Thursday, March 18, 2010

Book Review: Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause

About half way through this book I was thinking; "Annette Curtis Klause should sue the creator of that silly ass vampire series for pre-teens." This seemed like the same story only with werewolves instead of vampires. But then things started happening that I didn't see coming. And the author didn't hold back when it came to the graphic violence that should be included in any serious book involving werewolves and/or vampires which are by nature vicious beings. Yet the book is still considered a young adult novel.

This is a story that follows Vivian, a teenage girl whose loneliness drives her to seek a relationship with a human (meat boy). They quickly fall for each other despite disapproval from her pack and his family and friends. When a mutilated body is found, Vivian begins to suspaect that she is the killer. This all leads to a suspense filled climax and a surprising twist.

The writing style was pretty straight forward. Well structured sentences and great pacing kept me interested. This was an all around good read and I'd recommend it to any fan of werewolves or horror in general.

4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Musical Graves

Musical Graves:
A Ghostly Love Story
Derek A. Schneider

A graveyard is the setting for the opening scene of this tale. An unassuming place to be sure, but one filled with the gloom that can only come from an October night that holds only a sliver of moon in its blackened sky. On a night like tonight, the chilly autumn wind blows through the hollows of the trees in and around the cemetery grounds. Some have been known to mistake the sound for the melancholy cries of ghosts that have been long dead and anchored to their final resting places.
However, this is only half right. In truth the sound is that of the music these spirits have written themselves. Like a supernatural jam band that draws its inspiration from the weaving dives of the wicked wind.
The life of a ghost is a lonely one. Well, least ways, it was for David. The graveyard he resided in was full of lively spirits and they seemed to throw a party almost nightly. The kind of ethereal jamborees that included jokes, laughter and the aforementioned music played on insubstantial instruments.
Try as he might, David found it rather difficult to join in the festivities. Like many ghosts, he had unattended business to see to in the earth realm. The other spirits seemed to find it easy to look past this, but for David, that unattainable goal seemed to be all he could think about. It was like a plate of food that was just out of a starving man’s reach.
Of course, the most raucous parties occurred when a new spirit joined them in their little community. This would happen quite often as well. At least once or twice a week.
Some time ago, David was elected to the position of mayor of the large cemetery. A title he no doubt earned trough his dry and dreary demeanor. The other ghosts felt he was the only one serious enough to make important decisions when the time came to do so.
These moments were few and far between, to be sure. After all, what kind of decisions could a society full of ghosts possibly deem to be a matter of importance? Why, he couldn’t remember the last time anyone had asked for his advice on any topic.
But, I digress. It was the parties that we were getting to. Upon ending these parties the ghosts would usually split into pairs (most often one male and one female, but this wasn’t always the case) and lie down in one grave together. This was a practice that seemed odd to David. Surely two ghosts couldn’t pleasure each other in any way. That’s not to say he wasn’t curious.
It was never the same couples either. The whole thing seemed like a morbid game to David. He could sometimes imagine an old record player (for those were the standard when he was alive) playing a tune from a big band of a long gone era. Then the music would stop and the spirits would fall into their graves with whoever happened to be closest.
Musical graves.
He would often laugh at this comparison. Then, he would remember he was always the odd ghost out, and his smile would fade.
These ghosts would spend their entire daylight hours in the grave, though not for reasons you might think. Being so transparent, ghosts weren’t easily seen in the light of the sun. Not even by other ghosts. So, there was really very little point in it.
Anyone who has seen a ghost could tell you; the dead usually wear their deaths on their sleeves. So to speak. It was no different for David, who made his way through post life with a cloud of smoke billowing away from his backside. Even his hair was nothing more than a stream of gray smokiness. Add to all of this the perpetual cigarette that was always held clutched between his thumb and middle finger and it was clear to see his demise was caused in some way by his love of tobacco.
Even though he had been dead for nearly sixty years the cigarette still fascinated him. No matter how many times he smoked it down to the filter and flicked it away, as soon as he turned his hand back over, the square would reappear, full and freshly lit. So, he would smoke it. And he would enjoy it. Then he would toss it away and start all over again.
With his enjoyment of the cigarette he supposed it wasn’t totally unreasonable that the other ghosts would enjoy whatever it was that they did when they joined one another in the same graves in the early morning hours.
Or, was his enjoyment of the cigarette purely on a mental level?
His train of thought often went in this direction and the questions would turn over and over in his head, tumbling through his ghostly psyche like a child tumbling down a grassy hill on a sunny afternoon, until they threatened to drive him mad.
The truth was; David was far too tightly wound for a spirit. He didn’t remember being that way in life; as a matter of fact he could remember being a fairly carefree person.
His existence in death seemed to revolve around worry and incessant thinking. Most of the time, he wasn’t even sure what it was he was worrying about.
But, far be it from him to be the downer of the party. More often than not, when the good times began he would fade into the background and pretend he didn’t exist at all. That was the way death went for David for nearly sixty years. Until the day she showed up.
There’s always a she, isn’t there?
It was on one of those chilly October nights that she came. A night when a cold drizzle rained down from the dark clouds above and every ghost in the graveyard longed to feel its wet kiss on their skin just one last time, like the longing for a lover’s touch that will never be experienced again.
When night fell the rather large community of ghosts gathered around a cluster of headstones and waited for the new ghost to awaken.
David wondered over to Mrs. Blovelstein and stood next to her, staring off at the freshly covered grave that had so successfully caught the attention of every ghost in the place.
“Another new arrival?” David questioned in a voice that revealed he wasn’t in the least bit interested. “They seem to come more and more frequently these days.”
“Things are worse than they used to be,” Mrs. Blovelstein responded. “Things always get worse out there, and they never seem to get any better”
David had always had great respect for the specter he was standing next to. She had survived the Holocaust and made it to America, only to die of pneumonia three weeks after she arrived. Born and raised in Poland, she was sort of a kindred spirit to David, seeing as she was one of the few in the graveyard (along with David himself of course) that hailed from Europe.
With daylight faded completely, the community of ghosts watched as the young lady that had been freshly buried that day crawled out of her grave. Not her earthly body mind you, but a faded white version that seemed to move as if it were living smoke. She hung there loosely for a moment, then quickly came together into a tighter form.
The new ghost looked down at her hands, examined them a moment, and then looked at the others in confusion.
“What’s happening to me?” she asked in a scared whisper. “Who are you people?”
“Come on, dear,” Mrs. Blovelstein said. “We’ll help you through this.”
As the ghosts led her away, David only stood and stared at her. And when their eyes locked, the British spirit knew that if he’d had any breath to take away, she would have taken it all.
After explaining to the young woman what was happening to her, the ghosts assembled a grand party to celebrate her life and rejoice in the beginning of her death.
David sat aside from the party, wanting desperately to join in this time, but unable to do anything more than stare at the lovely newcomer. Before long, she was taken in by the fun, as most ghosts were, and joined the others in their dance. Twirling and jumping in her pretty white sundress, she was the perfect picture of beauty and grace shining by the moons light.
Every once in a while she would steal a glance his way and smile. He would smile back, just faintly, even though on the inside he thought he might titter away, laughing his head off like a madman.
When the party had finally begun to wind down, David saw his chance to speak with the pretty ghost.
“Hello,” he said, walking up beside her as she sat down on a gravestone. “My name is David.” He held out his hand and she delicately placed hers in his. He had a mind to kiss her knuckle, then remembered that she had come from a different age and thought better of it.
“I’m Sabrina,” the girl said. Her voice was a light sweetness like a sprinkle of sugar over warm apple pie.
“Sabrina,” David said with a smile. “Would you like to take a walk with me?”
She returned the smile, “I would love to.”
David held out his arm and the girl placed her hand through to rest in the crook of his elbow.
From the corner of his eye he could see some of the other ghosts nudging each other and pointing in their direction, but he paid them no heed.
David led Sabrina to the back of the cemetery, through a thicket of rose bushes, and up a trail that living people often used. The trail opened up after about a quarter of a mile and gave way to a beautiful view. There on the bay of the Hudson River, one could see the Manhattan skyline in all its luminescent glory.
“It’s beautiful,” Sabrina sighed. “Do you bring all of the new girls up here?”
“To be honest, I’ve never brought anyone up here,” David admitted. “It’s just someplace I like to think. I find it calming.”
“What makes me so special?”
He studied her face for a long moment. “I haven’t quite figured that out yet.”
“When you come to this revelation, you must fill me in.”
“You shall be the first to know. I promise.”
She looked at him closely. “You’re a strange sort of ghost with all of that smoke surrounding you. Tell me how you died.”
David sat down on a large rock, looked out at the blazing lights of the city, and took a drag off of the never ending cigarette between his fingers. “I have to admit, that story is a little embarrassing.”
“So, who are you trying to impress?”
“Well, you. I’m trying to impress you, my dear.”
She smiled. A perfect smile as far as David was concerned. “You’ve already impressed me, David.”
He smiled back and said; “Alright then, I’ll tell you. I had always been a smoker, started at a very young age, and one night while in a rather restless sort of mind, I began to drink in my room for no other reason than to pass the time. Unfortunately for me, when I finally passed out in bed, I still had a lit cigarette in my hand. I died while smoking in bed.”
“Really?” she laughed. “Well that’s a silly way to go.”
“Hence my embarrassment,” he shrugged. “What about you? How did you die?”
She averted her eyes from his and her smile faded. “Ask me again some other time.”
“I’m sorry,” he said and he realized then that he could see no discernable sign of how she went. Except for her eyes. They seemed to have dark rings around them. He could see this even in her ghostly state. “Was yours embarrassing as well?”
“Not so much. It’s just a little too painful to revisit so soon after it happened.”
“I understand,” he said and moved quickly to change the subject. “Tell me what you did in life.”
“I was a teacher.” There was a gleam in her eye at this topic. David found it comforting. “I loved being a teacher. Second grade. What about you?”
“I had no real job. I was rich. And because I was rich I spent my life as a socialite, partying and rubbing elbows with movie stars and musicians.”
“You’re obviously British, where exactly are you from?”
“London, born and raised. It wasn’t until my parents died and left me my fortune that I came to New York. I fell in love with this city.”
“You remind me of someone,” she said suddenly. “A movie actor.”
“Yes. When I was a girl my mother would watch an old movie every year at Christmas time. The Bishop’s Wife with Cary Grant. With that thin moustache you look an awful lot like the man that played the bishop. Oh, what was his name?”
“David Niven,” David answered certainly.
“Yes, that was it. And you see? You even have the same first name.”
“You’re not the first to make that comparison,” David pointed out. “As a matter of fact, I used to use that similarity to my advantage when it came to members of the opposite sex.”
“You dog!” Sabrina said with a smile. “So you were quite the lady’s man while you were alive.”
“I suppose I was.”
“Hang on a minute. When exactly were you alive?”
“Oh, I had my accident in the summer of fifty-one.”
“Really? Well, David, I’m afraid nothing could ever happen between us,” she teased.
He smiled at her. “And why is that, my dear?”
“With such an age difference, imagine what my parents would think”
Then her smile seemed to falter at the mention of her parents.
David’s smile left as well and he said; “We were too young to die, weren’t we?”
“Yes,” she said sadly. “Far too young.”
After a few minutes, David spoke up. “The sun is coming up, best to be heading back I suppose.”
The two of them walked in silence back down the trail, and when David got up enough courage, he slipped his hand in hers. She took it gladly.
Soon, they were standing in front of her freshly covered grave and she asked; “Where are you buried?”
“Just over there,” he gestured. “On the other side of that large sycamore tree.”
“Oh, that looks like a lovely spot.”
He ran a hand through her hair. “You’re so much different than the other ghosts that have come here of late. So much more…dignified.”
“Why, thank you,” she said with a curtsey to emphasize his point.
“Can I see you again tonight?”
“I’m sure it will be hard to avoid seeing one another.”
With that they left each other and David lay down in his cozy grave, but was unable to sleep.

On the other side of the graveyard, unbeknownst to all of its residents, a mausoleum door slid open with all the patient care of the creature that hid within. From the slight opening in the door a long, tentacle like finger made its presence known, searching and probing the world outside.
When the thing felt the warmth of the morning sun beating down on it’s skin, the appendage retreated back into the darkness and the being waited with unwavering diligence for night to fall.

When the sun went down and David climbed out of his grave into the swirling fog that hung over the graveyard, the first thing he did was look for Sabrina among the members of his old family. The other ghosts were preparing for another night of festivities and paid little notice to the smoky haired spirit and his childlike desire to see the new girl.
“Hello again,” a sweet voice said from behind him. He turned and there she was, just as pretty as the previous evening. Just as…sad. He supposed he hadn’t noticed it the night before, but there was a sorrowful lilt to her smile. He believed she was genuinely glad to see him, but there was no doubt that something else was weighing heavily on her mind.
“What is it, Sabrina?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said with a shake of her head. “Perhaps nothing.”
“Maybe I can help to lighten your mood,” he said.
A little of the sadness seemed to leave her eyes and she replied; “Maybe you can.”
They began to walk together back toward the others. “I know another party is about to begin,” David mentioned.
“Do they do this every night?”
“Oh yes. There’s not much else to do when you’re dead.”
“Yeah, I guess there wouldn’t be.”
“If you’d rather we could-“
“‘Ello, everyone,” a jolly yet monstrous voice interrupted.
A cheer went up and David smiled. “Ah, Kazul is here. He’s great fun, you’ll like him.”
Standing in front of them was the imposing figure of Kazul the demon. He was a tall creature, with horns atop his head that weren’t really horns at all, no matter how much he insisted otherwise. They stretched back from his forehead, two triangular shapes that laid flat against his head, but moved and pulsated like extra appendages that were only there to protect his exposed skull.
The demon’s hands were also strange in that he didn’t have the full set of fingers. Instead, each hand had a thumb, an index finger, and a third finger that was coiled up under the palm. And when that finger was unfurled, it resembled a long tentacle that David was sure had a great many uses.
Hell had always been a little behind the times on western culture. This was made evident by the serape that was wrapped around Kazul’s shoulders and the chewed up cigar that was sticking out between his cracked lips. The big thing in the underworld for the past several years was Clint Eastwood and his spaghetti westerns.
“Kazul,” old Johnny Coalfield (a ghost that still bore the ragged noose around his neck from where he had been falsely accused and hung in 1842 for holding up a bank and killing two men) shouted through his mishmash set of broken teeth. “Always the life of the party. Did you remember to bring yer booze?”
“No, no, I’ll not be getting drunk wit you blokes tonight,” Kazul said, and David once again noticed how strange the thick British accent sounded coming from the demon in old west attire. “I’m on duty. Here on official business as a matter of fact.”
Defeated sighs came from the partying ghosts.
“What do you need to do here?” Johnny asked.
Kazul looked toward David and Sabrina and said; “I’ve come for the new girl.”
“What?” David said with confusion.
The demon walked over to where they were standing. “Sorry, David ol’ chum, but she has to come with me.”
“But, why?”
Kazul looked for a moment as if he didn’t understand the question, then held out his hands and said; “She’s a suicide, lad, took a handful of pills.”
David felt his composure falter. He turned and looked at Sabrina, but she only stared at her feet in shame, unable to meet his eyes. Then he looked back at Kazul with his mouth moving in an effort to protest, but was unable to form any words.
“Well, come on with ya, girl,” the demon said, motioning to her to follow with his hand. “I got a long night ahead of me, no point wasting time.”
Despair flooded into David’s guts as Sabrina moved up beside him. “I’m so sorry, David,” was all she said.
Yet, he could still say nothing. He only watched, along with the other ghosts, as Sabrina walked alongside the large frame of the demon Kazul and back to the gate. A gate that all of the dead citizens of the graveyard knew about, but stayed away from at all cost.
When the pair disappeared in the mist, David turned away and pounded an angry fist on a large headstone. This isn’t fair, he thought. How could fate be so cruel to me? How could she have been so cruel? How could she do this to me?
The last thought made him feel dirty and wretched inside. He realized then what the real question was. The question he should have been asking immediately after the demon showed up to claim her. How could he allow this to happen to Sabrina?
Suddenly, for the first time in his death, he knew for certain what he wanted. What he needed. Sabrina.

“Don’t worry, luv,” Kazul was saying as they approached the mausoleum. “Things aren’t as bad down there as people have been led to believe. I mean; sure there’s some torturing going on. You know, disembowelments, toenail pulling, cleansing by fire and the like, but those things are usually reserved for the really bad ones. I’m reasonably sure you won’t have to go through any of tha stuff.”
Somehow, Sabrina wasn’t comforted by this.
The heavy cement of the old mausoleum door spoke its hollow, grating language, like the growl of some angry, fantasy beast, and Sabrina looked down on a blazing red light illuminating a narrow set of stairs. A steaming hot breeze rushed out of the depths, whipping her hair around her head.
“It’s time, luv,” Kazul said in a voice that was nearly consoling.
Sabrina stepped through the doorway and began to descend the long set of stairs. With each step the air got hotter and (she notice with startling clarity) it was becoming hard to breathe. Looking down at her hands, she saw that her body was becoming solid and she was quickly starting to resemble the person she was in life.
As they made their way down, the staircase gradually widened enough for Kazul to move up and walk beside her. She was thankful for this when something came down behind them moving incredibly fast and hit Kazul in the back.
Sabrina pressed herself against the wall and watched in shock as a more solid looking David and an angry Kazul tumbled down the seemingly never-ending set of stairs.

David entered the mausoleum with as much speed as he could muster. Running, he knew was out of the question. The only way he could catch up to the pair before the door closed was to float. What took him by surprise was the way his body began to solidify as he moved down into the depths of Hell. When he ran into the demon, it was more an accident then anything. He had entered the realm with every intention of begging for the girl’s soul, but when he became entangled with the Kazul and the demon began to fight him with a furious rage washed over his face, David knew for certain that a fight would suit him just fine.
When they finally reached the bottom of the stairs and came to a clearing where the surrounding dead trees glowed like the burning embers of a fire place log, Kazul wrapped one of his tentical-like fingers around David’s throat and the ghost could actually feel his breath being cut off in his windpipe.
With some effort, David pulled back from the demon and brought his fist down, smashing the creatures half smoked cigar into his teeth. The ghost was surprised to see a spray of blood erupt from Kazul’s bottom lip.
The demon was able to knock David over and maneuver over the top of him. The tentacle around his throat tightened and David felt the cold wave of unconsciousness threatening to drown him in its black waters.
Could he die again? Where would he end up if he could? The possibilities were to frightening to imagine.
“You got alotta nerve, lil’ ghost,” Kazul growled.
David’s vision was going black. He clawed weakly at the creature’s scaly skin, but knew that he had lost this fight. He supposed he should have expected as much when picking a fight with a demon. Vaguely, he could hear Sabrina pleading for the monster to stop.
“EOUGH OF THIS!” a deep voice commanded from the edge of the fight.
Kazul’s grip loosened and the long finger uncoiled from David’s neck.
“Sorry, your lordship,” Kazul said.
When David’s vision finally cleared, he could see that the demon was backing away in a low bow. Looking to the other side of the clearing he could see a handsome, well dressed man approaching them.
“It appears we have a small situation here,” the man said.
“Me Lord Lucifer,” Kazul said. “If it pleases you, I can explain what is going on ‘ere.”
“Please do.”
“I was charged with bringing the girl down,” the demon explained. “David, the ghost here, took it upon himself to try and save the lass.”
The devil turned his gaze on David. “Is this true, David?”
“Yes,” David answered in a choked voice.
Lucifer smiled. “What a noble gesture. Why would you attempt such a foolish feat?”
David thought about this a moment. He looked back at Sabrina, who appeared to be frightened out of her wits, then he returned his attention to the devil and said with complete confidence; “I love her.”
Lucifer’s smile faded and he looked closer at the ghost. “I know you, David. You’re the restless ghost from the graveyard above. How ironic your story has become. Here is a girl that was fated to have her life taken from her in a car accident in just eight months time. A girl that was fated to meet you and bring peace to both your uncomfortable death and her chaotic life. A girl that couldn’t wait that long and took the easy way out.”
Lucifer looked at the two of them, David still on the ground and Sabrina now standing at his side, and he seemed to be considering his options for a moment. Then he looked back at Kazul as if he had forgotten the demon was still there.
“I’m sorry, David,” he finally stated. “Rules are rules after all.”
With that, Lucifer snapped his fingers and David found himself flat on his back in the dark. It was a dark he knew all too well. The all encompassing darkness of his coffin.
He stood as he’d stood for the past fifty-plus years of his death, phasing through the dirt and rocks that covered his grave and crawling out onto the solid ground.
He rushed over to Sabrina’s grave marker ignoring the cries of the other ghost.
“David, what happened?” and “Are you alright, David?”
He stopped on the still fresh mound that covered her grave and he knew that she wasn’t there. Falling to his knees, he dropped his smoky head into his hands and wept.
It seemed like he was there for hours, crying for his lost love and his continued existence. One that would be forever restless without his Sabrina.
Then, a hand came down on his shoulder. Slowly, he turned to see who the hand belonged to. He was surprised to see Sabrina staring down at him, as pretty as always in her white sundress.
He stood and took her hands in his. Staring into her eyes his mouth sputtered, once again unable to express what he was feeling. Rather than trying any further, David took Sabrina in his arms and kissed her deeply. It was only then that he felt what the others must have felt all those years when they took one another’s hand and played musical graves.

“Rules are rules after all.” That’s what he had said. Did anyone actually believe that coming from the Devil? It even sounded ridiculous to his own ears.
Lucifer thought about this even as he stood in the darkened shadows of the graveyard and watched the two ghosts embrace. Since when did he ever follow the rules?
Yet, some may wonder why he had let her go.
Perhaps he had grown soft over the years. No, that wasn’t it, though he surely could not have done so in front of Kazul or he would have appeared to be soft. There were enough beings trying to claim his throne, he didn’t need to add to that list.
Maybe he had done it for the simple fact that it was a rule. No one likes to break the rules more than he did. It had been a favorite pass time of his for eons.
He supposed a shred of that might be true. But, still…
Maybe (and please, bare with me here), just maybe, he had known such love before. Perhaps, in some long forgotten time before the world had grown to fear and despise him, he took some lovely creature in his arms and kissed her as David was kissing Sabrina there before him.
The Devil smiled and turned away from the happy reunion, and as he walked back to the mausoleum door, he wondered what ever happened to the girl that he had loved so.

The End.

SCHNEIDER/Musical Graves