Christmas Takeover 26: Christa Carmen: A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol

A Story by Christa Carmen
4,511 words

An eight-foot demon with curving horns and hooves the size of dinner plates clomped down Fair Street to thunderous applause. Following in the creature’s wake were smaller, goatish imps, their muzzles stretched into lecherous sneers, the tips of their teeth tinged red with blood.

Annie Pichler turned to Chiao Chin and made devil horns atop her own head, the tips of her crimson fingernails reflecting the nearby streetlights. “This is nuts,” she shouted over the din. “What enlightened city official thought a Krampus parade was a good idea? The bars are going to be full of assholes in goat masks tonight asking intoxicated women if they’ve been naughty or nice.”

Chiao pursed her lips and shook her head. “Can you stop overanalyzing everything? This is supposed to be fun. At the very least, in no time at all, we can be two of those intoxicated women getting hit on in bars.” She laughed and smacked Annie lightly in the shoulder.

Annie’s expression turned sly. “Why wait?” She fished a flask from the depths of her purse, which she tipped toward Chiao in an understated toast. She took a generous swig, and then another, until Chiao looked nervously to where two on-duty officers stood, watching the parade.

“Maybe because there are signs all over, declaring this a dry event.”

“Booze is a great cure for paranoia,” Annie said, holding the flask out to her friend.

She frowned. “What’s in it?”

“Obstler,” Annie said.

Chiao scrunched up her face.

“Austrian schnapps,” Annie clarified. “My grandmother sends me two bottles a year, one for Christmas, one for my birthday. It doesn’t matter that those two occasions are six days apart, she sends them as reliably as the phases of the moon. Subsequently, each December, the ‘fruit-brandy-from-the-Old-Country’ section of my liquor cabinet undergoes ample restoration.”

A Krampus costume that took two people to man stomped past. Chiao watched with interest, then suppressed a shriek as a demonic elf lunged at her from beside a giant, mutilated teddy bear. The elf cackled and skipped gleefully on his way, rubbing his hands and scanning the crowd for his next unsuspecting victim.

Chiao shuddered and wrapped her arms around her peacoat-clad torso. “Okay, so, Grandma Pichler’s idea of love is to outfit you with Austrian liquor. Still, it’s a Thursday night, and you’re not normally a pregamer, so which is it? Trouble in paradise, or trouble at the Lilith Center?”

Annie pulled a cigarette from the pack in the front pocket of her bag and lit it. She took two long drags before answering, the smoke unfurling from her nostrils like steam from a departing train. “Things with Lionel are fine.” She took another drag. “Great, even. And Lilith Center is good. I acquired several new housing locations, and Lionel said our director’s pleased with the progress I’ve made.”

Chiao watched the parade participants go by another moment then turned to Annie and held out her hand. “Give me some of that,” she said.

Annie raised an eyebrow but handed it to her, amused. Chiao took a tentative swig, then a bolder, longer one, her face contorting at the apricot taste, struggling to get the spirit down. A moment later, she handed the flask to Annie, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

“So, you decided getting drunk now is a good idea after all?” Annie asked with a smirk.

Chiao blinked watering eyes. “More like every time we talk about your job, I’m overcome by an intense urge to consume the nearest alcoholic beverage. I don’t know how you do it. And, no offense, Annie, but I don’t know how you do it. You, of all people. If someone told me, or any of the Alpha Delta Pi sisters back in college, that you’d end up working for an organization that funnels women out of sex trafficking rings and into safe houses across the country, I don’t think any of us would have believed it.”

Annie gave her a stony look. “Shit, Chiao, tell me how you really feel.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the rising blare of demented Christmas music. A maniacally decorated parade float featuring a white-furred, grinning Krampus paused before their section of the crowd. Krampus’ antics were supplemented by an intoxicated Santa Claus dancing wildly and throwing middle fingers at the reindeer flanking the float below.

Chiao refocused her attention on Annie. “I’m not saying we don’t think you’re a good person,” she continued, “I’m just saying… well, I’d have been a hell of a lot less surprised if you’d ended up partner at a big-time firm. You went to the one of the best law schools in the country and graduated summa cum laude, for Christ’s sake. I just hope you didn’t take this job to make Lionel happy. If you guys broke up, would you wake up one morning feeling that your entire career had been derailed?”

Chiao looked like she expected Annie to be further offended by this confession, but Annie merely narrowed her eyes and cocked her head. “Of course, Lionel has something to do with it. I wouldn’t have even known about Lilith Center if we hadn’t started dating. But I’m not doing this work because of him. I’m doing it because I’m good at it. I’m good at juggling the moving parts, at getting the victims out of shitty situations and into new, better ones.”

“Of course, you’re good at it,” Chiao proclaimed, “but you would have been good at anything you tried.” Her features softened. “As long as you’re happy, your friends are happy. Just don’t lose sight of your long-term career goals, that’s all.”

A demonic Nutcracker weaving its way through the crowd snapped the teeth of its wooden mask shut behind Chiao’s ear. Chiao let out a little scream. “Jesus,” she said, moving closer to Annie, keen to change the subject, “they’re really committed to bringing these creepy-ass legends to life.”

“Don’t kid yourself,” Annie said. “They’re the same bozos we see each morning on the subway, but ballsier because they’re in costume.”

Chiao wasn’t convinced. “They’re figures rooted in centuries’-old beliefs. There’s a reason they’ve persisted for so long.” Without warning, she squealed and grabbed Annie’s arm. “Jesus Christ, what the hell are those?”

Annie craned her head, squinting against her mounting drunkenness and the glare of floodlights. When she finally caught a glimpse of the approaching Yuletide creatures, a chill ran up her spine. “I have no idea,” she said tonelessly. “They look like… plague doctors, or something, with masks like the skeletons of birds.” The float inched closer, halting when it drew even with the medical building, the awning of which Annie and Chiao stood beneath.

There were five of them in total, dressed more-or-less the same. They wore long, flowing skirts in a variety of colors, sweaters, and grandmotherly kerchiefs, with strange straw slippers on their feet and mittens covering their hands. The skirts were of the coarsest fabric, and several of them were patched, and the kerchiefs wrapped around their heads draped generously down their backs. But it was the masks that drew Annie’s eye the most, far simpler than any they’d seen, long, white beaks of hoary linen, featureless yet harsh. As the creatures moved about the float, the masks opened and closed like gasping fish, and with each closing of those awful beaks, Annie felt the resulting clap in her bones.

The creatures carried wicker baskets on their backs; from several of these baskets protruded the mangled limbs of dolls. Three of the creatures held grossly oversized tools in their hands, prompting Annie to want to check the side of her flask for the words ‘DRINK ME.’ The tallest, huddled in the front left corner, wore a violet skirt and dishwater-grey sweater. Its slippers were mismatched—one red, one navy—and its kerchief, mustard yellow. It did not menace the crowd with its large, sharp clippers so much as it mimed shearing some unseen thing. Annie was reminded of the glinting clippers her mother had used to trim the hedges, a memory she had not recalled in years.

The second creature handling a tool wore a patchwork skirt of random patterns. Its sweater was mauve with large white buttons and its scarf was vibrant red. This creature’s scarf was tied further back on its head than the others, making it all the more obvious the creature had no facial features of which to speak. It held in its mittened hands a broom made of twigs and swept invisible debris onto the street.

The final creature to wield a weapon—for that’s how Annie had begun to think of the trio’s tools—wore a floral skirt and an olive-green sweater. Its massive wooden scissors slashed at the air like a dangerous bird, and once, the creature turned so quickly, a dangling leg from its basket lodged between the scissors’ blades.

The hollow claps of the masks weren’t the only noises the creatures made. At first, Annie thought she was too far away to make out their words, thought them to be singing or chanting some Christmas carol or poem. But when the din of the crowd ebbed, Annie could discern what it was they said, a single syllable, meaningless—at least to her ears—repetitive, unnerving:

“Ga…Ga… Ga… Ga…,” they intoned, over and over again, not in any sort of pattern or in unison; there was no method to the chant. The creatures croaked their respective ‘Ga’s’ at their own discretion, resulting in an eerie cacophony, an otherworldly chorus.

Annie felt the skin beneath her sweater rise in gooseflesh at the sound. She tipped the flask to her lips but was dismayed to find it empty. “Hey,” she called to Chiao, who’d somehow moved several feet away from her as they’d watched the bird-masked crones. She held the flask upside down and shook it for good measure. “What do you say we get out of here? Lionel’s probably out already, and I’ve seen enough of these stupid costumes.”

Chiao looked about to protest, then shrugged. “Sure, let’s go.”

They moved quickly through the still-rapt crowd and headed down Washington Street, the welcoming glow of the bars ahead like a beacon in the night.


Annie had never been to the Bockshorn prior to getting together with Lionel, but since they’d started dating one year ago, it had quickly become their spot. Granted, it was Lionel’s spot with everyone else he knew as well, so Annie was not surprised, upon entering, to see him surrounded by hangers-on.

“I’ll get us some drinks,” Annie said to Chiao when the other woman pointed toward the restroom. At the bar, she ordered a glass of schnapps—no sense diverging from what worked—and a dry martini for Chiao, then made her way to a table at the other side of the room and waited to catch Lionel’s eye.

When he saw her after a moment’s time, his expression shifted from merriment to fear. A tall blond man strode up and handed Lionel a shot, which he downed without hesitation. “Be right back, Steve,” he said, pushing the blond man aside, “I’ve got to say hello to my girl.”

Annie stood in preparation for his approach, and Lionel kissed her on the cheek. “Where’s Chiao?” he asked, scanning the bar over Annie’s head.

“She’s in the bathroom. We only have a minute.”

Lionel led her past a bank of pool tables at the back, and Annie tried to walk casually, her gaze on the jukebox ahead. When they’d situated themselves as far back in the dark corner as the room would allow, Lionel leaned down and kissed her hard, first with passion, then rather desperately.

Annie allowed the kiss to go on for several moments then pulled away and blotted her lips. “We don’t have time for this. Tell me now, Lionel, what did Jonathan say?”

Lionel’s eyebrows furrowed, clouding his handsome face. “He still thinks it was some sort of unfortunate mix-up, some miscommunication or wires that were crossed. But he’s trying to get the women you sent there returned, and if that happens, we might not be able to cover our tracks.”

Anger rose like a wave in a tempest and Annie scowled and gripped Lionel’s hands. “I don’t understand. The new houses are foolproof. The managers know how to document false intakes. If it was the hotel we sent them to that brought attention to the rerouting, it’s your crisis to fix, not mine.”

“All right, all right, come down, Annie, like I said, for now Jonathan still thinks it was a mistake. To be honest, I’m a bit more worried about the two hundred other women we’ve rerouted than the two in some hotel in Texas.”

Annie was about to respond, about to say she was pretty goddamn certain that their past and present indiscretions were equally vital to keep hidden, when she heard Chiao calling her name.

“Over here,” Annie called, then dug her nails into the palms of Lionel’s hands. “It’s almost New Year’s,” she growled. “Do whatever you have to do to fix this.” Then she spun to face Chiao, straightened the hem of her sweater, and affected a lightheartedness she did not feel.

“Sorry,” she sing-songed. “We were just on our way back over. The drinks are on that table there. I got you the usual, a dry martini, but if you want it drier, I’ll get you some more olive juice.”

“I’m terrible,” Chiao cried, “barging in on your reunion. I’m so sorry, Lionel, what a way to say hello.”

“Hello yourself, Chiao, and you’re quite forgiven.” He put an arm around each woman as they walked to the table Annie had secured. As was always the case, Lionel’s entourage soon flocked to his side. Annie went to work drowning her worries, and found that by her fourth glass of schnapps, she was able to relax, even enjoy herself a little.

“How was the Krampus Crawl?” one of Lionel’s friends asked. Annie thought his name might be Todd. “We wanted to go, but Washington Street was already closed, so we decided to get annihilated instead.”

Annie sipped her drink and smiled a lazy, crooked smile, before remembering the clap of the creatures’ beaks. In her hesitation, Chiao slid forward in her seat and enthusiastically addressed the maybe-Todd. “It was so creepy,” she slurred.

So much for it being a Thursday night. Chiao was as drunk as she was.

“The costumes were insane,” Chiao continued. “Like nothing I’ve ever seen. Furry Krampuses, maniac Santas, Abominable Snowmen, animal-faced demons, and trolls.”

“The worst were the beaked things,” Annie said, before realizing she’d spoken at all. When the collective eye of the group fixed her in its sight, she wished she could take back her words, or better yet, disappear. “I mean, it was stupid, really. Idiot frat boys in costumes. An excuse to get out and about in the dead of December, I guess.”

“The beaked things,” a woman Annie had never seen before said, “were they dressed like old women, featureless, said only, ‘Ga?’ ”

Annie shivered, remembering the giant wooden scissors. “Yes, those were them.” She observed the woman more closely: tall boots, jacket trimmed in fur, long auburn hair and dangling earrings. “You were at the parade as well?”

“No, but I know the creatures of which you speak. My grandmother was from Gastein and when I was a little girl, she’d frighten me and my sister into doing our chores for fear of the Schnabelperchten.”

“Schnabel-what?” Chiao said disbelievingly.

“The Schnabelperchten,” the woman repeated. “Offshoots of the witch goddess Perchta. Perchta, like Krampus, makes her rounds on winter nights to reward and punish accordingly. The Perchten, or, Schnabelperchten, specifically, are a horde of birdlike creatures who enforce Perchta’s interest in tidy housekeeping. They move in groups of four or five, chanting their ‘Ga, Ga, Ga’s.’ Their beaks are inspired by Perchta’s prominent nose and are usually made of linen and twigs.”

“Yes,” Chiao said, her hair falling in front of her face as she nodded, “the noises their beaks made gave me the creeps.” She paused and pushed her hair back, thinking. “What’s with those packs on their backs? And the giant tools?”

The woman’s eyes moved from Chiao to Annie, and Annie couldn’t help feeling as if her gaze lingered too long. “The Schnabelperchten inspect homes for tidiness, though sometimes make ‘accidental’ messes themselves. They sweep and clip and trim and tidy, and the packs on their backs are to remind children that, like Krampus, the Schnabelperchten may abduct those who fail in their duties.

“Worse, however, than the possibility of abduction, the Schnabelperchten are known to employ Perchta’s favorite method of punishment. They use scissors to slit open and gut their victims, while the shears and broom remove ropes of intestines from the open cavity.”

“Jesus,” Lionel said, sounding more disgusted than engrossed. “It’s Christmas, not Halloween. Why would anyone pass along such a horrible legend? Why are you sharing this story at all?”

“Then what?” Chiao asked, morbid curiosity getting the better of her. Lionel shot her a look that went unnoticed.

“They fill the hole with tow and shavings, straw, dirt, pebbles, and any other assorted garbage they can find. Then the whole grisly mess is sewn up with a needle made of iron, and the Schnabelperchten move along to their next house.”

Annie couldn’t listen to this drivel another minute. “I don’t know who the hell you are,” she said, concentrating hard on every word, “but my grandmother was Austrian too. She never filled her grandchildren’s heads with such nonsense. Disembowelment and death because of a dirty house? A little extreme, don’t you think?”

The woman stared as if she could see into Annie’s very soul, and Annie forced herself not to squirm.

“There is more to being dirty than keeping a dirty house,” the woman said. Her voice was matter-of-fact, her eyes, unblinking.

Annie stood and placed a hand on Lionel’s shoulder. “I’m getting a drink. Chiao, Lionel, care to join?”

She stormed from the table without waiting for a response, but halfway to the bar, realized how drunk she really was. Lionel’s detailing of their situation, of the fact that the women in Texas might still be viewed as a mistake, echoed in her mind. She needed to be on her toes tomorrow, attentive and alert. Going into the office dehydrated and fuzzyheaded .

“Another schnapps?” the bartender asked.

“Actually, I’d like to square up.”

As she was paying her tab, Chiao appeared by her side. “Annie, are you okay? That woman was such a weirdo, she just disappeared after you left. I asked Lionel if he knew who she was, and when we looked up, she was gone.”

“She’s as crazy as those bird people chanting ‘Ga’ at the parade. Who gets off on scaring innocent people like that? Anyway, Chiao, I’m heading out. Tell Lionel for me, okay?”

“Tell Lionel what?” Lionel asked, sidling up to Chiao. Annie swallowed a sigh. Lionel would try to escort her home, and she wanted to be alone. “It’s been a long night,” she said with as much finality as she could muster, “I have… a lot to deal with at work tomorrow.”

To her surprise, Lionel nodded. “I understand. Text me when you get up in the morning, okay?”

Annie agreed, kissed him goodbye, and favored Chiao with a quick embrace.

“You sure you don’t want to stay a little longer,” Chiao asked. “We can share an Uber home.” Annie’s phone buzzed in her hand. “Can’t,” she said, and headed for the door, “My Uber’s already here.”

The ride to her apartment was cold but quick, and she tipped the driver accordingly for skimping on the heat. At the door of her apartment, a swish sounded from somewhere behind her on the street, but when Annie spun around, there was nothing but shadows and the first fat drops of rain. She turned her key in the lock and pushed her way inside, wanting nothing more than to wash her face and slip between the sheets.

She’d changed into sweats and, with a water bottle in each hand, was preparing to make her exodus down the hall, when the muted swish reached her ears again, this time from the other side of her door.

A spike of adrenaline shot through her veins. “Is someone there?” Annie called. A prolonged swiiiiiish was her response. “Who is it?” she choked out, her voice quavering in the empty house. Annie took a shaky breath and held it.

She was chiding herself for her foolishness and stepping again toward the hall when an answer to her question came from behind the door. “Ga…”

Annie’s blood turned to ice, then exploded with heat, her righteous anger at Lionel’s nerve creating tunnel vision. She flew to the door and pulled it open without checking the sidelight window; as she regarded what stood before her, she’d never hated herself more for her impetuousness.

The Schnabelperchten from the parade were huddled on her porch, their sharp beaks like pointing fingers. The three with tools were at the forefront of the grouping, and with a single jab of the scissors, forced their way inside.

Before Annie could speak, before she could react, before she could think of where she’d left her phone, the Schnabelperchten began their feverish inspection, spreading over her home like bats filling a cave.

“You can’t be in here,” Annie said, not recognizing the shrillness of her voice. “If you don’t get out of my house right now, I’m calling the police.”

None of the five paid her any mind, moving methodically, delving into every crook and crack. Food was swept from refrigerator shelves, mail pulled from its slot, bottles of schnapps were tossed to the floor, reduced to shards of glass glinting from liquid amber pools. In what couldn’t have been more than a minute, Annie’s perfect home was destroyed, the effort employed by the creatures to achieve this result as little as elbowing a dollhouse off its ledge.

Annie tried to protest, to demand they stop, to threaten them again with the police. It took a moment to realize her words were being drowned out, that the chorus of ‘Ga’s’ had become all-consuming. One of the Schnabelperchten must have slipped upstairs unnoticed, for she saw it reappear on the landing. It held in its mittened hands a nondescript folder; Annie’s protests turned to ash in her mouth.

They formed a circle at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for the more industrious of their group to proceed. When the creature with Annie’s folder reached the ground, they turned and approached Annie with the synchronism of dancers.

“Ga… Ga… Ga… Ga…” Their chant fell in time with their slippers.

“Please,” Annie said, tears springing from her eyes. “Please, my house was clean. You were the ones that made it dirty. You were the ones that made the mess.”

The Schnabelperchten with the folder was ushered to the front, where it removed a document despite its mittens. It held the typewritten letter up, but Annie vehemently shook her head. “No,” she said, “you don’t understand. That was a joke, a onetime thing.” Blindly, she stepped back, but collided with the wall, and her tears fell faster still.

“It wasn’t my idea, you don’t understand. The whole thing was Lionel’s fault.” This entreaty, too, was met with only ‘Ga’s,’ and another page extracted from the folder. This time, the Schnabelperchten offered the paper to Annie, indicating it wanted her to read it.

She didn’t have to. Annie knew what it was. A list of all the nonexistent safe houses she’d established, phony destinations to send the foreign, victimized women she was supposed to help. Women who believed they were being rescued, liberated, from months—or years—of hell.

The second page of that document would be a list of businesses, private homes, inns, and hotels, entities that would buy the trafficked women for a price that Annie and Lionel split. It’d been Annie’s idea to make a profit off the women rather than sending them on to secure homes. She reasoned that working—regardless of the jobs being less than minimum wage, or in some cases, nothing but room and board—as hotel maids or personal cleaners was a far cry from drug running and prostitution and had gotten Lionel to buy into her plan with little more than this rationale.

Annie had only used one of her charges to clean her own home on a single occasion, informing the exhausted, non-English speaking woman of her intention via a letter she’d composed using Google Translate. This was the first document the Schnabelperchten had confronted her with, another file she’d been too careless to erase. Sure, Annie had led the woman to believe it was a job interview of sorts, then sold her to an offshoot of Hyatt Hotels. She’d only discovered months later she’d sent the woman to a separate state than that in which her children resided, but what was done was done; there was nothing Annie could do.

Annie felt the night’s unending schnapps roiling in her stomach and placed both hands against the wall to steady herself. “We already got caught,” she pleaded. “My boyfriend told me tonight. We’re going to be confronted tomorrow, we’ll have to own up to it all, and I’ll be forced to bring the operation to an end. If you leave, I’ll clean up everything, the house, the center, my life. I’ll make it like it never happened. I’ll make everything okay.”

“Ga… Ga… Ga… Ga…” The creatures advanced on her several steps.

“This isn’t happening,” Annie whispered. Then louder, angrier, accusatorily, “You aren’t real. You’re characters from a children’s storybook. Someone sent you into scaring me straight.”

The Schnabelperchten with the scissors moved so swiftly, Annie didn’t have time to flinch let alone move away. The blades met in the middle, slicing through muscle and flesh, so smoothly she felt no pain. As she watched, helpless, the creature with the mustard yellow scarf approached, its clippers aimed at those insides already cascading to the floor.

The Schnabelperchten with the broom crumbled up the evidence of her misdeeds, fluffing it into worthy stuffing. Her last coherent thought before darkness pressed on the edges of her vision was the unfairness of being found with proof of her guilt inside her mangled body.

“Please, she croaked, “she said you’d fill me up with sticks and stones. Please take those damning pages with you.”

The Schnabelperchten removed a needle of iron from its pack, and carefully prepared the incriminating document with its thread.

Annie summoned every last ounce of her strength: “Please!”

She should have expected their response:

“Ga… Ga… Ga… Ga…”

To Annie, it sounded like ‘God.’

THE END

Christa Carmen’s work has been featured in anthologies, ezines, and podcasts such as Fireside Fiction, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Outpost 28, and Tales to Terrify. Her debut collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, is available now from Unnerving, and won the 2018 Indie Horror Book Award for Best Debut Collection. Christa lives in Rhode Island with her husband and their bluetick beagle. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in English and psychology, a master’s degree from Boston College in counseling psychology, and is an MFA candidate at the Stonecoast Creative Writing program, of the University of Southern Maine. You can find her online at her website.

Halloween Extravaganza: Christa Carmen: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Looking back, I don’t remember loving Halloween any more than my peers. Sure, pillowcases bursting with candy and trekking through my neighborhood after dark with friends was fun, and my mom was great at coming up with unique costumes she fashioned on her Singer sewing machine (a bushel of grapes, a fortune teller, and an evil queen are a few that come to mind). But for the most part, Halloween was one more exciting day in a childhood that I was extremely fortunate to experience as having its fair share of them.

Still, I did enjoy the darker aspects of other youthful pastimes. My bookshelves and OG TBR, i.e., the Scholastic book fair newsletter, were full of Bunnicula volumes, Nancy Drew titles, and the R.L. Stine Goosebumps and Fear Street series, and this appreciation for horror literature eventually morphed into a love of horror films. I saw John Carpenter’s Halloween a few months after I turned thirteen, and the Scream / I Know What You Did Last Summer / Urban Legend era of the late nineties solidified this infatuation. Now, twenty years later, my adoration of All Hallows’ Eve and all things horror is fully-formed and multifaceted. Here are the top five reasons why I love Halloween… maybe you love the holiday for some of the very same reasons.

1. The General public expresses their appreciation for all things spooky.

From November to September, my house is not going to be confused with the Halloween section of Michael’s, however, my wardrobe usually revolves around one particular end of the color spectrum and my home office remains decorated year-round with Stephen King-inspired artwork, black flowers, and skull-and-raven bookends. Some late weekend in September, I cart the Halloween bins up from the basement and let the black cats and cotton cobwebs infiltrate every corner of my house. The remote-control tray on the coffee table is replaced with a black-and-silver skull dish; the salad tongs become skeleton hands, the soap dispensers get their witch hats on, and every single candle is swapped with its pumpkin spice or cinnamon apple-scented counterpart.

The best part of this transformation? Pier 1, TJ Maxx, Target, The Home Depot, pretty much every well-known chain and massive department store is packed to the rafters with dark delights. Ouija board throw pillows, tombstone yard accents, Gothic tea sets, and creepy clown dishware, you can find any manner of Halloween or horror-themed household item as easily as you can buy a loaf of bread. I love strolling the aisles of Home Goods and running into an Ann-Taylor-garbed housewife with a shopping cart full of yoga mats and leisurewear reaching for a bat-bedecked candelabra worthy of Morticia’s dining room table. When school starts and the September equinox looms, mainstream America offers up affordable tricks and adorable treats for perpetual horror lovers and Halloween-enthusiasts alike.

2. Horror film snobs relax their horror snobbery.

I’ve expressed my annoyance at this phenomenon before, but one of my biggest pet peeves is when people turn up their nose at the horror genre then claim their all-time favorite movie is The Silence of the Lambs. “That movie can’t be horror,” they say. “Did you know it won the Oscar for Best Picture?” Cue eye roll. October is the one time of the year when movie lovers seem to relax their highbrow opinion of horror films and embrace vampires, serial killers, and buckets of (fake) blood. Zombieland: Double Tap was released this October, though I can all but guarantee that scores of folks too busy and uninterested to see earlier horror releases of 2019 will stream The Curse of La Lorna, Pet Sematary, Us, Happy Death Day 2U, and The Prodigy before the month is out. Similarly, The Terror, Castle Rock, The Haunting of Hill House, and American Horror Story will likely see an uptick in viewers.

And you know what? Bring it on. Sure, it’s obnoxious when some know-it-all film buff wants to eschew horror will simultaneously discoursing on the genius of the Duffer Brothers, but I will talk all October long with every summertime-horror-hater and Christmas-splatter-film-skeptic about their theory that Hopper is still alive or whether the ending of the Pet Sematary remake was better than the original. You know why? Because there’s room at the table for the fair-weather-horror fans, and, as my next section will detail, Halloween equals love.

3. Horror-centric couples express their love for one another.

Halloween and love go together like milk chocolate and peanut butter in a Reese’s pumpkin cup, and my husband and I are just two of many individuals who chose to cement our relationship on the day of the year dedicated to remembering the dead. Other couples who have mixed love and spook: Rob and Sheri Moon Zombie, Jack Skellington and ragdoll Sally, Morticia and Gomez Addams, Frankenstein and his lovely bride, Herman and Lily Munster, demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, Beetlejuice’s nemeses Adam and Barbara Maitland, and, despite some mid-movie meddling by the eponymous corpse bride, Victor and Victoria.

So why do so many real-life couples and fictional sweethearts find that horror and/or Halloween strengthens their bonds? Marriage is no cakewalk, and yet plenty of newlyweds find themselves unprepared for the trials that come with long-term commitment: steep mortgages and the rising cost of living, the decision of whether or not to have children, illness and loss, in-laws and the ebb and flow of friendships with other people, growing old and keeping your relationship new. Couples that interweave commitment with the acknowledgment of inevitable death could potentially be more in tune with the bleaker but necessary aspects of the human condition. What’s a bit of adversity when you know your partner can stomach Cannibal Holocaust, or that they once performed a madcap but heartbreakingly unsuccessful experiment to try and resurrect their childhood dog, Frankenweenie-style? They do say that the couple that slays together, stays together (I think the ‘they’ in this sentence refers to the marketing team behind Santa Clarita Diet, but hey, it works, and Sheila and Joel Hammond are another great example of a couple made stronger by ghouls and gore).

4. Haunted attractions become the norm.

Here are some of the Halloween activities in which I have partaken: haunted hayrides, haunted corn mazes, haunted houses (or a haunted factory, or asylum, or whatever that year’s or location’s theme happens to be), a paranormal excursion and theatrical séance at the Stanley Hotel, an overnight stay at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum, a daytrip to Salem, Massachusetts, a visit to the gravesite of alleged vampire Mercy Brown, a journey through the nationally acclaimed Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, and a historic ghost tour in that same city.

All those haunted houses and ghostly tours were, if not actually frightening then completely entertaining, but according to Halloween New England, I haven’t even scratched the surface of haunted attractions in Rhode Island or the surrounding states. Here is a (radically incomplete) selection of activities across New England that I still have left to pursue: in Connecticut, the Trolley Museum’s Pumpkin Patch ride; in Maine, a special FX make-up class or a ghostly Bangor walking tour; in Massachusetts, a flashlight maze at Connors Farm or a date with the Ghost Hunters Paranormal Society; in Rhode Island, a Ghosts of Newport excursion; in New Hampshire, Screeemfest at Canobie Lake Park; and in Vermont, a haunted hayride at Gaines Farm called Vengeance in the Valley that promises both the undead and flesh-eating extra-terrestrials. I’ve now lost the thread of this paragraph on haunted attractions and must systematically enter the ten different Halloween New England website-sponsored giveaways as well as purchase tickets to the Haunted Graveyard at Lake Compounce before I can move on to my final point.

5. The boundary between the living and the dead is penetrable.

My final reason for loving Halloween is not commercial, social, or societal in nature. When you strip away the candy and the costumes and the Stephen King movie marathons on AMC, when you remove the ghost-dog dish towels and witch-cat coffee mugs from the shelves of TJ Maxx, Halloween is the time of the year when the boundary between the physical and the spiritual worlds is the thinnest. It’s the perfect time to engage in respective personal and cultural traditions, whether that’s baking soul cakes, leaving an offering for a deceased relative, or lighting a bonfire in celebration of Samhain. If spirits and faeries can enter our world more easily at this lush, liminal time, than I am of the mind to give them the widest possible gateway through which to pass.

Tarot cards, oracle decks, candle magic, Ouija boards, graveyard séances, scary stories around a campfire, or any of the other tools employed for spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment throughout the year take on new meaning once darkness descends on October thirty-first. So, this Halloween, gather up your friends and dance a danse macabre in honor of death. I hope your path to the grave is one of mind-bending horror movies and cider-scented hayrides, of delicious cupcakes with R.I.P. frosted across Peppermint Pattie tombstones and relationships on par with Gomez and Morticia’s l’amour vrai. In other words, I wish you one long, spooky, spectacular walk past the ghosts and goblins, through the dark and cobweb-draped corridors, and all the way to the end of the haunted, hallowed corn maze.

Christa Carmen’s work has been featured in anthologies, ezines, and podcasts such as Fireside Fiction, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Outpost 28, and Tales to Terrify. Her debut collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, is available now from Unnerving, and won the 2018 Indie Horror Book Award for Best Debut Collection. Christa lives in Rhode Island with her husband and their bluetick beagle. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in English and psychology, a master’s degree from Boston College in counseling psychology, and is an MFA candidate at the Stonecoast Creative Writing program, of the University of Southern Maine. You can find her online at her website.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Christa Carmen

Meghan: Hi, Christa. Welcome! Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Christa Carmen: I live in Westerly, Rhode Island, a place that swells uncomfortably with tourists in the summer but that thins and quiets and keeps secrets in the colder, darker months. I was married three years ago on Halloween at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, and my familiar is an eleven-year old blue tick beagle, though she often upsets my daily rituals by being entirely true to her sleepy, stubborn self. I enjoy horror, reading, writing. animals, and nature, and would love to live on a sprawling farm in the middle of the woods replete with hidden trails and secret gardens. Until then, I live at the culmination of a dead end on a piece of property with several gone-to-seed but wildly beautiful gardens of its own, too many squirrels, and not enough bird feeders.

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

Christa Carmen:

  • I did gymnastics for fifteen years and was a member of the University of Pennsylvania’s Division I Gymnastics Team. A fair amount of people probably knows this but the further away I get from the time I spent doing gymnastics, the less likely is it to come up in casual conversation.
  • I love all animals but have cycled through periods during which I was obsessed with dogs, birds, horses, elephants, and foxes/coyotes/wolves.
  • I collect bird feathers and love house plants.
  • I was vegan for six years, but am now pescatarian (I try to buy only locally caught seafood).
  • I am a quintessential Cancer: home is everything, and I’m equal parts loyal, moody, and empathetic, sometimes to a fault.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Christa Carmen: The first book I remember having read to me is But No Elephants by Jerry Smath. The first book I remember reading myself is far more difficult to recall. I’m unfortunately not 100% sure, but the American Girl series, Little House on the Prairie, and The Boxcar Children were some of my early favorites.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Christa Carmen: I’m always reading more than one book at a time, for better or worse, so I’ll mention titles across Kindle, Audible, and print editions: The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan, Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers: Monstrosity, Patriarchy, and the Fear of Female Power by Sady Doyle, and Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.

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

Christa Carmen: I read across a wide variety of genres so I’m not sure there’d be any one book I liked that others would find surprising. I do tend to focus on horror, mystery, suspense, and literary titles more often than science fiction and fantasy, but I became a huge fan of Blake Crouch when his sci-fi novel Dark Matter came out in 2016 and enjoyed this year’s Recursion even more so. I loved Crouch’s characters in Recursion, found the suspense scenes to be phenomenally written, and relished the feeling of falling deeper and deeper into a world populated by an infinite number of time loops. I happened to see a review of Recursion on Goodreads from a book blogger whose tastes I usually agree with and this individual was not a fan, so like any novel, it won’t be for everyone; personally, I adored it and plan to read it again at some point in the future (it’s rare that I reread a novel).

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

Christa Carmen: I believe that I wanted to be a writer for as long as I’ve been a reader, so since the age of five or so. With that being said, I don’t think I realized this desire until much later. The concept that one could simply ‘be’ a writer was stymied by my struggle with alcohol and drugs during those years when one should be figuring out what to do with one’s life. I’m sober now and have been for just about six years and I don’t regret that my path to writing was a bumpy one. I’m not sure I would have ever had the, ‘I love writing, I could just… write, and therefore be a writer’-epiphany had I not endured those experiences, no matter how difficult they might have been.

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

Christa Carmen: I can pretty much write anywhere, anytime, although the ideal time and place would be early morning in my home office or curled up somewhere comfortable in my house.

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

Christa Carmen: I only write with one of two different brands and types of pens—a black or blue Bic Cristal 1.6 mm or a medium point Paper Mate Flair of pretty much any color—and though they each provide a completely different writing experience, I’m equally indiscriminate and happy with either. I do third draft edits on the computer, but all first drafts and second draft rewrites must be done by hand, or the words don’t flow adequately.

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

Christa Carmen: Time management is always a challenging thing for me. I work a full-time job at a pharmaceutical company as a packaging coordinator Monday through Friday, and on the weekends a few times a month as a mental health counselor on the inpatient psychiatric unit at a local hospital. I do volunteer work for a few nonprofits that aim to maximize public awareness and seek solutions to the ever-growing opioid crisis in southern Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut, and I aim to exercise (yoga or going for a run) and walk my dog every day. I try to make writing my top priority from one day to the next, but sometimes hitting a word count goal takes a backseat to the need to crash on the couch and watch a horror movie as a form of recharging the creativity batteries.

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

Christa Carmen: Usually the most satisfying thing I’ve written is whatever I’m finished most recently! Aside from this ‘favorite-story-is-the-one-I-just-finished’ phenomenon, I have a special place in my heart for “Flowers from Amaryllis” (my most personal story), “Liquid Handcuffs” (a novelette rewrite of the first short story I ever wrote), “Red Room” (the story that readers seem to enjoy the most), and “The Girl Who Loved Bruce Campbell” (my most oft-published story, including publication in Corner Bar Magazine, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 2, and featured on Horror Hill, Chilling Tales for Dark Nights / The Simply Scary Podcast Network).

All four of these stories are included in my short fiction collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Christa Carmen: Books that have inspired me include The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, The Lottery and Other Stories and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi, and And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie.

The list of authors who’ve inspired me to write includes Stephen King, Shirley Jackson, Dean Koontz, Frank M. Robinson, Agatha Christie, Mary Shelley, Margaret Mitchell, Sarah Waters, Sidney Sheldon, R.L. Stine, Jennifer McMahon, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Harper Lee, J.K. Rowling, Cormac McCarthy, Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen Dobyns, Michael McDowell, Dan Simmons, and Jack Ketchum.

The list of authors who inspire me to continue writing is long, imperfect, and ever-growing, and includes Carmen Maria Machado, Gwendolyn Kiste, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Jessica McHugh, Nadia Bulkin, Ania Ahlborn, Jac Jemc, Alma Katsu, Christina Sng, Elizabeth Hand, Robert Levy, Joyce Carol Oates, Claire C. Holland, Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Renee Miller, Theresa Braun, Seanan McGuire, Kelly Link, Damien Angelica Walters, Lauren Groff, Roxane Gay, Annie Hartnett, Caroline Kepnes, Ruth Ware, Sarah Pinborough, Gillian Flynn, B.A. Paris, Joe Hill, John Palisano, John Langan, Nicholas Kaufman, Grady Hendrix, Paul Tremblay, Dean Kuhta, and Calvin Demmer.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Christa Carmen: Being a horror fan, I think there’s something truly special about exploring a topic through the lens of something terrifying. It allows the reader to receive a message about that topic in a thought-provoking yet understated way, and that message subsequently sticks with the reader long after it otherwise would have if the story had presented in a more straightforward manner. Shirley Jackson commented on the close-mindedness and problematic adherence to tradition of a small village of three-hundred people in The Lottery by filtering that commentary through a plot of paranoia and rather than So I think what makes a good story is the ability to say something in a way that’s unique and resounds with readers long after they’ve put down the novel or short story collection.

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

Christa Carmen: Characters must be relatable, i.e., not unflawed, for me to fall in love with them, and I try to employ this belief in my own work. Oftentimes I think about myself or the people in my life whom I know really well and map out a little outline of the things that make them who they are, then make sure I have a similar map for whichever fiction character I’m creating (this map can be on paper or in my head). For example, I am an aggregate of a great many hopes, dreams, likes, dislikes, personality traits, strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies, so does my protagonist (and my secondary characters for that matter) love something as much as I love my dog, want to accomplish something the way I want to accomplish my writing goals, like something the way I like English breakfast tea and Loran Doone cookies, dislike something the way I do meat and peppers, and so on and so on?

Once a character has begun to act in a way that shows they have this sort of rich back history, I’m getting somewhere in terms of characterization. This can be in remarkably subtle ways; a character’s actual like or dislike shouldn’t necessarily show up on the page, rather, they should act like a human being with likes and dislikes, because I, as the author, know what those likes and dislikes are.

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

Christa Carmen: I think there are pieces of me in every character I create: the memory of a perceived sin committed in childhood in the unnamed character at the center of “Thirsty Creatures,” the annoyance at being disbelieved showcased by Marci in “Red Room,” the hopelessness experienced at the lowest point of addiction seen in many of my characters (Olive in “Liquid Handcuffs,” Molly in “Wolves at the Door and Bears in the Forest,” Lauren in “This Our Angry Train”), the urge to rise above your fear and become a heroine as displayed by Kartya in “The Girl Who Loved Bruce Campbell.” I think the character I created who is most like me is Emelia Grey, the protagonist of the first novel I ever wrote and ultimately did not publish, Sequela Manor, and it is likely for this very reason that I feel the novel would only work after being extensively rewritten (and Emelia fleshed out in a dramatically different way).

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

Christa Carmen: If the cover for a self-or indie-published book has been pieced together through clipart images and an obvious desire to cut corners, it can certainly be a turn-off, but I’m also quite forgiving; if I hear good things about a book with a cover I wouldn’t necessarily have picked myself, I would of course give it a try.

For Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, Eddie Generous, publisher, editor, artist, and wearer of whatever other hats Unnerving requires of him, thought to use the image of a pig-faced woman in a plunging red satin dress after reading “Lady of the Flies,” one of three original stories that appear in the collection. “Lady of the Flies” is about Priscila Teasdale, a haunted house worker whose life has been a series of unfortunate events, and who copes with a last, devastating blow by leaning a bit too heavily on her haunted house persona. The cover represents not only Priscila, Lady of the Flies, but all of the beautiful grotesque I endeavored to showcase via the thirteen stories I chose for this collection.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Christa Carmen: I’ve learned about the Hundred-Mile Wilderness of the Appalachian Trial and the Equal Pay Act of 1963; I’ve learned about Charles Dickens’ use of staves in A Christmas Carol and the way certain plants (as well as certain body parts) decay after death; I’ve learned about hummingbird aggression and the slaughter of pigs, about the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe and how long it would take to choke on honey; I’ve learned about the different layers of skin and the feeding patterns of sharks; I’ve learned about the pre-witch trial era of colonial America and organ regeneration, about modern urban legends and EMF meters and the geography of upstate New York. I’ve learned about opioid-free analgesics and coywolves, about hybrid tea roses and viburnum blueberries. I’ve learned about Audubon’s Birds of America and the eastern shoreline of Block Island, about witches and Bluebeard and UFOs and My Chemical Romance and totem poles and Cthulhu and Fae.

These are, of course, I’ll things I’ve learned from the research for my writing; what I’ve learned more than anything from the crafting of my work is who I really am. I know what scares me and what’s important to me and what I look for in a friend. Life certainly informs my writing, but my writing also informs my life.

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

Meghan: One of the stories in Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is called “Flowers for Amaryllis,” and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rewritten it. Even now, in its finished state, it’s gone through so many overhauls and tweaks, that the story seems strange to me. It’s about a young woman whose circumstances take a dark turn after her parents are killed, but who stumbles across an abandoned puppy in a rainstorm and turns her life around in order to care for this creature more helpless than she. Years later, when her dog dies, she is poised to make a decision that would very quickly return her to that place of danger and despair, but something intervenes, though I won’t say what.

I wrote the first draft of this story at least two years ago, if not longer, and it’s clear, as it would be to anyone who knows me, that I wrote it from a very personal place, a place that recoils from the idea of losing my own dog in however many years. I think I thought I could write away my anxiety, my uncertainty, my dread, and it would all go into this story and get tied up with a neat little bow, and of course, that’s not how stories, or life, work. Still, I persisted with the idea, and I wrote, rewrote, cut, and altered the structure, until I was as satisfied as I was going to be with the result. It still doesn’t do that panicky feeling in my chest when I think about losing this dog that I’ve already had for eleven years, and relied on for so much, justice, but I think it comes close enough. And that’s all I can really ask for, right? To have captured even a tiny piece of those feelings, those thoughts in my head, and not to have diminished them too considerably on the page.

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

Christa Carmen: I write all types of horror, from comedic to Gothic and everything in between. I stay slightly removed from writing the traditional horror villain stories—vampires, werewolves, etc.—although I’ve certainly penned stories containing monsters. I suppose it would make sense that the horror fiction I write encompasses a wide variety of tones, because the horror fiction and film I consume encompasses that same variability.

As for what makes my collection or the novel that I’m currently working on different from others out there in the horror genre, I think my writing style reflects this appreciation for different tones and subgenres; I can start working on a story that, in my head, looks to be darkly comedic, only to find that it works better without the black humor. I can also outline a story to fit the guidelines of an anthology or other market I want to submit to, then discover that, while the subject matter might remain consistent, the work ends up shifting from, say, a simple haunted house story to a haunted house story that includes commentary on a social issue I’ve been wanting to explore along the way.

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)?

Christa Carmen: Titles are absolutely important, and it has been my experience that a title either presents itself without fanfare with the completion of a project or makes you toil and sweat and bleed for the one that will work best with what you’ve created.

Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is actually the title of one of the flash fiction pieces in the collection, originally published by Fireside Fiction Company and edited by the incomparable Julia Rios. I felt it would be a good name for the collection as a whole because first, there are three different stories—“Red Room,” “Something Borrowed…,” and “All Souls of Eve”—that have to do with the topic of marriage, and second, I took into consideration the traditional Lancashire rhyme that details what a bride should wear at her wedding for good luck:

​“Something old,
​something new,
​something borrowed,
​something blue,
​and a silver sixpence in her shoe.”

The superstition goes that the old item provides continuity (or protection for the baby to come, because of course all brides’ brains will quickly turn to mush thinking of the inevitable baby that will soon be on the way!), something new offers optimism for the future, the item borrowed from another is for good luck, or ‘borrowed happiness,’ the color blue is a sign of purity, love, and fidelity, and the sixpence is a symbol of prosperity, or acts as a ward against evil.

I like this little grab-bag idea of outfitting oneself with trinkets and talismans before stepping into the unknown territory of a marriage, a union that represents commitment, but also change and a future that is largely unknown. I thought that this concept could extend to the experience of reading the collection… at the very least, the reader should bring something with them to ward off evil; any pleasure the characters in Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked experience is borrowed happiness at best.

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

Christa Carmen: I have a bit of a problem (call it a lingering symptom of my previous addictions) with the desire for instant gratification, so there’s something really rewarding for me in taking a short story from conception to completion in a matter of weeks. With that being said, nothing felt as good as completing my 100,000-word Gothic horror novel, Sequela Manor, back in 2015, and I’m hoping for that same ‘writer’s high’ this December (or thereabout) when I finish my current novel work-in-progress.

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

Christa Carmen: Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked was released from Unnerving on August 21, 2018. From the description on Amazon: “A young woman’s fears regarding the gruesome photos appearing on her cell phone prove justified in a ghastly and unexpected way. A chainsaw-wielding Evil Dead fan defends herself against a trio of undead intruders. A bride-to-be comes to wish that the door between the physical and spiritual worlds had stayed shut on All Hallows’ Eve. A lone passenger on a midnight train finds that the engineer has rerouted them toward a past she’d prefer to forget. A mother abandons a life she no longer recognizes as her own to walk up a mysterious staircase in the woods. In her debut collection, Christa Carmen combines horror, charm, humor, and social critique to shape thirteen haunting, harrowing narratives of women struggling with both otherworldly and real-world problems. From grief, substance abuse, and mental health disorders, to a post-apocalyptic exodus, a seemingly sinister babysitter with unusual motivations, and a group of pesky ex-boyfriends who won’t stay dead, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is a compelling exploration of horrors both supernatural and psychological, and an undeniable affirmation of Carmen’s flair for short fiction.”

The stories in Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked were published in places like Fireside Fiction, DarkFuse Magazine (which unfortunately exists no more), Third Flatiron’s Strange Beasties anthology, Unnerving Magazine, Tales to Terrify, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 2, to name a few. The publisher asked upfront that a certain percentage of the stories in collection submissions be reprints, so once I’d filled that quota, I added two stories that had been published by markets no longer in circulation, changed one story that had appeared on a podcast to the novella version I’d been hoping for a chance to unveil, and chose three brand new stories to tie everything together.

Ultimately, I am very pleased with the balance that was achieved. I think readers can appreciate a collection that includes reprints, especially from magazines and anthologies they may have read previously, and hopefully enjoyed, as well as a handful of new tales that allows them to experience an author’s latest work.

In putting together this collection, I really strove to include stories that showcased my range, not just as a writer, but as a horror lover, and all the different types of horror stories I have penned to date. Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked includes post-apocalyptic, extreme, slasher, paranormal, supernatural, psychological, zombie, Gothic, magical realism, weird, and creature horror, so I truly hope the phrase, ‘there’s something for everyone,’ will apply!

But those tried-and-true tropes are thinly veiled stand-ins for themes that run deeper. Without giving too much away, the babysitter in “Souls, Dark and Deep” might possess powers in the same vein as those of a witch, but she uses her powers not for evil, but to level the playing field against evil and injustice. The depraved serial killers in “Red Room” function less to scare à la Michael Myers, and more to warn of the peril men face when they disbelieve women. The ghost of Aunt Louise in the eponymous flash fiction piece is a hardcore, Gloria Steinem-quoting, take-no-nonsense-and-even-less-prisoners bad-bitch feminist. And the shadow wolf in “Flowers from Amaryllis” represents many, many things: the fear of eventually losing a companion animal, the fear of losing a parent, the fear of being alone, the fear of going mad, the fear of not being able to be true to who you are.

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

Christa Carmen: As I mentioned above, I changed one story in Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked that had originally appeared on the Tales to Terrify podcast to the novella version I’d been hoping for a chance to unveil, and this piece was “Liquid Handcuffs.” Most of the passages that were cut had to do with the return of Nicole Price, the therapy client Olive is seeing at the start of the story, to Eddie’s bed (Eddie is the spurned client who has kidnapped Olive), and what this means for Olive and Eddie’s shaky relationship, if their tumultuous connection can even be called as such. As with anything that gets cut from my work, I still maintain a level of appreciation for the material, but I have learned to kill my darlings, if not whole-heartedly, then at least begrudgingly.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Christa Carmen: Oh goodness, what isn’t in my trunk? Everything but the skeleton of a bride still in her wedding dress, I imagine! Let’s see, I have an unfinished novella called The Curious Incident at the All Souls’ Chapel and Crematorium, 13 Sessions, a body horror novel about a thirty-something year old woman who writes a blog about the pharmaceutical industry and ends up pursuing acupuncture as a personal infertility treatment, with monstrous results, Coming Down Fast, a novel about a female Charles Manson type and her ‘followers,’ the crime they commit, and the first female police chief in Westerly, Rhode Island’s three-hundred fifty year history who pursues them, a short story called “Daydream Believers” about a married couple who systematically murder everyone in their neighborhood, a novella called “Serenità, Interrotta” about a women’s NA group that’s a front for a coven of witches, and two or three other short stories that are hopefully pretty close to completion.

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

Christa Carmen: I have a new story, “Shadows,” out in Issue 4 of Outpost 28, and another new story called “The Shivers” in an illustrated middle grade horror anthology, additional details forthcoming. There have been a few delays in publication, but I have two stories coming out with Chilling Tales for Dark Nights, “Shark Minute” and “What Are Little Girls Made Of?”, the first as part of Chilling Tales’ Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark tribute anthology, the second on The Simply Scary Podcast Network. I have a nonfiction essay, “A Ghost is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” coming out as part of a scholarly anthology of articles on Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House series, and my short story, “And Sweetest in the Gale is Heard” will be part of an amazing all-female anthology, Not All Monsters, edited by Sara Tantlinger, to be released by Strangehouse Books in the fall of 2020.

After that, I hope to release the new novel I am working on for my thesis at Stonecoast, which is a historical horror novel, the details about which I won’t say too much more.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Christa Carmen:

Author Website ** Goodreads ** Amazon Author Page
Facebook ** Twitter ** Instagram

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?

Christa Carmen: Thank you so very much for having me on Meghan’s House of Books site, and please seek me out on social media if you’d like to ask me any additional questions not covered in the interview (although this interview was pretty damn thorough!), order a copy of my collection, or discuss horror fiction in general.

Christa Carmen’s work has been featured in anthologies, ezines, and podcasts such as Fireside Fiction, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Outpost 28, and Tales to Terrify. Her debut collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, is available now from Unnerving, and won the 2018 Indie Horror Book Award for Best Debut Collection. Christa lives in Rhode Island with her husband and their bluetick beagle. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in English and psychology, a master’s degree from Boston College in counseling psychology, and is an MFA candidate at the Stonecoast Creative Writing program, of the University of Southern Maine. You can find her online at her website.

Something Borrowed, Something Blood Soaked

A young woman’s fears regarding the gruesome photos appearing on her cell phone prove justified in a ghastly and unexpected way. A chainsaw-wielding Evil Dead fan defends herself against a trio of undead intruders. A bride-to-be comes to wish that the door between the physical and spiritual worlds had stayed shut on All Hallows’ Eve. A lone passenger on a midnight train finds that the engineer has rerouted them toward a past she’d prefer to forget. A mother abandons a life she no longer recognizes as her own to walk up a mysterious staircase in the woods.

In her debut collection, Christa Carmen combines horror, charm, humor, and social critique to shape thirteen haunting, harrowing narratives of women struggling with both otherworldly and real-world problems. From grief, substance abuse, and mental health disorders, to a post-apocalyptic exodus, a seemingly sinister babysitter with unusual motivations, and a group of pesky ex-boyfriends who won’t stay dead, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is a compelling exploration of horrors both supernatural and psychological, and an undeniable affirmation of Carmen’s flair for short fiction. 

Behold the Undead of Dracula: Lurid Tales of Cinematic Gothic Horror

The classic monsters have returned… again!

During the gothic horror revival of the late 1950s through the 1970s, vampires, witches, devil worshipers, occultists, spirits, ghouls, and grave-robbing mad scientists returned to terrify a new generation of thrill-seeking movie audiences. Influenced by the social and cultural upheavals of the time and the ever-present specter of nuclear war, these classic terrors became more violent, more subversive—and more seductive.

Behold the Undead of Dracula features stories inspired by the films of the gothic horror revival, dripping with blazing bright-red blood and radiating sex appeal. Eleven of the best authors in underground horror fiction offer up unique and terrifying takes on this special era of cinematic history, summoning spine-tingling tales sure to frighten and seduce unwary readers.

Grab your popcorn, take a seat, and watch as the curtain rises on these neo-gothic nightmares. Bear witness to the lurid and sensual horrors of…

Behold the Undead of Dracula!

Dark Voices: A Lycan Valley Charity Anthology

Dark Voices is a Lycan Valley Charity Anthology — 100% of profits will go to benefit breast cancer non-profit organizations. Voices are meant to be heard. Darkness amplifies sound. And Dark Voices cannot be silenced. You won’t find pages filled with sunshine and lollipops or rose glass filtered landscapes. Instead, gloom and evil lurks, monsters and despair prevail. As you read these 38 women of horror, sci-fi and dark fiction, their voices will linger in your mind and infiltrate your soul. Their voices are loud. Their voices are strong. Their voices are dark. Voices include: Theresa Derwin * Michelle Scalise * Linda D Addison * Diane Arrelle * Sara Dobie Bauer * Charlotte Bond * Chesya Burke * Christa Carmen * Lynn M Cochrane * Ruschelle Dillon * Pauline E Dungate * Amber Fallon * Cara Fox * Julie Frost * Charlie Hannah * Penny Jones * Reen Jones * Calypso Kane * Kitty Kane * Nancy Kilpatrick * Laura Mauro * Keris McDonald * Helen Mihajlovic * Christine Morgan * Billie Sue Mosiman and Frankline E Wales * Anne Nicholls * Marie O’Regan * Hayley Orgill * NOA Rawle * Eden Royce * EF Schraeder * Angela Slatter * Kristal Stittle * KD Thomas * Angeline Trevena * Nemma Wollenfang * Mercedes Murdock Yardley * Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi

Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 2

Comet Press is extremely proud to present its second annual anthology featuring this year’s hardcore corps of authors with the best extreme horror fiction of 2016 that breaks boundaries and trashes taboos. 

Selected from indie publishers and magazines such as Weirdpunk Books, Necro Publications, Splatterpunk Zine, Corner Bar Magazine, Carrion Blue, and Raw Dog Screaming Press, these stories represent the state of the art of extreme horror fiction. Whether extreme in theme or with gore galore, these disturbing tales will be hard to forget even though you may wish you could. 

Yes, there will be blood. Lots of it. Gore galore and plenty of the gushy stuff. But you’ll also find tales less graphic but with hardcore attitudes, transgressive stories you’re not sure you should be reading, stories showing you things you shouldn’t see. Visceral fiction. 

This year’s best hardcore fiction features work by Michael A. Arnzen, Jasper Bark, Christa Carmen, Marvin Brown, Adam Cesare, Matthew Chabin, Jose Cruz, Andrew Darlington, Paolo Di Orazio, Stefanie Elrick, William Grabowski, Sarah L. Johnson, Eric LaRocca, Alessandro Manzetti, Tim Miller, Alexandra Renwick, Bryan Smith, Jeremy Thompson, Tim Waggoner, Wrath James White, and Stephanie M. Wytovich.

Strange Beasties: Third Flatiron Anthologies, Fall 2017

Nothing is too strange for Third Flatiron’s new anthology, “Strange Beasties.” Find something unsettling at every turn, from rising primordical monsters and gods to murderous supernatural predators and vengeful soul-hungry demons.

There’s plenty of dark comedy too, with gamblers who race unusual beasts, ogres who run cooking podcasts, horrifically dysfunctional families, and unhinged sorcerers.

An international group of new and established contributors to “Strange Beasties” makes this an original and varied collection that is sure to please fans of science fiction/fantasy, humor, and horror. Writers include Bruce Arthurs, John Sunseri, Philip John Schweitzer, Tim Jeffreys, Sarah Tchernev, Lucy Harlow, Philip Brian Hall, Jean Graham, Marc E. Fitch, Christa Carmen, Isobel Horsburgh, Paulo Da Silva, Jeff Hewitt, Wulf Moon, Daniel Rosen, Brenton Clark, John J. Kennedy, and Brian Trent. Foreword by Lizz-Ayn Shaarawi.

Join us for an exhilarating ride through uncharted dark territory–and keep an eye out for strange beasties.