Welcome back to the Crossroads

What happens when we die? 

It’s a question that cannot be answered by man, so far anyway. And until that riddle’s been solved all we’re left with are theories. Some believe that nothing happens and our memories, thoughts, and our personality just stop when our bodies finally give out. I’m not sure if I like that theory. Maybe it’s because I refuse to think all of my efforts and time, while insignificant in the larger scope of the universe, simply don’t matter.

Another theory is that death is but a door to another higher plane of existence. Call it what you like: Heaven, the afterlife, Valhalla, the void. Every religion has some place where the soul goes when the body perishes. Often, there’s a good place (heaven) and a bad place (hell) depending on the actions of the soul during its duration on earth. 

The final theory I’ll discuss (there are plenty more, but I don’t have all day) is a combination of the two above mentioned theories. If you take the idea of no plane of existence and combine it with the idea of a soul, what do you get?

Well, you actually get two things:

1. Ghosts

2. A good story.

The souls of those that died, released by the death of their mortal bodies, forever to wander the earth searching for the lives that they once cherished. Ghost stories can be found in every part of the world. Often, ghosts don’t travel far from where they lived when they still had physical bodies. Ghosts are sometimes sent as messengers to those in need of some guidance (Ebenezer Scrooge for example). Sometimes, ghosts are jealous entities that terrorize the living. Sometimes their friendly ghosts (I’m looking at you Casper). 

What I’m trying to get across to you is that whatever your comfort level is, there is a ghost story for you. There’s no better way to figure out what kind of ghost stories you like than purchasing the new anthology by Burning Willow Press.

Crossroads in the Dark IV: GHOSTS is a collection of short stories developed in hopes of bringing awareness to suicide prevention around the world. While the stories do not tell of suicide, they do tell of GHOSTS. For whom are the ghosts that haunt us daily? What are the remains of an otherwise perfect life ended far too soon? Which are the people who we find hardest to move forward from when we lose them? The easy answer is the ones we failed to save. 

For those that haven’t read the last three CRITD anthologies, welcome.

For those that have, welcome back to the crossroads.

• Forward by Lily Luchesi, author of the “Paranormal Detective” series.

Stories by:

Kerry Alan Denney

Alice J. Black

Michael Schutz

Kindra Sowder

James Master (that’s me)

Frank Martin

L. Bachman

Carol Browne

C.C. Adams

Mirren Hogan

Erin Yoshikawa

Peter Oliver Wonder

Rachel de la Fuente

W.T. Watson

Cindy Johnson

• James Crawford

Nikki Collins-Mewha

Kevin Wimer

Brian G. Murray

– Lloyd Kerns

Edd Sowder

The Devil’s Playground by Alice J. Black

Have you ever experienced a reoccurring dream or nightmare? If you haven’t then I find that odd. Most of everyone has experienced this type of dream. When I was a child, I had one such reoccurring nightmare. I would be walking to elementary school down the alley next to the house. With each step, the ground cracked like it was thin ice. I’d take off running, but it didn’t matter, the ground would disappear from under me and I’d fall. I’d fall on spikes and wake up just before they punctured my skin. It lasted until I graduated high school.

the devil's playgroundThe main character, Jake, in Alice J. Black’s The Devil’s Playground suffers from a reoccurring nightmare. It stems from the mysterious disappearance of his father, but it doesn’t stop at his high school graduation, it sticks with him throughout the rest of his life. The best thing in the character’s life happens: he gets engaged with the love of his life, Sam. Then the worst thing in Jake’s life happens: he suffers an accident that lands him in a coma. Even worse, he’s stuck inside that reoccurring nightmare, the Devil’s Playground.

What follows next is one of the most intense adventures that a character can experience. While Jake is in the playground, Sam also goes through the very real experience of dealing with the aftermath. Her fiancé is in a coma, there’s suddenly a void in her life. Black crafts such an interesting story that makes you want to read both character’s story arcs. Even though Jake’s fate will sometimes hang in the balance, the section changes and the reader is equally fascinated with the emotional journey of Sam.

Without giving anything away, one of the most interesting parts of the story is the Devil’s Playground itself. Jake awakens to find himself literally in a living Hell. The reaction after Jake realizes that he is not actually dreaming is priceless, but it’s just one of the many things that make this story memorable. The Playground is filled with grim versions of reality, sadistic hallucinations, and the bloodthirsty creatures that inhabit it. 

That’s where the book shines. When Jake’s section begins there is this buildup of tension and dread that will either payoff or cliff hang. The novel transitions to the emotional wreck that is Sam. This both allows the reader some time to calm themselves and to push Jake to the back of their minds while they sympathize with Sam and her feelings of utter hopelessness. Of course the novel will transition back to Jake’s story and the tension will begin to rise again. 

As a horror writer, even I had moments when I’d hear a noise outside and develop uneasy feelings. There was one such moment where I had to put aside the story and listen for the source of the noise. This was the first time in a very long time that I’ve been creeped out by a novel. 

The nice thing about this novel is that it doesn’t focus on blood, gore, foul language, or sexual content like most of the horror genre of our times. Yes, the Devil’s Playground does contain scenes where there is blood and gore, but it’s a practical use to them. Black isn’t excessive with the usage of them. 

If there was one thing that I did not like about The Devil’s Playground it’s that not everything is explained. The reader is wanting more. Which, admittedly, is not a terrible thing because there is definitely room for a sequel should the author desire to continue on with the story. 

If you’re a fan of horror, thriller, or dream novels then this is one for you to read. It can be found on Amazon.com as well as www.burningwillowpressllc.com.