Thursday, September 20, 2018

Them! (1956) Guest Blog By Thomas S. Flowers

Them! (1956)
Guest Blog By Thomas S. Flowers

The most foreboding title among the horror and science fiction lexicon, besides perhaps IT or They (which is just a cheap knockoff of the more impressive film we're about to discuss), is the 1954 masterpiece known as Them! Among the many different creature features, be it swamp critters or critters from space or super mutant hybrids, bugs freak me out the most. As defined by the omnipotent Wikipedia, "Entomophobia (also known as insectophobia) is a specific phobia characterized by an excessive or unrealistic fear of one or more classes of insect and classified as a phobia by the DSM-5. More specific cases included apiphobia (fear of bees) and myrmecophobia (fear of ants)." Now, that being said...I think my "fear" can be measured by mass. The smaller the insect, the less I get "freaked out." Hence, small little pests like flies and mosquitoes are simply put...pests, easily swatted or shooed away. But on the other spectrum, the bigger they get, the more I'm opted to run away screaming. If someone were to make a monster movie with the intention of provoking the mass amount of fear from yours truly, Them! would be the quintessential experience of terror.

But it cannot be done in a silly way. If you want a serious reaction, the movie will need to have a serious undertone. Them! is a perfect example of this. As a fan of most dubbed "classics," basically timeless pieces of cinematic history, be it 1930s or 40s or 50s or 60s or even those in the Silent Era, I took double pleasure in the fact that this now 63-year-old movie can still capture that tension, that wonderful feeling of dread so fantastically. Them!, not too sound too fan-girlish, is utterly amazing. By modern standards, Them! easily tops what producers consider to be blockbusters in not just storytelling and characterization, but also special effects. It makes me curious what original audiences thought when they first sat in their parked fin-tailed red and chrome Chrysler's at the local drive-in, WITHOUT having been desensitized by years of modern computer-generated graphics.

Alas, those day's are gone forever.

All we can do now is cherish the time we had.



For those who have not had the pleasure, here is a quick synopsis of Them! from IMDb:

"The earliest atomic tests in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization."

Boom. You don't really need anything more than that, do you? Needless to say, IMDb isn't wrong. In a nut shell, those are the stakes. A mutated strain of ants are multiplying in the New Mexico desert and could very well threaten civilization. And not just any mutated ant species, but a mutation of the Cataglyphis genus, better known as Desert Ants. These sand dwellers are among the most aggressive of ant. The perfect bugs to supersize for a horror/science fiction movie, right?

One of the fun aspects of Them! is how the movie starts off and is treated more or less throughout the entirety as a "detective" story. The movie opens with a patrol car doing their normal patrol and pickup a little girl, no more than six years old, strolling through the desert alone dressed in a nightgown and cradling a broken doll. They try talking to her but she is catatonic, speechless, staring blankly out at the brown sand. That feeling of dread we talked about begins to weave slowly into the movie and as the policemen investigate a nearby trailer, finding it mostly destroyed, pulled apart from the outside (they deduce) the tension builds even further.

The next scene certainly adds to not only the mystery but also the horror when police sergeant Ben Peterson's (played by the very awesome James Whitmore) partner "disappears" off screen investigating a strange sound. He get's off a couple of shots and then screams, that kind of scream that sends chills down your spine. The sound the officer investigates permeates throughout the entire movie. A familiar nature melody for anyone living in suburbia or out in the country. The sound of cicada or crickets singing in trees or in tall grass. Come summer, that sound is still quite pleasant to me, despite this film's attempt to ruin it. Though, there is a lingering feeling of "what's really making that sound? Are they, Them! watching me?"

And I love how, despite the excellent movie art on the  poster, knowing there will be giant ants in this movie, the story stalls the BIG reveal, forgive the pun, until the absolute right moment. And that moment, much how the newly brought on character, FBI agent, Robert Graham (played by man's man James Arness), to its frustrating conclusion through the "comic relief" of sorts Professor Harold Medford (played by Santa himself Edmund Gwenn) and his "if a boy can do it a girl can do it too" daughter Dr. Patrica Medford (Joan Weldon). The Dr. Medord's are not really that comedic, the old man is sort of how we might think brilliant old men are, a tad absent minded to every day tasks, but a genius in their preferred fields of study. And the female Dr. Medford, despite her strong grace of femininity, wasn't overpowering or preachy. She was meek but smart and willing to go places most men wouldn't dare go. In a decade before feminism really took off in America, it's hard to place the purpose of her character. Regardless, I was and am very pleased with her performance, second to her father perhaps, how she was not the ditsy romance how most other movies place actresses. Harold may have been love struck, but everyone else called her Pat, a genderless name, and I prefer it that way.

The reveal was perfect, as I said. A sandstorm kicks up and everyone's goggled and stumbling around for clues. Somehow Pat get's separated from the group. That chilling buzzing, ringing, clicking cicada sound starts again, getting louder and louder, and everyone is looking around wondering what that noice is and where it's coming from. Above Pat on a dune, emerges a large black head with giant orb eyes long furry antenna and large sharp looking mandibles. She screams, alerting the others who begin opening fire, destroying the ant's antenna (to the suggestion of Dr. Medford). The ant is killed and while the others are staring at this impossible horror, Dr. Medford makes a statement, the inspiration and message of the entire movie, I think. He says, "We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true - 'And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth.'" He says something very similar towards the end of the movie, stating, "When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we'll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict."

The Atomic Age...

Full of sparking large logos and flashy gadgets and a new generation of fast food and drive-in theaters and modern jazz and rock-in-roll, but this was also an era of uncertainty. Hiroshima and Nagasaki awakened something in humanity. Something more than just awes and dread. Something darker and more pious than religion. The Atomic Age was this new fear of the bomb. Uncertainty over world powers, the growth of the Cold War, and a horizon in modern science to which many did not understand. Not knowing is the greatest fear of all, at least according to H.P. Lovecraft. The Atomic Age also gave birth to this very feature we find ourselves enjoying (hopefully), the birth of unnatural monsters such as Godzilla and Them! Better known as Creature Features.

Them! acts as a cautionary tale. Be warned, what will await us on the other side of the door. Will science bring upon us destruction and darkness? Will man's ignorance? Them! isn't about the dangers of real giant bugs, it’s about consequences. That in everything we do or strive to bring about, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, as Newton had once said. Its a message every new generation hears, right? Cautionary warnings from the old folks rocking on the porch, talking about how things used to be.

The rest of Them! takes on that similar detective story we were introduced to in the beginning. They hunt down the hive and destroy the giant ants with poison, only to discover a few queens had escaped prior. Now the once localized investigation turns into a global event. Hush hush, of course, to avoid widespread panic, the team with the added benefit of the military and select government officials quickly work to destroy Them! But the movie doesn't end like some monster movies with the creatures being destroyed...there is a feeling of uncertainty, astute given the era, and we are left wondering if perhaps there are more giant mutated ants out in the desert thanks to atomic weaponry. And as Dr. Wedford said, "nobody can predict."

The Last Hellfighter
Thomas S. Flowers

Genre: Historical Fiction/Horror

Publisher: Darker Worlds Publishing

Date of Publication: Aug 10, 2018

ISBN: 1724369202

Number of pages: 277 (Kindle)
410 (paperback)

Word Count: 78K

Cover Artist: Michael Bray

Tagline: They thought vampires were fantasy. They were wrong.

Book Description:

In the year 2044, reporters from the Public Relations Ministry gather at the home of Benjamin Harker, the last surviving member of the Harlem Hellfighters. At the age of 144, he is the oldest recorded man alive. Hidden among them, Clyde Bruner is looking for a different kind of story. Across the United States, despite the Great Walls and patrol drones built to keep America secure, something has found its way in. And now towns are vanishing during the night. Entire populations, gone. Only to return after the sun sets, changed, unholy, and lethal. And whatever this evil is, its spreading west.

According to a bedtime story Bruner’s grandfather told him when he was a boy, Benjamin Harker has seen this before. He’s faced this scourge. Fought this evil. Survived them. Killed them. From the trenches of the Great War to the jungles of Vietnam to the sands of Iraq, Harker will search his past to save our future.

But as each city light extinguishes across the country, is there no time left to stop what’s coming?

About the Author:

Who doesn't love a good story? Thomas's favorite books include All Quiet on the Western Front, Salem's Lot, and Hell House.

In his own writings, he aspires to create fantastic worlds with memorable characters and haunted places. His stories range from Shakespearean gore, classic monster tales, and even stories that hurt him the most to write about, haunted soldiers and PTSD. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, Thomas's debut novel, Reinheit, was eventually published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, FEAST, Beautiful Ugly, and Planet of the Dead.

His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, filled with werewolves, Frankenstein-inspired monsters, cults, alter-dimensional insects, witches, and the undead are published with Limitless Publishing.

In 2008, Thomas was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He is the senior editor at Machine Mean, a site that reviews horribly awesome and vintage horror movies and books from guest contributors who obsess over a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Malevolent by S. Peters-Davis - Haunted Halloween Spooktacular

Soren’s Calling
By S. Peters-Davis

The tree, miles inside the dense Michigan forest, billowed with majestic energy, same as it did fifteen years ago. I’d sensed its power even then, at ten years old. Something marked in my memory like a reoccurring dream called me back to this place.
I touched the kaleidoscope of bark, reveling in its swirls of uneven texture, and swore it shivered. Or was I vibrating to its high frequency? Excitement and exhaustion sliced through me. “Hello, old friend,” I whispered.
A sudden heaviness settled into my body and eyelids. I dropped my backpack and leaned against the tree, bending until I rested on the ground. The sketch book. I pulled it from the pack and thumbed through the pages of my drawings. There he was. I want to see you again.
My eyes closed of their own volition, sending me into the darkness of deep sleep.
* * *
Breaking branches, rustling leaves, and a thud on the ground next to me startled my mind to consciousness. I jumped to my feet, the sketch book landing with Soren’s page open. I glanced at it for a second before scanning the area and seeing nothing. Then…he stood in front of me.
His violet-rimmed dark eyes studied me. He’d grown in stature, still long-limbed with clawed hands and feet. His shoulder-length silver hair was drawn away from his sculpted face by a couple slender braids. He sniffed the air and his mouth opened showing long incisors.
“It’s me, Becca.” I reached my hand toward him and he jerked back, snarling, the talons on his fingers displayed in full. The hair across the nape of my neck snapped to attention, reminding me of the graphic way he’d stopped a wolf from attacking us years ago.
Maybe this wasn’t Soren. I lowered my gaze to the drawing at my feet. He stepped closer backing me against the tree, his thin brows pinched together as he studied the drawing. He looked back at me, wide-eyed, and planted his hands on both sides of my head. Somehow, we fell inside the tree.
We plummeted into a wind tunnel. His arms locked around me as he spun my body around until our heads were up and our feet were down.
What the heck just happened? I didn’t recall this part.
Warm shimmering light surrounded us, making the violet color of his eyes opalescent as we free-fell in this make-shift elevator of air.
“Becca,” he whispered and nuzzled my neck. “You came back.”
My eyes moistened. “Soren, I’ve missed you.”  His earthy cocoa-spice scent doused my olfactory in memories. The three days and nights we’d spent together, climbing the tree, finding mushrooms, swimming in an icy pond, enjoying campfires…until my parents found me wandering the forest alone.
We never went to that forest again for our spring mushroom hunts.
All this time I thought the tree and Soren were figments of a child’s wild imagination. I returned to the forest in hopes of finding the tree, where I’d first fallen asleep so long ago. I lifted my head away from Soren’s shoulder to study him closer. His face appeared more human. The fangs had receded. His ears lost their pointed tips and his nose wasn’t so snout-like.
The tunnel opened into a vast terrain of vegetation, thistle huts, pools, gardens; a whole underground civilization. Our descending slowed until our feet rested on solid ground.
“Where are we?” My focus went ballistic, attempting to take in everything at once.
Soren tapped my chin, closing my mouth.
I laughed. “We didn’t come here as kids. I would have remembered it, especially the trip down.”
“No. Our kind never brings humans here.” He grabbed my hand.
No humans? My stomach roiled and my knees shook then folded. The whole falling through a tree into another world of beings wasn’t connecting inside my brain. A living nightmare might work as not one human knew where I’d gone, too hard to explain a child’s quest.
“Becca, you must stand, now, or everyone will know.” He pulled me up and wrapped an arm around my waist. “We must hurry.”
I jerked to a stop. “I don’t understand. Why did you bring me here?”
“Shhh. No scene. Come now.” His nostrils flared and he eyed the gathering crowd. “Explain in a moment.”
A pack of wolves came to mind. My stomach flipped a couple more times at their red eyes, flaring nostrils, and growing fangs and claws.
Soren yanked me along a narrow grassy path, the others followed on our heels. Their snarls and growls closed in. Soren lifted me in his arms and ran toward a large round hut. He pushed through the fabric-like doorway into a cool dimly lit room. Not one of the creatures entered after us.
“They want to hurt me. Or eat me. Why did you bring me here?”
He set me on my feet and motioned for me to sit on the cot in the center of the room. Then he slid my sleeve above my wrist, his fingertips touched two small scars. “Those are what called you back. I marked you long ago, as you slept, with the intention of giving you another that bonds. It is why we were attacked. Spring is our season to bond, no matter what age, we bound our mate and when the age is ripe, like now, we mate for life.”
“Instinct brought me here? You told me humans aren’t allowed.” My heart beat into my ribs so hard my body moved to its pulse. A mix of emotions swept through me in a shiver.
“There are no humans here, only our mates and us.” His face morphed, fangs extended.
“No.” My voice a mere whisper as he pushed me back and his fangs sank into my neck. 

A Kendra Spark Novel
Book Two
S. Peters-Davis

Genre: Supernatural, Suspense-thriller, Romance

Publisher: BWL Publisher

Date of Publication: August 10, 2018


Number of pages: E-book length: 150  
Number of pages: Print length: 195
Word Count: 57,500

Cover Artist:  Michelle Lee

Tagline: Trafficked girls marked to lose their souls by a malevolent supernatural entity require someone with explicit abilities for their rescue. Will Kendra be able to save them?

Book Description:

Kendra Spark, suspense-mystery writer and communicator with the dead, signs on to the next FBI Special Task Force case, trafficked girls that are marked to lose their souls.

Jenna Powers, ghostified criminal analyst, sticks close to the case as she and Kendra are also marked by the same malevolent supernatural force.

Derek Knight, lead FBI Agent on this case, learns of the malevolent entity and the deeper paranormal realm of danger.

Kendra’s unfiltered feelings for Derek struggle to take a backseat, and as the menacing threat grows more intense, so does her passion for Derek.

Derek faces uncertainties he’s never dealt with in his past, like malicious entities and the loss of his heart to love. How can he protect Kendra against forces he can’t see?    

As boundless supernatural danger intertwines with the future reality of the trafficked teens, Kendra and Jenna realize only they can shoulder the rescue by calling in a voodoo priestess…

Amazon      BN      Kobo      Smashwords

Scribed      Indigo      Books2Read

About the Author:

S. Peters-Davis writes multi-genre stories, but loves penning a good page-turning suspense-thriller, especially when it’s a ghost story and a romance. When she’s not writing, editing, or reading, she’s hiking, RV’ing, fishing, playing with grandchildren, or enjoying time with her favorite muse (her husband) in Southwest Michigan.

She also writes YA paranormal, supernatural novels as DK Davis.

BWL Publishing Inc.:

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Halloween Flash Fiction The Girl at the Back of the Train by G.S. Denning

In book 3 of the Warlock Holmes series, there’s a character—Violet Hunter—who is an obvious link for tie-in stories by whoever wants to write one. So, when they asked me for a macabre, Halloween-worthy short story, she was an obvious choice. Thus…

The Girl at the Back of the Train

The train car gives a sudden lurch.  The soldier staggers. The doctor curses. The cobbler wobbles. The eighteen dead men—still chained to the seats, frozen with their final screams of horror upon grey, mummified lips—jostle back and forth. One of them tips over. His head separates from his dehydrated neck and thumps down into the isle. But the next swaying of the train sends it rolling under a seat where nobody will trip over it, so that’s nice.
“Well,” says the engineer, placing both hands to his hips, “this is clearly going to take forever!”
He is not the sort of engineer who drives a train down a railway. He is the sort who builds that railway. Or, in this case, the sort who comes all the way down from France to register displeasure that somebody else is not building it, quite as fast as certain rich gentlemen would like. To say the Orient Express has suffered significant setbacks to its development would lie safely within the realm of understatement. Everybody knows it.
Everybody, except the Eastern Roumelian attaché. He lets forth an audible scoff. “These men? Ha! Disregard them. Remember, these are all filthy Bulgarians. Political prisoners. Malingerers and malcontents who would go to any lengths to see our enterprise fail.”
As he is placating a Frenchman, he speaks in French. This is good for the girl at the back of the train. A Londoner, she is comfortable with French. Less so with Turkish or Bulgarian. In the pockets of her great fur coat, she has books that tell her how to order lunch in either of those languages, or find out where the nearest bathroom happens to be, but these are of little use for the order of the day—ferreting out a supernatural murderer. She’s already decided these men are fools, so she is not watching them. The setting sun, streaming through the windows on the right has cast their four shadows on the wall to the left. She is watching those. She’s rubbing her right leg against the carpeted runner that lines the wall beside her seat. By God, it’s getting tired. She’s been rubbing it against any suitable surface she can find, for the last three days. There’s no damned electricity in this country. She’s making do with static. She sneaks a peek inside her coat at one of the dials on the waist of her electric blue dress. Her capacitors are at less than 15%. If it were twice as high, she’d despair it would never be enough. But what can she do? Three days of building static and this is all she has to show for it…
Judging by his eyebrows and the angry bristling he’s getting his moustache to perform, the Frenchman has not been successfully placated. “Any lengths?” he says. If his tone gets any more dubious, he’ll likely split his pants. “Yes, I would say they were fairly committed to their cause, if they were willing to commit mass suicide in so grotesque a fashion, just to delay construction of a railroad that would bring prosperity to their country. Is that your opinion, doctor? That these men did themselves in, to slow us down?”
The doctor gulps and looks over at the soldier. The soldier gives him a little nod to say that—yes of course—he will be shot if he undermines the authority of the Eastern Roumelian attaché. The doctor licks his lips and mutters, “Well… what other explanation is there? There are no marks upon them. No signs of violence. Perhaps it is the result of a poison? And… erh… as the noble attaché points out, they were Bulgarian.”
“Of course they were Bulgarian!” the Frenchman shouts. “Line up any ten men you find on the street and seven of them will be Bulgarian. Then, after we account for the Greeks, the Armenians, the Gypsies and the Jews, less than two of them will be Turks. I’d say if all these dirty Bulgarians ever stood up at the same time and decided they wanted this fake little country to be a part of Bulgaria, you Turks would have a hell of a fight on your hands, wouldn’t you?”
The soldier nods that this is true. But the Eastern Roumelian attaché raises one finger and protests, “Of course we are not Turks.”
The Frenchman rolls his eyes for the two hundredth time today and indicates the patch on the soldier’s shoulder, the proud crest of the Ottoman Empire.
“Well… He’s on loan,” says the attaché. “But let me assure you: the men with whom you bargain are fully loyal to the country of their birth.”
“Yes, I am certainly gathering that impression,” the French Engineer huffs. “You, for example must be nearly forty and—if I am not mistaken—Eastern Roumalia was created by the stroke of some crazy Englishman’s pen five years ago. At this rate, I do not think it shall endure another five.”
At the back of the train, the loan woman winces. Yes. Her countrymen do seem to have a certain way with maps, don’t they? Divide this, separate that, bargain, bargain, and in the end, how does it turn out?
Generally, not so very well.
The Eastern Roumelian attaché gives his iciest smile and plays his trump card. “Perhaps then, you should go back to Paris and convince the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits to change their slogan to: Luxury train accommodations from Paris to nearly Constantinople.”
“We get them to Constantinople now!” cries the Frenchman in that tone of wounded French pride his countrymen practice so well and so much.
“And you do your best not to advertise the fact that the last hundred miles are not in luxury sleeper cars, but on leaky ferry boats from Varna,” the attaché reminds him. “Let us all strive to remember: you need our help.”
“Who’s help?” The Frenchman thunders. “These men are all dead! There’s five more cars, just like this! This morning, we left Bucharest with over one hundred fit workers. Now, what have we got? One cobbler and your assurance that nothing at all is wrong!”
“Yes,” says the soldier, narrowing his eyes at the skinny young man who stands beside him, “one cobbler…”
“I hope you are not implying, sir, that I had anything to do with this!” says the cobbler. “I am only here as a gesture of good will, to make shoes for the workmen. Let me tell you, now that I see what I’ve gotten into, I have no desire to go. Let whatever workmen still survive at the camp have these fellows’ shoes and you can take me back home!”
The Frenchman harrumphs. “Unless we accept the honored attaché’s assertion that one hundred men, chained in separate train cars, orchestrated their own simultaneous slaughter, perhaps it is not unwise we ask of the single survivor to tell us what he saw, eh?”
“I told you: I saw nothing!” the cobbler insists. “All the lights went out and the screaming started. I was the only man who was not chained, so I hid under my seat. When the lights came back…” The cobbler gestures around him, at the desiccated corpses.
“I find it most suspicious,” says the soldier.
At the back of the car, the lone woman rolls her eyes. That’s what he finds suspicious? She watches the shadows and rubs the wall.
“Look, we were all on the train,” the cobbler protests. “Any of us might have done it.”
“But so far as we know,” says the Frenchman, “you were the only one back here. The rest of us were in the front with the engineer and crew.”
“What about her?” the cobbler demands, pointing at the lone woman. “She might have done it!”
“She did not do it. She is here to help,” says the Frenchman, in a tone that leaves no doubt as to exactly how helpful he has found her. “My employer has sought aid from many diverse avenues. It seems they asked the noted English Wizard, Mr. Warlock Holmes, to come down and do magical battle with whatever has been killing off all your workmen. The honored gentleman, it seems, could not be bothered. Instead he sent Miss Hunter, there. One tiny woman, unescorted, and he seemed confident she would solve all our problems.”
Violet bristles at this. It’s the third time he’s pointed out she has no companion. As if the most alarming thing about the current situation is that one lone woman should entrust herself to the company of so many swarthy foreign men. Her eyes flick to the engineer. “I am not unescorted.”
“So you keep saying.”
Wit and Fortune are always with me, sir, and you may have occasion to be glad of it, before long.”
For just a second, it looks as if she is going to have a particularly saucy answer to that.
But then the lights go out. Even the sunlight vanishes.
The screaming starts. It does not last long. Three astonished exclamations of alarm. One strangled scream. The sudden stink of vinegar. The shattering of glass and the unexpected blast of fresh, cold air.
The lights come back on.
Now there are but three shadows on the wall.
“What has happened?” cries the doctor. “Where did the soldier go?”
Before anyone can reply, he finds the answer himself by tripping backwards over the dried corpse that lays across the aisle.
“Mon dieu!” says the engineer.
“What is going on?” says the attaché. For the first time he looks worried. He has the power to deny that anything is happening. But if he is wrong—as everybody knows he is—has he any power to stop what is happening?
“By God, he was right beside me!” wails the cobbler.
“His rifle! What happened to his rifle?” the doctor says.
Violet Hunter gives a grim nod. It’s the only piece of good news she’s had in the last two days. She looks at the broken window, just behind the Engineer. Well, well… Where could the rifle have gone? The situation seems to be moving towards a confrontation long before she is ready, but at least she has this: the creature is afraid of guns.
She looks down at her gauge. Still not quite 15%. Ah well. It will have to do. The first time she wore the electric dress, it was meant to be the instrument of her execution. Now, with a few choice modifications from the genius, Tesla, it shall perhaps be the instrument of her salvation. Funny, how this big wide world is coming together… She met him in Paris, where this rail company is headquartered. Yet he is an Armenian—he hails from very nearly the spot she’s in, now. And it is not an ideal spot, if she’s honest. Oh well, she thinks, let’s see if the native son can save me. She flips the capacitor switch on her periwinkle blue, electric blue dress from charge to discharge. She stands.
“I have been listening to your foolish opinions for three days,” she says, “and they keep getting worse and worse. I’m sure our friend the attaché will happily attribute all our present misfortunes to the character of the Bulgarians. The doctor is so clearly under his influence that he will concoct—in his mind—a poison that can suck the very life and moisture from its victim in only seconds, though he knows no such thing exists. All of you seem willing to believe that it is no strange thing for all the light—even sunlight—to wink out, as if we had just gone into a tunnel. You know there are no tunnels, here. You refuse to believe I have any expertise in such matters, for my area is the supernatural and you all believe such concerns to be pure fiction. Yet you also believe you are the last four living men in this train car. Is that correct?”
“Well… Yes,” says the attaché.
“I see,” says Violet Hunter. “Then perhaps you can tell me: if the supernatural possibility is pure poppycock, if there are four living men standing in the center of this car, why are there only three shadows on the wall?”
“Eh?” the men wonder. Their eyes look down to their feet, follow their shadows up onto the wall, and they realize they are indeed one shadow shy.
The doctor has one.
The engineer has one as well.
The attaché, too.
The cobbler gives an angry hiss.
And the lights go out.
Violet knew they would. How could he ignore a challenge like that? The moment is come. In her mind, she is certain the cobbler knows how to drink the life-force from a man, in only seconds. It is possible he may even know something about the construction and maintenance of shoes. But does he know anything about electricity? Time to find out. She flicks a switch at her waist and the room fills with a barely-audible tweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
And he’s on her. She didn’t know whether she’d feel arms or teeth, but the thing that touches her is neither. It’s wet. It stinks of vinegar. It starts to wrap itself around her, like an octopus’s tentacle. No, two or three tentacles, at least. There’s a pulpy mass of it, just in front of her and several cold, wet appendages around her. There is no life in them, no heat or hope. They want hers. They want to drink it out of her.
But she’s got something else for them. Violet thrusts both hands forward, onto the strange wet thing. There’s a flash and a crack.
The tentacles slide away.
The spell is disrupted.
The sunlight comes back.
In the middle of the car stand the four men.
Three and a half.
The cobbler is headless, his body sags in the arms of the doctor who—as the light returns—stares down into the gaping neck of his countryman and stammers, “He… He is hollow.”
And no wonder. Much closer to Violet, down at her end of the car, floats the cobbler’s disembodied head. There are several vertebrae visible, dangling from the bottom. Attached to these by flaps of membranous viscera are most of his internal organs. Violet is sure she can pick out the stomach, because there it is at the bottom of his throat. His lungs are easy to spot, as well, for they are the greyish-pink sacks that inflate and deflate in that familiar way. Oh! And that big reddish organ on his right must be the liver. Violet knows all about those. Her parents taught her. Those are the things that fail on you and leave your two children orphans if all you ever eat is whiskey. Below that hang numerous loops of intestines which, doubtless, were the probing tentacles she’d felt in the darkness.
But then, the dress had been due for a wash, anyway.
The head of the cobbler is bobbing about in midair with… quite literally… a shocked expression on its face. Violet has no idea what sort of thing she’s looking at. But she does know this: she hasn’t killed it. They’re standing there just feet apart, dumbly staring at each other, and in probably just a moment, one of them is going to attack.
She makes sure it’s her.
Her hands bolt down into the fur muff she wears at her waist. It has two purposes. It keeps her hands cozy in the cold mountainous air. It also houses her two escorts. From either side, she pulls forth a copper-coated Webley-Pryse revolver, custom made for her by a fellow she kissed once, and his disreputable room-mate. The barrel of the pistol in her right hand is emblazoned with the word Wit. On the left, Fortune.
Violet takes a few steps forward, yanking back the triggers with a businesslike rhythm. Left, right, left, right, until the hammers click against spent cartridges. Twelve deadly .455 rounds fly forth, smashing into her enemy.
Not only her enemy.
Three of the mummified corpses have grand new holes in them.
The French engineer slaps at the sleeve of his coat, desperately swiping away the dusty coating of cheek-and-moustache spray that have recently come to rest there. But that’s his fault. He shouldn’t have been standing so close to the other victims if he didn’t want mummy bits all over him.
The Eastern Roumelian attaché keeps shifting his gaze back and forth between Violet and the growing red stain on his trouser leg, displaying an increasing level of horror and recrimination with each subsequent transit.
“Well…” says Violet, with a defensive sniff, “I can’t be expected to be perfect at everything, can I?”
Yet the most disturbing outcome must be this: the creature is not down. She’s sure she hit it. She saw the liver shake, watched a few loops of intestine forced back by the impact of her rounds, saw one lung dent inward, like a balloon poked by a toddler’s finger. She even saw the Cobbler turn his head and grimace in fury as one bullet struck just below his eye. But to what effect? If anything, her barrage seems only to have stirred him from his stupor. There is no damage. By the smell of things, all his internal organs seem to have been pickled in vinegar, until they have reached some sort of preternatural, rubbery invulnerability.
But then…
Why did he get rid of the soldier’s rifle?
Why is he scared of guns?
She hit most of his vital organs, didn’t she?
“The heart!” Violet shouts. “Where is the heart?”
The question is met with quizzical looks from the engineer and attaché, and a horrified scream from the doctor who—gazing down into the depths of the cobbler’s torso, seems to have identified something which offends his sensibilities.
Yes. There is her target.
Of course, both of Violet’s guns are empty now. She hits first one thumb release, and then the other, and yanks the Webleys’ barrels down. Twelve brass cartridges rattle onto the floor.
Which is good. But do you know what would have been better? Maybe she should have put one of the guns away. Maybe she should not have reached into the fur coat’s copious pockets for spare bullets with the guns still in her hands. Maybe she should have concentrated on loading one pistol and not the other.
As it is, she’s fumbling with not only two handfuls of bullets, but two handfuls of gun. She’s only slid a few rounds home, when the creature’s intestines wrap around her arms and neck.
By God…
Their touch…
She reaches up to grab them with her left hand, letting Fortune dangle by its trigger guard from her index finger. She uses another of Tesla’s tricks. Human muscles, it seems, are stimulated by electrical activity from the brain. And, on any given effort, only a small percentage of the muscle fibers are used. Then again, it doesn’t take much current to make sure they all fire, when needed. The strength with which Violet Hunter flings the Cobbler’s head and organs to the far end of the train car astounds everyone. The engineer cries out when the tangled ball of organs flies past. The doctor gasps. The attaché faints. Though—in his defense—he’s lost a fairly consequential amount of blood.
Violet’s arm is screaming. Tesla’s innovation can greatly increase the strength of her muscles, it is true. But not the tendons. Not the bone. Sufficient force will, of course, separate one from the other. He’s given her more than ample power to tear herself apart, if she’s not carful. And if truth be told, she has not been careful. How much damage has she done to herself? And—almost as bad—she can tell she’s got no opportunity to do any more. Her capacitors are empty. She’s on her own.
No time to worry about it, now.
The cobbler’s head hits the far wall and immediately springs back towards Violet. They both know they’re in a race. At the center of the car lies his body—lies his still-beating heart—the reason this creature is afraid of mortal weapons.
His head regroups itself and charges her body. Her body charges his, tipping the barrel of each Webley back into place as she runs. She’s there a moment before him, tackling his mortal form from the arms of the doctor as she readies her guns. Her friend, Dr. Watson, cut the barrels down, as well as the handles, to suit Violet’s small frame. The weapons kept much of their power, but their precision suffered greatly. No matter. She won’t be missing, now. She presses the barrels of both pistols against her enemy’s chest.
Click, click.
Oh, but do you know what she should have done?
Click, click.
She probably should have paid attention to where she was putting those bullets. There are just so many chambers, you know. Did she… um… did she happen to place the rounds at the top of the cylinder? The part that would spin away from the barrel if the hammer were pulled back?
Click, click.
Horrible loops of intestine wrap around her neck now. It is not their force that strangles the breath from her, but their nature. They are cold. They are unlife. The living cannot endure their touch.
Click, click.
She’s got no eyesight, now—no sense of the living world. She is falling. Falling through the ashen void. She’s got no memory of her own self. No love. No sadness. No hope of future prospects.
But there is a part of her—somewhere between her failing mind and her finger muscles—that remembers the task at hand. Simple, repetitive movements which have become second nature are the last things to stop. Which is lucky for everybody aboard.
Or… Almost everybody.
Click, Bang! Bang! Bang!
The cobbler’s head gives a hiss of protest. The intestine tentacles relax and begin to fall away. Violet thrashes herself free, with the little strength that remains to her. She collapses forward onto the chest of her enemy, panting.
She stays there for some time, fighting to make her body breathe. After a few moments, she pushes herself to a sitting position.
“Well,” she says, in a trembling voice, “that’s done.”
She raises one forearm and daubs some vinegar, some blood, and a rather unladylike quantity of perspiration from her brow. She stumbles to her feet. She’s shaking. She might just topple over. But then, if she can stagger past five more cars of dead men, she’ll have made it to the dining carriage.
And that will be worth it.
She rather fancies a cup of tea.
As she totters past the slack-jawed engineer and doctor, she mutters, “Good day, gentlemen. Warlock Holmes sends his regards.”

Warlock Holmes - A Study in Brimstone
Warlock Holmes
Book One
G.S. Denning 

Publisher: Titan Books

Publication Date: May 17, 2016


Tagline: Sherlock Holmes is a genius … Warlock Holmes is something else …

Book Description:

Sherlock Holmes is an unparalleled genius. Warlock Holmes is an idiot. A font of arcane power, certainly. But he’s brilliantly dim.

Frankly, he couldn’t deduce his way out of a paper bag. The only thing he has really got going for him are the might of a thousand demons and his stalwart companion.

Thankfully, Dr. Watson is always there to aid him through the treacherous shoals of Victorian propriety… and save him from a gruesome death every now and again.

Warlock Holmes - The Hell-Hound of the Baskervilles
Warlock Holmes
Book Two
G.S. Denning

Publisher: Titan Books

Publication Date: May 16, 2017


Tagline: Sherlock Holmes is a genius … Warlock Holmes is something else …

Book Description:

The game’s afoot once more as Holmes and Watson face off against Moriarty’s gang, the Pinkertons, flesh-eating horses, a parliament of imps, boredom, Surrey, a disappointing butler demon, a succubus, a wicked lord, an overly-Canadian lord, a tricycle-fight to the death and the dreaded Pumpcrow. Oh, and a hell hound, one assumes.

Warlock Holmes - My Grave Ritual
Warlock Holmes
Book Three
G.S. Denning

Publisher: Titan Books

Publication Date: May 15, 2018


Tagline: Sherlock Holmes is a genius … Warlock Holmes is something else …

Book Description:

As they blunder towards doom, Warlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson find themselves inconvenienced by a variety of eldritch beings. Christmas brings a goose that doesn't let being cooked slow it down; they meet an electricity demon, discover why being a redhead is even tricker than one might imagine, and Holmes attempts an Irish accent. And, naturally, Moriarty is hanging around... in some form or other.

About the Author:

G.S. Denning furiously studied reading and math until he could play Dungeons and Dragons. His love of DandD expanded to a passion for all things in the sci-fi and fantasy realm, particularly when spliced with comedy - Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Monty Python, Red Dwarf, Black Adder, Whose Line is it Anyway, Dr. Who, and the holiest of holies: The Princess Bride.

He learned his story-telling skills on the improv stage as a member of Orlando Theatersports, Seattle Theatersports, Jet City Improv, and as a Disney Performer at Epcot. G.S. also worked for Nintendo and Wizards of the Coast.

Finally, after realizing that humanity had not used the pun Warlock Holmes yet, he sat down to begin his first novel series: a dark-comic retelling of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic Sherlock Holmes stories. G.S. Lives in Las Vegas with The Best Wife and The Best Children.

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