Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Sanguine Christmas Tale

Chris Kosarich
Copyright 2016

Santa Claus knew something was amiss the moment he coasted the gifts-laden sleigh down to the snowy ground next to the quiet subdivision. Well, of course, it was quiet, being so late on Christmas Eve night and everyone—young and older—tucked safely in their beds. But his keen senses, not to mention his trusty crew of reindeer, had immediately detected the strangeness in the air. At first, it hadn’t been a smell, just a sense, like that feeling of charged electricity in the air right before a violent thunderstorm.

As the sleigh skidded to a stop, the reindeer fidgeted, jostling their harnesses and making agitated sounds. The red suit-clad Saint Nicholas stood up and surveyed his surroundings. His round nose twitched above his full white beard, and a frown creased his forehead beneath the trademark cap.

       While not a supernatural being, he did employ magic (and technology, too, he wasn’t stupid) to make his annual gift-delivering task to all those good boys and girls possible.  But Santa had experience with supernatural creatures, some good and some bad. A few years ago, he’d encountered a man cursed with being a werewolf, and because Santa had been able to tap into that man’s basic goodness, he was able to enlist his help after one of his reindeer, Rudy, had fallen ill.

Ironically, that had been not far from where he was now.

Santa strode with careful black-booted steps through the snow to the front of the line of reindeer, running his gloved right hand over brown-furred flanks, comforting them, murmuring soft words to ease their sudden discomfort.  His eyes scanned the snow-flecked line of trees bordering the perimeter of the subdivision.

He didn’t see it, yet, but his nostrils widened as the pungent scent invaded his sense of smell.  Barely there, just a waft of it on the icy air, but it was ripe with rot and death.

To Santa, it meant only one thing, one word for what the source of that horrid odor was: vampire.

“Oh, dear God,” he muttered.

As someone who was accustomed to various forms of magic and, to a degree, the supernatural, Santa knew what this meant. And none of it was good. In fact, it was nothing short of horribly disastrous.

He walked back to the massive red sleigh and reached one hand into the pocket of his white-fur-trimmed red coat. He pulled out his smartphone, and after tugging off the glove with his teeth, swiped the touchscreen to unlock it. Deftly, Santa tapped the address book and scrolled through until he found the name of the one person who could help.

After he dialed the number, pressing the phone next to his ear, it rang several times until a gruff voice answered. The man sounded either half-asleep or drunk…or both.

“Lupo, this is Nicholas,” he said. “I need your help once more. And it’s far more serious than last time.”

“That’s not my real name,” he replied sarcastically. “I’m sure whatever the emergency is you can handle it, Nick.”

The man coughed, clearing his throat, before he spoke. “Listen, I’d love to help. But I’m not the same man you once knew. My wife divorced me, took the kids and left. Said she couldn’t deal with my, um, problem, any longer. Not sure I can anymore either, to be honest.”

Santa hesitated before responding. What the man told him made him feel very sad, but there wasn’t time for this. If he didn’t get Lupo over here and fast, a bunch of innocent people—families…children!—would be killed at the hands of these ruthless, blood-thirsty monsters. Maybe after it was all over, if his old friend agreed to help him, Santa would see what he could do to improve his situation. However, getting the man’s wife to change her mind about her husband was one Christmas miracle he might not be able to make happen. But he would try, and he told him as much.

The man chuckled mirthlessly. “That’s not going to change a thing,” he said coldly. “My wife just thinks I’m crazy. She believes that I’m a werewolf as much as she believes…you’re real.”

As Santa held the phone to his ear, he walked up to the proud reindeer at the head of the line of special, magical creatures, and worked at Rudy’s buckle with his free hand. Rudy’s signature nose flared red off and on like a bright, slow-strobing beacon on the frigid Christmas Eve night.

“I’m sending Rudy to you,” he told him. “Get yourself sobered up and ready to ride him back here. By my estimation, thankfully, you’re not too far. Maybe an hour away, at most, and I need you here as soon as possible. Or plenty of innocent folks will die this very night.”

“What are you going on about, Nick? Who is threatening to kill people?”

“Not who, but what,” Santa said with deadly seriousness. “Vampires, and while I haven’t seen them yet, I can smell them. And there’s more than one. When Rudy reaches you, just get here post-haste! I’ll do my best to stall them!”

Once Rudy was freed of the harness, Santa patted him on the head, murmuring a few hurried, stern commands, and the famous red-nosed reindeer kicked his strong back legs, his forelegs grabbing the night sky, and he leapt upwards.

Minutes later, Rudy was gone.

*    *    *

The man who Santa dubbed Lupo many years ago on that late Christmas Eve night (or like now, early Christmas morning) was named Curtis Lockwood. It had been nearly a decade since another late night when, after a drunken get-together with coworkers from the office to celebrate closing a big deal, he’d decided to walk home from the bar. Instead, he’d been attacked by a large black dog, his right arm badly gashed before a passersby stopped with a shriek of brakes and blaring horn to frighten it away.

After a brief stay in the hospital, life went along as normal until Curtis began to change. He began to have weird dreams and urges, most of them primal and terrifying. He’d resisted as long as he could, until one evening he told his wife he was going out for a walk to clear his head…and didn’t return until early the next morning. His clothes—baggy sweat-suit and sneakers—had been ripped and dirty, his feet bare and equally dirty. His face had been bloodied but had no apparent wounds.

Needless to say, his wife had been deeply concerned.

Years went by and he managed to control his condition through research (mostly online but some old books) and kept his nocturnal activities to just hunting animals in the nearby forest. He swore if he ever killed a human being, he’d just take his own life.

Since helping out St. Nick on that late December night many years ago—by pulling the massive sleigh with the aid of some magic spell Santa used after his team of reindeer fell ill—he’d been given a special herbal potion made by Nick’s wife, brewed in hot water and consumed like tea. It had tasted awful but the stuff helped him control the wolf inside. Sadly, though, it hadn’t kept his wife from wanting to take their daughter and divorce him. He’d lost his job the year after he’d saved Christmas, and fell into the trap of booze. While he hadn’t been abusive to his family, his mood had darkened, not to mention the occasional nightly jaunts in the woods.

Since then, his best friend had been the whiskey bottle. He did managed to acquire a new job, but not nearly as satisfying as his old one. Nor had he made the same kind of money, but he scraped by. At least his current employer didn’t care if he grew a bushy, unkempt beard.

Curtis stood out in front of his house, the ground white with a few inches of fresh powder—and more reportedly coming overnight—and flipped up the hooded top of his charcoal-gray sweat-shirt. He wore sweatpants that matched and cheap sneakers. The transformation was hell on good clothes but loose-fitting sweats could expand and not be torn to tatters. The shoes would be no great loss and replaceable.

What the hell am I doing? Curtis thought for the umpteenth time. This is crazy, but vampires…seriously?

Nick had sounded deadly serious and while he still felt slightly buzzed and would regret the hangover on Christmas Day, he shrugged and peered up into the snow-flecked night sky. He didn’t see anything and considered reaching into his pocket for his smartphone to call or text back the Jolly Fat Man in Red.

When he glanced up again, though, he spotted a dark shape gliding down from the darkness, a familiar slowly blinking red light lighting its way. Rudolph—or Rudy as he preferred to be called by his friends—landed with grace and hardly disturbing the snow-covered front yard, his head swiveling around to peer at Curtis with his black eyes. His majestic rack of antlers gleamed under the ashen moonlight.

“Oh, what the hell,” he muttered and climbed onto Rudy’s upper back and leaned forward, grabbing the antlers (but not tugging on them) like he was riding a bike. He certainly didn’t want to risk falling off when Rudy leapt up to fly.

And he gasped when the reindeer did just that.

*    *    *

Santa spotted them converging in the large two-story house at the end of the cul-de-sac. He’d been standing in front of his line of reindeer, scanning the snowy sky with his keen, sharp vision, but didn’t see Rudy yet. But it was way too soon yet. Then that awful, rotten smell assailed his nostrils. His earlier sense of black foreboding strengthened.

“Oh, no,” he said under his breath.

As Blixen and a few others stirred restlessly in their harnesses, obviously sensing the imminent danger as well, Santa stepped away from them and peered at the cluster of houses along the dead-end street. Three shapes suddenly appeared moving quickly and fluidly from the forested wooded area to the first house closest to them. They were pale in the moonlight, cadaverously thin but rippling with lean muscles. Even at this distance, Santa saw the red glint of their bestial eyes.

As they moved to the two-story home like a pack, Nick realized he didn’t have time. He would need to distract them until Rudy and Lupo arrived. As he walked further out into the snow, he plucked his phone from his pocket and hurriedly tapped out a message to Lupo (if he even had his own phone on him): They’re here, hurry!

*    *    *

While being this high up and holding on for dear life, not to mention freezing cold, it wasn’t as windy as he’d expected. But his eyes watered and tears froze on his ruddy cheeks.

Then Curtis felt the vibration of his smartphone, and he carefully pulled it out with one hand, keeping a tight death-grip on the antlers with his other hand. He read the brief text from Santa.

As he stuffed the phone back, he leaned forward and said, “We got to fly faster, Rudy!”

*    *    *

Santa didn’t have any weapons, except toy ones, and those wouldn’t do. The best he might be able to do was use some spells he knew, but none of that magic would stop the trio of vile bloodsuckers. And employing magic of any kind would drain him of much-needed energy for the long night ahead.

So he cupped his gloved hands around his mouth and yelled, “Hey, you three! I’ve got something tasty for you!”

The vampires halted in their tracks, several feet from the darkened, white-coated house. Three sets of hungry, baleful, blood-red eyes fixed on him, narrowing.

Then almost as one, they moved off the yard and headed in his direction.

Oh shit, guys, Nick thought, referring to Rudy and Lupo. Come on, get here fast!

*     *     *

Suddenly, Rudy dropped into a fairly steep dive and Curtis gritted his teeth as his stomach rolled. He always hated rollercoasters, dammit!

Below, he saw the wide open field covered in snow and thick forest surrounding a large cul-de-sac and several homes. Some had been decorated with your typical exterior holiday d├ęcor, including the icicle lights and multi-colored blinking ones. Then he noticed off to one side in the field stood the familiar red-and-green-and-gold trimmed sleigh with the harnessed line of reindeer, minus one, of course.

As Rudy pulled out of the dive and slowed a bit, Curtis looked over past the sleigh and immediately saw the equally familiar stocky, white-bearded, red-suited figure standing alone in the middle of the field. And the three pale stalking forms gliding soundlessly over the ground were getting very close to Nick, maybe a dozen or so yards away.

“Drop me between Santa and those bastards, Rudy!” he yelled and sat back, looking up and staring at the fat swollen disc high above. He let the moonlight wash over his numb face, tried to relax his mind enough to allow the change to come. His growing anger and frustration at how his life had ended up, coupled with the fact that these vampires sought to feed and kill unwitting families on this day of all days (or any day, for that matter!) made the transformation burst out of him all that more rapidly.

The snowy ground rushed up at them and Curtis pushed himself off the reindeer and fell the several remaining feet as his body rippled and burst with coarse dark hair and corded muscle. It physically hurt to do this, as it always had, but he ignored it. As his mouth elongated and bristled with razor-sharp canines, hooked claws sprouting from his fingertips and toes (shredding the front of his cheap sneakers), he sank deftly onto the fresh powder, cushioning his fall.

The trio stopped, peering at this latest addition to their Christmas Night blood-feast.

Hunched over and flexing his deadly claws, Lupo growled with menace.

Santa released his held breath, muttered thanks to Rudy, and said, “Now go kill those evil creatures, my fine, lupine friend!”

Snarling low and deep, Lupo nodded his massive furry head and sprang forward.

The vampires charged forward. The first one had leapt into the air with talons spread wide and horrid fanged mouth agape. Lupo ducked under his scythe-like claws, and thrust muzzle forward and up, jaws clamping around the skinny, pasty neck. Vicious teeth crunched together as viscous hot fluids sprayed his face, soaking the fur of his neck and chest. The thing beat and swiped at him but to no avail. Near-decapitated head lolling on a few tendons and ragged strips of skin, Lupo tossed the dead vampire aside.

The second blood-sucker attacked from the other side, coming in low and fast, but with razor-sharp fingernails sweeping up and thrusting out as if to rip across his face, to blind him. Lupo swiftly dodged the attempt to mutilate his face, but the downward arc slashed across his fur-padded ribcage, making him growl-hiss in sudden agony. However, his fury and hunger to kill these vile killers surpassed the white-hot pulsating pain along his left side.

As the vampire followed through on the swipe, it stumbled in the snow, and Lupo reached out and grabbed the thing’s skinny shoulders, pulling it to him. Savagely, he opened his slavering jaws wide and tore into the vampire’s face, ripping off great near-bloodless chunks of putrid flesh. Blackish goo splattered him, but he ignored it and dug his claws feverishly into its midsection, tearing out meaty loops of greasy entrails. He let the limp undead corpse slump to the gore-streaked ground.

Seeing how effectively his crimson-thirsty comrades had been dispatched, the third member of the vampire hunting parting turned and fled, heading with remarkable swiftness for the heavy tree-line.

The sight of it running for the woods, naked and gleaming in the silvery moonlight nearly made Lupo sing with primal joy. In fact, he raised his wet snout to the night and barked a short howl. Then he gave chase, moving with great speed and agility in the foot-deep snowfall.

Lupo caught up to the vampire just as it started to vanish into the snow-laden pines.

It didn’t give him much of a fight at all.

Santa watched it all unfold with his mouth hanging open. From within the woods, he heard Lupo howling his victory.

*    *    *

While delayed for maybe an hour or two, Christmas was once again saved. Before he took off again, to complete his long task ahead, they dragged the vampire corpses to a clearing deep in the woods and—using fuel from a flask of brandy Santa tucked away inside his red coat—burned the bodies, then covered the remains with snow.

Rudy agreed to fly Curtis back home, after he cleaned himself up with melted snow and an old but clean handkerchief Santa produced from one pocket of his red trousers. After a hearty thank you from Nick (and admonishment to stop his excessive alcohol consumption), Rudy and Curtis departed. Santa climbed onto his sleigh, grabbing ahold of the reins. But before he urged the reindeer skyward, he made a promise to his old friend. He’d saved his life and Christmas once again (because without Lupo’s help, Santa wouldn’t have just stood by and let it happen, and he could’ve been killed), not to mention saving the lives of those who slept unawares of how closely they’d come to being food for vampires.

After tonight, when he was safely back home at the North Pole, the man also known as Kris Kringle, vowed he would write a heartfelt letter to Curtis Lockwood’s estranged ex-wife. While he couldn’t do anything to make her give her ex-husband a second chance, perhaps and maybe, he could help her see that he deserved one.

After all, Christmastime was about miracles, wasn’t it?

Monday, December 19, 2016

Send In The Clown

So, a few months ago, I had this idea for a horror story about a creepy clown, given the glut of viral clown videos popping up. But I'd been hip-deep in finishing up the first draft of THE RAVENING and didn't  want to get too side-tracked  with another project. As it is, I still need to revise the stories  for my collection, THE NIGHTMARE SEASON.

However, this idea kept nagging me until I finally wrote it. And I'm glad I took the time to do so, because I'd decided  to self-publish my very first ebook. Yes, "Clowning Around" is just a short story, but I'd been wanting to put something out there for promotional purposes. Thanks to Erin Sweet-Al Mehairi for her editorial eye and support, and author John Urbancik for his technical advice and answering my questions on ebook design and formatting. The end result isn't perfect, but not too shabby for my first attempt.

Links to the Nook ebook here, and Kindle ebook here.

If you enjoyed Tricksy the Clown, and I sincerely  hope you do, I'd be remiss in not saying that you'll be seeing more from him in the future. You see, Tricksy (one of many names), has been around for a very long time, and feeds on pain and suffering, fear and death. And he's not human, but a creature of supernatural origins.

The comparisons to another infamous horror clown is understandable (see my previous blog post), and while Stephen King's Pennywise certainly was an influence, Tricksy (or Mister Tricks, Jack Havoc, Jimmy Kayoss, Dustin Bones, etc etc) is a whole other monster altogether.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Power of IT

As of this morning, I finished my reread of Stephen King's epic magnum opus, near 1,200 page horror classic, IT. Took me over 2 months to complete, but mainly because I was reading it in the afternoons and evenings (I read ebooks only in the mornings, don't ask, it's my weird reading habit) and savored every word, sentence, chapter of this sprawling wonderfully dark yet hauntingly magical tome.
I'd initially wanted to reread IT because of the forthcoming remake due out next year as two films, part one featuring the main characters as kids (but set in the 80's instead of the late 50's  in the book and tv mini-series), and part two taking place in current day with them as grownups.
We all float down here...

And it would be extremely remiss of me not to mention the memorable and altogether chilling (and darkly humorous) performance by Tim Curry as Pennywise. He nailed it. While the miniseries missed some things from the book, and some things they simply couldn't do given the constraints of network tv in those days, it still did a decent job. Even the supporting cast was pretty good, in my opinion. I'm very excited for the big-screen two-film adaptation, and from the officially released cast and set photos a few months ago, this has the potential to be amazing!

The New Pennywise  

Some of my favorite  horror  stories  have  been  coming-of-age tales, and  IT is the ultimate. But it isn't just the sheer, sinister horror of the thing that feeds off fear and cloaks itself in the form of the evil clown, among  other  things. It is the powerful way King unfolds the story, weaving the narrative between the late 50's and mid-80's, introducing us to each member of the Loser's Club and hearing their story, and the horror that stalks them and finally, the horror they have to confront. What resonates so clearly is that King makes you, the Constant Reader, care about each of them so clearly that you feel that you know them. In a way, we were them as kids.

Ironically, as I was reading IT for what I thought was my third trip to Derry, Maine (but maybe only my second read, time has a way of blurring some memories), it would be nearly 30 years since I last cracked open this massive horror novel...which was the time span for Big Bill, Ben aka Haystack, Beverly, Richie aka Trashmouth, Stan, Eddie, and Mike in between their childhood battle with It and their return to Derry as adults to stop It once and for all.

If you enjoy these types of horror novels, I'd also highly recommend two other favorites...GHOUL by Brian Keene and CHILDREN OF THE DARK by Jonathan Janz. Both are extremely worthy of your time and money.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

My First Ever Author Interview...

...that's actually about ME! Much thanks and appreciation to book & author blogger and editor, Meghan Shena Hyden for the invitation to her fine blogsite, The Gal in the Blue Mask. If you have a moment, do check out her site because there's tons of great information posted there.

If you'd like to read my interview, you can do so here. As part of the Gal's Halloween Extravaganzas, you can access the other author interviews for October here.

Thank you again, Meghan, for helping me hit this personal milestone.

And it's just 6 more days to Halloween (...Silver Shamrock!)...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Long Live the King...of Horror!

I'd  be horribly remiss if I didn't post an homage of sorts to  the  single most important  and  influential writer in my life, and arguably  the most popular  living author in the world...Stephen King.

Yesterday, he celebrated his 69th birthday. To me, and numerous  other writers in the horror  genre, King is the sole reason we fell in love with horror fiction. And while many will argue that King's work over the few decades hasn't been as good as his earlier classics, such as THE SHINING, 'SALEM'S LOT, PET SEMETERY, IT, and THE STAND...well, for my money, King has only gotten better with age.

Have you read JOYLAND? Or his recently released Bill Hodges trilogy? Or DOCTOR SLEEP, the sequel to THE SHINING?

All truly amazing books and proof positive that King is just as masterful and powerful a storyteller as he was back in the day.

For me, back in 1985-86, and just freshly graduated from high school and starting my first year in college, I was browsing the aisles in a local bookstore  in the Edison Mall. I came across a paperback copy of PET SEMETERY, with the classic murky dark cover of the cat, Church, jaws gaping, green eyes bright and somehow full of malicious intent, set against a backdrop of a night-shrouded cemetery, and the silhouette of a man...holding something in his arms.

Needless  to say, I devoured the book, the first of many, and found the next thing--the ONLY thing--I wanted to write. I'd been writing for 5 years and while I enjoyed it, I hungered for something else...the stuff I'd been writing reflected what I'd been reading, mostly action-adventure serials. Fun...but not fulfilling.

Always having been a fan of horror movies, especially the old classics shown on the Saturday afternoon Creature Feature, gravitating to horror fiction only seemed fitting...and right.

THANK YOU, Stephen King, for all the wonderful stories you've given us, your true and faithful readers, and how important and inspirational you've been, and continue to be in our lives. 

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Power of Potter

While my blog is intended for shameless self-promotion, among other things, I'd be remiss if I didn't share my thoughts and experiences about Harry Potter. With the release of the 8th book, HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD, PARTS 1 & 2 (a script book based on the original play and story by JK Rowling), it's been a decade since the "final" book arrived at bookstores.

But one thing is abundantly clear: Harry Potter still carries an immense weight in popularity.

I had the unique and fortunate experience  of seeing this all happen from the beginning as a bookseller for Barnes  and Noble back in late 90's, early 2000's. Sure, the first 3 books sold well, but I don't think any of us realized how big those stories were becoming about the boy wizard with the lightning bolt scar on his forehead until the 4th book, HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE broke. That was the first of many midnight release parties, but that one stood out because Scholastic sent retailers these cheap plastic cloaks, round black glasses, and lightning bolt scar press-on tattoos for employees to wear as promo materials.

Still, the hugely immense and massively gathering popularity didn't hit home until the 5th book...and by then, we all know one thing for sure: Harry Potter was something special.

And it was special because these were timeless stories about love and friendship, loyalty and betrayal, good and evil...and wrapped up in a magical world created by a once single mother in England, who used to write those first stories by hand while sitting in a cafe with her infant.

Most importantly, or equally so, the Harry Potter books resonated on another level because these were stories enjoyed not just by younger readers but by teens and adults. Families could read together and discuss (something, I'm afraid, doesn't happen nearly enough in this consuming digital age), older siblings would devour the books and hand them down to younger brothers and sisters. And us grown ups would just enjoy them for what they were: great stories.

Of course, when the Harry Potter  movies began to come out, that only drove the books even more. And the movies were well done.

As ORDER OF THE PHOENIX led to HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, it was quite something to see every few years the same attendees at each midnight release  party, many of them just kids but growing up and still in love with Harry, Ron and Hermione. And Snape...just because he was so good at being bad!

With DEATHLY HALLOWS in July 2007, it was obviously a huge deal but tinged with sadness. This was the final book. Sure, a few years later, THE TALES OF BEEDLE THE BARD came out, but fans flocked in massive droves to buy book 7 and it became one of the bestselling books of all-time. And again, I saw some of the same fans, now late teens or even older. And many, many adult fans, too. Most, young and old, came dressed as their favorite character at Hogwarts.

One of my favorite memories of that night is my store manager ripping the plastic wrap off the pallet of boxes of books  as the packed house of fans cheered and counted down to the appointed hour. Second favorite memory was the Potter fan who asked me if I was Snape (we'd all dressed up as made-up Hogwarts professors, and I had been Professor Colin Wordsmith of...well, you guessed it), and in my black clothes, cloak, and shoulder-length long dark hair, I did my best icy Alan Rickman.

Something special, indeed, and incredibly powerful.

Flash forward  to now, a decade later, and with the release of the 8th book (BEEDLE was more of a collection of stories  set in the world of Potter), while I had no doubts, Harry Potter is still as popular as ever. Seeing the fans line up eagerly  awaiting midnight, many of them dressed in black Hogwarts robes and holding wands or portraying another character, hit home again with me. And seeing a lot of young kids being swept up in the fun, many or most of them too young or not even born a decade or more ago, was pretty cool.

But I have to admit something: while I'd read all 6 books, I'd started book 7 but hadn't finished it. And for no particular reason, as sometimes us diehard readers with mountainous TBR  piles on our nightstands can attest to. Sometimes, we put a book down and simply forget. Yeah, I know. Sue me.

Time to fix that. I'm grateful for having experienced this wild magical ride. And Harry Potter will be around for a long time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Brian Keene

Later today, I'll get to meet one of my favorite authors. Those who might've not heard yet, Stoker Award winning and Horror Grandmaster--and let's just say it--and fucking bestselling horror fiction legend, Brian Keene is stopping by my store from 2-5pm to sign copies of his latest novel, PRESSURE.

Needless to say, I'm honored, excited, flattered to have him...and just a wee bit apprehensive and nervous.

I've never met him before, so that's understandable, but have corresponded via social media and on his forum. As his aptly named nationwide tour begins this summer, THE END OF THE ROAD (BUT NOT REALLY) TOUR, I just want the book signing to be successful and not look like an idiot and total fanboy. Although I've got the former covered, not so sure about the latter. But I do know one thing: I just want to express my gratitude and appreciation for his work, what he has done, and continues to do for the horror genre and fellow authors (unknown or newbie), via his website, forum, and stellar weekly podcast.

I first became aware of Brian Keene before he hit it big with THE RISING. Fellow author and friend, John Urbancik, told me I should read him, and on a whim, ordered a couple of his books at the time: FEAR OF GRAVITY, 4X4, and NO REST FOR THE WICKED REDUX. I enjoyed those books, but when THE RISING came out from Leisure, I was hooked. Then came GHOUL, and I became a fan. While I've enjoyed everything he's written, GHOUL still stands as my favorite Keene novel, with TERMINAL being a close second. But then again, everything the man writes is simply worth reading, regardless of the plot or genre.

And if you haven't read his latest release, PRESSURE, do check it out. While probably the most mainstream book he's written to-date, there's lots of subtle, and not so, nods to previous works and even characters named from other genre authors. His novel, THE COMPLEX, published as a limited edition last year and released in trade paperback and ebook earlier this year, is classic Keene and one of his best.

I'd be lying if I didn't say I felt a certain kinship with Brian. We're the same age. While I was born in Pennsylvania, I've lived in Florida most of my life. I'm a stepfather to three, and while they may not be mine biologically, I take my role as a father figure as the most important. While we certainly have taken very different paths in life, I have a deep respect for Brian, not just as an author, but as a father and human being, who--if you've listened to some of his more personal podcast episodes and even nonfiction writings, such as posts on his website and recent column series for Cemetery Dance--because while you may not always agree with him, he doesn't just talk the talk...he fucking walks the walk.

Due to several changes in my personal life over a decade and a half ago--a couple divorces and financial upheavals, moving several times, etc--I became lost to my writing, and disconnected to the genre that I fell in love with back in the mid to late 80's. Then, I discovered social media for the first time, and began to reconnect with some old friends and made new ones. Slowly, but eventually, I got back into it and finally, after a long dry spell, I feel like the writer I was meant to be. But I still have a lot of work to do.

Brian, I just want to say thank you. I know I'm not the only one, but the work you do is incredibly important to the horror genre. You're inspiring beyond measure.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

RIP Prince

One of my first albums I'd ever bought as a teen was Purple Rain and while I'm not a scintilla the fan some diehard Prince fans are, including my wife, I've always admired him for his singularly unique sound and style. His work to protect his music as well as those of all musicians is often understated, not to mention his philanthropy. Prince will be missed by millions but his music is forever.

After the passing of recent music legends like Lemmy and Bowie, I wrote a story, posted here a few months ago. So now, here's this. 

Rock on.

Purple Requiem
Copyright 2016

Amid the haze of smoke, myriad voices and sometimes raucous laughter, clink of melting ice cubes against glass, and the thunk of beer bottles on a tabletop, there was music.

In this place, there was always music.

But right now, what broke through those various sounds was the unmistakable riffs of the man standing up on the small stage, wearing a 19th century dark military jacket, faded bell bottom jeans, and a bright blue paisley bandanna wrapped around his Afro. Because he was a lefty, he played his electric guitar upside down.

A slight figure approached the stage, quietly, almost shyly, even though many in the place knew who he was, not to mention definite admirers of his solely unique, signature musical prowess.

The guitar player noticed the man, who stood before the stage holding his own trademark six-string instrument, white and stylishly designed. One of many, in fact.

"Hey man, nice jacket," the guitarist said coolly, while he kept playing. He'd always liked purple.

"Mind if I join you?" asked the smaller man, who gazed up at Jimi Hendrix with something close to reverence.

"Come on up, brother," replied Hendrix, with a wry grin. "Let's jam."

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter!

So, I wrote this earlier...enjoy!

Pigging Out
A Twisted Easter Tale
Copyright 2016

Every year, at this time, the same thing. Kids who were good, and some that were not, got baskets of candy--chocolate bunnies, creme-filled chocolate eggs, jelly beans, etc--to gorge themselves until that traditional family Easter dinner.

But not this year.

Three pigs had other plans. Not your average pigs, these were larger specimens, more like hogs or boars. They were incredibly smart, cunning, and had been planning their revenge ever since they escaped their pens at the farm weeks ago.

So, the three hogs gathered up implements stolen from the farmer, in which to slay the hated Spring Rabbit: a wicked pitchfork, an axe, and a scythe.

Their plan was simple. They would hide out in the woods near the farmhouse before Easter morning, when that  blasted Bunny would come hopping by with his sack of goodies, then they would attack. Hack and stab him to bloody shreds and leave the mutilated body on the doorstep. They'd even planned to take the sweets for themselves.

Night fell and they waited patiently, hungrily, eyes scanning the fields and road for any sign of Mister Easter Bunny. They saw nothing, heard not a sound, and they began to think perhaps the farmer's children didn't believe. Maybe they'd gotten too old to believe in such things.

As the late evening bled into very early morning, the three pigs heard a muffled thumping noise and peered intently into the shadowy gloom.

And they saw him!

Much bigger than a normal rabbit, the Easter Bunny hopped along the dirt road, the massively bulging bag of candy treats slung over one furry, brownish black shoulder. If he continued along the road, he'd pass by their hiding spot and then they'd pounce upon him!

Slavering, gripping their weapons tightly, they eagerly watched as he grew closer, completely unaware of his impending doom. But he stopped, a mere dozen steps away, nose twitching, large ears pricked.

"Is someone there? Come on out! I can smell you!" the Rabbit said in a strident but calm tone.

Surprised that they'd been discovered, the pigs scurried out of the night-shrouded trees, brandishing their deadly weapons.

"Drop the bag and come closer!" ordered one pig, the larger of the trio, and generally thought the leader. He carried the axe.

"Why would I do such a thing?"

The Leader Pig growled menacingly. "Because I'll chop your head off if you don't!"

The Easter Bunny considered this, scratching one paw under his chin. He lowered the sack and opened it. "But I brought you all very special treats, you know. Unless you don't want them, of course."

Another pig, arguably the less smart of the three, dropped the pitchfork and gleefully exclaimed, "Oh yes, I want my treat, please, yes I do!"

The Leader wanted to turn the axe on him, but didn't. Instead he glared at his compatriot, who noticed the baleful look and fell quiet.

"We will take what we want," he said threateningly. "And pray that's all we do."

The other pig who toted the scythe chuckled.

"But if you harm me now, these treats, the best of all, will be useless," the Rabbit said. "That's part of my Easter magic, you might say."

The Leader thought for a moment, then said, "Let me see them."

The Bunny reached into his bag and retrieved three eggs, each one a different color, and obviously not real eggs because of their size and hues. They were huge.

"Now you must open them together, as one." He laid the big eggs carefully on the ground and stepped away, his sack resting beside his haunches.

In retrospect, and as you can imagine, the three might've taken caution as these weren't normal Easter eggs,  and the Rabbit was smarter and more cunning than the hogs. Shells cracked and splintered and the sweet insides devoured in seconds. As the Leader turned to demand the Bunny hand over his bag, the other two began to convulse, crumpling to the dirt in agony. Bloody foam vomited from their gaping mouths. The Leader sank to the ground next to them, wracked by painful spasms. He writhed and spat up blood.

The Rabbit shook his head, and carefully scooped the egg shell fragments. He lifted the sack and slung it over his shoulder.

As he began to hop in the direction of the farmhouse, the Leader asked in a dying wheeze, "Why? How?"

The Easter Bunny stopped, and looked back. "Why, you ask? Because I don't take crap from a couple of foolish pigs, that's why. Also, the poison won't harm humans. After all, I wouldn't want to ruin an Easter ham dinner."

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hungry Like The...Werewolf!

To the all three or four of you who might be bored enough to read my blog, going strong now for about 4 years, you may recall my werewolf novel, PRIMAL. I'd finished the first draft and started immediately writing a sequel, PRIMAL BLOOD. Got several chapters into that before I realized the premise, while cool at the time I'd conceived it, was too implausible. So it got scrapped. As a result, the version of PRIMAL needed a complete overhaul. But I was excited by the prospect, since my story was a slightly different take on lycanthropes.

Then I lost my digital copy of the first draft. I had backed it up to a flash drive, and was transferring all my work from my old Dell to my new Toshiba laptop. The transfer was fine but in my haste made the mistake of not properly ejecting the flash drive.

I was devastated. Luckily, I did have a hard copy printout. But I needed time away from it, and the notion of retyping that draft onto Word wasn't a task I was particularly excited about. Plus, I had begun to find other aspects of the short novel I wanted to change or scrap entirely.

Flash forward a few years later. While I've been working on several new stories, novellas and a short story or two, for a collection called THE NIGHTMARE SEASON, this novel keeps clawing at my consciousness. I've been mentally piecing together the new PRIMAL story, the reworked version, which will look much different than its original. And I'm very excited. Many of the same characters will remain, including my protagonist, Jack Evans and his wife, Cheryl, and teenage daughter, Grace. The antagonist or villian, Anna, along with members of the secret society of lycanthropes, or Prime-L's (or Primals) will mostly remain the same. But the story's beginning will introduce a new character called Lobo, short for El Loco Lobo, a Latino rapper turned movie star. He's not a very nice guy, and largely, and inadvertently, why Jack becomes a Primal.

But first I need to get started. And I'm quite the werewolf!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rock and Roll Heaven

Recently, we lost a few notable rock and roll stars, least of which was the notorious Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, and Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver.

And two days ago, David Bowie passed away. He left an indelible mark on the world of music from his classic alien persona, Ziggy Stardust, to the Thin White Duke era of "Let's Dance." And if you haven't heard of his late 80's rock band, Tin Machine, you need to unfuck that immediately. "Under the God" is a blisteringly catchy hard rock anthem. My own all-time favorite band, Duran Duran, has publicly for years cited Bowie as a major influence, and have covered a number of Bowie songs over the years.

This story popped into my head the other morning and while on Facebook, before getting ready for work, I wrote this. Feel free to blast some Ziggy or "Heroes" (my personal favorite is "Golden Years") and enjoy.

Rock and Roll Heaven
Copyright 2016

The vast room was hazy with smoke and filled the chatter of conversation, punctuated with laughter. Glasses rattled with ice cubes, beer bottles clunked together along with tumblers of drink in celebration and general good cheer. Some held intruments, guitars and the like, even a saxophone, but mostly just to idly strum or blow a few chords. One short blonde haired young man in a plaid shirt and ripped jeans sat in a corner scribbling in a notebook while a skinny guy with tight black leather pants and close-cropped, dyed-red hair talked animatedly to him, gesturing with his cigarette. Behind them at the long bar, two other men--one with long curly brown hair in a denim jacket--lifted his glass of whiskey and chuckled at something his companion sitting at the barstool next to him said, in his thick English accent. The Englishman had long black hair, thick mutton chops and a mustache, and he wore a leather vest with a black leather hat adorned by an emblem of silver crossed cutlasses.

Suddenly, the room's only door swung open, revealing a tall, thin light-haired man, clad in a trim yet stylish suit. His slender tie was impeccably knotted and his eyes swept the crowd coolly. He grinned rakishly as he stepped inside.

Lemmy glanced up at the latest entrant and called out in his distinctive raspy brogue.

"David...come on in and join the party!"

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Top Horror Novels of 2015

I posted this on Facebook a few days ago, but here's my list again of the best horror novels read last year, published in 2015:

As the last four and a half hours of 2015 tick tocks away, here's my Best Books of the past year (in no order of importance):

THE COMPLEX by Brian Keene (actually, finishing it up this evening as we speak, but this is a fantastic book, right up there with my favorites by him)

A LITTLE MAGENTA BOOK ABOUT A DOLL HOUSE by Edward Lee (Lee doing MR James, but it's Ed Lee, so nuff said)

WOLF LAND by Jonathan Janz (love anything loup garou, and Jonathan freaking nailed it big time!)

TENEBRIS by Tim Curran   (I'm an unapologetic Tim Curran fanboy, and only   minor complaint is that I wanted the book to be longer; then again, DEAD SEA and RESURRECTION are huge, so I'll just shaddup)

FINDERS KEEPERS by Stephen King  (just because, and while he has been criticized  for his recent works not holding up to the classic ones, that's just nonsense; he's at the top of his my opinion)

THE BORDER by Robert McCammon  (STINGER is one of my favorites by him and he returns to form with this bleak but heartfelt scifi horror novel)

THE SCARLET GOSPELS by Clive Barker  (yes, I know I'll catch some shit for this selection, but you know what? Don't care. It's Harry D'Amour versus Pinhead. While the book had issues, it was still a hellishly fun and nasty trip)

ORPHANS OF WONDERLAND by Greg F. Gifune (my favorite of his to date and if you haven't read him...what the fuck is wrong with you? :P)

ABRAM'S BRIDGE by Glenn Rolfe  (newer author to the horror fiction scene but this clever novella instantly drew me in and I'm a fan! And his latest novel, BLOOD AND RAIN just kills it!)

DARKNESS RISING by Brian Moreland  (fantastic novella that grabbed me by the heart and twisted; and DEAD OF WINTER is a great book, along with THE WITCHING SEASON...hell, buy em all!)

ALL HALLOW'S  DEAD by Bryan Smith  (Bryan is one of my favorites ever since he published his first few books from Leisure Horror; and while I haven't read his critically-acclaimed SLOWLY WE ROT, his Halloween novel was a blast!)

THE LOST LEVEL by Brian Keene   (pulp horror mixed with high fantasy of a sort, drenched in his Labyrinth mythos. It's Brian Keene. Nuff fucking said! ;))

THE NIGHTMARE GIRL by Jonathan Janz (yep, him again. And why am I thinking this book could've been called THE HEY GIRL...oh never mind. It's Jonathan Janz, and he rocks!)