Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Wednesday Briefs: Dracula #22 (5.5)

 Good morning and Happy Hump Day! If it's Wednesday, then it must be time for more flash fiction from the Wednesday Briefers! We're a group of authors who bring you our finest flash fiction every week, 500 to 1000 words, inspired by one of our prompts.

This week, we get a glimpse into the past and the horrors that lie there. See what's happening in this week's chapter of Dracula. Don't forget to visit the other Briefers and see what's up with them! Their links follow my tale! Enjoy!

Dracula #22 (5.5)

A woman lies in a large elaborately carved bed piled high with thick colorful blankets—maroon and black and royal blue—decorated with elaborate designs intricately embroidered. Her thin figure is dwarfed by the mound of bedclothes as well as the thick pile of pillows where she lays her head. A young boy sits by her side, on the edge of the bed. He grips her hand, as if he can transfer his own strength to his ailing mother. His hazel eyes are anxious as he scans her pale face.  But he doesn’t speak aloud his apprehensions, simply holds on for dear life.

Another spasm seizes the woman. She half-rises from the bed, fighting for breath. For several long moments, she is racked with obviously painful coughs. She grips the boy’s hand tightly until the paroxysm passes and she relaxes back into the pillows once more.

“Nico, you should not stay. He will be cross with you.” Her voice is barely audible, a thready whisper that requires too much of the little strength she possesses. Although she is warning him to go, she never releases the hand on hers.

“I don’t care,” the boy says stubbornly. “I want to stay with you, mamă. I need to take care of you.”

The woman’s smile is wistful, as if she is thinking of other times, or maybe what could have been but never will be. “You’re such a good boy, Nico. Please remember that when I am gone.”

“Don’t speak like that.” The boy’s voice is distressed now. “You aren’t going anywhere. You can’t go anywhere. You can’t leave—” His words halt abruptly, as if he has said more than he intended to say. But they both know what lies unspoken between them.

“I’m sorry.” The anguish in her voice is palpable. “I’ve tried to keep you… safe… from—”

Her words end abruptly as the door to this chamber bursts open. A tall dark man stands upon the threshold. He might be considered by some to be handsome, but the fury in his eyes is frightening, lending to an almost demonic expression which overshadows any good looks he may possess.

“Radomir...” Her voice is pleading now. She raises her thin hands in supplication, although she knows this will not appease her husband’s anger. But it is all she can do. All she is capable of doing now.

“Silence!” he bellows as he turns his attention to the boy, who refuses to cower before him, even now. “What have I told you, Nicolae? How dare you disobey me like this.”

“Mother is ill and I want to stay with her.” The boy’s voice never wavers, although inside he quivers with fearful anticipation of what new cruelty his father might devise for him. He has been beaten before, he can endure it again, if he must.

“Such a weakling you have given me,” Radomir Dracula snarls. “Just this one insolent brat who lives when all the others have died.”

“He is our blessing, husband.” She squeezes Nico’s hands as if to enlist his silence. He obeys her wish, although he knows this will not end well for him. But he endures, for her sake.

“He is a curse.” The man spits upon the floor. “This marriage is a curse. Once I am rid of you, I shall find a young wife. A beautiful wife. One who will give me strong sons, not useless ones.”

Anger surges through Nico at his father’s cruel words. How dare he talk to her in this way? Even Nico, as young as he is, knows his father has other women. That is no secret in the castle. Even the servants speak of his escapades, some with admiration, others with disgust. He isn’t sure if his mother knows, but he will not take a chance on harming her with the knowledge, in case she is blissfully ignorant of his infidelities.

“Your son is a good boy,” she protests. Another fit of coughing ensues, and by the time that passes, her breathing is too stertorous to allow her to speak.

“I will not allow him to stain my good name, shame our ancestors. He will be a soldier,” the elder Dracula lashes out. “I will make him stronger, whether you like it or not. Whether he likes it or not. Even if it kills him. I will not tolerate such weakness in my heir. He is a Dracula. I will not allow him to disgrace my proud name. Once I have other sons, he will not matter anyway.”

Nico remains stoic, despite the way his stomach roils. He refuses to demonstrate to his father that he is indeed as weak as he claims him to be. But his silence does not stand him in good stead. His father swiftly crosses the distance between them and lifts the six-year-old boy by the scruff of his neck as if he were no more than a kitten, shakes him fiercely. Without another word, he carries the boy from the room, ignoring his wife’s pitiful cries.

Nico attempts to claw at his father’s hand, to force his release, but to no avail. He is powerless to do anything as his father drags him deeper int the castle. The servants shrink back at their approach, knowing better than to intervene on the boy’s behalf. Nico expects no less. As he’s learned in his short life, only his mother protects him, and she is no longer able to do so.

It isn’t until they reach a particular set of stairs that he realizes where they are going, and he is afraid. “No, please no,” he begs.

The family crypt. A place of infinite death and dark tombs.

Radomir stops before his father’s tomb, slides back the lid and tosses the screaming child inside without a word and closes him in.

Nico’s worst fears have just been realized.

to be continued

Now go see what's up with the other Briefers!

Cia Nordwell

J Ray Lamb

 

 

 

 

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Saturday, July 6, 2024

Saturday is Horror Day #173 - Christmas Bloody Christmas

 Christmas Bloody Christmas


The hottest item this Christmas is a life-size robotic Santa Claus, a fun AI for kids of all ages, with a vocabulary of over 90,000 words! Who wouldn't love to see this standing beside their tree Christmas morning?








Tori (Riley Dandy) owns a bar which has become her whole life, and her sex life has become nonexistent. 


It's Christmas eve and all she wants to do is get drunk and get laid. As she closes up the bar with her employee/friend Robbie (Sam Delich), he keeps trying to get her to go with him but she says she has a date, although she sounds less than enthusiastic over this particular prospect. It isn't hard for Robbie to talk her into going to a party with him, where they hang out with mutual friends (it is a very small town, so everybody knows everybody).

Afterwards, as Robbie walks Tori home, having a lively discussion along the way, things begin to heat up - and I don't mean just in the bedroom. The robotic Santa has suddenly gone amok, and he's targeting everyone in town on his murderous rampage. Ho, ho, ho!


I had high hopes for this one when it started, photography looked good, and the soundtrack is a driving sort of techno/metal. And playing the demented Santa is one Abraham Benrubi, probably best known for playing Jerry on ER. Yes, there is blood, plenty of it. I was confused as to why Santa went bad, so I looked it up. It is actually explained at the beginning, so pay attention (unlike me). However, that is offset by the continuing banter between Tori and Robbie, discussing and arguing about music and bands and whatever. While they do sound like a typical couple, this went on for so long, I rapidly began to lose interest and not pay as much attention.

The last portion of the film went on too long, with Tori against the robot Santa, and again I found myself losing interest and wishing she would stop screaming and stfu. I had stopped caring for any of the characters long before. So okay, it makes more sense now, doesn't save it ultimately. I'll give this film 2 Stars.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Wednesday Briefs: Dracula #21 (5.4)

 Good morning and Happy Hump Day! If it's Wednesday, then it must be time for more flash fiction from the Wednesday Briefers! We're a group of authors who bring you our finest flash fiction every week, 500 to 1000 words, inspired by one of our prompts.

Avram and Dracula are forced to hide in an underground area beneath the church, while Gunther tries to find a way for them to leave the village safely. Avram has to keep Dracula calm for both their sakes. See what's happening in this week's chapter of Dracula. Don't forget to visit the other Briefers and see what's up with them. Their links follow my tale! Enjoy!

Dracula #21 (5.4)

Avram was impressed. Gunther was possessed of a great deal of chutzpah to dare to talk to the vampire in that manner. Of course he didn’t realize what Nico was, but he knew enough to not antagonize him, and normally he was the mildest of men, filled with priestly goodwill and all.  The interactions between Gunther and Dracula over the years had been limited, and usually concerned with Avram, but Dracula had not always come across as someone of infinite patience. Rather, one might even say he was demanding. Not surprising that the villagers steered well clear of him on the rare occasions when he came to Bistritza, and why he seldom came anywhere near them.  Gunther was a very protective friend… and Dracula was a very protective guardian. They clearly had not liked one another almost from the beginning but had tolerated each other for Avram’s sake.

Avram understood Gunther’s frustration over the current situation—Dracula’s ill manners weren’t helping anything—and he couldn’t fault him over that. At the same time, he was well aware that Dracula could have flown up the stairs and ended Gunther’s life with little to no effort. He was grateful, albeit surprised, that the vampire had not done so, considering how angry he was. That showed he was still in control of himself, for which he was grateful.  At least they still had the candle Gunther had provided, for as long as that lasted. Perhaps the illumination would help to pacify Nico.

He didn’t even have the heart to chastise the man for his lack of manners. If only he knew what was causing such stress, perhaps something could be done about it.  Other than the obvious reason, which was that he wished to leave this small space immediately. Who didn’t? But that didn’t seem to be happening now, and perhaps wouldn’t be possible for a while. Avram could only hope their confinement would end before Dracula’s hunger began. He didn’t know what the vampire would do should that occur, and he had no real wish to find out.

Dracula began pacing again, but not with the almost frantic stride he’d employed before. Once he reached the farthest limit of the space, he suddenly and without warning slammed his fist into the stone and howled, not with pain but vexation. Avram started to ask him if he wanted to be heard but thought better of it.

“Nico, don’t do that, you’ll hurt yourself,” he fussed. Hastening to the vampire’s side, he took his hand and examined it. No real damage, but he’d managed to tear the skin a little. Blood seeped from the barely visible wound. Avram reached into a pocket and drew out a square of linen which he wrapped about Dracula’s hand. He could hear the vampire struggle to control his breathing. Considering his poor circulation, he needed to be more circumspect with respect to his blood pressure. His energy was not infinite, either, which was why he usually rested during the day.

“I’m fine, Avram,” Dracula protested, but he made no move to remove his hand from Avram’s.

Avram peered into Dracula’s eyes, as well as he could in the limited light of the flickering candle. He could sense a great pain there. At some point in his life, Nico had clearly suffered a trauma to his soul. A scarring of his psyche that had left indelible marks, although he usually kept these well-hidden. But to be fair they’d never found themselves in this type of situation before. Avram’s heart ached for him.

There was so much he wanted to ask, so much he wanted to know. But he didn’t think he’d receive an answer to his questions and only risked upsetting Dracula more. They would have time to talk later, on their travels, under less stressful circumstances.

“We’ll leave here as soon as possible,” he finally said. “Gunther will find a way, I am sure of it.”

Dracula withdrew his hand. “I hope that your trust is well-founded. If not, there will be consequences.”

Discretion being the better part of valor, Avram wisely held his tongue. “In the meantime, Nico, you should rest. Once Gunther returns, I will be able to find you blood, but until then, you should conserve your strength.”

Unfortunately, in this limited space, there was nowhere for Nico to stretch out, as if he were in his own bed, and he knew better than to ask him to lie upon the dirt floor. As fastidious as the vampire was, that was not an acceptable option.

“Why don’t we move the trunk closer to the wall?” he suggested.

Dracula glanced at him inquisitively. “Why would we do that?”

“So I can lean against the wall, and you can lean against me.” He hoped that was a more acceptable alternative to placing his own head against the undoubtedly cold stone. He could endure it better than the picky vampire.

“Very well.” Dracula moved the chest without further questioning, to Avram’s relief, and they situated themselves upon it. The slop of the lid didn’t facilitate matters, but there was nothing he could do about that. Dracula leaned back against him and closed his eyes, lapsing into his version of sleep.

“So you can be reasonable if you want,” Avram said softly. His companion made no response.

 to be continued

Now see what is up with the other Briefers!

Cia Nordwell

J Ray Lamb

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Saturday is Horror Day #172 - X

 X


A group of young people want to make a porn film. It's 1979, and they can't exactly do this anywhere, as those types of films are more underground than acceptable. So they rent a cabin in Texas from an elderly couple. Wayne (Martin Henderson) is the director and his girlfriend Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow is the star). Jackson (Kid Cudi) is the lead male, and RJ (Owen Campbell) is cameraman while his rather naive girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) holds the boom mic. Maxine (Mia Goth) is the other female actress.






The old man who owns the farm, Howard (Stephen Ure) lives at the main house with his wife. They 


find him creepy, and they are determined he not figure out what they're doing, sure he wouldn't like it. Yet they go so far as to shoot scenes in his barn, taking a chance on being caught. In their downtime, they discuss porn and why there is nothing wrong with it, and Lorraine decides she wants to be part of it, to RJ's dismay. That's about the time when everything takes a turn for the worse.



X is the first film in Ti West's trilogy. I reviewed Pearl last week which, although being made second, comes first chronologically.  Where Pearl was very psychological, X is more of your standard slasher film. But that isn't to say that it's not worth watching. Having seen Pearl already, I anticipated different things, but you can watch them in either order.  Again, Mia Goth is outstanding as Maxine. The third part of the trilogy is Maxxxine, which comes out July 5 and picks up where X left off. I am looking forward to that. I'll give X 4 Stars.




Friday, June 28, 2024

Book Review: Assassination Classroom, Vol 18 by Yusei Matsui

 

Assassination Classroom, Vol 18     


Author: Yusei Matsui

Publisher: Viz Media

American release date: October 3, 2017

Format/Genre/Length: Paperback/Action Adventure Manga//200 pages

Overall Personal Rating: ★★★★★

 

Nagisa and Karma utilize their stealth skills to steal aboard the rocket headed to the space station, taking the place of the crash dummies, much to the surprise of the astronauts. Nagisa threatens them with a bomb (a fake one) and Karma explains their mission in order to gain their cooperation in gathering the data on Koro Sensei. When asked how they plan to return, they confidently say that they have that covered.

The two hitchhikers parachute back to their classroom, where they find a very angry Karasuma. But Koro Sensei convinces him that the information which the students gleaned from their trip, even outside of the data about himself, far outweighs any of Karasuma’s arguments. Going over the data, they realize that if handled correctly, the chances of Koro Sensei actually exploding and destroying the earth are minimal, and everyone rejoices. Can it really be that simple? But, also, is that a risk they can afford to take?

Koro Sensei wishes to schedule another career guidance session with each of them. Once they graduate, their assassination skills will no longer be of use to them, and they have their futures to consider. That is only 38 days away now. Not a lot of time. Plus they need to apply to the high school of their choice. For Karma, that’s an easy decision – he wants to attend Kunugigaoka High School and make the students’ lives miserable by outshining them lol Nagisa is conflicted about his career choice if he doesn’t become an assassin. He is surprised when Sakura asks him what else would he become but a teacher? That idea had actually never occurred to him.

The second Grim Reaper is still on the loose – and still determined to wreak vengeance on Koro Sensei! It’s unfortunate that he has teamed up with mad scientist Yanagisawa to take down Koro Sensei once and for all!

Valentine’s Day is coming! In Japan, that’s a time for women to buy chocolates for the men in their lives. And also for a certain teacher to indulge his matchmaking propensities! How many couples will he successfully match this year?

Time is ticking away, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance! As the students prepare for life after junior high, surely they must be wondering if there will be any life. They have discovered that the chances of Koro Sensei exploding are minimal, but they aren’t zero, so some sort of chance remains. And it looks like the wannabe Grim Reaper is more than happy to add to their confusion, along with the horrible man who made Koro Sensei what he is today. That can’t be good. Another great volume, only three more to go!

 

 

 

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Wednesday Briefs: Dracula #20 (5.3)

  Good morning and Happy Hump Day! If it's Wednesday, then it must be time for more flash fiction from the Wednesday Briefers! We're a group of authors who bring you our finest flash fiction every week, 500 to 1000 words, inspired by one of our prompts.

Gunther has dealt with the villagers, at least for now. But he's telling Avram and Dracula to stay put until he returns, and he'll be as quick as possible. Dracula is definitely unhappy. See what's going on in this week's chapter of Dracula. Don't forget to visit the other Briefers and see what's up with them. Their links follow my tale! Enjoy!

Dracula #20 (5.3)

“It’s only me.” Gunther’s disembodied voice came floating down to them from above. Moments later, his black-robed body came into view as he plodded down the steps and joined them, one of the candles from the altar in his hand.  He set the candle into a wall sconce that Avram hadn’t even realized was there until that moment. It wasn’t much, but it was a definite relief from the previous gloom. Avram searched his friend’s countenance by the light of the flickering flames, hoping his expression would reveal the result of his encounter with the villagers, but Gunther’s face betrayed nothing.

Avram shot a quick glance at his employer.  He noticed that Nico seemed to be a little less uneasy than he’d been before, which must be a good thing. So why was he still concerned about him? Maybe because he was too familiar with his habits to believe all was now well.  He knew this slight change in his demeanor had nothing to do with Gunther’s arrival, as he clearly didn’t care for the man, and he also knew that the vampire held no fear of the dark, so it wasn’t just the presence of the light, although he himself found that to be a relief. Not that he feared anything with Nico by his side. There must be another reason for Dracula’s anxiety, but what it was he couldn’t begin to imagine. And he didn’t think this was the time to ask.

“The villagers? They are gone?” Dracula snapped. Apparently, he still retained a certain amount of tension.

Avram felt guilt well up inside of him—guilt that the man was even there with him at all when he could have easily escaped by himself and been far from here by now. Instead, he had voluntarily chosen to stay with Avram. He felt like such a burden. Nonetheless, he was grateful for Nico’s presence as well as his company. Whether he liked to admit it or not, he worried when Nico strayed too far from home. Never mind he was a hundred-fifty-year-old vampire with a mind of his own, Avram cared about what happened to him. And yes, he cared about Dracula… about the man who had virtually saved his life. That was not something easily forgotten.

It was a complicated situation.

“They have gone,” Gunther confirmed, remaining calm despite the obvious antipathy of the other man. “They have taken Doina and Bogdan back to their home to prepare them for burial and to administer the last rites.”

“If you need to go, we can make our own way,” Avram offered, but Gunther shook his head.

“No, that’s not necessary. Their priest shall do so.”

Avram understood immediately. He should have realized such would be the case, as most of the village were members of the newer church. Perhaps it was that fact which was helping to keep them safe in this less-visited place. But for how long?

“But I do really have to go now. I must insure your safe journey, remember? It’s imperative that you leave Bistritz as soon as possible.” He glanced sharply at Dracula and raised his hand, as if to ward off any arguments the other might make, but the vampire remained silent, so he continued. “I will make those arrangements and return with food as soon as I can. I’m not sure how long you must wait here—”

Dracula’s previously suppressed anger could no longer be contained as his silence came to its inevitable end, much to Avram’s chagrin.

“And who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do? You seem to forget whom it is you are speaking to, priest. You think you have the right to keep us detained in this… this detestable dungeon?” Dracula started to move toward Gunther and Avram quickly grabbed his arm, although he knew his strength alone would not suffice if Dracula did not wish it to be so. Dracula made no move to shake him off, but his anger was not to be allayed. “It is bad enough that we cannot return to the castle, perhaps for a long time to come, but you expect we should skulk beneath the earth like vermin? Trapped at your whim? And what if you do not come back, what then? Perhaps that is your plan? You wish for us to die, and this is to be our tomb? This shall be your revenge for the death of the idiot blacksmith?”

Verdammte Arschloch.”

Avram heard Gunther swear under his breath. If he heard, then of course Dracula did too.

Gunther threw up his hands in exasperation. “I have put up with much from you, Dracula. Mostly for Avram’s sake. He is a good man, and I trust his judgment, even when it comes to you.”

“What do you know about me?” Dracula hissed. “You know nothing, that is what you know.”

“I know that Avram works too hard for too little appreciation. Trying to allow you to live the fancy life you enjoy. Let me ask this, what do you do to deserve this… this frippery.” He waved a hand at Dracula’s expensive suit. “There are people who are grateful to have a roof over their heads and food to eat, while you… you…” Breathing heavily now, he turned away from the vampire in disgust. “I have no time for this. Avram, I shall return. Please be safe.” He dashed up the stairs with surprising speed and the floor closed above them once more.

 to be continued

Now go see what the other Briefers are up to!

Cia Nordwell

J Ray Lamb

 

 

 


Sunday, June 23, 2024

Saturday is Horror Day #171 - A Nightmare Wakes, Pearl

 A Nightmare Wakes


A very pregnant Mary Godwin and her lover, Percy Shelley, arrive for a summer visit to their friend Lord Byron, along with Mary's stepsister Claire and the renowned physician Dr. John Polidori. Byron demands to be entertained. He wants to hear ghost stories, and comes up with the idea of a competition to see who can tell the best one. This becomes the birthplace for Mary (who will become Mary Shelley) to write her masterpiece Frankenstein.

This should have been an interesting story, but bad acting and bad writing and an acute case of boredom caused me to give up after about fifteen or twenty minutes. I advise you avoid this film entirely.



Pearl


It's 1918. The world is a scary place. The Spanish flu is rampant, and the first World War, known then as the Great War, rages on. Pearl (Mia Goth) has gone back to live on the farm with her parents as her husband Howard (Alistair Sewell) has gone off to fight. Life on the farm is hard. Her mother Ruth (Tandi Wright) is harsh and demanding. Pearl has to look after her infirm father (Matthew Sunderland) who sits helplessly in his wheelchair. Pearl dreams of being a famous dancer, and practices whenever she can. But her mother catches her and belittles her and tells her to forget such foolishness.





Pearl's sister-in-law Mitsy (Emma Jenkins-Purro) tells her of a dance competition that will be held in a 


nearby church. The winner will get to dance with the group through several cities! She doesn't want to go alone, so has Pearl promise to get away from the farm and come with her. Pearl sees this as her big chance, her first step to stardom.



Pearl loves the animals on the farm. Even the crocodile she has befriended and whom she fees. It's people she has trouble with, never feeling quite right around them. One day, her mother sends her to town to pick up her father's prescription of morphine and she decides to go to the movies to see a film called Palace Follies which has a lot of dancing. Afterward, reluctant to return to the farm, she is standing in the alley behind the theater when a man comes out and strikes up a conversation with her. Turns out he is the projectionist (David Corenswet) and he invites her inside. They talk and he offers to let her see another film, but she has to go. He tells her to come back sometime.



Pearl is the story of a young woman on the verge of madness, who has dreams and aspirations she desperately wants to achieve but her life is very bleak. She can't relate to the people around her and her mother doesn't understand, while her father is beyond reaching. The dance audition is her breaking point, but even before that there was something off about her and she had a cold, cruel nature of her own, perhaps verging on being narcissistic. 


Pearl is like a twisted, dark version of The Wizard of Oz. When I saw Pearl on her bike, I was reminded of Elmira Gulch (Wicked Witch of the West). The scene with the scarecrow in the field and the scene where Pearl throws water on her mother are also reminiscent of the classic film.  In Oz, Dorothy too wanted to get away from the farm and see the world, as she tells the traveling salesman. In Pearl, he is the projectionist, who tells her he can take her to Europe. Of course, he has his own agenda but she is too naive to see that. There is even a character named Dorothy in Pearl. Some found the scene with the scarecrow disturbing, but I did not. I wonder what those people thought of the explicit (for that time) movie the projectionist showed Pearl.


Pearl was directed and co-written by Ti West (Mia Goth is also listed as a writer), who brought us The House of the Devil, which I reviewed previously. Whereas I found that film forgettable (in fact, I started to watch it again, having actually forgotten I'd seen it), Pearl is a masterpiece. a veritable tour de force of a horror film. Engrossing from beginning to end, I could not even imagine what was going to happen. Mia Goth's performance is brilliant. It is both criminal and not surprising that she was not nominated for an Oscar. I have come to disregard those as being far too political and having little to do with actual excellence. The best actress Oscar that year went to Jessica Chastain for The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Go figure. I highly recommend Pearl and I give it a rare 5 Stars. Pearl is actually the prequel to X, but you can watch Pearl first. After X comes Maxxine. I look forward to reviewing both.