Your source for retro horror movie and book reviews

Uncategorized

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: The Strangers (2008)

oStrangers1

On one hand, I think that The Strangers typifies what can be the brightest and most brilliant executions of the horror genre. On the other, I also think that The Strangers is a perfect example of some of the worst kind of tropes that are pounded to death like so many coffin nails.

Let’s start with the positive because it’s a new year and I’m trying to focus on such things. The premise for the film is as simple as can be which, as an aside I think is actually essential for great horror. The films and books that perform the best for me are about creating a visceral experience for the reader and the characters. If you need to draw a flow chart in order to find the horror, you might not be doing it right.  Continue Reading

Advertisements

Datsue-Ba, by Chad A. Clark

datsue-ba

The last thing Lorenzo remembered was being on the boat. That his own death could have happened so quickly, and that he had taken so little note of it was astounding to him.

He was now standing in a small group of people, none of whom he recognized. They were of various ages and sizes, different ethnicities. They might have been fellow passengers from the boat, but there was no way to know for sure. They all milled around, waiting.

In the clearing ahead, there was a wide, raging river, and standing next to it was one of the oldest women he had ever seen, dressed in rotting rags of clothing and waving a large walking stick around at the crowd. One by one, members of the group would come forward to face her. He had no idea what she was saying, but she shrieked at them and gestured at a small, pathetic looking tree growing along the river’s bank. The people would then disrobe and hang their clothes from the branches. The woman scrutinized the clothing as it hung and the punishment would soon follow.

One man had held out his hands, as if in offering. She had taken hold of them and twisted as she crushed, snapping both of the wrists as well as his fingers. He screamed out in agony, clutching his hands to his chest as the woman jerked her head back, gesturing for him to cross the river. Another person was burned until their eyes were nothing but charred flesh. Still another was beaten cruelly by her walking stick until he was left huddled and quivering on the ground.

“She sits in judgment over all of us.” The man on his right had spoken, sensing Lorenzo’s confusion at the scene. “In order to cross over the Sanzu river, you must first be judged for your sins in life. She uses your clothes, examines how much the branches bend under the weight of your sin and punishes you accordingly.”

He couldn’t help but laugh at the revelation, now recalling the fiery explosion on the boat that had burned his clothes away. She would have nothing to use for him. When the woman gestured for him, he stepped forward quickly, ready to be permitted to pass over the river.

His confidence quickly slackened at the caricatured expression of joy he saw on her face as she began to cackle and leap around the riverbank, as if in celebration. He looked back at his source of information in the crowd, the man who was now avoiding eye contact and shifting uncomfortably.

“Datsue-ba says that, since you are lacking clothing, she will be happy to use your skin as a substitute.”

 

For more short fiction, check out Chad’s books : A SHADE FOR EVERY SEASON (available in paperback, eBook and audiobook) and TWO BELLS AT DAWN (available in paperback and eBook)

divider

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


Ciguapa, by Chad A. Clark

ciguapa

Hidalgo tossed the empty wine glass to the side and took the walking path, down from the plantation, along the winding bend, and up the slope that led to the mountains looming above. It was when he passed the thick grove of trees that he heard the sound of the woman singing. The rich tones floated out to him like sweet perfume and he felt like he had been tethered, drawn forward for a closer look. The woman had her back to him and at first he couldn’t tell what she was doing, but it looked like some kind of exotic, sensual yoga. He admired her body as she twisted and contorted herself into various positions, evidently oblivious to his presence.

He took another step forward and stepped on a branch, the sound filling the grove and shattering the moment, or so he thought. She turned to look back at him and in an instant, his entire universe could have been contained within those two giant, glistening eyes. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, and even as he tried to speak, he knew that his vocal cords wouldn’t be up to the test.

While she was clearly naked, she had somehow wrapped her long strands of hair around her body to give the illusion of clothing. He felt himself stepping closer, drawn in by his need, his desire for her. Her lips seemed to turn up into a smile of invitation and possibility, while the swell of her breasts made his breath start to run short. She held her arms out to him and there had never been any place that he wanted to be as badly as this. He wanted to pull her to him, sweeping aside the voluminous hair as he pressed his body against hers.

His fingers were just about to brush against that smooth skin when, in an instant, the whites of her eyes blazed and were replaced with the bright blow of unearthly rage and vengeance. The lips that had looked so soft and seductive now peeled back to reveal a row of razor sharp teeth, already stained in what looked like crusted blood.

The thing was on him in an instant, shrieking so loudly that it looked like the trees themselves trembled from the sound. The hands that had once seemed so soft, were now claws, ripping into his arms, taking flesh and tissue with them as they pulled. He screamed, knowing full well that there was no way anyone at the plantation could hear him over the din of the party.

He screamed again, regardless, as the pain pushed away all rational thought, and the darkness in the shadows around him started to swell. Taking one long, distorted look at the woman as she crouched over him, tearing into the meaty part of his thigh, all he could hope was that he would pass out before she got much further into her meal.

 

For more short fiction, check out Chad’s books : A SHADE FOR EVERY SEASON (available in paperback, eBook and audiobook) and TWO BELLS AT DAWN (available in paperback and eBook)

divider

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


Reviews In The Machine : The Company Of The Dead, by Anthony Watson

Dark FrontiersYesterday, we posted our interview with Anthony Watson, discussing his work in general as well as his novella, The Company Of The Dead. I was thrilled to hear from him that not only would there be a second volume to Dark Frontiers but that we would be seeing more from Nate and Wolf. As I reached the end of the story, my thoughts were likely what most authors hope to hear from their readers, namely, “Wait, I want more!”

I think one of the stronger aspects of the book is how effectively Watson manages to set up so much in so little time. I love Westerns that drive home the desolate landscape they are taking place on. I also felt comfortable with Nate as a character almost from the start and one of my favorite parts is actually early on when he is trapped out in the open during a sandstorm.

Foul weather is something we hardly take note of anymore but I loved the foreshadowing it lent this tale. It was impossible to not see the massive dark presence sweeping over him, off to partake in some unknown evil. I also appreciated the historical experience of a life where something as “simple” as a storm has the potential to end your life.

After stumbling across the scene of an incredible act of violence, Nate ends up in the company of Wolf, a traveling shaman who is on a quest of his own. The story takes off from here and doesn’t look back.

The atmosphere and the buildup of tension in this story is fantastic as you really get the sense that Nate and Wolf are about to face off against a powerful presence. There is also just the perfect level of graphic description to bring home the violence and danger they are inherently threatened with. I think that in order to be successful in the western genre, you really have to be able to communicate the constant hostility of the environment and I think Watson does this well.

I’m surprised that more western stories don’t veer in the direction of the supernatural as it seems like an intuitive jump to make. And in this case, it works great as Nate is slowly introdoced to a darkness under the surface in levels of existence that we can’t be aware of.

Both Wolf and Nate are great characters. They come off somewhat casually as they are introduced but as the story moves on, you see how strong and courageous they both are, warriors in their own right. And they are put to the test in this story in ways many others would have quickly turned away from. I also like that there are hints of rough backstories for both of them that I think would open doors for future stories, should the scribe choose to go in that direction.

It isn’t easy to write good and authentic fiction set during a historical period of time. It isn’t simply a matter of replacing cars with horses and have them wear hats. In the interviews for this book, both authors have referred to the importance that research plays in this genre and I think Watson has really done his work here. I took note as well of how he tries to make sure he hits a proper balance of research to story. While I refer to this as the Dan Brown effect, I also see authors who make too much of an effort to shoehorn their background work into the story and some scenes start to feel like sitting through a lecture at University. With Company Of The Dead, Watson perfectly threads the needle, using his research in ways to make the story feel authentic, as opposed to show off how much he knows about the time period.

In all, this was a fantastic novella. It was an incredibly fun book that I read several times for the purposes of doing these reviews. I am eagerly looking forward to volume two of Dark Frontiers as well as future material from both of these authors, whether it be of their own or in future collaborations.

Pick up your copy of Dark Frontiers today! Follow the links for Amazon US as well as Amazon UK!

 

divider

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


Interviews In The Machine : Anthony Watson

Dark FrontiersStarting last week, we have been doing a feature on Dark Frontiers, a pair of novellas bridging the worlds of horror and westerns. We started with an interview with Benedict Jones as well as a review of his contribution to the book.

This week, we shift our focus to the other half of this team, Anthony Watson. Many will be familiar with Anthony from his work with Dark Minds Press but he has earned acclaim on his own as an author as well. Take a look as I sat down with Anthony to get at his process and craft as a writer. And make sure you tune in tomorrow for my review of his novella, The Company Of The Dead.

 

MM : First of all, thank you for taking time to answer some questions for us. Why don’t we start with a little about you and what led you to the craft of writing?

AW : No problem! And thank you for asking – and showing such an interest in Dark Frontiers.

By day (well, four days a week) I work in a pathology laboratory and spend most of my time looking down a microscope at cells to work out if people have cancer or are at risk of developing it. Home is the beautiful Northumbrian coast where I live with my wife Judith and our two dogs, an environment and landscape which can’t fail to inspire.

As to where the desire to write originated I’m not entirely sure but I do remember enjoying my English language classes at school before heading down the scientific path for my higher qualifications. Reading and films were – and remain – my main source of entertainment so I guess all that input has led to stimulating my imagination to such an extent that I have to let some of it out.

Without sounding too pretentious, (I hope), writing is something I need to do – just to get all the stuff out of my head. It’s my only real creative talent – I can’t draw and although I play the guitar the urge – or ability – to compose my own music just isn’t there. That said, I really enjoy the process of writing and it’s something I’ll continue to do irrespective of sales or success.

MM : What do you consider to be your genre and what do you feel draws you to it?

AW : Definitely horror. I write it because that’s what I’ve read the most of in the course of my life – which begs the question as to why I read horror. Again, it’s not something I really know the answer to but for whatever reason, horror seems to resonate with me. Reading for me is entertainment, an escape if you will and I think that’s what all genre fiction provides, creating worlds which are far-removed from the humdrum of everyday life. Science fiction and fantasy provide the same kind of escape but I don’t get the same enjoyment from those genres as I do from horror. Quite what that says about me I’m not sure…

MM : You have a novel coming soon, Witnesses, to be put out by Crowded Quarantine Publications. Is there anything you’d like to share about that?

AW : Witnesses takes as its starting point the Book of Revelations in the bible – but don’t let that put you off – in particular the prophesies around the end of the world and the final battle of Armageddon. It’s made up of four narrative strands which are set in different locations and times; World War One Belgium; Virginia, USA in the 1940s; Penang, Malaysia in the 1970s; and present day North East England. The four storylines run parallel with each other and the narrative of the novel is fractured, moving back and forth between them as it progresses.

It’s maybe a risky approach but hopefully won’t be too confusing – the four strands are actually linked and the idea is that revelations in one strand will progress another of the narratives, and so on and so forth, unlocking the mystery of the novel piece by piece.

That’s the plan anyway.

I’m very excited about the release of Witnesses, and still can’t quite believe that I’m having a novel published. It is, to coin the cliché, a dream come true and I’m deeply appreciative of Adam and Zoe at CQP for showing faith in my book. I loved writing it and I hope readers enjoy it and can lose themselves in the world(s) I’ve created.

MM : You have had a fair amount of time performing the publisher role of things. How do you feel this has affected your process as a writer?

AW : In practical terms it curtailed the amount of time I had available to write. As you know yourself, the time it takes to get a book ready for publication is huge – most of that time being taken up by the formatting process which tends to be nothing less than frustrating and which brings out the worst features of the operating systems you’re trying to get to communicate with each other and, certainly in my experience, the person doing the formatting too.

That said, I’m immensely proud of all the books myself and Ross put out through Dark Minds Press and it was a real pleasure working with all the authors and artists to produce what will hopefully be recognised as a high quality range of books.

I enjoyed the editing process – it’s something which is much easier when you’re looking at someone else’s work but I think I’ve tried to transfer what I’ve learned through those experiences to my own writing.

I made the decision last year to leave Dark Minds simply because I no longer have the time to dedicate to it. The risk was that if I continued my loss of enthusiasm would lead to a substandard service for the authors we were working with. My experiences with Dark Minds have definitely increased my admiration for all the other small presses out there who are still producing great books.

MM : Turning to Dark Frontiers, what can you tell us about The Company of the Dead? How did this story come about?

AW : The Company of the Dead is a horror western novella and features the characters of Nate Lee, an ex-Confederate artilleryman who has decided to travel the country after the end of the Civil War who meets a Cherokee shaman, Wolf, on his travels. The pair find themselves caught up in a tale of revenge, with a shaman from a massacred tribe unleashing a company of zombie Union cavalrymen.

I’ve always been a fan of westerns, a huge part of my childhood was spent watching films and TV programmes set in the wild west and that love of the genre has carried through to the present. I love reading them too but had always felt nervous of trying one of my own, unsure as to whether or not I could pull it off.

It was while I was working on Ben’s collection Ride the Dark Country that I decided I’d have a go. His weird westerns inspired me to put pen to paper and, I have to say, it was one of the most enjoyable writing experiences I’ve ever had. The words really did fly out and I rattled the novella off in record time (for me anyway).

The opening scene of the novella is based on the real events of Sand Creek in 1864 where the US army attacked and massacred a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho – mainly women and children. Those events formed the basis of the film Soldier Blue and I can still remember being intrigued by the film when it was released, scrutinising the posters and stills in the cinema and being frustrated that I was too young to go and see it. Later, it provided inspiration for a scene in Centennial, the TV series based on James A Michener’s novel (which I subsequently read twice) and it made a huge impact on me. I guess I’d been waiting all these years to write my own version.

MM : Personally, I think that horror and westerns make for great companions. There’s great potential for stories about isolation and of the unknown. Why do you think we don’t see more of it?

AW : I agree! America is still full of wide, open spaces but that was even more so the case back in the 1800s – the perfect landscape in which to hide all manners of horrors.

I’m really not sure why the weird western is still a relatively small sub-genre as there are some outstanding examples of it out there. Joe Lansdale has written some incredible horror westerns (and some incredible “straight” westerns too) and Willie Meikle has knocked a few out of the park too. It’s fair to say that some fans are a bit, well, protective of their chosen genre and maybe it’s the case that they don’t want it sullied by cross-pollination with others. It may be the worry that the stories will be neither one thing or the other, that the individual genre elements are diluted in the mix but personally I hold to the opposite view, that some kind of synergy occurs and the end result is greater than the sum of its parts.

MM : How do you go about preparing a story set in a historical time period? Is there anything you try to do or avoid in creating a story and characters that feel authentic but are also accessible for a modern audience?

AW : Lots of research. Which isn’t a problem because I love doing it and finding out more about the time period I’m setting the story in. There’s the risk, of course, of shoe-horning facts into the story and turning it into a history lesson (or doing a “Simmons” as I call it) and I’ve had to rein myself in more than once.

It’s important to get the details right though and I try to be as accurate as I possibly can be. I probably stress a little too much about getting things right – as Ben will testify given it’s usually him I’ll contact to check stuff.

I probably stress less over characters and stories given that I’ve found that really, very little has changed in terms of human behaviour over the centuries. Contemporary events usually echo those that have happened in the past so describing a massacre, a battle, a murder – whatever – from the past will resonate with modern readers.

It would be great if mankind learned from the past but unfortunately that seems to be a step too far.

MM : Is there going to be a volume two?

AW : Yes. We’ve just finished edits on A Lonely Place to Die which we wrote together. It’s a direct follow-up to The Company of the Dead and once again features Nate and Wolf, this time journeying across the High Sierras to California. En route, they meet up with the mountain man Tomahawk Val who is a character Ben has used in a number of his weird western shorts and together face a deadly, supernatural foe.

MM : What does the future bring for Anthony Watson?

AW : Long life and happiness hopefully. And hopefully a good reception for Witnesses.

With regards writing I’ve begun work on a second novel which will be another historical piece set in two time periods, 16th Century Russia and 1942, the latter action taking place in an Arctic convoy.

More immediately, I’ve been working with Ben again, creating a fictional special operations group from the Second World War called DAMOCLES whose role is to combat the occult machinations of the Nazis.

We’ve done most of the groundwork already, sorting out characters and the various missions we’ll be sending them on. What we’ll end up with is a collection of linked stories, one for each year of the war, with a grand finale novella set in 1945.

I’ll still write short stories and sub them for publication. A dream would be to have a collection published – with 36 stories under my belt so far there are certainly plenty to choose from!


Reviews In The Machine : Dark Frontiers, part one of two

Dark FrontiersI love westerns. I love horror. And frankly, when those two things manage to come together I think great things can happen. Look at the landscape of a great western story. You have a barren and hostile terrain, where death lurks around every corner. You have people struggling to survive in a world they don’t completely understand. It’s about striking out, exploring and breaking out onto new ground.

With those parameters in mind, it’s easy to see how naturally the horror genre fits in alongside it. All the elements needed for great horror come gift wrapped in the western genre so all that’s required is a great author to pull it off.

Cue Benedict Jones, please.

Mulligan’s Idol is the first of two novellas found in the book Dark Frontiers. It tells the story of Pedro Mulligan, a man who is drawn into a mysterious expedition due to his unique knowledge of the area in question. The journey will take them through hostile territory, into even more dangerous areas and for reasons that Mulligan is only barely aware of at first.

What I thought came through the strongest in this was the strength of the characters. Mulligan himself is a great protagonist but the supporting cast around him is fantastic as well. Pretty much every major character proves to have much more depth and texture than they seem to have at first and this only serves to enhance the power of the story. You could certainly make the argument that on some level, the characters in this are fairly representative of certain archetypes. I, however, have always been of the opinion that pretty much everything can be argued as being derivative or archetypal, it just becomes a convenient weapon when people want to criticize a thing. It’s more important to actually look at those specific elements and see how they are being used.

This story is exciting. It’s also bleak and brutal. There’s despair and fear and complexity here and that is what lifts the book up above any superficial complaints that might be levied against it. Ingredients in and of themselves may have the potential to be bland but when they are put into the proper hands, the execution makes everything sing.

The novella length of this story is also perfect for me. I don’t know if it’s my essential existential angst driving my reading preferences now but I just don’t have the patience for long books that I once had. Mulligan’s Idol is just right. Establish the premise and get to the point. Speaking as an writer myself, I find brevity to be a valuable trait and goal in story telling. In a world that’s overfilled with distractions, I don’t want to have to ask you for too much of your attention, just enough.

I found the title of the story to be kind of fascinating and I have no idea if this was by design or if it was coincidental. I don’t know how extensively this is used in the U.K. but in the states, a “mulligan” is basically a do-over. You’re playing golf and you shank it into the trees? Declare a mulligan and take another shot.

The reason I find this intriguing in this context is that (in the story) I often felt like there were undercurrents of redemption or second chances or getting what you think you are deserved. I felt this with a number of the characters so I found myself frequently coming back to the title and wondering if maybe there was a hidden message intended there.

I said at the start that I love westerns, although most of what I have ingested has been on film. And I say this, fully cognizant of how western stories are often guilty of distorting somewhat what life really was like then. It’s hard to be so far separated by time and distance and to tell a story that is historically accurate and an entertaining read. But frankly, I think that if an accurate understanding of humanity during a specific time period is your goal, there are far more academically inclined texts which are there for the reading. I have never taken novels or film to be historical documents but I also thought Jones did a good job putting in the extra time and effort to give this book a feeling of authenticity. Historical fiction is something I could never do, as I lack the patience and will power you really need in order to get that work done. So just add that to the list of reasons I have to show the love and respect for this book.

The point of all this is basic and simple. The pursuit of treasure and riches may be foolhardy. But there is plenty to be found within the confines of this story. And the best part is that with as good as this is, it only represents half of the book it appeared in.

A do-over on this one will not be necessary for Benedict Jones.

divider

If you’re already sold on the experience that is Dark Frontiers, follow the links for either US or UK and pick up a copy today. Otherwise, tune in next week as we shine the spotlight on Anthony Watson as well as his contribution to this book.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


Interviews In The Machine : Benedict Jones

Dark FrontiersAt Machine Mean for the next two weeks, we will be conducting a discussion of the book, Dark Frontiers, volume one. This book is a pair of novellas, brought to you by authors, Benedict Jones and Anthony Watson. Both are Westerns put through a heavily horror-influenced filter.

This week, we will be focusing on the first of the two stories, titled Mulligan’s Idol. Today, we will be shining a spotlight on author Benedict Jones and tomorrow we will offer up our review of the book itself. Next week, the focus will shift over to Anthony Watson.

My introduction to Benedict Jones came in the form of his novella, Slaughter Beach. I think he has a great style and a knack for visual description and narrative pacing. Take a load off and check it out as a great artist breaks down his own craft!

divider

MACHINE MEAN : First of all, thank you for taking time to answer some questions for us. Why don’t we start with a little about you and what led you to this craft of writing?

Benedict Jones : Well, I’m Benedict J Jones and I’m a thirty seven year old writer from south east London. I’ve been getting published for about a decade now and mainly write in the genres f horror, crime and the western.

I think it was creating worlds that drew me into writing. That was something I had always Ben 4done since I was small – creating stories and the worlds in which they occur. I’d always been a voracious reader and I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember, although I didn’t really get serious about them till a bit more recently.

MM : Who are some of your main influences?

B: My influences are quite broad and seem to change and expand constantly.

For my horror stuff I’d have to cite Barker, King, Lovecraft, and Poe as well as authors like Adam Nevill who is producing some amazing stuff, Gary McMahon, Mike Mignola, and a tonne of others.

Crime; Chester Himes, Phillip Kerr, George Pelecanos, Donald Ray Pollack, Frank Bill, Ray Banks and Ken Bruen.

In regards to westerns I’m a big fan of Larry McMurtry, Cormac McCarthy and Elmore Leonard.

As well as that I read a lot of history books, plays and non-genre stuff.

MM : This is not your only foray into Westerns. Tell us a little about your other works.

B : I’ve been working on various horror-westerns, and a few “straight” ones, for the last few years. I had some early ones published on The Western Online and by The Big Adios (before it closed). Dark Minds Press collected ten of the horror westerns in my collection “Ride the Dark Country”.

I have a couple of recurring characters who appear in some of the westerns. There’s “Tomahawk Val”, a mountain man/trapper in the “Jeremiah Johnson” vein, who has appeared in a few shorts (“King of the Hill” and “A Merry Christmas in Hell”), and Gatlin aka The Exile who is an ex-Confederate soldier wandering around in Mexico and getting involved in strangeness (“The Arroyo of the Worm” and “The Brides of El Somberon”). I like the idea of these characters being on a kind of occult odyssey through the old west.

The collection itself was a nice canvas for some of the stuff that was already published as well as a raft of newer, unpublished, stories. There’s giant worms and mad monks, demons, cursed meteorites, the Wendigo, wolf-men, secret cults, blazing six-guns and sturdy pioneers.

MM : Personally, I think that horror and westerns make for great companions. There’s great potential for stories about isolation and of the unknown. Why do you think we don’t see more of it?

B : I’d agree with that very much. There is quite a bit out there both in book and film but the problem is finding the good stuff! I think one of the problems with it is genre labelling – whether people want to call it weird-westerns, steampunk, horror or western can mean that it can be difficult to find exactly what it is you like. For a long time I tended to categorise mine as “weird-westerns” but I’ve dropped that now and just describe them as horror stories set in the Old West.

I think that the genres merge really well – like you said, the isolation is there already and it isn’t a huge leap to add horror to that, whether of the supernatural or more natural variety.

MM : Tell us about Charlie Bars.

B : Charlie Bars is three time ex-con from south east London who has ended up working as a private investigator. The stories run through an absolute range being on the whole hardboiled neo-noir but several of them have occult undertones. He’s a violent man but does operate to his own “code” in terms of right and wrong. There’s rarely a happy or even neat ending to the stories.

Charlie first appeared in a short story called “Real Estate” in, the now defunct, Out of the Gutter magazine. From there I wrote a novella which ended up being called “Skewered” and formed the foundation for a collection released by Crime Wave press (“Skewered and Other London Cruelties”) and that was followed up by the novels “Pennies for Charon” and “The Devil’s Brew” along with a further handful of short stories.

He’s a character that allows me to explore a lot of different things and while the stories do tend to be crime I can slip in a smattering of “otherness” when the fancy takes me.

MM : Turning to Dark Frontiers, what can you tell us about Mulligan’s Idol? How did this story come about?

B : “Mulligan’s Idol” is set in the New Mexico Badlands at the outbreak of the American civil war. It is the story of a washed-up surveyor named Pedro Mulligan who is coerced by a gang of mercenaries to take them to a section of desert he surveyed a decade earlier. They are looking for the town of “Worship” and an ancient treasure they believe lies there.

Strangely, it started with the end… A whole portion of the end sequence, along with Mulligan, came to me fully formed one day while I was sitting at work. I scribbled down some notes and over the months after added to it until I had a vague story that I was happy with. Oddly, for me anyway, a lot of the characters in it had direct comparisons from the screen; Mulligan was always meant to be Mitchum, Baron is John Saxon, Frog – Dennis Hopper… It’s one of the few stories that I have written that has been like that, seeing the characters as actors rather than just how they appear in my head.

MM : How do you go about preparing a story set in a historical time period? Is there anything you try to do or avoid in creating a story and characters that feel authentic but are also accessible for a modern audience?

B : Well, I always want it to be as accurate as I can make it (even if there are demonic cults and creatures of the night…). I think research is key, really knowing the era that you are writing about and being able to slip in little details. I’ve always thought that the author should know a lot about the “world” they are writing in but that the reader doesn’t need to know all that. The small details you can add help to build the world and you don’t need big “info-dumps” to explain it to the reader.

Language can be hard – especially the dialogue – as you want to catch the way people spoke at the time but I think too much can be off putting. I’ve recently been playing with doing some Elizabethan horror and it’s really interesting to try and work out how to present the language. I read Anthony Burgess’s “A Dead Man in Deptford” and that is written very much in the language of the time, I loved it but not sure I could replicate it and then just after that I read Bernard Cornwell’s “Of Fools and Mortals” which employs dialogue of the time but the rest written in a more “modern” style. It’s really interesting to compare and contrast the different styles in which we can bring the worlds of the past to life.

MM : Do you see yourself returning to this story?

B : I’ll certainly be writing stories in the same milieu but whether the idol or any of the characters will return I couldn’t say for certain. You never know I may bring the idol into the modern world!

MM : What does the future bring for Benedict Jones?

B : 2018 will hopefully see the publication of the third Charlie Bars novel as well as a WW2-horror novella that I’m really excited about (but can’t say much more on that at present).

As well as that, Anthony Watson and I are hoping to get “Dark Frontiers volume 2” finished and there’s a bigger project that we are working on – historical horror again but I won’t say more than that at the moment.

I also have a few short stories already slated for publication with a few different publishers.

Lots of things on the go but I’d rather be busy than have nothing happening!

 

Thanks again to Benedict Jones for giving us some of his time! Make sure you check out our review of his half of this book as well as next week, when we dive into the mind and art of Anthony Watson. In the meantime, click here to see more of Benedict Jones.


Baykok, by Chad A. Clark

Baykok

Shaw looked up from the fire and the smells of his cooking dinner towards the sound coming from the tree line. It could have been a deer stepping on dead branches, but from the echo, it had sounded like bones popping. He shook his head and went back to tending the fire. The shitty job back in Detroit was supposed to be the source of his stress, not this place. His hunting and camping trips up here to the upper peninsula were supposed to be the remedy. Still, he had been uneasy these last few nights, some instinct in the back of his mind feeling restless, telling him that somehow he was becoming the hunted.

His head shot up at the new sound that erupted, this time that of footsteps marching out from the trees and he jumped up at the sight.

“What the Christ?” he yelled as he stood, nearly tripping over the log he had been sitting on and began looking around for his rifle.

From the light of the fire, he could see the thing striding towards him. It looked like one of the model skeletons from high school science rooms, but with ragged strips of sinewy flesh hanging off of it, eyes blazing with a red light that hurt to look at.

Shaw had his hands around the stock of the gun, but the thing had already produced a bow and drew it back. He could see no arrow notched, but when the bowstring snapped, he felt the burning impact in his shoulder and was thrown to the ground. Burning that started in his shoulder, spread to the rest of his body, and in a blink of a moment, he was lying on his back, completely immobilized. He tried to move, to struggle and get away, but no part of his body responded to the commands.

He was being thrown down next to the fire, on his back. He could see everything around him and feel what was happening, but was lost inside himself, unable to articulate anything, even in his mind. He saw the animate corpse produce a long, silver dagger, and in a moment of unadulterated pain, the thing stabbed and sliced down his midsection. As his consciousness dwindled, he was ushered off by the moist sounds of something off in the dark chewing, food being sloppily and greedily consumed.

* * *

It had been campers who brought the man in. He had come stumbling out of the woods, delirious and raving about a skeleton attacking him, and while he was clearly sick, barely able to stand under his own power, the doctors could not figure out what was wrong. John Doe lingered under intensive care for several hours while they conducted tests and ran out their best guesses but, in the end, they were unable to save him.

It wasn’t until during the autopsy that they finally found the large rock that had been placed inside of him, precisely where his liver should have been.

For more short fiction, check out Chad’s books : A SHADE FOR EVERY SEASON (available in paperback, eBook and audiobook) and TWO BELLS AT DAWN (available in paperback and eBook)

 

divider

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


Ala, by Chad A. Clark

ala

The ship was bathed in blood.

At least, that was what it looked like, from across the twenty feet that separated the two vessels as they passed each other. Gavin leaned over the side rail and tried to get the attention of the one person on the other ship that he could see. The man was crouched down on his knees on the deck, rocking back and forth, screaming incomprehensibly.

“Eli, what the hell is he saying?”

Eli was staring at the man, mouthing the words silently as if he was trying to figure that out himself. He shook his head as he answered. “Something about a snake. A snake with wings in…in the clouds?”

Gavin looked back at the plume of cloud cover that swooped down across the water towards them. The sight of the sudden, impenetrable clouds was unsettling enough, but add to that the image of the vessel coming forth from those clouds transporting such human carnage.

“Maybe we should turn—”

“Too late.”

Gavin looked back at Eli and saw the man now standing completely erect, his arms hanging limply at his sides, staring up at the sky with his mouth hanging open.

“Eli? What’s wrong?”

His friend dropped his head back down to look at Gavin, who took an immediate step back. Eli’s eyes had glazed over and all he could see was the whites, with bright lines of veins cutting across the surface.

“I shall have you now.” Eli’s voice had taken on a modulated tone, sounding almost female to him. Gavin turned back towards the bow and saw the clouds rushing in to overtake them. In an instant, they were engulfed in swirling, gray smoke. A black shape passed overhead, so close that a hot breeze trailing behind knocked them off their feet.

The boat floated through smoke, endlessly, until finally it broke through into what must have been the center of the cloud, a patch of raging sea underneath a bubble of otherwise clear sky. Thunder crashed from the cloud and flashes of static electricity rippled from within as well. Gavin heard a sound and looked up, slack jawed as the dark shape flew out from the cloud cover and could be seen clearly for the first time.

“Snake? That’s a God dammed dragon.”

The inconceivable sight of the winged beast bearing down on them caused some of the men to jump overboard, screaming frantically. One by one, the demon plucked them out of the water, showering the boat with blood as it bit down on its victims.

“Too late for you to turn back now.” The voice of whatever was possessing Eli spoke one more time before his head was twisted violently, by the unseen force that had taken hold. Gavin could hear the bones cracking from where he was standing, and watched as the body of his best friend fell limply to the deck.

He looked around him as his crew started to be taken from the ship and the blood began to rain down in heavier torrents. He heard the shrieking cries and looked up into the visage of hunger and desire on the face of the thing as it swooped down on him, flesh torn, and pain, followed not quickly enough by eternal night.

For more short fiction, check out Chad’s books : A SHADE FOR EVERY SEASON (available in paperback, eBook and audiobook) and TWO BELLS AT DAWN (available in paperback and eBook)

divider

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


A Shade For Every Season, A Short Fiction

a shade for every season

The end began with the fight.

She had screamed at him so loudly that he had actually thought one of her pupils were going to pop. The vase she had been so happy to buy, now became the missile hurled at him to shatter against the china cabinet. He had left the house wondering if he even truly wanted to come back.

The fight consumed every thought as he sat behind the wheel, driving but not really seeing. He looked down at the passenger seat for a moment when the sound of brakes and horns snapped him back to attention, and as he jerked the wheel, his fleeting thoughts were of how the median looked. It stretched away from him as if being pulled by a rubber band and the world around him slowed to a near-halt. He looked around, wondering if the car was spinning or if it was just him. His stomach felt like it was turning upside down as he felt a dull impact to the back of his head and the world blinked away.

He looked around and instead of the car, found himself suspended amidst a swirling mass of gray clouds. They roiled around in all directions, occasional flashes of light so brilliant as to leave harsh after images in his eyes. He felt the tremor of a massive explosion and pulled away instinctively.

In the blink of an eye he was standing in a long hallway. There was a dull illumination about everything, everywhere he looked but he could not detect any actual source of the light. The hallway seemed to stretch out away from him into infinity, with occasional doors marking either side.

He was still taking in the surroundings, trying to understand how he had come to this place when he noticed the child standing next to him. The face looked so familiar as he looked down at it. As he scrambled for a mental foothold, the child gazed up at him as if waiting for the answer to an unspoken question. He couldn’t understand why he felt so familiar until the realization flooded in.

The child was him.

The child-version of himself reached up and held out his hand, waiting patiently. It was impossible to accept what he was looking at but there were so many pictures lying around their parents’ house, it would be hard not to recognize his own face, even at such a young age. It was him in every way, greeting himself as a seven year old guide waiting to take him…where exactly? Jacob reached out and took the tiny hand in his and together, the two began walking down the hall. To their left and right, the doorways began to open and his child companion stopped at each, clearly expecting him to look within.

In one room, he saw himself as a teenager, hunting for the first time with his uncle. He was reaching down to lift a baby rabbit up out of a nest, looking around to see if anyone was watching before taking hold and twisting the head until the neck broke. The next room contained the college version of himself, in bed with the waitress from the restaurant he had met during his part time job. She sat atop him, already taking him into her as she was removing her bra, moving onto him as she took his hands to place them onto her breasts. In another room he saw himself at the age of ten, at his grandfather’s funeral. The scenes jumped back and forth, displaying moments that he remembered vividly and yet had given almost no thought to since.

The tiny hand that was once his own gripped him suddenly and he saw that they had reached the end of the hallway. Jacob looked down into his own face and watched as the child that once was him slowly began to dissipate, vanish away from reality. He looked up, now standing at the base of a staircase leading into darkness. The world felt like it was wobbling around him as he took one unsteady step forward. The stairs were solid underneath him so he followed that first step with a second, and then a third.

The room he stepped up into was an empty hospital room. There were no windows or doors, just equipment unused inside a sterile operating theater. He turned to look over his shoulder and saw that the stairs were now gone. When he turned back he saw that a patient was now strapped down to the exam table, which was tilted up to an almost entirely upright position. Even with all of the blood and damage to the patient’s face, he could still recognize what he was looking at.

The patient on the bed was him, like looking into a distorted reflection. This version of himself on the bed looked like he had been badly beaten, with bruises, cuts and lacerations all over his body. Immediately, his body began to sear with pain and the details of the car accident began to come back to him. Fresh wounds appeared on the injured version of himself, cuts opened up on the arms and face, causing blood to start flowing freely. He remembered the shattering glass, the sensation of being thrown forward. This was what he must look like, a three dimensional mirror on the table. As he stepped forward for a closer look, his mangled self opened his eyes and spoke to him softly.

“What you were is gone forever. What you will be is never known and what you are is not long for this world.”

Jacob shook his head, “I don’t understand what you mean.” He tried to ask for more but the injured version of himself had already drifted into a state of unawareness, looking blankly off into the open space of the room. A repetitive beeping had started to fill his head, starting slowly and now reaching a manically frantic pace. He felt sweat beading up on his forehead and looked around the room, not understanding where he was or what was happening. If these shades of himself were supposed to be functioning as guides of a sort, they had yet to explain to him what he was doing in this place or where they were taking him.

There was a deep vibration that he felt, not from the walls or the floor, but from within himself. He looked up and saw that the hospital bed was now gone, replaced by a simple wooden ladder, going up towards a ceiling that had now become, impossibly, hundreds of yards away. He took hold of the rungs and began to climb, white knuckling as he was buffeted by increasingly powerful blasts of hot wind. The ladder swayed from side to side, and the muscles in his legs were twitching, either from fear or fatigue.

The ground below him had long since vanished into a swirl of dense fog when his head ran up against something solid. He looked up but found that he was still staring up into open space with no sign of whatever barrier he had just encountered. His hand shook badly as he reached out and could definitely feel the solid surface. It gave slightly as he applied pressure, making him think about trap doors leading up into attics and crawl spaces. He pushed upwards and first heard a skree that could have been the sound of rusty hinges followed by the heavy sound of a door falling open. Where blue sky had once been above him, there was now a portal leading into darkness amongst the clouds. Jacob climbed up and pulled himself through.

The ladder dissolved from under his grip and out of instinct, he grabbed futilely at thin air and screamed even after his brain had registered that he was standing on solid ground. He was on the roof of a building of skyscraper height, looking out into gray horizons. An old man stood by the ledge, gesturing for him to come over. Jacob couldn’t help but scrutinize him as he approached. Could this also be him? A version of himself that was yet to come?

The man gestured towards a coin operated set of binoculars mounted into the stone ledge and handed Jacob a brilliantly gilded golden token. Jacob inserted the coin and peered through the eye holes.

The world was engulfed in flames.

Everywhere he looked, all there was to see were towering plumes of smoke and flame, waves of heat he could feel even from such a great distance. He pulled back and looked at the geriatric reflection of himself but the only response he got was a shrug and a turn of the head, to gaze off into the horizon.

“I don’t understand!” Jacob yelled again. His older self pointed at the binoculars and handed him another coin. He looked again but this time saw an expanse of the most beautiful valley he had ever laid eyes on, grass so green and waters so blue that it almost hurt to look upon them. He could see fish in the lake, birds in the trees, deer in the field.

Then, like a photo negative exposed to heat, the image in front of him started to curl in from the edges, blistered and begin to burn until again he was looking out upon a maelstrom of fire.

Three versions of himself he had seen. His past, his present and this. “Is that supposed to be my future?” Jacob asked, “Is that what you’ve been showing me? Some kind of a warning?”

He looked up, and now saw all three versions of himself staring back; the child, the accident victim and the senior citizen. As they stared him down, their hands came up slowly to take hold of each other and in one last flash of blinding light he was suddenly looking at a perfect mirror image of himself.

Again, the sound of hospital monitors filled his head. He could also hear the sound of distant chatter, like doctors and nurses in an operating room. In that moment, the only thing he cared about was getting back into the life he did not realize until now, how much he wanted. He could never return to the past, his expectations of what his life should have been and his fears of what was yet to come. He needed to leave it all behind so that he could truly live his life within each moment.

He looked down from the rooftop, thinking idly that it sometimes took rising up above things to be able to look down and take perspective.

He stepped up onto the ledge in a sudden moment of inspiration and looked down into the billowing storm clouds below. Jacob stepped off the edge.

Hot screaming air rushed past him as he fell, headfirst into a swirling mass where no light entered. Then, after an eternity of a moment he found himself rushing down into a luminescent ocean of stars and light that grew only brighter.

His eyes snapped open in time for him to jerk the steering wheel and apply the brakes. He pulled to the left and was able to get the car stopped as the truck barreled past him, nearly clipping him in the process. A few more seconds and he would have planted the front end of his car into that median.

Jacob shook his head and looked into the rear view mirror, scanning traffic for an opening and smiling ever so slightly, either from the elation of still being alive or from the ever elusive understanding of what really was important to him in the one life he had been lucky enough to be blessed with. He resumed his path, spirit renewed in the foundry of second chances.

 

divider

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page