Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Blackwater Val by William Gorman

Release date: April 25, 2016
Subgenre: Horror

About Blackwater Val


Something isn’t quite right in the Val.

Richard Franklin has left his Midwestern roots behind to live on the coast of Maine with his family. But in the autumn of the year 2000, he must return to his Illinois birthplace on a sorrowful journey. His wife Michelle has been killed in New England by a hit-and-run driver who is never found, so back home he comes with her cremated remains, to fulfill a final wish and on her birthday scatter her ashes in the park along the river in Blackwater Valley—simply Blackwater Val to locals—the small town where they both grew up and fell in love.

With him he brings his six-year-old daughter Katie who still grieves for her lost mother: Katie, who can sometimes guess who’s going to be on the phone before it rings. Who can stop all the clocks in the house, and break up clouds in the sky with her mind, and heal sicknesses, and who sometimes sees things that aren’t there . . . people who are no longer alive. All gifts she inherited from her mother.

Only something isn’t quite right in the Val.

Sinkholes are opening up, revealing the plague pits the sleepy hamlet was built over in the 1830s, when malaria and cholera outbreaks ran riot. Mysterious bird and fish die-offs begin to occur, and Katie can see ghosts of the dead gathering all around. But what she can’t see is the charred, centuries-old malevolence which has been waiting for her, and wants her for its very own. Or the pale Sallow Man who haunts the town’s nighttime streets . . . or the river witch—another Blackwater Val, of sorts—each of whom will be drawn one by one into the nightmarish bloodletting about to take place.


Katie sat in the silent bathroom, trying to go, in the same room where her mother had sat and gone when she herself was a little girl. She could smell the fragrant aroma of flowers even up here. She could feel the essence of her dead mother close to her, could almost sense the soft touch of her fingers caressing her hair. Katie closed her eyes and concentrated on the lingering scent. She closed her eyes tight, because others were here with her, too.
     They’d begun to gather, as they always did upon finding her, a host of stained, saddened figures, crowding in as close as they dared. Though their numbers were vast she was aware, thankfully, of only the closest, those who huddled in nearer than the rest, like so many gauzy moths to a flame.
     She saw men and women here, young and old mingled alike—no discrimination among these torn wraiths and whatever had befallen them—dressed in strange, bygone clothing she’d never seen outside vintage pictures or old movies.
     They had no solidity, moving more like vapor trying to congeal in the air. She saw a dripping teenage boy with what surely must’ve been a broken neck approach between their smoky limbs, his head lolling down in front of one shoulder at a horrible angle. The boy carried a cat in his arms, but there were gaping holes in his wretched form, holes she could see right through. None of the figures spoke, only watched her with empty, ruined sockets.
     Katie caught the stink of sickness, of feverish flesh that hung about them, and damp earth. The ripe stench filled her nostrils, threatening to smother out her mother’s sweet fragrance. So she closed her eyes and began to rock, fending off the frittles and fighting to hold on, to keep the flowery aroma alive in her mind.
     She imagined herself in her own bathroom back home, hundreds of miles away from here. She could hear birds cheeping outside the window, could even see the wooden sign hanging on the back of their bathroom door. She focused hard and was able to read the words painted on it as if they were hovering before her:

Mom’s Reminders

Brush your teeth…
wash your face,
Don’t leave your clothes
all over the place.
Hang up your towel
and washcloth, too,
And please remember…
I love you!

     Katie heard humming in the room somewhere, and then she heard the echo of her mother’s voice repeating something she’d told her many, many times at moments like this. You don’t have to be afraid of them, Katie-Smatie. They’ve only lost their way, is all. Don’t be scared. She felt a warm hand slipping itself into hers. Can you remember that, when they come? My brave Katie milady…?
     She smiled and opened her eyes. They were still there, of course, the stained and wretched ones, and two others had joined them. These new arrivals seemed different somehow, fresh, and wore clothes that were at least more familiar to her. It was a man and a woman holding a tiny bundle, and the odor of exhaust fumes rolled off them in dizzying waves as they drifted nearer. The sodden boy with the lollygag head stroked his calico cat, and she felt their innumerable gazes resting upon her, forsaken, bereft of life, all seeking the same thing.
     Her smile faltered a bit, quivering, trying to collapse in on itself. She held it there on her round face, though, smiling and rocking as she tried to go, being as much of a brave Katie milady as she could now for her mother. She smiled and she rocked, trying to go and trying desperately not to cry, and concentrating on her faraway mother’s faraway words.



About William Gorman:

William Gorman makes things up and writes them down—and occasionally lifts clever sayings like that one from Neil Gaiman or prominent others in the field. A ghost-lore historian and lifelong denizen of the upper Midwest, he became enamored at an early age with all things that go bump in the dead of night. His stories have appeared in Thin Ice, Severed Tales, Nightside, The Sterling Web, Nightmares, and The Rockford Review. And also in Ghost Whispers: Tales from Haunted Midway, a collection he put together comprising of spooky legends and lore from his hometown in Illinois, where the local library now conducts bus excursions and walking tours based on the original stories in his book. He doesn’t attend these anymore, choosing instead to hide away and to lose himself in dark ruminations about the validity of magic and the secrets of fine cheese-making.


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