It’s always exciting to see an indie publisher grow, expand, and achieve new successes. Today I will spotlight just a handful of the titles over at www.burningwillowpressllc.com, not only to let readers in on some great fiction, but also because owners Edd & Kindra are amazing people who work hard to give their authors the best. Dedicated, creative people are what drive Burning Willow Press to meet its full potential.
If you see a book that interests you, consider picking up a copy. Pretty please??
Hell Gate: Book One, by Josh Matthews
Sixteen-year-old Jason McCreary is living a nightmare within a nightmare. Not only is he trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by demons from Hell, he also shoulders the burden for humanity’s fate as it was his mother who opened the gates in a scientific experiment gone wrong. In a last ditch effort to redeem his family name and erase his guilt, Jason joins a squad whose mission is to travel to Paris and close the Hell Gate. Once there, they discover an environment more frightening than anything they could imagine and demons more terrifying than they had ever encountered before. Time is now against them. Can Jason gain his redemption along with the respect of his peers, or will a new web of lies threaten to rip apart his world and jeopardize his team’s only chance for success?
Edging, by Michael Schutz
Intenze is the newest designer drug. Take it, and nightmares come alive. “Edging” is a better rush than the Tower of Terror. It’s a fraction of the price of a Six Flags admission. And it’s the most addictive high that the tiny suburb of New London has ever known.
For Rick Carlson, the junkies roaming the streets don’t even scratch the surface of what worries him. He’s trying to win back his cheating wife. He’s trying to protect his residents at Belmont Assistant Living from their own drug-addled grandchildren. And he’s trying to save his twin boy and girl from their mother’s murderous paranoia.
But he can’t save them all.
The fears of all those who edge summon the Thirst—a living miasma that thrives on terror. It is bringing a storm. And time is running out.
Skin Deep/ Ordinary Monsters, by Frank Martin
What happens when an overbearing family drives a teenage girl into the arms of a mysterious, pale stranger? How can a high school junior explain having strange dreams of a Nazi concentration camp after being bitten by his neighbor’s monstrous dog? And who will win when two iconic creatures of the night clash on a desolate WWI battlefield? Dive into a world of werewolves and vampires with SKIN DEEP and ORDINARY MONSTERS, two standalone stories featured in a dual novella from author Frank Martin. And don’t forget to check out the bonus comic short HORRORS OF WAR found in both ends of this double-sided work of pulp and terror.
Coma Hell, by Kevin Wimer
(Kevin has a short story with Burning Willow Press and is eager to have a longer work published with them. Here’s a glimpse at his current book, though not published with Burning Willow. He is one of their anthology authors, so I said, “That counts!” Lol.)
Jack Roberts awakens from what he was told would be nothing more than a routine sinus surgery. There is never anything routine with any surgery. Jack never gave that a thought and he should have. Jack might have changed his life and been a better man.
The panic beeping sound of alarms echoed with a flurry of activity around Jack’s hospital bed. The scream of a nurse calling for a doctor. The voice of a doctor yelling we are losing him and for everyone to stand back.
The bright flashing red hot light seared through Jack’s body as the world around him spun out of control. The voice of the doctor now tense with anger as his words echoed through Jack’s head. The only word that Jack could make out was coma.
Jack was now lost in the darkened world that would become his very own private hell.
A Mighty Rolling Thunder, by Kerry Alan Denney
The end of the world is just the beginning of the terror…
Spring 2024: Two spirit hordes break through from another dimension, and half the world’s population vanishes. The spirits possess the survivors, dividing them into two groups: those who fight to retain their humanity, and marauders who destroy everything in their paths.
Artist Livi DeSilva is fleeing from possessed killers when she meets Conor McLain, a man suffering from amnesia. Outnumbered and outgunned, Livi and Conor team up and fight off homicidal lunatics and ruthless gangs, only to end up cornered by their deadliest foe: billionaire Victor van Danz, a psychopath who commands the new world’s dark forces. Victor craves immortality, and kidnaps Livi. He believes that when he kills Livi in front of her collection of canvases and absorbs her life energy, he will transform into a god.
With only Conor, two amazing dogs, and a band of plucky children to aid her, Livi must harness the power of the spirits inside her and use it to defeat Victor–or die in the clutches of a madman.
“Kerry Alan Denney has created the perfect blend of King’s The Stand and Koontz’s famous dogs. A Mighty Rolling Thunder is a well-written thrill ride of a story you won’t want to miss. A must-read for all post-apocalyptic genre fans!” – Monique Lewis Happy, critically acclaimed Managing/ Acquisitions Editor at Winlock Press
Secrets of the Slain, by Lindsey Goddard
Secrets of the Slain A collection of poetry and short stories created to tantalize your senses and wreak havoc on your mind, each tale further challenging your perception of what reality is and what it is not. Be prepared to see inside of the soul of Lindsey Goddard and share in her “Secrets of the Slain”.
Choice Cuts, by David Owen Hughes
Choice Cuts: A collection of one of the finest splatter-fuelled horror the genre holds, an unflinching set of short stories that will stay with you, horrors that set root into the back of your psyche & taunt your sanity to its limits.
Here lies fourteen tales of all that is baneful & bloodthirsty from David Owain Hughes, an author with an unflinching love for all things close-to-the-bone, grim & grotesque. Once you delve into these pages you will come face to face with an unstoppable force of pure gore. Readers of a delicate disposition may want to put this tome back on the shelf, while those of you who feel ready to be dragged along into the minds of the deranged & disturbed, the murderous & malignant who watch & wait…
Packed with fast-paced thrills & many, many spills. You’ll come face to face with what lies beneath the surface of the mundane & ordinary, step foot into the maze of murder, mania & madness…just be sure to come out in one piece, not just another choice cut.
We had the disquieting dioramas of stealth-like shocks & spills of Laymon…now we present you with Hughes’ own approach towards the antagonistic execution in the realms of the fear & mayhem that can strike when you least expect it. If you’re a fan of Laymon & Lee, you’ll devour Choice Cuts.
Hello again, my wicked readers. The kiddos have gone back to school, so I’m going Back To Scares.
I was a ghost
who never did post.
I’ll soon be the host
who thrills you most.
Haha. Okay, that was an awful poem. Suffice it to say, I am breathing some much-needed life (and DEATH) back into this blog.
On today’s agenda, an amazing interview with author Kenneth W. Cain:
What draws you to dark fiction?
I was raised to be a fearful man, which has hindered my enjoyment of life. Somewhere in my teens I started rebelling against that fear, embracing my fears, rationalizing them. It was and still is very much a process. But, I suppose that confrontation sparked my interest in the unknown, as I’ve always had this need to expose the darkness. To shine a light on it in hopes of uncovering the unknown. There’s so much we don’t understand about ourselves, about this world, the deep ocean and darkest forest, space and beyond. It can make one feel very small and insignificant. That’s my draw.
Embers, your latest book of short stories, has received some awesome reviews. How many stories are included in the pages of Embers, and what inspired you to put this collection together?
There are 25 stories in Embers. That means it’s chock full of fun, and that’s always what I aim for, to make sure there’s something for everyone. And that’s part of the joy, seeing what stories jive with this person and that, what the takeaway is. For me, it’s a journey, all of this writing business. It’s the same with a collection. It’s all about laying bricks to a path that leads through a horrific garden. Each step has a precise space, that hopefully allows the reader to journey along with me. And if I’m successful in creating this walkway, maybe they see through my eyes, if only for a brief moment. That’s the fun of it.
You have written both short and long fiction. Does your process differ for each?
Well, I stumbled into this business in 2010 with These Trespasses, which actually began as a blog series believe it or not. At that point, I was far from finding any sort of stride, and I think the story suffered because of it. Same with some of my other earlier work, as I’d been away from this all too long, and had not progressed at all, and needed to rediscover myself. So I suppose it was originally more of a hobby for me then, sorry to say.
At some point more recently, I started falling in love with the written word again. Those who have spoken with me in person or on the phone know of my desire to learn more of the craft. It’s something that excites me, and I think that’s starting to bleed into my writing the correct way (pun intended). So there’s a process to my writing now, that more or less is me getting the story out, no matter how big or small, and refining it over edits for layering and tension and emotion, characterization and all.
To answer your question more specifically, it’s more about the story and less about the process. My characters lead me through, and only they know when their story has been fully told. I give them that control, give into the fiction. That’s actually helped me to a large degree I think, as I’m seeing through their eyes with more clarity these days.
Which part of writing is your favorite: outlining a plot, developing characters, crafting a setting, or writing dialogue?
Well, I’m a panser, so it wouldn’t be outlining. I’ve tried time and time again with no success. As for the rest, I suppose it’s more of a combination of those three. Dialogue is part of the characterization. Also, setting is a bit like a character in that we need to breathe life into it. There’s a look and feel to everything, a sound or sounds, and smells. It’s about hitting the senses to best create a painting of a real life scene with moving parts and feeling. When you hit it, with all the right beats, you know it, and that creation is a beautiful thing.
Which part/s do you struggle with?
Well that’s a tough question. I’d say I struggle with it all because I’m never really satisfied. At times, I’ll revisit something I’ve written in the past and rue over my mistakes. And yes, there’s always mistakes. Not necessarily in the sense of grammar or misspelling, but in layering and character flaws and dialogue, voice. Such has been the case as I dive back into my trilogy and revisit my earliest efforts. But that’s also been a rewarding process. This business is all about growth for me, and that in itself is an endless study.
Are you involved with any creative projects, aside from writing?
Creative is such a broad word, but yes. Many in fact. I perform much of the formatting and graphic design tasks for The Lovecraft eZine and others upon request. I’ve also been editing quite a bit lately, too. Occasionally, I’ll paint and/or draw. Art was one of my first passions. My reef tanks are also creative in a way, I suppose.
If you could sit and talk with any three authors, living or deceased, who would they be?
That’s a tough question, as there are so many whose minds I’d like to pick. Currently, though, I guess that would be Joe Hill, Shirley Jackson, and Richard Matheson.
What are your hobbies and interests when you’re not writing?
Well, my family is my biggest interest. I enjoy spending time with them, whatever we’re doing. But there’s also my reef tank and growing corals. Painting, riding my bike, going to the gym, baseball (I coach my son’s teams), the beach. Actually, a good friend enlightened me to see the beauty in anything long ago, and ever since, I tend to take interest in most anything, which isn’t always easy as you could imagine.
Are there any genres you’d like to attempt but haven’t tried yet?
I don’t read a lot of science fiction. I used to, so I’m not opposed to it, but I’m not always one who gravitates to what some classify as “hard” science fiction. Again, it’s not that I don’t like it, just that I don’t always prefer it. Maybe (occasionally) something gets lost in all that overly technical jargon and pulls me out of the story, I’m not certain. Whatever the case, I’d like to revisit that shelf (so to say).
What can we expect to see from Kenneth W. Cain in the near future?
Right now, I’m rewriting my trilogy. I’m not certain what I’ll do with it afterword, whether I’ll try to find another publisher or self publish the series, but I do need to put in the work. I’m also working on a young adult horror novella and two new novels among other shorter projects, and possibly a new collection. Editing wise, I’m doing some work for a small press right now, but soon (October 1st) I’ll be editing volume 5 of Crystal Lake Publishing’s Tales From The Lake series. That’s a project I’m really looking forward to.
Where can we find you on the web?
Most of my links to connect can be found here: https://kennethwcain.com/contact
Wow, what a fantastic interview. Thank you so much, Kenneth W. Cain!!!
Crystal Lake Publishing just released Sarah Killian: Serial Killer (For Hire!) and I had to know more about this book, so I tracked down author Mark Sheldon for an interview. Here’s what he had to say…
How long have you been writing?
Pretty much ever since I could. As early as Kindergarten I was writing little stories and making booklets out of construction paper and drawings. Before that, I’m sure I was making stories up and telling them, though I naturally don’t have too much recollection of that period of story making.
What draws you to dark fiction?
I think I’ve always had something of a morbid fascination. Earliest memory, I used to watch Murder She Wrote with my parents every Sunday night, and then act out the murders afterwards with my stuffed animals. That was definitely a hint that I was either destined to be a sociopath and/or a horror writer. And then I watched Jaws with my dad in the third or fourth grade – that was definitely a major turning point in my addiction to the macabre.
In your latest book, Sarah Killian: Serial Killer – For Hire, you take the reader into the secret world of assassins for hire. Was it fun writing an anti-hero novel?
It was fun – and very challenging, too. I’ve always loved the anti-hero stories that take the stereotypical villain and turn them into the good guy. Wicked, Dr. Horrible, etc. So that part was very fun. Normally, once I start writing I don’t stop until it’s done (other than to eat, sleep, and go to my day job, of course). Sarah, however, was a very difficult person to live inside the head of for too long a period, and the fact that the book is told from the first person made that connection to her brain even more visceral. As such, I had to take frequent breaks after writing a chapter or two, to work on something else for a while before going back to Sarah. That was a very unusual process for me.
What is your favorite personality trait of main character, Sarah Killian?
Her sarcasm. Definitely her sarcasm. That’s the part that I think allows us to look past her rather significant emotional character flaws and accept her as a human, and not just a psychotic sociopath. Also, she would probably murder me if she knew that I said this, but she’s something of a closet geek, which is just cute considering she murders people for a living.
Where can we pick up a copy of Sarah Killian: Serial Killer – For Hire?
It is available on Amazon and other online retailers, and also through your local book stores (though you’ll probably have to specially request it at this point!)
In what ways have you grown as an author since deciding to become one?
As with life in general, growth like that is difficult to measure. With every sentence you write, you improve a little bit upon the one before it. The hardest thing is not going back and re-attacking the stuff I wrote ten years ago and just letting it be what it is.
Do your personal experiences affect your characters?
Definitely. Sarah a little less so, what with being a female and a sociopathic serial killer, but I definitely still managed to work myself into her character. Her mutilation of the Barney doll in the opening of the book was very therapeutic for me.
Recently you’ve been writing a 12-part series, The Noricin Chronicles. Wow. 12 parts! Please tell us more about this series.
This was actually my first series, and is all done now – I published the last book back in 2013. It wasn’t a horror/thriller series like Sarah Killian, more of a sci-fi/fantasy adventure. In a nutshell, I would describe it as Harry Potter meets the X-Men and The DaVinci Code. It tells the story of Dan Regal, a 12 year-old boy who finds out that he is a member of a secret race of humans with super powers, and goes to a school to learn how to harness and control those powers.
Which authors do you read for personal pleasure?
JK Rowling, Rick Riordan, Dean Koontz, Dan Brown, and Michael Crichton (currently re-reading Jurassic Park) to name a very few.
Are you working on any projects we haven’t discussed?
I have a sci-fi space thriller that is currently in the sketch phase. Sort of a mash-up of Lost, Aliens, and the game Doom. And then of course I will be starting on book 2 of Sarah Killian hopefully soon.
Where can we find you on the web?
My Facebook page is www.facebook.com/Author-Mark-Sheldon-237502636284937, and the page for Sarah Killian is: www.facebook.com/SarahKillianSKForHire
Now that I have something other than The Noricin Chronicles published, I will be working on getting a more generic website for myself up and running, but in the meantime my non-Facebook home base is the Noricin homepage, at noricin.webs.com
Blackwater Val is William Gorman’s first novel, but I never would have guessed that while reading. Keeping a steady pace, chock-full of enthralling plot layers and a strong, believable cast, this book reads like the author is a well-seasoned pro. Set in the year 2000, main character Richard Franklin must return to his hometown in Blackwater Valley, Illinois after a hit-and-run accident takes the life of his beloved wife and leaves him to raise their daughter, Katie, all alone. Little Katie, who sees and hears and knows things the rest of us cannot. Little Katie, whose dark curse and innocence left me pondering… If all the abused, mistreated, and murdered humans could speak to us long after death, we might never get a moment of peace. But in this darkness, there is a light, a strength that might hold hope for a small town, sinking into madness in the grips of something very old and very evil. Blackwater Val delivers on every emotional level: depth, compassion, suspense, mystery, fear, revulsion, and action. I highly recommend this book for all lovers of dark fiction.
William Gorman was kind enough to answer some interview questions for me, so without further ado, let’s meet the author. And consider grabbing a copy of Blackwater Val while you’re here: https://www.amazon.com/Blackwater-Val-William-Gorman-ebook/dp/B01ETZ73H4?ie=UTF8&ref_=asap_bc
How long have you been writing?
Since I was in grade school, scribbling out ghost stories and vampire and werewolf stories in my loose-leaf notebook for certain unlucky classmates to read—the teachers loved that. I started getting stories published in the various small press magazines that were around in the ’80s and ’90s, then I put out Ghost Whispers: Tales from Haunted Midway, a collection of weird legends and ghostlore from my Illinois hometown. The local library there approached me shortly after about doing some bus tours and spooky cemetery walks, and they’ve been running ever since. The events all used to be free, but I hear they’re charging people now . . . so someone is making money. Sure isn’t me!
What draws you to dark fiction?
The imagery, I guess. The danger involved. In dark fiction there’s always something lurking just out of the light, something that when done correctly should haunt you long after you’re done reading it. A dark, supernatural side of our own reality. But for me it has to have characters that I care about; there also has to be some kind of justice in the end. The villains have to get their comeuppance, or else it’s too much like real life, where people get away with heinous deeds all the time.
Did you encounter any rough patches while penning your first novel? If so, how did you overcome them?
The ending was difficult. Pulling everything together and tying it up in a way that satisfied me and answered the questions. Mostly plain old procrastination is the hardest thing to overcome—it’s the true enemy. Just working through and actually getting the writing done each day. It’s tough, with all of today’s distractions.
In what ways have you grown as an author since deciding to become one?
I had to grow before I could even write Blackwater Val. I learned that I wasn’t ready to tell this story in my 20s or 30s, when I first tried writing it. I wasn’t mature enough. I hadn’t lived through enough yet to really know what the book was all about. Only later on, after I’d grown and found my own voice as an author, was I able to tell the story I wanted to tell.
What is your greatest achievement?
I’m not sure I have one. Finishing the novel ranks high, getting it published by Crystal Lake and actually getting it out there. Hmm . . . does making it through the ’80s alive count? I don’t know.
Do your personal experiences tend to affect your characters?
Yes, absolutely. The characters are all fictitious, but they are greatly influenced by things that have happened to me. So yes, my experiences affect the way my characters think and speak and how they act in any given situation.
Which authors do you most like to read for personal pleasure?
I’m always reading things by Stephen King, of course. I love going back and rereading his classics. Lovecraft and Bradbury, too. I like the old Sherlock Holmes tales by Conan Doyle. And every summer I make sure to read T.E.D. Klein’s The Ceremonies—I just heard he’s finally going to finish a book he started decades ago, so that should be fun. If it happens!
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently writing the follow-up to Blackwater Val, the sequel to it. It’s called The Rose Glass, and within the pages we get to see how Katie has grown into a young woman. And how much her powers have grown, as well.
Where can we find you on the web?
You can find me at http://williamgorman.weebly.com/ for right now. The site has links to my Amazon page and to Crystal Lake Publishing, my blog and other interviews, and I’ll be upgrading and adding to it as times goes on.
You can pick up a copy of the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Blackwater-Val-William-Gorman-ebook/dp/B01ETZ73H4?ie=UTF8&ref_=asap_bc
Horror folk, gather ’round. Our favorite season is upon us! Soon the leaves will fall; the candy will flow. Naysayers might wonder, “Why start the countdown so soon?” Hahaha. A lot of us started our countdown on November 1st of last year! Am I right??? 🙂
So anyway, I just released a collection for Kindle and NOOK entitled The Tooth Collector and Other Tales of Terror, and since one of the stories is Halloween-themed, I’d like to share it here.
This story originally appeared in Dark Moon Digest. I hope you enjoy it.
Daniel turned the pages of his mother’s photo album, fighting back tears. Pictures of his own face—in various stages of development—stared back at him, a reminder of innocence lost. Snapshots filled each glossy slot in careful chronological order. His mother’s handwriting marked the months and years on bits of paper underneath. A familiar lump returned to his throat as he resisted the urge to cry.
Daniel closed the book and rubbed his eyes. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he had failed her. He was a loser. After forty-eight years of life, it was obvious. He hadn’t accomplished much of anything, so busy following his dreams that he never thought to set aside money for his mother’s needs.
In the end, when mom had passed, he was forced to sell the few valuables he owned just to pay for her funeral. Even then, he couldn’t afford a casket. Mom now rested in a porcelain urn.
He stood up from the foot of his mother’s bed and smoothed the wrinkles from the cover. It occurred to him that this was a pointless action, that sooner or later the bedding would join her other possessions in a truck heading for the nearest Goodwill. But he adjusted it anyway, noticing its age for the first time. It was the same ragged quilt she’d been using for decades.
He looked around the room at the outdated decor, the open closet full of thrift store dresses, the ancient TV atop her dresser. She hadn’t lived a glamorous life. Her only child, Daniel, had failed to provide.
Placing the photo album in a box marked “keep”, Daniel turned to face the rest of the closet’s contents. The clothes would all go; that was easy. The boxes full of knickknacks and keepsakes, those would take some time to sort through. He owed her that much, to handle her items with care. They were memories, after all, souvenirs from a lifetime spent encouraging her loser son. First, with his failed movie career. Then, with his non-selling novels. Mother always kept the faith that he’d succeed.
Daniel grabbed a shoe box from the shelf and placed it on the bed. It was old, the logos obviously passé. His fingers left prints on the dusty surface as he removed the lid, setting it aside. The box contained papers—some folded, some rolled, some small enough to fit without bending. He unrolled a paper: the deed to the house. He walked it over to the “keep” container, setting it next to the box so it wouldn’t get buried beneath the other items as he sorted.
He started a pile of old receipts, crumbling them as he scanned them for importance. And then, further down, underneath the top layer of papers, he spotted something that made his brow furrow. It looked exactly like something he’d seen in his youth. The words were different, but there was no mistaking the font.
He picked up the red post card with the bold, black text. The words were scrawled in haunting, gothic letters. As a boy, he had marveled at the shape of each character. He’d never seen writing like it. And now—as a grown man—he knew he hadn’t seen it since.
There was no picture, no friendly greeting, not even a stamp. The card was the color of blood, but lacking the glossy coat that some post cards possess. Just the dull, crimson paper with the strange black letters.
He remembered how Jimmy Hannigan had gloated, waving it around. A chubby redheaded kid with an ego so big it made you wonder what he saw in the mirror, he carried himself with an attitude that suggested he was Top Dog. Jimmy was a hellion, a cool outlaw, trapped in the body of an overweight ginger. Daniel knew this was why he bullied the other kids, like in that moment, as he taunted Daniel with the post card in his hand. “Didn’t get one, huh?”
“Don’t want one.” Daniel kicked a rock with his dirty Ked sneaker, eyeing Jimmy with thinly veiled chagrin.
Ever since the delivery man had appeared on Jimmy’s doorstep and handed him the strange invitation, he couldn’t stop beaming from ear to ear. Jimmy had spent the school day with that dumb smile on his face, questioning all the children in their seventh grade class. “Did you get one?” he would ask, waving the crimson card around. With each “no” he seemed to walk a little taller, as if hand-picked to join a group of socialites.
The invitation itself was peculiar. The letters looked like they belonged in the credits of Vampira or The Addams Family, and Daniel was thoroughly intrigued. He found himself trailing Jimmy as he posed the question to each classmate. So far only Teddy Green, Dennis Halloway, and Johnny Cougar had matching post cards. The oddest part: they were the worst kids in school.
Daniel was partly telling the truth when he said he didn’t want an invitation. There was a twinge of jealousy at having been excluded, but something about the blood red card, inviting the recipient to the “best haunted house this Halloween” sent a chill down the length of Daniel’s spine. He had been there when the delivery man arrived on Jimmy’s doorstep. The lanky figure in the long, black trench coat seemed to appear out of thin air that afternoon. One moment they were discussing Heather Janeson’s tits, the next they were sitting in his shadow.
The autumn air was crisp, carrying the scent of fallen leaves, and it whipped at the stranger’s colorless hair, which hung in a tangled mess from beneath his ebony top hat. His face was even paler than his thin, white hair, and his dark eyes leered at Daniel from the shadows of the hat’s brim.
“Are you Mister Jimmy Hannigan?” his deep voice inquired. Daniel thought it sounded more like a growl than a question. He caught a glimpse of sharp teeth as the delivery man spoke. Slick with spit, the jagged teeth glistened behind chapped lips, brownish-yellow and tapered into points. Jimmy, who was accustomed to speaking his mind, who had told countless teachers and parents to “fuck off”, only nodded in response, taken aback by the proximity of the imposing figure.
The man handed Jimmy a black envelope and curled his lips in a closed-mouth smile. The expression seemed to strain the muscles of his face, as if causing him actual pain. Daniel caught another glimpse of those cat-like teeth as the man spoke again in that low, bassy tone, “We hope you can make it.” With a tip of his satin top hat, the man turned and walked away, leaving the boys to stare at the envelope in wonder.
“Open it,” said Daniel, licking his lips.
“Chill out, spaz. I just got it ten seconds ago.”
Daniel looked in the direction the man had walked, but he was nowhere to be seen… already gone. “That guy gave me the creeps.” He rubbed the goosebumps from his arms.
“That’s because you’re a pussy,” Jimmy said with a roll of his eyes. He ripped at the envelope, shredding the seal. His eyes widened as he read the words aloud, “You are invited to Manic Manor, the most terrifying haunted house in the state.”
Realization dawned on the boys, and they laughed, releasing their tension.
“So that explains the creepy getup,” said Jimmy. But not the creepy teeth, thought Daniel.
“Admission is paid in full, courtesy of someone who believes you can survive the terror.” Jimmy looked up, pride obvious in his eyes. “Halloween night. 10 o’clock. The old mansion on Pennington Hill.”
Leaves skittered down the sidewalk in the autumn breeze. The jack-o-lantern’s candle had burned down to a nub, its flame fighting to stay lit against the wind. Daniel breathed deep the smell of melted wax. It was a comforting aroma, reminding him of past Halloweens, when he’d been allowed to enjoy the festivities. Now he was twelve, going on thirteen. Too old for silly costumes and trick-or-treating.
Jimmy smacked his lips, savoring the candy bar with as much etiquette as a pig at the trough. “You sure you don’t want some?” he asked, holding the bag out to Daniel.
He shook his head, “No man. It aint even ours.”
Jimmy rolled his eyes. “Okay, suit yourself.” He plunged his chubby hand into the depths of the treat bag, digging for another snack to join the pile of empty wrappers at his feet.
Daniel watched his pal, pondering—as he often did—what exactly made them best friends. Teachers, parents, authority figures: they all pegged Daniel for a hooligan because of the company he kept. He could save himself a lot of trouble and accusations if he just stopped hanging around with Jimmy. The truth was, deep down, Daniel didn’t feel like a bad guy. He didn’t want to smash pumpkins or egg houses. He especially didn’t want to steal candy. Yet, those are the activities that had filled his evening, because for some reason, Jimmy Hannigan was his pal.
“What time is it?” asked Jimmy, sucking the chocolate from his fingers.
Daniel checked his watch. “It’s 9:12.”
Jimmy jumped to his feet. “Shit, we’re gonna be late!” He dumped a handful of candy into the bag, stuffing the empty wrappers into the pockets of his jeans. He stashed the stolen candy in the bushes, where his parents would be none the wiser.
Daniel stood from the porch, his eyebrows arched high. “Hold up. We are gonna be late?”
“Yeah, man. You didn’t think I’d go without my best friend, did ya?”
Daniel thought. “Well, what—what if they don’t let me in?”
“Hell man, I don’t know. Let’s go find out!”
The abandoned mansion towered against a backdrop of tiny stars as the boys groaned, rubbing their feet. Daniel marveled at how far they’d come, loosening the laces of his grass-stained tennis shoes. The road snaked its way downhill, winding through the forest and back out again, until it met with the heart of town. There had been an unspoken consensus to travel it alone, without the cushy comforts of a car. He scarcely believed they’d climbed the entire hill on foot as he stared down upon the rooftops, breath forming clouds in the crisp October air.
One by one, they had gathered outside the iron gate: Teddy Green, Dennis Halloway, Johnny Cougar, and Sally Hendricks. A scraggly-haired tyrant of a girl, Sally’s name struck fear into the hearts of her classmates. She might as well be one of the guys.
Daniel noted, with mild amusement, that the amount of lunch money stolen between these kids might be enough to jump start a small business. He snorted through his nose to keep from laughing, catching a suspicious sideways glance from Teddy, whose narrow eyes wiped the smirk from Daniel’s face.
Dark windows stared down at the children, like empty eye sockets in a moldering face. The once-glorious home loomed over them, glowing gray in the moonlight. The rotting wood exterior was riddled with tiny, black knots. Dead, brittle vines weaved through the broken slats of the lattice, cobwebs visible in every corner. The gauzy white webs accented the frame of the tall, black door, which seemed to sit crooked in the face of the house.
Pennington Hill had once been the subject of envy around town. Built for the mayor and his prestigious family, the three story, twenty-eight room manor had been the setting for galas and elite social events. As decades passed, the wealthy class developed a desire to blend in. A mansion atop a hill became a thing of the past, an ostentatious display of riches. Following the family’s departure a near century after it was built, no one seemed to know what to do with the old house. It sat, untouched, for so many years that it fell into immense disrepair.
The children heard the squeaking of a shutter as it hung from its hinge and thumped against the window frame. A lone owl hooted in the distance, sounding too much like a horror movie sound effect. Their warm breath formed white clouds in the air as they waited.
Johnny Cougar’s blue eyes darted from face to face, as he rocked back and forth on his heels. “What should we do? Climb the gate?”
Jimmy shook his head, pointing at the invitation. “Patience, bonehead. It says right here: 10 o’clock. Just wait a minute. Someone will let us in.”
As if on cue, the wrought iron gates swung open. Teddy and Dennis stepped forward, showing no fear at the sight of the heavy gates moving on their own. Johnny and Sally glanced back, at the road leading home, then forward to the gates, which scraped along the gravel as they opened. “Pretty cool trick,” said Johnny.
“Yeah, pretty cool.”
Jimmy pulled Daniel aside. He patted the pocket of his jacket where a walkie talkie was hidden. His freckled cheeks puffed up as he beamed a crooked smile. “Remember, even if you don’t get in, you can listen.” Jimmy’s hazel eyes twinkled in the plump roundness of his face. He raised his hands to Daniel’s shoulders, grinning like he’d given him the best gift in the world by letting him tag along. Jimmy had insisted on bringing the walkie talkies, just in case the two boys got separated. His best friend was coming with him, no matter what. “You ready?” he said, squeezing Daniel’s shoulders with his palms.
Daniel nodded, “Yeah, let’s go.
“Together they walked under an archway that connected the pillars of each gate. Granite faces peered at them from intricate carvings in the stone. The gray eyes seemed to follow them as they passed. Both boys noticed, but neither one said a word.
Trees lined the stone path leading to the mansion’s front door. Twisted limbs entangled from opposite sides of the path, forming a tunnel of gnarled branches and leaves. A canopy of twigs and fire-colored leaves entwined above their heads, throwing the children into darkness. Moonbeams shined through the gaps in the branches, casting thin patches of light across their bodies as they crunched over the fallen leaves that littered the pebbled ground.
Shadows moved in the foliage, weaving through the tree trunks. At first Daniel thought it was dogs on the other side of the branches, but the more he focused his eyes, he saw dark splotches moving along the inside of the tunnel. The shadows looked human in shape, as if cast by the group of kids, but there wasn’t enough moonlight for that. The black figures moved in a blur, so quickly Daniel couldn’t single one out.
The trunks were covered in a dark brown, crumbling bark that seemed to move, like the puffing of a chest as it breathes. Daniel knew it was foolish, but he felt as though the trees were alive. He could hear them panting: a labored wheezing sound over the whistling of the wind down the trail.
“Do you hear that?” Daniel clenched Jimmy’s arm, urging him to stand still and listen.
Jimmy cocked his head, waiting. “Hear what?”
Daniel paused. He scanned the mossy trunks, waiting for the vegetation to move. Waiting for the bark to ripple as it had seconds earlier. Nothing happened. “Nevermind,” he said, biting his lip.
Jimmy chuckled. There was a nervous, high-pitched lilt to his laugh. “C’mon, man. Let’s keep going…” They jogged to catch up with the others.
Dennis and Teddy reached the staircase first. They glanced back, suddenly aware of how shadows crowded the porch, dark and unmoving. They resembled human figures, huddled together in the darkness of the covered patio.
The tough guys searched the faces of their peers. Their eyes said it all: They were just as scared as Daniel. They gripped the wooden railing that ascended the stairs to the pillared wrap-around porch. The archway was fit for a cathedral, aside from the mold that speckled the wood and the peelings of paint that hung in large chunks, fluttering in the breeze. With a gulp, Teddy and Dennis climbed the stairs. The other children followed, close behind.
Daniel jumped when a wooden stair broke with a loud crack, splitting under his foot. The others looked back with smirks on their faces as if to say “Smooth move, dork.” But no one said a word as they reached the top step and the shadows retreated to the far side of the porch.
The crickets stopped chirping on Pennington Hill. Everything went silent, save for the nervous breathing of the children and another noise, like the raspy wheezing of a thousand creatures, so quiet you could barely make it out. And it was coming from the shadows.
Sally grabbed the rusty door knocker. She tried desperately to steady her hand as she thudded the metal ring three times. She couldn’t let the boys see how nervous she was. She stifled a gasp when the door knocker blinked its beady eyes. She glanced around. No one else had seen it aside from Sally and Daniel, but the copper lion, green in its old age, had blinked its eyes as she banged on the door.
The door creaked open without so much as a push. The large marble foyer was covered in dust and dimly lit by tall candelabras. Daniel’s eyes adjusted, and he realized the flames flickered atop piles of bones. Each candelabra was mounted to a grotesque stack of skulls, layered together like bricks in a pillar. While his friends admired the “special effects”, Daniel was pretty sure he spied a skull with some of the flesh still attached. A rotted eyeball dangled from the socket by a wet, pink thread. It all looked too real to be safe.
The man who had delivered the invitations stood dead center, in a ring of candlelight. Flames danced in the dark, sunken sockets above his jagged cheek bones, mirroring the fire from the candles. He wasn’t wearing his top hat, and his white hair hung in thinning patches from his sickly, pale scalp. Blue veins showed through his nearly translucent skin as he pressed a hand to his abdomen and bowed.
The man stepped forward. His black suit reminded Daniel of the shadow people.
He could see them, dark figures huddled together in the inky blackness of the hallway. The man’s voice was a low growl as he spoke. “Sally,” he said, nodding in her direction. “Teddy, Danny…” His pale face studied the children, thin lips pulled taut over his ghoulish, pointed teeth. “Johnny and Jimmy…” His dark eyes settled on Daniel. “and… who do we have here?” He clasped his spindly fingers together in a steeple-like formation and slanted his thin eyebrows at Daniel.
The shadows deep within the house, past the ring of candlelight and hiding in the darkness, seemed to pulsate and stir. Their collective breathing rose higher in volume, yet it was still barely audible, like a gust of wind whistling through the old mansion. Human forms stirred in the hallways, writhed in the nothingness of the staircase. Daniel was positive he saw a pair of red eyes staring at him from the abyss.
“What’s your name?” the strange white-haired man asked.
“D-Daniel,” he replied.
“I’m afraid, Daniel, you must go back the way you came. This party is invitation only.” He leaned over, and his sour breath made Daniel’s skin crawl. “No exceptions.”
Blackness spilled from the halls, from the vaulted archway of the staircase. Darkness crept into the light and extinguished candle flames as it moved. A shadowy fog enveloped the room. Red eyes opened inside the massive shadow that rolled in, an ominous wave of contorted human figures. A thousand eyes stared at Daniel, like rubies shining in the blackest of nights.
The shadows rushed at Daniel. Hundreds of fingers and dozens of palms shot out from the hazy black mist, pushing him. Their collective force caused him to sway and trip over his own foot, toppling backwards onto the moonlit patio. He felt a gust of air as the heavy door slammed, and a chorus of screams erupted from his friends.
Daniel scrambled to his feet. He cleared the stairs in five steps, avoiding the broken plank and leaping onto the leafy stone path. He dashed into the tunnel of gnarled branches. He didn’t look around as he ran. If he did, he might see more of those things lurking in the shadows. And he never wanted to see one again. So he kept his eyes fixed straight ahead, focusing on the beam of moonlight at the end of the tunnel.
He emerged from the canopy of twisted tree limbs, falling to his knees in the grass. He could see the gravel road leading into town. Small buildings in the distance, at the foot of Pennington Hill, were beginning to turn out their lights. The moonlight was dimming, swallowed by a layer of clouds.
Daniel dug around in his jacket. He pulled the walkie talkie from his pocket. His shaky fingers fumbled, almost dropping the device as he flipped the power switch to “on”.
A scream rattled through the speakers. One of the boys was crying, hysterical, coughing and wheezing in fear. A blood curdling yelp poured from the walkie talkie, closer than before. Daniel thought it sounded like Sally.
Someone yelled, “Let me go!” It was a distant echo on the staticy air waves.
Then another boy spoke. This one was closer, louder. “Why are you doing this?” Jimmy pleaded.
The man’s answer rumbled over the air waves like a crack of thunder. His bassy growl shook the device. It rattled in Daniel’s hand, and he dropped it to the grass. “We are the evil eaters. We feed on evil souls.” The children all screamed in unison. There was a loud thud. The walkie talkie squealed, then fell silent.
The morning of November 1st dawned bright and sunny. Daylight shined through the wispy clouds. Birds chirped as they poked their beaks through the dirt, searching for food.
Daniel paced back and forth. He had arrived at the bus stop fifteen minutes early, something he hadn’t accomplished in the history of his school days. But after a sleepless night of watching the clock and waiting for morning to arrive, he was up before his alarm clock that day.
Daniel’s eyes scanned the row of neatly mowed lawns, the trimmed hedges that lined the curb. A paper boy peddled a bicycle down the street. A small dog yelped from behind a picket fence.
Daniel tried not to stare, but his vision kept settling on one house: Jimmy’s. He paced a straight line, gazing up at Jimmy’s front door every time he spun around. One thought repeated in his mind: He is dead. My best friend is dead.
Jimmy’s front door opened, and Daniel caught a glimpse of his ginger hair. Jimmy stepped from the patio, his freckled skin looking pale in the sunlight. He plodded down the length of his driveway with a spring in his step, his portly body bouncing toward the street. Daniel had never seen Jimmy walk that way before, like a small child with too much energy.
Daniel waved as Jimmy stepped onto the sidewalk and headed toward the bus stop. He knew Jimmy wouldn’t return the gesture, probably even make fun of him for waving like a little kid, but he was so relieved to see his friend alive, he didn’t care. Jimmy smiled at him—a closed lip, timid smile. Not his usual shit-eating grin. Then he extended his chubby hand into the air and waved.
Daniel waited for his friend to reach the street corner. “Uh… hey. How’s it goin’?” he asked.
“Hi!” Jimmy opened his hand and wiggled his fingers in the air, waving a second time. He smiled with his mouth closed and shoved his hands into his pockets. This wasn’t like Jimmy, whose grin often reminded Daniel of the Mad Hatter, who tossed pebbles and drew invisible pictures on the pavement with sticks, anything to keep his hands busy. It was odd to see him standing there: quietly, patiently.
“So about last night…” Daniel began.
“Oh, I know. I regret my actions, Daniel. Vandalizing property like that…. and taking candy from those children. It was terrible of me, and I apologize.”
Daniel’s mouth hung open as he attempted to respond. He blinked his eyes and slowly shook his head. “No… uh… the other part of the night. That house.”
“Ah, yes. It was wonderful! I’m so sorry you couldn’t stay.”
Daniel’s skin crawled with unease as he studied his friend. By every physical law, Jimmy Hannigan stood before him. The same voice. The same hazel eyes and rotund, freckled face. But something had changed. Those eyes lacked a certain twinkle that made Jimmy so very… Jimmy.
“It’s a beautiful day, Daniel. I think I’ll walk to school.” Jimmy turned and began to walk away, and that’s when Daniel knew. This wasn’t Jimmy. He never walked to school instead of taking the bus. He never did anything the hard way. And the apologies. Two apologies in one morning. Jimmy never said sorry… for anything. Not once in the entirety of their friendship.
Daniel watched Jimmy disappear down the sidewalk, and he felt as though his best friend had died. The bus rolled up, filling the air with exhaust fumes. A set of yellow doors swung open. Daniel shook his head and boarded the bus, feeling more alone than ever. He knew, the evil eaters had changed Jimmy. They had sucked the Jimmy right out of his soul.
A tear rolled down Daniel’s cheek. He wiped it with the back of his hand. Thirty-six years later it still bothered him to remember that strange Halloween. Jimmy Hannigan had disappeared that night, replaced by a shell of a boy.
Daniel stood at the foot of his mother’s bed. He stared blankly at the red card that looked so much like Jimmy Hannigan’s invitation. It was identical in every way, except for the words:
“Do you have a troubled child? Do you pray they will change their incorrigible ways? Look no further. We are a group of mystery men who guarantee results within the week. 100% pain free. Your child will not be harmed. We work swiftly and discreetly. Enjoy your family life. Have a loving child again. Sign the dotted line and return to the nearest mailbox. (No postage is required.)”
Jimmy’s parents had received the same card as his mother. In that moment, Daniel knew it was true. All the parents of the “bad kids” were offered an easy fix. Teddy, Sally, Dennis, Johnny: they never stood a chance.
Jimmy Hannigan had graduated with honors and went on to college. He had started a family and made his parents proud. He probably sat in an office somewhere, making good money but lacking a soul. And that is the most valuable thing of all, thought Daniel. Just ask the evil eaters.
Daniel walked the card over to the box marked “keep”. It would serve as an important reminder. His mother had protected him, accepted him, even when offered an easy solution.
He hadn’t failed her. She had always been proud.
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Continuing my participation in Blood Moon Rising – a month long tour of horror, sci-fi and dark fantasy authors, today we sit down with Essel Pratt and learn all about him and his dark writings.
Hi, Essel. Thanks for joining us.
Your work ranges from fantasy to horror. In which genre do you feel more comfortable writing?
When I was younger, I was a huge fan of fantasy. C.S. Lewis was, and still is, my all-time favorite author. However, when I was in high school I read the Tommyknockers and was instantly drawn in to Stephen King’s brand of horror. I also watched a lot of horror movies since I was very young. I came to the realization that fantasy and horror shared similar elements that are interchangeable in many aspects. Then I started reading Clive Barker and came to the conclusion that he is the C.S. Lewis of the horror community. I started intertwining the elements of fantasy and horror within my imagination and the images of many future stories manifested within my mind. Naturally, when I started writing seriously I leaned toward the horror genre, but still hoped to start my fantasy masterpiece. Most of my short stories are horror in composition, but Final Reverie, my first novel, is fantasy. In regards to which I feel more comfortable writing, I really don’t find much difference between writing the two.
Your novel, Final Reverie, has some great reviews. Can you explain a little about it?
Final Reverie grew out of a short story I wrote called “Brothers”. The characters had different names, but grew into who they are in Final Reverie. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic world after all technology ceases to exist. A large explosion destroyed the world as we know it, waking Mother Nature from her sleep. Her magical essence was released and split into both good and evil magic. The being created by the evil magic was contained by heroes of the past, but not destroyed. In Final Reverie, the journey of Franklyn and Chij takes them on the path to destroy the evil entity and restore balance to the world, with the help of the heroes from the past.
When I finished Final Reverie, I realized that there is so much more to tell about the past. So, I decided to do something weird and write the trilogy in reverse. Currently, I am working on Abiding Reverie, which is the middle book in the series, and tells the tale of the heroes that entrapped Nafets, the evil being of magic. The last book will tell of how Mother Nature was awakened and how she restored magic to the world.
Two of your latest shorts were published in Rejected For Content 1 & 2, containing “tales deemed too hardcore for other publishers”. Wow. Curiosity piqued! What is so offensive about these stories?
When I wrote Puienne Teur De Cheveaux, it was for a book about strong trans women characters, but crossed a line of mystery, sex, and the unnecessary. The main character is Detective Mansfield, a strong woman detective that doesn’t take any crap from the male dominated police force. She goes through some scenarios that push the line even further than I should have gone, but it seemed natural for the story. When I wrote Marre De Cetter Merde, I knew that it had to be included in the second Rejected book. It tells the story of Detective Mansfield’s beginnings, and is literally a shitty story. I actually wrote a third short story in the Detective Mansfield universe, but have decided to turn it into her first novel.
How did you end up writing for the Inquisitr? What has the experience been like so far?
In the past, I wrote for a couple of video game websites, Infendo and Nerdzy, but left them because I was simply too busy. I missed writing articles and the practice that it provided for much bigger short stories and novels. I was reading a news article on the Inquisitr one day and just happened to click a link regarding writing for the Inquisitr. On a whim, I filled out the app, sent some samples, passed the test, and here I am. I love writing for the Inquisitr, it allows me to write about any news topic I feel comfortable writing about and helps me in research for the stories I write.
If you had to pick a short story to be read by someone who’s never read your work, which one would you choose?
This is really tough, but I would probably narrow it down to three. The first would be Pubienne Marre De Cette in Rejected for Content: Splattegore because I absolutely love Detective Mansfield and her blunt attitude. The next would be Thus is Life in Serial Killers Quattuor, a first person story about a serial killer that cares for his victims in an unnatural way. Finally, I would suggest Bourbon Street Lucifer in Mardi Gras Murders, a story that takes place during Mardi Gras and may blossom into a larger novel one day, possibly with Detective Mansfield as the main character.
Can you tell me a little about your contribution to J. Ellington Ashton Press?
J. Ellington Ashton Press is an amazing press. I love that the company is like family to the authors. Everyone is treated as equals and everyone is willing to help each other to be a better writer. I was lucky enough to be asked to become chief of acquisitions and to work as an editor for JEA, which has allowed me the opportunity to view various areas of the publishing world. The staff lives across the world, which gives a wide range of views and experiences, which may make us one of the most diverse presses out there and allows us to be available for our authors nearly 24 hours a day, since we have staff in the U.S., U.K. and even Australia.
What scares you?
This is a tough question because I cannot think of anything that actually scares me. I’ve watched horror movies since I was very young, and think I became immune to that sort of fear. However, I think if I had to choose, I would be scared of not learning. I have gone back to school to get my bachelors, I love to research, and learning is just part of me. If that were taken away, I cannot imagine what I would become.
What are your favorite horror movies?
Since I grew up on horror movies, I can easily say that Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween are among my favorites. However, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser series is at the top of my favorite horror movies list. Clive Barker created the perfect anti-hero when he created Pinhead. He does what he does simply because that’s who he is. He isn’t out for revenge, to prove a point, or a psychotic antagonist. He is just Pinhead, he has a job, and he does as he is supposed to. He is sort of like a genie without the wishes.
My all-time favorite authors are tied between C.S. Lewis and Clive Barker. Each has been able to create a brand new and believable world filled with intrigue, danger, and hope. Harper Lee, William Golding, Stephen King, and Joe Hill are others that I look up to with high regard. However, there are many smaller names that I look up to equally as much. Some of them are Charles Day, Peter Giglio, Jim Goforth, Stuart Keane, Shannon Giglio, Robert Shane Wilson, Amanda M. Lyons, T.S. Woolard, Catt Dahman, Dona Fox, Michael Fisher, and so many more to name. I apologize if I left anyone out, there are just so many out there that have influenced me in one way or another.
Nice. I very much approve of that list. Now… I have to mention the anthology Fractured Realms because you and I both have poems in it! I loved yours, entitled “If I Had One Wish”. The perspective you chose was very moving. I almost cried at the end! What inspired this poem?
I am glad you liked it, “If I Had One Wish” was quite far from my normal writings, yet still contains a bit of real horror. I am currently going to school to get my Bachelors in Psychology and have volunteered at a local facility that caters to adults that have autism, Downs’s syndrome, and other mental handicaps. When Fractured Realms came around, I felt that I had to write something for it, something that told of how a person with autism feels and might think to themselves. I felt a lot of emotion while writing it and am glad that others were able to feel that same emotion while reading.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever written?
Lately I have written some weird stuff, but I think one of the firsts was in Nightmare Stalkers and Dream Walkers 2, titled “Makin’ Bacon”. It is an odd tale of a pig man, a woman, butt bacon, and unintentional cannibalism, without going into too much detail. I guess another strange piece was my children’s book titled ABCs of Zombie Friendship. It started out as a joke project that I would work on with both of my daughters. They backed out, as teenagers often do, and I submitted the story to my publisher. She loved it, started the artwork, and within no time it became a reality. I never intended to write a children’s book, but am so glad I did.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I am working on multiple projects. I am writing a couple short stories for some open anthologies, my next book Abiding Reverie, and planning a couple more books that I plan to write. Alongside the writing, I am also working on edits for a couple authors and writing for the Inquisitr. I am also trying to finish a few books so I can finally write reviews that I promised. I used to write quite a few book reviews, but have not written as many as I would like to, lately.
Where can we find you on the web?
I try to have quite an active web presence. Facebook is my most active spot, but I can also be found on Twitter, Goodreads, Google +, and many more. I will place the links below.
Google +: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+ScottPrattEssel_Pratt