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.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: John Everson

Meghan: Hey, John! It’s been awhile since we sat down together. What’s been going on since we last spoke?

John Everson: Hmmm…. Well, let’s see… I bought a classic 1980 Galaxy pinball game by Stern for my basement last winter. Over the spring I read maybe the first autobiography I’ve ever read (John Fogerty. He’s amazing). I’ve spent some time in San Diego, Las Vegas and New Orleans travelling for my day job. Oh… and I finished a new book for Flame Tree Press called The Devil’s Equinox, that came out at the end of June!

Meghan: Who are you outside of writing?

John Everson: I am a lot of things, I suppose, but most importantly I hold the titles of husband, father, and “flock-leader” (I have a cockatoo, cockatiel and parakeet). I’m an obsessive music lover, pinball hobbyist, and baseball (Chicago Cubs!) fan. I’m also a hot pepper nut and beer aficionado (some say “beer snob”). I love discovering new breweries and finding great IPAs. I am at the core an incessant creative – aside from writing fiction, I love to garden, cook, write music, create digital art, do occasional woodwork projects… as long as I’m making something, I’m happy.

Meghan: How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?

John Everson: We all make choices. I let them make theirs!

Meghan: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

John Everson: It’s absolutely a gift. The ability to put yourself in the shoes of all sorts of characters helps develop a level of patience, empathy and understanding for the people around you. It’s increasingly easy in today’s obsessively Me-Me-Me Society to swim in a self-reflective shallow pond. Writing tends to force one to see and try to understand other viewpoints, other ponds. Writing also offers an escape from a world that is increasingly problematic to stomach with the endless political bickering and my-cause-is-more-righteous-than-yours posturing. A writer can disappear into his or her own world and characters and shut out the unwanted noise of the real one.

Meghan: How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?

John Everson: I grew up in an ultra-conservative Catholic home and went to parochial school for 13 years. My mother was a flag-waver for anti-abortion and religious causes and forced the family to march along with her. The end result of those years was a divorce, a couple of house and school moves, and an estrangement from my dad for many years. Not surprisingly, thanks to those repressive years, as an adult I am a skeptic, support no overt “causes” and believe that virtually nothing is black and white, but rather shades of grey. I don’t believe in absolutes or heaven and hell. I believe we make our own fate and the best possible world-view is to “live and let die.” At one point in time, I was considered a liberal, but based on the painfully “politically correct” rhetoric I hear from liberals these days, I don’t suppose I’d be called that anymore by many. In any event, certainly the destructive effects of divorce, narrow-minded religious “cultism” and other obsessive mindsets have impacted who I am and how and what I write.

Meghan: What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your books?

John Everson: If you were stretched out on a rack and one of your arms was ripped off at the shoulder from the force, is there a possibility of survival or would you bleed out before it was possible to staunch the flow?

Meghan: Which do you find the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, or the end?

John Everson: Beginnings are hardest for me. The first chapter or two is easy… but then you have to build the characters and set all of the plot issues in motion. You have to introduce people and round them out with things the reader can identify with, while trying to keep some energy moving in the story. To me it’s like a rollercoaster. Ratcheting everything up to that first big peak is hard, slow and often frustrating. But once the cars tip down that peak and begin to careen towards the first big dip and flip – well, that’s the fun part. At times during those rollercoaster plot twists, the book really just writes itself if you’ve set things up right.

Meghan: Do you outline? Do you start with characters or plot? Do you just sit down and start writing? What works best for you?

John Everson: I have to outline – because that’s how I sell my next book to my publisher (here’s what I’d like to write, what do you think? Will you contract it?). It’s not my favorite way to write, because it pushes you into a bit of a paint-by-numbers feeling, and the fun of writing for me is to tell myself a story. But usually my outlines have lots of room for unpredicted plot twists and changes, so it’s all good. And it does help to have a general roadmap to help ensure that you’re moving toward the right destination and not detouring into a dead end. As far as how it happens? Usually I brainstorm a few different story ideas at a time. Later I decide what I want to develop and will sit down and spend a few hours trying to plot out how the story might work. So I generally start with a situation/conflict and spin the story out from there.

Meghan: What do you do when characters don’t follow the outline/plan?

John Everson: Well, that’s a conscious choice that you as the writer make. I typically don’t make that choice, though I also leave my outlines open enough that there are various ways certain situations could go. I know some writers say “well, my characters decided they didn’t want that” and it always makes me laugh. Unless you’re schizophrenic, you control the characters and every action they make. Hopefully you write the characters so that they seem alive to your readers, but… they’re not. They can’t make choices themselves. You may decide you don’t like what you originally outlined and skip it… but the characters aren’t making those decisions – you are!

Meghan: What do you do to motivate yourself to sit down and write?

John Everson: I sell an idea and get a contract – with a hard deadline date on it! When I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of responsibilities and writing was just an enjoyable pastime that I did on weekends to pass the time. Fast forward 30 years and just finding an hour or two at night to do this interview is challenging. So, to make sure that I actually DO still write, I try to get each project contracted, with a deadline. I’m a former journalist, so I’m used to the motivation that real deadlines drive. Without a real deadline, I could let weeks or even months go by and never sit down at the computer to really work.

Meghan: Are you an avid reader?

John Everson: I used to be… it’s why I became a writer. Sadly, the past few years, I’ve only managed to read a handful of books a year. I’m always working on one thing or another, and having the time to just sit in a chair for an hour or two and read just never happens. I’m looking forward to conquering the ginormous TBR pile in my bedroom once I retire (though that’s another decade away!)

Meghan: What kind of books do you absolutely love to read?

John Everson: Fast, fun stories that yank you out of this world and take you on a crazy ride somewhere else. Growing up, I was a sucker for golden age science fiction. As an adult, my tastes skewed more to horror and dark fantasy. Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s novels about a family/community of people who can harness magic kept me enthralled. I’ve read a many Edward Lee horror novels that sucked me in and didn’t let me go until the book was over. It’s incredibly rare for me to have the time or interest to read an entire book in a day, but things like his City Infernal and Succubi or Incubi are literally the blueprint for how to write a book that keeps you entranced page-after-page. He’s one of the few authors whose books I’ve read start-to-finish in a day.

Meghan: How do you feel about movies based on books?

John Everson: There should be more of them! Hollywood keeps recycling the same movies, and yet there are thousands of novels – fresh, unfilmed stories! — published every year. While usually you will feel that a movie version doesn’t do justice to your favorite books, I think they do provide a different look at the story… and there are millions of people who will never read the book version, but would watch the story if it was to unfold on the screen.

Meghan: Have you ever killed a main character?

John Everson: Maybe?

Meghan: Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?

John Everson: No… and that’s why you have to ask yourself during “difficult” scenes if you’re “pulling punches”? Are you being too easy on them because you like them and don’t want the situation you’ve set up to really impact them like it should?

Meghan: What’s the weirdest character concept that you’ve ever come up with?

John Everson: I once wrote a story about a lesbian relationship between an alien described as a cross between “a horse and a centipede” and a human woman who she meets as part of a human “sex circus.”

Meghan: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?

John Everson: Don’t quit your day job. Don’t quit your day job.

Meghan: What do your fans mean to you?

John Everson: Everything! They’re why I write. Without readers… what’s the point of telling a story?

Meghan: If you could steal one character from another author and make them yours, who would it be and why?

John Everson: This is digging back a ways, but one of my favorite characters growing up was Poul Anderson’s Dominic Flandry. He wrote several books about Flandry: Agent of the Terran Empire, a kind of intergalactic 007. One of Flandry’s favorite sayings was, “What is the point of living in a decadent age if you don’t know how to enjoy the decadence?”

Meghan: If you could write a collaboration with another author, who would it be and what would you write about?

John Everson: I actually started an apocalyptic collaboration with W.D. Gagliani and David Benton a few years ago and I’d love to finish it… because I want to know what happens! One of these days we’ll all dig in and make it happen!

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

John Everson: I’m currently working on a book called Voodoo Heart, set for release in October 2020. It’s a book I’ve wanted to write for 15 years because it’s set in the world of the title story from my 2nd fiction collection Vigilantes of Love. When I wrote the original “Vigilantes of Love” pastiche, it was a very slight “flash fiction” scene about a particular voodoo curse in New Orleans. My editor convinced me to expand it to more of a real story for that book… and ever since, I’ve thought that it could really expand into a novel-length story. I outlined it a decade ago and finally started working on actually writing it while I was in New Orleans for business in the spring. I am hoping to finish it by the end of the year.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

John Everson:

Website
BookBub ** Goodreads ** Amazon
Facebook ** Twitter ** Instagram
Newsletter

John Everson is a staunch advocate for the culinary joys of the jalapeno and an unabashed fan of 1970s European horror, giallo and poliziotteschi cinema. He is also the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of eleven novels, including his latest occult thriller, The Devil’s Equinox, and last year’s The House By The Cemetery, which takes place at a real haunted cemetery — Bachelor’s Grove — in the south suburbs of Chicago. His first novel Covenant, was a winner of the Bram Stoker Award and his sixth, NightWhere, was a finalist for the award. Other novels include Redemption, the conclusion to the trilogy begun in Covenant, as well as Sacrifice, Violet Eyes, The Pumpkin Man, The Family Tree, Siren, and The 13th. Over the past 25 years, his short stories have appeared in more than 75 magazines and anthologies. He is the founder of the independent press Dark Arts Books and has written novelettes for The Vampire Diaries and Jonathan Maberry’s V-Wars universe (Books 1 and 3), which will appear as a 10-episode series on NetFlix in 2019. He’s also written stories for The Green Hornet and Kolchak, The Night Stalker anthologies. He has had several short fiction collections, including Needles & Sins, Vigilantes of Love, Cage of Bones & Other Deadly Obsessions, and most recently, Sacrificing Virgins. For more on his obsession with jalapenos and 1970s European horror cinema, as well as information on his fiction, art and music, visit his website.

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? FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing. Launched in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.

The House by the Cemetery

Rumor has it that the abandoned house by the cemetery is haunted by the ghost of a witch. But rumors won’t stop carpenter Mike Kostner from rehabbing the place as a haunted house attraction. Soon he’ll learn that fresh wood and nails can’t keep decades of rumors down. There are noises in the walls, and fresh blood on the floor: secrets that would be better not to discover. And behind the rumors is a real ghost who will do whatever it takes to ensure the house reopens. She needs people to fill her house on Halloween. There’s a dark, horrible ritual to fulfill. Because while the witch may have been dead… she doesn’t intend to stay that way.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Ramsey Campbell

Meghan: Hi, Ramsey! It’s great to have you here today. Thank you for agreeing to take part in my sixth annual Halloween extravaganza. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Ramsey Campbell: I write horror, and have for more than half a century. For me writing is a compulsion, driven by the pressure of untold tales and unwritten prose. Jenny is my first reader, partly because she’s among the few who can read my handwriting. She’s also the best part of me, and we’ve been together for nearly fifty years.

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

Ramsey Campbell: If you ask me my favourite composer I’ll immediately say Beethoven, only to feel that Johann Sebastian Bach is equally essential. My favourite film is probably Letter from an Unknown Woman. Over the years I’ve often listed ten favourites, but while the list changes, it has never included a horror film – they’re crowded out by other titles. (For the record, I’ve loved Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon ever since I saw it most of sixty years ago.) Jenny and I watch a film almost every day, once I’ve finished work about mid-afternoon. I very much enjoy dreams – free surrealist films, they are.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Ramsey Campbell: When I was two years old and apparently horribly precocious, reading a tale of Rupert Bear gave me my first taste of terror in fiction. One of the many presents I found in a bulging pillowcase at the end of my bed at Christmas 1947 was a copy of More Adventures of Rupert. The tale that haunted my nights was “Rupert’s Christmas Tree”, in which Rupert acquires a magical tree that decamps after the festivities and returns to its home in the woods. Perhaps this is meant as a charming fantasy for children, but the details—the small high voice from the tree, the creaking that Rupert hears in the night, the trail of earth he follows from the tub in his house, above all the prancing silhouette that inclines towards him, the star it has in place of a head—are surely the stuff of adult supernatural fiction. I think I got my start in the field right there, and many of my preoccupations must derive from my early childhood.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Ramsey Campbell: A study of The Three Stooges for production information as I work on a monograph about all six or more of them, and I’m revisiting Agatha Christie from my childhood, The Murder at the Vicarage, just now.

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

Ramsey Campbell: That would depend what image they have of me, and how would I know? On the assumption that their view of me is severely limited, perhaps W. E Bowman’s hilarious comic novel The Ascent of Rum Doodle, which parodies mountaineering books.

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

Ramsey Campbell: I never really decided to be a writer – I was at it by the age of five, writing doggerel that appeared in the children’s corner of the local Liverpool Echo (perhaps because my mother, prolific but almost entirely unpublished, encouraged me to make the effort). At eleven years old I was already writing my first completed book, Ghostly Tales. The stories in it were patched together like Frankenstein’s monster from fragments of fiction I’d read. My writing had yet to catch up with my appreciation of the genre. Let me quote a single representative sentence from Ghostly Tales: “The door banged open, and the afore-mentioned skeleton rushed in.” It must have been out of a mixture of desperation and maternal pride that my mother encouraged me to submit the completed book – the only copy, handwritten and illustrated in crayon – to publishers. Sometimes it ended up with a children’s book editor, one of whom told me it made her feel quite spooky sitting at her desk. (Childish the book may have been, but it wouldn’t be for children even now.) By far the most positive response came from Tom Boardman Jr in August 1958. While Boardman was one of the few British houses to publish science fiction in hardcover, they didn’t take ghost stories, but he concluded: “We should like to take this opportunity of encouraging you to continue with your writing because you have definite talent and very good imaginative qualities. It means a lot of hard work to become an author but with the promising start you have made there is every possibility that you will make the grade.”

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

Ramsey Campbell: Always here at my desk on the third floor of our Victorian semi. You’ll find me here well before seven every morning, by which time I’ve prepared the first sentence or sentences of the day and probably scribbled in my notebook other ideas for the day’s session. I can certainly write elsewhere – if we go away while a work is in progress, it goes with me and I work on it – but as I age I do prefer to take less taxing work with me, rereading a first draft prior to the rewrite, or proofreading.

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

Ramsey Campbell: I never sit down to write without having composed at least the first sentence of the session. I always write the first draft of a piece of fiction longhand in a spiral-bound exercise book, using a basic Parker cartridge pen. Rewrites are done onscreen, and I work on non-fiction directly on the screen – perhaps it’s a way of keeping the fiction process separate. New fiction is my morning work, non-fiction (such as this interview) waits until the afternoon.

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

Ramsey Campbell: The early stages of creating a new tale, where the characters have no names and I have no idea what they do in life, and only the vaguest sense of what the tale will contain. Ideas (for me at least) are the easy part, but then comes the task of development. Often enough it feels like groping about in the dark for items I need but can’t even identify. So far, or at any rate mostly, I eventually reach that magical place where things begin to come together.

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

Ramsey Campbell: Perhaps my recent (and only) trilogy, which I think multiplied the energy novels generally generate for me while I’m writing them and gave me an unusual amount of scope to develop various themes.

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

Ramsey Campbell: Cry Horror, the first British paperback collection of Lovecraft’s work, was crucial when I was fourteen and set me on my path. M. R. James demonstrated how to show just enough to suggest far worse (and both of them exemplified careful choice of language and structure). Fritz Leiber’s crucial development of urban supernatural horror Smoke Ghost, where the everyday environment is the source of the uncanny rather than being invaded by it, pointed me towards my subsequent work. I’d just turned seventeen when I read Lolita, which was a great revelation and liberated my style and approach to narrative (as did all the other Nabokov books I immediately devoured). Graham Greene’s precision and impressionistic conciseness was another influence. I’d also cite Buñuel’s Los Olvidados and ResnaisMarienbad, two films that deeply impressed me and prompted emulation.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Ramsey Campbell: If I thought about that I might lose my instinctiveness, which is how I write.

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

Ramsey Campbell: That’s not how I approach it. I simply want to believe in the characters as human beings and present them as honestly as I can. I’ve never required characters I read about to be sympathetic, and so I don’t create them in that way either. If they are, fine, but I think fiction is a good place to met people you would ordinarily cross the street to avoid.

That said, I’m quite fond of a number of my characters, not least the family in Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach – they seem like people to me. I was disconcerted by how many readers protested that one of them (Julian) was unsympathetic. He is, but what of it? At one point we glimpse a reason why he’s how he is, not that this excuses his behaviour. However, I concluded long ago that the writer can’t control the reader’s response, and I haven’t tried for many years.

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

Ramsey Campbell: Several, representing different stages of my life. I’d include the narrator of “The Chimney”, Peter in The Face That Must Die and to some extent Dominic Sheldrake, the narrator of the trilogy, which however is less autobiographical than some readers have assumed.

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

Ramsey Campbell: Generally a cover by itself won’t put me off a book. PS Publishing in particular often ask me for suggestions for images, and Flame Tree routinely do.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Ramsey Campbell: That you can always improve as a writer.

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

Ramsey Campbell: Just about the whole first section of Midnight Sun, where I felt I wasn’t engaging sufficiently with the material – only the scene where Ben Sterling tells his tale of the ice spirits seemed to come alive, inspiring me as much as him. Even so, once I’d finished the section I seriously considered abandoning the novel, such was my apparent lack of inspiration. I reread what I’d written – again, something I virtually never do these days until the first draft is completed – and decided there was just about enough reason to continue. The first part was very considerably rewritten and condensed later. All this said, I recently reread the book for a reissue and found it wasn’t as much of a failure as I recalled.

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

Ramsey Campbell: That’s for readers to decide. I simply hope the books are literate and truthful – authentic, if you prefer – and that some convey at least a hint of uncanny awe while others offer some psychological insight.

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)?

Ramsey Campbell: It should grow naturally out of the material. Sometimes a working title is supplanted by a better one. I’m fond of using titles with multiple meanings – Needing Ghosts, Thieving Fear – but then I like ambiguity of language in the tales as well. Perhaps my favourite of my titles is Think Yourself Lucky, which only reveals its significance some way into the novel.

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

Ramsey Campbell: Generally a novel or even a novella, given their scope and their ability to surprise me in the process of writing.

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

Ramsey Campbell: I write horror, ranging from the psychological to the supernatural (which are often inextricably bound together), from the uncanny to the gruesome (again, not mutually exclusive), from comedy of paranoia to bids to achieve awe. My audience is anyone who likes my stuff, and I hope it enriches their imagination and makes us – me included – look at things we’ve taken for granted.

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

Ramsey Campbell: The first draft and indeed the first rewrite of my 1980s novel The Claw (aka Night of the Claw) was several kinds of a mess. Although the central issue was a young girl in increasing danger from her apparently possessed parents, there were (incredibly) no scenes from her viewpoint. I deleted about a dozen chapters, including a redundant subplot about a cult in search of the titular talisman, and substituted scenes seen through her eyes. Some of the deleted material is included in an afterword to later editions.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Ramsey Campbell: I’ve several uncompleted novels from before the start of my career, and didn’t expect ever to see them into print, but the last one – a pastiche of John Dickson Carr with Lovecraftian interpolations, Murder by Moonlight – I recently resurrected as the foundation of a book for Borderlands Press. I use the adolescent narrative as a lens to look at how I and my parents were when I wrote it, and it will appear as The Enigma of the Flat Policeman.

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

Ramsey Campbell: Flame Tree Press have a new supernatural novel, The Wise Friend, for the spring. PS Publishing have an immense two-volume retrospective collection, Phantasmagorical Stories (note the initials). Electric Dreamhouse will bring out my collected Video Watchdog columns, Ramsey’s Rambles, and that Stooges book. I’ve recently completed the first draft of a novel, Somebody’s Voice.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Ramsey Campbell: Facebook ** Twitter

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?

Ramsey Campbell: I hope you may see me as an element, however minor, in the literary continuity of our field.

Photo Credit: Tony Knox

The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes Ramsey Campbell as “Britain’s most respected living horror writer”. He has been given more awards than any other writer in the field, including the Grand Master Award of the World Horror Convention, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Horror Writers Association, the Living Legend Award of the International Horror Guild and the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2015 he was made an Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University for outstanding services to literature. Among his novels are The Face That Must Die, Incarnate, Midnight Sun, The Count of Eleven, Silent Children, The Darkest Part of the Woods, The Overnight, Secret Story, The Grin of the Dark, Thieving Fear, Creatures of the Pool, The Seven Days of Cain, Ghosts Know, The Kind Folk, Think Yourself Lucky, Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach, and The Wise Friend. He recently brought out his Brichester Mythos trilogy, consisting of The Searching Dead, Born to the Dark, and The Way of the Worm. Needing Ghosts, The Last Revelation of Gla’aki, The Pretence, and The Booking are novellas. His collections include Waking Nightmares, Alone with the Horrors, Ghosts and Grisly Things, Told by the Dead, Just Behind You, Holes for Faces, By the Light of My Skull, and a two-volume retrospective roundup (Phantasmagorical Stories). His non-fiction is collected as Ramsey Campbell, Probably and Ramsey’s Rambles (video reviews). Limericks of the Alarming and Phantasmal is a history of horror fiction in the form of fifty limericks. His novels The Nameless, Pact of the Fathers, and The Influence have been filmed in Spain. He is the President of the Society of Fantastic Films.

Ramsey Campbell lives on Merseyside with his wife Jenny. His pleasures include classical music, good food and wine, and whatever’s in that pipe. His web site can be found here.