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Hotel Fear: Haunted House Stories

I haven’t been to too many haunted houses in my time, which is a shame: the thrills of a ridiculous and macabre haunted attraction are great fun. And stress-relieving! You can scream and it’s expected, considered better than applause. There just aren’t many haunts of quality around my hometown: I went to the “Judgement House” once in high school, but that was a dreadful experience full of religious admonishment. While I was in Japan, I unfortunately missed out on the Haunted Hospital (which is actually housed in a creepy old hospital). At least I’ve managed to get to NetherWorld in Atlanta (good fun, amazingly elaborate, but a bit busy).

I do have ONE great haunted house story to my name.

About ten years ago, the Zombie Hunter in the Desert and I got to go to an excellent little Vegas joint: Hotel Fear. It was one of those ubiquitous haunted houses that pop up all over the place around Halloween. The atmosphere Hotel Fear managed to put together was impressive, with a disfigured doorman riddled with nails and bolts at the entrance, to an exit passage echoing with chainsaws and screams. Laughing and screaming guests surged out at intervals.


(Note: I don’t remember it looking like this when we went in 2005.)

Jamelle and I arrived around seven, after it was dark, and secured tickets from a very serious woman who admonished “No refunds!” with every sale. We joined the sizable line snaking through the parking lot, watching the screamers who ran out of the attraction. Hotel Fear paced their groups, as any good haunted attraction should: they let in groups of about six people, allowed them to get part way through, then let loose the next party. The six-person group was a requirement, which meant smaller groups – like the duo of Jamelle and me – would be combined with some other guests. We realized this with some “oh hell no” trepidation while standing in line, sandwiched between two groups of four. Behind us stood a family of four, father reeking of alcohol and children squalling. The most offensive crap kept coming out of that dude’s mouth. His son copied him loudly, braying he bet the supposed chainsaws we heard were just leaf blowers. (Spoiler: they weren’t.) When it came time to choose, Jamelle and I leapt at the chance to go with the four trash-talking ten-year-old boys in front of us.

Yeah, these four little boys talked big. One of them had toured Hotel Fear earlier in the afternoon, so he was confident he knew where all the tricks were. (Apparently one of his dad’s friends worked on the crew or something.) They were raucous and bold and joking about how stupid the whole thing was. But it only took walking up to the door for cracks to show in their bravado. Before we even went in, the boys kept turning to us, saying we could go in front and that they were thankful we’d ended up in their group. Ten-year-olds, y’all.

The doorman, leering with his leech and bolt-covered face down at the kids, unceremoniously ushered us inside and slammed the door behind us. We stood in a dimly-lit and small reception area, where they’d managed to encourage pooling shadows in all the corners. A reception desk stood at the brightest point of light. No one was behind it. A stack of luggage rattled immediately next to us, and a well-dressed if macabre concierge crawled and undulated across the floor to the desk. Or maybe he was a bellhop. Either way. As he went, he harangued us in a high-pitched and otherworldly screech; he moved and sounded EXACTLY like Bengé from Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. Once behind the desk, the figure drew himself up straight, and demanded, “WHY HAVE YOU COME TO HOTEL FEEEAR?!”


The boys had immediately quailed into me and Jamelle, nearly clinging to our waists. It wasn’t even a moment before one boy yelled back in a shaky voice. “Because we paid! The lady said no refunds!”

I almost died with laughter. It was classic. Mirth danced in the concierge-hop’s eyes, but he managed to keep a sinister face on, urging us on into the hotel’s many bizarre and disturbing rooms.

And then it was a breathless and exciting trip through Hotel Fear, alternating creeping with dashing through the haunted house. At first Jamelle and I were behind the boys, but the kids’ general response to the monsters and surprises was to freeze and not move anywhere. Let me tell you, it’s hard as hell to shove against four ten-year-olds rooted with fear. And get them moving again? Please. It’s easier to drag a mule.

hotelfear2One kid kept trying to stay behind us all and, like an idiot, I told him that it “was worse to be the last.” Next thing I knew, I was shoved to the front and forced to lead the way into every pitch-black or strobe-lit room. The kids were a tight-packed conga line behind me, with Jamelle at the rear. At every door, I had to remind myself to be the adult, and STILL found myself saying crap like “Two of us should go together!” Hotel Fear was proper scary, okay? But Jamelle gave me one of those “seriously, what the fuck” looks by merely saying my name, and I straightened up quick. The boys’ bravado was utterly gone.

Apparently, my reaction to jump scares in-the-room-right-now is to turn into a crab. (And press A.) I duck and cover my head with my arms, then scuttle sideways and forward. It’s a valid choice, even if not proper conga line etiquette. And that’s how we proceeded, albeit with a few hiccups – like in the pitch black hallway with sudden turns, when I got crushed into a wall by a four ten-year-old pile-up. I had to explain my movements out loud to get the quivering kids to follow me through, as otherwise they dragged me back.

The final gamut was a crowd of terrifying characters, from broken doll women to mad scientists in high heels to scarecrow folks and unhinged surgeons, before an unevenly lit corridor haunted by chainsaw-wielding maniacs. I refused to run out, though the kids broke cover and hightailed it. I walked briskly after, my pulse beating a terror staccato. Jamelle jogged on in high spirits (she’s always been one hell of a horror fan).

Hotel Fear was legit. That’s all I can say.

(And it’s still around! Be sure to visit if you’re in Las Vegas during the Halloween season.)

Now: Come one, come all! Step up and don’t be shy! Let’s hear about your best and worst haunted house experiences!


Weekly Round-Up

Yep, it was another week of writing behind the scenes on projects yet to be published! This happens often to the working writer. However, I should have some publications to share soon, and I’m putting together a special Halloween freebie to drop in the last weekend of October. You can make sure you don’t miss it by signing up for my biweekly newsletter: look to your right. The sign-up form is in my sidebar.

Things that I read: 

A Tale of Two Rulers, being a web comic by my friend Lorraine Schleter. It is by turns funny, dark, and touching – and altogether a great read for any fans of The Legend of Zelda.
You Really Have No Idea Who the Villain of Frozen Is,” being a hilariously convoluted theory by Steve Wetherell at Cracked.
This Storify of “Seanan McGuire on #NationalComingOutDay,” being full of important words.

Thing that I made: 


This week’s Whiteboard Weirdness features a pune, or play on words! The adorably macabre reference illustration is “Headless Cat” by Siamés Escalante, who is doing #30scarycats on Instagram.

Things that I’m excited about:







Click the pics if you fancy purchasing any of the above! I get a modest kickback from Amazon if you do.


Costumes of Halloween Past

My mom is one of those creative DIY types that’s super great at Halloween. My brothers and I basically never had a store-bought costume, and pretty much never wanted one – except for that time I lobbied hard for a pair of cat ears attached to a headband to have one just like my best friend. Honestly, though, if we weren’t wearing something homemade, we were wearing something inherited – just ask me about the one Halloween I was alienated by my peers for being a mothball-smelling bunny, or the time my middle brother went as a perfect miniature matador.

There were so many glorious Halloweens of trick-or-treating in detailed and creative costumes! One year, I insisted on going as the Childlike Empress from The NeverEnding Story – and my mom pulled it off with a bunch of spare silk, bobby pins, and costume jewelry. Another (much earlier) year, she turned me into a bag of M&Ms with a transparent trash bag and a bunch of balloons. (Which she filled with helium. When I was TINY. I think she just wanted to see me float.) On yet another, she made me a mermaid costume that involved sewing me into the tail on Halloween night. It was so sparkly! But hard to walk in.

Then there’s this gem from the mid-90’s:


My costume wasn’t elaborate that year, and no one knew what I was anyway. I dressed up as a Wolfwalker from Tara K. Harper’s book of the same name, so mostly I ran around chaperoning my brothers in a cape with a sword and a hopefully inscrutable expression. Sans wolf, sadly. My brothers, though! They were big fans of Biker Mice from Mars that year, and mom came up with their costumes on the fly while dealing with 4 kids AND working nights as an ER nurse. Those helmets are styrofoam and plastic wrap, and they’ve even got the gloves (with one pseudo-metal arm on bro #2). The only thing missing was an eye-patch. My brothers were so chuffed; hell, I’m still impressed decades later.

My mom is among the best at Halloween, is what I’m saying.

Now that I have a wee nephew about the place, I’m looking forward to seeing what all of us can collaborate on for his future Halloweens. I’m sure whatever costumes may come, they’re going to be amazing.

Hit the comments to share your impressive costumes of Halloween past!


10 Great Halloween Movies, Vampire Edition

It’s October 11th! Which means we’re 11 nights in to my month of #HalloweenWatches, where I pick a seasonally-appropriate film each night and watch it. Often on Twitter, with GIFs and quotes and commentary galore. It’s been a bit hit or miss this year, but no longer! I’ll probably put Dracula’s Horror Bordello on tonight, and you’re all invited – plus I’m sharing 9 of my other favorite vampire films below.

I used to hate scary movies. In fact, I still pretty much hate scary movies – the ones with jump scares, anyway. I’m not fond of slasher flicks, dolls coming to life give me the heebie-jeebies, and ghost stories put my imagination on overdrive and freak me the fuck out.

(Seriously. Here’s an anecdote: I bought The Grudge on a vacation home in America because I was trying to overcome my fear of ghost movies and it had Sarah Michelle Gellar in it– I was in a phase. Anyway, I wouldn’t watch the movie until I was back in Japan because, by obscure logic, I assumed it took place in America – being an American remake of the Japanese horror film. I thought being in a foreign area would make it less scary. HAH! THE FILM IS SET IN TOKYO! And not only is it set in Tokyo, but it was filmed near some of my favorite places, so I recognized tons of landmarks. GOOD TIMES. I didn’t sleep for two days.)

However, for some reason, creature flicks have never fallen under the same personal ruling as general scary movies. That means that I hunger after vampire movies and werewolf movies and mummy movies (some mummy movies, anyway) and etc. Creature features are my fave.

Let’s get this bloodsucking film fest started! Here are 10 of my favorite vampire flicks*:

vampire-tlb1. The Lost Boys

I formed an attachment to this film as a kid. To the point where I begged for a Siberian Husky stuffed animal just so I could name it Nanook. The whole gang of misunderstood youth plus being tempted to the dark side plus oddball humor plus family togetherness with a Siberian Husky as the family dog plus hot vampires really appealed to me. Also, this was my bestie’s and my jam. I’m not sure how many times we watched this together on the phone.


vampire-iwtv2. Interview with the Vampire

I also saw this film (the theatre scene, anyway) at a tender age. The sensuality and danger of the vampirism on that screen sank deep hooks into my psyche, which probably worried my mother. Add to that the fact that I got into the books, completely loved Lestat, and built an amusing past-time out of arguing with J over the relative merits and flaws of her beloved (Louis) and mine makes Interview with the Vampire a shoo-in for the favorites list.

3. Love at First Bite

Now, my mama actually raised me on this film. I don’t remember how young I was when I first saw Love at First Bite, but I do know that I cut my teeth on the humor and story conventions of films from the 70’s such as this. Obviously, the female lead in this film choosing to leave her known (and empty) life to run off with the vampire has skewed me in some very fundamental ways. These days, when given a choice in a narrative, I almost always choose the monster** too.

vampire-vhd4. Vampire Hunter D

This film was one of my first introductions to anime – and it was a hell of an introduction at that! I remember coming in half-way through the broadcast of this on Sci-Fi Channel one Saturday morning. I was completely enthralled. Super dark, the vampires were actually terrifying, and young me found the main character enthralling. (I know it’s not widely favored, but I love Bloodlust too. Especially since it’s inspired a bit by Carmilla.)

vampire-btvs5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

My Buffy fandom runs deep, and I’ve got a lot of feelings about the show. I’ve also got a lot of love for the film from 1992 starring Kristy Swanson. My mom and I would watch this one together whenever it was on, laughing with all the snark and camp. So Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s on this list out of complete appreciation for what it is, in addition to its role as progenitor to Buffy the series.

vampire-fn6. Fright Night

Y’all knew this one was going to be on here. (The original, that is.) It’s one of the best #HalloweenWatches, featuring a disturbingly attractive Chris Sarandon, a hilarious and affirming Roddy McDowall, and the best parts of the vampire genre – strange neighbors, unconventional research, seduction and surrender, pop culture appraisal, and boy who cried wolf situations. It’s dated, but it’s still great fun.

vampire-mbfiav7. My Best Friend Is a Vampire

It always cracks me up to see Robert Sean Leonard (Neil Perry? Claudio? Dr. James Wilson, is that you?) as a teenage vampire. I probably shouldn’t enjoy this film as much as I do, but it’s one of my guilty pleasures. It’s got that nostalgia factor – I can remember staying up late to watch it by myself when I was 10 or so. I always thought it was brilliant that some vampires were just people trying to get by, picking up pig’s blood on special from the local butcher.

vampire-bsd8. Dracula’s Horror Bordello

Okay, so this is not technically the title of the film. Technically, the title of the film is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. See, I have this habit of renaming movies that do not match their source material. For example, I, Robot‘s real title is Will Smith – Action Robot Movie, or WS-ARM for short. Queen of the Damned is actually Queen of the Darned. And Bram Stoker’s Dracula is actually Dracula’s Horror Bordello. The film is GREAT. I love it, but it’s just not Bram Stoker’s novel. It’s actually the closest we’ve come to getting in film, but the romance plot sets it firmly apart. Regardless, I will watch this movie every October – the atmosphere is masterful, the Victorian setting wonderful, and almost all the acting is superb. Gary Oldman is my favorite Dracula, hand’s down.

vampire-wwdits9. What We Do In the Shadows

I tend to really enjoy mockumentaries, and this one about vampires was no exception. It’s eminently GIFable, too. The film pretty much perfectly captures the main stereotypes of vampires, while still communicating the horror of vampire existence. It’s funny and awful and disturbing by turns, which is exactly what is called for. Plus, you know, werewolves not swearwolves.

vampire-bii10. Blade II

And you thought we’d get through this list without a Guillermo del Toro film. Blade was fun. Blade II was better. Wesley Snipes continues to be a bad-ass as the Daywalker. Ron Pearlman gets to rock my world as a cocky, snarky son of a bitch. There’s a kick-ass vampire princess. And one of the vampires’ own schemes gone awry fucks up one of their old vampiric dynasties. Amidst an international backdrop. Really, it just does my little heart good.

Alright, it’s your turn. Hit the comments and tell me your favorite vampire flicks – maybe we can even schedule a Twitter livetweet of the most popular!


* This list is not in any particular order.

** For certain values of “monster,” anyway.

Note: if you make a purchase through any of my Amazon links above, I get a modest kickback.


Weekly Round-Up

Welcome to the End of the Week! Grab a cocktail, and inspect this here rundown of what I wrote (that is published), watched, created, and got all excited about.

Thing that I wrote:

A review of Star Trek Beyond, over at Buzzy Mag.

Things that I watched:

The Toothless Couch inspired by How To Train Your Dragon is a pretty impressive build from AWE me.
A 13th century Icelandic hymn – “Heyr himna smiður” – sung by Árstíðir in a train station. They’re on tour now!
An amazing fairy and dandelion wire wind sculpture by FantasyWire. BRB, conjuring money for a commission.

Things that I made:


This week’s Whiteboard Weirdness quickly led to the discovery that my markers are too chunky to do His Royal Gauntness properly – but I persevered and did his portrait anyway. With absurdly happy bats flitting about. (No detail available, but they have inverted v eyes.) I used Sarah-Jane’s cute illustration for my reference.

I also created a whole new line of products for Mama Reynard’s Tricks and Treats, that unexpected and mischievous coffee shop you may find yourself stumbling into this autumn. You can find Mama Reynard’s logo on all sorts of things at my Redbubble shopfront and my Zazzle shop, What Duck?. Here are some of my favorites:






Things that I’m excited about:







Click the pics if you fancy purchasing any of the above! I get a modest kickback from Amazon if you do.


Jack Skellington Does Tokyo Disney


I took this photograph at Tokyo Disney on my first visit there in December of 2005. The park was amazing, and one of my favorite places in Japan – not top ten, but definitely up there. If this sounds awful to you, it’s possible amusement parks are not your thing – or that you’ve never been to a Disney park. Truly, they are magical places for guests. Even when there’s a scandal in the papers about the park contracting with a cleaning service found to be a money laundering front for the local mob. …or so my Japanese students told me.

Anyway, that season, they’d decorated the Haunted Mansion ride up in full The Nightmare Before Christmas theme. It seems that Jack Skellington had escaped Halloweentown once more, and gone on a right redecorating frenzy: they had the above fabulous Pumpkin Tree in front of the Mansion, and I’ve been mad to have one of my own ever since. Other changes included the floating candelabra at the end of the Endless Hallway being replaced with Zero, and the Graveyard was covered all in snow with jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin angels and more. It was wonderful. It was spooky. I rode twice.

Or more. Probably more. CONFOUND IT ALL, I LOVE IT THOUGH!


Although they’ve been doing the Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare since 2001, I had no idea when I arrived at Tokyo Disney that day. I’m glad – wandering by the Haunted Mansion and seeing it transformed turned me into a little kid again. I was starry-eyed with delight, and crowed about it for days after. Or, well, years after since I’m still talking about it!

What are your favorite Disney parks surprises? And who else has been through the Haunted Mansion Holiday Nightmare?


With autumn materializes the most curious little coffee shop and bakery. On quiet city streets, busy village thoroughfares, tucked just beyond the last shelf in that dark secondhand bookshop: Mama Reynard’s Tricks & Treats is everywhere and nowhere. It is a secret space for the wicked and the lost, especially those who do not want to be found. No one ever announces “mischief managed” here, because there’s always more mischief to be done.  Mama Reynard’s also serves jam-slathered scones you’d trip a preacher for, and that’s no lie.


To steal a slogan from the goblins, “Come buy! Come buy!” 

I’ve created this design in winking honor of Reynard, that trickster fox of French and German fables and more. It’s a fine design for these autumnal months, fetchingly pared with a great orange shade for most products. (You get to choose which color you’d like it on for any shirt purchases.) I created this coffee shop logo using vector graphics from GFX9, the fonts Variane by Boy Moch Tomi and Humblle Rought by Hendra Dirtyline, and fox clipart from Clker.com.

You can find this design on Redbubble, on the following products: shirts, prints and other wall art, throw pillows, mugs, travel mugs, tote bags, drawstring bags, and journals both spiralbound and hardbacked.

You can also find it at my Zazzle store, What Duck?, on the following products: refrigerator magnets, coasters, buttons, and a mouse pad.

I’m always open to requests, so let me know if there’s something you want that I haven’t set up.

And remember, if you’ve stumbled upon Mama Reynard’s Tricks & Treats, today’s your lucky day! Or not. But probably.




(Party fox by fulifuli. Click to make him dance!)

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Weekly Round-Up

Wow. How did it get to be Sunday? I spent the entirety of Friday writing a new story, and am pleased as punch to say the wordcount for the day stands at 9,221 words. That’s a personal best. It also explains why the last two days passed in a haze of pain and recovery. (Chronic illness does not forgive marathon writing sessions, just FYI.)

Things that I wrote:

Neil Gaiman’s “Troll Bridge,” illustrated by Colleen Doran, over at Nerdspan.

Things that I read:

These 100-Year-Old Colour Portraits of New York Immigrants Reveal Incredible Outfits,” by Matthew Tucker over at BuzzFeed, contains some insightful photographs and great cultural clothing information.
Photographers Upset by ‘Ask First’ Stickers at BDSM Folsom Street Fair” by DL Cade at PetaPixel, in which photographers behave badly and are rightly advised to rethink their jerkery.
What Nobody Tells You About Self-Care“, by Mawiyah Patten over at The Mighty, being full of some good points (mostly about self-care in the face of depression and anxiety, but some points also work for people with chronic illness).

Things that look like me:

I didn’t do a new drawing for Whiteboard Weirdness this week because I’m enjoying having Deadpool on my fridge way too much. Instead, I’m celebrating the advent of October with the return of the Other Deborah over at Twitter. This portrait of the Other Me was done by the excellent Alexa Bosy!


Also, check out the GeekDame banner above! It’s been tricked out for the season by the always delightful Lorraine Schleter!

Things that I’m excited about:







Click the pics if you fancy purchasing any of the above! I get a modest kickback from Amazon if you do.