October 22, 2014
It's my favorite time of year, so I'm posting an excerpt from the first dark tale in my collection, "The White Death & Other Ghastly Ghost Stories." In the "The White Death," a reluctant candy striper suffers through a night of hell in a hospital that used to treat tuberculosis victims. (The setting is my favorite haunted place in Louisville - Waverly Hills Sanatorium.)
Have yourself a wicked little Halloween.
THE WHITE DEATH
Brenda Morris climbed out of her foster mother’s ’64 Buick Riviera and slammed the passenger door shut. She was supposed to have Thursday nights off, but the old bat was forcing her to fill in for another candy striper that’d gotten sick at the last minute.
Yeah, sick of working at a geriatric sanitarium, probably.
Brenda stalked away from the car without bothering to wave goodbye and headed towards the institution’s imposing main entrance.
She took a deep breath, savoring the brisk October air, and gazed up at the gothic monstrosity that was Woodhaven. A full moon hung so low over the hilltop structure that it appeared to teeter upon the bell-tower.
She stood still for a moment to admire the effect. “That’s just so bitchin’.”
A whirlwind of dry leaves skittered past her, and she exhaled slowly. No use putting it off any longer.
Brenda entered the ornate lobby and wrinkled her nose. One never got used to the cool mustiness and the smell of stale urine. Quite often, the pitiful moans of elderly residents could be heard echoing down the long hallways.
No wonder the place was short staffed.
Brenda climbed the winding staircase to the second floor. Before beginning her rounds, she paid a visit to one of the restrooms to wash her hands and run a comb through her auburn curls. She smiled ruefully at her reflection in the smudged mirror. The red and white striped apron made her look like a sweet, innocent fifteen-year-old.
Brenda’s foster mother – her seventh in so many years – no doubt wished it were true. The witch had busted her one too many times for smoking and sneaking out at night to meet up with The Wrong Crowd. She’d given Brenda an ultimatum: Volunteer at one of the local hospitals several evenings a week or spend some time in Juvenile Hall.
Brenda had picked Woodhaven because her dark nature was drawn to its morbid history. For several depressing decades it had been used as a sanatorium for those suffering from The White Death. Tuberculosis had claimed thousands of lives here – not including the suicides it had provoked among patients and nurses alike.
But, God, I’d rather die of a disease than grow old and useless, Brenda thought, leaving the restroom. She could hear a woman yelling just down the hall.
It was Mrs. Hauser in Room 212.
“Somebody help! She took it away! It’s mine and she stole it from me!”
Brenda reached the room and paused in the doorway, grimacing at the all too familiar sight. The old lady stood by her bed stark naked. She stared at Brenda with watery gray eyes full of righteous anger.
“Mrs. Hauser, calm down and tell me what happened.” Brenda hurried over and grabbed a blanket off the bed to wrap around the woman’s cold, saggy body.
“A strange little girl took my new robe. My pretty blue robe is gone – it’s gone and I want it back now!”
Brenda sighed. Mrs. Hauser was hallucinating again. It was probably another patient – they were always “borrowing” things from one other.
“Okay, stay here and I’ll go look for it. I’m sure the girl didn’t go very far.”
Brenda went back out into the hall, and a noise caused her to glance right, towards the elevator. Just before the doors slid shut she caught a glimpse of something blue.
Here we go.
Brenda hurried over and punched the UP button. Catching the person would be easier now. For some freaky reason, every elevator in the building insisted on visiting the basement first, no matter what floor was chosen.
She wasn’t really bothered by this fact – it just made the place more interesting.
Brenda listened to the distressing hum of the contraption as it ascended. It passed the first floor and then stopped. The doors opened slowly.
Empty. This meant the thief had gotten out on the basement level.
Well, they are loony, after all.
Brenda rode the elevator down and waited impatiently for the doors to open. When they did, she was grateful to see that the hall light had been left on. At least the morgue was located clear over on the other side of the basement.
Not that she was afraid of dead people. What could they do? It was the live ones that were scary.
As she exited the elevator, Brenda heard a cough behind her. She turned and looked as the doors began to close, but she saw no one.
"The White Death & Other Ghastly Ghost Stories" is available on Amazon (also B&N, iBooks, etc.)
September 26, 2014
Time for some free flash fiction. Here's my tale about a man who desperately tries to find a way out of a hopeless relationship. (Hey, when I was in New Orleans, I was tempted to believe in voodoo as well.) Hope you enjoy the story.
"Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover"
Conrad Lucas heaved himself up to a standing position – blocking out the Houston skyline – and leaned forward against his Texas-sized desk. He stared at Doug the way a chained pit bull would eye a stray toddler.
“Not only are you moving back in with my sister, Wainwright, you’re gonna take her along on that business trip to New Orleans next week and you’re gonna propose. Have I made myself crystal-fucking-clear?”
Lucas had connections to every good guy/bad guy west of the Mississippi. Defiance would mean having to leave town and never being employed at a lending institution again…if he was even allowed to live.
Doug coughed. “Uh, yes, sir. Completely.”
His boss let out a grunt of satisfaction and sank into his massive leather chair. “When you two get back here, I’d better see a rock on my little sister’s finger that’s heavy enough to throw her back outta whack.”
She’ll get a big one, all right, Doug thought. And hopefully the skinny, blonde dingbat would choke on it.
He’d tried every way – short of hiring a hit man – to get out of his relationship with Charlene. As that Paul Simon song said, “There must be fifty ways to leave your lover.” Doug had left the little fool countless times, but her suicide attempts and stalking tactics, along with threats from the filthy rich Lucas family, always forced him back into her waiting arms.
And now he was going to propose.
“New Orleans is so romantic, hon,” Charlene gushed. “I just know this trip will be good for us.”
Doug grimaced as they entered their spacious, fifth floor hotel room. It had a wrought-iron balcony that overlooked rowdy Bourbon Street.
“Let me freshen up and then we’ll go to Antoine’s for dinner.” Charlene kicked off her high heels and headed for the bathroom. “Is that okay, hon?”
They’d only be in town for three days. He’d have to spring the hefty diamond on her before Wednesday. Doug figured he might be able to get through the ordeal if he drank enough Hurricanes.
Doug often wondered what had caused Charlene to become obsessed with him. He was just an average guy, after all.
It didn’t matter now anyway. It was Tuesday, and he would have to do “the dirty deed” right after dinner.
When his meeting wrapped up, Doug took a cab back to his hotel. But instead of heading up to his room, he decided to roam around the French Quarter. He was bound to enjoy the sights more without the magpie tagging along.
Noisy Bourbon Street was teeming with happy tourists. The humid air smelled like beer and spicy food. Doug could hear the upbeat strains of a Zydeco tune wafting out of a smoke-filled tavern.
It wasn’t long before he happened upon a fortuneteller’s shop. Colorful voodoo dolls were lined up on the other side of the window, and he paused to take a look, grinning.
If only it would work.
A pretty black girl opened the door of the little shop and motioned for him to step inside.
“Madame Lafay can help you, sir. She can cast spells for love and money – whatever you need. Come see.”
Her offer was too hard to resist. And he was in no hurry to get back to the hotel.
The spell Doug chose was meant to turn a lover’s heart to stone and end a hopeless relationship. He felt silly having a gris-gris bag in his pocket, but he was desperate to believe. And if it actually worked it would be worth far more than the $50.00 he’d spent.
There were other spells he could have tried, but if something happened to Charlene, Lucas would undoubtedly hold him responsible.
This mojo was much safer.
Doug rode the elevator up to the top floor of the hotel. Charlene was waiting for him in their suite, dressed to the nines. Chanel No. 5 hung heavy in the air. A small table smothered with china, crystal and silver had been set up near the open balcony doors.
Charlene smiled as he crossed the room. Doug leaned down and kissed her, and a delicious cold chill raced through his limbs.
He was suddenly hit with the realization that Charlene looked like a movie star. He felt like the luckiest man on earth.
She stepped away from him and her smile faded. Her face now wore an expression of puzzlement mixed with irritation.
“You’re late,” she said.
That was the sexiest voice he’d ever heard. Doug wanted to sweep Charlene up in his arms, carry her over to the bed, and make love to her in every position under the freaking sun.
“The meeting ran late.” What an idiot he’d been to keep her waiting like this. “I’ll make it up to you, sweetheart, I promise.”
“Forget it. I don’t know what I thought I saw in you, but it’s over.”
Doug couldn’t believe his ears. He dropped to his knees in front of her. “Charlene, honey, you don’t mean that. We were meant to be together.”
She laughed. “I can’t even stand to be in the same room with you.”
Charlene tried to step around him, but he jumped up and blocked her path.
“No, I can’t live without you.” Doug took the black velvet box out of his coat pocket and showed her the six-karat diamond. “Marry me.”
She snatched the ring from him and ran out onto the balcony. “Here’s what I think of your proposal.”
Doug reached her before she could throw the ring, but he’d rammed up against the rusted railing with too much force. Charlene was struggling, trying to hold on to the diamond, when a section of the wrought-iron gave way, sending her over the edge.
Doug grabbed her left hand. Now he could see the gris-gris bag she’d hidden around her neck, underneath her frilly blouse.
“I don’t need your stinking help, you spineless moron.” Charlene reached up with her right hand and dug her long, pointy fingernails into his flesh.
Doug screamed and let go. He watched Charlene fall away from him. He saw her body break on the sidewalk.
She was his one true love. Doug knew what he had to do.
He hurled himself off the balcony to be with her forever.
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.
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.”
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.
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.