Halloween Extravaganza: Edmund Stone: STORY: Blackjacks Revenge

Blackjack’s Revenge

I’ve always thought Halloween droll. A holiday for children and way beneath a man like me, a college professor with a master’s degree. But here I am, picking out a pumpkin to carve from the local farmer’s market. I came with my trusted friend, Bojangles. All twenty pounds of the best little Jack Russell Terrier a man could own.

This small New England town is full of charm and since I’m new to this block, I thought it a good idea to blend in. Some of the displays people put on their front porches would be better suited for Better Homes and Gardens magazine. They really get into Halloween here. Even though I despise the holiday, I don’t want a good egging or toilet paper draped around my house. So, why not?

I peruse through the selection, while the smell of hot apple cider and fresh baked donuts prick my nose. Bojangles pulls at his leash, trying to veer me in the direction of the heavenly aroma. But I persist with my hunt. I can’t find the one I like. I want it to be right. A pumpkin to say, “Hello, I’ve arrived people!” The bigger and gaudier, the better. I’ll decorate smaller pumpkins and gourds around it. It’ll look like Halloween meets harvest moon. I should get some good nods around the neighborhood.

A farmer spots me and jumps out of his lawn chair, nearly tipping it backwards. He’s the typical bumpkin with bib overalls, chewing on a toothpick or piece of straw. I notice his hat has a logo; McCormick’s farm. He puts a grubby hand out but I only smile. He looks down at his hand, seeming a bit confused, then tucks it away in his pocket.

“Mawnin’, young fella! Can I help you find somethin’?” he says in a Yankee accent.

“Yes. I think I’ll take about twenty gourds. I need lots of them for the porch I have.”

“I got all yaw need. What about punkins? Can’t have a good porch decoration without a nice punkin.”

I look around his display but find nothing large enough to suit my needs. Then, just beyond his cart, I see it! The one I’m looking for. It’s large, with nodules adorning it. They look like warts. It’s a witch pumpkin. Perfect!

“I’ll take that one!” I say, pointing behind the man.

“Which one?” the man says, turning to look over his shoulder. His eyes widen. “Why, I’m not sure where that come from. Maude? You know anything about the warty punkin over there?” he says to an old woman in a rocking chair close by.

“Billy left it this mawnin’, brought a whole wagon of ‘em. That’s the last one, fer now. Said he’d bring more tommaw mawnin’” she said, never lifting her head.

“Hmm, musta come from the patch over next to the cemetery,” he says, taking off his hat and scratching his head. “Well then, fella. Looks like you got yerself a nice punkin!”

I bid the farmer farewell, as he finishes loading my car, then stop for a few of those donuts and some cider. Two for me and one for Bojangles, who yips in appreciation. When I get home, I consider the porch layout before putting the pumpkins and gourds there. I notice my neighbor’s porch and see a fodder shock. Why didn’t I think of that? Oh well, I have more gourds to go around my large pumpkin than they do.

I set everything down and go in the house for a carving knife. As I’m looking through drawers something hits the window. I stop. Then hear it again. Are the kids starting early? I walk over and peek out the front window. Nothing. All I see is the porch with my large pumpkin in the middle. I do notice some of the gourds are out of place, scattered about the porch.

“Hmm, odd. I was sure I put them in tight around the pumpkin,” I say aloud. “Better check.

I put on my shoes and jacket, then walk onto the porch with Bojangles on my heels. I start to pick up the gourds. While I’m stooped over one hits me on the backside. I turn to see who the culprit is. No one is there. Bojangles is barking furiously at the bottom step.

Damn kids, but, where are they? I pick up one of the gourds and ease down the porch steps. If they want to play, I’ll play. They can’t outsmart me. One of those little pricks is going to eat a gourd.

I ease around the end of the porch, holding the small projectile over my head. I lunge forward, letting the squash fly from my hand.

“Take that, you asshole!” I say. I see no one, except Bojangles running into the yard, after the gourd, barking the whole way. Then, I hear a noise from the front porch. Ah-ha, they doubled back. I run toward it and I’m faced with a bombardment of gourds. Three of them come flying over my head, as I duck for cover. My dog jumps up and grabs one out of the air, as if it were a tennis ball.

“Hey! Get off my porch! I’m going to call your parents!”

I hear no response, only laughter. A strange kind of laughter. It doesn’t sound like a kid. Bojangles barks, as he runs up the steps to the porch. I run close behind him. When I get to the top step, I’m confronted with a sight I can’t believe. The large pumpkin is staring at me. It has dark eyes and a mouth full of yellow teeth. It grins, then produces a gourd from its mouth, spitting it at me. The thing nearly takes my head off!

“The Hell!?” I say, as I jump back, stumbling down the steps, scraping my knee. I land in the grass on my side. Bojangles steps in front of me, his chest swelled, yapping hoarse barks. I look at the pumpkin. Its moving now, rolling toward the steps! It plops down each one and stops at the bottom. The thing considers me with empty black eyes and dripping teeth.

“Blackjack is back!” the large pumpkin calls out.

Then it rolls toward me, chomping. I get to my feet, stumbling backward, falling then getting up again. What the hell is happening? What is this creature? Bojangles makes a surprised yelp as I pick him up. I make a dash for the car, aware its right behind me. I reach into my pocket. The keys! They’re in the house! Along with my cell phone. Damn!

I turn to see the pumpkin opening its large mouth. Damn if the thing isn’t growing! It’s as tall as a man now, at least six feet, and just as wide! It chomps down, as I move behind the car. Its teeth take off the side mirror. The sound of screeching metal and cracking plastic pierces my ears. The big squash rolls around the front of the car. It’s not as fast now but picking up speed, adjusting to its rapid growth. Bojangles is pulling at my arms, frantically barking, trying to break free. I hold on, I won’t let that thing have my dog!

I scan the area, looking for help. No one is on the street. It’s Halloween for God’s sake, you think someone would be out! I must get out of here! I see a bike leaning next to a light pole. It’s a BMX style, only twenty inches tall, much too small for me, but better than trying to outrun this thing. Thankfully, the bike has a basket. I jump on. Putting Bojangles on the front and start to pedal. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a kid running toward me.

“Hey, mister! You stole my bike!”

“Run, kid!” I say. The kid looks to the street and seeing the chomping jack-o-lantern rolling toward him, decides to make a run for the bushes. Too late! The thing swallows the kid up to his midsection. He didn’t even have time to scream. Legs dangle from the pumpkin’s mouth. Another chomp, and the kid is gone!

“Blackjack!” it screams.

My, God! What am I going to do! I must get away, but I have no idea where I’m going. I don’t know this town. My only hope is, Blackjack doesn’t either. I look over my shoulder and pedal faster, as the monster is bearing down on me. What is this thing, and why is it chasing me? Is this revenge for hating Halloween?

I furiously rotate my legs, until my feet can no longer stay up with the pedals, so I start to coast. I see cars, coming fast at me. I can’t get to the brake. I’m surely going to die! A car screeches to a halt right in front of me. I swerve into an alleyway, Bojangles is standing in the basket, protesting the insurrection. Blackjack rolls onto the car’s hood, smashing the windshield and getting to the people inside. I keep pedaling, hearing the screams behind me. I want to stop but know I can do nothing to help them. I must keep pedaling!

I emerge from the alley and see a cemetery. The gate looks too small for the creature to enter. I may be safe there. I ride the bike through the entrance. Throwing it down, I quickly close the gate and latch it. In the distance, I hear the creature bellow out, an inhuman cry! Cars are crashing, and people are screaming! I cover my ears. I’m shaking and sweating, trying to catch my breath after the ride. I hold my little dog close for comfort. He’s stopped barking but utters a light growl.

I feel safer now. Looking around the cemetery, I notice the strangest thing, there are vines growing everywhere; pumpkin vines. They snake throughout the ground and into the graves. Then I see where they are coming from. There’s a fenced in field next to the cemetery with a sign hanging from the metal lattice. It reads:

McCORMICK FARMS
EXPERIMENTAL CROPS

I raise my hands, letting out an exasperated sigh. I should have known those country bumpkins had something to do with this. Monsanto probably paid them to grow this stupid stuff!

I notice the pumpkins growing on the vines have lumpy protrusions all over them. Just like my pumpkin! Many of the vines growing into the graves have been picked clean. One I notice especially. Its growing into a grave, the earth looking recently disturbed. It has an ominous grave marker that says:

Here Lies the Body of Jack Burton
Better known as Blackjack Burton
The deadliest pirate and outlaw in
New England

Blackjack? No, that’s not possible. How could a GMO pumpkin take on the personality of a dead pirate? This is insane! Then I see something to help verify my suspicions. A bunching of vines growing over a post. This doesn’t seem out of place, but on closer inspection, I see it’s no post at all. It’s a man in a uniform. He’s covered with vines up to his neck and his expression is one of pure terror. His mouth is open, and vines are growing into it and down his throat. I turn away, starting to wretch, but then gather myself. Part of his outfit is showing through the vines. It’s his name tag. It says, Bill.

“Well, Billy, I guess you’re not bringing the next shipment in the morning after all,” I say to him.

A thought strikes me, what about the other pumpkins? Who will be the unwitting sap to get one, and will they be targeted also? I must do something! But what? Fumbling through my pocket, I find a box of matches. The one I was going to light the jack-o-lantern with. I’ll burn the whole patch, then no one will get an evil squash!

I sit Bojangles on the ground and go to the edge of the fence. I strike one of the matches. A whisper of smoke begins to rise. Its then I feel it, the hot wind, a smell of sulfur behind me. I turn to see Blackjack. He’s larger than before, at least ten feet tall, and just as wide; warts surround his eyes and all along his side. They’re seeping yellow goo! He doesn’t look happy. He blows the flame out before the fire has a chance to spread. His frown turns into a large smile with blood-stained yellow teeth.

“Ha ha ha. Blackjack is back!” he says to me. I jump into the pumpkin patch to take refuge. Bojangles runs ahead of me, disappearing into the brush.

“Brother’s arise!”

I gasp as I see who he’s talking too. The pumpkins in the patch start to move, vines wriggle toward me, taking my arms and holding them. I pull an arm loose, breaking a few. But they quickly regroup and pull me back. In my struggle, I drop the matches onto the grass. All the while Blackjack is getting closer. His mouth in a snarled grin. A large tongue snakes out from between his teeth and licks my face. The irony is not lost on me. I’m about to be eaten by a pie ingredient!

I look to my feet and see the matches. If only I can get free. Blackjack is almost on me. He opens his mouth and I can smell the horrid odor of rotted meat and decaying vegetables. Blood and pieces of flesh are stuck in his teeth. I close my eyes and wait for the worst. Then the brush begins to move, something is coming up quick. Blackjack and the rest of the pumpkin hoard look to the commotion. Like a cannonball emerging from a barrel, Bojangles flies from the undergrowth and attacks Blackjack.

“Good boy, Bojangles!” I say. The pumpkins release me and go for the pup, who is now chewing and burrowing his way into the side of Blackjack. The large pumpkin begins to scream, and the other pumpkins try to lend aid. But Bojangles is too fast. He’s inside Blackjack before they get to him.

Blackjack screams, bouncing erratically from side to side. The pumpkins hesitate, not sure if they should help their leader or stop me. I see my chance and grab the matches. I light one and then the whole box, sending it hurling into the dry underbrush. The wind picks up and the flames begin to fan out through the patch.

The pumpkins scream, as the flames lick at their heads. They begin to explode from the expanding heat, and whatever chemicals they are saturated in, starting a chain reaction. Screams of anguish rise from the patch, as vines wither. I look for Bojangles but don’t see him. Blackjack is tittering back and forth. He opens his mouth as if to say something and out pops an orange covered Jack Russel Terrier. He jumps into my arms. I clean the strings from his eyes and he licks my face in appreciation. The flames rise around us and I feel the heat on my skin.

“C’mon, boy! We have to go!” I say to my pup.

My shoes crunch the dry grass with flames traveling close behind. I hold my breath, shielding Bojangles from the intense heat. We step into the cemetery and I exhale the breath in my lungs. Bojangles is voicing his anger in the form of raspy protest barks. I turn toward the patch to see a large pumpkin bursting from the field, flames surrounding it; mouth open and ready to bite.

“Blackjack is back!”

I turn to run, as Bojangles jumps from my arms, leaping toward Blackjack.

“Bojangles! No!” I scream.

He jumps into the open mouth of the great pumpkin. Blackjack snaps his teeth together and grins.

“Mmm, tasty,” He says, as he laughs.

An October wind picks up, blowing the flames out on Blackjack, but giving fuel to the fire in the field behind him. It chills me to the bone, as he rolls toward me, I’m sure to deal the death blow, just as he did to my pup. Then he stops, looking at me with a pained expression. In the distance, I hear the faint yapping of a small dog.

“Bojangles?”

The little terrier comes bursting out of Blackjack’s eye. The pumpkin screams, rolling and undulating to the side; his eye spewing orange and black liquid. The gargantuan squash lands in the fire and begins to spin, protesting the barrage of heat. But to no avail, he succumbs to the torrid blaze, as pieces of pumpkin burst in every direction.

“I think we can say the pumpkin pie is burnt. Hunh, Bojangles?” I say relieved, as he licks my face. The flames rise high into the dusky Autumn sky. Small sparks fly above them and go out, raining ash below. I sigh and turn to the road. Bojangles is at my feet, yipping and dancing in approval. We walk down the main street through town. My dog begins to bark and growl.

“What is it boy? That old pumpkin won’t bother us anymore.”

Then I see it. People running. A car screeches onto the road and swerves into a pole, knocking it down. An electric line sparks, as it falls across the street. It looks like a large black snake wriggling on the ground. It moves along until it hits the car. I see something rolls out that makes my blood go cold. It’s a warty pumpkin. It’s grinning with blood stained teeth. It hits the electric line and explodes along with the car. Bojangles is barking incessantly. I step back and look around at the houses. There are no pumpkins for decoration anywhere to be seen. I call for Bojangles to jump into my arms. I stroke his fur.

“Oh my, boy. This is going to be a long night.”

Edmund Stone is a writer and poet of horror and fantasy living in a quaint river town in the Ohio Valley. He writes at night, spinning tales of strange worlds and horrifying encounters with the unknown. He lives with his wife, a son, four dogs and a group of mischievous cats. He also has two wonderful daughters, and three granddaughters, who he likes to tell scary stories, then send them home to their parents.

Edmund is an active member of The Write Practice, a member only writer’s forum, where he served as a judge for their Summer contest 2018. Edmund’s poetry is featured in the Horror Zine, Summer 2017 issue and in issue #6 of Jitter by Jitter Press. He has two poems in issue 39, one poem in issue 41, and a story in issue 42, of Siren’s Call ezine. He also has three short stories in separate anthologies, See Through My Eyes by Fantasia Divinity, Year’s Best Body Horror anthology 2017 by Gehenna & Hinnom, and Hell’s Talisman anthology by Schreyer Ink Publishing. Most of these stories can also be read in Hush my Little Baby: A Collection by Edmund Stone.

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Halloween Extravaganza: Robert Herold: Movie Maven Mausoleum Films to Die For

Movie Maven Mausoleum
Films to Die For!

By Robert Herold
Author of The Eidola Project

Finding obscure and/or largely forgotten gems in our genre is a bloody-good treat. And, in addition to reading a great book, what better way is there to celebrate the season? (Or any season!)

Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon (1957)

The film opens with an admittedly goofy-looking monster. Don’t let that put you off! The director, Jacques Tourneur (of Cat People fame) did not want the creature in the film, but he was overruled by the studio. Night of the Demon is the British version of the film and is thirteen (lucky) minutes longer. Given this is one of my all-time favorites, I’d go with the longer version.

The movie concerns an egotistical warlock who is eliminating those who criticize him. Dana Andrews (who also starred in The Best Years of Our Lives and the noir-classic Laura) and Peggy Cummins (star of another noir classic, Gun Crazy) run afoul of the warlock, played by Niall MacGinnis.

The film has some wonderfully creepy moments, especially when MacGinnis is demonstrating his power during a little picnic he is hosting for the kiddies in the area. Check it out!

A Chinese Ghost Story I, II, & III (1987, 1990, 1991)

(Note: The first of the series was remade in 2011 by Wilson Yip (of Ip Man fame) I have not seen the remake, but most reviewers rate the original higher. I love the original, so I recommend you go with it.)

The first film is about a hapless but good-hearted tax-collector in Medieval China who is forced to stay in a haunted locale and falls in love with a beautiful ghost. Too bad for him, and anyone else who strays near the place, the ghost is under the control of a nasty tree witch. A wonderful story, great special effects for the time, humor, romance, and insane action—what more could one want? Number II in the series is more of a stand-alone film, whereas number III is a sequel. These are a bit difficult to find, but are worth the trouble!

Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1972)

Made toward the end of Hammer Studios’ heyday, this gem is largely forgotten. Too bad, because it’s a great film. Dashing Captain Kronos, accompanied by his faithful hunchback friend, Professor Grost, gallop all over the 18th Century English countryside in search of vampires. They’re in luck, or maybe not, depending on your perspective. There’s some nice variations on the familiar vampire theme. This would have made a marvelous television series. I’ve love to write it, if there are any producers out there!

Eyes of Fire (1983)

A precursor to the marvelous the film The Witch (2015), which you must see if you haven’t, Eyes of Fire is also a tale of witchcraft set in early rural America. A group of settlers stumble upon a haunted locale and are terrorized by dangerous spirits. A mysterious girl appears who may hold the key to their survival. The excellent story, acting, and production values make this a great film!

Borgman (2014)

Few people saw this Danish film in America when it was first released. Fortunately, it is available on a ton of streaming services (many for free). This is one of the creepiest films I have ever seen. It gets under your skin like a parasite, making your flesh crawl, and then wiggles around in your brain for days afterward. Are you ready? Prepare for a little confusion, it’s meant to be so, as it is a horror mystery, but you will never be the same again. ‘Enjoy!

The Wicker Man (1973) – Original Film

You may be familiar with the 2006 remake, but I am recommending you go back to review the vastly superior original, starring Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee. Cinefantastique Magazine at the time declared it “The Citizen Kane of horror films,” and I agree. It’s an eerie film with excellent acting and a great story. It involves a strait-laced religious policeman who is sent to a remote British isle to investigate a missing girl. Things are amiss in this seemingly idyllic town.

Dark City (1998)

The line between horror and SF is often blurry (consider Alien and its sequels), so you may have missed this gem from the 90’s. The director of The Crow, Alex Proyas, takes us on a noir nightmare with wonderful special effects and acting. The actors and production values are top-notch. The actors include Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland (in one of his best roles), Jennifer Connelly, and William Hurt. It’s a heady mix of horror, mystery, and science fiction you’re sure to love!

A Portrait of Jennie (1948)

If your taste runs toward paranormal romance, I recommend The Portrait of Jennie. This well-acted film features many top actors from the time: Joseph Cotten, Jennifer Jones, Ethel Barrymore, and Lillian Gish. Cotton plays a down on his luck artist, whose career starts to change when he meets an enigmatic young woman.

Nosferatu The Vampyre (1979)

You have probably seen the original film (if not, do so!), but you may have missed Werner Herzog’s outstanding remake. It is a stylized horror film with excellent acting and sets. Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani are wonderful in the lead roles, and the rats deserve a shout-out too! (I hope they got paid union-scale wages!)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Set the Way-back Machine ™ for one hundred years ago: Following the nightmare of deaths and dashed dreams of glory experienced by Germany because of World War One (to say nothing of the other countries involved) came the genius of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. From the expressionistic sets to wonderfully weird characters and expressionistic acting, the film still has remarkable power to unnerve you. Incidentally, Conrad Veit, who plays the somnambulist, was later considered for the role of Dracula (ultimately given to Bela Lugosi) and still later went on to chew up scenes as Major Strasser in Casablanca. Note: I strongly recommend seeing a version with the contemporary orchestral score by Rainer Viertelboeck. Since Caligari is a silent film, music is a key component, and this soundtrack adds to the creepiness!

The supernatural always had the allure of forbidden fruit, ever since my mother refused to allow me, as a boy, to watch creature features on late night TV. She caved in. (Well, not literally.)

As a child, fresh snow provided me the opportunity to walk out onto neighbors’ lawns halfway and then make paw prints with my fingers as far as I could stretch. I would retrace the paw and boot prints, then fetch the neighbor kids and point out that someone turned into a werewolf on their front lawn. (They were skeptical.)

I have pursued many interests over the years, but the supernatural always called to me. You could say I was haunted. Finally, following the siren’s call, I wrote The Eidola Project, based on a germ of an idea I had as a teenager. Ultimately, I hope my book gives you the creeps, and I mean that in the best way possible.

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The Eidola Project

It’s 1885 and a drunk and rage-filled Nigel Pickford breaks up a phony medium’s séance. A strange twist of fate soon finds him part of a team investigating the afterlife.

The Eidola Project is an intrepid group of explorers dedicated to bringing the light of science to that which has been feared, misunderstood, and often manipulated by charlatans. They are a psychology professor, his assistant, an African-American physicist, a sideshow medium, and now a derelict, each possessing unique strengths and weaknesses.

Called to the brooding Hutchinson Estate to investigate rumored hauntings, they encounter deadly supernatural forces and a young woman driven to the brink of madness.

Will any of them survive?

Halloween Extravaganza: Christa Carmen: It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Looking back, I don’t remember loving Halloween any more than my peers. Sure, pillowcases bursting with candy and trekking through my neighborhood after dark with friends was fun, and my mom was great at coming up with unique costumes she fashioned on her Singer sewing machine (a bushel of grapes, a fortune teller, and an evil queen are a few that come to mind). But for the most part, Halloween was one more exciting day in a childhood that I was extremely fortunate to experience as having its fair share of them.

Still, I did enjoy the darker aspects of other youthful pastimes. My bookshelves and OG TBR, i.e., the Scholastic book fair newsletter, were full of Bunnicula volumes, Nancy Drew titles, and the R.L. Stine Goosebumps and Fear Street series, and this appreciation for horror literature eventually morphed into a love of horror films. I saw John Carpenter’s Halloween a few months after I turned thirteen, and the Scream / I Know What You Did Last Summer / Urban Legend era of the late nineties solidified this infatuation. Now, twenty years later, my adoration of All Hallows’ Eve and all things horror is fully-formed and multifaceted. Here are the top five reasons why I love Halloween… maybe you love the holiday for some of the very same reasons.

1. The General public expresses their appreciation for all things spooky.

From November to September, my house is not going to be confused with the Halloween section of Michael’s, however, my wardrobe usually revolves around one particular end of the color spectrum and my home office remains decorated year-round with Stephen King-inspired artwork, black flowers, and skull-and-raven bookends. Some late weekend in September, I cart the Halloween bins up from the basement and let the black cats and cotton cobwebs infiltrate every corner of my house. The remote-control tray on the coffee table is replaced with a black-and-silver skull dish; the salad tongs become skeleton hands, the soap dispensers get their witch hats on, and every single candle is swapped with its pumpkin spice or cinnamon apple-scented counterpart.

The best part of this transformation? Pier 1, TJ Maxx, Target, The Home Depot, pretty much every well-known chain and massive department store is packed to the rafters with dark delights. Ouija board throw pillows, tombstone yard accents, Gothic tea sets, and creepy clown dishware, you can find any manner of Halloween or horror-themed household item as easily as you can buy a loaf of bread. I love strolling the aisles of Home Goods and running into an Ann-Taylor-garbed housewife with a shopping cart full of yoga mats and leisurewear reaching for a bat-bedecked candelabra worthy of Morticia’s dining room table. When school starts and the September equinox looms, mainstream America offers up affordable tricks and adorable treats for perpetual horror lovers and Halloween-enthusiasts alike.

2. Horror film snobs relax their horror snobbery.

I’ve expressed my annoyance at this phenomenon before, but one of my biggest pet peeves is when people turn up their nose at the horror genre then claim their all-time favorite movie is The Silence of the Lambs. “That movie can’t be horror,” they say. “Did you know it won the Oscar for Best Picture?” Cue eye roll. October is the one time of the year when movie lovers seem to relax their highbrow opinion of horror films and embrace vampires, serial killers, and buckets of (fake) blood. Zombieland: Double Tap was released this October, though I can all but guarantee that scores of folks too busy and uninterested to see earlier horror releases of 2019 will stream The Curse of La Lorna, Pet Sematary, Us, Happy Death Day 2U, and The Prodigy before the month is out. Similarly, The Terror, Castle Rock, The Haunting of Hill House, and American Horror Story will likely see an uptick in viewers.

And you know what? Bring it on. Sure, it’s obnoxious when some know-it-all film buff wants to eschew horror will simultaneously discoursing on the genius of the Duffer Brothers, but I will talk all October long with every summertime-horror-hater and Christmas-splatter-film-skeptic about their theory that Hopper is still alive or whether the ending of the Pet Sematary remake was better than the original. You know why? Because there’s room at the table for the fair-weather-horror fans, and, as my next section will detail, Halloween equals love.

3. Horror-centric couples express their love for one another.

Halloween and love go together like milk chocolate and peanut butter in a Reese’s pumpkin cup, and my husband and I are just two of many individuals who chose to cement our relationship on the day of the year dedicated to remembering the dead. Other couples who have mixed love and spook: Rob and Sheri Moon Zombie, Jack Skellington and ragdoll Sally, Morticia and Gomez Addams, Frankenstein and his lovely bride, Herman and Lily Munster, demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, Beetlejuice’s nemeses Adam and Barbara Maitland, and, despite some mid-movie meddling by the eponymous corpse bride, Victor and Victoria.

So why do so many real-life couples and fictional sweethearts find that horror and/or Halloween strengthens their bonds? Marriage is no cakewalk, and yet plenty of newlyweds find themselves unprepared for the trials that come with long-term commitment: steep mortgages and the rising cost of living, the decision of whether or not to have children, illness and loss, in-laws and the ebb and flow of friendships with other people, growing old and keeping your relationship new. Couples that interweave commitment with the acknowledgment of inevitable death could potentially be more in tune with the bleaker but necessary aspects of the human condition. What’s a bit of adversity when you know your partner can stomach Cannibal Holocaust, or that they once performed a madcap but heartbreakingly unsuccessful experiment to try and resurrect their childhood dog, Frankenweenie-style? They do say that the couple that slays together, stays together (I think the ‘they’ in this sentence refers to the marketing team behind Santa Clarita Diet, but hey, it works, and Sheila and Joel Hammond are another great example of a couple made stronger by ghouls and gore).

4. Haunted attractions become the norm.

Here are some of the Halloween activities in which I have partaken: haunted hayrides, haunted corn mazes, haunted houses (or a haunted factory, or asylum, or whatever that year’s or location’s theme happens to be), a paranormal excursion and theatrical séance at the Stanley Hotel, an overnight stay at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum, a daytrip to Salem, Massachusetts, a visit to the gravesite of alleged vampire Mercy Brown, a journey through the nationally acclaimed Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, and a historic ghost tour in that same city.

All those haunted houses and ghostly tours were, if not actually frightening then completely entertaining, but according to Halloween New England, I haven’t even scratched the surface of haunted attractions in Rhode Island or the surrounding states. Here is a (radically incomplete) selection of activities across New England that I still have left to pursue: in Connecticut, the Trolley Museum’s Pumpkin Patch ride; in Maine, a special FX make-up class or a ghostly Bangor walking tour; in Massachusetts, a flashlight maze at Connors Farm or a date with the Ghost Hunters Paranormal Society; in Rhode Island, a Ghosts of Newport excursion; in New Hampshire, Screeemfest at Canobie Lake Park; and in Vermont, a haunted hayride at Gaines Farm called Vengeance in the Valley that promises both the undead and flesh-eating extra-terrestrials. I’ve now lost the thread of this paragraph on haunted attractions and must systematically enter the ten different Halloween New England website-sponsored giveaways as well as purchase tickets to the Haunted Graveyard at Lake Compounce before I can move on to my final point.

5. The boundary between the living and the dead is penetrable.

My final reason for loving Halloween is not commercial, social, or societal in nature. When you strip away the candy and the costumes and the Stephen King movie marathons on AMC, when you remove the ghost-dog dish towels and witch-cat coffee mugs from the shelves of TJ Maxx, Halloween is the time of the year when the boundary between the physical and the spiritual worlds is the thinnest. It’s the perfect time to engage in respective personal and cultural traditions, whether that’s baking soul cakes, leaving an offering for a deceased relative, or lighting a bonfire in celebration of Samhain. If spirits and faeries can enter our world more easily at this lush, liminal time, than I am of the mind to give them the widest possible gateway through which to pass.

Tarot cards, oracle decks, candle magic, Ouija boards, graveyard séances, scary stories around a campfire, or any of the other tools employed for spiritual enlightenment and fulfillment throughout the year take on new meaning once darkness descends on October thirty-first. So, this Halloween, gather up your friends and dance a danse macabre in honor of death. I hope your path to the grave is one of mind-bending horror movies and cider-scented hayrides, of delicious cupcakes with R.I.P. frosted across Peppermint Pattie tombstones and relationships on par with Gomez and Morticia’s l’amour vrai. In other words, I wish you one long, spooky, spectacular walk past the ghosts and goblins, through the dark and cobweb-draped corridors, and all the way to the end of the haunted, hallowed corn maze.

Christa Carmen’s work has been featured in anthologies, ezines, and podcasts such as Fireside Fiction, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Outpost 28, and Tales to Terrify. Her debut collection, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked, is available now from Unnerving, and won the 2018 Indie Horror Book Award for Best Debut Collection. Christa lives in Rhode Island with her husband and their bluetick beagle. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania in English and psychology, a master’s degree from Boston College in counseling psychology, and is an MFA candidate at the Stonecoast Creative Writing program, of the University of Southern Maine. You can find her online at her website.

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: M. Ennenbach

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

M. Ennenbach: I finished a novella for a secret project with the guys at Death’s Head Press. I finally got my first novel edited. And compiled a collection of poetry. Shopping them around now in the hopes someone will put them out soon. Also had a short in Dig Graves Volume 2. It has been a busy first year as a published writer.

Meghan: Who are you outside of writing?

M. Ennenbach: Father to two. Neopost technician that travels the DFW area fixing mailing machines. Daily poet at mennenbach.com.

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

M. Ennenbach: Anyone that knows me has determined long ago that I have issues and their reading my words will just prove them right. It is daunting though. Like being stripped naked and paraded in front of them to judge.

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

M. Ennenbach: Nice. Both. The ability to write and make others feel emotion is one of the greatest gifts. Not having enough hours in the day to scribble down every single idea and refine them is a curse.

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

M. Ennenbach: As a kid, my parents always had a book in front of them. They instilled a deep seated love of the written word. Battling depression my entire life has colored my writing. It adds it’s distinct coloring to my tales.

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

M. Ennenbach: The worst was one night I spent an hour doing algebra to determine how far from shore a man would have to be to out swim crocodiles. An hour for a paragraph.

I made friends with genital torturers and doms for a short story in Notches. It led me down a rabbit hole that helped shape a character in my novel as well. So many things seen that cannot be unseen.

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

M. Ennenbach: The middle. I know the beginning most of the time. And the ending is there but nebulous. The middle is always a surprise to me. I feel I corral the words towards the ending with no real control over what happens. It’s nerve wracking. I’ve killed characters I had no intention of killing because that is where the story took itself.

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

M. Ennenbach: Usually I have a vague idea. I like to write a prologue that pops and catches attention for an opening scene. No outlines though. Too stringent and when I try and make one I become bored of the story. Nine times out of ten, I just let it flow and around chapter three I hurry to jot down a list of characters so I can remember who does what. Very professionally unprofessional.

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

M. Ennenbach: Let them tell their own story. The best made plans can become a better story if you let it fall how it wants to. Organically developing twists are what makes it fun for me.

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

M. Ennenbach: Ryo Fukui playing in the background. A big cup of coffee and a blank screen. I make myself wrote two or three poems a day to keep myself in writing mode. Since I do all of my writing on my phone it makes it easy to scribble when inspiration strikes.

Meghan: Are you an avid reader?

M. Ennenbach: Yes. Been reading a lot of beat stuff lately. Anything Bukowski or Thompson.

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

M. Ennenbach: Horror or fantasy is my go to genres. Eastern European and Russian lit is also great because they give this tragic and off-putting feel in everyday living.

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

M. Ennenbach: I’m not a snob. I know it is impossible to refine one thousand pages into two hours. That said, the trend of ten episode shows based on books is way better. I prefer the author being involved in some capacity to keep it authentic.

Meghan: Have you ever killed a main character?

M. Ennenbach: Yes. A few. No one is safe. If you know a character is safe it takes away the stakes.

Meghan: Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?

M. Ennenbach: I like to let then dig a hole and have to find a way out. Suffering is part of living, so while I don’t take pleasure from writing it, it would be wrong to leave it out.

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

M. Ennenbach: I have a drug addled leprechaun in my novel. He snorts a drug he makes called Unicorn Blow. Then there is the Undersecretary of Hell that transcribes the meeting of Satan and his demons.

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

M. Ennenbach: The best has been being told certain stories actually made them cry. To move someone with a story like that blew my mind. The worst was an ex asked why I waste my time writing stories no one will ever read. I set down my pen for five years after that.

Meghan: What do your fans mean to you?

M. Ennenbach: I don’t have fans. Not yet. I have a core group of readers that have become friends. If I ever get to the point of having fans I hope to make them all friends as well. I guess it is a concept I cannot wrap my head around.

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

M. Ennenbach: Silk from David EddingsBelgariad series. He is slimy, hilarious, and has a trick for any situation. Or Captain Nemo from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. He is just awesome.

Meghan: If you could write the next book in a series, which one would it be, and what would you make the book about?

M. Ennenbach: Dang. Richard Kadrey wrote a book, Butcher Bird, a decade or so back. He says he will never write a sequel and went on to the Sandman Slim series. I would like to dive back into the world he created and explore the mythos of it. A badass assassin on a mission to expose the hidden world to all.

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

M. Ennenbach: A dream scenario would be with China Mieville on a prequel to Perdido Street Station. I would like to tackle the Malaria Wars between the people of the Bas Lag and the mosquito creatures that threatened extinction. It was a quarter chapter idea in The Scar that made me chomp at the bit to see fleshed out.

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

M. Ennenbach: The secret project is due out in early 2020. I’m really excited about it and feel it is a great story. I am in the midst of writing the sequel to my novel. New poetry everyday and hope to see a collection of two of it hit the shelves soon.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

M. Ennenbach: Website ** Facebook ** Instagram ** Twitter

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview or the last?

M. Ennenbach: Thank you for reading so far. More is coming and I feel I am just getting better with each release. Leave reviews after you read. It really helps spread the word about your favorite authors.

M. Ennenbach is a lot of things. Part time dreamer. Full time poet. Scribbler of tales. An Illinois yankee in DFW, but don’t hold any of that against him. A proud father of two that he loves more than life itself. His stories are written from a place of raw emotion, stripped pieces of the man himself spun into powerful trips through nightmare and daydream. Sometimes bleak, at others hilarious but always unique glimpses of another realm; his words will take you on a journey. His first collection, Notches, is available on Amazon and Death’s Head Press with more on the way.

Notches: A Collection

A Collection of dark, twisted and some humorous stories including an epic dark poem from the tormented mind of M. Ennenbach. Each story will give you a window into the darkness of the soul. Fueled by raw, powerful emotions. They will chew you up and spit you out, leaving you quivering on the floor in a gruesome mess begging for more. Are you brave enough to traverse the dark path laid before you or will you become another notch on the wall?

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Feind Gottes

Meghan: Hi, Feind. It’s so wonderful to have you here today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Feind Gottes: Starting at the beginning… my name is Feind Gottes [Fee-nd Gotz]. I write horror. I listen to heavy metal. I attempt to fuse horror & metal in my own way to create stories that will make you soil yourself and stick with you long after you put the book down.

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

Feind Gottes: Wow! Well here goes nothing…5) I worked in debt collections for nearly 15 years 4) I possess somewhere around 4,000 albums3) My favorite view is a mountain view 2) I grew up in an area where I’m pretty sure cows outnumbered people, now I live where corn outnumbers people1) When I was about 5 yrs old I got bit in the crotch by a German shepherd.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Feind Gottes: Little Arliss by Fred Gipson. I was probably about 7 and it lit a spark in me for reading. I have never forgotten that book.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Feind Gottes: I don’t read as much as I used to for many reasons, but mainly because I tend to pick up on other authors’ syntax easily. I want to have my own voice, not simply mimic whoever I read last. However, I recently found a graphic novel adaptation of Clive Barker’s The Great And Secret Show and I’m reading that!

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

Feind Gottes: People who know me personally may not be surprised, but I think The Watchmen written by Alan Moore is one of the most brilliant books ever written. Ignore that it’s a graphic novel, the story is just as poignant today as when it was first penned perhaps even more so today.

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

Feind Gottes: I was an avid reader for years devouring books. Then I read several in a row where I mainly hated how they ended. I started thinking I could do better, but it was a brief thought. A few years and several more books later, I kept having that same thought so I decided it was time I either did better or just shut up about it. After a few stops and starts, I sat down in 2012 and wrote my first tale from start to finish. After several edits and title changes, that story became my first solo published work, my novella, Essence Asunder.

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

Feind Gottes: I always write at my desk with headphones on and the music pumping!

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

Feind Gottes: I really don’t think so. I’m a pantser, in general, which means I get a simple idea and begin writing without making a very detailed outline. I may make a few notes but that’s usually about it though there are exceptions to that rule.

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

Feind Gottes: Trying to avoid interruptions and distractions. If I could write in a cabin, alone in the middle of nowhere, with no internet, I could pump out a half dozen novels a month. Maybe someday I’ll have that, but I doubt it.

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

Feind Gottes: The most satisfying and most frustrating would be my first novel, Piece It All Back Together, due out soon (sorry I don’t have the exact release date as of this interview). The story came out better than it was in my head when I began, but I’m also glad to be done with it.

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

Feind Gottes: Every book I’ve read in my life has inspired me in some way, whether they were so bad I wanted to write something better or so great I can only hope to come close some day. I’ve read books in pretty much every genre other than romance; for the record, I don’t just hate romance I despise it. Obviously, it’s fine in real life, in my personal life, but I enjoy watching or reading it about as much as smashing my crotch with a cinder block. The author part is easy and difficult because the answer is kind of the same. Clive Barker is someone I aspire to be able to write like, but style-wise we’re very different. Some have told me my writing style reminds them of Dean Koontz which is actually weird because I think I’ve read maybe two books by Koontz and I couldn’t tell you what they were. I consider myself an amalgamation of all the writers I’ve read which is too many to count.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Feind Gottes: A good story to me is one you don’t want to put down. Personally a little mystery does that well for me. Basically I want answers to the questions a book raises. The catch is the answers have to be worth the wait.

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

Feind Gottes: I’ve always been drawn to the villain or the “bad guy,” whether it’s in a book or movie. I want to know what makes them tick. Why do they do the terrible things they do? But again the catch is it better be interesting or you’ll just piss me off. I use that myself when creating my baddies. I want the reader to want to learn more and what I like to do more than anything is show you the character you felt sympathy for never deserved an ounce of your sympathy. Yes, I laugh when I reveal the “good guy” was really a big fat SOB the whole time. Sorry not sorry.

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

Feind Gottes: As a writer I can tell you there is a little of me in every character I write. Which one was the most like me? Well, I could tell you but then I’d have to sacrifice you to our dark lord and savior Cthulu!

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

Feind Gottes: I think everyone is turned off by a cover that isn’t visually appealing to them. Comics were a main avenue in creating the reader I became so I truly enjoy graphic art. So far because I haven’t self-published I’ve had very little, if any, say in my book covers though honestly they’ve all been great so far.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Feind Gottes: I’m completely self-taught in every aspect of writing thus far. I hold no degrees from a fancy university other than graduating summa cum laude from the School of Life. I had some great teachers when I was younger and I remember some of their lessons well, which helps the actual writing and my self-editing. I do all my own research. I’ve taught myself how to format Word docs. Basically everything you need to do as a writer I’ve taught myself. One of the coolest though was trying to learn some time specific ‘60s slang for a story that will come out about the same time as this interview. The story is Kairos Chamber which will appear in the anthology Tenebrous from Stitched Smile Publications.

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

Feind Gottes: I can name two so far. The first is in a tale that no one has ever read but myself. I wrote a necrophilia scene from the assaulter’s perspective in the 1st person. I wanted the reader to be uncontrollably turned on but absolutely repulsed by themselves for being turned on. Putting myself in that person’s skin was disturbing to say the least. When I write a character, I am that character and this particular one shook me to the core. Someday I’ll finish that tale so I can see if I get that reaction from readers. The second is a scene in my debut novel, Piece It All Back Together. I started with a couple of pretty sick ideas then decided to push myself to see how nasty I could make it. It involves the torturous murder of a child abusing pedophile but I don’t want to say too much on that. My goal was to make the reader want to throw up but be unable to stop reading at the same time. I spent about two hours on a single paragraph in that scene trying to achieve that goal.

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

Feind Gottes: I write horror for adult horror fans by an adult horror fan. I am not trying to appeal to everyone from 8 to 80 so I can sell a bajillion books. I toss in references here and there that only horror fans will get. I write adult horror that pulls no punches for adults who want to have some bloody good fun with their books. I don’t build my stories around the “ultimate gross out” but when I have an opportunity to turn a reader’s stomach I try to make sure they actually spew.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Feind Gottes: This is actually an easy one for me. Every story I write shares a title with a song or album that helped inspire it. I am a huge heavy metal fan, a metalhead, and doing this is my way of paying respect to the music that has given me so much in my life. I often use band member names or variations of them for my characters. Like my horror references these are little winks and nods to other metal fans. If you don’t recognize them your reading experience is not affected in any way, shape or form but if you do then they should bring a knowing smile to your face.

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

Feind Gottes: The cop-out answer is to say they’re both the same. Every story I finish fills me with an awesome sense of accomplishment. I love the short ones and the long ones. I would say finishing a novel was slightly more satisfying but there’s a reason for that. I spent nearly two years of my life working on my novel from the writing through the re-writes and editing. I’ve lived the thing for two dang years! I’m proud of it. I want people to read and love it. I also want to never see it again… like ever!

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

Feind Gottes: So far the bulk of my published work has been short stories in anthologies. The themes have covered demons, possession, serial killers, monsters and much more. My novella, Essence Asunder, is a work of “body horror,” which is a nice sounding phrase meaning it deals with massive amounts of torture. My debut novel is mostly a mystery along the lines of Dexter if he were placed in the movie Seven. I write for adult horror lovers, if you’re just starting to dabble into horror then my work likely is not for you but that doesn’t mean you can’t try. My mother says my stories are like Stephen King on steroids, but her drug knowledge is limited so I’d probably say meth. I want my stories to stick with a reader long after you’ve put the book down. I want them to swirl around in people’s brains and possibly inspire some to take up a pen and try doing it themselves.

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

Feind Gottes: I try not to pull any punches and so far I’ve worked with publishers who want exactly that. However, there was a scene in Piece It All Back Together that an editor suggested I change. It was the first murder scene. She felt what I wrote was pretty cool but a little too farfetched with the realistic tone I was setting unless there was going to be a paranormal/supernatural element which there is not. I had my killer stab a couple while they are having sex but, of course, I couldn’t be normal about it. Using a long thin spear I had my killer stab the man through his manhood into the woman. I agreed it was unlikely to be possible even though it pained me to change it.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Feind Gottes: I have a potential novel in the “trunk” that I hinted at earlier (with the necrophilia scene). It’s a story I started as a short story but it grew out of control until I got to about 40K words with no end in sight and no idea what I wanted the ending to be. I still don’t know but the story is too good to leave unfinished forever. At some point I will figure out an ending and then you’ll all be sorry!

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

Feind Gottes: Right now I’m working on a short story for an anthology called Blood & Blasphemy to be edited by my author friend Gerri Gray through Hellbound Books. Hopefully what I’ve come up with will make the cut. After that I have a pretty epic undertaking with a planned novel trilogy. I’ve been dying to get started on it for so long it felt like the day I’d start working on it would never come. I don’t want to give away too much this early, but I will say it involves Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, Satan, Lilith, curses, wars in Hell and much, much more. If I do it right, it will be the most blasphemous thing written since Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Does that make me sound egotistical? I hope not, my ego isn’t that big in all honesty.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Feind Gottes: Amazon ** Website ** Facebook ** Twitter

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Feind Gottes: I’d like to close, the way I close every post on my website, with my personal motto that I try hard to live by every single day…

Stay Positive & Make. Good. Art.

Feind Gottes [Fee-nd Gotz] is a horror nut, metal lover and an award winning horror author. Feind currently resides near Omaha, NE with his girlfriend, son, and two crazy cats.

Feind has short stories and flash fiction appearing in over a dozen anthologies with several more scheduled for release including his first ever published poem.

The first draft of Feind’s debut novel won the 2016 Dark Chapter Press Prize followed in 2017 by a Top Ten finish in The Next Great Horror Writer Contest and winning the Vincent Price Scariest Writer Award from Tell-Tale Publishing.

2018 marked a milestone for Feind with the publication of his first solo work with the unleashing of his novella, Essence Asunder, by Hellbound Books. Feind’s debut novel, Piece It All Back Together, is currently being edited for a late 2019 release by Hellbound Books.

Essence Asunder

A gut-wrenching, stomach-churning journey into one man’s private hell – Essence Asunder is one brutal novella! 

One man. Two fiends. A cold, dark basement. A table of torture devices. A garrote chair. Jacob Falgoust has woken into his own private Hell where Pain and Misery greet him with open arms. A reason wrapped in riddles of beauty and pain may be his only chance to escape the suffering. Jacob must find the answer before his very essence is torn asunder.