Read the First Chapter of ‘The Thrumming Stone’

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CANTICLE ONE

 

Even by lax cultural standards of the 1990s, my sister and I were probably too old to be rocketing down the hill at Virginia Ave Park. Jenny was 16 and I had just turned 14, but an impromptu afternoon of sledding freshly fallen snow was one of the last bastions of pure, unadulterated joy in our increasingly complicated lives. We were in the 8th and 10th grade at Lestershire High, coming of age during the peak of MTV’s generational influence—thankfully, we were still a couple years away from voluntarily tethering our social lives to AOL and its Instant Messenger. And even though we were glued to MTV and reruns of 90210, our worldview was still largely shaped by our family, friends, teachers, and small town.

Our passage into adolescence had been a rocky one. Our mother, Helen, had only been gone for a couple years, but her eulogy and burial still felt recent. Jenny and I were young enough that her absence was omnipresent in our daily lives—an empty seat at recitals, a dearth of home-cooked meals, missed rides to and from sporting events. Yet, there were moments between the two of us, here and there, which recalled the blissful innocence and wide-eyed optimism that had defined our childhood. We could still enjoy the holidays and looked forward to seeing our extended family; there were birthday parties, presents we hoped to receive, sleepovers and dances that we planned for months in advance.

Our idyllic, storybook village had not yet been laid to waste by layoffs and plant closings. Main Street still felt like the center of town. Everyone I knew had been at the Christmas parade, only weeks prior. It seems alien now, but there were two roller skating rinks, at which I had recently attended birthday parties; and this was the same year that I had started high school.

I was a nostalgic kid. Always looking to recreate monumental moments from my past, even though I was still just that—a kid who’d only just found his postpubescent voice. I was taken aback when Jenny brought up sledding. We only lived a few streets away from the best sledding hill in the county, and it had been such a centerpiece of our childhood winters.

We’d dug out my dad’s old wood runner sleigh and a beat plastic sled that most people would have tossed after a season. A layer of fresh, powder snow had fallen that late-December morning, just right for speedy trips down the slick slope. The hill at Virginia Ave was already a canvas of intersecting lines and boot prints, but the park was largely empty when we got there. There were a few stragglers who were trying to erect a small snow ramp, but it kept flattening each time they hit it. We watched them while we made a few runs of our own, until they finally gave up and went home, and the park was ours.

“Maybe we should try down there,” said Jenny, pointing to a smaller slope at the northern end of the park, running alongside one of the softball fields.

I just shook my head and laughed. Jenny always had to take an innocent outing and find a way to make it a little more dangerous, or at least involve some sort of trespassing. I had gotten scraped up by too many ledges, dogs, and thorn bushes to follow her blindly into another misadventure.

“Why not?” asked Jenny.

“It just goes down to the crick.”

“C’mon, dude. I bet it’s steeper.”

“What if we hit the ice and fall in?”

Jenny snickered. “It’s frozen over and the water’s probably only ankle-deep, anyway.” She began toward the other hill, dragging our dad’s antique sled behind her, ignoring my warning. She didn’t even look back to see if I’d follow. “If you fall in, I’ll call Captain Kirk and you can be on Rescue 911.”

I can’t lie and say I didn’t hesitate, but ultimately, by age 14 I had largely grown tired of playing the wimpy younger brother—especially since I now towered over her. I picked up my crappy, red sled and jogged to catch up.

This second hill was mostly forested, but there was a broad path that led from the edge of the softball field to the bank of the frosted-over creek—it certainly looked like it would be a fun, fast ride.

“There’s no way that you won’t go onto the ice, Jenny.”

“There’s nothing to worry about,” she said. “I’m practically an Olympic-caliber sledder. I’ll just turn before I hit the ice.”

“Just be careful, okay?”

“Sure.”

She set the sleigh at the edge of the hill and took a seat. But instead of pushing off down the steep embankment, she hesitated and looked back at me like she had been struck with a brilliant idea.

“You get on the back,” she said. “More weight is better with these old sleds.”

“No. You do it first.”

“Don’t be a wuss, Joey.”

I sighed and got on the back of the sled. I knew she’d torment me for days if I didn’t comply. She was great at telling everyone we knew about how much of a little bitch I was. I took some comfort in the fact that if we crashed, I’d likely land on top of her.

Jenny grabbed the rope and placed her feet on the steering board. “Ready?”

“No.” I just assumed that with her at the helm things wouldn’t end well.

“3….2….1!”

We shot off from our position and down the unmarred path. As we glided down the hill, we carved out two deep tracks in the snow; it really is amazing how fast runner sleighs can go. The sled picked up speed as we made our quick descent, and Jenny screeched with glee. Despite my initial trepidation, I couldn’t help but crack a smile.

The slight bumps on the way gave us brief rushes of weightlessness, and a large stone or root sent us airborne. We only got a few inches off the ground, but tufts of snow shot up in our faces when we landed, and Jenny had to redirect us away from the trees that lined the left side of the path.

I knew that we were traveling too fast for her to steer us hard in any direction, and I think she recognized it soon after—though I now suspect that it had always been her intention to take us onto the ice. But she made no move to halt or alter our progress as we passed over the creek, the runners hissing beneath us as we traversed the ice. I suspect we even picked up speed over the twenty-or-so-yard-width of Little Choconut Creek, because we were propelled into the woods on the other side, narrowly avoiding a few gnarled maples and elms before slowing among a field of glacial erratics.

Jenny fell back against me and we rolled off the sled as it came to a halt. I yelped as I landed elbow to rock. “Get off!”

She sat up gingerly and shook some snow from her scarf. “Holy crap. That was—”

We were both startled by a loud groaning and then a series of pops from the ice behind us.

“See, I told you we wouldn’t break through the ice,” said Jenny, grinning. We got up and took a few steps back toward the creek to have a look at the source of the noise.

Our sled had evidently cut a section of the ice like a knife, because there was now a large gap which exposed the running water below.

C’mon! How are we supposed to get back across now?” I instantly regretted not having the guts to just tell her no.

“Relax. We’re still in Lestershire, bro. We’ll just head this way until we get to Airport Road,” said Jenny, pointing toward the rocky clearing where the sled had come to a stop.

“Yeah, I guess,” I said. “I think I can hear a truck nearby.”

We wandered the forest, trying to determine the direction of what sounded like an idling engine. We had never been in that part of the park before and, though I knew our house was still only a ten-minute walk, it suddenly felt like we were miles from civilization, shut off from the world. It was exhilarating—that adolescent call to adventure and exploration—we didn’t get out of Lestershire all that often.

“Some of these rocks are pretty cool,” I said. The landscape was unique, like something you’d find in the Catskills or Adirondacks, not smack in the middle of our little village. “I’ve never seen anything like this around here.”

“I think it’s this way,” said Jenny, ignoring my comment. She started up a steep incline.

“Wait, Jenny, check this out,” I said, approaching one of the larger stones in the field. It was between four and five feet tall but wasn’t as round as the others; it reminded me of one of the smaller monoliths I’d seen in books about Stonehenge and other megalithic sites—I’d been obsessed with Stonehenge since elementary school. When I got closer to the stone, I first assumed that it was covered in faded graffiti but was pleasantly surprised to find out that the lines were carved into the rock.

“What?” She came back down but took her time in doing so.

“It looks like pictures, but like it’s some sort of writing…”

“On the boulder?”

I looked at the squiggles and characters from different angles, tried to make some sense out of them. There were animals, people in conflict, indiscernible swirls that seemed to say something that I couldn’t quite grasp. “It’s like hieroglyphics, I guess.”

Jenny came up beside me and examined the markings. “Yeah, wow… They’re not hieroglyphics, though. They’re called petroglyphs.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked.

“It just means someone made inscriptions on the stones. Probably Iroquois.”

“Where’d you hear that?” I asked.

“Mr. Verity,” said Jenny, referring to one of our school’s more eccentric teachers. He had been her history teacher and now he was mine.

We dusted off as much snow as we could around the rock to get a better look at the carvings.

 

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“So, you think this is really old?” I asked, tracing some of the intentional lines with my finger.

When she didn’t respond, I leaned over to see what was occupying her attention, and was spooked by her now-frozen, emotionless expression. “Jenny?”

But I didn’t have time to wait for a response, as I began to feel a vibration through my gloves, emanating from the monolith itself. A sudden wave of nausea swept over me and I felt a sickening fear of losing consciousness—the sort of stimulation where in the midst of the experience, you come to the conclusion that ‘this is what it’s like to die.’ My racing thoughts only subsided when my vision narrowed to the point where I blacked out. What I experienced then is still difficult to describe. Because, in essence, I merely collapsed next to a rock in a snowy forest. I knew it to be all the same symptoms of passing out. I’d fainted in junior high shop class, during a grisly discussion of bandsaw and drill accidents; I knew the feeling well. But this experience had one noticeable difference, in that, between my loss of consciousness and the cloudy recovery of my faculties, a window into some sort of special knowledge was briefly cracked open and then swiftly slammed shut.

I sat and stared at my black snow boots for some time after coming to, trying to recall the fleeting image. It was an identical loss to the times I’d awoken from a nightmare but had no recollection of the terror I’d just experienced. For some reason, I felt like my boot was the only tenuous connection I had to the vision. My boot. A soldier’s black boot. Soldiers walking through the desert during the Gulf War, in their hot, heavy gas masks.

 

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“Joey?” came my sister’s voice, shakily.

I looked up, immediately losing my train of thought. She was sitting too—with this pale, dazed expression that I’d only seen on bite victims in vampire movies.

“I don’t hear the humming anymore,” she said. Neither did I.

We both silently got up and headed up the incline, eventually finding our way through the woods and reaching the street that joined Airport Road and Virginia Ave. We didn’t speak of our encounter with the vibrating, thrumming stone on our walk home either. I could tell that she was drained, though I didn’t dare mention my vision, or ask her whether she had experienced anything uncanny at the monolith.

I think we both understood that the other had undergone some sort of trauma, and that the best course of action was to just leave it be.

 

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Corpse Cold: New American Folklore

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Corpse Cold: New American Folklore is a collection of 20 horror stories with 30+ illustrations inspired by folklore and urban legends.

Fans of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series will enjoy the gruesome art and creepy stories. But be warned — these stories and illustrations are for mature readers. Each story is accompanied by macabre illustrations from the mind of Chad Wehrle

“…there’s something wonderfully nostalgic and charming about Corpse Cold,” — Rebecca McNutt, top Goodreads reviewer

“I would recommend this book to any horror fans looking for a fun read, particularly those who love creepypasta and other similar internet memes.” –– The Shades of Orange YouTube channel

“Corpse Cold had a good variety of stories and was a fun read. If you like urban legends then you’ll probably like this collection.” — The Scary Reviews

Read “Switches,” a sample story from Corpse Cold.

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Can’t get enough of the artwork? We also have sets of tarot-size trading cards featuring illustrations from Corpse Cold available!

 

Resurrection High: A Black Comedy

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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

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

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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.

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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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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.