WONTON LUST - The New Yorker

Every year around this time, I start thinking about great food...writing.  Let others dream of the perfect roast turkey and yams with marshmallows (no thanks.) I yearn for the laugh fest of Calvin Trillin's take on America's food day-- and his comic, but true, recognition of our immigrant roots.  Yes, spaghetti carbonara for Thanksgiving is as American as...won ton soup.

WONTON LUST - The New Yorker

Bites from 13 Bites, Vol. 3

For our final Halloween Fright Reads, news from editor, Alan Seeger about his latest horror anthology.  (I participated in 13 BITES: VOLUME 1.)

The 13 BITES series began as an idea that I presented in a Facebook group in 2013, asking if anyone would be interested in doing a short story anthology; the response was so overwhelming, I decided to do it every year.  So 13 BITES Volume III, the third in the annual horror anthology.

A few nibbles from the bites from this year's installment:

The man was still there, as still as a statue. And so was the body.

“I’m not here to bargain,” she snapped at him. “A potion comes with five years, not a day more.”
-- FINE DINING, J. A. Clark

“You kind of do, but the tour is very informative, I highly recommended it, and here’s a little welcome present to help calm your nerves...” Satan made a popsicle appear as if by sleight of hand, and handed it to Danny.
-- DANNY’S INFERNO, Joseph Picard

The fresher the corpse the better, he reasoned; it would look more natural, and bits were less likely to fall off it.   
-- DANSE MACABRE, Tabitha Ormiston-Smith

There in front of him lay Alice. She was still alive, but not for long.
-- THE EVIL DEED, Bruno Santos

“Chimpanzees,” Neil corrected him. “If they were from Earth they would be closer to chimpanzees.”
At that precise instant the sky seemed to kiss the earth, reducing the man’s field of vision to a single purple-black flash of light. Time passed – minutes, possibly hours, the man could not tell which.

A person can only take sitting in an uncomfortable chair for so long before he or she begins to look for somewhere else to sit, and sit she did; she sat on practically every guy they knew.   
-- THE KILL KIT, Alan Seeger

Maybe if I hadn’t stopped for gas on the way, or remembered to switch off my cell phone, or even make sure I had locked the boot of the car, would have been a good start.
-- STACEY WALLBECKER, Gregg Cunningham

Halloween Fright Reads: Chopin for Igor by Carla Sarett

Nothing scarier, in my view, than a cat story. (Sorry, dogs just aren't spooky.)   This little cat tale first appeared in CONTRARY CATS, an anthology of feline stories, as well as my own SPOOKY & KOOKY TALES, available on Amazon in a Kindle edition.

Chopin for Igor

Carla Sarett
The Cat People might well have become, had the times been different, the premiere online community for all things feline.  At its launch party, the brash young CEO, Lily Gold, handed out sparkly pink cat t-shirts— but those souvenirs were all that remained of the company a year later.   
As it happened, I was wearing my Cat People t-shirt when I saw Lily years ago in a coffee bar downtown.  It was late on a pearly-gray afternoon, when the days become short and sad.  When she waved, I admit that I hesitated to join her.  I sensed how raw her defeat was, and her brand of ambition was foreign to me.  Besides, the only cat I had owned had been strangled by the rough boys next door, its neck cruelly broken, and its runt-like body abandoned in the street.  After that, I had never wanted another pet.
I knew nothing about Lily Gold.  For lack of anything better to say, I said, “You must miss working with cats.  You seemed like such a cat person.”  
She did not smile.  “No, I was never a true cat person—not like my sister, not at all.”  And that was when I heard the story of Lily’s younger sister, Rose.
Rose Gold rented a house in a small town called Narberth, about ten minutes or so outside of Philadelphia. Her house was no larger than an apartment—it was delicate in structure, with a tiny flower garden and a white picket fence.  It sat slightly behind a far grander house and, in an earlier century, had probably served as servants' quarters, but now was rented out to young singles like Rose. In the large house lived her landlords, Herb and Sally Taylor, who owned an antique store nearby.  All in all, it was an ideal situation. Rose was a quiet tenant, the rent was fairly reasonable and the Taylors were responsible landlords.   Rose and the Taylors saw little of one another.   
A few months after Rose had moved in, a dog-sized gray tabby showed up at her doorstep.  She immediately recognized it as one of the Taylors' cats—they had a few.  Even so, she allowed the cat to enter, taking great pains not to touch it.  The huge animal moved slowly through every room of the house, with complete freedom.  Then Rose prepared a plate of left-overs and watched as the cat nibbled a portion, as though extending her a courtesy.
Over the next weeks, the cat visited Rose at its pleasure – and Rose looked forward to its appearance.  She stocked her cabinets with gourmet cat food, just in case. Sometimes the cat climbed on her sofa while she read and permitted her to stroke its warm soft fur.  And one day, the enormous cat jumped in her lap and purred.  It rested with her for hours until Rose fell asleep.  Rose felt divinely happy.
The next day, Rose found it impossible to concentrate on her work.  Her thoughts were only of the cat and whether it would return that night. To her joy and amazement, the cat was waiting at her doorstep. The cat meowed and brushed against her as she walked through the door. Rose knew that the cat had decided in her favor. 
"It’s strange, but understand, it wasn’t my decision," she let Sally Taylor know.  "I’d never just steal your cat, or any cat. This just sort of happened." 
Sally Taylor was gracious if somewhat chilly.  “What can you do?  We have two other cats, they’re Siamese, and they’re both so sweet and loving, they’re wonderful.”  Her tone implied that this other cat was not as sweet, and, it went without saying, not as loving.  In any event, Sally insisted, “we cherish all of our cats.”
“Of course, I can return him right now,” Rose said quickly.   
“No, I have to respect his decision.  If you ever get tired of him, we’ll gladly take him back, no questions asked,” Sally said.   
Rose almost hugged Sally. “I’ll never get tired of him, don’t worry,” she promised.
“I’m not worried,” said Sally.  “But cats have a mind of their own, don’t they?” 
Rose named her cat, Igor, after her favorite composer, Igor Stravinsky.  She filled her house with catnip and toys and all manner of gourmet delicacies.  She sliced tiny pieces of melon for Igor’s dessert and watched him eat, slice by slice.
She learned the music that made Igor purr—not Stravinsky, but Chopin, especially the Ballades.  Tears streamed down Rose's face as she heard Chopin’s chords and Igor's soft purrs. 
If someone visited Rose – a rare event, to be sure --Igor hid in a large desk drawer, curled in a ball. As Rose entertained, she pictured Igor, waiting for her, soft and warm.  The moment she was alone, Rose opened the drawer, picked Igor up and clasped him to her as tightly as she could.  When she slept, Igor lay beside her, “not too close, just close enough.”  Rose's family became accustomed to hearing stories about Igor.
Their life together went on this way, for about two years, when Rose met Alexei Cohen—an IT consultant brought into her research department at work.   Rose’s family was relieved—Alexei had a natural charm and confidence, an ease with people, so Rose’s solitary ways did not matter to him. As for Alexei, he had no doubts about dark-eyed Rose.  Within months, he asked Rose to marry him and she accepted.
"I’m a cat person," Rose told him.  “My cat found me, I didn’t find him.”
“Cats always find people,” said Alexei.  He had his own cat story -- his family's cat had jumped from a speeding car, on a highway, and had, miraculously, found Alexei days later at his college dorm.  
“That’s the thing, you can never forget a cat,” he said.   
When Alexei stayed with Rose, Igor concealed himself in the desk drawer and only emerged when the stranger left.  “I’m worried, Igor’s so sensitive.  But maybe when two people love him, he’ll feel more secure,” Rose told her sister.
For the wedding, Rose wore her mother's white lace wedding dress, which touched many of her friends and family.  The honeymoon in Tuscany was perfect, or almost. Rose could not hide her fears about Igor.  More than a few times, she called the cat-sitter to check on Igor. She explained, “It’s complicated.  I’m not his original owner.  I never can be absolutely sure.”
Alexei paid little attention.  Everything about Tuscany and dark-eyed Rose pleased him.
Afterwards, they moved into their new house-- a large rambling house, fit for children, and not far from where Rose had lived in Narberth.  It was one of old stone houses on the Main Line, with a graceful circular driveway and rhododendron bushes lining the walkways. 
“Yes, it’s extravagant,” Alexei conceded.  “But I’m in no mood to economize, not now, not with everything ahead of us.”
Rose carefully planned for Igor’s adjustment to his new setting.  She laid down many strict rules: Igor could never be touched without first obtaining permission; Alexei must never play music that Igor might not like; Igor needed time alone with Rose; and Igor must be allowed to sleep with the two of them.   
 The restrictions did not faze Alexei.  After all, if Rose doted on her cat, what of it?  He laughed, "I'd hate to think if you had to choose between Igor and me!"  
Alexei himself loved Chopin and would play the piano for Rose and Igor, as Igor rested on Rose’s lap.  Alexei respected Rose’s rules—and he left them, undisturbed.
But soon Igor sickened. He ignored the pet delicacies that Rose prepared and lost weight. He became a mere shadow of himself, not the enormous cat he had been, but a thin and sad looking creature.  He slept in the closet. He stopped meowing
“We need to take him to a vet, there’s one in town,” Alexei said.
“No, I heard he puts animals to sleep, and their owners don’t even know about it” Rose said, terrified.
"Nonsense," answered Alexei, "How would he stay in business if he were killing cats?" 
Instead, Rose found a holistic animal practice out in Buck's County, over an hour away, who offered daily treatments.  Her trips to Buck’s County consumed Rose’s entire day – she had to give up her job. Following instructions, Rose administered Igor's treatment one drop at a time, with a tiny eye-dropper. She purified the house, discarding any toxic material that might contaminate Igor’s fragile system, which was smaller than a human’s.  Igor remained sick and unresponsive.
Alexei’s work took him to other cities—like many consultants, his work schedule was beyond his control.  When he called Rose from airports or hotels, he heard only about Igor.  Alexei was patient, but in truth, he knew that Igor was simply an ordinary cat-- and he knew that cats die, especially when they are denied normal medicine.  But there was nothing unkind about Alexei Cohen.  At airport gift shops, he searched for little cat gifts and souvenirs for Igor.
Rose visited a spiritual counselor for animals who was famed throughout the area for saving lost causes.  “It’s his past life that’s killing Igor.  He once lived with a family who beat him. He’s signaling his past life,” the counselor said.  “You need to assure Igor that the present and the past are not the same.”
Every night, Rose whispered to Igor, we love you--no one’s ever going to hurt you again.  “He’s traumatized,” she told Alexei.  “It’s natural that he’s so weak.  He needs our help.” 
Alexei said nothing.
For weeks, Rose sat alone with Igor.  She never turned on a single light.  Alexei left silently in the morning and removed his shoes when he returned home, in order to avoid any unnecessary sound.  But he still played Chopin for Rose and Igor.  Sometimes, the two of them fell asleep together. 
And then Igor vanished.  Rose searched everywhere – her desk drawer, the garden, the attic, everywhere, but he was gone.  Igor had been allowed to roam outside, but he had never failed to come home.
“Cats always come back,” said Alexei, as he stroked Rose’s hair.  “He’ll get hungry, and he’ll come back.” 
Alexei posted signs around the neighborhood, "Lost Gray Tabby"-- on telephone poles, at the local supermarkets, anywhere that signs could be hung.  Many kind people called about stray cats, but none of the reports fit Igor’s description.  
“Yes, Igor showed up for a day, but then he left,” Sally Taylor said when Rose called her.  "You never know with cats, do you?" 
Each long day of cat-hunting became the same as the long day before.  Rose woke before dawn.  She drove around Buck's County and around the neighborhood of her spiritual counselor. She walked through every park and past every house. At home, she stayed on high alert for the merest hint of footsteps or meows or a faint scratching at the door.
All of this made no difference to Alexei’s feelings about Rose.  She was what he wanted.
One night, when Alexei was out of town, Rose awoke and heard a meowing in the distance.  She must have suspected or hoped that it was Igor—and she walked down the narrow road to find him. It was pitch black and the road had no sidewalks.  Rose was invisible in the darkness—her back faced the cars.  The driver who hit her had no idea she was there, according to the police report.  She was dead by the time Alexei's plane hit the ground.
Alexei Cohen delivered his wife’s eulogy.  He spoke of all that he loved about Rose, of the impossibility of her early death and the hollowness that stretched ahead.  “But,” he warned, “The future is there, whether we want it or not.  We will do the best we can.” 
About a month after Rose’s burial, Alexei opened the door and discovered Igor, sitting very still.  He held the door open – Igor brushed against his legs and meowed until Alexei picked him up. Alexei sat down at the grand piano and played Chopin for Igor.
"He's a cat person, now," Lily Gold told me.
You can buy SPOOKY & KOOKY TALES here

Halloween Fright Reads: Deb Atwood reviews Bag of Bones by Stephen King

Bag of Bones by Stephen King

reviewed by Deb Atwood
Was my insomnia the result of an inability to abandon Bag of Bones until the final sentence?
All I know is the night I started Stephen King’s novel, 2:53 AM found me munching cheddar cheese rice crackers and plowing through page after page of Bag of Bones.
I was in love with this story from the first, empathizing with a writer as he struggles to come to terms with his wife's untimely death. I could not help but root for widow Mattie, her precocious daughter, and the writer who falls in love with them and joins their battle against a heartless and powerful grandfather.
King's plot works on multiple levels. Mike doubts his late wife’s fidelity, and the new woman tests his ability to love again. The  grandfather’s evil past brings forth vengeful spirits and Mike’s dead wife also has a secret in her past. Then there are the owls, but you’ll have to read Bag of Bones to find out about them.
There's so much to like in Bag of Bones—pitch perfect pacing, meticulous characterization, expansive themes. Plus, anyone who can bring a discussion of Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" into a work of paranormal fiction deserves respect. And I was moved by the ghosts, both benevolent (Mike's beloved wife) and malevolent (an angry former inhabitant).
Regarding these malevolent forces, I have to say that two thirds of the way through the book, the narrative veered into dark territory, and I experienced shock. My mistake. This is, after all, Stephen King. What began as a sweet damsel in distress love story (I don't mean that in a pejorative sense as Mattie possesses plenty of spunk, courage and strength) of the good guy vs. bad guy variety morphed into GOOD vs. EVIL on a magnified scale. (I’m thinking of the Richter scale here, and yes, I was quaking.)
I have no one to blame but myself; the shock and awe, my fault. After all, I knew I was reading Stephen King. Plus, he gave me plenty of foreshadowing. The dark climax complements the story development and character arc, so no complaints.
No complaints, that is, aside from bitten fingernails and puffy eyes.   

I’m not alone in recommending this book. Bag of Bones won the Bram Stoker Award, the Locus Award, and the British Fantasy Award.

Follow Deb Atwood at her blog

Halloween Fright Reads: Trout Shirt by Dan Essman

Our friend, Dan Essman, sends this creepy tale from his (one hopes) forthcoming AN APOSTLE AT THE KIT KAT AND HORSEKILLER.    


They found the Potter girl. I wasn’t imagining it. That doesn’t make me any happier.
Stretched out like that. The rope. Her clothes were under a rock. Not really hidden. Of course, to me, nothing’s really hidden.
* * *
     Steelhead season but no rain to swell the river. The big fish cluster at the plugged mouth and want in with all their silvery flesh. The fishermen shove at the bar cursing the river and get numb drunk on Ed’s liquor and bang their dice cups progressively louder and louder to drown out the sea roar west of the highway. Liquor breath and beer piss and nobody changing clothes because the bad boys are on holiday and this is the country so rules don’t apply here. Like hell they don’t. I light a cigarette to cut the general stink.
     One a-hole started telling redneck jokes. That was stupid. There was a fight. It was short. Ed doesn’t tolerate that shit. But there were more words out front of the Kit Kat. The seaside economy depends on tourists but rumor had it the town wackos were sharpening their VFW bayonets and fuck the damn outsider money.
     It would’ve been a joke except I remembered what inspired the rumor. Last August, the youngest son of Millie, our book lady, was playing mumblety-peg with his great-granpop’s bayonet and put it right through his little foot, severed a nerve. His older brother came home from Scouts and found the kid near dead from bleeding. He applied first aid straight from the manual and saved his brother’s life. Jimmie got a merit badge and a commendation from the sheriff during Drug Education Week at the middle school.  Great story, a hero story and worth remembering. The kid will limp, that’s okay, but the knife should be destroyed. It’s tasted blood, a border’s been crossed, and the knife, too, will remember.
      I’ve seen this all before. Take a deep breath and consider the drought. I’ve hung at the Kit Kat these lost seasons of faithless weather. Bad for the town, bad for me. No fish, failed marriages, bent broken people drawing dry zeros through four carousel years of go-rounds. Only the bivalves have kept me sane, but then, I’m not a normal person. Loosely speaking, I have multiple personality disorder. But that’s only loosely speaking.
     The Kit Kat. I come every evening and practically live here when I’m not tending the oyster beds. I've got a favorite seat, my butt’s dented the vinyl and the stool's probably mine by common law. It's four seats from the wall so I won’t have to watch Ed walk the full length of the bar. Life's short and steps add up.
     But there's more. And it's critical.
     I chose the seat because it lacks distinction. I pay attention to the storyless places because they're safe.
     I won’t sit at a corner seat like Moley's. A corner is for the half-formed, the ethical namby-pambies. And I won’t sit up against the wall where I might feel safe because that's an illusion. Primates feel safer when their backs are to the wall. Try it sometime. Sit there and see if you feel better. You will. It’s not courage, it’s the soft surge of adreno-testosterone, a phony hormone deceit our body tells to our mind.
     There’s one more place I won’t sit and it’s the worst. I won’t sit right in the middle, that’s the lonely zone, it’s crowded. Watch the smirky outta-town professionals toss cheap lines to snag our local girls who are pretty well willing to believe what they know for damn sure isn't true. Fuck and abandon, fuck and abandon. But the local women are hungry. Did I say hungry? No. More than hungry. More than starving. There's anger in the skin.
     I swear to god where we sit tells as much about us as anything we do. I'm sure of my geographies. I huddle away from the whole sad scene. Steelhead season, tourist town blues, who cares? 
     I drink my bourbon and become the invisible man hiding out in the warm buzz. In the dark and blessedly alone. I have my reasons. Hiding like this keeps me from disappointing anyone. Sometimes I do too good a job of hiding and end up being talked to by loonies. They're the only ones can see me...they're used to the invisible world. 
     There's another reason, the real reason, I drink alone. I've got the Sight, a birthday gift from my mother, and I'm a tad too sensitive to the inner world of others. That's an understatement. People's thoughts and feelings are loud bright movies in my brain, and I don't always know whether my thoughts are really my own. Is it telepathy? Sort of. A stranger touches me, his guilts and his shames pour over me, pour through me…is that telepathy? Whatever it is, I know his story. And even if they don’t touch me, they’ll still tell.
     I’m not like my mother. I hate myself. I can’t take the constant pain.
     I sip the bourbon, finish it, don’t say anything.
     Ed refills the glass, says nothing but he’s half-zombie from the old Asian war.
     Gemmie Potter left town last week. She was that little hippie girl with the golden brown dreads from the group in the school bus camped in China Gulch. She said she was going to the City for the free reggae concerts in the park.
     She’d asked me to drive her and I would’ve because I had the time but the spirit world was fucking with my head. It’s late in the year and the autumnal equinox opens doors that should stay closed...when the dead can touch the living. Watch your cats and dogs. I’m not kidding. Listen to them  At such times the last place I should be is behind the wheel of the oyster van.
     There are beings out there who want to get in. I need to know that that hitchhiker on the shoulder is really human because sometimes they do get in and the games they play have secret rules that I don’t want to ever understand. But I shouldn’t think about them.
     Tonight’s the worst. Something is moving out there, something hungering for form in the sea spray. I can feel it’s twisting like stepping on a river eel in a muddy shallow.
     It’s late. Its quiet. The outta-towners are at Larraine’s diner next door, she can handle them. Ed’s counting change. Moley’s pinching his lower lip, making sure his face is still there. The Kit Kat’s practically a dormitory. Judy, the neophyte Buddha babe, is asleep on the couch beneath the steelhead trophies. The place is extraordinarily quiet.
     A couple fishermen stroll back in from next door. They’re well behaved. The fish and chips seem to have civilized them. Good for them, good for the rest of us.
     I look over at Ed. He’s polishing his skeet trophies. I’ve never really looked at the names on the plaques so maybe they aren’t his. Ed’s in silent conversation with himself...he doesn't like what he's hearing. Great.
     Once upon a time, Ed was with military intelligence. He was assigned to a permanent firing squad because of his experience as a hunter and his silent personality which veered toward the autistic. It was in 'Nam and the squad was three men with rifles, two held blank rounds, only one held a bullet.. 
     Folks used to ask him about this whole thing, Viet Nam and the executions. He would just say, “You never know. You never really know.” When they pressed him to remember, he'd shut down early. Folks got the hint.
     Moley diddles himself in the corner. He burps out that he's a Cubs fan to no one in particular. One of his unpleasant habits. Then the peckerwood pops the cap off his Bud Lite and foams all over the front of his grubby khakis.
     I’d thought about asking him to drive Gemmie, we need to help our little girls. Moley stunk too much of too many things. I couldn’t trust him. 
     But I understand. His dad was a short guy who screwed a whole lot of women more than he screwed Moley's mother but she kept herself busy in her nervous twitchy way. The whole twisty family scene worked on Moley’s head. Then there’s the fact of these brown moles splayed across his face like the constellation Scorpio.
     I find Ed encouraging, but Moley’s a pretty sad mess of a person.
     I'm having this weird feeling, a brain shadow like an amnesiac's name. Ever been diagnosed with cancer? It feels like that. Big and circling.
     Then it comes.
     A hand grabs at my heart, grips and squeezes my heart from the inside. The pain is sharp. I suppress a scream. The hand pinches my heart in iciness until my soul screams. I didn’t drink enough or run fast enough. The hand is gone. But, “Tag…I’m it.” That’s how the game starts. With mischief, with me running.
     A couple drunk tourists start to sing their parody version of an Eagles’s song aimed at the locals, “Life in the Slow Lane” which was sure to start a fight so Ed cranked the juke box. He has a volume dial hidden beneath the olives so he can chill the a-holes. He doesn’t encourage karaoke, or fighting.
     Judy gets off the couch and comes over. She wants me to make a play for her so that she can think about her crotch without having to feel guilty. A long time ago, I gazed into her darkness and saw all the small towns of her life. There's some major damage in her panties that’s kept me out of them. A pussy in a minefield. But that was a long time ago. 
     Now, she's a devotee of this local happy happy New Age guru who's maiming something passionate and beautiful in her spirit and replacing it with Sanskrit. I might have loved her. Once maybe. Not now. Not anymore. She gives me the chills. In the presence of slaughtered women, my cock is a phantom limb. Besides. I’m It.
     I tell Judy that I'm kinda sick. She mutters a brittle “Om shanti” at me and moves to the small crowd at the middle of the long bar. What I told her was pretty much the truth, as much truth as her ego needed to know.
      I light a Winston. The guy in the garish cotton trout shirt on my right who doesn’t look like one of the drunken yuppies, he spills his drink. Then he hard eyes me like I made him do it.
     "Keep it inside buddy" he says. "...or I'll cut them out."
     I flinch.
     Trout Shirt is mumbling, but not really to himself. This is a confession. The cotton is sweated to his back. He turns to me. I know what's coming.
     "Got a moment buddy?  I ain't the one." he says. "I ain't the one but they keep calling me."
     Whoa! So that's how it's gonna be. I give the high sign to Ed who pumps the juke, “Ferry Cross the Mersey,” so loud!, but that doesn't do any good. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Now I'm in a world by myself, surrounded by the walls of music. Me and Trout Shirt. There's one other person here. I kinda expected her.
     Trout Shirt says to me that he's sorry. That he's always been a real hard worker. He flexes his smooth worm-white hairless bicep, shows me the tattoo of a busty perky girl with big red nipples...she's straddling a heavy fishhook above a caption, "Fresh Bait."
     He says, "I took her to the river even though she was younger than my daughter 'cause god she wanted to anyway and she was so pretty and solid like a woman at her very beginning...not filled out and soft like a woman floating in her years. And shit, I was a fisherman, and she was fresh and clean. Fresh. You know, right outta the water. The drugs were hers. I wouldn't a brought them, I ain't no hippie. What did she want if not what happened? You'd a done the same."
     There's the key. They always say this to me, that I'd have done the same. They think that because I listen, because I don't anvil down hard on them like some sin heavy holier than holy born again, that I'd do the same. They've got me wrong. I see evil, I recognize monsters, but I can't help it if I love, and I love…sure, that’s me, a regular Jesus.
     It’s closing time and Ed is hustling the losers out of his bar. Judy walks past me as if I weren’t there. I’m not. Holding her arm is some stranger in a Porsche wind breaker…a clueless outta-towner but local girl makes good. 
     Closing time, when the strongest prayers happen from the center of the heart of desire when no one else is listening. From the tongue of the will in a choir of gimmes and groping for all the subtle hungers of freedom. “Forgive us! Forgive us!” Maybe it's my choice of barstools, but they always ask me to intercede.
     “It was her as opened my pants and grabbed my dick. It was her as strung herself onto me and tossed herself left and right. It was her as made the sounds in the back of her throat and that thing happened with the river. I never really touched her. She was already white and cold. Hell! She called me an old pouch in the pickup. What'd she mean...an old pouch? What a crazy screwy thing to say.”
     I shrug but it feels like a wince, rivers always are causing grief.
     My cigaret has burned down. A coil of smoke snakes between us. He grabs my wrist, I notice his thick black fingernails, the slits at his neck that open and close with each breath. His skin with the trout print pattern is dripping wet, is soaking into his pants. I don’t want to know what organs of viciousness he’s hiding beneath that stained cloth. The sins a man commits change more than his soul.
     A dark puddle spreads across the floor.
     Then I see her. Like I knew I would. Gemmie Potter.
     She is crouching on the floor, naked and shivering and all of fourteen years old... looking up at me with her dark blue after midnight eyes. She’s sloshing softly in the
water, her legs coiled under her like a mermaid. Droplets flash in her sodden gold-brown dreads, Gemmie, her name to me like knives. If only I’d…
     The song ends. The juke goes silent. Trout Shirt is gone and away into the dark stream of unbeing. And Gemmie Potter? I pray for her wherever she might be. I offer a terrible petition from my heart for our lost daughter, for what I know to be true, not to be true.
     Who’s listening? Don’t answer. Don’t speak their Names…they feed on it.
     Ed wipes down the long empty bar.
     Just me and him in the Kit Kat
     I think about changing stools but know it won't make any difference. I am being followed.



Halloween Fright Reads: The Ghost Stories of M.R. James

For our Halloween Fright month, I put out feelers for reviews of some classic creepy horror.  This guest post comes for Pat Woods, a Englishman who now lives in Taiwan.  He is a member of Taipei Writer's Group taipeiwritersgroup.wordpress.com

M.R. James (1862-1936) was a English scholar known for his ghost stories. James was an antiquarian with an interest and an expertise in all things medieval. Many of these stories were devised to tell his friends. In his own words, his aim was to "put the reader into the position of saying to himself, 'If I'm not very careful, something of this kind may happen to me!'"  

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary is classic horror, without blood, gore, monsters or dark forests; tales that disturb as well as frighten.  James’s characters are often scholars, churchmen, or well-to-do types, and subjects range ranging from haunted places or persons, devil-worship, witch trials, and mysterious items of arcane origin. They are set in late Victorian/early Edwardian era, or older periods of history. (“Martin’s Close,” involves a centuries-old trial.)  The stories seldom explain the horror, though some (“The Ash-Tree,” “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral”) attempt this.

“Number 13,” in which circumstances progress from bizarre to terrifying at a great pace. 
“The Ash Tree” will make an arachnophobe’s skin crawl.
 “The Tractate Middoth,” has an ending that provides the biggest “shock” of the collections.

James had a tradition of reading these stories aloud at King’s College, Cambridge—and that’s the best way to introduce yourself.  I fortunately encountered James through BBC adaptations: Sir Christopher Lee reading sold me on how James’s stories should be presented.  If you like classic ghost stories, you’ll enjoy them—even better, get audiobook versions.

Find Pat's stories in these anthologies:

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