Zombiepalooza Radio Live Presents: A Night with a few of the 2015 Bram Stoker Award Nominees
2-26-16 Starting at 8 pm EST
Your not gonna want to miss this set your clocks, and mark your calender’s
1. 8:-9 pm EST
JG Faherty for “The Cure” (Samhain Publishing)
IN: Superior Achievement in a Novel
2.9-10 pm EST
Patrick Freivald for “Black Tide” (JournalStone Publishing)
IN: Superior Achievement in a Novel
3.10-11 pm EST
Mercedes Murdock Yardley for “Little Dead Red ” (Grimm Mistresses) (Ragnarok Publications)
IN: Superior Achievement in Long Fiction
4. 11-12 pm EST
Nicole Cushing for “Mr. Suicide” (Word Horde)
IN: Superior Achievement in a First Novel
Nicole Cushing for “The Mirrors” (Cycatrix Press)
IN: Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection
5. 12-1 am EST
John M. Mcllveen for “Hannahwhere” (Crossroad Press)
IN: Superior Achievement in a First Novel
I love the way being a writer makes you see things differently. My husband had a horrible nightmare a couple weeks ago and instead of being sympathetic I pulled out my laptop and told him to give me all the details so I could turn it into a short story. A week later I had a nice 2000 word story out of it. Then a friend at work commented on the horrible nightmare she had the night before. I sat down and listened to her then pulled out a pen and paper and asked her to tell it to me again. She also agreed to let me write a story based on it. Still working on that one.
Sometimes it takes the most normal thing to make me want to write something. We just came back from a 5-day cruise to Mexico and our stateroom was at the front of the ship (I mean really the front – we were the 4th cabin from as far front as you could be). So the hallway spanned the entire length of the ship. When we were walking down the very narrow hall you could see people coming from the other end and it was very disorienting. It was like looking at a mirrored hall where your reflection comes at you. Yup, more fodder for stories. Gonna let that one stew a bit.
Even when I had to get a colonoscopy back in December, (turning 50 sucks) the first thing I thought when I came out of the anesthesia was damn this could make a great story if something whacked out while I was under.
It doesn’t matter what you write about or where you get your ideas (I get ideas just driving home during my hour long commute home). What matters is that you write. Get it out of your head and down on paper or on computer. Carry a recorder around; use it remember those great ideas. I keep one in my purse and use it all the time.
In the short time Stitched Smile Publications has been around, they have put out three separate works of fiction. One of those was released on February 17th. It is by David Owain Hughes and Alice J. Black. The novella is titled, Granville. Here is the synopsis for the book:
Stanley is a typical high school student trying to find his way through the hierarchy of study and popularity. Nobody wants to spend time with him and even his crush turned him down nine times. He spends most of his time alone in the house, cursing his mother and blaming her for driving his father away. He has a preoccupation with all things horror and his love goes beyond just watching the movies; he wants to be the star of the show.
Making masks started as a hobby that soon becomes a practiced ritual and finally, when he has the right mask and slips it on over his head, he realizes that he is transformed. He is no longer Stanley but Granville, a masked warrior who intends to get payback for all the wrongs done to him and he will hold no punches.
The town is on lock down, the people terrified of this hideous killer, all the while he waits and plans his final masterpiece before taking off.
On the day of the release, SSP threw an online Release Party. I was only able to attend the last half of the event, but in that time, I got to know Alice and David and we talked a little about Granville.
(Side Note: Being an online party, there were a few interjections into our conversation.)
AJ: Alice, David, tell me about Granville. I read the description for it, and it sounds right up my alley.
Alice: Stanley is a loner, a young boy who is pushed too far one day and snaps. He takes things into his own hands and as his degradations get worse, so do his masks…
AJ: Let’s talk concepts: David, Alice, where did the concept for this story come from?
David: I think it first started with myself – I had this idea about a hapless teen who wanted to be a serial killer. I was looking to co-write a second project with Alice.
AJ: So, then you two have worked together before?
David: Yes, this is actually our second novella.
Alice: Yeah we wrote a novella length creature feature…#
David: The first is currently in the hands of a publisher, but we can’t release details.
AJ: Nice. Tell me about Stanley?
David: He’s your typical horror geek, who has a crush on a girl at school he can’t get.
AJ: Is he somewhat of an outcast?
David: Oh, very much so. He’s pretty much tortured by his peers. He’s a ghost to the tutors. Faceless, nameless.
David: Yes, mentally and physically.
AJ: So, he is essentially there, but no one likes him or takes the time to get to know him? They just kind of push him around.
David: Yes, spot on. Nobody cares about Stanley – he’s a punch bag.
AJ: That’s sad.
AJ: So, Granville. That is WHO he becomes, correct?
David: Yes, that’s right.
Jennifer H: I read it and it was an excellent book. Very twisted and dark. Twists and turns you wouldn’t expect
AJ: If David had anything to do with it, I know it is dark and probably somewhat disturbing.
Jennifer H: Have you read any of his others and which ones?
AJ: I’ve read some of David’s work. Not a ton, but enough to know that his mind is a bit dark.
Jennifer H: Great I will have to look up his stuff.
AJ: Alice, when you two sat to write this, did you write one part and David write another one and you mashed it together in the end? How did the collaboration of this story go?
Alice: When we wrote, we wrote a section each, maybe 1-2k words and then emailed it across and the next person started from there until we hashed it all out. We did the same with editing.
AJ: Very nice. A true collaboration. Did either of you, at any point, not like something the other one had written and discuss it with each other to make sure it came out right?
Alice: I have to be honest and say no. It all flowed so well. We obviously changed a few bits during editing but that’s natural.
AJ: At any point during the writing of Granville, did either of you say, eh, maybe we should scale back on this scene? And did you scale back if that were the case?
Alice: I don’t think that ever came up! If anything it was pouring more on.
David: I always go out guns blazing! I don’t like holding anything back.
AJ: David, I expect nothing less from you.
David: Have you picked up something of mine prior to this?
AJ: David, I’ve read a few of your pieces online. Something for Horror Geeks I think was the last thing I read.
David: Cool. I’ve written a lot of dark, twisted stuff. I can’t get enough of it!
AJ: You also have a book with BWP, right?
David: Two, one novel and one collection of short stories.
AJ: Very nice
AJ: Of the two of you, which do you think has the darker side?
Alice: Um I think it’s hard to say. We both have dark sides. I think David is a little more explicit with his while I tend to stay a little more somber but in our own ways, we’re both very dark.
David: I think our difference in dark styles very much suit our co-writing team.
AJ: David, in what way? That intrigues me.
David: One will do something different to the other – subtly and brute force mix well.
Alice: I found I learned a lot from David. I often shy away from the more explicit side of horror, and working with him made me consider why and branch out in my own writing.
David: Alice, that’s nice of you to say.
AJ: So playing off of each other’s strengths also strengthened your own styles?
David: Oh, definitely.
AJ: Then your styles fit well together. That is good to hear. I have only done a couple of collaborations, and it has been a LONG time since I did my last one, but I loved trying to fit our styles together.
David: Alice and I get on so well – she’s like my little sister.
AJ: I’m jealous. I don’t have a writing partner like that.
David: I’m lucky in that respect. I think she only keeps me around for the laughs.
AJ: Most women keep men around for the laughs. They don’t need us.
Alice: That’s not true!
David: Which part?
Alice: We don’t just keep men around for the laughs.
AJ: You mean there are other reasons? I need to talk to my wife about this.
Alice: Haha. Maybe you should.
AJ: Alice, I think you and I are going to get along quite well.
Alice: Me too!
AJ: I know when I finish a particularly good story, I want to celebrate. When you finished Granville, did you smoke a cigarette or drink a beer?
Alice: I’m not sure I did! I was very excited about it but it wasn’t until we were accepted for publication that I really celebrated.
AJ: Tell me about the process of getting Granville published.
Alice: David could probably tell you more because he did a lot of leg work on this one
David: It was luck, I guess. I’d done some work for Lisa Vasquez and saw she was taking submissions.
AJ: So you subbed and she accepted, eh?
David: Yeah, she knew of me and my work.
AJ: Alice, tell me a little about YOU?
Alice: Um…I write mostly horror but I like to write other stuff to. I have a novel out which is a YA supernatural. That one is my baby! But I’ve got a lot of shorts out in anthologies and a novel series in the works
AJ: Tell me about the novel, if you don’t mind.
Alice: The novel is called The Doors. It’s about a young girl called Amanda who is made to move down the country when her dad gets a new job. They move into Godfrey Hall but from the get go, she doesn’t like it. There are a set of mosaic doors in the dining room that she can’t stop staring at and whenever her parents are out, the little man in the mosaic seems to move. Amanda has to figure out the mystery of the mosaic doors before it drives her insane.
AJ: Alice, you said YA? What is the age range?
Alice: I suppose for anyone who likes reading YA. I like YA but I know that some adults don’t so probably around 16-20
AJ: My daughter is almost 15. Would it be appropriate for her?
Alice: I would think so. There’s a little romance but it’s nothing heavy, more of an attraction really. Other than that it’s more than suitable. It’s available on kindle. Would you like the link?
AJ: Well, yes, I would.
Alice: The Doors on Amazon
Donelle: I think you will like this book.
AJ: I plan on getting it, Donelle. I like David’s work and Alice seems like my type of person.
Donelle: I am about halfway through.
AJ: Is there anything else, Alice and David would like to say before I let you all go. I know it is late (or very early) where they are at.
Alice: Not that I can think of, except thank you for your support!
AJ: No problem.
If you would like to find out more about David and Alice, follow these links:
Years ago I was part of a forum, yes there were forums in the old days, that was a Richard Laymon fan group. We were small but because close. Even though the forum is long gone the group is still around, just now on Facebook. We are all still good friends even though we span the globe. Back in 2007 we used to do what we called our “Kooky Stories” contest. You would have five items (usually weird or unusual) and you had to write a story including those five items. Afterwards we voted and the winner got to pick the next five items for the next contest. One of my stories, Merry Christmas, was written November 2, 2007. After all this time I don’t remember what the five words were. But it made for a silly, gory Christmas story; because that’s what we were all about. I thought I’d post it here to everyone to enjoy.
Merry Christmas, Veronica Smith, November 2, 2007
As Thanksgiving approached, all the impending signs of Christmas were apparent. Even before Halloween had arrived, the Christmas decorations had taken over the seasonal area and shelves. Those leftover bags of Sponge Bob & Bratz candy sat next to all those new flavors of candy canes. Working in the local Kmart was a crappy job but it was a job. It paid the rent and girls really went for guys that actually had a job. Robert was thinking about girls again as he adjusted the white and green artificial Christmas trees in the display. They had them packed in so tight you couldn’t get a postage stamp between them. It was thirty minutes after closing so he could loosen his smock. He took pride in his department and decided that even if he had to put some of those trees back in storage it would make them look more appealing. As he mulled over, trying to decide which ones to put away, he heard odd clopping noises; like horses walking down the center aisle. He looked around for the prankster; Lou was way over in Housewares straightening up the Tupperware and small appliances. Susan had the worst department – toys! After a day of all those brats going thru there it looked as though a tornado hit. He didn’t envy her. Usually his department, seasonal, only got real bad when they had a huge sale on boxes of ornaments or cards; as it did today. After straightening up those shelves he wandered over to the yard displays. He came to a sudden halt. The “blow up” Santa and reindeer were gone! They weren’t on the floor deflated but someone had turned off the air pumps and unplugged them from the figures. They must have carried them off. But security would’ve seen people taking stuff that big! “Have you been naughty or nice?” boomed a loud voice. Robert turned to see Santa in all his blown up glory; without the aid of any air pump! How was this possible? “Well?” Santa asked again, “Have you been naughty or nice?” His round air-filled belly shook like a bowl full of jelly, bigger actually – like a huge plate of jelly. Santa had one arm behind his back and brought it around front now. In his huge gloved hand he held an axe. It still had the $10.88 sale tag on it. His jolly mouth was turned down in a frown of malice. He smacked the axe flatwise in the palm of his other hand. “You haven’t answered me.” He bellowed at Robert. Robert opened his mouth but couldn’t speak – couldn’t do anything except stare at the axe wavering up and down. He turned and fled down the aisle that let towards Linens. Clop, Clop. Clop. He froze when he saw three blow up reindeer walk out from other aisles into the aisle in front of him. He let out a scream of terror. “What’s wrong?” he could hear Lou call from the distant part of the store. Without stopping to answer he turned down the next aisle and headed in Lou’s direction. He almost stumbled upon two other reindeer. They had knocked down several shelves worth of towels and were locked together on top of them like two dogs mating. In shock he tripped and picked himself up. He managed to get to Housewares and ran right past Lou., who was covertly picking his nose and wiping the boogers on the spatulas hanging next to him. “What’s the matter with you?” he asked Robert. “Santa!” Robert panted, “he’s got an axe!” Lou looked at Robert and smiled. “Oh, you’ve been nipping at that spiked eggnog, haven’t you?” “No really!” Robert yelled, “He’s coming!” “Sure,” Lou sang, “Santa Claus is coming to town! Ha ha!” “Have you been naughty or nice?” boomed Santa, who
had caught up with Robert now. “Holy shit!” Lou shouted, “What the hell is going on?” Santa didn’t answer him; only swung the axe up and back down through the top of Lou’s skull. It split in half and he dropped to the floor like a stone. He chopped at him for a while, momentarily forgetting about Robert. Robert’s mouth gaped in horror. He had to get out of here! But he had to get Susan out before this homicidal Santa found her. He ran to Toys; careful not to make a lot of noise this time. He literally ran into her near the Barbies. Any other time that much pink would make him puke. This time, however, he didn’t even notice. This time rather than try to explain about Psycho Santa, he whispered to Susan, “We have to get out of here. There’s been a break in and they have guns.” He knew that would get her going. As they were sneaking thru Hardware they were stopped by three more reindeer. Amazingly they snorted smoke from their nostrils and bellowed like bulls. Suddenly they charged like bulls! Robert dropped and rolled away, smacking into a hanging rack, suddenly rained on by small tools. Susan only screamed once as all three reindeer stomped on her. Robert suddenly noticed the air valve on the back hindquarters of each reindeer. He grabbed a pair of pliers and ripped them out of the package. He used them to grab the valve and hold it open. Immediately that reindeer deflated before his eyes. He grabbed a screwdriver and jabbed it into another one; it burst with an audible pop! The third one ran off, trailing Susan’s blood and gore down the aisle. He sobbed silently as he quietly made his way to the front. Passing the rack of posters he stopped. Out stepped Santa; bigger and badder than ever! “Have you been naughty or nice?” he bellowed at Robert. “I’ve been nice!” Robert screamed hysterically, “I’m always nice! I’m a good guy!” The axe flew past his head and buried its head into a poster of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, splitting Jack’s head in two. Santa pulled out a notepad from his pocket and said, “Nice! Good, got you down now. No lump of coal for you.” Santa suddenly stood still and deflated.
“We’ll set the traps close to the edge so we’ll be able to watch from the house,” Frankie said, pulling Donnie out of his thoughts.
“I’m scared,” the younger boy whined. He tried not to be, but all he could think about was the look on Momma’s face when she’d spoken of the great beast. Her left eye always twitched slightly, and she had begun smoking again. Donnie also noticed her voice had become a bit deeper, more gravelly.
“Everything will be alright,” Frankie said. “You’ll see.” Then he put his arm around his brother’s shoulder, which made Donnie feel like crying, but he swallowed hard and blinked the tears away.
“Do you think we’ll catch it tonight?” Donnie asked.
“No tellin’. We might. Here, help me with this.”
Donnie took the rope from his brother’s arm and draped it over his own. Frankie carried a shovel and a pick-axe on one shoulder and a pitchfork on the other. As they reached the edge of the forest, he dropped them onto rocky ground where they clattered together like dry metal bones.
It was much cooler beneath the towering trees. The drought hadn’t affected the ancient oaks and maples at all. Daddy always said, their roots ran deep, where the great springs flowed. Donnie imagined a cavernous underground world beneath their feet. He could almost feel the thrum of water below him, and wondered suddenly if that’s where the Roaming Darkness came from.
The trees were packed closely together, shading the pine needled carpet. Deeper in, the forest floor was packed with moss covered stones and seas of lush, green ferns. It was amazing to see so much life just a few feet away from the rest of the world which was now a dying land of dust.
They spent the next few hours digging holes and setting snares, which they triggered with flexible saplings. Frankie had learned how to set such traps from their father. Donnie didn’t remember too much about Daddy, just that he would sing to them at bedtime. Sometimes, Donnie could still hear Daddy’s deep voice while drifting off to sleep at night and he believed this was what protected him from nightmares.
When they finished laying the last snare, Donnie looked up and noticed they had worked through supper. The sun was getting low in the sky. His eyes had adjusted to the gloom and he hadn’t noticed the day was nearly gone. Suddenly, the forest took on an ominous feel. Shadows lengthened, slid into dark hollows and danced through the great oaks like dark spirits seeking shelter.
“Frankie,” Donnie whispered.
“Yeah, what? I’m almost finished. Hand me those spikes.”
Frankie had sharpened several sticks making makeshift punji stakes. He was now standing at the bottom of a three-foot hole they’d dug.
“We gotta go. The sun is going down,” Donnie said as he handed Frankie the sticks.
“Okay, let me get these into the ground”
Suddenly, Donnie caught movement out of the corner of his eye. A shape looked like a gigantic sliding shadow moved through the line of huge trees. The shadowy beast was as long as a car and half as tall. Sticks and leaves snapped beneath its club-like feet. Low branches bent and swayed as it passed and there was a low grinding sound as it rubbed against the tree bark.
Donnie stood frozen, staring at darkness moving against night. It was nearly invisible but had a slight shimmer like heat on a highway. Its breath was ragged and low like a dog after a fight. The beast began to growl and Donnie saw a glimmer that could only be huge pointed teeth emerging from the beast’s cavernous mouth. That was what jolted Donnie out of his stagnation.
“Frankie, get out now! Give me your hand!” Donnie reached down for his brother and he was glad when Frankie’s hand extended upward without argument.
Donnie pulled his older brother out of the hole with more strength than he ever thought he had. The two boys ran for the house, neither one of them looking back. Donnie knew if they turned around, it would slow them just enough for the Roaming Darkness to catch up. And if the creature caught them, it would eat them. Then it would climb the stairs and take Momma back to whatever Hell it came from. Donnie had changed his mind. He no longer wanted to join Momma if the black beast got her. The thought of being carried away in that creature’s tooth-filled jaws made him sick with fear.
They stumbled up the porch steps and burst into the house. Frankie turned and slammed the door behind them then twisted the deadbolt into place. He slowly moved the curtains aside and peered out into the darkening yard.
“Did it follow us?” Donnie asked.
“I’m not sure. I don’t see it now, but I did out in the woods. I saw it just as sure as shit. It was fast, God, it was fast. I though it had us. Oh God. Did you see how big it was?”
Donnie just nodded.
Frankie collapsed, his back to the door. They were still both out of breath and panting like dogs.
“I’m scared, Frankie.”
“I am too, but maybe it’ll fall into one of our traps and break a leg. We’ll find out in the morning. I’ll bet it went back into the woods. Are you hungry? I’m starving,” Frankie said, speaking nervously. He realized he was shaking.
“Yeah, we haven’t eaten since breakfast.”
“I’ll make us some macaroni and tomatoes if you go get a jar from the basement.”
“Okay,” Donnie said. Macaroni and tomatoes was his favorite meal. He didn’t think Frankie would make them as good as Momma, but his stomach was still growling loudly at the thought.
He opened the cellar door, turned on the overhead bulb and made his way down into the musty smelling basement. Spider-webs decorated the corners and the dirt floor puffed up dust as Donnie walked, but it was cool down there and he felt safe buried deep underground.
Thanks to Momma’s canning they had enough food to last for months. He grabbed a jar of tomatoes off the shelf and carried them back upstairs. Donnie hadn’t thought much about what would happen if they couldn’t kill the beast, hadn’t thought much about it because it was terrifying. Frankie had said they’d be taken away from the farm, probably separated and put in different homes far away from the farm.
In no time, Frankie had everything cooking. The food smelled wonderful and Donnie’s stomach growled audibly.
They ate in silence, sitting at the splintery kitchen table, listening for sounds from outside. Donnie thought they would hear howls of pain or a roar like a lion if the Roaming Darkness was caught, but the night was silent. His hope faded as the nighttime hours passed and he grew sleepy. In the moments between awake and asleep, he thought about going upstairs and kissing Momma goodnight, but that only made him cry. He fell asleep with tears drying on his dirt-covered cheeks.
The next morning they were both up with the sun, anxious to see if the beast was caught or wounded. The world was red with dawn’s light and a slight breeze rustled the corn plants and stirred up the dust.
They walked out onto the front porch. A crow cawed from its perch on the barn roof. Chipped paint crunched beneath their feet and there was still a slight coolness in the air. Donnie knew it would be gone in an hour, replaced by the suffocating heat and humidity that was now like an old friend who had overstayed his welcome.
“Frankie, look. What is it?”
“I don’t know, come on.”
They jumped down the steps and walked out into the yard. The crispy, brown grass had been worn away, forming a rough, dirt circle that surrounded the house. Clods of soil and sod lay to each side of the channel as if a bulldozer had dug a shallow moat.
“Did the beast do this?” Donnie asked, squinting against the now bright morning sunlight.
“I think so. It must’ve been pacing, waiting for us to come out.”
The thought of the Roaming Darkness circling the house in the early morning hours while they were sleeping, made Donnie shiver. He could imagine it making its rounds, staring into their windows, hoping they would come back outside before the sunlight chased it back into the forest.
“Let’s go check the traps,” Frankie said.
Frankie took the pitchfork and handed Donnie an axe they found sticking out of a tree stump out back. It had last been used while their father was alive and was rusty but the blade was still murderously sharp. Donnie hefted it onto his shoulder, feeling like a lumberjack.
“Do you think we caught it?” Donnie asked.
“It’s too big. I didn’t realize it was that huge when I set the traps.” Frankie said, shaking his head sadly.
They walked through their back yard and stopped at the edge of the forest. There was a thick, pungent odor wafting through the trees. It was sickly sweet, slightly syrupy and coated the back of Donnie’s throat like molasses. He gagged once and his eyes watered. Then he swallowed hard and it became a bit more bearable. Frankie spit in the dirt and coughed once. The sound was very loud in the early morning stillness.
“Breathe through your mouth. It helps,”
“Donnie held his nose and sucked in noxious air past his tongue. It did help some, but now he felt like he was eating the odor, swallowing it.
“What is it?” Donnie asked.
“That must be its scent. Let’s go see if it’s sprung any of the traps.”
They walked between the trees. Donnie listened to their feet crunching on dead leaves and his own heartbeat slamming in his chest. He saw things move out of the corners of his eyes and the trees seemed to crowd him.
As they reached the area where they’d set their traps, it became apparent that they had caught nothing.
The ground in the small space was chewed up, much like the circle around the house. Smaller trees were uprooted, and larger ones were missing their lower branches. The boy’s traps had been destroyed. The saplings now lay broken and twisted on the disturbed ground. The pits they had dug were now filled with boulders. Dead rabbits, squirrels and birds lay on top of the piles, their blood spilling down between the stones like a mock sacrifice.
Frankie hung his head and let out a small, hopeless sigh. Then he kicked at the ruined earth and slammed his small fists against one of the ruined trees.
“Dammit!” he screamed. “It’s not fair.” Then he began to sob.
Donnie put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Frankie, maybe we’d just better just call someone. The police, or Pastor Ringley. “
“No! Screw that! That thing is waiting for us to give up so it can take Momma. We can’t let it, Donnie. We just can’t. Come on. Let’s go get some breakfast.”
They walked back to the house through the rocky, barren field and Donnie wondered how long Frankie could keep up the fight. Would they really be able to kill the monster that stalked their mother’s soul? Would they be able to even keep it at bay, and for how long? He thought about asking Frankie those questions, but he feared that his older brother didn’t know the answers and that scared Donnie terribly.
After a breakfast of eggs and toast, Frankie started roaming the house, looking out windows and inspecting the locks on the doors.
“What are you doing,” Donnie asked, watching his brother stalk around the house running his fingers through his now shoulder length hair like a mad scientist.
“Checking our defenses. I think we just pissed it off last night.”
As the sun dropped in the sky and the land slowly cooled one degree at a time, Donnie became infected with his brother’s restlessness. He went down into the cool of the basement and checked the bulkhead doors. The overhead light had burnt out but enough light came through the small windows for him to still see. A long splintery board secured the doors, and Donnie rested a hand upon its coolness. Dry fly carcasses lay suspended in gossamer spiderwebs and Donnie stared at them and prayed once more, not to God, but to his father.
He did not ask for victory against the Roaming Darkness or for his mother to come back to life, but for all of this to finally be over.
The songs of crickets filtered in through the window screens as dusk enveloped the farm. The light was red and warm and full of shadow. The two boys sat in the dimming kitchen and waited for the Roaming Darkness to make its next move.
“Will it wait for dark?”
“Yes, full dark.”
“Should we get Daddy’s gun?” Donnie asked.
Frankie looked at him as if he was the smartest person alive, and Donnie knew he had remembered something Frankie had not.
The revolver was at the top of the hall closet. They had found it while looking for Christmas presents years earlier. Their mother told them to never touch it, that it had been their father’s and it was dangerous. So the boys, of course, got it down whenever their mother left them home alone. Frankie said it wasn’t loaded and showed Donnie how to check. They took turns dry firing it, aiming at their mother’s vases on the mantle. They knew Momma kept the cartridges in her nightstand table but they had never dared load the gun until now.
The bedroom was right next to the bathroom where their mother still lay. There was a door which connected the two rooms and it was open. As they crept in to get the shells, Donnie reached for Frankie’s hand and was surprised when he took it.
Frankie opened the nightstand and grabbed the box of cartridges. Donnie tried not to look at his mother but his eyes kept trying to follow the sounds of the flies. He nearly retched at the smell, which was much stronger in the sweltering bedroom. Finally he couldn’t keep his eyes off her any longer and stared in horror at what his mother had become. The bright halogen overhead light reflected off the blood, now black, and the skin, now pale and blue. Her mouth lay open in a terrible grin and her eyes had been eaten away, leaving only blackened sockets. Donnie knew right then Momma wasn’t coming back no matter what they did. They could trap the beast in the woods and kill it, but Momma wasn’t going to return. Momma was meat and meat she would stay.
As Frankie retrieved the shells, Donnie bolted from the room and nearly fell down the stairs. He managed to get his balance at the last minute and grab the railing. He could hear Frankie calling after him but he didn’t look back.
Donnie ran into the kitchen and realized two things, one, that it was full dark now, and two, the Roaming Darkness was peering in at him from outside
A great, eye nearly luminescent, glared in at Donnie through the half open window. There were only a few feet and a thin wire screen between them. Donnie froze and began to shake. He wanted to call out for his brother, but his mouth was stuck in a gaping pose and he could only utter a small “Uh, uh” sound.
A second later, Frankie ran into the kitchen, nearly knocking Donnie into the table.
“What is it?” Frankie asked, but then saw what Donnie was staring at, or rather what was staring at him.
“Run!” Frankie screamed, grabbing Donnie and dragging him back into the living room.
A low growl rattled the windows and something shook the house, knocking pictures off the walls. The boys nearly fell, but managed to grab the coffee table and steady themselves.
“It’s trying to get in!” Frankie said.
“What do we do?”
“We’ve got to get Momma and go down to the basement.”
“No, Frankie, no. Let’s just go,” Donnie pleaded “Momma’s dead. Momma’s dead!”
For a second, Donnie thought his brother would come to his senses. Frankie’s eyes returned to the easy clarity they had before Momma died. Donnie thought he would take the lead and they would flee down to the basement, locking themselves in until morning. But then the sanity in Frankie’s eyes was gone and the mad scientist gaze was back. He grabbed Donnie’s arm and they scooted through the living room and then half ran, half crawled up the stairs.
The bathroom floor was coated with gore, flies, and wriggling maggots. The smell was thick and cloying, and it hung in the air like a putrid fog. Donnie realized he tasted his mother’s death and turned his head just in time to spew into the sink.
“Come on,” Frankie said grabbing a rotting arm. “We’ll slide her down the stairs. Grab her legs.”
“Yes you can. Grab her legs, Damnit! Unless you want that thing outside to get her, and us.”
“I don’t care anymore. She’s dead, Frankie. Can’t you see that?”
“She’ll come back. If we hide her and kill the beast, she’ll come back. Now grab her legs and help me.”
Donnie did as he was told but began to sob, his tears sliding down his mothers bare and blackened leg. He could feel his fingers making indentions in her soap-like flesh. As he lifted her leg, there was a ripping sound like Velcro as the dried blood-glue gave way.
They dragged their mother out the doorway, pushing the maggot infested towels out from under the door. She was harder to move on the carpet. Donnie had to join his brother at her head, pulling her naked body by her arms which rotated stiffly in their sockets.
She slid down the stairs, her heels thumping on the steps as they pulled her over the first landing. She left a dark smear down the middle of the steps.
The growling continued outside and its volume increased as if the beast suspected what they were up to.
“Do you have the gun?” Donnie asked.
“It’s in my back pocket. If I get a clear shot, I’ll take it.”
Donnie wondered why Frankie hadn’t taken the shot when the beast’s eye was glaring in at them through the window, but said nothing.
They reached the bottom of the stairs and crouched down, listening to the breathing beast just beyond the too-thin walls. Frankie pulled the gun and held it as if he knew what he was doing.
As the Roaming Darkness moved past the windows, Frankie tried to draw a bead on it, but it was too fast. One minute it blocked out starlight, and the next it was gone before Frankie could even aim.
“Come on. It’s moved around back,” Frankie said. “Let’s get her downstairs before it comes back around.”
They pulled their mother through the kitchen, her buttocks squeaking across the faded Linoleum. As they reached the basement steps, there was a huge crash from the back of the house.
“It’s in the mudroom” Frankie whispered. “It’s crashed through the back door.”
Donnie opened the cellar door and switched on the light, then remembered it had burnt out. The darkness was suffocating, waiting for them below like a nightmare at bedtime.
“We’ll be okay. Nothing scary down there ‘cept spiders.” Frankie said. “It’s coming. I can hear it breathing. Hurry.”
They pulled her body through the doorway and Frankie slammed the door behind them. In total blackness, they slid their mother’s body down the narrow, wooden steps, and then curled up with her at the bottom of the stairs. Donnie could smell her stink and feel her cold flesh against his thigh, against his arm, against his face.
The beast slowly moved through the kitchen above them. The old floors creaked and groaned under its weight. The only light was a razor thin beam of light sliding under the door.
Donnie could hear his brother’s raspy breathing and could smell his own sweat mixed in with his mother’s decay.
The door started to open and Donnie realized he was no longer afraid. He welcomed the Roaming Darkness, welcomed death and whatever would happen afterwards. He took a deep breath and stared up into light.
The silhouette that filled the doorway didn’t look like a beast at all, it looked human. Donnie realized what Frankie was about to do a second too late and tried to jerk his brother’s hand down, but the gun went off.
The basement was filled with noise and smoke. There was a cry from above and the person in the doorway jumped aside.
“Don’t shoot, Damnit! We’re not going to hurt you. Don’t shoot!”
Donnie hugged his brother and kept him from firing another shot.
“No!” Frankie screamed. They’re here to take Momma too! They’re just like the beast. We can’t let them have her!”
Footsteps pounded down the stairs and strong hands grabbed both boys. Frankie clutched their mother and the men had to pry his hands loose from the corpse. They were carried upstairs and dragged out into the sweltering night. A man with a kind face sat them in the back of a police car and told them everything was going to be alright.
“The mailman called me. Said your mail was backing up and when he went to knock on the door, he smelled your Mo–, um, smelled something bad and thought everyone was dead.”
Frankie sat staring, his mouth hung agape and his arms fell to his sides. His eyes were dead and he didn’t say a word. Donnie watched as the men took his mother out of the house on a gurney and placed her in the back of an ambulance. Groups of men stood around the house, talking, stealing glanced at the boys as if they were bugs in a terrarium.
“Where will they take us, Frankie? Frankie?”
Tears welled up in Donnie’s eyes as he watched his brother continue to stare straight ahead at nothing.
Lights reflected off the windshield as the ambulance began to pull away. Donnie suddenly saw a shape creep along the side of the house, heading straight for the vehicle. He tried to call out a warning, slamming his hands against the window, but none of the men heard him. The ambulance was hit and fell over onto its side. The men scrambled and drew their guns, but the Roaming Darkness was too fast. It meant to have what it came for.
It crawled up onto the side of the vehicle, tearing it as if it were a tube of biscuits. Guns fired, but the beast seemed not to notice. It ripped the gurney out of the ruined ambulance and took their mother in its gaping jaws as if it was a huge dog and she was a bone. Then it leapt from the vehicle and turned its massive head marking the boys with its gaze, before slithering away across the field and into the ever-darkening forest.
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As someone who works mostly in horror, I often scoff at least a little when someone mentions romance since it usually brings to mind dusty volumes that use too many words to describe just about every body part, yet there are several love stories I would be delighted to spend a night with. In the cute, sad, gross, but a little funny February 2016 edition of The Brown Bag Stories by A.J. Brown, I found myself thinking of a few of them and how not every love story is necessarily in a romance book. I would recommend any one of the following to anyone who would listen, and I hope that more people come to enjoy them as well.
The first to come to mind is Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love by Mercedes M. Yardley. It is a love story of atomic proportions. Even if you’ve read this book before, I highly recommend reading it again. For me, the first time was a wonderful if chilling read. Reading it a second time was a magical experience and like watching beloved friends or children grow, and it is something I’m very glad I did. It will be republished soon by Crystal Lake Publishing.
If alternate universe steampunk LGBT romance adventures are more your speed, A Sweet and Steamy Series by Nikki Woolfolk fits the bill. Certainly the most romance-esque out of this list, the two out so far are The Winter Triangle and The Men of Summerly. They are beautiful adventures about dynamic, fleshed-out characters from many different backgrounds, like deaf astronomy professors and gay orphaned glassmakers. These charming novellas appeal to all five senses, and the foods featured in each book have corresponding recipes at the ends. And Nikki Woolfolk is a talented chocolatier. More on her website.
This one has an ambiguous ending but one that I find satisfying: “Reflection” by Daniel D. Darkfield. The hints at an unrequited love are subtle, but the fascination between the main character, Antonella, and her portrait subject transfers to the reader before she ever sets up her canvas. Full of more mystery than intrigue, “Reflection” is perfect for someone who wants to get away from the romance hype.
No happy endings for you? Read Michel Robertson‘s “In the Name of Science,” currently available in his collection Zombies, Vampires, Aliens, and Oddities: A Collection of Short Stories and Flash Fiction. With only the fragments of a romance that maybe never was and another that could never be, it features a horrifying and pretty unique origin story of a creature that’s been used and reused, and it’s one my partner and I still talk about sometimes after first reading it years ago.
No matter what your plans are for the weekend–mine are to take my little sister shopping–you’re sure to find some story with just the right level of romance for you whether it be all romance or no romance or anything in between.
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The Roaming Darkness
Mark E. Deloy
Little Donnie awoke to the sound of flesh and bone striking porcelain. He blinked sleep out of his eyes and scrambled out of bed. The hallway was lit with early morning light. He scuffed his feet along the green threadbare carpet, reached the bathroom and opened the door. Laying half in and half out of the clawfoot tub was his mother’s naked body.
She must’ve fallen as she was getting out of the shower, and cracked her head on the sink. Her wet body was sprawled out, a glistening pool of blood surrounding her dented head. She stared up at the ceiling with glazed, red-rimmed eyes.
Donnie started to cry and ran to get his older brother. Frankie would know what to do; Frankie always knew what to do. He was older, almost seven, and Momma always said he was smart as a whip. Their mother had told Donnie to mind his brother if she wasn’t around, so Donnie did as he was told and listened intently as Frankie explained his plan.
Ruth Harnett managed to keep the old farmhouse after her husband died. She did this with some help from her parents, who never wanted her to marry Joe Harnett in the first place. They grew corn, twenty acres of it directly in front of the house, blocking the slanting structure from the seldom-traveled dirt road. But it hadn’t rained in over a month and the stalks were now coated with dust and hadn’t grown any taller since the first week of June. The soil was sandy and every time the wind blew, great dirty clouds billowed over the house and coated everything like a thin blanket. Crows sat on the barn roof, waiting for either the corn to finally grow or the body inside the house to be brought out. Flesh or fruit, either one was fine with them.
Ruth had been plagued with insomnia for three weeks prior to her accident. She wandered the house like a wraith, night after night while the boys slept in their humid, cramped rooms. Donnie awoke one night to see his mother looking in at him, swaying back and forth like a drunkard, her haunted eyes staring at him from the dark doorway. When he whispered a nearly silent greeting, she moved from the doorway and continued her nightly wanderings.
During the day, she’d been like a zombie, barely awake but never completely asleep. She would sit at the breakfast table, her head on her hand, and watch the boys get ready for school. Sometimes, she would tell them about the creature she saw when the rest of the world was asleep. She said it roamed the tangled woods behind the house and she called it The Roaming Darkness.
That was where Frankie got the idea that their mother wasn’t really dead. He told Donnie she wasn’t gone, but just in some unconscious limbo while she waited for the dark creature to come and claim her. Frankie believed their mother had seen her death coming, the way the Farmer’s Almanac predicts there’ll be a good crop or whether it’ll be a bad winter. She tried to tell the boys about the huge, dark shape that roamed their property to prepare them for her passing.
Frankie said they would have to guard against the lumbering beast if they ever wanted their mother to come back to them. Donnie loved his mother and his brother so he did what he was told.
The boards on the barn were sun-faded to a dull pink. A wilding star was cut into its face, sending a sharp beam of light onto the back wall. Donnie stared at the star, praying on it as if it were God himself. It was a habit he had gotten into after Daddy died. He didn’t know why he did it, just that it made sense to him. He prayed their plan would work, and if it didn’t that when the great beast came for Momma, it would take him as well.
“We’ll have to set traps,” Frankie said, gathering the coil of rope from a rusty nail on the barn’s wall. “We’ll trap it and then we’ll kill it.”
Donnie sat on a hay bale and watched his older brother gather the conglomeration of items they would need. Frankie always seemed to know what he was doing. He never appeared afraid or confused. He was the voice of hope.
“Will we have to go out at night?” Donnie asked.
Frankie looked at him, and then shook his head slowly. “No,” he said. “The night is its hunting time. We’ll wait until daybreak. Then we’ll go back out and stab it with the pitchforks.”
“What is it, do you think?”
“It’s death. If we kill it—“
“Then Momma will come back,” Donnie said, finishing his brother’s sentence.
“Yup, she’ll come back, good as new.”
Donnie wanted to believe his brother, he wanted to think their mother would pull herself out of the fly infested puddle of stinking muck where she rested, take a quick shower and be just as she was. They had shut the bathroom door and shoved towels under it, but her stink still permeated the entire house.
If anyone was to come to the door… Donnie thought, No, he didn’t even want to think about that because it wasn’t going to happen. No one except the mailman and the school bus driver ever came out this way. The mailbox was at the end of the road and the school bus wouldn’t return until September. Their nearest neighbor was three miles away and Momma didn’t have many friends or family in the area that might come calling.
Donnie helped his brother gather up the supplies and they trudged through the sun-scorched alfalfa. Daddy had grown, and then sold the crop, but Momma said she didn’t have the time to tend the rock infested patch of ground which she had nicknamed “the quarry.” Donnie believed she just didn’t want to get that close to the forest. Donnie couldn’t blame her. The trees hulked at the edge of the field like a border between two worlds.
One night when Momma’s insomnia had first started, Donnie had come down stairs and found his mother kneeling on the sofa, looking out the back window. She had Daddy’s old field glasses pressed to her eyes. Her bare legs were curled beneath her on the faded, threadbare cushion. Donnie touched her arm and she jumped, covering her heart with her hand. Her face was different somehow, harder. To Donnie she didn’t look like Momma at all, but like some dangerous, caged animal ready to attack.
“Jesus, Donnie,” she said. “You nearly scared me to death.”
“Sorry, Momma. Whatcha lookin’ at?”
“It’s on the move,” she said. “Slidin’ between the trees like a big, black snake. One day it’ll come for me. Right now, it’s just bidin’ its time, but one day it’ll get the guts to slide out from those trees and come find your old Momma. It hunts at night, you know. That’s why I can’t sleep no more.” Then her face relaxed and she smiled and she was Momma again. “But you can. Now off to bed with you. You’ve got school in the morning.”
Donnie did as his mother told him, but he couldn’t sleep that night, not a wink. He looked out his bedroom window, and couldn’t see anything in the tree infested blackness beyond their back yard. But he didn’t have Daddy’s field glasses either.
Part 2 – Coming soon