Old, Scary Folktales

Storytelling was a big thing when I was a kid. The internet was just getting started back in the early 1990s and generally it was used for research more than entertainment like it is today. I remember gathering a handful of friends in a rarely empty band room and exchanging scary stories together. It became a game of successfully creeping your friends out, and so each story upped the stakes.

My elementary school even brought in a professional storyteller to share scary stories with us once. How cool is that? I don’t even know if professional storytellers even exist anymore! She sat in our stoic school library in a rocking chair, an old woman in her element as we sat down on the floor around her.

She told us old folktales, stories that are pretty hard to find these days. Living in the South in the U.S., you get to hear all kinds of interesting, terrifying stories. This is one that used to creep me out, and usually got a shudder out of my friends. I’ve taken massive creative liberties with it of course, since the original is fairly sparse. It’s sometimes referred to as The Keyhole, and there are countless retellings of it. I’m happy to add mine to the pile.

If you want to read more scary stories, Creepy Campfire Quarterly Volume 1 came out today!

Enjoy!

The light drizzle turned into a downpour as I navigated my way through the poorly marked Georgia back roads. I cursed my grimy windshield as I barely turned in time to avoid plunging into a deep, muddy ditch. I knew I had to find a place to stop. I still had an hour before I reached my aunt’s house, and it was well past midnight. The rain was slowing me down and my exhaustion was catching up with me.

I grinned as the dimly lit motel sign came into view. It stood like a barely readable beacon amid the sheets of rain that fell from the dark skies. There was only one other car parked as I pulled in, and the parking lot was a muddy mess, but I hoped that the rooms were at least clean. I made a dash for the front door and braced myself as my shoes skid on the linoleum floor.

A curious receptionist poked his head around the corner, “Coming down pretty hard out there, isn’t it?”

I gave a nervous grin and shook out my hair. “Sure is. You have a room available?”

The man nodded and took my info down. He didn’t use a computer, just a large pad of paper that might have been used for drafting. He pulled an old fashioned key off the back wall marked 112 and handed it to me. I noticed he had skipped the one marked 111 and thought of the car parked outside.

“I guess I’m not the only person trying to get out of the rain tonight, am I?”

He gave a small smile but didn’t answer. “Your room is on the next floor up, the first room to your left.”

I nodded, figuring he was probably a bit tired himself considering the time, and went up to the next floor. I knew the building was older since they used heavy keys instead of the cards used by more upscale places. The steps were shorter too, which isn’t unusual in older buildings. I did have to take my heels off though as I padded up the stairs.

The carpet was ugly, but not terrible. It just looked dated, much like the cold key I held in my hand. As I made my way to my room, I passed room 111, where the other person was staying. I could see light from the old-fashioned keyhole, so I knew the person much be awake. I recalled the receptionist’s odd behavior and wondered what would keep someone up at this hour with the weather so terrible outside.

Regardless I entered my room and peeled off my wet clothes. The place was old but clean, and I stretched out on the bed, thinking to relax for just a moment. Instead I fell asleep.

When I awoke, the rain was coming down even harder outside. I could hear it beating against the window, but I could also hear a siren just above it. I was worried that someone had gotten injured, and in a sleepy haze, I crept to the window and peeked out the curtain. The parking lot was a flooded mess, but I saw no ambulance or any cause for the siren I heard wailing over the rain.

That’s when my sleepy brain realized that it wasn’t a siren, but a wail I heard. Someone was crying their heart out.

I pulled on my clothes from the day before, still cold and damp, and I went out into the hallway, intent on notifying the receptionist downstairs. That’s when I realized the wailing was coming from the room across the hall, room 111.

I gave a quick knock at the door, “Excuse me, but is everything alright?” The wailing turned into sniffling inside. I knocked again, “I could hear you from my room and wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Noticing that there was still a light emerging from the keyhole, I crouched down and peeked through. The room was very similar to mine, but faced the back of the motel. The curtains were thrown back and a woman sat on the end of the bed, her long black hair just sweeping along the bedspread. She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. I knocked again, peeking down to the keyhole, but the woman didn’t move.

keyhole

With a sigh, I went back to my room. This time I got ready for bed properly, then climbed under the covers. The room felt colder, and I worried for the sad woman in the next room. A thunderclap arched its way across the sky and the room flared with lightning. Somehow I found sleep again.

Morning came with the sun. The parking lot outside was still flooded, but it was dry enough to drive on. I stepped out into the hallway, and spotted the closed door to room 111. Concerned, I crouched down and peeked through the keyhole. I was hoping the poor woman hadn’t stayed awake all night. Instead of the room however, all I saw was bright red. She must have covered it up with a piece of clothing to keep anyone from spying on her. Still I couldn’t prevent a shudder from going through me, and forgetting to remove my heels, I almost tripped down the stairs.

The receptionist this morning was a smiling blonde woman. “Everything alright?” She asked with her thick accent.

“Yes, but I was wondering about the woman in room 111. I heard her crying last night and…”

The woman’s smile faded. “Are you sure it was that room?”

“Yes, I even saw her through the peephole last night. She seemed very upset.”

She pursed her lips and looked away from me as the words stumbled out. “That’s not possible. We never lend that room out. A woman killed herself in there, we call her the black-haired lady. Three housekeepers have tried to clean it, and all of them have run out screaming about her angry, red eyes.”

Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Yesterday R. Michael made a post, Blogging Lessons and Woes, about how it’s important as an author to write outside of your comfort zone. In his case, he was very referring to blogging. After a year of having his blog, he was shocked at how much he appreciated it. I’ve run this blog for almost six years now, and I can easily admit that it gets difficult figuring out what to blog about. (Doing the Blogging University challenge this month has helped, but more on that in another post.) I’ve come to accept that blogging is always going to be a challenge, but I’ve also learned there are far much more uncomfortable subjects to write about.

I’m a nature lover. As a kid I dreamed of growing up to be a veterinarian. I follow The Cornell Lab’s awesome newsletter, getting info on fun topics like how to build proper bird houses and where to place them in your yard. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw, nested in the comments, someone detail how they get rid of House Sparrows which are apparently considered pests in certain areas. Not only did they detail the method, but they also gave an estimate of how many birds they had disposed of over the past two years.

crowTrapsI was horrified but, being a writer, I wanted to know more. I live in the U.S. South, so I understand how overpopulation can become an issue. That’s why we have deer hunting season after all, and even though deer are my favorite animals, I understand how they can take over a place if left unchecked. I soon stumbled upon control methods for crows, using a disturbing but ingenious cage. I found out that they’re difficult to deal with because they’re just so darn intelligent.

One amusing comment from this video stuck with me, and I just had to share it:

I don’t have time to scroll through all 2768 comments at the moment but I have lived, treeplanting, in the woods with ravens on Queen Charlotte Islands, Canada and this simple test is nothing compared to the ravens stealing my lunch. Pardon me, my third lunch in three days.   Opening my click locks, then opening the zipper then pulling out the tupperware and getting the duct tape off of it to open it and then eating my sandwich. THEN flying by me on the side of a mountain to caw at me!!! Did I mention the cedar sticks and large boulders I put on the knapsack within which this prize was hidden? This was the third lunch they stole from me and after that I LEARNED to just leave them a freebie on the ground and they’d leave me my lunch.  I still shake my fist every time I see a crow. They are brilliant.

It’s amazing to me that we spend so much energy trying to capture and dispose of nuisance animals when sometimes we might be better off learning to live with them.

So yes, the story was very difficult to write and I’m pretty sure I was frowning the entire time I wrote it. However I think my disgust only made the story better. It took longer to write since I was putting so much energy into it. I challenged myself in a way I hadn’t done before, and I think the writing benefits from it. Of course, you’ll have to read it for yourself and let me know!

“Tiny Necks” is set to be released in Not Your Average Monster Volume 2  by Bloodshot Books on February 29th, but should be up for pre-order earlier than that.

Fantasy, Beauty, and Fashion

A friend and I stumbled upon this video earlier, and we were simply awestruck by this woman’s incredible sense of beauty and fashion. Watching her careful attention to detail in putting together these looks is fascinating. (Click on the images below to see the full detail.)

pinkFlowers

 

Despite the way people sometimes treat her when she walks down the street, she still does what she loves. I just love the way she mixes the natural world into a look.

leafyGreen

Doing what you like is really hard, but by pursuing it you will discover a different side to yourself. You will meet certain new people only through this. If you keep doing what you want to do, you will get some chances. So never give up. Keep doing what you like!

 

cuteBunny

And I certainly hope Minori keeps doing what she likes! She’s quite an inspiration!

To see more of her work, check out her website at:
http://www.minori.co/

Hooray for To-Do Lists!

In January 2015, I felt stretched thin with all of the writing projects I was working on. So I pulled out some paper and made a list of all of them, including a to-do list for each one. It really helped to keep me focused throughout the year, and it felt so good to be able to check them off as I got them published. So I decided to make another list for this year.

Many of the novels have been works-in-progress for several years. The series I refer to as [Suzie] for example was actually the first novel I wrote back in 2010. It’s seen a great deal of improvement since then, but still has a long way to go. Others, like Beyond the Treehouse, are currently out on submission and I’m waiting to hear back on.

Traditional publishing can be very slow, I’m talking months to over a year to hear back from submitted manuscripts. Even short stories can take over a year to hear back on. I learned early that it’s a good idea to not wait around. Your best bet is to push on to your next book, your next short, or your next series. I’m putting in this disclaimer cause I don’t want people to think I’ve written all of these in a single year. These titles, of course, could change as well.

Anyway, here is my 2016 Writing To-Do list in no particular order.

With a clean list of projects, I feel like I can actually figure out what to work on next. Otherwise I flounder around trying to make a decision, and nothing gets done!

My Favorite Kind of Strange

When you mention fantasy to anyone, they typically think of sweeping epics like the Lord of the Rings trilogy or Game of Thrones. Just like when you mention horror, they think of a million Stephen King titles or gory films like Saw or Hostel. Now I do love a good fantasy epics and I can enjoy a splatterfest too, but those aren’t the areas I love about fantasy and horror. My tastes run into the surreal, the inexplicable, the creepiness that lingers with you for a long time afterwards.

I thought I would describe some of my favorite scenes that have lingered with me over the years. All of these I believe are from fantasy films/books, but they’re such dark scenes that it’s easy to see the subtle terror in them.

1. Witches

When people think of this 1990 film, they typically get caught up in the amazing effects for the transformation of the witches, or the way they transform the boys into mice. These were some of Jim Henson’s last pieces that had his personal input on them, so it’s entirely understandable that they’re what most people think of when they recall this film. However the section I loved was at the very beginning. Years ago I struggled to figure out where this scene came from because it felt so very different from the rest of the movie.

You can’t tell me that isn’t terrifying! I remember being shocked that it was from such an amusing film like Witches of all things. In doing research, they ended up changing the plot of the film around quite a bit because Roald Dahl thought it would be too frightening for children. I’m so glad they kept this scene in!

2. Return to Oz

This fabulous film from 1985 doesn’t get enough credit. It’s a mishmash of multiple books in the Wizard of Oz series, but it has several scenes that are far more intense than the famous 1920s film with Judy Garland. In addition to having scenes from a bizarre, unfriendly madhouse and giving the implication that Dorothy has been having hallucinations, the fantasy world is both strange and quite dangerous.

Princess Mombi is a sorceress who not only turned the citizens of Emerald City to stone, but she then went through and chopped off the heads of all the pretty young women to use for herself. Some of the creepiest scenes are with Mombi in her hall of heads.

Dorothy is far braver than I would be as a child, but I suppose this is hardly her first visit to Oz.

3. Pan’s Labyrinth

I remember sitting in the movie theater when this film came on. When people saw that it was going to have subtitles many started to leave. Then came a violent scene that involved a glass bottle and some poor guy’s head, and suddenly all those people came trickling back into the theater. Guillermo del Toro has a fabulous taste for my favorite kind of fantasy, and this film really epitomizes it. It’s a blend that isn’t entirely fantasy and isn’t your typical horror variety either. You love the monsters he creates even though they creep you out all the same.

Intense enough? I love how it’s not quite a fairy tale even though it uses all of the typical tropes, and I love how he takes it to such a dark level.

4. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

I haven’t had a chance to watch all of the BBC series they put out about this yet, only the first episode. The book however is quite a behemoth, but so worth it! If you can get past all the scenes with Mr. Norrell and reach Jonathan Strange’s sections where he shines, you will be rewarded. One of my favorite characters in this book is the gentleman with the thistle-down hair. He’s a trickster faerie who has been quite bored and finds a way to steal away part of someone’s life. He’s a little too serious for my tastes so far in the BBC version. I imagined him far more amused all the time, but maybe that’s just me. I also love the Raven King! He’s more legend than person, which makes him all the more fascinating.

Okay, enough gushing about this book. The part that made me really fall in love with it was toward the end when the realm of the faerie world begins overlapping with the human world. Roads begin appearing all over England leading into this other land, and some people are silly enough to follow it. There’s a short scene where a knight, who proclaims himself to be the Champion of the Castle, says he will kill anyone who tries to harm the Lady of the Castle. I won’t say much more, but in the faerie tale traditions, you can figure out where that goes. Oh, and there’s also a wonderfully weird scene with a crazy cat lady. This book is chock full with weirdness in fact, which is why I just couldn’t leave it off of this list.

 

That’s all for now at least. I’m sure I’ll be adding more to this list later. I’m always finding new blends of strange, surreal worlds that appeal to me, or creating my own. If you know of any books or films that you think would suit my tastes, please let me know! It’s a very niche interest, but I would love to find more stuff like it!