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Excerpt: Candles (from Lost in the Shadows)

Published December 12, 2017 by admin

Tis the season, and since we started off the week on a horror vibe, I figured we’d keep it going with an excerpt from a Christmas short I did for the collection Lost in the Shadows. Taking place on Christmas Eve during the zombie apocalypse, it combines the ceremony of advent and the desire to keep Christmas close under bleak circumstances.

***

If it was any other Christmas, the candles would have been purple, pink, and white. As it was, Jamie had been lucky to find extra candles at all.

“This Christmas sucks. No turkey, no presents. We don’t even get a tree,” Tony whined from his seat in the shed’s corner. Jamie bit her lip against the sudden urge to cry. Of all the horrors they’d seen lately, it was her thirteen-year-old that was making her break down. The worst part was that he was right. Celebrating was a stupid idea that just made it all worse. She couldn’t save her family, or even give them a proper holiday. What kind of a mother am I?

“We have a lot of things,” Grant reminded him. There he was, coming to her aid once again. Every time they ran out of food, every time Tony or her five-year-old Andy got sick, every time the undead got riled and tried to charge their hiding spot of the moment, he was there with an answer. He gave her a tight smile over her oldest’s head. He looked as ragged as the rest of them did, but his drawn face didn’t look bad on him. His sandy brown hair didn’t show the light blond in it unless she looked really hard, and they hadn’t been alone enough lately for her to have a chance to look. His grey eyes were reassuring, though there was exhaustion in them, too. It was the same fatigue they all felt, the thing that chased them more than the zombies. It gnawed at them daily, made every little task an ordeal, dragged them lower and lower into submission to the new way of things. “We have a place to sleep. We have food for a few days. We have each other,” he urged. His eyes danced just a little, for her sake.

She echoed his smile, though she had to work to make her mouth move. She hadn’t felt a reason to really smile in so long; even the good moments were quickl

y overshadowed by another death, another problem, another strange shadow cast on the wall, another night filled with unearthly moaning, another attack. “That’s all we need,” Jaime agreed and wrapped both boys in her shivering arms. How long before I lose them? How long before I lose myself? Grant carefully struck one of their last matches and lit the candles in the Advent wreath made from barbed wire. His large fingers almost hid the match, but they couldn’t hide the tiny, beautiful spark.

“The first candle symbolizes hope.” The tiny blue flame struggled to stay alive. Jamie ran a hand through her dark, tangled hair and wiped it on her stained jeans to rid her hand of the oil. There hadn’t been a good time to wash it lately, especially with the cold weather. Tony and Andy weren’t particularly put out by not being able to take a bath, but it was a little comfort she missed. Hope.

It’s hard to have hope when Amanda was ripped apart by monsters, she thought, shuddering. She closed her eyes and pushed the thought of her baby away. She replayed the scene in her head constantly: how she’d gone to the nursery to check on her, how she’d found the screen knocked out of the open window, how three ugly corpses had been fighting over the infant’s remains. She’d only escaped because her husband Jason had dragged her away, forcing her to take Tony and Andy with her. She hadn’t seen his fate, but his screams had suddenly stopped when they’d reached the front door. The only reason she’d kept on running was because of her boys. That had been in June.

The only hope I have is that Grant found us, she sighed, and tried to focus on his rugged face and not the determined memory of her husband. Guilt came in bucketfulls when one had nothing else to think about besides surviving and the past.

“The second candle is preparation,” Grant continued, gently talking to the boys as he guided his hands to the next candle, his free hand guarding the little flame. Jamie chewed the inside of her lip and curled the dirty blanket she’d found tighter around her. Who can prepare for something like this? Decades of horror movies, of thinking about the most awful things, and there was still nothing we could all do to prepare for this. She glanced to the gun in her hands, stroked the barrel idly. They were down to their last three bullets unless they could find more. The heavy snowstorm three days ago had deterred the hordes that had been quickly giving chase to anything they considered worth eating, but it also made going on supply runs difficult.

She didn’t even know where they were now, except that they had been heading north towards Canada, where the hordes were supposed to be minimal thanks to the cold. They’d raided the empty downtown area of a small town a few weeks ago, and ended up in an abandoned shack on some abandoned plot of land. There wasn’t much cover so she was always sitting there, waiting for the final attack to come, but the weather had helped, at least. None of it, though, was anything anyone could prepare for. It had just happened. As of yet no one even knew how it had started, or if they did they weren’t sharing. Couldn’t share, more likely. Everyone was so cut off from each other, electricity and phone lines were rare, never mind a wireless signal.

“Joy,” Grant narrated, lighting the next candle, moving the match away at the last minute when Andy reached for it.

“I wanna help!” he complained.

“You’re just gonna ruin it or cut yourself again!” Tony grumbled and hunkered deeper into the hooded sweatshirt that was at least four sizes too big for him. “Butthead.”

Grant grabbed Andy’s arm away before he cut it on the barbed wire of the wreath. “C’mere, you, let’s do it this way,” he chuckled and shook the match out. Jaime watched as he helped her youngest get hold of one of the lit candles, carefully guiding the boy’s movements with his giant hand over the tiny one. “There we go…joy.”

“Joy, joy, joy!” Andy sing-songed. He was always doing that, making up little tunes from something one of them said. It had been cute when they’d lived in a nice house and had only the usual things to worry about. The last time he’d done it he’d alerted a shuffling corpse that had gone off on its own for some reason, though that wasn’t usually part of zombie behavior.

No. You know why that thing was on its own. She cleared her throat and blushed when Tony rolled his eyes. He knew how she covered her emotions all too well. You didn’t cover them up then, did you? You ran out and saw your little boy about to meet the same fate as your baby girl. You did what any mother would have done. She shivered and wrapped the blanket tighter. It was so hard to get warm when she’d lost so much weight and her clothes hung on her. You rushed right out, Grant’s advice be damned, and tore that bastard apart limb from limb. She could still feel the blood oozing over her hands, the cold flesh soft and slimy in her grip and smearing dirt on her clothes. It was only once she’d taken the head and gone to retrieve the pieces for burning that she thought to look at the face.

Jason. The thing after her son was half-eaten and had suffered more decay than any living thing had a  right to, but it had been Jason. It was hard to feel joy after that.

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Kindle      Paperback

OR Email selahjanelauthor@gmail.com on information about signed copies!

Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation. In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways. Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.

Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.

Genre: various speculative genres

Length: 300 pages

Format: Kindle, Paperback (Nook and other platforms coming soon)

Publisher: Published by the authors

Southern Haunts 3: An interview with Alexander S. Brown

Published May 8, 2016 by admin

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It’s blog tour time! Today I have an interview with not only a fantastic editor and author, but one of my favorite people and podcasting co-host. But first, ze book.

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Genres/Subgenres: Horror, Short Story, Paranormal, Occult, Folklore/Southern Regional

Deep within the South, read about the magickal folk who haunt the woods, the cemeteries, and the cities. Within this grim anthology, eighteen authors will spellbind you with tales of hoodoo, voodoo, and witchcraft.

From this cauldron mix, readers will explore the many dangers lurking upon the Natchez Trace and in the Mississippi Delta. They will encounter a bewitched doll named Robert from the Florida Keys, and a cursed trunk that is better left closed. In the backstreets of New Orleans, they will become acquainted with scorned persons who will stop at nothing to exact their revenge.

These hair raising tales and more await you in Southern Haunts 3: Magick Beneath the Moonlight. Read if you dare.

Authors:

Alexander S. Brown

Angela Lucius

  1. H. David Blalock

C G Bush

Della West

Diane Ward

Elizabeth Allen

Greg McWhorter

John Hesselberg

Jonnie Sorrow

Kalila Smith

Linda DeLeon

Louise Myers

Melissa Robinson

Melodie Romeo

J L Mulvihill

Robert McGough

Tom Lucas

***

SJ: Tell us about SH3.  What makes it unique compared to 1&2?

ASB: Actually, each vol. of Southern Haunts is unique, as the subjects vary with each book.  Vol 1. Spirits that Walk Among Us, focused on ghosts.  Vol 2. Devils in the Darkness, featured on demonic entities.  Vol 3. Magick Beneath the Moonlight, regards witchcraft and cursed objects.

SJ: Why witches?  What attracts you to the theme?

ASB: I have always been attracted to the occult.  I find the whole subject fascinating and since Spirits that Walk Among Us was published, it was only a matter of time before we released an anthology about magickal persons.  But for this to happen, I had to wait.

For vol. 3 to be about witches, there is a great significance to the vol. number and the subject matter.  In the occult, there is the belief that what one puts out into the world comes back to them in triple abundance.  Also, in paganism, the maiden, the mother and the crone are recognized and honored as a trinity. These reasons are specifically why this vol. could be none other than occult related.

SJ: What makes for a good southern horror story?

ASB: Multiple elements can make a good southern horror story, such as elaborating about the habitat, cultural development, history, verbiage, and so forth.  But personally for me, what makes a southern horror story great, is the way that it is told.

Many times during childhood, I had found myself at family gatherings and I would overhear elderly relatives speak of infamous legends from the region.  The richness of their slang and phrases, made their ghost stories all the more horrifying, because it seemed more personal.  It seemed like the story tellers weren’t utilizing proper words and phrases to identify something infamous, they were using an age old southern dialect that seemed even more tangible.

SJ: Why do you think readers gravitate to themed horror like this, especially in short form?

ASB: I think the majority of readers are under attack from having a short attention span.  Because of life being so hectic, short stories can allow readers to enjoy complete stories in minimal time.  With the subjects being themed, it lets the reader know immediately what they are in store for.  This can result in a quicker purchase.  For example: Southern Haunts 3 is about witches, the title and cover image are self-explanatory.  If the reader loves witches, they are more likely to purchase.  If that reader is not a fan of magickal themed stories, then perhaps Southern Haunts vol. 1 or 2 is more their preference.

SJ: What are the benefits of anthologies?  Any downside?

The biggest benefit for an anthology is that it presents readers with a diversity of authors who they may not have read before.  This works well for the author because it can help them gain new fans.

The downside to anthologies is that no one really makes money, as book royalties are normally split between 15 to 20 creators.

SJ: Was it different wearing the editor hat compared to being an author?

ASB: It was quite different.  After finishing Southern Haunts vol. 1, I had a new respect for editors.  To me, writing is simple and relaxing, editing is time consuming and feels like work.  Although I prefer writing more than editing, editing the Southern Haunts series has improved my writing skills.

SJ:What is the best thing about putting a book like this together?  The most difficult?

ASB: The best thing about constructing an anthology is seeing likeminded authors come together and submit their creativity.  It is a good feeling to know that other names in the profession want to work with you and contribute stories that might have been stuck in their head for quite some time.

The downside is when I have to reject stories.  I can understand how an author might think that it’s so easy for an editor to dismiss a story, and this isn’t the case.  For me, sending a rejection email, hurts me just as much as it does the author.

SJ: Any advice to authors who are interested in submitting to anthologies?

ASB: First, research the publisher before you submit.

SJ: Second, follow the guidelines.  Sometimes guidelines are overly specific with their requirements, even down to spacing, font, and letter size.  Obey all of these rules.  A lot of times, editors will use these demands as ways to see if the author payed attention, or cares about their work.

SJ: What’s next for Southern Haunts? For you as an author?

ASB: For Southern Haunts vol. 4, we are anticipating creature stories.  We haven’t decided on a title yet, but it will follow the theme of its predecessors, but with monsters.

I have a few books that are in the works.  One of which is in the final edit stage, and is being published by Pro Se Press, this will be a collection of Halloween stories called The Night the Jack O’ Lantern Went Out.  I have one story left to write before Traumatized pt 2 is complete, and The Looking Glass Creatures is currently undergoing a massive edit.

AlexanderSBrown

Alexander S. Brown is a Mississippi author who was published in 2008 with his first book Traumatized. Reviews for this short story collection were so favorable that it has been released as a special edition by Pro Se Press. Brown is currently one of the co-editors/coordinators with the Southern Haunts Anthologies published by Seventh Star Press. His horror novel Syrenthia Falls is represented by Dark Oak Press.

He is also the author of multiple young adult steampunk stories found in the Dreams of Steam Anthologies, Capes and Clockwork Anthologies, and the anthology Clockwork Spells and Magical Bells. His more extreme works can be found in the anthologies Luna’s Children published by Dark Oak Press and State of Horror: Louisiana Vol 1 published by Charon Coin Press.

Visit Smashwords.com, Amazon.com, and Barnesandnoble.com to download his monthly short stories known as Single Shots. These are represented by Pro Se Press and they are known as stories that will be featured in the upcoming book The Night the Jack O’Lantern Went Out.

 

Theme is the Hairy Spider Hiding Inside Your Pumpkin by Adrian Cross

Published November 10, 2015 by admin

I’m pleased as punch to be bringing to you a book with a great theme and a great collection of stories today. You might even say they’re improbably good… (okay, yeah, I know, I’ll shut up and get to it…)

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When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Sherlock Holmes is one of the most recognizable characters in Western literature.  Conan Doyle’s inimitable detective has been the subject of literally thousands of books, movies, television shows, plays and even songs.  With the rise of the BBC series and the release of most copyrights, the beloved character has found a new life among modern audiences.   In An Improbable Truth: The Paranormal Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 14 authors of horror and mystery have come together to create a unique anthology that sets Holmes on some of his most terrifying adventures.  A pair of sisters willing to sacrifice young girls to an ancient demon for a taste of success, a sinister device that can manipulate time itself, and a madman that can raise corpses from the dead are just a few among the grisly tales that can be found within these pages.  Curl up with a warm cuppa and leave all the lights on.  This is not your grandfather’s Sherlock Holmes.

***

Joining us today is contributor Adrian Cross with a guest post and an excerpt from his story, Time’s Running Out, Watson

***

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Theme is the hairy spider hiding inside your pumpkin.

By Adrian Cross

It’s almost Halloween. I’m allowed to stretch a metaphor, right? But remember that spider and pumpkin. I’ll explain later.

So who am I and what am I talking about? I’m a new author, with my first published story, Time’s Running Out, Watson, coming out in An Improbable Truth: The Paranormal Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes (woo hoo!). In the last month, I’ve also earned an honorable mention in the very competitive Writers of the Future contest, and I spend a lot of time on the OWW (online writing workshop) boards, critiquing other people’s work and getting my own work beaten up. So I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on writing short stories and what makes them gel–not that any story is easy to execute well. But if there is one weakness that I think plagues a lot of short stories, including my own early efforts, it is a lack of cohesiveness and professionalism, even if the idea is a decent one.

One way to get better at this (although not the only one) is to consider theme. Theme is the big picture stuff, the moral question, interesting concept, or emotional flavor you’re trying to leave the reader with, whether you realize it or not. And I know that as an early writer, I cringed at the very mention of it. Ooops. J

At first glance, Time’s Running Out, Watson (the story mentioned above), which pits Watson and Holmes against a deadly inventress with a time-twisting device, may not appear the strongest example of a theme-driven piece, partly because I’m stepping into a well-worn world and characters, with its own appeal. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any theme, or that finding it didn’t add value. I’m convinced it did.

The big picture idea in that story was time, not surprisingly. And I also realized that I could deepen that theme by working in some small details. So I added a puddle of water that faded from sight, leaving no sign behind. I gave Holmes a closing line that played on the word ‘time’. And I changed a sheathed dagger on the table, which played no real role in the story, into a desk clock with a pendulum, realizing as I did that I could incorporate that into the plot itself.

The more tangential elements that you can tie into the themes of your short story, the more powerful and professional its impact. It’s the little details that impress, even if the impact is almost too subtle to notice. It’s not the candle-lit pumpkin on the window that scares the jaded trick-or-treater.

It’s the hairy spider crawling up their leg.

See, I got there eventually. 😉

All the best in your Halloween treats, and writing efforts. If you’d like to peruse more of my writing musings, feel free to visit at www.adriancross.ca.

Happy Halloween!

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When Adrian Croft was a teenager, his mother told him in a hushed voice that she’d talked to her hair dresser and learned an unfortunate fact: that reading fantasy and science fiction wasn’t a phase that you grew out of. All those assassins and dragons decorating his bookshelf might be… permanent. Adrian didn’t see it as unfortunate at all and has since then enjoyed many more speculative stories. More recently, he’s expanded into writing and illustrating fantasy as well. ‘Time is Running Out, Watson’ is his first published piece, but hopefully not his last. You can find him at http://www.adriancross.ca

From “Time’s Running Out, Watson” by Adrian Cross

A woman took form from the shadows beside the hearth. I realized that Holmes, through coincidence or design, had faced her the entire time. Thick-bodied, with hard fingers and eyes and a smock that still glistened with rain, she held a small device in her hand. It was twin to the one that Holmes had shown me, except that no bullet hole marred it.

“Lower your pistol,” she ordered, her voice deep and commanding.

I tightened my grip. “I surely will not. Drop the device and step away.”

She chuckled.

A hot flash of pain slashed my wrist and the pistol fell from it, but skittering away before it ever touched the rug, as if kicked by an invisible foot. All I’d seen was a dark afterimage, as if my eyes had registered a movement too quick to be seen.

The woman hadn’t appeared to have moved. She smiled.

“You are not in control here, sir.”

My wrist ached. I rubbed it. “Who are you?”

Holmes answered. “Mrs. Angela White. Is that not correct?”

She looked surprised. “How did you know that?”

“It was hardly difficult. Reynold White obviously didn’t design the object in your hand. No, the handwriting of the plans was feminine, bold and patient, with no quaver of age. He had no sister, and a grandmother would be too old, although that may not have been absolutely out of question, given the circumstances. But the papers also mentioned that Mr. White’s father was an engineer of wide renown, who in turn credited his greatest achievements to his wife, Angela White. So Reynold’s mother. Not much of a gamble in the end.”

“Caged mice,” she snarled. She took a step closer and a fire burned in her eyes, a banked rage that made the hair on the back of my neck rise in response. “None of the other measly intellects in the government’s offices could hold a candle to me, but still they refused to see my value. Mr. Holmes, you may be a great detective, but your deductions will not save you tonight. You should never have tangled with my family. You are as guilty of my son’s death as if you’d pulled the trigger yourself. You will both suffer greatly for that.”

Excerpt: The Guru

Published September 14, 2015 by admin

I know, it’s a new week, but I’m probably sleeping the convention off, and I feel like giving you guys something to entertain yourselves with. We’ll get back to rants and weirdness soon enough, I swear.

Sometimes a story comes from a deep emotional place, and a lot of these times that’s a great big fat well of frustration. I can’t remember the situation this stemmed from, but I felt overwhelmed, trapped in a role. I tend to be fairly protective of those around me, and sometimes I probably overdo it, and sometimes I’m sure this gets exploited…or at the very least, people don’t realized that I’m like any other person and get exhausted. It’s also probably true that I try too hard and allow myself to get exhausted. Anyway, I was going through one of those times and suddenly this character of a little old man doomed to listen to other people’s inane questions when he really just wants to be left alone in the quiet and go swimming or something popped into my head, and off I went. this is just a piece of the story, and oddly I remember finding it a little hilarious, just so ridiculous after I wrote it. I have different emotions about this piece depending on how I feel at any given time, which is still really intriguing to me. Plus, I felt it was important to write this because as a reader, I want to know that I’m not alone in my very human feelings. If I can give that empathy and feeling of not being alone to anyone else, I’ve done my job.

I also admittedly wanted humanize the character of the mystic, because I refuse to believe that a person can’t feel negative emotions at some point in their life.

***

 Down the narrow path to the marketplace he goes, feet treading carefully on loose stones. A mishap could very well make a morning excursion his last habitual task on earth. Yet he always arrives safely in the village below, always goes to the market where he sits on the reed-wood chair. It is the only sign of his status. His wrinkled, dried-fig face could be that of any old man, his worn and ragged robe that of any beggar. He is much more, though his wealth is all inside his head. His appearance and carriage are only proof of his reclusive tendencies, not of who he is.

With slow purpose and movement that resembles a trembling leaf, he sits on his designated chair and waits for the people to come. They will not stop coming all day, even when he leaves to go back to his seclusion. From within each brain, from behind each set of lips pour out questions. Some inventive, but most he hears regularly.

From newly married couples: “What do I do so he doesn’t leave me?” or “Why does she nag me so?”

Young hearts that yearn for their first romance: “What must I do to interest him?” “How shall I keep her?” “What do I do so I do not to interest him too much? Does he love me? How can I make him love me?”

Young parents: “What do I do for colic?” “How do I get him to stop cying?”

Older parents: “Why won’t my child speak to me? How shall I get him to talk?”

Parents who are quite old: “How do I get him to leave my house?”

“What do I do with my life? Who should I be?” ask the young and filled with fear.

“Where do I go now?” ask those who are just afraid. There are the old who want to be proud of their years yet are feeble and filled with questions, for they have nothing left but to think of them. “How can I care for myself now? How can I love, how can I live?”

And there are always the ones that everyone wishes to know. “What is life about? Why is man here? Where do we go next?”

They come from everywhere. New faces show up every day, yet they quickly become old faces with new questions once they learn how accurate he is. He supposes having answers is an addiction, but it is his calling to provide what knowledge he can.

All day long he continues to sit and think and answer. He remembers how as a boy he used to be able to waste a day swimming in the river or walking through the forest. That was before his great gift was discovered. He has desires, too, though no one knows of them. He longs to travel the world, to see cities with tall buildings and deserts where living things have to spend their entire lifetimes surviving. He wants to see deep oceans, lush jungles where there are chirping birds, chittering insects, and the screams of predators. As long as there are no questions, he wants to go there. Silence is what he hopes for most.

At dusk he hobbles up the crooked path, his footsteps swaying between the little trees that try to grow between the rocks. As he flees in his dignified manner the questions of those not content to wait for tomorrow float up behind him, fading to a dull whisper the higher he goes.

“What about the harvest?”

“Am I mad or am I sick?”

“Should I kill my neighbor’s dog if it attacks my cows?”

“Will there be the heavy storms this year?”

Temptation strokes his balding head. “Lie to them,” it whispers in its throaty, beguiling voice. “Make it up and let them fail, then they will leave you be!” Frustration tugs his cottony beard that whispers to his knees. “Tell them where to go! Don’t go down the mountain tomorrow!”

But he is a decent man and casts his eyes to heaven for forgiveness. His throat is too tired to pray.

His hut welcomes him as do his goats. Their irritated cries lift to greet him and even their tone is questioning when he most wants to retreat to his solitude.

“Do you have to be so long?” their baahs seem to say, eyes hard as their foreheads. “Is it dinner time yet? Where were you, Old One, and why do you leave us all day?” He takes the time to milk and feed them. Slowly, tediously he does his chores and it is well beyond twilight when he is finished. He could take on a young boy as a helper or apprentice, send for someone to look after him, but he fears those who would take advantage of a position or the innocent questions of a young and hungry mind.

He eats a simple meal and curls upon his sleeping mat with resignation. He wants so badly to complain and tell someone about his fears, his desires, his pain of knowing

If he only had the courage and callousness to tell those fools to be curious! How he wishes he could tell them to find things out on their own, to learn and be happy with the learning and the knowing! But he is a gentle man graced with a large mind, but a small voice and timid disposition. He has no one to talk to. Not his departed, blessed wife; not his parents who instilled his curious nature; no teacher or friend or mentor.

***

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Kindle        Amazon Paperback      B&N Paperback

Various Speculative Genres/Short Fiction: Flash, Complete Shorts, Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and others

Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation.

In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways.

Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.

Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.

Short: September Children

Published September 9, 2015 by admin

Since today is my birthday (feel free to leave your gratuitous praise and adoration in the comments), I figured I’d post something appropriate. Since it’s a con week, I am going to be lazy and totally pimp my excerpts all this week because I am old and I can.

It is a known fact that people born in September are the best. They just are. No argument. Any argument just means you’re jealous. Other September babies have read this and totally agree with me, so we win. Granted, I find this month interesting because it can straddle summer and fall, though I identify more with the fall side. Without getting into the whole myth and legend of the birthing of SJ, here is a little short from Lost in the Shadows, all about my feelings on September.

You should totally buy the book, by the way. Since it’s my birthday and all.

***

September children are full of the light of the harvest moon. They are permeated by the sweet acrid musk of the smoke from burning leaves and the last of the barbecues. A child born in September acknowledges summer, relaxes in winter, but knows the real magic of the year comes with the falling of leaves and planting of pumpkins. They feel the pressure to like the start of school and they do for a week. But the distractions of the colors, the impending crisp air are enough to drive a true September child away from the books to walk down little side streets and paths in the woods to search for the remaining chipmunks and squirrels.

A September child always feels a little cheated that their mothers couldn’t keep them in the womb till October, but feel blessed that they came before the disappointment of November, the end of the real magic time of year. The winter may have its holidays, but it relies on marketing and icons to make it inviting.

A September child’s lips are kissed with cider and their cheeks are made for stuffing away doughnuts and sugary cookies. Their hair smells like deep sapphire sky no matter what the color and they haunt apple orchards, cemeteries, and destroy piles of leaves left carelessly to be crunched under their delighted feet.

September children are broody, stuck in a transition month with no real holidays. Labor Day and Grandparents Day pale in comparison to Halloween or Christmas. Being part summer and part autumn have made them determined. They watch for opportunity and adventure in their introverted hideaways in backyards. They feel no apologies for their month ending summer freedom and only a little jealousy at the months to come. But a smile from a September child means promise of things lurking in the future. They get things done. You can see possibility and fall sky in their open, wide eyes. They’re overlooked like so many others, but it helps their dreams and plottings for everyone else to be so distracted.

Their wrath is the lick of trash-burning flames, laughter the incoming of crows, their pleasure that of children playing tag on the way home from the first lazy week of school before the work really starts. September children are often ignored but full of possibility, the inhalation of breath before the year continues on, the thoughts and empty space before meditation. September children know how to live, most of all

Lost - 400x600

Kindle        Amazon Paperback      B&N Paperback

Various Speculative Genres/Short Fiction: Flash, Complete Shorts, Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and others

Journey with authors Selah Janel and S.H. Roddey to a world where every idea is a possibility and every genre an invitation.

In this collection of forty-seven short stories, lines blur and worlds collide in strange and wonderful new ways.

Get lost with the authors as they wander among fantasy, horror, science fiction, and other speculative musings.

Shadows can’t hurt you, and sometimes it’s all right to venture off the path.

***

In the Louisville area this weekend? Come see me at Imaginarium Convention and get a signed copy of Lost in the Shadows for your very own!

Also, be sure to go hunting for the hidden word on my blog and enter the Night Owl Reviews scavenger hunt before Sept 17! (hint: go look through the links at the top of the page…)

Excerpt: Candles (a holiday zombie story)

Published December 15, 2014 by admin

Those who know me well enough (or pay attention to my bloggy ramblings) know by now that this time of year is a mixed bag for me. I don’t necessarily like the cynical part of myself or the part that gets beaten down by emotion from time to time, but it exists. Thankfully, the part that will gnaw off a metaphorical limb to keep going and the part that is determined to see a bit of light in everything also exists. Therefore, stories like this aren’t really out of the norm for me. I’ll warn you, this is not a pleasant holiday story, and it’s not the full story, but an excerpt. The full story can be found in Lost in the Shadows. One of these days I’m hoping to do a collection of dark holiday fiction, because these ideas come easily and they admittedly fascinate me. I like the dichotomy of things falling apart during a time that’s supposed to be a celebration and very well put together. It’s an amplified examination of holiday stress in some ways. Also, bizarrely, the only zombie fiction ideas I ever have are Christmas themed.

***

If it was any other Christmas, the candles would have been purple, pink, and white. As it was, Jamie had been lucky to find extra candles at all.

“This Christmas sucks. No turkey, no presents. We don’t even get a tree,” Tony whined from his seat in the shed’s corner. Jamie bit her lip against the sudden urge to cry. Of all the horrors they’d seen lately, it was her thirteen-year-old that was making her break down. The worst part was that he was right. Celebrating was a stupid idea that just made it all worse. She couldn’t save her family, or even give them a proper holiday. What kind of a mother am I?

“We have a lot of things,” Grant reminded him. There he was, coming to her aid once again. Every time they ran out of food, every time Tony or her five-year-old Andy got sick, every time the undead got riled and tried to charge their hiding spot of the moment, he was there with an answer. He gave her a tight smile over her oldest’s head. He looked as ragged as the rest of them did, but his drawn face didn’t look bad on him. His sandy brown hair didn’t show the light blond in it unless she looked really hard, and they hadn’t been alone enough lately for her to have a chance to look. His grey eyes were reassuring, though there was exhaustion in them, too. It was the same fatigue they all felt, the thing that chased them more than the zombies. It gnawed at them daily, made every little task an ordeal, dragged them lower and lower into submission to the new way of things. “We have a place to sleep. We have food for a few days. We have each other,” he urged. His eyes danced just a little, for her sake.

She echoed his smile, though she had to work to make her mouth move. She hadn’t felt a reason to really smile in so long; even the good moments were quickly overshadowed by another death, another problem, another strange shadow cast on the wall, another night filled with unearthly moaning, another attack. “That’s all we need,” Jaime agreed and wrapped both boys in her shivering arms. How long before I lose them? How long before I lose myself? Grant carefully struck one of their last matches and lit the candles in the Advent wreath made from barbed wire. His large fingers almost hid the match, but they couldn’t hide the tiny, beautiful spark.

“The first candle symbolizes hope.” The tiny blue flame struggled to stay alive. Jamie ran a hand through her dark, tangled hair and wiped it on her stained jeans to rid her hand of the oil. There hadn’t been a good time to wash it lately, especially with the cold weather. Tony and Andy weren’t particularly put out by not being able to take a bath, but it was a little comfort she missed.

Hope. It’s hard to have hope when Amanda was ripped apart by monsters, she thought, shuddering. She closed her eyes and pushed the thought of her baby away. She replayed the scene in her head constantly: how she’d gone to the nursery to check on her, how she’d found the screen knocked out of the open window, how three ugly corpses had been fighting over the infant’s remains. She’d only escaped because her husband Jason had dragged her away, forcing her to take Tony and Andy with her. She hadn’t seen his fate, but his screams had suddenly stopped when they’d reached the front door. The only reason she’d kept on running was because of her boys. That had been in June.

The only hope I have is that Grant found us, she sighed, and tried to focus on his rugged face and not the determined memory of her husband. Guilt came in bucketfulls when one had nothing else to think about besides surviving and the past.

“The second candle is preparation,” Grant continued, gently talking to the boys as he guided his hands to the next candle, his free hand guarding the little flame. Jamie chewed the inside of her lip and curled the dirty blanket she’d found tighter around her. Who can prepare for something like this? Decades of horror movies, of thinking about the most awful things, and there was still nothing we could all do to prepare for this. She glanced to the gun in her hands, stroked the barrel idly. They were down to their last three bullets unless they could find more. The heavy snowstorm three days ago had deterred the hordes that had been quickly giving chase to anything they considered worth eating, but it also made going on supply runs difficult.

She didn’t even know where they were now, except that they had been heading north towards Canada, where the hordes were supposed to be minimal thanks to the cold. They’d raided the empty downtown area of a small town a few weeks ago, and ended up in an abandoned shack on some abandoned plot of land. There wasn’t much cover so she was always sitting there, waiting for the final attack to come, but the weather had helped, at least. None of it, though, was anything anyone could prepare for. It had just happened. As of yet no one even knew how it had started, or if they did they weren’t sharing. Couldn’t share, more likely. Everyone was so cut off from each other, electricity and phone lines were rare, never mind a wireless signal.

“Joy,” Grant narrated, lighting the next candle, moving the match away at the last minute when Andy reached for it.

“I wanna help!” he complained.

“You’re just gonna ruin it or cut yourself again!” Tony grumbled and hunkered deeper into the hooded sweatshirt that was at least four sizes too big for him. “Butthead.”

Grant grabbed Andy’s arm away before he cut it on the barbed wire of the wreath. “C’mere, you, let’s do it this way,” he chuckled and shook the match out. Jaime watched as he helped her youngest get hold of one of the lit candles, carefully guiding the boy’s movements with his giant hand over the tiny one. “There we go…joy.”

“Joy, joy, joy!” Andy sing-songed. He was always doing that, making up little tunes from something one of them said. It had been cute when they’d lived in a nice house and had only the usual things to worry about. The last time he’d done it he’d alerted a shuffling corpse that had gone off on its own for some reason, though that wasn’t usually part of zombie behavior.

No. You know why that thing was on its own. She cleared her throat and blushed when Tony rolled his eyes. He knew how she covered her emotions all too well. You didn’t cover them up then, did you? You ran out and saw your little boy about to meet the same fate as your baby girl. You did what any mother would have done. She shivered and wrapped the blanket tighter. It was so hard to get warm when she’d lost so much weight and her clothes hung on her. You rushed right out, Grant’s advice be damned, and tore that bastard apart limb from limb. She could still feel the blood oozing over her hands, the cold flesh soft and slimy in her grip and smearing dirt on her clothes. It was only once she’d taken the head and gone to retrieve the pieces for burning that she thought to look at the face.

Jason. The thing after her son was half-eaten and had suffered more decay than any living thing had a right to, but it had been Jason. It was hard to feel joy after that.

It’s Christmas, she reminded herself. You’re still alive. You have most of your family. You have Grant. You have more than a lot of people do. Besides, it’s the season of magic and miracles. Maybe a cure will be found. Maybe the weather will kill the rest of them. Maybe everything will all go away over the winter. When she was ten, she’d finally found out the truth about Santa. Her mother had sat her down and explained the facts, but allowed her to be part of the magic from the other side, putting stockings and special gifts together for her little sister who was six years younger. She had done so, always the good and obedient older daughter, but it wasn’t enough. Christmas was about the impossible, the magical. When she’d been alone at night, tucked in her bed, she’d convince herself that her parents were wrong, that somewhere, somehow, there really was a Santa Claus. He just hadn’t been discovered yet, and his legend was so big that he was able to hide behind it, delivering his presents in a way that no one would be able to catch him at. She’d always been good at convincing herself the impossible was possible. Unfortunately, her belief system was running on empty lately.

Prose: On Fire

Published November 20, 2014 by admin

To keep on going with the ideas can come from anywhere theme, I thought I’d put up a short today and touch on a little bit of back story. I go through stages where I outline or craft definite genre pieces, but at times I slide back into things that aren’t quite one thing or the other. They may be essays, they may be thoughts on an emotion or a painting or photograph. They could start out as nonfiction and slide into fictional or vice versa. Sometimes a phrase will jump start a vignette – “lime vanilla ice” from Dandelion Wine is a big one for me. I have journals filled with these odd ramblings spawned from lectures, daily thoughts, frustrations, conversations, movies, and music. I sometimes wonder if I make it a life habit to interpret songs differently than most of the human population, but that’s part of the beauty of art – the same piece can take your mind so many different places.

This started out as a ramble and ended up as something a little bit more structured, though I like that it’s fairly noncomformist if you compare it to something more genre-specific. This piece started in a journal, ended up as a free read for a while, and migrated into Lost in the Shadows, a collection which features a lot of other genre nonspecific pieces, in the hope that those stories will make you think and feel and let your mind wander off the beaten path. Seriously, I don’t know how many times I have to say this – it’s okay to have your own interpretation of art. Go for it. Let yourself wonder what this dude is actually going through and what really happens to him. I have my version, but see where your ideas take you.

Originally, this idea came about when I was spending a lot of days alone in a room sewing on different projects some ten years ago maybe, and it sat in a notebook for the longest time (one of those paper things that we used to use in the Bronze Age and some of us still carry them everywhere). You can only focus on your hands for so long before the mind wanders a little bit, and admittedly I have a thing about listening to music and letting it kick my brain into some new head space. Believe me, you probably don’t even want to know the places certain songs send me, or at the very least it would probably give a few surprises (and mild heart attacks). That specific time period featured a lot of my Bowie collection.

I want to say Reality had just come out, or maybe I had gone back to listening to it. Whichever, I’ve also always loved the Berlin trilogy, and I feel like it’s a shame that Lodger gets a little forgotten when compared to Low and ‘Heroes’ – or maybe it just brings back memories of actually buying the album when I was in Berlin in college one summer, wide-eyed in the hostel soaking up every note at night after living requiems and folk songs and street music during the day. Whether it was luck or chance, my brain linked together the songs DJ and Bring Me the Disco King, shoved them into a weird alternate universe, and this character was born. For whatever reason the latter seemed like a natural progression of the former, and I wanted to write a place where that made sense, if only for a few heartbeats. I wanted to tap into the necessity that music is in my life, but also go to a place that was slightly unfamiliar, slightly alien to me and see if I could make it work.

***

On Fire

The good times were gone. He’d laughed it off when he first suspected that he’d lost his gift. He’d always kept his performance face on, even while asleep. He’d grinned before snarling when his girl went to dance at other clubs, when all his fans had shadows of indifference cast upon their faces instead of hypnotic neon glow. He could only laugh so long. Soon, the only thing left for him to do was to sit at home and spin until that one, horrible night when even he noticed that he wasn’t as fast as he used to be.  From the very start he’d been hot, hotter than hot. Somehow, he’d lost his edge. The fire and heat that had been his signature style had disappeared, fading with wisps of smoke and break down.

The morning he woke crumpled in the bathroom, huddled among week-old discarded towels, piles of shattered mirror, and vinyl, was the hour his sinking suspicions finally bottomed out. He was crawling into the sun for the first time in years to see what he really was. His crown was gone, his clothes worthless conglomerations of thread that hung limp on his skeletal frame. The smooth lines and come-hither expression on his face had manipulated themselves until his reflection was reduced to a manic, starved predator that lusted after one last handful of glory.

His overall apathy was strange and unsettling. Probably just the blood loss, he thought and took a deep breath. There was no gut reaction. Even when he wandered back to the destruction that were his tables, he couldn’t dredge up the least little bit of emotion. He didn’t care that all his equipment was trashed or that his entire life was rendered into piles of wire and smoking dreams.

Skin that had been nursed to a facsimile of a healthy glow by the club lights was slashed and torn, the jagged cuts sawed from all the old classics he had once been able to play at a mere thought. He was as good as the geniuses that had composed those tunes; everyone knew it, everyone said so.  On his best nights he was better.  A D.J.’s gift was to exert control over the artist and to transform a static track into anything he wanted. He vaguely remembered cutting himself with the LPs to try to seep his veins with the magic of the greats. In the comeuppance of the daytime he didn’t feel empowered, only broken and anemic.

“Well, what now?” he croaked, and jumped at the grit in his voice, his real voice. He hadn’t heard it in so long, not since he’d had his tongue seeped with smooth lines and pretty words that helped him seduce people to the music. The ragged drawl he didn’t particularly like had a point. What now after the fits, the jokes, and the epiphany?

If someone had mentioned it years ago when he’d owned the world on puppet strings, he would have passed it off with a casual wave and a drink. It had always been with him though, always worried him during inconvenient moments. That paranoia filled in the split second between dozing and deep sleep with warped visions that weren’t quite dreams. All the ‘what if’s’ had terrified him in the brief downtime between switching records to the point of nearly locking his hands every night. What if he fumbled or was too slow? What if the needle broke? What if the crowd didn’t like his next choice or liked it so much they ignored him completely? Ironically, he hadn’t been worried at all the night he’d finally lost the magic touch.

He ignored the shattered miniature reflections as he dressed in the skin of the man who was no one. He had been cooped up for days, driven into seclusion when no one recognized him at his usual haunts or on the street. Now, though, it was time.

The part of him that knew when to switch songs and when to hold back, the part that lived by the downbeat and the catchy hooks knew without a doubt that there was someplace he had to be. He exited his apartment, braced himself at the entrance to his building, and squinted into the oncoming night. His feet began to walk and he felt every step, every moment of contact against the crumbling street. Once he had danced on angels and demon wannabes before bedding them, but now he trudged down the road with his long coat flapping to the crooning melody of a melancholy piano.

Everyone around him faced forward. No one cared that he was there among them, in touching distance. There were no impulse kisses and no clinging arms. His chest vibrated in a soft, keening saxophone wail that tore from his throat. Those on the street spared him a brief, quizzical glance as the vibrato shook his frame and he swooned among the eighth notes.

“Wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he muttered, hands jammed deep into his pockets as he stumbled on. The soft slap of drums caught his ear. He knew that music, that dirge. It had been playing in his skull the night he was sacked, the night tastes and music had suddenly changed.

“You lied.” His growl was in perfect syncopation with the barely-there percussion. He wasn’t sure who he was talking to, yet he was certain he’d get an answer.

 You lied to yourself, the sad rhythm whispered back, truthful and unforgiving. I told you it was time. You didn’t want to know.

“It doesn’t have to end!” he protested, eyes shut and feet still walking on discarded images that had faded through the years. The sides of buildings and the billboard advertisements loomed in, all waiting to see him off. All the little people he was now equal with walked on, unaware, pushing, shoving, and collectively holding their breath for no apparent reason.

 All things end or change. I gave you everything I had, soothed the keyboard intro, tugging him down the avenue. The notes gave way to the chorus and he turned down one more dirty boulevard, caught in the backlash of memories. The adoration, the power, the benefits, the poisons, the company…it had all come and gone so easily. Had he truly taken the time to appreciate it?  It had been all he’d wanted when he’d discovered he had the gift. It was all he would never have again. In order to keep it he would have to change, and he couldn’t.  He was bound to the music and would be put away in discount bins and tucked under beds along with disco when its final notes faded out.

It was true that he could suck in a breath here and there from those that remembered and saw him as a guilty pleasure, but who wanted that? Such a partial existence was nothing compared to the kingdom he’d once known. Would he get another chance, a second coming somewhere down the road or was it finally time to pay the royalty fees? Was all he had left just one dark street after another? In silent answer, the street lamps projected his shadow to remind him that he was something close to alive?

There was a slight pause, an inhalation before the lips of fate blew into the sax again. It was one second to reflect on all that had come and gone before moving on. His cheeks were damp and the world blurred.  At the corner there was a club that was small by his standards, yet it had the redeeming quality of not having a queue. No one sat outside the decrepit front or guarded the door, but the music in his head pulsed from its inner depths. It was a little livelier than what was in his mind, but the notes were sweet and familiar. He didn’t need the gentle shove of the downbeat to enter the main hall with his oozing lacerations, dead face, and his quiet submission.

There was no one spinning and for a moment he thought maybe he could…but it was unnecessary. The whole place gave off the tunes. There was no need for him. The space wasn’t packed, but those who danced were in rapture with faces turned up and eyes dilated. They rocked and swayed because they had to. They were like him; they had nothing left but the song. There were memories trapped in the fluttering lights, though no future. The coat slid from his arms to puddle on the sticky floor. Immediately, it became fodder for the trampling feet that moved and strutted in a last desperate bid for breath. A pretty young thing latched onto him and he found his rhythm in her eyes and in the heartbeat inside her dancing legs.

Their bodies melded into each other’s heat as they swayed and shimmied. As they gyrated across the floor, the music grew so loud that its pounding rhythm turned his organs to pulp. Sweat slicked into all his cuts and the sting was so much better than all the needles he’d known. The lights grew hot and blinding as the music he knew reached one final crescendo.

The woman’s swollen lips pealed back to show hungry teeth in a funky, bliss-filled scream. Her enormous eyes watched the lights that shot their twisting colors out with reverent devotion. She trembled in his large hands and he held on even as the smoke whispered from her skin and her clothes melted away. She did not erupt, but crackled to the music. The flames turned into neon hues to match the lights as they licked her naked flesh into oblivion to the beat. When it became impossible to hold the burning pyre, he let her drop and moved on to someone else that was still approachable. It would work until his hands were charred away.

Flames of all shades and tints soared to the ceiling, but their hiss couldn’t outdo the sweetly chaotic, if predictable, music. He turned, twirled, and rocked in place when it began to hurt too much to do more. He would go out a king, not a cast out and disappointed peasant.  He was a phoenix without rebirth. His wings spread only once before he would fly into the back of the world’s collective mind forever. The remnants of his suit grew brighter until they gleamed in the fire and erupting lights as he tilted back his head and laughed. It hurt like hell; he could feel blood in his throat as all the pent-up music he’d once played came rushing over his tongue. It forced its way between his teeth and trickled under the dancing shoes and wasted bodies on the floor. The sax screamed from under his skin amid the funky mix. A needle rose from the almighty turntable arm and jabbed into his back, pinning him against the dance floor, dooming him and playing him at its will. He shuddered and let the tempo run roughshod over him in one last, chaotic dance before he ignited.

Every part of him was consumed. All his vanity, his lust, his disappointment, even the parts of the man he had been before he was D.J. ruptured and played in the ultimate end to his career. There was no one left to watch, no one left to hear. He gasped as he hit the floor. One final, fading note escaped his decimated larynx. A tear rolled from a glazed eye as the flames died and the lights faded into whatever came next. All around him the dancers became dust. His only option was to take his rest and join them.

Static. The music faded out and turned off, the entire building grew still and began to rot. In the dark, it was hard to tell if anything had ensued or if there had been any real essence there in the first place.

The door shut. The club closed. Outside, new sounds began to captivate new ears as easily distracted minds began to forget.