Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Truth or Dare

It's been a long time since I've put a short story up here, and with Halloween coming tomorrow, I thought I would share this scary tale. I hope that you enjoy!



“Go on. You picked dare.”

Lucifer, whose real name was Tony, sneered and elbowed her lightly. He had insisted they pick new Goth names a few weeks ago and Emily was having a hard time remembering to use them. Her own moniker was Chaos. She had written it down on small pieces of paper that she would throw away, trying to drill it into her brain.

Why here, wondered Emily, why did he have to pick this place?

The large gothic Victorian house stood in front of them, owning the darkness. Spires tipped the corners, pointing to an ebony sky, and sharp arches sliced through the night. Each window looked like a set of empty eyes holding sentry to a tenebrous world that lie just behind the glass. Emily couldn’t shake the feeling that the house knew they were there, that it was watching them. The hairs on her neck stood in agreement.

The home was tall. Its shudders were drooped, hanging idly from a few lazy bolts, the shingles sagged. The front door looked like the crooked grin of an old man with the various small panes of glass long ago shattered and broken leaving haphazard shards behind. The porch boards were curled and nails had worked their way out of the wood, poking upward in dangerous angles. No one knew the last time people had lived here.

Emily swallowed, her fear a hard lump in her throat.

Tonight, Emily had pushed her luck when she had suggested they play Truth or Dare. Stephanie, now known as Paradox, liked Lucifer, and Emily did, too. Emily had stood in the shadows for long enough. Her timid demeanor put up against Paradox's bold self confidence was no contest, but tonight Emily was determined to show Lucifer another side of herself. She had never considered they would end up at this house tonight.

Lucifer and Paradox stood back, uncharacteristically silent, taking in the house from the street.

Emily hesitated before she put one boot in the yard. A small rush of wind blew her skirt around her and her hair into her face, taking her breath. Tears formed, spilling over slightly, making her thick eyeliner sting as it slid into her eyes. She briefly fought the urge to turn and run, but with clenched fists, she stood still until it passed.

With resolve and Lucifer foremost in her mind, Emily started toward the house.

An ornate, clover shaped window on the steeply pitched roof held beautiful stained glass. The vibrant colors were muted by the darkness, but Emily found herself drawn to it, staring. From behind her, Paradox began to giggle. Emily could only imagine how Paradox would be flirting with Lucifer when she wasn’t around. She needed to get this over with and send Paradox on a long dare herself. The thought made her smile.

Emily trudged on. The porch creaked and sagged under her weight.

With a sudden sharp crack, Emily’s left ankle fell through the boards. She started to shriek but stuffed her fist into her mouth, effectively cutting it off. Dust plumed all around her, making her cough. Thank goodness her boots went up to her knees, otherwise the jagged wood would have cut into her leg as she yanked her foot free.

She was shaking as she made her way to the front door, the adrenalin still pumping through her.

The large front door stood sentinel for the house, yet Emily only needed to push and it easily opened. She glanced back at Lucifer and Paradox, who were still watching from the street. She noticed Lucifer now had his arm around Paradox, who was leaning into him. A silent scream ran through her mind as jealousy burned deep. Exhaling, Emily turned and faced the darkness of the open door and stepped inside.

Once inside, Emily waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. The strong smell of mold caused her to wrinkle her nose. She stumbled forward, sliding her feet instead of picking them up for fear of falling over something. Finally she remembered she had her cell phone in her pocket. She pulled it out and pressed a round button on the front, turning it on. Dense blue light illuminated a path in front of her.

Holding the phone straight out ahead, she opened her eyes wide to better see, blinking from the dust motes swirling in the light.

She was in what appeared to be a large sitting room. Old furniture sat decaying and mildewing like the skeletons of ancient creatures, tented with thick cobwebs that trailed from their corners to the ground. The fabric was thin and split open with age. A tarnished mirror hung in the large living room, reflecting a hazy, milky image.

Thick dust covered the floor and there were no footprints. It had been a long time since anyone had been in here. 

Emily carefully made her way through the large room. To her left was a staircase. Her phone did not allow her to see to the top of the stairs, but she guessed from the way they curved, disappearing into the darkness, that it was long.

It was when she was standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking up into the ebony nothingness, that she heard the voice.


It was whispered, barely audible, and after jumping, she blurted out her first reaction.

“Guys, you know that’s not my name anymore!” Emily figured it was her friends playing a trick on her.

It became quiet again.

Emily made her way to a window and looked out. Paradox and Lucifer were still standing in the street, near the front lawn. Now they stood side by side, playing with their cell phones.

A prickly feeling crawled across Emily’s neck and down her back, leaving her hair standing on end.

She walked back to the staircase and once again looked up.


It was the same as before.

The realization that it wasn't Lucifer or Paradox fell over her. Her breath strangled in her tightened throat, her body started to tremble. She couldn't run out, she couldn't let him see her scared. She would have to face this, whatever was in the darkness. After a few unsuccessful attempts, she finally squeaked out, “Who’s here?”

There was no reply.

The thought of them setting her up with someone upstairs to mess with her gave her a burst of bravery. Emily exhaled sharp and aimed her phone at the stairs. “Listen, I’ve got a knife. Be warned.” She surprised herself with the confidence that came through.

Remembering there had been no footprints in the dust, fear mixed with curiosity, and a giggle from Paradox rode in on the dank air, compelling her forward.

She put one foot on the first step and pressed down. A slight groan came from the wood, but it held steady. Emily slowly put her other foot down and waited. It seemed that it would be able to hold her weight, even when she lightly bounced on it, so she began to climb the steps.

Soon, something began to pull her along. Her body went numb. It felt like a hand was reaching deep into her belly, its fingers gripping her insides lightly, tugging her farther up the steps. It tickled and despite the undercurrent of fear, Emily found herself nervously laugh.

The stairs curved upward in a circle. Emily didn’t know when they would ever end, but the pulling persisted and began to feel like a cold breath that licked at her ears.

Emily," the breathy voice died in the distance.

She climbed ever further. The air thickened the closer she was to the top. The distinct feeling of moisture clung to her skin, leaving a sheen of slickness behind.

Not able to tell from which direction the voice came, she turned, going toward her right. There were three doors that opened to reveal bedrooms with more decrepit furniture filling them. Going back down the hall, she continued down the other side.

On this side there was another bedroom and a small bathroom. The bathroom had a claw-footed bathtub that was filled with gelatinous brown muck. The smell was so strong and pungent in here that it burned her eyes. Emily backed out quickly.

Feeling frustrated, Emily was about to go back downstairs when she heard it again.

This way,” it breathed. The ‘s’ sound was elongated, mimicking a snake’s hiss.

It was coming from behind her.

There was a brief but strong primal instinct that kicked in, urging her to leave right now, but her emotions overpowered it, shoving the tiny voice away. With her head held high, she turned to see a door that she hadn’t noticed before. When she opened it, there was another smaller set of steps lying before her, wrapped in a strange silver glow.

Emily pocketed her cell phone because the light here was ample enough that she didn’t need it.

The voice became louder and less breathy as she climbed the steps with automatic movements.

Emily, come here,” it beckoned.

A large attic space opened up. Lit with the same silver glow as the steps. It housed many items such as a large, decorative mirror, stacks of moldy books, a coatrack with an antique white lace dress hanging in tatters from the edge, and framed portraits. Ladders were angled against the wall, a steel tub had been filled with boxes and old hats hung on pegs. Emily stared in wonder at the room. There was a dream-like quality to the moment with its filtered appearance and her muffled thoughts; her movements had slowed as if she were under water.


The voice was coming from a corner.

She followed it to find a large, black trunk sitting up against a wall. Kneeling, Emily pushed the heavy lid up.

There were stacks of books and old photographs bundled with shiny ribbon. A pair of boots lined with tiny, round buttons and a dry-rotted pinafore. She removed each item with ease, laying them each on the floor beside her.

Near the bottom, there was an old hairbrush, its bristles frail and brittle, and a matching hand mirror. They used to be silver but were now tarnished so bad that they appeared mostly to be a dull brown. She tried to look at herself in the glass. Still holding the mirror, she noticed something glowing in the bottom of the trunk.

Picking up a small, wrapped bundle, Emily began to unwind the gauze that covered it. The more she took off, the stronger the glow became. With the last of it removed, she could see that it was a necklace. A blue and white cameo; the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Carved into it was a child, his angelic face forever captured in pristine innocence. His blue eyes shone and seemed to be looking right at her. A snake that wound around his small legs and up his rounded belly to rest on his shoulder, lovingly, encircled his swathed body. The child appeared to be floating on a puffy cloud with stars lining the background, a small set of wings sprouting from his back.

Emily rubbed her fingertip across the pendant; each delicate score was painstakingly detailed. The blue was almost electric as it glowed in her hand.

She bowed her head and lifted the necklace, setting it in place around her throat.

Instantly the room went black.

Emily snapped out of the dream-like trance she was in and remembered where she was. Fear gripped every inch of her and she opened her mouth to scream. Before any sound could escape, something touched her neck.

A raspy voice hissed, “You have released me. For this I thank you, but, please forgive me; I haven’t fed in centuries.”

Searing pain blossomed from her throat as something sliced into her soft flesh. Warm blood spilled onto the floor with a heavy splash.

Emily clutched at her throat, gasping for air that was bubbling in the gaping wound. As she fell to her knees, her body was pulled from behind up into the air.

She managed one last scream that slashed through the silent night with piercing clarity. Lucifer and Paradox‘s heads snapped up at the sound. The two of them saw the glow coming from the stained glass window that now blossomed with color, and ran toward the house.

A river of blood fell upon the floor, and the necklace dropped beside it, the glow fading into the night.

“Emily!” In their haste, nicknames were forgotten. Their cries rang out as they clumsily made their way to the top floor.

The attic had darkened. Lucifer aimed his small penlight and saw that a large pool of blood covered the center of the room.

Lucifer paced the area looking for Emily. Paradox stared in shock at the blood.

A large drop of blood fell on Lucifer’s shoulder. He stopped where he was and slowly looked up.

In the darkness he could make out the edges of the eaves disappearing into inky blackness.

Another drop of blood fell on his cheek.

“Emily?” he asked in a weak voice.

From the black came the sound of wings beating followed by a harsh squeal.

A large creature emerged from the darkness above, swooping down at Lucifer who shielded his face with his arms and crouched, screaming.

The thing landed with a thud, its talons clicking on the wood.

It stretched its arms wide, and opening its chest, it leaned its head back and shrieked again, flexing large, veined black wings. It had the head of a snake. A forked tongue flicked out of its enormous mouth between long, sharp, red-stained fangs. Moist, bulbous eyes contained pointed pupils. 

As Lucifer trembled in the floor, Paradox stepped forward; her eyes open wide and fixed on the creature.

“You are real,” she said softly. Lowering her head, she dropped to one knee. “I bow before you.”

The creature tilted its head and ambled its lanky form ahead.

It bent down and enveloped her with its large wings. A loud crack and a quick squeal were all Lucifer heard as he sat in the floor, rocking back and forth.

Paradox’s limp body fell to the side.

The giant creature lifted itself off the ground with its wings. Wind swirled in the room kicking up papers, dust and debris.

Pointing a clawed finger at Lucifer it said, “Tell them I have come.”

Lucifer snapped out of it in time to see the creature’s visage change from the beast that it had been to the form of the small, beautiful child on the necklace. Bright blue eyes glowed in the darkness. In an instant it morphed back into the beast.

With a powerful whoosh of its wings, it propelled itself forward with great momentum, crashing through the stained glass window and off into the night.

Its large black form was briefly silhouetted against the bloated, full moon.

A shriek rendered the night alive.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Tom Vater on his new release, "The Cambodian Book of the Dead"

Occasionally I do a book review on the ol' blog here, and considering it's been awhile since I've put one up, I'm definitely overdue. Exhibit A, an imprint of Angry Robot, is an exciting new publisher of commercial crime fiction. I was lucky enough to be sent a couple of their newest releases, which I will be featuring here. I also write book reviews for another site called Fresh Fiction , and the official review for both of the books will be listed there. For now I have the following interview with Tom Vater, author of The Cambodian Book of the Dead.

Read, enjoy, and by all means check out his intense thrill-ride of a book!

Can you tell me a little about yourself so that new readers may have a chance to get to know Mr. Vater, uncut and uncensored, of course?

I am a writer and publisher working predominantly in Asia.
I have published two novels, The Devil’s Road to Kathmandu, currently available in English and Spanish, and The Cambodian Book of the Dead, worldwide in July 1013 by Exhibit A.
My third novel, The Man with the Golden Mind, will be out with Exhibit A in June 2014.
I have worked as a journalist in Asia for many years and have written for The Wall Street Journal, The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The South China Morning Post, Marie Claire, Geographical, Penthouse and other publications.
I have published several non-fiction books, including the highly acclaimed Sacred Skin (with photographer Aroon Thaewchatturat) and the more recent Burmese Light with photographer Hans Kemp.
I am the co-author of several documentary screenplays, most notably The Most Secret Place on Earth, a feature on the CIA’s covert war in 1960s Laos.
I am the co-owner of Crime Wave Press, a Hong Kong based English language crime fiction imprint.
In my spare time, I travel and play punk rock.

What sparked your interest in writing this action-packed tale?
I worked in Cambodia, as a film maker, guide book writer and print journalist for many years. I first visited the country briefly in 1995 during the war, then more regularly from 2001 onwards. Cambodia is beautiful, terrible and endlessly fascinating. An American writer once said that Cambodia was one of the most dangerous countries in the world: First one falls in love with it, then it breaks your heart. A pretty apt description and a great incentive to set a novel there. The action came naturally – Cambodia is a troubled, war torn society. The country is extremely lawless (and was more so in 2001 when the story of The Cambodian Book of the Dead takes place) and that definitely informs the story, the moral construct of the narrative and the personality of Detective Maier.

Were there any real life inspirations for some of the characters in your book? Are the locations you mention in the book all real? For instance, the Bokor Casino. You painted such a vivid and haunting picture of it.

Many of the characters in my books are amalgamations of real people that I have met on the road. The locations in The Cambodian Book of the Dead are real for the most part. Unfortunately, the Bokor Casino has recently been renovated and has lost its haunting quality. The former French hill station is being redeveloped into a gambling destination for Asian high rollers. The Heart of Darkness in Phnom Penh is now a brash disco and no longer the dingy, rather outlandish club it once was. The temple where the book’s final scenes take place is a figment of my imagination, based on other remote temples I have visited in Cambodia.

Can you tell me the most challenging and the most rewarding part of writing this book?

  The most rewarding part is getting The Cambodian Book of the Dead published. I have made my living from writing for more than 15 years now and to have the book picked up by a UK publisher is incredible. Of course I also enjoy writing the Maier novels immensely.

 What was your favorite part(s) of the story?

I don't know if I have a favorite part. It's hard to say. I suppose the early scene in the Heart of Darkness makes for a great self-contained little story. The scenes between Maier and the White Spider, the story within the story also means a lot to me personally - the book's message, if there is such a thing, is found in those pages.

 Knowing that you're a travel write, I would expect your job provides much inspiration in the way of fiction writing. Do you have any other exciting locations that you are planning to write about?

The next Detective Maier title, The Man with the Golden Mind, out with Exhibit A in June 2014, will be set in Laos. The job as such provides no inspiration for fiction writing, but I have visited many places around Asia, the Middle East, the US and Europe on journalistic assignments, and for projects and books, and the impressions gathered on these journeys inform my fiction writing. My first novel, The Devil's Road to Kathmandu, was set on the hippy trail between London and Asia in the 1970s though I did not travel overland along the same route until 1998.

What would you present as the main theme of the book? What do you think readers will take away from it and talk about two weeks from now?

The main theme of the book is the nature of barbarity and genocide. Stands to reason when a German detective visits a country that has just emerged from complete social and cultural collapse and mass murder. That said, The Cambodian Book of the Dead is also an entertainment and I use Cambodia's freakishness and culture of impunity to drive the story forward. I guess the main theme of the book is the world's instability, and our tendency to deconstruct entire societies with the most violent means, whether for ideological or financial reasons. Open any half decent newspaper and you can read the same message between the lines on every page.

Will there be any more stories starring the German detective Maier?

The Man with the Golden Mind, the second Maier Mystery, is out with Exhibit A in June 2014. I am planning a third Maier at present, but it's too early to talk about it.

I hear that you are a punk rock player, making you a man with varied tastes and talents. Which bands were your biggest influences, and while I'm asking, who are your literary influences?

Music to die for: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roky Erickson, Townes Van Zandt, Charles Mingus, Captain Beefheart, The Rolling Stones, The Stooges, The MC5, CAN, Miles Davis, Betti Davis (wife of Miles), Black Flag, The Cramps, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The London Dirthole Company, Die Antwoord

Literary heroes: Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, Raymond Chandler, William Burroughs, Paul Bowles, Patricia Highsmith, David Goodis, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, John D. MacDonald, Ross MacDonald, Mark Behm, Katherine Dunn, Massimo Carlotto, Philip Kerr

What are the next projects you have coming up?

  I have just published Burmese Light, an illustrated book on Burma, with photographer Hans Kemp. The Man with the Golden Mind will be my next fiction release and I am about to start work on a stand-alone thriller set in the UK and South East Asia. A third Detective Maier Mystery is also on the cards.

Tom Vater:
The Cambodian Book of the Dead: Amazon B&N

There will be a guest post soon with one of Mr. Vater's Exhibit A colleagues, Karen Sandler. Please stop by and see what she's up to and find out about her release, Clean Burn.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Thoughts on Emerson

I found myself reading Ralph Waldo Emerson recently for an assignment at school. Now, it has been a while since I’ve visited his works, and to be honest I was looking forward to it. In the book that we use there are small biographies before the author’s selected works. In Emerson’s biography, something struck me and I immediately knew I wanted to talk about it. That’s one great thing about having a blog. You can talk about, well, anything you want to, but back to the point. In the biography, it is mentioned that Emerson’s works are particularly demanding on readers. This wasn’t what grabbed me. Anyone can read his writings and notice the complexity of thought and matter and easily come to this conclusion. Instead, it was something else that intrigued me.

“There is creative readings as well as creative writing.”

I can’t really tell you the punch the above sentence delivered to me, but let’s just say it caused my gears to turn. Emerson is a man who was so wrapped up in the notion of self and individualism that he brought it to his writing in the sense of thinking of the reader. What I mean is, he wants the reader to be individual, to have a separate experience, one all their own, when they read his work. He’s all right with one reader feeling a certain way about story A and another reader feeling completely different. If the first person was taken to the distant reaches of the universe with the story, and the second person was left leaning against the tree that held them up as they read, again, he was fine with that. He respected the experience just for the sake of having one.

The book went on to say, “Emerson’s language can be elliptical and sometimes maddeningly abstract, but there is no American writer who placed greater importance on the reader’s active interpretive role in generating new meanings and ways of seeing the world” (The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Eighth Edition, Volume B, 214).

As a writer, I write stories that bend the rules as we know them. I ask for the reader to willingly suspend their belief and enter the worlds that I construct. Ultimately, I want them to experience what my characters experience, to see them like I do, to make them as real to themselves as I see them when I write, and I want them to feel the characters’ feelings whether they are happy, sad, scared, what have you. As a reader I like the stories that are able to invoke these emotions and put me in their worlds the best. When you get lost in a story, that is a good sign of some great writing. But for a writer to write specifically so that the reader would be able to interpret the story and take from it an individual view takes it one step further.

Do most writers write with this in mind, or are they writing to hit beats and plot points, conforming to a spreadsheet of moments, structure or events they feel are necessary to take place? For genre fiction, I see more of this, certainly, but what if a genre fiction writer were to also employ this element in their writing? I would think that the story would be richer, more robust. This is not to say that some writers aren’t doing this already, only that I’m curious to know what would happen if it were incorporated in a big way. This would allow a reader to have their own experience, their own adventure. Up the ante, if you will.

Have we, as writers, lost our way? 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Somewhere in the Shadows

One of my latest releases, Somewhere in the Shadows, is part of an epic giveaway consisting of not just my books, but books from the other authors in the anthology, as well. Have I grabbed your attention? Let me sweeten the pot by telling you a little bit about Somewhere in the Shadows by way of a book description.

"From the shadows of the night comes nine haunting stories from some of the most promising horror, science fiction, and thriller writers out there. Tales of vampires, werewolves, rogue A.I.s, bad roads, zombies, and even malicious words bring out the terror, suspense, gore, and even humor in modern horror. With an introduction by "The Imaginings" author Paul Dail and an eclectic variety of terror that has something for every kind of horror fan, this is one anthology sure to keep you up past dawn."

The authors include: Jonathan D. Allen, Dean Giles, Craig Jones, Marissa Farrar, Andrez Bergen, Andrew Hudson, Dan H. Kind, C.M. Humphries and a foreword by Paul Dail.

My story, "Blood Line", is about a man who doesn't know his true lineage, but finds out by way of a mysterious letter and the full moon. This is a collection full of wonderful and terrifying works.

Check out the many ways to be entered to win a copy of Shadows and the other books -

  • Tweet the giveaway (one ticket)
  • Follow me  on Twitter: @akeller9 (three tickets)
  • Check out my blog/site (two tickets)
  • RSS/Subscribe to my blog/site (ten tickets)
  • Post giveaway on blog/site (ten tickets)
  • Tweet about Somewhere in the Shadows (two tickets)
Go ahead and enter below. It can't hurt and you might win some awesome fiction.

 . a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

5 am

It's amazing what I will think of at 5 am.

The house is quiet, dark and still, but my mind is like a computer spitting out 1s and 0s in a series of misfired, disjointed sequences. Random thoughts flit by, cruising at a pleasant speed, allowing me to grab any one freely, examine it, turn it around and solve its disparate Rubik's Cube, then letting it float back up into the ether where it's quickly replaced by another. Sometimes the thoughts are meaningless and inconsequential; others are heavy hitting, in your face subjects that are way too big to even think of solving. Really, it doesn't matter what the thoughts are, it's that my brain thinks, hey, this is a good time to spout off and send crap tons of information her way.

 In another perspective, I've come up with some pretty good story ideas during this time, if I can manage to shovel away the heavy psychological compost. Or if I'm already working on something, and maybe I'm stuck or in a place where I need some more creativity, some more answers, this magical time can also supply me with these.

But where do they come from? Why don't they bombard me during the daytime when I'm fully awake and able to handle the barrage?

I have a theory.

It's because of the Thought Monster.

Don't know what that is? Well, I will tell you.

It's a large invisible creature that tiptoes (Why does it tiptoe if you can't see it, I don't know. Monsters need manners, too.) into our homes and looks to see if anyone is awake. If it finds everyone sleeping, it simply goes away to look at your neighbors (Perv). But if someone is awake, it unstraps a sack from its massive body, takes one large and clawed hand and reaches down deep, taking out strings of words that dangle over its palm, threatening to spill out onto the floor, then dumps them on our head where they are instantly soaked up. Next the fucker smiles through black, filthy teeth because it knows what it has bestowed upon us. Sleepless, thought filled, pre-dawn mornings.

That's what I like to think about the whole process. Monsters soothe me. Don't judge.

I know I'm not alone in this. I've talked to other people who complain about the same thing. During my latest thought fest, I decided to try and figure out the culprit and that's what I came up with.

Don't like my Thought Monster? Add your own ideas below, if you dare.