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STINGY JACK, OL’ SCRATCH, AND A HEAD FULL OF FIRE
Stingy Jack, Ol’ Scratch, and a Head Full of Fire
Jack shuffled into the cottage, his grimy hat gripped in both blackened hands, and stopped just past the door.
His sister Elspeth rose from stoking the fire and huffed at the sight of him, hoisting her skirt to stalk past him and out, slamming the door behind.
Jack lay his hat over the wooden peg on the wall, and took a single, miserly step forward, watching the old woman -who now seemed almost like a stranger to him- for signs of wakefulness. It would be a relief if she didn’t rouse, if she never roused, for she hadn’t offered a single kind or comforting word in many years, not since he was a teenager. Despite circumstances, Jack did not expect a change.
But family and neighbors lingered outside, and none would spare a charitable thought or word for him if he spent any less than a good halved hour tearfully apologizing to the poor old woman, and swearing his renewed, unshakable devotion to the path of The Straight and The Narrow.
Tears were not to be, alas, but the time he could manage, so long as the old woman slept most of it away.
Jack looked at the fireplace, stayed well back from it. Elspeth had almost always taken care of the fires –she’d had to be after all, for Jack hated fire and avoided it like leprosy, even when he inherited the blacksmith business from his uncle. Thanks be to God he had inherited his uncle’s helper, Colm as well.
But hearing the low eerie squeal of steam escaping from the young birch logs, he shook his head vigorously. That sound was why he only allowed Colm to use wood left drying for a season or so. It was bad enough he had to be around fire all day. Screaming fire was insufferable.
His gaze rose to the silver cup on the mantle and he immediately wondered what value it held. Then a hoarse cough from behind had him cringing.
He turned and saw that his mother’s eyes, watery and fogged, were open and focused on him. Her frail hand rose from her side, weakly wriggling fingers of summons.
He hoped for the regretful and forgiving love of the dying, but when he extended his hand, she clutched with such harsh strength and speed it gave him a start.
He leaned toward her, but just a few inches. Dead and dying bodies sent him queasy. Even mere mice in the mouths of the village cats -whose eyes gone wild and distant with some fugue caused by killing, their ears pointed backward to detect would-be thieves- made him feel like a wee lad in a vast dark forest.
His old mum, already interred under a mound of quilts, managed a string of clear and concise words. “Jacky. Ye make my heart hurt.”
“It’s gonna be all right, mum.” Jack whispered. “Just get your rest and ye’ll be back on-“
“Ye’ll never change.” She coughed again, a droplet splatting Jack’s cheek, making him revulse. “An’ I can’t protect ye any longer! I’m bound fer glory…”
“No mum. Ye’re gonna be fine.”
She ignored him, drawing her other hand from under the heavy quilts, a trying labor. In it was her cross, the silver one for which she had saved and saved, to buy from a silversmith the next town over when she was just a lass. She had worn it all these years, hanging it on one bit of string after another as they wore thin.
She held it up in trembling hands, on the opposite side of the bed from where Jack stood; the side pushed against the wall. Jack had to reach across her to take it, holding his breath as he did for fear he would inhale some essence of her ancient illness.
As she released it, thoughts of its value danced in his mind, and of potential buyers.
“Keep it with ye, boy,” his mother rasped. “Once I’m gone, ye won’t have my prayers to scare away the evils of the world.”
“Don’t say that, M-“
She sat up so fast it sent a thin rod of ice through his spine, and had him falling onto his ass as if kicked by a mule. Her eyes reflected the fire, and in so doing, brought Jack’s very worst memory to the fore. “That’s yer only hope, boy!” she bellowed, then fell back to the bed and gave off a hiss like that of the birch logs crumbling to ash in the fireplace.
Jack closed his eyes and shook his head till it hurt, trying to break apart that image against the inside of his head. But the vigil watchers would have heard the cry; they would be crashing in, and it wouldn’t look good for him to be cowering on the floor, so he quickly rose and approached her, looking for the rise of the quilt over her chest.
There was none. He reached out to shake her gently, and realized his calloused hands were shaking.
Then the door burst open, and Elspeth was pushing past him.
“Mother!?” She frantically patted the corpse’s pale cheeks, shook the scrawny, purple-veined hands, put her ear to the old woman’s ears. More watchers came in to crowd past him, and Jack suddenly realized he was in the presence of a dead body. He dashed out of the cottage, roughly pushing past the vigil keepers as he went to the big Ash tree behind the chicken coop and vomited his gorge of beef, turnip hearts and very much beer.
we are giving away five signed copies of PROGENY!
“A rip-roaring quick read told so vividly, you’ll feel like you’re watching a movie.Bigger than the battle between man and Bigfoot is the battle between man and son. Three father/son relationships, each one has their own complexities, dramas and heartaches. Although different, they also share a painful similarity: loss. Loss of respect. Loss of innocence. Loss of control. A horror story that goes beyond monsters lurking in a forest..a story of monsters lurking within living beings..of broken relationships and misunderstandings that wreak more havoc than Bigfoot himself.”(Edited) Jen’s Pen Den
It’s Official! Scares That Care Charity Weekend 2018 will be held in Williamsburg VA August 3rd – 5th. CAN.NOT.WAIT.
If you are one of the millions of devoted viewers of AMCs’ The Walking Dead or any of its spin-offs/imitators, you can say a little thanks to George A Romero for creating the genre to which they belong.
I say “genre” and not “SUB-genre” because that is what the modern zombie narrative has become. Zombies are no longer confined to direct-to-vid horror flicks. The shambling, vacant, flesh-eating resurrected corpse which has come to define the word zombie now appears in comedies, cartoons, fantasies, action adventure films, music videos and even soap operas (looking at you, The Walking Dead) and that’s just film and television. Countless videogames, comics, and fiction works feature the same species of “walker” that first appeared in Romero’s Night of The Living Dead, way back in 1968.
When horror magazine Fangoria began bringing horror filmmakers to the fore in the 80s and turning them into recognizable superstars, the name George A Romero rose to the top of the heap based almost entirely on his original trilogy of zombie films known as the Dead series. These were all low budget affairs, crafted with love and passion by a man who found the perfect stand-in for the most basic, perhaps the worst, aspects of his fellow man.
In trying to reach the warm food bags holed up in that Pennsylvania farmhouse, the first wave of Dead clambered over each other, unconcerned with the unbreathing brethren trampled en route to achieving their singular selfish goal.
As their Dawn rose, they moved outward from their various necropoli, Romero’s legions finding their way to the shopping malls, where thoughtlessly they roamed, only occasionally finding the gristly goodies they sought behind store windows.
As living folk began to haltingly re-organize, in vast military bunkers for instance, and further, began trying to corral and control the Dead, they demonstrated that sheer numbers and mindless appetite will always win the Day; even over any concepts of hierarchy or supposed intellect.
George A Romero milked the zombie genre, perhaps not for all it was worth, but certainly, for its most meaningful elements. He did so almost entirely without the help of the Big Bully studio system, even while lampooning it in many ways.
Many images from his work stand stark in my brain forever. That first stumbling cadaver, zeroing in on Barbara, while her cruel brother mocks her in a Karloff voice.
The nightmare of a hundred hungry hands punching through a wall to claim Lori Cardille.
The agonizing wait for David Emgee to “turn.”
That effing nerve-shattering Thing In The Crate, with its bottomless stomach, swimming up even now from some less-bottomless gulch.
Milquetoast Jason Flemyng, waking to find himself beautifully faceless.
Psychotically jealous Capuchin Elle, screeching somewhere in the dark, wielding a straight razor.
He was by all accounts, good to his family, his friends, and his fans. He was never less than generous, not only in sharing his talents, but in sharing his time.
Cliche’d as it is, one truly wonders if there can ever be another horror auteur like him. Another cliche’: there simply isn’t enough of his work for us.
But when I watch The Walking Dead, or play Resident Evil, whatever the given origin story, I will always realize I’m in the universe he made.
“The Scares That Care Charity Weekend was originally a horror event designed to delight horror fans while benefiting those in need. Now, because of the increasing attendance from fan bases outside of horror, we are starting to transition to a genre event and will continue to morph as feedback points in the direction to continue positive growth.
“Scares That Care!” is an IRS approved, 501(c)(3) charitable organization, designed to bring together the fans of “all things spooky.” Whether it’s haunted houses, paranormal, horror films, or anything else in the “vein” of the horror genre, “Scares That Care!” brings together those individuals in order to give back to the families that need it most…and in turn, become “Good Ambassadors of Horror.”
The difference between our event and the other, fantastic shows that are out there, is simple. All of our proceeds will go to the families that need our assistance. We pride ourselves in being an organization that has no salaries, and no paychecks. We do this because it’s the right thing to do, and we want to represent the Horror community in the best light possible.”
Happy 4th of July holiday weekend! To celebrate we are giving away free short stories all weekend. Check out the latest over on my Facebook page or CLICK on the covers below.
This giveaway has ended.
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE WINNERS!
Mary Ann W, FL
Jennifer G, CA
Danielle S, HI
Felicia J, UT
Sharon F, IL
Giveaway ends July 16, 2017