A Few of my Favorite Things #1

Inspired by today’s Prompt, Aromatic, I decided I was overdue for a product review for one of my  favorite things – Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab‘s perfume oils.

I’ve been collecting for about 3 years now. I call it collecting because at this point, I own more perfume than I could conceivably wear in a lifetime. And yet, I continue buying more! Maybe it’s more of a “problem” than a “collection” at this point?

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In addition to boasting over 200 standard catalog scents, inspired by topics ranging from the works of HP Lovecraft to Shakespeare’s plays, holidays are often marked by limited releases. I’m partial to their Halloween (including Dia de los Muertos, a scent inspired by the traditional ofrenda, and my favorite fruity sweet Sugar Skull) and Yule (Baked goods? Lovecraftian sex shops? Why not!) scents. Also of note are their Lupercalia releases around Valentine’s Day, and their anniversary never passes without a new batch of bewitching brews.

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Currently, their popular Carnaval Diabolique is live, meaning that buyers can acquire a range of scents inspired by some truly sinister carnival elements. Each perfume listing is accompanied by beautiful prose explaining the meaning behind it, spooky enough to rival Bradbury.

But the buck doesn’t stop there. Their offshoot Black Phoenix Trading Post expands on their offerings, providing body oils, atmosphere sprays, and even my beloved Claw Polishes.

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I never really wore perfume before discovering BPAL. Most scents tended to vanish from my skin within moments, and it didn’t seem worth the effort or the expense to find anything that worked. My first BPAL order was a set of imps, little sample ampoules meant for testing purposes. I was hooked as soon as the first perfume, Hell’s Belle, touched my skin. It didn’t fade, or disappear go strange like hairspray. All day long I could catch the heady whiff of sweet, sweet magnolias. Not overpowering, but ever-present. It was exactly what I’d always dreamed of in a perfume. Since then I’ve sampled a lot of BPAL’s works, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to try them all. Some of them, like Gore Shock (burned skin and hot metal) are certainly…not to my tastes. Because of the nature of the products, some scents just aren’t for me – white sandalwood, for example, tends to turn to plastic on my skin, and as much as I love the smell of pumpkin, it doesn’t love me. Them’s the breaks. That doesn’t mean I’m not ready to try!

 

Things We’ve Learned

The Alexandria Archives is finally 3 episodes in. “The Tunnels” went live on Friday night, late by a few days but  better for it, or so I’d like to think. We’ve already recorded a few tracks for episodes 4 and 5, and yesterday it was looking like the script for episode 6 is about complete, as well. Things tend to move in fits and starts – when we’re feeling inspired, all we can do is run with it.

I didn’t think podcasting would be as labor intensive as it turned out to be. The first thing I learned is that you’re always working on the podcast – always. Even when I’m at my day job, odds are I’ve got an in-progress story open in a browser in case I get the urge to put down a line, or a comment. i

I learned the value of a dry erase calendar, for when the 12th becomes the 19th, which becomes the 23rd, only it’s more like the 22nd because we got excited and were so pleased with how the Halloween special turned out we aired it early. Deadlines have been pushed to and fro like a hockey puck, occasionally flying off to smack someone in the face.

I learned that even the best of friendships can bend. Like, a lot. But if it starts to look like they’re in danger of breaking, it’s probably best to take a few steps back. Group work is never really easy. It might start to get easy to forget that you came together for a reason – a really good one, if I may say so myself.

And I’ve learned that first and foremost, this is supposed to be fun. And it has been fun. Even when it’s been hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing stressful, it’s been really, really fun. I get to produce content with two awesome friends, find new outlets for the stories that have been living quietly in my head for years. We made this thing, and then we sent it out into the world to see how it would do. And so far, it’s not doing too  bad. I’m excited to see how it grows, and where we go next.

What We’re Listening To

There’s a lot more than time and dedication that goes into getting a podcast off the ground. Nobody tells you about the other stuff. Heck, there’s a lot more than nagging your friends to download/listen/review. For one thing, there’s the money. Advertising is a bigger deal than I would’ve thought. Gone are the days when you could get by with a plucky attitude and a whole lot of heart. These days, you’ve got to shell out to get your name out there.

A part of deciding where we wanted to advertise (never mind whether or not we could afford to do so) was listening to new podcasts.  Most of us had our go-to’s, like WTNV, nosleep, Drabble, etc. But we really wanted to get to know more about the weird fiction podcasting scene, make some connections, get more involved. This meant listening to new stuff. And man, did we find some great new stuff.

I almost feel silly discussing THE BLACK TAPES when it’s blown up so big, but it really served as an inspiration for us with its radio play format. Love of horror and mystery kind of goes hand-in-hand, and TBT meets those loves pretty thoroughly. After LIMETOWN, I was eager for a new spooky, investigative series to listen to. TBT filled in the gap extremely well. It’s the kind of story you burn through, then turn right back around to listen to it all again. Which is what I’m currently in the process of doing. Both seasons are suspenseful, dark thrillers that leave you on the edge of your seat. It sounds cliche, maybe, but it’s true. There’s no telling where the adventures of Alex and Dr. Strand will take us next,  but it’s bound to be somewhere fascinating.

LORE was the next series I came across, suggested by Twitter thanks to whatever algorithm it uses. Produced and performed by Aaron Mahnke with music by Musician, it recounts strange and sordid true tales from history. Touching on urban legends and true crime alike, Mahnke highlights the ugly side of human history. Lore’s episodic nature makes it easy to pick up – there are no seasons, no storyline to keep track of. Just pure weird history. This makes it great for easy listening, something to fill the time on a jaunt to the grocery store or while taking a long walk.

THE BRIGHT SESSIONS was recommended by the inimitable Aaron Rehdactedd. I couldn’t say  how he stumbled across it, but I was glad that he did. Each episode features the recordings of the enigmatic therapist Dr. Bright, whose practice specializes in a peculiar kind of patient. Despite her patients’ superhuman abilities, their problems are all too normal – they struggle to connect with those around them, wrestle with their own emotions and shortcomings. It’s easy to lose yourself in Dr. Bright’s professional voice, encouraging but also calculating. What does Dr. Bright want from her patients? Just what makes them assets to her?

SPINES is an ominous, eerie blend between Alias and Re-Animator. It’s a masterfully produced lovechild between mystery and the grotesque. Narrated by Wren, a young woman missing memories after waking from a bizarre cult ritual, the story features a cast of curious young men and women with even curiouser abilities. She’s clever and resourceful, more so than even she knows. All the while, Wren searches for the mystery man she believes holds the answers to her search – who she is, what brought her to this point, and what becomes of them next.

If you haven’t checked these series out, I highly recommend them! There are so many good podcasts out these days, it’s hard to keep up – I still have a few on deck I haven’t even gotten around to sampling yet. But if you’re looking for a place to start, look no further than this post, mystery lovers – I’ve got you covered.

Eerie

Samhain marks for (some) Wiccans the end of the year. It’s a time of reflection and introspection, thinking back on time past. For me, it lends well to today’s daily prompt.

As a kid, I loved all things spooky. Ghosts, goblins, ghouls, you name it. Halloween was (and is) my favorite holiday. I lived for trick or treating in our Miami Shores neighborhood, looked forward to the block party that took place every year. I don’t know if they do it anymore. And a lot of kids won’t know what it’s like to go door to door in their costumes, begging for treats. It makes me a bit sad if I think about it too much. But another thing I always liked was being scared.

Not too scared, mind you. Just scared enough. No real fear of danger, no disgust at some gory scene. I mean real, mild fear. That tingling sense that something wrong is going on.  A story with an unexpected twist, or an answer you’ll never get – or worse yet, one you could never have imagined. Forget about shock scares, things popping out and shouting “BOO!” in dark places. There’s something about knowing that things are not quite right that makes your skin crawl and your blood run cold. And more often than not, these experiences of real fear come hand in hand with the mundane.

Recently I found myself thinking back to my old tutor’s home. As a kid, I struggled with math. It wasn’t so much that I found it particularly difficult as it was that I just didn’t like it. So the point of tutoring was basically to have someone sitting over my shoulder, watching me do my dreaded homework with a little kindly guidance. There was a narrow little room that branched off of my tutor’s kitchen, and that was where we worked. Often it was three of us: Myself, my friend Lisette, and her younger sister Yvette. I can’t remember my tutor’s name, but I remember her endless patience. She was always kind to me even when I was being difficult. Her family had lived not far from my father’s in Matanzas. It was funny how that worked out. In any case, to the right of my usual seat was a door, and in that door was a window that looked out into the walkway that led around the house from the front yard to the back. There was a gate as well, and occasionally my tutor’s husband passed to and fro while doing yardwork.

The day came when I was at work alone and I saw someone walk past the window from the corner of my eye. I saw them clearly enough that I could make out the color of their hair, dark, and the color of their shirt. It was my tutor’s husband, I assumed, and got back to work. A moment later, someone else passed by the door. Unusual, I thought at last, because I hadn’t heard the gate open or close after them. A blonde, this time, in a blue shirt. By the time the third “someone” passed by, I was curious.

“Someone’s in your yard,” I remember telling my teacher, who looked at me in surprise and said the words that seemed so normal at the time:

“You see them, too?”

There was no one in the yard. She opened the door to show me. The gate was shut, and locked. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, she’d tell me, but not so common that she felt the need to scare any of the kids with it. I don’t remember much of the lesson that passed, only that my tutor told my father of what happened afterwards and reassured me once more that it was nothing to be afraid of. In hindsight, I don’t think I was afraid. I think I felt cheated. I’d always wanted to see “something.” For my thirteenth birthday we went ghost hunting, for Cthulhu’s sake. And when the moment came it just flitted past, with nothing more than that tingling sense of unease. It’s a memory that comes back at odd moments – when I’m sitting in my car, commiserating with my sister over her schoolwork, or when I’m spending a quiet Halloween at home watching Youtube videos.

It’s a funny kind of feeling, the kind it’s so hard to capture in writing. It comes on you all at once, or it builds and builds until you’re full of it and you had no idea it was coming. Spooky Halloween fun is well and good, but it’s the real stuff – the strange, the eerie, the wrong – that sticks with people. I’d like to think I’ll learn how to manage it someday. Maybe it’ll even come easily to me. But I know all I can do is practice and wait. There’s no use waiting for it, after all.

Because that’s the thing about fear – you’re never ready for it.