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AUTHORS WHO ARE ON MY BOOKSHELF

Dec 16 17

The holiday season seems like an excellent time to give a shout out to the writers I know and admire. Most people have heard of Stephen King, Anne Rice, J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman, but there are also many successful, less famous authors out there who are worthy of attention.

And why not buy their books to read and give away to others as gifts? (Oh, and taking the time to write an online review somewhere is another present any author would undoubtedly appreciate.)

Here is a list of writers (in no particular order) I highly recommend for those who love speculative/genre fiction:

Joe Lansdale (Horror/Mystery/Humor)

Tom Piccirilli (Horror/Noir/Fantasy)

Brian Keene (Horror/Comics/Fantasy)

Wrath James White (Extreme Horror/Poetry)

Maurice Broaddus (Horror/Fantasy/Middle Grade)

Ray Garton (Horror/Suspense)

Ronald Malfi (Horror/Thriller/Literary)

Nicole Cushing (Extreme/Cosmic Horror)

Michele Lee (Horror/Paranormal Romance)

Vanessa Fewings (Romance/Erotica)

Tim Waggoner (Horror/Fantasy/Thriller)

Nicholas Kaufmann (Horror)

John Hornor Jacobs (Horror/Fantasy)

Laird Barron (Horror/Noir/Dark Fantasy)

Christopher Golden (Horror/Fantasy/Suspense/YA)

Willie Meikle (Horror/Supernatural)

Jeremy C. Shipp (Horror/Fantasy/Sci-Fi)

Joe McKinney (Horror)

Jonathan Mayberry (Horror)

Nancy Holder (Horror/Fantasy)

Jeff Strand (Horror/YA/Humor)

Weston Ochse (Horror/Sci-Fi)

Yvonne Navarro (Horror/Sci-Fi/Fantasy)

Mary SanGiovanni (Horror)

Sarah Pinborough (Horror/Fantasy/Thriller)

Gemma Files (Horror/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Poetry)

Alethea Kontis (Fantasy/YA/Children)

Lucy A. Snyder (Horror/Fantasy/Poetry)

Gary Braunbeck (Horror/Fantasy/Mystery)

Douglas Clegg (Horror/Fantasy/Suspense)

Cullen Bunn (Comics/Fantasy/Horror)

Lincoln Crisler (Horror/Sci-Fi/Comics)

Gina Ranalli (Bizarro/Horror)

Chuck Wendig (Sci-Fi/Fantasy)

Bryan Smith (Horror/Crime)

Kealan Patrick Burke (Horror)

Neil Davies (Horror/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Mystery)

Nancy Kilpatrick (Horror/Erotic Horror/Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Mystery)

Chesya Burke (Horror/Dark Fantasy)

Amber Fallon (Horror)

Steve Rasnic Tem (Fantasy/Horror)

Jeff Vandermeer (Horror/Weird Fiction)

Joe Hill (Horror/Fantasy)

Paul Tremblay (Horror)

Bracken McCleod (Horror)

Bentley Little (Horror)

Ramsey Campbell (Horror)

Simon Clark (Horror)

Graham Masterton (Horror/Extreme Horror/Mystery/Crime)

Greg F. Gifune (Horror)

Gregory Lamberson (Horror)

John Scalzi (Sci-Fi)

Jim C. Hines (Fantasy)

Chet Williamson (Horror/Sci-Fi/Fantasy)

F. Paul Wilson (Horror/Sci-Fi)

Lee Thomas (Horror)

Ed Kurtz (Horror/Crime)

Pamela Turner (Horror/Fantasy)

Michael West (Horror/Fantasy)

Bob Freeman (Horror/Fantasy)

John Everson (Horror/Erotic Horror/Dark Fantasy)

John Urbancik (Horror)

Edward Lee (Horror/Extreme Horror)

Richard Laymon (Horror/Splatterpunk/Suspense)

J.F. Gonzalez (Horror/Extreme Horror)

Jack Ketchum (Horror/Extreme Horror/Crime)

John Skipp (Splatterpunk/Horror/Fantasy)

Simon Wood (Thriller/Mystery/Horror)

Carlton Mellick III (Bizarro/Horror/Fantasy)

Deborah LeBlanc (Horror)

K.H. Koehler (Horror/Sci-Fi)

Tracy Devore (Horror/Gothic Romance/Non-Fiction)

Erin Hart (Mystery/Crime)

Brian R. Hill (Fantasy/Thriller)

Tim Lebbon (Horror/Dark Fantasy)

 

I’m sure I’m forgetting someone…but this is a good start. Happy Hanukkah, Happy Yule, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa….  

SLEEPING BEAUTIES (Stephen & Owen King): A REVIEW

Nov 13 17

What would the world be like if all the women disappeared? What would happen to our planet if the only inhabitants were female?

Both of these questions are answered to a certain degree in Stephen King’s latest novel, Sleeping Beauties – co-written with his youngest son, Owen.

In truth, I’d been thinking about the aforementioned questions long before reading this father and son collaboration (and especially after seeing Wonder Woman). The news headlines get more depressing every day. I’ve always loved to read, but more and more lately I find it (and watching comic book movies) necessary for my mental health – an escape from the horrors happening in America.

Sometimes I daydream about living in a society seriously (or completely) lacking in testosterone. Would there be wars waged due to greed, megalomania or religion? I doubt it. Crime would still exist, since women aren’t perfect human beings, but the earth would be a safer place to live in so many ways. (Alas, it takes both sexes to keep the human race going, of course.)

Now…back to the book I’m supposed to be reviewing. I admit when the hefty novel arrived in the mail, I was a little disappointed. I was hoping for a shorter read than 700+ pages. These days I prefer novellas due to my hectic schedule. Also, most of the time, I find lengthy tomes fail to hold my attention because they should have been more ruthlessly edited. (For this reason, I failed to tackle two of Stephen’s previous novels, Duma Key and Under the Dome.)

Sleeping Beauties could have been shorter and would not have suffered from an omission of certain characters and their extensive characterizations. I’ve never read any of Owen King’s previous work. Bringing characters to life in extreme detail is a talent his father has always possessed (and some critics believe he goes too far). I understand that a cast of hundreds is sometimes necessary to bring a story to fruition, but it can be hard to keep all of them straight in my head. (There’s even a fox running around in this tale with his own point of view.)

With Owen’s contribution in descriptions and dialogue, the novel did have a different feel than other King offerings. I’m curious to know which one of them thought up the premise – an idea I immediately found intriguing.

The setting is an Appalachian town not far from Wheeling, West Virginia. One seemingly ordinary day in Dooling, it’s discovered that women who fall asleep cannot wake up. The scientists call the world-wide sickness the Aurora virus. The females are wrapped in mysterious cocoons while they are at rest, and when the fibrous covering is forcibly removed, the women awake in a rage. Before returning to their slumber, they try to kill the person unwise enough to disturb them.

A lot of the action takes place at a local women’s prison. Several of the main characters either work there or are inmates. The jail’s psychiatrist, Clint Norcross, is a key figure, as is his wife Lila, who happens to be Dooling’s sheriff. And then there’s Eve Black – a beautiful young woman who is arrested for murder and whose special abilities convince people she must be a witch.

Of course, I immediately thought of the Biblical version of Eve. Some of the comments she makes early in the book reinforce that portrayal – along with these lines from the prologue, set in an Eden-like clearing complete with exotic animals and a mammoth tree:  “Evie doesn’t trust the snake, obviously. She’s had trouble with him before.”

It becomes apparent that Eve is responsible for the malady that has befallen the female population. She is unaffected by the sleeping sickness. But what’s her motive?

Well, perhaps she’s trying to right a wrong. “I think it may be time to erase the whole man-woman equation. Just hit DELETE and start over.”

She’s set the plan in motion. What happens to the women after they fall asleep? They wake up in what looks like the same world, albeit a post-apocalyptic version many years in the future where all the men have disappeared. Eventually they name their haven Our Place. It’s not a utopia, but the women have a fresh start in a world that has gotten safer.

But what happens to a woman there when she dies in the real world? If she perishes in Our Place, what happens to her cocooned body? Answer: something bad.

In the present, men are having a hard time adjusting to life without the womenfolk – and some idiots even decide to begin torching the sleeping women to prevent the spread of the virus. (I was surprised there were no attempted rape scenes – and no mention of husbands missing their conjugal rights more than the cooking and housekeeping services wives tend to provide).

Chaos begins to reign, and a small faction of Dooling’s male population come up with the idea of storming the prison so they can force Evie to reverse the pandemic.

Is there truly a way for the women to return home? Can the world revert back to normal?

I found the first half of the book to be faster-paced than the second half. As I expected, the denouement was rather open-ended. I wish the enigmatic Eve’s identity and motivations had been more fully explored and revealed. She’s a pivotal character, but we know next to nothing about her and the authors choose to let her origins remain a mystery.

I’d be perfectly willing to give Sleeping Beauties four out of five goblins if it weren’t for its unnecessary lengthiness. I think three and half will have to do.

1922 – NETFLIX HORROR MOVIE REVIEW

Oct 24 17

Not only has 2017 been a banner year for the horror genre, it has been an especially good one for adaptations of Stephen King’s work: It, Gerald’s Game, Mr. Mercedes and now 1922 (available on Netflix as of October 20). I haven’t read the novella the movie is based on, but I’ve heard it stays fairly faithful to the source material. (I didn’t forget about The Dark Tower and The Mist, but those offerings weren’t well received.)

1922 is a Gothic horror tale set in the heartland of America – Nebraska, to be precise. I’m a long-time fan of Thomas Jane (Hung, The Expanse, Dreamcatcher), who stars as farmer Wilfred James.

At first I didn’t recognize him in the role – and I certainly didn’t recognize his voice. He constantly squints and speaks with an antiquated drawl  which made understanding some of the dialogue a bit difficult. I found myself wishing he had skipped using the authentic accent of the place and time period, but his portrayal is impressive despite that distraction.

Now to the story…with some spoilers.

Wilfred lives with his wife, Arlene (Molly Parker), and their fourteen-year-old son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), on the family farm, barely eking out a living. Life is hard, but Wilfred refuses to consider moving to the city. When Arlene inherits 100 acres from her late father, she is determined to sell the land, divorce Wilfred, and move to Omaha or St. Louis with Henry. Wilfred tries to change her mind – he doesn’t want to lose the land or his son. When Arlene won’t be swayed to his way of thinking, he comes up with a plan to kill her and involve his son in the murder so the boy will keep quiet and stay tied to his birthright. Gaining Henry’s support becomes easier when he falls for the neighbor’s teenage daughter, and his mother makes it clear he will be forced to move away when she leaves his father.

Henry suggests they smother Arlene, but Wilfred believes that would take too long and be too painful. Murdering a person is harder than they thought it would be – especially when it’s someone you used to love. When they are finished, the bedroom is a gory mess. The empty well in the backyard becomes Arlene’s (somewhat) final resting place. (I’m really not too fond of the doomed cow scene, but it’s a clever way to find an excuse to fill the well and cover up the evidence – and the rats.)

After the dirty deed is done, the two partners in crime enjoy a profitable summer. But guilt is already eating at them both. Wilfred has come up with a solid cover story – saying Arlene took a suitcase and ran off in the middle of the night, presumably to be with someone else. After a short investigation, the local lawman is convinced.

They should be in the clear, but every once in a while, Wilfred thinks he sees Arlene around the property, staring at him accusingly, her cut throat still bleeding. Things go from bad to worse late in the fall when the money runs out and Henry gets his girlfriend pregnant. The two lovebirds run away together to keep her father from sending her to a convent. Wilfred faces the winter alone, with a home and barn sorely in need of repairs.

1922 progresses at a slow burn across a bleak landscape – regret and the consequences of sin play out gradually with Wilfred’s grim narration. Is Arlene’s return a guilt-induced hallucination? What about the rats that constantly torment him? The one time that Arlene speaks, does she actually reveal the tragic fate of their son?

“She told me secrets only a dead woman could know.”

Guilt is a poison, and Wilfred is a haunted man who is forced to leave the farm he sacrificed so much to keep. Ghosts – and his own demons – keep him on the run.

“You always get caught,” he writes in his confession.

(And if you’re lucky, justice will be meted out by law enforcement.)

I’m willing to give 1922 three and a half out of five goblins.

Back to Stephen King…I’m currently reading his latest novel, “Sleeping Beauties” – co-written with his son, Owen. My next blog post will be a review of that effort. (Yes, I’m enjoying the opus so far.)

COLOSSAL – DVD REVIEW

Sep 15 17

It’s been a few weeks since I first watched Colossal, written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, and the film is still on my mind. If I had to vote for the most unique “monster movie” I’ve ever seen, this genre-defying flick would win hands down.

Gloria (Anne Hathaway) has a lot of demons to deal with as the story begins. She’s an unemployed party girl whose excessive drinking has gotten her thrown out of her upwardly mobile boyfriend’s apartment. She’s forced to leave New York City and return to her hometown, where she crashes in the empty childhood home her parents have left to her.

Reconnecting with her old school friends is nothing short of awkward, but it leads to a job, which she needs – in a bar, which she doesn’t need. After a particularly bad “crash and burn” incident, Gloria wakes up and learns that a giant creature is annihilating Seoul, South Korea. Events and friendships begin a downward spiral as she realizes that her actions and the monster’s actions are connected. But why? How? And is there a way to stop it?

Don’t ask me to label this movie. It’s too hard to describe. The true horror is Gloria’s personal life, quite often lightened by humor. The plot keeps twisting and turning, never taking the direction I expected. Anne Hathaway is superb in the role, and the supporting cast is stellar.

I hate to talk about the details I love because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone else. I think most people will watch this while scratching their heads, bemused, but as long as they don’t expect a “creature feature” or Godzilla-like flick, they won’t be sorry they used up 110 minutes of their time.

I’m giving this unusual film four out of five goblins.

 

IMAGINARIUM 2017

Sep 1 17

Join me this October 6 – 8 at the Ramada Plaza Hotel and Conference Center here in Louisville for one of my favorite, local conventions: Imaginarium 2017, a conference for writers, readers and fans (media, news, publishing, gaming).

Check here for more details.

The Imadjinn Awards (includes an awards banquet) will be handed out on Saturday, October 7 to winners in the categories of Small Press nominees and independently published authors.

Also on Saturday evening beginning at 9:30, make plans to attend the fourth annual Imaginarium Masquerade Ball. There will, of course, be a costume contest.

Don’t forget that the Film Festival will include an awards show as well. Many things to keep track of over the course of three days!

There are too many special guests (authors, editors, publishers, artists, game designers, filmmakers, screenwriters, etc.) to list here, so check the website for all the details.

I hope to see you there!

2017 LOUISVILLE ZOMBIE WALK

Aug 16 17

For those who don’t know, a “Zombie Walk” is an event where thousands of people come dressed as a zombie and walk down the street just like they were starring in George Romero’s film Night of the Living Dead. Come and witness a massive horde of over 40,000 zombies as they take over Bardstown Road in Louisville, KY!

The walk is 3/4 of a mile with a block party at the end (near Highland Ave.) featuring live bands, entertainment, food vendors, a costume contest and – NEW for 2017 – the Zombie Market brought to you by Market for Mischief!

This FREE event will take place on Saturday, August 26, 2017 at 8:29 P.M. Price of admission is that you must dress up as a traditional zombie related character – or develop your own unique version of a flesh eater!

Starting point is the corner of Eastern Parkway and Bardstown Road in the Highlands area of Louisville. Look for the big yellow bus with a Louisville Zombie Walk banner posted on the side at MidCity Mall (1250 Bardstown Rd., Louisville, KY 40204).

So, if you plan to be in or near the Derby City in late August, make sure you attend the Zombie Walk – even if you’d rather be a spectator or a “zombie hunter” instead. All are welcome.

Click here for details.

A CURE FOR WELLNESS – DVD REVIEW

Jul 31 17

I avoided watching A Cure for Wellness for quite some time. Lately I’ve had a problem with torture scenes in films, and, after seeing the previews, I thought this movie would have way too many of those moments for my taste. It surprised me – most of the scenes I dreaded were in the last half hour, and some of those were over-the-top.

The film, directed by Gore Verbinski, would have benefited from having a ruthless editor with a sharp implement (at least in the old days). It needed roughly thirty minutes cut from its running time of two and a half hours.

Somewhat Gothic and old-fashioned, it reminded me of the movies my mother liked to watch from the 1960s. There’s a gloomy atmosphere throughout, which dampens what ordinarily would be considered stunning scenery.

Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is a financial wiz kid who cheats in order to climb the ladder. After being confronted by his superiors, he is forced to travel to Switzerland to retrieve his crooked boss, Pembroke, from a wellness facility and return him to New York to face the authorities. The task will be much harder than he thinks. (It’s like that song “Hotel California” – you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.)

It’s easy to dislike Lockhart at first. But everyone has a past (and a childhood) that shapes them, and we gradually learn why he became the cynical young man he is today. He’s not about to fall for the rhetoric he hears from the staff and the sanatorium’s Director (Jason Isaacs with a German accent).

Pembroke doesn’t want to cooperate with his employee either, but before Lockhart can force the issue, he is involved in a car accident that makes him a patient at the castle-like facility. He has plenty of time to wander around and get into trouble, learning the dark history of the mountain-top fortress and befriending the teenage daughter (Mia Goth) of the Director, much to the doc’s dismay.

By the time Lockhart meets the mysterious teen girl, Hannah, I had already figured out all the twists and turns the plot would take. (Perhaps that’s one reason the film seemed too lengthy to me.)

Dane DeHaan is perfect for the role of Lockhart, and the entire cast is exemplary. My biggest complaint with the film is that it doesn’t go anywhere I haven’t seen before and it takes too long to get to the predictable conclusion.

For those reasons, I can only give it two out of five goblins.

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS – DVD REVIEW

Jun 30 17

Right away, I knew The Girl With All The Gifts would be a different kind of zombie flick. For one thing, the cast is topnotch. (I mean, would you expect to see Glenn Close in a horror movie?) And I immediately believed the dystopian world created by novelist Mike Carey and director Colm McCarthy existed. This film wrung serious emotion out of me in the first ten minutes.

And I’m not talking about the (adequate amount) of gore. I’m talking about the girl.

Minor spoilers ahead.

Most of the time Melanie (played brilliantly by Sennia Nanua) seems like an ordinary ten-year-old – but she is part human and part monster. The fungal disease that has turned most of humanity into crazed, flesh-eating “Hungries” has not affected her the same way. She is one of several second-generation children who were born infected (who ate their way out of their mothers’ bodies) and who are being raised in an underground military bunker in England.

Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) experiments on them, trying to discover a cure. Sgt. Parks (Paddy Considine) runs the facility and tries to make sure no one gets too close to the “f****** abortions” – especially their teacher, Ms. Justineau (Gemma Arterton). Everyone wears scent-disguising lotion to keep the children calm, and while they are out of their cells and in class they are restrained in wheelchairs.

But Melanie is unique when compared to the others. She has true emotions and can express empathy. Before long, she forms an unbreakable bond with her teacher. Ms. Justineau hates the fact that the children are being experimented on, and when it’s Melanie’s turn, she decides to intervene. But before she can free the girl from the lab, all hell breaks loose as the military base is finally overrun with zombies.

Melanie escapes on her own and she and Ms. Justineau flee the facility with Dr. Caldwell and Sgt. Parks. They struggle to get along together and fight for survival – and Melanie’s special gifts end up helping them all. Dr. Caldwell now thinks Melanie – a zombie with a conscience – is the key to finding a cure, and she is determined to dissect the girl’s brain at the first opportunity.

Most zombie movies don’t engage me from beginning to end the way this “smart” flick managed to do.  If you want to see a different take on the genre, you can watch The Girl With All The Gifts on DVD or stream it on Amazon. Out of five goblins, I would give it three and a half.

ODD THOMAS – DVD REVIEW

May 28 17

At a recent convention, a friend told me about an obscure movie she’d just seen on Netflix starring the late Anton Yelchin (an actor best known for playing Chekov in the new Star Trek franchise, who died way too soon last year in a freak accident). The film, Odd Thomas, was based on the first of a series of books by Dean Koontz. This 2013 adaptation did not have a wide release and quickly went to video.

Despite the fact I’m a huge horror fan, I don’t think I’ve ever read a Koontz novel, and I’ve seen very few films based on his work. But now I think I’m interested in giving the “Odd Thomas” series a try.

Odd is a twenty-year-old fry cook who lives in the quiet desert town of Pico Mundo, California. The only thing that makes him unique is his extraordinary gift: he can communicate with the deceased.

As he puts it, “I see dead people…but then, by god, I actually do something about it.”

He’s basically a supernatural detective, dealing with both spirits and demons (like “bodachs” – predators who feed on pain and tragedy).

When a creepy stranger ends up murdered, he and his girlfriend, Stormy (Addison Timlin), set about helping the local sheriff (Willem Dafoe) solve the crime. During the investigation, Odd realizes that his small town is about to suffer a horrifying fate.

Can he stop it from happening?

This movie is a combination murder mystery/detective drama (complete with “gumshoe narration”) and supernatural thriller. In many ways it reminded me of “The Frighteners” – a film based on Stephen King’s novel.

I don’t know if Odd Thomas does Koontz’s series of books justice, since I haven’t read any of them yet – but I’m always pleased with Anton Yelchin’s acting. I also enjoyed the sweet romantic scenes between Odd and Stormy, childhood sweethearts who thought they were meant to be together forever.

The twist at the end does pack an emotional wallop, and I kept thinking I should have seen it coming. Since there is no chance a sequel will be made, I’ve made up my mind to read the novels.

I’m giving Odd Thomas three out of five goblins. Check it out via streaming or on DVD – it’s definitely worth watching once.

A FREE FLASH FICTION TALE: “MR KROLL”

Apr 30 17

Happy springtime! Had a busy schedule lately, so I thought it was time I posted a free story. “Mr. Kroll” is a dark flash fiction tale about a witch’s familiar, originally published back in 2003. I hope you like it.

 

“MR KROLL” by Debbie Kuhn

I believe I was once a man. That would explain the strange memories that live in my dreams. My special awareness, my ability to understand humans, comes from the demon spirit that resides in me now – though I am not certain if I was reincarnated for this purpose or changed into a feline and a familiar through witchcraft.

Only black cats like me have nine lives. It’s a mystical ability and, truthfully, it would be more accurate to call them nine chances. But there is only one way for us to cheat death.

Oh, yes, I am much older than I should be.

My beloved mistress, Marantha, died far too soon. She was born a witch, and if that made her evil, it was not by choice. She studied spells and curses, but also healed the sick.

What happened to her was my fault.

We were living a peaceful existence in a cottage just outside of Devington. In the summer of 1701, that English village was still growing, and it bustled with great activity at week’s end.

One Saturday afternoon, as I lay on a sunny windowsill sniffing the lilac-scented air, my mistress entered the tidy kitchen and addressed me with her musical voice.

“I need to sell some herbs and tonics today, Mr. Kroll.” She stroked the sleek fur along my back and smiled into my knowing green eyes. “Would you like to be my company?”

Always.

We could read other’s thoughts whenever necessary.

The two of us started off on the mile long walk and took the dusty dirt road that led to Devington. My mistress swung her large, round basket to and fro, and sang a lilting tune in a language I did not understand. Her lustrous long hair – as black as a moonless midnight – fanned out behind her in the warm breeze.

Marantha’s perfect features always attracted attention in the village. Men of all ages would pause in their daily activities to watch the young healer’s graceful, shapely figure as she carried out her errands. They openly admired her wavy dark tresses, her heavenly blue eyes, and the creamy fairness of her skin.

All the women stared at her with jealousy in their hearts. Soon I would give them a reason to be rid of her forever.

“Meet me here before sunset, Mr. Kroll,” my mistress said, as we reached the edge of town.

I went my own way, exploring the underbelly of the noisy village, scrounging for interesting food scraps and hunting rats that were almost tame. The mongrels running loose did not concern me. My presence terrified them.

It was the shiny crystals that caused my carelessness. They hung in a shop’s open window across the way, swinging gently in the wind, glinting in the sun. They mesmerized me.

I sprinted into the road and was caught up under a carriage wheel. It threw me clear, leaving me in agony. An ordinary cat would have died outright.

I forced myself to lie quietly for several minutes, gathering my strength and gaining control over the pain. No bones had been broken, but the damage to my organs was considerable. Finally, I struggled to a standing position and limped down a cluttered alley, using my powerful sense of smell to find what I needed.

I slowly climbed a stack of broken wooden crates to reach the ledge of an open window. Inside the stuffy room, an infant slept unattended on a cot, surrounded by rolled up blankets. I crept over to the bed and pulled myself up.

His damp gown smelled of sweat and harsh soap. I straddled his wee chest, but he did not awake. The crustiness on his lips was dried mother’s milk. When I began licking it off, the baby opened his mouth, and I covered it with my own.

I sucked my breath in and pulled his life force out. The invisible hot stream flowed into me and I could feel my injuries begin to heal.

Then I heard the mother scream. She knocked me off her baby with a broom handle and chased me out the window.

I was well enough to flee, and I headed for home in the gathering darkness. If I had not been interrupted the internal healing would have been complete. Eventually I would have to seek out another life force.

I entered the cottage through the open kitchen window and found my mistress in the front room, reading a thick, leather-bound book by candlelight.

She looked up in relief when I sauntered in. “Mr. Kroll, I knew you’d be all right, you naughty, careless feline.”

I curled up in her lap and allowed myself to purr.

Less than an hour later they came, surrounding the cottage, holding their fiery torches high.

“Show yourself, witch! You and your familiar!”

That was Hester the nosy seamstress. I recognized her deep, croaking voice.

Marantha opened the heavy wooden door and faced the angry mob. Most of them were women, with a few harried husbands standing in back.

“Friends, why are you here?”

“Oh, ain’t we the innocent one now,” Hester sneered. “Your demon cat was caught stealing a babe’s soul this very night.”

The women surrounded Marantha and held her prisoner while the men searched the cottage. They found the evidence they were looking for – a book of witchcraft.

Hester took the tome from her husband and held it high before the crowd. “The witch must burn! She must pay for her sins in Hell!”

I slipped past the mob and climbed an oak, watching helplessly as they bound Marantha’s hands and feet and carried her back into the cottage.

They set the house ablaze and then stayed to watch the spectacle. The women’s hard faces were lit with malicious glee. I heard Marantha’s agonized, heartrending screams, felt her blinding fear, and I couldn’t bear to linger.

There was someplace I needed to go, something I needed to do.

Hester had a baby daughter.