Halloween Post: My Favorite Short Stories in the Horror Genre

Happy Halloween!!! ❤ Allow me to celebrate this special day by sharing with you ten of my favorite horror/dark fantasy short stories. My tastes range from quiet horror to splatter. Well, they don’t call me the Eclectic Eccentric for nothing. 😉 It’s just a random list, really, and I can list down at least 90 more. I initially wanted to do a Top 100. Unfortunately, I’ve been super busy with this whole moving in thing. How are you planning on celebrating Halloween? Tonight, I’ll probably be in a family reunion, eating finger foods and feeling generally uncomfortable. The venue? The family's mausoleum, of course. Not kidding. Anyway, here’s my “recommended reading” list. Enjoy! 🙂

The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe (1842)
read from the Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
Prince Prospero shuts himself in his abbey to avoid a fatal plague. In his masquerade ball, he receives an unwelcome guest. Read it online here

the masque of the red death

The Yellow Sign” by Robert W. Chambers
read from The King in Yellow (1895)
In this story, the protagonist grows more and more disturbed by the presence of a churchyard watchman who resembles a worm. Read it online here

The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)
This is a first-person tale about a woman’s descent to madness and her unsettling obsession with the yellow wallpaper. Read it online here

The Vampyre” by John William Polidori (1819)
A young Englishman discovers the true nature of his friend.
Despite the fact that there are limitless variations of “the vampire”, not to mention a proliferation of modern bloodsucker stories out there, I really don’t read a lot of vampire tales. I think this kind of old-fashioned romantic yet remorseless portrayal of the bloodsucking fiend is the best. Read it online here

the vampyre

Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” by M.R. James
read from Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904)
The protagonist finds a whistle in a Templar ruin. He is later haunted by a strange figure coming towards him in the distance. Read it online here

oh whistle and i'll come to you my lad

The Jar” by Ray Bradbury
read from The October Country (1955)
A poor farmer purchases a jar with something icky floating in it. The townsfolk come together to speculate about the nature of the thing inside the jar.

The Midnight Meat Train” by Clive Barker
read from Books of Blood Volume One (1984)
The protagonist falls asleep on a New York City Subway train and discovers what’s at the end of the line.

Mr. Torso” by Edward Lee
read from Brain Cheese Buffet (2010)
This is a story filled with over-the-top violence, gore, and sex. It’s about a redneck who mutilates his victims for a really nasty purpose and the detective who tries to hunt him down.
This (and most of Mr. Edward Lee’s published works) is certainly not for people who are easily offended/ grossed out.

The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down” by Joe R. Lansdale
read from Steampunk edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer (2008)
The Traveler from H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine turns into a bloodthirsty monster.
Sure it’s classified as steampunk but you’ll encounter a great deal of horrors (and gore and dark humor) in this tale. Not for the easily offended/ grossed out.

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison (1967)
A super-computer designed for war kills off everyone except for four men and a woman.
This is actually a post-apocalyptic sci-fi short but I find it to be more terrifying than some horror stories out there. Read it online here

i have no mouth

Your turn! What are your favorite horror/dark fantasy short stories?

Throwback Tales: The Fairest

OMG It’s October! Last year, I posted weekly horror tales to celebrate the entire month. This story first appeared in Dark Fairy Tales Revisited by Horrified Press last April 2014. I hope you enjoy it. Happy almost Halloween! ❤


THE FAIREST

by K.Z. Morano

My face was a universe. The lines in my irises were sinuous rivers that disbanded to form rivulets, made to merge in the deep dark oceans of my pupils. Deeper within those oceans were worlds beyond the reach of kings, where stars and stones formed cryptic constellations trundling in the unfathomable heavens found deeper and deeper within my perfect soul. The flawless snow-white slopes of my forehead, my cheeks, my nose and my chin… The ebony curl of my eyelash… The corner of my blood-red lips… They all created curves and crannies that hinted at the existence of more secret worlds where a thousand more beautiful and mysterious things may lurk and thrive. I looked into the mirror everyday only to have it tell me what I already knew: That I was the fairest one of all.

My name was Lady Amalie, the wife of a great lord. Apart from that, I knew nothing more. Any memory of a life before that kiss was gone to me. It was a strange thing, to know nothing of oneself yet to listen to the tales sung by troubadours from shore to shore. My entire past spun from the mouths of strangers. People told stories of how the lord woke me from a seemingly perpetual sleep and rescued me from my uncertain dwelling found between death and dreaming. As if that solitary occasion were all that mattered. It wasn’t fair. No one ever asked me if I wanted to go with him.

I suppose I should’ve been thankful. My husband was as rich as sin, with a home filled with lovely and delicate things. Perhaps I would’ve been happy if he didn’t treat me like one of his possessions, a precious, fragile object to be caressed then stowed along with the other pretty things. He looked at me with a kind of greedy gaze, like how a silk merchant would estimate the value of his wares or how a landowner would consider the worth of his investment. He would be pleased and he would sigh contentedly. Some nights he would visit my chambers. He would run his old fingers, gnarled like the roots of ancient trees, along my face… gingerly, as if he were afraid that it would break. And the nerves beneath my skin would die at his touch.
I almost hated my face. But I didn’t… couldn’t. It was, after all, the only thing that was truly mine, that one truth from a past that neither my lord husband nor the poets could possibly fabricate. And so every day, I would stare at myself in that mirror, as if I could unearth something new from the way one immaculate facial feature would connect with the other.

It was during one of those moments that I saw her. For the first time, the crystalline realm of the looking glass was inhabited by a reflection apart from my own. It disturbed me deeply. That space was meant to be mine and mine alone. But as much as it pained me to share that place with someone else, what truly troubled me was the way she looked. She simply stood there like some appalling apparition, her long hair as black as ravens’ feathers, a striking contrast against the deathly pallor of her hands that hung limply at her sides. How old she was or how young, I had no way of telling. Her face was swathed in yellowing bandages, the rest of her body concealed by the dirty-white gown she was wearing. I could’ve turned around to face her. I could’ve screamed. But I didn’t. I was paralyzed, unable to feel anything except for the thunderous thumping in my chest and the icy bead of sweat trickling down my spine.
I must’ve fainted, because when I woke up, it was almost as if she had never been. So I dismissed it as nothing more than a dream. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. With each day, as I looked into the mirror, her reflection got closer and closer, close enough that I could see the spidery thread of purple veins on her hands and the greyish flesh beneath the bandages that have slowly become undone. It pained me to part with my cherished mirror. But fear prevailed over vanity and nostalgia. So I draped a blanket over the gleaming polished surface, mourning it as if it were a dead lover, then I asked the servants to take the mirror and all of its dark mysteries to be locked away in the tower. I felt as if I had lost a part of myself.

But in spite of my sacrifice, the image of her continued to linger. Her ghastly echoes in the mirror, her face bound in yellow-stained gauze, the haunting hint of a face that lay beneath… all so vivid, as if she were etched into the insides of my eyelids. The only comfort I found was in the arms of Valtin, the huntsman. I roused, breathed, existed for our secret meetings in the woods. There, veiled underneath the compassionate canopy of trees, he would make me forget the daily horrors of my life in the castle. I would lie on a dew-covered blanket of grass listening to his skin hiss against mine… and the thousand tiny voices of the forest as each bird and beast and other nocturnal beings called out to their mates. The leaves of the trees would rustle, excited by the wind’s passionate kiss. The moon would wax and wane with our breathing, the air around us heavy with the evening blossoms’ perfumed sighs. During those moments, it would be as if the whole of nature were sharing in our hearts’ jubilation, moved by our magic. Come dawn, I would melt in his arms like a mantle of snow. And I would find myself wishing, hoping with all my heart… Would that my lord husband hasten towards his grave. Would that I were a peasant’s daughter and become free to marry my beloved Valtin.

It didn’t take long for my wishes to come true. With each day, my lord husband grew older and weaker, consumed by a wasting sickness unknown to men of magic and medicine. Whatever it was, it ate away his flesh so that all that was left was skin and bone to house his gradually fading soul. In his last moments, I stood by his pauperized form. He reached out a withered arm to me. And I held his bony hand like a dutiful lady and wife and I knew that I didn’t want him to leave. What would become of me then, I wondered. Who would be there to tell me who I was? Even when I sensed that my entire past had been nothing more but artfully constructed lies condensed into a ballad, still, I needed him there, because that false fable was all that I had. Even so, I felt him slipping away from my grasp like seawater shying away from the shore. And in his waning ghost of a voice, the last thing that he said to me was: “That face… that face…” He groped my face blindly with his stick-thin fingers, dry twigs defiling the satiny skin. Then he sighed and his spirit went with that last outbreath. It wounded me that even in the brink of death, all he saw in me was my face.

The days wore on and I began to be consumed by a black inward hollowness. This new sadness propelled me to once again visit the mirror that I missed sorely. I went to the tower one day, mounting the long flight of stairs, my chest bursting with proportionate amounts of fear and excitement. I removed the dark cloth from the looking glass ever so slowly, relishing the moment, as if I were undressing my long lost paramour. Then I lovingly fingered the intricate borders of solid gold and dwarfish stones. I watched with wonder as my warm breath bloomed upon the cold glass. And once again, I became lost in the universe that was my face.

Her presence drew me back to reality. I felt her even before I saw her reflection beside my own. She was right beside me. Her breath against my skin burned like ice; the putrid stench that floated around her assaulted my senses. The bindings that covered her face came completely unraveled. And there was nothing there, only a nebulous grey gibbosity where a face should have been. The amorphous lump billowed and flattened and out came a voice– thick, muffled, and slow, as if the sound was swimming through mud. It said only this one thing: “Face.” From somewhere within me, I found the courage to break from the surface of my paralysis and I ran… out of the room and down the flight of stairs and into the safety of my chambers where I trembled and wept. The creature, whatever or whoever it was, wanted my face.

I longed for Valtin’s company, his protective embrace and his quiet strength. But tradition dictated that a widow must mourn. And so I spent my days locked inside the castle, held by layer upon layer of cold, sinister stone as if I too were dead. But what should have been torturous days of waiting turned into a kind of slow, secret solace as I discovered the small, quickly budding life inside me. I knew without doubt that it was Valtin’s child that I was carrying. I recognized the steady thrumming of its tiny heart as well as I did my own. And so despite the castle’s opaque gloom, I would radiate a glow, as if I were lit by some sacred internal flame. I carried within me an extension of myself and of Valtin. Gradually, I stopped yearning for the past that I have never known and began looking forward to the future. No longer did I feel the need to gaze upon my reflection in the enchanted looking glass. The magic growing inside me was all that I needed.

However, I could still feel the creature’s presence lurking somewhere in the shadows. A fresh spurt of terror coursed through my veins. It was no longer for myself but for my unborn child. I rushed to meet Valtin one night, bearing both happy and horrid news. He shared in both my joy and fear like no one else could. As he knelt to press his warm lips against the subtle outthrust of my womb, he vowed to me that he would find the vile creature and present its heart to me.

For the first time in several nights, I slept as soundly as a babe. At least for the first few breaths… I dreamt that I was in a strange place… somewhere between dancing and dying. And indeed I was dancing… round and round in a mechanical ballet… my feet tapping into the ground to a melody conducted from hell. I tried to stop, but I couldn’t. My shoes of glowing red-hot iron hissed against my heels, searing my skin. The smell of my own roasting flesh forced its way into my nostrils. Still, the music rose to a maddening crescendo and I felt my own iron-clad feet tap, tap, tap-tap-tapping into the floor as if I were a wind-up toy. At the edge of my vision, I saw my audience… It was the faceless creature– no longer faceless but wearing mine. She sat on a grand throne bedecked with dwarfish stones. On her head was a coronet and beside her, a prince. My trembling hands crept towards my face only to find nothing there but raw flesh– wet, weeping… I screamed. And how they laughed at me… their faces illuminated by the fire that burned my feet… cackling as if they were witches ‘round a howling pyre. But that was not the worst of it. Despite the agonizing pain, I felt the blood trickling down my thighs. I felt the fragile life inside me dissolving and seeping out of my womb. Even so, I couldn’t stop dancing… The music came to a cacophonous halt, a lone string instrument scratching against the air. Then I fell dead into the ground.

I bolted upright from my bed, bathed in ice-cold sweat. I looked down and through a pale streak of moonlight, saw my blankets blooming with blood. Aware that I was no longer dreaming, my screams shattered the bitter air.

The days passed and I remained inconsolable, secretly dreading the night that I would meet with Valtin and bring him the dreadful news. The hollow space in my womb still ached where the innocent blossoming life had been. And I wished with all the strength that was left in me that on that night, Valtin would offer me that monstrous creature’s heart. The night came and the moon shone brightly like a jewel pinned into the sky’s black velvet bosom. I walked into the forest, my footfalls muffled by the thick mist. The trees stood like sinister sentinels and the night caused familiar things to take on frightening shapes. I called out to Valtin and my small voice squeaked into the breeze, several small echoes squeaking after it. When he didn’t answer, I delved deeper into the woods, ignoring the chill that prickled my skin.
Then, it seemed to me, that it began to rain but only where I stood. The first few droplets fell onto my head with a steady pat, pat, pat… And the sticky liquid dribbled down my face, smelling and tasting of salt and metal and something more… I looked up to see my beloved Valtin speared high into the branch of a tree, his eyes gouged out, a cluster of flies buzzing inside his gaping mouth. His body had been ripped open, bathing me in the malodorous soup of his guts. I opened my mouth to scream, only to taste more of the bitter broth. Then I felt her awkward footsteps pitter-pattering into the base of my skull. I turned around to find her, the author of all my sufferings peeling through the veil of fog. In her hand was what I presumed to be Valtin’s heart. The minute crimson channels of his blood created intricate patterns with the network of purple veins on her hand. Bravely, I turned to get Valtin’s axe that I spotted leaning against the tree trunk.

She took a step towards me. I staggered from the weight of it but through some mysterious reserve of strength, I lifted the axe and let it fall into her skull with a sickening wet thump. It created a yawning scarlet gash of flesh and bone. The wound seemed to smile at me and soon, it closed, gobbling its own blood. She took another step. And my screams wafted behind me like a widow’s veil as I ran towards the castle and into safety.

Soldiers, servants and serfs hunted that night. And the days and the nights after, but none of them found the monster nor the defiled corpse of my Valtin. I was too shaken and bereaved to care about the hushed murmurs– gossip that soon spread like wildfire across the land. My mind teetered on insanity. And one by one, the servants left me.

I spent my days wandering inside the castle and my nights screaming my soul out of my body until soon, even the mice and the spiders tired of my miserable company. It was during one of those aimless wanderings that I stumbled upon a room that I have never seen before. The chamber looked no less than a temple fit for some pagan goddess. At first I had to shield my eyes, nearly blinded by its sheer resplendence. Everything had been fashioned from solid gold; dwarfish jewels winked at me obscenely here and there. It was hard to contain the startled gasp that leapt from my throat. Affixed into a luxurious fur-lined wall was the portrait of a lady. A lady that bore a face the same as mine. I didn’t believe it at first, accusing my weary eyes of playing terrible tricks on me. But as I peered closer, I saw that there was no mistaking the familiar faultless contours as smooth and white as snow, the carmine lips as bright as blood, and the ebony eyebrows that arched in perfect twin bows.

Could it be, I wondered, that my lord husband had commissioned this portrait for me? And could it be that these personal belongings– ribbons and jeweled combs– laid carefully on an ivory table, be a part of the past that I somehow failed to remember? Among the objects was a laced handkerchief with an A daintily embroidered on one corner, roses and thorns twisting around the letter. Amalie?, I wondered. But even as I tried to convince myself, I knew that the girl in the painting couldn’t have been me. I felt no special bond with the room nor with the possessions; no memories came flooding back to me. In there, I felt like an intruder, sticking my nose into someone else’s story.

That was when I saw the apple– red, round, redolent and perpetually fresh. Until then, I saw it only in books, the picture swelling provocatively from the crinkled pages. I knew it to be the fabled fruit that grew from the enchanted forest, on a tree that served as a dwarfish dwelling. I saw the small concave portion– evidence that someone had taken a bite from it. The thought baffled me. No human –king, soldier or slave– dared to pluck a fruit from the tree for no one knew what its magic would bring them. For some, it could be death. For others, some say, a kind of cursed eternal life.

Right then, I knew what I had to do. I took my warmest cloak and headed towards the enchanted forest. It had been a troublesome journey. The cruel wind bit through my skin and the trees and stones kept changing their shapes around me. Even so, I followed the silver trail that always led straight no matter how the rest of the mystic forest twisted and yawed ways. Suddenly, I found myself standing before the dwarfish tree. It was massive and time-eaten, its senile roots grappling beneath the earth. Its ponderous branches drooped downwards as if barely able to bear the immortal beauty of its fruits. Then, one by one, the dwarfs came out, all seven of them. From the soil, they sprouted themselves into being. They were brown like earth and wood, with knotted limbs and smoky beards that dripped from their sharp chins, clothing their nakedness. Gems of incomparable beauty sat on their bald heads, crowning their hideousness. One of them stroked the hem of my skirt and sniffed it with his beak-like nose. It took all of my power not to wince and lurch away.

I voiced my request. But it seemed that the old enchanted beings knew what I came for even before I left. Animatedly, dividing the chapters amongst themselves, and occasionally fighting over who got to tell the best parts, they told me what I needed to know. They recounted to me the story of how a lord’s young daughter by the name of Agnise once stole a fruit from the tree. And how she dropped into the earth, cursed to a permanent slumber. The lord, who loved her so much, had a glass coffin fashioned to contain her corpse and he would sit by her side day and night, unable to part with her and her beauty.

Eventually, for a hefty sum of gold, the dwarfs relented to the lord’s pleadings and agreed to perform for him a secret art known only by those such as themselves. And so the lord found himself a black-haired girl from some distant peasant village. She was sold to him by her starving parents for a fistful of gold coins. And the dwarfs, with their magical hands, peeled off the peasant girl’s face, did the same to the sleeping Agnise, then carefully stitched the highborn lady’s face into the peasant girl’s head. They said too that they didn’t bother placing the peasant’s face on the lord’s daughter… that it was too ugly and it would be shameful to do so. The way they had said it, it was as if they had merely gouged Agnise’s eyes with a spoon then slipped the orbs into the hollow sockets where my own eyes had been. Perhaps that’s exactly what they had done. I didn’t care anymore. All I knew was that my face, the only thing that I thought was truly mine had been nothing more than another one of the lord’s elaborate lies.

A ball of hurt and hatred and sorrow molded itself in the pit of my stomach and it rose to my chest, then to my throat to escape through my mouth as a scream. I ran all the way back to the castle with the fantastic whorls of the forest reaching out to grab me. Once or twice, I strayed from the silver path and the branches of trees clawed at my skin and seized my hair. Snakelike vines crawled to strangle me and from their places in the shadows, I felt the eyes of all the forest’s mystical beings pursue me. Still, I was able to reach the castle and the tower where I had banished the cursed looking glass.

For the last time, I stared at my reflection. But where before the sight of it filled me with pride and pleasure, it came to repulse me. And before I got lost again in the universe of my –no, not mine– Agnise’s face, I grabbed the chair and hurled it towards the mirror. The mirror seemed to scream at me just before I broke it, then I heard it explode into a thousand little voices. Their screams seemed to magnify and swell out towards the worlds beyond. I watched my reflection shatter into infinitesimal fleeing fragments, not minding that I bathed myself in a shower of sharp splinters and disturbed dust. Then, as I lay on the floor, as broken as my reflection, I heard the sad rustling of silk against the floor and the awkward pattering of her footsteps as she walked towards me. I smelled her too– part rot, part hope. A hope for a new life, I guessed. I myself felt like I never truly existed.

I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a silvery shard of glass and a thought flickered in my head. I laughed… a long, hollow laugh causing the crystal smithereens around me to rattle. I reached for that piece of mirror and dug and dragged the pointed edge across the margins of my face, taking care not to harm the perfection of her forehead, her cheeks, her nose and her chin.
Then with my bare fingers, I plucked the eyes from my flayed face and handed them to her like an offering. I felt her take them from me… felt the burning coldness of her touch brush against my flesh.

In my mind, her prince found her. And so ensorcelled was he by her great beauty that he wished to take her with him to his kingdom. But this time, he would ask her first. Yes, that would be nice… And she would answer according to her heart’s desire. Finally, they would live happily ever after. After all, that’s how it’s always supposed to be. Except for me.

Copyright: © 2014 K.Z. Morano

Festival of Drabbles 2015

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I LOVE 100-word stories! Well, obviously. Or else I wouldn’t have written 100 Nightmares. This is why I’m proud to announce that I am a supporter of the First Festival of Drabbles 2015!

The first Festival of Drabbles will start on November 9th and run until the 15th. It will be a week long celebration of drabbles and the art of drabble writing including some of the finest drabblists in the world.

Fellow author Michael Brookes was the one who came up with this brilliant idea. And I’m very pleased to be invited as a participant. If you’re new to drabbles, they are a form of flash fiction in which the story is told in exactly 100 words.

If you’re on Facebook, feel free to join the event! Invite any friends that you think would be interested and share the event on your timeline. 🙂

https://www.facebook.com/events/375605662648575/

If you’re on Twitter then tweet a link to this event and if you can use the #festivalofdrabbles hashtag that would be awesome!

See you there!

xx
K.Z. ❤

Best Book Cover 2014 Semi-finalist

semifinalist

Hi! I would like to thank everyone who voted for 100 NIGHTMARES. The book cover, created by great artist Dan Verkys, is currently a semi-finalist for BEST BOOK COVER 2014 at AuthorsdB. Yay! ❤

I need your votes for the small category finals so please, please visit the page and vote for 100 Nightmares! A 5-star rating would be awesome! 😉 Voting ends on November 22 22:00 PST. You won’t have to register or anything, just visit the page and click. http://authorsdb.com/books/2014-book-cover-contest/2014-book-cover-semi-finalists-end/horror-semi/100-nightmares

THANKS AGAIN!! 🙂 Let’s win this thing!

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Throwback Tales: The Hole in Her Soul

The Hole in Her Soul
By K.Z. Morano

Every night, spirits visit her bed like an orgiastic parade of shadows… taking turns in penetrating the hole in her soul. She’s sad and vulnerable. She used to fake it in school, lying on the floor, rolling her eyeballs and mimicking an epileptic seizure. She would gibber in an alien tongue and spout sinister phrases like “worship me” or “I will kill you”… Unoriginal, but it gets them every time. She has a histrionic personality… an attention whore just like me.

Tonight, it’s my turn. I slip inside her hungry, hospitable hole and she fits perfectly like a skin glove. There’s just a kind of softness in the female body that I like. So I make her pick up the knife and start mutilating the most tender parts… her breasts, her nipples, the delicate inside of her thighs… She chews on the meat and it saddens me that there’s no one around to witness.

I try to think of her body as an easy-to-use rented vehicle. Eventually, I’m going to have to turn her over to the others. I don’t own her. But I want to. So I leave a mark. Her fingers tremble as she carves my name on her belly. We have fun for a little while. We do the things that she likes. Like going to church…

Everyone eyeballs the shabbily dressed lady as she walks down the aisle in the middle of ‘The Fraction’. She’s all skin and bones now. Cuts mar her arms and there are eggplant-colored bruises on her pallid skin. Cobwebs of saliva drip from her palsied mouth. She walks with a limp because I’ve kept her for myself for several days and we’ve been having so much fun together.

As the priest breaks the unleavened wafer of Christ, she grabs one of the small crucifixes and I make her pleasure herself with it. Horrified gasps leave every throat; the faithful’s faces whiten. People make a huge deal out of it. I love it. The last thing I want is to fade into anonymity. Prying hands start grabbing her arms and I fight them off with the strength of ten men. Incoherent prayers bounce off the church’s walls as the people mutter Hail Mary’s and the Lord’s Prayer as if their tongues are on fire. For once, they actually mean it.

The priest starts sprinkling holy water on us and it irritates me. I decide to put on a show and make her skin seethe into pink mist, exposing some skeleton. The praying stops only to be replaced by terrified cries. Some people hide, shaking behind the pews; the others start rushing towards the exit. It takes a lot of strength from me, but I seal the heavy wooden doors by sheer will. I want… no, I need an audience. When my laughter pours out from her mouth, the sound is like breaking mirrors. I want to do more things, to show them more tricks. I want them to tremble… to question their faith. But more than that, I just want to be noticed.

The other spirits use this body for small acts… unlike me, they refuse to go all-out. They’re more concerned about lingering in this world… using her physical form as a tool to exact their petty vengeance, to cling to earthy possessions and to relive the pleasures that they’ve missed. So they use her up little by little, masking themselves behind a diagnosis of psychosis. They carefully preserve her body, maintaining its undernourished yet active state. She deserves better than that. She deserves better than to live her life in between episodes of mania and depression and states of fugue. She deserves to be immortalized.

The racks of candles collapse and scarlet and tangerine tongues lick their way towards the altar. The life-size crucified Christ falls face down onto the ground. Soon, her physical body fails me. So I allow her to faint as several men pin us to ground. People try to put out the fire. The priest starts yelling for me to get out. As if he’s so clean… as if I couldn’t see his ugliness from within. He says a prayer and mimicking his voice, I recite it with him. His words are useless to me, though I can deceive him into believing that he had won.

But he’s not the only one attempting to evict me from my new dwelling. The wind screeches in my ears. The other spirits have arrived. They hover above us like a bunch of ectoplasmic hounds fighting over a bitch in heat. Their lugubrious moaning makes the air quiver. The room trembles with their collective rage and the windows start breaking, showering everyone with flying slivers of rainbow-colored glass. Blood patters into streaks on the walls. Like their fallen Christ, people lie face down on the floor. The so-called holy man assumes it’s all me and I can picture his bowels turning into liquid. He screams his abracadabra, mumbo jumbo louder and louder. They place the cross against her chest and squeal: “In the name of Jesus, depart!”

I hold onto her body for as long as I can. She’s more to me now than a breathing puppet to move around with my spectral strings. She’s my home. If I were to leave, I want to be remembered. And I can tell that’s what she wants too. So I gather myself for our final performance.

The people’s satisfying screams splinter the atmosphere, sounding like applause to my ears, as I use the last of my energy to unzip her flesh, slowly… I linger long enough to hear the men’s unholy shrieks as they realize their baptism in her blood while holding onto her crudely severed limbs.

Suddenly, I’m ectoplasm—buoyant, beautiful, as I float and fade into nothingness.

But I stare into the priest’s eyes and catch a glimpse of the abyss.

There is a hole in his soul…

and it’s waiting to be filled.

Copyright: © 2014 K.Z. Morano
Note: First appeared in Demonic Possession, JWK Fiction, July 2014, Editor’s Choice Award

Purchase link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LGWQH1M

The Price of Youth – A 100-word story

The Price of Youth
by K.Z. Morano

I was a rotting fruit… fattening flies… waiting to be harvested by death.

I stared at the mirror as the maggots of old age consumed me. Skin, sinew, skeleton, soul…

Then the peddler came, with his potion and persuasive tongue.

It seemed like a fair price at the time.

After all, what need have I for toes…

Or posterior teeth…

Or ovaries…

They’re easily concealed.

Three wealthy husbands later, he returned.

“Fear not, Madame,” he chitchatted as he severed my leg. “Long skirts are fashionable these days.”

I opened my mouth to scream… and silence exploded within the tongueless cavity.

boo! happy almost Halloween, everyone! xox ;)

boo! happy almost Halloween, everyone! xox 😉

Throwback Tales: The Other Child

The Other Child
By K.Z. Morano

My name is Lila. Not that I expect anyone to recognize my name. I am after all, just the “other child”. But I do have a story to tell. And though it may not seem as magical as the candy-colored versions they tell about my brother and sister, it is nonetheless the truth.

I was ten when Hans and Greta came into our lives. They were no more than suckling infants, children of Mr. Higgs whose wife had died of childbirth. I pitied the woman; the babies’— if you could call them that— enormous heads must’ve ripped her apart. Her single reprieve was that she did not live long enough to see what they looked like.

Ugly creatures they were, with limbs gnarled like the branches of an ancient tree and pink eyes that poked out from their massive skulls. Shameful scandals of nature. To have brought them into this world was a sin in itself.

Still, there could be no greater love than that of a mother’s. And it was for my recently widowed mother’s love for me and my baby brother that she had agreed to nurse them. Money was money, after all. And I’d like to think that it was for Mama’s love for us that she had agreed to share Mr. Higgs’ bed as well.

Since they were always suckled first, the creatures grew stout and strong while my little brother grew thin and sickly on whatever that was left. I shall never forget that one afternoon when I came home from the forest with my palms full of berries. I saw Mama staring out the window, a twin’s mouth latched on each of her nipples. They wriggled in horrific delight as they greedily sucked the life from her. Their plump cheeks and snub-noses were smeared with crimson that dripped towards the floor in a rhythmic tap, tap, tap…

“Mama!” She started and looked down at her bloody breasts.

“Goodness,” she murmured absently. “They must’ve been very hungry.”

It baffled me how they were already able to grow a complete set of teeth— they were yellow and needle-like— while my brother still hadn’t any. But then they were always different. The boy’s reddish gaze followed me everywhere while the girl’s stare seemed frighteningly intelligent, as though she had an understanding of the hatred and fear that her presence stirred from within me and enjoyed it immensely.

Great was my relief when Mama declared that she’ll stop feeding them. But the news soon eclipsed my happiness. Mr. Higgs, now impoverished, was to live with us in our tiny cottage. It was hardly surprising. Famine was upon us and Mama was a woman with conscience. What did surprise us all was the sudden death of Mr. Higgs. He was found in the thickets— dismembered, disemboweled and drained of blood.

Mama was inconsolable. It didn’t help that we grew hungrier and poorer with each passing day. Left with nothing but a few crumbs of stale bread, I finally convinced Mama to get rid of the twins. Fewer mouths to feed, I said. And they were always insatiable. And so one night, we took them deep into the woods. The wind stabbed at flesh like icy knives and the barren trees reared like frozen giants. They didn’t cry. The twins simply sagged against the tree like a pair of hideous puppets, holding hands, framed against the background of silver mist.

Whatever Mama did, she did out of love for me and my brother. Not that it helped him much. My brother died anyway, consumed by a sickness. It was too late to save him; the monstrous twins had already stolen what they could from him. It wasn’t long before Mama’s guilt caught up her with her and slowly, she began to lose her grasp on reality…

For me, it was years of struggling with famine, years of caring for my ailing Mama… People were afraid to venture into the woods for fear of the strange beast that lurked there. Though it had never been caught or seen, it always left a trail of blood, bones and bowels.

So grave were my troubles that I was close to forgetting that the twins ever existed. But then they came back, as Mama said they would. We pay for the sins we commit, she said. One day, the tangle of bushes parted and out they came, five years older but no less repulsive. Mama begged me to let them stay. She said we could afford to feed them now and she wanted their forgiveness.

The twins never spoke a word. I suppose there had been no one in the woods to teach them. The fact that they had managed to survive on their own was disturbingly peculiar. Then I looked at them and thought: How utterly silly; they’re so tiny.

Then one afternoon when I came home from the market, a delicious aroma wafted from the kitchen, insinuating its way into my nostrils.

“Surprise…” said a voice, soft and spidery. It was the first time that I heard Greta speak.

Something hissed and crackled in the oven.

“Where’s Mama?” I asked.

When Hans spoke, his voice was deep and hoarse. “Yummy . Yummy.” He rubbed his bloated belly and pointed into the rustling inferno. “Tummy. Tummy.”

It was then that I saw the blood-stained pieces of Mama’s clothing on the floor.

I think I went mad then.

I ran out of the cottage screaming and went as far away as I could, never to return again. News from the old village would still reach me as troubadours sang their versions of the tale, adding candy and gingerbread— distorting the story, syllable by syllable, until the truth lies buried beneath the fantastical lies.

Mama said we pay for the sins we commit. But I think we pay more dearly for the sins we fail to commit. I look at my infant step-daughter, her unfamiliar eyes dark and beady, and I place the pillow on her face.

Copyright: © 2013 K.Z. Morano

Note: First appeared in UGLY BABIES: the Anthology, JWK Fiction, October 2013
Reprinted in BLOOD REIGN LIT MAGAZINE, December 2013
and Republished The Sirens Call – Issue #13 – Women in Horror (Second Annual Edition), February 2014

🙂 Thanks for reading. The Other Child may not be my best but it’s certainly special to me. It was my first ever horror story! Well, flash fiction, since it’s exactly 1,000 words… ^^ It was published in Ugly Babies exactly one year ago. My, my… how time flies. So I guess this is Happy Horror Anniversary to me. 🙂
Five days until Halloween… xox

BONES III

Perfect. Just in time for Halloween! 🙂 the Kindle version of Bones III is now available on Amazon!! I have a story in this collection entitled “Hitchhiker.”
Do you remember that micro-fiction piece, “Hitchhiker” that I wrote for FF? Well, I decided to expand the story and you can now read the longer version in this anthology. 🙂

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There are bones of the dead everywhere, and they’re sharp. Under your feet as you walk across your yard, in the cement of buildings, under the foundation of your home, in the coffee you drink, in the food you eat. Science estimates 100 billion human beings have lived and died. There are bones everywhere. There are skeletons everywhere, from universities to unnamed places we really don’t want to know about. We love skeletons as we are walking skeletons. There’s an old phrase about skeletons in the closet. What if the skeleton in your closet is real? When we look at strangers, friends and family we fail to see the skull behind the face. And the eyes of skulls are dark and deep. These works of art, poetry and short stories cut deep. To the bone.

Featuring the works of

James S. Dorr
Mary Genevieve Fortier
Robert Edward Petras
C. Rowe
Brian Barnett
Mathias Jansson
Judith Roney
DJ Tyrer
Patricia Anabel
Jerry Langdon
Lemmy Rushmore
Richard King Perkins II
Judith Skillman
Jane Blanchard
Alex S. Johnson
David Slater
David S. Pointer
Lemmy Rushmore
DJ Tyrer
Michael Tugendhat

Tonya L. De Marco
Rachel Anding
R.T.Sirk
Matthew Wilson
Essel Pratt
Alessandro Manzetti
Magenta Nero
Russ Bickerstaff

Scáth Beorh
T Maxim Simmler
Steve Foreman
Phil Sloman
John Ledger
Alexander Sawyer-Irish
Dona Fox
David Schütz II
K.Z. Morano
Sheldon Woodbury
Kerry E.B. Black
Michael Kellar
Josh Pritchett
John W. Dennehy
Barry Rosenberg
Roger Cowin
Lesa Pascavis Smith
Doug Rinaldi
Michael Faun
Mike Jansen

edited by James Ward Kirk

cover art and illustrations by Jerry Langdon

Throwback Tales: Wooden Lips

Wooden Lips
By K.Z. Morano

The cellar door is a wound, a break on the earth’s skin. It is a gash in the ground where malignant thoughts trickle like blood into the cesspit of my filthy brain. The cellar door is a mouth… the wooden lips of a whore whispering obscenities into my ear, sticking her spectral tongue into my acoustic tunnels and to the roof of my skull to caress murderous designs into being.

She tells me what she wants me to do.

She tells me what I want to do.

She speaks to me even with her lips tightly shut, bolted with heavy metal.

The cellar door is hungry. And her cries follow me even to my sleep, soft fragmented sobs that swell into angry screams as midnight approaches and the moon’s fat face pales from the anticipated terror.

I try to fight her, I swear, every single time.

But then there’s the scratch… the sound of sharp fingernails raking against the door, creating deep cuts into the sensitive sheath of my sanity.

Feed me, she says.

I can hear the seismic growling of her empty belly, persistently reminding me of my duty. I walk towards the door… that other door. I turn the knob cautiously as if the monster were on the other side. The rusty joints creak to reveal the sacrificial lambs, their eyes floating towards me, terror blanching their faces.

I have learned to ignore their fright. It is merely a job that must be done. I pick one, a little boy, this time. As I free him from his shackles, a tiny whimper of protest issues forth from dry cracked lips. But he comes with me, nevertheless, the beautiful bleatless baby sheep, with his skin smooth and tight over his fragile skeleton.

I take him to the kitchen where I carve off that skin. I do it with a blank face, with studied precision. Then I stare into my work—that amorphous figure of glistening pink flesh. Peeled of all pretensions, he is nothing but meat—a sexless, lifeless substance, her evening meal. I take his flayed body outside where stars always over-sprinkle the sky… falsely festive, my co-conspirators, for they have witnessed me doing this for years and years.

I unlock the cellar door, cautiously, reverently. Now that her lips are parted, I can hear her voice more clearly, murmurous sounds of pleasure sliding back and forth in her muddy throat. Her malodorous breath reaches my nose—the smell of the earth’s intestines, the stench of digested matter, of pulped flesh, of decaying bodies.

The meat sticks to my flesh, clings to me as if seeking protection. I drop it into the cellar door, into that gaping mouth and into that throat… that tunnel stretching into eternity. It may take a while to satisfy her. Yes, it may take a very long time. And I have devoted my entire life simply for that purpose. I replace the locks on her lips… those wooden cellar lips, knowing that she’ll be quiet, pacified for now.

Often, I wonder what would come of this, sure that someday, they—all the children that I have fed her—will return, resplendent in their new skin. Will they come for me then? Will they be grateful? Or will they exact their vengeance? Only time will tell.

How long, I wonder, will the locks be able to hold the door?

How long before they come crawling out of her pestilential hole?

My sleep becomes plagued with all these thoughts, my pillows always bloody like butchered sheep. I wash my hands often, over and over, until they are raw. Right now, there is only one thing I know. I serve that voice in my head… the voice of whatever unutterable monstrosity that dwells beneath the cellar door.

Copyright: © 2013 K.Z. Morano

Note: First appeared in Cellar Door Volume II: Words of Beauty, Tales of Terror, JWK Fiction, December 2013 and
Reprinted in Best of Horror 2013, JWK Fiction, August 2014

Sooo… 10 days until Halloween and it just occurred to me that I don’t have any scary stories coming out this month! 😦 However, some of my stories will be appearing in various anthologies in November, December, and of course, early 2015. I’ve been receiving some invitations to write for various anthos and the themes are just so sooo awesome that I find it hard to resist! 🙂 In the meantime, I hope you enjoy some of my previously published pieces. The rights have reverted back to me so I can now post them here on my blog for everyone to read. Thanks for reading the story! 😉 xoxo

The Din from the Garbage Bin

Copyright-Kent Bonham

Copyright-Kent Bonham

While walking home, Anne heard the disturbing din from the garbage bin.

At the back of her apartment building were oversize rats gnawing at something.

Tampons lay there like small gutted animals. Week-old blood and cottony innards spilled across the pavement, filling greedy snouts and thick hairy tongues.

Disgusted, Anne tried to shoo the freak rodents away.

The vampiric vermin hissed at her, their eyes crimson coals of hatred burning through the darkness.

She ran up to her apartment and bolted the door.

Her fingers failed to reach the switch as the glowing red eyes came rushing towards her thighs.