A Toast To A Friend

If you’ve read my novella, Closing the Wound, then you know it is about the real events of the death of a teenage boy on Halloween night in 1995 here in South Carolina. Our friend, Chris, loved Halloween. It was his favorite day of the year. 

So, in honor of our friend, on Halloween, Cate and I will go visit his grave. We will take candy bars with us and we will toast his life and his love for Halloween, then we will eat the candy. It’s our way of paying tribute to a young man who died far too soon. It’s our way of remembering him. 

Cate and I went for coffee this evening and as we sat and drank our drinks at an awesome place in Cayce called Piecewise (it’s on State Street, down the road from B.C. High School if you want to pay them a visit), we talked about Chris and something we would like to do, or rather, something we would like you to do. At some point during the month of October, please take a couple of hours and visit the grave of a family member or a friend (or even a stranger). Take with you some candy, toast that person, talk about that person, eat your candy. 

So often when someone dies, we go to the funeral, maybe go to the burial, then … we forget about them. Life is too precious to forget someone that was a part of our lives. Instead of forgetting them, let them live on in our lives. Remember them by taking a moment, here in October, the month of Halloween, my friend’s favorite day of the year, and celebrate them. 

Yes, I am probably going to post this here and there and everywhere over the next few weeks as Halloween grows closer. Yes, you will also see more posts about Closing the Wound this month than before. I think his story is one that should be told, should be read. It was my way to cope with his death and a way for him to live on through the written word. 

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

Happy Halloween.

A.J.

Closing the Wound

Some stories are harder to write than others. They take on a different meaning, a different feel. The emotional grind of killing off a character or breaking up a relationship between two lovers or two friends or even family members to further a story along, can be taxing on the writer. That grind amps up when the story is either based on real events or are the actual events themselves.

coverThat leads me to my first nonfiction book, Closing the Wound. The people in the book are not just characters, but were, at one point, living, breathing human beings and part of my life in one way or other. The events are not figments of my imagination, but the truth how I remember it. I say as I remember it because time has a way of distorting things. It can turn the eight inch bass a fisherman caught when he was twenty into a six foot marlin at the age of fifty-three. It can take the task of reeling that bass in, feeding it some line, pulling the rod back, reeling, reeling, reeling into an epic battle for survival between man and beast. Time has a way of sneaking up on us and blurring the edges of reality and fiction, sometimes to the point we don’t know which is fact and which is make believe.

When I sat down to write Closing the Wound, I was very careful about those facts and falsehoods. I recounted the events over and over how I remember them. I thought about the people, all of whom the names were changed, and the roles they played in this chapter of, not only my life, but theirs and the main topic of this story, a young boy—no, young man—who died far too soon, taken from this world by another person. I thought about how folks who know about these events might feel about them being rehashed so many years later. I thought about how some of the people are portrayed. 

I thought hard on just who is telling the story. And this was the sticking point for me. Everyone has their versions of events, from as close to factual as you can get to the downright outrageous. For me, these are the facts as I recall them. The key to this entire story is it is my recollection. I didn’t seek out anyone else in the telling of this story. I used the facts and my memory to tell it. If someone else wishes to tell this story in their own manner, from their own perspective, then have at it. But for me—and for you—this is my story. 

Before I go, I want to talk about the cover. It’s a rusty lock on an old door. It symbolizes that this story is over for me. I have closed the doors on it and have locked them. It symbolizes that there is nothing left to tell; I have poured my soul out and I can’t pour anymore.

I hope you will consider coming along with me on the journey to the end of this story. If you do, I hope you will consider leaving a review as well. Those things are important to us little guys.

If you would like to pick up a digital copy of Closing the Wound, you can do so by going here.

If you would like to pick up a physical copy of Closing the Wound, you do so by going here.

As always, thank you for reading, and until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

 

Bigger Than Us

Halloween has passed.  Yet again, I must wait another 364 days for my favorite day of the year.  Though I love Halloween, it has become a symbol of remembrance and sadness as well.

On Halloween night in 1995, a teenager in my hometown was murdered and set on fire.  He was a good friend of my (soon to be, but as of that moment, not yet) wife.  It was tragic.  I wrote about it here, on Type AJ Negative a couple years ago in a six part series I titled, Closing the Wound.  (Links will be provided at the end of this piece if you would like to read that series.)

Halloween 2013 brought the funeral of a giant of a man in my state, one who I knew and worked for.  I will not give his name, but if you live in South Carolina you probably know who he was.

I went to the funeral of Mr. G (Mr. Giant is what I will call him, Mr. G for short).  It was a packed house with overflow rooms with video feeds set up for those who couldn’t get inside the church’ sanctuary.  The service was nice, very organized and what memorial services tend to be.

However, the rector was a woman who gave a seven or eight minute message. It wasn’t your typical message of ‘get saved while you can,’ but more geared toward what Mr. G really was, what he was about.  I believe they could have taken the rest of the service away and have only her message and it still would have been an amazing memorial.  She was that good.

This woman said a couple things that stood out to me.  One of them I will write about later.  The other one, I want to share with you now.  I’m modifying it just a little, but keeping the content of what she said.

“Mr. G showed us what faith looks like when it is lived out in something bigger than ourselves.”

The rector clearly meant Mr. G’s faith in God and in doing what he thought was right.  I’ve thought and thought about this for the last day since hearing her words.  I think the words that have stuck with me here are ‘bigger than ourselves.’

As I’ve thought and thought and thought and thought some more, I’ve come to realize that life, in and of itself, is bigger than all of us.  Life–what it really, truly is–is so much bigger than the lives we lead.

We are mundane.  We go through the same tasks over and over, day in and day out.  Often times we don’t even try all that hard to accomplish what we want to, or to do what others may ask of us.  We waste so much time worrying about stuff that is out of our hands, out of our control.  We let a lot of our life slip by.

Are we truly living?  Are we truly enjoying the gift we have been given?

That’s up to you to decide.  For me, I can say no.  And that’s my fault.  Have I chased my dream of being a successful writer as hard as I should?  No.  Not even close.  Why is that?  Fear, most likely.  Fear of failure, but also fear of success (which I’ve stated in other posts).

But wait, there is something else.  It’s not just fear.  It’s laziness; it’s not wanting to do the extra work, beyond writing the stories.  Writers have to do more these days to get ahead.  They have to market their work and themselves.  They have to socialize and be accessible to fans and other writers.  They have to be giving of their time, something they feel is better spent writing.  It’s a lot of work, and a lazy writer won’t make it very far in this business.

But guess what, Dear Readers.  We writers have it all wrong.  You see, writing is just that: writing.  There’s nothing special about it.  Sure, a writer can put together a few words to make sentences sound nice, but we have it all wrong.  We’re even calling ourselves the wrong thing.

For years I have said I am not a writer.  I’ve meant it every time I have said it.  Let me repeat that:

I am not a writer.

I will never be a writer.  I am a story teller.  I’ve said it before, and will say it again.  I am a story teller.

As I’ve sat and thought about writing, I realized a huge chunk of the problem with the writing world is everyone is trying to be writers, but so few are trying to be story tellers.

Think about all the stories you heard growing up.  Think about the way they were told.  If they were told the way my grandfather told stories, then you had a picture painted for you.  You could feel the cold or heat of the day.  You could feel the stomach cramps if he said the character was sick.  You could smell a fire burning.  You could hear the whispers or yells, and you could see someone’s mannerisms and movements.  The story wasn’t just about getting from point A to point B.  For my grandfather, the story was about starting at point A, going to point B and ending up at point Z when all was said and done.

Sure, his stories had action, but when he told me one, he told it with a purpose.  There was always a reason to it.  There were always characters and scenery, no matter how short the story.  He made you feel his words.

My grandfather didn’t write the first story.  He wasn’t a writer.  He was a story teller.  I’ve always thought that he would have sold many, many books if he would have written even just one.

But he wasn’t a writer.  No, he wasn’t a writer at all.  (Though he did write a lot of sermons, but that’s for a different day.)  He was a story teller.

And this is what is bigger than we writers.  Story telling…story telling is so much bigger than any writer out there.

I’ve always said I’m a story teller, not a writer.  But I’ve been lazy about the business of writing—and it is a business, no matter which way you look at it.  I’ve been lazy about putting my work out there.  Sure, I have short story collections.  Sure, I have a zombie series.  Sure, I have well over 150 publications to my name.  But I have failed miserably about marketing my work, about letting people know, ‘hey, I’ve been published.’

What good is being published if you don’t advertise it?

Story telling is bigger than us, and we have to treat it as such.  It is bigger than the writer who pens the story.  Words are just words when they are written with no passion, with no fire.

Sadly, marketing is often bigger than us as well.  It has been for me.  But, really, that post is also for another day.

For now, I sit back and think about some of the great storytellers of the past, about the way they wrote the words that told the stories, about how when one of their books are read, you can see and feel and hear and touch and taste it.  That’s what I want to do.

I am not a writer.

I am a story teller.

Until we meet again, my friends…

***

As promised above, I will leave you with the links to Closing the Wound.

https://typeajnegative.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/closing-the-wound-part-i/

https://typeajnegative.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/closing-the-wound-part-ii/

https://typeajnegative.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/closing-the-wound-part-iii/

https://typeajnegative.wordpress.com/2011/10/29/closing-the-wound-part-iv/

https://typeajnegative.wordpress.com/2011/10/30/closing-the-wound-part-v/

https://typeajnegative.wordpress.com/2011/10/31/closing-the-wound-the-final-chapter/

The Coffin Hop–The Final Day–and a Short Story

~Sigh~

The end of Coffin Hop 2012 has arrived. I will be putting names in a hat in the next day or two, and my children will choose two of them to win a copy of my collection, Southern Bones. Also, one individual that commented on the Day 6 Coffin Hop post will win a copy of Necrotic Tissue’s Best of Anthology, courtesy of me—oh, and I’m going to sign the book as well since one of my stories appears within its pages.

I hope you enjoyed The Coffin Hop this year—it was a great experience for me. I found some good writers who I will continue to follow.

I leave you all with a Halloween story titled, The Orange Wrapped Ones. It’s something I wrote several years ago, and one of the few Halloween pieces I have in my arsenal.

Thank you for visiting Type AJ Negative, and please do come back in the future. For now, I bid you farewell.

Until we meet again, my friends…

The Orange Wrapped Ones

“I wonder what type of candy we got this year.” Percy held his pillowcase trick-or-treat bag close to his face, peering in at the various goodies, but not seeing much more than shapes that looked like wrapped rocks and pebbles.

“Don’t know, Percy, but I hope I didn’t get none of those horrible chewy things that come in those orange wrappers. You know which ones I mean, right?” Carson didn’t so much as look up from his bag, which, to Percy looked to be twice as full as his own.

“You mean the ones that taste like peanut butter or the ones that taste like caramel?” Percy asked, scrunching his face in thought.

“Caramel?”

Percy set the old tattered pillowcase with the crude drawing of a skull and cross bones in black ink on the top step of the porch. He looked at Carson, and shook his head. “Yeah, you know, the ones with the caramel in the centers.”

“Those are Rolo’s,” Carson said and reached into his bag, pulling out a Snickers bar. “I like them, but I don’t care much for the orange wrapped ones. They stick to your teeth and I hate cleaning my teeth out. I heard that Mary Santeleone lost a fang one year chewing on one of those things. Yah want this?”

“Sure,” Percy said and stretched out one eerily white hand. He took the candy bar, then frowned. “Hey, one ‘em kids bite you or something?” He nodded at the perfect set of indentions on the backside of Carson’s hand—five little teeth marks in a half circle. There was a trace of blood and an ugly blue/black bruise had already formed.

Carson barely glanced at the wound, shrugging it off as if it didn’t matter. “Yeah, this kid didn’t wanna give up his bag, so he tried to take a chunk out of me. I kicked the crap out of ‘em. You should’ve seen the boy’s teeth come outta his mouth.”

Percy’s eyes grew huge in their sockets. “You know the rules—we ain’t supposed to hurt the rug rats—just scare ‘em and take their candy.”

“He wouldn’t give it up,” Carson argued, his brows were creased just above his nose.

“You better hope he doesn’t tell anyone.” An uneasy quiver formed in his stomach. Carson was still young—not like Percy, who took to haunting on Halloween years before.

“He won’t.”

“Did you warn him not to?”

“Something like that.”

“Something like that? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I left him out by the old creek down in Bryar Woods.” Carson had a chocolate bar opened and took a bite from it.

“You killed him?”

Carson shrugged, took another bit of his candy. “I didn’t want him tellin’ anybody I took his candy.”

Percy put his forehead in his hands and shook his head. “You idiot. Ma’s gonna kill you when she finds out.”

“She ain’t gonna find out.”

“Yeah she will. She always finds out.”

Carson glared at Percy, his cold gray eyes cutting through the darkness. “Not if you don’t say nothin’.”

Percy stood, grabbed his bag as he did so. The skull and cross bones shimmered, the black sockets seeming to come alive for a moment before settling back to hollow voids.

“I ain’t gotta say nothin’. She’ll know. She always knows. Just ask Jerry. He’ll tell yah.”

“Jerry?” Carson laughed, tossed the candy wrapper on the ground. “Jerry can’t even talk.”

“Yeah, he can—you just gotta listen to him.” Percy was halfway up the steps. That jittery feeling had been replaced by the heavy weight of dread. He no longer cared about the candy and the Halloween fun they normally had after midnight. No, the only thing Percy wanted was to be as far away from Carson when Ma found out what he had done.

“Really—Jerry can still talk. Even after what Ma did to him?”

“Well, yeah. All of Ma’s children can still speak. Even the ones like Jerry, who ain’t nothin’ more than a sack cloth with a face on it.”

“Hey, do you know what this is?” Carson said. He raised both of his arms, and then folded them just below his chin, his hairy hands touching their opposite shoulders.

“Don’t know.”

“Jerry before he became a pillowcase.” Carson threw his head back, his mouth open and a donkey’s bray of laughter coming from it.

The skull on Percy’s treat bag shimmered again and its eyes flared, red replacing the black holes. One of the crudely drawn bones changed, the one dimension of it becoming two, then three-dimensional. It reached out, tearing free from the well-worn pillowcase. A bony hand extended from its stump, and snagged the front of Carson’s ridiculous vampire outfit—a black tuxedo, red cummerbund, slicked back hair and red bowtie. Surely, Dracula didn’t really dress like that. The hand pulled Carson toward the sack, its jaws opening and closing, snapping angrily. The skull pulled free from the bag, held on by mere threads that seemed to stretch beyond their capacity.

“Let go, Jerry,” Carson yelled and dropped his candy. He grabbed one of the tall flaking white and red painted pillars of the porch and held on tightly. His fingers grew white beneath the sparse hairs on top of them, his nails scraped across it as Jerry continued to pull, leaving deep grooves in the wood. “Get him off of me. Get him off of me.”

Jerry growled and pulled at the arm of Carson’s costume, his skeletal fingers slicing through the coat of the tuxedo. Carson pulled, his hands slipping, until the cloth tore free and he was suddenly pushed forward. He smacked his head on the column and lost his grip. Then he fell onto the porch and rolled into the dead azaleas that lined one side of the steps. Jerry howled as the pillowcase absorbed him, pulling him back to his abstract ink existence. The skull shimmered and then was still again.

“Has he lost his mind?” Carson snapped and scrambled to get himself free of the plants. He looked at the backside of his black pants and poked his finger into a hole. “Look what he went and did. He tore my new pants.”

“You shouldn’t pick at him, yah dimwit,” Percy said and rubbed Jerry’s skull, before starting for the door.

“Where are you going?” Carson asked and picked up his bag of candy.

“Inside—it’s almost midnight and Ma don’t like us out past the witching hour.”

Carson ran up the steps and grabbed Percy’s arm. “Why are you so afraid of Ma, anyway?”

“Because I’m not stupid.”

“Not stupid? Come on, Percy. If we joined together we could get rid of Ma, and then we would own All Hallows Eve. We could do whatever we wanted to. Those kids out there wouldn’t stand a chance against us then.”

“You haven’t been here that long, Carson. In case you’ve forgotten, you’re one of the new children, recreated only a couple years ago. Ma ain’t gonna be too happy with you as it is, and I don’t wanna be around when she finds out what you went and done. And missing curfew on top of it—you’re just asking for trouble.”

“Ma’s just a bag of bones that knows a bit of that black magic. That’s all she is. When yah figure that out, Percy, yah can stop being afraid of her and stand up to her.”

Percy laughed—a nervous sound that made that heavy weight of dread jiggle in his stomach. He glanced up at the half moon hanging in the sky. If he didn’t know better he would have sworn it was staring at them, one accusing eye focused on Carson while the other one hid from sight. Inside the old house Ma’s Grandfather clock chimed its mournful melody before tolling the midnight hour.

“We need to get inside,” Percy said, opened the door and stepped inside. As he stepped over the threshold, yellow and green sparks jitterbugged along the floor and the doorjamb and his hair stood on ends. He looked back at Carson, who stood on the edge of the porch, treat bag in hand and a defiant scowl upon his face.

The bell tolled on and Percy counted each one. Sweat beaded on his forehead despite the cool night air.

“Come on, Carson, get inside before the clock stops.”

“I ain’t doing nothing.” Carson snapped and crossed his arms. The heavy pillowcase, bumped against one hip, the candy wrappers rubbing together momentarily.

The clock tolled twelve, the echo ringing through the house. Percy held his breath, his mouth went dry. Several seconds passed and nothing happened. Carson glared upward and laughed loud into the night.

“Told yah nothing would happen.”

Percy shook his head again and looked past Carson. He could hear the faint sound of bones rattling together and dripping water, but could see nothing.

Carson turned and stared into the darkness.

“What’s that?” he asked and turned back to Percy.

“It’s Ma.”

“No it’s not,” Carson snapped. “Ma never leaves the house.”

Percy chuckled. If only Carson had known, “Ma ain’t never lived here.”

“What?” His head whipped back toward Percy. “What do you mean, she ain’t never lived here?’

“She looks after the dead, Carson. Not the living. She lives in the cemeteries. Or wherever someone has died.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Where’d yah leave that little boy?”

“I done told yah—by the creek.”

“Yah hear that dripping water?”

“What about it?”

“That’s how she knows yah killed that boy.”

“I still don’t get it—how would she know?”

“I told you—she looks after the dead, Carson.”

“Are you saying Ma’s dead?”

“We all are—that’s why we stay in the house—it’s our graveyard, yah dimwit.. I told yah that before. Yah just didn’t listen. We’re only allowed out once a year—on Halloween. Halloween’s over and you’re not inside. Ma ain’t gonna be too happy with you.”

Carson looked back toward the darkness, his eyes wide. He turned and darted for the door but when he reached the opening he crashed into… into… nothing. There was a tinge of electricity and those green and blue sparks, but there was no crossing over. His face and body and hands struck an invisible barrier and bounced back, sending him to the floor. His bag dropped from his hand and the candy spilled onto the wooden porch. Carson stood and went for the entrance again, but was met with the same resistance.

Percy’s eyes caught the orange colored wrapper of one of the candies skittering across the floor, but his attention was quickly torn away by Carson trying to ram himself through the doorway.

“What’s going on?” Carson asked, his voice full with panic. “Why can’t I get in?”

“It’s after midnight, yah dimwit. I tried to tell yah.”

“Carson?” The female voice was ragged and it echoed in the night air.

Carson and Percy both looked toward the trees. Ma came from out of the darkness, her bony body almost transparent through the grayed skin. Her hair hung down in wet strands; dirt and grass clotted in several places along her ribs; skin hung off of her nude figure and Percy could see one nearly gone breast, despite the small dead boy she held in her arms. The child’s face was purple and black and red; one arm dangled down at an odd angle, a bone poking through the skin at the crook of the elbow. A chunk of flesh was missing from the boy’s neck and his mouth was frozen in a bloodied grimace that held no teeth. And his eyes held that faraway stare that only the dead have.

“Carson, what have you done?” Ma asked, her milky white eyes staring at him.

“I didn’t do anything, Ma. Honest, I didn’t.”

“You killed this boy.”

“I didn’t do that—honest I didn’t.”

Ma stepped into the gleaming light of the half moon and set the boy on the grass. She stood straight, and at that moment, Percy wished the dead child were still in her arms, hiding her hideously thin, decaying form. Without thinking a hand went to his mouth, covering the O it had formed.

“Carson, we do not kill children,” Ma said and approached him, her steps awkward as if she was teetering on the edge of collapsing. Droplets of water soaked into the dirt, leaving muddy footprints behind.

“Why do you think I killed him? Percy might’ve done it.”

Percy’s head jerked in Carson’s direction, his mouth hung open in shock. “I didn’t do–”

Ma raised a hand to Percy and he fell silent. His eyes dropped to the porch, toward the candy in the orange wrapper.

“The dead speak, Carson, and the boy told me you were the one.”

“He lied,” Carson yelled and tried to back away.

“You lied,” Ma said and raised one blackened-nailed hand toward Carson.

Then she spoke words into the air quickly, a spell that tore through the night like lightning and rumbled the earth like Thunder.

Carson dropped to the ground, his hands holding tight to his stomach. His body twisted, his legs pulling back, as did his head. A scream tore from him. It was unlike anything Percy had ever heard—even Jerry didn’t sound as pained. Carson’s vampire costume ripped apart, and was replaced by old jeans and a bloodied t-shirt. His thick skin split and his hair fell out in clumps; his skin grayed.

Carson rolled onto his stomach and tried to stand, but could only manage a feeble lunge toward Ma.

And the spirits came, their gray forms dashing about, leaving streaks of white in their wake. They grabbed at Carson’s decaying form, and pulled the limbs from his torso and bit out chunks of his flesh. They pulled and tugged at his skin, hair and organs until all that remained were a pair of arm bones and his skull, both eyes lulling in their sockets. One of the Spirits lifted the skull to its face. It inhaled sharply, sucking Carson’s soul into itself. Then it tossed the skull back to the ground.

The spirits turned to the dead Ma had found, encircling him. The one that had picked up Carson’s soul hovered of the boy’s body, its mouth to the boy’s mouth. The blooms of red, black and blue that had been put there by Carson faded. The broken arm was mended, the torn flesh stitched back together. After they were finished, the Spirits disappeared into the night, their wails like the wind rustling through the trees.

The child stirred, blinked several times before opening his eyes. Percy thought he might be scared—Heaven knows he was when he woke up from death. The world looked different, the black of night not so dark or scary. There was no pain. There was plenty of fear, but not because of waking up. No, it was because the memories remained, the way he had been beaten and stabbed and stowed beneath a house with the bodies of several other little boys. Percy shivered as a cold finger traced itself along his spine. It had been so long ago, but still felt like just minutes had passed.

The boy stood, his body slightly deformed. The wounds Carson had inflicted on him were scars that would be there forever—or at least until the boy did something stupid the way Carson had. He was taller and his body was bigger; there was hair on his face and his clothes were rags that fell off as he stood. The boy looked to Ma and took several steps backward.

“Good morning, Child,” Ma said. “Your name is Robbie, and that is your older brother.” She pointed at Percy. “Run along inside, now, and Percy will tell you how we do things around here.”

The boy turned to Percy and started up the stairs without question.

Ma turned and went back the way she came, her feet dragging, leaving wet footprints behind. “Yah take good care of my baby, Percy,” she called out.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Can I come in?” Robbie asked when he reached the door.

Percy nodded. “Sure, but can yah do something for me, first?”

“Yeah.”

“Yah see that piece of candy on the floor there? The one in the orange wrapper?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Can yah get it for me?”

Robbie bent down and picked up the candy. He stepped through the door—there were no sparks of any color this time—and put it in Percy’s hand. Percy looked at it for a moment. It said Mary Jane on the wrapper. He opened it, and stared at the light brown piece of sweet.

“Man, I hate these things,” he said and tossed it back outside.

“What is it?” Robbie asked.

“The nastiest piece of candy ever,” Percy said and reached into his bag. He pulled out a Milky Way bar and handed it to his new little brother. “This is good eatin’ here.”

As they walked away, the door closed slowly behind them.

The Coffin Hop and Other Notes

Good evening Interweb People…

You know, every time I write something like that I think of Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam.

I know that was totally off subject, but it’s what came to mind, and if you’ve been a follower of Type AJ Negative for any length of time, then you know I generally just write what I think. But wait, we haven’t really gotten to the subject yet, have we?

Of course not, A.J.

The last seven days of Halloween—oops, I mean October—is upon us and that means my favorite month of the year will be ending in one week. You can’t see it, but I am making a really horrid sad face right now. Just use your imagination: A grown man sitting at a desk, his hair unkempt, wire rimmed glasses perched on his nose. He wears an Eric Cartman t-shirt that says, Respect My Authority. Oh, and Cartman is dressed as a cop. Well, what do you know, he is also wearing his Eric Cartman pajama bottoms and—Holy Cow, he matches! The world is coming to an end! There was a frown there. Really, there was, but the whole matching Cartman shirt and bottoms just totally made him laugh.

Picture that instead.

Okay, you can stop laughing now.

Seriously.

Stop laughing.

Stop laughing.

STOP LAUGHING!

Whew. Okay. Now that you have finished… Hey, you! Yeah, you in the back with the hat on backwards and the soul patch. I’m right here. I can hear you.

Ahem. Now, where was I? That’s right, about to explain what I am going to attempt over the next week. I say attempt because things have been a little crazy the last few months and I haven’t been able to update the blog as often as I would have liked.

There is this thing called The Coffin Hop that begins on the 24th, which is tomorrow. What is the Coffin Hop, you ask? Well, it’s a promotional of sorts. To quote the website:

COFFIN HOP is the annual Horror Author event, geared towards gaining exposure for indie horror and genre authors, and increasing interaction with fans and readers. Conceived in 2011 by authors Axel Howerton and Julie Jansen, COFFIN HOP was initially intended to be a small answer to the proliferation of author blog hops for Romance, Erotica and other genres while noticing a dearth of well-organized, high profile events for horror writers.

The first annual COFFIN HOP bloomed to over 100 authors and brought in thousands of readers and fans over the week leading up to Halloween. Every one of those 100 authors held contests, gave away e-books, paperbacks, prize packages, autographed copies, toys, personalized writings, videos, themed jewelery, movie posters… the list goes on and on and on.

You can find more details at the website, here.

Essentially, this is for both the writers and the readers. It helps the readers find indie authors who they may have never found otherwise. And it is a chance for those same indie authors to get a little extra exposure and to communicate with the readers.

Let me say this: It’s not easy to gain readers. Not in the world today where the options are plenty and the market is saturated with everything you can think of. It is hard to find consistent readers—and it is even harder to keep them coming back. One bad or controversial story and you could lose readers quicker than you gained them.

This year there are over 100 writers participating, many of which will have give aways. I’m hoping to do one as well with my new collection, Southern Bones. If I am able to do a give away, then it will appear in this space tomorrow.

Well, maybe not in exactly this space, since it is being used at the moment, but in the next blog. I know, I probably didn’t need to clarify that, but some of my family—no, not you, or you, but… yeah, you—would make some wise crack about which space is being used.

At any rate, do you want to find some new writers to read? Check out The Coffin Hop. Click on the various links and go hopping. Leave comments and likes. Enter the give aways and competitions. Contact the writers and let them know you appreciate the hard work that goes into being an author. Yes, it is work—very, very hard work.

While I have you here, let me do some shameless self-promoting:

As mentioned above, my new short story collection, Southern Bones, is now out on Amazon. Follow the link. Pick up a copy. Like the book, if you will, and don’t forget to review it. Reviews are important.

Also, you can now pick up a copy of Along the Splintered Path in print.

For those who have already picked up a copy of either/both of the books, I thank you. For those who have reviewed the books, I thank you as well.

Before I go, have you ever wanted an autograph from one of your favorite writers? Well, now you might be able to get one, albeit a digital one. Go to Kindlegraph and browse the over 4500 titles. You may find some of your favorite authors there, including me. This is a neat idea. Though it is not a real signature, per say, it is a digital one and that is almost as good. There is a place that you can view all of your autographs. How cool is that? So click on over to Kindlegraph and see if you can find some of your favorite writers and send them a request for an autograph. It really made my day when I received a couple of requests the other day.

However, if you want a real one of mine, you have to contact me either through Type AJ Negative or Facebook.

For now, I leave you all to read, to sleep, to enjoy the evening, morning, afternoon wherever you may be. So, until we meet again, my friends…

Treats at the Aver Residence

Back in 2008 I wrote a story as a prompt to a Halloween contest. My friend, S. Copperstone, created an interesting character for another story in the same contest. I was aggravated with myself. Why didn’t I come up with that name? I didn’t know—I still don’t—but I do know I liked it. She and I talked about this character, a Mr. Cade Aver, and I eventually asked her if I could write a story using the name. She was cool with it.

When I was finished, I sent her a copy of it and asked for permission to submit it somewhere. It got picked up by Estronomicon for Halloween of that year.

Today I present you with a rewritten version of Treats at the Aver Residence. Again, I contacted my friend, S. Copperstone, for permission to put this up. What, you ask? Why ask when it was my story? Why ask when she granted permission before? It’s simple: out of respect for my friend and the character name. I could simply change the name, but I don’t want to do that. I want Cade Aver and my friend to get the credit they deserve, because, honestly, if not for her, I would have never written the story.

So, please, enjoy, Treats at the Aver Residence, and if you wouldn’t mind, leave a comment. I would appreciate it.

***

Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.

***

“They’re going to love this year’s treat,” Cade said, giddily. He moved around the large steel table with a carving knife in hand. His milky eyes dazzled in the yellow glow of the overhead lights. He began to sing a tune, changing the lyrics slightly. “It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The children are sneaking, and candy they’re seeking with great cheer. Oh yes it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

On the table lay the body covered by a sheet up to its head. The man squirmed, arms and legs pulling on the restraints that held him down. His eyes were wide orbs, glassy and full with fear.

“All those years of being a surgeon come in handy at this time of year, don’t you think, Mr. Mason.”

Cade looked down into Mason’s green eyes, red veins prominent on their whites. The man blinked, and a stray tear fell down the side of his face. He let out a groan, not one of pain, but fear. Cade was certain if the white cloth shoved into his mouth wasn’t there, Mason would scream for all he was worth—and at that moment, he was worth quite a lot to Cade.

“Don’t worry—you will only feel a moderate amount of pain, and that for only a few seconds, maybe a minute, and then you’ll pass out.” He stroked Mason’s sweaty cheek. “Then you won’t feel anything at all. At least until the children arrive.”

Mason shook his head, his eyes filling with tears.

“Oh yes,” Cade almost sung, and then patted Mason’s face. “It’s going to be a wonderful Halloween.”

***

In their homes, the children sang and danced as their mothers painted their off colored skin whatever shade of pale, brown or black that they chose. Halloween shows—It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy were their favorites—played on the television and those who were finished with their dinners sat and watched until the sun began to set.

The anticipation made some of them bounce in their seats. Toes tapped. Fingers drummed. Teeth even chattered. Betsy Wallabanger’s teeth fell out twice, and each time she put them back in, she had to adjust her lipstick. Excitement hung in the air.

***

“Would you like a smiley face or a frown? Or maybe a really scary face?”

Mason shook his head and moaned again.

“Hmm . . . none of those, huh? I have templates this year—got them cheap at the WalGreens in town. They practically gave them to me.” Cade rubbed the blade of his knife against the side of his head. A flap of skin peeled back and a few strands of dirty brittle hair flaked to the floor. “Wow, that’s sharp—I guess I should be careful where I put that.”

Cade pulled the sheet away like a magician putting on a show, and looked at Mason’s body. A pair of red underwear covered his privates but other than that Mason was nude. His belly was plump, the signs of a man who likes to eat, and eat well at that.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I shaved your body while you were asleep. You had a lot of hair and you know how kids are—most of them just don’t like hair on their treats. But I didn’t shave your head. Some of them like to keep scalps for souvenirs these days.”

Mason shook his head hard and let out a yell that was muffled by the cloth. He chewed on the rag as if trying to eat it so he could cry for help.

“Well, I’m sorry, but you needed the shave. What’s done is done—you just have to get over that now.”

Cade set the knife on a counter behind him and rifled through the templates. “Frankenstein? Oh, how about Shrek—he’s popular with the kiddies.” After going through all of the patterns, he set them down, and picked up a black marker. “None of those will do. Not for you, Mr. Mason. I’ll just have to come up with something on my own.”

He stood over Mason’s ample belly and drew an odd looking oval just below the ribs. He drew a second oval and then a triangle around Mason’s belly button. Cade tapped his temple with the marker and looked up at the ceiling. Many images ran through his head until the right one came to mind. A smile creased his face.

“Oh, you are going to love this.”

He drew the large squiggly line below the triangle and then brought it down close to his underwear line. Cade picked up the knife and looked at Mason. “Are you ready for this?”

Mason’s screams were muffled as Cade plunged the knife into his stomach.

***

“Come on, let’s get changed into your costumes.”

The children squealed with joy when the mothers beckoned them to get ready for the festivities. They hurried to their rooms and donned their different outfits. They were vampires and werewolves, neither of which sparkled or walked around shirtless. They were witches with warts on their noses and brooms by their sides. They were zombies—oh so many of them were zombies. Betsy Wallabanger dressed up as a corpse bride, her hair jutting this way and that way, her outfit a natural dirty shade, complete with stains across the front. Her mother had worn that very costume when she was Betsy’s age. There were no princesses or Batmans or video game stars. There were no cute little lions, tigers or bears, oh my. There was an Alice and she carried a bucket shaped like the tardy rabbit’s head. Every few steps it dripped blood—not too much, just enough to make it appear real.

They practiced the chants they learned from Halloweens past. Their voices rang up to the ceilings and none were off key.

“Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.”

Some of the kids added extra verses, having learned them from the older kids. “If you don’t I won’t cry. I’ll slit your throat and then you’ll die.”

Mothers gave approving looks and fathers ruffled the enthusiastic heads of the extra verse singers.

There were few idle threats of ‘behave or else.’ Those were reserved for parents in towns where Halloween was more of a burden than a rite of passage. Besides, the kids in Dreads Hollow knew the parents would never stick to their threats of no haunting the neighborhood—it was just as much fun for the adults as it was for the children. Then there was always the one house at the end of Corpse Avenue that did something different each year. If anything, the parents wanted to see how Mr. Aver had decorated. If there were no haunts for the kids, there was no visiting the Aver residence for the adults.

***

Cade pulled part of the flesh of Mason’s stomach away. He bit down on a piece of it, chewed and nodded. “Very tasty.”

He looked inside Mason’s stomach. He had deadened the nerves and cauterized the flesh around where he had carved away the precious meat. Blood still flowed from the chest cavity and Mason still breathed, though shallow as it was.

The carved face appeared gruesome but Cade wasn’t finished. He had left a long slit by the reamed out mouth. A mesh was in place, holding Mason’s intestines in.

Cade carefully moved Mason’s body onto a gurney he had procured from one of the medical catalogues he still received, though he hadn’t been a practicing surgeon in well over twenty years. Mason moaned and opened his eyes. A few seconds later, his eyes closed again and he was unconscious to the world around him. Cade pushed the gurney through the house and onto the front porch.

Out in the fresh autumn air, Cade took a deep breath. The coolness filled his throat, but burned his ancient lungs. “Ah, I love this time of year.” He worked like a cautious burglar, careful not to set any alarms off and give himself away. In Cade’s case, careful not to jar Mason’s body and have his efforts ruined by an act of clumsiness. He slid his arms under Mason’s legs and back and carried him down the steps. Cade sat him on a sturdy lawn chair, not bothering to brush off the leaves that had fallen on it or the spider web that hung between one armrest and the seat. Back inside, Cade grabbed the accessories, chip wrappers and empty beer cans. He littered the area around Mason with the garbage and placed one of the cans in the man’s hand.

Cade looked at his creation. The backdrop of his old house with its creaky steps, shuttered windows and flaking paint would give anyone from outside of Dreads Hollow the creeps. He smiled and shook with something akin to lust.

***

They walked the streets of the neighborhood, clothed in their homemade outfits and masks. Each child’s eyes beamed with excitement as they went from door to door. The welcome lights shone brightly at each house, luring the kids to knock and speak their chants. Neighbors opened doors, smiled and played along. They oohhed and ahhed at the costumes; they told the children how scary and terrifying and even how sickening they were; they gave them treats of lady fingers and animal eyes, of hair necklaces and cooked tongues.

“I got a rock,” one kid said when he left each house. The other children laughed the first couple of times, but eventually grew tired of it and begged him to stop.

Tunes of Trick or Treat rang throughout the night until they reached the Aver residence. It sat at the end of Corpse Avenue, the front yard lit by a dim bulb that cast shadows that looked like pointy fingers stretching across the ground. Cade stood on the porch, his face covered by a mask made of Mason’s skin.

Several of the children approached the house. Their bodies hummed with anticipation and their eyes darted about the yard. Mason sat in the shadows near the porch, one hand wrapped around the beer can. He moaned and the children stopped. Some of the parents leaned into get a better look.

“I call this Drunk Man,” Cade said and flipped a switch that lit up the yard.

A loud gasps echoed through the night as parents and children alike took in Cade’s work. Mason’s stomach had been carved out into a normal pumpkin face, the lining burned black. A trickle of blood still washed down into the man’s briefs. Mason’s eyes had been stapled open and crusted blood clung to his face. His intestines, which had been held in by the mesh, now dangled on Mason’s lap. It appeared as if they had been vomited out of the wide mouth in his belly. The cloth in his mouth from earlier was gone and his bottom lip trembled.

Betsy Wallabanger—six past a hundred years of age—approached the creation, cautiously. “He’s still alive,” she said and looked up at Cade.

“Go ahead. It’s okay, he can’t move,” Cade said with a grisly smile.

Betsy set her pillowcase bag on the ground and leaned down. She sunk her teeth into one of Mason’s thighs. He screamed as she worked her jaw from side to side. She ripped off a piece of muscle, her teeth coming out slightly. She shoved them back in place and chewed. After she swallowed, she smiled. “Delicious.”

“Come, little ones,” Cade waved. “Enjoy this year’s treat from the Aver residence.”

Children squealed as they lit in on Mason. His screams filled the night, much to Cade’s satisfaction. The parents looked on—and some of them even joined them—with a happiness that is reserved for their ilk as they watched them partake of the fresh treat Cade had provided.

“You really outdid yourself this year, Aver,” one of the fathers said before he walked away with his little boy. The front of the boy’s costume was soaked red and he licked his fingers clean of the blood that had been on them.

***

Cade sat on the porch in an ancient rocker that squealed like a wounded rat as it went back and forth. The sounds of singing, happy children had long since faded. What remained of Mason lay scattered on the lawn. There were bones here and there, a clump of hair by the sidewalk—the scalp had not been taken this year. One of the kids had bit off his privates. Or was it one of the moms? Cade didn’t know.

On his lap sat a skull. Part of it was still pink from blood and meat. He pulled a piece of flesh off of the cheekbone and plopped it in his mouth. He chewed, swallowed and then sang his favorite tune as he rocked back and forth.

“Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year…”