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Archive for October, 2009

primitive_smallMy special guest this Halloween is horror writer J. F. Gonzalez, author of several acclaimed novels of terror and suspense including Clickers (with Mark Williams), Clickers II: The Next Wave (with Brian Keene), Survivor, Bully, Fetish, and many others, as well as over sixty short stories and numerous articles. Gonzalez was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk about his life and works.

Thanks for stopping on The Dark Phantom today. To start with, would you tell us a little about your background and how you started writing?

I was born in Inglewood, California on May 8, 1964. I am of Spanish and Anglo-Saxon stock. My father’s family can be traced back to Spain. My great-great-great grandmother was born there in 1870. She and her husband emigrated to Mexico and, eventually, my grandmother emigrated to the US with my grandfather. On the other hand, we’ve traced my mother’s family as far back as 1690, to the Strong family in England. This pedigree also includes the likes of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Princess Diana Spencer and, I’m sorry to say, Sarah Palin. I do share lineage on my father’s side with the acclaimed poet, Rafael Jesus Gonzalez; he’s my father’s first cousin.

I’ve been a book geek for as long as I can remember, and as a child I was constantly coming up stories to amuse myself. I was a voracious reader, and devoured everything from comic books to classic literature (Mark Twain was a childhood favorite), to mysteries and science-fiction and fantasy, to poetry. I made the conscious decision to be a writer in my senior year of high school when I read the famous Ray Bradbury story “The October Game”. The feeling that story gave me, especially the impact of that final line – And then some idiot turned on the lights. – made an incredible impact on me like nothing else. I remember the feeling of shock and surprise it had and decided that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to do that to people. I wanted to write stories that would shock them, make them clickersdeliriumsmallthink, provide them with a sense of awe, wonder, and terror.


When did your passion for the supernatural begin?

In addition to always being drawn to tales of science-fiction and fantasy, I was drawn to tales of terror by television. Primarily, reruns of Thriller, The Twilight Zone, and the Outer Limits. I remember watching Night Gallery and Kolchak the Night Stalker during their first run. At the same time, my family on my dad’s side were voracious oral story-tellers. Everybody from my aunts and cousins, to my grandparents all told me various ghost stories or tales of urban legend based on Meso-American myth. They fascinated me.

Not many Latino authors write in this genre. Why do you think this is?

I’ve always wondered this myself since Latino culture is rich with legends that can be utilized in tales of dark fantasy. The tale of La Llorona is a prime example. Latin cultures have many legends and ghost stories. Because I work primarily in U.S. publishing, I am not exposed to work by Spanish or Mexican authors who are published in their native countries and languages. I’m sure there’s some excellent dark fantasy and horror fiction being written in Latin American countries; I’m just not aware of them. Spanish wasn’t spoken much in my house growing up, and I can understand it better than I can speak it. Reading it is a challenge too, and anything I’ve ever read that has been published in Spanish has been in English translations.

clickers2In the early 1990’s I co-edited two magazines of dark fantasy and horror fiction and bought a science fiction story by a Latino author named Octavio Ramos, Jr. that was really good. Around the same time, a guy named Dan Perez was sending me stuff, but I never bought anything from him. The only Latino author I can think of off-hand with serious publishing credentials is Guillermo Del Toro, who just published his first novel. Guillermo is more known as a screenwriter/director than a prose writer, though. I love his films. The Devil’s Backbone is a powerful film, set during the Spanish Civil War. Robert Rodriguez is another director who comes to mind, but he seems to operate on a more pulpy level, like me. The Mexican film industry, in particular, has long had a fascination with the macabre. I’ve seen some pretty good (and some really horrible) Mexican horror movies over the years, and some really good ones from Spain.

So while there are no Mexican or Spanish counterparts to US writers like Stephen King or H. P. Lovecraft, plenty of Latino writers with serious publishing and critical acclaim are occasionally producing works of dark fantasy and terror. Most academics call this type of work “magic realism”, but its all fantasy. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a prime example. Aura by the great Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes is another. I’d recommend that short novel (or any of his work) in a heart beat for anybody interested in reading good supernatural horror fiction, period.

Would you tell us a little about the type of books you enjoy writing?

While I enjoy reading all kinds of fiction, I seem to be only good at writing strict genre fiction. I’ve tried writing all kinds of fiction, everything from simple mainstream literature to romance and erotica to westerns. I seem to excel in thrillers, horror fiction, fantasy, and science fiction. Since I excel in those, they are the genres I spend the most time working in.

Do you outline books beforehand?

I don’t outline too heavily. Ideas for novels come to me from different sources. A central image, a news story I might have read that festers in the back of my mind. Sometimes I’ll come up with an idea by simply day dreaming and letting my mind wander. I think a lot of “what if?” thoughts. Like, what if we, as a species, lost our sense of humanity and our sense of being civilized and we were reduced to a very primal state? That sparked the seed that became my latest novel, Primitive, which is a post-Apocalyptic thriller with heavy SF and supernatural horror overtones to it.

While my main objective is to provide entertainment for my readers (because, after all, mainstream US Publishing is an entertainment business), I do try to provide some kind of subtext. Primitive is a prime example. While on the surface it can be seen as a post-apocalyptic thriller, at the heart it examines religious belief, racism, and survival. My next novel, The Corporation, while on the surface can be seen as a horror novel about an evil force that has taken over the people who work at a large corporation, at the heart its about the corporatization of America and how greed can turn into a soulless feeding frenzy where the bottom line is the only thing that matters. People’s lives are worthless; the almighty dollar is our God.

HerosmallThis is probably why I enjoy working in horror and dark fantasy fiction more than other genres. I can give people entertainment and at the same time I can try to illuminate them, make them think. That’s what the best horror fiction does. Shirley Jackson’s famous story “The Lottery” is covered in literature classes all over the country for various reasons (its exploration of mob mentality, for example), but at its heart it’s a horror story. You can find other examples from writers as diverse as Poe, Hawthorne, Le Fanu, and Bierce to Richard Matheson and Stephen King.

In general, though, once I get a central idea for a novel or a short story, I don’t outline too heavily. I’ll sketch out the basic arc of the story, the establishment of the setting and characters, the conflict, and then simply let the characters and their situation carry me along. Things like theme and mood and subtext will arise naturally during the the writing of the first draft. Sometimes I have an idea for a resolution, but many times I don’t. I figure if the ending comes as a surprise, it will please my readers too.

How would you describe your creative process? Do you have any ‘horror author’ quirks?
The creative process is simple. I sit my butt in my chair, put my fingers on the keyboard and produce.

Ideas for stories will come at the oddest times, and when they do I always try to jot them down quickly on a pad of paper, which I then transfer to a file of story ideas on my computer. As far as horror author quirks, no. I realize many people who normally do not read horror fiction think that those of us who make our livings writing it are weird, and maybe we are in a way. However, I’ve had the good fortune of meeting and being friends with many horror writers. They’re all quite normal.

Of all your books, which one is closest to your heart? Why?

Primitive is my favorite for several reasons. The main character is an ordinary guy who becomes a hero by simply surviving and being an inspiration for others to survive in what has become of the world after the majority of the human population has been reduced to ravenous animals. It’s only him, his wife and young daughter and a handful of other survivors that band together. Of course, there are other people unaffected too, but they’re spread across the world. The story mainly focuses on David Spires, the narrator, and details what they must go through to ensure their survival. I’ve had readers tell me they were very affected by David’s courage in the face of extreme adversity. I’m proud of that.

Do you have a website or blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Absolutely. www.jfgonzalez.com. I have a blog linked to my website, and readers can learn about me there, read info on my work, and communicate with me through myspace, my message board, or through twitter (www.twitter.com/jfgonzalez)

What do you do on Halloween?

My opinion on Halloween is like a drunk’s opinion of New Year’s Eve. It’s the one day of the year that everybody else goes out of their way to try to scare each other for fun. I do that as part of most of my everyday work, so Halloween is no big deal for me.

Anything else you’d like to share with readers?

Somebody I’d like to explore my Latino/Southwest heritage in a novel. I have an unfinished novel with large Latino cast. The novel is set in my father’s hometown of El Paso, Texas, and it also takes place in Ciudad Juarez, across the border. It’s sort of a modern day gothic novel because its scope is very sprawling, with different storylines that intersect with each other. It’s very hard to describe. I set it aside to work on something else (my novel Primitive, which a publisher paid me to write). Someday, I’d like to return to it.

Aside from that…I live a very private life. I have a wife and daughter. Politically I’m a left-leaning independent. I love to go target shooting with my friends and I’m an ardent supporter of same-sex marriage. I’m an Agnostic, yet I’m very spiritual. I love to take my dog on long walks, and I love to browse for hours in used bookstores. I love all kinds of music and I love to travel. My favorite novel of all time is probably John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and my favorite movie of all time is probably Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory! I love Japanese food, especially sushi. I love Mexican food too, and I’ve sampled most cuisines from across the Latin spectrum. I never did take a liking to menudo though, but I love chorizo. Yeah, I know, it’s weird, but what can I say?

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Night of FlamesI wrote a book.

Seriously, that’s the most amazing thing of all, to me at least. I’m a sixty year-old engineer and business owner and along the way I’ve written a lot, though none of it is anything your readers would be the least bit interested in. Not unless they wanted to know about groundwater aeration and treatment systems. Ho Hum.

But I’ve also had a life-long interest in World War Two history. Why? I’m not sure. I didn’t fight in it, and neither did my father (washed out of the army with flat feet). Perhaps it was because WW2 was one of the most significant events in human history, claimed more than fifty million lives, and changed the balance of world power. Sounds pretty heavy doesn’t it. Well, at any rate, I’ve always been interested and read everything I could about this greatest of all human conflicts.

About fifteen or twenty years ago I read Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War. And a few years later, the sequel, War and Remembrance. Now that I thought is the way to write about history. Make it real, and visceral, make it directly impact someone we care about. Make it well documented, but do it in a way that even though we know how the war turns out we can’t put down the book because we absolutely must find out what happens to Natalie.

So, the right part of my brain began to poke through and I wanted to write something. I wanted to write something about the war. But what? What could I write that hadn’t already been written by Wouk, or Leon Uris, or Alan Furst, or historians like Stephen Ambrose. Then, a funny thing happened. My daughter married a young man from Belgium and moved to Europe, setting our family on a course that has forever changed our lives.

Over time, while traveling to Europe 2-3 times a year, we became very close friends with my son-in-law’s parents. They are wonderful, caring people who are several years older than we are. They were young children during the German occupation of Belgium, young, but old enough to remember. They didn’t talk about it at first, in fact they still don’t, its over, it happened a long time ago, and they survived. End of story. But gradually, as they realized I really wanted to know, they began to tell me the stories. They told me about living in the cellar while their city was being bombed, about German snipers shooting at children in the streets, about not having anything to eat for months on end, about my son-in-law’s grandfather being dragged away from the family home by the Gestapo in 1941. . . and returning five years later when he walked home from Germany.

It inspired me. It made it real.

And I spent the next five years writing Night of Flames: A Novel of World War Two.

Since the book was published, a lot of good things have happened. It has received many excellent reviews, it received the “Outstanding Achievement Award from the Wisconsin Library Association, and it has sold well, both here and in Europe. But what I find most gratifying is when someone who has read it comes up to me and says how much they loved one of the characters, like Anna, the college professor, or Jan, the cavalry officer, or Schmidt, the terrified German soldier. That makes it real. And that’s what it’s all about.

Douglas Jacobson Douglas W. Jacobson is an engineer, business owner and World War Two history enthusiast. Doug has traveled extensively in Europe researching stories of the courage of common people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. His debut novel, Night of Flames: A Novel of World War Two was published in 2007 by McBooks Press, and was released in paperback in 2008. Night of Flames won the 2007 OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT AWARD from the Wisconsin Library Association. Doug has also published articles on Belgium’s WW2 escape organization, the Comete Line; Poland’s 1st Armored Division; and the liberation of Antwerp. Doug has just completed his second novel set in Europe at the end of WW2. You can visit his blog at www.douglaswjacobson.blogspot.com.

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linda2Linda Weaver Clarke writes historical novels and teaches family legacy workshops across the country. Her latest book, Elena, Woman of Courage, has just been released. She's here today to talk about her popular workshops and about her writing.

It's a pleasure having you here today, Linda. Please tell us about your Family Legacy Workshops and how you started organizing them.

I teach people how to write their family history or their own autobiography. It’s important to teach our children their heritage.

How did I get started? After writing my own ancestors’ experiences down, I decided to teach people how to write their stories. So I began in my own area, and gradually expanded further and further from home. Before I knew it, I had libraries from all over the U.S. signing up for my workshops. Libraries provide many ways of education for their communities as long as they have an active Friends Group to support them.

What do people learn at your workshops?

I teach a variety of things. First of all, I encourage my audience to research the area their ancestors settled and the time period. Find out everything you can about the area. If possible, go there and walk around, find out where your ancestors lived, went to school, and played. If you can’t go there in person, then do research and find pictures of that area.

The time period is very important. If they lived during the depression or World War II, then write about it. What happened during those years of conflict? What did your ancestors have to endure? When I was writing my father’s biography, I found out that in 1942 they rationed gas to three gallons a week. To me, that was amazing. In 1896, they painted pencils yellow for the very first time, and for a very good reason. I found out that in the 1920s, women bobbed their hair and raised their hemlines. This new style brought about a lot of trouble. If women bobbed their hair, they were fired from their jobs. A teacher in Jersey City was ordered to grow her hair back by the school board or she would be fired. A preacher warned his congregation that a “bobbed woman was a disgraced woman.” Men even divorced their wives over the new hairstyle. Amazing! I love research! If your grandmother bobbed her hair and went to the dance marathons, write about it.

How about prices? Did it cost ten cents to go to the movies and five cents for an ice cream cone? And what flavors existed? Did they travel by horse and buggy or a Model T Ford? If your grandfather loved reading books in the evening before retiring, it would be interesting to add what kind of light he used. Little details like this warms a story up and can bring your ancestor to life. Did he use electricity or an oil lantern? Instead of saying, “Grandfather read extensively before retiring,” it sounds more interesting to say, “Grandfather sat in his overstuffed chair and read for hours with an oil lantern at his side.” To read samples of what you can do with your own stories, visit my website at http://www.lindaweaverclarke.com and read the “short stories” of my ancestors.

How hard is it to find out about one's ancestors?

First thing, write down any experiences that you remember. Talk to family members and discuss memories. Use letters they wrote to one another. Someone asked me how they could get their parents to talk about their experiences because they kept saying, “I can’t remember. That’s too far back.” My suggestion is this. Get relatives together and discuss memories, turn on a recorder, and ask questions. When loved ones get together, they tend to reminisce. I did this with my aunt because I had very few stories of my mother’s childhood. At first she said it was too long ago to remember but when I began asking questions, her husband would remember things and that got her into “memory lane.”

You're also the author of a historical fiction series. What was your inspiration for them? Are your novels related to family legacy?

Yes, I love inserting real ancestral or family experiences into my novels. To me, their experiences have always intrigued me. It brings a story to life. In my family saga series, I have set my story in Paris, Idaho…the place that my ancestors settled in 1863.

My great grandmother, Sarah Eckersley Robinson, was my inspiration for “David and the Bear Lake Monster.” Sarah lost her hearing as a child but she never let her deafness stop her from developing her talents. I took a lot of her experiences from her biography and gave them to my heroine to bring some reality into my story. Sarah was known as one of the most graceful dancers in town. She was known for gliding across the floor with ease, with just a touch of her partner’s hand. Sarah had such agility and gracefulness while swimming, that people would actually throw coins in the water so they could watch her dive after them. Once an intruder hid in her bedroom under her bed, thinking he could take advantage of her since she was deaf. He must have thought she was an easy victim but was sadly mistaken. She swatted him out from under her bed with a broom, and all the way out of the house, and down the street for a couple blocks, whacking him as she ran. What a courageous woman!

In “Edith and the Mysterious Stranger,” I based this story around the courtship of my parents. They wrote letters to one another before they ever met. She said that she fell in love with the soul of my father, what was deep down inside and they didn’t even know what one another looked like. The day they met, my mother told me that her heart leapt within her and a warm glow filled her soul and she knew she would marry this man. I knew this would be the basis of my next novel, but there’s one difference. In my story, you don’t know who the mysterious stranger is until the end of the book. Some readers guessed right while others were pleasantly surprised.

In “Melinda and the Wild West,” I inserted an experience that happened to my dad. When he was young, his father asked him to bury the skunks he had shot. Before my dad buried them, he drained their scent glands into a bottle. He called it “skunk oil.” Then he took it to school to show his friends. While explaining how he had done it, he must have gotten a little too excited because he accidentally dropped the bottle and it splattered on the floor. The scent of concentrated skunk oil permeated the room with a stench that was indescribable. Everyone ran out of the school as fast as their little legs would go. And the teacher followed close behind. My father said that he was a hero for one day because he got school out for his classmates. This novel eventually won an award as one of the semi-finalists for the “Reviewers Choice Award 2007.” To read an excerpt, visit my website

Do you have a blog?

Yes, I finally have a blog. I kept putting it off because of my busy schedule and wasn’t sure how a blog worked in the first place. After my husband kept encouraging me to do it, I decided to check out other author’s blogs and see what they talked about. After a day of researching, I decided that having a blog wasn’t so difficult after all. So I put one together this summer. I thought I would talk about writing, family, and interview authors. I’ve interviewed a fantasy author already and have another author lined up for an interview. You can visit me at http://lindaweaverclarke.blogspot.com.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

Oh my! Definitely! My last book in the family saga was just released: “Elena, Woman of Courage.” It’s set in 1925. It was a blast to research. I found words that I didn’t even know such as: Cat’s pajamas! Ah, horsefeathers! Attaboy! Baloney! You slay me! When referring to a woman, they used doll, tomato, and bearcat. When a person was in love, he was goofy. If a person was a fool, he was a sap. And when a woman wasn’t in the mood for kissing, she would say, “The bank’s closed.” I was able to use all these words and much more in my book. The language was great!

It’s about a “Happy-go-lucky Bachelor” that is completely fascinated with a woman doctor: Elena Yeates. Of course, women weren’t encouraged to go to college back then, let alone become a doctor, and this fascinates him to no end. With the 1920’s rise of women’s rights, this novel gives you an insight at the struggles women had to go through, while watching a young love blossom!

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THE GREY LADY
Romantic Suspense/Mystery Short Story
by C.S. Challinor

Cornwall, England

In a blaze of chrome and burning rubber, the motorbike skidded to a screeching halt inches from Maggie’s feet where she had stepped into the street without looking. Ever since Adam’s departure, she had been in a trance.

“I’m so sorry,” she exclaimed. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

“No problem,” the young man replied, removing his helmet and smoothing back his sun-streaked blond hair.
Maggie thought vaguely how nice he was being about the whole thing, but she only had the presence of mind to mumble further apologies before walking on across the street without so much as a backward glance, preoccupied as she was with thoughts of Adam.

Adam had left for the summer, and the months yawned before her–days they could have enjoyed on the beach, evenings they could have spent at their favorite pub perched on the cliff top. She had given up all hope of their celebrating his twenty-eighth birthday together.

Instead, she idled away her free time, wandering restlessly along the rugged Cornish shore on England’s southwest coast, thinking about him. Adam was a puzzle. A dark horse since their first date. Gnawing into her doubts was his secretiveness. He had said he had family to visit in Devon, though she knew he couldn’t mean his parents, whom he’d lost in a car accident long ago. He had left his fishing trawler, The Grey Lady, in the hands of his partner, and told her he would write. Yet, knowing Adam, he probably wouldn’t. She had no idea how long he would be gone. Meanwhile, she watched couples holding hands, everybody enjoying their summer. Everyone but her.

She tried painting again, knowing she should put some practice in for when she went back to art college. There was no end of subject matter to be found at Pirate’s Cove, the small picturesque seaside resort where her parents lived. But her heart wasn’t in it.

Then one evening, as the sun was dipping into the sea, she spotted a lithe figure silhouetted against the sky. The way he walked, utterly lost in thought, drew her attention. He passed in the distance and disappeared into the dusk, but she caught him in her painting, just a shadow, an enigmatic shadow crossing the sunset.

Maggie was heartened by her picture. It was the first canvas of the summer that she hadn’t wanted to paint over, and it took her mind off what Adam was doing away in Devon.

The next evening, she returned to the same spot to try to recapture the magic of that moment. She didn’t have her easel with her this time. Lying back among the reeds and sand dunes, the soft evening air playing on her face, she simply listened to the swishing of waves over the shingles. The nearby crunching of sand startled her, and she sat up in alarm.

Standing over her in the dimming light was a young man dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, fair hair blowing in the sea breeze. A smile played on his lips.

“Imagine running into you again,” he said in a southern accent that made her think of rich clotted cream. Crouching down, he stretched out his hand. “I’m Brett. Did I scare you?”

“A bit.” Maggie gazed into his perfectly symmetrical face. “I think I saw you yesterday walking along the beach at about this time.” She was too embarrassed to bring up the motorcycle incident again.

“Yeah, I’ve seen you about, too. You work in that little tourist shop on the high street. Bric-a-Bracs or something. I keep meaning to go in there.”

“You should — if you like arty stuff and antiques. My parents own it.”

“I might just do that. Do you spend all year round here then?” he asked.

“No, only holidays. I’m at college in London. How about you?”

“Just touring through on my bike.”

“Do you travel a lot?”

“I do. I probably know the UK less well than Asia or North America. This is a new departure for me, being someplace close to home.”

“So, what do you do exactly?”

“I’m a photo-journalist. And you’re studying what?”

“Art,” she told him.

“We’ve got something in common, then. We both like to make pictures.” He settled himself more comfortably on the sand. “May I?” he asked.

Maggie shrugged. “I don’t own the beach,” she replied in a smart-aleck tone she immediately regretted.
He looked at her curiously. “You seem a bit down.”

Maggie didn’t know how to respond. He was perceptive. Adam wasn’t. Adam was egocentric and remote, but she supposed that was part of the attraction. This stranger shared a similar quality of mystery and had the same suggestion of strength, but he seemed attentive and interested in what she had to say. Before she could stop herself, Maggie started to open up, telling him she was involved with someone, but that suddenly he’d had to leave and now she didn’t know what to do with herself. And he wasn’t one to phone, she added bitterly.

Brett told her that he was getting over the loss of someone as well, although it had been awhile back. “Love sucks,” he said.

Swallowing hard, Maggie glanced away, but managed to hold her tears at bay.

“You have the most delicate profile,” Brett complimented her. “Mind if I photograph you sometime?”

Maggie shook back her dark hair in a mock model pose. “How many women have you said that to this summer?”

“No, really. You have a wistful face. Sort of haunting.”

She looked down, running her fingers through the sand as a blush warmed her cheeks. Adam rarely paid her compliments. She sighed heavily.

“That bad?” Brett asked.

“Oh, he’s probably bad news anyway. I’m just so confused. I feel like this whole summer is wasted and I want to feel like I’ve done something with my break from college.”

“Well, let’s do something then. What do you like to do other than paint?”

“Sailing, windsurfing, music. There’s an old inn over at Devil’s Creek called the Black Brew. They have bands at the weekend.” She and Adam used to go there, though she didn’t tell Brett that.

“Yeah, I think I know where you mean. Seriously, you’d be doing me a favor if you could show me around the area.”

Maggie agreed, and he asked if she was free the next day. She told him she didn’t have to work at the shop the next day. She did, but knew she could swing it with her parents, who lived above the store.

“I’ll pick you up at, say, ten o’ clock?”

Maggie nodded.

“Who should I ask for? You didn’t tell me your name, but I’m sure it must be something beautiful.”

She didn’t know why exactly, but she didn’t want to tell him her name was Maggie, a name she had never really liked. Her parents had felt obligated to name her after a childless aunt. Instead, she told him her middle name, chosen in one of her mother’s more whimsical moods. It was the professional name she had decided to use one day. She had never told it to Adam, afraid, she supposed, that he would laugh or make some sarcastic comment.

“It’s Serena.” She knew Brett would like it even before he drew out a low whistle.

“It suits you. Night, then,” he said, getting up from the sand and smiling down at her.

She watched as he sauntered away over the dunes. He left her with a glimmer of hope, and for the first time since Adam left, she began to look forward to tomorrow.

The next day, Maggie waited at her bedroom window in a navy T-shirt and a pair of crisp white shorts that showed off her suntanned legs. Puffy white clouds scudded across an azure sky above the surf-capped waves. She greeted the view with renewed enthusiasm, wondering how she could have forgotten how breathtaking it was. Suddenly, the throaty growl of an engine heralded the arrival of Brett’s Harley. Maggie ran down the stairs and waved her parents goodbye as she rushed out of the store.

“Well, hello again,” he said, looking her up and down with an appreciative gleam in his eyes that were as tender blue as the sky.His smile was captivating, Companionably, they crossed the street to the sea wall and continued on down the beach. All morning, she noticed how girls stared at him, and then at her with unveiled envy.

Her heart thrilled to be walking at his side. Maggie had felt special like this with Adam too. Whatever he lacked in Brett’s more conventional good looks, he made up for with his own special brand of moody charisma. Adam strode the beach or street as if he owned it. Everyone in town knew Adam, and no one messed with him. Brett didn’t give the impression that he thought himself better than everyone else, but he got the same attention as Adam anyway.

Maggie pointed to the Black Brew perched up on the cliff, from where the old inn overlooked the waves swirling and crashing against the jagged rocks three hundred feet below.

“Why is it called the Black Brew?” Brett asked, shading his eyes from the sun.

“It used to be a smuggler’s hangout,” Maggie explained. “Black Brew is a Jamaican rum that dates back to the 1800s. It’s also called ‘Devil’s Brew.'”

“Sounds lethal.”

Maggie laughed. “It is. There’s a legend surrounding the inn, if you’re interested.”

“Go on.” Brett sat down on a flat rock, smiling in anticipation.

“Well, in the tavern’s heyday, when Pirate’s Cove was doing a thriving trade in contraband, a sword fight took place on the cliff over a beautiful woman. One of the duelers plummeted to his death. Since then, people have seen the woman’s ghost on the cliff at dawn and heard the sound of her weeping.”

Brett skeptically raised an eyebrow. “People who have drunk too much Black Brew, no doubt. It’s probably a trick of the light and seagulls they’re hearing.”

Maggie chose to ignore him. From the first time she heard the story as a little girl, she had been fascinated by the Lady of the Cliff. Pirate’s Cove did good business out of the legend, but Maggie’s interest went deeper than just ghoulish interest. She had often imagined the two men fighting on the cliff edge, swords glinting and sparring at dawn; the fatal blow that sent one of them tumbling to his death; the woman’s helpless screams. Imagine witnessing that and knowing you were the cause…

“The Lady of the Cliff or the Grey Lady, as she’s also known, loved the man who was killed,” she told Brett. “And she comes back to grieve for him.”

“Uh-huh. And what became of the man who won?”

“He was lost at sea the next day.”

“And the Grey Lady, what of her?”

“Legend has it she was with child–as they said back then–and had to leave the Cove because she was unwed. But to this day she returns in death. A sad story, don’t you think?”

“If it’s true.”

Maggie shook her head ruefully. “Men! Absolutely no imagination. But if you want proof, there’s a headstone in the graveyard.”

“A tourist gimmick.” Brett ducked a playful blow from Maggie. “Look, I’m a journalist. I deal with facts. I’d need more evidence before I could believe in a supernatural tale like that. I’ll give you this, though. Ye olde Black Brew does look romantic in a gothic sort of way. Do they have rooms there?”

“They do, but I don’t expect it’s cheap in the summer season.”

Brett shrugged. “Yeah, well, I need more privacy than the local YMCA has to offer, and somewhere quiet to work.”

Maggie suggested they go and take a look. She had never seen the rooms, but always wanted to. They strolled, chatting and laughing, back to the store, Maggie praying that her parents wouldn’t see her hop on the back of the 900cc Harley.

The ride up the coast road was exhilarating. Brett didn’t have a spare helmet, and her hair blew about everywhere. She was laughing as she got off the bike. Brett dismounted and propped it on its kickstand.
“You look like a gypsy with your hair all wild like that,” he said, raking his fingers through her dark tangles. He drew her against his leather jacket and pressed his warm lips to hers. They had only been together a few hours, but already Maggie knew there was a bond between them. His eager mouth tasted as salty and beckoning as the sea. She responded cautiously at first, then with growing hunger. She wanted him, but it was too soon. Pulling away, she touched her mouth where his kiss had been.

“Sorry,” he said. “The sea air must be making me lightheaded. I got carried away.”

“So did I,” she apologized with a smile, amazed to have forgotten about Adam in that moment of passion, when only a few days before she thought she never could.

“Well, let’s go and see about a room–just for me,” he added quickly.

They entered a cramped hallway where a warm smell of toast lingered in the air and found the front office. A woman in her fifties, dyed yellow hair pinned up in an old-fashioned beehive, emerged when Brett knocked at the door.

“Is it a room you’ll be wanting for the pair of you?” she asked in a welcoming voice.

“Just for him,” Maggie said.

“Overlooking the creek, if at all possible, ma’am.” Brett smiled appealingly at the landlady. It worked–she looked completely won over.

“Follow me,” she invited, leading them up the narrow stairway that barely accommodated the generous dimensions of her hips.

Brett and Maggie exchanged amused glances.

“Lucky number thirteen,” she announced, stopping at the end of a short corridor and opening a creaking door. “This is a nice little room, this one here.”

Maggie jumped up in childish enthusiasm. “It’s adorable!” As she glanced around the bedroom with faded roses on the wallpaper and an old-fashioned grate in the corner, she tried not to let her eyes stray to the brass double bed.

Brett grinned at her. “Great view,” he commented, pulling back the chintz curtain from the salt-incrusted panes. Next, he took a peek in the bathroom. “A bit pokey, but it’ll do.” He glanced at the tariff pinned to the door. “I’ll take it. Is breakfast included?”

“Bacon, sausage, two eggs, toast, homemade marmalade, and all the tea you can drink,” the landlady boasted. “A strapping lad like you will be needing a proper breakfast.”

Maggie stifled a giggle at Brett’s abashed expression and followed him and the innkeeper out of the room. Downstairs in the polished-wood lounge, decked out in oil lamps and nautical artifacts, Brett and Maggie idled over lunch in one of the booths.

“Would you like another cider?” Brett asked her, holding up his beer mug for the waitress to see.

“Better not. I’ll fall asleep.”

“Don’t worry about that. I can carry you up to bed if necessary,” he joked. “It’s not far.”

Maggie laughed and changed the subject. “So tell me about the girl you’re getting over. After my going on about my ex-boyfriend, it’s got to be your turn.”

“‘Ex’ is it now?” he joked.

Maggie didn’t know why she had talked about Adam that way, but she suspected it had a lot to do with Brett, who had so quickly and unexpectedly stolen away her attention.

Brett’s tone and expression became serious. “Losing Lisa was bad enough,” he confided. “But it was the way I lost her that really gets me.” He stopped short and clenched his teeth, his delicate features hardening to stone, too angry to speak.

Maggie sensed he wasn’t comfortable talking about Lisa and she didn’t want to wreck their newfound friendship by prying, so she decided to leave it at that, thinking in his own good time he would tell her more about that episode in his life.

The next day, they explored the rocky part of the shore. Maggie showed him a secret cave that could only be accessed at low tide. It was three feet above the shoreline and hidden from view by land, visible only by sea as a dark shadow among the rocks. Boats seldom ventured there. The sharp rocks lurking like icebergs beneath the surface of the water had wrecked many a ship in years gone by, and now a lighthouse warned boaters away.

Inside, the cave was spread with a cushioning layer of sand and was just about high enough to stand up, and wide and deep enough to lie outstretched.

“How did you find out about this place?” Brett asked.

“It’s an old lovers’ haunt.”

“Oh, a tryst for you and your man, was it?”

“I don’t think he knows about this place. And I haven’t been here in years.”

She and Adam had no need to come to the cave. He had a comfortably converted old tin miner’s cottage back inland.

Brett stared vacantly out to sea, as though he were searching for something in his mind’s eye. Waves pounded onto the rocks below, and a misty spray reached the opening of the cave.

Maggie kneeled down beside him. “What brought you to Pirate’s Cove?”

“I came to find someone.”

“To find her?” Maggie asked softly, a sudden constriction in her throat.

“Oh, no, I would never take her back now.”

In her relief, Maggie didn’t think to ask any more. It was then she realized, through her jealousy, the strength of her growing feelings for Brett. So when he asked her to meet him at the cave at midnight, she agreed without hesitation.

When she returned home, she told her parents she would be out late that night. She was too excited to eat supper and went straight up to her room to change into warmer clothes. A photo of Adam, taken on the deck of his trawler, stood on her dressing table. With barely a thought, she locked it away in a drawer.

####

Carefully climbing over the rocks that were slippery with seaweed and glistened in the dark, Maggie reached the cave, relieved to find Brett already there, sitting on a sleeping bag. A slender rope ran over the ledge and into a rock pool.

“Fishing for crabs?” she asked.

“Chilled champagne, actually. I was waiting for you before I hauled it in.”

“I’m impressed,” Maggie said as he drew up the bottle and she saw the French label.

“Only the best for the best. Come, sit.” He patted the sleeping bag and popped open the cork. “No glasses, I’m afraid. The landlady wouldn’t let me take any out with me. Would you like the first slug?”

“Thanks. This is wonderful.” Maggie sighed in bliss, hugging her knees and gazing over the dark expanse of sea.

“You’re wonderful,” Brett said suddenly. “Your face is wonderful. This body is wonderful.”

He ran his hand up and down her back until Maggie felt delicious tingles down her spine. She arched to his caress, and suddenly his lips were on her face and throat. They undressed each other, kissing all the while, their bare skin bathed in the sea breezes. He kissed her, and she pressed him to her, fusing into his arms until there on the hard sand she could feel nothing but his warmth and passion driving into her. As the last ebbs receded from their bodies, he sprawled on top of her, breathing hard.

“Ah, Serena, you make me forget the reason I came here,” he said, propping himself up on his elbows.

“You said you came to find someone?”

“Yes.” He gazed down at her, and she saw an intense look in his eyes. “I came for revenge.”

Lying on the sleeping bag, Maggie wondered about the grim word, so potent with meaning. She wanted to know more about Lisa, but Brett’s look changed. Gently he smoothed back the hair from her forehead, and soon they were making love again, lost in each other, living for the moment, on the windswept coast of Cornwall.

Over the next few days, Brett took pictures: of Maggie, the cliffs, the fishing boats as they returned with the day’s catch. They spent more and more time together. Her parents let her off shop duty when she said she was in the mood to paint, which seemed like every minute of every day now, so involved was she with Brett, but they didn’t question her refound enthusiasm. They had always been supportive that way, maybe even a little too indulgent of their only child. And no doubt they were glad to see that she was getting over Adam’s absence. Although they had never said anything, Maggie knew they disapproved of him.

As this new love grew, Maggie became more cautious. Pirate’s Cove was a small town, and she didn’t want talk of her and Brett getting back to Adam, so they hid their love away, even from her parents. Maggie and Brett stopped going around town together and instead sought out remote corners of the shore where they could be alone, happy just to beach comb, arms wrapped around the other. Nights were spent in the cave on the cliff, their cries of ecstasy carried away by the sighs of the breeze.

Then one morning at the Black Brew, after secretly spending the night in each other’s arms, Brett finally confided the reason for his fury and confusion. With the first rays of sun peeping through the window, he told Maggie that someone had stolen his girlfriend.

It was his brother Adam.

When he told her that, he might as well have slapped her across her face. Suddenly, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place: the physical qualities Brett and Adam shared, the fact they both came from Devon, their reticence on the subject of family. She wondered why she had never made the connection before. It had to be the same Adam.

Though numb from shock, Maggie managed not to react outwardly to the revelation, insisting she had to go open the store and would see him later.

All morning long, she pondered whether to tell Brett about her and Adam–but that they were no longer together. Would Brett believe her? Then she reasoned that since Adam was out of town–for now, anyway–Brett couldn’t find out about her relationship with his older brother, unless she told him. He knew no one else at Pirate’s Cove.

The person he had come to find could only be Adam.

The word “revenge” came back to torment her, resounding over and over in her head. In a moment that made her double over in pain, it occurred to her: Brett had known about her and Adam all along and had stolen her from Adam intentionally, the way Adam had seduced Lisa away from Brett. He had come to the Cove to get even. Maggie’s face burned with shame, but that was nothing compared to the anger that blazed in her heart.

She did not know how she managed to get through the rest of the day. The touch of Brett was still on her from that morning, on her hair, her lips, her skin. She loved him, but he had betrayed her. Even the sale of her “Pink Seagulls at Dawn” canvas with a price tag of two hundred pounds did nothing to lighten her mood.
Maggie forced herself to wait until late afternoon before doing anything. At five o’clock, she rushed out to her car and sped up the narrow road to the Black Brew, desperate to confront Brett and hear him admit how he had used her.

“Bastard! Rotten, lying bastard!” she cried out as tears streamed down her face.

A horn blared, and Maggie realized she had veered onto the wrong side of the road. She swerved back just in time to avoid a head-on collision with a van. Shaken, she continued on to the inn. After parking next to Brett’s bike, she went to see if he was at the bar before going up to his room.

The pub was packed with locals, mostly fishermen celebrating Friday night with pints of beer and fistfuls of darts. She caught sight of Brett in one of the booths talking to someone she could not yet see. He was so deep in conversation that he did not notice her until she was right in front of him.

“Sweetheart,” he said, leaping to his feet. “I was just talking about you.” He proudly started to make the introductions.

But Maggie and Adam had already seen each other. In slow motion, Adam’s face metamorphosed into surprise, then disbelief. She looked back at Brett to see confusion register on his features and realized that he did not know about her and Adam. His face grew pale, he looked sick to the soul.

“You two-timing slut,” Adam cursed, ice-blue eyes piercing into hers. “Though I can’t accuse you of spreading it around since you managed to keep it in the family.”

Maggie pounced on him, but Brett pulled her away

“Careful, Serena, he’s dangerous when he gets like this.”

“Serena? What is this crap?” Sneering, Adam grabbed her wrist so hard that she gasped. His expression was dark, and he looked like he would kill her in a heartbeat. “You bloody slag…”

Brett punched him in the face. The barman intervened, telling the two men to take it outside–among groans of protest from the bar crowd. Adam pushed Maggie aside and stormed out the door. Brett stared after his brother and made a move to follow, but Maggie held him back. “I had no idea until this morning.”

“I can’t believe this,” he faltered. “Here I was telling him about the new girl in my life and how perhaps we could try to put Lisa behind us. He’s being all reasonable for once and bragging about this Maggie woman, who turns out to be you, for Christ’s sake!”

Rubbing the red marks on her wrist, she took a deep breath. “Maggie’s the name people here in town know me by. Serena is my middle name.” She glanced fearfully into his eyes. “What’s going to happen between us?”
“What d’you mean?”

“Well…,” she stumbled, “You and Adam, you know…”

“Won’t be the first time we’ve shared the same woman,” Brett said bitterly. “It doesn’t change the way I feel about you, if that’s what you mean. You didn’t know we were brothers.” He looked at her straight in the eye. “You wouldn’t think of going back to him now, would you?”

“How could you think such a thing?” She made a move toward him.

“He can be very persuasive.” Brett took Maggie in his arms, burying his face in her hair. “I have to go after him,” he said. “He might think I did this on purpose to get back at him.”

“Can’t you just let bygones be bygones?” she begged.

Brett stood back so he could look at her. “You don’t understand, Serena. I practically worshipped the ground my brother walked on. He was four years older than me. I looked up to him. But he was a bully. He could have had any girl he wanted, but he took Lisa. Then he flung her away like a used tissue when he’d finished with her. Where’s the brotherly feeling in that?” Anger smoldered in his eyes. “So if you think he’s just going to let you go and leave us in peace, you’re very much mistaken.”

Maggie remained speechless. She felt she was involved in something deeper than she could handle, a continuing saga of sibling rivalry in which she had become the trophy. She didn’t know what to think anymore, but one thing was obvious. All her instincts told her she had to run from Adam and she had no choice but to turn to Brett. They had come too far and she’d felt too much. She just didn’t see how this was going to end.

“How did you meet up?” she asked finally.

“He came to find me at our parents’ old house, where I still live when I’m not on assignment. I had written to him that I’d be back from the States in July and would be over to see him at Pirate’s Cove. I guess he didn’t want you finding out about his sordid past, so he went to Devon to track me down. He waited for me back home, but I’d already left to come here.” Brett planted a kiss on her forehead. “Listen, I hate to leave you like this, but I have to go and sort it out.”

As he turned to leave, he cautioned over his shoulder, “Stay away from him and keep your doors locked.”
Maggie ran after him through the pub. “Be careful yourself,” she said as he sat astride his bike putting on his helmet.

Brett handed her a black case. “I brought this back from New York. It’s a semi-automatic. Put it somewhere safe.”

Maggie stared at it. “How did you get a gun on the plane?”

“I didn’t. I mailed it to myself in pieces. “I have to go into remote areas at times,” he explained. “But I don’t want Adam finding it on me.”

She held the case in her trembling fingers, afraid the gun would suddenly go off in her face.
They kissed one last time, and she watched Brett roar off on his Harley with the dust rising behind him. She watched until the taillight faded into the dusk, thinking all the while that Adam and Brett were not as different as night and day after all.

Then she got in her car and drove back to the store. Her parents were just getting ready to leave. Her mother wore a long Bohemian skirt and silver hoop earrings, her long blond hair flowing down her back. Maggie smiled. She barely looked old enough to be her mother. She and her father were like newlyweds again since they had entered semi-retirement and opened the tourist shop. Soul mates; and Maggie often wished she might be as happy with someone one day. She was so close now, and yet her fragile dream could still be smashed if Adam chose to be vindictive.

“Your dad and I are going to the theater,” her mother said in her girlish voice as Maggie plunked her bag down on the counter. “Do you mind closing up shop for us, sweetie?”

“Okay, Mum.” Maggie tried to sound cheerful as she ushered them out of the store before they noticed anything was wrong. “Have a good time. Bye.”

She drew the window blinds in preparation for closing and started to tidy the shelves crammed with an assortment of shell-based candleholders, curios, and Maggie’s watercolors of local seascapes. Ten minutes later, the bell rang and she swung around to see Adam strut menacingly through the door. He flipped the sign to “closed” and drew the bolt behind him.

“What are you doing here?” Maggie demanded.

“I’ve come for you, of course.”

“I thought you weren’t interested. At least, that’s the way it appeared at the beginning of the summer.”

“I had some business to sort out.”

“You and I are through, Adam. I’m with your brother now.”

“Really, Serena?” he said in a sarcastic tone. “Well, as far as I’m concerned, nothing’s changed and you’re still mine.”

Maggie stared at him with disdain. “I’m not a possession that you can just enjoy when it suits you. I’m a person with feelings, and I got sick of waiting for you. Then when Brett told me what you did to-” She broke off as Adam lunged at her, and she kneed him where it hurt. Violently he gripped her shoulders and shook her.

“You don’t know, Maggie. You don’t know what it was like growing up without parents, having to raise a younger brother at fifteen years old. I left school and went to work so I could put food on the table and send him to school in decent shoes. But Brett got to go to college. He had it good, don’t you see? All down the line, starting with our mother. She always loved him better than me. He has those angel looks, perhaps you’ve noticed. Everybody loved Brett better than me. So I took Lisa and I got her to love me too.”

At first, Maggie almost felt sorry for him. However, as she realized what he was saying, his crazy reasoning began to frighten her. She stood up to him, for her and for Brett.

“How could you do that to you own brother?” She looked at him as she would some slimy creature that had just crawled out from under a rock.

Erupting into a rage, Adam grabbed her arm. As she tried to pull herself free, he pushed her toward the counter, bending her backward until she was lying across it.

I can’t let this happen, she thought, groping around until she found what she was looking for. She undid the catch on the box and eased it open, then slowly reached inside as Adam pushed up her skirt. Her hand closed around the gun barrel. She felt Adam plunge into her and yelled out. She pointed the gun at his shoulder and, in her panic, pulled back the trigger.

A hollow shot rang out between them. Simultaneously, a sharp rap sounded at the window. Adam’s face whitened with shock.

“You crazy bitch,” he snarled, pulling away from her and storming out the door.

The gun shook in her hand. It was moments before she had the presence of mind to set it down on the counter and call her parents. She persuaded them not to call the police, hoping to spare them the gossip that was so rife in a small town like Pirate’s Cove. She did not tell them about the nature of the assault, to spare them unnecessary pain, and assured them that Adam would not be coming back. At least, she hoped that was the case. Yet in spite of her efforts to hush up the incident, a policeman came to see her the next day. Maggie thought at first that Adam had lodged a complaint against her for possessing a gun and firing it.
“The gun only had blanks,” she explained to the cop.

Maggie had asked her father to check the barrel after Adam left. She did not know what happened exactly, but was relieved to discover that no serious wound could have been inflicted, even though she had acted in self-defense.

“That’s not why I’m here,” the officer said. He proceeded to tell her that Adam had been found at Devil’s Creek, his body mangled at the foot of the cliff.

A sob caught in her throat. “He’s dead?”

The officer nodded. “Yes, miss. Was he your boyfriend?”

“It was over between us. He was angry about it. He came to the shop last night and we had a fight.” Maggie glanced anxiously at her parents, hoping they would not have to learn the whole truth. “Then he left, and that was the last I saw of him.”

“We believe he might have committed suicide. He had been drinking.”

Maggie knew that couldn’t be the case. Not Adam. He was not one to hurl himself off a cliff for the sake of a woman, and though he drank, she had never seen him drunk to the extent he would do anything stupid.
The policeman did not ask about Brett. It seemed no one had seen him the night of Adam’s fall. There was nowhere Brett could have hidden. Nowhere except the cave. And the cave was their secret.

####

When the funeral was over, Maggie felt a huge sense of relief. Most of the fishing community had turned out to show their respects to Adam. Now she and Brett were the only mourners left at the church.

“Adam would want his ashes cast out at sea,” Brett said. “But his crew mates will have to go without me. I don’t have sea legs.”

“Tell me what happened that night, Brett.” Maggie felt she could not deal with any more secrets.

Brett searched her face and shook his head. “Let’s just leave the past behind us, Serena.”

“I need to know,” she pleaded.

Brett sighed with resignation. “It was an accident. He fell. That was the police verdict.”

Maggie decided to leave it at that. Whether Brett was around at the time of Adam’s death, she might never know. Perhaps the sound she had heard during her attack at the store was Brett at the window. She could not be sure. Was it ever possible to know everything about someone, however well you knew them? She had never felt she really knew Adam. However, she could not doubt the strength of Brett’s love for her, and she had to have faith that it would be enough to overcome her doubts.

“No more secrets, okay?” she implored him.

“None,” he said with a faint smile. “But, while we’re on the subject, are you Maggie or Serena?”

“The name Maggie died with Adam.” Taking his arm, she led him out of the gloomy chill of the church into a small, neatly tended graveyard.

“Look,” she said, pointing to a simple headstone, which read, “Here lie two brothers, united in death.” Maggie fingered the worn, engraved lettering. “The Lady of the Cliff insisted they be buried together.”

“Do you believe they were really brothers?” Brett asked.

Maggie looked up at him, amused. “So you believe the legend now?”

“I saw her, you know.”

For one dreadful moment, Maggie thought he meant Lisa, the girl Adam had stolen away. “You mean…”

“The lady on the cliff. It was just before daybreak. There was an indistinct figure cradling a bundle in her arms.”

Maggie stared at him, her hand at her throat, unsure whether he was making this up.

“I swear it, Serena. I saw her.”

####

They sold Adam’s cottage and rented a house overlooking the sea, far away from Devil’s Creek and its mixed memories. Adam’s trawler, The Grey Lady, never made it back home. A freak storm overpowered the boat and three fishermen were lost at sea along with Adams’ ashes, only the pummeled remains of the hull washing up days later on a distant shore.

For the rest of the summer, Brett worked on his travelogue while Maggie painted. Her pictures acquired a new depth. Not only did they depict what met her eye, but now suggested a hidden meaning. Maggie had discovered that in life there was no such thing as black and white, but varying shades of gray. And just as day becomes night, night moves toward day.

She and Brett fell into a happy routine, but as the weeks passed, another storm cloud gathered. Maggie could no longer make excuses to herself that all the anxiety she had gone through with Adam was the cause. As they lay together one night, she turned hesitantly to Brett. His arms wrapped tight around her gave her the courage to speak.

“Brett,” she whispered.

“Mm?”

“I think I’m…pregnant.” Maggie clenched her teeth in the dark, waiting.

“You are?” He pulled back slightly, and she could just make out the contours of his face and the shine in his eyes.

She burst into tears, she did not know whether from joy, disappointment, or simply the relief of telling him.

“Why are you crying, sweetheart?” He held her closer. “We were bound to have a baby some time. Your parents will be thrilled. They were just hinting about a grandchild the other day.”

“It’s not my parents I’m worried about, or college,” Maggie began. Now she had come to the hard part. “Oh, Brett,” she sobbed. “I don’t know if the baby is yours or Adam’s.”

She felt the impact of her words penetrate Brett like a bullet; his body turned rigid.

“This never ends,” he said at last in a controlled voice. “Adam wins–again.”

“We don’t know that. The child could just as well be yours. We could do a blood test,” she blurted, “Then…”
Brett put a finger to her lips. “A DNA test might not prove anything. Listen, Serena, let’s make a pact, here and now, that we will never try to find out one way or the other. If the baby is Adam’s, so be it. We’ll love the child the way Adam never felt loved. Maybe, that way, we can give Adam something back, now that we have so much.”

Maggie hugged Brett to her. She could not speak. In that moment, she knew her feelings for him grew even stronger than ever before. She knew he was right, and her heart burst with love for the baby she was carrying.

But if she bore a son, well… Maggie decided the boy would be an only child, so history could never repeat itself.

©2009. C.S. Challinor / All Rights Reserved. This story may not be copied nor printed in any form without permission from the author.

This story was slightly edited for content for The Dark Phantom Review.
“The Grey Lady” was previously published by Loving Magazine, UK, as “Night & Day.”

About the author:

cchallinor-210-exp-5785C.S. Challinor was born in Bloomington, Indiana, and was educated in England and Scotland. She now resides in Southwest Florida. Her short stories have been published in women’s magazines in the United States and the United Kingdom. Challinor is a member of the Authors Guild and Sisters in Crime. Vist her website at http://www.rexgraves.com.

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For anyone thinking about writing in the horror genre, there are certain situations that, over the years, have been done so often that the audience knows exactly what to expect. Using any of these is fine if you’re being post-modern and ironic as in the Scream series, because you can get the audience laughing as they jump. But if you’re trying for the big scare, here are some situations to avoid, and alternative scenarios to consider.

The woman alone in the old dark house

She’s usually blonde, big breasted and not very bright. She shouts things like “Who’s there?” or “Is that you Joe?” Then she goes into dark rooms to see what’s in them. Tippi Hedren plays a fine example in The Birds, as does Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. This scene has been so successfully lampooned by the Scream series that its going to be hard for anyone to do it again; but if you must, you’ll need to find a new way of raising the tension. Making the woman blind has been done, as has having a man being stalked by a woman. But how about having the stalker existing inside mirrors, and only able to reach out at arms length. What happens if he gets a knife?

The kid who’s Mom isn’t Mom any more

The kid says “That isn’t my mom” A smug doctor says, “It’s all in your mind kid: The Mom leads the kid off, and the next day both Mom and the kid give the doctors far-away stares. This was a staple in 1950’s paranoia flicks like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invaders from Mars, and was given a new lease of life in Dark Skies. Serious thought is needed to give a new slant. How about if its the pets that are getting taken over, and only the kids notice?

The experiment gone wrong

They say things like “Morals are for lesser mortals” and “The ends justify the means” Then their creation jumps up and bites them. Think of all the movie versions of Frankenstein or Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and you can’t go far wrong. A more recent example was Beau Bridges in Sandkings, the pilot for the modern Outer Limits. Anyone planning on using this scenario should really meet some scientists. Many of them are weirder than their fictional equivalents, and they provide great material for stories.

The mob of villagers

Sometimes there’s a ringleader, such as an old woman whose grandchild has been killed. Other times there’s just an angry mob shouting “Rhubarb” and waving torches. Perhaps the best example is actually in a spoof, Young Frankenstein. How about trying a calm mob? I can’t think of a new way of doing this that would be scary, but maybe you can do better?

The priest who’s lost his faith

There are two ways this can go. The creature says “Your feeble god means nothing to me” and kills the priest in particularly gory fashion. Or the creature says “Your feeble god means nothing to me” and the priest steps up to the base and drives the creature away. There are fine examples of the first in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, and John Carpenter’s The Fog. You could try having the creature banishing the priest to hell? I haven’t seen that one… yet.

Running through woods in the dark

People run around in the dark, shouting things like “Mulder, where are you?” and waving flashlights, followed all the time by a malevolent presence in the trees. This is otherwise known as The Blair Witch Project. The idea was taken to extremes in Pitch Black where there wasn’t even hope of daybreak to come. A variation would be to do it in daylight, but Big Arnie covered that in Predator. How about having the monster as an urban creature that is actually afraid of the woods when chased into them? Time for that angry mob again perhaps?

Playing with dark forces

Somebody says “Let’s play with Grannie’s Ouija board” The next thing you know a planchette is flying around the room on its own. This idea has turned up a lot on TV recently, and usually involves scantily clad girls, in shows like Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.The way to use this scenario without looking tired is to find a new way of calling up the evil. How about a character who mouths the words as he reads them, thus calling up the beast by accident?

The love of a good woman

The monster dies an inglorious death and somebody says “T’ was beauty that killed the beast” Our cavemen ancestors probably told this one round the campfires. On film it dates back to at least 1933 and King Kong. More recently there was a variation in the Beauty and The Beast TV series and even the Disney movie of the same name. Why not try having the beauty fall in love first while the beast never succumbs? You’d need to find a neat resolution to the story, but then again, you’re a writer, so that’ll be easy 🙂

Let’s split up

Everybody knows that the monster is around somewhere, but someone says, “We’re off to explore that dark place. You go the other way and we’ll meet up later.” Why does everybody always think this is a great idea? Just watch Buffy TVS and count how often the gang lose each other. Or go back to the original Scooby gang and watch Shaggy and Scooby get split up in every episode. Why not have them stay together for a change? Or maybe they keep in contact via cell phones to foil the bad guys. Or, better still, what about a monster that can split up and be in two places at once?

I’m free

The monster has been vanquished, the victor turns back to the other survivors to take the acclaim, and the suddenly resurgent monster chomps him to pieces. There are nice examples in Starship Troopers and Deep Rising. One way to subvert this would be to have another monster save your victim? Or how about doing something brave and have your monster die first time?

Conclusion

I’m off to write my new script “Chomp!” It starts as a mob of angry villagers storm the lab of a mad scientist who has been dabbling in powers man is not meant to understand. The priest with the mob is killed by a “creature” that escapes into the forest.

A year later 10 nubile teens are shipwrecked on the island. They split up to search the area and find themselves being chased by a mutated man-beast, half-man, half Komodo Dragon. Soon there’s a lot of running through forests at night, and a tense scene where a blonde is trapped in the ruins of the lab.

The big climax comes when the last two of the teens confront the monster. The boy thinks he’s killed it, and turns back in triumph, only for the beast to rear up and dismember him.

In a poignant final scene the last girl cradles the monster’s head in her lap and weeps as it dies.

Do you think it will sell? If your answer is “No”, what would you do to make it work?

William Meikle is a Scottish writer, with seven novels published in the States and three more coming in 2007/8, all in the independent fantasy and horror press. His short work and articles have appeared in the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Greece, Saudi Arabia and India.

Read free fiction at his web site http://www.williammeikle.com

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cat-full-moon1Halloween is not only a colourful night of fun, frights, sweets and costumes. It is a full-blown industry, with more than $14 billion spent each year on costumes, decorations, party supplies, candy and other paraphernalia.

How did it all get started?

The origins of Halloween are quite dark, and go all the way back to 2,000 years ago, to the Celtic Celebration of the Dead, or Samhain (Sah-ween), in what is now Ireland, the UK, and Northern France. The Celtic Festival took place each year on the eve of November first, which marked the end of summer and harvest season, and the beginning of their New Year and winter, a time associated with cold and death. Samhain festivities lasted for a couple of days, until about November 2nd.

The Celts believed that on October 31st, the last day of summer and New Year’s Eve, the boundaries between the living and the dead became blurred and thin, and spirits, both good and evil, roamed about on the streets and countryside and did as they wished. The Celts were especially frightened by the prospect of these evil souls harming the crops.

On this night, Celtic priests called Druids dressed in animal masks and skins and performed sacrifices to placate the gods and “ward off” spirits. Bonfires represented the sun, the power to fight dark forces. The Druids lit huge bonfires and burned animals, crops, and sometimes even humans. In fact, the word “bonfire” comes from “bonefire,” literally! (It’s interesting to note that the practice of burning humans continued as late as the 1600s).

Besides the Druids, people also performed their little “rituals.” To ward off spirits, they carved turnips and lit them with embers. To “fool” them, they wore animal masks or scary disguises. To placate them, they left fruits and nuts at their doorstep as a gift or offering, thus preventing future bad crops. This is the origin of “Trick or Treat.”

Around the 7th Century the Celebration of the Dead spread to Europe, but it became known as “All Hollows Eve,” or “Night of the Dead.” In parts of Britain and Ireland it also became known as “Mischief Night.”

Around the 800s the Christians moved to the Celtic lands and tried to eradicate all pagan beliefs and celebrations. In an attempt to placate the Celts, Pope Boniface IV designated November first as All Saints Day as an attempt to replace the pagan “All Hollows Eve.” Thus he “transformed” the Celebration of the Dead into a Christian holy day.

It is believed that later the Irish brought the tradition of carving turnips to America. However, they soon found out that there weren’t as many turnips there, and that pumpkins were a lot bigger and better to carve scary faces on.

Eventually “All Hollows Eve” came to be known as Halloween.

The traditional Halloween symbols we know today, like witches, black cats, ghosts, pumpkins and candles appeared in the US around the 1800s. Entrepreneur minds no doubt realized the marketing potential. The whole concept of Halloween gradually became commercialized.

Today, in spite of its dark origins and although some religious people consider it an “evil” festival, Halloween is mostly regarded as a spooky yet harmless, fun, family celebration.

©2005, 2007, 2009. Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved. This column may not be copied nor printed in any form without permission from the author.

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dianneDianne Sagan, author, speaker, ghostwriter, and consultant has been a story teller much of her life. She started writing short stories for her children when they were small. Dianne has spent several years honing her craft as an op-ed columnist in the regional newspaper, Amarillo Globe News, short stories for anthologies and online articles on Suite 101, Writing for Dollars, and others.

Born in the Midwest, she grew up on the plains of West Texas and in her heart of hearts always wanted to write. She says that she loves being married to a writer and an editor because she always has someone to brainstorm with.

Visit her website and blog.

Your new book, Shelter from the Storm, is different from your novella, Rebekah Redeemed. What made you write such a different book?

I think that both these books are parts of who I am and what is important to me. I realize that “we’re here to make a difference” has become a rather trite thing to say, but I believe that what we learn through life experiences should be used to help others. We can help others get through challenges. I use my writing as an outlet as well as speaking with groups or organizations.

Tell us a little about what it was like to write this type of book.

Parts of it were hard to write and emotional, but because it is fictionalized I could remove myself somewhat from the plot. I kept thinking that if I could make it a page turner and focus on Brittany Camp, the protagonist that people could empathize with her.

This is your second book to be published. Is it as exciting this time as it was with your first book release?

It is just as exciting but it is tempered with what I’ve learned about what it takes to launch a book. It is a lot of work. However, I’m sure I’ll be just as excited when the first box of books arrives and when I look on amazon.com and see it there. I wanted to take a picture of myself by the book shelves at the book store the first time I saw my book on the shelf. I do admit that when I got the ISBN number, I felt like dancing just like with the first book.

Who is your favorite character in Shelter from the Storm?

Of course I feel an attachment to Brittany Camp, but I like her attorney. He is a compassionate and understanding person, but he is also focused and wants to help his clients believe in themselves again.

Do you have any other works in progress?

Yes, I’m working on The Fisherman’s Wife. It is the second book in the Christian fiction novella series. I also have a few other books that are still in what I call the incubation stage. I work in my head a lot on story lines and ideas before I start actually writing.

Who are your favorite authors?

I read a lot of different books, both fiction and nonfiction. Some of my favorite authors are Francine Rivers, Terri Blackstock, Jerry Jenkins, James Patterson, David Baldacci, Carol Higgins Clark, Janet Evanovich, Lillian Braun, and Deborah LeBlanc. Some of my favorite nonfiction authors are Beth Moore, Max Lucado, and Jennifer Rothschild.

You are also a ghostwriter. What is it like to write as a ghostwriter compared to writing your own books?

The books I’ve ghosted were nonfiction and included subjects like leadership, overcoming fears, becoming a better person, becoming successful and teaching children about handling their finances. The biggest challenge is to write in someone else’s voice. You are writing someone else’s message and you need to be sure you are saying what they want to say.

Writing my own books and stories is easier because it just flows out and I don’t have to be sure I stay in the correct voice. I can just let the story or content develop from my own imagination or research. However, I enjoy doing both kinds of writing. They both have their own challenges and feeling of satisfaction when you complete a project and it is ready to go to layout for printing and release.

It is pretty cool to see your name on a book that you’ve written and exciting when you have a book signing and people actually want to buy your books and enjoy reading them.

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