February 21, 2014
Happy Friday. How about a free story? I've decided to post one of my flash fiction tales (most likely a reprint) at least one Friday out of the month. This month it's "Mr. Kroll" - the short story of a witch's familiar. Hope you like it.
I believe I was once a man. That would explain the strange memories that live in my dreams. My special awareness, my ability to understand humans, comes from the demon spirit that resides in me now – though I am not certain if I was reincarnated for this purpose or changed into a feline and a familiar through witchcraft.
Only black cats like me have nine lives. It’s a mystical ability and, truthfully, it would be more accurate to call them nine chances. But there is only one way for us to cheat death.
Oh, yes, I am much older than I should be.
My beloved mistress, Marantha, died far too soon. She was born a witch, and if that made her evil, it was not by choice. She studied spells and curses, but also healed the sick.
What happened to her was my fault.
We were living a peaceful existence in a cottage just outside of Devington. In the summer of 1701, that English village was still growing, and it bustled with great activity at week's end.
One Saturday afternoon, as I lay on a sunny windowsill sniffing the lilac-scented air, my mistress entered the tidy kitchen and addressed me with her musical voice.
“I need to sell some herbs and tonics today, Mr. Kroll.” She stroked the sleek fur along my back and smiled into my knowing green eyes. “Would you like to be my company?”
We could read other’s thoughts whenever necessary.
The two of us started off on the mile long walk and took the dusty dirt road that led to Devington. My mistress swung her large, round basket to and fro, and sang a lilting tune in a language I did not understand. Her lustrous long hair – as black as a moonless midnight – fanned out behind her in the warm breeze.
Marantha’s perfect features always attracted attention in the village. Men of all ages would pause in their daily activities to watch the young healer’s graceful, shapely figure as she carried out her errands. They openly admired her wavy dark tresses, her heavenly blue eyes, and the creamy fairness of her skin.
All the women stared at her with jealousy in their hearts. Soon I would give them a reason to be rid of her forever.
“Meet me here before sunset, Mr. Kroll,” my mistress said, as we reached the edge of town.
I went my own way, exploring the underbelly of the noisy village, scrounging for interesting food scraps and hunting rats that were almost tame. The mongrels running loose did not concern me. My presence terrified them.
It was the shiny crystals that caused my carelessness. They hung in a shop’s open window across the way, swinging gently in the wind, glinting in the sun. They mesmerized me.
I sprinted into the road and was caught up under a carriage wheel. It threw me clear, leaving me in agony. An ordinary cat would have died outright.
I forced myself to lie quietly for several minutes, gathering my strength and gaining control over the pain. No bones had been broken, but the damage to my organs was considerable. Finally, I struggled to a standing position and limped down a cluttered alley, using my powerful sense of smell to find what I needed.
I slowly climbed a stack of broken wooden crates to reach the ledge of an open window. Inside the stuffy room, an infant slept unattended on a cot, surrounded by rolled up blankets. I crept over to the bed and pulled myself up.
His damp gown smelled of sweat and harsh soap. I straddled his wee chest, but he did not awake. The crustiness on his lips was dried mother’s milk. When I began licking it off, the baby opened his mouth, and I covered it with my own.
I sucked my breath in and pulled his life force out. The invisible hot stream flowed into me and I could feel my injuries begin to heal.
Then I heard the mother scream. She knocked me off her baby with a broom handle and chased me out the window.
I was well enough to flee, and I headed for home in the gathering darkness. If I had not been interrupted the internal healing would have been complete. Eventually I would have to seek out another life force.
I entered the cottage through the open kitchen window and found my mistress in the front room, reading a thick, leather-bound book by candlelight.
She looked up in relief when I sauntered in. “Mr. Kroll, I knew you’d be all right, you naughty, careless feline.”
I curled up in her lap and allowed myself to purr.
Less than an hour later they came, surrounding the cottage, holding their fiery torches high.
“Show yourself, witch! You and your familiar!”
That was Hester the nosy seamstress. I recognized her deep, croaking voice.
Marantha opened the heavy wooden door and faced the angry mob. Most of them were women, with a few harried husbands standing in back.
“Friends, why are you here?”
“Oh, ain’t we the innocent one now,” Hester sneered. “Your demon cat was caught stealing a babe’s soul this very night.”
The women surrounded Marantha and held her prisoner while the men searched the cottage. They found the evidence they were looking for – a book of witchcraft.
Hester took the tome from her husband and held it high before the crowd. “The witch must burn! She must pay for her sins in Hell!”
I slipped past the mob and climbed an oak, watching helplessly as they bound Marantha’s hands and feet and carried her back into the cottage.
They set the house ablaze and then stayed to watch the spectacle. The women’s hard faces were lit with malicious glee. I heard Marantha’s agonized, heartrending screams, felt her blinding fear, and I couldn’t bear to linger.
There was someplace I needed to go, something I needed to do.
Hester had a baby daughter.
February 01, 2014
A fellow horror-loving friend of mine recommended I watch “You’re Next,” and suggested it was a cross between “Home Alone” and “The Strangers.” Yeah. Okay. I like my humor black, thank you.
Luckily, this flick – directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett – delivered the evil giggles. The plot isn’t anything new, since it involves a home invasion, but some “tweaking” was done, and it held my interest all the way through. I’ll even admit that a couple of times during those 96 minutes, I jumped violently enough to spill my favorite beverage.
The Davison family’s night of terror begins with a chilling message being scrawled in blood on their murdered neighbors’ wall. It’ll be their turn next, as the four siblings, and their significant others, gather at their parents’ secluded mansion to celebrate the couple’s milestone anniversary. The family is annoyingly dysfunctional, and I got a little impatient waiting for the slaughter to begin. The first arrow crashed through the dining room window and interrupted their squabbling just as I was about to hit the MUTE button on my remote.
As much as I disliked the spoiled siblings, Crispian (A.J. Bowen), Drake (Joe Swanberg), Felix (Nicholas Tucci) and Aimee (Amy Seimetz), their significant others were considerably more interesting. Well, at least the women were – Erin (Sharni Vinson), Zee (Wendy Glenn) and Kelly (Margaret Laney). Aimee’s boyfriend Tariq (Ti West) isn’t around long. I tried to feel some sympathy for the parents, Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton), but then I decided they needed to pay the ultimate price for raising so many obnoxious kids.
The invaders are three men wearing animal masks (tiger/lamb/fox), because we all know that makes vicious killers more intimidating. When the gory attacks begin, so does the dark humor. Right away I started picking up on clues from the dialogue and figured out the reason behind the invasion well before the end of the film. But that was okay because I had a favorite character to root for and I wanted to see how it all played out.
Crispian is unaware of his Australian girlfriend’s survivalist upbringing, and to everyone’s surprise, Erin turns out to be one feisty little Outback sheila. She quickly takes charge of the situation, helping to protect the clueless and the undeserving. The crossbow killers are in for a bloody big challenge. And, for me, that’s what made the movie worth watching.
I like a horror film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Despite some noticeable flaws, this one provided decent acting to watch, some wicked chuckles and “gotcha” moments, and at least one cool character to care about. I even liked the Dwight Twilley music that accompanied much of the mayhem. Since the flick is definitely worth a DVD rental, I’m willing to give it three and a half goblins.
January 18, 2014
Unfortunately, I’ve had to put all fictional works in progress on hold the past few months to finish editing assignments and deal with the chaos of life, but my subconscious insists on creating mysterious tales to entice my lazy Muse to visit again. I dream a lot. Many times I don’t remember much about the details, though I might retain just enough memories to spark a story idea. The dream I had the other night was so vivid that I couldn’t get it out of my mind when I awoke. Not that I wanted to. That morning I wrote the whole scene down as it played out in my head. Perhaps one day it will become a full-blown short story or a novella. Perhaps not, but I admit I’d like to find out what happens to the narrator when she finally confronts her destiny.
“The Man with the Beautiful Smile”
I didn't belong to them - I was aware of that from the start. I remember my real mother. Oh, my adoptive parents kept telling me those memories were just dreams, not reality, but I knew the truth.
Our last day together is forever etched in my mind. Party hats, and four candles on my Raggedy Ann cake. I had crazy red hair just like the famous doll I loved so much, and so did my mother. My fingers were sticky from the too-sweet icing. She cleaned my hands and took me out to play in the cool sand near the shore.
I was busy building a lopsided castle, listening to the waves crashing on the beach, and at first I didn't realize that Mama had walked away from me. I looked up just in time to see her disappear behind a sand dune. When she didn't come back right away, I got curious and followed her footprints until her slender figure came into view. She stood straight and still, staring out to sea, the foamy waves lapping at her bare ankles, the salty breeze lifting the skirt of her bright blue dress.
I called out to her, but she didn't answer. When she turned to look behind her, that's when I noticed the dark-haired man. He stood at the top of a nearby sand dune, dressed all in black. I still remember quite clearly how he smiled at her. That beautiful smile made me feel afraid, and I didn't know why.
My mother was crying now. I could hear her sobbing over the noise of the surf.
I wanted to run to her, but for some reason I couldn't move.
Mama started walking forward into the sea, only slowing down when she was waist deep and the waves slammed into her. She screamed right before she vanished beneath the water.
The dark-haired man appeared before me, suddenly, blotting out the sun. He knelt down and stared into my tear-streaked face. His eyes were the color of an angry sea.
"Run home now, darling Claire," he said, with a voice deep and gentle. "Your mother is gone, but one day you'll see me again."
December 16, 2013
I must confess that I'm a sucker for television shows about vampires. (Pun intended.) And of course, I love movies and books that feature my favorite monster, too. Bram Stoker's "Dracula" was the first horror novel I ever read. NBC's re-imagining of this classic tale is different in many ways. (Actually, it differs in pretty much every way.) Six episodes in, with four to go, I've decided I'm committed to watching the rest of the first season - but not because the series is scary or shocking. Aside from a few scenes in the first episode, there hasn't been much horror to witness. The main reason I enjoy the show is due to the fact that Dracula is being played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (of "The Tudors" fame). This British-American production was filmed in Budapest, and I love the atmosphere, lavish sets, sumptuous costumes and the promise of a doomed gothic romance. So sue me.
In Romania in 1881, we first see Vlad Tepes as he's being resurrected with a blood sacrifice by - surprise! - Abraham Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann). Apparently, Van Helsing has a bone to pick with a secret society known as the Order of the Dragon. He needs Dracula's help to destroy them, knowing they were responsible for torturing the once powerful ruler known as Vlad Tepes and turning him into a vampire. Flash forward about fifteen years - the Count has arrived in London posing as a wealthy American businessman, Alexander Grayson. Van Helsing is a professor teaching medicine at a university and one of his star pupils is none other than Mina Murray (not yet married to Jonathan Harker). Mina (Jessica De Gouw) is a feminist with aspirations of becoming a doctor. Jonathan (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a reporter looking to climb the social ladder of success and Alexander Grayson gives him the opportunity. (Of course, Dracula has noticed that his employee's fiancée looks exactly like his own late wife, Ilona.) I have never liked the character of Jonathan Harker and my opinion hasn't changed. He's supposed to be the good guy, but he comes across as wimpy, priggish and boring. (As my mother would tell you, I've always been more attracted to the bad guys - a serious flaw she happens to share.)
In this TV version, Jonathan and the Count aren't the only ones in love with the beautiful Mina. Lucy Westenra (Katie McGrath) tries unsuccessfully to hide her true feelings for her best friend, while Mina tries to hide her growing attraction to Alexander Grayson. As for the Order of the Dragon, they have their top vampire hunter in bed with Dracula - literally. Lady Jayne Wetherby (Victoria Smurfit) is good with a sword, but she isn't so good at relationships. I found it funny instead of ironic that she doesn't know her lover is the vampire making snacks out of London's prostitutes. Lust has made her blinder than a bat, and I think her bitchy, bad-ass character should be smarter. It's not like the Count has "glamoured" her into believing he's a warm-blooded human being. (As far as I can tell, this Dracula can't shape-shift either, or turn into mist.)
In an interview I recently saw, Rhys Meyers said his Dracula was "a manifestation of pain and loss." The show is mainly about betrayal and revenge.
Alexander Grayson is a charming con man. He plays mind games to gain Lady Jayne's trust, knowing she is a member of the Order of the Dragon. One would think Dracula would destroy the secret society by finding each of the members and ripping their heads off, but his plan is more practical and long-term. The entrepreneur wants to wage an economic war and destroy their finances by coming up with a new energy source to devalue their oil interests. (Really, when I think about it, Dracula doesn't seem nearly as evil as the diabolical J.R. Ewing.) The Count's allies do their best to help him achieve this goal. Van Helsing works tirelessly on a serum that will allow Dracula to walk about during the daylight hours. An ex-lawyer, the loyal, intelligent Renfield (played by African-English actor Nonso Anozie) protects his boss at all costs, and the two share a solid friendship. (In this incarnation, Renfield is not a cockroach-eating lunatic.)
I think the right actors were cast in the right roles and I have no problem with their acting abilities. Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Jessica De Gouw have good chemistry. The smoldering looks they share are believable, and I have to admit that's the main reason I tune in every Friday night. I want to see Mina betray Harker and enjoy it. Of course, this is supposed to be a "limited" series and one would expect for Dracula to be bested in the end by the good guys - although members of the Order of the Dragon come across as the true villains in this show.
The bottom line? If what you want to see is true horror, explicit violence and sex, you should look elsewhere (HBO or Showtime?). This series is more of a cross between "Downton Abbey" and "Dallas."
October 05, 2013
Halloween is fast approaching and it's the perfect time of year for a scary read. If you like horror short story collections, check out my eBook, "The White Death and Other Ghastly Ghost Stories." It includes eight reprinted tales along with two new ones. See the detailed description below.