Keep You Cold

Chilling Tales

by AJ Franks

In his collection of haunting tales, AJ Franks invites you to dig deep into the recesses of your own monstrosity, and experience the darkness of humankind.

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At a Glance

Title
Keep You Cold
Subtitle
Chilling Tales
Author
AJ Franks
Format
Paperback
ISBN
978-1-62901-624-5
Price
$14.95
Trim Size
5.5″ × 8.5″
Published by
Inkwater Press

About the Book

What if you received disturbing glimpses of a fate you couldn't change?

Have you ever wondered what thoughts might run through your head just before those final moments of death?

How does it feel to wake up and find a dark entity hovering over you, only to discover you can't move your body and escape?

Uncover the darker side of humanity and the supernatural in this genre-blending collection of original short stories that will scare, shock, and surprise.

Stay warm if you can. It's about to get cold.

Excerpt

Skull

Lucille

Jasper stood admiring his work. The soft edges, sleek texture, and intricate detailing—he could easily envision this as being his best piece to date. At least he hoped it would be received as such. Not because he wanted the recognition or praise, but because of the love he felt for it, and he wanted others to share that love too, even if to a lesser degree.

The amount of emotion and passion he’d put into this particular piece exceeded that of all his others combined. Clay sculpting had been a relatively new hobby of his, one he’d whole-heartedly thrown himself into as a welcome distraction from the events of the past two years. Jasper had quickly discovered he had a natural talent for sculpting, and he began entering local art shows. He didn’t have any friends left, not after what happened, so the exhibitions had become one of his last connecting threads to humanity. He hadn’t felt mentally prepared to tackle this particular project until recently, and even now he noticed his vision misting as he stared at the finished product.

The clay was hard and ready to be fired in the kiln. Jasper took a brief swipe at his eyes then carefully lifted the statue from the shelf it had been resting on and carried it to the kiln room. By next week it would be ready to display, just in time for the new artist exhibit held every year in Northeast Portland.

He ran his fingers over the piece one last time before placing it inside the kiln. His features tightened as he momentarily thought of his inspiration for it, and he surveyed it once again, checking for any last-minute touches that might be needed. The resemblance was almost unnatural—the slightly upturned nose, the wide, innocent eyes. He’d even managed to etch the tiniest scar just above the left eye, exactly like the one she had from the playground accident her first day of kindergarten.

Other than that smallest of intended flaws, the statue’s features were perfect, just as its muse’s had been. Thankfully, the replica he now stared at looked nothing like she had the last time he’d seen her—shattered and broken.

Jasper flinched as he recalled the events of that day, or at least the ones he could remember. It was the one-year anniversary of his wife’s death, God rest her soul, and drowning his sorrows in whiskey had been the quickest and most effective way to numb the pain. That was until he’d drained every last drop from every last bottle in the house. Looking back, it would have been an act of kindness for God to have caused him to blackout and aspirate, but Jasper’s luck was not the type that would be considered good, and he’d managed to remain just coherent enough to turn up his car keys.

The car had been safely stored in the garage, away from any mischievous neighborhood children who sometimes liked to throw bags of flour on people’s vehicles as a prank. Some of the white residue still covered the back window from last week when he’d been too lazy to pull the car into the garage. Jasper made a mental note (one he was sure to not remember after sobering up) to scrub off the residue when he got back. For now, though, he had more immediate demands.

“Damn kids,” he mumbled as he tried to see out the back window. He turned on the rear windshield wipers, which only smeared the mess, making it worse.

The car jerked backward and Jasper slammed the brake, realizing he’d forgotten to open the garage door. He reached up and pressed the door opener attached to the visor, and the door began to creak and groan as it raised itself up. His wife had always hated the sound of the garage door opening, saying it made her teeth hurt, much like fingernails on chalkboard did to some people.

At the thought of his deceased wife, Jasper became increasingly thirsty for more whiskey and punched the accelerator harder. The door hadn’t quite finished opening, and he barely cleared it.

“Shit,” he said, as he hit a bump. He cringed as a crunching noise came from beneath his tires.

He cursed Lucille and thought of how many times he’d told her to keep her toys out of the driveway. At five—a smart five, if he did say so himself—she was perfectly capable of picking up after herself when it came to her toys.

Where is Lucille, anyway? Jasper wondered as he threw the gearshift into park (actually it was neutral, but he was too drunk to know the difference). Her grandmother came and got her earlier, right? Yes, she did. They went to a movie and to have ice cream. To have fun. At least someone was having fun on this shitty day.

Because of some hurtful exchanges between them in the past, Jasper and his mother-in-law weren’t exactly fond of one another, and now even less so since Kathleen’s death. She generally came to pick up her granddaughter on scheduled days and would leave without ever speaking a word to Jasper, but part of him was still glad she lived nearby.

She and Lucille were crazy about each other, and she wanted the girl to have a strong female influence in her young life. Even though he would never admit it aloud, Jasper agreed with her. He still had no interest in dating, and even if he had, he knew it would be quite some time before he became ready to settle down and introduce Lucille to whomever he was dating.

He aggressively swung open the car door and stumbled from the driver’s seat to remove whatever was blocking him from getting to the liquor store. By the crunching sound, he wagered he’d owe Lucille a new plastic dream car. As he rounded the rear bumper to inspect the damage, he cursed his daughter again for being so careless. Whatever toy it was, it was jammed pretty far beneath the undercarriage. Jasper swung his foot under the car trying to kick and dislodge whatever it was. After hitting it a couple of times with his boot but still unable to budge it, he drunkenly dropped to all fours in order to get a better look.

Once on the ground, the world stopped, and a deep and hollow silence filled his head. He began to vomit violently; not from the liquor, but from the realization that yesterday was the day Lucille’s grandmother had taken her out. Yesterday was Saturday and the day they’d gone to watch a movie together and have dessert at the ice cream parlor afterward. Today … today was Sunday. Today Lucille had been playing quietly outside in the driveway.

Review

Keep You Cold: Chilling Tales by AJ Franks is a ghoulish group of 18 stories, ranging from the contemplative to the downright grotesque… Standout stories include “Revelation,” reminiscent of Ray Bradbury, in which a long-bullied man seeks to redefine his self-image by getting a tattoo—and gains more than he bargained for in the process; and “Vicky’s Phone,” in which a woman walking home alone in the dark begins to receive menacing text messages—from her own cell phone number.

The key to good horror, as Franks clearly knows, is in carefully toeing the line between fear and fun. It might seem counterintuitive that a collection of stories, most of which contain murder, suicide, or other forms of sinister fate, could be considered fun, but Franks’ writing carries a frisson of voyeuristic pleasure that is undeniably entertaining—and somehow uplifting—for the reader… It’s the same electric thrill that energizes the crowds shuffling uncertainly through haunted houses, proving that to be scared is to be alive.

Red City Review Read the Full Review

About the Author

Author AJ Franks

AJ Franks is a Portland-based author and playwright. His most current works include Keep You Cold: Chilling Tales and the stage play, Bereavement, which debuted at the 2015 Fertile Ground Festival. He was a semi-finalist in FiLMLaB’s 2013 Script-to-Screen contest with his original short screenplay, Sometime over Coffee.

To purchase signed copies, email the author.

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