Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror

BOOK: Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror
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SPOOK LIGHTS

Southern Gothic Horror

 

 

Eden Royce

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the ladies of 119, for… well, everything.

 

 

SPOOK

LIGHTS


 

 

 

 

 

 

Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror

 

Copyright © 2015 by Eden Royce

 

Cover design by Mark Taylor

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

ISBN: 978-1-326-26989-0

Praise for Spook Lights

 

 

Eden Royce delivers a sultry and spicy dose of Southern Gothic. The stories are rich in flavor and clever in metaphor, the horrors completely surreal or—far more unnerving—all too possible. She brings a refreshing perspective to the table that paranormal lovers are sure to enjoy.

 

—B.D. Bruns, author of The Gothic Shift

 

 

This book is a collection of Southern Gothic short stories, a specific and rare type of horror fiction. What is the difference, you may ask? If a horror story is a man in a mask, chasing a woman through a dark forest with a bloody axe, these stories are the warm embrace of a long lost lover as he slowly drags her down into his grave. A true gothic is dripping with atmosphere, history, and depth. It sneaks up on you when you feel warm and safe, then touches your emotions and psyche in a place that will leave you scarred for life.

A gothic story of any type is not easy to pull off. It takes a gentle hand, a fist in a velvet glove, if you will. With a skillful hand she guides the reader through all of these experiences.

This is a beautiful and unique collection which should be a treasured addition to any library. 

 

—Roma Gray, author of Gray Shadows Under a Harvest Moon

 

 

Spook Lights will seduce you with dark, penetrating, horror, dripping in southern gothic beauty. 

 

Dark corners and sensual horrors greet you in the latest from Eden Royce. Spook Lights will seduce you with its facade of gothic charm and ruin you with monstrous intent. With each story woven expertly by the author, gothic tales become ghoulish nightmares. It entices you to turn the page with desire, never knowing what you will find.

 

—Mark Taylor, author of The Human Condition

Introduction

 

I labored over the title for this collection of stories. When I first decided to release them in one book, I wasn’t sure how to unite them under one theme. Of course, they are dark tales, but possibly not in the vein currently popular. What you will find is subtle—often times called quiet—horror.

 

My favorite kind. 

 

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love a good jump or quiver now and then. But Gothic horror has always been my favorite. Maybe because moody Gothic horror is the first kind I remember experiencing. Sitting at home with my mother and grandmother watching an old black and white horror classic on TV was how I spent many a night growing up.

 

We Southerners are born storytellers, so naturally I wanted to create my own stories as I got older.  But I had a desire to see characters that reflected my background, and I didn’t find too many. After I began writing my own work, I found the next step was to get it out in the public eye. Before submitting any of my tales to publishers, one of the first decisions I had to make was to place my work in a genre, a category that defined it. I struggled there as well. Many of my stories weren’t considered true horror to publishers—there were no lavishly described squicky killings, no serial killers. My style of writing almost seemed to suit another era, one that was long gone.

 

However, I soon found Southern Gothic, a genre of writing that is about the Southern mystique (and I don’t think that’s too grandiose a term). Southern Gothic is a subset of its parent Gothic style of writing, a style that places characters in situations focused on the strange, the grotesque, the macabre. It’s these atmospheric settings that give Gothic writing its definitive sound and feel.

 

Typically, Southern Gothic gets the added distinction of having a setting that in itself can conjure up images of horror for some: slavery, lynchings, war. If asked to sum up this genre of writing, I would turn to James Baldwin, one of my favorite poets, and use his quote: “
The South is very beautiful but its beauty makes one sad because the lives that people live here, and have lived here, are so ugly.”

 

There is a history in the title of this collection. The ugly part of that history is why I was at war with myself over using the title
Spook Lights
. For years, the word “spook” has been used as a racial slur for a black person. Groundbreaking author Sam Greenlee embraced the term and used it in his 1969 spy novel,
The Spook Who Sat by the Door,
now required reading at the FBI academy.
Greenlee’s novel is the story of Dan Freeman,
the first black CIA officer—spook also being a slang term for spy.
I recognize the history of the word, but it holds an additional meaning for me.

 

I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, a world-renowned tourist city, known for her hospitality and rightly so. Even her nickname, the Holy City, inspires thoughts of serene charm. She has that in abundance, as many writers, Southern and not, have noted over the years. I’ve read a great deal of these authors and enjoy their work. Much of it focuses on the gentry—old South royalty—and I admit to being fascinated by their stories myself. Turning back the guise of propriety and revealing well-hidden secrets and shame is alluring, but in those tales, not many people of color are featured as protagonists. They are incidental characters that flit in and out of tales, rarely memorable in their own right.

 

Charleston’s dark side is illustrious.  There is a popular tour of the city that focuses on prostitution, bootleg whiskey, crimes in the names of love and money. But there too, people of color make few appearances. My aim was to create and bring together stories—dark fiction smattered with a touch of magical realism—and depict the Holy City from the perspective I grew up with: fiery women, conjure magic, and a healthy appreciation of and respect for the unknown.

 

A peninsula, Charleston is surrounded on three sides by water and most of the undeveloped areas are covered in marshland. On certain hot, humid nights, when you look out over the marsh, you can see ethereal lights. They flicker as though they are lanterns, and coyly recede when you try to approach them. Some cultures call them wills-o’-the-wisp or fairy fire and they are feared as a portent of death. However, my grandmother called them spook lights. I asked her once what they were and she said that some people say they’re ghost lights, emanating from lost spirits wandering the earth. Then she whispered close to my ear that others believed them to be guides and they were the lights slaves followed years ago deep into the dank marshes and away to freedom.

 

I always chose to believe my grandmother’s explanation and it has stuck with me all these years. Although I have now moved to England, I thought it appropriate to release a collection of dark tales inspired by the city where I grew up, the place that shaped me. And my dark thoughts.

 

Dum Spiro Spero
, Charleston. I miss y’all.

 

 

~Eden Royce

Kent, England

2015             

The Watered Soul

 

The juke joint was jumping when Lucius Blacksmoke slipped in. Outside it didn’t look like much, just a run-down former fish shack perched on the edge of the Charleston marsh surrounded by biting flies and stealthy gators. Even with the sun descending from its perch, the heat was stifling; its dying rays still scorched the skin left bare by his seersucker suit.

He’d spent over six years looking for the woman who’d cursed him. Each time he’d come close—in Paris, in Berlin—Lucius had somehow missed her. Usually, it was by days, but once in Tunisia, he’d missed her by hours. But now, after following countless tales of healing magics across the globe, he’d traced her here at considerable cost to his pocket and himself.

Sometimes, it was good to surround yourself with drunks. They told stories no one believed in the clear light of day. One such man told him of a woman running a watering hole. “Best thing you evah drank. Felt like I was lifted up.” Lucius listened, slowing his drinking enough to remain more sober than his companion and only then long enough to record the details of her location. Now here he was. 

Inside the ramshackle establishment was no better. Dust motes floated on the few shafts of light that pierced the heavy dimness. The smell of sweat and musk from gyrating bodies and the floor shaking from the efforts of the quartet and their brand of dirty jazz were enough to make him wish for the quiet serenity of home, although no one there would know him now. He much preferred the music of his own people, music of elegance and meter, first played to him as a young man by their composers—Bach and Handel and their counterparts—on his father’s harpsichord. The sound of this discordant clanging burrowed into his skull, making his vision narrow and grow black at the edges. Every part of him itched to flee, but his desire pushed him forward.

Lucius choked down the thick, odorous air, trying to settle his protesting stomach as he searched the room. A biscuit-colored woman stood in the middle of the room on a make shift stage, no more than a few two-by-fours with a plywood top nailed in place, belting out raunchy lyrics in a sandpaper alto. His gaze flicked over her form-fitting dress, damp with sweat under the arms and breasts, and then away. Behind her, a dusty-looking black man in battered overalls dragged a bow across a fiddle that had never seen a good day. And the drummer—

—was a woman.

Lucius stared. Even now, the woman he sought wouldn’t follow the traditions of the Hutu tribe she’d grown up with. The waterfall of tears Hutu had shed when she’d left her village hand in hand with him made Lucius—then called William—waver in his intentions on that day so long ago. But now he questioned her devotion since she was allowing this female to batter away at an instrument her people only intended for a man’s hand. Bet she’s proud of herself, he thought, eyes narrowing in anger as well as pain. He shook off the notion. For some reason when he thought of Hutu, he saw her naiveté, fresh and unspoiled. But too much had happened for her to maintain that tenderness.

He strolled over to a decrepit metal washtub serving as an ice bucket across from the stage and slipped the hunting knife from his pocket. He hid his opening of the blade under a fumble around in the basin for a few cool chips of ice to suck on. Any sound was lost under the twanging banjo and the foot stomping of the crowd, their bodies sour and rank from exertion. Day laborers that hadn’t moved far from the plantations. They’d been given freedom and they still clung to massa’s teat. His smirk stayed in place as his gaze found Hutu.

She was seated across the room with a drink before her, her cherry wood skin blending into the shadows. The woman grasped a fragment of ice from the glass with her red fingernails, and dropped it down the front of her poppy printed dress. With a shudder, she met his gaze. Hutu watched Lucius while he strolled across the rickety dance floor, the knife concealed in his sleeve, and stopped in front of the overturned whisky barrel she used as a table.

“When you left the last time, it took me three years and Jesus to get over you.”

He laughed. “You got Jesus and you drinkin’ in a juke joint?” The accent he’d practiced over the years to get past the “locals only” mentalities in some of these backwater towns sounded weak and limp next to hers, an affectation gone wrong. Even his suit felt awkward somehow, too prosperous, too light, in this place of darkness. As he’d expected, Hutu looked as though she belonged. Her eyes, heavy lidded, watched him.  Her perspiration kissed skin was bare of makeup, but smooth and unlined, even though he knew she was older than he.

“I own this place, Lucius, so yes, I’m here. Most of the time.” She picked up the now empty glass and shook it above her head. “Artie, one more,” she yelled over the jiving dancers. An old man, face shiny dark like a new tire, raised a hand in acknowledgement. When she looked at Lucius again it was with undisguised hatred. “Where were you? Out there on the street somewhere being with who you please after I gave you—”

“Gave me what?” His voice quaked and his tongue tripped over the thickening words in his mouth. “What’d you give me?”

“A gift. Nothing you didn’t ask for—nothing you didn’t want. But it was something I should have never done.” She took a slender cigarette from a gold case and blew on the end. It flared into life and she placed the filtered tip between her plump lips and drew deeply.

His head thumped now, the music drilling down into his brain. The drum brought back images of wide leafed flora and weighty, moist heat. It was easy to see why Hutu chose this place to call home. The tiny makeshift huts along the river here were so like the ones he’d found her in, barefoot and bare breasted. Where she’d danced with abandon to the cacophony ebbing from the taut goatskin drums, her nipples hard and dark as blackcurrants.

The rhythm coming from this drum eclipsed all the other instruments. Lucius felt like he had blinders on: all he saw was Hutu in front of him and the rest of the world faded into darkness. He pressed his head down into one hand, the knife in his sleeve pricking lightly at his wrist, ready. Ready to reclaim his life from before. He dropped into the chair opposite her with a grunt, sitting down hard.

“You know,” she said casually, as if she were talking to someone at the market, commenting on what was fresh from the fields. “One time way back, the
soul
was thought to be a mix of fire and water. The goal of life was supposed to be getting that water outta your soul. Become pure fire.” She blew smoke daggers at him.

“How?” he managed, panting under the assault of percussion. Through all of his lifetimes, he hadn’t felt pain like this. The drum, its tone high-pitched and resonant, seemed to seek out and attack his weakest parts, piercing him.

“That’s a question you should have asked me before you drank the elixir of life.” She held the empty glass up to her eye and peered at him through it, catching the dregs of fading light.

Lucius swept his arm over the table, sending an ashtray and her cigarette case clattering to the floor, each hand-rolled tube scattering in a different direction. “You should have told me what it would do!” There was no pause in the dancing.
Jump. Spin. Stomp.

Artie refilled Hutu’s glass.

“If I had known you wanted the secret of eternity, I could have bargained with you for a fair price. There was no need for you to make a fool of me. You knew what you were in for. Only thing you didn’t know was each time you came back… each time—” She broke off and leaned back in the chair, her face thoughtful.  “Now I know why I was supposed to stay a virgin. Untouched. My father said that was the only way the magic would work. He was wrong, though. It still works, only differently.”

“Just…fix this.” He beat against his temple with a fist. That sound, like insects boring into his brain seeking nourishment. “Please.”

Hutu looked at him, her brown-black eyes not missing a hair on his head as half of the whisky disappeared down her long throat. “Hm. Like I was saying. A dry soul is best. It’s worldly pleasures that make the soul moist.” She chuckled softly, but the sound carried to his ears, winding easily through the efforts of the band. “Yours must be drowning.”

“You don’t understand me, Anna Lee,” he said, calling her by the name he had given her a hundred—no, over two hundred now—years before. He’d never been able to pronounce her given name, the one bestowed on her by the tribe that banned her from their midst because of him.
Umulaazi,
they had yelled in their clipped, guttural language.
She has lain with the pale stranger.
Her father had been the last to turn his back to her.

Lucius had paid for another ticket to bring her to the Continent with him. He had held her as she wept for what she had lost, rocking her in time to the sway of the ship. When they reached land months later, he’d left her. “I’m the kind of man… Dammit, I need things, woman!”

“So I see.” Her eyes flicked over his limp suit.

“Don’t you mock me, she-witch.” Lucius rubbed his sleeve over his mouth, smearing sweat and mucus. “What was I supposed to do?”

She shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know. Be happy?”

Lucius grabbed her glass and downed the remaining amber liquid. The whiskey seared his throat and he wanted to claw it back out.
Would he ever get enough of drinking? Would he ever get tired of existing?
The liquid boiled in his belly, mixing the stench of his sickly sweat with the perspiration from the dancers on the floor and on the tables.
All of it set to the rhythm of the forbidden drum.

“No, not you. You couldn’t be happy,” Her voice surrounded him and he felt hot shame build and creep up his chest to his neck. “Contentment is not in your nature.” She motioned for another drink. “Something you never knew was how you hurt me. Each time you came back dirty, torn up, stinking of bathtub liquor, I took you in. But it hurt me.”

“I never meant—”

Hutu’s voice lost its cool, disinterested tone. It thundered out of her like a Baptist preacher’s brimstone sermon, vibrating the walls. She trembled. “Each time I touched you, I could see them, the women you ran with. When I picked up your shirt to wash it, I could see each one… see their faces as you took them. Touched them.”

The music slowed, deepened into a pulsing, and the dancers responded without changing steps.
Jump. Stomp. Sliiide…

Hutu dropped the spent cigarette into the empty glass. “A root lady told me one time she could help me. Surprised she didn’t want to live forever too. But she wanted something else.”

He nodded. “That’s good.” His throat felt thick, coated with flannel. “You don’t need some witch woman giving you anything. They always want something and it’s never good.”

“But I did give it to the old thing. What she wanted.  Because I have a soft spot for people in need.”  Her eyes pinned him. “Did you know the elixir can create life as well as extend it?”

A fly buzzed in his ear and he waved it away. Undaunted, the insect returned, its threadlike legs tickling the side of his neck. Hutu leaned forward on the makeshift table, gold bracelets jingling like wind chimes.

He gripped the knife. This was it, what he had come for.
Be strong, now.

All he saw was her staring at him, ready to claim her vengeance. It had taken over two hundred years for him to come crawling to her, asking—begging—for help. Or was it mercy? Two hundred years since he’d brought her to this country as his property and then sold her. Her screaming and wailing and the thump of drumbeats. In his head, still there after all this time. In truth, the sounds were always there, following him from life to life and person to person. He’d been William, and David, and Franklin trying to wedge his way into the lives of the upper class and failing each time. This time around, he’d chosen to be Lucius, a smaller fish in a smaller pond, in his attempt to prosper. No matter who he was, the noises stayed in his mind, hovering like a nosy aunt. What relief he found lay in drowning himself in strong drink and soft women.

Eternity. He’d wanted those years to get rich, take advantage of the eons of time spread out before him to prosper. Get smart and strong and important. But it hadn’t happened. He’d asked for his body to live forever, but he hadn’t asked for strength of character. He drank and threw money after horses and dice and whores. He’d adopted persona after persona in an attempt to enjoy his gift. There was always another tomorrow to become great. Plenty of time, he’d thought.

She’d never told him what it would be like. That he’d have to live with himself and his choices throughout all time. That no identity change would ever allow him to escape who and what he really was.

He pulled what was left of his fading vision to focus on Hutu and saw her smiling broadly, her teeth blindingly white, as if she knew his thoughts. And she may have. His anger flared again as she lit another cigarette. Lucius lifted his arm and struck down with the knife, polished and sharp, intent on ending his torment. To end the magic, you must kill its creator.

A yell pierced the air, loud and masculine. Almost blind from the music, he hadn’t seen old man Artie return to sit another drink in front of Hutu, to replacing the one Lucius had guzzled in defiance.  Lucius looked down, vision reduced to almost nothing, and saw three thick brown fingers on the overturned barrel table, leaking red. Artie pulled his hand to his chest and hurried away, leaving his severed brown fingers behind.  In that moment Lucius realized his error. It took him a few more moments of sweeping his gaze from one corner of the joint to the other to realize he could see clearly.

BOOK: Spook Lights: Southern Gothic Horror
7.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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