Elements: Tales from the Substratum is Here!

  • July 29, 2018
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Elements: Tales from the Substratum

Welcome to our universe of tales centering on earth, water, fire, air, and ether. We hope our fans of urban fantasy, horror, lesbian fiction, and women’s fiction will be pleased.

Here are the five stories we’ve written for you:

  • A demonic duo in the air, on a mission. In our first story, J. M. Levinton’s “Airborne,” Jonas and Valerie—the demons extraordinaires who also appeared in The Penheads’ first two anthologies—find that nothing is quite what it seems. On an airline flight across the U.S., they meet an affable passenger who’s under a curse. Will Jonas and Valerie succeed in breaking it?
  • A peek into the scary part of the ether. In Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin’s nuanced horror story, “An Opening Black and Infinite,” a horror writer is “helped” by a brujo. But can she trust him?
  • Hunting humans on earth, New Orleans style. In Anne E. Wagenbrenner’s “Walk Around On Earth In My Body,” an unsuspecting tourist vacationing in New Orleans with her husband is ambushed by an evil spirit, and fights for her life.
  • Visions in fire. In “Pyromaniac,” by R.G. Emanuelle, Penny—gifted with paranormal abilities—falls in love with Deirdre. While overjoyed to have found this attractive, warm woman, Penny fears how Deirdre will react when Penny reveals her psychic ability. It is a recurring, frightening vision, however, that leads Penny to pull away from Deirdre. Will Deirdre accept Penny for who she is? And more importantly, will Penny’s vision lead to disaster?
  • Plunging into the waters of a new stage of life. Our fifth story—Arielle Prose’s “A Sea Change—walks us through Twila’s last day of work before retirement. The impending life change causes Twila to wonder about the future and reflect on the past. How will retirement affect her marriage? Has her life been a success, a failure, or something in between?

In these stories, our characters navigate the five elements of the universe, seeking to belong, to be safe, and to live happily.

We hope you enjoy them.

Available here at Amazon.

Not Playing Hooky, But…

  • July 15, 2018
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This week I’ve been formatting The Penheads’ latest anthology, Elements: Tales from the Substratum, as an e-book with fellow author Arielle Prose. Formatting takes concentration and a bit of technical know-how, but it becomes more challenging when there are five authors and five different versions of Word dumped into one file. For the record, I loathe the newest version of Word. (Seriously, Microsoft? Go back to easy-to-understand versions that still get the job done and keep the dazzling, confusing version for yourselves as a lesson on what not to do. I worked on the production side of e-publishing in-house for seven years and I’ve never seen such a hot mess.)

Okay, rant over. (For now.) There are other reasons why the book can’t simply be whipped out in a day, but mainly it’s because it deserves to be as perfect as we can make it. Garbage code creeps in, spacing changes, and the table of contents is its own special brand of Hell.

But the most difficult part is, while I’m formatting, I can’t write. My brain needs to be in focused technical mode. There’s a kind of joy watching everything look and behave exactly how I want it to, but while I’m doing it there are no stories in my fingertips.

So if you have a production team taking this job out of your hands to give you the time to write, send flowers. Coupons to a day spa are nice too.


Elements–An Excerpt from Arielle Prose

  • June 18, 2018
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Photo by pburka

For our final installment, author Arielle Prose shares an excerpt from her story “A Sea Change.” You’ll be able to read it in its entirety later this summer in the anthology Elements: Tales From the Substratum. Enjoy!

AP: Retirement from the workforce is a long-awaited day for many people. Depending on the circumstances, you either look forward to the last day on the job or you don’t. Do you embrace the future with plans you cultivated, or do you regret leaving a job you love? Perhaps a little of both. Water is the element in this story, inspired by events in the author’s own life.



Arielle Prose


“There’s still time to change your mind,” Mindy interjects, a big smile on her face. “You can announce that it was all a hoax, that you’re not leaving and just wanted a party.”

“Ha, ha. You’re funny,” Twila says. “Another one of your begging-you-to-stay ruses, is it?” In contrast to her connection with Ruth, Twila’s bond with Mindy is more a mother-daughter relationship, Mindy being way younger than she, and always in need of advice.

Mindy pleads, “You know it is. What am I going to do without you?” She shakes her hands together in prayer, feigning drama. “Who’s going to help me with work when I’m in trouble?”

“Don’t be silly. You still have Ruth,” Twila replies.

They’re at the conference room door, on the other side of which voices can be heard.

Ruth looks at Twila and says, “Well, here we are. What are you? Scared? Go ahead, open the door.” But then she opens it for her.

“There she is!” Cruger announces. He has just finished writing “Good luck!” on the whiteboard, which is festooned with balloons.

A few people are gathered, standing around the table, which is bedecked with a flower centerpiece, and laden with pizza boxes, sandwiches, and a cake with “Congrats, Twila!” on it.

Twila, having expected something like this, is ready to smile and act all Gomer Pyle-style, shy and awkward, saying something like, “Aw gee folks, that’s mighty nice of you.” But upon hearing the big cheer that goes up, she suddenly is overwhelmed. “Thank you,” she simply says.

During the luncheon everybody chats and digs in. A few people from other departments stop in to add to Twila’s pool of well-wishers. She finds it no surprise that Natasha sits next to Claire, because Claire is an independent, neutral, take-no-sides sort, who gets along well with everyone, but rarely talks about anything personal. Without Betsy, Twila knows Natasha must be ill at ease.

Twila, sitting across from them with Mindy and Ruth on either side of her, thinks of a way to start a group conversation. “So, Natasha, how’s Kristin? What is she now? Five?”

Natasha nods and says, “Oh, she’s fine.”

“And how many months are you now, Mindy?” Twila asks, turning to her, “Five, right?”

Mindy kicks Twila under the table, but Twila ignores her and continues, “And you look fine, too. Glowing, as a matter-of-fact. When is your due date again?”

Mindy’s startled look turns into a shy smile, as she says, barely audible, “November fifteenth.”

Ruth joins in and asks, “Natasha, what can you tell Mindy to expect—I mean being a working mother and all.”

This gets Mindy and Natasha talking. While they’re discussing how flexible schedules are a godsend, Twila congratulates herself for having been the one to break the ice. She doesn’t know if from now on they’ll continue speaking to each other—probably not—but Twila feels exhilarated, on a roll now, riding the waves.

Want to read all the excerpts? Start with J. M. Levinton’s story “Airborne.”

Elements: Tales From the Substratum

Coming this summer


Elements–An Excerpt from Anne Wagenbrenner

  • June 10, 2018
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Photo by iStock.com/Katie Dobies

This week, author Anne Wagenbrenner shares an excerpt from her horror story “Walk Around on Earth, In My Body.” You’ll be able to read it in its entirety later this summer in the anthology Elements: Tales From the Substratum. Enjoy!

AW: My element for this anthology was earth, and I decided to tell a horror story.

I adapted an experience a friend had related to me–of a demonic creature who attaches himself to a human woman visiting New Orleans. She is suckered into “inviting” him in. . .



Anne Wagenbrenner


The eyes in Alix’s mirror morphed back into the eyes of the goat-man. Alix stared into them, wondering who the being was, and why he was in her mirror.  Who are you? She thought at him. Is that you, Pete? Did you die? She was scared, because it was so weird; but the guy in the mirror didn’t seem harmful, just a little sarcastic. And it was probably all a hallucination, anyway, from the humidity. Why are you in that mirror? Can you come out of there?

In her mind, she heard a smiling, slightly mocking voice, “I’m not in the mirror, Alix.”

Her lower intestines became a solid block of ice as Alix realized what this meant. Don’t scream. Don’t scream. She felt him flowing throughout her body, like a slow, gelid river, and the scream ripped from her throat. Then there was nothing.

Next week, Arielle Prose will share an excerpt from her realistic fiction, “A Sea Change.” Come check it out!

Missed last week’s excerpt by R.G. Emanuelle? You can find “Pyromaniac” here.


Elements–An Excerpt From R.G. Emanuelle

  • June 03, 2018
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This week, author R.G. Emanuelle shares an excerpt from her lesfic romance “Pyromaniac.” You’ll be able to read it in its entirety later this summer in the anthology Elements: Tales From the Substratum. Enjoy!

RGE: For our latest anthology I chose the element of fire because it struck me as the most…well, fiery. It’s at once beautiful and terrifying, comforting and disquieting, warming to the body and chilling to the soul. For my main character, Penny, fire is both a gift and a source of horror, sometimes offering her a way to right humanity’s wrongs, but sometimes giving an outlet to her deepest fears. It’s this last one that tries to keep Penny from letting in the perfect woman when she meets her. Does it win, or can Penny get past the darkness and allow herself to embrace love?



R.G. Emanuelle


Penny drew the curtains and sat at her kitchen table. She struck a match and let the mini pyre she’d set up catch fire. The twigs, cardboard, and various pieces of flammable materials in the form of a cone in a special stone plate began to burn. At the very top, she added sage for purification and a clean transition to the other side.

The gold-blue flames danced, casting shadows in the cool dimness of her kitchen, and shot up higher each time she added another twig. The scent of sage filled the room, and she stared deeper into the pyre.

Then she was still.

Images began to form and she focused deeply to make them coalesce. Her limbs flexed and contracted as she gazed into the blinding flame. She saw a face, blurry at first, then clearer. It was a little girl. Then it disappeared and was replaced by a door. The door opened slowly to reveal a downward staircase. Abruptly, the door slammed shut. There were numbers on the door: 1824.

The flame flickered, then died down. Penny breathed deeply and shook her hands out. Though the vision had been only a few seconds long, she’d been in the trance several minutes. This she knew from previous experience.

She inverted a silver bowl over the pyre, then walked into her living room. The man sitting on her sofa rose, anticipation on his face.

“She’s in a house whose number is 1824. In the basement. I would search any homes in the target area with that number.”

Detective John McCarthy nodded. “Thanks.” He stopped on his way to the front door and turned halfway toward her. “I don’t have to remind you not to tell anyone, right?”

“No.” She had absolutely no intention of telling anyone that on occasion she helped Detective McCarthy solve abduction cases. Let someone else be strapped to a table, have electrodes stuck to their head, and eventually—who knew?—be put in a big old jar filled with formaldehyde.

When Detective McCarthy was gone, Penny went back into the kitchen and cleaned up the ashes and remnants of the ritual. She wiped the plate clean and replaced it in the special drawer where she kept her ritual supplies.

She washed her hands and cleansed herself by sweeping them up along her sides, then outward, while repeating “swah-hah” several times to cast out the bad juju.

After pouring herself a cup of coffee, she sat in silence in the living room for a few moments. Visions always exhausted her. They required so much energy. She was glad to be able to put this ability she had to good use, and to have the sense to use it wisely. It had taken her a while to learn how to do that, or to believe that it was okay to use it at all. It wasn’t until college that she finally decided it wasn’t wrong.

Still, it wasn’t something she shared freely. Very few people believed or understood. And more than one person had wanted her exorcised. Plus, this ability had its down side. She’d been able to help solve some crimes, and that was great, but she’d seen things she wished she hadn’t.

Including the death of her spouse.

Next week, Anne Wagenbrenner will share an excerpt from her horror story, “Walk Around on Earth, In My Body.” See you there!

Missed last week’s excerpt by Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin? You can find “An Opening Black and Infinite” here.


Elements–An Excerpt From Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin

  • May 27, 2018
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This week, author Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin is up, sharing an excerpt from her horror story “An Opening Black and Infinite.” You’ll be able to read it in its entirety later this summer in the anthology Elements: Tales From the Substratum. Enjoy!

CVN: I chose ether, often called the fifth element, matter that makes up the heavens or at least the upper reaches of space. I wanted that indefinable place between the material and immaterial worlds. Reggie thinks she’s firmly planted in the former—until Antonio shows her otherwise.



Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin


He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Reggie thought he would knuckle the eyeballs into the back of his head. When he removed his fingers the sclera showed bluish-white. “I’ll tell you what to do.”

Reggie waved a hand. “I don’t believe any of this, you know.”

“Celia may have been in on it.”

Reggie froze. “I didn’t mention her name.”

“No, you didn’t.” Antonio smiled, and for a flash he had the eyes of a shark.

Reggie turned to Lita. “I never told you about her, did I?”


“Then how—”

“What he said about himself.”

Reggie held her breath as this sank in.

“Listen to him,” Lita said.

Antonio wrinkled his nose like a feral dog smelling a rival on the wind. “Find a Y-crossroad. It must be a fork with two prongs. The place where they intersect is the area of creation and decision. What you are creating and what you are deciding. The park out back—” He indicated a window. “Lots of those crossroads.”

No, Reggie thought.

“Everything I’m about to tell you,” Antonio said, “you must do between midnight and 3 a.m. That’s when the veil between worlds is thinnest. If something is going to come through, good or bad, that’s when it will be.”

Next week, R.G. Emanuelle will share an excerpt from her paranormal lesfic romance, “Pyromaniac.” Come check it out!

Missed last week’s excerpt by J. M. Levinton? You can find “Airborne” here.



Elements: Tales From the Substratum–An Excerpt

  • May 21, 2018
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This summer, the anthology Elements: Tales From the Substratum will be released on Amazon.

Five diverse writers cover the same theme with wildly different takes on it.

I drew “air” as the element for my story. And what could be more nerve-wracking than our two favorite demons, Jonas and Valerie, needing to take a plane ride? (You can catch their earlier adventures in the anthologies Hunger and Smoke.)

Of course nothing is normal when they’re involved. Here’s an excerpt from my story “Airborne.”



J. M. Levinton


The PA system came on with its customary chimes. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain Cirocco. We seem to be moving into an unexpected cold front and turbulence is to be expected. Please make sure your seats are in an upright position and keep your seatbelts on. Thank you.”

The flight attendant gave them a practiced and professional smile and pushed her cart to the next few rows.

“Great, just great.” Valerie opened her bottle of water. “This is not what I need.” Her hands shook.

The young woman across the aisle leaned over. “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. I don’t have any children yet.”

Valerie cocked her head to one side. “Excuse me?”

“My family’s under a curse,” said the woman. “I can’t die, because the curse needs me to have children—and I don’t have any yet, so we’re safe.” She took a gulp of her obviously alcoholic drink.

“You could be the sole survivor here,” Jonas pointed out.

The woman straightened and brushed cornflower yellow hair out of her eyes. “Damn. Didn’t think of that. But still, keep the faith. Those around me tend to live—unless you’re my sibling. You’re not, right?”

Tipsy and harmless, thought Jonas. “No, I’m pretty sure we’re not related in any way.”

“There!” The woman gave them a bright, cheery grin. “You’re safe.”

The plane lurched again, this time more sharply, and Jonas and Valerie felt the rise of tension in the atmosphere. The trays rattled harder and the woman’s drink slopped onto her tray.

Next week, Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin will be sharing an excerpt from her tale of horror, “An Opening Black and Infinite.” See you there!



And It’s Done!

  • March 19, 2018
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I finally finished my short story for the anthology Elements: Tales From The Substratum, and it’s now being reviewed by my editors. And what does one do in the meantime?


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