Category Archives: Horror

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—Phantom Chasers Part 1

Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, and I was still receiving small royalty payments from Extinct Doesn’t Mean Forever. I had found some momentum and was riding it for all it was worth. 

One night I was watching a TV program called Ghost Adventures. Now, before I continue, I am a believer in the paranormal. Although, I don’t automatically accept what I see on these ghost-hunting reality tv shows. But for the sake of argument let’s assume we all believe in ghosts (even if you don’t). Now, if you accept that spirits could contact you from beyond the grave, the last thing you would do is antagonize and make them angry at you. Well, the main guy on the show had been doing just that, and now according to the program, these spirits were pissed at him and calling him out, telling him through voice recordings that if he returned, they would kill him! So what does he do? Yup, he’s going back to confront the ghosts. Stupid? Absolutely! But what a great idea for a story! 

Ghost Adventures

Using that premise, and without a market in mind, I began a new manuscript. A classic style horror story, a cautionary tale if you will, began to develop. 

Pro-tip #1: When you have a story you’ve written without a market in mind look to anthologies. Magazines need to follow the structure and tone of the other stories. Many times there’s a house style, intentional or not. You must decipher the house style and write something that matches. With an anthology, editors accept a wider range of stories. As long as it’s a good story, and it meets the theme of the anthology, you have a better chance of being accepted than if you submit that same story to a magazine. 

Anyway, I sent the story out a couple times to various markets and the editors passed. Then I sent it to the open call for Epitaph’s: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers. The editor liked the story and told me it was publishable, but not strong enough to get past the shortlist once they had read all the stories. The editor had best-selling writers on tap slated for inclusion and experienced small-press writers sending her submissions.

Pro-tip #2: If you’ve been shortlisted, your story is publishable with no or little need for extensive editing or rewrites. You have a good story and the editor would have no problem publishing it if no other stories struck their fancy. The problem is, despite being well written and crafted, your story is not compelling enough for the editor to purchase on the spot. The editor puts it aside and if some other story comes along and knocks their socks off or is a little more interesting; they send that author an acceptance letter and you a rejection. When this happens with a pro or semi-pro market, you can pat yourself on the back for crafting a well written publishable story and get to work strengthening the manuscript in a rewrite. You want to make sure the reader can relate to the narrative or the main character and is wowed by the ending. If you can’t figure out what’s wrong, focus on the ending. Think of ways to make it more impactful, raise the stakes, make it personal, give your main character a lot to lose. 

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the editor asked me if I had anything that was timeless or had a gut-punch ending. I had neither but wrote a story that included both requirements. 

I relate that story of how I sold Malfeasance, my second attempt, in my blog post——here. 

Based on what I had learned from editorial feedback, I set about fixing the story.  I had decided on the name Phantom Chasers as I was looking for a title similar to Ghost Hunters, a very popular show at the time. (I hear that it’s coming back in another incarnation.) Here’s the question I wanted to leave in the reader’s mind: are the Phantom Chasers in the story hunting ghosts or are they in fact, well, chasing phantoms? Ultimately, the reader has to decide. 

gh2

To revamp the story, I made a separate Word document, cut and pasted the original manuscript into the file, and began to read with an eye for weaknesses. Some scenes didn’t connect well. Some scenes needed editing for clarity. I went about fixing those areas. I punched up the ending, making it darker, scarier, and more impactful. 

The only thing left to do was send it out. I’ll talk about that next time. Also, stay tuned for more pro tips!

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The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a  Sale—Malfeasance Part 2

The Scribe’s Arcanum:

Anatomy of a  Sale—Malfeasance Part 2
Two months later, I got word that awaiting publisher approval, Malfeasance had made the cut. I was cautiously ecstatic. The editor didn’t think the publisher would kick anyone out, but she couldn’t officially accept any story without the publishers go-ahead.   
Here’s what she wrote about the story:

I really liked it. It was a great premise, good writing. I love Law and Order SVU and it reminded me of that but with an evil twist. I liked too that the villain really wasn’t in the story till the end yet he was a huge presence. I have to think that’s not easy to do, but you pulled it off.
About 21 days later, she gave me permission to announce the acceptance on social media. Then in August, I signed the contract. Realizing I could take part in my first reading and signing, I committed to attending the inaugural, but now defunct, Anthology Convention (AnthoCon) in New Hampshire. 
I had a fantastic time at the convention. 

After the reading, I took part in my first signing. Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers did well, selling out the 100 copies we had on hand. Then it continued to sell at other conventions and at online retailers. 

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I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was my first opportunity to share pages with the late great Rick Hautala (sometimes billed as the other writer from Maine, as he was Stephen King’s roommate in college), one of the authors who inspired me as a teenager during the 1980’s horror boom. 

Here’s some information on the anthology:

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The anthology features 26 stories and poems from the delightfully scary to the deeply macabre. 

Epitaphs, edited by author Tracy L. Carbone, includes an introduction by award-winning author and publisher Peter Crowther, as well as a cover by Danny Evarts. The table of contents in this chilling anthology is as follows: 

Perfect Witness – Rick Hautala 

To Sleep, Perchance to Die – Jeffrey C. Pettengill 

The Christopher Chair – Paul McMahon 

A Case of the Quiets – Kurt Newton 

Build-a-Zombie – Scott T. Goudsward 

Not an Ulcer – John Goodrich 

The Possessor Worm – B. Adrian White 

Make a Choice – John McIlveen 

The Death Room – Michael Allen Todd 

Stoney’s Boneyard – Holly Newstein & Glenn Chadbourne 

Kali’s Promise – Trisha J. Wooldridge 

The Sequel – David Bernard 

Malfeasance – David North-Martino 

Private Beach – Stacey Longo 

All Aboard – Christopher Golden 

Holiday House – LL Soares 

Lines at a Wake – Steven Withrow 

A Deeper Kind of Cold – K. Allen Wood 

Alone – P. Gardner Goldsmith 

Pandora’s Box – Roxanne Dent 

Chuck the Magic Man Says I Can – Michael Arruda 

Burial Board – TT Zuma (Tony Tremblay)

Windblown Shutter – John Grover 

Cheryl Takes a Trip – Stephen Dorato 

The Legend of Wormley Farm – Philip Roberts 

Church of Thunder and Lightening – Peter N. Dudar

Wow! What a talented group! Looking back, I find it humbling to have been part of this project. 

Epitaphs is now out of print, but an ebook version is still available. Since you can still purchase the anthology for the low sum of $2.99, I won’t be publishing Malfeasance on this blog.  Although, I am planning on recreating my reading, a reading that at one point in the narrative initiated a gasp from the crowd. Once I make a video and upload it to Youtube, I’ll link to it on this blog. 

Here’s a mixed review of my story by a reader on Amazon. It’s interesting, I was actually trying to make it feel like the reader was on a train, looking out a window, and seeing that the bridge is out ahead, knows nothing can be done about it, except take the plunge.

Malfeasance by David North-Martino: This was perhaps the most maddening story in the bunch. Just as with the previous story, I knew how it would end very early on. And yet it was crafted so intricately, I kept thinking no, I’m wrong, there’s a twist here I’m not seeing. But then… it ended just how I thought it would. Disappointing in that regard, yes, but it was still very much worth the read.

 Still, it’s good feedback, and I’m always trying to improve. Many times, a mixed or bad review can teach you much more than a fawning one. Check your ego at the door. 

If you’re interested, you can read a sample and get your e-copy here. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a  Sale—Malfeasance Part 1

 

I wanted badly to be in the inaugural New England Horror Writers (NEHW) anthology. Unfortunately, my first attempt was a failure. Then I turned it around. 

In 2011 my senior year at University was ending, and I was immersed in finals. I had sold The Language of Ice and was spending a good amount of time promoting the anthology. Then I found out about the debut anthology from the NEHW, a group I had been a member of for a few years. They had floated the idea for an anthology around for a long time, and finally, the project had received a green light. They’d decided on an editor and were opening up for submissions. Wow! I really wanted to be in that anthology. To represent NEHW in their inaugural publication would be an honor. The problem: I didn’t have the time to write something new. At least, that’s what I thought… 

Fortunately, I had already written a ghost story, Phantom Chasers, that I was beginning to shop around. Prepping the story for submission, I sent it out and hoped for the best. There was nothing left to do but return to my studies. 

Shortly thereafter, the editor let everyone know that the first round of rejections had gone out along with notifications for those placed on the shortlist. They would accept no story until they had read all the manuscripts, giving everyone a fair shot. The only problem? I didn’t hear either way. 

 Sending a polite email, I awaited a response. 

The editor contacted me. My story was indeed shortlisted, certainly publishable, but probably not strong enough to make the final cut. Bestselling writers were slated to send in tales, and everyone had to bring their A-game. Although, the editor encouraged me to send another story.  

Clarifying what she wanted, she told me to send in something that was timeless, like Ray Bradbury’s The Dwarf, or something that had more of a gut punch at the end, like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. 

Thinking about all the stories I had available, I realized why some of them hadn’t sold. They were missing key ingredients.
Later, based on what I learned writing Malfeasance,  I would revamp Phantom Chasers and sell it, but that’s a story for another time. 

I felt encouraged, but it seemed like a daunting challenge to write something that would make the cut. Could I write a story that was both timeless and visceral? Despite the time crunch, I was up for the challenge. 

I had an idea to use the “ticking time bomb scenario” thought experiment as the basis for the story. Basically, an ethics debate on torture, I worried that my story might be too controversial for the current climate. Never one to back down on sensitive subjects, I went ahead with the story anyway. 

A mother and daughter would be the main characters in the story, culminating in a parent’s worst nightmare.  If I could affect the editor, I might have a chance of getting into the anthology. 
Spending the full month crafting Malfeasance, I sent in the story at the 11th hour. I opted to change the ending,  in hopes to give more twists and turns to the story, but my wife suggested I go with the first version as she felt it was more powerful.

Sending it off, I hoped for the best. 

Next time, I’ll tell you what happened. 

GRAVEN IMAGE by David North-Martino

Graven Image by David North-Martino ©2004, 2007, 2019 

Graven Image originally appeared in The Swamp, and Afterburn SF 

“Our clients all have a peculiar fear. They’re not convinced their loved ones will stay dead,” the Director of Sanguine Mortuary said.  

Hatch fought for control, he thought he might go from smirk, to grin, to all-out laughter.  

The Director, his face as dead as any of the clients entombed in Sanguine’s walls, stared at Hatch from behind an expensive looking oak desk. The dire need for the job forced Hatch’s expression to the same state as the director’s name.

“Mr. Stone, I——”

“Jonathan, I know what I’m telling you might be hard to accept, but we provide a valuable service to our clientele.” Stone wrinkled his face into his best mortician’s smile. 

“Mr. Stone,” Hatch said. “I really need this job. Whether I believe or not, I can watch your building and everything in it.”

“You seem like a good fellow. Pity, companies will throw away employees after a decade of service.” Mr. Stone gently placed Hatch’s resume on the desk. “I’ll give you a chance, just keep your wanderlust to a minimum. The last guard couldn’t contain his curiosity. If he hadn’t up and disappeared, I would have had to fire him.”

Elation! At this point, any job was a good job. He made a mental note to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home. He and his wife would, at last, have something to celebrate. But behind the euphoria and relief, something nagged at him. Later, when he gave it some thought, after half a bottle of wine and with his wife in a satisfied sleep beside him, questions arose, questions he couldn’t answer. They chattered through his mind, lulling him into a troubled sleep.  

#

“Uh——what’s on the monitors?” Hatch asked. The surreal images were better than caffeine, no way he would drift off with those things staring at him. 

“Those? Oh go on, take a good look.” Michael Evans, the Second-Shift Sergeant, said. “What do they look like to you?” 

“Looks like dead people.”

“Those are our charges, three-hundred, and thirty-eight of ‘em.”  Evans seemed proud with the knowledge. “Oh, don’t worry, they ain’t gonna bother you much or entertain you for that matter.”

“Then why are we monitoring them?”  

“Just in case they wake up,” Evans said. Hatch felt a chill shoot into his groin. Soon he would be here alone——alone with them. 

Then Evans broke into a fit of heaving laughter. “Naw, they ain’t gonna wake up. I’ve been working here for five years, since I retired from the military, and I ain’t never seen a-one so much as wrinkle a nose.”

Hatch stared at the monitors again.   

“See, we have some very superstitious rich people around the world, and Sanguine helps alleviate their fear——and a good amount of their cash.” Evans shook his head back and forth in mock disbelief. “Got to show the client something right? Show the client that us security types are watching their loved ones twenty-four-by-seven. Kinda makes me chuckle. But it’s a good gig, especially on off shifts.  

“We don’t get no visitors, grieving family members or anything like that. We let the dead lay, play a little poker——you’ll have to play solitaire——and walk around a couple times. Make sure things are safe and secure——for the world outside I guess.” 

He laughed again as if the whole thing were ludicrous.

Evans showed Hatch around for the rest of the hour. He saved one piece of trivia for last.

“This is what I call the Bat-Phone,” Evans said, and Hatch understood why. The phone looked like an old model from the 1960s, rotary dial and all, and it was colored red like on the TV show. “In the unlikely chance that——something unusual happens——you pick up this phone and——well, after that I don’t know, but I’m sure you won’t find out. Damn thing probably don’t even have service.”

Evans had a pitying look on his face, like he was about to leave his favorite cat at the Vet to be euthanized. Hatch wondered if he could handle staying at Sanguine Mortuary alone for fifteen minutes, never mind eight hours.

“What happened to the last officer who worked the third shift?”

“Harold Drendle? Shoot——he’d worked here long as I did.  We used to talk a little at shift change, and he confessed to me he was having marital problems, problems caused by money, which by the way is how they always start, and then one day, I guess he was sick of it. He up and abandoned post sometime before shift change and he hasn’t been seen since. 

“He told me in confidence he was planning to go to Hawaii, had been socking away a little here and there. So, don’t you be letting your mind wander and go thinking nonsense. You’ll get used to this place soon enough.”  

#

Soon enough just wasn’t soon enough. Evans hadn’t been gone ten minutes, and Hatch was ready to abandon post. The ghoulish images only provided unwelcome company.  

Hatch turned his attention to the phone. He reached over, touched the receiver’s smooth plastic. Who was on the other end?

What was on the other end? 

The thought made him shudder. He withdrew his hand.  

He couldn’t just sit there with the monitors tuned to Dead-TV. He grabbed the Mag light, the weight comforting in his hand, and headed out for the first round of the evening.

Hatch’s footfalls echoed through the empty mausoleum. Every fifteen feet the wall receded to reveal a cluster of grave nooks. Accent lights reflected dimly off metal plates, revealing the names of the departed. They surrounded him. Outnumbered him. 

He rounded a bend and found the first key-point next to the chapel door. 

How long had it been since he had last attended church? He couldn’t remember. He touched the tour recorder to the plastic key, listened for the chirp, and then looked at the LCD screen. 

ChapHell, next key point inside.

Hatch shook his head, maybe when he got back to the command center he would fix the typo.  

Hatch flicked on the lights. The antiseptic nondenominational room radiated comfort, as if something from beyond could reach out and protect all those who entered.  

A feral cat’s mew? A crying child? A vocalized rush of wind raging through the hall toward him? 

Hatch crossed the threshold, pulled at the cherry-wood door and held it shut. The chapel shook and the doors threatened to pull from his grasp. Then the pounding shrill scream stopped, and Hatch stood in silence. 

“Damn trains,” Hatch said under his breath.  Then he remembered he was standing in a chapel. He looked up. “Sorry.”

Hatch continued with the tour. He came to a short stairwell that led down to the basement level. Cautiously, he descended. 

Hatch switched on the flashlight and adjusted the beam to full width. The key-point waited at the end of the hall surrounded by darkness. Hatch felt around for a light switch but found nothing. His pulse pounded in his temples.  

Making quick time, he passed closed doors on either side of the hall. He touched the tour reader to the key and waited impatiently for the chirp. 

A red door to his right caught his attention. He tried the handle. 

Locked. 

He glanced back toward the stairs, then back to the door. His curiosity got the better of him, and he tried his keys until one fit the lock. 

Match stepped inside a room filled with black metal file cabinets. The beam of light illuminated a unique cabinet——a red cabinet. 

He found a jagged hole where the lock should have been, as if someone had cut the mechanism out of the frame. Hatch opened the top drawer and then rifled through musty folders and yellowed papers. Most seemed to be nothing more than death records. Every soul buried at Sanguine must have been stored in that room. But then he found something else. 

A letter, age stained and watermarked, written on parchment with what appeared to be a quill pen, ignited Hatch’s curiosity. His eyes widened as he scanned strange sections:

Thank you again for taking this burden from me.  I am getting much too old to act as custodian any longer… 

The families absolutely insist on having guards. I know it sounds ridiculous, as if flesh and blood could really protect anyone from what is now in your possession… 

Feeding time is distasteful, but it lasts a relatively short time. I was lucky to only witness it for two full cycles in the twenty years since I acquired the collection. The dead must feed before they sleep… 

The dead must feed? 

What the hell did that mean?

A booming metallic reverberation made him jump. The sound had come from the hall. His mouth went dry and his throat tightened, but he had to check it out. That’s what he was being paid to do. 

Hatch cautiously stepped out into the hall. 

The reflection of his flashlight beam caught movement through a window in one of the doors. 

Anybody Home?

Hatch inched closer, shined the light inside——recoiled.   

A man stood, if that’s what you could call the thing that stood before him, dressed in a moth-eaten suit, bending over what looked like a metal cadaver table. 

The terrible thing that looked like a man chomped and smacked his lips as he devoured what remained of a body on the table. The head and chest were all that remained of the corpse ——everything else had been consumed. 

Hatch hacked and heaved, but nothing came up, as if his insides had turned to dust. He looked back at the window. 

The ghoul turned its head and looked at him, still stuffing flesh in-between the stitches that held his lips together. 

The ghoul grinned at him. 

Then came the screams.

Hatch raced through the halls double-time, the shrieks of the dead nipping at his ears. 

Which way out? 

He couldn’t remember. 

He passed the chapel. Sanctuary wouldn’t do, he needed the command center. 

He needed the phone!

Hatch slammed shut the command center door. 

No lock. 

The irony sent him into hysterics. 

Hatch turned around. The monitors were still trained on the coffins——some were empty. 

The cadavers that remained opened their eyes. 

Shit! 

Hatch reached for the phone——hesitated——picked it up. 

The phone automatically dialed. 

The ringing scratched in his left ear, the dead wailed in his right. 

“Pick up——damn it! pick up!”

The ringing stopped. 

A moment of hesitation on the other end of the line.

“I told you to curb your curiosity, Jonathan.”

The door buckled. Glass shattered. All went black.

***

Even with his eyes closed, Hatch could sense that Sergeant Evans stared at him, stared at the monitors. Curiosity could be a terrible thing, recognition worse.  

 The high-pitched chatter from the others Hatch only heard in a sanguine whisper, but he could understand what they wanted, what he also wanted. One last time before the sleep.  

The hunger rose in him—-in them——and in unison——and to the terror of Michael Evans——they all opened their eyes. 

-FIN-

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—Graven Image: Part 2

In 2007, marketing my short fiction had taken a back seat to everything else going on in my life. I was still planning on opening a small business, and I was working toward earning my bachelor’s degree. 

I continued to plug away on a novel, along with writing and submitting short fiction as time allowed. 

It had been about three years since my short horror story, “Graven Image,” had been published at The Swamp, and the year before, I had made my first paid sale by winning a contest at Dark Recesses Press.  I decided to try to sell “Graven Image” as a reprint to a webzine called Afterburn SF. 

Graven Image ended up  rejected by Afterburn. I put the story aside to await another viable market, and for a time it was out of sight, out of mind. 

Not long after, I received an email from Afterburn SF asking if the story was still available.  Turns out, the owner sold the webzine and the new publisher/editor, having found a copy of Graven Image among the paperwork he had acquired, read the story, like it,  and decided he wanted to publish it! 

What an amazing surprise!  I just felt happy it wasn’t sitting in some other magazine’s slush pile (that’s an old term for unsolicited manuscripts that used to litter the floor of publishing houses in the days before email and submission websites). 

Even more surprising, he paid me six times as much as I would have received from the previous editor. I agreed, of course, and not long after had my third publishing credit and my second paid story. 

After selling Graven Image, my focus went back to my studies. I wouldn’t make my next sale for another four years. Graven image would later be adapted for audio. I’ll get you a link soon. 

After graduation, I’d take a story I wrote for an advanced creative writing class, and turn it into my next writing credit. 

I’ll tell you more about it next time. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—Graven Image: Part 1

Despite my best efforts to the contrary, I made my second fiction sale in 2007. I hadn’t been focusing on my writing. Instead, I had spent most of my time pursuing a business opportunity, and earning a long overdue bachelor’s degree. The sale itself came as a surprise. You see, the same paying market that rejected my story would accept it not long after. Here’s how it happened: 

One morning, I awoke from a nightmare. In the dream I had been staring at a monitor bank, and on each screen was a live video feed of of a corpse in repose. The image remained with me, and I ended up building  the story Graven Image around it. 

Having worked for many years in the security industry, working my way up from a security officer to a manager at a nine building Fortune 500 corporation, before being promoted into the HR department at the district office, I decided I would write about a character who had been downsized from a job in corporate America and ended up needing to take a security job to make ends meet. 

Although it’s never mentioned, to round out the setting, I decided to set the mortuary in the story in my fictional town of Wellington, Massachussets. My first novel WOLVES OF VENGEANCE also takes place in the same fictional location. A forthcoming thriller novel, YEAR OF THE ASSASSIN, has characters connected to that town, but there is no supernatural element in the story.  

Much like my previous story sale, Despair, this tale is pure horror. Some of my later works tend to mix the horror genre with crime fiction or science fiction. 

After finishing the story, I began the process of sending out Graven Image to market, starting with the top markets and then working my way down from highest paying to lowest. 

Although, this is a tried and true method, it’s not always the most efficient way to make a sale. More on that in another post. 

 Close to four years had gone by with only rejection letters to show for my efforts. I was active on a horror fiction message board at that time and noticed that some novelists, with mass market paperback deals, were submitting to a webzine called The Swamp. The  Swamp didn’t offer payment, but just like with Dark Recesses Press, I liked the people who ran it, and felt it would get my work some exposure. 

The joke is that people die of exposure. But I needed an acceptance of some sort to keep pushing on. There was no guarantee that I’d get an acceptance, even in a non-paying market. I figured it was worth a shot, and if I got in, the acceptance would place my story next to some successful writers.  

Finally, I received an email acceptance. I’d have my first publication credit, and a sample of my work that could be read for free online. I was stoked! 

 I received great feedback on that story. Readers liked the creepy atmosphere, and two family members refused to read any more of my horror stories because they said it gave them nightmares! That’s high praise when you write horror.  I had transfered my nightmare to at least two other people. Mission accomplished! 

Three years later I would attempt to sell Graven Image as a reprint to a paying market. Like I mentioned above, it would be rejected by a paying webzine before later being accepted by that same webzine. I’ll tell you all about how that happened, and how I made my second paid story sale next time. Since, like Despair, Graven Image is out of print, I just might post it here on my blog after posting Part II.

Stay tuned! 

DESPAIR by David North-Martino

DESPAIR by David North-Martino ©2006, 2019 

1st place winner in the 2nd annual Déjà vu Horror Contest at Dark Recesses Press. Originally published in their 4th issue. 

I awoke naked and in pain, pulling my share of covers off of Norman who had stolen them during the night. The cool cotton soothed my bare skin, especially where the diffused light, searing between the Venetian blinds, had touched my flesh. 

He didn’t know how fortunate he was to be with me. So many men longed to see the woman behind the voice. And they should, for even though I use many, my true name means desire. And it was in sleepy desire that I nuzzled against his nakedness. Ice.

Instinctively I recoiled—leapt off the bed—felt the wrath of the sun—and thrust the blinds shut. 

My eyes adjusting to the semi-darkness, I crept over the threadbare rug to the foot of the bed. Knuckles white, I grasped the end of the covers and whipped them to the floor. Norman’s naked body illuminated the darkness. 

Where had I seen that glow before? It brought on memories of paste-on glow-in-the-dark stars and oddly my parents and their untimely deaths.

The puncture wounds on his neck suggested what had caused his untimely death. Vampire!

Laughter threatened to escape my lips. An asylum of thought invaded my mind, straightjackets and Thorazine. My photo-toxic youth had been filled with vampire romanticism and blood wine eroticism, but I had never considered myself so foolish as to believe in the legend of the undead.

#

 

I don’t like to travel during the day, when the Sun spreads its wicked light throughout the world. Even though mid-September slowly crept toward October, the day wasn’t cool enough for my brim hat, opaque scarf, and trench coat.

The cabdriver didn’t give me a second glance; he called into dispatch, mumbling too close to the microphone.  An equally incomprehensible voice squealed back high pitched pain and I wondered how the driver could translate the squawk into speech.

We rolled lazily down route 119 passing the Entering Massachusetts sign. The driver didn’t speak and I didn’t encourage him. I needed time to think, time to decide if the coldness of my heart could mourn my dead lover.

The woods rolled by, a blur of green and bramble, as the meter clicked off the miles. 

Then, as the woods receded I saw it, the mansion, enshrouded by an emerald fog, superimposed on a hilly clearing.  The structure, a collage of gothic architecture, stood among homes of modern design. 

“Do you see that?” I asked the driver.  

He glanced to the right, where I had pointed, and then brought his attention back to the road. 

“See what?” 

“Right there—that mansion?” I was so sure I had never seen it before.  

“They all look like mansions to me Miss. You should see where I live.” 

We passed by in silence. The mist that encircled the manor radiated an electric white that mirrored the color of Norman’s corpse. I knew I would have to return, until then I would remain haunted.

#

 

When the sun fled the horizon, I awoke. Loneliness bled back into my reality. Norman’s passing brought more than the residual depression I always felt after a night of unemotional sex, it left me with a numbing emptiness.

I called Susan and let her know I wouldn’t be available for work. Usually when the men call me for phone sex I find it a great distraction, even a release. But tonight I couldn’t bear to talk dirty or fake orgasm. Tonight I needed to go hunting.

Leaving my apartment I walked through the sleepy darkness, the unnatural quiet of the quaint downtown.  Instinctively I knew I would see him—Norman’s killer—but I had no plan as to what to do when I found him.

#

 

St. Augustine’s church bell tolled out the hour.  

Midnight. 

I saw him. 

A beautiful man, he exuded glamour as much as the same haze that enshrouded the manor. I swooned, like a foolish schoolgirl enamored by a first crush, and I had no choice but to follow him. 

He darted into an alleyway. Fear followed me as I approached the darkness. His phosphorescent glow lit the passage a lighter shade of dark. I followed him to a fire escape. He lifted his arm, a stiff gesture, and the stairs descended. He climbed effortlessly. Unable to escape his thrall I followed him and found my ascent pure labor. 

He gestured again and a window opened. 

My foot slipped from the stair. I looked down to secure my footing and when I looked up again, the landing by the window stood empty.

When I reached the window I looked inside. His glow revealed a woman sleeping in the nude, the covers helter-skelter, and her body twisting as if caught in a lurid dream.

He savored her the same way I had once savored wine, taking a sniff of her scent before plunging his fangs deep into the soft tissue of her throat. Her unseeing eyes shot open. Her mouth bowed in either terror or ecstasy, perhaps both. Her pupils clouded, her lids slackened, the rosy hue of her mouth and nipples frosted white. 

He looked up at me, his mouth frighteningly attached to her ecstatic body. His lips drew up into a half smile, restricted as they were by the flesh of her neck. Laughter filled his eyes. He was not satiated, could not be even by a harem of blood slaves, and he wanted me next, I felt his need deep in my veins. 

Jagged panic cut the strings of his glamour.

Rusty rails burnt my flesh as I slid to my escape. The pavement came up fast, shocking the soles of my feet with an electric pain. Glancing back in horror I saw him smiling from the window, fresh blood giving him the countenance of a clown. 

The coldness of death chilled the air behind me. I didn’t look back, couldn’t bear to see his evanescent form, smell the sickly sweet odor of his recent meal.

The keys jangled their warning as I stabbed at the entry-way lock. Any moment he would be upon me. The bolt unbarred. I pushed inside, shut the door, and ran up the stairs. My apartment lock fought me for entrance, a battle I won out of sheer tenacity and will. 

Inside, I ran through the apartment, checked the window locks, and drew the blinds. His spiteful laughter echoed into my home as if no walls barred his entrance. 

“Come to me. You will come to me.” 

His voice, disembodied and ephemeral, ravished my soul that night, sent me into fits of hair pulling and maniacal laughter. For the first time I could recall, I welcomed the return of daylight. 

#

 

The next night I did return to him. He made it easy. Back on route 119 I let the twilight mist be my beacon and suffered the citrus face of an old cabby, once, when he saw I was carrying a wooden stake I had used as a prop one forgotten Halloween, and then a second time when I asked him to let me out on the side of the road with nothing around but the darkness and the music of crickets. 

After handing him a wad of cash, gleaned from my dead lover’s wallet above and beyond services rendered, his face turned alkaline and he made quick work of squealing the tires on the old converted station wagon. With fear betraying my footing I ascended the hill toward the mansion.

#

 

The manor door opened of its own accord the same way they always did in black and white horror movies. My trepidation was tempered only by my curiosity and desire to see this creature destroyed. 

“I told you, you’d come back to me.” He descended a fog enshrouded staircase, same out of date attire, same highbred bone; a handsome structure in which to hang the pale flesh of his face. With a twitch of his fingers the door, now behind me, slammed shut. Claustrophobia set in. The foyer in which I stood was enclosed by walls constructed of thought in a space that I instinctively knew was transcendental to time. 

I raised the stake, my mouth dry, my mind numb. A wave of his hand and the staircase evaporated. He stood what could have been no more than five feet from me, the walls shifting and swirling around us as if we had taken up residence in a cloud. 

“I see you have come to run me through with that splinter. Go on little girl tell me why.”

“Because you killed my lover.” For the first time I could recall, tears stained my cheeks.

“I don’t know that you can call it love when it’s paid for. But it was not I who killed your, as you say, lover. Let me show you something.”

I didn’t let him do anything. My hand slackened and the stake clattered to the floor. My spirit tossed and turned but my body wouldn’t obey.           

Frightening speed. An eye blink and he had bridged the distance between us. His mouth hovered agape, a mere inch from my vulnerable throat. I closed my eyes, anticipating the pain, the sweet release. I longed for him to take me then, to flow into his veins, to flood into oblivion.  A rage overcame my craving for him, for death, pulling my musculature, restructuring my bones. That part of me unbound, limbic, Precambrian, I pushed free of his will and tossed him into cumulous. 

The walls shifted again and he stood by a four poster bed which held last night’s victim, chained and helpless, enough blood left in her apparently for another night’s feed but now it was me who craved the blood that throbbed so close to the surface of her skin. A mirror faded into form over the bed, not for any Bathory pleasure but to show me what I had become.

A face stared back in that mirror, my face, hideous, sunken, fangs protruding over lip, the flesh wrapped tight around bone. 

“What have you done to me?”

“Nothing,” he said. “You’re a Defensive, a latent vampire. The legends speak about the Defensive’s ability to blend in with their prey, the necessity to kill only when provoked. That is, until they learn of their true selves.”

“I don’t understand.” I didn’t want to understand, I only wanted to run then, run and never stop.

“Remember when your parents punished you, and you killed them, drank their blood?” 

I didn’t need to remember, the image of them, of me, so young, so evil, projected now where the mirror had been. My tears continued to flow, every repressed memory breaking through the gates of my subconscious. 

“When you’re lover struck you in his drunken stupor…oh, but I see you’re remembering that too now. His blood allowed you to see the mansion, allowed you to see me. Oh, but I’m being rude, my attack has awakened your thirst. Maddening isn’t it? You need the blood of the living, yet I have none to give. No matter, I left enough in her for you.”

The woman screamed, her nails raking at my flesh, jangling the slack in the chains, but once I had wrapped my hands around her midnight curls and exposed her lovely throat she found it quite difficult to struggle.

#

 

He waits for me at a cheap motel in upstate New York. We’ve only spoken over the phone, if you call our conversations speaking. He wants to meet me, they all do.

I knock on the door to room 9. I listen as he hesitantly leaves the comfort of the bed and pads over to the door. The padlock clicks, he hesitates again, then with what I’m sure is all his courage he opens the door.

He’s not much to look at but I can see by the relief that floods his face he is quite pleased by my appearance. You never can tell what you’re going to get when you’ve only talked to the woman on the phone. 

He steps back to let me into the dim, dirty room. Inside I have no patience for words, I unbutton my blouse. His legs seem to give out and he quickly lowers himself to a seat on the bed.

He looks around the room, uncomfortable.

“What’s your name?” he asks.

“What name do I always use with you, you know it don’t you?”

“Tell me your real name, just your first name. I need to hear it, I’ll pay you more.” His nails-raking-on-chalkboard voice makes me want to shut him up.

Instead I smile bitterly at this poor wretch of a man. His facial expression seems to reflect some displeasure in what he sees in my smile. 

I will the change before his horrified eyes and now I’m sure he doesn’t like what he sees in my smile. He scrambles backward on the bed, hyperventilating, probably soiling his pants.

“My name is Desiree,” I say to him. “But all my lovers call me Despair.”

 

-FIN-