A killer hunts the humid streets of Sadie, leaving a calling card at the
scene of each crime: a black construction paper valentine. The victims, each
carefully chosen, are left the same way, broken and heartless.
Haunted by the ghosts of the dead, Rina Henley will stop at nothing for
truth and justice, but in her quest, she has brought the spotlight to her
and now plays a dangerous game of cat and mouse.
Summer Lin, Rina’s roommate, thinks of herself as the Vanishing Girl.
When things get rough, she can disappear like a ghost herself, and promises
Rina she can help her disappear, too. After all, she’s been on the
fringes for weeks now, to escape the ugliest of truths.
As the summer simmers around them and Sadie is gripped by terror and
tangled rumours, twisted love notes and secrets bring Rina and those closest
to her to the very brink of destruction.
Humidity sticks to Rina’s skin like melted caramel. The sun has slanted in the sky, blazing down on her with its midday intensity, encouraging sweat to roll down her neck, over her collarbone, and into the collar of her limp shirt. She ruffles the material at her waist half-heartedly. Inside is air conditioned, but she’s reluctant to go in. The house feels like a cage. She didn’t like it as a child and has even less time for it these days. The garden is the only space she can tolerate, even if that means physical discomfort.
Small stones dig into her thighs and ankles as she crosses her legs and leans over her phone. The news plays out of her speakers, and on screen, a peppy reporter gushes about a high school band winning first prize at a local competition. Rina can see her heart isn’t in it, though.
Her smile is obviously fake, breaking away between this story and the next like autumn leaves leaving their trees. The way people can turn their emotions on and off is chilling. Rina tries it herself, smiling wide and then shutting down. She wants to be just like them. Sunny, sunny, sunny, and then either a slate of impenetrable grey clouds, or a storm front. That’s power. Not money. Not words. Total control over what your face and body are doing.
“—when the body of another girl was found this morning in East Mill Park in the Greater Sadie Area,” says the reporter.
Something shifts at the edge of the garden: a glob of cold darkness, vaguely human-shaped, mostly featureless. Rina ignores it. It doesn’t help to look at it; it disappears under her attention every time.
The reporter continues. “Police have yet to release details but a person close to the victim has stepped forward and revealed their identity as twenty-three-year-old Molly Asher, a teaching assistant at Sadie University.”
Rina squints to get a better view of the crime scene over the reporter’s shoulder. The woman stands at the edge of East Mill Park, as close to the police barricade as she can get.
Around her, people crowd every inch of grass and lean against the police tape. Police urge them back to preserve the integrity of the scene.
The wind blows, throwing the reporter’s hair back over the shoulders of her smart business suit. Far behind her, a small, black blob wobbles in the thin tree branches. Rina can just barely make out the rounded curves of the top of the paper valentine. It’s black, like the one before it, neatly cut, and unadorned except for the golden letter M that will be at its centre, seen once someone secretly snaps a picture of its face and blasts it all over the internet. M for Molly.
M for a murdered girl. This is number two. The case was odd when Samantha Brown was found, a paper valentine swinging over her unseeing eyes. Now it’s turning diabolical.
A pair of detectives move beneath the valentine, one tall, blonde, and built, the other dark haired and lean. They overlook the evidence strewn on the ground. Yellow markers are placed in the dry yellow grass. Rina’s imagination tries to take a turn toward the morbid as she considers what those details are.
Inside the house, the front door opens and closes. Rina sinks in on herself, trying to be small and unobtrusive. She hates that she does this. Hates that she hopes he won’t check the backyard today. Hates that this is the place she always goes to escape.
The grey form under the lilac tree gets solid for an instant, as if puffing up. This time, it seems to say, this time I’ll be more substantial. This time, I’ll scare him away. Rina can’t help it; she looks toward it, though she knows she shouldn’t. She gets the impression of thin shoulders, thin hips, and thin hands before it disappears like fog on a lake.
“—still no evidence of forced sexual contact, leaving investigators to wonder what, exactly, is the motivation behind these killings,” the reporter still prattles on. Rina barely hears a word the woman says. She wishes the phantom would come back and really try to scare him the way they used to scare her when she was young and didn’t understand that they couldn’t hurt her.
The ghost doesn’t appear.
But he does.
The back door swings open and there he is in his blue herringbone wool peaked suit, looking immaculate despite the heat. Rina fixes the hem of her shirt around her hips as he sits down on the patio table in front of her and looks at her with eyes the exact same shade of brown as her own.
Rina silences her phone.
“You saw they found another body,” he says in greeting.
“I guess so.” She folds her phone into her palm. The screen is hot from the sun.
“Two girls were killed the same way. It’s looking like a pattern.” He acts like she hasn’t been paying attention.
“Okay.” Rina hunts for an escape route. With him blocking the way in front of her, the house behind masquerades as a sanctuary.
“He’s targeting girls just like you, Rina.”
She rolls her lips together to catch her annoyance. “He’s in the next town over.”
“There aren’t that many kilometres between us.”
He’s trying to scare her. Rina meets her father’s eyes. She doesn’t like the way they’re big, genuine, and soft. “I thought you weren’t allowed to give any details?”
“I’m not. But when my daughter is at risk, I’ll tell her what she needs to know to keep safe.” He takes her hand as he speaks and squeezes. She squeezes back because that’s what daughters are supposed to do. “Don’t go into the park by yourself or out after dark. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t wander around the city on your own.”
“So don’t live my life,” Rina says before she can stop herself.
“Not until the killer’s caught, no.” He palms her face, taking her by the chin and studies her intently. She holds her breath as he leans forward to kiss her cheek. His moustache pricks her skin. “I worry about you, Rina.”
She waits for something worse but thankfully, it doesn’t come. He stands, returning to the house.
Rina unlocks her phone again to watch the reporter for another few minutes. The story is over. Now she’s talking about a strong summer storm that might break the humidity for a day or two.
Rina sighs and faces the house. Its stone and brick exterior is modern and well-kept.
There are topiary bushes, trimmed, and expansive gardens that receive a weekly weeding. Most of the doors are French and stained glass. The whole thing is carefully cultivated to provoke awe and envy. She hates it.
Gently, she opens the door and pokes her head in. The main floor seems abandoned. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee permeates the house.
She closes the door quietly and tiptoes up the stairs, into her bedroom. Here, the air is icy, in direct contradiction to the storm of summer outside.
Her laptop comes alive with a whirl of its expensive fans, her printer, too, chugging and buzzing. Rina searches the internet for the article on Molly Asher and the newest screen caps of
the reporter’s initial account. Just like she thought, someone has already captured a picture of the black heart waving like a limp, ominous flag, and zoomed in on it. It looks like a homemade valentine, but where all the red is supposed to be, it’s been dipped in darkness, dark, dark, dark like the deed it represents. A calligraphy gold M shines in the centre where the killer has marked this valentine for his victim, just like Rina thought. She wonders how long he’s been studying Molly Asher; she wonders if Molly knew him. She wonders if Molly screamed, or scratched, or bit him before he wrung the life from her.
She hopes so.
Rina hits print and then uses a pair of sharp scissors to carefully cut the heart from the paper and meticulously pastes it in her little scrap book of macabre things. Some of its pages are choked in poetry, some are crowded with short stories she’s never finished. Most, though, are pictures of murdered girls and their murder sites. The very first page belongs to her mother, homage to the life that was stolen from her during a grocery store robbery that happened when Rina was just ten. All the ones that come after are victims like her, girls surprised to find themselves in dangerous situations, or tricked into their demise. Rina knows she should stop, but once you start something like this, it acts like an addiction, and is just as difficult to quit.
She clears her browser history and hides the scrapbook back beneath her mattress. She recycles the cuttings, then listens. She can hear her father on another conference call in his office down the hall. That should keep him busy for an hour, hopefully. The director for the Community and Public Affairs section of the Raker Police Department gets no rest.
Rina tiptoes to the bathroom and locks herself inside. She peels her clothes from her body and glances at herself once in the mirror. The girl staring back at her curls her nose when she looks at all her pale skin, her full body, the love handles she can’t seem to shed, the pouch of her stomach she can wiggle when she pinches it. Something anxious and displeased rears its head in her and struggles to get out.
About the Author
Kaitlin Corvus is from Ontario, Canada. The north holds the best part of
her. She writes about nobodies, monsters, and gutter glitter, loves the
stars, the deep dark sea, and a good horror mystery.
In the near future, Lieutenant Liam Price finds a woman mutilated three separate times in the aftermath of a failed experiment. To solve the case, Price must distill in the darkest elements of his robotic-driven culture, uncovering a terrifying revelation about how mankind actually dies.
About the Author
Daniel J. Burke is an author, doctor, and musician, which is an elaborate way to say he is a storyteller. At different moments in his journey, he practiced medicine in Kolkata, innovated a theory contributing to neuromuscular research in space, and was the lead guitarist in a medical school cover band “The Flu Fighters”. Daniel wrote The Cotard Delusion during his medical training. When he is not practicing
storytelling, he explores his hometown of Philadelphia.
I have the petfect story to curl up with on Halloween! Check out Ian Conner’s Ghost Witch and make sure to leave a light on!
Publication Date: June 2nd, 2022
Genre: Supernatural Horror/ Ghost Story, Native American Folklore/ Mythology
The Two Spears and Four Claws clans for generations. Now the evil has returned, once again threatening the lives of a young mother and her twin babies. It is an evil that temporarily killed and banished with fire and magic, but it can never be destroyed. It is a source of great shame for the clans. So much so, that it is never spoken about outside of the tribe.
Carlyle Allen, the wealthy new owner of Haunted Gap, is building his dream home for he and his young bride, Rebecca. Carlyle discovers a hidden room in the basement and comes across the corpse of “The Maiden”, a form the evil entity takes to seduce and trick people into doing its bidding.
A very pregnant Rebecca Allen visits Haunted Gap for the first time. Rebecca becomes exposed to poison from “The Maiden,” leading to a trip to the clinic where she meets Maggie Four Claws and Dr. Sally Manning. Realizing that Rebecca has been marked by the Ghost witch, she contacts her grandmother Opal for help and to alert the clans.
Maggie manages to convince both Rebecca Allen and Dr. Manning that she and the babies are danger, not only from the Ghost Witch, but from her husband Carlyle as well. As Dr. Manning races to get Rebecca to safety, the Ghost Witch causes an accident, allowing Carlyle to kidnap Rebecca in order to sacrifice her and the children to “The Maiden.”
Meanwhile, Maggie Four Claws, Grandma Opal, and the rest of the clans move into action to hunt down and banish the Ghost Witch. But, will they find the evil in time enough to destroy it and save Rebecca and her babies?
Ian Conner is retired and spent most of his adult life as a Marine and Army Infantry Sergeant. Now living near San Diego California with his wife Bonnie, a cellist, and their two dogs, Cookie and Isabella. Conner spends his days fostering kittens, gardening, crafting beautiful stained glass and creating worlds on the page.
Conner has authored several other novels:
Cooper’s Ridge – Science Fiction
The Long Game – Political Thriller
The Price of Partisanship – Political Thriller
Solaris – Political Thriller
Griffins Perch – Epic Fantasy
Ghost Witch – Horror
After a lifetime of destruction the thought of creating something tangible and lasting holds great appeal. He finds writing a cathartic way to redefine himself both in his eyes and the eyes of others.
I’m a lover of mythology, myths, legends, and tales from the ancient/medieval worlds. I enjoy exploring how these have transcended time/space to influence our world today. Myths and legends don’t fade away; they are just repackaged for a new audience.
As a high school English teacher, I continually challenged my students to find connections between today and times long gone by. Some took more digging than others, but the connections were always there. One of my favorites, Star Wars, borrows several concepts from the Legend of King Arthur. The Star Trek series goes even further back into the mythology of ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt as well as others.
I write Arthurian Legend for young readers and teens (I never refuse to let mature readers enjoy my stories!). These stories exhibit what I consider to be cornerstones of that Legend: Courage, Honor, Loyalty, and Friendship.
My tales from Egypt and my new series Feathers of the Phoenix meld the ancient/medieval worlds with today. The Atlantean Horse (Book 1 of Feathers of the Phoenix) also brings the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse out of the Bible and into the modern world. They and my main characters are after the feathers of the Phoenix in order to bring Atlantis alive again.
Welcome to the book tour for fantasy novel The Abdication by Justin Newland! Read on for more info and enter the giveaway at the end! You could win a signed copy!
Publication Date: July 4th, 2021
Genre: Fantasy/ Supernatural
The town of Unity sits perched on the edge of a yawning ravine where, long ago, a charisma of angels provided spiritual succour to a fledgeling human race. Then mankind was granted the gift of free will and had to find its own way, albeit with the guidance of the angels. The people’s first conscious act was to make an exodus from Unity. They built a rope bridge across the ravine and founded the town of Topeth. For a time, the union between the people of Topeth and the angels of Unity was one of mutual benefit. After that early spring advance, there had been a torrid decline in which mankind’s development resembled a crumpled, fading autumnal leaf.
Following the promptings of an inner voice, Tula, a young woman from the city, trudges into Topeth. Her quest is to abide with the angels and thereby discover the right and proper exercise of free will. To do that, she has to cross the bridge – and overcome her vertigo. Topeth is in upheaval; the townsfolk blame the death of a child on dust from the nearby copper mines. The priests have convinced them that a horde of devils have thrown the angels out of Unity and now occupy the bridge, possessing anyone who trespasses on it. Then there’s the heinous Temple of Moloch!
The Abdication is the story of Tula’s endeavour to step upon the path of a destiny far greater than she could ever have imagined.
Tula’s swollen ankle ached as she trudged up the mountain. It had moaned incessantly, ever since she had left her home in the city before embarking on this journey. Then again, it had always hurt. Perhaps since birth: she could never remember that far back. She had complained to her parents, who could not afford to get it seen by the doctor.
A gust of wind whipped up particles of sand which spiralled in the fractious air ahead of her. She squinted and pulled her keffiyeh up to cover her nose. At this altitude, the air was a thin gruel, offering paltry nourishment. Her gut was rumbling, but that was nothing new. She had walked uphill all afternoon from Seliga in the valley below and now she was gasping for breath. Her backpack seemed to weigh as much as that boulder up ahead. A vulture circled effortlessly in the azure blue sky. There was another one above the next valley, griffon vultures searching for prey; so long as they left her alone.
Wisps of straw-coloured grass sprouted beside the graves of an unkempt cemetery. The top of the surrounding low stone wall was speckled with reddish spots, like splashes of copper rain. A few of the gravestones had fallen over and kissed the parched earth. This was the summit of a mountain and even the grand old yew trees huddled in one side of the cemetery were bending to the east, bowing to the omnipotent goddess of the winds in her distant unseen shrine.
Between the cemetery and the town lay a vibrant carpet of blue thorns; large cones of tiny blue flowers surrounded by a spiky, electric-blue collar.
Up ahead were the town walls, shimmering in the waves of heat rising from the scorched land. Finally, her journey’s end was in sight. On the side of the road just outside the town’s South Gate was the Welcome Boulder. It towered above her, which was not that difficult because in the city she was constantly mocked as the shortest amongst her peers. Most of the boulder was coated in that brownish-red dust. Towards the top of it was the immortal sign that declared the town’s identity:
Welcome to Topeth.
The First Free Town and
‘The Top’ Town of all.
Long before her arrival, her parents and teachers had fired her imagination with their stories about Topeth. As the sign proudly declared, it was once ‘The Top’ town, not only because it was perched precariously on the highest mountain in the range, but also because it was the living exemplar of humanity’s stumbling progress. Many years before, that epic story had featured Herman, the First Man. It told how he had ushered in a brilliant new freedom for mankind – hence the First Free Town. Yet, after that early spring advance, there was now a torrid decline in which mankind’s development resembled a crumpled, fading autumnal leaf.
Many people asked whether their forefathers had used that freedom wisely. Some answered with a resounding ‘Yes’, but Tula had doubts. That was why she was in Topeth; to find out for herself.
On either side of the entrance road was a row of tall, spiky cacti, standing like pale, bloated fish out of water.
To the west of the town was a large area of open ground. Huge scars pitted the land which was dotted with peaked mounds of reddened earth. A gnarled ghost haunted the land. Crouched amidst its shadow lands were rickety sheds and wooden shacks, all dowsed in the same brown-red dust. Even the town’s walls were tainted in the same hue. This was the infamous Topeth open cast copper mine.
In these dangerous times, many towns shut their gates well before sundown. Thankfully, the main gates to Topeth were still open.
An old man sat cross-legged with his back against one of the gate posts, whittling a long, rod-like piece of wood and chewing on a wedge of tobacco. What an obnoxious substance. Yellow pouting lips glared at her from within a grey, untended beard. On his head, he wore a scruffy, black and white chequered keffiyeh.
“Who’s there?” He completed the question by spitting prodigiously onto the earth.
“Me, I’m Tula. And you are?”
“Can’t you see I’m blind or are you as well?” The man was gruff. He faced her. Empty sockets peered into the void.
“No, I mean yes. I’m sorry, I didn’t notice. I’m exhausted. It’s been a long day.”
“Don’t recognise your voice. You new here?”
“Yes, sir. I’ve just arrived.”
“Got your pass?”
A blind man was asking her for a pass to travel. That she had not expected. She pulled out a wrinkled piece of paper from her knapsack and hesitated, not knowing what to do with it.
“Give it here,” he demanded. “I may be blind, but do you think I can’t see right through you?”
“No, sir. I’m sure you can. It’s just that…” She gave him the travel permit.
He held it to his cheek. He rubbed it first against his left cheek, then against his right, and nodded to himself, as if reading its contents with inner eyes. She gazed at him wide-eyed.
He handed it back to her. “Go on. All in order here.”
“What did you just do?”
“When I hold something against my cheeks, I get pictures in my mind.”
“I never knew that was even possible. What did you see?”
“I saw a fair-haired young woman with blue eyes, sparkling like rays of sunlight dancing on a flowing river. I saw a smile that warms the day, a pretty face. Your fringe and pale skin and freckles will drive the young men crazy.”
“That’s kind of you to say,” she said, failing to hide a blush. “May I ask you something?”
Justin Newland is an author of historical fantasy and secret history thrillers – that’s history with a supernatural twist. His stories feature known events and real people from history which are re-told and examined through the lens of the supernatural. He gives author talks and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio Bristol’s Thought for the Day. He lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England.
Welcome to the book tour for The Resurrectionist by A.R. Meyering. This tale is sure to inspire chills!
The Resurrectionist “Inspired by the true story of the Burke and Hare murders”
Publication Date: July 3rd, 2020
Genre: Supernatural/ Horror/ Fantasy/ Based on Real Life Characters
On a skinny, forgotten road in Edinburgh stood a shop without a name—a shop that could be found only if one had previously been led to its door. William, who was blind, rapped his knuckles on the door. The shop owner opens the door and says, “I recognize you. You’re the thief who slithered away while your partner swung by his neck.”
William begs the woman to break the curse that has been set on him that prevents him from dying. The curse, says the woman, cannot be broken, but it can be displaced. Is your death so precious to you that you would destroy one more innocent life to get it? The life of your own child?”
In 19th century Scotland surgeon Edgar Price has only days to live. He has become host to a revenant that will corrode both his body and soul. Edgar’s fatal mistake has not only doomed him, but also released six more of these malignant wraiths onto the world. In his remaining time, he has vowed to stop the revenants from claiming other victims. His perilous travels lead him to the Witches’ Wood, a haven for a sisterhood of powerful enchantresses. There he meets Ainsley, who is also racing against the clock to save her life and will go to any lengths to spare the life of her lover Colleen from the grief of losing her. Despite their mutual dislike, Edgar and Ainsley find that the only way to traverse the twisted, otherworldly labyrinths that the revenants have created is to work together. Their mission becomes further complicated when Edgar begins to develop feelings for Fana, the guardian goddess of the Wood in spite of Ainsley’s forbidding warnings to stay far away from her.
Though THE RESURRECTIONIST is a work of fantasy, many of the settings and elements are based on fact. Horror and fantasy intermingle in this novel inspired by the true story of the Burke and Hare murders.
From 1828-29, Irish immigrants William Burke and William Hare were responsible for the murders of sixteen people in Edinburgh. Their methods generally involved luring a victim to Hare’s boardinghouse, where they plied them heavily with alcohol before suffocating them. They were motivated by greed, selling the corpses of their victims to a local surgeon, Robert Knox. Each victim was publicly dissected, and Dr. Knox is largely thought to have been complicit in the crimes.
During their ten-month killing spree, William Hare’s common-law wife, Margaret Laird, was pregnant with their child. Hare was pardoned for his crimes due to his confession and condemnation of his accomplice Burke, who was hanged and publicly dissected as punishment.
After being pardoned, Hare, Margaret, and their infant are thought to have escaped to Ireland. It also has been rumored that William Hare was thrown into a lime pit and subsequently suffered blindness before becoming a beggar. The victims in THE RESURRECTIONIST are also based on real life people.
Reminiscent of Tess Gerritsen’s The Bone Garden, THE RESURRECTIONIST explores a real-life horror story through a riveting supernatural thriller that is guaranteed to hook readers from the very first page.
A.R. Meyering was a graduate student studying philosophy. She has worked as an English teacher in a small town in Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan. Her dark fantasy novel, Unreal City, won a Literary Classics International Book Award gold medal for YA horror and a Moonbeam Award bronze medal in YA horror. While doing her undergrad in English she studied abroad in Edinburgh, focusing on Scottish occult literature and folklore.
Friends to the End C.L. Colyer
Published by: The Wild Rose Press
Publication date: September 27th 2021
Genres: Action, Adventure, Middle-Grade, Supernatural
Zach doesn’t believe in ghosts…but he should.
Twelve-year-old Zach is convinced he’ll never be happy without his best friend Jeremy by his side. But both of their lives changed with a bang five months ago, and as far as Zach’s concerned, it’s his fault Jeremy will never see his twelfth birthday.
When Zach moves with his family to a Chicago suburb, he quickly becomes friends with a group of thrill-seeking kids trying to find a disappearing haunted house. But Zach’s not worried. He doesn’t believe in ghosts, so he follows them into a wild, dangerous encounter that becomes a battle to decide what’s real and what’s not.
Professional network technician by day, novelist by night, Cherie lives a quiet life in the Chicago suburbs with her charming husband. She has four amazing sons who she loves dearly. Cherie magically weaves together stories with a paranormal twist. She’s the author of the Embrace series (Embrace, Hold Tight, and Entwined), Challenging Destiny, Damned When I Didn’t, and Friends to the End. She waltzes into the adult novel world with this enchanting holiday romance, Merry Little Wishing Spritz.
She happily visits schools, libraries, and book clubs, and is a member of SCBWI (Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators).
Welcome to Camp Horizons, where they pray all day…and get slayed all night!
Nestled against scenic Lake Never, recently outed Tyler Wills has arrived at the secluded conversion camp, where the delusional staff of counselors believes he and his fellow camper’s queer affliction can be healed solely through the power of prayer.
After a full day spent rallying against sadistic deprogramming therapies, the deranged camp director, and planning his escape, Tyler discovers a larger problem—a mysterious stranger has rolled into camp with a grudge to settle and a very sharp axe.
When night falls, the terror and body count rise. And Tyler, along with his fellow campers, find themselves trapped between a brutal, unrelenting killer and their holier-than-thou prey as they desperately search for a way to survive the Long Night at Lake Never.
Tyler Wills had not gazed out the car’s window for a solid hour, but when he finally did, those three words angrily mocked him. Each word with its own crudely hand-painted sign, and each one staked in the ground along the roadside. The message, along with the overall cheap tackiness of the signs, churned his stomach.
And they couldn’t even spell it right. Assholes.
After tilting his head back, he nestled against the leather headrest of his father’s Mercedes and rolled his eyes, thinking about life and its accompanying bullshit. How much he wanted to be free—eighteen was ten months away. How much easier everything would be once on his own. Life, his way.
A glance out the window and another sign met his eyes, this one reflective green. It announced they were twenty-five miles from their destination: Camp Horizons. The crude signs, which at first appeared random, now made more sense. Tyler could have groaned or sighed loudly, but no one cared or listened. His parents remained silent the entire three-hour trip, and no noises Ty made were going to change that fact in the last thirty minutes. No radio. No small talk. Only the car’s interior noises, their collective breathing, and the curt driving directions of the British-voiced GPS.
Nadine Wills sat stone-faced and stared out the windshield, only letting the occasional sniffle escape her nose to show she was still alive. Tyler expected a ride filled with screaming and admonishments against his character, but instead, he got the Wills silent treatment. In the two weeks since the night Tyler was brought home by the police, she hadn’t acknowledged him once. She did not listen to him that night either. Once the door opened and she saw Ty there looking small and pitiful with the bulky police officer behind him, she slapped his face and demanded he go to his room. He didn’t, remaining hidden on the stairwell, giggling to himself, as the cop explained to his parents their seventeen-year-old son had been caught in the park giving, as the officer described, “vigorous oral sex.” He emphasized the word vigorous multiple times, either driving home the point he’d witnessed the offensive act, or to show how impressed he’d been by the skills displayed but remained obligated to uphold the law.
Tyler lamented life was not more like porn. If his had been, the cop would gladly have joined in, and Tyler wouldn’t have faced his third strike with Michael and Nadine. The previous two were for his attitude, minor offensives, but this infraction came with the threat of an indecent exposure charge, for which he got let go with only a warning. However, the more significant issue was the revelation their only son was queer. He knew the ordeal would cost him this time, which it did.
One day after the incident, as the event became referred to, Michael barged into Tyler’s room, a disgusted look etched into his worn and wrinkled face, and his laptop clenched in his hands. Tyler rolled his eyes as his red-faced father, livid at his only son for being a filthy fucking cocksucker (his exact words), showed him the website for Camp Horizons, a “rehabilitation” center for homosexual youth. Tyler understood exactly what a pray-the-gay-away-style conversion camp consisted of. He was an educated young man and was aware of what kind of rehab went down at places like those. The blood drained from his face as Michael smirked at Ty’s horrified reaction. Nadine wasn’t present for Michael’s fiery antihomo tirade about how the camp would be healthy for him. Tyler figured a silent or else came attached to the demand he agreed to be fixed. He hoped Nadine would swoop in for a rescue, tell her husband he was being ridiculous as she had in the past and that would be all. But Ty didn’t count on her this time; he knew she wouldn’t leave the safety of the bedroom where the surplus of Xanax kept her numbed and staring at the ceiling in mindless wonderment.
The week until they left for the camp had been hell. They took everything from him: the car went first, the phone next, along with all the electronics, and like a prisoner, his remaining freedoms were stripped away. Tyler spent the week locked in his near-empty bedroom. The severity of his punishment pissed him off and it wasn’t due to premarital sex or getting caught by the police. If he’d been blown by a girl, sure there would have been some yelling and tears since Nadine cried at fucking everything. But once she settled, his father would have come into his room and congratulated him on becoming a man and probably expunged any punishment with a hearty high-five.
No, their anger, their disgust came from the fact Tyler was gay. What infuriated them more, Ty had no issue with his sexuality at all. To them, being queer equaled unacceptable, and yet, he held no shame whatsoever. For the past two years, he’d tried on multiple occasions to come out but always retreated at the last minute. He understood the truth: Michael and Nadine were bigoted archaic assholes. The kind who spoke disparagingly about queer people whenever they showed up on a television show or in a movie. “Ugh, do we need more of them?” Nadine would say as she fidgeted in her spot until the offensive parties left the screen. His father would mumble fags under his breath, and so Tyler would sit there being hurt and annoyed by the two people who were supposed to love him more than anything.
And he thought, foolishly, he could make it to eighteen and get out before he ever had to tell them. His libido thought otherwise. The allegations were true. He’d done everything the cop accused him of—and more—before the offensive flashlight so rudely shined on them in the plastic playhouse atop the slide. Tyler picked at the seams on his jeans and thought about Daniel, his long-time crush, who had finally agreed to meet him.
Closing his eyes, he pictured Daniel’s slender face, his deep eyes, and his full lips, which felt as nice as Ty had hoped. Without any of his devices, there’d been no way to see how much trouble Daniel had gotten into with his family. And no means to apologize or tell him how he’d not stopped thinking about their brief night. Nadine and Michael hadn’t merely sent Tyler away; they’d successfully cut him off from the world. He wouldn’t know if there may have been something more with Daniel than a few quick make-out sessions behind the lunchroom and a sloppy half-finished blow job.
He opened his eyes when his father’s voice demanded he wake up though he had not been sleeping. A large wooden sign filled the front windshield as they passed, declaring they’d reached Camp Horizons. In the camp’s heyday, the hand-carved sign had been brightly painted with yellows and blues, depicting a serene sun setting on a group of cabins. Each ray of the sun became a cross the closer to the camp they reached, but the current state of the sign showed those days were long gone. Now the sign’s faded paint showed off how dried and cracked the wood had become. The sign hung crooked, drooping on one side from damage to one of the posts, which no one had bothered to fix. Past the broken sign were a few hundred more feet of dense forest, which sent a chill, cold and icy, traversing up Tyler’s spine and sent shudders through his body. The camp was more isolated than he realized, and the fact unsettled him. An apprehensive knot formed in his chest and told him this place wasn’t right.
The Mercedes followed the curve of the camp’s driveway, and Tyler saw a trio of cabins nestled together along the rim of the circular drive. Behind them, sloping down the uneven terrain to the edge of Lake Never were several more. From the window, Tyler spotted a round-faced man in his late thirties, with a short beard and thinning hair, wearing a bright-yellow shirt and tan khakis, waving happily at them. Michael pulled the car around until he faced the way they’d come in. He shoved the gearshift into park, pissed off at it and blaming everything in the world for his son being a queer.
Michael turned to face Tyler in the backseat. For a moment, Ty thought his father would finally speak to him, and he did, but not with any words. The anger and disappointment were painted all over his face as they’d been for days, and the look told Tyler without question, you’d better not fuck this up too. Tyler blew him a kiss and flung his car door open, happy for the fresh air. As his parents slammed their doors, the man from the porch trotted down to them.
“The Lord has blessed us with a beautiful day, hasn’t he? Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Wills. Welcome to Camp Horizons,” he said warmly, his greeting coated thickly by a Southern accent as rich as syrup smothering a stack of pancakes. He extended his hand and shook Michael’s, and then Nadine’s, who barely registered a response. “Robert Kendall, the camp director here at Horizons. But please, Bob is fine. Been going by it for years. And this young man must be Tyler.” Bob swung his hand over to Tyler, an obviously super fake grin smeared across his round face.
Tyler refused to shake any hands. Instead, he let his focus drift around the camp as Bob spoke to his parents. If Horizons had any glory days, they were long gone. There was not one cabin which didn’t need some form of repair or wasn’t boarded up. Every surface needed a paint job, and the grounds were overgrown, except in the prominent areas along the front to keep the entrance looking deceptively beautiful. Tyler’s sneakers dug into the gravel of the drive, his thoughts only on running away, as Bob led them to the office sitting to the left of the largest cabin, which he referred to as Integrity Cabin.
For a religiously run camp, Tyler found there was not much around touting the place’s pious nature past the crosses on the camp’s entrance sign. In his head, he half expected to see nothing but crosses—hung to everything, twenty feet tall—but the camp appeared subdued.
He recanted this opinion once inside Bob’s office. The room was adorned with an obscenely large and ornately framed painting of Jesus Christ on the rear wall. Between the pictures of the camp through the years were photos of the Guides who had worked there, small but ornate crosses, placards with scripture quotes, and religious-themed motivational posters, which encouraged all to Pray it Away with the power of God.
Situated at his desk, Bob was tiny in front of the looming Jesus, who glared down on them, and the desk was covered with files, papers, and a complete set of apostle bobbleheads.
The Wills family sat quietly as Bob beamed at them with a righteous awkwardness for a silent minute. Exhaling loudly, he leaned his head up to the heavens as he began, “The Lord is here today. Yes, he is. He is always present when one of his disciples begins their Journey.” The word, said often, was always accompanied with a pompous weighted reverence. “Tyler, Horizons exists to restore those trapped within sexual sin. Our program is specifically designed to cater to those that have fallen prey to the sinful cult of homosexuality.” He bowed his head, raised his right hand, and shook like an evangelist on Sunday morning television, casting away queerness like one would cast off the evil eye.
“Homosexuality is a vile disease, and through the power of prayer, we can get Tyler onto the path of righteousness and return him to the arms of our Lord.”
“Kinda thought the idea here would be getting me out of the arms of men, but hey, who am I to argue?” Tyler could do nothing but laugh off the absurdity around him.
“God sees you, Tyler Wills, and your soul is in peril. Do you want to spend eternity in damnation and hellfire? Let’s try to approach this with some decorum. Our mission here is to save your soul.”
Tyler rolled his eyes at the idea of his soul needing saving—an impulse reaction but one that earned him a hard smack across the back of his head from his father.
“How long does this process take, making them straight again?” Michael asked with an annoyed tone, suggesting he expected to literally drop the offensive party off and leave. Nadine sat quietly, not looking at her son, husband, or Bob’s suntanned face. She stared up at the large painting of Jesus, dopey eyed in her sedated state. “Tyler had an incident,” she whispered softly.
“I got caught vigorously sucking some cock,” Tyler boasted as his father fumed, and Nadine covered her mouth and shook her head.
“An incident,” Michael spoke over him, “that concerned us enough to bring him here for treatment.”
Bob put his hands together in a prayer stance and once again sounded like a preacher. “The path to religious righteousness is a thorny one. Romans 12 tells us, ‘Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.’” He quoted the Bible with the slimy ease of a used car salesman trying to offload a lemon.
Michael rudely cut through the religious platitudes. “And what kind of time frame does that entail?”
“Bob,” Tyler interjected before the camp director answered, “my parents are extremely uncomfortable. Neither of them is religious enough to know what Romans means. What they want you to tell them, and in the simplest words possible, is how long this introduction will take. They’re so uncomfortable. I mean, look at how much they want to leave.” The retort was worth the second smack to the head.
“The Journey is two and a half weeks, but they are laborious weeks for sure.” Bob cleared his throat. “Now I’m required to make clear that neither I nor my Guides are actually licensed therapists. We’re merely servants of God, who’ve gone through the Journey and are invested in keeping the camp running so other young people will have a safe space to embark on their own path back to the Lord.” He rattled off a few other disclaimers rapidly before sliding across the desk three papers he advised were confidentiality agreements, each stating the Wills would not divulge their therapeutic techniques.
Tyler figured his father listened and honed in, as Tyler had, on the unlicensed and unregulated part, which to anyone else would have been a huge red flag. He hoped that would have shown his father how ludicrous the entire idea was, and how potentially dangerous. Except Tyler imagined his father hoped the so-called techniques included a little bit of physical punishment. “Fucking kill them all, and we wouldn’t have this problem,” Michael Wills had once proclaimed at the breakfast table in front of his son and wife after becoming annoyed with the ongoing coverage over the fight for marriage equality.
“We here at Horizons have developed our own patent-pending, seven-step rehabilitation program, which will take Tyler on a voyage of self-discovery where he will once again find, through prayer, and our assistance, God’s eternal love. And in that love, he will find the courage to reject these deviant homosexual impulses, falsely implanted within him by Satan.
“All of our Guides have taken the Journey. They are trained to assist other young men and women going through the process. Luckily for Tyler, our attendance is rather low this cycle, which is all the better to give those here a truly one-on-one, immersive experience, which will return him to our Lord and Savior. Through God’s beautiful bounty, we are blessed to be here providing this service to his flock.”
“I’m pretty sure this shit is illegal.” Tyler’s already upset stomach tied itself in more knots listening to the eerie way Bob referred to God so subserviently that it didn’t seem to Tyler like they had the healthiest relationship. Whomever Bob was referring to wasn’t the God Ty knew, and everyone in the room would be gutted to know how well Tyler was versed with the Bible, but he kept that to himself.
“Language,” Bob chided. “We keep our words G-rated at Horizons.”
“No laws have been passed as of yet…in this state anyway,” Bob quickly pointed out smugly before shifting his attention to Michael and Nadine. “As you may have observed driving in, Lake Never is rather large. We are secluded here on the south side. As such, there is no access to the internet. No televisions. No radios. No distractions. And any fraternizing, in a physical manner, is strictly forbidden.”
Tyler sat back in his chair, believing he had found his way out. The first guy he found to be willing—bam—he’d get kicked out.
“Expulsion is not the punishment,” Bob declared as if reading the blueprints of Tyler’s escape plan directly off his face. “The program resets, and our Journeyer must begin again. And if this causes them to go over their allotted time, there will of course be a small fee. We will need to collect Tyler’s phone and any other electronic devices he may have. There is a landline here in my office. If you are so inclined to check on Tyler’s progress, you may call, but the Journeyers are not permitted access to it.”
Tyler laughed. They wouldn’t give a shit about his progress once they drove off. “Don’t have to worry about that, Bob. These assholes don’t care if they hear from their faggy son or not.”
“Language.” Bob’s demeanor flipped, and the word came with a more pointed tone making it clear foul language wouldn’t be tolerated again.
“Tyler, shut up,” his father demanded. “And after these two weeks he will be straight, correct?”
“Oh yes,” Bob assured Michael. “We here at Horizons are God’s mechanics, determined to help fix our brothers and sisters who’ve been led astray.”
“There is nothing fucking wrong with me. I happened to luck out and got these two braindead assholes for parents.” Tyler went to stand up and storm out. Michael proved quicker, snatching his arm roughly, forcing him down into his seat.
“Sit the fuck down right now,” Michael yelled, never once looking at his son. “You will take this seriously. You will follow the rules, and you will not come home until—”
“Until what?” Tyler pulled his arm back. “Until I magically like pussy? There is nothing wrong with me the way I am.”
Michael wound up his hand again and started to say something when Bob jumped in. “Mr. Wills, please. Tyler, we will not accept this kind of talk or behavior at Horizons. That is no way to speak to your parents. One of the commandments is to honor thy mother and father. They are your moral compass.”
“You’re fucking joking, right?” Tyler sat up in the chair and laughed. “Moral compass? My mother over there dopes herself every day to ignore the fact that my father is sticking his dick into every woman he meets. She doesn’t care about this as long as her meds are refilled, and the credit card doesn’t get declined. I do believe gluttony, infidelity, and generally being a shitty person are sins too, are they not? Where’s the rehab camp for these asses?”
Nadine shifted in her seat and exhaled loudly as she turned her face away when Michael sent the back of his hand across Tyler’s face, effectively silencing him. Bob didn’t comment on the slap, waiting a moment until the air settled before he continued.
“We are not here to discuss semantics, Tyler. We’re here to talk about you starting your Journey toward being a straight and God-fearing member of society.”
Tyler rubbed the side of his face, still hot from Michael’s hand, and shrugged the slap off. “I get your gig; you pick and choose what parts of the Bible you feel like enforcing. The rest doesn’t matter, right?”
Bob, still sporting his Cheshire-cat-like phony grin, studied Tyler as he slid the confidential agreement across the desk toward Michael. Bob motioned to the pens in the cup in front of him. “We are going to require our fee up front.”
Eric David Roman.com spent twenty years wandering the wrong paths; he tends to get lost a lot (he’s from Florida). He worked the wrong jobs (as it turns out, streetwalking is not a profession for just anyone) and avoided his true passion—writing, or as he refers to it, devouring sleeves of gluten-free Oreos in a dark closet whilst crying. After hitting a low point while trapped in retail management hell (a harsh rock bottom), he rearranged his thinking (now with 75 percent less anxiety and depression) and switched his focus fully to writing; well, as much as his gAyDD allows. And now, you’re reading his bio, so things are progressing nicely. He is the author of the outrageous novella Despicable People, the new novel Long Night at Lake Never, and multiple upcoming works. Eric remains socially distant in Northern Virginia (don’t stalk him, you’d just be disappointed), where he lives, writes, and loves a mix of all things horror, campy, and queer. He spends the days with his adoring husband and loveable cat (both of whom remain indifferent to his self-proclaimed celebrity).