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.
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Copyright @ Saytchyn Maddux-Creech. “Ceremony” was originally published in Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism (2004). This story may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express written permission.
by Saytchyn Maddux-Creech
A flattened dragonfly lies on the funeral home step, shaded by a crooked sumac tree. Inches away stands a pair of leather wingtips below trousers made of dark rough wool. They match the jacket and the slow deep voice: “It should be raining.”
This is my father, mourning me.
Farther away are two closed-toed pumps, somber leather over charcoal nylons. My mother lifts a Styrofoam cup. Instead of the sound of hot sipping, I hear her release the tiniest of sobs.
Blue jays cry out and land on the grass below the steps, threatening the sparrows away. The dragonfly lies belly-up, its underside dotted with grains of sand, like armor.
I wonder how it got here, how it got to be flat, whether it was alive when whatever smashed it.
* * *
Half of the dragonfly glistens in the sunlight when Cary stands where my father stood. Cary taps his cigarette, and the ashes fall to rest beside his chocolate-colored oxfords. He’s wearing the same brown suit he wore to our graduation.
“Come inside,” my little sister, April, whispers from the doorway. The wind nudges the sumac’s branches.
“I’m smoking,” Ricky answers.
“You don’t smoke,” April says.
“I’m smoking,” he tells her again.
* * *
Three little boys in Hushpuppies and rumpled pants come, whispering, out of the funeral home. One of them coughs. His voice is hoarse. “See? There it is.” He bends over and points at the dragonfly.
They gather around it, and the coughing boy turns the dragonfly over with his pale hand. The smallest boy asks in a baby voice, “Is it real?”
I don’t remember these boys, but I assume it is one of their mothers who comes outside in beige stockings and low black boots.
“Inside, now,” she says, “and wash your hands.”
In a dance of chunky heels and polyester pant legs, the boys hurry inside. The young mother’s boot makes a delicate sweep at the dragonfly, flipping it onto the shady wood chips under the sumac.
* * *
Shadows crawl across the grass. Ants have found the dragonfly. They gather around its crisp body, explore the tender parts, and then form trails to pack the choicest pieces off to their nest.
The largest pair of Hushpuppies hesitates at the door. The other two appear behind him. “There,” he whispers.
They crunch into the wood chips, and the tallest boy lifts the dragonfly by its tail. I wish I could smell his hot, peppermint-flavored breath as he blows black ants through the cooling air. He places the dragonfly in a small tissue box. Its wings stick out over the edges. With nail-bitten fingers, he folds them close to the body and drapes a peach-colored tissue over it.
“Now,” he says, striding through the wood chips, “follow me.”
* * *
I am rising up through the first raindrops as the mourners move down the steps. My mother cries. My father leads her by the arm. April and Cary follow.
The young mother in black boots paces the walkway in front of the building, calling three boys’ names.
I’m above the funeral home now. I can see the boys in the field behind the building, standing around a small mound of earth.
The tallest boy has one hand in the air, and he’s speaking words I can’t hear.
The other two are solemn, their eyes cast down.
Saytchyn Maddux-Creech survived the MFA program at Colorado State University with their love of all things creepy intact. Saytchyn writes horror, fantasy, and mystery with a literary accent. Their short stories have been published in numerous journals under their own name and the name Sandra Maddux-Creech.
The doorbell rang, prompting Alicia Clark to sigh and pause Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. She scooped up her bowl of Halloween treats, with its the scant handful of remaining candies. The clock read almost ten p.m.
It was a little late for trick-or-treaters. Nevertheless, the simple distraction of an evening full of adorable little ghosts and goblins let her pretend for a while that her life had not been blasted off the rails.
She opened the door, and the stench hit her first. Death and fresh earth.
The bowl clattered at her feet, scattering candy.
She let out the kind of gasp that got the angels’ attention. “Oh, Lord! Oh, Jesus!” she shrilled, throwing herself back against into the door jamb. The strength gushed from her legs until she could only sink to her haunches on her doorstep.
Collapsed, half-lidded eye sockets stared her in the face. Gray flesh stretched over cheek bones. The funeral suit was stained and stiffened by dirt and the juices of decomposition. Clumps of grave earth gathered in the creases, in the dark thatch of kinky hair, in the lightning bolt shaved above one ear.
Thank the Lord the body wasn’t moving or she’d have made an Alicia-shaped hole in the back wall. The corpse was propped up against a narrow slab of plywood, secured by loops of wire around his chest and neck. The plywood slab leaned against one of the porch roof supports.
Tears burst out of her. Her chest felt like a great claw squeezed it tight. Her lip began to tremble.
Pinned to the lapel, scrawled on notebook paper: TRICK OR TREAT UPITY BITCH.
It was not a trick.
It was not a joke.
It was not a prank.
Because that was the suit he’d gone to prom in last year, the suit she’d buried him in. The white rose from funeral was still pinned to his lapel, now gray, stained, and desiccated.
She still remembered how that face had looked when it emerged into the world. She had combed the boy’s hair. Wiped his nose. Kissed his hurts.
But there was one great gaping hurt she could not kiss away, an exit wound her whole hand could not have staunched.
“Oh, Anthony,” she said into her hand, choking back the thick sobs.
She used the door jamb for support as she staggered to her feet and took a step toward him on trembling legs, scanning the street for whoever had done this.
Because they were watching. No one would do such a thing and not watch the results of their handiwork.
But she would not give them the satisfaction. They would not see her cry again. She had done too much crying on television.
Alicia’s house lay on a dark stretch of Rose Street, shadowed from the single streetlight by a huge oak tree. Jack-o-lanterns glowed on porches and stoops, but the scampering superheroes should all have sugar-crashed by now. The only cars on the street belonged to neighbors, and Alicia had lived on Rose Street all her life. She knew her neighbors. She knew her community. Her church was a six-block walk every Sunday.
“I know you’re out there,” she said to the tree frogs and whippoorwills, forcing steadiness into voice. “Someday, the Lord’s gonna judge you. It ain’t gonna be me.”
How many heartbeats—how many centuries—passed as she stood there looking at her son, she did not know. Her breath came in short, shallow gasps, and her heart felt cinched tight by barbed wire. She wanted to bring him inside. He must be cold, after six months in the ground. But her strength had deserted her. Nevertheless, she couldn’t leave him there.
She backed into the house, never taking her eyes from Anthony’s slack, gray face, so devoid of life, until she had to step into the living room to grab her cell phone. Her thumb poked the “9,” but hovered over the “1.”
Would anyone bother to come?
Police cruisers did not venture down Rose Street nowadays. The wounds were still too raw on both sides, the killer’s acquittal too recent. She had stood at the forefront of the black community’s pleas for justice, faced swarms of reporters, and became the voice of a movement, at least for a little while. Bill Baxter, her son’s killer, still had friends on the police force, even though he had been fired, which meant that she had enemies on the police force, white men who might harbor personal vendettas.
What would be the police response when she told the operator who she was?
She hung up the phone.
How long must her poor Anthony stand on the porch?
In Oak Park Cemetery, her baby’s grave now yawned open and defiled.
Out there in the dark, within sight of her porch, the perpetrators hid, at least two of them. Digging the grave, securing the body, toting it up onto her porch silently enough for her to have heard nothing, had to be the work of at least two people.
What hate had to exist in someone’s heart for a deed like this? This was an effort of concentrated, clinging malignancy.
How big was the leap from such hatred to violence?
She picked up the phone again.
While she waited for the police, she locked the front door, then went through the house and checked every door and window. Everything looked secure. Then a strange, tingling hunch seized her.
She set her cell phone to record video, streaming the recording to an internet archive, as the entire community had learned to do in the wake Anthony’s shooting. Then she placed it in an innocuous corner near the television, where it would have a broad view of the room. The way the police had turned on the peaceful demonstrators had been a harsh lesson. There wasn’t a cop in this town—good or bad—who didn’t know who she was. She would never interact with them again without video evidence. Not that video evidence had brought Anthony any justice, but somewhere, sometime, things had to change. As police brutality videos from across the country flooded the internet, even white people were finally taking notice and demanding change. For the black community, police indifference and brutality were a fact of life going all the way back. But now, change was being built with the bones of dead young men.
The sound of heavy feet on the porch brought her to the door. Two cops—white males—stood staring at her son’s corpse. Her heart skipped a beat and her hand trembled on the door knob.
“Is that who I think it is?” said one.
“Maybe,” said the other.
She opened the door and eyed them warily. “Officers.” She couldn’t bring herself to produce any pleasantries or gratitude.
“How long has this been here?” said the first one. He was a barrel-chested man about her height, salt-and-pepper crew cut, mustache like a soiled brush. His name plate read Harris.
“I don’t know for sure. Half an hour?”
The two officers regarded her son’s body as if it were a museum exhibit. Being so close to two cops sent a cold tightness up her spine. The sight of Anthony, desecrated like this, flanked by two men wearing the same uniform as the man who murdered him, the same as those who’d brutalized demonstrators with truncheons and rubber bullets, tightened her hands into fists, whipped her pulse into a run. One of them smelled of sweat and booze, detectable over even the stench of the grave.
“Aren’t you bringing an ambulance or something to put him back?” she said.
“We need to investigate first,” said Harris. “Graverobbing is a felony.”
She wondered if the cameras on their chests were turned on. There was no way for her to know. After the demonstrations subsided, the city had made a great show of requiring body cams for every officer, but the fine print allowed the officers the discretion to turn them off.
“This your boy?” Officer Harris thumbed toward Anthony’s body. Something about him was familiar. Had she encountered him before?
Anthony’s sunken empty eyes stared through her. If she could have afforded to have him embalmed, he’d be more presentable right now. A strange thought.
She said, “How long you gonna leave him standing there?”
Harris said, “The morgue is on their way.” Meanwhile he stepped off the porch and shined his flashlight around the flower bed, walking toward the corner of the house.
The flashers on the cruiser were dark, but by now her neighbors would have noticed its presence. What would she tell them tomorrow?
The other officer, in his twenties, tall and blond, said, “Mind if we come in and take your statement?” His name was Dalton.
She wanted to say no, but she’d set up the video camera. “Come on in,” she said. She couldn’t keep the tension out of her voice.
Before she led Dalton into the house, she scanned the darkness one last time for whoever might be watching.
In the living room, Officer Dalton took out a notebook. Alicia sat on the sofa. Anyone else, anyone else, she’d have offered tea.
Then began the long string of questions. Dalton scribbled while Harris poked around outside. Her back was rod straight, hands folded in her lap as she talked. In this city, a black woman did not spend twenty years teaching public school without a backbone. She wished Latisha were here. Alicia’s daughter had been her rock all through the dark times, but Alicia had insisted Latisha go back to law school for the fall semester. They couldn’t afford to lose her scholarship.
There was almost nothing to tell in her statement. She had been watching TV. There was a knock on the door. Her son’s corpse was on her porch. She called the police. End of story.
Harris came in. “No footprints or anything. I did find this, though.” He threw a plastic bag stuffed with dried green leaves onto the coffee table. “That much Mary-J amounts to Intent to Distribute.”
“That’s not mine,” she said, her heart tripping over itself, her breath quickening. Dizziness washed over her. This was it. This was how it started. Criminalize the victim. All they needed was an excuse, however flimsy.
After Anthony’s death, his innocence had been smeared in every newspaper, on every news network. He became “just another black punk.” Even if the charges were dropped, the damage would be done.
“You put that there,” she said. Not that this would matter, either. If such men could commit murder with impunity, why would planting evidence even raise an eyebrow?
Suddenly Harris’ nose was two inches from hers. “You accusing me of something?” The smell of bourbon flooded her face.
Behind Harris, Officer Dalton stood frozen, a look of uncertainty on his face.
She swallowed hard and met Harris’ gaze. “I’ve been a school teacher for twenty years, and you think I smoke weed?”
Harris lurched back, then snatched her by the back of the head and slammed her face onto the coffee table.
Pain exploded in Alicia’s nose and teeth, bursting through her eyes in blinding sparks, stealing her breath. She cried out in pain.
“Stop resisting!” he roared.
His hands seized her wrists and snapped cuffs on one.
“I’m not resisting!” she gasped, tasting blood.
A fist slammed into the back of her head, driving her eye socket against the anvil of the coffee table. “Stop resisting!”
Officer Dalton was making incoherent noises.
A knee drove into the back of her neck, squeezing her throat against the table, pinching off the blood flow to her brain.
A cuff snapped around her other wrist, then a hand dragged her across the coffee table until she flopped face down on the floor.
Officer Dalton said, “What the fuck are you doing, man?”
“Our job, dickhead,” Harris said. Then he keyed the mic hooked to his shoulder and called for backup.
Alicia’s gasps for air drowned out the dispatcher’s dispassionate response.
Dalton slapped Harris hard on the shoulder. “What the fuck, man!”
“Is your body cam off?” Harris said.
“Just like you said…”
“Do you not know who this bitch is?”
“Then shut the fuck up. You’re either with us, or against us, you got that straight?”
Alicia raised her voice into a scream. “Help me! Help! Help me!” Her neighbors might be the only thing that could save her life. Her heart swelled with prayer. Dear Lord, please send me help–
A boot slammed into the side of her head.
Voices swam in and out of her awareness, more than two of them.
“Wow, you guys were quick getting here.” Dalton’s voice.
A male voice. “Yeah, it’s like we were right around the corner.” His words were slurred.
One of them smelled of cigarettes and rancid sweat.
“Hey! Guys! Fucking bitch is recording this!”
The sound of crunching glass and plastic.
“You guys are going down.”
“Shut the fuck up, Dalton.”
“No way I’m keeping quiet about this.”
The snap of a holster, the click of a hammer. “I said shut the fuck up, Dalton.”
“Hey, easy, Tom,” said Harris. “He might could come over to our side.”
A second new voice. “This is the question for our friend Dalton here. Whose side are you on? One of these days you’re gonna find yourself out on a call, all by yourself in this neighborhood, with these animals, and you’re gonna call for backup. And then what? Who you gonna trust? Porch monkeys or your brothers in blue?”
“Chambers is right. ’Sides, we’re just after little payback here,” Tom said. “Making sure this bitch knows her place.”
“And you think she’s not going to talk?”
“Who’s going to believe her?”
“What if she was sending that video to the internet?” Chambers said.
“You guys are fucked.”
“We go down, you go down.”
“Fuck it,” Tom said. “Should have done this months ago.”
Rough hands seized one of her arms. “Grab her.”
Agony wrenched through her shoulder. Another pair of hands snatched her other arm. Together they dragged her toward the front door, her feet trailing.
Dull pain throbbed through her face. Her mouth left a pattern of drool and blood droplets on her floor. One of her eyes had swollen shut. The worn planks of her porch drifted beneath her. Anthony’s shoes came into view. One of the shoes quivered and shifted. But that couldn’t happen. Then they were carrying her down the porch steps. Behind her, cloth chafed on rough plywood.
“What are you doing?” Dalton said.
“Put her in my car,” Tom said.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m arresting her. What do you think I’m doing?” Tom said. But something in the way he said it indicated otherwise.
They hoisted her into the back seat of a police car and slammed the door. With her hands pinned behind her, her wrists and shoulders screaming in pain, her head still swimming, she could not right herself.
Down here on the floor of the cruiser, the smell of fresh earth was strong, thick.
“Back off, Dalton. Or we won’t let this slide,” Tom said.
“Yeah, we’re doing the world a favor,” Chambers said from beside the driver’s door. “They’re fucking animals. Don’t you know there’s a war on? Them against us!”
Harris’ voice. “You’re either with us or against us.”
An incongruous sound caught her attention—the sound of splintering wood. Then a clatter. Heavy, lurching footsteps on her porch.
“Jesus Christ!” said the man by the driver’s door.
More crunching wood.
“Get down!” Harris screamed. “Get down now!”
More thumping footsteps on her porch. Another loud, wooden crunch.
Painfully, she wormed onto the seat, struggling to right herself. A cop’s back—the driver’s—blocked her much of her view.
Up on the porch, something smashed across Harris’ face, launching him into the rose bushes. He screamed.
“Get down on the ground!” Chambers shrilled, pulling his gun. A heartbeat later, he opened fire.
Something slammed Chambers against the side of the cruiser so hard the rear side-window shattered. His body went limp. Something wet splattered across the sidewalk. The stench of hot blood flooded the interior of the cruiser.
As Chambers’ body sagged out of sight, sliding to earth, Alicia saw something she could not process.
Another gunshot thundered, and the bullet burst through the suit coat of the… of Anthony’s suit coat, and punched through the driver’s window.
More grave stench sprayed over her face, and she fought back a gag reflex.
She could only stare as the thing in Anthony’s funeral suit charged Harris, who was still trying to extricate himself from the rose bushes. A moldering hand seized Harris’ face and squeezed. Harris screamed into the rotting palm, raised his gun to Anthony’s face and managed one shot before the hand crumpled his face like a wet sheet of paper.
Dalton stood in the front doorway, staring, transfixed.
In the distance, her neighbors were calling down the street, investigating the gunshots, but unwilling to stick out their heads.
Tom stood on the front steps, trying to hold his aim steady as Anthony flung Harris’ body across the lawn like a ragdoll. Anthony turned those empty, glass-like eyes onto this man. From those depths, a glimmering orange fire glowed like candlelight through marbles.
Tom’s face jumped into her memory. Tom was not his last name, but his first. Tom Lucas. He was Bill Baxter’s partner. Tom Lucas had watched as Bill Baxter had gunned down Anthony in a convenience store parking lot. Tom Lucas had helped Baxter try to cover up the fact that Anthony was unarmed. Tom Lucas corroborated every aspect of Baxter’s story, even though surveillance cam video made liars of them both. Tom Lucas had sworn, under penalty of perjury, that no secret group of white supremacists had infiltrated the police force, even though circumstantial evidence emerged in social media circles during the trial suggesting otherwise. Bill Baxter had been fired from the police force, but acquitted of all charges.
This was Tom Lucas’ police cruiser. And it smelled like the grave.
Anthony stalked toward him, his gait shaky, lurching, but purposeful.
Alicia called through the shattered window, “No, baby, don’t! Don’t do it!”
Lucas’ pistol thundered again and again, but still Anthony advanced. When the pistol’s action locked open, Lucas threw the gun aside, whipped out his night stick, and charged, screaming curses and epithets.
Anthony snatched at him, but Lucas evaded the grasp, seized Anthony’s wrist, and executed an arm lock that snapped Anthony’s elbow like a dry twig. Lucas twisted, and Anthony’s arm tore free. He threw the arm aside and swung his truncheon at Anthony’s face, which was now riddled with ragged bullet holes. With his remaining hand, Anthony seized Lucas’ throat. Lucas’ scream died. The wet, crunching, popping noise would stay with Alicia the rest of her days. She retched onto the floor of the car until a trickle of bile came.
“Please, no. It wasn’t me. It’s not me,” whimpered Dalton.
She wiped her mouth and peered out. Anthony stood on the porch regarding Officer Dalton.
Dalton’s hands were raised, but he stood his ground. “Please, no. You got them. You got them all.”
Alicia’s heart thundered so hard it felt like it would burst out of her chest. “No, baby, stop now!”
Anthony’s cigarette-burn eyes seared into Dalton’s for a long moment, as if he were looking into Dalton’s soul. Then those eyes turned toward her.
Relief deflated Dalton like a balloon. He clutched his cheek and used the door frame for support.
Anthony came down across the lawn and opened the cruiser’s door for his mother.
Alicia climbed out. “You saved me, baby. But you can stop now. Please, stop.”
Anthony breathed deep, expanding his dry, empty lungs like great bellows, his eyes flaring bright. As his chest expanded, shapes appeared on the lawn, in the street, as if he had inhaled them into existence. The shapes coalesced, hazy at first but congealing into faces and torsos, legs trailing away into black. A host of them, eyes like embers.
The nearest wraith she recognized from newscasts of six months ago. He was shot by police while drunk but unarmed. His spectral dreadlocks waved around his head like the snakes of Medusa. Another familiar face from a month before that. Shot by police for defending his girlfriend. Another one, a “suicide” in jail for a trumped-up drug charge. Another, shot in the leg outside a gas station while reaching for his ID. He had bled out before the ambulance arrived. Their faces went back years, decades.
The mob of apparitions stretched away into the darkness.
She knew their names. She knew all their names.
The air itself crackled with their purpose.
On this night when the veil between life and death was thinnest, they had come forth with a hunger for justice.
All those smoldering eyes fixed upon Anthony. Anthony raised his bloody fist, a call to arms.
“No!” She seized Anthony’s coat by the lapel. “Don’t. Please. Violence is not the answer.” Dr. King had often warned of the scars violence left upon those who perpetrated it. It was a lesson she had driven into her children from an early age.
Anthony faced her. His scars would be eternal. His ruined lips smiled. He took her by the shoulders, and her blood turned to slush. Don’t worry, Momma. We got this. Then he leaned forward—the stench of putrefaction flooded her nostrils—and kissed her on the cheek.
These wraiths knew their killers, all of them. A thousand miles was nothing to a thing that could travel between worlds. They swooped off into the night.
God help them all, tonight there would be a reckoning.
Tomorrow, the video from her living room would go viral.
Anthony gave her a bittersweet smile, and shambled off toward the cemetery.
Freelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, an Active member of SFWA and the HWA, and the author of the Tokyo Blood Magic, The Hammer Falls, The Ronin Trilogy, and other novels. His more than thirty short stories appear in Baen Books’ anthology Straight Outta Deadwood, plus Apex Magazine, Tales to Terrify,Fiction River, Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII, and others. As a freelance writer, he has contributed a metric ton of work to such game properties as Firefly Roleplaying Game, Legend of Five Rings, EVE Online, and BattleTech, for which he’s been nominated for a Scribe Award. Find more at http://travisheermann.com/.
A yakuza warlock butchered his family, but that was just the beginning…
When Django Wong discovers the Black Lotus Clan murdered his family, he vows to destroy them, but the Council of Five Elders forbids it.
But then the Black Lotus starts a gang war in Tokyo, wielding terrifying new magical powers. Django must team up with three witches—and a snarky alley cat who’s not really a cat at all—to find the source of the Black Lotus Clan’s power. If they can prove the Black Lotus Clan is behind the plague of soul-sucking vampires, the Council might just let him have what his honor demands.
Perfect for fans of Bleach or Fullmetal Alchemist,Tokyo Monster Mash brings you mind-bending magic, femme fatales, savage monsters, martial arts action, and powerful cultivation.
It is the favorite time of year for horror writers. To celebrate all things spooky, COS HWA writers have worked together to contribute a collection of short stories for your reading pleasure. Starting on Monday, you’ll have access to a story a day through the end of October. Mark your calendars, and sit back and ENJOY!
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!
Demons aren’t supposed to be allies, let alone lovers, but here I am. Know that expression to hell and back? Been there, done that, just to save one of them. Sure, it was terrifying, but it beats meeting the in-laws. Aaron, my half-angel boyfriend, is just dying to take me home to dear old mom and dad, but I’m worried about walking into their home trailing brimstone. Meanwhile, in the struggle to avert the apocalypse, Lucifer himself has taken an interest in me and graces my pizza parlor to give me a warning. I’m in danger from his rival, Mammon, who is trying to take over hell, but that’s old hat for me. Exorcism doesn’t make you the friend of demons, but I never expected to end up on the angelic hit list, too. Good times. When my men find out, they’re never going to let me out of their sight. I’ll have to talk my way out of their protective bubble. With my hellhound and nightstallion to protect me, I should be safe, and the pizza parlor is warded against heaven and hell. Surely, I can go to work alone. Or maybe not.
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.
*Includes trigger warnings.
Sam Knight’s short story “The Darkest Thoughts” can now be read online in Love Letters to Poe. The story (Issue 1: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe) is also available as a free podcast or in print form at Amazon.
Raise a glass in a toast to Edgar Allan Poe with this jam-packed gothic anthology, including 12 themed issues containing 48 short stories and 7 poems from 55 masterful weavers of gothic fiction.
Take a tour through Poe’s Baltimore home, experience “The Tell-Tale Heart” through the old man’s eyes, go corporate at Raven Corp., witness “The Fall of the House of Usher” from the perspective of a hidden Usher sibling, and much more.
Over at the podcast Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem, Shannon Lawrenceand her co-host M.B. Partlow added new episodes to the series: Crazy is as Crazy Does with guest John H. Mudgett (September 29) and Mostly Mayhem (October 6).
Here’s to the lengths one might go to for everything.
With dark fiction from J.A.W. McCarthy, Avra Margariti, Marisca Pichette, Stephanie Ellis, Christina Wilder, Donna Lynch, Katie Young, Scott J. Moses, Angela Sylvaine, tom reed, Cheri Kamei, Shane Douglas Keene, J.V. Gachs, Tim McGregor, Emma E. Murray, Nick Younker, Jennifer Crow, Joanna Koch, Lex Vranick, Laurel Hightower, Eric Raglin, Eric LaRocca, Daniel Barnett, Bob Johnson, Simone le Roux, Hailey Piper, Bryson Richard, Jena Brown, and Christi Nogle.
Special October Event: Horror Authors Panel to DIE For
Saturday (Oct. 16, 2021 — 12:30 to 3:30 pm) Via Zoom
A horror panel to die for! Join PPW in a conversation with Carina Bissett, Clay McLeod Chapman, Sumiko Saulson, and Shannon Lawrence. Topics include insight on the impact of the pandemic on the horror genre, the ways writers can balance suspense and plot; horror archetypes and tropes (for better or worse). Bring your questions and a notebook. This panel will be offered online via Zoom. The meeting window opens at 12:30 pm and the panel begins at 1 pm. There will be a Q&A session at the end. Tickets are $20.
In other news, Shannon Lawrence was awarded the 2021 Horror Writers Association Scholarship. 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 www.thewarriormuse.com.
Welcome to “Creepy Craft Corner,” which features HWA members who are also artists, crafters, makers, or creators. We hope to provide you, the reader, with the tools and inspiration to try creating something new!
Today we’re featuring a craft that is close to my heart: cross-stitch! Before my soul blackened and turned brittle, I stitched many cutesy flowers and frolicking animals. These days my needlework tends toward the dark and creepy. If repeatedly stabbing things with a tiny needle sounds appealing, this column is for you. Today we welcome Sonora Taylor to inspire us to stitch.
Tell us a little about what you write and any upcoming projects you’d like to promote.
My name is Sonora Taylor. I write both novels and short stories. Some of my works include Little Paranoias: Stories and Seeing Things. My latest short story collection, Someone to Share My Nightmares, will be out October 19, 2021. You can learn more about me at sonorawrites.com. You can also find me on Twitter (@sonorawrites), Instagram (@sonorataylor), and Facebook (/sonorawrites).
What creepy craft or creation have you decided to share with us today?
I love doing cross-stitch! I’ve created several pieces over the years and the attached piece took literal years to complete. It’s from a book my husband bought me called Twisted Stitches. Right now I’m working on a trio of poisonous flowers from the same book.
What instructions or tips do you have for our readers who might be interested in trying this craft for themselves?
If you have no experience with cross-stitch before, start with either a stamped pattern (where the design is printed on the embroidery cloth and stitched over) or a very simple counted pattern (counted means the embroidery cloth is blank and you follow a pattern in a book or on a piece of paper by counting where the stitches are). Take breaks because it can hurt your arm and shoulder to stitch for too long. And check Etsy for lots of fun patterns from independent artists!
Thank you so much for sharing your work with us, Sonora! I have also been getting back into cross-stitch lately and have found some amazing low-cost patterns available on Etsy that can be purchased and downloaded in a snap. I’ve also recently discovered black cross-stitch cloth, and I am in love with the look of white thread stitched on this dark background. Here is my latest work in progress, which will ultimately be a tribute to Wednesday Addams (thank you to WitchyCraftStitch on Etsy for this lovely pattern). Stay tuned to “Creepy Craft Corner” for the finished product!
Thank you so much for joining us, Sonora, and thank you to all of you for reading. 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.
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.
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’s poem “Fairy Tale Prohibition” is included in NonBinary Review Issue #25: Prohibition. This piece explores cautionary themes in familiar fairy tales and the consequences that come from breaking the rules.
In other news, Carina’s poem “Radiant” has been nominated for Best of the Net. This piece is a tribute to the radium girls, female factory workers who contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials (1917-1926). Several of these women joined forces to file a lawsuit against the factory. Their eventual win paved the way for labor rights in America and the institution of industrial safety standards. “Radiant” is included in NonBinary Review Issue # 24: Industrial Revolution.
Sam Knight’s story “The Darkest Thoughts” was recently released in Love Letters to Poe: Vol. 1, Issue 12 (Don’t Look Behind You), with the podcast version releasing at the end of the month, and will also be included in Love Letters to Poe, Volume 1: A Toast to Edgar Allan Poe, set to be released on September 20th.
Over at the podcast Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem, Shannon Lawrenceand her co-host M.B. Partlow added new episodes to the series: Shadows, Demons, & Redheads (September 1), For the Sake of the Children (September 8), Houses From Hell with guest Patrick Hester (September 15), and Cult of Ignorance (September 22).
Eight and a half months after Detective Ann Logan and seven-year-old Maggie Hart prevented Yaldabaoth from unleashing terror upon the world, all is quiet in Harmony, Colorado. But when Teresa Hart escapes from Mountain View Mental Hospital, Maggie’s perpetual nightmares intensify, and the mysterious marks that link Maggie and Ann burn to life, signaling the presence of a new evil—or the return of an old one. The ancient war between the servants of darkness and the servants of light is far from over. Once again Maggie and Ann, bound together by destiny, hold the space between the delicate balance of life as we know it and eternal horror. The fate of humanity hangs in the balance.
Several of our members will be at MileHiCon 53 (October 1-3). Come join us!
Carina Bissett: Tales of the Fae (reading); Who Should get a Villain Origin Story Next?; Not So Happily After
Travis Heermann: How I Write; Weird Westerns (reading); The Reading Game; Blind Slush Panel; So You Want to Do a Kickstarter?; Kaffeeklatsch
Sam Knight: Flash Fiction Chopped; Stop Fridging Me!; Blind Slush Panel; Galaxy Spanning SF (reading)
Shannon Lawrence: Revisiting Childhood Favorites; SF&F & Horror Tropes We Want to Disappear, The Art of Short Story Writing; Utopian Futures (reading)