For more information about the author, Meryl S. Fortney (a.k.a. R.S.F) or her work, visit The Pax Integral. And as always, thank you for reading!
Hey guys, Ryan S. Fortney again! I wanted to slap this little excerpt over here to see what people think of it, so lemme know! Here it is.
Meryl screams visceral, one word erupting from her mouth, “RUUUUUN!!!!” Her voice pierces through the slobbering moans of the dead–we’re scrambling around with our feet and our weapons and the oncoming horde is at fever pitch.
The street leading outward from Allentown may as well be uphill and a hundred damn miles long.
I just woke up.
I just got out of bed.
It never fuckin’ ends.
Aiming a few rounds behind, “WHERE THE HELL ARE WE GOING?!”
“AWAY!” Rob pats my shoulder and the bottom of his weapon taps the bone, the firing of a bullet sending a deafening ring to my ear.
Elbow jabbing him, “FUCK!”
Meryl’s up ahead checking for unlocked cars and a set of keys as we continue to move. Seconds later we’re piling into a jet-black Charger–She’s at the wheel, I’m shotgun, Ed and Rob squeeze together and we’re squealing away.
But as we careen onto the open road something else emerges in the rear-view. A gigantic big rig with mounted weapons and a steel shutter windshield–enormous Z across the grill.
I curl up a fist and slam the glove box, “COME ON, GIVE US A GODDAMN BREAK!” Screaming at the glass.
A hail of bullets rain down in an intervention we hadn’t fuckin’ asked for. She grips the wheel tight and swerves around, dodging an abandoned vehicle and another ridiculously long burst of ammunition, but there’s just too much shit littering the road.
Everything flashes before me and we’re barely missing the back-end of an almost flattened Prius, going end over end, defying gravity and only one thing buzzes around inside of my head.
If I lose her today, right now, it would be the end of me.
Hands and arms against the roof, holding balance desperately, she glances a steel eye at me and as all four wheels come pounding to the pavement, she’s concentrating again, on the road to New Jersey.
It’s me again, author Ryan S. Fortney, with a sweet deal happening over at Smashwords (and only Smashwords) for the month of July!
From now (July 8th) and until the end of this month, PaxCorpus (along with many other titles) is 49% off! That’s 1.50 USD. That’s cheaper than a box of bullets!
Check it out here and use the coupon code SSW50 if you happen to be interested.
If you’re unfamiliar with what Smashwords is (for whatever reason), it’s an amazing place for indie authors to post and publish their work and in-turn have their book/s distributed across a myriad of networks. Thanks to SW, Pax is available pretty much everywhere. You know, except for Google Play, which requires a whole bunch of hoop-jumping, but I’m getting there!
And, just to whet your appetite, I’ll be mean and post a snippet from the rough draft of the sequel to the book which I am offering at a discounted price! HAHA
A few weeks earlier
Remember, you’re here for a reason.
“Alright ladies and gentlemen…” A specially designed Kevlar radiation suit dangles loosely from my body as I twist around to gather my unit’s attention, “This is our last trip to Harrisburg.”
Make absolutely sure you find proof that she is dead.
“We’re running low on reserves, so we’ve gotta be sure to find what’s left of the untainted supplies.” The eight-person APV trembles over the debris of Interstate Eight Three — fully armored with amazing suspension.
This is Ed’s dream vehicle, ever since we ditched that shitty cash-truck back on the outskirts of Allentown.
“You’re each equipped with an M4A1. With the flick of your wrist,” my fingers snap over a latch, “you go from semi-automatic to fully-automatic.”
Expecting combat in the middle of an irradiated wasteland?
“I don’t exactly expect to encounter any z-force, but the unlifers and the bastards that still teem from the Rift of Manhattan could be anywhere out there.” I sling my weapon over my shoulder and slide both hands down to a double-holster, switching off the safety of both handguns, each a Colt 1911.
“Dante?” Ed’s haggard voice buzzes over the small comm-speaker from the ceiling of the vehicle, “we’re approaching way-point zero.”
Nuhm De’Ara’s body. I know.
I speak to the voice inside of my head. The voice that is not my own.
“Alright, suit up!” Commanding all around as I slide a helmet down over my head and fasten each clasp and zipper that gives protection from the deadly waste outside.
“Sir!” Jacobson, one of my unit turns to me, “how much time do we have, again?”
“Right,” holding a hand in the air, “listen up! We’ve got exactly thirty-minutes. No more, no less. Be here or be left behind.”
Of course, I never made it a habit to leave anyone behind. Circumstances like these, though, with heavy radiation eating away at your clothing, there’s no time for weakness.
Our ride comes to an unnoticeable halt and the back-hatch opens outward to reveal my nostalgia, one more time.
A gust of putrid, warm air bursts in and we pour out onto the pavement. Buildings stand half erect and crumbled. The sky is orange and vomit green. The capitol building, where we had once staged all of our business, now a pale shadow of what it used to be, much like the rest of the city.
And there it is. Turning around, weapon sights ahead of me and through a scope — Harrisburg hospital, where it all came to an end.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read this and/or my work. If you happen to grab a copy of Pax, don’t forget to leave a review once you’ve finished it!
I guess it’s kinda been a while since I’ve been around the scene saying or doing things – and I have my reasons – but I’m back on the frontlines, with a vengeance! Which brings me to the reason for my appearance on this website…
Good news everyone!
You may have read about my debut novel, apocalyptic-horror-thriller, PaxCorpus, here and, well, if you’ve read the book, it’s pretty obvious that Dante, Meryl, Rob and Ed aren’t done yet. (not by a longshot)
For the past couple of months I’ve been working on the sequel, titled Escape Velocity, which I hope to finish by either the end of the year or end of first quarter 2013 (the year everything goes to hell in PaxCorpus!). This continuation will stay true to the original story, along with its horror roots, but this one’s heavier – if you know what I mean – it’s more involved. There’s more at stake. There’s the horror side with the zombies and the monstrous alien bastards and then, of course, the terrorists, which continue to push the story more toward horror-science fiction.
With EV, they’re more than just terrorists, though. They’re a cell of anti-human, homicidal maniacs (okay, maybe that’s pretty much the same as Pax) but with their leader supposedly dead, the defected brother of Dante, Jack, now spearheads the movement from his “throne” smack-dab in the middle of the ZeroFactor fortress in Manhattan.
The tricky part is that this “fortress” is in extreme proximity to the Rift of Manhattan. More on that in the story itself.
With literally weeks left to survive, and after an attack on their shelter in Salem, New Jersey (with other Pax units around the world – what’s left of them – in the same situation, or worse…); Dante and Meryl have only one option left – strike at the heart of ZF and uncover their plans for continuity or risk absolute extinction.
As Dante would say, “This isn’t the road home. This is a road littered with questions that will inevitably lead to an answer.”
Aside from that, I’m also working on a slightly sarcastic short-story called, “Blue Blood,” dealing with day-zero survivors fighting off hordes of the undead, holed up in an Allmart in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This sequence takes place around the same time frame of the original fall of Manhattan. (see: PaxCorpus)
To see the recently released book trailer for Escape Velocity, go here.
And for more information regarding my work, my hobbies, things I just like to talk about and to find more out about me (of course), visit www.paxcorpus.com.
Thanks for reading! Stay vigilant.
-Ryan S. Fortney
What Happened to Tom, by Christopher Taffen
An allegorical horror story.
A psychological/philosophical thriller.
A must-read for every man.
One day he was living his life. He was a bright, young thing, one of many, with a loft in the city.
And the next day, he woke up—in a bed that wasn’t his own. Feeling…heavy. As if gravity had not just doubled, but tripled. And groggy. Not hung over exactly. It was more like a drugged fog. But that didn’t make sense….
When he came to the second time, he was conscious just long enough to realize his mouth was dry and the room was white. Very white…
The third time, consciousness wavered, flickered precariously, just out of reach. He struggled to hold onto it, and tried, despite his mental fuzziness, to review his past, thinking he could figure out where he was from where he had been. Which assumed, of course, logic and linearity, reasonable cause and effect.
He and the guys had gone to Mister’s, a popular after-work place for the upscale young professionals crowd. He’d finally paid off the last of his student loans. It had taken him five years, on a junior architect’s salary, but from now on, he was free and clear. Still had the car to pay off, but the snappy Corvette was worth it. Even if it was used. So they’d gone to the bar to celebrate.
“Hey, did you guys hear about Cheryl?” Kevin had asked Tom and Steve. They’d gotten their drinks and were lingering at the polished bar, ostensibly waiting for a free table. They place was, as always, busy.
“No, what about Cheryl?” Tom dutifully replied, loosening his tie. Kevin was okay, but, truthfully, he was a little boring. Unimaginative.
Tom continued to scan the room. Not that he was a hound dog, but it wasn’t really news, was it. Women got pregnant. Big deal.
“Did you see the game last night?” Steve asked, also scanning the room. Now, he was a hound dog.
“You call that a game?” Tom laughed.
“Hey, that’s my team you’re disrespecting,” Steve protested, but laughed as well. It had been a dismal game. “Check out the blonde,” he added, nodding to the corner then making his way over.
But no, this wasn’t someone’s bedroom, Tom realized as things started coming into focus. It was too…stark. Almost institutional. It looked like a hospital room, actually.
It was an accident, he thought then, his being in this situation. An accident…
But no, it wasn’t quite a hospital room either, he realized the next time he awoke. There was a beige wrap-around curtain on his left. And a tv mounted on the wall near the ceiling. But the room didn’t have that over-the-top chrome and sterile ambience. And yet, the bed was definitely a hospital bed. The sheets were stiff and white, and the blanket, thin and pale blue.
He continued to claw his way to lucidity. He was cold. Very cold. He felt like he’d just come out of surgery. He remembered feeling this way when he’d had his appendix taken out.
“Hello—” he said feebly. Thickly. And yet he couldn’t remember drinking that much. Sure one or two beer, there was a woman—had she put something in his drink? No, that wouldn’t’ve been necessary, he thought. She was sort of hot. Hot enough, anyway. Besides, Misters’ wasn’t that kind of place.
He began to get alarmed then, because he couldn’t remember past that. He moved his head slowly toward the door to call out again, and saw the bank of medical equipment just behind his right shoulder. He jerked slightly as if to sit up and take a better look, but the reflex travelled no further than his chest.
“Hello—” He tried to make it louder this time. “Nurse—”
A stocky woman in her mid-forties entered the room. “Good morning, Tom,” she said cheerfully.
“What—” his mouth was so dry.
“I’m Carla,” she said, pouring a glass of ice chips from the pitcher on the bedside table. She held it to his lips. “One of the day nurses.”
“What happened?” he managed to say, after he’d swallowed a thin sliver of ice.
“You’re doing just fine. No need for concern,” she put the glass back onto the table, then patted at the bedcovers a bit. “The call button’s right here by your hand,” she said, heading for the door. “The doctor will be in to see you soon,” she called back.
“Wait…” Tom slid into sleep again.
The morning after had found Steve in bed with a woman. A cellphone rang. He groaned, reached over to the night table, and answered it. “Hello?”
“Steve?” The young woman on the other end was surprised to hear his voice.
“Beth?” Steve was equally surprised to hear her voice.
“What are you doing with Tom’s phone?” she asked.
Steve groaned. He hadn’t realized it was Tom’s phone he’d answered. He hadn’t realized he’d had Tom’s phone. Must’ve picked it up by mistake at some point.
“Oh my god, is he okay? What hospital is he in?”
“Slow down. Wait a minute.” Steve sat up and tried to think. The woman beside him roused and looked at him with mild concern. “He’s okay. He just—” he thought quickly. “He forgot his phone at the bar last night, that’s all.”
“He was at the bar last night? But he said he’d— Then where—”
Steve backpedalled, trying to correct his mistake. “He’s okay. I’m sure he’ll be in touch soon.”
Beth figured it out. “So there’s no need for me to start calling hospitals,” she said coldly.
“No.” What more could he say? Tom, you little devil, was what he thought.
Beth hung up. Steve shrugged, set the phone back on the table, then turned his attention to the woman in bed with him.
When Tom next woke, he tried to reach for the glass of ice chips, but it was, apparently, an impossible task. When he tried to lift his arm, it felt like dead weight. He couldn’t believe how weak, how lethargic, he was…
A few minutes later, or maybe it was hours, Dr. Anders entered briskly. She wore a clean and freshly pressed white lab coat. Her movements were efficient. She was cool, competent, and dispassionate. In other words, words the common man might use, she was a bitch.
She glanced at Tom’s sleeping body, checked the bag of clear fluid hanging on an IV stand, then began to read the various monitors, making notes on the clipboard she was carrying. Tom woke.
“Where am I?” he asked then, his voice scratchy. “Who are you?”
“You’re in a—health clinic. I’m Dr. Anders. You—”
“What happ—” he broke off when he managed to focus on her. He recognized her. “I remember you! Last night…”
He had watched her approach from across the room. She was trim, pretty, confident.
“Hi,” she had said to him. “Mind if I join you?”
“No, not at all,” he replied, charmed. And charming.
She sat on the empty stool beside him at the bar.
“What’ll you have?” Tom signaled to Ty, the bartender. He was a neat man, a clean towel always over his shoulder.
“A cosmopolitan, please.”
Ty nodded, and a moment later put the rubied concoction in front of her.
“So,” Tom started the old dance, “you work around here?”
“Wait a minute,” he said, continuing to struggle as his memory returned in bits and pieces. “You said you were a nurse—”
“No,” she spoke carefully, “I said I worked at a clinic. You assumed I was a nurse. Do you know why?” she added, an edge in her voice.
But he didn’t really hear the question.
“Did we—?” He frowned. No, that wouldn’t explain why he was there.
“We had a drink,” he tried again, grappling with his inability to remember, and then with the implications of his inability to remember. To remember even a thought he’d had a few hours, or was it days, ago.
“Did you put—” He tried, again, to wrap his head around the possibility of having been slipped the so-called date rape drug and—
“No,” she said. Then added, “Not exactly.”
Her amendment didn’t register.
“How did I get here?” he asked. Then corrected, “How did you get me here?”
“Oh, don’t sound so surprised,” she said, with a little disdain. “Do you think it’s so impossible?”
He had a confused flash then, of leaning heavily on her and being helped into a car.
“You drugged me!”
Again, such surprise. She didn’t respond.
His realized then that his side hurt. “What did you—”
But he couldn’t even raise his hand to lift the covers and look. Had they taken a kidney? Was she part of some illegal organ transplant operation? He looked in vain at his body, completely covered by the bedding, then tried to take an internal inventory.
“What did you take from me?” he asked, his anxiety turning to panic.
“Calm down,” she said. “We didn’t take anything. On the contrary, we gave you—”
He struggled to raise himself from the bed, and only then realized that his wrists were cuffed to the bedrails. He freaked. As anyone would upon discovering they’re a prisoner, held hostage.
He had no idea.
“What the hell—why am I— What the hell are you doing to me?” he screamed.
“Just relax, Tom,” Dr. Anders calmly injected a sedative into his IV line. He slumped into unconsciousness once again. “It’ll be okay,” she added, the barest suggestion of sarcasm in her voice.
When Tom woke again, he was more quickly aware of his situation.
“Nurse! Someone!!” He struggled against the cuffs. “Help!!” He could see they were just Velcro straps, but he wrestled with them in vain. He leaned forward then, thinking maybe he could grab one of the ends with his teeth. Oh, shit, big mistake. Hurt like hell. He fell back against the pillows. What in god’s name had they done to him?
What Happened to Tom, by Christopher Taffen
The Dead Phone, by Bryan Alaspa
Warren Hollis is a seasoned true crime writer. He likes to submerge himself in the local culture when he writes, so he packs his essentials and heads to Knorr, Pennsylvania. It’s a tiny town in western PA, the kind of town most people on their way to Pittsburgh or New York would drive right past. It’s a town full of friendly, smiling people, but it hides a dark past.
Years ago a man began sneaking into the bedrooms of young girls and taking them under the cover of night. Days later, a grisly calling card would be left for the families to find. He became known as “The Boogeyman” and the rural town of Knorr, and the surrounding communities, have done all they can to forget those terrible days when no one was safe, not even when nestled into their own beds.
Warren arrives and starts asking questions. He stays in a small cabin just outside of town. It’s a nice place, exactly what he’s looking for. There’s just one strange thing: a big, heavy black phone at the top of the stairs. It’s not connected to anything. The phone is just a decorative hold-over from the party line days. Something about it disturbs Warren, the way something about Knorr disturbs him, as well. Someone is hiding something about “The Boogeyman.”
Then the killing starts again.
And, in the middle of the night, a phone that should never be able to ring – begins to do just that…
Warren Hollis stood in front of the mostly-wooden cabin and smiled. Around him was nothing but the soft hiss of nature itself. The sound was comprised of the leaves of the impossibly green trees rustling in the breeze and the soft drone of insects. The summer sun struggled to push its way through the canopy of leaves and etch its way across his arms and the back of his neck. The sun didn’t cause the sweat to break out across his face and run down his back. That came just from the humidity, which seemed to make the air as thick as a blanket but much less comfortable.
“I’m glad you think so,” said the thick, short-haired man standing less than ten yards away from him. Glen Dahane was a round man, but he wasn’t fat. The moment Warren saw him he realized the man was mostly muscle beneath the stretched fabric of his shirt. He reminded Warren of the strong men he sometimes watched compete on some obscure sports channel as they threw beer kegs over their shoulders and over a bar set high.
“If the inside is anything like the outside, this is exactly the kind of thing I am looking for,” Warren said.
The house was modest and it was old. It was also mostly made of wood with a large front window that overlooked the front lawn and the forest around it. The driveway was crushed gravel that wound down through the trees before depositing any vehicles that might be upon it on a two-lane road that could only be called a highway as part of a joke. The house was two stories, but it was not very big. It was just as Warren had hoped.
Warren was in rural western Pennsylvania because he had a project that brought him here. Warren was a writer and, more to the point, he was a true crime writer. If there was one thing that helped him write, it was getting away from the crazy and busy life he had back in Chicago. The house he was looking at right now was exactly the type of house he loved to live in when he was working on a project.
“Shall we check out the inside?” Glen asked.
Warren gestured toward the door. “Lead the way.”
The living room was large. The walls were wood paneled. The inside of the home smelled like pine. The furniture was a surprise. It was remarkably new, although it looked like it had been ordered online from some modern place like IKEA. The couch looked comfortable, however, and the television looked flat, large, and modern. Warren guessed that there was a satellite dish somewhere attached to the roof. The space immediately inside the front door ran around toward the back of the home. One area of that large space, behind the living room area, had a dining room table. Adjoining that was a counter that attached to the kitchen, making a breakfast nook. The kitchen had modern appliances that gleamed silver. Beyond that was a sliding glass door and huge wooden deck that faced the spacious and neatly-trimmed back lawn.
“Wow,” Warren whispered.
“I thought you’d like it,” Glen said.
Warren walked through the living room. Then he trailed his hand across the kitchen counter and over the stools that sat beside the counter. He couldn’t help but smile.
“Is there much upstairs?” He asked.
Glen shrugged. “There’s the bathroom with shower. Then a little loft space that I figure you can use for your writing. Oh, and there’s the bedroom.”
Warren smiled again and shot up the stairs. The stairs were made of wood and they creaked in a way that delighted him as he bounded up them two at a time. He immediately turned right and down the short hallway and into the bedroom. The large king-sized bed in the room took up much of the space. The heavy bedroom door appeared to be made of wood capable of stopping a cannon ball. There was a closet and a dresser in the bedroom and the bed’s blanket was a dark blue that Warren just loved.
Outside the bedroom, and to his left, was the bathroom. It was small with a toilet just behind the door, and a mirror on the wall. There was also a claw-foot bathtub. Surrounding the tub was a rail and from that was a shower curtain. It would only have been better, in Warren’s opinion, if he would have to get the water from a well and warm it up on a wood-burning stove.
He ran out of the bathroom and stopped to look at the loft space that emerged just out of the short hallway that led to the bedroom. It was perfect and he planned on using the desk that sat there, overlooking part of the living room and the front door. He smiled. This was just what he wanted. He looked down and saw that Glen was still standing there looking at him.
“Sorry,” he said. “I guess I was getting just a little carried away.
Glen nodded. Warren turned and was about to head back down the stair when he stopped. It was something he had not noticed before when he had done his mad dash up the stairs. It was an alcove, cut into the wall. It was not very big, perhaps just big enough to hold a small vase of flowers. However, instead of flowers and a vase, what sat there was a thick black phone. There was nothing remarkable about the phone. It was just black and squat. It was a very old phone, he decided, and when he reached out to pick up the receiver he felt the huge heft and weight of it. The blackness of his phone had faded, a bit, to a strange gray, as if time and air had conspired to suck it of some of its life.
“What’s this?” Warren asked, as he walked back over to the stairs.
“What’s what?” Glen replied.
There was something strange about the phone. Warren couldn’t really put his finger on it. It was like it was pulling him towards it. He shook his head and walked towards the tiny alcove again. He lifted the receiver of this phone from a different era. Behind it was a thick cable that vanished into the wall.
“Oh, that,” Glen said.
Warren jumped when the other man spoke. He hadn’t even heard the man walking up the stairs and there he was, suddenly, right next to him. Warren could smell his breath and there was a faint sourness to it. Warren wondered if he had eaten something like onions for lunch.
“This is quite a phone,” Warren said. “Is it connected to anything?”
Glen shook his head. “No, that’s a hold-over from another era. Back in the day this whole area was on a party line. You had to listen to your own specific ring when a call came through and just about anyone throughout the community could pick up the phone and listen in. It was quite a mess, but it was pretty common out in the middle of nowhere like this place is. Anyway, the party line is long gone. I just keep the phone because, well, I kind of like it. Plus, it just fits so nicely in the little alcove there.”
He shrugged. Warren smiled.
“I love it,” he said. “It just adds to the charm of this place. Plus, hey, given the weight and heft of this thing, if a bear attacks me I can use it to beat the thing to death.”
Warren’s smile got bigger and Glen smiled back. The two of them laughed.
“OK,” said Warren, “this is a done deal. Let’s get all of the paperwork signed.”
Three weeks later Warren awoke to a bright sun streaming in through the window of the cabin. He yawned and stretched and then scratched himself for a bit. He bounded out of the room and down into the kitchen. He had spent several days stocking the kitchen and the house with what he knew he would need. Then he had made sure he could get an Internet connection and then promptly put his laptop aside and dragged his heavy manual typewriter up to the desk he had placed near the edge of the loft space.
Warren mostly wrote fiction and he published them himself. They sold moderately well, and he made a decent living with them. However, he really made his money by writing his true crime books. That was why he was really in western Pennsylvania. He was here because of the murders.
The murders happened about twenty years ago. A series of children were abducted from their bedrooms and murdered. They had been horribly violated and butchered. There were five known victims and the killer had sent letters to the local press, taunting them with his brazenness and his ability to commit the crimes. Then, after two years of keeping the small towns in western Pennsylvania in fear, they had suddenly stopped. He had been known simply as the Boogeyman. A name based on the childhood monster that lurked in closets and snuck up on sleeping children.
To Warren that was not a particularly good name. He, however, did appreciate that the killer was not well known outside of the state of Pennsylvania. So, when he was looking for another topic to write about, he found very little written about this string of murders. It was just the kind of thing that his publisher loved.
Like a lot of writers, Warren was a bit eccentric when it came to his writing. He was not a Luddite. He had a laptop with an Internet connection and he had a scanner and a printer and everything else. He just enjoyed writing his first drafts using the large black Underwood typewriter he found at an estate sale when he first started his writing career. Was it tough to get ribbons? Yes, but he found a guy in New York who supplied him and he had dozens of them stock piled. Was it tough to keep it maintained and working? Yes, but the same guy in New York was willing to do repairs at a reasonable price.
There was something about using the ancient machine that he loved. The keys were difficult to work and you had to punch them to get them to type. There was also a certain kind of magic to rolling a piece of paper into the typewriter, hearing the clacking of the keys, and the dinging sound of the return. It was real work using the thing and he liked it.
He rarely used outlines when he was working on his fiction. He preferred to let the words just flow from him. He sometimes had character bibles and he kept a Moleskine notebook with him at all times filled with ideas and characters, but he rarely had outlines. When it came to his non-fiction, though, he outlined everything. He took pages and pages of notes in another Moleskine that he always designated for each project. His desk would become completely buried in papers. At the moment, his desk was only starting to develop a serious case of piles.
He picked up his notebook and thumbed through it. He had lots and lots of papers filled with clips from the newspaper from years ago. Too many of them were filled with photos of parents in tears and their entire worlds shattered.
He spent the morning working on the outline in his notebook. He sat back, rubbed his eyes, and stretched. Outside, he could hear birds chirping and the wind was blowing gently through the trees. He decided it was time to go for a walk. That, and he wanted to venture down to the local newspaper and see if he could talk to the editor. While it seemed unlikely that the editor who had been running the paper during the days of the Boogeyman was still around, Warren hoped the current editor might have some knowledge of the case or at least know where the paper’s coverage of the events surrounding the killings might be. He had an afternoon of gazing at microfilm ahead of him.
He stood up and heard both of his knees pop. He smiled as he gazed down at the living room and the dining room that he could see from his perch. The sun was streaming in through a window in the kitchen. He watched dust motes drift lazily through the beam of sunlight.
Warren had spent a lot of years working in offices. He could still remember, with a shudder, the days he spent driving to work and working long hours in a cubicle farm. Warren was quite sure that human beings were not meant to work in mazes and in tiny spaces that were smaller than your average prison cell.
He had wanted to write since he sat down at his mother’s electric typewriter way back in the third grade. He pounded out a story that was all of three pages, just one long paragraph, and horribly plotted. However, it had given him a kind of rush that he still felt every time he sat down to write. Even when he was writing non-fiction he still felt the rush of telling a story. Sometimes it was the only time he truly felt in control of things.
College came and he took his father’s advice and studied something he thought would lead to a job. Or, at least, that was what he told his father he was doing. He studied radio and worked on the campus radio station and graduated expecting to take the radio world by storm. Somehow, instead, he stumbled into the world of human resources.
Warren spent eight years in HR hell before his two creative worlds came calling to him again. He got a part-time gig in radio and he wrote his first novel. He eventually gave up the radio work, but he soon had enough clients as a freelancer to write full time. Eventually, he squirreled enough money away to start writing books again.
The air outside was warm and the sky was bright. He took a deep breath. The air smelled differently than it did when he stepped outside of his apartment in Chicago. Most he smelled plants. In Chicago, he smelled engine exhaust. He decided to wander down to Glen’s house, which was not far away, to see if the guy wanted to have lunch with him. So far, Glen was the only local he had really met and befriended.
Glen’s house was about three football fields away from where Warren was currently holed up. He had made the walk several times. The most intense time was when he would walk back after dark. Warren was, inherently, a city person. Walking in the woods in the pitch blackness was something he was not used to. The sounds of wildlife around him was enough to make him nearly wet himself. He was used to the sounds of traffic which could keep other people awake all night. He actually could sleep through a series of fire engines screaming down the street, but the sound of thousands of crickets chirping outside his cabin was enough to keep him awake until the wee hours.
Right now, however, the sun was out and the sky was blue. When Warren looked up he could see wispy clouds moving lazily across the sky. He could also see the contrails of what appeared to be dozens of airplanes. Warren was also used to living near O’Hare International airport where you could almost see the windows and wave to the pilots in the planes. Out here, he was far enough away from the airport that the planes were tiny dots in the sky and the only sign of their passage was the thick white cloud that they left behind.
The gravel of the driveway and gravel road crunched beneath his feet. He could hear insects buzzing in the high grass on either side of the road. He could also hear something that he assumed was farming equipment out in a field in some indeterminate distance. Sounds were funny out here in the country, he discovered. When the wind shifted he could hear the highway which was about ten miles distance, and when it blew the other way he could hear the farm equipment from a large farm about five miles in the other direction.
He could see the roof of Glen’s house as he began to round a bend and down a slight incline. He loved Glen’s house. He could easily fit about three or four of the cabins that Warren was currently renting inside of Glen’s house. The house was three stories tall and had a basement. It also had three bedrooms, two of the upstairs, and two and a half baths. It had a huge front porch that extended across the front of the house and there was a bench on chains that allowed the person sitting to swing pleasantly. There were also chairs and it was the perfect place to sit and drink a beer or an iced tea or some other beverage. It was the kind of place that made Warren think he could get used to living in the country.
He could smell something delicious wafting from Glen’s house. The man was always cooking something. He could also hear something mechanical going inside the home. Warren paused, his brow wrinkled, and realized it was some kind of circular saw or something like that. He had never thought of Glen as being particularly handy or crafty, but he wondered if maybe the guy did carpentry work in his spare time. Someone had to do the repairs on the cabin that Warren was in and the whole thing was made of wood.
Warren kicked at a stone, sending it tumbling into the high grass. He was smiling. Then, he paused. There was something dangling from the blades of the high grass right in font of him. He furrowed his brow again. It was white, fluttering in the breeze like a kind of flag. It wasn’t a flag, however, that much he could tell. It was some piece of clothing.
The Dead Phone, by Bryan Alaspa
Satan’s Casting Call, by Lisa Maliga
Duncan Smith-Holmes is a struggling young actor who is in desperate need of a paying gig or he has to leave Hollywood. But a bizarre casting call and an opportunity to land a major role in a high budget movie is something he can’t pass up — no matter what the consequences.
Duncan Smith-Holmes was running late for his casting call. He rushed into the kitchen and almost threw his cup of instant coffee into the chipped porcelain sink. Tina, his fiancée, was sitting at the tiny breakfast table with a short stack of freebie weeklies. She was reading the Daily Variety as she sipped her coffee and circled ads in the classifieds section. She was disgruntled with the small selection of assistant positions. One of them was in Beverly Hills and the rest were scattered between the San Fernando Valley and Santa Monica.
“Interns wanted, no pay, great experience,” she read quietly, contempt showing on her freckled face. Why doesn’t it just say, “We need slaves?” She shook her head. “Junior administrative assistant, long hours, work for executive … I know what that means.” She paused. “Morning, Duncan,” she said, not bothering to look up at the slender young man who resembled a surfer with his wavy sun-bleached hair.
“Hi honey,” he glanced at the calendar on the wall above her, right next to the clock. Time was ticking, he thought. The June calendar had one date circled on it in bold red ink, the 25th. That was D-Day for the couple. It was their agreed upon deadline for both of them to find employment within the entertainment industry. It was also the day the rent was due. Her chances were greater than his as she was looking for any type of secretarial or clerical work.
He glanced at the laptop sitting on the cluttered coffee table in front of the loveseat. On Monday a virus had shut it down and the recovery disk had been lost. The Dell had to be repaired or replaced—neither option affordable right now. The nearby Hollywood Regional Branch Library opened at 12:30 so neither one of them could do any online job searching.
Duncan wasn’t opting for that office work route; he wanted to be an actor and he would accept nothing less than a role in a movie [he wished!], TV, video, cable, anything that involved him being in front of a camera. Duncan needed the glare of the limelight. He thrived in it. And if he didn’t find some sort of acting role that was either long term or leading to bigger and better parts, he was going back to Iowa.
“Break a leg,” Tina said. She watched her future husband, dressed in office casual attire of khakis and a blue shirt, rush towards the open front door. Already the sun was glaring down at ten o’clock and she knew that it was going to be unbearably hot in the old, un-air-conditioned apartment. Why did she always have to be out of work in the summertime? As soon as she got up she opened the door to allow some of the Pacific breeze that traveled east down Sunset Boulevard to assist in cooling off the one bedroom apartment. All the neighbors in the eight-unit building were at work and she was alone with nothing to do but look for a new job. Craving a cigarette, she sighed, knowing she was out of Newports and would be until she found steady work.
Inside Duncan’s weather-beaten red Mustang he cranked up the radio and listened to some fake new age guru answer questions on the afterlife. He couldn’t call in like he sometimes did as his cell phone was broken and he couldn’t afford a new one. He hated those tiny plastic things anyway as they couldn’t hold up to his temper and he’d methodically gone through several of them. He remembered how they’d become useless. One was thrown into a pool, another sailed over the wall at a backyard wedding, two of them had been crushed by his feet, and he’d hurled that first generation iPhone out of his car on the 405 when traffic had stopped due to a car chase that he didn’t get to see.
He despised open calls but since his agent had retired he had to fend for himself. Not that old Harry had done much for him, a few sitcoms and some extra work in three low budget horror films, yet it was better than what he was coming up with which was exactly zip. His headshots were over a year old and his hair had grown a lot since then plus his face was thinner. Tina said he looked sexy; his mother said he resembled a corpse.
Duncan looked at the address he’d jotted down on a blue message pad that Tina had stolen from her last office job. He looked at the cross street. Yeah, he was in some shitty part of the San Fernando Valley. Universal Studios was only a couple of miles away but the heavier pedestrian traffic and the seedy buildings meant one thing – off the Hollywood map. He passed a boarded up store with spray-painted gang signs and rolled his eyes. Super high class. He turned off the radio and looked for the last two digits of the address. 38, 40, 42…there it was.
The gray prefab building looked new. A uniformed guard sat on a folding chair, looking ominous with his mirrored sunglasses, his tanned bald head glistening in the relentless Valley sunshine. Before Duncan had a chance to park in one of the half dozen “G.G.K. Productions parking only” spaces, the guard hurried over, almost giving himself a heart attack in the process. The older man leaned on Duncan’s convertible and panted before addressing the youth. Duncan watched the sweat rolling down the hairless head and the dark stains spreading from underarms to chest.
“I’m here for the audition,” Duncan told the man.
The guard nodded as he wheezed, then gestured towards the lot. “Park…” was all he was able to get out as he struggled to breathe. His hand slid away and Duncan watched with concern as the man turned and slowly went back to his post. All that fuss over a lousy parking space! There was plenty of room. A couple of hand-lettered WE WILL TOW signs were clearly displayed. One car was parked in the corner, a forlorn looking white bottom of the line Mercedes that was spotted with bird crap.
Once inside, Duncan approached the empty reception desk in the small tiled lobby. The light was dim and the air was stuffy. He looked around, not seeing anyone. He checked his watch. Weird. The audition had been scheduled for eleven o’clock and it was 11:10. Where was everyone? Usually open calls were packed with dozens of hopefuls. He clutched the manila envelope containing three of his portraits with the requisite resumes stapled on the back. For an instant Duncan wondered why he wasn’t back in his father’s Iowa cornfield taking care of the family business. The corn would’ve been planted by now, he thought, recalling the thick humidity of the air and the tall bamboo-like stalks with the sagging leaves scraping his arms and face as he rushed down the narrow rows.
Now he was in some bottom of the barrel production office that didn’t have any employees. He looked at the doorway on his left and saw an empty nameplate holder. The wrong address must have been put in the trade publication. People made mistakes. But, he reflected, lately he’d made just a few too many…
The door opened and all he saw was a slit of darkness. Duncan felt sweaty in the air conditionless lobby and the ominous vibes he was starting to sense. Nervousness was a common feeling at auditions; outright fear wasn’t. There was no gust of wind, no circulation to open the door. Suddenly a man stepped out of the office and the look of surprise that crossed the broad Scandinavian pale features was quickly replaced with a grin.
“Hi! I’m Monty Cross! I’m the producer.” He strode over to Duncan and eagerly shook his hand, dispelling the nervous fear.
“Hey, I’m Duncan Smith-Holmes and…”
“This place is usually a mob scene.” Monty looked around at the starkly empty lobby with only a dingy old couch and some thrift store reject tables and chairs. A dog-eared issue of Vanity Fair magazine was the sole reading material. “Can’t understand it. The ad ran today, I checked it.”
“Maybe it’s a full moon,” Duncan joked.
“Could be the reason,” Monty said as he walked back to the door. “Let me see those head shots.”
Duncan quickly pulled the black and white glossies out of the envelope.
The producer grabbed them and looked at the photos and the resumes. He nodded.
“You want to see the script?”
“Sure!” Duncan replied. He was feeling optimistic. But he felt that way whenever he went on an audition. There was always a chance, he thought.
Before Duncan got to step inside the office Monty returned holding a thick script. Duncan’s nervousness had kicked in and when he saw the size of the screenplay only one phrase popped into his head…feature film.
“The hottest script in town!” Monty began.
Satan’s Casting Call, by Lisa Maliga
Description: In the second book of the “Fringe Killer” series, Detective Davenport finds herself dealing with horror brought to life from the past. A killer is terrorizing the same building that held him prisoner – decades ago.
A killer from the past manages to escape the bonds of time and redefines “horror” for Jamie Davenport. In this new entry to the “fringe-killer” series, Gothica, Detective Davenport finds herself dealing with horror brought to life from the past. This time the killer is terrorizing the same building that held him prison – decades ago. The building now serves as a club for the darker denizens of Louisville…and a breeding ground for the emotions needed to bring evil back to Gothica.
Weaving elements of both the horror and the thriller genres together, Gothica tells the tale of the past and the present as they collide in the darkest recesses of a club built upon suffering and sorrow. Jamie Davenport and Skip Abrahm are tossed into a world of gothic delights and horror as another Fringe Killer is brought to life.
DR. SCHELLER would never be appointed to any position of power within the psycho-medical society. No. Scheller was a much smaller cog in the much larger wheel known as Justice. Still, he would perform his duties, unflinching, until the day he was buried in the dirt.
And today’s duties included introducing his favorite patient to a new tool given to The Deep.
Recently, Scheller had the privilege of attending a lecture given by a young German-American physician named L.B. Kalinowsky. Kalinowsky had created a device that could safely deliver brief electric shocks to a human being. It was promised that 90% of all cases of severe depression and other associative disorders would practically disappear after a few weeks of the new electroshock therapy treatment.
Scheller was eager to try out this new method on Freeny. So far, nothing had shown any promise. In fact, it seemed as if Freeny was regressing, becoming more and more violent, and communicating less and less.
Scheller had tried so many techniques on his patient. Their last meeting, a failed attempt at lobotomizing Freeny, had resulted in the near death of the doctor. This would not happen again. Scheller had taken steps to ensure that Freeny could not pull the same stunt twice. The thought made the doctor’s cheeks flush with rage. He rubbed his face with the palms of his hands. He felt a jolt of shame rack his body. He was a doctor of psychiatry, and he was letting one of his patients get the better of him.
Before he had time to dwell on the issue further, Freeny was escorted into Scheller’s lab by two very large guards. There was no way Freeny could attack the doctor. Not this time.
“Ah, Mr. Freeny. Good day to you. I hope you have been treated respectfully and without undo harm.” Scheller spoke cautiously, not taking his eyes off his patient. “What we are going to do today is a bit out of the ordinary. You might even think it goes against everything you have known here in The Deep.” Scheller was pulling a serum into a hypodermic needle as he spoke. “But with you, my dear patient, extreme measures must be taken.” With the hypo filled, Scheller nodded to the guards, who then forced Freeny onto a medical examination table. From the sides, the guards pulled up thick leather straps and began strapping down the patient whose eyes never left sight of the doctor.
“Do you know what this is, Mr. Freeny?” There was no reaction from the restrained man. “This is thiopental sodium. It consists of five ethyl-5 molecules, one methylbutyl molecule, and two thiobarbituric acid molecules. Some call this a truth serum. Of course, we know there is little to no truth within you. So, why would I use such a serum on such a man?” Doctor Scheller sat down on a chair next to Freeny and began preparing his right arm for the injection. “I like to think, Mr. Freeny, that what this serum will do is help me to get inside of you.” Scheller leaned in close to Freeny’s face. “I want to know what’s inside your mind, Mr. Freeny.”
Scheller backed away, tapped the hypo, and injected the liquid into the veins of Freeny. After the contents of the hypodermic were delivered into the patient, Scheller removed the needle and the rubber hose around Freeny’s arm.
“The thiopental sodium’s effects are fairly immediate.” The doctor was speaking as he glanced as the second hand of his pocket watch. After thirty seconds ticked by, he looked up and saw Freeny’s eyes were glazed over. Freeny had the hollow, vacant look of so many of the lost souls the doctor had come across. It was a look that both disturbed and fascinated him. It was that which drove men like Scheller into the science of the mind.
“Mr. Freeny? Mr. Freeny, are you there?” There was no reaction other than the patient’s head slowly lolling back and forth. “Mr. Freeny, I want you to tell me why you killed the guard, and why you tried to kill me.” Dr. Scheller’s voice was a soothing lullaby.
The only sound was the creaking of Freeny’s neck as his head continued its rolling. The guards and the doctor were holding their breath, awaiting the devil’s confession. One guard shifted his weight to another foot, and his knee popped loudly. The other guard let out a heavy sigh as his patience began to grow thin.
Then, Freeny’s head suddenly stopped rolling. His eyes opened wide and glared viciously at Doctor Scheller. Drool began to run down the drugged man’s chin, and his tongue was drunkenly moving in and out of his mouth. Sounds began to softly spill from Freeny’s mouth. The sounds were unintelligible at first, a bubbling, hissing sound. It was as if Freeny’s vocal chords had been removed.
The doctor was astounded. The thiopental sodium was supposed to render the subject nearly unconscious. Freeny was obviously aware of his surroundings as he glanced over at the guards and then back to Scheller.
The gurgling sounds began to take on a more natural form. His lips, covered in mucous, began trying to shape words. Strings of Freeny’s saliva swung off his lips and landed on the doctor’s legs and arms.
The sound took on form and very quietly, “They’re coming.” issued from the killer’s lips.
As quickly as it began, it ended. Freeny’s head smacked hard on the examination table and, with a violent convulsion, his eyes and his mouth closed tight.
Doctor Scheller stood and wiped the spittle from his lab coat and wool pants. He pulled off his sweat-covered glasses and wiped them down. After returning his spectacles to his face, the doctor looked over to the guards.
“I require the two of you to please wait outside. What I must do now, I must do alone and without interruption.” Scheller wheeled a large box to the head of the examination table. “Please. I will call you when I am finished.”
The two guards looked at one another and finally turned and left the room.
“My dear, Mr. Freeny, you are a very lucky man.” Scheller spoke to a patient whose conscience was nowhere to be found. “I have been given the approval by the State of Kentucky to employ a new means of psychotherapy just for you. Recently, a rather famous German colleague of mine developed a safe means of using electrical shock to treat the sickened brain. And you, my good man, are going to be the first in The Deep to reap the benefits of modern science.”
While Scheller was speaking, he had been preparing Freeny to receive the treatment. The main instrument consisted of a 2×2 wooden box that contained the various electrodes and tubes to transfer the current into the proper sine-wave form. A tangle of wires snaked out of the box to a large metal clamp that fit over the skull.
As prescribed, the doctor took a damp cloth and fit it over Freeny’s head to aid the conductivity of the electric current. Once the cloth was properly covering the temple area on both sides of the cranium, the oversized metal clamp was attached, and the cloth was cut in half and folded over the clamp edges so the path of the electricity would not be able to jump from one temple to another.
He placed a wooden block in Freeny’s mouth to keep him from biting off his tongue. Although Freeny wasn’t fond of speaking, it would be a shame to prevent him from communicating in the future.
Everything seemed to be in order. The doctor was filled with a nervous energy he hadn’t felt in a long time. Although he had studied, in detail, every nuance of the electroshock therapy, he had never been witness to the process. He had no idea what would happen to the poor wretch.
Scheller slipped on a protective rubber smock, rubber gloves, rubber overboots, and a rubber facial mask. To ensure that no one would interfere with the procedure, he locked the laboratory door.
The wooden box of the ECT machine seemed to be a safe distance from the examination table. The electrical cords were well over ten feet in length, giving the administrator safe harbor from the electricity’s destination. Scheller had no idea how Freeny would react the shock. Would the madman break free of his restraints as the current passed from one side of his skull to the other, and attempt to kill him again?
For a brief second, he thought of abandoning the experiment. But this was science, and he was a scientist. This was how it must be.
The doctor took a deep breath, plugged in the machine, said a brief prayer, and flipped the switch.
Freeny’s head had become a dark cage. The world had disappeared, slipped away like liquid mercury. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear a voice speaking in a monotone, slurred speech that he couldn’t understand.
He wanted to open his eyes, but he couldn’t. His brain sent the impulse to his eyelids, but they wouldn’t comply. He tried to move his arms and legs, but they were locked down. An eerie silence plagued his brain. He hated the silence. Ever since the voice had promised salvation, any moment of silence quickly grew into a fear of horrid loss. He had a purpose now, he thought, and that purpose was to pay mind only to the voices. Only the voices would lead him away from pain and to the safe, ignorant bliss of truth. The voices would serve as his lullaby and reason. But, they were silent now, and this he feared greater than anything he had ever known.
Suddenly, it felt like the hand of God was jarring his skin from his bones. Freeny’s body was being twisted and wrenched from within. Inside his skull, thunder and lightning were waging a war on the synapses of his brain. Freeny saw memories jump to the fore, and then dissipate like fog in a winter wind. He saw memories of his childhood. He saw his father coming home drunk and beating him senseless. Gone. He remembered the first girl he fucked. Gone. He remembered the first life he took. Gone. All memories he held tightly. Gone. All but one.
He was sitting near the pier watching the gathered crowd actually have a moment of release from their pitiful lives. It made him sick. The sound of the laughter, something he once shared with his beautiful wife, pierced his ears like the screams of dying dogs. That laughter would never tickle his heart again. Freeny’s wife perished under the cold, icy grip of the Ohio river. During a near-disastrous flood, her body was swept away in the undertow when she attempted to save a drowning child. Neither his wife nor the child survived.
He sat in the humid air alone, until a little girl invaded his space. The homeless moppet was wet from the river and smiling a pixie smile. “Hey mister, why don’t you jump in the water with everyone? It’s nice and cold.”
He was shocked from his thoughts. His heart was instantly racing and his jaw clenched, threatening to shatter his rotting teeth. He stared quizzically at the little girl. The noise from the pier had turned into a sharp static and was canceling all other sound.
The little girl’s mouth was moving, but Freeny heard nothing but static. When her smile faded with his lack of response, he heard a voice from somewhere he couldn’t place.
The voice soothed his mind. His heart slowed, and his jaw relaxed. A peaceful feeling began to wash through his veins. For the first time since before his wife’s death, he felt right with the world.
He knew what he had to do.
He stood up, towering over the little girl. Her mouth moved again, but he heard no sound from her lips.
“Kill her.” The voice echoed between his ears.
He reached down as if to stroke the cherub’s dirty-blond hair and, with one hand, twisted her head one hundred and eighty degrees. The child dropped like a sack of dirty laundry.
The static grew louder and louder. Inside the bones behind his face, his own laughter began to toll. As the laughter grew, so did the static. Both sounds were at war for his attention. As soon as it seemed the laughter would win, the static would take over. His body began to convulse violently. Freeny felt as if his arms and legs were going to snap in half.
Somehow, through the static, the voice was able to make itself heard. “I am the bogeyman. I am the first, but not the last.”
The static once again overtook the voice as he was brought to his knees. He was praying for death, but death would not come for him, yet.
The Taking of Arianna Grayson, by JC De La Torre
Description: Detective Arianna Grayson takes us through the harrowing chase for the serial killer known as Allister the Annihilator. When she finally catches up to the fiend, she discovers that there’s more to him than being a deranged lunatic. In a struggle for her life, she makes a choice with terrible consequences and her life changes forever.
Death isn’t something to be feared, my dearest. It is the warmest, most welcoming sensation anyone can experience. It’s pure joy, passion and ecstasy rolled into one. As you travel down that tunnel toward the light at the end, you feel the most amazing sensation of belonging. You are finally where you should be – a place with no pain, no horror. There’s no suffering or injustice. There’s just a dazzling light that seems to engulf every single atom of your essence.
Enjoy your death, my friend. Bathe in the light when it comes to you. Be thankful it can come, for not all of us can go down that path. I’ve died. I began my trek down that path but the light was robbed from me; substituted with darkness…terrible darkness that infests you like the worst of cancers.
You see, I was marked by a vampire to become his off-spring – his child of the night. He brought me death but then breathed in an entirely different, terrifying life. Everything that I was and believed in – all that made Arianna Grayson – died with me when my heart stopped and I began my journey to the place of death. It’s gone now. I know and accept it.
All that is left within is a soulless monster that feeds on humans. I never wanted this – unlike so many others. I sought to root out the killer and I became what he was. He raped my soul, robbed me of my decency – my humanity, my ability to die, to love, to have children – real human children.
The monster that I am has become glorified in movies and literature. Thousands of teen age girls would give anything to feel his kiss but they don’t know the truth. The Edwards, Stefans and Vampire Bills of the world don’t really exist. They’re a sexual deviant’s fantasy. Our kind, from what I gathered so far, doesn’t fall in love with humans. We get infatuated, certainly, but not for sex. It’s more about the blood, every single drop of it.
To feel the vampire’s kiss you have to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. When it’s laid upon you, it’s not a simple peck on the neck. There’s nothing sensual about it. It’s a brutal, vicious attack that will leave your body torn to shreds. Our blood rage consumes us, changes our physical features to better serve our diabolical purposes.
Normally, I’m a thin redhead with a decent figure. My hair is about shoulder length, eyes emerald green and my skin definitely shows the need for a decent tan. I may be “ginger” but my body doesn’t show any freckles or moles. In fact, there isn’t a flaw anywhere, if I can be that conceded. It’s one of the few benefits of the affliction.
When the rage takes me, though, any perceived beauty disappears – I completely transform. My nails morph into long, dagger-like claws. My mouth expands and a set of long, jagged teeth come to the surface. My red hair disappears, receding somewhere into my epidermis as my ears elongate and my true form reveals itself. My eyes are no longer green but black – like looking into the darkness itself.
If you come across me in this form, it will be the last thing you will ever see. When the rage takes you – there’s no controlling it. There’s no stopping it. All we can do is surrender to the lust, satisfy it and clean up the mess left behind. It’s all done in the shadows, mind you, to avoid discovery (although some like my maker, Allister, flaunt our power over you).
I don’t want to hurt anyone – I hate that I am responsible for so much pain and death. I have no choice. The affliction will consume your every thought and all that matters is tasting the blood – chewing the internal organs and sucking them dry like a demonic milkshake.
I tried for a while to channel my hunger, to focus it on the murderers I was charged to capture. It worked well for a time but then one of my partners came across me at the wrong time and…well, I’ll get to that.
Just know it’s a terrible existence, my friend.
So how did Arianna Grayson, Special Agent in the FBI, become a monster? I was on a case – one of those career making cases – tracking the most active serial killer in the United States.
I worked to become part of the Bureau’s serial killer task force for several years. I took every assignment in every backward podunk FBI office I could. If it was a murder, I’d do everything I could to solve it. Mostly I dealt with drug related murders, domestic violence that turned deadly and your random prostitute meeting the wrong john.
After five years of experiencing the seedy side of the world, I was finally called up to the majors. I joined the FBI task force to find a Michigan serial killer with a fondness for stabbing black men. Called “The Serial Stabber” in the press, he was caught in an Atlanta airport trying to leave the country. I discovered his Middle Eastern descent from my research into the killings and advised of the flight risk. I found his itinerary through the FAA’s internal computer system enabling us to make the collar.
With my first big case under my belt, my new unit welcomed me on the next.
Carl Ambrose had been on the S.K.T.F (Serial Killer Task Force) for about four years. He was one of the first African Americans to get the assignment. He had been decorated multiple times with the FBI Medal for Meritorious Achievement, the Medal of Valor and the Shield of Bravery. Needless to say, he was one of the best.
In his forties, he still kept a young appearance, with a close-cropped hairstyle and smooth mocha skin. His frame was fit, muscular and he sported a tiny mustache. He had an air about him…a confidence that made all around gravitate to him.
His partner for the past two years was LaRissa Cantello. Like Ambrose, Cantello had gone through some traumatic murder scenes. She was instrumental in the capture of some of the most notorious Serial murderers with her command of forensics, meticulous data analysis and ability to put pour through the data and see the truth.
She was pretty, in her twenties, with short cropped dark brown hair and caramel skin. She had a tiny nose with a mole near the tip. Cantello always seemed to be trying to prove herself to her partners, even though she already had their full confidence.
Our SAC (special agent in charge) was Panagiotis Nasso. He was older, with gray bushy hair that he obviously struggled with combing every morning. His suits were expensive, more than most government salaries would pay for. Still, “Gio” as he asked to be called, wasn’t dirty. He ran a tight ship, complete with deadlines and expectations placed on all of his subordinates. He also had a keen mind for criminal investigation, able to pick up on some of the minutest detail that most would miss.
As I walked in to the meeting room for S.K.T.F. at FBI headquarters, my senses were assaulted by hundreds of pictures of brutally mutilated bodies – fourteen murders in total, all people of different sexes, races and religious beliefs posted on a large whiteboard. There were young preppy college kids and old vagrants. There were hetero and homosexuals. Each murder was extremely violent in nature but the manner of the deaths seemed to change.
All the victims had their insides torn out by sharp objects and in all of the cases; the organs were gnawed on by some strange animal that we simply couldn’t identify. Even stranger, the DNA recovered from the scenes (that didn’t belong to the victim) was identical, but had the most unusual characteristics. It was definitely human but with something different. Some sort of chromosome or mitochondrial strand was off according to the squints (lab technicians).
They couldn’t definitively identify the perpetrator as human.
Aside from the mutilations and weird DNA, there wasn’t much stringing the cases together. They were all from different parts of the country. The closest thing you could find to a pattern was that they always seemed to occur at night. Still, it didn’t matter which night of the week or the cycle of the moon. Each victim seemed to be chosen randomly.
As I scanned through the evidence on the board, I noticed something peculiar with each. There were strands of fabric – the same fabric – near or on the bodies in each instance.
“Good to see you here early Agent Grayson,” Nasso said as he headed into the room, a cup of coffee steaming from his hand, “Take a seat, if you would.”
I acknowledged with a nod and headed to a chair next to the extremely long mahogany meeting table. The others came in shortly after I had settled in and gave me glancing nods.
“I believe you both know Agent Grayson,” Nasso began, “After her exemplary work on the Stabber case I’ve extended an offer for her to join our team, which she’s accepted.”
Ambrose and Cantello provided a golf clap; I smiled my acceptance of their congratulations.
“Okay, so moving on, this case – 306-HQ-234568 – we’re going to call the Annihilator case,” Nasso continued, “Since we’ve allegedly received a letter from our perp.”
“What?” Ambrose gasped; Cantello’s eyes bulged in shock.
“Indeed, we now have a message from our perpetrator.”
“What does it say?” Cantello asked.
“Here you go,” Nasso handed a one page copy to each of us and I quickly scanned through the hand written letter.
IF YOU’RE WONDERING, YES THE MURDERS OF ALSTAN MORRIS AND MARIA TOCANADO ARE RELATED. I DID THEM, AMONG OTHERS.
TO PROVE TO YOU I AM WHO I CLAIM TO BE, HERE IS A PIECE OF TOCANDO’S LOWER INTESTINE. TEST IT WITH YOUR DNA TECHNIQUES; I ASSURE YOU IT BELONGS TO HER.
I WANT YOU TO STOP ME END MY SPREE – BUT I KNOW YOU CAN’T. SO I URGE YOU TO STOP YOUR INVESTIGATION – YOU’LL SPEND YOUR ENTIRE LIFE PURSUING ME TO NO END. I WILL NEVER BE SUBJECT TO YOUR JUSTICE.
ALLISTER THE ANNIHALATOR
The Taking of Arianna Grayson, by JC De La Torre
One Blood, by Qwantu Amaru
A voodoo curse torments a group of people unaware of their hidden connections. Set in and throughout Louisiana, the story takes the reader on an epic journey from the 1800′s to the early 2000′s. This is a book about family secrets, revenge, manipulation, destiny, and redemption. One Blood grips the reader and doesn’t let go even long after the last page has been read.
New Orleans, LA
During the day, New Orleans’ most famous neighborhood was a tribute to architectural and cultural homogeneity. At night, the French Quarter’s multicultural legacy blurred into an unrecognizable labyrinth; especially in the eyes of the drunk and desperate.
At the moment, Joseph Lafitte was both.
Joseph careened down the dark alley and absentmindedly brushed at the dried blood beneath his nose with his free hand. His tailor-made shirt and pants were drenched with sweat and felt sizes smaller. He was overcome with the sensation that he was running in place, even though he was moving forward at a brisk pace. Until he tripped over a carton some careless individual had placed in his path.
Upon impact with the concrete his cheek flayed open, but he barely felt the sting as his priceless nickel and gold plated antique Colt Navy Revolver clattered away into the darkness, out of reach. Even now, breathing as harshly as he was, he could hear someone behind him. Somehow they managed to stay just out of the range of his sight, but within earshot.
It was the ideal moment for them to pounce, but Joseph would not give in so easily. He pushed himself to his feet, sweeping the ground for his weapon. He located it near a dilapidated doorway. Clutching it once again, he felt his self-control returning.
Then his dead wife called his name.
“Joseph? Joseph, where are you?”
That was all the motivation he needed. He broke into a full gallop but couldn’t outrun what he’d seen back at the hotel, or what he’d just heard.
They are toying with me. Trying to make me doubt my own mind.
This was New Orleans after all. A place with a well-documented history of trickery and alchemic manipulation. He must have drank or eaten something laced with some devilish hallucinogen. For all he knew, his own son—Randy—had given it to him.
Randy still blamed Joseph for the car wreck that took his mother’s life. Joseph had noted the murderous hue in Randy’s eyes after Rita’s funeral, and even though Joseph explained that it was an accident, he knew Randy would never forgive him.
Was this Randy trying to get some sort of revenge?
It didn’t matter. Randy was weak—always had been and always would be. As an only child, he grew up to be softer than cotton—Rita’s doing by babying and spoiling the boy.
Have I underestimated my son?
This thought, along with his first glimpse of light in quite some time, simultaneously assaulted him.
Where am I? And why haven’t they caught up to me yet?
Maybe they want me to go this way.
Joseph glanced down at the revolver that had once been carried by the great Robert E. Lee. He’d show them who had the upper hand; if Randy was behind this, he would soon be joining his mother.
Rather than heading toward the light, Joseph turned left down another dark alleyway. The façade of the building was damp to the touch. Other than his troubled footfalls, there was no sound. Who knew a city nearly bursting at the seams with music could be this eerily silent?
Joseph used the quiet to collect his thoughts.
He’d spent that afternoon as he spent most Saturdays, sipping bourbon and talking shop with other New Orleans power brokers inside the private room in Commander’s Palace. He knew something was wrong as soon as Randy appeared at the doorway, motioning to him.
“We have to leave New Orleans right now, Father,” Randy said in a hushed tone as Joseph entered the hallway.
“What are you talking about, Boy, and why are you whispering?” Joseph replied, a little louder than he needed to.
Randy jerked Joseph’s arm in the direction of the exit, his eyes pleading. “Something bad is going to happen if we don’t leave here right away.”
“No, Son,” Joseph said. “Something bad is going to happen if you don’t remove yourself from my sight this instant!”
And that had been the end of it. Randy left, looking back only once, as if to say, Don’t say I didn’t try to warn you.
Joseph returned to his drinks and colleagues. Afterward, he went downtown for a little afternoon rendezvous with a beautiful Creole whore. She came as a recommendation from his regular mistress, Claudette, who was on her cycle, and the girl certainly fit the bill.
He made it back to the hotel just as the sun set and settled down for a drink or three after taking a steaming hot shower. In the comfort of his armchair, in the privacy of his suite, his thoughts returned to Randy. It was Randy’s eighteenth birthday and the boy had been acting oddly ever since he’d arrived in New Orleans two days earlier. In truth, he’d been acting strangely much longer than that.
Joseph would never forget the revulsion he’d experienced when the maid in their Lake City mansion had shown him the pile of bloody rags at the bottom of Randy’s hamper. That disgust tripled once he found out the source of the blood. One night, Joseph waited until Randy exited the bath. The raw pink and black slashes across Randy’s forearms, thighs, chest, and abdomen were all the evidence he needed. Apparently Randy had taken to cutting himself in the wake of his mother’s death.
Randy was barely a teenager and there was only one thing Joseph could think to do to keep from locking the boy up in a sanitarium. He sent him away to a French boarding school and commissioned some distant relatives to keep an eye on him until he graduated. If he survived that long.
This weekend was supposed to be a celebration of sorts. Randy had returned from France a distinguished young man, and Joseph was ready to bury the hatchet.
But what if Randy doesn’t want it buried? What if he wants my entombment and has been patiently waiting all these years to get his revenge?
Joseph grabbed hold of a lamppost to steady himself. A statue of a man on a horse loomed over him. His feet had brought him to Jackson Square.
Surely, nothing bad can get me here, right?
He’d believed the same to be true of his hotel room and that had definitely proven to be false.
Joseph had been cleaning his prized revolver before sleep overtook him. The sound of the door opening brought him back to consciousness. Even though all the lights were still on, his bleary eyes could barely make out the two figures—a young black male and white female—standing in his doorway.
Joseph sat up in his seat. “Who are you? And what the hell are you doing in my room?” His hand quickly found the revolver on the table next to him.
The man and woman looked at each other and Joseph heard a deep male voice in his head say, “Don’t worry, Joseph. It will be ova’ soon.”
He felt the voice’s vibrations in his teeth and jumped to his feet. The young woman reached out to him and he heard her voice in his mind as well. “Don’t fight us, Joseph. It is so much better if you don’t resist.”
Joseph felt wetness below his nose and when his hand came up blood red, he bolted around the woman, out of his room, and out of the hotel.
Now he stood in the shadow of Andrew Jackson’s immortal statue, exhausted and nearing the end of rationality. A sudden thought occurred to him.
Maybe this is all a nightmare. Maybe I’m still sitting in my chair snoring.
He latched onto the idea. Hadn’t he heard recently that the best way to wake from a nightmare was to kill yourself?
Where did I hear that?
Ah yes, now he remembered. The Creole whore had mentioned her grandmother’s secret to waking from a bad dream.
What an odd coincidence…
Joseph stared down at the revolver as if it were some magic talisman. If this were a dream, it was the most vivid of his life. He could feel the breeze from the Mississippi River, the cold bronze of the statue beneath his hand, his sweaty palm wrapped around the hilt of the gun. And he could hear footsteps nearing.
Rita’s voice rang out across the square. “Joseph, I’m here to bring you home.”
His mind showed him an image of what Rita must look like after six years underground. He hadn’t cried at her funeral, but petrified tears streaked down his face as he gritted his teeth.
I have to wake from this dream!
The footsteps were getting louder and closer. He didn’t have much time. To offset his fear and still his shaking hand, he thought of how good it would feel to wake up from this nightmare. He put the gun in his mouth, tasting the salty metallic flavor of the barrel as his mouth filled with saliva.
God, this feels real.
But he knew it wasn’t. He attempted to gaze at the statue of Andrew Jackson riding high on his horse. The statue was gone. As was the rest of Jackson Square. It had been supplanted by that damnable live oak tree in front of his Lake City mansion. He should have chopped that thing down long ago.
Joseph let out an audible sigh of relief.
It is a dream after all.
“It’s time, Joseph,” Rita whispered in his ear.
Knowing what had to be done, Joseph squeezed the trigger.
One Blood, by Qwantu Amaru