Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My "dirty" is pretty tame...

I've recently come to realize that, in the grand scheme of the erotica genre, I don't really write dirty stories.

In terms of erotica put out by traditional publishers, I think I'm on par with the level of dirtiness and sexy filth. Anytime I pick up a Cleis anthology or other erotica book from a physical bookstore, the stories contained in the pages are more or less on par with mine.

But in the Wild West of self-published erotica? Compared to all that's out there, my stuff is pretty tame.

My stories tend to have some story set-up, the sex scene, and some story wind-down. In the case of longer pieces, sex might be a regular highlight of the book, but the story comes first. (And the sex tends to be people just having sex.)

I don't do dub-con, mpreg, aliens, shifters, various bodily functions, hypnosis, non-con, vore, tentacle, or anything else like that. I barely even do BDSM. If I were to compare my fiction to the gay porn industry, my stories are like videos from Helix Studios. They feature clean-cut and attractive men -- often twinks -- who have sex. A large chunk of self-published erotica is like the gay porn studio Treasure Island Media -- macho, hairy men who are aggressive and dominant with each other and demean one another in the act of very kinky sex.

Both have their place and both have their fans. I admit to sometimes watching and reading the more aggressive type of porn/erotica.

There were two recent events that helped make it clear to me that I write fairly vanilla erotica.

The first is a review I received. The reviewer asked for some dirty stories and I sent along something I was proud of and thought he'd like... only to receive a review that rated my stories as average, typical erotica. That review truthfully didn't hurt (I've long since learned to not let reviews affect me), but it did set my mind to questioning/wondering about my place in the erotica genre.

The second is from analyzing my sales stats. My bestselling book, by far, is Seduced By My Best Friend's Dad (which I co-wrote with Sandra Claire). It was my standard erotica formula -- sort of like a Helix Studios video turned into written format -- except I had the "father-like figure" as the romantic partner. Sandra and I had decided to venture slightly into taboo, but still stay clear of it. (I like to refer to this story as pseudo-pseudo-incest -- it's not biological incest and it's not step-incest. There's actually no legal or biological connection, but the twink has always looked up to his best friend's dad as a father figure.)

I highly suspect that it's the "search engine optimized" title that's leading to high sales -- and thankfully the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, so I've fulfilled the promise in the title.

These two instances helped clarify for me that I do not, in fact, write dirty stories in the eyes of those who read them regularly. I do, though, write dirty stories in the eyes of those who do not regularly read the genre. Perhaps it's because those who don't read the genre don't realize how kinky it can get, or perhaps they just haven't gotten bored with general erotica yet (which, I think, is why the super kinky stuff does well -- readers get their fill of the more vanilla erotica and then go in search of dirtier stuff).

The flash fiction I wrote here four weeks ago is honestly the dirtiest thing I've written as Cameron D James. I know my colleague, Master Dominic, makes a killing on sales of very dirty stories, despite only having a handful of titles and with none of them on Amazon.

However, I have always said and believed that one shouldn't write to market, just to chase the dollar. A writer should write the story they want to tell and then worry about market placement later. For that reason alone, I plan to keep writing fairly-vanilla and fairly-clean erotica. I admire those who can write the type of story that readers crave (but that readers often refuse to admit they desire it so much). Those writers are keeping readers satisfied and are also filling a niche that needs to be filled... just as I do with my Helix Studios style erotica.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is The President And The Rentboy. He is publisher at and co-founder of Deep Desires Press. With his erotica writers' group, he is a member of the Indie Erotica Collective. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit http://www.camerondjames.com.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Absolute Filth (#purgatory #dirtystory #flashfiction)

Hell and demon

By Lisabet Sarai

Better shovel faster, Sister. Lucifer’s stallions will return any minute.”

Sister Mary Alexander surveyed the manure still clogging the stables. Minions had removed twenty wheelbarrows, without making a dent in the horseshit surrounding her.

A lock of hair escaped from her wimple. She couldn’t do anything. They allowed her neither gloves nor boots. Filth smeared her hands. Stinking brown excrement stained her white habit. Muck saturated her hem. The horrid stuff leaked into her sensible shoes.

Cleanliness is next to godliness,” she’d scold, examining students’ grimy fingernails before applying her ruler to their palms with righteous glee. How many mouths had she washed out with soap?

Her back ached, though they’d returned the lithe body of her youth. She paused to rest. So futile!

You know how to make it stop.” Aside from the horns and tail, the demon reminded her of that cheeky senior Mick O’Riley. Always undressing her with his pale eyes.

I won’t break my vows.”

You’re in hell already, sweetcakes.” He cocked a pointed ear. “Hoof beats!”

Oh, no!” Tears gathered. “Again!”

On your hands and knees, Sister.” Flipping her habit, he spread her butt cheeks.

Not—there! Please...”

Has to be really dirty for you, baby!”

Friday, May 19, 2017

Life After Life

In the mid-late 70s, my parents got into some parts of the alternative lifestyle which the hippy movement celebrated. At one point we moved to a 3.5 acre property, where we built a mud brick house and adopted some of the teachings of Permaculture. We had dozens of chickens, several veggie gardens and at one point, a goat.
Prior to that, and all through the same period, they were also into spiritual pursuits. I remember my mother meditating under a pyramid frame which my father made. We had all kinds of books, the titles of which have escaped me but which were heavily into self-betterment through external beliefs. At one point my mother even had my sister and me convinced that if we were to sit on our beds and concentrate—REALLY concentrate—then we might achieve levitation.
Of course, that last one turned out to be simply a way for her to get us out of her hair for a while, but the rest of it seemed to be a lifestyle they truly believed in.
Some of this possibly came down to the spiritual beliefs of my maternal grandparents. Though staid and ordinary in many ways, theirs was a form of Christian belief which memory tells me now was pretty non-standard.
One time when I was around ten years old, I recall lying on a bed (or it could even have been a massage table) while my grandfather conducted a spiritual healing on my feet. This was because my parents believed I was pigeon-toed. As it turns out, I'm just hypermobile—I have longer-than-average ligaments and soft muscle tone, which means I'm much more naturally flexible than most people. But my grandfather went for it, with my parents' permission, and they all seemed to get something out of the experience.
But probably the most lasting memory of this period (because I still have the written "proof" of it) is when my grandfather's fellow church-goer gave him a few pieces of paper on which she'd written out all my previous lives back to the birth of Christ. There were hand drawn pictures as well.
I never met the woman. I was told she puts herself into a trance-like state and channels the information. Indeed, the written page was signed off with "I remain, yours in Christ the Master, Alaxander of the Galaxy".
The haunting thing for me, at that time, was how strongly (desperately?) I wanted to believe all kinds of psychic stuff. I believe I was around twelve years old, and trying to come to terms with how damn much there was to learn about life. So who was I to question any of this stuff, especially when it was so fascinating?
It was also well done, in that she never claimed I was anyone particularly big or famous. Occasionally I was an official type person (a Bishop of York in the 13th century), or my life skimmed across people of note (I was one of Florence Nightingale's first young ladies). I was more often female than male, and I lost a hell of a lot of menfolk to war and conflict.
One of the other notable parts of the whole document is how inconsistent it is as a piece of narrative. I don't pretend to understand the language or the overall concept anywhere near completely. My first life listed was, apparently, when I was a young girl working at "the INN" (at the time of the birth of Christ, natch). Yet my second life listed is apparently that same life, at the point of "death into birth".
My lives occurred two centuries apart almost all the way through. 1st century, 3rd, 5th, 7th, etc. And then, in the 17th century came this:

It is the 17th century. You are a traveller from a planet far away. In this your first earth life you choose to become a Gipsey. You have a wonderful time. You marry a dark eyed beauty and have 10 children.

As I say, there is great inconsistency throughout the document, if the words are taken literally. That was the tenth life listed, yet it speaks of it being my first earth life. I'm not sure if that means all the other lives occurred on other planets, or other planes, or whether there's some creative used of a Delorean involved.
Now, I'm closer to 50 than 40, and I've seen some shit. I've been through a few things, and I've learned a ton of stuff. And every time I step into a new area of knowledge, it really is a whole lot like opening a door. You step through and suddenly realise the world, and all the things in it, are so much more complex and overwhelming and impossible than you ever believed. So again, I find myself saying "who am I to question any of this stuff?"
I've always loved stories of psychics and people with extra mind powers. "The Chrysalids" by John Wyndham, for example. "The Gift" (the movie with Cate Blanchett) as well. The Grave books by Charlaine Harris and the wonderful Miriam Black books by Chuck Wendig. Just because those are all fictional doesn't mean the powers the characters possess are actually impossible. And if I lie on my bed and concentrate hard enough...well, who knows what I might achieve?


My newest release came out not too long ago. It's my first time playing in someone else's sandbox (in this case, Milly Taiden's "Sassy Ever After" Kindle World). I've been making covers for Milly for nigh on three years now, so it was a ton of fun to put my words to good use as well.

Sassy Healing by Willsin Rowe

Skilled Chicago surgeon Adam Gunnarsson abandoned his wolf heritage—and elitist parents—when heartbreak tore his world apart. And he swore never to let love sink its fangs into him again.
When family commitments lure him home, though, his determination is tested by Simone, a spicy human with more curves than baseball, and the voice of a bourbon-soaked angel.
Pressured by his parents to mate—to a suitable shifter girl, of course—Adam is instead drawn to the sassy singer whose heat seems destined to heal the rift between his two halves.

But as passions rise, so too do tensions. And anyone who’s not a predator becomes, by default, prey.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Truth In My Ghost Story ( #LesbianErotica #ParanormalErotica )

by Annabeth Leong

I feel like I’ve given you guys my best uncanny stories based on personal experience already. A pitfall of sticking with the group for a while, I guess.

So I thought I’d share a ghost story I wrote for an anthology called Like A Chill Down Your Spine, edited by Artemis Savory.

It’s called “Dear Kim,” and what strikes me as I think about it is that it’s probably based in reality and actual events more than the majority of the stories I write, even while being largely made up.

The story takes the form of a letter to Kim, the narrator’s college friend who also happens to be the unacknowledged object of her affections. Kim, per se, is not a real person, but I’ve had that friend so many times it hurts, and some of the incidents the narrator describes (of times when their closeness seems on the verge of becoming romantic) are based on events from my actual life.

The narrator is apologizing to Kim for ghosting over Spring Break, which I didn’t intend as a pun or connection to the theme, but which now strikes me as funny. She’s explaining what she was up to and the ghosts she saw, and what they made her realize.

The narrator, it turns out, went to stay with an old woman who is haunted by a female lover she never fully acknowledged. Their back story, too, is based on real things I heard growing up, and the place where the story is set is somewhere I have lived and know quite well.

So while the uncanny part is invented (I never saw these ghosts or experienced them that way), so much of the story seems absolutely true to me when I think about it.

I have a friend who says (I’m paraphrasing) that writing speculative fiction is a way of making your metaphors very literal, and I think that’s true for me here. I am haunted, emotionally, by the friends I’ve had who inspired Kim. I am haunted, emotionally, by unacknowledged feelings and regret. And in “Dear Kim,” I turned that haunting into an uncanny truth rather than a psychological one.

Here’s an excerpt:

I got to the Springs and it was awesome. I figured I could spend all of Spring Break there if I wanted to and Jessie didn't mind. I hiked and did nothing and felt like I had traveled to another world entirely.
In the afternoon, I finally made my way to the water. People went scuba diving there. I watched them put on their gear and dive down and disappear. Even in the brightness of day it gave me a shiver, thinking of that cold water running down far below the cheery swimming pool where kids played with inflatable swim toys.

I peeled off my outer clothes and got in the water. At first, I stayed near the kids, liking the knowledge of concrete below me. But the depth of the spring made itself known even there. The water ran colder than it should have under that powerfully hot sun. Before long, I swam to the deeper end, clinging to the side of the pool and peering down, hoping for a glimpse of the divers.

Something trailed down my leg. I shook myself, thinking I'd gotten wrapped in a water plant. A moment later, the same touch teased my left leg. Tease is the right word, too. Whatever it was stroked my skin, sometimes clear and sometimes barely there. I thought of the party where we met, when you ran an ice cube down my spine, and how when I turned around you laughed and laughed. I yelled, but you grinned through it all, and the next day we were friends.

I shouldn't distract myself from the story with that, though. I reached down to dislodge the plant and didn't feel anything. I decided it must have floated away. Before I could forget the whole thing, the touch returned to my right leg, where it ended by grasping my ankle with unmistakeable fingers and giving me a tug.

I jumped a mile and looked down into the water. That was the first time I saw her. Pale, pale, pale girl. Short red hair haloed around her face and wide green eyes so pure the water didn't fade their color. A little nose and big ears, and friendly, high cheekbones. Her bathing suit was the first clue something was wrong — she wore a little red 1950s number more like a minidress than a suit. Could have been retro, but there was also her expression. She grinned like she had a secret, but tugged my leg like her life depended on it.

I screamed a little and dipped under to grab her, but couldn't feel anything where she ought to have been. I've never been good at keeping my eyes open underwater, so I surfaced to look for her again. Nothing.
I swallowed. They had a lifeguard near the pool. He was even looking at me. I should have gone to get him, I guess, in case she was a real, living girl. But I had a bad feeling, and didn't want to spend the day getting lectured about how I shouldn't make up stories that required people to launch needless search and rescue missions.

I got out of the water fast, found my clothes, and headed for Jessie's place. Maybe Daytona Beach sounded better to me right then, and maybe it sounded worse. I was pretty sure I'd seen a ghost, but I liked the way she'd touched me. I liked her eyes.

Now, Kim, I don't want you to get jealous when I talk about this. Please know I'm telling the truth when I mention the times she reminded me of you. I even think I might have liked her because of you. You and I had a few encounters we never talked about — maybe that was my fault. Something about that ghost brought those memories to the front of my mind. The whole walk back, for example, I thought about the Halloween party we went to last year, where you helped me dress in some guy's vest, tie, and hat. On the way out of the dorm, I gave you my arm like an old-fashioned gentleman, and felt so proud when you took it. The fake blood on your prom dress must have killed the effect a bit, but you smiled and glanced at me sideways and I thought at the time I was just excited to be in college, but walking down that Florida dirt road months later, I wasn't so sure.

I thought about texting you when I got back to the house, but didn't know what to say. I guess that was the real beginning of me disappearing on you, and I wish I could go back and tell myself to just put "hiiiiiii" so you knew I was thinking of you. Always.

I read for a while, had coffee with Jessie, and pictured myself spending all of break in that sleepy routine. It got dark faster than I expected. I went to bed, heart pounding when I opened the door to that room.

If I expected a repeat of yesterday's scene, I was in for some disappointment. It smelled like me. The bed sheets remained crumpled exactly the way I'd left them. I turned out the light and fell asleep quickly. Sun makes you tired.

But the ghost hadn't had enough of me yet. I woke up a few hours later, cold. My feet had gotten out from under the blankets, and I wanted to pull them back in but couldn't quite summon the will to do it. You know how it is when you're mostly asleep. You want to do something, and you lie there thinking about it and half-dreaming, but you don't quite get around to actually doing whatever it is.

I dozed that way for a while. Maybe you will think this next part was a dream, but I don't think it was. A finger caressed my calf. I recognized the touch from earlier that day.

It didn't stop at the knee. A hand pushed the blanket up to my waist, and the fingertip continued its journey up my inner thigh. I wanted it to keep going, all the way to my panties and then some, but it moved so slowly. I didn't dare to respond. I didn't want to scare off the person behind the fingertip.

As I lay there being carefully touched, I remembered Thanksgiving, when I went with you to your parents' house and we shared your bed because the house was so full of your relatives. Sometime that night, I felt the heat of your arm, so close to me that the hairs on your forearm tickled the back of my hand. You shifted, so slowly and patiently that I didn't believe you were asleep. You touched the back of my hand with your thumb. I thought I would never breathe again. I lay still and waited. Maybe I was turned on, but at the time, I was just aware of curiosity. I wanted to know what you were up to. But you didn't move, just pressed your thumb against my hand until I had to speak up or fall asleep, and in the morning I convinced myself you must have done it in your sleep.

The fingertip climbed my inner thigh and I suddenly understood, like it had hit me in the head. You meant something when you touched me in the middle of the night. I should have told you I was awake, and that it was OK.

The fingertip stopped moving, and a tongue touched my knee instead. The wet warmth of it followed the trail blazed by that finger, easing its way up my leg and toward my dampening panties. A few inches from my crotch, the tongue slowed even further and flicked against my skin, in time with my heartbeat. I moaned and opened my eyes, needing to pull her close.

The room was empty.


Nobilis Erotica hosted an incredible audio version of this story (the link is here), so you can hear it in full that way. There does turn out to be something uncanny there. “Dear Kim” is a story that took me by storm. I could hear it being dictated in my head, and I heard the narrator’s voice with absolute clarity.

The narrator in the Nobilis Erotica version sounds exactly like that voice in my head. I actually cried when I listened to the audio because of the way that hit me.

If you’d like to read the whole book, which is excellent, you can find it here. If you do, it would be awesome if you left a review on Amazon. The book is currently doomed by a 2-star review from an inattentive reader who seems to have misinterpreted my story as some sort of grandmother/granddaughter incest. The book as a whole deserves better than that.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dimensional Slippage (#4th dimension #uncanny #weird occurrences)

by Daddy X

Maybe it’s the Catholic education that’s made me so skeptical. Maybe if I were taught that everything had a logical explanation beyond ‘faith’ I would react with more imagination to unexplainable phenomena in the physical world. After all, the nuns schooled me in the use of the English language. That turned out okay. The math they taught me works adequately and conforms to demonstrable rules. Cause and effect come into play.

But not so with articles of faith and resulting dogma that stem from hiding one’s head in the sand. The religious approach didn’t seem capable of answering obvious questions or considering the contradiction of a round earth (which they acknowledged). Given that Heaven was up in the air, then hell must be below the earth’s crust. In Europe until the end of the 15th century, the accepted truth (except for those who sailed the seas) was that the world was flat, apparently to support that belief.

One of the first things I remember being skeptical about as an innocent seven year-old, wondering about what the nuns described as a ‘mystery’: the Catholic concept of the Trinity—three persons in one god. I raised my hand and said that it was simple: Just as there was one senate, there were quite a few senators. The teacher dismissed that as not valid for some obscure reason. The concept of the Trinity was something that was ‘true’ but a ‘mystery’ and I’d damn well better learn to trust (in faith) that the concept was a mystery and, as a mere mortal, impossible to comprehend. But I believed I’d figured it out. At seven.

How disconcerting to a young man, when all the faith he can muster is reversed by simple questions that won’t get answered due to contradictions with dogma. If hell were below us, wouldn’t the earth be overflowing with sinners by now?  Millions of years of human existence, with all the artifacts in evidence, yet we must believe the earth was created in seven days? In 1960’s Catholic high school biology, our science teacher spent one hour of our sophomore year on the “Theory of Evolution”— only taught to satisfy state requirements.  We were told not to believe it. I transferred to a public school the following year.

Of course Momma X and I have experienced occurrences that can’t be explained. For example, the pair of large red plastic hoop earrings that fell from …err… somewhere… after we’d just painted the kitchen of our first apartment. They appeared on the drop cloth in front of four people, one of whom said, “They’re falling!” as they dropped from above. There was no shade on the ceiling fixture—we’d taken that down to paint. The apartment was totally cleared out before we started. We’d worked there all day. None of those present had seen the earrings before. We still exchange them with the woman who saw them fall, sending them back and forth every few years to mark the event.

Then there was the apartment house back east, previously a single-family home.  Upon entering the stairwell leading up to our flat you had to pass through the eerily cold foyer. We and any visitors were fraught with apprehension until we got through our door. Friends waiting for us to answer the buzzer often became quite rattled. During an unrelated conversation with the landlord, he let slip that his mother had passed away in that foyer.

So why does this happen? Why do we anticipate a certain caller before the phone rings? If a loved one dies miles away, why do we wake at the exact moment of death? Do we have a telepathic line to one another? Certainly, people who live and love together over years experience communication that can’t be explained. My point is not necessarily that there is an otherworldly force or spiritual entity among us. Or, that human beings will never understand phenomena that may eventually become obvious within the corpus of provable physics. 

Let me explain:

Imagine a two-dimensional world, consisting only of length and width. A being on that world would experience height differently than we would. Consider a three dimensional object on that flat surface. The two-dimensional being traveling on that surface would experience the object as an unexplained barrier. The idea of height wouldn’t come into play. Though height would exist in the greater physical world, the being wouldn’t be privy to its existence. Possibly only a sense of shadow or repeated encounters would effect a subtle, unexplainable hint. The significance of the shadow would be lost to the being, much like our perception of time.

We are three-dimensional creatures, bound by the limitations of a three-dimensional world. We have inherent knowledge of length, width and height. Rules that govern these dimensions are pretty darned predictable, yet we do have the hint of a fourth dimension—the unpredictable time. We experience time as a sense of its passing, but do not fully comprehend or see where time goes or what’s to come. At present, the thinking is that time is just another straight line, like length, width or height.

Perhaps a slip along that elusive dimensional line could account for our premonitions, our intuition and connections beyond our blind spots. Food for thought.

I will leave it to you to ponder this further. But I do believe that there will come a day (If Trump doesn’t totally truncate earth’s time) where we may understand these phenomena for what they actually are. Even if humans can never experience an innate four-dimensional reality, perhaps in the future there may be physical, non-contradictory, theoretically provable explanations for things we now consider out of this world.

Or maybe there’s a big old guy in a white beard up there, pointing down and pulling strings. If so, he’s a trickster MF.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The (not so) Uncanny

Many years ago now a couple of colleagues from work decided to go see a clairvoyant. I’m not sure why exactly, just a whim really, a lark. But they invited me along and I couldn’t resist it.

I wasn’t sure I believed in any of that stuff. Actually, I was pretty certain I didn’t. But I’m a curious soul and this was something new and harmless enough. I was in.

So, the three of us booked a soothsaying session and rocked up on the appointed evening at the semi-detached house, a perfect little slice of middle class British suburbia. The clairvoyant, an innocuous little man of around 40 or so, let us in and invited two of us to wait in his sitting room while the other accompanied him into his ‘office’.

The consulting room was vaguely shrine-like, dark curtains, subdued lighting, lots of rocks and crystals arranged around the place as ornaments. The furniture was comfortable but somewhat minimalist – a coffee table with two armchairs facing each other across it. Beside one of the chairs was a low table. Another straight-backed, armless chair stood just inside the door.

I went last, so spent most of the evening drinking tea in the sitting room. When it was my turn I followed our host into his domain where the clairvoyant – Charles – invited me to sit in the chair with the table next to it. I did so. He asked me if I believed in life after death. I shifted a bit in my seat and muttered something about not really being religious. I’m an out and out atheist, but that didn’t seem to be what he wanted to hear so I softened my approach and told him that I felt sure there was more to life than just the here and now. Well, I’d paid up front and I wanted my money’s worth.

It worked. Charles decided he could do something with me after all. He asked me to remove an item of jewellery and place it on the table in front of us. This was in the days when I could still get my wedding ring off, so I placed it next to a blue and purple lump of rock - an amethyst I think - and I sat back ready to be amazed.

Charles pointed out a notepad and pen on the table next to me – somehow I had failed to notice them when I came in. I was to take notes if I wanted to. I did. I took copious notes which I still have to this day.

He started by asking me who Carole is. Carole is the name of my sister, so I told him that. He told me that Carole wanted me to do something for her, but he didn’t know what. I must ask her. I made a note to do just that. On reflection, I bet most people know someone called Carole so this was a reasonably safe place to start on his part.

He asked if I had children. At the time I didn’t, and had no wish to. I was blissfully child-free. He said I would remain so, and that was for the best. Now, a quarter of a century later, I find myself the proud parent of an 18 year old daughter, who I consider to be without doubt my finest work in progress.

He told me I was the life and soul of any party (debateable, I’d say) and that I would one day open a pub and run it very successfully. This has yet to happen. He made no mention of me ever becoming a writer.

There was other stuff too, lots of it. I would one day see a UFO (still waiting) and win a photography competition. I will live in a house with cart wheels on the outside walls. And so it went on. As far as I can recall none of his ‘predictions’ have come to pass.

So, was it all a waste of time and money? Maybe. Probably. But it was a memorable experience, more because of the atmosphere Charles managed to create and the sense of theatre. Throughout our session, which took about an hour, he repeatedly glanced at a point somewhere over my shoulder. Naturally, I asked.

“Your spirit guide is sitting in that chair, by the door.” He answered as though it was the most normal thing in the world. “She’s telling me all about you.”

”She?” I didn’t dare turn my head to look.

“Alice. She’s a Victorian lady, rather matronly, and stern. An ancestor, perhaps?”

I really had no idea, though my mother did used to mention an Aunt Alice. Sadly, this particular spirit guide seemed to have mixed me up with someone else.

At the end of our allotted time Charles reminded me to pick up my ring. It was freezing cold, so cold it hurt to put it back on. That struck me as odd, but I expect there would be some sort of scientific explanation if I were to look for it.

The chair by the door was blessedly empty.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Stars in the Sky, Ghosts in the Root Cellar

Sacchi Green

I’m not a “sensitive” by any means when it comes to uncanny matters, ghosts, psychics, things that go bump in the night. I’m pretty good, in fact, at rationalizing those bumps. (Uh-oh, I forgot to bring the bird feeders in. Is that a bear? Nope, the feeders are okay. I’ll bring them in now.) I don’t want be aware of unworldly things; it’s hard enough to understand the things that can be explained by scientific studies. (And to cope with nocturnal bears, who do generally drop by when I’m away for a few days and leave the feeders out.)

Astrology, for instance, drives me nuts. It’s possible, I suppose, that the month you were born in has some bearing on your personality and even future life—was it winter and you were cold as a newborn, or kept indoors during that formative part of your life? What kinds of food were available to your nursing mother in that season? But how can the regular, measurable, predictable orbits of the planets affect you on a day to day basis? Do people into astrology have any idea what “Mercury in Retrograde” means? It means that when the planet Mercury’s orbit takes it between earth and the sun, it appears to be going in one direction in our sky, but when its orbit takes to the other side of the sun from us, it appears to be going in the other direction, thus “retrograde.” How can…well, never mind. If something can be explained in scientific terms, it’s no longer uncanny, and if it’s truly uncanny, it doesn’t need to be explained.

Sorry for the rant. At least I refrained from adding “Bats in the Belfry” to my title for this post. There are plenty of more interesting kinds of supernatural phenomena than astrology, which may not even count as supernatural to most folks. And even though I don’t have any desire to experience any of them personally, from time to time my imagination gets to work, and I write stories with anything from demons trapped in gargoyles (does fantasy count as uncanny?) to ghosts in your otherwise pretty much ordinary cellar.

Since Jean Roberta mentioned her excellent ghost story appearing in the  Haunted Hearths anthology, I thought I’d dare to share a bit of mine, too, one of those prosaic ghosts-in-the-cellar types with some history thrown in. (It was recently reprinted in Haunting Muses, edited by Doreen Perrine.)

Here are a couple of spoilers, since they’re not explicitly revealed until later in the story and you won’t see them:
1. Emmaline had run away long ago from a hidden polygamy compound in Utah, and now she’s made a life for herself with Sigri, a horse rancher in Montana.
2. There was an old story in the area about two young brothers, staying in the dugout (now the root cellar) on their way to Canada, who had got out okay and moved along when most of the place caved in.
3. Emmaline found two cut-off rings in the box with the faded coils of hair, and had her own ideas about who those “brothers” were and who might have been pursuing them.

Spirit Horse Ranch
Sacchi Green

Someone was behind her.
Emmaline, deep in the root cellar, hadn’t heard Sigri’s truck pull in or Chinook bark a welcome, but the sense of a presence was unmistakable. It had to be Sigri, or the dog would’ve sounded a warning. Sigri could sneak up on grazing elk, when the wind was right; even if Emmaline hadn’t been hammering at shelves for her preserves, she might have missed any sounds. She’d been humming, too, immersed in the joy of working among provisions of her own raising. Not that she wasn’t always, on some level, listening for Sigri every bit as intently as the dog did.
 Sigri would sometimes press up against Emmaline from the rear with no warning, nuzzle her neck, and reach around for further fondling. If she was in the mood, why not go along with it? Emmaline lowered the hammer and moved back a step, as though surveying her handiwork. Her backside tingled in anticipation.
A touch on her hair made her jump.
“You’re back early,” she said. “Didn’t figure you’d get here from Bozeman so... Ouch!” Fingers tightened on her long, thick braid, and icy-cold knuckles dug into the nape of her neck. Somebody pulled, hard.
 “Hey!” Emmaline tried to turn. The hidden tormentor jerked her head back viciously and yanked again. Tears burned her eyes and panic pounded in her veins.
It wasn’t Sigri.
 Sigri wouldn’t do that. She knew enough about Emmaline’s past, and the things that triggered memories. And no one else who knew would dare, or care enough, to search her out after twenty years--if he was even still alive.
Terror snapped into sudden rage. Emmaline wasn’t fifteen and vulnerable any more. She kicked back sharply at ankle-height, let out a yell worthy of an old-time Blackfeet war party, and swung the hammer at what should be a thigh--or, better yet, more vulnerable parts.
Her foot didn’t connect with anything. Neither did the hammer. But her yell brought Chinook scrambling down the stairs from the kitchen in a frenzy of barks and growls. Could the cellar, crowded with sacks of winter-keeping vegetables and shelves of canning jars, hold Emmaline, the intruder, and an enraged German Shepherd all at the same time?
Emmaline wrenched sideways to free herself. Resistance ceased so abruptly that she spun right around, her russet braid flipping over one shoulder. A gust of cold air rushed past; she staggered, nearly fell, and grabbed at Chinook’s shoulder for balance.
Nobody was there.
A bulb dangling from a cord hooked to the ceiling lit the space well enough. None of the sacks and crates looked disturbed. Nobody could have got out past the dog, even though her growls had subsided.
“C’mon, Chinook, upstairs.” Emmaline couldn’t keep her voice steady. The chill where her neck had been touched crawled all the way down her back. What if he wasn’t alive--but had come for her anyway? No! She had to get out of there, get her thoughts under control.
She moved toward the steps, overwhelmed by a desperate need for Sigri--and just as glad Sigri wasn’t there to witness her weakness.
“Chinook, come!” The dog’s tail wagged to show she’d heard, but she kept sniffing among the crates. Just doing her job, searching for whatever had made her mistress yell like a damn fool. But when she clambered onto a heap of potato sacks and starting nosing at the packed earth wall, it was too much.
“Drat you, Chinook, come on!” The dog kept poking at the wall. Small chunks of dirt had dribbled down, a few feet to the left of the new shelves. The hammering must have jarred them loose. A few bits of old sticks or roots showed in the roughened earth, but there wasn’t a hole, so far as she could tell without going closer, which she wasn’t about to do. Nothing big enough to let a mouse through, much less a rat.  A rat?
She bolted upward, not looking to see if the dog followed. Her scalp still stung from the tugs. No rat could have been that strong!
Better that, though, than anything else occurring to her. She could deal with vermin. Still…a great filthy rat clinging to her head? She scrabbled at her braided hair until it hung loose around her shoulders, shaking it so hard her brains seemed to slosh like flapjack batter. Her heart pounded, anger mixing with fear. She tried hard to let the anger win out.
A bark and a high-pitched whine came up from the root cellar. Emmaline went to the top of the steps.  “Get your furry butt up here,” she yelled, beginning to lower the trapdoor. Chinook, not wanting to be shut below, left off whatever she was doing and bounded up into the kitchen.
“If you haven’t caught ‘em yet, you won’t, not without tearing up my spuds and onions!” The scolding was mostly to keep her own voice steady. “Wait for Sigri to get home!”
At the sound of that name, the dog padded hopefully to the screen door and looked out at the empty, dusty road connecting the ranch to the rest of the world. For all her devotion to Emmaline, Chinook looked to Sigri as her one true goddess.
No argument there, Emmaline thought. To see Sigri riding against the backdrop of the mountains, lithe, strong, the herd of horses running with her for the pure joy of it, any passing stranger might think Montana was as close to heaven as earth could get. At night, in ways no passerby could imagine, Emmaline knew for sure she’d found her own personal paradise.    
But what was she going to tell Sigri? That she’d freaked out in the root cellar, thought about ghosts, when it might be just rats? Even in the familiar normalcy of the kitchen, she couldn’t really believe that. Whatever she decided, it would go better after supper, and there wouldn’t be any supper if she didn’t get on with it.
Chicken and dumplings had been her plan, with leftovers from the hen she’d roasted Sunday. But she’d forgotten to bring carrots and onions up from the cellar. Forgotten? Well, not exactly, but nothing was going to get her down into that hole again just yet.
That hole? Now anger did win out. She’d been so proud of the root cellar, clearing out generations of trash, building shelves and bins, reinforcing the support posts and steps with Sigri’s help. It was older than the ranch house itself, part of a pioneer dugout home carved into the hillside. Most of it had caved in well over a hundred years ago, but when Sigri’s great-great-grandfather had built his house of red cedar logs the kitchen had overlapped what was left of the hole just enough for the trapdoor and stairs to connect with it. Back then it had been used as a root cellar, but not in recent years.
Emmaline had found things in the rubble that could have been there since before the cave-in. Once she’d dug out a flat tin box, barely protruding from the wall, and found inside two long, faded coils of hair, one blonde, one reddish. Maybe two girls sick with the fever had needed to have their hair cut when it got too tangled, as was common in the old days. In an odd way it had given her a sense of connection to those long-ago settlers. She might not belong here in any conventional way—she knew the townsfolk preferred to think of her as Sigri’s housekeeper and business manager, nothing closer—but she did belong to the tradition of growing and harvesting and tending loved ones.
Which included making supper. Question was, could Emmaline let herself be scared out of her own root cellar by…well, once she knew for sure what it was, maybe she wouldn’t be so scared.
For now, there was plenty left of the big kettle of chili Sigri cooked once a week. Emmaline could whip up a batch of cornbread and pull some greens from the autumn garden. Sigri wouldn’t object, having pretty much lived on nothing else in the years she’d ranched here alone.
A tensing of the dog’s back, a perking of ears, brought Emmaline to the screen door. Dust puffed in the distance, where the road was no more than a crease in grasslands tinted gold by the afternoon light. Beyond, blue mountains streaked with early snow rose in jagged ranges; the Absarokee and Beartooth to the south, the Crazies to the west. To Emmaline they were guardians, shielding her against where she’d come from, who she’d had to be; but even their grandeur dimmed behind the glint of sunlight on the approaching truck.
Chinook’s whines rose to a frantic pitch. It didn’t take the dog’s quivering rump, ready to break out into a fit of wagging, to tell Emmaline that the truck was Sigri’s. She knew, as surely as the dog, and she understood the impulse to race to meet the loved one, but Chinook, for all her size, was barely out of puppyhood and still needed her training reinforced. Her job, her sacred charge, was to stay close to Emmaline every minute.  
Sigri had swapped the stud service of her Appaloosa stallion for the pick of a neighbor’s litter of pups. “Folks around here are pretty much decent, mind-their-own-business types, whatever their beliefs,” she’d said, “but punks can sprout up anywhere, even Montana. A good dog can make ‘em think twice about trying to get at…well, at a woman out here alone.”
No need to spell it out. It wasn’t just being a woman alone. What had happened down in Laramie to that boy Matthew Shepard was on both their minds. Sigri, when she’d lived alone, hadn’t worried; nearly everybody within fifty miles was related to her, or owned horses she’d trained. She was one of their own. Emmaline, for all her farm-girl background, wasn’t.
The red truck was close enough now for her to make out the familiar lines. Where the road dipped down to ford the tree-lined creek, green-gold leaves hid it for a moment; this was when Emmaline would generally head out to open the gate in the stock fence. Right now she wasn’t sure her legs would take her that far without some wobbling Sigri was sure to notice.
“Stay!” She pressed her hand down hard on Chinook’s wriggling shoulders. Sigri reached the gate, got out to open it herself, looked searchingly up at the house, and got back in. Emmaline waited until the truck stopped between the barn and the house and then, finally, let Chinook out.
Sigri stood, stretched her rangy body after the bumpy ride, pushed back her Stetson until straw-pale cropped hair showed above her tanned forehead, and looked again toward the house. Glimpsing Emmaline inside the doorway, she flashed a boyish grin that would never grow old, no matter how many lines time and weather etched on her face.
The dog pranced around her legs in frantic welcome. Weanling fillies along the paddock fence whickered in greeting. Emmaline, aching to be there too, watched as each animal got its moment of affection. When Sigri finally hauled sacks of groceries out of the truck and strode toward the house, Emmaline barely had time to tie on her apron, pour flour and corn meal into a bowl, and get enough on herself to look like she’d been in the middle of mixing.
The screen door swung open and shut. As soon as the bags and a banded bundle of mail were safely on the kitchen table, and the Stetson tossed onto its hook, Emmaline proceeded to wipe her hands on the blue-checked dishtowel and rush to grab a big hug.
Sigri’d noticed something, though. “You okay, babe?” She stroked the loose tangle of hair Emmaline had forgotten to tidy. Fear came surging back.  
With her arms around Sigri’s lean body and her head nestled against a firm shoulder, Emmaline managed to say, “Sure I’m okay. How’d it go in Bozeman?”
“Not too bad.” Sigri tried to get a look at Emmaline’s face. “I dropped off your baked goods at the cafĂ©. Claire wrote a check for last week and this week too, so we’re all square there. And Rogers at the bank seemed pretty sure we can get an extension on the loan. He knows I’m owed enough by the horse trek outfitters to cover it.”
Emmaline burrowed a little closer, then tilted her head back for a kiss. Chinook, firmly trained not to interrupt such proceedings, lay down with her head between her paws, and then, impatient, went to nose around the edges of the trapdoor.
Emmaline became vaguely aware of the rattle of some small object being pushed around the floor behind her. Sigri, looking past her shoulder, broke the clinch. “What’s that dratted dog got? Chicken bone?”
“Not from my kitchen…” Emmaline stopped. Chinook was offering her prize to Sigri. Held tenderly, in jaws trained to pick up eggs without breaking them, was a four-inch sticklike object. Not, they both knew, a stick. Bone, but not chicken bone. Chickens don’t have fingers.