9 Seasons of Hell on Earth: Some Thoughts About The Walking Dead, Part One

Thursday, September 26th, 2019 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

twd-2

I chose to finally write about The Walking Dead after nine seasons because of the departure of a major character, which changed the whole dynamic of the series, turning it into a different direction (Season 10 broadcasts Oct 6, 2019). For fans of the show, much of what is in this article is me stating the obvious. I know many people who have stopped watching the show after various seasons, for one reason or another. I also know people who have never watched TWD and never will, and some who have just started watching. There may be some hints and clues about certain things, but there are no real spoilers here. This article is about how the show affects me, personally.

Someone on Facebook commented that they stopped watching simply because the show is so sad, even depressing. True. This is not a comedy. There’s a lot of sorrow and sadness in almost every episode, a veritable trail of tears. Sometimes the grief on an actor’s face is enough to get to me. There are powerful emotions here: both love and hate, as well as fear and horror in the eyes of the characters; there’s also plenty of heart and soul poured into these scenes, which the cast so effectively conveys. As a relative told me when we were discussing the series over the Labor Day weekend, “My heart has been ripped out over and over again by what happens to these characters. I feel their pain, I feel their grief and I mourn with them.” I agree with her. I’ve gotten caught up in the lives and deaths of these characters. So please, bear with me.

Although I’ve read only a handful of Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels, I’ve been a fan of the television series since episode one, and still remain a fan. I’m not a mad puppy because the show’s producers and writers made some changes which aren’t part of Kirkman’s mythos. Certain characters that had been killed in the graphic novels became so popular on the TV show that the producers decided to keep them around. Other popular characters were killed off on the show and, as most writers know, characters and plot twists often demand to be heard and made.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Joe Bonadonna’s ‘Hardboiled Film Noir’ (Part One)

Monday, October 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Bob Byrne

I reached out to some friends to help me with A (Black) Gat in the Hand, as I certainly can’t cover everything and do it all justice. Our latest guest is author and fellow Black Gater, Joe Bonadonna. And Joe delivered an in-depth look at hardboiled adaptations on the silver screen. In fact, he covered so much ground, it’s gonna be a two-parter! So, let’s dig in! 


Hardboiled Film Noir: From Printed Page to Moving Pictures (Part One)

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” — Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

Prologue

Bonadonna_HardboiledAnthologyCrime does not discriminate. From city streets and slums to quiet suburbia, from the mansions of the rich to the boardrooms of the powerful, crime is alive and well. It can be found in dance halls, beer halls and gambling halls . . . speakeasies, seedy gin joints, smoke-filled pool halls, dive hotels, and wharf-side saloons. Crime exists everywhere, and writers and filmmakers have been telling stories about crime since Gutenberg invented the printing press.

This article deals mainly with American pulp fiction, novels and films, and a few theatrical plays, too. I’m going to give a little background history on the source material for these films and on some of the writers who penned the original stories upon which they were based.

Long ago, long before television came along, the film industry turned to books, magazine stories, theatrical plays, and radio shows for their source material, as well as original screenplays. Movie moguls bought the rights to numerous best-selling novels, mined the pages of pulp magazines, comic books, and even newspaper comic strips.

Many films made during this period were Saturday matinee serials such as Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, and The Shadow. Dick Tracy was actually given a series of stand-alone films, and of course we had Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan.

Most of these serials were the “comic book” films about pulp fiction superheroes, caped crusaders, masked avengers, and magical crime fighters. Many others films, however, were turned into “programmers,” as they were sometimes called: B-pictures with low budgets, made by up-and-coming directors, and featuring actors who had not yet attained A-list status.

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Black Gate Online Fiction: An Excerpt from The MechMen of Canis-9

Saturday, October 20th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

By Joe Bonadonna


This is an excerpt from The MechMen of Canis-9 by Joe Bonadonna. It is presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of Joe Bonadonna, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 by Joe Bonadonna.

This time out, Sergeants Seamus O’Hara, Claudia Akira, Fernando Cortez and a platoon of Marines are deployed to Canis-9 — Devoora, the Ocean Planet. Their mission: find seven indestructible robot warriors hidden there for seventy years. Most of the platoon survives a crash-landing but are left stranded in a hostile environment of deadly sea predators. Rescued by native Tulavi islanders, the Marines get caught up in a war between this mysterious, maritime civilization and another indigenous race, the Malvarians, who hunt and harvest the eggs of the giant kaizsu — the Sea Dragons sacred to the Tulavi. As the Marines set out to complete their mission they discover a secret known only by the Tulavi: the endangered kaizsu are the key to Devoora’s ecosystem and the future of all life on the planet.


The MechMen of Canis-9 wrap

The MechMen of Canis-9
A Three Against The Stars Adventure

Prologue
Viluvia: A.D. 2174

Viluvia was a dry, barren piece of real estate. A desert planet in a galaxy at the ass-end of the universe, its indigenous population consisted of reptiles, insects and birds. It was one of only three planets where tesla could be found, an ore used for power cells and energy weapons. Omegan-Terran intelligence warned of the presence of Drakonian warships in that sector of Known Space, so the United Space Marine Corps had been sent in to evacuate the miners and their families before the Draks dropped in to destroy the mines and cut off all escape.

But the Marines had been betrayed and the Draks arrived earlier than expected.

Gunnery Sergeant Claudia Akira realized that fact the moment she spotted the Drakonian D-13s streaking across the gray, early-morning sky. The mechanized drones resembled monstrous winged tortoises, blasting away at the recently evacuated buildings of the Bell-Ahava Mining Combine, torching and reducing them to ash and cinder.

“Trench warfare? For God’s sake, this is the twenty-second century!” griped Corporal Rosie Chen. She knelt behind the earthen rampart of a dry river bed, gripping her M-16 laser rifle and waiting for the word to rock and roll.

Private Betty “Laser” Fraser’s smooth, ebony skin glistened with sweat. The Ethiopian from Florida, also sporting an M-16, hunkered down in the arroyo next to Akira. “And it’s so yiffing hot! Don’t you think it’s too yiffing hot, Sarge?”

“And it’s gonna get hotter, too,” said tall and lanky Private Tommy Barnes.

Akira checked her Edison machine gun, making sure her clip of electrified quartz bullets was fully charged. To her left, Master Sergeant O’Hara and half of Company E’s battalion were positioned along the curving line of the gully. To her right, Gunnery Sergeant Cortez and the rest of the battalion knelt armed and ready to take on whatever the Draks were going to throw at them. Both commanding officers had already been killed and the Marines forced to retreat. Now they huddled in the riverbed, waiting their turn to be pulled out of Viluvia.

Searchlights from the drones scanned the terrain as explosions rocked the planet to its molten core. Fireballs lit the sky with a brilliant display of color that far surpassed any July 4th celebration Akira had ever seen. Glass and plasteel melted as buildings were incinerated and the Drakonian D-13s commanded the sky, slowly moving forward.

The battle drones cruised closer to the Marines’ position, their tazer cannons blasting everything except mining equipment, processing plant and the huge, deep quarries out of which the tesla was dug. The Marines had nowhere to run and no better cover than the arroyo; behind them stretched endless kilometers of barren plains. If the Comanche AEV warships didn’t arrive soon, the Devil Dogs of Company E would be blown to Kingdom Come.

Cortez signaled Akira by hand: Hold your fire until O’Hara gives the word.

Akira signed back: Roger that.

Glancing to her left, she heard O’Hara give the signal in a voice louder than the roar of an Antares frost giant: “Light ’em up, you Lazarushian lasernecks!”

The big Irishman’s Primo-2000 barked a half-dozen times, shooting incendiary shells bursting against the hull of one drone. A nanosecond later, the entrenched Marines opened fire. Crimson laser beams, yellow tracers from machine gun fire and violet rays from blasters shredded the dawn with streaks of hot, bright color.

“Where the hell is our ride home?” shouted Betty, her M-16 firing red bolts of energy at the enemy targets almost directly overhead now.

“Whoever planned this party forgot the cake,” said Rosie, spraying the drones with electric rounds from her Edison machine gun.

Akira chewed her bottom lip and fired her Edison. Whether they were extracted in time or left to die… either way, Viluvia was a lost cause.

Hatches in the bellies of the D-13s slid open and from inside the drones came a HALO-drop of hundreds of Drakonian Storm Troopers wearing jet packs.

“Damn! They pulled a Trojan Horse on us,” said Akira, her Eddy gun spitting a storm of electrified bullets that ripped into the enemy descending from the sky.

The Marines maintained a steady barrage as the Draks swooped down on them. Scores of lizardmen were fried, blown to pieces or shot full of laser and bullet holes. But hundreds more followed, landing safely to attack the entrenched battalion of Marines. Why the drones didn’t just wipe them all off the face of the planet was the question, and Akira could think of only one answer: slave labor. The Draks hadn’t come to destroy the mines, they came to seize and take control of them. The Drakonian Hegemony was developing tesla weapons of its own.

“Here they come!” Cortez shouted.

The dawn erupted in unholy chaos as the Drakonian Storm Troopers charged, their tazerguns burning Marines left and right. Starheads by the score died in an inferno of sizzling green tracers and scorching bolts of blue energy.

Then from out of the sky soared a squadron of seven Comanche AEVs, the Marine warships’ laser cannons blasting away at the D-13 drones. The sound of it all was music to Akira’s ears. Viluvia may be lost, but chances were good the Devil Dogs would be limping home to Camp Corregidor, if any of them survived long enough to make it back to Rhajnara.

A pair of Comanche All Environment Vessels landed on the ridge behind Company E while three others took on the Drak battle drones in ship-to-ship combat. Two others attacked the Drakonian soldiers charging toward the riverbed. One Comanche warship exploded into atoms. Another vessel burst into flames, crashing and burning on the plain below.

The drones were almost at twelve o’clock now and more HALO Storm Troopers dropped to the riverbed to take on the embattled Marines.

Rising to her feet and firing her Eddy, Akira shouted, “Fall back!” And then she felt the agony of an energy beam from a Drakonian tazergun ripping into her belly. “Makki!” she cried, calling out for her beloved friend and corpsman. But Makki Doon had been killed in battle two years earlier, fighting to save his planet from the Khandra Regime.

The last thing Akira remembered before darkness claimed her was Corporal Nick Falco rushing to catch her as she fell. “I got you, Sarge!”

Three Against the Stars-small

Chapter 1

Proud to Claim the Title

Almost two years had passed since the defeat on Viluvia, but for Gunnery Sergeant Claudia Akira the memory of that bitter defeat pained her even more than the wound she received. She slipped a hand under her T-shirt, rubbed her scarred belly and stared at her husband as if he had lost his mind. “You want me to do what?”

“I want you to recuse yourself from this upcoming assignment,” said journalist and novelist Cooper Preston.

“You’ve been watching too many ancient television shows about lawyers, Coop. You really expect me to ask permission to stand down from this mission?”

“Yes.”

“A Marine does not ask to be recused from anything.”

“Not even for a personal, family crisis?”

“I don’t see this as a crisis. Why do you see this as a crisis?”

“Because I think we should see another specialist.”

With a frustrated exhalation of breath, Akira walked over to the picture window of their San Francisco condo on the ninth floor of the Terran Empire Tower. She gazed at Ghirardelli Square, far below. The sun had already burned away the morning fog and it promised to be a lovely day. Fortunately she would soon be taking an aircab to the San Diego Spaceport; she didn’t want to rehash this old argument, not here and especially not now.

“Are you ignoring me, Claudia?”

After a moment, she turned to face her husband again. “No, I read you loud and clear. You never approved of me being a Marine.”

“True,” Preston admitted. “But you wouldn’t marry me if I had asked you to choose between me and the Corps. So I caved and didn’t press the issue any further. I didn’t even say a word when you insisted on keeping your maiden name, instead of taking my surname.”

“I’m an orphan, Coop. My name is all I remember of my parents. So what’s your point?”

He frowned at her, but didn’t raise his voice. “The point is… I did give in, and you promised to retire once we had children. We’ve been married almost three years and I don’t see any children.”

“And you blame me for that?”

“No, I blame the Corps.”

Akira folded her arms across her breasts. “That’s absurd and you know it.”

“Is it? You didn’t get those wounds working in some office.”

“Do you think I like these ugly scars that all the cosmetic surgery in the world can’t hide? Do you think I’m happy that not even one doctor we’ve seen gave me the slightest hope that the internal damage can be fixed? The Corps has the best physicians on the planet, Coop, and they couldn’t help. Even the Omegans and all their advanced science and medicine can’t help me.”

“So we just give up without a fight?”

“Discretion is the better part of valor. I know when and where to pick my battles… and this is one I can’t win.” Akira took a breath and wiped tears from her eyes. “Face it, Coop. I have. I can’t have children.”

“But we have to keep trying. One more doctor, please.”

“Why can’t you be happy with adoption? I promised myself long ago that no matter how many children I might have, I’d still want to adopt.”

After the Viluvian Withdrawal, where she received the abdominal wound that caused irreparable damage, Akira had to accept the fact that bearing a child was not going to happen. She had resigned herself to that fact as she had resigned herself to the very real possibility that someday she might end up as one more name on the casualty list: KIA.

Preston walked over to the bar, pulled out a bottle of Jameson’s and poured three fingers’ worth into a glass. He slugged half of it down and set the glass on the bar.

“I’m not against adoption and you know that,” he told her, this time in a voice a few decibels higher. “I’ll be happy to adopt as many kids as we can afford, but after we’ve had one or two of our own.”

“Look, Coop. I’m tired and I have to prepare for this mission. Can we talk about this when I get back? I promise to see this specialist when I do.”

If you get back, you mean. It’s always the mission. And the Corps always comes first.” He tossed back the remainder of his Irish whiskey and slammed the glass down on the bar.

Akira stared at him but refused to let her Sicilian temper win out over her Bushido discipline of harmony, peace and balance. She didn’t need this right now, didn’t want this. She was anxious about the upcoming, top-secret mission.

“I’m sorry you feel this way, Coop.”

She walked into their bedroom and started packing her ditty bag. Tomorrow a commercial starliner would transport her to the Shandru Galaxy. There she’d rejoin her squad aboard the Omegan starship Raptor, currently in orbit around Rhajnara.


Master Sergeant Seamus O’Hara brandished his fencing foil and grinned wickedly. “On guard, ya swine!”

“I see that you have been practicing,” Gunnery Sergeant Fernando Cortez said in his Spanish-laced voice. He caressed his thin mustache with the tip of a finger and bowed flamboyantly to his opponent as their swords crossed and locked at the hilts.

O’Hara grinned and scratched the bush he called his mustache. “It don’t take much practice to go beating the likes of you, bucko.”

“Prepare to have the hot air expelled from the blubber that is your belly.”

“That’ll be the bloody damned day!”

Cortez danced backwards and segued gracefully into a renewed assault against O’Hara. The sound of their dueling swords was music to the Spaniard’s ears.

Cheers, whistles and catcalls rang from the small group of Marines hanging out in the gymnasium aboard the Raptor. Sitting with their backs against a bulkhead wall were Nick Falco, Rosie Chen, Tommy Barnes and Betty “Laser” Fraser. They were among the handful of Devil Dogs who had survived the bloody rout on Viluvia.

“Ten to one on the big Irishman,” said Falco.

“C’mon, you starhead,” said Rosie, running fingers through her high-and-tight red hair. “Cortez is the one teaching O’Hara how to use a sword. The big oaf couldn’t dance his way out of a high school prom. Look at how clumsy he is.”

“But he can fight, Rosie. O’Hara can fight.”

“Are you space happy or something, Falco?” asked Barnes. “I’ll take that bet and amp it up twenty to one.”

“I’m gonna dig taking your credits, Nicky,” said Betty. The young black woman looked splendid in her blonde, Mohawk buzz cut.

Falco rubbed his hands together and laughed. “Suckers!”

Cortez moved with all the grace of a ballet dancer. O’Hara lumbered about, as agile as a drunken ape. Then the big Irishman lunged. Cortez deftly parried the stroke. The Spaniard’s blade swung up and around and darted in, straight for O’Hara’s heart. With a laugh, O’Hara stepped aside in a move that belied his massive girth, and his foil crashed down on Cortez’s blade. But Cortez quickly pirouetted and with a leisurely flick of the wrist disarmed the Irishman. O’Hara’s sword flew from his hand and Cortez snatched it out of the air by its hilt.

“You cannot best me, my fine lard-ass friend,” he joked. “You have not enough schooling in this fine art of the duel.”

O’Hara growled and rolled up his sleeves, exposing his natural-looking, cybernetic left arm. “Watch yourself, boyo. I may have a trick or two up my sleeve.”

“The only tricks you carry are the deck of cards that is marked and the dice which are loaded.” Cortez tossed O’Hara’s sword back to him. “Nice catch.” He saluted his opponent and launched an assault that forced the Irishman to give ground and remain on the defensive.

O’Hara’s épée flashed left and right as he struggled to parry every bite of the Spaniard’s blade. “Weren’t you supposed to yell ‘on guard’ or some nonsense like that?”

“My apologies. ¡En guardia!

Back and forth they danced, their foils singing a duet of cold steel. Although O’Hara topped Cortez in height, weight and sheer muscle, he couldn’t untangle himself from the web spun by the Spaniard’s deft blade. Cortez, the more experienced swordsman, circled around his big opponent, the edge of his foil clashing against O’Hara’s. To his credit, and to the credit of his opponent’s teaching skills, the Irishman parried every tempo patinando. Still, he couldn’t break Cortez’s dazzling assault, disarm him and score the winning point.

Persistent and as tenacious as a Drakonian crocogator, Cortez drove O’Hara back across the deck, his sword hammering away at the Irishman’s weapon. No matter how tired his arm grew, no matter how it ached or how much time it would take, the Spaniard would not cease until he claimed victory over O’Hara. It was a simple matter of pride and honor.

When Cortez again locked blades with O’Hara and they stood almost nose-to-nose, he said, “You have learned your lessons well, my friend. But you still have so very much more to learn, I am afraid.”

“Think again, Spanish!”

This time, instead of shoving Cortez away from him, O’Hara did a thing that caught the Spaniard totally by surprise: he hit him, square on the jaw. Cortez dropped to the deck as if someone had whacked him across the back of the knees with the butt of a laser rifle. To his credit, he did not let go of his sword.

Falco clapped his hands. “What did I tell you lasernecks?” he said to his companions. “Now put up and shut up.”

“Damn you and that Irishman,” said Barnes. “Never counted on him cheating like that.”

“We should know better,” said Rosie. “O’Hara plays by no one’s rules but his own.”

The two Marines reached into their camo shirt pockets, pulled out small plastic tokens of government scrip and started counting.

“Wait, it ain’t over yet,” said Betty.

O’Hara lent Cortez a hand and pulled him to his feet. At the same time, the fingers of the Irishman’s prosthetic left hand tapped his palm: a panel in his forearm slid open and a small knife glided into his hand. “You forgot about this little trick, too.”

“Usted es un hombre sin honor,” said Cortez. “You played false with me!”

“Are you saying I cheated?”

“Yes! You did not fight with fairness.”

“Listen to me, you space gaucho. My dear old mum once said that the only fair fight is the one where you get your ass kicked. And let that be a lesson to ya.”

Cortez blinked several times, his temper near the boiling point. “O’Hara, you are a man without honor!”

“Stow it, Fernando.” O’Hara flashed perfectly straight, white teeth. “You already said that in Spanish.” He hooked a foot behind Cortez’s left heel and gave him a shove.

Cortez stumbled backwards and hit the deck again.

A rush of air sounded as the main hatch slid open.

“Officers on deck!” shouted Falco. He, Barnes, Rosie and Betty jumped to their feet and came to attention.

A woman’s stern voice called out: “Sergeant Seamus Aloysius Patrick O’Hara!”

O’Hara spun around and Cortez rose quickly to his feet as Colonel Stella Dakota, Major Steve Helm and Sergeant Major Mary Margaret Kathleen O’Hara marched into the gymnasium.

“Mum?” O’Hara gasped in surprise.


With her ditty bag slung over one shoulder, Akira strolled down the passageway toward the cabin assigned to her aboard the Raptor. But she hardly took notice of anyone she saw. Her mind was preoccupied with her troubled marriage.

After the Marines’ ignominious defeat on Viluvia, Akira spent months undergoing a number of surgical procedures, followed by a long period of recuperation. When she was back on her feet again, she and Preston returned to the more domestic side of married life. At first, their marriage was on solid ground, with Preston apparently resigned to the fact that the Corps was Akira’s life and her fellow Marines her extended family. But then the question of having children became an issue.

When Preston was told that Akira could never conceive a child, he said he was okay with the idea of adoption. Yet she knew he hoped that medical technology would be able to heal her and put things right again. Even though she had lost all hope, she had agreed to undergo a battery of tests, and they spent a small fortune on doctors and specialists. All for naught: there was nothing anyone could do.

By the second year of their marriage this had become a sore point in their relationship and life turned from bitter-sweet to sour. Preston, like all his favorite legendary writers, found comfort in the bottle and in the arms of another woman. Akira had long suspected her husband’s infidelity and when she caught him with his lover in their apartment she nearly beat the woman to a pulp before starting in on him. A neighbor called the police, who arrived in time to stop Akira from breaking her husband’s neck. It was one of the few times in her adult life that Akira lost her temper, and it took all of their personal connections to arrange an out-of-court settlement with Preston’s mistress. His promise not to stray again brought an uneasy truce to their marriage. But it was never again the same.

It was a shame that her goodbye with Preston had been a quick embrace and a cold kiss on the cheek. This might very well be the mission from which she did not return.

She was about to enter her cabin when Falco turned into the passageway and walked up to her, wearing that charming smile on his handsome Italian face.

“Been wondering when you’d get here,” he said. “What’s buzzing at your hive?”

Akira couldn’t help laughing at Falco’s archaic expressions. He was the only one who shared her fondness for the pop culture of 20th century United States. They also shared a more intimate history, one that went back to their wild and reckless days in boot camp. Falco held an almost irresistible attraction for her, what with his boyish charm and likeable cockiness, his good looks, sense of humor and baby-blue eyes. While she had often entertained the idea of hooking up with him again, especially in the last few months as her marriage spiraled out of control, she had yet to act on her impulse. Yet.

“Same old drill,” she replied.

He eye-balled her up and down, smiling all the time. “You look great, Gunny. You gonna hang with us tonight? First round’s on me.”

“Yeah, I’ll be along soon. Just want to get settled first.”

Falco brushed some imaginary lint from Akira’s shoulder. “Want me to wait for you?”

His blue eyes held hers like a magnet attracts iron. It was a minor skirmish for her to tear her eyes away from him. “No, I’ll meet up with you there later. Tell Sergeants Nit and Wit they still owe me fifty each.”

“They had a good work out today with the swords.”

“Don’t tell me. O’Hara cheated.”

“In grand style, too. It was a beautiful thing to see.” Falco’s laugh always put Akira in a better mood. “I still don’t get why we’ve been told to get up to speed on non-conventional weapons. Where’re we going, back in time to the days of old when knights were bold?”

“With the Corps, you never know.” Akira shrugged. She was already proficient with the Japanese katana and was champion of the Corps’ fencing team. “Whatever this is all about, we were chosen because we have some proficiency with archaic weapons.”

“Yeah, Cortez has been teaching us how to use a sword, and we’re all pretty good with a bow and arrow. Except for O’Hara.”

“What’s he good at?”

“His fists and that knife he keeps inside his prosthetic arm. But all he needs are his scowl and his voice. Those would make the Devil soil his skivvies.”

“Amen, brother.” Akira punched him in the shoulder. “So what’s the scuttlebutt on this new mission?”

“I don’t even think the top brass know what in Sam Hill it’s all about. It’s an Omegan thing, and you know how anal they can be.” Falco shrugged. “All I’ve been able to find out is that we’re gonna get dumped on some backwater planet called Devoora.”

Mad Shadows Mad Shadows II-small

Chapter 2

Terror from the Sky

Laser-hot blasts of green venom spat from the jaws of nearly two dozen winged skydrax, turning the branches and bioluminescent, turquoise leaves of the towering ulanthra trees into raging infernos of death and destruction. Black, acrid smoke stained the morning sky.

The herds of krita arthropods had already climbed the massive trunks of the trees and were feeding on the palm-like fronds when the flying, reptilian monsters swooped down out of the clouds like the harbingers of World’s End. Hot venom that exploded into streams of fiery death when exposed to air licked the branches of the trees, burning the krita while they fed. Shrill whistles of fear and agony ripped through the morning sky as hundreds of the crustacean-like cattle toppled from the lofty heights of those arboreal pillars and fell to the ground far below.

As the flames crawled along the trunks of the ulanthra trees rising to a height of two-hundred times that of an average man, families rushed screaming from their burning homes and workshops. Flaming branches and leaves fell upon them, crushing them and setting fire to rosegrass, plumflowers and skyberry bushes. The bodies of dead and dying krita crashed and burned among the Singers waiting to sing them down from the morning feed. Farmlands, crops and other livestock were already wrapped in flames as the Herders on their striped, long-necked mounts led the surviving krita beyond that vast, smoldering forest. Men, women and children died shrieking in horror as they tried desperately to escape the blazing conflagration that swept through their village and across the island of Bhacoba.


She was no one’s child. She was everyone’s child. Moonchild, the villagers called her, because she was often ‘mooning about,’ staring long into the night at Gamenai and Azaurus, the Sibling Moons of Devoora. She always seemed to be on watch, searching the skies. When asked what she watched for, she would say that she was waiting for people from beyond the stars.

In appearance, she was only ten or twelve Standard Earth Years in age. She had dark amber skin, saffron-colored eyes and long hair bearing natural streaks of red and black. Her ears were small and gracefully pointed, and she had the webbed fingers and toes common to all the Tulavi islanders.

She was an orphan and her name was Zherisa Nadiri.

Zherisa had been watching over a group of younger children chasing surfspiders across the golden sands of the beach when the skydrax dropped down from the clouds. Within moments the leafy tops of the ulanthra trees erupted in fiery explosions and the great forest quickly became a raging inferno of horror and death.

Shrill cries and ear-piercing shrieks of agony ripped through the morning air as the krita burned. Hundreds of the crustaceous creatures, no taller than three feet but nearly old enough to join the pods of adults living in the sea, fell and died that day. Far too few made it safely to the ground without suffering injury. Fiery venom now rained down upon the homes of the Singers and Herders who cared for the krita and lived at the edge of the great ulanthra forest. Black smoke rose to stain the fierce, cobalt sky. Entire families were reduced to ash at the moment of flashpoint. Many died screaming as they rushed from their homes, their bodies wrapped in green fire. Few escaped with their lives.

“Zherry!” one little girl cried out.

“Run, Shanda! Everyone run to me!” Zherisa called to the girl and the other children who screamed and cried as terror struck from the sky.

The children ran to her as the Fishermen and their families fled their stilt-homes and houseboats to escape the voracious flames crawling toward the harbor and the fleet of fishing boats. Zherisa watched in horror as her people perished in the raging holocaust. The sight of hundreds of krita swathed in flames, crashing and burning as they toppled from the trees frightened and sickened her. But she never lost her presence of mind.

“Come on, boys and girls!” she yelled to the dozen children who were in her care. “Move your feet. We must reach the boats!”

Lined up along the stretch of beach were outriggers, longboats, barges, dhows and other boats belonging to the villagers.

Seven skydrax veered away from the main body of flying reptiles and began to unleash fiery destruction on the harbor. Giant, winged serpents with the legs and talons of a bird of prey, the dragons spat explosive venom from their long, saurian jaws. Astride each skydrax rode a warrior encased in a suit of golden armor.

Gathering the children to her and leading them to one of the boats, Zherisa watched the seven skydrax land, watched the metallic knights climb down from their saddles. She noticed that each warrior carried a short lance with a flexible tube that was connected to a small box harnessed to their backs.

Now the Guardians, the Tulavi warriors sworn to protect the villagers and their herds of krita, charged across the beach. They wore simple leggings, tunics and boots of green leather. Racing forward, they attacked the skydrax and their riders with swords and battleaxes, bows and tridents. Archers took careful aim and tried to bring down the other wyvern circling the sky and spitting liquid fire from their sharp-toothed jaws.

“Quick, Zherry!” said a female Guardian named Tuzsa Ludeen. “Get the children into the boats. It’s too late to send for help.”

“We’re leaving?”

“Yes, we must flee. Our forest is destroyed. Now do your job!”

With that, Tuzsa raced ahead to catch up to the other Guardians.

Before the Guardians were within striking distance of their foes, the knights in gold armor aimed their lances and shot arrows of lightning from the tips of the weapons.

Zherisa and the other children screamed as sizzling-hot bolts tore into the bodies of the Guardians, scorching and frying them. The Guardians wailed in ghastly torment as so many of them died before they had a chance to retreat.

Terrified, Zherisa looked around. Her lovely island home of Bhacoba had been destroyed. Never again would songs be sung and the herds of krita climb the big trees, for the fire-spitting beasts from beyond the clouds had brought with them death and devastation.

Then she noticed many skydrax flying away with living krita clenched in their talons.

“Get into the boats, now!” Tuzsa yelled. Only she and a handful of Guardians had survived the charge against the warriors from beyond the sky.

Wondering where the rest of the Guardians were, Zherisa felt someone grab her from behind, lift her up and set her down inside one of the boats. She turned quickly and gazed into a pair of blue eyes uncommon among the people of Devoora.

“Quit mooning about,” said the man.

Scores of men, women and children now ran toward the boats. The surviving Guardians, Singers and Herders led a small herd of krita safely into the sea.

“But where can we go?” she asked.

“Into the west. Now don’t look back, child. Never look back. Always set your gaze on the road ahead.”

A skydrax roared, pounced and seized the blue-eyed man in its talons.

“Solis!” Zherisa yelled when the black-winged monster carried him off into the sky.

She wept as she and the surviving villagers crowded into the boats that had not been ravaged by fire. They took to the sea with their small herd of krita swimming beside them, guided by the songs of the Singers. Westward they fled across the vast expanse of the Tinturo Sea to seek shelter among the other islands of the Tulavar Archipelago.

 

Chapter 3

Mission to a Forbidden Planet

Although the briefing room aboard the Raptor was spacious and comfortable, Cortez still found it too close and confining. Even though it was neat and tidy, the way he liked things to be, what he didn’t like was how cold it was. The Omegans were fond of low temperatures.

Por favor, raise the heat!

He was seated in a plasticene chair in the back row, with Akira sitting between him and O’Hara. In the center of the room sat Barnes, Falco, Rosie and Betty. Sitting with them were two privates new to the squad: Carter and Rypel, plus Doc Gordon, the corpsman who had replaced the beloved Makki Doon. There was also a pair of Imperial Fleet sky-jockeys in gray uniforms: a captain and lieutenant. They were seated at a long table at the front of the room with Colonel Dakota and Major Helm, who both wore their dress blues. There were two Ornitori of the Omegan Federation present, as well, descendants of avian progenitors. One was a female of a proto-eagle clutch, whom Cortez knew to be Imra Saun, Wing Commander of the Omegan Fleet stationed in that sector of Known Space; she looked regal in her bright red uniform. The other was also a female, but of a proto-falcon clutch. Cortez had never seen her before.

Also sitting at the table was Sergeant Major Mary Margaret Kathleen O’Hara. She was there as Marine Corps liaison to the Omegan Federation.

Against the bulkhead wall behind them hung a large, blank Tri-D video screen.

Cortez could never figure out why he was so uncomfortable during briefings; perhaps it had something to do with his childhood, sitting in a classroom and fearing that he’d be called on and not having studied his lessons the night before. He didn’t realize his left leg was bouncing up and down until Akira placed a hand on his knee and smiled reassuringly. O’Hara scowled at him. Cortez flipped him off and stared straight ahead.

Colonel Dakota rapped three times on the table to get everyone’s attention and then adjusted her eye patch; Cortez suspected she really had a cybernetic-eye hiding under that black patch. “Listen up, lasernecks,” she said. “I know you’re all chomping at the bit to find out the destination of your mission. So pay attention!”

On the blackness of the view screen behind her, huge red letters faded into view:

 

Canis-9

Classification: H

Status: Closed to all exploration, colonization and exploitation.

Omegan Federation Mandate: XL5-1701.

 

As the words faded, the video screen came to life with images of an Earthlike planet, predominately ocean, with numerous islands, two polar ice caps and few continents.

“We’re going boots on the ground to a Closed Planet?” asked O’Hara. His mother stunned him with a scolding look. “Begging the Colonel’s pardon,” he added.

“That’s why you’re here,” Dakota replied.

“Why is it a Closed Planet, Colonel?” asked Barnes.

“That’s classified information.”

“In other words,” said Betty, “it’s on a need to know basis.”

Colonel Dakota nodded. “Correct. You’ll be briefed on what you need to know in order to survive and complete your mission.” She looked around the room. “Anyone else have anything to say?”

“A beautiful planet, Colonel,” said Akira. “The islands remind me of the Pacific Rim.”

“Every rose has its thorns, Sergeant. This planet has many.” Dakota turned to Cortez. “Don’t you have anything to say?”

Shifting uncomfortably in his chair, Cortez shook his head. “Not as yet, mi Coronel.”

She frowned. “Are you feeling all right, Sergeant?”

“I am in the most excellent of health, thank you.”

“Then let’s proceed.” Dakota introduced the Omegan sitting next to her. “This is Professor Thaleez Jem, Chief Xenobiologist for the Omegan Ministry of Planetary Exploration. She’s going to further your education.” She bowed and winked to Jem. “They’re all yours, Professor, and may your gods help you.”

Professor Jem rose from her seat, fiddled with the cuffs of her green suit, thanked Colonel Dakota in perfect English and got right down to business. “Your destination is called Devoora by its two indigenous populations, and as you can see, it is ninety percent water.”

Cortez listened attentively. O’Hara, on the other hand, kept dozing off. Akira had to jab him with an elbow in order to keep him awake.

The Omegan Xenobiologist conducted an informal lecture, pausing from time to time to answer questions about Devoora. The Tulavar Archipelago, she explained, consisted of thousands of islands spread across the Tinturo Sea, west of the Great Aetherian Reef. Many of these islands were mere specks of real estate, while others were large enough to sustain a sizable population. The major landmass, east of the reef, was roughly the size of Europe.

It was called Malvaria.

“The Devoorans are humanoid and could almost pass as Earthlings,” said Professor Jem. “The Malvarians inhabit the eastern mainland, while the Tulavi dwell upon the islands of the Tulavar Archipelago. Although divided by vast distances of ocean, culture and certain physical differences, the languages of the two races are very similar. This lends credence to our theory that eons past, Devoora consisted of one massive supercontinent and the two races share a common ancestral type. It is interesting to note that there are no blue eyes among either race.”

“As beautiful as the planet looks in these images, don’t be deceived by appearances,” said Dakota. “Devoora can be a very hostile and deadly environment.”

On the view screen behind her, the images dissolved into underwater film footage of a diver wearing the scuba gear of PEP (Planetary Exploration Project) and wielding oceanographic surveillance equipment. Behind him, a large bed of seaweed began to undulate with the undersea current. As the diver adjusted his equipment, the seaweed disassembled into a school of eel-like creatures that engulfed him in a mass attack.

“Madre de Dios!” said Cortez.

The diver thrashed about as his body became a churning stew. By the time two other divers came to his rescue all that was left of the first diver was a shredded wet suit.

“While land animals will not present much of a danger, the seas are filled with predators no human has ever encountered: staceaqui or shellsnakes, laguiara or mersharks, and this particularly nasty individual,” said Professor Jem.

The video images dissolved into one of a laboratory. Four Omegan scientists stood around a metal table upon which laid a dead life form resembling an unholy hybrid of a barracuda and a panther. It had two hind legs and a pair of arm-like fins ending in webbed claws.

“The natives call this specimen a punthera, which roughly translates as pantherhead,” said Jem. “It is capable of walking on land for short periods of time.”

“Are they carnivorous?” asked Cortez.

One of the Omegan scientists on screen used a laser scalpel to make an incision in the belly of the pantherhead. Humanoid body parts, partially digested, spilled out and tumbled to the deck of the ship. The image then froze.

“Does that answer your question?”

“What a bloody mess,” O’Hara said.

“On this planet, we will not be on top of the food chain,” said Cortez.

“Space that chatter!” O’Hara’s mother yelled at them.

If they had been turtles, O’Hara and Cortez would have crawled back inside their shells.

“What else can you tell us about Devoora’s indigenous population, Professor Jem?” asked Akira, smiling at the chastised O’Hara and Cortez.

“Glad you asked, Sergeant.” Jem cleared her throat. “The Tulavi islanders have a society and industry that closely parallels the natives of your Pacific Rim, circa sixteenth century. They are a maritime culture and have developed an alloy called kharo, which is very similar to steel.”

More images flowed on the screen, showing Tulavi islanders with their colorful hair and webbed fingers, at sea on their fishing boats, harvesting crops and herding large, crustaceous animals toward a forest of trees as tall as any skyscraper Cortez had ever seen.

“If you please, Professor, what are the names of those creatures?” he asked.

“They are called krita, Sergeant,” Jem replied. “They feed off the leaves of the ulanthra trees you see on screen.”

“How do they get up that high?”

“They climb.”

“What do you know about the people who inhabit the eastern mainland, Professor… these Malvarians?” asked Akira.

“The Malvarians possess a level of technology quite similar to that of Earth’s eighteenth century, although they have no firearms or other such weapons, due to the fact that gunpowder or other explosive substances have yet to be invented. That’s about all we know.”

“I know that non-interference with any indigenous species is the primary interstellar law, Professor,” said Falco. “But what if contact with the native population is unavoidable? How do we deal with the language problem?”

“While hypno-sleep therapy will assist in your learning the language, you will each have a new Omegan Language Decoder implanted in your brain. You’ll be able to speak and understand the Devooran language as if you had been born on the planet.”

What? Not again?” Barnes moaned.

“Oh, my aching head,” Rosie groaned.

Although the Marines bitched and griped, they were old hands at this. It was all part and parcel of being a member of the Marine Expeditionary Force. Cortez had undergone so many brain and subcutaneous implants that he felt like a cyborg.

The Old Gizmo, as the Marines fondly called the Omegan Language Decoder, was a universal translator developed by the Omegans, and only they knew how it worked. Much like the mitochondrial genetic markers each member of the team had already been implanted with, the Old Gizmo was another bit of super-secret Omegan technology. Both devices would continue to function and transmit data until removed or the death of the “host body” shut them down.

“Now, if I may proceed,” said Professor Jem. “The Malvarians are great shipbuilders and seafarers.” The screen went dark for a moment, and then new images faded in. Under a white-hot sun and a clear blue sky, a vessel similar to the whaling ships of Earth’s 18th century came into view. It had no sails or oars, yet it cruised gracefully over the calm surface of an indigo sea. “This is the Tinturo Sea,” Jem continued, “and that is a Malvarian vessel. We have yet to determine what source of power these ships use.”

Major Steve Helm spoke up for the first time in his lilting, West African accent. “Perhaps they’re using steam engines, Professor.”

“Very possible,” she said. “There is steam being expelled from metal chimneys or stove pipes rising from the ship’s deck.”

The on-screen image dissolved like a scene change in a motion picture as a new scene faded in. Cortez and the other Marines were shown footage of the vast Tinturo Sea, stretching far and wide, with no land masses in sight. Planet Devoora’s great sea churned as a huge leviathan breached the surface. The creature resembled a manta ray, save that it had a cranial horn, four pectoral fins and the mandibles of a crustacean, rather than cephalic fins. It had red markings across its head and back.

“What is it that magnificent creature?” asked Cortez.

That is one of the kaizsu, the great sea dragons of Devoora,” Jem told him. “Adult kaizsu are the largest creatures on Devoora, larger than even Earth’s blue whale.”

Chapter 4

The Mastermind of Malvaria

 The Watercat slid gracefully through the sapphire waves of the Tinturo Sea. Ominous storm clouds rolled across the sky, moving eastward while the sun burned away the ghosts of morning mist. Large skree birds resembling winged reptiles with jaws like serrated sword blades screeched and sailed across the horizon. The shining hump and dorsal fin of a massive kaizsu sliced through the waves as water spouted from spiracle gills behind each of its emerald eyes.

Trivus Harn stood on the foredeck of the Watercat, hands gripping the starboard rail, his silver eyes scanning the sky. He was a tall man, well over six feet, but there was an emaciated look about him. His frail body and skeletal limbs were encased in a golden suit of lightweight, charomian armor; his face was pale, his cheeks sunken in. Behind him, a young bosun stood holding a pipe carved of kaizsu bone.

“Is it him, Seahand Mokor?” Harn called to the helmsman.

“No, m’lord. This one has a silver hump. A lone female,” the Seahand called back. “But she’s a big one, by the Abyss!”

“Don’t lose sight of her.”

“That I won’t, sir.” Mokor shifted a lever and the Watercat increased her speed.

In the distance, black against the sky, flew a drove of komodra: twenty and two of the creatures the Tulavi called skydrax, now winging their way toward the great hunting ship.

“The riders return!” Mokor yelled.

“I can see that,” said Harn, squinting in the sunlight. “Keep pace with the beast. I want her harpooned and harvested before this day is done.”

“Aye, m’lord.”

Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin-small The Power of the Sapphire Wand-small

The Creepy Hollow Adventures, co-written with Erika M. Szabo

Trivus Harn continued to watch the sky as the komodra and their riders drew closer.

The Watercat was wide of beam, with a high bow and a sharp prow sloping forward like a curved dagger. Standing aft were two round houses, the smaller sitting atop the larger. Set upon the top of the upper house was a castle-like tower capped with a crow’s nest; on either side of the superstructure stood a tall, metal smokestack. In the center of the main deck was the hatch leading below. Though guided by helm and tiller, the Watercat had no masts, no oars and flew no canvas. Powered by trivium crystals, her rudder and massive propeller were controlled by levers at the helm. The Watercat was the flagship of Harn’s private armada.

When the komodra dropped close enough to the main deck of the Watercat, sailors rushed to take possession of the krita and the islanders captured during the previous raid.

A spasm of pain twisted Harn’s gut. His poorly-mended bones were pricked by needles of ice. He almost doubled over in agony but held himself proud and erect in front of his men. When he snapped his fingers, the bosun handed him both his pipe and a small pouch. From the pouch Harn took a few pinches of crushed hemp leaves and filled the bowl. The sailor scraped a stick match along the rail and lit the pipe for him. The first inhalation made Harn cough, as it always did. But the smoke filled his lungs and within moments his pain subsided.

While the scent of pipe smoke sweetened the air, Harn’s crew took the prisoners and the krita below. Part bird and part reptile, the komodra were as large as draft horses, with scaly hides and a crest of feathers sprouting from the tops of their skulls and down to the base of their long, serpent-like necks. They possessed huge black, leathery wings, two legs with the talons of a vulture, and jaws like those of some monstrous lizard. When they were done with their tasks, the komodra and their armored knights took to the sky again, flying southward. Only one settled on deck, however, its rider dismounting and tossing the reins to a sailor.

Harn watched the knight approach, envying the man his youth and health and strength. The rider removed his metal helmet and rubbed a hand over his short-cropped, silver-black hair.

“Hail, Master Harn!” he said in a gravelly voice, striking his breastplate three times with his left fist.

“Congratulations on another successful raid, Skylord Khax,” said Harn.

Khax bowed his head. He was shorter than Harn, but his suit of gold, charomian armor gave him the appearance of a much bigger man. His copper-colored eyes reflected the sun’s light. “Thank you, my lord. Luckily we caught the islanders by surprise and gave them no chance to mount a real defense. We lost only one man.”

Harn allowed himself a rare smile. “The islanders fled their homes?”

“Yes, my lord. We burned their villages and their sacred trees, and killed many. Others took to their boats and sailed westward. We didn’t pursue those that fled, as per your orders.”

Puffing on his pipe, Harn drew in a deep lungful of smoke and exhaled slowly. “Very good, but we still have much to do before we’re ready to attack their main islands.”

“I’ll train more riders as fast as Doctor Botara can breed more komodra.”

“Excellent! There’s a lot riding on the hump of the good doctor.” Harn thought it ironic that Doctor Botara had a humped back much like the kaizsu they hunted. “I often shudder at the thought that my future is in the hands of that madman.”

“Mad or not, there’s no denying that Botara is a true wizard.”

“Indeed he is, Skylord.”

The population of Malvaria was constantly growing, placing greater demands on their natural resources. Trivus Harn’s mission in life was to provide his people with new sources of food and power, and thus increase his own wealth and influence. The trivium crystal, named in honor of him, was only the beginning. Son of a rich merchant, Harn also sought to gain fame and power by conquering the islands of the Tulavar Archipelago and enslaving the Tulavi, a race of Devoorans his own people had only recently discovered.

So far, all that was known about the Tulavi was that they shared a special bond with the kaizsu, the great sea dragons whose flesh provided oil for the lamps of Malvaria and the machines of war and industry. What sort of bond this was, no one knew. But Harn had no doubt that Doctor Botara would unravel that mystery. The old hunchbacked wizard had invented the trivium crystal and had fashioned the charomian armor from a metal alloy he perfected. He had also created the komodra by crossbreeding fire-spitting desert worms with the flying raptors that inhabited a volcanic island in the southern Sea of Chelawaza.

There was a more personal agenda to Harn’s crusade, as well: the killing of one particular kaizsu, the largest ever encountered in the Tinturo Sea.

“Is there anything else to report, Skylord?”

“One thing, Master Harn,” said Khax. “One of the men we captured on the island of Bhacoba. He is not like any Tulavi I have ever seen.”

“In what way?”

“He does not have webbed fingers, sir. And his eyes are as blue as the sky.”

Harn had seen too many unusual things in his life to be surprised by something like this, though he did find it quite interesting. The existence of the Tulavi had not even been known a century ago. “Perhaps there is a second or even a third race we have yet to encounter?”

Khax pondered this for a few moments. “Or is it possible that this man could be another mutant, as Doctor Botara believes the Tulavi to be?”

“Do you accept Doctor Botara’s theory that in the distant past our people and the Tulavi were of the same race?”

“I accept the possibility of it, my lord.” Khax shrugged his armor-clad shoulders. “How else can we account for our two languages having so many words in common?”

“Yes, yes… it lends credence to his notion that the Tulavi islands were once part of Malvaria, until some natural disaster ages ago caused the continent to break apart.”

“A puzzle, to be sure, my lord.

Harn glanced at the sea and saw with pleasure that the Watercat was still keeping pace with the female kaizsu. “You may return to the Sea Witch and tell Sealord Boro I look forward to our meeting at the next rendezvous point.”

“Aye, Master Harn.” Skylord Khax saluted and bowed.

With that, he turned and strode across the deck to where the sailor still held the reins of his komodra. Mounting into the saddle, Khax tugged on the reins. The great beast flapped its wings and lifted off. It took to the sky in a heartbeat and veered to the south, returning to the main body of the armada.

Harn tapped the dying embers from his pipe on the rail and handed it back to the young bosun. Then he returned his attention to the sea while his hunters gathered their weapons, lowered the longboats and made ready to hunt the great sea dragon.

The small cephalic horn and silver dorsal fin of the female kaizsu cut through the waves and dipped below the surface of the vast indigo sea. The blue-black flukes of her long, serpentine tail moved gracefully from side to side, steering her through the cold, dark waters.

Three longboats powered by trivium crystals and manned by helmsman, pilot and seven hunters followed in the wake of the great sea dragon. When the kaizsu breached again like some monstrous devil rising from the deeps of a watery netherworld, the hunters let fly their harpoons, piercing the back and heaving sides of the sea beast. Black blood sprayed the air and stained the surface of the sea. Thick ropes attached to the harpoons were stretched taut. The hunters held to their stations as the longboats were jerked forward and pulled across the bosom of the sea in a Luvanin Sleigh Ride, named in honor of their major seaport.

Harn clutched the foredeck as if it were his only anchor to life. Cold, stinging brine and salt air lashed his long, bony face, and he loved every moment of it. The thrill of the hunt and the smell of the sea exhilarated him.

The kaizsu turned and twisted in the water as she tugged the longboats farther out to sea and away from the Watercat. The hunters were tossed about from side to side but managed to hang on and keep the boats from capsizing. Three more harpoons struck the sea dragon.

“This one’s mighty big, Master Harn!” Seahand Mokor yelled. “She’ll fill a dozen barrels with oil and yield a harvest of at least that many eggs, if I know m’business.”

“Then don’t let her get away,” Harn said.

The Seahand adjusted the skinning knife tucked in his belt and patted the harpoon cannon fastened to the railing next to him. “I won’t lose her, Master Harn. We’ll have the cow butchered and boiled before nightfall!”

Once again Harn felt the surge in power as the Watercat increased her speed, dancing on the sea like a haroom girl. He glanced at the main deck where his crew stood ready with their ropes and grappling hooks, cranes and winches and various cutting tools. Three additional longboats now clipped through the waves to assist the others.

The kaizsu continued gliding through the sea with no indication that she was going to dive, although she appeared to be slowing down. The second trio of longboats drew close enough for three men to cast their lances, striking the broad back of the sea dragon. More black blood exploded from her wounds. Wailing like a Malvarian banshee, the kaizsu bucked and rocked back and forth in her wrath and agony. She suddenly leapt into the air, her long, barbed tail whipping about and her pectoral fins lashing the air before her massive body arched and dived. Into the sea she crashed and under she went, dragging the first three longboats down with her.

Silence fell over the Tinturo Sea.

“Damn! Damn! Damn!” Harn cursed, pounding the rail with one bony hand. “Seahand Mokor, move into position. Now! I want that beast spouting black blood and rolling over dead in the water when next she shows her hump!”

“Aye, Master!”

The Watercat veered hard to starboard and slid in close to the remaining boats.

“Ready your harpoons, men!” Mokor shouted.

“And ready yours, Seahand!” Harn yelled.

“She breaches!”

A moment later, the sea began to churn as the kaizsu emerged from the belly of the deep like some behemoth of ancient times. Half her body lifted from the water before she slammed down in a thunderous crash of waves. She moved quickly through the water, her fins propelling her forward with a speed the Watercat and the longboats were hard-pressed to follow. Still attached to the harpoons protruding from the body of the sea dragon, the ropes were pulled taut, dragging along the broken remains of three empty longboats.

The harpooners in the other boats took aim and let fly their irons. The kaizsu writhed and twisted when the harpoons struck her back and sides. Murky blood spouted like a geyser. Guide ropes were pulled taut and the longboats dragged along in a second sea chase. Another trio of boats was launched from the Watercat and quickly picked up enough speed to draw close to the right side of the beast. Harpooners on those boats cast their lances: two struck the sea dragon’s back and one pinned itself to the base of her tail. The boats were jerked and pulled along, their crews clinging to their stations.

“Don’t let her dive again, Seahand!” shouted Harn. “Fire your cannon!”

“I’m taking aim now, sir!”

“Fire, damn you! Fire!

Mokor fired the harpoon cannon and the sound of it reverberated across the wide Tinturo Sea. The harpoon shot from the mouth of the cannon with a great whoosh and sped toward its target. A moment later its barbed tip struck the kaizsu and buried itself deep in the hump between the creature’s head and dorsal fin. The great beast shrilled and arched her back, and began pounding and whipping the sea with her fins in a frenzy of pain. Her tail whipped about as she slid through the water, pulling the three longboats behind. Finally, she began to tire and slow down, her fins and tail beating the waves with less and less force. Soon the kaizsu grew too weak to fight back and she ceased to struggle. The spiracle gill slits on either side of her emerald eyes shot dark blood high into the air. She sang a final note of lamentation, rolled over and lay still in the water, floating there like flotsam made of flesh and blood and bone.

“Proceed with the rendering and harvest all you can, Mokor,” Harn ordered.

“Aye, m’lord.”

Time slowed to a crawl on the cobalt waters of the Tinturo Sea.

The crews of the surviving longboats motored in, towing the carcass of the female kaizsu toward the Watercat. Seahand Mokor ordered two of his lads to operate the winch attached to his harpoon cannon, reeling in the thick rope that was tied to the iron embedded in the hump of the sea dragon. Black blood stained the waters of the sea, attracting octocrabs that rose to the surface to feast on the dark nectar of the kaizsu. Finally, the carcass was drawn up along the starboard side of the Watercat, and the flensers and harvesters leapt on top of the kaizsu’s exposed, white belly. They set to work with their mincing knives and blubber hooks.

Seahand Mokor cracked his knuckles as he approached Harn. “The boys will soon have her carved and ready to stew, m’lord.”

“Excellent, Mokor,” said Harn. “This will be the last time we render a kaizsu for oil, food and bones. From now on we hunt only females, and only for their eggs.”

“Begging your pardon, m’lord, but what shall we do with the carcasses?”

“Leave them for the pantherheads.”

“Aye, aye, sir.” Mokor started to turn away, but paused. “What about him, sir?”

Harn felt his heart beat faster. “Always keep a sharp eye out for Torka Glim, Seahand.”


This is an excerpt from Joe Bonadonna’s The MechMen of Canis-9

Now available in both paperback and Kindle editions

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Joe BonadonnaJoe Bonadonna

Joe started writing songs and stories in 1970, and sold a few short stories in the early 1980s. So far, he’s published four books: the sword and sorcery collection Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, published by iUniverse; the space opera, Three Against The Stars, published by Airship27; Waters of Darkness, a sword and sorcery pirate adventure, in collaboration with David C. Smith, and published by Damnation Books; and Mad Shadows II — Dorgo the Dowser and The Order of the Serpent, published in trade paperback and digital formats in January 2017.

His first sword and soul story, “The Blood of the Lion,” appeared in GRIOTS 2: Sisters of the Spear, from by MVmedia.

Joe’s Dorgo the Dowser novelette “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum” appeared in Black Gate in December 2011, and it has proven to be one of the most popular stories we’ve ever published. Another novellas featuring Dorgo, “The Book of Echoes,” appeared in the 2013 anthology Azieran: Artifacts and Relics from Heathen Oracle, and the novella “The Order of the Serpent” is scheduled to appear in a special sword and sorcery edition of Weird Tales online magazine.

Joe has also written a number of articles and book reviews for Black Gate online magazine.

Photo by Erin Lynn Ransford.

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Black Gate Online Fiction: An Excerpt from “Withering Blights,” featured in Lovers in Hell

Saturday, October 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

By Joe Bonadonna


This is an excerpt from “Withering Blights,” by Joe Bonadonna, featured in Lovers in Hell, edited by Janet Morris and Chris Morris. It is presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of Joe Bonadonna and Perseid Press, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 by Joe Bonadonna.

Doctor Victor Frankenstein, whose brain resides inside the skull of his infamous Monster, is back to his old tricks again. After he and Quasimodo finish their tour of duty in the Mortuary, where they assisted the Undertaker and Gorgonous, his Deputy Assistant, in resurrecting and reassigning the Damned, and sending them back out into Hell again, they return to the Golem Heights and to their home, Goblin Manor. At first it appears that it’s going to be just another hellish day in New Hell City, until one of the most celebrated figures of Victorian England makes an appointment to see the mad doctor and his hunchbacked assistant…


“Withering Blights”

“Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,

Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend

More than cool reason ever comprehends.

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet

Are of imagination all compact.”

 — William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

 

Lovers in Hell-smallSomewhere at the far edge of the Golem Heights, surrounded by jagged rock and malodorous heath, high on a cliff overlooking the unclean waters of the Vile River, stands a dark-shadowed mansion worthy of Poe. Two twisted, skeletal trees guard either side of the broken stone steps leading to the black doors of its entrance. Soulless and barren, with an irredeemable dreariness, this estate perches on the precipitous brink of that lurid tarn. Two large, rectangular windows on its third and top floor, one on its middle floor, and a double-row of smaller windows at ground level, all brightly lit with golden light from within, give the building the look of a grinning skull. A pallid green fungus crawls over gray walls and eye-like windows, adding to the bleak house’s moldering state of disrepair and air of insufferable gloom.

Inside the great, dust-coated dining hall, upon walls paneled with black oak, hang bizarre and abstract portraits of the mansion’s former tenants. The floor, tiled with black and crimson squares, looks as if Satan himself had once used this room as a chessboard. Red velvet draperies adorn the windows, open to admit the crimson light of Paradise, high in the vault above New Hell. Yellow candles cast their illumination through every window, but hardly dispel the atmosphere of sickness and dissolution that befits the name of this estate:

Withering Blights.

Joseph Carey Merrick hobbles to the cold hearth where two small, stone gargoyles squat toad-like at each end of the mantle. Known in life as John Merrick, the Elephant Man, he leans upon a black metal cane. In the hand of his good left arm he tightly clutches its specially-designed wooden handle, which resembles the grip of a large pistol. Damned at birth with the withering disease that deformed and defined him, made him famous and won him his epithet, he had always dreamed of a better afterlife. He was damned to hell for once counter-cursing the Almighty who’d cursed him with the malady that made his life on Earth a living hell. Doomed, he faces an eternity in the bowels of an inferno never conceived in his tortured nightmares. Although he does not live alone at Withering Blights, he is indeed a lost and lonely soul. As he was in life, so he is in hell: ever searching for true love.

“I fail to comprehend why you insist on living in this crumbling mausoleum when I can well afford a lovely estate for you in the heart of New Hell City,” said Madge Kendal, the wealthy actress who had often visited Merrick before his death in 1890. She had fallen into hell for the sins of pride and vanity, sins that had condemned many an artist to eternal damnation.

Merrick slowly turned to face Madge Kendal and her companion, François Villon, the Vagabond Poet. Once again the Elephant Man found himself at a loss for words as he stared at the raven-haired and dark-eyed beauty of Kendal, his benefactress; regal she looked in her Victorian-era dress and hat of red velvet.

Oh, how he had loved her in life, as he still did in hell. He glanced down at the threadbare sackcloth clothing his twisted limbs and growth-encrusted flesh, and once again felt unworthy of her or any other woman. As for his misshapen head and face… only his cape and hood could hide those.

“Your generosity, as always, overwhelms me and is greatly appreciated, Madge,” said Merrick, his speech still impeded due to his debility. “But I cannot allow you to do more than you already have for Antonia and me.”

“I am most happy to aid you, Joseph. But why must you go on living with that helpless woman, when you yourself are so helpless?”

“Not so helpless as you might think.” Merrick leaned on his cane. “Who else shall I live with? Who else would choose to share lodgings with me? Antonia does not see my wretched ugliness; and without me, she would suffer her penance alone. She needs me as much as I need her, Madge.”

“What? Are you her seeing eye dog?” asked Villon the poet, thief and murderer. His most famous work, Le Testament, was a grand and bitter rant against Bishop Thibault d’Aussigny, who once held the Sea of Orléans. Villon spent the summer of 1461 as a guest in the bishop’s prison at Meung-sur-Loire. After 1463, the Vagabond Poet’s ultimate fate yet remains a mystery to all except him, his Maker and His Satanic Majesty. But such things no longer matter to Villon, now and forevermore a resident of hell.

Elephant Man-small

John Merrick, the Elephant Man

The Elephant Man glared at the arrogant poet, who lounged in a comfortable chair, legs stretched out as if he owned Withering Blights. Villon’s green leggings, brown tunic, leather boots, and feathered cap were tattered, torn and dirty; one hand clutched the hilt of his French rapier. To Merrick, the Vagabond Poet was no better than a leech, a parasitic rogue who had no taste for fine apparel. Villon famously shopped at the local Baalmart superstore, where he purchased cheaply-made clothes at exorbitant prices.

“Do not judge me, Villon, for in many ways you and I are alike,” said Merrick. “We both enjoy the grace of this generous and kind-hearted woman. At least I venture out into New Hell to earn my keep, whereas you… You are nothing more than a gigolo.”

“I am an artist, you pompous pachyderm of a man!” Villon leapt upright to unsheathe his sword, but Madge Kendal stopped him.

“We are guests here, François,” she said. “Mind your manners and sit down!”

Merrick smiled, a rictus lacking warmth. “Your hatred of the rich is no more than pretense, Villon. We all know that in your heart you long to become one of the aristos you claim to despise. Maybe that is why you cling to Madge.”

Pounding a fist against his thigh, Villon glared at his misshapen host. “Maybe in life you were a curious oddity whose warped and twisted body made you a popular attraction, Merrick. But in hell you are just an everyday freak.”

This was only partly true, for the Elephant Man was indeed unique in his ugliness. Why, even hell’s own vile and disgusting Welcome Woman had refused to spread her diseased and scabrous thighs for him upon his arrival in hell. Upon Merrick’s first and only visit to the Mortuary, the Undertaker had declared Merrick a masterpiece sculpted by the hand of a mad genius, refused to tamper with such grotesque beauty, and sent him on his way. After that, the Elephant Man made his way through the netherworlds as a sideshow attraction, which hardly paid the bills. There was, after all, much competition in hell.

Tension crackled in the room until Madge asked Merrick, “So you are intent on going through with your plans?”

Merrick nodded his bulbous head. “Yes, both for Antonia and myself. We manage to live quite well off the stipend you give us, dear Madge, and we save every diablo we can scrounge from begging on the streets. What the doctor — ”

Doctor? Mad scientist is more like it,” said Villon.

“Perhaps,” Merrick replied, choosing not to take the poet’s bait. “But he is, nevertheless, a genius.” He moved closer to Madge. “As I was saying, what the doctor accomplished in life was truly astounding, and what he learned assisting the Undertaker only furthered his knowledge and honed his surgical skills.”

“Are you certain about this, Joseph?”

“I am.”

With a snort of contempt, Villon said, “The Mortuary has become an arena of dysfunction. Fear and temptation of obliteration spreads through the hells like wildfire. Everything that foul Undertaker stands for is now being questioned, and you would trust your existence to a lunatic who once worked alongside him?”

“Yes. It’s a risk we are willing to take,” said Merrick.

Madge laid a gentle hand against one cheek of his malformed face. “My poor, helpless friend, hell is not what it was before the coming of Erra and his Seven Sibitti. The plagues and floods have angered His Satanic Majesty, who responds with crack downs and changes. It’s a new day in hell, a dark day of ever more ghastly torments. Satan sees all and knows all. His agents are everywhere. Your scheme is but a dangerous pipe dream, Joseph.”

The Elephant Man stared long and regretfully into her eyes; although he could never be angry with her, he wished she hadn’t confided in that scoundrel and varlet, Villon. “Dearest Madge, I would gladly abandon this plan of mine, if you’d grace me with your love. Together we could avoid this so-called purging of hell and flee to other hells where judges reside who might save us. Or we can go into hiding in the darkest, coldest depths of the nether regions.”

“And what of Antonia?”

“She will be in good hands with the doctor and his assistant, I assure you.”

“Satan would undoubtedly find us, should he so choose. Erra may find us first.”

“Please, Madge. Won’t you reconsider?”

“I’m sorry, Joseph. Surely you must know I cannot go with you, for my love is reserved for and freely given to another.”

“Yes, this I know.” Merrick eyed Villon with contempt. “Love is blind indeed.”

“This time you go too far, you warped little gnome! You malformed hobgoblin!” said Villon. He pushed Madge aside, drew his sword and challenged Merrick.

Stumbling backward, the Elephant Man raised his metal cane and pointed it at Villon. “If you wish to call me out some other time, I shall be happy to oblige you. But at the moment I have more urgent matters requiring my attention.”

Pirates in Hell-small Poets in Hell-small

Villon scuffed closer to Merrick. “Coward!”

“Gentlemen, I beg you: Leave off!” said Madge, stepping between them.

“He started it the moment you walked in here,” said Merrick.

“And one day I shall finish it,” said Villon.

Madge pushed them apart. “Enough! Joseph is an old friend of mine, François, and you know there is nothing inappropriate between us.” She turned to Merrick. “I am truly sorry, dear friend. The heart wants what the heart wants.”

Merrick could never understand Madge’s love for Villon, nor Villon’s hatred of him. Heaving a resounding sigh, he said, “And your heart desires Villon.”

“What more can I say? Even in hell, where physical love is an act of pain and torture, there exists spiritual love, the love that transcends all space and time.” Madge kissed Merrick on the cheek and then frowned at Villon. “I will deal with you later, Francis.”

“Do not call me that,” said the Vagabond Poet.

Madge laughed and rolled her eyes. “I am your benefactress, Franky boy. So put away your little sword and escort me home. Joseph, we shall see ourselves out, thank you. And if you need more diablos, simply ask.”

Casting a hate-filled look at Merrick, Villon said, “Hell isn’t big enough for the two of us.”

“Unfortunately, we are both stuck here for eternity,” Merrick replied.

Sheathing his rapier with an angry flourish, Villon followed Madge Kendal like a faithful and chastised puppy. They left quietly, closing the front doors to Withering Blights behind them.

Merrick desired nothing more than to point his metal cane at Villon and send him to the Mortuary for reassignment. Instead, with a cry of rage, he threw the cane across the dining hall, and followed it.

There he turned and leaned against the hearth, staring at the cold ashes piled there, his heart aching with sadness, despair and the pain of unrequited love. With an agonized moan that could only come from the broken heart of a lost soul, the Elephant Man turned his attention to the stone gargoyles sitting on the fireplace mantle.

“‘Why was I not made of stone, like thee?’” he asked, quoting his friend and fellow lump of misshapen clay, the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

“But you weren’t, love,” said the sweet voice of a Southern belle from behind him.

Merrick spun around to face the entrance to the library. Framed in the doorway and holding a walking stick stood Antonia Ford, the beautiful and graceful daughter of a Virginia merchant and secessionist. During the American Civil War she had been a Confederate agent, spying for General Jeb Stuart and Colonel John Mosby. Health issues ended her life in 1871, whence she passed into perdition because her adventures in espionage had cost the lives of countless soldiers on both sides of that horrendous war.

Antonia and Merrick had met on the streets of New Hell City, where she begged for diablos and he tried in vain to earn his way as a true freak of Nature, not something made by the hand of the Undertaker. They had become fast friends, learning to depend on one another, and when Withering Blights was offered for rent, Madge helped them move in together.

“You’re awake, Antonia?” said Merrick. “How long have you been standing there?”

Antonia Ford smiled at him, gorgeous in her rose-colored, crinolined gown with its huge black velvet bow. Dark hair, long and curly, framed her lovely face. And although no true sun ever shined in the crimson vault over hell, and no need for such things indoors, she wore a pair of dark, wraparound sunglasses.

“Long enough to hear most of the conversation between you and your guests, my dear,” she said. “I must tell you, Joey… Villon is dangerous and not to be trusted.”

“I know. What about Madge?”

Antonia smoothed a wrinkle in her dress. “Although she is kind and generous, she is an actress and shall certainly come to more than one bad end, I fear.”

Merrick nodded, overcome with sadness and worry, for Antonia was usually right about such things.

“Now, my English beau, pick up that weapon I heard you throw across the room and let’s be on our way. You don’t want to be late for our doctor’s appointment, do you?”


Frakenstein-small

His noisy alarm clock rings, and Doctor Victor Frankenstein, lathered in sweat, wakes from his latest nightmare. He glances at the always unreliable, taped-together digital clock on his bedside table. It reads: 13 O’clock.

What the f—? Maybe I should get a hell-rooster!

Victor rarely sleeps, but lately when he does he dreams of Erra and his Seven, the Sibitti, the plague-god’s henchmen who wreak havoc throughout infernity, unleashing ever more plagues, pestilence and floods. He wonders if any damned soul in the underverse really sleeps. Do they need to? Do they dream? After all, they are dead, and the dead really have no need of such things as sleep and dreams. They are in hell, which is in itself one everlasting nightmare.

We are merely ghosts in an infernal machine. Would that all this were a bad dream!

Rising from the cold, uncomfortable couch in the library next to his cinematically-inspired laboratory in Goblin Manor, Doctor Frankenstein prepares for a new “day” in hell, although time in hell lurched and crawled and sped, no more dependable than geography or weather. Donning torn and faded blue jeans and a tie-dyed t-shirt, he studies himself in the cracked mirror hanging on one wall.

His face, which is all scarred and stitched together, stares back at him. His neck-bolts need polishing. The rusty clamps holding in place the chicken wire that in turn holds in place his exposed brain also require polishing. His brain resides inside the skull of Adam, the giant he designed, built and brought to life, all in defiance of those Above. His former body now houses the brain of the creature once known as Frankenstein’s Monster.

What a trade off!

Considering all he’s been through, Victor is happy that his sardonic humor remains firmly intact. He wonders whatever became of Adam and his inamorata, Galatea. Last he’d heard, they had returned to Brimstone, Hellizona and their little tavern, Pitt’s Pendulum. Victor hopes they survived the plagues, the floods and Satan’s latest purge, or whatever it is. He has been having weird dreams ever since his release from his tour of duty in the Mortuary. Since working there, seeing and experiencing and following orders, his nightmares are unsettling and populated with reanimated corpses feasting on the flesh of the living dead.

After his epic failure to sail out of hell aboard the steamship Snark, the three Furies remanded both him and Quasimodo to hard labor for the Undertaker and his Deputy Assistant, Gorgonous. They helped reassign the overwhelming number of damned fools sent to the Mortuary by way of the plagues and floods sweeping through all circles and levels of the multifarious hells. The other survivors of the Snark’s ill-conceived voyage in futility had left the Isle of the Damned and returned to New Hell; His Satanic Majesty, surprisingly, proved true to his word on that point.

But Victor knew Satan all too well, and knew that the Adversary always had an ulterior motive. It was all a matter of when, not if, the Father of Lies chose to make another move in whatever game he played, and the mad doctor believed he knew the nature of that game: the purging of the damned from hell in order to leave the netherworlds to him and his Fallen Angels. Victor knew in his cold, dead heart that Satan wanted to prove to the Almighty that Mankind was worthy of neither damnation nor salvation… only obliteration.

A sudden pounding on the front door disturbed Victor’s reverie. “Quasimodo! Answer the damned door!”

Victor donned his stained and dirty lab coat and continued musing.

Upon returning to their mansion on the Golem Heights, Victor and Quasimodo discovered that hell remained in a state of instability. Although the flooding had slowed, the rising waters falling back to previous levels or returning to rivers and lakes gone dry, hell had definitely changed. There was now more an air of fear and despair so palpable it could be felt down to the core of Victor’s lost soul. Many of the damned had gone missing. Many lovers suffered separation or worse, while lovesick survivors sought obliteration but couldn’t find it. As damned souls disappeared, what they knew disappeared with them. Love, hope and the promise of opportunity had been lost to New Dead and Old Dead alike, and the purges yet raged, unabated.

A soft knock on the library door and the squeak of hinges opening announced the arrival of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Victor put on his stocking cap and turned around.

Quasimodo stood framed in the doorway, dressed like a villain from an old cowboy movie. He sported a ten-gallon hat, a plastic water pistol and a stiff new lariat.

“Why are you dressed all in black?” asked Victor.

“Because sometimes the good guys, they do not always wear white,” Quasimodo replied with a poor attempt at a Texas accent.

“Well who in hell are you supposed to be this time? The Quasimodo Kid?”

No, mon partenaire. I am the Hopalong Hunchback.”

Victor chuckled and shook his head. Quasimodo’s dress-up and play-acting never ceased to amuse him. “So who was at the door?”

“Our guests: Madame Antonia Ford and Monsieur Joseph Merrick.”


The Hunchback-small

Walls the color of freshly-spilled blood hold racks of scientific instruments, a jumble of research equipment, electrical panels, and a hodge-podge of esoteric apparatus: all these and more make up Doctor Victor Frankenstein’s Goblin Manor laboratory. Illumination provided by torches jammed into wall brackets conjures forth twisted shadows that dance across the vaulted ceiling or hide in cobwebbed corners. And there, seated upon the examination table, the Elephant Man confers with the Monster Maker, his physician. Still wearing her dark sunglasses and awaiting her turn with the doctor, Antonia Ford sits quietly at Victor’s desk, while Quasimodo hovers nearby, watching Frankenstein examine Merrick.

“What is your prognosis, Doctor?” asked Antonia.

“Please, call me Victor, my dear. After all, it is love and friendship that bring us here together. There should be no formalities between friends.”

Antonia laid a hand upon her heart. “Thank you, Victor.”

When Frankenstein finished examining him, the Elephant Man asked, “Do you think you can help us?”

“Giving you a new body may not be something I can do here in hell,” Victor replied.

“But you succeeded once before, Doctor,” said Merrick.

“That was on earth, in life, Joseph. And remember, Adam’s body — this body which I now inhabit — was already dead. I pieced it together from various parts taken from a number of fresh cadavers. The brain, too, was dead… until I gave it life. Here in hell, revivification is a different matter.”

“How is that, my friend?”

Victor rubbed his chin, taking a moment to think. “For one thing, so-called dead bodies do not stay dead. They expire and disappear in the blink of an eye, only to reappear in the Mortuary for reassignment. Only there, in the Undertaker’s domain, do bodies and limbs hang about like so many spare parts waiting to be used.”

“More like fresh meat in cold storage, waiting to be butchered,” Quasimodo quipped.

Glancing at his humpbacked assistant, Victor gave a weak sigh and acknowledged Quasimodo’s analogy with a brief nod. He shuddered at the memory of his one and only time on Slab A, when the top of his skull had been removed by Gorgonous, the Undertaker’s bizarre assistant. Even he, the infamous Doctor Frankenstein, had found his later servitude to the Undertaker a most ghastly experience, and one he would not soon forget.

Oh, how I hated that slaughterhouse, that foul abattoir of torture, torment and utter misery. “I cannot rob the Mortuary as I once robbed graves,” said Victor.

“I understand,” Merrick replied. “But here you switched your brain with Adam’s brain, and the procedure succeeded. Neither of you perished and ended up in the Mortuary. How was that accomplished without the repercussion of reassignment?”

“That was all Merlin’s doing, Joseph… an experiment conducted in lieu of payment for building Adam and me an enchanted hiding place. Merlin used some form of magic that kept our necroflesh bodies in a state of suspended animation while he switched brains from one body to the other. How he managed this, I have no idea. A magician never reveals his secrets.”

Antonia adjusted her sunglasses and said, “Then we must find Merlin.”

“Alas, I wish we could find him,” said Quasimodo. “But he has disappeared — vanished like the volunteer in a stage magician’s act. No one knows where he has gone.”

“Believe me, Antonia, we spent an eternity looking for him,” said Victor.

Quasimodo nodded his shaggy head. “No one has seen the magician since the flooding of hell began.”

Merrick’s hang-dog expression touched Victor’s emotions. He wanted to help the Elephant Man. He wanted to ease the pain and suffering of all the damn souls throughout hell. More than that, he wanted to rub his success and defiance in the face of His Satanic Majesty, whom he considered no more majestic than a rotten turnip.

Victor disapproved of the games Satan played on the damned; and apparently the Almighty disapproved of the way Satan ruled hell, which is why those Above dispatched Erra and his brood to hell: to make infernity more hellish. Victor did not like those heaven-sent auditors, either.

“So there’s no hope for me, is there?” asked Merrick. “I must forever be trapped inside this twisted mass that is my body?”

“Give me time, Joseph,” Victor said to him. “Let me think on this. I’m sure I can do something for you. How much? That I do not know.”

“A little something is better than a lot of nothing, I suppose.” Merrick let out a deep, ragged breath of hopelessness. “And what about Antonia?”

Rising to her feet, Antonia grabbed Merrick’s metal cane and used it to help her across the room. Victor smiled: he had designed and built that cane especially for Merrick, with its custom-made handle and the secret button concealed within its pistol-like grip.

“Do you think I will ever be able to see again, Victor?” Antonia removed her sunglasses, revealing two black and empty sockets where eyes should have been.

“Mon Dieu!” cried Quasimodo. “I knew of your blindness, but had no knowledge of how the torment had been inflicted on you.”

Doctors in Hell 2-small

“In life, I was a spy. Here in hell, I once spied for Guy Fawkes,” Antonia explained. “If he had a hand in the destruction of the original Hellexandrian Library, I will not say. When apprehended, I endured torture by agents of Satan, who sent me to the Undertaker when I refused to talk. He removed my eyes so I could never again spy for anyone.” She donned her sunglasses once more and leaned on the cane. “If I must settle for a pair of glass eyes, then so be it. At least I won’t have to wear these ridiculous spectacles anymore.”

“You look like the movie star, Mademoiselle,” Quasimodo told her.

“You are most gracious, my friend. Thank you.”

Victor admired her resilience, her realistic outlook, and the overwhelming power of hope she nurtured not only for herself, but for Merrick as well. Victor needed no x-ray machine to see her heart filled with love for the Elephant Man. “If I can find a way to help you and Joseph, I will, Antonia. That is all I can promise you.”

The Elephant Man sighed, nodded, and then a mischievous twinkle brightened his eyes. He wrapped his good left arm around the shoulders of Quasimodo and patted the bell ringer’s hunched back. “You know, my friend, Victor is a very fine doctor and can help you, too. Perhaps you should let him do something about your hump?”

“What hump?” Quasimodo asked without missing a beat.

The two old friends burst into merry laughter, which helped disperse the pervasive gloom in the laboratory.

Victor shook his head in disgust. Young Frankenstein, a movie he detested, was a favorite film of both Quasimodo and Merrick; they had seen it together at Gremlin’s Sinese Theater in Hellywood. “For your information,” Victor said bitterly, “I never had any sons and thus no grandchildren. All those films took great liberties with my life and my work, treating me like a ghoul, a rapist and a lunatic. I am a doctor, damn it — not a murderer!”

“But I was turned into a cartoon — a cartoon!” Quasimodo wailed as if being tortured. “And it was a musical, of all things!”

“Forgive us, Victor,” said Merrick. “We did not intend for our little joke to upset you. Liberties were also taken in the play and film made of my life.”

“Yes, yes. No harm done. No harm done at all,” said Frankenstein, his thoughts already racing down another road.

Merrick shook his head. “I am still new to hell. There is much I have yet to learn. Things I assumed to be basic truths while alive I now discover were all lies.”

“And lies, dear Joseph, often serve as truth, here in hell,” Antonia told him. She had more experience in hell than Merrick, having passed from life in 1871, whereas he entered hell in 1890. “The afterlife is one paradox after another, as confounding as life itself.”

“What about transplantation?” Merrick asked a moment later, a hopeful note in his voice.

A bewildered look wrinkled Antonia’s lovely face. “What are you talking about?”

“New eyes and new limbs, Antonia,” Merrick told her.

Victor’s eyes grew wide and fever-bright. Gleefully he rubbed his hands together. “But of course! Of course!”

Quasimodo snapped his fingers. “Grave robbers and body-snatchers, mon ami.” The hunchback puffed himself up with pride and turned to Victor. “For spare body parts we must go to see Messieurs Burke and Hare.”


This is an excerpt from Joe Bonadonna’s “Withering Blights”
as featured in Lovers in Hell, edited by Janet Morris and Christopher Morris
Copyright © 2018, Perseid Press.
First Kindle edition September 2018, all rights reserved. ISBN 978-1-948602-20-4.


Joe BonadonnaJoe Bonadonna

Joe started writing songs and stories in 1970, and sold a few short stories in the early 1980s. So far, he’s published four books: the sword and sorcery collection Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, published by iUniverse; the space opera, Three Against The Stars, published by Airship27; Waters of Darkness, a sword and sorcery pirate adventure, in collaboration with David C. Smith, and published by Damnation Books; and Mad Shadows II — Dorgo the Dowser and The Order of the Serpent, published in trade paperback and digital formats in January 2017.

His first sword and soul story, “The Blood of the Lion,” appeared in GRIOTS 2: Sisters of the Spear, from by MVmedia.

Joe’s Dorgo the Dowser novelette “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum” appeared in Black Gate in December 2011, and it has proven to be one of the most popular stories we’ve ever published. Another novellas featuring Dorgo, “The Book of Echoes,” appeared in the 2013 anthology Azieran: Artifacts and Relics from Heathen Oracle, and the novella “The Order of the Serpent” is scheduled to appear in a special sword and sorcery edition of Weird Tales online magazine.

Joe has also written a number of articles and book reviews for Black Gate online magazine.

Photo by Erin Lynn Ransford.

Click on the photo for a large version.

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The Beauty in Horror and Sadness: An Interview with Darrell Schweitzer

Monday, September 3rd, 2018 | Posted by SELindberg

We Are All Legends-back-small We Are All Legends-small

Cover by Stephen Fabian

Intro

It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven my strange muses. This interview series engages contemporary authors & artists on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Previously we cornered weird fantasy authors like John Fultz, Janeen Webb, Aliya Whiteley, and Richard Lee Byers.

Today we hear from the legendary author and editor of weird fiction, Darrell Schweitzer!

Darrell Schweitzer is an American writer, editor, and essayist in the field of speculative fiction. Much of his focus has been on dark fantasy and horror, although he does also work in science fiction and fantasy. Schweitzer is also a prolific writer of literary criticism and editor of collections of essays on various writers within his preferred genres. Together with his editorial colleagues Schweitzer won the 1992 World Fantasy Award special award in the professional category for Weird Tales. His poem Remembering the Future won the 2006 Asimov’s Science Fiction‘s Readers’ Award for best poem. His novels include The White Isle, The Shattered Goddess, The Mask of the Sorcerer, and The Dragon House. His most recent story collection is the explicitly Lovecraftian Awaiting Strange Gods published by Fedogan & Bremer. He has also been known to lead the choir at Cthulhu Prayer Breakfasts, where his The Innsmouth Tabernacle Choir is used. He has published books about H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Lord Dunsany.

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Black Gate Online Fiction: An Excerpt from The Power of the Sapphire Wand, Creepy Hollow Adventure, Book 2

Thursday, October 26th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

By Erika M Szabo and Joe Bonadonna


This is an excerpt from The Power of the Sapphire Wand by Erika M Szabo and Joe Bonadonna, presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of Erika M Szabo and Joe Bonadonna, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2017 Erika M Szabo and Joe Bonadonna.

black gate 2

 

Chapter 1: Sweet Magic

Nikki Sweet and Jack Brady weren’t related by blood and weren’t really cousins. But that’s how they thought of themselves, as cousins. Their parents had gone to junior high and then high school together in the town of Diddlebury, and became best friends. Although Nikki’s parents had died under mysterious circumstances when she was a baby, Jack’s parents were always there for her. Uncle Frank and Aunt Mary, as Nikki called them, loved her as much as they loved their son, Jack, who was a year younger than Nikki.

Jack spent a lot of time at Grandma Sweet’s house when his parents were busy and, imitating Nikki, he started calling her grandmother “Grandma.”

On September 26, Nikki turned thirteen. Her grandma threw her a nice party, with Jack, his parents, and a few of Nikki’s friends from school. Among the many presents she received was another year of karate lessons at the local martial arts school, a gift from her grandmother. Nikki loved her martial arts instructor, and wanted to keep training, keep practicing. She had a natural talent for using nunchucks.

Nikki’s thirteenth birthday was also the day that changed her life.

After the birthday party was over and Nikki was alone in her bedroom, she felt comfy and cozy in her brand-new pajamas. She sat at her desk, playing with her colorful collection of river stones. Suddenly she felt the bed beside her begin to vibrate, making her stuffed animals look as if they were dancing. The posters of rock stars and movie stars hanging on her walls began to shine with a blue light. Then her hands began to grow warm, glowing with golden light as her fingers started to move on their own. She was frightened that she couldn’t control the movements of her fingers but she was fascinated by it, too. Nikki watched, feeling scared, as her fingers carefully arranged the stones in a circular pattern, and then into strange symbols within the circle.

“What’s going on?” she asked herself, her body tingling all over.

A moment later, the tingling sensation went away, and then her hands stopped glowing and no longer felt warm. Everything had returned to normal, except for the river stones sitting on her desk in a perfect circle, with the strange symbols inside it.

Nikki had no idea what had just happened. She thought about going downstairs to tell her grandmother, but then decided against it. Something weird had certainly taken place, something that frightened her and which she didn’t understand. She crawled into bed shaking, and pulled the cover up to her chin. Nikki thought about what happened a year ago when she and her cousin Jack had gone to Creepy Hollow with the talking wind chime whose name was Wishbone Jones, the Silver Skeleton. She recalled their battle with the evil Hobgoblin and wondered if the magic he had tried to use against her, but which she had deflected with her shield, had affected her in some way, giving her some of his magic. She wondered if Jack had experienced anything like this and made a mental note to ask him, when the time was right.

Sapphire Wand break

Nothing unusual happened for the next few days. Nikki studied hard, did her homework, helped Grandma around the house, and took her karate lessons. At times, she would sit on the front porch, watching the boys play baseball on Whipple Street, and thinking about what had happened on the night of her birthday party, wondering what it all meant and if it would happen again. But everything remained perfectly normal.

A few days later, Nikki volunteered to stay after school and clean the classroom’s chalkboard and erasers for her teacher. Jack had detention once again for failing to turn in his homework on time, and Nikki wanted to wait for him, so they could walk home together. She had no karate class that day, so she decided it was time to confide in Jack, to tell him what happened in her room that night, and find out if anything weird like that had happened to him.

When she was finished with her cleaning, Nikki decided to water the plants that were sitting on top of the bookshelves by the windows. That was when she noticed one of the potted plants had begun to wither and turn brown, and a few of its leaves had fallen to the floor. Setting the watering can aside, Nikki touched the dying plant and felt her body tingle, and her hands grow warm and begin to glow with the golden light again. Taken by surprise and unable to move, she had no control of her hands as they gently caressed the plant. Then slowly, the leaves of the dying plant began to turn vibrant green as the plant grew healthy and once again stood straight and tall.

Nikki’s hands dropped to her sides when the plant had fully recovered, and she stumbled backwards a few steps, totally shocked by what had just happened.

Wow—I healed a dying plant! Nikki thought. But how?

Her thoughts were interrupted by loud, shouting voices coming from outside.

“Plenty weird! Plenty weird!”

“So weird even the teachers are scared!”

Glancing out the window, Nikki saw two boys taunting a girl about Jack’s age who was dressed in black. She saw Jack throw his messenger bag on the sidewalk, lead the Goth-looking girl behind him, and raise his fists as he faced the two boys.

“You guys are just asking for trouble!” Nikki heard Jack say.

Nikki quickly grabbed her backpack and raced from the classroom to help Jack.

Sapphire Wand break

When Nikki ran outside, she saw the two boys facing Jack in threatening poses and staring at him with glaring eyes. The girl whimpered and took a few steps backwards.

“So what are you gonna do about it, Brady?” asked the pimple-faced bully.

“Yeah, think you’re tough enough to fight us both?” said the second bully, a chubby kid with a buzzcut hair style.

Jack took one step forward, stopped, and scowled at the two boys. There was an intense expression on his face. “You guys have no idea where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, and what I’ve done,” he told them.

Pimple-face laughed. “Is that so?”

“Yeah?” said Chubby. “What of it?”

Taking another step forward, Jack raised his fists. “You do not want to mess with me,” he said in an angry and threatening tone of voice. “But if you’re crazy enough to tangle with me, then you’re going to see how crazy I am, and you’re going to run home to your mothers, crying like a couple of babies!”

Jack’s confident tone of voice and the fierce look in his blue eyes made the bullies glance at each other with fear in their eyes as Jack took one more step forward. Feeling strong and brave, Jack took another step closer to the cowering boys and howled like a coyote. He raised his arms high above his head and leaped forward, landing right in front of the bullies.

“Boo!” he shouted.

The bullies jumped. Pimple Face shrieked and backed away.

“You big bully, you scream like a girly-girl,” Jack said, laughing.

The chubby boy giggled, and Pimple Face turned red and punched his buddy’s arm. “This guy is nuts!” he said, trying to collect some dignity. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Yeah, they ain’t worth it,” replied Chubby, trying to muffle a laugh by covering his mouth.

They turned and ran down the street.

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“That was so cool, Jack!” Nikki cried when she finally reached him. “You scared the daylights out of those two.”

“Nah, it was nothing,” Jack said as he blushed and turned away to hide it.

Nikki smiled when she saw the quick glance Jack shot at the Goth girl who walked closer to him.

“You are my hero, Jack. Thank you for defending me,” she said with a smile. “They’ve been tormenting me whenever they can catch me alone, because of the way I dress.”

Jack looked at her and his face turned red again. “Aw, gee, you’re welcome,” he said and thought, I faced spooks, evil crows and shadows, a Tasmanian Devil, and the Hobgoblin himself in Creepy Hollow last year, so two ordinary bullies weren’t going to frighten me.

“I’m so proud of you, little cousin,” Nikki said as she stepped closer to Jack.

“Do we have to hug?” Jack asked playfully, taking a step back.

“Nope.” Nikki laughed and asked, “Who is your friend?”

“Oh,” Jack said. “This is my friend, Peggy Ward. She’s new here at school.”

“Everyone calls me ‘Plenty Weird,’” said Peggy. “Except for Jack.” She smiled at him and once again, he blushed.

“And I won’t call you that, either,” said Nikki. She shook hands with Peggy, admiring her outfit of black tights, skirt, boots, shirt, and jacket. Her black hair was long and done up in pigtails. Peggy’s skin was pale, but healthy-looking. She looks a lot like Ghoulina, Nikki thought, and I bet that’s the main reason Jack likes her.

Ever since their return from Creepy Hollow, Jack had started wearing black jeans, T-shirts, and hiking boots, trying to look as Goth as he could. His parents had even let him grow his curly black hair down to his shoulders. Nikki, however, still liked wearing yellow T-shirts, blue jeans with the cuffs rolled up, and running shoes. The only thing different about her was that she often wore her long, auburn hair in a ponytail, and she had grown to be the same height as Jack; although older than him by a year, he had always been taller than her.

“Well, I have to get home now,” said Peggy. “Thanks again, Jack. I’ll see you in school tomorrow. It was nice meeting you, Nikki.”

“It was nice meeting you, too,” Nikki replied.

Peggy Ward smiled at Jack and Nikki, then turned and skipped down the street in the opposite direction the two bullies had gone.

PEGGY 1-small

Peggy

“You were very brave, Jack,” said Nikki.

“It was nothing,” he said. “I always knew that those two are cowards. It’s about time someone let those punks know they don’t really scare anybody.”

“I bet they will think twice before they try to bully anyone else,” Nikki said. She then continued, “Grandma made oatmeal cookies today. Want to come over?”

“You kidding?” Jack laughed, picking up his messenger bag filled with school books. “Let’s go!” he said.

They crossed the street at the corner and headed towards Whipple Street to Grandma Sweet’s house.

While Jack called his mother on his cell phone and told her where he was going, Nikki tried to figure out how to tell Jack what happened in her bedroom the night of her birthday, and then again today in the classroom.

Walking beside Jack, deep in her thoughts, Nikki noticed a robin lying on the curbside grass. The poor bird was struggling to get up and fly away, but couldn’t.

Jack spotted the bird, too. “Looks like he’s got a broken wing,” he said, slipping his cell phone back into his pocket.

Kneeling down, Nikki looked closely at the injured robin. Its wing was indeed broken.

“What are we going to do, Nikki?” asked Jack.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

Nikki suddenly felt the tingling sensation come over her again, and her hands began to grow warm. But this time she was in control, and as her hands began to glow with the golden light, she reached for the robin and gently picked it up. The robin didn’t struggle as Nikki cupped her hands around its trembling body. The frightened bird seemed to sense that Nikki was going to help.

“Whoa!” said Jack. “What’s happening?”

“I don’t really know,” said Nikki. “This is the third time this has happened to me, but this is the first time I’m in control of my hands.”

Jack’s blue eyes almost bulged out of their sockets. “What?”

“Hush,” said Nikki as her warm and golden-glowing hands lovingly stroked the robin and its broken wing. “I’ll tell you everything on the way to Grandma’s.”

A few moments later, the robin chirped, flapped its wings, and flew from Nikki’s hands. The small bird circled the sky three times above Nikki as if thanking her before it turned and headed towards the forest of Weeping Meadow. The tingling sensation stopped, and Nikki’s hands returned to normal.

“Wow! You healed that bird,” Jack said. “You can do magic!” Then he stopped and gave Nikki a long, thoughtful look. “It was magic, wasn’t it?”

Nikki nodded and said, “I think so. But I don’t understand how that could be. Has anything weird like that happened to you since we returned from Creepy Hollow?”

“Nope,” he said. “I just feel more confident. You know? I would love to go back there again for Halloween.”

Nikki had never said a word about Creepy Hollow to Grandma, as if her grandmother would ever believe such a wild story. Jack had never told his parents, either.

“I’d like to visit our friends there again, too,” said Nikki.

Over the past year, since their adventures in Creepy Hollow, their relationship had changed. Jack now had a great admiration for Nikki, while she came to realize that he was a lot more than just a doofus. While Nikki sensed that Jack was somewhat in awe of her, she also saw that he was a little bit jealous of her, too, and it bothered her.

“Well, I have no idea what’s going on,” she told him. “It all started the night of my birthday party.”

“Have you told Grandma about any of this?” Jack wanted to know.

“Not yet,” Nikki replied. “But I think I’m going to have to tell her, after all this.”

Jack nodded and chewed his bottom lip. “When?”

“I don’t know,” Nikki admitted. She paused thoughtfully, her forehead wrinkled in a frown, and then she snapped her fingers. “Look, Halloween is this coming Sunday, right?”

“Yep! October thirty-first, as always,” Jack said with a smart-aleck grin.

Nikki punched his shoulder playfully. “You’re coming over to spend the weekend with us, right?” she asked.

“You bet!” Jack said. “Mom and Dad are going out of town for the Halloween weekend. Now this is supposed to be a surprise, but they’re taking us all to Disneyworld during Christmas vacation.”

“Awesome!” Nikki said. “Now look, I want you with me when I tell Grandma everything that happened to us last year. I’ll tell her Friday, as soon as you come over.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Jack. “I just hope she believes us.”

Nikki sighed. “I do too, Jack. I do too.”

MUTANTO AND HOWLER-small

Mutanto and Howler


The Power of the Sapphire Wand is available in paperback and e-book.

Book 1 & 2 E-BOOKS: www.amazon.com/gp/product/B076612WRP/

Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin — Book 1 PRINT: tinyurl.com/y8gxuomb

The Power of the Sapphire Wand — Book 2 PRINT: tinyurl.com/y7a9y42e


Joe-Bonadonna-mid Erika M Szabo-small

Joe Bonadonna

Joe started writing songs and stories in 1970, and sold a few short stories in the early 1980s. So far, he’s published four books: the sword and sorcery collection Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, published by iUniverse; the space opera, Three Against The Stars, published by Airship27; Waters of Darkness, a sword and sorcery pirate adventure, in collaboration with David C. Smith, and published by Damnation Books; and Mad Shadows II — Dorgo the Dowser and The Order of the Serpent, published in trade paperback and digital formats in January 2017.

Joe’s Dorgo the Dowser novelette “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum” appeared in Black Gate in December 2011, and it has proven to be one of the most popular stories we’ve ever published. Another novellas featuring Dorgo, “The Book of Echoes,” appeared in the 2013 anthology Azieran: Artifacts and Relics from Heathen Oracle, and the novella “The Order of the Serpent” is scheduled to appear in a special sword and sorcery edition of Weird Tales online magazine. Joe has also written a number of articles and book reviews for Black Gate online magazine.

Author photo by Erin Lynn Ransford.

Erika M Szabo

Erika M Szabo is the author of The Ancestors’ Secrets series, Protected By The Falcon and Chosen By The Sword. All are available in eBooks, prints, and audio books. Anhelo, the first part of the Ancestors’ Secrets series, is also available in Spanish.

Erika also writes fun, educational, bilingual books for children 4-12 about acceptance, friendship, family, and moral values. Look, I Can Talk With My Fingers is available in English and Spanish. This book is about respecting and accepting people with disability. Pico, The Pesky Parrot, is an illustrated bilingual book that delivers an important message to children, about not judging before they get to know someone. A Basketful of Kittens is a beautifully illustrated children’s book about a heartwarming adventure and how to deal with bullies. Asthma Relief introduces traditional and alternative treatments as well as Grandma’s remedies to ease asthma symptoms.

Read more at www.authorerikamszabo.com.

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The Eighth Samurai: An Interview with Author T.C. Rypel

Saturday, June 24th, 2017 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

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Back in the 1970s and 1980s, many authors were churning out their own versions of big, iron-muscled barbarian heroes like Conan of Cimmeria. There were exceptions, of course, like Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, and Jack Vance, to name three authors I’ve always favored. But then along came T.C. Rypel, who hit the ground running with something different, something uniquely his own . . . his character of Sabatake Gonji-no-Sadowara, the half Scandinavian and half Japanese samurai. Gonji was truly a breath of fresh air in the genre of Sword and Sorcery, although I think Rypel’s novel are much more epic and actually closer to Heroic Fantasy in scope and theme. His setting wasn’t some imaginary world filled with ancient gods, powerful warlocks and fanciful kingdoms, but was instead deeply rooted in and around Romania and the Carpathian Mountains of 16th century. Perhaps a parallel world, but close enough to the Europe of that era to lend it a flavor of historical reality. Besides the non-barbaric character of Gonji, who was introspective, poetic, and humble, as well as a total bad ass with a sly sense of humor, what also set Rypel’s novels apart from so many others was the fact that he worked gunpowder and firearms into his stories, right along with the sorcery and creatures and other elements of the fantastic. And like Robert E Howard’s Solomon Kane before him, Rypel made it all work, too.

from my Amazon review of T.C. Rypel’s Dark Ventures.

I knew of Ted and Gonji back in the 1980s, when I first read his Deathwind Trilogy, when it was originally published by Zebra Books. Then I broke away from reading fantasy for a while and never knew that he followed that up with two more volumes. Sometime in the 1990s a mutual friend “introduced” us, and we shared a few letters, discussing writing and music and movies. Then I revisited the Deathwind Trilogy, and finally read volumes four and five. When we connected via the internet, emails, and later Facebook, Ted and I got to know each other very well. He enjoyed my tales of Dorgo the Dowser and played a key role in helping me shape the six novellas in the first Mad Shadows volume, and helped again with Mad Shadows II — which is why I dedicated the book to him. No one writes like Ted; he is a walking dictionary and Thesaurus, for one, and he knows how to tell a story. He is also a great editor, having a gift for character insight, plotting, and drama that have been of great help to me. And whenever anyone praises my battle scenes, I tell them, “I owe it all to Ted.” He taught me how to write those scenes from the “inside of a character’s head.” That’s the only way I can put it. If you’ve read any of his books, you know how well he handles character, drama, humor, and dialogue, as well as writing some of the most exciting battle scenes set down on paper. Although we have never met in person, he is a good friend, mentor, and sensei. And now, with the Wildside Press reissues of his original five novels of Gonji, and with the recent release of a sixth volume, I thought it was time to sit down and have a little “talk with him.” It’s high time that Ted is recognized and read by a whole new and younger audience of Heroic Fantasy aficionados.

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Black Gate Online Fiction: In Creepy Hollow, It’s Halloween All Year Long! An Excerpt from Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

By Erika M Szabo and Joe Bonadonna


This is an excerpt from Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin by Erika M Szabo and Joe Bonadonna, presented by Black Gate magazine. It appears with the permission of Erika M Szabo and Joe Bonadonna, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part. All rights reserved. Copyright 2017 Erika M Szabo and Joe Bonadonna.

JACK, NIKKI, WISHBONE, GHOULINA, and CATMAN - Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin-small

 

Nikki, Jack and their three companions have reached the destination of their third and final quest. The Wand they are looking for was transformed by Wishbone into a Halloween mask, in order to keep it safe. As they enter the Cave of Spooks to retrieve the mask, they are unaware that Hobgoblin and Ebenezer Rex, who murdered the three Wishmothers, are close on their heels. . . .

Chapter 5

Cave of Spooks

 

Nikki, Jack and their three companions rode their bicycles past Pixieland but didn’t have time to stop to enjoy the amazing sights and attractions. They were on a mission. Come midnight, they would not be able to open another Ectomagic Gate, which meant that Nikki and Jack couldn’t return home until next October. It was already late in the afternoon as they rode their bicycles over hills, through marshlands and still more back roads and forest paths. But this final part of their journey was becoming more and more difficult because the underbrush was growing thicker and all tangled with roots and vines.

“Are we almost there?” Jack asked. “It’s getting harder and harder to ride our bikes through this forest. Pretty soon we won’t be able to ride them at all!”

“We’re here,” Wishbone said just as they emerged from the woods.

They came to a stop in a clearing not far from the edge of a deep chasm that resembled a huge hole in the ground right there in the middle of the forest. Rising straight from the bottom of the chasm was a gigantic stone pillar, and on top of that sat a great dome, with a dark cave facing them. Spanning the chasm stretched a sturdy but narrow footbridge leading directly to the cave. The bridge was tied securely with rope to four wooden posts driven into the ground. Beyond the far side of the chasm stood more dense forest, with trees so tall they almost touched the sky.

“There it is,” said Wishbone, “the Cave of Spooks.”

“I don’t like the looks of it,” said Jack.

“Me, neither,” said Catman.

“I have a very bad feeling about this place,” Ghoulina whispered.

Nikki didn’t like the sound of that. She’d seen too many scary movies where bad things always happened to the characters whenever one of them said something like that. Nevertheless, she walked over to the foot of the bridge and gave it a close inspection.

“Looks like we’ll have to leave the bikes here and cross the bridge on foot,” she said. “The wheels will get stuck between the floorboards or whatever you call those things if we try to ride across.”

“Yes,” said Wishbone, “and we’ll have to be very quiet when we cross the bridge.”

“Well, Mister Wishbone, before we go across I want to know more about these Spooks that live there,” said Jack.

“There’s not much to tell you,” said Wishbone. “Long ago a band of rebellious ghosts refused to live in Wormbelow. They wanted a place of their own. Then, one October night, they snuck into your world and stole hundreds of Halloween costumes from different department stores, so they could dress up as different characters. But then their leader, Lord Rattlegrim, discovered that whenever they wore the Halloween costumes, the magic of your world turned them into solid creatures. They weren’t ghosts anymore: they had real flesh and blood and bones.”

“Just like us, Mister Wishbone?” Jack asked.

“Just like you,” Wishbone replied. “That’s why they’re called Spooks, because when they wear their costumes they have bodies, and they’re no longer ghosts.”

Nikki found this interesting and a little disturbing, too. But as always, her curious mind had questions she wanted to be answered. “What happens if they take off their costumes?” she asked.

“They turn back into ghosts,” Wishbone told her.

“So how did they end of up here?” Nikki asked.

“When the Trinity of Wishmothers found out what Rattlegrim and his rebels had done, they banished the Spooks to this cave, to remain here forever,” said Wishbone. “But remember, the Wishmothers are kind and merciful, so they gave them one night a year when they can leave and enjoy themselves in Creepy Hollow, as long as they harmed no one.”

“That’s why there’s a bridge here,” said Catman. “The Spooks can’t float across the chasm when they’re wearing their costumes because they have physical bodies. So they need the bridge, just as we do. But if they take off their costumes, they can’t leave the cave. And they never take off their costumes because they don’t like being ghosts.”

Wishbone nodded. “Exactly, my friend,” he said.

“Did you see them when you hid the last Wand here?” Ghoulina asked Wishbone.

“Yes, I did,” he said to her. “But they kept to the shadows and did not bother me.”

“Because you were the powerful Silver Skeleton then, and they were afraid of you!” Jack said to Wishbone.

“Right you are, Jack,” Wishbone said sadly, and with a heavy sigh.

“So what do we do now?” Nikki asked.

“We proceed cautiously and try very hard not to anger the Spooks,” Wishbone replied.

Nikki swallowed the lump in her throat. “Will our flashlights help us if they come after us?” she asked.

“No,” said Wishbone. “The Spooks fear only two things: losing their costumes, and fire. They are very afraid of fire.”

“What happens if they lose their costumes or they catch fire?” Nikki wanted to know.

“Without their costumes, the Spooks turn back into normal ghosts that can float through the air,” said Wishbone.

“But then they can’t leave their cave,” said Jack. “I get it.” He put a hand inside one of his pockets and stared at the Cave of Spooks. I’ll have to remember both of those things, he thought.

“Well, I’ve had enough of the history lesson,” Ghoulina said impatiently. “Let’s hurry up and get this over with so we can get back to Wormbelow before it gets dark.”

They started walking across the bridge one by one. Nikki didn’t like heights and would not look down; she kept her gaze focused on the cave at the other side of the bridge. Jack, however, kept staring down into the deep chasm, enjoying every minute of it but wishing that his cell phone worked so he could take pictures in case he saw anything weird and cool.


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The five companions reached the other side of the bridge without any difficulties and stood together at the entrance to the dark Cave of Spooks. No sounds or smells came from inside the cave. Although they saw a soft, green light illuminating the interior just beyond the entrance, the light did not reach the mouth of the cave and couldn’t be seen from outside.

“How are we going to do this?” Nikki asked.

“You, Catman and I will lead the way in,” Wishbone replied. “Jack, you stay behind us, and Ghoulina will bring up the rear.”

“Why am I always the last in line?” Ghoulina asked with a wink and a laugh.

“How come I’m always stuck in the middle?” Jack whined.

Quietly, slowly and carefully, they entered the cave and proceeded down a tunnel illuminated by soft, emerald green light. Soon they discovered that the light came from the stones built into the walls and ceiling.

“Look at all the boxes!” Jack said in a quiet but no less excited voice.

Piled along the tunnel walls on both sides of them were hundreds and hundreds of boxes.

Many were opened and empty, but many more still contained costumes of all kinds: superheroes, pirates and villains, characters from famous horror movies, and aliens from outer space.

“These Spooks must be master thieves,” Catman purred.

“The best in the business,” said Wishbone.

“Any sign of them? The Spooks, I mean,” said Nikki. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck standing straight up, and her arms were covered in goosebumps. The things they had encountered in Red Crow Forest and in the Tower of Shadows had taught her to be more cautious and wary… and more afraid, too.

“Nope,” said Catman, his bright golden eyes reflecting the cave’s green light.

Ghoulina looked around. “So where did you hide the mask, Wishbone?” she asked.

“I hid the Wand in an empty box, just up ahead,” he replied.

They walked deeper into the tunnel until it opened into a huge chamber all softly lit by the emerald glow radiating from the stone interior of the cave.

“Tell me which box to look in,” Nikki told Wishbone. She was eager to find the disguised Wand and get out of that cave as fast as possible.

“There, to your left,” said Wishbone. “Third stack of boxes, fourth box in the pile.”

While Catman and Ghoulina kept watch, Nikki and Jack dug through the pile of costume boxes until they found the one Wishbone had pointed out. Nikki grabbed the box and held it while Jack opened it.

“Look, it’s a pumpkin head!” Jack said, removing the plastic mask from the box.

“It’s called a Jack O’Lantern, Jack,” Nikki told him.

“I knew that,” he said.

“Fine, now put it in my backpack so we can all get out of this spooky cave,” Nikki said in a voice louder than she had intended.

Jack hid the mask inside his cousin’s backpack and was snapping the top of it shut when the green light grew brighter. Then, from out of the shadows at the far end of the cave emerged a large number of menacing figures, each of them wearing a Halloween costume. There were robots and zombies, cartoon characters and famous monsters such as vampires, mummies, and werewolves.

“Uh-oh,” said Jack. “Spooks!”

Nikki turned her head and saw more of them emerging from what she realized were dark holes carved into the walls of the tunnel behind them.

“We’re trapped. What do we do now?” Nikki asked, growing more frightened with every step.

“I’ll handle this,” said Ghoulina. Raising her arms and hands high into the air, she started chanting:

 

Spooky things that hide in dark caves,

Spirits that won’t stay in their graves—

 

Ghoulina never had a chance to finish her spell because two Spooks dressed as Frankenstein’s monster grabbed her and threw her against the wall. She landed in a pile of costume boxes, moaning and rubbing her head.

“Hannah!” Wishbone cried out, unable to help her.

Jack raced over to Ghoulina. “She’s hurt!” he called out.

“I’m okay,” she said, smiling reassuringly at Jack. Then she frowned and massaged her forehead. “But I… I can’t remember the rest of the spell!”

Not knowing what to do, Jack knelt beside her and put his arm around her. “Don’t worry, Ghoulina,” he said. “I’ll think of something.”

“You’d better think fast, Jack,” she said. “Turn around!”

Jack turned just as six Spooks walked toward them. Three of them wore mummy costumes and two were dressed as werewolves. Each of them held a box containing a Halloween costume. The sixth carried only a wooden scepter in his hand, the symbol of his authority, and wore a costume Jack recognized right away: Count Dracula.

“Just great! It’s Lord Rattlegrim,” Wishbone whispered.

“Wishbone Jones, how nice of you to honor us with another visit, and this time you brought along some friends,” Rattlegrim said in a hissing, creepy-sounding voice. “The last time you were here to do whatever it was you came here to do, we could do nothing, because then you were the Silver Skeleton. But now I see that the rumors are true. You are nothing but a silly little wind chime without any of your powers.”

“You’d better let us go, Rattlegrim,” said Wishbone. “The Wishmothers won’t be too happy with you if you don’t.

Lord Rattlegrim cackled like an old witch. “I hear they’re dead and their ghosts are imprisoned in some kind of magic pumpkin,” he said. “I have a feeling that this visit may have something to do with the Wishmothers’ missing Wands, curse those old hags!”

Catman snarled like an angry tiger. “You shut up about the Wishmothers!” he said.

“Go lick your behind, kitty,” spat Rattlegrim.

“What do you want with us?” Nikki demanded.

“What do I want, little girl?” Rattlegrim asked. “Why, I want each of you to choose one of these costumes my five companions have in their hands.”

“Then what?” Nikki asked the Lord of the Spooks.

“You will become one of us,” Rattlegrim replied, “and never leave this place.”

Nikki’s body shivered with fear. She turned and glanced at Jack, who was comforting the injured Ghoulina. I hope he’s got something up his sleeve because I sure don’t, she thought.

“I suggest you choose your costumes wisely because it’s the only choice you’ll get,” said Rattlegrim.

The five Spooks carrying the costume boxes stepped forward.

Then, with a loud and menacing roar, Catman charged one of the werewolves, his claws ripping the mask from the Spook’s face. The Spook’s costume vanished in a flash, revealing him for what he was: a ghost. But he wasn’t a ghost like the Wishmothers or any of the other ghosts Nikki had seen in Wormbelow. No, he resembled a white sheet, with two black holes for eyes. The Spook uttered a shriek and floated up to the ceiling.

Swallowing her fear and summoning her courage, Nikki dashed forward and ripped the Dracula mask from Rattlegrim’s face. He screeched and dropped his scepter when his costume dissolved and he turned into a white-sheeted ghost.

Floating toward the ceiling, Rattlegrim shouted, “Take them, boys and girls!”

The Spooks closed in on Nikki, Catman, and Wishbone.

Catman grabbed the fallen scepter. “See to Jack and Ghoulina,” he told Nikki as he raced forward, swinging the scepter like a club and attacking the Spooks.

While Catman battered one Spook after another, Nikki ran back to join Jack and Ghoulina. The Spooks blocking the entrance slowly crept forward, leery of Ghoulina and what magic she might still possess.

“Jack, what are we going to do?” Nikki asked.

Jack turned to Ghoulina as she started throwing costume boxes at the Spooks. “Didn’t Wishbone say the Spooks are afraid of fire?” he asked.

“Yes!” said Ghoulina, rising to her feet. “But I don’t have the magic to conjure fire.”

“I do,” said Jack. Reaching into the left front pocket of his jeans, he pulled out the box of stick matches he had been saving for a rainy day. And today it was raining Spooks.

“Jack, you promised to stop playing with matches!”

“Sorry,” he said. “But I’m not playing with these matches. I’m using them as tools to help us get out of here.”

Pulling a match from the box, Jack scratched it against the striker on the side of it. The match ignited at once and Jack held it out in front of him. The small flame burned brightly.

The costumed Spooks stopped and started to back away, afraid their costumes would catch on fire. Jack threw the match on the cave floor, right at their feet, and then quickly lit another. The Spooks retreated further and then vanished back inside their dark holes.

“That was brilliant, Jack!” said Nikki.

“Aw, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” he told her.

“Indeed!” said Ghoulina. “But we have to save Catman and keep the Spooks from chasing after us.”

“You just leave that to me,” Jack told her. He tossed the match onto a pile of costume boxes. “Hurry, Catman, get out of there.”

Jack lit a third match and tossed it onto another pile of boxes.

The cardboard boxes and the costumes inside them began to burn, bright flames climbing higher and higher.

Kicking and clubbing Spooks left and right, Catman heard Jack call to him. He retreated quickly but didn’t turn his back to the Spooks. He fought them one at a time, two at a time, and three at a time. He sent Spooks crashing into walls and tumbling to the floor. He managed to knock the masks off a few of the Spooks, and they floated toward the ceiling.

The costume boxes piled against the walls of the tunnel were now burning like a huge bonfire. None of the Spooks dared pursue Catman when he got close to the fires and finally reached his friends. Lord Rattlegrim floated down from the ceiling and drifted toward the cave entrance, hovering just above the floor. But he didn’t get close to the flames.

“You may have escaped me,” he screeched. “But you’ll never escape Hobgoblin, you hear?”

The roar of the fires drowned out whatever he might have said next.

“Let’s get out of here!” said Wishbone.

“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Jack replied.


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With the three disguised Wands now tucked away inside Nikki’s backpack, they made it back safely to the other side of the bridge. Black smoke billowed from the mouth of the cave, accompanied by the howls of angry Spooks.

“You okay, Hannah?” Wishbone asked Ghoulina.

Ghoulina smiled at him. “I’m fine, Bob. Don’t worry,” she said.

“Hold up for a moment,” Catman told the others, stopping to throw Rattlegrim’s wooden scepter into the chasm. Then he used his sharp claws to slash at the ropes that secured the bridge to the posts on their side of the chasm.

Nikki and Jack watched in silence and then, seconds later, the bridge collapsed into the chasm and slammed against the side of the pillar atop which perched the Cave of Spooks. The bridge hung there, still tied to the other two posts, but now useless.

“That should hold them until they can figure out how to repair their bridge,” said Catman.

“The Wishmothers were too easy when they punished the Spooks and will have to get tougher with them now,” said Wishbone. “Those cursed Spooks can no longer be allowed to roam free in their costumes on Halloween night. They’ve grown much too dangerous.”

“But first we have to actually get the Wands back to the Wishmothers,” said Ghoulina, cocking her head to one side and narrowing her eyes. “Do you hear that?”

Nikki and Jack nodded at the same time. From off in the distance came the sounds of howling, growling, and yowling. Then Nikki spotted movement at the far side of the clearing.

“That looks like a dog coming this way,” she said.

“That’s no dog,” said Wishbone. “That’s a Tasmanian Devil, and his name is Ebenezer Rex. He’s tracked us down!”

The Tasmanian Devil raced toward them, leading six Goblins riding huge, black beetles as if they were horses.

“We can outrun them on the bikes,” said Jack, leading everyone back to where they had left the bicycles.

Once they were mounted on the bicycles again, Wishbone said, “I know a shortcut through the woods that will take us back to Wormbelow.”

“Then show us the way,” Nikki demanded. She was glad that the Spooks couldn’t leave the cave without their costumes. But she knew that what was coming after her, Jack and the others was even worse than the Spooks.

Peddling their bikes faster than Nikki could send a text message, which was pretty fast, she and Jack took off on their bikes with Catman and Ghoulina sitting on the crossbars and hanging on for dear life. Wishbone told them when to turn left, when to go straight and when to turn right. Soon they were riding through the forest, outrunning their pursuers. But in this part of the woods, the underbrush grew thick, with tangled roots and vines and all sorts of shrubs and plants which slowed them down.

Behind them came the sounds of pursuit.

“We’re too slow!” Jack grumbled.

Then suddenly his wheels got caught in some thick vines and his bicycle tumbled over. Catman leaped free, but Jack fell with the bike on top of him. A moment later, the wheels of Nikki’s bike got snarled in some twisted roots and her bicycle fell over. But she and Ghoulina managed to jump free before the bike hit the ground.

“Nikki! My foot is caught in some sort of root thing!” Jack called out for help.

Ebenezer Rex and his Goblin cavalry were drawing closer and closer.

Nikki and Ghoulina hurried over to where Jack had fallen. Catman tried to pull the bicycle free, but it was too tangled in the undergrowth and wouldn’t budge. They tried to free Jack, but the thick vine was wrapped tightly around his ankle. The vine was too tough and thick for even Catman’s claws to slash apart. It would have to be untied, and that would take too much time.

“We have to leave the bikes here and go on foot,” said Catman.

“No!” Jack protested. “I’m not leaving my bike here. I’ll carry it if I have to.”

“Jack, don’t be stubborn. We don’t have enough time to free you and the bikes,” Ghoulina told him.

“I don’t care!” he said. “I’m not leaving here without my bike.”

“Please, Jack,” Nikki begged. “We have to get you free and run as fast as we can.”

Jack shook his head. “No!”

“They’re coming closer.” Wishbone warned.

Nikki knew they wouldn’t be able to free Jack and get away in time before their pursuers caught up with them, so she had a decision to make, and she had to act fast. Taking off her backpack, she removed the two flashlights and then tossed the backpack to Ghoulina.

“Take the Wands back to the Wishmothers,” Nikki told her friends. “I’ll free Jack and we’ll slip around the other way and meet you in Wormbelow.”

“What?” Wishbone said. “You’ll never find your way back there alone.”

“And you won’t get away from Ebenezer Rex, either,” said Catman. “Someone has to stay to defend you kids. So I’m staying.”

“No, you have to go with Ghoulina,” Wishbone told him. “Your hearing and sense of smell are far better than hers. You can warn her to hide from the pursuers. I’m going to stay with the children.”

“Bob, you can’t defend the kids in the state you’re in,” said Ghoulina. “You must go to the Wishmothers so they can make you powerful again to fight Hobgoblin.”

Wishbone sighed. “You’re right,” he agreed, reluctantly. “I’m useless like this.”

“Everyone, please, stop arguing,” Nikki told them. “Even if we can’t get away, you know where they’ll take us, so with the Wishmothers’ help you can rescue us. Ghoulina, you can make a potion to heal Jack’s leg. So Catman, you must protect her.”

“But we can’t leave you here alone,” said Ghoulina.

“Listen to me,” Nikki told them. “If we all get captured, Hobgoblin will take the Wands away from us, and then all of Creepy Hollow will be in trouble. You have to take the Wands back to the Wishmothers. Now get going!”

“No, Nikki,” said Jack. “Don’t be hard-headed. I twisted my ankle. Leave me here and go with them.”

Nikki shook her head. “No! I’m not leaving you, Jack.” She turned to the others and said, “Jack can’t run and I’m not leaving him behind. Now go before we’re all captured!”

The growling of the Tasmanian Devil grew louder and closer.

Ghoulina looked at Catman, sighed and said, “Nikki’s right. We have to split up. The most important thing is for us to keep the Wands from falling back into the hands of Hobgoblin.” She and Nikki nodded to each other.

“Don’t worry,” said Catman. “We’ll find you.”

“I know you will,” said Nikki, still trying to untie the vine from around Jack’s ankle. “Now get going!”

Her heart heavy with fear but her soul filled with courage, Nikki watched Ghoulina put on the backpack and start running in the opposite direction with Catman at her side. Soon they were swallowed up by the forest and no longer in sight.

Nikki finally managed to untie the vine, pull Jack free and help him to his feet. But it hurt him to stand on his ankle, and they wouldn’t get far with him limping along.

“I’m not leaving without my bike,” Jack stubbornly insisted.

“I don’t care about your stupid bicycle, Jack!” Nikki fumed. “Even if we can get it free, we can’t ride it through this mess of a forest, and it will only slow us down.”

Jack scowled and said with some reluctance, “Okay, okay. I get it.”

“There they are!” They heard a voice from not too far behind them.

Nikki and Jack turned their heads.

The Tasmanian Devil and his Goblins were only about fifty yards away now.

“Come on, Jack,” she said. “Let’s go to our left, circle around, double back and try to outrun them.”

Jack nodded and they started running.

Nikki knew she could outrun their pursuers, but when she looked over her shoulder she saw that Jack was badly limping and falling behind.

Their pursuers were only about twenty yards away now, and the Tasmanian Devil was even closer. Nikki could smell his foul breath, he was that close.

“Are you okay, Jack?” she asked him without stopping.

“I can’t run. My ankle hurts too much,” he said, huffing and puffing.

Nikki stopped and ran back to help her cousin, but before she could reach him the Tasmanian Devil charged forward, caught up with Jack and bit his leg.

“No!” Nikki shouted.

Jack moaned in pain and fell to the ground with the Tasmanian Devil hovering over him.

“You get away from him!” Nikki screamed, picking up a broken branch and throwing it at the nasty little beast.

Ebenezer Rex ducked and the branch flew over his head. He snarled and showed his sharp teeth. “Try that again, little girl, and I’ll bite you, too.”

In spite of the Tasmanian Devil, Nikki rushed over to Jack and knelt beside him.

“Jack, you’re bleeding,” she said.

“Of course I’m bleeding!” he told her.

The six Goblins mounted on the giant black beetles now gathered around them.

“Don’t try anything funny,” Ebenezer warned Nikki.

“You can just shut up, you mangy mutt!” Nikki said, too angry to be afraid of the talking beast. She flicked on one of the flashlights and shined it in Ebenezer’s eyes.

The Tasmanian Devil blinked, turned his head and growled. “That doesn’t scare me, little girl,” he said. “Now get that light out of my eyes or I’ll take a bite out of you.”

Realizing there was nothing she could do, Nikki shut off the flashlight. She was glad that her friends had gotten away, although she was worried about what was going to happen to Jack and her. But the Wishmothers will know what to do, she thought. First, though, she had to see what she could do to help her cousin.

“Does it hurt?” she asked Jack.

“What do you think?” he replied. “There’s a handkerchief in my back pocket. Take it and wrap it around my leg. Wrap it tight to stop the bleeding.”

Just as she reached for Jack’s pocket, a whiny, high-pitched voice said from behind her, “Did you have to bite him, Ebenezer?”

Nikki turned around. Behind her, sitting atop a big, horned beetle was an ugly goblin with green skin, floppy ears, and a pointy nose.

“I didn’t bite him all that hard, Master,” the Tasmanian Devil replied.

“Yes, you did!” Jack yelled angrily.

“I just wanted to make sure they wouldn’t get away, like the others,” said Ebenezer.

“We’ll catch up with them one way or another,” said the Master. He grinned wickedly at Nikki and Jack. “Welcome to Creepy Hollow, children.”

“Some welcome this is!” said Jack, wincing in pain.

Nikki glared at the Tasmanian Devil’s master. “Hobart T Goblin, I presume,” she said.

The eyes of the ugly little green man flashed with anger. “My name is Hobgoblin,” he said.

“Yanking on your ear for good luck didn’t work,” Jack told Nikki.

Nikki sighed. “No, it didn’t,” she admitted.


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Well, there you have it, chapter five from our heroic fantasy for children. We hope you enjoyed it, and we hope your children and grandchildren will enjoy it, too.

Thank you,

Erika M Szabo
Joe Bonadonna


Read chapters in this magazine style flip-book

Flip Book for Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin

Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin: Creepy Hollow Adventures 1

A spooky Halloween story for children, ages 6 to 14

Illustrated by Erika M Szabo

Published by Golden Box Books Publishing, New York, April 6, 2017

Available in paperback ($8.95), and Kindle and Nook editions ($2.99)

Winner of the 2017 Golden Book Judges’ Choice Award for Children’s Fantasy

Copyright © Erika M Szabo and Joe Bonadonna, 2017

All rights reserved

Buy Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin here


Joe-Bonadonna-mid Erika M Szabo-small

Joe Bonadonna

Joe started writing songs and stories in 1970, and sold a few short stories in the early 1980s. So far, he’s published four books: the sword and sorcery collection Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, published by iUniverse; the space opera, Three Against The Stars, published by Airship27; Waters of Darkness, a sword and sorcery pirate adventure, in collaboration with David C. Smith, and published by Damnation Books; and Mad Shadows II — Dorgo the Dowser and The Order of the Serpent, published in trade paperback and digital formats in January 2017.

Joe’s Dorgo the Dowser novelette “The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum” appeared in Black Gate in December 2011, and it has proven to be one of the most popular stories we’ve ever published. Another novellas featuring Dorgo, “The Book of Echoes,” appeared in the 2013 anthology Azieran: Artifacts and Relics from Heathen Oracle, and the novella “The Order of the Serpent” is scheduled to appear in a special sword and sorcery edition of Weird Tales online magazine. Joe has also written a number of articles and book reviews for Black Gate online magazine.

Author photo by Erin Lynn Ransford.

Erika M Szabo

Erika M Szabo is the author of The Ancestors’ Secrets series, Protected By The Falcon and Chosen By The Sword. All are available in eBooks, prints, and audio books. Anhelo, the first part of the Ancestors’ Secrets series, is also available in Spanish.

Erika also writes fun, educational, bilingual books for children 4-12 about acceptance, friendship, family, and moral values. Look, I Can Talk With My Fingers is available in English and Spanish. This book is about respecting and accepting people with disability. Pico, The Pesky Parrot, is an illustrated bilingual book that delivers an important message to children, about not judging before they get to know someone. A Basketful of Kittens is a beautifully illustrated children’s book about a heartwarming adventure and how to deal with bullies. Asthma Relief introduces traditional and alternative treatments as well as Grandma’s remedies to ease asthma symptoms.

Read more at www.authorerikamszabo.com.

Comments.


A Wonderful Fantasy Novel for Young Adults: Protected By the Falcon by Erika M Szabo

Monday, March 27th, 2017 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

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Erika M Szabo is both a prolific author and artist, and owns Golden Box Books Publishing Services. Her numerous children’s books, such as MeToo, The Annoying Little Sister, A Basketful of Kittens, and Look, I Can Talk with My Fingers, are delightful and very successful, and many of them have been translated into Spanish.  A nurse by profession, she has written Healing Herbs for Nervous Disorders and Keep Your Body Healthy.

She also writes Young Adult Fantasy, such as Chosen by the Sword — Book Two in her series The Ancestors’ Secrets — and The Curse. A friend of mine recommended I connect with Erika and hire her to do the book cover for my Mad Shadows II: Dorgo the Dowser and The Order of the Serpent, as well as the interior design and layout, formatting and all the technical details that go along with publishing a book. Well, I linked up with her on Facebook and we got to talking, and right away I knew we were on the same page, no pun intended. So I sent her my manuscript, and she started working almost immediately. She even revised and polished up the original map I drew for Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser.

While Erika went to work almost immediately, I purchased her Protected by the Falcon and started reading. I had never read a Young Adult Fantasy before (unless you want to count The Hobbit and the Harry Potter series.) Needless to say, as evidenced by this review, her novel was not what I was expecting. Indeed, it was a surprising pleasure to read because it was written and told so differently and in so many ways from the fantasy I usually read. Plus, Erika gave me something in her novel that will always keep me reading: believable characters I can relate to, care about, and even hate. I’ve even read a few of her children’s books, too. So let me tell you a little bit about Protected by the Falcon, and why I liked it. (By the way, Erika works hard and she works fast, too!)

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in February

Friday, March 24th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

2000AD Free Comic Day-smallBack in December, Derek Kunsken’s enthusiastic review of Star Wars: Rogue One, “I Am One With the Force and the Force Is With Me,” shot up to #2 on our monthly traffic chart. Last month he claimed the #1 slot, and he didn’t need a blockbuster film to make it happen — he did it the old fashioned way, with a book review. The book in question was Thrill-Power Overload: A History of the British Comic 2000 AD, a detailed history of the legendary comic that launched Judge Dredd, Alan Moore’s D.R. and Quinch, Sláine, Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog and countless others. Check it out.

Number 2 on the list for February was Mark Finn’s report on the Kickstarter for the first Skelos Press anthology, Chicken Fried Cthulhu, followed by Violette Malan’s survey of My Top Five Sword-Fight Movies, our obituary for GDW founder Loren Wiseman, and Andrew Zimmerman Jones’ interview with Paizo mastermind and Creative Director of their new Starfinder RPG, James L. Sutter.

Howard Andrew Jones’ review of one of his favorite recent games, the solitaire-suitable WWII simulation Heroes of Normandy, came in at #6 for February. At #7 was our report on the new Literary Wonder & Adventure Podcast from Robert Zoltan and his talking raven — featuring a lengthy interview with Black Gate‘s own Ryan Harvey on one of his favorite topics, Edgar Rice Burroughs. And close on its heels was our announcement of the 2017 Nebula Award Nominations.

Rounding out the Top Ten were Steven Brust’s summary of Five Roger Zelazny Books that Changed His Life, and Fletcher Vredenburgh’s January Short Story Roundup.

The complete list of Top Articles for February follows. Below that, I’ve also broken out the most popular overall articles, online fiction, and blog categories for the month.

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