Monthly Archives October 2016

New Release – Writers on Writing Vol.4

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WRITERS ON WRITING VOL.4 – Learn the craft of writing from those who know it best.
 
writers on writing 4 cover
This is Writers On Writing – An Author’s Guide, where your favorite authors share their secrets in the ultimate guide to becoming and being an author. 
 
Blunt Force Trauma: How to Write Killer Poetry by Stephanie M. Wytovich
Happy Little Trees by Michael Knost
In Lieu of Patience Bring Diversity by Kenneth W. Cain
Networking is Scary, but Essential by Doug Murano
Are You In The Mood? by Sheldon Higdon
What if Every Novel is a Horror Novel? by Steve Diamond
Description: You Can’t Win so Why Play by Patrick Freivald
Long Night’s Journey Into…This? A First-Time Novelist’s Odyssey by William Gorman
I Am Setting by J.S. Breukelaar
Finding Your Voice by Lynda E. Rucker

Are you ready to unleash the author in you?

 
Series: Writers on Writing
Writers on Writing: Volume 1
Writers on Writing Volume 1-4 Omnibus: An Author’s Guide
Writers on Writing: Volume 2
Writers on Writing: Volume 3

Writers on Writing: Volume 3

$2,99
Learn the craft of writing from those who know it best. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Writers on Writing: Vol. 4
  Crystal Lake Publishing   Oct 30, 2016   Blog   1 Comment Read More

New YouTube venture – Drops of Ink with Lady Lecter

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Crystal Lake Publishing is proud to present Lady Lecter’s Drops of Ink YouTube show.

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The first episode is now live with Lady Lecter reading from Mark Sheldon’s Sarah Killian novel. Be sure to like her Facebook page, as well.

If you enjoy hearing from Lady Lecter, be sure to support her by joining us behind the scenes on Patreon.

 

Sarah Killian: Serial Killer (For Hire!)

Sarah Killian: Serial Killer (For Hire!)

$3,99
Author:
Meet Sarah Killian, a professional serial killer (for hire!) with a twisted sense of humor. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Barnes and Noble
Buy from Amazon

 

  Crystal Lake Publishing   Oct 28, 2016   Blog   0 Comment Read More

The Deep End interview with Graham Masterton

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Joe Mynhardt: Tell us a bit (or a lot) more about your childhood. Primary school, High school, etc. How do you think your experiences benefited or influenced your career?

graham-masterton

Graham Masterton: My father was an Army officer in the Royal Engineers and because my mother didn’t want to follow him to his various postings abroad and have me and my sister educated at Army schools, I didn’t see too much of him when I was young. Eventually he found himself a girlfriend in Antwerp and my parents divorced when I was seven years old. My mother found herself quite a handsome new husband but he had been a prisoner of war in Germany for four years and was given to irrational bursts of temper. I was always very self-contained and took life in my stride, spending most of my time at home in my room writing stories and drawing comics.

I was able to visit my father almost every school holiday so at a time when very few British children had ever travelled abroad I spent a lot of time in Germany and was free to explore whichever city my father had been posted to.

I was sent first to a private primary school run by two elderly women (Miss Polly and Miss Harpole). I didn’t like it at all, especially that day Nigel McAllister pooed his pants and stunk out the classroom. I didn’t like the teachers and I didn’t like the food. I used to hide the mashed potato in the pockets of my shorts.

Eventually I was sent to a local state primary school which was rough and tough (some of the boys even wore hobnailed boots). But I was extremely lucky in having one inspired teacher Mr Royal who gave me an extraordinary education, especially in English and drama.

My secondary school was a famous public school south of London called Whitgift. The education was superb and it was only in later life that I found out that my father had barely managed to scrape up enough money to pay the fees. It was a school that gave boys a great deal of self-confidence (perhaps too much, in my case!) and also honed my speaking voice. I still speak in what British people call a “BBC” accent – in other words, not aristocratic but very well enunciated. That has proved to be a great asset when speaking to audiences, although the clarity of my diction has sometimes got me into trouble when making disparaging remarks about other people in crowded pubs (such as, “God, don’t like yours much” when a man comes in with an ugly wife) because my voice carries so far.

When I reached the age of 16 I had to leave Whitgift because my stepfather had got a job with an engineering company in Crawley, in Sussex, which was one of several new towns built after the war to house people who had been bombed out of their homes in London. I went to a grammar school and started to take my A-level exams, a three-year course which would prepare me for university. However I discovered two important life-changing things. One of these was the Beat writers like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso and William Burroughs. The other was girls. Whitgift had been an all-boys school, but now I found myself sitting in classrooms with some very pretty young women. Suddenly I lost all interest in Shakespeare and Byron and Dickens, and after two terms I was expelled.

 

Joe: Can you recall a moment where you had to choose between being an author/artist and another career? A decisive moment where you decided to go all out?

Graham Masterton: Being thrown out of school was probably the defining moment of my life. I got a job in a fruit-and-vegetable shop and I was so good at it that after three weeks the company offered to make me the manager. I can still twirl a paper bag of apples like a professional.

At the same time, though, I went to West Sussex College of Art where my sister was training to be an illustrator. I took an entrance test there with the vague idea that I might be a graphic designer and I was offered a place.

However I was then told that the local paper had a vacancy for a trainee reporter. I had a choice: reporter or graphic designer. What swayed me more than anything else was that, as a reporter, I would be out and about all day, unsupervised, and I would be paid from week one. As an art student, I would have to study unpaid for three years, and still be dependent on my mother and stepfather.

I loved being a reporter from the very first day. Just walking into the top floor newsroom with nine manual typewriters hammering away like a rivet shop and phones constantly ringing and the air so thick with cigarette smoke that you could barely breathe.

But on that first day I learned a critical lesson. My very first assignment was to interview a woman whose husband had won a local cycling trophy. Pretty major story! I cycled to her house and knocked on the door and she invited me in and gave me a cup of tea and told me all about her husband’s cycling achievements, which I duly jotted down in my very first notebook. As I was about to leave, however, she said, very quietly: “He beats me.”

I said, “What?”

“Yes,” she said. “Almost every day. No matter what I say it’s always wrong. No matter what I do it’s always wrong. I cook him a meal and he throws it on to the kitchen floor. I buy a dress and he rips it apart and tells me it’s hideous. Then he hits me, although he’s always careful not to bruise my face.”

I sat and listened to this woman for over an hour, asking her very few questions but very searching questions, such as what was her sex life like, and did she think her husband was having an affair with somebody else? I was remembering my own parents, of course.

When I cycled away from that house I felt as if Heaven had opened and a great ray of light was shining down on me. It was a Damascene moment. I had discovered that as a sympathetic stranger I could ask people the most penetrating questions about their personal lives and they would tell me anything and everything…things that they would never tell their closest friends or any members of their family. That revelation changed my writing for the rest of my life.

 

Joe: How did you respond to your very first success as an author? Was it just rewarding, or did it motivate you even more? Or, did it perhaps feel underwhelmed, which motivated you to even greater heights?

Graham Masterton: After a few months on the Crawley Observer—because I was the only teenager on the staff—I was given my own “pop music” page… I reviewed records, I wrote potted biographies of rock stars, and I covered all of the local pop concerts. I also had my own humorous column “Private Ear.” I was given a byline for this page, and so from early on I was used to seeing my name in print.

After four years training as a reporter I tried to get a job on a London newspaper, but again and again I was turned down as being too young. “Go up and work on a Northern evening paper for a few years, and then try again,” said the news editor of The Daily Telegraph.

Up North? To Manchester, or Liverpool, or Wolverhampton? There was not a hope in hell that I was going to do that. Fortunately a girl reporter from my rival local paper had seen a man on the train reading a new man’s magazine Mayfair, a British rival to Playboy and Penthouse. I wrote an incredibly arrogant letter to them, saying that I was one of the best writers in existence. In fact the letter was so arrogant that they granted me an interview just to see what I was like. They hired me immediately as deputy editor, although to be truthful the staff turned out to be the publisher, the editor, me, a secretary, and the publisher’s German Shepherd. All of the design and photography was farmed out.

Again, though, my experience as a reporter came into play. Every month I had to interview the centre-spread girl of the month, and so I would go to the studios where they were being photographed. Any other men there would be goggling at the girls’ bare breasts, but I spent time talking to them about why they had wanted to become models, what they wanted out of their lives, and what their relationships were like with their boyfriends.

The torrent of intimate information that came out of them gave me the inspiration to devise a regular four-page feature called Quest, which purported to be verbatim conversations about sex and sexual problems. Although I wrote it all myself, it was entirely based on the true facts that these girls had told me…what they wanted sexually, what excited them and what disappointed them.

I was asked by a London publisher to write two sex books in this same question-and-answer style, and although they were published under the pseudonym Edward Thorne, it still meant that I had my first books in print.

After a row with the editor, I left Mayfair and immediately got a job as deputy editor of Penthouse—because of course by then Bob Guccione the publisher had seen from my name on the Mayfair masthead and knew who I was. Penthouse had originated in Britain but at that time it was just starting up in New York, so I became a frequent visitor to their offices in Manhattan.

It was there that I met the publisher of Warner Paperback Library who suggested I write a candid, conversational sex book. Apart from The Joy of Sex almost all sex instruction books in those days were very medical. That was how I came to write How A Woman Loves To Be Loved…but again I used a nom-de-plume, Angel Smith.

Angel Smith was pictured on the jacket in a wet shirt and she was blonde and gorgeous. The book sold really well and Angel was inundated with fan mail. One day, however, she was sent a postal package which felt squishy and inside was a condom and a letter. The letter said, “Dear Angel…I love you, I love you, I love you! I have rolled this condom on to myself and rolled it off again and I hope you will accept it as a token of my passion for you.”

You have never seen a condom fly across a room as fast as that one did. And I swore from that day that I would write all of my sex books under my own name. The next was How To Drive Your Man Wild In Bed, published by Signet, and it sold half a million copies in nine months. It is still available on Kindle, and was a huge seller in Poland, where it was the first Western sex book published there since World War Two. You can still buy it there as Magia Seksu—Magic Sex.

After the first six or seven sex books, the bottom fell out of the market, so to speak. My then publishers Pinnacle said that they didn’t want any more but I reminded them that they still had a contract pending with me. As a substitute for How To Turn Yourself On I sent them a short horror novel which I had written to amuse myself in between sex books. It was a combination of my wife Wiescka’s pregnancy with our first baby and an idea I had gleaned from a cowboy book I had read when I was about 10 years old, about Native Americans believing that everything had a spirit inside it—animals, rocks, trees, lakes. These spirits they called manitous.

The Manitou sold half a million copies in six months and was the beginning of my career as a horror writer. Of course I was greatly gratified by its reception, but I had been seeing my name in print since I was 17 years old and so that aspect of it was not tremendously exciting. I have always regarded writing as my job but of course if you’re going to be successful as a writer your name has to be well known. You have to sell yourself. It would be no good baking brilliant cakes or writing brilliant songs and then never promoting them.

I am my own most severe critic and I hope that my writing improves with every novel. I am currently writing a grisly series of crime novels set in Cork, in Ireland, where Wiescka and I lived for five years, and they have reached number 1 in America and Canada and Australia and the UK. They seem to be satisfying my horror readers as much as the wider market of crime enthusiasts. But I am relentless on honing my technique so that every novel is not only more horrifying and more original, but more believable.

 

Joe: How has your career as an author affected relationships with friends and family?

Graham Masterton: Not very much. I think my family find it faintly amusing, but that’s about all. They understand that I consider writing to be my everyday work. However I have made some very good friends through being an author. I have a young woman friend in Warsaw, Kinga.  I met her at a fantasy convention in Krakow four years ago, and we still see each other regularly, but she works in computers and I am far more impressed by her intellect than she is by mine. I have also been using my experience to help a very talented young woman writer Dawn Harris to write her first novel, a supernatural story about a girl with a very unusual talent. That has been very fulfilling, both as a friendship and as a writing project.

 

Joe: Which author most influenced your early career? And who still does?

Graham Masterton: Jules Verne to start with. Nothing like fighting a giant calamari! Then Edgar Allan Poe who inspired me to write short horror stories to read to my friends. After that, William Burroughs, whose novel The Naked Lunch impressed me instantly with its bravery, its humour, and its writing technique. William and I corresponded for some years before he eventually moved to London, where we became friends. I commissioned him to write a series of articles for Mayfair which we called The Burroughs Academy, and we spent hours discussing how to write in such a way that readers would feel totally involved in the story they were reading. I wrote a novella in conjunction with William—Rules of Duel—which is extremely avant-garde in its style, but which was published by Telos Books after languishing in my drawer for almost forty years. These days, I am not influenced by any other authors because for two reasons I never read fiction. One—I don’t feel like it after a whole day of writing fiction. Two—I am far too critical of other writers’ work. Come on, Dan Brown—the girl “plopped” to the floor?

 

Joe: Instead of just focussing on your most successful work, which story are you the proudest of, a story that managed to capture a piece of who you are?

Graham Masterton: I am proudest of Trauma, the story of a woman crime scene cleaner in Los Angeles who gradually falls apart mentally because of the gruesome scenes she witnesses every day and her collapsing marriage. It was going to be filmed by Jonathan Mostow but sadly Universal pulled the plug on the finance at the last moment. I am not pretentious enough to say that I can get completely inside a woman’s mind, but I am proud of how this turned out, and it was nominated by Mystery Writers of America for Best Original Paperback, among other awards.

 

Joe: How do you feel when you don’t make your target words for the day?

Graham Masterton: I don’t have “target words.” A novel takes as long as it takes. Some scenes need hours of thought and research…others are just conversations which don’t take anything like so long to write. As long as I’ve written the scene that I intended to write, and written it well, then I’m happy. If not, there’s always tomorrow. I am baffled when writers crow about the fact that they’ve “knocked off” 3,000 words. The only question is: were those 3,000 words any good? You’re creating imaginary worlds, and imaginary people, not shovelling manure.

 

Joe: What’s the most difficult topic for you to write?

Graham Masterton: I don’t have one. Nothing is difficult to write about if you face the grim reality of life and try to write about it honestly. As a reporter, I saw a man cut in half by a train bur still talking to the paramedics who were tending to him. Many good friends of mine have died.

 

Joe: What do you do to distract you enough to actually relax a bit? Or do you always think about writing?

Graham Masterton: After I’ve finished writing I go out to my local pub and meet my friends and we talk about any old rubbish. I like collecting terrible Irish jokes. I think if I hadn’t been an author I would have been a comedian. That may come from my great-grandfather who was a theatrical agent in Victorian London and set up lots of variety shows. He was a Polish émigré who fled to England to escape being conscripted into the Russian Imperial Army, so that is probably why I find Polish women irresistible.

 

Joe: Tell us a bit about the people you met while researching a book. Are you still friends with some of them?

Graham Masterton: I’m still friends with them because all of my characters are imaginary. In my Irish crime novels I write a lot about the internal politics of An Garda Síochána, the Irish police, but I have formed no relationship with any real officers because that would compromise them and also restrict my ability to be able to be outspoken.

 

Joe: Outside of the actual craft, what is the most useful skill you learnt from being an author?

Graham Masterton: Listening. Even when somebody’s being boring. Everybody has a story to tell.

 

Joe: How did being an author change you as a person?

Graham Masterton: It made me kinder, more tolerant, and more aware of other people’s problems. Dawn Harris is not only a writer but the manager of a Cancer Research Charity Shop and every Halloween I do a signing session there, as well as donating money which I receive for selling manuscripts. I also support a children’s orphanage near Strzelin, in Poland, and a charity in Wroclaw which supports and shelters young girls who are trafficked into prostitution.

 

Joe: Which response / comment from a reader has touched you the most throughout your career?

Graham Masterton: A woman who wrote to me after reading the first novel about Detective Superintendent Katie Maguire and said she thought it was written by a woman.

 

Joe: What is your life-long goal as an author?

Graham Masterton: I have no idea. Fashions in fiction change day by day. No matter what anybody says, nobody can predict what’s going to be a bestseller. I never thought that I would ever be writing crime novels, but already they’ve sold well over a million. I have commissions to write two more Katie Maguire novels and another novel about my historical heroine Beatrice Scarlet, who is a kind of 18th century CSI, so I am going to be busy until 2018. Ask me again then!

 

Joe: What legacy do you want to leave behind?

Graham Masterton: If just one writer understands from what I’ve written how to make a story come to life…how to make a reader feel the wind on their back and hear a distant ship hooting in a harbour and smell rain on the way…that’ll be enough.

 

Crystal Lake titles featuring Graham Masterton:

Horror 101: The Way Forward

Horror 101: The Way Forward

$2,99
Horror 101 is a 2015 Bram Stoker Award nominee. More info →
Buy from Barnes and Noble
Buy from Barnes and Noble
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Tales from the Lake: Volume 1

Tales from the Lake: Volume 1

$3,99
Dive into fourteen tales of horror, with short stories and dark poems by some of the best horror writers in the world. More info →
Buy from Barnes and Noble
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Amazon Kindle
  Crystal Lake Publishing   Oct 25, 2016   Blog   0 Comment Read More

Interview with author Mark Sheldon

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How did the idea for Sarah Killian come to you?

Mark: It’s actually kind of a boring (to me at least) story. I was working at a music licensing company doing data entry. It was extremely repetitive, even by normal data entry standards. Every day for several months on end I would be entering the exact same data. For whatever reason, Sarah McLachlan and Killian Wells always came up right next to each other on these reports, so seeing the name Sarah and Killian together, my mind put them together and thought, “Heh, that kinda sounds like serial killer.” Once I’d made that connection – and I’m going to have to paraphrase JK Rowling here, I apologize – the character just walked, fully-fledged, right into my mind.

Sarah Killian cover

What was the most difficult aspect of writing this book?

Mark: This was a very experimental work for me. Usually I am one of those people who has to have everything sketched out and planned before I start writing – but with Sarah, I decided to just write. That in itself made it a challenge to me, because I didn’t know where it was going, but it was also kind of fun to try. The other challenge was just the fact that Sarah’s mind is not a very pleasant place to live in for too long of a time, so I would have to write a few chapters here and there, and then take a break for a few weeks or even a month before I could go back and get into her sociopathic brain.

Author Mark Sheldon

What’s your favorite scene from the book, and what part do you think readers will enjoy the most?

Mark: Probably my favorite would be the scene at the airport where she uses the family restroom to release her frustration with Bethany by tearing up a Disney princess doll, and then leaving the “carnage” behind for a family to find. That was a lot of fun to write, and I think that sort of dark humor side of Sarah is probably also what readers will enjoy about the book.

What made you write from the point of view of a female character?

Mark: Well, it goes back to the origin of the idea. It all started with the name Sarah Killian, so there wasn’t really any other choice in my mind but for her to be female.

What other projects are you currently working on?

Mark: I have the beginnings of a sci-fi/horror novel that I’m in the middle of sketching out ideas for – sort of a mashup of Lost, Aliens, and Doom (the computer game, of course). Still in the drafting phase for that. Also working on finding a home for my novella, The Motif, which is a thriller about a mysterious MP3 music file circulating social networking sites like a virus and driving people insane when they listen to it.

Sarah Killian: Serial Killer (For Hire!)

Sarah Killian: Serial Killer (For Hire!)

$3,99
Author:
Meet Sarah Killian, a professional serial killer (for hire!) with a twisted sense of humor. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Barnes and Noble
Buy from Amazon
  Crystal Lake Publishing   Oct 22, 2016   Blog   1 Comment Read More

The Tempest on the Pier by Pedro Iniguez (a Tales from The Lake Vol.3 Honorable Mention)

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The following story received an honorable mention from Tales from The Lake Vol.3 editor Monique Snyman. ©Pedro Iniguez


THE TEMPEST ON THE PIER



Robert Tapia rubbed his frizzled chin and stared at the dark waters below. The waves crashed against the pillars of the pier, spraying foamy white mists into the air. He stuffed a cigarette into his mouth and lit up, inhaling a stream of hot fumes. He coughed violently as the fire in his lungs flared. His tongue tasted wet copper on his cracked lips.  

The sun was sinking below the horizon and the November breeze kicked up, blowing Robert’s hoodie away from his head. He had picked the tip-end of the pier for tonight. He found that spot was always the most appealing, being the farthest from society one could possibly be, and the closest to the ocean without being in any real danger.

San Clemente, California—a small beach town of quaint shops, twinkling lights, the clearest skies in all of Southern California. It’s where Robert’s father had taken him time and again to teach him about being self-sufficient. About being a man. It’s where he hoped his own son would learn a valuable lesson.

Miguel’s laughs faded down the planks of the pier as he chased seagulls. The birds squawked and flapped their wings as they hopped frantically away. His red baseball cap bobbled up and down with every step as his little legs darted down old wood.

“Miguel,” yelled Robert. He waved his hands in big sweeping motions. Miguel saw him and Robert waved him over. “Be where I can see you. I’m about to set the net.”

Miguel looked between his father and the birds. He abandoned the pursuit and headed back.

Robert had waited until evening to set up; that’s when most fishermen packed it up for the day. There were still a few people fishing nearby, but for the most part it was quiet. He liked it this way because he could be alone with Miguel.

Miguel walked up to his father and smiled. Robert took one last drag from the cigarette, turned away from his son and exhaled a toxic cloud. He flicked the cigarette into the ocean.

“Now, I want you to watch closely,” he said pointing to his eyes and back at the rope. “I’m about to show you how to tie a proper knot and how to lower the rope, okay?”

Miguel’s eyes wandered toward the city lights. The orbs of blue and red speckled in the distance like little floating lanterns. A hand slapped the back of his head.

“Hey,” said Robert. “Wake up; I’m trying to show you something.”

Miguel rubbed the back of his head. He motioned with his hands, attempting to say ‘sorry,’ but he hadn’t yet mastered sign language. He was only six years old, but even then he was learning at a rate slower than Robert would’ve liked.

Robert picked up a line of thin, red rope and grabbed one of the ends. His hands slowly weaved in and out, as they formed a knot. He looked at Miguel. His son nodded.

Next, he looped the rope around a wooden beam and fastened it with another knot. He gave it a tug to make sure it was secure. Robert reached into his tackle box and retrieved his knife. He pulled a fish out of his bucket and waved it at Miguel. The boy looked hesitant as he stared at the bulging eyes of the lifeless creature in front of him. Robert pressed his lips together, imitating the fish’s mouth. He rolled his eyes inwards and started making kissing motions. Miguel laughed.

Robert set the fish on the floor and cut into its belly. He sliced off a large piece of flesh, exposing portions of the spine.

“This way the crabs can smell the flesh and blood,” he said waving a hand towards his nose. The boy seamed to understand and nodded.

Robert placed the fish into a mesh of thin rope, delicately placing the bait into the weaving, making sure it stayed in place. The net almost looked like a dreamcatcher with its series of metal loops and rope interlaced like webbing. He looked back to make sure his son was paying attention. Miguel’s eyes were glazed as he fought off the sleep. He wasn’t used to being outside this late. Robert knew his son would rather be at home reading, putting together puzzles, or even devouring his leftover Halloween candies, but he had to do this. He had to show him everything he knew.

Robert coughed so hard, it scratched his throat. There wasn’t much time left…months, maybe.

“Okay, now we have to make sure that we lower the net slowly, so the fish doesn’t slip out of the weaving.”

He lowered the net, releasing the line little by little. After a while, the net disappeared into the black waters, and the rope lay taut on the post.

Miguel turned away to look at a couple of seagulls creeping up on the bucket of bait. They paced one webbed foot at a time, their light bodies as silent as the autumn night. He sprang at them like the monsters at the Halloween mazes. He laughed as they flew away.

Robert wiped the slime and blood off the knife and put it back in his tackle box. His fingers rifled through the box and retrieved a small lead weight and a pair of hooks.

“Okay,” he said pointing at a small rod leaning against a beam. “Get me your rod; I’m going to show you how to set it up.”

Miguel waddled over to the rod in his bulky jacket, red hat, scarf, grey sweats, and small booties. His son was so layered, he reminded Robert of a mummy. He tried not to laugh to prevent from coughing.

The rod was cold as he took it from his son. He zipped his jacket all the way up to his neck. The sky was black now, with a wisp of clouds approaching from the ocean. Behind him, his neighbor, an old Asian man, shot up from his chair and yanked at his pole. He pulled and wrestled with his rod as if fighting an unseen phantom. After a few seconds of swift reeling, the man sat back down. The old man turned to Robert and Miguel. Robert waved a hand and smiled. The old man ignored the gesture and returned his gaze to the blackness ahead of him.

He turned to find Miguel looking intently at the beams. He traced his little fingers over old carvings of hearts and initials – lovers from years past, and mischievous children too bored to care about fishing. Robert picked up the knife and walked up to Miguel. He offered the knife.

Miguel just stared at him. Robert put the knife in his son’s hand and closed his fingers on the handle.

“Just write your initials as if you were using a pen.”

He guided Miguel’s hand and pressed down. The knife grinded down on old, moist wood, bumping like a tattoo needle along the grooves and ridges.

When they were finished, the beam had a new chapter to its story. The letters ‘MT/RT’ were inscribed like runes on the beam.

They shared a smile.

“I’ll just set up the rod. Go and play around,” he said shooing him off. Miguel looked confused. “Go and play, it’s alright. Just be where I can see you,” Robert said pointing to his eyes again. His son smiled and waddled off.

The rod was easy to set up. It was small and flimsy and suitable for a child. And now it probably wasn’t going to be used, but that didn’t matter anymore. He had taken delight in seeing him smile. He wanted to teach him as much as possible before he was gone, but if Miguel could remember one thing about his father, he was glad that it could be the ability to make him smile.

He set the rod against the beam and lit up another cigarette. He knew he shouldn’t but it didn’t really matter anymore. Robert stared at the clouds again. They were bigger and had nearly blotted out the moon. Maybe there was a storm coming. He looked at his watch and wiped the moisture off. It was eight o’clock now. Where had the time gone? He remembered the doctor telling him he had maybe a year before the cancer took him away. It felt like he had gotten the news just a week ago.

Raising Miguel alone was difficult enough, but it was a job that was infinitely harder if you couldn’t be around to do it. He had already made the funeral arrangements and had even found a distant cousin who agreed to take care of the boy. But what really upset him was the fact that there was no woman in Miguel’s life. No boy should grow up without a mother.

Robert cursed Melinda under his breath for leaving them.

He looked down to find himself squeezing the knife handle. He tossed it back in the box and finished the cigarette.

Miguel was standing on a bench a few feet away, staring at the city lights again. He was a curious one, that boy.

After a few moments, Robert thought enough time had gone by and walked to the net. He gripped the rope and pulled it up swiftly. The key was to pull as fast as possible so that the crabs wouldn’t have enough time to escape the tangle of legs and netting. His forearms burned as he pulled, reaching one hand over the other. Miguel must have seen him pulling, because Robert heard his little excited grunts behind him as he pulled. The net splashed out of the ocean but it was too dark to see.

“Hey Miggy, can you get my flashlight?” he said, closing and opening his fingers to demonstrate a flashing light. Miguel retrieved a flashlight from the tackle box and handed it to Robert.

He shined a light at the net. It was empty. The fish hadn’t even been gnawed at. Robert shook his head at his son and lowered the net back into the water. Spider crabs were notoriously ugly and demonic looking but they were delicious. Patience was always key when crab fishing. He turned and Miguel had already wandered off.

A gust of air blew in from the ocean that chilled Robert’s bones. The tides swelled as they crashed louder against the pier. The smell of salty air was more potent than it had been all night.

The wind knocked Miguel’s red cap off his head. Robert grabbed it before it fell into the abyss below. He walked up to Miguel and secured it back on his head.

“I’m gonna go look and see if anyone’s caught anything, okay? A storm’s coming and we might have to wrap this up soon,” he said pointing at his watch and winding his finger in a circular motion. “Here,” he said, pulling out a sand dollar from his pocket. “Hold on to this. It was my father’s,” he attempted to say in sign language. “He used to dive for clams in Mexico when he found this. He passed it on to me and now I’m giving it to you. It brings you good luck.”

Miguel smiled. He examined the sand dollar in his hand. It was bleached and hard like a smooth rock. It had an imprint of a small flower in the center. He smiled and walked off.

There were two other men fishing on the pier—his moody neighbor, and another man who appeared to be homeless, sitting quietly in the distance. None appeared to be dissuaded by the oncoming storm. Robert decided to try his hand again, and walked towards the Asian man.

He paced calmly over to him as the man just stared ahead into the night. The man’s pole swayed gently up and down, dancing to the currents below. Robert peered into the man’s bucket. It was empty.

“Catch anything yet?” he asked as a formality, the oldest fishing ice breaker known to man.

The man turned his head in small increments, as if the very act caused pain or aggravation. His face was carved in wrinkles and marked with small liver spots. Dark circles formed under his eyes. The man had not slept in days.

“The winds are unkind tonight,” he said.

“Yeah, they’re really blowing in. I’ve yet to catch anything myself. My name’s Robert by the way,” he said extending a hand.

The man regarded the hand and extended his. He had bony fingers and long, dirty nails. Robert shook it. The hand was cold, almost as if frozen and devoid of warm, coursing blood. He did not give a name in exchange.

“I’ve never seen you around. This your first time fishing here?” Robert asked.

The man nodded his head.

“Welcome. I’ve been fishing here all my life.”

The man ignored Robert and turned to look behind him. He stared at something for a few seconds and returned his gaze to the dark sky ahead. Robert looked back; nothing but Miguel wandering like a lost sheep, and the city lights flickering in the distance.

“What kind of bait are you using? I’m partial to mackerel or squid myself.”

The old man’s eyes scanned something in the dark clouds Robert couldn’t make out. “I am using meat that is too old. One must always use fresh meat.”

Robert looked down at the old man’s tackle box. A large knife sat bloodied inside, but Robert couldn’t see any sign of bait.

“Yeah, that’s probably why I’m not getting it right. I bought some frozen mackerel before coming down.”

“The ocean demands fresh meat, always. Something for something. It is the will of Yu-Qiang.”

Robert frowned. The more he talked to the old man, the more he got a bad feeling in his stomach. He was probably senile. “Oh, who’s that?”

“Yu-Qiang: the god of the ocean.” The man nodded towards the fury of the waves below. “An ancient creature that lives in the deep. He is there now.”

Robert looked over the support beams. Nothing but blackness and the loud crashing sounds, the only hint at a raging life below.

“Interesting. Korean legend?”

“Chinese,” the old man said. “No legend. Known truth. For thousands of years we have offered our sacrifices to Yu-Qiang. He has blessed us with bounties from the sea.”

“I see. Well it looks like he’s on vacation tonight, huh? Maybe we’ll get lucky next time,” he said with a slight smile.

The old man stared ahead and said nothing.

“It was nice meeting you,” Robert said waving his hand. He stepped away and decided not to even try talking to the homeless man.

Robert felt a slight drizzle on his face as he walked back to his spot. The moisture caught on his slight beard and made him shiver. He looked back. Miguel leaned on a beam close to the homeless man.

He waved both arms. “Hey, Miguel. Get over here. I’m gonna haul in the net.”

Miguel nodded and started walking back.

The clouds were overhead now. Some of the moonlight broke through the gaps in the clouds, like a celestial body being engulfed by the dark. In a way that’s how he felt about his life. It’s how he pictured his lungs looking, as they struggled to take in air.

He reached inside his jacket for another smoke. The cigarette in his hand was already streaming comfort. He looked at it. The invisible bullet that had found its mark long ago. It was taking away more than his life; it was taking away his reason for life. He crushed the cigarette and dropped it at his feet.

It was time to go home.

His hands wrapped around the rope. The moisture on his fingers made the line slick and harder to pull. The rope felt heavier as he lifted.

The drizzle in the air turned to light showers as the water pelted his jacket. Tap. Tap. Tap. He was going to need his flashlight soon. Robert couldn’t hear if Miguel was behind him but he called out anyway.

“Miguel,” he shouted, raising a hand. “I need the flashlight.” He opened and closed his fingers again to simulate blinking lights. The line grew heavier as he pulled; sometimes it even felt like something pulled back. Something angry.

He heard the net emerge from the ocean, as water dripped in torrents underneath. It was too dark to see but he felt the net swaying side to side. Whatever it was, it was big.

“Miguel?” Robert looked back. Miguel wasn’t visible. The light showers turned to heavy rain. Visibility was reduced as the falling streaks of water filled the air. The homeless man in the distance sat motionless as he watched his pole swaying violently.

He went back to pulling. Hand after hand, he heaved, trying not to lose his grip. He looked back again. The Chinese man reeled in a large mojarra fish. It gasped for breath on the floor as the water reaching its mouth filled its lungs with false hope.

Robert called out again, the panic now filling his voice. “Miguel!” He coughed. Blood spewed onto his hands. He ignored the cold in his bones and the fire in his lungs, and pulled. The net was at eye level and he saw movement. A lot of movement. He swung the net over the beams and it landed on the planks.

A swarm of spider crabs spilled over the rims of the net. Their long, angled legs stabbed indiscriminately in every direction.

Down the pier, the old Chinese man carried a pail full of fish as water collected and spilled from the sides. He faded into the damp night.

He had to look for Miguel. He called out again. “Miguel?”

Robert peered over the edges. There was no sign of the boy. He tried to listen for his grunts. Nothing.

The homeless man. Robert ran towards the man, careful not to slip on the wet floor.

“Excuse me? Excuse me, sir? Have you seen a little boy?”

The man made no gesture.

Maybe he didn’t hear.

Robert put a hand to his shoulder and shook gently.

Nothing.

Robert shook harder. The man’s head rolled back—his mouth open to the falling rains. A large chunk of flesh was missing from his throat. Blood seeped down his neck, mixing with the rain water. Robert took a step back and slipped on the slick planks. His head slammed on the wood and he coughed up more blood. He pushed himself up. The spider crabs were crawling over the floor like angered monsters.

In the distance, something caught his eye. 

He hurried towards the net. He picked up his flashlight and shone the light on the crabs. Mandibles tore into miniscule bits of flesh. He picked up the crabs and tossed them aside. There were so many. His hands scraped and nicked against the sharp shells. He didn’t care. He had to know.

And it was there.

His lungs seized. His breaths became short and painful.

He fell to his knees amidst a mass of clambering legs. A bounty from the sea. Something for something, the old man had said. Fresh meat.

Robert Tapia picked up the red cap and stared at the small, unidentifiable head in front of him.

The dark waters swayed and crashed against the pier as the tempest pressed ahead.

He lay down next to his boy.

Thorny legs overtook his body as his howls faded into the cold, autumn night.


BIOGRAPHY: Pedro Iniguez lives in Eagle Rock, California, just outside the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. He has a love of literature, comic books, and film. He spends most of his time reading and writing the hours away.

 

Series: Tales from the Lake
Tales from the Lake: Volume 1

Tales from the Lake: Volume 1

$3,99
Dive into fourteen tales of horror, with short stories and dark poems by some of the best horror writers in the world. More info →
Buy from Barnes and Noble
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Tales from the Lake: Volume 2
Tales from the Lake: Volume 3

  Crystal Lake Publishing   Oct 16, 2016   Blog   0 Comment Read More

Cover Reveal for WHERE THE DEAD GO TO DIE

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Coming December 2nd:

Where the Dead Go to Die Horror Novel cover

Stay tuned for more information, blurbs, and interior artwork by Aaron Dries himself.

Until then, check out other books featuring Aaron Dries and Mark Allan Gunnells:

Flowers in a Dumpster

Flowers in a Dumpster

$3,99
Seventeen Tales to Frighten and Enlighten. More info →
Buy from Barnes and Noble
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon

  Crystal Lake Publishing   Oct 10, 2016   Blog   0 Comment Read More

Interview with Bram Stoker Award-Winner Mercedes M. Yardley

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JM: Congrats on winning the Bram Stoker award, Mercedes. What does it mean for you as an author?

MMY: Thank you so much, Joe! This was my first nomination, and winning for my first nom simply blew me away. It’s validation for me. I have three small kids at home and I’m always trying to fit my writing in where I can. Writing is my own little luxury that is just for me, my own selfish pleasure, and I constantly feel torn spending that time on myself instead of doing something for somebody else. This award means that readers are aware of my work. It means they took the time to read and to vote, that my work was weighed, measured, and found valuable. It’s one of the most touching experiences of my life.

mmy

JM: So how was the weekend of Stoker Con? Any highlights?

MMY: I had such a wonderful time! I get over stimulated easily and have difficulty with noisy crowds, so I especially appreciate quiet moments talking with people I enjoy. My highlights were getting to meet friends I previously knew only online, and getting to experience them as real people. This person orders everything without onions. This person has a grin that lights up the room. This person has the most compassionate heart I’ve ever seen. Being with my tribe was the highlight.

mmy2

JM: What thought went through your mind just before they read your name? What was your initial response when they read your name?
MMY: Oh my goodness! As I said, it was my very first nomination, and as cliché as it sounds, I mean it from the bottom of my heart when I genuinely say that I was exceptionally honored to be nominated. It was a competitive category with talented writers, and never in my wildest dreams did I expect to win. What was going through my mind before they read my name? My fingernail polish was peeling. I was so engrossed on trying to fix it that I completely missed my name. I didn’t hear it. My friend Amelia took my hand and said, “Mercedes, you need to go up there.” And I said, “Why?”
I didn’t have a speech prepared. I was wearing six inch red heels because I was just going to enjoy my time sitting at the banquet. It was such a wonderful, otherworldly, genuine moment. I lived out everyone’s nightmare of being a complete geek onstage, and it was one of the most touching and beautiful moments of my life.

JM: How did folks respond after your win? Any special moments?
MMY: People were so supportive. I was surprised by how many people not only read the story, but remembered it and would bring up certain things about it. It’s only been a few days and it’s already opened several doors for me. It’s like insta-street cred. A special moment for me was one of my readers who ran up, scooped me up in a bear hug, and actually lifted me off the ground (I was 6’2” in those heels. No easy feat). The genuine excitement and joy that others had on my behalf was such a gorgeous thing.

mmy1

JM: So what’s next for you?
MMY: I’m hard at work on the next two books in the BONE ANGEL trilogy. I’m also an editor for Gamut magazine, which is a high tier, neo-noir magazine that will be opening to unsolicited submissions this fall. The pieces we’ve already accepted are simply stunning. I have pieces coming out in some very cool anthologies, including GUTTED: Beautiful Horror Stories. I can’t wait for that anthology. The talent lined up for that is unreal. I’m also working on putting a poetry collection together. There are several intriguing projects going on, and I’m loving every second of it.

Little Dead Red

Little Dead Red

$2,99
Author:
Genre: Novella
The Wolf is roaming the city in this Bram Stoker award winning tale, and he must be stopped. More info →
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  Crystal Lake Publishing   Oct 08, 2016   Blog   0 Comment Read More

Crystal Lake signs Paul F. Olson’s WHISPERED ECHOES

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We’re very excited to announce that we’ve signed Paul F. Olsons Whispered Echoes collection for paperback and eBook formats. Paul’s collection is available as a limited edition from the mighty Cemetery Dance Publications, but this book needs to be read by the entire world, and that’s our main goal going forward. Paul’s 30 year experience as a professional author and editor is truly witnessed through these words.

Whispered Echoes by Paul F. Olson
Above is the limited edition’s cover, but we’ll have a special cover made by artist Ben Baldwin, as well as some interior artwork.
Paul F. Olson

Paul F. Olson has been a professional writer and editor for more than thirty years. He is the author of the horror novel The Night Prophets and Alexander’s Song, a novel of dark suspense, along with many short stories, essays, reviews, interviews, articles, and other works. His earliest stories have been reissued in the 2016 collection Whispered Echoes, which also includes the new 36,000-word novella “Bloodybones.” In the 1980s, he published and edited Horrorstruck: The World of Dark Fantasy, a non-fiction trade magazine for horror fans and professionals. Teaming with David B. Silva, he co-edited the anthologies Post Mortem: New Tales of Ghostly Horror and Dead End: City Limits. He and Silva also created the award-winning newsletter Hellnotes, which they edited together for five years. Following Silva’s death, Olson joined with Richard Chizmar and Brian James Freeman to edit the tribute anthology Better Weird. The father of adult twin daughters, he currently lives in Brimley, Michigan, not far from the shores of Lake Superior.

  Crystal Lake Publishing   Oct 05, 2016   Blog   0 Comment Read More

The Crow War by Tracy Fahey (a Tales from The Lake Vol.3 Honorable Mention)

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Horror Books

The following story received an honorable mention from Tales from The Lake Vol.3 editor Monique Snyman. ©TracyFahey

The Crow War

Tracy Fahey

Have you ever driven through Ireland on the back roads? I don’t mean on the antiseptic motorways that cut an indifferent grey swathe through fields, rivers and forests alike, but the strange little B-roads, the C-roads and the unmarked, pitted little boreens with their stone walls and cratered surfaces. If you do—if you make this long, bumpy and sometimes perplexing drive in the summertime, you will see the truth of the small towns laid bare. Ireland has always been a land of a hundred kingdoms, in spirit, if not in geography. Each parish or village or town has its own behaviours, dialects, traditions, and of course, its festivals. In the summertime you can’t miss the festivals. 
As you drive down these roads, lurching slightly through the potholes and stopping for the odd sheep, there are many reasons to stop off in the little towns that dot your route. You might pause to fill up some petrol or to buy limp, pre-packaged sandwiches, sweating under their plastic containers, or simply to check the success of your navigation of the last few unmarked crossroads. And when you do, you’ll see the tell-tale signs—a dirty string of bunting over the main street, the trailer of a lorry abandoned in a public square, a forlorn tootle of music played across a crackly PA system, or an excess of children running around, high and angry on sugar. Look a little closer and you’ll always find a banner. Some will be intelligible and self-explanatory—‘Annual Summer Charity Fete,’ ‘The Horse Fair,’ ‘Vintage Steam Threshing.’ Others will be infinitely more arcane—‘The Long Ropes Weekend,’ ‘The Scarecrow Festival,’ or ‘The Glass Boy Championship.’ They’ve been going for years, since before anyone can remember although in some villages the natives would be hard pressed to remember the origin. But when the summer is on the cusp of shifting and becoming something darker, when the nights begin to encroach on the day, you’ll find the strangest festival of them all on a little boreen in County Clare. You’ll follow a tiny road with savagely buckled tarmac, a bright, mossy stripe of grass sprouting up the middle. It’s the road to Bive, and what lies down it odd beyond imagining... 
What do I know about it, you might ask? Ah, I know all the celebratory rites in the little towns. I’ve travelled criss-cross across Ireland for years as a salesman, with my bright smile, my bulky suitcase and my battered car. I’m the last of a dying breed, as I visit and talk and sell my way around the country. I know all the dips and turns of the roads. I know the local stories that are only whispered around family fireplaces. I can smell where I am by what’s cooking, the packet and tripe of Limerick, the coddle of Dublin. I can tell the seasons as they turn by the festivals that straggle over the midlands. 

So. 

Bive. 

Bive’s festival. I want to tell you about that one.

Well, I could tell you all about it, but it would be a lot more fun to show you. So let’s leave the motorway on this sleeping Sunday. The sun is climbing high and weak in the sky, and the late summer chill has started to melt into a bright but windy day. Come down the road now. Feel yourself relax, free from the competitive snarl of the motorway, that eye-aching glare from the never-ending ribbon of pale grey. Drive slowly. Look around. And as you drive, you start to notice things again. On either side are fields of corn, their surface a smooth surge of yellow in the breeze; other fields are dark green velvet with grass, cows lying flat in the deep, luscious shadow of the hedgerows. Then the light dims, turns a cool and grassy green as trees start to meet above you, above the road. Their branches sway together, a glossy yellow-green dappling the road underneath. This is the plantation that grows thick and fertile around Bive. You turn a corner and there it is—a dusty sign that says: ‘Welcome to Bive,’ with a little symbol of a black bird in the corner. 

It’s not a big town, but it’s got a lovely market square with a central monument like a Gothic church spire, and a comfortable cluster of colourful houses and shops on the main street. All around the town huddle the long coniferous trees of the plantation, their branches now waving slightly in the breeze. It’s a real, old-fashioned country town. I like to read the names over the shop doors—there’s ‘O’Malley Butchers,’ with a glassy-looking plaster pig’s head in the window, beside it is ‘Flynn’s Cobblers (and Key Cutters)’ with its smell of hot metal, and ‘Reilly’s Grocery Store’—no…wait, it’s gone. In its place there is an antiseptic mini-version of a bland, white-lit chain supermarket. I pause and sigh. This happens more and more every year, another little family business gets eaten up, the shop owners die and their children put out their hands for money. 
The last time I was in Kilkenny, I didn’t recognise the place. The familiar, family shops were gone and in their stead a range of expensively-plain restaurants, all lower-case fonts and no visible menus. 

I’m rambling. 

The point I was making is that although the rate of invasion is a lot slower in the country towns, it still happens, steady and relentless as the tide coming in. Even in Bive.

But let’s not get melancholy over the inevitable. We’re here for the festival, after all. 

And what a festival it is! As you drive towards the main square, you see figures starts to move around it, and the set-up for the festival begin to blossom among the trestle tables and the parked cars, their cluttered boots spilling out a muddle of boxes and tablecloths. Bunting is being strung up by two large men on twin stepladders. There’s a PA system being set up in the corner, with an unhappy-looking teenage boy whispering ‘one-two’ softly into the microphone, face flaring with self-consciousness. That staple of the festival, the tea-marquee is majestically rising into the air, as figures strain against the ropes. So far, so normal.

But I promised I’d show you something odd, didn’t I? The surprise is that everything is black. The marquee. The bunting. The tablecloths. Even the people’s clothes. Draw closer. There’s a reason for it. Look at the details—the shape of the napkins, the pennant that flaps from the top of the marquee. Everything has the crow emblazoned on it. This is Bive’s annual ‘Battle of the Crows’ festival. 

Bive means ‘crow,’ in Irish—it’s spelled ‘Badhbh.’ 

Back in the olden days, Badhbh was a fearsome war goddess who most commonly appeared as a large black crow. You might know her better as the Morrigan from the Táin saga, and that famous illustration by Louis Le Brocquy—the giant, brooding, hunched figure of the crow goddess. Sometimes Badhbh would appear before a battle, wailing like a banshee, as a premonition of death. Once the battle starts, she would circle around, causing confusion, swaying soldiers to her side. But round here she’s Bive, the Anglicised version, the crow, the emblem of the town. 

Even as I’m explaining this to you, a small child runs round the square with the buzzing energy of an escapee. He is wearing a crude crow mask behind which his eyes swivel, fast and excited, as he watches the Hallowe’en pageantry of the square unfold around him. 

“Hello stranger!” I turn and smile. It’s Joe O’Malley, the butcher, instantly recognisable by his purple birthmark that streaks a jagged path down the left side of his face. We shake hands. He is still strong and stout, but his body seems somehow lighter, more depleted. ”Good man, good man,” he says, still pumping my hand up and down. ”Great to see you. Your usual spot is free over there.” He drops my hand to point over beside the tea-tent. I smile over at the ladies carrying jugs and kettles. They’re the ones you want to make sure remember you when it gets warmer and thirstier into the afternoon.

Ramble round now, take it all in! 

The doors to the chapel have opened, and spilling out in a raggedy line from the doors to the square come the throng, their voices gradually gaining volume as they leave their subdued church-tones behind. The band, who have assembled behind us, strike up a downhearted folk air. An instantly-remembered call rings out behind me, the fair-cry of the vendor on the refreshment stand—“Apples, pears, lemonade and chawk-late.” 

She slurs the words together as she calls again, automatically dragging out the last word in a plaintive tow-tone descant. “Apples, pears, lemonade and chawk-late.” 

She used to walk around with a kind of wheelbarrow stall, I remember. Now she sits heavily at a table, her body thickened and her face more sunken, almost indefinably older. I’ve set up my own stall, selling crow masks and black plastic rods with feathers to the children. These were made by a group of women in Cork who make batches of them for me every August. 

Here, look at this one. Prime quality, that. Look at those feathers—real ones, you know, they gather them up and sew them on. 

At this point I put one on and chime in my call perfectly between the pauses of the old lady’s refrain. “Crow masks here!” I shout. I waggle my head so that the feathers glint in the sun. ‘Get your crow masks here!’

It’s now late afternoon. Everyone has turned out for the festival. The square looks like a strange and gigantic funeral has camped down on it. The blank pennants wave overheard. I am chatting, selling, happy. My trestle table is nearly empty, and I am satisfied to notice a black, sticky ring round the mouths of everyone under ten—my liquorice stock has sold well. There is a candy-floss machine that whips sugar and food colouring to create an endless stream of edible storm clouds. A solid ring surrounds the trailer in the square, where the local, black-clad band of musicians keeps churning out relentlessly mournful folk ballads. I recognise the elderly man who plays the melodeon. He sees me too; his salutation is an upward jerk of the head and a wink. I nod back. If events follow their usual pattern, I’ll be seeing him later. My right hand slips down to touch that other bag by my feet. There is a thin, high, squeal. I look up, distracted. The children have started to run in a complicated circling motion around the square. They scream and squawk their way through the crowd, frantic for sweets, for fun, for games. And there’s no shortage of games. The most popular one is a version of Halloween apple-bobbing, where the children with their crow beaks, try to peck liquorice sweets out of a hillock of fairy-dust. The air is punctured with their squeals of victory. I smile and watch them flock around, happy and excited. 

Of course in the old days everyone would be playing—small children, large children, teenagers, even some adults. I am saddened to see some of the older children sitting on the grass verge of the square, faces twisted into deliberately bored scowls. They are flipping through small electronic devices. Their thumbs move rhythmically, tap-tap, slide, tap-tap. They sit side by side and never interact. Occasionally one of the tiny children will run out of the crowd to brandish a prize or a sweet at an older sibling, but the only response they get is an irritated twitch as earphones are removed, a sneer, and a quick, plunging motion as the earphones are replaced. The sun is starting to sink in the sky, basking in the reflected glow of the late afternoon warmth. The air itself is heavy and golden. It glitters palpably on the corn fields behind and infuses the scene with a rich, pastoral glow. I draw in a breath of warm bodies, sweet candyfloss and flattened grass and wait, contented and expectant for the Battle of the Crows. 

And yes, here it comes. The six o’clock bell chimes, low and deep behind me. In the air is the faintest stir and crackle of noise, like a saucepan being scraped. The big golden sun is resting almost on the skyline now, streaking the fields with streams of yellow light. Now there is a rustling, a staccato burst of rough noise. In the square the children divide in two and line up on either side, pulled into place by adult hands. Their oversized crow masks and their small bodies with sticking-out tummies make them look like giant, confused birds. Heads bend over them, whispering caution. The bell strikes again, and again. On the third toll we start to see them, first a few, then more and more until a mass of dark shapes start to cloud the sky, trailing black lines of birds string out across the sky from the horizon. The children run to each other across the green, tapping one another on the head with the plastic feathered rods. 

Fourth toll. 

Their shrill screams are drowned out by the flickering blanket of crows overhead blocking out the sunlight with their beating wings, filling the air with their relentless, discordant cawing. In the shadow, I give a sudden quick shiver, a goose walking over my grave. The crows are flying home to the plantation, to roost and caw and circle over it. They are right overhead now. 

Fifth toll. 

The sky is thick and dark with movement. We stand, together but separate on the green, heads tipped back, eyes and ears full of the spectacle. 

The sixth bell tolls. 

As the bell-stroke dies in the shattered air, some old people cross themselves, the rest simply roar. Everyone on the green shouts out together, a wordless yell at the sky. I shout too, feeling the noise fill me, something primal, deep, thrilling. The sound is almost unbearable as it fills the world, the dying tones of the bell, and the sound of open throats calling together, the dense cawing of the crows.

And then, abruptly, it is over. 

The crows have passed overhead, settling like a whirling cloud on the silhouetted trees on the skyline. The children, already bored, are pulling off their masks. Two of them continue to fight, trying and failing to land blows with the light, bendable rods. Parents start to tug them towards the nearby cars, calling to the bored teenagers. The Battle of the Crows has been fought again, a timeless ritual, its origins unclear, but still enacted year after year. 

“Another one down,” says the old woman behind me. She sniffs and rubs her hands together. 

“Aye,” I agree, my hands beginning the practised dance of repacking the few remaining masks for a Halloween market. Smooth, fold, wrap and stack. I am clearing the last few from the table when I hear a long, low whistle. I look up. It is the old man from the stage, his melodeon now in its case, resting on his knee. He nods at me, and jerks his head towards the hills behind. I hesitate and then nod abruptly. I’m going, of course. I always do.

My bags are packed up in the car. The sunset is a tie-dyed burst of yellows and oranges at the bottom of the sky, and the dusk is falling. I accept a Styrofoam cup of tea gratefully and sip its scalding contents. It’s grown colder now. I close my eyes and sense the tingling warmth of the tea sending hot fingers into my stomach. I sit on the bonnet with the old lady from the stall. A group of young boys—possibly her grandchildren— are packing up her wares. She offers me a bar of chocolate. The taste is rich and milky on my tongue, almost too rich for someone who hasn’t eaten all day. I swallow hard to quell a sudden surge of saliva, a feeling of nausea or anticipation. The sun is sinking fast, now, exhausted, into pillows of dark cloud. It’s time to go. I push myself off the bonnet and pick up the last bag of merchandise. 

The old lady grunts. “Are you off then, so?” Her eyes are shrewd in their pocketed wrinkles. 

“Aye.” I am non-committal. 

“Good luck to you then,” she says quietly. 

I feel her gaze on me as I walk out of the market square. 

Time to go. It’s also time for me to leave you now. You’ve seen the festival, eaten the black sweets, watched the children play-fight. It’s been lovely. But the sun is down, and it’s time for all visitors to leave Bive. Wait! Don’t protest. I’m a visitor too, I know, but I have something they need now. I get to stay. There’s no need to be angry with me. I don’t make the rules. I wish you a safe journey home, back onto the motorway and beyond.

***

My feet find the remembered path. The crunch of pebbles beneath me is crisp and reassuring. Between steps I strain to listen, but I can’t hear any other movements. They’re probably all there ahead of me. It’s dark now, the pressing dark you only get when you’re walking among trees, when darkness brushes your face from a black void. I keep one hand up beside my face. The wispy, damp strokes of the leaves feel clammy, like wet feathers on my skin. 

It can’t be much farther ahead I think, and then almost instantly, I see the yellow light of windows ahead. I step into the clearing. The huge shape of the barn looms overhead, its roof blurred and deformed by the huddle of crows roosting on top, drawn by the warmth within. I step inside, and instantly there is a low crackle of conversation, interlaced with the melancholy sound of the melodeon. I look around. There aren’t many people there—about fifteen people, all drinking beer or homemade cider; the air is heavy with the scent of it. Their faces are animated by the flickering glow from the old hearth in the corner. One corner has a curtain over it, its heavy folds absorbing the light within the dense fabric. I see faces I recognise, O’Malley the butcher, the old man with the melodeon, and even the vendor I shared a cup of tea with an hour ago, a lifetime ago. 

She moves towards me. “Do you have them?”

“I do.” I hand over the bag.

She opens it and smiles. “Lovely work, as usual.” 

I turn to the old man with the melodeon. “Grand evening,” I say. 

He nods. “Good to have you here.” He runs a twisted arthritic finger over the shining surface of his instrument, and then looks up. “We need to get cracking now. Do you have them?” 

I jerk my thumb over to where the vendor is carefully unpacking my bag. She slowly draws out two crow masks, and gives a sharp, admiring intake of breath. If the children’s masks were well-made, these are splendid, beautiful objects. One woman in Cork has spent months on these; they’re made completely from crow feathers, stitched with gold thread, with jet beads of decoration encircling the eye holes. Someone stamps the ground loudly with a heavy boot, one, two three. Immediately the old man with the melodeon begins to saw out a searing, plaintive air, a song of longing and elegy. Heads nod in rhythm. A man stands up—he’s the farmer who owns the land, as far as I remember. Everyone stops speaking. The music softens, quietens. 

He opens his mouth and shouts, “Bive! Bive! Bive!” 

The small crowd echoes him. There were once other words, but no-one remembers them. 

The curtain parts and there are two men, both stocky, both middle-aged, both wearing the special crow masks. A cracked bell rings, a sharp ting-ting of sound. 

The figures turn to each other and start to fight. One launches himself at the other, a solid block of body hitting body. Both fall to the dirty floor. A roar goes up, a mass of shrill and deep voices, shouting. Some are chanting. Others are shouting encouragement or just plain shouting, thick, wordless yells. The air is heavy with the spoiled-fruit smell of cheap drink. The masked figures sweat and grapple on the floor before us. 

I stand with the others, watching the fight, but what is happening is like a film projected onto a more compelling image. Instead of the small crowd, the thin shouts, I can see clear as light the earlier years, those wonderful, terrifying years of mass fighting. Then, the barn seethed with young men, stripped to the waist, their crow heads dangerous and sharp as they struggled. I remember the dark patches of blood on the floor and the screams of the women. I am seized by nostalgia so powerful it brings tears that blur my vision at the edges. I bring an arm over my eyes.

It’s an ugly, low fight. They pull at each other, and claw at each other’s bodies. Blood is already running down their chests from scratches and slashes. They stumble to their feet, collide, fall again. Their wrestling is weaker now. I can hear their exhausted pants as breath tears from their throats. They grab each other, locked together as their razor sharp beaks slash wickedly at each other’s arms and heads. One mask starts to slip, and the opponent sees his chance. His beak rips a cruel red V in the hollow of the neck, and blood pulses and spurts from it like a hose. He flops to the ground, no sound, just a thick throaty gurgle of blood as he twists below me, head coming to rest beside my feet. Underneath the glossy black feathers with their sleek oil-gleam is a shock of grey hair, a sightless red eye turned upwards and a livid purple birthmark that drips down, from eye to mouth. A thin cry goes up from the crowd, a small shout of victory that dies almost as soon as it begins.

The door is opened with a squeal of rusted hinges, and the crows fly in, thick, fast and hard. They flock around the limp figure on the floor, and their sleek heads dissolve into a blur of pecking and pulling. The faces of the others are blank as they stand, enthralled. I wind my coat around me and walk outside.

I stand outside on the edge of darkness, and stare at the flicking lights of the town at the bottom of the hill. Down there, people are talking, going to the pub, watching television; it is another place, another time, centuries away. 

I am still holding a soft mass of feathers in my hand. I think of the lined face of the old vendor, the arthritic hands on the melodeon, the lurid purple birthmark under the crow mask. 

In another year this will all be gone. 

I shrug and release the feathers into the cold breeze. They spiral and flicker in the wind gusts, dipping and swirling, a dark benediction raining down on the town below. In a few hours the sun will be up and it will be time to go. 

I breathe in deeply, and inhale the cold fetid air that smells like autumn, of all our autumns coming, dark and inevitable as time itself.

BIOGRAPHY: Tracy Fahey writes short fiction that is concerned with ideas of uncanny domestic space and its various intersections with literature, art and folk-tales. Since taking up fiction writing in 2013, she has had short stories accepted for publication in anthologies by US and UK presses including Fox Spirit Press, Hic Dragones Press, Dark Minds Press, A Murder of Storytellers and Hydra Publications. Her debut collection, The Unheimlich Manoeuvre, will be released by Boo Books in 2016. Her author website is www.designingtracy.wix.com/tracyfahey.
Series: Tales from the Lake
Tales from the Lake: Volume 1
Tales from the Lake: Volume 2
Tales from the Lake: Volume 3

  Crystal Lake Publishing   Oct 04, 2016   Blog   0 Comment Read More