The churchyard horror

Tis the season for chills up the spine, and this is great tale for a windy October night – another wonderful story from Freaky Folktales.

freaky folk tales


I have studied all manner of ghost and demon in my quest to better understand this realm betwixt Heaven and Hell but there is little in this study that has proved more intriguing — and downright flesh-creeping — than that of the Croglin vampire. On a dark autumnal day such as this, having struggled against sheets of rain and the swirl of stray leaves in the lonely path across the cemetery, my mind creeps towards that of a real churchyard horror, set upon the Lancashire moorlands.

It happened in the last century. Croglin Low Hall was a low, one-storeyed house on a slope looking down its gardens and cross a small park to the churchyard two hundred yards away. Along the front of the house ran a wooden verandah, like an African stoep. Two brothers and a sister took the house for the summer. I will not give their names…

View original post 739 more words

Back When Vampires Were Vampires

Bella Lugosi's Dracula

When I was 15, my family lived in Europe.  My room, at the far end of the house, opened onto a patio through French doors that you could unlatch with a butter knife.  I decided it would be fun to read Dracula late at night, after everyone else had gone to bed.  Dumb – really dumb!  I know I’m not the only one to seek the thrill of a scary movie or book and get a whole lot more than they bargained for.  Let’s just say that for weeks after that, I took a clove of garlic to rub the French door frame every night before bed.

When I first went to college, we had a saying:  “Wherever two or more are gathered, they will start a film society.”  Friday nights on campus, I watched, Nosferatu, 1922, which made Bela Lugosi’s count seem tame.

Count Orlock in Nosferatu

Then there was Carl Dryer’s 1932, Vampyr, a movie whose plot I have never been able to decipher, but whose haunting imagery gives a truly creepy feeling of being in a coffin and seeing the face of the vampire who killed you peering through the glass in the lid.

The young protagonist of Vampyr. Is he really dead or only dreaming?

Once upon a time, vampires were not sensitive hunks and hunkettes.  Team Orlock?  I don’t think so!  And trust me, you don’t want a date with Dracula’s brides:

Dracula's better halves? Don't you believe it!

But alas, we are so besotted with undead who love poetry and walks on the beach that not even the current owners of Bran castle in Romania, the one that inspired Bram Stoker, are immune to draw of vampire fandom.

Sign on the way to Bran Castle, Romania

It turns out that the castle that overlooks the town of Bran is not even scary, although the real Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, is supposed to have passed through the valley in the 15th century. And NPR correspondent, Meghan Sullivan, says it’s a little disconcerting to see t-shirts on some of the pilgrims proclaiming that, “All Romanians are Vampires.”

Castle Bran, which inspired Bram Stoker

I guess it will just have to fall to the next generation to restore a fictional world where, to paraphrase Garrison Keeler, “All the women are strong, all the men are good looking, all the children are above average, and vampires are nobody’s sweetheart!”

Hollowland by Amanda Hocking – A Book Review

If you are a writer, unless you’ve been living with wolves, chances are you have heard of Amanda Hocking, the twenty-something Minnesota author of young adult fantasies who spun the publishing industry in an unexpected direction.

One year ago this month, after a string of rejections from agents and editors, Hocking uploaded two novels in Kindle format.  She thought $43 for her first two weeks of sales was “pretty good.”  By the start of this year, she was selling half a million eb00ks a month, and in March she signed a reported $2 million dollar contract with St. Martin’s Press.

Amanda Hocking’s story has been told in the New York Times, the Wall Street journal, and on dozens if not hundreds of blogs, but one key question is seldom directly addressed:  are her books any good?  I just finished my first Hocking novel, and the short answer is, yes, it was lively, original, and I liked it a lot.

Hollowland starts with a bang and the action does not let up.  How is this for an opening sentence?

“This is the way the world ends – not with a bang or a whimper, but with zombies breaking down the back door.”

These are not your old-school, reanimated corpse type zombies.  No stiff, slow, shambling, mumbling, B-Grade movie zombies.  A mutation of the rabies virus has infected most of the population, causing them to become really angry, really psychotic, and ravenously hungry.  After her quarantine station near Las Vegas is breached by a coordinated zombie attack, 19 year old, Remy, and her friend, Harlow, set off across the desert, determined to find Remy’s brother.  Their first traveling companion is an African lion – animals are immune to this kind of rabies, and all the big cats from Circus Circus are loose.  That night they meet a rock star whose fame doesn’t mean so much in a post-apocalyptic world.  They pick up an SUV and a couple of refugees from a fundamentalist cult, whose leader has the habit of “cleansing” his female followers in his bedroom.  And so it goes.

It says a lot about Remy that she names the lion, Ripley, after Sigourney Weaver’s character in the Alien movies  That is the mojo you need when the zombies are winning.  Remy also has a charming irreverence, the kind of simple, eyes-open, speak-your-mind nature that you see in Amanda Hocking’s online interviews.

I can really see, though I have not found the words to express it, why the literary establishment would not cut Hocking a break.  There’s a hint of piety about the stories and characters you see in the YA fantasy section of Barnes&Noble.  The word “homogenized,” comes to mind.  And “processed food.”  And “inbred.”

This story was fresh, a little bit raw, a bit unpolished, but shaped by a writer whose imagination has not, and hopefully will not, be poured into the grooves shaped by others.  Hocking reminds me of Stephen King and not for the obvious horror licks that they share.  Both authors seem to gravitate to horror not just for its own sake, but to explore what ordinary people will do in impossible situations.

Hollowland is a available in both self-published text version, and Kindle format for $0.99, and in case anyone does not know, a Kindle device (though I love mine) is not required to read a book in that format.  Amazon has free Kindle apps for pc, mac, iPads and smart-phones.


The Cypress House by Michael Koryta

Arlen Wagner, son of a West Virginia undertaker, knows about death, but nothing prepares him for that midnight in the Belleau Wood when he sees a squadron of skeletons marching toward his position and understands that every one of those men is going to die. In the years after the first world war, Arlen relies on whisky and manual labor to try to live with his unwanted “talent” for seeing death before it strikes.

In the summer of 1935, as Arlen and 19 year old Paul Brickhill, travel to a CCC camp in the Florida Keys, everyone on the train suddenly appears as a dead man. At the next stop, only Paul heeds Arlen’s warning to wait for the next train, and only Paul survives.

After that, things get strange…

That comment is not just meant to be facetious but points to one of the tactics Koryta uses to weave supernatural elements into his tale in a seamless fashion that is too often missing from the “urban fantasy” sub-genre that I once enjoyed but which soon became predictable.  Koryta is a master of mood who plants the vision of dead men on a train among a wealth of ordinary details:  the ever present heat, the smell of unwashed bodies, the cigarette smoke, the card games, and Arlen’s surreptitious sips from his flask.  In the next moment, he can make a simple walk down an empty road in the dark of the tropical night burst with menace.

He delivers on the promise of menace – and secrets.  Everyone has secrets – layers of them.

Arlen and Paul catch a ride with a man who takes them to The Cypress House, a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere, owned by a stunningly beautiful woman.  A few minutes after their arrival, the man who gave them a ride tries to slip away, but is incinerated when a bomb explodes in his car.  Why?  Why are Arlen and Paul arrested for the crime?  What secrets hide in the Cypress House – cypress house – another name for a coffin, Arlen remembers his father saying.  The very best kind of coffin, the coffin of choice for ancient kings and for popes.  Arlen’s father, who claimed he could talk to the dead.  He was insane – wasn’t he?

Michael Koryta, author of five mystery novels, charted a new direction by introducing supernatural elements into So Cold the River, which I praised on this blog last summer.  The Cypress House just came out.  Like its predecessor, this is one of those rare books I could not put down.

More on, “So Cold the River”

(Warning: spoilers ahead)

It is rare and delightful to find a book I hate to see end.  It is rarer to find a creepy book I hate to see end, and this is the first time ever I have hated to see a story end when the most compelling character is the villain.

Campbell Bradford, the villain of Michael Koryta’s,  So Cold the River, is no ordinary bad guy; he not just a bad man, he is evil. This important distinction is made by eighty-something, Edgar Hastings.  “He [Bradford] put a chill in your heart. My parents saw it; hell, everybody saw it. The man was evil.” The only fictional villain I can think of in his class – as evil and fascinating – is Hannibal Leckter in Silence of the Lambs

The evil Campbell Bradford is not the ninety-five year old Campbell Bradford who freaks out when hero, Eric Shaw, shows him a bottle of haunted “Pluto Water.”  This faux Bradford whispers, “So Cold the River,” and dies a short time later, sending Eric, a failed Hollywood filmmaker, to West Baden, Indiana, to learn the story of Bradford, Pluto water, and the newly restored West Baden hotel, (which actually exists), a once famous spa that was the domain of presidents, prize fighters, royalty, and gangsters.

The West Baden Hotel

The evil Campbell Bradford is a ghost, a very malevolent ghost, who possesses his great-great-grandson, Josiah, and later tries to possess Eric.  Bradford’s era is the roaring twenties, but his voice and tone suggest an earlier time.  Perhaps it is his fictional distance, the sepia toned feel of the old west that surrounds this villain, that works like the glass that allows us to watch a cobra in a zoo with an equal degree of fascination.  Imagine the Clint Eastwood of the sphagetti westerns as an angry psychopath, ready to sacrifice anything and anyone for his ambitions.  The ambitions of Campbell Bradford’s ghost drive the story.

“Look for the artifacts of their ambitions.”  That is Eric Shaw’s philosophy of documentary filmmaking, announced at the opening of the book.  The artifacts of Bradford’s ambitions are dead people. In the end, the mysterious Pluto Water, which carried Bradford’s spirit back to West Baden, allows Eric to survive his onslaught to tell the tale.

But Eric stops short of trying to unravel the whole story.  He will not seek the honey-flavored spring where Bradford lost his life.  Is the spirit really gone? Apparently. And yet, as Anne McKinney, who has devoted her life to watching the weather and waiting for the big storm cautions, “You can’t be sure what hides behind the wind.”

Sequeul anyone? I will definately read it if it comes.