It’s that time of year again. Summer has come to an end, the days are getting shorter, and the color orange is starting to saturate our world of capitalistic vice and consumption. There’s pumpkin spice, well, everything and the general cozy feeling that comes with the season, and then we have the people who are annoyed with the deliriously evangelical followers of the autumnal cult of joy. Fall is the favorite season of many, and the favorite punching bag of others. Personally, I’m a big fan of the season and the mood it sets. I haven’t even touched on the best day of the season, in my opinion at least: Halloween.
I sit pretty comfortably in the opinion that Halloween is one of the best holidays. I’m not even close to being alone in that belief. In 2019, almost 70% of Americans celebrated Halloween. It dropped a bit in 2020 and looks like the downward trend may continue this year, thanks to the pandemic. But still, more than half of Americans, pandemic or not, are going to be indulging in the spooky, in the morbid, and in the deliciously decadent delights that horror can give. Children and adults alike love Halloween. Horror fans and otherwise love Halloween. The love of Halloween spans various belief systems and religions. How is this so? Why is Halloween such a hit?
I think that it has a lot to do with the fact that it happens at the end of October, just as fall is getting into full swing. Like Christmas, we start celebrating Halloween before the actual day with trips to pop-up stores for new costumes and goodies for our homes, visiting haunted houses and hay rides, and scary movies play on the television every night. Summer is the season that we spend mostly out of our homes, away on vacations and with school being out, mostly on a relaxed or nonexistent schedule. Fall begins with school going back into session, the return to routine and to the end of the vacation season. We’re home, we’re settling in, we’re getting cozy, and we get to do that as the lush beauty of nature prepares to wow us one last time. In the autumnal season, nature proves that she saves the best for last. The sweet smell of dead leaves and their lovely crunch under our feet as we walk, it romances us. Death woos and charms us. Pumpkins start appearing everywhere, flanked by decorative baskets of chrysanthemums. But alongside that magazine-cover pretty picture, there are skeletons, spiders, black cats, corpses, vampires, bats…all of the ambassadors of the decidedly spooky. And they go together wonderfully. I put a seven-foot werewolf on my front porch, but I’ve also got mums and pumpkins. I put out a small cemetery in my side yard with zombies and skeletons climbing out of the graves, but they’re surrounded by beautiful falling leaves from the large tree. The beauty of nature’s death pairs nicely with the human macabre.
Halloween also has the distinguished position of being a holiday that normally doesn’t come with family obligations. Every season comes with a holiday that carries some sort of requirement that can stress us out. Halloween has no such demand. It stands as one of the special days on the calendar that is set aside purely for fun. Obligations are minimal, usually, and having to eat a big dinner next to your judgmental aunt is still at least a month away. Halloween is so much more casual. I know the history of Halloween and I know the pagan-held beliefs of the day, but it has become a day of laughter, fun, sweets, and ridiculousness. It has a few songs, it has a lot of movies, and it has costumes. Halloween is an absolute delight, and I know that I start looking forward to it every August. I sometimes hold out through September before bringing out my spooky and corny decorations, and sometimes I don’t. But, at the very least, the month of October is dedicated to Halloween in my house. My giant porch werewolf and the many other outdoor decorations pale in comparison to what I have inside of my house. A disassembled skeleton hangs from my dining room chandelier, I drink my coffee from Halloween mugs and have my evening tipple in Halloween glasses. For crying out loud, I have Halloween bedding and bathroom hand towels! I love every stitch of it. All of it.
The U.S. is an enormous country with many different regions and not all of them necessarily have four seasons, and yet, they still celebrate Halloween. I live in Eastern Pennsylvania where we certainly experience the full four seasons, but Halloween is pervasive in this country of ours regardless of whether autumn happens or not. Again, why? I’m not an academic and I have no deep philosophical answer for you. What I do have is my observation, and my knowledge of both your average person and the horror community. Halloween is popular because it’s fun. Being scared is fun. Horror carries a stigma of being sick and taboo, and yet I rarely meet a person who doesn’t have a favorite scary movie. People tell me all the time that they don’t like horror, but they love Halloween. Yes, it’s the day for the horror-lovers, but it’s also the day for the “normies” to take a walk on the spooky side and it turns out, they have just as much fun as us horror folk. It’s fun! That’s not a deep answer, but it is an obvious one, and a truthful one.
So, if you’re like more than half of us and celebrating Halloween, enjoy it. Have the fun. Watch the movies, eat the treats, put up the decorations, and do it with people that enjoy it as much as you. Do a Halloween night recitation of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” and eat some apple dumplings. But could you do this horror author a favor? Pick up a scary book from an author you’ve never read. Give a smaller name a chance. Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree is a terrific book and everything by Stephen King can be appropriate at this time of year. But there are so many horror authors out there who are putting out works that will surprise you with the imaginative takes and amazing storytelling and it’s a shame to only read the biggest names, or only a few names. Try something new, someone new, and allow yourself to be surprised and delighted. After all, ‘tis the season!
I’ll start you off. I’ll throw some authors at you, and you pick what thrills you most.
If you like it spicy and want your horror a little sexy, check out Sephera Giron and Jessica McHugh. But don’t be fooled by the erotic bent of these works, they are every bit as brutal and horrifying as any other horror book, just with an added bonus.
Do you like horror that doesn’t really fit into a category but can be emotional and somehow beautiful? Robert Ford and John Boden belong on your shelves, then.
Grab a short story collection from a new author. As a reader, I find the best authors out there put together amazing short story collections. Most of the authors I mention here have short story collections in their bibliography. Also, try one of Matt Wildasin’s Horrors Untold volumes. They’re wonderful and varied fun.
I’m barely scratching the surface here, and could spend all day pointing you to terrific authors, but if you start here, and do a little digging of your own, I guarantee you’ll find your new favorite author. Happy Halloween!
Somer Canon lives in Eastern PA with her husband, two sons, and three cats. She loves to read and write and although she is polyamorous when it comes to genres, horror always seems to be her favorite.
Boneyard — Halloween is a night of spooky fun…at least it is for the living. What about the dead? What kind of fun do they have? Read and find out how the no-longer-living entertain themselves at the expense of very much alive and disrespectful people!
A Fresh Start — Still hurting from her divorce, Melissa Caan makes a drastic life change for herself and her two young children by moving them out to a rural home.But the country life came with some extras that she wasn’t counting on. Doors are slamming, she and her children are violently attacked by unseen hands, and her elderly neighbor doesn’t like to talk about the murders that happened in the strangely named hollow all those years ago.Ghost hunters, witches, and a sassy cancer survivor come together to help Melissa fight for the safety of her children and herself.All she wanted was a fresh start, will she get it?
Slaves to Gravity (with Wesley Southard) — After waking up in a hospital bed, paralyzed from the waist down, Charlie Snyder had no idea where life would take her. Dejected, broken, and permanently bound to a wheelchair, she believed her life was truly over. That is…until gravity no longer applied.It started out slow. Floating from room to room. Menial tasks without assistance. When she decided to venture outside and take some real risks with her newfound ability, she rose above her own constraints to reveal a whole new world, and found other damaged individuals just like her to confide in.But there are other things out there, waiting in the dark. Repulsive, secretive creatures that don’t want Charlie to touch the sky. And they’ll stop at nothing to keep her on the ground.
Erika Fisher swore she could still smell fire somewhere nearby. Fire, and charred flesh. In the parking lot of Smith County High, police lights flashed red and blue, making the night look strange and otherworldly. The night of her junior prom needed no help being either. She was seated on a concrete bench, next to the bike rack. A pudgy, baldheaded officer whose badge said his name was Kurtz stood over her, frowning at his notepad and pinching a pen he’d gotten from Greener Pastures Baptist Church. Radio chatter hissed and crackled on his CB.
“And you’ve never seen this guy before?” he asked again. “You’re sure about this?”
“No, I’ve never seen him before.” She let out a grim sigh. “And yes, I’m sure.”
“And he just … what? Waltzed into the auditorium, started dancing with your friend, and then they just … what? Vanished?”
She chewed her lip and stared at her glittery shoes. The police strobes gave the illusion they were burning.
“Vanished is the wrong word,” she said. “It wasn’t … into thin air or anything.”
The corner of his mouth twitched up.
“Right, it was like what? Their feet started a fire and it just consumed them.”
“Look, I know how it sounds. You don’t have to tell me it sounds crazy.”
“You’re sure she and this boy didn’t just run off together and…”
“And now I’m covering for them?”
“You said it, not me.”
“I guess that’s why I’m so upset. Right, Officer?”
“Don’t get smart with me, girl. If I had half a mind, I’d put you away for obstruction of justice.”
She blew out another breath. She tried not to think of Danielle’s face in those final moments. It was contorted in some awful marriage of fear and pain. And that boy, that gorgeous, dark-eyed boy had been grinning so wide, she thought his cheeks might split open and reveal all his teeth.
“Now, is there anything else you can think of? Anything at all you think might help us find your friend and this mystery boy?”
“I’ve told you all I know.” She put her head in her hands but did not close her eyes. She feared if she did, that boy would be standing there when she opened them instead of this cop. Or even Danielle, which would be somehow worse. “Not like you’d believe me anyway.”
“It’s not my job to believe or not believe,” he said, as if he hadn’t been condescending to her the entire time. “I just have to turn in my reports and bust scumbags. Now, are you sure there’s nothing else?”
“There’s nothing else. Does this mean I can go home?”
He pressed his lips together. She thought he meant to admonish her again. Instead, he handed her a business card.
“You think of anything else, you call me. I or a detective may call you if we have additional questions. Your parents picking you up tonight?” Erika nodded. “You better give them a call. Let them know the prom ended early.”
He smirked again walked to a cluster of officers standing in a semicircle.
And he says I’m the smartass.
Erika dug her phone out of her clutch and called her mother.
On the way back, Erika told her mother everything. The woman who hadn’t birthed her but had raised her just the same said nothing, only listened. Dark as it was inside the car, Erika could see her getting paler after every sentence. Erika finished the story and asked what her mother thought. She took so long to answer, Erika thought she might not have heard the question. Before she could repeat it, her mother began to speak.
“That’s almost word-for-word an old Texas folktale,” she said. “Supposedly, in the 1950s or so, a girl about your age was forbidden from going to a dance because a preacher told her mama it was for the devil. Of course, she snuck out anyway and at the dance, she met this gorgeous stranger. He danced with her, spinning her round and round until the earth opened up and sucked her down to Hell. The stranger was the devil.”
“Yeah, but mine really happened,” she said.
Her mother looked at her. Exhaustion had darkened the skin beneath her eyes.
“But you agree the stories are very similar, yes?”
“So, maybe you heard it before and…”
“And what? Imagined the whole thing? Other people were there, Mom. Other people saw it.”
Her mother pressed her lips together. A muscle worked in her jaw.
“I love you, Erika Marie. I just want you to be honest with me. You can tell me anything. I promise.”
“Yeah, Mom,” Erika said and rested her head against the cool window.
She watched the trees go by along the dark country road. She wondered if it was dark where Danielle was.
That night, when she came home, she got undressed and turned off the light. Though she harbored no delusions that she’d be able to sleep, she decided to at least try. She lay down on her bed. Moonlight shone through her window. On most nights, she thought the silver-blue illumination was pretty and comforting. This was not most nights. With her curtains parted, it was all too easy to imagine the mysterious boy levitating up the side of her house and peering through her window with those obsidian eyes of his. Smiling that smile that looked like it’d split open his cheeks.
Erika closed the curtains. The moonlight backlit them. The shadows of the still somewhat bare tree branches danced like skeletons under some bizarre resurrection spell. She expected the shadow of the boy to rise up and join them. To reach through her window and its curtains. To take her dancing, like he’d taken Danielle. She turned onto her side and faced the wall. Her Luke Bryan poster was unrecognizable in the dimness. She felt no safer.
As she lay in bed not sleeping, she remembered meeting Danielle for the first time.
Back in freshman year, Danielle had transferred in after her parents joined the ever-growing ranks of mass shooting victims. Danielle had almost joined those ranks herself. One afternoon, her family had gone to a Sonic for frozen cherry lemonades. While they waited, a man opened fire on every car in the lot. Danielle had managed to escape into the nearby woods with a boy from another vehicle.
He’d lost his parents in the massacre too. Danielle told Erika that she developed an intense attraction to the boy, not like a crush or anything, just an intense need to be around him as much as possible. They’d been through this terrible thing together. They were the only survivors, other than a couple of fry-cooks and a car hop who’d all hidden inside when the killer opened fire. This shared experience had created an intense, psychic bond between them. Danielle worried she would never fully heal from the experience without him. Unfortunately for her, the death of her parents put her in the care of her aunt and uncle who lived in Tyler. She didn’t know where the boy was sent.
“But you seem sweet,” she’d said to Erika.
Erika gave her a hug then, said she was sorry all that horrible stuff had happened.
Even at her young age, Erika found it a little weird for someone to give away such an intense, personal story to a total stranger. More than that though, she felt a responsibility to show love and compassion to the new girl. At that time, she’d already started to question, and in some cases outright reject, the religiosity her mother had attempted to instill. Heaven and Hell, angels, Jonah getting swallowed by a whale and living to talk about it, men rising from the dead; it all felt like fairy tale stuff to her. Metaphors in the best cases. Propaganda in the worst.
What stuck were the tenets of loving strangers and caring for those who suffered.
When she’d given Danielle that hug and expressed regret for the new girl’s family tragedy, she still thought of these behaviors as Christian love in action. Looking back now, it just seemed like basic human decency. Whether divinely-inspired love or secular humanism at its finest, it hadn’t been enough to save Danielle Prescott. That girl had a shadow over her. Maybe the shooting deaths of her parents had brought it. Maybe it was older than that. Whatever its origin, whatever its age, it’d finally caught up to her.
“You believe they’re calling this a regular kidnapping?” Bobby Kirsch said the Monday after.
They were standing behind the same auditorium where it’d happened. School was in session but they’d gone around the side of the building so he could vape while they talked. She was usually careful about not putting herself in situations which could land her in trouble. Today, she didn’t care about suspension or fines. She just needed to share her grief with someone who’d also loved Danielle.
For Erika, the weekend had been weirdly normal. Shopping trips with Mom. Morning jogs. Homework. A lot of denial. She slept probably more than was healthy, but she didn’t care, and Mom let her do it.
Bobby sucked furiously on his vape pen. His face tightened and went red. To Erika, it looked like he just couldn’t get enough of a hit to take him away from whatever he was feeling. He’d dated Danielle a little bit, back in the fall. It hadn’t worked out, but he’d tried more than once to get her back. He’d even threatened to knock out the gorgeous stranger in a jealous rage earlier that night, but Erika had stopped him. She bet he wished he hadn’t listened to her. She sure wished she’d just let him do it. Maybe things would have gone differently.
“They’re acting like that shit we all fucking saw was some kind of mass hysteria.” He took another drag and shook his head as he coughed out a plume of cherry-scented smoke. “That was some devil shit.”
Bobby was still pretty religious, but it didn’t stop him from vaping or talking like a sailor. Erika nodded here and there throughout his tirade. He was saying everything she was feeling. In spite of this, she couldn’t help but tune him out. She couldn’t help feeling like his tough talk was some effort on his part to make this all about him. Maybe she wasn’t being fair. Her mother had offered to let her stay home for a few days. Ultimately, Erika decided it’d be better to be with friends. She probably should’ve taken her mother up on the offer.
School turned out to be every bit the nightmare she’d feared it might be.
During every class, her gaze drifted to the seats where Danielle usually sat. She daydreamed about the strange way her friend had been taken. The awful expression on her face. The grinning stranger who’d made her go up in flames with him. Danielle’s story about the massacre she’d survived with some strange boy. At lunch, she couldn’t eat. Between classes, she tried not to hear the other kids talk about what happened, spinning ridiculous theories, and telling outright lies about what kind of person Danielle had been. They said she was into drugs, sex with older men, and had even known the shooter who’d killed her parents and all those people at the Sonic. None of it was true. All of it pissed Erika off.
When she came home to an empty house, she rushed upstairs and collapsed on her bed. She tried to cry but no tears came. She seldom cried anymore. Some days, she thought she’d run out of tears. Other days, she thought she was saving them for a time she’d really need them. If the latter was true, she couldn’t imagine something that could make her feel worse than how she felt now.
She went to visit Danielle’s Aunt and Uncle after she tried and failed to do her homework. On her way there, she remembered Bobby’s words. Mass hysteria. No wonder that pissed him off. It was an insulting suggestion and unfortunately all too typical when it came to how the locals viewed the young: like lost sheep susceptible to all manner of deception, satanic or otherwise.
She parked her bike in the patchy lawn and walked to the door. As if he’d been watching for her, Danielle’s Uncle Horatio answered before she even had the chance to knock. His steely gaze kept her from coming in. Not only was it intimidating, it caught her off-guard. He’d always been kind to her in the past. Danielle had even said he liked her, so why the cold stare now?
“H-hi, Mr. Prescott,” she said. “I wanted to check in with y’all. Can I come in?”
He narrowed his eyes, and it made his expression even less welcoming.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, let the poor girl come in,” Danielle’s Aunt Stella called from further back in the house. “Winter’s not over and she rode all the way over here.”
It was only a mile, but Erika appreciated the sentiment.
Horatio opened the door wider and stepped aside. The house smelled like cinnamon. It made her nostalgic for happier times, even if happy was sometimes a weird way to describe any time spent with Danielle. She did have a light side, of course. Everybody did. For Danielle, it shone most prominently when she and Erika were riding bikes together. Or when she was dancing to X Ambassadors or Walk the Moon. She often looked so radiant when dancing, her end seemed all the more bitter.
Though Horatio didn’t slam the door, it sounded overwhelmingly loud as it closed behind Erika. Stella came out to meet her. Her eyes were dry but red. She wore periwinkle pajamas and her hair was unkempt.
“Erika,” she said, holding out her arms. They felt frail and brittle around Erika. She smelled stuffy and dry, like she’d just gotten out of bed.
They sat down in the living room and Stella put on water for tea. Horatio sat alone on a dusty recliner, scowling at Erika. She and Stella sat on opposite ends of a worn, leather sofa. For almost a minute and a half, no one said anything. Erika licked her lips.
“Um, have you heard anything from the police?” she asked.
“No,” Stella said. “Not a word.”
“Of course not,” Horatio said. “She vanished into thin air.”
He said it with bitter disdain. His scowl deepened.
“That’s not what I said. I said…”
He coughed out a dry laugh. “She went up in flames.”
“Honey…” Stella said.
“I know you’re covering for her. Her and that boy ran off together.”
“I’m not, Mr. Prescott. I’ve never seen that boy in my life. If she planned to run away with a boy, I’d know who he was. We were close.”
“Maybe you two weren’t as close as you think.” He focused his attention on his wife. “Everyone has secrets.”
Stella looked down and away.
“Maybe I should go,” Erika said.
“Maybe you should.”
The tea kettle whistled and broke the tension. Stella bolted up and walked quickly to the kitchen. While she grabbed mugs and saucers, Erika tried to look anywhere but at Horatio. Family photos, a dark TV screen, a painting of Jesus, a framed Texas flag and a shelf of porcelain clowns.
Everyone has secrets. The statement played on repeat in her mind. She knew Danielle had secrets. Those secrets were part of what had made her so intriguing. Every day with her was a revelation.
Stella came back with a tray full of steaming teacups.
“That boy,” she said. “What did he look like?”
Horatio’s cheeks flushed pink.
“He had thick, dark hair, purplish-black, like a raven’s. Dark eyes. He was tall and well-built and very pale. His skin reminded me of the moon.”
“Did he have a scar?” Stella pointed to her left eyebrow.
Erika tried to remember. The lighting hadn’t been great in the auditorium. She closed her eyes and pictured the boy’s face. All she could see was that awful, cheek-splitting smile. She made herself remember his eyes. Above the left one, sure enough, he’d had an X-shaped scar. She nodded.
Stella looked at Horatio. Her eyes were wide and soft.
“It’s him,” she said.
“Who?” Erika asked, though she had a feeling she knew.
“The boy she wouldn’t stop talking about after…”
“The one who escaped with her.”
Stella slowly shook her head. Horatio pressed his fingers to his temples like he had a mean migraine coming on.
“Erika,” Stella said. “No one but Danielle survived that day.”
Erika rode home, her entire body knotted with tension. Stella’s revelation repeated in her head like a hypnotist’s mantra. When she got back to her room, she called Bobby.
“Erika?” he said.
She understood his uncertainty. Though she’d texted him a couple of times when he and Danielle were dating, she never called him, back then or any other time before now.
“We need to talk,” she said. “Can I come over?”
He didn’t live as far as Danielle had, so she walked. When he answered the door, he was holding two bottles of Miller High Life. His parents let him drink, so long as he did so in their house and not out where he could get into trouble. Erika imagined he’d taken full advantage of this freedom over the past few days. He offered a bottle to her. She shook her head. They went inside and sat in the kitchen.
“So, what’s up?” he asked.
She told him. With every sentence, his eyes grew wider. He chugged the first beer and started on the second. When she finished, he shook his head.
“Like I said, some devil shit, man.”
“Maybe. Whoever he is, do you know why he came back to her?”
He took another long pull of beer. Finished nearly half the second bottle in one swallow. Then he got up and went into the other room. He returned with an envelope and tossed it at her. She unsealed it and pulled out its contents. It was a photo. A gray image, the shape of an enlarged lima bean, sat against an all-black background. It was an ultrasound image. She could feel her eyes stretch wide. She met Bobby’s gaze. His bottom lip trembled.
“She couldn’t get an abortion.”
“The baby was yours?”
His face darkened and he nodded.
“You were okay with her getting one?”
He chewed his lip and looked away.
“I mean, not really,” he said. “But … Well, she and I weren’t ready to be parents. We’re just kids. I think … I hope God would understand.”
She thought for a second.
“Is that why you were so aggressive the other night? She was carrying your kid and here was this gorgeous stranger, sweeping her off her feet.”
“Well, yeah. I was feeling … protective. Then you stopped me, and I went to go sulk in the corner, wishing the punch was spiked with something that could make me forget.”
“The police probably think it was.” She shook her head. “Mass hysteria. Pigs.”
“Ah, you don’t have to be like that.”
“Maybe not. I guess I’m still mad about how the one condescended to me.”
“Well, some of them can be pigs. That’s for sure.”
“Especially in this town.”
“Amen, girl.” He finished his second beer. Went to the fridge for a third. “Anyway, no doctor in town would help her. I thought about taking her out of state but neither of us had a license yet. I could’ve borrowed dad’s truck, but honestly, he’d kill me if he found out I knocked up a girl. Especially Danielle. He never liked her.”
“Did her aunt and uncle know? About the baby, I mean.”
“No. She didn’t want them to know. Didn’t think they’d be any help.”
Erika remembered Horatio’s scowl earlier that afternoon. No, she didn’t suppose they would’ve been any help.
“So, what does all this mean?” she asked.
“Like I said, devil shit. He helped her survive that shooting. I bet she asked him to help her out again. Not sure whatever she could’ve offered him though if he already had dibs on her soul.”
“You really believe that.” She didn’t pose it as a question.
“How could I not? They hardwire that shit into you from birth in this town.”
“Doesn’t mean it’s true though.”
“I guess not. Hard to rewire it. Hard as hell.”
“So, the devil took her. That’s that?”
He laughed then but it lacked humor. It was almost a sob. She didn’t think she could handle it if he started crying. Not that she expected to cry herself but still. It’d be too much to see. If she had lost all her tears or was storing them for something that was somehow worse than watching her friend go up in flames, how could he still cry?
“I guess…” He drifted off and tightened his expression. “I guess I like to think he took her somewhere she could free herself. Not just of our child but of this town, even of me. I like to think wherever she is, she’s happy. That she’s somehow made peace with all she’s been through. Most of all, I hope she’s alive and I hope she repents. Maybe if she prays hard enough, her soul…”
He sounded uncertain of himself. She didn’t know if he doubted what he hoped for the mother of his unborn child or if he doubted everything he thought he knew, all the things his parents and preachers and teachers had programmed into his brain since birth.
Erika took Bobby’s hand, gave it a squeeze, and left him to cry into his beer.
She didn’t even bother trying to start her homework. Instead, she sat in her room, staring out the window at the tree. A few more leaves had begun to bud on its branches. Occasionally, she checked Instagram and absently LIKED photos of dogs and good-looking girls. She thought about recording an Insta-story, some kind of tribute to Danielle. But if she did that, she feared it would confirm, once and for all, that her friend was lost forever. Dead, dragged to hell, or simply gone, without a trace, never to return. She wasn’t ready to accept that. Didn’t think she ever would be, even if they found Danielle’s charred remains tomorrow, and had a funeral sometime in the middle of the week. Danielle would live on somehow, someway. Erika was too young for people her age to start dying.
On that note, she realized just how tired she actually was. She texted her mother to say she’d be skipping dinner, and willed herself to dream of Danielle, somewhere else in the country, but safe and happy. At first, she imagined the mystery boy at her friend’s side but then she decided he was best relegated to being no more than a bad dream.
She imagined her friend deciding to keep the baby, but wandering the highways like some cowgirl samurai, drifting town to town and finding odd jobs to keep her and the baby fed and sheltered. It was nice to think about and it helped her sleep, peacefully this time.
Erika got her driver’s license that summer. She went driving a lot, mostly alone. Though Tyler itself was some bizarre marriage of a working-class suburbia and some kind of skyscraperless inner-city, many winding country roads cut through the surrounding rural areas. It was easy to get lost, even with the best GPS technology. She liked to drive aimlessly and while she physically seldom got lost, she often wandered the remote acres of her mind.
She’d finally allowed herself to accept that whether Danielle was dead or alive, she’d likely never see her again. Sometimes, it still made her sad. She often felt a sickening emptiness, but she never cried. She just drove.
She drove these country roads, blasting country music and letting her thoughts run free. She thought of Danielle the wanderer, Danielle the dead girl, Danielle the damned. She thought of Bobby sobbing into a Miller High Life. She thought of the way Horatio Prescott scowled at her. How Stella Prescott smelled stuffy and dry. The condescending smirk of Officer Kurtz. The way everything smelled like fire that night. How she sometimes smelled fire when she walked outside. Or when she was trying to sleep. Or when she was driving.
Like now. At night. Not intoxicated. She never drove drunk. She was one of the few kids in her class on which the fear-mongering, if well-intended, PSAs had worked. Instead, she downed mug after mug of black coffee. She liked to feel it surge through her veins as she rounded sharp curves. As lights from homes appeared scattered far and wide and the stars seemed so multitudinous and close together, they were like seams in a silvery, glowing blanket across the blackness overhead.
She wasn’t drunk, nor was she driving all that much higher than the speed limit, but the unpredictability of the road played no favorites.
The deer jumped out at her just as she rounded a sharp, sloping curve. It leapt into the road with timing so expert, it was as if it had hoped to strike her car. The thumping impact scared Erika so bad, she lost her grip on the wheel. Her tires lost their grip on the road. Her car tumbled down a steep embankment, striking stone and clay and stumps. As the car flipped, an image of Danielle spinning on the dance floor broke through her overwhelming panic and confusion.
Then the car lay still, and she smelled fire and it was there for real this time, all around her, it seemed. Adrenaline blocked out the pain from the rough ride off the road, but it could not dampen her terror, nor would it hold off the agony for long.
She frantically tried to unbuckle her seatbelt, succeeded, but the door wouldn’t open. She screamed and tried to scramble to the passenger side, but she came face to face with the deer. The animal was still alive but mortally wounded. Shards of glass from the windshield had lodged in its throat. Blood had matted his fur. Terror blazed in its eyes. Terror, and the fire’s reflection. It made an awful, wet mewing sound and kicked its hooves against the hood.
Everything was hot, so goddamn impossibly hot.
Erika glanced back to the driver’s window.
The gorgeous stranger from her junior prom crouched there, behind the glass. His dark eyes blazed. He smiled, but it was subdued, a subtle curving of the lips, not the cheek-splitting horror he’d flashed while spinning Danielle to her fiery death. His X-shaped scar looked red and irritated.
He reached for the window with spidery fingers. The glass bent inward and parted. It looked like slow-motion footage of stones thrown into an unmuddied pool. His hand came all the way inside the car. Up to his elbow now, his fingers curled and uncurled, beckoning to Erika.
As her hair began to sizzle and her flesh began to bubble and pain broke through the adrenaline, she remembered how this boy devil had saved Danielle from a gunman in a Sonic parking lot. How he’d spun her into oblivion when, in a fit of desperation, she could find help nowhere else. Would taking his hand damn her soul? Did she care?
Even as her skin burned, even with damnation certain, Erika reached for the boy devil’s hand and let him pull her from the flames of premature death into a life under his Damoclean sword, and she cried while they danced.
The Final Gate – Something is terrifying the residents of St. Luke’s Orphanage. Gurgling moans echo through the hallways. Hulking shapes lurk in the surrounding woods. And those who wake in the morning will find one less child under their roof…
Brandon and his girlfriend, Jillian, believe his younger brother is in serious danger. Even though the caretakers at St. Luke’s told them that he’s been adopted, Brandon has his doubts. With the help of a friend and a mysterious guide, they will do whatever it takes to find out just what is happening inside the orphanage walls…and at the bottom of the basement steps…
From Splatterpunk Award-Winning author Wesley Southard and Splatterpunk Award-Nominated author Lucas Mangum comes The Final Gate, the ultimate tribute to Italian horror master Lucio Fulci. With blood, guts, and all the nightmarish madness you’d expect from the Godfather of Gore himself, Southard and Mangum present a loving homage to spaghetti splatter and the glory of 1980’s Euro horror.
Pandemonium – A stranger in a mask walks through Philadelphia, handing out tickets to an underground wrestling show promising a level of violence unlike anything fans have seen before. The card features a mix of legends and hot up-and-comers. Most intriguing, it will mark the debut of the enigmatic, hammer-wielding Crimson Executioner, a monster of a man whose promo videos look like something out of Saw or Hostel.
The crowd enters past masked guards who don’t speak. Even the talent doesn’t know who funded the show or why; they’re happy just so long as the checks clear. None of them know the diabolical plot behind it all. When the Executioner murders his opponent in the ring, it soon becomes clear the show is a ritual to open the gates of Hell and unleash PANDEMONIUM.
Demons rise throughout the venue, using the bodies of the dead as vessels to wreak all manner of brutal carnage. Audience members and performers alike must now fight for survival as the contagion spreads all around them, inside the arena and out into the city.
In the tradition of Dario Argento’s Demons franchise and set in the world of hardcore wrestling, PANDEMONIUM is a hyper-violent tale of demonic possession, ancient evil gods, and bleeding the hard way.
American Garbage – A young adult tries to hold his band of burnouts together while navigating his own mental illness and tumultuous intimate relationships during the early years of the War on Terror.
Meghan: It’s been awhile since we sat down together, Somer. What’s been going on since we last spoke?
Somer Canon: Oh boy, SO MUCH! I’ve had the release of my book, A Fresh Start, from Crossroads Press as well as a few anthologies. I also embarked on a co-writing journey with my friend and talented author, Wesley Southard. Our work is still in it’s nascent form, but it’s shaping up to be something pretty amazing.
Meghan: Who are you outside of writing?
Somer Canon: Suburban wife and mother of two sons. Minivan driving menace to aggressive drivers in BMWs and grill master extraordinaire.
Meghan: How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?
Somer Canon: My two childhood best friends are NOT horror fans. Not even a little bit. They’ve read one of my works and were kind enough to ask me what was wrong with me, but I am very understanding of their abstaining from reading my stuff. I can’t really help it if my family reads my works and I try not to think about it too much for fear of censoring myself, to tell the truth. If I offend, I’m happy if they don’t tell me about it.
Meghan: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?
Somer Canon: It’s a mixed bag, honestly. I think creatives are some of the most empathetic and wonderful people to know and I love being in their midst. By knowing them, I’ve learned to embrace the parts of myself, my creative self, that have for so long been hidden by me for fear of them being weird or off-putting by members of polite society, and not just because I am a horror writer, although that comes with its own cabinet of weird. We notice things some other people don’t, we’re sensitive and vain, and we tend to be frightened of putting to paper parts of the lush and colorful wilderness that is our imaginations. That place in our heads is where we do most of our living and sharing it is difficult, and yet most of us, myself included, are compelled to put it down and get it out. It’s freeing and wonderful, but also terrifying and loathsome.
Meghan: How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?
Somer Canon: Well, they certainly color ME, so they would have to bleed into the work that I wring out of myself, you know? My upbringing wasn’t a happy one, so I tend to not write child protagonists because I hated so much being a child…I don’t want to revisit that. Things that anger me make it into the books, things that scare and hurt me make it in. My weird preoccupation with snack cakes made it into my book Killer Chronicles! The things in my past and in my surroundings can’t help but be part of the creative process and I think it’s good for the final product. It makes it more relatable, I think.
Meghan: What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your books?
Somer Canon: Crime scene photos. I’ve had to describe some horrible things and in order to keep it grounded, or at least semi-grounded in reality, I had to get a good look at it. I’ve lost sleep over a few of those.
Meghan: Which do you find the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, or the end?
Somer Canon: Endings are HARD. Not to say that beginnings and middles are easy (they’re SO not) but endings have a lot of responsibility towards the overall tone of the book. Where do you end it? How do you end it? What questions do you answer or leave hanging? How many of your readers do you want sending you angry emails? I consider books to be like thrill rides and they’re absolutely more about the journey than the destination, but if the destination is ill-fitted and all wrong, it certainly has influence over your impression of the overall experience.
Meghan: Do you outline?
Somer Canon: I might do a page-long idea of the overall story sometimes, but mostly I pants it.
Meghan: Do you start with characters or plot?
Somer Canon: Plot.
Meghan: Do you just sit down and start writing?
Somer Canon: It might look like that from the outside, I suppose, but my mind is totally bent on that current work in progress. Every waking moment is spent thinking on it.
Meghan: What works best for you?
Somer Canon: I need to do things that are quieting. By that I mean, my hands are busy, but my mind is in this really great, quiet, almost zen place and I get my best ideas when I’m quieting. I bake, work out, do yard work, or clean my kitchen cabinets. It helps a lot.
Meghan: What do you do when characters don’t follow the outline/plan?
Somer Canon: My characters start off as cardboard cutouts of the more well-rounded people they become in the process of writing the story. If they want to go off script, I’m okay with it.
Meghan: What do you do to motivate yourself to sit down and write?
Somer Canon: I want this. I’ve always wanted this. Hard work has never scared me off. Someone once said to me, “Just sit down and write the damn thing.” Reciting that like a mantra actually helps me a lot!
Meghan: Are you an avid reader?
Somer Canon: I try to be, I really do. I don’t read as much as I’d like.
Meghan: What kind of books do you absolutely love to read?
Somer Canon: I love haunted house books. I’ve never passed on one. I also love a good biography.
Meghan: How do you feel about movies based on books?
Somer Canon: I’m always dubious about it because so many movies change parts of the original story that… WHY. There was no need to change that, why did you do that? I watch plenty of movies based on books, but I’m usually left cold.
Meghan: Have you ever killed a main character?
Somer Canon: Yes.
Meghan: Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?
Somer Canon: It’s not that I get joy from it. There is something to learn from pain and there’s an opportunity to grow or learn something about yourself if you make it out of the suffering intact. It has to happen, but I don’t necessarily love it.
Meghan: What’s the weirdest character concept that you’ve ever come up with?
Somer Canon: I have my idea book where I jot down little ideas for stories or characters. I used to keep it by my bed so if I woke up with a thought I could jot it down. I stopped keeping it there after I found an entry with only two words and, for the life of me, I have no idea what I was thinking. Grandma Boobie is the entry. I just… HUH?
Meghan: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received?
Somer Canon: I’ve been really lucky to work with editors that have helped me catch some annoying habits in my writing. I can’t imagine how tedious I must be to them. What’s the worst? I once had a fellow author tell me that I’ll never again hit the high of the experience of signing my first contract and it was all downhill from there. I disagree with that. Big time. Every time someone wants to publish one of my tales, every short story acceptance, every invite to do a blog tour or a convention… it all means so much to me and I let myself be humble and flabbergasted by all of it. I’m living my dream and I don’t want to let myself become numb to it.
Meghan: What do your fans mean to you?
Somer Canon: We have to hide how demoralizing this writing thing can be. Rejections happen, things go quiet and you’re forgotten, self-loathing is the grease that keeps my writing engine going and I’m very hard on myself. And then, in those darkest times, someone will message me and tell me that they liked my story, or send me an email asking when my next book will come out. I can float on those tiny nuggets of encouragement for a week at least. My fans startle me and lift me up and I really don’t know if I could handle the drudgeries without them.
Meghan: If you could steal one character from another author and make them yours, who would it be and why?
Somer Canon: I would love Larry Underwood, from Stephen King’s The Stand. Larry is such a mess and I’d like to play with him in a timeline where I can continue his storyline and Captain Trips never happens. He’s a victim of good intentions swallowed by pride and vanity, until everything goes to hell and he has to lead with his better side. His better side is full of mistakes, but it perseveres.
Meghan: If you could write the next book in a series, which one would it be, and what would you make the book about?
Somer Canon: I’d like to write another Southern Vampire Mystery book (True Blood was based on them). I love the character of Sookie Stackhouse as she was in the books (don’t make me talk about the show… I get loud) and I feel that Charlaine Harris got tired of writing in that world, which I understand. But as a fan I would geek out so hard.
Meghan: If you could write a collaboration with another author, who would it be and what would you write about?
Somer Canon: I AM writing a collaboration with someone, the previously mentioned Wesley Southard! But fantasy-wise? I think it would be cool to write with one of my high-minded, intelligent friends like Mary SanGiovanni or Catherine Cavendish. They’re so much smarter and more eloquent than I am and it would be a real experience to live in their process.
Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?
Somer Canon: I’m not stopping! I’m working on a novel right now that will be my homage to both Clive Barker and Tobe Hooper! After that, who knows?
Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview or the last?
Somer Canon: Thank you to anyone who has given any of my words even a cursory glance. It’s easy to feel lonely and alone and to every person who has ever interacted with me in even the smallest way, thank you so very much. And thank you, Meghan’s House of Books, for having me again! This interview was a doozy!
Somer Canon is a minivan revving suburban mother who avoids her neighbors for fear of being found out as a weirdo. When she’s not peering out of her windows, she’s consuming books, movies, and video games that sate her need for blood, gore, and things that disturb her mother.
Still hurting from her divorce, Melissa Caan makes a drastic life change for herself and her two young children by moving them out to a rural home.But the country life came with some extras that she wasn’t counting on. Doors are slamming, she and her children are violently attacked by unseen hands, and her elderly neighbor doesn’t like to talk about the murders that happened in the strangely named hollow all those years ago.Ghost hunters, witches, and a sassy cancer survivor come together to help Melissa fight for the safety of her children and herself.All she wanted was a fresh start, will she get it?
Dawna Temple let herself be moved from the familiarity of Pittsburgh to the wilds of West Virginia, all so her mentally exhausted husband, John, could heal from a breakdown. Struggling with the abrupt change of location, Dawna finds a friend in her neighbor, Suzanne Miller, known to the locals as The Hag Witch of Tripp Creek.
A NEW FRIEND
Dismissing it as hillbilly superstition, Dawna can’t believe the things she hears about her funny and empathetic friend. Suzanne has secrets—dark secrets—and eventually she reveals the truth behind the rumors that earned her the wicked nickname decades earlier.
Now in possession of the truth, Dawna has conflicting emotions about Suzanne’s past deeds, but when her husband’s well-being takes a downturn, she finds there is no one else to turn to. Will she shun her friend as others have done before? …or can she accept that an act of evil is sometimes necessary for the greater good?