EXCERPT: Blood Country by Jonathan Janz

The Raven #2: Blood Country

Genre: Horror, Dark Fantasy
Publisher: Flame Tree Press
Publication Date: 10.18.2022
Pages: 316

Three years ago the world ended when a group of rogue scientists unleashed a virus that awakened long-dormant strands of human DNA. They awakened the bestial side of humankind: werewolves, satyrs, and all manner of bloodthirsty creatures. Within months, nearly every man, woman, or child was transformed into a monster…or slaughtered by one.

A rare survivor without special powers, Dez McClane has been fighting for his life since mankind fell, including a tense barfight that ended in a cataclysmic inferno. Dez would never have survived the battle without Iris, a woman he’s falling for but can never be with because of the monster inside her. Now Dez’s ex-girlfriend and Iris’s young daughter have been taken hostage by an even greater evil, the dominant species in this hellish new world:


The bloodthirsty creatures have transformed a four-story school building into their fortress, and they’re holding Dez’s ex-girlfriend and Iris’s young daughter captive. To save them, Dez and his friends must risk everything. They must infiltrate the vampires’ stronghold and face unspeakable terrors.

Because death awaits them in the fortress. Or something far worse.


The bikes were a godsend. Every time Dez had ridden as an adult, he wondered why he didn’t do it more often. Aside from being more expedient than slogging the eight miles on foot, biking brought with it the subtler pleasures he’d forgotten about, the breeze ghosting over his face, the edifying sensation of the handlebars in his grip, the gratifying blaze in his quadriceps as he worked the pedals. Even though the roads were gravel and somewhat of a grind, he resolved to travel on bike whenever he could, exposure to predators be damned.

Iris evidently disagreed.

She pedaled in grim silence, her eyes constantly strafing the woods and fields. In several places the gravel was shot through with weeds; even the blacktop was cracked by sprouted plants. Without people around to spoil it, nature had reclaimed the earth. Squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, foxes, even the occasional cat or dog darted across the road ahead of them. The birds that hadn’t flown south swooped and congregated on the roadsides, in the trees, on the disused telephone poles lining the roads. Many of these birds – crows, sparrows, finches, and a large onyx-feathered creature that might have been a raven – showed no fear at all as Dez and Iris rattled past on their ten-speeds, perhaps sensing on an instinctive level that the pair meant them no harm. Or maybe it was the bikes themselves that put the birds at ease. Dez had certainly never seen a monster riding one. Motorcycles, cars, and ATVs, sure, but not bicycles. Apparently, monsters considered themselves too cool for regular bikes.

They pedaled on, the countryside eerily silent. Twice they passed abandoned vehicles. The first was a pickup truck. It had once been white, but two years of dust, weather, and copious splats of bird shit had rendered its exterior a seedy farrago of colors. Since there were no dents or signs of trauma to the pickup, Dez’s guess was that its driver had simply run out of gas and had to hoof it.

The second vehicle was an overturned SUV, and this one did bear marks of a struggle. It lay diagonally across the road, its rear end crumpled. The dusty black paint was scarred by what might have been claws, and within the SUV he glimpsed wine-colored stains. Dez caught a flickering mental image of a family being dragged out of the shattered windows, and he was gripped with a bone-deep chill.

Dez and Iris pedaled past the macabre scene without comment.

They arrived at Buck Creek by two that afternoon, but rather than entering town, per Levi’s instructions they took County Road 1050. It was a shitty road, potholed and weedy, and the farther they advanced, the more primitive it became. When they reached the grain elevator, the gravel lane was so crowded by evergreens that Dez felt relatively safe. Iris not so much.

“I don’t like this,” she said, hunkering down beside him, their bikes resting just within the tree line.

“The town or the vampires?” he asked.

“Any of it,” she said. “Feels like we’re being watched. Kind of like when I get dressed with you in the room.”

At his open-mouthed stare, she chuckled softly and gave him a shove. “Come on,” she said. “Keep your bow ready.”

He slid it out of its holder. Toting the crossbow all the way through town would be cumbersome, but being beset by vampires would be worse. If one came charging toward him, he figured he could nail it, and the silent weapon wouldn’t draw others. If a horde of them attacked, they were screwed anyway, and he’d use the Ruger. At the thought of being eviscerated in this small town, he shuddered and moved a smidge closer to Iris. At least he wouldn’t die alone. They hurried past the grain elevator, paused at the edge of the road, then darted across it and took refuge in a stand of woods that bordered a residential area. As they sprinted, hunched over like soldiers attacking a beachhead, all manner of wildlife scattered before them.

Iris crouched beside a towering oak. “You see anything?” she whispered.

“It’s like a nature preserve,” he answered. “Even if there were vampires around, we wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from the animals.”

Iris scanned the houses ahead. “The vampires are the ones with glowing orange eyes and fangs as long as your pinkies.”

“Thanks for that.”

“Let’s move. The sooner we find medicine, the sooner we can get the hell out this mausoleum.”

God, he thought. The town did feel like a mausoleum. They bolted out of the forest. There was a paved residential street followed by houses, most of them two stories, a few of them ranches. To Dez it looked like every small town he’d ever driven through or, when he was younger, horsed around in with his buddies. They crossed the road, hustled through a yard, the knee-high grass swishing against their legs, then ducked close to the first house they encountered, a stately white-siding-and-black-shutter affair where someone smalltown-famous probably once lived, an elementary school principal or the owner of a used car dealership. As they passed, Dez made sure not to look too closely. He learned long ago that details could humanize a house and remind him of both the world that was forever lost and the lives that had been taken. A swing set, a skateboard. Even something as innocuous as a muddy mitten or a candy wrapper had, for the first year after the world unraveled, snowed him under a blizzard of despair. It reminded him of Will, his little boy, who perished in the first massive wave of deaths.

Perished without Dez there to protect him.


He shook his head. Best to avoid dwelling on it. At least, as much as his traitorous mind would allow.

They crept past the first house, then hastened across a short expanse of yard. Moving this way was slower, but it was a hell of a lot more prudent than strutting around in the open the way people did in postapocalyptic movies. What those films missed was that it only took one. One glimpse from a cannibal. One noise detected by a vampire. One sniff from the Children, a race of subterranean creatures ten feet tall that Dez had never encountered but whose ferocity was legendary….

One mistake was enough. No matter how hardscrabble this existence might be, Dez had no desire to die. He glanced at Iris, a knife gripped at her hip. He studied the firm line of her jaw, her comprehensive blue-eyed gaze, and was damned glad to be by her side. They advanced to the next house. According to Levi’s diagram, there were four residential blocks before they reached the diminutive business district.

“Hey,” Iris said, and when Dez looked up he realized he’d been drifting. The look on her face was enough to center him.

“Sorry,” he muttered.

“Traveling with you is like walking my dog, Harry. The slightest thing, a butterfly, a bird, even a dandelion spore, and he’d be mesmerized by it.”

“I bet he was a good-looking dog though.”

“Golden Lab,” she said. “Much handsomer than you.”

Dez hesitated. “Did he…um—”

“Died of old age six months before the bombs flew.” “Good,” he said.

“Pay attention.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She gave him a smirk, then hauled ass across the street.

As they moved deeper and deeper into the tiny hamlet, a restive feeling grew in Dez, and not just because it was so damnably quiet. He’d heard that vampires seldom left their victims out in the open. They didn’t hassle with burial, but they did take the time to drag the bodies into ditches or hide the remains in forests. The reason for this had nothing to do with fastidiousness. According to Levi, who’d spent more time on the borders of Blood Country than any of them, it was because vampires had no desire to advertise their whereabouts. They wanted travelers to venture near their enclaves. Dez supposed when you were an alpha species, your reputation was enough to frighten off most visitors. No need to display a field of desiccated corpses to discourage them.

They progressed through more overgrown yards, the thistles and pokeweed waist-high in several places. The toe of Dez’s boot knocked something aside, and when he glanced down and discovered the object shrouded in a clutch of crabgrass, his chest tightened. It was a splintery wooden Thomas the Tank Engine toy, its blue paint all but flaked away. Dez’s son had loved to play with those trains, the two of them spending hours in the basement fitting the wooden tracks together and concocting stories about late deliveries and petty squabbles. God, what he wouldn’t give to play with Will one more time….

“Dez?” Iris said.

He looked up at her, expecting to find judgment in her gaze, but there was none.

Softly, she said, “Let’s keep moving.”

He snatched up the tank engine and followed her.

With Iris leading the way, they reached the business district. What there was of it. The first snatch of storefronts consisted of a pizza place, aptly named Buck Creek Pizza King; a real estate company; and an establishment that simply called itself The Rock Shop. Whether they specialized in ordinary rocks, rare gems, or were a money-laundering front for the mob, he didn’t know.

“See anything?” Iris asked from the side of her mouth.

“The Rock Shop looks intriguing.”

“Probably a guitar store.”

He hadn’t considered that. Maybe the new world was turning him into a literalist.

“The real estate agent,” she said, “they’ve got a recessed door.

Like, really recessed.”

He peered across the street and realized it was as she’d said. With the sun gliding west and not particularly brilliant to begin with, there was plenty of gloom there to conceal them. He started forward, but she threw out an arm to bar his way. She nodded ahead, and following her gaze, he detected nothing but a barren street. They remained that way, hunkered down in the bushes of a sea-blue saltbox house that looked like it’d been falling into disrepair well before the Four Winds. Dez shook his head at the ill-fitting name someone had given to the apocalyptic event. He supposed the virus contained in the bombs had been spread by the wind, but still. Four Winds was too poetic, too gentle for the madness and carnage the scientists had unleashed.

Iris relaxed a little. “Thought I saw a shadow up there in the window. Maybe just my imagination.” “Ready?” he asked.

They sprinted across the road and soon they were pressed against the windowless real estate office door.

“You’re sort of fast,” she said.

“You didn’t know that yet? After seeing me in action at the

Four Winds?”

“You look faster with clothes on.”

“Ah.” He’d forgotten that, with the exception of his tighty-whities, he’d been naked during their cataclysmic battle with Bill Keaton and his followers at the Four Winds Bar. The one that concluded with the place a smoldering ruin and God knew how many people dead.

“Where to next, Captain?” he asked.

“Captain,” she repeated thoughtfully. “I like that. One block over, the recessed door at a diagonal.” “China Moon?” he read.

“Doubt the buffet is open.”

He lowered his voice dramatically. “Unless it’s a human buffet.”

She looked at him. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Sleep deprivation?”

“You tossed and turned all night.”

Because you talk in your sleep, he thought but didn’t say. And because I can’t stop thinking about kissing you.

“Sure you wanna cross the road?” he asked. “We could just—” “The restaurant—” she pointed, “—is across from the pharmacy. From there we can see the storefront and make sure there’s nothing leering out at us.”

“Nice verb.”

“Traveling with an English teacher, I figure I better exercise vivid word choice.”

Former English teacher,” he said. “Nowadays, I feel lucky to string together a pair of coherent sentences.”

She nodded. “I wasn’t going to say anything, but….”

“Smart-ass,” he said, and they set off, Dez acutely aware of how vulnerable they were, how easy it would be not only to see them, but to surround them.

If the vampires came out before dark. Unfortunately, he’d seen it happen.

Could you maybe not think of that now? he wondered. Picturing a gory vivisection wasn’t going to scoot them across the road any faster, and it sure as hell wasn’t going to help Michael.

Oh yeah, he thought. Michael.

Finally, they ducked under the green canopy of China Moon and took a knee as close to the glass front door as they could.

BILL’S DRUG STORE, the yellow sign across the street said, though the B had been shattered, so that the pharmacy now read ILL’S.

She gave him a look. “Go ahead.”

“Too easy,” he said. “My jokes are more sophisticated and work on multiple levels.”

She smiled wanly and returned her gaze to the store’s façade.

The windows were intact, which could either mean the place hadn’t been pillaged or it had been converted into a stronghold. But with so many windows….

“Levi claims the front door’s unlocked?” he asked.

She nodded. “He went in there once, near the beginning.”

Dez nodded, the story coming back to him. Levi’s sister had been an asthmatic, so when her inhaler ran out, Levi had been dispatched to find a replacement. Buck Creek was the fourth small town to which he’d ventured, and it was here he’d found a cache of inhalers. Feeling guilty, he’d only taken half of them, but when he returned home it hadn’t mattered because his family had been murdered by cannibals. Dez hadn’t had the heart to ask if they’d also been eaten, and he supposed it didn’t matter. The point was, Bill’s Drug Store had been a viable source of medicine. But that was more than twenty months ago. To believe it hadn’t been raided since was naive.

“Three-story building,” Iris said, “so there might be apartments above it.” What remained unacknowledged was what might dwell in those apartments. Dez was grateful for the omission. “Guess we better go,” she said. “I don’t think we’re being— Holy shit.” She spun and stumbled backward, and when Dez whirled toward the glass door of China Moon, his crossbow was already out. He was a hair’s breadth from firing a bolt through the glass when he realized what he was looking at.

A cardboard cutout of Han Solo, his blaster drawn, his intense gaze fixed directly on Dez and Iris.

“Fuckers,” she said, hand on chest.

“We don’t know it was the vampires,” he said, lowering the crossbow. “Could’ve been anyone.”

“I mean whoever did it,” she snapped. “And why are you defending the vampires?” “Sorry.”

Fuck,” she said.

“Let’s head over there,” he said. Iris nodded, heaved a breath, and then they were rushing toward the pharmacy entrance, no sign of life around them, nothing except the increasingly brooding November afternoon. They reached the door and Dez muttered, “I’ll cover you,” and as Iris grasped the handle, Dez trained the crossbow over her shoulder.

She yanked the door open and slipped inside. Dez strafed the dimness with the crosshairs of the bow. As the door wheezed shut behind them, Dez became aware of a cloying medley of smells. There was the astringent tang of medicine he associated with pharmacies, but it was buried under less-pleasant odors. Rancid meat. Yeasty armpits. Animal spoor – were there rats in here? – and something worse. Something he associated with a hog farm at which he and a buddy had worked one summer. His buddy’s dad, who owned the farm, wouldn’t allow them near the slaughterhouse. But there was an old well in back. One into which something once fell…the stench growing more noxious each day…until they finally peered down into it with a flashlight to see what was causing the repulsive odor and stared straight into the maggot-infested eyes of an enormous bloated possum.

He fancied he could smell that possum now as he whispered, “Can you see?”

Iris didn’t answer. When she advanced past the registers toward an aisle of greeting cards, he added, “Darker than a woodchuck’s asshole in here.”

She brought a forefinger to her lips, so he shut up, but if he couldn’t see anything he certainly couldn’t shoot anything. Iris, evidently, was in favor of conserving their flashlights. For what he had no idea.

They progressed down the row, magazines on their left, greeting cards on their right. The scavenger in him wondered why Iris would’ve chosen the least utilitarian aisle through which to venture, but as they continued he realized that the days of lucking upon soup cans or boxes of ramen noodles were long past, that the only tactical move was to make their way around the store’s perimeter, keeping any potential threat on one side of them.

Good thing Iris had taken the lead.

They continued on, and as they did, Dez noticed a bizarre thing. The end of the world had been even messier than movies had depicted. Just about every store he’d encountered in the past two years had looked like bombs had been detonated in them. Shredded paper everywhere, blood splattered on the walls, in many cases body parts strewn about. But not here. Here the magazines lay neatly in their displays and even the greeting card envelopes, which in the old world had been frequently untidy, were symmetrically aligned with their cards. Iris glanced back at him, in her face the same disquiet worming its way through his guts. They moved toward the end of the aisle, the store growing duskier.

As they crept to the edge of a display, this one for gift bags and garish pinatas, Dez realized something else was bothering him too. In the mélange of smells burrowing up his nostrils, one was missing: dust. You entered any building these days, including the farmhouse in which they were currently hiding out, and the thick, chalky odor of dust was ubiquitous. To not smell it meant—

He heard a click, tensed, then realized Iris had switched on her flashlight. She shone it toward the wall they were approaching, where a paltry array of wine and spirits resided. They rounded the corner, and Iris aimed her beam down the long rear walkway of the store. A liquor display to his left. The section had been humble to begin with, but now there were only four bottles remaining: a pair of off-brand vodkas, a bottle of dirt-cheap wine, and a fifth of Wild Turkey. After a moment’s debate, Dez snagged the neck of the whiskey bottle and stowed it in his pack. Iris stared at him, and he offered her a crooked grin. Shaking her head, she started down the back walkway.

According to Levi, the pharmacy was inset in the rear of the store, and as they inched forward, Dez saw a yawning black opening appear. To their right were the main aisles, hair products dominating one, analgesics and sleep-aids in another; it pained him to discover the sleep-aids had been totally plundered. They passed a potato chip and soda aisle, another with mouthwashes and toothpastes. An end cap advertised FAMILY PLANNING, and Dez was unsurprised to find every box of condoms missing. The new world was a godawful place for a pregnant woman and even worse for a newborn. Pushing away the thought, he huddled closer to Iris, his finger off the trigger of the crossbow but ever ready to twitch in that direction. If a vampire struck, it would be instantaneous.

A few feet ahead, the back wall disappeared and the pharmacy began. Edging around the last few display items, he realized that there were no windows back here, no light at all save what filtered in from the front of the store. Iris crept around the corner, Dez close on her heels. She shone the light on the far wall, where they found three help windows, a waiting area, a machine that took your blood pressure, and to the far left, a single door.

“Stay ready,” she whispered.

Dez didn’t like the fact that this was an old-fashioned layout rather than the newer open-concept pharmacies. This one adhered to the style he’d encountered in his childhood, the undersized windows reminding him of the gatekeeper in The Wizard of Oz. As they approached, he feared a face would appear, only instead of a bushymustached guard informing them the Great and Powerful Oz was too busy to be bothered today, they’d encounter the alabaster leer of a vampire, its lambent eyes aglow and its fangs dripping slaver.

Fuck. Why did his imagination insist on betraying him?

Iris was almost to the door. Levi said it had been unlocked the last time he’d come, and when Iris twisted the knob and pulled, the door creaked open. She hunched her shoulders at the noise, and strangely enough, her fear reassured him. If someone as unflappable as Iris was terrified, there was no shame in him being scared shitless either. She glanced at him, then drew the door open farther – creeeaaak – and pushed through. She swept the light about the room. Dez expected a wicked face to whirl and snarl at them. But the space appeared empty.

The inner pharmacy looked as orderly as the rest of the store.

Not right, Dez thought. Something’s not right.

Whether Iris suspected that too, he didn’t know. She was already hurrying forward, her flashlight the only illumination in the stygian gloom. Dez remained right behind her, both to keep her safe and, if he was being honest, to provide himself a measure of comfort. Iris was one of the bravest people he’d ever met, and he’d found that braveness, like nervousness, could be transmitted.

“Alphabetical order?” she whispered, and it took him a moment to realize she was alluding to the drugs populating the abundant shelves in the twenty-by-thirty space. She stopped, Dez almost crashing into her, and fished a paper out of her jeans pocket. “Clindamycin,” she murmured, then moved to the left and began scanning pill bottles and boxes. “Caelyx…Capoten…Cialis…Clonazepam…dammit, it’s not here.”

“What’s the next one?” he asked. He knew it was his imagination, but the temperature seemed to have dropped. Slightly stuffy when they entered, it now felt as cool as it was outside, no more than fortyfive degrees.

“Amoxicillin,” she read.

“I’ve heard of that.”

“It’s one of the most common antibiotics,” she murmured.

“Cassidy is allergic to it.”

She crossed to the wall rack, where she honed in on the A-drugs. She riffled through the boxes, whispering their names, and at first the sound of her voice masked it, that other sound, the one he dismissed as imagination. Then Iris broke off, her posture expectant, and he heard it again. A furtive slither.

It came from above them.

Oh God.

He looked at her, and she looked at him, and he knew she was remembering what she’d said about apartments above the pharmacy.

Apartments and their inhabitants.

“Find the amoxi-whatever,” he breathed.

She painted the bottles with light and as she grasped each one, he could see how her hand trembled, how the flashlight jittered in her grip. He’d offer to hold it but knew he’d be even jumpier than she was. Besides, she knew what she was looking for, she—

The sound above them recurred, louder this time. Like more than one individual was stirring.

“Aciphex,” she whispered. “Adderall. Aldactone….” He fumbled off his pack, unzipped it.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

“Find the medicine,” he hissed. He reached inside, located his flashlight, clicked it on.

The floor above them creaked.

“Ambien,” she said, her voice a bit louder. “Amitriptyline….”

He swung the beam around the room. There had to be another exit, an opening to the alley….


He swung the light right and left, but everywhere there were more shelves, more boxes and pill bottles. Dammit! They’d have to exit the same way they came in, which meant they had to beat whatever was upstairs to the front door. Dez shifted his flashlight beam, which jigged wildly now, to the opposite wall. Where are the stairs? he thought. Do the apartments somehow connect to the pharmacy, or do they lead to an exterior door?

“Amoxicillin!” Iris gasped. “It’s here!”

He rushed over to her, his backpack thankfully still unzipped. “Drag it all in,” he said. “Hurry.”

Iris bulldozed three good-sized boxes off the shelf, the pills rattling mutedly as the boxes tumbled into Dez’s pack. From directly above them, the floor screaked long and loud. Dez froze, his genitals shrinking, his breath held, and stared at Iris, whose eyes were as wide as he’d ever seen them. Then the thump of footsteps pounded the ceiling, and he growled, “Go! Go!”

They surged forward, threw open the door, which cracked the outer wall, then halted in the doorway. Rushing footsteps sounded on the store’s tiled floor. Deep, chortling laughter.

Oh Jesus, Dez thought. The vampires are in here.

Boo-graphy: Jonathan Janz is the author of more than a dozen novels. He is represented for Film & TV by Ryan Lewis (executive producer of Bird Box). His work has been championed by authors like Josh Malerman, Caroline Kepnes, Stephen Graham Jones, Joe R. Lansdale, and Brian Keene. His ghost story The Siren &the Specter was selected as a Goodreads Choice nominee for Best Horror. Additionally, his novels Children of the Dark and The Dark Game were chosen by Booklist and Library Journal as Top Ten Horror Books of the Year. He also teaches high school Film Literature, Creative Writing, and English. Jonathan’s main interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children. You can sign up for his newsletter, and you can follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Amazon, and Goodreads.


Meghan: Hey Ramsey!! Welcome back to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. It’s always a pleasure to have you here, and I thank you for taking time on this busy book-release day to join us here.

Yes, you read that right, everybody. Fellstones is out today.
You can pick it up by following the link below:
Flame Tree Publishing

Sorry about that. What were we talking about? Oh yeah… 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: Do you get scared easily?

Ramsey: No longer, but as a child I was—by films, by books, by my domestic life. I must have been three, maybe a little older, when I saw my first film, Disney’s Snow White. Elements in it terrified me—the unstable face in the magic mirror that doesn’t reflect the person in front of it, and even the sight of darkness beyond a window in the dwarfs’ cottage while they perform their song and dance, because I was sure something would appear out of the dark. M.R. James gave me many uneasy nights jut a few years later. As for my everyday experience, my parents were estranged when I was three but continued to live in the same house, which meant I hardly ever saw my father face to face—he became the footsteps on the stairs at night, the presence beyond a door that I dreaded might open. All this was exacerbated by my mother’s schizophrenic fantasies: for example, that he would poison us or creep into the bedroom to commit some terrible act. The neighbours were conspiring against her and writing a nightly radio soap opera that contained references to her and secret messages addressed to her, and so on. I had an interesting childhood, which has subsequently produced much literary material.

Meghan: What is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen and why?

Ramsey: Apart from Not I, that terrifying Beckettian tour de force performed by Billie Whitelaw (and enacted less intensely by Julianne Moore), all my candidates are the work of David Lynch. Some scenes in Fire Walk With Me affected me so profoundly I was close to leaving the first time I saw it, but I’ll go with Lost Highway, the first extended section of which in particular frightens me afresh on every viewing. I’ve concluded Lynch uses every element of film—lighting, camera placement and movement, staging, especially sound—as skillfully (if possibly instinctively) as Hitchcock, to convey the uncanny at its most indefinable and disturbing.

Meghan: Which horror movie murder did you find the most disturbing?

Ramsey: The protracted finale of Megan is Missing, a film I analyse and defend at length in Ramsey’s Rambles. The scene is appallingly convincing, not least in its banality.

Meghan: Is there a horror movie you refused to watch because the commercials scared you too much?

Ramsey: The trailer, do you mean? No, never. As for the other kind of commercials, I’d do my best to avoid any film interrupted by them and see it uninterrupted elsewhere.

Meghan: If you got trapped in one scary movie, which would you choose?

Ramsey: Night of the Demon, my all-time favourite, since you can avoid falling victim to the demon if you know how.

Meghan: If you were stuck as the protagonist in any horror movie, which would you choose?

Ramsey: The same, for the same reason.

Meghan: What is your all-time favorite scary monster or creature of the night?

Ramsey: The original King Kong, the greatest of all monsters in the greatest monster film.

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: What is your favorite horror or Halloween-themed song?

Ramsey: Horror uncanny enough for Halloween—Schubert’s Opus 1.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Ramsey: Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable—one of the books I celebrated in an essay in The Book of Lists: Horror. It may be a protracted cry from the afterlife, or a narration by a limbless body displayed in a jar on a street, or by something even more featureless. I read it in a sitting one afternoon and have been haunted by it ever since. If it isn’t horror, I don’t know what is.

Meghan: What is the creepiest thing that’s ever happened while you were alone?

Ramsey: The room next to my workroom (where I’m writing this) has seen various uncanny manifestations over the decades we’ve lived in this house, and here’s the most extreme. Jenny and I had discussed befriending the room by spending the night up there together. During one of my attempts to let her sleep without my snoring I wakened at about two in the morning to discover that she’d decided to try the experiment. It was only when I opened my eyes and reached for her that I realised the silhouette next to me, its head on the other pillow, wasn’t Jenny. I tried for a very long time to move and cry out. Apparently I achieved the latter. In our bedroom on the floor below Jenny heard me make some kind of protest, but I’ve often exhorted her not to wake me if I’m having a nightmare, because I believe these dreams contain their own release mechanism, and I resent being taken out of them before the end. Jenny headed for the toilet on the middle floor, and when she returned I was still making the noise. Perhaps I was dreaming, in which case it had to be the longest nightmare, measured in objective time, that I’ve ever experienced. It consisted purely of lying in the bed I was actually in and trying to retreat from my companion. I admit to never having been so intensely terrified in my life. After minutes I found myself alone in the bed. I made myself turn over and close my eyes, but had a strong impression that a face was hovering very close to mine and waiting for me to look. Meanwhile, downstairs, Jenny felt an intruder sit beside her on our bed.

Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?

Ramsey: I believe the Marie Celeste.

Meghan: What is the spookiest ghost story that you have ever heard?

Ramsey: I heard Graham Watkins tell this tale onstage at an American convention. He investigated haunted places, and had arranged to spend a night at a deserted mansion notorious for manifestations. He chose an upstairs room as his base of operations, and for several hours he heard ordinary domestic noises from downstairs—people talking, kitchen sounds and the like. After some hours he lost patience with them, as I recall, and declared as much aloud. At once there was silence, and he realised he’d alerted whatever was there to his presence. And then all the noises recommenced—directly outside the room he was in…

Meghan: In a zombie apocalypse, what is your weapon of choice?

Ramsey: My brain.

Meghan: Okay, let’s have some fun… Would you rather get bitten by a vampire or a werewolf?

Ramsey: A vampire, since it might give me a chance to experience immortality until I tired of it. A trip to Vasilema should do the job.

Meghan: Would you rather fight a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion?

Ramsey: Aliens—the less boring option, I’d hope.

Meghan: Would you rather drink zombie juice or eat dead bodies from the graveyard?

Ramsey: Neither. I find disgust nothing except tedious.

Meghan: Would you rather stay at the Poltergeist house or the Amityville house for a week?

Ramsey: Amityville if I wanted a quiet time, since the entire thing was a cynical hoax (which I said in a review as soon as I’d read the original book).

Meghan: Would you rather chew on a bitter melon with chilies or maggot-infested cheese?

Ramsey: I’ll take the melon.

Meghan: Would you rather drink from a witch’s cauldron or lick cotton candy made of spider webs?

Ramsey: If the cauldron conferred magical powers I’d take the risk.

Boo-graphy: Ramsey Campbell was born in Liverpool in 1946 and now lives in Wallasey. The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes him as “Britain’s most respected living horror writer”, and the Washington Post sums up his work as “one of the monumental accomplishments of modern popular fiction”. He has received 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. PS Publishing have brought out two volumes of Phantasmagorical Stories, a sixty-year retrospective of his short fiction, and a companion collection, The Village Killings and Other Novellas, while their Electric Dreamhouse imprint has his collected film reviews, Ramsey’s Rambles. His latest novel is Fellstones from Flame Tree Press, who have also recently published his Brichester Mythos trilogy.

Fellstones takes its name from seven objects on the village green. It’s where Paul Dunstan was adopted by the Staveleys after his parents died in an accident for which he blames himself. The way the Staveleys tried to control him made him move away and change his name. Why were they obsessed with a strange song he seemed to have made up as a child?

Now their daughter Adele has found him. By the time he discovers the cosmic truth about the stones, he may be trapped. There are other dark secrets he’ll discover, and memories to confront. The Fellstones dream, but they’re about to waken.

GUEST POST: Catherine Cavendish

The Feast of Nicnevin

It’s Halloween again – or for those of us who prefer the old ways – Samhain.

We all know that this great and ancient pagan festival celebrates the crone. In other words, the old and wise woman more commonly known as a witch. She is associated with bringing us into life and helping us cross over into the world of the dead and she has many names. You may have heard of Hecate (or Hekate) – the three-headed goddess of Greek mythology (although her origins are probably far earlier). She is the goddess of witchcraft, the night, magic, necromancy, the moon and ghosts and is often depicted with a pair of flaming torches, or with dogs, keys, a snake. She knows about herbs, poisons, and all manner of magical arts, making her greatly revered among witches. She is also well documented. Consult your favorite search engine and you will find plenty of information on Hecate.

I would venture to suggest though that probably only those who are serious students of witchcraft or of folklore – Scottish folklore in particular – will ever have stumbled across the somewhat elusive and shadowy Nicnevin who, whatever her origins, has become a much-revered goddess among witches. She is a true crone who rides the night sky, clad in gray, preferring stormy nights and who commands a following of nymphs and ghosts who accompany her on her travels. She can predict the future, achieve mastery of both sea and land and her special festival is Samhain.

On that night when the veil between the living and dead is at its thinnest, Nicnevin reigns supreme. For many she is firmly linked to the better-known Scottish Queen of Winter – Cailleach. Certainly they are both tied to the festival of Samhain and are part of the trilogy of the year, and of life – represented by the Maiden (Bride or Bridget) who ushers in the spring growing season at Imbolc where the Mother takes over and nurtures life until we are back to the end of the old year and beginning of a new one – the tasks assigned to the Crone (Nicnevin or Cailleach).

In common with Hecate and Cailleach, Nicnevin’s symbols are associated with protection, divination and ghosts or spirits. Interestingly, she is often depicted with pumpkins and other gourds – and traditionally these were frequently carved with symbols of protection and used to light the path of the dying, illuminating their journey from this life into whatever lay beyond. So that’s where the Jack O’Lanterns came from!

Sir Walter Scott described Nicnevin as a ‘gigantic and malignant female…who rode on a storm and marshaled the rambling host of wanderers under her grim banner’. Nicnevin had extensive powers over sea and land, able to build mountains and large hills simply by dropping large stones from her apron or basket. Equally, she could change water into rock and sea into land. There is no tradition of her bearing children but because she was inextricably tied to the cycle of the seasons and therefore to the cycle of birth, life and death, she was worshiped as a mother goddess – similar in stature to Frigg in Norse tradition.

I said Nicnevin’s origins were shadowy and they are, because no one really knows where she sprang from. There are a number of theories, including the possibility that she may even have been based on a real person. As far as her name is concerned, it may derive from a Scottish Gaelic surname, ‘Neachneohain’, meaning ‘daughter of the divine’ but that is by no means certain. The first recorded mention of Nicnevin doesn’t arise until 1580 when court poet to King James VI of Scotland – Alexander Montgomerie – described her in verse:

Nicnevin with her nymphes, in number anew
With charms from Caitness and Chanrie of Ross
Whose cunning consists in casting a clew.

She then drops out of literature until John Leyden in the early 1800s described her as one of the “popular appellations” of the Queen of Fairies, Hecate, the great hag and others. Robert Cromek declared she was near kin to Satan, warning that she presided over ‘Halloween Rades’, causing mothers to warn their children to behave or they would be given to the ‘McNeven’. In his description she is portrayed as wearing a long gray cloak and brandishing a wand which she used to conduct her conversions of water into rock and sea into land.

As for the theory she was based on a real person, this remains a possibility. In May 1569, an accused witch known variously as Nic Neville or Nicneven was condemned to death and burnt at the stake. This was in St Andrews, Scotland but another contender is a nurse, Catherine Niven or Kate McNiven who hailed from Monzie. She also died at the stake, convicted of witchcraft although the date varies from 1563 to 1715 – the last date putting her firmly out of contention.

Whatever the truth of her beginnings, there is no doubt that Nicnevin is a force to be reckoned with – an all-powerful witch not to be dismissed lightly, despite the lack of information on her. Maybe she was once mortal, or maybe, like Hecate, not. But one thing is certain, if you travel out on a stormy night when the clouds race across the dark and troubled heavens, thunder rolls all around you and the rain lashes down on your face, take extra care. Do you see something flash by you, in seemingly impossible flight? Do you hear the beating of hundreds of wings as a massive flock of geese escort Nicnevin and her acolytes across the tempestuous sky?

Be certain, on such a night – especially if it is Samhain – Nicnevin is about. Perhaps you will call on her for help to develop your own psychic powers. If so, this little spell may help you:

The Crone Spell
Only to be performed on Samhain – the Feast of Nicnevin

To cast the spell, you will need:
Two teaspoons of dried mugwort
One teaspoon powdered elder leaves
Six drops cypress oil
One charcoal disc in a flameproof dish
One tall black candle, plus matches or a lighter
Mortar and pestle

Casting the spell:
In the mortar and pestle, blend together the mugwort, cypress oil and elder leaves and grind until it achieves a fine consistency capable of being sprinkled.

Light the charcoal and the candle while saying:
Nicnevin, goddess of the crossroads
Show me,
Guide my thread into the spaces between

Sprinkle the blended mugwort, cypress oil and elder onto the burning charcoal and inhale the aroma.

Close your eyes and picture yourself walking from an easterly direction toward a crossroads at sunset. Stop and face north. Concentrate and a dark figure will emerge and approach you. Nicnevin is now with you. She will crook her finger, beckoning you to follow her. You do so but when she takes you to a gateway, you do not pass through it on this occasion. Look at it carefully, study any symbols marked on it. When you are ready to move between worlds in your lucid/psychic dreams, you must pass through it or look for its symbols and follow them.

When you have memorized all you need to, you will find you can open your eyes. Your lucid/psychic dreams will be available for your summoning throughout the winter.

Invest in a Book of Shadows if you don’t already have one, and note down all your lucid dreams until Imbolc (February 1st).

    Boo-graphy: Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels and novellas.

    Her novels include: Dark Observation, In Darkness, Shadows Breathe, The Garden of Bewitchment, The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle Curse, and Saving Grace Devine, among others.

    Her novellas include: The Darkest Veil, Linden Manor, Cold Revenge, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, Dark Avenging Angel, The Devil Inside Her, and The Second Wife.

    Her short stories appeared in a number of anthologies including Tomes of Terror, One of Us, and Haunted Are These Houses.

    She lives by the sea in Southport, England with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat called Serafina who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue.

    Eligos is waiting…fulfill your destiny.

    1941. In the dark days of war-torn London, Violet works in Churchill’s subterranean top secret Cabinet War Rooms, where key decisions that will dictate Britain’s conduct of the war are made. Above, the people of London go about their daily business as best they can, unaware of the life that teems beneath their feet. Night after night the bombs rain down, yet Violet has far more to fear than air raids. A mysterious man, a room only she can see, memories she can no longer trust, and a best friend who denies their shared past… Something or someone – is targeting her.

    Flame Tree Press
    Barnes & Noble
    and at good bookshops everywhere (on the shelf or to order)

    [Note: All photos are from Flame Tree Studio, Shutterstock, or are the author’s own.]

    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”.

    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)

    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.


    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?