Tag Archives: Ghosts

Important tip: Leaving broken cups in the family mausoleum may remind your relatives that they’re dead if they get up.

23. The Elementals – Michael McDowell

Have I ever mentioned on here that I hate sand? I really, really hate sand. I was unaware that this Southern Gothic brilliance was going to involve so much sand and that made it extra scary for me. However, I also have to say the fact that it got off and running from the start also helped. Weirdo southern family tradition stories are always of interest to me in the same way that British manor family dramas are not, which is weird because both types of stories involve secrets that the servants are aware of and totally not telling and stiff silence in place of helpful information. Oh, that family trauma’s going to show up whether you tell them or not. At least in The Elementals, Odessa eventually came around and did explain the whole “let’s stab people at their funeral” thing early on to thirteen year old India, the My Cousin Rachel of the story except for the whole liberated sex thing (Thankfully! I kept waiting for her and her father’s really close relationship to get blatantly incesty and…so happy that wasn’t a thing. They live in New York City. Far away from their family. He takes photos of her all the time. I blame recent television hit Game of Thrones and way too many recently read books where the incest was a total surprise inclusion for making me worry about this.) and the inheritance thing and the possible poisoner thing.

So there are two families, and they both have Victorian summer houses on a little area at the bottom of Alabama called Beldame where they’re going to hang out after the funeral of the mean matriarch of the Savages dies. Side note, the area they’re going to was amazingly easy for me to picture because the nearest town was Gulf Shores, a place I’ve been several times. They don’t really describe it as more than having a laundromat, but, I can tell you it was quite pleasant in the 1990s for Easter. And the new family patriarch of the Savages is Dauphin, which happens to be the name of an island that’s also nearby. When I was there I was not as troubled by sand as I am now. Anyway, there’s a third house and no one lives in it. No one LIVES in it. And those things in there, creating bodies out of sand and making sure it gets into every possible crevice and nook and cranny and other small places, those are not ghosts. They’re a whole different kind of spirit.

Fun fact: There’s a parrot in this book named Nails. Excellent name.

Murderface will not tell the southern guinea pig family secrets. Pickles might though, if you offer her the right produce, like, any produce.

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“This is how we do things in the country”

78. The Family Plot – Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest is one of those authors I feel like I should have already read lots by. Boneshaker was a great big deal as I recall and I was super into the idea of Maplecroft because I love some lady murderer stories. I tried to read Maplecroft multiple times but I was just not getting in. Just not. And that made me pretty sad.

Fathom is the only book of hers I managed to get through and I liked it okay…but was not wanting MORE! on any level. However, with The Family Plot, I think I finally found the Priest for me. I absolutely loved it.

Because of the existence of dust and me in the same universe, I will never become a salvager or a picker or the sort of person who finds antiques and cool pieces of house until they end up at a store. So, as abbreviated and possibly inaccurate as the operations of Music City Salvage may be, I don’t care, novel-level accuracy got me wholeheartedly into this story. Main character Dahlia was very relatable for me – she has allergies (not as bad as mine, clearly, or she couldn’t do that work, but they like never get mentioned anywhere and so many people have allergies that do work involving old things), she’s relatively fearless, she recognizes the value (sometimes exact) in antiques, and she knows how to organize disparate elements into a task well-finished. So I was entirely content to follow her through southern-style trying not to lose her shit while the ghosts in the Withrow house got stronger and more insistent and actually scary.

Pere and Ozy know the best way not to lose your shit is to turn away from the photographer and still look cute.

 

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“There’s been a murder almost everywhere in this house.”

75. Anna Dressed in Blood – Kendare Blake

It took me a bit to realize the head I was in was male. I’m so used to YA books with supernatural elements being told from female perspectives that it was a bit of a shock to figure out this was a young guy’s head. Also, he didn’t constantly think about boobs and changing his clothes, so how was I supposed to know? Anyway, the head belongs to Cas (Theseus Cassio) and his father was killed by a ghost. Now he and his mom follow other ghosts and kill them, along with their cat, Tybalt. Somebody likes Shakespeare. The titular ghost is up in Thunder Bay, Canada, and she is a doozy. She’s sixteen and she’s killed a lot of people. A lot. Pretty much anyone who comes in her house.

I didn’t expect this to be as good as it was. It was very teen and yet involved pop culture references that would probably work better for people in their 30s, so that worked for me; but it was just better than it seemed like it should be. The characters seemed natural, the gory parts were gory, and one of the characters attempted to stop library vandalism – good. The one thing that was pretty off-putting was the design choice of printing the book in dried-blood-brown ink. It makes sense, but it hurt my eyes a little to read it all the same. And it really wasn’t necessary for such a compelling narrative to have that kind of gimmick.

Salem’s ready for some in your face ghost hunting too.

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“In the back shakes a tambourine/Nicotine from a silver screen”

38. Silver Scream – David J. Schow, ed.

In 1988, Dark Harvest published Silver Scream, a collection of movie-centric horror stories edited by Splatterpunk dude David J. Schow. It’s awesome…except for the note at the end. Too much, man, too much. Don’t splatter me with such random tidbits. I prefer to be splattered in a much more specific way. That sounds horrible, not unlike many of the events in the stories of Silver Scream.

Ozymandias is ready to walk the path of cinematic terror. Are you?

“Cuts” by F. Paul Wilson – This reminded me of this movie that keeps randomly playing on Flix Retro called Mark of the Devil. It turns out it was part of a Hammer television series in the 1980s called Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense and involves this dude (Dirk Benedict) who murders a voodoo dude-slash-tattoo artist and grows a tattoo of the murder on his chest that he must – MUST – keep from his new bride Jenny Seagrove. In “Cuts,” things get a little bloodier than murder. Yep. It just proves that you should never mess with anyone who writes about voodoo. Also, do not fuck with books when you make them into movies. Most of the time it goes badly and in this case, you’ll suffer extensively.

“The Movie People” – Robert Bloch – I haven’t read Psycho as of yet, so I believe this is one of my first exposures to Robert Bloch’s writing (I can’t recall if he’s been in any of the other short story collections I’ve read, I’ve read a lot of them over the years). It’s a wistful story of loneliness and reaching out across time and really, really taking one’s craft as an extra seriously.

“Sinema” – Ray Garton – Holy shit this story was great. A basically abandoned kid and a serial killer in the midst of a strictly religious town watch movies together and make friends…until there are reasons for them to be not friends. A little more sadistic at the end than I would’ve liked, but I am glad the basically abandoned kid got the upper hand at some point.

Ozymandias will control what we watch from now on. He has taken control of the remote for all time.

“More Sinned Against” – Karl Edward Wagner – 100% my favorite story in the collection. I know the sacrifices women are expected and conditioned to make so that they can support someone else’s dream. It doesn’t always turn out quite like this, but the excuses were so familiar. “If I just had this, we could do this,” and they never, ever mean it. They were always planning to get ahead of you and expected you to just stay where you were. They were special, you were not. Well, getting your own action figure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be sometimes. Everyone is special.

“Bargain Cinema” – Jay Scheckley – A ballad of co-dependency. Don’t be Chuck and Patty.

“Lifecast” – Craig Spector – Sounds like Troma maybe screwed someone over at some point. Hmmm. This tale of make-up work and, yes, more voodoo, ends in a way that I was not expecting. Yikes.

Ozymandias was always very independent, and very special. He would never have made any mistakes while practicing voodoo.

“The Show Goes On” – Ramsey Campbell – Abandoned theaters are super creepy. I have been in exactly one abandoned theater myself, I was not alone – there was a print of Coach Carter there in addition to other people I came with, and thankfully it wasn’t as far gone as the theater in this story. Parts of this story made my breathing wonky because it was so easy to picture all the dust and mold and musty smells. It was also very tense, as a lot of urban exploration can be, even without the hauntings.

“The Cutter” – Edward Bryant – Delusions of romance and grandeur drive a movie theater owner who used to edit in Hollywood. He re-cuts the movies he shows and he creepily pursues and finally “edits” a young woman with a bad attitude who lets him do things for her. Eek.

There are two other things I took issue with about this collection besides the overly wordy and inside jokey essay at the end. One, the last story was Way. Too. Long. I lost interest nearly a quarter in and never regained it. I’m surprised I made it through the whole thing. And- there are no stories by women in here. There are several stories about women and featuring their perspectives, but I bet there were some stories about movies by women that really could’ve been worth including. It would’ve been nice to see more equal representation.

Ozy and Pammy, equals and Teddy Bear pigs.

 

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There are an awful lot of stakes raised here for a book that didn’t involve many vampires.

65. Wolfman Confidential – Justin Robinson

Things are getting a lot darker in the City of Devils. It would stand to reason that any story involving more of the mobster and cop elements of the adventures of Nick Moss would be on the more serious side – even if those mobsters are a sidhe, the girl version of Krang from Ninja Turtles, and a germaphobe.

At first I was a little nervous about the amount of new characters that continued to pop up and have things resolved throughout the novel. That nerviness turned out to be unfounded by the end, thankfully, as the characters circled back around or their involvement in the main plot became clear. It’s so important in a series with a world as unusual and detailed as this one to not just mention some new person or location or thing solely for its own sake and Robinson manages to keep the newness and revealed relevance fun throughout. There are a lot of weird and wonderful set pieces with a ghost gang’s lair, goblins, a phantom and his young protégé, and – unexpectedly – people.

I have to say, though, my favorite scene involved the familiar monsters who hang out at Nick’s house every night trying to get him to let them turn him. Nick basically giving story-time to Sam, Mira, and Lurkimer made for a good moment of grounding in a very action packed story.

Ozma is waiting for Pere to tell her stories about her own version of the Night War.

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“Yeah because no offense there’s absolutely no zazz to be found, not here anyway, not in these parts.”

33. 13 Again – A. Finnis, ed.

We have reached the last of the Point Horror 13-based short story collections. This one felt way longer to me, perhaps because there are a bunch of the same authors in the second one and this one and none of the multi-title whizzbang Point authors I’m used to are represented. Not even Diane Hoh. The stories were longer than in the other two collections, they needed a big dose of the old razzle-dazzle and honestly, I got pissed that I was bored. I don’t want to be bored by short stories. For one thing, they’re short so it seems like that shouldn’t happen. For two, most of the time when I dive in to a Horror anthology, I find weird things and gross things and surprising things and zazz. Not so much here. So, with that very inspiring introduction, let’s get on with it.

Ozymandias was the smarter one, so he was always waiting for Danger Crumples to realize that there was less zazz present than necessary.

“Anjelica’s Room” – Laurence Staig – It did have a promising start. A couple arguing about painting, well, never heard that before… I meant that “promising” thing, anyway, a couple who don’t really like each other that much are trying to paint a small cottage and one of the rooms has really ugly brown wallpaper all over the walls. The lying-by-omission male half of the couple leaves the female half and her giant amount of anxiety alone and the room pulls her in and it gets worse from there in a good and gory way. Phew.

“Foxgloves” – Susan Price – This entry was not as interesting as “The Cat-Dogs” from the last collection. It’s hard for me to envision a hetero teenage boy that wouldn’t just follow some ghostly seductive chick into wherever. Especially if he’d just had a bit of a break up with his girlfriend…that’s the most likely time they just wander off the path with ghostly seductive chicks. I mean, geez.

Danger and Ozy basically followed the ladypigs whenever they could. Whenever. It took them forever to calm down around the ladypigs and that’s one more reason I couldn’t suspend my disbelief for “Foxgloves.”

“The Ultimate Assassin” – Malcolm Rose – This just didn’t pack enough punch for me. There’s mild tension, a downer ending, a dog named Chips (I used to know someone named Chips. He was fun but only knew me as “Hey Girl”), and the titular assassin but…it was just okay.

“The Rattan Collar” – Garry Kilworth – Garry with two “r”s has put in some effort here and it’s one of the more interesting stories in the collection. Is the potbellied pig evil? Do I just like this better because there’s some kind of pig in it? The answer to both is no, but, you haven’t read this yet. Uh oh, spoilers.

“Boomerang” – David Belbin – In 1995, this story was prophetic. It seemed so wrong that anyone would go to college, get a solid degree with good marks, and then fail miserably at getting a job and have to move back in with their parents. In the U.S. though, only five years later, it would start getting next to impossible not to become a boomerang. And some of those graduates didn’t try to murder their parents- a tradition that lives on to this day.

Danger and Ozy never tried to murder me while we lived in my mom’s attic. They did order me out of my own bedroom while they were exploring though. It was very insulting, but also funny.

“The Delinquent” – Maresa Morgan – In my current job I am sometimes looked at as though I have just walked in from juvie and am smoking in the corner. I’m not a fan of it and this is the only place I’ve been looked at that way so consistently, but at least I know I’m not as awful as the delinquent in this story. She gets what she deserves; I know I deserve to be recognized for who I actually am, not just the differences between me and the rest of the office. I’m quite good at what I do and have the personalized messages from patrons to prove it.

“The Ghost Trap” – Lisa Tuttle – The girl in this story goes to a haunted house she heard of because of a story. The author of the story is totally living in the house and using some Scooby Doo methods to entrap victims. I have to say, if anyone came to my house (which is not haunted) specifically because of my work I still wouldn’t answer the door because that’s intimidating and it’s possible to see me in public and accost me that way instead. Or don’t accost me. It’s better if no one gets accosted. I’m usually selling something or hunting books down if you see me in public, feel free to distract me, I promise I won’t murder you or pull off my mask to reveal that I own the old boarded up amusement park.

“Close Cut” – Philip Gross – Uh oh, we have a situation here that involves World War II and slivovic. World War II angst and the question of what one is to do when one finds a Nazi (a real, time appropriate one, not just the insecure emulating jackasses from the now time) living near them.

“Grandma” – Colin Greenland – I know that it can be very complicated trying to assist the elderly, especially if they have memory issues or habitually set things on fire. If this household just had some decent books, I bet everybody would’ve gotten along much better and maybe Grandma wouldn’t have minded being locked in her room so much. What am I saying? There’s no way that keeps anyone with any of their faculties remotely happy. But books would help.

Ozy and Danger certainly liked their excursions outside their houses. They wanted to explore and be finicky and demanding and super cute and their grandma totally let them.

“Vampire in Venice” – John Gordon – Here we are in Venice again. Ah, Venice. A place where British girls can argue about who is more attractive and/or stupid to be mooning over vampires. Hint – your friendship isn’t strong if the one the vampire likes more chooses you as her first meal.

“Picking Up the Tab” – Stan Nicholls – Money horror. This just doesn’t have that much impact after you’ve been through the nonsensical labyrinth of trying to afford what you need without making enough and that’s kind of the norm for my generation. Being messed with monetarily is never a surprise. Being valued and paid accordingly is.

“Evidence of Angels” – Graham Masterton – Here he goes again with the sentimental and not particularly horrific. It’s a bit familiar here, after all, having an annoying baby brother named Toby is familiar to everyone who saw Labyrinth. The unfortunate aspect here is that angels do not resemble David Bowie. Believers have nothing to look forward to.

In lieu of David Bowie, I’ll accept Danger Crumples and Ozymandias leading me to an eternal rest in Pighalla, which I made up but also happens to be where I belong after death.

“Hospital Trust” – Dennis Hamley – Again, what happens in this story is kind of normal now in the United States. A doctor that several patients haven’t liked (in the U.S. this part would be played by the insurance company, the ones who get to determine how much care you really get) sending them somewhere they shouldn’t be for substandard care and/or murder. Healthcare really is a right and not a privilege. It’s ridiculous to think otherwise.

Mixtape:
1. “Mud” – Legendary Shack Shakers
2. “Beautiful Gardens” – The Cramps
3. “Phantom of the Motorway” – The Mangled Dead
4. “Comanche Moon” – The Black Angels
5. “Several Sins” – The Birthday Party
6. “Let Me” – Widowspeak
7. “Garbage City” – Hanni El Khatib
8. “Feet Don’t Fail Me” – Queens of the Stone Age
9. “We’ve Seen the Blood” – The Mangled Dead
10. “Rats in Paradise” – The Birthday Party
11. “Kill!” – Raveonettes
12. “Flesh without Blood” – Grimes
13. “The Number of the Beast” – Electric Six
14. “At the Barn” – Wolfmen of Mars
15. “Be Free” – King Dude & Chelsea Wolfe
16. “Cut Me Loose” – UNKLE

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The paranormal experiments tend to be the first to go with funding cuts.

2. Poltergeist – Kat Richardson

One of the “stories” I pretty much always enjoy is the “scientific measurement of ghosts gone awry” type. The Haunting of Hill House being the most awesome of all classic examples, The Legend of Hell House (I haven’t read the book yet, I just really love Roddy McDowall), and Alexandra Sokoloff’s The Unseen being some of my particular favorites – and now I can add Poltergeist from the Harper Blaine series to that list.

In Poltergeist, a university research group is trying to create an artificial poltergeist and of course, some of them start to die or be threatened, so who is faking the poltergeist? Anyone? Bueller? In a version of Seattle with Harper Blaine and the ever-present Grey, it is not necessary to fake such things. It is possible to be too successful with university research experiments.

As ghosts, it’s way easier for Pammy and Twiglet to hunt for additional ghosts they might not want me to live with. If somebody came in my home with a spirit box, they’d get a metric ton of wheeking.

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“We had the best time at your party”

22. Scare Care – Graham Masterton, ed.

Graham Masterton, master of the vulgar description, is responsible for this short story collection. He established the “Scare Care Trust, a charity set up to fund organizations that help abused and endangered children” get access to vulgar descriptions. Not really. It’s a nice thing from the 1980s. I didn’t research whether or not the trust is still in operation because I am apparently heartless when it comes to endangered 1980s children. Sorry. I watched several of those farm accident videos. Desensitized. Never rest!

Baby Finny also doesn’t care about endangered 1980s children. He is not sorry. He didn’t even watch Apaches (Thank you, Grady Hendrix, for introducing me to Apaches, my mom has the silverware they’re setting the table for the “party” with).

Anyway, all the stories were donated and I shan’t go in to all 38 of them, but here are some of the ones that struck me in particular.

Kit Reed – “Mommy” – This story is based around the question: “Where did the hundred pounds she lost go?” Kit Reed is one author I will always read. She really is a master of feminist horror. Also, she validates many of my lifestyle choices as non-horrific, despite what others might say.

James Robert Smith – “Things Not Seen” – One of the more affecting stories, super short, super impact. “Do you think they’ll like Sonny?”

Ozma likes Baby Finny. She likes not-baby Finny now too.

James Herbert – “Breakfast” – Excellent, another short punch about a woman and her family in the post-apocalypse. Images that really get into your head. Very sticky.

C. Dean Anderson – “Night Watch” – This begins with a killer squirrel. We like that around here .

Jeff Gelb – “Family Man” – A nice little take about accidentally getting a nice ghost family when you buy a new house.

Baby Finny wants a ghost family. He’s not getting one.

Gile Gordon – “A Towpath Tale” – This was one of the more disturbing things I’ve read about a man and his bitch.

Brian Lumley – “David’s Worm” – Don’t let kids go into the garbage at your lab or they’ll become one with an amorphous blob they grew. He named it “Planny.” You can’t give things names or they’ll never go away. Think of Mr. Peppy on Futurama and always remember that lesson from Hermes.

Graham Masterton – “Changeling” – This reminded me of that Angel episode that introduced me to VAST. Gender-swapping as STD is a bit more disturbing, also, now I realize that It Follows owes a heavy debt to Angel’s first season.

Non-baby Finny is still not sorry. But he is interested in more horror-focused short story collections from the 1980s.

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She got Swayzed.

35. The Secret Bedroom – R.L. Stine

Every time I switch towns I eventually run into the same old story – there’s that creepy house where somebody got murdered. And you know, in Mississippi, it was my house. It was drugs. No unfinished business. Lea of The Secret Bedroom is not so lucky. I mean, it could’ve been drugs, but, it wasn’t mentioned specifically if drugs were involved in the 100 years ago murderage, so… Lea is not so lucky in many ways. She falls victim to the many tropes – she’s a new kid who spills on the prime bitch at school, then gets asked out as a joke but she doesn’t know until she gets stood up, in her wallowing she hears footsteps upstairs in the boarded up bedroom, the girls she ends up being friends with are either too popular to keep up getting to know her or they found a boyfriend and no longer cared (Friends!), AND her parents keep leaving her alone in their haunted house (Thanks, Lea’s parents.) and she would be okay with it – if it was being haunted by Patrick Swayze. Patrick Swayze, gateway ghost.

Mixtape –
1. School – Nirvana
2. Misery Keeper – Electric Citizen
3. Zero – Smashing Pumpkins
4. Phone Call – The Faint
5. Mother Father – Swans
6. Sick, Sick, Sick – Queens of the Stone Age
7. My Dreams – Electric Six
8. I Only Said – My Bloody Valentine
9. Lost Boys and Girls Club – Dum Dum Girls
10. Your Sins Will Find You Out – Eli “Paperboy” Reed
11. Everybody Dies – Those Poor Bastards
12. I Dreamt – The Black Angels
13. Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now – The Smiths
14. Love Can Destroy Everything – The Raveonettes
15. Noorus – Chelsea Wolfe
16. Ripe – Nine Inch Nails

Pammy and Thaddeus chomp down parsley in an attic bedroom. There’s no corpses in there or anything. Also no Swayze or Swayze-related materials. They’re like the wind.

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12 – Poor Condition

51. The Uninvited – Dorothy Macardle

Dinner parties! Ghosts! A painting model named Caramel! Endless weeping! Play writing! Dramatic gestures! These are the things people heard me complaining about while I tried to finish reading this book on a variety of lunch breaks at work. I requested it from a university in the same system as the one I work for and my first clue that my experience with it wouldn’t be great was that it came in a manila folded box. That means it’s fragile and no one wants to have it bound. I, usually, do not circulate items like that, even if I know they’re coming to librarians like me, who respect the books, because it’s hard not to damage items like that further, no matter what you do with them – especially if you drop them in irritation, which, I did not do. Not once. Not even on accident. The cover was completely loose, which made for a complicated and delicate reading experience, almost as complicated and delicate as everyone in the story seemed to think Stella the teenager was. She’s lost her mother, and she won’t stop showing up at her old house – she should probably lie down, and oh, p.s. since I, narrator and a grown man playwright, have moved to the country with my sister, I think I should date this hapless teenager who has lost her mother (that part happens later on, but still, I squinted in displeasure at it). The séance scenes were pretty amusing though, I will give Macardle that.

The Uninvited is also a movie and I saw some comparisons with The Haunting somewhere that made me interested in reading this book, but, it just wasn’t for me. It’s nowhere near as foreboding as The Haunting of Hill House. I hope that if I ever get around to seeing the movie it’s more like The Haunting, which is good, and that the comparison wasn’t based around there being ghosts in a house with ladies in both stories.

Oh, and I could not help but want someone to scream “STELLLLAAA!” ala Stanley Kowalski every time someone called for the hapless teenager as she wandered into dangerous situations looking for her ghost-mom.

“Is there a ghost up there?” – Danger Crumples “The only ghosts here are us.” – Ozymandias “For the love of anything please haunt me, my little piggies.” - Me

“Is there a ghost up there?” – Danger Crumples
“The only ghosts here are us.” – Ozymandias
“For the love of anything please haunt me, my little piggies.” – Me

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