Tuesday, July 28, 2015

12 Hours of Halloween (novel serialization) Part 2

Below is Part 2 of the Serialization of 12 Hours of Halloween. To access previous installments, please see the Serials page (or consider the option of obtaining the entire book from Amazon.)

Halloween is often a difficult time for me, though the flashbacks are only this vivid every third or fourth year.

The atmosphere inside the Walmart isn’t helping matters. There are only a few days remaining before October 31st, and the store is filled with every conceivable trapping of Halloween: There are cardboard black cats with arched backs and erect tails. Near a display of trick-or-treat candy, a mechanical life-size plastic witch with green skin and a jutting chin and nose twists back and forth. And everywhere there are jack-o’-lanterns: plastic hollow jack-o’-lanterns for collecting candy, inflatable jack-o’-lanterns to be used as lawn decorations—even some jack-o’-lantern-shaped candles.

My individual traumas aside, I note that Halloween doesn't change much. Well over thirty Halloweens have passed since what I consider to be my “last Halloween” in 1980 (the Halloween that I’m going to tell you about shortly); but the basics of that dark holiday don’t change much, do they? Halloween is impervious to the Internet, to the vagaries of politics and pop culture. Halloween is dark, eternal, and yes, strangely inviting. (That was why Leah and Bobby and I decided to indulge in that “last Halloween”, even though we were really too old for it by then. We didn't want to let Halloween go—not quite yet.)

I finally reach the electronics section. It has been my observation that Walmart’s “everyday low prices” are at least partly achieved by minimizing the number of sales clerks on the floor at any given time. But I’m in luck: there is a salesperson behind the electronics counter. She’s a young woman about Lisa’s age, maybe a few years older.

“I’m looking for a TI-89 graphing calculator,” I tell her from memory. (Again, I am absolutely clueless about such things.)

“Well, sir, we have that model in stock.”

It doesn't take long for me to select Lisa’s calculator and pay for it. The total comes to $146.78 with tax. Throughout our brief interaction, the sales clerk calls me “mister” and “sir” any number of times, pointedly reminding me of my age. Not that I mind. There is only one woman for me: my wife; so I don’t care if the young sales clerk thinks I’m an old guy. And if being called sir is the price of having two wonderful daughters, then may the whole world call me sir.

That done, I collect my purchase inside its white plastic Walmart bag, and head for the main exit. On the way out I pass another sales clerk. She’s a bit older and rather on the chubby side.

As I’m about to push one of the glass doors open I hear her say, “Hey, you’re going to lose your head!”

I whirl around, my heart suddenly beating rapidly. The head collector, I think.

But she looks at me innocently.

“You dropped your receipt,” she says, pointing to a small strip of paper on the floor. Now I understand: What the clerk had really said was, “You lost your receipt”—or something very similar.

I stoop and pick up the receipt.

“Thank you,” I say.

I’m out in the parking lot, glad to be done with Walmart and all those Halloween decorations. I think again about the head collector, and how I caught that brief sight of him in the back of the store. Would he follow me out here?

The skies above me are overcast and grey; but it’s a little after 10:00 a.m.—broad daylight. (Another perk of self-employment: You can do your shopping at 10 o’clock on a Tuesday morning, when the rest of the world is otherwise engaged.) The head collector wouldn't follow me out here. That is not his way.

I start my car, a pearl white Toyota Avalon. Yes, it’s a middle-aged man’s car. Hannah jokingly refers to it as my “Avillac”. You get it? A combination of Avalon and Cadillac.

I drive home, thinking mostly good thoughts: My two nearly grown daughters, my wife. Maybe I’ll make love to my wife tonight, I think. (I may be a middle-aged man, but I’m a long, long way from being too old for that.)

But inevitably, I find myself thinking of the past, too. I think about Bobby and Leah. I think about the head collector, of course.

And I think about Matt Stefano. Yes, I really hate to think about him.

Serial be continued....

To read more, visit the Serials page, or get the complete book at Amazon.com.

*       *      *

Also, consider my suburban fantasy novel, The Maze

This is the only fantasy novel you'll ever read that begins in an office park! The Maze features three everyday characters--the sort of people with whom you probably work everyday.

But the storyline of The Maze is far from ordinary. The creatures found in The Maze include human-eating, half-man, half-wolf beasts, killer robots, and much, much more. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tomorrow: July 28th: serials and sneak peeks

I'll have another serialized installment of 12 Hours of Halloween.

Plus: I might have a sneak peek at the cover of my upcoming novel, Lilith.

Goodnight, everyone. I'll end the day with this trailer for my novel Eleven Miles of Night:

View Eleven Miles of Night on Amazon.com

Termination Man (novel serialization) Part 1

Prologue: 1996

Columbus, Ohio, November 1996

The man seated at the bar was making Carla Marsh more than a little nervous, even as she studiously tried to ignore him. Go away, she thought. Just leave me alone. The last thing I need tonight is to attract the attention of a weirdo.

It had been a rough week at school. Carla’s GPA was hovering perilously close to the lower threshold of the 3.0 mark. She had promised her parents that she would maintain a GPA of at least 3.1. Maybe I’ve been going out a bit too much this semester, she thought. She wasn’t a heavy drinker—not compared to some people, at least—but it was hard not to get swept up in the hubbub of campus social life. More than 50,000 students attended the Ohio State University. There were so many people to meet. So much going on.

Of course, there were some bad apples in that cast of fifty thousand. Carla looked up from the glass of beer that she had purchased with a fake ID, the one that gave her age as twenty-one—rather than her true age of twenty.

The weirdo was still giving her the eye.

She considered glaring at him or even giving him the finger, and then thought better of it. Sooner or later he would find another target to obsess upon. She wasn’t the only unescorted woman in the room, after all. Far from it. The Buckeye Lounge was an off-campus drinking establishment, and by definition, therefore, a meet market. Young men and women in their late teens and early twenties milled about everywhere. Lots of mingling going on. Dozens of young men hoping to get lucky tonight. Carla reflected—not for the first time since men had starting noticing her—that the entire bar and entertainment industry would probably collapse if not for horny young men.

That was really what it was all about, wasn’t it? Practically all of the young men here were on the prowl in one way or another.

To view all of my available fiction:

And that explained the noise—the sheer excess of it: When college-aged men wanted to impress women, Carla had noticed, they seldom did it quietly. A few tables away, a guy wearing an Ohio State sweatshirt was responding to one of his companion’s jokes with exaggerated laughter. As if playing the role of a loud drunk were the best way to make yourself attractive to the opposite sex. You aren’t going to get laid that way, buddy, Carla thought.

She returned her gaze to the bar: The young man—the weirdo—was still looking at her.

Since he was looking at her, she took a moment to look back at him, to assess him: He had the generally tall and broad-shouldered build of an athlete. But something told Carla that this one was no member of the football or basketball team. He didn’t look like the type to associate himself with teams or groups, and he was definitely alone tonight. Jocks usually traveled in packs; and come to think of it—so did most everyone else. On the campus bar scene, loners were rare. And the weirdo was obviously a loner.

This wasn't the first time that Carla had been ogled by an anonymous male in such a venue, and probably not the hundredth time, either. That much went with the territory––especially when you were twenty years old, female, and more than a little attractive.

But something about the lone man seated at the bar was different. Unlike other would-be campus lotharios, he was making no effort to be either furtive or flirtatious. He simply stared at her over the rim of his beer mug, fixing her with half-lidded eyes, and a smile that was somehow knowing. He seemed to be claiming his possession of her, even though they had never even met. He definitely wasn’t her type. Not that he was a bad-looking guy—not really. But he was creepy. Way too creepy.

“Carla, what the hell's up with you?” Jill Johnson asked her, having noticed her distraction. “Have you had too much to drink?” Jill was seated across from her at the small table that the two of them shared. But Jill was seated with her back to the weirdo. She couldn’t see him.

“Are you drunk?” Jill persisted.

Jill was half-drunk herself, but she knew that something was up. Jill always seemed to know when something was up with her. Jill was Carla's best friend in the world, and a fellow native of Cleveland. Less than two years ago, the two of them had headed off for OSU together. They were roommates and shared many of the same classes. Watch out for Jill at college, the other girl’s mother had told Carla. Make sure that she doesn’t get into trouble at OSU. Both sets of parents acknowledged that Carla was the more responsible member of the pair.

But now Carla was the one with a problem, and he was seated at the bar only a few yards from their table. Since Carla had known Jill forever, her friend was able to discern that she was seriously spooked. They seemed to share a wordless sense of mutual understanding.

In her Japanese 101 class, Carla had learned that the Japanese referred to this as inshin-denshin—“an unconscious sharing of the minds between two individuals”—or something like that. She had taught Jill the term and it had become a running joke between them.

“I’m getting those inshin-denshin vibes from you,” Jill said. “So what’s up? Is something wrong?”

*      *     *

Serial to be continued....To read more, get Termination Man at Amazon.com, or visit the Serials page.

"Meth, mafia, and mayhem"
"A fast-paced thriller with a heart"

Sunday, July 26, 2015

12 Hours of Halloween (novel serialization) Part 1

“The youths were consumed by the fire, so that no one was to hear their wedding songs.”

Psalms 78:63


A funny thing about flashbacks: they come unbidden, and at the most unexpected times.

One moment I was standing in Walmart, and the next moment I was not: I was a twelve-year-old boy again, crouching beside the outer wall of a darkened house in a long-ago suburb, hoping that the shrubbery to my right and my left had adequately concealed my presence. A malevolent creature was intent on taking my head. He—or it—had an entire sack full of them.

That particular flashback is always especially vivid. When it overtakes me, I can feel not only the pervasive, all-consuming fear of those eternal minutes, but also the little details of my surroundings: the cold, damp ground beneath me, the scratchy feel of the barren shrubbery of late October.

This is one reason why I still believe that it really did happen—even after all these years. A delusion wouldn't include so many little details.

And then, in the next second, the flashback is gone: I’m no longer that crouching, quivering twelve-year-old boy. I’m a grown man in my mid-forties—solidly into middle age by any yardstick. I’m no longer crouching in the dark: I’m standing yet again in the fluorescent glare of the Walmart near my home in Cincinnati, shopping for a calculator.

Although I knew that I would come back (I always do!), it’s good to be back, nonetheless.

The calculator that I’m looking for is not just any calculator; it’s a TI-89 graphing calculator, one of the models that Texas Instruments designed especially for engineers. Don’t ask me how to use the thing, or about its features. I would have no idea. The calculator is for my daughter, Lisa. Lisa turns twenty on the third of November, during the week after Halloween.

Lisa is a student at the University of Cincinnati, and an engineering major. She’s a lot smarter than her dad, I don’t mind saying—even though her dad hasn't done badly for himself, all things considered. But Lisa gets her smarts from her mother, who has always been good at math.

Lisa has a younger sister, Hannah. Hannah graduates from high school next year. Hannah takes after her father more, which is to say she’s not so good at math. But she’s creative and more of a “people person” than her older sister. I look for Hannah to major in business administration or political science. Something like that. We’ll see. She has a year to decide.

Last week Hannah and I were talking about the future, and she shared her anxieties with me. It’s so competitive out there nowadays—nothing like the days of my youth, when any college degree would enable you to blunder your way into some sort of a professional career. And Hannah has always felt that she lives in Lisa’s shadow. Her older sister was always the one with the straight A’s—the one with the academic awards. Throughout grade school and high school, hardly a one of Hannah’s teachers failed to remember and mention her “gifted” older sibling.

“Maybe I’ll end up selling insurance with you, Dad,” Hannah said. She said this in jest, but it’s not a half-bad idea: My State Farm agency has brought in a good living over the past seventeen years. (I drifted into insurance sales after several false starts in other fields.) “Maybe you will,” I said. “Your old man would be glad to have you.”

Who knows? Hannah’s still in high school, and her preferences might end up channeled in one of any number of directions. But it’s something for us both to keep in mind.

I’m walking toward the Walmart’s electronics section when I catch a brief glimpse of the head collector in the rear area of the store—through the double doorway marked “Employees Only”. He’s standing there by a bare cinderblock wall, near one of the warehouse area’s fire extinguishers. The fire extinguisher enables me to gage his height: seven or eight feet, just like he’s always been.

I pause to rub my eyes, and look again: The head collector is gone, just as I knew would be the case.

It’s not uncommon for me to see the head collector at this time of year. I only see him briefly—and never up close. If I saw him up close, well, that might be enough to drive me over the edge. Far away, he’s an anxiety that I can live with.

Keep calm, I tell myself: I focus on Hannah and Lisa, and my wife of twenty-two years. I focus on purchasing the calculator for Lisa’s birthday.

Serial be continued....

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Upcoming serializations: Termination Man, 12 Hours of Halloween

I was trying to decide which novel to serialize here next, and I was torn between Termination Man and 12 Hours of Halloween.

So I finally decided...why not serialize them both?

Therefore, over the coming weeks I will be serializing both of these books, alternating from one to the other. 

Termination Man is a corporate thriller set in recent times. 12 Hours of Halloween, on the other hand, is a coming-of-age horror novel set in 1980. Alternating between the two books will therefore provide a nice change of mood from post to post.

I plan to post an installment for at least one of these books each day, with two installments (one from each) on other days.

These are both long books, so I suspect that they will be with us for a while. If you want to read either one immediately, please follow the Amazon links. 

Two powerful men, two bitter rivals, each one hiding his own secrets. One driven by lust and rage, the other driven by a conflicted sense of right and wrong.


“The novel that takes an unflinching look at the dark underside of the 21st century workplace.”

CRAIG WALKER is a hotshot young MBA with his own consulting firm. He’s handsome, rich, and in demand. His Fortune 500 clients—the most powerful men and women in industry—call him “The Termination Man.”

Craig Walker is no ordinary management consultant. He’s a spook, a workplace spy. Assuming false identities, Craig works undercover, building the evidence that will allow his corporate clients to terminate unwanted employees without legal repercussions. His targets are the troublemakers, the agitators, the employees whom management believes are no longer “good fits” for their hyper-competitive organizations.

Craig Walker believes that he serves the cause of economic efficiency, and in a way, the greater good. Most of his targets don’t like their jobs anyway. In a free market, “a firing isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. Sometimes an employee needs to leave a bad a situation.”

SHAWN MYERS is a manager at TP Automotive, a global giant in the automotive industry. Shawn struggles to control his lust and rage, and to escape a hideous past that might catch up with him at any moment. His forbidden desire for a girl young enough to be his daughter threatens to drive him over the edge.

When TP Automotive hires the Termination Man to remove two innocent employees from its payroll, Craig Walker is forced to reexamine his notions of justice and morality. But these questions are soon overwhelmed by the dangers that he faces from the TP Automotive management team. After Shawn Myers commits a heinous act in Craig’s presence, the Termination Man discovers that his new clients will resort to any means in order to protect one of their own.

The year is 1980. Jeff Schaeffer, Leah Carter, and Bobby Nagel decide to go out for "one last Halloween" before adolescence takes away their childhood forever.

But this Halloween is different, they soon discover; and an outing that was supposed to be light-hearted and fun becomes a battle for sanity--and perhaps even survival.

From the author of the reader-acclaimed “Eleven Miles of Night”, “12 Hours of Halloween” is a coming-of-age tale unlike any you have ever read.

A sinister teenager known as “the ghost boy” declares that Jeff Schaeffer and his friends will endure “twelve hours of trial” on Halloween. The three young people subsequently find their once familiar suburban surroundings transformed into a bizarre and terrifying landscape.

They discover that just beneath the surface of their middle-American neighborhood lies a secret realm of haunted houses, demonically possessed trees, and spirits with unfinished business. One entity, called the “head collector”, lurks the darkened streets in search of grisly trophies.

At the same time, Jeff is forced to confront new feelings for both of his old friends.

He believes that he is in love with Leah, but does Leah feel the same way?

Meanwhile, his friend Bobby, who had always protected him from local bullies, now seems to harbor a dark agenda that threatens to divide and possibly destroy them all.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Hay Moon (serial short fiction) Part 13

Note: Below is the 13th and final installment of the serialization of the short story "Hay Moon". To read Part 12, click here.

Or visit the index on the Serial Fiction page.

I went on with my life, of course. I raised two children. I had a moderately successful career and retired. I did not allow the evil events of long ago to dominate my life. I buried them. And for the most part, they stayed buried.

Nevertheless, they never went away completely. Sometimes—like tonight—the old memories come back.

It won’t be long before the doorbell starts ringing. I like children, but I won’t be passing out any candy tonight. Not this Halloween. This year I’m going to sit at my kitchen table; and I won’t open the door when it rings.

I am too old to be frightened by the thought of death. But I was raised by my mother to be a Christian, and I do fear for my immortal soul.

Because somehow I know, as sure as I know that my knees ache when I stand up—if my father and brother wouldn’t have come into the barn, those two creatures would have done more than taken my life. They would have made me as they were.

As they were? Or as they are? So much time has passed since that night in the barn; but I suspect that the undead can last forever in their unholy state of existence. I can’t forget the final words those creatures said to me that night in the barn: they promised that they would come back for me. I can’t have many years left on this earth; so perhaps tonight is the night.

As I look out of my kitchen window, I can see my entire backyard. This house is in the suburbs. It has a postage-stamp-sized lot—nothing like the open land that we had on the farm. Instead of a barn, now I have a tool shed, a little structure that I had built some years ago to store my lawnmower and other items that I use to maintain the house. It has just enough room for a workbench. Like my father before me, I’m something of a tinkerer.

The door of the shed is partially ajar, though I know that I shut and latched it this afternoon.

Seventy years ago I was willing to walk through doors like that into dark and unknown spaces. Not today. I am an old man now, and my father and brother are no longer here to save me. And if Tom and Marjorie are out there, I believe that their hunger will have grown stronger over the years.

After all, they have been waiting for me for a long time.    


Complete story (and fifteen others) available in: Hay Moon and Other Stories: Sixteen Modern Tales of Horror and Suspense 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Hay Moon (serial short fiction) Part 12

Note: Below is Part 12 of the serialization of the short story "Hay Moon". To read Part 11, click here.

Or visit the index on the Serial Fiction page.

Yes, I know you’ve got questions. First of all, what was a Baptist doing with a copy of a Latin prayer of exorcism folded away between the pages of his King James Bible? I later found out that my grandfather—my father’s father—had acquired the prayer during the previous time of troubles, long before my own father was born. 

When I shut the back door, it had indeed made enough noise to wake the rest of the family. My father and brother took a few minutes to get dressed and come after me; but my own clumsiness set my rescue in motion. When my dad looked out the window and saw the open barn door, he knew that there was trouble. And his experiences of a few weeks prior told him that he would need weapons—both worldly and sacred.

And what about the predictions the creatures made about my father and brother before they departed? I would like to tell you that these were nothing but empty threats. The truth is otherwise.

My brother David died in September 1942. He was in one of the first U.S. Marine divisions that landed on Guadalcanal. I didn’t find out about his death until a month after he died. I was in Europe myself then, fighting on the other great front of that horrific war. After I read the telegram, I was numb for the rest of the day and I could barely speak to anyone. That night I dreamt about David. I relived that night in the barn. Then the dream moved to the scorched and cratered beach of an island in the Pacific. David was there. I could see him twisting around in the sand with a belly wound—just like the evil thing in the barn had said ten years earlier.

I woke up and the realization fully hit me. David was gone.

He was sometimes a bully of an older brother, but there was good in him, too. At that moment, thousands of miles away from home and facing possible death myself, oh, how I loved him.

I feared that my father would be dead shortly after that. By April 1945 I had enough service points to transfer stateside. V-E Day was less than a month away and we were getting ready for the big assault on Japan. But for me, the war was already over. The army had assigned me to a training camp in the middle of the country. I was teaching other men how to kill and face death.

As soon as I heard the news about FDR on April 12 I called my parents’ home in Ohio. My mother assumed that I wanted to talk about the president’s death. But I only wanted to talk to my father.

“Your father’s fine,” my mother said. “He’s working out in the barn.”

“Let me talk to him,” I insisted. “Go get him. Please.”

She did as I asked. My father might have been slowing down a bit; he was in his early fifties by now, after all. But there were no timbres of imminent death that I could detect in his voice. I called them again on the next day. To my relief, my father was still fine.

Almost twenty years would pass before that part of the evil creatures’ prophecy came true. This time it was not the peaceful death of a leader who had grown sick and elderly. This time it was a young president, taken way before his time with violence. An evil act.

The phone rang one evening in November of 1963. I had been watching the reports from Dallas. My mother’s voice was hysterical, choked with tears. My father was dead. He had collapsed from a sudden heart attack.

Serial to be continued...

(One more to go.)

Complete story (and fifteen others) available in: Hay Moon and Other Stories: Sixteen Modern Tales of Horror and Suspense

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

E.L. Doctorow, RIP

E.L. Doctorow, Literary Time Traveler Who Stirred the Past Into Fiction, Dies at 84

In all honesty, he was not one of my favorites, but I did enjoy his Civil War novel, The March. Perhaps now would be a good time to delve into some of his other books, like Ragtime.

A good life, and a good writing career. I'm sure he'll be missed.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hay Moon (serial short fiction) Part 11

Note: Below is Part 11 of the serialization of the short story "Hay Moon". To read Part 10, click here.

Or visit the index on the Serial Fiction page.

Nevertheless, my father had weakened them. If he read the entire prayer, it would be just like the story in the Book of Matthew. The demons would be cast out of their hosts. The bodies would drop where they stood.

The creatures in our barn seemed to know this.

Slowly, their red eyes glowing with pure hatred, they edged their way backward, toward the double doors on the other side of the barn.

With the arm that was still usable, Tom pointed at my brother David. “You’ll die in the sand with your insides torn out” it said. “You will die screaming, calling out for your mother like a baby. What a coward you will be! And in so much pain!

Be gone!” my father shouted, and read once more from the page of Latin script: “Adjúro te íterum non mea infirmitáte, sed virtúte Spíritus Sancti!

Now Marjorie, as she retreated, addressed my father. Her voice was deep and masculine. Ancient. “And you: You’re going to die as well. You’ll be in your grave with the leader. Cold and dead and moldering. On the very same day”

And then she locked those horrible red eyes on me and hissed: “Someday, boy. Someday we’ll come back for you.

A sudden gust swept through the set of doors that I had opened. Hay and dust swirled within the barn. I coughed as the debris entered my eyes and throat. The wind blew open the far set of doors with a loud crash.

I did not see them leave. I buried my face in my hands. I started bawling like a baby.

I felt my father’s grip around my arms.

“Come on, son. They’re gone. They can’t hurt any of us now.”

Somehow I managed to get up. But now I was shaking uncontrollably. I closed my eyes tightly, in denial of what I had just witnessed. I began to take rapid, spasmodic breaths. I was on the verge of hyperventilating. At any moment I would pass out, I was sure. And suddenly, I felt cold—as if it were January rather than early August. 

“Easy,” my father said. “Paul, it’s over. Calm down and open your eyes.”

With a considerable effort, I did.

Together the three of us walked back to the house. My mother was waiting for us at the back door. The kitchen lights were on.

About halfway back to the house, David turned to my father.

“Dad, what do you think he meant? What he said about me? Is somethin’ bad going to happen to me?”

My dad clapped David on the back. “You’re going to be fine, David. That thing was just talkin’. Tryin’ to scare you. Nothin’s going to happen to you.”

Then Dad put his arm on my shoulder. “And to you neither. You’re both going to be fine.”

Serial to be continued...

(Two more to go.)

Complete story (and fifteen others) available in: Hay Moon and Other Stories: Sixteen Modern Tales of Horror and Suspense

Story is still most important

Ultimately It's About Good Books By Good Writers.  Meet Author Mark Barry

Of course, what makes a book "good" is clearly subjective (just set E.L. James fans on readers of Donna Tartt), but from this reader's perspective, I don't give a hoot about the race, creed, color, gender, genre, price point, publishing platform, or social media status of an author; all I want is the alchemy, the magic... the good book. Which is why I want to introduce you to a favorite new author of mine, a fellow who's writing exactly those books: Mark Barry.

If you are a reader or a writer who follows the online drama, you've seen the waters muddied in recent years over debates about diversity, social media---and even some highly publicized author blog wars.

But at the end of the day, good stories are still what this game is all about. Without good stories, the rest is just so much meaningless chatter.