July 14, 2015
Where did June go? I meant to post this latest excerpt last month, but here it is the middle of July. Another crazy hectic summer. Hope everyone in my part of the world is surviving the floods, storms and tornadoes.
Here's a horror short story I wrote a few years ago about a desperate young woman tempted by the dark side. Hope this excerpt proves to be a good distraction.
The Chicago River ran slow and murky with green dye, a result of the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Twilight had fallen and the wind had turned brisk, but still I walked the shadowy streets, feeling more alone than I’d ever felt before. More alone than when I’d first become an orphan at the age of five.
Four years ago Matt Sheridan had come into my life and everything had seemed right with the world. Matt and Cassidy, together forever.
Now everything was worse than wrong. I finally felt ready to accept the diagnosis I’d received in December.
“I’m sorry, Miss McClure,” Doctor #3 had said. “This type of brain tumor is inoperable.”
Six months, maybe. The headaches would get worse, and they warned me about other possible side effects – slurred speech, memory loss, blurred vision, loss of balance, etc.
What about hallucinations? That would be nice. That would explain why I’d seen Matt swapping fluids with “Trashy Tristan” in the shower earlier this evening.
My shower, technically, because it was actually my apartment. Matt had given up his place to move in with me not long after we’d met. Late last year he’d begun hinting at a Christmastime proposal, but then we’d gotten the bad news right before the holidays: I wouldn’t live to see twenty-nine.
I hadn’t given up hope on our future. Not even when I’d found the diamond engagement ring in Matt’s desk drawer right after Valentine’s Day. He was just waiting for me to be cured, waiting for me to find an alternative treatment. Then he’d propose.
Oh, how wrong I’d been. It was obvious now that Matt had already given up on me and moved on. Tall, dark, handsome Matthew had been seduced by the vacuous blonde his architectural firm had hired to answer the phones. I thought he’d have better taste. I thought he’d at least choose someone who looked like me – a statuesque, intelligent brunette who was filthy cute and Irish.
They didn’t know I’d seen them. I’d been in shock, unable to utter a sound.
I’d cut short my visit with a childhood friend who lived down in Joliet. I’d decided to come home, put on a fancy dress and join Matt at his office party. I wanted to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with the person I loved the most.
But my boyfriend had other plans. I stumbled out of our apartment high rise on Lakeshore Drive and began walking around the Windy City, feeling like a zombie. I couldn’t even cry.
I followed the river, ignoring the Irish – and not so Irish – revelers hopping from pub to pub. Somehow I ended up in front of the office building where I worked as a CPA. How much longer would I be able to crunch numbers?
Why did I even care? Come Monday, I would hand in my resignation.
The sidewalks teemed with manic young people. Saturday night and everyone wanted to pretend they were Irish so they could drink a gallon of Guinness and sing like fools.
I threaded my way through a group of college kids smoking outside a crowded, noisy bar.
“Hey, baby,” crooned a guy with caramel-colored hair and peach fuzz on his chin, “you should kiss me ‘cause I’m Irish.”
I stepped past him without making eye contact. “Sorry, but that’s not a good enough reason.”
His buddies cracked up.
I could have been ruder and enjoyed it. Suddenly I felt like I could get away with anything – one of the perks of being handed a death sentence.
Darkness fell and my thoughts grew darker, too, as I continued to wander the gaslight neighborhood like a lost soul. Couples passed me, talking and laughing and holding hands.
The same question kept running through my mind.
Why, Matt? Why did you betray me when I needed you most?
I didn’t want to think about going home. What if Tristan were still there? I had no idea what I might do if I saw her wrapped around my boyfriend again. Although, scratching the bitch’s eyes out and kicking Matt in the balls sounded like a good plan. At the very least, I’d have to boot their asses out of my apartment.
I’d just rounded a corner onto Rodolfo Street, wrapped up in a revenge fantasy, when I happened to notice a trio of strange figures crouched on the roof above Finnegan’s Pub. I stopped dead in my tracks and stared, wondering if I was finally having a hallucination.
The three were dark and gargoyle-like. I let out a tiny gasp when the middle one suddenly did a swan dive towards the sidewalk, disappearing like a spirit inside an inebriated businessman who’d just stepped out of the bar. The man stiffened up straight as a board for a few seconds, and then relaxed. His face wore a pleased expression.
I watched him stroll jauntily out into the traffic, narrowly avoiding disaster before reaching the other side of the street. He ignored the horn honking and quickly entered a dance club.
I turned my attention back to the other two creatures that were still perched on the roof of the pub – just in time to see the one on the right dive feet first into a black guy who looked tall enough to be a pro basketball player. The possessed bar patron went rigid for only a few seconds. He then lunged forward and pushed an elderly gentleman aside, jumping into the cab the old man had just hailed. The taxi drove off in a hurry.
The bewildered gent caught my eye and shook his head in disgust. “Young people these days respect nothing and nobody – not even themselves.”
I nodded, but said nothing as he walked past me.
When I looked up again, the third creature was gone. I scanned the nearby rooftops but saw nothing unusual. Had I imagined everything? Was my brain tumor to blame?
I rubbed my aching temples and sighed. Why couldn’t I hallucinate a date with Channing Tatum?
“No such luck, Cass. You’ll be buying your own drinks tonight.”
A middle-aged couple glanced at me sympathetically as they ambled by, and I decided to stop talking to myself in public. Enough with the self-pity. I wasn’t in the mood for company anyway – but I needed a few Long Island Iced Teas. Hell, I deserved a reward for not killing my lowlife boyfriend and his little blonde slut.
I entered the cool, dimly lit interior of Finnegan’s Pub – a favorite haunt of mine. My foster parents had owned a bar similar to Finnegan’s. I’d practically been raised in it.
I paused for a moment near the doorway, my eyes searching the crowded tables and booths for an empty seat. The place was hopping, but at least the noise level was tolerable. I noticed a couple of empty stools at the far end of the mahogany bar, and I made a beeline for the last one.
I sat down and immediately heard a boisterous chuckle. Riley the bartender appeared before me with a thick-lipped grin on his face. He’d once been a heavy-weight boxer. Now he was just heavy.
“Doll face! It’s been a while. What’s my favorite Irish lass been up to, eh?”
“Oh, been busy. Life’s been throwing me a few curve balls lately.”
“Man, don’t ya hate it when that happens?” Riley finished wiping up a spilled beer and then grinned at me again. “Tell ya what – first drink’s on the house. You want the usual?”
“I’ll have whatever she’s having,” said a soft, husky voice.
Riley and I both glanced over at the slender redhead who’d just taken the seat next to me. She was dressed to the nines in midnight blue, and had on heels that were high enough to cause a nosebleed.
“Two Long Island Iced Teas coming right up.”
Riley went off to fill our orders and I suddenly felt too warm. I peeled off my tight-fitting white leather jacket and folded it across my lap.
“Hey, I’m Simone,” the redhead said, offering me her hand.
I shook it. “Cassidy. Cass, if you prefer.”
“Pretty name for a pretty lady. It’s a real shame.”
“That you’re dying.”
I stared at her, amazed and devastated to hear those words spoken out loud.
“How did you know that?”
Simone gave me a humorless smile. “Because I saw you looking at me, at us, on the roof a little while ago. Only humans who are close to death can see demons.”
I blinked. The lady was either pulling my leg or she was a total nutcase.
I cleared my throat, looking her straight in the eye. “You look like a human to me. Besides, brain tumors cause hallucinations. I might even be imagining this conversation right now.”
She chuckled and would have said something in reply if Riley hadn’t shown up with our drinks.
“I’ve got this round,” she said, paying him and adding on a generous tip.
Riley gave her a wide grin. “Thanks, doll.”
When he walked away, she took a sip out of the glass and then looked over at me.
“Riley knows I’m real. If you think about it a minute you’ll know how I borrowed this woman’s body. Remember what you saw outside?”
Yeah, I remembered – drunks being violated by monsters. I had to assume that drug addicts, and perhaps even sleepwalkers, were all easy prey for possession.
“So, you’re ugly and evil?”
Simone stared at me and for a brief moment her blue eyes glowed a furious red.
“Evil is simply a point of view. I would also say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I can’t deny that I gave up my looks to be Lucifer’s bitch.”
I took a gulp of my Long Island Iced Tea and shook my head. “This can’t be happening.”
“You’ve been in denial for way too long. It’s time you faced the facts and considered all your options. You’re lucky our paths crossed tonight.”
“Lucky? I’ve never been lucky, ever.”
“Exactly. What has God ever done for you? Has he ever answered any of your prayers?”
I’d only prayed once since I was a child. That was right after my diagnosis.
Simone watched the dismal play of emotions on my face and continued. “This world was created for His amusement. Humans are pawns in a game – He’s competing with Lucifer for your souls. You don’t have much time left, Cass, and God doesn’t care enough to perform miracles anymore. He isn’t going to cure you.”
“And the Devil will?”
“Think outside the box. My boss can be a lot more lenient and fair than Mr. High and Mighty. He is an angel, after all.”
“A fallen angel. What can he do for me and what does he expect in return?”
“He can give you the same deal he gave me a century ago. As soon as you die, you’ll become a chaos demon. You’ll have one thousand years to roam the earth before reporting for duty in Hell. You’ll be able to possess humans the way I can – enjoy all the pleasures you once enjoyed. Cause a ton of mischief and convert others to our side.”
“You make it sound awfully simple.” I downed the last dregs of my drink.
Simone’s sigh was nearly inaudible. “Well, there is one important, unpleasant detail I’ve yet to mention.”
I raised an eyebrow. “And that would be?”
“You’ll need to commit suicide.”
“Excuse me? Aren’t I already dying, and soon?”
“Yes, but we have no way of knowing which direction your soul will go once you’ve died.
Killing yourself is the only way to ensure you’ll end up on Lucifer’s team.”
“Lovely. Do I have to give you an answer tonight?”
“No, you can have a couple of days to think it over. Meet me here around the same time Monday evening. I won’t be wearing this body anymore, but you’ll know who I am.”
May 17, 2015
It's been a busy spring! Thought I'd check in here and leave an excerpt from one of the short horror tales included in my eBook, "The White Death and Otherly Ghastly Ghost Stories." It's called "The Power of Moonlight" - a teenaged girl wants to bring back her dead lover by using a special kind of magic. (To read more, check out my author page on Amazon.)
THE POWER OF MOONLIGHT
Bobby Lee Blackburn got killed exactly three weeks before he was to marry his childhood sweetheart at the New Hope Baptist Church. He died just the way he feared he would--deep underground, alone in the dark, his body entombed forever.
Priscilla Stevens had decided to worship Bobby Lee when they were seven years old. On the day she fell in love, he’d been chasing her around Old Man Griffey’s fish pond and she’d tripped and fallen in. Bobby Lee had grabbed hold of her long, strawberry-blonde ponytail and had yanked her out of the water before she could drown.
That boy would always be her hero, even after he broke her heart.
The first time he left her was when they were twelve. His daddy found a better job over in Virginia, and he and his parents moved away from Harlan County. Pris had cried herself to sleep every night for two weeks, keeping her Granny Maeve awake.
About a month after Bobby Lee had gone away, the old lady woke Pris late one night and told her they’d be taking a walk up the winding mountain trail behind their farmhouse. The two of them sneaked down the back staircase and left without waking Pris' mother.
The full October moon revealed the goldenrod in bloom, and the air smelled crisp and clean and dry. Granny Maeve’s knees cracked and popped a little during the climb, but otherwise no sound could be heard except for a light wind rustling through the trees. Nestled in the narrow valley below, the coal town of Russell Fork had fallen silent, with only a few lights left twinkling to give away its presence.
They kept going until they reached a rocky plateau, barren except for a lone sycamore tree. Granny Maeve found a large flat stone to sit on and motioned for Priscilla to join her.
“This spot will do. We can see the Blood Moon and it can see us.”
Pris wondered why it was called a Blood Moon when it wasn’t even red, but she stayed quiet and watched as her grandma fished around in the pockets of her gray wool sweater. The old woman pulled out a small vial of what she called her “sacred” oil, and then a photograph. The picture had been taken at Pris’ birthday party in January. Her mother, Dorie, had snapped a photo of Pris and Bobby Lee sitting next to each other at the kitchen table. Pris was leaning forward, getting ready to blow out the candles on her chocolate cake.
“An only child and an only child,” Granny Maeve muttered. She smeared a dab of oil onto the picture and handed it to Priscilla. “You want your friend to come home again, don’t you?”
Pris stared at her grandmother, and nodded.
“Well, you can use the power of moonlight just like your granny can. Most folks around here don’t believe in such things, and them that do don’t think it’s right to use the gift, so you best keep quiet about what we’re up to--don’t you even tell your mama.”
“I promise I won’t, Granny.”
“All right, then. For this spell to work, the moonlight’s power has to be mixed with the truth, girl, and the truth is in your tears. You have to cry for Bobby Lee if you want him back--show your love and your need for him--and let your tears fall like rain on that picture so he knows how you feel.”
Pris held the photograph up close to her face. Moonlight reflected off the shiny oiled surface. Bobby Lee’s perfect dark eyes smiled up at her. She missed him so much her body ached with the pain.
The tears came easy.
Granny Maeve patted her gently on the back as she sobbed. “That’s good, my darlin’. Now talk to him, out loud, and tell him what you want.”
Pris took a deep, shaky breath, tasting the saltiness of her own tears. She gazed up at the moon’s brilliant face.
“Bobby Lee, come back to me. Come back to me, please.”
She repeated the phrases several times until her grandma told her she could stop. Wispy gray clouds had drifted across the moon.
“There now, child. It’s done.”
Granny Maeve spoke the truth. Bobby Lee and his parents moved back to Russell Fork right before Christmas, giving Priscilla the best present she had ever received.
During their sophomore year in high school, Bobby Lee fell for Kara Chambers. Pris wasn’t surprised--Kara was half-Korean and seemed exotic compared to all the other girls they knew. Her family had made a lot of money during the coal boom of ’74. Now they owned the flower shop in town and they also ran a catering business out of their grocery store.
Everybody talked about how perfect Kara and Bobby Lee were for each other and what a striking couple they made with their dark good looks. It wounded Pris to see them together, but she felt certain that one day Bobby Lee would realize Kara wasn’t right for him and that his best friend was also his true soul mate.
Even though Granny Maeve could have shown her how to speed up such an epiphany, Pris didn’t want to win Bobby Lee’s heart by using magic. No, his love for her had to be real or it would never last.
It was better to remain hopeful and suffer the wait.
In the meantime, Pris learned all she could from her grandmother about the power of moonlight. She dated a few boys who bored her and a few who didn’t. She talked to Bobby Lee whenever he made time for her. She never complained about the times he wouldn’t.
And when Kara dumped Bobby Lee right before graduation, Pris was there to pick up all the fragile little pieces of his heart. In June--on the summer solstice--she took him for a drive up to the top of Black Mountain, the highest peak in Kentucky. Pris made love to Bobby Lee on a rough blanket under the Rose Moon. He was her first.
She opened his eyes. He opened his heart.
Pris felt the power of their love and knew it was real.
“Bobby Lee, will you marry me?”
March 15, 2015
Thought I'd remind everyone that the Kindle edition of my short story collection, "The White Death and Other Ghastly Ghost Stories" is still available on Amazon. The collection includes ten dark tales - eight reprints and two new tales (see link for story descriptions). The eBook can also be found on iBooks, Kobo, Lulu.com, and online at Barnes & Noble as well.
Here's the Table of Contents/Story Titles:
1. The White Death
2. Little White Casket
3. Ghost Writer
5. Flower Girl
6. What Happened in the Cellar
7. Frankie Revetta's Favorite Chair
8. Red Barchetta
9. Playground for the
10. The Power of Moonlight
The cool book cover is by English artist, Danielle Tunstall. Check out her page here.
I hope all of you have a sunny, spring-like St. Patrick's Day.
February 13, 2015
Happy Friday the 13th! Thought it was time for another flash fiction story from yours truly. This one mixes horror with humor: A salesman takes an unwise detour on his way to a Vegas convention. Hope your Friday the 13th isn't unlucky, and your Valentine's Day is memorable.
Lonnie Maitland was less than an hour away from Vegas and he felt dangerously tired. He had opted to drive to the mandatory software convention all the way from Sacramento because he absolutely hated to fly – the very thought of it made him queasy.
He yawned and switched on the radio. He got static at first, but then The Eagles blared forth with their classic hit, “Hotel California.” He turned the volume down and hit the scan button.
Another station was playing the same song.
Lonnie hit the scan button again. He could only pick up three stations in that area of the desert and “Hotel California” was on all of them.
He switched off the radio, thinking he should find a place to spend the night. Vegas would be there in the morning, but he wouldn’t be if he fell asleep at the wheel. Besides, the convention didn’t start until noon.
Another five miles raced by and then Lonnie noticed a blinking neon sign on the right side of the highway. It said, “HOTEL CALIFORNIA – Next Exit.” Strange coincidence, but still, it sounded like an interesting place – even though it was in the middle of nowhere.
Lonnie exited I-15 and followed the signs. He maneuvered his Taurus into the hotel’s deserted gravel lot and pulled up next to the entrance. It wasn’t what he’d expected. The rustic building was three stories tall and had a front porch that ran its entire length. The structure looked like it belonged in Dodge City, circa 1888.
He hoped it had a restaurant.
Lonnie entered the old-fashioned lobby and heard a TV on low volume, broadcasting a game show.
The place had a musty, rosewater smell. He walked up to the front desk, where he could just see the top of someone’s head on the other side.
“Excuse me. I need a room, please, just for one night.”
The old man got up slowly and turned around. He was dressed like a saloonkeeper. Without hesitating, he took a key out of a cubbyhole and handed it to Lonnie.
“Room 312. Pay in advance.”
Lonnie settled the bill.
“Is the restaurant still open?”
The old man shook his head and sat down again. “Vending machines are out back.”
Lonnie sighed. “Thanks.”
At least the place had an elevator that worked.
The interior décor was Victorian – including all of the furniture. Lonnie’s four-poster was almost too short for his long frame. He collapsed on it and switched on the little black and white TV across from his bed.
There was only one station and it was broadcasting an episode of The Twilight Zone. Lonnie tried to watch the show, but his stomach wouldn’t stop growling. He decided to grab a soda and some junk food.
Once downstairs, Lonnie nabbed a 7-Up out of the only vending machine that worked and reluctantly returned to the elevator.
Something didn’t feel right, and he hesitated a moment before stepping inside. When he pressed the button for the third floor, the contraption took off with a jolt.
The elevator reached the third floor – and continued climbing. Its speed increased.
“Whoa. What the hell?”
The elevator whined, reaching Floor 50, Floor 80, Floor 100. It finally stopped on the 200th level with an abruptness that sent Lonnie sprawling.
He got to his feet, his 7-Up wasted, just as the elevator doors opened.
Lonnie let out a girlish giggle. This was just a dream. He’d fallen asleep watching The Twilight Zone and now here he was in La-La Land.
He stepped out of the elevator into a circular, dimly lit room that was half the size of a football field. It looked like a garish lounge bar.
A waiter in a white coat appeared in front of him. He bore an extraordinary resemblance to Rod Serling.
No worries, Lonnie thought, I’ll go along for the ride.
“It’s good to see you again, sir,” the waiter said. “Your party is waiting.”
Lonnie noticed there were other people there, and grinned. He recognized all of them.
Elvis sat in a pink Cadillac, next to the lovely Miss Monroe. Abe Lincoln was engrossed in a philosophical discussion with Jim Morrison. Liberace tickled the ivories on a raised platform.
Lonnie followed the waiter over to a large, round table. It was set with crystal and fine china.
“Have a seat, Mr. Maitland.” The waiter rang a silver bell. “Attention, everyone, our guest of honor has arrived.”
“What’s the occasion?” Lonnie asked, as the dead celebrities gathered round.
The waiter smiled. “Your 40th birthday, your latest promotion, your recent divorce – the
occasion is whatever you wish it to be.”
That made sense – it was his dream – although he couldn’t figure out why Liberace had been included.
“I only invited the people you miss and admire most, sir.”
So Rod Serling could read minds? He still wasn’t perfect.
Lonnie smiled apologetically. “But I don’t like Liberace.”
Rod the Waiter snapped his fingers and the flamboyant pianist was instantly replaced with Frank Sinatra, who began belting out the lyrics to “My Way.”
“Later, Frank,” Elvis yelled, grabbing a seat next to Marilyn. “It’s time to eat.”
The party of six was treated to a sumptuous feast – all of Lonnie’s favorite dishes. The waiter was quick to clear the table and refill their champagne glasses.
Lincoln solemnly proposed a toast in Lonnie’s honor.
“I’m not sure this soirée was such a good idea,” Marilyn cooed.
“Take a valium, sweetheart,” Frank scolded, lighting a cigarette.
Jimbo slid underneath the table.
The waiter brought out a towering hot fudge sundae and presented it to Lonnie with a flourish.
Everyone watched as he shoved a hefty spoonful of ice cream into his mouth.
“Aren’t you guys having dessert?” he asked, licking his lips.
The celebrities laughed hysterically, as if they were all in on a private joke.
When the room fell silent, Lonnie was allowed to see their true, grotesque forms. The lounge bar became a Mother Ship.
He was trapped in a nightmare.
“This is no nightmare, sir.”
As a dozen green tentacles snaked around his waist, Lonnie suddenly remembered why he was afraid to fly.
January 12, 2015
“Horns” is based on the novel by Joe Hill, and for the life of me I can’t understand how I never got around to reading it. I’ve read all of Joe’s other books and loved them. That’s why I didn’t pay much attention to the mixed reviews this movie received upon its release last fall.
I have no idea how the film compares to the novel (screenplay by Keith Bunin), but I’m happy to say I got a kick out of this flick, which was directed by Alexandre Aja. Part horror-fantasy, part comedy, and part murder mystery, it’s a genre-bending blend of fun.
Twenty-something Ignatius Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) is in a sorry state. Grief-stricken over the murder of his longtime girlfriend (Juno Temple) and wrongfully accused of the crime, he is now a pariah in the Washington logging town where he grew up. Even his parents (James Remar, Kathleen Quinlan) and his drug addicted older brother (Joe Anderson) think he’s guilty of the brutal rape and killing. The ethereally beautiful Merrin was found slain beneath the idyllic treehouse hideaway she shared with Ig, her head caved in by a rock. Ig and Merrin had had a very heated, very public argument on the night in question. It doesn’t help matters that Ig can’t remember anything that happened afterwards, and the only person willing to help him fight the murder charge is his childhood friend Lee (Max Minghella) – a straight-laced public defender who once saved Ig’s life when they were kids.
But even Lee thinks it’s doubtful his friend will be cleared, and Ig is soon overwhelmed by the constant harassment from the media and the town’s residents. After a night of heavy drinking and all-out debauchery, Ig wakes up with a mother of a hangover and something else he wasn’t expecting: a pair of budding horns. The painful protuberances grow fast and he can’t find a way to get rid of them. Oddly enough, his friend Lee is the only one who can’t see the horns. Everyone else is unperturbed when they notice them growing out of Ig’s forehead, and for some reason they can’t resist the urge to confess their sins and secret desires to him. Ig is horrified at first, but then he realizes he can use the horns’ power to help him find Merrin’s killer.
I enjoyed the twists and turns, the flashback scenes and the over-the-top confessions (disturbing and often hilarious). Don’t expect a positive portrayal of small town life in this raunchy, violent supernatural thriller. I also don’t agree with the comparisons to “Twin Peaks.” That TV show was a whole different sort of surreal – and it had quite a few likeable characters. I can’t say I liked any of the characters in this movie except for Ig and Merrin. (Well, perhaps Merrin’s devastated father, played by David Morse.)
Daniel Radcliffe’s intensely emotional performance is superb, as is Juno Temple’s. (They both achieve convincing American accents as well.) I think if a less talented actor had taken on the role of Ig Perrish, the results could have been disastrously corny. Even when Ig begins to embrace the dark side, seemingly becoming a real devil, it didn’t strike me as cheesy or implausible. Radcliffe has an appealing presence and it was easy to care about his unfortunate character.
I’d recommend this film to fans of dark fantasy and horror (who don't mind a hefty dose of black comedy). It’s devilishly delightful. (Pun intended.)