Read “Something Black” in the Zen of the Dead Anthology by Popcorn Press

81LrA0tQgNL._SL480_

Today, my short story “Something Black” is published in Zen of the Dead, a Halloween-themed anthology by Popcorn Press. And I have to say, this has been the most whirlwind publishing experience I’ve had to date.

The first week in October, I left my regular 9-to-5 at dusk and noticed a single crow sitting atop our building, emitting a lonely barrage of caws into the nearby canyon. On October 20, the solitary crow had turned into a murder of crows, sitting in a neat line in the exact same spot on the roof. It was exceedingly clear they’d conspired and exponentially increased their presence.

A question leaped through my mind. What if that murder continues to grow?

The question sent my head spinning and then inspired a follow-up question. Why would crows flock to a corporate building of all places?

Because something supernatural and sinister is afoot, of course!

During my commute home October 20, I dreamed up a story about mounting frustration, feeling invisible, and a murder (of crows). When I got home, I had an hour to write before my yoga class. I pounded at my keyboard and had a good three pages done before I had to bolt in time to namaste.

Over the next 24 hours, the story begged to be written, and I couldn’t seem to type fast enough. By the following night, I had 17 pages of atmospheric, Hitchcockian horror written, edited, and sent out to first readers.

On average, it takes me at least a couple weeks, if not a month, to write a story and polish it, so the experience was nothing short of exhilarating.

The next morning, the fabulous Sara Dobie Bauer sent me links to a couple calls for submissions – both with super tight deadlines. I would need to send something within the next few days. Did I have anything to send? Strangely enough, I did.

I gave “Something Black” a final read-through, formatted it for the publication, and emailed it to Lester Smith, founder of Popcorn Press, who was seeking horror fiction and poetry for Zen of the Dead. Not four hours later, I got a reply from Lester. “Something Black” had been accepted.

And I didn’t know what to do with myself! Had I really written a story, sent it out for consideration, and been accepted within a span of 72 hours?

To make this experience even more fantastic, Sara also has a story, “Auntie’s Favorite,” in Zen of the Dead. I’ve taken to calling Sara my cross-country writing soulmate, and this simultaneous publication simply affirms our weird, uncanny, wonderful bond. As always, it’s an honor to be published alongside her.

Today, the Zen of the Dead eBook is alive on Amazon and you can order a hard copy of the book via Popcorn Press’s website! I recommend you purchase your preferred form of book, curl up with a fall-inspired ale and a black cat under a bright, foreboding moon, and read some creepy Halloween-inspired fiction and poetry.

Read “Give It Back: A Horror Short” on Your Kindle or Nook

Book cover designed by the amazing Bryan Mok.

Book cover designed by the amazing Bryan Mok.

About a month ago, I was updating my publishing credits on this very blog when I decided to check the hyperlinks on the page and make sure they were functioning properly. In my experience, links like to break every once in a while. For absolutely no reason. At the most inopportune times. I wanted to be proactive.

I made my way down the list, verifying the links, but when I got to my story “Give It Back,” which was published in Blank Fiction Literary Magazine last year, I got one of those “this page doesn’t exist anymore” type notifications.

Hmm.

I did some research and found that archived articles and search results came up in a Google search—but nothing active. Sadly, Blank Fiction was defunct.

Which was upsetting for two reasons:

One, Blank Fiction boasted a really cool concept. They published quarterly, and each edition reflected different genre: Literary, Horror, Noir…I loved the variety. (Also, their Horror edition featured all female authors – what what!)

Two, since Blank Fiction was strictly an online publication, my story went poof. It no longer existed. It got sucked into the internet ether, never to be seen again. And “Give It Back” is one of my favorite stories I’ve ever written.

So, what’s a girl to do when a literary journal goes under, along with her creepy story about a girl who steals jewelry off corpses? Self-publish it the week of Halloween of course!

Today, “Give It Back: A Horror Short” has returned to the interwebs, and I couldn’t be happier. It boasts dead bodies, pathological liars, pints of beer, moments of human understanding, scenes that should be in horror films, and a ghost that I hope none of my readers ever meet in real life.

And that fabulous, Hitchcock-esque, vintage horror-styled book cover? Designed by the one and only Bryan Mok, who also created my cover for Spin: A Novelette. He gets me, and he gets my aesthetic. I couldn’t put this out in the world without giving him a huge shout out: THANK YOU, MY LOVE!

I hope “Give It Back: A Horror Short” is the creepy good time that ushers you into a truly marvelous Halloween weekend. Go scare yourselves silly, kids!

Download your eBook copy today from Amazon (Kindle).

NOOK owners, your link will be coming soon! I’ve run into technical difficulties this morning. I have an email in to NOOK Press to troubleshoot the issue and will update this blog post as soon as possible once the story is live on Barnes & Noble!

UPDATE (10/29): “Give It Back: A Horror Short” is now available via Barnes and Noble. Download it for your NOOK today!

My Love Affair with Lovecraft

Photo by flick user "fengschwing."

Photo by flick user “fengschwing.”

I’ve got a new literary boyfriend and our relationship is definitely heating up. I mean, he keeps me up at night and I think about him all the time. I find myself sneaking away from my responsibilities to turn a page or 10.

So, Edgar Allen, I’m sorry, but I think it’s time for us to break up. It’s not you, it’s me. I’ve been craving someone a little younger with a weirder perspective. So…I’ve been seeing someone else. His name is H.P. And he terrifies me.

Last Christmas, my boyfriend—knowing me oh so well—got me two books, a brilliant sci-fi novel by China Mieville and The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft. I just got around to cracking open the Lovecraft and oh my God, where has this author been all my life?

If you’ve read any of my short fiction, you know I like it creepy. I’m the girl who wrote a thesis arguing that The Great Gatsby is actually a ghost story written in the classic Gothic tradition. I’m the girl who listens to sci-fi soundtracks while she writes. Halloween? I’m all in.

So I feel terrible that I haven’t snatched up and devoured all of Lovecraft’s work by now. He reads stylistically like a contemporary Poe. His language is formal and it’s all about setting the scene, building suspense, and speaking through unreliable, on edge narrators. There’s a lot of madness in these works, a lot of people who’ve simply gone over the deep end. And that psychological exploration is fascinating.

Another fun perk—I’m learning about all the Old Ones that are featured in the tabletop game Elder Sign. The game is definitely inspired by the Lovecraft era and stories, and you play as characters trying to keep nefarious, old monsters from emerging from the depths to terrify the world (and probably take over).

Nyarlathoptep, yeah, I get it now. You creepy. “And where Nyarlathoptep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare. Never before had the screams of nightmare been such a public problem; now the wise men almost wished they could forbid sleep in the small hours, that the shrieks of cities might less horribly disturb the pale, pitying moon as it glimmered on green waters gliding under bridges, and old steeples crumbling against a sickly sky.”

And big daddy Cthulhu? “These Great Old Ones, Castro continued, were not composed altogether of flesh and blood. They had shape—for did not this star-fashioned image prove it?—but that shape was not made of matter. When the stars were right, They could plunge from world to world through the sky; but when the stars were wrong, they could not live. But although They no longer lived, They would never really die. They all lay in stone houses in Their great city of R’lyeh, preserved by the spells of might Cthulhu for a glorious resurrection when the stars and the earth might once more be ready for Them.”

Lovecraft reads like a dream, introducing you to new worlds and monsters and visions that you didn’t know could exist in your consciousness. And it’s thrilling and downright scary as all get out.

I’ve been watching Dexter on Netflix, which for all intents and purposes, should be horrifying to me; however, it has yet to keep me up at night. The Picture in the House—a nine-page short story by Lovecraft—took me all of 15 minutes to read and then I lay awake staring at the ceiling for at least an hour before I could calm my brain down. That is some talent for terror.

Lovecraft, I love you. I know we just met, but I’m pretty sure we’re soul mates. Thank you for being weird and wonderful.

 

Photo licensingfengschwing

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night had me at “Iranian vampire western.” Independent of that awesome description and the fact that the film is being hailed as a genre-bending, artistic, fresh take on vampire mythos, I knew that seeing this film would be important for me, because Ana Lily Amirpour is making history as an Iranian-American female writer-director. Cue my feminist lady boner.

And I was turned on for good reason.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is for all intents and purposes an exploration of good and evil. The Girl, played by Sheila Vand, is an Iranian vampire who stalks the streets of Bad City at night, preying upon men who’ve disrespected women (can you say sinister, scary, feminist anti-hero?). Arash, played by Arash Varandi, is a hardworking, decent young man who has lost his beautiful, vintage car to a pimp thanks to the debts accumulated by his heroin-addicted, prostitute-loving, widowed father. (He also dresses an awful lot like the late, great James Dean.) These two characters collide one night and form a seemingly improbable connection through an Ecstasy high, a Dracula costume, a skateboard, music, and touch—one that could lead to love, understanding, and an escape from Bad City.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, like many of its predecessors, plays an awful lot with the theme of a vampire longing to be human. Arash is the first person (at least in the world of this film) to treat The Girl as a human, not a monster; when they meet, he is not afraid of her. He treats her the way he would treat any other girl on the street—decently. Consequently, in her interactions with Arash, The Girl has an opportunity to experience life as something other than what she inherently is—an undead creature who kills without remorse. And though she is guarded and can’t squash some of her evil impulses, we as audience members start to see that perhaps this monster wants something more than her killer existence.

Now, don’t let this analysis mislead—The Girl is still scary as all hell. When she attacks, it’s brutal and unearthly. She seems devoid of emotion—except when she’s listening to records in her basement apartment (hipster vamp!). She lets her eyes do most of the talking, unnerving her prey with heavily lined lids and a frightening stare. When she does unleash her voice to its fullest, fiendish extend, you’ll feel like you’re watching a scene from The Exorcist. For those who like their monsters both complex and scary, the character of The Girl delivers. She’s a traditional monster in a modern culture with a fascination with being human.

For theatergoers who are all about visual and auditory stimuli, watch this movie immediately! A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is shot in black and white with chiaroscuro everywhere, and it’s entirely in Farsi. The soundtrack is a brilliant marriage of Iranian club music, western-inspired lilts, American indie rock, and the bass-heavy reverberations of heartbeats (which arrive after The Girl has listened to Arash’s heartbeat).

The lighting is brilliant, increasing the inherent tension in many scenes and making Bad City look, well, dreary and bad. Individual shots in the film inspire pure awe. For example, drugs completely and utterly freak me out, yet one of the most gorgeous shots of the whole film involves heroin being heated in a bent, metal spoon. And don’t even get me started with the shots of The Girl on her skateboard with her chador (which resembles both a berka and a nun’s habit) billowing behind her.

Now, I will say that because of how the film is shot and how the story progresses (slowly and at times, awkwardly (but isn’t that how life progresses?)), A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is not for mass consumption. You have to like your films artsy and be okay with long shots nearly devoid of action but full of tension and emotion. You can’t walk into the theater and expect this film to be akin to Interview with a Vampire, Daybreakers, or Dracula: Untold. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is absent of Hollywood glitter. It’s gutsy and watches the way an offbeat, literary short story reads.

If you’re looking for a vampire film you haven’t seen before, characters that are compelling, and an experience that will make you yearn to go back to school to study filmmaking, check out A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. And if Ana Lily Amirpour continues to make edgy, dark, brilliant films, I’ll be the first in line to buy a ticket.

 

Gone Girl Gave Me Nightmares

Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel-turned-film Gone Girl left me unsettled, unsatisfied, and twisted up in my bed sheets―and I’m rather thrilled about that. Directed by David Fincher, scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and featuring a standout cast, the film reaches into your gut, turns your stomach, and makes no apologies about it.

But then again, the book did that, too. So let’s start there.

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t read Gone Girl or seen the movie and would like to do so without its twisty insides being exposed to you, I’d close this blog post right now. I won’t expose the “big twist,” but I will be talking about the ending.

I can thank LitReactor for my exposure to Gone Girl. Heralding it as one of the novels of the year in 2012, my interest was piqued and I picked up a copy. I was not ready for the ride about to ensue. Flynn’s writing is both manicured and relatable, shocking and easy, and it takes hold of you like an addiction. I zoomed through the book like a tourist on a zip line. I remember one night when I kept telling myself, One more chapter and then I’ll go to bed. Of course, I repeated this over and over until I realized at 1:30 AM that work in the morning would be really rough if I didn’t quit. Immediately.

The story is akin to a modern sensationalist headline: On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne’s wife, Amy, goes missing. In their suburban home in Missouri, there are signs of a struggle in the living room, a discreet smear of blood in the kitchen, and a husband who seems a little too relaxed, a little too glib about the whole thing. As Nick struggles with media appearances and his innate Midwestern upbringing (“be polite to everyone”), he quickly becomes a prime suspect. Did Nick Dunne kill his wife? And what would drive someone to murder their significant other?

What follows is a deliciously dark satire on the institution of marriage, the pervasiveness and detrimental nature of the media, an economy in decline, and the disastrous side effects of love gone stale. The book felt slimy when I finished it.

(Extra creep factor—Gillian Flynn wrote this book as a newlywed while pondering the meaning of marriage. Read the whole interview with The Guardian here. It’s fascinating. There are also some great comments by Flynn about her work being called misogynistic and her supposedly “negative” portrayals of women.)

When talks of a film adaptation started to circulate, I was cautiously excited. If they didn’t get everything just right, it would tank for me. I needed the film to be just as slimy and disconcerting as the book.

Oh, it is.

I think a large part of that has to do with Flynn acting as screenwriter. She wrote the novel. She adapted the novel. She was involved, and that’s important. I’ve never understood why films that books employ alternative writers to craft a script when the author is right there (although I’m sure this is a generalization—the author may be unavailable, too pricy, uncooperative, whatever, but still).

Flynn came up with the characters we so love to hate. She has the feel for their voices, their motives, their actions, so it’s only fitting she would bring them to life in the context of film. Her involvement was crucial. And it shows, because the dialogue is always a little off-kilter, a little wrong, and sometimes outright shocking. Well done, Flynn.

The way Flynn incorporated Amy’s diary entries in the larger story is also solid. While Nick’s present is crumbling, Nick and Amy’s “past” is exposed via Amy’s voiceovers, flashbacks, and handwritten diary entries. The cuts from the past to the present are unrelenting and tense; we shuttle back and forth frequently. They build beautiful suspense and any promise of momentum or rest is stopped cold, jolting the viewer, making us uncomfortable all the time.

Apart from the writing, the cast is on point, too, especially Ben Affleck (Nick) and Rosamund Pike (Amy).

For me, God love him, Affleck has always come across as a bit of a tool, which I know is completely unfair because I don’t know him personally. But, you know, that’s how he’s generally comes across to me in film (ironically, one of the major themes of the movie is perception via media―so the joke’s on me!). So when Affleck was cast as Nick, the unhappy, bumbling, awkward, perhaps a little sociopathic husband of Amy, I was sold. Because he’s not entirely likeable or unlikeable in my mind, he was perfect.

And, I have to say, Affleck surprised me with his performance. I had more sympathy for him in the film than I did in the book. I could see his Nick trying to be a good guy while secretly holding onto this voracious contempt for his wife. But hey, you gotta hold that back while under investigation for a possible kidnapping and murder, right?

And Rosamund Pike, holy hell. As poor little rich girl, cunning, conniving Amazing Amy, Pike is harrowing and subtle. She’s scary in the most terrifying way possible, because she’s calculated and cold. You see very little emotion on her face during the film, which had to be quite the feat given the high octane content. She’s a wall that’s been painted over, so there’s this beautiful façade, but what exactly is underneath? And do you really want to chip away at the paint to find out?

The way Pike delivered her lines was extremely impressive to me, too, because her cold and flippant approach reminded me of the actresses in old black and white movies. It’s simply a different acting style, closer to old school stage acting where the suspension of disbelief was greater, but it’s out of place in this modern film, which makes it perfect for Amy. She doesn’t fit. Her voice alone makes her untrustworthy, blockaded.

One of the only times we truly see some interesting behavior and emotion from Amy is during the third act of the film when Nick is being interviewed on TV and knows his wife is watching. The desperation, the satisfaction of hearing what she wants to hear, the recognition that perhaps her plan needs to take a new direction―Pike does it flawlessly albeit subtly.

There are other great performances in the film (Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings, a stalkerish past love of Amy’s; Tyler Perry as Tanner Bolt, Nick’s slick defense lawyer; and Carrie Coon, Nick’s twin sister, responsible for most of the levity and humor of the film), but Affleck and Pike truly hold the film together.

And I’ll probably get a lot of flack for this, but I love the ending of the film. Seemingly identical to the opening, Nick’s voiceover and the image of Amy staring at him (you) is not redundant; rather, it makes you feel something completely different at the close of the two-and-half hour ride, something sinister, because you realize there’s just no escaping Amy. Maybe it’s dread…mixed with understanding?

And then the credits roll and you feel like you need a shower to get the lying, cheating, sensationalism, and blood off your skin.

Which is why I didn’t sleep well last night. I didn’t have any crazy graphic dreams; I just felt a little on edge. And that’s Gone Girl’s ultimate goal—to get under your skin and into your bed so that you don’t forget that people are unpredictable and love isn’t always what it seems.

Getting (V)amped!

Photo by flick user "virginsuicide photography."

Photo by flick user “virginsuicide photography.”

For me, vampires and October are synonymous. Of all the monsters out there, great and creepy, vile and horrible, vamps have always been my favorite. I mean, what’s not to love? Vampires―my favorite breed anyway―are sexy yet ruthless, timeless yet new, scary yet alluring, and can be mistaken for humans. Walking (or flying) contradictions are pretty dang creepy, because you don’t entirely know how to feel about them from one moment to the next. And I think vampires are the monsters that most resemble humans, which is terrifying on an entirely different psychological plane.

I’m happy to report that I’ve kicked off October the right way―with everything vampire.

For one, I just finished a novel called Bite Somebody: A Bloodsucker’s Diary by my good friend, Sara Dobie Bauer, who is brilliant and also just as obsessed with vampires as I am. For a taste of the book, read the query letter for Bite Somebody. Unfortunately, that’s all you can read for now, because Sara’s shopping it to agents for publication. But I will tell you that when it gets picked up and published (because I very much believe it SHOULD and WILL happen), get your copy. Because vampires in Florida and parodies of Twilight and performance anxiety and 80s movies and cute stoner boys and blood bags and love. Yeah, all of that and so much more. Sara created a fun, new vampire world―and it was a great introduction to October for me.

Vampire

Of course, I didn’t stop there. Last Thursday night, I took my boyfriend to see A Vampire Tale, Scorpius Dance Company’s dark and comical tour de force depicting a vampire clan motivated by tradition, bloodlust, and a human-vampire love triangle. Choreographer and vampire lover Lisa Starry conceptualized and staged this show long before the Twilight explosion―and she’s stayed true to her depictions of vampires despite all the pop culture fluff that’s saturated the market. Her vamps are intense and sexy and physical―and they fly thanks to lots of training in aerial arts. Swoon.

A Vampire Tale is an annual treat and many consider it the Nutcracker of the Halloween season. It’s a pretty sound comparison. It’s the same story every year—a beautiful and innocent girl is invited to “have dinner” with the queen of a vampire clan, but the invitation gets a little complicated when the vampire king falls for the human—but the same story always delights. It just keeps getting better.

I also went to see Dracula Untold last night, which I highly recommend if you like old school vampire lore a la Vlad the Impaler. I will admit, I hadn’t seen too much about this movie before going to see it. I didn’t need to. The movie posters were motivation enough―and the casting of Luke Evans? Uh yeah. Superb call, because he has that dark, brooding thing down that’s so essential for a man—or monster―fighting his demons.

Despite poor reviews, I really enjoyed it.

Warning: Light spoilers are about to happen. If you want to see Dracula Untold without my words in your head, stop reading NOW.

Okay, with that out of the way…

What I loved the most about this particular depiction of the Dracula/Vlad the Impaler mythos is that it portrays Dracula as human first and monster second. Vlad turning into Dracula is not an accident—it’s a choice. And the motivation for him to turn to the dark side warms your heart. He’s a complete character with emotions and drive―and you relate to him on an interesting level. But he’s a monster, so that’s weird, right? (Remember that contradictory stuff I was talking about earlier—yeah, empathizing and relating to a monster is part of that.)

To the end, I did a little talk for Ignite Phoenix a few years ago called “A New Breed of Human” about the transformation of the vampire in popular media from Nosferatu to Edward Cullen and my theory about why they’re becoming more and more human, more and more relatable—Dracula Untold being a perfect example. Watch the video for a full breakdown, but here’s the short of it.

Vamps have it all―sex appeal, immortality, power. And we keep pulling our monsters closer and closer to us; they resemble us more and more. Maybe that’s because, deep down, we all just want to be bitten.

 

Photo licensing – virginsuicide photography on flickr

Fire and Ice

Photo by flickr user "KatKauer."

Photo by flickr user “KatKauer.”

I will state the obvious. I like writing about creepy things. So October is a particularly creative time for me since everyone is in the mood for scary movies, candy corn, witches, and pumpkins.

About a week ago, I put an APB out on Facebook asking my friends for some fun ideas for scary short stories…and I got flooded with crazy, creepy, wonderful stuff.

The following is a product of that call for short story inspiration. Holly, this one’s for you.

Read at your own risk. Muahahahahaha!

(A quick disclaimer – I do not pretend to speak or understand Spanish, but I wanted to use it in this story. Here’s hoping Google translate didn’t leave any glaring errors!)

Fire and Ice

By: Tiffany Michelle Brown

“Trust me, guys go crazy over this stuff,” Victoria said and spritzed me with another coat of body spray. It was the kind my older sister Clarissa bought every time we went to the drugstore, the bottle with the silver label and a mermaid under a waterfall. I held my breath and let the mist settle into my clothing. A moment later, I smelled like gummy bears, floral ones.

“I just hope Eddie likes it,” I said.

“He will,” Victoria said.

She gave me a sharp nod, sprayed her wrists, and then rubbed them together. Her cell phone buzzed, but she didn’t look at the message. Instead, she slipped the phone into the pocket of her jeans and zipped up her hoodie. I buttoned up my pea coat and then followed Victoria to the door of her bedroom.

“Remember,” she whispered, “we have to be really, really quiet. If my dad wakes up, he’ll kill us.” She mimicked slitting her throat for emphasis.

I nodded.

Victoria and I crept through the kitchen. The digital clock on the microwave read 11:38 and I thought about how upset my mother would be if she knew I was up.

Magdalena, sleep is important,” she would say. “How will the angels look over you if you are not in bed?” Then she would cross herself, expectant I would do the same.

In the living room, Victoria dropped to her knees and crawled through the doggie door, careful to reach back and catch the plastic flap so it wouldn’t fall and make noise. I marveled at how her slim body twisted to navigate the small space. She’d clearly done this many times before.

When it was my turn, my hands grew clammy and I wiped them on my jeans.

I shouldn’t be doing this. I shouldn’t be sneaking out.

Victoria frowned at me through the glass and then rolled her eyes. I sighed and got down on my hands and knees. I shimmied through the small opening and tried to catch the flap the way Victoria had, but my fingers slipped and the plastic banged. Loud.

Victoria and I froze, eyes locked on each other. I counted to ten. Nothing happened.

Victoria gave me a nod, stood, and walked around the side of the house, her blond hair an ice sculpture in the moonlight. I followed, my Keds making soft crunching sounds on the gravel. The stucco on the walls of Victoria’s house looked like bright, cream cheese frosting and the cool night air crept beneath my jacket. I crossed my arms over my chest and glanced down at the newly-formed bumps there. The “new” bra under my shirt was a hand-me-down from my sister, because my family never threw anything away. They’d saved it for four years, knowing I’d need it someday. It was itchy.

“You’re growing melones, Maggie,” Clarissa had said, her laugh filling the kitchen as we prepared tamales.

Later that day, in my room, I stood in front of the mirror wearing nothing but the bra and a pair of underwear. I looked at myself from every angle and then gave up. I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was.

It was more apparent to Victoria.

“You’re wearing a bra! Finally!” she exclaimed. “Show me. Right now.”

When I lifted my shirt, Victoria looked disappointed for a moment and then smiled.

“Welcome to the club,” she’d said.

Victoria raised the latch on the wooden gate and then swung the door open. She ushered me through and then closed the door behind us.

“We’re free!” Victoria squealed. She took a few steps down the cement driveway and started dancing, humming a pop song.  

I smiled and looked down the street. Black streamers hung from tree branches and Jack-o-laterns glowed on front porches. Looking at their craggy, misshapen mouths, my stomach felt like a shriveled raison.

Victoria’s dance ended and she stood with her hands on her hips, staring at me.

“You look like you’re going to poop,” she said.

“I’m nervous,” I confessed.

Victoria shook her head, grabbed my arm, and pulled me down the driveway and onto Price Lane.

“Jason’s house is five blocks away,” Victoria said. “They said they’ll have sleeping bags and some beers.”

“We’re going inside?”

“No, we hang out on the driveway,” Victoria said. “They might have some smokes, too.”

“How?”

“Jason’s older brother smokes. His mom, too.”

I frowned.

“You’re such a prude, Maggie.”

 ********

My coat and the light sweater underneath were riding up and Eddie’s hands on my waist felt like ice, but I didn’t care. He was touching me and that’s what mattered. A song by some band I’d never heard of played on Jason’s iPhone and all four of us swayed on the Somerset’s driveway—Victoria’s idea, of course. She really liked school dances.

I looked at my feet, too nervous to look at Eddie, but when he cleared his throat, I didn’t have a choice. I looked up and he smiled. He jerked his head to side and I looked to my left. Jason and Victoria had stopped dancing. Instead, they were making out, a mess of sweaters and elbows. My cheeks burned and my gaze returned to my Keds.

“Hey, do you want to grab a beer?” Eddied asked. He squeezed my waist when he said it.

I nodded, grateful he hadn’t asked me to make out.

Eddie let go of my waist, but the coldness remained, proof that his hands had been there. I waited a few seconds and then rubbed the cold spots on my hips. Eddie stooped, picked up a couple of beers, and gestured toward the side of the house. I took a few steps and then felt his fist holding a beer on my shoulder, guiding me. A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth.  

We walked into the shadows and I had to squint hard to see Eddie’s silhouette in front of me. I heard him twist the tops off the beers and then he held one out to me. In the dark, he missed my hand and hit my chest with the cold bottle. I stepped to the side, startled, and he moved back immediately.

“Maggie, I’m sorry,” he said. “I promise I didn’t do that on purpose.”

My stomach was on fire.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I know you didn’t.”

I reached out and took one of the beers. I held it for a moment and debated whether to take a drink. Eddie’s outline shifted from one foot to the other.

“So, uh, do you like Halloween?” he asked, gesturing to the night around us.

“Not really,” I admitted. “It kind of creeps me out.”

Eddie took a sip of his beer.

“My parents are really weird about Halloween,” he said. “They’re super religious, so they don’t like any talk about ghosts or demons or the devil.” He let out a low laugh. “Maybe that’s why I like it so much.”      

“Mine, too. I mean, my parents. We’re Catholic,” I explained. “And they’re weird like that all year. Well, mostly it’s my mom. She’s always telling me to ‘Watch out for the devil’s footprint.’ I don’t really know what that means.”

“Maybe it means…” Eddie’s outline scratched his head. “Maybe it means…evil is everywhere.”

I could feel him smiling. I shivered.

Eddie’s shadow leaned forward.

“Or maybe it’s your mom’s way of saying you should watch out for boys who want to kiss you.”

“Huh?”

Eddie took a step closer to me and I clutched my beer bottle to my chest, afraid I’d drop it.

My first kiss was like stepping a little too close to a campfire, a singe of heat that made me dizzy. And then it was over and I could feel my own breath on my lips as Eddie stepped back into the darkness.

 ********

“Did he kiss you?” Victoria asked. “Because Jason said he thought Eddie wanted to.”

I smiled as we walked, remembering the taste of fire and ice. Victoria ducked down to see my face.

“Oh, he totally did, didn’t he?” Victoria asked. “I knew it!”

“Ssh.”

“Oh, who cares! You’ve been kissed. Boobs and a first kiss in the same month!”

Victoria jogged ahead on the sidewalk, turned, and stood in front of me, not allowing me to pass.

“How was it?” she asked, hands on her hips, expression curious and excited.

 I shook my head no.

“Does that mean it was bad…or that you aren’t going to tell me anything?”

I shrugged.

“Maggie, you have to tell me.” She poked me. “I promise I won’t tell—“ she started.

Victoria looked over my shoulder and her eyes widened.

“Hey, check out this psycho,” she whispered and turned me around by my shoulders.

On the next block, a man sat cross-legged and hunched over on the front lawn of a house, a lit candle in one hand and something I couldn’t make out clutched in the other. In the quiet, I could hear him mumbling. Once in a while, a syllable echoed through the empty streets. He began to rock forward and backward, steady as a ship.

“He’s completely Looney Tunes,” Victoria whispered. She sounded like someone pressed against the glass of the monkey exhibit at the zoo.

“Come on,” I said. “Let’s just go home.”

“No way,” Victoria said.

She started down the sidewalk.

“Victoria, what are you doing?”

She didn’t look back.

I closed my eyes and shook my head, willed Victoria back to me. Of course, she didn’t come back and I had to follow her.

Victoria had stopped on the curb at the end of the block. Now only a few yards of asphalt and another curb separated us from the man on the lawn. He wore black jeans and a black hoodie, but his feet were bare. In his right hand, he held a candle, its glass casing printed with a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe. In his left hand he held a rosary with red beads.

“He’s speaking in Spanish, Maggie. What’s he saying?” Victoria asked.

I closed my eyes and listened hard.

“It’s…it’s The Lord’s Prayer,” I said. “But he’s saying it wrong.”

 “Nuestro padre que estas en el infierno…”

 “Our father who art in hell…” I whispered, staring at the man.

 “…temia sea tu nombre…”

 “…feared be thy name…”

“…venga to reino…”

“…thy kingdom come…”

“…tu ira se conveirten…”

“…thy wrath be done…”

“…en la Tierra como en el infierno…”

“…on Earth as it is…in hell…”

Victoria’s hand found mine and squeezed hard. I could feel her shaking and wished I could do the same. I felt like lead.  

“Maybe we should go,” she said.

The man stopped talking. We watched as his spine straightened and he sat up, his eyes closed, his hands gripping the candle and the rosary with such force they started to shake. His mouth opened and then opened some more, his jaw detaching from the rest of his face and sinking lower and lower. That’s when the winds began. It started with Victoria’s hair. A few blond wisps brushed forward on her face and then reached out in front of her like eager fingers. Soon, I felt my jacket billow and I leaned back to keep from rushing forward, my own dark hair reaching toward the man across the street, blocking my vision.

“Maggie!” Victoria yelled and her fingernails dug into my hand.

The hurricane was warm and humid, and I feared we’d both be sucked up it in and swallowed by the man across the street. Just as I was about to let go of Victoria’s hand, the winds died. I gasped for breath and Victoria started to cry. The man across the street sat stone still for a moment and then the rosary fell from his hand. We should have run then, but we didn’t. I stared at him, paralyzed, while Victoria whimpered next to me.

The man’s eyes opened, except they weren’t really eyes. Where two eyes should have been were lumps that looked like muddled cherries. The thing started to climb to its feet, holding the candle out to us. Its limbs cracked like kindling thrown into fire.  

I found my legs, turned, and started to run, pulling Victoria behind me. She rattled along like a can tied to the back of a bike with string. She almost fell a few times, but I didn’t care. My legs pumped and my stomach cramped, but I refused to stop.

After sprinting a block, I glanced over my shoulder, sure I’d see that thing ready to take a bite out of me with its detached jaw. But all I saw were black streamers hanging from tree branches and carved pumpkins that no longer glowed in the night, their candles snuffed out.

I took a deep gulp of air and coughed. Victoria sat on the pavement and her small, square shoulders heaved.

When she could manage, she asked, “What the hell was that?”

I thought for a moment and took a deep breath.

“Evil is everywhere,” I said and then crossed myself.

 ********

 “You girls are awfully quiet today,” Victoria’s dad said.

 I took a careful bite of Captain Crunch and glanced at Victoria.

 “We were up late,” she said.

Victoria’s dad closed his Sunday morning paper and looked like he had a follow-up question, but the doorbell saved us. He set down the newspaper and rose from the table. I heard his footsteps retreat down the hall and then the front door squeaked open. Wisps of unintelligible conversation floated into the breakfast nook and then Victoria’s dad yelled, “Ladies, there’s an Eddie here to see you.” Eddie’s name sounded like a question mark.

Victoria’s face lit up and her mouth dropped open in surprise. Blood flowed through my arms and made them feel electric.

“Come on,” Victoria said. She stood, grabbed onto my elbow, and took me with her to the front door.

Victoria’s dad stood to the side of the door, a suspicious look on his face. Eddie stood just inside, his hands behind his back.

“Maggie,” Eddie said. At the sound of his voice, I blushed.

Victoria’s dad looked at me, then at Eddie, and his expression relaxed.

“Stay in here,” he said.

He nodded at us and left the room.

Victoria pushed me a step forward and said, “Maggie, I’m going to, uh, finish my breakfast.” She waved at Eddie, gave me a big, obvious grin, and left us in the foyer. I smiled at Eddie and then down at my bare feet.

“So, uh—“ Eddied started and then scratched his head. I wanted to kiss him again.

“I had fun last night,” I said.

“Me too.”

A moment of silence washed over us.

“I, uh, have something for you,” Eddie said.

“What?”

“I brought you something.”

“You did? Why?”

Eddie shook his head, smiling, and took a step forward. His hands came out from behind his back and my surprised smile was washed clean from my face. My blood ran cold. Eddie held out a Virgin of Guadalupe candle to me. The wick was black and the wax was marred.

I stood stunned, unable to move, unable to breathe. Could it be?  

Eddie’s face reflected embarrassment.

“Oh shit,” he muttered. “I know, it’s not the best present because it’s been used, but…it’s really about the idea behind it….It was my brother’s idea.”

I looked up at Eddied and frowned.

“I told him about you this morning,” Eddie said.

I looked down, embarassed that he’d told his brother about our kiss.

“Well, not about that,” Eddie said quickly. “More about how our parents are both crazy and religious and stuff.” He ran his free hand through his hair. “So, you know, this is for you…to ward off evil…”

I reached out slowly and took the candle. It felt like ice.

“Wow, I must sound really stupid right now. This was so much cooler in my head,” Eddie said. His face fell.

“No, no,” I said. “I’m, I’m just surprised. Thank you. Really.” I mustered a tight smile for him.

“Okay,” Eddie said. “So, see you at school?”

“Yeah,” I said. “See you at school.”

“And maybe Jason’s driveway sometime?”

Heat rose on my cheeks and I nodded.

“Good,” Eddie said.

He closed the gap between us and kissed me.

“See ya,” he said.

I pressed my face to the security door and watched Eddie start toward a silver Mustang parked at the curb. An older guy, Eddie’s brother I assumed, lounged in the driver’s seat, one arm hanging out the open window.  

Eddie glanced back. I awkwardly held up the candle in response and immediately felt stupid. He smiled and jogged the rest of the way down the driveway. 

My stomach tightened as my gaze drifted back to the driver of the Mustang. I locked eyes with Eddie’s brother and as if in response, he leaned out the window toward me so his face and shoulders were in the sun. My breath caught in my chest and I gripped the candle so hard I thought the glass might shatter.

Muddled cherries stared back at me, oozing and wet and terrifying in broad daylight.

I closed my eyes and crossed myself. When I looked again, Eddie’s brother was waving to me from the car, a sweet smile on his face, no muddled cherries. I didn’t wave back. Eddie climbed into the passenger seat, the engine caught, and a rap song sounded through the quiet neighborhood.

As I watched the Mustang drive away, the cramping in my stomach continued and adrenaline made me lightheaded. The glass of the candle grew warm and then much too hot to touch. I looked down. The candle was lit with a flame as red as rose petals. I dropped the candle and the glass shattered, little fragments of the Virgin of Guadalupe scattering across the foyer. Much too quickly, the molded wax melted and spread out across the floor like hot syrup. A few moments later, I could make out a phrase. I shook my head, a tear sliding down my cheek.

En todas partes.

Everywhere.   

Photo licensing – KatKauer