It’s just a story. That’s what you’ll tell yourself. That’s how folks keep from losing their minds.

I heard one woman last week—some rich bitch outta Frisco, I think it was—tellin’ her friend how it was just a trick of the shadows or some such shit. Lady, that ain’t the shadows. You saw what you saw. What did you think you were payin’ all that money for.

The tickets—fuck me. They run upwards of five-hundred. That’s for the basic tour. You want to see it all? Everything from the basement level to the attic? You gotta pay. That runs … shit … around fifteen-hundred, I think. More than I make in a week, I’ll put it that way.

But you get the whole sha-bang—whether you really want it or not.

That’s what these fuckers don’t understand. You stand in the doorway like that—not a doorway in the house. I don’t mean that kind. Like a metaphor. You stand in that doorway and peer into the dark, sometimes you catch a glimpse of something peering back. 

And I don’t care what anyone says. That’s not really what they want. You get that, right?

What they really want is a story. A story they can tell their friends while they sip merlot, sure, but really they want a story to tell themselves. Sometimes it’s because they’re just curious. Sometimes it’s because they lost someone. Those are sad. You can tell by the questions they ask. I kinda hope they don’t see anything. But sometimes it’s because they’re over 50 and they’ve been thinking too much about their own mortality and they wanna know.

Or they think they do. They don’t really.

So things start with the facts. We sit ‘em down in this cooshie lounge and tell ‘em all about what happened. We list all the dates. All the names. The ways they died. We don’t really embellish much because you don’t have to. Just hearing about ‘em all, back-to-back like that, it’s enough to make some people back out right then and there. 

Then we take questions.

Was there really that much blood on the stairs?

“Yes. Enough to make the wood soggy.”

Why did people keep moving in?

Hard to say. They didn’t believe it. Or they thought they were better.

Are there still bodies in the yard?

The last excavation found seven, but there are still dozens unaccounted for.

Is this place just evil?

Heh. It ain’t good.

When they start making jokes, we finish the questions and take ‘em into the rest of the house. The jokers are usually the first to get quiet. We try to tell ‘em it’s better to be reverent—that’s the only thing that keeps me safe—but they’re too stupid or too proud to listen. Some of ‘em, at least. 

Then someone feels a tug. Someone else sees the dog, its head still hanging limp from the ax wound. Someone hears a whisper or smells the fire. One lady slipped on the fucking stairs and when we helped her up, she had blood on her dress … and she wasn’t bleedin’.

But it’s the back room. That’s where the stories become real. That’s were Maddy died, her legs cut off, her hands crushed, her eyes gouged out, and her chest split open from throat to tits.

She’s still there. I ain’t never seen her. But I’ve seen the looks on the faces of the people who have, and I’ll tell you, I pray to God I never do.

They say she’s still trying to claw her way out of the tub, blood and bile all over the fucking place.

Me? Oh, I just close my eyes and hope she finds peace. I don’t think she ever will, but I’m not fool enough to look. Not like these dumb fucks who pay. 

Sorry. Not like you. I didn’t mean it that way. I just got goin’ on …

Do me a favor, okay? Don’t say anything. I need this job. We good?

Good. Come on. Tour’s about to start.

Ravaged,
like meat picked from the bone—
he was never like you.

Watching him now,
he’s barely a man.
Not the look.
He could be a fucking catalog model,
Oxford button-down and goddamn khakis.
His mind, rather,
is a twisted landscape of wretchedness.

He drives slowly—
he can’t afford to be pulled over.
Precious cargo.

In the trunk,
blood seeps.
Warm and wet and coppery,
its power a form of fuel
as much as the unleaded in the tank.

It’s enough to carry him through the night.
This night.
By tomorrow,
he’ll need a top off.

God,
he loves it when they scream.

When they found him, he was incoherent.

“They come in the night,” he said.

Evelyn knelt beside him. She scanned his face, coming to rest on his eyes. The two were joined for a moment, gaze-locked. Then he broke the silence, his eyes wandering to the floor as he muttered, “That’s when they come.”

Evelyn stood. She looked over her shoulder at Cara. She shook her head.

Looking back at him, wreck of a man that he was, Evelyn spoke gently. “Stay here, Dugal. Cara and I will have a look around.”

They left him in the foyer. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor, his eyes focus on something neither of the women could see.

When they were outside, Cara asked, “What’s wrong with him?”

Evelyn shrugged. “He was never quite right, that one. When we were kids, he used to play in the wine cellar. He liked the dark. It always unnerved father.”

“No matter,” Cara said. “I don’t like it. There’s something wrong with this place. What’s he doing out here all on his own?”

Evelyn looked out across the yard. The apple trees were still standing, but their fruit was rotten, dead and black. So unlike she remembered it. So very different from the home of her childhood.

“I don’t know. After what happened to mother and father, I didn’t want any part of this place. If I could have sold it, I would have. Dugal begged to stay. He said someone should. He cried—pleading with me—so I told him he could look after the grounds. I assumed he would find it too depressing when everyone else was gone. I had no idea he’d stay on for more than a decade.”

Cara moved closer to Evelyn, an arm wrapped around her waist. “Perhaps we should just leave.”

Evelyn shook her head. “We can’t abandon him. Not with the reports from the neighbors.”

Cara spoke softly. “It’s just him, dearheart. I’m sure of it. If he’s been here alone for that long, he’s surely gone mad. There’s nothing for us to do but go back to the city and make arrangements for an asylum.”

Evelyn stood facing the yard, but she saw scenes from two decades past. Her mother and father enjoying a cool autumn day. She could still smell the harvest air and feel the cool breeze blowing in from the east. She remembered how the sun sank into the horizon, streaking the sky with orange and pink like an explosion across the expanse.

And if she listened, her mother’s voice was there on the wind. “What is that?” she asked. “It looks like the scarecrows are moving …”

Then came the screams. Terrors moving through the fields. The wildness of it all, feeling half-mad while she ran for her life.

She lost them. Dugal, too—his mother had been a maid. He had grown up with her like a bastard son her father couldn’t quite accept. But he was no bastard. His father was dead, and her father had given him as much guidance as the boy would accept.

But he had never been quite right, that one.

Cara’s hand moved along Evelyn’s spine and she jumped. “Sorry, love,” she said, sensing she had startled her companion.

“It’s no bother,” Evelyn said. “I was just … remembering.”

“Best that you don’t,” Cara told her. Then she kissed her temple and said, “Come. Let’s go back to the city.”

“In the morning,” Evelyn said. “We can at least stay the night with him.”

She didn’t want to, but Cara agreed. They made one of the bedrooms inhabitable and managed to find enough fresh food to make a meal. They shared it with Dugal, who was quiet throughout. Only when the sun began to set did he speak again.

His eyes drifted to the back window, the yard now ribboned with shadows and ghost memories. Looking out into the darkness, he whispered.

“They come in the night,” he said. “That’s when they come.”

I’m not sure where this is going just yet. Maybe nowhere. Or maybe this is a new series. Or a new book.

This is a continuation of “Raven’s Wrath” which I published a couple of weeks back. I liked the idea of there being more to it, so here it goes.

You couldn’t know this, but this installment connects the (possible) series to one of my unpublished novels by mentioning the concept of a ‘shadow glade,’ the guardians, and the fictional east Texas town of Parson’s Crossing. Which means if I keep writing this, you’ll get to meet some characters I know pretty well.

It could be fun …

raven’s wings

“Wait. What?” Heather was clearly confused.

Raven grunted as she continued to stuff clothes haphazardly into a bag. “You should pack,” she said. “We need to get the fuck out of here.”

“Maggie said that?” Heather asked still holding a half-eaten burger.

“No,” Raven explained. “Maggie said we fucked up. Maggie said the coven would be pissed. Maggie said it was too much.”

Heather remained in the doorway. “Too much?”

Raven tossed her bag to the side and began to gather toiletries from the bathroom. “Jesus, Heather, yes, too much.”

“But he posted a picture of your boobs. Online. Like, anyone can see it. He got what he had coming.”

Raven turned slowly. Her hands were full, but she just dropped everything she held onto the bed and walked over to Heather. She stood before her, glowering. “Do you know what we did?” she asked. “Do you know what actually happened?”

Heather’s voice was uncharacteristically quiet. “It was a simple spell,” she said.

Raven nodded. “That’s what I told Maggie.”

“It was a compulsion charm. He was just supposed to go to work the next day without pants on. Eye for an eye ” Her voice trailed off.

“We compelled him, alright,” Raven confirmed. “But not to go without pants. We got something wrong. Some nuance of the chant. Instead of leaving his place without pants, he tried to leave without skin.”

“What?” Heather whispered.

“They found him collapsed in his front yard, dead from blood loss. He skinned himself from the waist down and still tried to go to work—because we compelled him to do so.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah. He’s fucked. We’re fucked. Maggie’s fucking pissed. The coven will want fucking blood. We have to go. Pack a bag or I’m leaving you here.”

“But, where will we go? They can find us anywhere.”

Raven finished cramming a few things into her duffle bag. “Not anywhere. Not in a shadow glade.”

“What shadow glade?”

“Parson’s Crossing. It’s in Texas.”

Heather was finally in motion, beginning to pack as Raven finished. “But the guardians. They’ll turn us in.”

“Not if they don’t know we’re there. We go. We lay low. We hide. We wait for the heat to blow over and then we reach out to Maggie and see if she’ll help us make this right. She can at least ensure we don’t hang for this.”

Heather turned white. “They’d hang us?”

“Or worse. We’re bad witches now, Heather. We need to hide or they’ll kill us for what we did. We have to run.”

There was a knock at the front door.

“We have to run now,” Raven said. She grabbed her bag and Heather’s wrist and they slipped out the back.

Maggie probably could have stopped them, but she didn’t.

I make promises. I break ’em. But I swear, I do intend to be more consistent in writing fiction. It’s good for me, and it’s fun.

To prove my intent, here’s a quick little something to … brighten up? … your Friday.

Once more, a prompt from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘confidential’, ‘midnight’, and ‘troll’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

raven’s wrath

“He’s just a troll. They’re all over the internet.”

“I told you that in confidence,” Raven said.

Heather rolled her eyes. “You need to lighten up. We’re taking care of it.”

It was 3 minutes ‘till midnight.

“Besides,” Heather continued. “The pictures looked real enough. Nice rack you got there.”

Raven glared. “You looked?”

“Of course. I may be straight, but I like boobs.”

“Well,” Raven said, “Let’s see how our troll likes my response.”

They chanted, and when they were done, a man-child Raven had briefly dated learned a powerful lesson. Don’t fuck with a witch—even online.

“It’s all too much.”

That’s what I told her. She gave me that look. You know the one. I know you know the one.

I sighed because that’s what I do when she gives me that look.

“It’s not complicated,” she said.

I cocked my head to the side. Had I been a cat, I would have made that “merrrra?” noise they make when they meow a question.

“It really isn’t,” she said.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“We go in,” she said matter-of-factly, “we deal with it, and we get out.”

That made me grin. I didn’t want to. I tried to keep a straight face, I really did, but I couldn’t do it.

“We ‘deal with it’?” I asked.

“Mmhmm,” she said.

I knew what she wanted. She wanted me to ask. God damn her.

You know what she’s like? She’s like a perfect storm building on the horizon. There’s lightning and distant rolling thunder and you can smell the rain, the scent of it blowing in on the breeze, and right about the time you think to yourself, “It’ll be nice to fall asleep to the sound of the rain tonight,” you hear the fucking tornado sirens go off.

That’s what she’s like. All beauty and chaos. A bouquet of toxic flowers.

God, I love her.

“Fuck you,” I said.

She looked shocked and slightly wounded. It was a lie. All part of the show, folks. It’s what she does. It’s how she charms me.

“You have a better plan?” she asked.

“No,” I clarified. “I’m not saying that. I just think it might help if you flesh yours out a bit.”

“Which part?” she asked.

“The ‘deal with it’ part,” I said.

“Oh. That part.”

“Yes. That part.”

“You know,” she said. “Deal with it. Stabby, stabby with the stakes. We’ve done it dozens of times before. I don’t know why you’re acting like this one is different.”

I caught her smirking as she said it, that shit-eating grin she gets when she knows she’s saying something careless and utterly improbable.

“I mean, I think this time’s a little different,” I offered.

“A little,” she conceded.

“That’s the part I need help with,” I said.

She shrugged, pulling on her tactical vest. I love the way it hugs her, hosters lined up against her breasts. Is there anything as sexy as boobs and bullets? No. No, there is not.

Not that guns would do us a lot of good where we were going. I knew we’d take them anyway. Trust me, if you’ve got to get away quick, you feel better doing it with a gun in your hand. But all the coverfire in the world wouldn’t save us if this thing went sideways.

She picked up a stake.

“Ah, yes,” I said. “Stabby, stabby.”

She nodded. “See? Basically the same.”

“Except,” I clarified, “this time we’re going up against royalty. The heads of the oldest clan in the new world. They’re stronger. They’re quicker. There are at least a dozen of them. And they live in a fucking castle. A castle in the middle of Texas. We’ve never taken on anyone as strong them, so I think it’s a little more complicated than normal.”

She maneuvered around the table, pushing supplies and assorted weapons to the side. Her hips grazed the edge. Her ass found its way onto the surface, her legs wrapping around me and pulling me in.

Because that’s what she does. She’s a siren and this is her song. Her fingertips grazed the outside curve of my right breast, one hand high and the other sliding down my lower back until she finds something to grab onto.

She kissed me. It was hard and wet and strong. She bit my lip as she pulled back, a coppery taste lingering where she pierced the skin.

“See, the thing is,” she whispered, “this is what we do. And we don’t stop because it’s hard. We don’t shy away when others would. Fuck that. We rise up. It’s what we do.”

I could feel my nipples getting hard at the sound of her words and I went light-headed because I knew. I knew what would happen next.

It was all too much.

Too much to resist. Too much to ignore. Too much to walk away from, no matter what common sense dictated.

“What we do,” I heard myself repeat.

“Yes,” she purred. “What we do. So get your gear and get your ass in the car. We have vamps to kill.”

Fuck me. I can hear tornado sirens in my head and I don’t care.

It’s too much and not enough, all at the same time.

It’s been a while. Too long.

I know. Things I’ve said before. But I mean it. I used to publish here every week, and life kind of forced a pause on that. A lot has changed, but I miss the writing. I intend to start it up again, slowly, like easing into freezing waters.

How very poetic of me. Look at that. I already sound like someone trying to sound like a writer. Some things don’t change.

This week’s prompt is from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘crate’, ‘nerve’, and ‘simultaneous’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

Let’s do this.

the crate

I stood in front of the crate for at least 5 minutes, trying to work up the nerve.

In the end, I didn’t even do it. There was this noise, like a wounded animal, and a simultaneous thump from inside. Hard.

The wood splintered and cracked, and I just stood there, eyes closed, while whatever was inside came. I could feel it breathing on me, smell the stench of its breath, before it howled and took off.

I don’t know where it went. I don’t want to know.

I hope I’m never near that thing again.

It’s been far too long since I posted any fiction. Time to change that, though I’m easing back in with something super-short. Just 98 words.

The prompt comes from The Prediction:

100 words maximum, excluding the title, of flash fiction or poetry using all of the three words above (‘floss’, ‘history’ and ‘sketch’) in the genres of horror, fantasy or science fiction.

I hope you enjoy it.

the dentist

“Have you been flossing?” he asked with a little too much trill in his voice. His patient did not answer.

“You know the history of dental care, don’t you?” he continued. “A great deal of it was extraction.”

He tugged hard and another tooth popped free.

“A bit sketchy, really. I mean, it does nothing for gum disease.”

Tug. Pop.

“Just primitive.”

He wiped his blood-soaked fingers.

“It’s a good thing we got that tongue first. I have so much more room.”

His patient moaned in protest, but it would do no good.

“Now, where is my drill?”

Adam Savage

What follows is an explanation of cosplay as shared by Adam Savage during a TED Talk. I found this little gem on Imgur and simply transcribed it. If you’d like to see it with the images, you can find it here. If you’d like to listen to the entire TED Talk, that’s here.

This beautiful exploration of cosplay gets to the heart of what fiction – what art – is all about.

I never truly understood Cosplay until Adam Savage explained it for me.

It’s not called “costuming” at conventions. It’s called “cosplay.” Ostensibly, cosplay means people who dress up as their favorite characters from film and television and especially anime, but it is so much more than that.

These aren’t just people who find a costume and put it on. They mash them up, they bend them to their will, they change them to be the character they want to be in those productions. They’re super clever and genius. They let their freak flag fly, and it’s beautiful . . .

So I put together a No-Face costume [from Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away], and I wore it on the floor at Comic-Con. And I very carefully practiced No-Face’s gestures. When people asked to take my picture, I would nod and shyly stand next to them and they would take the picture and then I would secret out from behind my robe a chocolate gold coin and at the end of the photo process I’d make it appear for them, and people were freaking out.

“Holy crap! Gold from No-Face! Oh my God!”

This is so cool. I’m feeling it. I’m walking the floor and it’s fantastic. About 15 minutes in something happens.

Somebody grabs my hand and then puts a coin back into it and I think maybe they’re giving me a coin as a return gift, but no, this is one of the coins that I’m giving away. I don’t know why. And I keep on going and I take some more pictures and then it happens again.

Understand, I can’t see anything inside this costume. I can see through the mouth. I can see people’s shoes. I can hear what they’re saying and I can see their feet. But the third time someone gives me back a coin, I wanna know what’s going on, so I sort of tilt my head back to get a better view, and what I see is someone walking away from me like this…

Walk Away

And then it hits me.

It’s bad luck to take gold from No-Face. In the film Spirited Away, bad luck befalls those who take gold from No-Face. This isn’t a performer-audience relationship. This is cosplay.

We are, all of us on that floor, injecting ourselves into a narrative that meant something to us, and we’re making it our own. We’re connecting with something important, and the costumes are how we reveal ourselves to each other.

I’ve been away too long. And yet, it’s justifiable. Even understandable.

My schedule is packed, juggling a full-time gig, a graduate program, freelance writing, and trying to maintain at least a little bit of balance for downtime. Something had to give, and lately it’s been my writing here.

But the site hasn’t been abandoned. I will post when I can. I can’t and won’t promise the kind of consistency I had for years – not until school is done in January, at least. But I don’t want anyone thinking I’ve just taken off.

Not at all.