Samhain ~ Annie Finch

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(The Celtic Halloween)

In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.

Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn dies to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil

that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.

I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother’s mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
self, I find her, and she brings

arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty.
“Carry me.” She leaves this trail
through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.

Annie Finch

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Don’t Turn on the Light ~ S.E. Schlosser

MD Spooky TalesShe commandeered the room in the basement of her dorm as soon as she realized she would have to pull an all-nighter in order to prepare for tomorrow’s final exam. Her roommate, Jenna, liked to get to bed early, so she packed up everything she thought she would need and went downstairs to study . . . and study . . . and study some more.

It was two o’clock, when she realized that she’d left one of the textbooks upstairs on her bed. With a dramatic sigh, she rose, and climbed the stairs slowly to her third-floor dorm room.

The lights were dim in the long hallway, and the old boards creaked under her weary tread. She reached her room and turned the handle as softly as she could, pushing the door open just enough to slip inside, so that the hall lights wouldn’t wake her roommate.

The room was filled with a strange, metallic smell. She frowned a bit, her arms breaking out into chills. There was a strange feeling of malice in the room, as if a malevolent gaze were fixed upon her.  It was a mind trick; the all-nighter was catching up with her.

She could hear Jenna breathing on the far side of the room—a heavy sound, almost as if she had been running. Jenna must have picked up a cold during the last tense week before finals.

She crept along the wall until she reached her bed, groping among the covers for the stray history textbook. In the silence, she could hear a steady drip-drip-drip sound. She sighed silently. Facilities would have to come to fix the sink in the bathroom…again.

Her fingers closed on the textbook. She picked it up softly and withdrew from the room as silently as she could.

Relieved to be out of the room, she hurried back downstairs, collapsed into an overstuffed chair and studied until six o’clock.  She finally decided that enough was enough. If she slipped upstairs now, she could get a couple hours’ sleep before her nine o’clock exam.

The first of the sun’s rays were beaming through the windows as she slowly slid the door open, hoping not to awaken Jenna. Her nose was met by an earthy, metallic smell a second before her eyes registered the scene in her dorm room. Jenna was spread-eagled on top of her bed against the far wall, her throat cut from ear to ear and her nightdress stained with blood. Two drops of blood fell from the saturated blanket with a drip-drip noise that sounded like a leaky faucet.

Scream after scream poured from her mouth, but she couldn’t stop herself any more than she could cease wringing her hands. All along the hallway, doors slammed and footsteps came running down the passage.

Within moments other students had gathered in her doorway, and one of her friends gripped her arm with a shaking hand and pointed a trembling finger toward the wall. Her eyes widened in shock at what she saw. Then she fainted into her friend’s arms.

On the wall above her bed, written in her roommate’s blood, were the words: “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?”

Spooky Maryland: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore, retold by S.E. Schlosser

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Axe Murder Hollow ~ S.E.Schlosser

PA Spooky talesSusan and Ned were driving through a wooded empty section of highway. Lightning flashed, thunder roared, the sky went dark in the torrential downpour.

“We’d better stop,” said Susan.

Ned nodded his head in agreement. He stepped on the brake, and suddenly the car started to slide on the slick pavement. They plunged off the road and slid to a halt at the bottom of an incline.

Pale and shaking, Ned quickly turned to check if Susan was all right.  When she nodded, Ned relaxed and looked through the rain soaked windows.

“I’m going to see how bad it is,” he told Susan, and when out into the storm. She saw his blurry figure in the headlight, walking around the front of the car. A moment later, he jumped in beside her, soaking wet.

“The car’s not badly damaged, but we’re wheel-deep in mud,” he said. “I’m going to have to go for help.”

Susan swallowed nervously. There would be no quick rescue here. He told her to turn off the headlights and lock the doors until he returned.

Axe Murder Hollow. Although Ned hadn’t said the name aloud, they both knew what he had been thinking when he told her to lock the car.  This was the place where a man had once taken an axe and hacked his wife to death in a jealous rage over an alleged affair. Supposedly, the axe-wielding spirit of the husband continued to haunt this section of the road.

Outside the car, Susan heard a shriek, a loud thump, and a strange gurgling noise. But she couldn’t see anything in the darkness.

Frightened, she shrank down into her seat. She sat in silence for a while, and then she noticed another sound.  Bump. Bump. Bump.  It was a soft sound, like something being blown by the wind.

Suddenly, the car was illuminated by a bright light.  An official sounding voice told her to get out of the car. Ned must have found a police officer.  Susan unlocked the door and stepped out of the car.  As her eyes adjusted to the bright light, she saw it.

Hanging by his feet from the tree next to the car was the dead body of Ned.  His bloody throat had been cut so deeply that he was nearly decapitated. The wind swung his corpse back and forth so that it thumped against the tree. Bump. Bump. Bump.

Susan screamed and ran toward the voice and the light. As she drew close, she realized the light was not coming from a flashlight. Standing there was the glowing figure of a man with a smile on his face and a large, solid, and definitely real axe in his hands. She backed away from the glowing figure until she bumped into the car.

“Playing around when my back was turned,” the ghost whispered, stroking the sharp blade of the axe with his fingers. “You’ve been very naughty.”

The last thing she saw was the glint of the axe blade in the eerie, incandescent light.

Spooky Pennsylvania: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore, retold by S.E. Schlosser

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The Handshake ~ S.E. Schlosser

NC Spooky TalesPolly was the sweetest, prettiest girl in Goldsboro, yes sir.  All the local boys were chasing her, and quite a number of the fellows from the surrounding countryside were too.  All the girls were jealous of Polly ‘cause they didn’t have no sweethearts to take them to the local dances.  They all wanted Polly to choose her man so things could go back to normal.  But Polly was picky.  None of the local boys suited her, and neither did the fellows from the back country.

Then one day, George Dean came home from university, and Polly was smitten.  Polly completely dropped all her other beaus when George came courting, and it wasn’t long before George proposed and Polly accepted.

Polly started making preparations for the wedding and shopping for items to fill her new home.   George wasn’t too interested in all the fripperies and wedding details.  He left the womenfolk to get on with it and started spending time down at the pool hall with some of his buddies.  And that’s where he met Helene, the owner’s saucy daughter.  She had bold black eyes and ruby red lips, and a bad-girl air that fascinated George.  He spent more and more time at the pool hall, and less and less time with Polly, who finally noticed in spite of all the hustle and bustle.

Of course, Polly was furious.  She immediately  confronted George with the story, and he couldn’t deny it.  Suddenly, George had to toe the mark.  His pool-hall visits were over, and he spent every free hour he wasn’t at work by her side.  That didn’t sit well with George, but his family backed Polly up, so he  went along with it.

The day of the wedding dawned clear and bright.  The guests filled the sanctuary, and the pastor and the best man waited patiently in the ante-chamber for the arrival of the groom.  But George didn’t come.  Eventually, they went searching for the missing bridegroom, and found out he’d left town with Helene an hour before the wedding.  With dread, Polly’s mother went to tell her daughter what had happened.  Polly, all bright and shining and lovely in her long white dress and soft wedding veil, turned pale when her mother broke the news.  Then she stiffened, grabbing her left arm as a sudden pain ripped through it.   She was dead from a massive heart attack long before she hit the floor.

A few days later, Polly was buried in the churchyard, still wearing her white wedding dress and veil.  The whole town came to the funeral and wept at the passing of such a beautiful young girl.   George and Helene, who had spent the week happily honeymooning in the Outer Banks, arrived home at the very moment that the black-clad crowd exited the churchyard.  Their arrival caused a commotion.  The minister had to pull Polly’s father off George before he killed him.  And both George and Helene’s family disowned the couple right there in the street in front of everyone.  The couple fled town in disgrace.

Time passed, and eventually the scandal was forgotten.  Until the day George’s father passed away.  It was rumored that he was to be buried in the local churchyard just a few plots away from the girl who had almost become his daughter.  Suddenly, the story of Polly’s jilting was revived and folks wondered aloud if George would dare attend his father’s funeral.  But George was too clever for them.  He waited at an inn outside of town until it was dark, and then he went to the churchyard to pay his last respects to his father.

As he unburdened himself at his father’s graveside, George heard a sweet female voice calling his name.  “George.  Sweetheart.”  George looked up in sudden hope.  Was that his mother, come to forgive him?  Then he saw, rising up from a grassy mound under a spreading oak tree, a figure in a long white gown and a soft veil.  Her eyes and her lips were yellow flames beneath the veil, and the rotted wedding dress glowed with a white-yellow light.  It was Polly.

George’s body stiffened, shudders of fear coursing up and down his arms and legs.  He put a shaking hand to his mouth and staggered backward, the other hand outstretched out ward off the specter floating toward him.  The spectral bride cackled with angry laughter and swooped forward until its hand closed over George’s outstretched one in a terrible parody of a handshake.  The grip of the spectral bride was so cold it burned the skin, and so hard that the bones crunched as it squeezed.  “Come along into the church, George,” the glowing bride whispered.  Through the veil, George could see maggots crawling in and out of Polly’s flaming eye sockets.

“Nooo!  Polly, no!”  George screamed in terror, but he could not wrench his hand free.  The ghost dragged him step by halting step toward the front door of the church.  His hand was a red-hot agony of pain, though the rest of his body was shaking with cold.

“No!” George gave a final cry of despair and wrenched again at his hand.  And suddenly, he was free.  The spectral bride gave a roar of rage as George ran pell-mell down the church lane and out into the street.

“You’re mine, George Dean!  If not in this world, than in the next,” the spectral bride howled after him.

By the time George reached his room, the fiery pain in his hand and arm was seeping through his entire body.  He rang desperately for the house maid and begged her to send for a doctor.  Then he fell into bed and stared at his hand, which was black and withered, as if it had been scorched long ago by a fire.  Black and red streaks were climbing up his arm so fast he could almost see them move.

George was unconscious when the doctor arrived, and the swelling was already extending into his chest and neck.  There was nothing the physician could do.  The injury was too severe and had spread too far.  Within two days, George was dead.   Polly had gotten her man at last.

Spooky North Carolina: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore, retold by S.E. Schlosser.

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My Ghost ~ Robert Graves

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I held a poor opinion of myself
When young, but never bettered my opinion
(Even by comparison)
Of all my fellow-fools at school or college.

Passage of years induced a tolerance,
Even a near-affection, for myself –
Which, when you fell in love with me, amounted
(Though with my tongue kept resolutely tied)
To little short of pride.

Pride brought its punishment: thus to be haunted
By my own ghost whom, much to my disquiet,
All would-be friends and open enemies
Boldly identified and certified
As me, including him in anecdotal
Autobiographies.

Love, should you meet him in the newspapers
In planes, on trains, or at large get-togethers,
I charge you, disregard his foolish capers;
Silence him with a cold unwinking stare
Where he sits opposite you at table
And let all present watch amazed, remarking
On how little you care.

Robert Graves

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Review: Photographs: A Journey Through Space, Time, and More ~ Peter Lean

PhotographsWhat is the connection between an old photograph, a planet with three moons, four friends travelling back home from Cornwall, and the number eleven?

And what ties together a battle on the lunar surface two thousand years from now, a Russian time traveler, and Napoleon?

Photographs is a journey through space and time by which the reader has the opportunity to remember that real life and fiction are truly not that far apart.

5 Thumbs-UpThis novella is a compilation of short stories… or is it?  The answer to this question lies in the hands of the reader as they progress through the stories that cover topics as diverse as dreams, choices, existence and time travel.  This book covers all these topics and more, and the Author skilfully tackles any questions that they cause by challenging the reader to stretch their mind and look at them from an angle they may not have considered before.

As with all short stories that only cover 20-30 pages, there isn’t enough time in any of them to develop any of the characters to a great degree but this isn’t an issue in these stories, as the Author manages to breathe so much life in the few pages allocated to each that the reader is drawn to the characters and, in some cases is even made to feel something for them, in the short time they share with them.  This shows great writing skill and an ability to engage the reader on the part of the Author.

I know it is clichéd to say that to write a review on this book would be hard without giving away spoilers or including excerpts, but that is truly the case here; this collection of cleverly interlaced stories will have the reader questioning their perception of what is reality and what is fiction.  The Author deftly ties everything together in a way that makes the reader think.  This is definitely a unique book filled with unique stories, despite the confusion that the settings can sometimes cause as the reader is taken from one unfamiliar place to another.

I would highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys a good sci-fi, time travel, and parallel universe read that is not too bogged down with minutiae.

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Review: Murder Below Montparnasse (Aimee Leduc Investigations #13) ~ Cara Black

MontparnasseWhen Aimée’s long-term partner and best friend Rene leaves their detective agency for a new job in Silicon Valley, Aimée knows she can handle the extra workload. At least, that what she tells herself. Repeatedly.

But all bets are off when Yuri Volodya, a mysterious old Russian man, hires Aimée to protect a painting. By the time she gets to his Montparnasse atelier, the precious painting has already been stolen, leaving Aimée smelling a rat. The next day, Yuri is found tortured to death in his kitchen. To top it all off, it looks like Aimée isn’t the only one looking for the painting. Some very dangerous people are threatening her and her coworkers, and witnesses are dropping like flies. Now Aimée has to find the painting, stop her attackers, and figure out what her long-missing mother, who is on Interpol’s most wanted list, has to do with all this—fingers crossed she wasn’t Yuri’s murderer, despite clues pointing in that direction.

Obviously, Rene doesn’t need to worry. Aimee has things under control.

4 Thumbs-UpI didn’t realise until I had finished reading this book that it’s actually number 13 in a long series centred around the main protagonist Aimee Leduc; and now I’ve read this one I will be visiting some of the others in the series to see if they live up to this novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way the main protagonist was written; she is intelligent, creative, has a certain effortless French chic and is filled with vitality, oh and did I mention she zips around Paris on a bright pink version of my favourite mode of transport – the Vespa.  This character is so well-rounded and developed that it makes it easy for the reader to connect with them and actually enjoy reading about them as they move from one chapter to the next. However, she is not perfect and spends this novel blundering from one situation to the next, and has to be the most incompetent Private Detective in fiction.  But the incompetence makes her endearing in an odd sort of way, and there are certain personality traits that appear that make the reader wonder if there might be a deeper reasoning for her actions and, sometimes thoughtlessness, in the way she treats those around her. The ‘life’ that the Author has written into their main character is not just served for them however, all the characters are filled with the same love for life and energy that she gives the main; this is one of the reasons anyone picking up this series this far into it, would want to go back and read the earlier books, to gain more knowledge and understanding of the players by reading their backstories.  Although this book worked well for me as a standalone novel, I will be reading others from earlier in the series to see if I can gain anymore insight into the characters.

The insiders’ background view to life in Paris is very well detailed in this novel ranging from the busy street cafes, which are a big part of life in this city, to the hidden gems you can often discover as you wander off the beaten track; the surprise gardens, hidden statues and beautifully ornate buildings.  Through their descriptions, the Author really brings this city to life and the reader can almost hear the mix of French and other languages coming out of the pages as they read.  The plot can be slow at times, but I felt that this was a deliberate move on the part of the Author to fit in with the Parisian, and European, way of life; nothing is rushed and time is taken over everything.  The speed the storyline moved made this book, for me, one to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace instead of turning the pages quickly in order to keep up with the action.

I would recommend this book to people who enjoy novels set in France, particularly Paris; lovers of the mystery genre and anyone who is looking for a leisurely but enjoyable read.

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