The Honor of Armadillos

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The armadillo had wandered into the middle of the road and stopped. It was either too stupid or too scared to move, even with the truck headed straight towards it. Gilman stared at the animal. Then he stared at the telephone pole twenty-five feet off the right side of the road from where the armadillo was standing…

Armadillos becoming roadkill on the burning asphalt of desert highways. The tangled lines connecting a father’s past in the jungles of Vietnam to his son’s future in the desert sands of the Middle East. The colliding forces of patriotism and self-preservation, duty and decency, honor and honesty. A young soldier with a decision to make—or not.

All of these things swirling in the dust storms of a scorching Texas summer in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq helped create my short story “The Honor of Armadillos,” available now in the summer 2015 issue of VoiceCatcher along with poems, artwork, and prose from some of the Pacific Northwest’s most original and exciting writers and artists.

Detail from "World Quilt, Panel 1," by artist Beth Yazhari, featured along with more work in the Summer 2015 issue of VoiceCatcher

Detail from “World Quilt, Panel 1,” by artist Beth Yazhari, featured along with more work in the Summer 2015 issue of VoiceCatcher

Click here to go directly to my short story, “The Honor of Armadillos,” from which you can also access the rest of the issue  for free along with past issues and an engaging community site; or click here to go directly to the first page of the Summer 2015 issue, with an introduction by managing editor Tiah Lindner Raphael.

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AnthoCon 2015: A Celebration of Speculative Fiction & Art; Portsmouth, NH

Cover Art by Susan Scofield

The first time I went to Anthocon in 2012, it was my first writing conference ever. I was nervous–the place was packed with writers and publishers and editors and readers, many of whom seemed to know each other and to have worked with each other for years. Which didn’t help the nerves. But my worries were in vain. At Anthocon, I found one of the most top-notch, welcoming, professional, yet still iconoclastically weird and wild group of people on the Eastern seaboard. Since then, Anthocon has gotten bigger and better every year, and has become one of my favorite writing conventions. Some highlights from this year:

In 2012,  I set out to find the elusive, mysterious Kimball Castle–and failed. The former estate of railroad magnate Benjamin A. Kimball, this magnificent castle is located on the northern shoulder of Lockes Hill, on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. For many years, attempts have been made to restore the castle, transform it into a modern resort–in short, anything to preserve it in some way from the slow ravages of time.

Alas, as it always does, time is winning the war against Kimball Castle. After trudging through the woods and no doubt bending a few trespassing laws or two, Alex Scully (Firbolg Publishing) and I finally found what’s left of Kimball Castle, which, as you can see from these “then and now” pictures, is probably too far gone at this point to preserve much more than the crumbling remains of this once mighty knight standing watch over the water. The castle is difficult to get to, and it’s now fenced off so that no one can enter the castle or even get up close to it. But the knight still stands, at least for now.

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Of the many panels and readings going on, one of my favorites was the workshop presented by special guest Gene O’Neill, one of dark and speculative fiction’s leading raconteurs, and as fine a person as he is a writer. The workshop introduced the concept of what O’Neill calls the “hitchhiking effect,” the emotional connection the good writer establishes with the good reader. O’Neill provided examples from his own life and writing, as did authors Gord Rollo, Chris Marrs, and Michael Bailey. You can read more about the subject in O’Neill’s book The Hitchhiking Effect, published by Dark Renaissance Books, which debuted at the convention and is set to be sold to the public soon. The collection spans O’Neill’s thirty-year-plus writing career, including short stories, novellas, the first book of the Cal Wild Chronicles, and a brand-new novelette, Firebug, written just for this collection.

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Gord Rollo, Chris Marrs, Gene O’Neill with The Hitchhiking Effect, and Michael Bailey

I also helped Alex Scully man the vending table for Firbolg Publishing, where we sold lots of copies of Firbolg’s latest anthology, Enter at Your Own Risk: Dreamscapes into Darkness, as well as the other anthologies in the Enter At Your Own Risk series. I was also pleased to debut my young adult novel The Tower of Together, recently released from Eldritch Press, and happily didn’t need to ship any copies home!

The Vendor Room

The Vendor Room

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Holly Newstein, Roxanne Dent, B.E. Scully

Firbolg held a reading for Dreamscapes Into Darkness with authors Holly Newstein; Patrick Lacey; Gregory NorrisRoxanne Dent; Rob Smales; and me–here’s a pic of me reading from my short story “The Son Who Shattered His Father’s Dreams.”

Click here to see more pics from the reading at Firbolg’s web site.

I also had the opportunity to read from my short story “Metamorphosis, Not Metaphors” at a giant mash-up that featured author readings from a variety of the anthologies published by Great Old Ones Publishing.

Two more readings that I greatly enjoyed were Kevin Lucia reading from Through A Mirror, Darkly, his new “supernatural thriller collection masked as a novel”; a panel that included readings by James Moore, Holly Newstein, Stacey Longo, and Anthony Tremblay (T.T. Zuma); and a reading featuring authors from the spectacular anthology series Written Backwards, with Michael Bailey.

I picked up a lot of great books, print and e-book–here’s a sampling:

11218932_771520462946026_2741650662913280121_nAcadia Event and The Equinox, by MJ Preston

A signed and illustrated chapbook of “Baby’s Breath,” the Bram Stoker Award nominated short story by Sydney Leigh that first appeared in the Great Old Ones Publishing anthology Bugs: Tales That Slither, Creep, and Crawl

Everything Leads Back to Alice, by Chris Marrs

The Hitchhiking Effect, by Gene O’Neill, which I wrote about above

I always enjoy catching up with my friends Bob Tighe and M.R. Tighe, and I also got the chance to score M.R. Tighe’s latest sci-fi adventure Galaxy Rand

Also pictured there is a CD, Smoke Up Johnny, by Angry Morning Light, the band of Jonny Morse, one of the mighty Anthocon Horsemen!

I met so many new people and touched base with so many old friends that I can’t possibly post pics of them all, but here’s a few:

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Me, Jonny M. Kelley, Gregory Norris

Alex Scully, Chris Marrs, and Rena Mason

Alex Scully, Chris Marrs, and Rena Mason

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AnthoJam! TG Arsenault; Marianne Halbert; Frank Raymond Michaels; Thom Erb; Jonny Morse

AnthoJam! TG Arsenault; Marianne Halbert; Frank Raymond Michaels; Thom Erb; Jonny Morse

Tim Deal, Andrew Wolter, and Sydney Leigh at “the bah”

Deep in conversation with Bob Meracle; Gene O'Neill (hiding!); Sydney Leigh, and Jonny Kelley

Deep in conversation with Bob Meracle; Gene O’Neill (hiding!); Sydney Leigh, Tony Tremblay, and Jonny Kelley (not sure who else is hiding back there…)

The Tower of Together

flooded-city-31547-1920x1200Water is epic.

Born in water, made of water, dependent upon it yet unable to live freely in it, drawn toward it, mesmerized, yet wary, even terrified, powerlessness in power.

Water is primal, essential…epic.

In its own way, so is adolescence, that tsunami stage of life where one is pulled out to sea, pulled under, tossed by the waves, only to emerge on the shores, battered yet full of life and energy, reborn of water into a newly washed world.

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About one year ago, water filled my mind. I had been reading Terry Tempest Williams’ remarkable book When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations On Voice, a lyrical tour de force through myth and legend, personal reflection and global history, poetry and song and so much more. I also saw Robert Redford’s equally remarkable performance in director J. C. Chandor’s film All Is Lost, a mesmerizing tale about a man lost in a seemingly unforgiving sea a seemingly uncaring world.

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misc-underwater_00214965All of this water and air and hope and hopelessness seemed a perfect setting for a young girl, trapped in a “Tower” both real and symbolic, who must make her way through an underwater world to eventually emerge into the light. And so my first Young Adult novel, The Tower of Together, was born. Many thanks to my publisher, Michael Randolph at Eldritch Press, and to my editor, Sydney Leigh, for helping me to get the manuscript in top-notch shape. Also many thanks to Mikio Murakami of Silent Q Design for working with me to produce such a stunning cover.

Click here to purchase The Tower of Together in print or ebook format!

11295827_881303621941061_2018005442054162578_nWhen a series of environmental disasters leave a small coastal town completely underwater, fourteen-year-old Greenleigh ends up stranded with a group of teenagers in a building known only as the Tower. Cut off from civilization, they must learn how to survive in a world without any of the conveniences they once took for granted. When a power struggle develops between Leo, a charismatic but potentially dangerous outcast, and Greenleigh’s older brother Ilkka, the group’s reluctant leader, everyone must choose their alliances carefully.

Prickly but fragile, independent yet insecure, Greenleigh is caught between her loyalty to her brother and her growing attraction toward Leo. When the group decides to leave the Tower on a dangerous journey to the only house left in town, the mysterious Lloyd mansion on top of the High Grounds, they must face not only the aftermath of the flood, but fellow survivors who prove even more dangerous than the disaster itself. With the group’s immediate survival and hope for rescue at stake, Greenleigh must make choices that will determine not only whether or not she survives, but what kind of person she will be if she does.

Click here to read the first chapter of Tower of Together

The Son Who Shattered His Father’s Dream

Scully1“Maybe I dreamed too much,” was all that Mohanlal could say.

“No, dad. Maybe you just dreamed the wrong dream,” was all that his son could reply.

Parents always want the best for their children. But what if “the best” ends up being the absolute worst thing any parent could imagine?

My short story “The Son Who Shattered His Father’s Dream” was inspired by an article in The New Yorker magazine titled “The Empire of Edge,” by Patrick Radden Keefe. It chronicled the rise and fall of a young trader who got caught participating in a huge financial scandal, and focused especially on the trader’s childhood–both the unconditional support and the crushing expectations of the man’s formative years. In fact, I took the title of my story and the anecdote behind it directly from an actual incident in this family’s life. The story was fascinating and, even though the trader certainly did have his fall coming, it was heart-breaking, too, particularly for his family. It got me thinking about the tricky territory parents navigate between pushing their children and perhaps pushing them too hard and way too far–sometimes even straight off of a cliff. So I took all of this and turned it into my own more dark, much more sinister tale.

Read it here along with stories from Nathaniel Lee; J. Sheridan Le Fanu; Rob Smales; JG Faherty; Frank R. Stockton; David G. Robertson; Saki; Jonathan Maberry; A.M. Burrage; Nancy Hayden; Holly Newstein; Patrick Lacey; J.D. Beresford; Joe Powers; K. Trap Jones; D.H. Lawrence; Gregory L. Norris; Aaron Gudmunson; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Lawrence Buentello; Mary Shelley; Bo Balder; Roxanne Dent; Joe Sherry; H.P. Lovecraft; Kurt Fawver; and with an introductory poem by Tanya Jarvik and an introduction by Daniel Knauf.

Passions become obsessions. Obsessions become manias. And sometimes, manias turn into nightmares. What happens when one wants so badly that all else, including sanity and self, isEnterAtYourOwnRisk_Dreamscapes consumed by the bonfires of desire? What happens when one achieves the dream, only to discover the nightmares lurking behind the illusions? Firbolg Publishing’s fifth anthology, Enter at Your Own Risk: Dreamscapes into Darkness, explores the old adage of “Be Careful What You Wish For.” Journey down wishful thinking’s twisted pathways and discover what dark ends and detours await-with an introduction from Daniel Knauf, and featuring stories from D.H. Lawrence, Mary Shelley, A.M. Burrage, H.P. Lovecraft, and more Gothic masters from yesteryear and today… enter at your own risk, and be careful not to make a wish!

Click here to purchase Dreamscapes Into Darkness in paperback or ebook format

OR click here to purchase a special book package AND pick your price to help out the charity of your choice!

CTHULHUCON 2015; Portland, Oregon

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I had a tentacular time at CTHULHUCON in Portland, Oregon this past weekend, where I helped man Firbolg Publishing’s vendor table, attended panels and readings galore, and met so many cool people it’s impossible to mention them all here. A few highlights…

Chief Editor Alex Scully at the FIRBOLG table

When I first moved to Oregon, I had no idea that the Pacific Northwest contained one of our national literary treasures, William Nolan, who also happens to be one super cool guy. (I love that he’s wearing one of the complimentary shot-glasses Firbolg Publishing handed out for our release party at the Lovecraft Bar).
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Firbolg133  One of the many highlights of the weekend was our discovery of Leeman Kessler, an actor and performer who had been performing as H.P. Lovecraft since 2010 on stage and online with his web-series Ask Lovecraft

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Firbolg26 Me and author Rachel E Robinson at Portland’s famous Lovecraft Bar, where Firbolg hosted a release party for our latest anthology Enter at Your Risk: Dreamscapes Into Darkness

The Eye That Blinds

coverFive years ago, I was a social media virgin. I’d fooled around with message boards and had a brief, unconsummated fling with MySpace for a few months, but for the most part, my already full-blown love/hate relationship with the Internet was limited to binge-surfing true crime sites and late-night impulse shopping. And then my first novel came out.

I quickly learned that savvy authors today are not just authors but marketers, too, and that meant Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and the seemingly never-ending slew of sites that trail in their wake. I dove right into the churning social media waters, and also quickly learned that in addition to the more benign and even helpful forms of virtual sea life, those waters are filled with sharks in “Anonymous” clothing, schools of conniving barracudas and clownfish, and what is perhaps the Internet’s most relentless and elusive predator of all: the Catfish.

Catfish: someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities (Urban Dictionary)

I learned that it’s a weird, wild place to live these days, the Internet with its shadowy real/not-real denizens. And so I mixed all of the craziness up into a dark, deadly cocktail and called it The Eye That Blinds:

The Internet— it’s everywhere and nowhere, full of everybody and nobody. And sometimes, it’s downright deadly. When three college friends graduate with plans to conquer the world, they find out that the world has its own plans to conquer them. As their supposed “real” lives spiral farther out of control, they retreat into the one place where they still reign—the online kingdom of fantasy and masquerade. After a seemingly random accident puts a pair of old-school detectives on their trail, the trio’s tangled web of lies and deception threatens to unravel into consequences more real than any of them could have imagined.

My novella The Eye That Blinds is available from Darkfuse Publishing and can be purchased from Darkfuse or from Amazon, but be warned–you may never think the same way about that nice lady from your message board group again.

Reader Responses to The Eye That Blinds:

  • “Three more psychologically flawed characters you’re unlikely to meet again and it’s intriguing to see this love triangle play out, amidst the madness, murder and delusions.”
  •  ”If you’re a bit of a stalker then there’s plenty of tips here on how to take it to the next level, although that’s not an endorsement you should take to heart.” (That one always cracks me up!)
  • “In today’s world where everything is available online for anyone to see, this novella had me guessing almost to the very end.”
  • “A seemingly straightforward story that you think you’ll have figured out. But, this twisted story was was anything but straightforward. It’s best to go into this story blind – pun intended.” (Also love a reviewer who works a PUN into things!)

 

Supernatural Swine and George, the Haunted Grasshopper

1grasshopper002My father and I both had an interest in—some might even call it an obsession with—death and the great mystery of what comes next. We spent many an hour theorizing and speculating about the possibilities, and we promised each other that whoever went first would send some sign from “behind the veil,” just to give a bit of a “heads up” to those yet to make the journey. When dad died, unexpectedly and far too early, I didn’t think about that promise in the grief and chaos of death’s aftermath. But dad never was one to go back on his word, and soon enough, he found a way not only to give me that “heads up” from the other side, but to play one last prank while he was at it.

Find out how dad pulled it off in my short story “The Hand Game,” included in The Book of the Dead, the latest release from Firbolg Publishing’s ebook series. The collection of true-life ghost stories features historical photos, first-person accounts, and newspaper articles about the strange and supernatural, along with original tales from authors past and present, including Rebecca Walsh; John Mead; Morgan Griffith; Pliny, the Younger; Victoria Pinder; Trishia Peskanov; Jarrod Brown; Joseph Glanvil; Carmen Parsells; Jenean McBrearty; Ted Lonegran; Kevin Wetmore; Jane Marshall; and MORE!

The House of the Past by Clarence John Laughlin; 1947

The House of the Past by Clarence John Laughlin; 1947

Turn the pages of The Book of the Dead to discover a disturbing picture with an even more disturbing secret to tell; an apartment with a dark past and a mysterious, once-a-year visitor; haunted houses, possessed ruins, and unwelcome things that creep into your bed at night; a very sad woman and the far side of the moon; pens that write macabre tales of—and on!–flesh and blood; messages and warnings from the dead (sometimes from the dead themselves); an icy hand on the shoulder and the smell of cigar smoke when no one is smoking a cigar; and curiously determined members of the animal kingdom, including a supernatural swine and George, the haunted grasshopper.

 

FirbolgBookofDead  A shimmer at the end of a corridor. Lights in a graveyard long after the witching hour. Is that the wind, or something calling out to the living from secret, unseen places? The mysteries of the supernatural have captivated the human imagination for centuries. Tales of specters, hauntings, and unexplained phenomena can be found in every culture across the globe. In addition to modern true tales of terror, The Book of the Dead features true life hauntings from the actual pages of history. Truth can indeed be stranger—and far more terrifying!—than fiction.

Click here to purchase The Book of the Dead!

If I Say “No”: 5 Questions To Ask Before Condemning Islam

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris last week, I’ve read a fair amount of comments from people on social media, and even some journalists and politicians, condemning not just the attack itself and those who support or justify it, but also the religion of Islam itself for promoting intolerance and violence toward non-believers. So I decided to consider that claim in relation to these five questions:

1)    Do I support the equal status and rights of all people, including gay people being guaranteed the same legal privileges and protections as heterosexuals?

2)    Do I support the equal status and rights of historically oppressed people such as women and racial/ethnic minorities, including the right to be free from harassment, discrimination, intimidation, and physical harm?

3)    Do I support the separation of church and state, government and religion, so as not to assume and propose that my religious beliefs be the basis of law and public policy for everyone else, including people who don’t practice the same religion that I do?

4)    Do I refrain from trying to convert others to my religion in the belief that salvation will only be granted to followers of my particular faith?

5)    When innocent Muslims are killed in warfare, do I resist the temptation to tell myself “They had it coming” or “That’s the cost of war” and instead allow myself to feel sorrow and compassion for my fellow human beings?

If I say “No” to any of those questions, then I need to examine my own belief system before rushing to condemn another.

Bugs R’ Us: Spitting Grasshoppers, Human Beetles, and the Insect Revolution

0e0f1-the_metamorphosis_by_jezabel7Entomophobia (also known as insectophobia):  a specific phobia  of one or more classes of insect.

One of the hazards of growing up in rural Pennsylvania was the grasshoppers. Huge and green, and in full possession of that potent insect combination of equal parts relentless energy and mindless dedication to all things survival, these chirping, leaping, leaf-eating machines terrorized our summer afternoons.

They would sit there and stare at you, these bugs, and I could never figure out whether they were simply trying to figure us out or–the far more likely scenario–they were planning ways to eat us and take over the earth. When I learned that the grasshoppers could not only happily deliver painful bites with their huge, leaf-chomping jaws but also spit on people, that decided it: they were definitely here to take over the earth. Add in a story about how some prankster had once put a biting, spitting grasshopper into the  mouth of a sleeping person, and I was fully convinced the insect-led revolution was fully under way.

In fact, it has been underway since 1915.

Jamie Keenan’s design for a new edition of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” (W. W. Norton & Company)

Jamie Keenan’s design for a new edition of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” (W. W. Norton & Company)

That’s when The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka’s bizarre tale about Gregor Samsa, a man who wakes up one day to find himself transformed into a huge, beetle-like creature, first shocked the world with its surreal collision of insect and human. The cause of Samsa’s transformation is never revealed, and Kafka himself never gave an explanation. Is the transformation symbolic? Metaphoric? Magical realism with a pinch of satire thrown in on the side?

Perhaps all of those things, as attested by the story’s secure place as one of the 20th century’s seminal works of fiction, studied in colleges and universities across the world.

But Mr. Kafka never had me fooled.

I knew from those ominous Pennsylvania grasshoppers that the story was actually a warning: a glimpse of the future to come, when we either join with our planet’s most resilient inhabitants–the kind with compound eyes, sectional bodies, and chitinous exoskeletons—or perish.

“The First Science Officer bent to inspect the glass container. The brown bodies were scuttling back and forth, bumping into each other and the walls in a mad search for an exit that did not exist. He felt almost sorry for the poor creatures, and sorrier yet for putting them in their current predicament. But of course, his pity was misplaced. A human being could only last for mere seconds without a head, whereas these decapitated cockroaches had been going strong for almost two weeks…”

Find out whether or not a pair of science officers will finally succeed in assimilating humans with Earth’s new masters after a series of, shall we say,  most unfortunate false-starts and failures in my short story “Metamorphosis, Not Metaphors.” The tale is included in Great Old Ones Publishing‘s latest anthology, Bugs: Tales that Slither, Creep, and Crawl:

“Thirty-four of today’s top voices of terror take on the undulating hoards of a life form that knows no mercy, only the primitive urges to kill, destroy, and feed. They skitter through remote swamps and pine barrens; slither up from the earth and creep through human civilization, determined to conquer our world and others; crawl under and across our flesh, hungry, so very hungry…”

Edited by Gregory Norris, with a foreword by Simon Rumley, cover art by M.J. Preston, and stories and/or poems from thirty-four of today’s top voices of terror.

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  Click here to purchase Bugs: Tales That Slither, Creep, and Crawl in paperback!

Click here to purchase the Kindle/e-book!

Click here to check out more great titles from Great Old Ones Publishing!

The Philosopher’s Way

Rumpelstiltskin Illustration by Edward Gorey

Rumpelstiltskin Illustration by Edward Gorey

“One evening a tap-tap-tapping and the faint smell of wintergreen candy drifted into the study from the hallway. When the unmistakable cat’s head cane and black bowler hat appeared in the doorway, Stephen didn’t bother to ask how Stilts had gotten into the locked house. He didn’t bother to wonder why, despite the decades that had turned Stephen into a wrinkled, gray old man, Stilts looked exactly the same. Stephen had known even in that long-ago library that this was no ordinary man. And he hadn’t reappeared now for any ordinary purpose.”

Teacher, master, treacherous madman… after a young scholar sacrifices everything for knowledge, he becomes a charismatic teacher whose students are willing to sacrifice everything for him. And yet as the teacher’s own strange, long-ago mentor once warned, those who wander too far along the philosopher’s way may find themselves going straight over a cliff…

My short story “The Philosopher’s Way,” which appears in the new anthology Hauntings from the publisher Hic Dragones, was inspired by both classic fairy tales and an article in the New Yorker magazine about a real life scholar and teacher in New York City who used his brilliance and enigmatic personality to weave his students into a web of seduction, betrayal, and control. After finishing the article, I imagined the story recast among the supernatural settings and uncanny occurrences found in classic Brothers Grimm fairy tales such as Rumpelstiltskin–what if, as our scholar weaves a treacherous web for his students, an even more brilliant, more seductive master is weaving a web for him–or perhaps the scholar will end up caught in his own web, a fly for some bigger spider?

“The real-deal question is: are you willing to sacrifice everything—everything!—for knowledge?”

 

hauntings

A memory, a spectre, a feeling of regret, a sense of déjà vu, ghosts, machines, something you can’t quite put your finger on, a dark double, the long shadow of illness, your past, a nation’s past, your doppelgänger, a place, a song, a half-remembered rhyme, guilt, trauma, doubt, a shape at the corner of your eye, the future, the dead, the undead, the living, a grey cat, a black dog, a ticking clock, someone you used to know, someone you used to be.

We are all haunted.

Twenty-one new tales of the uncanny, by:

Rachel Halsall, Brandy Schillace, Allen Ashley, Hannah Kate, Audrey Williams, James Everington, David Webb, Sarah Peploe, Michael Hitchins, Patrick Lacey, Tracy Fahey, Rue Karney, Keris McDonald, Guy Burtenshaw, B.E. Scully, Mark Forshaw, Stewart Pringle, Daisy Black, Mere Joyce, Jeanette Greaves, and Elisabeth Brander.

Click HERE to purchase Hauntings: An Anthology in Kindle/e-book form!

Click HERE to purchase Hauntings: An Anthology in paperback!

Click HERE to purchase Hauntings: An Anthology directly from the publisher

as well as to check out the many other fantastic titles available from Hic Dragones!