Meghan: Hey, III. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Thanks for joining us today. Let’s get started: What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Patrick: The answer to this question has changed over the years. Obviously, as a kid I loved suiting up and running from house to house collecting goodies. Then in my teens Halloween became more about wreaking havoc with friends, playing pranks and whatnot. That was long before Netflix and Tubi, so during those years I was always excited about the horror movies running on TV for the weeks prior to Halloween. Once I had kids, I loved watching them go door to door dressed in their costumes. Now, my youngest is eleven and isn’t sure she still wants to go trick-or-treating. So, what I’ll probably be doing is watching scary movies and dishing out candy at the door. Geez, this is a long first answer, so let me stop and come up with something…I guess my favorite thing is that Halloween is the time of year when the entire country embraces the horrors that I love year-round.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Patrick: The last few years as I’ve driven the kids around trick-or-treating, we’ve played a Halloween soundtrack in the car, with Halloween themed songs and songs from various horror movies. I really like that. Going to haunted houses is also fun.

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Patrick: Christmas is probably my favorite, but Halloween is right there. As I said in the first answer, the whole world kind of embraces my loves. You see spooks and witches and jack-o’-lanterns everywhere. The air is just starting to cool and fallen leaves crunch under your feet as you run from one house to the next. For kids, it’s like a night that never ends.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Patrick: Hmmm. When I played baseball, I would never step on the baseline when going on and off the field. When I worked in the emergency room and it was suspiciously slow night, I would never mention it. (If you ever work in healthcare and you say ‘It sure is quiet today,’ be prepared for an avalanche of medical emergencies. And be ready for your coworkers to kill you.)

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Patrick: In cinema, probably either Freddy Krueger or Art the Clown. In fiction, probably Pennywise. Yes, I know, very cliché. How about Patrick Bateman then? Does he even count as a villain since the entire story is told from his perspective?

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Patrick: The Elisa Lam case. She’s the lady that went missing in the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. She was on camera acting very bizarre, like maybe she was being followed. Then she just disappeared. Footage of the hotel’s entrance showed that she never left the Cecil. Like three weeks after she disappeared, her body was found in the hotel’s water tank on the roof. People had been drinking and taking showers in that water—containing her decomposing body—the entire time. I love missing person stories too. Check out the Dennis Martin case. Very bizarre!

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Patrick: When I worked in the ER, there was this urban legend about a patient coming in complaining of a severe headache. Upon assessment, it was discovered that the patient had a nest of spiders in her tangled, matted hair. They’d been biting her head, which caused the headaches. Given the things I saw during my years in healthcare, I bet that’s based on a true story. Yikes!

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Patrick: That’s an odd question. I guess H.H. Holmes. I mean, he made a fucking (am I allowed to say ‘fucking’?) murder hotel! He killed people and then sold their skeletons to medical schools. He was pretty damn wicked. By the way, if anyone answering this question says Charles Manson, they need to be fired from the horror community. Charles Manson is overrated and far more cliché than me answering Pennywise to the villain question.

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Patrick: Movie: I have no idea what my first horror movie was or when I saw it. The first one I remember being terrified of was Silver Bullet. I think I was maybe seven or eight when I saw it. Book: Again, hard to say. Three early books of horror I remember reading are Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful, Ghost Stories of Old Texas by Zinita Fowler, and Spine Chillers by Jim Razzi. I still have all three of these books.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Patrick: Oooo, tough one. Pet Sematary is terrifying and really punches you in the gut, especially if you’re a parent. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks and American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis are two books that are brilliantly written and yet soooo fucked up. They really dig at your soul.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Patrick: My tolerance for crazy, fucked up horror movies is pretty high. I don’t think anything has scarred me. But…there were some scenes in The Human Centipede 2 and Nekromantic that made my jaw hit the floor. The scariest movie I’ve ever seen would probably be The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Close second goes to the often-overlooked Vacancy.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Patrick: I don’t think I ever watched an actual episode of The Lone Ranger, but I sure did go trick-or-treating as the masked hero. And I loved it! Thought I super cool.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Patrick: “Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers. This song leads off the Halloween playlist I mentioned earlier.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Patrick: Reese’s Pieces have to be number one, right? They naturally come in Halloween colors. The worst are those little candies that come in either black or orange wrappers. No name or label or anything on them. Just crappy candy on the inside. I know most people probably shit on candy corn, but I’ve been known to consume candy corn from time to time.

Meghan: Before you go, what are your top 3 Halloween movies and books?

House of 1000 Corpses
Halloween 3

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
The October Country by Ray Bradbury
The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is October’s author. No one else quite encapsulates the nostalgia of the season.

Patrick C. Harrison III (PC3, if you prefer) is the author of A Savage Breed, Inferno Bound and the Hell Hounds, 5 Tales That Will Land You in Hell, 5 Tales of Tantalizing Terror, Visceral: Collected Flesh (with Christine Morgan), and Cerberus Rising (with Chris Miller and M. Ennenbach); and his works can be found in numerous anthologies.

PC3 is also the co-owner (with Jarod Barbee) and editor-in-chief of Death’s Head Press, a Texas-based publisher of dark fiction. Follow PC3’s website/blog for frequent horror movie reviews and updates on forthcoming fiction.

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW by Chris Miller: Snake Eyes (1998)

Snake Eyes (1998)

Director: Brian De Palma

Screenplay: David Koepp

Story: Brian De Palma & David Koepp

Nicolas Cage
Gary Sinise
John Heard
Carla Gugino

A shady police detective finds himself in the middle of a murder conspiracy at an important boxing match in an Atlantic City casino.

I bet no one expected to see this movie come up for review in 2021, did they? While it’s often been derided by critics and filmgoers alike (at least it was at the time it was released), I have always been a fan of this suspense-thriller from De Palma, a man who knows a thing or two about horror and suspense. It’s a movie that’s overlooked and mostly forgotten now, but I would encourage folks to give it another chance. It isn’t a perfect movie by any stretch, but it gets so many things right that I look for in a movie that its faults are easily overlooked, at least for me.

Before I dive right into the review, let me say a few words about Nic Cage. I’m personally a huge fan, especially the more batshit he gets (think of his performances in MANDY, the 1993 remake, KISS OF DEATH, BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS, VAMPIRE’S KISS, and there are plenty more). He goes completely off the rails and over the top in some of his performances, but unlike most actors, he does it brilliantly. I know this is just my opinion, so fuck you. The man makes you really believe he’s out of his mind, and it may well be that he is, who knows? But he’s not only good at nuts. He’s good at smarmy, at humor, can play a complete slimeball or a loving family man, all with equal vigor and commitment. He pumps movies out constantly nowadays, to varying success, but one thing about Cage that sets him apart from most: he doesn’t need a good script or director to still be good in a movie. The movie can totally blow, but he still kills it. His latest movie as of this writing is PIG, which has a terrific script and direction, and an understated performance for Cage. It’s utterly brilliant and highly recommended. But I digress…

SNAKE EYES opens with one of the best long shots I’ve ever seen, with the camera focusing on some monitors as a storm rages outside of a boxing arena and casino in Atlantic City, showing us a frustrated news woman reporting on the big fight of the night as a government official is seen walking in with his entourage. Then the camera pans to another monitor where a reporter is getting ready to go onscreen inside the arena when Ricky Santoro (Nicolas Cage) shows up in loud clothes and a big, cocky grin as the camera then pans off the monitors and to the actors themselves. What follows for roughly fifteen minutes is us trailing Cage as he runs into a bookie, sees one of the fighters (turns out they went to the same school), catches a drug dealer whom he robs and then destroys all of his vials of drugs.

Did I mention Ricky Santoro is a cop?

In fact, he’s a homicide detective, and he immediately takes the money he steals from the dealer to the bookie to put money down on the match. We then follow him as he enters the arena and a hot blond that is going to carry the number 7 (his lucky number) sign around the ring and he gives her his number. Then his girlfriend calls him on his golden flip phone (he’s a flashy big fish in his small pond) and does some dirty talk, then his wife calls and there’s a hilarious moment where he argues with her as to what toppings are on a given pizza. The crowd is roaring and he quickly gets off and points to his best friend Kevin Dunn (Gary Sinise), a military man who is in charge of security for the government official for the night. Now, De Palma may have used some of Hitchcock’s tricks from the classic ROPE with some fast camera pans that were probably cuts, but you still have the illusion we’re still in that single, long opening shot. He sits down, has some banter with his pal. Ricky is king of his little world in his own mind, and he lets us know it.

Now, stay with me, there’s a reason I’m detailing this opening shot. The whole movie revolves around this shot going forward.

Sinise sees a stunning red haired woman who seems totally out of place in the front row. She’s not with anyone. Since he’s head of security, he goes to inspect. The fight has started, but we don’t see anything in the ring. We hear punches and see the crowd reactions, and when they all stand up at once, the woman takes off and Sinise follows. We pan back to Cage who tells a woman who sits next to him the seat’s taken, but when he notices how beautiful she is, he changes his tone. Then his phone rings again and it turns out to be his “Lucky Number 7”. He scans the crowd, finally seeing her across the way on the top row, waving her big Round 7 card. The woman next to him is leaning back, speaking to the government official. This is sort of in the background of the shot, and Cage starts to notice while on the phone. A man in the crowd stands up to scream, “Here comes the pain, baby! Here comes the pain!” and security is all over the guy.

Then Cage hears the woman (Carla Gugino) telling the government man, “It’s you who’s going to be sorry, Mr. Secretary.”

We finally cut away from the long opening shot as Lucky Number 7 screams and we see Cage’s confusion as he turns around to see the Secretary is shot in the throat, blood spraying out, and we enter one of De Palma’s beautiful slow motion sequences as absolute chaos ensues. The woman stands in shock and is shot in the arm, then Cage tackles her to the ground, pulling his gun and looking up across the way to see Sinise shooting an armed man who was hiding inside a advertising…closet…thing…just watch the movie.

And now, the movie takes off.

De Palma is a master of building suspense, and he’s set a taut stage. Cage takes over the investigation and has an hour and a half before the FBI will get involved. He starts interviewing suspects and we go back in time and see a lot of the same opening shot we just went through, but from other points of view and we start to get a clearer picture of what’s happening. Or, so we think, anyway.

With the entire stadium locked down with 14,000 eye witnesses, the hunt is on for the woman who was speaking with the Secretary, who vanished in the chaos. Cage and Sinise split up, and we follow Sinise now down to a basement where we see not only the red haired woman from before, but also the man from the crowd who had shouted, “Here comes the pain!”

“Someone made you both,” Sinise says, and things turn more sinister. There’s more going on than we thought, and we learn that there is a whole conspiracy surrounding the murder of the Secretary, having to do with a weapons system that was reporting perfect results, but were in fact doctored. Gugino had uncovered all of this and had been corresponding with the Secretary and was going to bring him the evidence at the fight, where they thought it would be safe being so public.


De Palma uses the camera and music in beautiful harmony as the movie goes on and Cage discovers his best friend is not only in on the conspiracy, but had deliberately used Cage as cover, thinking he would just take some money and be quiet. But something about this sits wrong even with a slimeball like Cage’s character, and we see that when he’s hidden the woman and is faced with giving her up and getting rich or getting the shit beaten out of him and then killed.

“I ain’t never killed nobody,” Cage says. Turns out, he does have a moral compass, even if it doesn’t point True North.

The storm outside has become a hurricane, and we watch the smarmy, big shot crooked cop with aspirations to become mayor become a hero, because killing people isn’t something he’s willing to get on board with. Sinise’s character, sinister as he is, doesn’t want to kill Cage. He has a moral compass, too, at least in as much that he doesn’t want to kill his friend…even though he’s still willing to do it.

The big finale comes with a boom and Sinise is exposed. He’s begging Cage to vouch for him, that the woman is a suspect. Cage, beaten and swollen and barely able to stand, tells him, “You got Snake Eyes.”

Sinise takes himself out and Ricky Santoro is a hero in the public eye. That lasts about five minutes, as the movie winds down and all of Santoro’s life is under scrutiny. It isn’t long before charges are brought against him and he’s set to go to jail. The movie ends with him and Gugino talking, and that he’ll give her a call in 12 to 18 months, which she looks forward to.

De Palma is a master of suspense, and no stranger to horror movies. No one would mistake this film for a horror flick, but some of the shots, the way he moves the camera to build tension, the flashes of lightning and the shadows of killers within them, all of this gives it a feel—at least in the final third of the film—of a horror movie. This works well with the suspense and Cage’s over the top performance after he’s been so badly beaten still works because, well, he’s fucking Nicolas Cage!

The movie has some plot holes, some things that don’t quite add up, but I didn’t care about any of that. The movie starts cranking up the tension from the first reel, ratcheting it tighter and tighter all the way to the end. Cage’s performance is delightfully over the top and a lot of fun to watch, and Sinise is as solid as ever. De Palma’s direction is the real winner here, though, because no one else does it quite like him. He can take a script with holes in it and deliver what I still think is a masterpiece of suspense.

A great cast, a unique setting and plot (holes and all), and a director who is often compared to Hitchcock all come together to deliver a chilling little film that is all but forgotten now. If you tried it out in ’98 or a long while back with a “meh” reaction, maybe it’s worth giving it a second look, especially if you take it for what it is: an exciting little suspense flick. It’s not quite a ‘turn your brain off popcorn movie’ (it isn’t an action film), but while you really want to pay attention to the details, especially in that amazing opening scene, the movie doesn’t require much from it’s viewers beyond that. If you’re anything like me, that’s perfectly fine so long as they manage to keep it taut and fun.

SNAKE EYES does both.

Chris Miller is a native Texan who began writing from an early age. In 2017 he began publishing, and since then has published several novels – including the Amazon bestselling Splatter Western Dust (nominated for the Splatterpunk Award) – a collection, Shattered Skies, and has also been inducted into many anthologies. Chris is 1/3 of the writing collective Cereberus, and likes to play guitar. He is first and foremost a family man and is happily married to the love of his life (and best friend) Aliana. They have three beautiful children and live in Winnsboro, TX.

Shattered Skies
Taut as a guitar string. More relentless than time. Award-winning author Chris Miller offers up ten tales of terror and suspense to crank up your anxiety in the way only he can.

Desperation, panic, worlds on fire, and much more.

Featuring a foreword by Patrick C. Harrison III and a story co-authored with M. Ennenbach, SHATTERED SKIES will leave you breathless, white-knuckled, and wanting more.

The Master of Suspense is at your service.

Cereberus Rising
(co-authored with Patrick C. Harrison III and M. Ennenbach, together Cereberus)

A poet, a master of horror, and a master of suspense join forces as Cerberus. With three prompts–Cabin Fever, Letters, and Chaos–the three-headed beast dishes out nine novelettes. Cerberus Rises with their unique styles to take you on a journey through nine different levels of Hell.

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW by Chris Miller: Found (2012)

Found (2012)

Director: Scott Schirmer

Screenplay: Todd Rigney (based on his novel)

Gavin Brown
Ethan Philbeck
Phyllis Munro
Shane Beasley

A horror-obsessed boy discovers his older brother is a serial killer.

FOUND (or if you prefer the pretentious titling “found.”) is an extremely low-budget (the movie was made for about $8,000) coming of age horror film, adapted for the screen by its novelist. And when I say ‘horror film’, I’m not fucking joking. Like at all. They may not have had much money to make this movie with, but they used every last dollar to its fullest potential and delivered something so utterly disturbing and profound, it has literally shaken me.

And I’ve seen it twice now. There was no less “shaken-ness” upon my second viewing, even knowing what was ultimately coming.

Marty is a young boy who loves horror movies. His older brother also has a love for horror movies, but it seems that maybe big bubba’s fascination with the genre has gone far past his little brother’s. From the opening scene we’re made aware that Marty’s older brother is a serial killer who likes to decapitate his victims and put their head in a bowling ball bag, which he keeps in his closet. Every so often, Marty goes in to have a look. It’s usually black women (there’re a couple of moments where we see that Marty’s dad and older brother are racists), but once in a while it’s a man, even a white man sometimes. Marty’s brother has no idea that his brother knows his secret, and is very defensive of anyone coming into his room for any reason without his explicit permission.

It goes without saying that the family dynamic is, well…fucked. Marty is bullied at school, his dad is a racist asshole, and his mom has her head in the sand. And to top it all off, as I started with, his older brother is a serial killer.

But there’s more to it than that. While a serial killer, there seems to be one person in the world Marty’s brother actually cares for: Marty. He’s rough with him when he finds him snooping in his room, but when he finds out about how his little brother has been bullied, there is a genuine brotherly bond shown, and it’s totally believable. Marty’s brother isn’t soulless, though the ending might make you think so (we’ll get there in a minute). Just mostly so. But he cares about Marty. We get the impression of neglect, perhaps even some abuse that has happened to the brother in the past, though it’s never shown or spoken outright. And it’s this implied aspect that makes the relationship between Marty and his brother seem so genuine. Marty is scared of his brother. Marty knows he’s evil. But Marty also knows that his brother is, ultimately, the only one who is willing to stick up for him in this world.

The movie’s production quality isn’t high, but you wouldn’t think you were watching a college project film at any point, either. Like I said, every dollar of its tiny budget is used to its full effect. The acting, especially by Marty, is actually pretty good, and there are some terrific moments of suspense that have you gripping the armrests of your chair and holding your breath.

It isn’t until the middle of the movie that it gets really nasty, when Marty has a friend over and they borrow one of his brother’s movies he’s stolen from the video store, called HEADLESS. The movie within the movie is mindless splatter trash, but it’s extraordinarily graphic: women’s clothes ripped off by a masked psycho who then chews off one of their breasts, decapitating victims only to fuck their head through their esophagus, all shown in very graphic detail, coming just shy of faux snuff.

The movie shakes Marty, makes him realize who his brother has modeled himself after. Marty loses all his friends along the way because of the bullying and no one wanting to be associated with him. He’s into drawing comics and making up cool heroes and villains, but when his best friend writes him off and his parents lose their cool with him, Marty’s brother loses his cool altogether, and in glorious, horrific form.

I’m not going to give away the ending, because it has to be experienced to really get you. Most of the violence is off screen, but what we know is happening is probably the most depraved thing I’ve ever seen committed to film (NOTE: I have not seen and will not see A SERBIAN FILM, I don’t need that level of filth in my head). It’s a powerful ending, if hard to watch, but I promise you it will leave you with your jaw hanging open and, perhaps, your stomach rolling. And it’s power comes not in showing you every gory detail, but by experiencing it all through Marty’s perspective, as his brother goes about as batshit as anyone on film ever has. He’s not over the top like Nic Cage can go—there’s nothing fun about this movie—but he’s at least as insane as I’ve ever seen Cage get, and if I’m being honest, far surpasses any of his roles in terms of being deranged.

There is some graphic, shocking nudity and implications in incestual rape towards the end. This movie sort of falls into that slasher flick style in the final fourth of the movie, but it does it with grace and respect for the audience’s intelligence, and without giving a single good goddamn how you feel about it.
In short, this is a powerful little horror film. It isn’t going to be for everyone, probably not even most people, but for those who can appreciate this sort of cinema, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find something more profound in low budget horror after the final frame cuts to black. It’s haunting, horrific, mesmerizing, and all too real.

It can be found on Shudder, Prime, or on DVD. I advise those with weak constitutions to avoid this film. It is not a film to watch with your kids. This movie takes itself deadly serious and doesn’t go for laughs. Because there’s nothing funny about it. It’s too real. The bullying, the neglect, the pain of growing up, the bond of brotherhood, and the ultimate, psychotic ending, all of it is played straight, and the movie is all the more horrifying for it because it never blinks, and there is never a winking moment of levity to any of the content.

I’m usually one who prefers the darker stories to have some humor in them, but there is none to be found here. And for this movie, it works. That’s where it gets its power. This isn’t a fucking joke and it’s all too possible that this could really happen. I don’t think a big budget movie could have ever pulled this off, never mind the fact no major studio would ever come near it, even with a twenty foot pole.

Take what I’m saying here seriously: DO NOT WATCH THIS IF YOU CAN’T TAKE EXTREMES. There aren’t many, but when they happen, they genuinely shock, but they don’t shock for the sake of shocking you.

It shocks you because, as you’ll see, it’s so real you can see yourself in it.

Chris Miller is a native Texan who began writing from an early age. In 2017 he began publishing, and since then has published several novels – including the Amazon bestselling Splatter Western Dust (nominated for the Splatterpunk Award) – a collection, Shattered Skies, and has also been inducted into many anthologies. Chris is 1/3 of the writing collective Cereberus, and likes to play guitar. He is first and foremost a family man and is happily married to the love of his life (and best friend) Aliana. They have three beautiful children and live in Winnsboro, TX.

Shattered Skies
Taut as a guitar string. More relentless than time. Award-winning author Chris Miller offers up ten tales of terror and suspense to crank up your anxiety in the way only he can.

Desperation, panic, worlds on fire, and much more.

Featuring a foreword by Patrick C. Harrison III and a story co-authored with M. Ennenbach, SHATTERED SKIES will leave you breathless, white-knuckled, and wanting more.

The Master of Suspense is at your service.

Cereberus Rising
(co-authored with Patrick C. Harrison III and M. Ennenbach, together Cereberus)

A poet, a master of horror, and a master of suspense join forces as Cerberus. With three prompts–Cabin Fever, Letters, and Chaos–the three-headed beast dishes out nine novelettes. Cerberus Rises with their unique styles to take you on a journey through nine different levels of Hell.

Christmas Takeover 25 Pt 1: Chris Miller: Naughty Claus

Merry Christmas… from my family to you. Today, since it is such a special day, I offer you TWO Christmas Takeover stories from TWO really awesome authors with a lot of talent. This first one, Naughty Claus, is from Chris Miller.

Naughty Claus

A Story by Chris Miller
2,267 words

Caleb’s mother kissed him goodnight as his father stood by his bedside, beaming a smile of pride.

“Good night, baby,” his mother said as she rose next to his father.

“You go on to sleep right away now, you hear?” his father said, a humorous look on his face, his finger waving. “Santa’s going to be along any time now, and if you’re awake, well…”

He trailed off, shrugging.

“I know, I know,” Caleb said, nodding furiously, a deadly serious look upon his face. “If we’re awake on Christmas Eve, Santa won’t leave us any presents!”

“That’s right, pal!” his father said, giving him an affectionate squeeze on his shoulder. “Now, off to sleep.”

As his mother reached for the lamp next to his bed, Caleb asked, “You have to make sure Rachel goes to sleep, too! Tell her she can’t get up like she does all the—”

“Yes, yes,” his father placated him, waving his hands before him like a pair of palm branches. “We’re going to her next, don’t you worry.”

Caleb smiled—relieved now—and pulled his comforter up to his chin as the light was switched off. The soft glow of the moon filtered in through the crusted snow and ice outside his window causing shadows to dance across his walls. He could imagine Santa out there now, riding his sleigh, slipping down chimney’s and delivering joy the world over. At eight years old, Caleb had already begun to hear the awful rumors that Santa Claus wasn’t actually real, but he dismissed these claims outright. His parents had never lied to him, he was sure of it, and they said Santa was a real as they were. So, he had to be real.

He closed his eyes against the glow of the moon, his face nearly split in half with a smile as he heard his parents saying good night to his sister Rachel. He hoped she would listen and not get up. It would ruin everything if Santa didn’t leave them any presents because she broke the rules about getting to bed on Christmas Eve.

The door to Rachel’s room shut in the hallway with a quiet click, and Caleb peeked one eye open just a sliver. His own door hung open a quarter of the way, and he could see his mother coming down the hall, his father close behind.

“Finally,” his father was saying, a long sigh chasing the word. “Now we can get a fucking drink.”

“Richard!” his mother said, spinning around to face him. “Caleb might still be awake.”

“Are you kidding me?” his dad said. “Janie, honey, that boy’s so terrified of Santa not stopping by, he probably knocked himself out with a hammer as soon as we left the room, for Christ’s sake.”

“Well,” his mother said, resigning to his reasoning, “maybe you’re right.”

Caleb kept his body still in the dark room, his right eye the only giveaway that he was awake as he watched his parents interacting in the hall outside his door.

“You’re goddamn right I’m right,” his dad said. “So, let’s get those drinks, what do you say? Then I’ll show you why they call me Big Dick.”

Caleb’s mom was laughing softly now, her hand on his dad’s chest.

“Oh, I have an inkling as to why the call you that. Maybe, if you’re really nice, I’ll show you why I’m so…anal.”

Now they were both laughing as they moved on past the door and down the stairs.

“Ooh, you’re so naughty!” Caleb heard his dad say as their footfalls descended the stairs.

He had no idea what they were talking about. He’d heard his dad’s friends call him Dick plenty of times. Dick was short for Richard, after all. That’s what his mom had told him. And he had some faint memory of his father griping at his mother about how anal she was with the ‘damn hangers’. But what was shocking were the dirty words his dad had said. He’d never heard him talk like that before. Caleb had heard those words at school from some of the older kids, but never from his parents. Did they know those were bad words?

He didn’t know, but decided he’d let them know after presents and breakfast tomorrow. He didn’t want his dad to get in trouble for saying bad words.

Caleb rolled over and went to sleep. He dreamt of presents.

The white light reflecting off snow-covered rooftops lighted on his face and woke Caleb. He sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes and sluffing off sleep. Little crusty particles fell from the corners of his eyes as he did—eye-boogers is what these were called by the other kids at school—and then he was swinging his feet off the bed. He checked his clock and saw it was 7 A.M. Time to get up, get his sister, and get to opening presents. He couldn’t wait to see what Santa had brought them in the night. He’d awoke at one point in the night and thought he’d heard Santa down there, though he couldn’t be sure. Santa had seemed to be grunting loudly and making sharp “Ah-ah!” sounds now and then. It had almost sounded like two people, but Caleb knew Santa worked alone. He hadn’t wanted to make Santa angry, so he’d forced himself back to sleep.

He rushed down the hall and flung open Rachel’s door to wake her up. But she was already standing there, rubbing her eyes.

“Is it time for presents?” she asked through a yawn.

“Yeah! Come on!”

They both rushed down the hall and descended the stairs, their footfalls thumping loudly as they went. Their excited breathing heaved in and out loudly as they went.

“Mom!” Caleb cried out as they neared the ground floor. “Dad! Come on, let’s see what Santa—”

He stopped. Rachel was a second behind him and she ran face first into his back, right between his shoulders, causing him to stumble into the living room another step before righting himself. Then she was frozen next to him. Their jaws were twin, gaping yaws, reaching nearly to their waists. At least it felt like it. Caleb couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He was at first terrified, finding such a sight in his dad’s chair by the Christmas tree. But his fear quickly diminished as his young brain soaked in and began to process the information.

It was Santa Claus. He was sitting there in his big red suit, his white beard spilling down over his chest in wavy disregard. He held the glass of milk Caleb and Rachel had set out with the cookies before bed, and Santa was dunking a chocolate chip cookie into the glass. As he stuffed the dripping cookie into his mouth, his eyes flicked up as if he were only now noticing them, even though they’d been bounding loudly and shouting as they’d come down the stairs.

He took a big bite.

“Hey there, kiddies!” Santa said in a jolly tone, bits of cookie visible in his open mouth, his cheeks rosy with good cheer. “Caught me getting my snack!”

“Wh-wha—” was all Caleb could muster. Rachel continued reaching for the floor with her chin.

“You kids were my last stop of the night, and I thought I’d rest up a bit before heading back to the Pole,” Santa went on, taking another bite and eliminating the cookie. “Fine cookies, these are, I sure do appreciate you kids leaving these out for me!”

Caleb continued to stare in amazement, searching for his voice. Finally, he found it.

“Y-you’re really here?” he said in a wavering voice.

“Ho-ho-ho!” Santa bellowed gleefully, throwing his head back in laughter. “You see me sitting here, don’t ya?”

His voice was deep but soft, almost gentle. The voice of a loving grandfather. The light spilled in behind Santa, the white sheen of sunlight partially silhouetting him.

“Don’t snow much around here,” Santa went on absently. “It’s always nice to have a white Christmas, don’t ya think, kiddies?”

There were more ‘ho-ho-hos’ of laughter as Caleb and Rachel inched into the room. Where were their parents? How had they not heard all this commotion? Caleb wanted them to see Santa here, too. He couldn’t wait to tell the older kids at school about this. Their lies about Santa not being real were totally bogus, and he meant to set them straight.

“Snow is beautiful,” Rachel said through her missing teeth. It came out Snow is bootifall.

“It sure is, little lady,” Santa said smiling and leaning forward in the chair. “You should see my house, snow as faaaaar as the eye can see. You’re both welcome to visit any time. Mrs. Claus makes the best hot chocolate you ever did taste. You kiddies like hot chocolate?”

They both nodded emphatically, their eyes bright and wide.

“I’ll bet you do, ho-ho-ho!”

Then Santa’s cheery-red face grew serious.

“Have you kiddies been nice?” he asked in a flat tone. “Or have you been naughty?”

“Nice!” the both exclaimed in unison. Caleb’s breath had caught in his throat.

Now the smile returned to Santa’s face.

“Good!” he boomed cheerfully. “Well then, what say you open your presents, eh? I’ve got a few doozies here just for you!”

Caleb and Rachel both cracked smiles so wide it hurt, but they didn’t fight them. They ran towards the tree and Santa in the chair as he pulled a large red bag out from beside him and sat it down before them. He pulled out four presents, two for each of them. The paper they were wrapped in were bright, dazzling shades of red and blue and silver, with glittery bows adorning them all.

“Now, open these here first,” Santa said, handing over a pair of presents.

They tore into them with fury. Paper flew through the air like confetti and rained down all around them. Santa sat there, laughing loudly as ripped open the boxes.

Caleb had a Batman LEGO set he’d asked for specifically in the letter he’d written to Santa. His jaw fell open and he said ‘thank you’ somewhere in the neighborhood of forty-seven times within the space of two seconds.

Santa laughed all the more. “You’re welcome, Caleb!”

Rachel got the precise American Girl doll she’d asked for and similarly shared her thanks.

“Alright, kiddies,” Santa went on, handing over the other two presents. “These here are the big ones! You didn’t ask for them, but I sure think you need them.”

Confetti littered the air once more. Caleb noticed this new present was much heavier than the one with the LEGO set. He’d had to leave it on the floor instead of his lap, but that didn’t matter. He wondered what it could be as he got the bow and paper out of the way and tore open the box at the same time Rachel opened hers.

They both froze, the excited smiles still adorning their faces, but beginning to melt away like ice in rising temperatures. What Caleb was seeing simply couldn’t be. Santa had been right, he had not asked for this. But he hadn’t wanted it either. He couldn’t imagine how Santa could possibly think he needed this.

Rachel began screaming, the high-pitched shrill only a six-year-old girl can achieve. Caleb felt a similar sound building up from his stomach. Santa was laughing somewhere before them, though Caleb could not wrench his eyes away from the terrible present in front of him.

Their parents’s severed heads stared out at them from the boxes, eyes glazed and gray, tongues lolling out hideously. Blood smattered the inside of the boxes and there was an acrid odor now smarting Caleb’s nostrils.

Rachel was up and running for their parents’s bedroom. He was aware of the absurdity of this, as if there were anything in there that could do them any good, but Caleb found himself right on her heels all the same.

“Found ‘em being naughty, ho-ho-ho!” Santa boomed from behind them as they fled. “Ain’t that nice?”

Fresh guffaws of laughter issued from Santa as they burst into their parents’s room. Fresh screams of horror exploded from the children as they took in the sight.

Their parents’s bodies were on the bed, naked, their mother’s bent over on hands and knees. Their father’s headless corpse was locked in place behind her, his lap against her butt, hands gripped in a tight lock on her hips.

Blood was everywhere. It looked as though it had been slung about in strings and ropes, and it looked as though a bucket of the stuff had been dumped all over his parents and their bed.

Caleb and Rachel turned back out of their parents’s room and stopped as they saw Santa stalking towards them. He held something at his side, but Caleb couldn’t tell what it was at first with the light of the icy morning spilling in behind the jolly fat man.

“Naughty, naughty, naughty!” Santa said, chuckling all the way. “You know, it’s my job to check who’s been naughty or nice!”

Caleb couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. Rachel seemed to be similarly transfixed.

Santa moved in closer, revealing what was in his hand. A large, red axe.

It dripped with blood.

“And let me tell you,” Santa said, all cheer draining from his face and voice alike, “You’ve all been naughty little fuckers!”

Their screams lasted only a moment.

Chris Miller is a native Texan who has been writing from an early age, but only started publishing in 2017. Since the release of his first novel, A Murder of Saints, he has released a novella – Trespass – another novel – The Hard Goodbye – a single short story – Flushed – and has been inducted into multiple anthologies, including the acclaimed And Hell Followed from Death’s Head Press, where his story “Behind Blue Eyes” appears alongside stories from Wrath James White, Jeff Strand, and The Sisters of Slaughter, just to name a few. He has another new novel coming soon, the first part of a trilogy of horror, and will be featured in more anthologies throughout the year. He is happily married to the love of his life, Aliana, and they have three beautiful children.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Edmund Stone

Meghan: Hi, Edmund. Thanks for coming here today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Edmund Stone: My name is Edmund Stone and I’m a Horror writer, artist, poet but not necessarily in that order. I love all things out of the ordinary and take inspiration from odd occurrences and people. I’m constantly seeking out characters who I think would fit well in my books. You can find strange individuals everywhere you look but the state I live in, Kentucky, has an abundance of them. My current WIP novel has many of those same people and I feel readers will enjoy reading about them when the time is right.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Edmund Stone: I work as an Occupational Therapy Assistant during the day and I’m a grandpa x3; we start young here. I’m an amateur artist and I drew my own book cover for my ebook. I have other concepts ready for future books I may use or let a graphic artist fix up. By drawing out my characters it gives me a way to see them in a physical form before writing them, making for a richer, more rounded character. I would love to develop my skills as a graphic artist further. I play guitar and have for years. It helps me to relax and get my mind open for writing.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Edmund Stone: I read lots of comics before I started reading short stories and novels. The first horror I remember reading was Clive Barker’s Books of Blood (I have the whole collection) and the Unabridged Works of Edgar Allan Poe. I spent lots of time and nightmares on that one!

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Edmund Stone: In the last few years I’ve been concentrating on the master. I’ve read several King books, in audio and paperback/ebook format. I read his On Writing book when I first decided to become a writer and I love his mind set and passion for writing. I had read his short stories in the past and watched all the movies. He’s an inspiration to me, as he is to other writers. If you want to be a writer, it’s best to emulate the best. I’m in the middle of Justin Cronin’s The Passage and I’m reading Cujo. I just read In the Tall Grass by King and Joe Hill, craziest thing I’ve read in awhile! I also read Indie writers on my Kindle. I recently read Trespass by Chris Miller. He’s really good and you would owe yourself a favor to check him out.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Edmund Stone: I would think Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card or maybe Yancey’s The Fifth Wave. I love Sci-fi, especially the kind that has a horror element to it. The Fifth Wave probably has more of it than the first but either novel is worth reading. I’ve read romance as well. Some stories by Nicholas Sparks and the Indie author Michelle Dalton. I helped her beta read her Epona novel via my writer’s group, The Write Practice. She’s a good author in the romance genre.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Edmund Stone: I began to write when I was ten years old. I also began to draw. I loved both but wasn’t sure which one I would concentrate on the most. I’ve written poetry for the last Thirty-five years. I wooed many a fair maiden with it back in the day and caught my wife in the snare of my poetry web (we’ve been together for 28 years). I only started writing short stories and novels since 2016. I’ve always wanted to expand my writing endeavors but never thought I could. It takes lots of reading and practice, practice, practice. But I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to spend my time!

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Edmund Stone: I have an office converted from my daughters old bedroom that I do most of my work in. It helps to get away from everything in the house for awhile. I have my computer there, as well as an artist’s easel and my guitar. Sometimes I go from one to the other but art has many expressions and as long as I’m working on something, I feel productive.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Edmund Stone: I drink a cup or two of coffee to get myself ready to write my novels and short stories. I drink a glass of wine or beer to write poetry and Drabbles. My mind has a way of wandering if I drink too much, so I try to take it slow. I have a wooden sculpture I call my muse, looking over me as I write. I always talked about my muse but never had a tangible object to call such. She showed up one day in a box of items and she’s been on my desk ever since. I’m a terrible procrastinator and will do the dishes, mow the yard, or whatever needs to be done to get out of writing sometimes. Sometimes the words just aren’t coming so I work to get them there.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Edmund Stone: Yes, finding the time to balance writing with family time and keeping up with the day job and all the responsibilities of being a husband. It’s not easy making it all work but as any author would probably tell you, the challenge is what makes you better. You put forth your best work when you’re under stress. I feel when deadlines and my time are pulling me in all directions, I come up with some inspiration to keep going. I love to write and create. It makes me the author I want to be.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Edmund Stone: Probably the Tent Revival series and the Rebecca mythos. I have a novel in the works called Tent Revival that I hope to release soon. It started as as synopsis of my hometown but has turned into a whole universe of characters. It has even spawned a sci-fi horror novella that takes the reader to another planet. I’m also very satisfied with my first self-published book, Hush my Little Baby. It’s a collection of short stories and poems. I’ve had a bunch of people wanting a copy. It was a challenge but fun too, to do that. I will continue to pursue the traditional publishing route but may have some more self-pubbed titles down the road unless I sign a contract and can no longer do so.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you?

Edmund Stone: If I were to pick one, I would say the works of Poe. I cut my horror teeth on his stuff. The Tell-Tale Heart is still one of my favorite horror stories.

Meghan: Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Edmund Stone: Stephen King, Clive Barker, even some Dean Koontz, but not as much as the first two. I try to read as many other authors as I can for better reference. I’ve read the classic authors such as Stoker, Lovecraft, Matheson. They all inspired the modern authors of horror so I’m keeping in good company.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Edmund Stone: Great characters and natural dialogue. A story that keeps the action going; a real page turner. I like there to be some humor to lighten things up occasionally. King is good at that.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Edmund Stone: I love all my characters, especially the ones in my novels, probably because I spend so much time with them. I like to get in their heads and think like they do. Most of the time they’re trying to get away from something or causing something to happen; horrible things.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Edmund Stone: Probably Sy Sutton in Tent Revival. He’s and older empty nester kind of guy who’s son has gone into a coma and he can’t figure out why. He has a feeling something he did in his past is responsible. So, he kidnaps his boy from the hospital to try and help him, because he feels guilty and thinks the doctors and nurses are unable to heal him. Although, unbeknownst to him, an evil is brewing from somewhere within the town they live in and his son and several others are taken in by it. I feel his desperation as a father and know I would do the same for my kids if needed.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Edmund Stone: I am. I think the cover should grab your attention. If it sucks I think readers won’t take a chance on it. I’ve bought books based on the cover. Sometimes it pays off and other times it doesn’t but it’s the first impression when a reader buys a book, so it should be good. I spent a lot of time on mine. The ebook version anyway. Not so much on the paperback. I ended up liking it the best though. It was simple. A black background with eerie letters. I thought they both turned out great but I’m partial to the paperback. I’m an amateur artist and drew many concepts, one of which is in the book. The ebook cover is also featured within the paperback. I drew a collage of characters found in the stories within the book to give credence to them. I think it turned out well. I spent countless hours drawing and redrawing concepts I thought would go on the cover. It was a lot of work but well worth it. They turned out well when put on the printed page.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Edmund Stone: How hard and how easy it is. Getting the Amazon account and setting up all the details was pretty easy. The hard part was formatting. I use Scrivener, so it takes out a lot of the guesswork and compiles things in easy to use formats. I liked that. I didn’t put page numbers or chapter references in my book. I did place the stories in order as they appear in the book. If I do it again, I’ll pay more attention to those details.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Edmund Stone: Probably love scenes. I write them well but feel I want to go to the dark side rather quickly. I think my characters take me there. I write them the way they want to be written and it can consume me. I feel like I may be going too far sometimes but then think I want my writing to be genuine. Sometimes it’s better to let the muse win. Actually, I think it’s always better to let her win.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Edmund Stone: I don’t know. Maybe the intimacy of my characters. I try to make them front and center, as I think a story should have strong characters, or at least someone you feel for, or are rooting for. The only problem is, my stories usually don’t have happy endings. I will probably try to emulate King quite a bit, or attempt to while writing, but no one author has the same style. I’ve noticed my style is developing more every day. I started by trying to write like my favorite authors but feel I’m becoming more comfortable in my own skin.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Edmund Stone: Mine wrote itself. It’s named for the first story in the book, coincidentally the first short story I ever had accepted for publication. Really, no coincidence at all. ‘Hush my Little Baby’ meant something to me. It’s all about a girl out on her own, trying to make it after a relationship gone bad. My daughter was going through a similar situation and it gave me inspiration to write it. She still won’t read it, as it scares her too much.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Edmund Stone: I love both but the novel has to be the most fulfilling. When I finished the rough draft to my first novel, I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven. It was such a difficult thing to get it down, and even though it needs a bunch of work, I can still say I did it. Short stories are my go between. My distraction from the edits needed to finish my novel. I have a novella closer to being ready than my novel and it was satisfying to get it completed as well. But until the novel is ready, I’ll always feel as though there is a hole in my life. Rewrites and revisions are coming soon. It will probably take me into the beginning of next year before it’s ready to send out to publishers.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Edmund Stone: My target audience is usually older teens to adults. My writing is not always for everyone and it does deal with some controversial things. Of course, they also have a good dose of horror and creepiness in them as well. I want my readers to be , first and foremost, scared to turn the lights off. But I also want them to feel as though my characters could be them or someone they know.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Edmund Stone: I really don’t delete too much. Only if the wording sucks or something along those lines. I may put a disclaimer out there if I feel the work may be read by a younger audience, but I make no apologies for a scene that may be deemed too controversial or racy. Writing is all about expression, as any art form is. I know my readers would think me disingenuous if I were to hold back in any way. My novel has some pretty crazy stuff in it, I hope it will be well received, we’ll see.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Edmund Stone: Mine is my rough draft novel, Tent Revival and Lost Hope, my novella. I’ve also been writing Drabbles lately, which is something I didn’t think I had the discipline to do. It’s funny, it’s easier to write the long stuff than the short stuff, for me anyway. I would like to develop my artwork, especially the graphic art. I’ve dabbled with computer generated stuff but haven’t been able to nail it down. I think I need some classes.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Edmund Stone: A novel for starters. It’s the next step in this process and the one that scares me the most. But I’m ready for the challenge. I actually have, at present, two novels in rough draft and a novella. So, it’s a matter of getting busy more than anything. Another area I’ve been interested in, is children’s literature, or maybe YA. I have a story in mind, an old draft of a novel I started but never finished called the Boldman’s Prophecy. Once I have the other projects finished, I may revisit that one. My grandchildren will be in the age range for reading YA sooner than I expect and I would love to have something out there they could get into. I’ll continue to do Drabbles and poetry as my practice and distraction between novel writing, so expect to see more of those, maybe even on my website as giveaways.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Edmund Stone: My website is a great way to find me and get an idea of some of the things I’m doing. I’m also on Twitter, Instagram, or on Facebook. There’s a link on my webpage for my book also.

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Edmund Stone: I’m thankful for all the people who’ve read my stories and I hope to keep you coming. Expect some bigger things coming from me in the near future. My first little collection has been an intimate undertaking and I’m quite pleased with Hush my Little Baby. I can’t wait until my next book is out and I hope to have you all along for the journey. Thank you for the support and thanks for reading.

Edmund Stone is a writer and poet of horror and fantasy living in a quaint river town in the Ohio Valley. He writes at night, spinning tales of strange worlds and horrifying encounters with the unknown. He lives with his wife, a son, four dogs and a group of mischievous cats. He also has two wonderful daughters, and three granddaughters, who he likes to tell scary stories, then send them home to their parents.

Edmund is an active member of The Write Practice, a member only writer’s forum, where he served as a judge for their Summer contest 2018. Edmund’s poetry is featured in the Horror Zine, Summer 2017 issue and in issue #6 of Jitter by Jitter Press. He has two poems in issue 39, one poem in issue 41, and a story in issue 42, of Siren’s Call ezine. He also has three short stories in separate anthologies, See Through My Eyes by Fantasia Divinity, Year’s Best Body Horror anthology 2017 by Gehenna & Hinnom, and Hell’s Talisman anthology by Schreyer Ink Publishing. Most of these stories can also be read in Hush my Little Baby: A Collection by Edmund Stone.

Website ** Email ** Facebook ** Twitter ** Instagram