Story Snippet from “Thicker Than Water”

Three on a matchWhat’s gone before: Cora Coleman resides in a New England  village with her family — six-year-old daughter, Rebecca, and husband, Brendan, away to sea aboard a whaling ship. Cora is a good wife — loyal, true — and a goodwife, trained in the use of herbs to address everything from headaches to love sickness; a skill passed along the line of women that stretches back to her ancestors in Ireland.

Trusted by her neighbors, she’s unprepared when the spurned advances of a young buck results in her being accused of witchcraft. Suddenly, it seems that the entire village has turned against her. And now, witch hunter Orias King, has arrived …

Rebecca comes in as he’s descending the ladder. Her eyes are red and swollen, her cheeks blotchy with tears. She pauses just inside the door, struck dumb by the presence of strangers, then runs to the security of my lap and buries her face against me.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I whisper, but she remains silent.

King introduces himself to John and they shake hands. He looks at me. “This is your daughter?”

I nod. “This is Rebecca,” I say proudly, keeping my voice light. She’ll take her cues from me, and I don’t want her to fear this man or any other. I set her on her feet, wipe her face with the edge of my apron, straighten her cap, and turn her to face him.

The witch hunter’s steps are startlingly quiet on the wooden floor, like the cushioned footfalls of a cat. He squats in order to look her straight in the eye. “Hello, Rebecca,” he says cordially. “My name is Mr. King.”

She makes a quick curtsy. Then, overcome with shyness, she looks at her feet.

“You’ve been weeping,” he observes.

She peeks at him. After a moment, she nods.

He takes a white handkerchief from his pocket and holds it out to her. “Here. Wipe your eyes.”

I want to fiercely point out to him that her eyes have already been wiped–that have wiped them and I will take care of her because I’m her mother and he is nothing–but my voice lies in my chest like a dead thing.

She takes it from him and does as she’s told. When she goes to hand it back, the witch hunter shakes his head. “No, you keep it.” He smiles. “Consider it a little gift from me to you.”

Her own smile is brilliant, like the sun. I despise him for it. I wish Brendan were here to fling him into the street. Then again, none of this would be happening if Brendan were here.

“Did you fall and hurt yourself?” King asks. “Is that why you cried?”

Rebecca shakes her head. She glances at me, weighing my reaction to this man. I swallow my dislike for her sake. “What happened, love? What made you cry?”

“Mistress Sharp won’t let Fanny play with me.” Tears shiver across the surface of her eyes again, but do not fall. “She said,”–her breath hitches in her chest–“she said that Fanny isn’t allowed to play with witches.” She looks over her shoulder at me. “Are we witches, Mam?”

I could cheerfully slap Constance Sharp across her mean-spirited mouth. “No.” I meet King’s gaze over the top of her head. “No, we’re not witches.”

He shifts to sit cross-legged, like a tailor, like a child. “That wasn’t a very nice thing for her to say, Rebecca.” His voice is warm, inviting her confidence. I’d like nothing so much as to strike him. “Maybe you and I can play together instead.”

Fear grips my heart. I don’t want him anywhere near her, yet already she’s on the floor, mimicking his posture, a pair of old friends. The other adults in the room are silent, mesmerized, watching him charm my daughter.

“What’s your favorite game?” King asks. “Is it shuttlecock?”

She shakes her head.

“Knucklebones?” he says teasingly.

No, not that.

“Rolling the hoop?”

No.

King throws his hands up and lets them fall. “I’m out of guesses. You’ll have to tell me.”

She grins openly, triumphant at having stumped him. “Dollies.”

His eyes brighten with delight. “Dollies!” he crows, as if he should have guessed it all along. “That’s a wonderful game! Could you show me your dolly?”

Rebecca scrambles to her feet and hurries over to her pallet. She returns with a rag doll half her size and offers it to King. He’s already seen it, having inspected her bed along with everything else in the house, but he takes the time to exclaim over its perfection before handing it back.

Delighted to have met someone who appreciates the toy as much as she does, Rebecca cuddles the doll to her chest and swings back and forth, every bit the mother soothing her fussy baby.

The witch hunter watches her sway, his eyes drawn to the bell-like motion of her apron. “What have you got in your pockets?”

One hand dips readily and brings out a large clam shell bleached white by the sun.

King nods. “That’s lovely. What else?”

She puts the shell on the floor and produces another, a razor clam, long and narrow, mottled white and brown.

Fletcher Ellison makes a noise of annoyance. “We’ve better things to do than–”

A flick of the witch hunter’s obsidian eyes is all it takes to silence him. “What else?”

Next is a damp gull feather with a broken shaft. After that, a periwinkle, followed by a piece of oddly shaped driftwood. King barely glances at any of it. “What else?” he repeats, his gaze never leaving my daughter’s pockets.

Rebecca shakes her head, suddenly shy again.

He smiles. “Come now,” he chides in a teasing tone. “I thought we were friends. I can see there’s more in there. What else have you got?”

She looks at me. Her expression is one with which every parent is familiar, but in this context it takes me by surprise. What could she possibly have to feel guilty about? “Mam will be mad,” she murmurs.

Something in King’s expression shifts, like the shimmer of oil on water. His eyes lift to meet mine. “Oh, I’m sure that’s not true,” he croons.

My throat is unaccountably dry. “Of course not,” I say, unable to quell the tremor in my guts. “Show us what you have.”

Rebecca’s hand disappears deep into her pocket. What she brings out stops the heart in my chest.

To find out what happens next, you can purchase a copy of THREE ON A MATCH: The Terror Project, Volume 2 on Amazon or order a signed copy from me via email.  THREE ON A MATCH, a production of Books and Boos Press also includes stories by g. Elmer Munson and Kristi Petersen Schoonover.

No Such Thing As A Comfort Zone

tricksNote: This essay – edited here – originally appeared as a guest blog post on the website of author Stacey Longo.

 

No Such Thing as a Comfort Zone

“So,” says She Who Must Be Obeyed–aka SWMBO or, for ease of reading, Swumbo–otherwise known as the Fearless Leader of our writers’ group. “I’m putting out an anthology of scary stories by Connecticut authors in October.” In addition to being a writer, she is also a small press publisher. “I’m lining up several authors, living and dead.”

You’d have to know her to appreciate my momentary frisson, and the fleeting image that whips through my head of her in Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, New York, dragging Mark Twain from his grave by one leg.

“I want two stories from each of you.” Focused on her laptop, she speaks to the air.

“Okay,” says Dan. He probably has a tattered Navy sea bag in his attic packed with so many stories that all he needs to do is dust off a couple and submit them.

“Okay,” says Terry, although it’s beyond me how she finds time to write with the work schedule she keeps.

“Okay,” says John, with only a slight outbreak of perspiration along his brow. He has so many irons in the fire that I’m pretty certain he doesn’t sleep more than an hour a night.

“Um …” says I.

Swumbo’s right eyebrow twitches, although her gaze never wavers from the computer screen. “Yes?” The frost in that single word warns, “Be careful where you tread, bitch.” It’s enough to make Sauron reconsider invading Middle Earth.

“Well,” I say, being the sort of fool who presses on where angels fear to go, “I don’t know if I’ll have time. I’m in the middle of revisions on the elephant book and need to make that my priority.”

I’m not weaseling and she knows it, but neither is she buying it. The eyebrow climbs a fraction higher. I can almost hear it creak.

“I can try.” Now I’m dithering. Swumbo has that effect on people. “I just can’t promise, and I don’t … really … write … horror.” This is true.

But.

Swumbo doesn’t give a rat’s toches. Slowly, like a leviathan stirring in its primordial ooze, she lifts her head and fixes me with a gimlet eye.

I wilt. “I guess I could rework an old piece.”

“Fuck you,” she says without rancor. For Swumbo, this is a term of endearment. “Just do it.”

#

Horror writing scares me. Yeah, I know … duh. What I really mean is that it intimidates me. The writing of horror requires, I believe, a gentle hand on the tiller. I don’t go in for the slash-and-burn, splash blood on the walls variety, but give me subtlety and I’m hooked. One example that comes immediately to mind is Stephen King’s The Shining. I tried to lay that book aside when the terror became immense, and failed spectacularly. I couldn’t not read it. That stinking story kept me up all night … and several nights afterward.

If I was going to write two stories for Swumbo, they needed to be my best work. Otherwise, I’d no business being in the craft. And if you aren’t a writer willing to challenge yourself, said a little voice at the back of my mind, why bother?

Damn it.

One of the thing I like best about being a writer is the opportunity to push boundaries–mine as well as those of other people–and conquer new territory. And here I was quailing at the thought of trying my hand at horror? Shame on me!

Somewhere, somewhen, I’d read that Stephen King conjures up the things that scare him when considering subjects to write about. I thought about vacant  houses … dolls … clowns (well, we all know that one has been done up tight with a pretty bow) … nightmares … ghosts … vampires …

And then I remembered the house I’d grown up in, a 200-year-old former way station; a house so old that the attic beams bore tree bark and were held together by hand-forged spikes. The field stone cellar had a dirt floor and smelled of ancient dust, an odor like the grave. Cobwebs draped the ceiling joists. Shadows loomed in the corners where oddments of family junk were stored.

I walked closer; afraid, yes, but willing to take a look at what was piled there. A bone emerged. It was a slender one, a fibula maybe, but enough to build around, enough to stand on if I could only find a foot …

It took several weeks, but in the end Swumbo looked at me after reading my submission (“The Cellar,” Tricks and Treats: A Collection of Spooky Stories by Connecticut Authors) and smiled with pride. “I knew you could do it,” she said.

I grinned. Better yet, knew it.

Book Launch!

Three on a matchI’m pleased to announce that THREE ON A MATCH is now available for purchase directly from me (send me an email if interested), and will also be available on Amazon as of Tuesday, September 5.

Be prepared to be shocked to your socks.

In Splendid Chyna by Kristi Petersen Schoonover, a woman’s hope for a fresh start changes to terror when a dark secret proves that while she may be done with the past–but it’s not done with her.

All’s Well That Ends by g. Elmer Munson harkens back to the classic pulp stories of old when a routine call turns bloody for police officer Angel Lewis.

My own story, Thicker Than Water pits an innocent young woman against the witch hunter determined to find her guilty.

I’d also like to give a shout-out to my fellow authors (see below), thank the folks at Books and Boos Press, and in particular thank Kristi Petersen Schoonover for planning and executing our fantastic book launch party last night. Thank you, ma’am!

Book Release Party

The Joys of Book Promotion

Well, it was a hot day, but the breeze kept it from being oppressive and the beautiful shade tree kept us from overheating. Worst things were a) the mess of tent caterpillars, and b) the second set the band played. Otherwise, it was a fine day on the Colchester Green, promoting reading, Books & Boos Press, and our own creative efforts.

Colchester

Left to right: Terry George, Stacey Longo, g. Elmer Munson, and yours truly. Photo by Jason Harris.

New Book Release Coming Soon!

Three on a MatchHere’s the latest from Books & Boos Press on the release of Three on a Match, the second book in the Terror Project series. I’m proud to be part of this endeavor–Thanks, Guys!–and to share the spotlight with Kristi Petersen Schoonover and g. Elmer Munson.

Patrick Rea–director of Nailbiter and Arbor Demon–calls it “…a frightening menagerie of horror that offers a shocking blend of well-crafted tales to keep you up at night.”

Of my story, “Thicker Than Water,” Mr. Rea writes: “Crandall has a knack for description … [her story] is a literary mash-up of 18th century vernacular and conversational rhythms with a modern, present tense narrative and some WOW Factor special effects. In Crandall’s skilled hands, it all works.”

Thank you, Patrick!