AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Ramsey Campbell

For those of y’all who don’t know, Ramsey is one of my most favorite authors. And I’m not just saying that because he will be looking at this post when it goes live. When I began The Gal in the Blue Mask all those years ago, there were two big time authors that I wanted to have on my blog – Kevin J. Anderson and Ramsey. Kevin has been on the blog twice, and as of today, so has Ramsey. If I never post ever again it won’t matter because I have connected with the two people that I have always thought were the most amazing authors ever. Cloud 9. Every time. And I thought y’all should know.


Meghan: Hey, Ramsey! Welcome back to our annual Halloween Extravaganza. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Ramsey: I have to say it has no great significance as a festival in Britain. There were attempts a few years back to situate it as an alternative Autumn event to Guy Fawkes Night, since it was felt there were too many accidents at private firework displays on 5 November. When I was a child it wasn’t celebrated locally at all, and so my only sense of it was through fiction—specifically, some of the great tales of Ray Bradbury. Ray made October uniquely his, both capturing its flavours and adding individual ones of his own. While you can read them at any time, they have a particular relevance to Halloween, and so I’ll name them as my favourite aspect thereof.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Ramsey: Alas, for reasons outlined above, I have none. Oddly enough, I’ve often been at World Fantasy Conventions in America over the season, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen signs of the celebrations. Ah, hang on—in Baltimore in 1980 all the check-in staff at the Park Plaza were dressed as witches and pumpkins and the like. I think it was a pumpkin who proved loath to let Steve King have his room because he presented not a credit card (he had none in those days) but cash.

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

Ramsey: It isn’t, sorry. It still hardly exists here. Christmas and Guy Fawkes have always been mine.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Ramsey: Not much. My mother was both a Roman Catholic and highly superstitious—salt over the shoulder, don’t walk under ladders, look for luck if a black cat crosses your path (although an exactly opposite superstition also exists) and much more—all of which biases me towards rationality. However, for more years than I can remember I’ve found myself glancing at clocks to see that they’re showing 7.47, so often that the digits have acquired an ominous significance. Could they refer to an aeroplane, or a time of the morning, or both? Perhaps both will coincide one day, and I’ll know their significance at last. Let’s hope they prove to have been worth waiting for.

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

Ramsey: Monster—the greatest of them all, the original King Kong. Surely no artificial creature has more personality or unites horror and pathos more fully, even Karloff’s creature in the James Whale films. Villain—Niall McGinnis’s Karswell in Night of the Demon, among the most fully characterised adversaries in my experience of cinema, especially in the longer edit of the film (which, despite a still persistent legend, was never released theatrically in Britain—we had the shortened and reshaped version just as you did). He’s among the many reasons why the Tourneur is my favourite horror film.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Ramsey: None. It’s not a fascination I’d indulge. The nearest I’d come is a presumably vain desire to learn why an old friend of ours was murdered years ago—John Roles, the fanzine editor and Liverpool bookseller. He was strangled to death by a postcard collector who wanted cards John wouldn’t part with. The killer—Andrew John Swift, apparently a charity worker—then set the premises on fire. When Swift was brought to trial, the defence maintained that John had been a recluse with few if any friends. If I’d been there I would have done my best to put the record straight, but I only read a transcript afterwards. During the trial it was said that it was likely nobody would know why Swift had committed his atrocity. The rest of us who care deserve to know.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Ramsey: That vaccination gives you a contagious vaccine disease. That wearing a mask doesn’t help protect anyone but makes you ill. That the pandemic has been produced by conspirators.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Ramsey: I have none. They’re a contemptible and pathetic bunch. Those I’ve portrayed in fiction tend to be inadequates who commit murder in order to impose their own view of themselves on the world. If your question covers fictitious figures, I hope it would let in Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini, irresistibly charming and yet utterly sociopathic, incomparably played by Dennis Price.

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

Ramsey: Psycho when I was fourteen, and it was quite a baptism. I should explain that in those days almost all horror films had an X certificate in Britain, which barred anyone apparently under sixteen from watching them. I found the cellar sequence in particular breathlessly nightmarish. Now that I knew I could bluff my way into X showings, I devoted years to catching up all over Merseyside.

The book was 50 Years of Ghost Stories, borrowed from the local library when I was six. Various tales from it haunted my nights. Edith Wharton’s “Afterward” did, but the greatest source of dread was M. R. James’s “The Residence at Whitminster”—the hand that gropes out of the drawer, the gigantic insect in the dark. When the terror faded a little I wanted to repeat the experience or find more tales that had a like effect. I’d say that’s what separates the horror aficionado from other folk.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Ramsey: I’ll invoke my capacious definition of horror and name Samuel Beckett’s L’Innomable, as terrifying at novel length as his monologue for Billie Whitelaw, Not I (accept no substitutes). Outside the field, as a teenager—the season when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of suicide—I was profoundly disturbed by The Heart of the Matter, one of many reasons why Graham Greene remains a firm favourite. I was younger when several short stories hit me hard—Villy Sørensen’s “Child’s Play”, Angus Wilson’s “Raspberry Jam”, Charles Beaumont’s “Miss Gentilbelle”. It occurs to me that all three deal with the mutilation of the helpless.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Ramsey: None, but I think the one that dug deepest into me—to the extent that at several points I considered leaving the cinema if the scene went on much longer—was Fire Walk With Me. Lynch is the only director whose work I frequently find terrifying on a level I’d call visceral.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Ramsey: This is Halloween from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Meghan: Thanks again for stopping by. It is ALWAYS a pleasure and you are welcome back any time. Before you go, what are your go-to Halloween movies and books?

Ramsey: I’m fond of John Carpenter’s Halloween—a slasher film that feels as if it could have been produced by Val Lewton. In prose, I have a special affection for Mildred Clingerman’s short story The Word, partly because (since Halloween was virtually unknown in Britain in the fifties, when I read it) decades passed before its point caught up with me. As with W. F. Harvey’s August Heat and Nabokov’s The Vane Sisters, that’s a particular kind of retrospective pleasure. It has only just occurred to me that both the latter tales feature an unaware (not unreliable in the conventional sense) narrator, the kind I tried to portray in “The Words That Count”.


Boo-graphy:
Ramsey Campbell is a British writer considered by a number of critics to be one of the great masters of horror fiction. T.E.D. Klein has written that “Campbell reigns supreme in the field today,” while S.T. Joshi has said that “future generations will regard him as the leading horror writer of our generation, every bit the equal of Lovecraft or Blackwood.”

The Wise Men
Patrick Semple’s aunt Thelma Turnbill was a successful artist whose late work turned towards the occult. While staying with her in his teens he found evidence that she used to visit magical sites. As an adult he discovers her journal of her explorations, and his teenage son Roy becomes fascinated too. His experiences at the sites scare Patrick away from them, but Roy carries on the search, together with his new girlfriend. Can Patrick convince his son that his increasingly terrible suspicions are real, or will what they’ve helped to rouse take a new hold on the world?

The Three Birds of Daoloth 1: The Searching Dead
Dominic Sheldrake has never forgotten his childhood in fifties Liverpool or the talk an old boy of his grammar school gave about the First World War. When his history teacher took the class on a field trip to France it promised to be an adventure, not the first of a series of glimpses of what lay in wait for the world. Soon Dominic would learn that a neighbour was involved in practices far older and darker than spiritualism, and stumble on a secret journal that hinted at the occult nature of the universe. How could he and his friends Roberta and Jim stop what was growing under a church in the midst of the results of the blitz? Dominic used to write tales of their exploits, but what they face now could reduce any adult to less than a child…

Ramsey Campbell recently returned to the Brichester Mythos for his novella The Last Revelation of Gla’aki. His new trilogy The Three Birds of Daoloth further develops the cosmic horrors he invented in his first published book, The Inhabitant of the Lake. The Searching Dead is the first volume, to be followed by Born to the Dark.

The Three Birds of Daoloth 2: Born to the Dark
“There’s a place past all the stars that’s so dark you have to make your eyes light up to see,” Toby said. “There’s a creature that lives in the dark, only maybe the dark’s what he is. Or maybe the dark is his mouth that’s like a black hole or what black holes are trying to be. Maybe they’re just thoughts he has, bits of the universe he’s thinking about. And he’s so big and hungry, if you even think about him too much he’ll get hold of you with one of them and carry you off into the dark . . .”

More than thirty years have passed since the events of The Searching Dead. Now married with a young son, Dominic Sheldrake believes that he and his family are free of the occult influence of Christian Noble. Although Toby is experiencing nocturnal seizures and strange dreams, Dominic and Claudine have found a facility that deals with children suffering from his condition, which appears to be growing widespread. Are their visions simply dreams, or truths few people dare envisage? How may Christian Noble be affecting the world now, and how has his daughter grown up? Soon Dominic will have to confront the figures from his past once more and call on his old friends for aid against forces that may overwhelm them all. As he learns the truth behind Toby’s experiences, not just his family is threatened but his assumptions about the world . . .

The Three Birds of Daoloth 3: The Way of the Worm
More than thirty years have passed since the events of Born to the Dark. Christian Noble is almost a century old, but his and his family’s influence over the world is stronger than ever. The latest version of their occult church counts Dominic Sheldrake’s son and the young man’s wife among its members, and their little daughter too. Dominic will do anything he can to break its influence over them, and his old friends Jim and Bobby come to his aid. None of them realise what they will be up against – the Nobles transformed into the monstrousness they have invoked, and the inhuman future they may have made inevitable . . .

Somebody’s Voice
Alex Grand is a successful crime novelist until his latest book is condemned for appropriating the experience of victims of abuse. In a bid to rescue his reputation he ghostwrites a memoir of abuse on behalf of a survivor, Carl Batchelor. Carl’s account proves to be less than entirely reliable; someone is alive who shouldn’t be. As Alex investigates the background of Carl’s accusations his grasp of the truth of the book and of his own involvement begins to crumble. When he has to testify in a court case brought about by Carl’s memoir, this may be one step too far for his insecure mind…

Ramsey Campbell, Certainly
Ramsey Campbell, Certainly collects the crop of the author’s columns and essays from the last twenty years. Censorship is confronted, whether in Charles Platt’s notorious novel or a disciplinary memoir. Standards of horror are upheld, and the uncanny is acclaimed. Fun is had with uproarious films, and the mating of comedy and horror is celebrated. A novel favoured by discussion groups is skewered, and a supposed satire of horror is satirised. M.R. James is defended against accusations of plagiarism, and the importance of his style is demonstrated. Lovecraft’s prose is appreciated at length, as are several of his greatest tales. Other builders of the great tradition are discussed – Machen, Blackwood, Hodgson – and inspired toilers in the pulps are given their considerable due – Leiber, Wellman, St Clair. Nor are living talents left out: you’ll find Niveau, Lansdale, Atkins, Bestwick and many another. Horror comics are examined and enjoyed, and so is the macabre in music. The most substantial pieces let the author’s late parents speak for themselves through their correspondence, in which August Derleth plays a part, and present a history of the Liverpool Science Fiction Group with copious excerpts from the minutes of their fannish meetings. Does this book have something for everyone? Look for yourself!

Limericks of the Alarming & Phantasmal
Ever mischievous, Ramsey Campbell has delighted his fans—and certainly the team here at PS Towers—by regaling them with a staggering ability to limmer (or whatever the verb might be for producing small five-line rhymes designed to amuse and promote groans). Able to create these mini poem-ettes at the drop of a hat (or even a cleaver), it didn’t take much to persuade him to fill an entire book and, furthermore, for us to approach the equally prolific Pete Von Sholly to come up with some illustrations to boot.

The Village Killings & Other Novellas
The Village Killings and Other Novellas is a companion to the two-volume Ramsey Campbell retrospective Phantasmagorical Stories, also published by PS. Needing Ghosts is one of Campbell’s most nightmarish comedies of paranoia, a journey through a world where nothing can be trusted to be what it seems. In The Pretence an ordinary family comes to realise that a profound unnoticed change has overtaken the world—perhaps a kind of apocalypse. The Booking takes us to a bookshop that may extend to the limits of imagination, but why do books and the booksellers never leave the shop for long? The Enigma of the Flat Policeman uses one of the author’s early stories as a lens to examine his life at the time it was produced—his haunted adolescence and his determination to write. Written specially for this volume, The Village Killings sends a detective novelist to investigate a situation you might find in a whodunit and challenges the reader to get there first. It’s a highly personal take on the Agatha Christie tradition, which it finds less cosy than it’s often said to be. Spanning more than thirty years, the collection displays Campbell’s range, from the uncanny to the psychological, the disturbing to the comical.

  • Introduction: The Third Form
  • Needing Ghosts
  • The Pretence
  • The Booking
  • The Enigma of the Flat Policeman
  • The Village Killings

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: John Everson

Meghan: Hey, John! Welcome back to Meghan’s (Haunted) House of Books. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

John: The imagery! Halloween is when all of the gothic, spooky stuff comes out to play. Haunted houses, giant spiderwebs, eerie candlelight emanating from grotesquely carved pumpkins… I love it all. In Chicagoland, the weather turns from the fading light of summer to the crisp and bone-chilling cool breezes that signal the coming of winter, and the leaves that were so vibrantly red and orange just a couple weeks before litter the ground as brown, dried husks. Desiccated memories of the vibrance of summer. Halloween is the between time, the dying time between the days of warmth and sunlight and the frozen deathscape that freezes and kills the land in December and January. I can’t imagine Halloween in a warmer climate because the weather provides as much a part of the chill as the dying landscape and early nightfalls.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

John: My personal Halloween tradition is pretty standard — I watch horror movies. I do that year-round, of course, but I used to spend a whole weekend binging on horror movies leading up to Halloween, which was awesome. I’d get through a handful each day. I haven’t been able to wallow in the creepy crazy for that much dedicated time the past few years… but one of these days I’ll be able to do nothing but watch old Euro-horror movies for a solid weekend to celebrate Halloween again! And host the Halloween movie nights for friends that I used to before everyone’s lives got so crazy busy we couldn’t get them scheduled anymore!

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

John: I love everything spooky, supernatural and gothic, and Halloween is the one time of year that everyone in the world gives a nod to the creepy stuff that I love to see and talk about all year round. For a little while, everyone is into horror movies and lawns are decorated with all manner of “haunted house” style decorations. I love it.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

John: I don’t know that I’m really superstitious. But sometimes I do wonder if my pinball machines are possessed by a spirit who likes to taunt me. Anyone who knows me knows I love pinball almost as much as horror and music, and I own five classic machines in my basement that I play all the time. Some nights, particularly if I hit the restart button because I start a game with a bad ball and don’t feel like finishing the game with a handicap, it’s almost like the machine knows I’m “cheating” and starting over – and the next half dozen balls will all go straight down the middle or side with no chance for me to hit them with the flipper. It’s as if the game demon says “oh, you want a do-over do you? Take that. And that. And that. C’mon, can’t you handle it sucker?” It’s creepy when it feels like the game suddenly turns on you and consistently does unusual things with the ball.

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

John: The title character of The Living Dead Girl by French director Jean Rollin. She is both a horrific and pathetic character – a “zombie/ghoul” who slowly comes back from the dead and rebels against her blood-drinking nature and her best friend who feeds her with victims out of misguided love.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

John: I honestly couldn’t name one. I don’t ever read or watch anything about “true crime.”

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

John: Bloody Mary used to creep the hell out of me as a kid. Some people call her Mary Worth. The whole idea of going into a dark candlelit room, saying her name in the mirror multiple times and having her spirit come through the mirror in answer to potentially claw your eyes out… it’s such a perfect way to build dread. Kids do it on a dare, but all you need is just a hair of fear that the legend could be true and by the time you say Bloody Mary’s name the third time, your heart is racing.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

John: Again… don’t like true crime stuff, so none of them. I read “escapist” supernatural horror so that I don’t have to be faced with the real life monsters that walk the earth.

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

John: Geez, I couldn’t answer that with any surety. I’ve watched the old black and white classic horrors since I can remember. We had WGN – Channel 9 TV in Chicago that used to play a Creature Features program on Friday or Saturday nights that I saw a lot while I was in grade school. I do remember being in probably 3rd or 4th grade and watching a PBS color production of Dracula that I really thought was great at the time. Loved the whole gothic setting with coffins and dusty castles. That probably set the stage for my love of Hammer Films later in life.

As far as first horror book… again, my memory just doesn’t go that far back! I remember reading ghost story books I bought from the Scholastic Book catalog in grade school and loving the spooky factor. And I remember buying a complete collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s fiction at a garage sale once and reading and re-reading that book (which is still on my shelf). Maybe one of the earliest printed impacts on me was a comic book that I bought in probably first or second grade. It might have been an Eerie Tales or something like that. I don’t really remember the stories, but I do know they stuck with me a long time and I still retain one image of a skeletal woman in a bridal headdress driving down the street at the end of one. Apparently whatever that twist was creeped me out enough to remember a snippet of that image almost 50 years later.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

John: Probably Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game. It was the first novel of his I read, and I read it during one of my first trips away from home alone when I was probably 22 – I’d flown to Memphis to spend a weekend with some other journalists on a “PR junket” hosted by the city. We went there to see Graceland and the Handy Blues awards and to generally get a 36-hour tour of the city to go home and write travel stories about how great Memphis was for our newspapers. I remember the first night I was in the hotel room alone, reading that novel and the scene about people being skinned alive and when I turned out the lights to go to sleep… I was severely creeped out!

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

John: I don’t know about “scarred” but Alien impacted me severely. The atmosphere, the slow brooding, building suspense, the wildly otherworldly and ominous spaceship architecture… it was a genius sci-fi horror film and has been in my top 5 horror and top 5 sci-fi movie lists since the day I first saw it. It’s an unsettling, scary and darkly beautiful film.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

John: I have never been a “dress up” person myself, but I do appreciate creative costumes and makeup. Always love good zombie, ghoul or witch makeup!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

John: That one’s easy. “(Every Day is) Halloween” by Ministry. It’s an amazing track both for the Halloween theme and for synth pop. One of my favorite dance club tracks ever, bar none.

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

John: Best treat is definitely Almond Joy bars. Worst? Dental floss. (Assholes).

Meghan: Thanks for stopping by, John. It is ALWAYS a pleasure to have you visit. One more thing before you go: What are you top 10 go-to Halloween movies?

John: I am a huge movie buff, and literally own hundreds of horror and giallo DVDs and Blu-Rays. That makes it super hard to pick a top 5 or 10 or even 25… There are so many good ones. So… I’ve tried to note the movies that have really stuck with me the most across multiple genres of horror. Films that I’ve watched multiple times. There are dozens of films I could point to as “oh yeah, that’s a great one!” but here are films that really moved me. From the extreme horror of the French new wave in the 90s with High Tension and Martyrs to the claustrophobic indie horror of Cronenberg’s early Rabid and Shivers, I come back to these again and again. Though my main favorites tend to be older – ‘70s and ‘80s films are my jam. I’m not that much of a modern horror fan. My “Top 3” below are films that have all actually been my #1 at one time or another. I used to say Alien until the Suspiria 4K remaster happened a few years ago! And Jean Rollin’s sexy and horrible beautiful pathos of Living Dead Girl has occupied my #2 or #3 spot since I first saw it some 20 years ago:

Best Movies:
SuspiriaDario Argento (1977)
AlienRidley Scott (1979)
The Living Dead GirlJean Rollin (1982)
The BeyondLucio Fulci (1981)
The Night Evelyn Came Out of the GraveEmilio Miraglia (1971)
PhantasmDon Coscarelli (1979)
Night of the Living DeadGeorge Romero (1968)
RabidDavid Cronenberg (1977)
DagonStuart Gordon (2001)
MartyrsPascal Laugier (2008)

I have to give honorary mentions to horror-humor films which I think live in a class by themselves:
BeetlejuiceTim Burton (1988)
Shaun of the DeadEdgar Wright (2004)
Dead AlivePeter Jackson (1992)
Evil Dead IISam Raimi (1987)
ScreamWes Craven (1996)


Boo-graphy:
John Everson is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of the novels Covenant, Sacrifice, The 13th, Siren, and The Pumpkin Man, all released by Dorchester/Leisure Books in paperback. His sixth novel, NightWhere, was a 2012 Bram Stoker Award Finalist. Other novels include The Family Tree, Violet Eyes, Redemption, and The House By The Cemetery. His 11th novel, The Devil’s Equinox, was released by Flame Tree Press in June 2019. He is also the creator of the characters Danika and Mila Dubov, now seen on the new Netflix series V-Wars, based on the books and comics created and edited by Jonathan Maberry.

A wide selection of his short fiction has been collected in six short story collections – Sacrificing Virgins (Samhain Publishing, 2015), Deadly Nightlusts (Blasphemous Books, 2010), Creeptych (Delirium Books, 2010), Needles & Sins (Necro Books, 2007), Vigilantes of Love (Twilight Tales, 2003) and Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions (Delirium Books, 2000).

John is also the editor of the anthologies Sins of the Sirens (Dark Arts Books, 2008) and In Delirium II (Delirium Books, 2007) and co-editor of the Spooks! ghost story anthology (Twilight Tales, 2004). In 2006, he co-founded Dark Arts Books to produce trade paperback collections spotlighting the cutting edge work of some of the best authors working in short dark fantasy fiction today.

John shares a deep purple den in Naperville, Illinois with a cockatoo and cockatiel, a disparate collection of fake skulls, twisted skeletal fairies, Alan Clark illustrations and a large stuffed Eeyore. There’s also a mounted Chinese fowling spider named Stoker courtesy of fellow horror author Charlee Jacob, an ever-growing shelf of custom mix CDs and an acoustic guitar that he can’t really play but that his son likes to hear him beat on anyway. Sometimes his wife is surprised to find him shuffling through more public areas of the house, but it’s usually only to brew another cup of coffee. In order to avoid the onerous task of writing, he records pop-rock songs in a hidden home studio, experiments with the insatiable culinary joys of the jalapeno, designs book covers for a variety of small presses, loses hours in expanding an array of gardens and chases frequent excursions into the bizarre visual headspace of ’70s euro-horror DVDs with a shot of Makers Mark and a pint of Revolution Anti-Hero IPA.

Website

Voodoo Heart
When Detective Lawrence Ribaud wakes alone in a bloody bed with his wife missing, he knows this is more than just a mysterious case of murder. His wife is the latest victim in a string of bizarre disappearances. All across New Orleans, on one night each month, people are vanishing, leaving behind nothing but a pool of blood on the bedsheets… and an abandoned heart. Ribaud doesn’t believe in voodoo, but he soon finds himself moving through the underbelly of a secret society of snakes, sacrifices and obscene rituals in search of the mysterious Black Queen … and the curse of her Voodoo Heart.

The Devil’s Equinox
Austin secretly wishes his wife would drop dead. He even says so one boozy midnight at the bar to a sultry stranger with a mysterious tattoo. When his wife later introduces that stranger as Regina, their new neighbor, Austin hopes she will be a good influence on his wife. Instead, one night he comes home to find his wife dead. Soon he’s entranced with Regina, who introduces him to a strange world of bloodletting, rituals and magic. A world that puts everything he loves in peril. Can Austin save his daughter, and himself, before the planets align for the Devil’s Equinox?

Christmas Takeover 35: Catherine Cavendish: Swallow Lodge

Swallow Lodge

A Short Story by Catherine Cavendish
2,828 words

I should have known the house would be trouble. After all, anywhere that is on the market for over £150,000 less than all the neighboring properties must have something wrong with it. Apart from being virtually derelict of course.

Swallow Lodge. The name captivated me. The moment I first laid eyes on the empty dwelling I knew I had to own it. Strange really because in its current state, it certainly wasn’t habitable. In fact, the estate agent wanted me to look at the more suitable house across the road. But no, I had to have this one, and the more she tried to dissuade me, the more determined I became. Eventually she caved in and a couple of months later Swallow Lodge became mine.

Maybe it was the unusual shape that appealed to me. The central section towered upward, tapered to a narrow pinnacle and housed the two upstairs bedrooms. To the right and left of this, the building was single story. Judging by the sorry remnants of peeling paint and ripped wallpaper, Swallow Lodge had once been decorated traditionally, with care and taste. What would poor Miss Frobisher make of it now? I attributed the chill that enveloped me, when I thought of its last owner, to an unseasonal nip in the air.

The house had been empty for ten years following the old lady’s death on Christmas Day. When I asked about her, the estate agent knew very little. A care assistant had found her and been too traumatized to go into detail. Dorothy Frobisher owned the house for sixty years and died in it at the age of ninety.

On the day I took possession of her former home, I took photographs and emailed them to my daughter in Australia. Unfortunately, even the warm summer sun pouring in through the windows could do little to improve the sorry state of the place and Carol didn’t share my enthusiasm. Her face wore an incredulous expression when I Skyped her that night.

“Mum, whatever possessed you? It’ll cost you a fortune to put that place right. Half the roof’s down for a start!”

“I know,” I said, as waves of ecstasy washed over me. “It’s going to be perfect. For the first time in my life, I’ll be able to decorate the way I want to without your father chipping in and insisting on white walls and fitted carpets. I can have hardwood floors, themed rooms—”

“And an overdraft the size of a small African country.”

I sighed, seeing Carol’s lips set in that familiar thin line. Just like her father. But she could say what she wished, I would have my Swallow Lodge and I would have it my way. After all, my daughter lived in Sydney. She could hardly do much about it, even if I decided to paint the walls shocking pink which, of course, I wouldn’t.

With hindsight, I suppose the difficulty I had in finding builders to work on my new pride and joy should also have told me something. They were all perfectly keen at first, until I told them the address. Then, mysteriously, each one of them seemed to discover they had a big job somewhere else that would keep them occupied for the next six months. I was unfamiliar with the area, as I had lived in the city – thirty miles away – until my husband George died. That’s when I decided on a change. My move to Swallow Lodge represented the first step on the path of my new life. How naïve I was. How reckless.

I eventually found a builder. He wasn’t local and gave no reaction when I told him the address. Together we drew up plans and he set to work. Meanwhile, I carried on living in the small flat I’d rented since I sold my house, and dreamed of the day when I could take my furniture out of storage and move into my perfect home.

Derek, my builder, worked long hours all through summer and beyond. Every time I went along to have a look at how he was getting on, I came away more excited than before. With my approval he engaged a gardener to sort out the wilderness at the back of the house, painters, a plumber, a glazier and, of course, a roofer. It took practically all my savings, but I was getting the house I had always wanted and didn’t begrudge one penny.

Finally, two weeks before Christmas, the day came when all their combined efforts were complete. Derek handed over the keys.

“It’s all yours, Mrs. Steadman. I hope you’ll be very happy in your new home.”

“I’m sure I will, Derek. You’ve done a wonderful job. Thank you. It’s exactly how I imagined it would be.”

He hesitated.

“What is it?” I asked. “Is something the matter?”

“It’s… well… I suppose it depends how you feel about them, but I think you may have bats under your roof.”

“Bats? Are you sure?”

Derek shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Not entirely, no. I’m only going by the sound, you see. I’ve been up there and saw nothing. Pete, who did the roof, said he couldn’t see any sign of them either. It’s a bit of a mystery how they could have got in really. Mind you, they’re crafty little buggers. Doesn’t take much.”

“You say you’ve heard them?”

Derek nodded. “A few days after I started here, I heard scratching noises. I ruled out rats and mice straightaway. Definitely not those little blighters. No, I’ve heard them before and I’d say you’ve got bats. Trouble is they’re a protected species, so I’m afraid you’re stuck with them. Hope that’s not too much of a nasty surprise.”

“No, no.” I sighed. Did bats do any harm? Hopefully not. “I’ll learn to live with them. I’m sure they’ll keep away from me and I’ll return the favor.”

When I closed the door behind him, I leaned against it and took in my new surroundings. My mother’s grandfather clock finally had the home it deserved, in a hallway where it provided a focal point and a welcome. Its steady, rhythmic tick-tock felt familiar and reassuring. It no longer chimed the hours, since its bells had been removed years earlier. I also had the peaceful library I’d always craved, where I could sit in the evenings, lit by lamps and surrounded by books. And, when sleep overcame me, I could drift upstairs to my cozy bedroom with its dark oak furniture. So in keeping with my Edwardian home.

I couldn’t wait to Skype Carol. I carried my laptop around the house and showed her the rooms, transformed from the ‘before’ photos she’d been so horrified to see. I had even erected a Christmas tree and strewn garlands of artificial holly and pine, bright with shiny red berries, around the walls and doors. With its decorations and twinkly lights, my tree looked festive and gave my home a seasonal finishing touch.

Tour complete, I sat in the library, with my laptop on my antique partners’ desk.

“It all looks lovely, Mum.” Carol smiled. “Not really my taste, but you always preferred old-fashioned stuff.”

I smiled back. “You’re just like your father. He always thought modern was best.”

“Only in Dad’s case, modern meant circa 1980.” Carol laughed, but then stopped abruptly. She stared closer into the webcam, her face wide-eyed, mouth slightly open.

Goose bumps rose on my arms. “What’s the matter?”

“I… don’t know. I thought I saw…” She shook her head. “Don’t worry. It’s gone now. Probably a technical glitch.”


That night, I fell asleep straightaway and awoke before dawn. I needed the bathroom and the chill in the bedroom had me reaching for my dressing gown. Moonlight shone through the landing window, illuminating my way.

I reached for the bathroom door handle. Invisible fingers stroked my hand. I jumped back. Spun around. No one behind me. No one either side of me. The moon withdrew behind a cloud and now I couldn’t see anything in the gloom. Where was the damned light switch? I fumbled around the walls and my fingers made contact with the hard plastic. I pressed. The bright light made me blink. Still nothing there. But something – or someone – had touched me. It couldn’t have been cobwebs. An insect maybe? The house was so quiet, except for the clock downstairs. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Above my head, in the loft, scratching, scrabbling. Bats, Derek had said. Then why did the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention? A loud groan echoed around the walls. A woman in pain. I ran into the bathroom and slammed the door, locking it. I hardly dared breathe as I strained to listen for the slightest sound in the sudden cold, still, silence…

Finally, I dared open the door and peered around. The light from the bathroom shone out, illuminating part of the landing, but casting shadows where I didn’t want them to be.

At the opposite end for where I stood, the dark void of my bedroom awaited me. There should be another switch to brighten that area, but when I found it, nothing happened. In desperation, I flicked it a few more times but still darkness where I so needed light.

From nowhere, cold, invisible hands pressed down on my shoulders, forcing me back against the wall. The face – if it was a face – loomed in front of me. Hollow sockets for eyes set in a gray, twisting, amorphous mask that might once have been human, or could have emanated straight from hell. I pushed hard against an unyielding mass that pulsated and throbbed. Panic rose in waves, coursing through my body. But when my muscles ached and trembled, some inner reserve of strength, borne of terror, powered me and I wrenched myself free, hurling myself down the landing into my bedroom. I locked the door and huddled on the bed, hugging my knees to my chest. My heart thumped and my breath came in gasps. I had to stifle them. Too much noise and it would find me again.

Above me, more scratching. I clapped my hands over my ears to drown out the noise. What was happening to me? Had I gone mad?

I swore I heard a female voice whisper my name.

‘Vivien… Vivien…’

For the first time since I was a child, I prayed, as the hours ticked by and night eventually gave way to dawn.

I waited until the sun was fully risen before I dared unlock my door. Downstairs, my confidence trickled back as I saw nothing untoward. My tree twinkled merrily. In the library, I switched on the radio to the sounds of Nat King Cole roasting chestnuts on an open fire. Outside the window, a solitary robin hopped from branch to branch on the sycamore tree, each move dislodging a shower of snowflakes. The sky looked as if it would deposit more of the white stuff anytime, all adding to the feeling of Christmas right around the corner. My grandfather clock gave out its familiar low tick-tock as Nat King Cole gave way to Mike Oldfield’s take on In Dulce Jubilo.

Maybe I’d imagined last night. Perhaps I’d dreamed it and been in a half-awake, half-asleep state when I awoke to go to the bathroom.

But then I opened the kitchen door. And stared.

Sugar, flour and smashed eggs covered the floor. Ketchup smeared all over the worktops. Two bottles of white wine, unscrewed and emptied down the sink. Glasses and plates lay smashed on the draining board, cooker and floor, and someone had written on the newly painted walls, in bright red letters:

Veni, mi domine Lucifer!

My mind sped into overdrive. Burglars. It had to be. Well-educated burglars who had studied Latin? Unusual, to say the least. Besides there were no signs of a break in. When I checked, all windows and doors were locked from the inside.

I picked up the phone and called the police.

The attending male officers looked barely out of high school. It didn’t take long before I realized they thought they were dealing with a dotty sixty-year-old – bordering on senility -who had probably created this chaos herself.

My curt responses to their inane questions were met with their exchanged glances and raised eyebrows. No, nothing like this had ever happened to me before. No, I wasn’t on anti-depressants, or being treated for any psychological condition.

One of the officers took notes, while the other examined the writing on the wall.

“It means”, I said, “Come, my lord Lucifer. I suppose whoever wrote it is into devil worship, or wanted to scare me.”

The officer, who had introduced himself as PC Workman, turned back from examining the graffiti. “The old lady who used to live here dabbled in that sort of thing.”

“Who? Miss Frobisher?” Surely not. I’d built up an image of a kindly old soul although, admittedly, I didn’t have any evidence to go on.

The other officer – PC Ramsden – scoffed. “Daft rumors. Just because she lived on her own, people made up all sorts of stories.”

His colleague remained adamant. “Oh, she was up to something, that’s for sure. Three local men went missing over the preceding three years before she died. Always at Christmas time too. The only thing they had in common was that they’d all come here to do casual work for Miss Frobisher. One was a handyman, another an electrician and I think the third was a decorator. It got so no one would come near this place.”

An icy shiver shot up my spine. “But you never found any evidence linking her to the disappearances?”

The police officer shook his head. PC Ramsden chortled. “Not likely to either. She was well into her eighties by then and hardly a match for three burly blokes.”

“But these men have never been found?”

“No,” PC Ramsden said. “But people go missing all the time. It’s not that hard to do if you’re determined enough.”

They didn’t stay long after that, merely gave me a crime reference number, promised to look into it and left. They told me I could clean everything up, so clearly there was to be no fingerprinting. They simply didn’t believe me. I suppose I was lucky they didn’t arrest me for wasting police time.

I sighed and set to work sorting out the mess, wishing I had some sort of explanation. I found none, except the crazy notion that, somehow, Miss Frobisher was behind it all.


Carol Skyped me at our pre-arranged time of eight o’clock on Christmas Eve. I hadn’t told her what I had experienced and, as the days passed and nothing more happened, I calmed myself. I sat in the library, my laptop on the desk and, when I answered her call, her cheerful smile made me ache to be with her.

“Happy Christmas, Mum.”

“Happy Christmas, love. Are you enjoying yourselves out there in the sun?”

She started to answer. Stopped. Stared hard at the screen. “What the hell?” She pointed behind me. Her hand shook. Her face a mask of horror. “I don’t know what that thing is, but for God’s sake, Mum, get out of there. Now. Just run!”

I twisted around to see what had scared her so much. A black shape swirled and morphed into a caricature of an old woman. It opened its mouth in a hideous parody of Munch’s most famous painting. From the laptop, Carol screamed at me, again and again. “Get out, Mum. For God’s sake, get out.”

But I couldn’t. The swirling mass, with its black holes for eyes, paralyzed me with its hideous stare.

Deep voices chanted in the echoing distance. A hymn to their Master. “Veni, mi domine Lucifer! Veni, mi domine Lucifer!

Carol’s hysterical cries screamed out from the laptop. “Mum listen to me, you have to get out. Just leave everything and go. Mum please!”

A rapier stab of pain in my side knocked me to one side. I clasped my head in my hands, willing it to stop. Cold fingers invaded my mind. Violating. Searching. Infecting my spirit and my soul with floods of hatred and despair. Pure evil.

I cried out. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…”

The laptop shot off the desk and smashed on the floor. That brought me to my senses and broke the hold on me. I sprang to my feet and ran. Behind me, I heard the sound of splintering wood and shattering glass. The grandfather clock chimed.

I ran. Out of the house, down the path. I ran and never looked back.

A year later, I’m still running. I hear the chanting. It’s in the wind. And in my head.

“Veni, mi domine Lucifer…”

It’s Christmas.

END

Cat first started writing when someone thrust a pencil into her hand. Unfortunately as she could neither read nor write properly at the time, none of her stories actually made much sense. However as she grew up, they gradually began to take form and, at the tender age of nine or ten, she sold her dolls’ house, and various other toys to buy her first typewriter. She hasn’t stopped bashing away at the keys ever since, although her keyboard of choice now belongs to her laptop.

The need to earn a living led to a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance but Cat is now the full-time author of a number of supernatural, ghostly, haunted house and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. These include (among others): The Haunting of Henderson Close, The Devil’s Serenade, and Saving Grace Devine.

Her new novel – The Garden of Bewitchment – is out from Flame Tree Press on February 10th 2020.

Cat lives in Southport, in the U.K. with her longsuffering husband, and a black cat, who has never forgotten that her species was once worshipped in Egypt.

When not slaving over a hot computer, Cat enjoys wandering around Neolithic stone circles and visiting old haunted houses.

Christmas Takeover 23: JG Faherty: Yule Cat

Yule Cat

A Story by JG Faherty
3,008 words
Originally published in Appalachian Winter Hauntings, 2009

Excitement hovered over the town of Fox Run in much the same way the snow-filled clouds had done all week. The day seemed ordinary enough, but children and adults alike knew differently.

Tonight would be special.

All day long, women bustled about in kitchens, grandmothers and mothers and daughters, cooking and baking the feasts for that night. The savory, grease-laden scents of fried ham, roast lamb, and hamborgarhyryggur – smoked pork rack – competed with the heavenly aromas of fresh-baked breads and desserts. For those with a sweet tooth, plates stacked high with jelly-covered pancakes and twisted fried dough – lummer and kleinur – sat on tables and counters, wherever there was room.

It was the traditional Yule feast, part of the celebration of the winter solstice.

The longest night of the year.

The night when ghosts ride the winds and the Yule Cat roams in search of lazy humans to eat.

“Aw, Grandpa, that’s just a silly old tale to scare little kids,” Jacob Anders said, as his grandfather finished his annual telling of the Yule story.

“Don’t talk to your Farfar like that,” Grandma Anders said, her thin face pulled tight in one of her mock-serious scowls. She worked hard to keep up her brusque appearance to the rest of the family, only occasionally letting her old-country veneer slip, as she’d done earlier when she let Jacob and his older sister Erika lick the spoons after she iced the traditional Yule cake.

Like most of Fox Run’s residents, the Anders had emigrated from Scandinavia, eventually settling in Western Pennsylvania, where the Appalachians provided the same backdrop as the Kölen of their homeland.

Although they’d celebrated Yule at their grandparents’ since before they could remember, this year was the first year Jacob and Erika’s parents weren’t with them. They’d dropped the children off the day before, with kisses and hugs and promises to return in four days loaded with gifts from their cruise.

For Jacob and Erika, the four days loomed over them in much the same way as the mountains loomed over Fox Run. Their grandparents’ house wasn’t exactly child friendly. They had no cable TV, no video games, and cell phone service was spotty on the best of days.

His temper frayed by boredom, Jacob, who’d always been overly energetic, even for a nine-year-old, made a face. “It’s the same old boring story every year. Why can’t we go into town and do something? Maybe see a movie?”

“Because Yule is for being with family.” Grandma Anders shook a bony finger at him. “Children today have forgotten the old ways. They think only of themselves.”

“Ja.” Grandpa Anders sucked on his empty pipe. He’d given up tobacco years before, but never the habit of clenching the pipe between his teeth while sitting by the fire. “And those are the ones who get no presents from Jule-nissen later tonight.”

“Grandpa, we don’t believe in Santa or the Easter Bunny. What makes you think we’re gonna believe in an elf who rides a talking goat and leaves gifts for children?” Jacob laughed, but his grandparents didn’t smile.

“Ah. No talking to children today.” Grandpa Anders got up and shook his head. “Goodnight, then. If you think the tales of your ancestors are such…foof…” he said, waving his hand at them, “perhaps you should stay up and watch for the Jule-nissen yourself.”

“Maybe I will.”

“Jacob, hush.” Erika gave her brother a poke. Normally she wouldn’t care, but with her parents gone she felt responsible for her brother, and she didn’t want him being rude.

“I think perhaps bed is a good idea for all of us,” Grandma Anders said, taking her tea cup into the kitchen.

“No way! It’s not even nine o’clock yet. We never go to bed this early at home.”

“You’re not at home, young man.” Grandma Anders glared at him, giving him what the children secretly called her ‘stink eye.’ It meant she’d reached the point where she’d put up with no more nonsense. “So off to bed. Now!” She clapped her hands twice, the sudden sound like branches snapping under the weight of too much ice.

“But–”

“C’mon, Jacob. I think you had too much sugar tonight.” Erika grabbed him by the arm.

“Lemme go!” He yanked himself from her grasp and stormed down the hall to the guest bedroom they were sharing.

“I’m sorry, Grandma,” Erika said.

Grandma Anders patted her shoulder and planted a soft, whiskery kiss on her cheek. “Don’t fret, child. Someday he will learn the truth.”


Jacob and Erika lay awake in their room. Upstairs, the grumbling, wheezing sounds emanating from their grandparents’ bedroom told them Mormor and Farfar Anders were fast asleep.

“I’m hungry,” Jakob whispered.

“No, you’re not. You had two plates for dinner, and at least three desserts, plus the one I saw you sneak while everyone was sitting by the fire.”

“Fine. Then I’m thirsty.”

Erika sighed. “What you are is bored and a brat. Go to sleep.” She wished she could do the same. She’d been trying to doze off for over an hour. But too much sugar and a day of doing nothing but helping in the kitchen had her wide awake.

“Did you hear that?” Jakob asked.

“All I hear is you talking.”

“Sssh!”

She started to scold him for being such a pain, and then stopped.

Because she did hear it.

A low, distant moaning, winter-cold and ethereal as the wind. A dozen voices; a hundred. A thousand, perhaps, all sighing at once, all lamenting a sadness older than time but not forgotten.

Jacob climbed out of bed and went to the window. His body was a gray shadow among all the others in the room. When he pulled the white lace curtain aside, he revealed a scene that was almost alien, as the snow, so white it almost glowed, hid the ordinary beneath weird mounds and featureless plains.

“Don’t!” Erika couldn’t explain it, but she felt something deep in her bones.

Danger waited outside.

As usual, Jacob didn’t listen. He pressed his face to the glass and peered out.

“I don’t see anything,” he whispered.

Against her better judgment, Erika joined him at the window, barely noticing the chill of the floor against her bare feet.

Jacob’s breath left twin ovals of fog on the frigid glass as he pushed closer to look up and down the street.

Shaped like a heart, Erika thought, and that scared her just as much as the distant susserations of grief.

Outside, nothing seemed different than any other night. The houses were dark. Like the hard-working towns around it, Fox Run rose early and went to bed early.

Just when Erika thought her chattering teeth might wake her grandparents, new sounds joined the mourning dirge. A triumphant cry, accompanied by the bellow of a horn and the baying of hounds.

“Something’s happening!” Before Erika could stop him, Jacob dashed from room. For a moment she stood frozen by indecision. Then she heard the slam of the back door and the spell holding her in place broke like an ice dagger snapping from the gutter.

Pausing just long enough to put on boots and grab her coat from the hook by the back door, she hurried outside and spotted Jacob already running down the road.

“Jacob, stop! Come back!” He didn’t, so despite the glacial air that threatened to freeze her blood and stop her heart, Erika ran after him.

It took three blocks to catch up with Jacob, and by the time she did, her face burned and tiny icicles of snot crusted her nose and upper lip.

“I’m gonna kill you when we get back,” she said, grabbing a fistful of his coat.

“Quiet!” He put a finger to his lips. “It’s almost here.”

Since the sounds were no louder, Erika wanted to ask him how he knew, but then she understood. He felt it, and she could, too.

A heartbeat later, the source of the supernatural noise appeared. Swirling towers of mist, so many she couldn’t count them, appeared out of nowhere and sailed down the road as fast as racing cars. As they swept past, she glimpsed faces, twisted and horrible. The moaning of the apparitions vibrated her teeth like a dentist’s drill. Next to her, Jacob pressed his hands over his ears.

The line of spirits – for she knew that’s what they were – seemed to go on forever, but it was only seconds before they were past, and the reason for their wailing became apparent.

Behind them came more ghosts, mounted on ephemeral horses and surrounded by massive hounds with glowing red eyes. Leading the pack was a giant of a man wearing the antlered skull of a colossal deer as a helmet. It was his exultant war cries that had the other spirits fleeing, as he led his phantom troop in pursuit.

Ten heartbeats later, the streets lay empty again.

“Did you see that?” Jacob asked. “What were they?”

“I don’t know.” Erika pulled at him. “Let’s go home before we freeze to death.”

“’Tis not the cold you should be worrying about.”

Erika screamed and Jacob gasped at the unknown voice behind them. Turning, they found themselves face to face with a goat wearing a green jacket. On its back perched a tiny man with a long, pointed beard. Like the goat, the man’s yellow eyes had horizontal pupils, and he wore green clothes as well.

“Jule-nissen.” Jacob’s eyes were wide. “You’re real!”

The elf shook his head. “Yes, but you’ll be nothing but a memory if the Cat gets you.”

“The cat? What cat?”

“The Yule Cat, sonny-boy. He’s been stalking you since you left your house.”

“I didn’t see any–”

“There!” The elf pointed down the street.

Between two houses, a shadow, darker than the sky and impossibly huge, slid across the snow. Before Erika could think of anything to say, a giant tabby cat, taller than a lion and twice as broad, stalked into view, yellowish-green eyes glowing and a hungry smile on its face.

Jacob moaned, and the Cat, even from a hundred yards away, heard. Its ears twitched and it crouched down in the middle of the street, tail whipping back and forth behind it.

“Run,” Erika said.

Jacob stood still, frozen in fear.

“Run!” This time she shouted it. At the same time, the cat sprang forward.

“This way,” the elf called to them, as the goat carried him down a side street.

Jacob and Erika followed. Each step took them further from their grandparents’ house, but they didn’t care. All that mattered was eluding the impossible feline sprinting down the road after them.

The goat led them around a corner and Erika felt a rush of relief as the Cat skidded on the slippery road and missed the turn. Then her relief turned to horror as the Cat sprang out from behind a house and swung a massive paw that sent the goat and its elvin rider tumbling across the icy blacktop. It swung again and Jacob cried out as a white cloud exploded from his chest. Erika screamed, sure the cat had disemboweled her brother and she was watching the air from his lungs freeze as it escaped. Then she saw it was just the front of his down jacket torn open and gushing feathers into the night.

“Get up!” Erika grabbed Jacob and pulled as he kicked his legs in a frantic attempt to get his feet under himself.

The Yule cat took a half-swing at them and hot liquid ran down her legs. She remembered how Mittens, the cat they’d had when she was younger, used to play with field mice and birds the same way, toying with them until it was ready to bite their heads off.

Now she knew how they felt.

“Ho, Yule Cat! Train your eyes this way!”

Erika jumped at the Jule-nissen’s shout. In her worry for Jacob, she’d forgotten about the elf and his goat. She watched in amazement as the diminutive man waved his arms while the goat jumped and danced on its hind legs.

“What are you doing?”

“Saving your lazy hides,” the elf said. “This is your chance. Return to your house. We’ll be fine.”

Erika didn’t argue. Hand in hand, she and Jacob ran as fast as they could, the December air burning their lungs, hearts pounding in time with their feet. They ran without looking back, deathly afraid the Cat might be only a whisker’s length away.

Suddenly Jacob cut sharply to the right. Erika started to shout at him and then realized they’d reached their grandparents’ house. They pounded up the front steps and flung open the door so hard it hit the wall and sent knick-knacks clattering to the floor.

“Who’s there? What’s going on?” Josef Anders appeared at the top of the stairs, his wife close behind him.

“Grandma! Grandpa! It’s after us! The Yule Cat!”

Erika slammed the door shut and twisted the lock. Grandma Anders said something, but Erika couldn’t hear over the sounds of her and Jacob gasping for air.

“Into the living room! Hurry!” Grandpa Anders hurried down the stairs and tugged at their sleeves.

“But we’re safe now. The goat–” The rest of Jacob’s words disappeared in a crash of breaking glass as a pumpkin-sized paw came through the window next to the door.

“There’s no hiding from the Cat,” Grandma Anders shouted. “Only one thing can save you. Come!”

Erika and Jacob followed their grandparents into the living room, where the sweet scent of pine still decorated the air from the Yule log smoldering in the fireplace. Behind them, the Cat let out a fierce yowl at being denied its prey yet again.

Grandma Anders grabbed two small boxes from beneath the Christmas tree. “Here, open these. Quickly now.”

“What?” Erika took the box but could only stare at it. With everything that had happened, the merry green and red wrapping paper seemed unreal.

“Do as your Mormor says.” Grandpa Anders threw an angry scowl at them as he pulled the drapes shut. With his head turned away, he never saw the movement outside the window, never knew the Yule Cat was there until it burst through the glass and knocked him sideways into a bookcase. Shaking shards from its fur, the Cat let out a roar.

“Grandpa!” Jacob cried.

Erika turned to run but her grandmother stopped her by slapping her across the face. “Open the fordømt box!”

Hoping box contained some kind of magic weapon, Erika tore at the paper and cardboard. When she saw what was inside, her hands went limp and the box fell to the floor.

“A shirt?” She sank to her knees, knowing there was no hope left. Hot, fetid breath blew past her face, carrying the stench of rotten meat. Tears ran down Erika’s face as she closed her eyes and waited for the end.

The carrion stink grew stronger and a whimper escaped her throat as something cold and wet bumped ever so lightly against her neck. Then it was gone.

“That’s right, one for the girl and one for the boy, too. Now be gone.”

Erika heard her grandmother’s voice but the words didn’t make sense. She opened her eyes and risked turning her head, just in time to see the Yule Cat climb out through the shattered picture window. Grandpa Anders was leaning against the bookcase, a cut on his forehead dripping blood. Jacob stood near him, his half-opened box in his hands.

Eyes still on the departing feline, Erika asked, “What happened?”

“I can answer that, young miss.”

Erika turned and saw the Jule-nissen atop his goat, right next to Grandma Anders, who didn’t seem at all surprised by their presence.

“’Twas the gifts. A shirt for each of you.”

“On Yule Eve, the Jule-nissen leaves a gift of clothing for all the children,” Jacob said in a soft voice, “except for the lazy ones.”

“And for them?” the elf asked.

“The Yule Cat eats them.”

“So, you did listen to my stories.” Grandpa Anders put a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“You really brought us gifts?” Jacob asked.

The goat snorted and the Jule-nissen shook his head. “Not me. You haven’t done anything to deserve them, in my eyes. But lucky for you, someone thought different, and to the Cat, a gift’s a gift.” The elf snapped his fingers and he and his goat disappeared in a burst of golden sparkles.

“Then who…?” Jacob looked confused, but Erika knew exactly where the gifts had come from.

“You knew the tales were true,” she said to her grandmother. “You did it to protect us.”

Grandma Anders gave them the briefest of smiles. “We follow tradition, even if you do not. All families make sure to keep gifts handy in case the Yule Cat appears.”

“You have to be careful on Yule,” Grandpa Anders said.

Jacob nodded. “’Cause of the Yule Cat.”

“Yes, but not just the Cat. ‘Tis also the night of the Hunt, when the spirits of the Oak King arise to drive away the spirits of the Holly King, and put an end to nights growing longer. Get in their way and you’ll become like them, doomed to Hunt forever.”

“The Hunt,” Erika whispered. She shivered, remembering the wailings of the Holly King’s spirits as the Oak King banished them until June.

Grandma Anders noticed her reaction. “Go put on dry clothes. I’ll make hot cocoa.”

After the children left the room, Grandma Anders went into the kitchen, where her husband was already filling a pot with milk.

“Well?” he asked.

“I think from now on they’ll listen when you tell your stories.”

So distant they wouldn’t have heard it if not for the broken window, a child’s voice screamed in pain.

Josef Anders nodded. “Ja. Let us hope so. For their sakes.”

A life-long resident of New York’s haunted Hudson Valley, JG Faherty has been a finalist for both the Bram Stoker Award (The Cure, Ghosts in Coronado Bay) and ITW Thriller Award (The Burning Time), and he is the author of 7 novels, 10 novellas, and more than 75 short stories. His next novel, Hellrider, comes out from Flame Tree Press in August of 2019. He grew up enthralled with the horror movies and books of the 60s, 75, 70s, and 80s. Which explains a lot.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Frazer Lee

Meghan: Hi, Frazer. It is an HONOR having you here today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Frazer Lee: Hello! Thanks for hosting me, and I must say that I love Meghan’s House of Books ☺ Forgive me while I switch to third person for the ‘official author bio’…

Frazer Lee is a novelist, screenwriter, and filmmaker. His debut novel The Lamplighters was a Bram Stoker Award® Finalist for Best First Novel. Winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Gothic Filmmaker of the Year Award for The Stay, his film credits also include the acclaimed feature film Panic Button. Frazer resides with his family in Buckinghamshire, just across the cemetery from the real-life Hammer House of Horror.

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

Frazer Lee:

  • I have a mysterious scar on my right hand.
  • An obsessive fan of The Cure, I have seen the band play like 38 times so far. (I know that isn’t very many, so I’m working on it.)
  • I was vegetarian for twenty-five years, but recently became pescatarian after recurring fever dreams involving flapping fish in an ocean storm.
  • My middle name is Alaric.
  • I am unable to converse until I am on my 2nd coffee. (I’m drinking my 2nd right now, luckily.)

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Frazer Lee: The Gauntlet by Ronald Welch, which transported me to a medieval world. Oh my goodness, what a book. I cried when I finished it because I didn’t want it to be over and I felt so bereft.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Frazer Lee: I am studying for my PhD so I am neck deep in Ernst Cassirer’s Language and Myth. If you don’t hear from me in a day or two, send help.

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

Frazer Lee: Perhaps Miracles of Life by J.G. Ballard because it is rather on the sentimental side and my reputation as a hardened cynic goes before me?

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

Frazer Lee: I started writing stories in junior school because I lived in Staffordshire and needed to escape somewhere. (As Lou Reed and John Cale once sang, when you’re growing up in a small town, and you’re having a nervous breakdown, you just have to get out of there.) Reading, and writing, did exactly that. (Some of) my teachers encouraged me, and for that I am eternally grateful. I remember smiling when my school report said, “I look forward to Frazer’s first novel.” Took a while, but I got there in the end.

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

Frazer Lee: I like to write surrounded by trees, with my cat by my side, but I also like to write on the move, on trains, planes, in cafes, but never in automobiles – that’s too dangerous.

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

Frazer Lee: I like to write to music without lyrics, and I enjoy playing physical CDs and vinyl, so I often go through a kind of stop-start-stop again dance when I’m finding the right groove in which to begin a book. I talk to myself A LOT. And that 2nd coffee thing I mentioned earlier also applies to the writing, more often than not.

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

Frazer Lee: Nagging self-doubt can be a problem. That feeling that it’s not coming out quite how you’d hoped or imagined and what’s the point anyway? Like most things in life, it’s nothing that a stroll in the woods can’t sort out. Grit your teeth, roll the dice, come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.

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

Frazer Lee: I wrote a scenario about a grown man trapped in the skin of a young boy and he does this insanely disgusting thing with a big syringe and someone’s buttock fat… I don’t know if it was satisfying but it sure did make me cackle a lot writing it!

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

Frazer Lee: My favourite novel of all time is still Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. Bloody hell though, it has everything. Familial drama and tragedy, impossible highs and unfathomable lows, beautiful imagery that ties the whole experience together so memorably. And through it all, the terror of loving – and of losing. I think that mash-up of the Gothic and cutting edge science has had a long lasting effect on me. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I love J.G. Ballard’s writing so much as he continues that blend of new ideas/technology with the structure of a classic murder mystery or police procedural, but adds such a uniquely perverse dimension to proceedings that sometimes makes you feel grubby for just reading the book.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Frazer Lee: An idea. A character, her vividly rendered world, and a seemingly insurmountable problem.

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

Frazer Lee: Cheesy as it may sound, there’s that sweet spot when they’re speaking to you as you write them. If I can feel how they feel, hopefully readers can feel that too. I’m attracted to deeply flawed characters. The deeper those flaws, the more interesting I find them. There are no sexual athletes and crack-shots in my stories, more likely a bunch of barely functioning failures. That’s not for everyone, I know. If you want shiny, try your luck at a casino. I’ll wait for you in the basement bar.

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

Frazer Lee: I doubt that I’m the best person to judge that, but maybe the Skin Mechanic? (I’m a dab hand with a flesh-comb too.)

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

Frazer Lee: I’ve been lucky that I’ve rather enjoyed my book covers so far. My editors and publishers always involve me in the process with a questionnaire, where I get to drop heavy hints about things I’d like to see or un-see. They are never quite as you imagined them, though, and that’s all part of the fun I think.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Frazer Lee: I’ve learned that it’s good to have a level of attack, but that’s it’s also good to let the thing breathe a bit and to never kid yourself that you have all the answers.

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

Frazer Lee: That was a scene in The Jack in the Green because it’s based on something horrible that happened in my early childhood. I won’t go into the details because I’m having a pretty good day so far and I don’t really want to go there again… into the dark… not now anyhow, maybe later.

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

Frazer Lee: I think that would be for the readers to decide. Maybe each and every book is unique in its combination of character and plot. You could give the same outline and character bios to two different writers and they would create completely different books. I’ve learned that one reader’s “different good” may be another reader’s “different bad” so there’s nothing to be gained from trying to guess which way it’s going to play. I think just be true to yourself, the character, the story and it’ll come out how it has to.

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)?

Frazer Lee: The title is usually one of the easiest parts of the creative process for me. Occasionally, you might need a second opinion. I had a few different titles for Hearthstone Cottage and sent them over to my amazing editor Don D’Auria, and he resoundingly preferred the one that’s now on the book spine. And he was right, of course. He so often is (but don’t tell him that, whatever you do!)

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

Frazer Lee: A story well told is a story well told. How well, that’s always up for debate of course. It’s just a sense that the story is the best it can be at that given time, subject to deadlines, and any other constraints, before the story wriggles free of your grasp and you have to hand it over to readers. There is a sense of fulfillment to having gone through that process, and there’s no difference really in how that feels whether it’s a short story, or a novel, or a short film or a feature length movie screenplay, in my experience.

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

Frazer Lee: Each of my books does something a little different with the horror ingredients of isolation, confrontation, and transformation. My target audience is, honestly, anyone who will make the time to pick it up and give it a whirl. I’d like readers to take what they will from my tales, but as I write primarily in the horror genre, I do hope they take away some nightmares with them. You’re welcome.

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

Frazer Lee: I write to pretty detailed outlines, so there aren’t really deleted scenes as such. But anything tangential has to go, unless it works. The deleted bits are often the most uninteresting and expository asides about the minutiae of a character’s life, or their belief system (or lack of one). Hopefully what remains serves the character and their story and keeps the forward momentum going. Sometimes moments that are too gratuitously visceral or violent get edited out in favour of what you don’t get to see, because that’s often far more disturbing and scary.

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

Frazer Lee: I am working on a new horror novel for Flame Tree Press called Greyfriars Reformatory. It’s a haunted institution story with a post-modern twist. I have a script doctor commission on a movie screenplay that I’m contractually not allowed to talk about. And I’m developing another film project or two for my sins, which are legion.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Frazer Lee: Please drop by and say hello at:

Official Website ** Twitter ** Facebook ** Goodreads ** Amazon ** IMDB

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?

Frazer Lee: Hee, I find the concept that I would have ‘fans’ ludicrous…

I would just like to thank you again for hosting me on the blog today, and to say to anyone who has ever read my stories or watched my films, thank you for taking the time and I hope to see you again soon in your nightmares!

Frazer Lee’s debut novel, The Lamplighters, was a Bram Stoker Award® Finalist for ‘Superior Achievement in a First Novel’. His other works include The Jack in the Green, The Skintaker, and the Daniel Gates Adventures series.

One of Frazer’s early short stories received a Geoffrey Ashe Prize from the Library of Avalon, Glastonbury. His short fiction has since appeared in numerous anthologies including the acclaimed Read By Dawn series.

Also a screenwriter and filmmaker, Frazer’s movie credits include the award-winning short horror films On Edge, Red Lines, Simone, The Stay, and the critically acclaimed horror/thriller feature (and Amazon #1 movie novelization) Panic Button.

Frazer lectures in Creative Writing and Screenwriting at Brunel University London and Birkbeck, University of London. He resides with his family in leafy Buckinghamshire, England just across the cemetery from the actual Hammer House of Horror.

Hearthstone Cottage

Mike Carter and his girlfriend Helen, along with their friends Alex and Kay, travel to a remote loch side cottage for a post-graduation holiday. But their celebrations are short-lived when they hit and kill a stag on the road. Alex’s sister Meggie awaits them in the cottage, adding to the tension when her dog, Oscar, goes missing. Mike becomes haunted by a disturbing presence in the cottage, and is hunted by threatening figures in the highland fog. Reeling from a shock revelation, Mike begins to lose his grip on his sanity. As the dark secrets of the past conspire to destroy the bonds of friendship, Mike must uncover the terrifying truth dwelling within the walls of Hearthstone Cottage.