AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Mark Cassell

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

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

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

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

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

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

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

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

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

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

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

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

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

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

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

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

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

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

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

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

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

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

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

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

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

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

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

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Mark: I’m still waiting…

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

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

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

SHORT STORY: The Meaning of Halloween by Frank Oreto

The Meaning of Halloween

“Trick or Treat.” Sidney repeated the words, then pointed to Meikare. Teaching the Amawaka boy bits of English helped pass the time. Even the Brazilian rainforest got tedious after a month of daylong marches.

Meikare grinned but said nothing.

“Come on, kid. You’re going to like this.” Sidney pulled a fun-sized Snickers bar from the pocket of his cargo shorts.

Meikare reached for the candy, but Sidney closed his hand.

“Trick or treat,” he repeated.

The ten-year-old’s grin straightened into a hard line. His hand blurred, drawing the machete that hung at his waist.

“Whoa.” Sidney stepped back, dropping the candy into the grass.

The boy shoved against him. Sidney, already unbalanced, fell to the ground. Meikare brought the machete around in a vicious arc, neatly beheading a long, striped snake. The snake’s fangs bit convulsively at the empty air.

Meikare knelt and picked up the fallen Snickers bar, handing it back to Sidney. “Trickertreat?”

“Yeah, I think you earned it.”

Oket, Sidney’s guide, squatted nearby, rearranging supplies.

“I’m going to give your grandson a Snickers bar,” Sidney said. “It has nuts in it.” Were nut allergies even a thing down here?

Oket regarded Sidney with disinterest.

“And he killed a snake.”

The guide nodded and turned his attention back to the supplies.

“Okay then.” Sidney handed over the treat, smiling as Meikare shoved the chocolate into his mouth. “Happy Halloween, kid.” He stood and stretched. Sweat rolling down his skin. October 31st should not be this damned hot. Sidney wished he were back in Pittsburgh.

Truth be told, he wished he’d never come. This was supposed to be an adventure.

“You go in under the radar. You and one guide,” the company rep had said. “You verify the mineral deposits, do some sightseeing, and there’s a big fat paycheck waiting when you get back. A lot more than you make teaching geology.”

Sure, the whole thing was a bit hinky. The indigenous zone was off limits to mining. But Sidney wasn’t mining. Just scouting and taking samples where Nav-Corp was already sure the rare earth deposits would be. Besides, weren’t adventures supposed to be a bit hinky?

It turned out Sidney didn’t much like adventure. The rainforest was mostly mosquitoes and humidity. And the mineral deposits were not such sure things after all. To top it off, they were a week and a half behind schedule, and he was missing his favorite holiday, Halloween.

Oket drew his own machete “We go,” he said. The guide spoke English but was so taciturn it hardly mattered. This strong-silent act had been why Sidney hired the man. The other guides had bragged. Oket simply said, “This is my world. You listen. I keep you alive.”

They had a system. Oket walked ahead to scout the best route and get rid of any immediate dangers. A few minutes later, Meikare would follow, babysitting the soft American. Sidney had to admit he liked the arrangement. Despite his early misgivings about Oket’s grandson coming along, he soon realized he preferred the boy’s company to the old man’s.

Meikare spoke almost no English but had the decency to smile and nod a lot. “Trickertreat?” the boy asked.

“Maybe later, kid.”

“Okay.” Okay was the first word Meikare had learned, and he used it often.

Sidney figured they would hike a few hours before Oket doubled back and called out “We sleep” or “We eat.” So, to pass the time, he talked about home. “Back in my world, it’s cold in October. The leaves turn colors, and you rake them up into piles and jump in them.”

Meikare nodded and smiled.

“On Halloween, people give out candy by the pound. As long as you’re dressed up and know the magic words.”

They reached the top of a rise and paused for breath. A narrow valley spread out below them. Within the green expanse, Sidney spotted a burst of red and gold. He blinked, waiting for the colors to resolve into some flowering tree or maybe a flock of exotic birds. “That’s an oak tree,” he finally said. “And the leaves are changing.” Sidney really couldn’t be sure. The tree was pretty far away. But the shape and color seemed right. “That’s impossible.” Or maybe not. Sidney was no botany expert. He only knew it looked like home.

He tapped Meikare on the shoulder and pointed toward the colored leaves.

“Okay,” the boy said.

“We go,” said Sidney, pointing again.

Meikare frowned.

Sidney could see the boy wanted to run ahead and ask his grandfather. Oket would scowl and turn back to his chosen route. If Sidney argued, Oket would simply answer, “I keep you alive.”

This is ridiculous, Sidney thought. I paid good money for a guide; shouldn’t he take me where I want to go? Then inspiration struck. “Trick or treat?” he asked, and patted his pocket.

“Trickertreat okay,” said Meikare.

Sidney pointed toward the tree again. “We go there, then trick or treat.” Suddenly, going to that tree was all Sidney wanted. To stand under branches full of fall leaves and perform the ancient ritual of Trick-or-Treat with his last two snickers. A little taste of home.

Meikare hesitated, but the lure of chocolate proved too much.

The forest thickened as they moved downhill, swinging their machetes. Sidney expected Oket’s harsh voice at any moment, but it never came. Abruptly, there was nothing left to cut. They stepped into a clearing. It wasn’t large, only twenty yards or so. In the center stood Sidney’s tree. It was perfect. Pure Norman Rockwell. Red-gold leaves hung from the tree limbs, practically glowing in the afternoon sunlight. More formed a circular carpet beneath the spreading branches.

Sidney stared, a dopey grin on his face.

Meikare pulled on his sleeve hard enough to make Sidney take a step back. The boy pointed up the hill and tugged again. He looked unhappy. “We Go.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll tell Oket I made you come. I wanted you to see this. It’s what I was talking about. Halloween.” He said the word again, pointing at the tree. “Halloween.”

“Trick or Treat?” asked Meikare.

Sidney nodded.

They ate the last candy bars while looking at the tree that shouldn’t be there. Meikare licked chocolate from his fingers and turned back to the path.

Sidney knew he should follow, but he was not quite finished with his little miracle. With a whoop, he ran to the carpet of leaves, kicking them high in the air. Surrounding himself in a shower of red and gold. Leaves swooped and twirled. But they did not fall.

More leaves rose from the ground, arching themselves through the air. Beneath them lay a second carpet. This one of bones. A leaf landed on top of Sidney’s hand. He felt a pinch, like a doctor’s needle. He grabbed the leaf, crushing it. The thing was leathery. Its body cracked as Sidney squeezed. He tossed it to the ground. The top of his hand welled blood. Two more of the leathery things dove onto the wound. Another landed on his cheek, biting.

Sidney flailed, scraping the creatures off as fast as he could. More bites stung his arms and legs.

Meikare stood frozen at the forest’s edge, his eyes wide, mouth still rimmed with chocolate. Sidney moved toward the boy. He had made a mistake, that’s all. He had forgotten this wasn’t his world. This was Oket’s world and Meikare’s. If he could get back to them, they would know what to do. They would save him.

He stumbled forward one-step, two. Shrill cries rent the air like a children’s choir gone mad. Sidney looked up at the thousands of reddish-gold shapes hanging from the branches above him. No. Not hanging, Sidney realized. The things above him crouched, waiting for prey. Waiting for me. They burst from the branches then, filling the air. Shrieking as they came. Red and gold shapes poured over Sidney. Tiny needle-sharp teeth tearing flesh, draining away his life sip by sip.

Meikare ran. Tears half-blinding him as he stumbled through the forest. He found his grandfather, grim-faced with anger at the top of the hill. The boy dragged the old man down to the clearing, but they were too late. All was quiet now. The leaf things once again hung unmoving in the branches. Where Sidney had last stood lay a mound of leaves, more red than gold, rising from the forest floor as if raked up and ready to be jumped in.

Meikare knew his forest home could kill. His grandfather had taught him to avoid a thousand dangers. And more importantly, that there were always more to learn. Now, it was Meikare’s turn to teach his grandfather about this new threat. He even had a name for it. The one his American friend had taught him. He pointed to the beautiful tree whose leaves bit and killed and pronounced the word with slow precision. “Halloween.”


Frank Oreto writes in deepest darkest Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His stories have appeared or are upcoming at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Pseudopod, and the Corpus Press anthology series In Darkness Delight amongst many others. When not telling lies and writing them down, Frank spends his time creating elaborate meals for his wife and ever-hungering children. You can follow his exploits, both culinary and literally, on Twitter and at his Facebook page.

A sampling of anthologies and magazines featuring stories by Frank Oreto include: Beyond the Veil, edited by Mark Morris; In Darkness Delight: Fear the Future; Unnerving Magazine 16; Vastarien Volume 4; The Year’s Best Hardcore Horror 4; In Darkness Delight: Creatures of the Night; plus a bunch of audio adaptations at various podcasts, like Pseudopod, Tales to Terrify, The No Sleep Podcast, and Centropic Oracle.