A Night on the Town with a Voodoo Vampire or, How I discovered My Halloween Parties’ Signature Drink
Some things stick in the sieve of my brain better than others. This particular piece of mental debris has clung to the inside of my skull and followed me from my time in Philly to where my travels eventually brought me. It’s a night that ended up infiltrating my Halloween party tradition.
It was a random night and one I chose to turn into yet another one of my infamous South Street Pub Crawls. They usually consisted of me announcing to anyone I happened to be near that I was wandering down South Street in Philly and drinking in every establishment I came across until I either found one I liked enough to sit in for more than one drink or had enough exercise and alcohol to get to sleep. My days in Philly were dark days.
Earlier that evening I had wandered down into Olde City, not necessarily in search of adventure or as I came to look upon it afterwards, misadventure, but there I was, sitting in a bar fashioned after a New Orleans Mardi Gras pitstop. I was already three bar visits deep, so I wasn’t necessarily looking for something to drink more than I was looking for ambiance and a place to relax and write. The bartender was nowhere in sight when I sat down, in fact, the entire place was empty except for me. I took a seat at the bar and admired the carved wood with mirror backdrop, then opened my notebook and started to write.
He appeared out of nowhere. One minute I was alone, the next minute there was this guy sitting next to me watching me write. And before we even go there, no, he didn’t have an accent, and as far as I know he wasn’t a vampire. Unfortunately.
We started chatting and then the bartender came back from whatever tear in space and time bartenders and waitresses go to when no one’s looking. My companion asked for a drink recommendation. The bartender smiled and said, “The Voodoo Vampire is popular.” I no longer remember the exact measurements from that night, I only know it’s a blend of vodka, Chambourd, Grenadine, and cranberry juice. I suspect my version of it may be stronger than what was served to us that night.
After watching the bartender mix up this intriguing blend, I asked him to make me one, too. And so it began…
My friend and I wandered through Olde City, and more people joined us along the way like some sort of pied piper of drunkenness. We spread the word of the vampire and ended up bringing the entire entourage back to the vampire bar with us to round out the night with a final drink.
Fast forward over a decade to my annual Halloween parties and the signature mixed drink that is just as charming and as dangerous as an actual vampire might be. The drink that united a band of inebriated misfits on the streets of Philadelphia. A drink that will leave you drained and half-dead the next morning if you dance too long and too far with it, and that’s the Voodoo Vampire.
Suzanne Madron is originally from the Bronx, NY, but grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania. Yes, the woodsy part. No, the other woodsy part. No, not the one with the pterodactyl sightings, the other one with the re-enactors.
When not writing horror, Suzanne writes hard-boiled noir and speculative fiction under the pseudonym James Glass and post apocalyptic stories under the name Xircon. Currently she lives on a battlefield with her husband and son in the less woodsy part of Pennsylvania. YEs, her house is most likely haunted.
Mommy… Why are all those people’s heads on sticks? Well, let’s talk about that later.
These are the types of conversations I hear on Halloween. Children sometimes have questions about things they don’t understand. Heads on sticks would fall into this category. The unspoken answer to this particular exchange might run as follows: “Because your father moved us from Michigan to godforsaken Arkansas, right next door to this redneck who has no sense of decorum.” Or something like that. You see, I don’t decorate for Christmas, Thanksgiving or Independence Day. These days pass much like all the rest on my calendar. I don’t resent these occasions or those who celebrate them, but they simply do not resonate with my experience. But I do decorate for Halloween. In fact, my house has traditionally resembled the mouth of hell. I specialize in mutilated body parts, agitating sounds, and menacing lights. I keep up with latest research trends as to what produces the maximum levels of cortisol in any potential visitor. No one walks away unscathed.
Some of the kids are too young, so they just stare at the lights and drool. Others stand on the sidewalk and scream as frustrated parents tells them it’s OK to ring the bell, their tears of fear sating the dark places inside me. As they get older the brave ones come to love the place and I have lots of repeat business. And yes, they get full sized candy bars. The normal response from parents when they see my house is something like, “Well, this is interesting.” Translation: “What the hell is wrong with you?” Yes, I’m that guy in the neighborhood.
The problem is that we’ve moved. I liked the old street. It was a subtle mix of blue and white collar families living the American Dream. But the new neighborhood is a little nicer. The people are a little friendlier. The rents are a little higher. Everyone is conscientious about recycling. A few folks even have solar panels. The children are all gifted and talented. You get the picture. Everyone couldn’t have made me and my wife feel more welcome. We even got a gift basket with gourmet cheese. What could be the problem you ask? My lovely wife, who is much smarter than I, broached the topic gently:
“Maybe you could think about toning it down a little bit this year.”
“Why, whatever do you mean?”
“I mean Halloween. Like maybe skeletons are OK, but the other stuff, the heads, the torsos, the intestines… Maybe that’s a little much.”
I am crestfallen. “What about the fog machine?”
“The fog machine is fine. Look, these people are being really nice to us. Do you really want to do that to them?”
I do not say it, but the answer is “yes.” Perhaps it is a profound moral failing. It’s just that I cannot abide half-measures when it comes to this issue. I look around at the happy ghosts, smiling pumpkins, and quaint scarecrows in the lawns of other houses and shake my head sadly. Every neighborhood should have that one house that scares the children. Fear is a crucial part of childhood development. They will not remember who gave them which piece of candy, but they will remember the person who made their heart race when that quivering finger approached the doorbell.
So, should I decorate or simply sublimate the darkness into some other activity—perhaps crafting or making myself a better citizen? I already know the answer, but it’s better to keep quiet for a time. I’ll go on smiling and waving. I’ll tend the roses. I will do everything I can to let these gentle people know that I mean them no harm. But self-expression is very important, isn’t it? After all, it’s only for one night.
Thomas Vaughn is an author of dark fiction who resides in the Ozark Mountains. When he is not writing stories, he poses as a college professor who teaches classes in apocalyptic rhetoric and doomsday cults. He has always loved Halloween and remains one of those stalwarts who refuses to let the tradition die. If you are curious about what he is getting up to you, you are welcome to visit him at his website.
It was obvious that something was wrong the moment they entered the empty house.
For a start off, it felt far from empty.
There were sounds everywhere.
“If those’re rats, I’m out of here,” Lenny muttered, his enthusiasm dampened suddenly by the scutterings that seemed to cascade all around them as they walked across the bare floorboards in their trainers. Lenny, the younger of the two boys by barely a month, was tall and gangly, with a livid rash of acne across both cheeks. His dark eyes glanced suspiciously about the ballroom-sized entrance hall as they paused inside it, listening.
Pete grinned. It was a broad, unmistakably roguish grin that somehow made him look older than his fifteen years, as if he’d been born before and could still remember far too much of a disreputably colourful past life.
“Rats are the last things you should be worried about here, Lenny.” He made a long, haunting moan that echoed eerily through the house.
“Bollocks,” Lenny retorted, anger mixed with the stirrings of doubt he had begun to feel as soon as they approached the old, abandoned house. Making plans was one thing. Carrying them out was something else, especially after dusk had darkened the two acres of woodland around the house into a motion-filled blackness of half-seen, menacing shapes. “We should have set out earlier,” he grumbled as he switched on his torch. “Besides, I bet none of the others turn up.”
“They’d better,” Pete said. “This lot cost me a fortune. Especially since I had to pay that old wino, Karl Ott, to buy them for me.” He lugged the rucksack he’d been carrying off his shoulders and lowered it to the floorboards. There was a clink of glass: two half bottles of vodka and a bottle of rum, with a mixture of cokes, Sprite and orangeade. On top was a box of candles in case the electricity in the house wasn’t working.
Lenny tried the light switch and the two boys were surprised when the electric chandelier above their heads came on, though half its bulbs were dead or missing.
“The rest of the gang should be here in another half hour,” Pete said. “I told them half five.”
In late October, though, it was dark not long after four. Now, with heavy clouds covering what little there was of the moon, it was all but black outside.
“It would have been better if we’d all come together,” Lenny grumbled.
“What, and miss out on getting into the party mood beforehand?” Pete brought out one of the bottles of vodka and a couple of glasses. “Coke or Sprite?”
Lenny grinned. “Coke.”
He accepted the brimming glass and sipped the dark, fizzy liquid inside it. “I can’t taste anything but coke,” he complained. “Did you pour in some vodka?”
“You saw me, dummy. Fifty-fifty. My dad says you can’t taste vodka anyway. Only what you mix with it.”
“Then what’s the point?”
“You’ll see the point when you’ve drunk it. When was the last time you got a buzz off cola?”
Dubious, Lenny drank some more. “I think I see what you mean,” he said a moment later.
“Here’s to Halloween,” Pete announced, raising his glass.
“Shouldn’t we wait for the others?”
“What for? We can have another toast then. There’s no law to say you can only toast something once. Come on, hurry up. We’ve time for a few more drinks before they get here.”
Draining his glass, Lenny handed it back to Pete for a refill. Somehow the creaks and scratchings inside the walls and in the ceiling didn’t quite seem so menacing anymore. He felt a mild glow start to grow inside him.
“It’s not hard to believe what happened here, is it?” Lenny said a few minutes and a third glass of vodka and coke later. The warm glow had now spread throughout most of his diaphragm.
“Did you ever doubt it?”
“Naw. But sometimes you wonder whether your parents enjoy embroidering it all a bit just to get you frightened. It’s kind of sick, isn’t it? A whole family slaughtered, one by one.”
“It was worse than that, Lenny.” The two boys were sat on the floor in the hallway, the surrounding doors into the other rooms still closed, sealed with festoons of dark grey cobwebs. Most of Pete’s face was in shadow as he leaned forward over his glass of coke.
“What d’you mean, worse? What could be worse than that?”
“Worse, ‘cause they weren’t just slaughtered. They were sacrificed, Lenny, one by one. Whoever killed them, tied them up first so they couldn’t move, then taped their mouths so none of them could cry for help. Or hear their screams as he worked on them.”
“Worked on them?”
“They were tortured to death, Lenny. It took hours. All night long it went on. There was blood everywhere. That’s why there are no carpets. They were drenched in it. Ruined. Even the floors were awash. If you look hard enough they say you can still see some of the stains.”
Lenny squirmed uncomfortably on the wooden floor, as if he could feel the old dried blood beneath his buttocks on the dark floorboards.
“You’re joshing me, aren’t you?”
“Why should I do that? It’s all for real. You could check it yourself if you wanted to. It’s there in the papers. Every last word. Twenty-five years ago to this night. On Halloween. And no one has ever been arrested for it.”
Lenny reached for another drink from his glass.
“Whoever did it must be getting on now. If he was only in his twenties then, he’d fifty now. Sheesh!”
“Fifty’s not old,” Pete said.
“My grandparents are fifty – and they’re old.”
Pete laughed. “Bet they’d be pleased if you told them that.”
“But it’s true,” Lenny insisted. “It’s too old for a murderer. Isn’t it?”
“You’re a scream, Lenny. A real scream. Did you know that?”
“Anyway, it’s a long time ago.”
“And this house is still empty.”
“Not always,” Lenny said. “I remember people living here.”
“Maybe, but none of them ever stayed for long. That’s what I mean. None of them,” Pete added with an air of significance.
“Are you telling me this place is haunted?”
“Don’t you think so? Isn’t that why we’re here?”
Lenny shivered; his hand reached out instinctively for the vodka and coke. “Where are the others? They should be here by now.”
“They’ll be here. There’s plenty of time yet.”
“But it’s nearly six.”
Lenny shrugged. “It’s nearly six. That’s all I said. I thought at least one of them would’ve been here by now.”
“Perhaps they’ve chickened out? Perhaps they know too much about what happened all those years ago and are frightened to come here tonight.”
Lenny stared at him. “You’re joking, aren’t you?”
“Maybe.” Pete grinned, that same roguish, all-knowing grin he always used.
Lenny drank some more vodka and coke. He felt a little light-headed now.
“What’ll we do if they don’t come?” he asked.
“We’ll have a party of our own.”
“That’d be fun,” Lenny said, sarcastically.
Pete merely grinned.
“You did tell them all, didn’t you?” Lenny asked a few minutes later. The noises within the walls were still rustling disconcertingly all about them and he was beginning to feel nervous again despite the effects of the vodka.
“Of course I did.”
Lenny peered at his Timex. “It’s ten past now. Why aren’t they here?”
“Perhaps they’ve chickened out, like I said. Perhaps there’s only you and me with the balls to come here.”
Lenny reached for his glass. He wished he felt as tough about being in this place as Pete. But the non-stop sounds of hidden movement made him think too vividly of nasty, vicious swarms of rats inside the walls, of scores, perhaps hundreds of the verminous creatures hidden behind the dark wallpaper and wafer-thin, damp-riddled plaster, only feet away from them. With sharp teeth and sharper claws.
“You feeling a bit jittery?” Pete asked.
“Naw…” Even to his own ears, though, Lenny’s reply sounded weak. Unsure.
Pete laughed, quietly.
His laughter was beginning to get on Lenny’s nerves. He wondered if Pete had really invited the rest of them here. But why would he have lied about this? It didn’t make sense.
Unless, Lenny wondered, Pete had some secret reason for wanting to be alone with him here tonight which Lenny would never have agreed to if he had known about it. Unless, Lenny thought, with a sudden shock of insight that left him feeling nauseated, Pete fancied him in some way.
Lenny looked at his friend. Was it possible that Pete was secretly queer?
He didn’t look that way. But could he be sure? He knew so little about that kind of thing, and what he did know was probably a load of nonsense. He was only too aware how talk about stuff like that got distorted, with all sorts of myths and rumours and misinformation. Perhaps Pete was gay. He’d a bloody strange grin, that was for sure. And he didn’t seem at all concerned that none of the others had turned up tonight– as if he had known all along there would only be the two of them here.
Lenny reached again for his vodka and coke, though he wasn’t sure if drinking any more of the stuff was a good idea.
“Are you worried?” Pete asked.
“About this place. About its history. About what went on here twenty-five years ago. What else did you think I meant?” Pete narrowed his eyes.
“Nothing,” Lenny said. “Just what you said. What happened here. The murders.”
“Bloody gruesome, eh?” Pete laughed. The sound echoed through the empty house and for the briefest of instants Lenny was sure the rustling ceased, as if whatever was making the sounds had heard him and paused – to listen.
“I think I’ve had enough of it here,” Lenny said suddenly. “If the rest aren’t coming, it’s going to be a bloody bore. We might as well go home and watch TV.”
“You chickening out too?”
“I’m here, aren’t I? I wasn’t scared to come here. I’d have stayed here too if there was any point. But two of us doesn’t make a party, whatever you say. And now it’s getting cold and there’s nowhere to sit except on the floor. And I don’t care much for those rats.”
“Those fucking rats scuttering inside the walls, for God’s sake. Can’t you hear them too?”
Pete shrugged. “To be honest, Lenny, I’d forgotten about them. Got used to the sounds, I suppose. Just background noise. White noise, don’t they call it? Anyway, they’re harmless. Have you ever heard of anyone you know being attacked by rats? They’re only aggressive if they’re cornered. Everyone knows that. Leave them alone and they’ll leave you alone. It’s as simple as that.”
“So you’re an expert on rats now?”
Pete frowned; his grin gone. “Have I upset you, Lenny? Have I said something to annoy you? To piss you off?”
“Sounds to me like I have. Sounds to me like that’s why you want to leave. We’ve not even been here an hour yet. There’s still plenty of time for the others to arrive.”
“Bollocks. None of them are coming. They’d have been here by now if they were. At least one of them would have turned up.”
“You trying to imply something?”
Lenny shrugged. “Maybe.”
“Just leave it. I’m fed up with this place. And that vodka’s making me feel sick.”
“Like what, I said, Lenny?”
“Fuck it.” Lenny got to his feet. “I’m off.”
“Like fuck you are.” Pete stood up too, his aggression obvious to Lenny. What good humour he’d had before had gone. There was a dangerous tautness about his face, which disconcerted Lenny. He had never seen anything like this about his friend before. It was almost as if he had found himself alone with a stranger.
“What’s up with you, Pete?”
“Up with me?” The teenager smiled. It was a tense smile, as unlike anything he would have normally given as a grimace. There was no humour in the expression. There was no humour in it at all.
Feeling suddenly afraid, Lenny abruptly made for the outside door, but Pete moved even more quickly, cutting him off, as if he had half expected him to do what he did.
“Not so fucking quick,” Pete snarled. He swung a fist at Lenny’s face. It was so unexpected that Lenny could barely react before he felt Pete’s knuckles crack like a heavy mallet against his jaw. The next thing he knew he was falling, dizzy with shock, nausea and a sudden sense of unreality, as the floorboards loomed against the side of his face. Almost at once Pete was astride him. The weight of his body forced Lenny down onto the hard floorboards, winding him. Still dazed, Lenny felt his hands being pulled in front of him. Something thin was tugged tight around his wrists, forcing them together. He struggled to sit up when he saw that a narrow strip of plastic, like the kind his father used for tying up plants in their yard, was being pulled around his wrists, then locked into place. He tried to push it apart, but the plastic tie was far too strong and cut his skin.
“Pete! What are you doing?”
His friend reached into one of the pockets of his jacket and pulled out a roll of gaffer tape. He tore off a six-inch strip of it, held it for a second above Lenny’s face, as if gauging his target, then tugged it tight across his mouth. Lenny tried to scream, but his lips couldn’t move beneath the vile-smelling tape.
“That’s better,” Pete said, finally. He eased himself up, then stepped back, grabbed a hold of Lenny’s feet and forced them together. Before Lenny could do anything to resist him, another, heavier plastic tie had been secured around his ankles. It was so tight it hurt as it bit into him.
“Had enough?” Pete asked.
Lenny tried to say something, but his lips were squashed beneath the unyielding tape gummed across them. The skin around them felt as if it would tear if he tried to force them open.
“Resistance is futile,” Pete said, grinning once more, his voice familiar to both of them as a Borg from Star Trek. The sudden humour sounded misplaced and false to Lenny as he uselessly struggled against the plastic ties around his wrists and ankles and realised just how painful it was to try to snap them.
“Do you think our unknown, unscrupulous friend, all those years ago, used plastic ties and gaffer tape to immobilise his victims?” Pete asked. “He might have had gaffer tape, I suppose. It could have been around then. I don’t know. I don’t suppose plastic ties were, though. Do you?”
Pete turned, retraced his steps to the pack he’d brought their drinks in and squatted down to search inside it till he found what he wanted, then slowly rose to his feet once more, a look of triumph on his face. Lenny squirmed on the floor to watch him, his heart thumping so loud in his ears it almost blotted out the rat-like scratchings inside the walls. Deep grunts of panic came from inside his throat when he saw the knife Pete held in his hands. He fondled it almost like he would a pet as he stared at Lenny over it. It gleamed like very expensive steel. And its edge looked sharp.
“Bet he’d have given his high teeth for something like this,” Pete said. “Cost an arm and a leg. Paid for it with my dad’s credit card on the internet. But he buys so much expensive crud using it he’ll never notice one more item he never bought himself.”
Pete pointed the knife at Lenny’s face, clearly enjoying the sight as his friend’s eyes opened wide in abject terror, staring back at it, unable to look away.
“You know, Lenny, I often think I’ve been here before. Somehow I’ve always felt like that. My mother told me that when my gran first saw me as a newborn baby, she said, “He’s been here before, this one. He’s been here before.” D’you know that, Lenny? Even my gran recognised this wasn’t my first life. It’s not my second, either. I’ve been here lots of times before. Lots and lots of times.” He took a step nearer. “And every time I’ve been here, I’ve had this task, this very important task to do, to ensure I’ll be able to come back again. I’ve done it so often over the years it comes to me in my dreams, time and time again, as clear as I can see you now, to make sure I can’t ignore it.” He hunkered down beside Lenny’s head. “But I’d never ignore it. That’s why there’s only you and me, why no one else was told about us coming to this place tonight. No one knows we’re here, Lenny. It’s a secret. A secret between you and me. And you’ll never tell, will you, Lenny?” Pete snickered. “That’s a bit of a no brainer, if ever there was one, I know, but I couldn’t resist it.” His hand flicked out and the point of the hunting knife sliced a line across Lenny’s forehead. Lenny would have screamed at the sudden, intense pain, as a trickle of blood pulsed out of the cut and dripped into one eye, but the gaffer tape kept his straining lips gummed together.
“Shush, shush,” Pete whispered. “I’ve not begun yet. There’s someone here you’ve yet to meet before the real thing starts.” He cocked his head to one side. “You’ve heard it, though. That scuttering.” Pete stood up. Behind him, from the wall, Lenny saw something move where the old wallpaper seemed to hang open now like a dislodged curtain. From beyond it, something large and grey, like a huge, misshapen rat moved out into the light of the room. There were others, smaller, huddled behind it. Their dark eyes, gleaming like soiled rubies, stared at Lenny.
“They like the blood,” Pete said as he crouched beside him again. “Especially Him. He’s old. So old you couldn’t imagine it. He was brought to this place so long ago, too, when I was in a different body, with a different name. So long ago even I can’t remember what name I had, there’ve been so many in between. But it doesn’t matter. What does is His power. That’s old as well. As old as the world. Perhaps older. When others like Him were plentiful. When they ruled. As one day, if Mankind has its suicidal way and we destroy what we have of this world, He’ll rule again.”
Lenny struggled to scream as he watched the creature move across the floorboards, as large as a pig, its ugly, scaly rat-like face etched with countless sores and wrinkles. Most of the thick grey hair had fallen away from its corpulent body, baring the glistening skin beneath. If he had not been gagged, he would have shouted at Pete that he was mad, that this ugly creature wasn’t what he seemed to think it was, but some insane monster that had fooled him. It wasn’t godlike. It wasn’t godlike at all. Just some pathetic old demon. How he sensed or knew this, he wasn’t sure. Instinct, perhaps. Some old race memory from a time when things like this had flourished. He didn’t know. All he knew with certainty was that Pete had been taken in by it. That it needed him to provide it with the worship it craved – it and its hideous, ugly children.
Though rat-like in shape, as it moved out into the light, Lenny realised the thing had no mouth as such, just tubular, fleshy tendrils. Each, though, ended in what looked like a mouth – mouths that opened and closed as it slowly, furtively moved towards him.
Again, Pete sliced at Lenny with his knife, cutting deep into one of his hands. Blood pulsed from the wound. And the rat-like creature moved in, its tendrils dipping into the blood as it spread across the floorboards. Lenny’s body tensed with horror and disgust as he heard the hideous slurping sounds from the tendrils as they sucked at the pool of blood. And the other, smaller, rat-like creatures scuttled forwards, drawn by it.
In sheer desperation Lenny struggled to free his lips from the gaffer tape, chewing at what snippets he could draw between his teeth. He fought against the pain as Pete sliced away his jacket and t-shirt so he could make further gashes in his body.
“Part of it is your pain,” Pete told him, as if this expiated him. “He needs to feel that – that and your fear. He feeds off them both.”
Several times during the next few hours Lenny blacked out, either from nausea or pain or both. Each time Pete waited till he was conscious again, then started once more, cut after cut, till the floor surrounding them was thick with blood. The other creatures had moved in on the pool as it spread across the room and had begun to feed from it.
Almost too weak from blood loss to feel much pain anymore, it was only then that Lenny was able to force his mouth open. The gaffer tape was sodden with spit and weakened where he had gnawed at it.
But by then he could barely talk, let alone scream for help, and Pete merely glanced at him as he carved more cuts in his chest.
“Pete…” Lenny’s voice was a ragged croak, barely intelligible. “Pete…”
“Too late to plead for your life, Lenny. Far too late for that, I’m afraid. He must feed. And so must they. I’m held to do it. I always have been. And always will.”
“Twenty five years ago,” Lenny whispered. “You did it twenty-five years ago.”
Pete glanced down at him, smiled, then moved the knife speculatively across his friend’s abdomen.
“You’re fifteen now. How long did your old self live after what he did here?”
Pete shrugged. “How long is a piece of string, Lenny?”
Midnight had come and gone, and still Pete worked, his face lost in the intensity of it. Lenny died not long afterwards. And as he died, so the blood flowed slowly, then stopped.
Pete looked around at the creatures. His creatures. His Gods.
The large one stared up at him from the blood it had been drinking.
“I’ve served you well,” Pete said. “Again.” He smiled, roguishly.
Something heavy moved across his foot. He looked down and saw one of the smaller creatures climb across it. Others milled around his ankles. And for a moment he felt uneasy. But it was always like this. They were thanking him for what he had done for them.
The large one, his God, stared up at him, though, its dark red eyes unwavering as it moved towards him. There was more to be done. Just what, he was unsure. But there was more, he was certain. He felt himself being pushed by the others; their bodies as big as well fed cats. Then he remembered. This was his moment of rebirth – the moment he would enter the darkness of the void. The moment he would leave this shallow husk till the time was right to return. Ten years he had hung in the void before till he entered this body. His time to let go of this body was now.
Pete screamed as his God lunged at him. It claws dug deep into his chest, as it dragged him back towards the gap within the wall. The others scrabbled about his feet, biting and nipping and scratching him.
“No!” Pete screamed as he remembered it all, all those times in the past. He had to go with them now, into their cramped dark world. But he didn’t want to go into that void again where they would feed off his flesh and blood, revived and hungry.
His final act of sacrifice.
“Till next time,” he heard himself scream in despair.
As his eyes stared in horror at the grim darkness between the walls where they were dragging him.
Where he would feed and sustain them and make them fat for years to come.
It was never going to be easy to return for one last look at the streets where he spent his childhood years. Even knowing this, Gary still felt he had to make the effort, just this once, to see if they were really as bad as he remembered. In a few months demolition was due to start on Grudge End… When Gary Morgan travels north to lie low after a gangland shooting in London, a childhood friend is violently maimed within hours of his arrival. Decades after escaping the blight of his hometown, he finds himself ensnared in a place he hates more than any other.Feuding families, bloodthirsty syndicates, and hostile forces older than mankind all play a role in the escalating chaos surrounding Gary Morgan. Now he must unravel the mysteries of Grudge End and his own past or meet his doom in the grip of an ancient, unimaginable evil.
Many years have passed since Elves defeated and killed the last Goblin king. Now the Goblins are growing stronger in their mire, and Mickle Gorestab, one of the few remaining veterans of that war, is determined they will fight once more, this time aided by a renegade Elf who has delved into forbidden sorcery and hates his kind even more than his Goblin allies. Murder, treachery and the darkest of all magics follow in a maelstrom of blood, violence and unexpected alliances. Facing up to the cold cruelty of the Elves, Mickle Gorestab stands out as the epitome of grim, barbaric heroism, determined to see the wrongs of his race avenged and a restoration of the Goblin King.
There’s a serial killer at loose in London. Janice, who has a chronic fear of the dark, stumbles into a relationship with the man who may secretly be the murderer. Neither know that in the North of England, in a place previously owned by his dead mother, activities are taking place that may unleash a horror that could spell the end of civilisation in Britain – an ancient evil that would make the activities of any serial killer look like child’s play by comparison. Could a psychotic killer be the only man capable of ending this? Andrew Jennings is also known as David A. Riley.
David A. Riley began writing horror stories while still at school and had his first professional sale to Pan Books in 1969, which was The Lurkers in the Abyss, published in The Eleventh Pan Book of Horror Stories. This story was chosen for inclusion in The Century’s Best Horror Fiction in 2012. Over the years he has had numerous stories published in Britain and the United States plus translations into German, Spanish, Italian and Russian. His fiction has appeared in World of Horror, Fear, Whispers, Fantasy Tales, Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries and Lovecraft e-Zine. His first collection, His Own Mad Demons was published by Hazardous Press in 2012. The Return, a Lovecraftian horror novel was published by Blood Bound Books in 2013. This second collection brings together under one cover seventeen of the author’s best blood-curdling stories.
Their Cramped Dark World and Other Tales is David A. Riley’s third collection of short fiction, spanning 40 years of publication, from appearances in New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural #1 in 1971, to the Ninth Black Book of Horror in 2012.He has had numerous stories published by Doubleday, DAW, Corgi, Sphere, Roc, Playboy Paperbacks, Robinsons, etc., and in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, and Fantasy Tales. His stories have been translated into Italian, German, Spanish and Russian. His Lovecraftian crime noir horror novel, The Return, was published by Blood Bound Books in 2013. His fantasy novel, Goblin Mire, was published by Parallel Universe Publications in 2015.Table of Contents Hoody (first published in When Graveyards Yawn, Crowswing Books, 2006) A Bottle of Spirits (first published in New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural 2, 1972) No Sense in Being Hungry, She Thought (first published in Peeping Tom #20, 1996) Now and Forever More (first published in The Second Black Book of Horror, 2008) Romero’s Children (first published in The Seventh Black Book of Horror, 2010) Swan Song (first published in the Ninth Black Book of Horror, 2012) The Farmhouse (first published in New Writings in Horror & the Supernatural 1, 1971) The Last Coach Trip (first published in The Eighth Black Book of Horror, 2011) The Satyr’s Head (first published in The Satyr’s Head & Other Tales of Terror, 1975) Their Cramped Dark World (first published in The Sixth Black Book of Horror, 2010).
David A. Riley’s first professionally published story was in the 11th Pan Book of Horror in 1970. Since then he has been published in numerous anthologies from ROC Books, DAW Books, Robinson Books, Corgi Books, Doubleday, Playboy Paperbacks, and Sphere. Two recent notable anthologies in which he has appeared are The Century’s Best Horror Fiction from Cemetery Dance, and Otto Pensler’s Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! from Vintage Books.In 1995, David and his wife Linden edited and published Beyond, a fantasy/SF magazine. His stories have been published in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, Fantasy Tales and World of Horror.His Own Mad Demons contains his stories “Lock-In”, “The Worst of All Possible Places”, “The Fragile Mask on His Face”, “Their Own Mad Demons”, and “The True Spirit”.
The time of year when people’s thoughts turn to ghosts and goblins, witches and vampires, zombies and werewolves, and—scariest of all—”Sexy Mr. Rogers” costumes. Seriously. If you haven’t seen it, don’t Google it, because then you’ll never be able to unsee it.
Some people’s thoughts turn toward those things in October, anyway.
But some of us think about those things all year long. I’m one of them. October’s just when everybody else is on the same wavelength.
See, I’m a writer. I don’t necessarily call myself a horror writer, because I’ve written a whole lot of books. Many are horror, but others are thrillers, mysteries, westerns, superhero novels… you name it, I’ve probably done it.
Since May of this year, I’ve had six books published, all of them horror, but not one of them about vampires, zombies, werewolves, or ghosts. One—Year of the Wicked—is about witches. Season of the Wolf is about big, scary wolves, but not werewolves. The Slab, Missing White Girl, River Runs Red, and Cold Black Hearts are about ancient world-building and world-destroying gods, demons, sorcerers, dark magic, psychic experimentation—and also people: real people in a real world who are affected by these phenomena.
Over the course of my career, I have written about vampires, and zombies, and the like, but I prefer to make up my own terrors rather than rely on the traditional ones. And I’ve written a time or two about ghosts. But the truth is, as much as I love a good ghost story, they’re hard for me to write about. Maybe that’s because of all those supernatural entities, I’ve had personal experience with only one of them.
Or have I? All these years later, I’m not entirely convinced. But I’m not not convinced, either—and that, I think, is important.
Here’s what happened. In the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, my family moved from Virginia to Germany. My father worked for the Department of Defense, and he’d loved Europe since World War II, so when he was offered a posting there, he took it.
We lived in a hotel for the first couple of weeks, while my parents looked for a home in the city. Then a coworker of my father’s had to go back to the U.S. for a few months, so offered us his house to stay in while we hunted for a permanent place. We took it, but it had only two bedrooms. My parents got one, my little sister the other. There was a large, furnished, one-room basement, and that was where I would sleep.
Or that was the theory, anyway.
My first night there, I didn’t sleep. At all.
Remember, I’d been in Germany for weeks at this point. And I’d lived in Europe before. I wasn’t suffering from jet lag, or nervous excitement, or anything like that. I’d been sleeping fine in the hotel.
But in that basement, I couldn’t. I felt scared, anxious, upset.
I felt like I wasn’t alone, but I couldn’t see who was in there with me.
I lay awake. I wandered around, checking out the bookshelves. I lay down again, tried to sleep, couldn’t. I had never felt so uncomfortable being in a room, or anyplace, in my life, and haven’t since.
For the rest of our time in that house, I slept on a couch upstairs, in the living room.
Remember, I was a teenage boy. Privacy was important. The couch was too short, and by being in the living room, my sleep was disturbed anytime somebody else in the family wanted to use it. It sucked.
But it was better than that basement. I couldn’t go back down there.
It wasn’t until decades later—long after I’d left for college in California, then stayed, and my parents had retired and moved, with my sister, to South Carolina—that my mother told me the story. In that city, she’d learned, there had only been one murder in nearly a hundred years.
It happened in that basement.
Locals avoided that house, which is why it was rented to Americans stationed there temporarily. Its owners wouldn’t live in it, nobody who knew its history would rent it.
Was it a ghost? I never saw anything down there. Never felt like it was trying to communicate with me, or to harm me. But it was a presence, nonetheless. A psychic memory, for want of a better description. There was nothing there, but…there was something there. And whatever it was, or wasn’t, it disturbed the hell out of me.
I’ve never had any other ghostly experiences, before or since. I’ve stayed in “haunted hotels,” and nada, even though there are dozens or hundreds of recorded stories about sometimes terrifying encounters in them. In one hotel, a close friend felt like there was a presence lying on top of her, bearing down on her with weight far beyond what its size would suggest, smashing her into the mattress. She only stayed the one night, and wouldn’t go back.
I’ve stayed there several nights, on many different occasions, and visited the place more than that, eaten in its restaurant, enjoyed cultural events, even signed books there. Nothing.
Another friend, in a different haunted hotel, was knocked flat by something that grabbed her legs and tried to drag her under the bed. Others witnessed the attack and caught her, pulling her out.
And just a couple of weeks ago, my wife, the fantastic author and poet Marsheila Rockwell, had cervical spine surgery. Part of the procedure involved having bone from a cadaver inserted into her spine, where the discs between the vertebrae were gone. After the surgery, she was sent to a facility—not a hospital, but a place that functions as both rehab and hospice—for overnight observation, to make sure there were no ill effects from the procedure. I slept beside her bed in an uncomfortable pull-out bed. At one point during the night, she woke up with a firm but gentle hand on her shoulder. She could hear me sleeping in the pull-out, so she knew it wasn’t me. A nurse, then? She took off the thin sweater she’d put over her eyes, to block out the light, and nobody was there. The hand was gone. But she’d felt it, even after awakening.
Was that a ghost? Whose? We were in a facility where people go to die. And she had the bones of a dead person in her neck. Given that the hand felt like a nurse’s—so comforting, not jarring, not an attack—I like to think it was someone telling her not to worry, the surgery was successful, she’ll be fine.
So, yeah, October. Ghosts and goblins, and so on.
Except goblins, I’m pretty sure, aren’t real.
Jeffrey J. Mariotte has written more than seventy books, including original supernatural thrillers River Runs Red, Missing White Girl, and Cold Black Hearts, horror epic The Slab, and the Stoker Award-nominated teen horror quartet Dark Vengeance. Other works include the acclaimed thrillers Empty Rooms and The Devil’s Bait, and—with his wife and writing partner Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell—the science fiction thriller 7 SYKOS and Mafia III: Plain of Jars, the authorized prequel to the hit video game, as well as numerous shorter works. He has also written novels set in the worlds of Star Trek, CSI, NCIS, Narcos, Deadlands, 30 Days of Night, Spider-Man, Conan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and more. Two of his novels have won Scribe Awards for Best Original Novel, presented by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.
He is also the author of many comic books and graphic novels, including the original Western series Desperadoes, some of which have been nominated for Stoker and International Horror Guild Awards. Other comics work includes the horror series Fade to Black, action-adventure series Garrison, and the original graphic novel Zombie Cop.
A bestselling Young Adult author takes an adult turn.
Bram Stoker Award-nominated author Jeffrey Mariotte delivers a novel of heartstopping horror. When a girl is kidnapped and her family murdered, Sheriff’s Lieutenant Buck Shelton is drawn into a bloody supernatural showdown between good and evil-with an innocent girl.
A new novel of gripping terror from the author of Missing White Girl.
Within the caves of a small Texas town lies a pool of strange, luminescent water. Twenty years ago, three teenagers were inhabited by a malevolent force living in the caves. Now, they’ve returned to the site as combatants in a supernatural war that flows through the raging currents of the world’s rivers.
When Alex Converse, heir to a coal company fortune, visits Silver Gap, Colorado to make an environmentally themed documentary film, he’s hoping to change some minds and to soothe his own troubled conscience. But there’s more going on—in his mind, and in Silver Gap—than Alex knows. People are dying and women are disappearing. Some of the killers have fur, fangs, and claws—but some don’t. What is Alex’s connection to the missing women? Will anyone live long enough to find out? And what’s up with those wolves?
Season of the Wolf is a heart-stopping supernatural thriller about climate change, the human capacity for evil, and the epic struggle between a small town’s citizens and impossible creatures from the dawn of history.
Three veterans of different wars, their lives once saved by magic, find themselves brought together in one of the most strange, remote, and cruel parts of the California desert. As serial killers ply their deadly trade, a young woman, abducted and endangered, seeks her own brand of justice for those who threatened her, and an ancient evil sprouts from beneath desert sands, these three war veterans must learn to embrace the terrifying bond they share. Written in powerful prose as dry and dangerous as its desert setting, The Slab, for all its horrors, is ultimately an epic tale of hope and redemption.
In the tradition of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Riverdale, this magical bind-up includes all four novels in the Witch Season series filled with spellbinding romance, revenge, and of course, witches!
A witches’ war is brewing…
And it’s coming straight towards Kerry and her friends at their summertime home. Along with it is Daniel Blessing. Mysterious, charismatic, and handsome Daniel is on the run from a powerful witch named Season.
Kerry and her friends don’t believe in witches and spells, but Kerry can’t help believing in Daniel… and falling for him.
But falling for Daniel pulls Kerry into a feud his family has been waging for generations. A dark feud of passion, magic, and revenge. Suddenly it becomes clear that Season isn’t after just Daniel, she wants Kerry and her friends dead too. Because, though Kerry doesn’t know it yet, she might just be the only one with the power to uncover the truth—and end the witches’ war once and for all.
Deciding Not to Take Halloween for Granted Anymore
Ever since I was a boy, Halloween was the big event, the bees knees, the great horror spooktacular, the horrific—dastardly—candy-having marathon of fun and games, and then some, if I do say so myself. As I’ve grown older, though, the joy in which I have for the holiday has become few and far between, depending on the year and whether or not someone in my life had convinced me to go out and actually live life in the night during it or not, perhaps instead choosing to stay home to probably sleep early in order to be in tip-top shape for work the following morning. After having this sad state of affairs brought to my attention, please allow me to lament that fact.
My earliest memory of Halloween was probably similar to many other young children, that of being horrified in person due to a jump scare by a grown man in a rubber mask, bringing myself and whichever family member my age that was with me to screams so loud and so bloody-murder-style distraught that dogs in the next district started to howl at a moon that wasn’t there. However rocky the start, my mother made sure to provide much more cherished incentives to celebrate. She would deck out our home—trailer, house, apartment, it didn’t matter—with cobwebs, all manner of skulls, baroque drinking glasses filled with gooey eyeballs, paintings that looked normal until viewed at an angle (which would then unnerve the onlooker as if they’re being watched), make-shift witch umbrellas (the handles were made of her legs, as were her shoes with the popular imagery of the witch herself), crystal balls, and so many books without stories filled with edible bugs and other creepy models of deliciousness. I could spend an entire essay describing the amount of effort that my mother went into the holidays, this goes for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and even the Fourth of July, but October 31st was something special. My mother made us active participants in the structure of the world we lived in when it came to the entirety of that month. I remember many a night sitting with my mom at the table—Monster Mash coming from the speakers—as she had my siblings and I tie a loop of string around a tissue filled with paper before we would use our permanent markers to make darkened eyes and mouths. We’d hang them from the ceiling using clear tape, each in a spot of our choosing for the adults to ever be bombarded with ghosts on high. It was a magical land of character archetypes that if not for Halloween and my mother’s intense appreciating and fostering of its traditions and imagery that I’d likely never have deep dived into stories about werewolves, Frankenstein’s monster, beautiful mermaids that are actually disgusting sea creatures, killer dolls, vampires, and the ilk; later, these led into mythology and other forms of storytelling that inspired much of my writing thereafter. That which makes us scared and reflects our fears of the mundane world, twisted and formed into something that at face value already adds a higher level of mystique and wonder to it are all things that a growing child can really sink their teeth into.
My mother had costumes for us and our friends, too, out the wazzoo. Did you want to be a super hero? Bam, Superman and Batman, there you go. Did you want to be scary? Heck yeah, here’s a Grim Reaper outfit, a scythe, and skeleton mask with a button attached through your sleeve that will make it look like blood was gushing from your skull. Would you rather be a zombie or paint something on your face? She had paint made specifically for your skin back when that stuff was hard to come by. Mom thought of everything, so much so that I’m sure I’m forgetting something.
Well out of high school and still at home, I’d show up from work in October and the decorations, which weren’t there that morning, miraculously covered the house. Every year, with my participation and enthusiasm slowly draining, as if a grain of sand intermittently pushed the value of it further from my understanding and eventually it all began fizzling out into oblivion. Mostly, the last time I visited my mother during Halloween, only a miniature haunted house remained upon the dining room table.
One year, a group of friends had asked me to go out with them, so I dressed as a greaser, partying it up with my drunken cohorts downtown, and after leaving to go to another late night after party, I had a gun pulled on me (check that story out in issue 22 of Weird Mask)—I wasn’t home, so I got into trouble again and again trying to be cool, forgetting what the holiday was really about. It wasn’t the scares, or the costumes, or even the candy. It was about joining my family in on the fun.
My wife asked me years ago when we started dating (and every year since) to help her set up around the house. She had her own set of reused cobwebs from a box marked with a sketch of a jack o’ lantern and I didn’t have any pep whatsoever. Next year, I helped in placing the window stickers that had a variety of cartoon ghosts printed inside the plastic, which started to make me smile and the kitschy candy jars reminded me of my mother, but I was too old for this pretend stuff. “This was the real world and it’s serious business,” said the fiction writer without an ounce of irony. We had wooded and stuffed black cats and bats that needed somewhere to live, nightly horror movies to watch, and Stephen King books to read. One year, we didn’t have money to spend on costumes, let alone did I ever dress up anyway, so my wife and her sister had the brilliant idea to dress in our best fall clothes and started to paint these brown paper bags in whatever designs we wanted. It was a real treat and a hit with our friends. I don’t know if my wife had intended to or not, but she brought that wide-eyed little kid back from the grave, digging him out with a shovel, and offered him a wobbly bowl of Jell-O-brains. He was back and he wasn’t going anywhere, especially now that we have a son who could join in. It was like my heart learned how to smile once more at the grotesque and the slimy, and rediscovered something far more meaningful that I had truly lost: the enriching warmth that is spending time with loved ones as we celebrate the holidays without a care in the world.
Now, I’m going to be 30 years old soon and my son was 10 months old when Halloween hit. A lot of my time aside from work has been thinking about the direction in which I want to raise my child. Of course I want him to have good manners, understand the value of standing your ground, and to know when to show kindness, but I also want him to experience the absolutely ghoulish spirit of Halloween that I knew when I was a kid, which I wish I had kept up on. I’ve got a lot of time to catch up with! I want him to read Casper, watch Stranger Things, light candles that could bring old spirits back—and Hell, I just might grab an old Ouija board for kicks, man. Recently, I haven’t even shaved my beard in a good while just so that I could be Tormund from Game of Thrones for Halloween and perhaps after we’ve raided the Spirit store, we’ll find an appropriate wildling costume for my son, or maybe an old lady costume with a walker that has miniature tennis balls at the bottom, or I don’t know, Ron Swanson or something. More than likely, my wife will create something one of a kind for him from scratch.
Literally, the world of family horror is at our fingertips, limited only within the utmost of our own creativity. I have finally decided not to take Halloween for granted anymore. I want to be kickass for Halloween, just like my mom.
Brothers of Blood follows Belle Whynecrow in her final year of highschool. Her best friends Josue, Xavier, and Jesus the hobo welcome the new kid, Chris, with welcome arms. The only catch? To quell their boredom, Belle tells them to create a kill list, marking off the names as they complete their goal before senior year ends. While struggling to pass their classes with flying colors, this band of merry murderers seems to be on a delightfully bloody roll until Belle’s long imprisoned older brother, Beau, arrives at her doorstep. Now a devout man of God, the brotherhood schemes for his return to his original, and highly exaggerated, bloodlust. That is, if Chris’s jealousy doesn’t destroy Belle’s ranking in the gang first. Not everyone will survive, but those who do will certainly have a year to remember because those that kill together live forever.