Free Short Fiction ~ A Campfire Tale

A Campfire Tale first appeared in issue 18 of Dark Moon Digest Magazine. It was also chosen for the Best Horror Shorts 2015 anthology.

 

a campfire tale cover

“Tell us a story Aunt Fran,” Lilly-Anne suggested.

“Yeah, Aunt Fran, please,” the other children chimed in.

Aunt Fran gave them each an apprising look. The sun was fading fast past the horizon, the last of the golden rays casting long shadows about the campgrounds. She looked over at her siblings, across the site with their spouses starting a large bonfire which they no doubt planned to drink by until all the wood was burnt and alcohol consumed, leaving her to watch their spawn.

“OK,” Aunt Fran conceded. “What kind of a story do you want?”

“A ghost story,” Lilly-Anne said.

“No, a scary ghost story,” Samantha said.

“How about I tell you a true-life horror story?” Aunt Fran asked. The children eagerly edged closer to the small campfire, their marshmallows abandoned in hopes of a good tale.

“Yeah, right,” Frankie said. “As if.”

Frankie, being eleven, was at the age where he was convinced he was too old and cool for any kid stuff. Aunt Fran remembered his father, Jeff, being the same way at that age too.

“Honestly,” Aunt Fran promised. “I’ll tell you about the most horrible, terrifying thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Frankie rolled his eyes but moved closer on his roughhewn log.

“Well,” Aunt Fran began, “When your parents and I were younger, our parents used to take us camping. Not like this.” She gestured around. “Not a picnic where you stay late, then drive home. No, they used to drive us way out into the woods, hours past civilization to the most secluded spots they could find, and that’s where we’d pitch our tents for the night.”

“Our parents would stay in one tent, and all us kids would stay in another. My parents would put a padlock on the zipper of our tent. They said it was to keep the bears out, but we all knew it was to keep us from sneaking out and roaming around the woods at night, which, given the opportunity, we would have done.”

“I was seven the year they drove us way out to the wilds of Canada to go camping. It was summertime, but I remember it still being so cold that you could see your breath in the air. They had zipped us up in our tent for the night, me and your parents, and we huddled together for warmth and fell asleep.”

“This is stupid,” Frankie interrupted.

The other children hushed him and returned their rapt attention to Aunt Fran.

“The thing about being in the woods,” Aunt Fran told them, “is that even though it’s quiet, it’s not.” She held up a hand to stop any questions, a signal that she would explain. “There are no noises from civilization in the woods, no sirens or car horns or barking dogs or blaring TVs. That’s why people go camping, for the peace and quiet. Only it’s not quiet. There are little noises everywhere. An animal chewing. A bug buzzing. Twigs cracking, branches bending, the wind blowing. And when you’re a little kid, it’s really quite spooky.”

“I was the last of us to fall asleep that night. I remember listening to the sounds of the woods, imagining every type of creepy crawly that might be prowling around in the dark on the other side of the thin fabric of the tent. Finally, I focused on everyone’s breathing, as one by one my brothers and sisters fell into the easy rhythm of sleep. It made me feel safe, knowing they were there with me, and eventually the thoughts of bears and wolves and snakes that I attributed all the noises to fell away and I joined them in sleep.”

“To this day I don’t know what woke me that night. I was sleeping soundly, and then I awakened suddenly in a complete fright.”

The children clustered closer, anticipating the good part of the story.

“I laid still, on my back, unable to see anything in the pitch dark, listening to the noises around me. For once there was silence outside. All I could hear was my siblings’ breathing, but something didn’t sound right. Not how it had before. Someone was breathing too hard, and, well . . . anyway. My heart was racing and the hairs on my arms were standing straight out. I was trying to lie still, to pretend to still be sleeping, but I was going crazy, being so afraid and not knowing why.”

“So, I whispered into the dark to my sister. I was so scared to make a sound. The first two times I tried nothing came out, but I worked up my nerve, and I called her name. I put the words out there into the night. But she didn’t answer.”

Aunt Fran looked around at the children, who were hanging on her every word. “I was terrified to move, frozen with fear. It took everything I had to move my fingers, inch by inch through the dark until I found her hand. I took her small, cold hand in mine and squeezed, trying to wake her up. But she didn’t respond. I squeezed again and again, but nothing.”

“I didn’t know what to do. I was afraid to wake anyone else up, afraid they would think I was being silly, just their dumb little sister. I felt that if only I could see, could look around for a moment, I’d feel better. I had stolen a lighter from Jeff, your dad,” she pointed to Frankie, “earlier that day. I could feel it in my pocket, heavy with the weight of the guilt of stolen goods. I moved my hand, ever so slowly, fearful of making any movement fast enough to be detected in the gloom where God knows what lurked, until I had my hand in my pocket. I wrapped the lighter in my sweaty palm and began the painfully slow process of bringing it up.”

“I don’t know if it took minutes or hours, but it seemed like an eternity. Finally, I had it, in my hand, right up by my face. I was so scared to light it. To discover what it was that was in the tent with me, concealed by the dark, making me feel so frightened. But then I rolled my thumb on the lighter, the flint sparked, the fluid lit, and I could see.”

Aunt Fran paused for a moment, taking a deep breath. The children gathered even closer, clutching at each other, waiting for the moment when the adult yells “Boo” and they all got to scream and laugh.

“What did you see?” Lilly-Anne asked, biting her nails.

“I saw,” Aunt Fran said. “I saw my sister Georgia.” Her voice faltered.

“Georgia?”

“Yes, Georgia,” Aunt Fran snapped. “There used to be seven of us, but I’m sure your parents never told you that.” She closed her eyes for a moment, lost in the memory. When she opened them again, she had regained her composure. “I saw my little, baby sister Georgia, laying there in the dark beside me. Her eyes were open,” Aunt Fran recalled. “Those beautiful gray eyes. They were open, but they weren’t blinking.”

The children shifted uncomfortably, feeling awkward. They exchanged nervous glances.

“I screamed. I screamed like I have never screamed before or since. Everyone woke up. Our parents came running over with a flashlight, opened the tent, and then they saw too.” Fran sniffed and wiped at her eyes. “My mother scooped me up and carried me out of the tent. She made the other kids come with her. But not before I saw. Not before I knew.”

“What did she die of?” Frankie asked, curiosity overcoming his need to be aloof.

“My parents said it was just one of those things. Like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. That it was just her time.”

“Why did you tell us this?” Samantha asked.

“Because that wasn’t the truth. I saw with my own eyes, the bruises around her neck. Someone had strangled her. We were locked in that tent. No one could get in or out. One of your parents killed her.”

The kids recoiled in shock. One of the younger ones started crying.

“That’s bull,” Frankie challenged.

“Believe what you want, but it’s the truth,” Aunt Fran said. “If you don’t believe me, tell your parents you met a little girl named Georgia with curly blonde hair and pale gray eyes and see how they react.”

“Who . . . who do you think did it?” Lilly-Anne whispered.

“I wish I knew for sure.” Aunt Fran swallowed hard. “At first I thought it was your dad,” she said, pointing at Frankie. “I thought he may have believed that Georgia was the one who stole his lighter. But to be honest, it could have been any one of them. Your mom, or your mom, or your dad, or yours.” She pointed at each of the children in turn. “They all have anger issues, I’m sure you’ve seen that. All I know for sure is that one of your parents killed my baby sister.”

Aunt Fran rose from her seat by the campfire. “I’ve got to go. It was nice seeing you all. You guys be good. And be careful,” she added as an afterthought over her shoulder. She exchanged distant waves with the adults as she made her hasty exit, forcing a smile to her lips before she got in her car.

The thought that none of their kids would sleep that night, or possible ever look at them the same way again, provided her with little solace. She started the engine and backed slowly out of her parking spot. She would never forgive her siblings. Not any of them. She drove down the narrow dirt road that led back to the highway. One of them had killed her little sister, making her the youngest. If Georgia was still alive, she’d be the one stuck living at home, caring for their invalid parents, not Fran.

The children were silent until the taillights from Aunt Fran’s car were swallowed by the darkness. “Do you think she was telling the truth?” Lilly-Anne asked, eyes wide with fright.

Samantha picked up a photograph from the spot where Aunt Fran had been sitting. It was faded, well-worn with time and use. She looked at it closely. “I think maybe she was,” she said in a hushed tone, showing the picture to the others. The image was of their grandparents, much younger but still recognizable. Before them stood seven children, the smallest of which was a young girl with blonde curls.

“What do we do?” Lilly-Anne asked. She looked at the younger children, feeling suddenly burdened with the task of their safety.

“Sleep in shifts and watch each other’s backs,” Frankie said, taking the photo from Samantha. He balled it up and threw it in the fire. “And never say a word of this to any of them.”

END

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When Your Dog Learns To Spell & Other Methods Of Mayhem

My 13 year old rescue, who I’ve had for the last 11 years, loves to play. With the exception of a couple of teeth that will be removed soon, he appears to be in wonderful health, squeaking his toys incessantly, running at full speed around the house and yard, and developing the definition of the term he-diva.

But there’s a problem . . .

With the exception of his life companion, who we unfortunately lost to a brain tumor last year, he hates everything with fur. And he screams his hate from the top of his lungs in his best warrior princess cry.

And I worry . . .

He needs exercise. Companionship. Another member to his little lone wolf pack. As much as he disagrees, I can’t help but feel that I’m doing him a disservice by allowing him to have his way.

When I adopted him all those years ago, I was told that he got on well with all other animals. (Not true.) I was fortunate that he got along with my other dog, but he didn’t have much of a choice. She was a boss in the way only Jack (or Parson) Russell terriers can be. An overconfident little girl who knew that her way was the best (and only) way.

Yet he screams at every other creature . . .

I spent months sitting with him along the side of the road, giving him chicken or porkchop or some other delicious treat whenever another dog walked by as ‘positive reinforcement’. Each time he’d spit the food out to yell (what I imagine are) obscenities. I hired a trainer, who worked with him for one afternoon before advising me to, “Just keep him away from other dogs.” Easier said than done, especially now. Even a walk around the neighborhood is a nightmare of epic proportions.

See the source imageDon’t get me wrong – he loves to walk. Nothing makes him happier (besides food) than racing full speed like the wild wolf he is, conquering the world and claiming it as his own. Until he sees, hears, or smells another dog. (And we live in a neighborhood where almost everyone has a dog.) When that happens, my little angel shouts his hate with the endless wrath of a hell hound. A demon who can break glass and shatter eardrums with his high pitched notes.

See the source imageThe other day when we were walking, someone asked me what breed he was. “A Singapore Shrieker. They’re used to hunt parrots and monkeys. Their high pitched calls make their prey fall right out of the trees.” While complete BS, it’s possibly believable, and I wanted to say it so bad because it would explain a lot, but instead I hung my head and said, “Schnauzer mix,” which translates as my dog is horribly behaved in public while we both winced at the sound of the little man’s madness.

Needless to say, there’s no such thing as a casual stroll when it entails enduring a headache and humiliation. My husband and I do our best to make sure we’re both up for the walk of shame before pup knows it’s on the table.

Only, there’s been a new development . . .

See the source imageA few nights ago, after dinner, we discussed a W-A-L-K. Spelled. And pup went to his leash. Then proceeded to bounce his front paws off the door like the he-diva he’s become. Several experiments have confirmed it. There’s no mistaking it. He’s learned to spell (at least that word, but who knows what will follow next).

This. Changes. Everything.

In a sheer panic we texted (while in the same room). We’ll use code words. Nonverbal communication. Sign language. Anything to hold on to the last shreds of control that we have, but who knows how long that will last. All the while, pup smiled at us, rather smugly.

I had a brief flashback to my childhood, to my parents spelling the things they didn’t want me to hear, and the day I cracked the code. My own feeling of triumph at having leveled the playing field. Did I (smugly) spell back to them? Do I deserve this? Ugh, I think maybe I do.

At the end of the day, I’m incredibly grateful to have such a smart, healthy pup, but still . . . if anyone has any suggestions, please, send help. And if not, and you see us coming . . . cover your ears and run!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter To My Possible Future Literary Agent

Dear Possible Future Literary Agent,

There are some things you should probably know about me.

I love words. I love reading. I love writing. I write for myself but also because I hope to entertain people and help them to escape the reality of life from time to time. Awards are good, I have nothing against them, but I have no desire to win a Pulitzer. If you’re looking for the next Toni Morrison, it probably won’t be me.

Image result for cheeseI’ll listen to what you say, because I’m well aware that I don’t know everything, but there are some things I do that you might not like. Sometimes I get bound by the bonds of alliteration. I can’t stand the way a properly executed em-dash looks, so I use spaces around it. And I like to do things in a series of three for emphasis. Why? Why? Why? I don’t quite know, but if you tell me to stop, I will try.

I’ll need to know your favorite treat, because I believe in celebrating everything, and if you give a Shannon a contract, she’s going to want to send you a cookie food. I’m not going to assume it’s chocolate, and hope you’ll do likewise. I enjoy chocolate like most people, but sometimes the sugar doesn’t make me feel so great, plus my husband will probably eat most of it before I get a chance.Image result for cheese

But don’t worry, because I also like cheese. Said husband likes cheese, too, but I believe I can eat more cheese quicker than him, plus, I’ll take the best cheese, the tastiest one, and put it in the hidden part of the refrigerator, the secret vortex that keeps things hidden from the husband’s eyes. There’s a reason our vegetable drawer is always full – so no one can see what’s at the back.

But, if a treat for you is hot yoga, I can arrange that too. I understand that while it may not be my thing, it might be yours. I have nothing against hot yoga, it’s just that it’s hot. And sweaty. And sweaty leads to stinky. Then you’re in a room full of hot, sweaty, stinky people, and the teacher wants you to move around and stuff, which means you’ve got to breathe. Deeply. If you’re into all that, it’s cool. But I’ll stick with the cheese, please.

Image result for cheeseYou should also know that I’m not afraid of hard work, and I won’t give up. I’m not just saying that. I’ve got proof.

I get out of bed every day, even the days meant for staying in bed, like rainy Sundays when I’m in the middle of a book I don’t want to put down. On those days it’s mainly because a girl’s gotta eat, and said husband is willing to exist on things he can dip into mustard and salsa (with a side of cheese) if it allows him to maintain his claim that he can’t cook. That, and I’d have to get out of bed to open the window for the delivery driver, anyways, so I might as well just stay out of bed.

Also . . . I know SO many ways to dispose of a body, which makes me the ideal person to be that friend everyone should have on hand. Unless that offends you. Then you can be that bastion of levelheaded wisdom friend for me. We don’t even have to be friends if you don’t want. I’m not very social, anyways. You’ll probably have to do most of the work. So, I’ll let you decide.Image result for cheese

My point is, I’m well aware that I need you more than you need me. Everyone and their uncle’s a writer. Not everyone and only some uncles are agents. I’ll do my best to make you proud. And if you’re having a hard day and feeling blue, I’ll do my best to cheer you up with a song I create just for you. (Actually, I might re-appropriate one of the ones I sing to my dogs, but I’ll change the name to yours and throw in a couple of other details to make sure you feel special.)

My songs, by the way, are delightful, engaging and entertaining. (There’s that three thing again!) And you’d like more tempting, tasty tidbits about me? (Score once more for alliteration! Do you see what you’re missing out on?!?!)

I love horror movies and have a tendency to laugh at the worst parts. I bar-tended through seven years of college, and not just how most college students bar-tend, but professionally, so I could cater all your lunches with acquisitions editors and make them super strong drinks that taste like candy. And what else . . . oh, yeah. I like cheese.

Most Sincerely,

Shannon

 

 

 

 

Transmutation (Because It Sounds Cooler Than Metamorphosis)

2020 is the end of an era. Literally. When I started this blog (almost 10 years ago), I knew that I wanted to write. I just wasn’t sure what.

Looking back through my archives, I see book reviews, hiking adventures, recipes, quotes, memes, writing advice . . . I was all over the place. But the important thing, the only thing, really, is that it got me putting words on the screen.

Behind the blog scenes, there were magazine articles, nonfiction stories, and a ton of short fiction created. And that is where I found my writing home – in the land of make believe.

Fast forward to the present. I’ve written dozens of short stories and have a stack of finished novel manuscripts. I’ve had an editor tell me no one would ever publish the story I submitted to him only to have it accepted the same month by Suspense Magazine. I’ve had agents ignore my queries, request my manuscripts, reject my manuscripts, refer me to a colleague who they felt the manuscript would be perfect for only to never hear from said colleague . . . and still, I write.

I’ve felt my skin thicken from tissue paper to paperboard. I’ve cried my way through the bad writing days, laughed my way through the good, and stopped myself from punching a wall countless times during edits.

It’s been a long, sometimes painful, often frustrating journey. A building an author platform as an adult mystery author, realizing that all of my novels had teenage characters and it was those characters who I most enjoyed writing, expanding my reading list and develoving an ABSOLUTE love affair with YA novels, realizing that at my core I am a YA author and whoops, now I have to start all over again kind of insanity.

So . . . here I am. This is my year, so stay tuned. I hope to have some big news for you coming soon.

Shannon Hollinger, Author

 

 

 

 

How To Tell If You’re Writing In Deep Point Of View | Writers In The Storm

Here’s a great article from the Writers In The Storm blog written by guest poster Lisa Hall Wilson. Deep Point Of View can be difficult to master, but it’s a great way to learn how to show versus tell, which will strengthen your writing and draw your readers deeper into your characters and story. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did!

https://writersinthestormblog.com/2019/11/how-to-tell-if-youre-writing-in-deep-point-of-view/

Thursday’s Thoughts On Writing ~ The Pregame Show

With NaNoWrMo almost here, I decided to give some thought to the pregame show. Spoiler Alert – This isn’t about sports. And there’s nothing to actually watch. It also isn’t another plotter vs. pantser post. This is about what you write before you write (I’m going somewhere here, I promise).

comp book
Actual picture of my notebook. I use the clip to section off notes from previous works, and the tabs to separate the different works.

I am a pantser, which means I don’t create an outline before I write. More power to the writers who do, it just doesn’t work for me. When I start a new piece, sometimes all I have is the beginning. Or the ending. Sometimes the middle, but more often just an idea I’ve been kicking around that I think I can develop into 60-80,000 words that I hope will keep readers distracted from reality for a while.

I don’t outline because I like to see how things organically progress, like a social experiment where you drop a group of people into a situation and watch to see how they’ll react. But, since I’m more drawn to plot than character, I tend to not know who I’ll be playing with when I start. Which can make the stark white page with the blinking cursor looks kind of daunting at times.

So, while I don’t spend hours plotting out what will happen, I do engage in something called prewriting. That’s when I jot down notes, ideas, and general directions I could go in before I’ve made thousands of words worth of commitment to an idea I’ll later abandon. It lets me see possible names on paper, maybe a quick character sketch or two, locations to consider and some plot points I may want to visit along the way. Basically, it’s a brain dump.

Sometimes, I scratch the whole thing. Other times, I realize one of the characters I’m considering isn’t going to work in the story or with the other characters. It creates a launching point so I can quickly get some words on the blank page. And when I feel adrift in choppy waters, another quick brain dump is usually enough to bring my boat back to smooth sailing.

Pros: It takes all of five minutes, so if you don’t listen to a word of it you haven’t lost much time, and if it doesn’t work, simply try again. It gives you a rough direction if you’re feeling lost. It’s completely fluid – you can add or scratch notes at any time without having to restructure the whole thing.

Cons: It leaves a lot to chance and the writer’s ability to tell themselves a story on the fly as they’re typing. It does not provide the structure of allowing you to see the scene you’ll be writing on a given day. It does not write the story for you.

So, for all of you who don’t want to create a detailed outline of a book you haven’t written yet, but also don’t want to go in blind, I hope this helps! Best of luck to all the writers out there, both those who are and aren’t participating in this year’s NaNo!!!

(Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter for the latest updates, and visit me at http://www.shannonhollinger.com to check out the new look!)

Bad Moon Rising . . .

I’m thrilled to announce that my story, “Bad Moon Rising,” is available in the July issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine! Mystery Weekly is, in my opinion, the more approachable, hipper, sassier younger cousin of Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines!

If you like short mystery and crime fiction, you should give this magazine a read. If you’re a short fiction writer, this is a market you need to check out! (FYI – it’s a qualifying market for the Mystery Writers of America – so if you’ve got your eye on active membership or that Edgar Award, definitely consider submitting!)

Thursday’s Thoughts On Writing ~ The Scene Of The Crime

Image result for scene of the crimeWhen writing fiction, how much thought do you put into your setting? Do you craft scenes drenched in atmosphere? Do your places drip with detail, oozing menace, gushing romance, shining with delight? Or is your setting simply the place where your fascinating characters bring your stellar plot to life?

TreeI have to admit that while I occasionally focus on developing an atmospheric setting in my short fiction, in my novels the settings tend to simply be the trunk on which my plot branches and my characters grow their leaves.

My goal this year is to take more care in creating my settings. By skimping, I’m missing out on a vital opportunity to further flesh out my writing. To take my characters to the next level by allowing them to evolve over the course of the story.

Ask yourself – do your characters feel the same way about certain environments at the end of your story as they did at the beginning? Mine certainly don’t, and by sharing this evolution with my readers, I can make my characters more three dimensional.

Seize any opportunity you have to make your readers care for, identify with, and become invested in your characters!

How do you bring your scenes to life?

Back in the Saddle . . . Again

It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve posted, and looking back, I see that it’s been almost three months. In three months, you can hike the Appalachian Trail if you trek fast. A cougar kitten can gestate and be born. Or, like me, you can move across country and acclimate from one extreme (New Hampshire) to another (Florida).

It’s been a happy homecoming, rejoining our family in the land of sun, where feet of snow can be a distant cold fond memory. While I didn’t keep up with my writing as much as I’d have liked during the transition, I have gotten back to work, and am pleased to announce that I’ve had short stories purchased by Mystery Weekly Magazine, to be released later this summer, and Dual Coast Magazine, out this month. I look forward to picking up my discussions on the different aspects of the craft of writing with my Thursday’s Thoughts on Writing series and sharing my experiences of the rejection agent process 😛 . I hope you’ll join me along the way!

 

 

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