GUEST BOOK REVIEW by William Meikle: 31 Days of A Night in the Lonesome October: Day 25

A Night in the Lonesome October
All is not what it seems…

In the murky London gloom, a knife-wielding gentleman named Jack prowls the midnight streets with his faithful watchdog Snuff – gathering together the grisly ingredients they will need for an upcoming ancient and unearthly rite. For soon after the death of the moon, black magic will summon the Elder Gods back into the world. And all manner of Players, both human and undead, are preparing to participate.

Some have come to open the gates. Some have come to slam them shut.

And now the dread night approaches – so let the Game begin.

Author: Roger Zelazny
Illustrator: Gahan Wilson
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Gaslamp
Publisher: Avon Books
Publication Date: September 1, 1994
Pages: 280


October 25th

Jill and Greymalk come to Jack’s place to clear up; an excuse for Jill and Jack to share some more of his sherry. Graymalk has a revelation to start the day. The police have taken note of last night’s burning…but only because they have found the charred remains of Owen, the druid in a fourth basket, whereas our heroes only burned three. Someone has taken the opportunity to remove another player. At the same time, the druid’s magic sickle has disappeared.

The druid’s familiar, Cheeter the squirrel, is distraught, for the druid had it under a spell, having stolen its shadow and ‘intuition’ in order to ensure its loyalty. Snuff and Graymalk break into the druid’s house, confirm that the sickle is missing then discover that the squirrel’s shadow is trapped in a magical spell painted on the wall, held in place by seven silver nails.

Snuff once again shows his mettle and, slowly but surely, draws the nails out with his teeth. Graymalk explains what needs to be done with the nails for the return of the squirrel’s shadow; this is what she learned from the old cat in the Dreamlands.

Cheeter, shadow restored, leaves the game and returns to the woods.

A lovely chapter this one; it shows us again how Snuff and Graymalk have bonded, despite being on ‘opposite sides’, and shows us the loyalty between familiars is just as strong, if not stronger, than their loyalty to their masters. Zelazny deliberately keeping the touch light today, to bring us down from the pyrotechnics of the night before.

Snuff now suspects that there might be a ‘secret’ player, one who is always throwing off his calculations. The plot has thickened. Again.


Boo-graphy:
William Meikle is a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with more than thirty novels published in the genre press and over 300 short story credits in thirteen countries.

He has books available from a variety of publishers including Dark Regions Press, Crossroad Press and Severed Press, and his work has appeared in a number of professional anthologies and magazines.

He lives in Newfoundland with whales, bald eagles and icebergs for company.

When he’s not writing he drinks beer, plays guitar, and dreams of fortune and glory.

Website

The Green & the Black
A small group of industrial archaeologists head into the center of Newfoundland, investigating a rumor of a lost prospecting team of Irish miners in the late Nineteenth century.

They find the remains of a mining operation, and a journal and papers detailing the extent of the miners’ activities. But there is something else on the site, something older than the miners, as old as the rock itself.

Soon the archaeologists are coming under assault, from a strange infection that spreads like wildfire through mind and body, one that doctors seem powerless to define let alone control.

The survivors only have one option. They must return to the mine, and face what waits for them, down in the deep dark places, where the green meets the black.

William’s Halloween Giveaway

GUEST POST: Russell James

Jack o’ Lanterns

There aren’t many things as singularly attached to Halloween as a jack-o’-lantern. At no other time of year do we shove a lit candle into a hollowed-out vegetable decorated with a ghoulish face. How did we ever start such a bizarre ritual?

As with most of our traditions, the jack-o’-lantern tradition came to us via immigrants. The Jack in jack-o’-lantern comes from an Irish folktale about a character named Stingy Jack. Jack invites the Devil to have a drink. True to his name, Jack has no money, and convinces the Devil to turn himself into a coin so Jack can pay for the drinks. Then Jack adds insult to injury by keeping the Devil Coin in his pocket beside a silver cross, which keeps the Devil from changing back from hard currency to the Prince of Darkness. Jack finally frees the Devil in return for the Devil promising to leave Jack alone for a year and to lay no claim upon his soul should he expire.

Apparently, Irish myth paints the Devil as a moron, because the next year, Jack tricks him again, trapping him in a tree by carving a cross into the trunk. This time, Jack extorts ten Satan-free years from the Devil in return for releasing him.

Alas, Jack dies before the ten years are up. St. Peter locks the pearly gates and won’t let such a trickster into Heaven. The Devil can’t claim his soul, so he sends Jack off to wander the night for eternity with a glowing coal to light his way. Jack stuffs it in a hollowed-out turnip to keep from burning his hands. The Irish called this ghostly figure “Jack of the Lantern,” which morphed into “Jack O’Lantern.”

People began to carve scary faces in turnips and place them by windows and doors to frighten off old Stingy Jack and any other unhappy haunters that might be walking the streets. The innovative British used beets. In either case, it sounds like kids making an excuse not to eat the awful things. Mid-19th century Irish immigrants introduced the tradition to America, and were no doubt overjoyed to find larger, pre-hollowed American pumpkins could take the turnip’s place.

In recent years, the jack-o-lantern has evolved at the hands of the gifted from the simple three triangle and a toothy grin face to feats of artwork almost too beautiful for roving teenagers to smash. Almost. There are even serious carving competitions held around the country each fall.

So that’s where we got the tradition of setting pumpkins ablaze for Halloween. Aren’t you glad that tradition took hold instead of the one where a matchmaking cook buries a ring in her mashed potatoes on Halloween night, hoping to bring true love to the diner who found it?


Boo-graphy:
Russell James is a horror and science fiction writer. His recent works include THE PORTAL, MAMMOTH ISLAND, and LAMBS AMONG WOLVES.

The Portal
Three hundred years ago, on an isolated island in Long Island Sound, Satan tried to open a doorway to Hell. Now he’s returned to finish the task.

A black speedboat arrives at the small island community of Stone Harbor. Its mysterious passenger, Joey Oates, inspires terror by his very presence. He’s Satan incarnate, back to complete a ritual left unfinished three hundred years ago. A lost talisman called the Portal can open a doorway for the demons of Hell to enter our world. Oates plans to find the Portal, and finish unlocking it.

Former lovers Scott Tackett, family hardware store owner, and Allie Layton, flamed-out Hollywood actress, are about to reconnect after years apart, until they discover the evil growing in town. Only they can stop Oates’s awful plan and save the world from the living nightmares standing ready to crawl out of Hell.

Mammoth Island
As paleontologist Grant Coleman waits to board a plane for a much-needed Hawaiian vacation, thugs knock him out and kidnap him. He awakens on a cargo aircraft in flight to find he’s an unwilling member of an expedition to a secret Arctic location called Mammoth Island.

Unscrupulous fossil dealer Angelo Destro has assembled the expedition to steal the fruits of a Russian oligarch’s labors The oligarch’s scientists have resurrected extinct wooly mammoths at the island’s laboratory. But from the moment the plane lands, the plan goes to pieces. The lab’s scientists are missing, the compound is a shamble, and it looks like something enormous has crushed the perimeter fence.

Even worse, Destro isn’t the only one after this prehistoric prize. Before Grant and the others solve the destroyed lab’s mysteries, Russian soldiers arrive. Destro’s group is forced to flee into the surrounding forests, where killer mammoths lurk, ready to hunt more human prey.

Trapped between the twin tips of Russian bayonets and mammoth tusks, who among them will survive and escape Mammoth Island?

Lambs Among Wolves
Evil may soon consume mankind, if the demons have their way.

After the death of her father, young Cyndi Fisher travels to Paris to meet the grandfather she never knew. That man turns out to be Father Jack Cahill, a renegade exorcist who was unaware he’d fathered a child before taking his vows.

Cyndi is soon drawn into Father Jack’s world, where demons from Hell are possessing humans and robbing Europe’s churches of sacred relics. From the cathedrals of Paris, through the graveyards of France, and into the sewers of Rome, they confront the possessed, battle risen corpses, and fight gang members sent to stop them.

They uncover a plot to set Satan free upon the Earth, but stopping it seems impossible. Demons are always one step ahead of them, and each manifestation is more powerful than the last. Stopping Satan’s return will take courage and faith. Will an aged priest and an agnostic teen have enough of either?

GUEST BOOK REVIEW by William Meikle: 31 Days of A Night in the Lonesome October: Day 24

A Night in the Lonesome October
All is not what it seems…

In the murky London gloom, a knife-wielding gentleman named Jack prowls the midnight streets with his faithful watchdog Snuff – gathering together the grisly ingredients they will need for an upcoming ancient and unearthly rite. For soon after the death of the moon, black magic will summon the Elder Gods back into the world. And all manner of Players, both human and undead, are preparing to participate.

Some have come to open the gates. Some have come to slam them shut.

And now the dread night approaches – so let the Game begin.

Author: Roger Zelazny
Illustrator: Gahan Wilson
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Gaslamp
Publisher: Avon Books
Publication Date: September 1, 1994
Pages: 280


October 24th

An action packed chapter today. Our heroes discover, thanks to Jill’s warding spells, that several of the familiars have visited the house in their absence in the city, one of them a loping wolf-thing that Talbot insists wasn’t him.

After Snuff does his rounds to make sure everyone knows the vivisectionists didn’t get him, someone, Snuff suspects the Vicar again, lays a spell on Jack’s house, a booming thunder and lightning storm of a kind, but only on the inside. The ‘things’ in the mirror, in the steamer trunk, in the attic and in the basement, all different, all dangerous, all get loose at the same time. Jack and Snuff have a battle on their hands.

The slithering things slither. Jack tries to round them up with magic while Snuff shows his mettle, dealing with the thing from the steamer trunk before holding off the thing from the attic long enough for Jack to get to work on it with his blade. The thing from the basement arrives, intending on getting at Snuff. Jack dispatches it easily.

We learn in passing that Jack is indeed under a curse and the blade is a focus of that, but that he is also a magic user in his own right, and possessor of at least two wands of power, one of which is one of the game’s major artifacts.

We also learn that the ‘things’ weren’t actually part of the game, but were intended as insurance to cover Jack and Snuff’s tracks should they need to escape after the big night. That insurance policy is now revoked.

The things are all eventually dispatched after a wonderfully described battle in the house. Jill and Graymalk arrive to see what all the fuss has been about and they have a very domestic pot of tea in the carnage after the battle.

At the close of day they get rid of the remains of the things by filling the druid’s wicker baskets with the offal, hoisting them up a big oak tree and setting it alight, a bonfire for Halloween, and a very pretty sight.

A lot of what Zelazny does well today. Fast paced, action packed but you always know where all the participants are and what they’re doing due to his descriptive skills, and he still manages to slide some pertinent information in among the mayhem. Technically, he’s brilliant, and also too good to let you notice while you’re barreling along caught up in the plot.

We got another lovely, gruesome Wilson illo too today, of the thing from the steamer trunk, coming apart where Snuff has been at it. Wonderful stuff.


Boo-graphy:
William Meikle is a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with more than thirty novels published in the genre press and over 300 short story credits in thirteen countries.

He has books available from a variety of publishers including Dark Regions Press, Crossroad Press and Severed Press, and his work has appeared in a number of professional anthologies and magazines.

He lives in Newfoundland with whales, bald eagles and icebergs for company.

When he’s not writing he drinks beer, plays guitar, and dreams of fortune and glory.

Website

The Green & the Black
A small group of industrial archaeologists head into the center of Newfoundland, investigating a rumor of a lost prospecting team of Irish miners in the late Nineteenth century.

They find the remains of a mining operation, and a journal and papers detailing the extent of the miners’ activities. But there is something else on the site, something older than the miners, as old as the rock itself.

Soon the archaeologists are coming under assault, from a strange infection that spreads like wildfire through mind and body, one that doctors seem powerless to define let alone control.

The survivors only have one option. They must return to the mine, and face what waits for them, down in the deep dark places, where the green meets the black.

William’s Halloween Giveaway

GUEST BOOK REVIEW by William Meikle: 31 Days of A Night in the Lonesome October: Day 23

A Night in the Lonesome October
All is not what it seems…

In the murky London gloom, a knife-wielding gentleman named Jack prowls the midnight streets with his faithful watchdog Snuff – gathering together the grisly ingredients they will need for an upcoming ancient and unearthly rite. For soon after the death of the moon, black magic will summon the Elder Gods back into the world. And all manner of Players, both human and undead, are preparing to participate.

Some have come to open the gates. Some have come to slam them shut.

And now the dread night approaches – so let the Game begin.

Author: Roger Zelazny
Illustrator: Gahan Wilson
Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Gaslamp
Publisher: Avon Books
Publication Date: September 1, 1994
Pages: 280


October 23rd

Another long chapter today, and the game is starting to take shape. Snuff has recruited the help of Larry Talbot in attempting to find the center of things and takes him to the spot where Snuff and Graymalk were transported to the Dreamlands. They have a long talk about the nature of Snuff’s magic and what it can, and can’t, do. Talbot believes another player has been taken off the table and asks if Snuff’s magic can identify them, but that isn’t possible. They walk Snuff’s rounds and eventually discover a player has indeed died. The mad monk has apparently hanged himself, but investigation shows that it’s a set up. He has been murdered, and his magical icon stolen. Someone is collecting artifacts, and whoever it is will have gained a distinct advantage in the game to come.

Snuff suspects the vicar. Later, while investigating with Graymalk, they are almost caught in the vicar’s house. Snuff has a chance to get away, but Graymalk is trapped by the vicar, so Snuff goes back and rescues her, mangling the vicar’s ear in the processs. A wonderfully written scene that serves to show how tightly cemented Snuff and Graymalk’s relationship has come; Snuff is now bonded to her almost as tightly as he is to Jack, willing to put himself in peril for her.

Snuff and Graymalk accompany Jack and Jill to London. Their master and mistress are getting very friendly, Jill even going so far as to share a warding spell that will inform them if anyone tries to enter their house in their absence. They are enjoying their trip, but Snuff realises they are being followed. Before he can raise the alarm he is kidnapped.

The vicar has delivered Snuff into the hands of vivisectionists where he is to be rendered down in candle wax, no doubt for use in some nefarious ritual. He is saved at the last minute by Jack, an angry Jack full of the power of some dark spell. When they leave the vivisectionists they leave a sea of blood behind, fulfilling the prophecy of the old cat in the Dreamlands. The scene in the vivisectionist’s lair is wonderfully done, just the right mixture of comic accents and Snuff- in-peril moments allied with some of Zelazny’s descriptive work, which, at its best, is second to none.

So someone is gathering the things of power. Is it the vicar? Or is this another of Zelazny’s misdirections. The Good Doctor’s ‘big man’ has also been prowling around. Is he being used for nefarious purposes? And how will Jack and Jill’s obviously budding relationship pan out when all the Openers and Closers have to declare for one side or the other? Lots of questions still to be answered, and the moon is still growing. Talbot’s curse will obviously have a part to play too.

And is Jack also, like Snuff, under some kind of curse, or is he using the dark magic that surrounds him deliberately? I predict more blood.


Boo-graphy:
William Meikle is a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with more than thirty novels published in the genre press and over 300 short story credits in thirteen countries.

He has books available from a variety of publishers including Dark Regions Press, Crossroad Press and Severed Press, and his work has appeared in a number of professional anthologies and magazines.

He lives in Newfoundland with whales, bald eagles and icebergs for company.

When he’s not writing he drinks beer, plays guitar, and dreams of fortune and glory.

Website

The Green & the Black
A small group of industrial archaeologists head into the center of Newfoundland, investigating a rumor of a lost prospecting team of Irish miners in the late Nineteenth century.

They find the remains of a mining operation, and a journal and papers detailing the extent of the miners’ activities. But there is something else on the site, something older than the miners, as old as the rock itself.

Soon the archaeologists are coming under assault, from a strange infection that spreads like wildfire through mind and body, one that doctors seem powerless to define let alone control.

The survivors only have one option. They must return to the mine, and face what waits for them, down in the deep dark places, where the green meets the black.

William’s Halloween Giveaway

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Mark Cassell

Meghan: Hi, Mark! Welcome back and thank you for stopping by today. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Mark: Seeing how imaginative people are with costumes. I’m not talking about the shop bought ones. It’s those that’ve been homemade always catch my eye. You know, those that have been stitched together with love and attention.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Mark: It will always be carving pumpkins. It’s fun getting messy!

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

Mark: For me, it’s a good excuse to watch crappy horror movies. Sure, no matter the time of year we can do that, but Halloween comes along and all the streaming channels show many I’ve never seen before. So that’s always great.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Mark: Haha! Superstitions are an absolute waste of brainpower. I am in no way superstitious. Even as a kid, while my friend avoided stepping on cracks or walking under ladders, or even shriek when spotting a black cat, I’d happily run under the ladder and stroke the cat while standing on all the cracks.

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

Mark: Pinhead from Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart was always a favourite of mine, especially once the Hellraiser movies reinforced the mythos. Such a great premise too, and don’t get me started on Lemarchand’s puzzle box and the wonderful lament configuration.

Having said that, there is a close second and he’s from the movie, Sinister. The soundtrack composer, Christopher Young, did a fine job in hammering home how sinister the antagonist was. Bughuul is so damned menacing.

Those two villains, a hell priest and a pagan deity, would make an awesome duo. I’d pay to see, or read, that.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Mark: Well, you have me here. I have no idea. The horror that I write leans towards the supernatural rather than humankind’s real-life horrors.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Mark: Nothing scares me. Only heights, but that has nothing to do with Halloween. How about cats, though? Can I talk about cats?

I live in Hastings, East Sussex, England, that’s famous for its roots in history: the 1066 Battle of Hastings is the big one. Research for my novella, Hell Cat of the Holt, led me to learn that in the 19th century, two mummified cats were discovered in the chimney of the Stag Inn while under restoration.

These cats were apparently the familiars of a local 17th century witch. Friendlier than most witches of that time, Hannah Clarke was seen to help prevent the Spanish Armada reaching Hastings, often using her powers for the town’s protection. For whatever reasons, she moved on yet her familiars remained. Until the Great Plague hit.

Cats, rather than rats, were commonly assumed to be plague carriers and having been owned by a witch, this pair of animals were the first to succumb to accusations. For fear of any bad omen to befall the people by killing the cats, a decision was made to wall them in at the pub which led to their mummification.

This all was supposed to have happened. I swear the owners of the Stag Inn have always played on that story, and it’s just good marketing so they can sell more beer.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Mark: Again, because my horror doesn’t fall under the human hand category, I don’t believe I can name any serial killer and their kill numbers. Real life horror doesn’t fascinate me. I’m in it for the demons, devils, and spirits… The stuff that Halloween is truly made off!

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

Mark: I remember watching Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist at an early age and was absolutely mesmerised. The children, the parents, the haunting itself. Everything from that movie held me in awe.

As for a book? Just into my teens, I nabbed a novel from my dad’s horror shelf. It was undoubtedly the book that kicked my love for horror into overdrive: James Herbert’s fantastic The Magic Cottage.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Mark: I once read a book by Mark Morris. I think it was Toady, though I may be wrong. There was a scene of child abuse. That kind of shit unsettles me. It disgusts me. This is the horror I detest, in the knowledge that it actually happens in this world. Humans and their actions are the real horror, and it’s because of that I side-step it to delve into the darkness beyond our four walls of reality. Give me ghouls and ghosts any day.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Mark: I’m still waiting…

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume? (This could be from when you were a child or after you became an adult. Or maybe something you never dressed as but wish you had.)

Mark: I once made a Hellboy costume. I trawled charity shops for the perfect trench coat, and made the massive hand from foam out of our old sofa. I fashioned stubby horns and glued them onto a bald cap, and laboriously attached sections of a long black wig to it. All this took many, many hours on my days off work on approach to the big day. I even grew the appropriate facial hair and dyed it. Lots of spray paint and face paint later, I did it. I received a lot of attention that night.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Mark: Oh, it will always be Danny Elfman’s “This is Halloween” from the movie Nightmare Before Christmas.

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

Mark: Wow. That’s a question. I haven’t touched candy in years… Decades in fact! I used to love Drumsticks though, and absolutely hated anything liquorish.

Meghan: This has been great, Mark. As always. Before you go, what is your one go-to Halloween movie?

Mark: I will always rank Halloween 3: Season of the Witch as my favourite. I mean, seriously, that haunting theme tune and those masks! Love it.


Boo-graphy:
Mark Cassell lives on the south-east coast of the United Kingdom with his wife and plenty of animals. His jobs have included baker, lab technician, driving instructor, actor, and was once a spotlight operator for an Elvis impersonator. As the author of the best-selling Shadow Fabric mythos, he not only writes dark fantasy horror but also explores steampunk and sci-fi.

He has seen over fifty stories published in anthologies and zines, and remains humbled in the knowledge that his work shares pages with many of his literary heroes. The 2021 release of the short story collection SIX! from Red Cape Publishing shines a light on just how weird Mark can get. More can be found at his website.

Six
From Mark Cassell, author of the Shadow Fabric mythos, comes SIX! Featuring a variety of dark tales, from the sinister to the outright terrifying, this unique collection is a must for horror readers everywhere. Includes the stories Skin, All in the Eyes, In Loving Memory, The Space Between Spaces, On Set With North, and Don’t Swear in Mum’s House.

Monster Double Feature: River of Nine Tails & Reanimation Channel
From the author of the Shadow Fabric mythos comes Monster Double Feature, a 78-page chapbook featuring two stories – a duo of abominations.

A British traveller desperate to escape his past finds himself at the heart of a Vietnamese legend, and learns why the Mekong Delta is known as ‘River of Nine Tails’ (originally published in In Darkness, Delight: Creatures of the Night anthology by Corpus Press, 2019).

And a regular parcel collection from a neighbour becomes a descent into terror through the online game, ‘Reanimation Channel’, (originally published in The Black Room Manuscripts, Vol. 4 anthology by The Sinister Horror Company, 2018).