Her Mourning Portrait and Other Paranormal Oddities

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Her Mourning Portrait and Other Paranormal Oddities is the fifth anthology from Brhel & Sullivan. It is a collection of dark fantasy stories which focuses on the interplay between the euphoric and lamentable moments of romantic commitments. These ten tales are light romances, which take turns through various fantasy subgenres such as science fiction, the paranormal, the occult and the weird.

Such tales include: “Lady of Cayuga Lake,” which 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.

“Side by Side” is a quirky cemetery tale about a confrontation between a long-dead man and his widow’s second husband, regarding the final resting place of their beloved-in-common.

“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.

Here’s what some critics and people have had to say about HMP:

“This is my favorite work of Brhel & Sullivan’s yet. The stories- all of which are short- all have fantastic twists to them that really rev up the vibe; just when you think they’re coming to a nice, neat ending, something off-kilter pops up, and the story flies off again. I’m such of a fan of the writing style and overall work- I think these collaborators get better with each new work.” — Melody, Goodreads reviewer

“The stories here are also heartfelt and tender, offering insightful ideas about relationships and love. And not only that, but there are quite a few references to Brhel and Sullivan’s other works, weaving the stories into a tight universal knot… a very smart move considering the world’s current obsession with fictional universes.” — Cameron Chaney, BookTuber

“As always, these authors write interesting stories with a twist. This was a fun, fast and entertaining read!” — Kat Loves Books

Purchase your copy at Amazon!

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Resurrection High: A Black Comedy

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ORDER YOUR COPY THROUGH AMAZON!

READ THE FIRST CHAPTER!

 

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Resurrection High is like Carrie, but without the telekinetic powers; like Donnie Darko, without the time travel; like The Karate Kid, but our protagonist is training in poetry. A subversive, spooky tale set in the days when America Online, The Smashing Pumpkins, and The X-Files reigned supreme.

At Lestershire High, Eric Verlaine is seen as a freak, even by alt 90s standards. His best friend is dead, his only living friend is tied up with a girl, and a group of vile bullies make his time at school unbearable. Eric would rather spend his days in the local cemetery than go to school, or even home, where he is ignored by his mother and abused by his stepfather. He’s planning one last adventure with his deceased pal, an exhumation to get at the small safe in his friend’s casket, the contents of which Eric believes will provide some form of closure. After visiting the grave of his friend one evening, Eric is shown a curious monument to a trio of artists who died mysteriously a century prior, sparking an investigation into his town’s unsavory past.

Resurrection High is a nostalgic, darkly comic story of a teenager finding a passion for life after insurmountable loss.

Here’s what some reviewers have had to say about RH:

“It was a heart-breaking, rage-inducing and all-around a pretty damn good coming-of-age story about losing a very close friend.” — Sci-Fi & Scary

“The authors did an excellent job of capturing that time when we all struggled, and the mood and feel were right there. It transported me right back to my days in school and I forgot how much I hated most of it..” — The Scary Reviews

Add it to your Goodreads.

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At The Cemetery Gates: Volume 2

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Through these gates we shall see the souls which misery doomed…

A man finds himself camping in the middle of a serial killer’s burying grounds… Two brothers uncover a secret more heinous than they ever imagined when snooping around their neighbor’s house… A graduate student captures an urban legend on his school’s famed Suicide Bridge…

At the Cemetery Gates: Volume 2 is a book for hellhounds, nostalgic crypt keepers, and creepypasta aficionados. It features 16 new stories by Brhel & Sullivan, and is follow-up to our 2016 release, At The Cemetery Gates: Year One.

Here’s what some reviewers have had to say about RH:

“This would make a wonderful seasonal Halloween read.” — Rachel (The Shades of Orange Booktuber)

“Great collection of short stories. Although I should not have read these before bed.” — Steph Loves

Order your copy today!

Order the paperback

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Read two stories from Volume 2 for FREE!

“The Devil’s Cabin”

“Mixtape: Halloween ’84”

An Indie Publisher’s Guide to Launching and Supporting a Successful Kickstarter Campaign

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We’ve only run one successful Kickstarter campaign as a publisher, so most of this will entail what worked for Cemetery Gates Media in raising $29k last October for Corpse Cold. But if you’re an indie publisher in the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genres, I think our lessons learned will most readily apply to your crowdfunding project.

The following is a questionnaire that one might ask themselves before launching any Kickstarter, followed by my answers as related to launching a book.

Do I have a unique product?

The most successful books are illustrated, representing visual arts as their major selling point. This coffee table book on Norse Mythology is a gorgeous collectible. It raised 75k last year!

Are you filling a niche in demand? Handcrafted spell books and books about witches tend to do well because there is a strong online community of Wiccans and Neopagans. Warning: niche impostors won’t attract the same interest as someone with a preexisting presence in the genre, community, or lifestyle.

Launching a single-author general anthology is a difficult task, even if it’s illustrated. Which is why so many books launched are group anthologies. Everyone needs to first identify their crowd, the characteristics of who might support their project before running a campaign. A group anthology often attracts a crowd by including authors with the desired characteristics of their targeted crowd i.e. authors who’ve been featured in other anthologies in their desired genre, authors who’ve had success on other platforms like Reddit, Tumblr, YouTube, etc.

Can I expect to reach consumers outside of my family, friends, current social media reach?

Establishing a brand that can be promoted is so much more important than establishing your author ‘name brand.’ You need to have a finished product to show, a back catalog of work, even if it’s only a few paid anthology credits. You need new eyes to be able to trust that your work is already well-regarded by an audience, any audience. Launching a Kickstarter to gain your first exposure, to build your first brand is incredibly difficult, and likely an insurmountable feat in the publishing world.

If you can’t dip into the audiences where your work has had some traction, then you’re going to have to rely too heavily on Kickstarter itself as a promotional tool. This is the death knell for most failed projects on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter algorithm pushes traffic from within its site to your campaign on par with the traffic generated by you, from off the site. If you’re successful in generating traffic to your campaign page, Kickstarter will stand shoulder to shoulder with you in driving pledges.

Do I have to RISK money on advertising?

Even if you have tens of thousands of followers on various social media platforms, have an existing marketing pipeline for selling books, you’ll need to spend hundreds of dollars and be willing to risk losing that money. There’s an incredibly common misconception that you can really start to promote a Kickstarter campaign after its been funded — when the marketing is already paid for.

If you don’t hit half of your goal within the first two weeks of launching, your project might not get funded. Projects tend to lag ¾ of the way through. There will be days that you remain flat or even lose money from backers withdrawing their support. The most exciting times for a campaign are at its launch and conclusion. If you fund your project early, you can count on the interest of latecomers, watchers, fence riders, to propel your funding in the final week.

How much should I spend on advertising?

You should aim to hit 10k eyeballs a day for the first week using a static image with your brief message. Facebook is still the most efficient way for small budget publishers to generate traffic to a Kickstarter page. Rates have increased, but you should still be able to target genre readers for $40-60/day, or ~$350 for the first week. I think we spent $1400 for our 30 day campaign on FB alone.

You have one shot at capturing someone’s attention with your image as they scroll by. Use little to no text in an image, using the book cover is fine if it’s a great cover, but you can get creative with the image you choose. The ad text needs to be brief. What brand are you selling and why should someone click your link? The link can go right to the campaign page, but it’s not a bad idea to have a landing page to continue the argument for why someone should back your project. The project landing page is your full sale for what you’re doing and should be promoted in your video and on your Kickstarter page.

We spent a small amount on Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, but they were largely inefficient for generating traffic. We weren’t able to get any deals done for promotion by social media influencers or YouTube personalities during our campaign. However, the micro-influencers were key in promoting our project on social media. Once you hit your goal you become a news piece for your genre and then it’s incredibly easy getting people to work with you in getting your message out.

Should I promote my campaign video?

Yes, and no. You shouldn’t spend money on promoting your video. It’s unlikely that it’ll be a viral sensation even if it’s a good/funny/creepy/emotional professional production. You want people to go to your campaign page to watch your video to garner information about why they should pledge.

You should promote the sharing of your video with press releases, through your existing network of contacts. New eyes aren’t going to watch any video for more than ten seconds as they scroll through their feeds.

What does a good campaign page look like?

A few images associated with your work. A few paragraphs summing up the message of the video and some additional information from your web page, including a link to your web page which should have at least one full story for a potential backer to sample. Don’t include anything about stretch goals until you hit your stretch goal! It’s clutter.

If you’re promoting a book the reward tiers shouldn’t be all that complicated.

Digital

Paperback

Hardcover

Bundle -offer things associated with your genre, an audio version, things readers might appreciate.

Special Version -additional material, not just rejected material.

Ultra Tier -you might offer your time, mentorship, handmade items.

People get hung up on creating wacky reward tiers, largely for their own amusement; or trying to convey what might happen if funding is successful early on. You should be offering a boutique experience as a publisher. You need to convey the idea that you are putting out this limited product for, and only because of, your backers, and not because you’re using Kickstarter to jump-start your writing/publishing career.

If you’re launching a campaign from the US, include the cost of shipping in the cost of the book! International shipping will cost $15-35. We purposely set our international shipping at a flat “deal” rate to generate more international buys, because we included excess cost of a couple dollars in our domestic shipping calculation.

How much money should I ask for?

The minimum amount that makes the project work for you. Assuming $350 dollars is your minimum advertising fee, your goal should be 10x your risk, before taking into account other costs.

Shipping to 100 unique buyers isn’t a big deal, and isn’t that costly if you’re in the US and shipping to mostly American backers. Shipping to 500+, when you have closer to 100 international buyers, is labor intensive. The last I checked, you could ship flat rate international for $30-35, but it’s constantly increasing.

If you have a successful campaign you will be contacted by distribution expediters, some of them are worth their fee, some aren’t. Are you willing and do you have the time to be a distributor yourself?

Producing paperbacks is cheap! You can get your cost to about $4 per book shipped to your distribution area. Hardcovers are a different story. If you only have to produce 30 hardcovers you might end up paying $16-18 per copy.

Let’s assume that you hit 100 unique physical item backers at an average cost of $35 per sale to hit your goal, and that you’ll have to produce 90 paperbacks and 20 hardcovers. ($360) + ($340) = ($700) just to get your books to you, before shipping to your customer. If you’re shipping these yourself, you average $3.50 book rate in the US w/tracking, so 100 packaged x 3.50 = ($350).

So, now your expected costs are ($350 advertising) + ($700 books) + ($350 shipping) = ($1400). Remember, our tentative goal is $3500, so we’re in great shape. But we’re also going to lose ($385) in Kickstarter/Transfer fees. Everyone is going to have to spend money on a cover, editing, and if it’s a group anthology, you have to pay for the material you’re publishing.

Professional cover: ($300)

Editing services: ($100-300)

If you’re trying to put out an illustrated book, 100 unique buyers won’t be enough to cover that cost, even if the illustrator is partnered with you for the project.

Token payments for a group anthology might run $30-80. 20 stories x $50 = ($1000)

Now our cost for 100 unique backers is approx. ($3285). $3500 – 3285 = $215 which covers a few credit card charges that won’t go through, a few international packages lost, and materials for shipping. So, if your author payments were more than $50/story, you’d be losing money.

I just wanted to show one model for calculating a doable group anthology, since they usually have the best chance at funding. You’re going to want to get more than 100 unique backers. It costs more to get those eyeballs. I promise you, you can’t hit the volume you need to hit through your normal social media channels. A 500k reach on all your social media avenues through everyone involved in the project won’t be close to enough(you can’t possibly contact every follower, fan, subscriber.) Ideally, you want your project ad in front of 200k-1M people in your genre, to return you 500+ unique backers. 500k eyes for 500 backers, a conversion rate of 0.1%! That’s $350 per week of your campaign toward advertising.

Does seasonality really matter for Kickstarter projects?

Yes! You shouldn’t run a Kickstarter campaign in December or January, no matter the content of your book or product. If you have a Christmas book you launch in September or October into November, ending before December and promising to deliver by early- to mid-December.

People love to buy books for presents in December, but they’re less likely to back your book Kickstarter. January is a retail wasteland, don’t fight 100 years of sales knowledge. People don’t have excess income in Jan/Feb.

Am I looking to fund my project based on its merits, or am I looking for donations?

Kickstarter is not GoFundMe, or even Indiegogo! Kickstarter is now a decade-old community with its own culture. The pledges are only considered ‘donations’ for boring, legal reasons. What you offer your backers has to resemble what they’d pay at market for equivalent items. The Kickstarter community knows and accepts that they’ll have to pay a reasonable premium over the market price of a new book in order to get your project off the ground, but it’s not over 10x the cost of actually producing the book!

-Joe Sullivan

This is a really brief guide. If you have any additional questions, you can hit me up on social media or via email. Cemeterygatesmedia@gmail.com facebook.com/cemeterygatesmedia u/EldraziHorror

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.

Centralia2003

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:

centralia2017

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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