Category Archives: Guest Posts

Guest Article: Rachel Rebecca – The Ghost Who Haunted Me by Catherine Cavendish #promotehorror #hauntings #TheDarkestVeil

Hey all! Today we have a familiar face in writer friend Catherine Cavendish, who also happens to be one of my favorite authors. I love when Cat stops by with her guest articles – she has many times over the years here. A couple years ago I read her novel The Darkest Veil as an editor hoping to acquire for an indie press I was working for, but unfortunately, as with several manuscripts, I couldn’t get a chance to receive answers as the press was delaying all things. I’d have LOVED to work on and publish this book – I love it! I WAS able to acquire and serve as her editor on a short story for the anthology I co-edited, Haunted are These Houses, and it was a pleasure. Maybe one day I’ll get to work with Cat again!

Long story short, it’s a great book, as most all of Cat’s books, and I’m so glad that Crossroads Press picked it up to publish for her! It’s available now and I highly recommend it if you like gothic, haunting reads as I do. Check out this spine tingling article about the ghost who attached to her and then pick up The Darkest Veil!

Rachel Rebecca – The Ghost Who Haunted Me
by Catherine Cavendish, author of The Darkest Veil

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She attached herself to me – and that really is the only way I can describe the ‘latched on’ feeling that would swarm over me whenever I sensed she was around. I heard her name variously as ‘Rachel’ or ‘Rebecca’ until I became convinced that she possessed both those names, so Rachel Rebecca she became.

The year was 1973 and I was living in a small flat in Leeds. Not much more than a bedsit really, in a converted Victorian terraced house. Four other girls lived in the building, so why Rachel should choose to attach herself to me is a mystery I have never solved.

At first, she was a movement out of the corner of my eye that I couldn’t quite grab hold of. Then silly little things like tin openers, a hairbrush and spoons would disappear. I lived alone. No-one had a key to my flat and none of these items would reappear. It was as if some black hole had opened up and swallowed them. Now and again, the pre-remote control TV would change channel – on one occasion flicking through each of the three available stations before settling back on the original one.

Needless to say, I told no one.

Then I was promoted at work. Time to find a larger apartment and leave Rachel Rebecca behind. Or so I thought.

“Who’s that little girl?” my new boyfriend asked, three weeks after I’d moved into my lovely, shiny new flat.

I nearly dropped the bottle of Chianti I was pouring.

“What little girl?”

“The one over there, by the door. She’s smiling at you. Looks to me like she wants to play.”

pic 2 - credit Equinox Paranormal

Photo Credit: Equinox Paranormal

As if on cue, a small drinks mat slid off the table, which was easily within reach of where John had said she was standing.

I set the bottle carefully down on the sideboard. “Can you describe her?”

“She’s about ten or eleven, with long dark hair, in ringlets, and looks like she stepped off one of those Victorian Christmas cards.”

I took a deep breath. “Is her name Rachel? Did she follow me here from Mexborough Close?”

John shook his head. “Sorry, she faded out as you were talking.”

After that, things began to disappear out of drawers and off the mantelpiece, just as they had in my previous flat. Only this time, I heard girlish laughter when I knew there was no one around. I would feel a strong presence standing next to me in the kitchen and, when I turned to see who it was, a breeze fluttered my hair as if someone had rushed past me.

My relationship with John didn’t last the course and, in any case, he only ever saw her on that one occasion, so he couldn’t help with any more information.

Gradually things quieted down. Sometimes weeks would go by and nothing happened. Then I moved again. This time away from Leeds. But Rachel came with me.

I went to a service at the local Spiritualist Church, and the guest speaker connected with me. She described the little girl exactly as John had. She told me that children who pass over into the spirit world continue to behave as earthly children and this little girl was no different. She was mischievous and I must talk to her and tell her to behave. Then, with no prompting from me, the speaker said she heard the names ‘Rachel’ and ‘Rebecca’.

man trapped inside television

A few months later, I was watching my new TV, with its remote control next to me. Suddenly its red function light started flickering – something it would only do if a key was depressed. The volume started to rise.

“Stop it, Rachel! That’s very naughty. You are not to play with the remote control, do you understand?” It was the first – and only – time I spoke to her. The remote switched to ‘mute’.

Weeks of silence drifted into months. I moved to another city. This time Rachel didn’t follow me and I have neither heard nor experienced her since. I’ve often wondered where, and why, she went.

My new novella, The Darkest Veil, draws on the locations of my first encounters with Rachel Rebecca although there the similarity ends.

Eventually, I moved to a haunted building with a very different ghost but that, as they say, is a whole other story…

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We are the Thirteen and we are one

 4 Yarborough Drive looked like any other late 19th century English townhouse. Alice Lorrimer feels safe and welcomed there, but soon discovers all is not as it appears to be. One of her housemates flees the house in terror. Another disappears and never returns. Then there are the sounds of a woman wailing, strange shadows and mists, and the appearance of the long-dead Josiah Underwood who founded a coven there many years earlier. The house is infested with his evil, and Alice and her friends are about to discover who the Thirteen really are.

When death’s darkest veil draws over you, then shall shadows weep

The Darkest Veil is available from:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

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Catherine Cavendish, Biography –

pic 5 (2)Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. In addition to The Darkest Veil, Cat’s novels include The Haunting of Henderson Close, the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients, plus The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle Curse and Saving Grace Devine.

Her novellas include Linden Manor, Cold Revenge, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, Dark Avenging Angel, The Devil Inside Her, and The Second Wife

She lives by the sea in Southport, England with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat called Serafina who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue.

You can connect with Cat here:

Catherine Cavendish

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Guest Article: Writing Real Historical Figures Into Historical Fantasy with Judith Starkston

Last week I reviewed Judith Starkston’s first book in her new historical fantasy series about Tesha, a priestess and queen from the Bronze Age. I really enjoyed Priestess of Ishana (see my review here if you missed it) and felt it was the great start to a wonderful series. It published last year and now the second book, Sorcery in Alpara, is available today (see info below under the guest article)! Judith kindly has stopped by to talk about how she modeled Tesha off a real life queen. Isn’t that exciting? To history nerds, myself it is!! Take a look at that beautiful cover for book two and then enjoy the article.

Sorcery cover - 500x750px

 

The Queen Behind the Character
By Judith Starkston, author of Priestess of Ishana

I write historical fantasy based on the Bronze Age Hittites (c. 1275 BCE)—an empire of the ancient Near East nearly buried by the sands of time. In spite of the vivid glimpses of this lost kingdom brought to light by recent archaeology and the decipherment and translation of many thousands of clay tablets, there still remain vast gaps in historians’ knowledge. To be honest about my imaginative filling of those gaps, my storytelling combines fantasy and history.

For instance, I give my historical figures fictional names, though often only minimally different from their real names. I also let the magical religious beliefs of these historical people find full expression in the action. My “quarter turn to the fantastic,” to borrow Guy Gavriel Kay’s phrase, allows me to honor what we actually know while also owning up to my inventive extensions. Allowing room for the fantastical elements suggested by Hittite culture makes for the best storytelling.

What really drew me to this forgotten kingdom—one that stretched across what’s now Turkey into Syria and down into Lebanon—was one remarkable ruler, Queen Puduhepa. She ruled for decades over the most powerful empire of the Late Bronze Age, but because the Hittites were lost to history for so long, very few people know about her.

Puduhepa

King Hattusili III and Puduhepa / Wiki Commons

She ruled with her husband Hattusili III as an equal partner—often, in fact, as the more active ruler when her husband’s health limited his work. Queens under Hittite law and custom had high political power and remained rulers even when their husbands died, unlike other Near Eastern queens such as Babylonian and Egyptian. Most of the Hittite queens mentioned in the written Hittite records didn’t exercise this allowed power to such an extent, but Puduhepa had the personality and drive of a highly effective leader.

In my novels the character who represents Puduhepa is named Tesha after the Hittite word for ‘dream’ because the historic woman was famous for her visionary dreams, which she believed came from the goddess Ishtar as divine guidance (a goddess renamed Ishana in my fiction). The character of her husband, Hattusili, goes by the shortened name Hattu.

Puduhepa demonstrated brilliant skills as queen in many areas: administrative, diplomatic, judicial, and familial. Her most famous accomplishment was corralling Pharaoh Rameses II into a peace treaty. Egypt and the Hittites had fought a draining war in 1274 BCE. Neither kingdom was eager for a rematch, but Hattusili and Puduhepa had an even greater need than Egypt for stability. Several of Puduhepa’s letters to Ramses survive. They reveal a subtle diplomat with a tough but gracious core that allows her to stand up to Ramses without giving offense. When the final treaty was put on public display—in the form of a solid silver plaque, which sadly does not survive, although clay versions do—Puduhepa’s own seal was on one side, her husband’s on the other. They did sometimes use a joint seal. I think it’s revealing that on this most impressive accomplishment that depended so much on Puduhepa’s talents, they chose to use equal and independent seals. Thus, Puduhepa’s role is not subsumed under her husband’s.

I could not resist using the life of this exceptional queen as the basis for my main character, Tesha, in a historical fantasy series. The first book of the series, Priestess of Ishana, opens with the moment Tesha and Hattu meet—following the known details of this historical event. There was the ever so tantalizing detail in Hittite records that accusations of sorcery were brought against Hattusili around this same time. A love story and sorcery? Irresistible! The second book in the series, Sorcery in Alpara, carries on their story with a curse that consumes armies, a court full of traitors, a clutch of angry concubines and some fantastical creatures who appear regularly in Hittite art, but may not have actually walked the earth.

Tesha and the real queen behind my character offer an intriguing model of a female leader succeeding in ways that made the world more peaceful and just. So, if you like your fiction to be a mixture of worthwhile ideas, magical fun, and a unique, ancient world, give the Tesha series a read.

Sorcery cover - 500x750px

Sorcery in Alpara, Synopsis –
Tesha series,
Book Two

A curse that consumes armies, a court full of traitors, a clutch of angry concubines and fantastical creatures who offer help but hate mankind.

Tesha’s about to become queen of a kingdom under assault from all sides, but she has powerful allies: her strategist husband, his crafty second-in-command, and her brilliant blind sister.

Then betrayal strips her of them all. To save her marriage and her world, she will have to grapple with the serpentine plot against her and unleash the goddess Ishana’s uncontrollable magic—without destroying herself.

Purchase Link –

Amazon

Judith Starkston, Biography –

Author Photo (1)Judith Starkston has spent too much time reading about and exploring the remains of the ancient worlds of the Greeks and Hittites. Early on she went so far as to get degrees in Classics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cornell.

She loves myths and telling stories. This has gotten more and more out of hand. Her solution: to write historical fantasy set in the Bronze Age.

Hand of Fire was a semi-finalist for the M.M. Bennett’s Award for Historical Fiction. Priestess of Ishana won the San Diego State University Conference Choice Award.

Sign up for her newsletter on her website JudithStarkston.com for a free short story, book news and giveaways.

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Stay tuned in November for my review of Sorcery in Alpara!

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National Poetry Month: Talking about I Am Not Your Final Girl and Feminine Anger by Sonora Taylor #nationalpoetrymonth #poetry #metoo

Today, I am thrilled to welcome my friend Sonora Taylor to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! for the National Poetry Month project. I virtually met Sonora after she picked up and reviewed my own collection, Breathe. Breathe.. Afterwards, I found out we were both submitting pieces to the monthly ladies of horror flash project and we realized we had all sorts of similar interests and became friends. I’m excited she’s here to talk about her reading of the poetry collection I am Not Your Final Girl by Claire Holland and how things that happens to us in the world as females build pent-up anger that can no longer be held inside.

This is a great piece – I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. May we all stay mad.

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Stay Mad: “I Am Not Your Final Girl” and Feminine Anger
by Sonora Taylor, author of Without Condition

When you’re a woman, you spend a lot of time being angry. Or maybe not angry, but certainly upset, perturbed, maddened, or otherwise disturbed. It starts when a boy hurting you on the playground is dismissed as “him having a crush,” to being told to dismiss the sexist insults laid in your ears as just words, to learning to just walk away and forget it when a grown man yells to you and your teenage friends that “he smells p*ssy,” even though you hear it in your mind long after it happened.

Even when it’s not so blatant, there are little annoyances every day that come with being a woman. Being spoken to by strangers without any prompting, being overlooked at work or dismissed in group discussions, being frowned upon for the choices you make for yourself. Even when it’s not directly happening to you, you see what everyone thinks of you when you open a paper, turn on the television, or log on to any number of social media sites. “Slut” and “bitch” are interspersed with people who can’t believe women are this, can’t believe women said that, can’t believe women just are.

This isn’t to say that all who see women’s existence as an injustice want them to no longer be. Most want their survival, but they want it in the face of being able to hurt them. A woman’s role is to survive a never-ending barrage of wounds to her body and soul. In a sense, women are almost always the final girls of the horror movie of their life, taken piece by piece until they lay battered and broken.

But the beauty of the final girl is that she takes her damage and uses it to fight back. She claws at assault, defies the order of monsters and men by surviving for herself and not for their sadistic pleasures. It’s why we love these characters in horror films, why women keep coming back to these stories — even though we see violence against our bodies and souls, we see ourselves emerge triumphant by the end.

I-Am-Not-Your-Final-Girl

Such inspiration drives the spirit of a wonderful collection of poetry by Claire C. Holland. “I Am Not Your Final Girl” features poems named for several final girls, both well- and lesser-known, but all legendary in horror. From Halloween’s “Laurie” to Antichrist’s “She” (one of my favorite films), each poem dives into the emotional core of the titular final girl, a core that sometimes goes missing in their respective original stories. Even the best horror films sometimes eschew the emotional impact in favor of blood and guts, and stories that get into the emotions still cannot dive into one’s mind the way that prose and verse can.

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She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) from Antichrist

Holland fills in these gaps with both the character’s canonical emotions and her own imagining of what the characters are thinking — as well as her response to what each woman goes through. “Thomasin” (from The Witch) shares the story of a girl who tried to do right, but was only rewarded when she did right by herself. “Selena” (from 28 Days Later, my favorite horror film) delves into the struggle of a woman who fought tooth and nail to save a society that, in the end, wanted to survive by harming her and other women. Every woman’s story, and every woman’s subsequent poem, is different; but all are united in that they survive the barrage that is all too familiar to the feminine spirit.

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Selena (Naomie Harris)  from 28 Days Later

Holland opens the collection with an essay about her ongoing anger since 2016. I’ve felt the same anger since 2016, felt shades of it before 2016, have felt it in various degrees throughout my life. When I picked up her collection, I was especially mad at the dismissal of several qualified women candidates for president in lieu of another white, cis-male face. I read Holland’s words and felt my anger manifesting into something better, something I could cradle and use to keep my fight up as opposed to keeping my spirits down. That feeling continued as I read her recounting of the final girls that fought and clawed their way to the bloody end. I plan to make it to whatever comes next — and I plan to stay mad.

Sonora Taylor, Biography

sonora-taylor-2.jpgSonora Taylor is the author of Without Condition, The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, Wither and Other Stories, and Please Give. Her work has appeared in The Sirens Call, Mercurial Stories, Tales to Terrify, and Camden Park Press’ Quoth the Raven. She’s currently working on her next short story collection, Little Paranoias: Stories. She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband. Visit her online on her website.

And check out I am Not Your Final Girl – 

AI-Am-Not-Your-Final-Girl timely collection of poetry that follows the final girl of slasher cinema – the girl who survives until the end – on a journey of retribution and reclamation.

From the white picket fences of 1970s Haddonfield to the apocalyptic end of the world, Holland confronts the role of women in relation to subjects including feminism, violence, motherhood, sexuality, and assault in the world of Trump and the MeToo movement.

Each poem centers on a fictional character from horror cinema, and explores the many ways in which women find empowerment through their own perceived monstrousness.

Find it on GoodReads.

Photo Creds –

“Selena (Naomie Harris)  from 28 Days Later. Photo: joblo.com.” https://www.joblo.com/movie-news/why-it-works-28-days-later-167-02
“She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) from Antichrist. Photo: IMDB.” https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0870984/mediaindex?ref_=tt_pv_mi_sm

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National Poetry Month: Sara Tantlinger Brings Us Poem on the 1893 World’s Fair and a Discussion on Involvement of Serial Killer H.H. Holmes #nationalpoetrymonth #poetry

Natl Poetry Month pen

April is National Poetry Month and because I write, read, and love poetry, I’m featuring poetry on my site this month! You’ll find poetry, articles, reviews, and more by writers I admire and adore, and also some new poetry writers as well, so stop by often. Tuesday, Bram Stoker Award winning poet Marge Simon brought us a wonderful article called “Illumination Dark Poetry” with various examples of her poetry, which you can find here and yesterday we read some samples from Bram Stoker Award winning dynamo, Stephanie Wytovich, which you can enjoy here.

Today, Sara Tantlinger joins us with a poem from her Bram Stoker Award nominated recent collection The Devil’s Dreamland, which features poems surrounding serial murderer H.H. Holmes. We are able to read the poem below as well as a discussion by Sara about the themes and locale of the piece – the 1893 World’s Fair – and H.H. Holmes and his involvement in it. As some of my historical fiction friends know, I am a World’s Fair and carnival fanatic. I love anything revolving around it!! Mix that with my obsession with true crime, you’re making me shiver in delight. That means I really enjoyed Sara’s poem and article – I hope you do too!

Thanks, Sara!

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An H.H. Holmes Poem Analysis
by Sara Tantlinger, author of The Devil’s Dreamland

Thank you so much to Erin for hosting some poetry fun on her website for National Poetry Month! I am excited to contribute with a poem from The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, and to provide a little backstory and history on the poem. The piece is titled “World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair)”, referencing the very fair that helped make serial killer H.H. Holmes famous.

Without further ado, please enjoy the poem!

World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair)

1893, we celebrate the 400th anniversary

of the barbaric slaughtering

Christopher Columbus brought

unto a new world,

but you will find no anger

toward his history here

as the fairgrounds take form, as visitors

flock in droves to taste the excitement

flickering in the air like pixie dust

 

People keep dying,

workers falling from buildings

accidents in the form of skull

fractures and electrocution

all this death contained within

designing the great fair,

 

yet a madman paces inside

his castle, creating spaces

where supposed accidents

will swallow visitors whole

 

a madman forges his dreams

into piping hot realities

where his World’s Fair Hotel

promises spectacular service

so very close to the fair itself

 

Opening Day comes upon the city

in jovial bursts of color,

mouthwatering scents of exotic

pastries and delicacies from themed

exhibits stationed around the park,

thousands of visitors holding their

breath for President Cleveland

to push a button that ignites

a hundred thousand

glowing lamps across the fields,

illuminating neoclassical figures,

the work of men named Tesla

and Westinghouse

 

Dr. Holmes turns away men at the door,

citing reasons of already being booked

to capacity, yet the young women

stroll right in, are welcomed,

intoxicated by their own freedom

blushing at the handsome doctor

who offers great prices,

who offers warm touches

 

they do not see how excitement alerts

trembles into his fingertips,

eager to taste innocence, summon

screeches from their tender tracheas

lick away saccharine death from dying lips,

listen to the snapping of a windpipe,

 

hungry to snuff out light from

wide eyes,

hungry to cut the lights open,

sever the heart to see how it beats

beneath such fine skin,

glowing like the thousand lamps

across the enchanted fairgrounds

(Originally published in The Devil’s Dreamland, StrangeHouse Books, 2018).

About the Poem –

The fair of 1893 was a magical time. The undertaking and thus construction of everything the fair needed to be successful was an exasperating project. I wanted the poem to reflect the enchantment this exposition offered. After all, people arrived in the thousands during the fair’s run – people from all across the globe. Over 20 million people ended up attending the fair altogether!

This was Chicago’s chance to show the world how beautifully they recovered from the Great Chicago Fire. Gone was the soot and wreckage of the fiery aftermath, and in its place stood a gleaming white city, warm and inviting. However, the poem also needed to honestly reflect what the fair organizers and architects didn’t want anyone to see….

1893 Worlds Fair

While the shine of the fair easily put forth its best face, a true darkness lingered beneath the food, exhibits, new buildings, rides, and everything else the celebration displayed. Construction workers died during the assembly of the fair. A fire broke out in July killing over a dozen fairgoers and firefighters. The White City was a fairytale. Outside the fair, animal corpses rotted on the streets. Stockyards and factories filled Chicago with smoke and filth. Garbage piled up along roads. Poverty and disease were no strangers here. And of course, a madman paced inside a castle fit for Bluebeard himself.

While it’s unlikely H.H. Holmes is responsible for hundreds of murders, he evolved into a tall-tale of someone who invited hundreds of women to stay at his hotel where he supposedly killed them all. This has never really been proven. While the fair showed great strides in science (like Tesla’s work), forensic evidence was not quite evolved enough to give us the solid facts we need to know everything Holmes might have done. However, we are quite sure he did take Minnie Williams and her sister Anna to the fair (I have more poems about their fates in my collection). So, for this piece, I took both fact and fiction, truths and exaggerated ideas, and spun them into a version that fits the Holmes of my book. Either way, this is one fair I think we should all be glad is far in the past.

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Sara Tantlinger, Biography –

Tantlinger_ap2019Sara Tantlinger resides outside of Pittsburgh on a hill in the woods. She is the author of Love For Slaughter and the Stoker-nominated The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, both released with StrangeHouse Books. She is a poetry editor for the Oddville Press, a graduate of Seton Hill’s MFA program, a member of the SFPA, and an active member of the HWA.

Her debut novella, To Be Devoured, will be published in July 2019 with Unnerving. She embraces all things strange and can be found lurking in graveyards or on Twitter @SaraJane524 and at saratantlinger.com

The Devil’s Dreamland, Info –

The Devil's Dreamland full rezH.H. Holmes committed ghastly crimes in the late 19th century. Many of which occurred within his legendary “Murder Castle” in Chicago, Illinois. He is often considered America’s first serial killer.

In her second book of poetry from Strangehouse Books, Sara Tantlinger (Love For Slaughter) takes inspiration from accounts and tales which spawned from the misdeeds of one Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. Fact and speculation intertwine herein, just as they did during the man’s own lifetime.

There’s plenty of room in the cellar for everyone in The Devil’s Dreamland.

“…chilling poetry…” —Linda D. Addison, award-winning author of “How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend” and HWA Lifetime Achievement Award winner

“…morbidly creative and profound crime documentary…one of the best works of horror poetry I’ve read in years.” —Michael Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Grave Markings and Play Dead

“…fascinating and absolutely riveting…powerful and vivid prose…will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.”—Christina Sng, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of A Collection of Nightmares

Purchase on Amazon

Add to your GoodReads

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National Poetry Month: Poetry from Bram Stoker Award Winner Stephanie Wytovich #nationalpoetrymonth #poetry

April is National Poetry Month and because I write, read, and love poetry, I’m featuring poetry on my site this month! You’ll find poetry, articles, reviews, and more so stop by often. Yesterday, Bram Stoker Award winning poet Marge Simon brought us a wonderful article called “Illumination Dark Poetry” with various examples of her poetry, which you can find here.

Today, please enjoy some samples from Bram Stoker Award winning dynamo, Stephanie Wytovich. I dare you not to feel.

Thanks for sharing with us, Stephanie!

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Surgical Fantasies of the Past Ten years
Originally Published in Yes, Poetry

I tattoo incision lines on my stomach,
dream about surgically removing my ugliness.

At sixteen, the girls put laxatives in my peppermint tea,
laughed at me in the mirror when I tried to scream away my calories.

At 26, I cried in the shower when my skin didn’t fall off,
vomited the memories of my ex telling me I was diseased.

Inside, my lungs are a crawl space filled with candy wrappers,
my ribs broken from too many bathroom breaks ending in blood.

There are 206 bones in the human body,
Tell me, how many are in a monster?

 

____

 

Emergency Masturbation Fantasy
Originally Published in Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare

I masturbate to an empty chair

My hand moving up and down

like yours never did

I try to see your face

Scream your name

But     I       can’t

And I wonder if you exist

If my memories are from photographs of people I never met

Whose stories I don’t know

I climax to your eyes

Taste the saliva on your lips

But       I           don’t

Because you’re an empty chair

And my box is broken

Like yours never was

I should stop blaming myself

Quit bleeding for sport

But       I           won’t.

 

___

 

Post-Traumatic Spiders
Originally Published in Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare

My doctor scribbled in her notepad,

“What do you want to talk about today?”

I was already crying

I ate all the cough drops on the table when she wasn’t looking

Her dog was asleep on my foot

I just left my one-night stand in the parking lot.

Frustration wore on her face like the foundation she forgot to wear

“Are the nightmares back?”

I spun my ring around my thumb

I thought about how you said I wore too much jewelry

I tongued the scar on the inside of my cheek

The tarantulas are everywhere.

Her right foot tapped against the carpeted floor

“You know it’s okay, right? That none of this is your fault?”

I didn’t believe her

I felt its legs crawling up my shoulder

I watched it watch me.

I could have stopped it. I could have said no.

 Fifty minutes passed like fifty seconds

“Same time again next Wednesday?

I nodded my head

I picked the spider off my cheek

I swallowed the web it had spun around my mouth

The silk tasted like semen and blood.

Stephanie M. Wytovich, Biography –

Wytovich Headshot_4Stephanie M. Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her work has been showcased in numerous anthologies such as Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Fantastic Tales of Terror, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror: Volume 2, The Best Horror of the Year: Volume 8, as well as many others.

Wytovich is the Poetry Editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Point Park University, and a mentor with Crystal Lake Publishing. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction.

Her Bram Stoker Award-winning poetry collection, Brothel, earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press alongside Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, and Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare. Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.

Follow Wytovich on her blog and on twitter @SWytovich​.

Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare is her most recent collection. Read about it here!

Sheet Music Front CoverSheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare, Info –

Roll the windows down, wipe the blood off your cheek, and turn the music up. Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare by Stephanie M. Wytovich is a collection spattered with dirt and blood, sage and corpses. The poems inside are confessionals and dirges, their stories the careful banter of ghosts and sinners over tequila at the bar.

These pages hold the lyrics to the beautiful grotesque that Wytovich is known for, but here she writes with a raw honesty that we haven’t seen from her before. This new direction takes readers to hospital rooms and death beds, shows the mask that was skinned off her face time and time again. There’s a brutality to her lines that cuts with the same knife she fantasized about it, her blood and tears mixed in with stanzas as she talks about suicide and abuse, heartbreak and falling in love.

Written during a time when the road was her home, these poems were sung under the stars and screamed in the woods, carved into trees. They are broken bottles and cigarette butts, stale coffee and smeared lipstick, each its own warning, a tale of caution.
Listen to them carefully.

They very well might save your life.

Find it on GoodReads to Add or Buy.

Stop back tomorrow for a post from Sara Tantlinger. Then, join us next week when we highlight a bunch more wonderful poetry. Have a great week!

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Filed under Guest Posts, poetry, women in horror

Guest Article: The Ghost With The Bandage and Other Apparitions by Catherine Cavendish

Today I welcome back a very special writer friend, Catherine Cavendish. If you follow my site, you probably have read some very interesting guest articles from her here in the past, and without fail, she’s written one again that’s sure to spook you! Of course, she is talking about ghosts, in celebration of her newest release, THE HAUNTING OF HENDERSON CLOSE, from Flame Tree press. I am so very happy for Catherine about this release and I can’t wait to dig in. It’s one my most highly anticipated novels of the year as well my favorite cover so far. I’ll also have an interview with Catherine in the near future so stay tuned!

Enjoy…and be spooked…

The Ghost With The Bandage and Other Apparitions

by Catherine Cavendish, author of The Haunting of Henderson Close

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Famed as Scotland’s spookiest castle, Leith Hall in Aberdeenshire was the home of the Leith-Hay family for nearly 300 years since it was built in 1650 and is now a favourite location for ghosthunters. The Most Haunted TV crew filmed an episode here, with medium Derek Acorah. He proclaimed that a tree in the grounds had been used for hangings, and rope marks are indeed visible in the branches.

But who are the ghosts? Probably the most commonly seen is the ghost of former owner John Leith III who came to a most ignominious end when he was shot in a drunken brawl in Aberdeen in 1763. In critical condition, he was brought home to Leith Hall where he succumbed to his injuries three days later. He seems unable to move on though and appears wearing dark green trousers and a shirt. A filthy once-white bandage is wrapped around his head, covering his eyes and he wanders around, seemingly in great pain and distress at his injuries. Novelist Elizabeth Byrd reported seeing him on July 16th 1968 in the bedroom in which she was staying. She said he appeared as solid as a living man but when she shouted at him to go away, he simply vanished in the direction of a window behind a dressing table. After that experience, she refused to spend another night in that room. I can understand why!

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John Leith III

A ghost of a woman wearing Victorian dress has also been reported, although her identity remains a mystery. There have been sounds of a lady laughing, sudden changes in temperature, heavy footsteps and the feeling of being touched by invisible hands.

Leith Hall is positively crowded with apparitions and others include a governess and a young child as well as a young soldier. There are strange smells, including camphor and food, the sound of children playing – some have even been seen. The ghosts come from different eras in the Hall’s long and colourful history.

In 1746, Jacobite Andrew Hay of Rannes hid there, fleeing from the massacre of the Battle of Culloden. He eventually made his escape to France and was pardoned by King George in 1746 – documentation to this effect is still in existence in the Hall. Fast forward to World War I and the Hall became a temporary military hospital where soldiers who had been dreadfully injured were housed and cared for.

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Henrietta Leith-Hay gifted Leith Hall to the National Trust for Scotland in 1945, remaining there until her death in 1963. It is open to the public from the beginning of April until the end of September. If you go there, expect the unexpected. In the dining room, the atmosphere has been reported as being so heavy, it is almost suffocating. You may not want to remain in there for too long. Likewise, the bedroom where Elizabeth Byrd had her frightening encounter has been known to exude a claustrophobic and heavy atmosphere that visitors have found off-putting. Some visitors who have stayed there have felt as if they were being smothered in their bed or, in some cases, have experienced nightmares where they felt hands squeezing their throat. They have also felt someone was in the room, even though there was no one but them there.

A painting in the drawing room – The Flight into Egypt – appears to give visitors a start too. Poor Elizabeth Byrd had a sighting here as well. She saw a large man with a beard in the picture. She pointed it out to her fellow guests – but only she could see it.

So, not for the faint-hearted perhaps, but well worth a visit. The house is different. It’s quirky and full of fascinating objects, along with its host of ghosts.

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For ghosts of a different kind, here’s what to expect from The Haunting of Henderson Close:

Ghosts have always walked there. Now they’re not alone…

In the depths of Edinburgh, an evil presence is released. Hannah and her colleagues are tour guides who lead their visitors along the spooky, derelict Henderson Close, thrilling them with tales of spectres and murder. For Hannah it is her dream job, but not for long. Who is the mysterious figure that disappears around a corner? What is happening in the old print shop? And who is the little girl with no face? The legends of Henderson Close are becoming all too real.

The Auld De’il is out – and even the spirits are afraid.

The Haunting of Henderson Close is available from:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Flame Tree Press

Catherine Cavendish, Biography –

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Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. In addition to The Haunting of Henderson Close, Cat’s novels include the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients, plus The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle Curse and Saving Grace Devine.

Her novellas include Linden Manor, Cold Revenge, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, Dark Avenging Angel, The Devil Inside Her, and The Second Wife

She lives with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue. Cat and her family divide their time between Liverpool and a 260-year-old haunted apartment in North Wales.

You can connect with Cat here –

Catherine Cavendish

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Guest Article: Four Activities to Teach Your Kids About Other Cultures by Anna Levine

Today I welcome Anna Levine to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Last week, my daughter’s and I reviewed her picture book All Eyes on Alexander. We loved it and you can see that review HERE! Now, she offers us some educational ideas to be done with children after reading the book. Thanks, Anna!

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Where in the World…?
A few fun activities to learn about different cultures!

All Eyes on Alexandra is a picture book about a crane that flies from Europe to Africa. Let Alexandra introduce your child to the world.

1. Play the migration game. The Smithsonian has a wonderful on-line migration game. Fun questions teach about the habits of a Wood Thrush that migrates from Costa Rica to Maryland. https://nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/play-migration-game

2. Follow the Leader. Alexandra leads her family in their Vee. Here’s an opportunity to talk about good leaders, people who take responsibility and have the courage to trust themselves and develop their potential.

3. Choose a continent and take a closer look. How many countries are there? How many languages? What’s the climate like? What foods are eaten there and what do they grow? Try cooking up something you’ve never tried before. Experiment with the taste of a culture while listening to the music popular in the country you’ve chosen.

4. Every day’s a holiday! Find out what holidays are celebrated on which days of the year in different countries around the world. Celebrate with the colors, food, and music of that country.

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About All Eyes on Alexandra –

 In All Eyes on Alexandra, young Alexandra Crane is terrible at following her family in their flying Vee. She can’t help it that the world is so full of interesting distracting sights! When it’s time for the Cranes to migrate to Israel’s Hula Valley for the winter, Alexandra is excited but her family is worried. Will Alexandra stay with the group, and what happens if a dangerous situation should arise? Might Alexandra—and the rest of the flock—discover that a bad follower can sometimes make a great leader?

Based on the true story of Israel’s annual crane migration.

Print Length: 32 Pages

Genre: Children’s Picture Book

Publisher: Kar-Ben Pub

ISBN-10: 1512444391

ISBN-13: 978-1512444391

All Eyes on Alexandra is available to purchase on AmazonBarnes and NobleTarget and Thrift Books.

Author Anna Levine, Biography –

Author photoAnna Levine is an award-winning children’s book author. Like Alexandra Crane, the character in her latest picture book, she loves to explore new worlds.

Born in Canada, Anna has lived in the US and Europe.  She now lives in Israel, where she writes and teaches.

You can find Anna Levine online at –

Author website

Twitter: @LevineAnna 

Instagram: @booksfromanna 

About the Illustrator, Chiara Pasqualotto,

artistChiara Pasqualotto was born in Padua, in northern Italy, currently teaches illustration and drawing classes to children and adults, in particular in Padua during the summer at the Scuola Internazionale di Comics and in Rome.

Since 2008 she’s been living in Rome and working with illustration professionally: her first picture book, Mine, All Mine! was published in 2009 by Boxer Books (UK), since then she published with Oxford University Press, Giunti, Terranuova and some American publishers (Paraclete Press, Tyndale, LearningAZ, Kar-Ben Publisher).

You can find Chiara Pasqualotto online at –

Artist website

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Enjoy reading with your kids and have a good week!

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Guest Article: Is There Anybody There? by Author Catherine Cavendish

Is There Anybody There?
by Catherine Cavendish, author of Damned by the Ancients

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In my novel, Damned by the Ancients, a little girl with a special gift is targeted by the evil and long-dead Dr. Emeryk Quintillus. She even becomes possessed by a dead woman. In real life there are numerous well documented cases of demonic possession and many involve the use of ouija boards or another spirit game called ‘Charlie Charlie’. More of that one later but, for now, let’s have a look at some of the alleged evidence levelled at the use of ouija boards.

Three or four years ago, there were a number of separate cases of students who apparently fell into a trance while playing with the board. They were believed – or believed themselves – to be possessed by malignant spirits. Fellow players saw them behaving oddly, speaking in strange voices and generally acting contrary to their normal natures. Needless to say, as is the way of things, the more the stories circulated, the wilder they became.

One such case dates from November 2014 and involved a group of 35 school students from Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia. They were playing with an ouija board when they began to suffer from a range of maladies, resulting in hospital treatment. The children exhibited mental distress, trance-like states, rapid pulse rates and profuse sweating. Central and South America seems to be a hotbed for ouija enthusiasts and reports of demonic possession and mass fainting abound – Mexico being a particular centre.

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In fact Mexico currently holds the record for the largest outbreak of ouija-attributed illness so far recorded. In 2006-2007, up to 600 children at a 4,500 girls’ only, strict, Catholic boarding school near Mexico City began to show alarming physical symptoms. Headaches and difficulty in walking without the help of a fellow student were just two of the problems reported. The symptoms would vanish and then recur.

Psychiatrist Nashviela Loa Zavala investigated and concluded the cause was mass hysteria (or in his words, mass psychogenic illness). She discovered that a student at the school had used an ouija board to try and influence the outcome of a basketball game. The student, called Maria, had been summarily expelled for using the game but, in her extreme anger, had allegedly cursed the school.  The psychiatrist learned that, shortly after this, two of her former friends and fellow ouija board enthusiasts began to exhibit the symptoms. It seems belief in the supernatural power of the board and the existence of demons and evil spirits, along with rumours that Maria’s mother was a witch, led to the mass hysteria Dr Zavala diagnosed.

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Now, what is the ‘Charlie Charlie’ game?

Here we can blame social media (can’t we always?). In 2015, this simple form of ouija, originating many years ago in Spain, along with Spanish speaking countries in Central and South America, spread quickly thanks to the power of Twitter and the odd Youtube video. All that is needed is to draw a simple grid as shown on the illustration. In the centre of the grid, place two pencils on top of each other. Now ask closed questions (i.e. those that require a simple ‘yes or no’ answer). You are summoning the supernatural entity called Charlie. First ask him, ‘Charlie, are you there?’ Watch the pencils. The top pencil is the one which will indicate whether a spirit is in attendance. If it begins to pivot, watch where it points and you have the answer to your question. Charlie is communicating with you. Or, of course a draught may have wafted through the room, someone may have breathed a little too heavily, a truck may have thundered past the window, setting up vibrations…

A hundred and one things could be responsible, but belief that a spirit really had joined them was enough to cause four Columbian students to wind up in hospital, ‘screaming and babbling’ as a result of playing ‘Charlie Charlie’. In the same month (May 2015) in Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and St Lucia reports flooded in of school children playing the game and ending up falling unconscious, slipping into trances and experiencing confused mental states. The following month, in the Dominican Republic, it was alleged that several young children in a primary school had been ‘possessed by the devil’ while playing the game.

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Of course as with any belief in the supernatural, proving the link between Ouija boards or the ‘Charlie Charlie’ game and evil (or even benign) spirits is impossible to prove (or disprove actually!). Those who are convinced they are in contact with a demon will not be swayed. Those who remain skeptical will point to the laws of science. The two positions are polar opposites.

What do I believe? Whether there is truly anything in it or not, my own experience has made me extremely wary of playing with occult games. When I was eighteen years old, two friends and I had a pretty scary experience with a home-made Ouija board and a heavy-duty water glass that shot across the room and shattered against the wall. This was only after it had spelled out a stream of abuse and obscenities – the like of which none of the three of us would ever use in conversation.

Best to be safe. Leave spirit games to the movies and books.

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Not that this would have helped poor nine-year-old Heidi. Here’s what to expect in Damned by the Ancients…

INFINITY IN DEATH

Vienna, 1908

Gabriele Ziegler is a young art student who becomes infatuated with charismatic archeologist Dr. Emeryk Quintillus. Only too late does she realize his true designs on her. He is obsessed with resurrecting Cleopatra and has retained the famed artist Gustav Klimt to render Gabriele as the Queen of the Nile, using ashes from Cleopatra’s mummy mixed with the paint. The result is a lifelike portrait emitting an aura of unholy evil . . .

Vienna, 2018

The Mortimer family has moved into Quintillus’s former home, Villa Dürnstein. In its basement they find an original Klimt masterpiece—a portrait of Cleopatra art scholars never knew existed. But that’s not all that resides within the villa’s vault. Nine-year-old Heidi Mortimer tells her parents that a strange man lives there.

Quintillus’s desire to be with Cleopatra transcends death. His spirit will not rest until he has brought her back from the netherworld. Even if he has to sacrifice the soul of a child . . .

Damned by the Ancients is available from:

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Apple

Google

Kobo

Kensington Publishing

Catherine Cavendish, Biography –

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Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. Cat’s novels include the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients, plus The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle Curse and Saving Grace Devine.

Her novellas include Linden Manor, Cold Revenge, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, Dark Avenging Angel, The Devil Inside Her, and The Second Wife

She lives with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue. Cat and her family divide their time between Liverpool and a 260-year-old haunted apartment in North Wales.

You can connect with Cat here:

 Catherine Cavendish

Facebook

Twitter

Goodreads

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Guest Article: Kevin Lucia on Things You Need, from Clifton Heights Series

Hi everyone! Kevin Lucia stopped by with a guest article in conjunction with the release of his new novel from Crystal Lake Press, called THINGS YOU NEED (out Sept. 28, 2018), which is another release in his Clifton Heights world in the Adirondacks. I really love Kevin’s writing style as its unique and best described, I believe, as cosmic horror leaning very heavily towards quiet horror with a supernatural bent. As Mallory Heart Reviews said, “It creeps up on you with little tiny cat feet.” To me, that’s one of the best types of horror. With Clifton Heights, you can think of Stephen King building up his fictional town of Castle Rock, but as with that, all Kevin’s books have individual story lines. In Things You Need, it’s a collection of short stories with individual story lines as well from the town, and a wrap-around story that makes it even more interesting.

Lucia’s characters quite come alive off the page. Actually, I should say his character Gavin Patchett is the one here at Oh, for the Hook of a Book to talk to us, Lucia was just the facilitator! Patchett will tell us about his investigation into the closing of Blackfort Valley Sports Camp and some….well…interesting accidents that had occurred there, accounts of strange-eyed young men, and an eerie quiet that befalls at night….
Things You Need cover

That’s enough to have me intrigued, you? Let’s let Mr. Patchett take over for now, but this also foreshadows a free novella in the Clifton Heights world that will be out from Lucia around Halloween, called Long Night in the Valley.

***

Rest in Peace, Blackfoot Valley

After two decades of sitting in neglected ruin, Blackfoot Valley Sports Camp  – on Kipp Hill Road, just outside of Clifton Heights – is finally being laid to rest, some twenty years after its “death.” Looking back, I suppose its end was inevitable. Camp owner Jerry Ruben had quietly battled Multiple Sclerosis his entire adult life, though for most of his tenure as camp director, it had remained safely in remission. No one – not even his colleagues – knew of his condition.

His last three years of ownership, however, the MS reared its ugly head. Amidst growing complications, Jerry struggled to run the camp with his usual efficiency. Many folks say they remember how tired he seemed those last three years. Tired, distracted, and distant. He was far more than tired, of course.

He was dying.

And though no one knew it, Blackfoot Valley was slowly dying with him.

Something more than Jerry Rueben’s illness was brewing back then, however. Something changed at Blackfoot Valley after I last worked here as a counselor the summer of 1992. There were accidents, and deaths. Earlier this week I did some digging on the Internet. According to several archived articles of the Utica Times, I learned these accidents and deaths happened after a failed attempt to build more cabins in the woods behind camp.

Because even though he was dying of MS, Rueben was apparently attempting to expand his operation. His purpose seemed hazy at the time – enrollment at camp was falling, so there was no real need for more cabins – but the construction went ahead, regardless. Maybe because he was sick and fighting for something to hold on to, those around him conceded to his plans. He had the money, he wanted to expand…so why not?

Anyway, before reading those articles, I vaguely remembered hearing something about several bad accidents at Blackfoot Valley while I was away at Webb Community College. What I read in the articles shocked me, however. Apparently, over the course of two months, four workers mysteriously fell to their deaths in the small valley behind the cabins, Blackfoot Valley itself, the one from which the camp owes its name.

No one saw them fall. They were discovered in the morning before work, or at the end of the day, or after lunch, crumpled at the bottom of the valley, their necks broken. Officials couldn’t understand how they fell. The valley’s bottom was certainly filled with dangerous rocks, and the valley was deep enough for a fall to be fatal. But the newly constructed cabins were at least thirty feet from the valley’s edge. The workers had no call to come near the valley…at that time, anyway.

Apparently, there had been plans to construct steps and railings down into the valley, for some vague reason Jerry Rubin never clearly articulated. Something about a “nature walk” for a “different kind of summer camp” he was planning. I discovered exactly what kind of camp through my Internet digging.

According to several more archived articles I found, more deaths and accidents followed, even after the expansion was canceled. Again, four in all, also involving the valley behind camp in some way. The first incident involved Laura Mason, a junior from Utica-Rome. The next, Grace Williams, a local who had worked here as a counselor during Cross Country Camp. The last accident which happened while Blackfoot Valley was still in operation hammered the final “nail” into its coffin. Micah Cassidy – a counselor – saw a promising college basketball future destroyed, along with his knee.

That summer turned out to be Blackfoot Valley’s last as the camp many of us had all known and loved. In the off season, during my junior year of college, Jerry Ruben quietly sold Blackfoot Valley to an out-of-town buyer looking to run a summer “spiritual retreat for youth.” This is where, according to some other articles I’ve discovered, Jerry’s expansion plans could be traced. Before his MS had gotten too bad, Jerry had been in partnership with these out-of-town buyers. His plan had been to change the focus of the camp all along, to make it into a “different kind of summer camp.” What kind of “different” summer camp would become apparent soon enough.

Jerry died a year after the sale. Sometimes, in my crueler moments, I wonder if he died in shame over what he’d planned for Blackfoot Valley.

No one knew much about Blackfoot Valley’s new owners, nor did anyone know or understand Jerry’s motivations for partnering with them. They did little to engage the locals. Technically, Blackfoot Valley sits outside Clifton Heights town limits, so the new owners apparently dealt more with Webb County and not Clifton Heights. Under its new ownership, the camp wasn’t open to local youth. It billed itself as a “private spiritual retreat” and was planning on serving only privileged clientele from out of town.

Rumors spread from the very start that the new “spiritual retreat” was little more than a waystation for rich families to dump their kids. Folks in Clifton Heights whispered the camp itself had become a week-long celebration of decadent teenage vice. In the first few years of its new ownership, people reported driving by the camp late at night and hearing loud music and what sounded like an everlasting rave party. Folks also whispered about the strange-eyed young men – presumably camp counselors – who came into town to buy large quantities of liquor and beer during the weeks camp was operating.

According to the rumors, something changed about three years into Blackfoot Valley’s new ownership. The late-night parties ceased, as well as stories of hearing loud music and carousing. People spoke of an eerie quiet descending over the camp, especially at night. The strange-looking college boys still came into town for booze, but they seemed even stranger, and more distant, if that were possible.

That’s when the new stories began spreading. Ones a little more difficult to blame on hard feelings. Stories more fantastic, improbable, even implausible. The “spiritual retreat” at Blackfoot Valley had become a cult. Camp counselors led their charges in devil worship and orgies. And no one – down to the last person – had anything good to say about those vacant eyed, distant-looking college boys who came into town for booze. They acted strangely mechanical, it was said. As if they were pretending to be regular people and didn’t quite know how to act the part.

How credible are these stories?

Hard to tell. It’s tempting to chalk them up to free-floating resentment about Blackfoot Valley’s sale and Jerry Ruben’s apparent betrayal. For years, Blackfoot Valley Sports Camp was the northeast’s finest summer sports instruction camp, right in our backyard. Local sports legends – such as Micah Cassidy, Kevin Ellison, and Grace Matthews – had honed their skills here. Though I was never more than a seventh man at All Saints, I did also. When a shadowy out of town owner bought it in a deal apparently brokered by Ruben himself, Clifton Heights folks took it personal. I’d like to believe lingering bitterness accounted for most of those rumors.

Still.

The stories of those distant, strange-acting college boys makes me wonder. We get our share of drunken college guys from of our own Webb Community College, and nearby Utica State. Folks grumble about them incessantly, but in an affectionate, possessive way. They may be loud, obnoxious, disrespectful louts…but they’re our loud, obnoxious, disrespectful louts.

The way they talk about those camp counselors? No such affection. More like a barely repressed loathing, as if they’re holding back shivers as they speak of them.

In any case, because the camp’s suddenly cloistered state, and maybe also because of this repressed sort of revulsion for the new camp counselors, over the next three years Clifton Heights and all of Webb County entered in a willful denial of the camp’s continued existence. Slowly but surely, people did their best to banish it from their collective thoughts.

Eventually, those odd counselors stopped coming into town. I imagine folks wondered about that, but figured – and prayed – they’d decided to go elsewhere for their beer, like Old Forge or Whitelake. In any case, people talked less and less about the camp in the small valley outside town, until one day…

Someone drove by and discovered it abandoned. Upon further investigation, they also discovered the final body claimed by Blackfoot Valley. A middle-aged man named Charles Hogan. He’d grown up locally in Clifton Heights. After college he moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lived until his only son tragically died. A year after his son’s death and a grueling divorce, he stopped coming into work and disappeared.

No one knew where to, until six months later his body was found stretched out in the overgrown grass of Blackfoot Valley’s courtyard. Coroners couldn’t determine a cause of death. Because of the corpse’s oddly preserved condition, they couldn’t determine the time of death, either. He could’ve lain there for hours, days….even weeks. Also unknown was why Charles Hogan found his way back to Blackfoot Valley, where, incidentally, he’d been a standout basketball player in his youth. His car was discovered in the parking lot, and based on the debris inside – junk food wrappers, styrofoam coffee cups, crumpled packs of cigarettes, empty beer cans, and old clothes – it appeared he’d been living out of his car from a long time before coming to Blackfoot Valley.

The case remains open to this day.

Also unknown is exactly when or why the “new” Blackfoot Valley ceased its operations. Did Charles Hogan die alone in an abandoned camp…or did the campers and counselors have some hand in his death before they left? Is that why they left? No signs were found as to why everyone left so suddenly, or where they went to. Stories say the camp was strewn with supplies, clothes, food, and booze, as if one day, everyone simply got up and walked out, en masse. The lawns and shrubs showed signs over overgrowth, also.

Despite this shocking turn of events, just as Clifton Heights folks dismissed Blackfoot Valley’s existence, they gradually dismissed its sudden closing and the discovery of Charles Hogan’s body. Blackfoot Valley was closed and in ruins, end of story, Jerry Ruben’s shameful legacy finally buried. Some poor sap had been found dead there, probably because he’d overdosed on drugs or something, and that was all. That Hogan had grown up in Clifton Heights seemed of no importance whatsoever.

Blackfoot Valley Sports Camp fell completely silent for the next twenty years. At some point, ownership must’ve quietly reverted back to the county, but there’s never been any talk of developing the property for other uses until now. No one has ever seemed to care much about trespassing. Looking back on my short time as an English teacher at Clifton Heights High, I remember kids talking about braving old Bassler House (a teenage rite of passage in Clifton Heights) and exploring the ruins of Zoo Town up behind Raedeker Park. Thinking on it, I don’t remember any of them saying a word about messing around at Blackfoot Valley Sports Camp.

Thanks to my own case of willful amnesia, I hadn’t thought twice about Blackfoot Valley myself until I was talking to Kevin Ellison (one of those former standouts I mentioned) in his bookstore, ArcaneDelights, and he mentioned it had finally been purchased by the Nuemann Development Company. It was scheduled to be demolished by the end of the week.

I decided I needed to see it one last time before it came down. After finding those archived articles detailing Blackfoot’s increasingly dark history, I called Bobby Nuemann. He and I attended and played basketball together at Blackfoot Valley High. I called him on the pretense of writing a book about Blackfoot Valley, about who bought it after Jerry Rueben sold it, what may have led to its sudden closing, and the mysteries of its accidents and deaths.  Bobby’s not much of a reader, but he knows about the books I’ve written. He said I could poke around the old camp to my heart’s content.

So here I am.

*

But now that I’m here, standing at the mouth of the cracked asphalt drive, I wonder if I could ever express my true feelings about this place. So many days spent here, playing under the hot blue summer skies, from sixth grade to that last summer before my senior year in high school. Days spent running and jumping, the air split by whistles, coaches barking demands, players yelling while sweat poured down faces, stinging eyes and tasting salty. Nights spent sleeping in bunks, dreaming of the future, of basketball glory, or of the college girls interning in the infirmary that week. Sleeping and dreaming, calves and thighs throbbing with the pleasant ache of exercise.

Proceeding up the warped asphalt path toward the main office building, my flashlight cutting a narrow path ahead in the darkness, I remember also the unpleasant things which happened here, bad things which unfortunately can’t be blamed on anything supernatural. Much as we’d like to preserve memories in a crystalline amber of nostalgia, we have to acknowledge the darkness hiding behind the light. In all our beloved memories, dark things lurk. Blackfoot Valley is no exception.

Approaching the old mess hall, I remember campers dumped here for a week not because they liked basketball or because they wanted to improve their game, but because their parents wanted to pawn them off. I remember their discontent, and in many cases, their misery. I remember how coaches and other players showed these square pegs no mercy. I also remember talented players gone bitter, laboring under the yoke of their athletic parents’ grandiose expectations. From all accounts, Laura Mason, the first victim of the Blackfoot Valley “curse” (yes, that word has actually been used), was one such player.

I remember the bullies, also. Coaches, counselors, and other campers. The desire for power over others knows no boundaries, no age limit. There will always be those who desire most of all to dominate those around them. Much as I loved basketball in high school, as an aggressive contact sport, it does provide ample breeding ground for those who are stronger to overpower those who are weaker. It pains me to admit it, but in my heart, I can’t deny it.

These bullies, who tormented younger campers, the counselors who ruled their cabins with mercurial fists, and the coaches who wielded their whistles like finely honed razors. They linger, these dreadful ghosts, right alongside the good memories. A brooding reminder, I suppose. The brighter and higher the sun, the darker and longer the shadows.

*

As I walk between the main office building (where the camp caretaker bunked during camp) and the mess hall, I can’t see much of the buildings under my flashlight. I suppose that’s a good thing. I even wonder if that’s why I kept puttering around Arcane Delights before it closed, chatting with Kevin Ellison and roaming his stacks aimlessly, without really looking for anything. Maybe I subconsciously knew seeing Blackfoot Valley one last time by the dim moonlight would let me see it as I wished, would let me use the darkness to re-construct an image from cherished memory.

But even the darkness can’t hide the mounds of garbage bags piled on the main house’s front porch as my flashlight sweeps by. It can’t hide the wildly overgrown lawns, or the coach’s dorm behind the main house, which now leans sideways, its roof caved in.

I skirt the coach’s dorm and move past it, walking along the mess hall, which we raided late nights as counselors. We plundered the cereal supplies and leftover desserts after playing hours of basketball. I enjoyed many nights there with my friends, so maybe it’s the best place to start my tour.

I round the corner for the mess hall’s front door, leaving the ruined coach’s dorm behind. I shouldn’t be surprised at what I see…but I am, regardless.

The mess hall door is gone.

The doorway looms open like a black mouth stretching wide in a soundless scream. My hand shakes and hesitates for just a moment (making me feel foolish, like a child) before I steady my hand and direct the flashlight’s beam into the darkness inside.

It doesn’t penetrate.

The flashlight’s white lance fades into the darkness, almost like it’s being absorbed. It’s not reflected or anything like that; there’s no inner door it’s hitting. The deeper it penetrates into the darkness, the flashlight’s beam fades, as if the darkness is absorbing it…or draining its luminescence.

Staring at the dark, I shiver and again think of all those unaccounted years when the mysterious out of town owners ran their private “spiritual retreat,” what Jerry Rueban called “a different kind of summer camp.” I think of  the rumors about what went on, and the discovery of Charles Hogan’s body in a camp abandoned Roanoke-style. I think of the strange-eyed, distant camp counselors,  who didn’t seem to know how to act like real people.

I want to dismiss those stories as hard feelings. Seeing the dark in the old mess hall draining my flashlight, I imagine it cavernous and empty, and I can’t help but think of the stories about strange rituals and even orgies. Abruptly, I want to be as far away from the mess hall as possible.

Soon as I swing my flashlight from the gaping darkness and face the path leading up the hill; I feel better. A subtle pressure is lifted as I turn away. Of course, I dismiss my unease as a product of the night, those whispered rumors, and too much Mary Sangiovanni in my reading diet.

Surely whatever happened here at Blackfoot Valley in its years as a “spiritual retreat” wasn’t anything as unclean as I imagine it to be. Maybe uncouth or unseemly, yes. It’s not hard to imagine Blackfoot Valley turned into a drunken away-camp for rich kids whose parents want to be free of them for a summer. I have no problem swallowing the stories of drunken rave parties and ordinary teenage lust. Surely the other stories are nothing more than dread fancy.

Surely.

But as I face the heaved asphalt path leading to the cabins (which look oddly preserved in the moonlight), the bath house, the main gym at the top of the hill, and the courts beyond, a great sadness fills me. Blackfoot Valley Sports Camp and its memories will be wiped away for good when the bulldozers rumble in tomorrow. All those memories – good and bad – will be torn up and plowed under by moving steel. Whatever may have happened here after the deaths started occurring, or when it became a “spiritual retreat,” will be plowed under, too.

I know why I’ve come, now. I’m at the wake of a dear old friend who went soft in the head and a little crazy at the end, a friend who maybe even went bad…but a friend, nonetheless. And because it seems I’m forever drawn to haunted, abandoned places everyone else has forgotten, it only seems right that I’m here to bear witness when everyone else has forgotten or has chosen to forget because remembering is too painful. I’m a writer, after all. That’s why I write. To remember what others choose to forget.

So, gripping my flashlight tighter, I proceed up the cracked asphalt walk, my flashlight’s beam wavering before me, wondering what strange tales linger in the ruins of Blackfoot Valley Sports Camp, waiting to be gathered and named, lest they be plowed under by moving steel and forgotten forever, and wondering what I’ll start writing about tomorrow, when I sit down at my desk, and pick up my pen.

Gavin Patchett
Clifton Heights, NY

Purchase Things You Need to read more from Clifton Heights:

http://getbook.at/ThingsYouNeed

GoodReads

Thanks so much for reading and to Kevin for joining us!

If you follow along the tour that Kevin put together, you can read many more articles and insights from Gavin Patchett, puzzle pieces if you will, as well as interviews with Kevin Lucia. Enjoy!

Frank Errington MichaelsSeptember 17th – Gavin Patchett’s The Name

Frank Errington Michaels – September 18th – Review

Anton Cancre – Sepember 19th – Hiram Grange’s Vaguely Inappropriate With Gavin Patchett

Amber Fallon – September 22nd – My Lament

Rebecca Snow – September 24th – Interview

Joe Falank – September 26th – Interview/The Man Who Sits in His Chair

Kevin Lucia at Cemetery Dance Online – September 28th – Special Edition of “Revelations”  on Cemetery Dance Online, about how the Greystone Bay Series, edited by Charles L. Grant, influenced Clifton Heights

John Questore – September 29th – The Crayfish God

Erin Al-Mehairi – September 30th – Rest in Peace, Blackfoot Valley

Wesley Southard – October 1st – The Sidewalk Scavenger

Ryan G. Clark – October 3rd – Review

Yvone Davies/The Terror Tree – October 5th – The White Cat of Samara Hill

Mark Allen Gunnells – October 7th – The Cairn

Things You Need

 

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Guest Article: Catherine Cavendish on the Curse of Gleichenberg Castle

Today, I have a guest article for you to read that I think will really spook you! Author Catherine Cavendish will usually do that to you. She’s one of my favorite horror, and especially Gothic horror, authors working today. Her talent shines through in her work and she always writes cool guest articles to coincide with her releases. On Tuesday, the second stand alone book in her Nemesis of the Gods trilogy, Waking the Ancients, will release from Kensington Lyrical Underground. Congratulations, Cat! Readers – definitely check this one out soon – until then, enjoy the article….

The Curse – and Miracle – of Gleichenberg Castle

by Catherine Cavendish, author of Waking the Ancients

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I have set a large part of Waking the Ancients in Vienna, Austria where many ghosts and restless spirits walk among the verdant parks and lavish palaces. But Austrian ghosts do not confine themselves to their nation’s imperial capital. They can be found in towns, cities, villages and the depths of the countryside all over this beautiful land.

Deep in the heart of the picturesque province of Styria, stands the 14th century fortress of Gleichenberg castle which has been the home of Trauttmansdorff family and their descendants throughout its long and troubled history. Legends abound of miracles and terrible curses from within its walls.

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In fact the name Trauttmansdorff might have died out altogether centuries ago when the sole heir—young son of the then Count—lay dying of lung disease. It so happened that a gypsy came to the Count’s court and revealed the location of a hidden spring. Its water had healing properties, the gypsy claimed and, his doctor shaving failed him, the count was desperate for any chance of saving his son. He uncovered the spring and gave the boy water to drink from it. The boy recovered and grew up strong and healthy. Needless to say, the Count rewarded the gypsy well for his services and, over the years, the spring became famous for its miraculous healing powers.

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Things did not go so well for a later Count Trauttmansdorff who was forced, by the Catholic hierarchy, to find twenty local women guilty of witchcraft. He was ordered to have them executed—the usual punishment for such a crime. Before they died however, they all issued a curse against his family that has resonated down through the centuries.  This was at the time of the wars with Turkish invaders who murdered all twenty one of the Count’s sons and nephews, delivering their lifeless, bloody bodies to the Countess. Understandably she became hysterical and never recovered her senses.

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The curse didn’t stop there though. Phantoms and poltergeists scared workers and others away from the Count’s estate. Windows at the castle shattered, doors slammed for no reasons and loud crashing sounds, for which no cause could be traced, echoed down the dark hallways at night. A family member dug up the twenty skeletons of the executed supposed witches and reburied them in the forest, covering the site with concrete. He might as well not have bothered. Fires started in so many parts of the castle that the interior was destroyed. Soon nothing remained but burned out timbers

Now, the castle lies in ruins. The witches’ curse has been fulfilled. Are they satisfied? Do they rest in peace? The current owner, Countess Annie, lives in a charming house where she can look up at the ruins of her ancestral home, its broken walls reaching up into the sky like skeletal fingers. It was her father who tried to rid the castle of its curse by reburying the skeletons. She is utterly convinced of the malignity that continues to reside there. People have knocked on her door, complaining of unseen children throwing stones down at them from the castle. But there are no children there.

Is the continuing activity still down to the witches – or is there another, more evil force at work? Countess Annie is adamant. Whatever is there has taken over. And it means harm to any who cross its path.

Visitors to the area are advised to keep well away from the ground at night. Defy this and you might well find yourself with some unwelcome company…

Of course, Dr. Emeryk Quintillus knows all about unwelcome company…

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Waking the Ancients

Legacy In Death

Egypt, 1908

University student Lizzie Charters accompanies her mentor, Dr. Emeryk Quintillus, on the archeological dig to uncover Cleopatra’s tomb. Her presence is required for a ceremony conducted by the renowned professor to resurrect Cleopatra’s spirit—inside Lizzie’s body. Quintillus’s success is short-lived, as the Queen of the Nile dies soon after inhabiting her host, leaving Lizzie’s soul adrift . . .

Vienna, 2018

Paula Bancroft’s husband just leased Villa Dürnstein, an estate once owned by Dr. Quintillus. Within the mansion are several paintings and numerous volumes dedicated to Cleopatra. But the archeologist’s interest in the Egyptian empress deviated from scholarly into supernatural, infusing the very foundations of his home with his dark fanaticism. And as inexplicable manifestations rattle Paula’s senses, threatening her very sanity, she uncovers the link between the villa, Quintillus, and a woman named Lizzie Charters.

And a ritual of dark magic that will consume her soul . . .

You can find Waking the Ancients here –

Kensington Press

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Catherine Cavendish, Biography –

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Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories.

Cat’s novels include the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients, plus The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle Curse and Saving Grace Devine.

She lives with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue. Cat and her family divide their time between Liverpool and a 260-year-old haunted apartment in North Wales.

You can connect with Cat here –

Catherine Cavendish

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Thank you, Cat, for a great article!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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