Monday, October 12, 2020

Two of Wands, Reversed

 

Welcome again to the October Frights Blog Hop! Here is a short story I wrote for open mic a year ago. It was inspired by a couple friends if mine and things they'd said about writing the things that hurt and doing the scary things...

TWO OF WANDS, REVERSED

“Why am I dead inside?”

“I’m a fortune teller, not a shrink,” she says, smiling with all four of her golden teeth.

“I feel like you should know better than any shrink—about souls,” I say, interlacing and unlacing my fingers. I can smell my own cologne over the heavy incense in the gypsy’s tent. I have over-applied it again. I lick my lips. The old witch it squinting at me thoughtfully.

“I’m a performer,” she says at last.

“An artist!” I interject. “Artists have souls.”

“More so than other people?” she asks with a chortle.

“They are more aware of them,” I say, tracing patterns on the ornate tablecloth, “or they display them. Especially performers.”

“No, we hide them and put on a display of falsehood,” the gypsy corrects me. “We are pretenders. Perhaps we lack souls and thus overcompensate. We are trying to make everyone believe we have souls, just like them.”

She smiles and sits back, crossing her arms, as if she’s won. I scowl and dig my nails into the tablecloth before me.

“Do you want my money?” I ask.

“In verity,” she replies. “The question is this: do you want lies?”

“Then you do admit to knowledge,” I say, sitting up and pointing at her triumphantly.

“I know how to play you, like a fine instrument,” she says with a shrug. “I am a performer. The best.” I slump back in the old chair with a huff.

“You do not wish to rephrase your question?” she asks, taking out an ivory snuff box.

I scowl as she takes a pinch and inhales it. I bite my lip and interlace my fingers once more. What does she mean? Rephrase? What do I want to know? The gypsy sneezes violently all over the table between us. She chuckles with her golden teeth flashing. I almost get up and leave. She can’t help me anyway. God, my cologne is so strong. Why did I use so much?

“What happened to my soul?” I ask at last.

“Ah…” she says. “So you don’t have one. Are you an artist?”

“Yes. I’m a writer,” I sniff, wringing my hands in my lap. “But I had a soul.”

“Before you became a writer?”

“No,” I say. “I’ve been a writer for a long time, and I’ve always had a soul.”

“How do you know?” she says, cocking her head.

“I’m sure I don’t know!” I snap. “I only know the absence of it. Not quite a cavity…not really a hollowness. Just that I…I feel like some integral part is missing. You never know what you have till it’s gone, they say.”

“Who are they?” asks the gypsy.

“Are you going to answer me?” I ask, sitting up straight again. “Or keep asking me questions?”

“I need information to inform my fabricated response,” she says, winking.

“I’m wasting my time,” I growl, standing.

“Or maybe you’re wasting mine,” she says with a smile. “Sit down and I will answer one question. Just one.”

I work my jaw silently, gripping my left wrist in my right. The gypsy continues to smile with all three golden teeth. Three? She waves a hand and a candle appears in the center of the table, burning with a sputtering red light and giving off a sticky scent of apricot. I blink and she laughs.

“People only believe their eyes,” she says, “but the eyes can be fooled.”

“And hearts?” I ask.

“Is that your question?”

I shake my head.

“You didn’t really come here for a laugh, did you?” she asks. “My favorite customer. One question. Though I cannot promise you that you will like the answer.”

“I don’t expect to,” I grumble, sitting reluctantly back in the creaky old chair. Incense and the candle-scent swirl around me and I fancy that a haze glitters around the table and the little ball of red candle-light. The tent beyond grows dark.

“You wear a lot of cologne,” she says. “And you are insecure when you talk.” She points to my hands, lying before me on the table.

“What’s that got to—” I break off because my hands are interlacing their fingers again. I force them still and look the gypsy in the eye. They are not one color. They seem to cycle drunkenly through all the colors of the rainbow. I can’t hold her gaze.

“Where’s my soul?”

“Is that your question?”

I take a deep breath and choke on my own cologne.

“I haven’t paid you yet,” I say.

“Haven’t you?” she cocks an eyebrow. “Quit stalling. I don’t have all day. There are more customers.”

“I didn’t see any outside,” I say, wrangling my hands again. I clutch my knees to stop them from moving.

“I should get paid by the hour, then,” she says, setting a deck of cards on the table and splaying them out to one side, then the other in a fluid motion. Back and forth, back and forth, like the tide. “Just look inside yourself and ask yourself: what is it that you want to know? Why did you come here?”

“How do I get my soul back?” I ask, leaning forward and searching for her rainbow eyes behind her grey fringe. She does not look up. Her hands move the cards like a magician, they flow and ebb. They stop, she flicks a card over.

“The answer to that,” she says, “lies in the previous question: what happened to it? Which lies in the first question: why are you dead inside?”

“But I only get one question,” I growl, gripping the edge of the table.

She slides the card across the table and leaves it in the pool of bloody light from the candle. It’s upside down. It’s got a picture of six golden coins on it. Each coin has a different laughing face on it, and they all look strangely familiar, but I can’t say from where.

“You’ve let your art stagnate in greed and worries. You’re worried about that book signing and your reception. There’s another author who’s doing better than you. Your art is your soul. It’s dead, riding on trends, riding on popularity.”

She flips another card and scoots it across to me. This one is right side up, with a picture of an infantile creature in hose and puffed sleeves and bearing a gigantic golden chalice.

“I don’t know what the heck that means,” she says, shaking her head. “Doesn’t really answer where your soul went. Ah. But it does describe your soul. Your art is good. It’s deep and passionate. You mean it—or you used to. It’s gone. But not utterly lost, I think.” She grins at me again. With two teeth this time.

I blink, losing my train of thought for a second. “Your teeth—”

“Don’t you want to know how to get it back?” she doesn’t wait, but flips a third card.

She slams it down in front of me. Another upside down card with a crying man on it, holding a long staff that is broken in twain.

“That doesn’t look good,” I say, swallowing.

“Ha!” she says. “It never is. There’s darkness in you. There’s a little bit in all of us. Pain and things. All that jazz.”

“What do you mean?” I snap, looking up at her with a scowl.

“You know what I mean. You need to be honest. Forget the accolades and the reviews. And for God’s sake, stop wearing so much cologne!”

My hands twist each other in anger.

“Your soul is dead because you let the world crush it down when it wants to rise. You let it go, pushed it out, because you were afraid of it.”

She has only one tooth now.

I swallow. “I am not afraid of it, or I wouldn’t want it back, would I?’

“Bah!” she says, picking up the card with the broken staff and throwing at me. “Then why is your art restricted? Dig that soul out,” she picks up the cup-bearer card, “it never left! It’s still there!” she throws the card at me. “Stop caring what the public, or even your mother thinks! Let your soul back out, let it draw up the life from within, even the ugly stuff, especially the ugly stuff. Pain is how you know you’re alive. Find it and write that shit!”

She has no teeth.

She throws the last card at me. The six of coins. It cuts through the flame of the candle and extinguishes it in a puff of smoke.

“It’s up to you to turn that card around,” her voice says from the dark.



And see the rest of the blog hop below!


Saturday, October 10, 2020

October Frights Blog Hop! Mallet excerpt

 



It's that time of year!

Welcome! I am delighted to take part in this fun blog hop once again. There are always great stories, poems, and horrifying goodness abounds.

I would like to introduce my new horror serial. It's a freebie I am sending out in my newsletter. Episode V goes out soon but if you signup now, you can still get all the previous ones (the email has a link to a hidden webpage where you can download all episodes, I just add the new one there before the email goes out).

I am having a bit of a snafu with my email: evidently I sent too many. As soon as I sort that, I will resume sending the episodes.

And here is an excerpt of Episode X: Bones and Baphomet


The massive door loomed ahead. The Doctor set down his bag and dug through it. Metal things clinked inside. The darkness seemed to pull back from him, as if alarmed. Henri shivered. Just the waxing and waning of the candle light. But that door. And behind it...He couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a presence behind that door. Someone was in there. Listening. The back of his neck prickled and his candle dipped in his shaking grip. The light flickered and waxed dribbled on the floor.

The splattering was obscenely loud. The Doctor whipped his head around to look. He’d taken a long pointed tool from his bag. It glinted in the light.

“I keep surgery tools on me, just in case,” he said. “I’ve dabbled in the cutter’s trade.” “Dabbled?” Asked Mr. Raulings. “Is that something to dabble in?”
“It’s often life-saving,” the Doctor said. “Somehow that’s not respectable.”

“Can’t be chopping people one day, dancing with Countesses the next,” Mr. Raulings said. “Saving lives has nothing to do with high society. Thankfully. But how is surgery going to help us get into this cellar?”

“I’m going to misuse my tools,” the Doctor said, sticking the pointed tool into the key hole on the lock.

“Oh,” said Mr. Raulings, watching in fascination as the Doctor jiggled the lock. He stuck another pointed implement in and twisted. “Dabble in any other less-than savory trades?” Mr. Raulings asked.

The darkness behind the door stirred as the lock clicked open. Henri held his breath—half expecting the darkness to blast the door open. The Doctor threw his tools back in the bag and scooped it up.

“The Marquis is hiding something,” he said. “I think it’s down here.” He tried to pull the door open, but it barely budged. He waved Mr. Raulings over and together they heaved on the massive door. Finally, with a shriek that nearly made Henri drop his candle, the door slid open a few inches. Henri sucked in a gasp. In the echo of the door, he could have sworn he heard a chuckle from the shadows beyond.

His spine tingled and he wanted to yell at them to stop, but they just flinched at the door’s scream and heaved again. A quieter shrieking ran through the dark and the door came open wide enough to slip through. Henri stared at the narrow abyss, waiting for the presence—the chuckle—to emerge. They should not have opened this!

But nothing came out. The darkness was still. The Doctor waved Mr. Lawson forward.

“No!” Yelped Henri. They all looked at him. Even the darkness watched. “Did—didn’t you hear the...chuckling?” He asked. His voice was much higher than normal. The Doctor frowned. Mr. Lawson glanced at Mr. Raulings and Mr. Raulings shook his head dumbly. Henri swallowed, staring at the crack of the door. “Must have been my imagination.”

Mr. Lawson shivered and the Doctor nodded at him to step through.

Henri took deep breaths of the musty air as the lad approached the dark. He slipped through with his candle. There was no scream—no extinguishing of the candle. No evil laughter. The Doctor vanished through after Mr. Lawson and then Mr. Raulings sidled through the gap. Henri was alone in the antechamber of hell. He crossed himself and hurried to follow the others through.

A long vaulted hallway stretched before them. Ancient pillars grew from the walls, supporting the vaults above. It was empty. The end of the hall was swallowed up in the thick shadows. The air was sticky and warm...it moved around them, almost as if the darkness breathed.

Then Henri gripped Mr. Raulings’ shoulder with his free hand.
In the deep gloom at the end of the hall glowed two red eyes.
A sigh wafted through the hall...a warm gust brushed their faces and Henri swallowed again. “Odd,” remarked the Doctor, marching forward.

Mr. Lawson hurried after him with the candle.

“For Pete’s sake,” said Mr. Raulings, “loosen your grip!”

Henri let go of him and followed him deeper into the dark. As they neared the end, a huge arch loomed out of the gloom. It led into a void of night, illumined only by the two dots of red light. Then, as they drew ever nearer, gold gleamed here and there and weird shapes oozed out of the shadows. Two more arches materialized on either side of the main one, leading off to the left and right, but Henri’s gaze was fixed on the red eyes.

The four of them stepped through the massive arch and found themselves in a chapel.

“The Marquis said there wasn’t a chapel in this castle,” Mr. Raulings said, gazing around at the central aisle with its gold leaf accented pillars. Henri’s eyes were fixed on the altar.

It was draped in black. On either side were statues of a goat-headed creature with breasts and penis.

Behind the altar...the red eyes shone. But they were the candles held by Mr. Lawson and Henri, reflected back at them from a mirror. Icy terror gripped his every nerve in spite of the strange heat of the air. He had seen this very chapel in his dreams. They drew up short before the altar and Henri spoke, his voice high and tremulous.

“This is not a chapel to God.”

Something white flashed by in the mirror behind them and a hissing shot though the shadows all around. Henri whirled around, candle held high. Mr. Raulings cursed and pulled out a knife. The Doctor scanned the darkness.

“Who is there?” He called.

The silence vibrated with menace. Henri dared to glance back at the mirror, only to see himself, naked with Mrs. Raulings. He yelped and the others whirled around. The vision was gone. All four of their pale faces stared back at them in the pools of candle light. Nothing but shadow and silence.

“Well,” said the Doctor at last. “Nothing here but blasphemy. I was hoping for something more substantial.”

Henri would have sworn he’d heard the chuckling again, but only Mr. Lawson flinched. “What...what did we see? In the mirror?” Asked Mr. Lawson.
“Luc?” Suggested Mr. Raulings, his knuckles whitening on his knife handle.
“We will see,” said the Doctor. “Lawson, with me, left aisle. Raulings, Gausinport, right.”

They split up and marched back through the chapel. It appeared empty. There was nowhere to hide. The pillars, though many, were too thin. Other than a few ancient candlesticks with old black candles, there were no other furnishings besides the altar and its mirror. He did not like turning his back on that mirror.

“Let’s look in here,” the Doctor said, leading the way through one of the smaller arches on either side of the great hallway. It was made of the same ancient blocks, dripping with moisture. They followed it for about fifty feet, then it cut to the left and their flickering lights fell upon a half-rotten door.

“What’s that smell?” Asked Mr. Raulings, covering his nose. The gloom swirled with a rank mustiness—mold and decay...Henri did not want to see what lay beyond that glistening door. Again he imagined that presence lurking beyond the door: darkness coalesced, decay manifest, destruction imminent. His breath rasped loud. The condensation on the walls softly exhaled the fungal dissolution of ancient, unnamed things.

The Doctor kicked the door and it popped off its hinges. A wave of murky heat rolled over them. Not the smell of death, the smell of life: life taking root in the dead. Flourishing life.

“Hasn’t been opened in years,” he said, taking Mr. Lawson’s candle and shining it into the chamber beyond. “Just as I thought,” he said. “It’s a crypt.”

He turned away. But as he did, Henri thought he saw a flicker of something pale moving in the void beyond the door.

“What was that?” He gasped.
“What?” Demanded the Doctor, whirling around.
“I thought I saw something—moving.”
“Stop it,” snapped Mr. Raulings, flicking his knife at his side. Mr. Lawson’s face had gone pale.

“This door has been rotting in place for years now,” the Doctor said. “There couldn’t be anyone or anything in there.” Another wave of heat washed over them. Rotting earth and sulfur. Henri shivered in the heat.

“We should go then,” he said.

“No use looking in a crypt,” Mr. Raulings agreed.

“Unless we’re looking for bodies,” the Doctor said, peering back through the gaping door.

“Are we?” Asked Mr. Raulings. “What did you hope to find down here?”

“I’m not sure.” The Doctor seemed reluctant to climb over the remains of the door into the crypt. Henri could only just make out a few urns in the light of the guttering candle.

Something was watching them, though. He could feel it. Like it was staring at him from beyond the candle light. He did not want to see it.

At last, the Doctor turned away from the crypt.
“It is an expansive crypt,” he murmured. “Could have a secret exit...” “A secret exit?” Scoffed Mr. Raulings.

“Let’s check the other passage,” Henri suggested, leading the way. He did not want his back exposed to the crypt. The others followed and the dark billowed behind them, pursuing. Henri found himself ahead of the others and slowed down. They passed the entrance of the unholy chapel and went through the other arch. The passage was shorter and turned sharply to the right, where a door of iron bars hung limp on its rusted hinges.

Beyond that was a hall lined with cells.

It was a real dungeon.

At the end of the hall, another broken door led into a room lined with rusted and rotting machines. The frame of a rack, its spool broken off. An iron maiden. A Judas seat. Thumbscrew. Many more loomed like twisted skeletons in the shadows. There was a furnace and tables covered in old tools... manacles dangled from the ceiling. There was a fire pit in the center where prisoners could be stretched over flame.

Henri swallowed.

“Well,” said the Doctor, “at least they haven’t been used in a while.”

They turned around and walked back past the cells. A flash of white made Henri spin toward one of the cells. His heart pattered weakly. And then he saw what it really was.


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Tuesday, September 1, 2020

ULTIMATUM book two of Hypostasis

So, I have left this blog sadly unattended. I apologize. Book two of Hypostasis is out now, and I want to tell you a little bit about it and about my other current/future projects.



Ultimatum picks up about two years after the cataclysmic events of Emergence, the first book in a planned four-book saga. Without giving too many spoilers, the galactic empire is split in two, with a coalition of rebellious sectors and cults fighting for independence from the Empire and the state religion. Things are in an uproar within the Imperial state due to events in the previous book shaking the foundations of their religion. Against the backdrop of grand-scale action and philosophical moral questions, however, the real story is about the people on the ground. The ones dragged into the big ideological battles—it’s really about how when you don’t really know what to fight for, you have to fight for each other. At the end of the day, it’s the individuals that matter, not the ideas.
The main character (spoiler alert for those who haven’t read Emergence) is empathic. He can feel the emotions of everyone around him. It turns his experience in war into a next-level hell, but it’s an opportunity to explore how blind we sometimes are to those around us. How similar we actually are, despite our imagined, ideological, or physical differences. It’s a bit new-age, but its the truth.
Space opera is the genre of science fiction with the intergalactic journeys and alien cultures—Star Wars or Dune, for example. It was originally named Space Opera as a lampoon. The genre tended to be melodramatic with cardboard characters, absurd adventures, or cliché plots. It was pulp fiction. But really, everyone loves a good cliché. The original seed for Hypostasis was probably planted by my love for Star Wars, especially the gaudy prequel trilogy (hate Jar Jar all you want, Phantom Menace is the best in the series). But the vague plot I scribbled down sat untouched for a year or so, until I finally discovered Dune. Dune (and all of Frank Herbert’s work) is by far the superior of all Space Operas. His meld of philosophy and bizarre fantasy is perfect. Sci-fi and philosophy are natural bed mates. They both essentially take an idea and play what if with it. Frank Herbert’s world building and detail and sheer thought is staggering. I have recognized that his work is very intellectual and mine will never be. I am an emotional writer. My stories dig into the characters and their connections. But I still love the backdrop of big ideas and ideological war. It’s very pertinent to today, in that way, I guess.
I should explain the name of the series: Hypostasis.
The term in ancient Greek philosphy referred to the hypostases—the foundational layers of reality. Hypostatic Union is a term from Christian theology referring to the dual nature of Christ. Man and God in one being. Both definitions apply to Hypostasis: A Space Opera.

The link to buy Ultimatum can be found on the landing page of my flashy new author website (along with my other books!)

www.scribeofmadness.com

You can also sign up for my newsletter there.

And you should because I announce new stuff and share exclusive stories and things there.Including my upcoming Hypostasis coloring book of monsters. Also, there will be a serial for Halloween. A gothic vampire horror, which started as a spoof on classic horror films by British studio Hammer...bjt turnes into a visceral horror drama. It's called Mallet, and if you want to read it, be sure to sign up. Just hit the link above and scroll down to the Newsletter section.



Thank You, until next time!

Saturday, May 23, 2020

All That Weird Jazz


The new anthology I'm in!

AT THE CROSSROADS OF AMERICA’S MUSIC AND THE BIZARRE-‘ALL THAT WEIRD JAZZ’ DEBUTS!

Jazz. A music of improvisation, of passion, of its very own kind of magic. Considered by many to be the only truly original American form of music, it has since its birth in a smoky room somewhere also been tied to the strange, wrapped up in the supernatural, associated with the occult, at least in hints and shadows. Pro Se Productions now brings together several of the most innovative writers in genre fiction today in ALL THAT WEIRD JAZZ, telling the tales of the unusual between the notes, the magic behind the music.

From straight up pulp action to ghostly noir to a dragon who digs Jazz more than anyone else, ALL THAT WEIRD JAZZ takes love for this unique musical styling to an all new level, complete with adventure, thrills, and even a chill or two.

With stories by Kimberly Richardson, MA Monnin, Ernest Russell, EW Farnsworth, James Hopwood, McCallum J. Morgan, Mark Barnard, Davide Mana, and Sharae Allen, ALL THAT WEIRD JAZZ combines the fantastic and unusual with America’s own music for one of the most unique collections of stories ever.  From Pro Se Productions. 



Featuring a fascinating cover as well as logo design and print formatting by Antonino lo Iacono and Marzia Marina, ALL THAT WEIRD JAZZ is available in print at:

This singularly distinctive anthology is also available as an eBook formatted by lo Iacono and Marina for the Kindle at:

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to www.prose-press.com. Like Pro Se on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ProSeProductions.


Jazz Juice is the title of my tale in this anthology. It is about a record collector and early jazz music enthusiast who discovers a record at a sale which claims to be by a famous trumpet player. The disc contains two songs that tell a strange story...and gives directions...voodoo and jazz and a meeting with the devil.

My illustration (not featured in the book)

I am delighted and humbled to be appearing in this anthology alongside such talented authors. I have really enjoyed the other stories in this anthology! Such great atmosphere and magic and compelling characters all around. I hope you will check it out.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Plague Doctors! And Grimbound: Downloadable Coloring Books

Now available on my Etsy:
Plague Doctors Coloring Book
And Grimbound, the illustrations from Brooke Elden's dark retelling of Red Riding Hood

The Plague Doctor Coloring book contains nine images and is five dollars.

Xenomorph Midwife from the Plague Doctor Coloring Book

Perfume Monk from the plague doctor coloring book

Lady Doctor from the plague doctor coloring book

The Grimbound coloring book contains all thirteen of the illustrations for the book. Find out more about it and Brooke Elden on her site!
Grandmother's cottage from the Grimbound coloring book

Grim Reaper from the Grimbound coloring book

Sweets from the Grimbound Coloring book

And if you use the code CROWN before May 4th, you get 25 % off everything in my Etsy shop.



Saturday, December 14, 2019

Ambulatory Cadavers Audiobook

Super excited to release the audio version of Ambulatory Cadavers!
It's out now! Available on Audible and soon on amazon and itunes! And! I have promo codes! The first five people to leave a comment on this page will get a free code to download the new audiobook, which has been narrated by the wonderful Melika Jeddi. Plus, a download code for M Lauryl Lewis's zombie apocalypse book, Rotten (see previous post for more info). That's two free zombie audiobooks! Just comment below to win :)
A refresher:
Two cousins. One on the verge of a great discovery... and excessive power, wealth, and infamy, the other on the verge of an odious marriage. Lyra will stop at nothing to achieve her father’s dream of dissolving Parliament into anatomical sludge, and to search out the farthest reaches of science and the arcane arts. That is until her own dreams begin to awaken, jolted by the electric sparkle of an artist’s eyes. Lacking a strong constitution, Alice can only run from her problems, that is, until she collides into the company of a strange young man of questionable occupation and discovers her cousin’s terrible plans. The dead are about to rise, the Lords are about to fall, and things are about to get creamy. High society will never be the same again.
Amazon ebook link: http://amzn.to/2w4YNMo

And here's a little about the narrator: 

Melika Jeddi is a professional audiobook narrator and aspiring author. She especially loves narrating books with a cast of colourful characters, as she enjoys coming up with the various voices. Obsessed with all things nerdy, she dreams of one day publishing her own fantasy trilogy, but in the mean time she thoroughly enjoys reading other people’s books, with a particular interest in graphic novels. In her free time, Melika runs her own small online business selling custom book packages, as well as a bespoke crochet service.
www.mymarvellousbooks.com
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