Category Archives: Halloween

#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #11


by Lillian Csernica on May 11, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

The prospect of a thrilling time awaits you.

THE JOKE’S ON YOU

Tom stared up at the purple roller coaster. Against the night sky, it was alive with rows of blinking white lights. The lime green cars held ten riders. As they climbed the hills and roared down into the curving twists, the cars whirled round and round. The riders exiting the latest car grabbed the rails along the walkway as they made their way out. More than one looked pale and sick.

“Nope. Not for love or money.”

“Oh come on.” Natalie slurped up more of her giant pink slushie. “I went on those boring boats.”

“It was a flume ride!”

“Boring. Twenty minutes of waiting for what? Floating along in the dark and then whoosh!” She plucked at her damp blouse. “I’m still wet, and now I’m cold!”

“That hell wagon is guaranteed to make me heave up everything I’ve eaten for the past five years.”

“Buzz kill.” Natalie scowled. She reached up to brush his thick brown curls out of his eyes. “What happened to you, Tom? You used to be the craziest guy in college. Everybody waited for you to show up on Fail Army.” She used the hood of her jacket to rub more water out of her long blonde hair. “Nobody could believe how lucky you were.”

“Luck had nothing to do with it.” Tom grinned. “I respect the Laws of Physics.”

Natalie pouted. “We’re supposed to be having fun.”

Not for the first time, Tom measured Natalie’s stunning face and figure against the fact that he’d stepped in puddles deeper than her personality.

“Most people wouldn’t consider ‘putting our lives in danger’ the usual definition of fun.”

“When did you get so boring?”

Tom wondered that himself. He’d graduated with a B.S. in IT. Hired on with a good software company. Found an apartment near work and settled into a steady routine of work, computer games, tabletop RPGs on the weekends, and the occasional camping trip. A good life, but truth be told, he did miss some of the wild times.

“Tell you what. The park closes in half an hour. You were talking about the Scare Shack. Give me a pass on Barney’s Barf-o-Matic here and I’ll go with you through the haunted house.”

Natalie gave him a brilliant smile and hugged his arm. “You’ll keep me safe, right?”

“Right. I’ll stuff the monsters back into their coffins.”

The Scare Shack looked like a cross between a Gothic cathedral with too many gargoyles and the college dorm of every serial killer in Hollywood. Inside, the walls painted black, flickering strobe lights, ultraviolet lights making monster face graffiti blaze out of the darkness. Tom put Natalie in front of him and kept his hands on her shoulders. As long as she could see them coming, the scares would stay funny and safe. He had no intention of letting anybody sneak up on her.

They followed the green-painted path through the usual set pieces. The graveyard, with its zombies and vampires. The saw mill, with the blood and gore and body parts. Tom blinked. The strobes were giving him a headache. Sudden darkness eclipsed even the day-glow paint on the walls and floor.

“Tom? Tom!”

“I’m right here, Nat.” He tightened his grip on her shoulders. “No worries, honey.”

“What’s happening?”

“Just keep moving forward. This is all part of the show.”

The floor sloped downward. Natalie lost her balance, flailed out, and fell forward, pulling out of Tom’s grip.

“Tom!” Her screamed faded as she rolled away into the smothering dark.

“Nat! Natalie!” Tom lunged forward. His foot came down on a flat surface. The floor was even again. A trapdoor? “Hey! Hey! Turn the lights on right now!”

He turned sideways, reaching out both hands, trying to find the wall. The darkness was so absolute he couldn’t even see the standard red EXIT signs. Time to get out and find somebody official. Several long, thin strands fell from the ceiling, spilling down around his neck. Wet and slimy, they stank of old metal. Copper. Tom seized handfuls and flung them away.

“That’s it! I’m calling the cops!”

He pulled his phone out of his pocket. The slime on his hands made him fumble and drop his phone. He sank down on his knees and patted the ground around him. Tiny scratchings and scrabblings swarmed around him. Furry bodies ran over his hands. Things dropped on to his back and scuttled down his arms.

Tom crawled forward, banging his knees in his haste. His hands came down on smooth, cold bodies wriggling away. Jerking back, he fell face forward. Reflex made him tuck his shoulder under so he rolled onto his back.

“Turn on the lights!” His voice turned shrill. “Get me out of here!”

Above him, two eyes opened, eyes as wide as his arms were long. The pupils blazed an ugly orange.

“Thomas Caldwell Morton.”

The voice rolled out over him like notes from and old pipe organ. The bones inside him vibrated with the sound. Tom clapped his hands over his ears, pulling his knees up to his chest, curling into a tight ball.

The lights came on, blinding him.

“Surprise!”

Tom opened his eyes. He lay on the green pathway. Voices up ahead. Laughter. Flashes of light. Tom raised his head. Natalie stood there, surrounded by a butcher, a zombie, a vampire, a girl with several fake stab wounds. Tom shook his head and got to his feet.

“Oh Tom, wait til you see what the night vision camera got! You were so funny!”

Natalie ran forward, arms out for a hug. Tom dodged her like a bullfighter escaping the horns. He spotted his phone and snatched it up. Natalie stared at him, her smile fading.

“Tom?”

He turned to see the Scare Shack workers still standing there. “Get out. Anybody I catch gets one hell of a beating!”

They all bolted out the EXIT door.

“Tom? Come on, it was just a joke!”

The whine in Natalie’s voice sliced into Tom’s last nerve. She reached for him again. He slapped her hands aside. He looked up to see the orange lights rigged into the framework above him. Planned. Someone had planned it all. He glared into Natalie’s wide eyes.

“Did you do this? Did you?”

“You needed to loosen up! You were turning into a corporate zombie!”

“You bitch.” He dialed 911. When the operator answered, he put the phone on speaker mode. “I need help. There’s a girl here who’s freaking out. We’re in the Scare Shack.”

Natalie backed up, knocking over a pile of severed heads. Tom caught her by the arm and dragged her back up the pathway to the graveyard. He kicked open the lid of the coffin, yanked out the zombie mannequin, and pushed Natalie forward. She tripped on the edge of the coffin and toppled over, falling face first into the coffin.

“Tom! Stop it! What’s wrong with you?”

Tom shut the lid of the coffin and sat on top of it. Natalie screamed, kicking her heels against the lid. A joke. Really. And she’d recorded it.

“Natalie? Where’s the camera?”

“In the office! Let me out! I’ll show you!”

“Have your little friends already put it on YouTube? Have they shown everybody?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know who’s still here!”

Tom stood up. Before Natalie could get the lid open, he yanked down two of the mourning angel grave markers. They were heavy enough to keep the lid shut. He ran to the office. Sure enough, somebody’s ghostbuster night vision camera had been wired into the security system. Tom disconnected it and stuffed the camera into one of the park’s souvenir bags. He hurried back to the graveyard and put the angels back in place.

The sirens pulled up outside. Two paramedics rushed in, carrying their bags. The older one looked around.

“Where is she?”

The lid of the coffin flew open. Natalie sat up, covered in cobwebs and fake spiders. She fought the sticky strands, screaming and crying.

“He did it!” she cried. “He shut me in this coffin! He’s crazy!”

Tom shook his head. “She’s a Walking Dead fan. Wanted to be a zombie. I don’t know what she’s on.”

The lead paramedic stepped toward the coffin, holding out his hand. “Miss, please calm down. We’re here to help you.”

Natalie scrambled out of the coffin. She snatched up a white wooden cross marking a grave and held up the pointy end. “I’m not the crazy one! Tom’s nuts! It was all just a joke!”

Half an hour later, after listening to Natalie rave on about the “joke” she played on Tom, with the help of all the missing staff, the police relieved the paramedics of custody, cuffed Natalie, and put her in the back of the squad car. Tom walked out to the parking lot, carrying the bag with the camera in it.

5150. A seventy-two hour psychiatric hold in the county behavioral health unit. No makeup, no nail polish, no fancy shampoo, and no cell phone. If Natalie wasn’t already nuts, she would be by the time they let her out.

Tom smiled.

END

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99 Cent Sale! The Fright Factory!


by Lillian Csernica on February 1, 2018

Welcome to Women in Horror Month!

To celebrate, I am offering The Fright Factory for just 99 cents.

Learn the fine art of suspense, how to make monsters, and more! The techniques I explain are the very ones that helped me write and sell the stories available here:

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It’s a great way to celebrate

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New Release! Killing It Softly, Vol. 2


by Lillian Csernica on October 30, 2017

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Just in time for Halloween, Killing It Softly 2, another collection of short stories to be read with the lights on and the doors locked!
Part 1 – Another Space, Another Time
The Whims of My Enemy – Amanda J. Spedding
A Moveable Feast – Jenny Blackford
Softly into the Morning – L. D. Colter
Whispers in the Wax – Tonia Brown
The Screaming Key – Lillian Csernica
Framed – Diana Catt
Bloody Rain – Rie Sheridan Rose
The Idlewild Letters – H.R. Boldwood
Kristall Tag – Holly Newstein
The Adventure of My Ignoble Ancestress – Nancy Holder

Part II – Monster Party
The Devil’s in the Details – Stacey Longo
Octavia – Chantal Boudreau
The Skeench – Debra Robinson
Sandcastle Sacrifices – Jennifer Brozek
Unfilial Child – Laurie Tom
Milk and Cookies – M.J. Sydney
Figaro, Figueroa – Karen Heuler
Scarecrow – Vonnie Winslow Crist
A Great and Terrible Hunger – Elaine Cunningham

Part III – Cognitive Deception
Belongings – Abra Staffin-Wiebe
Evil Little Girl – Barb Goffman
Blue – Julie Travis
The Devil Inside – Shannon Connor Winward
Shining Brook and the Ice Moon Spirit – Jean Graham
Damaged Goods – Lindsey Goddard
Project Handbasket – Rebecca J. Allred
Behind the Eight Ball – Lena Ng
A Faithful Companion – Deborah Sheldon
Omega – Airika Sneve

Part IV – The Changed and the Undead
Little Fingers – Christine Morgan
Golden Rule – Donna J. W. Munro
Fifth Sense – Tina Rath
Cycle – Rebecca Fraser
The Hand of God – Gerri Leen
Vile Deeds – Suzie Lockhart
The Holy Spear – Barbara A. Barnett
Skin and Bones – Rebecca Snow
Death Warmed Over – Rachel Caine

Many of the contributors here also appear in the first Killing It Softly anthology, also well worth your attention.

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In Honor of All Those Whom We Have Lost


by Lillian Csernica on October 10, 2017

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It’s that time of year. The O-bon Festival. El Dia de Los Muertos. All Hallows’ Eve. All Souls’ Day.

As the sunlight fades from the summer’s warm butter yellow into the pale light of autumn, we think about the people we’ve lost. All the tragedies and natural disasters that have struck this year have left many of us with fresh emptiness in our lives. For me, this became personal yesterday when the writing community lost someone I’ve known for a long time.

In honor of all the people who are gone now, and all those who must remain behind, I offer this poem.

Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

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How to Keep Halloween Safe and Happy


by Lillian Csernica on October 3, 2017

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Holidays at my house are always a bit out of the ordinary. We don’t do ordinary, or normal, or any of those just-like-everybody-else words.

My boys are too old to trick-or-treat these days, but they do love dressing up in costume, and they will never say no to treats.

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My older son does not eat by mouth. He has a g-tube which feeds a liquid diet directly into his stomach. He loves toys, games, arts and crafts, so non-food treats are fine with him.

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My younger son is allergic to peanuts. They are EVERYWHERE, especially when it comes to candy. There are a lot of safe candy options, as well as healthy alternatives and non-food items.

For the past four years I have been careful to have two bowls for trick-or-treaters. One has a mix of chocolate and non-chocolate candy. The other has a variety of non-food treats such as Halloween-themed bubbles, stickers, baby Slinkies, and glow sticks. I also keep a supply of prizes I give out to individuals and/or families who have created costumes that I think are really special.

Two years ago, I discovered the Teal Pumpkin Project.

Families like mine all over the country (and quite possibly the world) face the dilemma of wanting their children to participate in Halloween and enjoy all the fun the other kids are having. When you put a teal pumpkin on the porch, you send a very bright and welcome signal. You tell families like mine that you get it. You are aware of food allergies and related health problems and you are prepared. Come one, come all! You have goodies to suit everybody’s wants and needs.

This Halloween I look forward to putting my teal pumpkin in a prominent place on my porch so everybody will know when they yell “Trick or Treat!” at my house, they won’t go away empty-handed. On the contrary. We usually have so much that by the end of the night I encourage the older trick or treaters to take a handful.

Please support the Teal Pumpkin Project. Let’s make this a safe, happy Halloween for everyone!

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How Bad Movies Help Us Write Good Stories


by Lillian Csernica on July 29, 2017

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The Blair Witch Project and the first Paranormal Activity movies launched a new sub-genre of horror: found footage. Sometimes the people who find the footage know its original purpose. Sometimes the footage is simply discovered and viewing it can provide answers, deepen the mystery, drive you insane, and/or get you killed.

The problem with the success of these two movies is how often and how badly other filmmakers keep trying to imitate them.

This happens in the world of books as well. Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series began appearing close to the start of the vampire craze. Their popularity and the subsequent HBO series True Blood did a lot to prompt the already growing industry of vampire-based novels. Some of these are quite good. Others are not. (cough cough Twilight cough.)

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Really bad books and movies can serve as practical guides for What Not to Do. This brings me back to those found footage movies. I love a good ghost story. Now and then I go trawling through Netflix and Amazon, hoping to find a movie that doesn’t just shuffle together the same tiresome people, camera equipment, Ouija boards, and insane asylums. I have found a few gems, but it’s appalling how many mediocre wannabes clutter up the genre.

Let’s have a look at how such a movie provides a check list for What Not To Do.

PLOT — Familiar, contrived, predictable, unrealistic, and not all that scary. What is the opposite of all that? Strange, natural, unexpected, realistic, and terrifying. Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak is all that and more.

CHARACTER — Shallow, annoying, not sympathetic, and their motivations are often forced. They do really stupid things that anybody with a shred of survival instinct wouldn’t even consider. We want characters who are complex, endearing, sympathetic, and genuine. Above all, make your characters intelligent with at least some common sense.

SETTING — Not realistic. Never mind the question of whether or not ghosts actually exist. Let’s think about the fact that laws about private property, trespassing, and public health are very real and rigorously enforced. Abandoned medical facilities with a history of death, disease, torture, horrible medical experiments, and abuse of the patients by the staff were often built back when asbestos and other toxins were a regular part of the construction business. Professional paranormal investigators know about contacting property managers, getting the appropriate permits, and avoiding lawsuits.

TONE — They’re going for creepy and atmospheric, but when the filmmakers abide by the trite formula of dead cell phones, flickering lights, poltergeist antics, etc. etc., there’s no suspense. Instead, it all becomes laughable. Remember how Professor Lupin taught Harry Potter and the gang how to get the upper hand with the Boggart, the creature that would take on the appearance of a person’s worst fear? Just find a way to make it funny, and that takes all the fear out of it.

THEME — This depends on the particular variations present in a specific movie. Most of the time, it boils down to “People who refuse to listen to multiple warnings about the Haunted Madhouse deserve whatever happens to them.” That brazen band of party animal college students is so annoying I’ve ended up cheering on the monsters.

PACE — Such movies usually kick off with an info dump about the setting, the main characters, or both. This is the movie version of a Prologue, and it contains every reason why smart people don’t go near the setting even in broad daylight. Too Much Information ruins the movie because now we have a good idea about what horrible fates will befall the characters. Place your bets, because once the Ouija board is out and the candles are lit, the bodies are going to start piling up.

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In the spirit of fairness, I will mention a few of those gems I’ve found:

Grave Encounters

Session 9

Cabin in the Woods

Boo

Find Me

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B is for Bat (Art Nouveau – #AtoZChallenge)


by Lillian Csernica on April 3, 2017

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Of the many popular motifs in Art Nouveau jewelry, I have to say bats are among the strangest. Flowers? Sure. Insects? OK. Abstract geometric designs? No problem. But bats?

Thanks to the erudite Jewelry Nerd, you will find some possible answers here.

There are plenty of examples of this particular critter done in various precious metals and gems. I’ve included only a few. I guess the fashionable ladies of La Belle Epoque must have included some Goths!

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Bat pin of plique-a-jour enamel, pearl, diamond, with ruby eyes, 18k gold, 4″ wing span

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Bracelet by Philippe and Marcel Wolfers.

From 1stdibs.com: “A superb and iconic art nouveau portrayal of a Parisian goddess of the Demi-Monde. She has style roots going back to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. The very revealing décolleté, flowing hair, bat wings and diamond Aurora head dress suggestively alludes to pagan pleasures and entertainments of the night, the practitioners only heading home with the dawn.”

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Art Nouveau Japanese Inlaid Damascene “Bat and Crescent” necklace in gold and silver.

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Art nouveau Czech bat pin with vaseline rhinestones.

Yes, that’s right. Vaseline rhinestones. Prior to the Cold War, jewelers could use uranium in the creation of certain types of art glass. The results resembled the appearance of the petroleum jelly as it was produced at that time.

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The Wonders of Digital Fiction Publishing


by Lillian Csernica on March 17, 2017

 

Michael Willis is a  lovely man who treats writers with respect. I’ve sold three short stories to DFP so far, and I look forward to submitting more work there in the future.

David Tallerman, another DFP writer, has encouraged me to share his excellent blog post on the merits of working with DFP.

10 Reasons You Should Be Submitting to Digital Fiction Publishing

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Why You Want These in Your Treat Bag


by Lillian Csernica on October 28, 2016

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Just 99 cents from now until Halloween!

Horror can be anything from the most elegant ghost story to the total freak-out of a bloodthirsty serial killer. The Fright Factory can show you how to make the most of your story ideas. Choose the best setting. Build a better monster Learn the fine art of creating suspense! It’s all here, including an essential list of the worst horror cliches no editor wants to see.

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Also just 99 cents until Halloween!

Suzie Lockhart and Digital Horror Fiction are thrilled to present 32 chilling tales of terror from some of the best authors in horror. Killing It Softly includes stories from New York Times best selling authors Nancy Holder and Elaine Cunningham, together with more shocking short nightmares from the finest award winning female writers in the genre.
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Trip Report: Con-Volution 2016


by Lillian Csernica on October 6, 2016

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I had a wonderful time! As always, I was sharing a room with my usual traveling companion and parter in crime, Patricia H. MacEwen. There was a lot to see and do, between the panels and BoFs and the evening events and the hands-on workshops. Big kudos to Con Chair Jason and his Mighty Minions! (My apologies for not getting these links put in sooner. Last week included five appointments, two meetings, plus all the usual chaos.)

It’s Shirley Been 100 Years

I’m very happy to have been appointed moderator for this panel. I had to catch up on some background reading, which brought to my attention just how prolific Shirley Jackson really was. As primary breadwinner for the family, she had to keep the work going out and the money coming in.  At the same time she had to shoulder the load expected of a ’50s housewife. All four children were her responsibility, along with every household chore.  What an inspiration!

Kaiju, As Far As The Eye Could See!

This panel brought me the best of both worlds. I got to participate, drawing on my fascination with Japanese culture. Then I had the pleasure of listening to my fellow panelists and learn from their amazing expertise. Wanda Kurtcu made an excellent moderator, keeping us all in line when the synergy of ideas got too rowdy!

Fear of the Other

The diversity of panelists made for a variety of perspectives on this topic. We were happy to welcome Garrett Calcaterra to his very first con! He got thrown in at the deep end, and he acquitted himself very well. Keep an eye out for his YA fantasy series, The Dreamwielder Chronicles. The first two books are available now!

Stranger Things BoF

I managed to catch the last thirty minutes. Lively and intelligent discussion of our favorite characters. Debates about their true motivations and upcoming loyalties or desertions. Much love for the Christmas lights as a communications device! Many thanks to Mark Gelineau, our host and moderator.

DIY Room: Monster Pop-Up Cards

It’s not often I have time at cons to go indulge myself in a programming event just for fun. Trish Henry displayed her amazing skills at paper sculpture by walking us through the basics of making a pop-up card. We started with a heart. From there people made butterflies, a dragon, even a house! Trish provided plenty of colored paper, glitter pens, other decorative supplies, and chocolate eyeballs! Does it get any better than that?

Green Room

Minions #1, #2, and #3 provided simple, hearty fare that was ready and waiting no matter what time I wandered in. Chili over potatoes both baked and quartered, veggie pasta with an excellent sauce, and much to my utter screaming delight, my absolute favorite: homemade biscuits with sausage gravy. Snack baggies held a choice of popcorn, M&Ms, and even wasabi peas!

The Party Floor!

When I first got off the elevators on my way to my hotel room, I all but walked into a sign that proclaimed the hotel’s policy of keeping things quiet between nine p.m. and seven a.m. That made me burst out laughing. I was on Three, where the Quiet Zone started. The Party Floor was on Two, and it was crowded! Walking the big circle brought me to a new sign every three or four doors, heralding another party with another theme. On Friday night I spent most of the evening hanging out in Kevin and Andy’s ’60s themed bash. On Saturday night the ConJose party was the place to be. Gorgeous lighting effects, lots of comfy furniture, and some salted dark chocolate caramels that were divine!

I’m looking forward to Con-Volution 2017, at the San Ramon Marriott!

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