A Review of The Fisherman by John Langan

A Review of The Fisherman by John LanganIt’s pretty tough when the last book you read was so good that you find it difficult to pick the next thing you want to read, because everything else seems to pale in comparison. Such was the case after I finished reading John Langan‘s epic horror novel, The Fisherman. In short, it’s a bit of a masterpiece.

It took Langan roughly twelve years to finish the book, which is astonishing by today’s put-a-book-out-every-three-months general standard for authors struggling to remain in vogue with the short-attention-span-social media-get-the-next-thing-now-on-Amazon generation.

But the time he spent on the novel shows, in its detail and its beauty, not to mention the fact that it’s simply a damn good story.

It’s about Abe and Dan, two widowers who take up the pastime of fishing to distract them from their recent loss. They eventually come across rumors of a place in upstate New York, near Woodstock, called Dutchman’s Creek. When they stop in at a diner on their way there, the diner’s cook tries to dissuade them from their venture with stories of the creek’s dangerously steep banks and strong current, and of the people who have gone there, never to be seen again.

Then the cook shares with them a tale of the history of the creek, and of the town that used to exist nearby, and of the mysterious Fisherman, and Dutchman’s Creek soon takes on a much more sinister aspect.

What Abe and Dan discover on their fishing trip seems at first to be a dream come true, with all the temptation of a shiny new lure, but they learn to their horror that the beautiful bait hides a sharp, rusty hook—and that the dream come true is in reality a hideous nightmare.

John Langan took home a Stoker Award for this achievement, and deservedly so. I just hope I don’t have to wait over a decade for his next effort.

 

A review of We Are Always Watching by Hunter Shea

A review of We Are Always Watching by Hunter SheaHunter Shea graciously sent me his recent novel We Are Always Watching. I was honored, and even more so after I read it.

The story concerns the Ridleys, a family having fallen on hard times after the father, Matt, was severely injured when his car was slammed into by a drunk driver. Not only can Matt no longer work a job (he has constant vertigo and nausea), but he’s become all but useless to his wife, Debi, and his teenage son, West. Their situation forces them to abandon their life in New York City and move into Matt’s childhood home with his father.

The place is a ramshackle farmhouse in the middle of rural Pennsylvania, and Matt’s father, Abraham (a great character, by the way), is a mean, cantankerous old man who makes them all feel unwelcome and uneasy from the minute they move in. For one thing, he tells West that the house is haunted, and the old man’s claims are reinforced by strange sounds throughout the house and cryptic messages left by the mysterious Guardians.

In the midst of his misery and loneliness, West sets out to explore the surrounding countryside and happens upon one of his few neighbors, a pretty young girl named Faith. He falls immediately in love with her, and feels he has an ally and a companion.

One mystery leads to the next as you become entangled in this dark and creepy tale, intent on discovering who the Guardians are and why they continuously torment the Ridley family.

One important thing about this story—nothing is as it seems. Hunter Shea is a master of misdirection, which is vital when it comes to a mystery. We Are Always Watching will keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat right up to its explosive conclusion.

I highly recommend this book, and I’ll definitely be reading more of Shea’s work.

The Boil: flash fiction by Theresa Jacobs

Continuing the guest blog series, here’s a short piece by author Theresa Jacobs. I bumped into Theresa back when I roamed the musty halls of Google Plus, and we became fast friends. I want to thank her for all her support and for contributing her work here. She’s a very nice person and, despite what you’re about to read, I assure you, quite sane. Enjoy.

 

The Boil: flash fiction by Theresa Jacobs“Honey?”

Terri hit the mute button. “Did you call me?”

Dean pushed the bathroom door open so his voice would carry farther. “Yeah, can you come here?”

Oh God, what’s wrong with the plumbing? She thought in response to the stressed tone of her husband’s voice. Terri set aside the remote, leaving the TV on silent, and headed to see what else was going to cost them money. As she entered the bathroom Dean’s head was cocked down to the left, almost resting on his shoulder, his face all contorted as he stared into the mirror. “Uh, what’s up?” Terri moved in behind him.

Dean spun towards her quickly, bent at the knees to get closer to Terri’s five-foot height and pulled his earlobe forward. “What the hell is this?”

Terri wrinkled her nose at the shiny puss filled sack growing behind Dean’s ear. “I don’t know. A boil? Does it hurt?”

“Of course, it hurts. Look at it, it’s huge.” He poked at it and winced.

“Well quit touching it,” she berated him. “Here,” Terri ran the water hot, “put a warm cloth on it. That’ll draw the puss out and help it shrink.” She couldn’t help but tease. “Maybe you’re growing a second head.”

“That’s why I called you,” he grimaced as he pressed the hot rag against his skin, “you’re the smart one.”

“Suck up.” She smiled at his backhanded compliment, knowing he just wanted her to baby him. “Come on, let’s go pop in a movie, it’ll take your mind off it.”

***

Terri propped herself up in the corner of the couch with an old towel across her lap and a bowl of hot water on the end table. Dean stretched out snuggling up so she could keep the warm compress on his ear for him. “This is nice.” He said as he wrapped his arms around the pillow.

“U-huh, for you maybe.” She frowned. “This boil is gross. It must be coming to a head soon ‘cause I swear it has a pulse.”

“That’s what the towel is for, shhh, good part…” Dean focused on the show.

Terri shifted to get a kink out of her leg and tried not to feel the movement under her fingers. As the cloth cooled, she gently drew it away from his skin. The boil had now risen to the size of a grape. The skin pulled so taut that it was nearly translucent and she could see the dark yellow puss rolling inside. Terri’s stomach clenched, and she quickly dipped the cloth into the water. The faster she could cover the sight the better.

“Ewww.” She shuddered in disgust. It looked as though some mucus was beginning to leak out the bottom of it. She was about to tell Dean to go to the bathroom when he started snoring. She leaned her head back. “I wish I could fall asleep so fast,” she muttered, figuring she should just cozy in and let the towel do its job.

As she watched the movie, Dean’s deep breathing became a soothing backdrop, and it wasn’t long before her eyes were closing.

Something tickled at Terri’s face. She brushed the errant hair off her cheek and mumbled. Her eyes felt heavy and her neck was hurting, but she was too dozy to move. The tickling came again farther down her neck. “Mmm, don’t, I’m tired.” She brushed her hand at her face, now thinking Dean was getting frisky.

Her heart jolted in her chest as her fingers touched a smooth hot surface. Terri’s eyes flew open, something felt wrong.

As she looked down, she let loose a blood-curdling scream.

Dean was still in her lap, but her husband was gone. His face was covered in a thin red pulsating film, with engorged yellow tentacles streaming out the sides. Her scream sent them into a frenzied cadence.

Terri aimed to push Dean away, and the tendrils shot straight up in unison, grabbed her around the head and sucked her into Dean. The membrane opened quickly, locking her inside the Dean cocoon.

The alien toxin paralyzed her instantly, and she could only stare into Dean’s milky eyes until the tendrils finally made their way to her brain.

 

Theresa Jacobs’ Author Page

 

Haunting Memories – A True Story by Doug Rinaldi

The guest blog series resumes with this chilling account by author Doug Rinaldi. I imagine we all have a story or two like this we could share around the campfire or candlelight, something which happened to us that we just can’t quite explain away and for which we suffer those sidelong glances and eye rolls from the skeptics and the scoffers at the telling of it. Enjoy.

 

Haunting Memories - A True Story by Doug RinaldiWhat I present to you here is a tale of the unexpected and the bewildering. An account of something life-altering that, over the years, I have never truly forgotten… my first experience with something well beyond the reach of rational explanation. Believe the validity of these words or not, I won’t blame you; up until that day, I, too, was a skeptic. These occurrences are always stuck in the back of my mind, stewing and churning until something jars them loose again to flood my memory banks. Profound and personal, the effect they had on me is still substantial to this day. While others around me at that time had had a sense of something strange, it seemed as if I was the only one singled out or given extra attention for reasons outside my understanding.

Back in 1997, I had just returned home from college. I landed my first job upon returning at a chain bookstore in Connecticut. At the time, my nights consisted of working part-time as the warehouse clerk on the closing shift. One night, going about my usual routine, I heard one of my female coworkers call out my name for help. The warehouse—shaped like a backward L—made it impossible for me to see her from my vantage point. So, being the polite and helpful guy I was, I hollered back, telling her I’d be right there.

I stopped what I was doing and hurried over. When I rounded the corner, almost tripping to my death on some boxes, I expected her to be right there, waiting for me. The warehouse was vacant; not a soul to be found. Maybe she’s hiding behind a cart, I thought, playing some kind of lame joke.

Nope. Empty.

Now I understand audio matrixing and that it’s possible to hear one thing and mistake it for something else, but the fact I actually answered back reinforces what I heard. That’s how certain I was that someone called my name. Moreover, whatever made the sound absolutely resembled my coworker’s voice. I made it all the way to the door and after opening it, I peeked around the immediate area.

No one there either.

I ventured out further and found my coworker across the store and on a stepladder with a stack of books in her hand as she restocked a shelf. I already knew the answer, but I asked her anyway if she’d been to the warehouse looking for me. As I figured, she hadn’t. The probability that she could have gotten that far and that involved in her task in the time it took me to cross the back room seemed next to nil. The perceived facts of the situation stacked against me and I was tweaking out a bit. Regardless, I reluctantly went back to my duties until the end of my shift.

Incident number two happened about a week later. Again, standing at my station and scanning boxes full of books, I had my back to the rest of the warehouse. Everything was silent and still between bouts of ripping up cardboard and the annoying ding of the barcode scanner. And then I heard something unmistakable… a faint giggle.

I whirled around and saw nothing there. Or, so, I initially thought. However, as I turned back to my work, my peripheral vision caught something. A short figure. I froze in place, transfixed. Roughly about the age of nine or ten, a small boy stood against the back wall. His skin was ashen and his clothes were dated. A deadpan expression crossed a face framed by a mop of brown hair as he stared at me, unmoving.

In that three-second interaction, I registered those few details in my startled brain and my skin rippled and crawled with gooseflesh. My heartbeat raced, bouncing in my ribcage. The fight or flight response kicked in; I felt it in the back of my throat. With haste, I rushed to exit the warehouse, doing my utmost to avoid the area where I saw the boy. Not once did I—or could I—take my eyes off that spot.

Panicking, I stumbled over boxes in my retreat before finally making it to the sales floor. A little bit later, after I had calmed down, I pulled a coworker into the warehouse (the same one I thought had called my name earlier) and told her what I had seen, despite knowing how crazy I sounded. Of course, I spooked her out in the process. To this day, my memory is still seared with the image of the sad, ghostly boy.

The third of these most vivid incidents happened one night sometime after that “visit.” As I recall, I was in the humor section and helping with closing duties (i.e., flipping through a copy of Blanche Knott’s Truly Tasteless Jokes). While straightening the shelves and alphabetizing books, I heard someone whisper my name plain as day. Ambiguous yet startling, I could not make out if it was a male or female voice—the word just echoed in my ear.

I turned around to nothing but another shelf full of books. Honestly, at this point, I was kind of enjoying the attention it was giving me. A few minutes had passed and as I continued fixing up the aisles, I felt someone blow on the back of my neck. My skin crawled and covered my body in a cold wave. I spun and I looked around—no one was there, again. Though still alone, I did happen to notice that there were no vents or air ducts overhead that could’ve kicked on and spit out the cold air. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but facts were facts.

Later, before we left for the evening, I brought my experiences up again to some coworkers. Come to find out, I wasn’t crazy; others had also felt that something was not right inside the store. They had kept quiet about it for fear of sounding out of their minds, but once I brought up my three big incidents, they all opened up and admitted similar events. Though I was happy I wasn’t the only one, I anxiously waited for something else to happen. Unfortunately, it seemed whatever otherworldly presence or supernatural energy that might have been dwelling on the property packed up and shipped out.

Soon after, my store closed up shop and moved to a new location. At first, strange things happened to me there, too. The instances were very subtle, almost dismissive, this time: things being misplaced, odd shadows and whispers. I brought up my concerns, anyway, to my friend who also shared some of the strange sensations at the old location. She still agreed that something was still off, joking that I had brought the “ghost” with me to the new store.

Funny thing is, that the old location still remains empty today. It’s almost as if the land it occupies is sour and unusable. I find it sad knowing that it’s not possible to venture back into that strange, yet familiar, territory. I’m just left to wonder if whatever force that had so desperately tried to make contact with me is still there… waiting.

In closing, I’m aware of how insane it all sounds—and believe me, I still get those looks from people. Those three very unexpected and life-altering experiences have stuck with me over these last two decades. Even though I now live in another city, in another state, the memories of that place and the things I had seen and felt within its walls still haunt me to this day—and probably forever will.

 

You can find the author here:  http://dougrinaldi.com/
And here: //dougrinaldiwriter.wordpress.com/

 

Sneak Preview: Chapter One of Threads

Here’s a revised version of the first chapter of my upcoming novel, Threads. I hope you like reading this sneak preview as much as I liked writing it, and any and all comments are welcome. Just keep in mind that nothing here is written in stone, and some elements are subject to change. That being said, enjoy!

I.F.

CHAPTER ONE

People said life was short, but that wasn’t always true. Sometimes it stretched on forever, like an endless, rutted road.

Rafe Hadley slumped in his wheelchair and stared out at the cold January sunlight shafting through the window and falling across the faded green tile of his room. Wheel of Fortune blared from the TV mounted on the wall and there wasn’t a goddamned thing Rafe could do about it. A nurse had turned it on to keep him company, their notion of activities here at Shady Acres.

Some fool woman on the TV jumped up and down and screamed like her ass was on fire because she had won five hundred dollars, and that high and mighty Pat Sajak was grinning like a goat. Rafe huffed and shook his head in disgust. Day after day, week after week, they parked him in front of this idiot box, and Rafe sometimes thought his last couple of remaining marbles would come rolling out his ears and go bouncing across that green tile. He cursed his crippled body for denying him the pleasure of rising and taking a hammer to the damnable thing. But he remained still as a stump below the neck, unable to lift so much as a finger. A cry of fury and frustration boiled up from his belly, only to pass his lips as nothing more than a whimper.

For the umpteenth time, Rafe yearned for his old radio (always tuned to the local classic country station) but it had gone on the fritz three months ago. He could not ask for another one, the ALS having silenced his tongue as well as crippling his body, and no one had ever offered. So now Rafe’s life—if you wanted to call it that—had become an endless parade of game shows, talk TV, and toilet paper commercials.

“Hello there, Mr. Hadley.”

Rafe swiveled his head toward the open door. That crazy old Dolores Johnson stood in the entrance to his room. She was stark naked, her blue-veined bosoms hanging down to her doughy waist like two deflated balloons. The hair on her skull was a wiry gray nest, a fair match for the lesser thatch between her fish belly-white legs. She stood on scaly flat feet with long yellowish-brown toenails that reminded Rafe of an old bull horn he once owned. Her eyes burned with insanity.

“Fine afternoon, isn’t it?” she said.

Rafe nodded.

“Perhaps you’d like to walk with me in the garden after supper.”

Rafe stared. There was no garden anywhere at Shady Acres. And had there been he sure as hell wouldn’t be ambling through it anytime soon. Go away, he thought.

Two nurses appeared and fetched Dolores. They escorted her back to her room with no apology or word of greeting at all to Rafe. Once Dolores had gone, though, Rafe was surprised to find himself disappointed at her departure. Her sudden exhibition had at least been a change of routine, something to break up the constant, suffocating monotony.

The worst part about being eighty-three, and what they called infirm, was the feeling of worthlessness. It wasn’t only the godawful boredom, or that the walls pressed in on every side until you were sure you’d go right out of your gourd. It was more than that. If you could do something—anything—you had the chance to earn some respect. And respect was important. More important than love or money. But at Shady Acres respect was in short supply, as was compassion, which left Rafe up Shit Creek with nary a paddle.

The nurses returned to transfer Rafe to his bed and change his diaper, an act that never failed to mortify him. He kept his eyes fixed on the ceiling while the two women, one white, the other colored, tended to him. He was especially shamed to be so disgraced in front of the colored woman. Rafe had never been a prejudiced man, but he’d learned early on from his pap that whites and coloreds had no business mixing. It wasn’t natural. Rafe himself had nothing against them. In the summer of 1937 he saw a black man lynched in Greenville, Kentucky. The young man was a soldier on furlough who’d had the poor judgment to stop at the Piggly Wiggly on his way through town. There he had socialized with Antoinette Purdy who was working behind the counter. Antoinette was also the preacher’s daughter, and a white girl of seventeen. Two hours later, ten-year-old Rafe sat on a split-rail fence, munching an apple and watching as a bunch of piss-drunk Klansmen threw a rope over a thick sycamore branch and strung the sorry bastard up, the man weeping and wailing right up to the end. Part of Rafe felt sorry for the colored soldier, but another part of him figured the man had it coming. He should never have shown his face in that town. Or had the gall to trifle with a white girl. So Rafe sat there and watched it happen and never said a word. But he didn’t pitch in, either, and he thought that accounted for something.

Rafe wondered what those white hangmen would say about the new black president. He reckoned he had a pretty good idea.

The nurses prattled on with not a word to him. When they had finished and gone Rafe looked at the TV. Family Feud was on. He sighed and stared out the window. A dark cloud had swallowed the sun, casting the town of Evansville, Indiana—or rather his framed view of it, a brooding abandoned brick warehouse across West Franklin Street—into gloom.

After a while, giving in to sheer boredom, he dozed off.

He woke to darkness pressing against the window and a soft clinking sound at the foot of his bed. It was Darryl, the night orderly, setting Rafe’s supper on the tray table. Rafe felt the familiar mix of dread and hatred. His weak heart pounded as he braced himself for whatever horrors Darryl had in store for this evening.

“Hey there, you old cocksucker,” Darryl said, a good-natured grin on his moon-shaped face. “Time for din-din.”

Darryl took the bed’s clicker and raised Rafe to a sitting position. He put the railing down and rolled the table forward. After switching on the headboard lamp, bathing Rafe in light the color of murky piss, he lifted the metal plate cover and set it aside. Rafe looked at the tray: a piece of liver as tough as boot leather; a stingy scoop of mashed potatoes he knew from experience would taste like lumpy wall plaster; a scattering of dry lima beans; and a glass of lukewarm milk to wash it all down. It reminded him of an old joke: One lady says, “The food here is terrible.” And the other lady says, “Yeah, and such small portions.”

But Rafe was hungry.

“Mmmm—mmm,” Darryl said, and smacked his lips. “Looks good.” He stole a glance at the open door. Beyond it the hallway stood dim and empty. A grin crept over his face as he turned back toward Rafe. “It could prolly use a little sauce, though, don’tcha think?”

Rafe watched as Darryl hawked up phlegm from the back of his throat and spat a thick glob of goo onto the liver. Darryl took the fork from the tray and used it to smear a coating of slime over the rest of the food on the plate. His grin stretched wider as he shoveled up a forkful of potatoes with a single lima bean stuck straight up on top—like a tiny King of the Hill, Rafe thought—and brought it toward Rafe’s mouth.

“Just like Mom used to make, huh?”

Rafe clamped his mouth shut and drew his head back, staring at the lump in disgust.

Darryl looked put out. “What, you don’t want none?”

Rafe looked out the window at the dark.

“Well—” Darryl shrugged. “—we can’t let it go to waste. That’d be a sin.” With that, he drew up a chair and dug in. But he kept one eye on the doorway the whole time. Darryl deprived Rafe of food only once or twice a week; wouldn’t do to let a resident starve to death. But the orderly had plenty of other amusements in his cruel bag of tricks.

“So,” he said around a mouthful of potatoes, “I bet it sucks, having to lay there day in and day out, can’t even scratch an itch. Or play with your pecker.”

Rafe stared out the window. He knew the drill.

“Ah, a dried up old fucker like you prolly ain’t got no more lead in your pencil, anyway.” Then Darryl said, “‘Course, I got cock enough for both of us.”

Rafe jerked his head around at this new tack. Darryl’s eyes danced in the dimness. He knew he’d hit a nerve. He lowered his right hand to his crotch, began massaging himself. “Maybe I’ll give you a little taste.”

If Rafe had his way, Darryl would have dropped dead as a turd right then and there. Rafe wished it harder than he’d ever wished anything in his life.

No. He wanted more than that. He wanted Darryl to suffer. Rafe eyed his tormentor with a hatred so red hot he felt his own face burning. Darryl smiled back pleasantly. He stopped rubbing himself.

“There’s nothing you can do,” he said.

Rafe looked away, angry tears scalding his eyes.

Darryl glanced at the doorway, then back at Rafe again. “Time’s getting closer,” he said, and Rafe waited to hear the same words he heard every night Darryl was on shift. “One of these nights I’m gonna sneak in here, quiet as a spider, and smother you with that smelly old pillow of yours. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow.” He shrugged like it didn’t matter either way.

Go on, Rafe thought. Do it now. Have done with it.

Didn’t this fool get it? Didn’t he understand he’d be doing Rafe a kindness?

Darryl set the plate down, gulped Rafe’s milk, and stood up. He clicked off the headboard lamp, and in the sudden half-light Rafe had the sensation he was looking into the eyes of a rabid dog. Darryl collected the tray and headed out the door, cooing as he went, “See you later, sweet p-tater.”

Rafe lay in the darkness, his hunger pangs causing his stomach to clench like a fist. In a world of hurt, his pap would have said, as in, I’m gon’ put you in a world of hurt, you no ‘count little sumbitch. But like Darryl said, there was nothing Rafe could do. So he simply bore it, as he had born all the other troubles in his life: the early days with his pap; starving on the road after he had lit out on his own at fifteen; his time in Joliet.

After a time, a shadow darkened the doorway as a figure stepped into the room. It appeared Darryl was back for more.

But when the figure moved into the wedge of light at the foot of his bed, Rafe saw it wasn’t the orderly at all, but the corpse of the colored soldier they’d hanged from a tree in Greenville, Kentucky over seventy years ago.