Bitter Hollow

Standard

No weekly writing challenge this week, I’ll get back to that eventually. What you will find is a brief excerpt from my current work in progress: Bitter Hollow. I hope you enjoy it.

From the center of the door a small figure hung. At first I couldn’t tell what it was but as I drew closer its details emerged from the night. It was a small statue of Jesus on the cross, only it hung upside down, and from the crown of thorns upon his head tiny rivers of blood flowed down the surface of the door.

Unable to stop myself I knocked on the door, waiting as the sound of movement came from behind the worn facade. I focused on the small statue, realizing as I did it was not a statue as I first assumed. It was alive, and the figure of Jesus watched me with blue eyes that glowed softly in the firelight. That radiance vanishing every time he blinked.

What are you afraid of? A voice whispered in my mind.

Everything, I responded with a thought of my own.

At that point, a latch was thrown back and the door swung open to reveal Laura on the other side.

“Laura,” I whispered as I stepped closer, a part of me was still watching the cross and the tiny figure nailed to it. His head slowly shaking back and forth, as if he? It? Whatever was denying me entrance to the only true love I’d ever known.

She didn’t respond, but stood beyond the threshold, watching me with big, frightened eyes. I moved towards her, my arms outstretched. She shook her head and held out her hands to stop me from entering the house. 

“Don’t,” she said.

“I love you.”

She shook her head. “It’s too late for me.”

“What do you mean, too late?”

“Just go, forget about me, I’ve ruined things enough as it is.”

“Come with me.”

“I can’t.”

“You can.”

She shook her head, taking another step back. I took another step closer. From somewhere came an expectant sigh, the release of a pent-up breath filled with anticipation.

Don’t go in. The voice in my head warned and I glanced at the upside down cross on the door. Jesus standing on his head, thin lines of dark red blood slowly oozing down the door. He watched me with unblinking blue eyes.

What did she mean?

“Laura, please, come with me.”

“I can’t. It’s too late for me, they own me.”

“Who owns you?” My question fell on empty darkness. The door was gone, as was the upside down cross with the animated Jesus. All that remained was a crumbling doorway filled with the night. Somewhere in the black depths of the abandoned house something stirred, some ancient thing that had been waiting for eternity, stirred to life by my presence. I felt it reaching for me with the twisted claws of night and I stepped back. Away from the house that was falling in upon itself.

New This Week 04/26/2021

Standard

Click on a cover for more info or to order.

Wild Hunters: Stuart R Brogan

Synopsis: Amid the worst storm in living memory, five Royal Marine reservists and a handful of civilians battle to survive.
But mother nature and the heavily armed mercenaries hunting them are the least of their concerns. A seemingly unstoppable Pagan force has been unleashed from the darkest depths of our ancient past – a phenomenon that will stop at nothing to see humanity reduced to ashes.
Low on ammo, no chance of rescue and surrounded by the unspeakable, it’s going to be 24 hours from hell.
Let the hunt begin.

The Caged Heart: David Speranza

Synopsis: Welcome dear Reader, just beyond is a gathering of eleven short stories on the knifes edge of reality. It is a dark place filled with a chilling insight into the human heart.
In the pages to follow, you will find out what happens to Maurice Henkell , a plane crash survivor stranded in the jungle when he’s schizophrenic medication runs out [The Delicate Sound of Madness].
Also, Rena Winters, the real estate temptress who is determined to sell, sell, sell no matter what the heinous cost to her client [Incident on 57th].
You will be introduced to Harold Stinson and witness to his dark heart as he takes heinous advice from his friend Frankho [The Gathering of Silent Strangers]
… and many, many more.
So please bring your torch and if you meet the button eyed woman along the way just remember it might just be a dream [Four].

The Hive: SW Fairbrother

Synopsis: It’s been a year since Vivia made the deal that brought her back from the underworld, and life is slowly getting back to normal. Or as normal as it can be for a death hag who has recently leveled up.

Vivia has turned full crone but along with the increased wrinkles and warts, her powers have rapidly increased and she’s struggling to keep control in a city with far too many living creatures in close range.

She’s back at her old job at the Lipscombe Trust and has no intention of being drawn into more drama. But this time it’s different. A werebee has been murdered, her body found in the shadow of her hive’s famous high rise and an old friend needs Vivia’s help to stop a coming war.

The werewasps have taken their chance to finally take down their mortal enemies the werebees. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Either way, Vivia needs to get to the truth of an ancient feud before outright war spills onto the streets of London.

Haunted-Possession: Lee Mountford

Synopsis: Sarah Pearson and her team are sent on their first assignment together—to investigate a case of possession in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic.

Father Hus, a respected priest, has reportedly succumbed to possession from a supernatural entity. On top of that, there are stories of a ghostly and bloody monk wandering the halls at night.

As the investigation gets underway, it becomes clear there is more going on at the cathedral than they first thought. The team realise they are in a fight for their lives against a terrifying enemy with a plan that dates back centuries.

Weekly Writing Challenge 03/17/2021

Standard

Real life has intruded once again and I was unable to update the current story in progress. I believe it has a lot more to do with the fact I’m trying something new with this story, stretching my literary muscles if you will. I lack the confidence to continue, but continue I will. In its place I’m sharing a snippet from my current work in progress, my novel, Bitter Hollow. I’m shooting for a late summer release for this one. I’ll keep you posted. Here is a little taste of chapter 2.

A shadow washed across Harold’s face, contorting his features. The dog barking in the back yard came to me as if from a million miles away. The old man smiled and opened his mouth to speak, darkness escaping the prison behind his teeth as I fired again, aiming higher this time. Harold’s head whipped back, a bloody wound forming a third eye in the center of his forehead. Something old and terrifying crawled through my belly when Harold lowered his head to look at me with those flat, dead, eyes. A wicked smile bisecting the bottom of his face.

The old man fired a third time, the round embedding itself in the wood at my feet as I returned fire. Harold took another staggering step, driven by an unseen darkness that wrapped him in its embrace. The pistol, a well-worn .22 revolver, slipped from Harold’s hand and fell to the surface of the deck. He took another step, reaching for me with bloodied hands as blind panic overwhelmed reason.

“Why won’t you die?” I screamed as the old man crumpled to the deck.

The world shifted around me and I realized I’d fallen onto my ass, sitting with my back against the railing as Harold pulled himself towards me. His fingernails, dirty and cracked, dug into the wooden surface softened by past rains and the passage of time. Harold’s hands flexed, each finger digging into the wood. Several nails had broken as a result, peeling back from his fingertips, blood spotting the wood a soft pink.

I realized Harold was looking at me, his eyes filled with an impenetrable emptiness that reached out to envelope me in an endless despair.

I tried to warn him, Harold’s words whispered in my mind.

 Laura’s face swam into view, her features twisted into a grimace of pain and terror, and it filled me with a blind rage. From somewhere a dog barked hysterically and I searched for the source, only to find a vast emptiness that lay spread out all around me. I felt like I was lost,

The sound of a distant siren was punctuated by that frightened whiny bark. I looked back at the old man sprawled out before me. One hand outstretched, the fingers curled into a partially closed fist, and in it I spotted an object that glittered with a light all its own.

It held all the answers, and I wanted it. I leaned forward to retrieve the object as the siren filled the world around me. Running steps and voices came as a hand pulled me back until I was resting against the railing. I glanced into Sheriff Burris’s face, noting the worry in his eyes, then looked at the shimmering object as others gathered around the body.

It knew the answers to all my questions. Why Laura left. Why I’d been fired. Why Harold did what he’d done. Everything I needed to know lay hidden in that soft glow.

I tried to reach the object, only to be pushed back by a paramedic working on my wounded shoulder. Someone was shouting my name and I glanced at Sheriff Burris, then back to the glittering object in the old man’s hand. I had to have it.

Something poked me in the arm, and I was overwhelmed by a desire to lay down and take a nap. But I couldn’t. I had to have it. Michaels knelt next to Harold’s hand and retrieved the shiny object. No, that’s mine, I wanted to scream but found no voice as a mind-numbing cloud enveloped me. I’ve earned it, it’s mine, the thoughts whispered as the world dimmed.

New This Week 03/15/2021

Standard

Click on the cover image to order.

Howls From Hell (Assorted Authors)Available 05/18/2021

Synopsis: Spacefaring researchers disturb an ancient horror. An enchanted object curses a grieving widow. A haunted reel torments a film student. A murder trial hinges on a chilling testimony.

In Howls From Hell, sixteen emerging horror writers pave the way for the future of the genre. Fans of dark and macabre fiction will savor this exhibition of all-original tales born from one of the fastest-growing horror communities in the world: HOWL Society.

With a foreword by GRADY HENDRIX, this anthology unveils the horror writers of tomorrow with spine-tingling stories from:

P.L. McMillan, J.W. Donley, Shane Hawk, Christopher O’Halloran, Alex Wolfgang, Amanda Nevada DeMel, Lindsey Ragsdale, Solomon Forse, Justin Faull, M. David Clarkson, B.O.B. Jenkin, S.E. Denton, Thea Maeve, Joseph Andre Thomas, Joe Radkins, and Quinn Fern

The Devil’s Mistress: David Barclay Available 03/16/2021

Synopsis: Virginia, 1705

Darkness has come to the town of Blackfriar. The beloved millwright, John Ashford, has been poisoned. His daughter, Isabella, stands trial for murder. Rumor has it that she consorted with the Devil to do the deed. That she’s become a witch.

The worst thing, however, is what the townsfolk don’t know: Isabella is innocent.

After visiting the local enchantress for a simple love spell, her life is beset by catastrophe. Her father turns up dead. Her sadistic fiancé spurns her. Now in shackles, Isabella faces torture and death. Her only friend, the enchantress. The old crone offers Isabella a new choice: continue to suffer at the hands of her tormentors, or become the very thing they fear.

Agoraphobia: A Short Story: Rami Ungar Available 03/16/2021

Synopsis: Peyton fears the outside world. It has brought him nothing but pain and misery. He even bought and renovated an entire house to get away. However, when a hurricane threatens his home, he must contemplate leaving for the first time in years. Especially when the hurricane throws something living into his sanctuary. Something with teeth and claws.

Weekly Writing Challenge 03/03/2021

Standard

I suspected I knew where the story was headed when I first started. In that lonely elevator, but at the time I did not have a firm handle on my character. Now I do. When I do the rewrite, I’ll cast Nick as the overly possessive, extremely jealous type who happens to be rich. An untouchable character who believes the legal system is powerless against him. Who discovers in the end that some legal systems exist beyond the mortal plane.

Next week we’ll start a new story. I’ll share the roll of the dice at that time. Anyone who wants to participate is welcome, I’d be delighted to see what you come up with. Without further adieu I give you, the conclusion of,

Third Times a Charm

After being cuffed and stuffed into the back seat of a patrol car Nick was taken downtown and left alone in one of the interrogation rooms. He called his lawyer from the patrol room and was waiting for his arrival. No one had told him what was going on and his thoughts were a whirlwind of questions spinning endlessly around one another.

The wall opposite from where he sat was a mirror that he knew from past experience hid several detectives who could watch his every move while they remained undetected. Inside he was seething at the injustice he felt at what was going on yet outwardly he remained silent, his hand folded before him, his unwavering gaze fixed on the mirror. He knew it wasn’t doing him much good to act as he was, but what else was there for him to do?

Detective Martin stepped through the door, closing it behind him before he crossed to the only other seat directly across from Nick.

“Would you mind telling me why I’m here?”

Detective Martin settled into his seat without a word, opened a manila folder, and slid several photos across the table to him.

Nick was shocked by what the photos contained. Denise lay face down on the kitchen floor, a pool of blood around her body, the handle of his butcher’s knife protruding from the center of her back.

“I didn’t do that,” Nick said.

Detective Martin slammed the table with his open hand. “Bullshit. Your fingerprints are on handle of the knife. You were seen rushing from the apartment shortly before she was found by your neighbor. I have numerous witnesses who place you at the scene of the crime when it occurred.”

“But it wasn’t me.”

“Then who was it?”

Nick almost said his dead wife’s name but stopped at the last moment. “I don’t know,” he answered instead.

Detective Martin scowled at the knock at the door. “Come in.”

“His lawyer’s here.” Someone at the door said as Nick’s lawyer stepped into the room.

“Don’t say another word Mr. Morton, we’ll take care of this. Were you questioning my client without me being present?” Nick’s lawyer turned on Detective Martin.

“We were just chatting, passing the time until you arrived.”

“I see,” Nick’s lawyer glanced at the photos on the table, “I do hope you read him his rights.”

“Crossing my t’s and dotting my I’s is all part of the job.”

“Come along, Mr. Morton, let’s get you out of here.”

“Now wait one minute, your client is the prime suspect in a woman’s murder.”

“And I’ve already spoken to Judge Timmons who had released Mr. Morton to my custody, now if there’s nothing else?” Nick’s Lawyer motioned to the handcuffs holding Nick.

Detective Martin shook his head as he released the handcuffs binding Nick to the table. “Don’t leave town.”

“Or course not detective, now if you’ll excuse us,” Nick’s lawyer led him from the room.

His lawyer had agreed to wait in his car while Nick ran up to retrieve a few things. The officer on duty had been informed of his arrival and was waiting for him. In the elevator car Nick watched the screen indicating the floor when he realized it had gotten so cold he could see his breath. He was rubbing his hands together when he became aware of a presence behind him. A chilled hand rested on his shoulder as an icy breath enveloped his ear.

“Third times a charm,” Mona whispered behind him as a cold blade slid between his third and forth rib and his earthly worries came to an end.

New in Horror 02/22/2021

Standard

Hallucinations (Trigger Warning) Anthology

It is important to remember that we are ruled by our minds. Our reality is our perception. How can we move forward when that becomes untrustworthy, how do we move forward when we become aware that our perception is different than that of everyone around us?

Our very sanity comes into question; we can’t shake the notion that we might be mad. Or worse, what if we aren’t insane. What if everything we see exists?

Included in this anthology are 13 stories of shifted perceptions by up and coming horror authors. You’ll find the stories inside bizarre, bloody, and upsetting. But before you open this collection and enjoy the stories inside, remember…

You were warned.

Bow-Legged Buccaneers from Outer Space: David Owain Hughes

The year is 2082—the not-so-distant future—and Chinatown is a prison. One hundred years ago, between 1980 and 1990, hardcore arcade gamers, cinemagoers, TV freaks and comic book nerds took over the large oriental area and turned it into a no-go zone. The streets became violent, corrupt and the powers that be lost control. A large wall and river were constructed around the city; the waters were filled with sharks and patrolled by the government’s secret police, who had more artillery than Rambo.
Paul ‘Frank Castle’ Hoskins is one of the good guys, doing his best to keep the streets clean and the innocent people safe. When Chinatown comes under attack from space pirates, will Frank have finally met his match? Will he be able to protect the woman he loves and save his beloved home? Bullets will fly, blood will be spilt, and vengeance will be sought.
Includes the bonus short stories Sticky Buttons and The Last Freakshow on Earth!

Cult Cinema: Howard David Ingham Non-fiction

Religious extremism is one of our most acute current anxieties, but it has been with us for centuries. And from the birth of Christianity right through to the post-Trump era, it has always been tied to personalities and the cults they inspire. And the stories we tell about them reflect that. Cult Cinema uses cinematic and televisual depictions of isolated sects, self-help pyramid schemes, pagan village conspiracies, evangelical grifters and more to shine a lens upon what happens when belief goes bad. Drawing from sources ranging from situation comedy to exploitation horror and beyond, this book examines why people join abusive religious groups, what we really mean by “brainwashing”, and what it means to escape. Howard David Ingham has been writing about media, horror, the occult and the storytelling of religious belief for two decades. Their last book, We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror, was nominated for a 2018 Bram Stoker Award (Superior Achievement in Nonfiction). “A personal and cinematic journey through the strange and terrifying world of cults, this is a deeply honest and empathetic look at how people fall into – and escape from – damaging group dynamics. Cult Cinema is a breathtaking achievement…” Gwendolyn Kiste, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rust Maidens

Imperfect Lodgings: Pete Mesling Poetry

“The most important thing about dreams is the existence in them of magical emotions, to which waking Consciousness is not ordinarily sentient. Awe of vast constructions; familiar eternal halls of buildings; sexual intensity in rapport; deathly music; grief awakenings, perfected lodgings.”
—ALLEN GINSBERG, JOURNALS: EARLY FIFTIES, EARLY SIXTIES

Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may become as he is.
—WILLIAM BLAKE, THERE IS NO NATURAL RELIGION

Weekly Writing Challenge 02/17/2021

Standard

This week I’ve managed 750 words and the end is in sight. I know exactly where this story is headed now and I’m looking forward to the big reveal. I hope you’ve been enjoying my posts, and I’m always looking forward to your thoughts on my work. It’s taken me years to come to the conclusion of why I write. Before I would always answer that question with, ‘because I must.’ Now I realize I write to entertain. I only hope I’m achieving that goal. Without further adieu, I give you the next installment of Third Times a Charm.

Third Times a Charm

Where could he even begin? Hell, he wasn’t sure where to start, maybe at the beginning. “I grew up in a small place called Borden right outside the town of Frostburg in western Maryland. Me and my friends would sled ride in the winter and play in the woods during the summer. Went to Mountain Ridge high school and served four years with the Marines, joining right after I graduated.”

“That’s a start I suppose, it is nice to know you care enough to not brush me off. So, are we eating at your place tonight?”

What could it hurt? Didn’t Dr. Morrison say Mona’s presence was nothing more than the guilt he felt at taking her life? If that were true, and everything he’d experienced since her death was a result of his own feelings of guilt, why not bring an outside influence into his life.

“Like I said, it’s cramped, but if you’re willing to overlook that you’re more than welcome to come over.”

“Would seven be good?”

“Works for me,” Nick said, following her into the crowded elevator. They silently rode to the first floor, Denise’s arm wrapped snugly around his own. There they parted to go their separate ways. Nick felt a spring in his step as he crossed the lobby and stepped out into a spring day. It was beginning to look like all the despair that had been his life was finally passing, like dark clouds breaking up under the sun a smile spread across his face. Tonight would be the first step into a new life and he was really looking forward to the change.

The day passed slowly, uneventfully, his mind focused on the evening with Denise. For the first time in a long time he was looking forward to the end of the day and that expectation seemed to cause all the clocks to grind down to a snail’s pace. It was so different from the past when the day seemed to speed by him, the sensation Mona was watching his every step never far from his thoughts. Doctor Morrison explained that his feelings were guilt speaking to him the only way it knew how.

Eventually the day came to an end and he was able to escape his office. His takeout order was waiting for him at Mario’s and with a spring in his step he made his way back to the apartment building where he lived. A block away from him, the sidewalk around him filled with pedestrians taking advantage of the early spring day, he was brought up short by a familiar shout. He scanned the crowd ahead of him and spotted her at the entrance to his building. Mona stood with her arms wrapped about herself, her eyes scanning the crowd flowing around her.

No, it couldn’t be, it wasn’t possible for her to be here. She was dead. He killed her. A single shot to the forehead, the look of surprise on her face as death claimed her never straying far from his thoughts. Another thought bulled its way through. Denise? Where was she? Was she okay?

Ducking into the alley he made his way to the service entrance and slipped inside. Impatiently he waited for then elevator to take him to the seventeenth floor.  Once inside he struggled against his panic as the car slowly rode up, stopping occasionally as passengers got on and off. Finally, he reached the seventeenth floor and bolted from the elevator. At his door he slipped the key into the lock, the door behind him opening.

“Hey stranger, is that dinner?”

Plastering a smile, he didn’t feel on his face he turned around to Denise and held up the bag from Mario’s. “Gimme a couple of minutes and we can eat.”

“I can’t wait,” she said.

Nick slipped into his apartment and crossed to the bedroom. From his nightstand he retrieved his pistol and slipped it into the waistband of his pants. As he was crossing back to the door it opened to reveal Denise dressed in a flowing sheer robe that clung to every surface of her body.

“Where are you off to in such a hurry?”

“I’ve gotta take care of one little thing. I’ll be right back.”

“You mind if I wait here?” She looked around the small apartment.

“That’ll be okay, I’ll be right back.”

She grabbed his arm before he could get away. “Are you sure you’re okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

To be continued!

What do you think so far?

This week in horror 02/15/2021

Standard

Tales from the Gulp: Alan Baxter

Strange things happen in The Gulp. The residents have grown used to it.

The isolated Australian harbour town of Gulpepper is not like other places. Some maps don’t even show it. And only outsiders use the full name. Everyone who lives there calls it The Gulp. The place has a habit of swallowing people.

A truck driver thinks the stories about The Gulp are made up to scare him. Until he gets there.
Teenage siblings try to cover up the death of their mother, but their plans go drastically awry.
A rock band invite four backpackers to a party at their house, where things get dangerously out of hand.
A young man loses a drug shipment and his boss gives him 48 hours to make good on his mistake.
Under the blinking eye of the old lighthouse, a rock fisher makes the strangest catch of his life. 

Five novellas. Five descents into darkness. Welcome to The Gulp, where nothing is as it seems.

Moon Child: Gaby Triana

As the only daughter in her Cuban-American home, 18-year-old Valentina Callejas has been raised to do what her Catholic grandmother and mother say to do. But Valentina feels a different pull–an affinity with nature, a desire to read tarot cards and study the occult. After ditching her church’s retreat and fighting with her family, Valentina flees her Miami home and ends up five hours away at Macy’s house, a sister she’s never met until now.

When a mysterious wolf leads Valentina to nearby abandoned Sunlake Springs Resort, she meets the “clairs,” young psychics drawn to the hotel’s haunted history. They’ve been waiting for her, they say, to open a magical entryway to the spirit world. But Valentina’s sensitive hands tell a different story–of anguished spirits, menacing cracks, and hooded ghosts of Florida’s hateful past. Even the local legend, the beautiful Lady of the Lake, all hint to the hotel’s sinister history. To protect her new friends from the horrors awaiting them on the other side, Valentina must use her growing powers and decide, once and for all, if she’s the witch she was always meant to be.

Severed: Joshua Marsella

In this prequel to SCRATCHES, the members of Third Squad are sent on a recon mission to Northern Vietnam in 1967. Their squad leader, Sgt. George Hanscott, has to make the difficult decision to disobey his unit’s direct orders putting his squad’s lives at risk, or help a local fishing village end the terror that’s been plaguing them for over a century. Will his decision backfire or will his squad of US Marine’s be able to destroy the evil entity they don’t quite understand?

Will we find out how George became such a heinous monster? Do we really want to know?

Fridays 5 02/12/2021

Standard

Author names and photos serve as active links to their website or author page.

How did you feel upon publication of your first completed project?

David Simpson

A: It was fantastic. I loved holding it in my hands. For me it was a lifelong goal and I didn’t care if I sold books or not. I mean of course I wanted to but to hold that paper back was a great feeling. I wrote it for me and told a story I wanted to tell. There were no considerations about what others would think or tailoring the story to a certain market.

Bio: David A. Simpson is an Amazon bestselling author of the Zombie Road and Feral Children series. He loves to travel and has a long list of places to visit on his bucket list. He likes weird things and will drive a hundred miles out of his way to see a weird sculpture made from junkyard parts or a Bonnie and Clyde museum.

Thaddeus White

A: Relieved that Bane of Souls was out there, but also immensely nervous of public reaction. Getting the first few reviews was cathartic. I also felt very keen to get cracking with the next book.

Bio: Thaddeus White is a pen name for someone else. He’s a Yorkshireman, and as well as being an avid fantasy reader/writer enjoys classical history. In addition to his fantastical writings, he offers tips on F1, with varying degrees of success.

S. J. Krandall

A: I felt really proud upon publishing my first completed project.  I set out to do something fun and it turned out to be an amazing experience for me.  I could not wait to share it with others and am looking forward to doing more. 

Bio: S. J. Krandall is a horror author whose recent work was published in summer of 2020.  She was born in Florida but raised in New Jersey where she still resides with my husband, their two sons and two dogs. For more than twenty years she has worked with children with varying abilities as both a teacher and an aide. Now, a stay a home mom, she cares for her family and takes time to enjoy other interests. Her work in progress includes her second book to her series and a variety of short stories. 

Scott Nicholson

A: I had a number of short stories published before my first novel, so I had my stack of rejection slips to dance upon. But I also knew there was a lot of hard work ahead.

Bio:  Nicholson has written hundreds of songs and poems and was a musician in a former life. As a newspaper reporter, he won three North Carolina Press Association awards. He’s had the usual collection of odd jobs: dishwasher, carpenter, painter, paranormal investigator, baseball card dealer, and radio announcer. Now he haphazardly trades words for magic beans and uses “haphazardly” as often as possible while decrying the overuse of adverbs.

Craig Saunders

A: My first published novel was Rain, and I cried like a baby – it had taken me seven years to get my first novel published (or thereabouts)…I still didn’t feel like a writer, though.

Bio: Since his first novel acceptance ‘Rain’ over ten years ago Craig’s short fiction has been published in periodicals, magazines, podcasts, ‘Best of’ anthologies, and his novellas have won a couple of awards. He’s been a top 100 bestselling author in horror, fantasy, and science fiction categories on Amazon, but it isn’t the New York Times so he doesn’t make a big song and dance about it.

If you’re an author who works in horror, sci-fi, or dark fantasy, follow this link to participate.

Fridays 5

Weekly Writing Challenge

Standard

Real life intruded this week and prevented me from adding to the ongoing story. I’ve chosen instead to share the first chapter of my current work in progress. BITTER HOLLOW. I hope you enjoy it. Like the story, the cover below is a work in progress. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

The past bleeds through.

It didn’t matter how high, or how thick we built the walls around the memories that gave us the most pain, one way or another they found their way through.

Laura left three months ago, and the pain of her leaving was as fresh as the day it happened. One moment she was there, in the next she was gone. There’d been no goodbyes, no enraged notes blaming me for all my shortcomings, or any drawn out arguments punctuated by the slamming of the door.

It was the opposite in fact.

A silence that spoke with the finality of death.  While I was working she left, moving to her sisters in Baltimore, back to the hectic pace and the bright lights of a lifestyle that blinded both of us to the truth when we were first wed in a union doomed to failure the moment we said, I do.

For Laura’s family I was from the wrong side of the tracks, a point they tried to drive home, but in the beginning her love for me blinded her to our differences. Though I was a beat cop with no education beyond high school, filled with rage at the people of a country I once tried to help, we managed to keep our marriage together for seven years. In that time her family started warming up to me, so much so that her dad invited me to a round of golf.

I declined, I’d never been interested in golf, couldn’t see what was so competitive about chasing a little white ball around. My refusal to join her dad on the links proved to be the first chink in the armor that was our marriage. It wasn’t long before others followed, spreading out from that first little crack like a spider web to culminate in the chasm that opened between us when we were forced to move to the mountains. Here the slower pace removed the blinders the bright lights and fast tempo of life in Baltimore put in place. For the first time she saw me for what I really was, and she didn’t like it.

It didn’t matter that in sixteen years with the Baltimore police I rose through the ranks from patrolman to lead detective heading up the major cases bureau. I was just another poser trying to be something I wasn’t, and I’d invaded her space, tricking her into believing I was something I wasn’t. At least to her way of thinking. She made that quite clear the last time we spoke. Argued would be a better description.

“Patrol six, this is base, over.” A feminine voice came from the radio mounted on the dash.

Keying the mic, I responded. “This is patrol six, go ahead, over.”

“Hey Bill, on nights again I see, over.”

“Story of my life, whatcha got Rosie? Over.”

“It’ll get better, it always does. They hit the circle K again in Red House, over.” Everyone in the office knew about Laura leaving, a couple even blamed me for what happened.

“That’s the second time this month, they need to close after midnight. I’m on my way, over.”

“Roger, Bill, this is base, out.”

There was no need for lights or sirens, the culprits were probably already in West Virginia, so I pulled a U-turn in the middle of 219 and headed south.

The road ahead lay shrouded in shadows as the ridge above burned with the light of the approaching day. Laura always liked the sunrise. Especially in the mountains when the first fingers of morning ignited the ridges in a fiery glow as the night sought refuge in the valleys below. There was something primal about the rebirth of the day, and how the darkness retreated before its approach, seeking refuge in secret places the light dare not follow.

Every morning she’d sit in her favorite chair on the deck as the last of the night fled from the dawn. It energized her in a way I never understood, and to be honest I was a little jealous of that private time she shared with the morning.

When I was home, I’d either be asleep, or would watch from the kitchen as I got ready for work. After she left I wondered what would have happened had I joined her. Would it have given us something in common, a private moment we could share that might have saved our marriage?

Or would my intrusion drive a deeper wedge into the emptiness between us. Of course, that wasn’t the only reason I stayed away. To be honest the night scared me. Things lived in the dark, old things without a care that would devour your sanity given half a chance. I’d seen them in Afghanistan and locked away the memory, but like I said, no matter how high and how thick you build those wall, sometimes the memories escaped.

The past bleeds through.

With the memory I saw her eyes again, ringed in black to ward off evil spirits, too bad it couldn’t ward off incoming fire, and my stomach cramped at the thought.  

The Circle K convenience store came into view, the lights over the gas pumps formed an island of safety, a beacon to weary travelers passing through the night. Why anyone would put a convenience store here, especially one open twenty-four hours a day, was beyond me. It made no sense. There wasn’t enough traffic to warrant the hours, but the owner persisted, so greedy he was afraid he might miss a buck if he locked his doors.

The remote location made it an idea target for those with less than honest intentions. It wasn’t like the convenience stores in Baltimore that were built like a bank with a thick walls of bullet-proof glass protecting the clerk. If you tried to shoot the clerk you ran the risk injuring yourself with a ricocheting bullet.

This circle K convenience store was like any other, a non-descript box sitting at an angle to the intersection. Over the pumps a large canopy with the Circle K logo at each corner provided protection against inclement weather. I pulled in beside an old pickup truck parked next to three farm tractors, the mud still fresh on their tires.  

Inside and to the right, several tables were set up to serve as a small dining area. One was occupied by four old men who spoke among themselves. They held styrofoam cups of coffee in aged hands seeking relief from the morning chill. It was as typical a scene as one would expect in such a place and I noted that the old men were the farming type, judging by their mud-covered boots, and the rides waiting outside. 

Still visibly shaken by his encounter, the young man at the counter, whose name tag happily identified him as Donald, stuttered as he struggled to answer my questions.

“Did you get a good look at him?”

“I couldn’t see his face clearly, he wore a ski mask,” the not so happy Donald replied.

“Did you see which way he went?”

“To the left I believe,” Donald answered after a moments consideration during which he stared at the front door as he struggled to remember, “but I’m not sure, I was afraid he was going to shoot me.”

“I understand.” I placed my hand on Donald’s shoulder, I needed him to settle and focus before he lost what little information he might have.

“It’s important we know which way he went when he left.” I reassured him, though it really didn’t matter. It was doubtful the direction of the robber’s escape would make much difference in the ensuing investigation, but I needed Donald to believe this so he could focus on what happened. I glanced up at the sign hanging over the register.

Smile, you’re on camera! It exclaimed in bold type beneath a smiley face. 

Under the sign a closed-circuit camera pointed down at the register, the red light below the lens dark. I’m sure the culprit knew the security camera was not working. It was a poor man’s security system only effective with those who had no intention of robbing the place to begin with.

“I don’t suppose there’s a video?” I asked anyway, feeling just a bit foolish for doing so, but you could never be sure when something might break your way.

Donald’s dispirited shrug was answer enough and I turned my attention to the conversation among the four old timers. A conversation centered on a woman it appeared each of them had known at one time or another.  One of them might have noticed something the others missed, I’d have to talk to them, but first I needed to call this in so we could get some of the state boys down here to take over. 

As a detective it would have taken an act of god to get me to turn a case over to another agency, the fact I was so anxious to do so now was just another indication of the new direction my life had taken. As a sheriff’s deputy with over six hundred square miles to cover and more than thirty thousand residents I didn’t have time to conduct a thorough investigation. I needed to be on patrol.

“Almost got him,” one of the old timers said and the comment drew my attention to outside. A white van was racing down route 219 towards us. It wasn’t the van that stood out. On the driver’s side, a bright red smear of what looked like blood ran from the front bumper to just before the rear wheel.

The van jerked right, then left, crossed the center lane as it left the road and shot across the small parking lot, bearing down on the pumps.

“Shut em down,” I shouted as I spun around. Donald was oblivious to the danger as I leaned across the counter. I shoved him out of the way with my shoulder as the image of a rising fireball filled my mind. Just like the FOB when rockets rained down from the mountain peaks above. I smacked the shut off and turned to watch, hoping I’d been fast enough.

The old men at the table were unable to react in time to save themselves as the gas pump crumpled beneath the bumper of the mini-van. There was a moment when I was confident the entire place was going to go up, a moment that thankfully passed as the van came to rest against the second pump after shearing the first from its mount, trapping it between the nose of the van and the second pump.

I raced outside, followed by the others. A woman sat behind the wheel staring straight ahead between the peaks of her white knuckles, her expression dazed.

She had been pretty once, when she was young, before the effects of gravity and indifference from the man she married had their way with her. Her cheeks were streaked with mascara, her eyes confused as she stared into the distance, her hands held the steering wheel in a death grip that made her knuckles stand out like jagged peaks. Reaching for the door handle I realized how fresh the blood was.

“Are you okay, Ma’am?”

She turned to look at me, her head moving so slow I imagined I could hear the creaking of her muscles. She carried a confused expression on her face, a thousand-yard stare that cut through me as she looked at something that wasn’t there. A memory possibly. I’d seen that look too many times before, the survivors of violent crimes wore a similar expression as their minds forced them to relive their terror.

“Where’s Harold?” she said, the blonde hair framing her face damp with sweat.

“Who’s Harold, Ma’am?”

“Harold, my husband,” one of her hands flew to her face and she gnawed on a knuckle as her eyes widened. “No, don’t,” she cried out, “please,” she pleaded.

“What happened?”

“No,” she moaned, closing her eyes and covering her face with her hands.

“That’s Harold’s wife?” one of the men behind me said and I spun around, a thousand thoughts ricocheting through my mind. Questions mostly, with why leading the pack.

Why was she afraid? Why was she running? It was obvious she was running from something, a hastily packed suitcase sat on the back seat, bits of clothing peeking out from around the edges. Where did the blood come from? Was it Harold’s? Why would she run her husband down?

“Harold who?” I asked instead.

“Harold Felton, he runs the vegetable stand on 219 every fall.”

That Harold, I realized as I recalled several run ins with the crusty old man whose customer service skills were in serious need of updating. That brought me back to why. A question I intended to answer.