Read “I’ve Got a Soul to Catch” in Thuggish Itch: Devilish

TI - DEVILISH

I’ve always been fascinated by magic, especially that of the close-up variety. I love watching the seemingly impossible manifest (or disappear!) right before my eyes. I’m definitely the type of girl that would be straight-up charmed by a magician walking up to me and asking if I’d like to see a trick.

But what if that particular magician had devilish intentions?

My latest horror short, “I’ve Got a Soul to Catch,” published in Thuggish Itch: Devilish by Gypsum Sound Tales, features magic tricks, the New York subway, and an unnamed man in black with dark ambition and a pack of playing cards.

Here’s a little taste…

“He slid onto the bench next to his unwitting victim, a girl in her mid-twenties who was listening to music through a pair of purple earbuds, bobbing her head in a consistent rhythm. They were seated near the back of the car in the furthermost corner and, for all intents and purposes, they were quite alone. The closest individual was the snoring man, and he certainly wouldn’t be a problem. The other subway passengers—well, the man in black would ensure they kept to themselves.

He took a deck of playing cards out of his breast pocket and began shuffling and fanning them flamboyantly. The man kept it simple at first, sending the cards flying from one palm to another with perfect accuracy and timing.

The cards slapped. The subway lurched. The man smiled. And the third time he executed the trick, he caught the attention of the girl seated next to him.

The man gave her a devilish grin and flicked the cards into the air. If any human had attempted this stunt, the cards would have spun out of control and fallen to the dirty floor of the subway car. But since the man in black was decidedly inhuman, the cards traveled in a graceful arc a full two feet above their heads, then drifted down to settle in the man’s awaiting palm.

The girl plucked the buds from her ears, her eyes widening. “That was incredible!” She laughed, and a gust of her breath fanned over the man’s face. It smelled of cotton candy, and it took all of the man in black’s restraint to keep from swallowing her whole right there in the back of the J train.

Of course, that wouldn’t do.”

To read the rest, pick up your copy of Devilish HERE!

About Thuggish Itch: Devilish 

Devils, demons and the idea of Hell have always featured prominently in the horror stories that I found myself reading as a teenager or the films I still delve into on a rainy day. I’ve always found it quite amazing how differently the leading man, Satan, is portrayed depending on the creativity and beliefs of the creator. Sometimes he’ll sport a large pair of curved horns and a pointed tail, his skin red, his body smooth and muscular. Other times, he’ll have the head of a goat and a large pair of wings that sprout from between his shoulders like those of a mighty condor. Thuggish Itch’s Devilish collection features, in no particular order, thirteen of our favourite tales, each of which provides a different take on the mythology, the red man himself and all of his minions.

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Talking Scary Stories and the Silver Screen with Quoth the Raven Author Susan McCauley

Susie's Headshot 2015

To celebrate the release of Quoth the Raven, edited by Lyn Worthen and published by Camden Park Press, I’m getting cozy with my fellow anthology contributors to learn more about their stories and what inspires their dark little writers’ hearts.

Next, I’m interviewing Susan McCauley, author of “The Cask” in Quoth the Raven.

Quoth the Raven celebrates the eerie and influential legacy of Edgar Allan Poe. What is it about Edgar Allan Poe’s work that speaks to you (perhaps from the grave)?

There is something haunting about his work. His stories and the way they’re told have a way sticking with you – even years after you’ve read them.

Pick three adjectives to describe the story you wrote for Quoth the Raven.

Dark, twisted, eerie.

Imagine you’re in an old-timey elevator, a rickety one that boasts a well-worn, rusty cage. There’s a man in all black in the elevator with you, and he asks what your story is about. What do you tell him?

Assuming we’re in present day, I’d let him know it’s a modern re-telling of “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, and that the story is about betrayal and revenge. Unlike Poe’s original story, the reader finds out why Montresor has his revenge on Fortunato.

Okay, I’m continuing with this scenario thing. It’s 1849, and you’re at a gathering of literature lovers, a salon, if you will. Across the room, you spy Edgar Allan Poe, and you simply must go over to him to compliment his work. What is the story or poem of his that you laud to excess? And why?

Of course I would have to talk to him about “The Cask of Amontillado.” I love “The Tell-Tale Heart,” too, but “The Cask of Amontillado” has impacted my life in so many ways in both my teaching and writing – especially due to my re-telling of the story and the subsequent short film that was made based on my story. I’d love to know how Poe was inspired to write “The Cask of Amontillado” and what his process was like with writing it.

As a writer, what do you think are the most important elements of dark fiction?

I think that atmosphere and tension are extremely important elements in dark fiction. Certainly all fiction needs tension to pull in a reader and keep them reading, but I think a combination of atmosphere and tension (along with some unexpected and/or disturbing events and images) are vital.

As a reader, why are you attracted to dark fiction? Why do you think we like to read about the things that terrify us?

I honestly don’t know why I’m so drawn to dark fiction. I can only go so far with it – and I don’t like gore. I prefer psychological and supernatural horror. I think why people like things that terrify us is because of our basic survival instincts. For hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of years humanoids have had to fight or run to survive. In modern life, we’re much safer and our basic needs are met. So, I think that by going to scary movies, reading scary stories, and going on scary rides, that helps fulfill a part of us that isn’t being used very often – at least not in countries where all of our major survival needs are met. So, I think it’s psychological and biological.

What’s a story or poem – by any author – that has truly creeped you out (in the best way possible, of course)? What was it about that particular story that just got to you?

The Haunting of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson creeped me out. I first read it in my early twenties and had to sleep with the lights on for several nights. I don’t remember exactly what about the story got to me, but it was psychologically haunting. I’m going to read it again to see what it is about that book that created so much fear in me.

Who are some of your literary inspirations?

I’d say that William Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, and Shirley Jackson are some favorites. I have several more modern authors I find inspiring, too. Jonathan Stroud and Mary Downing Hahn are two of the authors I find myself returning to over and over again.

What are you currently working on right now?

Well, I’ve got two feature films (I’m also a screenwriter) in development. One, The Murdering Kind, is being directed by Academy Award winning SFX makeup artist, Barney Burman. For the other, The Lost Children of York, I can’t announce the director just yet because we’re still in the negotiation process. I also have a short story, “The Devil’s Tree,” which you can read for free on WattPad. I’ve turned “The Devil’s Tree” into a novel (it’s currently on submission). I’m also planning to adapt that short story into a short film and direct it myself.

Where can we find more of your work or connect with you online?

You can find more of my work and can connect with me online at http://www.sbmccauley.com/ I’d love to hear from you! And, if you’re interested, you can see the short film version of my story of “The Cask” on YouTube: https://youtu.be/55jEBuSdJAg

About Susan:

Susan is a writer / director / producer of horror, supernatural, and fantasy films and fiction for adults, young adults, and middle grade audiences and readers. Susan fell in love with writing, theater, and film when she was eight-years-old. That passion inspired her to receive a B.A. in Radio-Television with a minor in Theater from the University of Houston, a M.F.A. in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California, and a M.A. in Text & Performance from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and King’s College in London. Susan also studied acting at Playhouse West with Robert Carnegie and Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic ParkIndependence Day) in Los Angeles.

While living in Los Angeles, Susan wrote the story for and produced a short film, which later won awards at the Houston International Film Festival and the Seabrook Film Festival. In 2002, Susan moved to London to further explore professional theater. While in London, her stage adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose” was performed at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art’s George Bernard Shaw Theatre; and, scenes from her play The Prisoner: Princess Elizabeth were performed at HMS Tower of London. She returned home to the U.S. in 2005. In 2007, she was the line producer of the Emmy Award nominated Civil War short film Now & Forever Yours: Letters to an Old Soldier. In 2016, her short story, “The Cask,” was made into an award winning short film that played at film festivals around the U.S.

Quoth the Raven coverAbout Quoth the Raven:

The works of Poe were dark and often disturbing. From dismembered corpses, rivals bricked behind cellar walls, murders in back alleys, laments for lost loves, obsessions that drive men – and women! – to madness, his stories have had a profound impact on both the horror and mystery genres to this day.

In Quoth the Raven, we invite you to answer the call of the raven and revisit Poe’s work, re-imagined for the twenty-first century. Here, the lover of mystery and goth horror will find familiar themes in contemporary settings, variations on Poe’s tales, and faithful recreations of the author’s signature style.

Purchase your copy of the anthology HERE.

“My Love, In Pieces” Serves Up Edgar Allan Poe-Inspired Body Horror

Quoth the Raven cover

Initially, I didn’t plan to write a story to submit to Quoth the Raven, an anthology of contemporary tales and poems inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I’d seen the call for submissions from Camden Park Press floating around the interwebs, and it sounded like a cool project, but I hadn’t had that lightbulb inspiration moment.

And then, I read a story a friend of mine planned to submit, and as I read her incredible manuscript, I thought, Wow, this is a brilliant retelling…and now I want to be part of this project. (Spoiler alert – my friend’s story, “Marcela,” was accepted for the anthology, because like I said, it’s brilliant! Penny Paling, I owe you, girl!)

So, I did a quick Google search for stories by Edgar Allan Poe, promising myself that I would only invest in writing a new story if I got an idea that melted my face off. That jolt of inspiration came as soon as I read a synopsis and then the full text of “Berenice.”

Here’s a brief description of the story from Wikipedia:

“‘Berenice’ is a short horror story by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1835. The story follows a man named Egaeus who is preparing to marry his cousin Berenice. He has a tendency to fall into periods of intense focus during which he seems to separate himself from the outside world. Berenice begins to deteriorate from an unnamed disease until the only part of her remaining healthy is her teeth, which become the object of Egaeus’ obsession.”

Now, I didn’t post the full description of the story above, because it contains spoilers for the creepiest, crawliest parts of the narrative, the parts that didn’t jive with readers when Poe first published it. That’s right, folks complained that Poe had gone too far with this particular story. Because of mass public upset, Poe ultimately decided to self-censor the work to make it more palatable to polite society.

So, I’d found a story that had a conclusion so horrific it was censored? Yep, I decided that was the story I wanted to resurrect and give new life.

And it was the right choice, because “My Love, In Pieces,” which you can read in Quoth the Raven (out today!) is one of the scariest stories I’ve ever written.

Here’s a little taste:

“I wasn’t ready to see you like that, broken and bandaged and so very ashen. Your skin, once the color of fresh cream, was the color of dirty snow. Your face was swollen and bruised, a misshapen fruit, thanks to the airbags. Your leg was broken in two places, but it had been reset and shrouded in plaster. The doctor said one of your lungs collapsed and you had a concussion. Your injuries were many. Thus, the medically induced coma. They had you on painkillers and steroids and other medications that had so many syllables, I wondered if the doctor was making them up for my benefit.

The worst part was that wretched plastic tube down your throat, the contraption responsible for your breathing, since you could no longer manage that on your own. I couldn’t see you. I couldn’t see my wife, the shining constant of my life.

My chest grew hot as a branding iron, and I feared I’d spontaneously burst into flame. My flesh would drip from my bones, and then…then, I’d be unrecognizable to you, too. Maybe that would be better.

“She’ll wake up, right?” I managed.

The doctor gave me a kind smile. “In time, yes. We’ll take her off the barbiturates that keep her under as soon as possible, but she has a lot of healing to do. I can’t give you a definite timeframe. Of course, we’ll do everything we can to help in her recovery.”

It wasn’t the answer I wanted. My fists curled and hardened at my sides, ready to fly.

I told the doctor thank you and shook his hand, though my palm was cold and clammy. He left the room, and we were alone. I sunk into a chair, ran my hands through my hair, and listened to the metallic beep of your heart.

It’s cliché, but it all felt like a bad dream.

I thought of that morning, of the time before. You’d surprised me, climbing atop my hips in the gray light of dawn, bringing your finger to your lips while grinning mischievously. You’d bit my shoulder to keep from waking the girls. You smiled at me. You gnashed your teeth in the throes of our lovemaking. You were so warm and alive.

A fine pressure mounted in my chest, and I tucked my head between my knees to alleviate a sudden swoon. As I gulped in sour hospital air, an object on the floor near your bed caught my attention. It was blindingly white, slightly round with distinct grooves, no larger than a fingernail.”

Y’all, you’re so not ready for what happens next! Pick up your copy of Quoth the Raven HERE and see how this creeptastic story unfolds.

Read “No Vacancy” in Issue #24 of Fabula Argentea

No Vacancy pic 2

Today, my short story, “No Vacancy,” appears in Fabulea Argentea’s 24th issue! And to be honest, it’s a story I never thought I’d publish.

I wrote “No Vacancy” years ago. When I wrote it, I was damn proud of it. It was one of the very first pieces I felt was “good enough” to send out to publishers for consideration. Head-in-the-clouds dreamer that I was at the time, I thought this story would be the tipping point for my professional writing career.

But it wasn’t. The rejections started rolling in. And they kept rolling in. And dear God, they didn’t stop. Despite what I thought was a never-ending wellspring of positivity, I found myself doubting my talent, the story, my future as a writer—all of it.

So, when the last publisher on my short list of literary journals and magazines said no thanks, I just…stopped sending the story out. I moved on. I wrote something else. I pushed the whole experience into the back of my mind, the place labeled, “Well That Didn’t Work Out, Did It?”

I was so green then and had so much to learn. I was just dipping my toe into the world of publishing, and I had absolutely no idea how many rejections were in my future (I’ve lost count, you guys). Or how my work would transcend all of those “no’s” from time to time to find some truly beautiful “yes’s.”

A few months ago, I reopened my Word document of “No Vacancy,” read it with fresh eyes, and nearly smacked myself upside the head. How could I have ever given up on this piece? Years later, it was still beautiful. Years later, I still loved it. And years later, my skin had become so much thicker. It was time to revive this piece.

I dedicated time to editing the story, sent it off to a number of publications for consideration, and today, it’s published.

This whole process has been such a nice reminder to never give up on the stories I write that I truly believe in. The stories that contain a tiny piece of my heart between the words. There’s a whole lot of me in this story, to be honest.

I couldn’t be more thrilled that “No Vacancy” has found a home with Fabula Argentea. Alongside each story, the Fabula Argentea editors explain why they chose to publish the piece. Here’s what they said about “No Vacancy”:

“Author Tiffany Brown caught our attention with her opening sentence. From there it only gets better as she masterfully pulls us into her character’s story. It’s a story we can read again and pick out even more of its subtleties. And isn’t that what makes for good fiction?”

If that isn’t recognition and closure for this little-story-that-could, I don’t know what is.

Here’s the opening sentence they reference—and a little extra:

“Bevan arched her back and stared over her shoulder, trying to determine if the patch of skin on her hip was vacant property or a hibiscus leaf that had never been filled in. When her vision blurred, she sighed and walked down the hall to the bathroom, the skin in question vibrating like hummingbird wings.

The cheap fluorescents buzzed and groaned. The old bulbs illuminated Bevan’s skin the wrong way, dulling the vibrant fuchsia, indigo, and lime she wore proudly like war paint. However, the hazy yellow light did the trick. Bevan’s suspicions were confirmed. She’d run out of real estate.

‘Dammit,’ she breathed. Bevan’s hands had begun to twitch earlier in the week, the way they always did when her thoughts turned to color and needles. At the time, she’d resorted to walking to the small grocery two blocks away and submerging her hands in bulk tubs of rice to dull the buzz in her fingertips.

Bevan considered putting on her sneakers, but instead, she picked up her cell phone. ‘Come over,’ she whispered when he answered.”

What follows is a story about identity, love, addiction, and tattoos. I hope you’ll read it HERE (for free!).

And if you’re a writer, I hope you’ll go back and re-read something you haven’t looked at in years. See if you can look past the drafty-ness of it, see the potential, and perhaps, breathe new life into something you previously gave up on.

Bury ‘Em Deep Unearths More Than Monsters

Unwanted Visitors cover image

Fire-colored leaves crackle beneath my steel-toes as I follow Charlie to the back of his pickup. A gust of wind blows up the corner of the blue tarp coverin’ the body, and I catch a peep of curly black hair out of the corner of my eye. My stomach lurches, and my fingers burn. I wanna sock Charlie in the jaw for askin’ me to help him with this, but I don’t.

I don’t hit him, because I owe him. I owe him big.  

‘Course that don’t mean I gotta like bein’ here. “You got a perfectly good backyard, Charlie. Why couldn’t we bury Rooney there?”

“That ain’t Rooney.” Charlie points at the heap under the tarp. “That thing, it belongs here, not in my backyard.” He releases the latch on the back of the truck, and the tailgate bangs open, makin’ the whole bed jump. Makin’ the body jump. My skin prickles as Charlie gets to untyin’ the tarp with dry, bony fingers.

I look around, tryin’ to understand where “here” is. There’s nothin’ but leaves, old oaks, and a big expanse of grassy terrain. The smell of cigarette smoke hangs in the air, though there ain’t a soul around to be doin’ the smokin’. If you ask me, it don’t look like anything belongs here, not even a dead dog.

“Who told you ‘bout this place?” I ask.

Charlie whips back the tarp. I stare at the white wisps decoratin’ Rooney’s muzzle. I expect ‘em to move. I expect to see Rooney’s chest suddenly rise and fall. It doesn’t, despite what Charlie’s told me ‘bout the dog’s habit of comin’ back to life now and again.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Today, my Lovecraft-inspired short story, Bury ‘Em Deep, is published in Inwood Indiana’s Unwanted Visitors issue!

On the surface, this story is about two men burying a dead dog named Rooney that has this crazy habit of coming back to life. But the real horror of the story lies in the broken friendship of the two men and the animosity between them. Sometimes, you simply can’t bury the past.

To check out the full story, get your issue of Unwanted Visitors today!

Get Your Jitter Fix with “The Promise”

Jitter 6

Bite-sized horror stories usually aren’t my thing. I generally regard the horror genre as one to be savored. I love creepy world-building. Take me through the whole damn haunted house, room by room, and point out the curiosities that will make my head spin. I adore stories that are quick to unsettle you, then slowly build toward a terrifying revelation.

There’s a reason why horror lovers devour the huge tomes written by Stephen King or Dan Simmons. Dreadful stories are mini addictions. You keep turning the pages, wanting more and more – sometimes, inexplicably.

My latest horror short, “The Promise,” which is now available in Jitter #6, isn’t a page-turner – literally. It’s micro fiction, a sliver of terror, a quick hit of dread. There aren’t a lot of pages to turn, even if you wanted to (and hopefully you do!).

I wrote “The Promise” to see if I could create something turbulent and atmospheric and terrible and reminiscent of classic monster horror – in less than 1,000 words.

“The Promise” creeped out the editors at Jitter Press enough for them to include it in Jitter #6. Hopefully, it’ll creep you out, too.

The Promise (Excerpt)

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

She’d nearly choked on it that night on the moonlit beach—the sharp, pungent smell of dark promises and fragile desperation. Now, the noxious aroma threaded through her hair as something tugged at the floral comforter covering her toes. Lila’s eyes flew open. Her heart thumped in her chest.

“Mommy, there’s something under my bed.” She could barely hear Brayden’s whisper above the wave of adrenaline that whooshed through her veins. Bad memories poured over her, fresh and shocking as ice water.

This isn’t happening. You were supposed to forget. It’s been nine years.

Lila fought to keep her voice steady, for her son’s sake. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, sweetheart.” The lie was thick on her tongue.

Lila closed her eyes, attempting to lessen the sudden sting building behind them, but an image of her husband, water swollen and drained of color, painted the backs of her eyelids. She grabbed her hair and tugged hard, needing to feel something.

No. What she needed was to keep it together. She needed to comfort Brayden.

Lila swung her legs off the mattress and pulled her sleep-heavy body to a seated position. She made out a tuft of perfect corn silk hair and the glitter of Brayden’s wide eyes in the dim. She extended a hand toward him, and the next thing she knew, her darling boy was wrapped around her forearm, his little body radiating heat, his heartbeat hammering against her skin. A jolt of regret careened through her chest. She gasped, sucking in air, and gagged on sulfur. She coughed twice into her free hand and switched to breathing through her mouth.

Lila glanced over her shoulder at Martin, wondering if she’d disturbed him. Her husband lay still, almost as still as that night on the sand, but here in their master bedroom nearly a decade later, he breathed normally. In, out. In, out.

She thought of their time together—their first date, their wedding, Brayden’s birth, Emily’s birth, their grand renovation of this house. All the beautiful moments they’d accumulated together.

She’d had to save him, right?

…Read the rest in Jitter #6!

RAVENOUS is alive!…(Kind of…)

Ravenous cover

Happy Friday the 13th, kiddies! In celebration of this spooky, spooky day, Pen and Kink Publishing’s RAVENOUS, edited by the lovely Ariel Jade, is now available.

If you’ve ever craved a sexy inside look into the love lives of vampires, this is the collection for you!

About RAVENOUS:

Dark. Brooding. Tortured. Sexy.

Vampires are a mystery, morphing through history from maligned villains to sparkling saviors and back again. They can be the ultimate bad boys, the supreme seductresses, or the evil monsters. They fascinate and repel us at the same time. What other creature can steal into your bedroom in the depths of the night to stalk or protect? What other ancient being is so accessible yet so powerful? What other enigma is desired as much as feared?

Cross the threshold into a world of insatiable heroes and voracious heroines. RAVENOUS explores saucy, sexy, and sweet tales: of forbidden vampire/vampire hunter love, vampire threesomes in space, kink as only a vampire could enjoy it… and so much more.

Edited by Ariel Jade and with contributions from Wendy Nikel, Jaap Boekestein, Sara Dobie Bauer, Violet R. Jones, V. Hummingbird, Dale Cameron Lowry, R. Michael Burns, and Tiffany Michelle Brown.

Don’t forget to bring your garlic–just in case.

Yep, you read that right, I have a story in this steamy book, and it’s one that I’m incredibly proud to have written. “A Taste of Revolution” is a very…complicated love story, full of fairytale influence, politics, sexy memories, and undead bloodshed.

About “A Taste of Revolution:”

Jules Hammond thinks the vampire way of life in the Republic of New Vampyrium is a crock of shit. Her brethren are ruled by a pair of nihilistic tyrants, quarantined in what was once Romania, and forbidden to prey upon humans. Even worse, Jules could be staked and beheaded for voicing her disdain in public.

In the underground safety of her lab, Jules spends her nights synthesizing artificial blood infusions, talking a lot of political smack, and longing for freedom.

When a chance encounter with a gorgeous vamp from her past—now the crowned prince of the Republic—ignites lustful desire in Jules, she’s both twitterpated and confused. As she struggles to reconcile her overwhelming and exceedingly annoying feelings for Prince Fabian, Jules is offered a dangerous opportunity to free the vampire race from the clutches of its depraved monarchy.

Who knew the fate of bloodsuckers everywhere would depend upon a blue-haired blood chemist with rage for days and budding feelings for a man who represents everything she hates.

Here’s an excerpt to get your (undead) blood pumping:

“She turned suddenly and crushed her nose into a very broad, very firm chest. Jules stumbled back, groaning, blinking hard to keep surprised tears at bay. Her fingertips found the bridge of her nose and inspected it. Nothing seemed out of place.

‘Are you okay?’ said a sultry, masculine voice.

If Jules had a pulse, it would have quickened substantially. She looked up at an angular jaw, searing blue eyes, and a round head of perfectly coifed brown hair, familiar from Prince Fabian’s television appearance only an hour before. And there was that roguish smirk, the one that looked so good on camera—and even better in person.

Jules gulped and then sent a message to her thighs that no, it was not okay that they were quivering right now. Not for Prince Fabian. This guy represented everything wrong in the vampire world. And yet, he was so pretty, so appealing in flesh and blood, that Jules wanted to throw her legs around him and nibble his ear right there in front of everyone.”

And that’s their first meeting. It gets real…interesting from there on out. There are motorcycles, and Gothic castles, and first kisses, and some brutal battle scenes, for good measure.

Enter Pen and Kink’s Friday the 13th giveaway to try to snag a free copy, or purchase the book on Amazon.

I hope you love “A Taste of Revolution” as much as I do. Happy reading!