Anna Byrne: Prologue – Curiosities in the Loft

Categories
Indie Horror NA Short Horror Stories

THUD … What the hell was that noise… My eyes were still heavy with sleep but my heart was pounding from being yanked from my otherwise undisturbed dreams. THUD … there it was again, someone was in my den. I hope it’s not… ahhh shit, I need to get up and check. I gently pulled the sheets back trying not to disturb Clara who was still deeply asleep. Good, I think, as I didn’t want to have to explain what might be in my office that late at night. I needed to take care of the source of the disturbance before her sleep was unduly interrupted. My feet found the ice-cold floor to my dismay, the farmhouse wood flooring did nothing to hold in the heat–it was January in Alaska after all, once the fire in the wood-stove died down the heat sapped out of the cracks of our home quickly; I slid into my woolen slippers and pulled my Remington out from between to my side of the bed and my side-table. It seemed as if the entirety of this old house was composed of creaking floors and dry whining hinges, but after so many late-night trips back to bed after getting sidetracked in my den, I felt as if I were able to expertly navigate through without causing too much of a fuss. Even though I had memorized my path through this dark and groaning structure, I breathed easier knowing that the bedroom door was already open.

When I crossed the kitchen, I saw the flickering light that filtered out from underneath the door to my office door—someone was in there, I was sure now—that wasn’t good. I pumped a round into the chamber as quietly as I was able, took a deep breath and eased open the door. An awful, high pitched cry wailed from the cold metal hinges as they rotated against the door-pin. I heard a small yelp, my heartbeat caught in my throat and I quickly realized that the supposed intruder was my sweet, curious, and precocious eight-year-old daughter, Anna, sitting at the bottom of the stairs that led up to my loft.

“Anna!” I felt her name burst forth in a stern whisper and I dropped the shotgun safely to my side.

“Yeah, Da’?” her reply embodied her youthful timid guilt.

“What are you doing in my den at, what time is it—” my eyes shifted to the antique grandfather clock in the corner of my den, “—3 am?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” she looked down at the fraying old tome that weighed down her petite arms, “I wanted to read one of your cool old books.”

“Anna, my lamb, I told you those books are not for children. I believe I have also told you on more than one occasion that some books in particular, need to be cared for and studied before they can be read—and that furthermore, some are simply too dangerous to read at all.” I wanted to be angry that she had gone through my cabinets—my locked cabinets—that lined the walls of my study. I felt my mouth fall slack, “how did ye’ even get the lock open on that cabinet?”

“—but Da’ it’s just a book,” she ignored my question and proceeded to whine, “can’t I just read a bit of this one?” She struggled to hold the worn leather book up to show me until my eyes focused on the faded lettering, The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, I had been simply disconcerted—but when I saw the title I promptly snatched the book from her innocent little hands.

“Anna, this is no regular book, this one can be incredibly harmful to you, me, and mum, don’t you understand?” My little red-headed child crumpled into a ball on the floor after she relented the book, “now back to bed ye’ wee scamp,” then I saw her face scrunch into a grimace. I had been calling her that her entire life, but recently it seemed as if she no longer found it amusing. I knew I would have to tell her the truth eventually, her curiosity could lead her to nose into things that would get her into serious danger, but … not tonight. Until I could be certain that I would no longer be able to keep them safe, I would much prefer that they remain blissfully ignorant to the world that lurked behind the cryptic, evil words that the books held hostage—a world where they as of yet, were not experienced.

Anna scurried back to her room, scorned and annoyed; I wished for a moment that I could help her to understand why, but it was for her own good. I stopped at the wood-stove and opened it to find that the last log was near to embers and wave of immense heat escaped, to my delight, in waves over my chilled bones. I tossed a few logs into the iron belly of the stove and poked at the red-hot coals until a flame overtook the dried birch logs then, at last, I returned to bed where Clara was still sound asleep. I sat down, deep in contemplation, where I returned the shotgun to its resting spot next to me; I knew I would need to have a long chat with Anna soon, it was something that I deeply feared, but her future would be precarious if she were not prepared for this ever-expanding supernatural plot that lay before my family.

California’s Haunted Lighthouses

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Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore NA

Lighthouses are a common fixture in the world of horror, and there are many reasons why. Perhaps it’s the eerie crashing of the waves, or dim light that may or may not bring lost ships to safety. But there’s one aspect that definitely plays a part in the horror of lighthouses – the real-world fear of loneliness. Lighthouse keepers often choose to live in solitude, spending their days alone as they save ships from danger and witness horrific shipwrecks. It’s very common for lighthouse keepers to die alone in their chamber of solitude, and continuously haunt the area for years to come. This is the case with some of the most haunted lighthouses in California, which combine the common fears of the sea, lost spirits, and abandonment for a true horror story. Here are the top haunted lighthouses in California that you need to know….

Point Sur Haunted Lighthouse

Point Sur Haunted Lighthouse

Location: Monterey, CA

Nestled on the rocky coastline between Carmel and Big Sur, this lighthouse isn’t just one of the most haunted in California, but the entire country. That being said, you’d never know just by looking at it. It’s perched on a volcanic rock with a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean, on a beach that’s more serene than spooky. It’s when you get close enough that you realize it’s haunted by the souls of all those who perished in shipwrecks near the shore. And even the families who lived here in harmony, and simply wish to return as spirits and enjoy the breathtaking ocean views. Many ghosts have been sighted throughout the years, but one of the most famous is a tall man in dark blue, 19th century attire – and you’re guaranteed to hear about him when you take a guided tour of Point Sur State Historic Park.

Battery Point Haunted Lighthouse

Battery Point Haunted Lighthouse

Location: Crescent City

Believe it or not, you can actually apply to work as a keeper at Battery Point Lighthouse. You’ll work on a one-month rotation, help upkeep the museum, and keep the ghosts at bay! Okay, maybe not. But there has been some extreme paranormal activity inside this red-bricked building. People have heard footsteps on the tower stairs during storms, slippers have moved in the middle of the night with no explanation, and strange smells of cigars are a common occurrence at the Battery Point Lighthouse, even more than 100 years after it was built. Visit the museum and learn more about the haunted history of this lighthouse!

Point Piños Haunted Lighthouse

Point Piños Haunted Lighthouse

Location: Pacific Grove, CA

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that the Point Piños Lighthouse was just a cute little house… not a haunted institution. Can’t it be both? It’s still in use today as a way to warn ships of upcoming rocks and dangers, and also has museums and exhibits on the grounds. Many apparitions have been seen throughout the years, but one of the most popular spirits is that of Emily Fish, the “socialite lighthouse keeper.” She served as a keeper from 1893 to 1914, and it was quite rare at the time for women to hold such a position. She did a great job upkeeping the grounds and keeping the lighthouse in top shape, and as it turns out… she does the same thing in death. Fish is frequently seen hanging out around the lighthouse and keeping things running!

Alcatraz Island Haunted Lighthouse

Alcatraz Island Haunted Lighthouse

Location: San Francisco, CA

There’s a very good chance that you’ve heard of Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay, and the prison that once housed some of the worst criminals in America. It’s hard not to be consumed by evil when you’re surrounded by murderers and thieves – many of whom were killed by other inmates or while trying to escape “The Rock.” Many of these bad vibes can also be felt in the lighthouse, which has been out of service for decades. Take a cruise to Alcatraz and discover why the island, and its lighthouse, are considered to be some of the most haunted places in California.

Introducing Stephen Brown, Author of – “Pray Cathal” and “Kill The Wolf”

Categories
Horror Books Indie Horror NA

Puzzle Box Horror’s first interview with dynamic writer Stephen Brown. From existential space horror to musical werewolf movies we are pleased to introduce Stephen Brown.

First, tell me a bit about yourself and what got you into writing, is Pray Cathal your first novel?

I am from the North East of England and live with my wife and three daughters. I have wanted to write for as long as I can remember. My mother bought me a typewriter for my 8th birthday and I began putting the ghost stories my sisters told me onto paper.  When they ran out I started making my own.. Hopefully, I have improved since then. My interest in horror was something also shared with my Father who let me pick films from the local video store.  This is how I saw the likes of the Evil Dead, The Thing and more obscure films like C.H.U.D and Xtro. Pray Cathal is my first novel.  I am currently writing a sequel as well as working on a couple of unrelated projects. 

Author Stephen Brown's Pray Cathal Book Cover

Pray Cathal has some interesting crossovers in it from outer space to seemingly zombified earth. What inspired that?

It’s more about the big questions like why and how we are here, it tackles religion and our perception of humanity. Basically saying we had everything wrong and are about to be punished for not figuring anything out. Where we are more flesh than soul our overseers are more soul than flesh so once they infect the soul within, what people become is more twisted than zombies,  it transforms people into manifestations of their darkest desires.  So fueled by greed and hunger that they want nothing more than to infect the rest of the world. It was inspired by my own beliefs that if we could just admit we don’t know why we’re here or how then we could start to move on as a species.

What were some of the biggest challenges writing Pray Cathal?

As it neared completion the computer I was writing it on crashed and the disk became unreadable.  I holed up in the bedroom for weeks with a word processor (bought by my Wife’s Grandparents) trying to write as much from memory as I could.  Overall I think it benefited from it but there was a time there when I wanted to tear every hair out of my head. Other than that I had a number of endings but think I chose the best one.

Where can I get Pray Cathal?

It’s available in hard copy and digital from Amazon

Tell me about “‘Kill The Wolf” which is a musical werewolf slasher movie? How did this combination come to be?

The main character came first.  I really liked the idea of a singer held back by his own curse. With all the ability to be a star but under the shadow of what he is.

“‘Kill The Wolf” has it all – conspiracy, mystery, werewolves, and cults – Is this a plot you developed alone or are you working with the producers of the movie?

The plot was developed while trying to come up with something we could do ourselves. Trying to use the people around us and the limited resource we have and still make something we would all want to see.

In “Kill The Wolf” will there be singing mixed into the action? If so who is writing the score and songs? Are you collaborating on lyrics?

The singer keeps the beast at bay with song, music literally taming the savage beast.  He sings to stop himself changing so the music is often the calm before the storm or the soundtrack to reign it in.I have written the songs for it and came up with the melodies but have someone else doing the music. Heavily influenced by Nick Cave, Tom Waits and the Tindersticks.  He needs poking with a stick every now and then but it should all come together.  Obviously in the present climate everything is a bit up in the air..

I’m going to guess you are a horror fan so hit me with your recent recommendations for horror films to watch and anything you think is worth reading right now?

Of the new horror films I’ve seen I really Liked Vivarium,  The Platform, and The Color out of space.  When I get time to read I’ve been enjoying the Crossed graphic novels and “If it Bleeds” by Stephen King.  I just finished the “Boatman’s Daughter” by Andy Davidson which I would definitely recommend and “Here in the Poison Garden” by Colin Mulhern which is also a great read.

Thanks for your time. Where can we find and follow you on the internets?

I can be found on Twitter as @sevrin73.

Killadelphia – A Horror Comic Fable

Categories
Best Of Best of Comics Featured NA

Before I start a new book, I’m always interested to see who else is talking about it. I like to think if creators I respect are praising the book then I too will enjoy it. So it’s safe to say my expectations were pretty high when I came across the much lauded graphic novel Killadelphia, which Jordan Peele claims is the “stunning and fresh horror fable” he’s been craving and Tananarive Due says is a “genuinely frightening horror graphic”. But therein lies the double edge of the sword, where cover blurbs and comparisons can sometimes over inflate an otherwise decent story and put it in a realm of expectation that is impossible to meet.

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Killadelphia horror comic cover
Killadelphia horror comic book cover

So, the question is does the Killadelphia comic live up to the hype?

I’m happy to report that for the most part it does. It’s bloody, gritty, and completely engaging.

Killadelphia Horror Comic Synopsis

Jimmy Sangster Jr is a cop who has returned to his hometown in Philadelphia to bury his recently deceased father, detective Jimmy Sangster Sr. Their father-son relationship was never very strong, and the death comes as a relief to Jimmy. However, back in his childhood home he finds his father’s journal and reads a startling story about Sangster Sr and chief medical examiner Jose. Recently they had been investigating a string of bizarre murders and, as the bodies in the morgue come back to life, they realize the culprits they’re hunting are…vampires!

vampire art from killadelphia horror comic
Killadelphia is full of unexpected surprises

Turns out John Adams, a founding father and former president, is a vampire and has been slowly amassing a horde of followers over the centuries in a bid to take back the America he helped begin so long ago. His crooked revolution is 300 hundred years in the making and apparently now it’s time to put it into action. With the doomsday clock ticking down, Jimmy Jr realizes he’s going to need the help of someone he had finally let go of. With shovel in hand he digs up his undead father and together, with the help of Jose and a few others, they face the vampire army dead on in a final effort to save their city.

For a story about an undead former president trying to take over the city (and yes, I kept thinking about a certain Deadpool storyline from Brain Posehn), Killadelphia is firmly grounded in realistic characters and a gripping plot. Jimmy Jr has conflicting feelings about his father, who was at turns abusive and absent during his childhood. His mother was the glue holding their family together, and when she passed their fragile relationship seemed to have crumbled. But now father and son are going to have to learn how to work through their differences in order to save the city they both care for. As readers we care about their characters, but I am thankful their back and forth quibbling was kept to a minimum.

There are also many relevant social issues and ideas woven into the storyline, including class disparity, poverty, racism, gentrification, addiction, and political corruption. The city itself, with its historical implications and complex history of social unrest, plays a significant role in the plot and is the perfect setting for such a story. I also appreciate that this isn’t just a story of good vs evil, as arguably none of the characters are purely good or bad. Even Adams, with his disturbing plan to rebuild the country, truly believes what he is doing is right.

vampire attack art from Killadelphia horror comic
Resistance is futile in Killadelphia

Of course, in a story about vampires there is also going to be a fair amount of supernatural horror elements. Apart from the whole blood-sucking monster thing, there’s also an interesting twist involving a (relatively) young vampire named Tevin and a magical book that he is entrusted to carry by John Adams. Tevin is actually one of my favorite characters in the graphic novel, and I really like the arc his storyline takes. I can’t say much more because of spoilers, but I’ll just say the second half goes in some neat directions I did not expect.

Killadelphia Vampires

Though the characters are strong and the plot is interesting, the vampires are definitely what elevate the story. Their design follows classic tradition for the most part: humanoid, yellow eyes, fangs, elongated fingers, and a healthy fear of sunlight. They can fly, they cohabitate in “nests,” and sleep hanging from the ceiling. Interestingly, they also are typically naked and cry tears of blood. They are also incredibly brutal, vicious, and efficient at killing. This is certainly a horror graphic novel, and there are several frightening and suspenseful moments along the way. It’s not Scott Snyder’s Wytches kind of scary, but it still works. I do love how much of the story is focused on the vampires’ perspective (be they “bad” or “good” they do make up most of the characters). And we get to see a lot of different perspectives on vampirism, from those who see it as a spiritual awakening or means to power to those who see it as a curse or form of slavery.

good vampire from Killadelphia horror comic
Not all vampires are bad

Killadelphia Comic Art

And the art! Oh my goodness the illustrations and colors are gorgeous here. The artwork of Jason Shawn Alexander excels in creating the dark, gritty noir atmosphere necessary for the story. I love the style, and it reminds me somewhat of comic artist John Bolton (whose style I also adore). Facial expressions and body movements are drawn in realistic detail, and it was interesting to learn at the end of the book how Alexander does photoshoots with live models to prepare for his pieces. Colors by Luis NCT perfectly compliment, bathing scenes in dark shadows and buckets of blood.

Here Rodney Barnes has given us a pretty solid story. There are some themes that didn’t quite pan out, and the romance angle between Jimmy Jr and Jose felt unearned and tacked on. But overall, I really enjoyed reading it. And though the primary storyline is wrapped up here, the ending easily sets us up for a sequel. I for one am very much looking forward to sinking my teeth into another volume of Killadelphia in the future!

Killadelphia is available now from Image Comics

Let’s Talk About Survival Horror

Categories
Featured Horror Books NA Scary Movies and Series

The differences between some horror games are like the differences between a haunted house ghost ride and being chased by an actual deranged killer. Being startled is one thing, but the feeling of being pursued by a genuine threat is as hellishly exhilarating as it is difficult to simulate. Horror video games such as Resident Evil (1996) and Silent Hill (1999) laid foundations for the concept of ‘Survival Horror’ as much as later titles like Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010) and The Forest (2014) branched out and developed what it meant, finding new ways to milk the formidable dread of being stalked. The feeling could arguably translate to many mediums of art and entertainment, none however finding it nearly as easy to achieve as video games. When a player can digitally embody a character’s perspective, or further still, make a character to look just like them, then immersing the common individual shouldn’t be all that hard.

Friday the 13th movie poster

Films, on the other hand, must rely on a variety of tricks to achieve the fight-or-flight-tickling survival horror sensation. This can include stylistic choices, core concepts and often exploitation of the setting and the themes buried within it. Slasher flicks like Friday 13th (1980) commonly include a group of people desperately trying to escape a killer with their lives which, when done well, forces the viewer to consider their own mortality over and over. Apocalyptic horror films like I Am Legend (2007) can portray a single individual as the last surviving human, posing questions of society and seclusion to its audience while basking in the heavy dread of pure isolation. 

It is within this isolation that many horror films thrive, and setting is one of the more common tools to make it work. Of course the true requirement for audience immersion is quality acting, though setting can often act as a character itself, becoming in some cases the ultimate source of terror. Many horror films such as Backcountry (2015)Willow Creek (2014) and arguably The Revenant (2016) (the latter featuring one of the most savage bear attacks in film history) take place within vast wildernesses for this very reason. When things go wrong, there aren’t many places to go, and chances of survival decrease drastically. One of the most effective of these films, especially for the general British public, is Eden Lake (2004). When a couple retreat to the idyllic titular spot in the woods for a quiet weekend, their worst nightmares manifest in the form of a group of troubled youths. Armed with a capable cast and a believable plot, this violent thriller consistently raises question after horrible question of morality and group mentality, right up until its hair-raising finale. Not a lot of us will have come across bigfoot or even a grizzly bear in our lives, though trouble at the hands of ‘hoodies’ is something many are accustomed to. 

Of course isolation does not necessarily depend upon setting, and the plot of a film can have just as much bearing on this effect. Many stories tell of an apocalyptic age, one taking place after much of humanity has been wiped out, and focus on the exploits of a few survivors. Within films such as The Crazies (1973/2010), Doomsday (2008)I am Legend (2007) and Mad Max (1979) are insights into the psychology of people forced to outlive their species, along with a lot of wacky violence. When characters are thrown into a lawless world of gangs and deadly viruses, new and often brutal measures of survival are employed. Frank Darabont’s The Mist (2007) centres around a small town overrun with, you guessed it, an insidious mist. Within this mist, however, are terrors beyond which they have ever known, and the only hope for a modest group is to lock themselves into the local supermarket. As the story progresses, antagonists become more numerous in the form of other survivors, and what follows is a potent and nightmarish surmise into what religion and mob mentality could achieve in such a situation. The story is told through the eyes of David Drayton as he tries to protect his son Billy from the gospel-preaching insanity of Mrs Carmody, and poses a harrowing choice between a world of monsters and the company of his neighbors as they slowly become monsters themselves. 

One must not necessarily wait for the apocalypse to explore the volatile chaos of a group of isolated people. This idea provides the base concept for many horror films from the prolific Saw series to smaller flicks like Await Further Instructions (2018) and Would You Rather (2012) wherein a congregation are held by some sinister means and forced to endure some psychological or physical torture. These films are an excellent vehicle for exploring the psychology of different groups when faced with a life or death situation. While a common trope is to bring a group of (supposed) strangers together for some hellish game, Await Further Instructions pits a British family at Christmas against some unseen, unknown threat that has contained them within their house. It is a brilliantly executed exercise into paranoia, xenophobia and the true meaning of family values when said family is pushed to the brink by an otherworldly threat. 

Alien horror movie poster 1979 showing an alien egg in space

Things not-of-this-earth have been a source of terror for centuries. Being lost in wooded wilderness is one thing, however space is arguably the ultimate setting for claustrophobia and pure hopelessness. Alien (1979) teased us with the idea that an extraterrestrial threat could reach earth while gleefully exhibiting the effects of just one of these organisms on a spaceship’s crew. Where it thrives is within the tight, winding corridors and vents of The Nostromo, where the crew are mercilessly picked off by the ultimate killing machine. Coupled with this internal threat is the vastness of space only sheet-metal’s width away. When properly considered, the extinction of the human race wouldn’t be all that hard (look at how we handle a virus outbreak) and the horror writers and directors who know this will always hit harder at our baser survival instincts. Stay safe, and stay alive. 

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