Thursday, October 31, 2019

Fresh Paint

Here's another short horror story, sort of a sequel to the Tablet of Teh Ri'Teth, or at least part of that Mythos. Not sure what to call my Lovecraft-esque pantheon... Teh Ri'Teth Mythos isn't quite right. Suggestions?
And here's the story. As per usual, it got a bit long on me.

Fresh Paint
By McCallum J. Morgan

“Odd,” said Perkins.
“Not so very odd,” I said. “I’ve seen paint used to cover blood stains before.”
“In an abandoned house?” Perkins asked, kicking a pile of rotten newspapers. “We haven’t found a body, we don’t even know if this is a murder.”
“We have the missing persons report,” I said. “This was the last place they were seen. I’m just saying, the case where blood was covered by paint was that insane woman who slaughtered her husband. Why else would a wall be covered with fresh paint in a derelict house? No one buys paint to slather on crumbling wallpaper—unless they’re crazy. I’m just saying it’s a possibility.”
“Well, you can’t prove there’s blood behind that grey paint. The crazy lady confessed. That’s the only way we knew.”
“Do you have an explanation for this paint?”
“Perhaps someone wanted to test the color out,” Perkins said, shuffling through the old newspapers with a toe. Crumbled plaster littered the floor amidst other bits of garbage. A dead rat. No sign that anyone had been recently squatting in the place. Perkins turned his bowler between his fingers nervously.
“He WAS here,” I said, holding up the monogrammed scarf we’d found in the entry hall.
“You’ll have to have his wife confirm that piece before we know that with any certainty,” Perkins said. “I’m going to search the yard and the trees behind the house. Unless I find disturbed earth or a discarded weapons—or something—I’m not jumping on your hysterical bandwagon. Murder right away!”
“There’s no painting garbage! No brushes or cans, why would they clean up like that in this heap? Unless they hoped the paint would dry and get dirty and no one would ever know any different.”
“And blood dries, too,” retorted Perkins. “Into unidentifiable brown splotches. Could be coffee. Could be spaghetti!”
“Then let’s search the grounds,” I replied coolly. Perkins was right, of course, but something about that still sticky paint was too…too perfect. Whoever had done it had been careful to cover the wall thoroughly. The whole wall…cutting in the edges with precise care and a heavy recoat. Still damp. They’d put it on too thick and the house was humid inside in this weather with all the broken windows.
A thorough perusal of the shrubberies outside produced nothing. We searched through the woods behind the house, but still found nothing but an ancient deer skeleton. We found no body, no freshly turned earth, no discarded weapon or garment. It grew dark and Perkins glowered at me.
“What? Am I keeping you from your occult thriller?” I teased. “I’m surprised you haven’t suggested he was spirited away.” Perkins rolled his eyes.
“Illiterate swine,” he growled. I grinned.
“Pulp fiction is great literature.”
“We still haven’t found our man,” Perkins grumbled.
“No, but we’d better get back to the station,” I sighed. “Getting dark and we won’t find much in the dark.”
We headed back to the car and I kicked a pile of yellow aspen leaves. “Just odd,” I muttered as we climbed in and Perkins started the engine. I shivered and pulled my scarf closer around my neck. Wood smoke followed us into the car, along with the peculiar cold mustiness of fall.
Back at the station, Curew was waiting.
“We’ve got another missing person report,” he grumbled. “A neighbor says they haven’t been home in days and they NEVER leave their cat.” Curew’s eyes bounced off the ceiling. “She’s afriad they’re lying in the house, dead. Better go and talk to the poor thing in morning.”
“To the cat?” Perkins joked.
“The neighbor, Mrs. Blanchard,” Curew corrected humorlessly.
“Who’s the purported missing person?” I asked.
“A Mr. R. Gutring, she wasn’t sure what the R stood for as she didn’t know him ‘all that well, really.’”
“Well, we’ll have our work cut out,” I said, “patching up from your lack of sympathy.”
Curew snorted. “There’s a lot more to worry about in this town than the odd bachelor who doesn’t feed his cat for three days. Virtuous neighbors seem to take care of them just fine.”
“Perhaps she’s actually concerned about the missing human?” I suggested, but Curew just shook his head.
“Humans don’t care about each other!” he scoffed. “For instance, I don’t give a damn about you two. Now go and get home before it gets any later.”
“Says the uncaring one,” Perkins chimed in.
“I’m just concerned about the shoddy work you’ll do tomorrow if you don’t get enough sleep.”
“We’ll need all the sleep we can get to empathize with this virtuous neighbor,” Perkins agreed. “Goodnight, Curew, Mathis.”
“Goodnight,” I said. Curew just grunted.
The next morning found Perkins and I on the stoop of a ramshackle house, shivering in the bitter morning mist.
“Here you go,” Mrs. Blanchard sang, bursting out with a tray of hot chocolate.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Perkins said, scooping up a mug.
“Can you describe Mr. Gutring?” I asked, accepting a mug with a cold, eager fingers.
“Gaunt fellow,” Mrs. Blanchard said. “Dark-haired, and rather yellow-eyed, if you ask me, though I suppose they were brown or something. Always struck me as yellow. Like his teeth. Didn’t keep himself quite clean enough, nor his house, as you can see.” She nodded across the street to the dilapidated house with a broken front window. “But he had a warm voice, and always spoke kindly to Mr. Tinkletoes.”
Mr. Tinkletoes?” Perkins blinked.
“The cat.”
“Ohhh.”
“You can tell a lot about a man by the way he treats his animals,” Mrs. Blanchard went on while I sipped my chocolate and shivered. “So, I believe Mr. Gutring was alright. Despite his friends.”
“Why, what were they like?” Perkins asked.
“Shady,” Mrs. Blanchard replied without hesitation. “They came to visit at odd hours, usually late. Three of them, in coveralls. More shifty-eyed blokes, but they avoided Mr. Tinkletoes. They were over the last time I saw Mr. Gutring. Late at night, and I woke up to a strange sound—not a scream—but, I don’t know how to describe it…almost a musical note, but it chilled my bones. I got up and saw his friends leaving. In the morning, Mr. Tinkletoes was on my doorstep and I never saw Mr. Gutring leave.”
“Are you intimating that Mr. Gutring’s friends killed him?” Perkins asked. I jolted. Hot chocolate dripped over my cold fingers.
“Perkins,” I chided. “Did Curew steal your empathy?”
“That’s exactly what I’m intimating,” Mrs. Blanchard nodded solemnly. “Mr. Tinkletoes was frightened. He hasn’t gone anywhere near his master’s house. It’s not normal behavior. Animals always know when something’s not right.”
“Well,” I said. “We can ring his doorbell, but not much more than that…”
“Just look inside,” Mrs. Blanchard insisted. “I’ve already asked at his work. They haven’t seen him, either.”
“Where did he work?”
“Bookshop, just down the road, Palisades Books and Novelties.”
“We’ll take a look,” Perkins assured her. “Thanks for the hot chocolate.”
“Oh, no, thank you,” Mrs. Blanchard said. “It’s my pleasure.”
After finishing our chocolates, we headed across the frosty street. Mr. Gutring’s bicycle leaned against the faded shingle siding, coated in a sheen of rust and ice.
There were no lights on inside and no one answered my knock. I thought the curtain by the broken window stirred, as if in a breeze…but there was no breeze. The frigid morning air was still, the mist clinging steadfastly to the grass.
I knocked again.
“Hello?” Perkins called. “Is anyone home?”
Nothing. The house sat quiet and grey. Mrs. Blanchard watched from across the street, a huge grey tabby in her arms. Mr. Tinkletoes, presumably.
I smiled weakly at her and knocked again, louder. The thump-thump echoed inside, lonely and hollow. Perkins called again and we listened intently. Tick. Tick. A clock. Nothing more.
“Let’s check around back,” Perkins suggested and I followed him around the house, peering in at the tattered curtains. Through a gap I spotted an empty room, strangely devoid of furniture, but otherwise clean, save for a few clumps of something on the floor. We came to the back door and when Perkins knocked, it creaked inward.
“Anybody home?” Perkins called. We looked at each other and shrugged. Perkins pushed the door open and stepped inside. “Hello?”
“Do you smell something odd?” Perkins asked, sniffing.
“No,” I said. The cold morning air was crisp. “Leaves.”
“Come here,” Perkins said, stepping further inside. I sighed and followed him in.
“We can’t investigate every missing person so thoroughly,” I said. “We’d be doing nothing else.”
“You were the one who wanted to search the forest for a body last night,” Perkins pointed out.
“There was more concerning info about our last vanisher,” I said. “That cult business and the debts…” I trailed off. “That smells like paint.” Perkins was already down the hall, opening another door. I followed quickly after him and found it to be the room I’d glimpsed through the curtains—empty save for blobs of what looked like candle wax, dotted around in a circle. And the wall to the left of the door had been recently painted over with grey paint. The other walls were faded green floral wallpaper.
“Did you say cult?” Perkins asked.
“What, the candles?” I said, scanning the room for anything else. “Circle of candles…same paint…ritual murder, maybe? Blood hexes on the wall….covered by paint. You think this disappearance is connected to the other one?”
“I don’t know,” said Perkins.
“You’re the one pointing things out,” I said. “We didn’t notice any candle spots at the abandoned house, but could have been easy to miss in the detritus and dust.”
“Might not be ritual murder,” Perkins said. “They might just want to cover up their witch scribbles.”
“Then why the disappearances?” I asked.
“We don’t know if Henry Apindon’s disappearance really coincides with the abandoned house. He was last seen in the area, that’s all. And note: Our Mr. Gutring vanished three days ago. This paint still smells and—” Perkins marched over to the wall and touched it gingerly, “—still not totally cured. Painted last night or yesterday…paint can’t have dried properly last night. Too cold in here.”
“The paint in the abandoned house was fresh, too,” I added. “Perhaps they knew we would be coming?”
Perkins shivered. “I don’t like that.”
“I guess we should search the house,” I said.
“What, hope to find the bodies this time? They wouldn’t still be here. Not after they came back to cover the wall.”
“Other evidence,” I insisted.
“Or maybe Mrs. Blanchard is right and he’s dead upstairs,” Perkins said. “Although…then he couldn’t have painted the wall.”
I was staring at the corner. There was…something there.
“P-Perkins,” I said, taking a step deeper into the room. My legs wobbled, rubbery and strange. I blinked. “What is that?”
Perkins stared at it with me in silence.
It was not what I had expected to see and I was confused as to why it should be so disturbing. Why were my legs funny? The sight was strangely dizzying. But why? What was wrong? Something about it was indescribably off…
“If I had to say,” Perkins coughed out at length. “I would say it is yellow?”
I looked again. Yes…if I had give it one word…yellow would be the closest. Though the word did not hold any of the disquiet and unease that I felt looking upon it. It was too fearful to be yellow—too malignant. Too slimy.
What was it?
Perkins stepped closer. I held out a hand as if to stop him.
“They were in a hurry,” Perkins said. “They were trying to cover this…this…yellow.”
“Can’t say I blame them,” I muttered, following Perkins reluctantly into the corner.
We stared at it in silence until we could no longer bear it— It was like something you would see in a dream. A color that didn’t really exist. A shade beyond the natural spectrum. A thing of unsettling nightmare. The yellow seemed to bubble and writhe as we watched.
“We should go back to the abandoned house and check it over again,” I said.
“After we look upstairs,” Perkins said.
We found nothing in the rest of the house, as we had both expected.
We drove quietly back to the old derelict and poked through the rubbish. There was a circle of wax drips in front of the painted wall.
“Apindon was last seen about a month ago,” I mused. “Gutring three days ago. Perhaps there’s a clue in their cult markings?” I took out my pocket knife.
“Then they would have covered them right away,” Perkins said. “But you saw that color?”
“Too unique…maybe they were afraid someone would match it with them somewhere else.”
“What if there are no cult markings?” Perkins suggested quietly. I breathed out a cloud of fog into the cold air and applied my blade carefully to the wall.
I peeled off a chunk of the thick paint layer. Two layers stuck together. The grey paint took off the yellow with it. I peeled off another. The whole wall had been yellow.
“You mean the…color…is the cult marking?” I asked.
“We’re clearly not meant to see it, whatever the case,” Perkins said.
“This doesn’t make sense,” I muttered.
“Not ritual murder, but we’re still missing two men,” Perkins mused.
“And this—this color is connected somehow. But how?”
Curew was not amused with our findings.
“The disappearances are connected?” he asked. “By paint?”
Perkins rolled his eyes and I scowled. “If you will, yes,” I said. “No it doesn’t make sense, but there’s definitely a connection. I don’t know what. I don’t think we can really say murder, but their disappearances are not normal. I’m going to go and ask Apindon’s relations if he knew anyone by the name of Gutring.”
“That wasn’t a normal color,” Perkins said.
“You’re not a normal color,” Curew said, squinting at him. “Mathis, get him a coffee on your way to interrrogate these poor relations.”
“See, you do care,” I said.
“No, once again it’s the quality of your work,” Curew said. “Or Perkins’ to be exact. You two will get nothing done if he’s incapacitated.”
I rolled my eyes and we set off. But it was a dry run. Apindon's wife knew nothing of any Mr. Gutring, but she was able to confirm that the scarf we’d found at the derelict had belonged to her husband.
The next day proved to be too busy with overdue paperwork to go back and search either house again and I was rather put out with the thought that there was no more evidence to be gathered from either location…though I still felt we were missing something important.
A month went by before we had any further hint. And when it came it arrived like a slap of icy seawater in the face. My telephone jangled obnoxiously one evening while I was enjoying the last of the sunshine through my sitting room window.
“Mathis!” it was Perkins. “I've seen it!”
“Seen what? Where?”
“The color! That abnatural yellow hue!” Perkins exclaimed breathlessly. “I’m visiting my girl over here in Grunwich. We went for a walk and—" Perkins paused for a breath. “We were passing a house. A new one that was being painted—the inside—there were painters going in and out. And the door was open—and I saw—it was on their paintbrushes, too—the COLOR!”
I was silent for a few moments, listening to Perkins panting. “Did you ask them where they got it?” I asked.
“No,” Perkins said, falling back into a rushed stream of words, “they were already packing up for the day—they seemed to be careful not to let the yellow paint show on their tools, washing it all behind the house—I was so unsettled that I went back to my girl’s house and took a shot—just a small one, mind—and when I went back, they were all gone and the house locked up.”
“Did you get their company?” I interrupted.
“No! I’m afraid I was too excited to pay attention. I want to say their logo had a bird of some kind but I’m not sure—I asked the neighbors, but they weren’t sure, either. Really, odd, none of them seemed to know anything about the painters. They didn’t know who owned the house, either. But I peered through the windows and the walls—the walls—”
“Were yellow,” I finished, forcing myself to loosen my grip on the telephone receiver. My hand was beginning to cramp.
“They oozed with it,” Perkins shuddered.
“Are you sure it was the same…hue?” I asked.
“Sure?!” Perkins exclaimed. “There was no mistaking it.”
“All right,” I said. “Did the painters seem suspicious to you, other than washing everything in the back? That’s not that odd.”
“Now you’re trying to be the skeptic?” Perkins huffed. “Not really. But they did seem to take extra care not to show off their paint unnecessarily and they eyed us as we walked past. I think they noticed my reaction to the paint and they seemed even more guarded after that.”
“Hmm,” I mused.
“Well?” Perkins asked. “Are you going to come over here?”
“I thought you were sure it was the same paint?”
“Bring a flashlight,” Perkins grumbled. “I'm at my girl's place. 14 Gryphon Road, Grunwich.” And he hung up. I sighed and replaced the receiver.
This was our only lead on this so far. And it had also been too long…Curew would not approve of our wasting time on this vague mystery. But something was undeniably going on.
I found my flashlight and my pistol, just in case, and drove over to Grunwich as fast as I could. It was a twenty minute drive to Grunwich, and then I got lost looking for Gryphon Road. It was well after dark by the time I finally found Perkin’s girlfriend’s house.
“Timmy already went back to look at the house,” his girlfriend told me. “He sure was pale. Is everything alright? He kept going on about a color.” My heart ticked faster and I felt for my hidden gun.
“Where is the house?”
“I’ll show you,” she said.
“No, you’d better stay here,” I said, glancing around at the darkness. “Did he have a light?”
“I gave him Dad’s light. Is everything ok?”
“Yeah, yes. How do I find the house?”
“Just go down two blocks and take a right onto Hayward, then one block and a left onto Aspen. It’s the third house on the left.”
“Thanks,” I said and hurried off into the night. The air had that strange heavy emptiness that comes with extreme cold and I shivered in my greatcoat. The cold seemed to assault my skin with an almost tangible presence. It had snowed three days before and the dusty film was slippery on the pavement. My nose and the tips of my ears stung with the chill.
I found Hayward and hurried down in, my light bouncing off snow-dusted mailboxes and dead hedges. And there was Aspen. I stumbled to a halt, petrified, thinking the ground had turned…yellow…in front of me, but it was only a layer of fallen aspen leaves peering through a snowless patch. My heart didn’t resume a normal pace, though. I couldn’t see Perkins’ flashlight.
Maybe he didn’t feel the need to be seen standing there outside the house…damn, it was cold, why would he have come down here ahead of me? Why was he still here? Or was he?
I approached the third house on the left. This had to be it…but…there was a light on inside! In fact—it was the only house on the entire street that had any light on. And then I saw the old truck in the drive, hidden partially by a large bush. There was a logo on the side. And it looked like some kind of bird. My breath chuffed huge clouds out in front of my flashlight beam and I switched it off. Where was Perkins?
The golden light danced inside the quiet house…like candlelight. Ducking, I tiptoed up the icy steps to the door. The handle turned and I slipped into the dark warmth of the entry hall. I closed the door quietly behind me and squinted into the gloom. Stairs led up into blackness. The light was coming from down the hall, and by it, I could see that the entry was not yellow. Not that yellow. I thought the walls must be white, but the candlelight made them buttery. The warmth was a relief but the sounds I heard quietly drifting down the hall chilled me worse than the air outside.
Whispers rose and fell in an unworldly cadence, shuffling up and down through almost inhuman registers, but so, so quiet. I trembled and nearly dropped my flashlight.
A horrifynig shadow fell across the light coming from the open door down the hall. I stepped back, pressing up against the frigid front door.
“In ancient days,” intoned a crisp, dry voice, “he knew the earth, and the earth bled, for it could not bear the presence. And men offered of their blood, that the earth might not be consumed, and they worshipped the Lord of all, the King of Hell.”
I trembled anew as more rasping voices joined in a chorus: “And his house shall be painted in the hue of his glory and all who enter in shall know his madness.”
“We have touched the sacred pigment,” said the first voice, “and we have let loose the blood and tasted the glory of pure insanity—hell’s own love. Tonight, our king requires another sacrifice! Behold!”
“Teh Ri’Teth!” chanted the chorus. I gripped the doorknob, as if to flee. But then Perkins’ voice cut through the fiendish whispering.
“Don’t do this!”
Sacrifice!
I pulled out my pistol and advanced on the candlelit shadow.
“Erah!” chanted the worshippers. “Teh Ri’Teth semmi rarat.”
An insane laugh rattled the chandelier above my head. I was almost to the door but I stopped, unable to advance against that horrible sound. It trailed into a sinister giggle and I swallowed shakily.
But Perkins was in there. And I had a gun. I took the last few steps to the door and thrust my pistol into the room to a chorus of “Teh Ri’Teth!”
“Nobody move!” I ordered, stepping through into the—the—the color.
The entire room swelled and glowed with that sickening hideous shade. The walls seemed to breathe it out, as if they were not merely painted with it, but were it. The paint looked still wet, sweating, dank and alive. I staggered, the pistol shaking in my hand. The candlelight danced like whirling figures on the shimmering walls of the color.
Four painters sat on the floor around the circle of candles and their shadows twisted agonizingly on the yellow walls. Their coveralls were splattered with various colors and their faces bore a ludicrous glee as they all turned to look at me. Perkins was sitting with them—and he was the one giggling.
I advanced on the circle with clumsy, numb steps. Only Perkins made any sound. The giggle whispered in the back of his throat and his eyes gleamed with…with that color!
“P-Perkins?” I stuttered. His giggle trailed off into a quiet, high-pitched squeal. “Stop that!” I shrieked, much louder than I meant to. “What’s happening?” I knew I couldn’t hit anything. The pistol’s sights danced before my eyes on the rubbery ends of my arms.
The door slammed behind me and I whirled, heart blocking my trachea, to see a fifth painter locking the door.
“Open it!” I hissed, my pistol tracking a delirious arc after the man as he grinned insanely at me and stepped away from the door.
“Ha!” Perkins guffawed.
“Shh!” the painters hissed, and then they all began murmuring under their breath in that bizarre cadence. Perkins joined them.
“Perkins, damn it! What are you doing?” I gasped and turned back to the fifth painter. “Give me that key!” I demanded. He just stepped back and began humming. I advanced on him. He wasn’t armed. He kept backing away, humming madly.
“Give it here!” I hissed, charging at him. He stumbled against the wall and cried out. I skidded to a stop and dropped my pistol. The painter screamed as—the wall—he writhed—the wall—he was stuck to it—and the color seeped into his clothes, his skin, like a dye spreading into fabric…his scream rose to a terrible pitch and his eyes dilated—as yellow as the wall.
And the color absorbed him. The other painters held their breath and all was silent. I stared at the blank yellow wall where the painter had disappeared, my chest heaving and my fingers twitching. I stooped and picked up my pistol, turning back to the door. I fired madly at the lock, but as I did so, I saw that the door, too, was yellow…
My bullet missed the handle and vanished into the paint, leaving a ripple that passed out from the door and across the wall, as if it were all liquid.
Liquid paint. Liquid yellow. Liquid madness.
And then I heard a voice.
“In my house, all must be the color of glory.”
The painters screamed and scrambled across the floor to grasp each other in terror, knocking over candles as they did so. Perkins among them.
The walls were dripping onto the floor. The color was seeping across the old wood toward the center of the room. I backed away from it, firing madly at the advancing wave, but my bullets just splashed into the floor as if it were nothing more than a veneer of reality.
I found myself huddling with the painters and Perkins as the color surrounded us, oozing ever closer.
“You were supposed to be the sacrifice,” Perkins whispered in my ear. “We shouldn’t have painted a whole room.” He began to sob.
“He told us to,” rasped one of the painters. “Teh Ri’Teth. A whole room, he said. For his glory.”
“And so it is,” hissed that unfathomable monster-voice I had heard earlier. I clutched Perkins.
A few of the candles still stood or guttered on the floor around us. The yellow tide eased closer, snuffing them out, one by one, until we were in darkness.
But there was no darkness in his house.
The color was the light and it began to absorb us, one by one, as we screamed in the agony of knowledge.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Catfish, a very short horror story

I met her on Instagram. Today, I’m going to meet her in person.
At first, she’d seemed like another one of those vain profiles: selfies and makeup and poses.
But she messaged me and, strangely, we seemed to have a lot in common--it quickly became evident that @kellilepoissonfantastique was a front for a real human being.
And she only lives two hours away.
So I’m driving there now, thinking back on the months—nearly a year, actually—of our growing relationship. We’ve both found ourselves lonely in this shallow world. I’ve never pointed out how superficial her self-glorying account is. She messaged me first—because she doesn’t trust anyone approaching her for her content.
My friend teases me that she’s not real—that she’s catfishing me. But I’ll show him. When I take a selfie with her in just a few minutes.
“Take the next left onto Somerset Street,” google maps tells me.
She sent me her location yesterday. Exact location. I’ve known where she lives for a long time already. But we might be serious after today. After we meet in person. We’ve already told each other so much about each other. I’m bringing her a lily-scented candle. They're her favorite.
They remind her of her childhood: the lilies beside the pond with the blue boat. She left when her parents died. She moved to the outskirts of Bamberg, where she works as a dental receptionist, but hates it. She’d rather be swimming.
And I’m here. I open my car door and take a deep breath.
The house is white and clean. The lawn is impeccable. I climb out of my car and straighten my shirt. Clearing my throat, I cross the lawn and ring the doorbell. My phone dings and its her.
Just come on through the house. I’m out back by the pool.
Of course. I open the door and step in. I wrinkle my nose…it’s…what? Sort of dank. But everything is spotless. Shining white couch and tan carpet. The lights are dim. I tiptoe through the living room—I can glimpse the backyard through the kitchen’s glass door.
There are cattails in a vase on the kitchen table and flies buzzing by one of the cabinets. I set my candle on the table and open the door.
The pool is filthy. No sign of the buxom blonde. Am I at the right house? Wait…
I flip through her pictures on my phone. Didn’t she say this one was in her living room? Blue…like water. I’m either in the wrong house, or…
My foot slips in mud as I turn back to the kitchen. And I spot something I hadn’t on my way through…just beside the door, where I wouldn’t see it as I entered the kitchen, hangs a massive leather overcoat. And huge rubber boots.
The water splashes behind me. I whirl around to see the muddy water sloshing back and forth.
“Hello?” I call, but quietly, my voice lost and dry. “Kelli?”
Something smacks me in the side of the head and I fall, slamming into the glass door. Dazed, I slide down into the redolent mud and struggle to roll over.
“It’s Keldron,” says a heavy, watery voice. “And you must be the delicious Eric.”
I sit up on my elbows. And blink through stinging tears. My cheek is numb and it’s spreading. I’ve been drugged!
I feel my face and the tingling seems to transfer to my trembling hands. I look up.
“You’re a catfish,” I slur.
Keldron just grins and opens his gigantic lips to swallow me whole.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

October Frights: Book Excerpt and announcement

Hello, I have an exciting announcement, my horror comedy, Ambulatory Cadavers, is currently being made into an audiobook!
I don't think it will quite be ready in time for Halloween, but it should be out by early November!

Here's a short excerpt from Chapter Nine: In Which Alice Encounters a Cake in the Grass

A piercing scream came from around the corner of the house. Alice dropped her fork and parasol, nearly leaping out of her seat. Lyra turned her head with a speed to match that of her metabolism and Charles’s eyes nearly popped out onto the table.
“What—” he began. Another scream followed and a loud crunching and then silence.
Alice shivered. The birds stopped singing. The fountain splashed discordantly in the sudden stillness. Shuffling steps approached and around the corner stepped an undead soldier.
“Braaaaaaaaaains,” it said, fixing its soulless eyes on Alice. It stepped out of the shadows, the sun falling on its grey-bluish green skin. It had once been a young man, but now it stooped and hobbled like an ancient one. Blood dripped from its drooling mouth, sinews stuck between its teeth dangling like party streamers. Stitches lined its widow’s peak and laced its chest, peering out from its open jacket. Not a soldier’s jacket after all, but stained with fresh blood nevertheless.
“Wonkers,” Alice squeaked breathlessly, seizing her pound cake.
“My Creature,” Lyra whispered.
The creature narrowed its eyes. “Braiiiiiiins!!” it screamed, and charged across the lawn. Alice, Lyra, and Charles all squealed in unison, toppled their chairs, and fled. The creature was between them and the house, so they made for the greenhouse.
The pound cake slid off the porcelain plate. Alice skidded to a stop and looked back at the cake lying in the grass.
“Cake!” she cried.
The cake did not respond. The zombie, however, yelled enthusiastically, “Brain! Uh! Brains!” As it turned out, the walking dead could keep her from a good pound cake. She turned and ran. Lyra and Charles were a good ten paces ahead of her and they didn’t look back.
“Wait!” she called after them. She glanced back. The zombie was closing in. It reached the pound cake but stopped to pick it up. Alice ran faster.
Charles and Lyra were almost to the sparkling walls of the greenhouse. The pound cake whistled past Alice’s head. The zombie crowed as the cake rolled between Lyra’s feet, tripping her. She toppled in a cascade of white gauze and pink ribbon, her parasol snapping underneath her.
Charles plowed up turf as he skidded to a stop and wheeled around to help her up. Alice reached them and grabbed Lyra’s other arm. Together, she and Charles pulled Lyra through the greenhouse door. Charles slammed it shut and barred it with a shovel. Alice’s last view was of the zombie loping awkwardly toward them, wailing, “Awww!” in dismay.
Alice collapsed onto the tiled floor, shaking. Lyra stood swaying next to her, mumbling under her breath. Charles wiped his forehead. The lower walls of the greenhouse were frosted glass, so they couldn’t see out.
“They’re real!” Alice gasped. And then she started crying. Charles helped her to her feet and the three cousins stood in a tight circle hugging as the zombie pounded on the door.
“What fools we’ve been!” Charles exclaimed.
Alice had her head buried in his chest, but he pushed her away and she found her head on an even less receptive breast — Lyra’s. Charles seized a trowel from a tool bench and stood ready at the vibrating door. To Alice’s shock and surprise, Lyra began to gently pat her shoulder.
“Don’t worry,” Lyra said consolingly, “good girls like you will go straight to Heaven.”


Remember to hop on over to check out the other participants offerings as well.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

#OctoberFrights Short Story "Awakening"

Welcome to the October Frights Blog Hop!


I have a short story for you...inspired by the log home company I worked for. They posted a picture of a house on a lake at dusk and asked for captions in two words.
Well...
Murder mystery was my answer. I may have stolen the set-up from the movie Clue and it evolved away from murder mystery--into something else entirely.
As with all my short stories, it didn't stay very 'short's but anyway. And it might be a bit rough as I sort of wrote it last minute in two days...
Here it is: Awakening



The Awakening
By McCallum J. Morgan

“Beautiful view, isn’t it?”
I spun around to find my friend home after all.
“Phil,” I said, “Good to see you! Sorry for dropping in unannounced. You always said I could swing by.”
A weird flicker crossed his grey, lined face. “Of course!”
“I’ve already shot some pictures,” I said, hefting my camera. “I can go back into Hoperington tonight.”
“Absolutely not!” Phil said. “The hotels will all be full this time of year. Come inside, Chaz.” He waved me away from the low stone wall overlooking the lake. I followed him along a paved path to one of the side doors into his sprawling log house.
The sound of a vehicle made me glance back down the long, winding driveway.
“Who’s here?” I asked curiously.
“My guests,” Phil replied.
“Oh—I should just be off, then.” I paused in the doorway.
“Nonsense,” Phil barked. “I’m just having a very small dinner party.”
“But I couldn’t—”
“There will be plenty of food.”
Beyond the heavy wooden door, we were met by a windowless hall of immaculately chinked, hand-hewn square logs. A rich Persian runner ran the length of the hall and two more heavy mahogany doors greeted us.
Phil led me through and up a few steps to a wide room with French doors that led out onto the deck. A grand piano and a cabinet of curios dominated the lounge. We passed through into the foyer, where the stained glass around the front door broke the setting sun into colorful spatters of blue and red across the curved staircase that led to the first floor.
“There’s the bar,” Phil said, pointing past the stairs to the wide, two-story window. A chandelier of antlers dangled like a spider over the huge room and the walls were splotched with expensive paintings. Opposite the staircase, a huge slab of wood glinted with lacquer and behind it glittered racks of sparkling bottles.
Outside, tires crunched gravel.
“I’ll just go invite them in,” Phil said. “Please, help yourself.” Phil squeezed my elbow. Rather hard, I thought. But his smile was wide as he turned toward the door.
I went to the bar and glanced over the posh labels. I turned away and gazed out the windows onto the lake. The water twinkled red and gold. Along the far bank, the edges of the trees were gilded. The deck would be lovely right now. The interior of the house was dark—the lights dim and candle-like—and it smelled oddly musty for such a new house.
The door banged open.
“So glad you could make it out here, it is a bit of a drive,” Phil said. “This is my friend, Charles Wynthorn; he’s a photographer. Charles, this is Jonas Kaplan—ah.” He broke off a more tires crunched up the gravel outside.
Jonas Kaplan stepped hesitantly across the polished hardwood. He was dark haired, in his mid-twenties, with eyes that cut through everything they fell on.
“Nice to meet you,” I said, smiling. Jonas smiled back nervously and jumped as the door banged shut behind Phil, rushing out to meet the new arrival.
“You too,” Jonas said, his eyes tracking around the room, absorbing the oozing wealth with the disgusted wonder of one familiar with, but unaccustomed to such surroundings. His jeans were worn and his flannel coffee-stained.
“Nice house, isn’t it?” I asked. Jonas nodded and opened his mouth to say something, but the door banged open again.
“I’ve had a hell of a time with the landscaping,” Phil said, leading in two men. “Finally found a company that did it right; all of the retaining walls are new and the grass has barely just come up.”
The first man was heavyset and balding, with hooded eyes and an easy smile. The second was thin with thick reddish hair and large teeth.
“Jonas?” asked the second man in surprise.
Jonas’s dark eyebrows shot up. “Carl,” Jonas said. “Didn’t expect to see you here.”
“I bumped into Jonas in Hoperington this morning!” Phil chuckled. “Told him he really needed to drop in and see the house now it’s finished.”
“Ah,” said the balding man. “What are the odds?” He laughed with a deep rumble.
“Chaz,” Phil said, “these are Greg and Carl.” The mirth was out of place on Phil’s face and I glanced between him and his guests, bemused by the odd formal familiarity between them.
“Lovely to make your acquaintance,” I said.
“Oh, and here’s another,” Phil said with another grin that did not reach his cold eyes. He rushed back out the door to leave the four of us clustered awkwardly beneath the monstrous chandelier.
“What have you been up to?” Carl asked Jonas.
“I’ve been working for a contractor in Hoperington,” Jonas said. “The roofing company didn’t work out.”
“Oh, that’s too bad, but this is? Working out?”
Jonas nodded.
“So, how do you know Mr. Daley?” the balding man—Greg—asked me. I paused. How had I made friends with the scaly old coot?
“Oh, I did photos for him once,” I said, trying to remember the exact details. It had been headshots for his website—for whatever archeology books he’d written. We bumped into each other again later at one of my shooting locations—an alpine village—and had a few drinks, he asked if I could photograph his wedding. The young lady hadn’t stayed with him, though. If I was remembering right.
Phil led another man into the room and introduced him as Lyle. Carl also seemed to know the grey-bearded man. I was about to ask Phil quietly how he knew all these men. Aside from Greg’s polished bearing, they didn’t strike me as Phil’s circle. But then, I could hardly pass, either.
Another arrival prevented my query. I half listened to Carl and Lyle exchanging work updates—they were both in construction by the sounds of it.
“Chaz!” called a feminine voice. I stared—blinked. A tiny woman was bounding toward me, trailed dourly by Phil.
“Yvonne,” I said, accepting her hug awkwardly. Phil’s eyes twinkled coldly over her shoulder as she pulled back and smiled at me with those thick red lips.
“I didn’t expect to see you here,” she said.
“Neither did I,” I blurted. She flicked her auburn hair and glanced around at the other guests.
“This is—” began Phil.
“I’m Yvonne,” she cut in. “I run a travel agency.”
Phil introduced the others and said “We’re just waiting on Mr. Lewis, we may as well go into the dining room.”
I waited as the guests filed in after Phil, my eye lingering on the cardigan-and-legging-clad Yvonne. I had photographed her wedding with Phil…but was certain they were now divorced. She was out of place in this already odd assortment.
Jonas lingered behind, his face white. He swallowed when he saw me looking. We were the last in the room.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I wasn’t even invited.”
“I just didn’t realize he was having a party,” Jonas muttered. “I just came to see the house.”
“Did you work on it?” I asked, leading the way after the others. Jonas nodded. “I’ve always been curious how they put these monsters together. They go together a bit like Lincoln logs, right?”
“Yeah,” Jonas said.
“So do you have to use a crane?”
“Yes, they’re assembled at the shop, normally. Hand hewn, in this case, and dovetail notched. We fit them together from the ground up—the whole floor plan. Then it’s all taken down and hauled to the construction site and reassembled.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah.” I hoped he’d elaborate, but he fell silent as we entered the dining room. More wide windows looked out on the purple lake. The sun had set already. A lustrous sideboard sported a shining selection of covered silver trays.
“Just go through the buffet and sit wherever you like,” Phil said.
“Please go ahead,” Yvonne told Jonas and I. “Chaz, what have you been up to? I’ve seen a few of your recent shoots—what you post on instagram. But I don’t keep up on it. Lots of projects?”
“Oh yes,” I replied, grabbing a plate from the stack. The doorbell chimed and Phil disappeared. “I’m always busy with engagement and wedding shoots. Seems like all anyone does is get married.”
Yvonne laughed. “Yes, they do.” She was at least twenty years younger than Phil.
Jonas and I found seats and Yvonne slipped into the chair next to Jonas—the only one in the room remotely close to her age. His ears turned red as she began chatting him up.
Phil brought in the final guest, a scruffy-looking chap somewhere between Jonas and Yvonne in age. He had a snag-tooth and intelligent eyes—I didn’t think Yvonne would have chosen a different seat had he been here earlier. This was Mr. Lewis—Damien—and he seemed to know everyone but Yvonne. He cracked a joke to Jonas that no one else caught.
Phil wasn’t eating, I noticed, just sipping his sherry and eyeing all of us with a smug little smile. His dark eyes fell on me and I averted mine. Carl and Lyle did most of the talking—all about the building projects their companies were currently embroiled in. Beside me, Jonas continued to blush under the lurid attentions of Yvonne. Though he warmed up a little now that Damien Lewis was here to swap stories with. Yvonne thought all of the stories were hilarious and kept catching my eye to force me to laugh along with her over-enthusiasm. Why was she here?
I gathered that the rest of the guests had all had something to do with the construction of the house. Her hand was bare of wedding band as it lighted on the jumpy wrist of poor Jonas.
And Phil was still silent. Watching. Watching me. I wasn’t supposed to be here. But why were they? And again, why Yvonne?
“If you’ll excuse me,” Phil said, standing, “I forgot the wine.”
“Silly,” said Yvonne, “we’re nearly done eating!” Phil glowered for a second before forcing a smile into the wrinkles of his grey face.
“Better late than never,” he said, gliding from the room like a stop-motion skeleton.
“Forgive me, Yvonne,” I said once he was gone, “I vaguely recall seeing something somewhere about your…divorce…”
“Oh, God, yes,” Yvonne laughed. “Phil and I just weren’t right for each other. I took half his money, though.” Jonas and the others laughed nervously. “I’m kidding! We’re still friends. We just can’t live together—I’m a nightmare.” I couldn’t stop my eyebrow from drifting up. “I think he wanted me to come tonight as honorary hostess. He’s no good at parties.”
“And you’re all here to see your finished work?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Carl. “Timber 10 built this house. I own Timber 10 and Greg is our in-house architect. Jonas used to work for us when this house was being built.” I was about to ask about Lyle and Damien, but the lights abruptly went out.
Darkness swallowed the room with a little gasp from Yvonne. It pressed against our eyes for several seconds before light soaked softly in from the deepening dusk outside. The horizon was still visible as a faint blue line over the trees.
“Power must have gone out,” Lyle mused aloud.
“Shit,” said Yvonne.
“I’m sure it will come back on in a second,” I said.
Glass shattered and a grunt and then a thump and clatter. “Sorry!” yelped Yvonne. “I tripped over my chair and dropped my plate.”
“I think we’re all done eating, anyway,” said Carl.
“Yes, let’s go outside,” Yvonne said, the sound of her chair banging around filling the darkness. “It’s probably a bit lighter, and maybe there’s a lamp or something.
We rose cautiously and followed the sound of Yvonne’s babbling voice as she felt her way across the room.
Jonas found the French door for her and we all filed out into the cool night air. I blinked. It was possible to see the vague outlines of people now. Why was it so much darker inside with  such huge windows?
“I hope it comes on soon,” Yvonne said. “Where’s Phil? He might trip and break the wine bottle and hurt himself.”
“Maybe we should go find him,” I suggested. “Anyone have a flashlight?” a couple phones were produced and by their light, we ventured back into the dark caverns of the house. I had left my phone in the car.
“Where’s Lyle?” Carl asked as we filed back inside. Everyone looked around. I could see Carl’s face in the light of his phone, and Greg beside him. Yvonne hovered by Jonas’ phone-light and Damien was there…but Lyle…
“Maybe he stayed in?” Yvonne suggested. “Lyle?” she called into the dark room.
A light bobbed across the dining room, glinting on scattered dishes. But it wasn’t Lyle.
“Just a moment,” Phil said. “I have to go start the generator. Wait on the deck. There’s a tiki torch or two out there.”
“Have you seen Lyle?” Greg asked.
Phil shook his head. “No, I thought he was in here with you. I’ll tell him to join you if I see him.” Phil stalked off into the musty shadows.
“Probably just using the facilities,” Yvonne said, as we fumbled our way back out onto the deck and began searching for the tiki torches. It was an appalling deck, stretching across the entire lakeside of the house in weird, staggered layers. I noticed as we lit the nearly empty torches that the deck had no steps or access to the ground. I glanced dubiously at the architect but said nothing.
“Thank goodness for your lighter,” Yvonne gushed to Jonas. The flame-light danced across her face in demonic swirls, reflecting in her shiny eyes.
We all sat down on the deck furniture in the weak flicker of the two torches and settled back into conversation. Damien, I finally gathered, specialized in doors and windows. Yvonne wasn’t interested in that, though, trying to get Jonas to tell her more about wielding a chainsaw. I was glad Phil wasn’t there.
“I’m just going to pop in and find the restroom,” Greg said.
“What do you mean?” laughed Carl. “You know exactly where it is!”
“In the dark,” huffed Greg, switching on his cell phone’s light. He vanished into the quiet house. Yvonne shivered.
“It’s cold,” she said. “I think I’ll run out to my car and get my jacket.”
“Want someone to come with you?” Jonas asked.
“No,” Yvonne said. I blinked. So did Jonas. “I’ll be fine.” She laughed and pranced off into the house. Jonas exhaled in relief.
“Pretty,” said Damien. I raised an eyebrow and glanced at Carl.
“So, you’re a photographer?” Carl asked.
“I photographed Yvonne and Phil’s wedding,” I said. “I just dropped by to take some pictures of the lake. Didn’t know he was having a party.”
“Odd party,” Carl said. “Take any pictures of the house?”
“A few,” I said. “It’s a magnificent structure.”
“Yes,” Carl agreed proudly, glancing at the towering wall behind him. Jonas rolled his eyes.
The lights came back on inside and along the deck railing. I blinked in the sudden brilliance. The distant rumble of a generator throbbed on the still air.
“Ah,” said Carl. “Let’s go in, shall we?”
“Should we put out the torches?” Jonas asked.
“They’re about to burn out, anyway,” Damien said.
We left them sputtering and returned to the dimly-lit dining room. Phil was sweeping up glass.
“Where’s everyone else?” Carl asked.
“In the lounge, I believe,” Phil said. “The wine is waiting there, help yourselves.”
“Can I help you with that?” I asked Phil as Carl, Jonas, and Damien left.
“No,” Phil said shortly. He glanced up at me with a weird smile. “That’s perfectly all right, go have some wine.”
I followed the others out to the lounge. Another antler chandelier dominated the room, which was richly appointed with leather chairs and sofas. Oddly, Lyle, Greg, and Yvonne were absent. I ran back to the bar and collected my camera bag. The lounge also looked out on the lake and the moon was rising. Stepping out onto the deck, I dug out my telephoto lens and began eyeing the yellow curve as it cut its way into the sky.
The door scraped behind me and jumped. It was Jonas, lighting up a cigarette.
“You don’t mind?” he asked.
“No, no,” I said.
“You sure?”
“Yeah.
He puffed silently and I snapped the moon.
“So, you did a lot of the log work,” I said. Jonas nodded. “And Greg’s the architect, Carl’s the boss, Damien worked on windows and doors…but where does Lyle come in?”
“He was the other contractor,” Jonas explained. “We just built the log part. Lyle’s company came in to finish it out. Frame the interior walls and basement and stuff.”
“Ah,” I said. That made sense. “And why’d you quit?”
“Found better work,” he said. “Or so I thought.”
“Maybe now’s your chance to switch back,” I joked.
Jonas shrugged, glancing over his shoulder at Damien and Greg. “I had no idea they would be here…it’s really weird. I didn’t really want to accept Phil’s invite in the first place…but I was curious to see the place all finished. Last I saw it was when I put the log accents in the basement. Damien was there…working on the door…” his eyes slid off of me into the gloom over the lake, thinking.
His face vanished, swallowed up in the dark as the lights went out again.
A sharp cry rang from inside the house.
Jonas’s phone light came on in an instant and we made for the glassy black mirror of the French door. I followed close behind Jonas, my camera clutched in my hands.
“What’s happened?” I called into the cavernous shadows. No answer. Just Jonas’s rasping breaths. His light passed over the lounge, each chair and couch vacant. We passed back into the foyer.
“Hello?” I called. Still nothing. My nose wrinkled on the stale air…the mustiness I’d noted earlier seemed much stronger. Something boomed from below the house.
“The basement,” muttered Jonas. He’d forgotten his cigarette, still alight between his lips. He yanked it out and crushed it in his palm, wincing.
A door opened.
We spun around and saw Phil’s eyes twinkling in the dark rectangle.
I sighed. “Where is everyone? Did you hear that shout?”
“It was Yvonne. She tripped in the dark. She’s fine.”
A waft of stench rolled into me as Phil stepped into the room, closing the door behind him with a sharp click. I sniffed. Not quite mold…a woodsy mustiness, almost like moss…
“Do I smell a cigarette?” Phil asked.
“Sorry,” said Jonas. “I forgot to put it out before we came in to investigate the yell.”
Phil glowered. “I’m afraid I forgot to fill up the generator. I will be right back. You should wait in the lounge, the others will be there in a moment. Yvonne’s upstairs, tending to a slight cut.”
Phil vanished back through his door with another wave of stench.
I glanced at Jonas. His eyes were wide in the dark, like a cats’.
“We all know about the basement,” Jonas said. “Except for you and Yvonne. But Yvonne’s his ex, right? And you’re not supposed to be here.” His eyes darted back and forth. He went to the front door. The handle rattled. He thumped on it, shoved his shoulder against it and tugged violently on the handle.
“It’s locked,” he gasped, turning to me with the widest eyes I’d ever seen.
“You can’t be serious,” I said. “It’s probably stuck.”
“No, look!” Jonas turned the deadbolt back and rattled the handle again. Nothing. The door would not open.
“Are you sure it’s not just stuck?”
Jonas turned to me and swallowed. He paused and took a deep breath. “Maybe you’re right.”
“Phil has no reason to lock us in,” I said, thinking about what Jonas had just said.
“Let’s check another door.”
I led him back through the hall to the door Phil had let me in through. It, too, was somehow barred or blocked.
“Where is everyone else?” Jonas asked. He ran back through the house and I stumbled after him, still clutching my camera. The lounge, the foyer, the dining room…all empty. We glanced into an office, a toilet, and the kitchen. No one. We checked all the doors leading out of the house. They were all mysteriously blocked, except those that led onto the isolated deck.
Jonas was breathing hard, even though I had a decade or two on him. Must be the cigarettes.
“What did you say about the basement?” I asked. His paranoia was starting to get to me. Surely the doors and the absence of the others could be explained. I had no idea how…but…
“There’s a secret door he had Damien install,” Jonas explained in a rough whisper. “A secret room down there. Greg designed it. Carl knew. So did Lyle, he framed it. He wanted it to be a truly secret room. I wasn’t supposed to see it, but I was installing the log accents in the main basement room and Damien came back to grab something…he joked about us getting knocked off like the guys who built the Taj Mahal…”
“But—but,” I said. “That may be, but it doesn’t explain what’s happening.”
“He said Yvonne’s upstairs,” Jonas said. I followed him back to the foyer and up the huge curving staircase. The camera cut into my ribs where I clutched it to me, shaking slightly despite myself. That smell…I kept seeing Phil’s eyes, glinting. Did I really know him?
But this was absurd. Phil wouldn’t actually kill off the men who’d built his secret room. If he had one. I glanced at Jonas’ perspiring neck.
Yvonne wasn’t in any of the three bathrooms upstairs. Or any of the other rooms. We found ourselves back at the top of the stairs, shivering in the foul mustiness.
“Maybe she’s in the basement,” I said.
“They all are,” Jonas said.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I snapped. But my leg was shaking and it was difficult to make my way back down into the foyer.
The lights came back on.
Jonas jumped and dropped his phone. It bounced over the marble floor and I heard it crack.
“Shit,” he gasped. “Tell me you told someone where you are.”
“Stop that,” I grunted. The lights were back and the house felt normal again. I couldn’t smell the musty odor. Probably all my imagination. Jonas retrieved his broken phone and squinted at the spiderwebbed screen.
He tried the front door again. Still wouldn’t budge.
“There’s got to be a way out,” he muttered.
“You know you can always climb down from the deck,” I said. Jonas scowled. “Now, I’m going to get my camera bag from the lounge and then I’m going to find Phil.”
“He’s downstairs,” hissed Jonas. “They all are!”
“Well, you know where the door is,” I said, marching off to the lounge, leaving Jonas to examine the front door’s lock with his pocketknife. I restored my camera to its case and poured myself a drink. The glass shook in my hand. Voices murmured in the foyer behind me. I spilled my wine and listened. Jonas…and…Yvonne. I sighed. See. Nothing was going on here.
“We have to get out of here,” Jonas hissed.
“Shhhh,” said Yvonne, soothingly. “That’s it. Don’t struggle.”
I dropped my wineglass and it shattered on the floor. I hadn’t heard that. A door closed. The stench trickled up my nose, vile and alive, whispering of green things.
I ran out to the foyer. Jonas’s pocketknife and dead cigarette lay on the marble, alone. I panted into the silence. It bounced back to me, amplified in the large space. The windows were black. I looked at the door. Not the front door. The one which Phil had vanished into. The one that led to the basement. I picked up Jonas’s pocketknife and stuffed it in my pocket.
I should try to climb down from the deck outside. Much more difficult for me than for Jonas. There was probably a window I could break.  The stained glass around the front door was in too narrow of panes for me to squeeze through. But the kitchen had windows that opened onto the driveway.
Why had Phil let me stay? If he’d planned to kill these people tonight, why not turn me away? Or was one more victim no sweat?
I sounded crazy. This was crazy! Phil, a murderer? Yvonne his accomplice? They weren’t married anymore…
And what was in the secret room?
I found myself at the basement door, hand on the brass knob. Every nerve screamed that something was wrong, and the smell of verdant moss rolled up from underneath the door, stronger than ever. Yet part of me wanted to see…a mad, hysterical shred somewhere deep inside wanted to know where that smell was coming from. What was in the secret room? And what if I could take pictures of it? The camera bag swung down from my shoulder and a hand—mine—dug the camera back out and let the bag slide gently to the floor.
Another hand—also mine—turned the knob. I was not greeted by darkness. The stairwell was well-lit and richly carpeted. I raised my camera as if in defense and crept down the stairs. My footsteps made no noise and the basement below was quiet.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs, I found a well-lit, empty room. Another, smaller, antler chandelier dangled from the ceiling. There were a couple of bookcases and a couch and a strange painting.
I glanced back up the stairs, wondering if Phil might slam the door and trap me down here. But that was foolish. There was another sliding glass door out onto a patio beneath the deck. I could break the glass and escape.
I checked the other rooms first, timidly. A spare bedroom and bathroom, and an office, all empty.
I found myself before the strange painting. I didn’t spare a glance for the bookshelves. I wasn’t about to go pulling out books, looking for the lever.
The artist loved the color green. The scene before me was executed almost entirely in shades of emerald, lime, and sage. Putrid. I would describe the work as putrid. It looked like that word, looked like a smell. The smell I had smelled upstairs. It was stronger here, as if radiating from the dried oil pigments. It didn’t look dry, either…it looked wet and slimy. I peered closer at the varnished surface, amazed at how photographic the painting was. As if someone had photographed a nightmare. Wasn’t that how they described Beksinski? The man who photographed his nightmares?
It throbbed under the light of the chandelier. An antlered figure standing in a thicket. Deformed, twisted, and mysterious. My head tingled with fuzziness and I closed my eyes, but the swirling colors of the nightmare photo whirled in my head.
I put out a hand to steady myself and it fell upon the frame. It was cold to the touch. But wet. I drew back my hand and was horrified to see it red. Blood. I reached around behind the frame and found the catch. I held my breath.
Who was behind this door? All the guests? Dead?
Where was my host?
I glanced around again. The room was still and tense. As if hushed with waiting. Waiting. No one. No sound. No generator hum. Just my breath and the button under my bloody finger. I should run for it. But another glance. Just one, at that remarkable painting. Could I take a photo of it?
When my eyes returned to the painting, it whirled and my eyes fuzzed over as dizziness churned my stomach. I clutched the frame…and in so doing, pressed the catch. I staggered back as the painting swung silently outward toward me.
I clutched my camera and waited to be stabbed. There was no one behind the painting. Just a small room of stonework walls. Tile floor. Ample lighting from wall sconces made from small deer antlers. So many antlers. I understood they were ‘rustic’ but this seemed excessive. My eyes snapped to the floor. A trapdoor. A streak of something red marked the floor from my feet to the square of hardwood with the metal loop handle.
Only an idiot would open that trapdoor. But I still couldn’t believe this was actually happening. Maybe it was a prank. No. I knew that wasn’t true. The mad little voice inside kept urging me on. The painting swung shut behind me. I dropped my camera and it cracked on the floor. I scooped it up and brandished it by the strap. I was still alone. The trapdoor didn’t budge. I searched frantically for the button to open the door from the inside and found a handle, but it wouldn’t move.
I turned back to the trapdoor with ragged breaths. This was a trap. But I could only go on. Perhaps I had a chance…camera in one hand, I dragged the trapdoor up and prepared to bring the expensive device crashing down on Phil or Yvonne’s head. Instead, I staggered back, choking on fumes of that earthy moss perfume.
Maybe it was poison. My eyes watered and I blinked violently. Still, I was alone. The trapdoor led down into another brightly lit stone room.
Had this been added after Damien and Carl and the others were done? Surely Jonas would have mentioned such an odd chamber. I scrambled down the ladder into a long tunnel, lined with stonework. Who had done the stonework? Why hadn’t Phil invited the mason to die here, as well?
Why was I down here? I glanced back up the ladder in a panic, and back down the tunnel to the green door at the end. Where else could I go?
I marched down to the green door and threw it open. I sat down on the floor.
I was looking at an altar. Wrought of gold, with a beautifully painted altarpiece done in the same nightmarish style as the painting over the secret door. But it wasn’t the altar that had made me sit down so abruptly on the cold floor. Nor was it the statue of the unnaturally shaped being that loomed over it, crowned with emeralds and antlers. Nor was it the choking miasma that puffed from the incense burners swinging hypnotically in all corners of the secret shrine…
It was the offerings laid out before the altar.
On a long table with a white table cloth, lay Lyle, Greg, Carl, Damien, and Jonas. Their eyes were closed peacefully, but the tops of their heads were shaved and tubes ran out and down the table, across the floor and up into an intricate golden chalice. Blood coursed languidly through the clear tubing.
I heard the painting open. Yvonne slid down the ladder. Phil followed her slowly.
“Welcome, Master,” Yvonne said, looking directly at me, a weird weird smile on her red red lips.
“You’re crazy,” I coughed at Phil. Phil smiled—snake-like, as always.
“Not so,” he said, advancing down the tunnel. I dragged myself to my feet and swung the camera on its strap.
“I’m not going to be sacrificed to some imaginary demon.”
“You won’t. You’re not imaginary or a demon,” Yvonne said. Her hands were empty. So where Phil’s. They clasped them in prayer and the mad voice in me smiled.
“They are the sacrifices,” Phil said. “Their blood will free you!”
“What?” I blubbered, confused and terrified. Why did they have no weapons? Why was that strange—sensation—growing in me? It was happy. Not my happiness. It, the thing, was happy. I dropped the camera.
“I was meant to come here all along,” I gasped. Phil and Yvonne nodded.
“You were meeting the man in Hoperington about your portfolio. I paid him to do that…you then came here of your own volition. You want this.”
I staggered away from them as they advanced on me. They came forward slowly, with measured paces, and with their hands clasped before them, they began to chant a prayer that trembled my bones. I fell back, stumbling into the room of horror—of delight.
“Teh Ri’teth, Lord of all and king of hell,” intoned my host and his ex as they drove me toward the altar,
“Nesillagh, horde of death and queen of ice,
Pa’lagithon, lord of night and prince of dreams,
Sheddiroth, drinker of blood, shed no tears.”
I staggered around the table and glanced down at poor Jonas. His face was white. His eyes flew open and I screamed. Phil and Yvonne kept chanting.
“Sheddiroth, drink our oblation,
Unleash your glory,
Obliterate the earth and bathe in its blood.
Sheddiroth! Hamat, erah! Secu, nemat erha! SHeddiroth!”
“Knife,” Jonas gasped. My hand flew to the pocketknife and drew it from my pocket. The happy thing in me quailed. I flicked the blade out as I looked around at the altar, where the golden chalice was filling up with blood.
“Hamat, erah! Secu, nemat erha! Ludisa, hamat! Sheddiroth! Sheddiroth! Sheddiroth!”
My hand trembled. The thing in me—Sheddiroth—writhed and my other hand reached for the chalice.
“Drink, Sheddiroth, drink!” Yvonne begged. I looked back at Jonas and the others. His eyes were closed again, but he was still breathing.
Yvonne and Phil were on their knees now, pleading with tear-stained faces and the thing in me was delighted, raising the chalice to my lips.
“DRINK! HAMAT!” Yvonne screamed.
I dropped the chalice and drove the pocket knife into my ribs. Yvonne’s scream continued, rising in pitch. I gasped and fell to the floor, dropping the chalice. Blood gushed out across the shrine’s floor.
Phil roared in anger.
The thing in me screamed through my lips.
“You failed me, Phil!” I said.
Yvonne stopped screaming and scrambled to my side.
“I’m sorry, Master,” she wept. Sheddiroth grinned through me.
“Go and drown yourself in the lake,” I commanded. “Phil, stop their blood flow, unlock the house and hang yourself from the chandelier in the foyer.”
They left to obey.
 I lay back in a pool of my own blood. My hands were too weak to lift the chalice to save myself and Sheddiroth. Phil and Yvonne couldn’t help me, I had to drink myself. My vision blurred in and out. Sheddiroth grumbled in the depths of my mortal coil.
We could have reigned the earth.
But one of the last things I saw was Jonas’s foot twitching and I knew they were all still alive. They would escape Sheddiroth.
For now.



Remember to hop on over to check out the other participants' offerings as well.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Giveaway (Because you deserve it)

Find some cool authors and their newsletters and you could win 100 dollars on amazon.
I know what I would do with that (either old movies or fabric...hard to decide, actually).
Good luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Words


“My opinion will not be lenient. My opinion, it’s real convenient, our words are loud, but now I’m talking action. We don’t get enough love? Well, they get a fraction.”—Tyler Joseph, Neon Gravestones by Twenty One Pilots

I think words have been too important to me.
I was never able to exchange them with others, to find that connection of words. I always struggled with words—struggled to find the words and then struggled to say them. Words became mythical in proportion. Words were all I could think of. They were the way to bond with other humans. How do you open the door to another’s heart? The door to your own? Words.
As a writer, words are power. Words allow you to say what you mean, and to invent new worlds when yours is cold—wordless. Their importance was so inflated, I thought if I could say the words, that was enough. More than enough, that was all. The be-all, the end-all.
If I could just crack open my vault and spill my words to others, then they would become my friends. When I failed to break open my lips and shed my words, I thought if I wrote them down, that would be enough. Maybe it would be all. Even in a world of speech—of flowing words—people seldom say the important things.
But I could. If I wrote them down. Masked them in fiction or bared them in a letter. In a text, perhaps.
But sometimes words need to not be said.
Sometimes they are not all. Sometimes it is not enough to force them out, to write them down. Sometimes it is more important to keep them inside. And sometimes, you need more than words. Sometimes you need something else entirely.
Something that can actually be more powerful than words.
I think I am a writer. I think that all the power of human meaning is mine, because I can command the words.
That is not true.
Writers always tell each other: show, don’t tell.
There is a thing called action.
A verb.
Do.
Show.
Sometimes, we must do. We must show, not tell.
That is not to say the telling is not important—that the words are not important. But there is more to life than words.
Sometimes words fail, and that’s ok, because there is a recourse, if you remember that words are not all. And sometimes, words are useless, because there is no meaning behind them. They get used and used again until they lose their savor, their zest, and their menaing.
Words need meaning. They need to be verbs. Not passive verbs, but active.
Words are important, but sometimes action is more so.
And we writers mustn’t forget that.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Emergence Cover Reveal

Here is the cover for Emergence, Book One of Hypostasis: A Space Opera.
It was designed by Black Fox Designs.



Here's the blurb:
I await thee, Iara—the Book of Elem
A planet said to be heaven itself is about to appear in the firmament. The armies of the Empire and rebel factions prepare to stake their claims but an ancient evil has emerged and its eyes have been fixed upon Iara for millennia.
A runaway and a cult apprentice will both find themselves drawn into the core of this conflict. Their destinies are tangled with those of the Empire, the rebellion, the Church of Elem, a menagerie of monsters, and the universe itself.
Heresy, fellowship, valor, and darkness will all emerge—and be tested to the breaking point.
And the preorder link: https://www.amazon.com/Emergence-Space-Opera-Hypostasis-Book-ebook/dp/B07T1RSVX6

Available August 3!!!

You can enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a paperback ARC, one of two ebook ARCs, an original art card, or a set of my Weather Caster books in ebook!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I'm really excited for this release and can't wait to share it with you.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Two Pieces on the Internal Being

I rarely used to write this kind of thing. But, since listening to poets read their struggles at open mic nights and the candid yet richly metaphorical lyrics of Twenty One Pilots, I have tried it myself and found that regurgitating my mind's chaos can be cathartic, if generally unfit for human consumption. Most of them are dead-end complaint-style exposition. Like, dear self, why are you such a disaster?
But I wrote one with a pretty metaphor that pleased me. And then I wrote one that wasn't quite an answer to the first, but could be. At any rate, I feel like it's two sides of a coin. It's a negative view and a positive view, side by side. Sort of borrowing imagery from TØP and Björk in a few places, with ships and video loops. So, here they are. Just because. I guess it's for myself; I do too much Hamlet-ing.

Part One: Screaming Creatures and Ships
Sometimes, it's loud inside. As if a small creature is trapped in a dark cave somewhere deep inside. It is wailing, but the sound is lost in the exitless cavern. It reverberates and builds, pressurizing like a steam engine. But there is no outlet,  no safety valve.
Surrounded by others, isolated humans, disconnected,  all pretending. Do they have screaming creatures inside? Or hollow caverns? They may, they may not, but no one will admit it, no one will say, no one will ask.
So we just keep pretending. Pretending we're ok. We remain as islands, isolated by waves of shyness, currents of shame, salted with the savor of safety.
We close off our trade routes and scupper our ships.
What foreign cultures will we develop in our isolations?
I just want to sleep all the time.

Part Two: Circuit-Breaker
You can make yourself a victim. It will feel good. You will be sour with bitter hatred and sorrow. It will feel good. It's not your fault, you have been hurt by others: people, the world, destiny, even another aspect of yourself. Your problems were caused by another. It's not your fault. It will feel good.
But it's a trap. It's a cycle, a circuit you lock yourself into. It feels good to feel bad. You nurse your sorrow like a baby. That baby will grow and grow and become heavier and heavier. One day, it will consume you. It feels good to feel bad. But it still feels bad. It's a trap. It's a cycle. A treadmill you can walk and walk and walk and get nowhere. Step off of it.
It feels bad.
Leave it behind. Abandon the child of sorrow and let it die on the rocks, un-suckled. It won't be easy. But you can release yourself from the cycle. Stop repeating the video-loop. Release play and look forward. You can let yourself out of the trap and leave self-pity behind. Sadness and hardship might not leave right away. But now you have the chance to escape them.

It will feel good.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Cottonwood. A Poem.

This is an utterly random poem/thing I spontaneously wrote today while picking up a load of hay for my sister's horse. We drove by a slough and it had just rained and the window was down. I've always loved the smell of wetlands, water, marshes, rivers, and cottonwood trees...so this weird poem was born. If you can call it a poem.


Trees, you grow by the water.
I smell you.
Cold breeze, cold day, moist is the cool cool air on which your scent claws it's way to me, bloody and sweet like the dew of deep sewer gods. A bitter sweetness of rotting things and liquid. Ducks.
Your light reproduction would float on the gentle winds, tufted and soft, but the air is too thick with recent rain.
Trees, you grow by the water and your veins are filled with its fragrance.
Silvery bark and whispering leaves.
I smell you.
Mud is between your toes, oozy and dank like the meme. Dead things are in it and live things, squirming. Life is struggle and tiny lives burrow in the muck, fighting and killing and eating. Between your toes. If you could wiggle them, you would crush millions of lives. And duck shit.
I smell you.
Rotting grass, you are sweet and caress the ankles of the naked tree. Erotic and slimy.
Towering over it all, you grow by the water and clap your tiny, multidunious hands in a fluttering rhythm like Björk. You are not Björk, but a cousin to that pale-skinned saint-tree.
You grow by the water and its music lulls you to sleep so that you do not move your toes and squish the dark muck between them in oozy fountains of duck shit.
Sleep then, and do not kill...until the lightning strikes and your boughs crack and fall down down down through the yards of sparkling air to crash through the rusted roof of a Nissan and crack the ball cap of a scuzzy trailer park red neck.
I smell you.
Cottonwood.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

An 'Official' Announcement

Greetings,

I've been tackling some changes and new challenges in my author endeavor lately and I figure it's time to make an 'official' announcement regarding it.

I have recently re-released my Weather Casters series as independent ebooks and am in the process of doing the same with the paperback editions and both versions of Ambulatory Cadavers. I'm not ditching my lovely publisher, but they are sadly phasing out of publishing and have very kindly released all of my rights back to me, along with all the formatting and covers, which is why I chose to simply republish immediately, rather than taking the opportunity to re-brand and re-release completely. I have other fish to fry but want to keep my back catalog up and running. Little Bird has been wonderfully supportive and I will always cherish the family of authors I'm now a part of. We're still doing this together. We've got each others' backs.

So, as this new indie route opens up, I'm going to attempt to be more diligent with my newsletter. Yes, I know how that went last time...but there's always tomorrow, and I'm exciting to see what tomorrow brings. I have new books in the works, and although I'm not sure if I will go indie with all of them, or try and land a traditional publisher, I want to share that journey with you.

Yes, you guessed it, this is a newsletter sign-up push. I want my subscribers to be the first to read about new releases (maybe the first to read them, even) and whatever else tomorrow may bring. I also want it to be a subscription of exclusive content. I've written a short (horror?) fairytale that will be in the first issue of my new newsletter, along with some exclusive illustrations. I don't want to spam you with sales, I want to give you gifts. And alert you to sales, of course, but good must come with some evil. I want to reward the faithful few, who will actually sign up for this. If you love my writing, I am eternally grateful, and I love you. So. Sign-up, because I want to show you my gratitude. A writer isn't much without a reader.

Disclaimer: my newsletter will probably not be on any kind of schedule. It will be like me: random and slow. But that means less dings in your inbox and hopefully quality rather than quantity.

Sincerely,
McCallum J. Morgan