the hammer into what was left of the peasant’s skull and stood, breathing heavily as she listened. No sounds from outside, nobody pounding but her heart. She listened to it thud in her chest and in time it slowed until she could no longer hear it.

She looked down at herself, fighting a wave of revulsion at the blood which covered her. Water. Was there any water here? A bucket by the front door caught her eye. She picked it up and set it on the small table that sat by the window. Opening the curtains just enough to allow a sliver of light, she could see clear liquid in the bucket. She tasted it. Water. 

Once she had satisfied her thirst and cleansed herself as best she could, she stood for a moment, looking at her reflection in the slowly calming water. A haggard wreck stared back at her, dark circles under her eyes, hair matted and straggly. A sob forced its way from her throat and she slapped at the water, destroying her reflection. A princess of the realm? Princess of dirt. 

Alasin moved about the small hut, gathering her clothing once more. Once she put on her underthings, she looked with distaste at the finery in which she had fled the castle and absorbed so much dirt. She did not want to attract attention as she had with the blacksmith. There were his clothes, but he was a giant; none would fit her. 

Her eyes shifted to the other dead body with whom she was currently keeping company, seeing him in a new light as she sized him up. He was wider by far but not much taller than she was, and if she blackened her face and hid her hair…

She knelt beside what remained of Bron, trying not to look at his face or genitals as she removed his minimally bloody clothes and failing at both. They both nauseated her. To her relief, his clothing fit her better than she had hoped. She even found a greasy cap crammed into the pocket of the filthy trousers into which she tucked her hair, pulling the cap down tight around her ears. In the corners of the hut she found a reasonable supply of dirt which she smeared on her face and neck. 

When she returned to the bucket, the face which looked back was dirty but unremarkable. The cap had a slight brim which she pulled down as low as it would go. On the open street, no one would look twice at her. The smell the clothes gave off stung her nostrils, forcing her to breathe through her mouth. She was almost certain she felt bugs crawling in her hair beneath the cap. 

Going to the door, she unbolted it and opened it just a crack. There was nobody within her field of view and nobody appeared as she opened it further. The street was deserted. She turned and looked at what she was leaving in her wake. Two dead bodies, one of whom was barely recognizable and the other who did nothing to deserve his fate but show a girl a good time. 

Tears sprang to her eyes and she pushed out of the door, slamming it behind her with a resounding snap as she strode up the street, toward the castle, toward the queen, toward everything she had known. She did not look back. If she had, she would have seen two rat people appear from the gap between huts and begin sniffing at the open window and the scent of death inside. 

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Chilling Chat: Episode 173 | H.E. Roulo

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H.E. Roulo’s short stories have appeared in several dozen publications, including Nature and Fantasy’s special Women Destroy Fantasy issue. She is the author of the Plague Master series. Fractured Horizon, her science-fiction podcast novel, was a Parsec HE ROULO 1Award Finalist.

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Heather. Thank you for joining me today.

HER: Happy to be here, Naching. 

NTK:  Could you tell us a little about Plague Master? What is this series about?

HER: Sure! I’ll throw a few buzz-words at you then dig into it a bit more. It’s a dystopian, sci-fi/horror, zombie YA trilogy. The series takes place in a solar system colonized by humans, but there’s a new infection raging on the planets.

There are a couple storylines, but the biggest one is Trevor, who grows up on a downtrodden planet that really didn’t need a zombie infection to make it even worse. There’s also a dome for infected who haven’t become zombies to go to, but of course, nothing is as it seemed.

In the new book, Plague Master: Rebel Infection, Trevor returns to his homeworld with a cure for the infection, except it stops working and he has to find out why. It’s not just politics and secrets, of course. There’s space travel, avalanches, and diving through zombie-filled tunnels.

NTK: Sounds exciting! What inspired you to write about zombies in a space setting?

HER: I’d released a sci-fi book, Fractured Horizon, and was looking to write something that would catch people’s attention. I saw a call for an audio drama and wrote a short, 40-minute script. They loved it (it’s out there in the Omega Road Chronicles.) I wrote a related short story, and that sold. It was obvious that zombies were good sellers and I felt like I had a different enough approach to stand out. I took what I’d learned and wrote the full novel. Plus, writing zombies is fun!

There are a lot of zombie stories out there. Fewer space zombies.

NTK: I have to ask…do you prefer fast zombies or slow ones?

HER: Oh, good question.

I promise I’ll answer that. First, let me say that I didn’t have to choose. In my world, the infected becomes violent and crazed as they first change—so you have the terror of the fast zombie. However, after a while, they slow down and become almost docile unless riled up, so you get your slow zombies.

This allowed people to think zombies could be kept in herds, like sheep.

Anyway, in general, I like the fast ones.

I loved 28 Days Later.

NTK: Are you a fan of George Romero?

HER: I think you have to give him credit when you talk about zombies. I wouldn’t risk calling myself a fan, though. I’m not nearly knowledgeable enough. 

NTK:  How much control do you exert over your characters? Do they have free will?

HER: Characters always act in ways logical to them, so sometimes they can’t take the path I had planned. Still, I always know the end of a story before I begin and it’s just a matter of steering them where they need to go.

NTK: What’s your writing process like? Do you outline?

HER: Oh, you may be sorry you asked that.

NTK: (Laughs.)

HER: I am a true believer in outlining. I have an entire process, and my most successful blog post ever was on how to outline a book—it gets tons of hits every fall as people gear up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s called, “A Simple Novel Outline – 9 Questions for 25 Chapters.”

I have to know my beginning and end. I need at least two or three scenes I’m really excited about.

Plague Master Sanctuary DomeAfter I have those, I plug them in to a chapter framework and start filling in around them. I used to do it in Word, but I’ve found the Scrivener is especially good for that. However, I usually end up pulling it back out as I get the story more filled in. Then I work in Word again.

Once I have the outlined chapters, I start at the beginning and work from front to back, never going back! I used to rework and rework. Now I just leave myself notes to go back if something changes along the way.

When I’m deep in a novel, I try for 2000 words a day.

I did warn you.

NTK: (Laughs.) You did. What is your favorite horror novel?

HER: Favorite questions are hard for me. I rarely have that kind of loyalty to anything. I like novelty. My favorite things are the stories, songs, and televisions shows I haven’t seen yet and that surprise me. I rarely consume anything twice. Today, I’ll fondly recall the horror of certain stories in the anthology Unaccompanied Sonata by Orson Scott Card.

NTK: Favorite horror movie?

HER: I’m a big fan of anything post-apocalyptic and dystopian. I had to read Cormac McCarthy’s grim and hopeless The Road after seeing the movie. I also love time travel and alternate realities. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind impressed me when it came out. Coherence and the movie Primer kept things interesting.

NTK: What attracts you to Dystopia?

HER: I’ve always loved dystopian stories. The Girl Who Owned a City was one of my first favorites. So was Z for Zacharia. I also loved Island of the Blue Dolphins and My Side of the Mountain. I think it’s about starting over, relying on your abilities to survive, and simplifying things

 

—not that most people think of dystopia as simple, but it does remove superficial troubles for real and basic needs.

So for me, it isn’t about the breakdown of society. I know that Island of the Blue Dolphin isn’t traditionally considered a dystopian story—but it’s about surviving with whatever you find yourself with. Starting over, and being able to build something new. Things get messed up—I’m sure we all look at the world and wish it was simple and basic, and about our own skills and ability—so a reset sounds great.

I wouldn’t actually want that, though. I have a family and comfortable things. (Laughs.)

Structure keeps us safe. These stories are about what happens when that safety net isn’t there.

NTK: Have you read The Stand by Stephen King?

HER: I haven’t. He wasn’t in the boxes of garage sale books my dad brought home each weekend—I’m not sure why. Eventually, I deliberately went back and read a few things by him, like The Long Walk, and was so impressed that I read his book On Writing.

Excellent advice in there, for any writers looking for a book.

NTK: What’s your favorite horror television show?

HER: The Black Mirror series has me hooked.

NTK: You’re a fan of the original Star Trek, do you have a favorite frightening episode from that series?

HER: Oh, that’s a new question!

I am a big fan of Star Trek, TOS, and of Next Generation, too. A lot of the series, actually.

What comes to mind is “The Devil in the Dark”, which is the one with the Horta, who seems like a monster but in the end we realize isn’t. There’s so much that’s fantastic in that episode.

I love creatures that are more than they seem.

I love subverting expectations, actually. I dislike predictable stories—give me something new!

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

HER: Well, we’re talking about the second book in the Plague Master trilogy, so you know PM Rebel InfectionI have to write the third and final one. I’ve had the series finale in mind for a long time, so I’m thrilled to finally write it.

I have a few other short stories that will no doubt come out. I tend to submit a lot except when I’ve got a book coming out.

And I’d like to sell a novella about a villain superhero called Heart of Marble. It’s dark and funny.

I also have an urban fantasy story that I’ve been trying to finish for about a year. It’s got four or five point of view characters, and bringing them all together for a satisfying ending has been tricky.

I think it’s a novel, but I need about ten more chapters to be sure. (Laughs.)

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Heather.

HER: I had a great time. Thanks!

 

Horror Addicts, you can find Heather on Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter.

Her new book, Plague Master: Rebel Infection, is available now!

 

Chilling Chat: Episode 172 | E.M. Markoff

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E.M. Markoff is the indie award-winning Latinx author of The Deadbringer and To Nurture & Kill. Growing up, she spent many days exploring her hometown cemetery, where her loveEMMarkoff_authorpic_sm of all things dark began. Upon coming of age, she decided to pursue a career as a microbiologist, where she spent a few years channeling her inner mad scientist. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association.

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat E.M.! Thank you for joining me today.

EM: Evening, Naching! Thank you for having me.

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

EM: Pretty young–in elementary school! Despite not knowing English, my mom was a fan of the Hammer Horror films and Vincent Price, and she was the one who first introduced me to the genre. She also never limited my reading, which allowed me to discover Stephen King at a pretty young age as well. I have no doubt all of this consciously and subconsciously helped shape my love of horror and “dark” things.

NTK: Did Stephen King influence your writing? Who influenced you the most?

EM: I have no doubt Stephen King influenced my writing, as he was the reason I fell in love with reading, to begin with. The vivid image of the monkey with the cymbals on the cover of Skeleton Crew is the first real memory I have of a light going off in my head and thinking, “Reading is amazing.” Other authors whose words have no doubt inspired me include Neil Gaiman with The Sandman series, Clive Barker, Shirley Jackson, C.S. Friedman, Carlos Fuentes, Junji Ito . . . the list goes on.

NTK: Where do you find inspiration? Do you find it in everyday life? In dreams? What inspired The Deadbringer?

EM: The heart of my inspiration for all my writing comes from my identity as a Mexican-American, which was passed on to me by my mom. All of my works, whether overtly or not, reference my culture. I do, however, sometimes get ideas in dreams. The first section of the chapter entitled “A Memory Dissolved by Pain” originated from a dream. I had been working on that section, with little progress, when it suddenly came to me. Consequently, the chapter title got its name because dreaming the dream and writing it was very emotionally difficult. I don’t like hurting my characters, so I tend to get pretty bummed out when something bad happens to them. The other major influence on The Deadbringer was the end of my mom’s life. The decisions that you have to make are painful, and that pain wound up carrying over to the characters that were also suffering a loss.

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

800px-the-deadbringer-cover-emmarkoff-ellderet-seriesEM: My characters are assholes with too much agency! (Laughs.) My editor says I like to “play house” with my characters, so to a certain extent, they have to do what I say. But–like life–sometimes they refuse to cooperate until I figure out exactly what it is that’s just not falling into place. I had this happen with a character who is unexpectedly getting their own POV in the forthcoming second book in The Ellderet Series, The Faceless God.

NTK: Your style is very distinct, almost Gothic. Do you enjoy Gothic horror?

EM: Thank you for those kind words. You just made my evening. Yes, I do love Gothic horror and have no doubt that it has found its way into my writing, although I know I have a long way to go before I can hold a candle to the masters of the style!

NTK: You mentioned your mother’s love of Hammer films. Are they your favorite too?  What is your favorite horror movie?

EM: It’s impossible not to love Hammer Horror films. Their films, in particular, all the Draculas because of the dynamic duo of Lee and Cushing, will always have a special place in my heart. My fave, however, is The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

NTK: Favorite horror Novel?

EMThe Picture of Dorian Gray.

NTK: Favorite horror TV show?

EM: El Maleficio.

NTK: E.M., what does the future hold for you? What do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

E.M. More immediately, I will be at a number of conventions, including one with HorrorAddicts.net at Sinister Creature Con from October 12-13.  My future plans involve publishing The Faceless God, the sequel to The Deadbringer, in 2020, as well as attending plenty of local Bay Area conventions and (hopefully) readings. I also have planned a standalone novella that focuses on two of the characters from the world of the Ellderet, and I have a few ideas for non-Ellderet short stories that I would like to see come to life. You can follow what I’m up to by signing up for my Newsletter of the Cursed. You can also follow me @tomesandcoffee on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter, or buy my works on Amazon or direct from me. As for my work as a publisher, readers can check out the horror charity anthology Tales for the Camp Fire, which includes a short diverse ghost story of mine — “Leaving the #9.” All profits from the charity anthology will be donated to Camp Fire relief and recovery efforts which will be administered by the North Valley Community Foundation.

NTK: I just interviewed Loren Rhoads about Tales for the Camp Fire. What a greatTales for the Camp Fire idea! How did you come up with it?

EM: It began as an idea by Ben Monroe, a fellow member of the Bay Area Horror Writers Association. The idea brought together horror writers from the Bay Area with the goal of giving back to the victims of a terrible NorCal wildfire – the Camp Fire. Loren Rhoads served as editor, curating an eclectic range of short stories that showcase the many faces of horror, including a story graciously donated by the estate of Clark Ashton Smith. The entire project is indebted to people who volunteered their time to put in the work necessary to bring it to life, thus keeping production costs low and maximizing profits for charity. Even now, the authors are continuing to do what they can to spread the word about the charity anthology because they want to give back to the community. I think it says a lot about horror writers, that in the face of tragedy they stepped up to help.

NTK: Awesome! Horror Writers are such great people! Thank you so much for chatting with me. E.M!

EM: Thank you for having me, and for the lovely interview, Naching. It was my pleasure.

My Darling Dead : Episode 9 | The Outside

 

Alasin stumbled out through the servant’s doorway at the base of the castle, trying to keep from hysterics. She had nearly been attacked by one of the guards, who had to be restrained by his partner. 

“Let ‘er go, matey, she ain’t worth it. Orders from th’ queen.”

“You murdering harlot!” screamed the other man. “What if they come for us? What if it’s war? If we die because of you I will haunt you until the end of your days!”

Alasin would normally have slain him for his insolence then and there. But the hatred in the eyes of both men and her mother’s shrieks ringing in her ears made her race, sobbing, for the nearest exit. As fresh air hit her face, she looked around in a frenzy. She had never been outside the castle by herself. 

To her right, the castle’s outer wall stretched into the darkness of night what seemed forever. To her left, it went on another ten feet before terminating in the north tower’s bulge outward. Before her, a grassy hill sloped gently down some hundred yards or so before the houses of the kingdom’s townsfolk began in earnest. Among them, she could see the shapes of her subjects moving, living, going about their lives. She had never feared them, but her mother’s banishing words and the cries of the guard she had encountered were fresh in her mind. 

She made her way along the path leading from the front gates towards the huts of the town, expecting at any moment to hear someone shout “The princess! Let’s get her!” No shout came, and she found herself walking down the little town’s main street. She searched in her mind for its name and could not get it to come to mind. She knew though that many of the people in this town were servants and workers at the castle during the day and so lived in close proximity. 

Of course, Alasin thought, instinctively leaning into the darkest part of the shadows, the more castle workers there were in this town, the more likely there would be someone who would recognize her. 

A rustling sound caught her attention as she passed a house and she stopped, turning toward it. The sound came from between two houses and sounded large. Larger than a mouse. Her ears strained to the breaking point, she thought she could hear breathing. 

“’ere now… wot’s this, then?” 

Alasin whirled, stifling a scream as her hand flew to her poisoned blade, remembering too late that it was back in her bedchamber. There was a scratching sound and sparks caught the wick of a lantern. The flame grew and illuminated a dumpy woman holding it, dressed in a brown smock with her hair in a bun. When she smiled at Alasin, it was with three teeth. 

“A t’ousand ‘pologies miss, I surely dint mean t’scare ye.” 

Alasin expected her to continue stammering excuses and prostrate herself at Alasin’s feet, begging forgiveness from royalty as was customary. Instead, she continued to smile at Alasin, clearly waiting for the princess to speak. 

“That’s all right,” she said, and tried on a smile. It seemed to fit, so she continued. “My name is Al…uh…”

“Aluh, that’s a n’usual name,” said the woman. “They call me Madam Flood.”

Alasin opened her mouth to correct her, then realized that Madam Flood had no idea she was speaking to the disgraced princess of the kingdom. She shut her mouth with a snap and pasted a smile on her face.

“But what,” Madam Flood continued, “is a girl like y’self doin’ out ‘ere alone at this hour, an’ all gussied up!” The old woman gestured, first at the sky and enveloping darkness then at Alasin’s clothing, her royal dresses more suitable for a fancy dress ball than simple townsfolk. “You know t’ain’t safe ‘ere no more, specially not at night!”

Alasin’s eyes were blanks in the lantern light. “Isn’t it?”

Madam Flood sighed and tutted. “Come wi’ me, foolish girl. Less get indoors where’s safe n’I’ll tell ye some t’ings ’bout the kingdom you livin’ in.” 

Alasin’s eyes flashed at the insult and her hand went to her dagger again before realizing again that it was gone, and for the first time, realized that she had nowhere else to go. A tear ran from an eye as she dropped her hand and followed the old woman.

Down the row of tiny houses she followed Madam Flood until she came to the last one on the row. Madam Flood mounted three rickety steps and pushed through a flap of fur that served as her door. Alasin grimaced as she followed, feeling the shaggy coat rub against her skin. She found herself in a dark little room with a lumpy looking cot, a fireplace with a rocking chair before it, and a small table. A single cupboard hung on the wall opposite the door beside a small window with dirty panes. 

“Well well m’dear,” Madam Flood said, setting the lantern on the table and stoking the fire so a cheery glow filled the room. “Where’ve you been that you d’no what’s ‘appening ’round ‘ere? ‘n what’re y’doin’ wanderin’ aroun’ in the’ middle o’ the’ night, drest like that? Young gel like you oughta be home wi’ her family.” 

“Never mind that,” Alasin said, and moved closer to the fire, warming her hands as it increased in size. “What’s going on outside? Why isn’t it safe?”

Madam Flood shook her head and settled into her rocking chair with obvious relief. “Wan’ t’know what I thinks, ’tis dark wizards.” 

Alasin’s face must have shown skepticism rather than incomprehension for Madam Flood leaned forward, nodding hard for emphasis. “Oh aye Miss Aluh, th’ dark wizards be ’round doin’ their wicked deeds, you can bet y’teeth. ‘ow else can y’explain…” she broke off, looking at the window as though someone could be peeping through at them, before looking back at Alasin and finishing in a hoarse whisper “…people creepin around…like animals…actin’ strange…ol’ farmer Supik sez ‘is foot was ‘arf torn off by a crazy git ‘oo acted like a mad thing, eatin’ dead mice in ol’ Supik’s hut.” 

The princess felt her stomach crawl at the thought of herself wandering around in the darkness, and the rustling sounds she had heard between the two houses before meeting Madam Flood. “What happened?”

“Well, Supik ain’t the’ type to bandy words wid a freak like that’n,” Madam Flood said briskly, rocking back in her chair. “’e grabbed the nearest rock ‘n put paid to ‘im in the’ face, sev’ral times I ‘eard.”

“How awful,” Alasin said, her voice faint. Her knees buckled. Madam Flood was by her side in a moment and turned Alasin so her fall was more of a controlled sinking into the mattress. 

“’ere ‘ere dearie, there I am tellin’ horror stories when yew need t’be gettin’ some rest, ” Madam Flood said, laying Alasin down on the bed. “Y’need yer rest n’you could do a lot worse’n this bed ‘ere. T’ain’t much but is better’n some c’n boast. Yew don’ wanna be goin’ out ’til is morn,” Pulling the blankets up to Alasin’s chin, she smiled her three-toothed smile at the princess. 

“Thank you… Madam Flood,” Alasin murmured, already half asleep. 

“Think nothin’ of it, Miss Aluh,” said Madam Flood, returning to her chair. “I’ll be ‘ere when you’ve rested yer eyes.”

Alasin started awake, the darkness complete around her as she wondered where she was and how she had gotten there. As she lay, staring into the void, she began to remember. She had been banished and taken in by a woman. She had fallen asleep and the woman had been tending the fire. But now the little hut was dark and cold, and the fire was nothing but a few glowing embers which put off no heat. 

Throwing the blankets off of her, Alasin rose to her feet and began groping her way toward what she recalled as being the chair in which her hostess had planted herself. There was no noise in the hut, no sense of another. Another step and her feet found the table, solid and immobile. Cursing under her breath at the world in general, Alasin navigated around the table and to the rocking chair, which sat heavy on the floor, also immobile. There was no breathing. Her heart froze. 

“Madam Flood?” Alasin said, her voice tentative in the pitch blackness. 

There was no answer. 

“Madam Flood!” 

Silence responded. Alasin reached out a reluctant hand, contacting Madam Flood’s shoulder before she expected to. The flesh was stiff below its garments. Stiff and cold. 

“Madam Flood!” Alasin shook the unresponsive shoulder, knowing it was pointless, hoping it would not be. Her hopes were in vain. Madam Flood would never respond to another entreaty again. 

Alasin stood in the dark for some moments, listening to the absolute silence, willing the corpse sitting in the chair to reanimate, to waken, to move, to stand and cheerily tend to the nearly-dead fire. When it became obvious this would not be occurring, Alasin forced herself to move to the fire. She had never stoked a fire in her life, but had witnessed it enough times to know the basic principles. Groping around by the hearth, she found a bundle of dry, brittle twigs and tossed them on the coals before leaning forward to breathe on them. Why, she did not know, but she had seen it done a number of times in the castle, and knew it to be the thing to do. 

The coals brightened under her breath, shriveling the first of the dried twigs with their heat. She continued breathing on them, encouraged by the brightening glow. As she took in her breath to exhale again, the twigs burst into flames. She let out a little squeak and threw more twigs on, which were speedily consumed. Looking around, she saw smaller pieces of wood stacked near the fire and threw two of them on the fire. It almost went out, but flared up when she resumed blowing on it. Within a few moments, she had a fire burning, banishing the worst of the shadows. 

Alasin stood and turned, looking at Madam Flood. The shadows hid much of the woman’s face, but the lack of movement was apparent, even in the low, flickering light. Madam Flood was dead, a fact which was made more apparent when a rodent scurried out of her robes to stare, beady-eyed at Alasin. 

The princess screamed and backpedaled, ramming her legs into the table. Appendages smarting, she wrenched open the door and fled, sobbing. In her home, Madam Flood continued to sit and grin at the ceiling, unblinking, even as the rodent ventured back onto her lap, up her chest and to her face, where it began nibbling the soft meat of her eye.

Chilling Chat: Episode 171 | Loren Rhoads

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Loren Rhoads served as editor for Bram Stoker Award-nominated Morbid Curiosity magazine as well as the books The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two, Death’s Garden:Rhoads Headshots 9-18 FINAL-1782 Relationship with Cemeteries, and Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues: True Tales of the Unsavory, Unwise, Unorthodox, and Unusual. Her short stories have appeared in the books Best New Horror #27, Strange California, Sins of the Sirens: Fourteen Tales of Dark Desire, Fright Mare: Women Write Horror, and most recently in the magazines Weirdbook, Occult Detective Quarterly, and Space & Time. 

Loren is an imaginative and skilled writer. We spoke of inspiration, editing, and cemeteries.

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Loren! Thank you for joining me today.

LR: My pleasure! I am really looking forward to chatting.

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

LR: I remember catching a glimpse of Barnabas Collins climbing out of his coffin when I was four. I didn’t know what I was seeing at the time, but the music was so deliciously creepy! I was definitely marked for life.

NTK: Is Dark Shadows your favorite horror TV show? What is your favorite?

LR: Wow, it’s hard to choose a favorite. I loved Dark Shadows, Kolchak, and the monster of the week episodes of The X Files. Now I’m loving Legion, which might not seem like horror, because the main character/villain is presented to be so charming. He’s really quite terrifying.

NTK: Do you prefer villains or heroes?

LR: I prefer characters who wander from one side of the equation to the other.

NTK: What do you think makes a character believable?

LR: Self-doubt.

NTK: When you write characters, do they have free will? Or are their actions predetermined?

LR: They definitely have minds of their own. I generally write to find out what I think, rather than the other way around, so I just wind my characters up and watch them go.

NTK:  Lily is a fascinating character in “Still Life with Shattered Glass.” What inspired that story?

LR: I was working at the University of Michigan as the Secretary of the Undergraduate English program. One of the perks was that I got to sit in on any English class I wanted, so I took all the creative writing classes. Students were strongly encouraged to “write what you know” so we read an awful lot of shitty roommate stories. I wanted to write a story where the reader wasn’t sure which roommate was worse. And I wanted to mock all the artistic pretensions that the undergrads were spouting.

NTK: “Still Life” is part of the anthology, Tales for the Camp Fire. Could you tell us what that anthology is about and what inspired it?

LR: Last November, there was a terrible wildfire in Northern California. Some of the power company’s equipment failed in a windstorm and threw sparks that burned for three weeks. The town of Paradise, California was leveled. The smoke from the fire was so bad that it could be seen from space. It drifted 200 miles from Butte County in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to settle in the Bay Area, where I live. For a week, we had the worst air quality in the world. So even if we didn’t lose anything directly in the fire, we were still affected by it.

Tales for the Camp FireThe local chapter of the Horror Writers Association decided to help the survivors. Ben Monroe suggested we put together an anthology that we could use to raise money for survivors. I volunteered to edit. Tomes & Coffee volunteered to publish it. All the stories—even the one by Clark Ashton Smith—are donations. The cover art was donated by Petersen Games. Even the cover designer donated her time.

All of the book’s profits are going to the North Valley Community Foundation, which is a clearinghouse in Butte County that applies funds to the greatest needs.

NTK:  Horror writers are great people. What did you look for in a story, when you edited that anthology?

LR: Because it wasn’t a themed anthology, I wanted to include as wide a spectrum of horror stories as possible: creepy, gross, funny, disturbing, thought-provoking, nightmarish. I wanted something about the story to stick in your mind after you read it, a splinter that would work away at you.

NTK: What is your favorite horror novel?

LR: The one I’ve read the most is Dracula. I find something new in it every time I read it. Other than that, my second favorite changes from day to day.

NTK: You spoke of your inspiration for “Still Life,” what inspires you in general? What gets the creative juices flowing?

LR: I’m just trying to make sense of life on earth. It can be so beautiful and yet so tragic. We don’t seem to make it easy for each other, even though we’re all trapped here. I write to get to the heart of that.

NTK: Do you have a favorite horror film?

LR: Alien. The first one. I still find it scary.

NTK: Is it the fear factor, or the fact that people are pulling together to fight a greater evil that attracts you to the story?

LR: I like watching Ripley, who is marginalized and ignored, turn out to be right. She knows what the protocol is supposed to be, but the more-emotional men overrule her and get killed for it. Watching Ripley, who has discounted herself, realize that she’s resourceful enough to survive it is amazing. And the monster still haunts my nightmares all these years later.

NTK: You are a well-known cemetery aficionado and I have been dying to ask you this question, have you ever been to Colma, CA?

LR: Oh so many times!

NTK: What’s it like?

LR: The absolute best. There are 17 cemeteries in town, one right beside the next. They range from Japanese to Chinese to Italian (full of sculpture) to Jewish to Catholic to a former Masonic cemetery to a former potter’s field. There’s even a pet cemetery!

They say 1 million people are buried in Colma but there are only 1,000 live ones.

Wyatt Earp is buried there, and Levi Strauss, and Emperor Norton (the only Emperor of North America and Protector of Mexico). It’s lovely and sad and full of treasures.

I don’t know if you know the history of the graveyards of San Francisco, but in the early 20th century, all of them were dug up and the bodies hauled to Colma. There are several huge mass graves down there. Even so, people keep finding bodies that were missed somehow and weren’t moved.

Several years ago, a woman doing yard work found an iron coffin with a little girl in it, still perfectly preserved, and visible through a glass window into the coffin.

NTK: Do you have any stories set in Colma?

LR: Not yet. I’ve written about it on Cemetery Travel (my cemetery blog) and in 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die, but I haven’t set a story there yet.

NTK: I look forward to those stories. Loren, what does the future hold for you? What work do we Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

LR: I’m finishing up a novel that I hope to have out in October, so I can sell it at the199 Cemeteries Horror Addicts table at Sinister Creature Con. It’s the sequel to Lost Angels (which HA gave a super nice review to several years ago). This new one is called Angelus Rose. It continues the story of Lorelei, a succubus who falls for an angel named Azaziel. It’s set in LA—and bits of it take place in Forest Lawn, Westwood Memorial Park (where Marilyn Monroe is buried), and Angelus Rosedale, where Buffy was filmed in its first season. The story skates between erotic horror and urban fantasy romance, lots of sex and death and graveyards.

NTK: Thank you so much for chatting with me, Loren. You’re a terrific guest.

LR: Thank you so much for doing this, Naching! You asked some great questions. It was really fun.

Addicts, you can find Loren on Facebook, Twitter, and at Cemetery Travel.

You can purchase Tales for the Camp Fire: A Charity Anthology on Amazon.

Book Review: Shanti the Sadist Heaven by Alessandro Manzetti

Review of Shanti the Sadist Heaven by Alessandro Manzetti By Chantal Boudreau

I agreed to review this book because after reading Naraka, I considered myself a fan of Alessandro’s.  His stylistic approach appeals to me, his use of vivid graphic imagery like extreme visual artwork laid out in written word.  And I expected after the gory and at times brutal story in the first book I reviewed, I’d be prepared for what Shanti would have to offer.

I was wrong.

While Naraka messes with your mind, makes you squirm and sometimes makes your belly turn, Shanti is a solid gut-punch.  It leaves you breathless with a sour taste in your mouth, and the need to look away, like witnessing a horrific accident.  I found the story so disturbing I had difficulty returning to the book after putting it down and I’ve read some pretty extreme adult horror.

I don’t know if it was the obvious loss of innocence at the beginning of the story, clear victims of a dystopian society gone wrong (vs the prisoner/prison setting), or the fact that it seemed more like something that could be happening somewhere in the darkest corners of our current world (compared to the outer-worldly space setting of Naraka) but the horror proved harder to face.  Or maybe it’s me – maybe I’ve softened in the interim – but I found Shanti a challenge to get through and I’m not sure what that says about me or this book. This just went places I didn’t want to go.

One of the notable points of the book, in addition to Alessandro’s both bewitching and bewildering style, is his strong characterization.  I appreciated the way he used sisters, Juliette and Justine, as contrasts for one another, and Madame Desroches is convincingly cruel and devilishly mercenary.  These are only a few of the myriad of colourful characters within.

Would I recommend this book? Well, that would highly depend on the reader.  This is not a book for everyone, especially not those faint of heart. I asked myself how something could be so beautiful and so horrible at the same time.  It is adult horror at is most graphic and grim, filled with the taboo and shocking to the point some would consider it “torture-porn”. If that doesn’t put you off, this might just be the book for you.

 

My Darling Dead : Episode 8 | The Consequences

Hespa looked up from her own window as the princess let herself in. “Idiot child!” she shrieked and seized the nearest thing to hand, an urn containing her husband’s ashes, and threw it at her daughter with all her might. 

“Mother!” cried Alasin, dodging out of the way and taking refuge behind a nearby chair. Behind her, the wizard stood framed in the doorway. 

“Would it have killed you, would it have made your life so unworth living, to have murdered that oaf Heyworth in his bed at night rather than in full view of three loud-mouthed guards?” Hespa asked, hefting a large ornamental vase threateningly. 

“Mother–”

“Your Highness, girl,” snarled the queen. 

“Your Highness,” Alasin said, her words rushing forth in a babble. “Heyworth, that dog, attacked me, would have beaten me and perhaps more! I had to–”

“Kill him in perhaps the bloodiest manner you possibly could conceive right then and there, rather than endure his offenses and murder him in his bed at night?” Hespa finished, her voice cracking as she heaved the vase at her daughter in fury at the last word, shrieking as it crashed to the wall beside Alasin. “Heyworth would have died in silence and been easily disposed of with no one the wiser but you and his kingdom would have become ours. Now his kingdom is trying to kill ME and from OUR kingdom are coming rumblings of dissatisfaction with its figureheads. Which includes you, you witless imbecile.” 

The queen pulled a dagger from a hidden shelf in the serving table and advanced on Alasin, her teeth bared. Alasin cringed against the wall as her mother closed the distance. “This is your doing and I will not have you within this castle to wreak more havoc while I am being hunted. You are not welcome in this castle…” Hespa stopped, the tip of her dagger resting against her daughter’s throat. Alasin’s eyes were huge, rolling, terrified. Hespa stared mercilessly into her eyes and poked the dagger forward to nick Alasin’s smooth neck. “…henceforth.” 

To the wizard, time seemed to stand still, the princess impaled fractionally upon the queen’s dagger as the former tried desperately not to move. Then the latter flicked the dagger down, withdrawing its point and standing aside, leaving the path to the door open. Sapius stepped inside, extending a hand to the open door. As though freed from a spell, Alasin rushed past her mother and out the door, wordless noises of terror spilling from her mouth as she tore down the corridor and was lost to sight and sound as the wizard closed the door to the queen’s chamber. 

Queen Hespa poured herself a glass of wine and sat down in her favorite chair overlooking the window. “Come, wizard, join me.”

Sapius took the second chair beside the queen but did not take a glass of wine. He brought out his pipe, stoking and igniting it without a word, nor a look at the queen. 

“You don’t approve,” Hespa said, sipping from her glass. 

The wizard maintained his silence, peering out the window at the darkness. 

“Loosen your tongue, Sapius, lest I loosen it for you.”

“Madam, it seems improper to punish the princess for the consequences of carrying on as you wished her to,” said the wizard. 

“Can’t you see?” Hespa said, her voice irritable. “Banishing her will secure my safety. It will be impossible for her to ever feel affection for me.” 

“I daresay, Your Highness, that there was very little danger of that to begin with,” Sapius spoke softly, taking care to keep the disdain out of his voice. 

Hespa drained her glass and scoffed. “Ha! What knows a wizard of the trials of a mother, or a queen, especially one whose daughter is cursed in such a dangerous way?” Staggering a little, Hespa lurched to her feet, making for the wine again. 

“Quite right, Highness,” Sapius said, also rising to his feet. “May I depart, I have pressing business to tend to.”

“Yes, begone with you, Sapius,” snarled the queen, overflowing her goblet as she poured. “Begone with your judgmental words of which I have no need.” 

Without a word, the wizard departed, leaving the queen alone in her chamber, clutching an overflowing goblet of wine and staring at her reflection in the window. Her eyes focused on the outside world and her blood ran cold for a moment. Beyond that window, endless blackness with the pinpoints of light denoting civilization as campfires burned, each tended by a subject who may or may not want to murder her. 

She hurled the goblet at the reflection, shattering both it and the window. Wine splattered everywhere.

“See what you’ve done?” she shrieked at the door Alasin had exited. “See what you have wrought?”

When no answer was forthcoming, Hespa pulled the green cord hanging from the ceiling. A bell tolled somewhere in the castle. After a moment, a rapping sound came at the door and a handmaiden entered, looking apprehensive. 

“You summoned, Mightiness?”

“Bring me more wine and a fresh goblet,” Hespa said. “And get someone up here to fix this window, it’s as cold as death.”

“Your will, Highness.” The maiden bowed and retreated.