Friday, August 30, 2013

Quite A Conundrum is just that...and it will shock!

Surprise, shock, revelation, alarming, staggering and disturbing are but a few of the many words to describe the independent film Quite A Conundrum. Directed by Thomas L. Phillips and produced by Golden Lion Films and T-Street Productions, this dark thriller is in no way, shape, or form predictable. For what begins as a comedy quickly proceeds into a misnomer, begging and daring amateur Sherlock Holmes’ to test their wits. However, not everything is elementary my dear Watson.
Mimi (Sasha Ramos)
Mimi (Sasha Ramos) is a promiscuous college student forced to live at home by her wealthy attorney father if she wants her schooling costs covered. While this may sound like overtones of something horrendous, it couldn’t be farther from the truth, for the home is a twenty something’s dream complete with pool and parents often gone.
Tabatha (Erin Cline)
Tabitha (Erin Cline) is her vivacious best friend who is just as licentious, maybe even more so, and flaunts it flawlessly. While she has a softer side, it will take an unimaginable horror for it to emerge.
Kylene (Emily Rogers)
Kylene (Emily Rogers) is Mimi’s little sister who, although still in high school, seems to harbor a more mature mentality, yet still runs rampant with typical teenage gossip. She’s one of the few that knows exactly what she wants…and it’s her deepest secret.
Harris (Anthony Rutowicz)
Harris (Anthony Rutowicz) is Kylene’s conflicted nerd-type loser boyfriend, caught somewhere between obeying his overly zealous religious mother Thelma (Catherine Trail) and desperately wanting to experience a typical eighties teen movie having scants of nudity and drunkenness.
Thelma (Catherine Trail)

Sean (Chris Greene)
Sean (Chris Greene) is Tabitha’s latest squeeze and holds the very same uninhibited views as she. There is only one thing on his mind and while the girls down at KFC may offer, a guy does have standards.
Dutch (Joe Coffey)
Dutch (Joe Coffey) is a calm and cool, somewhat slick friend of Sean’s…or is he?
Marc (John Lucas)
Marc (John Lucas) is a fifty something, sensitive, passionate man who is extremely overweight, wears an eye patch and is soon to be made partner at Mimi’s father’s firm. He also happens to be carrying on an adulterous tryst with Mimi.
Lola (Julianna Pitt)
Lola (Julianna Pitt) is Marc’s seductive wife who knows of the affair, but appears to not care and would easily file for divorce at a moment’s notice.

The tale begins with Marc, passion hot and tossing out laughable sex talk attempting to turn on a bored and sexually frustrated Mimi. When they’re finished, or rather when he’s finished, she isn’t shy about conveying disappointment, cold heartedly casting him away with a deluge of cruel words that would make even Cruella cringe. It’s over and thus begins an evening like no other; a thrilling ride that would make even Agatha Christie proud; where just when you think you have it all figured out, an abrupt ninety degree turn thrusts you in a completely different direction.
With 21 official selections, 15 nominations and 7 awards, Quite A Conundrum is a perfectly paced 82 minute, tightly edited film that is both engrossing and refreshing at the same time. A welcome rarity that offers both chills and thrills; a film so enthralling and enticing that it can easily rank with and possibly surpass many of Hollywood’s recent big budget endeavors.

It's worth mentioning that my old pal Fester Bones has a new playmate. He said he followed him home. Of course I let him keep him.

Until next time ghouls, when we delve into HorrorscapeS, a Halloween mood setting video that is a must have for any Boo Bash.

And remember, there are creepy things just waiting for you to go to sleep...

Stay Scared,

Friday, August 23, 2013

When bigger rats join the race, you eat them. Right?

Hello ghouls and things that go bump in the night It's been a rather hectic week filled with all sorts of gristle and bloody flesh and yours truly wouldn't have it any other way.  Here's a recap...
First off, beginning last Friday night, my interview with Jackie Chin for her Zombie Palooza show on Ztalk radio went well.

On Saturday, besides Willie reviewing Byzantium for Horror News Net, I was informed that my review of the Glenn Beck and Harriet Parke novel Agenda 21 will be included in an upcoming issue of Suspense Magazine

Coincidentally, this month's issue includes my Interview with a Monster - The Salem Witch File and my annual Halloween tale Trick or Treat may very well grace it’s pages too. I'll keep you abreast.

Sunday I submitted the 25th weekly piece for my Land of Shadow and Substance column at Horror News Net (look for or read other reviews here) and was interviewed by the wonderful gals at Webb Weaver Books for their Blogtalk radio show. By the way, they too are writers and their psychological thrillers Cruelty To Innocents & Collecting Innocents are available. For the third of the series, Avenging Innocents, they are having a competition where the winning character gets killed first. For more information visit here.

Monday I was scanning through my Facebook messages and wouldn’t you know, there was a message from Joops Fragale (The director of the critically acclaimed short film The Guy Knows Everything from cordially inviting me to the 2013 Orlando Film Festival. Of course I’m going...

And that led to Tuesday
which saw me chatting with John Coffey, one of the stars of TGKE. After confirming with director Thomas L. Phillips, it appears that I’ll be reviewing yet another award winning indie flick he is in. This one is from Tstreetfilms and called Quite A Conundrum.

I also spoke with Jeremiah Baumbach at about reviewing his HorrorscapeS party DVD, a collection of shocking and fear filled horror scenes. Great for any boo bash, a screener is on the way and watch for the review right here on Staying Scared.

On Wednesday I received a photo from Kyra Schon signed “They’re coming to get you Thomas.” Kyra was the little girl who used a pointed concrete trowel to gruesomely stab her mother to death in Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead. It’s now hanging on my wall and one of my prized possessions.

He once said he would never make another zombie flick unless it was
Well, this concept must be absolutely terrifying.
Thursday evening I sent an email to Tom Savini, the Romero protégé, FX master of the macabre and director of the 1990 version of Night of the Living Dead. He is gearing up to make another zombie flick called Tom Savini’s Death Island and is seeking fans’ help in financing in order to keep creative control. If all we dead fans contribute just a little each, you know, maybe a finger or a toe, all this green flesh is certain to add up and afford him the opportunity to give us what is certain to be a gruesome fearfest.
 Did I mention that he’s willing to give away some neat stuff too?
find out more here
He’s currently scouting locations around Florida and since I happen to live here, I boldly requested playing a zombie part. Far cry from a clown I know…but I’ll bet the flesh tastes the same.
Fingers are hacked off and crossed. Mwhahahahahahah
(Update: Received a personal email suggesting to be on the watch for the casting call)

Of course, besides all this, I wrote and submitted the next Land of Shadow & Substance piece, worked on chapter 20 of my novel, put some final touches on two more tales and Willie got his foamy red nose caught in the pages of the new issue of Dark Discoveries.
Dark Discoveries #24

Oh yeah…almost forgot…worked 6 days too. No rest for the wicked…he he…suppose I'll get plenty of sleep when I’m dead…
Wait...I am Dead...What the hell!

And so, here we are at the small hours of Friday morning’s Staying Scared posting. While it’s far too early to tell what the next week will bring, I'm hoping it will be hideously similar.
Be sure to occasionally lurk by Staying Scared for upcoming reviews, news and the occasional tale and maybe even bookmark to get your horror on.

Until next week Ghouls, Goblins and Creepy Things,
Stay Scared,

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Peeking Under the Bed

At first glance of Mike J. Larson’s cover artwork of Under the Bed Vol. 1 No. 12, it appears as nothing more than a pastel vintage nightmare born of sea monkey ads from the back of comic books. But, peer closer fellow Creeps, for deep into this fantastic artwork lies fear and is only the beginning of the trepidation that lurks beneath the surface…

Matthew Nichols’ Waiting for Ezra is a frenzied, gruesome tale of sibling rivalry told in flashbacks by an aged gentleman whose childhood memories are nothing less than horrifying. With shotgun ready, he patiently sits on the porch of his childhood home, watching the backyard lake for an inevitable return. More on this Illinois writer can be found at

Doward Stevens’ Leaves reads like a crime novel as a mob enforcer / hitman, now under the witness protection program, is burdened daily with finding and clearing leaves scattered about the yard. The perplexity of it is that there are no trees nearby.

In Jonathan Woodrow’s dark speculative tale The Wastelands, not all angels are pristine white. Some are simply dismal and joyless…and deviant.

Table for Twelve by Nathaniel Tower is a rather intriguing tale surrounding, as the title suggests, twelve men sitting around a table playing a vicious, forced game of numbers overseen and directed by a mysterious game master named Renald. While this tale will suck in the reader, the ending seemed to be a bit of a letdown. Of course, don’t let this deter you, for the tale is intense. I wanted more and found it at

Phantasmagoria by Grant Gougler takes you on a last carnival ride and it’s not going to be all that much fun. Find Grant at
(Author’s Note: My worse half, the sinful and malicious clown Wee Willie Wicked took a real liking to this piece. I suppose it was the carnival thing.)

Being a more than average fan of Night of the Living Dead, I thoroughly enjoyed the article A Tale of Two Barbra’s - Feminism and Zombie Films (first seen in Zombie Zone News in 2010). This refreshing compare and contrast take on the Barbra role using the Romero 1968 classic and the 1990 Tom Savini remake explores similarities differences in the two, touching on emotion and era differences.

The art showcase features Aaryk Noctivagus’ Cornucopia and includes an in depth interview with the artist where he allows readers to enter his creative mind.

Coincidently, cover artist Michael Larson also adds his flair at the conclusion of each tale and there is a tongue in cheek interview with this most talented, unsettling and eerie influenced artist.

Under the Bed is a monthly e-publication combining literary horror, art, opinion, commentary, interviews and independent film reviews. Often seeking contributors, submissions should be directed to and for more information visit Managing Editor Wednesday Lee Friday gladly accepts questions and/or comments and can be contacted at
Visit their Facebook page at or tweet them @Under_the_bed.

Until next time Ghouls and Goblins and Creepy Things,
Stay Scared

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Horror of Stress

Most every driver has experienced it and when it occurs, it can send a jolt of terror right down one’s spine. Absolute true horror…

Last Friday started off as usual; get up, write for an hour, take a shower, dress and head off to work. Stopping at the most convenient spot along the way, a large gas station, again nothing appeared unusual as I picked up my mandatory two cans of green tea, a bottle of juice, a banana and a medium coffee. Why so many drinks? My job is rather hot and besides keeping a steady supply of water flowing, the flavors break the monotony. Of course, there are many times when simply wet is a wonderful thing and taste has nothing to do with it, but that’s another story. Regardless, my stock for the day obtained, back to the car I went.

Interstate 95 runs right alongside this station and so I easily turned on the entrance ramp, headed north and set the cruise control for the eight-mile journey ahead of me.

 Flipping over the plastic cover lid on the disposable coffee cup, I took a sip. The robust Columbian flavor meshing with the hazelnut creamer tasted especially well and I took another. No sooner had I done so when the car’s electronic door locks mysteriously clicked up and then back down. Perplexed, I set the cup in the console holder. To say it was odd would be an understatement and a collision of fear and bewilderment filled my head, pondering why something that should never occur while traveling at seventy miles an hour…did.

Not long after, within a mile or so, this occurred again, but this time my cruise control kicked off, the speedometer flat lined and the car appeared to have lost all power. I lifted my foot off the gas pedal and started to pull over when, all of a sudden as if it was some demented practical joke, everything went back to normal. Thoughts of possession entered my mind and the humor of it made me nervously chuckle. And, with everything operating normal, I pushed on.

Lo and behold, wouldn’t you know that a mile before the first of two exits I pass daily, this all happened again, far worse this time; lugging, back to normal, lugging, back to normal and so I pulled over, called my boss to give him the veritable bad news and sat on the side of the road pondering probably needing a tow.

For whatever reason, I turned the key over and the car started right up and ran unfazed. Now, I was really starting to wonder. This wasn’t like, say, a water pump or an alternator, which coincidently being the part-time backyard mechanic, I am able to easily diagnose and fix. These symptoms were completely off the chart…definitely electronic…and most assuredly something that required much more than my standard automotive expertise.

I turned on the hazard lights, did a U-turn at the exit, remained off the edge of the beaten path and gradually worked my way back the way I had come at the tremendous speed of twenty-five miles an hour. All the while the car kept going back and forth, from normal to extreme problem and back. It wasn’t overheating or anything that excessive and so I kept inching along.
Along the way, I pondered where I was going. After all, there was no way I was going to rectify this in my driveway, even if I did have a rather large set of tools.

There are a number of shops around the area and any one of them could have probably fixed this problem, but this one single place kept invading my mind, not because I had experienced with them, but because I had simply chatted with the proprietor a couple of times in passing and he seemed like a rather good fellow; and honest person who just so happened to have recently opened a garage not far from my home.

Now, as most will probably attest, a good mechanic is an absolute in this day and age, and an honest one is even more important. So, when you happen to stumble on one that incorporates both qualities, one has a tendency to become faithful.

Regardless, I was able to drive the car to the shop and for the next fifteen or so minutes, we brainstormed the problem. I don’t mind saying that all the while I was feeling more and more at ease. His knowledge was impressive and although I suspected, regardless of where the work was done, that any bill would be in the neighborhood of an arm and half a leg, I decided to give him a chance, keep the business where it needed to belong…in a small, hometown shop; something that is desperately needed in today’s economy.

The mechanic’s name is Mike Lanahan, but I refer to him as, call it a horror thing if you will, Dr. Mikenstein, and his shop is called Accurate Automotive.

Well, to make a long story short, it was one of my wiser decisions. Dr. Mikenstein was nothing less than meticulous, taking great care of my vehicle. The needed part was something out of the ordinary and while it did take a few days to orchestrate the overall job, he did his best in getting me back on the road in a timely fashion.

Having telephoned a few times prior to work completion, there was only once was Mike was unable to come to the phone and his joyful wife Teri took over the duties, being most helpful. Coincidently, I might add that at the time, according to Teri, Mike was elbow deep in grease, dirt and who knows what else. From experience, I pictured a wrench slipping and sliding around in a hand covered in blackened sludge.

Then came the day when it was all finished. My horror was almost over, all except for the yellow sheet of paper…the bill.

As I glanced over it, reading dollar numbers for parts and labor, I couldn’t help but to smile. It wasn’t what I was expecting; under what he initially quoted and initially I thought it was wrong. Of course, I wasn’t going to argue either and as I reached for my wallet, the dread fluttered away.

So, the moral of the story is this; when, and there will always be a when if you’re an automobile owner, when I need a mechanic, I won’t hesitate nor think twice. It’ll be off to Dr. Mikenstein I’ll be a going.

Friday, August 9, 2013

It's the Zombiepalooza Show

Hiya Ghouls, tonight’s the night I’ll be on Jackie Chin’s ZombiePalooza Show at I have the 9 to 10 pm slot and will be live to answer questions or just talk horror. The call in number is 330-974-1679 and there is a chat board there too. So, creep on by flesh eaters and fear lovers. This should be gruesomely fun…

Friday, August 2, 2013

Interview with a Monster - The Phantom File

(Author's Note) This is the fourth of my ongoing Interview with a Monster series from the June 2013 issue of Suspense Magazine.

Interview with a Monster – The Phantom File
by Thomas Scopel

While I can’t say operatic music is my thing, monsters are, and therefore, I must admit that the Phantom is what truly drew me to beautiful clear voices filled with emotion in the first place. However, the awe when stepping into the Paris Opera House nearly forced me to forget my objective. From the massive and majestic chandelier hanging high in the center, to the heavy, red velvet curtains draping the walls, to the delicate fringed screen hiding the stage, I felt as if I had been transported back in time over a hundred years and began to wonder how horror could possibly have infected something so profound and beautiful. Prior, having researched this phantom quite substantially, there were tale conflictions, with some accusing fire and others blaming chemicals for his disfigurement. I intended to take it straight to the soprano’s mouth and obtain the true answer. Nonetheless, as the lights went down and curtains parted, I nearly lost myself with the exquisite opening voice. So much for not being a fan! Regardless, I managed to regain focus as the evening’s dramatic melodies unfolded, surging both high and low, and made a conscious effort to continually look into the shadows.

From my balcony seat I was able to overlook all the stage and much of the rising catwalks circling the perimeter up to the rafters and there was one instance when, while scrutinizing the small walkway leading to the darkened area directly above the hall’s crystal centerpiece, I thought I had seen a lurking and crouching silhouette. Squinting hard trying to verify what my eyes indicated, I cursed my fine arts ignorance of not stopping in the lobby to rent a pair of those long stemmed binoculars like many others had. Faintly considering going to obtain a pair, I didn’t, assuming that by the time I made it back, he, if in fact it was him, would probably be gone. And besides, etiquette dictated that rising and leaving during a performance would be rude and draw attention. And so, I just kept watch.

The third act began and drawn to the changed set of a lovely meadow with a well-built wishing well at the center, I lost sight of my quest again, but just for a moment. When I realized and peered back at the chandelier, with the set’s lighting change, the shadow now appeared to be nothing of interest and I put it from my mind.

As a soprano contralto duet cascaded upon the audience, I looked about into every dark nook and cranny, seeking anything resembling someone quietly watching from the obscurities. But there was none.

The program ended and I must admit to being more than a little disappointed. It had been my first and I suspected to soon visit again, but only when able to offer complete undivided attention. As the crowd filed away up through the aisles and into the lobby, I remained seated, watching and waiting to implement my strategy.

Previously, I had thought long and hard about where to hide until the place was empty and quiet. At first, considering the obvious, the restroom, but quickly ruled out the notion assuming that ushers was certain to explore the area before turning down the lights. A few days later, while taking in a film, I stumbled upon an enticing potential solution after noticing the walls, or rather, the loose curtains which covered them. Draped from ceiling to floor, nearly perfect for hiding behind, it was probably a better than average assumption that the opera house’s version would be much grander. And, I was correct.

Before long, both the balcony box and the theatre were void of patrons and I was at the wall feeling about seeking a seam to slip behind. The heavy, thick material wasn’t all that forgiving, but it did have some maneuverability and I found what I sought.

Hidden behind, careful to remain still, I moved only on occasion to glance down at my exposed black loafers, watching and waiting for the light reflection to fade. I heard someone moving about through the immediate area and since the lights were still up, could only assume that it was an usher. While positive my forced curtain misshapenness would easily be noticeable to anyone strongly looking, I was hopeful no one would, and obviously, they didn’t.

Mostly holding my breath, not wanting to cause a ripple to flow through the sheeting, only taking little puffs of air when needed, I waited and listened. Twenty minutes went by and with sweat beginning to trickle in a continuous stream down the sides of my face, the echoing click of a power breaker switch being thrown was a relief. Looking down at my feet again, they were in near total darkness.

Out from behind the curtain, the cool air was refreshing and wonderful and I savored the moment to allow the perspiration to begin evaporating. I overlooked the emptiness of the place and was glad to see the chandelier, center aisle walkway and front stage lighting still lit, but set very low.

I went to the double doors leading out of the balcony hoping that the stairwell leading down to the main lobby would be relatively the same, dimly lit, but, it wasn’t. Stepping through and allowing the doors to swing closed behind, I found myself bathed in total darkness and a shiver went down my spine. Fumbling for the penlight flashlight I had had the forethought to bring, its beam brought courage as it aided in my trek down a side of the massive double sided staircase. At the bottom I turned right and found another set of double swinging doors that led into the main seating area and just as I pushed through them I heard it!

Already being familiar with the instrument’s basic sound, I was surprised at how it suddenly affected and chilled me to the bone, causing me to become frozen in my tracks. I listened and realized that it wasn’t the overall sound per se that frightened, it was the dark and intense choice of notes I could only assume came from one musician. Somewhat muffled, the sound came from below but remained authoritative and powerful, reverberating throughout, the hall’s acoustics doing it justice.

With the gloomy tones bellowing I followed the glow of the floor track lighting down the center aisle ramp to the stage. The closer I became, the more the organ’s vibrations flowed into me. By the time I reached the stage, both my feet and lower extremities were tingling with each note.

Now, before entering the building this evening, hope garnered at meeting this so called phantom, but in reality didn’t fully seat. But, now standing at the front of the stage, this concept changed and I became nearly certain a meeting was inevitable if I could somehow follow the sound to him. My concerns quickly turned to whether or not I wanted to risk traversing the channels underneath this two-hundred plus year old building. The thought caused confliction when considering that, for many years, numerous folks considerably more knowledgeable of the catacombs had tried in vain. The thought was deterring, but after swallowing the fear, I started pondering where an entrance might be located.

Assuming backstage was a good place to start I attempted to scale the edge of the stage, which, from my balcony seat, didn’t appear all that high. But, looks are deceiving and it took me a couple of tries before I was finally able to drag myself up onto it.

Clambering to my feet, I turned around and looked back into the arena. While only being able to see into the first ten or so rows, I still could fully imagine the grandeur a performer must have felt in front of a packed house. Shaking off the opulence and turning about face I glanced at both sides of the stage, unsure which route to take, but finally decided to go right.

Taking a single step forward, the organ suddenly stopped and I found myself in the deathly silence. Fear, like none I’ve ever felt before invaded. Without the sound’s lead, all hope was lost and I stood there praying for those demented tones to once again permeate, but they never did. After a few minutes of feeling vulnerable and lost, I decided to abandon the quest and turned back toward the front edge of the stage. A baritone voice from the opposite side of the stage asked, “What is it you seek?”

Thinking it was my final act, I searched for an answer, but the words never came.

“What is it you seek?” the voice asked again, louder than before.

I slide the button of my flashlight on and shined the beam toward the direction the voice came. He stood there silently and dark, peering back from behind a dingy white, half mask.

“I…I…I…you.” Obviously my mouth and tongue weren’t in compatible and I swallowed hard, thinking of something intelligent to say.

“I beckon to know why you have come here?” he asked, stepping off to the side into the shadows and away from my artificial beam.

Still unable to find words, he came toward me, his hard shoe heels clicking evenly against the wooden floor and echoing through the silence.

Standing before me, the soft stage lights reflected off the side of his mask making him appear quite menacing and I was finally able to found my speech and blurted out, “I want to interview you for a monster series I’m writing.”

“Monster series!” he cried out and I was taken aback. “I am no monster, contrary to what is believed or told in the tabloids. Of course, while I don’t deny causing death, I still contend it was for love, not like Jack the Ripper going about slicing up and butchering innocents. Does that make me a monster?”

It was clear he was agitated and I countered with logic. “It’s not for me to judge and I only request an audience to converse.”

His head bowed, as if searching the floor and while he held no weapon that I could see, I was still unsure of his intentions and a combination of both fear and compassion filled me. I was about to reiterate my stance, reinforcing my keeping the mystery surrounding and maintaining confidentiality when he looked up and again spoke.

“Follow me.”

He turned and started off the direction he had come and, hesitant at first, I followed. Off the side of the stage and through a maze of backstage hallways we went before coming to a large, iron grate. With a yank, the hinges squealed and it opened. He offered me entrance. With great leeriness, only after quickly deducing that had he wanted to dispose of me the deed would probably have already been done, I accepted and stepped into the arched stone passage.

He pulled the door closed with a loud clang before squeezing by me and once again taking the lead. After a number of steps, we went down a set of concrete stairs and by the time we reached the bottom the temperature had cooled and a preponderance of dampness, filled with the odor of burnt mold and mildew became profound. Rounding a corner, orange light flickered against the wall ahead making the passageway glimmer, and we continued on around another corner where he stopped at a cradle holding a flaming torch and removed it. The scene was entirely medieval as we continued on into the darkness that lay ahead. Faintly considering using my flashlight again, second thought decided to save what battery was left, just in case it was needed to exit.

Screams of scampering frightened rats filled the air when entering a large, central area with similar looking tunnels jetting off in all directions. To say it appeared daunting would be an understatement and I became acutely aware that had I somehow managed to make it this far, this labyrinth would probably have spelled out calamity, misfortune and doom, and therefore, I was grateful for his assistance.

We splashed through a shallow flowing stream and into another tunnel. After a straight section we scaled ten or twelve heavily worn aged steps of a stone staircase. At the top we entered into a good sized room that appeared to be no more of a bricked or stoned cave, complete with flaming torches donning the perimeter walls. On the opposite side of the room, up on a level plateau above a jagged and worn pathway was the organ, nestled up against a glistening sheer rock wall.

Although it seemed to be leaning slightly, this easily could have been an optical illusion due to the imperfect lighting, but there was no doubt to its majesty. I wondered how such a massive instrument had come to be in such a place and glanced up at the ceiling, questioning how the sound appeared so vibrant when permeating the opera house. Concluding that we must have somehow circled about, coming to finish directly below the grand stage, it all made perfect sense and I viewed the tunnels we had traversed as his version of a blindfold; an attempt to keep his sanctuary a secret.

He may have very well seen my quiet disclosure, but said not a word and confidently scaled the path. Taking a seat at the organ’s bench with his back to me, he began to play and was quite animated doing so, the black cape fluttering about with each movement. A crystal vase of long dead roses stood alongside a flickering, eight tiered candelabra atop the instrument and that, in conjunction with the dark notes he played, gave the overall scene a macabre feel.

I reached in my pocket and flipped on the micro-recorder, only hoping to capture for future conveyance some small shred of the emotion flowing heavily through the room. It beeped and he immediately stopped playing, turned and looked at me. While I couldn’t clearly see his eyes from behind the mask, I did notice that the right one was drooping and odd looking and the gaze caused a chill. Still griping the recorder in my pocket, I flipped the switch to off. It beeped again and like a light switch, he turned and went back to playing. After the impromptu concert for one, he rose and came to me. “Tell me, what is it you seek?”

Now, while my initial thought of wanting to ask him to remove the mask and show what was underneath was certainly morbid, I didn’t stoop to that level and simply asked, “What is your real name?”

He grinned ever so slightly. I could tell you, but it is insignificant. And, since I’ve gained considerably more fame wearing a mask, please, if you will, address me as Phantom.

“There is no doubt that the mask has done just that. Is it an extension of your feelings?”

After looking in a mirror and seeing how burnt and disfigured I was, the mask was the only way to hide my gruesome appearance; make me appear more normal; allow me to look upon myself again. However, people can be rather cruel and it rapidly added an unintended consequence, which I’m sure you are aware. That is when the phantom persona came about.

“Why, I would think that with your expert caliber of playing, any opera house would be proud to have you…even with the mask and murder hanging over your head.”

Fear is what stops them. Believe me, if I could take it all back, I would. I went a little crazy after the accident. Nonetheless, the stigma will now forever reign and therefore, my destiny is to remain hidden down here with the rats and the worms.

“What brought you to this place? How did you find it?”

After the acid was tossed on me, I stumbled blindly into these sewers, continuing downward through the darkness, my palms leading the way and eventually collapsed into a vibrantly flowing trench.” (He pointed to a darkened area of the room and I saw the rippling stream flowing by.) “When I awoke, I was laying in this room…my coffin…my tomb.

My empathy grew and an odd notion of aid compelled as I considered attempting to smuggle this man into the U.S., intent on proudly presenting him before the New York Opera House where I hoped they would overlook past transgressions and accept both him and his skill. However, I dismissed the thought as fast as it came, knowing that would never occur.

How did the organ get to this terribly lonely place?

It was an old discard, left draped and covered in the house’s back room. I learned of it while being part of the production. It dates from the late seventeen hundreds. With my passion sorely missed, night after night and piece by piece was brought here. By day, cleaning and polishing, assure working order and rebuilding. Eventually, my task was complete. Playing that first note was nothing short of exquisite and I found myself giddily. Over time though, a growing sense of seclusion invaded and the songs now reflect.

Just as I was about to ask where he studied, he abruptly turned and went back to the organ, but didn’t sit down. With arms stretched wide, he played four single notes. Not well versed in the art of music tablature, I am unable to tell you whether the notes were an a, b, c, or d, but can add that the first was an extremely low note, followed by an equally opposite high note and then another low and then another high. However, the notation isn’t

He reached up and clutched the candelabra’s base and went to the opening, which didn’t look much different than what we had previously negotiated. With a gentle wave of his hand, he beckoned for me to follow and stepped into the passageway. And, I did.

The path spiraled wide, with a gradual upward sloping and I was gentle with my steps, maintaining assured footing on the damp and slick rock. A number of passages along the way led off into darkness, but being more concerned with keeping up with his long strides and the light he carried, I strode past them with little glance.

At the end we came to a decrepit but sturdy heavy wooden door loaded with webs from long gone spiders. He reached out, clasped the knob, turned and pulled. The door broke free and creaked open in a cloud of dust. A draped cloth covered the opposite side opening and he sat the candelabra on a nearby ledge before reaching toward the cloth. A seam parted and as he held it open for me, I saw beyond and realized exactly where we were.

Stepping through the doorway onto the rear of the opera house’s stage, behind a row of permanent lampposts was a bittersweet relief. Before I was able to turn around and face him, of the corner of my eye, his mask came sliding by on the floor the door slammed shut. I whirled around only to see the red velvet wall covering’s final ripples and was amazed at how inconspicuously hidden this door was.

Bathed in soft glow of stage lighting, I went and picked up the mask, held it to my face and peered out from behind it. A secluded, lonely and trapped feeling overwhelmed and I drew it away, but still clutched it tightly. I looked toward the stage side and saw the bright red letters spelling out E-X-I-T above a door. Offering one last glance around, I stepped toward the door and the organ again began playing. While the dark and dreary tones remained, I couldn’t help but to smile and at the door I listened for a few more minutes before letting myself out into the evening drizzle. Tucking the mask under my jacket, I contently walked away, down the dark alley.

At home, while typing up this piece, compassionate scars of our meeting remained, something I assumed would be lifelong. Of course, in the event of forgetfulness, I need only offer glance to the top shelf of the curio cabinet for reminding.

With my first rewrite completed, I went to the kitchen for a replenishing snack of cheese and crackers. Back at the desk I finished both the snack and the tale. When I pushed away from the desk, the mess of crumbs fell from my lap to the floor below and I went and fetched the broom. Not only did the broom clean the mess, but also forced a preponderance of thought toward the next installment, to a clan of characters that may very well be the most terrifying of all and quite capable of attacking without being near. While I’ve never actually studied witchcraft, I’m going to at least delve and probably start with a trip to Salem.