Category Archives: Horror

#atozblogchallenge L is for Location


by Lillian Csernica on April 13, 2019

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One of the key ideas in retail success is “Location, location, location.” Put your business in the right place, where the right customer base will find you, and you stand a much better chance of making a profit.

When writing stories, your setting is a vital element. I see a lot of stories with complex worldbuilding, but the setting is more like stage scenery or a rack of props. Where you locate your story, or which locations appear in your story, can be just as powerful a story element as plot or character.

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Consider some famous settings:

Mars — The Martian

A train — Murder on the Orient Express, Strangers on a Train

A bus — Speed

A deserted islandRobinson Crusoe, Lord of the Flies

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These settings have crucial aspects in common:

  • The physical location is very limiting, requiring quick thinking and immediate adaptation.
  • The main character is trapped in that setting. There is no easy way out.
  • The stakes are life or death.

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When I write historical fiction, location encompasses not just the physical setting but the time period as well:

Fallen Idol starts out in a mall food court, an ordinary, modern, nonthreatening setting. The main character, a photographer, notices a girl with elaborate and dramatic makeup. The rest of her skin is completely covered up by layers of clothing. The photographer follows this girl to a creepy abandoned factory, full of strange foreign folk art, where the rest of the story, rooted in a famous historical conflict, takes place.

Saving Grace is set in a chateau on a pilgrimage route in 14th Century France. The main character fled Russia during the Tatar invasion. She is a vampire. That makes daily living hard enough. She is also a member of the Russian Orthodox Church. At this time most of the Western world was controlled by the Pope of Rome. That puts my heroine in constant danger of arrest as a heretic and schismatic. That meant being burned at the stake.

The Kyoto Steampunk stories take place in Kyoto 1880. Dropping a Victorian physician into an Oriental environment where he can’t speak the language and knows nothing about the social protocol makes every problem I give him twice as difficult.

Make the most of your fictional location. It can make a huge difference!

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, classics, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Horror, publication, research, science fiction, steampunk, travel, Writing

#atozblogchallenge G is for Ghost


by Lillian Csernica on April 8, 2019

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I love a good ghost story. I collect anthologies that include authors from the turn of the 20th Century. E.F. Benson. F. Marion Crawford. J.H. Riddell. Best of all, A.M. Burrage.

People have asked me if I believe in ghosts. I believe that people believe in ghosts. Therein lies the key to much of my writing.

It’s what people believe about the supernatural that fascinates me. The beliefs that give rise to folklore, that cause people to create teaching stories and urban legends and some kind of narrative that explains some bizarre event. This kind of thinking makes it easier to bear the strain of living in an unpredictable universe.

Have I ever seen a ghost? Well, let me tell you….

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I’ve been to the Moss Beach Distillery three times. The third time must indeed be the charm, because that’s when I encountered at least one of the three ghosts said to haunt the building. The Blue Lady walks the cliffs or hangs out in the basement. By an unfortunate coincidence, the restrooms are located down there. A fairly broad stairway leads down from the dining room, passing below ground level, to the basement. I was halfway down those stairs when the air seemed to thicken around me, stopping me cold. I sensed a hostile awareness much like somebody at the bottom of the stairs glaring up at me. All the lights were on. No people were anywhere nearby. Speaking out loud, I announced my intention to go to the ladies’ room, then go back upstairs. I was not there to poke around. The thickness in the air eased up. I visited the ladies’ room, taking care not to look in the mirror. The second of the three ghosts, the piano player, likes to hide in there and spy on women diners. I came back up the stairs faster than I’d gone down, still feeling that hostile stare burning holes in my back.

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One night while Pat and I were in Hollywood on business we went to Graumann’s Chinese Theater. The box office is at street level, then you take an elevator down to the floor with the actual theaters. Pat was already at the ticket window ahead of me while I hurried down the hallway. To the left stood the bank of elevators. I saw a man and a woman get into the elevator going down, so I called, “Hold the car!” Pat and I reached the elevator at the same moment.

There was no one inside. Pat looked at me. I looked at her. I described the man. She nodded and described the woman. There was nowhere at all they could have gone other than into the elevator. That was so disturbing I find myself avoiding elevators ever since.

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Do I believe in ghosts?

I believe in life after death.

I believe that intense emotion leaves a lasting imprint on its surroundings.

I believe that some people will do anything to avoid giving up all the things you can do in and with a human body.

I believe in angels, therefore I also believe in fallen angels or demons, aka evil spirits.

I believe there’s a whole lot out there that we don’t know about, and don’t understand.

And so I write stories, trying to make sense of what I’ve seen and heard and maybe even touched. And I stay out of haunted houses.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, fantasy, Halloween, Horror, Lillian Csernica, travel, Writing

#atozchallenge C is for Collaboration


by Lillian Csernica on April 3, 2019

Collaboration is not for the faint of heart. The creative process is a strange and mysterious thing that does not lend itself to easy explanation. To harness your creative process to another person’s method of producing a story requires patience, communication, and a solid commitment to see it through to completion.

If you want to audition somebody for the role of collaborator, take a long road trip with that person. Being stuck in a car together for hours on end will give you a golden opportunity to discuss the project itself, along with finding out whether or not you can tolerate the other person’s quirks. Writers are quirky people.

I have had the good fortune to collaborate on separate projects with two very talented writers.

KEVIN ANDREW MURPHY

Kevin and I have known each other for a very long time, close to thirty years. We have written three stories together and sold every one.

Special Interests

Death for Death

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The Restless Armadillo

Kevin Andrew Murphy writes for many worlds, most notably George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards series. His story “Find the Lady” just received the Darrell Award for Best Midsouth Novella at MidSouthCon and he has other recent Wild Cards stories in Low Chicago, the expanded reissue of One-Eyed Jacks, and the upcoming (but out in Britain) Knaves Over Queens. He’s also just written “The Golden Cup” for Savage World’s Pantheon super hero game setting.
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PATRICIA H. MACEWEN

Pat and I have known each other since the night I drank the vodka tonic meant for her while hanging out with mutual friends at BayCon. Dragon’s Kiss is Pat’s novel. I was less a collaborator and more of a technical adviser. The hero of the book is based on my son Michael, who is wheelchair-bound with cerebral palsy and seizure disorder. We need more stories of people with special needs who fight the good fight, who continue to strive despite or because of their physical and cognitive limitations.

Pat MacEwen is an anthropologist. She sometimes works on bones from archaeological sites and does independent research on genocide, having worked on war crimes investigations for the International Criminal Tribunal, and done CSI work for a decade. Oddly enough, she was once a marine biologist at the Institute of Marine & Coastal Studies at USC. She has two novels out – Rough Magic, a forensic/urban fantasy, and Dragon’s Kiss, a YA fantasy about a crippled boy who finds he can talk to dragons but people? Not so much. She writes mystery, horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Her work has appeared in a Year’s Best SF anthology. It has also been a finalist for the Sturgeon Award, and made the Tiptree Honors List. Her hobbies include exploring cathedrals, alien-building via nonhuman reproductive biology, and trawling through history books for the juicy bits.

 

Tolstoy and Dostoevsky plan a collaboration - 'War and Punishment'... it'll make us a bundle.

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Can You Spot the Monster?


by Lillian Csernica on March 9, 2019

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France, 1300s. A chateau in the Alps. A Russian noblewoman sheltering there and earning her keep as governess to the daughter of the family. Katarina is the keeper of a terrible secret, one she must keep at all costs or face the loss of Yvette, the daughter Katarina herself will never have. Living under the watchful eye of Yvette’s father Sieur Etienne is difficult enough. Then a German scholar arrives, asking too many questions about matters that should be none of his concern.

Who is the real monster in this story? Who is most deserving of the ultimate punishment? Read it and make up your own mind!

 

I am overjoyed to see my story Saving Grace appear alongside some of the greatest masters of horror and dark fantasy:

Alexandra Elizabeth Honigsberg

F. Marion Crawford

E.F. Benson

Mary E. Braddon

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Darrell Schweitzer

Melanie and Steve Rasnic Tem

If you enjoy weird fiction, fantasy with an edge to it, and stories that will keep you up at night, you will love all the treasures brought together in this collection.

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #24


by Lillian Csernica on May 24, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Demonstrate refinement in everything you do.

THE STANDARD OF LIVING

Deanna watched the fire, adding some sticks to keep the flames at the right height. The grill Johnny had found in some trash heap held four skewers with five small chunks of meat on each skewer. Deanna didn’t know what kind of meat. She told herself it was animal protein, and that was what mattered. It could have been worse. Even with the city burning and the streetlights smashed and the blood smeared on the sidewalks and the doorways. Somewhere Johnny had found some meat. It might have been tofu.

Deanna could make herself put up with a lot of discomforts. She’d braided her long brown hair to keep it tidy. Her jeans and blouse were still fairly clean. She’d have given up her gold chain for a toothbrush and some toothpaste. Eating junk food and drinking sodas or energy drinks or anything else they could find, that she could live with. She drew the line at tofu.

Johnny came jogging back from his latest hunt for supplies. Deanna let out a sigh of relief. It had been quieter today, but still. The sight of his greasy blue overalls, curly black hair and long legs made her feel a little calmer. This morning they’d moved to the sheltered spot on the side of the high school facing away from the road. It was better to keep out of sight, hiding in a place where they could hear the scavenger crews coming. Two nights ago Deanna had seen a boy swept up in the mob rushing down the street. She didn’t want to think about what might have happened to him.

“I found some good stuff in a basement.” Johnny plopped down beside her on the flattened cardboard box they used for ground cover. He rummaged in his backpack. Glass clinked. With a big grin, he held up two bottles of some off-brand beer. “Nothing like a barbecue under the stars!”

Deanna managed a smile. She loved Johnny for his upbeat spirit, for his endless cocky remarks reflecting a confidence she didn’t feel. Four nights ago the world had gone insane. The power grid failed. Computers all failed due to some big horrible virus sent out by some mysterious gang of international hackers. All the news outlets had been shut down. No phones, no TVs, nothing but hysteria and violence and whispered rumors about who was behind it all.

Deanna pulled a clean bandana out of her backpack and set two skewers on it, offering them to John. She pulled out another bandana for herself, then two of the paper napkins.

Johnny pulled the heavy keyring out of his hip pocket and pried the cap off one bottle of beer and handed it to her. “It’s warm, but hey, that’s how they drink it in England, right?”

Deanna nodded. She accepted the beer, watched Johnny open his own, then held up her bottle.

“To better days.”

Johnny grinned. “Better days, baby. You bet.”

They clinked bottles. Johnny drank a long swallow of his beer, then wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Deanna ducked her head to hide the wince she couldn’t stop. A diamond in the rough, she told herself. He worked hard at the auto shop, he’d always been polite, and he made sure Deanna felt safe and comfortable. She’d just have to do what her grandmother taught her and be the one who preserved the manners in the family.

Grandma Elaine set a perfect table, gave the best presents, and made sure Deanna knew all the proper phrases for formal occasions. “Congratulations.” “I’m so sorry for your loss.” “Happy Birthday! Wishing you your best year yet.” On and on, handwritten thank you notes, party invitations, and the list of Christmas cards. Deanna’s mother had abandoned writing by hand in junior high in favor of electronic devices. Mama had laughed at Grandma’s slow, old-fashioned ways.

Tears blurred Deanna’s sight, smearing the flames into so many orange flickers. Nobody was laughing now. Deanna had been out with Johnny when the house caught fire. Mama and Grandma were already asleep. Deanna hoped the smoke killed them before the fire did.

“Hey,” Johnny said. “Hey, honey, why are you cryin’?”

Deanna sat up straight and wiped her cheeks with her napkin. “The smoke, Johnny. That’s all. Just smoke in my eyes.”

Johnny looked up at the sky. “Yeah, the wind’s picking up. Rain would sure help, but we gotta find a place inside first.”

Deanna nodded. She bit into a chunk of the meat, ignoring the peculiar taste. Protein meant strength. Strength meant survival. Survival meant living to see those better days, living in a house again with nice furniture and fresh flowers and guest towels in the downstairs bathroom. Concentrating on all the proper details Grandma would expect to see in Deanna’s new house made it easier to force down the strange meat and the bitter warm beer.

She’d survive. Grandma would consider that a lady’s duty, to preserve civilized behavior.

END

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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #22


by Lillian Csernica on May 22, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach.

Just get them to fly in formation.

 

And now, a little something from the True Story Archives.

Way back when I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher liked the way I gave my presentations. He had a talk with the coach of the speech and debate team. When my sophomore year started, I joined the team. This proved to be one of the smartest and most beneficial decisions of my life.

Public speaking is the number one phobia for three out of four people. Worse than spiders, worse that going to the dentist, people live in fear of getting up in front of an audience for the purpose of giving a speech. I understand this. When I first started putting together expository speeches and practicing in front of my coach and teammates, the absolute terror of doing a bad job and being laughed at for it was crippling. Knowing that everybody else who was in training shared my fear didn’t make it any easier.

If there’s one thing I can do well, it’s talk. Thanks to my coach training me and my mother, who listened to me practice over and over and over again as I memorized the ten minute speeches I gave, I got past the anxiety in my determination to remember how to use cross-focus, the precise gestures, and the right variations in tone and pitch. Giving a speech is a performance. Maybe I wasn’t doing Shakespeare, but that’s only because I didn’t spend much time in the Dramatic Interpretation event. (I did break Varsity there, but after that I concentrated on my stronger events.)

In my first year of competing at speech tournaments, I went down in flames a number of times. The competition was better, more polished, smoother in their delivery. OK. I just had to work harder. What I also had to do was find my best event. That’s when I discovered Impromptu speaking.

At the junior varsity level, we had five minutes to prepare, then five minutes total for our speech. At varsity level, we had only two minutes to prep. Talk about a strain on the nerves! What we had to base our speeches on varied widely. Most often we were given slips of paper with three famous quotations. We chose one and built our speech around it. At some tournaments, we were given fortune cookies, paper bags that held some random object such as a calculator, or even plastic Easter eggs with the Surprise Topic inside. The event required mental agility, flexibility, a vast pool of random knowledge, and a mastery of the different presentation structures one could use.

The first time I competed in Impromptu, I think I had a full blown anxiety attack. There I was, about to receive my slip of paper with the three subjects on it. With sweaty palms and my heart pounding, I almost had an asthma attack. And then I saw the two words that told me I was home free:

Horror movies.

As I’ve mentioned more than once, my grandfather helped build the set for the laboratory in the original Frankenstein movie with Boris Karloff. I’m a big fan of classic horror movies. The judge for this round was an older gentleman. When I started mentioning names such as Elsa Lanchester from Bride of Frankenstein and Lon Chaney from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, apparently I won the judge’s respect as well as his vote. His comments on the voting card I received after the tournament reflected his approval of someone my age (fifteen at the time), knowing those names.

Once I learned to get my butterflies flying in formation and overcame my fear of public speaking, I acquired a skill that has helped me in every aspect of my life.

 

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#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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#blogchallenge: Fortune Cookie #9


by Lillian Csernica on May 9, 2018

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Today’s fortune says:

Kindness only comes in whole.

 

Broken Promises, Broken Lives

Mary Anne yawned. She glanced at the alarm clock beside her bed. Three a.m. No wonder she was sleepy. She plugged her cell phone into the charger and tied back her long brown hair in a ponytail. Sleeping in her blue sweats seemed like an even better idea. The wind had risen, blowing the willow branches against her bedroom window. She knew she should have taken the first floor apartment. Too many bad memories. She couldn’t step out on a balcony without thinking of Esmeralda.

Mary Anne picked up her phone again. It had been a year already. She swiped through her photos until she found the last photo taken of Esmeralda when she was still happy, standing on the rooftop of that youth hostel in Yokohama. Cherry blossom season. Esmeralda loved flowers. The hotel held a party that night on the rooftop. The breeze blew cherry blossom petals along the streets. As night fell, neon came on all over the city. So amazing.

That night Esmeralda and Mary Anne had stayed up late, talking about the future. They’d been to a temple the day before and chose fortune sticks. The numbers on the sticks matched scrolls that described the kind of luck they could expect to have in the areas of health, money, relationships, scholarship, and spiritual matters. At the party they found a fellow guest who spoke English, Japanese, Italian and French. Massimo translated the fortune scrolls. It was all just one more item on the tourist attraction list until Massimo frowned.

“Esmeralda, in every column it says you must finish what you start. Any project, any job, any course of study, you must work hard and finish it as quickly as possible.”

“Why?” Esmeralda asked.

“I don’t know quite what it means. Something along the lines of Carpe Diem, seize the day.” Massimo gave her back the scroll and rubbed his hands together in a nervous gesture. “Many cultures have such sayings.”

Mary Anne nodded. “YOLO, right?” She laughed. “That’s why we’re here!”

She wanted to laugh it off and get back to the party. It wasn’t like she and Esmeralda were Buddhists and actually went to that temple. They were college students on vacation.

After the party, Esmeralda sat up late on the rooftop, watching the endless traffic and the rainbow of neon signs. It was three a.m. Mary Anne had enough plum wine to leave her sleepy and content. Esmeralda’s voice woke her from a doze.

“You understand, don’t you, Annie? I just want to be sure Teresa is OK.”

Teresa was Esmeralda’s little sister, all of fourteen, just starting high school. So pretty, but not all that smart.

“No problem, Esme.”

“You promise? Make sure she studies hard, and stays away from the bad boys.”

“Promise.”

Now Mary Anne put her phone back on the charger. Life was so unfair. A week after they came home from Japan, Esmeralda fell down some stairs. She couldn’t use her left arm properly and had missed her grip on the handrail. Tests and more tests. Six months later Esmeralda was dead. Some horrible neurological condition that happened to only one in one million people.

The willow branches rattled against the window again. Mary Anne frowned. She couldn’t recall that much noise even during some of the winter storms.  She threw back the covers and padded across the carpet to the window. She pulled open the curtains.

Esmeralda stood there, her heavy black braid a mess, her hospital gown hanging off one shoulder, her face twisted like a stroke patient. Beneath her feet, nothing but three floors of empty air.

“You broke your promise!”

“What? No!”

“Teresa is lost. You did not protect her.”

Mary Anne shook her head. Late night. Too much Internet. That blue glow from her phone messing with her brain.

“You promised me, Mary Anne. To make her study. To keep away the bad boys.”

“Teresa is fine! Her quinceanera is next month!”

The horrible thing outside the window shook its head. “No quinceanera for Teresa. No college. No future. You promised!”

“Go away!” Mary Anne grabbed at the curtains, trying to close them. The wind blew harder, rattling the panes.

“Tonight Manuel ruined Teresa. Your fault. All your fault! You promised!”

Mary Anne ran back to bed and dove under the covers. A nightmare. Just a nightmare. She’d done everything she could to help Teresa study hard. Even found her a math tutor. So Teresa went to a few parties. She always went in a group with three or four other girls. School events. Church events. Adults keeping an eye on the kids.

The covers flew back. Esmeralda stood there, tears running down her cheeks.

“Manuel is good for nothing but making babies!” Esmeralda let out a tormented wail. “You kept only half of your promise!”

Mary Anne rolled out the other side of the bed. She hit the floor on hands and knees and scrambled toward the door. Up on her feet, she ran for the front door and flung it open, racing down the balcony to the stairway.

Esmeralda appeared, hanging in space above the stairwell, hair streaming, mouth open wide in an endless scream.

Mary Anne jerked away, missing her grip on the railing. She tumbled down the concrete stairs. The last thing she felt was Esmeralda’s tears raining down on her face.

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#atozchallenge: U is for Unseen


by Lillian Csernica on April 24, 2018

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Here’s the question: Why can some of the characters in my Kyoto Steampunk series see the gods and monsters of Japan, while other characters can’t see a thing?

Nurse Danforth When she sets out to make a deal with the Devil that will save Madelaine’s life (In the Midnight Hour, Twelve Hours Later), she opens her own mind to the supernatural powers present in Japan. Whether or not that was a one-time experience remains to be seen.

Dr. Harrington Being appointed personal physician to the Abbot of Kyomizudera is a great honor. The position includes a few duties Dr. Harrington is not aware of at the start. He has become one of the guardians of the Abbot, and as such is now on the radar of all things supernatural in Japan.

Madelaine Children are often more capable of perceiving the supernatural. Madelaine has the added advantage of intense curiosity.

Constance A practical, down-to-earth woman, Constance has all the psychic sensitivity of a brick. She does see the terrible yokai that comes after Dr. Harrington in The Wheel of Misfortune (Some Time Later). Some monsters are so formidable they make their presence known regardless of whether or not humans have psychic gifts.

Alexander Thompson The Undersecretary for Technology Exchange is a dedicated civil servant with very little imagination. This is a mercy, sparing him from sights that would surely bring on what the Victorians referred to as “brain fever.”

Fujita-san When Amatsu Mikaboshi confronts Dr. Harrington, Fujita-san can’t see him. I suspect Fujita-san may have more talents than I’ve discovered so far. His close working relationship with the monks of Kiyomizudera makes me wonder if Fujita-san knows more than he’s telling.

The Abbot and monks of Kiyomizudera One would expect ascetics pursuing a spiritual discipline to be familiar with the supernatural realm and the beings who inhabit it. This proves true in A Demon in the Noonday Sun (Twelve Hours Later) when Dr. Harrington’s call for help is answered.

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#atozchallenge: R is for Rokurokubi


by Lillian Csernica on April 20, 2018

Rokurokubi. How’s that for a mouthful? It is a type of yokai that manifests only through women. This is unfortunate as well as being unfair. In many of the stories the men have committed whatever evil deed brings on the curse that transforms the unlucky woman into the creature whose neck extends to impossible lengths, allowing the head to cause all kinds of trouble.

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The rokurokubi is born of jealousy that poisons the spirit. This goes a long way toward explaining why rokurokubi are often found in brothels.

From Wikipedia:

In the late Edo period yomihon (illustrated novel), Rekkoku Kaidan Kikigaki Zōshi (列国怪談聞書帖) by Jippensha Ikku the author suggests the elongated necks of rokurokubi originate in the spiritual principle, karma. In Ikku’s work, Kaishin, a monk from Enshū and a woman called Oyotsu elope together. However, when Oyatsu collapsed from an illness, they ran out of money, so he killed her. When Kaishin eventually returned to secular life, he slept with a girl he met at an inn. When they sleep together, the girl’s neck stretched and her face becomes that of Oyotsu, who then told him about her resentment. Kaishin felt regretful his actions and proceeded to tell Oyatsu’s father everything. The girl’s father then told Kaishin that he has also killed a woman before. He stole her money and with it, he opened his inn. He had a daughter was born soon after who, due to karma, became a rokurokubi. Kaishin then reentered the priesthood. He built a grave for Oyotsu, said to be the Rokurokubi no Tsuka (Rokurokubi Mound), which told the story to future generations.[17]

rokurokubi

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How could such a yokai enter the life of Dr. Harrington and his family? There are a lot of females in and around the household. Constance, Madelaine, Nurse Danforth, Julie Rose, and the housekeeper, Mrs. Rogers. There might be another woman or young lady among the expatriate community who finds herself caught in the eternal struggle of duty vs. emotion. Time will tell how the rokurokubi will find its way to Dr. Harrington’s door!

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