Tag Archives: Characters

It Dances Now

Just in time for Halloween, I give you the latest short horror story. I hope you enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it.

We are all captives to the darkness. It’s only when we embrace our prisons that nightmares root and evil blooms.” 

The American Civil War thundered for two years before the maelstrom of Gettysburg struck. It was a sticky July day when forces from both sides assembled. Over one-hundred-thousand Union troops settled in the low ridges to the northwest of town. Commander George Meade knew there weren’t enough surgeons to care for the throngs of injured, but it wouldn’t stop him from engaging Robert E. Lee. This battle could be the turning point for both armies.

The few surgeons on staff included Cecil Gibbs. The young weatherworn man was distinctive from his colleagues with his chiffon hair, willow eyes and an ashen complexion. As a child, Cecil was bedridden from polio, and his twisted physique showed it. As hard as life had been, Cecil wouldn’t let it hold him back and dove into medicine as soon as he had the strength to walk. Still, for as determined as Cecil was, he was odd, even for surgeons’ standards.

His parents died of consumption when Cecil was just a boy. Cecil had no other family besides his neighboring aunt. The State allowed her legal guardianship of the boy, but the mile between the two estates caused her visits to be few and far between. Cecil was fortunate to get a feeding a day, and it was brief with little conversation. The decade of isolation caused the boy’s mind to warp and contort his character. 

Day one of battle saw much bloodshed. A clash of calvary corps caused for thousands of wounded and dying. Cecil was overwhelmed by the number of men slopped before him. One-by-one, Cecil cauterized, stitched and carved up soldiers. His hands were stained red and his saw dulled. The shock of mens’ screams and gurgles haunted Cecil’s mind, and as the hours went on, the surgeon broke. Where cries once rang, Cecil now heard singing. Where surgeon’s tools once grated, only violins strummed. Before long Cecil was immersed in a symphony and he was the conductor.

By dusk of day two, the injured had tripled, and Cecil the surgeon was no more. His colleagues declared that Cecil had gone mad. He grinned and cackled as new meat was put before him, and began unnecessarily sawing limbs. Union command decided to remove Cecil from his surgical tent, but he disappeared before he could be arrested. It was said that Cecil was seen limping up Cemetery Ridge, a tall silhouette with its arm around Cecil’s shoulder. 

On the dawn of day three, infantry holding Culp’s Hill began to bring injured men from the woods. These poor souls survived their initial wounds, mostly gunshots and artillery shrapnel, but were hastily cared for by a field surgeon that seemed to have sprouted from nowhere. While survivors initially were relieved, they were horrified when the medic bound them to a tree before sawing off limbs. The maniac didn’t stop until there was nothing left but a torso and head. Worse yet, Confederate soldiers along the battlefields were being found in the same state. Cecil was using the chaos of battle to mask his murder spree. Something had to be done.

Allan Pinkerton was the head of Union Intelligence. His spies reached across Union and Confederate lines and were spread across Gettysburg. When news of Cecil reached agents, they were ordered to remove themselves from the front lines and seek out the madman. Of the handful of agents, only one responded. Oliver Lamb joined the Union Intelligence a year into the war. He was known for his no nonsense, incorruptible attitude. Oliver dutifully removed himself from his post as a Union scout and investigated.

To say it was challenging to dodge fighting while hunting Cecil was an understatement. Nevertheless, Oliver tracked each of Cecil’s steps. Oliver found the discarded limbs Cecil had heaved into piles along hills and bushes. Oliver interviewed bystanders. Oliver even tracked Cecil’s foot trail. Only, whenever Oliver uncovered a detail, there was always proof that second culprit was at hand. A sharpshooter recalled a tall man in black with Cecil inspecting casualties along Barlow’s Knoll. A victim recollected an assistant with Cecil just outside of peripheral vision. Oliver even found a second set of large footsteps that walked along Cecil’s boot prints as he made his way to Oak Hill. 

Oliver was a steadfast man however, and after hours of dodging canons and gunfire, he found Cecil along Herr Ridge. The surgeon wrang the blood from his hands along a creek. Oliver stalked closer to find Cecil’s latest work, an unconscious boy no older than sixteen butchered along a tree limb. Oliver knew he was dealing with a broken man, and would only have one shot. Oliver removed his revolver. He cleared his throat.

“Cecil,” Oliver announced, pulling back the hammer of his firearm. “It’s over.” Cecil stared at his reflection in the stream.

“Is it?” Cecil inquired.

“It is,” Oliver confirmed. 

“It only made me stronger,” Cecil sighed.

“What?”

“Not having a body,” Cecil confirmed. “I had polio as a boy. It empowered me as a man.”

“Are you sure about that?” Oliver asked. It was rhetorical, and Oliver didn’t wait for a response. “Come on. To your feet.” 

Cecil slowly reeled around. His eyes were bloodshot with tears strumming down his cheeks. His once pale complexion was blush with scratch marks along his neck. Cecil stared down the barrel of Oliver’s gun. Oliver swallowed the lump in his throat before raising the revolver high. A man as desperate as Cecil was capable of anything.

“It’s not why I did it though,” Cecil confessed in a monotone voice. 

“No?” Oliver asked while using his open hand to reach into his pack. He’d hung a pair of manacles along the side pouch, and blindly tugged at them while keeping his aim on Cecil. 

“It made me do it,” Cecil said bluntly. Oliver didn’t know if he should indulge the mad man any longer, but he thought it could possibly help diffuse the situation without violence. Oliver palmed the now unsheathed manacles and hurled them at Cecil’s feet.

“It?” Oliver said as he watched the cuffs roll onto Cecile’s boots. “Who is it?”

“It doesn’t have a name,” Cecil confided. “It doesn’t talk about itself either. All it speaks about is what it wants me to do.”

“And it told you to mutilate these people?”

“Not mutilate,” Cecil argued, “cleanse.” Oliver had heard enough.

“Put on the manacles Cecil,” Oliver ordered. Cecil shook his head. 

“I don’t hear it any longer though,” he moaned. “I was,” he stuttered, “I was its mother, but it dances to its own music now.” Cecil frowned while taking a step forward. Oliver noticed the saw in Cecil’s hand for the first time. 

“Put on the damn restraints,” Oliver roared. “You still get a trial Cecil.” Cecil shook his head hard while hurrying forward.

“You know where to take this,” Cecil cried out, lifting the weapon above his head. “So wash me.” 

Oliver fired three times. The first shot went wide, but the second bullet found its target striking Cecil in the shoulder before the third hit him in the heart. Cecil fell to the ground. Oliver paused and watched as Cecil lay motionless, his eyes staring at the sky. Oliver approached and kicked the saw from Cecil’s hand. It was done. 

Oliver would petition for a nearby Union garrison to help bring back the corpse. He was commended for his diligent work, but amidst the hell, command simply wished to sweep the incident under the rug rather than give out a medal. Oliver understood, and by evening, found himself back on assignment. Luckily the battle would end after the third day. Oliver celebrated with the Union forces on their victory and followed the limping army as they advanced on General Lee’s heels.

Months later, Oliver joined General Sherman’s march south. Along the way, he received reports from other Pinkerton agents that Confederate soldiers were found mutilated along the roads. Intelligence said that a rebel soldier had a case of the rattles that caused him to break. The confederate was later found and hung. Still the horrific attacks went on, even past the war. Oliver remembered what Cecil had said after all. I was its mother, but it dances to its own music now.

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You Can Never Be Too Sure

You Can Never Be Too Sure CoverOh, to be part of the writing world. You dream up stories, then muster the courage to share them with readers. The tales you tell are one part of your DNA, one part experiences and a third part, well, magic or possibly even The Force. If you do manage to submit it to agents/publishers, chances are you’ve bottled a little bit of lightning. Well, now that all of that’s done with, what else do you do? Is it now in the hands of the Literary Gods? No way! There’s so much love that you’ve put into your work. It’s time to ensure that your manuscript survives the test of time. 

When my first book was published, I was on top of the world. I’d bled to get the manuscript out to the world, and for a long time was fearful that it would never get that spark to jolt it to life. So when I received an offer letter I thought, “Finally, I’ve made it.” No matter how small the publisher was, I felt vindicated, recognized and valued. To me, it was all going to be okay from here. Oh Justin, you fool. You’re as naive as you are devilishly handsome. 

The truth is that getting your book published is just the beginning. Beyond the cover choices, editorial changes and marketing strategy is the manuscript’s legacy. No, I don’t mean its reputation or future movie rights. I mean keeping your book safe. You see, publishers are awesome. Agents are amazing. But your book is timeless and eventually you’ll likely part ways with both. Once you do, hopefully you’ve developed its legacy well enough that readers five, ten or fifty years from now can still enjoy your story. Cue my reasoning.

You see, in some ways selling a book is harder for publishers than writing the book is for the author. According to scottberkun.com, approximately three-hundred-thousand books are published in the United States alone each year. Now, add the fact that in 2014 only thirty-percent of Americans read one to five books, and suddenly you can see the issue. Only the trendiest books make money, the market is flooded, and the customer market is diminutive. So often when your book is published, the time table is limited. You only have so long to build consistent sales before your publisher lets the story go or the publisher goes under themselves.

It’s now up to the writer to pick up the pieces and get their story back in motion. How do you do that? Well, there’s many different ways, but the first includes protecting your title’s rights. A lot of first time writers sell off all of the rights to their publisher because they were excited to receive a contract. Some publishers can keep the rights for your book long after taking it off shelves. Please be sure that your contract is written so that you get all of your rights back once the book is discontinued.

Next, don’t just move on. Keep book one, book two, etc. active, no matter how many other projects you’re working on. Submit promotions and marketing to readers, social networks and podcasts. Write small spin offs and post them to popular writing sites. Join book clubs and share your book, while reading other author’s old novels as well. Finally, hunt down the old electronic manuscript and get ready to resubmit it. Though there only a select few publishers or agents that republish old work, they are out there. Be sure not to give up on your story. 

If you are a writer, you’re one in a million. You’ve managed to dream up a fantastic manuscript. You’ve survived all the trials from finding a publisher to the grueling editorial process. You’ve sold your book, and if all goes right, it will stay on shelves for a very long time. However, just in case it doesn’t, take the correct measures in order to protect your manuscript. You can never be too sure. 

Changes

People argue that we don’t change, but let’s face it, we do. We change in the small ways- what we choose to eat, our fashion sense, what we read. We change in the big ways- our approach to resolving problems, faith and how we perceive the world. It’s a never ending cycle. And, while our loud and stubborn habits tend to steal the spotlight, there are dozens of small and wonderful changes that happen to us daily.

The same can be said for writing. Countless authors’ styles, subjects and inspirations have leapt around like jackrabbits. Iain (M.) Banks moved from mainstream fiction to science fiction and back again. Ian Fleming transitioned from spy novels to classic children’s picture books. Some authors’ changes have even revolutionized literature. Hemingway modernized today’s approach to book description by emphasizing direct, unadorned prose while William Faulkner shook the Earth by transitioning classic suggestive introspection into a stream-of-consciousness approach that we see today.

There’s nothing wrong with changing your approach to writing. Novice writers tend to lean on lengthy descriptions, repeating adjectives and a heavy dose of those wicked adverbs. They confuse grammar and sentence structure, and are addicted to the all enticing commas when they don’t belong. It’s a rite of passage that takes numerous wags of the finger from a proofreader or editor to understand. One that when amended, can draw new insight on what your writing potential is.

But it’s not just genres, grammar and inspiration that we can change when writing. It’s our perspective as well. When I was young I called myself an aspiring writer. When I was published, I became an author. Now, after ten years of experience, I see myself as a story enthusiast. Our outlook and relationship with the writing world is what makes us who we are.

George Bernard Shaw once said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” This year, keep in mind that whether it seems like it or not, you are constantly in a state of change. You’ve worked very hard to get where you are, be it that first published poem, completed manuscript or contracted novel. You’re doing yourself a disservice by not keeping your author-mind open and your literary-heart honest.  After all, it should be your writing aspirations that reflect your choices, not your fears.

The Sleeper

“It comes at night and perches upon your chest as you sleep. There it drinks your health like wine.” 

-Old Wives Tale

The mishmash of cultures in the Colonies leads to different folk tales and stories. Perhaps one of the most frightening comes from a German tale about “The Sleeper,” a demon-like creature that creeps in one’s bed at night in order to steal your breath. Much like an incubus, The Sleeper doesn’t just finish off its victims in one sitting. Instead, it comes and feeds on dozens of occasions, weakening its victim’s health. Those who are visited complain of poor constitution, exhaustion and mood swings. The only way to rid yourself of the creature is to smudge your house with white sage, cover your mirrors with blankets and roll an egg over your body as to absorb the dark energy. 

But is this creature really a spawn of Satan? Some speculate that it isn’t. The Sleeper seems to need life to sustain itself on Earth, which leads many to believe that it’s not from this realm. It is repulsed by certain bans and respects the laws of physics. Some parazoology experts theorize that the creature is merely a macabre spirit, while still others say that it is a monster from the depths of hell. No matter what the creature is, there’s been a sudden spike in its presence along New England, giving clues that this monster has traveled from the mother land in order to take advantage of the U.S.. 

The Tale of Private Thomas

“And I tell you this, the tale of Private Thomas is no silly ghost story. If you doubt what I say is true, walk his road tonight and see for yourself.”

-William Tassel during the annual Halloween feast 

It’s not an easy task securing the roadside, and for Private Talfryn Thomas, it was no different. Charged with patrolling the unruly New England highways, Private Thomas did so with the company of his horse and lantern. Any signs of restlessness were to be reported to the nearest British fort. But during a mundane patrol on a Halloween night, Talfryn exposed a secret rebel meeting. He was shot and thrown off of Hangman’s Bridge while attempting to report. But Talfyrn’s corpse wouldn’t rest. 

It’s said that on certain nights when lonely travelers take to the road, they can see Private Talfryn Thomas’s lantern flickering from afar. Stranger still, some folks claim to have passed a ragged British soldier on horseback. Upon examining him, they see that his face is rotted and his eyes are aglow. And if you’re a rebel that walks Thomas’s patrol, it’s guaranteed that he’ll drag you from his black horse through the highway, and then throw you from Hangman’s Bridge. And this legend would be just that if not for the several bodies that have been found in the river below Hangman’s Bridge over the years. 

Halloween Treats

Here it comes again, my favorite time of year. There’s a special place in my heart when the moon grows ominous, and the trees go naked. They’re signs of Autumn, and more importantly, they’re harbingers of Halloween. As for little old Justin Alcala, it means research for some of my darker projects. This year I’m cataloging some lesser known European and American folklore and tales. And how selfish it would be of me to not share them with you. So, until the children scream for Halloween, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite monsters and specters with you in order to lure you into the mood.

The Witch of Newark

“A witch should never be afraid of the darkest forest because she should be sure in her soul that the most terrifying thing in the forest was her.”-Terry Pratchett

Not every monster starts off as such. The Witch of Newark is a legend past down from generation to generation in both the New Jersey and New England area. As the tale goes, she was once just an ordinary Newark settler girl who’d come from Europe with her family. As time passed and the girl grew older, she turned away from God and began to deal in dark magic within the wilds. She then joined a witch’s cult where she fornicated with the devil. Though this gave her special powers, it also cursed her flesh. Her features contorted into a demon’s, and her skin became withered and old. It’s said that she uses powerful magics to disguise herself, though if you look at her from behind, you can make out her horrific form. She now wanders the forests of New Jersey and New England looking for victims. She tempts them with food, money and sexual favors. Those who fall for her ruse have their souls violently ripped from their bodies in order to sustain the Witch of Newark’s unnaturally long life. 

 But just because it’s a legend, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any merit. Though the Witch of Newark’s folktale may be embellished, occultists and witch hunters have claimed to have evidence of the creature. Huts with dead animals and missing children are found every several years, and it’s said that these are the dwellings of the dark mistress. More over, the occasional survivor of her sin-offerings occasionally comes forth to confirm stories of a young woman who offered them silks and honey, only to transform into a deformed hag that tries to eat them. And although much of it can be construed as fear mongering for curious children who wish to play in the forest, it hasn’t stopped several witch hunters from looking into clues. 

 

“The Devil in the Wide City” Hits Amazon

“The Devil in the Wide City” is now available in both ebook and paperback. Get your copy today.

https://www.amazon.com/Devil-Wide-City-Justin-Alcala-ebook/dp/B01E1R504I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1465854233&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Devil+in+the+Wide+City

When Ned, a fallen angel who’s as suave as he is brainy, accidentally starts the Great Chicago Fire during an assignment, he all but gives up on ever visiting Earth again- that is until his replacement goes missing, and Ned gets a chance at redemption. 

Book Excerpt 

“It was one hell of a day, and that’s saying a lot where I’m from. It began as cliché as one might expect when living in the nine circles of Satan’s abyss. My girlfriend dumped me, my dogs ran away from home, and work gave me the pink slip. Things were looking dismal. If only I knew then that by this time tomorrow I’d be back on Earth, I might not have been so whiny.”

Justin Alcala, Author of “Consumed” and “The Devil in the Wide City”

On the tracks

 

Horror Bookstore? I think I’m in Love.

There are some things in life that you just can’t ignore. One thing recently for me is Bucket o’ Blood bookstore. This wild establishment specializes in horror novels and horror-vinyl. It has anything a blood sucking vampire or misunderstood gothic kid could ask for. It’s one part macabre library, one part vinyl depot, and perhaps most importantly, a community hub where people can get together to enjoy the simpler thing in life- like discussing Zombie Apocalypses during their book club events or live music on specific weeks.

If you’re a Chicagoan, please feel free to stop by (3128 N Elston Avenue, Chicago IL 60618). Their awesome selection of novels will leave your head spinning and speaking in tongues. Not in the Chicago area? No problem. Check out their online Discogs page for great music and more (https://www.discogs.com/seller/BucketOBlood/profile).

Am I a Chicago lover? Of course. Am I also a fan of all things creepy? Well, yeah. But, it’s not to say that I’m alone. Remember, it’s places like this that keep weirdos like us happy, so please stop by or visit online.

Bucket

Official Site: http://www.bucketoblood.com/index/index.html

Events Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/119769541743572/

 

Happy Halloween to Fans!

I want to wish fans of “Consumed” and “The Devil in the Wide City” a Happy Halloween! Thanks for joining my blog and take it easy on the blood tonight.

Consumed DEV

Justin Alcala

Author of “Consumed” and the 1st installment of the upcoming Plenty Dreadful Series, “The Devil in the Wide City”

http://www.justinalcala.com

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