Tag Archives: horror

Book review: Invasive Species

Invasive SpeciesInvasive Species by Karle Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me just start by saying that this book isn’t for the easily offended or squeamish.

The story is, generally, about a man named Ranse who runs a large farm. He’s sober for the first time in his life, and life seems to be going as usual save for his desire to be back with his ex-wife and his son. He wants nothing more than a second chance from where he screwed up before.

His neighbors consist of two close friends, Molly and Mick, and a man who is nothing short of detestable. A racist, hateful, greedy buffoon to put it lightly — Warren Maxxy. His wife isn’t faithful to him and tends to sleep around, and the men are more than happy to oblige her around town, including those working on Ranse’s ranch.

A sickness begins to spread about, and all any sickness requires to dig its claws into a population is one person. In this case, one bite. Everything spirals down without giving too much of the plot away, and Ranse finds himself having to protect his son, hoping the beasts slowly growing in number don’t come back, and wondering what happened to his ex-wife after she left their son in his hands. And more and more people are getting horribly sick…

This book was wonderfully written, although there were many editing errors throughout it that interrupted my reading flow. This didn’t take away from the story itself, though, which was written so well it kept dragging me back in despite some of the elements that did put me off slightly.

Karle’s storytelling is masterful, in my opinion. I personally love horror, and although this book didn’t read like an atypical horror story, I couldn’t put it down. I read it much quicker than I read most books, and that says something about Karle’s talents. His acknowledgments in the beginning tell of his passion for storytelling and where it came from, and this definitely shines through.

While the story was gripping, intense, and beautifully told, there were a few elements that almost caused me to stop reading, but it’s no fault of the author. There are some extremely sensitive subjects breached in this book, and while I don’t feel anything bad, racist, or taboo was being advocated for, a few of the subjects hit too close to home for me and upset me greatly, and I had to pause reading for a day. If you have been domestically abused or abused in any relationship, or have been a victim of sexual assault or incest, please tread carefully. These subjects are not tip-toed around even if they are just a few brief moments, and they are very blunt.

Another bit of criticism I had about the book is the harsh racist language. I understand that it was attached to the character of Warren Maxxy for a reason, and it had its purpose (he seems to closely resemble a certain political figure), but the number of times he mentions racial and homophobic slurs began to grate on my nerves. I felt the racist elements of this book could have been eased back on just a small bit and still drove the message home. That said, this criticism is based on my personal feelings and my usual tendency to avoid material that uses these words too much, but I felt it was worth mentioning because it was a factor in my rating of the book.

The gore, the unapologetic grossness, and the blunt writing were on point. I actually got very nauseated reading about the number of times people hurled their brains out, but rather than mention that as something negative (it’s merely a part of the story itself), it’s just further testament to the blunt and effective writing style.

And oh my goodness, some of the lines in this book were amazing. Karle has a way of weaving words at times that are quite poetic. The endings to the chapters are great examples of this.

The ending was definitely a long one, but it was very intense. After each paragraph within the last few chapters, as Karle realistically portrays the stages of fear and confusion during something so horrific as having to fend off a legion of werewolves, I was caught up in all of it. When I was certain no more could possibly be done and Ranse was surely finished, it continued. A roller coaster of emotions for the reader, at the least. Not to mention the events near the ending that completely ripped out my heart and stomped on it. It goes without saying that having your town turn into werewolves from a highly contagious virus, sparing no one, is more than enough for the worst of tragedies. There is a nice epilogue to it all, though, that will bring your head above water again.

Overall, this book was hard to put down. At times it was hard to digest the subject matter due to the sensitive nature, and a few of the scenes were enough to leave even my strong constitution turning green, but Karle is an excellent writer who has written a hell of a story to leave a great emotional impact. I’m glad I read it and was given the opportunity to review it, and I will definitely recommend this book to others, although with a small content warning.

I look forward to exploring more from this author.

View all my reviews

The Ultimate Trick – Original horror story

The sepia sky threatened to choke the sun that afternoon.

A memory of a storm that was ever present on the horizon stole my thoughts as I jogged across town. My phone was to my ear, but my mind was elsewhere, the line falling dead a sign that I was either being ignored or my friend was busy. I sighed and slipped the phone back into my pocket as I approached the rickety white gazebo at the town’s center. There was a sparse motion of old cars driving around it — a roundabout having been installed many years ago as if to honor the very spot.

Nothing else existed in that circle of lawn except for that antique bit of woodwork. No flowers graced its presence nor did the grass grow very well, and if there had been any trees they were mowed down long ago. Between its sorry existence and the threatening sky, I was reminded of why I felt it was imperative that I be at that very spot.

It was a similar scene and atmosphere to a dream I’d experienced the night before. As most odd dreams were, it was a hazy memory that left me filled with an uneasiness I’d been darkened by in the dream itself. It was as if there was another force at work in the middle of that traffic circle — something of warning to forbid anything living to occupy its same space. I stared up at the decaying structure in wonder, sensing a fizzled out presence that I was certain I hadn’t imagined. I chuckled.

Dreams and nightmares were just that, and my friend had probably ditched me because of my all-too-obvious madness.

My phone buzzed in my pocket and I answered, my friend’s presence finally alerting me to the fact that she wasn’t freaked out by me — yet. She wanted to meet at the convenience store across the way to grab a few things before humoring my weird dream visions, but it was already too late. I turned to see the aging family-owned restaurant at the other end of the small town. I was already late for work.

The phone no sooner went dead before I noticed a familiar form approaching the old country store. I watched through narrowed eyes as it most definitely was my friend. Odd. She’d been home — about a mile away — when we’d spoken. Yet, there she was as if a strange doppelganger was poking fun at my already unnerving bout of mania.

I shook it off and made my way into the restaurant. All was dark until I turned on the lights, which didn’t really help matters. At most I could make out the moth-eaten faded pink table cloths, retro decor, and the smell of old wood that I liked most of all. I shook my head again, my mind getting away with me. It was probably just anxiety; tunnel vision was a bitch when your brain was in a different reality entirely. The nightmare was getting to me, and whatever had been present in that odd place in the center of town was clearly trying to one-up me.

A back room that was also the kitchen served to be no better. A small mouse scuttled across the yellow and white tiled floor that caught me by surprise, but I noticed a dirty plate with rotten food spread out across the stove burners. A glance up revealed a small window to be propped open, and a few dried specks of blood popped out against the metal frame. Lovely.

“What in the hell is this?”

I jumped and grabbed at my heart, forcing the thing back into my chest. My grandma had crept up behind me and examined the damage, shaking her head.

“I locked it up last night, I swear,” I stammered. My head was as full as a balloon from my anxiety now, the pressure threatening to pop. “I have no idea how anyone could have gotten in.”

“Well, can’t be helped now. We should clean up before we open.” She flicked on the old-fashioned red faucet handles and grabbed a bottle of Ivory soap.

I climbed onto the counter to shut the window and locked it tight, and took in the rest of the kitchen. Although the old bulbs were doing their best to provide light, the window’s closing had stolen any sign of day from the room. I swiped a finger across the glass and cringed when a line of dust settled. Food and Safety wasn’t going to be happy about that.

I then turned my focus to my grandma’s submerged arms. The pale green plate in her hands turned over and over in the suds, the food having been tossed in the disposal. Something dawned on me then as I became hypnotized by the monotony.

“That homeless woman that camps out back sometimes,” I offered. “Do you think it was her?” An image of a scraggly woman with long blonde hair, old round wire-framed glasses, grimy clothing, and sooty skin crossed my mind. I’d only seen her a few times before, but my heart sank at the memory of her. I couldn’t be angry. I made a point to leave food for her after closing up.

My grandma confirmed my suspicions, nodding. “I wish I knew what kind of tricks she pulled to get in here. That window’s pretty high.”

“People get desperate when they’re hungry.” I shrugged as I remembered the dried blood on the frame.

“It’s a damn shame.” My grandma flicked water everywhere before turning to me with a towel. “Let’s open this place up. We hired a new waitress and she needs training.”

* * *

Later that day, the sky seemed to grace the stale atmosphere with more luminescence through the restaurant windows.

Business was slow as it tended to be, but the mood was light and the food was delicious. My grandpa had stopped by and was greeting my grandma at the door, I sitting at a booth to chat with a few of the regular patrons. The new waitress came by and fumbled her tray, and I held my breath before she righted it again and sat a guest’s order safely on a table. My grandpa and grandma joined us.

The guests turned their attention to my grandpa, who had taken several seemingly trivial items from his pocket; an elastic string, a few metal rings, a gathering of beads, and other odd bits and pieces. I looked on with my grandma and the others with curiosity, our faces beaming. Grandpa had always been an entertainer, so there was no doubt that he had some tricks up his sleeve to impress.

Grandpa eyed the attractive young waitress and beckoned for her to come forward. He’d been messing with the beads and string for a distraction, but lifted the ring as if to aim it in the proper direction. The young woman leaned forward, and in a blink the ring was through her nose. For a moment she panicked but settled her conscience as pain seemed to elude her. Grandpa laughed while everyone stared in awe, I craning my neck to see any sort of way it had been done. Just as quickly as it had appeared, grandpa snapped his fingers before removing the ring in a swift motion, his other hand flat in the air in a waving motion for show. The few patrons clapped as well as the waitress once she realized it had all been an illusion.

At least, I was certain it was an illusion.

As grandpa started a new series of magic tricks, my tunnel vision returned and I stared off to the far corner of the room, my eyes tracing the vintage floral wallpaper. As long as I’ve been alive, grandpa had always been full of the perfect jokes, and he’d always impressed everyone with his strange ability for sleight of hand. I’d asked him how he managed such impossible tricks, but he could never give a clear answer. His usual, ‘A magician doesn’t give away his secrets!’ went in one ear and out the other as I’d finally just decided to accept the unexplainable. I couldn’t help but shake an odd sense about them, though. They didn’t feel or seem like atypical magic show tricks, but completely random things my grandpa would come up with off the top of his head. This removed any ability for him having rehearsed them.

I was brought out of my thoughts when the friend I’d contacted earlier came up behind me. Her hand on my shoulder reminded me of our meeting, and that I’d completely forgotten and left her standing in that weird space at the center of town. Thankfully, she wasn’t angry in the slightest and shoved her way into the booth beside me, and we settled in to watch grandpa perform more of his illustrious magic.

* * *

I’d completely forgotten about the gazebo and the strange dream that led me there. Instead, I headed toward my grandma’s house that was a block away, she staying behind to close the restaurant. I’d hugged myself in embarrassment during that conversation, ashamed that I couldn’t even lock up a place correctly. Although I was entirely certain I’d done just that, my head had been in odd places all day and since the day before, and I chalked it all up to my mania and my nerves.

My friend had gone home and my grandpa had left at some point as well, most likely due to fatigue from old age. I smiled and humored myself with a silly thought. Maybe he needed to recharge his magical powers somehow, just like a wise old man from a fairy tale. Perhaps he even had a deep secret he had to keep hidden somehow — a wizard sworn to secrecy who had to play his feats off as simple parlor tricks.

I yawned as I kicked off my shoes by the front door of my grandparents’ house. The newly cleaned cream carpet was plush beneath my feet, and I wiggled my toes as the feeling of wanting to lay on it washed over me. I did just that, staring up at the swirled white ceiling like I had as a child. The memories were fleeting, but I remembered lying on my back and telling stories with my friend, our game to continue as long as we could manage while staring at the ceiling and not moving an inch. Whoever ran out of ideas or moved first lost the game. Very vaguely I recalled her telling a story about wolves…

I jumped up into a sitting position as I heard faint shuffling. A distinct smell of decay overwhelmed me just as quick, and I was flooded with a range of emotions that rendered me completely speechless. I threw my hand over my mouth and nose, wondering how I’d missed it all before. My empathic abilities were heightened when I was manic, and it was like being punched in the stomach. It always hit me at once before I had any time to sort any of it.

My breathing quickened and my eyes grew wide. Too much. I felt too much and my skin was crawling. I had to move — knew I had to get off of the floor and find the source of the coppery smell invading my senses. As I managed to stand at last, I searched for a memory of the smell. I knew I’d caught it before, and it was recently. Yes, it was at the restaurant. It was when I’d found the specks of blood on the window.

Dread settling over me moved my legs on impulse. The only light in the house was that of the sinking sun shining through the blinds — the slitted rays painting everything orange that they touched. The kitchen and the living room were empty and silent save for the same inkling of a dreadful presence I’d felt at the center of town. I made my way down the hallway to the bathroom. The smell grew stronger.

Was the dream a warning? Had I missed a message by not going back, and not probing further for the presence that was growing stronger the further I walked?

I was nearly gagging as the smell of decay suffocated me. I reached out to touch the white bathroom door that was just barely ajar and noticed the lights were on inside, spreading out across the hallway as the door creaked on its hinges.

I choked on the lump that formed in my throat.

My eyes followed a trail of blood that split out across the white tile, and it ended in a pool surrounding a young woman in an old-fashioned waitress’ dress. I recognized her instantly from the restaurant. Her eyes were open wide in a memory of fear, and they were now glazed over as they stared up at me. I stared back with rapt attention, unable to tear myself away from the grisly sight. Nausea crept up into my throat and gripped at my stomach, and I felt a strange pull at the back of my head as I began to hyperventilate.

Tunnel vision. Can’t breathe. Dizzy — so damned dizzy.

And then the void.

* * *

A fog clouded my vision as I turned my head. My wrists hurt and I noticed I was on the floor, the young woman’s blood sticking my fingers to the white porcelain beneath me. My limbs were shaky as I pushed myself up to kneel, and I glanced around the bathroom when my vision came as clear as it was going to get.

I found my grandpa standing at the sink in a white tank. He was bent over and focusing in the mirror as if he were attempting to shave the white stubble on his face. I couldn’t make out his expression, but what was clear was his utter neglect of the gruesome scene lying on the floor right behind him. He didn’t seem to be stirred by my presence in the slightest.

“Grandpa?” My voice was hoarse as it shook, my anxiety robbing me of further communication. I desperately didn’t want to believe what I suspected, but nothing else would have made sense. Another fainting spell threatened, but I remained upright despite it.

Without a sound, he finally turned to acknowledge my presence. Tears spilled from the corners of my eyes as my blood turned to ice.

My cheerful, loving grandpa — my secret wizard — wore the darkest, most maniacal grin on his face. His eyes were wide with frenzy and his aged white teeth were on full display like a Cheshire cat. His expression warped his face and exaggerated its features, and I could feel the way murder had corrupted him. It was animalistic and raw in its nature, and something so primal that I knew I would never forget it again. It was bliss and desperation at the same time, mingled together in an explosive passion that robbed of any ability to choke back the feral cries.

I knew there had to be something about my grandpa and his magic. He was most certainly gifted in ways that weren’t only sleight of hand and rehearsed showman magic tricks. He was something else entirely, and for a moment I wondered if my mania was just playing tricks on me. With his razor still in hand, my grandpa approached me, his maddening expression never changing.

“You weren’t meant to see this.” He spoke in a higher pitch than his usual tone, and much quieter.

“Why?” I was breathless as I stumbled backward where I sat, scrambling to get out of that room. When I finally reached the threshold, I was shaking too much to get to my knees and close the door. I hugged myself tight as grandpa squeezed the plastic razor in his hand.

He just stood there in silence, that same grin claiming him as if he had no control over it. Everything was silent save for our breathing, mine coming in short bursts as my body tensed impossibly tight. The bathroom light poured out at either side of him as if it were framing him — as if he held a much grander purpose than even I could ever manage to comprehend.

The door slammed shut. I was bathed in darkness once more and worked up the nerve to crawl down the hallway, the drying blood on my hands staining the carpet. The stench in the house. The body on the floor. That smell of old decay lingering in the walls — grandpa was no stranger to it.

It was the ultimate trick, to make someone disappear.

© 2019 Shane Blackheart

Excerpt from original writing: What Lies Beyond

The title is one I thought of back in high school when I originally wrote this story, but I can’t make myself change it. It has a history, as well as it being Lestan and Jack’s personal history. This is just a small bit from it, and it’s one of the many moments in the story where Jack has some self-reflection. It’s appropriate for all audiences.

 


 

The wind rustled through the spirit’s translucent form, his hair unmoving in the breeze. He stared at the moon as if he were seeing every minute detail, its rocky and cold surface beckoning to him as did the vastness of space. He craved the void but only ever crossed into it when necessary. Otherwise, he was afraid he’d become lost and never return. That was not his purpose, and he knew his place and where he had to remain. To leave would be to abandon those wracked with grief due to their own unfortunate passings, and that was something the spirit would never wish upon any creature.

He lifted his hand and a battered, pale heart appeared, the agony contained within reaching a volume that could be heard throughout the cemetery. Every soul he led into the next world left their sorrows with him, and in his heart, he felt the weight of every single one. Hundreds — thousands — of cries and haunting screams rustled the energy around him and the trees swayed with the sheer force of the energy until the spirit withdrew, the heart fizzling out to return to him.

He looked out across the cemetery before drifting off the tombstone he occupied. He didn’t walk often as mortals tended to, but after meeting the vampire earlier that night, he felt the need to think, and to think brought its own kind of melancholy. He’d never spoken to another creature at length. It had been enough to cause his entire existence to pause, but what was even more curious was the vampire’s persistence in wanting to know him. It simply wasn’t the way things were supposed to be, and the spirit felt raw anxiety rising within him, the grass beneath his feet flattening with an ethereal breeze as his energy sparked in the darkness.

A name. The vampire had said something about a name before the spirit vanished. He knew the meaning of them and their importance, but he wasn’t anything important enough in his own mind to be deserving of a name. He was just… there. He existed for his purpose and although he’d put a name to that purpose for the vampire’s sake of understanding, it wasn’t even close to the true meaning. The spirit sighed, a dim, pale blue glow emanating from him as he drifted between the shadows in the cemetery. Speaking with the vampire had brought upon more complications than he had ever wanted to deal with.

Cold stone caressed the spirit’s entire being as he drifted through it, the mausoleum steps just below him as he hovered near the walls. Thin, vine-like branches wound their way through the small and narrow windows in the walls, their tendrils dry and clinging to life as they stretched over the worn surface. Silver strands of moonlight disturbed the peaceful dark and spilled upon the floor where the spirit drifted past, the stone steps leading down introducing a much colder atmosphere than above. Stopping once he was fully below ground, the spirit gazed around the quiet room.

Hollowed out shelves in the stonework lined the walls, their presence barely visible to the naked eye in the purest of darknesses. Although the spirit’s eyes were as black as the void, they allowed him a glimpse into that world that none were able to perceive otherwise. He was as much a part of this darkness as it was of him, and within it, he could see the bones lying neatly and untouched in their respective shrouds. The materials were wrought with decay and their jewels tarnished to never shine again, insects crawling over and between them on their path to devour what was left of the body below it.

It was beautiful.

The spirit drifted over to a body that was much less decayed than the others, the bones jutting out where the flesh had all but dissipated with time. His hand trailed over the skull that was thinly veiled with parchment-like skin, and he pressed his fingers gently into the eyes, his own falling shut as he felt a semblance of something that was once there. A sadness gripped at his chest and he pulled his hand away. These were his true friends and the only ones he could ever allow himself to have. They could not tempt him away from his purpose or claim to give him a name. They’d become just as meaningless as he, their own names lost with the passage of time.

The spirit dropped to the stone floor among the spiders and other insects. The tomb walls behind him brought comfort as he welcomed their frigid chill, and the energy of the ever-changing earth behind them seeped through him. He could hear every breath within the womb of Mother Nature itself as he basked in it, and he closed his eyes once more as he took in the sound. An involuntary thought crossed his mind in that moment.

Perhaps the vampire would enjoy it just as much with him. If not, then all would be understood.

 

© 2019 Shane Blackheart