My novellette ‘The Lich’ is free this week on Kindle

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This tale about the fall of an undead wizard, told in his own words, was my first foray into fantasy, originally published in last year’s “Ancient Enemies” monster anthology. If you like grimdarks, not-so-sympathetic villains, or fringe characters in general, check it out. Cover art by the incredible Laura Hollingsworth.

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Fiction: The Girl in the Blue Dress

This letter is for the girl in the blue dress. You know who you are and that I’ve wanted to contact you. My name is Rider. My handle on the BrickLog is RK466. You can contact me at #1107381980085.

However, since I know this letter will have far more readers than just you, the following is for all those who are not the girl in the blue dress. Blue, you can skip to the end.

Everyone else, I want to tell you a story. It’s about love, and longing, and the childish games Watchers play—at least one in particular—in the service of those first two things. I’m hoping my story will convince you to help me with something, because I desperately need your aid.

The first time I saw her was in Pompeii. She was walking towards me, up the sloping street, wearing a blue dress. She carried a basket of olives on her hip, which was swaying, her eyes locked on the mountain behind us. When she noticed me noticing her, she recognized me instantly as a Watcher, like herself, and asked me: “Are you enjoying the show?”

I said “Yes”.

“Me too,” she said with a smile. “This one’s my favorite.”

That city in its prime is more beautiful than you can imagine without seeing it firsthand. It’s an old Schwarbrick (sorry, Schwarzschild-Kubrick Show, if that wasn’t clear), so the ticket only costs a few dozen seconds. The streets are vigorous, still brimming with life, hundreds of people all passing along their kinetic energy in a crashing, haphazard fashion. And when the mountain finally blows, and the jet black streams darken the sky in an instant and that sound—oh God, that terrible sound—penetrates you so deep it could bury you, you know why we do this, why those few dozen seconds of our lives are nothing for the joy of witnessing a Schwarbrick like this.

You think: This is why we watch.

The advertisements all push the war shows these days, but I prefer natural disasters. The heroics are better, more organic. If you’ve never seen one of the Natural Crisis ‘bricks, you don’t know what you’re missing. I consider myself an addict. It used to be because of my morbid fascination with all the blood, the fires and the suffering. But these days it’s because of her.

I won’t give up searching until I find her.

During every great catastrophe in human history there has always been someone standing by, laughing. And when I first laid eyes on her, loitering up the stony road in Pompeii with her basket of olives towards the place at the top of the rise where she would have the best view of Vesuvius, the vantage clearest of vineyards and tombs, I knew she was the type to laugh, not out of sadism, but because to her this really was just a show.

Then the caldera cracked and my eyes were drawn away from her to the eruption rising to cover the sky with obsidian dust, and by the time I thought to look for her again, she was gone.

The next time I saw her was in Rome. It was 217 AD. Most show-goers watch in marathons: a week in Ancient Rome, a week in China, a day or two on a certain stretch of the North Atlantic of a silent, iceberg-laden night, because buying ‘bricks in bulk is cheaper, costing only a few minutes for each show rather than the hours or days they would cost to purchase tickets for individually.

She was watching the Rome shows this week, same as me. It was the evening of the Coliseum fires.

We were both exploring the hallways outside the arena as workers prepared for a gladiatorial match that was to take place the following day. A low blanket of charcoal clouds belched murmurs of thunder through the dimming sky.

I don’t recall how many people died that night, if there was even a record. But I recall their faces well, so placid and unaware.

I found myself walking suddenly behind a woman whose stride and swaying hips seemed familiar. But I couldn’t place exactly where from.

Then I saw the blue dress; the same she was wearing in Pompeii.

She strolled casually, not making much effort to fit in, because she knew she didn’t have to. She was still carrying her basket of olives. I assumed it was her immersion prop, to make her presence in times that were not her own more convincing. Mine is a pair of rope sandals, uncomfortable as a plague, but they fit well (enough) in most historical ‘bricks.

The girl looked back at me and smiled. She had vibrant freckles, amber hair that fell in slow-moving curls, olive skin so smooth it appeared oiled under the torchlight. I knew it was her as soon as our eyes met.

She kept pace with me and eventually said, in a language distinctly not Ancient Latin: “Hey, you. Fancy seeing you here. You like this type of ‘brick, huh?”

I told her I did.

“Natural Crisis week is my all-time fave,” she said. “When you’re done here, though, you should skip the Titanic and check out the S.S. Sultana instead. It’s a much better ‘brick, and a lot less crowded.

I saw her wink as we entered the glow under a lantern. I stopped, taking her arm gently. “You know, these are always more fun with another person. Would you like to watch this one together?” I asked her.

A sudden snap of thunder spooked a pack of hyenas in one of the cages nearby. A crowd of people gathered to watch the handler desperately trying to sing them calm again. Non volo! He cried. Non volo! Non volo, non volo

“No,” she said over my shoulder. “Sorry, but I like to watch alone.”

When I looked again, she was gone.

We all saw the finger of lightning and heard the deafening cries. It was no surprise for me, as I knew it was coming. But when the bright flash licked down against the top of the Colosseum, and the flames budded from the wood supports and spread and scattered, it was suddenly as if the whole world had ended.

I felt a hand brush my back, soft and reassuring. A flash of blue passed my peripheral vision. But when I tried to find her, I could not.

I went to the S.S. Sultana next. I was young, could afford to shave a few more days off my life to buy another Schwarbrick ticket, and it was one I had never seen.

I stood on the main deck and brushed her shoulder with mine. She looked stunning. She wore a fur coat over her blue dress, for the night was frigid and the surface of the Mississippi caked with drifts of ice.

It’s a short show, the Sultana; only a few minutes to view. We didn’t have much time.

She smiled at me and took my arm, said, “Boom,” and pointed toward the boiler. We were knocked apart as the true sound of the explosion split the frosty night, and somewhere among the din, I heard her laughing.

“That always gets me!” She chuckled as we found each other again amid the chaotic screaming of the crowd. She propped herself steady on the rail as the deck tilted and people began jumping overboard, screaming.

“This is great!” I said, shouting over the noise. “I’ve never seen this one before!”

“I know!” she said, and grinned.

The fireball ascended above us like a beacon, and in that crimson light I saw something about her I hadn’t noticed before: she had a scar tattoo of a star under her eye that bunched up as if it was twinkling when she smiled.

“Let’s go to the Egyptian Plague,” I said.

“What?”

“The Egyptian Plague!” I repeated. “Come on! It’s great!”

She left my arm, turned and made fast for her extraction line on the second deck. “I’ve gotta go,” she said.

“Wait! What’s your name?”

Then my own extraction point out of the Schwarbrick opened, and I exited back into the present, disappointed, but still flying off the feel of her touch. Many centuries in the past, the Sultana’s second deck began to sink beneath the lapping freeze of the rough-and-tumble Mississippi.

I didn’t see her in Egypt, nor in Babylon. I snuck up on someone I thought was her in California at Donner Lake, hiding in the snow drifts behind a thermal shield, but I was mistaken. That watcher was an older woman, brunette and irritated I’d crashed on her show. She made a joke that this was a bad time to be sneaking up on people, and that if I’d done it to the wrong party I would probably get eaten. We started talking and ended up getting along, shared a bowl of soup and watched the cannibals devour each other.

When I finally saw my girl again, it was in the Anasazi Famine of 1299. She was walking among the corpses, holding a fox skin over her nose. The sweet smell of rot lingered like an echo over that doomed city. She was wearing her blue dress. I could see it from all the way across the dust-bitten valley, like a single drop of color on a gray, apocalyptic canvas.

Neither of us spoke. She only took my hand, and we walked in silence among them, an entire civilization dead to starvation. The few Anasazi who were still alive picked through the ruins and the streets in a last desperate attempt to find food. The dead offered no complaint.

History has come to know them as The Old Ones. That is what Anasazi means, a name they surely did not call themselves. Their language is lost and cannot be learned even by the most dedicated Schwarbrick aficionados—one of the few such languages the fandom has yet to crack (I know, because aside from being a Watcher, I’m also a Cracker; meaning, I dedicate the vast majority of my free time when I’m not ‘bricking to solving the lost languages of the past we hear in the ‘bricks; it makes the experience richer).

But in their places, dead or alive they looked no older than us—smaller perhaps, rougher, harder—but no older.

I didn’t see it as a good time to ask for a second date. There would be another time, I told myself. There always is.

I now must apologize, dear reader, if I have misled you thus far. Even thinking about her makes it difficult to write. I’m writing all of this to you because I need your help. What I ask is simple: if you see her, you must show her this letter. I need to see her again.

You must give her this letter. She’ll know who I am by reading it and, I hope, will seek me out, since my efforts to find her have been haphazard at best, and most of the time, altogether fruitless.

I’m not some creep in the bushes, you see. I know my feelings are mutual, even if she does play hard-to-get. I’ve known ever since she kissed me above the flooded valleys of the Yangtze in 1931 AD, the last time I saw her.

Three million people died that year in the floods. She came to the show drunk. She sat close to me on the hillside, her arm entangled in mine and her soft head resting pleasantly on my shoulder. We both speculated on the horror of losing one’s home to the rising black waters, or one’s family, then suddenly, she kissed me.

Her lips tasted of wine and the gray, forgotten future. When she pulled back she had rain in her eyes and a smile caught between her dimples.

“I know we’re not supposed to interfere when we watch,” she said. “But haven’t you ever wanted to?”

“What’s your name?” I said.

“That would be interfering.”

She slid a finger along the top knuckle of my right hand, softly wiping away the raindrops gathered there.

“We’re not interfering at all! And who cares? You some sort of BrickLogger?”

“Loggers aren’t the only ones who care about all the innocent people who get killed when we interfere.”

“How do you know anyone does? All that’s been proven is it creates a failed timeline.”

She squeezed my hand and stood up on her heels, kissing me deeper than before. “I gotta go.”

Someone screamed on the river below, a man clinging desperately to a raft made from doors wound together with chicken wire, the pregnant black waters fighting to pull him under.

When I looked up again, she was falling back through her extraction point into her own time.

“Wait! How can I contact you?” But she wasn’t there.

And again, after our picnic at Fort Point in 1906, as we watched San Francisco collapse to the malicious arithmetic of the quakes; and the bombing of Hiroshima; and the time we stood with hands clasped tight as the women buried their children at Wounded Knee.

She’s playing games with me.

You must find her, dear reader. Whoever, whenever you are, there is a significant chance she is nearby. I know, because she told me this week is her favorite. I’ve left copies of this letter in every ‘brick currently being shown.

She isn’t hard to recognize. She wears a blue cotton dress, a simple garment that could fit easily anytime, anywhere. Sometimes she carries a basket of olives as an immersion prop. Her hair will be done up in whatever style is trendy in your time. She will be close to wherever you find this letter. She always knows where to get the best views.

In return for your help, I will help you. I know I am only a stranger to you—some words written on a piece of paper. But have you not also loved and longed for one who toyed so indecisively with your heart? Would you not do anything to secure their love, so you might be happy?

If she isn’t there, the advice I’m about to give you will still be useful. By law and the terms of the Schwarzschild-Kubrick Show user agreement, I must be purposefully vague in what I am about to say. But it is monumentally important that you listen, and listen well. Your life depends on it.

For My Blue: Call me already. I’m running out of time and can’t keep chasing you around through the ‘bricks like this. I know you’re in just as much time-debt as I am. You’re being childish by pretending to be interested; either you’re interested, or you’re not. If so, just call. I hope your answer is yes.

For everyone else: Very soon, you should put down whatever you’re doing and start to run.

*First published in Nonlocal Science Fiction, December 2015

(Want to read this story on your Kindle? Download it here)

The Dankness to Come: A Sneak Peak at 2017

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In celebration of LURK getting a new cover yesterday (should be up on Amazon by this afternoon), I’m going all out and giving you guys a look at what I’ve got going on over the next six months writing-wise.

The big one is Corruption, my next novel, which is part one of a dark fantasy series set in Eastern Europe and weighs in around 500 pages. I’ve sent out early copies to a few beta readers.

Coming a bit sooner, are a bunch of short stories and a few novellas that I will be putting up for sale on my Amazon page. Most of these were previously published in magazines or anthologies, but I don’t think very many people have read them, and I’ve always liked reading shorter stuff on the Kindle, anyway. Three of these stories are already up as of today, with many more to come in the next few months. There’s going to be a little bit of everything: horror, sci fi, dark fantasy, even *shudder*…. r-r-r-romance. So, if you dig reading one-shot stories you can finish in ten to twenty minutes, stay tuned.

Each week I will set the price of one of my shorter works to “Free” in the Kindle store, and if you see one you want to read that isn’t free and you don’t want to pay the $0.99 for it, everything I publish except my novels will be free to read on this website. This week’s free story is  Death Comes for the Pickup Artist (currently #3 on Amazon and climbing).

I did all the covers myself, with the exception of the The Lich, which my cousin Laura painted. What do you guys think?Any one in particular that really grabs your interest?

New Cover Reveal

Hiya friends. I’m pretty thrilled right now. As of tonight, the Kindle version of LURK will have a new cover, which I think is pretty phenomenal. Take a lurk:

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Why change it, you ask? Quite simply, I didn’t think the old cover was perfect for the book. In the vast literary jungle that is Amazon, there are hundreds of thousands of novels both traditionally and self-published that all have good covers, and to even get a click-through for someone to read your blurb these days, your cover can’t just be good… it needs to be eye-popping.

So… there it is.

 

Paperbacks will be updated sometime next week. And as always, if you haven’t read it yet, Part One is free to read here.

Turkey and Good Old Fashioned, Got-Danged Terror

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There is no such joy in the tavern as on the Kindle with free goddamned books.

Quick announcement to let you all know that Lurk will be free all Thanksgiving on Kindle, from 11/22 – 11/26. That’s zero dollars. As in free ninety nine. As in five finger discount. As in the punchline of a bad “your mom” joke. So if you’ve been on the fence, know someone on the fence, or know someone who knows someone who has a fence and might possibly one day be on it (or just someone who is looking for an unsettling, creepy read), give them a recommendation and that there link.

And as always, if you read the book and enjoy it, please consider leaving an honest review.

Lurk is On Sale For $0.99

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I opened a hole,

I opened a hole,

The discounted ebooks

Go in the soil…

 

One dollar, folks. Step reeeeiiiight up. That’s less than a shot of plum vodka in a Polish Pijalnia. That’s less than an item on the McDonald’s dollar menu. That’s less than a pack of Trident White, and I know, since I have a problem and chew at least a pack of that stuff a day. One dollar.

For a limited time, Lurk will be on sale for $.99 USD. The sale ends Thursday, November 10.

Don’t wait.

 

My 10 Favorite Horror Novels (That Aren’t By Stephen King)

Halloween might be over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy these 10 hair-raising reads by the masters of horror.

Everyone knows autumn is the perfect time of year to curl up in your favorite chair with a good, creepy read. The leaves are changing, the beer is getting thicker and darker, the rain makes the backyard smell like time and wet soil, and your social media becomes filled with pictures of your friends’ kids dressed like pumpkins and dogs wearing plushy shark fins.

Yet many readers don’t know there is a whole genre’s worth of horror novels out there that doesn’t start and end with Stephen King (and I am saying this as a Stephen King mega-fan). So, I figured I’d bang out a list of my favorite scary stories I’ve read recently to give a signal boost to works that I feel should be causing more readers out there to be shitting their pants. Hope you brought some fresh ones…

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10. Bird Box

Josh Malerman’s sleeper hit imagines a post-apocalyptic world where the beings that ended civilization still linger, driving anyone who looks upon them mad. As such, those who have survived have adapted to living life mostly blind. They live in houses with boarded-up windows and cannot go outside without blindfolds; for many, it has been years since they’ve seen sunlight. A taut, beautifully-written tale that is one of the few examples I can think of where present-tense narration works well. Also has one of the most hair-raising endings of any book, ever.

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9. Wraiths of the Broken Land

Written by the screenwriter and director of 2015’s indie smash hit Bone Tomahawk, S. Craig Zahler revisits the horror western with a grim moral play about a family trying to rescue their stolen daughters from a secret whorehouse reputed to be the most brutal den of twisted hedonism South of the Border. While set sometime during the 1800s, the tale feels outside of time, and is told with a lyrical style that mimics Cormac McCarthy in the best way. Abject and disgusting, yet powerfully redemptive. If you lovingly cringed through the blood-soaked Wild Western horrors of Bone Tomahawk, this book is more of that, but on crack. In fact, I liked it so much I put it on this list instead of the much more famous novel that clearly inspired it – McCarthy’s Blood Meridian – because Zahler deserves your attention. If even Kurt Russell recommends this book, you should just f***ing read it.

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8. Hex

Dutch newcomer Thomas Olde Heuvelt wrote two versions of this story, one in his native language, and another for American audiences, and while I can’t comment on the original, the premise and execution of this present-day story about a New England town haunted by a witch whose apparition is both scientifically verifiable and won’t let anyone leave without grave consequences, is both timely and bone-chilling. The weirdness and nearly satirical tone of the first chapter put me off at first, but I tried again a few weeks after my first false start, and I’m certainly glad I gave this book another chance. It is the perfect example of a book that strikes the balance between a serious novel of ideas, and a campfire tale that makes you want to hide under the covers.

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7. The Terror

This nearly 800-page eldritch abomination of a novel will take you a long time to read, but don’t let the length put you off. Within this massive icebreaker of a tome is the saga of the lost Franklin Expedition you haven’t heard… about how the 120 or so members of the Royal Navy who went hunting for the Northwest Passage in 1846 and were icebound for three years in the Arctic Circle didn’t just die of the cold and of scurvy, but were hunted by a terror borne of the ice that ended up being my favorite monster in the history of creature features. And I have seen some creature features. The bars of downtown Aberdeen, Scotland on a Friday night. UC Santa Cruz’s Porter Meadow on April 20th. Halloween in Austin. I’ve seen it all, and the Tuunbaq takes the cake.

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6. Uzumaki (Spirals)

The pinnacle of the body horror subgenre, this is Japanese cartoonist Junji Ito’s masterpiece, a series of interwoven vignettes about a sleepy seaside town that becomes “infected with spirals.” Most know Ito from the viral webcomic The Enigma of Amigara Fault, which was first published in his Gyo anthology. Read it sometime and you’ll have a good idea what Uzumaki is all about.

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5. Seed

Ania Ahlborn’s killer debut spun a lot of heads for two reasons; one, because even back in 2011 it still wasn’t that common to see a wildly successful woman author of horror, and also because said author happened to be self-published. While pretty slow to start, Seed works because it turns the conventions of possession stories on their collective heads, and finishes with such a gore-splattered Shakespearean tragedy that it’s simply unforgettable.

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4. Slade House

Newcomers to the David Mitchell-verse will likely miss many of this short, dense novella’s homages to his other, longer works – Mitchell’s works typically feed off each other, like those of another certain horror author who isn’t on this list – but even as a standalone, Slade House doesn’t skimp on chills. Imagine the Winchester Mystery House but seated on a quiet back ally of an English village. Its front gate isn’t always there, and those who enter don’t always return. Now add a dash of psychic horror, evil twinning, and Mitchell-level prose mastery, and your mental picture will start to resemble this book. A fantastic entry into the vast, wonderful body of Mitchell’s works, and a phenomenal scary story in its own right.

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3. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

The seminal post-apocalyptic tale about a tiny group of survivors trapped underground after the end of the world, who are not able to die, and must live forever at the hands of the sadistic A.I. who caused the cataclysmic event. While the plot of this relatively short story can be conveyed in a sentence or two, its real power is in Ellison’s cutting wit and the harsh shadows cast by his descriptions of the pain and hopelessness of his heroes.

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2. Lurk

Full disclosure: the author of this blog post also wrote this book. Yes, its inclusion on this list is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I don’t put myself anywhere near the same league as the other writers on this list. Consider this just a casual nudge toward a book I think you might really enjoy, or at least get creeped out by, if you like the others on this list. Lurk is a descent-into-madness story in the tradition of The Shining with an extra dash of college binge drinking, undead dance parties, zydeco music, and California soul. You can get it here for four bucks. If you’d prefer to read a sample chapter, the first chapter is free to read here.

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1. Song of Kali

I still think about this story of a Western journalist drawn to Kolkatta by the promise of interviewing a semi-mythical poet who was reportedly kidnapped and murdered by a death cult, only to mysteriously reappear alive and with no memory of the events, years after I first read it. The burn is slow, and the story conservative both in its employment of gore and jump scares as well as its moral, but damn if this one didn’t send chills up my spine. I don’t think any story I will ever read could haunt me like Song of Kali.

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Be sure to visit your local library or independent book seller to see if they have any of these great reads! -A. Vine