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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.. 

Book Signing at Bucket O Blood Bookstore

Hello Chicagoans,

Come to Bucket O Blood Bookstore to get your signed copy of “The Devil in the Wide City” from 5-7pm. I’ll be the guy at the table telling corny jokes.

Book Signing Event Details

3182 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

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“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

 

Win an Ebook Copy of”The Devil in the Wide City”

Hello readers,

Below is a bona fide link to the Zharmae Publishing Press Giveaway, “The Devil in the Wide City.” Supplies are limited, so click now. You’ll be the envy of WordPress if you’re the lucky ebook winner, Act now, and as an added bonus, I’ll also pray for your immediate career success in a remote Shaolin Temple that I’m currently training at.

“The Devil in the Wide City” Ebook Giveaway

And remember, “The Devil in the Wide City” officially hits shelves May 26th, 2016.

Sincerely,

Justin Alcala

Author of “Consumed” and “The Plenty Dreadful” Series. 

The Devil in the Wide City Zharmae Cover

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

Hashtag no filter and all that jazz

Why Zombies Will Never Stop Coming

Originally posted on Blog-Z @ Zharmae.com

First vampires, now this: Justin Alcala joins us to look at why we love zombies. Could it get any better?

Take it away, Justin!

zombie-949915_1920

Welcome to Part 2 of my Halloween blog, where we’ve been dissecting everyone’s favorite ghouls and ghosts. In Part 1, we talked about vampires and their relationship with our history. In Part 2, we’re unearthing a different eerie nemesis—one that just refuses to go away. Yes, it’s time to dig up old skeletons and investigate Why Zombies Will Never Stop Coming.

When I was a boy, my mom introduced me to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, and my world changed. The entire movie, from Johnny’s “They’re coming to get you, Barbara” speech to the undead’s attack on the quiet little farmhouse, terrified the hell out of me. To this day I have no idea why my mom showed me that movie at such a young age (although it’s probably why I am the horror nerd I am today). Regardless, from that night, and many years after, I’d suffer through the same reoccurring nightmare. Shambling zombies were at my door, ready to eat me alive if I didn’t escape. Little did I know that my zombie problem wouldn’t go away anytime soon. Yes, it seems that every few years, an entire slew of zombie movies and books spread through the media, giving life to the dead once more. 

So, why do zombies keep clawing their way out from the grave? Just when you think the horror fad has come and gone, a new wave of novels, television series and movies surface. In their very short time, zombies have gone from dormant sub-genre to commercial monstrosity. But why? Does society secretly like blood and guts or is it just that we feel as if we’re on the edge of the apocalypse already? Well, I think it’s time that we bite into the matter.

zombie-945622_1920First, let’s look the current affairs of the day. It’s no secret that conflicts in the Middle East, Ebola in Africa, and other global catastrophes have stirred up people’s anxieties. With record-breaking travel nowadays, it’s easy to imagine these issues landing at your doorstep. Zombies embody our contemporary concerns. Globally, millions of people are fearful that one day they’ll wake up to an incurable epidemic in their neighborhood or an unwinnable war on the streets. What better analogy than a zombie infestation to help construe our angst? Zombies spread their contagion quickly and are unbeatable in great numbers. They’re the perfect metaphor.

Another reason why we love to fantasize about the undead is because of what they mean to us subliminally. Ever feel like you’re overwhelmed with problems at work? Do you constantly feel like you’re fighting a battle that you just can’t win at home? Well my friend, sounds like you’re describing a great zombie plot. Zombies are the ultimate depiction of our ordinary struggles. They’re vicious, unrelenting, and put us on edge at every turn.

Yet another reason why zombies have surged in popularity comes from increased coverage of vague present-day issues. Problems such as global warming and financial meltdowns can sometimes be hard to imagine. Zombies are a perfect way to put these matters into perspective.

Concerned Daydreamer: “Hey dude, isn’t it creepy to think that the icecaps may completely melt in fifteen years?”

Closed-minded Bro: “Honestly, I can’t even really imagine it.”

It’s hard to decapitate melting ice. Shooting a recession in the head isn’t easy. But an ominous undead infestation, now that’s something conceivable.

Finally, while it may be hard to believe, death itself is a perfect reason why zombies have become so popular. It’s unavoidable. We see death every day on the television, hear it on the radio, and read about it online. We sit back and wonder, “When do I go?” Sometimes it comes in the form of a distant relative, other times it’s someone very close, but death is always lurking. The zombie is the embodiment of this. It’s not prejudiced or picky. It will destroy whatever is in front of it, brutally and without mercy.

And those are the facts. Zombies will never stop coming. Why? Because they’re metaphors for global tension. They depict daily life. They help us understand subliminal issues and they’re a constant reminder that none of us are getting out of this alive. We love zombies because they help us make sense of our own existence. In essence, we are zombies. Now…who wants brains?


To learn more about Justin and his works, be sure to check out these websites:

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Why Vampires Will Never Die

vamp

The Monstrous Age, the Gothic Era, The Heroic Period- vampires have had many different roles in culture throughout the ages. They’ve been what scares us, what draws us and what aspires us to be. We fear their power, desire their immortality, and relate with their struggles. Yet, for as many hats as they’ve worn, one thing is for certain. The vampire is here to stay.

Throughout history, monsters have served as a coping mechanism for what terrifies people most. Vampires are no different. For the last millennium, these bloodsuckers have helped justify evil, disease and death. From the Chinese Jiangshi to the Hungarian Izcacus, no matter the culture, records indicate that people have always had a turbulent, but vital relationship with the vampire. But that would all change once pop culture embraced the vampire.

1897- Bram Stoker publishes his novel Dracula, in which an undead Count clashes with a young group of English protagonists. The intriguing story, told through diary entries, ship logs and other epistolary means, is an overnight success. Dracula’s popularity changes the creature. No longer does the vampire simply represent sin and death. Vampires are now linked with contemporary issues, which in the 1890’s included foreign distrust, mental health and sexual repression. While the vampire was still villainous by nature, the seed of transformation had been planted.

Nearly one hundred years later, writers and movie producers use the vampire for different reasons. Mainstream tensions linked to sexual inclination, racial discrimination and harsh corporate enterprise rear their ugly heads. This once again changes the vampire. While still deadly by nature, the vampire develops new symbolic traits related to pressing themes. The creature is now the epitome of seduction, manipulation and exploitation. The origin story also becomes a backbone, giving the creature a tragically unfortunate motive to kill. Audiences begin to sympathize with the monster, abetting in the creation of what we know today.

It’s 2015. Cue the glitter and acoustic guitar. Although the Internet becomes a major social outlet, it also has a way of isolating people worldwide. In addition, recovering economies force millions of college graduates and jobless workers to look elsewhere for employment. Depression in America, Canada and England are on the rise. What this world needs is a hero. Once again, the vampire transforms, changing from gruesome predator to misunderstood do-gooder. Story plots gravitate around a kindhearted mortal transformed by the damned, only to later defy their makers in order to protect the living from the dead.

But why is it that vampires won’t go away? Hundreds of other monsters similar in age and origin like barghests, banshees and genies, had similar early success in cultures. They were outlets in order to explain what people didn’t understand. As the years past however, these monsters slowly faded. So why did vampires outlast their competitors?

Well for starters, one has to look at the key ingredient to a good vampire tale. Vampires were once human. Unlike other monsters, humans can change into vampires. So, while we might fear them, we also fantasize about what it would be like to become one. Immortality, irresistible allure and supernatural powers- traditionally, these are the exchange for condemning one’s soul. Thus, while vampirism may be nightmarish, it also allows us romanticize about what we might do with our dark gifts if given the chance.

Secondly, vampires in all of their petty immortality, also represent what’s wrong with contemporary society. Yes, it’s the social predator’s duty to adapt to the times in order hunt their prey, keeping up to date with fads, culture and current affairs. This makes it easy for storytellers to sculpt vampires into the perfect modern-day metaphors. They’ve gone from plague spreaders during periods of disease to unruly deviants during phases of social reform. They are in essence, the ultimate plot devices.

Finally, and most importantly, vampires represent what we fear about ourselves. They are the monsters inside each of us. We use these creatures to work out our own angst, anxiety and desires. They’re tools in order for us to make sense of who we are. In essence, vampires are a form of introspection.

So there you have it. Our link to vampires is far greater than we ever imagined. They rationalize otherwise uncontrollable events, allow us to fantasize about who we’d like to be, keep us aware of society’s flaws and help us express what we fear most about ourselves. Though their roles may have changed throughout time, their purpose is always essential. And that’s why vampires will never die.

On the tracks

Justin Alcala, Author of “Consumed” and the upcoming “Plenty Dreadful Series”.

Check out Part 1, “The Devil in the Wide City” when it hits shelves October 2015. 

Get your copy of Consumed on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Consumed-Justin/dp/1937365581/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1440553280&sr=8-1&keywords=Consumed+justin+alcala

Check Out “The Devil in the Wide City” on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22433711-the-devil-in-the-wide-city