Creepy Craft Corner

by Angela Sylvaine

Welcome to “Creepy Craft Corner,” which features HWA members who are also artists, crafters, makers, or creators. I hope to provide you, the reader, with the tools and inspiration to try creating something new!

I am obsessed with podcasts, especially anything true-crime, spooky, or writing related. But what does it take to produce those wonderful auditory treats that magically appear on my phone each week? Robert Ottone and Brenda Tolian are here today to tell us!

Welcome, Robert, tell us a little about what you write and any upcoming projects you’d like to promote.

I am the author of Her Infernal Name & Other Nightmares and People: A Horror Anthology about Love, Loss, Life & Things That Go Bump in the Night, as well as a contributor to multiple anthologies and websites. I regularly blog over at spookyhousepress.com, which is the home of my small-press publishing company. I am also hopelessly addicted to instagram.com/robertottone, and scream into the void over on twitter.com/robertottone. I also have gotten back into the true crime game over at my website voicesfromgilgo.com.

My novella, The Girl in the Floor is available on Kindle Vella amazon.com/kindle-vella/story. My collection is also available at amazon.com/dp

What creepy craft or creation have you decided to share with us today? 

My creation is my very raw, self-produced, nonprofit true crime podcast, Voices From Gilgo. You can find it on most podcast platforms. It essentially was a passion project and was, in some respects, my first foray into horror, as this is a true-life horror story. I promise you it’s very raw, as it was self-produced and was a passion project after I had surgery that prevented me from teaching for a few months.

From there, I’ve been able to do a slew of lectures about the Long Island Serial Killer for a bunch of different libraries and local venues here in New York. I have a bunch lined up for this summer, they’re all free, and they’re all for wonderful institutions, so, keep your eyes peeled for dates as they are announced and register!

What instructions or tips do you have for our readers who might be interested in trying this craft for themselves?

I think, if you’re interested in launching your own podcast, it’s worth really dedicating time to the audio quality of what you’re trying to produce. Admittedly, mine is very raw, and I’ve taken some hits for my modulation, especially when it comes to the musical interludes. Overall, there is a lot of relaxation that comes from editing audio, and there’s actually a lot one can get from crafting the story of whatever they’re doing in audio script format. I found telling the story of the Long Island Serial Killer, along with my own personal theory as to what happened to be exhilarating in a way that was challenging, but in a good way.

Next we welcome Brenda. Hi, Brenda, tell us a little about what you write and any upcoming projects you’d like to promote.

I write and love horror. I recently signed on with Raw Dog Screaming Press who will publish my Blood Mountain soon. I also have a story coming out in the Denver Horror Collectives Jewish Book of Horror and am a featured poet in the 2021 HWA Poetry Showcase (Vol. VIII). I also paint, make music and teach High School English full time.

What creepy craft or creation have you decided to share with us today? 

Well, Joy Yehle and I love books. We are astounded by new writers, academic and indie writers work, but realized they did not get the same spotlight as more well-known writers/ creators. We decided to start a casual podcast to chat with the creators that we found interesting. This place would be safe, casual as before stated and a place to explore both the writer and their work. I think we succeeded in this endeavor, and we certainly have fun speaking to creators. We don’t make a dime doing it but sometimes you just do a thing, because you love it- That is what the Burial Plot Horror Podcast is to me-us!

What instructions or tips do you have for our readers who might be interested in trying this craft for themselves?

Everyone can make a podcast-in fact I do this with students in my High School. First write a plan- Who/ what is it for? Why? Start out simple use a service like Buzzsprout.com or Anchor.com. How long will it be- 15 min, 30, an hour? Do you need waivers? My best advice is to do your research and look at popular podcasts that you like. What are they doing that you like? What do you think you could do better? Most importantly have fun! My Co-Host for a while kept calling me her Co-Horse which became a great joke on the show. We have a heart for diving into the darkness of horror in all its shades of night and dragging our audience with us. Mostly they don’t scream!

Thank you so much to Robert and Brenda for sharing their expertise with us this month! I hope it inspired you to create. 

Until next month, keep it crafty, HWA!

Angela Sylvaine is a self-proclaimed cheerful goth who still believes in monsters. Her debut novella, Chopping Spree, is available now. Her short fiction has appeared in multiple publications and anthologies, including Places We Fear to Tread and Not All Monsters. You can find her online angelasylvaine.com.

Special thanks to our logo creator, Maria Abrams abramstheauthor.com

Note: Due to an overwhelming response from talented creators, I am not currently accepting new submissions for Creepy Craft Corner. I will post in the HWA newsletter and on Twitter when I reopen to submissions. 

Member Publication News (November 2021)

Welcome to the HWA COS chapter’s monthly round-up of member news. We invite you to scroll through our publication announcements and see what our members are up to this month: new releases, book signings, readings, conventions, and more!

Carina Bissett participated in the Munich-based project ARCANA 2021 with her interpretation of “The Tower.” To read more about Carina’s inspiration and her mash-up of this card’s symbolism with the motif of Maidens in Towers, check out her blog post on the subject.

ABOUT THE PROJECT: One card from the Major Arcana is drawn randomly and given to the participant. How the artist or writer responds to their, will be revealed this October 20, 2021 at 3 pm (CET) This year’s show will be presented completely online. —Hazel Ang

Carina Bissett, Hillary Dodge, and Joshua Viola are thrilled to announce the release of Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas (November 30). This high-concept anthology includes fiction and poetry by Mario Acevedo, Colleen Anderson, Kay Chronister, Sara Cleto, David Davies, Sean Eads, Anastasia Garcia, Owl Goingback, Maxwell I. Gold, Warren Hammond, Angie Hodapp, Jimena Jurado, Starlene Justice, Gwendolyn Kiste, Gerri Leen, Josh Malerman, Juliana Spink Mills, Tiffany Morris, Lee Murray, Annie Neugebauer, Gerardo Horacio Porcayo, Cameron E. Quinn, Sarah Read, Kathryn Reilly, Julia Rios, Betty Rocksteady, Marge Simon, Angela Yuriko Smith, Christina Sng, Jeanne C. Stein, Tim Waggoner, Brittany Warman, Christa Wojciechowski, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Mercedes M. Yardley, Jane Yolen, E. Lily Yu, and Alvaro Zinos-Amaro. Illustrated by Aaron Lovett.

CSW’s horror fiction podcast Incarnation Read premiered its second season on Halloween. You can read more about his inspiration and the evolution of the podcast at “Podcasts and the Oral Horror Tradition” (HWA COS). Incarnation Read is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, YouTube, Deezer, Pocket Casts, Breaker, Overcast, Radio Public, TuneIn, Podcast Addict, and Castbox. Episodes are uploaded once every other Saturday.

Sam Knight is proud to announce the launch of Knight Writing Press. Submissions are now open for Particular Passages 2. The Particular Passages anthologies are for stories that really need a home, but maybe don’t quite fit in anywhere else. Submission deadline is 1/1/2022.

We understand the “theme” of this anthology is a bit vague. We’re looking for “trunk stories” that shouldn’t have ended up in the trunk. The theme is: you just don’t know what’s behind that door until you open it. Think of it as an author showcase. There are no genre restrictions on this anthology. (PG-13).

Shannon Lawrence is pleased to announce the publication of her story “Alligator in a Sweatsuit” in the anthology Crimeucopia – The I’s Have It. This anthology of mysteries from Murderous Ink Press features twists and tongue-in-cheek fun with sleuths of all kinds.

Shannon talks horror, short stories, and the importance of writing communities on Living the Dream with Curveball, a podcast about inspiration and aspiration. You can also find her on Stories Live, which features dark readings for the season. As a featured guest, Shannon reads a creepy tale of a child who wants to meet her mysterious night parents in “Following the Rules.”

Over at the podcast Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem, Shannon Lawrence and her co-host M.B. Partlow added new episodes to the series: Sinners or Saints? (October 13 ); Sex, Drugs, & Bullseyes (October 20); Solved, but Not Forgotten (October 27), and Family Matters (November 3).

Angela Sylvaine is terrified to be included in the debut anthology from Night Terror Novels, This is Not a Horror Story (spoiler- the stories are actually really scary). “Obsidian” follows a woman whose internalized pain ricochets back at those who have harmed her.

Inspired by the iconic “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” found in surrealist René Magritte’s 1929 work, The Treachery of ImagesThis is Not a Horror Story offers a collection of original fiction both abstract and haunting from fifteen bold, exciting voices writing in the genre today. Take a trip with us into this gallery of the macabre, and allow our authors to transport you into realms fantastical and terrifying; stories of the bizarre and the surreal, from deities, demons, and dictators through to tales of the marginalised and of cursed media. All of these tales are transgressive, yes—they tell the stories of the outcasts, of characters rebelling against societal norms, of the taboo and the controversial—but suffice it to say that no two are alike.

Creepy Craft Corner

By Angela Sylvaine

Welcome to “Creepy Craft Corner,” which features HWA members who are also artists, crafters, makers, or creators. I hope to provide you, the reader, with the tools and inspiration to try creating something new!

In an extended celebration of Halloween, the most sacred of holidays, I am featuring not just one but three fantastic creators. Today we welcome Mercedes Yardley and her handmade voodoo dolls, M. Lopes da Silva’s spooky soaps, and Robert Perez fashioning an Oogie Boogie costume. Let’s get our creepy craft on!

Hi, Mercedes. Tell us a little about what you write and any upcoming projects you’d like to promote.

I write whimsical horror. I write dark fairytales with a high body count. Most of my work has to do with women put in terrible positions. I like to discuss the important issues that I see around me every day. 

I have quite a few things coming out, actually! I have a beautiful, sad story titled “The Rhythm of Grief” that just came out in the FRIGHT TRAIN anthology.  My story “Sand and Salt” (about an Irish banshee trapped in the San Rafael desert) is coming out this month in the SHADOW ATLAS anthology. Also releasing this month is the CLASSIC MONSTERS UNLEASHED anthology, which features my story “The Picture of Doriana Gray.” My poem “Afterlife” is coming out in the HWA Poetry Showcase Volume 8 book. And my Southern Gothic novel, DARLING, is releasing in 2022. It’s a wonderfully busy time! They’re all available on Amazon, and you can learn more about them at mercedesmyardley.com.

What creepy craft or creation have you decided to share with us today? 

Today I’ll be showing you my handmade voodoo dolls. They’re sweet, sinister, darling things. I started making them several years ago when I needed a craft to keep my hands busy while I watched true crime or Labyrinth. I use felt because it’s a perfect texture for the dolls. Each one has its own unique personality. While most voodoo dolls are full of menace, mine are full of good feeling and just the tiniest bit of malevolence.

These little things sell like you wouldn’t believe. They outsell my books by a large margin. There’s something about having a basket of them on the book table that draws people in. Some people genuinely seem creeped out, but as soon as they hold one, they get over those feelings quite quickly. “They’re cheery little things that want to watch over you,” I’ll say, and then I’ll wave goodbye as a voodoo doll finds its way into its new owner’s pocket or backpack. That really makes me happy. I have one strapped to the neck of my ukulele.

I actually gave a book and matching doll to Lisa Loeb, who is one of my favorite singers. It was an honor to see her cradle these two things I created.

Anyone interested in their own doll can contact me at mercedesyardley@gmail.com, or find me on Facebook at Mercedes Murdock Yardley. They’re currently going for $15 plus shipping.

What instructions or tips do you have for our readers who might be interested in trying this craft for themselves? 

First, make yourself a doll pattern out of cardboard or cardstock. Also, make yourself a heart pattern as well. Trace it on felt, cut two pieces out, and then work on the face. You can use buttons. You can use thread or embroidery floss. You can draw on it. Just do the face before you sew it together. Next, sew the heart on. Then you’re ready to hand-sew all the way around the doll. You can use a blanket stitch or any stitch you’d like. Be sure to leave a gap in an inconspicuous place like under the arm. You’ll use that hole for stuffing the doll. You can stuff it with cotton, batting, fabric, grass, or anything you’d like. I also like to take a felt disk and put a few drops of essential oil. I’ll slip it inside with a few special charms, like feathers or stones or good wishes written on paper, and then finish sewing the doll up completely.

Feel free to personalize them! Add bunny ears. Give them stars for eyes. It’s a wonderful, easy way to express your creativity. They’re so much fun.

Next, we welcome M. Lopes da Silva. Tell us a little about what you write and any upcoming projects you’d like to promote.

I’m M. Lopes da Silva (she/they) – a non-binary, bisexual, white Latinx horror author and artist from Los Angeles. I create queer California horror. I like to dip my hand into other genres now and again, but horror is often at the heart of what I make. I have short stories coming up in IN SOMNIO: A Collection of Modern Gothic Horror and ANTIFA SPLATTERPUNK, respectively; two horror anthologies that are going to pack a lot of great indie horror talent between their covers! IN SOMNIO contains a story of mine about a woman losing pieces of her identity to a haunted house in Malibu, while ANTIFA SPLATTERPUNK is going to publish a fictional story about the pressure of rising anti-homeless and hostile architecture in Los Angeles. I also wrote a book called HOOKER that was published by Unnerving Magazine last year. It’s about a bisexual sex worker who hunts a misogynist serial killer through the streets of 1980s Los Angeles using hooks as her weapons of choice. I’m currently working on a fictional novella about a real apartment building I used to live in that had a strangely high rate of awful things happening on and around it all the time.

What creepy craft or creation have you decided to share with us today? 

Last year I became a soap maker, acquiring my skills first online and eventually through practice. I’ve become very passionate about soap making, and even started a business this year on Etsy called SaltCatSoap. It’s named after my cat, Luca, and my favorite soap additive – salt! Salt is a wonderful natural exfoliant that’s great for hands and feet, but can be rough on more sensitive areas. Always be careful when trying out a new exfoliant, and be sure to discontinue use if you experience ANY irritation on your skin. With that warning out of the way, I’d like to announce today’s craft project: Lady Macbeth Hand Soap!

These blood-red hand soaps have coarse sea salt in them – perfect for removing any damned spots! – and contain cedarwood essential oil and Siberian fir needle essential oil to invoke Birnam wood’s perfume. 

What instructions or tips do you have for our readers who might be interested in trying this craft for themselves? 

Let’s start by assembling our materials!

Necessary Materials:

-First you’re going to need a silicone mold. I chose this one on Amazon, but feel free to use another vendor or mold shape – the important part is that it’s silicone!

-You’re going to need a long-necked pitcher to microwave your soap in. I like using these from Bramble Berry because they can hold two pounds of soap pretty comfortably.

-You’re going to need something to stir your soap with, and I like to use this silicone spatula that I also bought on Amazon (it’s in a set of three, but you only need one).

-You will need a spoon to add salt to your soap. I just salvaged one from a take out container that I like to clean and reuse, but you can use any spoon. Metal is fine, too.

-You will need pipettes to add your essential oils to the soap – one pipette per oil type. I usually buy a very large quantity of pipettes at once, but you can buy them individually, too.

-You will need something to cut soap with! This is a crinkle edge soap cutter, and if you’re going to really get into soap making I recommend having one, but you can just use a kitchen knife.

Ingredients:

-One pound of clear soap base. I recommend using a brand like Bramble Berry to begin with. It’s stable and lathers very well for melt and pour soap (which is what we are making today).

-Approximately 8 ounces of Coarse Sea Salt. Any brand is fine, but I do not recommend using Dead Sea Salt, because it has a tendency to destabilize your soap.

-Suggested Essential Oil Number One: Siberian Fir Needle Essential Oil from Bramble Berry. One of my favorites, it has a strong, pleasant pine fragrance. If you’re not fond of pine notes, you can omit this one.

-Suggested Essential Oil Number Two: Cedarwood Essential Oil from Wooden Wick. Wooden Wick is a little pricey so I actually recommend getting the same thing from Bramble Berry, especially if you’re picking up other items there at the same time. This wood fragrance is a little musky, and if you’re not fond of musk notes, you can omit this one.

-If you really want to get into soap making, I heartily recommend “Da Bomb Liquid Soap Dyes” from Nature’s Garden. These colorants are wonderful for beginners, and easy to use. The colors pop, and there’s a handy color mixing guide posted on their website.

Optional Materials:

-A bottle of 99% Isopropyl Alcohol (for popping tiny bubbles).

A small spray bottle that comes with a tiny funnel to fill said small spray bottle with isopropyl alcohol (also for popping tiny bubbles).

Other Stuff You Will Need:

-A microwave to melt your soap base down.

-A clean surface to cut soap on.

-Nitrile gloves to handle the soap if you plan on giving it to others.

Got all your stuff? Awesome! Now it’s time to get to the making!

Step Zero: BEFORE You Start Making

-Whoops! Before we actually start making soap, we need to do some calculations first. Don’t worry, a website is going to do most of the calculating, but first you need to make a couple decisions – are you going to use one essential oil or two? And how strong would you like these fragrances to come across? Once you know the answer, you can use a Fragrance Calculator like the one on the Bramble Berry website to find out how much essential oil is safe to add to your soap. Every respectable soap making website will have one of these, and you should always use the calculator to figure out how much fragrance or essential oil to use.

-The input field will ask what kind of soap you are making – this is a Melt and Pour Soap recipe, and there are sixteen ounces in a pound.

-We went for a “Medium” fragrance range and added about 0.3 ounces of Siberian Fir Needle Essential Oil to our batch. Feel free to adjust according to your own preferences!

  1. Starting with our clean surface, our soap, and our soap cutter, we unwrap and cut the soap. You want to end up with small cubes that are roughly the same size. I start by cutting the one pound block into four sections.
  1. Then I cut each quarter in half to form two strips.
    1. And each strip into quarters.
  2. Once you’ve cut all your soap into cubes, put it in the pitcher and give yourself a hand.
  3. Now you need to take the soap to the microwave and start melting it down in 30 second intervals with your regular microwave heat setting. Check after each 30 seconds to see if your soap is melted properly. You don’t want to see any cubes left in the pitcher, but if you overcook your soap it will bubble up a lot. You want it to look something like the next picture. Ta-da! The soap in this pitcher has melted.
  4. Now to add essential oils and colorants! These are going to give your soap a lot of its character. Luckily, you followed Step Zero and calculated how much essential oil to add at this point, so you just pick up a pipette and carefully add your desired amount of essential oils to your batch, then stir.
  5. Add colorant one or two drops at a time, stirring as you go, until you get your desired color. I added about 8 drops of Da Bomb Red Dye. Try to mix slowly to avoid a lot of bubbles. Once the colorant and essential oils are added and thoroughly mixed together, it’s time to pour into our silicone mold.
  6. Make sure that you have your mold, the sea salt, and your spoon ready to go for the next part. Optional materials will be used during the pouring, too.
  • Start by pouring a small amount of soap into a mold cavity. Then pause and add a spoonful or two of sea salt.
  • Repeat this process: pour some soap, spoon some salt, until the cavity is full. A soap is poured!
  • Fill up all the cavities in your mold. If you have soap left over in your pitcher, you can save it for another batch later.
  • Now if you want, you can do the stuff that requires optional materials (or just skip to step 11). If you see any tiny bubbles that you don’t want on the back of the bar, spray a little bit of isopropyl alcohol on them and watch them pop away.
  • Now you need to wait between 4-6 hours for the soaps to set up in the mold. Try to keep the soap in an area that’s relatively dry or free from humidity, or you may end up with glycerine dewing (harmless drops of moisture on your soap that resemble sweat).
  • After 4 or 6 hours have passed, check to see if your soap is ready to unmold by gently tugging the silicone mold away from the side of the soap. If it releases with relative ease, it’s ready to go. If not, you might need to let it sit for a bit longer.
  • If the mold pulls away from one side easily, continue to release the soap by tugging all the sides first.
  • Remove the soap from the mold cavities!
  • You’ve now made a soap fit for a special (regicidal) Lady – congratulations! Any Shakespeare fan would be happy to lather with your lovely creation.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed taking a peek at what goes on behind the scenes at SaltCatSoap, and that you get a chance to visit the store. I have a lot of fun designing these, and we release new horror-inspired soap designs (and normal ones, too!) every first Saturday of the month. If you decide to stop on by, we’ll have Lady Macbeth Hand Soap waiting for you in our Soap to Scream For section, and plenty of cat stickers.

And finally, we have Robert Perez. Tell us a little about what you write and any upcoming projects you’d like to promote. 

My work is a tapestry of genres but horror is weaved throughout. Horror is my heart. I currently have something special shortlisted and something to look out for at the end of the year. Follow @_TheLeader on twitter for updates and come say hello!

What creepy craft or creation have you decided to share with us today? 

As a child I watched The Nightmare Before Christmas year round and have the movie lines memorized! As an adult I still cherish this movie! One of my favorite opening lines is from Oogie Boogie, “I am the shadow on the moon at night, filling your dreams to the brim with fright!” 

The idea of the Oogie Boogie costume coalesced because I wanted materials that would be cheap for construction and burlap was perfectly affordable. I already had a bunch of fake bugs stored away for Halloween that I liked to hide in candy bowls, so I planned on incorporating them in the design.

What instructions or tips do you have for our readers who might be interested in trying this craft for themselves?

The costume construction will require burlap (the amount of which varies depending on body type, but since Oogie Boogie is round the more the better)

Aluminum foil

Poster board or other robust cardboard

Fake bugs

Glue gun/ sewing machine/ needle and black yarn

I drew an overalls-like shape onto the burlap, and flared out the legs like a cartoon cowboy to emulate Oogie Boogie’s shape. The arm sleeves and mask I constructed separately. You can use a glue-gun, sewing machine, or needle and black yarn, whichever you feel comfortable using, however a glue-gun may be required to adhere the fake bugs. A black marker can draw stitches onto the burlap and emulate a hand stitched look. Get creative with the bug placement!

For the mask I first cut out an oval from the rigid cardstock. I then smashed a bunch of aluminum foil together to sculpt the face. Try to make Oogie Boogie’s hard brow and protruding mouth, then glue the back of the foil sculpt onto the cardstock oval. Next glue the burlap over the front of the foil mold pressing it into the crevasses for detail to create a truly awesome mask! Be careful when pressing the burlap over the hot glue as it can easily seep through and burn your fingers! The top of Oogie Boogie’s head has a cone line construction inside of which is a great place to hide a fake spider. Glue the spider to a thread of yarn and then glue the end of the yarn within the cone so that if you throw your head forward the spout will flop forward and the spider will dangle out.

Thank you so much to our three talented writers and creators for sharing your work with us this month! I hope it inspired you to create something new in honor of Halloween. 

Until next month, keep it crafty!

Angela Sylvaine is a self-proclaimed cheerful goth who still believes in monsters. Her debut novella, Chopping Spree, is available now. Her short fiction has appeared in multiple publications and anthologies, including Places We Fear to Tread and Not All Monsters. You can find her online angelasylvaine.com.

Special thanks to our logo creator, Maria Abrams abramstheauthor.com

Note: Due to an overwhelming response from talented creators, I am not currently accepting new submissions for Creepy Craft Corner. I will post here in the HWA newsletter and on Twitter when I reopen to submissions. 

Podcasts & the Oral Horror Tradition

By Shannon Lawrence

Horror has a long oral history, from fairy tales being passed down to keep children safe to the notorious radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, which sent people into a panic. Of course, it existed in one form or another long before that, with our cave dwelling ancestors likely telling tales around the fire to keep their children wary of the predators that waited with teeth and claws in the surrounding darkness. Even the monsters of Greek mythology started out as oral tradition before meeting pen and paper.

In our modern era, this is where podcasts come in. No more do people have to turn on the radio at a specific time to hear frightening stories. Podcasts can be streamed on phones and computers, making them conveniently portable and close to hand. They fill the insides of cars while people commute to work and filter through earbuds and headsets wherever there’s a signal. If someone won’t have access to the internet or wi-fi at a specific time, they can always download the next episode of their favorite podcast ahead of time and listen to it offline. While books and movies will always bring a strong current of horror, podcasts are entering their prime…and bringing horror with them.

To get to know some of our members’ podcasts, I asked two of our podcasters a few questions.

Our first podcaster is C.S.W., host of the Incarnation Read podcast.

Tell us about your podcast.

My podcast is called INCARNATION READ (pronounced “red”). It’s a horror anthology podcast of 20-30 minute fictional horror stories, all written, edited, and narrated by myself.

Where can it be found and how often do you post a new episode?

Incarnation Read is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, YouTube, Deezer, Pocket Casts, Breaker, Overcast, Radio Public, TuneIn, Podcast Addict, and Castbox. Episodes are uploaded once every other Saturday, with Season 2’s upcoming premiere slated for Halloween 2021.

What made you decide to start a podcast?

I feel that audio is one of the strongest mediums for eliciting fear, both in the story that is told and in the sounds that accompany it. In the scariest scenes of horror films, what a character hears is often the first thing that truly frightens them, so a podcast (being an audio-first art form), seems to me the perfect medium for such an emulation.

If you could give one reason why someone should listen to your podcast, what would it be?

I suppose it would be that with Incarnation Read, I try to avoid telling the listener a story, and instead make the listener experience the story, all through the use of sound design as a means of storytelling. So if you’re looking to be scared by the very sounds you are hearing, Incarnation Read is for you.

Are there any other horror/true crime podcasts you’d recommend?

My personal favorites are the podcasts Mabel, The Magnus Archives, and Knifepoint Horror.

You can find C.S.W. and the Incarnation Read podcast at the following links:

Website

Twitter: @CSW_Horror

Facebook

Instagram: @IncarnationRead

YouTube 

TikTok: @csw_horror

Our next interview is with Jeamus Wilkes, host of The Jeamus After Midnight Show.

Tell us about your podcast?

My podcast is The Jeamus After Midnight Show, and it covers heady, philosophical, and aesthetic topics in horror through interviews and discussions with horror creatives (writers, artists, poets, performers, and such). I have conversation-starting questions, but I also give the guest the freedom to talk about any of the horror genre things that pique their interest or affect them profoundly in some way. I have no time limit, though most episodes right now seem to be finishing at an hour and fifteen or an hour and thirty minutes.

Where can it be found and how often do you post a new episode? 

It can be found on Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, and on its base at Podbean. There’s also a handy little player in the left column of my Jeamus After Midnight blog. I’m easy to find in a Google search. The podcast stalled out in 2020, but I am about to drop several episodes soon after many hours in editing. After getting over the 2020 hiccup, I hope to post 2-3 episodes a month. If I can get a successful patreon/support campaign going, I hope to do it once a week. I’m obsessive about the audio presentation and editing of it. I have environment- and thematic-based ambient sounds coupled with tight editing throughout the episodes; I don’t just throw up episodes and slap music onto the beginning and end. It’s a creative project I take seriously that takes hours and hours. In the coming weeks and months I will also increase the podcast’s linkage to my baby, the Colorado Horror Channel.

What made you decide to start a podcast? 

Other podcasts that were inspiring, or provoked an inquisitive response in me to research the person, place, or thing they discussed. Other podcasts that were bombastic, annoying, and a bit too fannish helped me in knowing how I didn’t want to produce a podcast. I love having philosophical, spiritual, and deep dig discussions with other horror creatives, and decided to use that to help promote them and to also help selfishly scratch my horror-centric soapbox itch.

If you could give one reason why someone should listen to your podcast, what would it be? 

You will get inspired by many things in every episode you hear. You’ll want to chase down a million things you hear. I try to provide references in episode notes, but you may want to keep paper and pen at hand.

Are there any other horror/true crime podcasts you’d recommend? 

The Evolution of Horror is outstanding, and fun. Projections is an incredible podcast that tackles cinema from a psychoanalytic perspective, so naturally horror and horror-adjacency comes up quite often in its episode subjects and themes. The Burial Plot Podcast is new and great in its tone and theme. Josh’s Worst Nightmare is fascinating in its biological horror approach to discussions. Aside from those I randomly visit podcasts that have fiction committed to an audio presentation. I love storytelling. The original cut of the Creepy podcast episode, “1999,” (based on a creepy pasta posting) is one of the most frightening stories I’ve ever taken in.

You can find Jeamus and The Jeamus After Midnight Show at the following links:

Blog: jeamus.blogspot.com

Facebook: facebook.com/jeamuswilkes/

While not strictly horror, true crime podcasts have taken a popular place among the populace, with listeners enjoying (so to speak) stories about modern day bogeymen, the serial killers and murderers that decorate our headlines, now and in the past. Neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends have long talked in quiet voices about the weird guy down the street or the woman in the decrepit house. When their suspicions are proven out by real-life violence, there’s a satisfaction alongside a tingle of fear, and their eyes slide on to the next strange townsperson who poses a threat. For those who prefer their horror in true crime fashion, I also answered the questions about my true crime and paranormal podcast, Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem.

Tell us about your podcast.

My co-host, MB Partlow, and I do the Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem podcast, which features stories about true crime, the paranormal, cryptids, and random mayhem that catches our eye. All with a sense of humor.

Where can it be found and how often do you post a new episode?

We can be found pretty much everywhere you get your podcasts, including Apple, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Google, Stitcher, Amazon, Pandora, and our own website, mysteriesmonstersmayhem.com. We put up weekly episodes, and are in our second season.

What made you decide to start a podcast?

I’d been listening to a couple true crime podcasts when the pandemic started, and I thought, “I can do this!” When I contacted MB about it and asked if she wanted to start one of our own, where we could also discuss books, movies, and food, while getting to hang out and chat, she was all in. And a podcast was born. (After tons of research, of course.)

If you could give one reason why someone should listen to your podcast, what would it be?

While we cover a lot of the more popular topics, we also tend to include lesser known crimes, such as historical axe murders, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), the sordid origins of various sayings and myths, cryptozoological creatures, and haunted buildings and people. There was even an episode about a famous maple syrup heist. In other words, we mix things up and try to keep it fresh.

Are there any other horror/true crime podcasts you’d recommend?

The one that got me started was My Favorite Murder, followed closely by The Murder Squad. Small Town Dicks is another good one, as is the Macabre London Podcast.

You can find me (Shannon Lawrence) and Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem at the following links:

Shannon Lawrence author website

Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem website

Shannon Lawrence author Facebook

Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem Facebook

Shannon Lawrence Instagram

Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem Instagram

Shannon Lawrence Twitter

So tell us, do you have any favorite horror or true crime podcasts? Post them in the comments!

About the Author: A fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes primarily horror and fantasy. Her stories can be found in over forty anthologies and magazines, and her three solo horror short story collections, Blue Sludge Blues & Other Abominations, Bruised Souls & Other Torments, and Happy Ghoulidays are available now. You can also find her as a co-host of the podcast “Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem.” When she’s not writing, she’s hiking through the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there’s always a place to hide a body or birth a monster. Find her at http://www.thewarriormuse.com.


DEAREST by Shannon Lawrence

Copyright @ Shannon Lawrence. “Dearest” was originally published in Tales From the Moonlit Path (August 2019). This story may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express written permission.

DEAREST

by Shannon Lawrence

My Love,

            The need for your touch is a craving I cannot withstand. I hunger for you each moment we’re apart, imagining your tender hand upon my cheek, your soft, hungry lips upon mine. I want nothing more than to feel the hard lines of your body pressed against me. It won’t be long now until we’re together forever.

            I remember the first time I saw you, sitting at that bistro on the corner of Baptist and Red Oak, your chestnut hair haloed red and golden by the sunlight. You sat deep in conversation, eyes intent, leaning forward. No one could ever say you’re not a good listener.

            Then you smiled.

The first time that smile graced your lips it caressed my insides, stroked every single inch of me. I froze where I stood, letting the heat of you fill me, build to an eruption. You stole my heart in that moment, imprisoned it. We’re soulmates, the passage of time having only made this all the clearer to me.

Nobody can ever keep us apart. We are one.

            My memories have all been tied to you. There is no moment I remember without you in it somehow. You are the sun of my emotional solar system, the bright shining beacon that gets me through each day. My every need is fulfilled by you. I can’t imagine life being just me ever again.

It is you and me forever.

            There have been dark times through these many months. I’m the first to admit that things have not been perfect. Hard times have come and gone. Times I thought we’d be kept apart, that our bodies and minds would be forever estranged. We’ve made it through the bad, survived it and come out the other side. True love brought us through.

            You are my destiny. And I yours.

            Soulmates.

            Flowery words don’t forge relationships. You already know we’re meant to be together, though sometimes your behavior makes me wonder. At times you can be so aloof, so self-involved. I don’t understand why you do this to me, why this selfish beast tears forward from inside you. What have I done other than adore you?

            When you ignore me, fail to acknowledge my feelings for you, fail even to acknowledge me, my presence, it hurts more deeply than you could ever imagine. It shreds my soul, rips my heart out. I have ruined more pillows with the stains of my grief than you could possibly grasp. Love should not be buoyed by a sea of tears. It should be made of laughter, smiles, and kisses. I should be able to come to you when I hurt, not flee, hide, because it is you who hurts me.

            Through much soul searching, I know there’s only one way to fix this, to strip away the distractions and make us one soul as we should be.

I need to take care of Her.

I know all about you two. She may temporarily possess your heart, but it’s on loan from me. Always from me. You have allowed her to steal from me for the last time. I have given you time to work through this on your own, but it seems I allowed you too much rope. It has reached the point that I either let you hang yourself with it or save you from yourself.

And, my love, I cannot let you destroy yourself or us. I must do whatever it takes.

            I look at Her and see what it was that attracted you. Believe me, I do. She’s the type of woman they cast in movies, with a face meant to be on screens and billboards, and curves that would stop traffic. It’s true She bears more physical beauty than I do, but I can give you so much more than She can in the way of love, of consistency, of dedication. I am smarter than She will ever be, and you and I have more in common.

From that moment on the street corner you were mine.

Even as you sat across from Her, we became one.

            When you married Her, I thought I’d never breathe again. I watched, you know. The audience at these weddings is so big that anyone can lose themselves in the crowd. I sat in the back next to your great-aunt Sandy and her breathing apparatus, her wheezing a steady background to despicable vows being exchanged at the front of the church. It took everything within me not to kink that tube as I rolled it between my fingers, to let her suffocate, much as my heart was doing right then. But sense prevailed, and I held myself back. You should be thanking me. That old wretch begged for it, sobbing away, the scent of mothballs a suffocating cloud of putrescence around us.

            You put on a good show with those empty vows you spoke at the altar. That woman you call your wife ate it up, lapping at your voice like a dog at the water bowl. The dress was perfect, and She was flawless in it. I bet Her brain weighs half what a normal person’s does, and it showed in the vapid expression She fixed on you as you spoke those falsities, poisonous vows pouring from your tongue. I nearly threw up on your Uncle Gene, there in the pew ahead of me, his bald dome reflecting the church lighting like a beacon. How I wanted to eradicate that light, to crack his skull, to flail at anyone near me and kill the smiles they wore in their ignorance.

            You looked so handsome in your tuxedo. I want you to wear it when our time comes to wed. We’ll need to exorcise Her stink from it first. Then again, there’s probably no way to clean that off. We’ll find you an identical tuxedo instead. I don’t want a church wedding. Rather, a small wedding on a vineyard is my preference. Rolling hills of green, luscious grapes, the blue sky above us.

            Yes, we’ll make this right. She can take the baby with Her when She leaves, that devilish spawn. No child should be born of false love, but that will be Her problem, not ours. You and I will have our own children, products of real love. Forget that ugly, squalling little wretch. Who knew babies could be so hideous? Ours won’t be. They’ll have your hair and lips, and my nose and eyes. They’ll be healthy and quiet, not like that thing currently sleeping in its crib, snot-stained and foul. I hear it breathing, smell the spoiled milk odor it constantly exudes.

            It’s time for me to clean up this final mess, as I am always forced to do when it comes to you. I’m not sure you understand how much I do for you. How much time I’ve put into this relationship, what an investment I’ve made. It all seems so one sided when I think of everything I’ve done and how little you’ve given. A true relationship takes two, not one slaving away and the other taking advantage.

            That all changes soon.

            Tomorrow, we meet in person. I will finally get to touch your skin, feel that smile directed at me. It will be me you embrace, me you caress, me your voice strokes. I’ve waited all this time for you to look at me the way you look at Her, but without the deception. All this time I have been right here, sometimes inches from you, and you have looked right past me, ignored my presence. Surely you’ve seen me in all those public spaces. I can’t have been invisible to you, not really. You just had to act like I was so She wouldn’t know what existed between us.

            I’m sure it will be a relief for you to be able to stop play acting this way. You want me as much as I want you. I know this. Every touch from Her must feel like sandpaper across your skin. Every laugh must grate on your nerves the way it does on mine. The time for pretending is done. Your freedom awaits, along with our future together. The gods smile down upon us, urging us toward our destiny.

            You’ll know when the time is right, when the clock chimes the time of our first meeting on our anniversary tomorrow. I’m ready for you, for us. As I lie here in the spawn’s closet, listening to the sound of your voices downstairs, I steel myself against the false sounds of happiness, knowing that at every moment you await our meeting, that every touch and laugh is one you intend to share with me.

While neither of us wants it to come to this, I am prepared in case She fights to stay. How deliciously ironic that it may be Her own gardening tools that end Her life. And the baby, if it comes to that. If She dies, so must the baby. After all, we can’t move forward saddled with baggage from the heresy of your flawed relationship. It would be a curse upon us.

Wait for me tomorrow, dearest. For I will come for you once I have finished here, so that we may forge ahead with this love that was meant to be, released from the shackles that have held us for the past two years. Our destiny will be realized.

            All my love,

            The Woman of your Dreams.

A fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes primarily horror and fantasy. Her stories can be found in over forty anthologies and magazines, and her two solo horror short story collections, Blue Sludge Blues & Other Abominations and Bruised Souls & Other Torments are available from online retailers. When she’s not writing, she’s hiking through the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there’s always a place to hide a body or birth a monster. Find more at thewarriormuse.com.

Happy Ghoulidays
Family time can lead to murder and mayhem, especially during the holidays. A turkey with a tale to tell, elves under attack, sorority sisters putting on a killer party, a woman’s desperation to save her family, and a stranger ringing in the New Year. These and other tales of woe await you beneath the mistletoe.

Be careful who you offer a kiss. It may be your last.
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/49lnPX

THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE by Angela Sylvaine

Copyright @ Angela Sylvaine. “The Beautiful People” was originally published in Dark Moon Digest (January 2021). This story may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express written permission.

THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

by Angela Sylvaine

Emmeline hitched the tote bag up her shoulder and raced across the morgue’s tile floor, past row upon row of contestants. Two to four children worked at each station preparing their entries. Forgetting the supplies in the transport had cost Em and her sister valuable time.

“Took you long enough.” Brigitte snatched the bag from Em and dumped the contents on a wheeled metal table.

Em pushed her sweat dampened curls from her forehead and cinched the ill-fitting pants of her scrubs tighter. “I ran as fast as I could.”

“Get started on her nails, then.” Brigitte plugged the air supply unit into an outlet set flush into the floor.

“Everyone else’s entries are so young,” Em said in a harsh whisper.

“Exactly. We’ll get extra points for difficulty.”

Em cast a glance over her shoulder at the contestants beside them. The three siblings seemed focused on their own corpse, a handsome young man in his early twenties. She hoped Brigitte’s idea to use an airbrush to decorate their entry would be enough to push them over the top. It had cost them each a full week’s worth of food in trade.

Em rolled her stool closer to the metal table where their elderly woman laid, hands crossed over her midsection. She looked so peaceful, like she could be asleep. Em had always wished for a grandmother, a kind older woman to comfort and protect her, and said, “I’m going to call her Oma.”

Brigitte shrugged and mixed brown colorant with water in a small glass jar and attached it to the airbrush.

Em wrinkled her nose. “That color is ugly.”

“It’s used to create shadows, like contouring. She’ll look more alive this way.” Brigitte raised an eye brow. “Nails?”

Em grabbed a bottle of glitter lacquer and pulled one of the old woman’s hands closer, cringing at the resistance of her stiff joints and the feel of her cold, papery skin. Em should be used to it by now, given her caste, but death still upset her.

“You’ve got this, Emmy.” Brigitte gave Em’s shoulder a squeeze. “You’re stronger than you think.”

Em straightened and gave a firm nod. She had to be tough now, like Brigitte. This was their only chance to get out of Lowtown. If they won, they would live in one of the glass towers and have beds to lie on instead of dirt floors. They’d be able to sleep the whole night through, never having to take turns or keep watch. Em wouldn’t even need her little homemade knife, the one she’d used to stab the boys who’d tried to hurt Brigitte. 

Em unscrewed the bottle of lacquer and leaned close to apply a layer to each nail.

A loud alarm sounded, silencing the children’s chatter, followed by a voice. “Sixty minutes remaining until judging.”

#

Em gripped Brigitte’s hand, too hard, but her big sister didn’t let go.

“I hope they appreciate our creativity,” Em said. “Maybe we should have done something more traditional.”

“She’s a tribute to the Matriarch. They’ll love it,” Brigitte said.

Still clothed in their scrubs, the sisters joined the rest of the contestants in the fiftieth-floor ballroom, where they filed onto a set of bleachers against the far wall. The room itself was spectacular, boasting a huge crystal chandelier, jeweled sconces on the walls, and three hundred and sixty degree windows offering a view of Uptown Em had never seen before.

Lowtown was a jumble of wood and corrugated metal shacks crowded along dirt roads isolated beyond the wall. Here, she was surrounded by shimmering glass and metal structures, skyscrapers Brigitte called them, rising up in every direction. Lights twinkled in the buildings and scattered across the ground far, far below like a blanket of stars. Em gazed out at the city scape, trying to commit it to memory. Just in case.

After all the children were seated, the double doors of the ballroom opened to let in men in brightly colored tuxedos, orange for the Clergy, green for the Financiers, blue for the Soothers, and so on, and women in gowns adorned with all manner of sequins, feathers, and beads, again in the colors that matched their station. Many carried glasses of Froth, a pinkish bubbly liquid Em had heard stories of but had never seen or tasted.

The crowd applauded as figures began to descend from the blackened cavity of the ceiling. There must have been cables suspending each entry, but they were so thin the bodies looked to be floating. They stopped their descent just a few feet from the floor, and were left to hover, like angels without wings.

A small group of men and women emerged from the larger crowd, each with a white orchid pinned to their collar. The judges.

“Where is she? Do you see her?” Brigitte asked.

Em craned her neck, trying to locate Oma. The other bodies were dressed in the finest clothes and made up to look as if they still lived and breathed, but there, at the center, Oma stood out among the rest, sparkling and reminiscent of royalty.

“How long do you think they’ll take?” Em asked, conversely wanting to get the judging over with and to drag out this night as long as possible.

“It’ll be okay, Emmy.” Bridgette put her arm around Em’s shoulders. “No matter what happens, we still have each other.”

Em blew out a breath, focused on the spectators. She’d never seen a single person who was so beautiful, much less an entire crowd.

A murmur ran through the bleachers as the hanging bodies began to move. One by one they were lifted up and away, disappearing into the ceiling, dwindling the selection from several dozen to just six.

Spot lights illuminated the remaining entries.

Em leapt to her feet. Oma still hovered near the center of the ballroom floor.

All around them, children began to cry. Their entries hadn’t made it. Em’s stomach twisted at the hopelessness in their cries, knew this was all they’d ever see of the city of light.

“Contestants 2, 7, 15, 22, 23, and 31, please take your places beside your entries.”

Em followed Brigitte down the bleacher stairs on legs so shaky it was a miracle she could even walk, but she managed it. They were so close now.

She huddled at her sister’s side as they reached Oma. Brigitte had been the one to suggest they choose the elderly woman to showcase their potential as Preservers, but it had been Em who came up with the designs, reminiscent of the ornate jewelry worn by the Matriarch. Em had pored over the pages of every newspaper she could find, each one sure to have at least one picture of their sublime ruler.

The lights played off the silver scrollwork they’d stenciled around Oma’s eyes, down her neck, across the backs of her hands. The jeweled barrettes they’d used to fasten back Oma’s snow-white hair sparkled under the lights, only outmatched by the silver snakeskin fabric of Oma’s wrap dress.

A man clad in the purple suit of a Decanter stopped to admire their work. “How old was the specimen?” He looked down at them with eyes the exact shade of his suit.

“Oma was eighty-three,” Em said, beaming. 

“Remarkable.” He sipped his Froth and moved on to the next corpse.

The sisters watched and waited as the judges inspected each entry, until they seemed to reach an agreement and called all the remaining contestants to the front. Em wiped her palms on her pants and tried to look as calm as Brigitte. They stood with the other children, twenty of them in all, waiting for the judge’s final decision.

The man in the purple suit touched a button on his collar, activating a hidden microphone. “We had some outstanding entries, but one stood out among the rest as a demonstration of the true beauty that can be achieved in death.” He paused and looed out over the crowd. “Entry 7.”

Em threw herself into her sister’s arms. They’d done it. Everything would be different now.

The remaining contestants were led, sobbing, from the room. Belonging to the Death caste, this had been a once in a lifetime chance to rise up, to become an Uptowner. A Preserver spot was only offered once per decade. Now, the children would return to Lowtown, to the violence and rot, where they’d become Diggers or Cutters. Em felt a flash of pity, then it was gone. She and Brigitte had earned this new life.

“Well done, children. Well done.” The man ushered them forward as the crowd clapped and cheered.

“Thank you, sir.” Em gripped her sister’s arm to stay standing.

The man raised his hand and the applause died. “There is one last challenge you must undertake so we may decide which of you will stay.” His eyes shone with excitement.

“What?” Em asked. “Our entry won, we earned this. Both of us.”

 A tittering wave of laughter rolled through the crowd. Em glared out at the beautiful people, whose faces had cracked and twisted into cruel smiles.

The man held out a vial filled with a vibrant blue liquid. “We must also test that you can preserve the young. One of you will die, and the other will preserve them.”

Em looked at Brigitte. She’d fix this. She’d know what to do.

Her big sister had gone completely still, completely white, as if she were one of the corpses.

“We’ll go back then. Just send us back,” Em said. They’d return to Lowtown, but at least they’d still be together, still have each other.

“I’m afraid that isn’t an option. If you refuse to choose, then both of you will be executed.”

Em began to tremble, all the muscles in her body protesting. She eyed the vial sitting in the evil man’s palm and willed herself to reach out and grab it. Her body was frozen, unable and unwilling to follow her commands, and before she could force herself to move Brigitte snatched the vial, pulled out the stopper, and tipped the blue liquid down her throat.

“No!” Em screamed, lunging for her sister, but one of the beautiful women wrapped an arm around Em’s chest and held her tight. 

Brigitte frowned, licking her lips. “It’s sweet.”

“The choice has been made.” The man in purple swung on his heel to stare at Em.

Em felt a sting in her shoulder and cried out. She looked back at the woman, who now held a syringe in her hand.

“What was that?” Em whispered.

“Just a little paralytic mixed with pain killers. Won’t hurt a bit, dear.”

Brigitte grabbed the man’s arm. “But I volunteered.”

The man in purple laughed, a booming sound that hurt Em’s ears. “We don’t want cowards.”

Em slumped to the floor. I’m going to die, she thought. Tears burned her eyes, scorched a path down her face.

“I’m so sorry, Emmy. I didn’t know.” Brigitte fell to her knees and clasped Em’s hand.

Em hugged her sister. She was the smart one, the pretty one, the brave one. Brigitte deserved to live. And now Em had to be strong.  “Promise you’ll make me look pretty?

“I promise.” Brigitte choked out the words before someone grabbed her, pulled her away.

She was one of the beautiful people now.

The muscles in Em’s body began to stiffen and she struggled to breathe. Fear spiked in her veins, then swam away on a stream of whatever drugs they’d given her. She felt weightless, carefree.

In the back, hovering above the crowd, Oma watched.

And Emmeline joined the angels without wings.

Angela is a self proclaimed cheerful goth who still believes in monsters. Her short fiction has appeared in many publications and anthologies, including Places We Fear to Tread and What One Wouldn’t Do. A North Dakota girl transplanted to Colorado, she lives with her sweetheart and three creepy cats on the front range of the Rockies. You can find her online angelasylvaine.com.

Angela Sylvaine’s debut novella, Chopping Spree, is available now. This fast-paced, fun tribute to slashers, the 1980’s, and mall culture is the perfect fall read. Pick up your copy now in paperback, kindle, or kindle unlimited at Amazon

SERPENT’S REST by J. A. Campbell

Copyright @ J. A. Campbell. “Serpent’s Rest” was originally published in Heat of the Midday Sun: Stories From the Weird, Weird West (October 2015). This story may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express written permission.

SERPENT’S REST

by J. A. Campbell

A noose swayed gently above my head, borne by a breeze which only offered more debilitating heat. It hung from a large tree full of leaves that branched out and cast glorious, wonderful shade. Shade that ended feet from where I lay.

Sunlight pounded me. I felt my skin drying up and crisping. Even where the remains of my shredded clothing covered me, my body broiled. My lips parched and water lay so close I could smell it. So close, yet so out of reach.

Desperate, I shifted my hand, but stilled at chilling buzz. Shifting my gaze down from the tree and its shade, I stared at my stomach. Or rather I stared at the coiled snake sunning on my stomach. Black soulless eyes stared at my face as its tongue flicked in and out of its angular mouth. I moaned softly, and a sound like the rustle of dry leaves answered.

The snake slithered closer to my face. Its flesh, the first coolness I’d experienced in hours, raised chilblains on my bared bosom. Every sinew of my body tightened like plucked bowstrings. I struggled not to shiver knowing the slightest movement would bring a venomous death.

Certain death at the hands of a rattlesnake or the possibility of a slower death by dehydration. If I survived the day, well, I still had to survive the night.

***

“Juniper Rue, you are hereby charged with witchcraft and will be taken by prison cart to Philadelphia to stand trial.”

I couldn’t believe the hunter’s words. Witchcraft? This wasn’t the 1600’s anymore. Did people still get persecuted for witchcraft? Why didn’t my neighbors standing for me? The ones I’d healed with a bit of innocent herbal knowledge. Sure, I really was a witch, but no one knew that. Sheriff Clancy leaned against a post not twenty feet from where I stood, bound by the hunter’s strong-arm man. Meeting his eyes, I entreated him to interfere. This was beyond ridiculous. He looked away, kicked the ground with his boot, then walked back toward the saloon.

They couldn’t do this to me!

Wracking my brain, I tried to think of a way to escape. I wasn’t the type of witch who could cast spells and fry people with lightning. I wasn’t sure witches like that existed, though it would be handy right about now. Before I could do much than voice a wordless protest, the strong-arm tossed me in the back of a prison cart with two other women and we clattered away from my hard-won life. I hoped someone would go out and feed the chickens.

***

After two torturous days, I finally dared to talk to my traveling companions. One, a woman with skin dark as oak bark I’d met once from a town not to far from where I’d lived was an herbalist, like me, but she wasn’t a witch. Rumor was that she’d failed to save a sick child and that brought the witch hunter down on her. Even I, with my magic, couldn’t save everyone. The other woman, pale-skinned like me, but dark haired where I was blond, I didn’t know. She knelt for hours at a time, eyes shut, hands clasped in front of her, as if she prayed but at times she muttered a quiet word and I could feel magic rolling off of her, prickling against my skin like the sting from a nettle.

Shortly after she sank back into a cross-legged position, and opened her eyes, I told them my name.

“I’m Juniper.”

“Sarah,” the dark woman whispered back.

“Constance,” the other witch said after a moment.

“Quiet back there!” Our jailor pounded on the wooden roof of our prison.

Wincing, I fell silent.

“It won’t be long,” Constance breathed, a feral gleam in her eyes.

***

The rolling cage imprisoning us had nothing to ease the ride, though the hunter and his strong arm didn’t seem to mind the bouncing. Shackled hand and foot, with nothing to brace myself except the bars of the cage, I felt every bounce and jolt. At the beginning of the journey I had thought it would be nice to have sides on our cage to protect us from the weather. Now I was glad for the open construction. The heat was unbearable and though no breeze blew, at least we weren’t baking in a wooden box. I was certain we all smelled horrible, but I couldn’t tell at this point.

“Where are you taking us?” I couldn’t remain silent any longer.

“There’s a bounty for witches,” the strong-arm cackled. “They’ll burn you good.”

“Quiet,” the hunter snarled. “We’re doing God’s work.” His voice took on a pious quality that make me think he actually believed that.

“God’s work or the devil’s, don’t matter to me… just as long as I get paid, and I like to see’em burn.”

“Burn?” Sarah gasped. “We haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Witches area an abomination. You’ll be put to the death, as is proper,” the hunter answered. He spoke as if he talked of the weather, not our lives. “Now, be quiet.”

“I’m not a witch!” Sarah wailed.

He pounded on the roof of the jail box.

Dust, bitter with the sweat of countless prisoners, sprinkled from cracks in the boards, making me cough.

Tears streamed from Sarah’s eyes. Constance winked when I glanced at her. I felt too numb to react. The heat dragging everything out of me.

I prayed for rain.

The sun beat down on us.

***

“It’s time.” Constance smiled before closing her eyes, as if in prayer again.

Sarah and I shared a glance before looking out of our cage. We saw more of the same. Miles and miles of endless grasslands. The sun hovered in the eastern sky, not quite past morning yet.

I pressed my head against the bars and tried to see what lay in front of us. I thought I saw trees. Trees meant water. Maybe there was a river. If they let us out, I would try to drown myself.

“Time for what?” Sarah asked.

“Quiet!” More pounding on our jail.

Constance winked.

I stared out the side of the wagon, wondering what would happen. I’d felt her magic, and wondered what she’d done.

“Boss, ain’t this Gaol? What’er we doing here?”

The hunter swore. “Wasn’t on our route.”

My blood chilled. Gaol. The execution town. Many people had died, some rightfully, many wrongfully, in this wretched place. They said none living survived the night in the abandoned town. Vengeful spirits stalked the darkness, howling like cyclones stealing souls with the very sound. 

They first chose this place to hang cattle rustlers because it had strong, tall trees—a rarity on the plains. As the crude cemetery filled, it just seemed to be a good spot to continue the killing. No one lived in Gaol. No one came here anymore. I’d thought the place a legend, like so many other dark tales whispered at night. I’d thought wrong.

***

I wanted to sleep, wanted to move, wanted to crawl to the shade mere feet away, but the rattler on my stomach prevented all of that. I had to breathe. It was the only movement I dared make. At some point, madness would drive me to reach for the water container that lay near me, but not yet. For the moment, I retained control.

Again, I wished for the type of magic that would let me call the water to me. Magic that would allow me to ask the snake to kindly remove itself from my stomach so I could get out of the sun. Unfortunately, all I could do was heal. Turning that power inward, I tried to relieve some of my suffering. I wasn’t sure how well it worked.

Trying to keep myself from passing out, and potentially angering the rattler, I turned my eyes back to the noose swinging from the hanging tree. As I stared my eyes blurred and the ground lurched underneath me though there was no possible way it actually moved. I shut my eyes and tried not to vomit. Mustn’t disturb the serpent.

Part of Gaol’s legend was the noose. Always ready, always swinging, as it did today, even in still air. So many had died in this place. Some of them earlier today.

***

While the hunter and his strong-arm argued over how best to go around town, Constance again gathered magical energy to her and chanted quietly.

“Turn the cart!” the hunter snarled at his strong-arm.

“I’m trying,” he whined.

“Give me that.”

Reins smacked against horseflesh. One of the horses neighed nervously but the cart didn’t turn.

“Damn it,” the hunter shouted.

Leather cracked against flesh.

The horses squealed.

The cart lurched as the horses screamed. I pictured them rearing in their traces, eyes rolling, foam lathering where leather rubbed flesh.

The hunter snapped his whip.

Wood cracked as hooves struck the cart. The wagon lurched again and the horses bolted.

I couldn’t prevent myself from striking the hot, sweaty bodies of my fellow captives as we bounced around in the lurching cart. Blood flowed from a wound on Sarah’s shoulder. Constance’s magic prickled over me, stinging anytime I touched her. A jolt threw me into the bars, and I cracked my head. Dazed, I heard a massive crack and then it seemed like I flew through the air before everything went dark.

I didn’t truly sleep. Though I was unconscious, I thought I felt what went on around me. Wild magic screamed around me, tearing at everything in its path. I felt the chaotic energy interact with the auras of the horses. One managed to free itself from its traces and bolt. The other, trapped by the heavy cart, thrashed until it lay exhausted.

The hunter was dead, buried under the cart as was Sarah. Briefly, I mourned her death. The strong-arm lay unconscious like me and Constance had vanished. A miasma of putrescent colors seeped from the ground, riled up by whatever Constance had done to wreck the cart. It snaked counter-clockwise around the tree, caressing its bark, before pulsating toward the graveyard, and sinking into the ground.

With that, my extra awareness fled and I slept. Sometime later, not knowing how much time passed, I cracked open my eyes.

Bared fangs and a heart-stopping buzz greeted me.

***

Slowly the sun crept across the sky. Apparently not understanding that his perch required water and shade, the snake barely moved, except when I tried to. Desperate for liquid, my hand inched toward the container, chains clinking and pulling slightly across my chest. It was just visible at the edge of my vision. I made it an inch, two, before the snake buzzed its rattles.

Exhausted and defeated, I gave up. I would dehydrate to death, all the while praying the snake would move.

At first, I had hoped the sun would go behind the big hanging tree and provide me with relief, but I’d fallen on the wrong side, and the heat only grew more intense as the afternoon wore on.

I felt like my skin had turned black, seared to a crisp and about to flake away like charred bacon. Unable to move my head to see, I had to believe that my meager healing energy kept it from burning completely.

My eyes burned. Dry, no moisture available for tears. I wanted to keep them shut and protect them from the sun, but if I left them closed for too long, I started to drift off to sleep. Fearing the snake more than sun blindness, I alternated between briefly resting them and blearily staring at the hanging noose.

To occupy my mind, I tried to think of the legends of the town. Mostly stories of people entering and not returning. I’d join their number if the snake didn’t remove itself from its perch soon.

As the shadows lengthened, I lost my battle with sleep. When I woke next, it was full dark, though by the weight on my abdomen, the serpent still nestled there. For a while the cool air relieved my sun-baked skin, but as the air continued to chill, goosebumps broke out, and I feared what would happen if I started to shiver. The snake dealt with my breathing, it would have to deal with the shivering, too. Or so I told myself.

My eyes, dry and feeling full of sand, wouldn’t focus in the starlight. I could still make out the darker patch of the hanging tree, but the pinprick stars in the sky blurred to my tired eyes.

While I couldn’t see well, I could hear, and smell. The water container was still close. I wanted to wet my tongue, which currently stuck to my mouth, and dribble cool moisture on my cracked lips.

An owl hooted nearby, and the leaves of the hanging tree rustled.

The slight breeze grew stronger and the owl stopped making noise, either gone or quiet, I didn’t know. A low moan, at first blending with the wind, then rising above its quiet noise filled the night.

My heart raced, and I shut my eyes, willing it all to go away. With my eyes shut, I could feel the magical energies pulsed around me. The strong-arm, still lying near the wagon, stirred. The downed horse thrashed once before going still again.

Restless spirits grabbed at the energy of the wind combined with the magic. They used it to pull themselves from the ground.

Terrified of what I sensed with my eyes shut, I snapped them open and stifled a scream. A man stood over me, shotgun in hand, nasty sneer on his face. My tired eyes must have been worse than I thought, because he glowed in the darkness, the only reason I could make out his features.

The snake buzzed urgently, but the man didn’t react, as if he couldn’t see the creature. This time the serpent wasn’t looking at me when it rattled and I was too terrified of  what the man would do, to worry about the snake. It was a known danger.

Where had he come from?

I heard someone grunt and shuffle before collapsing to the ground.

The man above me stepped over me as if I weren’t there.

“Hey, who are you?” The strong-arm slurred.

I heard no answer until the strong-arm squealed in fear. I thought I smelled urine, and the man screamed before falling silent.

This was too much for the horse, and it tried again to free itself. Thrashing violently in the tangle of its harness and the wagon, it too screamed before falling silent.

The moan grew in strength until the wind whipped around me, stinging me with dust from the ground and making the giant tree bend and sway.

Clenching my eyes shut to keep the grit out of them, I didn’t see what happened next, but I smelled and heard everything.

Voices laughed, though I couldn’t make out any words. Cracking timbers made me think of something tearing the wagon to bits. After a time I heard crackling flames and smelled roasting meat. Stew?

More laughter, though anytime the laughter drifted near, the snake buzzed. Wind continued to whip around me, and I worried about the fire setting the grasslands aflame. I wondered who cooked and who laughed and why they didn’t see me on the ground and help me.

The moaning wind grew louder and the laughter more boisterous and fear chilled me as I remembered the story of one man hung at Gaol.

The Cannibal.

He’d had a gang. All human eaters.

I seemed to recall that burnt human flesh smelled like pork or sometimes beef.

My stomach turned and I wanted to heave.

As I moved, the snake buzzed and I felt its attention return to me. What would be worse, being eaten or dying from snakebite? I didn’t want to find out, so I lay still again.

My heart raced against my chest, and I prayed for daylight.

At some point, exhausted from the heat of the day, and the tension of the evening, I fell into a deep sleep, despite the sounds of laughter and the smell of cooked food.

When I woke again, the snake had gone and the first rays of dawn lightened the eastern sky.

Hardly able to believe what happened, I twisted my head, looking for the snake. It was nowhere to be seen.

Struggling to my feet, I grasped for the water container laying nearby. Gulping the stale liquid, I hoped I wouldn’t make myself sick as I sucked it all down. Once my thirst abated, I noticed the first real miracle I’d ever experienced. My chains had vanished. Elated, I clutched the empty container as I struggled to my feet. There might be a well, though I wasn’t sure I wanted to drink any water that came from Gaol.

The events of the night before flashed through my mind as I staggered, trying to find my balance.

A small campfire lay nearby and lying next to it, burnt bones.

Human bones.

The poor horse, dead, still lay in its traces, untouched. The wagon contributed to the fire. I saw no other bodies, though I had sensed Sarah and the hunter crushed beneath the wagon’s weight.

Not sure where I was going, I staggered away from town. I might die on the plains, but I wasn’t about to spend another night in Gaol.

When Julie is not writing she’s often out riding horses, or working sheep with her dogs. She lives in Colorado with a handful of cats, some sheep, Kira and Bran her border collies, her Arabian endurance horses Triska and Cavalier, and her Irish Sailor. She is the author of many Vampire and Ghost-Hunting Dog stories, the Tales of the Travelers series, and many other young adult books. Her passions include horses, writing about horses, dogs and writing about dogs. She writes fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and all related genres. She’s a member of the Horror Writers Association, and Science Fiction Writers of America. Find more at www.writerjacampbell.com.

This anthology features deadly romances that cross-examine the nature and meaning of love.

One story examines emotions through an extraterrestrial’s eyes as an alien meets humans for the first time. The darkest aspects of humanity are revealed when the fantasy of their love is threatened. In contrast, we witness a man haunted by the memory of his flame, yearning to connect with her—even if it’s only a delusion. We also discover a woman who is prepared to die over and over again for an immature infatuation, but is her lover devoted enough to follow?

Let your mind wander to the dark places and share your horror love stories about relationships gone wrong.

Purchase Dark Dispatch Issue #2: Deadly Love HERE.

TED E. HAMSTER by Sam Knight

Copyright @ Sam Knight. “Ted E. Hamster” was originally published in Freakend Madness (February 2015). This story may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express written permission.

TED E. HAMSTER

by Sam Knight

Ted E. Hamster was a fat, fuzzy, waddling teddy bear hamster, and my seven-year-old daughter, Melody, thought he was the cutest thing ever. She made me buy the little ball of golden fur on the spot. It was my fault for trying to be a good father and taking her to the Animal Rescue. After her elementary school decided to sponsor the shelter, she said all of the kids kept talking about going there, and I didn’t want her to feel left out.

Besides, who expects to find rodents in an animal rescue? If only we had been ten minutes later … some poor sap was asking about hamsters just as we were walking out.

When we got home, Melody got on eBay and picked out the biggest, most elaborate contraption of plastic tubes for him to live in that she was able to find.

I couldn’t tell her no.

She’d wanted a pet since she was old enough to ask, but dogs weren’t allowed in our small apartment. There was no place to walk one anyway. My wife, Anne, was allergic to cats, so those were out. And fish just aren’t cuddly.

So, we got a hamster.

At first it wasn’t a big deal. Ted lived in his plastic tubular castle and slept the daylight hours away. When Melody was home, she would take him out and let him sit on her shoulder as she lounged in front of her bookcase and re-read the Harry Potter books. Sometimes she put him in the clear plastic ball and watched him waddle his four-legged penguin walk, rolling it all around the apartment. She even had a ball of yarn she teased Ted with. He chased it like a kitten.

Nights were a different story though.

My nights were hell.

Ted rattled around inside his cage incessantly while I was trying to sleep. I don’t know why it didn’t bother Melody or Anne, but they slept right through it.

I couldn’t.

The little plastic wheel built into the side of the cage had a particularly unholy squeak that set my soul on edge. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I’d get up and wander around our little apartment. Eventually I always ended up looking into my daughter’s room, where the noises came from.

Melody used a black light for a nightlight, and although Ted turned dark in the light, he was easy to spot in the glowing neon tubes making up his castle. As soon as I peeked into the room, Ted froze, his beady little black eyes locked on me, reflecting the purple light back eerily.

We would stare at each other.

The first few times this happened, I was just tired, but as time went on, I began to glare hatred at Ted. Flat out hatred. He glared the same at me. You would think I was just having projection issues, thinking the little rodent hated me because I hated him. But he really did hate me, I know it. And every night he woke me up with that ungodly squeak squeak squeak of that damned plastic wheel, I hated him more.

Eventually I stopped going into my daughter’s room. I felt guilty looking in with something less than fatherly love and concern. And I didn’t like actively hating anything as much as I hated Ted.

Worse, I’m ashamed to admit, Ted scared me. I couldn’t believe something so small was capable of emanating so much palpable animosity back at me.

I tried using spray lubricant on his wheel one day when Melody wasn’t home. I didn’t want her to be afraid the oily stuff would make Ted sick. It was all I could do to stick my hand inside the plastic cage. Ted stared at me the whole time, and all I could think about was him biting me. Sharp pain, big red bead of blood on my finger….

 I knew that’s what he wanted. I could see it in his eyes.

The spray didn’t work. It made things worse. Apparently, it is good for everything but polycarbonate plastic. The squeak got louder.

I checked the pet stores and the internet. Turns out you can’t replace the wheel without replacing the whole damned castle, and I couldn’t even find another one of those.

My nights grew longer as I refrained from roaming. Instead, I stayed in bed and fantasized about horrible things happening to Ted. I would imagine ‘accidentally’ knocking over his cage while vacuuming, and, with a flup noise, Ted would vanish into the machine. I envisioned incidents involving toasters, microwaves, blenders, toilets, and open doors.

It became my nightly routine. I would lie down, wait for the squeaking to start, and try to come up with the perfect hamster murder. I had given up on accidents I knew would never happen; no cat would ever sneak in and get Ted, he wasn’t going to get stomped on by a fat aunt who was afraid of mice, and no bald eagle was going to spot him through the open window and dive bomb his castle.

 My musings always ended at the thought of Melody in tears over her lost baby. There was nothing I found more distressing than my daughter in pain.

Except possibly that squeaky wheel.

It drove me insane, all night, every night. Squeak, squeak, squeak.

Until it stopped.

My eyes opened wide. Ted never stopped.

Wait.

Yes he did.

He stopped when I looked into the room.

He stopped to stare at me, to shoot his little rodent hatred at me through his nasty little black eyes. It had been so long since I’d looked into Melody’s room at night, I’d forgotten the sound of the silence as the abhorrence hung in the air between us.

My ears strained at the silence in the house.

What was going on? Had the hateful little fuzzball died of a heart attack? I almost smiled at the thought.

Then I heard something. A very small scratching sound.

Had Ted finally found a way out of the castle? I did smile at the hope Ted might fall into the toilet.

But then I had a darker thought.

Ted might be coming after me. 

Had he spent night after night running on his little wheel trying to figure out how to off Melody’s old man so he could have her all to himself? Ludicrous! —a hamster trying to figure out a way to kill me.

Well, why not? I spent my nights trying to figure out how to kill him. I had projected so much hatred at him that he had learned to send it back at me when I stood in Melody’s doorway. They say animals can sense things. If that were true, surely Ted knew my feelings and reciprocated them. There was no way to be aware of that much animosity and not feel it in return, if for no other reason than self-preservation.

Then I heard the other sound.

I didn’t know what the noise was. It was muffled, hidden from me, but it didn’t belong in my house. It was a foreign sound, one that set my hair on end.

Gritting my teeth, I got out of bed silently.

More skittering noises. Ted’s little clawed feet on the hardwood floor, I was sure. It was easy to imagine him running around on the floor in my mind’s eye, but that didn’t fit the sounds. There was something more….

I heard footfalls upon the floor and realized Melody must have woken up. She must have taken Ted out of his cage for some reason.  My relief melted over me like a liquid blanket. How could I have been so silly as to think Ted had gotten out on his own and was planning to kill me?

I quit trying to sneak and walked down the hallway to Melody’s room. Her light was still off, but her black light was more than enough to see by. More than enough to tell the glowing neon castle lid was open. And more than enough to make out the man who stood in the middle of the room.

His eyes were wide, the black light making the whites luminous. He brandished a long knife, the blade flashing in the purple light as he twisted back and forth, looking around for something on the ground. He hadn’t noticed me.

I panicked. “Melody!”

The man looked up. Under the black light, his skin was purple, and his eyes and teeth glowed in a terrible grimace. He lunged at me, but his feet betrayed him. Yarn had been wrapped around his ankles, tying them together, and he fell, face first onto the wooden floor with a thump that shook the room.

Melody sat up in bed and screamed the ear-splitting shriek of a little girl.

I braced myself to leap past the man and protect my daughter.

“Damn hamster! I’ll kill you yet!” The man cursed from the floor, wildly brandishing his blade at the darkness around him.

 Before I could get past him and grab Melody, her bookcase rocked forward and came crashing down onto the intruder’s head. The sharp blade fell from his limp fingers as his body jerked once, twice, and was still.

A small, quick, black shape appeared at his shoulder. I saw beady eyes flash purple hatred and sharp little white teeth gnashed at the man’s ear, drawing a shiny, dark drop of blood. Ted hopped off the man’s shoulder and turned to glare at me for a moment.

I watched in disbelief as he did his slow little penguin waddle back to his castle, climbed in, shut the lid, and resumed his nightly routine.

Squeak, squeak, squeak.

A Colorado native, Sam Knight spent ten years in California’s wine country before returning to the Rockies. When asked if he misses California, he gets a wistful look in his eyes and replies he misses the green mountains in the winter, but he is glad to be back home.
As well as having worked for at least three publishing companies, Sam is author of six children’s books, five short story collections, three novels, and over five dozen short stories, including two media tie-ins co-authored with Kevin J. Anderson: Wayward Pines: Aberration (Kindle Worlds, 2014) and Of Monsters and Men, Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone (Titan, 2016). Find more at http://samknight.com/.

Down a forgotten hallway lie rooms no one has entered.

Each room contains a world waiting to be explored.

Some beautiful and full of wonder, other dark and full of terrors.

You won’t know which until you step inside.

So take a deep breath, and open the door…

Featuring stories by Elmdea Adams, Jen Bair, David Boop, J.T. Evans, Todd Fahnestock, Arlen Feldman, Shannon Fox, Jessica Guernsey, Sam Knight, Chris Mandeville, Kim May, John D. Payne, Wayland Smith, Stephannie Tallent, and Marie Whittaker

Purchase Particular Passages HERE.

Correction–CEREMONY

If you are reading the short stories in the Spooky Showcase, you might have noticed that the first paragraph of THE STAGES OF MONSTER GRIEF by Carina Bissett was similar to the first paragraph of CEREMONY by Saytchyn Maddux-Creech. So, about that…

There are not similar. They are exactly the same. When setting the templates for the short story publications, that first paragraph from Bissett’s story slipped through the cracks. However, it’s been fixed, and now you can read CEREMONY in it full and unfragmented form HERE. Sorry about that! — Carina

THE STAGES OF MONSTER GRIEF by Carina Bissett

Copyright @ Carina Bissett. “The Stages of Monster Grief: A Guide for Middle-Aged Vampires” was originally published in Coffin Blossoms (October 2020). This story may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express written permission.

THE STAGES OF MONSTER GRIEF

by Carina Bissett

Ladies, you may have dreamed of a day when you no longer have to “age gracefully” or are forced into obscurity by a wardrobe filled with basic neutrals. You look in the mirror only to be confronted with sagging skin, pebbled cellulite, and wrinkles in places you never expected. You start to wonder if you’ll be old and alone forever. A little bit of blood is worth the price to drink at the fountain of youth, isn’t it?

1. Denial

            And then it happens: some figure seduces you from the shadows, and you fall lovingly into their arms with your throat bared by a torn turtleneck. You think you’ve beaten the odds. Only, death is never as romantic as it is in the movies, and rebirth is downright disgusting. That two hundred dollar cut and color is reduced to a dirt-matted mop, and your nails are broken from digging your way out of a shallow grave. Don’t even get started on the state of your skin. And they say mud makes a magical facial. Call bullshit on that one.

            You blow it off, decide you were slipped a mickey, and some teenage asshat buried your passed out body in a mound of moldy leaves as a joke. No Prince Charming dressed like Bela Lugosi. No sexy interlude behind the cocktail lounge. No throb of the forbidden. You refuse to acknowledge the truth. So you rub at the bruise on your neck and search through the closet for an even higher collar to hide the arterial bloom.

            The next day, you call in sick. After all, you’ve been working at the college, wearing your nicest smile for twenty fucking years. Don’t you deserve some time off for good behavior? You’ve never acted on the impulse to fail a student just because they are a monster in the classroom. But no one has ever thanked you—not once. Screw that.   

            When you wake up, the day has disappeared and September’s Harvest Moon squats low on the horizon. You’ve been eating vegan in an attempt to lose belly fat and to reduce cholesterol, but all you can think about is a nice, juicy steak. Rare. And why shouldn’t you treat yourself? You only live once, right?

2. Anger

            Okay, so maybe you didn’t make it to the restaurant on your walk from campus to downtown. And those belligerent frat boys probably had it coming, anyway.

            Back at home, you take a shower and toss your blood-soaked clothes in the bin. No more beige for you. From here on out, you will only wear velvet and lace, cut seductively to show off the new you. But, when you look in the mirror, nothing has changed. That crepey skin is still visible on your neck, your breasts sag without the support of an underwire, and the cellulite on your thighs appears even more dimpled than it did before.

            You go out the next night looking for answers from your vampire progenitor. You figure they have some explaining to do. Why can you see yourself in a mirror? Better yet, where’s the god-damn fountain of youth? You wouldn’t have wanted the cursed blessing if you knew that you’d have to spend the rest of your presumably immortal days alone at the resting age of fifty-five. What kind of sick fuck would damn you to that particular purgatory?

3. Depression

            You think about walking outside and ending it all with a little vitamin D, but you’ve never liked the sun—skin cancer and all of that. You didn’t wear wide-brimmed hats, long sleeves, and your weight in SPF 100 for thirty years to go out in a blaze of glory.

            Instead, you go on a binge of boys and booze.

            It could be worse.   

4. Acceptance

            You invest in corsets, light your home with candles. Still, it takes some time to let go of modern perceptions of youth and beauty, even though you know from experience there’s more to life than that.

            After all, you can deadlift a family sedan. You’ve gotten out of the academic grind with a few well-placed casualties. And snapshots of your new, “I don’t give a fuck” stylings turned you into an Instagram hit. Sure, those pictures are mistakenly titled “Sexy at Sixty,” but whatever.

            It doesn’t take long before your memoir is sold as fiction for six-figures, and you start the popular blog “So You Want to Write a Vampire Novel.” In between readings and convention appearances, you stalk the streets looking for one of your own kind. Even though you never found the vampire who turned you (or any other vampire for that matter), you crave a companion.  So, when you see the foxy woman astride a black beast of a motorcycle, silver hair streaming out behind her, you act on impulse.

You pretend you didn’t notice it was a full moon, or that the howls dogging her trail sounded like wolves.

            It’s your nature after all, you tell yourself as you dig a shallow grave with a broken fender. You tell yourself that she’ll love you forever even as you push the dirt over her drained body. She’ll forget her lover with the moon-bright eyes. She’ll forget the spat that sent her far from her pack. Your blood will triumph; you’re sure of it. But when she rises, the silver-haired woman looks right through you.

            She stumbles away and leaves you behind to stare at an empty hole filled with nothing more than moonlight and frost. 

            Over the distant sounds of traffic and sirens, a wolf howls.

5. Betrayal

            Overhead, January’s Wolf Moon watches with an amused grin. The silver-haired woman breaks into a lope.

            You don’t need a magic mirror to tell you how this will play out. The movies are full of stories about romantic triangles and unrequited love. If nothing else, you’ll no longer be alone. You gather your cape. And follow.

Carina Bissett is a writer, poet, and educator working primarily in the fields of dark fiction and fabulism. Her short fiction and poetry have been published in multiple journals and anthologies including Upon a Twice Time, Bitter Distillations: An Anthology of Poisonous Tales, Arterial Bloom, Gorgon: Stories of Emergence, Hath No Fury, and the HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. V, VI, and VIII. She is also the co-editor of Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas. Find more at http://carinabissett.com.

Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas is scheduled for release on November 30, 2021.

There is an old saying that wisdom sits in places. Open an atlas across the Americas, and you will soon discover this knowledge hidden in fragments of shared memory marked on maps. The ancient peoples knew which areas to avoid, which spirits to appease. Later, invasive superstitions from far-flung countries seeded into the landscape. In order to survive, newcomers learned the cautionary tales and secret lore linked to the terrain. But not all paid heed to superstitions. These are their stories, each tale a new entry in the field guide to dark landscapes.