13 Days of Horror: Jodi MacArthur – Lovely Creature

HAPPY HALLOWEEN

WELCOME TO THE 13 DAYS OF HORROR
It’s Samhain, the end harvest of 13 excellent tales of terror that have spun us to the middle of the web. At the heart of this horror festival is one writer whose talent is truly frightful and inspiring at the same time. She’s been published on Yellow Mama(Hollow Secrets), Flashes in the Dark (Creepy Crawly and The Next Step), Full of Crow, Six Sentences, The Absent Willow Review, and more, with her latest release at The New Flesh, Rigged. With a flair for smooth dialogue, convincing elements of fantasy, and original story lines, all written into a sharp, clean style, I know this cool lady could write herself out of exile if she were in Timbuktu.

I’m pleased to announce my next and last guest in the 13 Days of Horror, the fabulous writer of mysteries deep, Jodi MacArthur and her eerie tale, Lovely Creature.


Lovely Creature

by Jodi MacArthur

Janks snatched Charissa around the waist and pulled her against his open locker. “I need some of your expertise.”

She clutched her books to her chest and twirled around to face him. He could tell by the flirtatious set of her mouth, he’d get his way. Her friends laughed and kept walking. They envied her, and everyone knew Charissa liked to be envied.

Charissa giggled and pushed his hands off her waist. She flipped her hair over a darkly mascara-ed eye. “What do you need my expertise in?”

He put his arm up on the side of the locker door, closing her in, and turned on the charm. “ Aren’t you looking hot today, Chrissi.”

“Come on, really. I know that isn’t what you were going to ask…” Charissa flipped her hair again. The smell of hairspray filled the air.

Flashing a smile, he said, “What’s up with all these ribbons you girls are wearing?” He fingered the red silk around her neck.

Charissa rolled her eyes and swatted his hand. “Is that all captain of the football team needs my expertise for?”

“Well,” he hesitated, the thought of being with Charissa honestly made him want to puke. Her face was orange cake, a mixture of fake bake tanning and easy breezy girl makeup. There wasn’t any ice cream sweet enough for him to want taste that. “That and… more.” He smiled.

She smiled back. “White ribbon for innocence, Pink for crush, Blue for spirit – go Finches!, Yellow for peace, and Red for love. Do you notice the color I’m wearing, Janks?”

“What about black?”

“I guess black would stand for death…or perhaps,” she made large skeleton eyes at him, “the un-death.” Janks thought she could wear herself as a Halloween costume and win first place at the masquerade dance next week.

He thought about Briar when he first saw her in the coffee shop, the black velvet adorning her pale skin. The ribbon held a silver locket in the shape of a heart. He supposed it held a picture of someone special. Perhaps a boyfriend she’d left behind? She’d just moved to town the week before. Didn’t seem to hit it off with the local kids. He had a feeling that it wasn’t unusual.

“Janks? I can so read your mind. Get it out of the gutter.”

“Wha-“ He realized he’d been staring at her chest. Oh, this was bad.

“Although,” she ran a manicured finger up his ribs and around his shoulder, “I wouldn’t mind after the masquerade ball next week. That is, if you ask me.”

He raised his eyebrows and before he could squeak out an excuse the school bell rang.

She said, “Think about it.” Kissed her finger, placed it on his lips, and strutted off.

Straggler sophomores hurried down the halls. Janks grabbed his geometry book, slammed the door, locked it, turned…and there she was. Briar Vaile walking in that quiet, ghostly way she had about her.

Her black hair tapered from her chin into a vivid v down her slender frame. He looked for the ribbon. It stretched across her throat like a scar, slender and thin. The silver heart sat at the base of her collarbone. He didn’t know why he felt so obsessed over it or her for that matter. She stopped at the water fountain to drink. Janks sidled up beside her.

“Hi,” he said watching Briar wipe a water drop from her lower lip. The locket quivered. He thought he heard it jingle. Briar didn’t say hello in return – didn’t say anything. She just stood there.

“Um, you’re new right?” That was stupid, he thought as soon as he said it.
With the faintest hint of a smile, Briar turned and walked away.

Janks caught up. “Well, I guess that’s obvious, huh? What I meant to say is…” Janks was baffled. He’d never been treated this way before.

She kept walking. Her slight slip of a dress rustled as she moved. He grabbed her arm gently, “Hey.”

The hallways were empty now. A light whisper flitted down the hall as a door closed.
Briar stopped. “What is it?” Her shy voice was gentle and if she was annoyed, she didn’t show it.

“I was…wondering if you’d go to the Masquerade Ball with me next week?” There, he’d said it. He said what he’d really been thinking since he’d spied her at the coffee shop two weeks earlier.

Her hazel eyes darted at the clock high up on the wall, then met his. “Okay.”

“Okay? I mean. Alright. Cool.”

Their eyes met briefly. A rush of heat stirred him. “You live in that old Victorian on Opera alley, right?”

Briar looked away and rushed off down the hall. He let her go, happy to get a yes.

###

“Two days before the dance and you still haven’t asked me. What’s up with you and that Briar girl anyway?”

Janks bit into his apple and shrugged. He watched Briar from across the lunchroom tables. The tiny heart jangled at her throat as she looked up and met his eyes; he swore she smiled before returning to the book she was reading. Since when did black ribbons mean death? He Googled it, Wikied it, hadn’t come up with anything, yet Charissa’s guess seemed right, felt right. A story he heard when he was sophomore probed his mind, just out of reach.

“She’s so lame, Janks. Never date a bookworm. Boring,” said Charissa.
Janks took another bite.

“Look,” Charissa’s voice rose to near panic. “I wore red for you. Doesn’t that matter? I wore this stupid red ribbon to show I was in love and you just ignore me. What don’t I got that she does?”

Janks felt a twinge of guilt and set his apple down. He had been leading her on after all, but that was before Briar. Mostly.

“Charissa, you’re a nice girl…”

“On no, you are not going to feed me that nice personality B.S. Na uh…” Charissa turned to stomp off. Then froze. Squinted in Briar’s direction. “Hey, I know why you asked me about the ribbons before…”

Janks looked away.

“Briar’s wearing a black one, huh? You weren’t interested in me, you were pumping me for information so you could find out about her!”

Janks sighed and looked at Charissa. He nodded.

She picked up his half eaten apple and threw it against the cafeteria wall. It made a loud smack, but no one paid attention. Picking up her tray she said, “I’ll get you for this Janks.”

Janks sighed and hoped she got a fake eyelash stuck in her eye. There was nothing Charissa Harris could do to ruin his life. Briar was going with him to the Masquerade Ball and perhaps she’d even share her little secret about the ribbon and the locket.

###

He rang the rusty doorbell. No buzz. He knocked. Silence. Stained glass windows flanked the door; all the lights were out. He hoped she was home. He knocked harder, then heard soft footsteps fall on creaky stairs. He held the corsage box nervously in one hand.

The door opened. Janks was taken by the lovely creature. She wore a black and white pinstripe dress pooling out at the bottom. Red ribbons criss-crossed a black corset showing a hint of cleavage. Long dark hair spun into curls and loosely piled on top her head. Her face was painted white, while three little hearts adorned one cheek. She held a sparkly black mask to her eyes.

“Wow.” She was enchanting, intriguing and her entire costume seemed to only accentuate the black ribbon tied to her throat.

Her red glossy lips smiled. “We match.”

He wore a black and white pinstripe suit as well with a skull as a mask. He held out the corsage he had searched everywhere for, and finally had to ask a florist to paint.

Black roses.

“They’re beautiful, Janks.”

He slipped it over her wrist. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw tears in her eyes.

The night smelled of pumpkin spice and magic. He started the car and finally decided he couldn’t resist asking. “I’ve noticed the ribbon you wear. It’s lovely.”

“Thank you.”

“It must be special, I see you wear it all the time.”

“Yes, its sort of a family hand me down. My mother gave it to me when I was born, the same as my grandmother had done to her.”

Strange. “From the time you born?”

“Uh huh.”

“Tradition?” Janks asked.

“Uh huh.”

“Why black I wonder?” The words slipped out before he could stop himself.

“Death,” she said simply.

“What is that suppose to mean?”

Briar clamped her mouth closed and looked out the window. Then she said quietly, “It’s a secret.”

“What about the locket? Is that a secret too?”

Briar held it between her fingers and shook it. It jingled.

“Bells…”

“So I will remember,” said Briar.

“Remember what?”

“The secret.”

###

They swirled across the floor to wicked Halloween music. Charissa, dressed as a red she devil, had been eyeing them all evening. Janks didn’t have a good feeling about it.

She was harmless, at least he hoped. When Charissa grabbed the nearest ghoul and sweet talked him into dancing close to he and Briar, Janks began to worry.

“What’s wrong?” asked Briar.

“Nothing,” Janks said.

“Listen, I feel like I owe you an answer about the ribbon. You’ve been looking at it ever since we met. I’ve never told anyone before. I’ve never really had a friend before…”

Janks attention was drawn from Charissa and back to Briar. Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper played over the sound system. Janks and Briar danced close to a standstill.

He watched the heart rise and fall with her breath. “I promise to keep it a secret.”

“Well, you see,” Briar hesitated, “if one were to-“

Charissa bumped against Briar pushing her into Janks.

“Watch it!” he called out.

“Woops,” Charissa shrugged her red devil shoulders and kept dancing with the ghoul guy.

Janks bent toward Briar’s ear so she could hear him above the music and whispered, “You were saying…”

He felt Briar’s frame melt into him and she whispered back, “If one were to untie the ribbon…”

Suddenly, there was a push from behind Briar, then a pulling. Briar clasped her throat and looked to Janks in horror.

“I have your ribbon now, Briar. Who’s the looser, huh? Who’s the looser- “Charissa broke off into a shrill high pitched scream as Briar’s lovely head rolled from her throat and onto the dance floor.

Charissa tossed the black ribbon in the air, the locket flashed in the strobe light, then was lost amongst the shrieking and trampling feet of devils, ghouls, and masqueraded faces.

Janks held a headless corpse in his arms. Her last words echoing in his mind, then filling in the blanks.

If one were to untie the ribbon…
Death

Jodi MacArthur blogs here: Fiction Writer ~ Jodi MacArthur

13 Days of Horror: Michael J. Solender – Hunter Moon

WELCOME TO THE 13 DAYS OF HORROR

He’s back…with a moonscape prose. My next guest write has shared one piece with us already and I couldn’t help but sneak him back for one more. With his own mountain of credits and published works, including his distinguished piece, Running with the Iron Rooster, published on A Twist of Noir and another top 40 victor of the 2009 Editor Unleashed Flash Fiction 40 Contest, and oodles of other fantastic works on Full of Crow, The Calliope Nerve, 55 A Day, an excellent chapbook at Six Sentences (Six Months of His Life), Thrillers, Killers, ‘n’ Chillers (Homegrown Tomatoes – one of my favs), Powder Burn Flash…better grab that cold one, there is frightening length of web pubs. Basically, he’s hot at the NOT.

Please welcome my next guest and good friend, Michael J. Solender and his captivating poem, Hunter Moon.

Hunter Moon

by Michael J. Solender

Barn owls wait solo in the nocturne

Glowing beryl steals through midnight fog

Ears that see intention pique

Raptors know the hunted hide

Hollow cries still the moment

A sense, a feeling, an omniscient tell

She knows too well that fate befalls them

Hers instinct born of blood and capture

Night belongs to her and her prey alone

They fall this eve so she may live

Their numbers, the balance, completes the cycle

The void, the darkness, follows the Hunter moon

Michael blogs here: Not From Here, Are You?

13 Days of Horror: Angel Zapata – Styx and Stones

WELCOME TO THE 13 DAYS OF HORROR

The 13 Days of Horror would not be complete without the ‘horrible stanzas’ of Zapata. I’ve followed this phenomenal writer around cyber-streets until my brain blistered – you need take out and a six pack just to get through his list of successes. Whether he is writing insightful works, such as Unscrambling Love,(Issue 53) – First Place Dorsal Winner at Doorknobs & Bodypaint and top 40 in the 2009 Editor Unleashed Flash Fiction 40 Contest, or his reflection, The Twins: September 2001, he is crafting the darker delights we love so much, like one of my favorites, The Bridge, published at ShadeWorks. Plus, he’s a detective too, exposing and disposing a rat from our abode!

It is a great honor to welcome my next guest in the 13 Days of Horror, one of my horror gurus, Angel Zapata and his badass poem, Styx and Stones.

Styx and Stones

by Angel Zapata

He collects pennies in glass jars.
They won’t be spent on pleasing flesh.
Old copper coins like tarnished stars
absorb the voltage of his wish.

On moonless nights, he excavates
with shovel, pickaxe, trowel and spade.
Cold earth forecloses real estate,
provides the salary he’s paid.

With rock removed, the dirt inside
like snowflakes melting on the tongue;
his eager fingers brush aside
the frayed bell cord no grave has rung.

The Ferryman’s clandestine prize
at last exposed on dead man’s eyes.

Angel Zapata blogs here: A Rage of Angel

13 Days of Horror: Paul D. Brazill – The Friend Catcher

WELCOME TO THE 13 DAYS OF HORROR

Next on the 13 Days of Horror is a writer gifted at penning gritty, dark humor and suspenseful haunts. He has a stack of fiction published on Thrillers, Killers, ‘n’ Chillers, A Twist of Noir, Six Sentences, Powder Burn Flash, and many more. The potency of his details, heightened by the sharpness of his characters, always coalesce into riveting and memorable stories and this piece is one of my favorites, now published at Out of Ruins.

Please welcome my next guest to the 13 Days of Horror, Paul David Brazill and his excellent story, The Friend Catcher.

The Friend Catcher

by Paul David Brazill

The morning after Charlotte killed her father, the air tasted like lead and the sky was gun metal grey. She stared out of the window of her East London flat, barely focusing on the rows of concrete blocks being smudged by the Autumn rain.

The ensuing days of gloom collided with weeks and the weeks crashed into months.

And then it was Spring.

*

Charlotte put on her make-up, rubbed talcum powder on her thighs and pulled on her XL pink shell suit before heading off to cash her mother’s pension at the post office. As per usual, she slammed the door of the flat behind her and, as loud as possible , shouted:

‘Won’t be long, mum !’

Then, she took a deep breath and headed down the emergency staircase.

Charlotte had always been blessed – or maybe cursed – with an over ripe imagination and, as she rushed down the stairs, she imagined all sorts of spectres, smack-heads and psychos lurking in the stairwell’s darkened nooks and crannies. Still, it was preferable to using the rickety lift which broke down more often than not.

Sweating and wheezing, she reached the bottom floor and realised that she’d left her medication– her security blanket – at home. Not feeling able to climb the stairs to the twelfth floor, she reluctantly stepped into the lift. Just as the doors rattled to a close, The Friend Catcher pushed his way in.

*

Charlotte was finding it almost impossible to tear her eyes away from the pulsating boil on the side of The Friend Catcher’s neck since, despite its size and repulsive condition, it was a far preferable sight to the one dangling like a gigantic dewdrop from the end of the old man’s crooked nose.

Given the choice, of course, she would more than happily have looked at something more edifying but, unfortunately for her, there wasn’t much else to gaze upon in the piss smelling, graffiti stained, syringe strewn lift where she and The Friend Catcher had found themselves trapped between floors.

The Friend Catcher didn’t seem perturbed at all . He just sighed and scrutinised the lewd and lurid graffiti that littered the wall.

*

The Friend Catcher had moved in to a flat on the same floor as Charlotte’s parents in the 1980’s, at the time when all sorts of waifs and strays and odds and ends of society were being scattered across the capital as part of Mrs Thatcher’s misbegotten Care In The Community campaign.

The strange looking new neighbour – with his stoop, hawked nose, black fedora and greatcoat, looking like a long black shadow – quickly fed the imagination of the local children -Charlotte in particular – a situation that was heightened by the fact that, in archetypal serial killer fashion, the man kept himself to himself.

According to some of the kids he was a vampire – although the fact that he was regularly seen in daylight pretty much scuppered that idea – while others speculated that he was, in fact, Jack The Ripper, although even if his advanced age wasn’t quite advanced enough to support that theory.

However, it was his resemblance to a scary character in the film ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ that earned him the nickname The Friend Catcher which, like most nicknames, stuck for years to come.

*

Eventually, he spoke.

‘Like flies in a web,’ he said, in what sounded like an Eastern European accent.

‘What?’ said , Charlotte whose legs were starting to ache.

‘We’re trapped like flies in a spiderweb,’ said The Friend Catcher as he rooted in one of his Iceland shopping bags.

Charlotte nodded. She was starting to sweat now and really wished she had the diazapam with her. She tried the deep breathing that the psychiatric nurse at the Mausley Hospital had taught her.

‘Here,’ said The Friend Catcher and he held out a bottle of some clear liquid with a label that Charlotte didn’t recognise.

Charlotte quickly remembered the stories that had circulated of how he was actually a psychotic taxidermist who would snatch children from the street, drag them back to his flat and stuff them. She had visions of being drugged, filled with formaldehyde and being stuffed.

‘Relax,’ said the old man. ‘Polish vodka.’

Charlotte looked at the label and almost laughed with relief. She twisted off the cap and took a long gulp.

‘Your father used to drink it in the The Aversham Arms. I used to see your father in that pub a lot. Before his accident.’

*

Charlotte had a flashback to the night that Walter Hill had come home drunk from The Aversham Arms and, as usual, had started an an argument. An argument that had once again erupted into violence. Walter was an oak of a man who had no problems over powering his sick, stumpy wife and indeed this would have been the case had Charlotte not been there. She ran at her father, sobbing, and, with all of her weight, she slammed him against the wall. Falling on top of him she held him down until he stopped breathing. The police accepted that he’d had a heart attack while drunk and left her to take care of her mother.

*

‘Yes, I was a pilot in the 303 Squadron. I flew in your Battle of Britain.’ said The Friend Catcher pointing to a fading photograph on the wall of his musty smelling flat.

‘Amazing,’said Charlotte who was admiring a picture of the then handsome and young Tadeusz Koc as he stood beside a Spitfire Mk.Vb with Misia, the squadrons mascot. She was more than a little tipsy. Her mother had always said that she could get drunk on the sniff of a barmaids apron but she was so relieved to get out of the lift that she couldn’t resist the offer of a sit down and a drink in Tadeusz’s flat.

‘My wife and I lived near Borough market, on the High Street, for almost forty years until your government decided to gentrify the area and sell it off to yuppies.’ Said Tadeusz.

‘When they sent us the official letter the ….’

‘Compulsory Purchase Order?’ said Charlotte.

‘Exactly! Well, my wife soon became depressed. She died on the night before we were to move out.’ Tadeusz swayed a little.

Charlotte could feel herself becoming tearful and small red dots started to appear before her eyes and her head ached.

‘But ….that is the past and we have to be strong, eh? We Poles are strong people. And you are a strong woman taking care of your mother for so long.’

And then Charlotte started to sob.

*

The words tumbled out of Charlotte’s mouth like a gang of drunks staggering out of a pub at closing time; disorderly and unruly. She told of how her mother’s cancer had spread and she had become more and more ill. Again and again she had begged for Charlotte to stop the pain and so, one cold dawn, as she saw the red splashes spreading in front of her eyes and the dull headache become a sharper pain in her forehead, she smothered her mother to death between her breast.

Tadeusz sighed and nodded.

‘An unhappy life is a vice with a powerful grip,’ he said.‘I am alone now. And each day I feel more and more pain .. emptiness. Just…just waiting for … release ’

And then, breathing heavily, Charlotte saw the red splashes spreading like a Rorschach test and she felt the sharp pain in her forehead, as if a stiletto heel had been slammed between her eyes and so she rose to her feet and hugged The Friend Catcher with all her strength. She hugged him until his life faded away, just like hot breath on a cold window pane.

End.

(c)opyright Paul D. Brazill 2009.

Paul D. Brazill blogs here: You Would Say That, Wouldn’t You?

13 Days of Horror: Barry J. Northern – A Trick of the Night

WELCOME TO THE 13 DAYS OF HORROR

Our next howl of horror is from a charismatic writer of unique style and a recent admiration of mine. His stories spin between fable, mystery, humor, and horror, are always enriched with salient detail, and never conclude with expected outcomes. His newest release, Rhiannon’s Glade, at Flashes in the Dark is another great example of his enchanting work.

Please welcome my next guest, Barry J. Northern and his fantastic story, A Trick of the Night.

A Trick of the Night

by Barry J. Northern

It was hard to convince Clara to go stay with her mother that night, a year ago today. She hadn’t believed me, even after I’d waved her off. It was already dark by then, nearly too late.

I bolted the door, the strange ringing in my head had already begun. I had escaped my curious malady the previous year because we had been abroad. I don’t know why that made a difference. That was the first year Halloween passed without incident for me. The year before the holiday, Clara had been away with her mother, and so did not witness my annual fugue that year either. As a young man, before I met Clara, I’m told I nearly strangled a trick-or-treater. I remember nothing. Every year since then, I have contrived to be alone.

Don’t ask me why it happens. No doctor has ever admitted it even does, for the rest of the year I am perfectly sane. I believed then that I had grown used to managing it.

I walked around the house and turned off all the lights. The darkness helped a little, and it would help prevent callers. In the kitchen I lit a candle, and stared into its hypnotic flame. The ringing in my head abated for a time, but then the kitchen light turned itself on inexplicably. I moaned. It had begun. I hoped I wouldn’t start seeing people who weren’t there again. I turned off the light, shouting “be gone, be gone!” up the stairs to ward off ghosts. The light didn’t come on again after that.

I stayed in front of the soothing candle, but before long my hands began to shake. I had been prepared for this. They needed something to do. I went to the kitchen drawer and took out the pumpkin-carving utensils I had bought as part of a kit earlier that week; a small saw, a scoop, and a little knife, all with orange plastic handles molded into Jack o’ Lantern faces.

With the knife and saw to grip, the twitching in my hand began to calm down, but I couldn’t remember where the pumpkin was. It had been too large to store with the other vegetables. I went out into the hallway but it wasn’t there. Strangely though, I noticed Clara’s coat still hanging on the door, with her shoes underneath. I hurried out, eyes squeezed shut, fighting off the image that had steeled into my mind of someone hanging there. She must have worn a different coat, that’s all.

Back in the kitchen I saw the pumpkin on the kitchen table. I shrugged, used to such quirks, and with saw and knife in hand I quickly set to work. It was a tough one, and it took a long time to cut the top out, but once done I soon had it hollowed out with the custom scoop, leaving the fleshy pulp out on the kitchen table. I’d clear it up later. I carved out eyes with the small knife, and cut a jagged smile before putting in the candle and replacing the lid. As usual, I couldn’t quite get it to fit right and the light shone through the gaps.

I stared at the flickering light glowing from within the pumpkin face for several minutes, a sense of calm washing over me. It was as if I had poured my madness into my creation for I was soon asleep.

I had thought the banging was in my dreams until the police burst in and woke me up. They tell me a neighbor had heard the screams. I couldn’t have been asleep for long, for the candle in the pumpkin still illuminated the room. I remember looking up groggily at the two policemen as they came charging into the kitchen, and the look of horror on their faces as they skidded to a halt, another man running into them as they blocked the doorway. The first policeman, a young man, fell to his knees and vomited, but the other two were as pale as ghosts, transfixed by something behind me.

The clock struck midnight, and the ringing in my head suddenly stopped. I turned and truly beheld what my insane handiwork had wrought. My beloved Clara sat in the kitchen chair across from me, her neck broken, head twisted around to sit on the table in a mess of bloody oatmeal. The sputtering candlelight mocked me through the empty sockets of her eyes.

Barry J. Northern blogs here ~ Barry J. Northern: Speculative Fiction Writer

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