Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Torn Asunder, by Amy Grech

Sorry for my absence. My computer was down for a while. Here is a wicked little story by Amy Grech. I hope you enjoy.

Torn Asunder

500 word short by Amy Grech

Shelia Kiernan’s come to a head when Robert, her husband of seven years showers. His iPhone won’t stop beeping, so she while he’s no doubt rubbing one out, she grabs his phone from the nightstand and swipes through his text messages. Her jaw drops when she sees hundreds sexts from Mellanie Montgomery, his Physician’s Assistant. An extremely successful Cosmetic Plastic Surgeon with a Park Avenue office in Manhattan, his day ofen starts at 6:00 a.m. and often ends at 10:00 p.m.

She comes to bed dressed in her silky red teddy, brown curls caress her shoulders; her husband reclines in bed busy with his iPhone, tucked in, all warm and toasty. She slides reaches under the comforter.

“I’m not interested! Can’t you see I’m busy?!” Robert, a fiery redhead, grabs her arm and clamps down with a vice-like grip.

“You’re hurting me!” She drops the comforter and stands frozen at the foot of the bed, like a statue.

“You asked for it!”

Shelia rolls her eyes.

“While you’re up, make yourself useful and bring me a nightcap. Dewar’s, on the rocks.” Robert scowls.

She storms out of the room, grabbing her bottle of Ambien from the bathroom medicine cabinet on her way to the full bar in the living room. Shelia sighs, reaches for a frosted highball glass from the shelf, takes some ice from the mini-fridge, and plunks the cubes in. Clink! She takes four pills from the bottle, slams them down on the bar. Raising the glass, as if making a toast, an overdue farewell. The highball glass collides with the bar, pulverizing the pills into a powder blue haze. Shelia gently lifts the glass and sweeps the remnants in.

A Hooters matchbook, real classy, sits on the remarkably cold, black marble next to Robert’s precious Dewar’s. Shelia pours Scotch over ice, smiling for the first time in months. A quick stir with an orange swizzle stick, also from Hooters, helps this potent nightcap lose its murkiness. She takes the matchbook and makes a quick trip to the garage for some lighter fluid.

Drink in hand, Shelia saunter back into the bedroom.

“It’s about time. I’m dying of thirst!”

Robert chugs it like a frat boy, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and puts the empty highball glass next to his phone.

She hands him the drink. “Bottom’s up!”

“What’s the lighter fluid for?” His eyelids grow heavy; he collapses on the pillow.

Shelia smirks. “I know how much you love barbecue.”

She opens the lighter fluid and douses her husband with it before striking the match against the cover; it hisses to life. Shelia tosses it in Robert’s lap, which ignites with a whoosh! Bright yellow flames hungrily engulf him; a charbroiled Irish bastard gets his just desserts.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Never trust a man who gives into his lust!

About the author:

Amy Grech has sold over one hundred stories and three poems to various anthologies and magazines including: Apex Digest, Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled, Fear on Demand, Funeral Party 2, Inhuman Magazine, Needle Magazine, The Flash Fiction Offensive, The Horror Express, Space & Time, The Brutarian, Zombie CSU, and many others. Damnation Books published her second collection, Blanket of White.

She has a story forthcoming in The Uninvited Magazine, exclusively for the iPad. Amy is an Active Member of the Horror Writers Association who lives in Brooklyn. Visit her website: Follow her on Twitter:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Field of Screams, by C. L. Raven

1700 word short by C L Raven

Nobody believes in ghosts anymore.

That’s a problem.

Especially when Jenkins, the ambitious head of the Shadow Council is demanding an increase in hauntings and a decrease in friendly visitations. He says we’re not running a relatives reunited organization. He’s been dead so long he’s forgotten the newly deceased like to check in on friends and family. The only family he can visit occupy the darkest corner of the cemetery. I think they put iron around their vault to keep him out.

“Half-hearted wailing and billowing curtains won’t cut it.” Even his voice was sleep-inducing. I wondered how many people had died at his board meetings. Bored meetings. “Time for blue sky thinking, people.” Blue sky thinking? We’re ghosts, not painters. It wouldn’t surprise me if during one of his meetings, someone rammed his pie charts up his PowerPoints and sent him to the big board meeting in the sky.

I sighed as he droned on about productivity and morale boosting exercises. My morale died long before I did. Its wake was a lively affair with fruitcake, shots and karaoke. There was even pole dancing. That was me.

“Connor!” I snapped back into the land of the no longer living. His voice grated more than rattling chains. “Do you have something more important to do? A life to be getting on with?”

Someone sniggered. Janice. She kissed his feet like they were the Blarney stone. She sat at the front taking notes. Jenkins hadn’t said a single thing worth remembering. She’d had a sense of humor bypass and died on the operating table.

Jenkins moaned on. “You wasted your life, you’re not wasting your afterlife too. I will not have ghosts turned into cuddly, lovable creatures, the way vampires have been! Is that what you want, Mr. Tovey? People pinching your lifeless cheeks, saying ‘ooh isn’t he cute, all dead and woeful’?”

“No.” Been a while since someone pinched my cheeks. Face or bum.

“Then pay attention.”

“Kill me,” I muttered to my best mate, Ceri. He grinned. “Whoever made him head of the Scare Department should be shot.”

“He was,” Ceri cackled. “Fifty years ago.”

“Boys!” We jumped. Well, I did. Ceri had seen war. Only fireworks scared him. And Poodles. We didn’t need to discuss scaring strategies, they should just send Jenkins into the field with a megaphone and no off button. He made clowns look like cuddly children’s entertainers. “You’re my best agents, but you’re getting slack and stale. Maybe you can develop new ways of scaring the bejesus of the living, because scarings are at a record low. There hasn’t been a crisis like this in the spirit world since Casper the friendly ghost was invented!”

He whipped out pie charts and my mind hibernated. I chose free falling from my office roof over monotonous boredom like this. Now I couldn’t escape. Hell did exist. It was a boardroom run by Jenkins. A PowerPoint presentation followed the pie charts. I slept through most of it until Ceri nudged me with a bicep bigger than my thigh. Ceri made a naked sock puppet from his hand, imitating Jenkins perfectly. I laughed. Sometimes I regret turning myself into the latest 3D pavement art, but if I hadn’t died, I’d never have met Ceri. Someone severed his parachute strings. The ground broke his fall. And his body. In several places, the worst being his neck. He’d had to go before the Decision Committee to prove he’d be an asset to the Scare Department or risk being sent into limbo. Or worse – back to life. Anyone who can bend his head at physically impossible angles has to be an asset to the team. Who could refuse a murdered Para? He was assigned to me. We’d never been apart since.

“What about standing behind people at mirrors?” I suggested. “Horror films love that.”

Jenkins gave me a look that would make Medusa jealous. “Horror films? That’s where you’re getting your ideas? Why not run a survey?”

“Nobody’s tweeted me back.”

His face contorted. I thought he was about to pop a vein. If he’d had veins to pop that is. He certainly turned an unhealthy shade of dead.

“Sweet Jesus of suburbia,” Ceri muttered. “He’s gonna glare himself to a heart attack.”

I shushed him. If I laughed, Jenkins would turn my giblets into windchimes. “We could recreate our deaths. Imagine how freaked out people would be to see me plummeting then vanishing before I hit the ground.” With my real jump, the only things I’d frightened were the pigeons and they soon got their revenge. “Modern day white ladies.”

“He’s onto something,” George, an elderly poison victim said. He was the Treasurer. “Seeing me writhe and die all over again would certainly scare the folks at my old luncheon clubs. Might even get some new recruits. The old dears love a good funeral. It’s like a school reunion.”

“I like it,” Jenkins cracked a smile. It was as rare as a party in a graveyard. That’s the image they should send into the field. “Now get lost and get scaring!”

We trooped out, slightly more enthusiastic than when we entered. Scaring people always cheered us up. Being dead was samey and boring. It wasn’t an escape from life, it was an extension with added invisibility. Ceri and I slipped through the wall and ran into the street.

“Boo!” he shouted at a small child, who screamed and bawled.

“Jenkins would be proud,” I high-fived him.

“Scaring kids is so easy it’s almost boring,” he sighed. “Shame Phillips isn’t here. He was blown up by a landmine. Recreating that would furnish our penthouse.”

“I’ll take you to the building where I jumped.”

We moved through the streets, occasionally taking taxis to frighten the passengers. We took it in turns to run in front of buses or trains and scare the waiting passengers. One bus driver actually crashed. We felt bad about that. He was four days from retirement. The scream monitors on our wrists were working overdrive today. A good day at the office. We had targets to fill just like everyone else. The more screams we collected, the bigger our bonuses were. Ceri and I had put last months’ bonuses together and bought a penthouse suite in Terror Towers, a colorful apartment block overlooking the River of Screams.

The taxi took us to the office building where I used to work. We slipped out without paying – an advantage to being dead – and passed through the revolving doors. I sneaked over to the security guard and spilled his coffee over him. He leapt up, shrieking and we hurried past. We made it to the top of the building without being seen. It was windy on the roof. I walked to the edge in the ghost of my own footsteps. We stood on the ledge, staring down at the spot where I’d splattered, taking my monthly projections with me. My boss was devastated. He needed those projections for the important meeting that morning. My suicide really soured the deal and his day. He’d snubbed my funeral.

“Ready?” Ceri asked.

People passed below us. We waited ‘til it got more crowded then jumped. The wind soared through our lifeless forms. People started screaming when they spied us hurtling towards them, pulling frightening faces. They fled like chocoholics to a chocolate cake convention. The screams intensified when we hit the pavement and vanished. From the sewers beneath, we listened to their terrified shrieks and sobs as they tried figuring out what had happened. We simultaneously checked our scream monitors, grinning. The bonuses were ours this month again. We’d notched up top level on the screamometer. The needle was having convulsions.

“We need an ambulance!” someone shouted.

“Might’ve recruited someone else,” I whispered. “That should earn us extra rewards.”

“Maybe we’ll get a company hearse,” Ceri answered.

The screaming eventually died and the sirens grew louder. We waited until the ambulance was above us then climbed back up. We slipped through the pavement, making the people who’d stuck around scream all over again. Yep. Jenkins would be proud. We danced through the crowd, reveling in their fear, our scream monitors recording our success.

The next day, Jenkins was smiling when we slunk into the Shadow Council’s review meeting. For once he didn’t reprimand us for being late. He held up a newspaper.


“I wasn’t a suicide, I was murdered,” Ceri whispered.

“Newspapers always lie. We’ve made front page.” My real suicide got a brief five line mention on page twenty three with adverts for seedy chatlines. And they got my name wrong.

“It’s brilliant!” Jenkins enthused. “Twenty people terrified, one lady dropping dead from a heart attack. There’re rumors of ghosts running amok frightening people. The city’s in a grip of fear! I have you two to thank for that. Come out the front so everyone can see you.”

Ceri and I exchanged bemused looks but joined Jenkins out the front. Janice looked like she was chewing foil. I poked my tongue out at her. We were heroes. Jenkins grabbed our hands, raising them like the ref does to a championship boxer. I was discreetly trying to get the others to start a chant. It wasn’t catching on.

Jenkins’ secretary handed him a piece of paper. He grinned then woke the white screen.

“This was just posted on YouTube,” he clicked on a link. A video of Ceri and my jump streamed. People’s screams echoed around the boardroom. “You hear this, people? These are screams of terror! These are screams of believers! These are screams of success! Right now, forums are arguing about the authenticity of this footage. Experts are dissecting it. Never has footage been so talked about since that famous photo of the ghost on the stairs. The Scare Which Project is a resounding success!”

Everyone burst into applause. Never mind company cars, maybe Ceri and I would get yachts. Or jets. I’d wanted to pilot a jet since watching Top Gun.

“I say move over hoodies, terrorists and growing old, ghosts are the new fear in town!” Jenkins punched the air. “Long live the dead!”

We're identical twins from Cardiff, Wales. We've had one poem and 7 short stories published. One won Writing Magazine's ghost story competition and another is due to be published by Dark Moon Digest in the next couple of months. We also write novels but haven't had any published yet though dream of one being turned into a Tim Burton claymation. We even have the action figures planned. In our spare time we enjoy exploring castles, ghost hunting, caring for our animal army, drinking more Red Bull than the recommended Government guidelines and fixing our classic cars.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween in Jerkwater - 1932, By Carol Gill

There were two of them. None of the other kids knew who they were, but then again, they couldn’t tell who anyone really was.

The costumes weren’t much for any of the kids. There was a depression going on and people just couldn’t spend on things like that. So, the children wore whatever was at hand, like potato sacks with the eyes cut out.

There were a lot of ghosts in other words.

Suddenly two more little ghosts just seemed to appear from nowhere.

There were a heck of a lot of kids out then and some of the children were curious about the two they didn’t seem to recognize.

Joanie Myles kept stopping the two little ghosts.

“Say, who are you? Do you go to school here? I just don’t know who you are.”

Joanie was only 10.

One of the ghosts said for her to can it and mind her own business.

Joanie didn’t think much of it. In fact, she only waved him off and said if he was going to be silly and not say who he was then she didn’t care.

She never heard the other ghost suggest plugging the kid to keep her quiet.

Eventually, she disappeared into the crowd of children and left the two unidentified ghosts on their own.

They were glad she was gone. That was the last god damned thing they needed — a nosey kid.

Whereas the other children were targeting every house there was, these two ghosts were real particular. It seemed as if they were looking for something special.

The truth was they were.

“Over there, see?”

One of them pointed toward a fine old Victorian house with turrets and a big wraparound porch.

“Let’s go and take a look.”

They hurried over to look inside. The lights were on all over the place and they could see two old ladies. One of them was reading and the other was running back and forth from the kitchen saying how the cookies were almost ready.

The other asked if the money was ready too.

“Money.” The little ghosts nodded toward one another.

A whole pack of children began to descend on the house then, just as the two little ghosties fled from sight.

Sure enough, the children were calling on these two ladies for their Halloween treats.

Though there were mainly ghosts, there were some witches and goblins too, with a few other things which kind of were stupid looking but the old ladies made a fuss over them anyway.

“Why don’t you look adorable!”

“Trick or treat!”

The second old lady appeared and clapped her hands childishly. “I just love when you say that, children! Don’t you love that, Alice?”

“Yes I do,” her sister replied. “We shall indeed give you lovely children some cookies and pennies too, but tell us - though I dread asking,” she laughed. “What would your trick be if we hadn’t a treat?”

The children began to confer then, whispering and shrugging. It was obvious they wouldn’t have done anything, although one boy called out, “We’d throw flour all over your house!”

“Oh goodness, would you really? Why that’s awful. Isn’t that awful sister?”

Sister agreed; it was awful.

Meanwhile, the two strange ghosts that were still hiding began cursing under their breath – their voices a bit deep.

“Well here you are children. Some cookies I baked.”

The children thanked her. “Wow, we never get anything like that!”

The other sister opened her purse. “Here are some pennies too, children.”

They left eventually and the door was closed.

After the group of children walked by, the two ghosts came out of hiding.



They rang the bell but they didn’t say, ‘ trick or treat.’ Instead, when the door opened, they just stood there looking around at all the rich furnishings.

The kindly woman smiled at them and asked teasingly, “Aren’t you going to say anything? Cat got your tongue?”

The two little ghosts just sighed; they had already spotted the purse.

Since neither of them said anything and it was cold, the sisters ushered them inside. It was when they were inside that they said: “Trick or treat!”

They were each given cookies and one of the sisters asked, “What would your trick have been children?”

One of the ghosts produced a razor and cut her throat, turning quickly to finish the sister off. He did so expertly, avoiding most of the blood.

“Grab whatever you see. I’ll get the dough; we’ll clean up before we leave.”

Al and Hank had been employed as midgets in circus sideshows for years. Halloween was always a special time for them. It made up for all the shit they took, and all the pointing and cruelty.

Each had grown up in various mental institutions. Al had a police record but he wasn’t wanted again - not yet.

Their car was where they left it.

“Let’s drive the fuck outta this jerkwater town.”

“Yeah,” Al said. “And maybe we can get laid too; have us a real special Halloween.”


In 2000 Carole was selected by North West Playwrights of England for further development. It was an invaluable experience but Carole found she prefers to write fiction.

She loves to scare herself and others and is widely published in horror and sci-fi anthologies, although horror is her true love.

Her gothic horror novel, The House on Blackstone Moor published in 2010 by Vamplit is her first novel.

The sequel, Unholy Testament will be published by Vamplit later this year.

She can be found at her website or Facebook.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Hungry to the Bone, By Jeffrey Beesler

750 word short by Jeffrey Beesler

Matt Krudd just wanted a fucking burger. Something fast and simple, something that wouldn’t cost him an arm and a leg. Stomach threatening to gnaw away at muscle tissue if it didn’t get fed soon, he raced his Subaru Impreza through the parking lot of the first restaurant he had came across, Hungry to the Bone. With a distinct lack of cars and customers around, it seemed the store would close in a few minutes.

Slamming his foot against the brake pad, he reached the order box.

“We’ll be with you in a moment,” said the distorted voice through the speaker.

“Yeah, I want a burger,” Matt said. “Just give me something hot. It doesn’t have to be fresh.”

For a moment, silence filled the air. Then a blip came from the speaker, followed by, “I told you to hold on a moment. You’re dealing with skeletal crew here.”

His arm dangling out the window while he waited, Matt began rapping his fingers against the car door. One at a time, the digits on his car clock ticked away. 10:47, 48, 49. 50. What could’ve been the hold-up? It wasn’t like he’d gotten in back of a long line of cars or anything.

“Are you there?” Matt tried his best to keep his temper in check. But when no one got back to him after five minutes, he hurled his fist at the empty passenger’s seat to his right. “Damn it, dude. I want food, and I want it now. Your lot lights are still on. I’m not going anywhere until you serve me.”

Another blip at last. “I don’t have to deal with this,” the order taker announced defiantly.

“Excuse me?” Matt’s jaw hung low. What the hell was wrong with this person? Receiving no further response from the jerk at the box, Matt swung around the drive-thru lane, pulling up to the window. Like the outside lights, everything inside was still lit up. He pounded against the window, hoping someone would take his damn order already. No one approached the glass.

Furious, Matt parked his car and stormed up to a side entrance. The handle twisted as it should have, indicating the staff hadn’t yet locked up for the night. He threw the door open and stomped inside. A dank odor, possibly of moldy meat, attacked his nose upon entry.

“Hello?” he asked, searching for someone to yell at over the horrendous service he’d gotten just now. Again, no answer. Covering his mouth with an arm to keep himself safe from the stink of the place, he marched away from the entrance. A moment later, he heard something click from somewhere nearby. The lights went off. Glancing around in all directions, including the entrance he had used, his search came up empty.

“I’m not going anywhere until one of you idiots apologizes and gets me a burger.”

“Looks to me like you’ve had your fill of burgers, young man,” a raspy voice spoke out to him from the shadows. “Haven’t you heard of dieting?”

Matt’s blood soared to beyond boiling. “That’s it. I’m calling your corporate office.”

Before he could reach for his cell phone, something icy grazed the skin on his arm. Bony fingers tickled his hairs, and then seized his wrist with a stone-hard grip. Matt struggled to break free, but as a second set of skinless digits snatched his remaining hand, his heart chilled.

The office light came on, shedding dim light on the inside of the restaurant.

Three skeletons had cornered him, all in tattered rags that may have once resembled crew member slacks and polo shirts. Maggots skittered about the eye area of the only one wearing a loosely wired head-set. A small noose, possibly a manager’s tie, dangled around the neck of the second. The third one, the one holding tightly onto him, wore slight patches of hair and flesh over disconnected sections, just enough to suggest that this creature had likely been a teenage girl in life.

A swallow of bile swimming around in his mouth, Matt choked on his next words.

“My employee did warn you that you were dealing with a skeletal crew,” the tie-wearing skeleton grumbled, gesturing towards the one wearing a head-set. Head-set Skeleton chattered his teeth at Matt and a few maggots plopped to the floor.

A weak whimper escaped from Matt as the manager skeleton fondled his face, using its talons to slice open Matt’s cheeks.

The skeleton with the head-set fingered Matt’s sides, asking the others, “Will we be eating here, or shall we take it with us?”


Jeffrey Beesler (Jeff to those who know him) is a writer chasing after stories in the realms of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. He has had a short story published in Abandoned Towers #4 (The Broken Pipes
of Drei City), and has several novel and novella projects at various stages of the writing and revision process. When not writing, Jeff likes to twist around the words in songs, and maybe catch an episode of Big Brother. You can connect with him via his blog, or find him on Twitter under @jeffreybeesler.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Whistling Man by Sheri White

The Whistling Man
600 word short by Sheri White

The Whistling Man walked quickly through the little country town, on his way to nowhere. His breath materialized in front of his face in the brisk October air. The tune that passed between his lips was an old cowboy song. He remembered it from when he walked among cattle rustlers on hot summer nights, back when coyotes howled at the moon and rugged men cooked over fire.

The Whistling Man came upon a small house. Inside he could see a couple watching TV as they snuggled together on a loveseat. The Whistler heard them chuckle through an open window. He stood in front of the house, hands on his hips. He resumed his whistling, but this time he emitted a low, suggestive fox whistle. Suddenly, the man in the house began yelling at the woman.

“You’re cheating on me, aren’t you? Who is he? Tell me right now, you whoring bitch!”

The woman’s mouth dropped open. “Billy, my God! Where is this coming from? I would never cheat on you, you know that!”

“Shut your filthy lying mouth!” The Whistling Man watched, smiling as the angry man stormed over to a closet and pulled out a shotgun.

The woman screamed. “Billy, please! NO! Stop this, you’re acting cra-“

Her brains hit the back of the couch before she could finish her sentence.

The Whistling Man chuckled softly to himself and moved on. His boots crunched dry, dead leaves into the gravel road. The pungent odor of firewood burning in the distance filled his nostrils. Ripe pumpkins in a nearby field glowed under the full moon.

An elderly man walked his aging dog, both of them wobbling on shaky legs. The old man didn’t notice the Whistler; nobody ever did. The Whistling Man put his index fingers to his mouth and whistled sharply at the grizzled mutt. Immediately the dog growled and lunged at his master’s leg.

“Trevor, stop that!” The old man screamed hoarsely as the dog’s teeth sank into his flesh. He tried to push the dog away, but his feet got tangled up in the leash and he fell onto the grass. The dog, adrenaline providing him with renewed strength, pinned his master to the ground and ripped out his throat. The old man’s legs twitched for a few seconds as blood pumped from his neck. The dog continued to rip and chew his master’s flesh.

The screaming of horrified neighbors as they emerged from their homes was music to the Whistling Man’s ears.

He walked on through the sleepy little town, the misery of his victims nourishing his empty black soul. Jack-o-lanterns sat on porches, paper towel ghosts hung from trees. The Whistling Man snickered at the innocence. Most of these people didn’t know the true meaning of horror.

Suddenly, his attention was drawn to a young woman sitting on a porch swing while a tiny baby nursed at her breast; the mother softly hummed and caressed the baby’s cheek.

Unseen, unheard, the man whistled a gentle lullaby. A few moments later, the mother took the baby off her breast, a puzzled look on her face. Her wailing shriek pierced the night when she realized her baby was no longer breathing.

She clutched the infant to her dripping breasts and ran inside her house. The Whistling Man knew the grieving mother would phone for help; he also knew it would do no good.

Satisfied with the evening’s accomplishments, the Whistling Man resumed the old cowboy tune, leaving the small town, now in shambles, behind him.


Sheri White is a writer and book reviewer who lives in Maryland with her family. You can find her on Facebook and on Twitter @sheriw1965

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Black Kiss by C. L. Raven

1500 word short by C L Raven

His fragile heart thrashes against my hand. His breathing quickens, sweat erupting over his body as I’m straddling him. I feel his every pulse, his every desire trembling beneath me, his sweet taste as I kiss his lips. He strains against the shackles keeping him a prisoner of my bed.

“Please,” he begs.

I smile and kiss his heart. It hammers on his rib cage, desperate to be released. The tip of my blade traces a heart over it, leaving a trail of crimson kisses in its wake. Fear caresses his desire until the two become entwined, stroking each other’s senses until they reach a climax he cannot bear.

He hisses in pain so I silence him with a kiss as I coax the blade through the wound. He pushes against me and bites my lip, almost screaming. I pull away, feeling my blood wash over my tongue, tasting it at the back of my throat. I carve out my artwork and put it beside him on the bed. I watch his heart beating through his ribs. This is the moment I fall in love with him.

I push the gag into his mouth.

“It’ll only hurt for a second,” I stroke his face and kiss him again, the blood from my lips staining his.

Taking my bone cutters, I cut through his ribs and finally, hold his heart in my hand. Its power pulsates through my skin. I reach into my black calf length boot and pull out the love spoon he gave me this morning. I slot it under the heart then use my blade to sever the heart’s mortal coil. It fights for a few seconds before surrendering to its fate. As I watch the life fade from it, I feel closer to him than I’ve ever felt to anyone.

His naked chest is decorated with scarlet splatters, like he’s covered in rose petals, though this image will never feature on Valentine’s cards. Blood slips through my fingers and drips onto his stomach like confetti from the wedding of the damned.

I climb off him and remove a box from my bag. I ease the heart into it and nestle it amongst the ice. It’s more unique than pink champagne. Though I can’t imagine my gift will ever grace the supermarket shelves. It’s not consumer friendly. I shower then spend an hour cleaning up. I remove his gag and shackles then take his heart shaped flesh downstairs and place it in the middle of the dining table. I sprinkle heart shaped sequins over the table then return to the bedroom. Deep down, I’m a hopeless romantic.

“Like I promised, gone before your girlfriend comes round for your romantic meal. Happy Valentine’s Day.” I give him a gentle kiss then slip out the door.

And like he promised, his heart belongs to me.

I watch him browsing the Valentine’s cards, wondering whether they sell one saying ‘roses are red, violets are blue, I’m shagging someone else, whilst saying I love you.’ It would make Valentine’s more interesting. Who wants cute teddy bears and empty sentiments? I sneak up behind him and pinch his backside. He whirls around, his eyes widening.

“D! What are you doing here?”

“Stalking you,” I kiss him.

“Samantha’s outside.”

“How romantic, sitting in the car while you buy her commercialised emotions and wilting flowers. Or are the flowers symbolic of your love? Once in bloom but like everything else, now dying?”

“So cynical,” he kisses me, one hand caressing my arse, the other playing with one of my plaited bunches. “I promised I’d take her out for a romantic meal tonight.”

“Wow. You’re so original. Let me guess – you’re buying her heart shaped chocolates and red roses from the petrol station.”

“It’s what she wants.”

“What I want isn’t on any menu.”

He grins and pretends to rip out his heart. “You already have my heart.”

I smile and imitate pocketing it. “I’ll keep it on ice.”

I watch him walk away, already craving his taste. I’m ravenous. One meal won’t satisfy me tonight. I prowl the card section, feigning interest in the Hallmark declarations. Somehow, a cute bunny with a heart balloon doesn’t quite convey the meaning I yearn for.

I hear a chuckle beside me. “Every year, it’s always men rushing in grabbing cards and flowers.”

I smile at the gorgeous, dark haired guy holding a card with turtles on it. “Turtles. The true gods of romance.”

He laughs. “It’s for my sister. She loves turtles.”

“You give your sister a Valentine’s Card? Cupid screwed that shot up.”

He laughed harder. “I’m buying it for my brother in law. I don’t believe in all this commercialised crap.”

“It’s a Hallmark hijack. Soon they’ll start making up days to give cards for. Flower Day, to celebrate the giving of the most unoriginal gift in the world.”

“So you’re not buying a card for your boyfriend?”

“I’m loitering with intent.”

“That’s the best kind of loitering.” He offers his hand. “Valentine.”

I laugh. “Is the day named after you?”

“Yep. Everyone celebrates my birthday. By giving presents to everyone else.”

“Your parents were either hopelessly romantic or incredibly cruel. Let me guess – you’re sister’s called Christmas and your brother is Pancake.”

“Worse than that – his full name is Easter Bunny Davenport.”

He’s hot, has a beautiful smile and a great sense of humour. My heart beats faster at the passionate promises his body’s offering. “I don’t usually do this, but there’s something about you that’s very…alluring,” I write my number on his hand. “Maybe tonight we can laugh at men rushing out to buy Valentine’s cards so their relationship isn’t ruined because of one day. After I’ve taken care of one problem.” I smile seductively. “If you’re really good, I might teach you the real meaning of everlasting love.”

His exhausted body trembles beneath mine, his salty sweat teasing my tongue. His moans and gasps thrill me as I use my body as a weapon, inflicting unbearable pleasure on him. He holds me close, skin on skin, the fruity scent of my fragrance entwining with the tangy lime of his shower gel. His kisses are hungry, his tongue flickering over my upper lip.

“You’re one sexy goddess,” he murmurs, his tongue gliding up the sensitive skin between my breasts.

I nibble his lower lip, smiling as he succumbs to the ecstasy my body promises him. Our hearts beat together as the passion gently fades. His fingers trace the tattoo in the centre of my back – two hearts entwined around a dagger and sealed with a black kiss.

“Did Samantha enjoy her Valentine’s cliché?” I ask, sweeping my hair back, my plaits tickling my bare shoulders.

“She loved it so let me out for a drink with the boys.”

I glance at the clock. Not yet midnight. “I’m not one of the boys,” I smile teasingly, tracing my fingers around his heart. It responds eagerly, pounding my name, desperate to belong to me. “Where’s my present?”

“You hate Valentine’s.”

“You promised me your heart.”

“Would you like it gift wrapped?”

“No, just beating.”

I plunge the dagger into his chest. He gasps and writhes, though this time, not with pleasure. But even this excites me. I can inflict pleasure and pain so sweet and so cruel as he lies helpless, a slave to our desires. Betrayal darkens his eyes. He can’t understand how I can make him come alive then lead him into death while the sweat cools on our bodies.

I carve the heart shaped wound while he implores me to stop. Moments ago he’d begged me for more. I tear the flesh away, laughing as my prize thrashes like a caged beast. His dying breath tantalises my ears, the sweetest whisper from a lover’s lips. I stroke the love spoon, this one carved with a key, a small heart in the key’s eye, before freeing his heart from the black hole in his chest. I kiss him before laying the heart gently aside. I dress in a black satin robe and take the heart downstairs.

The table is set for a romantic meal for one. The flickering flame bathes my skin in a fiery glow. The heart is slippery, exquisite. I can taste his life, his love with each delicious bite. Already I feel myself becoming regenerated. I’m more alive in this moment than I have been my entire life. A ruby teardrop snakes down my lips, warm and metallic, the aftertaste lingering on my tongue, awakening beautiful, forbidden memories.

I study the picture opposite me. The woman’s long plaits brush her shoulders. Blood trickles from the corner of her mouth, streaking her chin. I wipe my blood away and slowly it disappears from the picture. I smile at her. St Dwynwen. She devoted herself to protecting lovers. Now my lovers protect me. In their deaths they bring me to life.

Everyone loves a heart on Valentine’s Day.


We're identical twins from Cardiff, Wales. We've had one poem and 7 short stories published. One won Writing Magazine's ghost story competition and another is due to be published by Dark Moon Digest in the next couple of months. We also write novels but haven't had any published yet though dream of one being turned into a Tim Burton claymation. We even have the action figures planned. In our spare time we enjoy exploring castles, ghost hunting, caring for our animal army, drinking more Red Bull than the recommended Government guidelines and fixing our classic cars.

Our blog address is also, Facebook, also on Linked In and Google Plus as C L Raven

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Nanette Interrupted - By Reggie Ridgway

Nanette Interrupted

I am called Nash. A nickname somehow derived from my given name, which is Nathaniel. I haven't always been insane. The psychotropic drugs they force me to swallow usually leave me gibbering, drooling and rolling my google-like-eyes.

When not sufficiently medicated or held down to my cot by a restricting net, I am frantically searching. I perpetually am searching. If not tossing my room at the asylum or my entire parent's house, I might even toss the neighbors houses if left alone. I have been this way for the better part of ten years.

I rarely sleep, but if sleep should finally get the upper hand, my dreams are filled with even more searches. Quests if you will. My searches are done in silence for the most part. I have long ago ceased enlisting the help from family or those around me.

I was sent home from school, never to return.

I talk to myself, chanting incantations from some unknown language. That may have been how I was committed to this asylum in the first place. Sometimes I just sit and think about that specific evening. The evening which changed me. Changed my life forever.

It had been a wonderful spring. Easter vacation had allowed us to be free of the daily grind of school.

My life began to unravel when we arrived home from Disneyland. We always went there on my birthday. A family tradition for me and my sister who shared the same birth month, although I was born five years earlier.

My sister Nanette was presently fast asleep in her car seat. Her mouse ears were askew and pink cotton candy laced her mouth and chin. Me? I am a cool teenager now. Just turned thirteen, and I have already left the life of a twelve and under behind.

I am sitting, staring out the car's side window, bobbing my head while listening to my bloated Ipod. I have downloaded so many songs, I could start my own radio station. I pop out my ear plugs and listen to mom telling dad to help get Nan into her bedroom and telling me to help with the bags.

I help.

It is not in my best interest to protest as I am very aware my presents are to be opened soon. I wonder what I’ll get. That new remote control helicopter I asked for while being demonstrated at the town mall? I already possessed every game for my video game player that currently existed.

When we finally opened presents, after the prerequisite blowing out of the cake candles and the warbling tunes of happy birthday, I unwrapped the special gift. A magician kit.

I really had never expressed the desire to have one, but my dad had picked one out for me at Disneyland. They had a special magic shop there and he had seen me watch the sales staff perform simple tricks and watched my jaw drop in awe. The kit was complete with sleight of hand tricks, card tricks and the usual and expected tricks. But it also had a levitation trick and an interesting one where the magician can make anything fly through the air and return to him like a boomerang.

This was much better than a flying helicopter. I hugged my parents furiously in appreciation before taking my new found stash to my room.

I spent the next few weeks learning every trick in the instruction book. They were easy for me and I longed for more. I practiced them for my family until they seemed to find other pressing appointments to avoid me.

In desperation, my mom told me that dad had an old trunk in the attic. She showed me the framed poster on the wall in dad's office and explained it belonged to the magician known as Morgan the Great. My uncle Charley. I had met him at family gatherings before. He and my Dad were identical twins. Dad had brought Charlie's trunk home after the funeral. It was in the will and my dad was Uncle Charlie's only surviving relative.

I looked at the poster.

It was of a man in a flowing red and black cape, topped hat and spider leg thin curly mustache. He had bulging eyes which had bushy brows and they were wide with surprise as he watched pigeons appear from thin air in front of his open palms. It was a black and white photo from the sixties. Uncle Charley was a very good magician and was able to fill halls with thunderous applause as he managed to saw his lovely assistant in half or make her levitate high above the stage.

I pulled the closet's collapsible ladder down and tentatively climbed into the attic with my dad’s flashlight thrust ahead like a weapon. I wasn't afraid of the dark really, just the unknown.

I found the dusty trunk soon enough. It was large with ornate iron work. Some of the designs looked like the faces of people groaning or crying out from the depths of hell. The texture was like alligator, or maybe snake. I wouldn't put it past Uncle Charley to have a dragon skinned covered trunk. It had a large hasp-lock and no key in sight.

Uncle Charley also had a cape hanging on a mannequin which had gave me a start when I first bumped into it. His top hat sat on the mannequins' head with a slight tilt. I felt through the pockets in the cape and at first no luck. And then I found a skeleton key in a secret pocket in one of the sleeves.

I tried the key in the rusty lock and at first met resistance until it opened with a screech. I stood and lifted the lid and found it was a reliquary for all of Uncle Charle's tricks. There was a whoosh sound, like opening a sarcophagus, as air was let in and to me, it seemed a shadow came out. But I shook it off along with the dust. It must have been my imagination.

There was some arcane writing all over the inside of the lid. It seemed to be some dead language. Maybe Latin?

I found a treasure trove of objects. Swords with ornate grips, white gloves, and a magic wand which was way cooler than the one that came with his store bought kit. There was also a notebook which covered with that scaly textured skin like on the trunk.

When I opened it, some of the pages stuck together and I realized I must take special care. The writing was in my Uncle Charley's hand and I quickly realized these were the drawings and instructions for all his tricks and illusions. The trunk itself was used in many of the tricks, as diagrams depicted it pierced with swords or being sawed in half. There was a false bottom and the hidden compartment might be just right for a small person to hide. It was marvelous.

I got my Dad to help me retrieve the trunk from the attic. At first they said no, but my parents recognized my persistence as something they actually secretly desired; they were always trying to pry me away from the video games, television and the internet. This new found interest in magic was just what I needed to get me going. They claimed that I was always just lying around. At least my sister had her ballet and piano practice. I never really showed much interest in anything. Not sports or music.

I had no friends to speak of. At least none who ever showed up at the house.

I spent the next few days and nights of my spring break pouring over Uncle Charlie's notebook. The tricks seemed easy enough. I just needed an assistant. Nanette would be perfect.

When I approached her with the idea, she jumped on board with glee. She always was the dreamy type. She lived her life in a story-book world with imagined castles and princes. Magic was what powered her universe. How else could horses fly and animals talk?
Nanette was enthusiastic and not in the least afraid to be sawn in half or levitated. She was uniquely qualified to fit into the tight hidden crawl space inside the trunk in order to escape the swords and saw's sharp cut.

When the day finally came that I was confident I could perform enough tricks, I asked my mom if we could put on a magic show. My mother was delighted and even asked her book club to come. She even printed up some flyers after taking a photo of Me and Nanette mugging in costume. The cape was long but I was already getting some height from my six foot tall father. Nanette was more petite, like Mom, but she had a dazzling smile. To tell the truth, I counted on that for some of my misdirection tricks.

On the day of the show, I practiced before a closet mirror in my room with the lights dimmed. Some of my store bought tricks were used between Uncle Charlie's big tricks for filler. It seemed like child's play to me now, to tap the wand on the hat and presto, it turned into a bouquet of flowers.

I thought I saw a man standing behind me once and when I swiveled around I found no one. It gave me a chill but shook it off as pre-show jitters. I was practicing some of the magic words Uncle Charley used from the trunks lid. They were hard to pronounce but I thought I could pull some of them off to add some flourish. They were better than using abracadabra and such.

The show began too much fanfare as my father introduced me as the Great and Fantastic Nash, which had a good ring to it. Nanette took a bow as well and looked adorable in her ballerina outfit. She played the piano between tricks and we put on quite a show, to much applause. Maybe we could go on the road someday and follow in Uncle Charlie's footsteps, I thought. Las Vegas, here we come. Mom and Dad sat in the front row and looked so proud to see us perform on the makeshift stage, so flawlessly and so professionally.

Then it came for the finale. I had just levitated Nanette with the cape draped over her stiffened body. I pulled the cape and everyone gasped, but they clapped as she slowly descended – all safe and sound. Nanette bowed and I showed her the opened trunk.

She winked at me as she folded herself inside. I placed the swords through the trunk and even acted like I was having trouble once, like there really was my sister's body inside. But the swords were very sharp, as I previously demonstrated by slicing a melon in half.

Then I quickly removed all of the swords. There was a hush over the audience, and even my mother had her hand clasped to her gaping mouth.

I covered the trunk with the cape and said the incantation I memorized. Then, with a flourish like a matador, I removed the cape and opened the trunks lid.

I smiled as I tipped the trunk on its side to show that indeed no one was inside. The room erupted with applause.

Then I righted the trunk and placed the cape over it again. I said another stream of words I had memorized from the trunks lid. This time, when I removed the cape and opened the lid, nothing happened.

I must have looked perplexed. Nanette was supposed to stand up inside the trunk and wave her arms triumphantly. We had practiced.

No Nanette.

I felt inside the trunk. The false compartment was empty.

I banged on the walls inside. No secret compartments.

I started to wail. My parents knew something was wrong and began to usher the guests outside. People were speaking in hushed tones.

They all searched the room. They searched the house. They searched the neighborhood and grounds. The police came and filled out a report. The case even made the news and for a while camera crews camped out in front of their home. But I was inconsolable. I had brought Uncle Charlie's notebook out and was chanting over the trunk like a voodoo doctor.

All to no avail.

It has been over ten years now. My parents have divorced. My mother is still shattered at the loss of their perfect little Nanette. She keeps to herself and is usually under a cloud of physician prescribed sedatives.

My father eventually drank himself to death. There never was any funeral for Nanette. No body was ever found. Only posters of her smiling decorating every tree and telephone pole in our small town to remind us she ever was. The police had given up looking for her long ago.

But not me. I am still searching.

Sometimes, when its dark and I’m all alone, and I see my reflection in a mirror or even a window, I can see that dark figure behind me once again. I now recognize it is Uncle Charlie.

And standing beside him is my eight year old sister. Nanette.

Reggie Ridgway has a thriller coming out soon In The Midnight Hour published by Echelon Press. He has a blog at where he likes to post writing samples and short stories. He lives in a mountain home overlooking a lake in Southern California.

He currently works in a hospital as a technologist but has hopes to follow a dream to write novels for a living.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bug Out by Dale Eldon

1700 word short by Dale Eldon

The lifeless body hung from a thin sting as Jacob Loomis swung the action figure back and forth from the staircase railing.

“NOOOO!!!!!” Jacob yelled as another action figure in his other hand came running to the scene.

“Jacob Allan!” His father made sure to use his son's first and middle name to drive the point.
“What did I tell about playing on the steps?”

“But dad, I promise I won't leave my toys on the stairs again.”

“Pick them up. In ten minutes we have to get going.”

“Why do we have to go?”

“You know why Jake. The virus is spreading quickly, just like we knew it would. This is what we have been preparing for.”

“I didn't think it would actually happen.”

“No one ever does. If wasn't a virus, then it would be an earthquake. Or a nuclear bomb. There is always something or someone threatening to end our existence. But we are smarter than most people.”

“Randall Fuller from school called us “crazy survivalists”.”

“No doubt he heard that from his parents. They are those rich yuppies who right now are probably at the grocery store cramming through a hoard of hungry people only to find empty shelves. They will see soon enough who is crazy.”

“Dad, did you really know all along this would happen? Is that why you made me go through those survival drills since I was little?”

“No, I didn't know exactly what would happen or how. I just knew, based on facts, that something could destroy the basic functions of the world and everyone-including us-would be left in the dark fighting over moldy food just to survive.” Michael Loomis finished filling his “Bug Out Bag”.

“Nancy, are you ready?” He yelled up to his wife.

“Just about.”

“Yeah, in other words another fifteen minutes. Hey kiddo, hurry up with your toys. You need to grab your BOB.”

“I know, I know.”

Jacob quickly ran up the stairs with an arm full of action figures, and dropped them into a toy box. He snatched his Bug Out Bag from under his bed. His parents made him keep it prepacked. He threw on his jacket, and swung a strap over his shoulder. As he was about to leave, he picked up one of his ninja action figures in case he would get bored.

“JACOB!” His father called from down stairs.


The three of them ran out the door with their book bags filled tight with survival gear. Mostly prepackage food with medical supplies, flashlights, batteries, and Michael carried a bag of three gas masks in case they needed them. Since Jacob was four, his parents made him do dress rehearsals in survival clothing, taught him how survive in the wild, now his upbringing just might come in handy.

As they hurried to their car, military Humvees and tanks rolled by. Behind them, were trucks with armed troops. They jumped off and began forcing the residents back into their houses.

“Oh fuck.” Michael stopped before the troops headed towards them. “We are going to have to leave through the backdoor. If we cross the woods and pass the crick bed, then we should make it out alive.”

Michael took his wife and boy, and headed back into the house. They ran to the backdoor and headed towards the woods. Gunfire erupted from behind them. Most likely some residents that didn't cooperate.

They passed the treeline and now were completely hidden by the foliage.

“Okay—” Michael stopped in mid-sentence. “according to the compass, we need to go that way.” He motioned with a finger. “Remember our back up bug out plan? Well this is it.”

Michael picked Jacob up and continued on. His wife led the way. The weight of his ten year old son took its toll. Though Michael worked out, the continuing pace of the winding and contorting landscape along with the weight made it almost impossible to keep up.

“Wait, Holly, wait.” He said raggedly.

She didn't hear him and in her rush she slipped down a huge embankment. She screamed from the surprise and Michael sat Jacob down.

“HOLLY?” He yelled after her in some silly attempt to save her with his voice alone. Holly landed at the bottom of a shallow creek bed. The bottom was a shingled rock floor. When she hit, there was a snap that echoed up to Michael.

“What was that?” Jacob asked with fear.

“Just a twig.” Michael lied. “Holly, don't move. I am coming down to get you. Stay here Jake.”

Michael took a less steep route and slid on his ass to the bottom. After a few minutes he made it to his wife. As he pulled her over checking to see if she was okay, Jacob could see several people walking along the creek bed. They walked stiffly and had strange expressions on their faces. It freaked Jacob out. Maybe they were running from the town too. But they acted weird. They were walking towards his parents. Maybe to help?

Michael picked Holly up in his arms wrapping her arm around the back of his neck. He turned and saw the hoard of people. From his front row view he could tell they had been infected. He didn't know all of the details of the virus since the CDC and the military kept it hushed up, but he knew well enough that these people weren't doing well.

Michael jogged slowly in the opposite direction hoping to find an easier path back up to his son. As he went along, the embankment became steeper. Too late to turn around now. Jacob could see the top of Michael's head. He wondered why his father ran from other survivors? Were they sick? That would explain why they acted weird.

Then he saw his father stop abruptly. His father started to run back looking at the embankment, probably for a way up to Jacob. Then the tops of heads from more infected people appeared. Jacob wanted to scream, but he knew it wouldn't do any good.

From the way they came into the woods, Jacob could hear a massive explosion as a jet flew over head. The two hoards below were now close to his parents, coming from both sides of the creek. Jacob could make out blood on their faces, and gashes. Wounds of various sizes.

They looked dead.

Then one of the people from the first group grabbed a hold of Michael -and bit him. Jacob gasped. This was not normal at all. One after another grabbed and gnawed on his parents as they screamed. Michael yelled up to Jacob. “RUN! JACOB, RUN!”

He was frozen. Unable to move. Breathless. Then the moans from the weird people below started to resonate in his ears. Jacob took off running.

He ran along the ridge of the embankment, avoiding the winding slope. As slow as they moved, he should have no problem of out running them. Tears didn't wait for him to stop. He cried the whole way. The absence of his parents weighed on him to the point that he felt like falling to the ground. But he knew if he did, those weirdos might eat him to. The virus must make people cannibals. That has to be it.

Almost out of breathe, Jacob could feel his sides cramp. He was not used to running this much. He had been for long time now. At least that is what it felt like.

He stopped and held his hands against the aching sides, as muscles tightened. As he stood in the middle of the woods, lost and exhausted, he spotted a house.

He slowly walked up limping as the spasmed clutched the muscles in his leg.


No one yelled back. He walked up to the door and pounded as hard as he could. No sounds from inside. No one coming to the door.

His eyes glazed over as shock sat in. He stared off into space until something finally caught his attention. Holes in the wood door. In a buck shot pattern.

Jacob wiggled the doorknob and it opened. He walked in slowly, looking over every doorway. He almost slipped on something wet. Bracing himself against the wall, blood covered his shoes. No body, just blood.

He walked over to a bay window that overlooked another ravine. He stood staring down, thinking about his parents, crying. Then the moans. Again.

He turned around and saw a gray, dead hand clasp the door to a different room. It was more than one moan he heard.

Jacob took off once again. He ran up the stairs and through the bedroom. He stopped only long enough to notice two dead bodies on the bed. Each had a gun held to their heads.

Jacob ran into the bathroom and slammed the door shut. There was no way to lock it. He sat against the door, and waited. The moans got louder. One of them sounded like it stopped at the bed. He could hear it eating. Then another joined in. Tearing and slicing, squishing sounds. Then the moans that grew louder as they approached the door.

Tap... tap... tap...

One of the things somehow knew there was fresh food behind the door. Then another blow to the door.

It sounded like several of them were descending onto the door. Jacob screamed while the door shook. The things outside of the door stopped and released loud moans. Then Jacob could hear footsteps coming up the stairs.

They were followed by gunfire.

Jacob jumped into the bathtub and plugged his ears. Bullets punched through the door as they left black bloody trails that ran down the wood. Jacob screamed holding his ears tight. His eyes clamped shut.

After several minutes, a hand tapped on his shoulder. Jacob's eyes shot open and men dressed in military garb stood over him.

“Hey kid, lets go! Time to get you out of this town.”

“T-the zom-zombies are everywhere.”

“Zombies? I guess you can call them that.” The man in charge said as he helped the kid out of the tub. “It's just this area that is infected. Would have been just the town if the damn residents would have listened. But the situation is contained. You are lucky, most survivors have been shot to be sure they weren't infected. Good thing we found you and not one of the other units.”


Author Dale Eldon lives in a Macomb, Illinois, and takes care of a sick mother while working overnights at McDonald's. He spends his free time with loved ones and writing his butt off. Between blogging and writing anthology submission calls, he is currently working on a zombie trilogy for a series of novellas and a novel.

His Blog.

His Facebook.

His Google+ profile.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Poor Charlotte - By Kimberly A. Bettes

Poor Charlotte
700 word short by Kimberly A. Bettes

As I drove the shovel into the dark, damp earth, I heard her yell, “Stop!”

I looked up and watched as she ran across the yard, skirt swishing around her legs. She ran over to where I stood, shovel in hand.

Her hair was wild, her eyes red and puffy.

“What is it, Charlotte?” I asked, not hiding my annoyance at being interrupted.

“I want to say goodbye to him.” Her voice cracked as she spoke.

I opened my mouth to protest, but she cut me off.

“I didn’t get to say it before and if you don’t let me, I’ll tell Mom.”

Her soul might’ve been in mourning, after all, she’d lost five dogs so far this year and it was only May, but her spirit remained unbroken.

Seeing that she was serious and determined, I took a few steps away from her to give her a moment. Chester was her dog. If she wanted a moment with him before I buried him that was fine. But only a moment. I had other things to do.

I watched as she rubbed the dog’s belly, scratched behind his ears, and patted his head for the final time. She was doing all his favorite things for him, though he didn’t know it. I watched the tears fall from her eyes and land on his fur with a plop, and I wished she’d hurry. I had to bury this dog and finish my chores.

She sobbed now. I wondered why anyone would cry over the death of a dog. I’d had dogs that died. I’d buried them myself without as much as a sniffle.

“Hurry, Charlotte,” I urged.

“Shut up, Robert!” she yelled through tears. She quickly glared at me, but it was long enough that I could see the snot sliding from her nose toward her upper lip.

I rolled my eyes and waited.

The hole wasn’t deep enough yet for Chester. If I didn’t get this finished now, I wouldn’t be able to get all my chores done before dark.

“Charlotte,” I snapped.

Without a word, she stood up and took off running to the house. I watched her for second, certain she was mad at me.

Oh well.

I finished digging the hole, put Chester in it, and filled it again with dirt. I returned the shovel to the shed and went about finishing my chores.

When we were called to dinner, I noticed that Charlotte was already seated at the table, eyes still puffy.

I looked from her to my mother.

“What?” I asked.

My father entered the room, belt in hand.

“What?” I repeated.

My mother said, “Charlotte told us you wouldn’t let her have a moment with Chester.”

“She had a moment. She was keeping me from getting my chores done.”

“Turn around,” my father said gruffly.

I did as I was told. I faced away from my father, toward Charlotte, who sat on the opposite side of the table. I held onto the back of a chair while my father struck me again and again with his belt. Each lash hurt like the dickens, but I didn’t let it show. I could cry later, when I was alone. But for now, I just stared at Charlotte, who wouldn’t look at me.

When my father was finished, he told me to leave the table without supper. I walked outside, to the shed, and grabbed the shovel. The same shovel I’d used to dig Chester’s hole, and the holes of the other dogs. It was the same shovel I’d used to kill Chester.

I walked over to the fresh grave of Charlotte’s beloved dog and began to dig a hole beside it. This hole would have to be much bigger though because Charlotte was much bigger than the dogs had been.


Kimberly A. Bettes was born in Missouri in 1977. Kimberly is the author of five novels and many short stories. She lives with her husband and son in the beautiful Ozark Mountains of southeast Missouri, where she terrorizes residents of a small town with her twisted tales. It’s there she likes to study serial killers and knit.

You can find her on Facebook.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Blood News - By Laura Gamel

As part of our Halloween month, we will be hosting stories that are written by fans of the blog and other writers. Today's story comes from Laura Gamel. She brings us a short, 1200 word scare.

The Blood News
By Laura Gamel

“Hello and Welcome to the Blood News. It’s where the informed Vampire goes to get a taste of what’s going on in the world. I’m Thad Thompson. Tonight, I have with us Bela Lugosi. He did the unthinkable; he posed as a human and worked among them. Please welcome my guest, Bela Lugosi.”

Bela walked onto the sparse stage. He still hadn’t aged at all. Tonight, however, he wasn’t in his well known “Vampire attire”; tonight, it was a black sweater and jeans.

“Welcome, it is amazing you don’t look a day over a 40.”

“Thank you, but I’m a hundred and twenty-six.” His voice was deep and he looked right into Thad’s green eyes.

Thad was visibly shaken. A racing thought reared Thad’s true feeling to himself. Why did they ask a human to do this job, anyway? Lately he was contemplating asking one of them to turn him. He wanted to be young forever. He didn’t want to lose his health or his California good looks as he got older.

“Well, I hope I look that good when I’m your age.” Thad adjusted his red power tie for the tenth time. Bela just looked at him. Thad knew in his heart that Bela received the implied message and he wasn’t going to take the bait. The grin disappeared from Thad’s overly tan face. “Can you tell me when you became one of the undead?”

“Yes, I remember it well.” Bela closed his eyes for mere moment. “It was the year 1911.I was working in a theater in Budapest. My stage manager and I became great friends. One night, after a great operetta, we went out to celebrate. I drank way too much and so did he. He almost killed me. His choice of drink for the night was my blood. Not being able to believe what he did, he crossed me over. That was the beginning.” Bela chuckled lightly and licked his lips.

“Were you angry with him, did it change your ambitions at all?” Thad asked. He didn‘t like the grin that Bela was wearing. Thad pushed back into his chair just to make sure he kept his distance.

“No, matter of fact I became much better at what I did. At first though, it was hard. There was a new set of rules I had to live by. As time went on though I realized that most of the rules had never been broken and the consequences never tested. I decided to challenge them.” Bela was at ease and his rhythm of speech was hypnotic. He looked into space, searching for his memory.

“So what did you do?” Thad was trying his best not to be afraid.

“My first real test came in 1916. I joined the military. During that time I lived just like any other soldier except for one thing. When a soldier was alone and about to die, I helped him along. I would drink his blood and send him peacefully over to the other side. This also sustained me. I was wounded several times and as you can see I didn’t die. Matter of fact, I healed in record time to the amazement of my doctors.” Bela shifted in his leather chair.

Thad was in awe but still petrified of the man sitting in front of him. In the back of his mind, he knew what he had to do at the end of the show. “No-one caught on?” An innocent question Thad thought.

“I always drank from an open wound. So, there were no puncture marks. Clever huh? My coloring was explained by a rare family disease.” Bela just smiled, fangs flashing.

“That’s fascinating. Please continue. I find your tale riveting.” Thad believed he had put enough curiosity into his questions. After all, he thought, one day he’d be one of them. Who better than Bela to turn him?

“Well that little stint in the military helped me realize that everything I was told about my new life was a lie.” Bela furrowed his brow, his voice became deeper. “So I decided to move to New York in 1921. When I arrived I did a few roles on Broadway. Since most of the plays were done at night my coloring never caused a reaction. Besides, I always wore stage makeup. Eventually I began to wear it all the time. That made moving around in daylight much easier.” Bela winked at Thad as if sharing a secret.

Thad stammered, He could feel his color rising. Why was he blushing for a man - a vampire? “When did you get your role as Dracula?”

“In 1927. I thought it was ironic. Me, playing a vampire. It was amazing. Making movies was definitely a different world. They had researched all the old folk tales and myths. I was playing a role that was the total opposite of the truth. I requested that I do all my own makeup. So I did the reverse; I took my makeup off and everyone on the set thought I was a makeup wiz. Goes to show what humans will allow themselves to see when given a little push.” He laughed.

“Rumor was that you were a drug addict and committed yourself to the State Hospital. Is that true?” Thad was hoping to get the scoop, or some piece of dirt that would show the Network that he could do the hard interviews. He didn’t realize that Bela was reading his thoughts loud and clear.

“Yes and No.” He paused before continuing. “I was having withdrawal from not having any blood. I had reduced my intake to almost nothing and it showed. So I let everyone think I had a problem. I checked myself into the hospital. I waited until I was considered a has-been and quietly disappeared.”

“Well that’s all we have time for. I have truly enjoyed speaking with you.” Thad moved forward to shake Bela’s hand.

“Thank you. I am glad that I finally got to set the record straight.”

The camera cut away from Bela and focused on Thad only. “Thank you for joining us tonight. I hope this has enlightened vampires everywhere. This is Thad Thompson saying goodnight.”

Bela stood up and headed off stage.

“Sir!” it was Thad scurrying up behind Bela. “Sir, I was wondering if I… well if you could turn me. I really want to be a vampire.”

Bela looked at him. He knew the true reasons for Thad wanting to be one of the undead. They were for pure gain. He didn’t give a damn about Vampires and their way of life. So Bela agreed.

“Thad right?” Bela had to suppress his will to laugh. “Well, meet me in an hour at the Blue Moon.” With that Bela left the set and waited.

Thad left the set 20 minutes later. Upon stepping outside he was met by a startling creature. “Bela?”

“Have you changed your mind?” asked Bela.

“No sir. I can’t wait!” His voice cracked and went up a few octaves.

Bela grabbed him and sank his teeth into the soft flesh of Thad's neck. Thad’s eyes opened wide when he realized what was happening. He wasn’t being turned. He was being murdered. Just before he expired he heard Bela say “Don’t underestimate the power of a Vamp.” With that Bela finished him off and let him drop to the ground. Thad hit with a dull thud. He was right the Network would definitely notice him now.

The End

Laura Gamel is currently a member of RWA and NOLA Stars RWA's local group. She's an aspiring author who loves to write. She says she's been writing forever - in other words, since she could hold a pencil. She loves a blank piece of paper that is waiting to be given a life.

Laura just finished her crime story and is now working on two books. One is a paranormal and the other is a horror. She is also currently shopping her second children's book. The Flood gates opened and she has a ton of ideas for new books that she can't wait to write.

Monday, October 17, 2011

An American Horror Story

So what does everyone think about An American Horror Story?

My wife and I watched the last two episodes. While episode 2 had its surreal moments, they seemed to tone that aspect of the show down. Episode one was more like Twin Peaks, where episode two was much more like the movie called Funny Games...

They seem to try and show skin whenever possible, and weird stuff happens out of nowhere, but the premise is tried and true. A good haunted house story can always yield a good show. They certainly push the limits of what is okay to show on television.

The story behind the daughter is messed up, but I won't give away anything in the show. Some of the scenes are beautiful; the scary can be downright scary; the weird and creepy factors are strong.

If you don't mind MA content, I would give this show a chance. If you haven't seen it, look it up on FX. Be warned though, they go for shock value just as often as they go for real scares. There is nudity, graphic content and everything else that the MA label implies.

If you've seen this show, tell me what you think of it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay it Foward - Part 6

Today's links are brought to you by the Pay it Forward blog hop.

Here are the rules:

List, describe, and link to three blogs that you enjoy reading.
Visit and follow blogs that you see people pointing to.
Visit all of them if you can, but if you can't then that's okay too.

It's simple.

Just test out the links below and if you like them, follow them. Today, I share some of the blogs or links that have helped me the most. Some have been spotlighted before, but deserve repeating.

One of the new blogs I have been frequenting is Owen Jay Nelson's. He always has something informative to read and he puts a lot of thought into his blogs. Stop by and follow him.

Amie Kaufman always has a blog that is like a Pay it Forward daily. She always has articles written by friends that pertains to whatever she is writing about. She covers all sorts of subjects that are helpful to writers.

And Janet Reid covers everything a querying writer should know. She gives tips, holds contests and gives more tips. One of my favorites to read.

Thanks for checking out my blog today and I hope to earn your follow. Next week we will be hosting a number of short horror stories and a contest.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Taking Submissions - Pay it Forward #5

Now taking submissions from any of my writing friends who would like to publish a 500-1500 word horror story. Rules are pretty simple: Use manuscript format, double space, 12 point font and Email them to me. You can write about anything you wish, but it will be subject to tastes. No animal abuse, graphic sex or child abuse. I would like these in the next week so that we can get them up for Halloween.

Some blogs you should check out. Kimberly Bettes writes a powerfully moving piece about an accident she went through. It reminds you of the things you take for granted and gives you a new sense of appreciation for what you do have. Kimberly has been through a lot, and I wanted to spotlight this story. Stop by and show her some love.

Jenny Hansen writes another great blog. This one has the top four motivators for writers. She looked up the biggest motivations for employees and switched it around to be about writers. Pretty cool. Check out her blog.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pay it Forward - Part 4

For those of you who haven't heard yet, there is a really cool blogfest going on at Alex J. Kavanaugh's blog. They are calling it The Pay it Forward Blogfest. The rules? On the 14th, we all post links to blogs we think everyone should know and follow. In the interest of giving me something to write about each day, I've decided to do this early. Here is part four.

First up, I bring you Donna Newton's blog, which lists off all the writing competitions she can find. She tries to list all the competitions for short stories, novellas, novels and everything you can think of. She is on the seventh post in the series. If you get a chance, look up some competitions and enter a few.

Also, it should be noted that Donna is very kind and helpful. She's a writer worth getting to know.

Next up, Nathan Bransford's blog. What can I say? Mr. Bransford always has something worth reading about the writing world. He asks, "Is blog fatigue is on the rise?" Are people getting tired of blogging and running out of ideas? Read and discuss.

Below is a list of the blogs that are participating in the blogfest. I hope you will join us.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pay it Forward - Part 3

It's time for another installment of Paying it Forward. Looking through all the blogs, there are a lot of good ones to talk about today. I'll limit it to two, though.

First, I found this blog by S.L. Hennessy, where she talks about an extremely important weekend when Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was written. On that same weekend, Lord Byron wrote a piece that later inspired John Polidori's The Vampyre, which later inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula. The whole article can be found here. It is very interesting.

Next up, Stephen Tremp asks if we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction, over at Breakthrough Blogs. Will science go too far? Is the world destined to be destroyed in some B-movie style? Check it out.

Here are the blogs in the Pay it Forward blog hop, starting on the 14th.

So, I went to Wordstock, where I picked up The Luminist, by David Rocklin. It was cool to meet an author I interviewed a while back. The book is beautiful, so far.

What did you do this weekend? Any good blogs you want to share?


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Weekend Reads - Pay it Forward - Part 2

Continuing my support of the Pay it Forward blogfest, I'd like to share a few other good links with everyone. First up, I found CA Marshall's blog about word counts to be helpful. I have just finished another book and wasn't sure if it would be considered a novella or novel. Thanks to her blog, I have a set of goals to reach. You can find the blog here.

Looking at our list of blogs below, I found a lot of other good posts. Tyrean shows us the biggest bookstore in the world, right here in PDX. Tamson Weston visits Literary Rambles, giving us The Top 5 Picture Book Tips from Successful Agents. Writing in a Nutshell brings us some tips for writing and From Pen to Paper talks about insecurities while submitting your story to contests.

Also, Mark Noce asks you what you're doing for National Book Month. Good question.

Here is the list of blogs we all get a chance to find. There are some really wonderful blogs out there. Go check a few out and share them with your friends.

So, I'm planning to go to Wordstock tomorrow. Hoping that I can get myself to move well enough to make it through a day on my feet. It should be a lot of fun. The speakers were great last year and we got to meet so many good authors.

So what are you doing this weekend?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Paying it Forward ~ Part 1

The Pay it Forward blogfest starts on the 14th, but I thought it would be great to get a jump on things by posting up some great blogs. For this blogfest, we sign up and go to various sites. Each blog should have links to a couple blogs they think everyone should know about. This way, we all meet new people we wouldn't have found any other way. Here's the list:

So, going through a few at random now. I'll be back.

Back. Okay, there are some really good blogs out there. Here are just a couple that I found interesting on this trip in.

Tara Tyler Talks
has a great article on picking genre, as well as a list of links to other articles about genre. If you are looking to write your first book, this might be a good place to start.

Donna Hole brings up an entirely different search engine when planning out our books or hitting the wall of writer's block. She suggests we talk with our kids.

I'll be posting a few other blog hops and links to good blogs, so stay tuned. If you have time, hop around and meet some new people through the list offered above. You'll be happy you did.


PS. We didn't get any responses to Brian Moreland's novel excerpt. I know it was good, so I hope you take some time to buy a new book. This comes highly recommended by superstars in the genre of horror.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dead of Winter

The following is an excerpt from Brian Moreland's DEAD OF WINTER. Brian Keene calls this novel "a thrilling, wholly-engrossing read that masterfully crosses multiple genres and leaves the reader breathless." You can't do much better than that. Please, enjoy - I did.

Dead of Winter

Brian Moreland

“Dead of Winter by Brian Moreland is an exceptionally well crafted horror novel that tells a gripping story of dark religious doings, a horrific serial killer, and a sympathetic Inspector, in a dark and fascinating historical setting of 19th century Canada. The atmospherics are outstanding and the story offers plenty of surprises right up to its shocking and violent conclusion. Highly recommended.”
-- Douglas Preston, co-author of The Monster of Florence and Cold Vengeance.
A predator stalks the frozen woods.

At a fort deep in the Ontario wilderness in 1870, a ghastly predator is attacking colonists and spreading a gruesome plague—his victims turn into ravenous cannibals with an unending hunger for human flesh. Inspector Tom Hatcher has faced a madman before, when he tracked down Montreal’s infamous Cannery Cannibal. But can even he stop the slaughter this time?

In Montreal exorcist Father Xavier visits an asylum where the Cannery Cannibal is imprisoned. But the killer who murdered thirteen women is more than just a madman who craves human meat. He is possessed by a shape-shifting demon. Inspector Hatcher and Father Xavier must unravel a mystery that has spanned centuries and confront a predator that has turned the frozen woods into a killing ground where evil has come to feed.
"Dead of Winter is a thrilling, wholly-engrossing read that masterfully crosses multiple genres and leaves the reader breathless. Moreland weaves one hell of a history lesson, rich with brilliant characters and incredible plot twists. Highly recommended!"

-- Brian Keene, best-selling author of The Last Zombie and Ghoul

"With Dead of Winter, Brian Moreland breathes disturbing new life into an ancient horror legend. Crisp dialogue, riveting action, and a skin-on-your-teeth pace. Wow!"

-- Jonathan Maberry, New York Bestselling author of Patient Zero and Dead of Night

Part One
Predators and Prey
December 15, 1870
Manitou Outpost
Ontario, Canada

It was the endless snowstorms that ushered in their doom. Each day and night the white tempests whirled around the fort, harrowing the log houses with winter lashings. At the center of the compound, the three-story lodge house creaked and moaned. Father Jacques Baptiste chanted in Latin and threw holy water on the barricaded front door. Above the threshold, a crucifix hung upside down. No matter how much the Jesuit priest prayed, the Devil would not release its grip on this godforsaken fort.

Something scraped against the wood outside. Father Jacques peered through the slats of a boarded window. Tree branches clawed violently at the stockade walls. The front gate stood open, exposing them to the savage wilderness. It also provided the only path of escape. If by chance they made it out the gate, which way would they go?

The priest considered their options. Beyond the fort’s perimeter, the dark waters of Makade Lake knocked plates of ice against the shore. Crossing the frozen lake would be a dead man’s walk. Last week, two of the trappers fell through the ice. The only way out was through the woods.

Father Jacques shuddered at the thought of leaving the fort. The trappers had fortified the outpost to keep the evil out. They hadn’t counted on the savagery attacking them from within. He prayed for the souls of the men, women, and children lost in the past few weeks. Last autumn, the French-speaking colony had been twenty strong. Now, in midwinter, they were down to four survivors and not a crumb of food to split among them. How much longer before the beasts within completely took them over?

“Forgive us, oh Lord, for our fall from grace.” Father Jacques sipped the holy water. It burned his throat and stomach like whiskey. “Cast out these evils that prey upon us.”

Behind him, the sound of boots approached from the darkness. The priest spun with his lantern, lighting up the gaunt face of a bearded man. Master Pierre Lamothe, the fort’s chief factor, wore a deerskin parka with a bushy fur hood. His eyes were bloodshot. He wheezed.

The priest took a step back. “Are you still with us, Pierre?”

The sick man nodded. “Just dizzy, Father. I’m so damned hungry.”

Father Jacques knew the pains of hunger. Each passing day it pulled his flesh tighter against his ribcage. “We’ll find something to eat soon, I promise. Here, take another sip.” He offered the bottle of holy water.

Pierre took a swig and winced. Seconds later he stumbled back, rubbing his eyes.

“The burning will pass.” Father Jacques grabbed his wrist. “Remember our plan?”

“Yes... check on the horses.”

“We must hurry. Now may be our only chance.” They removed the barricade from the door. A long staircase led down from the second floor to the snow-covered ground. “Bless me, Father.” Pierre raised his shotgun and stepped out into the blizzard. He all but disappeared in the white squall. The only parts visible were his hood and the outline of his shoulders. Father Jacques nervously watched the fort grounds. At the surrounding cabins, wind howled through shattered windows and broken doors. When Pierre reappeared at the stables, the priest released his breath.

Please let the horses still be alive.

The chief factor pulled a horse out. The poor animal was so thin its hide sunk into its ribs. As Pierre threw a saddle on its back, he raised two fingers, signaling that a second horse was still inside the stable.

Father Jacques closed the door and clasped his hands. “Thank you, oh Lord.”

Someone tugged at his cassock. He looked down to see a small, French-Indian girl. Pierre’s daughter Zoé had tousled black hair and large brown eyes that had kept their innocence despite the horrors they’d witnessed these past few weeks. The girl held a tattered Indian doll to her chest. “I’m afraid, Père.”

Father Jacques touched her head and gave the most comforting smile he could conjure. “Don’t worry, Zoé, the angels will protect us. Here, you need to bundle up.” He fastened her fur parka, pulled the hood over her head.

“I want Mama to go with us.”

“I’m sorry, Zoé, but she’s too sick. She would die out there. You, your papa, and I are going to ride out to the nearest fort. Then we’ll send help back for your mother.”

The girl frowned. “Noël says you’re lying!”

Father Jacques glanced down at the Indian doll. One green eye stared back. The other eye was a ragged hole. Since Zoé had stopped eating two weeks ago, she suffered from dementia. She spent most of her days whispering to her doll. Father Jacques wanted to rip its head off. He squeezed his fist. “Noël is just afraid like the rest of us. Now, pray for forgiveness for speaking to me in that manner.”

“Sorry, Père.” Zoé crossed herself and bowed.

“Now, drink.” He gave the girl the last of the holy water. She drank it and winced as if it were castor oil.

Outside, the horses whinnied. A shotgun fired.

Father Jacques dashed to the window. He searched the fort grounds. A saddled horse ran in circles. Where was Pierre?

Behind the wall of whirling snow, more shots were fired. Then came a scream. Pierre stumbled out of the mist. Blood spouted from the stump of his shoulder. He was missing an arm.

Peering out the boarded window, Father Jacques screamed at the sight of blood gushing from Pierre’s shoulder. As the wounded man stumbled up the front steps to the lodge house, the white mist rolled in from behind and swallowed Pierre. His scream was cut short.

“Papa!” Zoé ran toward the barricaded door. “Let Papa in!”

“No, move away from the door.” Father Jacques grabbed her hand and backed away.

Outside, the storm wailed. Snow blew in through the cracks of the boarded windows. Footfalls charged up the staircase like thundering hooves. Something rammed against the front door. The hinges buckled.

Zoé shrieked.

“Back to the cellar!” The priest pulled the girl through the dark corridors of the lodge house. Behind them, the front door crashed open. Terror stabbed Father Jacques’ chest with icy pinpricks at the shattering of windows and splintering of wood. Growls echoed throughout the lodge.

They’re inside!

Zoé released a high-pitched shriek.

“Stay quiet, girl.” The priest led her down the cellar stairs. The swinging lantern slashed the darkness with a pendulum blade of light. Scratches and streaks of crystallized blood glistened on the steps and walls like a gallery of agonies marking the descent to hell.

They ran into the dark cellar. Father Jacques brought down an iron bar across the door and shoved crates against it. He took the child’s face in his hands. “Hide, quick.”

The girl crawled inside a nook stuffed with fur pelts. She hugged her doll to her chest. Father Jacques pulled a deerskin blanket down over the nook so Zoé was fully hidden. “Don’t come out no matter what you hear.”

A raspy voice whispered, “Father...”

The priest aimed his lantern at a row of beds. The storage cellar had been converted into a makeshift hospital. In three beds lay twisted corpses. In the closest bed, an Ojibwa woman was lying beneath the quilts. Wenonah Lamothe, Pierre’s native wife. She was too delirious to know that her husband was dead. Her skeletal head rolled back and forth on the pillow. Teeth chattering, she coughed clouds of frosty air. Her long, black hair now had streaks of white. Her skin, normally reddish brown, had turned fish-belly pale, with white scabs and ghastly blue veins. She looked to the priest, her bloodshot eyes pleading him. “Help me, Father.”

“I’m sorry, Wenonah.” God had failed her. Failed them all.

The Jesuit picked up a silver cross with a daggered tip. “I cast out all spirits of Satan.”

The woman tied to the bedposts growled like a wolfhound.

Father Jacques stood at the foot of Wenonah’s bed. Her thrashing body smacked the headboard against the wall. She laughed and moaned, blue tongue licking her lips. She kicked off her quilts, thrusting her hips upward, spreading her bony legs for him. Remaining steadfast in his prayers, the priest raised the holy dagger over the Ojibwa woman’s chest.

Wenonah glared with fiery eyes.

Zoé yelled, “Mama!”

“Stay hidden, child.” Father Jacques stumbled back as a wave of emotions coursed through him. Anger. Fury. Rage.


His stomach ached for something meaty. Raw and bloody. He sniffed the air, his keen sense homing in on the nook where the girl was hidden. Beyond the scent of animal furs, Father Jacques inhaled the salty aroma of blood pumping through a heart.

Eat the girl! growled a voice inside the Jesuit’s head. Eat the lamb’s sweet meat.

“No. No. No.” He slammed the cross-dagger into a post. “I am a disciple of God. He gives me strength! Lead me not into temptation, oh Lord.” The wave of hunger passed. He chanted faster.

Shrieks echoed from beyond the cellar door. Feet stomped down the stairs. The doorknob rattled. Nails scraped the door, clawing to get in.

Father Jacques backed away, praying the barricade would hold. Even if it did, without food and water they couldn’t last another day in the cellar. We have to escape.

He went to the back wall, climbed up a stack of crates. With a crowbar, he tore planks off a tiny window. Snow blew inward, stinging his face. The mist had cleared. He could see the stables and the open front gate. The square portal was too small for Father Jacques, but not the girl. Tears welled in the priest’s eyes as he realized his last hope had come down to the fate of a nine-year-old girl. “Come, child, now!”

She climbed out from her hiding place, hugging the doll to her chest.

The priest kneeled, taking Zoé’s hands. “There’s still a horse in the stables. I need you to ride out to Fort Pendleton.” He pulled a small diary from his coat pocket. “Give this to Brother Andre.” He stuffed the journal into a trapper’s fur-skinned pack along with her doll.

“No, I’m not leaving...” She started to cry.

“You must, Zoé! We won’t survive down here another day.” He pulled the pack onto her back, fastening the straps around her waist.

“But what about you, Père?”

“You’ll have to go on your own.”

From the bed Wenonah rasped, “Zoé, wait...” Her wrist stretched one of the ropes. “Come here, my child.”


“No, Zoé!” Father Jacques grabbed the girl just short of her mother’s gnarled fingernails. “Don’t touch her.” He carried Zoé to the back wall. She sobbed and jerked in his arms, reaching for her mother.

He stood her on a crate and shook her. “Listen, child! We need you to be strong. Go now, or you’ll never see your mother again.”

“But I’m afraid to go out there.”

“Remember the story about the lost children who came upon an angel?”

She nodded, sniffling.

“There are angels in the woods, and they will protect you, but they are leaving now, so you must hurry.”

The beasts wailed inside the cellar’s stairwell. An axe blade chopped through the door, cracking it.

The girl screamed and ran up the crates.

Father Jacques helped her out the window. She dropped down to the snowy ground.

“Hurry, Zoé!” He watched her run across the snowfield.

The axe blade smashed through the door. Dozens of white fingers tore at the hole. The priest held up a cross. “God is my savior!”

Another growl issued, this one from inside the cellar. He circled, searching the shadows until he spotted broken ropes at Wenonah’s bed. She now moved in the darkness just beyond the lantern glow. Her bones made popping sounds. The last stage of the change.

The priest stepped toward the row of beds. He barely made out the woman’s spindly shape hunched over, feeding off the flesh of a dead man. The crunching and tearing sickened Father Jacques and at the same time beckoned him to join Wenonah in the feast.

No, stay righteous! The Jesuit coughed. He stumbled to his altar and opened his holy book. The words blurred. His vision spiraled. Inside his stomach, the hunger grew, cold and burning, clinging his flesh to bone, filling him with a hollow emptiness, then turning—Yes!—spreading through him with a sweet rapture known only to saints and angels. “I am a shepherd of death...”

The cellar door crashed open.

Father Jacques raised his arms and smiled as he turned to face the ravenous horde.


Ontario Wilderness

The oncoming blizzard roared like a phantom bear. A boreal wind whipped through the forest, shaking the pine branches. Searchers in fur parkas steered three dogsleds through the white squall. Huskies barked at the cracking whips. The search party fanned out between the trees, sleds racing one another.

Riding in the lead sled, Inspector Tom Hatcher clamped his black lawman’s hat against his head. Frosty wind raked his face. Snow blinded his vision. He leaned inward as pine branches brushed the right side of his body. The British detective felt out of place in his two-piece suit, necktie, and gray overcoat. While the hunters carried rifles, Tom gripped his trusty pistol.

If Father could see me now, Tom thought, out in the Canadian wilderness dogsledding with a brigade of fur traders. And if that isn’t crazy enough, I’m following the guidance of a native woman.

Jostling and jerking in his rickety seat, Tom watched the Ojibwa tracker’s long, billowing black hair as she deftly drove the sled through the trees. Anika Moonblood was like no woman Tom had ever met. She only stood about chest-high to him, but she was feisty, and the way she moved through the wilderness was downright preternatural. Her light brown face, with high cheekbones and sparkling green eyes, reminded Tom of a wildcat. Like a puma or lynx. He might have found Anika pretty if it weren’t for the hardness of her face. He had yet to see her smile.

Anika pulled the reins on the dogs. The huskies yelped as the sled skidded to a stop in the deep snow. She hopped off and crouched at the crest of a hill, her deerskin clothes almost blending with the trees.

Tom scanned the woods and saw what the tracker had found. Footprints. The inspector snapped on his snowshoes and climbed upward, raising his knees, awkwardly plowing through the drift. He stepped up beside the tracker. “Any sign of Sakari?”

Anika pulled strands of black hair off a branch. “She was taken upstream.”

Tom scanned the frozen landscape. A legion of snow devils spiraled across the pure white dunes, spinning upward and catching the fierce crosswinds. Endless snow froze against his cheeks. Vision diminished to twenty feet. A familiar parasite of foreboding gnawed at his stomach as the afternoon sun was swallowed by gray clouds.

“The blizzard will soon be upon us,” Anika said.

The inspector spoke over the wind, “Let’s push a little further.”

“We go the rest of the way on foot.” The tracker trudged forward, her slender frame fading into the white mist.

The other sleds caught up. Tom glanced back at the pale faces of the searchers, a mixture of British soldiers in red greatcoats and Scotch laborers bundled in hooded fur coats. The lower halves of their faces were covered with scarves, and their eyes were shielded by goggles made of caribou bone with two tiny round holes. The native goggles made the white men look like Indian fur trappers. Even though Tom couldn’t see their eyes, he sensed their fear. They had been searching for the missing woman for over an hour now, and the blizzard only seemed to be getting closer. It wouldn’t be long before the snow completely covered the trail.

Tom briefly looked at Percy Kennicot, offering the clerk a gleam of hope. Ice crystallized on the man’s mustache. He and his Cree Indian wife, Sakari, had ventured out into the woods on horseback, headed toward Manitou Outpost. The horses had gotten spooked. They separated briefly. Kennicot heard his wife scream, followed by an animal growl. Percy had searched the evergreen forest but found only Sakari’s fallen horse, its throat slashed. The killer had carried off Percy’s wife into the woods.

Tom had told his men to be wary of a rogue trapper in the area or possibly a band of cutthroat Indians. None of the searchers seemed to like that he was in charge. To the soldiers and fur traders, Tom was the newcomer. The man from the city. But they were all scared ever since colonists from Fort Pendleton had started to go missing in the woods. A few weeks ago, a French Canadian hunter had been found disemboweled. Whether the colonists liked Inspector Hatcher or not, he had been hired to track down their killer.

As Tom snowshoed through the woods, he wondered if leaving behind his city comforts had been the right decision. Montréal had been cold, but the interior of Ontario was constantly below zero. The blizzard’s endless breath seeped into his bones. White wisps puffed out of his chapped mouth. His cheeks and nose were numb, and he feared frost bite might eat away his face.

How long can we survive out in this godforsaken weather?

The rest of the search party, all colonists who spent their lives enduring such brutal winters, seemed to handle the cold just fine. He now envied their heavy fur parkas and otter skin boots. Just keep your body moving, Tom.

The inspector led the search party forward, doing his best to keep Anika in his sights as the swift tracker crept like a wraith in the fog. She stopped and waved them over.

Tom quickened his pace to catch up. She showed him a faint blood trail. There were more tracks, too. Deep impressions in the snow. They followed the tracks until they reached the frozen stream of Beaver Creek. They halted.

“Great Scott!” Tom said.

Suspended in the ice was the butchered body of Sakari Kennicot. But only the upper torso, it seemed. She had been disemboweled. Several ribs were exposed. And one arm had been completely severed at the shoulder.

Percy Kennicot ran ahead of the pack, brushing past Tom. The dead woman’s husband fell to his knees and wailed like an animal.

Seeing the remains of Sakari Kennicot, Tom’s mind flashed to images from his last case in Montréal: butchered bodies of women being dragged up from the harbor. Nothing but skeletons strung together by grey sinews. It was the grisly work of the most formidable killer Inspector Hatcher had ever tracked.

The Cannery Cannibal.

Just two years ago, Inspector Hatcher had worked in Montréal alongside British and French Canadian detectives to solve the case of the century. For over a year, the Cannery Cannibal had terrorized the harbor city, abducting dockside prostitutes who sold their bodies near the cannery district. The twisted things the killer had done to those girls. The way he butchered them, carving the flesh from their bones. The hair and skin on their heads had been left, as if the Cannery Cannibal couldn’t bring himself to cut up their faces. He left that meat to the fishes when he dumped the women’s skeletons into the water. Inspector Hatcher had found traces of white powder caked in the eye sockets.

While trying to think like a killer, Tom had spent numerous nights imagining the cannibal carving up these women like a butcher flaying meat off an animal, leaving behind a skeleton with the woman’s head intact. It was only later, after he found the killer’s dockside lair, and final victim, that Tom discovered the beast made up the women’s faces like the powdery visages of Renaissance queens.

Now Tom gripped a tree, trying to erase the memory. The wind shook clumps of snow off the nearby branches. He sensed he was being watched. Catching his breath, he scanned the forest to see if the Cannery Cannibal had somehow followed him to the backwoods of Ontario. But that was impossible, because the notorious murderer was rotting away in prison, awaiting his eventual hanging, if not already dangling from the gallows.

Montréal, Quebec

The Laroque Asylum loomed like a fortress for the damned. Its stone walls were powder gray with chinks and cracks from years of brutal winters and internal suffering. Built in 1790, the asylum had been designed to separate the insane from the civilized. A private kingdom for the mentally ill.

Father Xavier Goddard stepped out of his stagecoach onto the cobblestone driveway. Snow flurries swirled around his black robes. He endured the biting wind as he covered his bald head with a black fur cap. Wearing the Russian mink furrowed the brows of his fellow priests, who wore the typical cleric’s hat. But the fur cap was an heirloom from his Uncle Remy, who’d sailed the high seas with the French Navy and brought the expensive cap back from Siberia. Despite its contrary image to the priestly vow of poverty, the mink hat was a daily reminder of his cherished uncle, while keeping Father Xavier’s bald head warm during Quebec’s harsh winters.

The Jesuit turned to his apprentice, Brother Francois, who climbed out of the coach, gazing up at the towering asylum. The young man was wearing a black cassock buttoned to the throat and a black soup-plate hat, while Father Xavier wore the black cassock and white collar of an ordained priest. Each Jesuit carried a small case, much like a house doctor’s medical kit.

Father Xavier gave his apprentice a fatherly look. “Francois, did you pack everything I asked?”

The layman patted his duffle bag, and his eyes brightened. “Oui, I’m ready to see how you work.”

The young ones are always eager at first, Father Xavier thought. He scrutinized the man’s delicate features and innocent eyes. Maybe Francois will be different than his predecessors.

“Let’s get started.” Father Xavier ascended the steps.

Francois followed. “How long will the ritual take?”

“Hours or days. Depends on the willingness of our subject to cooperate.”

The asylum’s enormous front door opened with a heavy grate. A short, stocky man hobbled out using a cane. “Top of the mornin’, Father, thanks for comin’ so quickly,” he said in a thick Irish accent. With his smudged cheeks and crooked teeth, the warden of Laroque looked like some Cretan who had spent years on a pirate’s ship. He had stringy red hair and scraggly mutton chops. A grubby hand jutted out. “Me name’s Warden Paddock.”

Avoiding the hand, Father Xavier stared at the doorway. He got a cold feeling from more than just the gale that swept along the St. Lawrence River. A coven of ravens landed on the rooftop, squawking. “He knows we’re here.”

The warden’s eyebrows knitted together. “I beg your pardon?”

Father Xavier said, “Never mind. Take us to Gustave Meraux.”

“Aye, aye, right this way.” Warden Paddock and Francois entered the white stone fortress. As Father Xavier was about to cross the threshold, something shrieked from behind him. He turned around. Down the hill, a steamboat cut through the cracking ice that covered the St. Lawrence River. Across the river stood Mount Royal, the three-crested hill from which Montréal got its name. The sky above the harbor city had turned pink with streaks of orange.

Feeling adrenaline coursing through his veins, Father Xavier smiled. “A beautiful day to face the Devil.”

The two Jesuits followed Warden Paddock through the main corridor. They passed a set of red-coated soldiers standing guard with rifles. The warden unlatched an iron door then led Father Xavier and his apprentice down a set of winding stairs.

“We currently have one hundred and seventy inhabitants,” Paddock said. “There have been so many crazies coming in lately, that we’ve had to build additional cells down in the undercroft.”

“Warden, I am only interested in the one you sent me for,” said Father Xavier.

“Aye, Gustave Meraux arrived two weeks ago, and ever since, has wreaked nothing but havoc among the inmates.”

At the bottom of the stairs, the undercroft tunneled beneath the old fortress.

Torches illuminated an arched ceiling and metal bars. In between the cells, water dribbled down moss-covered walls. Father Xavier’s shoes splashed through puddles. He winced at the foul smells of urine and defecation. Francois covered his mouth with a handkerchief.

“We’re still working on the sanitation,” the warden said with embarrassment. “We are understaffed at the moment. Several workers quit since Gustave arrived.”

Moaning issued from many of the cells they passed. Most were shrouded by the sepulchral darkness. Inside one half-lit chamber, a fat man with a massive head emerged from a corner. “Feed time! Feed time!” He pressed his cheek against the bars, his bulbous tongue licking the air.

Father Xavier reeled at the prisoner’s brown teeth and atrocious breath.

“Not yet, Mortimer. Six-thirty is feed time. Six-thirty!” Paddock banged his cane against the bars and the fat man retreated. The warden shook his head. “My apology, Father, but they have to learn routine or the whole place becomes a madhouse.” He laughed at his own joke.

From somewhere down the tunnel echoed a cackling scream.

“That’s Gustave,” the warden said. “The craziest of them all.”

The high-pitched laughter made Father Xavier shudder. As a boy, he had once seen a group of gypsies at a carnival. One of the performers, a fire breather wearing clown makeup, spewed out long tongues of fire then cackled at the crowd. The ominous laughter had made young Xavier sprout gooseflesh. The priest’s fist tightened around his duffle bag. He quickened his steps. “Tell me what you know about Gustave Meraux.”

The warden, hobbling on the cane, did his best to keep up. “I’m sure you two have heard of the Cannery Cannibal.”

Father Xavier nodded. The past two years had been a time of darkness for Montréal. The Cannery Cannibal had haunted the harbor, killing thirteen women, most of them prostitutes.

Warden Paddock said, “Gustave earned the name Cannery Cannibal, because he took the women back to the cannery where he worked, cut them up, cooked their meat and innards, and stored them in little tins. He’s a bloody sicko, that one.”

As they reached a barred door separating this chamber from the next, Father Xavier took a deep breath. “Your report stated that Gustave has given you reason to believe he is possessed by the Devil.”

Paddock’s keys jingled as he searched through a large key ring. “Upon his capture, Gustave has been the source of many bizarre occurrences. The prisoners on either side of his cell were found dead. One gouged his own eyes out. The other rammed himself into a wall until he bludgeoned himself to death. And our rat population has doubled. They seem to be drawn to Gustave’s cell like he’s the bloody Pied Piper.”

Francois said, “So the cannibal has become a man with ungodly abilities?”

“A man?” Warden Paddock gave a nervous laugh as he tried different keys in the door. “I don’t think any of us comprehend what he’s become.”

Father Xavier said, “But you are sure he embodies a demon?”

“I come from the moors of Ireland, Father. I know the Devil when I sees him.” He slipped in a key that fit. “Ah, here we go.” The barred door creaked open to an even narrower passage. From the darkness echoed the cackle of damnation.