The Hungry Dark – Ch. 2

If you’re just joining the party, go read Ch. 1.

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The worried, flabby man. The giant, looming shadow…the dream had been strange. Strange and disturbing, but just a dream all the same.

Funny that I found myself thinking it over on the walk across UTK’s campus to Terry’s Halloween party. Not counting the garish and ghoulish decorations the residents had plastered on any surface that wasn’t moving, over the last year and a half, I’d gotten used to odd nighttime visions.

Yeah, but they usually only happen when you’ve been knocked out.

 I couldn’t remember being knocked out recently, but my dreams are generally weird. Suppose this was just barely recalled bits from the night before. Still, my brain worried at it like it was trying to remember a familiar word suddenly forgotten. I tried to set it aside, but it itched, just faintly, in the back of my mind.

The walk to Terry’s place wasn’t long, even after stopping to pick Hannah up at the Dry Glass. She dressed as one of the Brides of Dracula, slinky almost sheer fabric and low neckline with lots of powder to pale her olive-toned skin. A black wig concealed her chestnut hair. I missed most of the walk, my mind flitting back and forth between how Hannah’s costume hugged her figure and the crazy dream about the giant bird. Beholding the spectacle of Terry’s decorations in full glory rinsed the thoughts cleanly from my head.

The battered crests of tombstones jutted up through the tall grass like bones poking through dead flesh. The remains of animals, some small, some not, hung sporadically from the bent and blackened spikes of the buckling wrought-iron fence. Shreds of clothing once white, now soiled and bloody, rippled in the branches of a gnarled weeping willow.

We all thought it.

“Terry really goes all out for his Halloween party,” Hannah said in a childish glee that only comes from no longer being a child but remembering it fondly.

“Sure does,” I said.

Amnesia means I have no such memory of childhood, but it seemed like an appropriate response.

We ambled up the broken steps, negotiated the tangled sidewalk, and went up the dramatically creaking porch steps and knocked on Terry’s door. Hannah did the knocking. I stopped to pat the weather-beaten stone lion that sat sentinel on Terry’s front step on its craggy head.

Terry answered the door, a patina of disappointment on his face, well what of his face I could see. His usual shiny, bald noggin was covered, neck to crown, in a fine, downy fur. Tusk-like fangs protruded from his lower lip in a gruesome underbite. His glasses were replaced with sickly-yellow contact lenses. I couldn’t figure out if he was going for comical or scary. Knowing Terry, it was probably both.

“You didn’t ring the bell,” He said, motioning to the hangman’s noose dangling from the door jamb. “I rigged it especially for tonight.”

“Aw,” Hannah said, kissing him on the forehead. “Did we ruin your night?”

“Not at all,” Terry said, smiling through his overlarge lower canines.

I reached up and pulled the noose. A deep, almost gravelly voice bellowed, “You rang?”

Hannah giggled, and Terry beamed.

As usual, I had no clue what the voice was a reference to.

I hate amnesia.

I’ve only had four years, or so, to catch up, culturally, to everyone I know. In the last year, Hannah had been introducing me to Elvis, and the Beatles, and something called Acid Rock. We hadn’t gotten to many television references yet, as I still didn’t own a TV, and the only one Hannah had was bolted to the back wall of her bar. My friends had made sure, especially in the lead up to the holiday that I’d been educated about some Halloween traditions. My friends made sure of that, especially in the lead up to the holiday. Terry was doing his own take on The Wolfman, fake fur completely covering his shiny-bald head. A scruff of beard around his jawline where his devil’s beard usually sat. I thought of going dressed as a detective from 1940s L.A. like something out of a Raymond Chandler novel, but Hannah said it looked too much like what I usually wore. She was right. On her suggestion, I ended up cobbling together a passable Frankenstein’s monster at the last minute. The spirit gum I used to attach the bolts was beginning to make my neck itch.

“And how is the abominable creation?” Terry asked.

“Booze good,” I said in my best Karloff impression. They’d made me watch all of the Frankenstein films, even the one with Abbott and Costello.

“It is indeed, and it’s that way,” He said, turning to the side and sweeping a fur-covered arm inward.

Hannah slid through the doorway first, making sure to brush her breasts in a full sweep across my chest as she slipped past.

“Excuse me,” She said, flashing me a coquettish glance before moving on.

“She did that on purpose,” Terry said when she was safely out of earshot.

“And God bless her for it,” I replied.

Terry sniggered and wrapped a sinewy arm around me, pulling me over the threshold.

The inside of Terry’s house lived up to the expectations set by the outside. Large spider webs with human skeleton-sized cocoons festooned several corners. Moldy black gauze hung in tatters and shreds from the chrome fixtures. There were bleeding candles, waxed hands of glory, and realistic skulls that had conversations with anyone who got too close to the bookshelves. The music drifted randomly between spooky mood music and old classics like the Monster Mash. The lighting followed the emotional tempo of the music, brighter for the old favorites and darker or even strobing for the mood pieces. There was a shriek from the back hall, followed by a string of curses and giggles. Terry looked at me and raised a fist in victory: the animatronic zombie cat he’d set up earlier in the day had just pounced on some unsuspecting prey.

Yes, Terry ‘The Horror’ Horrowitz had, in fact, outdone himself this year.

All manner of hags, haints, spooks, and specters populated the party. Vampires roamed the halls and linen-wrapped mummies lounged on plush leather couches. Succubae drank toasts with pirates and made passes at zombies eating finger foods. There was even a lady dressed as the Red Death from Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera. I’d caught a lot of the old monster movies at the Dry Glass, Hannah’s bar, while waiting for her to close up. The costume was surreal in its detail right down to the skull mask. Couldn’t tell what, but something about it unsettled me. I chalked it up to lack of liquor and went to find the punch.

 

Detective Justin Hagen arrived at the party with his date decked out in a nearly perfect Errol Flynn Robin Hood costume, right down to the feather in his felt hat. The greens and reds seemed to compliment the deep caramel of the rest of him. And if the getup showed off his runner’s legs, I’m sure we had Max to thank for it. His companion and our resident medical examiner, Dr. Maxine Gault, was elegantly dressed as Olivia DeHaviland’s Maid Marian. She was taller than him by a good three inches and as pale as he was dark. They made quite a pair.

“Robin Hood eh?” I asked when I sidled up to them.

“I live for irony,” Justin said, smirking at me.

“You look positively lovely,” I said to Maxine.

“Why thank you,” She said. “And don’t mind him, I think the tights are chaffing his mood.”

“Is that what they’re calling it nowadays?” I laughed. “Where do you hide your badge in that getup?”

Justin opened a leather pouch on his belt, showing me his ID and his holdout 38.

“Should have come as the Sheriff of Nottingham,” I said.

“The Sheriff doesn’t get the girl,” Maxine said.

I looked at Justin. He looked at me. We nodded our agreement. Most of what passed for communication between Justin and me went unsaid. Because, why say it if you both already know?

“Where’s Hannah?” Justin asked.

“Think she went to mingle among the monsters,” I said.

“A lot of them,” Justin said. “Terry’s parties always this popular?”

“That’s what I hear,” Maxine said.

Justin and I both shot her a puzzled look.

“What?” she asked. “I work around campus, and I listen.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Why don’t you two get some punch and I’ll go find my undead date.”

“We’ll meet you by the witch’s brew,” Maxine said, leading Justin by the arm over to the bubbling cauldron full of smoke and punch.

I wound my way through the crowd, which seemed to be thicker than just a moment before. The music took an eerie shift, and the lights dimmed to almost nothing. A group of ghoulish candy stripers passed close by, each one inflicted with wounds more gruesome and gorier than the last, everything from bruises to compound fractures, bone shards sticking through the skin. Giant gashes tore across torsos, exposing ribcages and viscera. The last one in the group seemed to have been crushed by something with hands like coal shovels. The lights strobed in time to a heavy tom-tom beat. Something large bumped against me in the darkness between flashes. The air turned dense and hot, making it hard to breathe. The music got spookier, more sound effects; wailing, sirens, thunder. The lights ebbed darker. In the crash of a drumbeat, I saw Hannah across the room. She was talking to some dude dressed as The Angel of Death. His coal-ash wings dripped ichor. The feathers seemed to curl around, cradling her. Something about the scene got under my skin. Too weird. Too close. Just too much. Maybe it was the itching on my neck, or the creepy music, or the vapor from the fog machine, but I had to get some fresh air.

I struggled through the crowd toward Hannah. It was slog through invisible mud. The air itself turned viscous and slow. The crowd grew impassibly thick, drums throbbed, the lights dimmed and flared. I wished Hannah hadn’t talked me out of bringing my .45. It took forever before I squeezed through enough of the crowd to get to her. I popped through the last tangle of costumes, and Hannah was gone. In her place, Red Death.

“Sorry,” I said, almost bumping into her. “I was looking for someone else.”

“I know what you’re looking for,” she said.

The lights went out. The room shook. Someone screamed. The sound was not followed by cursing and giggling, but by more shrieks. The lights strobed painfully bright, then dim again. I could only see her eyes under the skull mask. They gleamed like wet emeralds. Her gloved hands cradled my face. The smell of soft leather and spent gunpowder washed over me.

I know you.

“Yes,” she said.

But you only come around when I’m…

 “On the verge,” she repeated in the same flat tone.

The screams around us grew louder, more terrified. The air filled with the sounds of panic and suffering.

On the verge of what this time?

 “Death.”

But if you’re here, then this is only…

 “Yes, but you’ve got to come back now.”

Okay, but first I’ve got to get Hannah.

Even as I thought it, I could feel the cold creeping up my spine. Red Death kept my face in her hands.

“If you have to,” she said, letting my face slip from between her gloves, “But be prepared.”

For what?

The crowd parted around her.

“Something is coming,” she said, and the sea of costumes swallowed her.

People jammed together, crushed by their own panic to flee. I couldn’t see what it was we were supposed to be fleeing from. The lights strobed. Each explosion of darkness brought with it a new series of pained howls and cries. The house rocked. The floor pitched under my feet. Hannah cried for help. I fought the crowd, and the heaving floor, heading in the direction of her voice. Lights blotted out completely. Music died. Space opened up around me. I couldn’t hear or see anything.

An odor, astringent and acrid all at once, like ammonia, crept into my nostrils. I forced myself not to choke on it. Heavy, stomping steps circled me. I spun in every direction, trying to get a fix on them. The scent intensified, impossible to ignore. The stomping grew louder and closer with every step. I lashed out at the darkness, fist whistling through empty air. A deep, guttural laugh echoed off the walls. It came from everywhere. I froze, hands clenched into loose fists, waiting for it to come. A hand, cold as winter wind and hard as granite, clamped down on my left shoulder. An icy sensation shot into my chest, wrapped around my heart and squeezed. The laughter, a sound like rocks being pulverized, filled my ears. My legs gave out. I hit the floor. Cackling, so loud it hurt, pounded on my eardrums and throbbed behind my eyes. I craned my neck to see. Eyes like burning coals stared at me from the black. The hand gripped tighter. The twin fires burned brighter. Heat baked my skin.

And then the world exploded in white.

_______________________________________________

Tune in tomorrow for th next thrilling installment.

The Hungry Dark comes out Thursday, 3/19. 5.99 e-book & 12.99 paperback, (USD). You’ll be able to find it pretty much everywhere online. But also feel free to request it from your local library.

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The Hungry Dark – Ch. 1

(So, the release of the new book is this Thursday 3/19, and leading up to it I’m posting the first three chapters, one per day. Today, here’s a chance to see how The Hungry Dark gets going.)

 

CHAPTER 1

The breeze drifting through my window was only cool in that it was a lower temperature than the air inside my office. Old buildings like mine often have heat that runs on a calendar. Sometime the end of September it kicks on, regardless of the weather. It was the week of Halloween, the air danced with the smells of Autumn, but it was a balmy 70 degrees outside. Which made it somewhere north of 90 degrees inside. Done for the day, I shut the window ready to bolt for the open air. I’d just mailed the itemized invoice on my most recent case. They’d brought me on to consult on an otherworldly phenomenon that turned out to be poor electrical wiring. It wasn’t a large fee, but it would cover my light bill the next month. If they paid.

I had just thrown on my coat and just got my hat situated on my head when a thin shadow knocked on my office door.

“Sorry, closing for the…”

I got a look at the knocker and the words died in my throat.

He wasn’t a frightful thing, just the opposite. Slender and flabby. A bit on the disheveled side and self-conscious about it. But the look on his face fought a war between nervous and terrified. I watched for a moment as the battle raged.

“Mr. Carson?” he asked.

“Can I help you with something?”

I didn’t want to help. I wanted to get on with my plans for the evening. I was on my way to see Hannah. But he was too pitiful, and I couldn’t help myself.

“My name is Ronnie,” he stammered. “I need your help.”

 He handed me a card. I used the motion as an opportunity to slide out into the hall with him, closing the door behind me. I took the card, then locked my office.

“I’m shutting down the official business for the day,” I explained. “If we can talk while we walk, come with me.”

Ronnie had a stunted but precise gait. Even though he was nearly my height, I had to slow my pace to not leave him behind.

“What can I help you with… Mr. Kelly?” I asked, surreptitiously checking the card to make sure.

“I need someone with your special skills,” he said.

“I’m not a wizard,” I said. “Or medium. I don’t read palms and I can’t tell the future. I don’t even know any card tricks.”

Reading the look on his face, I could tell I’d completely missed the mark with my assumption.

“I need protection,” he said.

“Why not go to the police?”

“You have a reputation for being able to deal with certain, odd occurrences,” he answered. “And I don’t wish to involve the authorities.”

We’d made it to the front door to my building, and I stopped.

When people don’t want to bring the cops in on something, it’s usually on the shady side of legal, at best. Keeping my license meant steering away from most of the extra-legal jobs that came my way. But I had a reputation for operating on the blurry side of the law. Unearned, but there it was. Sometimes it helps in dealings with the less savory crowd.

“I’ve found myself in business with people,” he said in a hushed voice. “Bad people.”

He displayed so many nervous tics and twitches that I would have taken him for a speed freak. Looking back on it, I guess he had reason. Outside, in the clear October light, I finally got a good look at him. He was slim and shapeless and looked incredibly small standing on the sidewalk in front of my office. In his mid-thirties, most likely, but the rings under his eyes magnified by coke-bottle glasses, and the pale skin draped over his bones made him look older. Ronnie was the least threatening person I had ever met. It’s probably why I dismissed his story as pre-Halloween nonsense.

“All the more reason to go to the cops,” I said. “They can put you in protective custody.”

His face sagged in frustration and fear.

“They have ways of getting to people, even people the police are guarding,” he said.

The situation was beginning to sound more and more dangerous, and less and less worth it. The feeling must’ve showed on my face.

“I can pay,” he added quickly.

No thanks.

 “Sorry,” I said. “I can’t help you.”

I stepped out of the door and down to the street. Ronnie dogged my heels, all but begging. I’m not the crusading type, so I don’t know what would’ve changed my mind. But just then I had no interest in helping a criminal escape the consequences of his actions, no matter how scared he looked or how much money he offered. I turned to tell him something to that effect and froze before my lips parted.

What little color there had been drained out of Ronnie’s cheeks. He shook. Not little tremors either, but jerky, full body shakes that looked just shy of convulsions. His rheumy eyes glazed over and tried to roll back in his head.

Then a shadow blocked out the sun.

Didn’t need intuition to alert me that the day just went sideways with extreme prejudice. I spun, .45 already in hand.

An oily black cloud dove from the sky.

I fired.

And the world drowned in darkness.


 

Tune in tomorrow, for ch. 2.

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WARNING: Political Shit…

Yeah, I’m back on the horse.

So, if you’ve read anything on this blog besides my book stuff, you’ll likely have noticed I tend to encourage people to get involved in politics, local, state, and federal – regardless of one’s political affiliation.

I do that because I think, other than possibly paying taxes, it’s the one duty we have to fulfill in return for the freedoms we enjoy. And it’s really not that difficult. Tedious sometimes, but not difficult.

And if you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you’ll also have noticed I tend to lean to the left of center. I try not to push those beliefs on people, because beliefs are by their very nature personal, and everybody’s got differing personal circumstances.

I tend to content myself with cheering you into action.

I’m not going to do that impartial rag here.

I’m voting for Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nominee for president.

If he gets the nomination, I’ll vote for him to be president.

If he doesn’t I’ll vote for whichever Democrat gets the nomination, save for Mike Bloomberg, because fuck that racist, classist, oligarch mother fucker.

Now, here’s my background, just to calm any fears that I might be one of those oh so frightening “Bernie Bros”. In the last election, I voted for Hillary Clinton. Early on in this primary race, I donated to Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, twice.

I no longer support Warren because she back-pedaled on healthcare. It’s that important a cause to me. I’m not a single-issue voter, but as the primary has gone on Warren has backed down from or seriously diluted her stances on most of the things I care about.

Things change, and we change with them.

Bernie has not shifted his stance one step.

He’s still pushing Medicare for all.

He’s still behind the Green New Deal.

He still wants to get rid of the for-profit prison system.

He wants to forgive all student loan debt – something we, as a nation can easily do, and something that will seriously boost the economy overnight.

He will end putting children in fucking cages!

Call me strange, but that matters to me.

Check out his platform for the rest.

As for electability, he’s gotten the most votes in all of the first states so far. Nevada looks like it will be third verse same as the first. He’s doing so well the media has finally had to end their total blackout of his campaign, although now they talk about him like his presidency will be the Decline of Western Civilization. It won’t.

He can get elected. And he can beat Trump.

I believe in Bernie.

To that end, all my political energies will be going to try to help him win the nomination and get elected as President.

Please take a look at his platform.

Please consider if he stands for what you want the US to be.

Then, don’t just talk about it.

Get out and do something.

This country and this planet are ours to lose or to save.

Which one do you want?

Until next time…

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The Hungry Dark… Cover Reveal!

The Hungry Dark - eBook

There it is.

Get ready for book 2, out 3/19/20.

(I’m still working on pre-orders.)

Until next time…

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The Hungry Dark – Announcement…

I’m working with the cover artist on the final version of the new cover. I’ll share that soon.

But the REAL NEWS is:

The Hungry Dark will be released on March 19th!

03/19/2020.

( Yes, for those of you who guessed correctly, it is the Spring Equinox. )

I’ll have to figure out how to make preorders a thing this year.

Wish me luck on that.

Until next time…

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First Writing Update of 2020…

Yes, I have been busy.

Thank you for noticing.

Anyways, thought I’d drop in to give you all the juicy news.

I finished the edits and did a rough format of the book. The Hungry Dark clocks in at 464 pages.

Hired my proofreader 2 days ago.

Will be commissioning the cover art this weekend. So, look for that in the coming weeks.

Now I’m trying to do all the things I haven’t had time for, you know, emailing potential reviewers, polishing up the short story I’ll be giving away if you join my mailing list, actually starting the mailing list, writing monthly newsletters, and, oh yeah, writing book 3.

So, not going to be not-busy anytime soon.

For those of you that come here to read my political rants, I’ve been trying not to think too hard about that lately, politics, not you lovely readers. So, that’s why there hasn’t been much about it. I manage the occasional tweet, but seriously, I just don’t have the spare energy, at the moment. The rants will come back, especially as the primary season kicks into furious gear.

For those of you that come to read about depression and anxiety, and the tips, tricks, and travails of dealing with them while still trying to be a creative type, I’ve been seeing a new doctor for medication management, for about 6 months now. I think we’re on the right track. I’ll talk more about that on another post. I promise.

For the rest of you that tune in for the colorful language:

Fucking Shit!

(I hope that tides you over. I’ll be back, certainly with things to cuss about. Don’t you worry.)

Until next time…

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Writing Update 2019 edition…

Hey folks!

Before the New Year kicks into gear, and I try to fumble my way to posting more often, I’d thought I’d bring you up to date on the new book.

Yesterday I completed the edits for The Hungry Dark.

Hopefully within the next week or so I’ll be commissioning the cover art and talking with a copy editor.

(Of course, I still have to write the back jacket blurb for the damn thing, but one problem at a time, eh?)

As of this post The Hungry Dark clocks in at around 112,500 words.

So, quite a bit longer than the roughly 85k words in Drawn to Flame. 32% longer, in fact.

I’m looking forward to sharing Caleb’s new story with everyone.

(I’m also looking forward to finishing draft 1 of book 3 – hopefully by June.)

I’m not looking forward to all the emails to potential reviewers I’ll have to send since I didn’t get any responses last time, but that’s just my anxiety talking, and I’ve been learning to ignore it.)

Anyways, I hope your New Year’s Eve is grand, and your New Year’s Day hangover manageable.

Until next time…

 

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