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?
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?”
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.
June 06, 2014
I had no intention of seeing the new “Godzilla” when I first learned its 2014 release date. But then I saw that excellent, intriguing trailer and I changed my mind. After all, I didn’t think I’d like “Pacific Rim” and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. And “Godzilla” had Bryan Cranston. I missed “Breaking Bad” and was jonesing to see that actor again on any screen. I rushed to the cinema that first Friday, hoping for the best.
I was expecting a darker film more like the original movie “Gojira” (1954), with Godzilla as the destroyer of mankind. (I’ve always heard that the old monster was considered to be a metaphor for the atomic bomb and the destruction of two Japanese cities, with helpless citizens and a no hope scenario.) In the current remake, directed by Gareth Edwards, Godzilla is a hero – a creature whose purpose is to restore balance in our world and save humanity.
The film had a promising beginning. Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche play nuclear experts living and working in Japan with their young son. When an unexplained disaster occurs at the plant, causing the death of his wife and other workers, Joe Brody (Cranston) spends fifteen years looking for the truth. His son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) thinks he’s lost his mind. Joe might be a little crazy but he’s right about the cover-up. And humans will always be foolish.
The main premise is this: Two bat-like creatures (both referred to as a MUTO: Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) arise from the ground and wreak havoc, awakening Godzilla’s slumber beneath the sea. He is compelled to track them down and do battle, resulting in much property damage.
And all that mayhem is exactly what diehard fans of Godzilla want to see. If you loved all the sequels that came after the original movie, then you will probably love this one, too. The special effects are truly awesome. No complaints there. The impressive monsters looked and sounded real.
But for some reason my temporary suspension of disbelief never fully kicked in. I was totally sucked into the “Pacific Rim” (robots vs. kaiju) universe. I think now it was mainly due to the degree of characterization present in that film. I cared about all the characters and that elevated the suspense for me. The main players in “Godzilla” all seemed one-dimensional in comparison.
Major spoilers ahead.
Bryan Cranston’s role was important, but it should have been a bigger one. I was disappointed that he didn’t appear in most of the film. I would have liked it better if he’d survived and fought the good fight with his son for a longer period of time. And Ken Watanabe was dreadfully under-used in his role as a scientist who stands around looking constipated and stating the obvious. David Strathairn plays a stereotypical over-zealous military commander.
Elizabeth Olson appears as war veteran Ford Brody’s wife, Elle. She’s a good actress, but her whining eventually got on my nerves. I also found it too coincidental when Godzilla and the other monsters decide to take their fight to San Francisco, where the Brody family now lives, putting Ford’s wife and son in danger. Taylor-Johnson (Ford) didn’t seem too invested in his role. I wanted to like his character, but I could never feel much empathy for Mr. Bland.
There were a couple of decent suspenseful scenes, involving children of course. And though I understand why one would want to save the best beast for last, I expected Godzilla to show up sooner and have more screen time. As for those close-up shots of the giant lizard staring knowingly into the lead character’s eyes after a near defeat, I just didn’t buy it. That would be like a human trying to communicate with an annoying insect.
Speaking of insects, I have to admit that I began to giggle during the military action, seeing the soldiers continue to shoot their machine guns when it was obviously having no effect on the monsters.
For me, the ending felt a bit abrupt and a tad hokey. I think Godzilla should have made the ultimate sacrifice in order to win the final battle. Instead, he gets up the next morning as though he’s suffering from a century-long hangover and staggers back into the sea – The End. I was hoping the final scene would have the camera slipping beneath the waves, showing us that his death had awakened his mate – the power behind the throne – thereby setting up a revenge flick for the sequel starring Mrs. Godzilla.
I shouldn’t have admitted any of this to a good friend of mine, who’s been a rabid fan of all the old movies since he was a kid.
“You just don’t get it. You’re not a true fan so you don’t understand the mythology. Godzilla is asexual. And this movie was almost perfect. You can’t totally trash such a classic monster.”
I backed off. “His radioactive dragon breath was pretty cool.”
“Of course it was! You can’t give ‘Godzilla’ less than three out of five stars. I mean it.”
Okay. Three stars it is.
But many of you out there might think it deserves five.
April 18, 2014
Time for another free story for Flash Fiction Friday. I wrote this one ten years ago after visiting my favorite haunted place in America for the first time, which just happens to be in my own town: Waverly Hills Sanatorium - an abandoned tuberculosis hospital that opened for business back in 1928. Thousands of men, women and children died there in the forty years it was operational. Some very strange things happened to me during my second visit, but that's a long story for another time.
"One Last Night at Waverly Hills"
The sudden spray of watery blood stained the skirt of Nora’s crisp, white uniform. She caught the glass as it fell and laid a comforting hand on her patient’s shoulder. When the violent coughing spell had ceased, the woman met Nora’s sympathetic gaze with tear-filled, sunken eyes.
“I’m so sorry, hon.”
“No need to apologize. I’m quite used to it.”
Mrs. Davidson only had a few more weeks to live. Nora recognized the signs.
“What was I saying? Oh, are you leaving Waverly to get married?”
Nora smiled. “No. I’m transferring to a regular hospital downtown.”
The woman closed her eyes and sighed. “You’re young and attractive. You should find a husband to take you away from all this suffering and death. You’d make a wonderful mother.”
Nora didn’t bother to reply. She covered her patient with a clean white blanket. “Goodnight, Mrs. Davidson. I’ll check back soon.”
Nora’s last twelve-hour shift had begun five hours earlier at 6:00 p.m. She would take a break around midnight and run back to the dormitory to change her uniform. Bloodstains upset her littlest patients.
The children – they were the reason she had to leave. She couldn’t bear to watch any more of them waste away and die from the “white death” that was tuberculosis.
At midnight, she left the third floor nurse’s station and headed down the hallway to the elevator, her soft-soled shoes making no noise on the red and black tiles. It was quiet now except for the occasional hiss of a radiator, or the sound of a patient coughing.
Nora rode the elevator alone down to the first floor. When the doors opened, a hideous screeching noise assaulted her ears. She stepped out and looked to her left.
At the end of the dimly-lit corridor, the heavy metal door that led to the draining room was standing wide-open. A little girl with long, black hair appeared from behind it. She was dressed in a white hospital gown.
It couldn’t be. Eight-year-old Katie had died on the operating table two weeks before. It had been a last-ditch effort to save the orphan’s life. Nora had been off-duty at the time and had not had a chance to say goodbye.
No, it must be Molly, Katie’s friend. The two had looked incredibly alike.
Nora watched in horror as the little girl entered the draining room.
She sprinted down the hall. No child should see what was in there. No adult could remain unaffected by the sight. The room was the last stop for infectious TB victims before they were carried through the death tunnel to waiting hearses.
Nora paused in the doorway, gasping at the sight and the overwhelming stench.
Two bodies – one male, one female – hung upside down from metal poles. They’d been sliced open from groin to sternum. Little rivers of blood, mixed with other bodily fluids, snaked across the sloping cement floor to trickle down one drain.
Nora caught a glimpse of the little girl behind one of the hanging corpses.
“Molly, honey, you should be in bed. We can’t stay in here.”
It was Katie’s voice that replied – accusatory and full of unshed tears. “They cut me, Miss Nora. You promised me you wouldn’t let them.”
The overhead light flickered and went out just as the metal door slammed shut behind Nora. She screamed and threw herself against it, pummeling the unyielding surface with her small fists.
“No! Please, somebody let me out!”
“Don’t leave us, Miss Nora.”
Nora felt little hands tugging on the bottom of her skirt. The pitch-dark room was filled with the sound of labored breathing.
She let out a blood-curdling shriek and fell forward as the door suddenly opened. She shielded her eyes from the light and looked up into the stern face of a security guard.
Nora didn’t give him a chance to speak. She brushed past him and flew down the hall to the lobby. She leaned against one of the wooden pillars for several minutes, catching her breath, trying to think rationally.
One last night at Waverly Hills…she’d get through it somehow. Stress, guilt, and grief had led to that horrifying hallucination. It was that simple. She’d take a break and then get back to her rounds.
On her walk back from the dormitory, Nora noticed a light shining in Room 502. Only mentally ill TB patients were kept up there. They didn’t like to sleep.
She would check on them and see if anyone needed a sedative.
Nora took the elevator to the fifth floor – the rooftop. Room 502 was isolated and the open space around it was used by patients to take in the healing rays of the sun.
She crossed the roof under the night sky, shivering in the chilly March breeze. She fished the room key out of the pocket of her sweater, but the door was unlocked.
Nora entered cautiously and was met with silence. All ten patients were awake, sitting on their beds. The men and women stared at her with blank, pale faces.
Except…there should only have been nine.
Nora’s hands began to tremble as a tall, gaunt woman stood and faced her.
No. Alma Hanson was dead. She’d committed suicide rather than watch her daughter die.
“You can’t leave us, Miss Nora.”
Nora whirled around, stifling a scream. The front of Katie’s gown was soaked with blood.
“Mama knows how to make you stay.”
Nora felt an ice-cold entity invade every fiber of her being. She had no control of her limbs.
The ghost made her walk towards a darkened corner. Nora could see a wooden chair, a white sheet draped over one of the ceiling pipes, and the noose.
She tried to scream, but couldn’t make a sound.
Alma forced her to climb onto the chair and slip the noose over her head. Nora’s stiff, white cap tumbled to the floor. Hot tears streamed down her face.
“Don’t worry.” Katie looked up at her with an innocent smile. “Mama says it’ll only hurt a little.”
Alma kicked away the chair.
April 08, 2014
I'm quite pleased about the fact that my plans to attend the World Horror Convention this year in Portland, Oregon finally look solid. It's just a month away now: May 8 - 11. (Here's to hoping no last minute obstacles ruin my fun.)
Once again, the Bram Stoker Awards banquet will be held during WHC, and will also take place at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel-Portland on Saturday evening, May 10. Luckily for all who'll attend, author Jeff Strand will be returning as emcee for the sixth time. Writer Brian Keene will also be on hand to receive the 2014 Grand Master Award.
Special guests at World Horror this year will be Jack Ketchum, Nancy Holder, John Shirley, Paula Guran, Norman Partridge, Victoria Price, Greg Staples, with Toastmaster Alan M. Clark.
Check this link for more info.
Portland is a unique city and I look forward to exploring it more thoroughly. Of course, I'm excited about the prospect of seeing some West Coast friends again, and finally being able to meet many other online pals. I'm thinking about ordering a special "coffin" filled with Voodoo Doughnuts to share with my besties. If you see me there, don't hesitate to say hello, okay? Perhaps we can take a field trip and get happily lost at Powell's Books.
In the meantime, be glad that winter is over. Enjoy spring!