Christmas Takeover 38: Rebecca Besser: The Magic of Christmas

The Magic of Christmas

A Short Story by Rebecca Besser
3,468 words

“Hammond, where is everyone? Only half the elves are here today.”

“They’re sick, Santa,” Hammond said with a heavy sigh, as he too looked out over the workshop floor. “Ever since Royce came back from cutting down Christmas trees with a strange bite, more and more elves are getting ill.”

Santa crossed his arms and frowned. “Will we still meet our quota for toys? I can’t have children going without presents.”

“If we work longer shifts we should be able to make it,” Hammond said, looking at a spreadsheet on his clipboard. “It’s going to be close. If anyone else gets sick we might fail.”

“Failure is not an option,” Santa said sternly. “Do what needs done—after Christmas everyone can rest.”

Hammond watched as Santa walked away. He hadn’t mentioned that the illness was the strangest he had ever seen. Santa didn’t need the extra stress right now, as he was still going over the Naughty & Nice List.

Turning toward the workshop, Hammond got on the intercom and announced the shifts that would be needed to ensure Christmas came on time.

“Hold him down!” Dr. Jim screamed. “If he bites anyone, they’ll get sick, too. We already have too many of these biters!”

“I’m trying, sir,” Milly said just before the patient broke loose and took a chunk out of her arm with his teeth. She screamed as blood shot everywhere, her eyes huge with pain and shock.

Dr. Jim growled and grabbed the patient’s arm, slamming it down on the table and securing it with tinsel rope. “Milly, go get that bandaged and then admit yourself to the Holly Wing. You’re now infected with the disease.”

Milly took a deep, shaky breath with tears in her eyes. She had seen what happened to the infected and didn’t want it to happen to her. Her eyes pleaded with Dr. Jim, begging him to let her stay, to say she wasn’t infected.

He took a deep breath and softened his tone. “Maybe we’ll figure something out. Maybe we’ll be able to stop it. But you know as well as I do that you’ll try to infect someone else once it takes hold. We have to be careful. Go and get looked after. I’ll come check on you when I get done here.”

Milly nodded, her tears sliding down her round, cheery cheeks that were already starting to pale. She scurried out through the brightly painted red and white striped doors.

As they swung shut, Dr. Jim bowed his head and said a quick prayer, asking God to save them all. He knew this was a hopeless cause. There was no stopping the infection. He pulled up his sleeve and looked at the pussy teeth marks that were turning his arm purple. Soon he would be one of the flesh eaters, one of the walking dead.

The room started to spin and Dr. Jim clung to the table that held the elf who had already turned. The gnashing of the patient’s teeth and the incessant moans began to fade as Dr. Jim fell to the floor.

Two days later, Santa sat in his office, staring out the window. He watched white, fluffy snowflakes float down from the grey, overcast sky without really seeing them. He had finished the Naughty & Nice List yesterday. Today, he had read the medical report from the hospital. Ninety-eight percent of the elves were sick or dead. He feared after delivering presents tonight he would come back to nothing. This might be the last Christmas ever, but at least there would be gifts this year.

Hammond knocked on the door before entering. “Santa, we’ll be ready on time. There were enough of us left to load the sleigh. We’re exhausted, but there will be Christmas for the children.”

Santa sighed. “Yes, for the children.”

Hammond caught the melancholy in Santa’s tone. “We’ll figure something out, sir. Maybe things will be better by the time you return.”

Santa shook his head and rubbed his forehead. The pictures he had just examined flashed through his mind. Pictures from inside the hospital, were the walls had been drenched with blood. The red liquid had been everywhere, dripping off the ceiling and candy cane railing, puddled on the floor. It looked like a sadistic butcher shop. The worst thing was no one was there. Bones and severed limbs had littered the halls and rooms, but no living or moving thing was left. Everyone was missing. The only indication that the missing elves had been able to walk away was the trail of bloody footprints in the snow, leading into the woods.

“The sleigh will be ready in an hour,” Hammond said and left, closing the door behind him.

The reindeer munched contentedly on the hay that was laid out in front of them while they waited for Santa. The sleigh sat behind them, loaded down with merrily wrapped packages. The joyful colors of red and green added a festive and exciting accent to the otherwise drab, brown shed.

Prancer was just bending down for another mouthful of hay when he saw a movement to his left. He froze as he sniffed the air. It smelled like an elf, but it didn’t. Looking at the strange creature, Prancer let out a warning bleat.

The other reindeer looked up at Prancer’s warning of danger, stepping back and forth, they tried to break free of their harnesses.

The creature ignored the animals and instead headed for the sleigh. The little, pale elf sniffed at the velvet interior and liked the scent. She climbed in and burrowed underneath the packages.

Prancer snorted and looked at his teammates. He cocked his head as if to ask, “What was that thing?”

The others snorted and tossed their heads.

Santa’s solemn face stared back at him as he pulled his shiny, black leather belt tight over his paunch, securing his red velvet coat.

“This is it, old boy,” Santa said to his reflection. “Time to deliver all the Christmas cheer.”

He was still staring at his reflection, as if he could find all the answers in his mirrored self, when Hammond came in.

“It’s time, sir,” he reported to Santa. “The sleigh is loaded, the reindeer are ready, and it’s time for Christmas Magic!”

Santa inwardly winced at the false cheer in Hammond’s voice.

“Christmas Magic, indeed,” Santa mumbled, turning and putting on his hat. “Let’s get this over with.”

Hammond was close to tears as he watched Santa walk out of the room. He may be a three-hundred-year-old elf, and had cried maybe two times in his adult elf years, but this was the saddest thing he had ever seen. Santa was depressed about Christmas and nothing could be done to pull him out of it.

Moving to the window, Hammond watched Santa board the sleigh that had been pulled outside. The snowflakes danced, the reindeer pranced, and thirty elves who weren’t sick tried to cheer. They fell flat and looked dead on their feet.

Santa cracked his magic whip, the silver and gold strands glinting in the gas street lights, and with a half-hearted “Ho! Ho! Ho!” they were off.

Hammond watched them take off. It was perfect as always. At least some things stay the same, he thought with a sad smile, watching Santa until he couldn’t be seen any longer. When he looked back at the village, his eyes fell on the condemned hospital. He shuddered. Despite the new snowfall, the blood on the ground in front of the main doors was still visible, now showing pink instead of bright red.

Turning from the window, he set about straightening the few items Santa had used while getting dressed. He was placing the last item, a silver comb, on the dressing table when he heard the first scream.

Rushing back to the window, he looked down on the quaint village that was nestled in the arctic glaciers of the North Pole. What he saw made him gasp in shock as fear gripped his heart with its icy fingers.

They had returned.

Santa went through his duties, and that’s what they felt like to him that night, duties. Normally it was a pleasure for him to give gifts. This year he didn’t care. He knew unless a miracle happened Christmas would cease to exist. What he couldn’t understand was, why wasn’t Christmas Magic helping now? Why hadn’t it stopped the outbreak? Was he failing in some way?

With a heavy heart, he left beautiful dolls for good little girls and skateboards for good little boys. Thinking of the delight in their eyes when they ran down the stairs in the morning to find their special gifts, made just for them, brought a faint smile to his lips and a rose tinge to his waxy cheeks. He decided right there, right then, this was going to be the best, most beautiful Christmas ever, even if it killed him.

With renewed vigor, he stood tall and marched to the chimney with determination. Yes, Christmas was going to be wonderful, illness and death would come, but not until after he had made sure Christmas would shine in the memory of every person, in every house, that he touched that night.

Hammond stood frozen, not quite believing his eyes. Elf-zombie after elf-zombie came pouring into town, moaning and waving their arms. It was like some circuit in their festering brains remembered they were supposed to be there for something. In fact, they were supposed to see Santa off, but they were too late, and it was now too late for the elves that had arrived on time.

The hungry horde fell on the tired, weak, healthy elves like they had never eaten before and needed sustenance so badly that they couldn’t help themselves. Flesh was bitten and torn off with cruel hands, claws, and teeth. Pale faces and foggy eyes contrasted with bright red blood as it shot through the air, spraying everyone. Some of the elf-zombies were cackling and catching blood drops on their tongues, just like small children do with snowflakes.

He shuddered. The gore was unimaginable. He had never seen such violence. That was something reserved for humans, not elves. They were supposed to be happy, peaceful beings. This wasn’t their way.

A gleeful moan sounded behind him. Hammond whirled around to see five of the elf-zombies standing in the doorway with sadistic grins on their rotting faces. Blood still speckled their cheeks from the feeding frenzy in the courtyard.

“No,” he said, raising his arm to protect himself as they advanced toward him. “No!”

As his back hit the wall, his hand came in contact with a silver-reindeer-topped cane. Lifting it high over his head, he let out a wild war cry and slammed it into the head of the lead zombie. It whimpered and fell to the floor to bleed out.

Hammond was shocked with himself, and with the fall of the elf-zombie. Renewed hope warmed his heart. He would go down fighting. These creatures weren’t taking Christmas away that easily. They would pay with their lives.

“You can’t have Christmas!” he yelled and battled the four remaining foes.

They weren’t fast and they weren’t smart, so it didn’t take him long to dispose of them. With a crocked grin and a cocky swagger, he left the dressing room, dispatching every zombie that was unlucky enough to cross his path. A few other healthy elves saw what he was doing. Taking up arms, they followed, and they fought.

Santa was on the last leg of his journey. He had one country left to deliver toys to. He knew it wouldn’t be long before the children would awaken and the true Magic of Christmas, joy and love, would be spreading all over the world. That was his gift to the masses. It was the only thing that gave him the strength to go on.

He returned to the sleigh after delivering a train set and a teddy bear, after yet more milk and cookies, when something in the back caught his attention. A couple of the packages shifted and he thought he saw claws. Frowning, he didn’t think there were any puppies being given out this year, due to the outbreak they weren’t taking any chances by delivering anything live that could possibly carry the disease.

Leaning down into the backseat of the sleigh, he moved a couple of boxes aside, not finding anything. He was about to turn away when a female elf-zombie shot out and grabbed ahold of his arm. She hissed threateningly and climbed up onto his shoulders in the blink of an eye.

Santa swung up at the little beast, trying to knock her off. After a full minute of swinging and spinning, he got a handful of braid and yanked as hard as he could. He was horrified when he looked down to see that all he held was hair and scalp. It dripped with slimy, dark red blood and veins. Frozen for a moment in shock, he was brought back to reality as the zombie bit into his neck.

Screaming with pain and cursing the little demon, he threw himself backwards onto the roof of the house. He was big enough, and heavy enough, that the action dislodged the zombie. She went rolling and tumbled off the roof, her head hit a fence post, impaling and killing her.

For the first time, Santa noticed the reindeer were agitated. He had been so preoccupied with what was going on at the North Pole, and his personal hang-ups, that he had ignored the warning signs they had been trying to give him all night.

Clutching his neck, he got up on his knees and then stood. Walking over to the reindeer, he patted them gently to calm them down.

“It’s all right now,” he said in a soothing voice. “The little biter is gone. We’ll finish up and head home—everything is going to be okay.”

Despite his words, he wasn’t sure. Even now, just a few minutes after being bitten, he was already starting to feel weak from the loss of blood, and from a fever. As he climbed back into the sleigh, he grabbed the reins and they were off again, for how long, he didn’t know.

Hammond and his army of three follower elves fought their way outside. They stood in the double doorway of the workshop and surveyed the carnage in front of them. Altogether they had killed a total of thirty-five zombies. They were tired from working long, hard shifts and they wanted to lie down and sleep, but that wasn’t an option. Fear and anger were fueling their bodies with overwhelming amounts of adrenaline, which seemed to grow stronger with each passing moment.

They looked at each other, smiling and grinning with a mad delight in getting revenge on these Christmas assassins. With a whoop and a holler, they charged into the fray, swinging their weapons in a craze of joy.

It took the feeding zombies awhile to realize what was happening. Hammond and his band took out twenty more zombies before their presence was noticed.

The zombies gathered in a shuffling, moaning, disgusting crowd and shambled toward their attackers, now intent on enjoying some fresh, hot meat.

“Hold rank,” Hammond barked.

The warrior elves stood in a straight line across the street, bloody weapons dripping on the snow-covered ground. Their breaths came out in thick, puffy clouds. Eyes blazing, stances set for the onslaught, they waited for Hammond’s signal.

“Forward,” Hammond yelled. “No mercy!”

Charging forward into the horde, Hammond and his band fought valiantly. Clubs met heads that gave way with moist thumps. Blood sprayed and splashed on the warriors and on their surroundings, but it didn’t slow them at all. The hungry mouths of the zombies were everywhere, gnashing, chomping, and biting. Two of the band fell to their foes; the others fought on.

Before long, all the zombies were down. Hammond looked around for his friends, to no avail. He was the only survivor, or so he thought.

As he stood bent over, breathing heavily, a door to a small cottage across the street creaked open. He spun, raising the reindeer cane high above his head, ready to be charged by yet another enemy. When he saw that it was just a young elf and his mother standing in the doorway, he laughed and lowered his weapon.

More and more families started pouring out of their homes, where they had been hiding. Female elves with their children. He hadn’t thought of all the young elves…that stayed safely at home during everything. They had survived the illness with their seclusion.

Hammond fell to his knees. Their race would go on, the little ones would grow, and Christmas would continue. Laughing hysterically, letting out all of the tension and despair that had been plaguing him, he realized Christmas was truly magical.

Santa wasn’t feeling too good. Every time he stopped to deliver gifts, he vomited. This didn’t worry him at first. All the milk he had drank, and a fever, would cause vomiting, so at first he just ignored it. But as he began to get dizzier and starting throwing up blood, he knew he was done for. He had to get home, and soon.

Weaving, he made his way back to the sleigh.

Santa passed out on the way back to the North Pole. Luckily the reindeer knew their way home. They were still nervous and flew faster than normal. They needed the security and safety they knew they would feel when they got into their stalls.

The smell of blood reached them, even in the air. The reindeer jerked so hard, and rocked the sleigh so violently, it woke Santa. He moaned and took the reins, guiding the reindeer down the best he could.

He passed out again, just as they halted in the bright red snow.

Hammond had seen the sleigh land and had come out to meet it. As he approached, he noticed how pale Santa was. Rushing to him, he shuddered as he saw the festering wound on Santa’s neck and the blood that dotted his coat.

For a moment he just stood there, not knowing what to do. He wasn’t sure if he should waste his time by having Santa dragged inside or if he should just slam something into his head now, before he turned.

The choice was taken away as a young female elf saw Santa. She screeched with joy and tugged at her mother’s skirt, yelling, announcing his return.

Soon the remaining elves were surrounding the sleigh. The adult’s eyes took in the situation and they looked to Hammond with panic and concern.

“Take the reindeer to the barn and see to them,” he instructed a small group of elves. “The rest of us will get Santa inside. Sprinkles, why don’t you take all the little ones to your house while we get him inside?”

Sprinkles nodded and took charge of the small children.

The remaining elves helped him get Santa inside. They removed his belt, boots, hat, and coat and put him in bed.

Hammond stayed with Santa. He could hear the nervous chatter of the other elves in the hall. There was no hope for Santa. He was going to become a zombie, too.

Hammond bowed his head to pray, and jumped when the door to Santa’s room flew open and an elf, no more than five-years-old, came dashing in giggling. Her blonde hair was coming free from her long braids, looking like woven gold in the candle light.

“Santa!” she squealed and hopped up onto the bed.

Hammond jumped up and tried to grab the child, but she was too fast.

Santa’s eyes shot open; they were cloudy. He hissed and sat up, grabbing the girl as she wrapped her arms around his neck. His teeth were merely an inch away from her tender flesh when she spoke.

“Merry Christmas, Santa!”

Zombie Santa froze, and a blinding flash of light flashed between him and the little girl.

Hammond raised his hand to shield his eyes from the glare. Blinking rapidly, he waited for it to fade. It only took moments.

When he could see again, he looked at the girl and Santa. He was normal. He looked cheerful and healthy. The girl was sitting on his lap, rattling off all the presents she had gotten like nothing at all had happened.

Speechless, Hammond turned and left the room. The Magic of Christmas had come through for them after all. Everything would be fine, and there would be more presents next year.

Rebecca Besser is the author of Nurse Blood. She is a member of the International Thriller Writers Organization. She has been published hundreds of times in magazines, ezines, anthologies, educational books, on blogs, and more in the areas of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for a variety of age groups and genres. Her nonfiction article on skydiving was picked up by McGraw-Hill for NY Assessments. One of her poems for children was chosen for an early reader book from Oxford University Press (India). Her short story, P.C., was included in Anything But Zombies! published by Atria Books (digital imprint of Simon & Schuster).

Rebecca’s main focus has been on horror works for adults. She writes zombie works, suspenseful thrillers, and other dark fiction related to the horror genre/community. She has also edited multiple books in these genres.

Amazon Author Page

Halloween Extravaganza: Paul Flewitt: Clive Barker, Dark Dreamer Pt 1

When I invited Paul Flewitt to take part in this year’s Halloween Extravaganza, I never could have expected the guest post that he sent me. We discussed it several times over the past few weeks, and every time he would tell me that it was almost done, send me over a small portion of it, and ask me what I thought. When I received the final copy, I immediately sat down to read it – a retrospective on one of my all-time favorite authors? – and could not believe just how good it was. Weighing in at 69 pages, 40,227 words… it’s definitely the largest, most researched blog post I have received in my seven plus years of being a blogger. I have broken it up into six days, so sit back and enjoy.

Clive Barker, Dark Dreamer:
A Retrospective
Part 1

Hi everyone, and happy belated Halloween. Thanks to Meghan for inviting me to write this, admittedly rather lengthy article.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that, given the opportunity to do so, I would write an article about Clive Barker. I have never made a secret of the fact that I love his work, and that I hold Barker in high esteem as a writer, artist, director and human being. I think every interview I have ever given has included Barker in some way or another – how could it not? He is a huge influence on my writing, as is reflected in many reviews of my books and stories. It would be utterly remiss of me to refuse to celebrate him in any way that I can. So when I discussed with Meghan the kinds of spots she wanted for her Halloween Extravaganza, and a Barker retrospective came up in the conversation, I leapt at the chance to be the one to write it. I do hope that you take as much pleasure in reading it as I have in researching and writing it.

I have tried to be concise, to keep this from becoming an unauthorised biography running into many thousands of words, but there is a lot of ground to cover. Clive has been an insanely prolific artist over the last 40 years, and to fit absolutely everything into a blog article in the detail that each project deserves would be inadvisable. I have written here a potted history of his books, some selected movies, and mentions for plays he has written. You might see this post as a jumping off point for further research. I recommend Douglas E. Winter’s authorised biography The Dark Fantastic, Clive Barker’s own The Essential Clive Barker, and also the Barkercast and Revelations websites for further examination of his wider work.

So, all of this said… shall we begin?

Liverpool, UK in the 1950’s and 60’s was a city in transformation. The year of Clive Barker’s birth, 1952, came seven years after World War 2 ended; Liverpool was still rebuilding and regenerating after being gutted by bombing and the docks, which once provided the lion’s share of the city’s economy, were slowly dying. It was a city catching up with the modern world, and was a hotbed of artistic creativity. From this soup would be fermented bands like The Beatles, The Merseybeats, Gerry & the Pacemakers, and writers like Phil Redmond and, of course, Clive Barker.

The young Barker was a creative, artistic boy. His bedroom was filled with scribblings, doodles, and models half-built. He created for himself different worlds to inhabit and take him away from one that made very little sense to him, which probably gave a clue to the man that he would become. He was an intelligent child; was one of only ten children in his primary school to pass his eleven-plus exam and be admitted to Quarry Bank Grammar School. The headteacher of Quarry Bank was William Pobjoy, a man forever remembered in history as the guy who allowed a young lad named John Lennon to form a little sciffle band while at school and play during lunch periods; The Quarrymen would pretty soon become The Beatles. Pobjoy was described as a “pompous prick” by Barker, so he clearly didn’t enjoy the same rapport with the man as Lennon did. Of course, Clive also described himself as a “snidey little bastard,” so his criticism is not only reserved for his headteacher, but turned upon himself too.

In his first years, Clive was absent from lessons more than he attended them, a fact that was mourned by one teacher who remarked that the class was “lesser for Clive’s absence.” He hated sports, and the class system which pitted child against child. The enigma to teachers was that Barker was a talented pupil, far from a dunce. He performed well in exams and in class… when he deigned to show up. Put simply, academic pursuits held little relevance to the young Clive Barker; the arts and words were where the world made sense to him. In time, he came to a compromise with his parents that he would knuckle down at school, if he could also pursue his art. As long as his mess was confined to his room, a deal was struck.

Clive’s English teacher, Norman Russell, immediately saw something very different in the young Barker, famously refusing to mark Clive’s assignments because “he had moved beyond the curriculum and could not be marked.” Russell was the man who encouraged Barker’s exploration of his imagination, supporting his endeavours on stage. Clive was cast in school plays throughout his time at Quarry Bank and was permitted to put on his own fringe plays, many of them written by him and his friend Phil Rimmer. This was also where Barker first met a boy two years his junior, but would become a lifelong friend, Doug Bradley. Most memorable of these self-produced plays was Neongonebony, a play entirely improvised by the students.

In these plays Barker and his fellow actors showed a forward-thinking and almost revolutionary philosophy toward the arts, seating the audience on stage while the play was enacted on the floor, lit by candles held by the actors and with horrific special effects designed by Clive and Phil.

Clive left Quarry Bank with the intention of attending Liverpool College of Arts, but at the insistence of his father who wanted him to get a proper education and some possibility of gainful employment, he went to the University of Liverpool instead. This dismayed his English teacher, Norman Russell, who had hoped to see Clive accepted into Oxford or Cambridge, but as Barker himself concedes “I lacked the application… I didn’t want to be an MP or justice of the peace…” University did not stop the young Barker from creating; writing plays and even a short novel, originally entitled “The Company of Dreamers;” later released as “The Candle in the Cloud” and dedicated to his friends: Julie, Sue, Anne, Lynne, Doug, and Graham; his fellow actors from school.

Throughout his years at university he continued to act, forming his own theatre company with Doug Bradley, Peter Atkins, Phil Rimmer, and others. The company started out as The Hydra Theatre Company after Clive and Phil Rimmer made a series of experimental short films, which included Salome and The Forbidden. The company occupied much of Clive’s spare time throughout the 70’s, mutating into The Theatre of the Imagination. Under both guises, Barker put on a number of plays. At this time he also wrote The Adventures of Maximillian Bacchus and His Travelling Circus, a short novel for young adults which was eventually released in 2009 and loosely based on his theatre company and friends. The theatre became more of a full time focus when he graduated from university in 1974, and they built a solid reputation for themselves.

Liverpool could not contain Clive Barker for much longer, however, as travel to cities like Paris and London showed him the wider world. It took some persuasion – Barker believed that living in Liverpool offered a unique mystique that being in the London scene would not afford them – but he was persuaded and was first of his friends to move, with his partner, John Gregson, to London in 76. Doug Bradley moved in 78, as did Phil Rimmer and the rest of the company. The troupe morphed as new members joined, becoming The Dog Company and performing several Barker-penned plays including “History of the Devil,” applying for funding from The Arts Council and touring to places like Edinburgh and Holland to perform. Barker and John were never particularly well off, but got by on John’s salary, Clive’s welfare checks, and whatever small income he received from performing. He also supplemented his income writing for a small S&M magazine, copies of which were seized and burned, much to Clive’s delight. It was these stories and articles that would later inspire, in part, Clive’s most famous creation, Pinhead.

More plays followed in the early years of the 80’s, with “Paradise Street,” “Frankenstein in Love,” “The Secret Life of Cartoons,” “Crazyface,” “Subtle Bodies,” and “Colossus” being written and performed in 81, 82 and 83. By now Clive had withdrawn from acting, taking on the role of stage director and principle writer in pursuit of more singular recognition for his writing.

1983 and 84 proved pivotal years for Barker as he began working at night on short stories. His days were still spent on plays and the theatre, the stories being more a distraction and something to share with his friends from the company. He explored his imagination in a much deeper, unreserved way in these stories, giving no thought to publishing any of them. That was, until he saw the Dark Forces anthology in a bookstore, containing short stories by Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and Ramsey Campbell. This anthology set off a lightbulb for Barker and he immediately set about, with his theatrical agent, to find a publisher for his stories. It was a tough sell; the industry opinion was, and still is, that anthologies don’t sell. Sphere Books took a chance on them however, and Clive Barker’s Books of Blood were published. A new Imaginer had arrived, and took the world of horror and dark fantasy by storm. Ramsey Campbell wrote; “I think Clive Barker is the most important writer of horror fiction since Peter Straub,” and Stephen King wrote; “I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker.” It was a phrase that Barker says “changed my life forever…” but also proved to be something of a curse.

Books of Blood (1984)

Of all Clive Barker’s works, Books of Blood is the one I see most frequently recommended in online groups to initiates into the world of Barker (or The Barkerverse, as I term it) these days. I can see why too; Books of Blood gives an overview of everything that might be expected from Clive’s work. There are claustrophobic horrors and epic fantasies, peopled by monsters of both the human and distinctly non-human variety. If you’re going to like any Barker at all, you will like a lot of what’s contained in these volumes.

There are a number of releases of Books of Blood: individual volumes and omnibus editions which collect volumes 1-3 and 3-6, all with differing cover art. Really, Barker is a collectors’ dream when it comes to interesting cover art. Like Pokemon; you’ve gotta catch em all.

Stand out stories for me here would be: Pig Blood Blues, Rawhead Rex, Dread, The Forbidden, Book of Blood, The Body Politic, Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament, Son of Celluloid, and In The Hills, The Cities. Honestly though, there isn’t a bad story in the whole bunch. As an introduction to Barker’s work, you really can’t go wrong here.

The release of Books of Blood proved something of an anomaly in publishing circles; for a writer to debut with a short story collection was unheard of in the modern era, for them to be a critical success unprecedented. It wasn’t an astounding commercial success, but sold enough for Sphere to want more from Barker: a novel. It was a daunting prospect for Clive to write a full length piece, but he set to work and produced a synopsis entitled “Out of the Empty Quarter.” This was proposed to begin in the Arabian desert; an explorer discovers the ruins of Eden inhabited by a lonely angel. The explorer returns to England and unleashes a horrifying force, which turns out to be more angelic than demonic. Sphere rejected this idea, finding it more akin to fantasy than horror. Unperturbed, Barker came up with something else: “Mamoulian’s Game,” but we would come to know it as “The Damnation Game.”

The Damnation Game (1985)

The story begins with a thief wandering through the ashes of the Warsaw Ghetto, searching for a legendary card player. Stories have been told of the European, the greatest card player they have ever heard of who never loses, and the thief is skeptical. Of course, he wants to meet this man himself and disprove the fable… and play him himself. He has tracked the European to Warsaw, and here he will find him… and win. The prize for winning against the European is wealth, fame, and long life, a prize that the thief accepts eagerly.

Years later, Marty Strauss is in prison for armed robbery, closing in on parole and determined to see out his sentence in peace. He is summoned to a meeting with the governor of the prison and is greeted by William Toy. Strauss is soon made an offer he could scarcely refuse: early release, in return for his services as bodyguard to the hermetic millionaire, Joseph Whitehead.

Strauss is taken to Whitehead’s Sanctuary by Toy, where he will live as Whitehead’s right hand man. He meets Whitehead and, quite frankly, cannot believe his luck. He is paid well for his services, lives in a grand mansion, and can live his life again. All is going better than Strauss could have possibly dreamed… until Mamoulian comes to call.

The Damnation Game is a Faustian tale of redemption and… well, damnation obviously. Marty Strauss is portrayed as a normal guy, thrown into some very unusual and terrifying circumstances, used by a man who considers himself above the common. Mamoulian, the Last European, is characterised as an eloquent, melancholy, and ill-used antagonist in the piece. There is a lot to like in this story, as bleak and morbid as it turns out to be. It is certainly a great debut novel from a writer finding his feet and discovering his style.

Once again, Barker’s work was praised by the genre critics, but wasn’t so much a commercial success. Sphere marketed it as a middle-ranked book, giving it a little marketing and hoping that Clive could sell it in personal appearances. They were hoping to sell movie rights, but they never materialised. It certainly engendered a response, with one critic calling it “spiritually bankrupt,” while another said it was “Zombie Flesh Eaters written by Graham Greene.” Characteristically, Barker revelled in these critiques. “What you can’t do to most of the images in my books is ignore them…”

If nothing else, Barker had announced himself on the scene as a major writer of dark fiction, and his contribution was recognised in 1985 by the British Fantasy Society and World Fantasy Society, awarding him Best Collection award for 84’s Books of Blood.

Now it was time for Barker to cement his place in the pantheon of British horror writers… but not before a little distraction in the form of movie-making.

1985 also brought Barker’s first feature film through Green Man Productions: Underworld. A futuristic horror, it was doomed from the beginning by interfering producers which led to a disjointed affair. Barker wrote the script and friend, George Pavlou, directed with a shoestring budget; neither was in control of the money and Pavlou was even barred entirely from the editing suite during post-production. A second writer was brought in to rewrite Barker’s scripts (which began as unfilmable since Clive had previously written for stage and had no experience of writing for the screen), but the new writer turned it into a more 80’s themed, low budget action romp. Pavlou tried to sew the two scripts together in an effort to create a coherent script… and ultimately failed. Barker saw the movie in the theatre and couldn’t watch, seeing the butchery that had been committed on his vision, which gave a preview of themes that he would revisit in Nightbreed.

Barker had sold the rights of first refusal to Green Man Productions for five of the stories from Books of Blood: Rawhead Rex; Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament; Confessions (From a Pornographer’s Shroud); Sex, Death and Starshine; and Human Remains.

Pre-production on Rawhead Rex would begin in January 1986.

If Clive thought that Rawhead Rex would be a happier, more successful experience and that Green Man Productions would have learned from the errors made with Underworld, he was mistaken. From the outset it became apparent that this would be another difficult production. First, the producers re-set the movie in Ireland instead of the south of England, then announced a budget of £3m, but the reality was rather less. Barker wrote the screenplay, which director George Pavlou loved… and that was essentially the end of Barker’s involvement in the project. He was never invited to the set, nor was he even called for advice. Clive presented the artists with sketches for the Rawhead character, but the producers had other ideas. The make-up artists designed an elaborate twenty-piece suit for Rawhead which would take seven hours to dress, but these were also rejected for being too expensive by producers. Instead, they went with a single piece suit which took fifteen minutes to dress… and it showed. Shooting took place during the worst storms Ireland had seen for years, meaning filming was a torturous experience. The movie took seven weeks of eighteen hour days to make in terrible conditions.

Needless to say, Rawhead Rex was far from the movie that it could have been, and once again Clive was disappointed with the result. What could have been a fine inclusion into the pantheon of monster horror was resigned to the B-movie comedy bin. Barker was not bitter about the experience, however; he had been taught an important lesson: if you want something done right, do it yourself.

1986 also saw Barker’s work return to the stage, and this time in the West End. The Secret Life of Cartoons had been received well at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1982, and now there were producers who wanted to put it onto the bigger stages in London. So it was that Tudor Davis directed the play at the Aldwych Theatre in October of 86. Barker expanded the play to two hours from its original one, and the play starred Una Stubbs (Worzel Gummidge), Derek Griffiths (Play School), and Geoffrey Hughes (Coronation Street). Unfortunately, the critics were not kind to Clive’s venturing into farce and the run was a short one.

1986 was a year of learning harsh lessons indeed… but 1987 was a year where everything would change and Clive Barker would put the lessons he had learned into action.

The first seeds of Barker’s rise to prominence on the world stage were sown in 1986, when he began writing the novelette that would kick his career into the stratosphere. So far, while his written work and stageplays had been moderately successful, his movies could only be viewed as interesting failures. 1987 would be the year that all of that changed… but Clive had to raise some hell first…

The Hellbound Heart (1987)

Clive Barker’s next release came with little fanfare: a novelette published in the Night Visions 3 anthology. This was a small press release, and very limited, so Barker could not have known the impact that this small (only covering around 100 pages) Faustian tale could have on his future. Night Visions was re-released in 1988 as The Hellbound Heart; the story itself not released individually until 1991, at the height of the movie’s success.

The Hellbound Heart begins with Frank Cotton, a man fuelled by excesses which are no longer sated by normal human pursuits. He travels in search of the next experience, the next excess with which his desires might be relieved. He is given a small, plain black box in Dusseldorf by a man named Kircher, who promises that to open the box is to travel… or something very like it. Of course, Frank wastes no time in finding the solution to opening the box and summoning the Cenobites of The Order of the Gash, explorers of the outer reaches of pleasure and sensation. They take him to their realm, to discover the limits of his own desires.

Barker takes inspiration for the Cenobites appearance from the homoerotic S&M magazines that he had written stories for previously; their scarred and disfigured appearance, bound in leather recalling the most extreme body modifications. He is here calling to outsider culture in the most direct terms possible, and perverting their activities as only Barker can.

Rory and Julia Cotton move into a house left to Rory by his missing brother following his disappearance, helped by their old schoolmate, Kirsty. Julia has grown to dislike Kirsty, her dour demeanour and endless fawning over Rory, and isn’t exactly happy in her marriage either: her thoughts are often drawn back to the day that she had succumbed to the advances of his brother, the irrepressible and missing Frank.

Rory cuts himself on a nail during the move and blood drips onto the floor of the house, unwittingly inviting a visitor into their new home. That night Julia is drawn to a room at the top of the house, the wall peels back to the sound of tinkling bells and a strange, flayed form is revealed; Frank is back.

What follows is a tale of love and lust. Julia agrees, reluctantly at first, to bring men back to the house so that Frank can feed. This she does and, over the course of the next few days, Frank grows stronger and ever more persuasive… what he needs next is flesh, and there is a donor living in the house with them.

Rory has asked Kirsty to look in on Julia, concerned by her suddenly erratic demeanour and distracted mood. When Kirsty does, her curiosity overcoming her. She explores the house and finds the puzzlebox that had undone Frank and the husks of Julia’s victims. She comes face to face with the skinless Frank, who lusts after her and sees her ripe for corruption. Kirsty escapes the house with the puzzlebox, fully intending to warn Rory before it’s too late, but she faints on the street outside the house.

She awakes in a hospital and notices the puzzlebox on the table beside her. She studies it to pass the time, her fingers moving across its lacquered surfaces. Unwittingly, she solves the puzzle, the box begins to open, and the Cenobites arrive. Of course, Hell’s servants must take Kirsty back to their domain, but Kirsty manages to persuade them to take another in her place.

Kirsty returns to Julia’s house, hoping to save Rory from a fate similar to the men whose remains she had seen. When she gets there, she finds Julia and Rory, with blood on his face, drinking brandy. Rory tells her that he has killed Frank, and knows all about Julia’s actions of the last few days. He then utters a phrase which betrays him – “Come to Daddy…” he says, belying the man who really lived beneath the borrowed flesh. Kirsty argues against him, and Frank gives chase through the house until they reach the upper room. There, Frank unwittingly names himself and bells begin to toll as the Cenobites arrive to take their errant pupil.

While Barker didn’t write the story with any thought toward making a film of it (it was written to exorcise the ghost of his ended relationship with John Gregson after ten years), he soon realised that it would translate very well to a low-budget film. Clive first approached George Pavlou, but was also introduced to Chris Figg, who was interested in making a horror movie and had ambitions toward production. Learning from past mistakes, Clive insisted on directing the movie. Figg knew that insistence meant that the project would be small scale, low budget – no one would offer cash to a first time director. So, they set about trying to convince financiers to invest. Barker set about writing The Hellbound Heart as a screenplay and, via a circuitous route they came to Hollywood. After a deal with Virgin Films fell apart, New Line Cinema stepped into the breach and committed $4.2m to the project. Filming began in 1987, less than a year after Clive had conceived the story.

The movie version of Hellraiser was approached in much the same way as Barker approached his work with The Dog Company: it was a family affair. He drafted in Doug Bradley to play Pinhead and his cousin, Grace Kirby, played the female Cenobite with Nick Vince and Simon Bamford as Chatterer and Butterball. Clare Higgins was enlisted to play Julia, with Andrew Robinson as Larry and Ashley Laurence as Kirsty.

The movie is fairly faithful to the book, aside from the relationship of the principle characters being changed: Kirsty is now a teenage firebrand daughter of Larry (Rory) and Julia Cotton, not the dowdy old school-friend. The roles are perfectly played, particularly Kirsty, Julia, and Pinhead. Doug Bradley particularly understands the understated quality of Barker’s invention; equal parts Karloff’s Frankestein’s monster and Christopher Lee’s Dracula, he presents Pinhead as an aloof figure, intensely eloquent and with a quiet aura of threat and promised violence. Andrew Robinson, too, provided two improvisations which have proved to be iconic moments in the films; as he chases Kirsty through the house, he growls “Enough of this cat and mouse shit,” and as the Cenobites deliver their coup de gras, the tortured Frank utters the famous line “Jesus wept” moments before he is ripped apart by the hooks and chains which bear him up. It is these improvisations which show the spirit of collaboration that Barker brought to the project and work to make Hellraiser one of the most faithful and best adaptations of a horror story ever produced.

Much to Barker’s surprise it was not the character of Julia or Frank which captured the imagination of the audience, but the monster, Pinhead. The striking appearance of the Hell Priest gave rise to tee-shirts, jigsaws, comic books, a short story anthology and several more movies (declining in quality as they move further away from Clive’s initial intention,) models and trading cars. What Hellraiser ensured was Clive Barker’s equity as not only a writer, but a director and imaginer.

Hellraiser was not the only creation that worked to cement Barker’s reputation in 1987; the year also saw the release of Barker’s second novel. Amidst the praise and furore which surrounded Hellraiser, Clive released Weaveworld.

Back in 1986, Clive had signed a lucrative new publishing deal with HarperCollins, and they were keen to capitalise on the exposure that Clive had received with the movie. The PR department went into overdrive, putting everything they had behind the UK release and were rewarded with a number one bestselling book. They eschewed the “horror” tag and marketed the book for what it was, not for what Barker had become known for. There was a nationwide tour, television appearances, and the commissioning of a carpet from the Royal College of Art.

In the US, Simon & Schuster were more reserved, preferring to cling to the horror angle. This led to critical confusion and a more lukewarm reception from critics and readers alike. The Stephen King quote, “I have seen the future of horror…,” became a millstone around Clive’s neck, rather than the lifechanging gift that it once was. It is an issue that has plagued Barker ever since, as new readers on discussion boards the world over mistake Clive for a linear horror writer, not the fantasist that he really is.

Weaveworld certainly sold in the States upon its release, but was not the phenomenon that it was in the UK.

In the UK, it made Clive Barker a household name.

Weaveworld (1987)

Cal Mooney is an accountant yearning to dream, and for his dreams to come true. He has returned to Liverpool following the death of his mother, to care for a father who isn’t dealing well with his sudden widowhood, and his beloved racing pigeons. It is a setting familiar to anyone who, like me, grew up in the north of England.

When one of the pigeons flies off for adventures of its own, Cal chases the bird and tracks it to a house being emptied to pay for its occupants’ nursing costs. In the backyard is laid a rug from the house, its design facing upwards toward the sky. Cal corners the bird on a window ledge, climbing up on a wall to catch the errant creature. Cal falls while reaching to retrieve the pigeon, falling onto the carpet and catching sight of another world in the warp and weft of the rug. It is a sight that changes Cal’s life, and colours the future events of the story. He meets the grand-daughter of the occupant of the house, Suzanna, a potter with a free-spirit and memories of her grandmother’s tales of other places and magic. She has a book of fairytales, passed down to her from her grandmother, and strangely evocative of the world Cal has seen in the carpet.

Shadwell is a salesman, the emissary of dark witch Immacolata the Incantatrix, and her horrific sisters. He wears a dazzling jacket which has the power to produce the wildest wish of whomever views its lining; all you need do is look and your dearest wish can be yours. Shadwell’s greatest wish is to find the Weave and to sell it. This puts him at odds with his mistress, whose undying ambition is to exact revenge on the people inhabiting the carpet, the Seerkind, for rejecting and fighting against her ambitions to rule them and exiling her from their world, The Fugue. Together, Shadwell and Immacolata steal the carpet, tearing it in the process.

Cal and Suzanna find a deep attraction to one another, and make love. While they sleep, the fragment of the carpet unravels, releasing three inhabitants from The Fugue… and so the story proper begins.

Weaveworld is an ambitious work of fantasy, epic in its conception and execution. Barker introduces us to a Liverpool instantly recognisable and relatable, before taking us on a flight into his own imagination. Weaveworld involves themes that will become familiar in Clive’s subsequent work: magic being shunned by a world grown banal and ordinary, the fantastic hoping to live side by side with the ordinary, the struggle for the acceptance of difference, and the wonder of the weird. Like Books of Blood, Weaveworld is a book that I see recommended frequently to readers new to Barker’s work, and one that most Barker fans have taken to their hearts as a true modern classic.

1987 was a pivotal year in Barker’s progression as a writer, seeing the success of Hellraiser and the release of his first bestselling novel. As we know, Barker is not one for resting on his laurels and the need to move forward was as strong as ever.

Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of this fantastic retrospective on Clive Barker.

Paul Flewitt is a horror/dark fantasy author. He was born on the 24th April 1982 in the Yorkshire city of Sheffield.

Always an avid reader, Paul put pen to paper for the first time in 1999 and came very close to inking a deal with a small press. Due to circumstances unforeseen, this work has never been released, but it did give Paul a drive to achieve within the arts.

In the early 2000’s, Paul concentrated on music; writing song lyrics for his brother and his own bands. Paul was lead singer in a few rock bands during this time and still garners inspiration from music to this day. Paul gave up his musical aspirations in 2009.

In late 2012, Paul became unemployed and decided to make a serious attempt to make a name for himself as a writer. He went to work, penning several short stories and even dusting off the manuscript that had almost been published over a decade earlier. His efforts culminated in his first work being published in mid-2013, the flash fiction piece “Smoke” can be found in OzHorrorCon’s Book of the Tribes: A Tribute To Clive Barker’s Nightbreed.

2013 was a productive year as he released his short story “Paradise Park” in both J. Ellington Ashton’s All That Remains anthology and separate anthology, Thirteen Vol 3. He also completed his debut novella in this time. Poor Jeffrey was first released to much praise in February 2014. In July 2014 his short story “Always Beneath” was released as part of CHBB’s Dark Light Four anthology.

In 2015 Paul contributed to two further anthologies: Demonology (Climbing Out) from Lycopolis Press and Behind Closed Doors (Apartment 16c) with fellow authors Matt Shaw, Michael Bray, Stuart Keane, and more.In 2016, Paul wrote the monologue, The Silent Invader, for a pitch TV series entitled Fragments of Fear. The resulting episode can be viewed now on YouTube, but the show was never aired. The text for the monologue was published in Matt Shaw’s Masters Of Horror anthology in 2017.

Paul continues to work on further material.

He remains in Sheffield, where he lives with his partner and two children. He consorts with his beta reading demons on a daily basis.

You can find more information on Paul Flewitt and his works here…

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Halloween Extravaganza: Rebecca Besser: STORY: Historical Significance

Historical Significance

Perry Roberts stood at the top of the stairs, staring down into the black depths of his basement. He held the last box that needed to be stored down there, but he couldn’t make his legs move. The light was on when I went outside, wasn’t it? he thought. He knew it had been, but now it was out.

With a sigh, he sat the box down on the floor, reached into the slight gloom at the top of the stairwell, and felt the switch with his fingers; it was still on. Bulb must’ve blown, he thought to himself with another, deeper sigh.

Thinking hard, he remembered unpacking a box with spare bulbs earlier and headed to the laundry room to retrieved one, also grabbing the flashlight he’d stored there. Grumbling under his breath, he returned to descended into the dark depths of his basement. It smelled musty, damp, and slightly metallic; the air noticeably dropped in temperature with each step. The house was old, having been one of the first built in the small New England town, and the basement was designed to hold the cold so that home-canned goods and other food necessities could be stored there.

“Lots of history,” the real-estate agent had said. “Not many places like this left for just anyone to buy.”

Being the history buff that he was, he couldn’t help but be drawn to its charm, even though it had sat empty for more than a decade and had to be drastically updated before he could move in. One of the things he’d found most fascinating about the place was the old “player piano” sitting in the corner of the basement. He couldn’t figure out how it had gotten down there—the stairs were too narrow and the basement walls consisted of large, rectangle slabs of limestone that looked like they’d been there for hundreds of years.

With the help of his flashlight, he removed the old bulb and shook it beside his ear, and sure enough, he heard the filament rattle. Tucking the flashlight under his chin so he could use both hands, he slid the burned out bulb into the front pouch of his hoodie and extracted the other. As he screwed in the new bulb, he forgot the switch was still on and didn’t close his eyes. When the bright glow of the 75 watt bulb flared to life, he dropped the flashlight with a loud clang and squeezed his eyes tightly shut.

After a moment, he started blinking rapidly and looking around the room. Bodies in old fashion clothing lay everywhere—some holding bottles of whiskey or tankards of ale. Slowly they sat up and then stood with leering grins, looking him over like he was a succulent piece of meat. They advanced toward him and Perry spun around; he was completely surrounded and the closer they came the more the temperature of the air around him dropped. He tried to focus on them directly, but the light spots in his eyes prevented him from doing so; as his vision cleared the images began to disappear.

Almost in a panic, thinking he was being attacked, he spun around in a circle with his arms up defensively, looking for assailants. None were there. All he could see now were the leaning shadows cast by the stairs and the stacked boxes; the rough, bare rock of the walls and floor echoed his harsh breathing back to him, giving him a chill that had nothing to do with the climate of the room.

After dropping his arms, taking a couple of deep breaths, and doing another, thorough visual examination of the entire room, he shrugged the occurrence off as his imagination. He bent down and picked up the pieces of his flashlight—having broken it when he dropped it on the hard floor—before he went upstairs, dumped the ruined flashlight in the trash, and carried down the last box. But he couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was down in the basement with him, and kept looking over his shoulder expecting to find them standing behind him, ready to hurt him. He was beginning to wonder if the house might be haunted, but then reminded himself he didn’t believe in ghosts.

With an effort, he forced himself to calm down, and after stacking the box with the others he had in the corner, he headed toward the stairs. Pausing, he glanced around one more time and ran his fingers over the now yellow keys of the player piano, wondering if he could get the old thing working. Once again he pondered on how the piano had come to be in the basement and couldn’t come up with a reasonable explanation.

“Maybe the ghosts brought it downstairs,” he said with a mocking laugh.

As soon as the words left his mouth a chill ran down his spine and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as the air around him suddenly dropped in temperature and he felt like he was being stalked again. Not needing any more encouragement, he jogged up the stairs and could have sworn he’d heard a deep, masculine laugh echo from behind him.

Back upstairs, he turned off the basement light and slammed the short, rough plank door behind him, making sure the old, wrought-iron latch was secure. He pressed both his hand on the door and leaned against it, taking deep, calming breaths, feeling silly about his reaction to his imagination running wild.

“There’s no such thing as ghosts… There’s no such thing as ghosts…” he repeated to himself over and over again, as if in saying it he could dispel the horrible feelings he’d had downstairs.

Perry heard a knock at his front door and almost jumped out of his skin at the sudden and unexpected noise; he stepped from the kitchen into the short, narrow hallway and spied his friend John through the door’s window.

“Hold on,” he yelled, rushing forward and letting his friend in, glad for the distraction. “What’s up?”

John grinned. “Five days ‘til Halloween! What do you think’s up? We need costumes and a lot of ghoulish stuff to decorate this spooky old house of yours.”

Perry laughed and all of his trepidation melted away as he focused on his friend and pushed everything else from his mind. “How could I forget?”

John smacked his forehead in a “Duh!” gesture and pointed with his thumb to his Chevy pickup parked at the curb. “I’ll be out there. Hurry up!”

With that John turned and practically hopped down the limestone block porch steps. He hadn’t been too happy when Perry had decided to move here, wishing his friend would stay closer, but he’d handled it well. They’d known each other all their lives and had just recently graduated from separate colleges. Over the past summer they’d spent a lot of time together catching up, and now they were separated again; growing up was indeed hard to do.

Donning a light jacket over his hoodie—taken from a hook by the door—Perry stepped out into the brisk October wind. Red, gold, and brown leaves littered the yard and street, leaving behind dark skeleton trees to moan eerily as their bare branches danced in the wind. He pushed his hands into the front pouch of his hoodie and his hands came in contact with the lightbulb he’d removed downstairs, and for a moment the memories of his experiences returned. He tossed it in the large trash can sitting in the corner of his enclosed porch, as if ridding himself of the bulb also discarded the disturbing memories permanently, and hurried to join John.

Their day went fast. They’d each found a costume they loved: John, a ghoul of disgusting proportions; and Perry, a very bloody looking zombie. They’d also picked up an array of fake tomb stones and bones to litter in Perry’s yard, to serve as decorations for the huge Halloween party they were planning.

“Stop by the library, would ya?” Perry asked on their way back to his house. “I had the librarian look up some historical information on my house and I need to pick it up.” He paused for a moment and almost continued, asking John if he believed in ghosts, but with a shake of his head he decided not to waste any more time on nonsense.

John raised his eyebrows at Perry’s undecided movements, but when he didn’t say anything more, he nodded consent and drove to the small, out-of-the-way library that served the town.

It took Perry less than ten minutes to retrieve the information he’d requested. John laughed hysterically as he watched his friend come stumbling out of the local library, weighed down with books and printouts of old newspapers.

“Are you writing a book series?” John teased as he leaned over and pushed open the truck door for Perry. “Looks like you have enough research there for five!”

Scowling, Perry managed to maneuver himself, and his load, into the truck. “I didn’t know they’d find this much. Now I feel like I’m back in school!”

John laughed again, shook his head, and drove them back to Perry’s place. They unloaded all their Halloween “goodies” and discussed the party briefly before John left; he had to work early the next day and he knew Perry was itching to get at the materials he’d picked up from the library.

For the next few days Perry poured over the books and old newspaper articles, learning about his new house and its history. He wanted to get through as much of it as possible before the party, and before he had to start his new job; he would begin his career as a website designer the second week of November. The information the librarian had gleaned was very interesting. Apparently the house he was living in used to be a small time, bar-like establishment. It was known for its many visitors of “questionable virtue” and after reading some of the articles, he knew that meant men who lived outside the law. A couple of people had even been murdered in the house, which made him again think of the occurrences in the basement.

One picture particularly interested him. It was taken on October 31st of 1872, according to the notation under the photo. The player piano was in it, but the photograph had been taken in his living room. The people in the photo looked like the ones he’d thought he’d seen in the basement, but he couldn’t be sure because most of them were wearing festive masks depicting demons. The clothing style was the same, as were the bottles and tankards, but he figured what happened could still have been just his imagination. After all, he’d seen plenty of the same in old movies.

The article beneath the picture spoke briefly about the Halloween party, and how wild they’d gotten, referring to a couple of “rough men” who were believed to have been associated with the occult. As he read on, he was disappointed to find that most of the article was missing due to the photocopier running out of toner, at least that’s what he ascertained from the spotty black ink on the rest of the page. With a crocked grin, he looked back at the photo, thinking it would be great to show it to John, since they too were having a Halloween party in the house. As he laid the paper aside, he didn’t notice the date on the top—for the article—was for November 1st, 1872, or that the rest of the article was printed clearly on the back telling of the horrible events of the night of that party, and how no one who’d attended had ever been seen again.

On the night of October 30th, Perry lay down in bed, excited about the party that would take place the following evening. Thoughts swirled through his head about all that needed to be done, and about a certain woman he’d invited, hoping she’d attend. Even with these thoughts it didn’t take his exhausted body long to fall asleep.

Shortly after midnight, icy hands gripped Perry’s ankles and fingernails penetrated his flesh like icicles, startling him out of his warm cocoon of sleep.

He cried out and struggled, feeling hot, slick, wet blood seep from his wounds and soak into his bed, but his efforts didn’t deter the grip that was dragging him out of bed with astounding force and strength. He screamed and grabbed at the sheets, blankets, and mattress, trying to save himself, to no avail.

He hit the floor with a hard, resounding smack. His head bounced off the hardwood with a loud thud that almost knocked him unconscious; blood gushed out of a gash on his head from where it had hit the metal bedframe during the struggle, falling into his eyes, and making the floor slick. Blinking rapidly, he tried to stay awake and twisted around to get a glimpse of who was assaulting him.

“Stop!” he yelled. “Who are you? Why are you doing this to me?”

There was no answer, no reply to his desperation and pleas.

The darkness prevented him from seeing anyone or anything, and the more he struggled the tighter the grip on his ankles became; he heard his bones crack and felt the shards of their splinters escaping the encasement of his flesh. Crying out from the pain, and imagining that his ankles now looked like pin cushions because of the protruding bones, Perry tried to grab onto anything he could, but it was no use. Every time he would get a grip on something his attacker would either yank him so hard that eventually his fingers broke with loud pops or he would be lifted slightly into the air and slammed back down onto the floor until he let go.

The violence continued as he was dragged down the stairs, and Perry suffered so much head trauma that by the time he was on the first floor the world around him was nothing more than a blur seen through drops of blood, flowing from multiple gashes all over his bruised head. And as he was dragged toward the kitchen—where he left a light on all night—he saw that no one and nothing was there; he was being attacked by an invisible force and thought for the first time that he might have been wrong about ghosts.

He heard the piano playing downstairs and laughter with it. What’s going on? he thought before he was finally knocked completely unconscious by a battering from the basement stairs.

Perry regained awareness slowly. He was lying on the cold basement floor in nothing but his boxer shorts. He shivered and tried to curl into a ball to conserve his body heat.

A harsh male laugh barked behind him, making him jump.

Turning his head sharply, he beheld a group of seven men and two women. They were all dressed in clothes from the 1800s. He blinked and frowned. His head hurt beyond belief and his hips, legs, and ankles throbbed. Weak and disoriented, he couldn’t focus or speak.

Desperation soon overcame his weakness when he saw them moving toward him. They didn’t have legs, but floated a foot and a half above the stone floor. The closer they got to him the more transparent they became. Frantically, he tried to crawl toward the stairs, hissing and whimpering at the pain in his ankles and head, but didn’t make it.

Cold seeped into his body, causing him to shiver more violently, as the “spirits” came closer, surrounding him and laughing.

“Sweet hot blood…” one of the men said.

“…and meat!” one of the women exclaimed and cackled.

“What should we do with him?” another of one of the men asked.

“Let’s eat him,” the first man said.

“Wasn’t he going to have a party tonight?” another feminine voice asked almost coyly. “Maybe we should possess him and have our fill of the guests!”

The group laughed and jeered in agreement; many to feast upon was better than one.

One-by-one the spirits drifted over Perry and sank into his body.

He screamed as his body temperature dropped and he felt his consciousness being forced deeper and deeper inside himself. He knew no one would hear him, but he still called out for help. Even if he had been lucky and someone did come to his aid, he knew there was nothing anyone could do.

“He’s damaged!” one of the women said inside him. “Someone will notice!”

“She’s right, you know,” said the other feminine voice. “We’ll have to clean him up.”

“I’ve got it,” one of the men said with a laugh. “I’ll have him fixed up momentarily!”

Perry convulsed in excruciating pain as his frigid body popped and snapped, healing itself of the wounds which had been inflicted upon him during the attack.

“Lovely,” the first female voice sighed.

“Please stop,” Perry cried out from the box inside himself he’d been pressed into; his consciousness was pushed back and he had no control over his body, but he could still feel everything that happened to his physical self. “Kill me, but don’t torture me like this… Please!”

“Oh, shut up!” one of the men yelled and the rest of the unwelcome spirits inhabiting Perry’s body laughed.

“What should we do with him until the party?” one of the male voices asked.

“He’s still all bloody… Why don’t we give him a bath?” asked one of the female voices.

“Oh, yes,” said the other female voice with a giggle.

“You ladies have your fun, but I want no part of it,” a male voice said with slight amusement and a bit of disgust.

The females giggled again and Perry felt himself rising up to a standing position. Awkwardly his body ascended the stairs and he noted that he could see everything around him, but still had no say or control over his body.

Before he was ready, they were in the bathroom and his shorts were being removed.

“My, my, what do we have here?” one of the female voices asked snidely. “Seems we have a naked man to play with.”

“Share!” the other female voice yelled. “You get one hand and I get the other.”

Perry could feel the women becoming more prominent in his body and the male entities slipped back and almost felt like they were sleeping.

“All right, all right,” the first female voice said. “I’ll share.”

They both giggled as they shut the door to the bathroom and found a full length mirror hanging on the door.

“Oh, what fun!” the second female voice squealed.

“Yes, indeed,” the other said with smug satisfaction.

Soon Perry’s hands were traveling all over his body, doing things to himself against his will.

“Please stop!” he groaned from deep within as he was forced to watch and feel what the female spirits were doing to him.

“Don’t you like it, luv?” one voice asked, and both the females laughed.

“Stop!” he screamed, but they just continued to laugh at him.

It took over an hour for them to play games with him and molest him in the shower, after which he felt more dirty than clean; they’d done unimaginable things to his body.

Later that day, John arrived to help with the Halloween party, letting himself in with the key Perry had given him when there was no response to his knock. As he turned from shutting the door, he spotted Perry standing silently at the top of the stairway in his zombie costume.

“Hey, man,” John said, as he jumped in startled surprise. “You scared the crap out of me!” He looked his friend over and grinned. “You’re costume is intense, but I thought we weren’t going to change until after we had things set up for the party.”

Perry’s body just stood there with its eyes staring down at John while the spirits inside argued about how to answer the question and handle this “newcomer”; they finally came to a decision.

“Hello, Earth to Perry,” John said, looking slightly worried and confused at the foot of the stairs. “You okay, man?”

“I’m fine,” Perry’s voice said, being controlled by one of the males. “I was excited and decided to don my festive apparel early.”

“You sound strange,” John said, his confused frown deepening. “What’s with all the ‘don my festive apparel’ shit? You sound old or something.”

Perry’s face sneered at John behind the zombie make-up as he descended the stairs toward him. When he reached the bottom step his arm shot out and he wrapped his hand around John’s throat, squeezing and lifting him off his feet.

“You’re a cheeky bloke,” a strange masculine voice said, using Perry’s mouth, no longer trying to disguise himself. “I don’t like being called old!”

John dropped the bags of stuff he was carrying and tried to pry the strong hand from his throat so he could breathe; he kicked and clawed at Perry’s hand and arm as he was lifted off the floor.

“Now we have to do something with him,” Perry heard one of the male voices say as they again began talking internally to each other.

“It is crowded in here,” another said, “maybe some of us should possess him, so we’ll have more space to move around and breathe!”

The other voices agreed and started to argue about who would go and who would stay. Perry broke into their argument…

“If you are going to do something, do it soon!” he yelled. “Otherwise you’ll kill my friend and have nowhere to go!”

The voices quieted for a moment and Perry’s hand loosened slightly on John’s throat, allowing him strained breathing rather than none at all.

“I think Ginger, Frank, Paul, and Peter should go,” one of the female voices said.

It was the first time Perry had heard them refer to each other by name and listened carefully. Something about the names seemed familiar, but he couldn’t place them. Then it hit him. Those were some of the names of the people who’d attended the Halloween party in the old newspaper article. He wished now, more than ever, that he’d been able to read the end of the article, so he could know what had happened, and was going to happen.

They argued some more and then Perry felt his small containment area expand. Four of the spirits drifted out of his body and into John’s, who was instantly released. He fell gasping to the floor and started thrashing around, screaming and clutching at his body. Finally he stilled and looked around with eyes that weren’t his own.

Perry cringed and whispered, “Sorry, my friend.” He wished John hadn’t gotten involved, and more than anything he wished he would have mentioned what had happened in the basement a few days before, thinking this wouldn’t have happened if he’d acknowledged it. He also thought about the horrible experience he’d had earlier in the bathroom and hoped his friend wouldn’t have to endure something similar when he changed into his costume; as if reading his thoughts, the female spirit who was still inside him laughed softly.

“He might like it, luv,” she said. “After all, you seemed to enjoy some of it.” She cackled with a perverse laugh and Perry didn’t respond.

It didn’t take the spirits long to master the control they had over Perry and John, and they extracted from their brains and thoughts all the things that needed to be done to prepare for the party; they’d just finished when the first guest arrived.

Nicole Winters—the tall, raven-haired, blue-eyed beauty who lived just down the street—stood on the porch with her coat hanging slightly open. Perry heart sank when he was forced to open the door and let her in. She smiled broadly, sporting a sexy fairy costume that would have made him drool if he hadn’t been possessed by crazy entities from the past; some of the comments the male ones were making about her made him panic and try to take back control.

“Run, Nicole!” Perry screamed. “Run!”

But of course, she couldn’t hear him, he still couldn’t control any part of his body, including his vocal cords.

“Shut up, you,” one of the males growled. “We’ll have our fun with this little tart and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“Thanks for inviting me, Perry,” Nicole said, stepping inside and sliding off her coat, revealing more of her costume, or lack thereof. Most of it was sheer and see through; the male spirits were going wild.

“Ever seen any dressin’s like ‘em, fellas?” one of them asked.

“No, but I’d like to tear them off with my teeth and devour what’s underneath!” another exclaimed.

John entered the hallway, coming from the kitchen, and Perry saw a reflection in his eyes of what he was hearing within.

“I’m glad you could make it,” Perry’s pleasant voice said, as his hand was placed on her butt and he squeezed.

Nicole gasped and giggled, giving him a wink. “I wouldn’t have missed it. I love Halloween parties. They give me an excuse to dress up.” She was pressing herself against his body now and practically purring with wicked intent in her eyes.

“Oh, yeah, boys,” one of the voices said. “We’re gonna have us a slice of that Heaven.”

They all laughed.

Perry cringed and wished there was something he could do to stop all this, but he couldn’t think of anything.

John walked down the hall toward them and pressed up against Nicole from the back, trapping her between them. He bent forward and whispered something in her ear that Perry didn’t catch. He knew it wasn’t John doing any of it, but he still felt betrayed for some strange reason.

Nicole jerked and struggled, trying to break free, just before her personality flipped and she giggled and sighed, accepting the attention from both men. Perry and John realized instantly when their containment expanded slightly that the female spirits had both moved into Nicole’s body. She began to wiggle against and grope both of the men and pouted when someone knocked on the front door.

“Bloody hell!” she growled. “All these interruptions are spoiling our fun!”

Both of the possessed men laughed. None of them were themselves any longer and just watched and felt everything that happened around them.

Guests continued to arrive for the next forty-five minutes and none of them knew a thing about what was going on. If Nicole, John, or Perry did something strange, the guests would just shrug it off, assuming they’d already started drinking.

A couple times Nicole disappeared from the room with John, and a couple of times she left with Perry. No one really noticed, but Perry was devastated; he really liked and cared for Nicole, and the damned possessing spirts were making them both do tainted and lewd things to each other. He didn’t even want to think about what she was doing with John, knowing it was probably just as bad or worse.

“Why are you doing this to us?” Perry asked as he was again entering the living room where the party was, after being with Nicole. “Why not just kill us? Why play with us like this first?”

“Well, you see…” one of the voices started in a teasing manner.

“Don’t tell ‘im!” another barked. “Then he’ll know!”

“What does it matter if he knows?” another asked. “He can’t do anything about it.”

“Just shut up, you,” the second voice ordered. “It’ll be over before you know it.”

Everything kept moving smoothly along until around midnight, and then Perry’s mouth announced that he wanted to show everyone the player piano in the basement. They were intrigued, so like cattle the twenty-three people at the party (including Perry, John, and Nicole) went down into the basement; Nicole was the last one and she shut the door tightly behind herself.

“What’s going on?” Perry asked from deep within himself. “Why did you bring everyone down here?”

“Shut up!” all the voices barked at him.

Everyone was ohing and ahing over the piano while Perry, John, and Nicole stood at the base of the stairs. No one saw their eyes glow bright red, and no one saw the humans’ bodies transform into red scaled monsters with vicious long claws and mouths full of long, sharp teeth. But they did hear the panting and growling that emanated from them; the guests all turned and screamed.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had human flesh,” the once Nicole growled, running her long black tongue across her teeth. “I want the first bite.”

Both the beings who were once John and Perry growled and stepped forward.

The crowd cringed and moved backwards, pressing themselves against the far wall.

The Nicole-demon lunged forward, and with one clamp down of her jaws, she ripped a woman’s head clean off. Blood dripped from her mouth and onto the floor as she chewed the skull and slurped out the brains within before swallowing it all. The woman’s body fell to the floor and her blood began to drain out onto the stones. Instantly a pentagram made of flames appeared on the floor, encompassing the entire room; the body burned and dissolved to nothing in the fire.

More and more bodies joined the first as limbs were torn from torsos and hips, devoured by the bodies that had earlier been possessed and were now transformed. They gorged themselves on the flesh of the frightened, screaming guests and didn’t stop until they were all dead.

The three stood in the center of the pentagram panting. Their eyes were ablaze with adrenaline and their bodies were covered in the guts and blood they’d spilt.

“It’s time for the last three,” a deep, growling voice said from beneath them as the floor disappeared and turned into a raging, licking fire.

“Yes, master,” the three growled.

The female spirits left the body of Nicole they’d inhabited, and instantly it turned back into the human form with Nicole at the helm once again.

She blinked in confusion and screamed as her body began to burn. Soon there was nothing left of her; the same happened to both of the men.

Once they were consumed the floor reappeared and the fire was gone. The spirits floated in the air, looking at each other.

“I guess that pays our debt to Hell for a few more years,” one of the females said.

“Yes,” a male said with a laugh. “Happy Halloween!”

Days passed and none of the cars in front of Perry’s house moved. Neighbors became angry and then concerned. The police were called and they finally contacted Perry’s family when they couldn’t reach him.

A search ensued for Perry, John, and all of the others, to no avail.

When nothing and no one was found, Perry’s house was emptied and sold.

No one noticed the newspaper article from long ago when it was thrown into the trash, and no one knew to be afraid of what lurked in the basement, waiting for the next Halloween.

Rebecca Besser is the author of Nurse Blood. She is a member of the International Thriller Writers Organization. She has been published hundreds of times in magazines, ezines, anthologies, educational books, on blogs, and more in the areas of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for a variety of age groups and genres. Her nonfiction article on skydiving was picked up by McGraw-Hill for NY Assessments. One of her poems for children was chosen for an early reader book from Oxford University Press (India). Her short story, P.C., was included in Anything But Zombies! published by Atria Books (digital imprint of Simon & Schuster).

Rebecca’s main focus has been on horror works for adults. She writes zombie works, suspenseful thrillers, and other dark fiction related to the horror genre/community. She has also edited multiple books in these genres.

Amazon Author Page

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Rebecca Besser

Meghan: Hi, Rebecca. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books, and thank you for agreeing to take part in our Halloween Extravaganza. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Rebecca Besser: Hi, I’m Becca. A wife, mother, and author. I write mostly dark fiction, but have been published in poetry, nonfiction, and fiction for all ages (children – adult). I like to read, watch movie, and cook.

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

Rebecca Besser:

  • I’m a sometimes goat midwife, since my son has a small mini-goat farm.
  • I’m a published photographer.
  • I was homeschooled after 6th grade.
  • I’ve been to Israel twice, and have also visited Rome and Holland (all before I was 16).
  • I snore.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Rebecca Besser: The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Rebecca Besser: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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

Rebecca Besser: That’s a hard one… I read a large variety of books and genres. I’ll go with The Shack by William P. Young.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write?

Rebecca Besser: I have been writing for as long as I can remember. I won an award for a story when I was in 1st grade. But, I signed up for my writing course with the Institute of Children’s Literature after I had a miscarriage. Writing ended up being good therapy for me.

Meghan: When did you begin writing?

Rebecca Besser: Writing for serious? Like trying to get published? About 12 years ago. So, around 2007.

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

Rebecca Besser: At home, on my laptop. Usually in my living room, on my couch/recliner.

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

Rebecca Besser: No, not really. I do like it when my house is quiet and I know I won’t be interrupted.

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

Rebecca Besser: Finding the time to do it. My family is important to me, so I give them a lot of my time.

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

Rebecca Besser: I’ve written a number of articles for Super Teacher Worksheets. One of those articles was about my husband and his job. Writing that was pretty satisfying, especially knowing that it will help educate children.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you?

Rebecca Besser: As a writer? I can’t think of any in particular. I love all kinds of books, writing styles, and story-telling formats. You can learn for any book, even a bad one.

Meghan: Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Rebecca Besser: I’ve never tried to pattern my writing story after another writer. Writing style, I believe, is something unique to each and every writer. No two writers can tell the same story, because their insight and style change everything.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Rebecca Besser: A good story needs to be told well, easy to follow for the reader, and be interesting. If you can easily entertain and captivate your reader, your story will be loved regardless of the content/genre.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character?

Rebecca Besser: I need the character to seem as real as possible. I want to forget I’m reading about a fictional person and actually think I’m reading about a real person.

Meghan: How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Rebecca Besser: I try to make my characters seem as real as possible. I want them to have quirks, realistic dialogue, and seem like someone you could walk past on the street at any moment.

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

Rebecca Besser: Oh, that’s an easy one, since I actually wrote a short story with the main characters based on myself and my husband. The story is entitled, “My Kind of Woman,” and can be found in my zombie short story collection, Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death. I named her Brooke.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover?

Rebecca Besser: Sometimes. But if I find the blurb for the book interesting, I will probably still read it. Some really great books have bad cover. Also, some really bad books have great covers. Covers don’t always represent the book well.

Meghan: To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Rebecca Besser: For my self-published works, I create my own covers using stock art, but sometimes I have an artist do an original cover. Undead Drive-Thru’s covers (both versions) were done by artist, Justin T. Coons. Also, my Nurse Blood novel was inspired by one of his original paintings, which I bought from him and now own. Nurse Blood’s current cover (with Limitless Publishing) is based on some pictures I found on the internet.

Mostly though, I do my own covers.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Rebecca Besser: I’ve learned to create and format book covers, edit, and do eBook and paperback internal formatting. I can do it all because I worked with some small presses years back and learned a lot about indie publishing overall.

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

Rebecca Besser: In an anthology entitled, Fading Hope: Humanity Unbound, my story, “When Plans Fail,” has a scene that was hard to write. The book was about hopelessness. My story was set in the zombie apocalypse. The characters were a young mother and her infant. The mother was bitten when she attempted to get supplies, mainly food, and she tried to take the baby and find someone to care for it. Unfortunately, she didn’t find anyone before she started to turn. She didn’t want to eat her own child… so she ended the baby’s life so she wouldn’t hurt it and it wouldn’t suffer and starve to death.

That was hard to write, and I imagine it was hard for the reader to read.

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

Rebecca Besser: I try to stay away from the mainstream norms of the genres. Nurse Blood is an organ harvesting thriller, which isn’t a huge genre. For zombies, I try to do stories with themes I haven’t seen, heard of, or read before. My Zpoc Exception Series (ebooks) is based on characters that are immune to whatever is making people zombies. They get bitten, they get sick for a time, and then they’re fine. Undead Drive-Thru only had one zombie in the entire book. Undead Regeneration, the sequel, has zombies, but not at apocalypse level.

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

Rebecca Besser: I used to really struggle with titles, but I’ve gotten better. I decided the title needs to have something to do with the book, like I’m summing up the entire book/story in just a few words. That’s incredibly hard. I usually have a few working titles and pick one when the book/story is complete. It really helps if I can take a line or phrase out of the actual work to use as a title, but that rarely happens. You also have to make sure the title actually sounds interesting so you can catch people’s attention. Because, you know, it isn’t hard enough already.

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

Rebecca Besser: I feel fulfilled if the story is told well. It doesn’t matter the length of the work. Making everything make sense in a way that will engage and grab the reader is fulfilling always, no matter what the work is. I really enjoy when I can make things clever in a way that there’s this huge “Ah-ha!” moment, especially at the end.

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

Rebecca Besser: Undead Drive-Thru and Undead Regeneration are Scifi zombie books about a man who comes home, turns into a zombie and is protected by his wife—she keeps him as kind of a pet. Things go bad. People get hurt. Things happen and lives are changed.

Nurse Blood is a serial killer organ harvesting thriller. A group of a couple medical professionals, a couple thugs, and a black market dealer kill and part out people for money. That, and they have a warped sense of righteousness, because they’re killing one person to save many lives (depending on how many organs they get from their victim).

Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death is a short story collection of various horror stories, from broken humanity to monsters.

Zombies Inside is a short story collection of various zombie short stories I’ve had in anthologies (there’s a brief history of each story after it in the book). That was also has a short story by guest author, Courtney Rene.

Zpoc Exception Series: Re-Civilize series is currently available in eBook only, and is about the few among the many that are immune to whatever is turning people into zombies. Thus far, there are four character books available that start from the outbreak to where they meet. I’ll do a novel series also, with all the characters together after that point, when they’re turned into a team to help re-civilize the world for humanity after the zpoc (zombie apocalypse).

Hall of Twelve is a short story Scifi horror eBook about monster from a different dimension who come to Earth to use humans for food.

Curse Bounty is a short story western zombie story about outlaws that rob a bank. When the sheriff asks for help tracking them down, he’s given help from a zombie bounty hunter.

Heart of a Soldier is a short story YA Scifi story about love, healing, and hope.

My main audience is anywhere from YA to adult. I like to provoke people to think, to ask themselves what they would do in the characters’ situations. At the same time, I want to entertain people.

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

Rebecca Besser: There’s not usually much I take out. Nurse Blood has a missing flashback for Roger, because the publisher insisted I take down the word count a bit. Otherwise, you usually get it all.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Rebecca Besser: I have idea journals with so many ideas they’re too vast to put here. But, even if they weren’t, I don’t share my unwritten ideas with many people, at least not until I start writing or am at least halfway done.

I was told once to never throw any drafts away, even if things change majorly in the story, because one day you could use those bits or ideas to write something else. I have a bunch of those in a writing folder on my comp somewhere too.

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

Rebecca Besser: Scary stuff. Stories that are hard to read because they question morality and the reader’s humanity.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Rebecca Besser: I make it easy to find me, since everything has a version of my name.

Website ** Blog ** Facebook ** Twitter ** Instagram

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

Rebecca Besser: Thank you for having me on your blog and including me in your event!

Also, thank you to all the readers that love my work—you inspire me when things get hard.

Rebecca Besser is the author of Nurse Blood. She is a member of the International Thriller Writers Organization. She has been published hundreds of times in magazines, ezines, anthologies, educational books, on blogs, and more in the areas of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for a variety of age groups and genres. Her nonfiction article on skydiving was picked up by McGraw-Hill for NY Assessments. One of her poems for children was chosen for an early reader book from Oxford University Press (India). Her short story, P.C., was included in Anything But Zombies! published by Atria Books (digital imprint of Simon & Schuster).

Rebecca’s main focus has been on horror works for adults. She writes zombie works, suspenseful thrillers, and other dark fiction related to the horror genre/community. She has also edited multiple books in these genres.

Amazon Author Page

Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Jeffrey J. Mariotte

Meghan: Hi, Jeffrey. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I’m a writer, obviously, but I’ve also worked in the book business in many other capacities—as a bookstore manager and bookstore owner, at various publishing companies, as an editor on staff and freelance, etc. I’ve edited novels and art books and lots of comics and graphic novels. Since 1980, I’ve made my living from words and stories and books, one way or another. I also have a family—my wife Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell, also an author and a poet–and Holly, David, Arthur, Francis, and Max, two cats, and a dog. And a house full of books and movies and music and games.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte:

1) Desperadoes, one of the comic books I created and wrote was featured on the labels of Jones Soda root beer bottles.

2) Swift, one of the comic characters I co-created (with my daughter Holly and Jim Lee’s art) became a HeroClix toy.

3) I still have a stuffed bunny rabbit that was a gift to me when I was born. There’s a zipper in his back so you can put your pajamas inside him (if you’re, like, just born and your pajamas are tiny).

4) I love bears, giant squids, lemurs, and some types of monkeys. But mostly bears.

5) I once saved a rattlesnake who’d become hopelessly tangled in a fence, which required cutting the fence very close to its mouth. But during the process, it realized I wasn’t trying to hurt it, so it relaxed and didn’t try to bite me when I was within range.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Happy Birthday to You! by Dr. Seuss. Many years later, as a full-grown human, I managed a bookstore in La Jolla, CA, where Dr. Seuss lived. I only met him once, but I have a thank-you note from him framed and hanging on the wall in my office.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: A collection of horror short stories by Paul Tremblay called Growing Things. It’s really good.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. It’s overwritten and romantic and sad, but I guess I have a sadly romantic overwriting streak in me somewhere.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I began when I was very young. I’d read Hardy Boys mysteries, then wrote my own very short, very derivative mysteries about brother detectives. I’m sure they were awful; fortunately, they’ve all disappeared. I started more seriously writing in high school, and was first published in college, but didn’t sell any fiction professionally until I was 33. I didn’t have a novel published until I was 44, so I guess I was a late bloomer in that regard. I’ve written more than 70 books since, though.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I usually write at the desk in my office, because it’s convenient. But I write on a laptop, so I can take it with me if I need to write elsewhere.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Nothing too unusual. I like to have a solid outline, before I start, so I know where I’m going and don’t write myself into a corner. But sometimes I go without one, so that’s not an absolute requirement.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Figuring out what the story is. I have a lot of books that I’ve started, then abandoned, because I realized I had one idea, or maybe a couple of them, but not enough ideas to synthesize into a whole actual book.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Probably my horror novel River Runs Red. I re-read it recently, and I still think there’s a lot of really good stuff in it—interesting characters, compelling situations, satisfying and unexpected twists, etc. I’m proud of all my books, but that one stands out.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Oh, man… this is a hard question, because as a bookseller and working in publishing—and just plain loving books—I’ve read SO MANY. And loved so many. Authors who’ve particularly inspired my writing include William Goldman, Thomas Gifford, Stephen King, Marsheila Rockwell, James Lee Burke, Joan Vinge, Robert B. Parker, Leigh Brackett, Clay Reynolds, Richard Matheson, Barbara Kingsolver… I could go on and on.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Characters I care about who have goals I want them to achieve, and obstacles that seem likely to prevent them from achieving their goals. I like lots of suspense, an element of darkness, a bit of humor, and a fast pace.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I like to become really immersed in a character’s world, and to know a lot about the character. The more detail I get, the more familiar with the character, the more I fall in love. Sometimes it can be done without a lot of detail, but with just the right details—think of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. We don’t know a whole lot about him, but we know just enough. But in other cases, a series character who appears in book after book, so I can learn more and more about him or her, like Parker’s Spenser or Burke’s Dave Robicheaux, can become like an old friend who I want to keep checking in on.

As for how I use that, I try to supply the important details without weighing the reader down with too much (because not everybody likes to read 600-page epics). I try to create characters who are likable but flawed, because we’re all flawed. And I try to give them something that they’re striving for, that the reader can identify with—and then put the outcome in serious doubt.

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

Jeffrey Mariotte: A lot of them are something like me, but none are exactly like me. I guess in some ways, Richey Krebs from my mystery/thriller Empty Rooms is like me—he’s fascinated by crime and the darkness inside the human heart, and sometimes exploring that gets him in trouble.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I think it’s more accurate to say that I can be really turned on by a good cover. As one example, the cover by Jeff Jones to the Avon paperback edition of Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber made me have to pick that up and read it, and that turned me into a lifelong fan of Zelazny. Some of Frank Frazetta’s covers have done the same for books by Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, among others. But if a book looks promising based on the description, or what I know of the author, then a not-that-exciting cover won’t push me away.

As for my own covers, I sometimes have approval, but often I don’t see them until they’re finalized and there’s not much I can say about them at that point. On some occasions I’ve been able to help choose the cover art, but that’s a rarity in traditional publishing. I’ve had some really good luck with covers, though.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Again, that’s an almost impossible question, because I’ve written so many and learned so much in the process. Things I’ve learned in other aspects of life go into the books, of course, and things I learn writing books bleed into my life.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: In my teen horror quartet Year of the Wicked, there’s a character who dies (there are several, but one in particular I’m referring to here—and I’m not going to name that character, because that would be a spoiler. When I was outlining the four books initially, I knew this person had to die, and the editor who bought the books bought them from the outline, so she knew it, too. But as that death got closer (I think it’s in book 3—they’re all combined in one volume now, though), the editor asked me if that character really had to go. I tried to find a way around it, but I couldn’t. Writing that death scene was really hard, because I didn’t want to do it, and my editor didn’t want to do it. But it had to be done.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I write in a lot of different genres, though most of my books fall into the horror, suspense, or thriller categories. So that’s kind of a broad question, but I guess what I think makes them different is the humanity I try to put into each of my books. My characters feel real and alive, and readers care about them.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Titles are very important, of course. They have to have some resonance with what’s inside the book, and ideally, they have to intrigue the casual browser. I’ve chosen titles in many different ways, sometimes spurred by song lyrics or a phrase I read somewhere. Other times they’re harder to come by and I have to dig for inspiration. Occasionally—but not very often—my title is overruled by the publisher, who chooses something better.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I love writing both (and comics), but writing a novel is more satisfying. As I said earlier, I like long books, in which the reader can get totally immersed in the world of the book. So writing that kind of book is an utterly fulfilling experience.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: All of my books, I think, are suspenseful, compelling reads—the kind you don’t want to put down, even though it’s late and you have to work in the morning. They’re mostly thrillers or horror—or often, a mix of both elements. But I’ve also written Westerns (weird and otherwise—one of my Western short stories was a finalist for both the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America and the Peacemaker Award from the Western Fictioneers this year), fantasy, science fiction, and more. And I’ve written a lot of tie-in books, so I’ve written about Buffy and Angel, CSI, NCIS, Spider-Man, Superman, Conan, Star Trek, Narcos, etc. In fact my Narcos novel just won the prestigious Scribe Award for best original novel from the International Association of Tie-in Writers. What I like readers to take away is the idea that there’s magic in the world. Sometimes it’s hard to find it, but it’s there.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I can’t think of many that are worth mentioning—if they were deleted, there was a reason for it. I was at one time writing a CSI novel in which a member of Congress was shot. Right before my deadline, a real member of Congress—Gabby Giffords, who happened to be my representative and a friend—was shot. I called my editor and said, the book’s going to be a little late, because I’m going to have to rethink and rewrite the entire premise. I couldn’t do the book as originally planned, after that. Fortunately, he was thinking the same thing, so we were in accord.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a ghost story set in old Tucson, Arizona. In its early days, Tucson was basically a Victorian city set in the middle of the desert, surrounded by rugged country, not-always-friendly Native Americans, and various outlaws. A lot of classical ghost stories are set in Victorian England, or in East Coast cities, so the twist of this Victorian city in a completely different environment appeals to me. Hopefully, I’ll get around to it one of these days. I did recently write a different, semi-ghost story set in old Colorado, that’s a different take on part of the core idea. It’s coming in October in an anthology called Straight Outta Deadwood, from Baen Books. My wife Marcy has a terrific story in the book as well.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I’m kind of playing around with a Western novel idea right now. I have a thriller out on submission, and I’m thinking about a historical, WWII-era thriller. So as usual, I’m all over the place.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: My website, which is way overdue for an update, can be found here. I’m more regular about posting on my blog, Dispatches from the Flying M. I also have a Facebook author page and am on Twitter.

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

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: 2019 is my 20th year as a working novelist. During those I’ve written more than 70 books, a couple dozen short stories, a whole mess of comics, and other things (articles, a DVD game, and more). To celebrate that anniversary, a couple of publishers have re-released some of my favorite of my novels, including The Slab, Missing White Girl, River Runs Red, Season of the Wolf, and Cold Black Hearts, all from WordFire Press, and Year of the Wicked (which was originally called Witch Season, then Dark Vengeance), from Simon & Schuster. Those have all been hard to come by, but now they’re available again. The five from WordFire are something I love to do, combining straight thriller elements—cops, spies, etc.—with elements of supernatural horror, and they’re out in hardcover, paperback, and ebook. Year of the Wicked is my teen horror, witchy girl power quartet, all in a single volume for the first time, in paperback and ebook. Getting to write all these books over the years has been a dream come true, and I really appreciate every single reader who forks over hard-earned cash to buy one. I love hearing from readers and meeting them at conventions and book festivals and signings. Writing can be a lonely business, but interacting with readers makes that all worthwhile.

Jeffrey J. Mariotte has written more than seventy books, including original supernatural thrillers River Runs Red, Missing White Girl, and Cold Black Hearts, horror epic The Slab, and the Stoker Award-nominated teen horror quartet Dark Vengeance. Other works include the acclaimed thrillers Empty Rooms and The Devil’s Bait, and—with his wife and writing partner Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell—the science fiction thriller 7 SYKOS and Mafia III: Plain of Jars, the authorized prequel to the hit video game, as well as numerous shorter works. He has also written novels set in the worlds of Star Trek, CSI, NCIS, Narcos, Deadlands, 30 Days of Night, Spider-Man, Conan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and more. Two of his novels have won Scribe Awards for Best Original Novel, presented by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.

He is also the author of many comic books and graphic novels, including the original Western series Desperadoes, some of which have been nominated for Stoker and International Horror Guild Awards. Other comics work includes the horror series Fade to Black, action-adventure series Garrison, and the original graphic novel Zombie Cop.

He is a member of the International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, the Western Writers of America, Western Fictioneers, and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. He has worked in virtually every aspect of the book businesses, as a bookseller, VP of Marketing for Image Comics/WildStorm, Senior Editor for DC Comics/WildStorm, and the first Editor-in-Chief for IDW Publishing. When he’s not writing, reading, or editing something, he’s probably out enjoying the desert landscape around the Arizona home he shares with his family and dog and cats. Find him online at his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Cold Black Hearts

A murder investigation brings former police detective Annie O’Brien in contact with the supernatural forces that destroyed the town of New Dominion nearly 100 years earlier.

Missing White Girl

A bestselling Young Adult author takes an adult turn. 

Bram Stoker Award-nominated author Jeffrey Mariotte delivers a novel of heartstopping horror. When a girl is kidnapped and her family murdered, Sheriff’s Lieutenant Buck Shelton is drawn into a bloody supernatural showdown between good and evil-with an innocent girl.

River Runs Red

A new novel of gripping terror from the author of Missing White Girl.

Within the caves of a small Texas town lies a pool of strange, luminescent water. Twenty years ago, three teenagers were inhabited by a malevolent force living in the caves. Now, they’ve returned to the site as combatants in a supernatural war that flows through the raging currents of the world’s rivers.

Season of the Wolf

When Alex Converse, heir to a coal company fortune, visits Silver Gap, Colorado to make an environmentally themed documentary film, he’s hoping to change some minds and to soothe his own troubled conscience. But there’s more going on—in his mind, and in Silver Gap—than Alex knows. People are dying and women are disappearing. Some of the killers have fur, fangs, and claws—but some don’t. What is Alex’s connection to the missing women? Will anyone live long enough to find out? And what’s up with those wolves?

Season of the Wolf is a heart-stopping supernatural thriller about climate change, the human capacity for evil, and the epic struggle between a small town’s citizens and impossible creatures from the dawn of history.

The Slab

Three veterans of different wars, their lives once saved by magic, find themselves brought together in one of the most strange, remote, and cruel parts of the California desert. As serial killers ply their deadly trade, a young woman, abducted and endangered, seeks her own brand of justice for those who threatened her, and an ancient evil sprouts from beneath desert sands, these three war veterans must learn to embrace the terrifying bond they share. Written in powerful prose as dry and dangerous as its desert setting, The Slab, for all its horrors, is ultimately an epic tale of hope and redemption.

Year of the Wicked: Witch Season 1-4: Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring

In the tradition of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Riverdale, this magical bind-up includes all four novels in the Witch Season series filled with spellbinding romance, revenge, and of course, witches!

A witches’ war is brewing…

And it’s coming straight towards Kerry and her friends at their summertime home. Along with it is Daniel Blessing. Mysterious, charismatic, and handsome Daniel is on the run from a powerful witch named Season.

Kerry and her friends don’t believe in witches and spells, but Kerry can’t help believing in Daniel… and falling for him.

But falling for Daniel pulls Kerry into a feud his family has been waging for generations. A dark feud of passion, magic, and revenge. Suddenly it becomes clear that Season isn’t after just Daniel, she wants Kerry and her friends dead too. Because, though Kerry doesn’t know it yet, she might just be the only one with the power to uncover the truth—and end the witches’ war once and for all.