Prompted by an ad I just saw for Newfoundland & Labrador… I would love to go there, some day. And then I was thinking of other places…here’s my list:
Bermuda (I went there for a week when I was in grade 10; I’d like to go back, as an adult)
Gettysburg (same as above — when I was in high school, I was able to visit on a tour but I’d like to go back and spend more time.)
New York City — actually, I’d like to live there for a year. Just for the experience. Again, I visited there in high school. Fantastic trip.
Scotland (anywhere close to the Highlands)
I’d love to do the Harry Potter tour in England…hell, just to live for a year in England, period, would be fantastic. Go to Stonehenge, shop at Herrod’s, visit haunted castles and celtic ruins…
Greece (anywhere, really)
I’d love to visit Mayan ruins… the Forbidden City in China… help with a dinosaur dig…
My husband would like to go to Iceland. I wouldn’t mind…hell, I’d love to sit in a hot spring for a few hours right now!
Oh, yes, and bringing the kids along, we’d do that. It would also be great to go and build a school together, do some volunteer work. (*singing in my head, “If I had a million dollars…”)
I totally understand why retirees travel so much — it’s difficult when you have children, obligations of home and work. It takes a really special person or couple to be able to travel and parent. Or enough money to hire help!
As a writer, I would love to travel the world for research, to gain experience, to write in different places…on the beach in the Rivieria… at the Taj Mahal in India… sitting on the Great Wall of China.
In other words… I don’t want to spend my whole life watching the world through camera lenses. I want to see it for myself. And write about it.
It would probably help if I actually had my passport, though.
I am going to try out this app, by writing some short books for my kiddies…particularly, a story for my daughter on staying in her own bed all night. I’m excited to try developing a (short) interactive e-book. But it’s not top priority, though I’m tempted (a while back, I posted my wish to focus on my writing career; still there! Teaching is great, but it would be so lovely to focus on writing, only…sorry, I digress.); I have final marking for the semester to complete, exams coming, and the first novel of the Talbot Trilogy to finish editing and revising, plus the second novel in the series to bloody finish writing. In addition to parenting, and spousing (is that a word?), trying to keep up with the house, battling my depression, addressing all the million details of life. It’s those details that, in part, inform my creativity. So I should embrace them, right?
In summer, I sit at the picnic table feeling my back burning from the sun, trying to imagine what it will be like in winter when the snow is knee-deep. The candles remind me that the light will come back. Eventually.
Welcome, everyone, and most especially, welcome Tara Fox Hall to Romance and Other Dangers! Today, I’m informally interviewing and chatting with my good friend and fellow author on the men and women who inspire our visions of heroes and heroines, random inquiries concerning personality and creative traits, deeply insightful discussions on the meaning of life, and so on and so forth.
Follow along throughout the day and leave a comment, and you could win a free e-copy of Spellbound, the anthology from Melange Books which includes my own short story, “Telltale Signs”, and “The Origin of Fear”, by Tara Fox Hall.
To begin, I want to compliment you, Tara; your writing pulls me into mystery and suspense immediately; it’s a highly enjoyable read. For those who haven’t yet delved into Tara’s imagination, excerpts from her work are posted below (with the survey — did you do the survey, yet, readers?).
The way “Origin of Fear” plays out reminds me of the master of horror himself, Stephen King. I won’t spoil it for you, but if you like twists and unexpected endings, you have to get your own copy of Spellbound to see how it ends! It’s just a taste of her storytelling gift. “Just Shadows” is bound to be even more chilling.
First Question O’ The Day: Tara, would you please describe your (favourite) writing place? I’d love a visual — where are you when you are splicing ideas and crafting words into novel form?
Summer writing is never better than lakeside!
Who wouldn’t love to kick back in this porch and become immersed in a story?
Wouldn’t you like to relax on this bed and write the next great novel?
Tara Fox Hall, you have now made me hungry for fresh bread.
This is near Tara’s place…absolutely breathtaking!
Tara, at the park — lovely!
The view from Tara’s front porch, after the first snow of the season — beautiful!
“Spellbound at Midnight” by Isabelle Kane & Audrey Tremaine — In the sultry Big Easy, Viole Godin is hired to restore Magnolia Place, an antebellum mansion which is crumbling under a mysterious curse. Marie Verret and her dangerously attractive grandson, Lucien, believe Viole is the key to ending the curse one magical Halloween night.
“Room 1309.5” by John M. Mecom — Inspired by the works of Poe and Stephen King, Room 1309.5 is a story of revenge and despair. It is the author’s first story to be published and received honorable mention in the Fifth Annual Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards.
“Mansion of Nightmares” by Walt Trizna — A mysterious mansion, long abandoned, harbors a past that claims those who enter. Then one day, by a stroke of luck, an intruder survives and uncovers its secret.
“Ghost Taxi” by Joanna Foreman — A man drowns heading for freedom in America, but his ghost is trapped. Washed up on the beach, the ghost is an illegal alien, not allowed to cross the street into Miami. A homeless man and a vacationing tourist search for his wife so the ghost can possess her.
“Uncle Vernon” by Jenny Twist — There’s something very peculiar about Uncle Vernon. Nobody knows what he does in the cellar. But he’s quite harmless, really. Isn’t he?
“Half Seen, Half Hidden” by John Steiner — Nine dead. One missing. No suspects and no leads. What happened in the cabin outside Wilson Wyoming? Where and who is Mason Oliver? Deep within ourselves rests a greater mystery. Half Seen, Half Hidden traces the last three days of Mason Oliver and nine hitchhikers. Offering them shelter, Mason takes them to a secluded cabin. There they all sense the others aren’t quite the strangers they seemed, and that they hold something extraordinary in common.
“Telltale Signs” by Tori L Ridgewood — Don’t stay in the Dark Lake Museum after sunset! But Kate Elliot has a deadline to meet. Working overtime, she realizes she’s not alone in the creepy old mansion…
“The Origin of Fear” by Tara Fox Hall — Four college friends mount an expedition to Latham’s Landing — an abandoned island estate infamous for mysterious deaths — to gather pictures and inspiration for a thesis on the origin of fear.
Excerpt from “The Origin of Fear” by Tara Fox Hall:
“You’ll have fun, I promise,” Nikki said, her eyes sparkling.
“This isn’t a trip to an amusement park,” Daryl replied curtly, leaning back in his chair. “We aren’t a bunch of teenagers out for a thrill. When I say no alcohol, I mean it.”
“Speak for yourself,” Sam said, laughing. “Sure, you’re going for some kind of research for your thesis, but the rest of us are going because we think it’s exciting.” He signaled the waitress. “Check, please.”
“I’m not sure,” Marie said uneasily, rooting in her purse. “Breaking into a house sounds like a bad idea to me.”
“If they’d let us go there legally, we wouldn’t need to break in,” Daryl said irritably.
“Like you told us, there have been some deaths out there,” Sam said with a shrug of his shoulders. “It makes sense the owners don’t want to risk any trouble for a little cash.”
Daryl scowled. “Even that damn old man who runs the docks refuses to cooperate. I offered him a hundred dollars. He turned me down cold.”
“You shouldn’t blame him,” Marie said defensively. “He’s just doing his job.”
Daryl grumbled something, then took the bill from the waitress.
“We’re going to have a blast,” Nikki said excitedly, throwing her money down. “The best part is that it’ll be close to Halloween.”
“We can’t do it that night,” Daryl warned. “They’ve got extra security on Halloween, because of past pranks. Police patrol in a boat on weekends regularly, or so the dock man informed me. It has to be a weeknight.”
Nikki laughed. “Everyone wants to visit a haunted house on Halloween, especially a real one.”
“Police have no sense of humor,” Sam muttered. “We can’t get caught, kids. If we do, we’re not going to get off with a warning.”
“I told you, I can get a boat,” Marie interjected. “My brother’s got one he’ll loan me. It’s small, but it has a motor and can fit four. The bigger problem is the currents around Cairn Isle. We have to be careful—”
“Cairn Isle?” Nikki laughed again. “Is that its real name?”
“That’s what the locals call it, because of all the deaths,” Marie said defensively. “But that’s not its real name.”
“What is its real name?” Nikki asked.
“Latham’s Landing,” Daryl said with relish, letting the name roll over his tongue. “It’s going to be crucial to my paper on the origin of fear for my psychology of mind class. With luck, I’m hoping to turn it into a dissertation.”
“How did you ever hear of it?” Sam asked. “I never have.”
“It’s not something the locals advertise,” Daryl replied. “They’re closemouthed about it, these farmers, and they don’t like strangers. Even the historical society that owns the house doesn’t promote it. Their website had almost nothing—”
“What did it have?” Sam asked, interested.
“Just that a man named Hans Latham got rich in the ship business, and that he built this home when he retired.”
“So why go there?” Sam persisted.
“Because it’s a focal point for so much intense fear,” Daryl explained. “Though the local sites didn’t have much to say, the haunted house sites had a ton on this place. Compared to the factories and monasteries those ghost hunters visit, this is the mother lode in term of attributed deaths—”
“Attributed deaths?” Marie said, arching her brows. “Real people have died out there. I know one personally: my cousins’ first girlfriend and her brother. They just wanted to have a look by boat before joining up with some friends on the beach to the west. Instead they capsized and drowned.”
“I didn’t mean that the fear wasn’t warranted, or that the deaths weren’t real,” Daryl replied hastily. “I’m almost out of money, Marie, and I’ve got to graduate this spring. I need a thrilling and controversial paper if I’m going to get a good job offer. I don’t want to have to go back in the Army for another tour. Latham’s Landing is also relatively close by, which is good for my limited funds.”
“I guess we’re not going to stay at the bed and breakfast,” Nikki interjected.
“We can’t,” Daryl replied. “We can’t question any of the locals, or go to the exhibit the bed and breakfast has, not yet. If we stay there, we’ll arouse suspicion.”
“Then what’s the plan?” Sam said.
Daryl looked at each of them in turn. “First, we’re going to the island, to take pictures of everything, and gather data relative to the deaths for which I have documentation. Marie will get us a boat, and we’ll meet two weeks from now on the shore of the nature preserve. That’s October twenty-seventh, at dusk.” He got to his feet. “We can question the locals and do the dry research later.” Daryl strode out, the others following.
“So long as there’s no wet research,” Marie mumbled worriedly, as she hurried after them.
And… Her latest! (At one time, we’d say “Hot off the presses…”)
JUST SHADOWS Anthology Post
From the murky depths of a summer lake to the echoing halls of an insane asylum, evil lies in wait for victims. Innocents might escape by a hair’s breath, if they’re lucky. Then again, they might not. The shadows are waiting. Dare you step into the darkness and be judged?
Dawn was just breaking, fog rising off the small stream in misty tendrils that wafted through the forest glade The forest was dark and deep, still mostly silent, inky blackness. From time to time, rustling sounds issued from thickets, but it was the small rustling of rabbits and grouse, not the prey most men were after today. Suddenly, there came a sharp shriek of a scream owl, startling the man crouched waiting in the tree stand high above.
“They’re just shadows,” Lenny said under his breath to himself, shifting his weight. “How long you been huntin’ these woods? You know better.”
He looked down the barrel, checking the sight one more time. You couldn’t be too careful. It was easy to knock the sight off getting up into the tree stand. God knew, he wasn’t getting any younger. Still, for a man his age, Lenny was pretty limber. Smiling, he settled back, scanning the forest floor. The first day of hunting season was the best day of his year.
“Fucking amateurs,” Lenny said angrily hours later. “Assholes!”
The morning had been beautiful, the day creeping in quickly, illuminating the shadows. Like clockwork, a beautiful buck had come right to the stream to drink. Lenny had been squeezing the trigger when a rifle crack had shattered the moment, the buck bolting out of his sights, its flank bloodied. Lenny had cursed, then climbed down the wooden ladder quickly. The crackling of dead limbs coming his way was testament that the stupid ass who’d shot his buck was giving chase. Lenny reached the forest floor in time to stop the young punk in his tracks
“What are you, an idiot?” he’s shouted at the boy. “You can’t use a rifle on deer.”
“Who’s going to stop me, old man?” the punk said with a sneer. “There’s no DEC anywhere around here today. They’re all up there on the state land. It’s party time—”
“You get out of here before I drill your ass where you stand,” Lenny growled harshly. “This is my land. I pay the taxes on it, not you. Get out of here now.”
The punk glared back, but when Lenny’s eyes remained hard and unwavering, the punk’s gaze slid away, then lowered. “I know I hit the animal. I need to track it—”
“You winged him, is all,” Lenny interrupted, gripping his shotgun. “He’ll be fine. But you won’t be if you don’t shut up and get gone. Now.”
The kid turned and walked away, muttering under his breath. Lenny watched him until the boy was gone, then let his shoulders slump in relief. You could never tell these days if a kid was going to snap and start shooting, or if he’d been taught to respect his elders. A lot of men Lenny’s age had found the former true in recent years. It was a relief he’d been right this time.
But that hadn’t been the worst part; that had come later. Lenny had climbed back up into the stand, had lunch, then waited the rest of the afternoon without seeing a goddamned thing. Just as dark was falling, another deer came up, again a buck. Trailing him was a doe. Lenny got into position, and then suddenly, the bark of a dog shattered the stillness, making the two deer turn as one and flee.
Lenny cursed again. That damn neighbor of his, out walking her dogs. Didn’t she know today was the first day of hunting season? Yes, she did—there was her bright orange hat and vest. Christ, she even had orange vests on the dogs. He stayed silent, waiting for her to pass.
He’d waited until the shadows were thick, hoping for another chance, but no deer had come. Pissed off and dejected, Lenny began to reluctantly climb down. This was his first opening day in years that he had noting to show for his efforts. Now dusk was closing on full dark. Damn it, I should have left earlier…
There was a snap as the ladder rung he was holding onto gave way. The ground rushed up to meet him before he could yell.
Blinking his eyes, Lenny sat up, trying to ignore his throbbing head. Damn ladder. He was lucky the gun hadn’t gone off; he’d forgotten to safety it before starting to descend the ladder. At least there was a shiver of moon, just enough to illuminate the woods around him weakly. But the thickets and bushes were black as pitch, just shadows with no form.
He hadn’t fallen far, but he’d cracked his head good. The rest of him was just fine. With a groan, he got to his feet, feeling in his pockets for a flashlight. His wife Hera would be worried about him. She’d been telling him for years to get himself one of those new cell phones, complaining that when he was out hunting she had no way to contact him. He hadn’t listened, of course. The last thing he wanted was to have his hunting disturbed. Now she was going to bend his ear every chance she got, after hearing about this. Grumbling, he clicked the safety on, switched on the flashlight, and began walking slowly back to where his truck was parked.
There was a rustling in the thicket ahead. Lenny turned, curious. Maybe it was a deer? Wouldn’t that be funny, he thought sarcastically; a deer coming in so close now, when it was too late to shoot. He aimed his flashlight beam into the thicket, but the weak light wouldn’t penetrate the shadows. All it did was illuminate two eyes shining back at him.
There was a deer in there staring at him. Had to be. Well, there was no point in scaring it. Lenny began to back away slowly.
The eyes held on him, motionless, then very slowly rose in the shadow, until they were level with his height. Then they kept rising up, until they were near eight feet in the air. Again they held still, staring back at him.
Lenny’s skin crawled as he stared back, frozen in his tracks. Even a deer rearing on its hind legs wouldn’t be that tall. This had to be a bear, and the biggest goddamn one he’d ever seen.
The eyes moved in the darkness toward him, leaves rustling with each deliberate footstep.
A bear wouldn’t do that, Lenny thought, backing away. A bear couldn’t walk that far on its hind legs.
The eyes suddenly darted forward, twigs and branches in the thing’s path snapping. Lenny turned and ran, the fast crackling of broken branches coming right behind him.
With every step, he expected to be clubbed by a huge paw, or hear an enraged roar. Instead, the crackling noises just kept pace right behind him. Terrified, he refused to turn, unwilling to face those tall eyes again. But as his breathing turned ragged and his strength failed, Lenny knew he had to. He’d never outrun the thing. He had only one shot, and he’d better make it a hell of a good one.
Panting, Lenny swung around to face the thing, bringing the gun barrel up level as he clicked off the safety. He gaped, then lowered the weapon. The eyes were gone.
He stood still for a moment, fighting to control his breathing, to hear any close noises over the sound of his own racing heart.
There was the hoot of an owl. Nothing else broke the silent night.
Lenny retreated to his car, nervously scanning his surroundings all the way, his gun at the ready. He was badly startled by a raccoon en route, and just managed not to pull the trigger in reflex. When Lenny reached the edge of the woods and his car, he climbed in and shut the door as fast as he could, breathing a huge sigh of relief as he hit the lock button.
God, what had that thing been? Did I imagine seeing it? Maybe the eyes being that tall had been a trick of the light, a raccoon or some other animal climbing up a tree…
He could figure that out later. All he wanted to do was go home.
Lenny started the car, relieved all over again when the engine turned over easily. He put it in gear, then glanced up, letting out an instant yell.
There in his headlights was the punk from this morning. He was staring at Lenny with dead eyes. Part of his neck was missing, blackish dried blood and tissue clumped at the raw edges of the gaping wound.
This couldn’t be happening!
The kid smiled, baring human teeth coated with more of that blackish-red blood. Then he began to raise the gun still held in his hands.
Lenny put the car in gear, then stomped on the gas. The car shot forward, knocking the kid off his feet, the car lurching as it rolled over him. Lenny gunned the engine again, cursing at the slow passage of the car through the high grass of the field.
Damn it, why is this taking so long?
The car made it to the bottom of the steep incline that led up to the main road. Suddenly, the back tires spun, and the car shuddered.
Lenny eased off the gas, then tried again, gunning the engine. The wheels spun, the engine loud in his ears.
Damn it! Lenny thought. The underside of the car had to be stuck on something sticking up out of the ground, maybe the remnant of a fence, or some barbwire, maybe even a stump. He was just digging a hole, giving the car more gas. He’d have to get out and see if he could lever it off.
Lenny grabbed the flashlight, opened the car door, and got out, scanning around for eyes with the beam. Nothing gleamed back in the darkness. Relieved, he shone the flashlight at the car, gaped, and then swore as he inspected his vehicle from all sides.
All four tires were flat. That asshole kid had done it, before that thing in the woods had killed him. There was no way he would get up that incline with one flat tire, much less four.
A rustling sounded in the darkness. Lenny brought his flashlight up, aiming it at the approaching noises. Two familiar eyes gleamed back at him from high in the darkness at the forest’s edge. More horrifying, two more pairs suddenly sprang to life on either side of the eyes, all of them staring at him.
On my way back to the exhibit hall, I unplug the radio and take it with me. It will be less echoey if I keep it with me, anyway. And I have a new strategy. I am a bit tired. , iIt might be hard to get up on time if I stay here too long. I’ll give myself a limit, stay until eight thirty, and then I am gone. Cranking up my tunes to a comfortable, and comforting, level, I get back to work.
The next artifact that is out of place is an old pair of spectacles which had belonged to an area prospector. I inspect the lenses carefully for breaks, cracks, chips. Happily, they’re in the same condition I had noted when I found them in the collection. I have an impulse to try them on. It’s terribly bad form, but for some reason I just cannot resist. They’re round, tarnished metal wire. I have no idea what prescription they might be, but as I am already nearsighted and have contacts, I figure I’m safe. I move to the mirror that stretches the length of the stone fireplace that bisects the room, and put them on.
I like the look. It’s cute, old-school, kind of like a stereotypical librarian from a children’s book. I lift my hair off my neck into a bun, and in the mirror, I see a man standing behind my shoulder.
I can’t breathe.
He slowly raises his head to look into my eyes. My mind barely registers that he is not wearing contemporary clothing. I see a stained and yellowed collarless shirt, suspenders. He is balding and has a thin moustache. His eyes are deeply circled. He just stares and stares, unmoving. I exhale, and rising on my tiptoes, let my gaze travel down to where his feet should be. Bile rises into my throat. This is not possible. It is not possible for this to be happening. This is some kind of joke, a sick prank on the newbie.
Summoning my courage, I wave my hand in front of the mirror to check for a projector’s beam. “I don’t know who you think you are,” I croak, before turning. “But I really don’t appreciate this kind of immature behaviour.
And of course, there’s no-one behind me. I’m being punked, I know it. I take the glasses off and turn around again, checking the reflection. I only see myself. “Hm. Interesting. I think I know how you did that,” I call out, setting the glasses on the mantle. I inspect every corner of the room, looking for the camera. A hidden panel. Something. If the effect was done like Pepper’s ghost, the image should be projected from a black box of some kind. I ignore the little voice in my head that says that the image should also appear in the room itself, not in the mirror. In the end, after twenty minutes, I find nothing.
“This is such a waste of my time,” I announce. Marching back to the mantle, I hold the specs up once more, and out of the corner of my eye, in my line of sight through a small section of the left lens, I see him again.
Fingers trembling, I slowly put them back on.
He’s closer to me this time. I can see more detail in his face — a spider’s web of wrinkles crossing his skin, the bristle marking where he needs to shave. I can’t stop the whimper from leaving my throat. I force myself to turn around and face him.
But again, there’s nothing there.
My skin is clammy. Across from me, the night disc jockey announces the next set of songs. The room is completely empty of another individual, brightly lit, a row of blackened windows to my left and right.
I take a few steps forward, to the place where the man should be standing. Hesitantly, I put one hand out and move it through the air. “Rationally, Kate, if there was a ghost here you should be feeling a cold spot, or a pulse of energy, or something tangible. Measurable.” Talking to myself is soothing. I put my hands on my hips, looking over the glasses at the floor. “No evidence of a screen.” I look at the ceiling. “No fishing wire.” I pivot on a heel and walk toward the lobby at my left, then stop and whirl around with a judo shriek. “Hi-yah!”
The only result is that I feel even more like an idiot. I straighten from my crouch and resume my power-posture. Chin raised, I look to my right, and in the reflection of the night-dark window I see the man’s face right over my shoulder, so close that by rights I should feel him breathing on my neck, hear him swallowing as he glares directly at me, but instead I feel my heart hammering and beads of sweat breaking out on my forehead.
A banging on the front door makes me jump.
Whipping off the spectacles as I race from the room, I am intensely relieved to see Harley’s face on the other side of the wavy glass. My hands are shaking so badly that I can barely manage the locks. He is wearing some fire gear, so embracing him is uncomfortable, but when I refuse to let go of him he has to peel my hands away.
“I saw that you called,” he says, kissing my forehead. His eyes are full of concern. He strokes my hair away from my face, hugging me again. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“Thank God for caller display,” I joke, snivelling a bit into his fire-proof jacket. I wipe my nose with my sleeve. “I think I’m just letting this project get to me. I’m so stressed out I’m starting to see things.”
“Like what?” His hands rub my back. I hiccup, aware that I am perilously close to tears.
“Um…like I was putting the exhibit back together…” I lean into his arms as I explain, turning the spectacles over in my hand while I am talking. They look perfectly ordinary. “I’m absolutely convinced that there is a logical explanation, some kind of prank, but I don’t know how it’s being done and it’s freaking me out.”
Harley keeps one hand on my back, and with the other, he retrieves a cotton glove from a box on a nearby shelf above the counter. He knows the routines here. Gently taking the glasses from me, he puts them on. “Let’s have a look, shall we?” He smiles at me, confidently, and I follow him back into the room.
Ten minutes later, he has looked into every window and the mirror, spectacles on and off. He’s put them on and turned around, copying my actions. He traverses the room looking for anything out of the ordinary. I watch, my arms folded, feeling more and more stupid. Finally, he returns them to the display case where they belong, and comes over to me.
“I’m just silly, I guess,” I admit, rubbing my eyes with the heel of one hand. He takes off my glove and lays a kiss on my palm. “It’s late, this old house is creepy at night, and I’m stressed. So no ghosts, just me and my dumb imagination.”
“It’s okay,” Harley replies, pulling me close. “It could happen to anyone. It’s probably happened to Chris Allen, which is why he didn’t want you here late. It would mess with anyone.”
“Even a big tough fire fighter?” I tease, tugging at the fasteners on his coat.
“Even a big tough fire man,” he emphasizes, kissing me. He checks his watch. “I have to go, sweetheart. There’s a cat in a tree somewhere that needs my help.”
I salute him playfully. “Then go forth, my hero, and save the poor pussy.”
His eyes light up at my choice of words. He raises an eyebrow and reaches down to tickle me; I push his arm away, laughing.