Horror flash fiction: Phoebe’s Game

Phoebe looked at the knock-off Operation Game. She had to lift a couple of worn stuffed animals off of the box to see the whole thing, but she was careful to avoid putting the stuffies on the ground. No sense in making the people running the yard sale angry! 

Yup, it looked almost exactly like the real thing, except that it wasn’t called “Operation” and it didn’t look like it had been store-bought. The cardboard looked like it belonged to a boot box, and when she rubbed her fingers on the lid, it felt like something laminated. She took the lid off all the way and her mouth dropped at the detailed mannequin inside. 

“Wow,” she said. 

The game board resembled the copyrighted one that she couldn’t afford unless she did a ton of chores, but it wasn’t made of plastic. It looked like it was made out of carved wood. And where the fun little pieces should be — the water bucket for the knee, the broken heart, all those things — there were miniature, realistic organs. She put out a finger to poke the worm-like intestines. They were so shiny, she almost expected them to feel squishy, like gummy candies, but piece was hard. So were the stomach, the lungs, and the brains. 

“It’s all hand-made,” the kindly old lady told her over her shoulder. Phoebe jumped, nearly dropping the box. “Oh, be careful there, dear. That’s a one-of-a-kind, that is.” 

“It’s really cool. Way better than the one in the toy department.” Phoebe reluctantly put the lid back on and set the box on the table. “Probably really expensive, too.”

“That depends. Why do you want it?” The old lady paused to accept a handful of change from another visitor to the yard sale, tucking it into her apron pocket. “I know the one you’re talking about, it’s very popular, and really not that much money.”

“My Uncle Joe has one of those, and he’s really good at it,” Phoebe said. “Like, an expert. I thought maybe if I got my own, I could get really good at it, too. Then he wouldn’t beat me all the time, and call me a bad loser afterward. Even though I’m not one.”

“Ah, I see.” The old woman smiled. “How much do you have on you?”

Phoebe took out her change purse and carefully counted the coins inside. “Four dollars and fifteen cents.”

“Oh, dear, I really couldn’t let it go for so little.” The old lady crossed her hands in front of her, shaking her head. “It was a gift from my late husband. He knew how much I liked games, but rest his soul, I can’t bear to play them without him.”

Just then, Phoebe was hit with a sudden inspiration. “Maybe, if you keep it, I could come to your house and play with it!”

“No, I’m trying to declutter so I can move into a smaller place, sweetie.” The old woman paused, biting her lip. “But I could use some help with the packing. I’ll tell you what: If you can come and help me with boxing up some of my things, after school this week, you can earn the game for yourself. Sound good?”

“Yes please!” Phoebe was practically jumping up and down with excitement. 

“You go on and ask your mother. I’ll hold the game for you until you have an answer.”

* * *

The old lady, whose name turned out to be Mrs. Rekcstir (which Phoebe found hard to pronounce, so she just called her Mrs. R.), welcomed Phoebe every day after school with a glass of milk and a plate of cookies, to “fuel her up,” she said. It was almost fun to help her pack up her figurines and books. The old lady — Mrs. R. — would tell her little stories about them as they wrapped each piece in bubble paper and tucked it safely into a box. And after a while, Phoebe would tell her stories, too, about that rotten Uncle Joe who never let her borrow his game, but who always made her mother let him take her to her swim lessons that fall. She didn’t like that he wouldn’t let her change out of her bathing suit. Every time, she had to sit in his crummy old car all cold and wet until they got back to his place, because he said he had to be quick to let his dog out, but then he’d make up for it by playing the game. Except he never let her win. Mrs. R. was very understanding, and said she wished she could take Phoebe to swimming instead. 

But the best moment came at the end of the week, when Phoebe was ceremoniously handed her game. 

“You’ve definitely earned this, dear,” Mrs. R. smiled at her. “Just be careful when you play with it. Some of the bits and pieces tend to fall off, but you can glue them back on again if you have to.”

Phoebe wanted to race home, but it was hard to run with the large game box in her arms, so she settled for an awkward fast-walk instead. And it was working, until she got to the curb. She didn’t see the step-down and tumbled forward, dropping everything onto the pavement and scattered dead leaves. 

“Oh, no!” she cried out. “No, I haven’t even gotten to play with you yet!”

“What’s that you’ve got there, Phoebe?” 

She froze at the sound of her Uncle Joe’s voice, calling to her down the sidewalk. 

“Do you need a hand?”

“No, I’m okay,” she told him. She quickly grabbed up whatever she could see, not caring if gravel and twigs ended up in the box with the game pieces. “I’m late for supper, I have to go.” 

“I’ll come along with you,” he said, jogging a little to catch up. “Your mom’s doing me a favour tonight and giving me a trim.”

Phoebe looked sideways at his jiggling belly, heaving after his little run, and the drops of sweat on his thick forehead. “Can’t you go to a barber?”

“Oh, now, don’t be rude.” He wagged a finger at her, keeping pace with her now. “I’m trying to be frugal. Do you know what that means?” 

Phoebe knew, but she didn’t want to say anything else to him. So she let him give her a lecture about what being frugal meant, all the way home. 

* * *

Because Phoebe had been late, her mother had held dinner, so Uncle Joe sat with them and had supper, too. It was a long time to sit, and Phoebe didn’t feel very hungry with her fat uncle sitting across from her, watching her play with her food. Finally, though, everyone was done, and she was able to run up to her room away from him.

“Hey! You still have to help me with the dishes,” her mother called up the stairs to her. 

“Oh, let her have some time to herself,” she heard her uncle say. “I’m tired of my hair on my neck. Ready to practice your barber skills?”

Phoebe closed the door so she wouldn’t have to listen to boring grown-up talk and stupid grown-up jokes, and settled herself on her bed to take a good long look at her new game. 

It was a mess. She almost cried when she saw that some of the the polished flat fingernails were missing, and when it had fallen, some of the doll’s hair had sheared off on the ground. It wasn’t perfect anymore. Still, after she wiped the pieces with a bit of tissue , it looked nearly as good as the first day she had seen it. So life-like. The last piece of the game, the heart, even fit into a tiny indentation behind the lungs. Phoebe had never seen anything so . . . perfect.

Knock-knock-knock.

“Phoebe, your uncle is leaving now,” Her mother said through the closed door. “I want you to come down and say good-bye.” 

“I don’t want to,” Phoebe told her loudly. “He’s sweaty and he always hugs for too long.”

“That’s just because he’s out of shape, and he hugs you for a long time because he loves you,” her mother said. “Come down right now. You’re lucky to have such a good uncle, you know.”

Phoebe sighed and got off her bed. 

When she went down the stairs, she noticed that her mother had swept the cut hair into a pile, but it hadn’t been picked up yet. There were big gross nail shavings in there, too. She made a face at them. 

“Your mom and I were playing hair salon,” Uncle Joe laughed. He swatted her mother on the rear, and she jumped, giggling. “She gives a pretty fancy pedicure, but I didn’t let her use any of your nail polish, don’t you worry.” 

“I wasn’t.” Phoebe said, sullenly. She put her face up for a sweaty kiss and let him pick her up and swing her around, his fat belly and boobs squashed against her chest and belly. “‘Bye, Uncle Joe.” 

“Don’t forget, I’m picking you up for swimming tomorrow,” he rumbled. “I hear you’ve got a brand new two-piece swimsuit, too! I can’t wait to see it!”

He put her back down, and Phoebe moved away, around the other side of the table, careful to avoid stepping in the pile of hair and toenails. 

And then she got an idea. 

She could use Uncle Joe’s gross hair and toenail clippings for her game! That way, she reasoned, she wouldn’t have to cut any of her doll’s hair, or use yarn, which would just look stupid. So when her mother’s back was turned, she quickly grabbed up a handful of the stuff and raced back up to her room, taking the stairs two steps at a time. 

She wasn’t sure if the craft glue on her little desk would stick on the carved wood, but it did. She worried at first that the clumps and pieces of hair would look silly, but after she was done, the figure almost looked like a miniature copy of Uncle Joe. Well, a copy if you could see inside his body . .  but it was funny, even the outline of the game board looked chubbier. It might have been a trick of the light after she’d cut some of his nail shavings to fit the little hands of the board; the real nails looked fresh and white, almost like they’d been painted. 

She washed her hands while she waited for the glue to dry, and then picked up the tweezers that had come with the game. This was the part she had most looked forward to trying, because instead of there being a buzzer if the tweezers touched the sides, fishing line had been threaded throughout the game board and attached to a bell on the side. So it wouldn’t be scary if she missed. 

It was getting close to bedtime, so Phoebe knew she wouldn’t have long before her mother would make her have a bath and brush her teeth. She might be able to pull one organ out, maybe, just for practice. 

Phoebe decided to try the heart. The lungs were in place, but she could see how the heart was mainly underneath the left one, so if she plucked the other one away, it would be almost like picking a berry off a bush.

Carefully, slowly, she slid the tweezers in between the lungs, lifting the right one slowly and gradually until she could put the points around the valves of the little wooden heart.  It was so funny how it didn’t even look like the proper shape, all round and lumpy and veiny, but Phoebe knew this was good training for the other game. The little white plastic heart would be easy-peasy if she could master this . . . 

The bell rang. Phoebe sighed in giddy frustration; under the rules of the game, she had to try again. 

And again.

And again.

Downstairs, the telephone rang. There was a flurry of footsteps, and the door banging open and shut a few times. But nobody came to bother Phoebe, so she paid it no mind.

The sun slowly went down outside her window as she patiently poked and prodded around the silly lungs, trying to get the best hold on the heart she could. Finally, just as the streetlights were coming on, she felt the end of the tweezer hook itself into one of the holes on the side of the heart. 

“Yes!” she whispered to herself, triumphantly — and slowly — pulling the heart free. She did it so neatly, the lungs opened like a door and fell smoothly back into place. 

She held it up to the light, marveling at its perfection. The phone rang again, and this time,, a set of soft footsteps came up the stairs. 

“Phoebe? It’s Mrs. R., dear,” came a familiar voice. “Your mother had to rush out earlier, but she asked me to look after you until she could come home. She’s on the phone for youynow.”

Phoebe got off the bed at once, the tiny heart clutched in her hand. She opened the door wide. “What’s the matter? What happened?”

Mrs. R. handed her the phone. “Talk to your mother.”

Phoebe listened to her mother tell her through sniffles and sobs that her Uncle Joe had felt sick when he was on his way home. He’d fallen down on the sidewalk and someone passing by had had to call an ambulance.  “He had a heart attack, sweetheart,” her mother cried. “Your Uncle Joe is . . . gone.”

Phoebe knew she should feel sad, but she couldn’t help smiling. When she pressed “end” on the phone, she saw that Mrs. R. had settled herself onto the bed next to her game. 

“Oh, my,” Mrs. R. said, clucking. “The hair is coming off again. This won’t do at all.”

“That’s okay,” Phoebe told her. “I heard Mr. Wilson is shaving his head in front of the whole school next week ’cause he lost a bet. He’s a real meanie, too.”

“Tell me all about him, dear.” 


Abracadabra, alacazam! My love affair with magic…

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Amongst the various hobbies, fictional worlds, and pastimes I enjoy, there’s magic as entertainment. Sometimes I wonder if it’s in the blood, for I’m told that my grandmother’s grandfather was a vaudeville magician somewhere in England, or perhaps a ventriloquist. Or both. It’s something I would dearly love to research one day, but I’m not sure how far I would get — my great-grandfather was sent to Canada as a “home child” and it’s hard to say whether any records exist regarding his parentage. What my mother and I do know is that he had brought with him a photograph of his father pulling a rabbit out of a top hat, and that the photo was torn in pieces by my great-aunt when she was just a toddler.

Bunny!

I used to try performing magic tricks when I was a kid. At twelve years old, for a talent show performed at the local retirement home, I devised a short routine involving pouring water into a newspaper and making a soft toy duck appear in a saucepan after I’d cracked eggs into it. I am the first to admit that I wasn’t very good, but I remember one lady’s delighted laugh at my trick. I wanted to learn more — to do card tricks, and how to do the thing with the adjoining rings. I learned about certain illusions, and the importance of palming objects, but I got frustrated with my slippery hands and didn’t know to look for a mentor for help.

But my interest in magic as entertainment never went away. I loved watching David Copperfield, and recently, Wizard Wars has gotten my attention, as well as that of my own family. It’s the process of performing the illusion seamlessly, along with patter and presentation, that I enjoy the most. Sure, it’s fun trying to figure out how someone did a trick, but I also kind of feel like that takes the joy out of it. Magic isn’t necessarily meant to be deconstructed: it’s meant to marvel, to take the breath away, to remind us that there’s more to life than the mundane.

It would be cool to relearn some signature tricks, to start building a collection of illusions again. Once in a while I have the urge to pick up one of those “special” decks of cards and study how to force a selection. I adore those episodes of HIMYM when Neil Patrick Harris gets to show off his prowess, and when a professional is in town, I do try to see the performance live. A hypnotist is performing this week at our school, actually, as a fundraiser, and I’m looking forward to that as well.

The trouble is that doing magic tricks properly requires having the time and patience to perfect the routine. So if I want to take it back up as a hobby, I need to build that in on top of everything else. And I’m still meaning to learn to play my guitar — as well as putting my daughter in lessons, because she wants to learn to play too — as well as getting back into my quilting and cross-stitching. I stopped knitting for a bit because I found I was letting it get in the way of other work that needed doing (read: I was using the knitting to procrastinate), but I am back at it again in order to combat the constant urge to pick at my nails and cuticles. Thankfully, my plot to force myself to get outside and be active at least once a week has been a success: having invested the money in the family membership and ski instruction for Bridget, I have a visible incentive leaning against my piano in the form of our skis, and attached to my coat as a tow pass badge, plus a reminder on my calendar that we are expected on the hill on Saturday afternoons.

I think, for myself, if I want to get back into magic (or if my kids do as well), I need to find someone to teach me/us. And we need to schedule the lessons in. I do much better with timelines and needing to be somewhere than when I’m left on my own devices to drift.

So, new goal: In addition to promoting my upcoming novel (and other writings), keeping up with extracurricular and volunteer work, completing various handicraft projects, learning to play actual chords on the guitar, and the rest of it, I will pick one magic trick to learn and master by the time the year is out. Sweeping declaration! I will be a magician again!

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Lady-wolf: the Untold Story

We had always kept our distance from the two-legs — they were loud, they stank (usually of fear), and they couldn’t communicate. But the prey had been hard to find for a few days, and we were hungry, as were our pups. My mate’s stomach was growling as loudly as I’d ever heard him when he had to warn away coyotes.

So when the two-legs had quieted down, well after dark, we followed our noses to the scent of food.

Although there was no moon, the faint glimmer of starlight coupled with the orange glow from the fire help us find fish spines on a rock, and crumbs of something yeasty on the beaten ground by the hot place. Strange clear round things, too, like small bones that had been cleaned of their marrow. I sniffed one and sneezed at its oddly acrid scent, like broken mushrooms after a rain. Nothing edible there. While my mate licked hopefully at the fish spines, I padded over to a sack that smelled promisingly of food. There was a small hole in it that my claw was able to rip open just a little bigger, letting slimy guts spill out. Not particularly appetizing, but better than nothing.

As I was pulling the innards further out, a wind rose that blew the bag away from me. It tumbled end over end toward the strange cave where the two-legs were sleeping. I snapped up the morsel I’d taken and followed the rest, easily fastening my teeth around its neck to drag it away.

The two-legs inside must have heard me, or maybe it had to mark its territory. Suddenly the big leaf moved aside and its ugly face was there, its eyes staring into mine over its flat snout. We both froze. I’d never been this close to one of them before. I let my hackles rise and growled in warning, advising it to keep its distance. I thought I could scent that it was a male, but there was female odour as well. I could smell yeast here, too, very strong, and that odd smell like mashed fungus. I wasn’t about to get closer to find out more, but then I heard a sound in the cave. Maybe it moved, or something else, but I didn’t like it. I let my teeth show, growling louder, and heard my mate answer in kind.

After too many rapid heart-beats to count, I decided to take a chance on moving back. I put a paw on my prize, intending to drag it away also by snagging it with my nail. But there was a second sack there, something else next to the first I had chased, and it was heavy. The two-legs said something loud, and reached out quickly to stop me. I snarled, snapping a stronger warning.

The stupid two-legs gripped my prize and yanked it back. I got close to its stinking face, fighting for what was mine. My mate responded, approaching, and then when the two-legs looked away, I seized my chance to sink my teeth into its forelimb. I expected it to cry out, but it did something else: it bit me back, fastening its jaws on the tender skin of my ear. Instead of the two-legs yelping, I heard my voice in the pain. Surprised and hurt, I spat out its dirty tasting body and scrambled away, leaving my prize — and my pride — in the dirt.

My mate found me later, attempting to lick my wound, but my tongue wouldn’t quite reach. He obliged by cleansing it as best he could. Every lave of his tongue on my hurt reminded me of the shocking strength of the two-legs jaws trying to rip my flesh from my bones. I knew I would never go near their kind again, no matter how hungry I might feel.

The bites took a long time to heal. Flies swarmed over my hurt ear, where pain rumbled like thunder. But by the time the lesser light was rising nearly full and round in each evening sky, it pained me not at all. I felt wonderfully energetic and playful, approaching my mate for penetration when he didn’t expect and increasing my range of hunting until I was angering our neighbouring families. I tumbled and played with our litter until they were worn out and slept where they fell. I couldn’t help it, though; it felt like the glow of thousands suns under my skin, powering my muscles and pushing me to run as fast as I could. I had to run, because then, when I stopped, I would be able to do the other thing that I couldn’t resist, and that I knew my mate would not understand.

Grasping a firm twig in my maw, i traced shapes in a space of dirt I cleared with my tail. A winding path, like the river carving through the valley. Lines crossing each other and blending downward into one thick reach, like the veins on a leaf or the tall trees that rose about me. The unnatural hump that had been the two-legs’ cave. My jaw made these images clumsily, and I found that I could hook my forepaw around the tip of the tool, and by moving it carefully and slowly, I could do it better.

It disturbed me, these moments, and I would eventually rise shuddering, uncertain of the reason or the purpose behind these things.

It was when the lesser light rose in its fullest that I learned the truth of the two-legs’ curse on me.

The pups, my mate, and I had settled in for the night. I had brought home a fat rabbit and our bellies were full. But as they snored in our den, the white light in the forest beckoned me. I wanted to stay warm and safe, listening to my family breathing, but the desire to go crawled on my fur like a thousand insects. There was no comfort in remaining. I silently and swiftly ran away up the mountain, seeking a private place in which to howl my discomfort away.

And then I stumbled.

I fell, as I ran. Nothing had ever happened to me like that, at least not since I had been a pup. I got up to run again, and my forelegs wouldn’t grip as they had done before. I dragged myself, whining, my bones burning, to a clear flat place on a rock, and lifted my nose to the sky.

But my nose no longer angled before my eyes, jutting proudly before my face. I shook my head, trying to rid myself of the painful tingling, as the black tip shrank away and my teeth and tongue with it. I raised a forepaw, panicking, confused, and scrambled back as I saw the hairless limb waving in the space where my nose had been. The limb ended not in my fuzzy paw, but in something flattened and naked, my knuckles stretched and unfamiliar. My bladder released in my fright, and although my skin wrinkled for hackles, cold air whisked across my neck where the raised fur should have been. A strange sound ululated from my throat — neither a bark, nor a whine, but a low keening wail. I fell back, and in my panic, I recognized an absence of pain where I ought to have jammed the bone of my tail. I twisted around to see, and to my horror, my beautiful thick tail was gone, swallowed into a strange smooth round surface. I tumbled over and over, crying out as the mountain rock and brush left stinging scratches on my suddenly tender skin. When I finally skidded to a stop in a cradle of stone, the light of the moon revealed my new body and I wept.

How would my children feed from me, with only two bulbous mammary glands where six had been? And how could my mate accept me, without my fur? I curled forward, protecting the underbelly which had grown long and felt so hollow. When I tried to stand, my back legs were ungainly and awkward, hitting the ground in two places, bending at an unnatural angle. And I was cold, so cold. I missed the warmth of my family, our bodies piled together in the heat of our den. Something leaked onto my face and ran from my nose, and I knew I must be dying. Wolves did not leak in this way. I was sick and I would not be able to return to my home.

The night wore on. I managed to find grips on the rock, moving slowly as I grew accustomed to myself. The freezing wind tore my breath from me. My body ached and shivered. The fur which had been left to me was long on my head, shorter than a newborn kit’s on my legs, matted patches between my legs and under my forearms — not nearly adequate for protection. If I was now a two-legs (for that certainly seemed to be the truth), I understood better their reason for building hot places when they lived in their strange caves. Why their dens were filled with bedding like a bird’s. Naked, they could not survive.

So when I saw a two-leg place with a fire, I had to swallow my revulsion and panic in order to get close enough to be warmed.

As before, the beings were gone. I could not smell them this time, or smell any food right away. The heat drew me in. There was a pelt by the fire, something scratchy and the colour of blood, left hanging on a strange bush. My teeth were unable to pull it over me, but as I had done with the stick in the dirt, I was able to use my forepaws to stretch the pelt onto my body. Between the pelt and the fire, I was soon able to stop shivering.

I do not remember falling asleep, but it must have been true, because a touch on my shoulder woke me. Again, I tried to growl, but a high-pitched noise hummed from my throat instead. Two-legs were looking at me, making soft sounds. I snapped my teeth, moving backward away from their outstretched limbs. Behind them, the sky was still dark. I felt dirt under my nails as I clawed the ground. I looked down at the marks these long knuckles could make, and felt calmer. I made furrows, digging, and traced the spiral of a cut tree stump, while the two-legs made more noises.

The shock of understanding — it exploded in my chest, when one of them made a sound I could interpret: “Water.”

I looked up at a hollowed bone, filled with clear water. “Aa-der,” I intoned, and crawled forward, hanging my tongue out. It was difficult to lap the drink into my mouth. I tensed at the feeling of the bone touching my teeth, but when the water poured in, I found it easier to swallow. When the two-legs took the bone away, I whimpered. I watched as more water was poured into it from a sack, and then it was offered to me again, this time with a soft touch on my forepaw which made me flinch back.

The smaller two-legs was holding a bone, too. I watched as it curled its ugly knuckles around the bone and raised the liquid to its mouth. Astounded, I realized that this was something I could do, too. I dropped the bone and spilled the water with my first few attempts, but I had always learned things quickly. I found that I could drink like a two-legs, after all.

“Who?,” they kept saying to me. “Who?” Like monstrous owls changed by sorcery into poor mockeries of the birds they had once been.

“Where?” It sounded like a growl, but wasn’t. The noises were intelligible, but I did not know their language. “Hurt,” they said, but what did it mean?

They gave me food, hard like tree bark but tasting of berries and wheat. They built the fire, placing more sticks on it, so that I would not be cold. These were not the terrifying two-legs of my nightmares.

So when the sky brightened and I shuddered back into my normal form, perhaps their screams were also to be understood. As soon as my four legs were under me, my tail brushing the air once more, I ran from them as fast as I could, retracing my path back to home. Far better that I had frightened those who had bitten me, changed me, than my own offspring and pack.

Book Review — Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft

Right away, before delving into each of these fantastic stories, I must give full disclosure of my bias: I’m both Wiccan and a witch. I have a fairly intimate knowledge of the Craft, both through experience and research. I love being part of this belief system, finding like-minded people, and learning all that I can about it, within the decreasing limits of my so-called free time. So finding this anthology, Beltane: Ten Tales of Witchcraft, was like coming home to me. I absolutely loved it.

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“An Accidental Witch”, by Liv Rancourt

I was completely entranced by this story from the first page. The descriptions, the characters, the setting — all of it grabbed me right away. In a problem reminiscent of classic sitcoms like ‘Bewitched’, a practitioner of magick approaches her Wiccan friend for a little bragging over her coven’s recent acquisition, and a little help with an awkward situation. Charlotte agrees to help, and succeeds, using her skills in Wicca as well as some quick thinking and a level head. I could see it all so clearly, and the characters all reminded me of people I know and love. Rancourt has provided a fabulous introductory story to the anthology, perfect with a chocolate-covered pastry for nibbles.

“Alba”, by Karen Heard

I was glad to take a break between stories, because I quickly realized there is a change in tone as each tale ends and the next begins. The subtleties and undercurrents of “Alba” were compelling and organic. I love strong subtext, fitting pieces together, and discovering hidden meanings. I love flipping back and forth between sections of a story to uncover what was there all along. Heard did that for me with writing that is breathtakingly beautiful and haunting. Her story strongly reminds me of favourite episodes of ‘The X-Files” and the classic ghost story “Watcher in the Woods”, flavoured with aspects of Snow White and other fairy tales. There is also a twist at the end that I did not see coming, and it was perfect. Read with a good cup of tea.

“By the Pricking of My Thumbs”, by Jonathan Broughton

Ah, vengeance. Justice. Mayhem. Some of Shakespeare’s best works were based on these very themes, these intangible aspects of human nature that both terrify and release. I was floored by this imagining of turn-of-the-century performance of That Scottish Play. Broughton uses incredible detail to skillfully set up a plot that spirals rapidly to its climax. The dramatic irony is intense and juicy. The applause of the audience is definitely well-deserved.

“The Cat Maiden”, by Mertianna Georgia

I have friends who are devout cat-lovers and fans of fantasy fiction who must, absolutely MUST read this story. I’m going to insist on it. (And of course, they will then be compelled to read the rest of the anthology, which is as it should be, because I cannot decide on a favourite here, no more than I could choose a favourite chocolate out of the box.) I adore the sweetness of Georgia’s characters, struggling to be true and strong in a harsh world. Elrick, her protagonist, is fortunate indeed to have been granted two loving guardians with gifts of magick to teach and protect him. I wish I could see this illustrated with watercolours, each picture bordered in gilt.

“The May Lady Vanishes”, by Pamela Turner

I must say, I had my suspicions about a certain character in this story from the very beginning, and I was gratified when I read the solution to the mystery and discovered I’d been right all along. I don’t want to spoil it for you, of course, so won’t go into too much detail. But Turner’s depiction of an occult shop was bang-on. And her visuals brought the story to life immediately. What I liked most about this story, though, is that it really brings home the reality that not all those who practice Wicca and/or witchcraft do so with good intentions. Witches are still human beings, capable of jealousy and poor behaviour. There are consequences for everything. Turner’s characters are entirely three-dimensional in this short mystery.

“The Hanging Witch of Painter Mountain”, by Lawrence Baker

Excellent reading for a warm — or cool — fall afternoon. Baker evokes a combination of creepy, sinister, wistful feelings in this look back to the years after the American Civil War. I love the language in this story, and his use of subtext to reveal the magick in the rough mountain community. This story makes me think of something Stephen King might write, actually. It transitions seamlessly from one reality to the next, as gently as a falling leaf, bittersweet and tangy. “The Hanging Witch” is a notable example in that every word is chosen carefully to provide meaning to the reader, and eloquently so.

“Thirteen Steps”, by Debbie Christiana

Another tale of purposeful witchcraft, tinged with horror for those who admire Stephen King. Poor condemned witch Isabella cannot be pitied for long, as she is one of those who cannot be held back even by time. The fate of the antagonist, self-indulgent journalist Bart Santz/Sanzone, is abundantly clear from the moment he is introduced, which makes riding along with him that much more enjoyable. Oh, that moment when he realizes the point of no return has come and gone… Just delicious. Tea and hot apple pie with this one, if you please. Throw a dollop of whipped cream on top. Trust me.

“Four Bony Hands”, by Rayne Hall

A stunning modern adaptation of a classic children’s fairy tale. Estelle is such a sweetheart, a good woman whose qualities I recognize in a number of my close friends. Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished. Perhaps it’s her own karma catching up with her — Estelle is no innocent, though her minor civic crimes were committed with the intention of protecting life. Certainly, her fate is determined by the impact of ignorance and abuse on others. I like this story so much because Hall not only depicts human beings with great honesty, she doesn’t even hold back with the children. There is a harsh reality to being a child in a story with a witch — at least a traditional fairy tale, in which witches are inevitably evil hags with a yen for prepubescent flesh — so in a way, the children’s behaviour is somewhat understandable. If only Estelle had realized her role in their perceived story… I find myself wishing I could read the next chapter, that this one continues on in any one of several directions.

“Mishmash Magick”, by Carole Ann Moleti

Discovering this colourful tale of urban magick was a complete delight. One simply does not expect to encounter witches in the city, let alone builders of magickal circles, crafters of spells, or celebrations of sacred fire festivals in the concrete and pavement landscape. Moleti’s portrayal of the balance between the intangible and the mundane is bang-on. There is a care to the works of the urban witch, a certain way to juggle the Craft without attracting unwanted notice, and she has captured it brilliantly.

“Love Magick”, by Debra Dunbar

Dunbar knows her teenagers, and her facts about Wicca and witchcraft. This story is really and truly lovely, even with its squirmy moments of adolescent awkwardness. The outsider, Blossom, is painfully lonely and accepts an offer from one of her school’s queen bees, Sheila, to work a spell on a boy. Blossom has a good heart, and a strong conscience, and her inner beauty is clearly visible to others even though she doesn’t realize it until her crisis peaks. I wish that real life could resolve itself as well as “Love Magick” does, but that’s why we read — to learn how to work through problems, and improve how we behave toward each other. And that’s really the heart of magick: achieving balance, for the good of all and harming none.

This anthology is a must-read for lovers of magic/magick, fantasy, romance, horror, mystery, and the paranormal. I’m so glad that I read this book.

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.ca/Beltane-Witchcraft-Fantasy-Stories-ebook/dp/B009D41V3E

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July 29: I’m on the V-Spot Blog

Oh, what a glorious Monday it will be! I’ll be rubbing virtual shoulders with vampire authors on perhaps the greatest vampire fiction site online!

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Join me at http://www.vampirebookrealm.com/the-v-spot-blog.html, read a fresh excerpt from Wind and Shadow, leave a comment, and enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for my Bloody Good Prize Package:

– a set of handmade beeswax candles (lead-free wicks),
– a signed bookmark,
– a magnet,
– a “blood”-filled vampire fang necklace from Vampirewear.com, and
– a signed print copy of Wind and Shadow

Good things happening — can’t wait to see who wins this one!

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Wind and Shadow: Book One of the Talbot Trilogy

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Buy Links:
(PDF or Print) http://www.melange-books.com/authors/torilridgewood/windandshadow.html
(Kindle) http://www.amazon.com/Wind-Shadow-Talbot-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00DYCH64Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374184496&sr=8-1&keywords=wind+and+shadow+tori+ridgewood
(B&N) http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/wind-and-shadow-tori-l-ridgewood/1116138235?ean=9781612356396
(Smashwords) https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/340100
(Kobo) http://store.kobobooks.com/en-ca/books/wind-and-shadow-talbot-series-1/JPwUsVxsCkqvqn_pDL1MYw?MixID=JPwUsVxsCkqvqn_pDL1MYw&PageNumber=1

Book Release Party July 7!

Celebrate with me the release of Wind and Shadow: Book One of the Talbot Trilogy, with games, prizes, and giveaways on July 7 from 12-5 pm:

https://www.facebook.com/events/387077754732358/

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Prizes and giveaways include:
Wind and Shadow bookmarks and pens
-a Wind and Shadow mug and magnet set
-a Wind and Shadow notebook and pen set,
-a Wind and Shadow key chain,
-1 Wind and Shadow t-shirt,
-3 sets of vampire bite removable tattoos (Vampirewear.com)
-a “blood”-filled fang necklace (Vampirewear.com)
-a mini-rose fang necklace (Vampirewear.com)
-5 free e-copies of Wind and Shadow,
-THREE signed print copies of Wind and Shadow: Book One of the Talbot Trilogy

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PLUS: Every comment is an entry into a draw for the Mystery Prize! (hint: a special necklace only available from Vampirewear.com is included!) Note: If you live outside of Eastern Standard Time, don’t despair — you are eligible for this terrific gift box! (pics to come, she whispered mysteriously…)

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*note: event rescheduled as of June 26 to July 7