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007) CD Review #2: “A Breathe of Fresh Air” & “Down There”

Last week I gave you my first two reviews from Cemetery Dance Magazine. This week I’ll do it again. And even though it’s very early in this series of posts, I’ve already made a prediction. Old CD stories are “old horror”, ie: simple storylines but with gruesome, powerful visuals., and new CD stories are “modern horror”, ie: complex stories relying more on the psychological than the visceral.

Let’s see if that pattern continues…

(Oh yeah, in case you missed it, here’s an intro to CD from an earlier post.)


THE OLD: “A Breathe of Fresh Air”

Author blurb provided by CD in front of Edgar F. Tartro's story.

Author blurb provided by CD in front of Edgar F. Tartro’s story.

AUTHOR: Edgar F. Tartro

APPEARANCE: CD Issue #1 (Dec. 1988), story 2 of 12

PLOT, (with spoilers!):

Benji Drummond is a little guy who’s been in the local lockup for 6 weeks, and he’s been complaining about the heat and smell in the place. Sheriff Olsen knows it’s bad. He’s seen the black phlegm Benji has been hacking all over the walls & even requested an air quality report.

When screams come from his cell the night before Benji’s release, the sheriff finds the face & chest of Benji’s mammoth-sized cellmate “shredded like jello slashed with razor blades.” Meanwhile, Benji himself is gone and the small air vent is ripped open like a piece of cardboard.

Captain Coyle arrives the next morning to inspect the situation and is convinced Benji escaped through the open cell door when the sheriff attended to the wounded man. But Olsen insists his back was never turned. Also, he points out, Benji was scheduled for release in only a few hours, making escape an implausible choice of action.

While Captain & Sheriff continue to argue the logistics, the mailman delivers the air quality report, which conveniently explains everything: it cites high levels of carbon dioxide, poor circulation, and the presence of animal feces. The sheriff reads it was specifically Desmodus Rufus, and dramatically reveals this is the scientific name for a Vampire Bat.

In the story’s final paragraph, readers see the “former Benji Drummond” in his new home: hanging upside down in the air vent of a nearby Day Care facility. Beneath him lay a pile of fresh droppings.

MY GRADE: B-

MY REVIEW: Tartro’s story is good, if not a tad predictable. The descriptions are solid and despite the brevity of the piece we can actually see a complete (if simple) arc in Benji’s character. He begins as an annoyance, transitions quickly to a problem, and eventually becomes a horrible killing monster. Best of all, the ending paragraph pushes the story to a darker level than expected, which is a nice touch.

Yet Tartro’s story does suffer from two significant flaws:

Cemetery Dance, Issue #1

Cemetery Dance, Issue #1

First (and worst) is the title. I was convinced the use of ‘breathe’ instead of ‘breath’ would be explained, but guess what… no dice. It’s an actual typo. In the title. Yes, goofs like this are part of the writing process & we’ve all found mistakes in newspapers or first editions, but I still have a hard time getting over this one. I mean, it’s the first five words readers see. The best I can do is chalk it up to Chizmar’s youth (he was just 23 at the time) & the fact that he was publishing this premier issue pretty much alone. Strangely, however, it’s something I find kind of quaint, to be honest. I’m neither upset nor turned off by it. Rather, I’m endeared to the situation. It reminds me of my own early days of glaring typos that made it to print even after trusted editors scoured the piece with their proverbial fine-toothed combs. Still, to be fair I did have to knock the story’s grade down a bit because of it.

Second, the pacing is goofy. The opening moves along at a nice clip but is suddenly derailed by the dialogue between Captain Coyle Sheriff Olsen, something which could have been done in a few paragraphs rather than a full third of the story. It’s pretty clear Tartro was establishing a source of superiority & a reason to doubt Sheriff Olsen’s competence, however this point simply isn’t worth the space it takes up.


THE NEW: “Down There”

Author blurb provided by CD at the end of Keith Minnion's story.

Author blurb provided by CD at the end of Keith Minnion’s story. (I like this guy’s name!)

AUTHOR: Keith Minnion

APPEARANCE: CD Issue #73 (March 2016), story 2 of 5

PLOT (with spoilers!): Declan Curragh is a upper-ranking Naval officer going on a mysterious mission to Adak, Alaska. (For reference, that’s one of the furthest-reaching islands of the enormous, south-west-sweeping archipelago that separates the U.S. from Russia). Declan doesn’t talk much on his long, stacattoed trip, though he is polite to the various ticket agents, stewardesses & other passengers he meets along the way.

His semi-stoic calm, however, is replaced with frustration when he reaches Adak & what’s left of his on-site team. He explains to his chief paleontologist that his excursion to the higher-ups was useless. “They just didn’t believe it,” he explains simply.

The remainder of the story is of Declan, alone, completing his journey. He enters an old, unobtrusive volcanic vent, taking an arc lamp with him down the long tunnel. He reaches the end point of excavation & steps into the other tunnel- a perfect trapezoid with sharp edges that nevertheless reveals no evidence of any tool work despite having been there since the Proterozoic Era.

Illustration provided by CD for "Down There".

Illustration provided by CD for “Down There”. A 2-page spread! Pretty cool, huh?

When the walls open to the final, large cavern with “wild, unnerving geometries”, Declan sees the altar there has a still-fresh carcass of a sea lion with collected buckets of blood underneath. He removes it, takes a leather-wrapped parcel from his pack, and turns off his arc lamp. Then, quickly and before he can think his way out of it, Declan removes his clothes, pours the buckets of blood over his naked body, lays upon the altar, unwraps a stone knife with “insane, etched glyphs that glowed faintly”, and slits his own throat.

The story’s final sentence tells readers that a collective of “bellowing, shrieking” things “like vast, black locomotives” of unknown definition or origin approach with gathering speed.

MY GRADE: A

Cemetery Dance, Issue #73

Cemetery Dance, Issue #73

MY REVIEW: This is an odd story in that the Horror element literally doesn’t appear until the final few paragraphs. While the pace is slow (perhaps excessively so at times), this is also a common design of modern Horror. We know something nasty is going to go down eventually, yet we are lulled into complacency by watching Declan’s slow progress towards his downfall. We grow to like him quickly and almost forget we have no idea where he’s going or what he’s doing. We simply know his quest is important (monumentally so, though we don’t pick that up until near the end), and that we are rooting for him.

And yet, the tone of Horror is there throughout, which is what makes Minnion’s story such a fun read. Allow me to elaborate with just a few of the story’s many examples…

1- The opening sentence includes a stewardess pointing to Adak and telling Declan, “…And this is where it ends.” She means his trip, of course, but Minnion is already teasing us with ominous verbiage.

2- One of the fellow passengers Declan connects with is a precocious girl of about ten who is happy to see that “people in the Navy are [both] officers and gentlemen.” This description coming from the most innocent of the story’s characters prepares us for the tragedy of Declan’s sacrifice. He’s not just some pawn-like chump. He’s a great guy who is nice to kids, and he’s a true hero, dying horribly to save (we assume) us all.

3- There are numerous poetic lines that collectively cast a shadow of gloom over Declan’s travels. My favorite is, “Solid dark clouds rushed by above, and the wind was a constant, keening wail.” The movement of the clouds = Declan’s doomed travels. The sound of the wind = Declan’s moaning heart. Yep. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Meanwhile, when we are (finally) given the truth of Declan’s situation (ancient beings- either alien or demons- are living in the remote bowels of an Alaskan volcano and their power and hunger is pacified only by repeated sacrifices of blood and flesh), we suddenly realize Declan’s excursion to his superiors was an attempt to end it all. We don’t know if the plan was to nuke the mountain, plug the exit, or merely fund the slaughter of untold wildlife as continued payment. We only know the higher-ups have incorrectly deemed the ‘timing’ to be wrong. As such, Declan decides to take matters into his own hands.

We never find out if Declan was right or wrong, if the volcano’s monsters are satiated or killed or only more enraged. We are left, instead, with one of modern Horror’s most powerful emotions: unfulfilled hope. We hope Declan was right. We hope he saved the world. And depending on what kind of reader you are, you’re free to interpret it that way. But no matter who you are or how you read it, your hope will remain without true answers. And that, my Horror-loving friends, is solid, scary stuff.


FINAL THOUGHT

Did my observation hold true? Yep. Dead on. The older story was once again simple but descriptively memorable while the newer one was complex, subtle, and of the mind-screw variety.

But I know this won’t be a perfect formula. Somewhere along the way there will be a transition. And some of the older stories are already indicative of what is to come, even if they haven’t yet mastered the new mode of Horror storytelling. And some of the newere stuff does revert to the old ways, reminding us all of what our foundations are… and why they are so important.

Who knows, maybe my next CD review will have one of each.

Agree or disagree with any of this?


I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

-K. Edwin Fritz

K. Edwin Fritz

K. Edwin Fritz

Official Horror Blogger of the Fiction Vortex

Keith Edwin Fritz entered this world on Halloween. The year, 1974, was the same as when Stephen Edwin King published his first novel. Keith prefers to think neither the date nor their middle names were a coincidence.

Today Keith teaches 7th Grade Language Arts and writes to his heart’s content during his "spare time". The best of these moments are nearly always by moonlight. The worst of them are also by moonlight.

Keith lives with his wife, Corina, in Lawrenceville, NJ.

006) CD Review #1: “Body Perfect” & “A Devil Inside”

Last week I gave you an introduction to Cemetery Dance Magazine.

This week, I get to start sharing what’s inside. While there are loads of Horror-related goodies between any CD covers including interviews, articles, & reviews of their own, this blog is going to concentrate on the fiction.

As a reminder, each post I’m going to give you 2 reviews: 1 from an old issue, and 1 from a new one. Who knows, maybe we’ll see a change in trending over time.


THE OLD: “Body Perfect”

The author blurb provided by CD in front of Rasmussen's story.

The author blurb provided by CD in front of Rasmussen’s story.

AUTHOR: William C. Rasmussen

_cd001a

Cemetery Dance, Issue #1

APPEARANCE: CD Issue #1 (Dec. 1988), story 1 of 12

PLOT, (with spoilers!): Martin Murry is a college kid who comes across a poster featuring a stunningly beautiful blonde beach babe. He is so impressed with her that he not only buys the poster and eagerly hangs it above his dorm room bed, he also spend the next few hours staring at it, seemingly mesmerized. He feels she is utterly perfect but for one detail… he only wishes she had blue eyes like his. He barely notices the throng of goggle-eyed young men in the background of the poster. As he falls deeper and deeper into her gorgeous embrace, he soon falls asleep. The poster then rustles against the wall & slips from its scotch-taped bonds and flutters down to land directly over Martin’s sleeping form. When his roommate comes home the next morning, Martin is gone and a new poster featuring a gorgeous beach babe with blue eyes is on his bed. The roommate begins to stare, fixated. He doesn’t notice that one of the young men in the background looks exactly like Martin.

The illustration provided by Cemetery Dance to accompany Rasmussen's story. (She's not exactly as... attractive... as described in the story. But I promise, Chizmar DOES hire better artists in the future).

The illustration provided by Cemetery Dance to accompany Rasmussen’s story. (She’s not exactly as… attractive… as described in the story. But I promise, Chizmar DOES hire better artists in the future).

MY GRADE: C+

MY REVIEW: Rasmussen’s story is very short and very simple. But it’s also very predictable. The collection of other young men in the poster’s background & the implication that the beach babe either modified her eye color to match Martin’s desires, or (a far creepier notion) perhaps even took his own actual eyes were both nice touches. The story itself is told relatively well considering how short it is.

As a reader of lots of horror, however, this was no doubt a disappointment. My first impression was “THIS is the premier story of the premier issue of Cemetery Dance?!?!” The word ‘lame’ does come to mind while describing it, but that would honestly be far too harsh. I need to remember this was published in 1988 and Richard Chizmar (the CD Editor-In-Chief) undoubtedly had a limited number of submissions to choose from. After all, Cemetery Dance wasn’t the household name in Horror back then that it is today. Still, Rasmussen had been noted for being published in numerous magazines already by then, and I would have expected something a little more… fulfilling. Overall, I enjoyed it for what it was: A simple, straightforward tale of some kind of demonic possession.

It did get me thinking, though, about how this journey through the pages of the hallowed Cemetery Dance will change and grow and evolve. I have no doubt there will be certain stories that will stand out both as memorable tales AND influential to readers & Chizmar alike… perhaps even to the genre itself. I look forward to coming across them.

As for Rasmussen’s “Body Perfect”, however, you can safely pass. You aren’t missing much.


THE NEW: “A Devil Inside”

AUTHOR: Gerard Houarner

Cemetery Dance, Issue #73

Cemetery Dance, Issue #73

APPEARANCE: CD Issue #73 (March 2016), story 1 of 5

PLOT (with spoilers!): An unnamed narrator is in love with his woman, Marita, but is convinced there is a devil inside him who says it loves Marita too. This devil has been there all his life.

Time passes & Marita becomes pregnant. She thinks their son will be just like his father.

More time passes. The narrator hears the devil in his son’s colic wails & everyday life struggles. His parents assure him it gets better. Marita asks why he loves her. He says she’s his angel but thinks it’s because she banishes his devil. When he asks her the same question, she doesn’t answer.

He dives into work, bringing ire from his family & neglects his son. Marita knows something is wrong, that he is perhaps a danger to them all, yet she chooses to trust him nevertheless.

His company is in trouble so the roles he & Marita have had til now switch. Fatherhood & a lost sense of value sends him into depression. When his sister dies, he misses the funeral. When Marita plans family outings & dinner guests, he barely remembers conversation. He decides the devil inside him belongs there.

One night he finds himself over his son’s crib with a knife in hand. Marita is there too, pointing a gun at him and screaming. She asks what he’s doing. He says he wants to see if their son has a devil inside him. She pleads for him to drop the knife. The devil inside him speaks again, insisting she’s going to kill him because that’s what angels do: they kill devils. He moves toward their son, saying she’ll have to make a choice. He reaches the knife down, bringing it to his son’s throat. He watches his son’s little hand grasp the blade. She fires. He falls, relief washing over him. She chose right AND he feels the devil leaving him. But it goes into her, and their last eye contact is one of love. His final act before death is to look to his son, whose eyes indicate his own devil had just entered him as well.

MY GRADE: A

The image provided by Cemetery Dance to accompany Hauer's story. Just look at that detail!

The illustration provided by Cemetery Dance to accompany Houarner’s story. Just look at that detail! (I told you they got better). [Image is split left & right across 2 pages]

MY REVIEW: This story was powerful. That’s the word that keeps coming to me. Yes, the action was light. Yes, the ending was somewhat predictable. But the constant interior monologue coupled with the years-long passage of time creates a connection between reader & character. The words ‘depression’, ‘insanity’, ‘suicide’, and ‘murder’ never appear in the story, yet we are constantly thinking about all of them. Perhaps best of all, the devil itself is never clarified as either an actual demonic possession nor an insane man’s internal metaphor for his struggles. Better still, it doesn’t matter which it is. They come to the same thing.

The most compelling element of Houarner’s story is his language. It is often eoloquent: “It [the devil] lived in the space between heartbeats, in the eclipse of an eyeblink, in flesh numbed by shrapnel,” and sometimes almost surreal: “She was an angel, different from the one inside him. The thing possessed her all the way through, and it hadn’t fallen. Not yet. She lived in light.”

The real beauty of the story, then, isn’t the events that take place but the build up TO those events. Houarner’s ability to set the stage is so believable and so delicate that when the inevitable occurs, we are still rocked with the shock of it. Not because it genuinely surprises us, but because the character’s pain has by then become our own.

Overall, this is a beautiful story with a horrible outcome… the very example of what good Horror should be. I shall eagerly look forward to more of Houarner’s work.


FINAL THOUGHT

Cemetery Dance has undoubtedly gone through a huge transformation over its 27 years of publication. The stark contrast between these two stories at the opposite ends of its existence is probably going to be a common thread: One is guttural, simple, and indicative of the Gore & Grue which was the mainstay of Horror at the time… the other is subtle, complex, and a shining example of the Psychological Horror which modern fans look for. I expect my future reviews will see a lot more of this, though I have no doubt there will be numerous exceptions to that rule as well.

I look forward to them all.


Agree or disagree with any of this?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

-K. Edwin Fritz

K. Edwin Fritz

K. Edwin Fritz

Official Horror Blogger of the Fiction Vortex

Keith Edwin Fritz entered this world on Halloween. The year, 1974, was the same as when Stephen Edwin King published his first novel. Keith prefers to think neither the date nor their middle names were a coincidence.

Today Keith teaches 7th Grade Language Arts and writes to his heart’s content during his "spare time". The best of these moments are nearly always by moonlight. The worst of them are also by moonlight.

Keith lives with his wife, Corina, in Lawrenceville, NJ.

005) An Intro to ‘Cemetery Dance Magazine’

Last week I shared & discussed a cool petition to help make Halloween a national holiday. Sadly, the petition failed to get to required 100,000 signatures to get looked at by the government. In fact, it fell miserably short, garnering only 12,483 names.

Wow.

It looks like I have a lot more work to do to get average people interested in Horror.

To that end, this week I’m super excited to introduce you to what will likely be the mainstay of this blog: reviews of short stories published in my favorite Horror magazine, Cemetery Dance.


WHAT IS CEMETERY DANCE?

Chizmar in his office. What a great job.

Chizmar in his office. What a great job.

Cemetery Dance is a Horror-exclusive print magazine founded in 1988 by Maryland native & University of Maryland Journalism graduate, Richard Chizmar. Chizmar spent pretty much every dollar he’d had (plus some borrowed dough as well) to launch his ‘underground hobby publication’. He was 23 years old at the time.

Chizmar’s design was typical but not bland. Each issue featured original Horror fiction from some names you’ve heard of and some you haven’t. As time went on, there were also reviews, interviews, & articles, all relating to the Horror genre. What Chizmar aimed for was (and I’m cribbing this directly from the ‘Very Brief History of Cemetery Dance’ page of their website): “horror blended with a strong dose of mystery and suspense and wonder. The kind you used to see on television on The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, the kind you could find deep in most bookstore’s Horror sections, but usually far, far away from the Bestseller Lists…

Cemetary Dance, Issue #1. Image was drawn by Chizmar's college roommate.

Cemetery Dance, Issue #1. Image was drawn by Chizmar’s college roommate.

The premier issue came out in December of ‘88 and thanks to heavy promotion in the established Horror mags of the time (and much to Chizmar’s delight), nearly half of the 1,000 printed copies sold right away.

Cemetery Dance #2. Still just black & white, but a better cover image, for sure.

Cemetery Dance #2. Still just black & white, but a better cover image, for sure.

Six months later issue #2 came out & sold slightly better.

Those first couple of issues were… well, to be brutally honest, they were a bit rough around the edges. (You’ll see what I mean when I start reviewing those older stories in the upcoming weeks).

Yet despite the crudity of the magazine itself (and, indeed of most of the stories within it), there was a certain harsh honesty and fundamental appeal to both the stories & the magazine’s design. Meanwhile, Chizmar was never satisfied, and each successive issue was clearly better than the last.  

Cemetery Dance #3. Ooo! A third color now!

Cemetery Dance #3. Ooo! A third color now!

By the time issue #3 was published in December of ‘89, Cemetery Dance had a respectable following. This was particularly interesting since two of the biggest names in Horror- Twilight Zone and The Horror Showhad recently closed shop. Sensing a hole begging to be filled, Chizmar then began publishing at a breakneck pace, printing & selling 4 issues per year & growing quickly to a print run of 10,000 copies/ issue.

Cemetery Dance #14. Coveted for its original publication of Stephen King's "Chattery Teeth".

Cemetery Dance #14. Coveted for its original publication of Stephen King’s “Chattery Teeth”.

Their big moment in those early days was the unexpected submission of an original, never-before-published story called “Chattery Teeth” by a guy named Stephen King. It appeared in the 1992 Issue (that’s issue #14 if you want to try to get your hands on it) and solidified Cemetery Dance as an important name in Horror.

Chizmar & King. Yeah, they're pretty much friends now.

Chizmar & King. Yeah, they’re pretty much friends now.

Around that same time, Chizmar began toying with the idea of launching a book imprint in addition to the magazine. Chizmar began the book publications slowly (and regular readers were understandably frustrated at the suddenly slower pace of production of the flagship magazine), but it grew quickly in popularity. Then, similar to King’s surprise short story, the CD book imprint got its own boost of fame & publicity when a guy by the name of Dean Koontz asked them to print a limited-edition of his short story collection, Strange Highways. Soon CD was equally famous for its special-edition hardcover publications of novels & collections as well as its magazine.

Brian James Freeman, current 'Cemetery Dance Magazine' Editor-in-Chief.

Brian James Freeman, current ‘Cemetery Dance Magazine’ Editor-in-Chief.

Today, Chizmar runs the book imprint while management of the magazine has been handed to Pennsylvania native, Shippensburg University Journalism graduate, & respected Horror author Brian James Freeman.

Both the book imprint & the magazine are still in continuous production. The magazine recently published issue #75 (a double-sized Joe Hill special), and the published book list has passed more than 300 full-length titles.

Today Cemetery Dance is easily one of the biggest names in Horror. They are known for having printed a Who’s-Who of the most respected names in the genre, including: King, Koontz, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Charles Beaumont, Graham Masterton, Richard Laymon, Bentley Little, Michael Slade, Douglas Clegg, Jack Ketchum, William F. Nolan, Joe R. Lansdale, Poppy Z. Brite, Ronald Kelly, & Rick Hautala, just to name a few.

But perhaps more impressive, CD is also known for continuing to ‘discover’ many authors before the big publishers even know about them.

These days, the magazine rarely calls for open submissions, but when they do they get an incredible response. Last year they announced a single slot open for an upcoming issue & got more than 5,000 submissions in less than a week.

Needless to say, getting published in Cemetery Dance is not just a mark of distinction, it’s often the beginning of a whole new career. To a lowly Horror lover & unknown author such as myself, getting picked up by Chizmar’s remarkable creation is one of the top 5 items on my bucket list.

It’ll probably never happen, but a guy can dream, can’t he?


MY (VERY) LAME CLAIM TO FAME

Short version: I own every single issue of Cemetery Dance Magazine.

It took me 7 years, hundreds of dollars, and an incredibly understanding wife to find & purchase them all. It’s one of the few things I’m genuinely proud of owning.

Long version: (You can skip this part. Really. Just scroll down to “MY PLAN” & move on with your day. I’m just going to vomit out a history of how difficult it was to find them all).

You’re still reading? Ok. You must have about as much of a life as I do. Sorry to hear that. I hope I can give you a bit of entertainment by showing how pathetic my own is…

Cemetery Dance #53. How can you not love that image?

Cemetery Dance #53. How can you not love that image?

I can’t recall when or where I first came across Cemetery Dance, but I do remember it was issue #52 & that the image on the cover- a conch shell on the beach weeping with blood- caught my attention immediately. I also can’t recall if it was a single story or interview or article within those pages that floored me so or if it was the overall magazine. I just remember turning the last page & vowing immediately to start a collection. I wanted to own & read every issue that had ever been printed.

I had no idea what I had just done.

While the later issues (anything after, say, #25) were relatively easy to find even though they were long out of print (I found the vast majority on ebay), there were nonetheless several holes.

Cemetery Dance #44. Still one of my favorite covers.

Cemetery Dance #44. Still one of my favorite covers.

Certain issues were extremely hard to find. #44 seemed to be coveted for its unique, compelling cover & #50 seemed to be a milestone issue everyone wanted to keep to themselves.

Cemetery Dance #50. A milestone, special-edition issue.

Cemetery Dance #50. A milestone, special-edition issue.

The early issues, though… dear God, those early issues were IMPOSSIBLE to find.

Get this: Issues 4, 5, 6, & 7 had less than 3,000 copies printed, ever.

And issues 1-3 had only a thousand copies printed.

When & if they did go on sale, they went for crazy prices and were gobbled up within hours. (I once saw issue #2 for sale at $500. I remember feeling the jab of having a lowly teacher’s salary in a whole new way that day because I knew there was no way I could ever afford it).

But I was persistent.

I contacted rare book dealers & got my hands on #12.

I scoured Craigslist in all my surrounding states & one day snared #9.

I contacted Cemetery Dance themselves & asked if they might happen to have any old copies lying around. (They didn’t. In fact, Brian James Freeman personally responded to me saying that even they didn’t have any copies of Issue #1 & if I found an extra could I please let them know).

Eventually, I got down to having just 3 issues missing from my collection: #6, #7, & of course the golden egg, the premiere issue #1.

My fist lucky break came through the set-up of automatic notifications on ebay.

I used to get 2 or 3 emails a week this way, but all of them were for the wrong issue (#16 or #27 or #11). For 7 full years I dealt with this. I got so used to disappointment that it began to feel like a pipe dream.

Cemetery Dance #7. I had nightmares about finding that damned guy crawling out of that grave.

Cemetery Dance #7. I had nightmares about finding that damned guy crawling out of that grave.

Then, one astounding month in the winter of 2015 I found & nabbed 2 of them in a single, 2-week expanse. I got #7 in a bundle of 2 issues for the low, low (no, REALLY low) price of only $10 (I resold the other issue since I already owned it… so my total cost spent: just $5. Damn!)

Cemetery Dance #6. As a guy with a genuine Hallowbirthween Day, this one gets me right in the guts.

Cemetery Dance #6. As a guy with a genuine Hallowbirthween Day, this one gets me right in the guts.

Then, just 12 days later, #6 popped up all by itself. There was a small bidding war for that one, but in the end I got it for $48. (I don’t think the other guy knew who he was up against. My original bid had been $75 & I watched the final 3 minutes like a hawk with my finger on the Increase Bid button).

Finally, I was left with just issue #1, and that one really did cost me. When it FINALLY showed up on ebay, it was sitting there with an opening bid of $25 on a 10-day listing. But they also had a Buy-It-Now price of $100. I didn’t even hesitate. And despite having to sleep on the couch for a couple nights (kidding… my wife did growl at me, but she was actually pretty cool about it), I know I got it for a steal. Not more than 2 months later I saw another copy for sale at an estate auction of all places. It went for $200 and was easily in poorer condition than mine.


MY PLAN

So, am I a bit obsessed? Yes.

Does my wife shake her head in begrudging confusion when I show off my collection to my friends? A bit.

But who gets to benefit all that hard work & insanity? You do.

In addition to chatting about Horror in general, “The Bone Pile” will attempt to (eventually) read & review every damned story Cemetery Dance Magazine has ever printed. And I’m one of the few people in the world who can do it, because I own every damned copy.

But be patient with me. As of this date, there are already more than 550 stories.

Yeah. This is going to take me a while.

Because the older stories are… um, subpar… and because the new stuff is current, my plan is to review 2 stories each time I post: 1 story from an old issue & 1 story from a recent issue. To be honest, I have serious doubts as to how I’ll be able to do that in only a thousand words, but what the hell… I know I’ll have a ton of fun trying.


FINAL THOUGHT

Lots of people have collections. Many of them border on (or widely surpass) an obsession. I have no disillusions that my Cemetery Dance collection is one of these.

But the thing is, most people rarely get to show off their collection. It’s usually reserved for a once-a-year visit from an old friend. Worse still are the family members who couldn’t give two hoots about your odd tastes & smile politely when you spread your arms wide at what you’ve spent years to collect and display.

But me? I get to write to you fine people any time I like. And if you’re reading a blog with the subtitle of “Horror Reviews and Introspectives”, I’m willing to bet you’re going to love it.

And even if nobody ever clicks a single LIKE button or leaves a single comment, I get to re-live each story one-by-one as I review them.

Best of all, there are still dozens upon dozens of CD stories I still haven’t gotten around to reading. Most, in fact, are still sitting on my shelf just waiting to be cracked open and discovered. I sure as heck can’t wait for that moment.

I hope you’ll be here to join me when it happens.


Like what I’ve had to say?

(Or think I’m totally nuts?)

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

-K. Edwin Fritz

K. Edwin Fritz

K. Edwin Fritz

Official Horror Blogger of the Fiction Vortex

Keith Edwin Fritz entered this world on Halloween. The year, 1974, was the same as when Stephen Edwin King published his first novel. Keith prefers to think neither the date nor their middle names were a coincidence.

Today Keith teaches 7th Grade Language Arts and writes to his heart’s content during his "spare time". The best of these moments are nearly always by moonlight. The worst of them are also by moonlight.

Keith lives with his wife, Corina, in Lawrenceville, NJ.

 

004) Make Halloween A National Holiday

Last week I wrote my first review on Stephen King’s The Long Walk.

I had intended on making this week’s post my first review on my favorite Horror magazine: Cemetery Dance, but that’ll have to wait til next week… you see, something with a pressing due date came up.


WHERE I FOUND THIS AWESOME IDEA

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn my Facebook feed is flooded with Horror-related interweb nuggets. As a Horror reader & author, I have to admit that the speed & accuracy of the stuff that pops up there as they relate to my real-life interests is genuinely creepy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written an email or private message & casually mention a particular company or product then, WHAM!, 6 hours later there it is being advertised on my newsfeed.

But I deal with that stuff like most of you do. I shake my head, try to ignore the constant feeling of being watched, double-check to make sure the black electrician’s tape is still securely covering my computer’s camera lens, and move on with my day.

 

But not all tracking programs are evil. Thanks to all the Horror-related stuff I read & post, I also get notified about stuff I’m actually interested in.

 

Last week I was graced with a link to an online whitehouse.gov petition which made me immediately click & sign.

I’m writing this week’s post in the hopes that you’ll join me.


happy halloween

Merge this…

THE PETITION

This is the petition.  The goal is to make Halloween a National Holiday.

 

You: Wait… it’s ISN’T already?

Me: Nope. Shocking, right? So you should click & sign. (At worst you’ll be getting a bunch

USA flags

…with this!

of Halloween-related ads on your Facebook page for the next 3 months. Not great, but better than back-t0-school ads, believe you me).

There are several reasons why you should do this…


REASON #1: I’m Selfish

Halloween Birthday

The preferred term is “Hallowbirthween Day”

Halloween happens to be my birthday.

(No, really)

(And, yes, my mother does still call me her ‘little pumpkin’) 

Anyway, as such, I firmly believe my birthday should be a National Holiday. Just think: I could get the day off work every time I have successfully revolved around the sun one additional time, people!!!

Let’s make this happen!


REASON #2: Money

Ok, for serious, did you realize that Halloween is the 2nd biggest commercial holiday of the year? It is!

All that candy.

All those lawn decorations.

All those slutty cat costumes.

Yep, Halloween is big money. And if there’s one thing that big money likes is when people have the time to go spend said money.

I’m not saying making Halloween a National Holiday would revitalize the economy, but it couldn’t hurt.


REASON #3: Time

Ok, ok, probably the best real reason is the time that this holiday has been taking away from the rest of life. Mostly this comes in the form of trick-or-treating and/or attending costume parties. Both take time & both have been pushed to the nearest weekend for a good decade now.

In my mind, this is sacrilege.

Halloween, after all, comes on October 31st, not The-Saturday-Closest-To-But-Not-Going-Over October 31st. I don’t know about you, but when communities “vote” to make their official trick-or-treating nights to any day other than Halloween, I revolt. I go begging for candy on the 31st anyway, ringing doorbells & feigning ignorance at each door that open, all to make the damned point that your inconvenienced life this 1 day a year is not sufficient enough reason to change how the calendar works.


REASON #4: CAMARADERIE

the_best_front_yard_decorations_for_halloween_06

I hope this won the neighborhood contest.

Ok, ok… the real best reason for making Halloween a National Holiday is the only one that really matters: Camaraderie..Think of your days gone by when you & your mom or dad dressed up like cowboys or giant M&Ms & trolled the neighborhood with you.

inventive costume 2

What, no Maggie? (Still, great family bonding going on here)

Think of the joy of counting & dividing & trading your loot later that night.

Think of that one amazing party

inventive costume 1

Truly creative idea… but I wonder what his view is like all day long.

that college friend threw whose decorations were so over the top you wondered how many credit cards they maxed out for your single night of entertainment.

inventive costume 3

“Heeeeeere’s Johnny!”

Think of the photos you have stuffed in a box or stored on an old computer that proudly display that one guy with that one amazing homemade costume or that one unique party game that brought so many strangers together for one glorious night.

inventive costume 4

All those brush strokes! Wow!

Yeah. Halloween can do that.

And unlike Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, & Memorial Day, Halloween allows you the option of hanging out with family OR friends. What a bonus.


FINAL THOUGHT

John Pinette

One of the greats. Seriously, if you haven’t listened to John Pinette, go buy his “Show Me the Buffet” special. It’s downright quote-worthy.

Halloween is a great holiday, for Horror lovers and non-Horror people alike.

I mean, in the words of the great (and sadly, late) John Pinette: “You knock on the door & they give you candy! It doesn’t work any other day of the year! Believe me, I’ve tried!”

That concept alone warrants you should click this button & sign that petition.

Agree or disagree with any of this? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

-K. Edwin Fritz

K. Edwin Fritz

K. Edwin Fritz

Official Horror Blogger of the Fiction Vortex

Keith Edwin Fritz entered this world on Halloween. The year, 1974, was the same as when Stephen Edwin King published his first novel. Keith prefers to think neither the date nor their middle names were a coincidence.
Today Keith teaches 7th Grade Language Arts and writes to his heart’s content during his "spare time". The best of these moments are nearly always by moonlight. The worst of them are also by moonlight.
Keith lives with his wife, Corina, in Lawrenceville, NJ.

002) What Horror Is

001) What Horror Isn’t

Reader’s Choice Poll – October 2014

Hopefully you have been sufficiently spooked by our October lineup of horror stories. And now that they have all emerged from the graves and sludgepits of the Horror Issue, it’s time to vote for your favorite.

Here’s how the poll works. Pick your favorite story from the month of October (see below for reference), and vote. The poll remains open for a week and will close on November 6. And leaving comments on stories is always welcome, so make your opinion heard!

Read more

Fiction Vortex 2014 Horror Issue

Horror 2014 1st Place: Other Side of the Tracks

Melancholy and frightful, a brilliantly written, haunting and original story that will stay with you all winter. I present the best of the best, Other Side of the Tracks by Daniel DeLong. Happy Halloween — Johnny Worthen
By Daniel DeLong
The day they found Tobin’s body in the creek was when she knew her days were almost at an end. She hid nearby in a little hollow of cottonwood trees while the search-and-rescue people and firefighters removed him from the water.

The two of them had spent time in that hollow, sleeping there, eating whatever they could scrounge from the dumpster behind the Mexican restaurant a few blocks away. But they hadn’t been there for a long time … hadn’t been hungry or even able to eat or drink anything for many weeks.

They hadn’t slept in months.

The firefighters joked that they were in the movie Stand By Me, going down the railroad tracks to see a dead body by the river. But she wasn’t upset by that. How could they know?

She saw his face when they rolled him over. His skin looked like frosting, eyes melted from their sockets.

“Been floating in the water at least four days,” the coroner remarked, looking at what he assumed was water-logging and perhaps the nibbling of tiny fish. But he was wrong. Other things could make your face look like that. And in the end they had.

The coroner’s assistant — a cute young thing like Tandy imagined she herself had once been—carefully examined Tobin’s body as it lay on the muddy bank where the search and rescue raft had towed it and the firefighters pulled it out. Poking through his clothes, she quickly found the small disk-shaped box where Tobin kept his rosary. At first glance it was mistaken for a can of chewing tobacco.

The death wouldn’t cause much of a stir. He had no ID, his odd finger-print patterns would find no match and, of course, he looked older than his age … older by decades. Best he could recall he’d been about twenty-two but could easily have passed for seventy or more. Just another homeless old-man, probably got drunk and fell into the creek and drowned. There wouldn’t even be a story in the paper.

She’d only known him about six months, she thought … maybe a little longer? It was hard to tell. First they stole your flesh, then your memories.

And eventually they stole your eyes.

She opened up the tiny paper, the poem he’d written her two nights before when he realized his sight had begun to leave him:

I am not drowned

I am alive

I am resolved

I am dissolved

I am bound on the outside

And lost on the green railroad track

Something in it, something in there for her, he’d said. He couldn’t remember but he’d thought it might make a difference. Now she could only wonder at his words … an upside-down prophesy, like he’d known what would happen yet cried out in denial. For he was most definitely drowned. He was not alive.

The railroad tracks — not green, but silver and gray and brown with rusted ambivalence — had ultimately led him back here, back to the east side of the river where it snaked through the industrial areas abutting downtown, near their former nest in the cottonwood trees with its myriad of single-use plastic bags and soiled blankets.

I am resolved

She folded the tiny paper and put in her pocket, repeating the words in her mind even as they slipped away from her.

Tobin was in a body-bag now, the firefighters carrying him back up to the tracks on one of those gurneys with the retractable legs … no way wheels would roll down here. The search-and-rescue people picked up their inflatable raft and carried it away. The coroner put Tobin’s rosary into a small plastic bag.

Something turned over beneath her feet. She’d felt it before, but never this close.

The cops were the last ones to leave. They took a few more pictures and then went the way the others had gone.

I am dissolved

It was many hours later when she emerged and long after nightfall. The twin ribbons of track curved away the direction Tobin had been taken, the lights of the city reflecting on their arch. But she turned the other way and moved off into darkness, navigating by wooden ties and gravel, deflected back to the center whenever her stumbling feet veered and contacted steel rail.

~~~~~

She walked all night and the sleeping neighborhoods she passed didn’t awaken. Daylight found her beyond the city at the edge of the foothills and back at the old water tower. She climbed. They were less prevalent up here; she couldn’t feel them as much.

She wondered if she was sad about Tobin. She was pretty sure that was what she was supposed to feel, and she could remember that she had been sad about things before: her grandmother dying, a lost dog—or had it been a cat?

Sad. She knew what it meant. She just couldn’t remember what it felt like.

The boards of the water tower were old and black, broken in some places. Inside were bugs and nests of spiders and other things. She crawled inside and sat amongst them and watched a late morning winter sun pass through the wide spaces between the boards. This tower would not hold water, she thought. It would just spill out.

That made her sad.

She sat inside for the rest of the day and the night. When morning came she could still see light between the boards, but to her eyes it appeared much dimmer than before and she knew her time was growing short. She crawled out of the tower and down the splintery wooden ladder to the ground and with nothing else to do, began walking. Her arms and legs shimmied like the steering wheel of an old car.

The tracks continued on and she followed them for a time, eventually coming to an abandoned spur with weeds growing up between the ties. Feeling an unexplained compulsion she left the main line and followed the spur as it turned west, towards the foothills and across a field. Very soon there were no more ties. Unpinned rails lay directionless and half-buried until they themselves abruptly ended.  Something caught her eye, a single sheet of paper tacked to a fence post. It fluttered in the tiny breeze. She moved over to it.

It was a “missing person” flier and it had been there a long time … months. Her eyes were failing. She stretched closer to see.  The faded picture was that of a smiling young woman with a pretty face.

bound on the outside

A wrinkled hand moved to her mouth but wasn’t fast enough to stop the scream that descended quickly into a moan.

It was her. The face on the flier was hers … or what had been hers.

She turned away, mouth gnawing on her withered knuckles, tearless eyes clamped shut. She fell to her knees and shuddered like an unbolted machine. The flier continued to flutter. After a moment she opened her eyes. The raised rail bed, free of wood and steel, bent away towards the foothills, a flat, narrow carpet of weeds and grass bisected by a single foot-path.

the green railroad track

And then she remembered.

~~~~~

Grasshoppers ricocheting from their footfalls as they’d walked, the grass on the rail bed as green as the fields on either side, a few cattle in the distance. It had been their second date, and he’d told her about a place he wanted to take her.

Eventually the fields gave way to forest, the heat of late spring cut with moss and earth, grass replaced by pine needles and leaves. They came to a fence. The no-trespassing sign declared watershed land belonging to the city and that all violators would be prosecuted.

“Won’t we get in trouble?”

“Nah,” he’d told her. “No official people ever come up here. At least I’ve never seen any.”

The further they went the more rugged the land became. They crossed a rocky stream by stepping on undercut concrete footings, canted remnants of a long-vanished bridge that bore the same lichens as the smooth stones around them.

“How long ago did they…?”

“Shut down this line? In the thirties I think, not long after they built the highway over the mountains. Used to be this was the best way over to the coast, unless you wanted to cross a bunch of private properties with toll-roads. That’s what folks used to do in these mountains. Buy some land, build a road and then charge people to use it.”

He found local history fascinating and got very excited when talking about it. It was one of the things she liked about him.

“I meant the tunnel. How long ago did they close it?”

“Oh.” He blushed a little. She liked that too.

“In the fifties. It was the height of the Red Scare and they were afraid communists were going to hold-up in there and take over the country or something.” They both laughed.

The rail bed was becoming less obvious. Large trees grew in the path, and only by comparison with the truly giant ones on either side was it apparent that men had once shaped this land.  Steep banks suddenly rose on either side of the trail. They were there.

Moss grew thick on the crumbling portal, at first glance no different than any other outcrop on the abrupt hillside. Then she saw the hole in the side of the mountain. Brooklets born of a wet spring wound down from the headland and dropped in cascades, tiny waterfalls guarding a dark archway.

“It’s smaller than I’d pictured.”

“This was a narrow-gauge railroad. They were cheaper to build, especially in the mountains where there would be a lot of tunnels and bridges. This tunnel was over a mile long.”

“And they just blocked it off?”

“Yeah, blasted it shut. Dynamited it at either end. But it still goes in about fifty feet or so. In high school my friends and I used to ditch class and come hang out here.” He looked at her and blushed again. “Not that I was a total delinquent or anything.”

She smiled at him. He smiled back. They walked into the tunnel.

It was cooler inside. Evidence of generations covered the arched roof above their heads, layers of graffiti and soot, streaked with moss wherever rivulets found passage through the concrete. The air was heavy, laden with silence and the smell of dark earth. He pulled a flashlight from his pocket and turned it on.

“Been a long time,” he said, almost to himself.

The beam of his flashlight moved across the dirt floor, across the walls and finally to the earthen ramp at the far end of the space.

“Is that the…?”

“Where they blasted it, yeah.”

They walked further in. She shivered, folding her arms across her chest and wishing she hadn’t left her sweater in the car.

“If you go up on the hillside directly above this spot, there’s a crater where it all caved-in. We tried to dig in there once from above, because according to legend they left things in the tunnel when they sealed it.”

“According to legend?”

He chuckled. “Uh-huh.”

“Left what?”

“For sure old rail cars. But there were rumors that the cars had things in them, like munitions, army equipment, surplus stuff from World War II. And then there were other rumors too, like the cars were filled with radioactive waste or a nuclear bomb.” She had to giggle at that. He laughed with her.

“I know, huh? But it gets even better.” They were at the foot of the ramp now. His flashlight played across it. “There were claims that it was alien technology from an ancient space-ship they dug-up in the desert outside of Roswell, or the body of—”

“Hey … what’s that?” She pointed.

At the very top of the dirt ramp, where it met with the fractured concrete ceiling, was a hole. The beam of his flashlight was a small crescent in its mouth.

“Whoa. Must be an animal burrow.” He paused only for a moment before climbing up the ramp. He reached the hole and pointed his flashlight inside. “It is a burrow or something. It goes back quite a ways. And down.”

“What do you think made it?”

“I don’t know. Badger maybe? It’s almost big enough to crawl in there. I think it’s too tight though. Huh. I think I can see—”

The dirt at the top of the ramp suddenly swelled, puffed-out like it was infused with a static charge. All at once Tobin became translucent. He lit up from the inside and she could see his organs and his bones. He began to scream.

Involuntarily she backed away, just as the ground near her bulged, and she felt it in the small of her back and up her spine. Her bladder let go and then there were thousands of millions of them under her skin like centipedes, crawling and prodding and invading. She felt the moisture sucked from her flesh and then they were in her brain and the world turned inside-out.

They left her hollow.

When she was a little girl, her family raised chickens. She would break open a small pumpkin and feed it to them and they would eat it from the inside, every bit except the very outermost layer of orange skin. She thought it was funny that from the outside it just looked like a pumpkin. But turn it over and you’d see it was only a shell, pecked clean and paper thin. If you weren’t careful when you picked-it up it would break apart.

She lay on her side on the moist earth, scooped bare like an autumn gourd.

Tobin’s flashlight rolled and bounced down the ramp and came to rest near her hands which were curled upon the ground in front of her face. They were the withered hands of an old, old woman … of a corpse.

Now she too had begun to scream.

~~~~~

She thought it must have been seeing her face on the flier, reading her name. Why else would these memories have suddenly returned? Whatever the cause, she didn’t believe they would last. It was still early afternoon but the sun had become a bright coin in a darkening sky. Her eyes would soon be gone too.

She left the small piece of paper fluttering and moved west, up the green railroad track as it crossed the fields towards the foothills, her mind preyed upon by freshly stark memories of the last time she’d been here.

~~~~~

They’d tried to follow the rail bed back but had lost it and spent that first night wandering in the woods. They knew something had happened to them but thoughts came and went like dabs of sunlight reflected off rippling water. Nothing made sense.

With daylight they were able to navigate back to the main railroad line but couldn’t think of what to do next. So they followed the tracks and eventually came to an old water tower.  It had a ladder, and they climbed it, thinking that from up high perhaps they’d be able to see something they needed to see.

They stayed in the water tower for three days.

When they finally came down they saw the railroad tracks were still there, so again they followed them and soon found themselves adrift in the crevices of the city, the in-between places where the indigent moved and lived.

Tobin had kept his wallet for a little while. Sometimes he would take it out and try to make sense of it, but it always made him frustrated. Finally he just gave it to a homeless man near the river. The man had been skeptical.

“Where did you get this?  Did you steal it?”

“No. It’s mine.”

“Then why are you giving it to me? Why do you have his guy’s ID and stuff?”

“He’s me. I’m him. I’m a young man. Just take it.”

“Right. Are you trying to set me up?” In the end the man took it. “Crazy old coot.”  They watched the man ditch all the cards and keep the money. It wasn’t much, about thirty dollars. The man kept the wallet too. It was a nice wallet.

In the end the only thing Tobin had kept was his rosary, and while he rarely took it out of its small case, he never seemed to wonder at its importance, although its meaning continued to elude him.

They would try to talk about the tunnel. Most times they couldn’t. They would begin to remember but their thoughts would be pulled up short like a horse whose reins are tugged. But sometimes, just for a moment, they could get a glimpse.

“It took our memories. I know we weren’t always like this. They take your memories … they take them. That’s how they know what to do next.”

“What do they want to do?”

“Live.”

It. They. Them. There was no distinction; a pure alien existence defined neither by group nor individual.

He seemed to know more than she did. He’d surmised that maybe it was because he had been closer or because he was the first to be taken, but when it had entered him and right before his mind tore loose from its moorings he’d seen things … just flashes, like images from a dream. And that was how he knew something had failed inside the tunnel, something that was meant to contain it. He believed it was a simple failure–a switch or a wire or a cap—something that perhaps could easily be set right.

“Maybe we can fix it.”

But such thoughts always left as quickly as they came, drawn back and lost in a miasma of frustration and apathy.

In places where the invisible people dwell they were now just two more of the many, adrift and dirty. Once when the police were rousting a group of them, an officer had questioned her about where she’d gotten her shirt … seems it matched the description of one worn by a missing girl when she went missing. And some personal items of her companion had been found nearby too, credit cards and things. He also was missing. She didn’t have an answer. She honestly couldn’t remember. The police came around quite a bit at first, but after a time they stopped coming around.

Their hollowness became more and more refined as the months passed.

“I don’t understand,” she would ask. “Are we alive?”

“We have to be. We’re talking.”

“But living things eat. They sleep.”

“We eat. We sleep.”

But they were never hungry. They tried for the longest time, forcing themselves to consume scraps just like the other homeless people living in the filthy river encampments, under bridges and on the bush-covered banks of the freeways. Eventually they gave up.

And they were always tired but sleep came less and less until finally it came no more.

Tobin tried to comprehend the impossibility of it. “We’re like florescent lights,” he once stated, catching some fleeting memory of high-school science class. “I think some of its energy is still sticking to us, like how static electricity can make a tube glow; that’s what is keeping us alive.”

“But it’s going away.”

“Yes, it’s fading.”

Eventually they started seeing others like themselves, hollow people, empty and crumbling. They weren’t surprised by this because more of it was coming out all the time.

They could feel it.

It moved under the ground, through old sewer pipes, abandoned gopher runs, the space between root and dirt, moving and turning, yearning for the time when it would be completely free. Soon it would be able to take anyone from anywhere, not just those who had wandered too close. The night he’d written her the poem the ground beneath them seemed to be writhing eagerly.

I am not drowned … I am alive

Two days later he was gone and his fate made mockery of the words he’d left behind.

~~~~~

It was even darker in the woods. She could still barely see the rail bed, still detect the path and she shambled onward, her body hitching and swaying like a bicycle with all its screws loosened. She found the creek and splashed across, her feet slipping and glancing from the stones the two of them had used to cross it months before. Several times she fell completely but eventually crawled soaking wet up the steep bank on the other side.

“You can’t be here.” The voice croaked the words, as though it hadn’t spoken in a long time.

He lolled near the edge of the bank, legs curled beneath his slumping body. The back of his hands lay in the dirt. He raised his head, and when she saw his withered face, his lost eyes, she knew.

“You can’t be here. I work for the city. You can’t be here.” His button-up shirt was torn, dirty. She could just make out the patch on his shoulder. Water Department, it read.

“You can’t be here. This is city property.”

A small sound escaped her as she choked back a cry. “They took your memories, didn’t they?  They took mine too.” Her voice was barely above a whisper.

His head swayed like it might drop forward again, but it didn’t.  For a moment he just looked confused. Then his eyes suddenly grew wide. “You can’t be here!” This time he shouted it as an epiphany. His sagging features swelled into a bloated smile, a joyful recognition of purpose. He raised one filthy hand and pointed.

“I work for the city! You can’t be here!” He lurched forward, propelling himself towards her like a partially broken wind-up toy. His expression was that of a man in the midst of a spiritual awakening. “I work for the city! You can’t be here!”

With a moan she tried to crawl away but his hand grabbed her leg. She rolled onto her back.

“I work for the city.”

She began kicking his face.

“This is city property.”

Her kicks were weak, but they connected. Still, he made no attempt to stop them. She kicked again and again.

“You can’t be here.”

His face turned to blood and dirt and his words became just muffled sounds, a repeating meaninglessness punctuated by the dull cadence of her foot.

And then he was sliding and rolling down the bank away from her. She heard a splash and the blunt sound of flesh and bone against stone. After that there were no more sounds.

She found herself gazing upwards.

The tops of the trees had become black paper cut-outs, the cloudless late-afternoon sky an opaque dream. She lay on her back, breath rasping through the furnace in her chest. After a time she managed to rise and continued stumbling up the trail.

Very soon she was crawling.

Here she felt them everywhere — inside plant and leaf, wood and stone and earth quivering with rank impatience — and she was gripped with an urgency unknown for many months. For while the watery surface of her thoughts had at last become smooth, she felt the pool itself was quickly draining.

All shapes finally melded together into dark oblivion and she thought she could go no further. Then the sound of waterfalls—only trickles this time of year—were enough to let her know she’d reached the portal.

She dragged herself forward and felt the air in the tunnel as it pressed tight around her ears. After a short distance the ground tilted and then she was clawing her way up the ramp.

Her head contacted crumbling mortar. She pawed at the dirt until at last she found the breach. The ground hummed, and waves of them passed through her to no effect. What more could they take? There wasn’t much of her left, but perhaps there might be just enough.

Tobin had said he didn’t think he could fit into the hole, but she was smaller.

maybe we can fix it

With the last of the failing fumes of her memory she recalled that it had been a dog she had lost. He’d become scared during a lightning storm and ran off and they never found him. His name was Jake.

She was a little girl and had lost her dog. He was a good dog.

Something wet was on her cheek. She thought it might be tears and reached up to feel one moist orb and then the other as they deflated, leaving a puddle and a damp trail that in another life could have passed for sorrow. Dirty fingers investigated the empty sockets and then pulled the lids closed.

It didn’t matter. Where she was going it was sure to be dark.

~~~~~

~~~~~

A retired Fire Captain from a large metropolitan city in central California, Daniel Frank DeLong lives deep in the Santa Cruz Mountains with his wife and daughter, two dogs, three cats, a couple of pigs and an ever changing number of chickens, at last count 21. When he’s not writing, he spends his time driving his tractor around in the woods, and contemplating the potential collapse of the civilized world … often doing both at the same time.