Cover Reveal and Book Excerpt—The Blood She Wore

The Blood She Wore (T)

Exciting news! The Blood She Wore, Book Three in the Sarah Greene Mysteries series is scheduled for publication on November 2, 2020. In the meantime, check out the cover. I’ve also included a book excerpt.

If you’ve been reading the series, you know that Dos Santos hasn’t been faring too well lately. Sarah and Carter are doing their best to combat the insidious evil that’s consuming the town. But as soon as they put one bad thing to rest, more pop up. Don’t worry. The good guys still have some tricks up their sleeves.

You can find the book description and excerpt below. Peace and love.

Book Description

The discovery of a cursed object drives Sarah Greene to uncover the secret of why the town’s founder, John Dos Santos, turned to the demonic. Meanwhile, the streets are plagued by a wave of senseless violence at the hands of strangers. And these ritualistic killings point to The Darkness. After everything that’s happened, Sarah finally knows her destiny. She must use her psychic ability to stop the evil from spreading. As she gets closer to the truth, she discovers a connection to John that centers around 1925, the year the founder died. More unnerving is the vision of his housekeeper’s ghost, covered in blood.

Book Excerpt

Sarah Greene’s eyes fluttered open, and she realized she was dressed, lying on top of the duvet. The dream had been a bad one. With a heaviness in her chest, she turned, hoping to find Joe. But all she saw was Gary, curled up in a ball next to her. What time was it? She reached over and picked up her Apple watch from the nightstand. Seven-thirty.

“Alyssa,” she said, groaning. “I need you.”

Clumsily pressing the wrinkles from her clothes, she wandered into the kitchen, where she found her ex-husband. He was sitting at the counter, drinking coffee and looking at his phone. When he heard her come in, Joe looked up.

“Hey,” he said.

“Morning.”

Sarah grabbed a cup and poured coffee for herself. She took a seat next to him, unsure what to do or say. After he had told her about the accident with the girl all those years ago, he seemed to shut down. It was as if everything in his life had come undone, and he was finished. She remembered trying to kiss him. He’d withdrawn so much into himself, she was unable to get through. And so, feeling lonesome, she fell asleep next to him.

She reached out her hands and took his. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.” He stood and rinsed out his cup in the sink. “I have to meet Manny. I’ll see you tonight.”

“Joe?” He was about to leave the room, then stopped. “You’re a good man—a good human being. And I love you.”

“I’ll see you,” he said.

Sarah listened as the front door opened and closed. Gary trotted in and sat in front of her, his eyes squishy. She picked him up and set him on her lap. He began to purr. She wished she could see her therapist, but the woman was out of the country on vacation.

Drinking coffee, Sarah thought about their weekend away. It had been wonderful. Or had it? She tried recalling how Joe had acted in Half Moon Bay. Honestly, she’d had no inkling that something this bad was bothering him. Was he acting? Had their trip been his way of telling her goodbye? Stop being dramatic. He’s hurting, that’s all. Her thoughts drifted back to the nightmare.

 

Sarah stood before a huge, rambling mansion surrounded by pine trees. A terrible place filled with rage, it glowed a ghastly yellow in the moonlight. She had never seen this house before and wondered if it really existed.

As she stood there in the darkness, a girl screamed. Time sped up.

An invisible force pulled Sarah through the walls and into the house. She found herself at the base of a staircase.

An imposing woman stood on the landing. She wore a black beaded flapper gown. And in her hair, there was a silver filigree comb. Dismissively, she looked past Sarah at someone else and laughed.

“You know better than to come up here,” she said.

Somewhere, the girl screamed again. Bored, the woman glanced over her shoulder.

She began descending the stairs. As she did, she kicked something. It was a wooden spool of bright red thread. Tumbling down, it unraveled and eventually stopped at Sarah’s feet.

When she had reached the bottom of the stairs, the woman stood still, looking at Sarah this time. Sarah felt her neck, searching for her St. Michael medal. But it was gone.

“God won’t help you,” the woman said.

Her voice cut through Sarah’s brain like a hacksaw. Then, the woman’s eyes turned a liquid black.

 

Though disturbing, the nightmare hadn’t turned Sarah into a gibbering mess. She had almost died at Devil’s Bluff, and so much had happened since. But she had survived. What she felt now wasn’t fear—it was anger. Fury at the rampant evil that had put so many people in danger and had led to an innocent young woman’s death.

“God won’t help me?” she said, her tone mocking and defiant. “Just watch.”

As if in response, something outside made a loud thud, alerting the cat. He maowed nervously as Sarah set him on the floor. She went to the front door and listened. Then, she squinted through the peephole. The street was empty except for her dark green trash cans on the sidewalk.

Across the way, her neighbor, a heavyset old woman wearing a faded housecoat, kicked a plastic recycling box toward the curb. Sarah opened the door. The first thing she saw was the bright red smear across the door. She covered her mouth.

A dead, gray animal, mutilated beyond recognition, lay on her mat. A cat? The eyes and tongue had been cut out, and it was gutted. The blood covering its fur looked fresh. She gazed toward the street. The old woman was nowhere in sight.

She felt something brush up against her leg. Gary. Shooing him back, she closed the door. She stood there with her arms crossed and thought of calling Joe. No, this was something she needed to deal with.

“So, this is how we’re playing?” she said.

Gathering cleaning supplies, a garbage bag, and a hose, Sarah made a mental note to replace the ruined welcome mat.

* * *

Carter Wittgenstein was late. She pulled her white MINI Cooper into the lot behind The Cracked Pot and parked next to the catering van. One of the other servers—Sherrie—had texted her last minute, asking if Carter could cover her breakfast shift; her kid was sick.

After the dream she’d had the previous night, the last thing the girl wanted was to serve food to a bunch of chatty customers. But Sherrie had always been nice to her. The single mother was the one who had trained Carter when she first started. So, she agreed.

Hurrying in through the back, she realized she wouldn’t have time to fix her makeup. The line cooks grinned when they saw her pass by. One of them said something to the others.

“Escapó de Isla de las Muñecas.”

Ignoring their laughter, she continued into the bathroom to wash her hands. Taking a quick look in the mirror, she brushed back her short black hair, pasted on a plastic smile, and returned to the kitchen. She marched up to the wise-cracking line cook and pointed a finger at him.

“If you’re not careful, Hector, I’ll send you to the Island of the Dolls. And by the way, they hate short men.”

Satisfied, she walked away. The line cook looked sheepishly at the others while they jeered him.

Carter entered the restaurant area. Another server, loaded down with plates, nodded toward the counter where Tim Whatley sat, brooding. The last time she had seen him, he had a moustache. Now, he was clean shaven.

Poor Tim. Carter knew how he felt, having witnessed something unexplainable. All of it, in fact, had made no sense. Not to a cop who had been trained to look at facts and evidence. Though he hadn’t told her what he’d seen that night at the women’s shelter, she was certain it was bad.

“Have you decided?” she said.

“No. I still don’t know if what I saw was real.”

Carter stifled a laugh. “I mean, about breakfast.”

“Oh. Um, bacon and eggs over easy.”

“Toast?”

“I guess.”

She felt sorry for him. Tim was around her age. When she had first met him, he seemed confident. And happy. Now, he was sullen and resistant to making eye contact. She hoped he wasn’t suffering from depression—a condition she was all too familiar with.

“I’ll make sure you get extra bacon,” she said, and walked away to put in his order.

He thought again about that awful night. Looking up at the ceiling and finding Ana Robles on her hands and knees, naked, her head twisted all the way around so she could see him better. And her tongue, impossibly long and snake-like. Take me now, cop, she had said.

In a few minutes, Carter returned with Tim’s food, warning him about the hot plate.

“Can I ask you a question?” He leaned forward and spoke softly. “These things I saw. Is this what it’s like for you and Sarah?”

Carter didn’t know what to say. For most of her life, she had been keenly aware of the paranormal. At some point, she’d accepted that this was how she and others like her—and Sarah—saw the world. It was hard for her to imagine what it felt like not seeing the things that were always lurking in the shadows and in dark dreams.

The leering face of the demoniac she had killed materialized in front of her eyes, reminding her of her nightmare. To dispel it, she looked toward the windows and focused on the normal traffic outside. When her eyes met Tim’s again, she saw that he was desperate for an answer.

“It’s different for us,” she said. “We see things all the time. What’s weird is, now other people are starting to see them.”

“Is something bad happening in Dos Santos?”

She wanted to tell him everything. About The Darkness and the Guardian sworn to defeat it. Something was coming—something final. And she was scared. But she couldn’t risk it. In his current state, the truth could send the young cop over the edge.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I wish Harlan was around.” Shit, did I say that out loud?

“What do you mean?”

“It’s just that he’s been really nice to me and… Forget it. I’m being stupid.”

Behind her, the call bell rang. “Sorry, I need to get back to work.”

He grabbed her hand. “Is it true you were the one who killed that creepy dude? It was self-defense, right?”

“I…” Her chest ached. “I didn’t do anything.”

She left him and, hurrying through the kitchen, ran out the back door and stood in the parking lot. It was hard to catch her breath. So many times, she’d found herself out here, smoking.

Desperate for a cigarette, she remembered when Sarah had followed her, a stranger asking about The Darkness. And Carter pretending she didn’t know what the loopy lady was talking about. The dream came back to her full on.

 

Carter stood in the street again at night. The demoniac with the yellow-spiked hair laughed in that irritating high voice.

She grabbed the back of his neck and pulled him close. His skin felt damp and greasy.

Filled with a rage she had no idea was in her, she pressed the St. Benedict medal to his forehead until his head burst into a cold blue fire. She watched as he fell to his knees on the wet asphalt.

At that moment, she told herself she destroyed him only because she knew he would’ve killed Sarah and her.

 

Taking a calming breath, Carter knew what she would do now. Like the other horrible thing that happened when she was thirteen, she would push the events of that night way down deep. And she would lock them up there forever—where they could scream all they wanted. She was in control. And she would get on with her life.

2020 Indie Book Awards Press Release

NextGenerationIndieBookAwards2
Next Generation Indie Book Awards is the world’s largest book awards program for independent publishers and self-published authors

The Girl in the Mirror: A Sarah Greene Supernatural Mystery by Steven Ramirez has been named by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group as one of the best indie books of 2020.

Steven Ramirez’s book is the winner of the Horror category in the 2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the world’s largest book awards program for independent publishers and self-published authors. The winners and finalists will be honored June 26 in an online event which will stream live on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NextGenerationIndieBookAwards at 8:00 pm (Eastern Time) and 5:00 pm (Pacific Time).

2020 is the 13th year of the not-for-profit book awards program. Outskirts Press, an independent book publisher which provides services for self-publishing authors, was a Silver Sponsor of this year’s awards.

The Next Generation Indie Book Awards are judged by leaders of the indie book publishing industry, including many with long careers at major publishing houses. Their love of a great read and experience in the publishing arena identify books deserving a wider audience.

In an article at CNN.com titled If it’s cool, creative, and different, it’s indie, journalist Catherine Andrews wrote: “The term ‘indie’ traditionally refers to independent art – music, film, literature or anything that fits under the broad banner of culture – created outside of the mainstream and without corporate financing.” That definition remains true for book publishing.

Independent book publishing companies are independent of the major conglomerates dominating the book publishing industry. Indies include small presses, larger independent publishers, university presses, e-book publishers, and self-published authors.

According to Catherine Goulet, Founder and Co-Chair of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, “Like other independent artists, many indie book publishers face challenges that the industry giants don’t experience. The indies have to work much harder to get their best books into readers’ hands.”

“Authors and publishers who compete in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards are serious about promoting their books,” adds Goulet. “They aim to stand out from the crowd of millions of books in print.”

According to an October 2019 report by Bowker, publisher of the Books in Print database, the number of titles self-published in the United States grew to over 1.6 million in 2018, an increase of 40% over the previous year. “This trend is likely to continue as the quality of many self-published works now rivals that of traditionally published titles,” according to the report.

Worldwide, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates more than 2.6 million books are now being published in a single year.

To help indie authors and publishers reach a wider audience, the top 70 books in the 2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards will be reviewed by New York literary agent Marilyn Allen of Allen O’Shea Literary Agency, or one of Ms. Allen’s co-agents, for possible representation in areas such as: distribution, foreign rights, film rights, and other rights.

The awards will be presented on June 26 in an online event which will stream live on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NextGenerationIndieBookAwards at 8:00 pm (Eastern Time) and 5:00 pm (Pacific Time).

This year’s awards event was originally planned to take place at Chicago’s Newberry Library, to coincide with the American Library Association Annual Conference, but was moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other prize-winning books in the 2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards include:

Top Non-Fiction Books

First Place Winner ($1,500 Prize)

Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks, by QT Luong (Terra Galleria Press)

Second Place Winner ($750 Prize)

The Chimpanzee Chronicles: Stories of Heartbreak and Hope from Behind the Bars, by Debra Rosenman (Wild Soul Press)

Third Place Winner ($500 Prize)

Feast of the Seven Fishes: A Brooklyn Italian’s Recipes Celebrating Food and Family, by Daniel Paterna (powerHouse Books)

Top Fiction Books

First Place Winner ($1,500 Prize)

Lucky-Child: The Secret, by Dr. Chelinay Gates aka Malardy (Tellwell Publications)

Second Place Winner ($750 Prize)

Eve of Snows, by L. James Rice (Twelfth Star Publishing)

Third Place Winner ($500 Prize)

Marlon MacDoogle’s Magical Night, by Sean Covel and Diego Velasquez (Baby Buddha Publishing)

Other Winners

Top books were named as winners and finalists in over 70 publishing categories ranging from Action/Adventure to Young Author.

A complete list of 2020 winners and finalists is available at the Next Generation Indie Book Awards website at indiebookawards.com.

Where to Watch the 2020 Book Awards Event

This year’s event will be streamed live online and the public is welcome to watch. To see the 2020 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Presentation, visit https://www.facebook.com/NextGenerationIndieBookAwards at 8:00 pm (Eastern Time) and 5:00 pm (Pacific Time) on Friday, June 26.

Book Review—Cades Cove: The Curse of Allie Mae

Cades Cove Cover

Okay, I’ll just say it. Cades Cove: The Curse of Allie Mae, by Aiden James, is one mother of a scary book. Immediately, I became caught up in the story of a man with questionable judgment who, through a seemingly innocuous act, stumbles into a world of sheer mayhem. As a result, he puts not only himself but his family in danger. What starts out as the innocent taking of a souvenir from a magical vacation spot soon turns into an unrelenting reign of terror conducted by the vengeful ghost of a dead girl.

This kind of story has been told countless times. In lesser hands, it might have been trite. But the author has taken great pains to create a rich world of Appalachian and Native American folklore that lends an incredible depth to the haunting tale of a young Tennessee girl wronged in another century. I particularly enjoyed James’s meticulous description of a Sioux ritual meant to protect the protagonist, David Hobbs, and his family.

If you enjoy novels that harken back to an earlier, less civilized time in America and feature nail-biting scenes of supernatural horror, then I suggest you read Cades Cove: The Curse of Allie Mae. It will be well worth the nightmares.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

Buried deep in a ravine in the picturesque Smoky Mountains is a very dark secret.

David Hobbs, vacationing with his wife Miriam, inadvertently stumbles upon a small cloth ‘keepsake’ bag and a broken tooth. A human tooth. Miriam begs David to hand the bag and tooth over to park officials, but he ignores his wife’s pleas and secretly keeps the ‘harmless’ items. The action opens a doorway that had been closed for nearly a hundred years and unleashes hell on earth, or at least hell in the lives of David and Miriam.

Following the brutal murder of his best friend in Denver, and unprovoked attack on his oldest son, David desperately seeks to understand why a mysterious teenage girl has chosen to terrorize him and the males closest to him. To prevent further devastation to his family and end the wanton bloodshed, he returns to the enchanted hills of eastern Tennessee, where a terrible truth awaits discovery… one that forces him to face the consequences for the unpaid sins of his ancestors.

Where to Buy

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA

More Reviews

Did you enjoy this review? Check out my other reviews here.

Check Out the House of the Shrieking Woman Book Trailer!

 

House of the Shrieking Woman, Book 2 in the Sarah Greene Mysteries series, comes out on Saturday. It’s still on sale as a preorder for 99 cents, though. So, if you were planning to get it anyway, now’s the time. Click here.

House of the Shrieking Woman Cover (3D M)

“Pitting her nascent investigative skills against a sinister power that thrives in places of pain and suffering, the main character makes this quick thriller hard to put down. Ramirez is a master of building tension when the story most calls for it, making House of the Shrieking Woman a thrillingly dark slice of suspense.” —Self-Publishing Review

Evil is as evil does.

Despite the trauma she suffered after uncovering the deadly secret behind a house’s dark, violent past, Sarah Greene agrees to investigate a series of disturbing incidents at a women’s shelter. These events began with the arrival of a young Guatemalan woman—a troubled victim of domestic abuse. The frightening episodes point to a demonic force. And Sarah suspects the entity is connected to a powerful evil infesting Dos Santos—an insidious presence known as The Darkness.

Cover Reveal and Free Chapter—House of the Shrieking Woman

House of the Shrieking Woman Cover

I realize we are in holidays, but please take a moment to check out the cover of my newest novel, House of the Shrieking Woman. This is the second book in the Sarah Greene Mysteries series, scheduled for publication in early 2020. And to make December even sweeter, I’m also including a free chapter. Just scroll down to read it.

Enjoy this little taste of House of the Shrieking Woman. Peace and love.

Book Description

Despite the trauma she suffered after uncovering the deadly secret behind a house’s dark, violent past, Sarah Greene agrees to investigate a series of disturbing incidents at a women’s shelter. These events began with the arrival of a young Guatemalan woman—a troubled victim of domestic abuse. The frightening episodes point to a demonic force. And Sarah suspects the entity is connected to a powerful evil infesting Dos Santos—an insidious presence known as The Darkness.

Chapter One

January, 2011. It’s an off-day. Laurel Diamanté looked out the window of her four-hundred-dollar-a-week hotel room just off Pioneer Square. Normally at this time of year, the pelting rain would drive the homeless deeper into the dark recesses and under-explored burrows of Seattle, occasionally creating a comical juxtaposition of awkwardness during one of the city’s famed underground tours. But today was different. The sky was dense, an unrelenting gray blanket that covered the city to keep in the cold. It was a good day, Laurel decided as she gathered up her things and left her dingy rooms for the last time.

The elevator was out of service again. The hotness at the back of her neck made her curse as she headed for the emergency exit. Down, down she went, struggling to keep her purse strap from sliding off the smooth shoulder of her waterproof raincoat as she carried the neatly wrapped present in both hands. Fortunately, it was only two flights.

When she emerged, she found the usual malingerers infesting the lobby. Unbathed old men mostly, single and immune from the foul weather that seeped in whenever anyone entered the building. Could they be of some use? No. Too weak. Or drunk. There were plenty of other good candidates. Taking a last look at the forlorn, toothless denizens, she turned sharply and headed for the front desk to pay her bill.

“Sorry to see you go,” the man with the lopsided haircut said. “That’ll be four hundred even. Did you take anything out of the honor bar?”

“No.” She counted out four crisp one-hundred-dollar bills. “I don’t drink, and I don’t eat snacks.”

“Okay.” He handed her a receipt, along with a card with a website address on it. “If you wouldn’t mind, could you fill out a survey online? Even better, could you post a Yelp review?”

“Sure thing.”

She checked her watch. She still needed to get gas before heading to the office. The man at the front desk said goodbye, but she ignored him and walked briskly toward the door that led to the parking structure. She spotted an ashtray stand next to the doorway and deposited the card on top of a pile of yellowed, soggy butts.

One of Laurel’s tires was low. As she unlocked her car door, she hoped it wasn’t punctured. She would check it at the gas station. The heat radiating in her neck had transformed into a familiar dull throbbing at her temples as she placed the present on the passenger seat next to her purse and climbed in. Her bags were already in the trunk, along with everything else she needed. Nothing left to do now but get on the road.

It wasn’t long before she’d gassed up her car and checked the tire pressure. Nothing was wrong with the car. A woman dressed in active wear had just gotten into her vehicle as Laurel started to pull out. She shot in front of Laurel, causing her to slam on her brakes. The other woman stopped, too. Infuriated, Laurel got out and marched up to the driver’s side window.

“I’m sorry,” the woman said.

She tried to smile. But when she saw the strange, threatening look on Laurel’s face, she averted her eyes and reached for the switch to raise her window.

“You could get killed driving like that,” Laurel said in a voice that was not her own. Though she wore a smile, her expression was merciless.

“I… I didn’t mean to…”

“Don’t worry. I’m not going to harm you. You should be more careful.”

“Yes,” the other woman said in a meek voice.

“Have a nice day.”

As Laurel stepped back, the flustered woman put her car in gear and shot out of the gas station, barely missing a homeless man with a gimpy leg.

“We should all have a nice day,” Laurel said.

 

* * *

 

The day had gone surprisingly quickly, and Laurel looked forward to getting things underway. Her friend of six months was leaving the Catholic social services agency, Mary’s Gift, and they were going out to celebrate. Laurel had given her the present at lunch, a porcelain figure of a cocker spaniel. Her friend loved dogs but was allergic. If nothing else, the figurine had made her smile.

The plan was for Laurel to follow her friend to her house in Beacon Hill and drive the two of them to dinner. When they left a little after five, the sky was already black, and it was raining hard. Though it seemed to rain constantly in Seattle, people had never learned how to drive safely. There was always some idiot who thought he could speed down Pike Street toward the fish market. The unexpected steepness of the grade would get the best of him, and there would be the inevitable accident. Laurel planned to be extra careful.

“I’m starving,” her friend said as they got onto the I-90 toward Bellevue.

“Me, too.”

“I really appreciate you driving, Laurel. But did we really have to go so far for dinner?”

“It’s not that far. And I think you’re going to love the restaurant. So, what are your plans once you get to Phoenix?”

“I think I might take a few months off before looking for work.”

“I really will miss you, you know. But I understand. It’s this stupid weather.”

As if to underscore the remark, the sky lit up with tentacles of white crackling lightning. The inevitable thunder followed.

“Maybe I should go to Arizona, too,” Laurel said.

Her friend smiled. “That would be lovely. I was just getting to know you.”

Surprisingly, it took only fifteen minutes to get across the floating bridge. Laurel had already checked the directions and made her way easily to downtown Bellevue. On Bellevue Way NE, she spotted the restaurant and, luckily, found parking on the street.

“This place is beautiful,” her friend said as they entered.

“I knew you’d like it.”

Soon, they were seated. By the time her friend had returned from the restroom, their drinks were standing untouched on the table. Laurel raised her iced tea and toasted her friend, who had decided to treat herself to a martini since she wasn’t driving.

“I wish you all the happiness in the world,” Laurel said.

By the time the salads arrived, Laurel’s friend felt unwell. She thought she should go back to the restroom and splash cold water on her face. But when she tried standing, she became dizzy.

“Oh, dear,” Laurel said. “Was the martini too strong?”

“I feel so strange.”

A concerned restaurant manager came over. “Is there anything I can do?”

“My friend isn’t feeling well. Can you help me get her to our car?”

He and Laurel pulled the other woman to her feet.

“Oh, the bill,” Laurel said.

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Thank you.”

Outside, the rain was coming down in sheets. Laurel and the manager helped the other woman into the car as a busboy held an impossibly large umbrella over the three of them. Laurel thanked them and drove off, peering through the windshield to find her way to the I-90 south. Blindly, she grabbed a fresh water bottle and handed it to her friend.

“Here, drink this. You’re probably dehydrated.”

“You’re such a good friend,” the woman said.

 

* * *

 

Within hours, Laurel had maneuvered her car down a treacherous dark road and found the small parking lot in Mt. Ranier National Park. The rain had abated; a good sign. She parked and looked over at her friend, who was unconscious. Turning around, she reached for her purse on the backseat and removed the martini glass she’d stolen from the restaurant. In all the confusion, no one had missed it.

She got out and stood facing the public restrooms. It was quiet except for the howl of a sharp wind through the trees, and bitterly cold. She would have to work quickly. She dropped the glass and crushed it with her foot, destroying all evidence of the Ambien she’d used to incapacitate the victim.

She opened the trunk. On top of her suitcases lay a folded plastic tarp and a coil of yellow nylon rope. Next to those were a neatly folded bundle of heavy clothing and a pair of waterproof hiking boots. She took out the tarp and the rope and laid them on the ground next to the car’s passenger side. Grabbing the clothes, she went into the restroom to change.

Taking her time, Laurel opened the passenger door and turned the unconscious woman until her back faced the door and hooked her arms under the other’s so she could drag her out. As she did so, the woman groaned. Laurel laid her on the tarp and tied it up at the feet. To make things easier for the short trip to the grave, she fashioned a noose and place it around the victim’s neck.

Now came the hard part. She would have to haul the body down the trail about a mile. She’d estimated it would take her less than an hour. Taking a quick look around her, she locked up the vehicle, draped the nylon rope over her shoulder and, like a logger, dragged the woman by the neck.

As she made her way slowly, she found that the tarp left a noticeable trail, as if some giant snake were slithering through the forest. She stopped and looked up at the sky. Clouds were moving in again. Soon it would rain, washing away all the evidence.

“Why, Laurel?” she thought she heard the woman say.

As she struggled over rocks, and mud that in places was inches thick, she decided to answer the imagined question. Why indeed. Because it was all part of the plan. His plan. And she’d been promised a great reward. To know the unknowable. To lord it over the vermin that were doing nothing more than occupying space.

To be like a god.

Laurel was sweating, despite the cold. Ignoring the vice-like pain in her head, she continued on. Soon.

Eventually, she saw it up ahead—a tree trunk, its top bent completely over and back into the earth, forming a huge upside-down U. Opposite that, she knew, was a hollow.

Stopping to catch her breath, she looked around her as if someone might be spying. She dragged the woman’s body up to the partially obscured entrance. Pausing to look at the sky, she climbed through, turned around, and pulled the body in the rest of the way.

She’d already dug the grave the previous night. The shovel lay where she’d left it. The hole was partially filled with rainwater. No matter. Only one thing left to do before disposing of the evidence. She picked up the shovel. Standing over the woman’s body, she unrolled the tarp, exposing the head. Livid rope burns circumscribed the aged neck. The victim’s eyes were bulging from a lack of oxygen. By all rights, she should be dead.

But she wasn’t.

Her eyes searched Laurel’s face for a shred of mercy. But there was none to be found.

“This is for the best,” Laurel said.

Straightening, she raised the shovel over her head and, grunting, brought it down hard on the woman’s head. Through a wet, crunching noise, she thought she heard the woman mewling like an injured animal. Reveling in the victim’s suffering, she repeated the action two more times. When she was sure her friend was dead, she went about burying the body.

As she emerged from the hollow, flushed with exertion and sweating under her heavy clothing, a wolf bayed somewhere far off. Everything was happening according to plan. Easy peasy.

Her work here was done.

Three Things I Learned from Ring

Ring Cover

Years ago, I watched Hideo Nakata’s ‘Ringu,’ the Japanese horror film that kicked off a successful series of terrifying ghost stories both in Japan and here in the US. But it was only recently that I had the opportunity to read the novel that started it all—Ring by Koji Suzuki. When I first saw the movie, I was unnerved by the image of that strange girl Sadako, her hair exposing one hideous eye, crawling out of the television set from a well into the living room. There was something demonic about her, and though the film lacks gore, her victims’ deaths from sudden cardiac arrest are frightening.

In reading the novel, I learned that, unlike ‘Ringu,’ the protagonist is the dogged investigative reporter Asakawa, who plays only a minor role in the film. The reporter is around thirty, with a wife and child he barely has time for. Courtesy of a cab driver, he stumbles into a mystery involving four teenagers, one of whom was his niece. They all died suddenly of cardiac arrest—on the same day and at the same time.

I enjoyed this novel immensely. Here are three things in particular I noticed.

Family Comes Second

Though Asakawa continually berates himself for not spending more time with his son, he nevertheless continues to work, coming home at all hours. He smokes and drinks too much and is an emotional wreck. There’s something in him that drives him to pursue stories of the occult. Despite the efforts of his hapless editor to reign him in after a previous fiasco, he takes on a new mystery—one that hits closer to home because of the reporter’s dead niece.

As Asakawa tracks down the whereabouts of the four teenagers before they died to uncover the truth, he frequently spends time away from home. It isn’t until the end of the movie that he realizes how much his family means to him. And that feeling leads him to one last terrible, desperate act.

Science and Superstition but Not Faith

Science plays a significant role in this story. Asakawa’s friend Ryuji has lots of great scientific explanations for the phenomena he and the reporter discover. But for all his theories, there seems to be an underlying current of superstition that lies deep in the Japanese character. You could imagine children being warned nightly about spooky ghosts and vengeful spirits—and demons.

But for all the talk about science and superstition, rarely is God ever mentioned. Ryuji comes close when he suggests that at the beginning of time, good and evil were the same—they were equal. But I don’t recall anyone in this story saying they needed to go to the local Buddhist temple to pray for help.

We Kill What We Don’t Understand

If you know anything about ‘Ringu,’ then you know Sadako is responsible for all the mayhem. In the movie, she was a girl; but in the novel, she is an adult and startlingly beautiful. And she has a deep hatred that takes the form of a video cassette from hell. If you watch it, you die a week later. But why should anyone want to visit this kind of evil on people they don’t even know? Because Sadako was abused, then murdered for who—and what—she was.

If Sadako and her mother had been treated well, then none of this horror would have happened. But her mother’s death, followed by Sadako’s, creates the equivalent of a deadly virus whose only purpose is to infect and spread. Perhaps the final lesson in this breathtaking novel is, treat others as you would yourself. Maybe then, you’ll live to a ripe old age.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

The Inspiration for the New Major Motion Picture RINGS

A mysterious videotape warns that the viewer will die in one week unless a certain, unspecified act is performed. Exactly one week after watching the tape, four teenagers die one after another of heart failure.

Asakawa, a hardworking journalist, is intrigued by his niece’s inexplicable death. His investigation leads him from a metropolitan Tokyo teeming with modern society’s fears to a rural Japan—a mountain resort, a volcanic island, and a countryside clinic—haunted by the past. His attempt to solve the tape’s mystery before it’s too late—for everyone—assumes an increasingly deadly urgency. Ring is a chillingly told horror story, a masterfully suspenseful mystery, and post-modern trip.

The success of Koji Suzuki’s novel Ring has led to manga, television and film adaptations in Japan, Korea, and the U.S.

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Three Things I Learned from The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger Cover

The first thing I’ll say about The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters is, if you’re looking for a straight-up ghost story, this isn’t the book for you. If on the other hand, you’re in the mood for a wonderfully written novel about a stately home infested with an evil you cannot quite put a name to, then, by all means, grab the book.

As readers, we come in with expectations. And I’m no different. I was expecting a ghost story. But making my way through Dr. Faraday’s narrative as he told of a house taking a terrible toll on the family living there, I came to appreciate the author’s approach. There are three things in particular I admire.

There Are Many Sources of Evil

Usually, stories of the paranormal have at their heart a ghostly presence that is typically vengeful, or they involve a demonic entity. What Sarah Waters has done is to introduce another kind of evil—something unnamed and possibly born from a person’s emotions—hate and envy, for example.

Make no mistake, though. Such a thing comes into being just as deadly. And those emotions embodied in an invisible entity can kill or, at best, drive a person mad. Unfortunately, at least one of the family suffers the latter fate.

Medicine Can’t Cure Everything

When Faraday decides to help the Ayres family, he applies everything he knows about medicine and science. He is diligent and caring. And he’s lonely. Just as there are things in Hundreds Hall he cannot cure—as much as he wants to—there are things in himself he cannot confront. And perhaps, the melding of these two poignant truths bring together the greatest tragedy.

In the End, It All Comes Down to Class

The Little Stranger is very much about post-war England and about how the well-to-do families of the former empire are no longer able to sustain themselves. Collectively, their wealth had been chipped away for a long time, much as their land was, with, as in the case of the Ayres family, vast tracts being converted to affordable housing for the masses.

Faraday is keenly aware of his station. His mother was a maid in Hundreds Hall and, even though he carries the title of Doctor, he doesn’t feel he commands the respect he deserves. Added to that, the National Health Service is coming, potentially eroding his income and position even further.

Everything in England is changing. And perhaps, Hundreds Hall is meant to disintegrate, along with a privileged way of life. Don’t expect answers from this book. In the end, there are only more questions. And you may be mulling them over for a long time after.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description

“The #1 book of 2009…Several sleepless nights are guaranteed.”—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly

One postwar summer in his home of rural Warwickshire, Dr. Faraday, the son of a maid who has built a life of quiet respectability as a country physician, is called to a patient at lonely Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once impressive and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. Its owners—mother, son, and daughter—are struggling to keep pace with a changing society, as well as with conflicts of their own. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr. Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become intimately entwined with his.

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Three Things I Learned from ‘The Dead Don’t Die’

The Dead Dont Die Poster

I’ve been a fan of Jim Jarmusch since forever. What I love most about his movies is, he doesn’t waste time and money. His stories are lean, character-driven pieces that get to the point quickly. Films like ‘Stranger Than Paradise,’ ‘Down by Law,’ and ‘Broken Flowers.’ No boring backstory, no big government conspiracy. Just people dealing with everyday shit they have no control over.

Warning—Spoilers Ahead

Not Every Zombie Story Has to Be the Apocalypse

The Dead Don’t Die’ is the director’s latest film, and it’s a hoot. We’ve got Bill Murray as the police chief of a small town who, by his own admission, should’ve retired two years ago. Adam Driver as an officer, who seems to be the only person in Centerville that seems to know they are all in a Jim Jarmusch movie. And other wonderful actors like Chloë Sevigny, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Tilda Swinton, and Selena Gomez.

The script is smart and low key. Lines are repeated by different characters, giving the film an almost Sartre vibe where everyone is caught up in an existential nightmare that won’t end. Here’s an example, which each character varies a little:

What the heck was it, a wild animal? Several wild animals?

Oh, and there’s the dead. Yeah, they’re coming out of the ground like in the original ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ with at least one of them reeking of cheap chardonnay.

When the Dead Start Rising, That’s When You Know Who Your Friends Are

As things go from bad to worse, people act out in different ways. Hermit Bob keeps an eye on the proceedings from a distance, making comments like this gem:

Cliff and little Ronnie. Warriors. Among the dead. Zombies. Remnants of the materialist people.

Officer Mindy continues to freak out with each new horror. Meanwhile, Hank and Bobby have banded together to try and save the hardware store—and themselves. And good ol’ Farmer Frank goes it alone with his gun and deep-seated prejudices as he discovers all his cows and chickens have vanished. Tilda Swinton, who is always mesmerizing, is perhaps the only one who confronts the danger head-on, using a razor-sharp Katana to behead the invaders.

And some are just clueless, like the three out-of-town hipsters staying at the local motel. For some reason, Cliff and Ronnie have decided they are from Cleveland.

If You’re Going to Die, You Might as Well Have a Good Theme Song

Just so you know, everyone—and I mean everyone—in this thing dies at the end. I think Officer Ronnie said it best:

If you ask me, this whole thing is going to end badly.

Well, okay, maybe not Hermit Bob. I mean, someone has to survive to tell the story, right? But here’s the thing. If you’re going to make a movie about zombies taking over a small, peaceful town and ripping everyone to pieces, then you’d better have a good theme song.

And this movie does. The song “The Dead Don’t Die,” written and performed by Sturgill Simpson, is perfect. In fact, for those who might be squeamish about seeing so much blood and guts, you might want to purchase the tune so you can at least feel you were a part of the experience.

Fun fact: According to the credits, someone got hired as a zombie movement consultant. What a country.

Movie Details

The Greatest Zombie Cast Ever Disassembled

The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tom Waits
Rated R for zombie violence/gore, and for language

Three Things I Learned from ‘The Rite’

The Rite Poster

The Rite’ is a wonderfully produced movie from 2011 starring Anthony Hopkins, perhaps the only actor alive today who could drop you simply by leveling his trademarked death-stare. I saw the film a few years ago, then recently read the nonfiction book that has to do with real-life exorcist Father Gary Thomas. In that work, the journalist Matt Baglio faithfully records what happens to the Northern California priest as he attends a series of exorcisms in Italy as part of his training. If you are interested in what happens during these rituals, I suggest you take a look at that book.

But I’m here to talk about the movie, which was suggested by the book. After watching it again, three things struck me that I’d like to share.

There’s Plenty of Evil in the World
When the main character, Michael Kovak, first meets Father Lucas, the exorcist he is to observe, he encounters a young woman who has been suffering from demonic possession for a long time. It turns out her predicament is not her fault. She was raped by her father and is now carrying his child.

We read about stuff like this all the time, and what it demonstrates is, as humans, we don’t need demons making us do bad things; we are perfectly capable of being evil all by ourselves. Nevertheless, when a tragedy like this occurs, it can open the door to something even worse. As proof, you can check out the scene where the poor girl coughs up black oxide nails.

Demons Are Real—and They Have Names
In 1973, ‘The Exorcist’ showed us that demonic possession is real and that the entities doing the possessing have names. Apparently, they also have ranks. Now, as a reminder, these creatures are pure spirit; that is, they never walked the earth, and they are as old as time itself. They’re also smart, so good luck engaging in wordplay with them.

As a matter of fact, this is precisely what the young seminarian does against the priest’s orders—he tries parrying with the demon possessing the girl. Big mistake. As a result, the beast begins toying with him, getting under the young man’s skin.

Without Faith, You Are Lost
Here’s something interesting that was hinted at in the movie but is prominent in the book: many Catholic priests do not believe in the devil which, when you stop to think about it, is messed up. Have these people not read the New Testament? Anyway, just because these are modern times, that doesn’t mean the old truths don’t apply.

What’s interesting about Michael is, on the surface, it’s not so much about his lack of faith in God as it is about his refusal to believe in evil during these exorcisms. It’s almost as if it’s the demon’s mission is to prove to Michael that he exists. And of course, once the seminarian can accept that, he can then be confident in the belief that God exists.

Wrap-Up
I am a huge fan of this movie. I’ve said often that my all-time favorite horror movie is ‘The Exorcist.’ But this film is a close second. It’s intelligently written and beautifully acted and directed. And it doesn’t hurt that it was shot in Italy. If you enjoy horror that makes you think, watch ‘The Rite.’

Movie Details
American seminary student Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donaghue) travels to Italy to take an exorcism course.

Director: Mikael Håfström
Writers: Michael Petroni, Matt Baglio (book)
Stars: Colin O’Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins, Ciarán Hinds

Three Things I Learned from Ghost Story

Ghost Story Cover

I first read Peter Straub’s terrifying Ghost Story decades ago, and I recently decided to pick it up again to see if my impressions had changed. They hadn’t. The work is mesmerizing. The author has created in the fictional town of Millburn a waystation steeped in snow where people live their separate lives, oblivious to the horrid things lurking in the forest waiting to strike. Eventually, these corrupt creatures come for the hapless residents, and they are caught unawares.

In many ways, this tale of ghostly revenge is instructive in how it shows us the consequences of mistreatment people visit on one another. The town itself is filled with characters surviving in escalating degrees of guilt, and it is precisely these stains on their souls that mark the victims for the marauders intent on feeding on them.

I admire this book so much, and I wanted to share three things I learned.

Turn It Up to Eleven
If you’re going to get revenge, it’s better if, instead of concentrating on a few elderly townsfolk, you turn it up to eleven and destroy the whole town. The chief villain who is known by many names—all of them with the initials AM—is going to do just that. And, like the author, she proceeds to instruct her victims in the ways of the occult and the reasons why they must die. Fortunately, because of the combined bravery of Ricky Hawthorne, Peter Barnes, and Don Wanderly, the monster’s coup de grâce cannot be delivered. Good effort, though.

Make Sure There’s Plenty of Guilt to Go Around
Stories in which the innocent are slaughtered like sheep are not fun, in my view. But take a town full of characters who have done everything from the despicable to the merely annoying and go after them—now you’ve got something. Of course, the Chowder Society members are the worst, because they caused a young woman’s death (well, she looked like a young woman, Officer) and literally buried the evidence. Then add a crazed farmer who is forever suing people and seeing Martians, a drunken shell of a sheriff, and a wife who would rather have sex with just about every other man in town than stay home. Plenty of ammunition for a vengeful, murderous, supernatural being, wouldn’t you agree?

Make the Ghost Something Else
This last point speaks to Straub’s brilliance. He could’ve done as Henry James did in The Turn of the Screw and delivered a good old-fashioned vengeful spirit. But he went one better—he created a being—or, God help us, a race of beings—that have occupied the planet for thousands of years, and enjoy feeding not only on people’s flesh but on their fears. For me, that’s what sends this novel over the top. Because you can’t just cower inside a circle of salt, holding up a crucifix. These things are real, my friend.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Ghost Story, I suggest you grab a copy and prepare not to sleep. And while you’re at it, check out the movie, which was released in 1981 and features the esteemed Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, and John Houseman.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
#1 New York Times bestselling author Peter Straub’s classic tale of horror, secrets, and the dangerous ghosts of the past…

What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?

In the sleepy town of Milburn, New York, four old men gather to tell each other stories—some true, some made-up, all of them frightening. A simple pastime to divert themselves from their quiet lives.

But one story is coming back to haunt them and their small town. A tale of something they did long ago. A wicked mistake. A horrifying accident. And they are about to learn that no one can bury the past forever…

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