Banquet of Souls, 9th Course, “The Glass in the Window”

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What follows is an excerpt from the ninth story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.

The Glass in the Window

 

Sleep, as usual, escaped me. It was long after midnight, and the latest biography of C. N. Hastings did nothing to cure my insomnia. Impatiently, I rifled through the pages searching for some small fact or incident from the notorious man’s life that I did not already know, finding nothing but standard phrasing and trite commentary.

I stopped to rub my eyes. The light was far too bright, so I switched the three-way bulb off, then back on to a lower wattage.

Hastings, an early 20th century man of science, lured into the occult and ultimately plunging into madness, was dead long before I was born. Discovering his history at the young age of fourteen, I became fascinated and absorbed every tidbit of information I could find about his life and his journey into darkness.

Charles Nash Hastings was born and raised in Albany, New York, a sullen, inquisitive child who found refuge in the sciences. As a theoretical physicist, he worked hard researching quantum physics, the building blocks of the universe and, eventually, the possibilities of inter-dimensional travel. He toiled obsessively on calculations for years then, for reasons still unclear, he became disillusioned with his work. He took a one-year leave from his Assistant Professor position at the University to travel.

In 1918, he met Aleister Crowley. Crowley was widely considered the most unholy man in the world because of his writings and practice of magick; spells and incantations and magical studies. That’s magick, the wicked dark arts, not pull-a-rabbit-out-of-a-hat magic. Crowley was on a retreat of sorts along the Hudson River in the Catskills. It was known that Hastings spent several days speaking with Crowley, but there was no record—none that I could find at least—of what they spoke about. However, after the visit, Hastings immediately changed the focus of his work. What he saw, or thought he saw, had shaken his scientific mind to its core.

Hastings began exploring the possible existence of multiple dimensions, just beyond our own dimension, of length, width, depth, and time. He sought to open our dimensional reality to others, creating a doorway of sorts. He left the University to study the perception of personal reality, and whether personal reality was common within all humanity. His Theory of Personal Reality speculates that the only way for personal realities to become common was through the interplay of multiple dimensions.

I have no real idea what any of that means. Unfortunately, I do not have the brilliant mind of a theoretical physicist, nor any substantial knowledge in quantum mechanics. I am simply an undergraduate studying English Literature. While I have had some success in academia, I remain vastly ignorant of the majority of the science that is the foundation of our universe.

All I knew was that I was alone in my studio apartment, sitting at my desk, reading with increasing impatience; alone with my thoughts and blocking out anything except the occasional blast of frigid January wind rattling the windows.

***

 

12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c

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Banquet of Souls, 8th Course, “The Crumbs of My Soul”

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What follows is an excerpt from the eighth story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.

 

The Crumbs of My Soul

 

You need to understand that she stole chunks of me. Bit by bit, visit by visit. And now here she was again, in my room. She was on me. Riding me. Grinding hard. Groaning with pleasure until I surrendered. Then she left.

As she always did.

She first came to me about six months ago. She moved into the apartment across the hall. I was getting home from my job at the store, and saw her door was open. Boxes, both open and closed, strewn about the room, each written with marker with the appropriate room destination. I could see a blonde woman was in the kitchen, putting dishes into the cupboard. Her back was to me.

As she reached up with a stack of plates, I could see her long, lanky form, her midriff bared as the pastel green tee-shirt rode up. I decided to not say anything. I found my keys and busied myself with unlocking my door.

The jangling of metal must have alerted her. As I pushed the key into the lock I heard her voice.

“You must be my neighbor!”

I turned. There she was, her slim form poured into tight jeans. She wiped her dusty hands on her thighs and held out an open hand. I took it, shook it. Her grip was tight and strong.

“Hi. I’m glad that Mr. Foster finally found someone to rent to.”

“I’m Ava.”

“Mark. Bennington.” I said.

“Mr. Foster is such an old sweetheart, isn’t he?” Her smile sparkled.

I nodded. “Yeah, well, welcome to the building,” I said, attempting to retreat into my apartment.

“Mark,” she interrupted. “Could I get you to do something for me? The movers really weren’t very particular where they put my sofa and chair. Could you find a moment to help me move them?”

“Uh, sure.”

The apartment was bright from the lack of curtains on the windows. The place had the bittersweet smell of disinfectant and fresh paint. She led me to the upholstered chair.

“This should go over there, next to the lamp.”

I grabbed one arm, she grabbed the other, and we lifted. I walked backwards, taking care to not trip over any boxes or debris. We set it down, then she shunted it into position in the corner. The sofa wasn’t as heavy as it looked, and before long we had it placed flat against the wall.

“There! Thanks.”

“No problem.”

“Interest you in a beer or a glass of wine?”

“No thank you. I don’t drink.”

“Water? Soda?”

“No thank you, I’m fine.”

“Lived here long?”

“About three years.”

“What do you do?”

“Oh, I’m an assistant manager down at Frankie’s Discount.”

“You must work a lot.”

“Yeah.”

She sat on the couch and made a motion for me to sit. I felt a little weird, but acquiesced.

“I just started working at the Chesbrough bank.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I’m a loan consultant.”

“Oh.”

“I don’t know anyone in the area. I suppose I’ll make new friends, but right now…” she trailed off.

“Well, I’ve got to be going,” I said, standing.

“You don’t have to leave.” She still sat, looking up at me with her face level with my belt buckle. A small smile touched the corners of her mouth.

I felt an unaccustomed wave of lust wash through me. I instantly wanted her. I had never had been with anyone before.

“I-I should leave.”

“Please stay.”

“Uh, I…”

That’s when she touched me.

***

12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c

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Banquet of Souls, 7th Course, “Ryan Not Ryan”

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What follows is an excerpt from the seventh story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.

Ryan Not Ryan

 

“God, I wish this heat would break.” Jill was two days overdue. She felt huge and uncomfortable sitting wide-kneed in the lawn chair.

The back screen door opened and Danny came out onto the deck with her lemonade. The bug zapper buzzed as another mosquito died in a flash.

She took the sweating glass pressed it against her face before taking a sip. Danny sat down next to his wife, clinking the ice in his drink and scraping the aluminum chair on the deck.

“Supposed to probably this weekend,” Danny said, taking a long gulp of lemonade.

Dusk had come slowly, the sun inching its way behind the trees to the west, stretching the shadows, making them appear to be reaching straight out to envelope Jill. The sky had darkened enough for stars to begin winking on. She sipped her drink and shivered—a pleasant shiver—from the ice cold sour-sweetness washing past her lips.

Fireflies flashed around the back yard. The yard was surrounded by woods, and at this time of the evening, looked like a patchwork of blackness surrounding the property. Overhead Jill heard a bat flutter by, destination unknown.

“So it’s decided,” Danny said.

“Of course. Weeks ago,” said Jill, feeling a little defensive.

“You want our son to be named Ryan? Really?”

“There’s nothing wrong with the name.”

“I suppose it’s better than other names. Just seems like he’d be more of a Paul or Robert. Ryan just seems, I don’t know,” Danny said, trailing off.

“What? Feminine?”

“I didn’t say that. I just like the strong, old-fashioned names. Like Jake, or Bill.”

“Ryan is my father’s name,” Jill said, feeling her hackles raise.

“Oh, I know that.”

“And we are naming Ryan’s middle name after your Dad. I’m not complaining about the name Jesse.”

Danny fell silent. Crickets peeped loudly. Jill felt a dribble of sweat slide down her neck to between her breasts. Using the flat of her hand she pressed the fabric of her dress to blot it.

“Okay,” Danny said with finality, “Ryan it is.”

“Good. Besides, why wait until the last minute? We know it’s a boy. We’ve known for weeks.”

“Okay, okay, I get it.”

Jill’s ears caught a sound. “Shh.”

Danny looked over at her. The darkness had become so complete that Jill could barely see the quizzical look that had spread over his face. “What?”

“Shh.” Jill waved at him to not say anything. Finally she asked, “You hear that?”

Danny seemed to pause a beat, then said, “I don’t hear anything.”

“Voices.”

Danny cocked his head, listening. “I don’t hear anything. No cars, no nothing.”

“Listen.”

Danny fell silent, then said, “Yeah. I do hear that.”

“Voices, right?”

“Yeah.”

“What are they saying?”

He paused, straining to hear. “I can’t tell.”

Jill listened intently, setting the half-full glass of lemonade on the plastic table between them. “Someone in the woods? Maybe a party?”

“I don’t smell smoke from a campfire.”

“Teenagers having a drinking party?”

“Doesn’t sound like that kind of conversation.”

Jill listened to the voices. They seemed close, yet the words were unintelligible. The voices sounded like they were all speaking at once, just out of clear earshot in the distance. In the eighteen months since they had bought the house and land they had never heard anything in the woods like these voices.

“Should we worry?”

Danny paused, then shook his head. “Nah. Maybe the breeze is carrying sound over the mountain or something.”

As Jill listened, the voices became louder, but still the words were unrecognizable. A chill washed down her spine. Something just didn’t seem right. There didn’t seem to be anything threatening in the voices and mumbled words; it sounded more like pleading.

“Let’s go inside.” Jill struggled to stand.

“The house is still like an oven.”

“We need another air conditioner.” The old air conditioner had given out with a dying clatter the night before.

“I know! I know! I already told you. Building supply ran out. They’re supposed to get more in tomorrow.”

“I’m going inside anyway,” Jill muttered.

“Okay,” Danny said, stood and followed her, retrieving her unfinished drink.

As Jill’s hand touched the sliding door, she heard the voices abruptly stop. All sound stopped, an overwhelming, suffocating silence that brought even the crickets to stop their rasping. It seemed to envelop every molecule of humid air.

Then, clear and unmistakable, a baby’s cry cut through the still air. Only the baby’s wail. Nothing else.

Jill inhaled a startled gasp. Danny stopped, looked toward the inky shadow of forest.

“That’s a baby,” he said, concerned. He took a step toward the sound.

Jill felt fear well up inside of her. “Danny, no.” She reached for his arm. “No. Come inside.”

“What? Why?”

The baby suddenly stopped bawling. Crickets began to chirp again.

“Let’s just lock the doors,” Jill said, trying to fight against the panic within her.

***

12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c

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Banquet of Souls, 6th Course, Palate Cleanser, “Blood Pressure”

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Something a little lighter this day:

What follows is an excerpt from the sixth story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.

Blood Pressure

 

My sweaty palm clutched the little cross so hard the ends poked into my skin like nails. I stopped just short of the steps and looked up. The Georgian-style manor loomed before me, undeniably looking better than I’d ever remembered. But the fresh coats of paint and impeccably manicured hedges and lawn of the old Lindsey place didn’t remove the trepidation or the hollow feeling in my gut. As I mounted the steps, I became very aware of the familiar — and right now most unwelcome — tingle at the top of my scalp signaling my elevating blood pressure. My medication wasn’t touching it right now. But I had to do what I had to do.

I paused for a quick moment to take a deep breath before reaching up and grasping the large, brass door knocker. The heaviness of the metal matched the weight I felt about my mission. My thoughts. My fears. I tapped three times. The hard, hollow sound echoed as if reverberating through a cavern. After a full minute, a very dapper, courtly, elderly man answered the door.

“Yes?” He droned, just like those intimidating butlers in the old movies.

I cleared my throat. Hard.

“I’m Earl Buxton. I’d like a meeting with Mayor Sauer.”

“He is quite busy. Call upon him next week. Perhaps Thursday.”

“The matter will only take a few minutes and is quite pressing. It’s a town matter.”

The old man hesitated, gazing at me with piercing blue eyes shaded by eyebrows resembling ancient, grayed caterpillars.

“Come in. Though I cannot promise he will see you.”

“I understand.” The tingling on top of my head got a little more pronounced.

Without another word, he stepped aside to let me enter. Even with the heavy, dark velvet curtains closed, I could still appreciate the expansive, elegant foyer framed by gleaming, carved mahogany panels. I didn’t get much time to appreciate the beautiful Victorian décor, however. The darkness doubled when he abruptly closed the door behind me, silently directing me with a nod of his head to follow him through a large doorway. My eyes hadn’t yet adjusted to the darkness, and I banged my knee against the umbrella stand base of a tall, antique coat rack, stifling a strong urge to curse.

I followed the old man slowly into the shadows of a long hallway, his rounded back hitching back and forth. The wide passage felt somber and looked excessively ornate; two rows of elegant Queen Anne style chairs were lined up on either side of the wall, not unlike the waiting area of a funeral parlor. We came to an intricately-carved double door of dark wood. The old man brought up a knobby little hand and knocked lightly.

“Come,” a baritone voice said.

The old man opened the door just enough to stick his curled upper body into the room, blocking my view on purpose.

“Someone to see you Master-errr-Mr. Mayor.”

“Who is it?” the voice asked sharply. I noticed the barest whiff of an eastern European accent.

“A man named Earl Buxton. He would like a short word with you and he says the matter is of some importance. He says it is about the town.”

“All right, Samuel. Show him in,” the baritone voice said curtly. The Mayor was obviously annoyed.

Old Samuel opened the door wide, revealing a large office. Books lined every wall and the only window was curtained with fine lace. The sun had not yet moved to this side of the house to illuminate much in the room. A brass desk lamp shone on several papers strewn over an antique green blotter. An old-style inkwell, complete with a quill pen, stood off to the side of the papers. The Mayor stood, set a slim gold pen down atop the papers, and held out his hand. He was of indeterminate age. He could have been forty, or possible as old as sixty; it was impossible to tell. Tall, handsome, dark-haired and olive skinned, and wearing a crisp, perfectly-tailored suit with deep red tie, he gave me an unexpectedly affable smile.

With mounting apprehension I shook the hand, feeling the cool, dry skin of his palm, immediately embarrassed of my own nervous perspiration. The cross stabbed into my other palm until I loosened it, fearing I would draw blood.

“Please, sit. What can I do for you?” he asked me, congenially offering me the chair directly in front of his desk.

I sat, feeling the nervousness rise in my spine — as well as my sudden need to pee.

“Um, well, Mr. Mayor…” I began, my voice cracking a bit.

“Please, call me Victor,” he said with considerable warmth and a generous sweep of his hand.

“Oh. Okay. Victor.” I swallowed thickly and decided to dive straight into the matter and get it over with. “I’ve been selected to bring you a matter of concern to the citizens of Rogerton.”

“Oh?”

“Um, yes. You see, ever since you ostensibly became mayor things have seemed to have, well, gone awry in the town.”

“Gone awry. How so?”

“Well, first there’s the murders.”

“Murders?” his brow furrowed abruptly. “What do you mean, murders?”

“Well, the corpses that have been found drained of blood.”

***

12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c

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Kindle edition $2.99

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Banquet of Souls, 5th Course, “She’s Still Breathing”

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Hello, Deadies! Another excerpt, this one about my new series character, Crystal Briggs.

What follows is an excerpt from the fifth story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.

She’s Still Breathing

 

A few weeks before Dad killed himself, he hobbled to the kitchen table and lowered himself heavily into a chair, favoring his one remaining leg. He had waited until Crystal returned with the two mugs of coffee and joined him. Slowly, he reached out and took her hand in both of his.

“Ladybug. You have gifts; there’s no denying it. And we both know there is something out there, something in this world that knows you have these gifts. You will attract evil. Evil will attract you. It will hide from you, even with your gifts.” His voice had an urgency to it. Every word was measured.

“So, what I need to tell you is that you need to be very careful and be very strong. Physically and mentally strong. Make yourself strong. Promise me.”

Crystal had been awake for an hour thinking about this last conversation, just lying there in the semi-darkness staring at her cat, trying to understand the mounting anxiety she felt. Molly lay curled at the foot of the bed snoring lightly, her black-furred chest rhythmically heaving, blissfully unaware that Crystal was watching her. Rain patted lightly on the window, storm clouds making the dawn darker than usual.

Her mind felt cluttered and heavy. She clearly recalled Dad’s suicide. He had been strong as a young man, a young father. But evil was attracted to him, too, and he eventually paid the price for it. Since then, Crystal took her father’s last imperative to heart. She started going to the gym every morning, first just to limber up, then becoming quicker and stronger. Eventually she began taking a mixed martial arts self-defense course.

But on this particular morning she would not go to the gym.

Along with re-living the horrible memory came an overwhelming compulsion to call someone she never thought she would actually, intentionally seek out: Detective Bill Baranyk. She could not figure it out. Baranyk was not, and never would be, one of her favorite people. He practically straight-out accused her of murdering her own father. Nevertheless, the urge persisted and grew stronger as she watched Molly lazily groom herself. The only certainty was that, for whatever reason, she needed to call him today. She also knew she had to come up with a pretty good reason. The last thing she wanted was Baranyk sniffing around her life again like a bloodhound, but, like it or not, she had come to learn over the years to absolutely rely on her feelings.

This was one of those times. Dad’s words reminded her to pay particularly close attention.

Crystal’s severance pay was ending in a couple of months. She knew she needed a job, but did not have a clue what she could do—what she might be good at. Not many publishing jobs left in the city anymore. Maybe that would be a good conversation starter with Baranyk. Call and ask if he knew of any jobs out there. Yeah, that might work.

When she finally rose, Molly reluctantly got up and stretched, watching closely. As Crystal put on her bathrobe, Molly shot out through the bedroom doorway toward the kitchen.

“Brazen, fuzzy opportunist. Yes, treats are coming.” Crystal smiled. Though Molly was not really psychic like she was, the cat did know routine.

By the time Crystal had fed Molly, brewed a pot of coffee and finished her morning shower, she felt even more pressed to talk with Baranyk. And, for some unfathomable reason, quickly. She set her coffee down on the desk and picked up her cell phone, found the stored number for the city police and dialed.

“City Police. How may I direct your call?” The man sounded on the young side.

“Detective Bill Baranyk, please.”

“Who may I say is calling?”

“Crystal Briggs.”

The line went silent for an annoyingly long moment.

“Baranyk here.”

“Detective, it’s Crystal Briggs.”

“Yeah, I know. What do you need?”

“A job. Know of any?”

“You called me for a job?” Baranyk sounded highly incredulous.

“Yes.”

“You do realize that only recently I considered you a prime suspect, right?”

“And I was cleared.”

“I’ll give you that much, but not much more. Why not go to the County Workforce place?”

“I have and I’ve gotten nowhere. I’ll be honest with you, my severance pay will be ending soon. I need a job. I’m checking with everyone I know to see if they have a line on anything.”

“That’s all?”

“Yes,” Crystal held her breath, knowing that it sounded like that wasn’t all. She wondered if the detective was psychic.

There was a long pause. She could hear him blow out a long sigh.

“I might have something. What number can I reach you at?”

Crystal gave him her phone number and thanked him. Ten minutes later, her phone rang.

“Hello?”

Baranyk said curtly, “Got a pen? I’ll give you a name and phone.”

“Got one. Go ahead.”

Baranyk rattled off the information, then said, “I reviewed your file and got an idea. You won’t be making near the money you were used to, but it’s a job and they need someone right away. Just tell him I sent you. Don’t fuck me over on this, Ms. Briggs.”

He hung up without saying goodbye. Crystal smiled grimly and called the number immediately.

***

12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c

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Kindle edition $2.99

Paperback $10.00

Banquet of Souls, 4th Course, “Bus 1309”

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How about a second helping?

What follows is an excerpt from the fourth story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.

Bus 1309

 

“Thirteen-oh-nine to dispatch.”

Karen instantly raised her red-haired head up from her monitor, startled by the unexpected interruption. She watched Ted slowly look up from his own computer, his lined forehead furrowed in confusion.

“What did he say?”

Karen turned back to her scheduling screen.

“I think he said thirteen-oh-nine,” she distractedly muttered. “Since when do we have a thirteen-oh-nine?”

Ted tapped the switch to turn the microphone on.

“Who is this?” Ted snapped with an aggression that immediately grabbed Karen’s attention.

Silence.

“Fourteen-oh-two to dispatch.”

Ted sighed deeply and tapped on the mic.

“Dispatch.”

“Roads are getting pretty icy, and I just got caught in a white out. Had to pull over. Gonna be five to ten minutes late.”

“Shit,” Ted said irritably, running both hands through his thinning, dark hair. He tapped on the mic. “Copy that.”

The dispatch room window overlooked an expansive, paved staging area and multi-bay bus garage. Karen walked over and watched the snow blowing nearly horizontally in the fading light of day. It did not look good.

“Maybe they’ll call a state of emergency.”

“Yeah, it’d be nice to get home before six tonight.” He tapped on the mic.

“Dispatch to all drivers. Anyone out there try to call us but said ‘thirteen-oh-nine’?”

But for the light hiss of the radio, silence.

The phone rang. Karen walked over and picked up the receiver. “County Rural Transport Dispatch.”

A woman’s voice, obviously elderly, asked, “Are the buses running late?”

“Where are you located, ma’am?”

“Rock Creek.”

“Yes. That particular bus just contacted us and told us he had to pull over because of the snow and slippery conditions.”

“How am I going to get to my doctor’s appointment? I made this reservation three days ago!”

“We’re doing the best we can.” Karen shot a quick look at Ted, rolling her eyes. “It looks like we might go into a state of emergency. If that happens, then we need to pull the buses back. I suggest that, if you can reschedule your doctor’s appointment, then you probably should. Just call us back tomorrow and resubmit your new reservation through the recording line.”

Karen hung up the phone with a deep sigh. “She knew the storm was coming days ago. And now she’s asking how she’s going to get to her doctor’s appointment.”

Ted grunted. “The older the rider, the more entitled they feel. We’ve got to hold their knobby little hands every step of the way.” He puckered his face as if he had just bitten into a lemon and broke out his now-familiar, high-pitched, whiny-geezer voice. “I’m old. You gotta help me. I need help with this. Can’t you help me? I’m ninety years old. Blah-blah-blah. Gimme-gimme-gimme.”

The goofy routine got a laugh out of Karen every time.

“Thirteen-oh-nine to dispatch.” The mystery voice was back.

Ted slid forward over the desk and hit the mic hard.

“Listen, there is no bus thirteen-oh-nine. Who is this?”

No response.

Ted looked up at Karen. “Your new boyfriend wouldn’t be pulling a prank, would he?”

“Carl? Hell, no! Of course not. His voice is deeper and he doesn’t prank. Ever.”

“Just checking.” He returned to the mic. “I don’t know who you are, but if you are on this frequency and not a part of the transportation system, we’ll report you. You are interfering with the operations of public transportation. Do you hear me?” Ted barked.

More silence.

“Does this sort of thing happen often?” Karen asked.

“You’ve been here for what, maybe a year?”

Karen nodded.

“Then you know that usually when something like this happens, it’s usually a slip up from a driver not remembering his bus number, or occasionally another rural carrier would be calling on the wrong frequency.”

“Could that be what’s happening now?”

Ted shook his head. “I don’t think so. We ask who it is and they don’t even try to answer.”

“What do you think is happening then?”

Ted stared blankly over the top of his computer screen. “I think someone is fucking with us.”

Karen looked confused. “Why? Why on earth would anyone do that? Some sort of prank or something?”

Ted hesitated.  Finally, he turned back to Karen.

“We used to have a bus with that number.”

***

12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c

Kindle Unlimited…FREE

Kindle edition $2.99

Paperback $10.00

Banquet of Souls, 3rd Course, “Banquet of Souls”

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Hello, Deadies! Another day, another story excerpt:

What follows is an excerpt from the third story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.

Banquet of Souls

 

“You know what I’m gonna watch tonight?”

Zach spoke it more like a statement than a question, his brown eyes unusually bright.

My head snapped up from the sizzling chicken burgers on the stove, a little startled by the interest and enthusiasm I was hearing, not the usual sullen and bitter teenager attitude.

“What?” I turned back to flip a burger over.

“The exorcism. The one they’re showing on Channel 3.”

“What’s a ex-er-sizzum?” Lily asked, picking up a french fry and cramming it into her messy mouth. After months of intensive table-manner teaching, she was still favoring her little hands over a fork.

“No, you’re not,” I quickly replied—maybe too quickly. Did I sound too dismissive? I had to be wary of discounting Zach’s feelings. It did not take much to trigger his recent adolescent tantrums.

“Why not? It’s gonna be so cool and everybody’s gonna be watching it!” Zach whined.

“Mommy. What’s a ex-er-sizzum?” Lily persisted, glaring at me for an answer.

“It’s a special religious ceremony to cast out a demon. Use your fork.” She reluctantly picked it up clumsily, resentfully, like it was useless. I looked back at my son.

“Come on Zach. We’ve got a three-year old in the house. You watch that and it scares her she won’t sleep a wink for days.”

“Oh come on! I could watch it in the den. I’ll wear headphones.”

“Mommy, what’s a demon?”

I shot a pleading look at Zach.

“See?” nodding toward Lily. “It’s an evil creature from Hell.” A child asking a question expects an answer; sugar-coating was not part of my parenting.

“I don’t even believe in this stuff. But this show is making history. It’s the first time in the United States that an exorcism has been broadcast live!”

“All the more reason.” I took a bite from my chicken burger. “It’s pointless reality television.”

“That makes no sense!”

“I said no.”

“Jesus!” Zach tossed his fork into the center of the table. It clattered against the dish of green beans. Lily jerked back, blinking.

“Zach!”

He shoved his chair back and rose. As he passed me he shouted, “If Dad was alive he woulda let me watch it!” A few seconds later I heard his bedroom door slam shut and then his rock music blare.

“What’s Hell, Mommy?”

Sadly, I looked at Lily.

“A very painful place of punishment.”

***

12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c

Kindle Unlimited…FREE

Kindle edition $2.99

Paperback $10.00

Banquet of Souls, 2nd Course, “Ruth”

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Okay Deadies, today is a twofer. Take a look:

 

What follows is an excerpt from the second story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.

 

RUTH

“Yesterday was our anniversary.”

Morris looked up from the newspaper. Absently, he returned to his reading.

“My birthday was on the third. Remember?”

Morris grunted acknowledgement. He noisily turned a page.

“You didn’t get me anything.”

Morris peered up at Ruth over the tops of his glasses. “I thought we were past all that.”

He listened for an answer. Just when he thought she would say nothing, she spoke up.

“No. Not me. I’ll never get past all that.” She stared at him, her eyes unusually dark and piercing; the lines in her forehead especially deep, her eyebrows scrunched together in aggravation. “If Josie and Rob could remember my birthday, then you should.”

Morris clenched his jaw, bemused that she replied with uncharacteristic force, for once. Sure, the kids sent her cards. They had to. They were in a different state. What did she want him to say? That he was sorry? She knew better. He opted for silence rather than start another screaming match. He turned the newspaper page to the sports section. Damn. The Yankees lost another one.

“Do you love me?” Ruth asked.

Morris sighed, setting down the paper. “Of course.”

Ruth seemed different, like her face was hers yet not really hers. Her stocky body seemed oddly disproportionate, her grey hair, usually brushed up and held back with a brass clip, was wild and uncombed. Looking at her, Morris inexplicably felt the hairs on the back of his neck raise.

“Then say it.”

“Say what?”

“That you love me.”

Morris opened his mouth, the rarely-used words getting jammed in his throat. Finally, he blurted out, “I love you,” annoyed and angry that she was forcing the entire issue.

He watched Ruth’s eyes as they went hard, like a doll’s glass eyes.

“Well I don’t love you anymore.”

Morris stared blankly at her. He had assumed that she stopped loving him long ago, and now she finally admitted it.

“Why not?” he asked simply.

Ruth’s jaw clenched. “I stopped loving the last, miserable little bit of you the last time we fought.”

“Which time was that?”

“Last week. When you hit me.”

“I told you I didn’t mean it.”

“Yes, you did.”

“No, I didn’t. You made me lose my temper.”

Ruth leaned forward, her faded, floral housecoat brushing against her cup of tea. “You shouldn’t have hit me again. You promised.”

“Oh for God’s sake,” Morris sputtered in exasperation.

“We’ve been married for nearly fifty years. Every time you lose your temper I end up with a bruise or black eye.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“If you were sorry you wouldn’t have done it time after time after time.”

“What the hell do you want from me, woman?”

Ruth sat back in her chair, her gaze fixed on him. “Nothing. Nothing ever again.”

“You want a divorce?” Morris challenged, trying to keep his voice calm.

Ruth smiled. Her lips and her eyes looked cold. “No. Not at all.”

“Then what do you want?”

“Your monthly checks.”

Morris blinked in disbelief. Finally, he said, “I worked at the plant for forty years. I got you this house so we didn’t need to live in town. You already get a roof over your head and food on the table. You get to go to the senior center for bingo and lunch with the girls.”

Ruth stared unblinking.

“I want more,” she declared. She leaned forward once more and tapped the kitchen table with her forefinger.

“I. Deserve. It.” She gave each word individual gravitas.

Morris stared into Ruth’s maniacal eyes. “I provide for us,” he slowly asserted, jabbing a finger into his chest. “I always have.”

Ruth smiled, her lips wet and rubbery. “One thing.”

“What?”

“You ever touch me again and I WILL kill you.”

Morris looked hard at Ruth, barely recognizing her. He should have seen the storm brewing in her months ago. She was too calm, like she had made a decision. A big decision. And it was final.

“I’ll never touch you again,” Morris uttered. At that moment, he believed his promise. But he also knew that tomorrow was another day.

***

 

12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c

Kindle Unlimited…FREE

Kindle edition $2.99

Paperback $10.00

Banquet of Souls, 1st Course, Aperitif, “I’m Here for You”

 

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Hey Deadies! Special stuff, just for you!

What follows is the first story from my new anthology, Banquet of Souls.

 

I’m Here For You

 

Mama came into the room, lovingly looked into her crib and softly said, “I’m here for you.”

After watching her fall off her bike onto the concrete sidewalk, Papa came over, dabbed her skinned and bloody knee and told her, soothingly, “I’m here for you.”

And then she saw Papa in the folds of satin pillows, ensconced forever in the dry confines of fine wood and gold trim. Mama wept. She held her mother tightly and said, “I’m here for you.”

On her wedding night, amidst a happy tangle of satin sheets, John lovingly drew her into his arms and whispered, “I’m here for you.”

Years later, she listened helplessly as he groaned in unbearable, agonizing pain, untouched by the powerful drugs. Tearfully, she gently held his hand and whispered, “I’m here for you.”

She endured yet another passing. She fondly recalled how she was comforted by her own daughter, Julie, wrapping her in her arms and gently whispering, “I’m here for you.”

Then. The middle of the hot, endless summer night. Stumbling through the murky dark hallway. The silver hair at the back of her sweaty neck standing, facial muscles twitching while her brain shrieked an internal alarm. The shadowy figure stood there. Massive. Block-like. Fist clamped tight around the knife. His face split wide by a feral smile, showing twin rows of gleaming, jagged teeth.

He bent his head down toward her face, chuckling lightly with rancid breath.

“I’m here for you.”

***

 

12 courses of fear and horror! Banquet of Souls is available now at Amazon Books https://goo.gl/Cs427c

Kindle Unlimited…FREE

Kindle edition $2.99

Paperback $10.00

Why review?

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There’s been a lot of gnashing of teeth by those who regularly post reviews on Amazon as well as their own blogs. Apparently Amazon’s Terms of Service has been updated, and incentivized reviews have been targeted for particular notice. They are the big dogs in the kennel and know they can do what they want.

Amazon, “The Great and Mighty Zon”, wants to ensure a more reliable system for reviews, ostensibly to allow readers to feel more confident in the quality of a particular product. A book with a hundred five-star reviews isn’t necessarily a reliable gauge of quality since many of those reviews may be given under less-than-honest circumstances. In other words, the reviewer received the book in question for free, but holds an inherent understanding that the review may be expected to be automatically a four- or five-star review. Slight (and sometimes not-so-slight) pressure is always there for the reviewer to jack up the review rating.

Well, the damage is done. Some reviews have been stripped from some books already. I don’t have reliable figures, but I suppose we should expect that it would happen. What am I going to do? The same thing I have been doing. Asking people for reviews.

So I ask everyone out there. Please review.

Personally, I don’t mind sending out some free copies to get an honest review. Sure, heaven forbid, the review may not be stellar. But I don’t want it to be fake. I’m not looking for an ego stroke. I’m just looking to get my stories out there to as many people as possible. I expect that not everyone is going to like what I’ve written, because that would be unreasonable. People’s tastes in stories (especially horror) can be vastly different and I may not be someone’s ‘cup of tea’.

I’m looking for reviewers who are totally honest with their appraisals. It does me no good to falsify the quality, for I know it will eventually be found out. I never want to cheat a reader of a good experience. I’m willing to risk some not-so-great reviews just to ensure that the readers get the full story about anything I’ve written.

I’ve got two other early novels still out there right now. The first, Still Waters, is about a stock market portfolio manager who loses his job and retires in disgust to a cabin near a forest. He meets an ill-tempered creature. The entire story is about the relationship this man has with the unknown, and his growth because of it.

Yeah, I know. Sounds too pretentious and literary. It probably is. My descriptions were sometimes overblown and it was a bit more wordy than it should have been. That’s on me, and I know it. I really didn’t have an editor then, and my craft was still developing. If I could rewrite the story now, I probably would, but I can’t. I don’t have it in me since the story has already been told. So I’m thinking I’ll take that and the other novel, Legend of the Tiger, off the market soon. The other novel is a fantasy action-adventure about five family pets that must save the world. Neither story reflects my best work, or any real editing. But I’ll keep them available for the time being.

Neither has a single review. And they are mine. At times I look at them and wince, knowing I missed a good chance to tell a great story.

Were they failures? I know the stories were solid, but my craft was lacking, as was an editor. I knew what I wanted to do and perhaps fell short. It happens.

But here is the thing. I could have used honest reviews as guides to better my craft. Sure I want every reader to love what I’ve written. But that’s not real. And I need real reviews to be able to move forward in my skill level.

And Indie writers know that Amazon is really the only way to go for maximum exposure.

So, Deadies, if you decide to buy a book, write a review. Whether or not you like it. A few writers, like me, crave honest reviews. The more reviews, the more likely searching readers will find what they want without fear, and if more people do this, it’ll help you make decisions on future works. Amazon’s algorithms are such that once a book gets twenty to twenty-five reviews, it gets greater exposure on the site. At fifty or so, the algorithms start recommending the book.

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If you like a book, say so. It matters more than you think.