Horror is not my happy place. I've tried to learn a little about how to write it. I've had classes in the language of horror and in some of the psychological tools used in horror. But honestly, I don't want to make you afraid. I'd rather creep you out. Fine line, I know, and I'm not sure I have the knack of it just yet. I'm not after terrified. I'm more interested in haunted. So I'll offer up a snippet from a book called Curse of the Lorelei. The book still needs some major rewrites to hop up the creepy and the tension.
The story takes place in the very early days of the Civil War. It's just after the fall of Fort Sumter. It'd be bad enough with just the start of the war. Unfortunately for our heroes, their version of New Orleans is haunted by more than Confederates and Union spies. Charlie is a young woman (and a Union spy) disguised as a boy. Hunt is a British spy bent on destabilizing the situation in the US with the notion that the British crown might be able to recover the errant colonies. They've rowed out to what appears to be a ghost ship that's anchored off shore in quarantine. Hunt boarded the boat. Charlie is standing to under the ship's rail aboard the row boat. Monsieur Foucalte is the dockmaster who won't let the ship dock for fear of disease.
Charlie forced her shoulders down. Rocked
her head on her neck.
A shrill scream, broken by sobs, wrenched her gaze upward. Every muscle in her body clenched.
“No!” Hunt shouted.
A body hurtled into the water three feet from the bow of the skiff.
Water sprayed her. Charlie yelped and crouched low to steady the boat as the impact waves tossed her. Heart a gripping pain in her chest, she gasped, and scanned the surface of the river.
“Can you see him?” she hollered to the two men still clinging to the side of the larger ship.
The man surfaced. Flailing. Sobbing. “Help! Help me! Please – ulp!” He floundered toward shore.
Charlie shot to her feet. The boat swayed in warning.
“Turn around!” she shouted. “I’ll pull you aboard! Turn around!”
Caught up in whatever terror had driven him over the rail, he either didn’t hear, or he ignored her. He struggled closer to shore.
Shouts from the dock caught her attention and she glanced at the men on the wharf. The group roiled and waved, arms swinging in clear ‘go back’ gestures. It did no good.
The man in the river, yammering a steady stream of pleas for aid, kept heading to shore.
Monsieur Foucalte, recognizable by size alone, shoved through the knot of dock workers, a rifle in his hands.
He raised it. Sighted.
Her blood ran cold. “Wait! What –”
The tenor of the swimmer’s cries changed. Climbed. Panic resonated in the sound, shaking her.
Around the man, the water of the turgid Mississippi frothed. It took several seconds to register what her eyes tried to show her.
Snakes. Dozens of snakes, wet skins glistening in the sun, surrounded the man. Slithered over his back. Tangled in his kicking legs.
He hesitated, fell silent.
As his legs sank and he came upright in the water, the first snake struck. She couldn’t see the fangs, but the big, black snake’s stiff pull back and launch forward was unmistakable. As was the man’s strangled shriek.
A shot rang out.
The cry died mid arc. The sailor slumped.
Snakes - and something much larger, black, gleaming hide, fangs, and blood-red eyes - swarmed him. Kelpie. It surfaced. Made eye contact with her. Sneered. And took a bite out of the dead man’s poisoned flesh.