The Revival, 1932


     The canvas tent looked large enough to swallow half of Cross, and part of Christopher Ryan wished it would. Thursday had been his fourteenth birthday, and there were far better places for him to be than a revival on a bright and beautiful Sunday.

     “Christopher,” his mother said, taking him by the arm and turning him to face her. “Today will bring us closer to God. It will serve as a reminder of His love for us. You need to lose your sour attitude and remember that, young man.”

     “Yes, Ma’am,” Christopher replied, keeping his voice neutral. His mother’s tongue could be harsh as the back of her hand, and he had no interest in receiving the brunt of either one.

     “I shouldn’t have to remind you,” his mother continued, straightening his tie, “how hard your father worked to bring this revival to Cross. Nor how great our struggle has been here. The town has never shown any affection for our ministry, or your father’s efforts to create a Christian community.”

     “I know, Ma’am,” he said.

     “Excellent,” his mother said, smiling at him. “Now, let us go be an example to others and help lead them to the light of the Lord.”

     “Yes, Ma’am,” Christopher said, forcing a smile.

     “That’s my good son,” his mother said, and she smiled and gave his cheek an affectionate pat.

     Together, they left their small home and followed the street up to the farm road that led to the grounds of the revival. They passed parked cars and joined a thin, but steady stream of people. Christopher recognized several from Sunday service, and he offered them his false smile.

     His mother wore a long, dark gray and modest dress, and she moved easily amongst the people. She greeted them and fawned over children as she played the role of the pastor’s wife to perfection. Her small form was in constant motion, her slight build filled with boundless energy. Christopher had never seen her slow down, or even rest.

     His mother, as far as Christopher Ryan knew, never slept.

     When they entered the massive tent, Christopher was reminded of the time his parents had taken him to a circus outside of Boston. It hadn’t been to attend the performance, but to witness for their community. Between handing out pamphlets, Christopher had snuck glances at the various acts.

     Until his father had seen him.

     Christopher shoved the unpleasant memory aside and followed his mother to the first row of fold-out wooden chairs. The passage from entrance to seat took longer than the walk from their home to the tent as his mother saw and greeted more people she knew.

     Finally, they arrived at their seats, and once his mother was situated, Christopher joined her. He managed to suppress a groan at the sight of the empty seat beside him.

     His father would join them later, it seemed.

     Christopher’s attention was drawn to the front of the tent where large, wide steps led up to a long, low stage that had been constructed. Three chairs were arranged behind a podium, and he knew that his father would soon be on the stage.

     Christopher had attended revivals before, both as a participant with his parents and as an assistant for small events his father had organized in the western portion of Massachusetts. The memories of which reminded Christopher of how little enthusiasm there was in Cross for his family’s faith.

     They had overcome such difficulties before, but those had been encountered in towns where Catholicism dominated the spiritual landscape.

     Cross was different.

     Few people attended the Catholic Church, and there was only slightly more attendance at the First Congregationalist Church. There were other churches, but there were even fewer members of the town who patronized them.

     It was as though Cross didn’t care for God.

     Christopher had never experienced a lack of faith in a community, and in his heart, he knew his father’s efforts in Cross would fail.

     His mother leaned closer and said in a soft voice, “It’s nice to see you smiling.”

     “I am excited, Ma’am,” Christopher said. But not for the reason you think.

     “Good,” his mother said, “your father will be pleased.”

     Movement distracted Christopher, and he looked at the raised platform. His father and a trio of men climbed the few steps, each man dressed in a black suit, the creases as severe and stark as the features of the men. While his father approached the podium, the other men sat down. Yet before his father could speak, someone else stepped close to the stage.

     A girl, perhaps the same age as Christopher, came in from the rear of the tent. On her head she wore a black hat, the brim curled up around its entire length. Her light brown hair had been put into a braid that hung down to rest against the white sweater she wore. An equally white border collie stood at her side, the dog’s intelligent eyes peering out at the gathered crowd. The girl’s black skirt ended below the knees, and her white socks had fallen down around her ankles. And while all of her clothes looked fairly new, her shoes, by contrast, did not.

     Christopher had the unsettling image of the girl and the dog walking thousands of miles together, her feet always clad in the worn leather of the shoes, and he tried to shake that idea away. When he was able to focus his thoughts again, he saw his father motion to one of the ushers.

     The man, one of the newer members of the church, walked toward the girl and reached out for her arm. As his hand touched her, the usher screamed. Flames burst into life, raced up his arm and enveloped him. After a moment of stunned hesitation, people leaped from their seats and attempted to put out the flames.

     The girl, in turn, reached out and touched the platform. Like the usher, it too exploded into flames.

     Christopher’s father and the other men tried to flee, but the fire followed them, and the flames overwhelmed each of the men as they tried to leap to safety. Within moments their dying shrieks filled the air.

     His mother rose up and hurried towards the girl, and later in life, Christopher often wondered what she had been thinking. For like the usher, when Christopher’s mother grabbed the girl, fire consumed the woman.

     Sitting numbly in the wooden folding chair, Christopher watched the flames spread. They swept over people and raced up the sides of the tent. The ground burned, and the girl and her dog watched it all.

     Finally, her attention fell on Christopher, who had been unable to force himself out of the seat.

     She smiled at him, her eyes reflecting the bright flames, and she uttered a single word he heard clearly above the chaos around him.


     And he did, the screams of the dying following him for the rest of his life.

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November 24, 1946


     Captain Henry Abbott, his wife Mirabelle, and their four-year-old son, Thomas, moved to Cross in 1854. Captain Abbott was semi-retired from the military and worked for a local granary, so when war broke out with the secessionist states, he was recalled to the Federal Army. He left his wife and son in 1861 and was reported missing at the first battle of Bull Run.

     Mirabelle held out hope that Henry would return, but her hope was for naught. She passed away at the age of 72 in 1901, a widow in all but name.

     Thomas remained in Cross. He married, sired children, and saw them grow and leave to carry on lives of their own. His own wife, Anne, died in 1915, three years before their oldest son would die in France during the First World War. Thomas buried them both beside his mother in Cross Cemetery.

     On November 24, 1946, witnesses observed Thomas walk into the cemetery, still a strong and virile man at the age of 96. As he drew closer to the graves of his family, he saw a young man standing before his mother’s headstone.

     Duncan Blood, attending a funeral at the cemetery, stated that he saw Thomas draw a folding knife from his back pocket. With surprising stealth, Thomas stepped up behind the stranger and slammed the blade deep into the man’s back repeatedly.

     When Thomas was pulled away, he was screaming that the man was his father.

     The stranger collapsed to the ground, and as Duncan bent over him to see what could be done, the stranger smiled and whispered, “I am always amazed at what a child can remember.”

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The Old Elm


     Henry Platt walked his dog Sharon down Edgewood Avenue, following the curve of the road around Edgewood Cemetery. Street lights tried to burn through the thick fog and Henry was pleased he’d worn his knit cap for the walk. The chill in the air was harsher than usual.

     Sharon pulled on the leash, nose to the pavement, head swinging back and forth. When she reached the granite curbing of the sidewalk she paused, then continued on. Henry glanced through the wrought iron fence and saw eternal flames, the memorials disturbing in their red containers and reflecting in the fog dampened headstones and markers. He couldn’t understand his wife’s fascination with cemeteries, in general, but Ellen seemed particularly obsessed with Edgewood. Lately, she’d even begun making a photo book about the cemetery on the computer.

     Henry shook his head and let Sharon lead him along the sidewalk’s edge. The dog walked on towards her favorite spot, a giant elm which had grown over and around the iron fencing, pushing some of the iron tops down and out towards the road.

     The tree, twisted by years of harsh New England weather, had thick roots which spread out and split the concrete sidewalk before it burrowed under the street. Henry hated the tree.  Ellen loved it.

     Sharon climbed the granite curbing onto the cracked concrete, nosing about the roots. She never ‘went’ on the tree, she just sniffed the hell out of it for some reason. Henry usually had to drag the dog away. Otherwise, she’d stay there all day. Henry stood on the broken sidewalk, his breath curling around him in the cold air. Henry looked at the tree, trying to figure out why Ellen liked it so much.

     The damned thing looks like it came out of a ‘B’ horror movie, he thought.

     The October wind had stripped the elm of its bright leaves and left the bare branches smothered by the fog. He looked at the gnarled stubs of severed limbs, amputations sealed with tar. The fog clung to the tree’s bark and twisted around the outstretched branches.

     Ellen had a picture of the cemetery when it was first set aside as a public burial ground in 1876. The tree could be seen in it. It was a hundred years younger, yet still ugly. The elm had grown for decades, its roots spreading out and feeding upon generations of New Englanders buried within the iron boundaries of the cemetery.

     He wondered how old the tree really was.

     Henry stepped closer to it. He looked at the old headstones nearby, that portion of Edgewood having had no new occupants for decades.

     “Bet it’s been a long time since you’ve had anything fresh, huh?” he asked.

     Sharon whined, brushing against his legs.

     “Ready?” Henry asked, surprised. In the dark, predawn of the morning he turned away from the tree, stumbling over Sharon’s leash and letting go of it.

     “God damn it!” he swore. He landed hard, cracking his knees and slapping his palms on the concrete. “Sharon!”

     Henry looked up and saw the dog. She stared at him, her leash trailing behind her.

     “What’ve I said before?” he asked her. “Don’t wrap that God damned leash around me.”

     Standing up painfully, Henry brushed his hands off on his khakis.  Droplets of blood smeared the fabric and had splashed against the ridged bark of the ancient tree. He shook his head at Sharon.

     “Christ, dog,” he muttered. He picked up the leash and turned to leave, tripping again.

     His head bounced off of an exposed root and Henry let out a groan. He tried to roll and get his feet under him but found he couldn’t. Bright white stars exploded in his vision as he sat up, head throbbing, spinning in the early fog. The pain in his head caused his stomach to churn, and he hunched over, vomiting his morning toast and coffee between his legs and onto the concrete. Henry closed his eyes as he retched again.

     He to spit the foul taste of bile out of his mouth as opened his eyes. Henry blinked away tears as he focused on what had tripped him the second time.

     A pair of thick roots constricted around each ankle. The bark pressed against his athletic socks and slowly cut off the circulation to his feet. Another root snaked out, wrapping around his left wrist. As the bark touched the exposed flesh images slammed into Henry’s mind.

     He was the tree as a sapling while Indians butchered one another by it, giving the elm its first taste of blood.

     Other scenes flashed by, each one agonized as it arrived, searing his thoughts before vanishing. Henry saw Puritans butchering Indians. Puritans murdering Puritans. Colonists killing redcoats. Redcoats slaying colonists.  Murder after murder, the tree calling the killers near, feeding upon the spilt blood.

     A son stabbed his father to death, burying the man near the tree, and laying the first marker in what would become Edgewood’s forest of headstones.

     All the while the tree grew, aged, and slept longer after each feeding.

     Yet Henry’s blood had awakened the tree.

     And the dark fluid had reminded the tree what it was to be hungry.

     A scream ripped out of Henry’s mouth as the tree dragged his right foot into a thin crack in the sidewalk. The leather and fabric of his sneaker ripped and Henry felt his flesh tear as well, bones crunching. He threw up again, the vomit drowning another scream. Sharon snapped and growled at the tree, scratching at the roots.  The tree ignored her as it pulled Henry’s hand in after his foot.

     Henry, his mind burning and shattering with the pain, struggled against the tree. He flailed with his right hand at the roots, the sidewalk. His thoughts became frenzied, the bones in his hand breaking with each powerful, yet futile blow. As his blood flowed into the earth and spilled onto the thirsty roots, Henry could sense the tree’s deep satisfaction.

     Blackness swarmed across Henry’s vision, and he collapsed against the sidewalk.

     Sharon watched for a moment as more and more of her master disappeared into the earth. With a last whine she fled for home, tail tucked, the purple leash is dragging through blood.

     The tree continued to feed, the fog still heavy as the last of its meal was pulled down. A few feet further down the sidewalk, beneath the concrete and a yellow fire hydrant, the tree wrapped a strong root around the hydrant’s automatic shut off valve and crushed it.

     Water exploded out of the ground, roaring across the asphalt of the road and the concrete of the sidewalk.  The headstones of the cemetery were sprayed, and the last remnants of Henry Platt were washed away.

     In the distance, police cruisers wailed in response to Ellen Platt’s frantic 911 call after the return of her blood splattered dog and the absence of her husband.

     The tree ate greedily, the old hunger awakened.

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November 23, 1891


     Li Mao worked as a waiter for the Boston & Maine Railroad, serving at the company’s leisure from his arrival in Cross, in 1857, until his death in 1891. Little was known about the man, other than that he was from China. He spoke enough English to work his job, and enough to collect his pay and to make regular trips into Boston and down to New York City, courtesy of his employer.

     Li Mao lived in a low basement beneath what would one day be Van Epp’s Bookstore in Cross, and he kept his own company. The only person he was known to speak with on a regular basis was Duncan Blood, and that was because Duncan – somehow – could converse in Cantonese.

     When Li Mao died in 1891, ostensibly while during a stop in Worcester, his landlord was informed via telegraph. The landlord reached out to Duncan in the hope that there might be something within the dead man’s belongings that might identify a relative in China, one to whom they could mail Li Mao’s effects.

     Duncan agreed, and when they entered the dead man’s room, they were surprised to discover a ready-made family – five skeletons seated around a table. Four children and one adult female were dressed in traditional Chinese clothing, but they were not Chinese. Nor were they even from the same bodies. According to the journal discovered by Duncan, Li Mao had spent nearly 25 years harvesting the bones he needed to create the family he had lost in China. Who the hundreds of bones came from, no one knew.

     Li Mao hadn’t been concerned with those he slew, only that the bones would fit into the family he was building.

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Setting the Scene


     The setting in a story is an essential element and can often be a character unto itself. Whether you feel the need to describe in excruciating detail the particulars of a room or are comfortable with stating only something as broad as the room’s generic name, the scene is going to play an important role for your reader.

     Everyone has a comfort level when it comes to setting the scene.

     There was a time in my early years where I felt it necessary to go almost to the thread-count of the sheets on the bed. Then, in a radical shift, I hardly described anything at all. Lines such as, “He walked into the bedroom and sat down.” were fairly common, and not entirely interesting.

     I like to think I’ve found a middle ground at this point, and that I’m adding enough to create a realistic scene.

     It’s easy enough to say, “He walked into the bedroom and sat down.”

     It’s a little more difficult to say, “Tom walked into his bedroom and sat down upon his bed, the old mattress groaning beneath his weight, and the smell of his own stale sweat fouling the air.” Now the reader knows several things about Tom: first, his mattress is old, and that for some reason he sweats. Enough so that it not only lingers, but he can smell it as well. And, as so many of us unfortunately discovered in our early teen years, just because we can’t smell ourselves doesn’t mean no one else can’t.

     With that sentence and that basic understanding about the room, we can fill out a little more about Tom. Does he have a glandular problem? Is he overweight? Is he so poor he can’t afford to wash his bedding? Or is he so ignorant that he doesn’t feel he has to?

     We, as authors, don’t need to delve too deeply into this, but it can be touched upon at any point past the bedroom, and it won’t take the reader by surprise. And, in the same breath, we don’t have to pass any more information along if we don’t want to. The reader has a feel for Tom’s room: his bed is old, and the room smells.

     We have given the reader enough, so they understand what’s in front of them, and they can make of it what they will.

     The scene doesn’t have to be everything, but it certainly must be more than nothing.

     As always, keep writing!


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November 22, 1946


     During the summer of 1939, it was decided by the board of the Cross Branch of Miskatonic University to expand the school’s Antiquities Department by constructing a second building that would be dedicated solely to that field of study. Issues with various permits, ownership rights, and other legalities prevented the work from beginning immediately.

     Groundbreaking on the project didn’t begin until late October 1941, and less than six weeks later, the Japanese launched their attack on Pearl Harbor. With America on a war footing, the addition for the school was put on hold, and it was not resumed until 1946.

     On the morning of November 22, 1946, the construction crew excavating the cellar for the new building, struck a wall beneath the surface.

     The wall was carved from stone not native to New England, and it had been buried twelve feet below ground level. The lead engineer on the project, with the assistance of some of the faculty and staff of the school, determined there was a chamber beyond the wall.

     With hastily gathered archaeological equipment, the ad hoc team gained access to the chamber and was shocked to discover the mummified remains of an Orthodox Christian priest. Later analysis of his clothes and other items in the room showed he had been interned sometime in the late 1800s, and when his name was sent to the head of the Orthodox faith, it was learned that the priest had been a Syrian bishop.

     The Church requested the body be returned to them, but the school declined to do so.

     The Syrian Bishop remains beneath the Antiquities Building, a department’s silent protector.

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Dialogue is a Killer


      Dialogue is a killer.

     Stress the vernacular and local dialect too much, and you can leave a reader struggling to understand what the hell they just said.

     Make it too formal, and the reader will know they’re reading as they think, What? No one talks like that.

     Dialogue is a fine line, and while you can step over it here and there, you simply cannot walk all over it. There has to be a way to put your point across, and to keep your characters intact.

     I’m a New Englander. I know how we sound (hell, I know how I sound, and it’s a train-wreck). Some others out there in the whole wide world might know as well. We have our own curious statements, such as, “Down east,” and “ayuh.” We’re quite fond of sayings such as, “Passing strange,” and “you can’t get there from here,” or, “best to go back the way you come.” I can see Leominster, and know that it’s pronounced, “Lemon-stir.” And while it’s annoying to hear Harvard pronounced as “Hahvahd,” I know what someone means when they say it.

     Not everyone does.

     In fact, when you get down to the southern edge of Connecticut, you’ll hear more of a New York accent than you will a Boston. Out in the middle of the country, people talk slower than is polite (for a New Englander). Southerners and those from the West Coast are so relaxed, that when I first met some guys from those parts of the country, I thought they were all high they were so relaxed.

     The point of this long, and rambling little diatribe is this: we all know what we’re supposed to sound like, but more importantly, we all think we know what the rest of the country is supposed to sound like as well.

     If I say my character is from New Hampshire, and he or she speaks, a reader is going to imagine the nasally, clipped words of a New Englander who can’t seem to slow down enough for their own funeral. New Englanders, on the other hand, are going to imagine someone speaking exactly the way they should.

     If you have a character from Boston, you don’t need to write a line such as, “Pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd.”

     “Park the car in Harvard yard,” will work just fine. Everyone knows what folks from Boston like. Writing the dialogue in dialect or phonetically will break that suspension of disbelief that is so crucial to entertainment, and with the reader’s attention distracted, it will difficult to bring them back in.

     So, fight that urge to make the character believable by writing in dialect. Sure, you can drop a ‘g’ here or there. Adjust an apostrophe if you like. Just don’t mangle the English language. It gets abused enough as it is.

Keep writing!


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November 21, 1900


     Anyone from New England can tell you time runs differently during the winter. Some days are far too long, and some nights stretch on interminably. And while the days can be difficult, the nights are often murderous.

     November 21, 1900, Georgia Phelps survived a night abnormally long.

     Georgia lived alone in a small forester’s hut at the back end of the Coffin Farm. At the age of 30, she was considered an old maid, and she was pleased with the label. Marriage had never seemed particularly pleasing to her since she believed it would prevent her from enjoying her solitude in the woods.

     On the evening of November 21, Georgia noticed an absence of game from the nearby forest. None of the normal birdsong or animal cries could be heard, and the stillness was disquieting.

As she drank her after-dinner coffee, Georgia saw movement in the tree-line. It was a tall, slim manlike shape. She caught a glimpse of dark gray skin and orange eyes and curved swords.

     Georgia was a practical woman, and not one to doubt what she saw. She went to her gun cabinet, retrieved her lever-action rifle and its ammunition, and took up a position at the window in the front room.

     For 14 hours, she kept up a continuous fire, and when Duncan Blood and several members of the Coffin clan arrived at sunrise, they found 172 corpses. All of which were burned over the following three days.

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Why Horror?


     Regardless of what genre you write in – historical fiction, romance, literary fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, horror – you inevitably have someone ask you, ‘Why?’

     I get that a lot. Especially with horror.

    ‘Why horror? The world’s bad enough as it is.’

     And that’s why I write horror, because of the way the world is. When you turn on the news, which has connected us to the farthest reaches of the globe, you learn of the misery of others. This isn’t new, of course, we all know that there is suffering in the world. Television and the internet have merely joined forces to put an extremely human face on the plight of others.

     Horror lets you escape that by showing you something horrific that is identifiable, and controllable.

     Is the story too terrible to read? Put the book down. You know it’s fiction.

     That’s why I write horror. Especially supernatural horror. There is an element of control to the process of dealing with horror as a writer. I take the world as I see it (which is not pleasant) and I deal with it in my own way.

     I have a short story about racism, assault, and vengeance, three subjects which are difficult to handle when experienced in the real world. In my story, these are still difficult, but there is a supernatural element that enables one of the offended parties to exact revenge.

     Writing horror is a catharsis for me. Reading it can be as well. The popularity of horror as a genre waxes and wanes, as does anything, but Stephen King points out how we can measure the level of fear and stress in our society by the horror we produce.

     Look at the monster films of the 50s and 60s. We have radioactive beasts assaulting America and Japan. One of those countries dropped the bomb, and one of them had the bomb dropped on them. Is it any wonder that both the US and Japan would fear the A-Bomb? That they would fear the effects of it?

     So, when someone asks you why you write horror, tell them why. And if you like, tell them you write horror because it’s less frightening than reading the news.

Keep writing!




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A Lesson from Ghostwriting


     Years ago, I was in a bar in Groton, Connecticut, shooting pool with a friend of mine. I told him I finally got an acceptance letter for a story, and he asked me what I would do if they wanted me to edit some of the material. Would I say ‘No,’ and keep true to the art of the piece?

     My answer was, ‘What do you want cut?’

     This was said partially in jest, but three years ago I began working with a small publishing house as a ghostwriter, and that answer is what I say on an almost daily basis.

     When you’re a ghostwriter, you check your ego at the door. Sure, you can bring along your emotional baggage because that’s what helps you as a writer. But your personal hang-ups, what you will and will not write/edit, those you leave behind. If you can’t do that, then you should find another writing job.

     When I began my ghostwriting work, it was with complete freedom. But as the books were published, readers came back with what they liked and didn’t like, and the publisher requested the necessary adjustments. For instance, I can’t put curses or swears in. No vulgarity it all. This was the first challenge for me.

     It wasn’t a challenge in a writing sense, but an ego sense. I know how certain people speak, and how liberally they use the ‘F’ bomb. But that wasn’t what the readers wanted, and the publisher is creating a marketable product for the broadest audience possible.

     So, what do you do when presented with a new rule that requires you to remove vulgarity?

     If you want to keep your job, you remove the vulgarity.

     Removing it wasn’t difficult, and the benefits have been tremendous.

     Since I can no longer rely upon certain words to represent a character’s frustration, I have to think of other ways to convey that sense and emotion. This has allowed me to grow as a writer and to increase my skillset.

     Stay tuned, everyone, I’ll have more on writing soon.

Keep writing!


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