Sparkles and Blood and other stories
My newest book Sparkles and Blood is a collection of four of my horror novellas, including a never before published story. From carnivorous frogs to a post-apocalyptic Beowulf, from the meeting of movie vampire with the real things to a teen at a Christian school who learns she’s a witch, these are stories that may chill you, but not cover you with gore.
Chapter One of Frost and Stone
Siobhan screamed until she thought her throat would tear. If she screamed loud enough she could drown out the voices of her parents telling her how she shamed them, again.
“You should know better, Siobhan O’Hullan,” her mother said as if Siobhan sat doe eyed and attentive. “We’ve told you again and again that you must be respectful at school. Your father has a position in the community.”
“Mr. Riordan phoned me,” her father said, “he’s a deacon at the church. They are already concerned about you.”
“They didn’t hire me, did they?” Siobhan said. “No one asked me if I wanted to live in this piss-ant town. Your precious Mr. Riordan spends his day peering down my shirt and hoping for a glimpse.”
“You need to dress modestly,” her mother said. “It’s the work of the devil, these girls parading about in next to nothing.”
“We wear a school uniform, Mom. Short skirts and thin white blouses so the teachers can get their jollies. I’d wear my parka all day if we were allowed. All I did was ask him to back off and stop drooling all over me.”
“You told him to, ‘effing keep his creepy effing eyes to himself’. In front of the whole school no less.”
“I heard he mauled at one of the girls, and got her knocked up too.”
“She was a wicked girl and a liar. It was one of those boys that she tempted into sin,” her mother said.
“We’ll never know since she went off and hung herself.”
“That just proves that she was an evil girl. No good girl would think of such a thing.” Siobhan caught her father wincing a little, but he didn’t speak up. He never did. Her mother would have most of the world in hell and not think twice about it.
“That’s your answer for everything isn’t it?” Siobhan said. “People are evil, sinful, worthy only of burning in hell. Well let me tell you, the worst people are the ones who sit in the front of your church and pretend to be good.”
“We are all sinners,” her father said.
“Not all of us rape girls and kill them to cover it up!” Siobhan knew she’d gone too far when her mother’s face went white. She fled out into the damp of the November weather. Her anger kept her warm for the first half block, then she started shivering in her thin sweater.
“What good are parents when they won’t listen?” she asked the grey sky. “Why don’t you tell them, hey? They might listen to you. Come down here and let them know that the deacons who run their church are hypocrites. Just one bolt of lightning, just one!”
“I bet I know who you’d want it to be aimed at,” Pwyll stepped out from where he’d been leaning against a tree and wrapped his jacket around her shoulders.
“You were waiting for me?” Siobhan let his warmth sink into her. Pwyll pulled a second coat out from behind the tree and took her hand.
“I heard you while I was doing my paper route,” he said. “I went and got an extra coat and waited. You always walk this way when you’re angry.” He took her hand and a different warmth ran up her arm.
“You be careful, or my mother will have you burning in hell.”
“I’m Catholic,” Pwyll said, “I’m already headed for the flames.”
Siobhan sighed. This church her dad worked in was very good at deciding who were the sinners destined to burn. It hadn’t always been that way. The place they were in before they came to New Franklin had been filled with laughter and fun. Everyone had been her friend. The New Franklin Chapel of God had stolen the joy from her father. Now she seemed to be trapped in the role of the devil child. She’d heard there had been a suggestion that they perform an exorcism on her.
They walked aimlessly through the streets until it started to snow. Pwyll guided them directly to her front door. He was careful to let go of her hand before they rounded the corner to her street.
“I can never figure out how you do that,” she said, “I’d be lost forever.”
“I don’t know,” Pwyll said, “I just know where I’m going.”
“And that’s not to Hell,” Siobhan said.
Pwyll shrugged. She gave him his jacket back before he waved and walked away.
“I don’t want you hanging around with that boy,” her mother said from behind her. “He’s foreign and Catholic.”
“He’s Welsh, Ma,” Siobhan said, “His name is Paul, only spelled the Welsh way.”
“Like English isn’t good enough for him?” She held the door wide. “Upstairs and to your room. You pray for forgiveness for your rudeness to Mr. Riordan. Some prayer and fasting will do you good.”
Siobhan looked at her father, but he didn’t say anything. So, she climbed the stairs to her room in this house that wasn’t theirs. She stared at the room and sighed. If God really answered prayers, than she would wake up one morning and find that her room was no longer pink and white. It made her feel like she was trapped inside a wedding cake. It must be because she was such a wicked girl that her life was so horrible. That was the only explanation. Everyone at the Chapel thought so and told her too.
She knelt on the thin chair pad with her back to the door. She’d told her volleyball coach that she’d hurt her knees playing soccer last summer, but the truth was she spent so much time kneeling that her legs ached all the time. The ball in her stomach was hunger and anger. She didn’t know which was worse. At least hunger wasn’t a sin. It was supposed to get her closer to God. What a joke.
She felt her mother staring at her back, but she refused to turn or speak. Her mother couldn’t fault her for praying too hard.
So God, this is how it is going to be? You’re supposed to be in charge and yet here I am starving, while I bet Riordan is stuffing his face. You’re supposed to know what’s in people’s hearts. You saw how he was looking at me. Caitlin told me I was imagining things. He doesn’t stare at her, and she leaves an extra button undone and wears a padded bra, as if she needs one. Why is it me that turns him on?
Siobhan felt her mother’s presence behind her again much later at night, but once again she ignored her. She heard a sigh.
“Go to bed, Siobhan,” her mother said. “Tomorrow, you will apologize to Mr. Riordan. You must learn to control yourself.”
Siobhan stayed kneeling until she heard that sigh again and the presence faded. She had no idea how she knew when her mother or father were there. Sometimes other people too. It was like she felt a warmth on her skin. Her mother would call it evil and occult, so Siobhan never mentioned it and rarely gave it much thought.
Well, if I’m to apologize, you’ll have to give me the words, she looked toward the fixture in her ceiling, the only ones that I can think of will get me in bigger trouble.
Siobhan woke early and grabbed a glass of milk and a granola bar for breakfast. She’d put on an extra camisole under her blouse and wore a bra from last year. It felt tight enough that it should make her less interesting to Riordan. Maybe her mother had never had to deal with men like Riordan. She’d gone to an all girl’s school until she’d met Siobhan’s father and got converted and married all at once. Siobhan had never seen her parents kiss or even touch. She wondered how they managed to produce a daughter.
“Eww,” she said to herself, “let’s not go there at this time of the day.” She walked past Pwyll’s house, but she could tell he was still in bed. The school was quiet. There was the sound of volleyball practice in the gym and faint honks from the direction of the band room. She headed for the chapel for a last consultation with God before facing Riordan. The chapel was a miniature of the church that her father worked at. Some patron saint of the congregation had died and left his millions to the church. They’d built the school as an outreach of the church. A Christian education in a secular world. People paid money to send their kids to the school. Siobhan got in because her father was the pastor in the church.
Maybe you could call my father to a different church, she thought at the stark cross at the front of the chapel. Then I wouldn’t have to go to school here and deal with Riordan. She felt someone enter the chapel. It wasn’t unusual for students to stop in, before exams it was standing room only. The person slid onto the bench beside her.
“You must learn submission,” Mr. Riordan said. “It will be your place as a wife to submit to your husband.”
She just managed to stop the snort before it became audible.
“There is much that I could teach you,” he put his hand on her knee. Siobhan’s stomach knotted and she started shaking. His hand moved up her leg and pulled her skirt with it. She felt his fingers burn again the skin of her thighs. She took a deep breath, but his hand moved faster than she thought possible to tangle in her hair. He twisted her face so she had to look at him. “I’ve always thought that red hair was a sign of the devil,” he said in the same voice he used to drum facts about the Second World War into their heads. “It is alluring and dangerous all at once. Witches have red hair.” His other hand poked through between the buttons of her blouse. “You will not wear extra clothing beneath your blouse,” he said, still in that teacher’s voice. “You mustn’t hide your beauty.”
He kissed her with the same pouncing motion that vampires used to tear out their victim’s throats. She felt he was pulling the life from her. It wasn’t at all what she’d imagined a kiss to be. This was hard edges and pain. He pulled away just a tiny way from her face. “I am the chair of deacons at the Chapel. If I say the word, your father will never work again. Don’t make me say that word.” He kissed her again and she felt his tongue trying to push past her teeth. She wondered what he would do if she puked in his mouth.
He pushed her away and walked out of the chapel. Siobhan scrubbed at her mouth trying to get the taste of him off of her.
“Why didn’t you stop him?” she said to the ceiling. The room was empty, really empty. She could feel when people were around her, but she had never in her life ever felt anything when she talked to God. Siobhan stood and walked out of the Chapel. She was done with this whole God thing.
She made it to the hall and puked on the floor. She threw up until she expected to turn inside out.
“Go home and clean up,” Mr. Riordan said. “You are disgusting. Mind what I said.”
Siobhan washed her face in the washroom, then tried to wash her shirt. The water only made the thin material transparent. She scrubbed at it with paper towels trying to dry the fabric off, but it didn’t work. She’d have to walk past his office as good as naked. Her stomach rebelled and she puked into the sink.
“God, Siobhan, the place reeks,” Caitlin stood behind her, and for a second Siobhan wanted to let the words pour out of her like vomit. She gritted her teeth and stayed quiet. “You’d better go home, you’re no good like this.” The other girl put a sweater around Siobhan’s shoulders. “You can’t walk through the halls like that, some boy will break something.” She put her arm around Siobhan and guided her to her locker like Siobhan had gone blind.
“Thanks,” Siobhan said. The words rasped at her throat.
“No problem,” Caitlin said and left. Siobhan put on her parka and walked with shaking legs. The other students started to arrive and she had to fight upstream to get out the door. Once she was outside, the cold set her to shivering so violently it was hard to walk.
The walk home took her past a little strip mall. It was just a burger place, a gift shop and a drug store. Siobhan walked into the pharmacy and bought some black hair dye. If being a red head was the problem she would change. If she could have dyed her skin too she would have, but the hair would be a start.
The directions on the package made it look simple enough. Siobhan had the house to herself. She locked herself in the bathroom and started on her hair. Her mother never let her cut it and she didn’t think that the package would cover all her hair. She braided it carefully, then used her mother’s sewing scissors to hack through the braid just below her shoulders. The package said to wash her hair, so she turned on the shower and let the hot water run across her shoulders and turn her skin pink. She stepped out of the shower and dripped water on the floor as she toweled her hair dry. Her reflection was blurred and distorted as she worked the dye into her hair, then she dyed her eyebrows. She would have dyed the fine hairs on her arms if she thought it wouldn’t have just left her with blotchy blacken skin. She’d wear long sleeve blouses and long skirts. Maybe she’d become Catholic and become a nun.
When enough time had passed she rinsed the dye out. She didn’t recognize herself. The black hair made her pale skin look white. She looked like a corpse. She imagined her flesh rotting and falling off. At least Riordan wouldn’t like her as a corpse.
She heard the doorbell and put her robe on to answer the door.
“Package,” the man said, “sign here.” Siobhan signed. and he handed her a box that was heavier than it looked. He walked away again giving no sign he had seen her as anything but a signature on his clipboard. The black hair was working.
The box was addressed to her. She took it up to her room and opened it while sitting cross legged on her bed.
Dear Siobhan, I do hope you’ve forgiven me for sticking you with my name, but every generation of our family has had its Siobhan. I knew, in spite of your mother’s inclinations that you were the one for this generation. I’m sending you a spirit stone from the village that our people came from. Guard it carefully, it is a piece of your heritage. The letter went on for pages. Siobhan had heard only the briefest stories of her aunt back in Ireland. Her mother talked about this elder Siobhan as if she were as dangerous as a bomb. She set the letter aside to take out the stone. It felt cold from being outside, but otherwise was nothing really special. It was a plain black granite stone. Siobhan could have picked it up outside where granite surrounded them. She tossed it onto the dresser where it joined the rest of the clutter. Old trophies, pictures, even other rocks filled the top of the dresser. She didn’t care about most of it, but it would be too much work to throw it out.
“What have you done!” her mother stood in the bedroom door and stared at Siobhan.
“I thought I’d try a new look,” Siobhan said. They weren’t the words she’d planned to say, but something stopped her words about a kiss and a threat.
“Are you trying to shame us?” her mother said. Then she saw the letter and the box on the bed. She looked at the address and her face changed. For a second Siobhan thought her mother had looked scared. Her mother scooped up the letter and box.
“Hey, those are mine!” Siobhan said. Instead of answering her mother slapped her hard across the face. She looked at the dresser and grabbed a rock. Siobhan just stared in shock as her mother ran out of the room with her letter and the rock.
Heat rose from her stomach and for an instant Siobhan thought she was going to be sick, then a scream poured out of her throat hot and powerful. She half expected the mirror on her dresser to shatter. She ran after her mother, but her mother was gone.
Siobhan slammed the door to her room, then for good measure she opened it and slammed it again. This time the antique mirror in the hall fell with a crash. She wedged the chair under the doorknob and started on her room. Siobhan had never thrown a tantrum before and there was something freeing about letting her anger rage free. All her life she’d been told anger was dangerous, she had to obey, submit, be a good girl.
The mirror made a satisfying smash as she hit it with her chair. She kept swinging at the dresser until both it and the chair were splinters. Trophies became missiles embedded in the wall. She used a piece of the mirror to slash her school uniform to shreds. When she was done she used her blood to draw on her walls. She didn’t know what she was drawing, but it felt right. It felt powerful. She smashed everything she could break, broke holes in the plaster walls. The rage drove her to exhaustion, then she sat in the midst of the destruction and wept.
“Now, you can’t tell me that didn’t feel some good.”
Siobhan gasped and looked for the source of the voice. A tiny grey man sat in the centre of her bed. Siobhan stood up and backed against the wall.
“Who are you?” she said, “And where did you come from?”
“You called me,” he said, “I always come when I’m called.” He waved his hand at the demolished room. “This is a fine spell for a beginner.”
“Spell?” Siobhan said. “You make me sound like a witch.”
“You are a witch,” the man said, “red hair and all. You can try to cover it up, but it will show through just the same. Besides,” he leered at her, “you missed a bit.”
Siobhan clutched at the robe and tied it tight shut.
“A lass like you should be happy to show off. You people used to dance naked under the moon.” He leered at her again, “It’s a full moon tonight. I could teach you.”
“I already have enough people trying to teach me,” Siobhan said, “I don’t need any more.”
“Now is that any way to treat someone you just called to you in blood and rage?” The man on the bed started to grow bigger. “Maybe there is a first lesson I should be teaching you.” When he stood up Siobhan realized he was naked. The diagrams from health class became disgustingly clear. She thought of Mr. Riordan at school.
“I wish they were dead,” she said.
“Ah, now we’re getting somewhere,” the man said. He jumped off the bed and walked toward her. Siobhan wondered how he could manage. “What will you give me to grant your wish?”
“Are you the devil after my soul?” Siobhan felt a little foolish asking, but while she didn’t feel God anywhere, this not so little man felt cold and ugly to her.
“What would I be wanting with your soul?” The grey man shook his head. “I want you.”
Siobhan laughed, “Get in line, creep.” The rage boiled up inside her and exploded. “You can have this,” she shouted and kicked the man as hard as she could between his legs.
He fell gasping to the floor, and she thought he was having a seizure. Then she realized he was laughing.
“Done,” he said and vanished.
Cold emptiness replace the anger.. How had she managed to have enough energy to do all that destruction? She dropped the robe to the floor and picked some clothes from the mess. She shook twinkling shards of mirror off them and dressed in layer after layer. It didn’t matter, she was still cold. It was like ice had invaded her.
Her parents were going to kill her, really truly kill her, and then her mother would tell everyone how she was going to hell.
Siobhan thought a little flaming lake wouldn’t be a bad thing right now. She picked her way out of the room and ran out of the house. She had no idea where she was going to go. She put her hands in her pocket and found a stone. She pulled it out and saw that it was the one that her aunt had sent her. Her mother must have grabbed the wrong one.
The stone was the reason for all this, but when she held it she didn’t feel as cold. She put it and her hand back into her pockets and headed toward the school. She had an unfinished conversation with Mr. Riordan.
The weather forecast had predicted rain, but it started to snow. The snow suited her mood. The stone was keeping her warm now. She imagined what she was going to say to Riordan.
She walked up the stone walk to the main doors. She usually entered through the back, but the stone told her to use these doors that opened into the main foyer and the offices.
The warmth and moisture of the school air hit her face as she walked into the school. ‘Academy of God’s Word’ declared the crest set in the tiled floor. What did this ostentation have to do with God? She stopped, confused in the foyer. What was she doing here? She wasn’t in uniform, she was going to be so dead.
The bell rang. Students poured out of the classrooms and milled through the hall. The foyer wasn’t a shortcut anywhere, so Siobhan watched the bodies bump and flow. For a second she caught a glimpse of something beneath the movement of students, some kind of order.
Then Mr. Riordan stepped out of the flow and the order vanished.
“What are you doing here?” he said, “I thought I sent you home.”
Siobhan lost her words. She stared at this man who had touched her in the Chapel and couldn’t think what to say. She clenched her hand on the rock. Maybe she should just hit him with the rock and leave. A flash of cold traveled up her arm like someone had shoved an icicle beneath her skin.
“I didn’t get the chance to finish our discussion,” her mouth said to Mr. Riordan. “You were telling me how fascinating you found red heads. I didn’t really feel like being part of your fascination considering what happened to the last girl who fascinated you. I’ll bet you were disappointed that she wasn’t a real redhead.” Her mouth smiled at Mr. Riordan in a shape that Siobhan had never felt before. It made her powerful and dangerous. “Do you like my new look?” She swung her hair at him and caught glimpses of hair that was the black of a felt marker at the edges of her vision. Her face took on a different shape. “Someone told me I missed a spot,” she said, barely above a whisper. “Do you want to see?”
Riordan tried to speak, but no words came out. Siobhan looked into his eyes and watched him lick his lips. Oh yeah, he wanted to see.
“My office,” he said. It sounded to Siobhan that he had to force the words out. The students were whispering amongst themselves.
“Oh,” she said, “it looks like I’m going to get a private session.” She tossed her hair again and that strange and dangerous smile returned to her face. She led Mr. Riordan to his office. As soon as the door closed he was on her, kissing her with the same sharp edged fervour he’d shown in the Chapel. His hands were struggling to get past all the layers of clothes that Siobhan wore.
“So, that’s why you make us wear skirts,” her mouth said into his kisses. She thought of the naked little man and laughed. “I wonder if you will look as ridiculous.” Riordan back handed her across the face. Her skin split apart under his ring and she lifted her hand from her pocket to touch her face. Somehow the rock stayed in her hand. She felt a piercing cold in her face.
“You asshole,” she said. Mr. Riordan snarled and swung at her again. She blocked him with the rock in her hand. He screamed and tried to pull away from her, but some force held him in place. Siobhan’s arm grew warm, then hot. She wondered why she didn’t burst into flames as the heat settled into her core. She’d never felt so good in her life. There was the same giddiness when Caitlin had dared her to drink a tequila shot, but hotter, richer, more glorious.
If she was feeling good, it was clear that Mr. Riordan was not. He continued to scream as if he never needed to breathe. She finally pulled her hand away from him just to shut him up. He crouched on the floor whimpering, holding his black and twisted left hand.
“Goodbye, Mr. Riordan,” she said, “I’m so glad we had this opportunity to talk.”
She walked out of his office and caught a glimpse of herself in the glass. Her hair curled red and fiery around her head like a halo. There was no sign of the cut on her cheek.
“Didn’t you have your hair died black?” one of the secretaries asked.
“The school doesn’t allow students to dye their hair,” Siobhan said, “and red is a much more fascinating colour.” She waved at the secretaries and walked into the foyer. The last of the students were being chivvied to class. It had felt much longer in his office. He must have very good soundproofing. She looked back through the glass. One of the secretaries had atrociously dyed red hair. She gave Siobhan a nervous look and went to knock on Mr. Riordan’s door.
The secretary’s scream was cut off by the school doors closing behind Siobhan. She didn’t know why she ever bothered with this place.
The snow fell heavily, but it melted and steamed away from her hair, the glorious warmth she’d held just minutes ago was already dissipating. She wondered what other conversations she could find as she wandered into the blizzard.