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.

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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…

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Sephera Giron

Meghan: Hi, Sephera. Welcome to our annual Halloween Extravaganza, where we see how much Christmas we can take over with Halloween Halloween Halloween, which seems only right since Christmas does take over Halloween each year. Let’s get started: What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Sephera: I enjoy walking the streets on Halloween night and enjoying the decorations, the darkness, the children laughing with nervous delight in their costumes, and the electrical feel of the night when the veil between the worlds is thin.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Sephera: I enjoy seeing people dress in costumes.

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

Sephera: I love the excitement of people, even regular people who you don’t think like to have fun, considering what to wear and how they dress up. I love dressing up, I love how people are excited about being frightened, and I love to see all the imagination going into people’s costumes and decorations.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Sephera: I’ve grown out of my superstitions, but I’ll still toss some salt over my shoulder if I spill any and I won’t walk under ladders.

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

Sephera: It changes all the time. Right now, I’m prone to enjoying Kylo Ren, Loki, and Dandy Mott.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Sephera: I suspect most would say for me that it’s the Lizzie Borden case since I’ve stayed overnight at her place several times, but I’m very intrigued by Jack the Ripper and even wrote about him in my novel Flesh Failure (which is part of Experiments in Terror on the SCREAM app). With Lizzie Borden, I’m 99% sure she committed the murder of her parents, so I don’t consider it unsolved. I’m also still wondering what happened to Flight MH370.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Sephera: These days, I’m not scared of any urban legends.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Sephera: I don’t have one as they are all horrific, despicable people.

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

Sephera: I don’t know how old I was or what I would consider horror. Some movies and TV shows freaked me out like Disney movies. The violence of the original Planet of the Apes franchise when I watched it in the theatre upset me greatly. Fairy tales were the original horror gateway drug for me. Stories such as original The Goose Girl, Cinderella, One Eye, Two Eyes, and Three Eyes, and many others terrified and upset me.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Sephera: When I was very young, I read the book Beautiful Joe which is not a horror novel but it’s gruesome and horrific and it upset me greatly. The horror novel that unsettled me for life (there are many) was The Shining. Stephen King was the new kid on the block back then and I was the perfect age as a teenager to be scared to death reading that book. I’ve never enjoyed a book so much before or since.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Sephera: When I was a kid, I walked into the room when my parents were watching some movie about a haunted voodoo doll statue thing, and they told me to leave. So I was terrified that thing would show up in my room. Also, there was a movie that I believe is called The Crawling Hand that I was watching on a Saturday afternoon Sir Graves Ghastly TV matinee. We could only get that channel sometimes, depending on which way the wind was blowing and how you positioned the antenna. An astronaut blew up in space and his hand was crawling around killing people, like jumping out of closets and stuff. The cable went out and I never saw the end of the movie, to this day, and was terrified for years of random crawling hands/arms that might suddenly appear on the top closet shelf to jump out at me and strangle me and so on. Years later, Frankenstein: The True Story also had a crawling arm/hand which continued the motif for my terror and I had to keep closing my eyes when they’d show it.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Sephera: Thriller

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

Sephera: I love candy corn, those molasses kisses and Reese’s peanut butter cups. As a kid, I never ate chips so I hated getting those bags of chips with three chips in them.

Meghan: Thanks for stopping by today, Sephera. This was great fun getting to know you. Before you go, what are your go-to Halloween movies and books?

Sephera:
Movies:
Rosemary’s Baby
Poltergeist
Hellraiser

Books:
The Shining
Carrie


Boo-graphy:
Sèphera Girón is a horror novelist and screenwriter in Toronto. She has over twenty traditionally published books with more on the way. During the pandemic, she has reconnected with her screenwriting roots and has been working on several films and TV shows with hope of them being produced one day.

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Newest releases are on the brand new SCREAM: Chills and Thrills app. Three books that were previously published by Samhain Horror are now on SCREAM packaged as: A Penny Saved and Experiments in Terror. Read the first few chapters on the app for free.

See me recount a scary real life haunted house experience:

A Penny Saved
Cora hoards pennies, and why not? Pennies have been obsolete in Canada for years so to find one is rare. Unfortunately, Cora’s obsession has conjured a demon who requires payment for the deals he can make for her. Cora rises up through the business world, as promised, but at what price? There’s a special place in hell for some people, and Cora’s spot has been reserved.

Experiments in Terror
The secrets of life…and death! For centuries scientists have sought the secrets of life itself. However, these experiments have often gone very, very wrong. Gathered together in this volume for the first time are two novellas by Sephera Giron that show exactly how terrifying these attempts can be.

In Captured Souls, Dr. Miriam Frederick is determined to create the perfect human specimen-and the perfect lover-with decidedly unexpected results.

And in Flesh Failure, a young woman pulls herself out of a shallow grave to roam the foggy streets of Jack the Ripper’s London, desperate to find answers…and what she needs to remain alive!

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).