The wind cut at exposed flesh like knives despite the sunny day. James stayed as still as he could, huddled under a few blankets and pelts. He held his rifle steady, waiting for the doe to turn and show him her broadside. His fingers shuddered, hands bare around the stock of the weapon. She turned, and he forced his frost-bitten fingers closed. The rifle spoke.
The doe fell. He smiled and sighed a breath of relief, pulling on his mittens, glad for the warmth. He shrugged off the blankets and pelts and dragged them to his horse at the bottom of the hill, sheltered from the snow in a copse of trees. He packed quickly, throwing everything haphazardly on the sled, and rode to where the doe had fallen, excited at the prospect of meat for dinner.
When he got there, the doe was still breathing. She lay a few dozen yards from the edge of the meadow where she fell. Quaking aspen trees stood gaunt behind her, a few yellow leaves still doggedly clinging to the white branches. The other trees surrounding them were pine, a blanket of green sprinkled with white snow on the walls of the large valley.
He walked to her side, careful to avoid her sharp, kicking hooves, and she looked up at him with panic in her big, soft eyes. He went to get his rifle from the saddle when he noticed movement in the quakies. He pulled the gun and put his horse between him and the trees. He held still, watching for a few minutes. Another movement on the right. His mind raced through potential threats; a bear? Wolves? Bandits?
He threw his mittens down into the snow, drawing his weapon up, steadying it on his horse, Ash. His eyes scanned the trees, white bark with black striations making them look nearly skeletal in the overcast light of early afternoon. Another shadow of movement off on the left, and his eyes were drawn to the color of naked, pale flesh.
Still too far off to see clearly, it looked like someone stumbling toward him slowly, wearing absolutely nothing. James quickly began leading Ash and the sled attached to her toward the figure. As they drew closer, he stopped the horse and waved.
“Hey fella, you lost out here? What happened to you?” he called out. There was no response, but it stopped moving, shoulders hunched, and looked like it was freezing. James moved to the sled and grabbed a few blankets, then turned and began walking towards the now-still man.
“Jesus, it’s colder’n a witch’s tit out here, come on over here. I got blankets and a camp nearby.” He was holding the blankets up, gesturing for the man to come nearer, when he noticed something strange. It was vaguely man-shaped, but had no hair. Nor any ears. Nor, for that matter, any eyes. The rounded portion of the head sloped down sharply to a flat nose over a thin-lipped and impossibly wide mouth. The chin was nearly not present, the jaw seeming to melt into the bare and featureless chest.
James stared at it, agape. He stuttered, “I-I don’t know what happened to you, but here, here’s a warm blanket. Maybe we can get you into town for a doctor or something.”
The far edges of the mouth turned up, and the head turned to him like a dog sniffing something in the air. It made a sound that reminded James of pouring boiling water into a mug.
It spoke, revealing thousands of needles where its teeth should be. “Your generosity will spare you and one generation of your spawn. I ask only for your prey.” Its voice was stones cracking together. It was an avalanche. It was the summer floods on the plains.
James took a moment to understand that it meant his doe. He simply nodded, still dumbly holding up the blanket, though now more as a shield than an offering.
The thing moved, each step a twitch, to the doe. It bent, opened its mouth, and began to methodically swallow the thing whole, like a snake.
James stared at the whole spectacle until the creature stood, much larger than moments prior, and returned to the woods, leaving him to worry for the rest of his days that he had lost his mind.
Mike J Watson is originally from southeastern Idaho, now living in Baltimore with his wife, daughter and two dogs. He has been published in Runebear Weekly and Dark Elements.
My website: mikejwatson.com Twitter @themikejwatson
A Talk with T.J. Tranchell
Hey there, TJ. Thank you for taking the time to talk about your latest book, The Lamentations of Blackhawk. Before we get into that, though, I want to ask some questions so readers can get to know you better.
How many books have you written so far? I have five published books so far (three novellas and two collections). There is another novel and a book of essays that are basically finished, but just sitting around. They may never see the light of day. There are a handful of anthologies I'm in and in 2022, I had an essay in FANGORIA, which was a bucketlist accomplishment for me.
A lot of them take place in Utah. Why is that?
I grew up in Utah and for a long time I avoided writing about it or setting anything there. Then, while living in Las Vegas, I had a story in my head I couldn't escape and it would have been an injustice to the story to set it anywhere else. After that, I embraced Utah as a setting for my stories. Utah people are the people I know best and those places inhabit a sort of twilight zone for readers. They are either just as familiar or so foreign to readers that I can get away with a lot that I might not be able to do honestly with a different setting.
Utah is a place people think they know but is wide open for the horror field. I love the burgeoning Utah horror scene. The state has been dominated by fantasy fiction (religiously influenced and not) for far too long. It's time for the things that go bump in the night to take over.
What got you into the horror genre?
This is one of my favorite questions. I was born on Halloween. I loved trick-or-treating as a kid, but for a long time, I would get scared and bail. One year, I was taking birthday party invitations to friends and that included one friend who I hadn't seen in a while because we moved to another part of town. He was having his birthday party and that included a trip to a haunted house. There was supposed to be a kid-friendly side. I came out of there white as a ghost and will never forget it. I was heading into my sixth birthday. Fast forward. I had a friend when I was 11 whose parents let him--and me--watch whatever we wanted. So one day we watched MISERY. I fell in love. I went to the library and the librarians didn't blink that I was checking out MISERY the novel. I'd read Poe and Sherlock Holmes before, but King was new territory. I've never let go of my love of horror since then.
What sparked your interest in writing? Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a writer, or did it kind of occur over time?
When I was in sixth grade, the Scholastic Book order forms did a contest to finish an R.L. Stine story. (King had done the same thing in the 1970s in a men's magazine.) I wrote mine and entered the contest. I did not win. What I did get, though, was a recommendation by the English teacher to a young writers conference at Utah State University. There was a keynote speaker who was probably important, but I don't remember who it was. All of the young writers were put in groups and we read our stuff for some judges. It might have been an actual competition but if it was, I didn't win that, either. I read my story and really put everything I had into the reading. I had this combined moment of writing an effective story and performing it. I did a lot of theater, but writing was always the place I came back to. As a writer, I am every character, I'm the director and set designer, and the music supervisor. As an actor or even a director, one gets limited in the roles. As a writer, one gets to do everything.
Tell us about The Lamentations of Blackhawk. What is it about?
The Lamentations of Blackhawk is about a small Utah town that has more secrets than it is willing to give up. The story brings together characters from other books to fight demons and ghosts and other people. It's about dealing with the past at a moment when the present is trying to kill you. That's super vague, but it's just not as easy to pinpoint exactly what it is about in easy terms.
I've read your other books, Cry Down Dark and Tell No Man. Without spoiling anything, there is a lot of crossover in Blackhawk with those other two books. Did you know when you started Cry Down Dark that it would end up like this?
No, I didn't. I never intended to write a sequel or a trilogy as it stands now. Cry Down Dark touches on the town of Blackhawk but most of the action is somewhere else. With Tell No Man, I purposefully decided to dive into the Blackhawk I had created. The ending of that book leads naturally to The Lamentations of Blackhawk, so that was more planned. At the beginning, though, no. It seems like the right thing to do. It's King coming back on me. One can read the Castle Rock/Derry books and see the references to other stories but that doesn't mean we're stuck reading them in that certain order. Readers can take Cry Down Dark or Tell No Man in either order before reading The Lamentations of Blackhawk. I like the crossover, even if that wasn't the original goal. But unlike some long-running fantasy and horror series', the books are still short.
Is there anything that surprised you while you writing The Lamentations of Blackhawk?
I'm always surprised, because I am telling myself the story first. The big surprise for me was a character who popped up when Peter Toombs (first in Cry Down Dark) goes back to the town in which that book is set. The character is based on a campfire tale I'd heard when I was a Boy Scout. Classic urban legend style story and there he was, like he was waiting for me to use him.
What are you working on now?
I have two works in progress. The first is a nonfiction project currently titled Holding Out for a Hero: Forty Years after Footloose. Blackhawk is based on Payson, Utah, where I did most of my growing up. The 1984 film Footloose was filmed there and the surrounding area, so I am writing about it. The second is another novel, currently titled Do Not Forsake Me. Trying my hand at horror westerns for that one. We might even see Blackhawk in its earliest days. If things stay on track, it will be the bloodiest things I've written.
Where can readers and fans follow you?
The best place to catch up with me is my own website www.tjtranchell.net, but I am still active on social media. @TJ_Tranchell for Twitter and @TJ-Tranchell for Instagram. If I ever try out the new platforms, my site is where I will announce that.
Thanks for having me and we'll catch you on the flipside.
T.J. Tranchell was born on Halloween, has worked as a journalist, horror movie columnist, pizza delivery man, warehouse worker, haunted house monster, customer service clerk, college instructor, and other less glamorous jobs. Tranchell has his master’s degree in literature from Central Washington University with, naturally, a focus on the horror genre. Tranchell published his first novel, “Cry Down Dark,” through Blysster Press in 2016. In 2017, Blysster released a collection of short stories, poetry, and film criticism titled Asleep in the Nightmare Room. 2020 saw the release of a second collection, The Private Lives of Nightmares, followed soon by his second novel Tell No Man, which he published under his imprint LAST DAYS BOOKS. He has also published horror short fiction and was co-editor of GIVE: An Anthology of Anatomical Entries, a dark fiction anthology from When the Dead Books. He is a rising star among horror scholars, having presented work on Stephen King at the Popular Culture Association’s national conference, and in 2021 at the Ann Radcliffe Conference on the “Great American Horror Novel.” He currently teaches English at a community college in Washington state. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who came knocking, softly, softly
crouching in the midnight gloom?
Who came stealing, lightly, lightly
from the closet of my room?
Who said nothing, loudly, loudly
at the foot of my cold bed?
Who said curses, darkly, darkly
with a tongue that was long dead?
Who crept formless, shifting, shifting
face of menace in the air?
Who crept closer, searching, searching
for someone who was not there?
Who regretted dying, dying
when his house at last was built?
Who regretted love he squandered
with unfinished ghostly guilt?
Who departed, madly, madly
when I finally bid him go?
Who departed, silent, silent
out into the Vermont snow?
Dayle (she/her) hosts poetry open mics and haunts old graveyards. Her poetry has been published by Haunted Words Press, Coast Weekend, HipFish, The Chinook Observer and Humanities Washington Poetic Routes. She recently presented her highly commended poem at the Angry Ghosts Poetry Competition in Suffolk, England. The ghost of her beloved cat, Dinah, occasionally visits and causes mischief. Twitter @daylejean
Read more of her work here.