Free Halloween Story!

Hey, friends! I wrote this free Halloween story for you about a teenage boy and his very protective mom. Inspiration came from the Goodreads Nightmare Generator. Hope you enjoy!


Be Careful What You Summon

The chains cut into his ankles, the dust on the floor made his nose run, and Adrian Damon was having a bad day. Nearly night at this point – the sun was setting, casting beams against the far wall. He shifted again, trying to find a comfortable position within the salt circle, wincing at the soreness of his tailbone from sitting on the old hardwood floor. The attic was dim and deserted, but he knew better than to hope for someone to come. Whoever came up now had probably put him here.

His memory was shaky. He was pretty sure that Miranda Barnes had been the one to lead him up here, before everything went black. Dumb, to follow a girl like that into her attic, but he had always liked her blonde hair and her doe-like eyes. She’d been nice to him, too, not like some of the other popular kids in school. Adam couldn’t help that he was pale enough you could see the blue of his veins in places, no matter how much he went outside. He couldn’t help his black eyes or his black hair. That was genetics, a gift from his mother.

He had to get out of here before she found out what had happened. She would be so pissed.

Adrian tried to stand, wincing as the blood rushed to his head. There was blood in his black hair, too, he could feel it crackle beneath his fingers where it had dried. His mouth was musty and dry. The chains rattled as he walked to the edge of the salt.

The salt circle bit at his fingers and he pulled his hand back sharply. Whoever had drawn this had picked up a book at least. His heart fell. Without help there was no way he was getting out anytime soon.

There was a sound from below.

Adrian hid his burned hand behind him. The door at the bottom of the narrow attic stairs swung open, and three sets of feet hit the steps. There came Miranda, with her pretty golden curls. Zach was next, and that was no surprise. Zach Elding was a bully, with big wide shoulders and swooping brown hair. Behind him was the whip-thin Patrick Roberts, who followed Zach everywhere. He had been born in Korea but his parents had adopted him when he was only a year old so he was American through and through.

“You guys need to let me out of here,” Adrian said. Zach laughed. Patrick set a lamp down on the floor, the battery-operated kind most people kept for when the power went out. The last rays of dying sunshine were dripping down the wall, and the attic was dim. He flicked the lamp on, chasing away the shadows. Adrian winced at the brightness.

“We’re not letting you go anywhere until you show us something cool,” Zach said. Miranda just looked nervous. Adrian would bet money that she had been the one to figure out how to bind him. The prospect made his heart hurt in his chest.

Demons trapped in a circle were supposed to be bound to tell the truth, but Adrian wasn’t all demon. He opened his mouth and lied.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Sure you do,” Zach said. “You’ve got to give us three wishes, and I want to see some magic.”

Adrian rolled his eyes. Every part of that statement was wrong. Zach had as much sense as a crocodile. He was inspired in his cruelty, but he didn’t focus on details. “All you’re going to see is a jail cell if you don’t take these chains off me. This is kidnapping, Zach.”

Patrick shuffled his feet, looking nervous. Miranda made a face. But it was Zach who answered, of course.

“Can’t be kidnapping when you’re not even human.”

Adrian said nothing. His heart was going a mile a minute in his ears. He could sense the sun vanishing below the horizon. The light on the wall was nearly gone, the lantern on the floor the only thing letting them see. They had no idea, not really. 

“Show me some magic,” Zach said.

“Make me,” Adrian shot back, his tone scornful. If he could get Zach to break the circle – but no, Miranda had grabbed the bigger boy’s arm as he started forward. He was nowhere near the salt line.

“I thought he had to do what I said,” Zach demanded of her. The girl shrugged.

“I don’t know why it’s not working,” she said.

The sun went down. Adrian felt it in his chest.

“Zach, let me out,” he said, sinking urgency into his tone. “I’m serious. Quick.”

“Or what?” Zach said, still belligerent. Patrick pointed at Adrian.

“What’s wrong with your eyes, man?” he said.

Adrian knew what was wrong. The night revealed his nature. They were glowing red.

He threw himself against the barrier then, feeling the darkness surge in him. If he could break it himself – but it flashed, burning his skin. He cried out. The other kids cried out as well, stumbling back. The chains cut into Adrian’s legs, and he could smell his own blood.

“Jesus,” Patrick was saying. “He is a demon!”

“No shit,” Zach said. “That’s more like it, Adrian. Show us what you really look like!”

Adrian looked at him, terrified. There were shadows gathering thickness on the attic floor. He was out of time.

“Mom!” Adrian shouted. “Don’t hurt them!”

The light went out.

He heard Zach scream, and stumbling, blind steps. Someone fell down the stairs. It took Adrian’s eyes a minute to adjust to the deeper darkness, but when they did he saw Zach whimpering in a ball in the dimness. Patrick was gone. Miranda was floating in the air, her curls splayed like roots, a scream fighting to exit her throat and being held back by – something. Adrian felt satisfaction, and then felt guilty for it. 

“Let my boy go,” came a voice from all around the attic room, “or I will eviscerate your pretty friend.”

Zach looked around him. Babbled something nonsensical. He probably didn’t even know was eviscerate meant.

“Mom, put Miranda down!” Adrian demanded. Two red eyes opened where the shadows were deepest, focusing on him. Zach took the moment of inattention to make a break for it. A band of darkness clotheslined him. His body made an arch before he impacted with the floor headfirst. Then he lay unmoving. Miranda fainted, the scream dying in her throat.

Lilith, queen of darkness, lowered Miranda to the floor with a soft thump. Then she stepped out of the shadows and looked down at her son, who looked so much like her.

“Adrian,” she said.

“Mom.”

“What have I told you about following strangers into their homes?”

“They weren’t strangers,” Adrian said tiredly. His mother sighed.

“No, they never are.” She sent a roping strand of darkness to wrap around Zach’s neck and dragged his unresponsive body to the circle, pushing his head through the salt.

“There,” she said. There was a snick at his ankles as the shackles came undone. Adrian stepped over Zach and embraced his mother.

“I’m sorry, dear,” she said, and there was a weight of guilt in her voice. Adam shook his head against her shoulder, fighting back tears.

“Not your fault,” he said. “There are cruel people everywhere.”

“Yes, there are. But I’m blessed to have you.”

Lilith pushed him away and looked at him with red-burning eyes. She was his mother, and he was her son. He wouldn’t let anyone make him ashamed of that.

His mother smiled at him. Then she took his hand and they went home.


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The great vampire vs. zombie debate

Hi, everyone. This week I’m going to weigh in on an important spooky issue, one that arises every year at this time. That issue is: whose undeadness is more potent? The vampire’s? Or the zombie’s?

To answer this question, we must first establish a baseline. What kind of vampire are we talking about? Is the vampirism magical, or viral? We must also answer this question for the zombie. Accordingly, I’ve outlined some possible scenarios below using some of my favorite examples of the undead. Enjoy!

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Magical vampire vs. Magical zombie*

For the past two decades, when people think of vampires they are far more likely to think of Anne Rice’s lithe, cold Lestat than they are to think of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In both cases, however, there are some established rules. The vampire is dead, first of all. In Lestat’s case, that death means that he remains unchanging throughout eternity. Lestat also has a maker. Most vampire novels posit some sort of bond between a master vampire and the vampires he or she has brought into existence, often one that results in near unbreakable obedience, at least until the vampire gets more powerful.

This is an attribute shared with the magical zombie. In contrast to a magical vampire, it is debatable whether or not a zombie brought back by magic understands or evaluates its world in any meaningful way. The zombie has no will of its own. If there is a will, that will is hunger only. Typically, however, the zombie is controlled by a master of its own – a necromancer, who has been responsible for raising it. The zombie continues to rot, and does not contain anything like blood.

Rules established, what happens if a vampire bites a zombie? Probably nothing. A rotting zombie has no blood to attract the vampire, or with which to be turned. It is possible that consuming the blood of a zombie, at least in the world of Anne Rice, would kill the vampire, but that is highly debatable. The zombie’s death has already found it, so the vampire is not following death anywhere by taking the last drop, even if said vampire could be induced to attempt it. I imagine it would be like eating putrid fish.

If a magical zombie bit a vampire, a similar lack of reaction would probably occur. Depending on the type of vampire, there may be damage of a permanent kind or damage that is immediately healed. This is assuming that a zombie could get close enough to actually manage to bite a vampire, of course, since they tend to be pretty fast and zombies (at least the magical kind) are not fast.

The only way, probably, that a magical vampire could become a zombie would be to be taken over by the necromancer. In Buffy, for example, both Spike and Angel show that vampires are susceptible to magical influence on the part of witches and other magic users. Depending on the world, it might be possible for the necromancer in question to pilot a vampire (more on this below). This would render them functionally zombie-esque.

Magical vampire vs. Virus zombie

As discussed above, vamps are dead and unchangeable. The dead can’t catch viruses. An exception to this rule rises in the Sookie Stackhouse novels, where a kind of vampire HIV can be transmitted from living humans to vampires. It is debatable whether a virus which could live in a zombie body – i.e. one that is actively rotting excepting the nervous system, as in Resident Evil – could be easily transmitted by a vampire biting said zombie. On the other hand, a zombie bite to a Trueblood vampire might have unfortunate and new consequences. It is hard to tell how they would react.

Virus vampire vs. Magical zombie

This match-up is a difficult one because virus vampires quickly start to look like zombies for all intents and purposes. Some examples of a virus or other pathogen creating a vampire include the Immortuus pathogen in the Kate Daniels novels and the creatures in The Strain.  In both cases, early exposure results in a mindless killing machine. In the case of the vampires in Kate Daniels, it is additionally possible to control those vampires as if they were zombies. Navigators bear many resemblances to necromancers. In essence, this question may be a moot exercise. If it’s dead, a necromancer can pilot it. If it’s still alive… things get a little tricky, and the rules of the world kick in.

zombies

Virus vampire vs. Virus zombie

The classic zombie that comes to all of our minds is probably not the one piloted by an outside will, but the one that is driven by a virus, bacterium, or other pathogen that just wants to spread itself around. For a good example, look no further than your classic Dawn of the Dead zombie, more or less revived in recent franchises such as The Walking Dead. These guys have little of their humanity left. They’re actively rotting, and they just want to eat everything.

But, as mentioned, the rotting bit is probably the only thing that distinguishes them from a Kate Daniels vampire, minus the ability to be piloted. In a battle, who would win? I would guess it depends on how much the original infection has transformed its host. If a vampire from post-Shift Atlanta were to bite or otherwise expose a human who lived to its pathogen, it’s likely that human would become a vampire, of course. But a zombie has already been transformed pretty significantly from the baseline human body. Things like body temperature, circulation, and alkalinity can all change to make the zombie’s body much less amenable to infection from another contaminant, and that’s assuming that the pathogen is passive to the new invasion. My hypothesis is that, in both cases, these infections would simply cancel one another out. That is to say, there would be no result from a Kate Daniels vampire biting a Dawn of the Dead zombie or vice versa.

That said, the vampire is going to win the fight the minute it pulls the zombie limb from limb.

That’s all I’ve got! Enjoy, and let me know if you disagree with who would win below! Happy Halloween!

* There’s one last vampire/zombie dichotomy of interest worth mentioning in the magical vampire vs. magical zombie debate, and that is the Black and Red Courts in the Dresden Files. While it’s true that Black Court vampires share many elements with more traditional vampires, their rotting bodies do certainly evoke a zombie-esque physique. On the other hand, Red Court vampires lose all appearance of humanity, becoming demonic in form, but share many of the more recent elements of magical vampires, including the ability to seduce and enthrall their victims. It’s hard to tell for sure where these two groups fall in the debate, but one thing’s for sure: they are both hard to kill.


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Loss and telling you story

October is, in the traditions I was handed down, a month of joyful harvest. It is also a month of reaping. This is the month that fields die. It is the month where the veil grows thin, and the dead come to visit.

The first book I ever finished I finished in the wake of loss. In 2008, my grandmother passed away. For over a year I had been noodling on yet another project that no doubt would have ended up shelved, but watching her die catalyzed something in me. It made me want to finish the work.

Since that time, I have written many stories that my grandmother appeared in. I don’t know if this is healthy or not – I only know that she is alive in me and my stories. That when I feel the press of infinity, I write. When I feel alone, I write, and I write too when I hear her whisper. I write so as not to be dead, as the great author Bradbury said. But I also write to know death. To understand this world we live in and the ways we must move through it.

Earlier this month, we lost a relative in our extended family. The death was gentle as deaths go, expected and yet quick as a butterfly’s fluttering. I didn’t get to say goodbye, not really. When I got the call, I sat down and wrote for hours. When I finally forced myself to stop, I still felt the need for pen and paper. No doubt she will end up in a story, too.

I don’t have any point to this post, per se. I could talk about how writing is a kind of self-cannibalization, chewing all of your emotions and experiences up and spitting them out on paper. I could talk about how writing has helped me process griefs I did not think I would ever process, to digest them at last and make them part of me, no longer a foreign object lodged behind my breastbone.

But I think I want to sit in silence for a moment, and just be grateful for this life. It is so short, and there are so many beautiful people in it.


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Damn fine Lovecraft reimaginings

It’s October, and at a recent house party a friend of mine was telling me how much he hated Lovecraft. In honor of this sentiment and the creepiest month of the year, I bring to you my shortlist of super amazing Lovecraft-inspired tales. Enjoy!

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The Ballad of Black Tom

I have recommended this story so many times, including a blogpost dedicated just to this novella. Check it out. Thank me later. This is a fast-paced and nerve-plucking tale.

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The Dream-Quest of Vellett Boe

Remember way back at the end of 2016 when I recommended my favorite reads of the year? This lovely feminist novella made the list. It’s a tale involving a quest and dreaming gods, and the bond between a professor and her student.

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The Innsmouth Legacy

Perhaps one of the most inventive approaches to Lovecraft’s tales, this series so far includes Winter Tide, Deep Roots, and “The Litany of Earth,” the story that kicked off the whole affair. This is the tale of an alternate history in which systems of authority are the real monsters, not those who return to the deep. Like The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe this is a story with a slower pace and less in the way of gore or violence.

The Borden Dispatches

Reaching the farthest afield, we have a fantastical retelling of the gruesome Lizzie Borden murders of childhood rhyme. The things from beyond are definitely the evil here, and only Lizzie Borden and her ax stand in their way. Check out Maplecroft and Chapelwood for an eerie set of reads. Lots of violence and action in these books, counterbalanced by the writing style and horror-movie tension.

Here’s hoping you enjoy! Until next week.


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Doubt, desires, futures

This week, I’ve been reminding myself that you can look back, but you can’t go back.

I’m a self-published author, and when I started this gig I had no idea what I was doing. It is possible that I still don’t. Periodically, I will remember this. Writing could, easily, be a full-time gig. There are always more words to put to paper, and once something is drafted, more editing, more submissions, more research. This is very hard without a team to support you, and self-publishing means that the team you have is one you pay. No one should have to work for free. It’s a direct contrast to the traditional publishing mantra of “money always flows to the writer.” I have heard self-publishing described best as a business, with a large initial investment and a hope of payback.

Of course, when I started this gig, I didn’t understand any of that really. I was certainly not where I needed to be as a writer and marketer and business person to make things work. I’m still learning. All of life is a learning process, but the learning curve in this business is steep. Even with the insulation of traditional publishing, the pitfalls outnumber those in most careers. I can guarantee this, as I’ve bounced through several. For the most part, if you show up with halfway decent skills and a desire to work and learn, you can at least scrape by. It may not be pretty but it’s enough to get you to the next week.

Writing often doesn’t feel like that for me. Perhaps it’s because I have never paid into it as deeply as some; perhaps it is because I don’t have a great head for business, or at least didn’t six years ago. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of hours in the day – I’ve given a lot more hours, most likely, to developing my career at the dayjob just by dent of having a degree in it, no matter that I’ve been writing since I could hold a pen. But despite my natural propensity, writing as a job feels like climbing uphill in a snowstorm. I have to give 100% or there is no momentum. I’ll stand there and freeze.

I’ve thought a lot about what my goals are for the future and how best to get there. There’s no one path in this business, at least that’s what everyone says, but there are more well-trodden ones. At this point, I’m in a place of introspection. I don’t need my writing to live. I would like to be in a place, someday, where I didn’t have to juggle it with a whole other career, but I don’t hate my dayjob – the opposite, most days. In my dreams, I write full-time. All the stories that are inside me make it to paper before I inevitably return to the soil. Writing full-time isn’t about making money, necessarily, but birthing those stories. It’s about having the leeway to do that, to get the words down on paper, without sacrificing all of the other good things in my life – the time with family, the mental and physical health, things that can give a little now if you’re willing to pay for it later. And you will pay for it later.

Anyway, I keep thinking about where things go next. I keep thinking about the best use of my time. I keep thinking about all these worlds jostling about in my head, how they slosh over sometimes without me telling them to. I haven’t figured anything out yet for sure, except that, while I can change what I’ve already given the world, I’m not sure it’s the best use of my time right now. I can’t go back.

I need to move forward, to become.


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