• Cursed by Superstition

    I think it’s time, dear reader, to return to the dungeons; to resume your wanderings into the darkness of my mind; to pick yourself up; to dust yourself down; and to calm your nerves. For, another door awaits you and you need to be prepared for what lies in wait.

    Are you superstitious, dear reader?

    A superstition is an irrational belief, usually founded on ignorance or fear and characterised by obsessive reverence for omens, charms etc. It is also defined as any irrational belief with regard to the unknown.

    How many of you remember the superstitions or ‘old wives’ tales’ you were told as a child? Don’t sit too close to the TV because your eyes will go square; if the wind changes direction, your face will stay like that; don’t walk under ladders, as you are tempting fate; always touch/knock on wood after making a hopeful statement; always salute a single magpie to avoid bad luck? I could go on, but I won’t. You know what I’m talking about, though, don’t you?

    What if these superstitions were actually true? What if something did happen if you didn’t heed the warning? These beliefs must have come from somewhere; must have been borne from experience. Why else would they be used to warn the young and uninitiated? After all, look what happened to David and Jack when they strayed off the path.

    I bring you, therefore, dear reader, to your next door and I ask you again – are you superstitious? For, what lies beyond this door may change your view and your life forever.

    You stand before the latest door, still shaking from your encounter with the werewolves; your mind still trying to work out how you got away; your heart not believing you did. And you haven’t, dear reader. You have many doors to go and, even then, you may never get away; not really. For, once you have seen the darkness, it never leaves you.

    You reach out and take hold of the doorknob and watch as the door morphs into a door you are familiar with; a door that you see every day when you wake up in the morning and before you go to sleep at night; a door in your house; your bedroom door.

    Relief fills your body and you pull it open and race inside. You’ve forgotten again. For, while the room you have entered does indeed resemble your bedroom – from the position of the furniture, to the décor and bed linen – you know this isn’t your room, don’t you? Or you do, when you turn around and see that the door has disappeared; just like last time. Panic rises up as, yet again, you have rushed headlong into something without thinking; something deceptively safe and familiar. The key word here being deceptive.

    You take deep breaths to try and calm yourself and slowly you turn around, your eyes scanning every inch of the room, looking for anything to indicate what lies in wait for you; anything out of place. Then you see it, above the mirror. You see some kind of writing on the wall. You can’t read it from where you are, so you have no choice but to move closer. As you do so, you realise that it’s an envelope; its edge tucked just underneath the edge of the mirror to hold it in place.

    You reach up and pluck it down and look down at the bold scrawl on the front – ‘READ ME’ – is all it says; in capitals. You open the envelope and pull out a slip of paper. On it, in the same bold capitalised print, are the letters of the alphabet, in reverse order – Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T, S, R, Q, P, O, N, M, L, K, J, I, H, G, F, E, D, C, B, A.

    An alarm bell goes off in the back of your head. You ignore it. Why? Because you don’t remember the significance; you don’t remember the superstition; you didn’t listen all those years ago. You’ll soon wish you had.

    You scan the letters. You read them to yourself; in your head. You don’t understand. You turn the slip of paper over and find instructions – stand in front of the mirror, looking into it, and recite the alphabet, backwards.

    The alarm bell in clanging now. Your brain is screaming ‘why?’, but you don’t listen. What’s going to happen to you? There is nothing in this room that will harm you. This is your room and you know exactly what is in it. You are right, of course. This is your room, but what you fail to understand is that, it is your room in my mind.

    You look into the mirror and you do as the note commands; no queries; no questions. ‘Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T, S, R, Q, P, O, N, M, L, K, J, I, H, G, F, E, D, C, B, A,’ you say, your heart thundering in your chest as you do so; a sign, perhaps, that what you have just done wasn’t such a good idea; your sixth sense warning you, like the alarm bell. But it is too late now. You have done what was requested. What happens now?

    You look around you; sweeping the room, slowly and carefully, looking for changes. Nothing. You turn back to the mirror and stare at yourself for what seems like an age. You feel it before you see it. Or, should I say, you sense it. The hairs on the back of your neck begin to rise and goose bumps invade your skin. You hold your breath; your heart thudding in your chest. Your eyes are wide; staring, but still there is nothing to see. Yet, you know that something has changed; something is there; you are no longer alone.

    Unable to hold your breath any longer, you release it and gasp for air. As you inhale what you assumed would be clean air, you gag as your senses are assaulted. The stench is like nothing you have ever smelled before – a malodour you have often imagined a rotting corpse to smell like – but a smell you never thought you’d ever have to experience yourself.

    You start to turn, determined to find out what is causing the odour, when you hear it and, once again, your breath catches and your heart thuds painfully in your chest. Something is there with you; something alive; something breathing. You can hear it, deep and rasping, and as it exhales the stench worsens. You find yourself matching its inhales and exhales, unable to hold your breath any longer.

    You are immobile; thoughts of what it might be fixing you in place. You daren’t turn around. Why? Fear? Terror? Why? Do you believe in superstitions now?

    You try and fix your gaze on your own reflexion, unable to close your eyes; unable to shut out what might be, but you can’t. Your vision keeps shifting, like a badly tuned TV; the image in the mirror becoming distorted.

    You squint and lean closer, to try and make out the reflection of the room more clearly. As you do so, the image starts to come together and you feel a hollowness in the pit of your stomach and a scream catch in your throat. You’d left them behind; behind the previous door; you’re sure of it. How can one be here, in this room, with you? That was a different scene; a different place; a different door – wasn’t it? You tell me, dear reader, for this is my mind, after all, and I decide what goes on.

    You stare at the wolf in the mirror; you stare at the coarse fur; you stare at the pointed ears; you stare at the dark red eyes; you stare at the long sharp teeth, clenched together in a snarl; you stare at the spittle and remnants of flesh and blood between those teeth. Finally, unable to contain it any longer, you scream; a long, deep, guttural scream; a scream most people would call a howl. For, it isn’t what is in the room with you, that you are afraid of anymore. No, it is what is staring back at you. For, you are alone in the room, dear reader, and what you smelt; what you heard; and what you see – is you.

    As a child, I was once dared to stand in front of a mirror, in a darkened room and recite the alphabet, backwards. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Because a werewolf will appear behind you,’ I was told.

    I never tested this superstition, dear reader, would you?

    May fear protect you when the darkness comes.

    Til next time.


  • Ghosts: To Believe or Not To Believe……That is The Question

    I know I do, dear reader, and always have. I have had far too many encounters for me not to believe really. There are a lot of people out there who don’t believe and this may include some of you. I respect that, I really do, after all, how can you believe in something you have never felt; never heard; or never seen?

    I keep ‘feel, hear and see’ separate because, like me, you may only experience one of these things. Only the very fortunate will experience them all; only a blessed few will be clairvoyant. I am a clairsentient; I feel. Some people are clairaudient (hear/listen); some are clairalient (smell); some are claircognisant (know); and some are clairgustant (taste). Which one are you?

    If you don’t believe though, dear reader, I urge you to go out and experience the other world; the world where the living go to meet the dead; where non-believers believe; and where believers are continually astounded. For, only once you have experienced the paranormal, are you truly in a position to make the decision to continue to disbelieve, or to open yourself up to the possibility that there is life after death; that the spirit world exists; and that it could very well be sharing your house with you, as I share mine.

    It is said that we are all born with six senses, but acceptable norms in society and in our familial upbringing drive out of us that all important sixth sense. You only have to observe a child at play, when they are unaware they are being watched, to see this sixth sense in action. For that child will invariably be talking to and playing with someone; someone you, as an adult, cannot see. But, believe me when I say, that someone is there. After all, how many children have imaginary friends? How many children get told off, for doing something they sincerely didn’t do? How many children hold tea parties for guests other than their dolls?

    Is it really so hard to believe that these someones are not imagined; that they are actually there? It is just that you are too closed and jaded to see.

    When you were constantly told as a child that ‘there are no such things as ghosts’, was this just an ingrained accepted society norm? After all, it’s easier to dismiss something you don’t understand or can’t see as not being real, isn’t it?

    Ghosts, spectres, phantoms, spooks, apparitions or, if you are Scottish, wraiths and bogeys, are the soul or spirit of a dead person.

    They tend to be lone essences which haunt a particular location, person or object which they were associated with in life. Despite the tendency for solitary ghosts, there have been many reports over the years of ghost armies, roman soldiers, ghost ships (most notable of these being ‘The Flying Dutchman’), or even ghost animals.

    Ghosts take on various forms, from being an invisible presence, through a wispy/barely visible image, to a realistic life-like vision.

    The belief in ghosts is not isolated to one era or one country. It pervades the world and transcends time. But, every culture and every country has a different understanding of ghosts and what they are around for.

    Traditionally, ghosts are deceased people who are looking for vengeance or who are trapped on earth, due to the bad things they did in life. The appearance of a ghost was often seen as a portent of death, especially if the ghost was of you!

    Although, traditionally, supernatural activity in homes etc. is usually associated with violent or tragic events in the building’s past – murder, accidental death, and suicide – this isn’t always the case. In some cultures and religions, it is believed that the essence (spirit) of a person continues to exist after death, regardless. Some argue that the spirits have not passed over because they are trapped inside the property where their memories and energy are strong.

    So, that’s the traditional view, but what about history? What about culture? Just how ancient and widespread is the belief in ghosts? Antiquated and diverse, is how I would term it.

    In Mesopotamian religions (those of Sumer, Babylon and Assyria), ghosts were believed to be created at the time of death and bore the memory and personality of the person they once were. They travelled to the netherworld, where they took on a role similar to that in life and their relatives were expected to make offerings of food and drink. If they didn’t, it was believed that the deceased would inflict misfortune and illness on the living.

    In Ancient Egypt, ghosts were said to be the continual existence of the soul after death. They could help or harm the living and many of the beliefs over the years, have been recorded for posterity in the ‘Egyptian Book of the Dead’.

    The classical world saw ghosts as vapour, smoke or substantial forms, appearing at the time of death with the wounds that killed them clearly visible.

    By the fifth century, Greek ghosts were haunting, frightening creatures and ancient Greeks held annual feasts to honour the dead. Family ghosts were also invited and were then asked to stay away until the following year.

    The ancient Romans believed a ghost could be used to exact revenge on an enemy, by scratching a curse on a piece of lead or pottery and placing it in the grave.

    A recurring theme of improperly buried dead was prevalent around this time. The dead would return to haunt the living and the haunting only ceased when their bones were discovered and received a proper burial. This theme has appeared in episodes of popular TV shows, associated with the paranormal – ‘Ghost Whisperer’ and ‘Supernatural’ being two examples which spring to mind.

    Medieval Europe divided its ghosts into two camps. The souls of the dead were ghosts who returned for a specific purpose, whereas demonic ghosts existed to torment and tempt the living. You could, apparently, tell them apart by demanding their purpose in the name of Jesus Christ. The soul of the dead person would tell you, while the demon would be banished at the sound of the Holy name. Wow, the power of the church, hey…..

    A popular British belief, was that the dead haunted their lovers if they started a relationship with someone else, without first releasing them from the prior bond of love.

    In Europe, there was widespread belief that ghosts arose due to the excessive grieving of the living. This mourning interfered with the deceased’s peaceful rest.

    In India, a ghost is known as a ‘bhoot’ or ‘bhut’. It is thought to be restless, due to some factor that prevented it from moving on – violent death, unsettled matters in their life, or the failure of survivors to perform better funerals.

    Polynesian legends are rife with stories of ghosts being consistently involved in the affairs of the living. These spirits could even cause sickness or invade a living body, only to be driven out by strong medicine.

    Chinese ghosts take many forms, depending on how they died, and more often than not are harmful. The Chinese Annual Ghost Festival is a time when all ghosts and spirits are believed to rise from the ‘lower realm’ and join the living.

    The Japanese ‘yurei’ (‘yu’ = faint/dim; ‘rei’ – soul/spirit) is thought to be a spirit kept from a peaceful afterlife.

    In Thailand, ghosts are much more feared, with ‘Phi Tai Hong’ – the ghost of a person who has died suddenly of a violent death – being the most feared of all. The Thai people believe that sleep paralysis is caused by a ghost.

    So, you can see, dear reader, that belief in ghosts is all encompassing and yet, sceptics remain. There is always someone who refuses to believe; who tries to use science to explain the unexplainable; who makes their name out of refusing to embrace what is.

    Over the years, many sceptics have cited limitations on human perception and ordinary physical explanations as proof against the existence of ghosts.

    Such examples are wide and varied. Air pressure changes have been used to account for slamming doors; Pareidolia – an innate tendency to recognise patterns in random perceptions – is said to account for people ‘seeing ghosts’; sensitivity of the human peripheral vision, especially at night when the brain is tired and more likely to misinterpret sights and sounds, can easily mislead; hypnagogic hallucinations (waking dreams); variance in magnetic fields; lighting level stimuli; changes in geomagnetic fields are said to stimulate the brain’s temporal lobes to produce many of the experiences associated with hauntings; sound or, more specifically, infrasound has been said to cause humans to experience bizarre feelings in a room, such as anxiety, extreme sorrow, a feeling of being watched, or even the chills.

    Even carbon monoxide poisoning has been cited as a possible explanation for haunted houses, due to the changes in perception of the visual and auditory systems that it can cause.

    So, we’ve seen the evidence for and against, but what about the arts? What have writers and film makes done with all this ghostly knowledge over the years?

    Shakespeare liked his ghosts, didn’t he? One of the most memorable ghosts in literature has to be that of Hamlet’s father, murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, King Claudius. It is the ghost who demands that Hamlet investigate this ‘murder most foul’. Another famous Shakespearean ghost has to be that of Banquo, who returns to haunt, much to Macbeth’s dismay.

    In the theatre, ghosts metamorphosed from the clanky armour clad puppets to the spookier sheeted version in the nineteenth century, with the metallic versions becoming a source of ridicule and cliché.

    Two of the earliest mentions of ghosts, aside from Shakespeare, were ‘The Castle of Otranto’ by Horace Walpole (1764), which was one of the key early appearances of ghosts in gothic tales; and ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ in 1820, where Washington Irving introduced us to the headless horseman, a character based on an earlier German folktale.

    It wasn’t until the Victorians, though, that the classic ghost story emerged, with writers such as M R James, Sheridan le Fanu, Violet Hunt and Henry James, penning spooky tales to make people shiver.

    The most famous ghosts in literature, though, have to be those of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. Scrooge is visited by four ghosts on Christmas Eve – Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future – all seeking to get him to remember what was; to change what is; and to influence what will be.

    Ghost hunters started to appear in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until much later that ghost hunting became a hobby for many and TV shows like ‘Most Haunted’, dominated our screens.

    For the children, dear old Casper was brought (back) to life in the 1930s, appearing in comic books and animated cartoons, and finally making it to the big screen in 1995.

    The advent of film and TV, saw ghosts become a common theme, with the works of Dickens, Shakespeare and Wilde all making it onto celluloid. Books, though, didn’t fare as well, as it was seen as too difficult. The exception to this being Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel, ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, which made it onto film twice – once in 1963 and again in 1999 – under the title, ‘The Haunting’. Only the 1963 version remained faithful to the story and received critical praise.

    From the 1970s, screen depictions diverged into two distinct camps – romance and horror.

    The common theme running through romantic ghost tales was that of the ghost being a benign guide or messenger, often with unfinished business. The best examples of this were ‘Field of Dreams’ in 1989 and ‘Ghost’ in 1990.

    The horror version of the ghost tale created a trend for merging ghost stories with scenes of physical violence. Good examples are ‘The Fog’ in 1980 and the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ series of films in the 1980s and 1990s.

    It wasn’t until the 1990s that the classic gothic ghosts returned with psychological, rather than physical dangers – ‘The Sixth Sense’ and ‘The Others’, 1999.

    The turn of the millennium saw, in my view, the mix up of the genres of ghost stories, with films coming out in rapid succession, from the mass market scare fest of the ‘Paranormal Activity’ franchise to the eerie gothic tale of ‘The Woman in Black’ (2012).

    The ghosts of the new millennium were out for vengeance (‘What Lies Beneath’, 2000); were out to scare you away from technology (‘The Ring’, 2002); were there to be, well, just plain nasty (‘Thirteen Ghosts’, 2001); were out to make you glad you had your adult teeth (‘Darkness Falls’, 2003); were there to make you think you were losing your mind, hearing disembodied voices (‘White Noise’, 2005); were there to ensure you treated gypsies with respect (‘Drag me to Hell’, 2009); and were there to use your child as a portal to the living world (‘Insidious’, 2011). Yes, the new millennium has a spooky tale to suit everyone’s palate.

    And so, dear reader, to believe or not to believe…..that is the question. For, whichever path you choose to take, the dead cannot harm you…..or can they……?

    In the words of M R James, the essential elements of a ghost story are: ’Malevolence and terror, the glare of evil faces, the stony grin of unearthly malice, pursuing forms in the darkness, long drawn distant screams, are all in place, and so is a modicum of blood, shed with deliberation and carefully husbanded…..’

    May fear protect you when the darkness comes.

    Til next time.


  • Zombie Apocalypse………..are you ready?

    So, dear reader, how did the modern view of the zombie as a flesh craving, civilisation destroying plague come to be? For, their reality based companions don’t seem to be that badly behaved, do they?

    The new version of the zombie, as a mindless reanimated corpse that hungers for human flesh, was taken mainly from the ‘ghouls’ in George A Romero’s 1968 film, ‘Night of the Living Dead’, which in itself was largely inspired by Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel ‘I am Legend’.

    In ‘Night of the Living Dead’, the word ‘zombie’ was never used. This moniker was added later by fans, with Romero choosing to use the word ‘ghoul’ throughout the script. He did, however, during an interview about the film, start using the word ‘zombie’ without explanation and he continued to use it in the other films in his ‘Living Dead’ series.

    The modern day zombie is sometimes a victim of a fictional pandemic, but more often than not, there is no cause given. The world of the zombie is presented as a fait accompli; as the status quo; and we are projected into the story after the cataclysmic event.

    These modern zombies bear some resemblance to the Haitian zombie, but with sketchy links to such folklore, thus awarding Romero the title of progenitor of this creature.

    So, how did this macabre incarnation evolve?

    Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ (1818), although not a zombie novel per se, does depict a creature with many of the traits we recognise now as belonging to zombies. That, together with his resurrection being portrayed as scientific rather than mystical; his appearance being degraded; and his behaviour being more violent, for all intents and purposes, Frankenstein could be said to be the precursor to the modern zombie.

    Ambrose Bierce’s ‘The Death of Halpin Frayser’ and many of the tales of Edgar Allan Poe, in the nineteenth century, were not ‘proper’ zombie fiction, but they did serve to ignite the creations later brought to un-death by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft.

    In the 20s and early 30s, Lovecraft wrote several novelettes concerning the un-dead. The most memorable of these was ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’ (1921), which helped to define zombies in popular culture. In the book, said to be inspired by Frankenstein, Herbert West – a mad scientist – seeks to revive human corpses with mixed results. The resurrected corpses are uncontrollable, mostly mute, primitive and extremely violent. The book never refers to them as zombies, but if it looks like a zombie and acts like a zombie, then…

    It wasn’t until William Seabrook published ‘The Magic Island’ in 1929, that the word ‘zombi’ was said – by Time magazine – to have been introduced into US speech.

    In 1932, the word ‘zombie’ was introduced to the wider world through Victor Halpern’s film ‘White Zombie’, which starred Bela Lugosi (vampire, werewolf and zombie – is there a creature this guy didn’t play???) and capitalised on the same voodoo zombie themes as Seabrook’s book. This film is said to be the first legitimate zombie film.

    1936 saw the film ‘Things to Come’, an adaptation of the HG Wells’ novel. The film deals with an apocalyptic scenario caused by the ‘wandering sickness’ – a highly contagious viral plague – that causes the infected to wander slowly and insensibly, infecting others on contact. This film is an early example of the modern norm, whereby a small number of people try to survive in a world menaced by flesh eating enemies.

    In the 1950s, EC Comics released ‘Tales from the Crypt’, which featured avenging zombies. It was these tales that Romero is said to have been influenced by.

    The biggest influence, though, on Romero is said to be Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, ‘I am Legend’ (made into a film in 1964 ‘The Last Man on Earth’, again in 1974 ‘The Omega Man’ and finally by its own title in 2007). The book is actually about a lone human survivor waging a war against a world of vampires, not zombies, but it is largely seen to be more influential on the concept of zombies than any literary or cinematic work before it.

    It certainly made its mark on Romero, who, in 1968, released the first of his ‘Living Dead’ series of films. In ‘Night of the Living Dead’, Romero bred zombies with vampires to produce a hybrid, which spread the plague and such a creature became known as the ‘Romero Zombie’. The astounding thing about this film and I suppose about the way society had viewed ‘horror’ films back then, is that children were allowed in to see it. Needless to say, when the film went from ‘delightfully scary’ to ‘unexpectedly terrifying’, this was thought not to have been the best of ideas.

    It is said that Romero also used his zombies as a way of criticising real world social ills, such as government ineptitude, bioengineering, slavery, greed and exploitation.

    The modern zombie can, therefore, be said to have spawned from this iconic film.

    In 1981 ‘Hell of the Living Dead’ was released and this brought into being the idea of a mutagenic gas as the source of the zombie contagion. This theme was continued by Dan O’Bannon in his 1985 film ‘Return of the Living Dead’, which also introduced the concept of zombies craving human brains rather than flesh.

    The only other films to note in the 80’s were the ‘Evil Dead’ Series and ‘Re-Animator’ (1985). The ‘Evil Dead’ films were highly influential films, but were about demonic possession, not zombies, even though the un-dead were present. ‘Re-animator’, which was loosely based on the Lovecraft story, stood out and received almost unanimous critical acclaim and nearly outstripped Romero’s ‘Day of the Dead’ at the box office.

    I feel I should add to this, as there was another film made in the 80s, which I believe to be extremely influential – Wes Craven’s ‘Serpent and the Rainbow’ (1988). This film is said to be a heavily fictionalised account of Wade Davis’ novel, but it is a film that scared the living daylights out of me and is the reason I have avoided zombies. The thought that a powder could be used the knock you out; the thought that you are then buried alive; the thought that you are then brought back from the ‘dead’ as a creature with no will, was all too much for my young and impressionable mind. The knowledge that these powders do exist (see blog ‘Zombie Slave….Myth or reality?) just about finished me off, if I’m honest…….and breathe……

    Following this, though, the zombie sub-genre disappeared into the ether for a while until the turn of the millennium, when a plethora of films catapulted zombies back into our imaginations. Most notable were the ‘Resident Evil’ series, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (remake – 2004), ’28 Days Later’ (2002), and ’28 Weeks Later’ (2007). It was this resurgence that saw Romero reprise his ‘Living Dead’ films, making ‘Land of the Living Dead’ in 2005, ‘Diary of the Living Dead’ in 2008 and ‘Survival of the Living Dead’ in 2010.

    It needs to be highlighted, though, how the zombies themselves evolved from the early films of the 60s and 80s to those of the new millennium. The zombies metamorphosed from being lumbering and unintelligent to being more agile, vicious, intelligent and stronger. The zombies of the new millennium are usually depicted as living humans infected by a mind altering pathogen (’28 Days Later’, ‘Zombieland’, ‘Left 4 Dead’), instead of the re-animated corpses of yester year.

    In print, it wasn’t really until the 1990s that zombie fiction became a distinct sub-genre. This was largely due to the publication of ‘Book of the Dead’ in 1990 and ‘Still Dead: Book of the Dead 2’ in 1992. These books featured Romero inspired stories from well know authors such as Stephen King. These books were seen as influential in the horror genre and said by some to be the first true ‘zombie literature’.

    Brian Keene’s ‘The Rising’ (which won a Bram Stoker award in 2005) and its sequel ‘City of the Dead’, are novels which brought to us a worldwide apocalypse of intelligent zombies, caused by demonic possession.

    In the 1990s, Stephen King published ‘Home Delivery’ (appeared in ‘Book of the Dead), which told of a small town’s attempt to defend itself against a classic zombie attack. While in 2006 he published ‘Cell’; a book which follows one man’s journey from Boston to Maine in the hope of saving his family from a worldwide zombie attack, caused by ‘The Pulse’, which turned the world’s mobile phone users into blood thirsty zombies.

    Other works to note are David Wellington’s trilogy – ‘Monster Island’, ‘Monster Nation’ and ‘Monster Planet’. Also Jonathan Maberry’s ‘Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead’ (2008), in which he interviewed over 250 experts in forensics, medicine, science, law enforcement, military etc. to discuss how the real world would react, research and respond to zombies.

    Going back to celluloid, one of the most memorable zombie appearances of all time has to be the dance scene in Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video (1983). I mean, who hasn’t seen that video? When I was a kid I used to watch it over and over again, equally scared and enchanted by the whole thing. It was inspiring.

    I have to say though – probably because this is what got me to appreciate the zombie sub-genre – that Frank Darabont’s ‘The Walking Dead’ has to be the best zombie apocalyptic drama ever produced. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, ‘The Walking Dead’ refers to the survivors and the show highlights fantastically well how people change when placed under such degrees of stress. It also shows how the breakdown of civilisation lends itself to the creation of ‘tribes’ and these tribes will protect their own at any cost, regardless of the fact they are killing other survivors. The show has become the highest rated show in the history of the AMC network and for good reason.

    I think it is worth noting, dear reader, how pervasive the zombie phenomenon actually is. In May 2011, The CDC (Centre for Disease Control) in the USA published a graphic novel ‘Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse’. The idea was to pull on a popular theme and use it as a fun way of ensuring everyone is prepared in the event of a tornado, hurricane, tsunami etc. The proviso being that, if you are prepared for a zombie apocalypse, you are prepared for anything.

    There is also a ‘social activism’ element to zombies, which is prevalent in the USA. Fans continue Romero’s social commentary by staging zombie walks through the cities. These walks can either be put on as surrealist performance art or they are staged as part of a political protest.

    Going back to the original question of this blog, though – are you ready for a zombie apocalypse? Do you know what to do; how to defend yourself; how to survive? More importantly – would you want to?

    So, what actually is a zombie apocalypse?

    It is defined as a breakdown of society as a result of an initial zombie outbreak which spreads. It is a widespread (usually global) rise of zombies, hostile to human life, which engage in a general assault on civilisation.

    The victims of the zombies may actually turn into zombies themselves, if they are not completely devoured, leading to a rapidly increasing crisis. The rapid spreading of the plague/virus swamps the military, law enforcement and other organisations, which leads to a panicked collapse of civilian society. Eventually, only isolated pockets of survivors remain, with nothing left to do except scavenge for food and supplies and defend themselves, in a world reduced to a primitive and hostile wilderness. Basically, we are back to caveman times, only the predators are zombies rather than sabre toothed tigers.

    There are common themes that run through any story that deals with a zombie apocalypse.

    The initial contact with the zombies is extremely traumatic, highlighting the human process of dealing with something they don’t want to accept. The emotions run through panic, shock, disbelief and denial, all of which hamper the survivor’s ability to deal with the zombie that they are facing.

    The response of the authorities to the threat, as can be evidenced when a government is dealing with a war scenario, is slower than the rate of growth of the threat; hence the plague grows beyond control. This leads to society collapsing, zombies taking control and small groups of people fighting for survival.

    The story will usually track a single group of survivors and the narrative will follow suit, starting with the initial onset of the plague; attempts to seek the aid of the authorities; failure of the authorities; catastrophic crash of organisations; and the realisation that they are on their own. The story will follow their plight and will focus on how each of them react to what has happened and how they are changed by the stress of it all, often resorting to primitive behaviour – self-preservation.

    So, dear reader, I ask you again – are you ready for a zombie apocalypse?

    An unnamed scholar is quoted as saying ‘more than any other monster, zombies are fully and literally apocalyptic…..they signal the end of the world as we have known it.’

    May fear protect you when the darkness comes.

    Til next time.


  • Zombie Slave…….Myth or Reality?

    Do you actually believe in zombies? Do you believe that any one of us could be turned in the blink of an eye? Do you accept that, if it happened, chances are you wouldn’t know anything about it? Is it sending a chill down your spine? I do hope so, for becoming a zombie is a distinct possibility.

    Out of all the folkloric, mythological and fictional monsters/ creatures/ beings that have been conjured over time, the zombie is the one that could very well take over the earth, in a fictional sense. But, in reality, it is the zombie found in Haitian and African culture that is to be feared, for it is all too real.

    You already know, dear reader, that zombies aren’t really my favourite creature, but, I have to say, I am starting to change my mind. There is a lot more to zombies than meets the eye and they are real, if the Haitian religion is anything to go by.

    By definition, a zombie is an animated corpse which is resurrected by mystical means – usually witchcraft – with no consciousness or self-awareness, the ability to walk and enough sensory perception to respond to stimuli.

    Zombies have grown in popularity since the late nineteenth century, especially in American and European folklore, and it is the un-dead beings of George A Romero’s 1968 film, ‘Night of the Living Dead’, that have formed the basis for the zombie we know and hide behind the cushion from today.

    But it is the traditional zombie, as I like to refer to it, that I am most drawn to; the zombie of Haitian and African folklore and religion; the zombie that is all too real; the zombie that can be ‘made’ all too easily; the zombie that sends chills down my spine.

    In Africa, zombie beliefs differ in the south and west. In the west, the Vodou (note the different spelling) religion believe that a dead person can be revived by a boker – a sorcerer – and that the zombi (note the different spelling) then remains under the control of the boker, as it has no will of its own.

    The word ‘zombi’ is also another name for the Vodou snake ‘Iwa Damballah Wedo’ and is similar to the Kikongo word ‘nzambi’ which means ‘god’.

    West African tradition talks of a zombi astral, which is part of the human soul captured by the boker and used to enhance his power. The boker keeps the soul inside a bottle and sells it to clients as a good luck charm, for healing or even to bring them success in business. It is believed that, after a time, God takes the soul back and so, in this sense, the zombi is only a temporary state of being.

    In Vodou legend they believe that if you feed a zombi salt, it will return to the grave.

    In South Africa, the beliefs about zombies are completely different. They believe that a dead person can be turned into a zombie by a small child and that the spell can only be broken by a powerful sangoma – traditional healer.

    In some areas they believe that a witch can turn a person into a zombie by killing them and possessing their body to force them into slave labour.

    This link to slavery resonates, if you think about it. Slaves had a way about them that predated the zombie. They often had dead expressions, were sluggish in movement and definitely had no will of their own; because they weren’t allowed to. Could it be that the zombie has grown from here?

    For me, though, it is in Haiti, where the most real zombie beliefs exist and thrive.

    In 1937, Zora Neale Hurston (whilst researching folklore) came across the case of a woman, Felicia Felix-Mentor, who, apparently, re-appeared in her village 30 years after she had died. It was only when she was x-rayed and a leg fracture that she was known to have had didn’t appear, were the family’s claims disputed.

    Ms Hurston continued in her research and pursued claims that people were being given a powerful psychoactive drug, but she couldn’t get anyone to speak out about it. She concluded: ‘What is more, if science ever gets to the bottom of Voodoo in Haiti and Africa, it will be found that some important medical secrets, still unknown to medical science, give it its power, rather than the gestures of ceremony.’

    This pharmacological view was supported by Wade Davis in his books, ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’ (1985) and ‘Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie’ (1988). In 1982 Davis travelled to Haiti and he claimed that a living person could be turned into a zombie if two special powders were introduced into the bloodstream, usually via a cut. Is this where the transmission of the zombie plague via a bite originates from?

    The first powder was known as coup de poudre (powder strike) and it included tetrodotoxin (TTX), which is a powerful and often fatal neurotoxin found in the flesh of the puffer fish. The second was a powder consisting of dissociative drugs such as datura. The effect of these powders was to induce a death like state, thus rendering the will of the victim completely at the hands of the boker.

    The process of zombification involves a person being placed into an initial state of suspended animation, through the administration of the two powders. The person will then re-awaken – usually after being buried – into a state of psychosis.

    This drug induced psychosis, together with the psychological trauma of, effectively, being buried alive, was said by Davis to reinforce culturally learned beliefs and to cause the individual to reconstruct their identity as a zombie. His view was that they ‘knew’ they were dead and had no other place to play in Haitian society. These individuals, to add to the stereotype, were known to hang out in graveyards.

    As would be expected, this hypothesis was criticised, especially the belief that a witchdoctor could keep someone in such a state for many years. Also, the actual effects of TTX poisoning range from numbness and nausea to paralysis (especially muscles of the diaphragm), unconsciousness and death, but do NOT include a stiffened gait and death like trance – features common with all zombies, even today. As such, the scientific community dismissed TTX as the cause of this state.

    Scottish psychiatrist, R D Lang, suggested a link between social and cultural expectations and compulsion, in the context of schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. He suggested that schizophrenia may account for some of the psychological aspects of zombification……interesting thought.

    One final point with regards to traditional zombie beliefs – it is said that slaves brought to Haiti in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries believed that, when they died, Baron Samedi would gather them from their graves and take them to heaven. If they had offended him somehow – by committing suicide – then they would remain a slave after death….a zombie for all intents and purposes.

    So, dear reader, that is the reality of zombies. They are real; they do exist; they can be created; they are to be feared…….or are they?

    For, you will note that, nowhere does it mention that these zombies crave human flesh; and nowhere does it mention that these zombies have the ability to bring an end to civilisation. No, these zombies are slaves to a master, completely under his spell; incapable of any will of their own. In effect, they are puppets.

    So, how did zombies become the flesh eating, brain craving, apocalyptic phenomena that they are today? You’ll have to wait until next week.

    May fear protect you when the darkness comes.

    Til next time.


  • The Creature Within

    Terrifying thought, isn’t it? Isn’t what, you may ask? Picture this – you’re out walking late at night; you’re alone; there is little or no light, except for the moon, which glows bright and full in the star studded sky. You are on edge, your breathing laboured, as you walk as fast as you can, whilst trying not to make a sound. And then you hear it. The distant howl that stops you in your tracks and literally makes your heart stop beating.

    You freeze, not daring to move an inch; not daring to breathe. The howl comes again, closer now, yet all around you. The hairs stand up on the back of your neck and your skin prickles. You stare into the darkness, trying to see. Why? What good will it do you? Surely it’s best not to see? Surely it’s best to be caught off guard? To be rendered immobile, sightlessly? To be unseeing of the beast that has eviscerated you in one swift movement? Surely? For what can be gained from coming face to face with a werewolf?

    So, dear reader, do you think you would know a werewolf if you saw one?

    Werewolves, or lycanthropes, are mythological or folkloric humans who have the ability to shape shift into a wolf. Lycanthropy is one form of therianthropy, which is the ability to transform into animals in general. Therianthropy is more of a worldwide belief, whereas lycanthropy tends to be centred round European beliefs.

    Traditionally the transformation coincides with the lunar cycle and a shift occurs around the full moon. As well as bearing both human and wolf like traits, the afflicted are said to have strength and speed far beyond those of either, thus catapulting them into the realms of myth and folklore.

    Myth or not, clinical lycanthropy is a medical condition that is recognised in the modern world. Those with the condition truly believe that they are, or have transformed into, an animal and behave accordingly.

    The legend of the werewolf is linked to the story of Lycaon – the original werewolf of classical mythology. Lycaon, a King of Arcadia, was turned into a ravenous wolf by Zeus, as divine punishment for slaughtering one of his own sons and serving his remains to Zeus as dinner. Why? To see if Zeus really was a God.

    According to European folklore, a werewolf is easily recognisable in his human form, if you know what you are looking for. It was said to fear a man whose eyebrows met at the bridge of his nose (Never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle – Company of Wolves, 1984); a man with curved fingernails; a man with low set ears; and a man with a swinging gait. Better take a look in the mirror, boys, if you want to understand why your chat up lines have been failing.

    It was widely believed that you could prove someone was a werewolf by cutting into their flesh. If there was fur beneath the surface, then a wolf lay within. Either way, I think you’d have one seriously angry person after doing that! In Russia, they believed a werewolf would have bristles under his tongue. Now, call my sceptical, but if you suspected someone of being a werewolf, I would have thought his mouth would be the last place that you would want to get close to, no?

    One of the biggest giveaways of this dual personality was the aftermath of a metamorphosis. Werewolves were reported to be weak, debilitated and to possess a painful and nervous disposition. Unfortunately, I think this could also describe a large number of people after a heavy night out on the town. But, what it highlights yet again, is the lack of medical knowledge that existed and how easily it was for people to mistake common medical conditions for something more sinister and fantastical.

    As with vampirism, porphyria and rabies sufferers were often accused, and executed, of being werewolves.

    In a 1963 paper, Dr Lee Illis of Guy’s Hospital, wrote that the symptoms of congenital porphyria – photosensitivity, reddish teeth and psychosis – were often taken as an indication of the existence of a werewolf. This thought has been disputed since, as mythological werewolves looked like wolves and, when in human form, rarely showed such symptoms.

    As for rabies, it was more about the way the disease was transmitted that tied it to werewolf legend. In the same way that rabies is transmitted through a bite, so too is werewolfism. It was conveniently forgotten that this form of transformation was not part of the myth.

    Hypertrichosis, the hereditary condition of excessive hair growth, is said to have been another illness that condemned the sufferer to death for being a werewolf. This too, however, has been disputed, as this condition is extremely rare and so highly unlikely to have occurred in the numbers required for a legend to be born.

    Other origins of the werewolf myth are, for me, more in keeping with the ‘old wives’ tales’ that are passed down through the generations.

    The legend of the werewolf has been used as a way of explaining serial killings. The serial killer does, after all, display similar hunting and killing techniques to the wolf – cannibalism, mutilation and cyclic attacks. In 1589, Peter Stumpp, a German farmer and alleged serial killer, was executed. His tag name had been the Werewolf of Bedburg.

    Up until the twentieth century, wolf attacks on people were an occasional but very real aspect of European life. As such, it stands to reason that such a feared predator would be morphed into an evil monster. After all, isn’t this the way of the human race? If we don’t understand it or accept it; it becomes something to be feared?

    Ultimately, the more socially acceptable and believable explanation, is that the legends may simply have been inspired by real life encounters with animals. After all, how many people have sighted a puma which turned out to be a domestic cat; have caught a huge trout, when actually it was a minnow; and have been attacked by a 400 lb. dog, when in fact it was the jack Russell belonging to the little old lady next door?

    The appearance of a werewolf in animal form varies across cultures. In the main, though, it is said to resemble an ordinary wolf, but minus the tail; is larger; and retains its human eyes and voice. The absence of a tail links to the belief that witches, in animal form, appear without a tail. In Sweden, they believed that the werewolf used one of its legs as a tail and so ran around on three legs, thus telling it apart from other wolves.

    So, dear reader, how was it believed that a person became a werewolf, given the modern view of a bite or a scratch didn’t actually appear in folklore? I think you are going to be surprised.

    Based on traditional beliefs, becoming a werewolf is a fairly simple affair. You can remove all your clothing and put on a belt made of wolf skin; you can rub your body with magic salve; or you can drink rainwater out of the footprint of the animal in question or drink from certain enchanted streams.

    If you live in Sweden, you can drink a cup of specially prepared beer and repeat a set formula. For those of you in France, Italy or Germany, a summer night sleeping outside, with the full moon shining directly on your face, can render you shape shifting attributes, as long as it is a certain Wednesday or Friday.

    Of the sinister – satanic allegiance for sating the craving of human flesh would render you a werewolf; of the magical – the phenomenon of repercussion and the sending out of a familiar are linked to lycanthropy; of the religious – excommunication from the catholic church…….I am not going to comment on this one!

    Lycanthropy was believed to be a choice as well as a curse. Those thought to have made a pact with the Devil, were believed to have voluntarily chosen their path and would morph at night to indulge in nefarious acts. Others, however, through an accident of birth or health, had no choice. In some cultures, it was believed that those born during the full moon or who suffered from epilepsy were cursed by the wolf.

    So, how do you stop a werewolf? How do you kill it, given the vulnerability to silver is a twentieth century phenomenon?

    The belief was that werewolves had to be cured. The range of remedies, as you would expect, varied by culture. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that exhaustion would purge the person of their malady; in medieval Europe there were three methods used – medicine (wolfs bane), surgery or exorcism – all of which tended to prove fatal. A Sicilian belief (of Arabic origin) was to strike it on the forehead or scalp with a knife or to pierce its hands with nails. In the German lowlands, addressing it three times by its Christian name would cure it, while the Danes believed in scolding as a cure.

    As always, the church believed that conversion to Christianity would cure a person and a devotion to St Hubert (the patron saint of hunters, mathematicians, opticians and metalworkers) would act as both a cure and a protection from lycanthropy.

    There is so much more I could write on the myth and legend surrounding this wonderful creature, but I won’t.

    Instead, I would like to finish this blog by looking at the links to vampirism and the fictional werewolf of today.

    Vampires and werewolves have been intertwined for centuries. In Medieval Europe, the corpses of people executed as werewolves were cremated to prevent them being resurrected as vampires. Before the end of the nineteenth century, the Greeks believed that the corpses of werewolves, if not destroyed, would come back to life as vampires, in the form of wolves or hyenas. In rural Germany, Poland and Northern France, it was believed that people who died in mortal sin, would come back as blood drinking wolves.

    The vampiric werewolf would return to corpse form at daylight and could be destroyed by decapitation with a spade and exorcism by a parish priest. The head would then be thrown into a stream where the weight of its sins was believed to weigh it down.

    It is interesting how these view of werewolfery differ from the more traditional view of the werewolf being a living creature, rather than the undead…..

    In fiction and on screen the werewolf is almost as prolific as the vampire. In his 1897 novel, Dracula, Bram Stoker drew on the early mythologies of werewolves and other demons.

    The 1935 film, Werewolf in London, which saw Henry Hill in the starring role, was the first film to use an anthropomorphic werewolf – largely because Hill refused to spend hours in the make-up chair – actors!

    It wasn’t until Lawrence Talbot’s tragic portrayal in The Wolf Man in 1941, however, that werewolves were finally catapulted into public consciousness.

    Over the years the werewolf has taken on a range of roles, form the sympathetic portrayals by David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London, 1981) and Jack Nicholson (Wolf, 1994); to the wilful and malevolent creatures of The Howling (1981). I can remember sobbing my heart out when they cornered David Naughton’s wolf at the end of that film….so very sad.

    In more modern portrayals, lycanthropy is either hereditary or transmitted by a bite or scratch.

    The modern werewolf is immune to damage by ordinary weapons, but is rendered impotent by silver and wolfs bane; has powers of super human strength and speed; heightened senses; the ability to heal (like vampires); and animalistic tendencies – hunger and increased sexual arousal – all of which extend into its human form.

    The modern day werewolf can turn at will and is no longer a slave to the full moon; it can become a hybrid (vampire and werewolf) and its bite can kill a vampire.

    For me, the werewolf is the super hero of all fantastical creatures, for nothing is outside the scope of possibility, and Dog Soldiers (2002) remains, in my view, the most realistic and believable werewolf film of all.

    As a final note, dear reader, when you are curled up in your nice warm bed tonight, pray read the tale of Snow White and Rose Red and take heed of the bear……….

    May fear protect you when the darkness comes.

    Til next time.


  • It’s a Vampire……..isn’t it?

    So you think you would know a vampire if you saw one; you think you would know how to avoid that seductive look; you think you would know how to protect yourself from those sharp teeth; and, if it came to it, you think you would know how to destroy it before it destroyed you?

    Well, dear reader, I’m afraid it isn’t that simple.

    Let’s start with what you think they look like. The suave, sophisticated, charming, alluring, sexy vampire we see on screen today is a modern phenomenon, stemming from the late nineteenth century and, in the most part, from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

    Prior to this time, maybe even back as far as prehistoric times, vampires were wrapped in much less attractive packaging, shall we say. They were reported to look anywhere from almost human to a bloated rotting corpse.

    The folkloric vampire of old was described as bloated; ruddy, purplish or dark in colour; blood seeping from its nose and mouth; clad in the linen shroud it was buried in; with elongated teeth, hair and nails. Hardly the Edward Cullen, Damon Salvatore or Bill Compton of the modern vampire. I am quite sure that if a vampire of old was to crawl in through your bedroom window, you wouldn’t be welcoming it with open arms, would you?

    Fangs, dear reader, were not a feature of the folkloric vampire. These, together with sensitivity to sunlight and immortality, didn’t appear until the nineteenth century and were popularised by Bram Stoker. It was the success of Dracula that, reputedly, spawned the vampire genre we know and love today.

    It is interesting to note, though, that despite ‘modernising’ the traditional view of the vampire, Bram Stoker seemed to keep a link to the folkloric aspects. For, when Dracula first makes an appearance to Jonathan Harker, it is as a desiccated, corpse like creature. He only becomes young and alluring once he starts feeding on the crew of the Demeter.

    So, where does this folkloric physical representation of the vampire stem from?

    There are various explanations, all of which you can understand given the complete lack of medical knowledge and understanding of the human body, way back when.

    In his book ‘Vampires, Burial and Death’, Paul Barber says that people were accused of being vampires in an attempt to explain the inexplicable process of decomposition. When vampire hunters (and, yes, they did exist – lots of them) dug up a body, it didn’t look how they expected it to.

    When a body decomposes it swells, which leads to blood oozing from the nose and mouth – vampire hunters mistook this as a recent sign of feeding;  the skin darkens – taken as a sign of recent blood consumption; when staked (and yes, this did happen), the body groaned as the gases were expelled – taken as a sign that the body was ‘undead’; and, finally, after death, the skin and gums lose fluid and contract, exposing the teeth, nails and roots of the hair – taken as growth due to the person being a vampire.

    Many years ago, also due to the lack of medical knowledge, premature burial was quite common (this is where the term ‘saved by the bell comes from’ – story for another blog). Many reports came in of sounds from coffins and when they were subsequently dug up, fingernail marks were found gouged into the lids. Some poor buggers had even resorted to smashing their heads and faces against the coffin lid in an effort to escape, resulting in their faces being covered in blood. As such, when the coffins were exhumed, the inhabitants were believed to have just fed.

    A more rational explanation for such noises is the sound of escaping gases from the decomposing bodies. An alternate explanation for the many disordered graves is grave robbers – a prevalent and lucrative occupation at this time.

    As well as premature burial, some diseases were also mistaken as signs of vampirism.

    In 1985, David Dolphin proposed a link between porphyria (a rare blood disease) and vampire folklore. The disease is treated by intravenous haem and the implication was that sufferers craved the haem in human blood and that the consumption of the blood eased their symptoms. This was rebuffed by the medical profession as completely inaccurate, as sufferers neither craved human blood, nor were their symptoms soothed by consuming it. This disease also causes sensitivity to sunlight, which fuelled the vampire link, despite folkloric vampires not being affected by the sun.

    The symptoms of rabies – susceptibility to garlic and sunlight; and disturbed sleep patterns causing someone to become nocturnal and hypersexual – have all been mistaken as signs of vampires and are still used in books and films today. Legend had it that a man wasn’t rabid if he could look at himself in the mirror and a mirror is often seen in films and books, the absence of a reflection proving a person is a vampire (Bonds, Chapter 49). Wolves and bats, known carriers of rabies, are also widely associated with vampire tradition and legend.

    So, what of the folklore and ancient beliefs? Well, they are far too diverse to cover in one blog and so I have opted to concentrate on the more European aspects.

    Vampire legends were rife in the Balkans and Eastern Europe and it is these legends and superstitions that flooded Western Europe in the eighteenth century. This caused mass hysteria and led to corpses being exhumed and staked and people being accused of vampirism.

    It was believed vampires were revenants (animated corpses believed to return from the grave to haunt the living) of evil beings, suicide victims and witches; that they could be created by malevolent spirits possessing corpses or by being bitten by a vampire. This belief was so pervasive that it contributed extensively to the hysteria mentioned above. People were even executed because they were believed to be vampires!

    This madness only stopped when Empress Marie Theresa of Austria passed laws banning the opening of graves and the desecration of corpses; following an investigation by her personal physician which concluded that vampires didn’t exist.

    So, how were such vampires identified?

    There were many elaborate rituals, one of which involved walking a virgin boy through a cemetery or church ground on a virgin black stallion (white in Albania). When the horse balked at a grave; that would be where a vampire resided. Holes seen appearing in the earth over a grave were taken as signs of a vampire, rather than the subsidence it probably was. Mainly, though, it was the ‘appearance’ of a corpse (as discussed earlier) which gave them away. More, rather amusing, evidence of vampire activity was when dead cattle, sheep, neighbours or relatives started to appear. Now, in today’s society, a psycho would be assumed to be responsible for such atrocity, not a vampire, but times were much different then.

    Once discovered and identified, the method of destruction largely depended on where you came from. Staking was (and still is) the most common method, especially in Slavic culture. Ash was the preferred wood in Russia and the Baltics; hawthorn in Serbia; and oak in Silesia. Normally, vampires would be staked through the heart, but in Russia and Northern Germany, it was through the mouth and in North East Serbia, the stomach.

    Decapitation was the second most common and was favoured in Germany and Western Slavic areas. The head would either be buried between the feet, behind the buttocks or away from the body, under the belief that it would hasten the departure of the soul.

    Other methods of destruction included, piercing the skin of the chest to deflate a bloated vampire; pouring boiling water over the grave; completely incinerating the body; placing garlic in the mouth and shooting a bullet through the coffin; dismembering the body, burning the pieces, mixing the ashes in water and feeding them to family members as a cure…… I could go on, but I won’t.

    So, we know what they looked like; we know how to identify them; and we know how to destroy them. Surely there must be a way of protecting ourselves from these loathsome creatures? Indeed there was and still is, as most of the protections quoted still feature in vampire tales, to some extent, today.

    Protection involved garlic; a branch or wild rose or hawthorn; sprinkling mustard seeds on the roof of the house; crucifix, rosary, holy water; consecrated ground – which they couldn’t walk on; running water – which they couldn’t cross; mirrors – when placed facing outward on a door; and not extending them an invitation to enter your house.

    My favourite, though, has to be placing poppy seeds, millet or sand on the ground at the gravesite. Apparently, vampires suffer from arithmomania and cannot walk passed such things without stopping and counting every grain!! Who knew vampires suffered from OCD?

    The modern vampire – suave, charismatic, and seductive – is a far cry from these bloated decaying monsters. Modern vampires can walk in the sun; couldn’t care less if you put a crucifix in their face; are able to show empathy for and love towards humans; often choose not to feed on humans; and, in essence, can walk amongst us, largely un-noticed. But, without certain books, would this modern vampire even exist?

    The first and, arguably, most influential of these vampires was Lord Ruthven, John Polidori’s vampire in his book The Vampyre. He was the archetype of the charismatic and sophisticated vampire and was the inspiration for DraculaThe Vampyre itself was based on Lord Byron’s unfinished story, Fragment of a Novel, published in 1819.

    It was Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, Dracula, though that defined the most influential vampire in popular fiction.

    He took a ruthless and bloodthirsty historic persona – Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) – and incorporated him into a character and a novel whose themes of demonic possession combined with undertones of sex, blood and death, struck a chord with the Victorians, in an age where the deadly diseases of TB and syphilis were rife.

    Count Dracula was a man so devastated and distraught by the slaying of his wife, that he gave his soul to transcend time to find her again; in another life; in another woman; in Mina Harker. The emotions evoked by this – love, guilt and hate – all have ties back to the folkloric vampires and revenants, who were believed to return and visit with spouses first, before moving on to others.

    In 1992, Francis Ford Coppola’s film, Dracula (the only film I believe that has ever followed the original story) became the highest grossing vampire movie of all time – highlighting the enduring nature of this creature and of this character.

    It is the vampire traits in Dracula that have merged with and dominated the folkloric view, evolving into the modern fictional vampire of the twenty first century.

    So, why is the vampire so engaging and enduring? One of the reasons is our perennial dread of mortality. To believe in vampires; to believe in immortality, is to overcome your fear of death. Yet, if you are immortal; if you can live forever, what is it you actually live for? For, all those you have ever known and loved will perish, but you will live on. Is this something any of us would truly want?

    I think the over-riding reason for their popularity, whether you want to admit it or not, is their representation of innate sexuality and sexual freedom, thus cementing my view of vampires as the most erotic and romantic creatures ever created – the post nineteenth century variety, obviously!

    May fear protect you when the darkness comes.

    Til next time.


  • Vampire…Werewolf…Zombie or Ghost…

    Which one is it, you love the most?

    Of course, this doesn’t cover all of the ‘monsters’ that wander the realms of darkness; that test the veil between the living and the dead at that brief moment when day transcends to night, but we will come to them another time.

    I felt that you deserved a break from the catacombs of my mind and thought I’d talk to you about the four antagonists dearest to my heart. In the coming weeks, we will delve more deeply into each of them, but first I feel an introduction is in order.

    Vampire (My antagonist, Antony Cardover, in Bonds)

    Do you see him as friend or foe; as lover or enemy; as good or evil; as trustworthy or corrupt; as erotic or repulsive?

    I could go on, but you catch my drift. The vampire is hardly an ‘either/or’ character. He is neither black nor white, in my opinion, but more of the in between, for a vampire’s personality can change in an instant and a once loving embrace can become a fight for survival (see Chapter 59 of Bonds).

    As you will have gleaned from previous blogs, dear reader, vampires are my favourite antagonist. The way I see them, though, isn’t ‘in the black’, but mainly as white, occasionally tinged with grey. In other words they reside in that alluring and mysterious in between; a place you want to go, but your rapidly increasing heart rate warns you against.

    For me, dear reader, the vampire is the most erotic and deadly creature ever created. A creature that can seduce you with a look and kill you with a kiss. Yet, still, they epitomise true love.

    Vampires have had a rather chequered run of it over the years, being alternately cast as the evil Lord of Darkness in Hammer films, The Lost Boys and Underworld; to the character every teenage girl wants to climb in through her bedroom window, thanks to Twilight and The Vampire Diaries. Not many seem to dwell on the complexity of the character, but examples do exist.

    The first archetype of the enigma, that is the vampire, was brought to us by Joss Whedon. I fell, instantly, head of heels in love with the most enigmatic and engaging vampire of all time, Angel – superbly portrayed by David Boreanaz (who would be perfect as Antony Cardover so, David, if you’re reading…..call me!).

    More recently, though, thanks to the amazing imagination of Charlaine Harris, True Blood has been brought alive on screen. This show is for grown-ups; grown-ups who like their vampires real; who like their vampires erotic; who like their vampires deadly; who like their vampires to be, well, vampires, in all their complex and wonderful glory.

    What people often fail to see, dear reader, is the underlying danger. Through all the romance and eroticism of vampires, they are, in essence, killers and, unlike you and me (well, you), they wouldn’t hesitate to kill ……in an instant.

    Werewolf (My protagonist, Ellie Lawrence, in my second novel)

    Ah, the werewolf. The most misunderstood and, for most people, terrifying antagonist of all. If a werewolf were to get hold of you, there would be two possible scenarios. Either you would be ripped to shreds; your guts spilling from you as you stare unseeingly up at the full moon, or you would survive. Your wounds would heal, over time, but you would be cursed, for the rest of time. Which would be worse?

    Werewolves are often portrayed as blood thirsty animals that cannot control the beast inside, especially when at the mercy of the full moon.

    I don’t believe this to be true. Werewolves are simply people blessed or cursed, depending on your viewpoint, with an ‘illness’ that they have to learn to control before it controls them. Some will succeed; some will fail – as in life – but, at the end of the day, the wolf is only part of who they are.

    This struggle with learning to control the wolf inside is reflected, most aptly, in the TV series, Teen Wolf. Yes, it’s another teen show, but if you like the supernatural, it’s well worth a watch.

    Despite my viewpoint on this endearing character, I do love a werewolf movie, but sadly, very few good ones have been made. The ones that have and that stand out for me are:

    ‘An American Werewolf in London’ – no-one has surpassed the opening scene on the moors or the scene where he transitions into wolf form on Jenny Agutter’s living room rug.

    ‘Dog Soldiers’ – an awesome film by Neil Marshall, which depicts a very lifelike view of werewolves.

    ‘Wolfman’ – the remake, starring Benicio del Torro, which epitomises the more ‘gothic’ image.


    Now, I’ve never liked zombies. Up until fairly recently, they’ve always freaked me out, to be honest with you. I realise some of you may find this very strange, but I think the chance of zombies actually walking the earth to be a very real possibility and, hence, something to be really afraid of.

    Those of you who have ever watched the 1988 movie by Wes Craven, ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow’, will know exactly where I am coming from.

    But then, at the other extreme, there is ‘Return of the Living Dead’; a film my brother subjected me to many moons ago. Now, I realise that the main element of this film was comical (intended or otherwise), but the premise of the film – chemicals seeping into the earth and creating zombies – is a highly possible scenario. In today’s world, with germ warfare and diseases that can be transmitted in microscopic doses, there is no real knowing what the effects could actually be on the human body. Think about it….

    It wasn’t until my dad persuaded me to watch ‘The Walking Dead’, that I overcame my fear of zombies. For, if the apocalypse comes, dear reader, I’ll just call for Rick Grimes.


    I feel that ghosts have gained a really poor reputation, thanks to the film industry. I have yet to see a film (Casper aside) where ghosts are not out to get the cast of characters.

    As a believer in ghosts and one who has experienced paranormal phenomena on a number of occasions, I have to disagree with the portrayal of ghosts as one sided, evil, out to get everyone characters.

    It is true, that poltergeists like to cause disruption, but they are children and children get angry when they are being ignored by adults. Ghosts, on the whole, are not out to get you. More often than not, they just want to communicate, to pass on messages and to warn of something to come.

    I find ghosts, and writing about them, a very melancholy experience. More often than not, my ghosts will be part of a broken romance or a tragic situation. Never have my ghosts set out to deliberately harm anyone…..not yet, anyway.

    As for recommended viewing, my favourite has to be ‘The Woman in Black’, but not the film; the stage play – very very spooky. The ‘Paranormal Activity’ films have some excellent suspense building and spooky elements, if you can bear to tolerate the rest! If you like your ghosts bad, then I would recommend ’13 Ghosts’, which depicts some memorable and despicably evil phantoms.

    And so, dear reader, a brief introduction to some memorable antagonists; an introduction that will lead to something deeper; something darker; something to test your mettle in the coming weeks.

    May fear protect you when the darkness comes.

    Til next time.


  • An Ode to Saint Valentine

    As it is St Valentine’s Day, arguably the most romantic day of the year, I thought it only fitting to pay homage to this scarcely known, yet widely celebrated, Saint, by penning a love story of my own.

    Now, before you close your browser in disgust, please remember this is me, dear reader, so how soppy is it really going to be?

    Before I share with you my tale of love, I thought it would be fitting to mention a few historic events that have taken place on St Valentine’s Day, over the years. Now, there are hundreds of such events and so I have picked my three favourites, the first of which is yet to be added to the annals of history.

    14 February 2013 – sees the release of BONDS, the debut novel for Dark Fantasy author, Marie Anne Cope. With the help of all her friends, family and followers; BONDS is set to make it onto all the Best Seller lists (well, a girl’s got to think positive!!).

    14 February 1994 – saw the execution of Andrei Chikatilo, a Soviet serial killer known as The Butcher of Rostov, The Red Ripper and The Rostov Ripper. Chikatilo murdered a minimum of 52 women and children between 1978 and 1990. He confessed to 56 murders and was tried for 53 of these in April 1992. In October 1992 he was convicted and sentenced to death for 52 murders and was executed by firing squad on St Valentine’s Day, 1994.

    14 February 1929 – saw the St Valentine’s Day massacre; the name given to the murder of seven mob associates, as part of the prohibition era conflict between two powerful criminal gangs in Chicago – the South Side Italian gang, led by Al Capone and the North Side Irish gang, led by Bugs Moran.

    It is said that the intention had been to kill Bugs Moran, but Moran had been running late that day and had witnessed the police arriving at the scene and had fled. The victims, all members of Moran’s gang (or associates of him), had been executed inside a garage at 2122 North Clark Street in the Lincoln Park neighbourhood of Chicago’s North Side. The gunmen were from Capone’s gang – two of whom had been dressed as policemen; the rest in suits, ties, hats and overcoats.

    Public outrage at the massacre had marked the end of Capone’s influence in Chicago. Moran, on the other hand, had managed to keep control of his territory until the early 1930s, when control had passed to the Chicago Outfit, under Frank Nitti. Nitti had also taken control of Capone’s organisation, after Capone had been incarcerated for income tax evasion in 1931.

    So, as you can see, dear reader, momentous historical events take place on this Saint’s day and here’s hoping that this day proves as fortuitous for BONDS.

    It is now time to unleash on you my ode to St Valentine; a tale to pull on your heartstrings maybe, but a tale told in true Scary Ramblings style. Enjoy.

    May fear protect you when the darkness comes.

    Til next time.



    I shivered as I stood in the middle of such devastation. The stone walls, blackened by the fire, remained steadfastly in place, their pride preventing them from giving way to the horror that had engulfed them.

    The charred embers crunched beneath my feet as I picked my way through the remains of what had once been my home; our home. The acrid stench of fire and death still permeated the air and as the early morning breeze rippled across my skin, I closed my eyes, remembering that night.

    The banqueting hall had looked wonderful and I had shaken my head in amazement at how Marco had managed to do all this without my knowledge. Candles had burned from every conceivable nook and cranny, casting the room in a romantic glow. The heady scent of lilies had clung to me as I’d swept through the room; the arrangements majestic on their pedestals. Two hundred guests had been there that night for the “party of the year”, according to the society pages.

    ‘Juliet, my dear, you look stunning and the ceremony was beautiful. I didn’t realise Marco was so romantic,’ Lady Ashford had said as she’d grasped my gloved hands in her own.

    ‘Thank you, Margot, you’re too kind,’ I’d replied. ‘Marco has definitely outdone himself this time.’ I had smiled at the older woman and had nodded politely before moving on.

    Opening the door to the kitchens, the succulent aroma of roasting pork had invaded my nostrils. The spit had twisted noiselessly over the open fire as the skin of the swine had hissed and crackled.

    ‘Mrs Brown, how is everything going in here?’ I’d said. ‘Do you need any more help?’

    ‘No, Ma’am, we’re doing just fine,’ she’d replied, straightening her apron across her ample bosom. ‘You go off and enjoy your party. Everything is under control in here.’ She’d smiled at me then, her rosy cheeks dimpled as a twinkle had appeared in her soft brown eyes.

    ‘Off you go now and don’t worry,’ she’d insisted, pushing me out of the kitchen towards the throng of the party.

    I’d smiled to myself as I’d headed towards the ballroom. Mrs Brown had been a real asset to the household. I’d been so pleased when she’d agreed to come and run the house for us. She’d always run a tight ship and I’d trusted her with my life. After all, she had been with me all of my life.

    The ballroom, like the banqueting hall, had been decorated with candles and festoons of flowers; roses in subtle shades of white, pink and crimson, their delicate scent filling the room. A string quartet had played at one end of the ballroom and the guests had been dancing, their tinkling laughter ringing out above the waltz.

    I’d been awed by the sight before me. Marco had decided on a masquerade ball. Everyone had been dressed in the most exquisite costumes of brightly coloured satin, heavily embroidered brocade and gentle shifts of silk. Hats and feather boas had been everywhere; it had reminded me of a rainbow.

    ‘Do you like it?’ a deep husky voice had whispered in my ear, sending goose bumps across my skin. My breath had caught and my stomach had flipped as I’d turned to face him.

    ‘Oh, Marco, it’s wonderful. Thank you,’ I’d said, gazing up into his sapphire eyes. He’d smiled at me then and had taken my hand.

    ‘Would you like to dance, Madam?’ he’d said, his dark hair shining in the candlelight.

    ‘Why yes, kind Sir, I would be honoured,’ I’d replied, curtseying demurely before collapsing in a fit of giggles.

    Pulling me into his arms, Marco had kissed me. His lips had been firm as they’d pressed against mine, igniting a fire deep within me. I’d been breathless as we’d drawn apart and my chest had heaved within the confines of my bodice. As Marco had traced a finger along my swollen lips, I’d closed my eyes and had moaned softly.

    ‘You look breath-taking, my love,’ Marco had whispered, nuzzling my neck as we’d clung to each other on the dance floor. ‘Let’s get out of here, shall we, and leave them to enjoy the party without us?’

    Nodding, I’d followed him across the dance floor, through the brightly clad mass of bodies, to the hallway and the stairs. My senses had been in overdrive. I’d been aware of my shallow breathing and of the pearl choker at my neck that had felt as if it had been strangling me. I’d been able to hear my skirts rustling as I’d climbed the winding staircase, the nets chaffing my skin, while the ivory satin had glinted in the dappled moonlight.

    Marco had closed the bedroom door and had turned towards me. His fingers had been icy against my clammy skin as he’d begun to release me from my ivory cage. My own fingers had fumbled with the buttons of his shirt before I’d ripped it open in frustration and had run my shaky fingers over the contours of his lean body.

    ‘Don’t be afraid, my love,’ he’d said as he’d carried me to the four- poster bed and had laid me down on the crisp white sheets. Standing before me, he’d removed the rest of his clothes and my heart had skipped a beat as I’d taken in the details of his body and his desire for me. He’d climbed onto the bed and had lain down next to me, tracing the lines of my body with his fingers, exploring every inch, in a way that had made me cry out for him.

    ‘Your turn now,’ he’d said as he’d taken my hand and had guided me in my discovery of his body.

    Slowly and gently, Marco had made love to me, taking me through the initial pain to the ecstasy I’d heard so much about. Sweating and spent, we’d lain wrapped in each other’s arms, gazing at the full moon through the open window.

    ‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’ Marco had whispered and I’d nodded and had nestled deeper into his arms. ‘The night is so much calmer and exciting than the daytime, don’t you think so, Juliet?’

    I’d nodded again, not really listening to him, still tingling from our lovemaking.

    ‘How would you like to share the nights with me, forever?’

    ‘Oh, Marco,’ I’d said, ‘I am yours now, you know that. All I want is to be with you.’

    Turning me round to face him, he’d smiled at me. ‘I love you and I want us to be together, forever.’

    ‘So do I, Marco. So do I,’ I’d whispered, closing my eyes.

    He’d leaned in then and had kissed me hard before his lips had traced along my jawline and down to my neck, settling just below my left ear. A ripple of pleasure had run through me as longing had flooded my body once again.

    Marco’s grip had grown tighter and tighter as he’d held me to him. I’d felt as if I’d been suffocating; I just hadn’t been able to get the space to get any air in. My heart had begun to pound and alarm signals had been firing in my brain. I’d tried to pull away, but he’d been much too strong. I’d cried out as his teeth had pierced the delicate skin at my throat.

    The initial pain had been like a pinprick compared to the fire that had soon torn through my body. I’d pushed against him with all my strength, but I’d just been growing weaker. The longer he’d drawn on me the less energy I’d had to fight; to fight the man I’d loved; the man I’d just married; the man who’d been draining my body of life.

    When I awoke it had still been dark, but Marco had been gone. I’d felt groggy and my neck had throbbed. Pulling myself up into a sitting position, I’d swung my legs off the side of the bed, having immediately regretted it as the room had spun and my stomach had flipped. I’d gripped the sides of the bed to steady myself and had pushed myself up to standing.

    Wrapping my robe around me, I’d wobbled towards the bedroom door; the wall my prop in case the dizziness and nausea had returned. What had Marco done to me? The thick oak of the bedroom door had felt like a tonne weight and I’d had to use my whole bodyweight in order to open it.

    As I’d done so, the sound that had assailed my ears had been like nothing I’d ever heard before. It had sounded like I’d always imagined the mythological wailing banshee to have sounded. I’d winced as I’d moved onto the landing, the keening of the guests piercing my eardrums.

    Beneath the crying; beneath the screams, though, I’d thought I’d heard something else – male voices; angry voices. I’d tried to focus as I’d staggered to the top of the stairs, but my vision had been blurring and my head had started to throb.

    ‘Marco, where are you?’ I’d whispered and had slumped onto a stair halfway down. I’d rested my head against the wall, the cool stone having acted as a balm against the pounding inside my skull. ‘Marco?’ I’d said, more loudly. ‘Marco, where are you? What’s going on?’

    ‘Ssssh! be quiet, Juliet! They’ll hear you,’ a gruff voice had sounded from the bottom of the stairs.

    Stumbling down the last few steps, I’d been able to see Marco peering into the ballroom through a gap in the doors.

    ‘What’s happening?’ I’d said as I’d reached his side and he’d hugged me to him. I’d jumped and felt Marco’s hand clamp over my mouth as another scream had erupted from the room, followed by the stench of burning tissue.

    ‘Where is he?’ one of the intruders had demanded.

    ‘I-I-I d-d-don’t k-k-know,’ one of the guests had replied.

    ‘Where is he?’ the intruder had said again as the sizzling sound of flesh being burned had reached us in the hallway.

    ‘Oh God, Marco, do something!’ I’d whispered; horrified by the scene I’d been able to see through the doors. ‘What are they here for? Who are they?’

    ‘They are hunters and they’re here for me. After all this time, they have finally found me,’ he’d said; his voice devoid of emotion as he’d watched through the doors.

    ‘Hunters? What hunters? What are you talking about? You’re not making any sense..,’ I’d drifted off then, the sentence unfinished, because I’d known – deep down, I’d known – who these men had been. As I’d raised my hand to touch the puncture wounds on my neck, Marco had grabbed my wrist.

    ‘Listen to me, Juliet,’ he’d said, fixing me with a stern look. ‘You’ve got to get out of here, tonight.’

    ‘No! I’m not leaving you,’ I’d whispered as my eyes had filled with tears.

    ‘Yes you are. I want you to be safe. They don’t know about you and so they won’t look for you. Dress quickly and go down the back stairs, at the other side of the bedroom, and out through the kitchen. A horse is waiting for you there. Ride as fast as you can and as far away as you can. I will come and find you.’

    ‘No! I won’t leave you. I want to be with you, please,’ I’d said, but he’d shaken his head.

    ‘Go, Juliet. I will come and find you as soon as I can.’

    ‘But how…,’

    ‘I just will. I need to know you are safe. Now, please go and remember; I love you.’ He’d kissed me on the forehead before he’d swept into the ballroom, leaving me staring after him.

    Not wanting to disobey him, I’d run back upstairs and had dressed quickly. I’d crept down the back stairs and out into the yard where my horse had been waiting. Mounting her as quietly as I could I’d left and I hadn’t turned back; not until I’d reached the shelter of the forest.

    There I’d stopped and, taking a deep breath, I’d turned around. The whole house had been ablaze. People had been fleeing, alight with flames, only to be killed by the men on horseback, who’d been waiting in the grounds. The cries of the dying and the wounded had rolled towards me through the night air. Tears had flowed down my cheeks as I’d sat and watched friends and relatives killed; slaughtered; all because they’d known Marco.

    I’d sat there for what seemed like hours, hoping to see him ride out of the carnage, but he never had. Finally, I’d decided to keep going. I had to; before the hunters had left the scene. I’d needed to distance myself from there, just as Marco had said, and then wait for him to come and find me.

    He’d promised he would find me and I had known that I’d wait for him. No matter how long he’d take, I would wait.

    I opened my eyes, fresh tears having dampened my cheeks at the memories. I had waited for him; waited for over a hundred years, but he never came. I gave up hoping a long time ago, but there was always that little part of me that hung on.

    He’d been the love of my life; my only love. I looked around me at this broken shell that had once symbolised the start of my life with Marco.

    He hadn’t survived the fire, I was sure of that now, but I could still feel him in this place. I could feel his touch on my skin and could feel my body begin to respond. Shuddering, I turned to leave, my heart heavy.

    ‘Juliet, my love, don’t leave,’ his voice echoed through this carcass and as I turned, I swear I could see a figure in the shadows.

    ‘Marco?’ I said and started towards it.

    ‘Juliet, where did you go? I couldn’t find you,’ his voice continued to echo through the space.

    ‘For goodness sake, Juliet, have you lost your mind? He’s gone; forget it; just leave,’ I chastised myself and closed my eyes. Opening them again, I stared ahead of me at the blackened stone wall. There was no one there now; he was gone.

    ‘Goodbye, Marco,’ I said as I turned and walked away, dousing the embers forever.

    © Marie Anne Cope 2002 (updated 2013)

  • An Impossible Choice…..or is it?

    What would you do if faced with a decision that would leave you dead either way – one by your hand and the other by someone else’s? You may think it a fairly easy choice to make, after all the outcome is the same. But if you really think about it, really picture yourself facing that choice, what would you do?

    To do it to yourself would be quick and easy (depending on your methodology), but if I were to put a gun in your hand (whilst, obviously, pointing one at you) and told you to shoot yourself in the head – quick death- would you be strong enough? You may decide not to and to leave it to me to kill you, but would I make it quick? I think not.

    You see, dear reader, I would take my time over it; make you suffer; maybe even let you bleed out from the wounds I’d inflict. It would depend on what mood I was in and how you responded.

    So, going back to my original scenario, I think I should rephrase it. I think it would be relatively easy to decide what to do, but extremely hard to actually do it……unless, of course, the option was represented to you part way through my torturing of you. Then I think you wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

    With this is mind, let’s return to the dungeon and, more specifically, to door number four, which you are currently sitting staring at. You are still massaging your neck, wondering why the wound inflicted by Antony Cardover has healed. Did I really help you? Does that mean I’ll always help you? That you can brazenly throw open all the doors, knowing you will not be harmed? Well that, dear reader, is up to you, but I would point you back to the discussion at the start of this blog before you make that decision.

    You stand up and roll your shoulders back. You’ve survived one encounter with a deadly adversary. You feel equipped to survive another. You stand before the next door. It looks different from the rest; less solid. You look more closely and see holes where the wood has rotted through – you think; you hope. Or could it have been smashed? A tremor travels around your body, but you ignore it and open the door.

    The room before you is empty, the floorboards scarce, the ceiling just bones. A window is to your left; the panes of glass broken and jagged. Through it you can see a star studded sky; a full moon; a wolf moon. A moan comes from the right and your heart lurches. You lean into the room and see a young woman slumped against the wall, balanced precariously on the barely present floorboards. She moans again and opens her eyes to look at you.

    ‘Help me,’ she says before her eyes close again. You react. You don’t think. You step through the doorway. You realise what you have done and turn to retreat. There is nowhere to go. The door is gone. You’ve stepped into the scene. You are part of the story. You remember a film, an old film – Waxwork. Fear grips you and your skin turns cold and clammy.

    ‘Help me, please,’ she whispers and you turn round to look at her. Her face, in the moonlight shining through the skeleton above, is pale; her eyes sunken. Dirt and blood have formed streaks down her hollow cheeks. She reaches a blood soaked hand out to you and you go to her. You can’t stop yourself. She needs help. You crouch down, straddling on two beams, the void below sure to kill you, if you let it. You look down at her other hand which holds a blood soaked wad of material against her abdomen. You reach out and gently pull the pad away so you can take a look. Your gag reflex kicks in and you turn and vomit into the void. You press the fabric back and pull her other hand to it, applying more pressure to try and keep her intestines inside. You cannot help.

    ‘Who did this?’ you say between gritted teeth, as you try not to be sick again. She doesn’t say anything, just looks at you and you swear her face looks fuller and more alive than a few minutes ago.

    A deep guttural howl emanates from outside and you feel hollowness in the pit of your stomach as you realise the scene you are in.

    ‘They did,’ she says, her voice much stronger, as more howls join the first.

    You walk the tightrope as you cross a beam to the window and look outside. Down below, just visible at the edge of the woods, you see movement. As you watch, they emerge one at a time, until eight large wolves stand looking at the house. One of them looks up towards the window and you draw back, your foot kicking something and sending it crashing to the floor.

    You squeeze your eyes shut tight, your heart pounding. Did they hear? Slowly, you slide along the wall and peek out of the window. Eight sets of eyes stare back at you. Shit! You slither down the wall and reach your hand out to try and find what fell. Your fingers hit something and you look down to see a shotgun illuminated in the moonlight. You pick it up. You have no idea how to use it. You hear a noise and look up. The young woman is gone. You hear movement downstairs and you look out of the window to see a wolf padding out of the house towards the group. Now there are nine.

    One of the pack steps forward to meet her and they both turn to look up at you. The leader then turns to the rest and nods. They all start forward towards the house; towards you.

    You look at the gun. You look at the holes in the floor. You look at the vacant doorway across the room. You look back outside. They are gone.

    A crash sounds downstairs, making you jump and you look down to see them all loping into the hallway below, heading for the stairs.

    You brandish the gun in front of you – you don’t know what you are doing; you’ve never used a gun – bracing yourself. One by one they enter the room and fan out; the barely covered floor no hindrance. You swing the gun left to right. They watch you. The leader is the last to enter and it walks to the centre of the room and fixes its glowing eyes on you.

    It growls. The pack crouches. You fire.

    A yelp confirms a hit and you turn and fire again, fuelled with confidence. You miss. They move forward. You panic and step back. Your foot finds only empty space and you fall backwards. The gun drops to the floor and bounces through the beams, crashing to the level below.

    You feel your bowels release. You smell ammonia as warmth spreads down your thighs. Your breathing is ragged. You whimper as tears fill your eyes. Your fear is palpable.

    The leader sniffs the air and then launches itself towards you. You scream; screwing your eyes shut tight; curling into the foetal position to protect yourself. Yet, you know, that nothing can protect you from this.

    You wait for the impact. You wait for the pain as teeth and claws tear into your flesh. You wait, but nothing happens.

    You feel the cold seeping through your clothing into your back. You open your eyes. You are in the corridor of the dungeon; the now solid door closed in front of you. You straighten yourself up and look around. You are alone. You touch your jeans. They are dry. You look to your right. Another door awaits you.

    Well, I couldn’t kill you off could I, dear reader? Not just yet, anyway. For your journey has barely begun.


    May fear protect you when the darkness comes.

    Til next time.


  • The Path Less Travelled

    Or, in the context of my mind, the path never travelled, except by me…..maybe.

    So, dear reader, it’s time to return to the choice you were left with at the end of ‘Do Be Afraid Of The Dark’ – whether to climb back up the stairway and into the light, or whether to plunge even deeper into the darkness.

    You turn back to the third door that has appeared and your decision is made. For, to face what you fear can only serve to make you stronger, surely? Either that or it may shorten your lifespan. Either way, it makes for a more interesting and worthwhile existence, don’t you think?

    There is a mass appeal to being afraid – hence the draw of horror movies at the box office – but is that because you know it is only temporary? Is it because you know that when you leave the cinema, you are leaving the fear and horror behind?

    What about now though? As you come with me on this journey into the depth and depravity (and, yes, it can be) of my mind, can you truly say you will leave it behind? For those of you who know me, I suggest that this may become very difficult.

    Oh, would that I know what is going through your mind right now – a bubble of excitement; of fear; of uncertainty; or even of confidence? To be able to see how you respond; how you change, as more doors are opened, would be a story in itself, I have no doubt.

    You stand now, legs a little more than hip width apart, shoulders rolled back; grounding yourself; bracing yourself. Whatever is behind that door, you are ready for it. Your jaw is set, your chin dipped, your gaze alert. You reach out and grasp the handle and, without hesitation – your new found strength fuelling your resolve – you open the door.

    Your resolve, however, crumbles, as does your stance. What is this? You walk forward and, bracing yourself in the doorway, you lean your head around and look left and right. Nothing. You refocus on the scene before you.

    A family is seated along either side of a wooden bench; bowls of what looks like stew before them; a platter of bread and butter in the centre of the bench; and a pitcher of water sits half empty closest to you. A fire burns in the hearth, its heat warming you as you watch. Candles decorate various surfaces in the Spartan room, casting it into various shades of darkness and light. The family are talking and laughing. This is a happy scene; a benign scene. You relax and lean against the door frame, arms folded across your chest, enjoying the feeling that flows from this family.

    A scream sounds in the distance and it jolts you. You step back and look up and down the corridor, but you don’t see anything. The two doors remain closed and this is the only other door. You turn back to the family and see the father looking out of the window; a window you hadn’t noticed before. The screaming has escalated; the harrowing sound emanating from more than one source. The father turns from the window, a look of panic on his face. The mother pulls the two children close to her. You feel your heart start to constrict as you watch. The father runs this way and that, opening doors and rummaging in drawers, looking for something, but what?

    An almighty crash makes you jump and the sound of splintering wood changes this once happy scene, as the front door crashes to the floor and a hulking man fills the doorway. Candles extinguish in the rush of air, casting him into darkness. The father stands frozen. The mother screams. The children cry. You stare.

    The man strides into the room and grabs the father by the throat, lifting him off the floor. With his free hand, he takes hold of the unruly mop of hair and, in one swift movement, he rips the father’s head clean off. Dropping the body at his feet, the man hurls the head into the fire and marches forward. He upends the table and yanks the children from their mother’s protective embrace. Holding each child by the neck he squeezes, his gaze fixed on the mother. The splintering of bone echoes through the silence, for not even the mother utters a sound now. He drops the children where he stands and advances on her. You remain transfixed; impotent.

    He grabs the mother by her hair and drags her to her feet. Yanking her head back, he exposes her chest and, with one swipe of a fingernail, he rips open her dress, releasing her pendulous breasts. You stare as, with the talon like nail of his index finger, he slits her flesh open just over her heart. He throws his head back and opens his mouth, exposing his fangs, before plunging them into the open wound on her chest.

    You watch as he gulps the blood, drawing the life out of this woman who, minutes ago, was enjoying a meal with her family. Feeling starts to return to your body as your synapses try to kick start a warning in your brain. Still you remain.

    The man, sated, drops the woman at his feet and looks up, blood dripping from his chin. It takes a moment to register. He’s looking at you. You start to move, but it’s too late. He swipes his hand out and you feel his nails slice through the skin of your throat as you stumble backwards, tripping over your own feet.

    The scene plays in slow motion as one of your hands goes to your throat, while the other makes a grab for the door. As the man steps over the slain woman towards you, you grasp the door and yank it towards you. It slams shut, separating the two worlds once again.

    You lay there, panting, your hand clamped around your neck, terrified of removing it. You’ve seen the movies; you know what happens if the correct artery has been severed. Your breath slows and you can’t help but look back towards the stairs; towards the light. You turn and look along the corridor and find another door has appeared.

    You remove your hand from your throat, replacing it with your other one, just in case. You check your hand. There is no blood. But why? You know he sliced through your skin, you felt it. You close your eyes and lean your head back against the wall. Perhaps I am protecting you, after all?

    To be continued……..

    And so, dear reader, I introduce you to Antony Cardover, the antagonist in my forthcoming novel, BONDS. But he wasn’t always like this and he doesn’t always have to be like this. He just has to break the curse.

    BONDS will be published in paperback in February, with the Kindle edition following soon after. Both will be available to buy from Amazon.

    May fear protect you when the darkness comes.

    Til next time.