I have a LIMITED number of SIGNED copies of my horror books The Associated Villainies, Hopeful Monsters, and The Five Poisons available directly from my website. They are even a dollar off their regular Amazon sale price FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY!!! If you’re nice, I might even throw in a free bookmark. Get ’em before they’re all gone!
My 2011 short story collection The Associated Villainies is now available on Kindle for $2.99! If you always wanted to read it but didn’t want to kill trees with the print version, well, here you go. I’ll be adding more of my books on Kindle as the weeks go by, so keep watching this space.
Well, kiddos, it’s been a crazy week, hence my relative dearth of posts, but you’ll be edified to know that a bunch of stuff has been going on behind the scenes, so here’s a brief wrap-up!
If you happen to live in the central Florida area (and I know I do), then put on your charity panties and head on down to the Whole Planet Music & Art Festival at Bombshell’s Tavern! It’s a big ol’ concert event put on by a few good friends of mine, and all proceeds will benefit the Whole Planet Foundation. There will be bands and art and general debauchery (probably), plus there will be a raffle in which you may WIN music and art from local performers, or perhaps even a SIGNED copy of either my novel Bellwether or my short story collection The Associated Villainies! Please try to make the trip if you can!
The book I coauthored with the God of Hellfire himself, The Mammoth Mountain Poltergeist, should be out by next week! The proof copy is making its way toward me as we speak, and provided there are no terrible fuckups, the book should be for sale on Amazon and the regular channels very soon. By the way, if you or someone you know has a paranormal blog, podcast or suchlike on which you’d be willing to review the book and/or interview its charming authors, shoot me a message and I’ll get you a free copy and all the info you may need. I’m also planning on doing a giveaway for free copies on Amazon sometime in the next few weeks, so keep watching this space!
Remember, my short story “The Mother of Foresight” will be appearing in the new ebook horror anthology coming next month from Play With Death. More details as I have them.
And finally, please remember I still have that Patreon campaign going, so if you’d like to contribute a few bucks and get yourself some sweet writer-style swag, click the link and give until it hurts. Or at least until it mildly stings, y’know the kind of sting you get when you just scrape your knee and can make it feel better by spraying some Bactine on it. Let’s not get too insane here.
Oh, and speaking of insanity, did you guys see “The Walking Dead” this past Sunday? Holy FUCKBALLS, y’all. Shit’s getting real. I think I may need therapy. Hold me.
Until next time, Goddess out!
“Thanks for calling CastOutCo, we’re steamin’ mad at demons. How can I help you?”
“I’m not sure whether I should be calling or not.”
Father Buck rolled his eyes, aiming another pencil at the ceiling tiles. “What seems to be the problem?”
“It’s my son. I don’t know where to turn…”
The woman started talking, and Buck made some peremptory notes, and then began doodling on the edges of his legal pad. The symptoms she was describing were fairly typical; Buck already had all the information he was likely to need, but it made the clients feel better if they were allowed to vent.
When the woman paused to take a breath, Buck jumped in. “We’re awfully swamped, but I think I can squeeze you in this afternoon at two-thirty, if that’s okay.” He glanced up at the wrestling calendar tacked to the wall of his cubicle; there was nothing written there.
“Thank you. Yes, as soon as possible.” Her voice was forceful and harsh through the phone, as though she really wanted to say, You’d better get your ass here yesterday, buster.
“See you then,” Buck said, and almost hung up, but then remembered to tack on, “Thanks for calling CastOutCo.” The woman had already rung off. Buck put the phone back in its cradle, hoping the manager hadn’t been listening in.
With a sigh, he buttoned up the shirt of his uniform, which looked like something a priest would wear if he moonlighted as a motorcycle mechanic; it was black, with a faux white collar and an embroidered name badge with a little orange cross stitched on it. Buck slid his feet off the desk and crammed his black cowboy hat onto his balding pate. He couldn’t hear a peep in the office; the other associates were probably sleeping or cruising the Internet for underage girls. Business had been tanking, and it was all thanks to Big Pharma—parents were generally unwilling to fork over obscene amounts of cash to an exorcist when they could just stuff their kid full of Ritalin.
Buck got up from his chair, causing the chair and his back to squeak in protest. He hoped this tinpot operation could stay afloat until he retired; he was too old to go pounding the pavement for work, and besides, banishing demons wasn’t really an in-demand skill in the job market these days. He sighed again, heavily, and glanced at his watch. If he left now, he’d probably have time to stop and get a beer.
At two-thirty-eight, after three beers and a bowl of nachos, Buck pulled his rickety Ford to the curb in front of the client’s house, which was a typical faceless suburban confection painted in trendy Mediterranean hues. There was a dark green minivan in the driveway, with a sticker on the back proclaiming that their kid was an Honor Student at Insufferable Brat Middle School, or some such crap. Buck scowled.
The woman had the door open before he’d even got all the way out of the car, and she looked exactly as he had expected her to: Pinched, too skinny, with meticulously styled brownish hair and high-waisted jeans. Buck smiled and raised a hand in greeting, but she just looked at him with a steely expression. He muttered under his breath as he retrieved his box of supplies from the back seat.
Once inside, the woman didn’t even offer a drink or so much as a how-do-you-do; she just marched through the maze of cream-colored hallways, leaving Buck to scuttle along behind her. She stopped on the threshold of what looked like a sitting room, and thrust her finger forward.
The boy sat stoutly in a red recliner, his feet dangling an inch or two from the floor. Behind him were the tangled wires and controls of a forgotten video game, and clutched in his hand was a half-eaten Ho-Ho. He considered his mother and the stranger with flat-lidded eyes.
“What’s the kid’s name?” Buck hissed out of the corner of his mouth.
“Logan,” the woman hissed back. Then she moved aside and let Buck into the room.
“What’s up, Logan?” Buck put his box casually on the floor at his feet. The boy glanced down at it, and then looked back at him. “Something going on I should know about?”
The kid burped, and Buck got a cloudy snootful of root beer and Ho-Ho filling and brimstone. “Who are you?” Logan asked.
I’m Spartacus, kid, who do you think? Buck smiled. “Just someone who wants to help you. My name’s Father Buck.” He wasn’t really a father to anyone or anything; he’d never even done that cheapo ordaining deal on the Internet. The titles were company policy.
Logan’s face puffed up like an egg sac and turned a livid shade of green. The exorcist ducked in case the kid was going to spew, but all that came out were words. “He doesn’t need any help, wretched human,” the kid croaked, in a voice rather reminiscent of intestinal gas. “I am in…um…complete control now.”
Buck pulled up a nearby chair and sat facing the boy. It looked like it might be a long afternoon. “And who, pray tell, might you be?”
Logan’s face deflated in an instant, and he was again a normal, contemptuous pre-teen. “You already know my name is Logan. Are you retarded or something?”
Buck sighed inwardly. The beer and nachos seemed to be having a neighborly dispute in his digestive system. “I know you’re Logan. I’m talking to the other person inside of you.”
Logan just looked at him quizzically, but then the swollen green face returned. “You’ll never free the child from our crutches…I mean clutches!” The shining red eyes glanced to the left, as though consulting an invisible someone standing just behind the recliner. Then they fixed on Buck again. “Try anything you want! Dunk me in a tank of holy water! Read me boring bits of the Bible! Stick a silver crucifix up my nose and…uh…call me Sally!” Another small burp escaped the demonic maw. “Oh! And…um…your mother wears army boots?”
On top of the indigestion, Buck’s head had begun to pound. This was exactly what he needed today; this demon was only a damn trainee. He had dealt with a few of them in his time; trainees were usually a bigger pain in the ass to exorcise than fully accredited demons. Buck reckoned it had to do with the trainees’ inexperience, their desperation to succeed at their first big possession. Trying to ignore his throbbing temples, Buck said, “Junior demon third class, I want to talk to your supervisor.”
The green face registered childlike surprise, and then quickly reverted to a grimace that was apparently supposed to be terrifying. “What are you talking about, pitiful human? I’m an all-powerful…what? No, I can do it… Oh, all right!” In an instant the petulant green visage dissolved into a much less human countenance, reddish and reptilian. Yellow eyes with cat-slit pupils regarded Buck with impatience. “Yes?” its deep, gargling-drain voice said.
Buck reached into his supply box and produced the standard-issue silver crucifix, then held it at arm’s length in front of him. “I command you and your acolyte, in the name of all that is holy, to leave the body of this boy in peace, amen, et cetera.”
The supervising demon blinked. “Yeah. Well, look, can you do me a big favor and not bust my chops here? I mean, the trainee’s gotta learn this possession jazz, right? You understand.”
Buck had expected this, so he put down the cross and retrieved a vial of holy water from the box, which he proceeded to open and sprinkle liberally onto Logan’s pudgy shins. The flesh sizzled a little, but remained unblemished. The demon rolled its eyes. “Hey, didn’t the kid just tell you that none of that stuff was going to work? You been watching too many Hammer movies or something?”
Buck pulled his worn Bible from the box and began reading from it, but he’d only got through one paragraph before the demon waved its hands for silence. “Okay, put a sock in it. I’ll make you a deal,” the supervisor growled. “Let the trainee do his possession thing, pass his test, get his certification, and then I promise we’ll leave the kid alone and go possess someone else. Would that make you happy?”
Before Buck could answer he realized that Logan’s mother had breezed into the room and was standing so close behind him that he could feel her breath riffling his hair. “Yes, Mr. Demon! Please leave Logan alone. In fact, why don’t you go possess that Taylor slut down the street? She’d probably enjoy it.”
Buck closed his eyes. The headache was starting to make him see stars. “Ma’am, if you’ll please let me handle this…”
The woman cast a furious glance down at Buck. “The demon offered a deal, and if you’re too pigheaded to take it, then I will.”
Buck was trying to explain to the woman that demons were actually not renowned for their honesty and their stringent keeping of promises, but she had already marched past him and planted herself directly in front of the demon, hands on hips, ass muscles clenched. “I agree to your compromise,” Logan’s mother intoned grandly.
“Well, hallelujah,” said the supervisor, and in a flash Logan’s face lost its lizardly appearance and reverted back to being puffy and green. “Hail Satan!” the trainee demon shouted exuberantly, then opened its froggy mouth wide and released a massive column of fire straight at Logan’s mother.
Buck instinctively shielded his eyes, but he could still feel the searing heat of the infernal flames as they consumed the woman utterly. She hadn’t even had time to scream.
When at last the heat had dissipated, leaving only a thick greasy stench like overdone pork, Buck reluctantly took his hands from his face and stared at the human-shaped tower of ash that teetered before him. When he exhaled, the tower collapsed into a cascade of papery black flakes that came to rest in a neat pile on the ecru carpet.
“Oops,” said the trainee demon.
The lizard face was back again, yellow eyes seeming to blaze like exploding suns. “Oops? Oops? Is that all you have to say for yourself? All you had to do was levitate the chair with the kid in it, maybe do a bit of freaky writing across his pasty midsection, but no! You had to go torch an innocent woman who’ll be going to heaven now, her soul lost to us forever! Junior demon third class, you fail!”
The green face returned blubbering. “But sir, it was just an accident…let me try again…”
“Try again? You’ll be lucky if I let you scrape old hoof shavings off the bottom of the Styx. Now come on!” Logan’s face went through one more horrible transformation, from reddish rage-filled lizard to sobbing greenish egg sac, and then he was just a regular boy again, his cheeks pink from exertion. His stomach rumbled and he looked down at it.
Buck was still sitting in his chair, unable to process what had just happened. A strange wind, perhaps caused by the departure of the demons, stirred the pile of ashes and scattered them in a pattern that looked sort of like an angel, if you squinted hard. Buck stuck his toe into the pile. Well, there goes my commission, he thought glumly.
Logan, who had been watching Buck’s actions with an elaborate lack of interest, took one last look at the blackened cinders that had once been his mother. Then he turned his chair toward the television, stuffed the rest of the Ho-Ho into his mouth, and picked up his video game controller.
Upon opening her eyes, Lorna would always see the same thing: The floors, the walls, the ceiling, all sparkling with frost in the darkness like the inside of a candy sugar house, still and white and glinting in the light of the silver moon. Icicles dangling like delicate blown glass, reflecting her image in miniature, here, there, a thousand places.
Lorna would slide out of bed, wide awake, and she would hear her feet crunch on the snow. She would breathe out and release a cloud of crystal air.
The window would be frosted over, but the moon would still be glowing through it, icy illumination, and Lorna would walk over and put her hands on the sill, knowing that something outside had awakened her. She wouldn’t open the window to see, but would just stand and wait, not feeling the cold at all in her thin nightgown.
And after a few moments, she would watch as five spots appeared in the frost, holes in the seamless sealed winter around her, and then the spots would become lines, five raggedly parallel lines growing longer and longer down the length of the glass, and Lorna would realize that the lines were made by fingers, by someone dragging a small hand through the thick caked ice on the window. She would try to peer through the lines, reality through prison bars, through zebra stripes, and she would strain with the cornea of one eye practically touching the glass, but she’d see nothing but a dark shape running away into the woods. And wherever that shape had just passed, the world would be white and soft and silent, covered in a blanket of snow.
Lorna had been having the dream since childhood.
“I can’t get rid of it, you know,” said the old man, fumbling with the lock on the front door. He was easily past eighty, stooping and nearly bald. The armpits of his yellow t-shirt were sopping. “Had a for sale sign in the window for a while, but don’t see the point anymore.”
“I wasn’t even aware that anyone owned it.” Lorna fanned herself with her notebook, glancing up and down the street, which was deserted.
The old man turned and smiled, reminding Lorna of a half-rotted jack-o-lantern. “Everything’s owned by somebody,” he said. He went back to work on the door and a second later it swung inward. “Voilá. Pardon my French.”
Lorna peered around him into the dimness. She took a step forward, but he didn’t move. “Aren’t you coming in?” she asked.
“I’d rather not.” He was looking at her again, and his eyes looked as though they’d been immersed in clear jelly. She wondered if he’d been drinking.
“You don’t believe all those stories, do you?”
He glanced inside, the interior a twilit gray broken up by harsh yellow rectangles from the uncurtained windows. “I just don’t like it in there, is all.” He dropped the keys back into the pocket of his sagging trousers. “Did you bring a coat?”
Lorna stared at him. “It’s almost a hundred degrees.”
“Not in there it ain’t.” He jerked his thumb toward the house, toward its half-seen entry hall. Then he crossed his arms tight across his chest, as though he had felt a chill. His skin was translucent, and Lorna could see the purple veins like tangled branches beneath its surface. “Well, try not to break anything,” he said. “You can poke around as long as you want.” He hobbled down the three steps from the porch to the ground. “When you’re done, just stop by my place and I’ll come back and lock up.”
Lorna watched him as he made his way across the yard to his own house a little way down the block, the grass flattening with his passage. She waited until he had disappeared behind his own door before crossing the threshold of Winter House.
Well, it’s aptly named.
That was the first thing Lorna thought as she stepped inside. It was like walking into a meat freezer, a temperature change so drastic that for a full minute she felt faint, and had to put her hand to the wall to steady herself. Her breath came in cottony puffs (like in my dream) and her fingers and toes began to lose sensation.
Shivering, she uncapped her pen and made notes about the cold in her notebook, cursing herself for not bringing a thermometer.
She made a quick survey of the rooms; the house was not large, and most of the rooms were empty. One of the bedrooms upstairs held a dirty child-sized table and chair, but that was all.
When she came back down to the first floor, the light slanting in from the windows had changed, taken on a bluish tinge. It was still light enough to see, but the shadows in the corners had deepened, even though it was only just past noon.
Lorna had written a page and a half in her notebook, recording her sensations as she moved about the house. In a way she was disappointed; she’d come here hoping to feel some sort of…presence? No, not exactly. But something. So far she hadn’t felt anything except the cold. Was this the place that had so fascinated her growing up, the house she’d dreamed of, heard whispered stories of after her parents thought she was asleep? The house she’d stood in front of so many times when she was a girl, rooted to the spot with a terror both sickening and delicious?
She sighed and closed her notebook, tucking the pen back into its pages. Maybe writing about Winter House wasn’t such a great plan after all.
She looked up and noticed that the room was definitely darker now, almost as though night was falling. Scowling, she checked her watch; its hands stood at 12:17. Then she noticed the windows.
They were frosting over, from the edges inward, a white camera shutter closing.
Lorna gasped as she watched the tiny ice crystals forming on the glass, and she noticed that the temperature had dropped considerably in the last few minutes. I should write this down, she thought, but then the idea passed from her head, displaced by the disbelief, the fascination, the unreality of the situation. I’m at home dreaming, she heard herself think or say out loud. Then, on the heels of that, I’m freezing to death.
She could have fallen then; she could no longer feel her legs, and she knew that if she fell it would be into the waiting embrace of the soft snow around her, the glittering white shroud that would wrap around her limbs and fill them with its essence, turning her skin as blue as the light in the room, pulling the living heat from her body. She felt gravity working upon her, drawing her toward the earth.
Lorna was snapped out of her trance by the pain, finding herself sitting awkwardly on the wooden floorboards, the heels of her hands smarting, her notebook open beside her. She shook her head to clear it and immediately looked to the window, but there was no frost, no nothing, just a regular window with early afternoon sunlight pouring in. She got to her feet, brushing dust from her clothes. It was still cold enough to see her breath, but that didn’t seem so cold anymore. She took one last look at the window, almost expecting to see five long ragged finger marks, a ghost of them left there on the glass, but there was nothing.
“Who died in that house?” Lorna was sitting on a threadbare couch in the old man’s living room, sipping hot tea from a chipped mug.
“No one that I know of.” He had gone and locked up Winter House while she sat there. When he came back, he’d introduced himself as Davis, not specifying whether it was his first or last name. “I inherited it from my father, and he bought it from a fellow in town. Hasn’t been there more than fifty years, I’d say.”
“But how can it be haunted if no one died in it?”
Davis shrugged. “Beats me. Far as I know, no one’s ever seen a ghost, or even heard one in there. It’s just that weird cold.”
“You don’t go in there, though.” Lorna sipped her tea. It was sweltering in the room, but she couldn’t seem to get warm.
“I’ve been in there lots of times,” he said defensively, scrunching up his almost toothless mouth. “Had to, when it was left to me. But I try to avoid it. I don’t like that cold.” He looked longingly at her tea, apparently wishing he’d made himself some.
“But you’ve never seen…what I saw?”
“The windows, you mean? No. I guess I never stayed in there long enough.”
Lorna finished her tea and got to her feet. She wanted to get home and make a few more notes before the events of the day had lost their luster. And Davis didn’t seem like he had any more useful information. “Well, I’ll be in touch if I need to go in the house again. Thanks a lot for your time.”
“Sure thing. And let me know when the book comes out.” He gave her the pumpkin grin again. She could feel his gaze boring into her back as she left.
Lorna was having the dream again, but it was different this time, she knew it. The first part was the same, getting out of bed, feeling the cushion of snow beneath her feet, and seeing the finger-lines drawn in the frost on the window.
But this time, when the dark figure had run away, leaving winter in its path like the White Queen of Narnia on her sledge, Lorna’s dream-self did something it had never done before. She slid open the window, climbed over the sill, catching her nightgown on a nail and tearing it, and then dropped to the ground below.
The figure was far away, in the trees, but still just visible. Lorna followed it through the world gone winter, everything around her silent as death, colorless save for the bluish cast of the ice that covered the earth. She was not cold, and she was not afraid. She didn’t feel as though the figure would hurt her.
Lorna had walked for ages through the snowy wood, pushing aside the black branches, when all of a sudden she thought the figure had disappeared. Confused, she stopped walking, her breath heaving out, crystalline in the black night, but then she looked down and saw a small burrow, just big enough for a person to crawl into. She got down on her hands and knees and wriggled inside.
At first she could see nothing, hear nothing but her own quickened breathing. But as her eyes adjusted, she realized that crouching in the back of the burrow was a little girl.
Lorna sat cross-legged on the ground facing her. “What’s your name?” she asked.
The girl’s face was as white as the world outside, her lips blue and cracked. “Gwen,” she said. She looked as though she were glowing.
“What are you doing here all alone?”
Gwen stared at her with black marble eyes that looked like holes. “I’m lost.”
Poor little thing, thought Lorna’s dream-self. She looks half-frozen. “I can help you get back home.”
The girl didn’t say anything then, just sat and stared, frail and birdlike. She seemed exhausted. She rested her head against the dirt wall of the burrow and closed her eyes with a sigh.
And suddenly it was as though Lorna was transported into the girl’s weary reverie, because all at once she was back in Winter House, standing on the wooden floorboards, and all around her the windows were frosting over, white fingers spreading, concealing. The cold had a cruel weight, pressing down and into her bones, and she clutched at herself desperately in a vain attempt to keep warm. The house was growing darker and darker, the cold becoming harsher, coating the rooms with a layer of icy death. Lorna felt the same sensation she’d experienced earlier in the day, when her waking self had stood in this very spot, that feeling of falling into the loving arms of the freeze, succumbing to it, wrapping herself in it like a second skin.
And then Gwen, the little girl, was there before her, standing at the foot of the stairs, and with small, deliberate steps, moving slowly as though walking was difficult for her, the girl mounted the stairs and began to climb.
Lorna followed her, teeth chattering helplessly. The cold had entered her body and was killing it from the inside out, blood glaciating in her veins.
The girl entered the room upstairs, the one that had held the child-sized table and chair, abandoned and covered with dust, but now the room was fully furnished, with fresh pink wallpaper and a little bed with a lavender quilt, and the table and chair were new. A few crayons were scattered across the floor, and a doll was propped up on the pillows.
Gwen crossed the room, not seeming to notice Lorna watching her, and stretched her arms above her head, arching her back, yawning in a charming, childlike way. She pulled back the covers on the bed, revealing matching lavender sheets, and then she crawled in under the quilt, snug and warm, nestling down with a smile on her tiny china mouth, on her blue lips, a smile that spoke of a long journey finally at its end, of a well-deserved rest to come.
The house went dark as Lorna stood in the doorway, the cold closed in, and she saw no more.
Filtered sunlight falling on her closed lids coaxed Lorna from sleep. She felt strange, uncomfortable; there seemed to be something in the bed with her, poking at her arms and face. She opened her eyes, blinked twice, and then sat up sharply.
She wasn’t in her bed at all. She was on the ground in the woods, her nightgown torn and tangled amid the pine needles and dead leaves that crinkled beneath her body.
Lorna looked around her, seeing no one. The trees reached upward on all sides, and various birdsongs drifted down from their heights. She didn’t know where she was.
And then she noticed the burrow. Rather small, like an animal would make, but big enough for a person to crawl into.
Despite the yellow heat of the morning oozing down upon her, Lorna’s skin was suddenly swept with cold gooseflesh, fingers of ice on her body, in her blood. She approached the entrance of the burrow, an unsteady rhythm tripping in her chest. She knew what she would find in there.
She peered into the darkness, into the hole where none of the sun’s light would reach.
The tiny skeleton was there, the skull still wedged against the dirt wall where it had fallen when the little girl had succumbed to the sleep from which she would never awaken. The bones were as white as a new snowfall, luminous in the blackness of the hollow.
Lorna got to her feet, seeing the frozen woods of her dream superimposed upon the summery reality, and for a second everything was cold and still, the air pristine and clear as a pure frost. Even the birds had stopped singing, as if they sensed this change of season, this clash of opposing forces.
And then Lorna shed a single tear, a token of mourning for the lost little girl who had dreamed of home as the winter closed in around her.
The tear grew cold as it slid down her cheek, and as it fell it caught the light, a frozen prism, and reflected the snow-covered world back at her from its crystal heart.