Lisa's December 2017 Newsletter (#12)
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Hi Gang!

Are you all ready for December? Here I thought November would be a breeze after October, and somehow it turned out to be almost as hard. I'm still not sure what happened, but I feel a bit like a boxer in the ring after a one-two punch!

I hope your holidays are happy, safe, and productive, and here's to a fabulous 2018.

Lisa
Still Life
In which I rhapsodize about favorite movie photos from my collection
This month's "Still Life" photo is a bit of a cheat.

There are three reasons for this:
  1. I took the photo.
  2. I wrote the screenplay for the movie in the photo.
  3. The full movie was never made.
The dual successes this year of Atomic Blonde and Wonder Woman (both of which I adored, by the way) have left me pondering my one-time dream project. The screenplay was called Lightning Strikes, and it was about the adventures of a lone female warrior traveling a desolate future. I wrote the script in the mid-'80s. It attracted a lot of attention - at one point or another, the brilliant production designer Ron Cobb, actor Rutger Hauer, and Humanoids from the Deep director Barbara Peeters were attached to this.

Everyone loved this script. But no one would make it. It got to some high-level executives, but they also passed with, "It's great, but I can't sell a female-driven action movie."

At one point, the producer (Jack Teetor) who had optioned the script decided to try making a promo reel. For three days, we shot in an isolated canyon in the Santa Monica mountains. Ron Cobb directed the short. We built half of a working hovercraft for it. The statuesque actress Ann Turkel played the stalwart lead character.

And still nothing. Except some cool photos.

I occasionally think about trying to get that script going again. Maybe this year, after two kickass women wowed movie-goers, saw things turn around a little. Maybe I'll dust off Lightning Strikes in 2018.

BTW, here's what's happening in that photo: that's our heroine in the coat-and-cowl, cutting down a wandering bard, called "the Chanter", who she's encountered in the wilderness.
The Halloween Spirit
Tips for keeping it going all year 'round
Why am I using a Christmas image in my "Halloween Spirit" column?

I'm sure you all recognize that illustration - it's from the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Marley. But did you know that the Victorians loved to celebrate Christmas by gathering around the hearth and telling ghost stories? 

(Remember the Andy Williams Christmas song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year", with the line "There'll be scary ghost stories"?)

I, of course, love the idea of adding to the wintry chill with a spooky tale or two...which is why part of this month's giveaway is a new Christmas horror tale to enjoy around your own fire. Read it after you re-watch The Nightmare Before Christmas!
Strange Fruit
The weirdest thing I've recently uncovered in my research
Cold cases.

That phrase has become such a part of our contemporary culture - we see it in news articles and television shows almost daily - that it's hard to believe it's a relatively new part of many police departments.

Take L.A.P.D., for example. I know I was surprised to learn that Los Angeles had no special cold case unit until 2001, and even then a tenacious officer named David Lambkin had to buck official wisdom to get one set up.

Lambkin got the LAPD's Cold Case Special Section going in late 2001; it started with less than ten detectives and 9,000 unsolved homicide cases.

In its first ten years, LAPD's Cold Case Special Section arrested seven suspected serial killers, including the infamous "Grim Sleeper". Thanks to its early successes, it now receives much of its funding from federal grants.

Lambkin retired in 2007, but what a legacy.
 
More on LAPD's Cold Case Special Section
Behind the Screams
About a Story
Back at the beginning of 2015, I moved from an apartment (that I'd lived in for nearly 30 years) to a house at the northern end of the San Fernando Valley. The house is in the foothills around Granada Hills, and is wedged into a cul-de-sac with a wash running behind it. 

In one of my earlier newsletters I talked about the washes and rivers of Los Angeles, but here's what I didn't talk much about: the weird stuff that comes out of the wash. Our neighbor's backyard has a large gap in it between the wash and the yard, and things that travel in the wash use that gap to access our neighborhood. I've seen coyotes in my front yard at high noon, a raccoon family, and - yes - homeless kids using the neighbor's yard to access the wash. The wash runs up into the hills, is bordered for much of its length by wide strips of grass, and makes for a convenient passageway between the open land above us and suburbia below. 

Of course I began to imagine other things coming out of that wash. And I also imagined following those things when they returned to the wash and fled back into the hills. 

And so my story "The Wash" was born.
 
Order The Beauty of Death 2
WIP It
My current works-in-progress
There've been a couple of interesting sales lately: I'll have a piece in Nate Pedersen's upcoming sequel to his acclaimed anthology The Starry Wisdom (my story is about a cursed ship's sextant). I'll have a "horror drabble" (I learned from this project that a "drabble" is a 100-word story - how did I not know that before?) in a new anthology coming from editor Kevin Kennedy. I have an installment of "The H-Word" column coming up at Nightmare Magazine, as well as a new interview with author S. P. Miskowski.

And speaking of Nightmare, the December issue reprints my story "Poppi's Monster", about an abused child who finds solace in Frankenstein's monster. 
 

The Samhanach and Other Halloween Treats

The Samhanach and Other Halloween Treats is now available in e-book and print from JournalStone. It collects four novellas, ten short stories, a new introduction by Nancy Holder, and new notes about the stories from me.
Keep Halloween Going!
Ghosts: A Haunted History
My acclaimed book Ghosts: A Haunted History is now available in an affordable trade paperback.
Haunt Yourself
CD Select: Lisa Morton
CD Select: Lisa Morton is a mini-collection gathering together four tales chosen by me, with accompanying notes. Available in either e-book or signed & limited hardcover edition.
Reserve Yours Now!
The Art of Horror Movies
The Art of Horror Movies is Stephen Jones's stunning follow-up to his multiple-award-winning The Art of Horror. I wrote the chapter on "The Evil 80s".
Dive Into the Art

Haunted Nights

This anthology of all-new Halloween (and Dia de los Muertos/Devil's Night/All Souls' Eve) fiction features sixteen stories by some of the genre's hottest authors. The anthology received a starred and boxed review in Publishers Weekly, as well as raves from Rue Morgue, Locus, and many others.
Haunt Your Nights!
Halloween Carnival Volume One
Halloween Carnival includes my novelette "La Hacienda de los Muertos", plus fiction by Robert McCammon, Kevin Lucia, John R. Little, and Mark Allan Gunnells, and it's only $2.99!
More Halloween Goodies!
Unspeakable Horror 2
Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire is the long-awaited follow-up to the Bram Stoker Award-winning first book. Includes my story "Ofrenda".
Get Unspeakable
CEA Greatest Anthology Written
This attempt to break the Guinness world record for the biggest anthology includes a Western from me (yes, a Western!) called "Black Jack Lonegan and the City of Dreams". 
Break the Record!
Congrats to Jackie T., who won last month's giveaway and now has a copy of The Samhanach and Other Halloween Treats winging its way to her!

It's Christmas, so I've got a little stocking stuffer for everyone here - a new story from me, "The End of the Season". This story appears in a collection of six icy tales I'm releasing as a December-only e-book, Holiday Spirits. If you'd like to win a Kindle copy of the entire collection, just click the link at the bottom of the story to enter.

And because it's that gift-giving time of year, I'll choose FIVE lucky winners to receive the Holiday Spirits e-book on December 24th, so get your entry in now!

If you'd rather grab your own e-book of Holiday Spirits right now, just click here and thanks!

WARNING: This story contains mature language. It ain't your Gramma's Christmas tale, in other words. 
 
"The End of the Season" 

 
Damon walked into the shopping mall and shuddered. He couldn’t take one more Christmas carol.

He stepped back out into the cold December night, letting other shoppers stream in around him as he pulled out his phone, pulled up his “Thrashed Holiday” playlist, put the phone into his t-shirt pocket, shoved the buds into his ears, and let the crashing drums and frantic guitars take him. Head nodding in time to the rhythm, Damon now felt comfortable entering the mall.

It was just after 3 p.m. on December 24th, and the mall was a madhouse. Last-minute shoppers scurried around Damon, clutching bags and packages. Some held the hands of small children or pushed packed strollers; seniors maneuvered carefully with canes.

Even though it was cold outside, the sky already dark with distended clouds, Damon instantly regretted stepping into the over-heated interior, with its mobs and constant din of holiday music. He and Christmas had never been on friendly terms. As a child, Christmas had been that special time of year when Mom and Dad fought the most; Christmas morning often started with Damon and his sister Melanie creeping out in their threadbare pajamas, picking their way through empty liquor bottles and battered thrift store toys that hadn’t even been wrapped.

As an adult (or at least a twenty-year-old who’d moved away from home three years ago), Christmas hadn’t been much better. Damon worked in a garage, repairing cars, working for a guy everybody called “Stingy Steve”. For Christmas, Steve had given each of his mechanics a six-pack of Bud and the evening of the 24th off. Merry Fucking Christmas.

Each December, Damon bought exactly two gifts: One for his sister, and one for his niece. This year, Mel had asked for a new microwave, which Damon had picked up on sale a week ago. But six-year-old Ashley wanted gourmet chocolate. It was a brand Damon had never heard of; Mel had written it down for him (“Goddess”), smiling. Damon had looked at the name and said to Mel, “What, Hershey’s not good enough for her?”

“Apparently not.”

“Fuck, Mel, the kid is six. What six-year-old wants gourmet anything?”

But the truth was, Damon was nuts about Ashley. If she’d told him she wanted a whole cacao tree, he would’ve done his best to get it for her. She was little and cute and laughed a lot and wore pink t-shirts with kitten graphics, and he doted on her. Ashley’s father had split when she was a year old, and Damon had become the closest thing she’d had since to a father.

Ashley was the only reason he would’ve braved these crowds on Christmas Eve. He’d tried other stores for her Goddess chocolate, but they’d all said they didn’t carry it. He’d gone online and found a candy store in this mall that had some; he’d even phoned ahead and asked to hold all they had.

The clerk on the phone had told him they had six bars left…at fifteen dollars a bar. “Please hold them all,” Damon had said, before ending the call and shaking his head in disbelief. Nearly a hundred bucks for six fucking candy bars.

But Ashley was worth it. He couldn’t wait to see her rip open the first bar and bite in, giggling as the gooey chocolate smeared her mouth.

So now he pushed through the shoppers, Overkill and Sepultura on his playlist giving him some small measure of relief from the forced Christmas cheer. He moved past clothing stores and gift shops and a cinema multiplex, looking in vain for the candy store. He knew he could stop and check his phone to find it, but he was afraid he’d be buffeted by the constant stream of consumers.

Damon saw a long line of people winding through the middle of the mall, waiting. Curious, he followed the line for what seemed like hundreds of feet, wondering where it led. He saw that it eventually filed into an enclosed cardboard structure painted to look like snow-covered logs; overhead, a colorful sign rounded in twinkling lights read “Santa’s Workshop”. A smaller notice in an easel below read, “Have your picture taken with Santa!” and gave hours; a short picket fence surrounded the area. Two men dressed as elves stood on either side of the entrance, ushering the next patron into Santa’s lair.

The scene brought another unpleasant holiday memory roaring up into Damon’s head: His mother, drunk as always, forcing the five-year-old version of himself to perch on Santa’s knee, screeching at him to “smile for the camera” until, terrified, he’d relieved himself all over the Jolly Old Elf’s red-fur-clad knee.

Damon turned the music up louder to drown out the recollection. After a few seconds, he realized he was staring at the serpentine line waiting to meet Santa, something poking at his consciousness for attention. He looked more closely at the people before him and realized what it was: None of them were smiling. No happy faces anticipating a joyful visit with Santa Claus; in fact, many of those queued didn’t even have children. They all stared dully ahead, holding bags.

They were probably just zoning out from the holiday stress, waiting for a photo to take home to show little Billy or Suzie, so they could continue the Great Christmas Lie and say, “Look, honey, Santa is real!”

Damon turned away, disgusted with them, disgusted with the holiday, disgusted with himself. Maybe, he thought, they didn’t grow up in households where a magical gift-giver was a fucking joke. Maybe they liked the idea enough that it was worth standing in line for.

After a few more minutes of wandering, he spotted the store he’d come here for. He entered, waited in line, and as he reached the front desk he pulled the ear buds out. “Hi, my name’s Damon, and I’ve got six bars of Goddess on hold.”

The clerk was a twentysomething woman with dark eyes and voluptuous curves who Damon would have flirted with, except she seemed disinterested. Beyond “disinterested”, in fact, and well into “will never, ever be interested.” She turned away without another word to find Damon’s order.

He waited. With the earbuds dangling from his pocket, the ubiquitous Christmas songs insinuated themselves into his ears.

“…all is calm, all is bright…”
“…the stars are bright and shining…”
“…O star of wonder, star of night…”

Damon abruptly blinked and looked around the store. Nothing had changed—the line still wound behind him, the clerk was still going through a hold area looking for his Goddess bars—but he felt as if time had rushed past him. How many songs had he heard? The lyrics had all meshed in his mind into one great cacophony of cheer and starry brightness. He felt something warm on his face, and reached up to find a small trickle running from a corner of his mouth. He was drooling?

Wiping the spit away, Damon glanced around. No one noticed. In fact, all the other shoppers in the candy store had the same vacant, glassy-eyed expression that those in line for Santa had possessed.

Damon’s heart began to hammer. Something was seriously fucked up with these people, this place. He nearly turned and ran from the store, but he remembered Ashley, how much she wanted this candy. How much he wanted to make her happy. How much he loved her.

His hands seemed to be weighted down with stones. He struggled to move them just enough to find the earbuds, to raise them to his ears, plant the buds –

Reality rushed back in, borne on the shoulders of guitar riffs and drum beats. Damon sucked in air, his heart pounding, fingers shaking. What the fuck had just happened?

His head jerked around, seeking some source of explanation, or even just something to ground him.

Everyone in the store was staring at him. The clerk stood behind the counter, holding his chocolate bars. She stared at him, the stony, vapid look now burdened with accusation. Her mouth was moving, and Damon realized she was talking to him, but he couldn’t hear her over the metal thundering against his eardrums.

Dazed, he held out his debit card. She took it, sullenly. A few seconds later, she slid a pinpad across the counter top. Damon’s fingers were still quivering, but he punched in his PIN. The register spit out a receipt, the clerk bagged his bars, and slid them across the counter. He took the bag, not bothering to smile or thank her, and turned.

The crowd behind him didn’t move. They formed a solid wall between Damon and the exit from the store.

He couldn’t hear himself say, “Excuse me,” but he felt their reluctance when he pushed against them. They gave way, barely—it was like pushing through close-packed mannequins. Damon half expected to see them reach for him, to feel their hands close around his wrists, his neck…

He reached the exit and staggered out into the mall, his grip sweaty on his plastic bag full of overpriced candy. He had to restrain an urge to run, wildly, ramming his way through the masses of late shoppers, heading for whatever way led out to the parking lot and the real world.

Instead he walked, carefully, the metal blasting in his ‘buds, his throat dry. He didn’t know what was wrong in this place, but he sensed that he had barely escaped its grasp and it would be unforgiving if it caught him again –

Something clamped onto Damon’s shoulder. He stopped, tensing.

A large man in a security guard’s uniform stepped in front of Damon. The man’s mouth moved. Damon couldn’t hear him. The guard reached up and plucked the earbuds out. He wrapped them around a bulky fist and yanked; Damon’s phone flew from his shirt pocket and hit the tiled floor.

“…the stars in the sky look down…”
“…save us all from Satan’s power…”
“…join the chorus…”

Damon’s will retreated to a small, dark corner of his consciousness. From there he observed, helpless, as the guard led his body to the end of the long line for Santa.

No! Don’t get in line. RUN!

But Damon no longer owned his flesh. He saw through the eyes, heard through the ears, lived through all the other senses, but he could command none of it.

Like all the others, he realized. Something had happened to all of them. All of US.

The bag of candy still dangled from his fingers as the line crawled slowly forward. At some point, he wondered how long he’d been here, waiting. It seemed like hours, but he’d lost awareness of time along with everything else that had been taken from him.

A step…another step…now he was within sight of the building, the gaudy façade labeled “Santa’s Workshop”. Fresh dread descended, covering the last of his self like a shroud.

Whatever had done this to him was in that ridiculous cardboard shed, with its faux snow and oversized elfin sentries. He tried not to imagine being five again, Mother shrieking (“Smile, Damon—SMILE!”) as a huge, white-bearded face loomed over him, filling him with terror.

Only four were in front of him now. A young mother holding the hand of her taciturn child was led in…a business man in an overcoat, carrying a gift wrapped in foil and velvet ribbon…a teenage girl lugging a large bag bearing the name of a trendy clothing store…

Damon waited at the knee-high picket fence surrounding the shed. He heard nothing from within the cardboard shack, no barrel-chested laughs nor words. Nothing. From this vantage, he saw only part of the wall inside –
The “elves” stepped aside, and Damon’s feet carried him forward, into “Santa’s Workshop.”

The interior seemed impossibly bigger than it could have been; it was the size of a garage, with two steps leading up to a dais at one end. A huge, old-fashioned wingback chair, throne-like in its proportions and design, rested atop the dais. And what rested atop the chair…

It wasn’t human, and Damon couldn’t even have called it animal. It seemed to be made of ice, with cloudy parts and clear parts, catching gleams of light that it reflected back in an eye-piercing bluish gleam. Spikes (icicles?) radiated from a central core, all moving independently.

It was more like a glistening star than anything living.

Damon abruptly felt it in his skull, as if it stood next to him in a small room; he knew, instinctively, that it would never leave. It communicated to him without words, making him understand that it had come from somewhere else, a place so alien to his world that to see it even for a second would drive Damon mad. That place—so outside of everything known, everything sane—was failing, not so much dying as disintegrating. The things—like this one—that had abided there had fled, to different parts of the multiverse, and this one had arrived here. It needed energy—the energy of warm, living creatures—energy that would make it expand, grow, until it would fill everything with itself.

Part of Damon shrieked and flailed, but it was a part buried so far down that it could never rise again. The crystalline, ancient thing had taken control of the mall’s guests via the music, and now they would be its emissaries into the outer world. Damon stepped helplessly forward, his hands lifting the bag of chocolate to the ice-thing, to the master. It reached out and tapped the bag, filling the contents with itself. Damon, like all the others, would carry its essence forth, spreading the gospel of domination throughout the world. A coat, blessed by it, would be put on along with its essence. A book would place alien words in the reader’s mind. A game would play those who received it.

Damon’s time was done. He left through a door at the rear of the cardboard house; behind him, he was dimly aware that the next carrier had already entered.

He strode through the mall, no longer minding the crowds or the music. What shared his mind now had driven out the fear, the individual anxiety, and replaced it with calm conformity. Damon exited the mall, walking through the parking lot, not noticing that it was full night now. He didn’t feel the cold, even when the snow began to fall.

He thought only of how, soon, Ashley would eat her Goddess chocolate and join them.
 
I Want to Win The Holiday Spirits E-book!
  • Thursday, March 1st through March 4th, 2018 - StokerCon in Providence, Rhode Island!
Copyright © 2017 Lisa Morton All rights reserved.

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