Every Creepy Illustration Featured in ‘Corpse Cold: New American Folklore’

Art, books

Chad Wehrle‘s macabre, black-and-white illustrations truly bring the stories in our anthology Corpse Cold: New American Folklore to life. Here’s a look at all of the major pieces found in Corpse Cold, including front matter and other incidental art, in the order they appear.

Cover

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Content section

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Story section

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“Switches”

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“Black Dog”

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“Czarny Lud”

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“Corpse Cold”

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“Amityville Beach”

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“A Morning Fog”

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“Friendship: Dead and Buried”

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“Autoplay ‘On'”

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“The Big ‘M'”

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“Dracula’s Bride”

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“Moss Lake Island”

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“It That Decays”

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“Two Visions, 1984”

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“Woman on the Campus Green”

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“The Blue Hole”

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“Jesup”

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“Model Citizens”

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“Last Train Home”

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“A Casket for My Mother”

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“Echo’s Reflection”

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Notes section

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Order your copy of Corpse Cold through Amazon. 

Preview: A Strange Love & Relationship-Themed Paranormal Anthology from Cemetery Gates Media

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In February 2018, we (Brhel & Sullivan) will release a book of ten short stories entitled Her Mourning Portrait and Other Paranormal Oddities. With this collection, we aim to present the difficulties of sustaining flesh-and-blood relationships through a novel lens — through the weird and uncanny.

Paranormal themes and plot elements help us explore interpersonal relationships in unique, often amusing, ways; but at their core, these tales are not about ghosts or strange premonitions — they’re about flawed, everyday individuals navigating the complexities of dating, marriage, and loss. If anything, the strange situations that our characters encounter only parallel the seemingly arbitrary, uncertain nature of real-life love and companionship. And while you may not ever communicate with a dead lover or have a preternatural insight into a different time or place, you can likely relate to the tragedy, the euphoria, the insanity that the act of loving often entails.

The stories can be considered romances in the broadest sense. Each tale is built around a central character’s quest for a more secure, fully actualized, and loving intimacy. However, most of the stories would not properly fit within the expectations of the already established, paranormal romance subgenre.

With books like Tales from Valleyview Cemetery and Corpse Cold: New American Folklore our goal was to entertain readers with spook stories, featuring uncomfortable plot elements that approach real-life horrors. And in Carol for a Haunted Man we portrayed a helpful, Dickensian apparition, and a mortal protagonist who was struggling to rebuild his personal and professional lives. While this collection is a mix of both thematic styles, we hope to satisfy readers who’ve enjoyed our campfire oddities, as well as those who’ve preferred our more literary moments.

TFVV cover    cemeterygatesone_final_cover .   haunted-man-cover

Some of the highlights from the new collection include:

  • “Her Mourning Portrait” is the story of an artist who immortalizes his dying wife, and then must face the consequences of aging without her.
  • “Side by Side” is a quirky cemetery tale about a confrontation between a long-deceased man and his widow’s second husband, regarding the final resting place of their beloved-in-common.
  • “Lady of Cayuga Lake” recounts the last hurrah of a separating husband and wife, a final vacation which takes a turn toward the paranormal when they both spy a ghost over the lake. Will they have what it takes to work together, confide in each other, and solve the mysterious disappearance of Mary Gold?
  • “The Lost Cache” tells of the strain an obsessive hobby can have on a marriage. Hillary appears to give Eric every chance to engage her, and work his way back toward an intimate companionship, even going so far as to plan out a special evening of hiking and geocaching in an old cemetery with her husband.
  • “Play It Again, Sam” is a science fiction story regarding the discovery of a technology that can influence recorded memories. Sam is an engineer hoping to alter his ex-wife’s perception of their seminal, shared moments together, enough that she has a more positive view of him in the present.
  • “Her, He, and a Corpse Makes Three” focuses on a love triangle between a living couple who work in a funeral home, and the woman’s recently deceased, yet spiritually returned ex-boyfriend.

Ben Baldwin is once again responsible for the cover art. Ben previously designed the cover for our episodic novel, Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop.

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The following is a complete short story from Her Mourning Portrait and Other Paranormal Oddities, entitled “Beyond a Blood Moon.” It is a brief homage to the chillers of Guy de Maupassant and Edgar A. Poe.

“Beyond a Blood Moon”

I was awakened one night in bed, likely due to the absence of my fiancée; I can only assume that it was this silence past midnight, which a light sleeper can’t help but notice once they’ve become attuned to the constancy of their nightly bedroom environment. And this absence was likely what my unconscious found unsettling enough to stir me. Sara’s breathing was often measured, hypnotic, a comforting rhythm to my night. Her respiration was often the last thing I took hold of in my twilight mind before plunging into the great unknown, and then my first lifeline back to cognizance each morning. But when I stirred that night, due to the silence, and reached for her—I couldn’t help but convulse, considering a multitude of fears and possibilities.

I left the bedroom and wandered our home. Her sneakers were gone. She enjoyed jogging late, and I hated that she had no fear of the night. As I dressed and put on my shoes, I considered whether I was the reason for her jogging now; that she wouldn’t want to worry me if I were still awake, while she took the path around the block and through the cemetery. So, since there was no way I was going to fall back to sleep without seeing her safely home, I headed out into the night.

There were intermittent clouds, but the moon was full and bright, illuminating the areas where the amber-yellow street lamps fell short. As I turned from the sidewalk and into Valleyview Cemetery, I noticed the beginnings of a lunar eclipse. I hadn’t seen one since childhood, and stood in awe as the Earth’s shadow consumed the reddening lunar surface. At the time, I considered how strange and seemingly unimportant such a spectacular astronomical event had been to me. It had been over twenty years since I’d stood in my parents’ front yard and last waited for the moon to vanish.

I rarely consumed local media, but there had to have been some mention of it in the newspaper that morning. To think that ancient societies would plan for months, and even years, in advance, to celebrate a full lunar eclipse—and here I was, casually catching one as I searched for my missing companion.

I continued on through Valleyview after the blood moon had passed. The lunar disc retained some of its reddish hue, but the street lamps on either end of the cemetery were enough for me to find my way down the winding paths of the hillside graveyard. I came upon Sara, not far from the central outcropping of mausoleums. I ran to her crumpled form. I knew her instantly by the powder-blue sneakers with their pink bands.

She was lifeless. I screamed her name as I attempted to revive her. I could make out the strangulation marks on her neck, her bruised face, as I gave my best effort at resuscitation. She had been murdered. I’m still not sure whether she had been robbed. I called 911 and the paramedics, fire department, and police raced into the cemetery.

It was the last time I saw Sara’s body, as her family wouldn’t allow me at the wake or funeral, since I was awaiting arraignment for homicide.    

I had no choice but to put my hands on her, and try my best to revive her. I had to touch her, feel with my own hands the bruising on her cheek, her broken right orbital bone, the sinewy strangulation marks on her neck. I began to mourn her, long before the first medic arrived on the scene.

There was no one else to charge, imprison, and punish. It really made sense for the police, community, my friends, and family, that I was the one who had extinguished a loving, generous, woman—one who I had long imagined as the mother of my children, my lifelong partner. For eight years I went mad in a single cell at Shawangunk Correctional Facility. I had no visitors, no one waiting for me—no one to serve my time for. I wrote letters to Sara’s family, my own family, pleading my innocence and the truth of my unabashed love for her. They went unanswered.

During my eight years, I married Sara in my mind, had children with her. We went on family vacations, advanced in our careers—even had spats, and differences, which we eventually overcame. She and I advanced into old age, and I was ready to die alongside her when I was granted parole.

The first night I was allowed to leave the halfway house, I went right to Valleyview and lay upon her ornate altar-tomb. It was a frigid, overcast February night, and I intended to fall asleep and become a part of her monument. A monument to my love for her, the love we had shared the four years we were together, and the eight I had shared with her in dream.

With my finger I traced her name in the granite, then the inscription beneath, which read: “Devoted daughter and fiancée, a beautiful soul taken too soon.” I shivered at the mention of ‘fiancée,’ that her parents left her connection to me at her burial site. It surprised me, and gave me some small consolatory pleasure in my waning hours.

The chill had already consumed me, and was now leaving my body along with my life’s energy. It began to snow. A thin, white blanket covered me and the altar, and I began to drift into that place between conscious and unconscious. But as I resigned myself to my end, and was preparing to embrace my final sleep, the altar moved beneath me. The shock of the tomb cracking mere inches from my face gave me a rush of adrenaline that left me fully cognizant of what then occurred.

From the few inches of darkness revealed by the cracked top piece of the altar, a waxen, partly shriveled hand emerged. I pushed myself onto my side to avoid the ghastly intrusion by my beloved. The aged, embalmed hand proceeded to scratch out the inscription on the tomb. I watched as an eerie incandescent green glow passed from the fingertips to the stone, bright enough that I had to momentarily shield my eyes.

It wasn’t half a minute before the task was complete, and the hand returned to the dark of the tomb, the altar gently scraping back to its settled position. I looked to the inscription, to see what damage had been done, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. I assumed I had experienced some sort of delusion brought on by my deteriorating condition.

When I lay back on the tomb, resigned to complete my purpose, I looked up into the overcast sky, and the clouds soon parted—revealing the Earth’s colossal umbra as it consumed the moon. I had no prior knowledge of an impending lunar eclipse, and I had to shield my eyes, as I was shaken to my core by the specter of the blood-red disc.

I turned away from the dreadful astronomical event, and when I did, I caught sight of the inscription on the tomb, which was now illuminated in a reddish hue from the heavenly body. Where the inscription had once read “Devoted daughter and fiancée; a beautiful soul taken too soon,” it now read, in an ordered (and what I can only describe as ‘angelic’) script: “Devoted mother and wife; to be together again, if only in dream.”

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10 Real-Life Locations That Inspired The Stories in ‘Corpse Cold: New American Folklore’

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We often base our tales in actual locations around our home state of New York. It’s fun to take everyday places, locations we’ve visited once, or often, and infuse them with our brand of lore.

Here are some of the illustrations from Corpse Cold: New American Folklore paired with their real-life inspirations!

“Amityville Beach”/Amityville Beach, Long Island

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This popular beach is located in the Long Island village of Amityville, the setting of the infamous Amityville Horror, which is mentioned in our story.

“Friendship: Dead and Buried”/The Last Ride burial simulator

FriendshipDeadBuried_01

last ride

The character Kevin Morrissey in “Friendship: Dead and Buried” is treated to a “ride” on Six Feet Under, which “simulates” an actual burial. Six Feet Under was inspired by The Last Ride, a traveling amusement park attraction in the Northeast United States that offers a similarly visceral experience.

“The Big ‘M'”/Eagle Bay, N.Y.

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The supermarket featured in the story “The Big ‘M’ was inspired by a now-closed grocery in Eagle Bay, N.Y., in the Adirondacks. This is a picture of the market as it appeared in the 1980s.

“Dracula’s Bride”/Ukranian Catholic Church

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The chapel that the kids in “Dracula’s Bride” chase the elderly Mrs. Ellsic to is actually modeled after a Ukranian Catholic Church in Johnson City, N.Y. Corpse Cold co-author Joe Sullivan grew up in the same neighborhood, where the church still stands.

“Moss Lake Island”/Echo Island

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Echo Island

The small island featured in “Moss Lake Island” is inspired by Echo Island, situated on Big Moose Lake in N.Y. Big Moose Lake is only a short drive from Moss Lake.

“Two Visions, 1984″/Roscoe Diner

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The Roscoe Diner, where journalist Ross Davie picks up the hitchhiker in “Two Visions, 1984,” is a popular diner in Roscoe, N.Y., located on Route 17.

“Woman on the Campus Green”/Wadsworth Auditorium

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The entirety of “Woman on the Campus Green” takes place at SUNY Geneseo, where Joe Sullivan once attended college. A climactic scene in the story takes place in Wadsworth Auditorium, a performing arts venue on campus.

“The Blue Hole”/Peekamoose Blue Hole

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“The Blue Hole” is inspired by a real swimming hole in Grahamsville, N.Y., in the Catskills.

“Jesup”/Tioughnioga River

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This story was inspired by actual alligator sightings during the summer of 2017 on the Tioughnioga River, which runs through Whitney Point and Lisle, N.Y. It was no urban legend, as two alligators were eventually caught.

“Last Train Home”/Buffalo, N.Y.

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The train line featured in “Last Train Home” is based on the Buffalo Metro Rail system in Buffalo, N.Y.

Learn more about Corpse Cold: New American Folklore!

You Know ‘A Christmas Carol,’ But What About the Forgotten Christmas Stories of Charles Dickens?

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Most everyone has read, seen, or experienced Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in some form or another since childhood. The tale will likely remain a cultural touchstone in the English-speaking world for centuries. Any further discussion of Carol serves little purpose at this point (it must be read and reread, often) but I believe many well-read people, who may even know of the existence of the other Dickensian Christmas works, may come to appreciate one or more of these unloved Christmas novellas, as much as another turn through a Skipping Christmas or Little Women.

“The Chimes”

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The year following the release of Carol, 1844, saw the release of The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In. While The Chimes begins on New Year’s Eve, the moral themes and rich vs. poor dynamics from Carol are very much in play. The book was well-received, but it was perceived as a much more radical expression of Dickens’ message, as he really leaned in on the immorality of inequality at the time.

The Chimes is a story of an elderly man, Trotty, who is ultimately unsure of whether or not mankind is inherently beastial in nature, and undeserving of salvation. He is drawn to a church tower and comes into contact with the spirits and goblins of the bellchamber, who inform him that he is already dead, having fallen from the tower. The spirits admonish him for losing faith in mankind’s inherent drive toward moral and ethical nobility, and Trotty is shown visions of his children and niece suffering through life to the point that his daughter considers killing herself and her daughter to end her suffering. At which point, Trotty begs for release, and is able to touch his daughter and prevent her from plunging herself and her child into the river.

Unlike Carol, The Chimes ends with questions regarding the future of Trotty and his lineage. The reader is left imagining that the family must still likely suffer dearly, if they’re to make it through the tough times of life, although they now have a spiritually stronger patriarch to guide them.

“The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home”

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1845 saw the release of The Cricket on the Hearth: A Fairy Tale of Home. This novella is a departure from the sermonizing of its predecessors, focusing more on sentimentality and the Victorian domestic ideal of home.

The Cricket is a proper fantasy story, with a cricket who acts as a guardian angel to John and his young family. An elderly stranger comes to stay with John and his family, and the antagonist, Tackleton, a Scrooge-like miser, is bent on convincing John that his wife has cheated on him with his mysterious lodger. Meanwhile, Tackleton has pressured a girl to marry him while she loves another. John is pushed to the brink by Tackleton’s accusations, and even asks his wife for a divorce. The conflicts resolve with the unmasking of the mysterious lodger, while Tackleton has a Scrooge-like turn of character and assists in the resetting of John’s happy home.

“The Battle of Life: A Love Story”

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The following year, 1846, saw yet another holiday release from Dickens: The Battle of Life: A Love Story. The Battle is the only of the five Christmas books that has no supernatural elements. The tale follows the romantic relationships of two sisters, and is likely Dickens’ most Austenian work. The end twist is reminiscent of the reveal from The Cricket.

I would not recommend The Battle for Christmas reading, as it’s the furthest of the five from my own sentiments of what constitutes a ‘Christmas story.’

“The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, A Fancy for Christmas-Time”

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Dickens’ final Christmas book was released a full two years following The Battle, in 1848. The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain, A Fancy for Christmas-Time is a return to the form and formula of the first two novellas. Redlaw is a teacher who can’t help but pore over the past, continuously contemplating his griefs and regrets, and cursing all of the people who’ve wronged him in his life. He infects his students and friends with his bitter, angry character, and is an all-around nasty man.

A spirit visits Redlaw in an attempt at stemming the tide of Redlaw’s intense angst and rage over the loss of his sister, and other woes. The ghost is his proper spiritual double, or the higher, more virtuous version of himself which he has long neglected. The pair converse and the apparition asks Redlaw if he’ll let the ghost help him forget his most painful memories. Redlaw agrees, and is cured of the memories, and is also given the gift of helping his friends and students forget the past. However, while Redlaw and the people whom he ‘treats’ have forgotten specific painful incidents in their lives, they now feel a misplaced, unjustifiable anger, as if Redlaw’s anger had really been a sickness.

Redlaw realizes the damage he has wrought and attempts to pray it away on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day sees Redlaw’s prayers answered, as he and even people who have wronged him ask each other’s forgiveness.

My recommendations

I’d recommend reading The Chimes and then The Haunted Man this Christmas season, and if you enjoy those stories, to move onto The Cricket. However, I’d read Little Women again before I’d read The Battle.

haunted-man-coverIf you’ve gotten your fill of Dickens and are looking for something more contemporary, I’ve written a short Christmas book called Carol for a Haunted Man. It is very much in the spirit of Dickens’ Christmas tales, and something I’d describe as a new Dickensian-style Christmas story, filled with nostalgia, moral sentiment, and an erudite apparition.

Here’s the description from the back cover:

“As some authors dream into the history of their town or city, Jacob Martin sought to reestablish the comforts of his childhood by moving back to the street where he grew up. Lost in life, newly divorced, and separated from his three young kids, Jacob is driven to write a book worth remembering, as a way of giving his life a new lasting purpose and meaning.

“Finding himself at a standstill on the novel, a lonely recluse during the holidays, Jacob manages to connect with an attractive woman, and befriend an older man from his distant past, an author like himself. As Jacob soon discovers, nostalgia can be a healthy distraction, or it can be the noose by which one hangs.

“CAROL FOR A HAUNTED MAN is the tale of a daunted man’s will to succeed in the face of despair. It is a novella inspired by, and in homage to, the Christmas stories of Charles Dickens.”

Carol for a Haunted Man can be purchased at Amazon, along with Cemetery Gates Media’s other works of paranormal fiction.

A Look Back at the 1999-2000 Reboot of ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark?’

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Most fans who remember the Are You Afraid of the Dark? Nickelodeon TV series think fondly of the early Nineties Midnight Society. Gary, Frank, Kiki, Betty Ann, and an ever-changing crew of friends sitting around a campfire telling memorable tales like “Old Man Corcoran,” “Watcher’s Woods,” “Laughing in the Dark,” and “Crimson Clown.” There are at least half-a-dozen stories from the original run of the series (1992-1996) that I would argue as ‘the best’ episode, while there is perhaps one story from the 1999-2000 run which I might consider in my personal top ten.

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Are You Afraid of the Dark?: The New Class

The series was revived with an original member of the Midnight Society, Tucker, taking his brother’s place as leader of a new group of kids. Andy, Megan, Vange, Quinn are, most often, pale imitations of the original Midnight Society (Frank, Kristen, Kiki, Betty Ann?), with Quinn perhaps being the only new archetype, although he seems to fill Betty Ann’s role of quiet peacekeeper nicely. Frank really felt like an over-the-top asshole, but it still made sense that he was friends with these people and really enjoyed telling stories; Sam was a tomboyish heartthrob for both Gary and young, male viewer alike. The New Midnight Society had little to offer regarding the stories of the storytellers themselves.

There are a number of good episodes from seasons 6 and 7, episodes that meet the standard set by the original run. There are even a few exceptional episodes that any serious fan of the original series should not miss out on. Unfortunately, many episodes attempted to draw interest by focusing on trends like Giga Pets, lazer tag, computer games, sports, and one even made an Olympic champion figure skater into a pregnant alien. It’s really about what the later seasons seem to be missing. Seasons 1-5 built their success on retelling timeless stories and re-purposing urban legends – the kinds of tales which would’ve appealed to both our parents and grandparents when they were kids.

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Cause virtual pets are scary AF.

The following are my recommendations for revival episodes of AYAOTD? that one should watch, if they enjoyed the original series and don’t want to sort through the chaff that is the majority of the 1999-2000 series. There are certainly episodes worth watching in addition to these six, but these are the stories I believe will feel most similar to the original run of the series.

Season 6

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Like Jumanji, but spooky.

“The Tale of the Forever Game” is a good restart to the series. Tucker tells the story about two friends, Mark and Peter, and Peter’s little sister, Monica, who get lost in the woods while biking. It has the feeling and tone of a story like “Whispering Walls,” while full of moral dilemma for Peter. The trio is hopelessly stuck, and the kids are being hunted down by a beast, while Peter plays a game reminiscent of Jumanji with a boy, Nathaniel, who occupies a tree.

 

hunted

Hunting = bad apparently.

“The Tale of the Hunted” deals with the moral debate over hunting. It’s well-done for a kid’s show, and doesn’t really pick sides at the end. The female protagonist hunts with her father, and one morning she wakes up and discovers what it’s like to be the one who is hunted.

 

vampiretown

This hip dude liked vampires way before “Twilight.”

“The Tale of Vampire Town” is wacky, a callback to the richness of character from a Season 1 tale. A boy, Adder, believes himself to be a great vampire hunter and convinces his parents to take him on vacation to a town with history and lore tied to vampires, specifically a series of catacombs which lie underneath the inn where the family is staying.

 

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Featuring a pre-Star Wars Hayden Christiansen.

“The Tale of Bigfoot Ridge” is the tale I teased as a ‘Top Ten’ AYAOTD? episode. It would fit nicely in seasons 1-4. A boy and his sister are trying to get over the disappearance of their friend, who went off the backside of a mountain while snowboarding. The brother and sister end up searching for her, and get lost themselves during a snowstorm. They find an abandoned cabin and attempt to survive the night, while the storm is the least of their worries. Many of the other episodes focus too heavily on the trendy sport, activity, or product of the time. This episode has snowboarding in it, but, thankfully, doesn’t try to tell a story about snowboarding.

Season 7

“The Tale of Highway 13” is the story of a repetitive haunting, where a truck races a haunted car, driven by two friends who rebuilt the car, to a one-lane bridge. The boys must continually race the truck until they either die trying to win, or solve the mystery and take a different action. This is a timeless tale, really well done.

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Don’t try this at home.

 

“The Tale of the Reanimator” is perhaps only the second time that zombies were done well by AYAOTD?, the first being “Water Demons.” It has some of the flavor of the Reanimator movies, but it feels more like the mad-scientist experiments of Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement.

reanimatortale

Like “The Reanimator,” minus the decapitations.

So, if you’re a fan of the original AYAOTD? series and have never seen an episode of the two revival seasons, I believe you’ll enjoy queuing up these six episodes and watching them back to back. Perhaps you’ll even delve deeper into seasons 6 and 7, and catch me up on a gem I overlooked.

Addendum:

I can’t imagine I’ll ever write an episode guide for the first five seasons of AYAOTD? since so much has been written and said about it already. So, I’ll just give my picks for best episodes – in no particular order: “Midnight Madness,” “Old Man Corcoran,” “Dead Man’s Float,” “Laughing in the Dark,” “Water Demons,” “Silent Servant,” “Crimson Clown,” “Dark Music,” “Super Specs,” and “Lonely Ghost.”

Joe Sullivan is the author of spook books, available on Amazon, and a fully illustrated book of horror tales inspired by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, currently live on Kickstarter.

Stranger Things 2: An Entertaining, Soft-Remake of the Original?

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The first portion of this review contains no major spoilers, while my comments on the individual episodes in the second half, will.

The first two episodes, or ‘chapters,’ of Stranger Things 2 unequivocally remind us that we identify ourselves by the media we choose to consume. When the characters are reintroduced, we’re nearly nostalgic for the first run of the series, which only aired a little over a year ago. The first series created an environment reminiscent of many of our childhood brushes with pop culture, adventure, the awkwardness of navigating puberty, etc. The second run nearly doubles down on recreating that environment from the get-go, and then as the series progresses the Duffer Brothers deftly ease off that particular pedal, and let us settle back into the day-to-day troubles of Hawkins without the distraction of a constant barrage of ancient product labels, toys, fashion, and music to take note of.

stranger things 2

Stranger Things 2 is nearly a remake of the first series. Our heroes reemerge to once again take on the government lab baddies and its out-of-control science experiment, although this time the threat looms even larger over Hawkins. One would assume that replaying the same plot points might mark this series as stale, from the third or so chapter on, but the characters do grow, and there are enough mini-arcs involving our favorite returning heroes to maintain interest. For me, the first run of Stranger Things often dragged, while the characters did keep me watching. Stranger Things 2 certainly kept up the pace of the story, and only hit a road bump with Eleven’s side-story in the big city.

Speaking of which, I do have to address the opening chase scene, with the cast of characters we’ll only come to again in Chapter 7. There seems to be no purpose for introducing these folks here. The van chase should probably begin the fifth chapter, where the lead, Kali, is hinted at in a flashback. For me, Kali and her gang is the one glaring misstep of Stranger Things 2. Her Eleven-like powers are introduced in the first few minutes of the series, and the viewer is left waiting for some sort of explanation, or purpose for her in the story arc, yet the distraction has little to no payoff.

Before I get to comments on individual chapters, I must say that Stranger Things 2 is well done, a superior product to the original, if you don’t detest, or fixate on, the fact that this second series is nearly a soft remake. I’d recommend Stranger Things 2 to anyone who broadly enjoys sci-fi or horror.

The following portion has spoilers and should serve as a brief episode guide, so here’s your warning if you haven’t seen the complete series.

Chapter 1: Madmax (Rating: 4/5)

Max is a redheaded girl who is always at the arcade, the boys are instantly enamored of her and stalk her. Her older brother, Billy, quickly becomes the new, even more narcissistic and nasty version of series 1 Steve, now that Steve is a sweetheart, older brother archetype to the boys.

Barb’s family has hired a private investigator and are selling their house to pay for it, although Nancy and Steve know she’s dead, but won’t say. It’s a real moral dilemma for Nancy, as it should be. We figure out quickly that most of the characters have kept quiet about what occurred at Hawkins National Lab.

Paul Reiser is Will’s psychiatrist, Dr. Owens. Dr. Owens is the a more sympathetic version of Dr. Brenner, although he still represents faceless, uncaring bureaucracy that manufactures horrible weapons and wants to treat special kids like guinea pigs.

Eleven is living with Hopper in a cabin deep in the woods.

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Chapter 2: Trick or Treat, Freak (4/5)

Eleven is still having visions, mainly to let the viewer in on the fallout from the previous season.

Hopper begins investigating poison pumpkins and vegetation. First major, “Come on, dude” moment. Hopper is only a year away from dealing with plant issues. The first thing he should think when he sees a field full of rotted vegetation is Inter-dimensional Plant Monster.

The boys go trick or treating with Max and have a great time until Will has a vision of a menacing behemoth in the sky. This is such a rich, nostalgic episode, although it doesn’t quite have enough trick or treating scenes as one might hope.

Chapter 3: The Pollywog (3/5)

Dusty finds creature in trash can outside his house. The creature transforms and Dusty is a dummy who will smack himself (again) when he sees Life (2017).

El wants to leave cabin and see Mike, but Hopper wants to keep her his secret. This was probably a missed opportunity to have an ultimate Halloween episode with Mike and El’s reunion. She already had the ghost sheet made, there’s no real reason why she can’t just interact with Mike and have him keep her secret.

Steve’s hair is out of control. It’s distracting by this point.

Hopper figures out the lab is the cause of the plant decaying poison…duh.

Joyce finally gets back to her paranormal investigating and uses camcorder footage from Halloween Night to see Will’s behemoth in the sky.

El goes to the middle school just to knock Max off her skateboard out of jealousy. It’s not a good look, or a good scene.

Will stands his ground against the behemoth, taking Bob’s advice to heart, after he’s thrust back into the Upside Down, and gets consumed by the monster.

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Chapter 4: Will the Wise (4/5)

They find will nearly catatonic in the parking lot of school. Will is now possessed by the entity from his visions and begins coloring a ton of pictures.

El returns home and has teen tantrum, destroys the cabin and Hopper leaves. She then finds a box with Hopper’s notes on Hawkin’s Lab under cabin and gets ideas.

Joyce and Hopper put Will’s picture together and decide they represent destroying vines.

Nancy records Dr. Owens admitting to Barb’s death. She and Steve want to burn the lab to ground, which is silly at the point, because they already knew Hawkins National Lab was most responsible for Barb’s death.

Dusty’s creature has escaped, and is found eating his cat. The creature now looks like the monster from the first season.

Hopper discovers the vast root system and tunnels under the poisoned fields.

Chapter 5: Dig Dug (4/5)

Hopper is investigating underground and gets blasted in face by sporing vine, and is trapped. Will has visions of Hopper in trouble.

Nancy and Jonathan meet up with conspiracy nut/the private investigator who was investigating Barb’s death and let him listen to Dr. Owens’ confession.

Bob walks in and solves Will’s drawings, deciphering them as a map of Hawkins, almost instantly.

El communicates with her Mom, finds out her Mom went into Hawkins Lab to try and rescue El aka Jane, and another girl, whom we can assume is the chick from first episode. El/Jane’s mom is caught, and Dr. Brenner fries her brain with some intense ECT.

Joyce and Bob manage to find, and free, Hopper. Hawkins Lab people also discover the underground tunnel system and they torch the labyrinths, which makes Will freaks out.

Chapter 6: The Spy (4/5)

Dusty and Steve discover that the creature has escaped from Dusty’s bomb shelter.

Will gets amnesia, and the episode begins feeling like It (2017) with the way everything leads back to one, evil wellspring which must be approached underground and conquered.

At this point the show begins feeling more like a horror movie than a sci-fi adventure. The kids battle monsters in a blockaded bus, while Hawkins Lab is overrun by the demadogs and the adults must fight their way out of the building.

Chapter 7: The Lost Sister (2/5)

Eleven finds Kali, her lost ‘sister’ from Hawkins lab, in Chicago. They share information and decide they’re going to track bad guys. Their first target states that Dr. Brenner is still alive, Kali seems to believe him. This bit of incredibly important information is quickly forgotten.

Cops bust Kali’s gang, while El has a vision of Mike in trouble, and parts ways with Kali and her gang. There was no reason that Eleven had to meet Kali or take part in any of Kali’s vendettas. It cheapened the overall story and was a distracting element from the first episode onward.

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Chapter 8: The Mind Flayer (4/5)

The adults are still trying to escape Hawkins Lab, which is overrun by monsters. Bob’s going to reprogram some computers on the fly and save everyone.

This is the episode where we go full horror movie, fun clichés spawning left and right. Bob dies, brutally to save Joyce and the others.

The group plan to kill the underground behemoth, in order to destroy the hivemind, it generates.

They need to get information out of Will, but he’s possessed by the behemoth. Will’s friends and family tell him loving stories and anecdotes, and he ultimately gives them no new information.

El returns in time to save everyone from demadogs at Joyce’s house. She took a bus home using the money which she and Kali’s gang stole, apparently.

Chapter 9: The Gate (5/5)

Comedy finally returns to the series in the beginning of this episode! Yes, levity gives perspective, and character, to heavy drama.

The group separates to burn the entity that has possessed Will, and to take on the behemoth underground.

“I shouldn’t have left.” – Eleven. Exactly, she shouldn’t have had a side story about meeting her mom and sister, as they ultimately told her nothing about herself or gave her meaningful direction to overcome her demons.

El and Hopper go into lab and run into Dr. Owens, who’s given a tourniquet and pistol by Hopper. No real reason for this run-in to occur here.

Entity/behemoth ultimately leaves Will when Steve and his gang of kids start fire in the underground hub. While El defeats the behemoth and pushes it back through the gate.

Epilogue: There’s justice for Barb and Hawkins Lab gets shut down for good. Which is really a no-brainer as the entire structure and everyone in it got destroyed.

Hopper gets Eleven/Jane’s birth certificate from Dr. Owens, and she is now his daughter. The kids have a winter dance and hook up with each other. Final moments show Hawkins Middle School in the Upside Down.

Joe Sullivan is the author of spook books, available on Amazon, and a fully illustrated book of horror tales inspired by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, currently live on Kickstarter.

8 Things That I Loved About Halloween When I Was a Kid

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By John Brhel

Halloween was the best thing ever when I was growing up, right up there with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and playing “the floor is lava” with my sisters. I was ecstatic in the weeks leading up to Oct. 31, daydreaming of that crisp October night, the smell of pumpkin guts, the crunch of dried leaves beneath my BK Knights. It was an event; it was magical. And while I still love the heck out of the holiday, nothing can replace the joy that I experienced during Halloween as a kid. Here are just a few of the many things I loved about Halloween when I was growing up in the 80s and early 90s.

Cheap licensed costumes

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If you wanted to dress up like Hulk Hogan or Batman, or whatever character you were obsessed with that month, for Halloween, you got yourself a cheap plastic costume with an uncomfortable mask, with a rubber band that could dig a permanent scar into the back of your head. I sure did. The costumes rarely looked like the actual characters, but you didn’t mind. That night, you were Hulk Hogan, you were Batman. And I’ll be damned if I wasn’t as cool a Beetlejuice as Michael Keaton that one magical Halloween back in third grade.

McDonald’s Halloween buckets

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These little, plastic pails practically embody Halloween for me. What could be cooler then, instead of taking home your garbage burgers and fries in a cardboard box, like you’d normally get with a Happy Meal, you got a little ghost bucket that you could trick-or-treat with? I’m not sure I even used them very often (they couldn’t really accommodate the massive amounts of candy that I so longed for), but they were still so cool to collect and fill with LEGOs and various bric-a-brac.

Glow sticks

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Things that glow are awesome when you’re a kid, right up there with holograms and light-up shoes. While these sticks were mainly meant to keep us safe while we roamed the streets at night, encumbered my masks we could barely see out of, for me they were just cool to stick in my trick-or-treat bag/bucket and add to the spooky ambiance. “Oooh, they glow.” Yeah, I was dumb.

TV specials

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What’s better than an episode Garfield when you’re a kid? Why a spooky episode of Garfield, of course! There’s something special (and totally not gimmicky) when your favorite TV show takes a shot at horror/scary for an episode or special. Garfield’s Halloween Adventure scared the crap out of me when I was little (that pirate scene still gives me the shivers) and I ate up spooky episodes of shows like Hey Dude! and Salute Your Shorts (Zeke the plumber, anyone?), even if they didn’t originally air on Halloween. And let us not forget the most nostalgic Halloween TV special of all: It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I literally just carved a Great Pumpkin jack-o-lantern before writing this; it’s that good.

Treat bags

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Who cares if they were usually stuffed with the candy that you didn’t really want (e.g. Tootsie Rolls, those little peanut chews in the orange and black wrappers). These little bags take me back, especially this specific design with the scarecrow on it. The feeeeels.

Mystery boxes

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I can remember quite vividly walking through a makeshift “haunted house” on the stage inside my elementary school gymnasium and sticking my hand into these weird “feel boxes,” which were full of food meant to emulate creepy, crawly things. Are those real eyeballs?! Nah, just peeled grapes. Brains? Spaghetti. Teeth? Popcorn kernels. You knew they weren’t real, but it still felt pretty gross, nonetheless. And when you’re 8 years old, gross = awesome.

Radio stations playing “spooky” songs

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I haven’t listened to pop radio much in the last few years, so I’m not sure if this still happens, but I remember being so excited when FM stations started playing “scary” songs on Halloween. Where you might normally hear nothing but Paula Abdul or Boyz II Men, all of a sudden the radio stations were playing stuff like the “Ghostbusters” theme, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising.” It was a little thing, really, but it helped get me even more amped up for the day.

Endless gobs of candy

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Sure, I could go out right now and buy one of those $20 mixed bags of candy — I’m a grown-ass adult, sort of — but it’s not the same thing. There was something special about coming home from trick-or-treating with what seemed like two million pounds of candy, and sorting through the treasure trove. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kats were like gold, with raisins and pennies (yes, people seriously gave us pennies) earning nothing but disdain.

What did you love about Halloween when you were a kid? Leave a comment and let us know!

John Brhel is the author of paranormal and fantasy books, available on Amazon, and a fully illustrated book of horror tales inspired by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, currently live on Kickstarter. Follow him on Twitter at @johnbrhel.

Upstate Oddities: A Forgotten Mausoleum on School Grounds

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Vaultoct17By Daniel Robert

Nearly fifteen years ago they cleared the forest behind the bus garage at my old high school to make room for new sports fields. My dad said they found the mausoleum on the hill when they were building the road and didn’t really know what to do about it. You drive right past the vault when you go to the football field, and most people I’ve asked about it, from my town, seem to either not know it’s there, or aren’t curious about it.

I haven’t lived in town since the year 2000. I finally climbed the hill one afternoon last year and took some photos. I was surprised that the door was unlocked and also cracked open, maybe three inches. I didn’t go in, just stuck my iPhone through the opening and took a few pictures.

It’s one of the strangest things, and no one seems to find it creepy. It’s on a steep, mostly forested hill that meets the road, and I think they put a partial gate around the front, back when they uncovered it, but it doesn’t look like the structure or immediate grounds get any type of routine maintenance. There’s a family name attached to the vault itself, and I’ve looked up the name in the county records. I believe they were wealthy landowners from the 19th century who ran a profitable tin mill.

My little brother was in high school when they found the mausoleum, and he said the kids had stories about it, and that he knew a few guys that would go inside the mausoleum at night and drink, trying and scare each other with scary stories. I guess they got in trouble at one point, and the school put an end to it. Yet, it still sits on that lonely hillside, its door cracked open, and inside things are a real mess. I imagine opossums and skunks are in there all the time, chewing on anything they can find. To me it’s doubly sad, to think that there are likely people’s remains still inside, and also that tons of folks drive past it every weekend, and to them it’s just part of the landscape.

Who Murdered Ichabod Crane? Solving the Mystery of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

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By Joe Sullivan

For most readers and critics of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” there are only two possibilities regarding Ichabod Crane’s fate: either he was murdered by a ghastly, galloping Hessian soldier, or he was disposed of by Brom Bones. While the narrator, Mr. Diedrich Knickerbocker, goes to great pains to create an either/or binary between the two possible suspects, there has long been evidence that there is a third suspect, whom is given motive, but never explained away.

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The narrator describes Ichabod as a teller, and consumer, of fantastic tales.

“His appetite for the marvelous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary; and both had been increased by his residence in this spell-bound region. No tale was too gross or monstrous for his capacious swallow.”

And more importantly, regarding the galloping Hessian and Ichabod’s penchant for seeking out frightful moments in the everyday:

“What fearful shapes and shadows beset his path, amidst the dim and ghastly glare of a snowy night! With what wistful look did he eye every trembling ray of light streaming across the waste fields from some distant window! How often was he appalled by some shrub covered with snow, which, like a sheeted specter, beset his very path! How often did he shrink with curdling awe at the sound of his own steps on the frosty crust beneath his feet; and dread to look over his shoulder, lest he should behold some uncouth being tramping close behind him! And how often was he thrown into complete dismay by some rushing blast, howling among the trees, in the idea that it was the Galloping Hessian on one of his nightly scourings!”

Here Mr. Knickerbocker begins to undermine the argument, regarding the Headless Horseman as prime suspect in the disappearance of Ichabod Crane. Sure, the Horseman has motive for killing Ichabod as he made his lonely trek that evening; the phantom Hessian takes heads, and that is what he does. But the Horseman is always a red herring, and Mr. Knickerbocker soon introduces a mortal suspect.

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Brom Bones and Ichabod are both seeking out the hand of Katrina Van Tassel. We’re told Ichabod is primarily interested in the wealth he should come to acquire from the estate of her father, Baltus, if he wins her heart. Brom’s interest in Katrina seems to be more romantic in nature than Ichabod’s, but it’s ultimately unclear, as Brom is in the business of winning, and every Dutchman of the valley knew that Katrina was the ultimate prize. Ichabod plays it cool, under the radar, while Brom goes right for Katrina. So, it’s no surprise, when Ichabod ultimately gets friendzoned by Ms. Van Tassel and sent on his way.

While Brom recognizes Ichabod as a rival, by the end of the harvest party Katrina has revealed her preference for Brom. Although, Brom is especially angry that he was shown up by the pedagogue during the storytelling/yarn-spinning portion of the evening’s festivities. It’s unclear if Brom knows Katrina has rejected Ichabod, and entirely possible that Katrina continues to let Brom think that Ichabod has her interest for the rest of the evening. So, Brom has his motive for becoming the legend and murdering Ichabod – although it is strange that Mr. Knickerbocker leaves out any additional clue to whether Brom stayed until the party’s end, or left early.

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Once pursued, Brom actually gives Ichabod his only hope for keeping his head from the Hessian Rider. But we soon discover that Brom was wrong about the protective qualities of the bridge, as Ichabod makes it across, to presumed safety, and is still beheaded by the Horseman, who “pass[es] by like a whirlwind.”

Brom is the most reasonable, and satisfactory, of choices as dispatcher of Crane, had Katrina not cleanly rejected Ichabod’s proposal the evening in which he disappeared. But there is another whom must be considered, as Mr. Knickerbocker presents us a third suspect, and even gives him motive!

Ichabod Crane is staying with Hans Van Ripper, a “choleric old Dutchman” and he borrows the man’s favorite horse on the night of his demise. The horse, Gunpowder, who

“had, in fact, been a favorite steed of his master’s, the choleric Van Ripper, who was a furious rider, and had infused, very probably, some of his own spirit into the animal; for, old and broken-down as he looked, there was more of the lurking devil in him than in any young filly in the country.”

We’re told Van Ripper was a furious rider, at one with his horse – both spirits imbued with a ‘lurking devil.’ And Ichabod is certainly not on good terms with his landlord, as Ichabod “thought, how soon he’d turn his back upon the old schoolhouse; snap his fingers in the face of Hans Van Ripper.” But what is their conflict?

 

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Before we attest to a motive, we must make note that Van Ripper is the first to send out a search for Ichabod, and also first to the crime scene.

“Hans Van Ripper now began to feel some uneasiness about the fate of poor Ichabod, and his saddle. An inquiry was set on foot, and after diligent investigation they came upon his traces. In one part of the road leading to the church was found the saddle trampled in the dirt; the tracks of horses’ hoofs deeply dented in the road, and evidently at furious speed, were traced to the bridge, beyond which, on the bank of a broad part of the brook, where the water ran deep and black, was found the hat of the unfortunate Ichabod, and close beside it a shattered pumpkin…Hans Van Ripper as executor of his estate, examined the bundle which contained all his worldly effects.” which were quickly “consigned to the flames by Hans Van Ripper; who, from that time forward, determined to send his children no more to school, observing that he never knew any good come of this same reading and writing.”

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Van Ripper is first to the scene, and quickly burns most of the evidence. There is the possibility of some interplay between Van Ripper and Brom Bones here, as Van Ripper sees the love poem Ichabod had written to Katrina, and the fact that Van Ripper quickly disposes of it might be covering up the fact that Brom Bones had a rival suitor. Remember, Ichabod kept his romantic interest in Katrina secretive, and only fully revealed himself to her the night of the harvest party.

“It is true, an old farmer, who had been down to New York on a visit several years after, and from whom this account of the ghostly adventure was received, brought home the intelligence that Ichabod Crane was still alive; that he had left the neighborhood partly through fear of the goblin and Hans Van Ripper.”

This last passage seems the most damning. We’re given a clear motive for Brom Bones wanting to see the demise of Ichabod Crane, but at the end of the story Van Ripper is equated with the phantom fear that haunts Ichabod. Why? It doesn’t seem to fit that the narrator is presenting Brom as the goblin, and then, also Van Ripper.

Van Ripper had the most access to Crane, the most knowledge of his comings and goings, as they lived together. Van Ripper would have seen how much time and influence Crane had on the local children, including his own. Early in the story it’s described how Ichabod spent much of his time outside of school with the older boys he taught. We’re told Van Ripper removed his kids from school, while also having a sour relationship with their schoolmaster. Van Ripper loathes Crane. He’s forced to take the pedagogue into his home, because it’s his turn to house the man as payment for his services. After living with Ichabod, experiencing him, likely arguing with him, Van Ripper decided he didn’t want his children to be anything like their teacher. Crane rode Van Ripper’s favorite horse to his death, then Van Ripper destroyed any evidence at the scene of the crime. Hans Van Ripper killed Ichabod Crane because he was a bad influence on his children, and the children of Sleepy Hollow.

Joe Sullivan is the author of spook books, available on Amazon, and a fully illustrated book of horror tales inspired by Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, currently live on Kickstarter.

“Happy Death Day” Spoiler-Free Review: Fun But Not a True Slasher

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By Joe Sullivan

There has never been an era of the PG-13 slasher, for good reason. Violence, the shock and awe of any classic R-rated slasher, sells itself best to the most impressionable of minds. Halloween and Friday the 13th were carried into the iconography of our culture by 12-year-olds who bore witness to the sort of movie the MPAA deemed unsuitable for their eyes. There is no proper ‘best of’ list for PG-13 slasher films. Happy Death Day is no exception. PG-13 slasher movies can’t properly function as slasher movies. Yet, Happy Death Day is certainly a fun, flavorful movie in other regards.

Tree (Theresa) keeps waking up in Carter’s dorm room, and she relives the same Monday, over and over, which always culminates in her death at the hands of a baby-masked killer. The filmmakers have fun with the premise, and I did enjoy the Clue-style whodunit mystery. Tree eliminates a suspect with each subsequent revival, and I found myself anticipating a satisfactory resolution – that one of the cast of characters we’ve encountered, again and again, would finally be unmasked as the killer. So, I was let down when a new, Mrs. Voorhees-level-of-unknown was thrown into the cast of suspects late in the movie.

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Happy Death Day revels in pop-culture snark, creates characters filmgoers wouldn’t mind see dying, and nearly gives Tree a proper character arc during her Sisyphean day. Carter, Tree’s sometimes assistant/sometimes love-interest, is easily the most likable character in the movie. When Carter is put into a risky situation, you genuinely want him to survive. However, the film will fail to convince many viewers regarding whether Tree should ultimately survive. She is too rotten of a person, and even on days she makes progress, she seems to undermine said personal improvements, with subsequent revivals.

The deaths in the movie were uninteresting, and this alone should alienate a large part of the genre fan base. Happy Death Day is by no means a slasher film, and certainly has no relationship to the day or month it came out. The movie has no ‘creepy’ factor, which seems to be what drives most genre movies released in October, or on Friday the 13ths.

Happy Death Day does have some suspenseful moments, and is a curiosity in its choice of story form. Ultimately, it feels like its audience might be the parents of thirteen-year-olds. Folks who grew up with Scream and such movies from the late-90s, and want to share something with an impressionable young mind in their household – without venturing into the world of the extremes we’ve come to expect from a genre slasher film like the upcoming Jigsaw.

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Who would I recommend this movie to? Fans of late-90s R-rated slashers. It’s more fun than the When a Stranger Calls remake – more like watching a Jawbreaker/Urban Legend crossover.

7 Tales From “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” That Freaked Me Out (And Still Do)

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By John Brhel

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was one of my favorite book series when I was younger, despite the fact that many of the stories terrified me to no end. Here I was, 8, 9 years old, reading about beheaded roommates and knife-wielding maniacs. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, this was not.

Most of the tales in Scary Stories that used to scare me when I was a kid just make me laugh now (“The Big Toe,” really?) but there are a handful that still leave me unsettled. Here’s a few of my favorite traumatizing tales!

“The Thing”

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Just look at that nightmarish thing! And that’s what it is, The Thing. Even in gathering photos for this post, I got residual childhood chills from seeing this guy’s face again. The plot here is pretty threadbare: a skeletal-looking man/zombie/ghoul follows two boys home and watches them from across the street. But the combination of this image and the idea of being helpless as some weirdo followed me home (where’s your parents, kids?) made this one stand out for me. I seriously couldn’t look at that drawing, and I don’t enjoy it too much now.

 

“The Window”

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When I first read this story, I lived on a semi-rural road, across from which was an empty field. My bedroom window looked out at the field, and the bottom of the window was really low, so anyone could just walk right up and look in on me while I was sleeping if they wanted to. This story, which tells of a young woman who watches helplessly from her window as a yellow-eyed creature (later discovered to be a vampire) slowly stalks toward her home, freaked me the hell out and only served to make my bedroom window even more terrifying. I probably begged my parents to move me to a different room because of this tale.

“Harold”

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This story features one of the most disturbing final scenes in anything I’ve watched or read to this day, for which it wins the “How The Hell Did This End Up In My Elementary School Library? Award.” In this tale two farmers, Thomas and Arnold, make a scarecrow to pass the time in their boring cow-milking lives. They name it after another farmer they dislike and proceed to treat it like dirt, taunting the dummy, smearing food in its face. When Harold begins to grunt and scurry around the roof of their hut at night, Thomas and Arnold flee. In their haste, they forget their all-important milking stools (hate it when that happens). Thomas has to go back to get the stools. But when Alfred looks back at the hut for Thomas, all he sees is Harold stretching out his buddy’s bloody skin on the rooftop. WTF! There’s a reason why this tale always comes up in discussions of Scary Stories. It’s straight-up insane.

 

“One Sunday Morning”

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I was raised Roman Catholic, so I spent many a dull hour at Sunday morning Mass. This story, which tells of a man who unknowingly stumbles upon a church service open only to a parish of the undead, struck a chord with me. I think it was mainly the idea of feeling like you’re in a safe place — I mean, what’s more peaceful and non-threatening than a church? — and finding out that not only is it unsafe, but that the people in there want you dead. This is probably why I don’t go to church anymore. Yeah, that’s the reason.

 

“The Bride”

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Every kid knows what it’s like to play hide-and-seek, so every kid can relate to the terrifying prospect of being trapped in a hiding spot, never to be found. I was probably playing a lot more Nintendo Entertainment System than hide-and-seek when I first read this story, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying.

 

“Maybe You Will Remember”

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You can blame probably this story, the “waking up in a bathtub with your kidney removed” urban legend and the movie Hostel for me never wanting to travel abroad. In this story, a young woman’s mother mysteriously disappears while they are vacationing  together in Paris. The daughter insists that she and her mother were renting out room 505, but it’s revealed that the room was nothing like she remembers, and no one can recall ever meeting her mother (spoiler alert: her mother had died from some virus and authorities were trying to quell any public hysteria). The idea of losing one’s mother is terrifying, especially when you have no idea of her actual fate. I’m fine never leaving North America, really.

 

“Faster and Faster”

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This story doesn’t come up in a lot of discussions about Scary Stories, but I think it’s worth a mention. In it, two cousins find an old, blood-stained (yeah, that’s normal) drum. For some reason, when they play the drum, phantoms on horseback come and shoot an arrow at one of them, killing him. I couldn’t believe what I was reading back then — some kid actually getting killed by a ghost! Most children’s books wouldn’t have more than a ghost simply saying “Boo!” but Alvin Schwartz was down with murder. You’re the boss, Alvin.

John Brhel is the co-author of Corpse Cold: New American Folklore, a 20-story illustrated collection greatly inspired by the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series. Learn more about Corpse Cold. 

 

Read Chapter One of ‘Resurrection High: A Black Comedy’

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CHAPTER ONE

“I think I saw it, under his left hand. It’s in there with him,” whispered Eric Verlaine.

The box?!” replied Bryan Palmer, Eric’s closest living friend.

They sat in the back row of chairs at the Coleman funeral parlor, where their mutual friend, Andy Kulowski, lay in wake.

Eric nodded. There it was—the box—a small, metallic combination safe which Andy had carried with him since freshman year of high school. Its dimensions had been unclear to them, as they had never really gotten a chance to handle it. But it fit in the oversized pockets of the baggy JNCO jeans that Andy frequently wore, like most skaters and punks in the late 1990s. Eric and Bryan would ask their friend, from time to time, what was inside the little black safe. But Andy was a consummate troll and would never share any details about the box or its contents, often ridiculing his friends for even asking.

“No way…” Bryan looked around to make sure they couldn’t be overheard. “You’re messing with me. Why would they bury him with it?”

“He probably asked them to. It’s not like he didn’t see it coming,” said Eric. “They’re going to bury him with that Nintendo controller too.”

“Yeah, having the N64 controller in the coffin is pretty cool of them,” said Bryan.

They watched a steady stream of people they barely knew wander past their friend’s open casket.

“I wonder what’s in it,” said Bryan, breaking a momentary silence between the pair. “Should we ask Patty and Todd?”

“No, that’s rude,” said Eric. “Let’s nab it and open it up. We can put it back later, or even tomorrow at the funeral. No one will ever know.”

Bryan didn’t immediately reply, conflicted between wanting to solve a mystery he had contemplated for years, but also not wanting to make a scene at his friend’s family vigil. “I don’t know. It doesn’t seem right…”

“Do you think Andy has some intense secret that would tarnish how we remember him? Something that would wreck his sterling reputation, just because we saw what was in the box?”

“No. He just liked that it bugged us,” said Bryan, smirking. “I want to see what’s in it, but I don’t want to desecrate the sanctity of his family’s grieving process.”

Eric laughed quietly, ready to steamroll his friend’s hesitation. “I know. Let’s get at the end of the line, and I’ll grab it. All you have to do is distract his parents.”

Bryan couldn’t stop smiling. He knew if Andy were in his shoes he would be all for digging through a mutual friend’s casket. “I don’t know if finding a few Magic cards, some weed, or even a titty pic from one of his ex-girlfriends is really worth it…”

“Bry, he’d laugh his ass off if he knew we nabbed it right out from under his cold, dead hands. We’ll put it back afterwards.”

Bryan finally relented. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

 

The pair poked around the other rooms of the funeral home, drifting in and out of the viewing area, while they waited for the line to die down. They had to make sure that they would be the last ones through, so no one would see them rummaging around in Andy’s casket.

“Look at all these kids who came out. As if any of them have said two words to Andy since middle school,” said Eric.

“Yep. It’s like they get off on it,” whispered Bryan. “Seeing someone our age dead is a spectacle to them—and their parents too.”

Eric thought of his own parents, and how they were noticeably absent. His dad lived a few hours away, so he didn’t really expect him to come, but he was dis-appointed his mom hadn’t stopped by to say a few words to Patty. Eric blamed his stepfather, Rick. He could only assume that since it was a Thursday night, Rick had taken his mom to the Ponderosa Steakhouse.

“Okay, we’re next. We’ll go up together, kneel or something. You talk to Patty and Todd,” said Eric.

Bryan nodded. They slowly approached their friend’s coffin. Having already gone through the line, they weren’t as shocked by Andy’s waxy, bloated appear-ance—though it still struck both boys that their friend looked completely out of his element. Andy’s nose ring and earrings were missing, and it appeared as if his wide-gauge ear piercings had been sewn, or glued, shut. He was uncharacteristically made up in a striped, collared shirt, which was buttoned all the way to his chin, and khaki pants, a sharp contrast to his usual band T-shirts and jeans.

“They dressed him up like Liam Gallagher,” whis-pered Bryan.

Eric shrugged, as he and Bryan knelt before their childhood friend. Bryan waited for the elderly man to his left to finish consoling Andy’s mom, before he popped up and began chatting with her.

Eric saw his opening and stood over the casket. He reached for Andy’s left pants pocket and, in the process, grazed his still hand. Eric shivered at the cool touch and odd texture of his friend’s lifeless fingers. Something was holding Andy’s hands together and in place, keeping Eric from snaking his hand into the pocket. He began to sweat, and a pang of nervous energy ran through his chest as he leaned in closer to the corpse. Eric’s hand shook as he reached toward the pocket. He gave a quick look back at Bryan, making sure he had Patty and Todd’s full attention, before dipping his fingers into Andy’s pocket. He felt the cold, hard surface of the box on his fingertips, and was about to dig in further and snatch it out, when he felt someone bend his other arm painfully behind him.

“Young man, what in God’s name are you doing?” whispered Mr. Coleman. The funeral director pulled Eric away from the casket like a cop ushering a perp back to the squad car—to the befuddlement of Patty and Todd. Bryan stared at Eric, wide-eyed.

“The body in repose is not to be tampered with,” said Mr. Coleman, having taken Eric into the hallway, and out of sight of Andy’s grief-stricken parents. The man loosened his grip on Eric’s arm.

“I just…wanted to say goodbye,” said Eric, affecting the whimper of a loved one in mourning.

“He’s in the Lord’s hands now, son,” said Mr. Coleman. Eric couldn’t help but think about the dozens of times he had heard Andy say things like “God is gay.”

“Yes, sir. Thanks be to God,” said Eric, before making the sign of the cross.

The funeral director shook his head and released the teen, then trudged out of the room. Eric sheepishly re-entered the parlor.

“Thanks for coming through again, Eric,” said Patty, her eyes red and misty. “It means a lot to us. You were a good friend to him.” She went to hug Eric, but he bent down and awkwardly placed his arms around her torso, only mimicking how human beings hug.

“No problem, Mrs. Kulowski. Just wanted to say goodbye to you and Mr. K.”

Todd took Eric’s pale hand in his and shook it, businesslike. “We’ll see you tomorrow, then, Eric. Thanks for coming.”

Bryan and Eric then wandered outside, eventually crossing Main Street to where Bryan’s car was parked in the St. James Church parking lot. “So, did you get it?” asked Bryan.

“No. I couldn’t get deep enough into his pocket. His hand was in the way. Then Mr. Coleman caught me. But I don’t think he knew I was trying to steal something.”

“You were too obvious. You should’ve popped a Mentos; then you would’ve stayed fresh and stayed cool,” said Bryan.

Eric chuckled. “Well, I guess we can try again tomorrow.”

 

But the next day’s phony funerary mass and ritualistic burial came and went. Eric and Bryan had only briefly considered making a move to get at the box within their friend’s pocket during the funeral itself. Ultimately, they thought better of it when Patty eyed them loitering by the open casket at the Catholic church, and there was certainly no time for shenanigans at the cemetery itself.

Eric stayed behind at Andy’s newly covered grave until sundown, his first time “alone” with Andy in weeks. He likely would’ve stayed much longer, had the caretaker not seen him to the cemetery gates in his old beat-up Ford pickup.

Eric went home and immediately descended to his musty basement bedroom. He sat opposite the TV in the well-worn maroon La-Z-Boy, which once belonged to his dad and, as he did every Friday night at nine, watched The X-Files. The room had once served as the family rec room. In middle school, it was where he and his friends would hold sleepovers—all-nighters playing Super Mario Kart, watching SNICK and TGIF. But as Eric outgrew his tiny second-floor bedroom, wanting more space for himself, he had gradually claimed the rec room as his own. Certainly no one else wanted it, with its wood paneling and shabby, orange carpet.

The walls were plastered with glow-in-the-dark stars and black light posters. Next to a cheap stereo he had picked up at RadioShack sat his CD tower, stocked with his favorite bands: Sublime, Weezer, Pearl Jam. He didn’t have a proper bed down there. He slept on the pull-out sofa, his pillow still fitted with the same old grade-school Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pillowcase.

A great deal had happened in a few weeks’ time, but the room still bore the telltale signs of Andy’s presence. A crumpled Taco Bell bag lay on the floor next to several empty cans of Jolt Cola. Andy’s dirty NOFX hoodie was slung over his grandma’s torn, hand-me-down loveseat, where he had forgotten it after a long session of GoldenEye. And always that hole in the laundry room door that Andy had repeatedly punched over the course of one wild, endless night following a breakup with his first serious girlfriend. It was almost as if his friend had just stepped out and would soon return—perhaps with a new game or slasher flick from Blockbuster, or a dime bag he had gotten from Luke Dobler at the McDonald’s drive-thru window.

When the notorious Cigarette Smoking Man appeared on screen several minutes into the episode, Eric could have sworn he heard a gasp from the loveseat, where Andy normally sat. He glanced over, envisioning his friend there—his nose ring, bleached hair, devious smile—but of course he wasn’t. Andy should have been sitting there, thought Eric, maybe smoking a bowl, dissecting the will they/won’t they relationship of Mulder and Scully. Not buried in a box in the ground beneath Valleyview Cemetery, like his grandparents.

The wake and lead-up to the funeral had distracted Eric from the brutal reality of the situation: his best friend was gone, and things would never be the same. Sure, Bryan remained present in his life, and was always good for a laugh, but it wasn’t the same. Bryan was a dude, someone to hang with, throw TVs off the bridge with—while Andy was his brother from another mother, a Chance to his Shadow, his ride-or-die Skeeter Valentine.

Eric and Andy had made so many plans together, had shared wild, extravagant dreams. Things they would do, places they would go. Eric was unable to contemplate a future apart from his friend. And his basement, what had been a place defined by fun memories—Jet Moto tournaments, Friday the 13th marathons, endless conversations about girls and music—had suddenly become unfamiliar, almost strange.

Eric watched a couple of movies, falling asleep as The Serpent and the Rainbow played on TNT MonsterVision.

He was awakened in the early morning hours, by what sounded like the laundry room door creaking open. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he could see someone walking toward him. He trembled, realizing by the outline of the figure that the intruder was neither his mother nor his stepdad. Eric braced for a confrontation, partly sitting in his bed, when under the dim glow of the overhead fluorescent light, Andy emerged. He was snickering, and it took Eric a moment to realize why—Andy’s balls were sticking out from the front of his jeans.

“What the fuck, dude!” said Eric, who had been treated to the sight of Andy’s scrotum on too many occasions. Andy just kept laughing and, despite how nasty it was, Eric couldn’t help but bust out himself. He reveled in Andy’s absurd, no-boundaries sense of humor, laughing hard for the first time in weeks. But Eric was pulled from the uproarious moment when he noticed pieces of skin peeling away from Andy’s face. He sat, stunned, immobile, as Andy began to shed before him, watching as more layers of his friend fell to the floor, revealing raw facial tissue and pulsating neck arteries. If Andy hadn’t been wearing a t-shirt and jeans, he assumed he’d be seeing all his friend’s innards, as if he were one of those transparent dummies in Mrs. Bauman’s biology class. It was only then that Eric recalled the horrifying truth—Yesterday was Andy’s funeral and burial. He’s dead—causing him to awaken, unsure if he had been in a deep sleep or just drifting off. But the vision had faded away, balls and all, and Eric again felt the dull emptiness of the basement.

 

Days later, Eric was surprised to get a call from Patty, asking that he and Bryan come to her house. She had some things that Andy wanted them to have. The boys arrived at the Kulowski’s modest, yellow ranch that evening, unsure of what they would be receiving.

“I saw the two of you with Father Ryan after the mass. Were you guys trying to put something in the coffin?” asked Patty.

The boys followed her into the kitchen. “Uh…no, not exactly,” said Eric.

Bryan spoke up before Eric could continue. “Yep, you got us, Mrs. K. We wanted to put a Hustler mag in with him. Since he won’t be able to get AOL down there…”

“Up there, Bry! Up there,” interjected Eric.

“Yeah, sorry…”

“Relax, guys.” Patty chuckled, her eyes still red and weary from weeks of mourning her lost son. “Thanks for not making a spectacle at his funeral. I’m sure he wouldn’t have minded, whatever it was you were planning.” She picked up an envelope from the counter and handed it to Eric. “He left this for you to open.”

Eric inspected the envelope. It was sealed, with his and Bryan’s names scrawled across the front in Andy’s horrendous handwriting. “Thanks, Mrs. K.” Eric paused, unsure if he should open it there in front of his friend’s mom—recalling the time Andy once had him open a birthday card with a naked, muscle-bound dude on the front, in the middle of the bustling high school cafeteria.

“It’s okay, boys. I assume it’s private. You don’t have to show me.”

They visited with Patty for a little while longer. She gave them some of her son’s books, PlayStation games, and CDs, before letting them leave. The pair practically raced out of the house and into Bryan’s green ’92 Toyota Celica, having shared a palpable, nervous anticipation since the moment Patty handed Eric the envelope.

“Fucking open it, dude,” said Bryan, grasping his steering wheel as if bracing for impact.

Eric slow-rolled the opening of the envelope and retrieval of the note, causing Bryan to cuss him out mercilessly. “Okay, okay, relax,” said Eric, before exhaling, then reading the letter out loud:

Hey, Eric and Bry. If you’re reading this—sorry for dying. Don’t know how you guys will ever get a girl to talk to you without me around. You can have whatever you want from my room, just ask my mom first. I want you guys to visit her once in a while. You can tell her some of my secrets, just leave out the really nasty shit. She considers the two of you her redheaded stepchildren, for some reason.

I know you jerkoffs want to know what’s in my box. I considered just leaving it for you, but fuck that, I’m not telling you shit! Anyway, here’s the combination: 69-04-20. Ha! Good luck with that!

P.S. The key to Bryan’s mom’s chastity belt is in my ass.

Bryan and Eric began laughing at some point during the letter and didn’t stop until Bryan pulled up in front of Eric’s house. “I can’t believe it,” said Bryan. “He left the fucking combination, but not the box.”

“I know, dude. Kills me,” said Eric. “We’re gonna have to dig him up. Show him we’re not pussies.”

Bryan laughed. “Sure, man.”

“I’m not joking.”

Bryan caught his breath and became uncharacter-istically serious. “Eric, let it go. He’s gone.”

“One last night of fuckery with Andy. What do you say, dude? One last gag for all the times he fucked with us,” said Eric, almost pleading. “I’m pretty sure we have his blessing at this point.”

“It’s over, Eric. I loved him, almost as much as you. But it’s done,” stated Bryan. “We’ll do something this weekend.”

Eric nodded, and his heart sank, as his only living friend pulled away. It was only moments before the feelings of loneliness and isolation crept back in and surrounded him like a moth-eaten blanket.

 

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Legend Tripping Centralia, Past and Present

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Centralia, PA would be in a proverbial Hall of Fame for legend tripping. It is an odd place, and it’s even a creepy place under the right weather/daylight/seasonal conditions. I heard from a friend about this (mostly) abandoned coal town in the summer of 2001. He had read a brief passage about it in Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. Bryson mentions a town with a few dozen inhabitants, with streets, mailboxes, driveways serving homes that had long been razed; streets lost to massive, smoldering sinkholes. The very same night that my friend told me about Centralia, we went off to go see it for ourselves.

This is what the closed section of the abandoned highway looked like in 2001-2005, when we made yearly trips. There were a few graffiti marks right at the beginning of the road, and then it was desolate for a mile or so. Centralia is the type of place where you can feel that you are passing from the ordinary to the strange.

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Centralia is a living legend. The coal fires still burn, but not as noticeably as twenty years ago. The deep fissures in the abandoned highway (which a grown man could stand in, at one time) have been filled in. A few more houses have been torn down. In 2003 you knew when you were in the ‘center’ of Centralia. There was a manicured park in the center of town, a grouping of homes near the crossroads. I went back in the summer of 2017 with my kids and I drove past the town!

Here is the same abandoned highway(pictured above) in 2017:

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I don’t know that I’m upset with what Instagramers have done in terms of popularizing this special place. The graffiti/rainbow road is something different, almost worthy of notoriety in its own right. Centralia is a living thing, its legend is only growing. I don’t know that I’d want to go on the same legend trip twice.

John and I write weird fiction with real places like Centralia in mind. Locations that we sometimes even name(or just mildly obscure) that a reader can visit for themselves. At the Cemetery Gates: Year One and Corpse Cold: New American Folklore are riddled with these locations. These places we’ve visited as kids and adults, and have been inspired to re-imagine. We’re contemplating putting together a collection of stories that focus on real, strange locations in Upstate New York, with photographs and a map, something one could travel in a day or a couple of afternoons.

-Joe Sullivan

‘It That Decays,’ appearing in CORPSE COLD: NEW AMERICAN FOLKLORE

books, short stories

ItThatDecays_01

Jim Patrick tried to relax during his dental exam, but the severe pain made it hard for him to think of anything else. It had begun as a dull toothache, only a few days prior, and Jim had delayed making an appointment with his dentist, Dr. Godbere. But that morning, he was in such agony that he had pleaded with the office receptionist to be seen immediately.

“Well, Jim, overall your teeth look great, as always. There’s just a small cavity on one of your bottom third molars,” said Dr. Godbere. “Christ, it’s rare that I come across a full set of wisdom teeth that have as much room as yours. You’ve got great genes.”

Jim grabbed his cheek and sighed. “I’ve never had a cavity before. I didn’t know it would hurt this much.”

“The amount of pain you’re experiencing is out of the ordinary. But in the realm of teeth, gums, and nerves, nothing surprises me anymore,” said the dentist. “We’ll drill it and fill it.”

“Go ahead and drill, Doc. I’d never thought I’d be saying that to a dentist.” Jim smiled faintly as the dentist clapped him on the shoulder.

“I’ve known these teeth since the 90s. You’re in good hands.”

Godbere began preparing for the minor dental procedure. Jim tried to distract himself with a daytime talk show on the exam room’s TV, but he was already beginning to sweat. He was neurotic about his dental care, and was disappointed in himself for having to undergo a procedure that was fully preventable.

“Jim, I’m surprised you have a cavity. Has your diet changed since the last time you were in?”

Jim threw up his hands. “That’s the thing, Doc — I’ve been eating healthier! More fruits, smoothies, even drinking this special kombucha — my son said it did wonders for his gut flora.”

“Ah, I see. Fruits and juices are really acidic, eat at the enamel — not to mention the sugar,” said Godbere. “I’ve heard kombucha can really stain the teeth — and that it might be more hocus pocus than digestive aid. But we can talk about your diet later.”

Godbere tested his drill; the whirring of the motor made Jim cringe. The dentist then retrieved a long needle from his assistant and prepared to inject Jim with some novocaine. “You ready?”

Jim nodded, gripping the armrests on the dental chair.

“Then let’s get to work.”

 

Jim returned home later that morning, satisfied that he had dealt with his tooth troubles. It wasn’t until the early afternoon that the novocaine wore off, and he again felt the dull ache in his jaw. Dr. Godbere had told Jim it might take a day or two for the pain to completely fade, and had given him a prescription for Percocet.

By the time Jim was ready for bed that evening, his pain was on par with what he had experienced before visiting the dentist. Jim took the medicine, and still he barely slept that night. He called the dentist during his lunch break the following day, as he had been forced to down multiple painkillers just to get through the morning.

Dr. Godbere managed to get Jim in for a late-afternoon appointment. “Jim, you look good. I can’t believe you’re still in pain — it really was just a surface cavity, which I normally wouldn’t even bother filling. We’ll do some x-rays and figure this thing out.”

After the x-rays were taken, Godbere went over them with Jim in the exam room. “Here. Here’s the filling we just did,” said the dentist, as he pointed at the black-and-white film.

Jim followed along with the dentist, but he also noticed another blemish further down the tooth, and pointed it out. “Doc, what’s this dark blotch here?”

Godbere leaned over Jim to get a closer view of the film. “It’s not a cavity, and it’s probably not on the tooth itself. You sometimes see this sort of thing with wisdom teeth. They tend to pull up extra tissue, since they rarely have enough room to fully irrupt without disturbing the canals. Wisdom teeth are what we call ‘vestigial structures.’ They serve no purpose; they’re evolutionary holdovers from millions of years ago.” Godbere sat back and wrote out a prescription. “I’m prescribing you a rinse that’s meant to treat serious gingivitis. It should alleviate the gum pain itself — if this is a gum issue.”

Jim left the dentist’s office that evening feeling like he had received no real answers. He filled his new prescription, followed the rinse regimen, and popped a Percocet before retiring for the night.

 

To say Jim woke in pain each morning following his visit with Dr. Godbere would be an understatement. He was taking so many pills that he could barely function. He was a zombie at work and slept at all hours when he was at home. Jim was worried about getting hooked on opioids — he had heard the horror stories — and worse, his whole jaw ached when he wasn’t loaded up with Percocet. He called around until he could make an appointment with a new dentist and get a second opinion on his condition. He no longer trusted Godbere’s judgment.

“So, you say you’ve had a cavity filled and now your jaw hurts?” asked Dr. Robinson, as he examined Jim at his private practice.

“Just look at the x-ray I brought, Doc. I don’t think Dr. Godbere got all of the cavity or something.”

Dr. Robinson picked up the film and looked it over briefly before setting it down. “We can get the filling out and take a look, clean up anything that needs to be corrected.” The dentist was all too eager to replace the filling and collect an easy $800. He knew Godbere was an experienced dentist and considered the possibility that he was dealing with a hypochondriac.  

Robinson’s office was built above a remodeled garage adjacent to his home. Jim certainly preferred the clean, modern, and professional setting of Dr. Godbere’s office, but he was desperate. The dentist employed one receptionist/hygienist, an older woman named Mary, who had greeted Jim earlier while chainsmoking in the driveway.

Mary entered the room, turned on a monitor, and laid out the tools of the dental trade on a pan over Jim’s lap, before telling Robinson that she was headed out for another cigarette.

“Okay, Mr. Patrick, I’m going to give you a shot to numb the area; then we’ll get the filling out and see what’s going on with my new camera.” Robinson lifted the long, thin camera and flicked its light on and off before attaching it to the drill. He placed the drill in Jim’s mouth and turned it on. “I can move the monitor if you don’t want to watch.”

“Oh, it’s fine, Doc. Do what you have to do.”

The dentist nodded and went to work. He soon had the filling out and was prodding around in the depression. “Jim, I think I’m going to have to drill more. There’s still some discoloration. I can see how Dr. Godbere may have missed this if he didn’t have a camera to really get in there.”

“Yeah, I don’t think he went down far enough,” said Jim, after the dentist had removed his tools. “Drill, baby drill!”

Robinson chuckled. “Okay, okay. I’m going to place this O-guard in your mouth, just to be safe.”

Soon enough, the drill was back in Jim’s mouth, the two men viewing its progress on the monitor. Jim watched as the drill slipped through the small hole, suddenly, and Robinson unceremoniously yanked it back out of his mouth.

“Shit!” said Robinson. “There may be some serious basal decay. The drill went all the way through and into the gum — as if the bottom of the tooth was hollow.”

“Wha’ now?” mumbled Jim, throatily, the guard in his mouth obstructing his speech.

“Well, let’s take a look,” said Robinson as he put the drill with its attached camera back into the man’s mouth.

They could see some blood pooling around the tooth and gum as the camera approached the rear of Jim’s mouth. When the device was placed into the opening in the tooth, the dentist gasped. Jim couldn’t quite make out what Dr. Robinson was seeing on the monitor. From Jim’s point of view, it looked like a dark, hairy patch in his tooth.

“This is unbelievable. Let me increase the magnification.” When Robinson magnified the hairy patch, Jim could make out a sickening mass of tiny, black worms living within his tooth and jaw!

Both men revolted, and the camera and monitor lost the image. Jim tried to say something, but he could only wrench out a shrill series of gasps.

“Bone worms?!” exclaimed Robinson, now incredibly curious. He maneuvered the drill back into place so they could again examine the issue. “Relax a minute, Jim. Let’s take another look.”

But before Robinson could get the drill into the tooth itself, both men spotted the worms emerging from the hole, snake-haired. The wriggling abominations had made a home of Jim’s mandible and seemed to be erupting, their hideout exposed. Jim panicked and grabbed the dentist’s hand and drill, and the drill whirred to life.

“No, Jim, don’t!”

It was too late. Jim had already jammed the drill toward the bewormed wisdom tooth. First missing and scraping a jagged line across the dentin of another molar, then adjusting and finding the mark — all while watching on the monitor above. It happened so fast; Robinson was powerless to stop the frenzied man from drilling into the tooth, then through the gum tissue, and eventually into the jaw, each of which had been hollowed as the worms progressed toward the surface. There was the whirr of the machine and the hideous crackle of broken bone and severed tissue. The drill easily broke through the passage made by the parasitic creatures, and Jim only ceased drilling when he had punctured through the flesh of his jaw.

“Mary! Get the hell in here, now!” screamed Dr. Robinson, as he finally unplugged the drill and restrained Jim from further injury.

Jim writhed madly and kicked the pan of tools set on the table hovering across his lap. Mary ran in, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, and helped the dentist keep Jim in the chair. Blood was running from the drill emerging from Jim’s jaw, dripping down his neck, even spurting when he turned his head too far.

“What the hell is that?” asked Mary, as worms as thin as human hair began finding their way out of Jim’s jaw, slinking down the drill itself and falling onto his shirt and into his lap.

 

When Jim passed out, Dr. Robinson and his assistant quickly contacted an ambulance. The ER doctors were able to remove the drill, Jim’s injuries were treated, and he was given a regimen of medications to kill off the parasitic worms.

The write-up on Jim Patrick’s diagnosis and treatment became a well-known case-study. It took time and effort on the part of the medical researchers, but they were able to determine that the worms had originated from a natural kombucha which Jim had purchased online from the Philippines, only weeks prior to his first symptoms.  

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REVIEW: ‘Scary Stories’ documentary is a nostalgic treat for longtime fans

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The time was ripe for a documentary on Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the popular children’s horror book series by Alvin Schwartz.

The Scary Stories books were published in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the original readers are now adults (many with their own children), 30- and 40-somethings who are likely nostalgic for the time they spent reading the likes of “Harold” and “One Sunday Morning,” under the covers, or with their friends at sleepovers. We definitely belong to that demographic, and as authors of books heavily inspired by the series, we were certainly excited to see it. And we’re glad we did; Scary Stories is a satisfying watch for fans of Alvin Schwartz the storyteller.

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This dude’s cover of “The Hearse Song” is sick.

The documentary opens with an interview with musician Harley Poe, who has recorded a folksy, eerie rendition of “The Hearse Song” (a song from the first book in the series) which has racked up 625,000 views on YouTube. Poe was inspired by the Scary Stories series as a kid, and it’s a treat to hear him talk about it with such passion. Filmmaker Cody Meirick conducted approximately 40 interviews over a three-year period, and throughout the documentary, we learn that Poe’s experience isn’t uncommon.

The most noteworthy subject has to be Peter Schwartz, Alvin Schwartz’s son. Since Alvin died in 1992, we get to discover Alvin through Peter’s eyes. We learn of his father’s passion for documenting folklore, and get to know him as a man. 

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Peter Schwartz, son of Alvin Schwartz.

When it comes to the stories themselves, Meirick does a nice job discussing the folk tales and urban legends that inspired them. R.L. Stine himself, author of the mega-successful Goosebumps book series, even makes an appearance, discussing his admiration for Schwartz, who, unlike him, spent time researching stories for his books. And we learn, from folklorists and professors, the academic and mythic inspirations behind some of the stories, how they touch upon universal fears. For example, “The Red Spot,” in which a growing bump on a young woman’s face turns out to be a sac full of baby spiders, is actually analogous to the creation story of the Greek goddess Athena.

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The original “Red Spot.”

It’s stories like “The Red Spot” that helped earn Scary Stories series the title of “most banned books of all time.” Meirick explores this aspect of the story well, featuring footage from actual protests in the 90s and interviews with those on both sides of the debate. He even convinced one of the biggest pro-ban advocates to sit down for a chat with Peter Schwartz.

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This lady sort of hates Scary Stories.

The interviews regarding Schwartz’s perspective are great, but the most glaring omission is Stephen Gammell. His impact on young artists is told well, but there is only a short quote from him, regarding his methodology. You can’t properly talk about the Scary Stories books without mentioning the man, as half the appeal of the books is its sinister art. We’re treated to some neat black-and-white animations in the style of his work, and his original art appears throughout, but not Gammell. Gammell rarely holds interviews, and we can’t fault Meirick for that, but it would have been nice to hear from an agent, lawyer, publishing professional, someone who could speak about the artist’s involvement with some authority. In addition, we would have liked to have heard from someone in the publishing field, perhaps someone from Harper & Row, who helped produce or promote the book at the time. There was a period in the early 90s when the books sold phenomenally well.

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Just one of several Gammell-inspired animations throughout.

Overall, we were pleased with Scary Stories and heartily recommend it to fans of the series. Despite Gammell’s absence, the documentary offers new information and is a great celebration for those of us who were there in the 80s and 90s and still love the series.

Find out more about the Scary Stories documentary at the official website

John Brhel and Joseph Sullivan are the co-authors of CORPSE COLD: NEW AMERICAN FOLKLORE, a fully illustrated book of short stories inspired by urban legends and folklore.