Horror

Chapter reveal: The Crimson Calling, by Patrick C. Greene

crimsonTitle: THE CRIMSON CALLING

Genre: Horror

Author: Patrick C Greene

Website: www.PatrickCGreene.com,

Publisher: http://hobbesendpublishing.com

Find out more on Amazon

Centuries after the eradication of vampires and the death of their Queen in the Great Fire of London in 1666, the vampire population now numbers in only the hundreds. A few of the remaining survivors have regrouped and formed a High Council to unite their numbers. Now a new threat has arrived: modern day military is not only tracking members of the council, they are attempting to create their own vampire soldiers. Enter Olivia Irons. Ex Black Ops, doing her best to live a normal civilian life, but it never feels right. No family, no friends, trouble always close. When the Sanguinarian Council offers her the chance of a lifetime, the biggest risk of all seems like the only path left to choose. How will she answer The Crimson Calling?

Prologue:

The Italian Job

Sergio Toscatti wiped down the pristine MP5, the last of the guns that had arrived earlier that day. His crew, having inventoried this latest shipment from their American source, was already lighting cigarettes, rolling blunts, and pouring wine.

Sergio looked down the long, scarred work table and discreetly scanned the faces of his crew as he always did, looking for any signs of chicanery, potential betrayal, or worse, growing conscience. He had eliminated more than one of his employees in the past, and was sure he would have to do so again; all part of the black market gun trade. It was the last of the evening’s immediate business matters.

He tapped the old school long barrel .38 holstered at his side, the piece that had earned him the nickname “Blue Eyes” despite his irises being so brown they were almost black. The title was based on The Man with No Name character played by Clint Eastwood in the trilogy of westerns produced by Sergio’s countrymen in the mid-sixties.

The big gun was both an insurance policy and a flashy fashion accessory. If Sergio had run the statistics, he would have found nearly all of his “transactions” had gone much more smoothly since he had begun wearing the rig. As an added bonus, he also got laid more consistently.

Melina, exhaling smoke through lips parted and shaped perfectly to suggest a blowjob, returned Sergio’s gaze with eyes very much the blue of Eastwood’s iconic character. “Seeing what you want to?” she purred.

Sergio only smiled, noting both Carlo and Pierre deliberately avoiding his gaze. “You’re just such a sexy band of rogues. I can’t get my eyes off from you,” he answered in his charmingly slaughtered English.

Carlo ventured a nervous glance at Sergio, receiving a wink in return.

Melina nodded, crossing her arms and leaning back against the edge of the table. Ballsy little bitch she is, thought Sergio.

“All right. Listen up,” he shouted.

The others lined up along the front of the table, passing along a roll of sanitary wipes for the gun oil on their hands. Starting with Pierre on the end, Sergio inspected each of the four with the scrutiny of a drill sergeant. The Frenchman’s gaze darted around the sparsely lit warehouse like he was watching a pinball game, never landing anywhere for more than a split second, never meeting Sergio’s at all.

The American headbanger Muffin, who looked like a satanic Chris Cornell and knew it, smacked his chewing gum and brushed dust from his Iced Earth shirt, clearly bored.

Carlo, slight of build and far from confrontational, relied on a dazzling smile in any instance which did not absolutely require violence, and he flashed it now as he raised his wine glass, ever the charming bastard. Sergio imagined quick-drawing his six-shooter, shattering the glass with a precisely placed bullet and a pinging ricochet sound effect.

Her eyes never leaving Sergio’s, Melina wagged her head slightly, as if implying she was contemplating a renewal of the sexual element of their efficient, but often stormy working relationship.

“Congratulations to everyone, and thanks for all your hard works.” Unlike his marksmanship, Sergio’s English was hit and miss at best, but it was the only language they all knew. “By far, this is our biggest shipment yet. Already in this afternoon, I have buyers for roughly sixty percentage of all these guns.”

The crew responded with celebratory claps, whistles, and the raising of glasses.

“We will be very rich peoples in a matter of weeks.”

High fives, fist bumps.

Sergio narrowed his gaze, as he deliberately zeroed his keen stare on Pierre. “Hey, Pierre. Tell me something. What will you do with your cut of the monies?”

Pierre pointed at himself comically, his eyes suddenly as wide as silver dollars. “Me?” A nervous laugh escaped him. “Oh I dunno. Maybe, go to America? Vegas?”

Beside him, Muffin laughed cynically. “America sucks. And Vegas blows.”

Sergio suddenly drew his gun, spun it on his finger like Eastwood, dropped it smoothly back into the holster, and returned his gaze to his crew, never missing a beat. “You, Carlo. What will you do when you get paid?”

Carlo was speechless, startled by the furious quick-draw display. Sergio slowly stepped closer to him, letting the clacking sound of his hand-tooled cowboy boots echo through the gloomy warehouse.

“Something is wrong with Carlo. Don’t you think something is wrong with Carlo, Pierre? What could it be?”

Pierre pointed at himself again. “You want to know what I … what I … think is wrong?”

Muffin issued a quiet, fake cough, pushing away from the table and stepping past Sergio, careful to remain in his periphery.

Pierre glanced forlornly to his side, toward the guns lined along the table, none of which were loaded.

Sergio continued to stare a hole through Carlo.

Carlo smiled his dazzling smile, laughed his disarming laugh. “Hey, hey, Sergio. I feel like you are not trusting me right now. What can I do to prove I’m with you? Eh?” When Sergio didn’t answer, Carlo held his arms out wide, as if expecting an embrace. “Come on, my brother. I would never want to ruin what we have here!”

Sergio tapped the six-shooter. “Carlo, my friend. I swear if I was a faggot, I would fuck you so hard.”

All of a sudden, Sergio drew the gun, pushing it against the hollow of Carlo’s throat, drawing a startled gasp.

Pierre glanced at Muffin, Sergio’s ever-loyal enforcer, and knew Muffin would give chase if Pierre ran.

Melina uncrossed her arms and slowly walked backward to stay clear of any flying grue.

“No no no no no, come on, old friend!” Carlo sputtered.

“A few crates from our last shipment have gone missing … old friend,” Sergio said. “And you, Mister Charming, smart business dude, you have been acting strangely.”

“Wait! What … what about Pierre?”

“Pierre? Oh, Pierre knew, didn’t you, Pierre?” Sergio said, arching his dark eyebrows. “He just wasn’t sure how to tell me. Isn’t that right, Pierre?”

“Oh yes!” Pierre pointed at himself again. “I was waiting for the right time!”

Sergio sharply turned the gun to Pierre, taking a long step back from Carlo, who gasped, before deflating with relief.

“The only right times are the nows, Pierre,” Sergio intoned. Melina tried to stifle it, but snickered at the clumsy sentence structure. Sergio spun the gun toward her, infuriated by her disrespect. She merely rolled her eyes, every inch the jaded sexpot.

Sergio had almost decided to gun them all down and start fresh—when the lights went out.

“Shit! What the fuck?” Carlo cried.

Remaining cool, Sergio drew his Maglite from its little nylon sheath as deftly as he had the six shooter. He had it clicked on and was scanning the crew before any of them could react to the sudden darkness. “We’re all here, no?”

“We’re all here, boss. Relax.” Pierre, who Sergio would have expected to be the first to bolt, drew closer.

Sergio pointed the Maglite into Carlo’s eyes, the six shooter at his chest. “Are you doing this, Carlo?”

“No no no, boss. Never!” Carlo’s denial was as emphatic as a liar’s. But Sergio saw a fearful sincerity in his eyes.

“Muffin. Check the breakers box.”

Cursing under his breath, Muffin stalked away.

A flickering, dim beam suddenly emerged from Melina’s position, followed by a pair of smacks, the girl trying to coax more juice into the bulb. She raised it to inspect, casting herself in eerie, campfire-tale light. “Fucking piece of shit …”

There was a restrained rustling in the air above them, crossing Melina’s beam. She had only a millisecond to look up before a large pale spider leapt onto her face. With a yelp she was suddenly lifted into the high darkness. Her light clattered to the floor and fell black.

Pierre and Carlo gasped, and Sergio realized it wasn’t a spider that grabbed her, but a hand.

He shushed his men, shining his Maglite into the air where he’d seen Melina take off like a rocket. Crates of various goods were stacked twelve feet or higher, above which there was only whirling dust and space and rafters.

Keeping the thin beam trained on the edge of the top crate, Sergio stepped back carefully, now cursing the loud boot-steps he had relished just moments ago. Carlo was in cuddling range, preferring the man who was planning to murder him over the unfathomable darkness. His breath danced unnervingly across the little hairs of Sergio’s neck.

A small hand appeared at the edge of the crate, gripping it with shivering fingers. Carlo tensed, drawing even closer to Sergio.

Then Melina’s terrified face was there, shock visible in her eyes even through the long, curly strands of auburn hair falling before them. She brought her other hand around and made a “come on” gesture. She spoke with great effort. Sergio could not hear her, only read her lips: “Shoot … me …”

Obscenely long fingers clapped across her face and wrenched her head back, her muffled gasp echoing through the rafters. Her body was dragged out of sight in an instant.

Sergio realized Carlo was clutching his left arm like a woman. Whatever this did for Carlo, it offered Sergio no comfort. “Get your ass off me!” he stage-whispered. “My left boot, another gun.”

Carlo relinquished his death grip to grapple with the cuff of Sergio’s tight jeans, finding the little .25 after sending chills up Sergio’s spine with his scrabbling, corpse-cold fingers. Sergio shook his leg impatiently, sending the little gun sliding into the blackness.

“Dammit!” Carlo exclaimed, his voice shaking, as he searched on hands and knees. “Shine the light, Sergio!”

But Sergio ignored him, keeping the beam pointed at the swirling dust motes where Melina and her spider-fingered assailant had just been. “Muffiiiinnn!” he called, not liking the thin, high tone in his voice.

“Here!” Muffin called back. “What the fuck is going on?”

“Just get your ass over to here!” Sergio answered. He suddenly remembered Pierre. “Pierre! Where are you?”

 

Pierre had no intention of sticking around. From what he knew of the sellers with whom they had just done business, it was a simple leap of logic to realize they’d been set up. After seeing that bone-white killing hand, Pierre knew he was better off on his own.

Pierre felt his way along the crates, knowing when he reached the end it was only a few meters to the door, and the industrial sector beyond, where a rat or a coward, or even a shady gunrunner with a future, could hide-and-seek his way right into the heart of the city.

He found the door handle and pushed it, relieved it opened onto moonlit fog and wasn’t barricaded. His foot never touched the outside ground though. Something grabbed his collar, yanking him back inside with impossible speed.

Slamming back first into the crate, Pierre saw something like the finale to Star Wars in his mind’s eye; all starlight and explosions. Bouncing off the crate and hitting the floor, he scrambled to a stand. Pierre cried out, feeling his shattered ribs crunch and flex so painfully he could barely move. But move he would, if only so he could die outside.

He stumbled right into the chest of a man. A man who seemed rooted to the floor, for he did not move a fraction of an inch when Pierre ran into him. The impact left Pierre crying out as the shockwave registered in his ruined ribcage. He fell to his butt, holding his sides, trying not to breathe.

Then, eyes blazing with the cold white light of damnation were drilling into his, breath like grave dirt blasting his nostrils. Pierre tried to scream but had no air in his lungs. Icicle fingers grabbed his chin and wrenched Pierre’s head to the side. In his last seconds, Pierre remembered something from history class that had always terrified him.

Something about vampires.

Fangs pierced his neck like a giant staple, but did not stop there. The vampire clamped its jaws together, taking a huge bite of the muscle and tendon in Pierre’s neck, growling like a jungle cat as it wrenched its head sideways. Pierre died contemplating the strange feeling of blood pumping from his neck.

 

Sergio hadn’t responded when he asked what was happening, but Muffin could still hear the cowboy boots scraping and clopping about, and it sounded like a small firearm had clattered to the floor as well. That meant either Carlo or Sergio had had it hidden and now it had come into play. There had been no gunfire, so either they were struggling over it, or something else had come up. Judging by the power outage, the latter seemed more likely.

Sparking his Zippo, Muffin found his Glock where he’d hidden it between the wall and a supporting brace. He let the lighter go out and checked the magazine, happy to feel the weight of a full load, the smooth cylinder of the topmost bullet. He slapped the mag back in and skimmed the Zippo across his jeans to re-light it, holding it out to the side with his left hand while pointing the Glock straight ahead with his right.

The breaker box was about twelve to fifteen paces dead-ahead, well outside the light output of his lighter’s flame. He thought he heard an exit door open at the other end of the warehouse; likely Pierre making an escape. Good. Muffin never liked turning his back to the Frenchman, much less being with him in pitch black darkness.

Something shuffled between the rows of crates he was passing. The Zippo’s sphere of illumination extended eight feet or less, and the shuffling sound seemed to have come from a bit farther.

Muffin cursed the confining crates, wishing Sergio had made a deal with somebody else for their business headquarters. Warehouses were so fucking cliché anyway.

The boot clatter stopped. “Sergio!” he bellowed.

Muffin didn’t like this feeling, his heart pounding, something softly shuffling inches from his range of vision. It was nothing like the adrenaline rush of a well-lit gun battle. “SERGIO!” he called.

His heart sank as the darkness and silence grew heavier. Then: “TURN ON THE FUCKING BREAKERS, DUMBFACE ASS!” Sergio yelled. Muffin had never been so relieved to hear such obnoxious butchery of the English language.

Turning back to the aisle between the crates, Muffin almost jumped out of his skin. A squat, bald man dressed in dark military fatigues stood there. Muffin might not have seen him except his exposed face and hands were pale as white satin, and his eyes were like glowing ice.

Muffin raised the Glock. “Bad plan, crashing our party, fireplug,” Muffin quipped, then fired twice.

In the second that it took for his eyes to adjust from the muzzle flashes, the figure had disappeared.

“Muffin! What are you shooting?” Sergio demanded.

“Fuck this,” Muffin said to himself, turning to make a bee line for the exit—only to find the squat man standing in front of him, grinning with jackal’s teeth. Muffin tried to take a deep step back to make room for shooting, but the pale assassin grabbed his lighter and snatched it away, along with any hope of escape.

“NO!” Refusing to accept the inevitability and ease of his demise, Muffin discharged another two rounds, seeing in the muzzle flash that the demon was not in front of him but at his side, opening its toothy mouth wide.

Muffin’s long hair was a convenient handle, used to pull his head back so violently it broke his back. Muffin had the sudden idea of blowing his own brains out, but no longer had the necessary motor control. He didn’t even scream as the jagged teeth sliced and crushed his esophagus.

 

“MUFFIIIINNN!”

When the metalhead did not answer, Sergio realized his chances of survival had dropped dramatically, for there would be no light to expose their attacker. He finally relented and brought the Maglite beam down to help Carlo find the .25.

He instantly regretted it, for the expression of sheer terror on his countryman’s face nearly destroyed Sergio’s already decaying fighting spirit.

The erratic beam finally danced briefly across the handgun, and quickly returned to it.

“There! Go get it,” Sergio commanded.

Desperate, Carlo looked like a hideous man-monkey hybrid shuffling on all fours toward the prize. But once he had it, he rose to the height of a man. “Now we get this bastard, Blue Eyes.” Carlo ran to Sergio and the two came back-to-back, pointing their weapons into the threatening blackness.

“Now you see my loyalty,” Carlo said, and Sergio allowed himself a moment of regret for nearly killing the slender Sicilian. Then he realized he might need Carlo as a distraction.

“Okay, Carlo. We walk together to the corner where we can see everything, and we wait. You walk in front, and I shine the way. We see something, we both shoot.”

“You sure about this, Sergio?” Carlo asked, sensing Sergio’s motives. “We fight together, right?”

“Just go,” Sergio ordered, turning and pushing Carlo in front of him with the barrel of his pistol.

Carlo managed only a single furtive step before the side of his neck exploded, sending a hissing spray of steaming blood into Sergio’s beam. Carlo spun, looking to Sergio for help.

Mi Maria, Mother of God …” Sergio whispered.

The tall, beefy vampire who had just slashed through Carlo’s jugular stepped into Sergio’s beam, smiling a bloody grin as he caught his victim mid-collapse.

“We share the last one,” the vampire said.

It took Sergio a moment to realize the nightmare with the crew cut had been speaking not to Sergio, but about him.

His skin crawling, he spun and found the bald one standing there, wiping his mouth with Muffin’s blood-soaked Iced Earth shirt. Sergio raised his gun, shooting the musclebound monster directly in the eye, and was comforted to hear a cry of pain.

Sergio wasted no time waiting to see how much damage he’d done. Keeping the Maglite beam as steady as he could, he plunged forward, in the general direction of the same exit door where Pierre had met his demise.

The taller vampire landed in front of him from an impossible leap, only three or four meters away. Sergio raised his pistol, squeezing off round after round in the general direction of his assailant, switching courses to head between a row of crates, and immediately cursing himself for it. The tight row left him trapped. If the pale killers decided to cover both ends-assuming the one he’d shot in the eye could still function-he was S.O.L. He wasn’t about to underestimate the fuckers.

But it wasn’t the vampires he found waiting at the other end of the row. It was a trio of … aliens? No. U.S. military operatives wearing night vision gear.

Sergio grew hopeful at first; assuming the soldiers were the proverbial cavalry, come to kill the monsters. Then the leader of the trio, a lustfully fit female, removed her headgear, exposing her face in Sergio’s Maglite beam.

It was the woman Devereaux, who hours ago sold him the very gun shipment he and his crew just processed. Only now she was in military tactical garb.

“What are you d—” Sergio’s question died when Devereaux essayed a perfect left crescent kick, breaking his wrist and sending the pistol clattering along the aisle to bounce off the crates like a hockey puck. She continued her momentum into a full spin, her right boot crashing into Sergio’s gut with wrecking ball force.

The gun runner fell to his back, smacking his head on the concrete floor. Now hurting fiercely in three places, Sergio simply lay there groaning.

Then the lights came on, and his eyes hurt too.

“What the fuck went wrong?” Devereaux impatiently asked one of her troops, Belfort, as he removed his night vision goggles.

“This one’s starting to … dissolve,” came the response.

Devereaux started down the aisle, pointing to Sergio and speaking to the soldier on her right. “Porter. Stay with him.”

The soldier grinned as he stepped close, nodding at Sergio. Sergio, trying to catch his breath and holding his broken hand gingerly, didn’t have it in him to stare Porter down, even if he could focus. Instead, he looked down the aisle to see what Devereaux was doing.

“Oh, you wanna watch?” the black soldier asked in a cocky, almost whimsical tone. “Come here.” Porter dragged Sergio by the collar. Seeing what was transpiring, Sergio almost felt sympathy for the predator who had nearly slaughtered him.

The squat bloodsucker was on his knees, shaking so violently he was a blur, blood and brain matter spewing from his eye socket. Six more soldiers, two of them wearing some kind of tanks on their backs, stood a few paces back, watching. Except for the stone-faced Devereaux, they seemed not only shocked, but dismayed. The taller vampire was leaning against the crates wheezing, a strange look of pained terror on his face.

As the bald vampire’s convulsions became more intense, the soldiers began to back away, warily looking toward the end of the aisle in case they needed to retreat. Blood and other fluids sloshed around the doomed vampire, hitting the floor with a sickening splatter.

A moment later, his entire body simply collapsed upon itself like an inflatable Halloween decoration just unplugged, putrescence oozing like molasses from his sleeves and pant cuffs.

The soldiers stared at the mess with grim expressions.

“This doesn’t look good for you, my friend,” Devereaux said to the other vamp standing nearby.

One of the soldiers picked up Sergio’s six-shooter and handed it to Devereaux. She opened the cylinder and dumped the remaining bullets and empty shells into her hand. She inspected them, rolled them around a bit, and turned toward Sergio. “Standard .38s?”

Sergio didn’t give an answer, but Devereaux didn’t need one. She handed the shiny pistol back to the soldier and stepped toward the still wheezing vampire. “Can you describe what’s happening, Frakes?”

The tall vampire, his icy eyes watering and his chest heaving, struggled to speak. “… You have to … help me …”

“Frakes, you knew the risks. You agreed to continually provide us with information on your condition, even if things went wrong,” Devereaux said coldly.

Frakes’ legs and hands shook. And in his eyes: good old-fashioned fear for his own imminent demise. “… No … help me, now … and I’ll … I’ll tell you whatever you need to know.”

Devereaux shook her head impatiently. “You’re obsolete now anyway.” She turned to the two soldiers with tanks on their backs. “Hose him.”

Frakes, feral in his desperation, tried to push away from the crate, hissing at the approaching executioners. They aimed what amounted to large-gauge pesticide spray nozzles at the shaking bloodsucker and blasted him. Frakes lunged at the nearest one, but dissipated into a roiling, hissing cloud of steam in the time it took Sergio to gasp.

Devereaux was already on her cell phone. “Devereaux here. Phase one successful. Phase two? Not so much. The stress of combat seems to overload their systems. Both subjects crapped out, one from a fucking bullet wound. Full report by 1200 tomorrow. Weapons recovered, test control subjects eliminated.”

Looking to Sergio’s babysitter, she made a thumbs-down motion. Sergio screamed his pleas to be spared—but Porter quieted him via a sharp blow with the butt of his assault rifle, before turning the gun around to make use of the other end.

 

 

 

Part 1:

Plans

 

Chapter 1

 

Liv huffed her exasperation, blowing a longish strand of red hair from her field of vision. She expected something like this to come along. But she had hoped to at least be settled into her new town and job before dealing with any drama.

The trio’s leader was hardly scruffy at all. In fact, Liv wagered he was clean cut, even handsome underneath his day-glo orange ski mask, except for the bad teeth. His weapon of choice: a shiny snub-nosed .38; great for waving around and directing traffic.

The sweaty, swarthy one that came next had chosen a ski-mask as well, his being lime-green, and wielded a scratched and scarred sawed-off ten gauge. The third member of the hold-up gang sported a hunting rifle; unwieldy at best, in this circumstance, with what appeared to be a dirty, ragged piece of a sky-blue windbreaker wrapped around all but his eyes.

“Everybody get your fuckin’ hands in the air so we don’t have to give you no lead poison!”

The twenty-ish leader, “Orangey” Liv internally dubbed him, spoke loudly but didn’t shout. Clearly this was not his first rodeo. Behind him, “Limey” was wildly glancing to-and-fro, crouched wide, his weapon held like a hose in the hands of a firefighter.

“Windy” stayed near the door, pointing the rifle at Rex, the cook and only male on staff during the twenty-four hour diner’s graveyard shift. Windy’s sexist attitude would give Liv an advantage to add to the many she already had.

 

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Chapter reveal: The Conveyance, by Brian W. Matthews

Title:  THE CONVEYANCE

Genre:  Horror/SciFi/Thriller

Author: Brian W. Matthews

Website: http://www.brianmatthews.org

Publisher: JournalStone

Purchase on Amazon

Beneath the calm waters and pastoral fields of Emersville, a deadly secret lurks. When psychologist Dr. Brad Jordan stumbles upon the odd happenings in the town, he unknowingly sets into motion a series of tragedies that could expose a danger long kept hidden from the world. As he doggedly pursues a trail of madness, suicide, and murder, he soon finds himself confronted with a massive conspiracy, and a sinister device known as the Conveyance…

A tense, taut and terrifying tale, The Conveyance is resplendent with twists, turns, and a pulse-racer of a plot.  Informed by the author’s extensive experience as a therapist, The Conveyance teems with authenticity.  The Conveyance is a standout thriller destined to stay with readers long after the last page is turned.

Chapter One 

“I can’t imagine how difficult your life’s been,” I said to the rail-thin boy slouched in the chair opposite mine. At twelve, he wore the characteristic sneer of a child who knew little about the world but hadn’t failed enough times to realize it.

Doug Belle didn’t respond, not that I expected him to. The question had been a trial balloon, my way of gauging his willingness to converse. It worked about half the time. This wasn’t one of them.

“Fighting,” I said. “Not listening to your teachers. At risk for failing classes. Quite a change for you, if I’m not mistaken.”

I paused, letting the message sink in: I already knew something about you, we didn’t have to start from scratch. I left out that I also knew about his other, more serious issues: tendencies towards self-abusive behavior, occasional property destruction, two episodes of running away. Important as they were, they would have to wait. I needed to build a rapport first.

So I waited.

Silence burned the long minutes to ash.

I let the disquiet to play out. From an early age, parental interactions and social norms conditioned us to converse, to follow the ritual back-and-forth pattern of communication, and long periods of silence tended to make us anxious. That, in turn, prompted us to say something—anything—to fill the void.

Another trick, if you will. A way of encouraging patients to open up.

It also failed.

Time to change tactics, see if a little empathy would help.

“A lot’s changed. New home, new school. Forced to make new friends while leaving the old ones behind. Nobody likes having to do that.”

Doug sat, head down, arms clenched over his chest. One leg kicked back and forth, the heel of his sneaker smacking against the sofa.

Bang bang bang

Neither of us spoke, conscripted soldiers in a wordless war. But like a man defending his native country, I had an advantage: I knew the terrain. I knew every treacherous drop-off, every false turn, every dead end. Eventually, I would win. Not that victory would come easily. A fourteen-year-old girl I’d treated for an eating disorder sat through six sessions before uttering her first word. She was a tough nut. I liked her.

I was beginning to like Doug, too.

That didn’t mean I wanted to spend the next few sessions playing Easter Island with him, staring at one another like great stone statues. I reached into my desk, withdrew a handful of small, squarish objects wrapped in white wax paper and covered with blue and red lettering. I unwrapped one and popped the pink tablet into my mouth.

Bubble gum, and not just any kind of bubble gum.

Bazooka bubble gum.

I chewed loudly, waiting.

Bang bang bang

The cloying smell of sugar filled my office. Some in my field might have called this tactic immature, or even unfair. Perhaps they were right. But to me it was more about encouraging kids to open up than quibbling about the method used. It was, after all, only bubble gum. And sometimes a cigar really was just a cigar.

Bang bang bang

Bang bang

Bang

Doug’s defiance wound down like a pendulum running out of time, until his jean-clad leg hung motionless over the edge of the sofa. He fidgeted a little—reluctant to give up the fight, no doubt. His shoulders gradually unclenched. His hands, which had been tight balls of anger, opened, and he wiped his sweaty palms on his shirt.

That was all he would allow. His head remained firmly down, his eyes averted.

I held out my hand. “Care for one?”

No response—then, a slight nod of his head.

“Do you have braces?”

He mumbled something unintelligible.

“I didn’t catch that.”

“No.”

“Sorry, champ. You’ll have to prove it. I don’t want any trouble with your mom.”

Another pause, longer this time. I began to worry that I hadn’t won him over.

Before I could withdraw the treats, he lifted his head. Strands of fine ginger hair covered the upper half of his face. He brushed them aside to reveal brilliant green eyes.

His lips parted into a reluctant smile.

He had told the truth: no braces.

“Here you go.” I dumped the gum into his hand. “The rest are for later.”

He unwrapped one and began chewing.

“What do you prefer to be called?” I said. “Dougie, or Doug?”

“Doug. I hate Dougie.” He paused. “What am I supposed to call you?”

“Well, my name is Doctor Bradley Jordan, but that’s a mouthful. Most kids stick with Doctor Brad.”

* * *

Doug unwrapped another piece of gum and stuffed it into his mouth. His jaws worked like a wood chipper trying to grind a forest into sawdust.

For the first ten minutes we chatted about this and that, skirting the more emotionally charged issues. Eventually, we arrived at the difficulties of being “the new kid.”

“Johnny Richardson’s pretty cool,” Doug said. “He’s got one of those funny divots here.” He jabbed a finger at the middle of his upper lip. “What do you call those?”

“Harelip?”

“Yeah, that’s it. A harelip. Anyway, his ain’t so bad. Johnny says there’s lots worse. Still, he’s gotta have surgery. I feel bad for him. He gets picked on a lot.”

“It’s never easy being different.”

“That’s why Johnny and me, we stick together. We’re pals. He’s got my back, and I got his.”

“He’s lucky to have a friend like you.” I paused. “Is Johnny one of the reasons you’re getting into fights?”

Doug made a sour face. “He don’t know how to defend himself. He stands there like an idiot, arms hanging at his sides. He don’t know nothin’ about fighting. Never hits back, just stands there, eyes big and shiny. I’m surprised he hasn’t pissed himself.” He looked at me with hard, unforgiving eyes. “That’s the worst part, you know—letting them see you’re scared, showing them you’re weak. You might as well wear a shirt that says ‘fuck with me’ across the front. I tried to tell him, tried to get him to man up, but he don’t listen. He never listens.”

“You associate fear with weakness.”

“You mean you don’t?”

“I’m more interested in what you think.”

“Nobody cares what I think.” He picked up a stuffed animal, a fuzzy orangutan I occasionally used during play therapy with my younger patients, and began tossing it in the air. “I’m just a kid.”

“That doesn’t make you unimportant.”

“If you say so.”

“Somebody’s told you different?”

“Kids are kids,” Doug said glumly. “They’re meant to be seen and not heard.” He caught the orangutan in his fists and stared at it. “Why do you have a toy monkey in your office?”

He was stalling, changing the subject. Fine, at least he was still talking.

“I sometimes use them in my work.” I pointed to a large plastic container in the corner of my office. It was filled to the top with dolls, hand puppets, Matchbox cars, and games like Connect Four and Trouble and Uno.

“People pay you to play games?”

“Among other things.”

“Did you have to go to school for this job?”

“College, eight years. It was a long time.”

Doug snorted. “All that, just to play fucking games?”

His words hung in the air. More time passed. Therapy was often a waiting game.

“That’s twice I dropped the f-bomb,” he said finally, “and you didn’t say anything. How come?”

“It’s one of the rules. You can say what you want in here, within reason, and you don’t have to worry about being judged. Another rule: our talks are confidential. No one will know what you’ve said. Only under certain circumstances will I break that confidence.”

Doug’s eyes narrowed. “What circumstances?”

“If you say you’re going to hurt yourself or someone else, I will tell your mother, possibly the school authorities, maybe even the police. I won’t allow anyone to get hurt. And if I receive a court order for your records, I’ll have to turn them over. That’s usually not an issue, but you have a right to know.”

“Whatevs.” He held out his hand. “You got a tissue or something?”

I handed him the box of Kleenex. I had nineteen more in the closet next to the door. I ran through them like they were…well, like they were tissue paper. I should own stock in Kimberly-Clark.

Snatching a tissue, Doug hawked the wad of gum into it, wrapped it into a lumpy, gooey ball, and lobbed it at my trash can. The pinkish-white monstrosity bounced off the rim and tumbled to the floor.

“No worries,” I said, picking up the sticky mess and dropping it into the can. “Three-point range. Not an easy shot.”

He looked around the room. “Why am I here? What am I supposed to do?”

“What you’ve been doing. Talk, ask questions, think.”

“Sounds like a waste of time.”

“It could be, if you let it. Therapy is like any other activity—the more you put into it, the more you get out. Work hard enough and you might be surprised at what you could accomplish.” I paused. “Tell you what, you agree to work hard, and I promise to work just as hard. What do you say, do we have a deal?”

He stared at me, his expression tight. “What do I have to talk about?”

“Whatever you want. It’s your time.”

My answer must have pleased him. His face relaxed, and he lost some of his adolescent guardedness. For a moment, I caught a glimpse of what he would look like as an adult: strong, bold, yet at the same time, sensitive. A rare mix in a world where role models were spoiled pop stars and unapologetic, multimillionaire athletes.

Doug Belle was a good kid.

He was also a troubled kid.

“I know there have been problems,” I said. “You’re not here as a punishment. My only concern is for you and how you’re feeling. I’d like to help, but in the end, it’ll be up to you. No one can force you to talk.”

More silence, longer this time. The overpowering smell of bubble gum had thinned to a nauseating wrinkle in the air. Outside my office, a door opened, followed by heavy footsteps as someone lumbered toward the waiting room.

I resisted glancing at my watch. Never let someone think your time was more important than his. George H. W. Bush made that mistake and it had cost him the trust of the American people.

Doug held the orangutan, his thumb caressing its tattered cheek. He blinked, three times in rapid succession. A tear spilled from the corner of his eye and traced a path down his cheek. He wiped at it with an angry hand.

Was he thinking of his father, or his mother, now a widow?

Was he thinking of himself?

Would he see his tears as a sign of weakness and shut down?

I didn’t know. I could only wait, so I did.

Doug finally let out a long, slow sigh and tossed the doll aside. “Do I have to talk about my dad?”

“Only if you want to.”

“And if I don’t?”

I spread my hands. “Like I said, it’s your time.”

“You always this easygoing?”

“Mostly.”

He eyed the container of toys. “I’m pretty good at Connect Four.”

I felt comfortable checking the time. “Maybe a game or two.”

Doug reached for the container. There was a hint of a grin on his freckled face.

Yeah, he was one of the good ones.

* * *

Doug hadn’t lied. He was killer at Connect Four, beating me three games straight. I frequently let patients win, but by the last match, I was putting my full effort into the game. He still trounced me, blocking my pieces time and again.

I congratulated him, told him it was time to go, and packed up the game.

We found his mother in the waiting room, sitting alone and leafing through an old edition of Entertainment Weekly. Desiree Belle was in her mid-thirties, but grief had eroded her youthfulness and left behind a woman who looked much older. She had limp, languid hair parted down the middle, haunted eyes, and she wore a dark jacket that hung like a sack over her thin frame. Her socks didn’t even match.

Doug wasn’t the only one in trouble.

Desiree Belle noticed us standing in the doorway. A smile erased some of the years. She rose and held out her arms. “How’d it go, honey?”

Doug slipped into her embrace. The hug didn’t last long. “Pretty good. He wants me to come back next week.”

“If that’s okay with you,” I said.

“I’ll do whatever he needs.” Her smile faded; the years returned. “Do you think you can help him?”

“He’s bright. As long as he keeps working, I think we can do some good.”

Desiree touched Doug’s shoulder. “He’s the man of the house now. We need him to straighten up.”

Oops, there went my red flags. “Can we talk for a moment, Mrs. Belle?” I pointed to the hallway. “In private.”

“Sure, I guess.” She turned to Doug. “Go have a seat, honey. I’ll be right back.”

I led her down the hallway, far enough from the waiting room so Doug couldn’t hear us. Cheery watercolor prints hung on the walls. I doubted they would soften the blow of what I was about to say.

“Mrs. Belle—”

“Call me Dee Dee. Everyone does.”

“All right. Dee Dee, please keep in mind your son is only twelve. That’s a difficult age. Couple it with the loss of his father and you can see what happens.” I paused. “He’s trying to cope with a lot right now. Too much, really, for him to process effectively. That’s why he’s here.”

“I know all this,” she said stiffly. “It’s why I’m getting him help.”

“I think his school suggested the therapy, but that’s beside the point. What concerns me is your ‘man of the house’ statement. It puts unintended pressure on Doug. He’ll want to please you; to prove he can live up to your expectations. The trouble is, he can’t. He can’t be a man when he’s still a boy, and he needs to be a boy for a little while longer. You need to let him be a boy.”

“Are you saying this is my fault? He’s behaving like this because of me?”

“No, of course not. I just want you to understand that words carry power, and with them, consequences. Doug loves you very much. He’ll want to make you happy. But for now he needs to focus on himself. Making him responsible for the family, even if it’s just an off-hand comment, won’t help.”

Dee Dee Belle snugged her jacket more tightly over her shoulders, as if it were a shield against my words. A classic defensive gesture.

“I’m doing the best I can,” she said. “I hadn’t planned on being a single mother.”

“None of this is meant as an accusation. I’m simply looking out for your son’s best interests.”

“Fine, I’ll watch what I say.”

“Another thing.” I lowered my voice. “I know this has been tough on everyone. If you don’t mind, I’d like to give you the name of a colleague, a woman who specializes in grief counseling. I think she might be able to help you, and in the process, help you help Doug.”

Her expression grew hard. I’d seen the same look on her son, not an hour ago. “You think I’m the one who needs a shrink.”

“Everyone needs help from time to time. It’s not a sign of weakness.”

“I appreciate your concern, but I coping well enough. I don’t need to talk to someone.”

Then she glanced at her watch, and I knew I’d lost her.

I stifled a sigh. Doug was my patient, not her, and I knew better than to push. I led her back to the waiting room.

“Will next week at the same time work for you?” I asked.

“I’ll let you know.” She grabbed her son by the arm and practically dragged him out of the waiting room.

Doug glanced over his shoulder and waved goodbye.

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Chapter reveal: TRISOMY XXI, by G.A. Minton

Title: TRISOMY XXI

Genre: Horror

Author: G.A. Minton

Publisher: World Castle Publishing

Purchase on Amazon

Sixteen-year-old Joshua Allen was born with an extra chromosome—a genetic aberration known as Trisomy XXI, or Down Syndrome.  When a serious accident leaves him in a coma at the hospital, Joshua receives a mysterious injection that endows him with supernatural powers.  The transformed teen is linked to a string of bizarre, unexplained deaths that have both the town’s sheriff and the coroner baffled. But when a ghastly creature from another planet lands on Earth and begins its hunt for Joshua—viciously slaughtering anyone in its path in order to complete its deadly mission—Joshua and his friends are thrust into terrifying circumstances.  What follows is a horrific life-and-death struggle with this seemingly-indestructible extraterrestrial being. The salvation of an entire race of aliens hangs in the balance…

TRISOMY XXI

by GA Minton

Chapter I

HENRY

Spring had finally arrived in the small town of Tranquil.  The winter snow had melted, and all that remained were a few patches of frosty white ice nestled under the shadows cast by some of the loftier pinion pines and alligator junipers.  Like clockwork, Mother Nature had once again displayed her magnificence.  The newly transformed landscape was now alive with a panorama of plant and animal life, recently awakened from a forced slumber under a blanket of wintry snow.

Drawn by nature’s fragrant bouquet, ruby-throated hummingbirds and bumblebees could be seen hovering over colorful spring blossoms, sipping nectar, only to be exploited as naive vectors of pollination.  As a white-tailed deer lapped up freshly melted snow from a babbling brook, two rock squirrels emerged from their seasonal nap, giving noisy chase to each other across a sun-soaked, high-desert terrain.  Off in the distance, the muffled bugle of a big bull elk was faintly audible.

Tranquil, a rural Arizona town with a yearly population of almost three thousand, was located in the picturesque White Mountains, which boasted an elevation of seven thousand feet above sea level.

Most of the people living in this close-knit community were honest, law-abiding citizens who worked in the large copper, silver, and molybdenum mines dotting the area.  The rest of the townspeople were either retired, or small business owners who catered to the assortment of tourists that visited the region each summer.

Tranquil was just like its name, a sleepy mountain community where nothing much ever happened.  Yes, there was that incident that had occurred around six months ago, when Henry Pickridge, a local resident and retired miner with a fondness for straight bourbon whiskey—or  for that matter, any other spirits he could get his hands on—claimed he had been abducted by a space alien.

According to Henry, the extraterrestrial being he encountered that day wasn’t your average run-of-the-mill visitor from another planet.  It wasn’t a little green man or a Grey.  Nor was it cute, furry, or friendly.  The otherworldly thing that attacked Henry was a nightmare—a monstrosity that he’d never seen the likes of before, or ever wanted to see again.  Unfortunately for Henry, the horrific image of that alien creature was permanently etched into his brain.

Henry Pickridge was Tranquil’s proverbial town drunk, a crusty old-timer who lived by himself in a little wooden cabin located on the outskirts of town.  He grew up there, back when it was just a widened area in the road, missed by most passing motorists if they had blinked their eyes.  His father, Foy, was employed by the Midas Mining Company as a miner who worked hard in, at that time, the only molybdenum mine in the area.  Foy worked the lode for over twenty years until he died of lung cancer, when Henry was only fifteen.

In order to help his mother out with the bills, Henry was forced to drop out of school in the eighth grade.  The boy worked in the mines off-and-on for longer than he could remember, until finally retiring a couple of years ago at the age of sixty-eight.  On two separate occasions, Henry ventured out to find work in Texas and New Mexico, but within a few short months found himself back in his beloved Tranquil, homesick and broke.

A rough-and-tough abrasive man, Henry possessed a mouth so foul that it would have knocked the socks off of anyone’s Aunt Mildred.  The old duffer had about as much appeal as a turd in a punch bowl.  He was the king of cuss; the prince of profanity; the sovereign of swear; the viceroy of vulgarity.  Over the years, Henry amassed a huge repertoire of curse words and expletives—an obscene vocabulary that would have elicited the envy of any seasoned sailor or traveled truck driver.  And he didn’t limit himself to the use of the same profane phrases over-and-over again, ad nauseum; nope, the wily senior was too sophisticated for that.  The patron saint of smut had the unique ability to combine certain words together—creating a descriptive expression that would be offensive to anyone around him—one of Henry’s favorites was “pig fornicator.”

Taking immense pride in his unsavory slang, Henry became a connoisseur of the cuss-word, mixing and matching obscenities that would best accommodate his particular conversation or situation—even to the point of applying the art of alliteration in the deliverance of a choice selection of his vulgar verbalizations.  Even though he had barely attained an eighth grade education, Henry must have paid special attention in English class that day when the teacher was discussing the merits of alliteration in sentence construction.  To question if old man Pickridge had a foul mouth would be as ridiculous as asking if the Pope were Catholic—or, in Henry’s language—if the Trojan Horse had a wooden dick, or if a bear craps in the woods.

The silver-haired speaker of smut did his research.  Curious about the origin of cusswords, he visited the town library and learned about some interesting historic accounts pertaining to the derivation of certain obscenities.  Take the word crap, for example.  Henry read in The History Book of Slang, that this word is merely a shortened version of the name Crapper, taken from the English plumber and royal sanitary engineer, Thomas Crapper, the inventor of the modern toilet.

Henry’s verbal antics were even too much for his wife, Mabel, to handle.  She divorced the foul-mouthed fogy many years ago for what her lawyer called irreconcilable differences.  Differences. . .yes; irreconcilable. . .definitely.  “Fix me my damn dinner, you bony bitch!” wasn’t exactly the most romantic of phrases one could use to greet a wife when arriving home after a hard day’s work.  And Mabel didn’t appreciate Henry’s gift of alliteration either, especially when it was used that way—no woman appreciates being called the “b” word.  The old geezer’s lewd language had kept him a bachelor ever since—no self-respecting female would even think about tolerating his vocally offensive shenanigans.

Henry was truly the father of filthy four-letter-words.  If the citizens of Tranquil ever decided to hand out an award for “The Most Potty-mouthed Citizen,” he would be its proud recipient, winning hands down.  It would be a dream come true for Henry—one that he pictured often.  The master of ceremony would heartily announce to a hushed audience, “This year, the recipient of ‘The Most Potty-mouthed Citizen of Tranquil’ award goes to. . .Henry Pickridge!”  The crowd would erupt into loud clapping, cheers, and cat whistles.

Old Henry, dressed in his best fishing outfit, would graciously walk across the stage to receive the prestigious honor.  The boozer would step up to the microphone and read from a wrinkled napkin that he had scribbled his acceptance speech on earlier.  “I humbly accept this bitchin award and I want to thank all you a-holes out there who voted for me!” 

The unruly members of the cheering audience would go crazy—hooting and hollering, screaming and yelling—some chanting “Hen—ry. . .Hen—ry. . .Hen—ry,” while others would cry out, “You da man, Henry. . .you da man!”  Amiably waving and throwing kisses to his rowdy admirers, Henry would proudly exit the stage, shining trophy in hand.  Like perpetual constants of the universe; the earth revolves on its axis every day and Henry Pickridge cusses—that was the name of that tune.

Around six months ago, Henry camped out one night next to Fletcher’s Pool, a small pond that was located about five miles north of Tranquil.  There were some nice trout that resided in the deep fishing hole, and he was going to try to catch a stringer-full.  The only way to get there was to travel on Route 44—a poorly maintained, winding mountain road that everyone used before they built the new highway to Tranquil six years ago.  Now, the pothole-ridden artery was only utilized by those wishing to fish, swim, or picnic at Fletcher’s Pool, although occasionally, a group of backpackers would also take the scenic journey to explore the wooded hills and grassy valleys enveloping the area.  Henry fished there many times before, so he was familiar with the surrounding countryside.  He parked his old blue pickup truck, and set up camp about fifty feet away from the dirt road that was adjacent to the small body of turquoise water.

Henry was the proud owner of a 1965 Chevrolet pickup truck that still sported its original factory paint job, except that now, as a result of weather and time, the “blue” had degenerated into at least five distinct shades of color—ranging from light gray to dark purple.  He would affectionately refer to his well-traveled vehicle as Betsy—Ole’ Betsy if she wouldn’t start.  All of the townsfolk in Tranquil were familiar with Henry Pickridge’s mode of transportation—it was the ancient, broken-down, bluish pickup truck sporting the white sticker with red printing on the back bumper that read, IF YOU CAN READ THIS, THEN YOU ARE DRIVING TOO CLOSE TO ME—SO BACK OFF, JACKASS!  And Scotch-taped to the truck’s rear window was a sign saying, When Guns Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Guns!  Henry was just that kind of a guy—a free spirit who didn’t give a rat’s butt about what others thought of him.

After starting a small fire from the kindling he had gathered from a nearby wooded area, Henry sat down next to the warmth in his worn-out folding sports chair—one that he purchased many years ago when living in Irving, Texas.  The seat and back supports of his wooden throne were constructed from some type of cloth fabric, now noticeably discolored and tattered from weather and wear.  Imprinted on the frayed seat was a faded image of a blue-and-white football helmet, and stenciled on the back of the armchair were the washed-out and barely legible words, Dallas Cowboys.  For all the years that Henry lived in Irving, he had never attended a Dallas Cowboy’s football game, but he did use that chair religiously—for all other outdoor events.

Gazing upward, Henry took off his raggedy New York Yankees baseball cap and repeatedly repositioned it on his head until it felt just right.  The full moon was out that night, shining brightly in all its splendor, and there wasn’t a single, solitary cloud in sight.  His eyes followed the somber stretch of dusky sky, dotted with twinkling luminaries that radiated their brilliance in a way that reminded him of countless white sequins reflecting off of a solid black evening dress.  As Henry meditated the vastness of the firmament above, an occasional streaming white trail of a distant shooting star would entice his peripheral vision, only to disappear from sight as he turned to observe its celestial journey.

While downing several shots of his favorite brew, Henry noticed some strange blinking lights—darting in a zigzag pattern, much like a misguided bottle rocket—moving across the clear, nocturnal sky.

“Well, crap fire and save your matches,” Henry spouted.  “What, in the name of fornication, is that?”

As the mysterious flashing beams approached his campsite, he could visually make out the outline of a cigar-shaped metallic object, dark gray in color.  A dome-like structure extended upward from the middle third of the craft, and Henry estimated the soaring thing’s length to be about fifty feet.  There was absolutely no sound emanating from the unidentified flying object, which hovered effortlessly in a fixed position over the gently swaying, neighboring treetops.

In a state of awe, Henry vigilantly rose from his chair—eyes bugged out and mouth gaped open—astounded by the surreal presence and sheer magnificence of this alien mechanical masterpiece.  He watched intently as the Mack Truck-sized, sheeny Cuban cigar peacefully glided over the nearby assemblage of towering evergreens.  Then in one smooth fluid motion, like a raindrop falling from a leaf, it vertically descended out of sight—into an open meadow located about a hundred yards away from his camp.

“Mamma mia. . .if that’s what I think it is, I’ll kiss a rang-o-tang’s butt,” quipped the old-timer, as he followed the flying saucer’s flight through inebriated eyes.

Outwardly, Henry tried to remain calm, but inside the retired miner’s chest sat an adrenaline-driven heart that was fluttering faster than a thumping pair of hummingbird wings.  His wrinkled flesh crawled with goose bumps, sending a huge wave of chills streaming down the entire length of the weathered fisherman’s scrawny back.  Momentarily spellbound by this strange and unusual event, Henry slowly took off the scruffy baseball cap and scratched his grizzled head, pondering about what his next move should be.

Sitting down next to the fire, he took a big swig out of the whisky bottle, swallowed hard, and then wiped his alcohol-soaked lips on his dirty shirtsleeve.  As he stared across at the crackling flames, a wisp of crisp mountain air coolly caressed his pensive face.  Heaving a deep sigh of deliberation, Henry screwed the cap back on his glass container of booze and defiantly stood up.

“A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!” he crowed.

The effects of the alcohol may have helped, but the determined old imbiber had made up his mind.  He walked over to his truck, opened the door, and grabbed the ivory handled Smith & Wesson, three-fifty-seven magnum, snub-nosed revolver lying on the seat, tucking it under his belt, behind his back.  There was a history behind this hand-held cannon that fired .357 magnum bullets—hollow-point projectiles with enough power to knock down a Clydesdale horse.  It had belonged to his big brother, Fred, who was a member of the Phoenix Police Department—a senior detective with only three months of duty left until his retirement—when he was killed in the line of duty.  Needlessly murdered by two new members of a street gang robbing a 7-Eleven convenience store as a part of their initiation.  It was around four in the morning, and Fred had walked through the front door to buy a pack of cigarettes, catching the robbers totally by surprise.  They had already killed the store clerk, so the pair of punks emptied five caps into the unsuspecting detective—Fred was dead before he hit the ground.  Never even had a chance to un-holster his gun.  The thieves got away with less than a hundred dollars.  This was just one of the thousands of countless, senseless murders that occurs every day when someone is in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Henry used to jokingly caution his brother, “Fred, those damn cigarettes are going to kill you someday,” and he was right—in a bizarre, Twilight Zonesort of way, it was the addiction to the neatly papered cylinders of tobacco that were responsible for the police detective’s untimely death—Rod Serling himself could have authored the script, with its unforeseen O’Henry ending.  Never in his wildest dreams would Henry have thought that something like this could have ever happened to his only brother.  The sterling Smith & Wesson was happily gifted to him by Fred’s wife, who never, ever wanted to see a gun again in her life.  Henry always kept the firearm close by, treasuring it as a memento, in commemoration of his brave older brother.

Hellbent on finding out what the metal thing with the aerial acrobatic maneuvers was, Henry slammed the truck door closed, walked back to the fire, and downed another big gulp of liquor.  Then he set out toward the UFO’s landing site—located due west of his campsite, just beyond the haughty rows of pine, juniper, and fir trees that majestically bordered Fletcher’s Pool.

Slowly making his way through the arbor of wooded columns, Henry’s eyes caught a glimpse of fluorescent light, shimmering brightly from the settled saucer ahead.  As the surplus of coniferous branches gestured in the wind, the rays of illumination radiating from the alien ship twinkled and flickered, like shiny strands of colored tinsel draped loosely over the boughs of a freshly cut Christmas tree.

Exiting a thick grove of ponderosa pines, Henry observed the gargantuan metallic beast with its collection of blinking lights, obscurely nestled in the open grassy field ahead.  As he approached the docked spacecraft, the only sounds audible were the high-pitched chirpings of the crickets around him.  The jittery old coot slowly and silently walked through the thick grass, cautiously stopping about ten feet away from the mystical flying machine.  A sudden gust of howling wind swept across the open meadow, upsetting the rabble of wild flowers clustered around Henry’s feet.  The perennials thrashed about angrily, making thumping sounds as they unmercifully whipped against the pant legs of his trousers.

Standing motionless and taking in a slow deep breath, the amazed septuagenarian marveled at the exquisiteness of the interplanetary phenomenon from another universe.  The smooth outer surface of the saucer was fabricated from a dark gray metallic substance, an alloy that Henry had never seen before.  Flashing luminescent lights, which reflected a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors, extended in a horizontal fashion around the centrally placed dome.  Five symmetrically placed, teardrop-shaped landing extensions projected from the belly of the craft to the ground below.

Henry had watched enough documentaries about military aircraft on television to know that the complex design of this mechanical creation was far too sophisticated to have come from this Earth.  Besides, there were no jets that he knew of that could instantly reverse their direction of flight while traveling at such fantastic speeds—physically defying the laws of gravity.

This thing was definitely extraterrestrial.

Henry happened to look down at the gold plated watch strapped to his left wrist—an inexpensive timepiece he had received as a retirement gift from the Midas Mining Company.  Its luminous white hands were spinning like an airplane propeller, stopping at the high noon mark that was pointed directly at the spacecraft in front of him.  He frowned and grunted, “Suck my sausage. . .this goddam watch had better not be broken—it’s almost brand-spanking new!”  The perturbed souse moved his arm at a forty-five degree angle, extending it away from his body, and like clockwork, the hands again spun furiously, this time ending up praying to the three on the dial.  Henry shook his wrist and said, “Must be some son-of-a-bitchin magnetic thing. . .from that freakin flyin contraption over there.”  In reality, the retired miner was clueless when it came to knowing anything about wristwatches, magnetic forces, or for that matter, alien saucers from outer space.

From a distance, the curious elder examined the UFO’s outer structure, but could see no seams, rivets, joints, or openings on the exterior of the ship, so he carefully moved in closer to get a better look.

Then something suddenly dawned on Henry.  There was no sound coming from the landed spacecraft.

Not a peep.

He cocked his head and listened.

Nothing.

It was disturbingly quiet—too quiet to suit Henry.  A particular reminiscent thought flashed through the old codger’s boggled mind.  He recalled the 1951 science fiction epoch, The Day The Earth Stood Still, a movie that he had seen countless times before.  Would an invisible door suddenly slide open, exposing Gort, the giant frickin alien metal robot that could beam out disintegration rays from where its eyes should be? 

Unsure if he would be facing friend or foe, Henry slowly and carefully reached behind his back, pulled the snub-nosed firearm from his belt, and held it nervously at his side.

Not knowing what to do next, Henry took a deep breath in and anxiously cleared his throat.  His voice quivered as he called out, “Hel. . .hello, is any. . .anyone there?  Any. . .body    . . .home?. . .I ca. . .come in peace!”

Silence.

There was no response from inside the metal aircraft that had arrived from another planet.

Attempting to pacify his building anxiety, Henry jokingly recited the outer space vocabulary he had memorized from his favorite old sci-fi movie—the utterances used to keep the giant robot from harming any Earthlings—“Gort. . .Klaatu. . . Barada. . .Nicto!”  The old drunk felt really stupid saying that, but those were the only alien words that he knew of, and besides, it couldn’t hurt.

Again, no reply was given to the trembling alcoholic.

Henry swallowed hard, gripped the pearl handle of his magnum tightly, and began to slowly raise the barrel.

Without warning, a condensed beam of rainbow-colored light discharged from the undersurface of the craft, seizing the surprised senior citizen in its paralyzing grip.  Henry struggled to get away, but was unable to move a muscle or scream for help.  The gray hair on the back of his neck stood on end, sending a cold shiver down his bony spine.  Henry was so horrified that he thought he was going to lose control of his bowels—take a crap, pinch a loaf, or dump a deuce in his pants, as he would fondly say.  He was petrified. . .too petrified to do anything!  The terrified tippler wouldn’t have been able to drop a load even if he had wanted to.

Son-of-a-bitch!  I’m screwed. . .what am I gonna do now?

Henry was trapped.  He was helpless.

The engrossing iridescent shaft of luminosity lifted the senior citizen slowly and methodically toward the ship.  Floating ever closer to the mammoth spacecraft, the frightened old-timer sensed that someone orsomething inside was watching him.

From nowhere, and without making a sound, a small oval-shaped panel slid open on the hard metallic covering of the UFO, discharging a yellow cloud of foul-smelling gaseous material into the air.  Henry caught a whiff of the vapory miasma, which reminded him of the sour acid reek that he had occasionally inhaled when he was a miner, working in the deep shafts of the molybdenum mines.  It was a fetid smell that he would never forget.  The stench was overwhelming, so Henry held his breath to avoid inhaling any of the noxious fumes.

As the gas slowly dissipated, he caught a shadowed glimpse of something moving from inside the ship.  Rapidly blinking his irritated eyes in order to help clear up the blurry vision, the drunkard could barely make out the gangly figure of an alien being—human-like in appearance—lumbering directly towards him from within the portal opening.

Henry wasn’t one to believe in creatures from outer space—the only aliens he knew of were the illegal ones from south of the border—those with black hair and brown skin that spoke no English and worked for below minimum wage.  Old man Pickridge was in for one helluva surprise!   

Holy Jesus!  What the hell’s that thing?

As the dark anthropomorphic being approached, Henry squinted to try to see its face, but was unable to discern any features—only that it possessed a large, oblong-shaped head.

Don’t come any closer, you overgrown alien piss-ant!

A monstrous reptilian-like extremity reached out for him, grabbing at his frayed shirt collar.  The limb was bulky and muscular, covered with coarse green scales.  Four long flexible fingers with two opposable thumbs, joined together by bands of thick fleshy webbing, extended from the animal’s grotesque hand.  Projecting out from the end of each lime-colored digit was a thick, black fingernail—a horny claw that was long and curved, with serrations—ending in a razor-sharp point.  Henry’s heart was pounding like a rock band’s drummer, and he could feel the surge of adrenaline racing throughout his quivering body.

Do I still have my. . .where’s my damn gun?  Even though he couldn’t move his arms, Henry sensed that the revolver still remained at his side, its pearl handle tightly gripped in the sweaty palm of his trembling right hand.

Closing both eyes and using every ounce of strength that he could muster, he moved his right wrist just enough to elevate the snub-nosed barrel of the Smith & Wesson.  Unable to accurately aim his gun, he would have to shoot from the hip, just like a quick-draw artist—only minus the quick-draw part.

The saurian hand latched onto Henry’s left shoulder, and the frail old man could feel the vise-like grip of the beast’s claws painfully tighten down on his bony flesh.

Then a terrifying thought raced through his head.

This motherthumpin thing is gonna kill me. . .I don’t wanna die. . .not like this!  Henry didn’t want to end up like his brother, the haphazard recipient of a senseless murder.  You weren’t given no chance to do anything, Fred, but I will. . .I will, dammit!

Panicked but determined, the leather-skinned whiskey guzzler concentrated all of his will on his right index finger, which was firmly curled around the contoured trigger of the .357.  Even if he could only fire off one round, his hollow pointed slug was bound to inflict some serious damage to whomever or whatever it hit.

Come on, you pussy. . .squeeze your finger. . .pull the trigger. . .move the hammer. . . shoot the freakin gun!

Forcefully flexing his forefinger, he felt the metal trigger slowly begin to budge, then depress.

Screw you and the horse you rode in on, you alien bastard!

The trigger finally yielded to his finger pressure, firing the weapon once—discharging its deadly hollow-nosed projectile in the direction of the alien aggressor.

“Boooom!”

The report echoed through his ears—a deafening sound, as if two symbols had been clashed together next to Henry’s head.  The recoil of the magnum’s barrel was so intense that the gun flew out of the old man’s hand and landed on the grassy ground below his levitated feet.  A cloud of blue-gray smoke fumed before the alcoholic’s terror-filled eyes, and the strong distinctive odor of gunpowder permeated throughout his flared nostrils.  Those were the last things that Henry remembered before he passed out.

#

When Henry awoke, it was daylight, and the sodden old-timer found himself at the campsite, lying on his sleeping bag, fully clothed, with his baseball cap and shoes still on.  The elder’s revolver, along with his half-full bottle of liquid spirits, lay innocently on the grass next to him.

“What. . .what in the name of Jesus H. Christ is going on?”

Groggy and disoriented, the rousing rummy slowly lifted himself from the sleeping bag and sat up.  His head throbbed, and he felt woozy and weak—like he had been drugged with a Mickey Finn.  Henry instinctively reached over for his nearby bottle of hooch, uncapped it, and tossed down a few nips of intoxicant.

“Oh, man. . .I feel like hammered dog crap.”

Wait a minute. . .how the hell did I get here?  Was that all a dream. . .a damn hallucinatory?  I didn’t drink enough to pass out. . .did I?

Henry popped his baseball cap off and swept back his scraggly locks of silver hair with both hands.  The old alcoholic had suffered through enough hangovers to know that the sensations in his head were very different from those symptoms that he usually experienced after a night of heavy boozing.

“This is just too friggin freaky!”

The befuddled inebriate felt mighty weird, and knew that something creepy had befallen him the night before—something he was presently unable to explain.  Determined to find out what happened, Henry picked up his gun and walked back to the area where the UFO had landed.  He meticulously explored every inch of the grassy field and found nothing—the saucer was gone, leaving no trace that it had ever been there before.  No footprints, no blood, no wounded monster from outer space.

Jumping in his pickup, the dazed dipsomaniac raced back to town and reported his fantastic story to Buck Evans, the sheriff of Tranquil.  Buck was very familiar with the alcoholic antics of Henry Pickridge—he had arrested the old coot several times before for drunk and disorderly conduct.  The experienced lawman was extremely skeptical, but still drove out with the protesting boozer to search the area.  When they arrived at Fletcher’s Pool, Henry led Sheriff Evans to the grassy site where the alleged alien landing had occurred.  They hunted for any signs of an extraterrestrial visit, but found nothing—there was no evidence to indicate that anything had landed there, much less a flying craft from outer space.

Most of the townsfolk never believed Henry’s bizarre account, attributing it either to hallucinations conjured up by his alcohol-demented mind, or to the dream illusions associated with an affliction of sleep paralysis.  Besides, no one else saw the flying saucer or any aliens, and the retired miner had no tangible proof to back up his startling story—except for the oddly shaped bruises on his left shoulder, and the fact that one of the bullets in his three-fifty-seven magnum had been fired.

Henry Pickridge was the talk of Tranquil for the past several months—and because nothing that exciting had ever occurred in the town before, the local gossips milked the scary story for everything it was worth.  Frequenting the local bars in town, the liquor-loving lush would gladly spin his tale over a wet whiskey for anyone who would listen—especially if they paid for the drinks.  Henry really didn’t care whether they believed his grisly encounter with the alien or not—in his mind, he knew that it had happened.

#

After enduring months of a snowy, harsh winter, the community of Tranquil approvingly welcomed the onset of beautiful spring weather.  In preparation for the upcoming tourist season, the residents hung up a“Welcome to Tranquil – The Quietest Town in Arizona” sign over the street entrance to its business district—a city block of about twenty stores, shops, and eating establishments located on both sides of Main Street.

As an orange-red sunset slipped into the western sky, the townspeople prepared for the approaching darkness of night.  Scattered puffs of grayish-white smoke could be seen arising from a handful of chimney tops, as the evening chill still had enough bite in it to warrant the welcome of a warming blaze in the household fireplace.

Most of the residents and newcomers had already departed the downtown area and were heading for home, but a few window shoppers could still be seen milling around the outside of some of the quaint gift shops that were interspersed along the row of small business establishments.  Even though a spattering of rental cars belonging to a handful of visiting tourists remained parallel parked along the curb located on the north side of Main Street, virtually all of the shops and stores in town had pulled the shades, hung up their CLOSED signs, and locked their doors for the night.  For now, everything was peaceful and quiet in the charming little mountain village of Tranquil. . .but that would all change drastically in the days to come.

Categories: Horror, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chapter reveal: Q Island, by Russell James

Title:  Q ISLAND

Genre: HORROR

Author: RUSSELL JAMES

Websitewww.russellrjames.com

Publisher: SAMHAIN PUBLISHING

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book

Epidemic! An ancient virus surfaces on Long Island, New York turning its victims into black-veined, infectious, psychopathic killers. Chaos and madness rule.  In desperation, the military quarantines the island, trapping Melanie Bailey and her autistic son, Aiden. Somehow, Aiden survives the infection. He could be the key to a cure—if Melanie can somehow get him to the mainland.

A taut, tense, terrifying thriller that teems with intensity, Q Island is an eerily realistic tale. With a chilling plot, compelling characters, and a pulse-quickening storyline, Q Island will leave readers breathless.  Earning nods as one of this year’s best horror novels, Q Island is an extraordinary story exceptionally well-told.

About the Author

 

After a tour flying helicopters with the U.S. Army, Russell James now spins twisted tales best read during daylight. In addition to two horror short story collections, Tales from Beyond and Deeper into Darkness, James is the author of seven paranormal thrillers:  Dark Inspiration, Sacrifice, Black Magic, Dark Vengeance, Dreamwalker and Q Island. His next novel, The Portal, is slated for release in 2016. Visit him at www.russellrjames.com.

CHAPTER ONE   

A convoy of six yellow school buses rumbled downhill and into deserted downtown Port Jefferson. They drove past the piers of moored pleasure boats and into the parking lot of the Port Jefferson Ferry Company.

The big, white ship bobbed against the dock, perhaps the largest victim of the quarantine. The boat’s car deck ran along the waterline, and an enclosed passenger cabin made up the second deck. A booth-sized bridge created a third deck from which to con the vessel. A wide, sloppy, red cross painted on the ship’s side dripped rivulets of dried paint, as if the cross had been bleeding. The ferry’s engines fired up. Gray smoke rolled from its stacks.

The buses stopped side by side. The doors swept open. Men armed with rifles or shotguns stepped off of each bus. They formed a rough skirmish line between the buses and the abandoned town, ready to defend against the infected, or anyone else who tried to stop them.

One man waved an arm signal. The buses emptied. A trail of women and children hustled out the open doors. They bustled and fussed as they popped open strollers, belted in kids and strapped on backpacks. Then they surged up the wide metal ramp and onto the ferry. The half circle of men pulled back to the dock’s edge.

The metal ramp began a slow, clunking climb as two chains cranked it skyward. Inside the gearing, something slipped. The chains unspooled and the corrugated ramp slammed down on the concrete dock. The crash of steel on stone rolled out from the harbor and echoed through the desolate streets. The men whirled to face the town at this potential infected call to arms. Safety catches snapped off.

The ramp began a second sweep upward. At two feet off the dock, the drive motor wailed with a grinding, shearing noise. Something snapped like a rifle shot. The ramp stopped moving.

The ship’s great engines revved. The water at the stern churned in a soup of green and white. Mooring lines slid from the ship’s side, and it inched forward against the incoming current. From openings around the waterline, white bedsheets spray-painted with black letters appeared. Each unfurled and displayed one word, like an old Burma-Shave ad—

Only. Women. And. Children. Aboard.

One of the men on the dock turned to face the ship. His shaved head glistened in the sun. A long moustache drooped down to bracket his chin. The red logo on his black leather jacket read Road Demons. He gripped his rifle with hands sheathed in studded half gloves. He squinted at the ship and scowled.

A woman ran to the stern. She wore a bright-red sweater. A blue streak ran the length of her long, dark hair. She gripped the rear railing with one hand and held a bundled baby to her chest with the other. She released the railing just long enough to wave.

Road Demon smiled and raised a gloved fist in response.

Gunfire erupted from the town. A wave of the infected surged across the parking lot. Several fired wild shots from pistols as they ran. The rest carried weapons that ranged from bats to metal bars.

The men on the dock didn’t dash for the bus, unconcerned about their own safe escape. They dropped to one knee and returned fire. Gaps formed in the front rank of the infected. Replacements filled it. The mob drove forward.

The men got off one more volley. Then the infected surged through and over them. The first rank mauled the defenders, tearing at them with bars and blades and teeth. The rest rushed past to the ferry.

The crowd on the ship let out a collective scream. The ferry’s nose dipped as the passengers ran from the endangered stern.

At the dock, three infected in a flat-out run launched themselves at the retreating ferry. The first fell straight into the water. The second landed with the ramp’s edge across its chest. It scrambled for a handhold on the slick metal surface and then slipped off into the wake from the ship’s spinning propellers. A red patch surfaced in the water and dissolved.

The third one cleared the growing gap with ease. It landed on both feet, arms spread for balance, knees flexed against the impact. It looked up with triumphant blood-red eyes.

Two women rushed the boarder. Before it could rise, one grabbed each arm and swept it back off its feet. It clawed and snapped at the women as they dragged it back, and threw it off the edge of the ramp. It hit the water with a splash and bobbed to the surface.

The women high-fived in victory. Blood seeped from a fresh, curved wound on one woman’s arm, the size and shape of a set of human teeth. She noticed then looked in panic at the other woman. The wounded one shook her head in a slow plea for mercy.

The other woman showed none. She lowered a shoulder and without hesitation body checked the wounded woman into the water. The ferry chugged forward. She surfaced, spit a mouthful of seawater and dog-paddled toward shore. The infected who was bobbing a hundred yards behind her swam to intercept.

The ferry sailed out of the harbor, bound for Connecticut, in search of compassion.

Thirty-two minutes later, a black smudge rose from the horizon when the USS Sailfish torpedoed the ferry. An armed volunteer civilian flotilla ensured there were no survivors.

Categories: Horror, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Shiloh’s True Nature, by D.W. Raleigh

shiloTitle: Shiloh’s True Nature

Genre: YA/Fantasy

Author: D.W. Raleigh

Pages: 260

Publisher: Hobbes End Publishing

Purchase at Amazon 

When 12 year-old farm boy Shiloh Williams is sent to stay with his estranged grandfather, he discovers a mysterious new world inhabited by ‘Movers’. The Movers live in symbiotic harmony with one another, except one extremely powerful Mover who has stolen the town’s most precious artifact, the Eternal Flame. Shiloh investigates his supernatural surroundings, makes new friends, and begins to think of the town as home. However, just as soon as he starts to fit in, he realizes his newfound happiness is about to come to an abrupt end. One decision and one extreme consequence are all that remain.

Chapter One

July 20th

Shiloh Williams walked along in the late-afternoon heat, on his way home from the town of Salem. The lanky twelve-year-old brushed his sweat-soaked, brown hair away from his blue eyes with one hand while trying to finish the ice-cream cone he carried in the other. His bare feet were relieved to step off the asphalt main road and onto the narrow, shady dirt path leading to his home.

The dusty, dirt lane was flanked by a vast cornfield to one side and towering black willow trees and intertwined brush on the other. Shiloh inhaled the sweet scent of honeysuckle as he licked the cone, gazing toward the two-story, white Victorian house in the distance. The house was his home, and the cornfield part of his family’s farm. One of the few farms left in the area, his father always liked to mention.

Shiloh was in a good mood: partly because he had spent the day in town playing with some friends, but mostly because this was his first actual vacation day of the summer. Until today, he had been working on the farm all day every day, since school ended. When his father told him he was receiving a two-week break, Shiloh decided he was going to make the most of it and be thankful he didn’t have to work another day in the brutal July heat.

As he strolled along the dusty path, Shiloh heard something rustling in the brush beside him. He turned his head and saw two large black birds only a couple of feet away. The birds cawed as they boldly jumped from branch to branch trying to keep pace with him. He assumed it was the ice cream they were after, so Shiloh tossed the remainder of the cone toward the brush and watched as the birds descended upon it.

Farther along, Shiloh spotted an expensive-looking, black car in front of the house. It was parked next to his father’s battered, old pickup truck, which made any other vehicle look nice. There was a man leaning against the rear of the car wearing a black suit and cap. Shiloh found that strange, considering he was dressed in a white T-shirt and shorts and had been sweating since he stepped outside that morning.

As he drew closer to the house, Shiloh realized his hands were sticky with ice-cream residue. He wasn’t supposed to be eating sweets this close to his suppertime, and knew his mother would scold him if she found out. So he slipped into the cornfield to let the giant stalks conceal his five-foot frame until he could reach the back of the house to wash off undetected.

He quietly snuck through the field and came up behind the giant stack of hay bales perpetually piled at the rear of the house. After glancing around to make sure it was clear, he crept up to the porch and over to the rusty, old spigot. He winced as he slowly turned the squeaky faucet handle, hoping the noise didn’t make it through the kitchen screen door just a few feet away.

As Shiloh cleaned his hands, the aroma of his mother’s cooking filled his nostrils, while the sound of arguing voices filled his ears. When his hands were no longer sticky, he quietly moved over to the back door, and stopped when he could hear the discussion in the kitchen. He immediately recognized one voice as his father’s, but there was another, unfamiliar, rough-sounding man’s voice. It must have been whoever came in the black car, he thought.

Listening intently, Shiloh was startled when something rubbed against his leg. It was one of his cats, Lovie. The gray and black tabby mix rubbed her face against his anklebones as she walked figure eights between his legs. Shiloh knew if Lovie was around, his other feline, Cheepie, couldn’t be far behind. He looked over his shoulder toward the faucet and found the other gray tabby, one that looked like a miniature tiger, entranced by the remaining water droplets dribbling from the nozzle.

His attention returned to the kitchen door when the rough voice said, “I don’t know how you’re keeping this farm productive when all the others in this area have gone under, but whatever you’re doing is going to fail eventually. So you might as well sell it to me before I decide to withdraw my more than generous offer.”

Shiloh imagined the scowl on his father’s face as he heard him answer, “You’ve been trying to get your hands on this property for years, but I’m not going to give it to you. Not now. Not ever. Not at any price. And if there are problems with the soil around here, you need only look in the mirror for the cause.”

“I’ll not be insulted by the likes of you, Joseph Williams. Good day,” the man huffed.

Shiloh heard footsteps, followed by the front door slamming. He was curious about this unfamiliar man, so he leapt off the porch and ran up along the side of the house. In his haste to see the stranger, Shiloh slipped on some pebbles and fell just as he reached the front corner of the house. The man immediately turned toward Shiloh scowling. Shiloh looked up at the stranger, but the bright sunshine kept him from distinguishing any of his features. The one thing Shiloh did notice was, like his driver, the man was dressed all in black, except for a hideously bright orange tie.

The man’s gaze was broken as two black birds descended and began attacking him. The man quickly ducked into the rear of the car, the birds turning their attention to his driver, who ran around to the other side to enter. As the car pulled away, Shiloh noticed it had a peculiar, black license plate with orange lettering reading HAINES.

When the vehicle left his sight, Shiloh returned to the back door, but again paused by the screen door when he heard his father’s agitated voice. “The crops looked a little off today. We definitely need to get some cash together for fertilizer. They could use a dusting too. And on top of that, I haven’t paid Rikki and Peco for a couple weeks. I’m glad I agreed to let them stay in the old barn. Otherwise they might’ve left by now. I’ll need to find a way to make it up to them.”

Shiloh heard the oven door open and close, followed by his mother’s voice, “Are you having second thoughts about Haines’ offer, Joe?”

“What? No! I’ll work the fields alone and eat dirt before I let that man get his hands on this land, Mary,” Joe stubbornly declared.

Mary scoffed. “Okay. Well, I’ll see if I can round up some recipes for dirt . . . just in case.”

Joe chuckled slightly and Shiloh smiled to himself, thinking about the easy way his mother was always able to diffuse his father’s anger.

Joe then noted, “By the way, I spoke to Doc and he said it would be all right. In fact, he suggested it before I even asked.”

“He’s not going to be happy about it,” Mary sighed.

Shiloh frowned, wondering what they were talking about, as Joe continued, “Well, that’s too bad. A vacation is a vacation. He’s almost a man now, and he needs to learn that part of being a man is having to do stuff you don’t want to do.”

Mary snorted sarcastically. “Say it just like that, Joe. That’ll make him feel better about it.”

Joe chuckled again and said, “Give me a break, Mary.”

“I won’t give you a break, but I will give you dinner. Go wash up,” Mary replied with a giggle.

Shiloh heard a chair slide across the kitchen floor and waited until the footsteps faded before opening the screen door. When he stepped through the doorway onto the black and white tile, he found his mother’s tall and slender frame at the sink. As Mary washed her hands, her long sandy-blond hair was illuminated by the sun shining in from the window above the sink.

After she dried her hands, Mary turned to open one of the nearby wooden cabinets and said, “No . . .” pointing in Shiloh’s direction and downward. Shiloh looked around in confusion. “. . . I’m making dinner and those two are not coming in here,” she finished.

Shiloh looked down and realized she was referring to the cats lingering in the doorway.

“One keeps trying to drag dead mice in the house. And the other keeps eating bugs, which wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t throwing them up all over the place afterward,” she continued.

A tight-lipped smile rolled across Shiloh’s face as he turned to shoo the cats back out the door.

When he turned back around, Shiloh found himself face-to-face with his mother. Her chestnut-colored eyes stared straight into his baby blues with a smirk. “What’s this?” she asked, pointing to his chest. “Ice cream?”

Shiloh looked down at his T-shirt to see a couple of stains from his earlier treat. “Oh . . . that was from earlier this afternoon,” he replied with a wide grin.

“Really? Because it still looks wet,” Mary noted, returning his smile with a shake of her head. “Go wash up. Dinner is almost ready.”

The family dinner was relatively quiet. Shiloh tried to stuff himself so he wouldn’t be lectured by his mother about eating ice cream before supper. He avoided eye contact with his father, because after hearing Joe grumble about all of the farm’s problems, he feared he might lose his time off.

When he finished, Shiloh took his plate to the sink and tried to make a hasty retreat out the back door without saying a word. However, it wasn’t to be. “Hey . . . take a seat,” Joe called, pointing to Shiloh’s empty chair at the dinner table.

Shiloh walked back to the chair feeling certain his father was about to revoke his vacation time “for the good of the farm.” He looked up to see his father leaning forward with his elbows on the table and his large callused hands folded. Joe was a tall, muscular man with perpetually unkempt, light-brown hair, piercing blue eyes, and his face always appeared to need a shave.

Joe stared at Shiloh for a moment before asking, “How would feel you about spending some time with your grandfather?”

He was taken off guard by the question, but shrugged and answered, “Okay, I guess.”

“Good,” Joe smiled. “He’ll be by to pick you up tomorrow.”

“What?” Shiloh responded in shock.

“You’re going to spend a couple weeks with your grandfather,” Joe answered pointedly.

Shiloh’s disbelief and agitation spilled out of his mouth in rapid succession. “A couple weeks? Why? I’m supposed to go swimming at the pond tomorrow! The carnival is in town next week! My birthday is in two weeks! I don’t want to go!”

Joe leaned back in his chair, shaking his head, “You’ve been complaining about having to work the fields all summer. I’d think you’d be glad to get a break from it.”

“Yeah, I wanted a break to have some fun with my friends. Not a break where I’m sent away to some strange place . . . I’m not going!” Shiloh’s voice shook with anger.

Joe, not the kind of man to listen to long protestations, replied, “You are going. End of discussion.” He returned to his meal.

Slamming his hands on the table, Shiloh rose from his chair, and walked toward the back door. “Get back here,” Joe called, as Shiloh forcefully pushed open the screen door.

He heard his father yell, “Shiloh!” but he ignored him and ran into the immense cornfield. He ran through the field until he grew so tired he had to walk. He continued walking until he found himself on the far edge of the field, where he stepped out onto a narrow dirt trail that surrounded it.

Shiloh looked back to see how far he had come and the farm’s old horse barn caught his eye. The faded, maroon monstrosity had fallen into disrepair, but the barn’s current residents, Rikki and Peco, loved it for some reason. It was their big, red dilapidated mansion.

When his gaze drifted across the field, Shiloh saw his home in the distance. The towering cornstalks obscured all but the top half of the house. Taking a couple of steps backward, trying to find a better view, he suddenly lost his balance. He began tumbling down a slick embankment covered with reeds and into the swampy marsh that separated his family’s property from the Delahanna River.

Shiloh was uninjured by the fall, but landed on his backside in the mud. He sat for a moment to catch his breath, gazing toward the river stretching out in front of him. He saw some Great Blue Herons standing nearby in the marsh. The large gray birds were motionless, with their S-shaped necks pointing up into the distance.

Following the herons’ gaze, Shiloh saw the large factory to the south. He knew the factory was there, but never paid it much attention. It was practically invisible due to the thick cluster of hickory trees lining the rear of the farm. The factory’s most distinguishing feature was an enormous cylindrical brick smokestack with a giant, orange H on its side. The huge tower emitted a perpetual gray smoke that seemed to linger in the air.

Hearing voices in the distance, Shiloh turned back toward the river. An old fishing boat was anchored just offshore with some young people frolicking around the deck. He watched as a young man jumped from the deck into the river. “It’s freezing!” the young man hollered, emerging from the water.

Shiloh smiled, remembering how he used to love the crisp bite of the river water on a hot summer afternoon. His parents wouldn’t allow him to swim in the river anymore. They said it was too polluted and dirty.

Straight across the river were some lights from the town of Old New Castle. Just beyond that was Pike Creek, where his grandfather lived and where he would apparently be going the next day. This made him think of the things he’d be missing in the next two weeks: going swimming, the carnival, spending time with his friends.

Thoughts of his impending departure made Shiloh feel sick to his stomach, so he tried thinking of something else. He looked around and noticed several gray puddles of water with a number of long-stemmed, gray wildflowers growing out of them. He frowned because he couldn’t recall ever seeing a gray flower before. He plucked the closest one and thought it was a wild daisy of some kind.

Another flower grew out of the puddle right before his eyes, taking the place of the one he picked. This second flower was not gray, but golden yellow with a black center. Though startled, Shiloh scowled and dismissed the peculiar occurrence, recalling how he’d seen colorful mushrooms grow right before his eyes while working very early in the morning on the farm.

As the sun began to set, Shiloh climbed the embankment, deciding he had better return to the house. He chose to walk back through the cornfield instead of the path along the edge of the field, because it was shorter. He came to regret that decision when the sunlight faded and the tall cornstalks blocked out what little light was left in the sky. To make matters worse, it was a new moon, so there was no heavenly light to guide him.

In the darkness, the size of the farm became more apparent than ever. Shiloh walked and walked, seeing only dark rows of corn ahead of him. He knew he would escape them eventually, but not knowing exactly where he was made him uncomfortable. The odd collection of noises echoing out of the darkness only added to his discomfort.

Shiloh dismissed some fluttering and flapping sounds, thinking it was probably one of the Great Blue Herons he saw earlier in the marsh. He then heard an odd, thumping sound, as if something was running around. He tried to dismiss that as well, remembering his father had mentioned seeing red foxes in the fields. Shiloh had never seen a fox on the farm, but supposed one could be the source of the noise.

The thumping sound seemed to grow closer and closer, but every time Shiloh stopped to listen, it would cease. The louder the noise grew, the more Shiloh’s heart raced. He tried to ignore the sound, focusing into the distance to locate his house. When the thumping became so loud it seemed just a step away, Shiloh panicked, breaking into a run.

He sprinted along until he tripped, falling forward onto the ground. Shiloh remained still and listened for a moment, but the only sound he could hear was his pounding heart. Looking behind him, down the corn row, he saw an indistinct dark mass just a few feet away.

Fear gripped Shiloh, who now thought only of escape. He turned his head around, thinking if he could just stand he might be able to outrun whatever was back there. He was shocked to discover a second dark figure blocking his path. The second shape was lower to the ground, with glowing eyes, and it was growling.

Shiloh didn’t know what to do, but figured whatever it was would have to start with him being on his feet. He took a deep breath and readied himself to stand, but before he could, the second dark figure charged him. He placed his hands over his head, preparing for an attack. However, no attack came. The figure leapt over him, chasing whatever was behind him down the corn row. Shiloh stood and sprinted away as fast as he could.

As he neared the edge of the field, he could hear a loud, fierce growling and tussling behind him. Resisting the temptation to look back, he broke through the edge of the cornfield and ran straight into the house.

 

 

 

Categories: Fantasy, Horror, Young Adult | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Strings, by Allison M. Dickson

Strings_Cover_253x391Title: Strings

Genre: Horror/Suspense/Thriller

Author: Allison M. Dickson

Website: http://www.allisonmdickson.com          

Publisher: Hobbes End Publishing

Purchase at Amazon

Allison M. Dickson presents a chilling tale of entrapment and greed. Do you have freedom? Do you have control? After four years of turning tricks in a mob-run New York brothel to pay off a debt, Nina is ready to go back to a quiet life in Iowa. Just one more client and the whole nightmare will be behind her, but this last trick turns into a battle for her soul. Meanwhile, the brothel’s sadistic Madam has been hiding away money in order to move up in her family’s organization, and she only wants the half million dollars the reclusive millionaire pays for the girls. But her driver Ramón has other ideas, making off with the money left behind when Nina’s last trick goes unexpectedly awry. The theft comes at a great cost to the Madam, setting off a horrific chain of events that changes them all. The hooker. The driver. The Madam. All of them on a collision course to a place where only madness holds sway. Who is pulling your Strings?

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Chapter 1

Junior

Lady Ballas stroked her pregnant belly as she stirred Hank’s dinner, hoping the smell of beef stew would finally draw her husband out of his study. He had been cooped up in there two weeks now. Not his worst streak yet, but certainly his second-worst. Only once in those fourteen days had he opened the door to snatch one of the dozens of food trays she left out in the hallway. She brought up five trays a day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks, and all of it had gone to waste except one lone meal, a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich. She could imagine the amount of agony he’d gone through convincing himself to take it, not only to expose himself to the “bad air” outside his refuge, but also to eat food that had been swimming in it. He’d been on the verge of starving to death no doubt, but with just enough self-preservation left to override the madness eating away at him like a child slowly licking the icing off a cupcake before devouring it all the way down to its soft and spongy center.

Two Sundays ago, she’d been making their breakfast of poached eggs and toast when she heard the heavy maple door slam shut upstairs. She didn’t stop her cooking or even flinch. All the signs of Hank’s condition spiraling out of control again had been there for the last week. They were difficult to miss after twelve years of marriage. It always started with the constant washing of his hands until his knuckles bled and the pads of his fingers cracked open. Then the size of the laundry piles would grow from small hills into mountains as he made frequent clothing changes—six, sometimes seven, different suits and shirts and pairs of socks and underwear a day. He would also spend longer spells working from home instead of going into his office at the new Twin Towers in Manhattan. She could hear him wearing a faded path onto the heavy Oriental rug up in that cursed study as he paced back and forth, barking orders either into the phone or just to himself, which never failed to chill her bones.

There were subtler signs too, like the way his eyes flitted around the room when he spoke to her, as if he were chasing an invisible fly, or the agitation in his voice when she asked if he might like to join her on an afternoon walk and get a little fresh air. All those clues and more would build up day after day like the crescendo of a dreadful symphony until it reached its final note, the percussive slam of that office door. Silence would then flood their big, empty house and she would settle down to spend the next several days living in a void, alone but for the errant kicks and tumbles of her unborn child as she rocked herself to sleep in the newly furnished nursery.

Sometimes the reasons for Hank’s spells varied. Lady sometimes thought they coincided with the state of the bond and oil markets that comprised the bulk of their wealth. Even though she didn’t consider herself an expert in commodities, she’d come from good stock. Her father taught her how to read the newspapers and the quarterly statements that came in the mail when she was a girl. Although Hank never approved of her meddling in such matters, she nonetheless knew things were going quite well for their little trading company right now. Lady had a feeling this particular spell, the worst yet, was due to something else entirely, and it gave her a hard kick right now to remind her of its presence. She patted her swollen belly, which she rubbed with cocoa butter every night before bed.

“There there, little one. All is well.”

The baby would be here in just a month or so, and though he would never admit such a thing aloud, Hank was terrified. And it wasn’t just about potentially passing on his peculiar malady. He was also concerned with all the urine, feces, vomit, and slobber babies brought to the table. His once peaceful and immaculate abode was about to become a toxic waste dump. Lady was prepared for this and had hired the perfect nanny to assist her, a gorgeous Indian woman named Kali who exuded maternal peace and professionalism. After meeting with several candidates throughout the week, Kali was the only one who seemed truly prepared for the task, who would treat their baby like a prince, or a princess if Lady’s deep intuition was wrong. It took some convincing, to say the least. Hank didn’t want to hire a nanny at all. In fact, he tried putting his foot down about the matter in his classic blustery style two months ago when he came home to find her conducting interviews.

“I can’t believe you would consider this without consulting me first. We’ll raise our own child, and that’s final!”

But Lady wouldn’t have it. “You either let me hire a nanny to help us, or you hire someone to help you. If you don’t like that, Hank, I’ll just take the baby to my father’s and let his maid help me out.” And maybe I won’t come back either was on the tail end of that, at least in her mind, but it turned out she didn’t need to say it. Hank didn’t hate anyone on this earth but the one who had walked her down the aisle at their wedding. The two men had been professional rivals since the day Lady brought Hank home to meet him, and Hank would rather die than let old Louis McGinnis get the upper-hand.

Cajoled into submission, a rare place for Hank when he wasn’t fresh off one of his episodes, he sat down and patted her hand. “All right then, dear. You hire your help. But she doesn’t come within a hundred feet of that study when I’m in it. You tell her I have bad migraines and I can’t be disturbed. Is that clear?”

She thought so. With Kali’s help, their lives would be infinitely better and easier. Hank would never have to live in fear of his own son, and Lady would be free and clear to help her husband when his episodes came on.

After removing the rolls from the oven, she gingerly placed two of them on a plate with a pat of butter on top of each. Then she ladled out a large bowl of the stew, added a flourish of freshly chopped herbs, and set it on the tray beside the bread. Next to that she added a tall glass of milk, a tumbler of iced tea with mint, and a wedge of the apple pie she’d baked earlier that morning. The sight of the meal, Hank’s favorite since the first days of their marriage, made her own stomach gurgle, and she hoped it would work this time. It was normally her ace in the hole, the one that coaxed him to emerge most often. She tried putting it out for him late last week, but it had been too soon. She’d acted hastily, that was all. But it was with good reason. What if the baby came early and he was still in there? Even with Kali’s help, she still needed Hank. He was her rock, the reason for everything. And after all the times she had been there for him, it was time for him to return the favor. If he missed the birth of his child, she would be most displeased. The stew would work this time, she was sure of it. Men were like dowsing rods for food. It just took the right meal at the right time.

Careful to balance the heavy tray with her already off-kilter center of gravity, she carried it from the kitchen, down the long hallway, and up the winding staircase leading to Hank’s study, second door on the right. The climb was arduous for a woman in her condition, but being her husband’s part-time nursemaid kept her in good shape. Every morning, afternoon, and evening, she would carry fresh food up and then later in the evening, she would return that same food, cold and congealed, to the kitchen in which she’d cooked it. Steaming and juicy meat had become cold jerky, gravies and broths had either skinned over or gelatinized, bread fresh from the oven had grown stale and lackluster. Along with each morning meal, she left him a fresh pitcher of wash water with a basin, an unopened bar of soap, a new toothbrush with baking soda, and a razor with shave cream. She couldn’t bear the idea of her husband growing filthy, even though that’s what he did every time he locked himself away, convinced his own waste was better than the germs outside. Hank would rationalize that even in their packages the hygiene products were contaminated somehow, just like the food. Long ago, before she knew better, she tried reasoning with him that if the air and the food and everything else outside his study were poisoned, she would be dead by now, but he had an answer for that too: “You weren’t born defective like me, Lady. My skin is full of a billion tiny holes. It lets all the bad things in.”

They’d been through half a dozen doctors, all the latest and greatest in medications and psychotherapy, including shock therapy. They stopped short of a lobotomy, because Hank was worried it would leave him unable to function and provide, just as the medications had for the short time he took them. He also worried his secret would get out; there had already been rumors at the office of nervous breakdowns and possible mania. To Hank, reputation and appearances took precedence over almost everything, which explained why he permitted no one else to enter the house during his spells. There would be no doctors or nurses, not even Carla the housekeeper, who came by twice a week to help with the laundry and the vacuuming, or Barton, their driver and groundskeeper. And most certainly not Kali, who would be living here in the house the day after the baby came.

Lady had grown used to lying to the help, usually saying she and Hank were having a spontaneous holiday in Martha’s Vineyard or the Hamptons and all time off would be paid. It was doubtful they bought the lies after awhile, but they were professionals and never raised a fuss about it. She hoped Kali would be as elegant about the situation, should she come to find out about Hank’s condition.

Over the years, Lady studied nurse’s textbooks and other manuals on caregiving in order to be as helpful to her husband as possible after he emerged from one of his episodes. She learned how to help him to the bathroom, to take his rectal temperature and other vital signs, to deliver the proper nutrition, and help with calisthenics to build up his strength again. Hank had even rigged up a series of ropes and pulleys around the house in order to make it easier for her to move him around until he regained his strength. He would also use them himself when she was unavailable. After a couple of weeks, he was usually functional again. It was a team effort.

It wasn’t always this bad, of course. If it were, Lady was sure she would have called for her father to swoop in and rescue her years ago. These little fits were like rare blizzards they weathered together in secret. She wouldn’t be pregnant right now with Hank’s child otherwise. Perhaps this was as bad as it would ever get, Hank getting this out of his system once and for all, giving birth to this demon of his in much the same way she would be giving birth to their son in just a few weeks. When Hank Junior entered the world, things would be different. Good, even. She intended to see it that way and no other.

Lady set down the tray outside the door and knocked, her heart full of hope. “Hank? I made your favorite, darling. Beef stew.”

No answer. He was likely asleep. He wouldn’t have energy for much else by this point.

She knocked again, this time a little harder, and proceeded to wait amid the other untouched trays she’d brought up this morning. One with an omelet turned to rubber, another with a now limp BLT sandwich and potato chips. And still the untouched soap and water. He probably smelled like a grave by now. Still no sign of life from inside the study. Now that was a little odd. Questions started filtering into her mind.

Wasn’t it getting a bit worse every time? Weren’t the episodes becoming longer and a bit more frequent, his overall condition weaker? He was like a rubber band stretched out too many times and no longer able to assume its original shape. When he came out last time after nearly a month, he was withered down to skin-covered bone. His heartbeat, weak and uncertain, reminded Lady of a terrified little bird, flutter-flutter-flutter.  She’d been nearly three months pregnant at that point and still fighting awful morning sickness, but she worked feverishly to bring him around, first administering a tiny pill of nitroglycerin and then spending several painstaking hours giving him sips of water and broth. At that point, she was about to give up and call their doctor. Hank didn’t need light nursing. He needed a hospital and IV fluids. But Hank, who knew her better than anybody and could almost read her thoughts, grabbed her by the wrist with his bird-like talon of a hand, the grip stronger than his overall frailty suggested. His eyes reminded her of eggs sizzling on a hot sidewalk.

“No doctors. Remember our promise, Lady. Remember.”

He squeezed her wrist until it hurt and she finally nodded, understanding if he had the strength to do that maybe he wasn’t as close to death as she thought. He recovered, eventually, but she told herself that was the last time she was going to let him have his way about things. They’d made a promise, but promises could be broken after a certain point. If he came out of the room this time in the same condition or worse, she was going to call the hospital and have them send an ambulance. If he had a problem with it, he could get up and come after her. She was too damn big and unwieldy with this belly of hers to be Super Nurse this time.

She gave the door another knock, firmer this time. “Hank? Come on, now. At least grunt if you can hear me.” Lady pressed her ear to the door, trying to detect even the faintest movement or shuffle. Nothing.

A phantom voice, almost taunting, rose up in her mind: He’s dead.

No. Absolutely not. Hank’s silence wasn’t all that unusual. After twelve years of marriage and nearly twice that number of these odd episodes, she’d seen and dealt with far worse than him ignoring her when she knocked. Like when he would go into one of his ranting spells, screaming obscenities so bald and disgusting she was convinced her otherwise sweet and gregarious husband had been possessed by a devil. Years later some of those words still haunted her. Go away, bitch! I’ll stab your cunt!

And then there was the time he opened the door and threw a bottle of his urine in her face. Worse than the tangy warmth of her husband’s warm piss going up her nose and running down her cheeks was the wild and almost menacing look in his eyes. That hadn’t been her husband, she was certain. Her Hank never would have done something so . . . vile. But what could he be doing behind that door right now? She didn’t want him to be angry with her for knocking again, but his silence was beginning to worry her.

A sharp cramp drew her belly taut and she braced herself against the door to keep from doubling over. No. Not now. Please not right now. “Hush, little baby,” she murmured and rubbed her hardening belly. The pain wrapped around her like a hot cummerbund and she fell against the door. She started pounding with both fists. “Hank! Please open the door! The baby . . . I think he’s coming.”

A distinct shuffling came from inside the study and her mind brightened. Oh thank God! I couldn’t coax him out with stew or just plain begging, but at least he’ll react for the birth of his son. The lock disengaged from the inside and the heavy maple door opened a crack to reveal candlelight and a distinct but familiar odor of sweat and bodily waste. But she couldn’t see Hank in there. A trickle of fear dripped down from her heart and burned in her gut. Another contraction followed, but she felt it only distantly compared to her mounting worry.

“Hank? What are you doing in there?”

A shaky whisper issued through the crack. “Come in, darling. Come see what I’ve done. It’s glorious.”

But she didn’t want to go in there. Hank had never invited her into his study like this, and she couldn’t blame him. It would be like inviting someone into the darkest corner of your mind, where every passing thought of murder and revenge and madness gathered like dust bunnies with teeth. “Sweetie, not now. I need you to come out. The baby—”

“Fuck the baby! Come in here now!” His voice cracked under the strain. Then, softly, almost a whimper: “Please, Lady. I need you.”

Lady’s world broke into prisms as the tears spilled over. He’s lost it, she thought. Gone mad. It had only been a matter of time. The doctors all warned them it might come to this one day if he didn’t get the lobotomy or stay on the medication, but neither of them wanted to listen or believe. They thought they could manage it, and they’d done quite well at it for a while. She had to call the doctors, though. Hank’s first, then hers. Oh, this was not how she wanted things. Not at all.

She backed away from the door and hit something that grunted. Lady shouted and turned around to see Kali standing there in a sari the color of blood. Another contraction rushed forward, and this one obliterated all shock at seeing the nanny she’d hired, unexpected. Uninvited. She felt a pop and warm fluid gushed down her legs, pattering on the expensive rug.

“Kali, help me!” she cried, no longer questioning why the woman was there, only needing the help of someone who hadn’t gone crazy.

“Do not worry, Mrs. Ballas. Your husband called me here. I will care for your son.”

“What? Called you? I don’t understand. He—”

Another contraction doubled her over. The pain was constant now and excruciating. World-eating. She had no idea it would hurt this badly, or that it would make her unable to truly grasp the horrible implications in Kali’s words. I will care for your son. What did that mean? Had the whole world gone mad or was it just her?

“Take me to the hospital, Kali. He’s coming. I can feel it.”

Kali’s eyes, which had been so warm at their meeting, were now like unyielding black stone. “There is no time. We must do it here.” She took Lady by the wrists and started guiding her toward Hank’s office, pushing the door open to reveal the menagerie of lit candles on nearly every horizontal surface. Terror was an icicle through her belly. “What are you doing? Kali, no!”

Another contraction. This one buckled her knees, making her certain her stomach was going to split down the middle like a rotten melon. She hit the rug, immediately smelling piss. A lot of it. The sensation of dampness on her hands soon followed and she realized this was Hank’s toilet. He’d been peeing on the carpet like an untrained animal for days. This was not like him. Not at all. Hank had never been so . . . unsanitary. What she saw next, however, obliterated all other thoughts, even the pain, at least briefly. Illuminated by candlelight were the ropes, presumably from the pulleys Hank had installed to help her lift and move him when he was too weak to help himself. He’d strung them up near the ceiling, from wall to wall like a web. He hung from the middle of the network by his ankles, swinging back and forth. Naked, emaciated, and pale like an albino spider.

“Hank? My God, what is this? What happened?”

“I found the source of all the filth, darling. The floor! I no longer have to touch it! Isn’t that wonderful? I’ve never felt more free!” He spread his arms open, letting out a harsh cacophony of laughter that echoed off the wooden walls and belied the presence of any sanity.

The next contraction was like an ax to the gut and she fell forward as if praying to Allah, pressing her forehead into the urine-soaked rug. She had never before experienced labor, but instinctively knew there was something more to this pain. Something dangerous. More warm fluid ran down her legs and she felt something stick into her neck, like a bee sting. She looked up to see Kali holding a syringe.

“What is that?” Already she felt her body going limp and numb. The pain of her labor was still there, but growing further away as whatever drug Kali had injected her with went quickly to her brain.

“Something to dull your pain, dear,” she said.

Kali gently rolled her over onto her back and she was greeted by the sight of her husband’s face hanging several feet above hers. His eyes were glassy and insane and hungry. The drugs did nothing to alleviate the stench of his waste or her fear of that leering grin gleaming in the candlelight. Lady’s mind began to detach like a blimp from its mooring.

“You are bleeding very heavily, Lady. We must move fast.”

This couldn’t be happening. Her baby coming too soon, maybe even dying, her husband no longer her husband, barely even human by the look of him. “No, get my doctor! Call an ambulance. I need a hospital.” Her tongue felt thick and stupid in her mouth. The words fell off it like logs.

“There is too much blood. Neither you nor the baby would make it,” Kali said. The crimson sari hooded the woman’s face, but Lady could see the whites of her eyes with their coal irises, and they were not the warm, maternal ones from the nanny interview. They were cold and driven, like those of a woman whose long laid plans were on the verge of fruition. “We must take him out right away.”

“Yes, cut it out! Release the filth! Release it!” Hank cried. Or at least the ghoul that used to be Hank.

Lady heard a metallic scrape and a shiny blade gleamed in the dimness, but Kali’s movement was too swift and Lady’s medicated brain was too slow to make a connection between the blade and the woman’s intentions until the eight-inches of curved steel came back up again lacquered with blood. And then, finally, the pain flooded in, overriding the drugs and bringing the certainty that her belly had been ripped apart and set ablaze. The agony made the contractions seem almost quaint. Every system in her body began misfiring. Her vision doubled and then trebled, her ears began to ring, and her skin flushed with the jabs of a million searing needle points as Kali dug around inside her for what felt like hours but must have only been minutes. The pain was so enormous, even with the drugs, it seemed almost separate from her, like a vivid nightmare she was watching happen to someone else. Perhaps all the stress was bringing on a hallucination. And the laughing, pendulous ghoul overhead . . . it couldn’t be Hank. He must have left his study earlier, perhaps to get some fresh air, and this loon slipped in through the window.

But even then she didn’t realize the truth of the agony, the horrible and oh-so-personal robbery taking place, until the room filled with the high-pitched squeals of what could only be her baby.

“It is a boy, Lady. Congratulations,” said Kali, her voice shaking.

He was tiny and so very thin and pale in the woman’s hands. A gooey mixture of blood and amniotic fluid dripped from his gangly white limbs. Something was wrong with him. Lady could sense it not only in the way the child’s skin seemed gelatinous and translucent, or how his tiny ears came to points, or the way his skull looked lumpy and badly formed. It was in Kali’s face, dawning with horror as she glanced down at the newborn.

“What is it?” Lady heard herself ask, though from a distance as the world began to gray around the edges. She was no longer cognizant of her own body being butchered open. Her mind was on her child. “What’s wrong with him? What’s wrong with my baby?”

Slow regret and terror filled Kali’s eyes. “I . . . I’m so sorry, Mrs. Ballas.” She turned the child around so Lady could look upon his face. Terror sucked the air from her lungs and reality shrank to the size of a pinpoint as she screamed at the thing—no, themonster—that had been living in her womb all these months.

“What is it? Oh my dear God what is it?” The abomination began to scream too as Hank screeched more laughter overhead.The eye is so huge, she thought, and it was the last clear thought Lady had as she grabbed onto the encroaching darkness like a life raft and let it carry her away to oblivion.

 

 

Categories: Horror, Suspense, Thriller | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Vampire Vic by Harris Gray

Vampire Vic banner

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Vampire VicABOUT VAMPIRE VIC

Would you give up donuts…for blood?

Fat, balding accountant Victor Thetherson hoped becoming a vampire would turn his life around. But Victor can’t stomach confrontation and gets queasy at the sight of blood. Instead he gets it from the blood bank, diluted in bloody Bloody Marys. The result: a vampire who doesn’t bite, and a man who gets no respect.

Victor’s slacking staff mockingly calls him Vampire Vic. Victor’s boss amuses his wife by intimidating Victor on video. His ex makes him stay out late while she entertains boyfriends in the house she insists they continue to share. One night it finally boils over, and Victor bites someone. And then another…and very soon, he’s no longer visiting the blood bank.

Muscle replaces fat, and his comb-forward widow’s peak takes root. Victor basks in newfound attention and respect, at the office and at home. But real vampires get hunted, and as the transformation reaches the tipping point, Victor must decide how much he’s willing to sacrifice for the power of the vampire.

Purchase at:

amazon

Add on:

goodreads

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ABOUT HARRIS GRAY

Harris Gray finish their third pint and mull over their next writing project, simultaneously deciding on a vampire book. Because the women in their lives eat up every vampire story on the shelves. And for the gratuitous T&A. But hunky, smoldering vampires are beyond their grasp; and dammit, T&A should mean something. Deciding to write what they know, Harris Gray return to their wheelhouse: An aging, uncomfortable man, not so happy with his lot in life. A man bitten by a vampire, unsure what to do with his new…skillset. Vampire Vic – VV – is born. Perfect.

The latest book is Vampire Vic.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | TWITTER

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Pump Up Your Book and Harris Gray are teaming up to give you a chance to win a new Kindle Fire HD!

Here’s how it works:

Each person will enter this giveaway by liking, following, subscribing and tweeting about this giveaway through the Rafflecopter form placed on blogs throughout the tour. If your blog isn’t set up to accept the form, we offer another way for you to participate by having people comment on your blog then directing them to where they can fill out the form to gain more entries.

This promotion will run from May 6 – July 26. The winner will be chosen randomly by Rafflecopter, contacted by email and announced on July 27, 2013.

Each blogger who participates in the Vampire Vic virtual book tour is eligible to enter and win.

Visit each blog stop below to gain more entries as the Rafflecopter widget will be placed on each blog for the duration of the tour.

If you would like to participate, email Tracee at tgleichner(at)gmail.com.  What a great way to not only win this fabulous prize, but to gain followers and comments too! Good luck everyone!

ENTER TO WIN!

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Vampire Vic Virtual Book Publicity Tour Schedule

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Monday, May 6 – Book featured at Margay Leah Justice

Thursday, May 9 – Book featured at Review From Here

Monday, May 13 – Interviewed at Digital Journal

Wednesday, May 15 – Interviewed at Pump Up Your Book

Friday, May 17 – 1st Chapter Reveal at Book Him Danno

Tuesday, May 21 – 1st Chapter Reveal at As the Pages Turn

Thursday, May 23 – Guest blogging at Literarily Speaking

Monday, May 27 – Up Close and Personal at Between the Covers

Tuesday, May 28 – Book featured at Jody’s Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 29 – Interviewed at Literal Exposure

Friday, May 31 – Book featured at Plug Your Book

Wednesday, June 5 – First Chapter review at Sapphyria’s Book Reviews

Friday, June 7 – Book Featured at Mary’s Cup of Tea

Monday, June 10 – 1st Chapter Reveal at Literary Winner

Wednesday, June 12 – Guest blogging at The Paperback Pursuer

Friday, June 14 – Interviewed at Review From Here

Wednesday, June 19 – Book Featured at Miki’s Hope

Friday, June 21 – Guest blogging at My Book Addiction and More

Tuesday, June 25 – Book Featured at Moonlight, Lace, and Mayhem

Thursday, June 27 – Guest blogging at You Gotta Read

Monday, July 1 – Book Featured at Authors and Readers Book Corner

Wednesday, July 3 – Interviewed at The Top Shelf

Thursday, July 4 – Guest blogging at A Little Bit of R & R

Monday, July 8 – Interviewed at Janna Shay

Tuesday, July 9 – Guest blogging at Review From Here

Thursday, July 11 – Book featured at 

Friday, July 12 – Book reviewed at The Top Shelf

Monday, July 15 – 1st Chapter Reveal at CelticLady’s Reviews

Tuesday, July 16 – Book reviewed at My Cozie Corner

Wednesday, July 17 – Book reviewed at Inside BJ’s Head

Thursday, July 18 – Book featured at Cheryl’s Book Nook

Monday, July 22 – Book reviewed at I’m Shelf-ish

Tuesday, July 23 – Book reviewed at Gina’s Library

Wednesday, July 24 – Book reviewed at Mary’s Cup of Tea

Friday, July 26 – Book reviewed at 

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Categories: Horror | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Book Spotlight: ‘The Black Chronicles: Cry of the Fallen’ by Joel M. Andre

Title: The Black Chronicles: Cry of the Fallen
Author: Joel M. Andre
Publisher: CreateSpace
Publication Date: August 21, 2010
Paperback: 224 pages
ISBN: 978-0980037760
Genre: Fiction, Horror

PURCHASE HERE!

All around her Lauren Bruni is faced with destruction. Her marriage has ended, and her professional life is at the breaking point. For Lauren, this is only the beginning of her pain.

In the small town of Cottonwood, AZ everything seems to be headed in the same direction. A serial killer is on the loose, and his trail of victims holds no connection. His rampage escalates and becomes far more brutal with each murder he commits.

As Lauren attempts to prevent her own life from collapsing down around her she must stop a killer with supernatural strength. But there is something far more sinister in the works than she could ever imagine. In the end it is up to Lauren to make the ultimate sacrifice to save a community from the purest form of evil.

Excerpt

Ashen smoke covered the, once radiant, blue skies of the Verde Valley. Controlled burns were in full swing as the summer season quickly approached. The heat of Arizona this time of year could prove to be deadly, especially in the thirsty desert foothills.

From her front porch, Lilia Sanders looked at the clouds of smoke that rose in the air. The purple mountains, covered with patches of green, always amazed her.

This was the whole point of her moving to Cottonwood, Arizona. The clean, dry air and amazing views were truly a Godsend. With her horrific allergies, the desert had proven to be the perfect place for her to seek refuge.

Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply, as the smell of mesquite tickled her nose. In this area, there were so many different plants that she could enjoy. The Saguaro cacti were, in her mind, animated versions of Gumby she remembered as a child. At dusk, they would be there to guard her from the dangers that the night can bring. At their base, a number of prickly pear cacti, mesquite bushes, and native grasses littered the ground.

Certainly, there was no reason she couldn’t own a home with a yard, but one of the benefits of living in the desert was that gravel and a natural feeling were okay. Especially with the cost associated with keeping grass.

Standing up for a moment, she dusted off the back of her blue jeans. One downfall of the desert was the amount of dirt that seemed to get everywhere. As she passed the window, she took a look at herself. Her once raven black hair was now streaked with strands of gray and her emerald green eyes weren’t as bright as they had been when she first arrived in the Verde Valley.

Smiling a wrinkled grin, it was all okay with her. She was alive, and that was all that truly mattered. Getting older was a part of life. This is the part that most people forget to enjoy, but not Lilia. She relished being able to watch the beautiful sunsets and the mysteries of the desert that the monsoons created as the water surged across the land.

An old white mail truck slowly made its way down the street toward Lilia’s home. Taking a quick glance at it, she just shook her head. The old man waved his hand slightly at her. Smiling, she nodded her head warmly. At that moment, she didn’t have thirty minutes to talk foolishness with Carl the mailman. There was an appointment she must get to; however, her gentle nature prevented her from being rude. Walking out to the mailbox, she met his eyes and smiled again.

“I’ve missed you Lilia.” He winked at her. “You are the most important stop on my mail route.”

“I’m sure Carl.” Her words were even-toned. “Is your day going alright?”

“It remains the same as usual.” He laughed as his brittle yellow teeth appeared from behind his caked lips.

“You look thirsty Carl.” Lilia sighed. “When did you last have some water?”

“You know I hate the stuff,” he scoffed and playfully pushed her. “Maybe I can come in and get some.”

“Some water perhaps,” she quipped, and turned, while Carl playfully slapped her on the rear as she made her way back toward the porch.

“Carl,” she growled. “I don’t have time for your games today. I am sorry for being short, but I have a very important appointment.”

“Aww, come on Lil. Why do you keep playing hard to get,” he demanded. “Don’t you see how excited you have me?”

“I’ll give you some water and a swift kick in the ass,” she chuckled.

“Tell you what my sweet little Lil, I’ve got a package in the back of my truck. When you bring me the water, I’ll give it to you.” He winked at her devilishly.

As she turned once again towards the house, she rolled her eyes. Carl was certainly harmless, but she didn’t appreciate the attention he gave her at times. There was nothing wrong with being friends, she just couldn’t understand why he continued to harass her.

From the south, a warm breeze smacked the back of her neck, and she could feel the sweat begin to bead up. She made her way for the old wooden door that was in desperate need of paint, and pushed it open.

Cool air blasted her face as she entered her home. The smell of furniture polish and stale smoke made her eyes water. She hated the way that the smoke smelled, but quitting wasn’t an option at all.

Turning to look behind her, she noticed that Carl had gotten back into his mail truck and was nervously looking around. The man was all talk and no action, but this pleased her to no end.

Walking to the kitchen, she opened a wooden cupboard and dug through the glasses in it. There were a number of chipped and cracked glasses, she didn’t mind using herself, but she tried to avoid giving them to company. In the back, she found a decent sized glass with a blue hue to it.

Pulling it out, she walked over to her freezer and began to fill it with ice cubes. Counting out exactly ten, she dipped down to her refrigerator, pulled out a bottle of spring water and filled the glass.

Water was scarce in the desert, and the nearby wells were loaded with minerals and heavy metals that were native to the area. Bottled water was the one luxury that Lilia afforded herself.

With glass in hand, she stepped out of the air-conditioned home and was immediately welcomed with a blast of hot air. Sweat once again began to bead around her neck. It seemed hotter now and she felt her skin begin to moisten under her white tank top.

Making her way over to Carl, she noticed he was staring straight ahead. His knuckles were pure white against the black steering wheel in his hand. He remained unmoving even as she approached.

“Carl,” she called out to him.

No response. The unmoving man left a sense of dread in Lilia’s stomach. Was he another victim of dehydration, or could it be a case of heat stroke, like what happened to those poor immigrant workers in Phoenix the other day? Perhaps he was just slightly overheated. Quickly picking up the pace, she scampered over to the side of the car and placed a hand on his shoulder. His head did turn, but, she could barely hear him breathe.

“Are you okay,” she demanded, and shoved the water in his face. “Drink this Carl, you’re overheating!”

Again, there was no response. As she placed a hand on his shoulder, she then noticed for the first time his right eye and the tears that were seeping from it.

“Why are you crying?” She anxiously demanded.

Pain paralyzed his face, and although Lilia tried to figure out what the problem was, he sat there frozen. His eyes remained unmoving.

Finally, she shook him hard and his head bobbed enough for her to see the trickle of blood seeping down his left side. Taking a step back, she watched as he convulsed slightly and moaned.

As she embraced her friend, she grimaced at the sight. Where the left side of his face had once been, his left eye just hung swaying in the wind. The muscle and tissue now exposed with the cheekbone poking out. Lilia screamed a horrified cry, as she felt the waves of nausea flow over her.

“Carl? What happened?” she demanded.

Turning, she began to run toward her front door. She knew she needed to call 9-1-1. If he stood a chance of living, it would be up to her.

As she grabbed the front door, she felt herself being flung back. It seemed surreal, as the front door began to blast backwards until she felt her body slammed hard against the mail truck.
The crack of her bones and muffled cries filled her ears. Around her, the world began to spin around in violent waves, and she fought to remain conscious.

Move Lilia. She thought. If you don’t move, you’re going to die.

Giving it all she had, she attempted to push herself forward. However, all she could muster was only enough to cause her body to scream in pain.

As blood seeped from her mouth, she began to look around. Her house was intact. There had been no explosion, and no apparent reason for the incident.

Then, she noticed the polished, black cowboy boots to her right. Trying to look up, she couldn’t see anything past the stranger’s knees.

“Who are you?” she demanded. “Why are you doing this?”

Among fits of coughing and struggling to breathe, she couldn’t hear a sound from the man before her. He was simply standing over her. It was almost liked he enjoyed the chance to watch her die.

Giving it all she had, she reached for the cowboy boots and weakly clawed at them.

Finally, he spoke. His words were as cold as the distant San Francisco Peaks.

“Don’t fuck up my boots.”

The muscled legs moved back and then slammed down hard on her hand. The bones inside crushing, and pain shot through her body. She wished she was dead now. Lilia knew that death would be far less painful.

Almost as if the man understood, he took a step closer to her, and he let the steel toe of his boot finish the job.

Darkness began to enclose Lilia, and soon there was nothing more for her to feel, as Death welcomed her into its’ loving arms.

What was the hardest part to write?

I always find the murders to be the most difficult part to write. I don’t want them to be too cruel and violent, but I also don’t want it to be a quick stab. The balance is difficult and I am a very compassionate person, so I tend to find this part difficult.

— Joel M. Andre, author The Black Chronicles: Cry of the Fallen

About the Author

Joel M. Andre was born January 13, 1981. At a young age he was fascinated with the written word. It was at fourteen that Poe blew his mind, and Andre began to dabble with darker poetry.

Between the years of 1999 and 2007 Joel was featured in various poetry anthologies and publications. In 2008 he released his first collection, Pray the Rain Never Ends.

Knowing there was something deeper and darker inside of his soul, Joel decided to take a stab at commercialism. Releasing the dark tongue in cheek, A Death at the North Pole, created a dark world among the death of Kris Kringle. Ultimately providing a tale of redemption.

October of 2008 saw Joel release his second book, Kill 4 Me. A tale in which a woman is haunted by a vengeful spirit through text messages and instant messaging.

Taking some time off and doing a lot of soul searching, Joel took things in a new direction and dabbled in the Fantasy Genre with, The Pentacle of Light. The tale dealing with five major races battling for control of Earth, and the acceptance of their God.

Finally, after missing his detective Lauren Bruni, he released the book The Return in October 2009, this time moving the action from the North Pole and placing it in the small Arizona community he was raised in.

Andre’s latest book is The Black Chronicles: Cry of the Fallen about a dead man who seeks revenge on the woman that tormented him in peaceful Northern Arizona.

Currently, he resides in Chandler, AZ.

You can visit his website at www.joelmandre.com.

Categories: Horror, Thriller | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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