Excerpt: Lost and Found from Dark Tales: eVolume Two by Elle Chambers

Lost and Found goes back to November 2012 and is actually a salvaged scene from my scrapped first draft of my first supernatural suspense novel, The Man in White. The novel was set back in the ‘60s and Mr. Jones, my Big Bad (to steal a phrase from the Buffyverse), originally started as a traveling preacher from Georgia with a predilection for brutality—and small children. He’d go from small Southern town to small Southern town, teaching Sunday school classes to children twelve and under, and then when he’d find one that struck his fancy, he’d kidnap and murder him or her. (He wasn’t very particular about gender in my first draft.) My premise became, “What if Mr. Jones tried this on a West Indian child from the Louisiana bayou, right in the heart of hoodoo-land, but the child escaped? And what if this child’s family was connected to primal energy, something old and more evil than Jones himself, and he was made to pay for his crime? And what if after he’s put to death for his sins, he comes back connected to his victim?”

 

It was an ambitious novel to say the least (so ambitious it needed to be split into two books or risk being the length of The Stand) and I really didn’t have a clue how to start so I just wrote the first thing that popped into my head. This is a cleaned up version of that writing session.

 

 

He took the knife and ran it along the edge of his belt. The belt strap was black leather, thick and worn; the scratching sound the two materials made as they came together echoed throughout the deserted room.

 

He ignored the whimpering mass in the corner. Soon, she wouldn’t make a peep. She’d be little more than a blissful memory.

 

But first he would play. Taking her right now, like this, her fear turning her into a defeated mess, was no fun. He needed her to need to live. She wouldn’t, of course, but he didn’t see the harm in letting her believe otherwise. At least for a while. And if she was good, he might consider keeping her around a bit longer.

 

He untied the girl, removing the shackles from her wrists. She looked up at him with wide, watery eyes—he could tell she didn’t know what to make of this.

 

He knelt down beside her and kissed her forehead, relishing in the shiver he felt course through her. He could almost taste her adrenaline on his lips. He took his tongue and ran it across his mouth to really savor his handiwork.

 

“Please,” she whimpered. “Please, Mr. Jones—please let me go. I swear I won’t tell anyone about what happened.”

 

Mr. Jones smiled and ran his hand down the side of her face.

“I can’t do that, darlin’.” His sweet, Georgian accent drawled out the last word and to Josephine’s ears, almost sounded like a song. “I can’t let you go yet. First, I need you to do something for me.”

 

“What?”

 

He placed the knife against her lips and smiled, baring all of his teeth. “Run.”

 

Mr. Jones got up and stepped to the side. He folded his arms across his chest and leaned one shoulder against a wall.

 

At first, Josephine sat hunched on the floor. She didn’t move; she stared at him like he was a puzzle she was trying to work out.

 

He looked at his watch. “Tick tock, tick tock. Time’s a-wastin’.”

 

Sensing this was a trap, but knowing that if she could even risk the possibility of escape she’d take it, Josephine leapt from the floor and raced through the room. The basement was dark and full of old furniture. She could barely see where she was going and nearly tripped over an old coffee table. She strained her ears to hear over the pounding in her head, listening for footsteps. He wasn’t following her.

 

Her legs were weak from squatting on the ground for how many ever days she was chained up. She lost track of time days ago. Or was it weeks? God help her if it was longer than that. Her white cotton panties, the only bottoms she had on, were soiled—he’d forgotten to bring her the bed pan this morning. Or maybe he didn’t forget; maybe he finally decided to kill her after all so there was no need to account for proper hygiene.

 

The memory of him with his hand in her personal places, bathing her with a moist rag, almost made her vomit. She steeled herself. She had to find her way out. But which way was which? And what would she do if she did make it out of what she assumed was his house?

 

A bright yellow light shone in the distance. She squinted through the dark and her blurry eyes adjusted enough to make out something in front of her—a window. It was face level; it was her salvation. She ran harder than she ever ran before and reached up to the pane. It opened from the bottom. All she needed to do was somehow unlock the latches above it and push. She stood on her tiptoes and went to work on her escape, grunting through gritted teeth.

 

The window was stuck.

 

She frantically searched around for something, anything, to stand on. A few feet away sat an old toy chest. She dragged it over to the window and clambered up on it, gripping the windowsill so as not to fall. She continued listening for sounds of Mr. Jones, but didn’t hear anything. For some reason, that unnerved her more than if she’d heard him moving around.     

 

She pounded on the top of the window to loosen it up. Then she grabbed the bottom of the window and pushed. It creaked open and warm tears slipped down her face. She pushed again with all her might, but her tired arms gave out.

 

“Oh, God!” she screamed. She no longer cared about taking the Lord’s name in vain the way her mama warned her not to do.

 

She was going to die if she didn’t get this window open. She knew it as sure as she knew the sky was blue and the grass was green.

 

Josephine took a breath and pushed on the window again, praying for help. The window inched up just enough for her to get her tiny torso through. Steadying herself, she pushed herself up and managed to drag her body out onto the ledge.

 

The window wasn’t that high up from the ground and she was grateful for that small favor. She let herself drop down to the soppy wet grass. It must have rained recently. She didn’t remember rain the day she left school with Mr. Jones, the day he took her wherever he had taken her.

 

She didn’t have time to think about this—she had no clue where he was. He could leap out from behind her like in every horror movie she’d ever seen and stab her with his knife. That thought propelled her forward as if being pulled by an invisible string attached to a speeding car.

 

A car. That’s what that light must have been. Someone’s car passed by and the headlights shone through the window. That meant she was close to a street or highway. She’d run in the direction she remembered the light shining from.

 

She sprinted barefoot through the mud, not minding the goopy mess hitting her exposed legs.

 

“Help!,” She screamed as she got nearer to the break in the woods. “Help me, please!”

 

Her calves burned and her left leg cramped—still, she ran. Her chest hurt from a lack of rest, water, and her constant sobbing. She wouldn’t give up, though. No matter how bad she felt, no matter how long it took, she’d keep going until she found someone to take her home to her parents.

 

The girl stood out on the edge of the woods by the street. She forced herself not to cry when she saw the blackened night with no moving vehicles in sight. Was the earlier car a fluke, a random passerby making their way across the county line, or had she imagined it all along? It was completely possible that after how many ever days she’d been in captivity, she’d begin to hallucinate a savior. Maybe there wasn’t such a thing. God knows Mr. Jones wasn’t one, even though that’s exactly how he portrayed himself to her and her parents when they first met. How someone could be so charming and polite, so sincere and good, how that person could suddenly turn so cruel and evil was beyond her. She couldn’t believe the man who’d been hurting her day after day was the same person who’d helped her with her homework and sat at her father’s table for Sunday dinners.

 

“Help me, somebody!” she shrieked before racing down the street. A cold breeze whipped through her flimsy t-shirt and chilled her to the bone. She didn’t have time to feel embarrassed by her partially dressed state.

 

She needed to find someone before she was found.

 

A flashing light in the distance caught her eye and she sighed, stumbling down the empty road, ignoring the sharp stabs of rock beneath her feet. Josephine found herself drawing near the light and let out a laugh. It bubbled up out of her throat before she could catch it. She was becoming hysterical she knew, but who could blame her?

 

The flashing stopped when she approached the end of the street. Her eyes, blurred from tears and strain, narrowed to better see into the night. She saw a ravine, but no car. Her eyes darted to her left and she choked on a sob.

 

Mr. Jones stood beside a black sedan with an open trunk.

 

“No.” She dropped to her knees, burying her face in her hands.

 

For a moment, his face almost appeared concerned. Quickly, the look vanished and a grin played across his lips.

 

“Aw, darlin’—don’t cry,” he said, his voice low and calm. “It was a good effort.”

 

The girl’s frail frame convulsed as she doubled over, sobbing. He’d led her into a trap. Worse—she knew it when she ran. And now the chase was over.  

 

“Oh, sweetie—please get up.” Mr. Jones lifted her off the ground by her shoulders. She had no fight left in her to protest. He cupped her chin in his rough hand, pulling her body flush against his. “I want us to be close when it happens,” he whispered.

 

Josephine stared up at him with blank eyes. She was frozen; a statue. Her mind and body shut down, which was for the best she thought. Then panic seized her when she realized that was probably the last thing she’d ever think again.

 

 

Mr. Jones whistled a jaunty tune, swing maybe, as he carried a sheet-covered body to the trunk of his car. A fresh red stain pooled in the middle of the bundle. He gently laid the girl in the trunk, bending over to kiss the spot her forehead used to be. He hadn’t meant to mess up her face. Shame—he loved her face. It was so…open.

 

He said a quick prayer for the young girl, then tossed in his blade beside her. He slammed the trunk shut and resumed his song. It was definitely swing.

 

The hunger had been abated when they shared her last moments together, but now he felt the throbbing right below his navel resume. He was disappointed. This meant he’d have to get to another town as soon as possible and another town meant more risk.

 

He climbed into his car and drove into the woods. Tossing Josephine in the ravine would have been too easy. He didn’t want anyone to find her until he was clear of Indian Hills. Sure, he hadn’t given anyone any reason to suspect him of wrongdoing, but he didn’t want to overestimate his own intelligence and underestimate that of the townsfolk. They might have been out in the middle of South Bumblefuck and Hillbilly Hell, but not everyone around here was an idiot. People would talk. His absence so soon after Josephine’s death would raise concern. He needed to put her some place no one would find her for days.

 

When he got far enough in the woods to where he was confident animals wouldn’t scavenge the remains (and how strange it was for him to think of his sweet girl that way), Mr. Jones removed her from the safety of the car’s trunk. He found a semi-dry patch of land and laid her out. He removed the sheet and tossed it by the wayside. He wanted people to see his work. Obscuring it seemed like sacrilege.

 

Gazing down at what was left of Josephine Harvey, he wondered what she was thinking at the climax. Was she scared? Did she hate him? Was she thinking about her parents and sister or was he the only one on her mind? It bothered him that he’d never know the answer. Maybe he should have had her talk to him during. Well, she couldn’t really talk through all that screaming, he supposed, but maybe if he’d let her say something before he put the knife to her throat he’d know for sure.

 

The unknown would stay with him long after the memory of her faded. He’d feel that loss for quite some time, he was sure of it. And this town didn’t know it yet, but they too would soon feel that loss.

________________________________________

Dark Tales: eVolume Two will be released via Amazon and Smashwords October 31st for free until November 1st.

Dark Tales: eVolume One by Elle Chambers FREE On Smashwords until Nov. 1st!

Halloween is almost here and in honor of the holiday, Indie Spirit Press is making Dark Tales: eVolume One by Elle Chambers FREE on Smashwords.

Dark Tales: eVolume One is a micro collection of short, dark stories. The collection includes three tales:

“When Daddy Comes Home”: When Opal Brown’s husband leaves her for another woman, she doesn’t get angry – she gets determined to keep her family together at all costs. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and Opal plans to make him a meal he’ll never forget.

“Child’s Play”: Maggie is worried about her five-year-old son after his father’s death. Max seems oddly detached from the tragedy and has invented a young friend named Edgar he talks to in secret in the middle of the night. Most kids his age have imaginary friends so Maggie tries not to be concerned – that is, until Max confides in her his young friend is actually an adult who comes to play with him when his mommy is sleeping.

and

“The Storyteller”: Elizabeth’s house has been on the market for weeks with no interest. One day, an old woman with a dead hand appears on her doorstep asking to see the place. As they tour the house, Elizabeth gradually becomes uncomfortable with the woman’s familiarity of both the house and of her since she’s never laid eyes on the old woman before in her life. Or has she?

Before You Self Publish….

Research the indie market. Go on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. Study the covers of the books in the genre you write in and take notes on font use, kerning, color, imagery, aspect ratio, and titles. Ask yourself the following questions: Is the cover well designed or does it look DIY? If it does look less the professional, what changes could be made to make it better? Does this cover make me want to read the blurb or sample pages? Why or why not? If you read the blurb, does the cover adequately convey what the book is about? Then do the same thing with the blurb. Read it and then ask yourself: Is the blurb compelling? Do I want to read more? Do I care about the story being presented? Why or why not? Also, take a look at the prices of these books so you can get a feel for what other indies are charging for similar products. You don’t want to lowball yourself, but you also don’t want to set the price so high that no one will buy it, either.

Once you’re done researching the indie market, research the traditional market. Go back to the aforementioned distributor’s websites and study the covers, blurbs, and prices of traditionally published books in your genre. Ask yourself: Can my cover sit next to these covers on a virtual bookshelf and be virtually unrecognizable as a self-published novel? Is my blurb as enticing as the ones written by a professional sales team or could it use some work? Is my price too high or can it be lowered and still compete with other reasonably priced ebooks?

You don’t have to know all of these things ahead of time, but it will save you some time in the long run if you’re aware of what’s out there and what the public is buying. Pay attention to keywords and metadata while you’re at it (this is something I’m still working on myself and trying to get right – maybe with the next book?).

Make a business plan. We’d all like to be overnight success stories, but for many of us, that won’t happen. So think about where you want to be in five to ten years and plan for that. Make a budget for each book and/or short story that you plan to publish and try to stick to that budget if you can. Then figure out what you would like to be making per hour as a writer (this will be different for everyone) and calculate how many books/short stories/nonfiction articles/whatever you need to write and sell to make that money. Figure out how much money you’ll spend each year (and again, this will vary depending on each individual’s production schedule) and how long you have to write to break even, and then turn a profit.

I also can’t stress enough: plan for emergencies. My planned production schedule for 2013 was cut down from three complete novels and some short stories to one novel  and short stories because I wound up getting slammed with medical bills for a then undiagnosed stomach issue (I’ve since discovered I have celiac disease and a lactose intolerance) – I couldn’t afford to buy three covers, pay for editing, etc. Things happen sometimes and you have to have a backup plan (and a cash cushion) for when they do. You don’t want to derail your momentum.

Build a readership. A blog isn’t enough. From my own experience, I can tell you that 90% of the people who read this site aren’t average readers – they’re writers. And while I appreciate the eyeballs, other writers aren’t likely to buy (and read) my book. Same thing with Twitter. Most of the people who follow the @indie_spirit account are writers. 99% of my daily feed are tweets from those writers hawking their own novels. How likely is it that any of those people are going to see similar tweets from me about my book or Elle’s micro fiction collections (she has another one due out at the end of the month) and go purchase them?

Not very. Writers need to go where the actual readers are. There are many places online that people can post their complete stories or works in progress like FictionPress or Wattpad. There are online magazines and anthologies looking for everything from flash fiction to serials. If you prefer to venture outside of the interwebs for an audience (or if you want to do it in conjunction with online writing), there are many reputable short story markets you can send your work to. Wait times vary as does pay – some publications pay up to $700 for an accepted piece, others don’t pay at all or they only pay in contributors copies, but writers license their work with these pubs anyway for the increased visibility. Whatever avenue best meshes with your long-term plans is the one you should take.

Blogs aren’t completely useless either. They can reach readers if the writer in question does more than self-promote 24/7. Releasing free fiction on your site is a good way to get a following started, posting excerpts from published novels, maybe even doing an exclusive serialization will make your blog an attractive destination for non-writing readers. Experiment – see what works best for you. The more eyes you can get on your work prior to self-pubbing your own books, the better your novels will do sales wise. Do you need to have ten thousand Twitter followers to get on a bestseller list or have decent sales? Not really, but it doesn’t hurt. People are creatures of habit and comfort – we tend to seek out things that are familiar to us. If we already know an author and like her work because said author posts free stories on her blog every week, we’re more likely to read something else she puts out later on and may even pay for it!

Finally, read more. And more importantly, read books in the genre you plan to write in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come across writers who’ve said they either don’t read at all or they don’t read in the genre they’re writing in. My mind boggles every time I hear that. How in the world can you expect to understand narrative structure if you don’t read? And if you’re writing genre fiction that relies on tropes to work, if you don’t read the genre, how will you know what they are and whether you’re doing anything new or interesting with them? You don’t have to read five hundred books a year to be a writer, but you do have to read something. The more you read, the more ingrained in your brain the storytelling process will become and that will ultimately make your writing cleaner, clearer, and easier.

*Please note that all points above are opinions based off my own (admittedly brief) experience as a self-published author. Feel free to ignore the points you don’t agree with. Publishing is not one size fits all and there are certain things that will work wonders for one writer and fail horribly with another. Use your best judgment when seeking advice or help of any kind.*

Question Corner: How to Become Your Own Publisher

Dear Indie Spirit Press: 

I’ve just finished my first novel after years of writing short fiction and I’m not sure whether I want to send the manuscript out to agents. In fact, I’ve been reading some blogs that have suggested self-publishing may be the way of the future and so I’m thinking of bypassing a traditional publisher altogether. Can you tell me how much it costs to become your own publisher and to produce your own books?

– Newbie Ned

First of all, congratulations on completing your first novel! That’s very exciting. No matter what you ultimately decide to do with it, celebrate the fact that you did something many people dream of doing and never manage to accomplish.

Now – this question is very complex because the truth is, it’s different for everyone. Some people can indie publish and spend little to no money and others have to, or choose to, spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get their work out to readers. We’re going to talk about the different steps of self-pubbing and the many ways you can try to make this cost effective if self-publishing is the avenue you choose to take with your manuscript.

1.       Find some good first readers to critique your manuscript. This is extremely important as you need to know before you put out any money to publish whether or not this manuscript is publishable. What we mean by that is, does the story work on a base level? If it doesn’t, you will need to find a way to rework the draft so it does. Readers will forgive spelling errors and grammatical slips if the story behind these mistakes is a good one. If the story is severely flawed or flat out nonsensical, readers will be less forgiving. You want to make the first best impression on readers you can so get some betas, preferably people who know your genre well, and find out where your story falls apart (if it does at all).

2.       Research distributors. Not all self-publishing outfits are created equal. Some are so expensive they might as well be vanity publishers, which is a means of distribution you want to avoid at all costs if you want to be taken seriously as an author and have a career. The biggest print distributor of self-published works at the moment appears to be Amazon’s CreateSpace. Lulu was pretty popular for a while, but we haven’t heard much from indie authors on them, good or bad, for quite some time.

Anyway, there are also outfits like BookBaby that state they will do everything from cover design to marketing for the self-published author so the author doesn’t have to. Personally, we don’t recommend these types of distributors because a lot of the things they charge authors for, like formatting, are things the author can learn to do himself if he takes the time to learn the functions of Microsoft Word.  Our philosophy is that the indie author should try to keep costs to a minimum, especially if the author intends to publish more than one book a year, and do as much as you can on your own. We don’t even recommend using CreateSpace’s design or marketing services, assuming you choose to go with them as a distributor, because most of their additional services are ridiculously overpriced.

However, CreateSpace is free for authors to use. Yes, that’s right – free. If all you want is your print novel in Amazon’s online catalog and your own separate e-store to sell books, all you have to do is upload your manuscript to CreateSpace, fix any formatting errors their system may find, proof your final document and press publish. You will now have standard distribution of your work through Amazon for free. If you would like to see your print book in other online retail stores such as Barnes & Noble, Powell’s, or The Book Depository, CreateSpace charges you a fee of $25 per title. Cheap, right? It’s a pretty good deal if you ask us.

If you are asked to spend more than this for trade paperback books from a self-publishing unit, we would strongly advise you to reconsider. You are the author – money should be flowing to you, not away from you. And run (don’t walk) away from any company claiming to help you self-publish and distribute your books in exchange for rights to your work. Self-publishing means all rights remain with you the author, NOT the distributor.

3.       Hire help. Now, if you decide to self-publish but you know that you don’t have the time to edit, format, design, and do layout all on your own, you can always farm out this work to a professional. But like we said above – you want to do this in the most cost effective way possible. Most first novels will not earn back the money spent on them right away so never put out more money than you’re willing to lose. With that said, there are some very talented freelance editors, designers, formatters, and public relations gurus out there looking for work.

Take the time to make a budget of how much you want to spend producing your novel, then get online and check out other indie published books. When you see covers you really like, check the credits or the front matter of the book to see if a designer/illustrator is listed. If so, Google that person and try to find an online portfolio of their work (many graphic designers will have this available on their own sites). Make a list of your top designers, then ask the authors they’ve worked with for references. You want to know how fast this person is, how much they cost, how willing they are to listen to ideas and how well they take direction, how many cover choices will you get to choose from, what their refund policies are, etc.  Then once you’ve figured that out, do the same thing for editors, formatters, etc.  

If you can do any of these things listed above yourself, do it. We know there are writers out there who are also graphic designers by trade or work as editors or copy writers. Think about what you can reasonably accomplish on your own given your time constraints and then make sure your skills are at a professional level before you proceed. You want your final product to be able to stand next to traditionally published novels.  If you’ve only been playing around with Photoshop for a week, you may want to have someone else step in and help you with your cover design.

Good freelance designers can be found online for as little as $20 or $40 and if you write YA, chick lit, or mysteries, we highly recommend you contact designer Allison Marie for help. She charges $60/hour for cover design, works fast (she finished the Preppy Little Liars cover in a few hours), and also designs other author must haves like Web site graphics, bookmarks, and business cards.

As far as editing goes, we’ve said it before and will say it again: if an editorial service is asking you to pay two cents a word or more for basic line editing, run in the opposite direction. Unless the editor in question has edited multiple New York Times bestsellers and has worked with traditional publishing companies, they have no business charging those prices to independent authors for their services. Do the math: if you have a 60,000 word manuscript and you’re being charged two cents per word, you’re looking at over a thousand dollars for one book. Now, if you have a substantial savings account, a rich spouse, or a trust fund, that price might not seem so outrageous to you.

But if you don’t have those things and your budget per project is modest, we suggest you get creative about having your manuscript edited. For example, if your local newspaper or magazine has a copy editor and proofreader (or someone who does both), why not reach out to the editor and ask if he wouldn’t mind looking over your work for a small fee? Then offer to pay him a reasonable wage that is within your budget. The worst that can happen is he says no. If that happens, there are free critique sites like Critique Circle where you can put your novel up, chapter by chapter, and get edits from fellow writers. And if you’re willing to pay a small fee, Critique Circle will allow you to have your own private reading queue where you can invite a select group of people to read your WIP without the general CC audience being able to see it.

As you can see, Newbie, there are many things you have to consider if you decide to go the self-publishing route (and this post didn’t even cover half of it!). But if you’re smart, and willing to put in some legwork, self-publishing your novel doesn’t have to be expensive. Amber Turner’s first novel Preppy Little Liars only cost $210 to produce – that is $150 for the cover, $25 for CreateSpace’s expanded distribution, and $35 for her copyright. We spent a whopping zero dollars producing Dark Tales: eVolume One by Elle Chambers. Her cover was designed by a writer/artist friend in exchange for future editing services and a photo credit.

If you want to learn more about self-publishing, we recommend you check out Dean Wesley Smith’s site for more in-depth information. Happy reading and good luck!

Free Fiction: Dialogue Only Shorts

Recalling Past Lives

by

Elle Chambers

Thank God you came. He’s been asking for you.

 

No problem. How’s he doing?

 

He’s better now, more lucid, but…

 

What?

 

I’m not sure how much longer he has. He could go any day now. You should call your parents, let them know so they can make arrangements.

 

I will. Thanks, Barb.

 

***

 

Hey, Pop.

 

Carl – what’re you doing here?

 

Barb called, said you wanted to see me.

 

Oh, yes. I did. I’m glad you’re here.

 

What’d you want to see me for?

 

Why are you standing all the way over there like a stranger? Get the chair in the corner and come sit beside me, son.

 

Okay.

 

***

 

Are you comfortable?

 

I suppose. What’s going on, Grandpa?

 

What do you mean?

 

I’ve tried to come see you before and you always told Barb to tell me that you weren’t having visitors.

 

Now you call me here – what gives?

 

“What gives” is that I wanted to see my grandson before I…well, before I was no longer able to.

 

Don’t talk like that, Pop. You’ll be around for-

 

Don’t patronize me, Carl. I know what Barbara told you. I know it because I can feel it. I’m dying.

 

…Yes.

 

I wanted you here because I couldn’t leave without anyone knowing what I did.

 

What you did? What’d you do?

 

Your father and I never got along. I’m sure you know that. It was my fault.

 

Dad has a lot of idiosyncrasies, Pop. You can’t blame yourself for everything.

 

No. Still, I think he sensed it in me. The darkness. It scared him.

 

You’re not making any sense. I’m gonna go get Barb, see if she can get you something to help you sleep.

 

I’m not tired or crazy and I’d appreciate if you’d stop talking to me as if I were.

 

Sorry.

 

Now sit back down and listen.

 

***

 

There were girls, before I met your grandmother. A few of them. All very pretty and very young. I didn’t know them well. The first girl, Noreen Hodge, had just turned thirteen. I saw her walking home from school one day and offered her a ride in my daddy’s car. I’d just gotten my license and was ready to show off. She’d had the nicest pair of legs I’d seen on a girl. I drove up beside her and rolled the window down. Back in those days, people weren’t so jumpy about getting into a stranger’s car, especially when it was raining out and God, was it pouring that day.

 

I drove past where she said she lived, told her I wanted to take her to Griffith Park over by the lake. I was a good-looking boy back then, like one of them matinee idol types, and all I had to do was smile at her and she blushed and said she’d go with me. I drove to the park with my hand on hers and felt how soft her skin was. It was like a newborns, smooth and unblemished. When I parked the car in the park by the lake, I looked her straight in the eyes – she had the bluest eyes I’d ever seen on a girl – and I asked if I could kiss her. She blushed again and put her head down, but I heard her say yes. So I lifted her chin and kissed her, soft at first, since she didn’t seem to know what she was doing, then faster, more insistent as my hands trailed down her bare legs. She was so wet from the rain. When she shivered, I wasn’t sure if it was because she’d never been kissed before or if she was still cold.

 

I turned the heater on. Just in case she was cold, you see. I turned that heater on and I reached up to unbutton her sweater – she was going to get real hot sitting up under my daddy’s heater with that cotton shirt on. She broke the kiss and pushed my hands away. I asked what was wrong – I thought she liked what I was doing – but she frowned at me and said she needed to go home right away. She forgot that her mother was expecting her to do something or other, I forget now, and if she was late she’d be in trouble.

 

Well, I asked her if she could stay a while longer. I was raring to go and my pulse was beating so loud I could hear it over the sound of my own voice. I was hot and I wanted to keep touching her, keep kissing her.

 

She told me no. She said she had to go and I needed to take her back immediately. She straightened her sweater – I remember it was blue – and I don’t know what came over me, but I reached out and grabbed the bottom of it and pulled the sweater so hard, the bottom two buttons popped off and it tore. She yelled, but I put my hand over her mouth and pulled her close to me. With my right hand, I ripped open the top of her sweater and saw the plain t-shirt she had on underneath. And I don’t know why, but that shirt made me angry so I snatched that two. She struggled against me, trying to bite my hand, so I hit her twice in the mouth to keep her still you see – not to hurt her. She screamed again so I had to climb on top of her and lay my body across her to muffle the sound. There wasn’t any other cars out that I could see, but I couldn’t risk it.

 

Pop, what are you talking about? Are you saying you raped somebody?

 

***

 

I put my hands around her neck to get her to stop screaming. She stopped squirming after a while…just laid there and looked up at me with her big, blue eyes. I put a hand over her face. I didn’t like the way she looked at me. I guess with my hands on her throat and over her face, she couldn’t breathe. When I was done, I looked down at her and her eyes were blank. Her lips weren’t moving and she wasn’t really looking at me anymore. It was quiet except the sound of my daddy’s heater going and my breathing.

 

I panicked. I hadn’t meant to hurt her – she was just so pretty. I got out of the car and went over to her side. I opened the door and pulled her out by the arms. She was heavy and I couldn’t carry her. My arms were too tired. I dragged her into the woods by a bunch of rocks. When I hit her with the first one, I was trying to cover her face. Someone could have seen her getting into my daddy’s car and they’d send me to the chair once they found the body and connected the dots.

 

Hold on – stop. Dad told me this story back when I was in high school. That wasn’t you, Pop. It was your dad who did it. He got arrested for it and everything – it was all over the papers.

 

It wasn’t. Someone saw his car pick her up, but they didn’t see who was driving. When they found her body, it was so badly beaten they couldn’t tell much of what happened to her. Daddy didn’t have an alibi so they locked him up.

 

No, Grandpa, that’s not what happened. Your father confessed to the crime. He’d been following Noreen for weeks. He’d abused your younger sister, Kate, and that’s why your mom sent her to live with your cousins. That wasn’t you.

 

I know what I remember doing, Carl. Noreen wasn’t the only one either. There were probably dozens after her: Phyllis Campbell, Moira King, Ruth Tuttle – they were all like Noreen. The other girls…well, their experience was different. I got angrier the older I became. Accidents stopped being accidents and were planned. I don’t remember the other girls’ names or faces, but I do remember the screams. They were always so loud, so perfect, that I’d get beside myself.

 

Okay, I’m going to go get Barb because this is nuts and I can’t listen to this anymore.

 

Sit down, Carl. Now. I’m not finished. People need to know what I did. Your father needs to know.

 

Know what? That you think you killed a bunch of girls a long time ago?

 

I don’t think – I know. I know because of what I did to Pam.

 

And Pam is who?

 

She was a girl your father was sweet on in school.

 

Wait, you mean the girl who went missing?

 

Your father told you about her?

 

Yes. They were twelve and dad had a crush on her. Someone kidnapped her on the way home from her dance class.

 

She wasn’t kidnapped.

 

Pop? Stop this. You didn’t do anything to her. The police arrested someone in connection with her disappearance. The guy confessed after the cops found her hair tie on him.

 

He may have found her body in that quarry, but he didn’t put her there. He didn’t feel her writhing against him, digging her nails into his skin; he didn’t see the way her lips curled up into a grimace. He didn’t hear the screams.

 

That’s enough. I don’t know why you’re saying this, but you are very sick and you need help.

 

I’m telling you the truth and you refuse to hear it. So which one of us needs help?

 

Barb?!

 

Yes, Mr. Willis?

 

Can you please get my grandfather’s medication? He’s delirious.

 

Yes, sir.

You can drug me all you want, boy, but it doesn’t change the past. I did what I said I did. I’d like your father to know so he can have some peace.

 

I’m not telling dad anything. If you murdered these girls, where’s the evidence, Pop? Huh? You keep saying that these guys who were arrested were falsely accused even though there was evidence linking them to the crimes. What proof do you have?

 

My word.

 

Yeah, ‘cause that’s real reliable right now. You’re dying, Pop. You’re delusional. Your mind is halfway gone-

 

On the contrary. My mind has never been more clear. I remember the night I took her. I hadn’t done anything like it in fifteen, sixteen years. I came home with scratches on my arms. There was blood on the hem of my shirt. It got in the way. Your grandmother saw me. She didn’t say anything. She took me into the bedroom and helped me out of my clothes. They were wet with perspiration, among other things-

 

Stop.

 

She ran me a bath. I cried when I stepped into the warm water. She picked up my clothes and narrowed her eyes at me. “Don’t do it again, Joe.” That’s all she said. “So help me God. Don’t do it again.”

 

She burned my clothes while I scrubbed that girl off my skin.

 

Mr. Willis? Here’s your medicine.

 

Take your pills, Grandpa. Get some rest.

 

I can’t rest, son. And now…neither can you. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween and Dark Tales: What Inspires You?

And All Through The HouseHere we are in October, my favorite month of the year. Soon the leaves will be turning that crisp brown, gold, and/or burnt orange color and will be falling off the trees into large, inviting piles just waiting for some giddy child (or a silly adult such as myself) to jump on in ‘em.

But the best part of October is Halloween. The costumes, the candy, the haunted houses and hayrides – I love it all. Even better, most stations this month will be running horror movie marathons leading up to the 31st so there will never be a shortage of things to watch to send a subtle chill up your spine and keep you up at night.

I’m working on my next micro collection of dark tales for release around Halloween and while brainstorming ideas, I realized something I hadn’t thought about before: most of my stories are inspired by film or television, not by the horror fiction I grew up reading.

As my bio stated, I lived for Stephen King novels as a kid. I remember being six-years-old going to the library every weekend with my mom and brother, heading straight back to the horror section and bypassing all the children’s and middle grade literature. I’d read the back cover copy on his older books in the section, read the jacket flaps, and if the cover was frightening or strange, I’d put it in my “to read” pile.

Once I had an armload of books, I’d head on over to the librarian at the circulation desk and plop my bounty up on the counter, sliding her (because it was always a female working the desk) my library card. She’d look at me, then up at my mother, then back down to the titles I’d laid out for her, then back at mom.  Mom would just shrug and say, “She likes scary stories.”  The librarian would sigh, shake her head, and check out the age-inappropriate material, handing the books to me with a concerned and bewildered expression on her face. I’d smile, thank the judgey librarian, and happily jog out to my mother’s car, cracking open one of the tomes to read on the short ride home.

Movies, however, seem to have had a greater impact on me and my sensibilities as a writer mainly because they operate on a visual level. I’m a visual person. Images I see get burned into my mind and never leave (seriously – I have almost perfect recall of things I’ve seen, and been horrified by, as a child) and while I’m writing, these images come to the forefront of my mind and inform the tone of whatever it is I’m working on.

For example, in Dark Tales: eVolume One there’s a story called “Child’s Play” about a young boy and his imaginary friend who might not be quite so imaginary. After I wrote it, I came upon Thomas Ligotti’s short story “The Frolic” and was surprised by how similar my ending of “Child’s Play” was to his – but not very. Because ultimately, my ending was a take off a Tales from the Crypt episode I’d seen as a kid called “And All Through the House” (and I hadn’t consciously intended to do that when I sat down to write the story by the way).  I won’t spoil the endings of any of the three stories mentioned here, but needless to say, I think Ligotti and I must have been inspired by the same story (remember – Tales  was a popular comic book series in the ‘50s and ‘60s and “And All Through the House” was taken from the source material). The image of a deranged serial killer standing in your house dressed as Santa, drenched in blood is a powerful (and chilling) one. As is a woman screaming. These images are perfect jumping off points for a horror story.1_TCSOTL

I don’t have any hard proof Ligotti ever read the comic (and his short story was written before “And All Through the House” was filmed for the Tales HBO series) but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had seen the comics as a boy and had been partially inspired to write dark fiction because of it. Since I know now that I create based off things I’ve seen, TV shows and films that have stuck with me, I wonder – does anyone else do this? And I’m not talking about writing fanfic; that’s a whole other issue.  What I mean is, does anyone else unintentionally write a story and then go back, read a book or watch a movie and think, Gee, I think I might have cribbed that totally awesome idea I had earlier from here? I’d love to hear from writers of any genre on this, but especially horror/dark fiction writers since the genre we write in oftentimes tends to be a bit more graphic and atmospheric than others.