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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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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 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!

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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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Author Website

Amazon Author Page

Goodreads

Other Blog Z Posts

Pay Attention to Details

Are you pitching your manuscript? If so, then you already know that there are dozens of different guidelines. Some publishers/agents require the first fifteen pages of your book while others ask for a detailed synopsis.  Regardless of demands, if there’s one thing that I highly recommend to all you poets, journalists or novelists out there, it’s follow the guidelines flawlessly. Doing so instantly gives your work the consideration it deserves.

Six years ago, I pitched my first manuscript. Agentless, I went fishing on dozens of publisher’s site, sending my full work to be reviewed. The only problem was, I ignored each and every publisher’s guidelines. After the first three rejection letters, I asked myself, “What am I doing wrong?” Luckily, a friend of mine, and well established writer, was kind enough to guide me in the right direction. He gently popped my bubble by reminding me that every part of a submission is an assessment. You wouldn’t go into an interview and ignore the employer’s questions would you? So why do it with your submission?

Sure enough, once I got with the program, I received four letters of interest. My book wasn’t any better or worse than any other, but I followed direction. I’ve read editor and agent blogs that moan about queries all the time. While I admit they can be tough on writers, it’s still good to err on the side of caution. If you gamble on guidelines, you’re not just risking your manuscript, you’re risking future submissions.

John Wooden once said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” If you’re uncertain about query requests, there are hundreds of online aids that can help. Just make sure that you’re  meticulousness in your submission. It’s all about paying attention to detail, a creative pitch and a great story. Do that, and the rest will fall into place.

“Consumed” Giveaway

Have a Goodreads account? Then stay tuned for the “Consumed” giveaway starting on July 3rd. Five lucky winners will get a paperback copy sent to their homes so long as they…

A) Love horror-fantasy

B) Are unwilling to press charges due to nightmares

C) Be into vampires, and willing to donate blood.

More to come at the link below come July 3rd.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7862799.Justin_Alcala

Travel…It’s Worth It

Several things happen to someone who writes and travels. Firstly, the stress of deadlines, editing and marketing strategies has a way of evaporating like spilled lemonade on a summer sidewalk. Next, new faces and landscapes give birth to a plethora of unrestrained story ideas. Finally, the world is put into perspective- not just the literary world, but life in general. So in light of this, I’m calling out to all my writing companions and asking them to do whatever it takes in order to plan what I had put off for so long…traveling.

When I began writing Consumed, I took advantage of an opportunity to research the Transylvania region. I’d already conducted countless hours of legwork in the States, but nothing prepared me for the insight I’d gain when I finally arrived in Romania. Elements like culture and atmosphere are something that just can’t be described in books or guides. It’s a “boots on the ground” sort of experience. So it goes without saying that when I recently traveled to Ireland for my current project, Dim Fairy Tales (the second installment in the Plenty Dreadful series), the same held true.

The people of Ireland are welcoming, but not overwhelming. The history of the Emerald Isle is far richer than what’s expressed in social studies classes, and perhaps most importantly, stories in Ireland are cherished by its people beyond anything else. Just go to any coffee shop, lounge or pub and listen to the colorful array of accounts and tall tales. It’s  a type of specialized oratory and written folklore that you can’t find anywhere.

But this is not a story about my travels. No, this is a story about your travels. If you’re a writer, I beg you, explore. I know it’s easier said than done, but I beseech you to do what ever you can in order to journey to new towns, countries and continents. Save those pennies and cut those coupons because travel can help inspire, broaden horizons and give piece of mind.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe was one of the most talented German writers of the 18th and 19th century. His early writings were considered entertaining, but short of groundbreaking. It wasn’t until 1786, when he traveled through the Italian Peninsula that Goethe would find his voice. Not just his voice mind you, but according to his journals, his philosophical outlook on life. So much so that in 1816, his published work, “Italian Journey” took center stage in the literary world. None of it would have been possible without travel.

So writers, I implore you, please find a way to travel. Is it expensive? Often, yes. Do you have the time? Probably not. But, will it help in your writing? I’ll guarantee it.

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(My hike on Diamond Hill in Ireland. Epicness at its lamest.)