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Showing posts from July, 2018

'View from a Window'

This is an unusual one from Rosalie Parker's new collection, Sparks from the Fire ( Swan River Press ). Here are no ghosts or ghouls, no menacing monsters, just a normal person - a writer, as it happens - living a seemingly idyllic existence in the country. However, the unnamed narrator has a problem that few of us have ever pondered. What does it feel like to be a bit-player in a major criminal case? Not good. The story begins as the protagonist (we are unsure of their gender) bids farewell to a couple of friends. They seem envious of the house, with its splendid view. Once they are gone the writer resumes work on a radio drama script, which they know is not particularly good. But it's what the public wants, apparently, or at least what the producer wants. It gradually emerges that the writer is involved in a drama far less neatly-rounded than the story they are trying to complete. The arrival of journalists who take pictures of the house and rummage through the bins mak

Pickman's Model: A Dramatic Reading (H. P. Lovecraft)

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'The Fell Race'

The second story in Rosalie Parker's  Sparks from the Fire is a compact tale of strange events on the Yorkshire Moors. It begins with parents in a small village coping with the aftermath of a baffling accident. A couple of teenagers have been injured in the eponymous event, despite it begin a frequent and hitherto innocuous contest. The parents keep their offspring indoors, but speculation mounts via social media. It seems that a mysterious cloud descended upon the fell runners, and that they all suffered 'missing time'. UFOlogical speculation results, among other Fortean musings. But in the meantime some former competitors have started to feel the desire to re-run the event. Do they hope to dispel the mystery, or embrace it? This reminded me of Algernon Blackwood's tales such as 'A Victim of Higher Space'. There is a power lurking near the village, something real enough to swoop down upon humans and change them in some way. But whether that power is evil

Sparks from the Fire - Running Review

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New from the Swan River Press comes this handsome volume of nineteen tales by Yorkshire-based writer Rosalie Parker. According to the blur  Sparks from the Fire offers 'a wide variety of familiar characters and settings, yet there is always something else — a shadow world that haunts, disturbs, and threatens'. Which sounds right up our street, gentle reader. The first story is 'The Bronze Statuette', which was published in ST #29. I need hardly say that I like it. As the lead tale I suspect that it's themes and general 'feel' will be encountered again in various mutations. Here we have a superficially normal, indeed rather comfortable woman who goes too far in pursuit of something apparently trivial. The statuette of the story is material enough, but could represent many things - a genuine achievement that she feels eludes her, a transcendent beauty that she can never quite grasp. From normality to destructive obsession is, the story shows, a much shor

BBC Radio: Ghost Stories of Walter De La Mare - Crewe

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One of the all-time classics.

Vote for Your Favourite Story in the Latest Issue

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A typical reader concealing a copy of ST from her governess Click here to go to the online poll. It's developing along interesting lines...

Sentinels - Prologue Reading

If you go here  you can hear me reading the Prologue of my 'Lost Crown' novella Sentinels . Not a great reading but within the generous bounds of okay. I'm thinking of starting a ST blog with weekly bits about 10-15 mins long, at most. Nothing heavy. But if I do I will probably ramble on about all sorts of topics related to supernatural fiction.  We'll see how it goes. 

Vote for the Best Story in ST #38

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Vote! Click This Here Link, Then Click the Poll-y Thing! Hedy Lamarr - big fan of Mike Chislett

Runic Lore

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'The Robing of the Bride'

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Save the best til last is an old adage, and it goes double for short story collections. I think Peter Bell has managed to achieve this with the tenth story in Revenants & Maledictions . This story concerns Ari, a photographer with a reputation for Gothic, dark works. She is commissioned by a publisher to produce a coffee table book of Scottish castles. If this reminds you of Aickman's 'Ravissante', join the club - and this is a rather Aickmanesque tale. Ari's favourite castle is owned by an amiable lady who is happy to let her take pictures of everything. And there is a lot to work with, as the garden is full of weird classical statues, including one showing a veiled bride. Bell's description of the garden is again reminiscent of classic British weird tales, especially those by L.P.  Hartley. Unfortunately, when Ari returns home to develop her films, she finds every negative ruined by some unspecified problem. She must go back to the remote castle. Delays

If you have not yet voted, vote now!

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Vote Here! Barbara Steele - probably voted for something at some point

The Kids Are All Right (With Disturbing Fiction)

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The New York Times has a short interview with Domee Shi, the first woman to make a film for animation studio Pixar. Her film, 'Bao', involves a woman who makes a pork dumpling-son, and then eats him in a moment of weakness (I haven't seen it, but it is apparently running before 'Incredibles 2'). The interview shows that Shi is on the right wavelength and I look forward to seeing her first full--length feature. For my money, kids need weird and dark stories as much as the upbeat, singalong superheroic/princessy stuff. There used to be lots of really great, dark kids’ movies, like “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “The Dark Crystal.” I don’t think we should shy away from these dark elements, because they’re a part of this world as much as light elements are, and we want to equip children with the tools that they’ll need in life. Bang on. To those I would add 'The Watcher in the Woods' with its weird cosmic entity, and 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks'

'Blackberry Time'

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This story is a pendant to an M.R. James story, and therefore does not stand alone. Instead Peter Bell offers a modern-ish sequel to a story of English folk horror - something Dr James pioneered and to some extent defined. Revenants & Maledictions is subtitled Ten Tales of the Uncanny , but of the stories I've read so far at least half could qualify as folk horror. The narrator recalls holidays with his aunts when they would go blackberry picking - something I also recall with nostalgic pleasure. Bell describes lovingly the joys of scoffing the berries as you made your way along the hedgerows, and the way your hands would end up scratched and bloody from the thorns of the wayside bushes. Then of course there were the tarts and the jams... But this is not a memoir! Because he was an only child our protagonist made friends with Freda, the daughter of an eccentric single mother. Freda makes them blood brother and sister, but there are things about the girl's life that the

I Married a Witch - Original Movie Trailer

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'Sithean'

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'The photograph showed a white cottage against an improbably blue sky - improbable for the Hebrides, that is..." Peter Bell's Revenants and Maledictions is one of those books that offers extensive travel opportunities to the reader. Many ghost stories focus on the domestic hearth, but Bell wants to get out into the fresh air. And he clearly loves the bracing climate of the Scottish isles, as 'Sithean' is set on Skye. This story is a little different from the others covered so far, as this time the English narrator has a partner. His girlfriend, Andrina, is returning to her home isle for a brief holiday. They rent a cottage, and discover that it is linked to a local tale of tragedy with a supernatural component. 'Sithean' is full of beautiful imagery that hints at strange phenomena at work. Eventually the tragic events of the past are echoed in the present, and the narrator is left to ponder mystery and loss. Bell is adept at using M.R. James'

Mark Kermode reviews Quatermass and the Pit (1967) | BFI Player

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Don't Forget the ST #38 Reader Poll!

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Go here to vote!

Ludo (2015)

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My exploration of Indian horror films continues with this very bloody (and often sexy) Bangla movie. Bangla means set in West Bengal, where the city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is considered India's cultural capital. I was certainly startled by Ludo, as it is a lot grittier than the Hindi horror films and TV shows I've become used to over the last year or so. It's also a film that combines some conventional horror tropes with a fantasy element that I suspect some will feel undermines the claustrophobic mood the director creates so well. Ludo was written and co-directed with Nikon by Quashiq Mukherjee. I will certainly be seeking out more of his work. The film begins in familiar fashion with two young couples getting together for a night out in Kolkata. They are notably working class, not the pale-skinned, rich, and beautiful types who populate typical Bollywood movies. Instead these teens zoom around on scooters, drink hooch, and are fairly Western in their attitudes t

Poltergeist, Rhondda St, Swansea - December 1965

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h/t Steve Duffy

Don't forget to vote!

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Vote for your favourite story in ST #38. Haven't read it yet? I am outraged! I thought we were friends, and now you go and do this. Order your copy by going to the 'Buy Supernatural Tales' page above.

'Wild Wales'

'Decades have passed since the event I recount in the following pages - if it did, indeed, occur, at least in the form I remember.' Thus begins Peter Bell's tribute to Aickman, complete with a quote from the man himself as epigraph. The story concerns a charitable trust - not the National Trust, just something very like it - of the sort that appears in many of grumpy Bob's stories. Just after World War 2 the young protagonist is sent to the wilds of Wales to report on a possible acquisition, a remote manor house owned by a wealthy, eccentric widow. When he arrives he gets more than he bargained for. This is a fun story, replete with the spirit of place that both Bell and Aickman evoke so well. The country house turns out to be full of Egyptian relics, and the chatelaine claims to be descended from the pharaohs. During the night the young man gets lost after going for a pee and enters the wrong room, where he finds a strange, horrible creature. Enter his hostess, eng

'The Island'

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The sixth story in Peter Bell's Revenants and Maledictions is another first-person narrative of a strange experience in Scotland. This time, though, the protagonist visits an island that was abandoned shortly after World War 2. Thanks to the tide-race and some carelessness our traveller ends up trapped on the bleak island overnight, and it is then that he experiences an unnerving vision, or nightmare. As always the author weaves solid historical details into the fiction. A reference to the island of Gruinard offers a clue to what happened on the island. There is also an effective use of the intermittent beam from one of the Stevenson lighthouses -  a moment slightly reminiscent of the Spanish movie The Orphanage. So, another good one. Tomorrow brace yourself for something completely different, with an Aickmanesque adventure in 'Wild Wales'

The Haunter Of The Dark - Animation

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Reader Poll ST #38

Favourite Story in ST#38? 'Intruders' by David Surface 'Ghost Hunting' by Jane Jakeman 'St Magda's Sunday Sermon' by Katie McCall 'Against the Dead' by John Howard 'Redriff' by Michael Chislett 'The Thirteenth Shelf' by Stephen Cashmore Created with SurveyMaker I will keep linking back to this post until the end of voting, which will be around Hallowe'en.

'The Virgin Mary Well'

The fifth story in Revenants & Maledictions by Peter Bell (Sarob 2018) is set on the Isle of Man, one of the author's favourite locations. Unusually, this time Bell's erudite protagonist is not alone and the story is told in the third person. Norman is on holiday with his twelve-year-old daughter Alice, and the usual conflict between the generations occurs when Norman tries to plan their itinerary. Using an old map he tries to find an ancient well in a private wood. Alice, who has  been absorbing local legends, is not so sure that this is a good idea. The 'Liannon-Shee', a kind of Manx mermaid or sprite, is notorious for luring men with her beauty then dragging them down her unholy well. When the pair see a young woman weeping in the wood they quietly leave, assuming she is unaware of their presence. Mysteries concerning a derelict house lead to a story that combines folklore with all-too-real wartime events. Is there a changeling in the woods? I enjoyed this

Reader Poll - Banned by Google!

I have encountered a major problem. Google, which owns Blogger (i.e what you're reading) has taken away the poll widget that I've been using. So far as I can see there is no way to add a simple poll to the sidebar over on the right, as I have done for a few years now. This is a pain. Polls are a bit of harmless fun. I am going to try and work something out. ST has a Facebook page, and I might try to put a poll on it if I can't manage anything here. In the meantime, if you let me know your favourite story/stories I will make a note on a small piece of paper.

'Many Shades of Red'

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Another story from Peter Bell's new Sarob collection that I heard him read aloud. Once more, rich description of an interesting place is front and centre. The ghost story element is woven into the history and landscape, the stories people tell, the traditions that still live in hearts and minds. This time we're in Iceland. A tourist asks which of the mountains is volcanic, and is told they all are. Bell's scholarly narrator is on holiday, and pops into a Catholic chapel during a walk. He finds the chapel almost deserted. Then he finds a 'Culture House', a kind of museum and gallery. Here he becomes fascinated by a painting of a young girl in a hospital bed, with a doctor standing over her. The curator tells him the story behind the picture, which is a strange one indeed. This story reminded me slightly of 'Ulrike' by Borges - a story set in York, where Peter Bell lives. Borges remarks that people in colder, darker climes tend to favour brighter clothes.

H. P. Lovecraft's Dunwich Horror and Other Stories

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Japanese short films, using clay model stop-motion. No subs, but we HPL fans know the stories by heart. Not exactly Wallace & Gromit, is it?

'The Executioner'

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A great title, here, from Peter Bell's Revenants & Maledictions . The story concerns Sara, a Scot, who plays host to a rather arrogant German visitor. The problem is that Hans wants to climb all the major peaks on the Isle of Skye, and Sara knows that the weather is not conducive to this effort. Needless to say, when Hans keeps pushing his friend to go further and higher, it does not end well. 'The Executioner' is rich in description of the beautiful and unforgiving landscape of Skye, and details of how old-time climbers operated. I found the names of the summits (rendered here in Scots Gaelic and English) particularly fascinating. Also off-putting. People actually wanting to climb something called 'The Death-Dealer' confirms my view that mountaineering is s mad pastime. This story is a worthy edition to a long tradition of stories set in remote Scottish locations. 'The White Sack' by Munby, and 'Skule Skerry' by Buchan. Tomorrow, another sto

They Might Be Giants - The Greatest (Official Video)

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'The House'

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This short-short from Peter Bell's new collection is a traditional tale of three academic gentlemen with an interest in ghost stories. They set out to find the home of a lady writer whose only book was a collection entitled House . When they do find the house it turns out to be for sale. One venturesome scholar decides to try and get inside for a look around, while the other two adjourn to a nearby pub. So far so realistic. But what detains the expert in all things Gothic? A second academic sets off for the house to find out what has happened. He catches a glimpse of his colleague through a window. The front door is unlocked, oddly enough. He goes inside... Cut to the third scholar, who waits in vain for his friends to turn up at the pub. He goes back to the long-dead writer's house and finds traces of his colleagues. Then he finds in the library that rarest of items, a first edition of ghost stories. Inside he reads a story that has some familiar ingredients. The ending

'The Yellow Wallpaper' as modern art

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Up the road from my present location at the lovely Belsay Hall, a Turner prize winning artist has created something strange. Philipsz has created a new, sound-based installation titled The Yellow Wallpaper which runs from the 20 July to 16 September. The installation features the artist’s solitary and lilting voice that curls through the rooms of the hall, coaxing the visitor to follow it. Multi layered and emitting mysteriously, the visitor becomes aware of the dark lyrics of this beautifully sung ballad; The Unquiet Grave. A separate installation – ‘The Shallow Sea’ – can be heard from within the cellar. The spectral overlapping sound of Philipsz’ voice fills and reverberates around the spaces in the Hall, reinforcing a sense of ‘unquiet’.   'The Yellow Wallpaper opens to the public on July 20th at Belsay Hall Castle and Gardens in Northumberland and runs until 16 September.'

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - Don't Come Around Here No More

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Revenants & Maledictions - Ten Tales of the Uncanny

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Fresh from completing my last running review, I hit the metaphorical road wearing my figurative Nikes for another literary marathon. This time I'm reading - one hard word at a time - the new Peter Bell collection from Sarob Press . At the time of writing Robert Morgan may still have some copies left, so... Still here? Well, let us begin with the cover, which is a rather nice painting by Paul Lowe. This captures the essence of Bell's work, which is intimately linked to a spirit of place. He is an author who puts setting first. While his characters are by no means ciphers, places are always richly evoked. This is traditional weird fiction of a very British kind, albeit influenced by many variations on the ghost story genre. The first story, 'Apotheosis', is one of six previously unpublished tales. However, I had the pleasure of hearing Peter Bell read this at a little gathering of like-minded types, so it was interesting to encounter it on the page. It tells the stor

Bit of Satire

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Women Only

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ST is now open to submissions from women writers until the end of August. With luck this will help correct the magazine's long-term gender imbalance, which has been bothering me for some time.

'The Nun's Tale'

The final story in Tree Spirit and Other Strange Tales by Michael Eisele is a good, old-fashioned yarn. It pays splendid homage to all those tales told by Chaps Seated By The Fire At Their Club. Only in this case the chaps are retired priests at a nursing home in Northumberland, and the central heating is somewhat inadequate. The story begins with a discussion of transfiguration, which has a specific religious meaning I'm not too clear on. The point is that one priest, who has previously said little, is moved to recount his strange experience as a missionary in South America. The priest was sent on one of those expeditions that are famously ill-fated - a quest to find out what happened to the last lot. In this case, the last lot were a group of nuns led by the formidably unpopular Sister Mary Joseph, a large and aggressive 'bride of Christ' that any sensible saviour would want to divorce. The priest recounts his voyage upriver into the territory of a tribe who worship

Monk-y Business

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Well, I'm struggling with this one . In 1972 Luis Bunuel finally saw his adaptation of Matthew Lewis's OTT Gothic novel filmed. I've no idea why Bunuel cared that much, as it is a silly story that makes for a rather dull film. The situation is not helped by the fact that Franco Nero, as the eponymous anti-hero, looks very like Robert Powell's portrayal of Jesus. See what I mean? Okay it's Gothic drama, not 'proper' historical drama, but did monks ever have such fine, full beards? And were they ever so dim that they couldn't see a novice called 'Brother John' was in fact a woman, complete with long titian hair? I mean, it's Nathalie Delon. Vows of celibacy and your mind on higher things? Yeah, right, but we're talking serious ophthalmic problems. This film drags and I don't think I'll finish it. The only cast member who is convincing is Nicol Williamson as the very, very evil Duke of Talamur. He is blithely monstrous i

'The Selchie'

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I try to avoid picking favourites, but this is for me the best story so far in Michael Eisele's new collection . As it's the penultimate story, we're in a sort of World Cup last-minute nail-biter situation. 'The Selchie' begins with an Inuit woman in difficulties. Onnai's tribe has been driven out of its old hunting grounds by rivals. She seeks a kind of salvation in a lone kayak voyage, and this part of the story is written with loving attention to detail. This takes her far from her ancestral seas to a strange land where very hairy, gruff-voiced people show her some kindness. The man who helps her, who calls himself 'Eean', gives her a new name, to reflect the fact that she appears to be a seal-woman. She helps Eean's people when they, too, struggle to harvest the sea. And eventually the two become lovers, having already forged a strong friendship despite their differences. This is a very positive, uplifting story. It offers a near-flawless mel

My Postal Pipe Is No Longer Blocked

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A little delay over various things means I've only just started posting out issue 38, but the obstacles to supernatural progress have now been removed. So, over the course of the next few days, the summer issue will be dispatched well before summer actually ended. Which is nice. Remember that if you want to order online you can do so via the 'Buy Supernatural Tales' page above. And for the digitally minded, you can use the same method to purchase the Kindle edition. In case you were wondering, the cover photo is by Sam Dawson, also a writer who has contributed several stories to ST down the years. Disturbing, innit?

The Strange and All-Too-Believable Reality of Robert Aickman: RGBIB Ep. 45

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'Gardinel' & 'The Black Man'

These two linked stories complete the tiny trilogy (see below) concerning the adventures of the young witch, Janet Evelyn, as described by her familiar, Brown Jenkins. (Minor quibble - Janet names her familiar after the one in Lovecraft's 'The Dreams in the Witch-House', but gets the name wrong. I wonder why? I might be missing something.) Anyway, in the very short 'Gardinel' familiar and witch discover that there is something seriously wrong with the house that they inherited from Janet's witch-mentoress. This is followed by 'The Black Man', a clever title that inverts conventional New England witch lore. In this case the man, Daniel, is in the black of a clergyman. At first, to Brown Jenkins' dismay, it seems that young Janet has the hots for the preacher man. But then things take turn for the vengeful, and the Gardinel makes itself useful in the denouement. Brown Jenkins is a fun creation, and it would be nice to see more him and Janet in futu

'Brown Jenkins'

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Before Eve was Lilith, and thereby hang many tales. In this story from Michael Eisele Lilith is the 'backstory' for the existence of witches. Brown Jenkins is a familiar, not to be confused with the being in Lovecraft's 'The Dreams in the Witch House'. No, this one is more like a polecat with hands in place of forepaws. And, in a feature I liked, the story is told in the idiosyncratic spelling of the familiar. In a sense it's a dialect tale, but without the horrendous over-punctuation that so often mars such stories. Brown Jenkins explains that familiars are assigned to witches, the descendants of Lilith, from conception. However, the familiar cannot be seen until the witch is aware of her powers - which may never happen. In this case, though, the girl called Janet Evelyn (because her parents didn't know they were raising a witch) does find out. She leaves her rural home to go to stay with Granny Wiltse, who sets her on the road to her witchy destiny. T

Meanwhile, in England...

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'The Wife'

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This story by Michael Eisele begins with a husband beating on the door of his wife's bedroom, demanding entry. It's an interesting start, not least because this an old-school Gothic/Romantic fantasy. It turns out that Moira, the wife of the title, got to marry the heir to the local lordship. She goes to a wise woman in the woods, and gets what she desires. But then Moira discovers that her husband is not the man she thought he was... This is a nicely-crafted tale, though it does have one flaw. I guessed from the first page what the twist was going to be. It seemed very obvious to anyone who has read (or seen) a lot of horror stories. I'm not sure if this occupational hazard can be avoided, though, as true originality is rare. Suffice to say that it's a pleasant read, and reverses a common genre trope. More from this running review soon! It's taking me a while but I'm getting there. In my defence, it is a big book...

Ghost Story (TV 1972) - The Concrete Captain

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Issue 38 Story Taster #4

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Cover of Kindle edition Here and there a pale, contorted face was raised to heaven, the mouth open in a cry I could not hear. Here and there, a man stood upright and struggled forward, only to slip down into what seemed a sea of primeval slime. And they were armed—or rather, had been, for the weak, rainy sunlight was striking on an occasional musket which its bearer tried to keep above the sucking mud. One brave soul waved a sword—and another, a pitchfork. What sort of army was this? 'Ghost Hunting' by Jane Jakeman

Issue 38 Contents

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An interesting selection this time, with themes ranging from American school shooters to mysterious occult volumes. A nice blend, I think, of traditional and newer, somewhat edgier fiction. 'Intruders' by David Surface 'Ghost Hunting' by Jane Jakeman 'St Magda's Sunday Sermon' by Katie McCall 'Against the Dead' by John Howard 'Redriff' by Michael Chislett 'The Thirteenth Shelf' by Stephen Cashmore Click on the Buy Supernatural Tales link above to purchase your printed copy or e-zine.

Issue 38 Story Taster #3

“We would sit out there in the garden if the weather was nice, or play dominoes if it rained. Once she made me the most delicious strawberry cake and the three of us ate it with cream drizzled over the top. It was such a treat!” She wrings her hands together whilst speaking and I wonder miserably if Dave has ever mentioned my strawberry allergy to her. She smacks her lips together, as if she has only just finished eating a slice of the cake. Frantically, I look towards the door in the hope that he might return but the doorway stands empty. 'St. Magda's Sunday Sermon' by Katie McCal l