I’m Willie, I’m a Scotsman, and I Like Horror Fiction.

WILLIAM MEIKLE

I’m Willie, I’m a Scotsman, and I like horror fiction.

A lot of my work, long and short form, has been set in Scotland, and a lot of it uses the history and folklore. There’s just something about the misty landscapes and old buildings that speaks straight to my soul. (Bloody Celts… we get all sentimental at the least wee thing).

Scottish history goes deep. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a castle or a historic monument or, from further back, a burial mound or standing stone. Five thousand years of living in mist and dampness, wind and snow, lashing rain and high seas leads to the telling of many tales of eldritch beings abroad in the dark nights. Add in the constant risk of invasion and war from Romans, Danes, Irishmen, Vikings and English and you can see that there’s plenty of fertile ground for both fact and…

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“Layers Part 5” by Kaine Andrews

Part V

I turned away from the portrait of a happy family, slinking past the couches with all the hair on my body standing straight up. They’d never bothered me before, and whatever logic remained in this hellhole said they wouldn’t… but after the television, I wasn’t certain that things here were going to go 100% according to the script. Something was different this time. Maybe because I was actually here, instead of just visiting in my sleep. Maybe because what was waiting for me had gotten impatient and greedy, or maybe it was just stronger.

Once I was past them, creeping into the hallway, I lowered my guard. Just a bit, but enough that I felt I could breathe without sounding like a broken teakettle. I glanced back over my shoulder, not surprised when I saw that Mom and Dad’s heads weren’t visible over the top of the couch, and I couldn’t see Sis sprawled out on the other one. They’d vanished.

I was okay with that. One less thing to worry about, at least for now. What was coming was worse than their eyeless stares.

The crying was louder back here. I knew where I was supposed to go – the door at the end of the hall – but still wanted to put it off as long as I could. Wanted to make sure there were no other nasty surprises. Besides, I had to follow the script; I was sure if I tried to beeline it, something would stop me. I had to check the other door first.

I laid my hand on the doorknob to the left and pushed the door open a crack. The crying intensified for a moment, a brief period where it seemed like it was coming from right in front of me. Then it receded, as though falling down a long well.

The door opened on a walk-in closet. A blue plastic bowling ball bag sat in the corner, the outer layer peeling and flaking. A long brown coat that looked like it was last in style sometime during the flapper era, reeking of mothballs and stale cigars, hung above it. A pair of battered cardboard boxes, the edges cracked outwards and yellowed with age, sat on the shelf above. One was a Monopoly set; the one on top was the old Parker Brothers Ouija board. Some people might have taken that as a bad sign; I figured the family had worse supernatural crap to worry about than a plastic planchette and a mass-produced particle board alphabet.

I pulled the door shut and turned back to the end of the hall. The crying was obviously coming from there. I moved towards it, feeling like I was walking through water rather than air. Something beyond the door was radiating something, an aura deadlier and more poisonous than radiation. I couldn’t let it stop me. She needed me.

I reached the end of the hall and pushed the door open. Even though I knew there was nothing to fear – at least, not right now – I still winced as the door rebounded off the wall, and kept one eye to a slit as I scanned the room beyond. Just in case.

The room beyond was a bedroom. The shag carpet continued, though it looked less walked on in here. To the left was a smooth wall, a recessed and half-open door beckoning at the midpoint. Ahead was an old-time slot machine, neon glass, chromed buzzer on top, polished level to the side, almost begging to be pulled. The lights were dark, and a thin layer of grime over the windows said it hadn’t been used in a long time, probably even longer than the television out front.

To the right was the bed, and as I came into the room and turned my attention to it, I saw a shape squirming in the middle, underneath the thin brown blanket that was otherwise without blemish, pulled perfectly up against the gleaming white pillows. The crying became louder again, very clearly from the bed.

I walked towards it, grabbing hold of the blanket’s loose edge on the right side of the bed. The image of myself in my head was that of a bad magician attempting the tablecloth trick, as I whipped the blanket away and let it fly into the corner. It crumpled there like the discarded flesh of an uncleanly killed animal, revealing the layer beneath.

There was an indentation in the bare mattress, right in the middle where the shape had been before I pulled the blankets away. The crying seemed to be coming from that same spot. I reached out and placed my hand on the mattress, feeling the smooth fabric cool against my skin. Sliding my hand towards the indent, even as it was rising to the same level as the rest, I felt the heat coming from it, as though a body had lain there not long before.

The crying stopped as I pulled my hand away. I glanced over my shoulder, to the half-open door. As I stared, the door wobbled in the frame, as though something had passed by it with a gentle nudge. The crying started again, coming from the room beyond. I backed away from the bed, taking a deep breath.

If there was any consolation to be hand, it was this: It was almost over.

This story was originally published at KaineAndrews.com. Intrigued? Stay tuned for Part 6, next Thursday!

About the Author

Kaine Andrews

Kaine Andrews was raised in the wilds of Nevada, molded by NASCAR-loving witches, a Catholic school education and typewriter theft, granting a natural fascination with all things dark and dreary and demented scribblings. He currently resides in Oregon, where the omnipresent drizzle keeps him somewhat sane.

Black Catastrophy

Willow Croft’s Short Story Response to Black CATastrophy Writing Prompt 16: PUPPY LOVE

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They found the bike propped up against the wall, but Allison was gone.
“Dammit, I knew I should have never got her that bike.”
“Dad, it’s not the city anymore. She’ll be okay.”
“I know, it’s just…”
“Yeah, I miss Mom, too.”
Samuel gave his son a side hug. “I love you, Marius.”
“C’mon, Dad. Let’s find her before she stumbles across a backwoods meth lab.”
“Ha, ha.” He watched his son load the bike into the back of the SUV. Hard to believe he’s already a senior.
“We’ll hit all the stores on Main Street before they close. Then head over to the dog park, then—”
“Then we’ll swing by the trailer, then the community pool, then out to the farmhouses on the outskirts. Can I drive?” Marius asked.
“When you get your own car.”
None of the store owners had seen Allison.
“Next stop, the diner,” Samuel said. His son was too busy texting to answer.
“Hey, Rhonda, seen Allison today?” Samuel asked his boss.
“No, hun, not since you all were here for Sunday brunch. She missing again?” Rhonda inched closer. “You just need a good woman to look after you all.”
He could smell peppermint Schnapps on her breath. “We’re doing okay.”
“C’mon, Dad, it’s going to be dark soon.”
“You all just let me know if you need something.” Rhonda patted Marius on the head.
Samuel hustled Marius out the door.
“Seriously, Dad, a head pat? Please tell me you don’t like her.”
“Why not? She’s a good woman.”
“Now I know you’re full of sh*t.”
“Watch your mouth, son.”
Their laughter stopped when they got to the trailer and saw Allison on the steps.
“Oh, no, she’s got Mrs. Wilson’s dog.” Samuel said.
“Daddy, look. I have puppy friend.” Allison stood, the dog struggling to get free.
“Dad, what’s all over her dress?” Marius said.
“Hopefully just mud.”
“It’s all in her hair, too.”
“Sweetie, that puppy is Mrs. Wilson’s.”
“No, daddy. Is mine.” Allison held the dog even tighter.
“Allison, we’re going to get hamburgers at Charley’s. Mrs. Wilson is going to watch the puppy while we eat. Okay?”
Allison smiled crookedly. “Okay, Daddy. Then we go get puppy, if I’m good?”
“I promise.” Samuel gently took the dog from her. “Now, go with Marius. He’s going to get you all cleaned up.”
Samuel carried the dog over to Mrs. Wilson’s trailer and knocked. The tin door squeaked open.
“That girl of yours stole my dog again?” Mrs. Wilson flicked her cigarette into a bush.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m very sorry. Allison doesn’t understand when she does something wrong. And she just loves dogs.” Samuel said, as the dog ran inside.
“So you keep sayin’. Next time, I’m gonna call the police.” Mrs. Wilson slammed the door.

********

Later that evening, Samuel made sure the childproof locks were set on the front door. At least she couldn’t wander outside at night.
“But what if there’s a fire,” his wife said to him, in his head.
“I tried my best, Janine,” he whispered, as he poured himself some Scotch. After a couple of sips, he took the glass to the desk in his room. He pulled out a glossy pamphlet from the drawer. “I’m so sorry, Allison.” Salty tears mixed in with the whiskey taste in his mouth.
The next morning, Samuel dropped his son off at school.
“Allison not coming to school today?” Marius asked.
“Nope, we’re taking the day off. After yesterday, I’d better keep an eye on her. Figured we’d go get pancakes. Can you get a ride home after band practice?”
“Sure, Jessica’s mom can drop me off.”
“Pancakes?” Allison said from the back seat. “Chocolate chip?”
“You betcha. All the chocolate chips you want.”
After Allison had her fill of pancakes, Samuel drove her to the state psychiatric hospital that Allison’s doctor had recommended.
“Daddy, where are we?”
Samuel unloaded her suitcase. “Sweetie, you’re going to go on a vacation.”
“Are there puppies inside?” Allison asked.
“Let’s go see, shall we?” He held her hand tightly while he led her up to the white building.

********

He got home well ahead of Marius. There was a dog sitting on the front steps of the trailer porch. At least it’s not Mrs. Wilson’s dog.

“Shoo,” he said, and the dog took off. The trailer was so quiet. He turned on the TV and then took a new bottle of Scotch and a glass from the cabinet. The house was still too quiet. He turned up the TV volume. Some old action movie.

He poured one drink, then another. Then a third. His hands hadn’t stopped shaking, but at least he wasn’t crying anymore. Have to be strong for Marius.

Five o’clock, and the winter darkness started to close in. Someone started yelling in the movie. Then a cacophony of barking dogs erupted from the television. I don’t remember dogs in the movie. How much Scotch did I drink?He shook the bottle. Almost empty.

He squinted at the TV, but the picture was blurry. He turned it off. The yelling stopped but the barking persisted. No, it was more like howling, now. He fumbled with the childproof locks and opened the door. Animals streaked from the small porch into the shadows.

“What the—” He took the flashlight from the shelf by the door and shone it into the darkness. Dogs. Hundreds of dogs. Some even looked like wolves. And they had stopped howling. Instead, they were growling. Growling and snapping as they sprinted forward. Samuel stumbled backwards and fell, dropping the flashlight.

“I’m so sorry, Allison,” he cried as the dogs closed in.

*********

“Hi, Marius.” Allison hugged her brother. “Are we going to go get pancakes?”
“Yes, Allison, pancakes with chocolate chips.”
“Then home?”
“Yes, home. But only after we get you a puppy from the shelter.”
“Puppy.” Allison clapped her hands. “I love puppies.” Her smile was no longer crooked.

–Willow Croft

The story was written in response to our writing prompt, Gone. It was originally published by Willow Croft, here.

About the Author

Willow Croft is a freelance writer and editor, who loves nature, stargazing, and action adventure movies. She is the author of the poetry book, Quantum Singularity: A Poetic Voyage through Time and Space. Tweet her at @WillowCroft16.

Black Catastrophy

“Layers Part 4” by Kaine Andrews

Part IV

Mom and Sis didn’t seem like it mattered to them one way or another that there was a gangly loser standing in their doorway, one who was trying to scream and had the reek of fresh urine hanging about him. Dad noticed, though. It looked like it was what he wanted because I could see the hard lines in that face go smooth, then contract in the other direction as his lips pulled back in a smile. His teeth were missing; only ragged gums and a flopping, greenish thing. Beyond that I guessed was his tongue.

As one, they turned away from me, rotating their heads towards the ancient television. Dad stopped smiling. My lungs unlocked enough for the shriek to slip past my lips and allow me to take a ragged breath.

The reprieve was short-lived. There was a solid thunk from the direction of the entertainment center, followed by the distinct hum of old technology powering up. A moment later the house was filled with a test tone cranked up to almost deafening levels. I screamed again, this time actually getting one out, but nobody could have heard it over that noise. Covering my ears, I looked over at the television and saw it was displaying one of those old Indian Head title cards in grainy black and white.

That was new. I’d been expecting a different sound, thought I might even have been prepared for it. Was hoping for it, really. That was the easy part, the only part that didn’t make my teeth grind and my heartbeat turn into a techno beat.

Doing the only thing I could think of, I lurched towards the television, probably looking like some poor man’s impersonation of Frankenstein. I took one hand away from my ear, instantly regretting it when the sound clawed into the canal and ruptured my eardrum. I felt something leaking out and dribbling on my shoulder. The pain was bad, but at least the sound was deadened.

I reached out and shoved the television, rocking it on the little rubberized feet a bit. It was heavier than I expected. I shoved a second time, harder, and it tipped over, landing facedown only a couple of inches from my foot. I heard glass shatter, but the sound kept going. I don’t know what else I’d expected; things were built like tanks back then, and breaking the glass wasn’t liable to trash the speaker.

I did the next thing that came to mind, grabbing the power cord that snaked out of the back of the unit and yanking it as hard as I could. It came loose in a shower of sparks. For a moment I hoped they’d hit that obnoxious carpet, catch fire, and burn the whole mess down. Preferably complete with Mom, Dad, and Sis.

I wasn’t that lucky. Whatever toxic chemicals they used to pour on the carpeting in the way back when, meant the sparks barely singed it. The lightshow ended a moment later with a loud popping noise from somewhere deeper in the house. The living room dimmed a little. I guessed a fuse must have blown or a breaker was tripped.

Either way, it put things back on track. When I took my hand off my other ear, I heard the sound I’d been expecting. Faint, coming from further back, down a hall past the family couches.

Somewhere back there, a baby was crying. I had to find her. Even though I knew what would happen when I did, I still had to try.

This story was originally published at KaineAndrews.com. Intrigued? Stay tuned for Part 5, next Thursday!

About the Author

Kaine Andrews

Kaine Andrews was raised in the wilds of Nevada, molded by NASCAR-loving witches, a Catholic school education and typewriter theft, granting a natural fascination with all things dark and dreary and demented scribblings. He currently resides in Oregon, where the omnipresent drizzle keeps him somewhat sane.

Black Catastrophy

Book Review: Skin of the Wolf by Sam Cabot

The old saying goes that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But who really has time to read 100,000 words before deciding to buy a book? No one, really. So readers will inevitably base their book-purchasing decisions, on the cover.

Skin of the Wolf by Sam Talbot Book Review 4.jpg

This is what happened when I saw Skin of the Wolf‘s red and black design with the wolf metal carvings. One look, and I knew it was a book I had to read, though I had no idea what it was about.

I was not disappointed. This is the second 5-star book I have read in a long time, which was a nice followup after Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.

This book is the sequel to Blood of the Lamb, which I haven’t read, yet. Even so, Skin of the Wolf stands well on its own, and I had no issues following the story, or the references to the previous adventure.

Here’s why this was such an amazing read!

The Plot

The book is based in wintry New York City, and follows the adventures of two Noantris (vampires), two Shifters (werewolves), a priest, a few wealthy connoisseurs of the art world, and several Native Americans.

When the story starts, Tahkwheso, christened Edward, is reflecting on the Ohtahyohnee, a wolf mask he believes will help him fulfill his destiny. He also thinks about his twin brother, Gata, christened Michael, who he believes has neglected his true purpose to become a part of the White World.

On a cold evening, Livia Pietro, a vampire, goes to see the famed Ohtahyohnee mask at the Sotheby’s gallery. When she holds the mask, she laments that it cannot be real, as her vampire senses caught nothing extraordinary from the mask. She confesses her suspicions to her friend, Katherine, who also works at the gallery, though she does not say why she has her doubts.

Shortly after the showing, another young woman who works at the gallery, is killed. Though the wolf mask is left behind, the police believe it played a role in the murder. Later that night, while Michael is strolling through the park with his lover, Spencer George, the two are attacked by a wolf, Michael’s brother.

Spencer intervenes to save Michael, and is injured, but immediately recovers, forcing him to reveal to Michael that he is a vampire. He also witnesses Michael change into a wolf to protect him, forcing Michael to confess that he is a Shifter — knowledge that he claims usually ends in the death of the witness.

On the night of the attack, Spencer George had made plans to meet with Livia Pietro, and her friend, Father Thomas Kelly. On learning of the attack, and Michael’s capabilities, the three offer their help to Michael, to help him find his brother and put an end to the trouble he has started.

Meanwhile, detective Keewayhakeequayoo, christened Charlotte, is put on the case due to the Native American elements of the murder. At first suspecting Michael and his friends, her sharp instincts nonetheless puts her in Edward’s path.

Characters

Skin of the Wolf has very distinct characters, no matter how minor a role they play. I will only mention the main ones below.

Tahkwehso, (christened Edward)

As a child, Edward learned that both he and his twin brother, Michael, were werewolves — a secret they swore to take to the grave. Unfortunately, the secrecy surrounding the identity of Shifters made for a very lonely upbringing, as they knew no others.

Edward becomes obsessed with not just finding fellow Shifters, but also going against tradition, by attempting to Awaken the adults. To do this, he needs the famed Ohtahyohnee mask to bring about successful transformations.

Livia Pietro

Livia is an Italian art connoisseur and academic living in New York City. She is also the first vampire we are introduced to in Skin of the Wolf. Throughout the book, Livia displays fierce loyalty, quick thinking, a curious mind, and a willingness to get her hands dirty on behalf of her friends.

Katherine Cochran

Katherine is Livia’s friend, and a worker at the Sotheby’s, the art gallery showing the Ohtahyohnee wolf mask. Katherine also knows a lot more about the mask’s origins than she lets on, and carries a heavy secret that puts her in grave danger by the end of the story.

Father Thomas Kelly

A Jesuit priest, Father Kelly’s faith was shaken in Blood of the Lamb, after he discovered the existence of vampires, and his Church’s involvement in Noantri history. He nonetheless decides to carry on with his work in the Church, a decision that pleases his friend, Livia.

Throughout the book, Father Kelly finds himself pushing the limits of his faith; and not least of his challenges, is his obvious attraction to Livia.

Grata, (christened Michael)

Like his brother, Michael is a werewolf. Also like Edward, Michael has dedicated his life to finding other Shifters. Michael, however, uses science to do this, a method that is frowned upon by Edward and his friend, Abornazine, born Peter van Vliet.

A proud and independent man, Michael must learn to accept the help of his friends, or risk losing his brother, and bringing shame and death to the Native American community.

Spencer George

An art connoisseur with expensive tastes, Spencer George shows as much fierce loyalty as Livia does. His loyalty to Michael, however, is influenced by his love for his partner. This love compels him to throw himself in harm’s way to help Michael, regardless of the consequences. This saves Michael’s life twice in the novel, and both times, from the clutches of Edward.

Abornazine, (born Peter van Vliet)

Peter is a wealthy White man who simultaneously rejected his privileged upbringing, and fell in love with the ways of Native Americans. Under the tutelage of an old and ailing Native American, he learned to perform the Awakening Ceremony, and joins forces with Edward to steal the mask, so they can use it to find and awaken other Shifters.

Keewayhakeequayoo (christened Charlotte)

Charlotte is a well-respected police officer in New York City. As the Indian at the precinct, she often finds herself placed on cases involving Native Americans, for political reasons. Her assignment to the murder case at Sotheby’s is no different.

While she adamantly refuses to fall into Indian stereotypes, she nonetheless accepts that her success as a police officer often comes from following instincts and that gut-feeling, logic cannot always explain. These are the sharp instincts that send her sniffing in the direction of Michael and his friends… and his brother.

Matt Framingham

Born to British parents, Matt has spent the greater part of his life trying to assimilate into American culture; even going as far as to consciously rid himself of an English accent.

Despite being a police officer, he is heavily invested in conspiracy theories, and is the first to theorise that a werewolf committed the Sotheby’s murder, and that Michael and his friends are not human.

Ironically, when proof of this occurs right before his eyes, he fails to notice, and replaces his own theories with more logical explanations.

Themes

Race is a constant theme that comes up throughout the book. While this focuses overwhelmingly on the differences between Whites and Native Americans, there are several mentions of Blacks and Asians, as well. In fact, no one’s ethnic background goes unmentioned in this book.

Another prominent theme is the call of home. Throughout the novel, the Indians living in New York City often think back to life on the rez, and question whether or not they have lost their true self to the White World. Michael often faces this accusation from Edward, who sees science as a White man’s work. Additionally, Charlotte’s Indian name literally means, Returns to Her Homeland, a destiny she fulfills by the end of the book.

Family life plays an important role in Skin of the Wolf, as well. This is mostly illustrated in the relationship between Edward and Michael, who struggle to get along. The animosity is mostly pushed by Edward, who resents his brother for not taking his rightful place as leader of the pack.

Finally, friendship is a powerful theme that brings Michael, Livia, Father Kelly, and Spencer together on a journey that not just puts their lives in danger, but also threatens to expose the secrets of their abilities.

Writing Style

One of the most interesting things about the writing of this book is that Sam Cabot is not one person, but two: a man and a woman. Sam Cabot is the pseudonym shared by S. J. Rozan and Carlos Dews. But you could never tell that by reading the book, as there is one distinct voice.

Another interesting tactic in the book is chapter lengths. There were some chapters that were only two pages or so. This was done to separate the varying perspectives in the book. Once I got over the length (or lack thereof) of the chapters, it made perfect sense.

The writing is clear and concise, a wonderful balance of functional male writing, with female attention to detail. I also thoroughly enjoyed their treatment of the same-sex relationship between Michael and Spencer.

Final Thoughts

The book does lean heavily on a lot of stereotypes. Of course, the vampires were mostly based in Italy, and an Italian vampire in New York, was totally expected.

Additionally, wolves are always associated with Native American culture, and I think every book I have ever read with a werewolf, has one named Michael. The last one I read like that was Anne Rice’s Wolf Chronicles.

Even so, the stereotypes fit perfectly into the story, in such a way that another route would not have made sense (minus this fixation authors have on naming werewolves, Michael!).

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and could hardly put it down. Each new chapter was a new perspective, and a new adventure. I recommend it to all lovers of vampire and werewolf books, and can’t wait to read Blood of the Lamb.

About the Reviewer

Alexis Chateau is an activist, writer, and explorer. Follow her stories of trial and triumph at www.alexischateau.com.

 

 

“Layers Part 3” by Kaine Andrews

Part III

The inside seemed pitch black when I was standing on the porch, but as soon as I stepped through the doorway a fey half-light seemed to brighten the room. It was like watching someone turn a dimmer switch from completely off to about one-quarter on.

The living room – at least, that’s what I guessed it was, from previous exposure and the layout of the place – was on the small side, maybe eight by eight. The walls were fake wood paneling to go along with the fake log style on the outside. They’d even gone so far as to put in loops and whorls, as though there were limbs that had been lopped off in the process of flattening the boards. The effect might have worked if it wasn’t so obviously repeating. The effect it did manage to give was dozens of faces screaming in pain or snarling in rage.

To my left, next to the door, there was an entertainment center that was probably as old as I was. Huge, oak or mahogany, housing a television that had probably last been used to watch the Kennedy assassination and was liable to give you cancer and a permanent squint if you actually tried watching it. Beside it was a behemoth device with burgundy carpeted sides, a gold-latched lid and a skeletal metal extrusion on the top. I assumed it must be a radio, or maybe even a record player.

The floor was also frozen in time; pale green shag. As I always did when I came here in my sleep, I found myself wondering just what had possessed people back then, that led them to think something that looked like a tie-dyed bear was murdered and stapled to your floor was the height of fashion.

Across from the television were a pair of vomit yellow couches, cocked at 90-degree angles from each other. The cushions looked a little worn, but not to the extent they needed replacing just yet.

Everything was clean. Almost too clean. It looked like Donna Reid might have come through five minutes before I got here for a final cleaning session just in case I decided to give the room the white glove treatment. The stale air and the scent of rot said otherwise, though. No one had been here in a very long time.

No one alive, anyway.

Sighing, feeling spiders creep along my back and burrow into the back of my skull, I turned back to the door. Everything beyond the porch had gone still, silent and dark. Someone had put the world outside on permanent pause. I’d expected that, too. Knowing what came next, I pulled the door shut.

It fell into place against the jamb with a sound far louder and more final than you might expect. It sounded like stone closing against a tomb. It didn’t even make me jump, though. It was the least of my worries.

I took a deep breath, not relishing the taste of the air or the way it made my chest scream in rebellion. I wished I’d brought my aspirator, but knew it would have somehow gotten lost. I wasn’t supposed to have it, after all. I hadn’t changed anything else; why fight to change that?

I turned, preparing myself.

The couches were no longer empty. On the larger one, directly facing the television, were a middle-aged couple. Mom was wearing a green pantsuit, her blonde hair coiffed into a half-flip, her face looking plastic with the amount of makeup she’d caked on. Dad was wearing tan slacks, a white shirt that looked a little too crisp and a blue and green striped tie that was loosened. His hair was brown, graying at the temples, and cut military style. His face was hard, tanned and lined with the look of someone who worked outside a lot. She was almost rail-thin, probably chasing the Twiggy look, while he was at the stage where he was starting to run to fat, but with a thick layer of muscle hidden underneath.

On the other couch was a girl, maybe seventeen or so. She had her mother’s body and fair skin, but her father’s hair. Not much makeup on this one, just a hint of lip gloss and a little blush. An almost shapeless purple dress preserved modesty in a way that seemed out of place given the 1960’s style of everything else in the place.

All three of them had empty sockets where their eyes should have been. They should have been blind. If they were even alive at all. I’d never seen any of them take a breath.

That didn’t stop them from turning their heads in unison, pointing those eyeless holes in my direction. The feeling of spiders creeping across me got stronger, almost maddening. It didn’t matter how often it happened, didn’t matter how ready I thought I was, it was always the same.

I tried to scream, but my locked lungs could only produce a thin wheeze.

It wasn’t that there were corpses sitting here, or even that their eyes were gone, or that they were facing me. It was that feeling, like when someone stares at you from across a crowded room.

Eyeless or not, they were seeing me.

This story was originally published at KaineAndrews.com. Intrigued? Stay tuned for Part 4, next Thursday!

About the Author

Kaine Andrews

Kaine Andrews was raised in the wilds of Nevada, molded by NASCAR-loving witches, a Catholic school education and typewriter theft, granting a natural fascination with all things dark and dreary and demented scribblings. He currently resides in Oregon, where the omnipresent drizzle keeps him somewhat sane.

Black Catastrophy

“Layers Part 2” by Kaine Andrews

Part II

I pulled up the drive, stomach in knots. The back of my throat was coated with acid, making every swallow torture, every breath ragged. The air felt like it was made of heavy, bitter syrup and no matter how many blasts I took from my aspirator, my asthma wouldn’t let go.

I’d dreamed of this moment. Dozens – maybe hundreds – of times, since I was just a kid. I’d done everything I could to change the circumstances. In the dreams, it was always late in the day, at the edge of twilight; I’d left early, as soon as the sun was up, to be there before that. In the dream, I was always in an old red sedan, and to avoid that I’d rented a gray pickup.

Of course, the year-old and recently inspected truck didn’t make it up the trail. It blew a rod and died at the side of the road with no help in sight. By the time I’d gotten ahold of the rental company and had them come fetch me, the day was mostly gone. The car they brought as a replacement – apologizing the whole time, as it was the only one left in their fleet – was a red Chevrolet Cavalier.

I should have quit right then. Should have known better. But there was the sense that I didn’t really have a choice in this. That one way or another, the dreams were going to end today. Maybe it was pointless to try to resist the script that had been playing out in my sleep for the better part of three decades. Better to go with the flow.

Of course, the flow ended with a painful death, but at this point, that seemed unimportant.

Layers, again; peel away the best-laid plans to discover that you’re dancing to someone else’s tune. Peel away the nightmare, intending to expose it to the light and to the so-called real world, discover the nightmare was the truth all along.

Maybe that’s why I kept going. To be done with the onion-peeling, to be done with everything. I was tired. So tired. Not just of the dreams, of insomnia and headaches and nosebleeds and everything that went with them, but with life. One way or other, it would be done. I could put it all aside and be something else… or not have to be bothered by any of it at all.

I got out of the car, listening to the gunshot echoes produced when I slammed the driver’s door shut. The echo bothered me, but it took me a minute to figure out why. There was no response. No other sound. No little birds chirping, no bugs buzzing, no sense that the sound had disturbed any natural order that would otherwise be going about its business at the tail end of a sweltering day in July.

I could feel it. The house – or whatever was waiting for me inside – pulsing like a tumor in the landscape, a diseased heart sending whatever passed for its blood through the surroundings. Poisoning them, twisting them, making it unfit for anything that it didn’t allow to exist.

In that toxic heartbeat, I could hear it calling my name. God help me, I answered.

“I’m here,” I whispered. “I came.”

Without conscious thought, I walked towards the house, running my fingers along the smooth wood of the banister attached to the short steps leading to the porch. Despite the age, the length of time since someone had actually lived here, it was in good shape. No signs of rot, dust, or damage. No graffiti or broken windows, no cigarette butts and used condoms. Whatever aura the old place had, it was enough to keep the kids away.

I laid my hand on the brass doorknob of the stout wooden door, squinting, trying and failing to get a glimpse of what lay beyond through the frosted glass panes at the top of the door. The knob was cold, icy, beneath my hand. I felt that if I pulled my hand back and looked at it, I’d see a rime of ice melting against my palm. I didn’t try the experiment.

For a moment, I found myself hoping it would be locked. I knew it wouldn’t be, but if it was, I could be free. I could shrug and walk away. Despite following the madness this far, I wasn’t going to break a window or kick in the door just to sate my obsessions. That’s what I told myself, anyway.

It was a futile hope. The knob turned easily, without even a squeak, and the door slipped open like a mouth waiting to swallow me.

I couldn’t see what lay beyond; the clash between the darkness inside and the lingering bright outside left my eyes going spastic as they tried to decide which to focus on. Not that it mattered, anyway; I think the darkness was from something other than a lack of lights being on, and even if I’d thought to bring a flashlight it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Sighing, resigned to what was coming, I stepped through the doorway.

This story was originally published at KaineAndrews.com. Intrigued? Stay tuned for Part 3, next Thursday!

About the Author

Kaine Andrews

Kaine Andrews was raised in the wilds of Nevada, molded by NASCAR-loving witches, a Catholic school education and typewriter theft, granting a natural fascination with all things dark and dreary and demented scribblings. He currently resides in Oregon, where the omnipresent drizzle keeps him somewhat sane.

Black Catastrophy

“Layers Part 1” by Kaine Andrews

Part I

The house doesn’t look like much. A kitschy little cabin, plastered on the outside with log paneling to hide the all-too-modern aluminum underneath. Surrounded by pine trees that have been cut to make it look as though they built the house in a random natural clearing but that had actually been perfectly arranged to be the minimum fire-safe distance and yet provide appropriate shade and privacy. The road is frequently coated over with pine needles and dirt, giving the image of some rural track not to be found on a map, but if one was to sweep it away they would find nothing but good old American two-lane blacktop beneath.

In short, it lies. Claims to be some relic of a bygone era bravely reclaimed by modern man when it’s actually a poor replica made by developers cashing in on the wannabe frontiersman look.

Or is it? Because everything has layers. Peel the first away and shed that 1800s log cabin vibe, you find a mobile home with a coat of paint. But what about when you peel that away? What lies underneath that?

I wish I hadn’t found out.

That fake rural track is called King’s Road. Nobody knows why. Local myths claim it was named after the original owner of the land. But like everything else around here if you dig deep enough that fades away into nothingness. No one named King has done anything of worth in the area, and the name doesn’t show up on any of the assayer’s documents going back almost 300 years. What does is that the road was built in 1952, the plot of land snapped up by some big-shot developer with a Saudi name in 1955, and the house itself was plopped down by a contractor supposedly in bed with Bugsy who went missing not long after.

The deeper legends say he’s probably buried in the foundation. I wouldn’t be surprised. Others claim he’s down in the lake behind the land, wearing himself a set of concrete overshoes. Maybe. Most folks think he just skipped town, headed on down to Vegas with some showgirl. I think that’s being too optimistic.

I’ve known about the house for almost a decade. I’d been seeing it even longer than that. It called me, you know. It had been whispering in my ear since I was barely a toddler, and maybe even before that. I was a teenager before I believed it was a real place. It was ten years after that when I found it. Ten more years before I decided I could stomach going.

Now, standing in front of it, I wished to Christ I hadn’t.

This story was originally published at KaineAndrews.com. Intrigued? Stay tuned for Part 2, next Thursday!

About the Author

Kaine Andrews

Kaine Andrews was raised in the wilds of Nevada, molded by NASCAR-loving witches, a Catholic school education and typewriter theft, granting a natural fascination with all things dark and dreary and demented scribblings. He currently resides in Oregon, where the omnipresent drizzle keeps him somewhat sane.

Black Catastrophy

5 Tough Life Lessons from The Eye-Dancers by Michael Fedison

As many of you know, Michael Fedison is our flagship independent author, and has been since long before we launched black CATastrophy. Naturally, we’re proud of the work we’ve done with him, and how much we’ve contributed to spreading the awareness of his brand and his books.

So since a review from us would likely be overwhelmingly biased in his favor, we decided to take a different approach from the 1 – 5 star setup. We’re sharing five of the toughest lessons you’ll come across in his debut novel, The Eye-Dancers.

Let’s see how well we can pull this off without giving too much away!

1. Dogs are Loyal… But to Whom?

Duss The Eye Dancers.jpeg

In The Eye-Dancers, there are two main canine characters. The first one we’re introduced to is Dusty, Joe Marma’s golden retriever. When he is transported to a parallel universe by the mysterious young girl with the swirling blue eyes, we are introduced to the second dog to win his heart, Duss.

Joe, usually the unpredictable firecracker of the book, has a surprising soft spot for animals, and rescues Duss from a group of bullies the only one way he knows how — fighting. Thereafter, Duss faithfully follows him around and plays an instrumental role in keeping the boys together, and saving their lives.

But, while the old saying goes that dog is man’s best friend, when the mystery is solved and the problems resolved, Duss chooses a new master, leaving Joe out in the cold. Joe is forced to accept that the dog he loved and rescued, now belongs to someone else.

2. Marriage is Hard Work

In the start of The Eye-Dancers, Mitchell struggles to understand and come to grips with his parents’ failing marriage. Not only does the idea of a divorce fill him with dread, but all the many loud and angry fights leading up to it, is a source of constant embarrassment.

Later on in the book, after the boys are transported to Monica’s world, they meet another couple struggling to overcome the loss of their child. Their grief at first unites the couple in common cause to commit an atrocious act, but later pits one against the other, when the wife’s conscience awakens, and they no longer see eye-to-eye.

3. Self-Acceptance is the First Step to Self-Improvement

Emotional Pain The Eye Dancers.jpeg

The Eye-Dancers is peppered with the common feelings of self-deprecation teenagers often berate themselves with.

  • Ryan struggles with his desire to please, and his unwillingness to ruffle feathers.
  • Joe battles with his Napoleon Complex, and the desire to mash everyone’s face in.
  • Marc is forced to accept that his know-it-all attitude is what has cost him friends all his life.
  • And Mitchell must overcome his tendency to invent tall-tales, meant to impress and wow others.

While the road to self-improvement is long and treacherous, each character must first come to terms with their vices, before they are in any place to move forward. Their ability to do so inevitably decides the fate of not just each other, but the young damsel in distress they must rescue.

4. Respect is Earned, not Given

The need to be loved and impressive and admired throughout the book is closely tied with a desire to be respected. Ryan and Marc especially, must learn that respect is earned, not given.

In order to gain respect from his peers, and respect for his theories, Marc must first learn humility and accept that science — or at least, what he knows of it — cannot explain everything.

Ryan also only learns to respect himself, and gains the respect of Joe, after he finally finds the strength to stand up to his friend. Despite Joe’s initial anger with him for preventing the fight, and the bite of embarrassment from walking away, he nonetheless respects that for the first time, Ryan isn’t just content with being the yes-man.

5. Sometimes Villainy is Born from Desperation, not Evil

The Eye Dancers Blue Meme.jpg

When the ghost girl with the swirling blue eyes transports the four boys to her world, they are faced with the task of finding and rescuing her. Something local law enforcement, and neighbors have been unable to do. They, however, can communicate with her.

When Monica is eventually found, the boys are faced with something they had not prepared for. Her kidnappers were not evil, but desperate, depressed, and delusional. They come to not only forgive the kidnappers, but also to sympathize with their cause.

Nevertheless, Monica’s rightful place is with her parents, and the boys’ place is back in their own world. And so, they must bring the little girl home, in order to find home, themselves.

Despite being intended for younger audiences, The Eye-Dancers tackles bigger issues that outlive and outlast the middle school era. It does so in a way that — while compelling children (and adults!) to ask the bigger questions — is still written without the unnecessary complexity that often follows.

Have you read The Eye-Dancers?

About the Reviewer

Alexis Chateau is an activist, writer, and explorer. Follow her stories of trial and triumph at www.alexischateau.com.