“Sisters Inside Out” Part 2

The following is Part 2 of a story I published a few years back in a great horror magazine called Macabre Cadaver. MC is out of print right now, but the rumor is it may return from the dead. Speaking of which, readers just tuning in may want to catch up on Part 1 posted last week, wherein Jennifer first agrees with her sister to take turns being dead. And so, let this post be a thank you to those who purchased and read Slash of Crimson. You all have my deepest appreciation.

Enjoy “Sisters Inside Out” Part 2:

But if nightmares were children, death was their mother.

The place felt like it was full of nothing, but a heavy nothing, even worse than the empty feeling she had when she was alive. When she was alive. The thought sent a shiver through the stiff thing that was now her body.

She was walking through a narrow valley, very narrow with rock walls on either side. Here and there leafless trees grew along her path, their branches radiating shadows even though there wasn’t any sun. A face appeared above her, in place of a low, full moon. It was a bird’s face, an eagle sick and stupid. She wondered how it floated there without any wings. She didn’t want to look at it because its eyes wobbled in their sockets and when they got control fixed in weird directions like they wanted to get out but couldn’t.

Its beak looked different, though. It looked hungry and ready. Its sharp shape hung open over the valley and one by one children were walking toward it. They were weeping and crying for their mothers. Some of them were with their mothers.

They were eaten just the same. They cried out in pain, wailed as their bones snapped into each other and rained down on the valley. Everywhere she looked was bursting with the downpour of bones. They hit her all over and she cried out, cried out to anyone to help, and it hurt and they were cold and splintered and she didn’t want to be dead anymore…

* * * *

She was still calling out “Marsha, Marsha!” when she awoke naked under her covers. Daddy sat at the foot of her bed and when her eyes opened, he handed her a glass of water.

“Nancy, she’s awake,” he yelled downstairs and Mom came running up.

Mom was wearing her black clothes, the slacks and lacy top she wore to Marsha’s funeral. Her hair had a little plastic comb in it and wrinkles showed above her lip. “She is awake,” she said, like it was a surprise she could be that way.

Mom sat down on her bed and gripped Jen’s thigh with her hand. “Who are you?” she asked.

“What do you mean who am I?” Jen asked. “I’m Jen, Mommy. I’m Jennifer, what do you mean…”

“Shhhh!” Mom put her finger to her lips, then looked at Daddy. She let go of Jen’s thigh and felt her forehead. “No fever,” she said.

“Did she ever have a fucking fever?” he asked, swigging his beer.

“John, go downstairs,” she said.

“I just think…”

“John, you’re drunk. Go downstairs!”

Daddy got up, opened another beer from the six pack by his foot and adjusted his cap. He looked at her with a half-frown, but winked anyway, then left.

Mom leaned down over her then, so close Jen could see even more wrinkles in her blotchy, shopping mall tan. “Honey,” she said. “Do you remember anything about last night and this morning?”

Jen sat up a little in bed, wanted to get up and out and go after her father, but was caught by her mother’s eyes. She remembered the dark pathway, yes, and the trees, and the eagle’s head. “No, why, what should I remember?”

Mom stood up, put her hand on her forehead again. Her worried look changed to something else, the look she had when she was looking in her medical books. She picked up a thermometer off the nightstand and put it in its plastic sleeve. “I guess we don’t need to take your temperature again. You seem fine, sweetie. You were sick today is all. Some twenty-four hour thing. You stayed home from school but you’ll be better tomorrow.”

Her mother picked up the rest of what was on the nightstand, went out her door and clicked it shut behind her.

That’s when Jen noticed the smell. All around her even though her room was empty. Empty, even though there were stains on the floor. Everything was gone except her nightstand and the stains and the half-open closet door. And she knew the smell wasn’t throw up or sick smells or anything from the bathroom. She knew the smell was something dead.

* * * *

That night she heard a knock on the bedroom door. She almost screamed when it opened and footsteps sounded on her carpet. She pulled the blanket over her head but the thing pulling back was stronger.

When she opened her eyes, she saw Daddy looking back at her.

“I’m going to show you something,” he said through his beer breath.

He held up his camera, the one that could shoot ten minute pieces of video. He brushed back her hair, took her hand and pressed play.

* * * *

First it showed a door. She thought it was her closet door, but then she saw her father’s hand reach out and knock on it. In response she heard sucking and grunting, like a pig except with a voice that said, ‘Go away, you can’t come… in… Go away!’

Daddy pushed the door open anyway and the camera focused on a little girl in a damsel costume. She was walking in circles and wincing in pain because her back was twisted and broken.

“Daddy! I wasn’t ready yet!” Her voice sounded crusty and her lips looked chalky and gray as her skin. Blood oozed from the scar on her wrist but it wasn’t as much, wasn’t as much as the rest of the…

Daddy was moving the camera around the carpet. One of the things was definitely a squirrel, another a cat. The big one was all taken apart with its fur lying beside it but she figured out from the narrow head that it had been a deer.

“I got you and Mommy all these presents for when you came home, I already told you I was putting on a show.”

That’s when Daddy’s hand shook a little on the camera. “Jenny, honey, they’re dead. Look at them.”

Her sister’s face twisted up, stretched its smile into its bruises and sneezed a clot of blood. “I am not Jenny. I am not Jennifer. I am Marsha. Marsha, Marsha, Marsha. You have forgotten me you fuckin’ drunk but Mommy did not that crazy bitch, she did not forget, I am Marsha.

* * * *

The video shut off and Daddy dropped the camera on the carpet. He was a little hiccupy and Jen said she’d get him a beer and he said no, just tell me who you are.

“I’m Jennifer, Daddy,” she said, and he hugged her. They rocked on her bed for a while, rocked until the sun set over the development and the neighbor’s garage light seeped through the window and filled the room with its low white glow.

* * * *

The next day she saw a square red, white, and blue sign on the lawn that said Germack Realty. She asked Mom what it meant and she said it meant that you can’t save the house by poaching deer and putting them in the freezer.

Mom started dropping her off at school every morning and going on to her new job at a tanning salon at the mall. She seemed happy and like she had something important to do even though she wore the black slacks and lacy top a couple of times a week and on the other days just black.

Sometimes she sang the words ‘With or without you’ and humdie-hummed the rest while she drove.

* * * *

For weeks Jen was tired all the time at school but she did her work because she wanted to learn it really well. Her teacher said she was remarkable and brought her a fifth grade math book with long division and she did it all right.

“But we’re concerned there’s something wrong,” Mrs. Laring, the guidance counselor, told Mom. “Is everything okay at home? We know her father used to pick her up…”

“John’s not driving these days,” Mom said. “We’re under some financial pressure. But there’s no law against that, right?”

* * * *

Daddy had been calling in sick a lot and hanging around the house in his underwear watching TV. He still put his cap on sometimes, but baseball season was over. He mostly watched The History Channel now. Sometimes he asked her to come read a book on his lap. He smelled like unwashed hair and beer and he picked books that were too young for her like Barnyard Animals. She let him do it because she had to admit she liked to be held, and Mom wouldn’t do it because she was like a prickle-bush even if you sat a foot away from her in the car.

* * * *

One winter night the closet door opened and her sister’s body stumbled out naked. Her gray chest heaved like her dead lungs could catch their breath and her pressed-down cheeks spread in a jellyish smile. “My turn. My turn again.”

Jen nodded and got up out of her body. She didn’t bother looking back at it. She hated that it was her turn again but marched across the room because she had to, when you were sisters you had to take turns, even when you got dead.

* * * *

The closet had doorways this time. The first a paint-peeled paneled thing, like they had in old houses closer to downtown. It smelled wet, like rotted wood. When she opened it she fell through splinters and damp soil.

She landed on an iced-over lake with mountains all around it. Her legs crunched and shot with pain then stood her up and made her walk anyway. In the distance, somewhere between all the high, shadowy rocks, she knew the valley was there. She shivered when she thought of the eagle’s head and managed to steer toward the middle of the lake.

All around her vapors rose from the ice up into a sky filled with northern lights. Only these weren’t like the bluey-maroon northern lights Daddy had showed her once. They were pale and sagging, like ragged curtains and the stars flickered like dying moths. She felt her feet staggering up a silver ladder. The metal hurt her hands and the curtains began to open.

The ladder fell away and she was sitting in a theater. The audience was full of folding chairs, all empty except a few, and these were full of dressed skeletons that didn’t move.

But the people on the stage did move. An organist with a shrunken skull of a face danced his fingers across his keys. An old man in a soot-covered smock knelt behind him, stoking a pile of orange coals with hands that looked blistered and cooked. And in the center of the stage a black haired girl who looked a little like her sister but was way taller stood next to a table holding a cleaver. She was smiling the way salesgirls did at the mall. A line of parents and children trailed off to the right.

“Next customer,” the girl said while the organ warbled its aimless circusy music.

The mother and the boy in front began to fight. “You go… No, you go…” they cried. She heard words like ‘worthless’ and ‘hate you’ and the mother put her hands on the boy and he squirmed like an earthworm and tried to run off the stage until the girl with the cleaver said, “Okay, you first.”

She put him on the table and began chopping. Jen was thankful she could close her eyes, that in death they still let her close her eyes. But when the chopping stopped she had to open them.

“It’s just a doll, silly,” said the girl.

She stepped to the front of the stage and held out a naked, stuffed doll that was the boy, with red yarn where the blood should be.

The whole line breathed a sigh of relief and talked and giggled a little.

Jen breathed out and wiped the tears from her face. She thought her turn must be almost over. She looked up at the stage again to see if it was true.

But the girl was shaking the body in her hands. She was giving her salesclerk smile through the blood, saying, “A dolly? A silly? No it’s not, no it’s not, no it’s not.”

* * * *

Jen woke up downstairs on the living room sofa. Someone had wrapped her in blankets and left a tilted medicine bottle beside her with blue pills spilling out. She could tell by the sun it was afternoon, but not too late because the school bus wasn’t back and the whole development was quiet except for the hissing of the highway.

When she sat up she noticed there was a folded piece of paper on the coffee table. She picked it up and read the note:

* * * *

I left the deer in your bedroom.

* * * *

Jen had to cover her mouth then because she thought she was going to get sick. She couldn’t handle seeing another dead animal in her bedroom, its body full of bent bones and the diseases Mom looked up in her dictionary.

But when she got upstairs to her room, when she held her breath against the smell and opened the door, she saw that Marsha hadn’t left her a deer at all. She had left her Daddy.

He was lying on his back, tucked into her bed with his eyes wide open and a bead of blood in his nose. His t-shirt was on backwards and mashed with throw-up. The beer bottles lay scattered on the carpet, their brown city demolished, and someone had folded his hands over the camera on his chest.

* * * *

She heard Mom moving around downstairs while she picked it up and replayed the video. It was like she was waiting for Jen to get the message, get some kind of hint before she came upstairs for her.

But Jen didn’t want any kind of hint. She just wanted to see her father’s face, confused and sad as it sucked in beer after beer handed to him by the little hands that were also holding the camera. “But don’t you miss me? Don’t you miss me, too?” Marsha was saying.

“I love you both,” he said. “I love you both the same no matter who you are.”

She giggled. “You love this,” she said, handing him another beer.

“Not that much,” he said. “Not really, honey. I think I’m done. I’m just looking after you until your mother comes back. We’re selling the house and then we’re starting over. Just the three of us’re gonna go out and start all over…”

“Four of us, Daddy. Jenny and me.”

“Whatever you say, honey. Honey, did you cut your wrist? Your hip looks funny…”

* * * *

Mom didn’t come in that night. Jen heard her around the door with the drill doing something, but she didn’t come in and Jen didn’t get up and go to her. She was too busy looking from her bed to the camera to the closet. Looking after Daddy for one more night because he didn’t scare her, it was okay he was there. And Marsha didn’t come for her either. The night passed with the carpet and the bottles and the body. She even thought of doing some math. Mr. Bartek had taught her what a variable was, how a variable could be anywhere in an equation…

* * * *

When Mom finally came for her, she was wearing the black funeral top. She gave her a starchy hug that scratched her skin and called her ‘you poor child.’ She cried a lot and kept away from the EMT people and police people and brought her into her bedroom when she said she’d be staying a while. Mom’s bedroom was a lot bigger but not much different from hers since the toys were gone. It was all white walls with the same blue carpet as the rest of the house. And its closet had a sliding door.

When it was open Jen noticed the damsel costume hanging on the rack. Beside it hung other costumes and dresses. Lots of white ones and below them shoes and a guitar. On the far side of the room stood a little wooden riser that was kind of like a stage.

But when Marsha came out it was still from Jen’s closet. Mom would leave the door open at night and Jen would hear her uneven footsteps thudding up the hall. Her sister would round the corner then and smile, throw out her stiff arms and rip Jen out of Mom’s bed by her neck. She would say, “Your turn!” not like she was making a deal anymore. She would say it bossy and rough and Mom would keep her eyes closed, her wrinkly mouth kind of smiling in her sleep.

* * * *

Jen usually had bruises in the morning because the bones rained hard in the valley. Her ears echoed with the moaning of the dead and her eyes were wide and bloodshot all day long because if she even blinked the eagle’s face was there…

She still liked solving equations at school but everything else she could barely do. The teachers never bothered her about it because of what happened with her father. They shook their heads because he drank himself to death in his daughter’s own bed. She once overheard Mom and the guidance counselor talking about it again saying at least the insurance covered the house, at least she had that stability during her difficult time.

* * * *

But when Mom wasn’t there, Mrs. Laring still stared at her a lot. There was no way she could hide the bruises from her turns being dead. The nightmares were getting worse because after the insurance people stopped coming around, Mom moved her back in her room. Whenever she was in, Mom shut and locked the door after her, and when Jen asked why, she just ignored her. If she yelled or tried to fight her, Mom’s eyes narrowed into her tan and her lips got tight. “I could have them put you away, little missy,” Mom said. “I could have them put you somewhere way worse than a bedroom with a lock on the door.”

Mom started making her watch shows about insane asylums before bed. Sometimes they were movies, sometimes they were like the news, like stories about real places. They were always bad and showed people getting shocked. She said as long as Jen went to school and came home she wouldn’t have to go there.

She even brought Jen math books for her afternoon lock-ups. She always made sure she used the bathroom first and said not to make any noise because she was going for her nap. Mom always did this after work now, like she didn’t want to sleep at night.

And sometimes, if Mom left her alone with the TV while she was in the shower or out a few minutes in the yard, Jen would sneak upstairs and look in her bedroom. She’d peek her head in and see the little stage, where sometimes the guitar was left out, sometimes the costumes were lying around on the floor.

* * * *

Once Mrs. Laring pulled her out of class at school. She told Jen she wanted to talk to her on her own. She had candy and snacks in her office that day, and a man in a suit with a cell phone on his hip. He had short, buzz-cut hair like a baseball player, like Daddy used to have. He looked strong and confident, like he thought he could do things to help people. Mrs. Laring said his name was Ray and he did a job like hers and just wanted to talk.

They offered her the snacks and asked how she was doing. They asked about her father and her mother and eventually they asked about the bruises.

“They happen at night,” she said.

“What do you mean at night? How do they happen at night?” asked Mrs. Laring.

“They’re from the bones. Or sometimes the girl on the stage.”

Mrs. Laring and Ray looked at each other. Ray pulled his chair a little closer to hers. “Jennifer,” he said, “do you ever feel confused? I mean does Jennifer ever feel confused if she’s Jennifer… maybe doesn’t want to be Jennifer?”

Jen looked at him. “I’m Jennifer,” she said. “Are you a guidance counselor or a policeman?”

Ray frowned, took a deep breath. “I work for The Department of Human Services,” he said. “I want to help you if I can. Jennifer, I know sometimes it’s hard to tell the truth. I know sometimes the truth hurts so badly it’s like we want to be somebody else.”

“I don’t want to be anybody else,” she said. “I know you think I’m crazy, but I’m not crazy at all. I’m Jen and I have problems but it’s not what you think.”

“Then tell us. If you tell us the truth, we can help. If you tell us the truth, we won’t think you’re crazy at all.”

“Okay,” said Jen. “I take turns being dead with my sister. Her body comes out of the closet at night. She puts on her damsel costume and sings songs for my mother while I go to where it’s dark and rains bones and the eagle eats the kids and their parents.”

Free Serialized Story, “Sisters Inside Out”

In part as thanks to the folks who have given me good feedback on Slash of Crimson, I’d like to offer some free fiction here on my blog. This story first appeared in the November 2008 issue of Macabre Cadaver. It would require only a moderately enterprising Internet search to pull up the free PDF in the online magazine’s archive. Yet whether you’re rushing through a busy schedule, or relaxing with something cold and quenching, sometimes an extra click can be a click too many. So over the next few weeks I will be posting this short story as a spooky four part serial. It begins innocently enough, yet becomes a strong tonic for those who grin at the gruesome.

Without further ado, Sisters Inside Out, Part 1: 

When Jen was seven and her sister Marsha was eight, they went in their mother’s room and played a game called princess-wedding. It meant they tried on all her clothes like they were making a princess ready for a prince. Of course Marsha got to be the princess, and there was no taking turns because she said it wasn’t that kind of game. Instead she put a silver belt around her head like it was a crown and wore a lacy top she called Mommy’s jammies. She twirled and twirled in the strange clothes and said ‘Look at me’ while she watched herself in the mirror.

 But Jen didn’t care if her sister was being weird. It was worth it just to get to see her so grown up and pretty. And anyway that’s not what made Jen mad. What made her mad was when they got caught and she threw off the clothes and said it was all Jen’s idea and she was trying to make her stop. She got to do that and be the princess. That wasn’t fair.

Another day Marsha had her friend Sally over and they were making up songs on her guitar. Jen wanted to play too, but Marsha said she didn’t know how and to go away. Jen stormed off swearing she’d tell on her.

But when their mother came home tired and complaining about traffic, Marsha said she had a special surprise. She sang a song she made up called Sweet Little Sister to the tune of Hush Little Baby. Daddy came home in the middle of it and both her parents said how cute it was and said for Jen to go give her sister a big kiss.

It was hard not to, she looked so sweet with her black curls and her glassy smile. It was hard not to be confused, too, when her sister changed her mind and acted weird-nice.

* * * *

When fall came and Jen was eight and Marsha was nine, Marsha got to keep a costume from a play she was in. It was a damsel suit with puffy pink sleeves and a sparkly cap Mom said was the color of champagne. Mom loved that Marsha was good at being in plays and let her wear the costume all around the house.

Jen didn’t want to say anything about it, not really. But Halloween was coming up and she didn’t have a costume. Daddy said he’d take her to the mall to pick one out but Mom said no, it was too much money, she could make something simple. “But that’s not fair. Look what Marsha has, it’s not simple.”

“Honey, Marsha got that because she was in the theater.”

Jen hated the way Mom said theater. Like it was a rainbow or something that nobody could do anything about. “It’s still not fair,” said Jen. “She should at least take turns.”

That night Mom and Daddy argued, even through half of Daddy’s baseball game. But after they came to Jen’s room with the damsel costume and said she could wear it trick-or-treating.

For a while Jen was scared, wondering what Marsha was doing, if they had to tear it away from her. But mostly she was just happy, and she fell asleep dreaming of how she would look. The next night Daddy had only taken her around one block when she tore her sleeve on a metal fence. She was already scared that Marsha was really mad at her because she had decided not to come, and when they got home her sister stopped playing guitar and glared up at her. “Give me back my costume,” she said.

* * * *

The next weekend was an Indian summer and Daddy took everyone on a hike. Mom didn’t want to go in case it got cold again, but Daddy said it would be good for everyone to get out before they were cooped up all winter.

Marsha hadn’t spoken to Jen all week and when they got out at the picnic area, she started going right up the side of the hill. Jen really wanted to just play down by the stream, but she followed after her sister anyway, with her mother muttering, “Be careful, Jenny.”

Daddy was no help either because he was already getting out beer and sandwiches, and Jen could barely see her sister among all the slanted trees. As she ran to catch up, burdocks stuck to her dress and thorns tore at her sweater. I guess you’re just trying to get back at me, she thought.

By the time she got to the top both of them were running. Marsha stopped herself at the edge of a deep crack in the hill that looked like it was sucking little branches and trees down inside it. It felt like it was sucking Jen too, because she was going so fast she couldn’t stop herself from going over. Just in time she threw out her hand and caught a sticky little pine trunk.

When she looked up at her sister for help, Marsha’s eyes looked stern and slit shaped. She started walking toward her, feet thumping on the packed grass. Jen told herself her sister didn’t look like she was about to do the meanest thing ever. She told herself she was putting her hands out to help her back up.

But just as she reached her, Marsha’s foot caught on a root. Her body folded and fell, one arm reaching back for a branch, just like Jen’s had. Except instead she banged it against the rock ledge and cut open her wrist before plunging into the dark.

* * * *

For months and months after that Mom was sad and worried and crying all the time. She even quit her part time job, to cope with loss, she said, and to keep an eye on her Jenny’s health. Daddy’s change was a little different. He stayed up late at night watching baseball games downstairs. Sometimes when she went down for a drink of water she saw the TV glowing blue on his face and beer bottles stacked on the coffee table like a brown city.

But Daddy was still always nice, and if he saw her, he said things like, ‘Stick around, be my good luck charm,’ and ‘I can burp. Why can’t he pitch?’

But Jen left Daddy be and went back up to her room where she liked it okay even though things were hard. In her room she got her homework done. When she got her homework done, her teachers said how good she was doing. She began to think she could handle second grade math and wondered about how Marsha used to have such a hard time with it.

All Marsha’s toys were piled in the corner of her room. The doll house, the train track, the plastic fairies. The stuffed unicorn and champagne-colored damsel cap. All of it belonged to Jen now. And it was weird because she used to think their house was too plain, just like all the others in the development. The walls were all white, and her room was just a square with blue carpeting stretched from one end to the other, right into the closet.

But now with all of Marsha’s stuff it seemed crowded. The toys made shadows on the walls from her nightlight, and if she turned it off, they used the pale light from the neighbor’s garage and looked even worse. Something about its glare reminded her of how the development wasn’t near any regular roads. It just had trees on one side and the highway on the other. She didn’t mind the deer that passed silently by, but the highway was always weird-noisy, just out of sight and hissing all the time.

Mom always said Jen had a hard time falling asleep because of the things she looked up in her medical dictionaries. Things like childhood depression and PTSD and other stuff. But to Jen it wasn’t any of these things so much as the hissing highway and the big emptiness that felt heavy even though it was full of nothing.

* * * *

One night she had a strange dream. She dreamt she was standing in her room and she could look back at her body lying on the bed. She walked across the carpet, in and out of the shadows of the toys. She was walking toward the closet door, and she had a funny feeling, a tickling in her sleep. The toys seemed to give off a soft rattle each time she stepped, and she noticed, lying off to her right among the shadows, was her sister’s damsel costume from a few Halloweens back. It was all nice and neat, like somebody wanted it to be put on but didn’t know it was ready.

* * * *

The next morning she got up for school and almost forgot about the dream because of the yelling.

It was because instead of coffee with breakfast Daddy was having a beer. But the weird thing was Daddy didn’t look soupy like he did during his games. He looked quiet and straight faced. Jen ate her cereal and when Mom was done yelling about the beer and looking up cirrhosis of the liver, Daddy took out a bill and started talking calmly about the credit card. He talked about Mommy’s medical dictionary and the mortgage. He talked about the price of groceries and how he was going to have to work overtime instead of taking them up to Crawford Notch.

Jen went upstairs and still didn’t think of her dream until she went in her room and saw the damsel costume lying out on the floor. That’s when she got angry and shaky and slid down on her bottom beside her bed. She didn’t want it to be this way, with her sister dead and her parents yelling all the time. It was stupid.

Then she had a weird idea. She stood up and went to the window. She looked out at the wispy trees and deer shapes moving among them. She imagined carrying all of Marsha’s things deep into the woods and walking until she reached the crack in the hill. There she would throw them one by one down into the dark…

“Jen, hurry up, you’ll miss the bus!”

Her mother’s yelling interrupted her daydream. She ran downstairs, grabbed her backpack and ran halfway to the bus stop when she noticed one of Marsha’s toys caught in her straps. It was the stuffed unicorn with the rainbow colored horn.

When the late bus finally got her to school, she had missed homeroom and Mr. Windle even said he was going to take away her toy. That’s when she said it was a present for Lana Haine.

Lana Haine looked up when she said this. She had short, dirty hair and people always said she never took a bath. An aspirin colored pimple stuck out on her face and people said it was because she was supposed to be not one but two more grades ahead. Jen walked right over to her in front of Mr. Windle and put the unicorn on her desk. Lana Haine didn’t say anything when she did it, and neither did anyone else.

But later during recess she came up and said a stuttered thank you. “C-can I really keep it?” she asked. Jen nodded yes.

Mr. Windle watched her with a funny look on his face. He asked her after lunch if the toy was really hers and if it was really okay with her parents for her to give it away. She said it was, but Mr. Windle called her father to pick her up after school and asked again. Daddy lifted his Red Sox cap once and scratched his head. But when Jen said, “It’s okay, it’s just clutter,” he shrugged and told Mr. Windle he was taking her home.

After that Jen began bringing in a toy every couple of days and giving it away. She stopped for a week sometimes, but always started again. She was amazed at how much stuff her sister had, but was determined to go through it all. The shadowy pile of it still bothered her at night, funnier shaped now that it was slowly disappearing. But knowing it would one day be gone kept her going.

Finally on her ninth birthday she was down to the last toy. It was the damsel costume with its pointy, champagny cap. Her mother came upstairs that night, her hair even shorter and dyed darker than the last time she cut it. She said, “I hope you don’t expect much for your birthday. Especially now that you gave away all your sister’s things.”

She closed Jen’s bedroom door on her and went back downstairs. It was the only thing she ever said about giving away the toys, and also the first time Jen thought about how she was turning nine, the same age Marsha was when she died.

* * * *

That night she had the dream again about getting up and looking back at her bed. Her body looked black and hunched under the blankets. Her hair looked damp with sweat and her face pale and frowning. She wanted to go back to herself, but her legs lurched and pulled her the other way. It was like some part of herself was angry at another as she went step, step, step, toward the closet door.

It looked so tall in front of her, glowing blankly by the neighbor’s garage light, the shape like a diagram from the last page of her math book. “It looks hard,” she said aloud, like she was talking to somebody.

That’s when the door opened and her sister entered the room. She was much shorter than Jen now, mostly because her back was broken and twisted to one side. She still wore the clothes from the day she fell, her shirt ripped and all covered with dried blood and her wrist cut with a jagged purple scar. When Jen tried to turn away, Marsha grabbed her head and twisted it around to face a pair of bruised eyes that looked like they’d been punched.

“Don’t you know why I’m here?” she asked.

Jen realized then she was crying in her sleep, her body shaking back on the bed.

But Marsha was in the way, and she couldn’t go past.

“Don’t you know?”

Jen shook her head. There was blood between Marsha’s teeth and they looked small and dirty, full of soil.

“I’m here because you have to take turns. It isn’t fair if you don’t take turns.”

“What do you mean,” said Jen, “what’s not fair?”

Her sister’s bloody smile rose up out of her rags. “Being dead,” she said.

Jen’s body began shaking harder on the bed, heaving with its sobs. Marsha swayed to the sound, like she was dancing to strange music, like she had the day she dressed up in her mother’s mirror. “It was me who fell, but it should have been you,” she sang. “It was me who had the talent and you who makes mom cry…”

“Wait,” said Jen, “that’s not fair!”

“What’s fair,” said Marsha, “is taking turns. Isn’t it your turn to die? Come on, just for a while. You’ve lived all this time. And you’ll live again. But me, what do I have?” Here her sister seemed to change, shudder in her ruined body, blood pulsing at her wrist and mouth like now that’s how she cried. “Please, you have to take turns. You don’t know what it’s like… over there.”

Marsha pointed to the closet.

Jen saw that it was dark there. The light should have spilled in a little, but she couldn’t see the wall or the carpet. It was only dark.

“You want to take turns being dead?” Jen asked.

Marsha’s teeth clicked as she nodded yes.

“But how does it work? When do we start?”

“We start tonight…” said Marsha.

That’s when Jen saw her own body get up from the bed. It walked to the closet and stepped inside. She felt a sucking at the rest of her, at what had come out in her dream.

“Say yes! It’s my turn! Say yes, say yes!” cried her sister.

Jen wanted to scream ‘no’ as she fell, but then thought of Mom and Dad, how they hadn’t paid attention, thought of the mean look on her sister’s face from the day when she fell. I’ve never been like them, she thought. I’ve always taken fair turns. So instead of no, her mouth opened and said yes, just to be fair, she said yes.

Welcome Guest Blogger Dan O’Brien

I’m pleased to announce our first guest blogger, Dan O’Brien.

Psychologist, author, philosopher, martial artist, and skeptic, Dan has published several novels and currently has many in print, including: The End of the World Playlist, Bitten, The Journey, The Ocean and the Hourglass, Deviance of Time, The Path of the Fallen, The Portent, The Twins of Devonshire and the Curse of the Widow, and Cerulean Dreams. Follow him on Twitter (@AuthorDanOBrien) or visit his blog http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com. He also works as an editor at Empirical, a national magazine with a strong West Coast vibe. Find out more about the magazine at www.empiricalmagazine.com.

Enjoy Chapter one of his novel Bitten:

Chapter 1

Madeline Leftwich sat at the train station every day at exactly thirteen minutes past midnight. The faded brown bench on which she sat did not often have consistent occupants as transients and hobos were sparse this far north.

But there she sat, hands crossed over her lap. The floral pattern of the thick skirt she wore was hand-made, buckles and clasps galore adorned the uneven cut and fold of the garment. Her face possessed an absent quality, not that characteristics were missing, but instead a vacancy of spirit. That bench meant a great deal to her. This was the very place that childhood was left behind.

It had been exactly thirty-nine years since her mother had placed her on that very bench, brushed back her hair and told her everything was going to be alright. She had said she would be right back. A promise to a child is a sacred thing. Even as an adult, Madeline could not tear herself away from the compulsion to come wait for her mother every day at that exact moment she had left her. The whistle blew each night as the passenger train rolled into town.

Cold air rained down upon the open station. Often, there would be sheets of ice that would expel from the track, lining the waiting area just beside the tracks on the concrete platform. Attendants had grown accustomed to her presence. Some even offered her coffee in the wee hours of the morning when they had no other friend. This night, however, she was quite alone.

Heavy bleating of the distant train horn filled the night, filtering through a cloudy fog. The susceptible and otherwise occupied Ms. Leftwich was not yet privy to the gossip of the town. Murder, a topic of great concern no matter the venue, would be especially virulent in such a small community. Distance revealed a dark object hurdling through the night, steam and precipitation sluicing from the heavy and hot steel that cascaded across the hours of darkness.

The station was empty. A half-lit banister showed the narrow, icy path that crawled back out to the blacktop just outside the front of the station. She watched the train collide with the open air of the darkness, the squeal of the tight brakes announcing its arrival with startling clarity. Heavy doors opened; artificial light spilled from the side of the train.

Madeline watched the open door carefully – waiting. Seconds passed into minutes, yet there was no sound external to the cold nature of Minnesota. Winter had a feeling, a symphony all its own. Groaning trees fought against the arctic grip of snow and ice. Lakes moving in the distance, far beneath the heavy weight of the ice that had taken residence upon them, filled the night.

Someone stepped out. Her coat was wrapped tightly around her lithe frame, her sandy blonde hair tucked beneath a brown wool cap. The scarf around her neck was braided and frayed; as though it were sewn by someone she knew well, not the simple manufacture of mass production. Brown eyes watched the empty train station with great interest and a precision that marked her immediately as more than a mere observer.

A bulge at her side revealed a weapon. The simple black bag that was slung over the shoulder of the long brown trench coat made her appear to be a woman on the run, or perhaps one who simply liked to travel light.

Seeing the frail form of Madeline, this sole occupant of the midnight train station, she made her way toward the sitting woman. Her voice was sweet, her tone full of purpose. “Excuse me, ma’am. Is this Locke? Locke, Minnesota?”

Ms. Leftwich watched the woman with wide eyes, pooling with tears. She was severely confused. Was this her mother? Had this been the person she had waited so long to see? She hesitated. This woman was younger, younger than she was. Was this possible: a mother who was younger than you?

“Ma’am, I…”

“Mother?” queried Madeline Leftwich, her voice rising shrilly.

“Pardon me?”

Madeline did not stand, but instead shuffled her purse at her waist. “Are you my mother? You left me here a long time ago. Said you would be back, said you would be back soon.”

Staring into the vacant eyes of Madeline Leftwich, it took the woman a moment of complete incomprehensibility to see that there was not much left. Where there might have once been potential for a woman, were the remnants of some sad description of what could laughingly be called life.

“No. I am very sorry. I’m not…”

Madeline stood now, her features scrunching in anger. “Why would you lie to me? Why would you leave me here? Why?”

“Ma’am, my name is Lauren. Lauren Westlake. And I am neither your mother nor a trained therapist. Can you tell me if this is Locke?”

Madeline interrupted, her face flush. Her words were filled with venomous rage. “Don’t pretend I’m a child. I know where I am. I know who I am. Just because you are my mother, doesn’t mean you can leave me behind.”

Lauren Westlake looked at the woman in a mixture of shock and horror. She resisted the urge to physically restrain the woman, concerned about the reaction she might have. “What is your name?”

Madeline’s face was the very picture of surprise. “You don’t remember your daughter’s name?”

Lauren was uncertain how much further this charade should be carried, whether or not disengaging from the woman would be simpler. Looking at the woman carefully, she noticed that her clothing was handmade. The name Madeline was sewn carefully into the breast of her outmost jacket. Stifling an irritated sigh, she continued. “Madeline. Your name is Madeline.”

And then as quickly as the madness had come, it dissipated. “Why are you talking to me?”

“Excuse me. I…”

Madeline looked at Lauren strangely and stood, gathering her belongings. She moved past Lauren and out into the night as though the interaction did not even happen. Lauren watched her go, scrutinizing the entire exchange in her own mind. Shaking her head, she adjusted the bag at her back and moved forward past the dock of the train station and into the cold area just above it.

Ms. Leftwich was nowhere to be seen. As far as Lauren was concerned, that was for the best.

The night was cold. A heavy veil of fog seemed to grow like a behemoth. She looked down the lane and saw only two endless views of darkness. The blacktop was crystalline, frozen precipitation having created a surreal sheet that seemed as though it would be better suited for ice skating than vehicular travel.

“Not exactly a warm welcome,” she muttered, drawing the top of her coat closer to her face. There were muffled sounds in the distance, voices that were muted; sounds that could originate from only one kind of establishment: a bar. Lowering her head and pulling the strap of her bag tight, she soldiered on.

* * * * *

Madeline had made a mistake that night that would cost her life. Each night that she sat alone at that train station, she would wait for the sun to rise and then scamper home, ashamed. This night, however, her emotions had gotten the better of her. And it was in these woods that she would now find herself in the presence of a particular creature of the night, one that would come to haunt and terrorize the inhabitants of the small town of Locke.

The moon overhead stung the fog, driving the ethereal wisps from its view. Wide and threatening, it looked peaceful when viewed in the company of others, in the arms of a lover perhaps. To Madeline Leftwich, a woman lost in her own mind, it was a portent of doom.

Thick branches grew over the sorry excuse for a path that she walked each day. By daylight the intricacies could be gleaned, but at night it was a haunted maze littered with obstructions and potential trip falls.

Her shoes were a dark fabric. Not the kind of material used when hiking through the woods at breakneck speeds, though that is what Madeline would need that night. When she paused at the center of the trail to make sure she wasn’t being followed, the dead silence of the night became a far more frightening sound.

“Who is there…” she half-whispered, her voice cracking.

A branch snapped, frost claiming yet another soldier. Crack. Another sound echoed in the night; this time much heavier, like weight lingering as a fledging branch gasps for its last breath before being trampled. She pulled her bag close to her chest, her face twisting in fear. Her eyes were wide as she searched the night frantically. “There is nothing there,” she whispered, tearing her eyes from the tree line.

Continuing forward, her steps were quicker, more deliberate. The woods around her thinned the faster she walked, white speckled pines giving way to broken branches along a road of depreciating value. The trail widened in places, enough that little pockets of dirt and soil were pushed up from use.

As if something were urging her forward, she began to run slightly, her breath expelled in heavy puffs of condensed air. She wheezed then, a panicked, hiccupping sound that erupted deep from within her chest.

And that was when she heard the first growl.   There was something wrong with it. It sounded like an animal, the guttural low pitches. However, there was something human to it, a strange gargling sound. Rising in pitch, it sunk again disappearing into the fog.

Her feet were not as sure beneath her as she thought. The tips of the fabric shoes dug into the hard soil, making her wince in pain. Biting her lip hard, she forged forward, stumbling into an open area of the trail.

Trees crowded the edges of her vision and the clearing. The trail continued on the way she had been trampling and then split into two smaller trails yet. The fog hung ahead of her, pulling away as though it were an entity all its own.

Silence permeated the area, there was low rustling. And then the growl came again. It sounded hungry, desperate, the pinnacle of auditory fear. “Who is there? What? Why are you hiding…” she whimpered. “Please…please.”

It seemed to come from all around her, enveloping the cold night air. The fog stirred, deep in its belly a shadow formed. Tall and hunched, it was a mass of darkness shaped like a man. Heavy in the shoulders, spines seemed to rise unevenly from the arms and body. The head was lowered and the knees bowed as though it were ready to pounce.

Yet it did not. It stood, chest heaving, safely veiled by the fog bank. Hands that seemed to melt into long thin claws were obscured by the swirling mass of miasma ebbing and flowing within.

She was speechless.

Her mouth opened: no words.

Her mind raced. Panicked thoughts flooded her mind, erasing judgment and reason. Muscles constrained, joints locked, she watched helplessly. It took a single step forward, the heave of its heavy chest frightening.

Madeline Leftwich was not a god-fearing woman. In point of fact, until that moment she had not given much thought about death. Never had she thought about whether she wished to stay in this world: alive, mortal. Now, when confronted with something drawn from nightmares, her pulse raced and she realized, with a desperate certainty, that she did indeed wish to live.

The rain trickled then, a fat droplet striking her across her hair. Her feet hit the ground hard, her pulse racing as she abandoned her bag. Churning, her feet dug into the hard winter earth. Her breath sputtered in front of her in rapid fits of exploding clouds. She whimpered as she ran, tears running down her face as trees slapped her hard across her cold, sensitive features; some left bruises, others broke skin.

The forest was alive with sound.

Creatures hooted and hollered in the night.

They knew something was happening.

She could hear herself breathing heavily.

She would not last much longer.

Her foot caught something lodged deeper into the frozen ground, the world spun in circles as her back collided with the unforgiving earth. The groan that escaped her lips was foreign.

Frightened and defeated, she kept very still. Where she had landed proved defensible, high brush bristling with heavy branches and evergreen leaves that hid her partly from view.

The forest beat a heavy drum.

Footfalls of animals loose in the night filled the air. There was one set of footsteps that rung above the others: something primal, something large. She covered her mouth with her hand. Pressing it tightly, a shadow crept across her vision.

She peered out the side of the brush.

It stood like a man.

Up close the fur was matted, uneven, missing in some places. The legs were muscular and covered in fabrics that seemed to sluice fluid. Hemorrhaging from the torso, it moved with a predator’s grace.

Its face was covered in shadow.

Madeline felt a scream rise from deep in her chest and she pressed her hand harder against her mouth. Closing her eyes, tears streamed from them. Her chest heaved, but she tried not to move, locking her body into a paralysis.

She could not tear her eyes away from it.

Turning, the face was still well-hidden.

Long slender fingers, like dull blades, bounced against the creature’s legs. The clothing was torn and dirty. A smell emanated from it that could only be described as nausea in the depths of a septic tank. Lifting its head, it sniffed the air, a hood pressing against its mangled hair.

Her breath caught in her throat.

The slow turn of the creature and the bend of its legs as it lowered closer to the ground was more than Madeline could take. And before she could even remove her hand from her mouth to scream, it was upon her.

Special thanks to Dan O’Brien for a chance to read some of his visceral and beautiful prose. Click on the book image above or title following for a link to the Amazon page for Bitten. Also, for those of you who have not yet had a chance to have a look at my most recent release, Slash of Crimson, here is a link to its Amazon Kindle page (which also has a link to the paperback version; at $2.99 Kindle is a great deal: Slash of Crimson Kindle). Thanks to everyone, and enjoy the deep and dangerous dark…  –Carl R. Moore 

Luci Horroble’s Death of Ghost

I have the music of Luci Horroble on my mind this morning as his bandmate Christine dropped me an email about the recent publication of Slash of Crimson. One nice thing about putting out a novella appears to be reacquainting with friends. Truth be told, I have not yet met these two folks in person (wish I had, because I would have autographs…). Instead I know them from writing a review of their CD Death of Ghost a few years ago. Luci Horroble is no newcomer to the metal scene. He used to play guitar for Norwegian metal band Ancient, and as a guitar-virtuoso friend of mine once said, his solos have quite a killer vibrato…

In the future I would like to talk music more on this blog, particularly hard rock and metal and various other niche music genres, as they’ve inspired my writing a great deal. For now, enjoy this review of Horroble’s album Death of Ghost:

Death of Ghost—‘Better Than You Know, When You Sell Your Soul’

Horroble’s debut album Death of Ghost proves it’s possible to be at once aggressive and seductively hypnotic. Beginning with Looking For Your Grave, full of eerie vocal harmonies and thrusting guitar riffs, Horroble tears into the ear with a brutal, vampiric bliss. And they aren’t afraid to take a few measures to build the atmosphere á la old Sabbath. Payoff follows swiftly with intricate choruses that are wickedly melodic and hit like a clawed left hook.

Lyrically they lay out a fearless parade of mayhem and depravity. It’s one thing for a band to sing about death. It’s another to savor it on the tongue, then swallow it straight and ask for another shot. Repeat and repeat until voila, you have the killer refrain of Red Hell. At the same time, in tracks like Bitten, the lyrics promote a kind of rugged self-reliance. It throws a confident twist into vocals that echo early Bauhaus and range from the sarcastic to the wistful and darkly erotic.

Indeed, the striking melody of the chorus of Drinking The Blood, along with its claim that “Things are better than you know/When you sell your soul”, proves that Horroble is out to shake up the dark music scene and leave their mark of unapologetic, blood-drinking confidence. The sweetness is enticing and the chords powerful. Be you incubus or succubus you could take a lesson in temptation from Horroble’s wicked refrains…

With a rhythm section leaning a little more toward rock’n’roll than one gets in metal’s more noise-oriented subgenres, Horroble offers an abyss with a groove. And they are not afraid to kick off a song with a guitar solo, managing to keep things catchy while experimenting with song structure. Throughout the album they use the lead guitar in a subtly fresh way. The solo in My Friends warps suddenly into hard-boned speedmetal bucking against a tender, pop-sweet background. Such contrast sneaks up and seizes the listener pleasantly by surprise. Yes, lead guitarist Luci’s solos will raise they eyebrows of Kirk Hammett and Dimebag Darrell fans alike.

The final track, The Death, puts a bit of the ‘mental’ in experimental. I’m not saying put on the headphones, swallow some acid and stare at a photonegative of The Pope in a nursing home full of corpses—just that you’ll enjoy its phantasmagoric, horror-show-esque trip. Think neo-gothic version of the Doors’ ‘The End’. The track proves that this band has a breadth of style that holds more promise than a legion of whispering demons.

So bring on the musical massacre, bring on the slaughter with a spacey dash of sparkles—Horroble’s taking murderglam to a twisted new level. The carnival of carnality is worth the price; it promises to rock the cemetery for visitors and residents alike.

Vintage Review on a Darkly Dreamy Sunday Afternoon

It’s one of those Sundays where you sort of feel like putting on some old vinyl and hanging out in the attic and sweating through the small, important, uncanny details of a given re-write. The type of day where you contemplate some strong ice tea with plenty of leaves and lemon but no sugar.  A sort of Sunday where even a hot sun comes off a little wan and a velvet pillow dreamily drowsy and dark.

So on a bit of a whim I thought I’d put up this review I wrote a few years ago of a book called Songs They Never Play on the Radio, by James Young. The book is about singer/songwriter/model Nico of Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol fame. It may seem a bit unusual for a blog mostly about horror writing. But I find it drifts along the edge of the aesthetic spectrum in that, first, it tells a shadowy and desperate story in a tone that horror writers may find useful, and second, that it had me thinking of the empty and strange years I spent living in various empty and strange corners of Brooklyn. It’s also a review that got a fair number of useful votes on Amazon. And so without further review, throw on a good album and perhaps enjoy some of these thoughts on a Sunday afternoon:

I can’t remember where I first read a few excerpts from this book, but I remember being pretty irate I didn’t have the full text in front of me at the time. Years later, after bad breakups, fires, towers falling down around me, I finally stumbled across Songs They Never Play on the Radio again, devoured it like a starved cannibal on the tundra. This book is so much wider in its scope than the blurbs on the back make it out to be, primarily in its oblique commentaries on European political history, and the valuation of Art.

The book is a biographical snippet of singer/songwriter Nico’s last years and tours. At the beginning she is living inManchester,England, addicted to heroin and passing her days getting high and drowsing in the shadows. A vaguely ambitious and obscure producer named Dr. Demetrius lines up a tour for her and pulls together a band to back her up. James Young, the author, is the keyboard player for this band.

The ensuing narrative is what they call in MFA programs “creative non-fiction.” (Yes, MFA programs ARE annoying, but sometimes pull-out the useful term or two). Anyway, it reads like a novel, imitates actual events, and doesn’t change the names like in a roman-a-clef. Fortunately, Young lets his camera jump cut from scene to scene, across time, countries and continents, to land right where the action demands. We get portraits of the band–Echo, a mixture of sullen, backsliding pater familia and post-punk rock bassist… oh, and throw in junkie to boot. We get a variety of drummers–from an industrial junk-percussion virtuoso to a totem-wearing pretty-boy tabla diva to a hair-metal sorta-be. We get a lead guitarist desperate to meet Bob Dylan. We get so many mini-music pros, the portrait of the desperation of professional pop music and the love of heroin might fool the reader into thinking it’s the subject of the book.

But the real subject is the struggle for recognition and accomplishment of pop artist Nico, and what that means for all struggling artists, especially those who deal with all things truly dark. Nico just happens to write deeply shadowed, literary-style poetry for lyrics, whether she or anyone else likes it or not. The poems themselves, from You Forgot To Answer to Nibelungenland to Frozen Warnings to Mutterlein (to name a few), are not just personal blues songs (though some do deal with relationships). They are elegies for the German tragedy of World War II, and the tragic side of the long and rich history of the country in general. Throughout the book exists a painful irony where Nico honestly responds to questions aboutBerlin’s pre- and post- war culture, questions put forth by interviewers who really don’t care at all about the tragedy of racism and war and the hangover it left on the consciousness of a country and continent. Subtler still we get vestiges in the persona of Nico herself, of these old, Central-European cultural mores (and her own quandaries over its single-mindedness). We also get Nico’s passing comments on Hassidic Jews and gypsies and thoughts that members the Velvet Underground were hostile due to her Germanness (though the author ascribes it to the possibility of being upstaged).

James Young handles his insights with a tenderness I rarely witness when it comes to themes of prejudice, loss and cultural kinetics. Throughout the band’s world travels, the reader gets the sense that stereotypes like American battle-cry egotism,Pacific rimcommercialism, Eastern European old-style communism are animals born from group mentality, group forces much more easily decried than deleted. No character or ideology is oversimplified here. I am reminded of an old episode of Maury Povich where he tries to get a neo-nazi to get over his prejudice and shake his hand. Not a bad thing, but come on, let’s talk about why so many rural American kids are entranced by that crap in the first place. Instead, Mr. Young addresses the depression, the lack of options and the insanity of the materially and emotionally impoverished.

Personal emptiness, economic emptiness and artistic emptiness run parallel throughout the narrative. There is a scene where a female Japanese fan offers John Cale a rare bottle of sake as a gift. Well, by then it’s later in the 1980’s, Cale has gone from beer swilling, snow snorting studio genius to clean living performing genius. He turns her down. Young gives what’s due with Cale, always underscoring his musical talent. But he also uses him as a somewhat abstracted symbol for a cultural shift in the music business (and perhaps international business in general). In the narrative, his figure symbolizes 1960’s psychedelic, imagination-oriented, hedonism-rich art product, where one must at least pretend the artwork comes first and commerciality second, that then shifts to the mall-shopping fine threads wearing 1980’s rich intellectual for whom the cash is not shameful in the least. (Ironically, with the advent of You Tube and so many free venues for every variety of artistic output, we may be entering a strange amalgam of the two eras–the complete shamelessness of wanting to make money with art, but such an abundance of supply that nobody cares to pay for it).

In the center stands Nico, her art and her lament (addiction is a by-product). No one really buys or plays her songs. The penny-pinching carnival goes on. At one point, late in the book, after enduring many painful episodes and adventures, Allen Ginsburg appears as a not-quite Deus ex Machina. Young and Nico accompany him to a poetry reading inManchester. He heroically recites detailed images of gay sex to a horrified conservative crowd. It is one of the story’s happier occasions. Nico seems in good spirits. We get the sense that any latent cultural cruelties on anybody’s part were being rubbed out by a non-contrived shared interest in poetry and music. It recalls a time when both artists were looking forward with their art and perhaps hoping, consciously or not, to use it as building block for the improvement of late Twentieth-Century culture and life. At the end of the chapter, however, Nico ominously comments that Ginsburg did not take off his clothes as he used to…

…so I’ve listed some scenes in this review, but have not revealed even 1% of the beauty of this book. Buy and read it. If it is a grave marker of a bygone era, I hope its stone fist points to a coming love of insight and imagination in humanity’s cultural and artistic output. It rescues Nico’s true beauty and function, an imperfect elegy writer, a singer for her native culture’s, as well as pop culture’s, death dirge and chance at rebirth. And to the dude who commented on another review here on Amazon.com and claimed Young is “milking” Nico’s memory for even more money: Dude, whose clean cash pays your bills?

Stories of Venus







Photo Credit: NASA/SDO, AIA Licensing link here.

So Venus passed in front of the sun. It made me recall what might be one of my favorite Stephen King stories of all time titled I Am The Doorway.  A tale a touch Lovecraftian yet with King’s sense of realism in the prose. It also featured the planet Venus (though it wasn’t quite in the foreground in the story, it cast an ominous shadow over the entire narrative). I read this when I was about nine years old (way too young for it), got pretty freaked out and have been re-reading it now and again ever since.

This also got me thinking that though Mars seems to figure more frequently in science-fiction, horror and fantasy, I personally have always had an interest in the planet that travels between the Earth and the sun. For one thing, Earth and Venus are about the same size, which makes the second planet kind of a warped twin of the third. Something about that and the fact that it is overheated and hell-like serves to feed the dark side of imagination. And if it’s named after a love goddess, that only adds to its sadistic allure.

So I wonder if anyone else has any recommendations on good Venus stories? Has there been an anthology of Venus stories? Would be interested in people’s thoughts.

On another note, something else I should mention is that soon this blog will be featuring some guest bloggers: Armand Rosamilia, writer and editor for Rymfire Books which just published my novella Slash of Crimson will be making a guest appearance, as will Dan O’Brien, author, editor and radio host. Updates soon on when these events will be happening.