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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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

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!

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Read two stories from Volume 2 for FREE!

“The Devil’s Cabin”

“Mixtape: Halloween ’84”

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

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

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

“Amityville Beach”/Amityville Beach, Long Island

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

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

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

“The Big ‘M'”/Eagle Bay, N.Y.

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

“Dracula’s Bride”/Ukranian Catholic Church

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

“Moss Lake Island”/Echo Island

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

“Two Visions, 1984″/Roscoe Diner

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

“Woman on the Campus Green”/Wadsworth Auditorium

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

“The Blue Hole”/Peekamoose Blue Hole

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

“Jesup”/Tioughnioga River

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

“Last Train Home”/Buffalo, N.Y.

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

Learn more about Corpse Cold: New American Folklore!

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

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By John Brhel

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

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

“The Thing”

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

 

“The Window”

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

“Harold”

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

 

“One Sunday Morning”

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

 

“The Bride”

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

 

“Maybe You Will Remember”

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

 

“Faster and Faster”

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

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

 

New Holiday Novella: Carol for a Haunted Man

Cover Reveals, Uncategorized

Available at Amazon!

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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.

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.