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
A collection of dark poetry just hit the market, written by friend and talented author, Rick Powell. You may remember Rick from his guest appearance on April 3rd, 2015, when he shared a few poems from his book, My Soul Stained, My Seed Sour. A little over a year later, Rick is back with his new book, More Regrets Than Glories, and another poem to share. If you enjoy what you read, consider picking up a copy of the book, please.
The dark coachman stopped at my house this Autumn night,
I was hesitant as I stepped up to the cold seat to sit at his side,
His countenance was in shadow from the hood of his aged cloak,
We started on without a word as through the forest we did ride.
I then wrapped the thick wool blanket around my thin, pale form,
Ma said I have had the chills for days and nothing could cure my ill,
Pa had no money since this year the crops were bad all around,
I asked “Where are we going?” but the coachman’s voice was silent still.
I looked back to my home and at the windows dark as the blackest pitch,
The forest beyond my house was even more dark and silent in the night,
My memories of the last days were muddled and I hope to be well soon,
I hope that this fever will pass and I will be better by the morning light.
I remember my parents talking about the Doc at the edge of the other town,
They were most frantic as my Ma kept a cool rag on my burning head,
I passed in and out of the blackness as I heard them arguing about what to do,
I felt my skin was braised by the fires of Hell, even though cold sweat filled my bed.
Why would they send me with this coachman, when my health was most dire?
Why did they not come with me, my only family that I have ever known?
Why does this dark horse that pulls us seem to be a beast out of a nightmare?
Why do I see a deathly grin of the coachman, when the Autumn moon is shown?
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.
If you enjoyed this story, consider picking up my collection for $2.99.
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
I’m participating in Blood Moon Rising – a month long tour of horror, sci-fi and dark fantasy authors hopping from blog to blog. 🙂 Today we’ll get to know writer Shaun Meeks and learn about the horrors he’s created. Shaun was born and raised in Toronto, Ontario. He owns his own company and is a former semi-pro skateboarder, but penning tales of terror is his true passion. Let’s pick his brain, shall we?
Hi, Shaun. Thank you for joining us. I guess I’d like to start by asking: Why do you love the horror genre?
One of the main things I’ve always loved about horror, whether it’s watching it or reading it, is how good horror gets you right at the core and has a tendency to linger. We’re all afraid of something, and being able to tap into that primal fear is what I love to do. It’s also something I love to experience. Sitting in bed and reading a great story and feeling the need to put it down because it struck a nerve is something that most books just don’t do for me. A great example of that was when I read The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. I actually needed to stop and take breathers during it because I felt overwhelmed by what I’d just read. Not an easy thing to do.
Your novel, Shutdown, concerns one of my favorite topics: genetic experimentation! Can you explain a little about it?
Without giving too much away, the story starts with a dig in Egypt where a forgotten tomb is found. In it, there is something that is not fully human, but there are traces of what could be a man or woman there. A genetics company, GenCross takes the body and tries to replicate the DNA and give birth to a living specimen of the mummified corpse. In a way, using genetic experiments in a story is a way to play with the themes found in books like Frankenstein and many by H.P. Lovecraft, not to mention Stan Lee. The idea of how we “play God” and try to bring a new lifeform, find some missing key to evolution can be done in so many different ways, I think there are always fresh ways to build on the theme.
Your short stories are everywhere! Congrats. If you had to pick a short story to be read by someone who’s never read your work, which one would you choose?
My first thought is always to suggest Taut. It first appeared in Zippered Flesh 2 and is one of those stories that people really gravitated towards. Even Ellen Datlow added it to her list of honorable mentions in Best Horror of the Year 6. It’s pretty good at showing what I tend to do in stories, which is go inside the character’s head and draw out emotional as well as physical pain.
In the end though, it depends on what it is you like. For YA stories, there’s Angel in the High Tower, if you like ghosts, Despair. For people who like Victorian Steampunk I’d say Miriam and for war story lovers, The Soldier.
What is the hardest part about writing a novel?
Editing. I take as much time as I can with the editing process, but I tend to be the type of person who can go over and over a story and change it each time. Even if I read it ten times over, I will want to add and cut things.
What scares you?
That’s a tough one. I’ve spent my life trying to face many of my fears as best I can so they aren’t there, but if I’m sitting around and look over and see a bug crawling on my arm, you’d see a less than cool and calm Shaun freaking out to get the damn thing off. I think that is part of why the scene in Taut is so accurate. I know how parts of it feel.
As far as any other fears, I guess the idea of isolation to a point (as an introvert, a big part of me always seeks isolation, but not too far), failure and drowning. When I was a kid, I nearly died in Lake Ontario. I was three or four, and can still see it now. I managed to get my stubby legs tangled in seaweed, tripped and couldn’t get back up. I fought and fought and after swallowing four disgusting mouthfuls of water, I stood up. My parents didn’t even notice it, but I never forgot it.
Some of the “future works” listed on your website include screenplays. As an author, I’d love to discuss this with you because I, too, have an interest in writing screenplays. What drew you to the idea? Do you have any specific plans for the production of your scripts once they’re complete?
Sometimes, when I come up with an idea and start to play with it and see what is the best medium to use to make it come out right. Sometimes it’s a short story, a novella or a novel. Other times it might be a graphic novel. A few times, it’s been screenplays. I wrote my first screenplay back in 1992. It wasn’t a horror piece, but more of an ode to Hong Kong action flicks. A big shoot ‘em piece. Not sure what happened to it, but it was fun to write and I always promised myself I would write another one day. The one that I currently have partial done, is a horror-comedy. The idea is something more akin to Troma or old school 80’s horror and the only way it would work, in my eyes, was as a movie. I’ve been writing it to keep a low budget in mind so I could produce it myself, or with some friends. There are some truly insane scenes in this that I would love to see come to life and I think it would be one of the first times people would see the sense of humor I have, so fingers crossed.
What are your favorite horror movies?
That’s one of the harder questions. I grew up watching horror movies in the 80’s, so I’m always drawn to them. I loved the serious toned ones, the funnier ones and just bizarre movies. For that era, I’d have to say some of my favorites are Brain Damage, From Beyond, Night of the Creeps, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Fright Night, Nightbreed and Dead Alive (aka Brain Dead).
A lot of people hate on the new horror out, but I can think of some real gems over the last few years. I’ve tended to look at more foreign horror as well, since there seems to be some real gold coming from all over the world. I think some other favorites would be Clive Barker’s Dread, Martyrs, Ichi the Killer, The Babadook, Oculus, May, Three Extremes, The Descent, and if I keep going, this would go on forever.
This is another list that could go on and on, but over the years I’ve always tried to keep it to a list of ten. One of the best things about this list though, is how it’s always changing. Depending on what I’ve been reading as of late and the mood I’m in, the list can vary. For right now I think it would be as follows: Stephen King, Clive Barker, H.P. Lovecraft, Elmore Leonard, Joe R. Lansdale, Tim Lebbon, Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Ray Bradbury and Caitlin R. Kiernan. I’ve had it pointed out that Elmore Leonard seems to be an odd choice in the group, but I’ve learned a lot from him as a writer and he has played a role in how I’ve developed my own style.
I have to mention the anthology Fresh Fear: Contemporary Horror because you and I both have stories in it! I really enjoyed yours, entitled “Perfection Through Silence”, and one part in particular made my toes curl because I could almost feel the character’s pain from his injuries. The story had a nice balance between gore and suspense. My question is: Do you decide beforehand how much gore a story will have (a lot, a little), or do you just let the bloody details work themselves out?
Thanks for the mention of Perfection Through Silence. That was a fun one to write and is a great example of the process I go through. When I’m writing a story, much of the details like gore, violence, suspense and even how it ends, never come into play until I’m writing. I tend to be one of those people that will start off with an idea or just an opening sentence and I go from there. I explained that to a friend once and he thought it was strange, told me it sounded too much like the story writes itself, and in a way, he was right. I think if you go into something, meaning to make it over the top and super gory, it could backfire. At least that’s how it is with my process. Everyone is different. I tried to write a bizarro piece for a magazine, the only idea was to make it really over the top and it just didn’t come out that way at all. I learned a long time ago to just let things go the way they want, to let the blood run free.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever written?
That is actually an easy one. Whenever someone mentions my story Treats from At the Gates of Madness, they usually add in “what the hell were you thinking/smoking/drinking?”. To be honest, it was a story that got away from me. Originally, it was only supposed to be about a lonely man on Halloween night, watching humans disguised as monsters running the street when in the end he was a monster disguised as a human, hiding in his house and memories. Somewhere along the way, I decided to go down another road and there was Treats. If you’ve never read it, it’s not an easy one to get through as there is some very strange, disturbing and disgusting subject matter in it. That’s all I can say on it, hate to be one to spoil it for anyone curious.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now I’m working on the edits of a new novel called Maymon. It’s a crime/occult/end of days horror novel full of monsters, demons, zombies, killers of the human kind and mayhem. Should be fun.
I also just started the second novel in the Dillon the Monster Dick series. This one, Earthbound and Down is a follow up to the soon to be released The Gate at Lake Drive and continues the story-line of Dillon, a monster/demon hunter.
On top of all that, I’m putting the finishing touches on Dark Reaches, my third short story collection due out in August, and seven different short stories. I tend to write 3000-5000 words a day and go back and forth between projects to keep it all as fresh as I can.
Where can we find you on the web?
My website is www.shaunmeeks.com
I can also be found on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Shaun-Meeks/106128562748355
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/ShaunMeeks
On Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/100357493474555506507/posts
On Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/5818641.Shaun_Meeks
On Amazon: www.amazon.com/Shaun-Meeks/e/B007X5KZLO/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1430468112&sr=8-2-ent
On Tumblr: http://shaunmeeks.tumblr.com
Thanks so much for the great questions. This was a blast!
My pleasure, Shaun. I look forward to reading more of your work.
As promised, this blog will focus on a variety of entertainment, so long as it’s plenty horrific! Today, I bring you poetry.
Alistair Cross grew up on horror novels and scary movies. By the age of 8, he began writing his own stories. Fast forward to 2012 – that’s when his first novel was published by Damnation Books, and he’s been busy cranking out dark tales and poetry for his readers ever since.
Alistair hosts a live radio show, Thorne & Cross: Haunted Nights LIVE, and you can find his website at: AlistairCross.com. The two poems we’ve chosen to share with you are dark and clever and evocatively disturbing. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
The Beautiful Girl
I woke up with a girl
Who was dead as could be
This a most macabre scenario
That made no sense to me
I couldn’t recollect her
From the night before
But there she was with cold blue flesh
In a dress made of velour
Her sightless eyes were watching me
Her mouth agape in fear
And down her cheek a tell-tale streak
Of a single dried up tear
And for weeks now I have wondered
How she came to be
This beautiful, decaying girl
Who keeps me company
A Book of Morbid Methods
I met her in the pages
Of an old dust-covered book
A book of misadventure
And the sad wife of a crook
She married into money
That was her belief
But she recently discovered
She’d been married to a thief
She was written to be pretty
She had diamond rings and furs
And she said it was all mine
If I’d trade my world for hers
She was angry at her writer
For her husband’s cons and lies
For her life of sins and secrets
And her pseudo-human guise
But I told her it was dull
Here on the other side
That over here, life’s dismal
And ruled by greed and pride
I declined her proposition
But she said, “Just look at me…
I have everything I want
I am glamorous and free…”
For a moment, I considered
What did I have to lose?
The world might have more meaning
If viewed from in her shoes
She watched me as I pondered
But she sensed my hesitation
Then a tear fell from her eye
And she said in desperation…
“My husband is suspicious
That I know what’s going on
He’s a man of morbid methods
I’ll be sorry before long.”
And this I did consider
What was I to do?
Maybe if I tried
I could rewrite a page or two
And so I traded places
With my newfound fiction friend
But what I didn’t realize
Was the book was at its end
For, just moments after stepping
Into the pages of this book
By way of strangulation
I was murdered by the crook
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