Author Archives Crystal Lake Publishing

Interview with author Mark Sheldon

 

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!)

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Series: Sarah Killian, Book 1

Meet Sarah Killian, a professional serial killer (for hire!) with a twisted sense of humor.

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  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.

 

Tales from the Lake
Tales from the Lake: Volume 5
Tales from the Lake: Volume 1

Tales from the Lake: Volume 1

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Dive into fourteen tales of horror, with short stories and dark poems by some of the best horror writers in the world.

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Tales from the Lake: Volume 2
Tales from the Lake: Volume 3
Tales from the Lake: Volume 4

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

Cover reveal for No Mercy – dark poetry collection

 

Coming June, 2017 (cover art by Daniele Serra):

No Mercey Dark Poetry collection by Alessandro Manzetti

Until then, enjoy Alessandro Manzetti’s Bram Stoker Award-winning Eden Underground collection:

Eden Underground

Eden Underground

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Genre: Poetry

Another snake, another tree, another Eve.

A Bram Stoker Awards® winning dark poetry collection from Alessandro Manzetti.

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  Crystal Lake Publishing   Oct 12, 2016   Blog   0 Comment Read More

Cover Reveal for WHERE THE DEAD GO TO DIE

 

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

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Seventeen Tales to Frighten and Enlighten.

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

Interview with Bram Stoker Award-Winner Mercedes M. Yardley

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

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Genre: Novella

The Wolf is roaming the city in this Bram Stoker award winning tale, and he must be stopped.

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  Crystal Lake Publishing   Oct 08, 2016   Blog   0 Comment Read More

Crystal Lake signs Paul F. Olson’s WHISPERED ECHOES

 

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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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.
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  Crystal Lake Publishing   Oct 04, 2016   Blog   1 Comment Read More

Come Into Her Garden by Chantal Boudreau (a Tales from The Lake Vol.3 Honorable Mention)

Horror Books

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

Come Into Her Garden

Chantal Boudreau

I didn’t think I’d be able to convince Syl to move to the city, a move I needed to make for the sake of my career. She would spend hours labouring away at her vegetable and flower gardens that surrounded our little country home. I was never allowed to touch them, though. Sylvia said I had a ‘black thumb’—everything green that I tried to nurture seemed to shrivel up and die. So I stayed away from her babies, respecting her wishes. I never thought in a million years she would agree to abandon them. I guess she loved me more than I realized at the time.

On the other hand, her willingness might have been because of our dismal failure at conceiving a child. Living in the city meant living closer to the fertility specialists and if it came down to it, being there would give us better access to fertility treatments. That’s the only reason I can figure she would agree to move to the brownstone we would be renting, sight unseen. She didn’t even know about the little patch of gardener’s paradise out back, at the time. She had always told me how much she hated cities. They were too dirty and dingy and dead.

I had fallen in love with the brownstone the moment I walked through the front door, maybe even when I initially spotted its elaborately carved exterior with the wrought iron detailing. Met by the high staircase to the second floor, I had immediately wanted to make the move, bewitched by its architecture. The brownstone was reasonable spacious for city-dwelling and reeked of history. I’m not sure if my excitement had been contagious, but Syl had given me her approval based on my word alone. 

I had glanced out at the back, and noted that there was an overgrown swath of greenery that she could perhaps reclaim and tame. I hadn’t thought much of it, but once Syl had seen it, she was keen on the idea. She had always loved a challenge, and while it wouldn’t offer her the natural expanses of our country home it was certainly better than nothing.

Actually, I think once we were there, she enjoyed it even more that her country gardens. The little plot behind our new house had an intimacy that the larger plots and open spaces couldn’t offer. She had loved the bounty of the country, but this tiny Eden had seduced her in a way nothing had ever before.

It all started when we first began moving in. I was helping to unload our belongings, and she had wandered into the back after exploring the lower level of the house, to decide where we would put our things.

“Mort!” she called, a cry of delight. “You have to come see this!”

Mort was short for Mortimer. I had been saddled with my grandfather’s name, a family tradition. Syl had suffered a similar fate, named after her great aunt, Sylvia.

I wandered into the back lot to find her knee-deep in foliage and pushing away mounds of overgrown shrubbery. She looked back at me with flushed cheeks and a broad grin.

“I found an antique plaque, mounted on the wall here. It’s a green man—a nature spirit who will oversee my garden and keep it fertile.”

I hadn’t noticed it while on my initial tour, hidden by the out-of-control greenery. Once Syl had uncovered the spot on the wall, I had to admire the artistry. The plaque was some sort of gold-tone metal, bronze or brass I would guess, but decorated with very intricate bas-relief that had been carefully coated with a variety of green enamels. The image was the face of a man, formed from a mixture of leaves that had been intertwined and woven together. She clearly adored it, but I found it creepy.

I laughed nervously.

“A garden guardian—that’s great. Maybe he can help you whip this place into shape.” I reached over and touched a gnarled and mossy twig. “Right now, it’s a mess.”

Syl swivelled to face me with a frown, her hands on her hips.

“Mortimer Darius Flemming, I called you out here just to look, not to touch. You agreed you would keep your ‘black thumb’ away from my garden. I don’t ever want to see you handling anything out here again. Remember your promise.”

I raised my hands with a smile and backed towards the door.

“Okay, okay, all three names—you mean business. Consider me gone, and if I ever come back I won’t lay a finger on your precious plants. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

I did as I was told and stayed out of the garden, no touching, but I didn’t stop observing. There was a terrace on our second floor that looked out over the little back lot. I would sit up there during my leisure hours with a book, occasionally watching her poke and preen the foliage. She often hummed and murmured to herself as she worked, trimming away the overgrowth, planting new seedlings or wrestling weeds from the soil. Syl was as happy as I had ever seen her, despite other disappointments, our childlessness forgotten as long as she had something else to nurture.

That was until the winter months were upon us and she was forced inside by colder weather. Syl’s mood shifted, dimming until it was as grey as the skies outside. Those months also happened to be when our trips to the specialists began, along with the first of our fertility treatments. When they proved unsuccessful, the change in Syl worried me regarding her mental stability. No longer just dismal, now she was suffering from earnest depression. It was like a dark, soul-sucking cloud had enveloped our world and it did not lift for even a moment until the spring.

Relief doesn’t describe what I felt when the snow melted, the earth thawed, and tiny green buds began emerging out in Syl’s garden. I saw little of her until sunset most days, but when I did see her she wore a smile and she moved with lighter steps. I caught her humming to herself again and I was thrilled when I actually heard her laugh for the first time in months. I didn’t think much of it, far too pleased that her garden was restoring vitality to her soul.

One weekend, I was sitting on the terrace in the sun with a book in hand when I heard her giggle. I glanced away from my murder mystery and peered into the back lot. Perhaps the glare from the bright sunlight had deceived me, but I could have sworn I saw someone else there, a masculine form mostly obscured by the thickening brush. Puzzled, because we rarely had guests, and curious to see who it was, I put down my book and wandered downstairs.

As I approached the back door, I saw a flurry of green move past the window.

Was it just the leaves on some of the shrubbery shaking violently in response to a particularly strong gust of wind?

I peeked through the frosted glass and I was sure I saw a man dressed in green standing behind Syl, his hand on her shoulder. I flung the door open quickly, but not quickly enough. He was already gone.

Syl started at the sound of the door, and turned to look at me. Her eyes seemed unusually bright and her cheeks rosier than normal. She beamed a smile at me.

“Oh—hello, Mort. Come to see my garden? It’s still growing but look at how lush it is already. It’s going to be absolutely beautiful by mid-summer.” She glanced over at the green man plaque. “I guess it pays to have the blessing of a nature spirit.”

“It’s lovely, Syl, and I have no doubt that you’ll make it even better,” I agreed. “Was there someone here? I thought I heard you talking and I was almost certain I saw a man here.”

Syl laughed and turned away from me again. “You should stay out of the sun, Mort. You’re seeing things. I’ve been by myself, and talking to myself since I came out here this morning. I’ll try to keep my prattle down to a whisper. I suppose we don’t want our neighbours thinking I’m crazy.”

Syl had never lied to me before nor would she have any reason to do so, so I had to take her word for it. Nevertheless, it didn’t feel like she was telling me the truth and when I had followed her gaze to the green man plaque, a chill had run up my spine.

From that point onward, I listened for that suggestive giggle coming from the back lot every time I sat on the terrace. With each instance, when I peered down into Syl’s garden, I caught sight of that silhouette partially concealed by the bushes. Each time, I also snuck down to the back door and opened it with one abrupt motion, hoping to catch Syl’s visitor there. I would pretend to be coming out to get a look at her progress, a little embarrassed at my suspicions. I couldn’t shake a queasy feeling in my stomach that she was hiding something from me—something involving the green man. She would play innocent, laughing and shrugging and directing my attention to the newest blossoms or any changes she had recently made, but it was almost as if she considered my presence an intrusion.

Call me paranoid if you wish. I sensed a rift developing between us, and I didn’t like it. She was less amorous and no longer invited any romantic advances from me. I’m sure to some extent it could be blamed on our lack of success at conceiving a child, even with the help of fertility drugs, but I had this idea that there was more to this new coolness. I started to believe the garden was in some way replacing her need for my affections, competing with me, and I was helpless to fight it. I had promised her I wouldn’t touch her plants and I would keep my word.

The frustration and uneasiness had me on edge.

Then one day, after sprinting from the terrace to fling the back door open, I got a really good look at the man who had been visiting my wife in secret, and I know he saw me in return. I had been mistaken when I thought that he was dressed in green. In fact, he wasn’t really dressed in anything at all. The colour came from the leafy tendrils encircling his body. Various vines—including draping strands of ivy, fern fronds and mosses, flowers and leaves, bound to him by an assortment of grasses—covered him from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. Wearing this natural camouflage, he had only to step back into the foliage that grew throughout the back lot to disappear.

“Who was that?” I demanded. I didn’t doubt myself at all by that point. I was quite aware of what I had seen and Syl wasn’t about to convince me otherwise.

“What are you talking about? There’s no one here? The only way to get out of this garden would be to walk past you. Is something wrong with you, Mort? Is it stress at work? Something else?” Syl shot me a quick glance over her shoulder before turning back to her work. I saw the deception in her brown eyes, shadowed by the sunhat she always wore while gardening. “You’ve seemed so tense lately. Maybe you need to take up a hobby to get your mind off of other things.”

I knew if she was choosing to lie to me, no amount of questions would yield truthful answers. I muttered something incoherent, a fractured and insincere apology, before stepping back into the house. I had recognized the man from the face on the plaque. I just wanted to hear her say it to confirm my beliefs. The man in her garden was the green man, in the flesh and fully formed, with all of his anatomy intact and only nature as his veil. I felt threatened, betrayed, and I wanted to scream and punch things. Something told me my wife was in love with him.

That night, I had difficulty sleeping. I tossed and turned, and when I did drift off my sleep was shallow. I awoke part way through the night to quiet moans, sensual ones. My tired, groggy brain did not register the situation fully at first, and I thought perhaps that Syl had finally shed her recent reluctance to be intimate, offering some sort of invitation. I put out a hand to caress her, but her side of the bed was empty. A question chilled my blood and I was suddenly very awake.

Where was she?

I realized that the sounds were coming from outside, the door to the terrace open because of the summer heat. Slipping quietly out of bed, I tiptoed over to the terrace, a knot in my gut as soon as I recognized the fact that those sounds from Syl were coming from her garden. While we had no exterior lighting for the back lot, there was a full moon high in the sky that night, so when I peered down below, the garden and all of its contents were lit up by a silvery glow.

I could see movement. Syl was sprawled on the soil amongst her precious plants, not seeming to care that this position might put some of them at risk. The figure of a man, no doubt the one I had seen there with her repetitively in the past few weeks, crouched over her and I could tell by the way they writhed and panted that this was no innocent encounter. Syl tilted her head back and moaned softly each time her lover shifted atop her. What I could see of her expression suggested pure bliss. She had never looked that way during our love-making.

A burning, heart-wrenching rage began eating away at me, consuming me with jealousy. I wanted to run down to her garden and catch them in the act, but I knew what would happen if I tried. I would fling the door open and he would step away from her, disappearing into the foliage as he always did. It would leave me standing there looking the fool, while Syl would deny everything, suggesting she was out for an innocent night-time stroll in her garden, by herself. Inside, she would be laughing at me, the cuckolded man who could do nothing to prove that he had been deceived.

No, that wasn’t the way to handle this.

I needed to find a means of producing proof. Perhaps I had to come up with a way to lure the green man into her garden while I was there alone, so I could trap him and confront him. I’d bring a camera to capture confirmation of his existence and once I had evidence in hand, I could challenge Syl when she denied that she had been with him. I came up with a plan, intending to put it into action while Syl was out at work the following day. I pretended to be sleeping when she returned to bed, when in truth I was plotting how things would go when I met with the green man.

I went to work in the morning, as per usual, but I begged off sick halfway through the day so I could return home while Syl was out. Once back at the house, I started gathering the things I needed: a camera, her widest sun hat, and one of the long flowery jackets she would wear to protect her skin from the sun. It was big and flowing, large enough to fit me despite my bulk, and shapeless enough to disguise my masculine form. From behind, wearing her things to disguise me and kneeling beside the garden, I could not be easily distinguished from my wife. One would have to get close enough to touch me to tell the difference.

I walked into the garden and crouched next to the largest bed, placing my camera on the rock edging, my back to the plaque with the green man. I had no intention of touching any of her plants. Unlike Syl, I kept my promises.

I waited several minutes, pretending to garden, before anything happened. My patience was eventually rewarded when I felt a hand upon my shoulder. I veered around, grasping at the arm that held me, making a grab for the camera at the same time. I never did get that picture. Instead, I froze, staring at the nature spirit who stared at me in return. The moment my hand connected with the greenery covering his wrist, I could see something was wrong. Some of the leaves and flowers that ornamented his skin began to shrivel and curl, the fern fronds drooped, the vines and grasses sagged. His emerald face took on an air of revulsion and horror.

I should have snapped a picture right then and there, with both of us immobile, but the shock of the moment stole my senses. Instead, the second I could move again, I leaned away from the green man and let go.

He stepped back into the shrubbery and was gone.

I kicked myself, my opportunity lost. Covering my tracks, I snatched up the camera, returning it to its place. Then I shed Syl’s gardening things and went upstairs to read a book and wait for her to come home. I couldn’t concentrate on the story, unable to stop thinking about my encounter with the green man. My heart raced. While I struggled to follow the words, I was distracted by something new, a horrible sound coming from the back lot.

I have to believe that Syl’s theory about my “black thumb” held true. My curiosity piqued by the sound—part groaning part wailing—I had to investigate. Watching from my perch on the terrace, I observed the green man lying at the centre of her garden, writhing and twitching in terrible pain, his leafy body slowly withering into a brown, brittle mass. When there was nothing left of him but a blanket of papery, colourless flakes, a stiff breeze scattered him to all corners of the lot. The green man was no more, and the pieces of him that remained could not be identified as belonging to him. They just looked like common dead plant debris.

I worked hard not to behave differently around Syl when she arrived home, carrying with me the constant knowledge of my victory over the rival for her affections. She came into the house in tears after her first trip to the garden.  When I casually asked her what was wrong, she led me out to the garden and pointed out the green man plaque. The brass had corroded, the enamel had blackened and cracked. Shards of the plaque had fallen away, leaving little that still resembled her lover. I told her I would look into having it restored, although I knew I would never follow through on the task. I didn’t want to take any chances that restoring the plaque would somehow bring him back.

She was glum for a while, but her sadness did not last as long as I was expecting it to. It turned out that this was because she had a new distraction. In a month’s time, Syl surprised me with something that made her forget all of her troubles. She was pregnant.

To those who were none the wiser, this was no doubt the result of our fertility treatments. I knew better. Syl hadn’t let me touch her in weeks. The fertility treatments had nothing to do with her conception. It was the green man who was responsible for that.

I’m likely the only one, other than my wife who knows the truth.

As the new life grows within her, she has become cheery, her lost love all but forgotten. She is more amorous towards me now than she was before he took her in the garden, and she is a far better lover for that experience. I like these changes and part of me forgives her betrayal, because of the revitalized joy it has brought both of us.

But part of me is equally fearful, and prays every day that this baby will take after his or her mother, rather than its sire. Otherwise, I cringe at the thought of what will happen to the child—the first time when cradled in my arms—we make contact, skin to skin.



BIOGRAPHY: Chantal Boudreau, an accountant/author/illustrator, lives in Nova Scotia, Canada. A Horror Writers Association member, she writes horror and fantasy, with more than forty stories published to date, including several novels in three series. Find out more at http://chantellyb.wordpress.com .

 

Tales from the Lake
Tales from the Lake: Volume 5
Tales from the Lake: Volume 1
Tales from the Lake: Volume 2
Tales from the Lake: Volume 3
Tales from the Lake: Volume 4

  Crystal Lake Publishing   Sep 23, 2016   Blog   0 Comment Read More

Interview with Bram Stoker award-winning Alessandro Manzetti

 

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

Alessandro Manzetti: Thank you very much, Joe, it was unexpected and wonderful. It means reaching a significant milestone in the career of a writer. It will also be an incentive to continue to work hard and to improve. I have to thank all colleagues who voted for me and who appreciated the work I have done during these years. But I’m still walking on clouds, so I can’t tell you more.

another-alessandro-stoker-photo

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

AM: StokerCon was a great opportunity to exchange ideas with other authors and to plan new projects and collaborations. HWA has done a great job organizing many panels, readings and other interactive activities which allowed everyone to have new experiences, learning a lot from the know-how of great writers and editors. I think that some new projects, like the Horror University, are something really innovative, useful and exciting. From what I have experienced first hand, StokerCon can be defined as the crossroad of the horror genre – a must.

JM: What thought went through your mind just before they read your name?

AM: I thought I would have gladly applauded a winning colleague, and finished drinking my glass of red wine. I was not expecting more than this.

JM: What was your initial response when they read your name?

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AM: I looked into the eyes of my wife, Sanda, for a moment, got up from the table and tried to reach the stage, which seemed to be several miles away, almost unreachable. I was out of breath, and tried to contain the emotion to do a little speech to thank everyone. When I mentioned my country, Italy, which for the first time won such an important award, the thunderous applause moved me greatly. Something that I will never forget.

JM: How did folks respond after your win? Any special moments?

AM: They were all amazing, supporting me heartily. I felt I had new wings on my back, and that they put them on me. The most exciting moment was receiving the embrace of many colleagues during the party after the ceremony. I was surrounded by sincere smiles by many fantastic people who shared this special moment with me. And even a few bottles of champagne…

JM: So what’s next for you?

AM: I’m working on several new projects, both fiction and poetry, and I hope to continue to deserve the respect of my colleagues and not to disappoint my readers. I still have inside me the endless lights of Las Vegas, which continue to turn on thousands of ideas in my head. You know, this is a magic moment. I thank the HWA for this fantastic experience, and to Crystal Lake for having chosen to publish my weird, bloody Eden.

Eden Underground

Eden Underground

$0,99
Author:
Genre: Poetry

Another snake, another tree, another Eve.

A Bram Stoker Awards® winning dark poetry collection from Alessandro Manzetti.

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  Crystal Lake Publishing   Sep 21, 2016   Blog   0 Comment Read More