Read-along – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

A while back, one of my friends sold some of his books before leaving Thailand and going back home. He sent me a list and one of the books that caught my eye was Lolita, a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time. It’s a perfect hardcover edition complete with bookmark – he belongs to that group of people who can’t stand the thought of writing on the pages or, God forbid, bending them. Perfectly understandable, as I am the same when it comes to books. The book had been sitting on a shelf ever since, between a copy of Andrew’s On The Holloway Road , which I’ve read, and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, which I haven’t.

Now it looks like I’m finally going to read it. My blogging friend Vishy from Vishytheknight asked me if we could do a read-along and I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. You’re more than welcome to join. I know December is a busy month so I’m hoping that by posting this in advance anybody who wants to join will have the chance to plan and maybe find the time to read with us. If you have a blog, choose one of the badges. If not, just leave your comments here or on Vishy’s blog.

The rules are simple:

1. Read-along starts December 7th.
2. Reviews will be posted from December 27th – 31st.

P.S. If you would like this story to be a surprise, do not read the introduction until after you’ve finished the book. I made the mistake of reading a few sentences and I think I stumbled on a major spoiler.

Lolita readalong 1

Lolita readalong 2

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R.I.P. wrap up and doing NaNoWriMo again

lavinia-portrait small Today ends the R.I.P. reading event hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings. Like always, it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve enjoyed my books immensely even though I didn’t read everything I’d planned but that’s fine, there’s always time for that later. I’ve been so caught up in reading that I postponed writing reviews until the last day so I decided to do two mini-reviews for the last two books I read for this challenge.

Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein – The Monsters by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

This book finally provided the motivation to read Frankenstein, so after finishing with Mary Shelley’s famous classic, I dived right into it. If you ever wondered how Frankenstein came to be written and what Mary Shelley’s life was like, this is the perfect book. While the story centers mostly on Mary and on that famous summer night in 1816 that sparked the challenge behind Frankenstein, there’s also plenty of detail about the other participants in the challenge: her then companion and future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and John William Polidori – who went on to write the first vampire novel, The Vampyre.

The Monsters I’m always fascinated by details from famous writers’ lives and how they find their way into their stories. The authors give plenty of details to show how different elements from Mary Shelley’s life may have contributed to the idea behind Frankenstein – an emotionally detached father, a mother she never knew, the pressure she felt to produce a great literary work (being the daughter of famous writers), the tumultuous relationship she had with Shelley, a scientific experiment she heard about involving electricity, and later on the deaths and tragedies that marked her life. The book abounds in such details and I’m sure I wouldn’t have found them as interesting had I not read Frankenstein first. It also describes her connection with lord Byron (through her step sister Claire), her strained relationship with Claire, and Byron’s rise to fame as “the first celebrity”. It was a time of travel and friendship, of connections and betrayals, of joy fraught with despair and ever present money problems. It was a time that inspired incredible work, not only from Mary but also from the other writers who took part in Byron’s challenge. A great book I’d love to read again.

My rating: 5/5 stars

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

Let me begin by saying I have never read a book quite like this. The story and the pictures (which I avoided looking at until I started reading so as not to spoil my enjoyment) seemed like the perfect combination to create something special. I loved the first part of the book – the grandfather telling fantastical stories to his young nephew, the incredible and unbelievable details about his life as a young man, his decline and death which started a quest for the truth.

Miss P The main protagonist, sixteen-year-old Jacob persuades his father to accompany him on a trip to a desolate island in the hope of finding the house his grandfather talked about in his stories – the monsters he was trying to keep at bay, the bizarre photographs of children he showed Jacob (the peculiars he called them), the “old bird smoking a pipe” who protected the children. And here the story started to lose its spark for me – it wasn’t the time travel, or the strange children with their otherworldly abilities. I’m not sure if I can even pinpoint what exactly it was that threw me off – perhaps the sudden romance between Jacob and Emma, which I felt didn’t really fit with the overall mood of the story. I wanted to know more about the monsters hunting the children and how the children were able to survive in that endless time loop without losing their minds. I wanted Jacob to find a way to live between the two worlds and I felt the story played up a lot on teenager angst and didn’t explore its dark potential to the fullest. But perhaps the answer is in the sequel, which I’d like to read, just to see how the children managed to live in the present and if their special gifts help or hinder them in their new life.

My rating: 3/5 stars

My R.I.P contributions:

The Unpierced Heart

Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice / Frankenstein – Mary W Shelley

This House is Haunted – John Boyne / Sepulchre – James Herbert

The Quick – Lauren Owen

Deliver Us from Evil – movie review

Dracula Untold – movie review

I also went over to and felt inspired to write some flash fiction:

Night Terror (the beginning)
Untitled vampire story (the middle)

NaNo pic And just like one great event ends, another begins. NaNoWriMo starts in less than two hours and I’ve decided to participate this year as well. If I can manage to stay awake past midnight long enough to get a few hundred words in, that would be great. Last year I had a really great time and wrote a story I really liked, even though The End came a few months later. This year I’ve decided to continue in the same genre, fantasy and horror. What greater way to celebrate Halloween than to write a scary story? I don’t know if the world needs another vampire/wizard story but I know I need to write it. Wish me luck.

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Dracula Untold (2014) – a movie review

Vlad Tepes I must have been in primary school the first time I saw a picture of Vlad Tepes and that was long ago, before the vampire craze. It was a history lesson and I stared at the figure on the page, the aquiline nose, the hooded eyes, the headgear that looked like something between a hat and a crown, the black hair falling in ringlets on his shoulders. I thought he looked fierce, a true defender of our nation, a great leader, a thorn in the side of the Ottoman Empire. He punished his enemies by impaling them on wooden stakes. He was a hero among Romanians long before Stoker made him famous.

Years later when I moved to Thailand people asked me if Dracula was still alive and if he really drank human blood. I resisted the impulse to tell them he was alive and well, resting in his coffin in my basement. He does like to visit, just to spice up his menu, I should have said with a wicked laugh. What I said instead was no, he’s just a legend, dead long time ago. But is he really dead? It very much looks like the movie industry keeps trying to bring him back to life.

hr_Dracula_Untold_2 It’s the 21st century and here he is, resurrected on the screen, given a new name, a new face, and a new haircut – more like Lord Byron than the original ruler of Wallachia from the 15th century. After watching the trailer, I had the impression I’d already seen the whole movie but being a great fan of vampire movies, I couldn’t miss it. To my delight, I was happy to see there were still a few surprises left.

The movie mixes history and fiction into a tale meant to portray Vlad, the Wallachian prince, as a ruler willing to sacrifice himself for his family and country. Vlad had been a political prisoner of the Turks for a few years when he was young, and when a Turkish emissary came asking for a tribute of one thousand boys including his son, it felt like history was repeating itself. Determined to defend his people, Vlad found there was a way to get what he wanted but that came at a heavy price.

I loved the movie. Luke Evans did a great job of portraying the anguish and indecision, and later on determination of Vlad in defending his own. I was particularly interested in the names – Vlad’s wife, Mirena (which sounds a lot like Marina, a Romanian name), his men – Dumitru, Petru, Cazan, Simion, all old-fashioned Romanian names; even Vlad’s son – he was called Ingeras, which in Romanian means “little angel”, although the English pronunciation sounded nothing like its Romanian equivalent. It wasn’t his real name, of course, just like Mirena wasn’t his wife’s real name, but it added a more familiar touch to the story.

If you expect this to be an accurate historical tale, you’ll be disappointed. The history is there but reworked and retold in a seamless way. There are many differences between the real story of Vlad and the way it was depicted in this movie – his wife’s death for instance; the fortress where he and his family sought refuge from the Turks was Cozia monastery in the movie, but while such a place does exist and is indeed quite famous among Romanians, the movie was probably alluding to the palace Vlad had built to serve as a defense point, Poenari. I understand why this name wasn’t used. For once, its pronunciation in English greatly differs from its Romanian name, while Cozia does not. Vlad’s betrayal by his allies was also worked into the story in a way that fit in perfectly – superstitions and later on allegiance to the pack of vampires he had created, both played a role in his near demise but there was also the nod to Bram Stoker’s novel that ultimately saved him from destruction.

Vlad’s reputation as a ruthless killer is the main idea of the story, but while showing a field of impaled corpses might sound gory, I felt the movie wasn’t playing up on the bloody scenes but showed them as a gruesome act done to repel the enemies rather than a thirst for human blood. His transformation into a vampire is shown in beautiful detail without being overdone. I also liked that it was supposed to be gradual and up to some point, reversible, which is something I don’t recall seeing in other vampire movies. The one who gives him that choice, an old vampire portrayed by Charles Dance makes it clear what the consequences are so Vlad is aware of what he has to lose (and gain) if he decides to stay a vampire.

Overall this was a well done vampire movie. The special effects, the colors – gloomy weather, rain – the clothes and background, all contribute to create a version of a story that makes Vlad a more sympathetic character and less of a bloodthirsty driven monster. The open ending leaves room for more to come and I look forward to watching the sequel.
This is a perfect movie to watch for R.I.P., a reading event hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings.

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The Quick – Lauren Owen

Victorian London. An old and crumbling house, two orphan children raised by an elderly aunt. A love story, smothered before it has time to grow, and a terrible secret carefully kept for long years. Vampires.

The Quick James and Charlotte Norbury grow up in the family’s great house. Their mother is dead, their father absent most of the time until he comes home to die of an unknown ailment. Raised by their aunt, they live in her house and they separate when James goes to school and then to London. He’s a writer, and spends his days scribbling poems and working on a play. He meets Christopher Paige and they share rooms together, forming an interesting friendship that later turns into something more. They are vigilant but can’t escape the knowing look of Christopher’s brother, Eustace, who threatens James. Soon after, James and Christopher are attacked by vampires and only James survives. He is taken to the Aegolius, an exclusive club for gentlemen – a dark, decadent building, its inhabitants a curious mix of men, most of them in their youth, but wearing clothes that had gone out of fashion a few generations back. Their purpose is not very clear at first, but as their new leader becomes more interested in his newly acquired powers, their plan begins to take shape.
After their aunt dies, Charlotte is worried by the lack of news from her brother. She goes to London to find him but when she does she will have to resort to all the courage she has in order to bring him home safely. She gets help from a strange crew of people – Arthur Howland, who owes James his life, Adeline and Shadwell, united in their grief, a mutilated vampire, and a band of vampires known as the Alia.

The novel starts slowly and at first focuses on James and Charlotte. Other characters come into the story, their roles more or less defined but all important nevertheless. There’s Mould, whose fascination for research in all things vampire gives him quite the reputation and a nickname: Doctor Knife; Porlock, the woman who takes care of Burke, the mutilated vampire; Treadwell, the lone old servant of the Aegolius; Edmund, the new chairman of the club who has grand plans for an expansion; Liza, the vampire child, apparently the lone survivor of her group.

There are details scattered here and there in the story with no apparent purpose until they begin to shift and connect with one another. Right at the beginning of the story there’s an elaborate description of a room wallpapered with an owl design. I often wondered why the author gave it so much attention but later on in the story it becomes obvious it’s not just because it was pretty. The mystery behind the name of the book is revealed later on, and only after that I realized the blurb at the back refers to the name of the book and not to…something else.

The story is peppered with information about vampires – the un-dead or undid – and while it sticks to some well known facts like their dislike for silver and holy water, it also introduces more unconventional details like being able to walk during the day, drinking alcohol mixed with blood, and being able to feel the cold, despite standing next to a blazing fire.
It was also a very pleasant surprise to see the names of famous writers, poets and characters – Oscar Wilde, Wilkie Collins, Shakespeare, John Donne, Sherlock Holmes.

The ending was quite easy to spot, not at first, but in the last few pages of the book. After all, according to an interview on YouTube, the author is currently working on a sequel and frankly I would like to see what happens to James in the coming book, and how many characters from the first book make a comeback. Also, it would be nice to find out more about his father and the cause of his death. That particular detail is something that’s been nagging at me since the beginning of the story.

lavinia-portrait small This has been an interesting book. I finished it in two days, during which I mostly read and didn’t do much else, holed up in the house in a state of near hibernation. It’s been great to be able to do that and this book was good company and a great choice for this year’s R.I.P, a challenge hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings until the end of October.

My rating: 3.5/ 5 stars

Read in October 2014

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This Hause is Haunted & Sepulchre

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This is the last month of R.I.P. a reading event hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings. Last post was about unusual people. This week is all about unusual houses and those who inhabit them.

This House is Haunted – John Boyne

Eliza Caine lives with her father in London. It’s 1867 and one autumn evening, in spite of his persistent cough, Mr Caine convinces his daughter to go with him and see Charles Dickens read from his work. Not long after that, Eliza’s father dies, his sickness being exacerbated by the bad weather.

This House is Haunted Alone and grieving, Eliza decides it’s time for a change. She accepts to work as a governess at Gaudlin Hall, an estate in Norfolk where she has to take care of two young children, Eustace and Isabella, who live in a great house in need of repair. The children’s parents are nowhere to be found, and it takes a while before Eliza finds out the truth from the family’s lawyer, Mr Raisin. It’s a process accomplished in stages, and as more clues point to the right answers, Eliza is convinced somebody in the house is trying to kill her, just like it killed the governesses before her, all except one. She doesn’t know who it might be, but it’s obvious she’s not welcome to stay – great gusts of wind, invisible hands that push her from behind, cold water that turns hot, and that’s not all. But why would someone go to such lengths to get rid of all the governesses at Gaudlin Hall? What secret lies entombed in the great house? And why do the children keep saying they’re not allowed to leave?

The similarities to Jane Eyre abound – the unattractive young governess, alone in the world, coming to take care of children, unexplainable events meant to frighten her away, a handsome man Eliza begins to have feelings for and a few other clues that are best savored fresh. The language is a shade more modern but still striving to stay true to the time period. A good book, not as sinister as I’d hoped, and a little predictable at times, but quite enjoyable nevertheless.

My rating: 4/5 stars

Sepulchre – James Herbert

After reading The Rats recently, I couldn’t resist buying this when I saw it at the bookstore.
The Sepulchre is a mystery with a lot of creepy thrown in, which is just the way I like it. It’s a fun book, a page turner that mixes bits of religion and history into an otherwise modern day story.

Sepulchre Halloran is a bodyguard hired to protect a man named Felix Kline. Just how important Kline is to the company that hired Halloran is very clear, though the reasons are kept a secret at first. Kline knows his life is not safe, although he doesn’t know who might want to harm him. The only place he feels safe is Neath, an old house in a secluded area, and he decides that’s where he’ll spend the weekend, and Halloran has no choice but to follow him.

An old house with a lake nearby – a place far from prying eyes might seem like the perfect place to hide. But the lake is populated by strange creatures yearning to get out, there’s a pack of jackals roaming the grounds, there are locked doors and subterranean passages, and a lodge where the keeper lives, even though nobody has seen him. Before long Halloran finds out the enemy is not far away but as he begins to suspect Kline’s entourage and business partners, he finds out it’s not men with guns he has to protect his client from but something much more sinister. Everybody is a suspect: Monk, his bodyguard, the two Arabs catering to Kline’s every wish, his Polish driver with a peculiar taste for certain food, even his young assistant, Cora.

Herbert gives a lot of background detail about the lives of these characters and lets the reader know exactly how everybody came to work for Kline. That’s the part I enjoyed the most. As their background is revealed, the reader can get an idea of what kind a man Kline really is. His changing moods, his persuasive powers, his hypnotic voice, make him a formidable adversary but Halloran is more than a match.
Halloran is a mysterious character himself – there are glimpses of his childhood throughout the book but they only made me wonder even more about the man. An interesting fact – in Stephen King’s The Shining, there’s also a character called Hallorann, and both of them are fighting on the side of good.
An entertaining story and an easy read, this definitely won’t be my last James Herbert book.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Read in September, 2014

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R.I.P. – Interview with the Vampire & Frankenstein

RIP 9 badge This September I’ve read four books for the R.I.P challenge, one of my favorite events of the year hosted by Carl@stainlesssteeldroppings. I’m still working on the reviews for the other two – This House is Haunted, by John Boyne and Sepulchre by James Herbert, hopefully to be ready sometime next week. In the meantime, here are my thoughts on two famous classics.

Interview with the Vampire – Anne Rice

This has been on my TBR list for a really long time. I was saving it for this challenge, but was a little afraid that it might not be as good as I hoped it would. Having watched the movie years ago (it was probably the first time I noticed Brad Pitt), I felt the book didn’t have a lot of new things to offer. I’m so glad to have been proven wrong.

One thing I wasn’t prepared for is how rich the language is, how with only a few words the author can convey a feeling, and how that translates so much better in writing than on screen.

IV 3 The story begins with Louis, a vampire, being interviewed by “a boy”. In the space of one night, Louis recounts his life, how he was made a vampire, and what followed after that.
Louis was twenty-five and living in Louisiana at the end of the eighteen century. His life as a human ended when Lestat, an old (in age only, not in appearance) and experienced vampire decided to make him immortal. Through constant manipulation, he was able to keep Louis with him and by giving him a vampire child, Lavinia, he created the illusion of a family. But Lavinia, trapped in a child’s body for years on end did something that upset the precarious balance of their life together.

Lestat and Louis are two very different types of vampire – while the older one is selfish, ruthless and given to sudden moods, the younger has an analytical mind and is constantly tormented by his conscience. His need to understand what he is, his disdain for his own immortality, his newfound appreciation for the briefness of human life set him apart from Lestat. When he meets other vampires, after years of searching, he discovers they are not actually what he hoped they would be, with the exception of Armand, who seemed to be the kind of companion Louis was looking for.

What makes the story unique is the introspection of its characters. Both Louis and Lavinia are capable of analyzing their existence, of trying to see past the terrifying idea of being a vampire, of wanting more out of their life. They want answers, they want to understand their nature and its mysterious powers. It is what sets them apart from Lestat who only seems concerned with manipulating them for his own interest.

This book was a great surprise. Not only did it show an unexpected facet of the complex life of a vampire, but its array of powerful emotions made it so much more than just a vampire story. It questions immortality, love, sexuality, the meaning of life and what makes one human. I have read other books from the Vampire Chronicles but I don’t remember being as moved by them as I was by this. It makes me want to read the whole series (of which this is the first book) in order. I want to find out what happened to Louis and what made Lestat such a detestable character. And to make things even more exciting, there’s a new book coming out next month – Prince Lestat. A perfect little gem to add to my TBR list.

My rating: 5/5 stars

Frankenstein – Mary W. Shelley

Frankenstein, like Interview with the Vampire, was one of those books that I told myself I would read “one day”. That day came when I downloaded a copy from projectguttenberg and started reading it on my tablet. I do not know if it was the fact that I was reading from a screen – although I find my experience is greatly influenced as much by the book itself as by the writing within its pages – but I managed to read most of it in a day when power was out for a few hours and I could spend time reading without the constant temptation of social media.
When I read from a screen, the words fly. Somehow my brain focuses less on the words and more on getting to the next page. I don’t know why, but with a physical book I can concentrate on the words more closely, I feel the object in itself is a tangible thing, whereas the electronic format is stripped of that emotional charge and therefore more difficult to absorb.

Fr In spite of this disadvantage, there were a few pleasant surprises – the beginning of the story, for instance. I knew the general idea behind the story of Frankenstein – a human given life by scientist Victor Frankenstein, an experiment which went terribly wrong, not necessarily because of its completion but because neither the creator nor the created were prepared for the consequences of that act. I was not familiar with how Frankenstein came to tell his story and I’m glad that was a surprise; I will not reveal it, because if any of the readers of this blog plan to read the book, it’s better left unspoiled.

I found myself intrigued by the dilemma behind this extraordinary experiment – is the creator responsible for his creation, especially when that creation is a living, breathing creature? Or is he (or she) exempt from responsibility once the act of creation is completed? To make a parallel with Interview with the Vampire, wasn’t Lestat also responsible for Louis and Lavinia? Was it not his duty to educate them about the kind of beings they were turned into? But Victor Frankenstein, like Lestat, chose to ignore that responsibility and tragedy soon followed.

Even though his creation is called “monster”, it was difficult to condemn a man whose only wish was to live among people and experience compassion, friendship, love. His efforts to adapt to such a world were catastrophic – without guidance and no friend to lean on, he was constantly judged by his terrible looks and impressive stature, and wherever he went he inspired either fear or extreme anger. I pitied him and thought his maker could and should have guided him in the strange new world he suddenly found himself living in.

With no memory of life before the moment he woke up in the scientist’s lab, the “monster” was exposed to an environment he knew nothing about. Through observation and self-education he managed to understand the harsh reality, even teaching himself to speak and read, and could also present a compelling argument in a conversation, but his sheer size and general appearance rendered his efforts useless. Would he have been able to live a better life had Victor Frankenstein listened to his plea and made him a female companion? Would he have kept his promise of living in seclusion, far from the world of men, not harming anyone ever again? Or would the scientist’s fear of giving life to two such extraordinary creatures have been proven true?

Frankenstein’s creation brings up another question – can a man capable of showing emotions and intelligence but having a disturbing appearance live a semblance of a normal life among other people? Or is he forever condemned to be judged by his looks alone before he can even open his mouth? In a world obsessed with beauty I find this question more poignant than ever.
I felt empathy towards Frankenstein’s “monster”. Even this label – monster – makes me cringe, as I do not see him as such, but as a human brought back to life and thrown out into the world to survive on his own. His actions were terrible and tragic, and yet I couldn’t but blame Frankenstein for his blindness, for even if he was a learned man and a scientist, he lacked one of humanity’s most basic emotions – compassion.

My rating: 4/5 stars

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Flash fiction challenge – finishing the story

This week’s challenge at terribleminds is to finish someone else’s story in 500 words. So here it is:

The Shrine

(beginning by Doom and Gloom in Austin)

I don’t know why I have come back to this place. The old two-story building before me has never been a home in any sense of the word. It was more of a monument of suffering; a temple of affliction with my father as the high priest. There isn’t a room in this place that hasn’t been decorated with my blood at one point or another.
Now he’s gone and this house stands as the last testament to his brutality. So, why am I here? To find any shred of decency and happiness within and rescue it? Not likely. That all died with my mother when I was still an infant. What, then? Maybe to get one last look around before I sell it off? Or maybe, just maybe…to destroy this place.

I push the thoughts of setting the house ablaze aside and make my way up the steps to the porch. My hand grows ice cold with dread as I reach for the doorknob. It turns with a metallic grind and I push the door open. The smell of age and dust and stale cigarette smoke hits me in the face. My stomach lurches a bit with childhood panic. My skin prickles in remembrance of each and every cigarette burn mark given to me.

I slowly walk in and look around. Other than a thin layer of dust, nothing has changed in this place in 15 years. Every piece of furniture, every picture, every memento is exactly where it was when I was a child. Even the bloodstain on the rug in front of the fireplace is still where I last left it; black with age. I couldn’t say what I supposedly did or didn’t do to ‘earn’ that particular beating. They all ran together like a flipbook of pain. Each beating was partnered with the threat of much, much worse if I ever told anyone.
No, I still don’t know why I have come back to this place. It’s serving as nothing but a bruising reminder of my past. This place was filled with nothing but rage and fear and, in all the years, I never knew why.
Perhaps it’s best that this place and the past it harbors should be brought to the ground and removed from the world. Just blow out the pilot lights on the stove and let the place fill with gas. One spark and this place is consigned to Hell.

My footsteps carry me through the rest of the living room and into the dining room. Like the living room, nothing has changed here. The familiar setting brings forth the past in my mind once more. I shove aside the fresh wave of memories and continue to the door that leads to the kitchen.
Pushing it open, I stop short. Within the center of an otherwise unchanged kitchen is a large, round hole. Cautiously, I approach the edge and look down into the void.

Middle part by almosthuman1blog

The rhythm of ragged breath stutters as the sides of the hole undulate before me. Heat oozes over the jagged edges and pool around my feet, grasp at my knees. The kitchen swims around me and I begin to lose my balance. A hand grips my shoulder, pulls me from the edge. I am too frightened to turn. I slide to my knees, hands grasping the edge of the pit. I almost allow myself to topple forward into the gaping hole, but I pause. Anger grows inside me and I stand, the hand still pulling at my shoulder, and I allow myself to turn.

“Jacob.” It was him. My father, long and thankfully dead, stands before me, hand on my shoulder, smiling in my face as though nothing but love had ever passed between the two of us.
“It’s been a long time, my son. Too long.”
My tone is curt, cut short intentionally for fear if I allow myself to speak freely, I would unleash years of anguish, terror and pain in a single gasp and our conversation would end. Despite this man’s horrific actions toward me in the past, I want to hear what he has to say. I need it. I crave it.
“I was wondering when you would come back here, Jacob.”
I allow myself to be led to the dining room where my father pulls out a chair for me.
“Please,” he says. “Sit.”
I, as always, do as I am told. Now the old man places both his hands upon my shoulders, squeezing, patting as if he were making sure I am real. He exhales and mumbles something about how good it is to see me here. The room begins to smell of death and the heat from that hole in the kitchen roils its way into the dining room.
“I suppose you have some things you would like to discuss. About the past?”
“Yes,” I say forcefully, surprising myself. “I do.”
I feel the floor rumble. Hear floorboards crack. I turn to face the old man, but he turns away too quickly for me to catch his eyes. It seems his flesh leaves a smear in the air as he steps away from me.
“Your mother and I missed you. You realize that, don’t you? She was always so fond of you. She got so angry when you left.”
My skin begins to flush. Sweat pops up in beads on the backs of my hands. Whether it was anger or the rapidly increasing temperature in the room, I couldn’t tell.
“My mother died,” I shake my head, sweat dribbling into my eyes.
“I had to leave. I had to make your abuse stop. I had to protect myself. I had to leave.”
I begin to feel sick. Father whips around and slams his open palms down on the table before me. His eyes burn red and his flesh drips from his face.
“What if I told you your mother never died?”

The end (my contribution)

“You lie”.
He looks at me, a smile curving his lips.
“Am I? Have you seen her body?”
“I was too young, you know that.”

My mother had died when I was just a few months old. A series of women had taken care of me, my father’s girlfriends, a long line of them, each driven away by the man’s sadistic nature, his violent ways, his drunkenness.
He sits down heavily, facing me, his hands leaving shiny trails, like a snail’s, on the dusty table. I stare at him, revulsion and anger mixed inside me. I very much want to hit the man but I try not to. I don’t want to be like him. I clench my hands under the table.
“Your mother was always here with me until the day you left.”

I stare at the man, and my brain refuses to accept what he just said. I close my eyes and see Janice, my mother’s sister, holding my hand, leading me towards my mother’s grave – a simple stone engraving with her name. That grave was all that was left of my mother.
“She always tried to protect you, you know.”
He stands up, and a piece of flesh from his right hand remains behind on the table. I stare at it, repelled but unable to look away.
“Pushing me away, hiding my belt, making me trip on the stairs. The more she tried the more I wanted to hurt you. And her.”

The heat had plastered my hair to my forehead and the shirt to my back. “If that is Hell”, I think looking towards the hole in the floor, “if that’s where he came from, I hope he roasts in there forever.”
I stand up. My voice comes out hoarse, my throat parched. I need a drink but I’d sworn off alcohol a year ago. It was easier to control my anger if I was sober.
“I don’t believe you.”
“Why are you here?”
“How is that even possible?”

He turns to face me for a moment, his cheeks drooping. He has no eyebrows and no eyelashes, and the eyes look large and shiny, almost popping out of his face.
“One night a year…” his voice feels like sandpaper rubbed over my skin.
“…I can come back.”
I wait but he says nothing.
“Why? What do you want?”
He comes closer and I involuntarily take a step back. Waves of putrid smell emanate from him, making my eyes sting. He spreads his hands as if giving me a hug. His lips peel back and for a moment I think he is going to tear a chunk out of me.
“Why, can’t a man talk to his own son?”
Suddenly, I want no more of it. I run to the door and yank it open, stumble across the hallway and almost make it to the front door before I feel his hands grabbing me from behind, dragging me back to the stinking heat of that hole.

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Flash fiction challenge – Night Terror (middle of the story written by Dave)

A couple of weeks ago I took part in a flash fiction challenge hosted at terribleminds. I wrote the first part of a story. Somebody else was supposed to finish it. In the meantime rules got changed and the next person had to write the middle part instead of the end. Here’s my beginning, followed by Dave’s middle part. Next week we should know how the story ends. In case rules don’t change again, that is.

Night Terror – Part I (the beginning, by Delia)

The noise came again, and this time there could be no mistake: somebody was in the house. Worse, somebody was in my bedroom. I strained to hear, holding my breath, hoping that what I heard was just something from outside on the street, a drunk perhaps, a stray dog going through the garbage bins, but no. It was faint but unmistakably closer. I squeezed my eyes shut and opened them again, trying to see in the dark without moving. It was there, a scratching sound on the wooden floor, like something scrabbling frantically in the same spot. Perhaps a rat, I thought as I lay, face up, cursing silently the fact that I stayed up late, trying to finish that damn book – the one with rats on the cover. No wonder I was imagining things.

The noise had stopped and nothing else could be heard, except for the occasional car going down the street but even that faded away and the fear began to loosen its grip on me. My eyes grew heavy, my body relaxed. Then it came again, closer, the scratching, and in my mind I saw a huge rat, as big as a cat, its teeth sharp and hungry for meat, the beady eyes glistening in the dark. I considered my options. Option one, pretend nothing happened, it was a nightmare (a persistent one at that) and try to go back to sleep. Option two, stretch out my hand over to the nightstand and turn on the light. Perhaps it was a small mouse and the light will frighten it. Or perhaps the light would scare it right into my bed.
I began to shiver under the blanket. I tried to move my hand as quietly as possible but the thing must have heard me and it stopped. I breathed slowly, trying to give myself courage. Now this is truly stupid, there is no rat, it was all in my head. I shifted slightly to the left, reaching out with my hand.

The noise began again, and this time it was so close it made my skin crawl and my heart beat like a war drum. It must be under the bed now, whatever it was. Perhaps I could use my pillow, swat it away. Or my tube of hair spray, or the chunky volume of ghost stories. All on my nightstand, if I could just reach over and turn on that light.
I inched closer, my fingers stretched to find the switch of the reading lamp. I knocked over an empty glass, and it tumbled to the floor, rolling, before coming to an abrupt stop. I cursed silently, and in the next instant I heard the scratching on the floor, followed by a soft thud. It was on the bed now, whatever it was. I bit my lip and swallowed the scream that threatened to spill out; I felt the blanket slipping from my body, slowly, cold air on my skin, my blood turning to ice…

Part II (middle of the story, by Dave)

Suddenly a giggle and a look of confusion washed over my face. It giggled again as it crawled closer to my face. Fumbling for the light and twisting the switch, I turned back into the face of a child.

The little boy smiled, “found you!” he squealed.

Her heart was still racing but the fear had all but disappeared. It wasn’t a woman eating rat a child, who wasn’t hers, right in front of her as if it was no big deal.

“Hi there little guy. How’d you get in here?” she asked in as soothing high pitch voice as she could muster.

“Mommy said I should go play hide and seek. So that’s what I did. I found you. You weren’t really hiding very well.”

I tried to recall who in the building had a child but nobody came to mind. Recovering and throwing a big smile, I asked where mommy was.

“She’s at home.” he replied as he sat on the bed, crossing his legs as if he’s ready for a story.

“Where’s that?”

“Hmm, I don’t know. At school we are learning where we live to help us.”

Great she thought. This kids probably 5 or so, doesn’t know where he lives and somehow got into my locked apartment.

“Well, why don’t we go into the kitchen and get something to eat. We can figure out where you live and take you home. Does that sound good?”

“Yeah, I guess. But mommy said to stay out until the sun comes up. And the sun isn’t up yet.”

She started moving off the bed, reaching for her robe and the boy followed. Walking down the hallway she finally asked the odd question.

“That’s a long time from now. Why did she want you to stay out so long?”

“She always says I should go explore at night. Because I feel better when I do. She’s right. I don’t feel good when the sun is up. Mommy says it’s a condition I have. I don’t remember what it is but she told me. I know she did.”

“How does some cereal sound?”

“Does it have marshmallows?” his face brightening.

“Sorry, no marshmallows.”

“Aww, man.” he said with defeat.

“But it’s got sugar” trying to cheer him back up.

“I guess. It’s not as good without the marshmallows.”

“Yeah, I agree”

They sat at her small table, the boy scarfing down the cereal and sipped some tea herself. He was pumping his legs back and forth while humming and chewing.

She started asking a series of questions that he might be able to answer, helping her narrow down where he lived.

“Do you live in this building?”


“One nearby?”


“Where do you live?”

“In the woods”

The woods she thought? She lived in the heart of a small town, the woods are a few miles away. Something wasn’t right and she went to grab the phone, something she should have done minutes ago.

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Flash fiction challenge – finishing somebody else’s story, sort of

Last week’s challenge over at terribleminds was to finish a story begun by somebody else. But this week Chuck’s gone and changed the rules, saying that this had to be the middle part of the story and not the end. On top of that, the limit is 500 words. Well, I have no problem with the first rule, as the story can be continued after my contribution (and I even have an idea about how to keep going) but I’m going to break the second rule and write more than the allowed number of words. So here’s the first part, courtesy of Kriti.


It was a dark and stormy night, the night that I was born. My mother gave birth without help because the villagers thought her cursed and dangerous. My father was absent, as always when the moon was dark.
Next day as she slept, my father’s servant came and slipped a bag of gold and jewels beneath her pillow; it wasn’t a gift from my father, but Renwick had a soft heart and had been fond of my mother. He also left a note, I still have it. It simply says that my father had left for England and that he might see me when he returned, but he never came back. He came to a bad end near Whitby; the English having proved to be less cowardly than the good folk of Transylvania.
As soon as she could get out of bed my mother slipped away, with me wrapped close to her body. She travelled east because her people came from beyond the mountains. I think her people were gypsies because she was a raven-haired beauty with a fiery temper. We never found her family, but I don’t think we’d have been welcome anyway.
The years of my childhood were years of constant travel; we’d stay a few months somewhere, my mother would prostitute herself to make money and sometimes she would sell a jewel. She never stayed long anywhere because she knew I would eventually give us away. I had my father’s taste for blood and I would scream constantly until my needs were met.
When I was about ten years old we met an elderly monk travelling the same hills as us. We camped together and he talked all night with my mother. The next day instead of heading to the large town in the valley we accompanied the monk on his journey home.
At his monastery I was drugged and bound while my mother sobbed. When I awoke my mouth was pure agony. My lips were swollen and I had no teeth.
The monk came to see me.
‘Your poor mother has suffered long for her sins. We have taken you so that she can be free to live with ordinary people. You will not see her again; however we will love and care for you. We will teach you how to live a good life.’
The first years were terrible. The monks’ diet was vegetarian, but it did me no good to scream or threaten. They would smile, pray and put me in solitary confinement for a day or two. The same cycle would repeat until I was willing to eat their food. I still do not like rice but I learned that it fills the belly. Discipline was strict but they didn’t make me take part in their worship, instead I was allowed to read or draw. Some months later, as they knew I would, I asked to join them in the temple. I began to be a Buddhist.
A life of tranquil peace and study was mine until the day the armies came.

********************** My contribution***************************

One morning, the field in front of the temple was empty, the next, it was black with soldiers, some on horseback, most of them walking, the noise of their armor piercing the quiet like sharp spears driven through the flesh.
The monks gathered in the meditation area, a room without walls, the roof supported by great pillars of stone, unadorned. No one knew who the armies belonged to and no one seemed to concern themselves with that.

‘We cannot interfere, the monks told me, but we will take care of the wounded after the battle is over.’

I nodded my assent, but inside my blood stirred, and for the first time in months I felt the pangs of a familiar hunger.
The battle began the same day, and I watched from my small room as the field was soaked in the blood of the fallen and the air carried the shouts of the dying to my window; I grew restless, like a caged animal.
Visions of blood greeted my mornings and haunted my dreams at night. And for the first time since the day my mother left, my teeth began to grow again. White, strong teeth, the incisors sharp and long, and I drew blood every time I ran my tongue over them. And with them came pain, and I didn’t know which was worse, my teeth growing or my unnatural hunger.

The monks saw, and wanted to restrain me, but the head monk didn’t let them.
‘Now is the time, he said, when temptation is hardest. You must fight this, for if you give in, all is lost. Think of all these years you lived here with us, of the quiet life you have, of what you have accomplished.’
I didn’t say anything. He didn’t know how hard it was to live like this, didn’t know how close I’d come to losing my mind that day when one of the monks had cut himself with a kitchen knife while cooking. I can still see the bright red blood on the blade, and the smell nearly drove me insane. The monk saw me and turned away quickly. No one would turn away now, the field was red with blood day after day.

Then the nightmares came. A dark figure cloaked in black, with fiery red eyes staring at me. He would point to the field outside my window and say, ‘Drink, my son, this is for you.’ But he was dead, wasn’t he? Renwick had written to my mother years ago of his death and I had accepted it, although I sometimes wondered what kind of man my father was and why my mother never spoke of him.
I tried to forget about it and spent my days and nights avoiding sleep, hunched over ancient books and even more ancient scrolls in the library. The candle light threw a sickly yellow shade on the texts, and for small stretches of time I was able to forget about my hunger, although the pain still beat a rhythm in my head. The food had no taste for me anymore. The monks’ rice and boiled vegetables were tasteless anyway, and the one spice we were permitted, salt, made me thirsty beyond belief.

Then one night I went out to the fields. The battle had been more vicious that day, and corpses littered the ground. Flies were already at work on the bodies, and I could hear their buzz and see them crawling in the faint moonlight. I drank in the rich coppery smell of blood, and felt it coursing through my body. For a moment, a spell of dizziness came upon me and I swayed on my feet. It passed.
I touched one of the dead. He was still warm but lifeless, a deep gash in his neck already black with flies. I turned away in disgust and breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe I had learned to control my hunger, I thought. Maybe the years spent among the monks have finally paid off. As I turned to leave, movement caught my eye – a white sleeve, a small hand. I turned and walked towards it, and waves of hunger crashed over me with each and every step. It was a woman in a white dress stained with blood, and she was crying over one of the fallen, a hand on his bearded face. She didn’t see me as I came from behind and wrapped my hands around her slender neck.

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Deliver Us from Evil (2014) – movie review

Deliver us from evil Demons. Possession. Exorcism. Death. Faith or lack thereof. Just a few words that would be perfect to describe this movie. A New York police officer (Eric Bana) and his partner (Joel McHale) become entangled in a series of weird cases. They are helped by a Catholic priest (Edgar Ramirez) to get to the source of the evil that seems to connect the cases they’re working on.

I’ve been waiting for this movie, thinking it would be perfect for R.I.P.. I even bought a ticket for seat number 13. The left armrest was broken, and halfway through the movie the white cloth on the headrest two chairs over flapped gently in the breeze of the air-conditioning. There was one other person sitting at the end of the row, far away from me, so that was a bit ghost-like. It made me smile.

The movie itself is neither better nor worse than your average horror movie. It even has a couple of funny moments, but what I found the most interesting was the reference to a song by The Doors, which played an important part in the overall plot of the movie. The imagery was disturbing and quite well done, still, I found sounds and half covered faces a lot more sinister than the blood.
I liked that the exorcism scene wasn’t over the top, like the one they filmed in jail, where a demon had taken over the body of a woman. That was a bit too overdone and it lost some of the creepy potential. The contorted face and noises almost made me laugh. This one, however, was just enough to get the point across and quite convincing.
Another bonus point goes to the characters played by Ramirez and Bana – the priest has his sins, and so does the cop, and in confessing them they are stripped of the aura of perfection. They might be heroes, but they are flawed nevertheless.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, there are scratching noises on the floor and under the bed, and considering I’ve seen this movie the day after writing the beginning of a story with plenty of scratching noises, I try to tell myself that this is just a silly coincidence.
Overall, this is a good movie. Definitely not as grim as Silent Hill for example, but with a mix of elements that work well together. As for the horror factor, it falls somewhat in the middle. Not too soft but not that scary either.

My rating: 7/10

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