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"TRUE BLOOD...NEW BLOOD...BAD BLOOD" (SERIES FINALE REVIEW)

August 30, 2014

Yes, there will be spoilers galore in this review of the series finale. No, I was not happy with the last episode of True Blood. I’ve had major problems with the series for the past few seasons, but I hung in there because I thought the payoff would be worth it in the end (and because the humor and eye candy kept me entertained).

The best part of the last episode happened in the first ten minutes and involved the character of Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard). He and Sookie (Anna Paquin) never even shared a scene together – a real shame in my opinion – but he saves her life by killing the Japanese assassins sent by a ruthless businessman to murder her. I loved that part – especially the segment showing Eric driving away in the assassins’ muscle car with a pile of dead bodies in the backseat, all the while bopping his head to a frantic techno tune. That was just so Eric.

Besides seeing Jason Stackhouse (Ryan Kwanten) give up his promiscuous ways to settle down with a wife and kids, the only other thing I liked about the episode was learning the fate of Sarah Newlin (Anna Camp). Her blood being the only cure for Hep-V, she is being sold every hour of the day to any vamp willing to pay the $100,000 price tag. Considering all the damage her character inflicted during the series, it seems a more fitting punishment than death.

I also didn’t mind all those amusing commercials showing that Eric had become a millionaire from selling “New Blood.”

OTHER MAJOR EVENTS THAT HAPPENED

The wedding of Jessica and Hoyt (Deborah Ann Woll and Jim Parrack) gets my vote for the most pointless, boring nuptials ever. The least they could have done is put Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) in charge. I suppose they wanted to have a tender moment before the demise of Vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer), so he could walk Jess down the aisle. The fact that Hoyt didn’t even remember Jessica or their past together (since she wiped his memory in a previous season so he’d leave town) didn’t seem to matter – or the fact that a marriage between a vamp and a human wasn’t legal.

It also irks me that Lafayette didn’t even have one line of dialogue during the finale. He’s always been one of my favorite characters (along with Pam – played to the hilt by Kristen Bauer van Straten). I am happy he found true love with James (Nathan Parsons), at least.

Speaking of true love, since Alcide Herveaux (Joe Manganiello) was killed early in the season I thought Sookie would most likely end up with her first love, Bill Compton. When he contracts Hep-V because of her, and they become romantically involved again, I believed his cure and their reunion were both inevitable.

But no, instead we get Kill Bill Volume 3. Bill thinks the only way Sookie can have a normal life is if he sacrifices himself, but he wants Sookie to finish him off. What? He asks Sookie to use the last of her fey powers to kill him, which would also make her completely human…and “normal.” Oh, but suddenly Sookie no longer wants to be ordinary. She refuses to use her fey power and instead chooses to go the messy (gory), emotional route and stake him. What?

Then, for the last scene, we skip ahead four years to see a big Thanksgiving feast at Sookie’s house with everyone who is still alive around the long table (except Eric and Pam, of course). In attendance: Sheriff Andy Bellefleur (Chris Bauer) and Holly, Jason and Bridget, Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) and Nicole, Arlene (Carrie Preston), Lafayette and James, and a bunch of kids.

Sookie is so pregnant she’s about to explode. Right before the credits roll, she walks up to a dark-haired man (who has his back to the camera) and gives him a hug. What?

Okay, so maybe the writers thought that keeping Sookie’s true love a mystery would be less controversial. Diehard fans of the series have always disagreed about who Sookie should end up with for her “happily ever after.” This way nobody wins their bet.

WHAT I WISH HAD HAPPENED

Eric saves Sookie from the assassins, but he hangs around a little longer (still covered in blood) to show her he cares and to tell her goodbye.

Jessica and Hoyt say they are engaged to make Bill feel better, and Lafayette is so happy she’s given up on James, he throws them a kickass engagement party at the place formerly known as Merlotte’s. (Somewhere in there I would have thrown in a minor orgy and an attack on Jessica and the other vamps from fairies out for revenge over the murder of Adilyn’s three Halfling sisters.)

After she is able to read Bill’s thoughts and can understand how much pain he’s in, Sookie wants to put him out of his misery. She decides to use her fey powers because that would be quicker and easier for both of them. What she doesn’t know – thanks to one last gift from fairy Grandpa Niall (Rutger Hauer) – is that when she uses all of her remaining fey powers on her vampire soul-mate, who had ingested her special blood, it will turn him back into a healthy human.

Bill and Sookie can now have a normal life together. Well, normal except for this: at their wedding, Jessica walks Bill down the aisle and then Tara’s spirit possesses Lafayette so she can be Sookie’s Maid of Honor. Because losing Tara (Rutina Wesley) in the first episode of the season was a low blow.

Oh, and Sookie gets knocked up during the reception – that big celebration you see right before the credits roll.

And there you have it: an ending that doesn’t suck.
 

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FLASH FICTION FRIDAY - "MIDNIGHT AT WAVERLY HILLS"

August 22, 2014

Happy Friday. It’s time for another flash fiction tale. “Midnight at Waverly Hills” was written a decade ago. I set it at a local haunt here in Louisville – Waverly Hills Sanatorium. (I posted the prequel, “One Last Night at Waverly Hills,” a couple of months ago, and you can find a full-length ghost story about Waverly in my eBook collection, “The White Death and Other Ghastly Ghost Stories” – on Amazon, B&N, etc.)

Hope you like this one: Two teenagers have a rendezvous with terror at an abandoned tuberculosis hospital.

 

MIDNIGHT AT WAVERLY HILLS

 

At least it had stopped drizzling.

A minute before, Brad had thought he’d heard a scream, but then decided it must have been the fierce March wind screeching through the old sanatorium’s busted out windows.

Waverly Hills had closed down in the 1960s – once the “White Death” that was tuberculosis had been eradicated. Now the supposedly haunted hilltop structure was on the National Register of Historic Places. Teenagers were no longer allowed to trespass for the purpose of getting high, making out, or doing damage.

But Brad’s rich, pretty girlfriend was used to getting her way. Earlier that evening, Jessica had bribed the security guards into taking a break around midnight. She was supposed to meet Brad here at the front entrance, below the gothic-looking stone tower.

She was late. Had the ghost-hunter extraordinaire gotten cold feet?

Brad sincerely hoped so. He took a deep breath of cool, moist air, and glanced around nervously as the sounds of footsteps and rustling dead leaves reached his ears. He aimed his flashlight down the covered walkway to his left – and felt both relieved and disappointed.

It was Jessica.

“I thought you’d chickened out.” He gave her cold lips a light smack.

“Not a chance.” She pushed open the heavy wooden doors and stepped aside. “You can lead the way. I forgot my flashlight.”

Brad did so reluctantly.

The decaying interior reeked of mildew. The once lovely woodwork in the lobby was covered with obscene graffiti, and on the marble floor, murky puddles of water lay between piles of plaster and debris.

The preservationists are going to have one hell of a time restoring this place, Brad thought.

“Thousands of people died here,” Jess whispered.

“Not hard to believe.”

“It used to be so beautiful.”

Brad didn’t care. He wanted to get the ghoulish tour over with.

He aimed his flashlight up the twisting main staircase. “Where we headed…Room 502?”

“Yeah, we can go there first.”

Something small and sharp hit Brad on the back of the neck, then bounced off and landed on the step behind him.

“Cute.” He leaned over and picked up the vintage bottle cap. “Just remember, babe…if I turn and run, you’ll be left in the dark.”

“That wasn’t me, Brad. It was probably the spirit of a child. Lots of sick children were treated here, too.”

“Whatever.”

Brad slowly moved up the dilapidated open stairway, holding Jessica’s hand. Shadows danced around in the eerie moonlight. Dark shapes seemed to reach out for him at every creaking step and turn.

He quickened his pace, dragging Jess behind him until they reached the fifth floor landing.

Actually, there was no fifth floor – they stepped out onto the windswept roof. Room 502 had been built below the now empty bell-tower, and was used to house TB patients who were mentally ill.

It was where a distraught young nurse had hung herself in 1928.

Jessica stepped past him into the ice-cold room. “Can’t you feel the sadness?”

Brad figured that was a rhetorical question. He was feeling more uncomfortable by the second.

He tiptoed around the litter, following Jess and keeping her in the beam of his flashlight. The wind howled around them like a million banshees. Despite the numbing cold, he broke into a sweat beneath his denim jacket.

“Jess, come on, we’d better head downstairs.”

“Okay. There’s one more place I want to show you. It’s on the first floor.”

Jesus H. Christ. How’d he end up with such a creepy girlfriend?

Brad knew what Jess wanted to see, and he’d been hoping she’d forget about its existence.

The Death Tunnel, or “body chute,” was located at the rear of the building. It was a five hundred foot tunnel that led to the bottom of the wooded hill, where cadavers were delivered to the crematorium, or picked up by hearses for burial.

The bodies were dropped a hundred feet using a stretcher mounted on rails.

Brad stumbled after Jessica down the first floor hallway. He felt drops of water hit his face, mixed with bits of plaster. Trusting the roof to hold them up had probably been foolish.

And they weren’t getting any smarter. They should’ve left for home by now.

The opening to the tunnel was in the wall straight ahead.

Brad leaned over and pointed his flashlight down the concrete shaft. The rails and stretcher had long since been removed.

A bat flew out of the tunnel and over his head. He jumped back with a startled yelp.

“Jess, hurry up and have a look. I’m not spending another minute in this hellhole.”

“But Nora wants you to, Brad, and so do I. I’d miss you, just like Nora missed all her patients when they died.”

“Not funny.” Brad whirled around – and his heart nearly stopped cold.

Jessica stood there smiling, blood running down her face. The right side of her head was caved in.

“I got here early and just had to have a look. Nora convinced me to stay.”

Brad’s knees wanted to buckle as he saw another figure step out of the shadows – a woman in an old-fashioned nurse’s uniform. Her head was tilted funny and there were rope burns on her neck.

“Say you’ll stay with us, Brad,” the apparition said, its raspy voice echoing off the high ceiling. “Join our family.”

Brad’s throat was closing up – he couldn’t scream. The flashlight slipped from his numb fingers and clattered to the floor.

The beams shot out in a wide arc, illuminating more of the hallway. Coming up behind Jess and Nora were a legion of half-naked entities, including children. They had pasty-white skin and sunken eyes. Blood dribbled from their mouths.

They shuffled towards him, blocking his escape. There was only one way out.

Brad took it.
 

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A REVIEW OF STEPHEN KING'S "MR. MERCEDES"

August 02, 2014

I love a good mystery. When I was a kid, horror fiction was my first love, but by the time I started Junior High I had also become obsessed with whodunits and sought out every mystery series in existence. When I heard last year that Stephen King was writing a hard-boiled detective novel I think I squeed a little.

“Mr. Mercedes” is set in a Midwestern town in 2010. The nation is still in the middle of a recession, and retired police detective Bill Hodges is so depressed and lonely that he’s thinking about eating a bullet. But then he receives a taunting letter from a killer he was never able to apprehend. The sick bastard had driven a stolen Mercedes-Benz into a crowd of job fair applicants, killing eight people. Then he had used an online social site called Under Debbie’s Blue Umbrella to goad the car’s owner into committing suicide. Mr. Mercedes hopes to do the same to Hodges. Of course, in the meantime, he’s also planning a more ambitious attack on the public. Hodges is determined to stop him, and a game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

The novel isn’t a whodunit (as far as us readers are concerned). King alternates Point of View between Hodges and the killer, young Brady Hartsfield – who, like the character of Norman Bates, definitely has mommy issues.

Hodges’ motivation to intervene, despite his retirement, becomes even greater when he’s hired by Janey Patterson to find the secret tormentor who drove her sister to commit suicide.

The first half of this book has an old-fashioned feel to it that brings to mind the works of Chandler and Spillane. A broken, cynical detective haunted by the case he couldn’t solve gets involved with two wealthy sisters. An unlikely romance develops, leading to more twists and turns and a race against time. But even when Janey buys Hodges a fedora, he realizes he can never be a real-life Philip Marlowe. He lets Janey try it on for size, along with his seventeen-year-old neighbor and computer-whiz sidekick, Jerome. The fedora becomes somewhat symbolic, and with its sudden disappearance the book changes course and mood.

Hodges makes some mistakes, but so does Brady Hartsfield. And in the second part of the story we are introduced to a new important ally who comes to the aid of Hodges and Jerome. Holly is Janey’s neurotic, middle-aged “spinster” cousin. At first, I wondered if I’d be able to handle her eccentric behavior without becoming too annoyed, but I was won over fairly soon. King had me rooting for this unlikely trio. Hodges knows he can’t play the hero, and he won’t be able to catch the bad guy all on his own.

In the old days, a tale would pit a gumshoe (always a loner and the only hero of the story) against the mob or an evil mastermind. But now society has to deal with a different kind of enemy: mass murderers who gun down people at a McDonald’s restaurant or plow through a playground filled with children.

The world of Brady Hartsfield is a dark, hopeless one. I can’t say I had much sympathy for him, but I understood why he became a monster.

Just before I read “Mr. Mercedes” I found out that it was the first book in what would most likely be a trilogy. This pleases me. I love the main characters and I enjoyed the story from start to finish. So if you aren’t a fan of horror and you’ve been afraid to read a novel written by Mr. King, I suggest you give this one a try.
 

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"GRAN, WILL YOU TELL US A GHOST STORY?"

July 11, 2014

On this date five years ago my paternal grandmother passed away at the age of ninety-eight. I think about her a lot these days, remembering the times my brother and I would spend the night with her and she would regale us with tall tales while we drank our hot chocolate. My interest in horror was sparked by those visits and the ghost stories we would beg her to tell right before bedtime. (Probably why I slept with the hall light on until I was twelve.) And those tales didn't stop being told after we grew up. My late father had a love for them as well.

Today my favorite subgenre of horror is still the ghost story. I have a tremendous collection - tales written over a span of two hundred years by both male and female authors. I even own books filled with supposedly true stories, which were my gran's favorite kind.

Over the last decade I've written my share of (published) ghostly tales, and once in a while I like to "pimp my wares" and remind people where they can be found.

Here are a few publications that are still available:

 

HARLAN COUNTY HORRORS (Anthology) by Apex Book Company - "The Power of Moonlight"

DARK LIGHT (Charity Anthology) by MARLvision Publishing - "Crasher"

THE WHITE DEATH AND OTHER GHASTLY GHOST STORIES - My e-book collection of 8 reprints and 2 new tales

 

I hope to write more in the future - without giving up the editing gig. In the meantime, check back here soon for my review of Stephen King's latest novel, MR. MERCEDES. I also plan to review Season One of the new Showtime series PENNY DREADFUL. Don't forget to sleep with the hall light on, okay?

 

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FLASH FICTION FRIDAY - "BLACKOUT"

June 20, 2014

“Jesus, what’s that smell?” Leon grimaced in the dark.

“It’s not me,” Marco said. “What did you eat, Gunther?”

"Nothing…yet.” Gunther’s stomach growled ominously. He was supposed to be in Central Park by now, not trapped in an elevator with two co-workers.

“Laverne Finkelstein’s gonna be pissed,” Leon said. “This’ll make the third time I’ve stood her up for dinner.”

“Ain’t your fault, man.” Marco blew out a sigh. “How long do you think we’ll be stuck in here? It already feels hot – and the air ain’t too fresh either.”

Gunther wiped the sweat off his bald head with a trembling hand. The power would be out for several more hours. What was he going to do about this latest screw-up?

“Hold on, I think I’m gettin’ a Jersey station on this thing,” Leon said.

The men heard static coming from the pocket transistor radio and then the mellow tones of an announcer. He was talking about Eisenhower’s trip to the hospital.

“This just in, folks – history in the making. Nearly the entire northeastern seaboard has suffered a blackout. The FBI and Department of Defense are investigating the possibility of widespread sabotage as a prelude to an enemy attack. Some sources fear that Unidentified Flying Objects may be responsible for disrupting the earth’s magnetic fields, as there have been numerous sightings across the nation this year.”

Leon made a rude noise and switched off his radio. “Crap, the Russians are to blame for this if anybody is. Those jealous bastards just wanna make us Yanks miserable, and they hate New Yorkers the most.”

“I don’t care who caused it – I just want it to be over,” Marco said, his voice strained. “I’m gonna go nuts in here pretty soon. Claustrophobia, remember?”

Leon laughed. “Don’t worry, if you get too crazy, Gunther will sit on ya, right pal?”

Silence.

“Right, Gunther?”

The elevator filled with a mysterious greenish-yellow light.

I couldn’t help it, Gunther thought. My watch must be slow. Stupid, inferior technology.

“What the hell…?” Leon backed into a corner. “Gunther, man, you’re freakin’ glowing.”

“That’s not the worst part,” Gunther said, as his head began to spin. This wouldn’t be happening if he’d been allowed to have a decent meal every week.

Marco screamed like a little girl. “We’re being attacked by aliens! Gunther’s a Martian!”

The two men jumped over to the elevator door and tried to claw it open.

Gunther grabbed his head with both hands and stopped it from spinning. He felt sorry for his new friends, but he couldn’t possibly hold off any longer.

His body swelled to twice its normal human size, tearing his cheap business suit to shreds. Then the top of his head opened up and two long, wart-covered tentacles snaked out onto the floor.

Leon and Marco gave up on their escape attempt and tried frantically to stomp on Gunther’s hollow, gray appendages.

Marco started to cry.

The tentacles danced around, easily avoiding injury. The men were grabbed quickly around the ankles and lifted high into the air.

Gunther stared into their terrified, upside-down faces. “Listen, guys, I’m terribly sorry about all this. It’s embarrassing, really, but I can’t look human again if I don’t eat something right away, understand? I wish there was another solution.”

The alien slung the men against the walls of the elevator until their heads cracked open. Brains made for a messy meal, but they were the only edible part of an Earthling’s body.

Gunther sucked their skulls dry and then pried the doors of the elevator open with his powerful tentacles. He had stopped glowing already.

The hall looked pitch-black to everyone but him. By the time he reached the empty offices of the Worthmore Insurance Company, he had once again assumed his human shape – albeit bloody and naked – without anyone being the wiser.

Gunther rinsed off in the bathroom and donned a spare suit that hung in his office’s closet. Afterwards, he rummaged through the drawers of his mammoth desk until he found PATTI, hidden in a leather eyeglass case.

In English, the device was referred to as a Portable Automatic Time Travel Instigator. It looked like a cell phone from Earth’s not too distant future. The one drawback was that it could only be used to travel forward – not back. That meant he would have to meet up with the Mother Ship at some point.

Gunther didn’t want to think about that yet.

It was a shame he had to use the gadget again so soon, but he’d broken too many rules in 1965 to continue his studies.

The next full-scale invasions were due in 1977 and 2003. He’d heard all about the New York City riots of the ’77 blackout, and figured it would be the perfect time and place to go. No one would notice his solo arrival. He could get lost in the chaos.

Okay, what was that new password? He needed it to activate PATTI.

Ah, now he remembered.

Gunther punched in the letters R-O-S-W-E-L-L.

Roswell.
 

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