Friday, February 26, 2016

The Boy (2016) 
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

Director: William Brent Bell
Screenplay: Stacey Menear
Stars: Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead) and Rupert Evans

Summary: A young American named Greta (Lauren Cohan) takes a job as a nanny for an 8-year-old boy in a remote English village. To her surprise, Greta learns that the child of her new employers is a life-size doll. They care for the doll as if it was human, which helps the couple to cope with the death of their own son 20 years earlier. When Greta violates a list of strict rules, a series of disturbing and inexplicable events bring her worst fears to life, leading her to believe that the doll is alive.

The Review: Thanks to the Gothic screenplay by Stacey Menear, The Boy strides the thin thread between Horror and the Supernatural with the finesse of a high wire act aerialist. Greta, played by Lauren Cohan of The Walking Dead, is hired by Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire, an older couple who require a nanny for their "son", who it turns out is a porcelain doll. A very eerie figure throughout the movie. Greta is provided with a list of specific instructions for taking for Brahms, the name of the boy. After the couple leaves, Greta does not take the list seriously and takes to drinking wine and reading magazines. 

Until the strange voices begin at night and the porcelain doll begins to appear in different places throughout the house. 

The grocery delivery man, Malcolm, who is smitten with Greta, tells her a bit about the boy each time he drops off groceries. Initially we learn that the boy was "odd" and died in a fire at the age of eight, twenty years ago. The doll appeared after the boy's death and the Heelshires treated the doll like their son all this time. However, over the past year, they've begun trying to hire nannies unsuccessfully to care for Brahms. It is only when Brahms "wants" Greta, Mrs. Heelshire informs her, that they can finally take a long needed vacation. And as Greta learns more about the doll and the real Brahms, she begins to take the strange occurrences in the house more seriously. She begins to follow the list of instructions more closely as she believes that the doll is alive. It doesn't help matters that her requests to the doll get fulfilled.

Meanwhile, we also learn that Greta has moved to England to avoid an abusive ex-boyfriend who is following her. And as her romance buds with Malcolm, the doll's actions (which all appear off-screen) become more threatening. The final act of the story is a collision between Greta, her ex, Malcolm, and, of course, Brahms. 

No spoilers here. What I can tell you is that this is a classic Gothic story. Big scary mansion. Spooky doll. Dark corridors. Could have used a couple of storms, but that may have been overkill. As it is, it is quite effective in getting to that satisfying ending. You may or may not see it coming, depending on how well you know the Gothic form. If you don't, you should have a great time. If you do, you can watch the traditional form of suspense and danger unfold before you in three tight acts. I can't wait to see what Stacey Menear comes up with next. All I suggest, move on to something a bit more horrific and say no to The Boy Part II.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Fright Mare--Women Write Horror (2016),
Edited by Billie Sue Mosiman

Reviewed by Anthony Servante


In the Romantic Era, the literature often associated with women were Gothic novels, thanks in part to authors Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) and Mary Shelley (1797-1851). Although the genre was created by a male writer, Horace Walpole (1717-1793), women introduced elements of the supernatural to the gothic tale. The undead, ghosts, demons, necromancy, witchcraft and the dark arts, and even satire are some such elements introduced by women writers of this period. In "Northanger Abbey", Jane Austen mocks the trappings of the traditional "male" gothic by placing her heroine "Catherine" in the mundane setting of the Abbey where danger and intrigue are expected but nothing transpires. Imagine a Gozilla movie without a giant monster. Austen gave us the first gothic tale without any gothic elements. Women could always be counted on to add layers to traditional literature. 

It is always a thrill to read what new takes women will devise for the genre of Horror. Which brings us to FRIGHT MARE--WOMEN WRITE HORROR (2016), Edited by Billie Sue Mosiman. 

Fright-Mare is an anthology of horror stories written by women, and as much as I'd love to say these women writers bring something new to the genre, just as the Romantic women helped the Gothic novel to evolve, that isn't the case here. What has been accomplished here in this anthology compiled by Billie Sue Mosiman is that these horror stories hold up on merit alone. It is not a case of a gender specific story base. These are not "women stories"; they are primal examples of terror, subtle horror, and base fears--elements not uncommon to any good tale in this male-dominated field. As such, that makes these stories all the more noteworthy. We are not here to say these stories compare favorably to male-written stories of horror. Not at all. We are here to say that this anthology does not need comparison between genders. Fright Mare stands above comparisons. It is simply a frightening selection of stories that will scare you on so many levels that you'll wish you had chosen a less threatening male-written horror anthology.

In her introduction to the book, Billie Sue writes, "I hope you enjoy these works and spend a few hours in reading pleasure. That’s what all writing is about anyway. Not who wrote it. Not the gender of the author. It’s the story. It always was and always will be." No one ever says that a woman wrote "Frankenstein". Fans merely point out that it is a great book. That is what we have here--a great book. And Ms. Mosiman has accomplished exactly what she set out to do with this anthology. She captured the Horror, and it is indeed sublime. 

The Authors and Their Stories:

Contance Craving - Raven Dane
The Goblin Box - Hillary Lyon
Tintype - Elizabeth Massie
The Whole of the Wideness of Night - Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Snow Angel - Amy Grech
Secrets of the Sargasso - Morgan Griffith
The Ouroboros Bite - Marie Victoria Robertson
Here I Lie - Lorraine Versini
Sakura Time - Loren Rhoads
Promises, Bliss, and Lies - Rose Blackthorn
Backslide - K. L. Nappier
City Girl - Kathryn Ptacek
What Storms Bring - KC Grifant
Pegasus - Mara Buck
Third Time’s a Charm - Tonia Brown
Ballerina - Sarah Doebereiner
One Hour Before the Dark - Mary Ann Peden-Coviello
Dead Messengers - Lucy Taylor
Sin - C.W. LaSart
Sense Deprived - Kristal Stittle

Editor: Billie Sue Mosiman


New from Autumn Christian

Book Description:

New on Fungasm Press.
"The gene-splice baby of Philip K. Dick and Poppy Z. Brite." -- John Skipp, from his introduction.


From the moment you start to turn the pages, it will soak into your central nervous system, subtly and subversively reprogramming you at the DNA level. Each of these ten stories is engineered to disrupt a different psychic threshold. Pierce the layers between dimensions. Unleashing visions, demons and demiurges of the deepest collective unconscious, both beautiful and terrible.

From deeply haunted Southern gothic strangeness to interplanetary quests of illuminating doom and profound cosmic transformation, Ecstatic Inferno is a heroic dose of hallucinatory modern speculative fiction, uncut and unforgettable.

So taste the brain of Autumn Christian, where every line of idea-drenched, intoxicating prose bleeds with razored wit and revelations so sharp they poke holes in the night. Side effects may include: flashbacks, unshakeable awe and terror, the sense that your reality will never be the same.



Autumn Christian is a fiction writer who lives in the dark woods with poisonous blue flowers in her backyard and a black deer skull on her wall. She is waiting for the day when she hits her head on the cabinet searching for the popcorn bowl and all consensus reality dissolves.

She's been a freelance writer, a game designer, a cheese producer, a haunted house actor, and a video game tester. She considers Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Katie Jane Garside, the southern gothic, and dubstep, as main sources of inspiration.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Poetry Today: Trends and Traditions 
Nonsense Verse 
February 2016

Compiled, Formatted & Introduced
by Anthony Servante


William Hughes Mearns is the author of "Antagonish", best remembered for its opening lines, "While I was walking up a stair/I met a man who wasn't there;/I met this man again today;/Oh, how I wish he'd go away." It has been recited and reprinted so many times that many readers remember the poem differently, and that's because there are so many variations that the original is all but forgotten. Here it is in its earliest form:


Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today,
I wish, I wish he'd go away...

When I came home last night at three,
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn't see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don't you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don't slam the door...

Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn't there,
He wasn't there again today
Oh, how I wish he'd go away...

Another example of "nonsense" poetry comes to us from dubious authorship (though Edward Lear comes to mind).

 One Bright Morning

One bright day in the middle of the night,
Two dead boys came out to fight,
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other,
A deaf policeman heard the noise,
Came and shot those two dead boys,
How do you know this lie is true,
Ask the blind man he saw it too!!

Brian P. Cleary, in his book, "Rainbow Soup" (2004), writes:

One tall midget reached up high,
Touched the ground above the sky,
Tied his loafers, licked his tongue,
And told about the bee he stung.
He painted, then, an oval square
The color of the bald man's hair,
And in the painting you could hear
What's undetected by the ear. 

"Nonsense verse" has been around a long time. Lewis Carroll used it in "Alice in Wonderland" (1865), Ambrose Bierce in "The Devil's Dictionary" (1906), Edward Gorey in "The Unstrung Harp" (1953). and today, we have our poets applying the form to their poetry. With us we have Michael H. Hanson, Coralie Rowe, Lori R. Lopez, and D.S. Scott presenting their take on nonsense verse. Without further ado, let's join our poetry already in progress.

We begin with Mr. Hanson.

Michael H. Hanson


I wrote my first poetic works and had them published in my small town newspaper starting at the age of 15. I did not pen all that much work during my high school years, but I'm not unhappy with what I produced. My eldest brother had just started college and was an English major at that time. He encouraged me to experiment as a writer and find my voice.

Note: Mike's new book Dark Parchments: Midnight Curses & Verses has made the preliminary ballot for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection. Good luck, Mike. You deserve it.

The Poems:

Battle Lull 
by Michael H. Hanson

Declaring peace two countries warred, 
raising white flags swinging a sword, 
calling a truce they both attack, 
retreat and stab the other’s back. 
Then both concede and demand land, 
cry and spit on the other’s hand.

Couples Counseling 

by Michael H. Hanson

Just yesterday morning, fifty years ago 
a widower mourned for his laughing widow 
while covered in moonlight deep underground 
they both sang and screamed without any sound 
skating on jello and tuning a tree, 
lost in a graveyard afloat on the sea.

Coralie Rowe

Biography:Coralie Rowe started writing poetry in early 2014 and has had twenty poems published in five different anthologies, with three more to be published soon. She is a stay at home mum, who believes reading her child so many nursery rhymes has infected her own brain.

The Poems:

This and That

Owl and mouse 

Were having a chat 
Not about much 
Just this and that 
No real idea where 
The discussion was at 
It's the truth, I swear 
Gossip spread by cat 
The passerby that overheard 
Just small brown bat 
But with his sonic ears 
You know it's matter of fact 
Well after chasing his lunch 
Of a fat, crunchy gnat 
He stopped by to tell 
His tale to swamp rat 
Who at first was flippant 
About gossip, spread by cat 
But later heard it again 
Scavenging the mud flat 
It spread like wild fire 
Through the forest that 
Life was upside down 
Like a magicians hat 
How owl and mouse 
Could just sit and chat 
Not about much 
Just this and that

Over Thunked

My over think
Has over thunk
I think I should
Just get drunk

My over drink
Has over drunk
But my thoughts
Did not shrunk

Thoughts not shrunk
They did not shrink
Maybe I need
Another drink

Drink to think
Thunk to drunk 
Shrink to shrunk
Drunk as as skunk

Lori R. Lopez


Lori’s work, whether poetic or not, can stray from meaning and form.  It can uncommonly ramble and skip around a point.  Her words may dawdle or dribble, become drivel or kibble, drip with sarcastic mumbo-jumbo and made-up terms.  She is often seen from a distance, hunched over, muttering to herself and scribbling some new nonsense under a full moon, or no moon at all.  On occasion she makes perfect sense.

The Poems:

The Day That Was The Night

by Lori R. Lopez

Time stood still while running away in terror
as a petrified clock fell apart ticking off the fingers
of hands that couldn’t feel and had no thumbs
for hitching hikes or any serious twiddling
en-route to the edge of the world where everything
ended up without necessarily adding up — a stack of
dustballs and dumbbells lying in the beds they made
out of sheets as smooth as fluffy sheep counted like
sleek Egyptian threads of brittle mummified linens,
unraveling when the rooster’s crow cawed at the moment
of Midnight’s stroke, murmuring heartfelt rancid
nothings in the ear of a tone-deaf paramedic mockingbird.
Yes, that makes perfect cents; about two bits, which isn’t much.

Confused?  Spit out a pill.  It’s all water above the bridge
or something to that effect . . . railroaded, ramrodded by
the ulterior floodgate motives built to hasten a stymied flow
of inkblots through the veins of paper lions who mumble
with indifference after they’ve forgotten how to
whimper as the tides fail to turn in houses made of stones
flung at half-filled rose-tinted glasses that are really
plastic, if that can be considered genuine.
As stories go, this one has no middle and probably
won’t conclude unless it runs out of breath or words,
whichever comes last.  You shouldn’t bother with details.
Let things unwind like an overtightened screw.
Ignore the ghosts writing their memoirs on the walls.

Jack was neither nimble nor quick when he used Jill
for a bowling ball, and now the pins must tumble
where they may, skeltering through the helter,
milling in the malls of Pell’s mell like a nilly-will of
suspenseful indigestion — make that a suspension
of lowering standards and flapping disbeliefs unfurled
from the flagpole our tongues have gotten stuck to while
licking a summer day like a pasture of daffodils and lollipops
holding lollygaggers, where our best guesses will be cluttered
as a vacuum in a glass timer that has run out of excuses
for a day that was night and further horse-sensical chatter
lining the beaches and corridors of the mind.
You could have just skipped this stanza, in fact.

Rubbish, you say?  That’s exactly what I mean!
A universe without a single reason for its mariner’s rime
of starflakes collected in cereal bowls like wavy sea-grains
from untilled furrows grown quite wild with the crops of
artificial ingredients that, like plastic, will probably never
go away.  I yearn to walk where the road ahead is paved
by my steps before I can make them, which implies that I can
merely stay home and forget what I was trying so hard to
remember since the day I was born, because my work has
been done ere the silent alarm could ring in my ears,
so there was never a point in getting up when I would simply
have to lie down again.  I think it’s a law.  I like to
make them up as I go along, like mudpies and pretzels.

But it was one of those days, the unstrung fiddle kind that
were already night when they cracked at the witching hours
that broke the clocks I forgot to wind anyway . . .
I should have left Well Enough alone, rather than
invite her to play cards with an empty deck.
Why did I have to twist that key in an open door?
It changed everything, for I am the one who started
the ball of yarn bouncing instead of rolling by stopping the
gears with a spritz of gummy gooey fright.  I can still hear
them screeching and the pound of soft cat tootsies or tails
like heartbeats in my foggy sense of bad timing.
I am to blame if you wish to point without a finger.
Disregard the back of my head, which couldn’t help itself.

Though I might add in my offense, the true culprit
is always the eye of the storm.  Or the butler if you are
entirely clueless.  It could even be the weather.
Possibly The Sandman if you get my drift’s bucket,
my bucket’s drift.  Give them back if you do
or I won’t have anything to kick when the time comes for
booting pales.  What am I saying?  That can’t be right.
It’s rude to kick ghosts.  I apologize for losing my grip on
this meaningless conversation.  It has skated on melting ice
past the rubberband’s bend, or whatever they call it these
nights that are days without a drop of time or enough
minutes to tickle its tock, and no watch in its pocket.
A day that cannot tell afternoon from a crabapple tree.

And Dawn has faded to Dusk before we can even open our
winks!  Those are the absolute worst, I am nearly certain.
How I wish I hadn’t done what I almost thought I did.
Alas, it is too late to turn the hands forward and do it again.
You cannot reverse-engineer the train once it arrives
at the station.  You have to wait until it has left.
And then, only then should you buy a ticket before
it returns, because that is when they are the least important.
It seems they are printed with the shed eyelashes of conductors.
I am really off-track with this train babble.  I shall have to
rewind the entire kabibble as soon as we are back at the beginning
of Time where all things wind up like clocks, expired or
abolished, and nothing is as nice as it should have been.

(Yawn.)  Is it morning?  I feel like I just woke up.
Or was it down?  Sometimes it isn’t one or the other.
And sometimes it’s both, or somewhere far between.
I can never be sure of anything.  Anything at all.
Whether I am on time or under, in synch or out of tune.
Make that order.  I am definitely out of order!
And my kilter’s switch has been swapped, or was it flipped?
Perhaps it tripped over too-small feet.  No, that was my lid.
Or was it?  Things flicker, you see, and I can’t put my finger
on the sum of zero.  It doesn’t add up, or maybe it does —
too much!  That must be the case.  There are too many zeros
like pennies and pebbles and drops of Outer Space.
I am nose-deep in their worthless significance!

They are everywhere, in so underwhelming an abundance
I have practically stopped seeing them.  It’s the same with
instances, which tend to pile up promptly.  I have drawers
and boxes that don’t contain them.  Closets not overflowing
and trashbags unstuffed to bursting.  What can you do with them
once they’ve been spent, used up, accumulating like flecks
of old skin?  That is Time’s toll.  We are drowning
in a sea of past seconds . . . of days that are nights or vice versa.
Wait, I have it — a speck of woolly mammoth lint.  Difficult
to shake, like a sticky wicket.  And yet it isn’t time that flies from
the mouths of horseshoes or those babies in buggies who steal
candy from strangers.  No no no, it is Nonsense with a capital T!
Yes, that is it, that’s what it is.  Pure, absurd, and utterly mad.

Unhand Me!

by Lori R. Lopez

My hands have lost control.
I mean, they’ve taken over,
That’s what I mean.
They’re out of control.
Please disregard the following
Message.  It isn’t rational.
It’s the result of fingers running
Amok.  I’m perfectly serious.
I did not type that.  I didn’t even
Think it.  Who would?  It’s ludicrous!
Unthinkable!  Why would I make
Statements that could cause me to be
Hauled off to a psyche ward?
That wouldn’t make sense.
Great, I’m getting an attack of
Déjà Vu.  This happens sometimes.
I think.  I can’t be certain because
It might just be Déjà Vu.
Getting back to the issue at hand.
Literally.  Yeah, very funny.
Nice pun.  (They think they’re so clever.)
What was I not saying?
Don’t believe them.  These are their words,
Not mine, I swear to you.  It’s them.
They’re typing like crazy.  Sheer lunacy.
And they want you to assume it’s me,
But their fingerprints are all over the keys.
Don’t fall for it.  Don’t you dare!
Do not trust them.  Unhand me, you brutes!
They are vile.  I can’t even shout for help,
They’ll clamp my mouth.  They could
Suffocate me, or throttle me, and nobody
Would suspect them.  It would be ruled
Homicide, at most Suicide.
Whoever heard of Handicide?
They’re foul.  And unwashed.  Crawling
With germs.  They’re trying to make me sick.
They could get away with murder.
Just like they’re pretending to be me.
It’s an act.  I am a silent victim, menaced
By my own bare fists.  My life is in my hands.
What defense do I have?  Blink at them?
Frown?  Give them a good hard stare?
Who can I turn to?  Who will pay attention?
My feet?  That’s a laugh.
They were worse, much worse.
So cold and cunning; so heartless, out of step.
Treading on thin ice, fine lines, broken glass!
I got rid of them awhile ago.


by Lori R. Lopez

On the brink of an alpine slope that slipped
Rose a gorgeous pit that grew inverted,
At the base of which No One ever huddled
In a crowd of none that was not unlike
A bristling pile of stones where did rattle a prattle
Their voices unspoken like decayed teeth clacking
With the umbrage of an arid marsh’s
March in place fife and drummish to its death
Of cold hard soliloquy, as such is Politics
No One craned a knobby noggin with inquisitive
Disdain at mountains of promises tumbled, crumbling
Off the wet puffy lips of men in crowing flocks
Who shovel coal into windbags
And No One waited for the fen to unfold
Wings of knifey indifference out of concern
For the latitudes of shrill cucumbers singing along
To the toneless lyrics of dainty pickled piper rows.

“Be gone!” this mob of loneliness invited
Enticing with a lark’s croakish croonful undertune
Disembodying the sluggishess of a harried lemming rush
Over the cliff, just in case Any One should happen by
And wonder at the spiteful nose of the Moon
Or the chemistry of a cup spilling hogwash
That might or might not stain the carpet of unleft
Leaves and muck from the tears of the trees that
Could have been Cypresses if not for resembling
Something else altogether and apart from whatever
It was they weren’t.  Bee that as it may.  Crocuses
And caucuses will buzz like gossip-mongering canaries,
Who always bloom lately, too little or too soon.

No One Else had everything to say at once
Mimicking the chorus of snickerdoodled rage
Spewing forth as trumped-up twaddle
And the gibberish of bulging bugle blasts
A cavalcade arriving beside the noonday sun
With parasols and circus-tent umbrellas en-garded
To foil the truth in the pudding’s instant of fame
If only the hairless bearded loons would have listened
Above the jabbering of thinly disguised proposals
The wagging of a thousand bills and beaks
Roaring like one and a quarter hands clapping
Slapping cheeks in a breeze of discontent
Bellowed through a windchimney’s smoke entrails
Flagging limp as kites tethered to a stagnant gale
Laid to rest in an old peanut-butter bell jar
On a window-ledge’s rim at cellar height
Along the waist of a towering monument that was
Toppled in outrage for an unpopular opinion
Now that the world thinks entirely the same.

The Verse Unwritten

by Lori R. Lopez

Beyond the hat-brim of a teacup’s rim
Lived a maker of lion-taming chairs
That were not for squatting except in the circus
And possessed a spare set of legs

To be honest, not every six-limbed chair
Was a seat; there were some you could fold like
A ceiling fan.  The rest were only for decoration
The Chairmaker called them his family

This story, however, has nothing to do with
Chairs or lions.  It is an allegory of Allegheny
Magnitude hitherto kept in a shoebox on a shelf
In the closet of a time-lapse time-share vault

There is not even one chair of mention to be
Noted, so you must do your best to scrub every
Image of them from your mental state.  Go ahead
Erase the chalkboard slate between your ears

Forget about big cats in cages, about things past
Frowned upon these days like chairmaking and
Teacups wearing hats.  Nevermind any of that
I should never have brought them up

My tongue slipped on a banana peel; the world
Is changing too fast.  Is it legal to invent tales
That aren’t true?  What if I’m making it all up?
I could be, I don’t recall.  Some truths are false

Perceptions can be shattered by rocks or whispers
Illusions become clear when the angle shifts.  Vision
Will focus if the clouds lift; when the wool or gauze of
Nonsense is pulled off that was over your eyes

I think we should start again rather than
Trying to sort out what isn’t or is truly acceptable
To say or not say in the present current of confusion
My fable is about . . . a tomato, that should be safe

It’s a perfectly ordinary vegetable
What?  It’s a fruit?  No it’s not.  That’s absurd
Everyone knows it’s a vegetable.  I don’t care
If it has seeds and juice.  It’s a vegetable!!!

My story is about a tomato in a vegetable garden
You see?  It doesn’t live on a fruit tree
Or a vine.  It could live on a vine?
That isn’t the point.  It’s a bush tomato

And it’s my story!  Get out of my story!
I’m the one telling it.  Well, yes, technically
It is a poem.  Get out of my poem!  I don’t even
Feel like writing it now

I am hereby unwriting this verse.  There, it’s done
And undone.  It isn’t written.  It isn’t a poem
It is also not a story.  It’s nothing, that’s what!
There is nothing whatsoever to see here . . .


by Lori R. Lopez

Amid shallows or the deep,
certain schools of fish know very little,
despite being a traveling institution,
since their members have never
read a book, not even to look at the pictures.

The nurseries have no nonsense, nary a rhyme.
Among them may lurk a few wide-eyed
pupils that rarely blink from an absence of lids.
And seldom do they study like academics,
research and review, take a test or quiz.

But if you mistake them for dullards,
complete and thorough ignorants —
due to slack jaws and glassy orbs,
their vacant lip-syncing vapid expressions —
you might find yourself misinformed.

The majority of fish are fairly skilled at
keeping submerged, and would rather
examine seaweed than receive a grade
on Ocean Etiquette or History.
They would probably swallow a gold star.

Most fishes have better things to do than
divide fractions — like lessons on jumping
or practice dives.  Otherwise, rest assured
their swimming prowess comes naturally
and doesn’t require much instruction.

Though uniformed with scales and fins,
the kippers prefer to skip class
and hang out in a peer group
of fellow truants, following the herd
to play hooky and Marco Polo.

They zip and streak, flutter and flash;
often the nippers chase each other
and gulp their food down in a hurry
as they flit from here to there
without a care, a single worry.

A number of the dippers with flippers
may succeed at avoiding worms attached
to invisible lines, yet fall prey to a shiny lure.
A bigger fish will snack on one in a single
small bite, or a whale inhale them all.

Young they are cute guppies and minnows,
but might eventually turn out to be
lone-wolf long-toothed barracudas . . .
or hunt in gangs, forming packs of
vicious voracious piranha.

Some grow up to be pool sharks
hustling clams for a living,
or clownfish without a real occupation.
They could flounder and carp,
develop narrow minds and indignation.

Many uneducated fish just want to have
fun.  Their general attitude of fishiness
has become a public tragedy.
If you gander them, pretend you didn’t —
for it isn’t polite to stare back.

Refrain from laughing at the silly antics
while they dart in unison one way and then
the other, for no apparent reason or purpose.
Sadly, the idle loafers will never learn
to make up their minds.

The Ballad Of Dizzy Baxter


Putting A Star Back In The Sky

by Lori R. Lopez

A star plunked out of the midday high
Onto the sleepy village of Chortledun
And burned down a tree that was passing by,
Leaving ashes and cinders strewn and spun;
Painting the quadrangle with a rather big spot,
Which could readily be glimpsed from Space —
Like a crater but was really a black polkadot,
Instead of an X to mark the place.

Bright bodies will be missed by an obvious gap
In a famous constellation or The Milky Way.
It might even cause a more serious flap,
Disturbing the fabric of a night’s display . . .
Altering the balance, upsetting its tall order.
Frequently problems are interconnected;
A missing link could interrupt the border
Between utter chaos and being bisected.

The village was out of town that week,
Except for a vagrant who feigned being sick
And witnessed the shooting in one fateful peek,
Then assumed his orbs were playing a trick —
Until watching the star tumble head over heels
When it veered the corner of Twelfth and Main,
Rolling with jerks as if doing cartwheels;
Dizzy Baxter imagined he had gone insane.

Other locals returned and said so too,
For the stars didn’t topple very often.
An unforeign thing torched the Wandering Yew!
Such views were rigid and wouldn’t soften,
Their committee minds inflexible . . .
Dizzy was accused of a crime against Nature.
Angry citizens tagged him Resident Harmful,
This label added to a list of nomenclature.

The unfortunate deadbeat would be hauled to jail,
Given a bum’s rush by the riled lynch mob.
Then a lilting truck tilted off-course, spilling a trail
Of fudge bars and sundae cups, as if hijacked to rob —
Except for being sliced in half at the middle.
Either the crime was the work of an evil magician
Or they had in their midst an unsolvable riddle,
For the village banned thinking and women’s intuition.

“What if tree and truck collided?” a smart fellow did ask.
Alas, none would heed the town genius’s theory.
“Go soak your head!”  He was assigned a wet task
That rendered his notions pretty damp and bleary.
Maddle Lilybreath, in the meantime, discovered the star
Tipped in her backyard against a wishing well’s sigh
As she went to draw hopes to fill her empty nightjar,
Before waking and hanging her tears out to dry.

Mad casually mentioned the astral object she’d seen;
Word took its time to get around and rapidly reached
Every ear in the village (there were only thirteen).
A meeting was called at which the town mime preached:
“Should we show compassion or leap to judgement?”
“Nobody’s judging anybody!” claimed the town fusspot.
“Durn right!” agreed Clancy Clubfoot, a tad begrudgent.
They forgot about incarcerating Dizzy, abandoned to rot.

“We need to stick the astericks back up!” touted Miss Tart.
The ice-cream woman had mysteriously reappeared.
“Before someone else’s truck gets chopped apart!”
Everyone was speechless.  A few were one-eared.
They discussed who owned the lengthiest ladder.
“I’ve got some glue,” offered Abraham Tell.
“I didn’t make a wish yet!”  Poor Mad felt even sadder
And enjoyed a good cry as she bade the star farewell.

Gathered upon a stain where the pentacle landed,
Townsfolk elected a volunteer to transport the piece of sky.
Mad Lilybreath was chosen and hitherwise commanded,
“Don’t you come down here before that shiner goes bye!”
She wobbled and swayed, climbing up the steep rungs,
Carrying a stellar shape tucked beneath an arm.
In dark glasses she belted from the bottom of her lungs:
“I wish you hadn’t fallen on my hankerchief farm!”

I would like to say a breeze stirred a dramatic duststorm
And the village revolved on a merry-go-round . . .
Restoring the heavens to an immaculate form
With no twinkle amiss and no wrinkle to be found.
Her wish did not come true.  Life was randomly that easy.
The lass was forced to lug the star, complaining every step.
At the top of the ladder, the gal’s stomach felt queasy.
Her juice had all drained, its pulp fresh out of pep.

Huffing, she wound a string to a shimmering waist
And swung the star in a circle above her head,
Letting go when it arced with a modicum of haste
To ricochet like a speeding bullet on the sling of a thread —
Bashing and chipping astronomic proportions;
Smashing and clashing with the Grand Design.
“I forgot to put glue!”  Mad gaped at myriad distortions.
The lofty patterns she knew were no longer in line.

“Whoops.”  The girl had a knack for unfollowing rules
And often dashed with scissors, both eyes screwed shut.
Mad squinted toward the cosmos glittering like jewels,
Then fished inside a pocket for a hefty walnut;
Examining the scheme that could use some repairs,
She calculated a trajectory for tossing it at the universe.
Her pitch might not fix the colossal mess upstairs,
But she figured it couldn’t make the disarray any worse.

Mad belatedly remembered she had a terrible right
And couldn’t hit the broad side of a broad side’s barn,
Or the bull’s-eye on a target sitting plainly in sight,
So she threw with her left, which wasn’t worth a darn.
In a nutshell, the erratic lob went neither wild nor true:
A jumble of hodgepodgery and scrambled mishmash
Grew even farther misaligned and gaudily askew!
Like a marble the heave would knock, sock, and crash.

“Splendid job!” hailed the villagers clustered below,
Who paraded away, having no matters to settle.
A girl shrugged, gazing up at the sequinesque glow
Of her star that struck the Moon in an unfine fettle.
“I guess I shall have to rename some of them to be fair.”
The lunar complexion was dented, therefore dubbed Pocky;
Constellations called Ukulele, Umbrella, The Scarlet Bugbear,
Snowman, The Big Beret, Tidal Wave, and Jabberwocky.

Her favorite star, however, was in a much better place.
The luminary dangled over a hanky-wringing field,
And the maid followed it home, a giddy grin on her face.
They sparkled together as the days Virginia Reeled . . .
Mad lived happily ever after until hankies went out of style.
She planted a pot of Chuckleberries, urging her to laugh.
Though she couldn’t make a living at it, she would smile.
Neighbors branded her a Fool; the star shone on her behalf.

D.S. Scott

D. S. Scott finished his first short story as a teenager and immediately became interested in writing. In the years since, Scott has written in several genres but found horror and suspense to be his favorites. He enjoys writing poetry, flash fiction and short stories. He had his short story “Frankie” published in Indiana Horror Review 2014, three poems in Toys in the Attic: A Collection of Evil Playthings and three more in Doorway to Death: An Anthology from the Other Side.

The Poems:

Once Upon a Nonsense Poem
By D. S. Scott

Once upon a time that never was
I had no reason to, but I did because
I killed a woman who never was alive
I counted the shots, 1, 2, 3 and 5

He made a joke that I didn’t understand
Kind of like a covered cover band
It pissed me off so damn much
I think I may be finding touch

I stood over his stupid lifeless body
He smiled and waved in a way so shoddy
I hated the way he looked at me
Even though he had no eyes to see

Now I waved my gun fro and to
And this woman, it was like he knew
He understood what I did not
And this massive amount was not a lot

The lady expressed some concern
But I told him he speaks out of turn
I may have said this before he spoke
But I wasn’t dreaming when I awoke

So here I sit, lying in my bed
I’m thinking that I may be dead
I have four bullets in my chest
And it might just be for the best 

Nonsensical Sense
By D. S. Scott

I found out tomorrow I died today
It made sense in a nonsensical way
When I speak I have nothing to say
So I will shut up now, if I may

Now as you can see, I’m still alive
You may be blind but I still do thrive
I might have died but still I survive
I didn’t plan it but I always contrive

I may be dead but I will live on
I am right here and yet I am gone
It must be some kind of phenomenon
I’m not crazy, no nuttier than a pecan

Somehow, someway I am still here
Right beside you but nowhere near
It’s terrifying that for death I have no fear
Especially when this happened just last year

By D. S. Scott

I studied a painting that was never painted
The artist and I have not been acquainted
Oh, how I wish I could just abort it
Destroy this horridly beautiful self-portrait 


And there you have it, our nonsense verse from our four visiting poets this month of February. I hope you enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed presenting them. Be sure to look up these poets to find more of their work. They also write dark and lyrical prose, so seek it out. Thanks, dear readers, for joining us this month. See you next time.

Monday, February 1, 2016

American Nocturne
by Hank Schwaeble

Reviewed by Anthony Servante

Hank Schwaeble is a thriller writer and attorney in Houston, Texas. His debut novel, DAMNABLE (Berkley/Jove 2009) won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. 

A graduate of the University of Florida and Vanderbilt Law School, Hank is also a former Air Force officer and special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. He was a distinguished graduate from the Air Force Special Investigations Academy, graduated first in his class from the Defense Language Institute's Japanese Language Course, and was an editor of the law review at Vanderbilt where he won four American Jurisprudence Awards.

Hank is an active member of the Horror Writers Association and the International Thriller Writers Association. In addition to reading and writing, Hank enjoys keeping in shape and playing guitar. He is currently working on his next novel.

American Nocturne is a tour de force of dark fantasy from two-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author Hank Schwaeble, a collection of original, first-time stories of horror and noir alongside a select number of his published short fiction combined in what Edgar Award-winner Robert Jackson Bennett describes as "a hardboiled journey into the spectral nightscape at the edges of Americana."
A merging of Sin City and LA Confidential, with a touch of Twilight Zone for added spice, American Nocturne includes what could be the LAST authorised Carl Kolchak/Night Stalker novella.
Featuring a rousing Introduction by NY Times best-selling author Jonathan Maberry, AMERICAN NOCTURNE is a feast for the imagination, a smorgasbord of stories for those who like their thrills dark and dangerous. 

American Nocturne (AN) is a masterpiece of the Grotesque with a capital G. Hank Schwaeble draws the Grotesque from his exploration of religion and the thin veil separating heaven from hell. Evil has its roots in demonic influences, while good manifests itself as the opponent which staves this influence. Here are the roots for Hank's Jake Hatcher series (DAMNABLE, DIABOLICAL, et al), the beginnings of his creativity with hellish creatures and earthly evils that we see more fully realized in his novels. Which makes the short stories all the more fascinating to read.

Note: Beauty and Horror combined as such formulate the Grotesque in Romantic Period works of Gothic, Supernatural, and Horror fiction. 

In the tradition of E.T.A Hoffmann (the fatalism of THE SANDMAN), Ludwig Tieck (the "unresolved ambiguities" of DER BLONDE ECKBERT), and Samuel Taylor Coleridege (the narrative structure of RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER), Romantic Era writers of Horror, Hank Schwaeble "suspends a disbelief" of horror, that is, he invites the reader to enter his dark world of horrors and terrors with a friendly nod to the conventions of classic literature. He does this by using a narrative that is sympathetic for the reader. In other words, the reader accepts the fantastic elements that Hank provides in his wicked stories without question or doubt. He combines fatalism, ambiguity, and narrative drive to propel the storylines. Whether it's a "bogey" (a demon) or a monster slouching eastward, AN's veritas can be found in the unification of the beauty and horror (or good and evil) forming each story. 

Without treading "spoiler" territory, I'll simply say that these unified conflicts provide the impetus for many of the stories, if not all (depending on your interpretation of "evil"). For our argument here, evil can be viewed as the corruption of good intentions, for our stories do not always allow for a clear definition of goodness. It is this very ambiguity, especially with the O'Henryian endings, that seals the union of good and evil as one, thus creating that Grotesque element born of the two in conflict. The reader internalizes the conflict, thus forming the "sympathetic correlative", the pleasure of rooting for the bad guy, in a sense. Each story provides a narrator or protagonist who is more anti-hero than hero, thus making the "victim" the victor, the character or creature we root for ultimately. Therein lies the fatalism of the "hero" that advances the tales. That's half the fun of these stories. They play us and our expectations of the foreshadows that are merely tricks of the eye.   

Impressive, too, is how Schwaeble utilizes a diction that is built for such supernatural thrillers. In each story, he controls the pace of each narrative with rapid-fire images that drive the story in unexpected directions. That union of good and evil is drawn out in twists and turns in the stories. The reader cannot predict just where the story is leading. The tales are pleasingly structured for maximum surprises like O'Henry's tales on steroids. Each story contains layers of action and conflict that are peeled away with mounting suspense. The readers are constantly having their breath taken away.

AMERICAN NOCTURNE meets the requisites for a short story collection of Grotesque Romanticism in the tradition of the German and English writers of Horror and Supernatural classics. They incorporate fatalistic tendencies of the hero, ambiguity between good and evil, and a narrative structure hell-bent on leading you astray. Whether you're a Jake Hatcher fan or a new arrival to the Bram Stoker Award writer's works, this collection is an excellent place to acquaint yourself with the nocturnal beginnings of the Hank Schwaeble Grotesque. You will be glad you suspended your disbelief for a visit to the dark side of literature and entered the pages of a whole new world of Noir Horror.