Icy Sedgwick

The Cabinet of Curiosities

What happens if you put zombies in a Western?

It sounds like the start of a bad joke, doesn’t it – what do you get if you put zombies in a Western? Answer? To Kill A Dead Man!

In all seriousness, zombies in a Western aren’t such a strange proposition.  The weird Western has been around since the days of Robert E. Howard, and even films like High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider played with the idea of strange happenings in the old West. Is the Drifter the ghost of the dead marshall, or is he the personnification of the guilt of the townspeople?

zombies in a western

Whichever it is, it’s definitely weird!

heath lowrance weird westernThe weird Western is probably more familiar from video games like Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare. The Western plays very well with other genres, like comedy (Shanghai Noon), the locked room mystery (The Hateful Eight), steampunk (Wild Wild West), romance (Brokeback Mountain), science fiction (Back to the Future IIICowboys and Aliens) and survival narratives (The Revenant). Hardly surprising that you’d be able to add horror to that list!

Heath Lowrance has explained it much better than I have, and you can read his post on the weird Western here. While you’re at it, pick up his Hawthorne: Tales of a Weirder West and check out his take on the subgenre.

But zombies in a Western?

It’s not a new idea but let’s face it, zombies are a badass foe. They’re relentless, infectious, and there’s a lot of them. There are multiple reasons behind why they’re zombies too. Is it a virus? Radiation? Voodoo? Besides, my favourite genre is horror – it was bound to bleed into Grey’s world at some point. If you want to know more about the direction of the series, check out the interview I did with David Cranmer.

to kill a dead manSo yes folks, the sequel to my 2013 novella, The Guns of Retribution, is now available, as of Monday! After the events of Retribution, which saw bounty hunter Grey O’Donnell face off against his old adversary, Sheriff Jasper Roberts, Grey is back in the saddle with his associate, Billy Cole. It’s six months later and they’re now in Colorado, on the trail of ne’er-do-well Cyrus Guthrie.  They could do with the bounty, but what should have been a routine job takes a turn for the weird when they follow the trail to an abandoned mining encampment.

Something unnatural lurks in the trees near Bentley, and when the living dead pay a visit to the town, Grey enlists the help of a Ute medicine man to fight them off. Trouble is, Bentley is also the home to Peggy Marsden, the love of Grey’s life, and when she goes missing, Grey isn’t about to lose her a second time. Will Grey defeat the walking corpses, find Peggy, and escape with his arms and limbs intact?

There’s only one way to find out! You can order the paperback direct from Amazon (it’s $7.75 in the US or £5.18 in the UK) or it’s also available for the Kindle (it’s $2.99 in the US or £2.10 in the UK).

US paperback

US Kindle

UK paperback

UK Kindle

Let me know what you think of it, and I’ll be starting work soon on book 3 in the Grey O’Donnell series – which will see Grey take even more of a detour into strange happenings and supernatural shenanigans!

Do you enjoy weird Westerns? Are they more likely to make you read a Western? Let me know in the comments!

What’s the appeal of the Western?

The appeal of the Western lies partly in the scenery. Think of gunfights and horse chases, played out against a dramatic backdrop like Monument Valley or the plains of Kansas. Picture the railroad, curving through the landscape, while cowboys drive cattle across the wide open plains. All very epic, yeah?

appeal of the western

By contrast, I grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne, a city that sprang from the Roman settlement of Pons Aelius, and expanded through the local industries of coal mining and ship building. It’s a city with an industrial heritage – a far cry from the clapboard towns and settlements that litter the Old West. It’s also the most northern city in England before you reach Scotland – in between the city and the borders lie rugged coastline, wide open moors, and small villages that centre around either farming or fishing.

appeal of the western

Sandhill in Newcastle upon Tyne in the 1800s. Courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

So what on earth made me write a Western?

I did it for the sheer joy of actually writing a Western!

appeal of the westernI grew up watching Westerns on TV. There were the movies, from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to Shanghai Noon, and TV shows like Little House on the Prairie. My granddad used to read novels by Zane Grey. The Western always had a certain amount of popularity in the UK – and judging by the success of more recent films like 3:10 to Yuma, True Grit, and The Hateful Eight, it still does. And why wouldn’t they? You’ve got bounty hunters, cowboys, sheriffs, indigenous people – it’s hardly surprising the Western became the basis for Star Trek.

Yep, Star Trek was originally titled Wagon Train to the Stars.

I even studied the history of the American West for GCSE History, and it was utterly fascinating.  Where else would you find the westward expansion, the Mormons, the Gold Rush, cattle drives, lawless mining towns and the Pinkertons, all within the same century?

When the opportunity came up to write a Western of my own, I jumped at the chance. The result was The Guns of Retribution. Now the sequel, To Kill A Dead Man, is out, so clearly I just love writing Westerns!

But what’s the appeal of the Western?

appeal of the western

Look at this scene! What’s not to love?! Few genres can boast real life ghost towns, but the Western can. I’d give anything to visit Bodie, in California.

The settlement of the West is so unlike anything we have in British history. Yes, we had the expansion of the British Empire, but our history stretches back for centuries before. The Romans invaded in AD 43 but we had an indigenous population before then – we’ve never had to settle here. Our civil wars took place in the 17th century, and seem so much more distant than the 19th century American Civil War.

appeal of the western

American Civil War re-enactors

We don’t have the same variety of scenery, and the gold rushes are so much more adventurous than the Industrial Revolution that transformed Britain. We don’t have the same battle with the landscape – the rolling forests, lush hills and flat fens of “this green and pleasant land” seem quaint and genteel compared to the deserts, plains and mountains of North America. Britain has always been dominated by its class hierarchy so there’s something epic about the idea of settling a plot of land and setting up a homestead for yourself. The Old West has a mythic feel, and an inherent sense of romance.

The Western as Modern Mythology

appeal of the western

Annie Oakley

The notorious gunslingers become the villains, and the infamous law men become the gods. There’s something timeless and totally widescreen about the Western. 1950s science fiction feels ‘twee’ and ‘dated’ by modern standards, and horror often descends into hackneyed clichés. Most fantasy feels like a Tolkien re-tread.

But the Western is populated by larger-than-life characters with as much relevance now as they had back in the day. Where else would you find figures like Annie Oakley, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok and Jesse James? The noon shoot out is so much more visceral than the British flintlock duel at dawn.

Besides, the other appeal of the Western is the battle between humans and the land around them. The Western reminds us that life is tough. Accidents happen, we get sick, it can be hard to make a living, and if you’re really unlucky you might get shot in the back while playing cards. Life is fleeting but it’s also precious – and that’s what the Western reminds us.

Do you love the Western, or do you think it’s had its day? Let me know in the comments!


My latest Western, To Kill A Dead Man is available now from Amazon in paperback and for Kindle!

Does The Revenant score points for the Western?

The RevenantYou’d think I’d have been over the moon to see Leonardo DiCaprio in a Western, and I had really high hopes that The Revenant would be phenomenal. The trailers certainly promised as much. But sadly…

The Revenant is BRUTAL

It’s not an enjoyable film, it’s an endurance test. I’ve seen other reviewers toss around the term ‘pain-porn’ and they’re not far off. The characters are wrung out to their absolute limits, and often beyond, just to prove that the West truly was wild. I know fans of cinematic realism will point out that life really was this brutal, nasty and totally arbitrary, but The Revenant is a film, not a documentary. When you’re a fan of horror, like I am, and you’ve seen some pretty nasty things (like Martyrs), it says a lot that The Revenant can even make you feel a bit icky.

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, the same man who brought us the wandering weirdfest that was Birdman, The Revenant tells the tale of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio). He’s part of a team procuring pelts in the woods, and after being attacked by a bear, he’s left for dead by John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Fitzgerald heads off to catch up with the hunting team (and his pay cheque) while Glass embarks on the kind of quest that most survival horror films can only wish for. He’s chased by Native Americans, falls off a cliff, is swept over white water rapids, and more. The film’s trying to say “Look! Look at this man! Look at what he’s GONE through!” but it got tiresome – you don’t need an excuse to prove what a good actor DiCaprio is. Just let him get on with it.

the revenant

Make no mistake, this is a miserable film

The cinematography is gorgeous, and the camerawork puts you right into the thick of the action. This is where the problem lies. Half the time the film feels like a cut scene from a particularly brutal video game, and the rest of the time it just feels indulgent. Right at the beginning, in the opening attack that makes the battle of Helm’s Deep feel like a minor disagreement over a parking space at Ikea, a horse is shot at random by a guy just strolling through the middle of the fight. Why? What purpose did that serve? Oh but it was a violent time, people say. Glass went through a lot in order to survive. True, but there comes a point where you just have to ask, “Is this necessary?”

Decide who your real antagonist is

the revenantMy biggest issue with it is Alejandro’s continual insistence on what he sees as lyrical symbolism, but I saw as an opportunity to do some editing. Do we need shots of Glass’s dead Pawnee wife randomly floating above him? Probably not. We get that he misses her – he says as much. I have never seen a film which devoted so much screen time to treetops. Yes it’s very pretty but really? Not the point. Because this is where I felt the wheels came off a bit. The bad guy is set up very early on as Fitzgerald, and Tom Hardy does a very good job of playing him as a mostly incoherent, unlikeable shit.

BUT.

With one or two exceptions, Glass’s biggest problems tend to come from nature itself, be it a grizzly bear, the unrelenting cold, the river, even just his own body. The Westerns of old always had a tension between civilisation (the towns) and the untamed wilderness (the Wild West), so that’s fair enough. But in a lot of ways Glass’s biggest enemy is the environment, and the other people struggling to cope with it, not Fitzgerald. I couldn’t even root for Glass, even though DiCaprio was fantastic, because he’s just not a likeable guy. I only wanted him to succeed because it would mean the film was over.

the revenantMake no mistake, I’m thrilled to see Westerns back in the cinema, with the marvellous Slow West last year and The Hateful Eight earlier this month, and I’m super excited to see Bone Tomahawk is getting a release later this year. The Revenant does score points by engaging with the experiences of the indigenous tribes, something The Hateful Eight flat out ignores, but it’s wound so tightly all of the tension ironically falls away. No one can be on the edge of their seat for that long without their arse going to sleep.

There was a good film in here, but somehow it got squandered in favour of brutal reality and punishing the cast.

2/5 for enjoyability

4/5 for technical mastery

How to write a Western from the UK

the guns of retribution westernWhen The Guns of Retribution was first published, I got quite a few questions from prospective readers who wanted to know if it was a Western, or an adventure story, or a pulp tale.

Really, it’s all three.

I actually started describing it as a pulp adventure in the Old West, just to cover those bases. Readers seemed more interested in the adventure part than the Western part!

But I know what you’re thinking. How can a female writer from the cold north east of England possibly write a Western about a male bounty hunter in Arizona?

A Western is pretty much historical fiction.

So the same rules apply. As it happens, I have a bit of a thing about writing historical fiction. Grave robbers, the inmates of Bedlam, ships lost at sea, bullies at the Charterhouse School – I just love setting stories in the past. I’ve loved history since I was little and I enjoy the research just as much as I enjoy the actual writing part.

the guns of retributionAs it was, I never much cared for Westerns as films, with the exception of Back to the Future III. But then I was recommended Tombstone, and my entire opinion changed. It’s an awful film in terms of acting and structure, but it’s just so damned enjoyable. Many of the early Westerns are far from historically accurate and paint a mythologised picture of the Old West. That said, they’re a good way to get a feel for a period. I actually stuck to later Westerns, such as Pale Rider and the 3:10 to Yuma remake, which at least make more of an effort to be historically accurate.

I kind of wish that Slow West had been around when I’d been writing. Michael Fassbender would have been perfect inspiration.

So where do you start? At the library!

WesternThe internet holds many wonders but the library is still the best research tool when you’re dealing with a period so far outside your own lifetime.

While I was researching The Guns of Retribution, I read general histories of the Old West, histories specific to Arizona and the Apaches, and other Western novels. Yes, fiction can still be research.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to read, both primary and secondary sources.

Primary sources for the Old West are a little limited in the UK, since we don’t have the same level of access to contemporary newspapers, diaries or letters etc.. But many are reproduced in secondary sources like history books and biographies. The Old West has been a popular choice for TV documentaries too. There’s always the possibility for the bias of the researchers to colour the information, but the visuals help contextualise the period.

Visit your locations if you can.

the guns of retribution

All that remains of Aztec, AZ

I would love to have visited places in Arizona but my budget didn’t stretch far enough! Instead I had to rely on Google Maps! Many of the ghost towns can still be found using the aerial mode, but Google Maps is good for getting a feel for the landscape.

It would be no good me setting a novel in Arizona and then describing lush green fields or subtropical paradises, only to find scrub land and canyons when double-checking the facts. Retribution and Sandwater, the two towns featured in The Guns of Retribution, are entirely made up, but they’re loosely based on actual towns. It might be a pulp novella but I didn’t want people to read it and say it was factually inaccurate!

The sequel, To Kill A Dead Man, is set in Colorado, a silver mine is central to the plot. I spent a lot of time reading up on the history of silver mining, and I spent hours on Google Earth to locate the right spot for the story! The geography had to match the narrative.

So why might you want to read The Guns of Retribution?

Hopefully this post has convinced you that a pulp adventure story can still be a worthwhile read. Besides, there are guns. There are gallows. There’s a femme fatale. There’s a bad guy you’ll want to punch in the face. What’s not to like?

The Guns of Retribution is available for the Kindle through the Beat to a Pulp in the UK and the US.


dead man's handIf you want to be convinced of my pulp storytelling credentials, then sign up to my mailing list and get a free copy of my trio of short stories, Dead Man’s Hand, which also includes the first chapter of The Guns of Retribution as a sample!

It’s available in your choice of format, from PDF to MOBI and ePUB. Normally it would cost 99c on Amazon but it is FREE if you sign up!

Just go here and sign up, and all will be revealed!

 

Is The Hateful Eight a Tarantino Triumph?

the hateful eightIt’s taken a while for The Hateful Eight to see its UK release, compared to the US release, but by God, it’s definitely been worth the wait! After the relative disappointment that was Django Unchained (for me, at least), I was half-hesitant and half-excited to see Tarantino do another Western, but thankfully I was not let down.

I’m glad that people are starting to talk about Westerns more, and I found too interesting articles online that discuss the potential resurgence of the genre. Writer/director S. Craig Zahler, the man behind 2015’s Bone Tomahawk, doesn’t think that the genre will see too much new love since any success for The Hateful Eight or The Revenant will be put down to their directors or stars, rather than the genre itself. You can read more of his comments here. Rolling Stone, on the other hand, think that Westerns have never been more relevant, which you can read here.

Is The Hateful Eight actually any good though?

In short, YES! I thoroughly enjoyed it. It might be just over three hours long but unlike some of his earlier films, it doesn’t drag at any point. As ever his dialogue is snappy and pithy, though I’m pretty sure he could have cut down the amount of uses for a particularly offensive word he seems to love using. Tim Roth absolutely steals the film, though Michael Madsen seemed to be criminally underused. Either that, or he’s a one-trick pony and I’d previously ascribed more talent to him than he possibly has.

I’ve filmed a Youtube review, which you can watch below. Let me know what you think by giving the video a thumbs up, and considering subscribing to my channel!

Have you seen The Hateful Eight, and did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments below!

Has Tarantino has made the Western popular again?

Looks like Quentin Tarantino might be making the Western popular again with the release of The Hateful Eight! I saw it last night and by God, it was marvellous, but I’ll be doing a video review so I’ll talk more about it then. That was more just a passing comment before I get to the real point of this post!

Not just any Western…this is a WEIRD Western!

WesternThe sequel to my pulp Western, The Guns of Retribution, is coming soon! To Kill A Dead Man is set six months after the events of Guns, and bounty hunter Grey O’Donnell is on the trail of another outlaw, bound for Colorado. Something unnatural lurks in the woods outside of Bentley, and Grey is persuaded to get involved in the mystery when Peggy, the love of his life, goes missing. It all points to the abandoned silver mine and what, or who, is buried there…

If you like weird Westerns, then To Kill A Dead Man will be right up your alley! You don’t need to have read Guns to enjoy its undead Western action, but if you’d like to, you can grab it from Amazon. I’ve also included the first chapter as a sample in Dead Man’s Hand. The collection is normally 99c but you’ll get it for free if you sign up for my mailing list, which you can do so here!

If you’d like to see some of the images that inspired To Kill A Dead Man, then I have a board here on Pinterest.

Not a Western, but still pretty weird

new publicationsThis is about as far from the Western as you can get, but I’ve also got a short story appearing in the forthcoming Bloody Parchment anthology, Beachfront Starter Home, Good Bones. There’s a blog post here about it, and if it’s anything like previous BP anthologies it’ll be a good one!

My story is ‘Something Wicked This Way Slithered’, and is set in wartime Britain. It features a creepy mummy in a dank country house – well it is one of my stories!

I’ll post more details when I get them but isn’t that a fabulous cover? If you can’t wait that long, then I had a werewolf story, ‘Protection’, in a previous Bloody Parchment anthology, The Root Cellar and Other Stories, which you can grab from Amazon or Kobo.

Do you like weird Westerns, or have you seen The Hateful Eight yet? Let me know in the comments!

5 Ways To Make Resolutions That Stick

PINresolutionsWe’re just four days into the New Year! If you’re a writer, you’ve probably made a dozen New Year’s resolutions related to your craft. You might find that you’re struggling to stick to them now that you’re away from your ‘holiday bubble’.

Others have resolved to visit the gym three times a week, or to buy fewer pairs of shoes. But you’ve resolved to write 1000 words a day, finish writing eight novels, or to hit the best-seller list by the end of the year.

We do it every year, and we usually fail every year, making us feel worse, not better, about our writing.

So how can we make resolutions that we’ll be able to stick to?

1) Be realistic

resolutions

We often try to over-reach ourselves. So don’t think of it as a resolution. Think of it as a goal. It’s what you’re aiming to do, not what you will do. By giving yourself this flexibility, you’re more likely to stick to whatever framework you set yourself.

So your phrasing might be “I intend to finish writing one novel of 70,000 words or more” rather than “I will write a trilogy of 100,000 word novels”.

2) Don’t try to change your habits overnight

It’s no use telling yourself that you will write a 100,000 word novel by the end of April if you only have time to write around 3,000 words a week. If you push yourself to work beyond your time constraints or work patterns, you may find you drop behind within a few days. Soon you’ll lose the motivation to write at all. Keep your resolutions (or goals) within your usual habits and you’ll find it easier to keep going.

3) Your resolutions don’t have to be time dependent

resolutionsWe always think our resolutions have to run from January to December but that’s highly unrealistic. We have no way of knowing where we’ll be twelve months from now. So why not set quarter resolutions?

Try setting yourself a particular word count to hit between now and the end of March. If you hit it with ease, you can raise it for the end of June, and so on. If you can’t hit it, then you can always reduce your count for the next one until it’s manageable.

4) Think beyond the resolution

Try setting yourself an additional goal beyond the resolution itself. In psychological terms, this links situations with actions. So you might change your resolution from “I will finish my book and send it to an agent” to “If I complete my novel and receive positive beta feedback, then I will start sending it to agents”.

It breaks the resolution down into manageable stages and gives you something to do when you’ve actually fulfilled the resolution. The end action also gives you an extra incentive.

5) Form a habit

Remember that you’re trying to form a new habit by forming a resolution. The only way for something to become a habit is if you do it! Sit down, start typing, or researching – whatever it is you need to do to make your resolution a reality.

The more regularly you do it, the better a chance you stand at actually making your resolution stick. Your resolution might be to write more, and you might have a spare ten minutes at lunch time, so maybe you might want to write 500 words every lunchtime. So get on and do it.

What are your resolutions – and have you broken them already?

5 Ways to Get Back into Your Writing Routine

Sticking to a well-honed writing routine over Christmas is virtually impossible. Putting aside all of the time commitments involved in buying and wrapping presents, visiting friends and family, and preparing all that food, even if you do manage to sneak in some writing time, you’ll no doubt be met with cries of “Oh you’re not writing, are you? But it’s Christmas.”

Writers are lucky in that their chosen line of work is not only fun, it also offers a high degree of escapism, but sadly, many non-writers still think we’re chained to our laptops.

writing routine

Of course, the problem you face after any interruption to a routine is finding a way back into it. Christmas offers a particularly large interruption due to the length of time it seems to last, and the fact that you’ll be trying to get back into other routines, not just those involving writing. Still, it must be done, so here are five suggestions of things you can do to get back into the swing of things!

1) Write ANYTHING for Ten Minutes

Yes, this one is fairly self-explanatory. Choose anything as a prompt, or just simply write about what you got for Christmas. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, just make sure it’s constant for ten minutes. Don’t worry about what you’re writing, just write without pauses. Use a timer, or a website like Write or Die to keep you on track. It’s amazing how much simply writing to get the words out will get you back into the habit of writing.

2) Use a Current Project As a Prompt

If you’re in the middle of a longer project, try writing a flash or short story about a character other than the protagonist. If you don’t have something on the go, write about a character from a story you’ve already finished.

it's a wonderful life

By National Telefilm Associates (Screenshot of the movie) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

3) Use Movies to Inspire You

Chances are, you may have watched some great movies over the Christmas period. Write a missing scene, prologue or ending from a movie of your choice. Prose is fine, though if you want to write it in screenplay format that could keep you on your toes! It’s always beneficial to try writing in a different form to the one you’re used to.

I used It’s A Wonderful Life to write an alternative film noir style story. You can find ‘Redemption’ here!

4) Revisit Old Ideas

If you keep a notebook (and you should), flick through and browse those ideas you’ve jotted down in the past years. If none of them strike you as being good fodder for a flash, short story or even a novel, then choose a sentence at random and those that as a prompt for a story, poem or even a blog post.

5) Let the World Inspire You

Re-read something you’ve actually finished. Remember why you wrote it, and how much you enjoyed finishing it. Go for a walk and let your brain absorb everything around you – you might even do this just before you go out to check out the sales. Get back to your writing area feeling refreshed and ready to write!

Make sure you make a concerted effort to get back into your writing routine, but don’t push yourself too hard or your brain will rebel against you. Try one (or all, if you’re feeling brave) of these suggestions and see how it goes. 2016 is almost upon us and it would be a good way to establish a routine for the coming year if you got back into one now!

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How are you planning to get back into your writing routine after Christmas? Please share you thoughts in the comments section below!

Image courtesy of Tamara Polajnar.

4 Christmas Horror Films for the Festive Season

Are you tired of sappy Christmas films? Let’s be honest, not everyone wants to watch Home Alone, A Muppet’s Christmas Carol and Elf every year, and if you’re anything like me, you’re quite happy to embrace a spot of horror over the holidays.

Halloween and Friday the 13th might have the monopoly on franchises, but how often does Christmas get a horror overhaul? I’ve already looked at Krampus as this year’s offering, so here are three other films you might want to try!

Black Christmas (1974)

black christmasBlack Christmas was remade in 2006 but the remake almost unilaterally only gets one star anywhere it’s reviewed. In fact, a lot of people even forget that the remake exists. So do yourself a favour and watch the original instead, which at least features Margot Kidder being totally awesome.

You’ve heard that famous urban legend, about the baby sitter who gets threatening phone calls, until she realises the murderer is in the house with her. Well Black Christmas takes it one step further, and sets the story in a sorority house. A deranged murderer lurks in their house, stalking and killing them in turn.

It’s tense, and helped set the stage for the slasher cycle that would make an appearance in 1978 with Halloween.

I also found the full version on YouTube so enjoy!

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)

silent night bloody nightTwo years earlier, more Christmas mayhem kicks off when a man inherits a former asylum-turned-family home. Problem is, the inmates aren’t far away. Silent Night, Bloody Night has a slightly convoluted plot, involving family secrets mixed up with town secrets, but I’ve seen worse and it definitely makes the most of its Christmas Eve setting. It’s definitely not a film where you’ll see the twist ending coming.

It’s another tense, atmospheric gem that benefits from its pre-slasher status. As with Black Christmas, the full version is also available on YouTube!

“All Through the House” from Tales From The Crypt (1972)

tales from the cryptI’ve always had a soft spot for the Amicus portmanteau films, because the segments can often be, quite frankly, utterly bonkers. A lot of their films, including Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1971) and Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), have an overarching narrative which links the loose short stories together.

The basic plot of Tales from the Crypt sees five strangers encounter the Crypt Keeper, who tells them all how they’ll die. “All Through the House” is genuinely bizarre, featuring a murderous Joan Collins being chased around her house by a homicidal Santa. Not really something you see every day. It’s only ten minutes long, and I found it on YouTube too!

Treevenge

Speaking of YouTube, there is one last little gem I’ll share with you. It’s definitely NSFW and it’s only 16 minutes long, but have you ever wondered if Christmas trees can feel? Wonder no longer!

Have you seen any of these films, or do you prefer more traditional Christmas fare? Let me know in the comments!

Christmas Ghost Story in the West – Flash Fiction

christmas ghost storyThere can’t be many things more welcoming than a roaring fire in the middle of winter. Snow lay heaped in piles outside, but we warmed ourselves in front of the small parlour’s hearth. A grandfather clock in the corner ticked away the minutes, and dull chatter floated through from the main bar of the saloon next door.

“My momma always brought a fir tree into the house for Christmas,” said Billy. His eyes shone with whisky’s fire, and he smiled. “My daddy thought it was dumb but my momma insisted. Said if it was good enough for Queen Victoria, it was good enough for her.”

“Mine too. Said that’s what everyone did back in the old country,” I replied. My mother was mighty keen on keeping that English tradition going, even in the middle of Arizona. I spent hours trekking through the woods up in the hills looking for the right tree.

“Christmas was the only time the whole family got together. Christmas, and funerals,” said Billy. “My uncle used to get us round the fire, and tell ghost stories. Say, do you know any?”

“I’m not sure I do,” I replied.

“You must know one! Come on, boss, it’d be just like my ol’ family Christmas. It ain’t right without a Christmas ghost story.”

Billy stared at me with that wide-eyed smile of his, and what can I say? I couldn’t refuse.

“I can’t tell you stories, but I sure could tell you somethin’ strange as happened to me one year.”

“You seen a ghost?”

“I do believe I did. See, my grandma came over to America with my folks, and she always used to tell me stories. I never knew what was real and what she made up, but she always said the dead carry lanterns. Big ol’ heavy lanterns, with a flickering green light inside, so they can light their way to the other side.”

“That’s creepy.” Billy’s smile faltered, and he swirled the dregs of his coffee around his mug.

“That’s what she said. I never paid it no mind, she said all kinds of crazy things, y’know? Anyway. A few years back, I must’ve been about fifteen, I went up to the Apache lands to do some tradin’ for the town. I did my business, and headed back to town just after it got dark.”

christmas ghost storyI knocked back the last of my own coffee, feeling the warm gritty liquid slide down my throat. Billy stared at me, those whisky fire eyes eager for more of the story.

“I remember ridin’ back, the snow reflectin’ the moonlight so it was clear as day, when I saw someone by the side of the trail. When I got up close, it was a young woman, just standin’ there in the snow. Pretty little gal, though not a real beauty like Peggy Marsden. The little lady was just a shade too pale, her big eyes dark in that white face of hers.”

“What was she doin’ out there?”

“I asked her. She didn’t hear me at first, just looked at me like she’d never seen a man before. I asked her if she needed help, and eventually she said she was lost. She didn’t know her name or where she lived, so I offered to take her into town. She wouldn’t get on the horse, but just walked alongside, holdin’ on to the bridle.”

I shivered. I hadn’t thought about this in thirteen years, and come to think of it, Billy was the first person I’d told.

“We got down the trail, right to where it forks in two, and she just stopped. One road went to town, the other led to the river. A few folks had farms along the river road, and when she pointed to the signpost, I figured maybe she belonged to one of them, and she’d realised where she was.

“It took me a couple of minutes to realise she was pointing at the bottom of the signpost. Somethin’ lay in a heap, covered in snow. She kept starin’ at me, and jabbin’ her finger, so I got off the horse and looked. I think my heart stopped for a minute when I brushed the snow off a cold, dead face. The same face that belonged to the girl I found by the side of the trail.”

christmas ghost storyBilly gasped. I nodded, staring into the fire. The warmth of those flames did nothing to banish the chill I felt just thinking about that poor little lady.

“I turned to look at her, and she just stood there, starin’ down at me. She was finally lookin’ at me, instead of through me, and my heart just broke to see her lookin’ so sad. But afore I could say anythin’ she brought an old lantern from behind her back. A green flame flickered behind the glass, and she walked away from me. I kept watchin’ that flame until it disappeared into the night.”

“What did you do?” asked Billy.

“I dug her body out of the snow and rode into town. Told the marshall I came across her as I was ridin’ home. Turns out she’d been out lookin’ for a Christmas tree for her momma when a passin’ gang came across her. They dumped her body after they killed her.”

“That’s awful, boss,” said Billy. He stared into the fire. “Do you think she ever got to the other side?”

“I hope she did, otherwise that poor little gal’s still wanderin’ around out there.”

“I guess at least someone found her.”

“True. If I hadn’t found her then, she might’ve been there ‘til spring. As it was, a posse caught up with the gang. Some hung, some went to Yuma.”

Billy picked up his whisky.

“Little miss, if you’re listenin’, merry Christmas.” He raised a glass to the lost soul of Retribution. We toasted her journey to the other side, and drank in silence. I thought of her, and Peggy, and everyone else I’d known, and wished them all a merry Christmas too.


Merry Christmas from me and my bounty hunter, Grey O’Donnell! If you enjoyed this story, then his book, The Guns of Retribution, is available in Kindle format from Amazon US and Amazon UK.

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