There is a disturbing new trend on TikTok, where users are encouraging readers to buy books from Amazon, read them, then return them for a full refund. The point behind this seems to be to impact Amazon but very little impacts Amazon. They are after all worth billions. This trend does, however, have a major impact on indie authors. When you buy a book from Amazon, depending on the price, Amazon will take 30-65% for themselves and charge a delivery fee for the book. When it is returned, the money is taken back off the author, but the delivery fee remains. This means indie authors are being charged for their books to be downloaded and lose out on royalties. This needs to stop!
As an indie author, I currently don't make enough to pay all my bills, though I am working toward that particular goal, but I know many authors who rely on their income to feed their families and pay the rent. It may not seem like much to these readers, a few dollars, but it can make all the difference to the author.
Returning an item after you have used it or consumed the content is STEALING. Amazon will always come out on top, that is an unfortunate fact. Most indie authors are not happy with their policies in general, but they are the top provider of ebooks and most indie authors make the bulk of their income through them. It is in fact an issue with Amazon's return policy that is causing this problem in the first place. When it comes to ebooks, Amazon's policy is that they can be returned for a full refund within 14 days. This gives readers plenty of time to read an entire book and simply get their money back. I have seen many authors threatening to quit writing for good over this because if they cannot guarantee an income, what is the point in continuing? For readers, this means that you will be missing out on more books or the conclusion of a series.
If you don't want to pay for the books you want to read, there are alternatives. Visit your local library. Check out the books that are being offered for free in deals or as permafrees on book sites. Or if you want to save some money, purchase Kindle Unlimited. It is $9.99/£7.99 per month and you can borrow and return books to your heart's content while the author still gets paid.
Please help stop this trend. And to all the readers out there who would never dream of doing this, who are helping to support our career - thank you!
If you would like to help us, please consider signing the petition to change Amazon's policies.
I’m excited to be here today to share my top ten ways to market your book for free! After having helped hundreds of authors learn how to make six figures a year writing fiction, marketing is the topic I get asked about most! And marketing is also THE number one most important ingredient for success!
Of course, marketing also isn’t what most people think it is…
So when I get asked this question, usually what authors really mean is “how can promote my book?” Or “how can I advertise my book?”
The majority of authors I meet aren’t ready for either of these steps. They need to learn true marketing, not what they think marketing is. So let’s begin there!
NUMBER ONE WAY TO MARKET
Your number one marketing tool is Product Development. If you don’t know your audience and aren’t writing something they want to read, then all the marketing and advertising in the world won’t get you meaningful or long term profits. So before you dive into book promotion, make sure your book is written and packaged to be appealing to the people you plan on promoting it to. I know that’s easier said than done; after all, that’s why there’s over 400 training in the Publishing Mastermind course. It’s a lot to cover. But one an author puts all these pieces into motion, their profits can grow beyond their wildest dreams! (In fact, we have 2 clients right now already on their way to seven figures in 2022!)
NINE MORE FREE WAYS TO MARKET YOUR NOVEL
TWO: Social Media. That’s obvious, right? But it probably feels a lot like shouting into a void. Author join group with other authors and are all promoting their books to readers…who aren’t in those groups. But if you do know what to do, it can work like a dream - I hit my first $1000 a month on my books using Twitter ALONE! Social Media Marketing is a skill so valuable there there are people who charge $500+ PER PLATFORM *per month* to run social media for their clients…and that doesn’t even include advertising, which is usually a separate (and even more expensive) fee! So if you want to get into Social Media Marketing, you want to learn the ins and outs of each platform. Some tips to get you started: Learn how hashtags work on different platforms. Learn the demographics of each platform and see which aligns with your brand the most. Learn how to use the insights and performance metrics most social media platforms provide for free. And make sure you’re going where your audience is and connecting with them there. For more insights on social media marketing, you can check out Advanced Social Media Marketing for Authors.
THREE: Networking. Networking is more powerful than most people realize, but think of it this way: If you worked really hard to find 10 devoted reading fans and another author did the same, then if you cross promote, you double your reach. If you have 10 author friends like this, you could reach ten times as many readers. Networking is great for cross promotions in this way. Look for ways to swap for book features in groups or newsletters; other options include BookBub Swaps and ARC swaps.
Not only is this effective, but many authors have mentioned the sales with this method have a better % ROI than Facebook Ads. (So why do authors run, Facebook Ads you ask? That’s a topic for another day, but the short of it is: Facebook Ads are scalable and have lower diminishing returns than newsletter advertising.)
FOUR: Free Book Promotion Sites! While you might not be able to rake in hundreds or thousands of sales this way, you might be able to pick up a few readers here and there by promotions your book on websites that don’t charge you for a feature.
Here are some sites you can use to promote your book for free:
There are other out there, too, if you have the patience to look for them! Another site where you can earn free book promotions is BookRebel.com/partners - You can sign up and get an affiliate link, and when readers sign up to receive emails, you get credits that can be turned in for book promotions!
FIVE: Exposure through free publishing platforms where you can post samples of your writing. For example, you could use Bublish for a free sample of your latest release or post a sample chapter on Wattpad with a link at the end to check out your book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple iBooks, or wherever your book is available for purchase.
SIX: Free Days are still a big thing! You can set your book to free for a few days to pick up some new readers who are more likely to give a book by a new-to-them author a try if it won’t cost them anything. This is ideal if you are either trying to build your brand by creating new reading fans, or if it’s the first book in a series with more books in the series available for purchase. This way, you make money on the sell through.
SEVEN: A professional looking landing page! Of course, yes, money can go into a landing page in terms of having a great book cove, but there’s other things you can do for free - such as using this tool to format your blurb in a way that looks professional to readers browsing on Amazon.
EIGHT: Get support from friends and family. It costs you NOTHING to ask friends and family to pick up a copy of your new release, and while they might not all do it, all it really takes is a few sales to gain some momentum. This is because sales impact your ranking on a vender site, and the most sales you have, the more visible your book becomes. If you can concentrate your sales in a short period, you can get enough of a ranking boost to gain exposure on your novel, which is how you start selling to people you *don’t* know. So don’t be afraid to do this for some initial momentum, and try to get your friends and a family to all purchase on the same day. That said, keep in mind that unsustained sales will usually cause the book to drop again. That’s why we teach sustained sales methods in the Publishing Mastermind (but those methods aren’t free to executer, and this post is all about what you can for for free)! So, that in mind, let’s move on to the next option!
NINE: Summarize your book into a memorable 1-2 sentences! There’s nothing worse than mentioning you’re an author and someone asking what your book is about and you don’t know what to say…or end up waffling around, telling too much or telling the wrong things. You want to tell them and have the go “Wow, that actually sounds good. What’s the book called?” You may think, “That’s never going to happen,” but I almost never leave my house and it still happens to me all the time! Plus, this content will come in handle with some of the other recommendations - such as having a great blurb and posting on social media!
TEN: And last, but not least, add it to your email signature! You can set up an email signature in most email service providers to attach automatically at the end of every email you send. You never know when you might reach someone who also likes your genre. Many times I’ve even ended up on the phone with someone in customer service for a business who has read my books before. And because email signatures are understood to often be automated, no one looks at it like you “mentioning your book every 5 seconds.” It just happens to be part of your signature :) Likewise, if you’re active on any forums, you can add it to you signature there, too!
I hope these ideas inspire you to take action on your author career! If for any reason these methods aren’t getting you results, go back to the number one most important marketing technique: product development. 99% of promotional issue I see authors face stem from not mastering that step first.
ABOUT REBECCA HAMILTON
Rebecca Hamilton is a New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling author, and the only Author Career Coach to help hundreds of authors hit national bestseller lists and learn how to make six figures a year writing fiction.
Dead Jimmy and the Ghost
by Iseult Murphy
We found the woman exactly where the police told us she would be, standing at the side of the road looking forlorn, with her blonde hair and heavy winter clothes soaking wet, even though it was summer and it hadn’t rained in weeks.
“Ghost,” Uncle Jimmy said, pointing a slime encrusted finger in her direction. He’d found some roadkill in the ditch and was chomping into it with relish.
The girl shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. Now that I looked at her more closely, the liquid that dripped from her rat tails of hair didn’t land on the baked pavement, and her skin was bleached pale under the midday sun.
“It’s okay, we’re here to help,” I said.
Judging by her expression, I don’t think she believed me. Maybe it was the sight of Uncle Jimmy chowing down on a decomposing badger, or perhaps it was being an incorporeal entity that put her off.
She held out her hand and pointed a trembling finger at Uncle Jimmy.
“What is that?” she said.
I was surprised. For some reason, I thought ghosts couldn’t talk. This was going to make solving the case so much easier.
“That’s my Uncle Jimmy, he’s a private detective. He’s a bit hungry. He skipped lunch,” I said.
“The zombie detective, huh?” She looked Uncle Jimmy up and down. He lowered the badger leg and smiled, revealing strips of flesh dangling from his discolored teeth. The girl retched. I was intrigued to see if ghosts could vomit.
“I must be a big shot or something to get Dead Jimmy come looking for me,” the girl said. She seemed pleased with the idea, despite my uncle’s repulsiveness.
“I don’t know about that, but the police are fed up of getting phone calls from distressed drivers that have seen you wandering around on the side of the road. They sent us to help you cross over.”
The girl frowned. Uncle Jimmy finished his snack and licked the gunk – and some skin – from his fingers.
“Body,” he said.
“He wants to know where your body is,” I translated.
The girl sighed. “I can’t believe I’m dead,” she said. “I don’t feel dead.”
I shrugged and looked at Uncle Jimmy, who was better able to advise on the whole spectrum of post death emotions. He looked surprised to see us both watching him expectantly, and shuffled away from the road, crossing into the adjoining field.
“So, what’s your name?” I said, following Uncle Jimmy.
“Sandra. Sandra Tiffany.”
She floated soggily beside me.
“I’m Cory. How did you end up haunting this stretch of road?”
She squinted and shook her head, showering the air with droplets of water that vanished before they hit anything. “I’m not sure. I can’t remember. It’s all blurry.”
Ahead of us, Uncle Jimmy paused to sniff the air and then changed direction. I hoped he was using extrasensory perception, because no human nose could detect anything but the stench of ripe zombie in a six-foot radius around him.
“Maybe it’ll come back to you when we find your body.”
“I don’t want to be dead. I’m only twenty-two,” Sandra said. “Do you really have to get rid of me?”
“You don’t belong here anymore, you’ll be better going to wherever you’re supposed to be.”
“You let him stay around,” she said, pointing at Uncle Jimmy.
I looked at my uncle. He stopped every few steps to pick beetles out of the grass and eat them nosily. The tape I had used to reattach his left ear had come loose, and his ear dangled down the side of his face.
“Do you really want…?”
She shook her head before I could finish.
Uncle Jimmy led us through a line of trees into a second field, this one marshy, with a wide oval lake at its center. In the middle of the lake rose a small island, ringed with slabs of broken stone.
“That explains why you’re wet,” I said, nodding at the lake.
Uncle Jimmy stopped by the lake edge, pin wheeling his arms in the air in a bizarre breaststroke.
“Magic here,” he said.
Sandra looked across the still water towards the barren island. I saw a flicker of recognition in her eyes.
“Is this where you died?” I asked.
“It was night. Really dark, but there were lights out on the water.”
I stopped from putting my hand on her shoulder at the last minute. How did you comfort a ghost exactly?
“I was alone, but I was waiting for someone. I saw the lights and walked towards them. I didn’t notice the lake until I stepped into it. I heard someone behind me. I turned.”
She screamed, clutched the back of her head and ducked as if to avoid a blow. I looked behind me, but she was seeing events from another day. I crouched beside her.
“Did you see who did it?”
Her eyes were dark pools. The water streaming down her face looked like tears.
“Help me,” she said.
She grabbed my wrist. She felt very solid for a ghost.
A tingling sensation travelled up my arm, and the heat of her palm became a fire. I heard Uncle Jimmy cry out a warning and then a force, like the pressure wave from an explosion, hit me, pushing me apart from Sandra and throwing me away from the lake. I landed on my back ten feet from the water’s edge, winded.
“Not good, Cory,” Uncle Jimmy moaned.
That was an understatement.
A creature floated over the lake, shimmering in the bright sunlight. Its body was translucent, its outline vague. It looked how a real ghost should.
“Banshee,” Uncle Jimmy said.
The banshee turned and pointed its long fingers at him.
He clasped his hands to the side of his head. At first I thought he had lost his ear again, but then I realized it was a warning. I heard a buzzing sound rising from the open mouth of the banshee. I could feel it vibrating through my body.
I saw Sandra’s drowned head peeking out of the rushes on the other side of the banshee.
“Cover your ears, Sandra,” I shouted. “Back to the road. Run.”
Pressing my fingers into my ears, I turned and ran through the fields. I felt pressure at my back. I hoped Uncle Jimmy was behind me, but I was afraid to look. Sandra appeared beside me, gliding through the grass, her hands clamped to the sides of her head.
When I reached the road, I stopped and looked around. We had lost the banshee, but I couldn’t see Uncle Jimmy. Then he emerged from the grass, stuffing beetles into his mouth. He held both his ears in his hand. He waved at me, smiling proudly, his mouth black with beetle bits.
“What was that thing?” Sandra said, wringing out her sopping hair and brushing streams from her clothing.
“Banshee,” I said. “Guardian of the fairy folk. Her cry sends you into death. That hill in the center of the lake must be a gateway – a fairy fort.”
I was getting good at this. Reading Uncle Jimmy’s books was paying off.
“Changeling,” Uncle Jimmy said, pointing at Sandra as he stomped past, climbing back onto the road. “Not dead. Fae.”
“Well, it seems like we have good news for you, Sandra,” I said, following Uncle Jimmy to the motorcycle. “You’re not dead, you’re a disembodied soul. You’re the victim of a changeling. One of the fairy folk has stolen your body.”
I helped Uncle Jimmy into the side car and climbed onto the motorcycle. While I pondered whether Sandra would be better sitting with Uncle Jimmy or with me, she solved the puzzle, and floated onto the seat behind me.
“That’s good news, right, you can get my body back?”
I started the bike. “We can’t, but we know someone who can.”
“A changeling is a member of the fairy folk, who wants to exchange their life with a human’s,” I said.
Sandra looked happier now we were indoors. She still was bedraggled and dripping, but she looked more like she’d been caught out in the rain than been murdered.
I’d left Uncle Jimmy with some doves in his bedroom to send a message to his fae contacts. Why they still required pigeon post was beyond me. Couldn’t they use a cell phone like everybody else? I hoped Uncle Jimmy could send out his message without biting the head off the dove this time.
“Usually it’s a straight swap, with the human being transferred into the fae body and assuming their life in fairy land. I think that banshee showed up and closed the gate before the transfer could be completed – that’s why you’re still here, in spirit form.”
“So, what are you going to do about it?” Sandra placed her hands on her hips and fixed me with a steely glare. “I don’t want to stay like this forever.”
I sat down at the computer and typed Sandra’s name into a search engine. I started scrolling through the list of results, looking for the most recent entry.
“While we wait for Uncle Jimmy’s fae friends to show up, I thought I’d do some digging into what this changeling’s been up to since it’s taken residence in your body,” I said.
Sandra shivered. “Why do we have to get those folks involved? Can’t we just kidnap my body and force that thing out?”
I could understand her reluctance to deal with the fae. I hadn’t been body-napped, but the few encounters I’d had with the fairy folk were enough to make me not want to deal with them again either.
“I’m afraid we need them to get your body back, and to take the changeling away for due process in whatever passes for a legal system on their side of the gate,” I said.
Sandra peered over my shoulder at the monitor.
“A dog walker,” she said. “That thief is using my body to walk dogs whose owners are too lazy to do it themselves. I was in college. I was going to be a doctor.”
The ad was only a couple of months old. It had a picture showing a young woman kneeling beside an Airedale terrier. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and her skin was lightly tanned, but it was definitely Sandra Tiffany.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to take Spot for a walk today,” I said.
Sandra looked bemused, but she caught on when I picked up the phone and made an appointment for my dog to be walked that afternoon. Sandra gave me a thumbs up, while her doppelganger on the other end of the line cheerfully confirmed my address, and said she was looking forward to meeting my furbaby.
“We’ll have you back in your body in no time,” I said, after I’d put down the phone.
“All done,” Uncle Jimmy said. He shuffled into the room with a pleased expression on his decaying face. I didn’t see any blood around his mouth, so I had some hope that the messenger dove had made it out of the window alive.
His smile faded when he saw Sandra. He wrinkled his nose, causing it to wobble on his face.
“Wait now, Cory,” he said.
I hadn’t reattached his ears, so he was still shouting. I made the okay sign and went to get the staple gun and duct tape, while Uncle Jimmy stumbled into the kitchen to raid the fridge.
Changeling Sandra was punctual.
She knocked on my door at precisely the appointed time.
I didn’t know how to deal with a changeling. To be on the safe side, I’d collected a few items – rope, Uncle Jimmy’s spare chains and the tape that I’d used to reattach his ears. I’d Uncle Jimmy’s gun in my pocket. It’d been specially adapted for his line of work, and it couldn’t harm normal humans anymore. I didn’t know where changelings came down on the human side of things, but they weren’t normal.
I’d hidden the ropes out of sight so they wouldn’t be the first thing changeling Sandra saw when she walked in, and I told ghost Sandra to keep hidden, so she wouldn’t tip off our guest as soon as I opened the door.
Changeling Sandra stood on the porch with a broad, professional smile on her face. I found it hard to recognize her now that I saw her in the flesh. She bore little resemblance to the other Sandra Tiffany. She was dressed in a t-shirt and sweats, with a purple hoodie tied around her waist. She smelled of flowers and looked much younger than her twenty-two years. There was a faraway glint in her eye, as if she didn’t quite belong here – and I mean in our world, because she certainly didn’t belong here, in Uncle Jimmy’s house. It was the only hint that something was not quite right about this Sandra Tiffany.
She carried a leash in one hand and a sheaf of papers in the other. She held them out to me as she stepped into the house.
“Where’s the little guy?” she said, looking around brightly and only wrinkling her nose slightly at the lingering smell of eau de zombie.
I keep a clean house, but there are some odors you just can’t get rid of.
I closed the door behind her, engaging the dead bolts. I smiled and pointed to the living room, letting her lead the way.
“Who, Cory?” Uncle Jimmy said. He pottered out of the kitchen with a string of cow intestines clutched in his hands.
Changeling Sandra squealed and stopped dead. I almost bumped into her.
Uncle Jimmy let the intestines go, and they dropped to the floor with a wet smack. He opened his mouth wide, and I heard something tear as his lower jaw distended like a snake. He roared incoherently as he rushed towards changeling Sandra, his hands stretched out before him in the standard zombie grab and eat position.
Changeling Sandra screamed. I couldn’t blame her. No one wants to be zombie food.
I shoved changeling Sandra to one side and intercepted my crazed uncle. He fell against me, but his hands were pushing, not grabbing. He glared at me and tried to say something, but his dislocated jaw made him difficult to understand.
I realized he was shouting no.
I turned to changeling Sandra. Her back was pressed against the wall, the dog leash at her feet and her hands held in front of her chest, warding off an enemy. She was shaking her head and mumbling “Not again.”
Before I could ponder whether frequent zombie attacks were the reason she had fled fairyland, I noticed she wasn’t looking at Uncle Jimmy anymore.
She was staring at ghost Sandra.
Except ghost Sandra didn’t look that much like Sandra anymore. Her ears had grown long and pointy, and her eyes were now gold instead of blue. Her pale skin had a faint green tinge – not the hue of decay I was familiar with, but a bright, vibrant green like certain lizards.
“Twenty years working hard to get into medical school, and you throw it away to become a dog walker,” ghost Sandra said. She held out her hands and her nails had grown into curved talons. She had stopped dripping, and her clothes flickered as if the effort to maintain the illusion was becoming difficult.
Changeling Sandra – other Sandra – dog walker Sandra, covered her eyes and started a high-pitched keen.
“I can’t go back there. The cleaning, the food, the entertainment. No, you can’t make me go back. I’d rather die.”
Ghost Sandra – who was obviously not Sandra at all – laughed. “Think how I must feel. You’ve only had twenty years of it, I’ve had hundreds. I’m not going to give up this life I’ve worked so hard for. If you would rather die, so be it.”
The creature lunged at the frightened woman. I pulled the gun out of my pocket. Even though it had been repurposed to work against paranormal creatures, I was unsure of what it would do to a spirit.
The changeling snarled at me. Her teeth were small and pointed, like a tiny shark was living in her mouth. She grabbed my wrist and twisted, and the gun clattered to the floor. Like before, her grip singed my flesh with a heat that started to burn. I could feel her fingers sinking into me, and my spirit fighting to keep her out.
“I’m staying, one way or another,” the changeling said.
“Cory,” Uncle Jimmy gurgled, or the closest approximation he could with his new jaw arrangement. He grabbed the changeling, wrapped his arms around her and pulled back.
The changeling screamed, but her grip loosened on my wrist as Uncle Jimmy dragged her away. Once I was free, Uncle Jimmy started squirming and struggling. His skin, usually so grey, turned lobster red. The changeling was sinking into him. Without a soul to protect him, she had nothing to object to her taking over his body.
I tried to grab the changeling, but Uncle Jimmy twisted away from me. He fell to his knees, his arms wrapped around his body, holding himself as the last of the changeling was absorbed.
“Chains, Cory,” he managed to croak. “Get chains.”
His spare chains lay in the corner, near the doorway. I gathered them up and looped them around my uncle, pulling them tight and padlocking them. I got the rope as well, and tied his hands and feet, then wrapped tape over the knots to be on the safe side.
I retrieved the gun and stood panting in front of my uncle. He rotated his head to the side, clicking his jaw back into place. He looked up at me, and his eyes flashed gold before settling back to familiar brown. Clear, moist, soothing brown, like the eyes of the living uncle I hadn’t seen in a long time.
A warm blush diffused his cheeks. His red lips formed a ruthless smile.
“You’ll never shoot me, your beloved uncle,” he said.
The voice was his, rich and clear, but it certainly wasn’t my uncle speaking.
I released the safety. “Watch me.”
A gust of wind flung the front door open with a loud crash, and I regretted putting the dead bolts on. Now I’d need to rehang the door and buy new locks.
Sandra – real Sandra, I guess, and now the only Sandra – started screaming again. A man strode into the room on the tail end of the breeze, the faint chiming of bells and the scent of exotic meadows surrounding him. He was tall, with that freaky waif like androgynous-ness so many of the fae folk have. His skin was white marble with a tracery of silver veins, his raven hair short and spikey, and his violet eyes inhuman. He wore one of those long duster coats that swirled around his legs dramatically. He was accompanied by half a dozen lesser fae in various human disguises.
He stopped in the middle of the room and sniffed contemptuously.
“Ah, Arabella, we’ve got you now. You won’t escape this time,” he said, gazing down his nose at Uncle Jimmy.
Uncle Jimmy, or Arabella, laughed. It was a good natured, rounded laugh, the kind of laugh you needed to be drawing air into your lungs to produce.
“You can’t touch me, Danvers. I haven’t broken any code, this body had no soul to displace.”
Danvers looked disappointed. “You never answered for your crimes for changing with that human child. You need to be back in your own body. We’ve been keeping it warm for you.”
He waved his hand and two of the other fae grabbed Uncle Jimmy, Arabella – I’ll never get used to calling him that – and lifted him to his feet. My chains held up well. He’d have struggled to stand without the support of the fae.
“Take me back to the court, if you must, but they’ll have no objection to my keeping this body. Have you received your punishment, Danvers, for botching the change back and failing to capture my spirit?” Arabella said.
“It was clever of you to keep on this side of the gate in your spirit form. You’re stronger than I gave you credit for,” Danvers said. He shrugged, and I caught a hint of grudging admiration coming from the fae for the thing inside my uncle. I began to get worried that I wouldn’t see Uncle Jimmy again.
“But you still have a body, and that’s where you belong, for the time being. You’ll not get to keep this form. Take her away.”
The fae led Uncle Jimmy out of the room. Danvers turned his attention to Sandra, who was jabbering in the corner.
“You shouldn’t have brought her here,” he said, his eyes flashing at me. “It has complicated things enormously.”
He crossed the room and pressed his fingers to Sandra’s eyes, drawing down her lids. “Sleep,” he said.
She stopped shivering and fell silent. A smile spread across her face as her breathing calmed to a slow, regular rhythm.
Danvers gestured to another couple of his companions.
“Take her home,” he said. “See to it that she remembers nothing – again.”
Finally, he turned to me, drawing himself up to his full height and glaring down at me. “The fae are indebted to you and your uncle for capturing the errant boggart, Arabella. Because of this, I’ll ensure your uncle is returned safely.”
With that, he swept out of the room, clicking his fingers for his remaining companions to follow.
Uncle Jimmy returned a week later. There was a knock on the newly hung door, and when I opened it, Uncle Jimmy stood on the porch with the lingering smell of spring blossoms on his clothes.
“Welcome home,” I said. “It’s good to have you back. You’re looking well.”
He was. He looked the best I’d seen him since he’d been recently dead. There was still some color in his flesh, everything was where it should be for a change, and nothing was held on with staples or tape.
He trotted into the kitchen. I went to the fridge and collected a platter of his favorite things to celebrate his return – some cow brains, a pig’s liver, and a couple of lamb’s kidneys.
I held the plate out to him, but Uncle Jimmy pulled a face and turned away.
“Not hungry, Cory,” he said and shuffled out of the room.
Iseult is drawn to horror, fantasy and science fiction, as she feels that the most difficult aspects of life can be best explored through the lens of speculative fiction. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association, her short stories have appeared in multiple venues, and she has published two short story collections, a fantasy novella, and two horror novels in the 7th Hell series. She currently resides on the east coast of Ireland. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys reading, art and spending time with her animals.
I write extreme horror because it makes me feel good. It's cheaper than therapy and I can make my readers feel something. Growing up John Saul inspired me then once I joined social media all the extreme horror authors inspired me.
Maiden in a box
A beautiful maiden was singing by the lake
An ogre giant thought her free to take
He took her to his castle way up on a hill
He shrunk her small with a magic pill
Into a plexi-glass cube she goes gently
A beautiful trinket for all to see
Captured and caged she slowly dies
They all watch ignoring her cries
She beats the walls with her tiny fists
Blood stains the cube in miniature mists
The sound proof cube muffling her screams
Her sanity tearing open at the seams
Her swell never to be open again
Her mouth frozen in agony from within
No one thinks to set her free
She is just something pretty to see
Desperate and insane she starts to chew through her arm
Ignoring the pain enjoying the harm
The bottom of the cube fills with blood fast
She falls down hoping her breath is the last
Blood fills her lungs, mouth and eyes
Silently she shivers one last time as she dies
The beautiful trinket now just a bloodied box
To be chucked like trash down by the boon docks
Easily forgotten, as the ogre finds another maiden
His beautiful trinkets of the forbidden
About the Author
I started to write when I was a little girl. It started out as a school assignment. I spent all weekend writing on this assignment only for the teacher to tell me it was too dark for the project. I was told to re-write it. I went home and wrote down something to please the teacher. However, I kept the assignment and started to work on it in my spare time. I found that I had a passion for writing horror and never looked back. I have only been published for a couple of years. Although it has been some work I have enjoyed getting my name out there. Be patient as I grow and stay tuned for more of my stories that make it out in the world.
Anne’s hand trembled as she gazed into the oily rainbow of liquid inside the turquoise capsule. She saw her oblong face reflected back at her and imagined she could see her future, if she had a future. The capsule would decide that. The pop-a-death capsule. More exciting than heroin. Non-addicting. Or so they claimed. This was her third ride. If she came back, she knew it wouldn’t be her last.
She tossed the capsule to the back of her throat and washed it down with a chug from the bottle of Jack then she lay down on her bed. She shouldn’t be doing this alone. She knew that. It was dumb. If this pill showed her real death she’d be claimed. No one there to give her a reversal. She hadn’t figured out how to buy a reversal yet anyway. C’est la vie.
The pop-a-death grabbed her and off she went. Right into the middle of it this time. A lion tore at her arm. The pain. God almighty! A quick thought. This couldn’t be her real death, unless I fall into a cage at the zoo, and that’s not going to happen, I never go to the zoo. The lion ripped her arm from her body. Don’t pass out, Anne. Don’t pass out. Enjoy it. Enjoy it.
The beast’s long teeth sunk into her abdomen. She trembled as it pulled bloody piles of gore from her body cavity and gnawed the flesh from her bones. She quaked as the lion disassembled her body piece by piece. At first the pain was horrendous. Someone was shrieking. The sky above her was molten copper. Then she began to experience agony beyond simple pain. For what seemed like hours sensation rippled from her frayed nerve endings to her brain as exquisite pleasure. Slicing scarlet pleasure. Then she was back.
Whoop! She jumped up. Wow! She spun in circles. Rubbing her bare arms, touching every part of her body. I’m alive! Wow. Fantastic. More. More. More. I’ve got to do that again. She grabbed the bottle of Jack and finished it off. I’ve got to do that again.
She grabbed her black hoodie, pulled the hood up, slid on her darkest sunglasses, slipped her wallet in her back pocket, keys in the front, and opened the door.
“Anne. Where are you going?”
“I’m going out for milk, Jack.”
“I can go get it for you.”
“No, that’s cool. You wait here, listen to some music, I’ll be right back.”
Anne ran out her apartment door and down the steps before Jack could stop her. She went straight to Poppa Death’s for another pill.
“You’ve bought too many deaths. This is your last purchase—I won’t sell you any more unless you buy a reversal. You must have a reversal in hand the next time you pop-a-death.”
“Damn, Poppa Death, I’ve been a good customer, every time you raised the prices, I’ve found the money. What does a reversal cost?”
“One reversal costs one life.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean. Take a life. I will come, collect, and leave the reversal.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll do it tonight.”
* * *
“Jack, where are you?” Anne hated that she was going to have to end their friendship so suddenly but, shit, the pop-a-deaths, it was all about the pop-a-deaths.
Jack came out of the kitchen. He seemed kind of hyped up, like he’d had too much caffeine but he walked casually toward Anne. “Did you get the milk?” She didn’t even see the knife in his hand. “Sorry, Babe. I need to get a reversal. And we’re all gonna die, you know. We’ve all got to die for real sometime.”
Jack looked around, he had kind of thought that Poppa Death would appear right away in a cloud of purple smoke, take Anne’s body, or at least her soul, and drop a capsule on the table—but nothing happened. Anne’s body lay on the floor, a grocery bag next to her. The milk.
Jack picked up the bag and sat down at the table. No need for manners, he tore the carton open and chug-a-lugged half the quart.
Anne had really good connections, Jack just had time to groan “You bitch” before he doubled over, fell to the floor, jerked a few times, and was dead.
Then Poppa Death appeared. Two this time—his smile lit the apartment. He folded his pudgy fingers across his ample stomach and watched with tender eyes as his experienced team swept the room and gathered the tendrils he needed to create more exciting pop-a-deaths.
Who wrote this wild story?! Where can I get more? (Free?) --
Dona Fox writes short stories & poetry - horror & dark fantasy, infused with bits of science fiction. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, specters from the damp evergreen forests, Portland's bridges & Seattle's streets, often creep into her dark tales. Her stories are generally told by slightly mad narrators, full of sadness, who find themselves in dangerous situations where the edge of reality is always in question. Grab some of her audio books (free) at www.donafox.com
1. Tell us about your book
My latest horror book is called Best Served Cold. It was part of the Revenge is Sweet collection, but will soon be available to buy on its own. The story features a woman who is out for revenge against the man who tried to kill her. She tracks him down on Halloween night, but can she take him down?
2. Why choose horror?
I am a big fan of horror stories and I think they are exciting to read. Most of my books have horror elements, even if they are not strictly horror.
3. Who are your favorite horror authors?
I like Stephen King, the late Anne Rice and there are a few indie authors I like too. I enjoy books that offer great twists.
4. What do you think is the most important element in a horror story?
Being able to build the tension so that the scares pay off. If you see it coming then it isnt effective.
5. What do you have planned for the future?
I am working on finishing my Tempest Knox series off and then I will be writing the sequel to my Halflings book.
Never Summon The Dead...
My grandmother drummed that into me from no age. It was the golden rule in our household. You never summoned the dead, especially not when the veil was thin. She had good reason to warn us, as witches we have power over the world around us, but more than that, we have another reason to be cautious. My great, great, great grandfather was one of the most powerful necromancers in the world. While his gift hasn't appeared in our bloodline since, Grandma was always worried that something bad would happen if we messed with the dead. Apparently he started a little zombie uprising. Which wiped out his entire village. So yeah, we didn't mess with the dead.
As a child, I had no interest in doing anything like that, but as a teenager...well, I rebelled. What can I say? I was hot headed, hormonal and I got it into my head that it would be a fun thing to do for a Halloween party with my friends. I could imagine the look on their faces when a spirit actually appeared. I never got to see that look, because Gran burst into the room and dragged me home by the ear. I still don't know how she found out. That woman had an uncanny way of knowing I was up to something, before I was up to it.
After the two hour lecture, and the month long grounding, I decided never to try that again. And I haven't. Until now.
I didn't want to. I knew better. But when Gran died last week, she left me her house, an attic full of dark magic artefacts and no idea what to do with them. I didn't know she was into this kind of thing. We always practised white magic, but the stuff up here? I shivered as I looked around the room. She hid this from the whole family, then left me to clean up her mess.
Why me? I have better things to do on a Saturday.
But no, I was here, trying to figure out a mystery I wanted nothing to do with. I had gone over every possibility in mind. I had searched the house for a letter or a message of some kind, but I couldn't find anything. I even called the family lawyer to see if she had left anything for me. She didn't even have a proper will in place. It was last updated fifteen years ago, leaving me the house.
The only way I could think to speak to her, to find out what was going on, was to summon her. She'd kill me if I even suggested it, but right now I didn't see any other option.
Picking up the ouija board from the shelf, I laid it out on a makeshift table - really an overturned crate with a sheet draped over it.
I can't believe I am doing this.
With a shaking hand, I placed the planchette on the board. Taking a deep breath, I said, "I summon the spirit of Rose Whitehead. Are you there, Gran?"
Nothing happened. Of course not. All this time Gran had been overreacting. I can't believe I bought into her crap.
"Damn it. Now what am I going to do? I mean really, what did I do to deserve this?"
The planchette suddenly jerked across the board. I yanked my hands away, my heart hammering in my chest. It moved to the letter M.
Is it Gran?
The planchette moved again, this time to the letter U. Grabbing my phone, I typed the letters down as it spelled them out. My blood ran cold when I saw the final result - MURDERER.
Who was murdered? Gran?
That was impossible. She collapsed at a bridge game, from a heart attack.
"Who is this?" I asked.
The planchette began to move again. This time it spelled out MALCOLM.
Who the hell was Malcolm? I didn't know anyone with that name. Had I accidentally summoned the wrong ghost?
"Uh, who are you? How do you know me?"
This time the planchette spelled out something I was not expecting - YOU KILLED ME.
"I've never killed anyone. This is obviously a mistake, so I ask that you depart spirit."
I had no idea if that was the correct thing to say, it wasn't like I had a lot of experience.
A wind picked up in the room and a horrible wailing came from the board. Clapping my hands over my ears, I backed up against the wall. What had I done?
I watched in horror as a hand emerged from the board. Or rather the shape of a hand, covered in the black paint of the board. I could even see the letters etched into it. Another hand appeared and something began to rise up our of the board.
With a scream I got to my feet and ran for the door. Grabbing the doorknob, I yanked on it, but it wouldn't open.
"Help me!" I screamed, banging on the wood. There was no one else in the house, but someone had to hear me. I didn't want to die up here.
The figure of a man was now climbing out of the board. I watched in horror as the black paint seemed to flow off the figure, leaving an actual person behind. The man stared at me with dark eyes, his mouth set in a scowl. "Murderer."
My brain couldn't take all of this in. I kept yanking on the door and miraculously it opened. Throwing myself through it, I slammed the door shut behind me and spelled it shut.
A moment later, the man threw himself into it, screaming curses at me.
"I'll get you, Elizabeth. You can't escape me. I'm going to make you pay."
Who the hell was Elizabeth?
Sinking onto the steps, I tried to calm down. Whoever this guy was, he had clearly mistaken me for someone else. Someone who murdered him. And now he wanted revenge.
I guess this is why you don't mess with the dead.
The story will be continued soon....
S. K. Gregory lives in Northern Ireland, where she writes full time. Keep up to date with all of S. K. Gregory's book releases via her website.
Scores of children walked into the auditorium as the school bell rang throughout the whole building. Teachers followed; giving directions and ensuring they behaved and stayed in line.
“Single file, girls, and no talking. That includes you, Julie,” said Sr. Bernadette.
Julie giggled with her best friend, Alice. They were always up to mischief and getting themselves into trouble.
“Yes, Sr. Bernadette,” Julie replied.
They sat on the stage and peered out at the other students who sat on the bleachers on either side of the hall parallel to the basketball hoops. In the middle of the hall stood the Principal, Sr. Carmel. Most of the students feared her, the woman’s stern voice aided this opinion. In her hand was an old silver microphone, dented at the top, with a lead spanning all the way to a socket on the wall. High above the principal, on the back wall, hung a painting of Sr. Mary Aikenhead. The painting was put up when the school was built, in 1858; the year the nun had died.
“Her eyes are moving, again,” whispered Alice.
“Don’t say that! It freaks me out enough without her eyes moving, too,” said Julie. Herten-year-old imagination running away with itself.
“Those eyes are staring at you, Julie.”
“Stop it, Alice,” Julie squeaked.
“Shhh,” hushed the crowd.
Sr. Carmel stretched her neck to see who was talking. You could hear a pin drop. Silence.
Alice continued to whisper and told Julie all about the pictured nun.
“I heard if you run around the school three times or if you shout Sister Mary Aikenhead three times at her picture, her ghost appears, and she takes out her whip and beats you to death. My sister said she beat lots of bad children to death when she went to this school. She said she was evil.”
Julie clenched her fists and placed them by her side. She wanted to get back at Alice for trying to scare her. “I bet you wouldn’t do either of those tasks.”
Alice tapped her finger on her chin for quite a while.
Assembly finished and the girls walked off the stage.
“Look, her eyes are following us again,” quipped Alice and grabbed Julie’s shoulders.
Julie couldn’t bear to look at the painting, she felt the eyes follow her. ‘It’s not real. It is just a picture.’
“I know what we can do,” Alice stated. “Tonight, we should sneak out and meet here at eleven o’clock. I’ll run around the school and I dare you to shout out her name three times. I’ll leave a window open for us to climb in tonight.” She stared at her friend and wouldn’t budge until Julie agreed...
“Okay, okay... I’ll sneak out, but if we get caught, you’re taking the blame. It was all your idea. Deal?” Julie demanded.
The girls spat on their hands and shook, fluids mixing in their palms. It was now unbreakable, not even the President could stop this deal now.
At home, Julie prepared her bag for that night. Her older brother had everything she needed, he was into survival kits and all that stuff. She didn’t have long to gather up the items, her brother would be home soon. A torch, rope, and lighter went into the main section of the bag. She popped a penknife into the front pocket because you never know who you’ll meet at night.
‘I hope I don’t have to use that.’
“Come down for your dinner, Julie,” her mom called from downstairs.
Julie had just finished her homework and her stomach grumbled. There was lasagne for dinner, everyone’s favourite.
Stevie burst in through the front door and ran upstairs, ruffling Julie’s hair as he went.
“Hey, little sis.”
“Hi, Stevie. You coming down for dinner?” she asked.
“Tell mom I’ll be down in three minutes, and don’t go eating my dinner, missy,” he laughed.
Julie was nervous. She hoped her brother wouldn’t check his survival box; as it would be nearly empty.
Stevie bolted down the stairs, grabbed some garlic bread, and headed for the door.
“And where are you going without dinner?” their mom demanded to know.
“Mom, I have study club tonight. I don’t have time to sit and eat, I’m going to be late. Just keep me some, I’ll have it when I come home. Okay?”
Their mother crossed her arms as steam escaped her ears, “You better be back before midnight.”
“I will, I promise.” He kissed their mother’s cheek and Julie’s head, “Bye.”
“Yuck, don’t do that, Stevie,” said Julie, but he was already out the door.
Julie’s stomach was full by the time she finished her dinner. Even though she was only partly through the lasagne, she felt queasy all over with nerves. She took deep breaths to settle herself.
They went to bed at ten o’clock, Julie’s mom read her a book and switched off the light.
At ten forty-five, Julie crept out of bed, she was already dressed and tip-toed to her parent’s room to confirm her mom was asleep. Her light snores drifted out of the doorway. Dad was on the night shift. He worked long hours as a paramedic.
Downstairs, she carefully opened the back door so as not to make any noise. If she didn’t leave now, she may not get there in time.
Julie jogged most of the way. When she arrived at the gate, there was no sign of Alice. The arch was surrounded by shrubbery. The moonlight stretched the shadows of the twigs to resemble long-reaching fingers. Julie shivered.
‘I knew it. I knew she wouldn’t turn up.’
She peered down the street where Alice should have walked.
Julie squealed as she was grabbed from behind.
“Gotcha!” laughed Alice. “I’ve been here a few minutes and hid when you came . . . all, so I could frighten you.”
“It’s not funny. You’re just being mean now.”
Julie folded her arms and thought about returning home. She didn’t want to put up with this nonsense.
“I’m sorry, Julie. Let’s get this over and done with. I want to go home to bed, I’m tired.”
The girls climbed the wall easily enough and landed on the soft tarmac, the clicks of their shoes echoed.
“Now, you wait here while I run around the school three times. Like we agreed,” Alice ordered and stood on the steps to the large entrance.
She began to run, sprinting as fast as she could. Julie stepped back from the main school door and looked up at the stars. The roof was so high, it blocked the moon, yet the clouds shone brightly. A shadow glanced out the top window and she gasped. She stretched her neck to see if Alice was out of sight and, when she viewed the window again, the shadow was no longer there.
When Alice finally came into her sight, her pace had slowed a little.
“Alice, I have a bad feeling about this. I think we should go home.”
Out of breath, her friend replied, “Don’t worry, you’re just being silly.”
And she was gone again, her dust followed close behind. Julie looked up to see the shadow appear and disappear out of sight again. Her stomach did a twist and a turn while her heart’s rhythm quickened.
“What the hell are you doing here, missy?” a voice demanded.
Stevie peered in through the gates with a frown, Julie’s jaw fell open.
“When mom finds out you’re here, you’ll be in trouble. C’mon, I was on my way home from Susan’s, I mean study group, anyway.”
“Oh Stevie, please don’t tell on me. Alice is here with me, I’m not on my own. We’re leaving in about five or ten minutes.”
“Why the hell are you out at this time of night anyway? Don’t you know the boogeyman could get you?”
“Stop, it’s not funny. Alice and I made a pact to see if Sr. Mary Aikenhead’s ghost will appear. She has to run around the school three times, and I must call out her name three times at her painting.”
“Oooohhhhhh. Sr. Mary Aikenhead. She’s gonna beat you with her stick. Oooohhhh.”
“I said stop it.”
Julie, angered by her brother, stomped her foot.
Alice came back around again and waved.
“One more time. Hi, Stevie. Bye, Stevie.” Then darted past the two of them.
“Will you come in with us? Into the hall. I’ll call out her name three times and we can go home. Please?” she begged.
“Oh, all right then. But you better not tell anyone I went in there. Got it?”
Julie nodded with a smile and her nerves eased a little.
“How are we getting in?”
“Alice left a window open in the basement. It’s never checked, so it should still be open.”
“I better be able to fit.”
Stevie swung his arms by his waist and tapped his foot while they waited for Alice to return.
In no time, Alice came thundering towards them.
“I saw her, I saw her. She came at me, but I was running so fast, the fat ghost couldn’t catch up.”
“Really?” Stevie asked.
Alice laughed her heart out, “Nope.”
It was time for them to go into the building, to stand in front of the painting, and shout out the nun’s name. They scurried to the side of the building and down the basement entry steps. Stevie checked the door, hoping it was open. It wasn’t. Julie pulled out the window beside it. There was a gap less than two feet wide for them to fit through. Alice leapt up and slipped through. Julie was close behind, but Stevie hesitated.
“I don’t think I’ll fit through that window, Julie. I’m too wide.”
“Please try, Stevie. I want you with me.” With his head sticking in through the open window, she whispered into his ear, “I’m scared.”
Stevie held in his breath and went arms and headfirst into the gap. His bum got stuck, but, with a bit of wriggling, he popped all the way through. Out of breath, he gasped while on all fours, Julie placed her hand on his shoulder.
The school was dark, chilly, and creepy. Their breaths filled the air with vapor and they shuddered. Every step taken on the wooden floorboards creaked and echoed throughout the corridors until they entered the large hall.
“Why are we here again?” Stevie asked.
“I’ve to call her name out three times, remember? I dared Alice, and she dared me. She ran around the school three times. Now, it’s my turn.”
Stevie rubbed the soft baby stubble on his chin.
“I’m not too sure you should do this. Let’s go home.”
“She will not go home. I didn’t run around the school three times for Julie to back out of her part.”
The three stood at the back of the room and faced the painting. Julie inhaled deeply and called out as loud as she could without screaming.
“Sr. Mary Aikenhead.”
“There’s no going back, sis, once you finish.”
“Shhh! I’m finishing this.”
“Go, Julie,” encouraged Alice.
“Sr. Mary Aikenhead.”
Through the high windows, the sky outside lit up brightly, and a deep roll of thunder shook the school.
“Julie, please don’t,” begged Stevie.
She closed her eyes and, like in slow motion, she uttered the words one final time.
“Sr. Mary Aikenhead.”
A loud cackle could be heard throughout the school. Both Julie and Alice grabbed Stevie’s arms.
“Wha . . . what was that?” she asked her brother with trembling hands.
“I dunno, but I think we should get out of here now.”
All three ran towards the basement, they jumped down the four steps and into the storage area.
Alice pulled herself up and out through the window, Julie followed as Stevie paced up and down. As soon as she was outside, Julie turned to her brother. His right leg was out the window as he struggled to fit his torso through. Darkness crept up behind him and overshadowed the emergency exit light. Julie screamed as a large figure, dressed in a dark veil, clamped on Stevie’s other leg. He yelped and stretched out his hands for help. The girls grabbed a hand each and pulled as hard as they could. Back and forth Stevie went, screaming, as his shirt frayed from buffing the window frame. The phantom released her grip and the girls showed excitement when they won the tug of war.
Their victory was short-lived as the phantom closed over the window into the groin of Stevie. His pelvic bones crunched, his bowel squashed, and he howled in pain. It kept pushing until the frame nearly met the other side, Stevie had already passed out. It pushed and pushed the window until blood spewed from his mouth, stomach, and rear. That’s when the nun walloped him with a cane. It tore through his jeans with every strike. His body jolted as nerve endings were lacerated and flesh was sliced to the bone. It didn’t take long for Stevie’s body to flop lifelessly.
Open-mouthed, Julie didn’t know what to do. Alice took her hand.
“Julie, I’m sorry, but we have to go.”
Both ran like the wind out of the school grounds, tears streamed down their faces, guilt pressed on their souls. Stevie was dead, the ghost of Sr. Mary Aikenhead had killed him.
“Come to mine, I’m closer. We’ll call the police and your mom,” said Alice.
As the girls scaled the wall, both were dragged back with a force as strong as a hurricane. Their bodies flew as far as the main door and they landed on their backs, the impact dazed them.
The ghost towered over the two frightened girls as they screamed, high-pitched well above normal decibels. Gritted teeth and anger displayed on the ghost’s face like it couldn’t stand the sound. She lashed out at the girls with her cane. Blood sprayed as the haunted wood stripped skin and flesh from their legs and arms making their screams louder. She hit and hit until a mass of blood pooled around their bodies. Their screams turned to exhausted whimpers. The girls spied to see if the nun had left , but they could barely move their necks to see.
“Is she gone?” Alice groaned.
“I hope so. Can you move?”
Julie reached out and held Alice’s hand, it was wet and sticky just like hers.
Julie raised her upper half off the burgundy stained ground, she held her stomach where most of the pain was located. Dark blood poured profusely through her trembling fingers.
“I can’t. I’m trying, but I can’t,” Alice bawled. “I’m sorry, Julie. I made you go in and say her name, even when you said you wanted to go home.”
Julie laid back down and rested her head on Alice’s shoulder.
“It’s okay. You weren’t to know.”
Both cried loudly, not in the hope a passerby would hear them, but from knowing they would never see daylight again, nor their families.
It didn’t take long for the ghost to reappear, attracted by the sound. She appeared before the girls, snapping the cane in her translucent hand.
“Do your worst,” said Alice, knowing this would mean certain death.
“Yes, do your worst,” added Julie, then hollered as loud as her damaged throat would allow.
Sr. Mary Aikenhead pounced on the two with her cane and whipped their vulnerable bodies until there was no more movement. No more sound. No more life.
Ensure you watch out for the ghost of Sr. Mary Aikenhead. Don’t call out her name or she will come with her cane.
D.J. Doyle is the author of multiple horror novels and short stories from extreme horror to comedy horror.
She was raised by pot-smoking hippies and spent her days worshipping pagan deities in the HellFire Club, and her nights watching horror movies. She now lives with her family in a treehouse, preying on unsuspecting travellers, and where she likes nothing better than coming up with ideas for new stories and plotting her next novel. Some of this might have been made up. To learn more about D.J. Doyle, her website can be found at http://djdoyleauthor.com
Copyright © 2022 Lily Luchesi
There was no need for him to ring the doorbell that awful night. We’d all seen the news reports of nuclear bombs and God knew what else unleashed upon us, and a few other countries, too. As soon as I saw the report, I knew he’d be coming by, so I waited by the front door, listening to the TV as I watched the panic unfold before me.
He parked his truck and raced from the curb to my front door. We were old-fashioned; despite being engaged, he didn’t have a key to my place, nor did I have one to his. I had to let him in.
He burst through the small gap I left in the door and slammed it behind him. In one hand was a piece of paper. Clutched so tightly in his fist, I wondered if it was even legible. Dark eyes, wide and unblinking, took me in.
As if the sight of me was enough to rouse him from his panicked state, those eyes began to well with tears. We fell into each other’s arms without a word. His shoulders trembled as he both cried and tried to stop the flow of tears.
My eyes were strangely dry. As if my heart registered this disaster long ago and already mourned for its loss.
“Is that…” I didn't finish my sentence.
He pulled back, looking at me with red-rimmed eyes. Nodding, he said, “I leave tomorrow.”
I pressed my forehead to his; emptiness building inside me already. A gaping maw that I knew would feed on anything good and light left inside me until nothing remained but it.
“Is there any way you can be exempt?”
“Darling, no one is exempt. If this lasts more than a year, women will be drafted, too,” he reminded me.
“Is it bad I’d want that, on the off-chance we’ll see each other again?”
He kissed my forehead, then my nose, finally my lips, a sad little smile playing at his when he pulled away. “Then where will the excitement of my coming home be?”
It was a foolish thing to ask. We both knew the likeliness of him returning home alive was slim to none.
A loud crash outside shook the building, and we grabbed each other harder to remain upright.
“It’s going to be madness out there,” he commented, glancing out the window. Sirens wailed in the distance, and I could smell smoke and gasoline in the air. Not a good combination.
“Listen to me, love, please. Do not go out. Get your groceries delivered, make sure the bomb shelter is stocked. Don’t answer the door for anyone.” He was a quiet, passive man. The last time I can recall him ever commanding me to do anything was to move out of the way as a guy on a bicycle almost ran me down on the bridge.
He was deathly serious, and I hated seeing the worry in those pretty eyes of his. Brushing a lock of dyed blond hair from his forehead, I teased, “What about when you come home? How will I know it’s you and to open the door?”
He chuckled weakly, wrapping one arm around my waist, leaving the other on the side of my face. Playfully, he tapped my nose three times.
“When I return, I’ll ring the doorbell three times, just like that. So you’ll always know it’s me and to let me in.” He paused, a grin splitting his face. “You will let me in, right?”
I giggle, glad his playful side hasn’t left him yet. “No matter what, my prince. You know that. Just … be careful and come home.”
That was nearly two years ago. Women were never called to the draft after all, but the war didn’t end. Instead, it became something bigger and darker than anyone expected.
It started when the rabbits began biting the deer in the forest, eating them. Then it happened to a few humans. Not many. Mostly in places where the nuclear bombs were created.
We brushed it off, saying the neighbors to the north were getting the brunt of their actions. That they deserved it. Let them eat each other until there was no one left.
Then my neighbor’s husband came home, one of the first from the front lines. He had nerve damage from a contaminated cut in his arm, so he was honorably discharged.
At first I was jealous. Why did he get to come home, but my love was still out there?
And then I heard her scream late that night. I peeked clandestinely from my window only to see her running down the street, her arm garishly red in the orange street lamps.
Except … her arm looked awfully short.
Only when her husband came out of their house, chasing her, did I realize her arm was red and short because half of it was gone. Her husband was gnawing on it like it was a giant turkey leg at Disneyland.
I never looked out the window since that night, but I heard more women scream, and in the weeks that followed, men fighting with no sound save for unintelligible grunts and screams.
That was almost all I heard all night, every night, until tonight.
The doorbell rings three times, the sound loud and shrill and unnatural.
Until a couple of weeks ago, that sound was all I dreamed of. Until I saw what became of the men who came back from war.
“Darling, it’s me!” my fiance called. “I’m home!”
I cower behind the couch as the doorbell keeps ringing three times, over and over again. Praying he goes away.
Because whatever that is outside the door is no longer the man I loved.
Evil has come home.
Chicken Noodle Soup
This story contains material that may be disturbing for some readers.
I winced the first time I watched Cook kill a chicken. To be fair, I winced if I saw someone kill a spider, so there’s some perspective for you. But the sight of the eyes going still and the neck twisted around … ugh. Shudder inducing.
The other kids who worked around the neighborhood found my aversion to anything violent or gross amusing. My roommate especially. She was a wicked little thing. I often went to bed to find rat carcasses under my mattress, or snails in my shirts as I put them on.
To name but a few of the things she did, all in the name of “fun.”
I was mimicked, of course. She had to show them just how I acted when the still flopping fish she nicked from the kitchens slipped down the back of my trousers. How could anyone survive without her pantomime?
The longer it went on, the more time I spent in the kitchens. Cook said I was a natural, and that I could take over his job when he retired, as long as I stayed on as his assistant.
It wasn’t glamorous work. Have you ever cleaned a tuna the size of your forearm? Or mutilated the legs of a rabbit to make stew? The bigger the creature got that Cook wanted me to slice and dice, the worse I felt.
I mean, yeah, I eat animals. Of course. But that doesn’t mean I’m okay with destroying their corpses for my culinary pleasure. A steak on a plate is not the same as pulling a cow’s livers out to make liver and onions.
It’s a lot bloodier, for one thing.
But I got used to it. I had to, not only to secure a future, but I also loved cooking. I felt calm when I chopped veggies and measured spices and stirred sauces. It was a form of creativity. Therapy.
Ironically, one of the things I made best was chicken noodle soup. I made the noodles from scratch, and now I even butchered the chicken myself, picking the best parts, using marrow in the broth.
Cook was impressed, and he bragged about my skills in the kitchen to anyone who would listen. Apparently, before I showed up, my roommate was his apprentice. And it evidently didn’t go well.
I’ve never seen her do anything near the kitchen except wash dishes. And honestly? Sometimes she screwed that up, too.
So imagine my surprise, dismay, and despair when I got called into Cook’s private office a day after serving my soup.
A small group of people reported food poisoning symptoms last night. One of them was my roommate. She hadn’t been in the room pretty much all night until it was light’s out. And then she slipped silently into bed. No pranks, no jokes, not even a snarky comment.
Had she been sick? Did I poison people by mistake?
My stomach sank to the floor, and I was about to beg for my job, pretty much for my whole life. I trained to be a cook. I had nothing else except for this.
“I will give you a chance to redeem yourself,” Cook said. “Tomorrow night, the Mayor is coming to dine with everyone in the community. I will be unavailable, and I’d like you to make your chicken noodle soup along with a salad and bread. As long as no one gets sick, I’ll chalk it up to a bad experience and we will never speak of it again.”
Pressing my hands together, it took all my decorum not to hug the grizzly old man. “Thank you, Cook! I promise, you won’t regret giving me another chance!”
“I better not. One more slip-up, you’re done, you hear me?”
I heard. Loud and clear.
The next day dawned and I was up earlier than usual. My roommate groaned and put her blanket over her head as I began singing as I got dressed.
“What’s got up your bum today?” she whined.
“I’m happy. Can’t a girl be happy?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure. But when you’re happy it makes me sick,” she said, and that was all I heard from her the rest of the morning.
Why was my happiness so sickening to her? What had I ever done besides exist that she tried her best to ruin my day every day?
Slowly, I began to hope I had made her sick with the soup. It was the least of what she deserved for being so cruel.
I spent the morning prepping the soup. If I got it cooking by 10am, it would be ready by 5pm, when the younger kids came to eat before us older teens and the adults came for their dinner at 7pm.
I had to make a lot of soup because the crowd now included the Mayor, his family, and staff. A whole pot just for them.
Cooking this was pretty much automatic for me now. Muscle memory. Kill the chicken by breaking its neck, clean the feathers, cut off the head, remove the entrails, saving some for other dishes, then separate the parts, leaving the bones in for the best flavor. Then, when it was close to serving time, I’d take the chicken pieces out, debone them, and put the flesh back in the pot.
I sang and sometimes whistled as I did the first four chickens, and as I was about to reach for the fifth and final chicken — the one for the Mayor — there were no more. The small coop was empty. I’d have to go to the farm to get another. It wasn’t a super long walk, but I had no one to make sure the soups that were on didn’t burn, boil over, or get somehow tampered with.
I put the hand holding the meat cleaver on one hip, tapping my upper lip with my free hand as I thought about the best thing to do.
I could take some chicken from each pot and put it in the last one…
With a shout, I jumped and twirled around at the sudden voice. My roommate. Oh joy.
“You’re not supposed to be back here,” I told her gently. “Cook said…”
“Oh, please, all I did was set some hotcakes on fire. And he fired me in a snap.” She snapped her fingers, showing off her sparkly manicure. She stepped forward and almost tripped on the plastic tarp I laid on the floor, just in case I spilled any chicken blood or guts. Easy cleanup. “You, on the other hand, we tell Cook and the Headmistress your food poisoned us, and nothing! You get to cook for the Mayor!”
Something about what she said struck a nerve. I was afraid to ask, but I had to.
“Did my soup make you sick?”
She giggled. “What do you think? Little Miss Perfect over here can’t do anything wrong, can she? Not even faking sick because of you worked!”
My stomach roiled, and I wondered if I was going to be sick.
“How could you? If I don’t get this job when I turn eighteen, I have nothing!” I cry, hot tears burning my eyes.
“Boo-fucking-hoo,” she snapped, going to turn around, when she saw the neat containers of four chicken innards. Her eyes danced as she took in the four innards but only five pots. There came that giggle again. “Oh dear, you’re in a pickle, aren’t you? What will the Mayor do when your famous chicken noodle soup doesn’t have any chicken?”
I swear I see red. But unlike the stories, I don’t black out from the rage. I’m well aware of every single move I make. I step forward, she’s still laughing at me. Laughing and laughing, looking forward to my demise.
Like I’m in a movie, I raise my right arm and swing. I know the meat cleaver is sharp: it’s my job to ensure every cooking utensil is at its best. What I didn’t know was how strong rage can make a person.
Surprise doesn’t even get a chance to show on her face as the cleaver slices through her neck, leaving her head hanging like a grotesque, oversized charm on a handbag. She was still laughing, her face frozen in mirth forever.
The body spasms, spilling blood on the plastic tarp as it falls with a thump.
What on Earth am I supposed to do with this now?
I glance at the bloody cleaver in my hand, to the body, and then to the stove. My eyes drift back to the body and I shrug. I need meat for the soup, and I need to get rid of the body.
I’m trained with what to do. Muscle memory. Clean the skin, cut off the head, remove the entrails, saving some for other dishes, then separate the parts, leaving the bones in for the best flavor. Of course, I can’t leave many bones except finger bones, but still…
I don’t save these entrails. Rather, I put them with the biohazard animal parts to be burned later.
Hours later, it’s past dinner time and the Mayor and his entourage have arrived. I happily ladle heaping spoonfuls of soup into the bowls, and the smell isn’t much different from the other four pots. The meat resembles pork a little more than chicken, but I still don’t worry. Most people hear “chicken,” and they think “chicken”. Head empty, no thoughts. Just what we put there.
I smiled at the Mayor as I helped the servers bring the bowls and plates of fresh bread to the large table.
As I cooled down from a long day of cooking, a server told me the Mayor wanted to see the cook of the day.
“Hi!” I said brightly. “How can I help you, Mr. Mayor?”
“Young lady, this soup is delicious,” he told me with a smile. “My compliments. It will be a wonderful day when you take over cooking for the town.”
“Why, thank you,” I replied.
“The meat is so tender!” his wife added.
“Freshly killed this morning,” I explained, and then excused myself. In the kitchen, one of my roommate’s cronies is there, eating some of the soup that remained from the Mayor’s pot.
“Sorry,” she muttered, mouth full as she licked a piece of meat from her lower lip. “Practice ran long. I haven’t eaten.”
“Go ahead,” I replied, my smile widening.
“This is awesome. Different meat, right? Kinda?” she asked, seeming sincere.
“Yeah, but it still tastes like chicken.”
Horror writers mourn the loss of Anne Rice
By Gwen Alyce Clayton
Many horror fans awoke the morning of Dec. 12, 2021 to a post on Anne Rice’s Facebook page, written by her son, Christopher.
“Dearest People of Page,” he wrote. “This is Anne’s son Christopher and it breaks my heart to bring you this sad news. Earlier tonight, Anne passed away due to complications resulting from a stroke. She left us almost nineteen years to the day my father, her husband Stan, died. The immensity of our family’s grief cannot be overstated. As my mother, her support for me was unconditional — she taught me to embrace my dreams, reject conformity and challenge the dark voices of fear and self-doubt. As a writer, she taught me to defy genre boundaries and surrender to my obsessive passions. In her final hours, I sat beside her hospital bed in awe of her accomplishments and her courage, awash in memories of a life that took us from the fog laced hills of the San Francisco Bay Area to the magical streets of New Orleans to the twinkling vistas of Southern California. As she kissed Anne goodbye, her younger sister Karen said, ‘What a ride you took us on, kid.’ I think we can all agree. Let us take comfort in the shared hope that Anne is now experiencing firsthand the glorious answers to many great spiritual and cosmic questions, the quest for which defined her life and career. Throughout much of her final years, your contributions to this page brought her much joy, along with a profound sense of friendship and community. Anne will be interred in our family's mausoleum at Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans in a private ceremony. Next year, a celebration of her life will take place in New Orleans. This event will be open to the public and will invite the participation of her friends, readers and fans who brought her such joy and inspiration throughout her life.”
Anne Rice was one of the most famous women writers in the horror genre. She published 36 novels, including two under the pseudonym Anne Rampling for adult-themed fiction/erotica and four BDSM fiction books as A.N. Roquelaure. Her first book, “Interview with the Vampire,” was published in 1976 and made into a blockbuster movie in 1994. Her thirty-sixth and final book, “Blood Communion: A Tale of Prince Lestat” was released October 2, 2018.
In 2008, she published her memoires in a book titled, “Called Out Of Darkness,” and in 2017, she co-authored “Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra (Ramses the Damned Series)” with her son, Christopher.
Rice was born Howard Allen Frances O’Brien on Oct. 4, 1941 in New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1961, she married a poet/painter by the name of Stan Rice. The couple’s first child, daughter Michele, was born in 1966, but died of Leukemia shortly before her sixth birthday. Christopher came along in 1978.
It was while she was grieving the loss of Michele that Anne wrote her famous debut novel, “Interview with the Vampire.”
Anne lived in her iconic New Orleans mansion at 1239 First Street from 1989 to 2004. It was this house that inspired Mayfair Manor, the Garden District home of Anne's Mayfair Witches series.
Stan died in 2002. Anne never remarried.
In 2005, she relocated to Rancho Mirage, California where she died Dec. 11, 2021.
Rice’s long career influenced writers from all over the world, and she was always happy to chat with her friends over Facebook and offer advice to aspiring writers.
Emily Bex, international best-selling author of The Medici Warrior Series, communicated with her when the budding author was just starting the series.
“She was extremely generous with her time when new writers had questions, Bex said. The book “The Witching Hour” is one of her top-ten favorite books. “She wrote with such detail, you felt like an invisible participant in the story, standing unseen in the corner. The house she described in such detail in the book turned out to be her own home! I didn't know that at the time I read the book, but went in search of the house when I was in New Orleans on business (the book didn't list the address, but rather an intersection of two streets). I was shocked to discover she lived there. She later acknowledged she had no idea that her house would become a Mecca for her fans, and using it in the books was probably not her wisest decision.”
Later, when Rice sold the mansion and moved to California, she sold off a lot of her belongings. Bex ended up buying some of her China.
“She liked to buy a single place setting of a particular China pattern and then mix and match them,” she said. “I bought four place settings, and when I use them, it's like sitting down to dine with Anne and Lestat.”
Rice always referred to her Facebook readers as “People of the Page,” and frequently asked readers for input when she was working on a new book. She also frequently gave advice to aspiring writers like Bex.
"Write the story you want to read,” Rice once posted. “Chances are if you like it, others will too."
Another gem Rice offered was, “Protect your story. It’s your story. Don’t try to write for your audience. Accept that your story won’t be for everyone.”
“Her words gave me the courage to throw a lot of rules out the window,” Bex said. “When I released The Medici Warrior Series, a dark, paranormal romance, my vision for the ending was very clear, but also controversial; however it remained true to the arc of the storyline. As I neared the release of the final book in the six- book series, I was starting to panic. I had built up a large fan base, and I feared an avalanche of backlash and criticism if my fan base rejected the ending, and felt like they had stuck with me through six books only to be cheated out of a traditional happily ever after. I needed not worry. Anne was right all along. Thank you, Anne, for the hours of pleasure your books brought to me, and thank you from this aspiring writer who was given the courage to write my own story.”
The Witches series also influenced Denver-based USA Today Bestselling Author Corinne O’Flynn.
“Anne Rice is probably most famous for her vampires, but it was her witches that changed everything for me,” O’Flynn said. “The Witching Hour (Lives of Mayfair Witches) was one of those books and series that has stayed with me since it was published more than thirty years ago. She was the one who made witches cool, in my opinion. Nobody does witches better than Anne Rice. Anne Rice is the reason I write witches.”
“Anne Rice was the type of person who inspired me to try my hand at writing my ideas into short stories,” said author Cameron Jackson Weber. “And a series she did on witches started my fascination into witchcraft and start my journey on paganism. Anne is the author that inspires me to be the best me I can be and her novels provided a space for me to go to for safety and solace.”
“The brilliant Author has influenced me to write as well as to proudly accept the horribly magnificent traits of legend that I and others benefit from,” said Greg Ory. “Regardless of how outlandish or ridiculous such legends ‘n’ traits are to be. Anne Rice followed her passion despite a certain terrifying experience she was privileged to be a part of. Staying true to her artistic vision is truly an inspiration for all!”
“Anne Rice has always given me great advice in my writing,” said Margarita Felices, author of the Judgement Of Souls trilogy. “She even gave me examples of some of the pitfalls I would encounter when my vampire novels were optioned by movie producers. Over the years she was inspirational and I was honoured to be compared to her in a horror publication. It made her smile and say she was honoured. But it’s me who was honoured and humbled by her praise.”
Writer and digital artist Richard A. Delgado was so grieved by the news of the death of Anne Rice, that he created his own piece of art, depicting the characters of his novels bowing at the feet of Rice and her vampire, Lestat.
“This is truly a saddened moment to me personally,” he said. “As a child I grew up knowing about her infamous vampire tales, and became very fond of her works. Anne Rice was and is truly one of my biggest influences, and inspirations as a rising writer. If it wasn't for her, my very own vampire series wouldn't have been possible, or existed in the first place. I can only express how grateful and fortunate I am to say that I lived in the time of her writing.”
Delgado is the author of The Ancient Chronicles, a story about a newborn vampire.
Although the body of Anne Rice no longer sits at her keyboard, her legacy continues in the writers of vampires and witches yet to come.
Bookshelf: Cicada Books in Huntington, West Virginia has a large collection of used books by Anne Rice for sale.
Richard Delgado art: Author and digital artist Richard Delgado depicts the characters of his own novels bowing at the feet of Rice and her vampire, Lestat.
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”