News & Blog

REDNECK ELDRITCH Sneak Peek: “Recording Devices” by D.J. Butler


12822790_1020617461310029_907621349_oThe old man’s gnarled right hand stopped, springing into the air above the trembling banjo strings and freezing in clawhammer shape, index ever so slightly extended and thumb to the square.

The short sustain of the banjo meant the strings sang their final chord with power, but briefly, and then fell still and silent.

John Hanks reached over to stop the recorder and set the microphone down. He leaned back on the three-legged stool next to the open trunk of the 1937 Ford that held the bulky recording device and wiped sweat off his forehead.

The musician’s name was Roscoe, wasn’t it? Suddenly he wasn’t sure. He’d recorded the songs and playing of so many of these hill folk that their faces and names were starting to fuse, Earl and Sunny and Andy and Roscoe. John’s eyes and ears itched, and he rubbed them.

“Thank you, sir.” He’d just avoid the name entirely, it wasn’t worth wasting any time on it. “You sure that’s the last one you know?”

The old man’s head swiveled on his neck. His jaundiced eyes, punctuated with glittering dark irises, pierced through the trees surrounding his dog trot cabin and seemed to search out the entire knob of rock that in this part of the world passed for a “mountain.”

“Waall…” The banjo player popped his neck by cranking his head in a circle and licked his lips. “Not all songs is proper to sing. Not in public. And some songs just en’t proper at all.”

John restrained a sigh. Instead, he dug into the cash in his waistcoat pocket and pulled out thirty-five cents. “There you are, Roscoe,” he said. “Seven songs and tunes I haven’t heard before, a nickel apiece.”

“Name’s Earl.” The banjo player looked down at the dull change in the palm of his hand: two dimes, three nickels, ten pennies. “I got another, I reck­on. It’s gettin’ dark, though.”

John patted the microphone. “The folks hearing the recording will see you just as well in the darkness as in broad daylight,” he cracked wise. “And if you’re worried about me getting back down the… mountain,” he swallowed the word in one bite, “the car’s got headlamps.”

“It en’t that. It’s only… iffen.” Roscoe licked his lips again. No, Earl. “I need the money. Nickel goes a long way these days.”

[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Not all songs is proper to sing. Not in public. And some songs just en’t proper at all.”[/pullquote]

John let him think about it. Some of these old folks up in the hills couldn’t wait to get someone to listen to their treasure trove of nursery rhymes, blues, ballads, and hymns. Others acted like they were sharing the most precious thing in the world, and had to be bribed, coaxed, reassured, and sometimes even tricked.

“You jest gonna record it on that… what’d you call it?”

John nodded and grinned. “It’s a mobile recording device.” The recorder was a chunky machine that ran off the Ford’s battery and turned sound waves into grooves in a wax cylinder by way of a handheld microphone. It was state of the art, or at least as state of the art as you could reasonably be expected to drag up into the hollers of Appalachia.

“It en’t dark yet,” Earl decided. “You hold a red an’ a white thread side by side, an’ iffen you can’t tell the difference, it’s dark. En’t that what them old presters used to do? Let’s git this one down, an’ fast.” He leaned over his ban­jo to whisper to John, and his voice dropped an octave. “An’ I en’t singin’ the words, not to this song, nuh-uh. But I’ll play you the tune, an’ I wager you en’t heard it. That worth a nickel?”

“Has it got a name?” John turned on the recorder and held the microphone up to Earl. Still plenty of juice in the battery, he was sure—he had no desire to spend the night in Earl’s dog trot.

“No, it en’t.” Earl squinted. He must know, from all the tunes he’d already recorded that afternoon, that John wanted some kind of label, a way to cata­log any piece of music. “But it’s a tune as old as the hills.” As he said it, he was adjusting the tuning on the banjo. At first, John thought it was just tun­ing up, but then he saw and heard Earl drop the second string an unnatural amount, and when the wiry farmer ticked the strings off one after the other with his fingernail, the resulting chord sounded… off. Modal, but beyond modal. Microflatted. Intervals all wrong. Unearthly. “Old as the hills,” the old man repeated.

“Let’s hear it.”

Earl played.

True to his word, he didn’t sing. His tune was long and discordant, a dou­ble drone that must have been some sort of diminished fifth by way of inter­val, or maybe a diminished sixth, but it seemed to John that the distance be­tween the drone notes grew and shrank as the sound moved through time. The drone was accented by choppy bits of melody on the first, third, and fourth strings, shreds of sound that seemed to John like voices.

Not human voices. And not singing.

Old Earl’s drone felt like the thrum of earth moving through infinite time in mist and darkness, and as John’s eyes seemed to fill with those mists, he would have sworn he saw standing stones jutting from the mists, and heard voices shrieking in joyous celebration. Only the voices weren’t human—they sounded more like birds, but not any bird he’d ever heard sing before.

John wanted to rub the hallucination away from his face, but he had to hold his position very carefully or he would fail to capture the sound on the recorder. His eyes and ears itched and his legs felt asleep. Too much time sitting on this stool.

The banjo shrieked again, or was it a bird? Or was it Earl?

Or was it John?

The tune stopped, abruptly.

Darkness had fallen. Darkness as Earl himself defined it; John could no longer tell the white stripes from the red in Earl’s old cotton shirt.

“The nickel,” Earl said.

John fumbled for the coin in the darkness. “You say there are words?”

“I won’t sing ’em. En’t no place safe to sing ’em except mebbe in church on Christmas, an’ then I reckon it’d be spittin’ in Jesus’ eye.”

John found himself curious. No, not curious. He found himself craving. He had a strong and unexpected desire to know what words went with that strange, shuddering, atonal tune.

And publish them.

“What about written down?” he asked. “Would you write them? Or do you know where I could find them written?”

Earl was so still that for a moment, in the darkness, he was invisible. When he shook his head it was in a shudder, a sudden paroxysm of motion that al­most knocked John backward. “I cain’t.”

“Or won’t?”

“Difference don’t matter.” Earl stood slowly. His banjo was a light one, an old Sears Roebuck model with an open-back pot, but the slow hunch in which he rose suggested a heavy burden on Earl’s shoulder.

Arthritis, John told himself. Bad nutrition. Inbreeding, maybe.

“’Cept mebbe one person,” Earl said. It was an afterthought, spoken from the dark shadow of the dog trot running between the two cabins of Earl’s house. “Up top of the mountain. Name’s Hodder. He’s got books, an’ I reck­on he might have the words written down somewheres.”

“‘Hodder.’ Is that his first name, or his last?”

“All the name he has. He ain’t got a clan, not like most folks.”

“What do I ask him for? I can’t just say ‘the song as old as the hills,’ can I?”

“The call,” Earl said slowly. He had disappeared entirely into one of his cabins, and John couldn’t even tell which. “Just tell him you want to know the words of the call…”

**********

This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, coming in April from Cold Fusion Media!

REDNECK ELDRITCH Sneak Peek: “The Swimming Hole” by Theric Jepson


12822790_1020617461310029_907621349_oI never wore shoes in July until 1987 when I was seven years old. No kid in our town did. I suppose if my family hadn’t moved to California, I would have stayed barefoot all summer every summer until the boys came calling. But instead I found myself in Sacramento with nothing but brimstone-hot asphalt to walk on. What I missed the most was not the air between my toes or the lack of constraint, but the calluses. Calluses so thick and hard that once I checked my foot to see what had been pressing into my heel the last block and found a bent-over thumbtack. Now that is true freedom. The freedom to walk anywhere you wish, just as God made you.

Funny how clear the memory of those calluses is to me even today. Most memories of my rural Oklahoma childhood have fled. I remember my granmammy—she kept glass chickens filled with either hard candy or Brach Milk Maid Royals in every room. And even though I never cared for horehound, their location in the bathroom meant I didn’t have to ask permission. That memory that came flooding back when my husband brought home a bag of horehound candy last year from the farmer’s market. I still don’t like it, but it tasted like Oklahoma and that was worth something.

One thing I don’t remember is religion. Which is funny because my parents were about the most religious people I’ve ever met. I used to joke with them we must’ve moved to Sacramento for the name. First thing they did when we moved in was sign me up for a Baptist home school. This in addition to public school. On Sundays we were Methodist. Holidays we did Catholic. And anybody who knocked on the door teaching some version of Jesus was set right on the couch. Though the Mormons stopped coming after my mom tried to get one of them to take me to prom.

[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]My parents passed away shortly after Ben and I were married. My father had a heart attack while driving on the 80. The car drifted into a truck carrying tomatoes. The spectacle became one of those stupid internet meme things. It still pops up. [/pullquote]

My parents passed away shortly after Ben and I were married. My father had a heart attack while driving on the 80. The car drifted into a truck carrying tomatoes. The spectacle became one of those stupid internet meme things. It still pops up. Ultimately, I had to quit the internet. My husband keeps an eye on my email (released to galleries only) and I stick with my old flip phone. But I never get online anymore. I barely touch the computer at all.

Ben and I have been blessed with two bright kids, ten and eight, a boy and a girl. Or, rather, our youngest manifests female. She’s hermaphroditic. The doctors urged us to give her a surgery as a baby, decide for her, but we couldn’t. She’ll just have to decide for herself someday. When she’s an adult. For now she’s happy being our little girl and we’re happy to have her.

When I received a certified letter from Boktussa, Oklahoma, I didn’t know what to expect, but certainly not that my granmammy had passed, leaving me her only heir. Her passing wasn’t the surprising part—I hadn’t seen her in 30 years and she had to be about a hundred—but that I was the only heir. My mother had a slew of brothers, six or seven, and I remember them having fertile wives. Nostalgia for my cousins has always been the prime temptation for getting back online in the age of facebooking and twittering and such. To learn that they were all… But how was it possible? My cousins would have kids by now—some of them I assumed would be grandparents! Clearly that detail was wrong, but for some reason Granmammy left me her property. Maybe the rest of the family had also moved away and I was the easiest for the small-town lawyer to find? Maybe Granmammy had had a falling out with her progeny? Or maybe she was trying to heal whatever mysterious rift had sent my parents west in the first place.

I didn’t reply right away. I had to decide my own mind before sharing the news with Ben. One thing to know about Ben is that he loves two things: staying home and monotonous travel. He doesn’t care where home is—just that it’s his and his family is there. His only complaint about Sac is that its airport’s only a half-hour’s drive from our place. Even with traffic it never takes an hour, and that’s hard to say about anywhere in Sacramento. I would say we’re lucky, but he loves being alone in a car or a bland hotel. He usually works at home, parked in front of his PC ten hours a day, then they’ll send him on long tedious trips to field offices to sit in front of someone else’s computer for ten hours a day. I went with him once about a decade ago and it was the worst week of my life. But I love my boring husband. I wouldn’t change him. I need someone plain and unimaginative. I suppose, a hundred years ago, a well-meaning doctor would have called me “nervous.” I used to call it “rich” in college. Being twenty and an art student with more ideas than time to paint is rich, isn’t it? These days I’ve settled into a defined subject matter, a “morbid hybrid of the insane unearthly and every sort of Christian iconography” as the East Bay Express described my recent Oakland show. I don’t sell much of my work, but that’s because I keep the prices high. I make enough to afford a small studio space to work and show in. What more could I need?…

**********

This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, coming in April from Cold Fusion Media!

 

REDNECK ELDRITCH Cover Reveal!


You’ve seen the concept sketch, now see the real deal! From illustrator extraordinaire Carter Reid:

12822790_1020617461310029_907621349_o

REDNECK ELDRITCH Sneak Peek: “A Hole in the World” by Ian Welke


12755346_1012879688750473_1466615869_oThe glass is empty, apart from a foamy film in the bottom. I set it down on the bar next to my lighter and my pack of smokes. I’d like to order a fourth beer right away, but I figure I better pace myself. Remembering the task at hand, I tilt my head to get a gander around the Jager display, past the pull-tabs, to where you and your friends are holding court.

I’ve seen your type plenty. Time was you were few and far between, but now you’re all over the place like ants. It started with a trickle. Scouts looking for new territory. You came here ’cause houses were cheap, at least compared to the city. But our houses weren’t good enough. So you knocked them down and put up those condo buildings. Then your businesses figured they could come out here as well, lower their overhead. And so more of you came out and bought houses and apartments, and the prices went up, and then the folks that lived here before couldn’t afford it anymore and had to move away.

I always thought this bar would stay true. The Hole was a local dive for decades. But now it’s more of a typical sports bar and most of the locals are gone. I see they have beers with names I’ve never heard. Some are dark and thick as syrup. The menu even has a veggie burger. The Hole I knew would never have stooped to this before you lot showed up in your Subarus. Sometimes I wonder, If this bar goes where will we find the people we need? The bar’s original owners are long gone; do their grandchildren even know where the bar gets its name from?

You and the after-work crowd have moved four tables together like you’re expecting a large group, but there’s just six of you, and I’m guessing most of you are too pussy to keep drinking, so that number will dwindle soon enough.

“Another beer, Ray?” Abby wipes down the bar and takes my empty glass. She’s new, but I’m not one to complain about her. She’s too good-looking to complain about and besides, she gets it. When one of the old gang is here, we get our drinks before any of you geeks.

I nod, though I should really slow down. It’s not even dark out and I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night. I reach for my pack of Winstons and the lighter sitting on the bar. Abby frowns. I know, I got to take it outside. Fucking gentrification. I’ve twisted a cardboard beer coaster into a totem-man. I leave him standing guard over my place at the bar. “I’ll have that beer when I get back.”

The sun is setting as I pass by the faded Monday Night Football Bud Light display and step out to the parking lot where they’ve relegated anyone who might want a smoke.

I wince at the glow topping the tree line. Do I have the right day? Late summer in the Cascades, the days aren’t as crazy long as they were just a week or two ago, but they haven’t given in to the dark months yet.

[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The whispers said this was the right day, or at least this would be the right night. I could swear it. Though who knows? It’s not like they’re known for their clarity.[/pullquote]

The whispers said this was the right day, or at least this would be the right night. I could swear it. Though who knows? It’s not like they’re known for their clarity. They expect that we’re able to interpret. Sometimes it’s more of a feeling than an understanding that guides our hand to appease them.

Once I’ve killed my cigarette, I reach into my kit bag for the bone pipe, carved from the femur of my predecessor’s predecessor. I run my finger down the runes lining the pipe and then I trill a few notes. There’s no response. Nothing. Not even birds singing. All I can hear is the dull murmur of the jukebox through the glass. I trill a few more, but still get no response.

Here goes nothing. I pull the shaker out of my jacket pocket. It’s an old Indian prayer stick. It’s got juju, but I’ve always sort of liked the rattle, magic or not. I play the notes with the flute again, this time with an accompanying percussion from the rattle. Smoke rises from the ash tray to my side and begins to swirl around me.

Quiet. And then in answer I hear it in the distance, a low rattle of a large, nasty, oil-burning engine. A beast of a GMC Suburban lurches into the parking lot otherwise filled with German sedans and your fucking Subaru.

They’re coming. The apostles of the soil are on their way. Knowing I have the right date, I head back in for my beer…

**********

This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, coming in April from Cold Fusion Media!

Coming next: A new anthology…


Coming in time for World Horror Con in Salt Lake City (April 28 – May 1)…

With stories by D.J. Butler, David Dunwoody, Robert Masterson, Sarah E. Seeley, Brad Torgersen, Ian Welke David J. West and more…

 

promo-cover

Redneck Eldritch

More details coming soon!