GUEST INTERVIEW: Jeff Parsons Interviews ME

It’s not often that I get sent a handful of questions, but each time, it is super exciting to take part. This year, along with an author interview and guest post (a true story), Jeff decided that he wanted to send over a set of questions for ME. And what a great set of questions it was. So, without further ado…

Jeff: What inspired you to create your blog?

Me: I wanted a place that was mine where I could talk books. At the beginning of The Gal in the Blue Mask, which was the blog before Meghan’s House of Books, Goodreads was a rather dramatic place to hang out. Authors and bloggers/reviewers were bickering and both sides were being rather unpleasant to the other, doing things I considered very wrong. I wanted a safe place, a happy place, where I made the rules and everyone was welcome.

In 2019, after a couple of years of just feeling lost when it came to blogging, I decided to rebrand myself as Meghan’s House of Books. It wasn’t that I didn’t love The Gal anymore – I do, and it still exists, for always – but I just felt like I had grown out of it. And so the front doors of “my house” were opened…

Jeff: How do you get your blog noticed? Marketing, blog-to-blog outreach, word of mouth?

Meghan: To be honest, it’s mostly word of mouth. I don’t really fit in with the other bloggers, or so it seems. I’ve tried to make friends with fellow book bloggers, even ones that like the same kinds of books I do, and I’ve done all the stuff they say to do – comment, like, follow – but I’ve never really clicked with most of them. Never really been given the chance. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing…

Jeff: What are some interesting things you’ve learned from talking with authors?

Meghan:

  • They’re all just normal people.
  • They don’t always know what they are doing.
  • The anxiety is real with them as well. (They don’t often see themselves as we do, and question whether they are any good at all.)

Jeff: How do you respond to people who say horror is for disturbed minds?

Meghan: I ask them if they’ve actually read a book in the genre and often suggest a few that they should read because, to me, horror is a way to handle the horrific of the world, a way for us to better understand the “disturbed minds” out there. Not all horror is gore for gore’s sake, which I know turns a lot of people off, or extreme. A lot of horror is psychological or things that can actually happen. Those things say with you long after you close the cover of the book or the credits finish rolling.

Jeff: Why do some people dislike Halloween? Are they afraid of something?

Meghan: There’s a reason that one of my questions in this year’s interview was why Halloween was their favorite (or second favorite) holiday. It’s one of my top two and I wanted to see if people felt the same way about it as I do. To me, Halloween is a lifestyle, and there are horror things up in my home office year round. I’m a spooky girl all year, until November 1st when I become all Christmas all day, and around January 10th I go right back to being a spooky girl. I think people dislike Halloween because they were brought up being told to not like it or that it is evil or they just don’t understand it. Halloween is a time when you get to be a little different, when you get to dress up and pretend you are not the same boring person you are every other day, when you get to enjoy being scared and the things that go bump in the night. “Are they afraid of something?” That’s a great question. Maybe they are afraid of the things that COULD be in the dark. Or maybe they’re just afraid of being judged for liking something that usually the “nerds” are the ones enjoying or because they think it’s kids’ stuff. Maybe they’re afraid to let go and enjoy themselves. And, as I said above, maybe they just don’t understand it.

Jeff: What if Halloween represented a dark side of life that we’ve repressed over the years? What do you think would be scary if we fell back into believing our older superstitions?

Meghan: I’ve never really found Halloween or superstitions scary. Old wives’ tales are often something that has worked over time and handed down through generations (i.e. chicken soup curing a cold). Some are based on religious beliefs (i.e. Friday the 13th and not walking under a ladder). Some were used to scare children into behaving themselves, and they had to have worked or they wouldn’t have stuck.

I grew up in a very religious household, and am still religious. Sometimes I think that we SHOULD fall back into believing our old superstitions. Let’s take Krampus for an example. Kids used to behave because they were truly afraid of being on that bad list. They believed (and maybe it was based on a true story at some point in time) that Santa would send Krampus to get them if they misbehaved. And there are lots of Christmas stories like that – Gryla, the mother of the Yule Lads, who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children; Pere Fouettard, who is St Nicholas’ servant, with the sole job of dispensing punishment to bad children on St Nicholas Day; Perchta, who rewards and punishes during the 12 days of Christmas, best known for ripping out the internal organs and replacing them with trash; and, of course, the Yule Cat, who can apparently smell laziness on a child, who are then sacrificed to him.

Jeff: What do you think Halloween will be like 100 years from now?

Meghan: Less fun? Everything is so politically charged these days, and people are so offended/triggered that the fun is being drained from things like Halloween. We’re told that we shouldn’t like things because of this or reason or this reason. Those of us who have heard this our whole lives are fighting back, but in 100 years, who will be around to defend the weird and wonderful that we love all year round?

Jeff: What can writers do to improve their stories?

Meghan: Since I am an editor, one with over 20 years experience that includes working for two of the big five, I’m going to say that the best way they can improve their stories is to hire a well-read editor and listen to what they have to say. Now I know there are some people that think they don’t need an editor, that say it is an expense they can ignore, especially if they are a self published author, but a good editor is really worth their weight in gold.

I’ve heard horror stories – trust me – which is why I say to talk to the person before you decide to hire them. Let them tell you what they can do for you, let them tell you about their education, their training, and what they have edited so far. (You can even ask to talk to one or two of the authors that they have worked with.) Get to know the person and decide if the two of you would make a good team or not – and I say team because that is basically what the two of you will be, especially if you are writing a trilogy or series, as you’ll want to have the same eyes looking at it each time to ensure consistency and continuity.

I will tell you that a good editor WILL discuss things with you, WILL explain why changes are necessary. YOU will learn from them and THEY will learn from you. It will be a true partnership, but the story will ALWAYS be yours. They will help to make your story better all while retaining your voice. They will never change things (other than misspellings and punctuation) without talking to you first. And they will be available to talk to you at least once during the project. You have to be able to trust them because, in essence, you are trusting them with your baby, so don’t ignore those little things that make you question.

If you simply cannot afford an editor, which is understandable, you should (at the very least) get a good BETA reader. (Note: Some editors do provide a BETA read for a cheaper price, where they will give you an honest opinion of the story in front of them and point out any major flaws with the story.) It doesn’t necessarily have to be an editor, but it should be a well-read person who you can trust to be completely honest with you and invested in your success. Honesty is the only way you are going to learn and your story is going to get better. (And I suggest that you sit down with their notes with an open mind because they really are just trying to help you.)

[Here’s my chance to plug me for a change: Any author that mentions this interview gets 20% off their first edit project with MeghanH Editing.]

Jeff: What are some of the best story hooks you’ve ever read?

Meghan: I am drawn to horror that is set during either Halloween or Christmas, and I absolutely love stories where the setting is a carnival/circus or something haunted (homes, asylums, hospitals). (There should be more carnival/circus horror, people!!) At the same time, I am often truly put off if there is a vampire, werewolf, or zombie involved, which saddens me, especially with vampires and werewolves, because those were the things I loved as a kid. They have just become so… boring… for me, but there are times I give those a try, hoping for something different, hoping for something to grab my attention and pull me in like they did when I was younger.

You’re looking for specifics here, though, so let me pull out a few that have stayed on my favorites list over time.

I love when a stranger comes back to get revenge years later, causing the main character to suffer in the same way that they once tormented the stranger. Even better if there’s been enough time between the two events for the main character to have forgotten or almost forgotten what had happened. A good example of this would be Desolation by Kristopher Rufty. Even better because his story is told from both sides.

I also love watching the main character slowly go insane. That’s a fear I think a lot of people have in life, that they will slowly lose their mind, and it’s interesting to see when done well – and it sicks with you. A good example of this is Six Dead Spots by Gregor Xane.

I know I said that I am bored with werewolves, but maybe it’s because I’m looking for something different. A few years ago I read one by Jonathan Janz (Wolf Land) where the victims became werewolves themselves.

I find stalker stories interesting. I read one not too long ago where a man puts a spell on the woman he loves, and after she loses her memory, pretends to be her lover. As the story goes on, she slowly starts finding out more and more about the man and what he would do to keep the woman of his dreams while she also starts… changing. I was hooked. (The book in question was Rose by Rami Ungar.)

I’ll tell you right now – if you put Krampus or any of his ilk in a story, you’ll have me from page one. I was just “surprised” by a short story in The Best of Indie Horror: Christmas Edition (published by KJK Publishing, edited by Kevin J Kennedy) – I can’t tell you which one because I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you, but I would definitely suggest picking that anthology up (I’ll be reviewing it shortly).

Along the same path, and even though it’s not necessarily horror – well… maybe… possibly… – if you put any holiday character into a book and give them a backstory not expected (for example, the Claus series by Tony Bertauski), you’ll have a hard time not catching my attention.

I guess, you could say, that it’s the psychological horror that really gets me – the things that could actually happen to someone, taken to that next level, the things that stay with you long after you have finished reading the story, that are the hooks I like best.

Jeff: What’s more important to you – characters or plot?

Meghan: Both? You sort of need both to make a gripping story, but I guess if I HAVE to chose one or the other, I’ll say that characters are the most important. Without characters, the plot won’t matter at all. And if the characters we are supposed to love are dreadful, then we really won’t care what happens to them, no matter how good the plot is.

Jeff: What got you interested in horror?

Meghan: My father. He was always reading or watching something interesting. Usually something I wasn’t supposed to be reading or watching. He told me one time that horror was a good scary because I can be scared but not hurt by the things that happen in books and movies.

My first “horror” movie was Jaws. I’ve told this story a billion times, but what’s one more time? We were at my mom and dad’s best friend’s house. The husband and the oldest son (who I had a crush on at a very young age) were watching the movie, and though my mother told me that I would probably not like it, I decided to watch it with them anyway. I honestly can’t tell you much about the movie, nothing beyond the shark and how scared I was, and I have never attempted the movie again. It didn’t help that the same oldest son told me that the light in the deep end of the pool was Jaw’s eyeball. Seriously. His EYEBALL. It took me a good year before I would set foot inot that pool again. One day, there was some work being done on the pool and my dad pointed at the hole and said, “See? It can’t be Jaw’s eyeball. There’s no body.” Now, up until that point, and quite a few more points over the years, I thought my dad was the smartest man on the planet. At that moment, though, I seriously questioned how smart he was. It could still be Jaw’s eyeball without his body there. And sometimes, in the dark, out of the corner of my eye, I swear I see that big eyeball winking at me…

Jeff: What stories can be written in horror that can’t be expressed in other genres?

Meghan: That’s a very good question. I honestly believe that only horror can really go into the depth of someone’s soul, only horror can really explore our true fears. Horror is that one step further, that one step that other genres are afraid to take, with characters that are not afraid to take themselves to that next level, that aren’t afraid to let themselves be depraved or evil, and on the other side, aren’t afraid to feel that depravity and that evil to cone out fine, but often changed, on the other side. I think that all stories in other genres have the potential of being horror, but only horror allows that exploration, only horror creates the opportunity feel that fear (in safety), and really, it’s only horror that gets away with all of the above because it is expected and accepted.

If you think about it, a good romance can lead to a horrific murder spree if we find out that the beautiful woman he fell in love with doesn’t even know he exists. A good science fiction can become horrific if, rather than the people on the spaceship becoming friends with the new alien life they have just encountered, they choose to repeat atrocities from the past and wipe those beings and their planet from space. The cozy mystery can lead to a horrific story if the witty chef who solves crimes in her spare time ends up being the murderer and takes her killing fetish to the extreme, all while setting innocent people up for the murders that she is committing. A fantasy needs to just up it’s Brothers Grimm-anti to cross the line into horror.

Jeff: The lines between horror and other genres often become blurred. What do you think real horror is?

Meghan: This is the one question that I truly struggled to answer, but knowing how annoyed I get when someone doesn’t answer all of the questions in an interview I worked hard to put together, there was no way I was going to do that to you.

Horror is very hard to define because of those blurred lines and each person you ask is going to have a different answer as horror means something different to each individual. Why? Because we all fear different things.

I personally think real horror challenges our belief of what is good and what is evil. Therefore, I think the horror genre is the epitome of that uncertainty. And many of its themes are things that are considered socially unacceptable. As I’ve said elsewhere in this interview, horror gives us a chance to figure things out, to analyze, to really look in-depth at the things that scare us and see it in a different light, to see the wizard behind the curtain.

Jeff: Considering the awful truth of what can happen in this world, how far do you think a horror writer can go to describe the truth before it’s considered unacceptable?

Meghan: I think that as long as it is in some way believable, that if some part of it *could* happen, there will always be someone (or a group of someones) who will accept it no matter how far the author takes it. I think there should be horror that fits in with the horrors of the world because those stories will help us to better understand it. Authors just need to keep in mind that not everyone sees the same horror in things, not everyone has the same story. Current things, full of all kinds of emotion, where the true facts are not always known, are harder for people to stomach than, say, something that happened in the past. Your “horror” may not be my “horror.” We saw that when we look back at WWII. People who went through the events, who were in countries where the events took place, understood the atrocities on a completely different level than those who did not. The war itself was hard on everyone, and a lot of people lost their lives, but it wasn’t until after the war ended – years after the war ended – that the true evil and depravity was shown to life. It wasn’t something that you saw on the news, it wasn’t something that was happening to your neighbor or your family (at least for a lot of people), and even when it was, people did know know what was *really* happening at the other end of a train. People were conditioned to believe that what they were doing was right, and some truly believed that one people were lower than another. Some people did things because they had no choice, or they had to make the decision to do what they had in order to save their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Other people believe it could not have possibly happened because how could we do something like that to our fellow man?

Jeff: What do you think most future horror stories will evolve into? More towards “I’m all alone” or a cosmic-level dread?

Meghan: We’ve found out, most of us, during this global pandemic, that being “all alone” is actually quite nice and easily sustainable. We’ve found out, most of us, that we don’t need other people physically in our lives, and with the options to have things, including groceries and food, delivered to your home, there’s a good few of us that would love living like that the rest of our lives, only having to venture out if we need to. We all have friends that live all over the world, friends we can talk to every day, friends we can see every day. Hell, we’ve even had holidays across the world while sitting in each other’s living rooms. Being “all alone” just isn’t scary anymore.

I think the “new scary” is definitely cosmic horror. Now we’re venturing into things that before we THOUGHT could NEVER happen. (But then we also thought that a global pandemic could never happen. Also: locusts in Africa, devastating fires in both Australia and California, murder hornets, ebola. So maybe a giant octopus creature *could* come from the ocean depths. I mean, it *could*… right?) Cosmic horror makes readers uncomfortable (in a good way), plunges common fears and anxieties into the minds o readers, and focuses on the mysterious and the unfathomable, rather than violence and bloodshed. It makes us realize that, in the great scheme of things, we’re really not very important after all. Maybe that’s the scariest thing of all.


Boo-graphy:
In addition to his two short story books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, Jeff Parsons is published in The Horror Zine, The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories, Aphelion Webzine, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, SNM Horror Magazine, and Bonded by Blood IV/ V.

The Captivating Flames of Madness
This book’s title comes from the reality that – like a moth to the flame – we’re all just one event, mishap, or decision away from things that could change our lives forever.

What would you do if fate led you astray into a grim world where you encountered vengeful ghosts, homicidal maniacs, ancient gods, apocalyptic nightmares, dark magic, deadly space aliens, and more?

If you dare, why not find out?

Read for yourself the twenty-two gloriously provocative tales that dwell within this book – but be warned, some of my dear readers have experienced lasting nightmares…

GUEST POST: Jeff Parsons

True story

Long ago, I worked as an usher at a Boston movie theater. One of the movies playing was Poltergeist. Very popular, it stayed there for almost a year. I got to watch that movie over and over and over. I’d seen it all. And also the reactions of people in the audience: jolted out of their seats, involuntary screams, covering their eyes, reaching out to hold their partner’s or friend’s hands…

I saw one thing at a late-night show that has stayed with me.

A guy was helping his distraught friend leave the Poltergeist theater. Let’s call them Guy and Friend.

Friend collapsed onto the red carpeted floor with a long, low moan. Guy asked for someone to call an ambulance. One of my coworkers ran off to tell management.

Foamy spit bubbled from the corners of Friend’s mouth. His whole body was trembling. Not something I’d ever seen from a body builder type. Friend went into a fetal position, rocking his head back and forth slightly, sobbing softly. This wasn’t convulsions or a seizure. Something else was going on. This man was terrified.

My manager showed up – the frothy behavior went on for a while – we all felt helpless.

Two Boston policemen appeared, quietly, surprising everyone. Unlike any other experiences I’ve ever had with cops, before or since, these guys were oddly detached, cold, and menacing.

One of them prodded the shoulder of the prostate Friend with his shiny black shoe tip. That policeman laughed, then said, “Soft as a grape.”

In a disgusted voice, the other asked, “What happened to him?”

The Guy said, “We were watching the movie and he started saying no, no, no, not again.”

“Whaddya mean?” the disgusted cop asked.

The Guy answered, “Something about the ghosts scared him.”

The paramedics arrived on scene. The policemen reluctantly helped lift Friend’s limp body onto the gurney. He was taken away.

It makes me wonder what caused him to react that way?


Boo-graphy:
In addition to his two short story books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, Jeff Parsons is published in The Horror Zine, The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories, Aphelion Webzine, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, SNM Horror Magazine, and Bonded by Blood IV/ V.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Captivating Flames of Madness
This book’s title comes from the reality that – like a moth to the flame – we’re all just one event, mishap, or decision away from things that could change our lives forever.

What would you do if fate led you astray into a grim world where you encountered vengeful ghosts, homicidal maniacs, ancient gods, apocalyptic nightmares, dark magic, deadly space aliens, and more?

If you dare, why not find out?

Read for yourself the twenty-two gloriously provocative tales that dwell within this book – but be warned, some of my dear readers have experienced lasting nightmares…

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Jeff Parsons

Meghan: Hey, Jeff. I decided to wait and have your day as the last one in this year’s Halloween Extravaganza, so it’s been a wait, but I’m glad you’re here today. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Jeff: I loved taking my young girls out for Trick or Treating. The fresh mystery of experiencing this unique adventure through their eyes, well, it reminded me of my youth. It was a joy dressing up in costumes, visiting stranger’s Halloween-bedecked houses, and asking for candy.

[Spoiler alert] Nowadays, I like watching the interesting variety of movies that come out on television during the Halloween season. I’ll sometimes also deep dive into my personal stock of scary movies.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Jeff: As you know, I like watching scary movies, but along with that, I like splurging on a accompanying buffet of finger food, ice cream, and candy. Essentially anything contraband that violates common sense, my diet, and long-term health. Just sayin’, this includes chicken wings and home-made candy apples.

I haven’t done this yet, but I think going to haunted house events would be fun. I appreciate great acting and stage work.

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

Jeff: As a child, Halloween was second best, right behind Arbor Day Eve. Just joking, we didn’t worship trees. Much. The idea of getting Halloween candy was mind blowing for a kid. I’d run from house to house, carrying a shopping bag in each hand, nearing exhaustion but determined (can’t stop now). When I made it home, my loot was cross-examined by a board of family experts (hmmm, that large candy bar looks unsafe, we’d better eat it for you). After that, I was free to gorge myself silly into a weeks-long sugar frenzy.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Jeff: Black cats, ladders, step on a crack, nope, nope, nope, no superstition.

I really don’t think I’m superstitious about anything, but I’m very interested in seemingly unconnected patterns in the way things turn out. There are too many coincidences beyond direct cause and effect. It’s almost as if we’re tapped into a greater connectivity, aren’t fully aware of it, but it keeps reminding us from time to time. Resorting to a thermodynamics explanation, our planet is essentially a closed system, so everything affects everything else in various degrees of effect.

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

Jeff: I think Clive Barker’s Hellraiser Cenobites are interesting. They were once ordinary people. Turned into demons, their real selves were trapped inside, undoubtedly in a state of perpetual torment. Kind of like working in a dead-end job? All this happened because they were insatiably curious about something best left alone. How often does the voice in our head warn us about things like that for no real discernable reason? Maybe we should listen to it more? Ya know, like, take a pass on solving extradimensional puzzle boxes?

Dexter on Showtime is fascinating. He protects the innocent by killing evil murderers. Despite being a monster, lacking in many emotions, he does care about people in his own way, and he’s shocked at the depth of evil in this world. Essentially, he’s dealing with a great chasm of emptiness inside him. When he was young, he was troubled about feeling nothing. This apparently can be just as bad as feeling too much. That is the path he has chosen – seeking a way to be emotionally connected to others.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Jeff: The original unsolved case – Jack the Ripper. The killer terrorized the dark alleys of Victorian England, wielding medical instruments with great precision… crazy, dangerous, and unstoppable. It was the modern genesis of pure, unspeakable evil. What sickness would drive someone to do that?

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Jeff: This is more like a rural legend – the Night Hag – this scares me the most. The legend is part of my Newfoundland heritage. Hearing about it firsthand made it personal to me. Imagine a creature that attacks you when you’re most vulnerable: asleep, paralyzed, and helpless, but aware of everything happening to you.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Jeff: I don’t idolize serial killers. I’m fairly sure they don’t idolize me either. Well, maybe they could idolize my lifestyle, thinking, “Wow, I wish I could be boring too, maybe if I cut back on the killing, get myself into a good 12-step program.” But, all that said, I do find serial killers to be interesting. Evolution probably required sociopaths who could be fearless and unemotional. Good for dealing with sabre tooth tigers, telemarketers, and such.

For me, the most intriguing serial killer is John Wayne Gacy. He was an upstanding citizen in his community, yet he held such a horrible secret life. It’s frightening to know that we live alongside so many crazy people. Googled it – guesstimates ranged from 1 in 7 to 1 in 100 sociopaths amongst us. It’s quite likely you passed by one when you were at work, out and about, shopping, walking the dog… Hmm, might be a good idea to try your best to get along with people lest you anger the wrong one.

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

Jeff: First movie: Wizard of Oz. That’s uncut street-grade horror for a 5 year old. Flying monkeys. Haunted forest. Wicked Witch. Shiver.

When I was about 9, I started reading horror comics, but it took me until 13ish before I read my first horror book. To date myself, it was a short story anthology edited by Karl Edward Wagner. The pace of the stories was slower back then. That allowed for a bigger buildup of suspense that didn’t seem rushed or artificial. All the better to intrigue me…

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Jeff: City Infernal by Edward Lee. To actually experience what hell would be like is as disturbing as it is interesting. It’s like watching a slow train wreck – you can’t pull your eyes away from the overwhelming tragedy.

For cosmic level horror, most H.P. Lovecraft stories give me a lasting chill.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Jeff: The Exorcist. I’m spiritual, so anything intensely supernatural can have a lasting effect on me. I do watch many supernatural movies, sometimes out of curiosity or a face-my-fears kind of challenge.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Jeff: I never did this, but they have realistic skull faced masks now. Sold by King Trends. When going Trick or Treating, I’d wear a simple, black hooded cloak for simplicity, and keep my face hidden until greeting someone (then, the full skull face reveal). Of course, not in front of kids – don’t want to traumatize anyone.

Remember the clown frenzy a few years ago? Online, it almost appeared to be a supernatural manifestation. Think about this… If something evil wanted to appear to be harmless, a silly clown outfit would do the trick. Fodder for nightmares.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Jeff: Disney’s Haunted Mansion CD of sound bytes. It brings back fond memories of Disneyland. For truly scary, the classical Night On Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky is thought provoking.

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

Jeff: White chocolate covered Reeses are the bomb. The worst comes from the past – wax bottle candy, liquid sugar-fueled shots, instant manic energy with a subsequent crash and burn quicker than a paralyzed falcon falling from the sky.

Meghan: Thanks again for stopping by. Before you go, what are your go-to Halloween movies?

Jeff:
Evil Dead, old and new
The Thing, old and new
Poltergeist
The Aliens series
The Witch
Sleepy Hollow
Hellraiser
Demon Knight

Family movies:
Hocus Pocus
The Addams Family series
The Haunted Mansion


Boo-graphy:
In addition to his two short story books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, Jeff Parsons is published in The Horror Zine, The Horror Zine’s Book of Ghost Stories, Aphelion Webzine, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, SNM Horror Magazine, and Bonded by Blood IV/ V.

The Captivating Flames of Madness
This book’s title comes from the reality that – like a moth to the flame – we’re all just one event, mishap, or decision away from things that could change our lives forever.

What would you do if fate led you astray into a grim world where you encountered vengeful ghosts, homicidal maniacs, ancient gods, apocalyptic nightmares, dark magic, deadly space aliens, and more?

If you dare, why not find out?

Read for yourself the twenty-two gloriously provocative tales that dwell within this book – but be warned, some of my dear readers have experienced lasting nightmares…

Christmas Takeover 34: Jeff Parsons: The List: Naughty

The List: Naughty

A Short Story by Jeff Parsons
1,674 words

“The end is near,” Alec’s grandmother cackled behind him. She was the only one of his family members he couldn’t see in the living room.

“It’s only a storm,” his Dad droned, sitting next to his mother to the right on the old large print flowered couch.

For no certain reason, an awkward silence followed.

Alec’s brother Brett and sister Diane sat on another couch to the left – they were two and three years older than him, eyes vacuous and bored as hell.

Suddenly, the fireplace popped with a firecracker sounding snap of rising sparks. A quick, cold draft in the flue sucked up the air in the chimney as if the outside air couldn’t abide its surprising burst of warmth, seeking to overwhelm it.

Alec didn’t look up. He lay on his belly on the carpeted floor, facing the television between the decorated Christmas tree and the fireplace. One more section of red to fill in, Alec thought, delighted. There! His coloring book page had a fully colored Santa Claus standing near an evergreen tree full of multi-colored ornaments. Just like their real tree.

His mother a-hemmed and said, “See, mother, the banner on the TV says there’s a winter storm warning in effect.”

Alec looked at the television. There was a red banded strip on the bottom of the screen. Words scrolled, too fast and complicated for his four-year-old mind to grasp. Above that, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer was talking with a small group of sad toys. They weren’t loved anymore. Even though they were just toys, Alec could relate completely. He used to be the center of his parent’s love. No longer. Slowly but surely, everything had changed.

“It’s fimbulvinter,” Grandma grumbled with a toothless Nordic accent often difficult to understand.

Alec giggled. “What’s fingle fingers?”

Grandma’s chair creaked as she said, “The beginning of Ragnarök. The end of the world as we know it.”

“That’s blasphemy,” his Mom retorted, on the verge of going into a Pentecostal tizzy.

“Shaddap about the religion, already,” Dad said. He took a long a long swig of canned beer. Third can so far this evening.

“You two don’t believe in anything,” Grandma retorted.

Mom asked at Grandma. “Mother, don’t be vulgar.”

“Why not say the truth? Your choices got you where you are today. With him.” The old woman’s voice dripped acidic contempt. She didn’t like Dad. She always said Mom got married to a poor loser because she got knocked up. Whatever that is, he thought.

Dad went scary quiet, then said, “I provide for her. What has all your wealth done for you? All gambled away by your dead cheating husband. Now you live here by my leave. Guess you don’t really have anything worthwhile to say after all…”

More silence. Stronger this time. Heavier.

Alec didn’t dare look at Grandma. Instead, he watched Santa carrying gifts on the television. Why can’t I have Santa for a Dad? he wondered, feeling guilty about the random thought.

Grandma began to sob.

“Now look what you’ve done,” Mom griped at Dad, angry and exasperated.

“Don’t worry about me.” Grandma stopped crying abruptly. “People get what they deserve. What goes around comes around.”

Brett and Diane were quiet, indifferent, entranced within their own insulated cell phone worlds. Tap-tap tap-tap.

A question rose in Alec’s young mind. He had to know. The gifts, bow-topped and brightly wrapped, stowed beneath the tinsel, ornament, and blinking light festooned spruce pine tree. “When can we open presents?”

Mother sipped from her wineglass, then said, “On Christmas eve. Not before.”

“Is that when Santa comes?” he asked, confused.

“Santa comes the night after. When you’re asleep.”

Huh? His eyebrows knitted together.

“I’d better get what I want,” Diane warned, fingernail daggers stabbing at her cell phone.

The wind rattled the frost-feathered window panes. The storm was getting worse.

Alec’s lips pursed together. His knees were bent in the air, ankles interlocked, slowly rocking back and forth. He realized his coloring book picture was missing something. Santa needed to be delivering something, not just posing by the tree. He began to add gifts, sloppily drawing square bow-wrapped boxes, beneath his tree. In the boxes: for Mom and Dad, a divorce, they always talked about it and said they wanted one, whatever that was; for Diane, a boob job, which caused him to shiver because girls, and especially his sister, were weird; for Brett, a full mustache, huge, long, and curly, to replace the dirt-lip he constantly touched; for Grandma, he wasn’t sure, perhaps like she once said, “peace and quiet”, or maybe what his parents thought she wanted, “to have her way”; for himself, he began to imagine…

“Can we change the channel?” Brett whined. “Claymation cartoons are so lame. He’s not even watching it.”

“Am too watching!” Alec cried, making a point of looking back at the television. He’d been listening, not watching. A song was playing. He liked the words and music, but preferred action.

Mom responded, “Let him watch his show, Brett. You’re busy with your cell phone anyway.”

“Worlds gone to hell,” Grandma grumbled. “No respect for life or common decency whatsoever.”

Dad frowned, shook his head slightly, then took a long gulp of beer. Finishing it off, he placed the empty next to the other ones on the nightstand and cracked open another fresh one.

The Santa and Rudolph show blipped off the television screen. Replacing it was a serious looking man in a suit and tie sitting behind a desk. He looked up from a sheet of paper and said, “We interrupt this broadcast for a special news report,” and so on.

No!

“Make it come back! I want my show!” Alec protested.

His Dad answered, “We can’t. It’s a news cast.”

“That’s not fair,” Alec huffed.

“Get used to life, farty pants,” Diane sneered, then went back to her phone world.

Alec stuck his tongue out at her, to no avail, she wasn’t even watching him. He went back to looking at the television.

The newscaster was saying that people were disappearing throughout the country and more of the blahblahblah.

Alec took his red crayon and gripping it in a tight fist, colored Santa’s face hard and fast with red fire, not even staying in the lines, almost tearing into the page. Looking away from his frustrated coloring, he noticed that the newscaster had stopped babbling and a video feed was playing on the television screen.

Everyone watched the footage in naked fear and silence. Maybe even Grandma, too.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the newscaster said with great difficulty, “I’m not sure what we’re seeing here…”

Alec saw a snowbound city street, with glaring streetlights, being faded out by an approaching dark cloud, like a hazy vortex of ice and snow. There were things coming from the darkness, grabbing people who were running for their lives…and the things, large as an old truck, were ugly with long arms…they were hurting people…killing them. He watched, fascinated with what was happening and, more so, with how people died in such interesting ways.

“Ragnarök. Told you so,” Grandma said with a hint of smug satisfaction.

His Mom had had enough. She said, “Mother, knock it off with that crap! Alec, no more watching this. Go to your room. Now!”

“Diane and Brett get to watch. Why can’t I?” he asked.

His mother pointed to the hallway stairs. “Go! NOW!”

They always treat me like I’m a baby! He threw down his crayon and took his time getting up off the floor, walking to the hallway, and stomping up the stairs to his room.

He threw himself onto his bed and looked out the nearby tall window into the thick snowstorm. Nose pushed to the chilly window pane, his eyes adjusted to the dark; he could barely see the furthest edge of the roof clearly, about as far away as he could throw a rock. He thought he saw movement within the shadowy darkness beyond.

A blaring screech erupted from the television downstairs. Then words: “This is the emergency broadcast system. A nationwide curfew is in effect. Combatants of an unknown origin are attacking citizens throughout the country. Remain calm. Stay in your homes. The military has been activated and is responding to this threat.”

What are com-bats? Really big bats?

Alec blinked in surprise when a flying shadow landed with a thump before his window. His throat constricted. He couldn’t cry out, let alone move. He froze in place.

The nearby darkness receded. A young boy looked back at him. Not much taller than Alec, the boy was dressed like a scantily-clad person from a Renaissance Fair, in brown clothe pieces crudely sewn together, but far dirtier. There was nothing fancy about this boy. He had light-brown, longish mousy-brown hair. His ears pointy at the top, with a button-sized nub of a nose and large almond shaped eyes with deep black irises. Unblinking, they saw everything within their vast, unblinking depths.

Then, the whole house shook. Alec almost peed his pants as he gasped.

His family screamed as a cacophony of wood and glass splintered and shattered below.

The faerie-boy cocked his head to one side as he watched Alec, then gestured for him to come outside into the deadly freezing cold.

“NO!” Alec yelled.

He heard the front door crash in downstairs. Heavy, thunderous footsteps plodded into the house.

“What do you want!?!” Alec shakily demanded at the top of his little boy voice. He had never been so frightened.

The faerie crooned, “Come with us.”

The screams below became mindless raw shrieks.

“You’re going to kill them! Why?” Alec asked.

The faerie shrugged. “They’re not worthy.”

What?

Alec thought about his options.

“Okay, I’ll go with you, but only if-” he hesitated.

The faerie’s right eyebrow lifted slightly.

A wicked smile crossed Alec’s face. “I’ll go with you if you let me watch them getting killed.”

Jeff is a professional engineer enjoying life in sunny California, USA. He has a long history of technical writing, which oddly enough, often reads like pure fiction. He was inspired to write by two wonderful teachers: William Forstchen and Gary Braver. In addition to his two books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, he is published in SNM Horror Magazine, Bonded by Blood IV/ V, The Horror Zine, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4. For more details, visit his Facebook Author Page.

Christmas Takeover 33: Jeff Parsons: The List: Nice

Jeff Parsons has presented us with two versions of the same story. Today is the NICE version. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the NAUGHTY version.


The List: Nice

A Short Story by Jeff Parsons
1,700 words

“The end is near,” Alec’s grandmother cackled behind him. She was the only one of his family members he couldn’t see in the living room.

“It’s only a storm,” his Dad droned, sitting next to his mother to the right on the old large print flowered couch.

For no certain reason, an awkward silence followed.

Alec’s brother Brett and sister Diane sat on another couch to the left – they were two and three years older than him, eyes vacuous and bored as hell.

Suddenly, the fireplace popped with a firecracker sounding snap of rising sparks. A quick, cold draft in the flue sucked up the air in the chimney as if the outside air couldn’t abide its surprising burst of warmth, seeking to overwhelm it.

Alec didn’t look up. He lay on his belly on the carpeted floor, facing the television between the decorated Christmas tree and the fireplace. One more section of red to fill in, Alec thought, delighted. There! His coloring book page had a fully colored Santa Claus standing near an evergreen tree full of multi-colored ornaments. Just like their real tree.

His mother a-hemmed and said, “See, mother, the banner on the TV says there’s a winter storm warning in effect.”

Alec looked at the television. There was a red banded strip on the bottom of the screen. Words scrolled, too fast and complicated for his four-year-old mind to grasp. Above that, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer was talking with a small group of sad toys. They weren’t loved anymore. Even though they were just toys, Alec could relate completely. He used to be the center of his parent’s love. No longer. Slowly but surely, everything had changed.

“It’s fimbulvinter,” Grandma grumbled with a toothless Nordic accent often difficult to understand.

Alec giggled. “What’s fingle fingers?”

Grandma’s chair creaked as she said, “The beginning of Ragnarök. The end of the world as we know it.”

“That’s blasphemy,” his Mom retorted, on the verge of going into a Pentecostal tizzy.

“Shaddap about the religion, already,” Dad said. He took a long a long swig of canned beer. Third can so far this evening.

“You two don’t believe in anything,” Grandma retorted.

Mom tsked at Grandma. “Mother, don’t be vulgar.”

“Why not say the truth? Your choices got you where you are today. With him.” The old woman’s voice dripped acidic contempt. She didn’t like Dad. She always said Mom got married to a poor loser because she got knocked up. Whatever that is, he thought.

Dad went scary quiet, then said, “I provide for her. What has all your wealth done for you? All gambled away by your dead cheating husband. Now you live here by my leave. Guess you don’t really have anything worthwhile to say after all…”

More silence. Stronger this time. Heavier.

Alec didn’t dare look at Grandma. Instead, he watched Santa carrying gifts on the television. Why can’t I have Santa for a Dad? he wondered, feeling guilty about the random thought.

Grandma began to sob.

“Now look what you’ve done,” Mom griped at Dad, angry and exasperated.

“Don’t worry about me.” Grandma stopped crying abruptly. “People get what they deserve. What goes around comes around.”

Brett and Diane were quiet, indifferent, entranced within their own insulated cell phone worlds. Tap-tap tap-tap.

A question rose in Alec’s young mind. He had to know. The gifts, bow-topped and brightly wrapped, stowed beneath the tinsel, ornament, and blinking light festooned spruce pine tree. “When can we open presents?”

Mother sipped from her wineglass, then said, “On Christmas eve. Not before.”

“Is that when Santa comes?” he asked, confused.

“Santa comes the night after. When you’re asleep.”

Huh? His eyebrows knitted together.

“I’d better get what I want,” Diane warned, fingernail daggers stabbing at her cell phone.

The wind rattled the frost-feathered window panes. The storm was getting worse.

Alec’s lips pursed together. His knees were bent in the air, ankles interlocked, slowly rocking back and forth. He realized his coloring book picture was missing something. Santa needed to be delivering something, not just posing by the tree. He began to add gifts, sloppily drawing square bow-wrapped boxes, beneath his tree. In the boxes: for Mom and Dad, a divorce, they always talked about it and said they wanted one, whatever that was; for Diane, a boob job, which caused him to shiver because girls, and especially his sister, were weird; for Brett, a full mustache, huge, long, and curly, to replace the dirt-lip he constantly touched; for Grandma, he wasn’t sure, perhaps like she once said, “peace and quiet”, or maybe what his parents thought she wanted, “to have her way”; for himself, he began to imagine…

“Can we change the channel?” Brett whined. “Claymation cartoons are so lame. He’s not even watching it.”

“Am too watching!” Alec cried, making a point of looking back at the television. He’d been listening, not watching. A song was playing. He liked the words and music, but preferred action.

Mom responded, “Let him watch his show, Brett. You’re busy with your cell phone anyway.”

“Worlds gone to hell,” Grandma grumbled. “No respect for life or common decency whatsoever.”

Dad frowned, shook his head slightly, then took a long gulp of beer. Finishing it off, he placed the empty next to the other ones on the nightstand and cracked open another fresh one.

The Santa and Rudolph show blipped off the television screen. Replacing it was a serious looking man in a suit and tie sitting behind a desk. He looked up from a sheet of paper and said, “We interrupt this broadcast for a special news report,” and so on.

No!

“Make it come back! I want my show!” Alec protested.

His Dad answered, “We can’t. It’s a news cast.”

“That’s not fair,” Alec huffed.

“Get used to life, farty pants,” Diane sneered, then went back to her phone world.

Alec stuck his tongue out at her, to no avail, she wasn’t even watching him. He went back to looking at the television.

The newscaster was saying that people were disappearing throughout the country and more of the blahblahblah.

Alec took his red crayon and gripping it in a tight fist, colored Santa’s face hard and fast with red fire, not even staying in the lines, almost tearing into the page. Looking away from his frustrated coloring, he noticed that the newscaster had stopped babbling and a video feed was playing on the television screen.

Everyone watched the footage in naked fear and silence. Maybe even Grandma, too.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the newscaster said with great difficulty, “I’m not sure what we’re seeing here…”

Alec saw a snowbound city street, with glaring streetlights, being faded out by an approaching dark cloud, like a hazy vortex of ice and snow. There were things coming from the darkness, grabbing people who were running for their lives…and the things, large as an old truck, were ugly with long arms…they were hurting people…killing them. He watched, fascinated with what was happening and, more so, with how people died in such interesting ways.

“Ragnarök. Told you so,” Grandma said with a hint of smug satisfaction.

His Mom had had enough. She said, “Mother, knock it off with that crap! Alec, no more watching this. Go to your room. Now!”

“Diane and Brett get to watch. Why can’t I?” he asked.

His mother pointed to the hallway stairs. “Go! NOW!”

They always treat me like I’m a baby! He threw down his crayon and took his time getting up off the floor, walking to the hallway, and stomping up the stairs to his room.

He threw himself onto his bed and looked out the nearby tall window into the thick snowstorm. Nose pushed to the chilly window pane, his eyes adjusted to the dark; he could barely see the furthest edge of the roof clearly, about as far away as he could throw a rock. He thought he saw movement within the shadowy darkness beyond.

A blaring screech erupted from the television downstairs. Then words: “This is the emergency broadcast system. A nationwide curfew is in effect. Combatants of an unknown origin are attacking citizens throughout the country. Remain calm. Stay in your homes. The military has been activated and is responding to this threat.”

What are com-bats? Really big bats?

Alec blinked in surprise when a flying shadow landed with a thump before his window. His throat constricted. He couldn’t cry out, let alone move. He froze in place.

The nearby darkness receded. A young boy looked back at him. Not much taller than Alec, the boy was dressed like a scantily-clad person from a Renaissance Fair, in brown clothe pieces crudely sewn together, but far dirtier. There was nothing fancy about this boy. He had light-brown, longish mousy-brown hair. His ears pointy at the top, with a button-sized nub of a nose and large almond shaped eyes with deep black irises. Unblinking, they saw everything within their vast, unblinking depths.

Then, the whole house shook. Alec almost peed his pants as he gasped.

His family screamed as a cacophony of wood and glass splintered and shattered below.

The faerie-boy cocked his head to one side as he watched Alec, then gestured for him to come outside into the deadly freezing cold.

“NO!” Alec yelled.

He heard the front door crash in downstairs. Heavy, thunderous footsteps plodded into the house.

“What do you want!?!” Alec shakily demanded at the top of his little boy voice. He had never been so frightened.

The faerie crooned, “Come with us.”

The screams below became mindless raw shrieks.

“You’re going to kill them! Why?” Alec asked.

The faerie shrugged. “They’re not worthy.”

What?

“Please don’t. Please don’t kill them!”

“It’s inevitable. They made their choices. It can’t change. If you stay, you’ll die.”

A tear forming, Alec thought about his family and his options.

“Okay, I’ll go with you, but only if-” he hesitated, voice trembling.

The faerie’s right eyebrow lifted slightly.

“Only if I get to see Santa.”

“Of course,” the elf laughed, “you made the list.”

Jeff is a professional engineer enjoying life in sunny California, USA. He has a long history of technical writing, which oddly enough, often reads like pure fiction. He was inspired to write by two wonderful teachers: William Forstchen and Gary Braver. In addition to his two books, The Captivating Flames of Madness and Algorithm of Nightmares, he is published in SNM Horror Magazine, Bonded by Blood IV/ V, The Horror Zine, Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Dystopia Utopia Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, Thinking Through Our Fingers, The Moving Finger Writes, Golden Prose & Poetry, Our Dance With Words, The Voices Within, Fireburst: The Inner Circle Writers’ Group, Second Flash Fiction Anthology 2018, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 4. For more details, visit his Facebook Author Page.