Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Flash Fiction Fright Day

As I said, here's a Halloween treat of terror just for you! It's the short horror story I was talking about in yesterday's post. As I also said, it was especially written for tweens and young adults but I think grown adults may enjoy it too. Let me know what you think of it in the box below.

Take scare and Happy Halloween!

The Boos Brothers

By Steven Rose, Jr.

A creepy silhouetted mansion sits on top of a hill.

Photo credit:

Jerry thought it would be neat to steal one of the silky cloth ghosts or cardboard decorations that hung in the old Victorian mansion’s porch each Halloween. All of them were more real looking than ones he and Roy had seen in any store. This included size. Some of the figures were taller than Jerry who was five-foot-seven-inches. That was pretty tall for an 11 year old boy. 

Jerry wanted to scare Melissa Collins and her friends with one of the figures from the porch when the girls would trick-or-treat later that night. Both he and Roy hated Melissa and her friends for cheating them at tether ball in P.E. and then getting away with it all because their 5th grade teacher, Mr. Martinez, let them. He only did so because he didn’t want to seem sexist to them. All because of that, Jerry and Roy were accused of being cheaters by Melissa and her circle whenever they came across them at recess. But Jerry would make sure justice would win.

Jerry wanted to scare Melissa Collins and her friends with one of the figures from the porch when the girls would trick-or-treat later that night. Both he and Roy hated Melissa and her friends for cheating them at tether ball in P.E. and then getting away with it all because their 5th grade teacher, Mr. Martinez, let them. He only did so because he didn’t want to seem sexist to them. All because of that, Jerry and Roy were accused of being cheaters by Melissa and her circle whenever they came across them at recess. But Jerry would make sure justice would win.

“We can go to jail,” said Roy.

“No we won’t,” said Jerry. “It’s hardly stealing a dime. These people are rich; they won’t care. Besides, they’re never home.”

“Yeah, and we don’t know when they’ll suddenly come home,” said Roy.

“Have you ever seen anybody around this place?” asked Jerry.

Roy squinted in recollection as he looked at the hanging ghosts and rubber bats dancing in the moaning wind. He said, “No, but somebody must live here. The lights go on every night.”

“That’s a timer.”

Roy gestured toward the house. “Yeah, but look: the lawn is always cut. The flowers always watered. No weeds. The house is always kept so clean.”

“I told you these people are rich; they have a gardener. Home gardeners don’t work after 3 PM. Look, all we need to do is take one figure. One that’s not too big and that’s easy to carry. We’re going to put it back.”

Roy hesitated several seconds. He looked at his watch. It was way after 3 PM, two minutes to 4. He said, “Well, okay. But we have to put it back, like you said. It doesn’t belong to us.”

“We’ll put it back right after we scare the girls.”

The two boys walked up to the porch. Testing the weight, Roy lifted the smooth, flat hand of a skeleton that seemed to stare down and grin at him. He flinched at Jerry’s call.

“Hey, Roy! Let’s take a ghost. They’re lighter plus more real looking since they’re more 3D.” Jerry tugged at the string that a silky ghost hung by. But before he could even pull the string from its hook the ghost snapped off and flew away with the wind. Jerry cursed.

Roy said, “Oh, no! Now we’re busted! Why’ju pull so hard?”

“Shut up,” hissed Jerry. “I hardly touched it. It just broke off. It’s this stupid wind. I’ll grab another one.” He glanced around for another about the same size, his own size.

“Jerry, run,” shouted Roy. As borderline obese he was, he was already running past the neighbouring house. Yet he was not fast enough to outrun lean Jerry who grabbed him in a wrestling hold.

“Where do you think you’re going?” grunted Jerry.

Roy said, struggling to free himself, “Didn’t you see it? We have to get out’a here! Somebody was at the door!”

“That was a decoration, fool!”

“Not the skeleton hanging there! Inside the door!”

“That’s frosted glass on that window, how could you see anybody on the other side?”

“I didn’t, but somebody was there! Didn’t you see that light go on inside?”

Jerry released Roy from his grip but only to face him toward himself. “The timer, fool! I told you the lights were set by timer!”

Roy stammered, “But, but, the lights only go on at night, and that one never turns on. I see them from my house every evening. Only the porch light goes on and that’s not until it gets dark. This light was inside that door and was white, a really bright white!”

Jerry said, “They can program timers to make different lights come on at different times.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” Roy said hanging his head. “Okay, then let’s go back.”

“We can’t now. One of the neighbours probably saw us running and heard you screaming your head off. We’ll have to do it tonight when it’s harder for anyone to recognize us. Do you have a Halloween costume?”

Roy thought for a moment. He was almost 11 himself, 10-and-a-half to be exact. Like Jerry, he felt he was too big for trick-or-treating. He answered, “Yeah. From last year. But I don’t know if it fits me anymore.”

Jerry said, “Probably not. You’re fatter than even last year. Well then just wear the mask, but let’s change our clothes so nobody recognises us. We’ll fake trick-or-treating.”

Roy agreed to this.

They returned around 7 that evening. Jerry made Roy stand guard at the front of the walkway. Roy wore his turtle warrior mask from last year and Jerry wore a cheap skull’s mask he picked up at the dollar store only an hour before. The wind had died down to a breese but it was icy cold. Jerry reached for a silky ghost only about half a foot taller than the previous one. It hung about a foot from the door yet he didn’t remember seeing it there that afternoon. This time he gripped the ghost hard against his torso while he pulled backward on the string to slide it off its hook. But just before it could come off he felt it tug from above and himself shoot up into wood rotted darkness.

But not total darkness. He was staring into the eyes of a bright yet pale white glowing face that glared at him. The brilliant white figure spoke: “You tried kidnapping my kid brother! Now you’re gonn’a pay!”

Jerry held his mouth open. He wanted to scream but couldn’t even manage a squeak.

Roy saw Jerry rise out of view just as Roy grabbed the ghost and tugged the string. He heard the inhuman, echoing voice and saw the white light radiating from somewhere above the door. It was just like the light he saw in the door window that afternoon. He screamed, “Jerry! Jerry!”

But Jerry wasn’t there. The bright light was no longer there. Even the porch light was out. Roy inched toward the looming house. Just as he reached the porch, he felt a dozens of eyes stare at him. They seemed to stare at him from the hanging skeletons, witches, ghosts and bats all of which swung or swayed in the icy breese. He screamed, “Jerry, where are you?”

“Over here, fool!”

Roy pivoted, glancing around. “Where?” He lifted his turtle mask to see better. He still couldn’t find his friend.

“Over here, at the door! What’s the matter with you are ya’ blind?”

Roy looked toward the skeleton hanging on the door. The skeleton grinned and stared back at him.

Then it lifted one of its feet forward.

Then the other foot.

The skeleton said in Jerry’s voice, “Let’s go scare the girls!”

Roy heard the laughter and talking of several girls from far off. It was Melissa and her friends. He recognised her nasal voice. He turned to run and warn them. But then he felt the bony hand grip his shoulder.

The End

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Special Halloween Ghost Post

A jack-o'-lantern made of tin and hand-painted.
A tin jack-o'-lantern the blogger bought at a thrift store and put up in his living room. This mini pumpkin was made and hand-painted by an unknown Indian artist.
Photo Credit: Steven Rose, Jr.

Tomorrow is my favourite day of the year as a fantasist and so I have been extra busy preparing. I meant to do several blog posts leading up to the holiday but got so busy with other projects and even non-writing duties that I decided it would be best to write one big Halloween post. That includes Day of the Dead which is 2 November.

Halloween Horror Fiction I’m Writing

For this Halloween, I’ve been revising a short horror story fitting for the season. I actually wrote it last year about this time but it was too close to the holiday so I didn’t bother revising it until just this month. It’s a juvenile story. I say “juvenile” rather than young adult in this case because I’m trying to target it at a tween audience as well a teen one. Yet I’m hoping it can be enjoyed by adult readers too. Who knows, if you check here at the Fantastic Site tomorrow you may be able to read it for free as a Halloween treat! So check back tomorrow. If I don’t finish it in time, then I’ll try to have something here for you so you don’t feel like you wasted your time checking.

I’ve mostly been revising the story for character and am realizing how hard characterization and development can be. For example, I don’t know all the names of the clothes that today’s tweens wear and so I had to do my research on that. But the challenge was finding out the generic names for the clothes and ways to describe them so as not to use trademarked brand names and risk infringement. Most of this research I’ve done on retail stores’ websites. I’d go into other details of the challenges in revising this story but I don’t want to create any pumpkin spoilers.

Just this Tuesday I wrote a new horror short story. It was for my writers’ club that I’m a member of. The story is based on a special Halloween prompt we were given to write on. It’s not particularly a Halloween story, even though it is set during that time of year. It plays on the evil eye myth. The twist? Well, it’s kind of a twist: the eye has no body. As soon as I revise it fully I’ll publish it somewhere either in my next collection (that I haven’t really planned out yet but am getting ready to) or in another source. Whichever, I’ll let you know once it’s published.

Halloween Meets Day of the Dead

Something that has been making Halloween better each year is the apparent merging of the holiday with the Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). Though the purposes for celebrating the two holidays are different, the two have many similarities that depict the myths of the afterlife and netherworld that are so iconic in the skeleton. Because the two holidays fall only within two days of each other, Day of the Dead has even influenced the stores: there are actually Day of the Dead skull masks you can buy at party stores and even general retail chains such as Target. (Although I do not condone the extreme commercialism of the holiday.)

As a Mexican-American, what really makes me proud of this holiday growing in popular in the U.S. is the new animated movie that director Guillermo Del Toro helped produce, The Book of Life. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to see it myself but am sure to. However, this movie is great at introducing to people the Mexican holiday that, like Halloween, celebrates skeletons and ghosts (this second one many of whom our relatives have personally known!). But I’m so amused at how Day of the Dead is becoming more popular and mainstream each year to the level of Halloween that I decided to do a sketch of how I see the compatibility of the two:

A jack-o'-lantern wearing a Day of the Dead skull mask.

And this is no joke. I really do see the two that way.

Halloween Book List

Last time I said that I might have a list of my Halloween horror fiction reading. Here it is:

The Manitou, Graham Masterton: This 1976 novel about an evil spirit of a Native American medicine man was made into a movie later in the decade. The movie was far underrated in my opinion. I talk a little more about it in my previous post.

“Alive-Oh”, Lisa Morton: This is a short story about a man who goes to a Halloween haunted attraction which turns out to be more than he expects. Much more than he expects. It’s a very meaningful story with a social message while the story doesn’t try too hard to convey that message. It takes a really good twist on the haunted attraction horror story. In this one, the real horror may be very near to where we are sitting as we read it. You can check it out for free at The Horror Zine.

“Storyteller”, Nicholas Dahdah: Another short story from The Horror Zine. This one is Lovecraft-inspired but don’t worry, it’s not another Cthullu fan fiction piece. Even more, it’s far from amateur. This one actually features Lovecraft as one of the characters. Read the story and find out why.

The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre: The above Lovecraft-inspired story inspired me to read a couple of Lovecraft’s stories and so I decided to read them from this collection. One is “The Picture in the House” and the other “The Silver Key”. The first one has its own characters and storyline while the second is from the author’s Randolph Carter series of stories which are really good and can get really mind tripping.

Isaac Asimov’s Magical Worlds of Fantasy 2: Witches, edited by Isaac Asimov (and others): I haven’t read all the stories in this book yet, but the one I recently read for the season is “The Witch” by A.E. van Vogt. It’s about a seemingly helpless old woman cared for by a young couple. But the husband has his suspicions.

And these are stories I’m planning to read for Halloween:

The October Country, Ray Bradbury: This is the late Bradbury’s book of dark supernatural tales of which I try to read at least one each Halloween season.

An Edgar Allan Poe tale: For us avid readers, Halloween just wouldn’t be complete without one, right?

That’s it for now. And, as I said, I’ll have a Happy Halloween something for you tomorrow. So until then, take scare!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Last Standing Bookstore in Woodland

Halloween scene: cat glares at a skull that sits on an open book near a candle and owl.

I hadn’t been to Woodland’s last remaining bookstore, JerryCloutier’s Used Books, for a good two years at least, but finally went a couple Saturdays ago. I‘ve been looking for a couple of books that I was hoping to find used. Cloutier’s is a typical book lover’s (such as myself) paradise: old, dimly lit, and piled with books everywhere that are too many to fit the rows of bookcases. Some are piled as high as a person’s waist, and ones that are stacked on top of their cases nearly touch the ceiling.  Not only do the piles and cases together create a labyrinth but also an effect that, when you first walk into the store, makes the main isle appear to stretch further than it really does. When you walk down this isle looking at the section signs on the sides of the shelves, before you know it you’re at the end.

I know the owners, a 60-something couple, who are very nice and look like they could’ve been hippies in their younger days. The husband wasn’t there that afternoon, but the wife was whom I asked if she kept horror fiction in the science fiction/fantasy section. The closest thing I saw to a separate section for horror was the subgenres of vampire and paranormal romance that are so popular today. She said that she had dismantled her horror section a while back and shelved them mostly in general fiction. We talked a little bit about how the genres, especially in speculative fiction, overlap. She said this is especially so with science fiction/fantasy. I agree.

Genre overlap in fiction is more the case today than ever. Not only does speculative fiction have several subgenres such as zombie horror, vampire horror, steampunk, etc. but it also has mixed genres: science fiction murder mystery, space opera murder mystery (such as Beth Revis’s Across the Universe ), espionage horror (Charles Stross’s Laundry Files series), crime horror, vampire romance, the list goes on.

One of the books I was looking for at Cloutier’s was Graham Masterton’s The Manitou. This novel was made into a movie three years after its 1976 publication date. The movie was great with eye-catching special effects for its time. The book was one I actually had on my summer reading list but now have to move it to my Autumn/Halloween reading list. (This list is assumed and not an actual one that I made. However, maybe I’ll compose one for my next post which will be just in time for Halloween.) I didn’t get around to reading it during the summer, mostly because I wasn’t able to find it in my local bookstores that I like supporting. Then I found it that Saturday afternoon at Cloutier’s. They specialise in paperbacks but also offer a lot of hardcovers, some of them as old as half a century judging by the appearances of the covers (though, as the old saying goes, we should never judge a book by its cover).

As I said, Cloutier’s is the last standing bookstore in my home town of “Forbidden” Woodland. It’s a miracle that it’s still there and I pray that it will stand much longer in a town that doesn’t seem to embrace literariness that openly. But the survival of this store tells us that there are still Woodlanders around, and others of the surrounding Sacramento communities, who are not only willing to support the last of the few local, independently owned bookstores in our nation, but who also have an appreciation and some (like myself) even a passion for the printed book.

I plan to do a lot more of my shopping at Jerry Cloutier’s Used Books, at least when it comes to vintage paperbacks of the pre-digital book era (which is about 1995 and back, maybe) since those have freehand cover art that you cannot find on most of today’s book covers. Will I purchase newly released material at this bookstore? No. Cloutier’s doesn’t sell newly released books (unless, perhaps, someone happens to trade or sell one to them who is not only an avid reader but a rapid one as well.). Why should they? After all, you can get newly published books anywhere.

Until next time . . .