by Mickie Bolling-Burke

The trees stood in the silent night, watching as the cottage door opened and children danced out, the adults laughing behind.

“All right kids, which one is our Christmas tree?” Father called out. “This one?”

“No, it’s ugly! We should put it out of its misery.” The children laughed, breaking its young branches. They ran deeper into the clearing. “Here, this one, this is our tree!”

Pre-dawn fog, Mount Rainier National Park

Justin Kern via Creative Commons

The children shrieked with glee, counting out each cut as Father chopped down the biggest, greenest pine. When it fell, he tied a rope around it and dragged it back to the cottage. They knocked the snow off and shoved it inside as they sang Christmas carols.

The curtains stood open, showing the family nailing the dead tree onto a platform and posing it in front of the window. Showing the children hanging gaudy objects from its branches. Showing the resin tears of the dead tree clinging to its trunk. Outside, the trees whispered to each other. Their limbs pressed forward, the trees in the back pushing through to add their strength, shattering the window.

The trees crowded into the room, surrounding the family. Held tightly in the trees’ embraces, the boughs suffocated the family’s screams.

mickie_bolling-burkeGrowing up on the east coast, Mickie kept her wrist watch at California time. When she finally made it to the palm trees and Pacific Ocean of the west coast, she knew she’d come home. Working as an actor fed her creative soul, until her beloved Los Angeles grew too big for her. She and her family now live in a small corner of the southwest, where she finds the sky as majestic and blue as she did the ocean. Mickie spends her time writing, reading, hiking and watching ‘The Three Stooges’ with her much adored rescue cat, Pal.

Mickie has three short story collections available on Amazon.

2014 Winner NaNoWriMo

Used with permission from National Novel Writing Month

Well, I managed to finish the NaNoWriMo project—from their 50,000-word guideline perspective anyway—once again at or near the midnight hour. I have been terribly off pace since early in the month and it’s taken a lot of gritted teeth to power through to the finish line. I think, more so than anything else, the challenge this year has been simply that there are other things I would have rather been working on. At no point did this novel ever really capture my imagination and demand to be written down. But as I said going into the month, that’s probably a good thing. Having the luxury of working on the latest inspiration isn’t something it would be wise to come to expect. So I set the goal and I stuck with it, even when it was difficult. Because this year, more so than the other two where I participated, there were times that I really wanted to just call it off. To pack it in and shrug it off. It’s just a silly self-directed contest, after all.


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Christian Kadluba via Creative Commons

The viral marketing campaign rode waves of jesting, revolted incredulity. Marketing imagery was all spatters of ketchup like blood, bleeding burgers flanked by sinister utensils; fast food prepared by sadists. “The joke is,” said CEO Geoff Ferelis on an investor call, “what we really kill are expectations. The only thing leaving a Murder Burger restaurant dead… is hunger.”

The first in-store death attracted the inevitable attention of the smirking irony beat. That quarter, revenues blew away expectations: lines stretched out the door, people defying the urban legend. Groups of friends would dare each other to sit through a whole meal. They laughed on the way out at how silly they’d been, and remarked at how good the food was. Marketing ate it up.

The second death occurred just over a year later, statistically within the realm of coincidence. Numbers were down that quarter. Ferelis released a video on Facebook assuring customers their worry was unfounded, the restaurants were safe. People remarked, “There’s something strange about his eyes.”

By the time the government intervened, the “free switchblade promotion massacre” was a national tragedy. 62 deaths in 24 states. The blades were supposed to be plastic replicas. The rage remained unexplained.

Today we have a thematic Aspiring Voices as I chat with horror writer Sam Witt about making a real living as a working writer, genre writing, and a great dissection of the horror genre’s past, present, and future.

Haunted House

Barbara via Creative Commons

Paul: You were, at one point, a working writer, correct? What were you doing at the time and how was that different from what you’re trying to do now?

Sam: I was indeed a working writer in the early 90’s, primarily churning words in the adventure game industry for Dungeons & Dragons. I wrote a blog post about how that all fell apart, but one thing I didn’t mention was just how different that type of writing was from what I’m doing now.

Everything I produced back in the day was work-for-hire, which means that the millions of words I cranked out weren’t really mine. They belong to the publishers who hired them out, and while many of those words are still earning a decent sum for someone they aren’t providing me with any residual income.

The other downside to this otherwise high-paid work was its relative anonymity. Authors weren’t given front-page billing, but were consigned to the interior of the book. Work-for-hire publishers are interested in building loyalty to their brand, not yours, which gave them an incentive to obscure the work of authors.

By contrast, the writing I’m doing now is mine. The horror serial I’m writing over at Juke Pop Serials is helping me to drawn in new readers who are interested in what I have to say. My blog helps me to connect with other writers and build a stronger bond with fans interested in how and why I write. My forthcoming novels, Breaking Grace and Bad Education, will benefit from the groundwork I’m laying now and should provide me with a stream of cash for as long as folks keep buying them.

That’s the one thing writers need to be mindful of—if you don’t control the rights to your work, you don’t control the rights to your future. All you have are words, so make sure they belong to you and don’t get sold to someone else on the cheap.
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chiaralily via Creative Commons

As patron saints are to human hope, cacodaemon are to human fear. And I am that which hovers over all, a blister known as Kakodaimon. I am the pride of the zealot converted into judgment. I am the hunger that consumes a life, a secret sin indulged in dark. I am the forebear of a silent curse, I am mother of the wretched lie.

My speciality is deceit, a trick of self delusion. Where righteousness exists and masks cruel intent, there I feed and smile. Certainty is my instrument, superiority my song; love is not my mortal foe but yet another stanza I sing. When tears are shed for the benefit of audience, it is I who lap them up. The apology that serves to blunt the edge of a newly-public shame is choked up past a lump I form and the words are drawn from my whispers.

I am children born to save a bond; I am the innocence tossed happily aside; I am worry over privilege.

I live in the light and you all pray unto me.

Get Out

Annadriel via Creative Commons

May, 1946


Arata Ui could tell the difference between the rumble of ocean against sea wall and the buzz of an approaching aircraft when he was awake and alert. Four hours into his second shift, when cursing Ryo for contracting the flu had lost its distracting fire, it became a uniform hum of white noise. His fingers stiffened on the searchlight. Across the dugout, the battery team shared a cigarette, black outlines of huddled bulk nagged by an orange ember.

“Tetsuya! Shin!” Arata hissed, hoping the Gocho wasn’t making his round. “Someone cover me while I go to the latrine.”

The debate was held in susurrus even Arata’s trained ear couldn’t make out. “Fine,” they said at last. After a moment, Shin tapped him on the shoulder.

“Make it fast. I’m only doing this because you’re pulling a double.”

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Erta Ale North Pit Crater Magma Lake

pierre c. 38 via Creative Commons

Krivoth gestured with two folded black claws and his mandibles clicked a hard, wet rhythm as he spoke. “In here is the break room. Coffee, snacks, suffering-sticks, fresh fruit, ichor, the usual.” Ms. Pollibutton’s sagging, chinless face reflected a thousand times over in Krivoth’s faceted red eye. “You get one fifteen minute break every four millennia.” The tone in his lubricated clacking voice suggested he expected some resistance on this point. Ms. Pollibutton remained stoic and pushed her glasses back up her nose.

After a somewhat disappointed pause, Krivoth’s hind legs drummed in sequence creating an agitated, impatient air. “Anyway, moving on,” he said. The tour continued, Krivoth being sure to tick off the points of interest: The Floundering Abyss; The City of Pain; Dyre Labyrinth; Nightmare Valley. Ms. Pollibutton nodded politely at each, never slowing her short, rapid strides. The soft clink of her Cromwell buckles steadied into an incessant grate against Krivoth’s nerves.

“So here’s your workstation,” he said after an age. The loose folds of Ms. Pollibutton’s throat wobbled ever so slightly as she ran a white glove along the dusty outcropping of red stone. A massive anthropodermic book lay on the slab desk.

Krivoth flipped the book open to a page marked with a bone hook using his spiked foreleg. “It works like this: an entrant will arrive at processing. Once Foharr is finished with intake and cleaning, Sinestine will usher it in here. You record the data and let Nesti know which plane is next in the rotation. This is important, okay? If you start double- or triple-stacking the Murdergrounds or whatever, you’re going to have some very grouchy underdaemons. We can’t torment properly if we don’t have time to do the orientations.”

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zombie 1

Petrina McDonald via Creative Commons

Theirs is the fear. Not just of me and the others, but of death and pain and screams and the unique agony of being eaten alive. If they knew it was the horror of those last moments we fed off, far more so than the flesh we consume, they might try to relax. It might even save them, though I doubt it. I’ve heard them say their fear keeps them sharp, helps them stay alive. If I had breath left to laugh, I would. It makes them stink, draws us to them. Blessed irony.

They scramble over fences, stopping to help the slower and weaker ones along. They fight back with axes and bullets and fire. We don’t care. There is no need to rush, no need to push our rotting bodies any faster to overtake their more slowly rotting bodies. Their time will come, as it always does: one by one; little by little; this hour or the next; today or tomorrow. We have the volume. We have the numbers, we have no need but the hunger and they have so many things to concern themselves with. They cling to their fear and we follow. Ours is the patience.