Midnight Mass

“Take this, all of you, and drink from it. This is my blood. The blood of the new and everlasting covenant.”

If you were raised in a Catholic household, you’ve heard these words countless times.

Now let’s play a little “What it?”, shall we?

Suppose Bram Stoker got most of it right, but not all. What if vampires do indeed make new vampires by making their victims drink their blood before death, allowing them to resurrect as fellow vampires? He got that right. And suppose that exposure to sunlight does cause them to burst into flames, leaving a pile of ashes and dust? He got that right too.

But… what if vampires are not troubled whatsoever by religious symbols at all? The cross means no more to them than driftwood in the sand and they can enter a church as readily as a mausoleum? Maybe Stoker didn’t get that part right at all.

Now, what if an old priest, deep in the throes of dementia, takes a final pilgrimage to the holy land and wanders off, away from his group. He finds himself in the desert, where a sandstorm kicks up, pelting his skin like shards of glass. He finds a cave and makes his way in, seeking shelter from the storm and collapses, ready to accept death.

He’s not alone in the cave. A vampire comes to him and feeds him his blood before death takes him. He leaves the cave later on, young and strong again… and returns to his congregation.

Now, given this scenario, let’s revisit those words again.

“Take this, all of you, and drink from it. This is my blood. The blood of the new and everlasting covenant.”

Not quite the same, now is it?

Welcome to Mike Flanagan’s “Midnight Mass”, exclusively on Netflix.

Friendly Advice

My wife and I, we both call it ‘the wave’. That wave of tired that washes over you so quickly as you’re relaxing in front of the TV or with a book. If you don’t catch it early and drag yourself off to bed, you’ll wake in the middle of the night with a full bladder as the screen saver dances around on the screen that’s been watching you for a while.

I stayed up for a bit after she turned in last night, not quite ready for sleep. It only took an hour or so, and then my own wave came along. I turned off the TV, looked around the empty room and reached up to pull the chain that turns off the lamp beside my recliner.

It was then that I saw the silhouette in the chair in the corner, side lit by the streetlight coming in through the opened curtains on the window beside that chair. That chair that was empty mere seconds before, when I turned the lamp off. I cleared my throat and spoke up.

“You know, I tell my wife all the time that we have a ghost in the house, but I never thought we’d have the opportunity to meet.”

“You might want to lower your voice some. You don’t want your wife to come out and find you talking to yourself, now do you?”

“No, I suppose not. She puts up with enough of my nonsense as it is. So, tell me. What is it that made you decide to reveal yourself instead of just making noise upstairs now and then?”

“Noise? Oh, that ghost thing. I never claimed to be a ghost, pal… that’s entirely your take. In the past, you always referred to me as your ‘invisible friend’, and that was a bullseye.”

“Oh, so there actually are invisible friends, and you’re mine?”

Was yours. I’m putting my papers in, which is why I came to say goodbye.”

“You learn something every day. Not only do people actually have invisible friends, but they even have a retirement plan!”

“Not usually. We’re generally a friend for the long haul, but I have to tell ya, dude… you wore me down and burned me out. I got nothing left!”

“How exactly did I manage to do that?”

“That wild imagination of yours, dude. Five decades of writing music and lyrics, and then, just as I thought you were gonna give it up when the arthritis set in, nope. No such luck! You go off and start writing fiction cause you can’t play anymore! I thought you’d maybe sit in the park and do crosswords or watch birds like the other old timers do, but nooo, not you! Sorry dude, I just can’t keep up with you anymore.”

“I’m sorry, man. I guess I just still feel I have something to say, even though I had to find a new way to say it.”

“Look, I’m a friend, so I’m gonna give it to you straight. I get it. I do. You have a sense that if you try hard enough, you’re gonna break through and finally make it. You do have talent. You are good, no doubt. There are a LOT of people like you, talented people that are good at what they do… but they, and you, aren’t great. The few that are great, that have that unique thing, they’re the ones that make it.”

“Can’t argue with that. I always say I wrote the music no one hears and the stories no one reads.”

“Now, let’s look at it from a different perspective, OK? You HAVE had something a great many people will never get to experience. You’ve had the joy of creating that body of work, dude. All the music, all those stories… maybe they’re not great, but they ARE good, and you created them all. Your crazy wild imagination was the fuel that gave them all life, and most people just don’t ever get to experience that joy of creation. You’re one of the lucky ones, dude… you just don’t see it that way.”

I found myself at a complete loss for words. He was absolutely right about all of it. I had that rush of excitement more times than I can remember as I finished putting something new together. Maybe so much so that I came to take it for granted? I started nodding and finally muttered my response.

“I… I can’t, I mean… wow. You’re right, man. You nailed it; I just didn’t think of it that way is all.”

“I know, and it’s fine. I just wanted you to see the forest from beyond the trees before I head on out.”

“I’m gonna hate to see you go, man.”

“You’ll be fine. I have a feeling you won’t need an invisible friend offering suggestions while you’re sleeping any longer.”

“My muse?”

“Nah… just a friend. And… maybe I’ll hold off for just a little while, make sure you’re good.”

“I’d appreciate that, man… I truly would.”

“We’ll see. Right now, you best hit the rack before you nod off in that chair again.”

“Yeah, you’re right. And… thanks. Thanks for everything.”

“Aw, don’t mention it. Oh, one more thing before you go?”

“Sure, what’s that?”

“You do have a ghost, but he’s cool. His name is Henry, and he was a carpenter way back when. He likes all the improvements you’ve made to the house.”

How does it work again? I forgot…

Seriously, it has been SOO long since I got a reply from a publisher that wasn’t a nicely worded rejection, I forgot how to handle an acceptance.

I think I’m supposed to say something along the lines of this anthology, slated for a Halloween release, is the first in the series. This volume is titled “And The Dead Shall Sleep No More”. and the subject is Vampires.

The White Death is a short piece, but it packs a nice punch… or, should that be bite?

Billy Summers (Stephen King)

Another excellent book from the master… here’s my review from Goodreads:

Billy SummersBilly Summers by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s no secret that Stephen King greatly disliked Kubrick’s film version of The Shining.
And, with all the reviews now out about this book, it’s also no secret that he tips his hat to the Overlook Hotel in this novel.
It was with a wide smile that I read how he incorporated an aspect of the Overlook that was *not* used at all in Kubrick’s film.
Well played, Uncle Steve!
Billy Summers is a crime novel. There are no clowns in sewer drains here. The only monsters are the ones that look like us, the ones that we read about in the news sometimes. The ones that are often worse than anything lurking in the mists.
This is a very good book, and King brings his masterful skill at characterization to full strength with Billy, the morality he’s committed to, and the tenuous relationship he develops with the young victim of a horrible crime that he rescues. Is the bad guy who eliminates the truly bad guys still a bad guy once he’s cast in the role of a guardian angel? And how does he manage to balance all that while also trying to get out of a seriously bad position his last job has put him into?
Once you read the book, you’ll get to know all that, and much more. So, if I were you, I’d stop reading this and get onto reading the book instead!
You can thank me later.

View all my reviews

Nightwalker

I started this one earlier this year, then set it aside when I took my hiatus from writing anything more involved than a grocery list. I think I need to get it back on the desk and see where it wants to take me. Here’s a sample:


A knock at the door brought W. Bryce Magill, Esq. back to the present. He turned to his desk and called out, “Yes?”

His secretary opened the door and ushered a man into the office, introducing him to Will before she left, closing the door behind her.

Jason Nightwalker was a distinctive man. Tall and thin, the old timers would have described him as wiry, he radiated surprising strength for his build, as Will discovered when he shook his hand. His grip was quite strong, his hand firm and calloused. His face was deeply seamed, as though from years under the sun, his hair pure white, thick and lush. He wore brown boots, well-worn jeans and an open chambray shirt, revealing a unique stone on a leather cord around his neck. The stone was gray, shot through with flecks and streaks of a deep red, a color of stone Will had never seen before. Jason noticed him looking and smiled.

“They call it a bloodstone. It’s rumored to possess special powers, but I like to wear this one for luck.”

His voice was surprisingly rich and deep, reminding Will of the actor James Earl Jones in his heyday.

“I’ve heard of it. Isn’t it said that the color is supposed to come from the crucifixion, when the soldier speared Christ in his side and his blood fell onto the stone at the base of the cross?”

“That is one of the untrue legends of the stone, yes. In fact, the stone was originally called a heliotrope, and was in the possession of man for centuries before that crucifixion ever took place. The unique composition of shades and color gave it its value and led to the legends of how it might be used… in the proper hands, of course.”

“Oh, I had no idea. A fascinating story, Mr. Nightwalker. Please, have a seat”

Will gestured at the seats in front of his desk as he returned to his chair behind it and his visitor sat down.

“How can I help you, Mr. Nightwalker?”

“There is no matter I need the services of an attorney with, Mr. Magill. I have merely come to offer my condolences. I understand your partner was also a friend.”

“Thank you, Mr. Nightwalker. Yes, Tom and I first met in high school, and wound up opening the firm together when we both graduated law school.”

Nightwalker’s right eyebrow raised as he nodded slightly.

“A long friendship. Most young people will never realize the value of such a relationship, concerned as they are with themselves and their possessions. You’re a fortunate man, Mr. Magill, to have enjoyed this friendship.”

“Thank you for that, Mr. Nightwalker. Tom and I were always there for each other, to celebrate the good and to offset the bad.”

“My people believe a man has three lives, Mr. Magill. He has his public life, the one he presents to the world at large, then he has his private life, which is the one he shares only with those close to him. Your friendship enjoyed both of those.”

“You said there were three?”

“Yes. A man also has his secret life, the things he shares with absolutely no one. Most men will never admit to having such a life, but it is there. We all have things we keep entirely to ourselves… wouldn’t you agree?”

“Well…”

Nightwalker smiled at Will’s hesitation, which said all that was needed to be said.

###

Will looked around the room, an overwhelming sense of déjà vu sweeping over him. He was in the funeral parlor again, but this time he was seated alone in the last row. Tom’s family and his other friends were all sitting in front, weeping and talking softly, just as they’d done when Tom died only a year ago.

The coffin was closed by necessity. Tom had been on the turnpike, driving faster than he should have been in the sleet and freezing rain that day, making his way to an appointment he should have put off in deference to the storm. When the tractor trailer ahead of him jackknifed, sliding across all three lanes of the road, Tom hit his brakes hard, but the locked wheels slid freely on the black ice. Tom’s car rammed into the middle of the trailer, the roof crushing down and decapitating him before the car finally came to a hard stop, wedged beneath the trailer.

The side door in the front of the room opened, but it wasn’t the funeral director coming in this time. It was Jason Nightwalker, grinning at the room as he strode in front of the coffin, a weathered leather duffel bag in his hand. When he reached the foot of the coffin, he set the bag down, the bloodstone on the leather cord around his neck swaying freely. Opening the bag, he produced a long brass rod, an offset at one end ridged like the head of an Allen wrench, and a long offset at the other end with a mahogany handle on it.

He stood, pressing the ridged end into the foot of the coffin, where it locked in place with an audible snap. As he wrapped his hand around the wooden handle, it seemed as though he was staring directly at Will, a maniacal grin on his face, his green eyes glittering in the soft light.

And he began to turn the handle counter-clockwise.

From the ceiling speakers, usually used for a sermon or a eulogy, came the distinct sound of a calliope, just like you’d hear on a merry-go-round, playing “Pop Goes The Weasel” very slowly, in time with the rotating brass bar.

Will jumped to his feet, horrified that no one else in the room was reacting, or even seemed to notice what was happening.

Jesus Christ, don’t they hear it? Don’t they see him? The voice in his head was deafening, despite his own silence, his jaw agape.

Just as the song reached the final line, there was a loud click from the coffin lid, and Will threw his arms up in front of his face, closing his eyes, unable to watch what might happen next as he screamed… and woke himself up from the sound of his own screaming.

He shook his head back and forth, peering in the darkness for a moment before realizing he was in his bed. He threw the covers off, saturated as they were from his sweat, and got up out of the bed.

There would be no more sleep for him after that.

Moody’s Way

I had fun with this one, but I can’t put it up here… at least, not yet. I’ve submitted it to a publisher where I think it might be a good fit, but time will tell.

This one takes place on a rainy day during the summer of 1969. Two brothers, in the room they share, the younger one bugging his older sibling to tell him the story about a haunted path in a nearby park. The older brother finally gives in and the younger one soon regrets making his request.

EC Comics definitely inspired this one, and it would make a good episode of Tales From The Crypt. Here’s a small excerpt…

“OK, alright already. Albert chooses the visitor’s dugout and sits in the box on the third base line. When the players come out, their uniforms don’t have any names or numbers on them, just one team is light gray and the other is dark gray. As the game goes on, Albert looks around and notices that all the people in the stands are sitting silently, watching. No one is talking, no cheering or clapping, nothing.”

Tommy subconsciously wrapped his arms around himself, as though feeling a chill.

“Remember, this is nighttime, but the field is bright and clear even though the lights are all off. There are no hawkers in the stands selling hot dogs or peanuts, no music or announcements over the loudspeakers, nothing!

“Moody’s Way”

I’ll update this post in the future once I learn the fate of the submission. I’m sure it’ll eventually make its way to these pages.

Noir

I came across this image posted by EC Comics on Instagram a week or so ago. It’s by Joe Orlando, from when he worked at EC during the 1950’s, and seeing it sparked an idea that I couldn’t shake…

© Joe Orlando, EC Comics

She was lying in the dark, dingy alley behind Sal’s pizzeria and Ling’s dry cleaners, a dreamboat tossed out like an old, broken toy.

She was a doll, all right… just not a living doll, not anymore. Somebody saw to that in spades.

Sal’s delivery kid said he left with an order about a half hour ago, and then found her when he got back, so this was fresh.

There were a pair of gloves beside her, but no sign of a handbag. I didn’t think this was a robbery, though. This was far too savage, too personal for that.

No, whoever did this took her bag to try and buy some time. And maybe a ticket on a Greyhound bus.

The longer it would take us to ID her, the longer it would be before we could start looking at who knew her… and that gave me an idea. Charlie had finished photographing the scene and was packing his gear.

“Hey Charlie.”

“Yeah, Joe?”

“Before you go, do me a favor. Take a good clear shot of her face, maybe like you’re doing her portrait for a magazine, willya?”

“Yeah, sure,” he muttered as he took the lens cap back off his camera and moved behind me to get a good angle.

“And Charlie, please run this back to the house and make me a good sharp 8 by 10 as soon as possible, OK?”

“Kinda late in your career to start a scrapbook, ain’t it?”

“Very funny, wise guy. No, I can bet this gal won’t have a sheet or a mug shot on file with us, but if I get a photo to the Gazette first thing, I’d like to see if the editor of their society pages might recognize her. Save us a hell of a lot of time getting her ID if they do.”

“Jeez, that’s a helluva idea, Joe. Sorry about the wisecrack.”

“Don’t worry about it. Make it up to me by getting that photo done.”

“You got it.”

I stood as Charlie shot, his flash looking like silent lightening in the small alley around us.

I glanced across the street and saw the bodega on the corner was still open, the owner outside gawking with some looky-loos.

I lifted the yellow tape and walked over. I doubted he’d have a security camera facing the alley, but it couldn’t hurt to ask.

Besides, it would give me a chance to get a pack of butts.

Seems like I picked a bad week to quit smoking…

The Road Less Traveled

In late 2019, the year before the world as we knew it ended, my wife and I took a driving trip to Maine for a few days, the highlight of which (for me, at least) was to take the tour of Derry, offered by SK Tours (which I’d HIGHLY recommend to anyone visiting Maine). The day before we took that tour, we drove north to visit Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor. The story you’re about to read is almost exactly what happened that day, with a minimum of “artistic license” applied.


The Road Less Traveled

by

G.A. Miller

Bob twisted as he settled into the passenger seat of the small sedan, grunting at the sharp pain in his knees and right hip.

“I am so sorry,” Anita said, “Next time we take a road trip, we’re renting a bigger car.”

They’d just explored Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park on the Maine coast, walking the trails at the summit of Cadillac Mountain, exploring a number of scenic lookouts, and all the walking, along with the cold ocean wind, was taking its toll on Bob’s joints.

“Fuck you, Arthur,” he grumbled as he locked his seat belt in place.

“Arthur?”

“Yeah. Arthur Itis, that miserable bastard.”

Anita made a sympathetic sound as she backed out of their spot and began driving slowly toward the road that would bring them down from the summit to the loop road in the park. Her phone was connected to the car and the map was up on the display panel, but the automated female voice advised them that the GPS signal had been lost.

“Coverage is terrible up here,” Bob muttered, “That thing drops the GPS constantly now.”

“I think all the carriers have trouble up here, not just ours.”

“Well, at least we know we just have to get onto Route One and head south, so we can use the road signs instead of the phone. Old school, no sweat.”

Bob realized that as crowded as both the mountain and the harbor trails had been, he’d seen many people using their phones to take pictures, but didn’t recall seeing anyone actually talking on them.

They finally reached the loop road and saw that the park rangers had closed the road heading up, which didn’t surprise them after passing the long line of cars waiting to get to the parking lot as they headed down. Anita took a right and followed the loop road to the park exit, where they saw a sign pointing to Route One.

The GPS had regained signal and had them turn right again, and everything seemed to be in place. The GPS showed them heading back toward the motel, the compass in the dash had them heading due south, even the late afternoon sun was shining brightly in from the passenger side.

As they passed a route sign on the road, Anita shook her head.

“Did that sign say North?”

“I didn’t catch it. What is the compass showing?”

“Compass says south… and so does the GPS.”

“Sun’s on the right, which is west, so everything says we’re heading south. I’ll watch for the next road sign anyway.”

“Are those crows over there?” Anita pointed to her left, and Bob looked past her to the left side where a flock of large black birds were standing, all facing the road.

“They’re pretty big… I think they might be ravens. I believe ravens are bigger than crows, but I’m no expert.”

“They’re all watching… oh damn, we just passed another sign and I didn’t see it.”

“Neither did I. I was checking out those birds, and you’re right. It looked like they were all watching the car as we passed them.”

The bright autumn colors of the trees were beginning to soften as the sun lowered, causing Bob to swing the sun visor over to the side window so he could continue watching for the next road sign. As he did, he caught sight of something moving through the woods, not far from the road.

“Damn, whatever that was, it was big. I’m thinking moose?”

“I don’t know hon; I didn’t see it.”

“If that was a deer, they sure as hell grow them big up here.”

“Look, I see a sign coming.”

“Got it… says North Coastal One? What the hell? GPS still shows us heading south, about eighteen miles to the motel now.”

“Compass says southeast too, but does any of this look familiar to you? Shouldn’t we have reached that town with the shopping plaza by now?”

“Yeah, I’d have thought so. I don’t get it. I can see the electronics being off, especially with all the signal drops, but the sun setting to our right means we have to be heading south unless Maine is in the friggin’ Twilight Zone.”

They drove in nervous silence for a while, passing more signs advising them they were northbound, despite all the other indicators showing south. As they looked around, the GPS said they were less than two miles from the motel, but they were now the only car in either direction on the darkening road, surrounded by deep woods on both sides.

And there were more things moving in those woods now. Large things.

“OK, I vote we turn around and head back… what do you think?” Anita’s voice was strained, her nerves showing. She’d either seen or sensed something being very wrong here.

“I’m with you. I’m positive we’d have at least seen that restaurant from last night by now.”

Anita pulled to the side of the now empty road and checked all around. Not another vehicle in sight, so she began making a U turn and stopped abruptly.

“What the hell?” she exclaimed.

The road behind them was now littered with ravens, all watching their car. It seemed like they didn’t want them to turn around. Bob looked out the window to his right and spoke very calmly, hiding the tension in his voice as best he could.

“Honey, go on ahead and turn back now, right now. If those damned birds don’t move out of the way, just run them over. We need to get the hell out of here.”

As she gunned the gas and steered back the way they’d come, the ravens took to the air squawking angrily. Bob kept tilting his head to look behind them through the side mirror on his door.

“What are you looking for? Did I hit any of the birds?”

“No, not that. Remember that big thing I saw in the woods a little while ago?”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Well, I saw it up ahead when you pulled over, like it was waiting for us.”

“Honey, I’ve been doing over seventy miles an hour. It can’t move that fast.”

“I know that. And I also know a moose can’t stand upright on its rear legs either, but that son of a bitch was, whatever the hell it is. We seriously need to get away from this fucking place NOW!”

Anita’s face tightened into a grimace as she pushed the car up over eighty on the straight road, the setting sun now on her side. Her knuckles were white where she gripped the wheel, guiding them smoothly back and away from those woods.

The signs now said South, but they didn’t relax until they began seeing places they remembered passing on the way up in the morning. They eventually passed their motel and headed into town to have dinner. They parked in a small lot next to the restaurant and walked to the entrance where Bob opened the door for Anita and glanced back at the car as she stepped inside.

The single raven standing behind their car watched them silently, the breeze from the shore ruffling its feathers.

THE END