The following is an excerpt from my short story “Sonic Fear” from Breaking Fate Publishing’s latest anthology Lost in the Witching Hour. Released in August, Lost in the Witching Hour is a collection of 13 ghostly tales from up-and-coming authors including myself, Ryan Tandy, Amelia Cotter, Jason Hughes, Walter Conley, Nicky Peacock, and many more.
Fifth Avenue was empty as well, and only a handful of cars sat in the parking lot of the Fifth Avenue Pub. Not a very inventive name, but this was where James found himself for the past couple of nights. The pub was as dimly lit as the street. Its interior was mostly wood—wood paneling, wooden tables, a heavy oak counter—but decades of patrons had carved messages in the walls and tables until they were colored in red, blue, and black ink. The messages chronicled proclamations of love and hate, phone numbers and addresses, and some were scribblings only decipherable by their long-departed artists. The whole place reeked of the beer soaked into the tables and the body odor of the old men who sat at the same table in the corner, at the same time, every day. James picked an empty bar stool and sat down.
The bartender was a clean-cut black man in his mid thirties, dressed in a silver shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Sweat and oil glistened on his forehead. Every few minutes he spat into what James hoped was a sink or trash can. “What’ll it be tonight?” he asked.
“Don’t you want to see my ID?” James replied as he reached for his wallet.
“Nah, I remember you from last night,” the bartender said. “Haven’t seen you around before though.”
“I just moved near here a few days ago. I grew up on Harlem Avenue, but this apartment is my first place on my own.”
The bartender laughed. “Maybe I do need to check your ID. How old did you say you were again?”
“Twenty-three,” James mumbled. “I’ll take whatever you have on special.”
Twice in one week, July 30th and 31st, the 3rd edition of my book Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird & Wild Places of the Prairie State rocketed up to #2 in Midwestern Tour Guides on Amazon.com and earned a spot in the “Hot New Releases” section! Released earlier this month by Thunder Bay Press, the new edition retails for $12.95 and is 254 pages. It features beautiful cover photography by the very talented Cari Ann Wayman, from Rockford, Illinois.
I’m very happy that my book made such a strong showing right out of the gate, but it was helped by some strong endorsements. Jeff Belanger, author of The World’s Most Haunted Places, founder of Ghostvillage.com, and host of 30 Odd Minutes, has said, “Ghostly legends dot the Prairie State from its big cities to its small towns. These stories make each community unique in a way that no other landmark ever could… But Michael Kleen understands that these ghosts are more than just stories. As a folklorist and historian, Kleen shows readers the connection between our past and our present. Haunting Illinois is more than just a ghostly travel guide, it’s an adventure offering new insight on the haunts you know, but also takes you on a trip to the spirits in your own backyard.”
Amelia Cotter, author of This House & Maryland Ghosts, has said, “Michael Kleen’s Haunting Illinois is a must-have guidebook for any history, folklore, and ghost enthusiast living in or planning to visit the Prairie State. Haunting Illinois is thoroughly researched and written, providing detailed information, photos, and maps of hundreds of haunted sites, broken down by county. Kleen’s passion for and dedication to the state’s most haunted and historic places will inspire readers to create their own adventures. This book is a fun, informative, and very creepy read!”
Dear Readers, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted here in a while. It’s true I’ve been distracted, but that is only part of the reason. Some of my friends already know this, but I have been gone for the past ten weeks. Why, you ask? Because of my new career.
You see, earlier this year, I decided to finally pursue one of my lifelong dreams and joined the US Army. I left for Basic Training at Ft. Jackson in Columbia, SC at the end of April and graduated on Wednesday. I entered the Army with the rank of specialist and my MOS is 35Q – Cryptologic Network Warfare Specialist. I am now attending the Center for Information Dominance at Corry Station in Pensacola, Florida. I’ll be here for the next 6 months. Don’t worry, I have internet access again, so I plan to continue updating this website when the mood strikes.
With my new station in Pensacola, I’m looking forward to learning more about the Gulf region, particularly New Orleans. I have been fascinated with that city ever since I visited in the summer of 2000.
In other news, the third edition of my book Haunting Illinois will be coming out later this month. It features new cover photography from the very talented Cari Ann Wayman, 60 new places, and dozens of new photos. I will be posting more about that in the coming weeks. I just saw the preview copy my publisher sent me and it looks great!
A big thank you is in order to Ann Winkler Hinrichs, David Kent Coy, and the other organizers of the 150th Anniversary of the Charleston Riot event last weekend! For what might be the final time, I was asked to give my presentation on home front dissent in Illinois during the Civil War, as part of a larger series of speakers at the Coles County Courthouse on Saturday, March 29th. The presentation was well attended, and there were a lot of great questions from the audience. Afterwards, I had a book signing at Pensees Bookshop on the square (502 6th St). Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer spoke at the banquet that night, but unfortunately I had to leave before he spoke. I met some very interesting folks that day! Thanks to my friend Becky Guymon for taking these photos of my presentation:
On Saturday, March 1, we had our Secret Rockford book release party at Tinker Swiss Cottage here in Rockford. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and it snowed off and on throughout the day! Never-the-less, we had a good turnout and everyone enjoyed themselves. Several contributors to the book spoke about their articles and short stories, including Kathi Kresol, Stanley Campbell, Scott Farrell, Heath Alberts, Ernie Fuhr, Jim Phelps, and Doug Janicke. I thought all the speakers did a wonderful job and I was very impressed with their passion and ability to speak off the cuff. Hopefully we will have another event like this in the future.
On February 27 at 10:20am, I had the pleasure of doing a short, in-studio interview with Riley & Scot at WROK 1440 AM in Rockford. After the unfortunate and untimely demise of 100.5 FM, this is now one of the only local talk radio shows left in the Rockford area. The other is The Michael Koolidge Show, which is also on WROK. I appeared briefly on Koolidge’s show as well to promote the Secret Rockford book release party at Tinker Swiss Cottage. The studio was comfortable despite the subzero temperatures outside. Thanks, guys!