SHROUD Version 1.02
The Digital Journal of Dark Fiction and Art
KRIS ST. JAMES “Die Wassergeist” ADAM BLOMQUIST “Trap” ALAN MEYROWITZ “Vampiric Nights” DEMENTIS MORTUUS Word Games for the Worst of Us Richard Wright’s
“CRAVEN PLACE” Chapter Two Scott Christian Carr’s
“SOMEONE OUGHTA SELL TICKETS…!” Robert Davies
Hiram Grange & The Ghosts of Marrakech
Shroud Publishing www.shroudmagazine.com
Digital Edition Version 1.02
CONTENTS TRAP 4
VAMPIRIC NIGHTS 9
Hiram Grange & The Ghosts of Marrakech 11
Scott Christian Carr’s
SOMEONE OUGHTA SELL TICKETS …! DOWN & OUT IN RACHEL, NEVADA Part 2
DIE WASSERGEIST 17
Kris St. James
GRIMOIRES & TOMES 27
CRAVEN PLACE Chapter 2 of a Serialized Novel from Richard Wright
DEMENTIS MORTUUS 34
Word Games for the Worst of Us
Publisher Shroud Publishing LLC 121 Mason Rd. Milton, NH 03851 www.shroudmagazine.com Cover Art: “Matthew’s Memories” Colored Relief Print by Danny Evarts
Managing Editor Timothy P. Deal Art Director Danny Evarts Additional Line Editing Rodney Carlstrom
Copyright © 2011 by Shroud Publishing LLC. Individual works are © 2011 by their respective creators. All rights reserved. This publication is a result of hard work and creative effort. Enjoy it, and celebrate the possibility of all things.
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ent was drifting off to sleep when he heard the snap and was startled awake.“Gotcha, ya little bastard,” he mumbled, then rolled over and slipped back into unconsciousness.
descended, the mouse had died still enveloped in the rapture of finding a lone glob of peanut butter nestled under the sofa. Despite the headache the rodent had caused him, Kent thought the instantaneous death the
trap provided was pleasantly swift, if a little bland.
He used a blank 1960 census form, which he also found under the couch, to wrap the corpse up and throw it out.
In the morning he was already halfway through breakfast before he remembered the trap. He was standing in the apartment’s small kitchen area, in his boxers and night shirt, eating cereal and watching The Huckleberry Hound Show, before he recalled it had been sprung. He left his cereal to get soggy and went to the cupboard to get the flashlight. He then wove his considerable bulk through the numerous piles of girlie magazines, lighting equipment and film canisters that had amassed in his living room since his last bimonthly cleaning.
t was Ginger who had first spotted the mouse. Kent had her bent over an ottoman in the only clean corner of the small apartment. He had this corner specially reserved for photo shoots. She had loosened the strap on her bikini top and just the slightest hint of areola was beginning to peek forth, winning her breasts’ lopsided battle with gravity. Kent always worked alone. It was
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He eased himself down onto his hands and knees and clicked the flashlight on, sending its beam out under the couch. The trap lay next to a dog-eared issue of Cabaret. The cleavage on that particular cover had been awe-inspiring, leading Kent to carefully study the interior photos for ideas to inform his own work. The mouse’s tiny neck was pressed against the wood of the trap to the point of non-existence. Its eyes bulged from its head and Kent had to wonder if it even had time to be surprised. If, when the rusty metal bar
never creepy for the girls after the first ten minutes or so. After that time had elapsed they saw that Kent was a staunch professional, silent and to the point.
t was a Wednesday and Max was visibly elated to see Kent stop by so early in the week.
“Done already?” The small store was empty except for the two men, With her breasts just about to spill so Max dropped the usual pleasantout and greet their adoring public, ries. “That Ginger, she’s a firecrackGinger let out a scream that sent er. I told you.” With that the gaunt Kent toppling over an electrical man behind the counter plucked a cord. She was up off her stomach Lucky Strike from his pocket, struck and standing on the ottoman in a a match, and took a long self-consplit second. It wasn’t until several gratulatory drag. moments later, when she actually “Sorry, but no dirty pictures toscreamed the word “mouse,” that day,” Kent said and forced a frown. Kent had any idea what was going The end of Max’s cigarette dipped on. It took fifteen minutes to calm down, as if it were disappointed too. her down, and by that time she had “Got any mousetraps?” to leave in order to make it back to the office. She worked as a sec- “Well we don’t sell them, but I retary at some ad agency uptown think I have a spare floating around when she wasn’t posing tastefully in the back. The little bastards nude in the living rooms of men get into everything,” Max’s skeletal body disappeared into the back like Kent. room of the shop, he had to duck to Mice were something you had to keep his head from hitting the door deal with quickly in New York. The frame. city was full of all kinds of vermin, He came back with a mousetrap and if you gave them an inch they’d eat you alive. Kent had just recently so rusted it would be a miracle if waged a skirmish with a local group Kent could arm it without either of six-legged heavies: cockroach- breaking the spring in half or cones. Every manner of modern spray, tracting tetanus. “I’d take two bits for it,” Max said powder and poison was employed with a smile. in his week long campaign against the roaches. The only casualties on “Yeah, sure,” Kent said. He scooped his side were a couple boxes of cere- up the ancient trap and made a rude al and the unpleasant experience of gesture to his friend with one of his stepping on one barefoot while he fat fingers as he walked out the door. was taking a late night piss. Luckily they were a stealthy guerrilla force only moving under the cover of darkness, leaving Kent’s models ent called Ginger back on the to remain comfortable in their own same day as his victory over the skin while on the premises. This rodent. mouse was bold. He had ruined a photo session, and deserved to die. “It’s all clear sweetheart, I got the When Ginger left, Kent made his mouse,” he wheezed into the reway down to the corner store, the ceiver. same corner store he came to on “Gee, I don’t know,” Ginger said Sundays to sell and trade snapshots into her office phone, and then prowith the owner, Max. ceeded to rook an extra dollar out of Kent, bringing her fee up to an unheard-of five dollars.
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“Better be worth it,” Kent grumbled as he hung up. He looked over at his trash can: the mouse, the census form and the trap lay on top of a mountain of garbage. He would have to remember to take it out before she got there tonight, or at least bury it further. The whole place needed a cleaning, but it would have to wait. With such little time before the girl’s arrival he would need to worry about setting up the camera and again clearing off an area for her to model in. Kent went into the kitchenette and stared at the dead mouse as he poured himself a glass of J&B. The census form had unfurled revealing the poor little bastard, a tiny drop of blood on his whiskers. Kent turned his back to the can and upended the drink. Walking to the living room he heard a sudden burst of movement from behind him. The sound of rustling papers mixed with a faint scratching startled him so badly that he dropped his glass. The drink landed harmlessly on the dirty carpet with a light thud as Kent whirled around to investigate.
There was no movement in the kitchen, but the mouse and trap had fallen from the top of the pail and onto the tile floor. Must have been nerves twitching, Kent thought as he inspected the body of the mouse. The tiny cadaver had now grown stiff in the heat of the apartment.
He pushed the contents of the can down with his foot and then picked the mouse up by its tail and dropped it in the trash. He shuddered to see how its glassy eyes had grown matte in the hours since its death.
With the time it took to pour another drink he barely had enough to fix up the camera, set up the three studio lights, and clean off his corner “studio” area before there was a knock at the door.
“Hey bub,” the girl said as he re5
moved the chain and opened the door. Ginger had the look of a wellendowed lady of King Arthur’s court, but her voice was a grating Brooklyn accent that even the easygoing Kent had trouble stomaching.
“Let me take your coat,” he said, as he slipped the girl’s fur off and hung it on the coat rack, which was broken and propped up against the wall by a stack of yellowing magazines. “You’re sure you got the mouse?”
“Very sure,” Kent said. Pandering to this girl was beginning to take its toll on his politeness reserves. There was a rustle similar to the one before coming from the kitchenette. Kent just smiled and hoped she did not hear it.
heat of the apartment was mingling with the lights and Ginger’s skin had begun to gain a nice sheen. It was when she peeled off her blouse “Yeah, I know,” he said from inside that Kent spotted the first mouse. It the kitchen. He was not registering was poking its nose out of a hole what she was saying because he was in the chair’s faded red upholstery. looking down into the garbage. The Kent tried his best to stifle a cry of trap was there, but with no body in- surprise; he wanted to get in at least one picture of this girl before she side it. The mouse was gone. ran off again. The mouse poked its Beginning to sweat, Kent re-en- head back in and Kent allowed himtered the room and handed the red- self a small sigh of relief. head her glass. She undid her bra and he felt “Thanks hon. Are you okay?” she something brush past his pant leg. asked, noticing the flush in Kent’s He couldn’t help but jump. He tried chubby cheeks. “You don’t look so to make it look like he was getting great. No offense.” into the song, which was now enter“I’m fine, just the heat,” he said. ing its final refrain. “Would you like to get started?” She was playing coy, crossing her these yahoos had me dress up like a baby holding a bullwhip. I like you, though. You’re real quiet and nice, could be a bit neater though.”
There was a chair and ottoman set “What was that then,” she asked, up in the bare corner of the apartthe happy light gone from her voice. ment, the mismatched upholstery “Goddamn radiator’s on the fritz, on both had seen better days. Ginlike it needed to be any hotter in ger undid the first few buttons of her blouse and put one knee up on here,” he lied. the chair, assuming her starting po“Oh, you should talk to your super sition. Taking his place behind the about that, doll.” camera, Kent thought he heard a How the lie had worked he could faint scratching. He tried ignoring it not fathom, but he suddenly had and snapping a few pictures. “Hey, the overwhelming feeling that it how about some music?” was best to get the pictures done as “Oh that would be great,” Ginger quickly as possible and get her out smiled and undid another button. of here. “Yeah I got a great new record,” “So what I wanted to do here is the Kent forced himself to sound comsame as last time, a couple of glamposed, the small talk helped. “If I or shots and then some nudie pics, nothing out of the ordinary,” he could only find where I put the …” said and then added, “Do you want He scratched his second chin and peered around the mess of the room a drink?” until his eyes fell on a small record “Oh yes, please, scotch if you got player. He carefully removed it from it.” the pile of junk around it, found a “It’s all I got, sweetheart.” He felt place for it on the couch, and after a silly adding the “sweetheart,” but moment of crackling the room was that was the way girls like Ginger filled with Del Shannon’s “Little were used to being talked to, and Town Flirt.” A great record, even if Del sounded like a woman when he who was he to disappoint her? “I’m glad it’s just skin you’re in- hit the high notes.
Returning to the camera, Kent terested in. Some of these guys …” she said. “Man-alive, I could tell made a slight motion to Ginger that you stories about how some of she should continue disrobing. The Shroud Digital Edition • Version 1.02
arms over her chest. Kent took a couple more snaps and then made a motion with his head encouraging the girl to get to the goods. She giggled and turned her back to the camera, giving a quick seductive look over her shoulder before facing the corner. This wasn’t some professional gig, she didn’t have to waste his film on foreplay and it was beginning to aggravate Kent. It was a good thing she turned her back though, because two mice crisscrossed paths over the carpet right in front of the camera. “Could you just turn this way, honey,” Kent said briskly, with no attempt to hide his frustration.
“Well if that’s the way you want it, buster,” she said and turned around quickly. Kent was so relieved to finally see her breasts that he didn’t notice the look of stunned horror that overtook her face on turning around.
She made a confused gasp, struggling to find words as Kent kept clicking away. She finally forced a scream to the surface and grabbed for her blouse which lay crumpled on the ottoman. Kent fell over backward onto a pile of magazines 6
and shoeboxes full of photos. Ginger gripped the blouse tight and pressed it to her skin, but then had a renewed look of terror when she felt a half-crushed mouse squirming between her fingers. She released it and it fell, still twitching, to the floor.
Kent righted himself and took a look at the rest of his apartment. The stacks of clutter were teeming with mice. He then turned back to Ginger who was frantically trying to wipe mouse blood from between her fingers. “Here, let me help,” Kent hurried toward her. Her eyes had gone wild and she put out her clean hand to stop him. His bare foot crunched down on something soft and he went toppling headlong into the
naked girl. His greasy hair landed right under her chin and the domino effect sent the two crashing into one of the lights.
here was blood in Kent’s mouth when he woke up. He could hear the “whick-whick” sound of the .45 as it spun on the record player and he could feel something soft under his face. He looked up to see Ginger, her pretty face pocked with the broken glass of the shattered bulb and her neck contorted in an impossible angle under the metal stand of the light fixture. Before he noticed the audience that had amassed around him, he
saw the dead girl. The familiar steel bar pressing against her neck. Kent began to cry, sweeping his eyes across the rest of the apartment.. There was a circle of mice around the two bodies. A hundred beady eyes: all watching the fat man. After that he did not want to cry anymore, just scream.
Adam Blomquist was raised on a steady diet of candy corn, rock n’ roll, and monster movies. He has been published in SHROUD, Necrotic Tissue, and a host of other print and online markets. You can read more on his blog at BrainTremors.com.
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AN ULTRAVIOLENT ROMANCE The latest irrealistic journey from D. HARLAN WILSON
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Bram knew more than he let on. He would abide their turns to feed, was soon to learn of appetite to fill a more peculiar need: blood was not the only undead hunger to be fed. Pressing talons to his side, they allowed that he could write yet not confess that other fright, for threat their bite would be the least of nighttime’s stress. I, too, comply in darker feast, undead’s delight, assuring all the worst will go unsaid. How sad my soul, craving to be set upon, welcoming what light of day would have be gone, confined to grave. Yet I would have them here again for pleasure had in midst of pain, what Bram would know but not divulge, what I would say but must refrain. Let them drink, and then indulge.
m e y r o w i t z
ALAN MEYROWITZ received a Doctorate in Computer Science from George Washington University in 1980, and his professional work in artificial intelligence and robotics has been widely published in industry and scientific research publications. Alan is a longtime bibliophile, and his love of the written word includes collecting and selling rare books.
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Hiram Grange & The Ghosts of Marrakech A
bloodied and exhausted Hiram Grange ran through the crowded souks, and the dessicates pursued him with a dogged patience learned from long centuries spent dreaming beneath the desert sands.
The four ghostly dessicates, cursed guardians of an ancient treasure, were as invisible as the wind until they chose to appear as whirling clouds of sand that continually morphed between wild men and feral beasts with shining eyes of virulent red. Hiram had left the Range Rover miles behind him at the city gates, steam jetting from the crushed radiator, green fluid gurgling from split lines. The windshield shattered, the tires flayed, the very paint scoured from the body. The SUV had carried Hiram from the desert city of Ourzazate over the Atlas Mountains. He had hoped the dessicates could not travel far from their ancient resting place, but as the pink walls of Marrakech arose before him they had appeared out of nothingness on the road and proceeded to wreck the vehicle in a ferocious storm of sand. Hiram had barely escaped with his life. The dessicates were maddeningly insubstantial; despite all his best efforts, Hiram could not hurt them or halt their pursuit. Bullets from his Webley were wasted. His fists met only warm air. His ribald taunts fell on deaf, uncaring ears. But whenever Hiram paused to catch his breath and prevent his hammering heart from bursting, the Shroud Digital Edition â€˘ Version 1.02
dessicates would surround him and turn solid to viciously strike before fading to dust again. In those hellish moments, their clawed, flinty hands threatened to shatter his bones. They had shredded his fatherâ€™s ill-fitting black suit and gouged bleeding runnels across his face, back, and chest. Hiram Grange ran as, crimson-eyed, silent and starving, the dessicates came. They wanted the key back. Hiram emerged from the narrow alley into bright sunshine. He tried to get his bearings. Across the wide square of the Jemaa al Fna, the rectangular pink-stoned Koutobia Mosque loomed. Cautiously, Hiram moved past vendors selling the juice of blood oranges and wheeled carts weighted down with piles of dates, walnuts and figs. Off to his left, slothful black cobras lazed on a filthy blanket guarded by elderly sun-browned men in while djellabas. The crowds seemed to take no notice of the dessicates. Most saw only suggestions of a dirt-laden breeze, where Hiram saw whirlwind beasts born of ageless malice. The dessicates ignored everyone else in the square, so intent was their focus on Hiram. They moved as patiently as predators. They were content to bide
their time and wear him down. If they caught up to him again, Hiram would die. They would force themselves into his nostrils and down his throat and shred his insides with the ferocious heat of the sharqi wind. They had done as much to Addi, the Berber guide that had led Hiram to the desert ruins outside Ourzazate, that had led him to that damned chamber beneath the sands. Hiram pushed himself into the crowds, keeping an eye out for the glowing red eyes of the dessicates. A distant cry caused him to turn his head and, distracted, Hiram stumbled against a young man who spent the day tossing dirty, clinging monkeys onto tourists and demanding fistfuls of dirham for their removal. He took Hiram for a tourist and lost his livelihood as Hiram nimbly ducked beneath the screeching airborne menace and darted between two startled onlookers. The monkey hit the ground and darted away into the crowd trailing its leash, clearly intent on simian malice. Hiram pushed into the crowds again, his eyes scanning. Gnarled old women kindly offered to mark his wrists with intricate henna designs and then cursed him to hell when he passed them by. The 11
harmonious cacophony of several women cursing together had an odd effect. At the edge of Hiram’s vision, a desiccate resembling an emaciated hound snapped into solidity for a moment, seemingly startled, before it roared and faded away to dust. The henna women had fallen silent and shuffled away from the fell spirit they too had seen. It happened again when beggar children pushed toward him selling packets of tissue and single cigarettes. Their competing cries for his attention reached a near deafening crescendo, and directly behind them a desiccate with a mouthful of sandy fangs appeared in the bright sunlight, a glimpse of terror on its ruined face before it dimmed away to nothingness. The beggars’ taunts followed Hiram as he darted across the square. He had an idea. He glanced at the sun; it was almost noon. He had very little time. Still, he had to chance it; he was nearly spent, and the ageless dessicates would never stop their pursuit until he was dead. Cursing his fate, ignoring the fire in his legs, Hiram ran. He sprinted up the Rue Bab Agnaou, the cheap eateries and electronics shops a blur as he passed. He must have appeared mad in his bloody tattered suit; passersby gave him wide berth. He reached the Avenue Houmman el Fetouaki and paused to catch his breath. He darted across the kasbah toward the nestcovered ruins of the Baadi Palace, his disheveled form a startling sight to the merchants that lined the square with their ware-laden tables. Hiram had just minutes left. A wolfish desiccate with the face of a child approached from the north of the square. Hiram was already off balance when something grasped his left leg. A serpentine desiccate emerged from a grate, spiraling around his leg, its Shroud Digital Edition • Version 1.02
whirling, moist sand grains befouled by sewage. Hiram fell forward and was set upon by the others. Their touch burned his skin like the flaming sirocco. Hiram thrashed in the flinty whirlwind, screwing his eyes shut against the biting bits of sand and stone, forcing himself back to his feet. The sentient sand wailed and scraped at his eyelids and whipped around his throat. Hiram fell backward onto a spice merchant’s table, overturning the tall colorful cones of spice on display. The air filled with fragrant clouds of yellow turmeric, spicy cardamom, and red paprika. Cinnamon burned his nostrils. The bestial dessicates gained more solidity as they drew the spices into themselves. Veins of turmeric and arterial streams of paprika gave the sand creatures form. Bloody cinnamon hearts throbbed in rib cages of wild sand. Breaking free, Hiram darted up the stairs of the KozyBar. It was one of the few places in the Medina where alcohol was readily available. Hiram had made a point to know them all intimately. He reached the roof deck that overlooked the rough ruins of the Baadi Palace. Nesting white storks dotted the sun-baked, crumbling walls. Beyond them, the Atlas Mountains loomed. Hiram fired his Webley into the air and shouted for the startled tourists and waiters to run away. He did not want any collateral damage if his plan worked. If it didn’t, he did not need an audience to watch him die. The dessicates floated up the stairs, now four wild men formed of timeless sand. There was nowhere else for Hiram to run. Hiram glanced at his watch as the hand struck noon. It began. Soft at first, then rising to a crescendo was the ululation of the muezzin making the call to prayer. He did not understand the words, but Hiram had always found the sound enchanting.
The dessicates surrounded him, but they seemed hesitant, as though the amplified voice annoyed them. They had him encircled when a second voice joined the first, another nearby mosque making the call. The dessicates froze, their red eyes blazing. A third ululation started, perhaps even louder than the first two. The voices came from three distinct points in Marrakech, twining each with the other, harmonizing for a brief span of time. That was all it took. The dessicates gained solidity before Hiram, their hearts throbbing with scarlet light. The harmonious voices bound them to this layer of reality, and they wailed in realization as Hiram raised his trusted Webley and fired, fired, fired, fired. The four dessicates exploded into clouds of spice and loose sand that were soundlessly whisked away by a strong wind into the stork-filled skies. Hiram dropped to his knees and holstered the Webley. He had never felt so drained, so tired. So thirsty. He stood and checked the pocket of his shredded jacket to make sure he still had the key. Bothwell hadn’t told him what it would open, and at the moment he couldn’t care less. He had passed a bar on the way up the stairs to the patio. A well stocked bar. And by any standard of civilization, a drink after noontime was perfectly acceptable.
Robert Davies has been published in magazines ranging from Weird Tales to SHROUD, and his story “The Harvesting of Jackson Cade” was the winner of the 2011 WHA/Black Static award. He is also the author of Hiram Grange & the Digital Eucharist, Book 3 in the Scandalous Misadventures of Hiram Grange. Read more at www.robertedavies.com.
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Part Two (for Part One, check out Shroud Digital Edition #1)
True Story. Scarier words, ne’er spoken … “The only ones for me are the mad ones,” wrote Kerouac, “the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” There’s a world of crazy out there … a fringe to be explored … Someone oughta sell tickets.
Down & Out in Rachel Nevada or,
“I Was Almost Killed At Area 51 and All I Got Is This Lousy Coffee Mug …” Shroud Digital Edition • Version 1.02
The storm has been trapped in the valley for just over five days, throwing bolts of lightning down onto the sparse Joshua trees and free-roaming cattle, unable to surmount the ridge of mountains that hide the enigmatic Area 51 from public view. Amy and I, we’re still sitting at the bar—devouring ‘outta this world alien burgers’ and beer. Wild-bearded Joe Travis, bartender and proprietor of the Little A’Le’Inn, he’s pouring himself another shot. Ranting about the Jews and the gays and the new world order. Telling us he’s armed and stockpiled. Telling us he’s ready. With a gust of wind and sand, the door of the bar swings open. Dust settles on the papier mâché ET head nodding atop the jukebox. Wind tips the blurry framed photos of flying saucers and upside-down pie tins. And into the bar swaggers a sleeveless, muscular, wild-haired man. At his heels, a twelve year old miniature version of himself—both sporting messy blonde locks and deep tans. “We almost hit a cow!” the man declares. “Where the UFOs at?” They sit next to us at the bar. Burgers and beer. A coke for the kid. “Gerry Conklin,” the dude juts a thumb at his own chest. “Gerry Jr.,” he indicates his son. “Pleased ta meetcha!” Before we can introduce ourselves, he tells us all there is to know about him: World champion long distance jetskier. In Vegas selling costume jewelry from a suitcase (an allegedly lucrative side business). Gerry Jr. wanted to come down and see the saucers, so they rented a fast car and here they are. And, oh yeah, they’d almost hit a cow. Amy and I still haven’t introduced ourselves—have barely got a word in edgewise (even the voluble and volatile Joe Travis has been reduced to awkward silence)—before Gerry Conklin, world champion long distance jet-skier, is up off his stool, grabbing me by the sleeve, and muttering, “Come on, C’mon … Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go …!” His son hot on his heels. That it is nearly one in the morning and pitch-black outside doesn’t seem to matter—Gerry wants to see UFOs. He wants to go to Area 51. “Try to keep up!” he laughs, manic hysteria edging his voice as he leaps into his convertible rented hotrod something-or-other. Engine roars to life, tires screech, and they’re off! 14
Our rental car, it doesn’t start so easily, and when it does, it lurches and moans, tired from all the miles we’ve put on it over the course of our cross-country road trip to visit every UFO hotspot, new age mecca, folkloric landmark, roadside curiosity and paranormal oddity that this country has to offer. Gerry’s taillights, fading in the distance.
Joe’s hand-drawn map to Area 51, it says to hang a right at the black mailbox—to turn onto an unmarked, unpaved road and cut twenty miles through the desert. To keep going till we hit the gate. But to not go past the gate, or we’ll be shot.
champion long distance jet-skier—draws a metallic object from his pocket. Points it at the peak of Freedom Ridge. Pulls the trigger.
Zzzzzzttt! A thin red laser beam erupts from his penlight. Aimed directly at the place from which the spotlight had come.
Time stops. Images of laser rifle scopes and jet-skiing terrorists storming the UFO base fill my cringing brain. Of spending the rest of my life rotting away in a subterranean prison cell with my fiancée, a big-eyed gray Roswell refugee, a world-champion jet skier and his son … Of scrambled assault helicopters and guided USE OF DEADLY FORCE IS AUTHORIZED missiles … Of machine gun fire raining down from We catch up with them about ten miles into the desert. Freedom Ridge and Whitesides Mountain, cutting us to Lightning strikes a Joshua tree just off the road—the pieces where we stand … and then, storm is nearly on top of us. BOOM! CAA-RAAACK!!!
Gerry and his son, they’re out of their car. Dancing I feel it in my chest, in my bones. My knees buckle, wildly in the headlights, kicking up clouds of dust. my legs give out. Thunder shakes us to the core. The Insane grins splitting their faces. storm is upon us—lightning bolts are striking all around. Splitting cacti, burning the earth. “What took you so long?” Gerry laughs. The rain is like a baptism, washing the dust and sand “We’ve got a scorpion!” announces his son. In the headlight of the sports car, a terrified scorpion scampers and fear from our skin. from side to side, trying to avoid kicking feet and kickedThe mountain peaks, they remain dark and silent. up sand. “Well,” says Conklin, “So that’s Area 51. Huh. Come on, “Come on, slowpokes!” the Gerrys dive back into their Gerry, let’s blow this pop stand …” car. “Try to keep up!”
And then we are at the gate. An enormous barricade of steel and razor wire spanning the gap between Whitesides Mountain and Freedom Ridge (traditional public viewing areas for UFO-watchers and top-secret airplane enthusiasts—until recently, the only public places from which the top-secret base could be seen, they had recently been confiscated in an illegal government land-grab—TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT!)
Area 51. Dreamland. Also known as S4, The Pig Farm, Wonderland, Oz, Groom Lake, The Ranch … We are at the very threshold of untold alien secrets and paranormal projects—a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream. No sooner are we out of our cars when a spotlight flares into life at the peak of Freedom Ridge. A tight beam exploding on my chest, blinding me. The beam holds for a moment, then glides over to Amy. Then to Gerry.
Then to his son.
And then it winks out. Leaves us shivering in darkness and fear.
Without missing a beat, Gerry Conklin—world
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Scott Christian Carr has been a radio talk show host, editor of a flying saucer magazine, fishmonger, spelunker, journalist, TV producer, and author. In 1999, he was awarded The Hunter S. Thompson Award for Outstanding Journalism. But his most satisfying and rewarding job is that of “Dad.” He lives in a home once owned by George Hansburg (inventor of the pogo stick) on a secluded mountaintop in New York’s Hudson Valley. He writes every day. Visit him on the web at www.scottchristiancarr.com.
Someone Oughta Sell Tickets …!
continues in the next Digital Edition and in Issue 12 of Shroud Magazine 15
on Original Fiction from Shroud Publishing Maurice Broaddus
Devil’s Marionette Death comes for the cast and crew of the hit comedy TV Show Chocolate City, impacting not only their personal lives but the prospect of their show’s continued success. As each member sinks into their own past, and the spirits of those that came before, the tragedies continue. When your terror comes to claim you, who will it be? Nobody.
R. Scott McCoy
Deputy Sheriff Nick Ambrose can look into someone’s eyes and glimpse their guilt, to an extent. But when he and his brother take on a psychopathic killer, he gains something more: the ability to see, and devour, souls. Plagued by this terrifying new power, and by the spirits of both his brother and the butcher trapped inside his mind, he sets out to understand and control his new fate and to grapple with the shadowy auras he now sees all around. Can he command the darkness welling within, or will he become merely its vessel?
When the powers of an ancient malevolent creature invade a quiet suburban household, a young mother is forced into a pitched battle for the life of her child. A shocking and intelligent novella from veteran supernatural investigator, Cindy Little.
At Harlequin High School In 1986, Kelvin Fish is the oddball, the weird kid that no one will talk to, except for Patrick Beauchamp, who is determined to learn more. When Patrick’s curiosity leads him into a bizarre and tragic series of events, he gets much more than he bargained for.
Available now at www.shroudmagazine.com and at finer retailers everywhere.
Kris St. James
Die Wassergeist October 31, 1954
and no explanations. He didn’t even have lies.
he sound of the front door While his family was upstairs, Jim opening and feet running up Andersen closed the trunk, struggled the stairs startled Jim Andersen. He to get his prosthetic left leg into the had just finished clearing the bed of driver’s seat of his beloved Buick, the muddy sheets. He slipped out and drove away from his Allentown, the kitchen door and threw them Pennsylvania home. into the Buick’s trunk, along with his The interior of the car reeked of filthy suit and shoes. His neck was river mud. He lowered the electric stiff, his joints ached, and he had windows to let the stench out. Cotnever felt so thirsty. tony cattail seeds flew up from the Margaret and the kids were home floorboard into his mouth and nose from visiting her mother in Harris- as he drove. He glanced down at burg. Finally! Something normal! the bloodstains that spattered the He thought he might get away with passenger seat and door panel. His the mess in the house—the broken stomach churned. bedroom window, the muddy footDear God, I’m thirsty! He wanted a prints on the carpet, the fishy-smellbeer. He wanted ten beers. ing vomit on the pillows … But that He might have an idea for the was the least of his worries. He was thinking of the new Buick’s ruined Buick, but first he had to fix the interior. He couldn’t untangle that financial fiasco he’d created when he placed that ridiculous bet. That one. Not yet. wasn’t going to be easy. He was in Then the reality of the bet squeezed good with his bookie, Tony Malcino, his gut hard. although this was “bid’ness,” as Am I absolutely insane? Tony often reminded him in his In the haze that was last night, Sicilian accent. Andersen had bet their whole life “Friends is friends, gumba. But savings on a football game with one bid’ness is bid’ness.” simple phone call. As an insurance agent, Jim Andersen And of all teams—the Chicago Cardinals! The Steelers were going to annihilate them! How could I have blown such an easy bet?
knew this all too well, having had to deny claims from time to time, even to close friends. Bid’ness was bid’ness, after all. Insurance was a gamble.
So was picking up dazed and conThe game was several hours away. There was still a chance, but he fused broads after midnight during couldn’t face Margaret just yet. He the worst thunderstorm in Pennsylalready had too much to explain vania history. Shroud Digital Edition • Version 1.02
But this was insanity! The stinking, slimy, bloody interior of the Buick should be evidence enough that something wasn’t right. Something unusual was happening. Surely Tony could see that one of his best customers was a victim of extenuating circumstances, right? Andersen protected his reputation carefully. He would keep the bet— take a loss on Chicago. But for cryin’ out loud—who in their right mind makes a twenty-five thousand dollar bet on the Cardinals against anybody? They had the worst record in the whole NFL! He would tell Tony that he’d made a verbal mistake. That what he meant to say over the phone was twentyfive hundred dollars. Still a stupid bet, but a long cry from twenty-five thousand. Yes, that almost made sense. “Tony, I was a little drunk, you know? Meant to say two-thousand, five hundred—was thinking twentyfive hundred, but damn it to Schlitz! Twenty-five thousand fell out of my beerguzzlin’ mouth before I knew it!” Surely Tony had dealt with this kind of bumble before? Surely Tony knew when to bend a rule to keep “da bid’ness” of a loyal patron? Andersen had always made good on his debts. As he pulled into the parking lot of Fat Sal’s, a greasy spoon Tony Malcino and company frequented, he wiped cattail fluff from his hair and fished it out of his collar. He took one last look at the Buick’s blood and mud-stained baby blue bench 17
seat. He’d made just one payment— the car had less than seven hundred miles on it.
He knew he could never sell it and he couldn’t keep driving it. He still didn’t know how to explain it to Margaret. But the truth wasn’t that awful, was it? Yet it was so unbelievable. And the bloodstains just looked so wrong. How could he return from an insurance convention in New York with the blood of an unknown woman all over his front seat? How could he explain diving fully clothed into the Lehigh River after midnight to rescue a baby that didn’t exist? And then waking up in their bed, fully clothed in his wet suit—with no memory of coming home?
“How could he return from an insurance convention in New York with the blood of an unknown woman all over his front seat?” fighter pilot—Silver Star, Purple Heart—knew he was in over his head. He was about to lose everything: his car, his family, his retirement. The stump of his left leg began to itch within the prosthesis. This was the real gamble.
three men as they laughed at him. “That’s why I need to straighten this whole, funny thing out before this big misunderstanding goes any further.”
All smiles fell from the broad faces of the three huge men seated before “Tony, I need to talk to you about Andersen. Tony Malcino got down that bet I made on Chicago.” Ander- to bid’ness. No, it was too odd. Too risky. sen smiled weakly. “I’m gonna ask dis just once, gumMargaret would never believe him. Tony stared dumbfounded at An- ba. Did you or did you not place a Not after the affair he had at the dersen, like he suddenly didn’t twenty-five thousand dolla bet on last convention. Not with his recent speaka da English no goodly no Chicago against Pittsburgh for tobinge drinking. And now the bet? more. Then a boyish grin spread day’s game?” If nothing else, he knew how the across his ample jaws. A light chuckAndersen’s stump was on fire like insurance game was played. First, le grew into a hearty laugh. Tony a million bees were stinging in rapid he’d talk with Tony and straighten turned to an equally large associate succession. His peripheral vision out the bet—he’d eat the twenty-five and slapped him across the back. His began to fade and he tasted bile at hundred. It would hurt, but he’d infectious laugh spread to the other the back of his throat. The white spot find it again. Then he’d burn the car two until everyone was guffawing began as a pinprick in the center of and collect on the insurance. like Jackie Gleason had just farted on Tony’s face and slowly expanded. He could do this. He could fix this. live television. Even Andersen felt a Andersen leaned on his right leg, The restaurant was a dark cavern giggle rising from his wrenched gut. prepared for blacking out, but the lit by two red neon beer signs. In “Yeah, I bet you do, gumba, I’ll sensation subsided. the back, Andersen saw three dark- bet you do! Twenty-five Gs! My What did that bloody bitch do to me? suited, heavyweight men crammed God, man, I had no idea yous had He took a deep breath through his into a black vinyl booth. Frank Sinatra dat kinda dough!” Malcino fought chapped, cracked lips. Condensation sang “Someone to Watch Over Me” down another round of chuckles, from an unseen jukebox. When he tears welling in his baggy eyes. He glistened on the outside of the cold finally caught Tony’s attention, the raised an ample finger ringed in beer bottle between Tony’s meaty cold expression drew all the logic gold and rubies to wipe them away fingers. The Schlitz defense was goout of Andersen’s planned appeal and drew in a deep breath. “And ing nowhere. Now he just wanted to Tony’s sense of fairness and good a bet on Chicago! I couldn’t hardly a long, cold drink from that sweaty bottle—to suckle it like an infant unbid’ness ethic. Tony took a swig believe my ears!” til he could sleep off this nightmare. from a bottle, meeting Andersen’s Andersen chuckled a little himself. eyes. His tombstone gaze stopped “Yes.” “I know. I can’t believe it myself! I Andersen where he stood. mean, who makes a twenty-five The singular word limped out from “What da hell do yous want?” thousand dollar bet on Chicago! his sandy throat. One of Malcino’s Already this was not going well. That is funny!” Andersen paused, bid’ness associates slid his chair back James Andersen, decorated P-51 pacing his delivery, watching the six inches and unbuttoned his jacket. Shroud Digital Edition • Version 1.02
Jim Andersen, war hero, knew when to retreat.
this mess, not without Tony letting him renege on the bet at least a little. He was certain he’d lost the twenty“Den we has nothing further to five thousand. He’d done what that discuss, gumba. Good day.” washed-out wacko had told him Before he knew it, Andersen was when she took his hand and sent behind the wheel of the disgusting that eye-popping jolt of electricity Buick, flying down the highway to … through his body. Surely she was still where? at the hospital, as loony as she obviThe hospital. He had to find that ously was. Maybe it was her head infreaky woman. He couldn’t cover up jury. Maybe she was just drunk.
Andersen suddenly wasn’t sure he could even recognize her. As he drove, he tried with all his might to recall the previous night.
t was late and raining extremely hard as he was coming home from the New York convention. There had been no traffic for the last twenty miles. Just after midnight, the rain had turned briefly to hail and Andersen had stopped inside the covered bridge that crossed the Lehigh to wait out the storm and look over the sports page. She’d wandered out of the gloom, staggered into the side of the idling car like she didn’t know it was there, scaring the hell out of him. All that blood streaming out her nose, over her mouth. He couldn’t remember her face—no definite details about her remained except she was soaked to the bone in a once-white dress that was now covered in blood and mud. Dead leaves clung to her soggy hair. She got in and mumbled something incoherent, then started shrieking about her baby as they exited the bridge.
Andersen had found her car partially submerged with its headlights still on and immediately jumped into the Lehigh to find the baby. Just before her car sank into the depths, he’d got a quick glimpse inside, but no sign a baby was ever there. He’d crawled back up the muck-covered slope through the painful hail to the woman waiting in his warm, dry car.
When he returned to the Buick, she was humming contentedly as she casually examined the costumes he’d bought earlier at Woolworth’s for his kids. No mention of the baby. He immediately drove her an hour out of the way home to the hospital. When they had arrived outside the emergency room, Andersen opened
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the passenger door and took her hand to help her get out. At her touch, something like a bolt of lightning shot up his arm, across his soaked and muddy body, down the metallic leg and into the ground. His vision filled with a bright white spot that radiated out from the center. A memory so powerful, so painful, came back to him in that instant. A memory he had buried deep long ago. “Chicago.”
“What?” he’d replied, the white spot beginning to fade. “No, this is Allentown. Pennsylvania?”
“Bet big on Chicago,” she’d said in a distant monotone. “I’d wager everything.”
Jim Andersen left her standing at the emergency room doors.
“Until her touch had awakened that memory—that horrible, unspeakable event that happened so long ago in a war filled with atrocities— he’d thought she was nuts.” on the way home last night, but couldn’t find it anywhere in the car. He checked the clock on the dashboard—three forty-five. It would be dark long before he got home to take the kids trick-or-treating. It didn’t matter. The kids could throw sheets over their heads and they’d all be a family of ghosts this Halloween.
The hospital emergency room was empty, save for a nurse wearing ntil her touch had awakened dark purple eyeshadow and globs that memory—that horrible, of black mascara. She sat behind a unspeakable event that happened small reception desk, reading an old so long ago in a war filled with issue of LIFE magazine and drinkatrocities—he’d thought she was ing from a bottle of Coca-Cola. She nuts. Now he questioned his own hardly noticed Andersen. sanity. He shivered at what all this “Excuse me, but do you know might mean. anything about a patient that was He raised the windows and brought in here last night? It was refocused on the present. If she went really late—during the storm? About into the hospital, no one would ever two a.m.?” forget the sight of the bright red The nurse turned the page and blood that coated her mouth and chin and ran down her neck onto finished the sentence she was readthe front of her silky white party ing, then dog-eared the corner and dress. She was a walking nightmare. tossed the magazine on the desk. That horrible scene would surely be “Don’t you mean this morning?” imprinted on the minds of the whole She took a slow drink from the Coke. emergency room staff for months— “I’m sorry—I wasn’t on duty this years. morning.” She produced a filtered He parked the car and retrieved a Kent from a desk drawer and lit it pen and notepad from his briefcase. before finally making eye contact. He found the note that Kathryn, his “Do you have the patient’s name?” youngest, had scrawled in crayon White puffs escaped her thicklyand slipped inside. painted lips as she spoke. She rotated “Daddy I wont to be a gost.” a piece of paper with names typed He looked for the Woolworth’s across it for him to read. A tiny tendril bag with the costumes he’d bought of smoke coiled out one nostril as she
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stared dully at the cripple who was apparently interrupting her break. “No, I’m afraid not. I found her in the storm just after a car accident and dropped her off here. I never knew her name.” The nurse took another draw on her cigarette and blew the smoke directly in Andersen’s direction. “I’m terribly sorry. Without proper patient identification, I’m afraid I can’t be of much assistance.” Andersen tried to ignore the smoke, but his eyelids scraped across his corneas. He had never felt so … dry. His irritated eyes fell on the green bottle of Coke. Just a sip. Just one sip to settle my stomach. Before he could act on his thoughts—his needs—she took a final drag on the cigarette and dropped the butt into the bottle. Andersen hacked up a cough as the cloud cleared. He hadn’t had a cigarette since last night and was normally a two-pack-a-day man, but the thought of smoking now made him sick. He fought back nausea. “Is there anyone working who was here last ni … I mean this morning?” The nurse retrieved her lipstick and compact from her purse in the drawer. She spoke to him through the “O” shape of her mouth as she coated her lips. “Hon, it’s Sunday. It’s Halloween.” She blotted the excess lipstick on the 20
magazine cover. “I can check with The dark mouth to the covered medical records, but without a name, bridge came into view. The clock on it’s gonna take a while.” the dashboard read four fifty-eight. She continued to examine her Andersen estimated he had ten minreflection, ignoring Andersen. His utes of daylight before it would be right leg began to cramp again and too dark to see, but beneath the rushthe white spots buzzed about like ing muddy waters of the Lehigh, he television static. All he wanted to wasn’t sure any amount of sunlight do was get back on the road, stir up would be helpful. a fresh breeze and clear his aching head.
And he wanted a drink. He felt powdery—like he was being slowly drained of moisture.
light from beneath the seat just in case. It wasn’t waterproof, but it provided some obscure assurance that he would find what he was looking for.
From the trunk he retrieved the spare tire and the wad of soiled sheets he’d removed from his bed when he awoke three hours ago. He He parked the Buick on the ripped the sheets into long strips, grassy shoulder and pulled a flash- tying the ends together to form a
“No, thank you. I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”
She looked up from the compact, satisfied that she had finally rid herself of his nuisance and smiled prettily. “Oh, no trouble! Happy Halloween!” She closed the compact with a soft click and returned to her dog-eared LIFE.
Andersen exited through the double doors into the deepening twilight of evening. He knew Margaret must be worried sick and the kids were eager for trick-or-treating, but he couldn’t go home yet. Couldn’t call. Not with all these questions and no answers. He had one last option. The river.
The only thing he knew for sure (did he know anything for sure?) was that the car sitting at the bottom of the Lehigh near the old covered bridge would have a receipt in the glove box, a vehicle identification number, a license plate registered to … somebody. Something that led back to that woman. Something that would once again anchor him to reality and allow him to dig his way out and salvage at least a piece of his life.
The sun dropped below the horizon. He pushed the Buick faster, leaning hard into the curves and leaving black streaks as the tires squealed along the serpentine back roads to the river. He felt confident. The car was solid. The car was real. Shroud Digital Edition • Version 1.02
rope. He would dive to the woman’s car and tie one end to the bumper. The other end he attached to the spare, which he hoped would serve as a temporary anchor on the shore, marking the location of the wreck until a tow truck could haul it out of the river. He saw the swiftly moving brown water and noticed it had risen some ten feet since last night. The car would be even harder to locate, but hopefully it hadn’t moved with the current.
“… as he was fading into unconsciousness, he heard the hushed voices of an old man and a young woman approaching through the dense undergrowth.” height. Another hop and he was in over his head.
He inched along the mucky bottom on his one foot, hopping farther into water which rose quickly to chin
both legs and a clear conscience— was shot down while attacking a Andersen drew in a deep breath, column of Waffen-SS Panzers during dived down and opened his eyes. Patton’s push to the Rhine. A flak The two lights glowed dimly back at gun crew found him before he could him. His body was going numb from find the gun. His heavily-perforated P-51 Musthe cold, but he felt confident that this was the best solution. A sure bet. tang bellied-out into a soft, freshly What else could possibly be giving plowed field. Andersen miraculously off that light except the woman’s car? survived, crawled from the flaming From beneath the rushing waters, wreckage on his elbows and hid in an ancient forest. His left leg Andersen heard the sound again. was badly injured. Within an hour, The baby. Her baby. Captain James Andersen blacked out With his lungs just beginning to itch from the pain. But as he was fading and his skin covered in gooseflesh, into unconsciousness, he heard the Andersen dove deeper toward the hushed voices of an old man and a lights, dragging the makeshift rope young woman approaching through out behind him. He only needed the dense undergrowth. ten seconds to reach the lights and He awoke in a clean bed to the he could tie off the sheet and make smell of frying bacon. How long he for the surface. He continued to had lain there, he didn’t know, but dive, struggling against the current, he was reasonably sure this was not reaching out toward the lights. They a German prison. He was dressed in should be within reach … just a few a linen nightshirt and, considering more feet. his fantastic crash, he felt little From one of those many unmarked discomfort, save for a horrible itching graves that littered the landscape of along his left leg—all the way to his his mind, something responded to toes. He attempted to scratch with the baby’s wail. Something began his right foot, but after a full minute to stir beneath the blackened soil; to of groping beneath the blanket he wriggle its way into the moonlight of discovered his leg was missing from semi-awareness. An aborted memo- the knee down. ry was fully reborn. Suddenly, there was a loud knock at an unseen door. Shouts. Scuffling. Gunshots. The door to his room flew open and he braced for execution, arly in 1945, a more or less com- but was greeted by a very beautiful, plete Jim Andersen—one with very pregnant young woman. She
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Andersen sat on the edge of the grassy incline and removed his shoe and sock, stripped to his white Tshirt and undershorts, and removed the leg. He bundled the make-shift rope into his arms and inched his way downhill on his back and elbows. Kicking the tire down the slope as he followed behind, he looked like a fleeing crab that had been picked apart by a seagull. The tire threatened to bounce into the water, but stopped short. As he reached the bank, Andersen tied one end of the sheet to his waist. He was fumbling with the flashlight, trying to decide how he could use it, when he heard the sound. It was unmistakable. Unnerving. Unnatural. A baby’s cry. From beneath the dark water, Jim Andersen saw the dim glow of two lights. The car? he thought. After all this time, the headlights still work? He dropped the flashlight onto the bank and slid into the cold October water. His teeth chattered violently. The current was strong, but the makeshift rope held fast and the Buick’s spare tire should be heavy enough to hold.
reveal the mighty Rhine. It was getting dark. One hundred yards away The woman lifted the corner of he could just make out a decrepit a rug and pulled an iron ring. A rowboat tethered to a rickety pier. trapdoor opened to a dank root cellar. Andersen was familiar with their He saw her face only briefly. She was approximate location from studyweeping. The sound of breaking ing reconnaissance maps. They were glass came from somewhere outside about fifty miles upriver from Patthe room. More shouts. Between sobs ton’s forces. All he had to do was she whispered hoarsely in broken get to that boat and the swift current would carry him to safety. English. said nothing as she closed the door and slid the bolt.
Ten yards out from the root cellar they heard shouts from the house. A Andersen slid from the bed and, gunshot missed them wildly, hitting with his remaining leg, clambered the river and sending a tiny geyser down a crude ladder. The wom- of water into the air. The woman an followed, closing the trapdoor shrieked something in German and behind her. Without a word, she pushed Andersen toward the boat. pushed something into his hands: a Adrenaline overtook his muscles wooden crutch. and propelled himself forward. He She lit a candle and led him down found a rhythm with the crutch and a twisting tunnel that exited through covered the ground quickly. He dove another root cellar. He could hear from the end of the pier into the old rushing water; could smell the rowboat. As he wrestled with the fecund odor of damp earth. oars, the woman struggled to untie She threw open a rotted door to the rope, fear filling her fingertips “We escape the river now!”
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until her hands were useless. Andersen saw two SS officers a hundred yards away, running toward them, pistols outstretched. Another wild shot. He began to row, uncoiling the old rope as he pulled away. The sobbing woman kept fumbling with the knot, but made no progress. Twenty feet out, the old cord pulled taut and the boat jerked to a stop. The rotten rope snapped at the pier and fell limply into the cold, dark Rhine. Andersen began to move again. He was free. The SS fired another volley, this time hitting the old boat just below the waterline. He heard a loud splash and looked to the pier. The woman had fallen in after the rope and was now using it to pull herself toward the boat. The Nazis closed the distance and fired a much more accurate shot at Andersen’s exposed body above the gunwale. He began to row harder, but the drag of the woman was
slowing him to a near standstill. She continued to pull on the rope.
The rifleman fired again, striking rope had somehow entangled his the boat, but the current suddenly remaining leg. When she reached the boat, the SS became very swift and took him His lungs were at their breaking were at the end of the pier—a scant rapidly out of range into the darkness. point. His pounding pulse finally fifty yards away. Andersen thought blotted out the maddening sound his heart would explode from panic of the infant banshee and he could when two delicate, feminine hands resist the urge to drink no longer. Jim ndersen fought the impulse to Andersen gulped down the Lehigh clutched the gunwale and tried to inhale. His heart pounded in River as he felt tiny, icy hands grasp pull her pregnant body over the top, his eardrums. out of the water. his phantom leg and latch on. Almost there … A bullet struck the boat. Another. The SS were finding their range. The He felt the sheets go taut. The boat tipped precariously to port as lights were close, but out of reach arly Thanksgiving morning, she tried again, shouting something in the murk. Could he pull the tire Margaret Andersen, grieving in German. Andersen dropped the down the bank a little? Just to the oars and grabbed her hands, tried to river’s edge? He only needed a few over the bizarre loss of her husband on Halloween, reluctantly answered pull her in. The boat tipped even fur- more feet … an unexpected knock. ther. The gunwale dipped below the Andersen tugged on the sheets and waterline for a long second. He felt She opened the front door and saw the frigid water on his singular foot. felt the tire move. He dove another a dark sedan driving rapidly away two feet, felt the tension again. His She was too heavy. Andersen was lungs burned, but he wanted to and a woman pushing her baby cartoo weak. Another shot struck the gulp down the cold water more than riage down the foggy sidewalk. She didn’t understand why someone boat. Another whizzed past his ear. anything. would play such an inappropriate She pulled again and this time the He tugged harder on the sheet, not joke on her. Margaret was about to boat really threatened to tip over. Andersen knew this was hopeless. caring if the tire fell into the water. call to the unknown woman and ask If the boat flipped, they were both Maybe it would float, marking the if she had seen who had knocked submerged car like a fishing buoy? when she noticed a large cardboard finished. He had no time. The dim lights box on the step. He moved back to the oars and Inside, the widow Andersen dispulled hard against the deep water. were still just out of reach, but drawThe woman was too much—they ing nearer with each downward covered stacks upon stacks of one stroke. He was now inches from the hundred dollar bills. On top, a note: were going to be killed. glowing lights; could sense the cold Or worse, caught. metal of the grille. There was a new sound from the Chicago Cardinals 17He began to untie the sheet from pier: a louder bark, a bigger bite. A Pittsburgh Steelers 14 around his waist. His oxygenthird Nazi had arrived with a boltWho knew? starved lungs were ablaze. He felt action rifle. Their fate was sealed. I also pay my debts, gumba. a hard tug on the sheet. The tire? She pulled herself up higher on the Had it sunk? Shouldn’t it float, being gunwale and nearly capsized Anderfilled with air? sen a fourth time. Another hard tug, this time straight He pulled the oar from the starKris St. James is a Southern Gothic writer down, which brought him eye level board gunnel and, without hesitation, with the two dim lights which who enjoys stories about the fringes of life. brought it down on the woman’s He resides with his family in Birmingham, weren’t lights at all. Alabama. hands. She wouldn’t relinquish her Billowing before him, of purest grip. white, was the party dress and an She shouted again, begging. But all he heard were gunshots. With infant’s nightgown. Now he underhis remaining strength, he brought stood. Not a party dress. A burial the oar down hard on the top of her gown. A shroud.
head. She released the gunwale and slid beneath.
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He felt another tug downward, downward, downward. The sheet-
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Sure, zombies are pretty scary. They stink. They want to eat your brains. They're terrible house guests. Who says zombies can't be fun, too? Don't they look kind of silly falling down and bumping into things? Sometimes they can even be cute. So, before you run away screaming for your lives, stop and appreciate the beauty of the undead. And remember …
It’s Okay To Be A ZOmbiE Story by Nathaniel Lambert and Pictures by Danny Evarts Available now at www.shroudmagazine.com
An Unchildren’s Book UnchildrensZone.com
Dark fiction and horror in tasty bite-sized pieces Enjoy some of the most terrifying Bram Stoker Award nominated modern fiction on the market. Abominations
17 Spine-tingling Tales of Murderous Monsters
Expertly-crafted, never-before published tales of horrifying creatures, mythical beasts, and murderous monsters from some of the best voices in modern horror. With stories from John Teehan, Anna Lowther, Eric Christ, Rhonda Parrish, William Vogel, Tracie McBride, Mark Tullius, Kevin Lucia, Brandon Berntson, Jeff Parish, Lee Zumpe, Lon Prater, Lincoln Crisler, Gerard Houarner, R. Scott McCoy, Dave Dunwoody, and Richard Farnsworth. Edited by Timothy Deal.
Beneath the Surface 13 Shocking Tales of Terror
Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best Anthology of 2008 Supernatural beings, Gothic settings, shadowy creatures, and atmospheric haunts tantalize and thrill in this collection of eerie and terrifying oldschool works of short fiction. Including works by Scott Christian Carr, Derek M. Fox, Scott William Carter, Malon Edwards, Ian Whates, J.T. Glover, Philip Roberts, Richard Wright, Justin McMahon, Efraim Z. Graves, Marie Brennan, Angeline Hawkes, and Jake Burrows.
100 Terrifying New England Tales
Much more than an anthology, this is an indispensable guidebook for your journey through the shadowy New England otherworld. 100 original tales of ghosts, creatures, mad men, and other horrifying mysteries, each told in the first person so that the reader can customize these treacherous tales in order to tantalize friends and terrify family. Profits from the sale of this book are donated to the American Cancer Society.
Grimoires & Tomes Book Dark Things II: A Horror Anthology
Ty Schwamberger, ed. Pill Hill Press
Dark Things II is a fun, lightly horrific collection of short stories meant not only to disturb and haunt their readers, but also to entertain, often provoking a chuckle of laughter as much as a sense of dread. While many readers will find this anthology to be hit or miss, there are enough solid stories in this collection to keep an avid reader awake at night:
production values, the anthology is well put together and the stories make for a quick read, with something included for every horror fan to enjoy. — Joshua Gage
The Secret of Crickley Hall Crickley Hall Macmillan
One might think that by now we’d all be tired of the standard horror tropes–vampires, zombies, demons and the like. There’s a couple of these old horror standbys The pinnacle of the collection has to be C. J. Sully’s that James Herbert tackles “The Chevalier Sisters: A Tale of Voodoo,” which in The Secret of Crickley Hall: ghosts and the haunted weaves a southern gothic narrative about Thena house. The novel’s 633 pages seem more like half of Chevalier and her constant struggle in life with that because the story just keeps rolling, and Herbert physical disabilities, the emotionally heavy loss of definitely makes the reader willing to accept these her mother, and the antagonistic torments of her sister, things that might seem to be stale when handled by Dusa. With a revelatory ending reminiscent of Poe, lesser authors. Sully’s story is sure to capture the attention of any This is a story about a family that has been having horror fan. some difficult times. The Caleighs move into Crickley “Bug Boy,” by Matt Kurtz, is the story of social Hall, a mysterious place in a remote part of England, outcast Stanley who has an affinity for collecting when Gabe has to do a temporary engineering job. His bugs. Living close to a cemetery in an area that has wife, Eve, hasn’t been the same since their son went been experiencing a lot of rain, Stanley is certain missing during a trip to a local park. There are two he’ll be able to see a dead body soon, and be able to daughters who move into the house with them, and it collect some great bugs to terrify the students in his isn’t long before bad things start happening all around. classroom. He pursues his hunt into the cemetery Scary sounds in the middle of the night, doors itself, to a gruesome discovery. opening and closing of their own volition, even things “Polarity,” by David W. Landrum, is the introspective that the family starts to think that they are seeing but tale of a prostitute who is hired for participation in just aren’t sure: Crickley Hall has all the problems a demonic ritual. Once she realizes that all is not as one might expect from a haunted house. When the it seems with the daughter of the house, the two of Caleighs go into town to a store they find out fairly them make plans to end things once and for all, but quickly that no tenant has wanted to stay at the Hall not without a sacrifice. for long. A little research shows that it was once a Overall, Dark Things II is a decent anthology of boarding house for orphans that was under the care horror stories, some aiming to be terrifying, some of siblings Augustus and Magda Cribben. The history aiming to be disgusting, and some aiming simply to of Crickley Hall and the Cribbens unfolds at a rapid be silly with elements of horror. In spite of some iffy pace and soon offers plenty of explanation for the Shroud Digital Edition • Version 1.02
Grimoires & Tomes Book
Bryan Bennett is a research fellow and expert in frightening events that surround the house many decades later. Clearly the Cribbens were in the wrong hostage negotiation and corporate security. He has line of work and their treatment of the orphans would literally written the book on the subject. But memories of his childhood experiences as a kidnapping victim understandably create some restless spirits. trigger unexpected and potentially debilitating panic James Herbert creates a carefully orchestrated story in The Secret of Crickley Hall. By the time the attacks, forcing him to walk gingerly around his reader reaches the end, Herbert’s onomatopoetic deepest fears, never testing the limits of his resolve. swish-thwack! is likely to instill more than just a Drawn to a training seminar in Reykjavik, Iceland twinge of fear. This is a long novel, and it is still easy with the hope of finally confronting and overcoming to digest because there is plenty of space devoted to his panic attacks, Bryan finds himself drawn into his developing well-rounded characters. Everyone has own worst case scenario. Once again taken hostage a backstory and everyone has a purpose for being in and with his life on the line, Bryan is forced to face his the story, making for a satisfying read that has plenty terror without the crutch of medication or the comfort of shocks and horrors along the way. I found myself of his loving wife. paying attention to something I usually gloss over: Throughout The Worst Thing, Elkins displays the every chapter has a title. Some chapters are titled after skill of an experienced and award-winning author. characters, some are just ominous words, but all of Bryan’s first-person narrative provides insight into them are meaningful and worth taking a look at. All of the psychological nature of panic and remembered the plot’s loose ends are tied up nicely by the story’s trauma and Elkins adeptly makes his experience end; all that the reader has to do is sit back and enjoy tangible for the reader. The writing is strong, the author the work of a horror author who clearly knows how to maintaining a break-neck pace without sacrificing build a heart-racing and frightening tale. story or relying on those false cliffhangers that many lesser writers use to sustain interest. However, An important thing to note: if anyone thinks this is a brand new book, that’s mostly untrue. It’s been Elkins makes some critical missteps that ultimately readily available in the U.K. for five years but is just undermine much of the suspense of the novel. Firstly, Bryan’s relatable-yet-acerbic wit ends up taking the making its way to an American release. — Christopher Larochelle sting out of several key scenes. Further, Elkins chooses to alternate the point of the view of the novel from firstperson (with Bryan) to third-person (with everyone The Worst Thing else), disrupting the flow of the story as well as the Aaron Elkins steady build-up of anxiety as the conflict progresses. Berkley Hardcover Finally, the author indulges himself with a final twist Everyone knows not to that is largely unnecessary and ultimately renders all tempt fate. Since the time of Bryan’s previous struggles virtually meaningless. of the Greeks we have When the final page is turned, The Worst Thing can be been warned and warned termed an interesting book, but, unfortunately, not a against uttering that magical particularly suspenseful one. incantation “what’s the worst — Shedrick Pittman-Hassett that can happen?” Doing so practically guarantees that the poor fool will find out exactly what that “worst” Expanded and additional reviews can would be. In his latest thriller, The Worst Thing, Edgarbe found in Shroud Magazine and at award winner Aaron Elkins tests this theory against an shroudmagazinebookreviews.blogspot.com interesting protagonist with decidedly mixed results. Shroud Digital Edition • Version 1.02
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Presenting Chapter Two of a new serialized novel
Craven Place by
he vagrant’s hand was up because the sun was behind her, dazzling him. Half-man was a cruel first impression, though tattered was accurate enough. Brown, shoulder length hair tangled down to his torn and faded black overcoat, itself burdened with stains, and his beard was short and unkempt, clinging to his face like a loyal pet. There was a grey canvas haversack beside him, making him look like a navy deserter from a bygone era.
As far as she could tell, his patience man was an innocent. To involve had not worn thin. He was making him, even if he would allow himself conversation, aborting an uncom- to be involved, would be to kill him. fortable silence, and that was all. Trying a different tack, the man His eyes never left her own. held out the cup-cap he drank from. “Here for a funeral?” She wanted She knew the movement had been to shake her head, but to do made, could see it in his universe so would be to abandon those eyes, but was unaware of hand or penetrating eyes. The voice that arm.
Most intriguing were his bright, piercing eyes. They were free of the miserable fog clouding the expressions of the homeless men and women she so often saw in London. There was quiet joy there, and a passed from her ear to her core piercing curiosity. was accentless, of everywhere and Her trip-hammer heart eased the nowhere. “A wedding?” Again, pressure it was applying to her her muscles refused to risk losing body, and her fight or flight pos- the strange safety this man’s soul ture eased. Her voice had still to wrapped around her. He gestured escape from the paralysis of fear loosely at the gravestone he was though, and she found herself star- sitting against, legs outstretched. “Visiting relatives?” ing, mouth agape.
“Do you drink tea?” When she didn’t take it, he drained the rest, then turned to put the cap back on the flask. How could he turn, and still be nothing but eyes?
She knew her soul was reacting to his presence, intoxicating her with the importance of him. She felt drunk on his spirit, a sensation that was almost sexual, yet far removed from desire. She was blanketed by a pure and potent comprehension.
Now she was at war with her own subversive tongue. The world had been sucked into this man, leaving nothing left to look at, nothing left to say. The church behind her was He would save her. really before her, as was Craven Place, and Hag’s Nook, and Nich- “You’ve come from the house on olas. She wanted this man’s help. the hill.” The instinct was compelling, and it The statement broke the spell. Her came from the core of her, speaking mind and thoughts were her own in a voice she had never ignored. again. How much did he know? Now she would. Though it was a Fate had placed him here, in her Still she could not speak, and he chose to break the silence for her. mistake to deny her instincts, this path, fully informed and powerful.
The vagrant’s dark eyebrows rose in calm bafflement. He took a sip from the cup-cap of a garish red thermos flask. It was hot, whatever he drank, sending steam rising up around his face. She noticed that his little finger was slightly extended, a bizarre, aristocratic inversion of the traditional tramp clutching a brown paper bag concealing cheap liquor.
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She needed more. She needed to validate her suspicions. “Are you … are you gifted? Do you have knowledge?” Her own intensity, her desperation, startled her. The man said nothing, tilting his head like a curious bird. She clarified. “Are you psychic?” “Ah! Psychic.” Drifting off as he spoke, gazing at nothing, he perhaps saw everything. “In touch with the higher planes. Possessed of instinctive understandings. One with the hidden secrets of the Universe.” His eyes took root in hers again, and this time they were just the eyes of a man. “No. Um. Are you?” The dynamic changed, and Tanith was left reeling by the light hint of mockery under the question. It was scarcely enough to offend, but he no longer felt like the solution to her problems, and that was good. That meant they could not harm him. “I … yes, of course I am.” The obvious blurted from her lips while she was thinking other thoughts, and she resented her own abruptness. In babbling apology, she continued. “I’m sorry, I assumed that …” She stopped, before she could make an even bigger fool of herself. Over the years, she had met sceptics in their hordes. As her grandmother, her tutor and friend, had taught her, it was better to let them come to you, rather than try to chase and bully them into acceptance. She changed her approach. “How did you know I came from Craven Place?” She tried to remember how she had felt when she first set eyes upon him. He had seemed so huge, a mystic figure. Now she saw only rags and undernourishment. Rack-thin, he had a loose dynamism in his limbs, like a tired spring. Beaten by the weather, his skin was coarse and lived-in. She Shroud Digital Edition • Version 1.02
estimated he might be some three or four years her junior, perhaps thirty years old. Still, she could not deny the power of her vision, even if the details were increasingly hazy. He had felt … meant. “How do you think? I saw you. With my actual eyes.” Tanith’s spine tingled as she recalled the sensation of intense spectation. “I’ve been watching you for about fifteen minutes, tearing down that track like a bat out of hell.” If only he knew. The sunlight could not suppress her shiver. Craven Place had become her hell. She closed her eyes, trying to throw up a barricade to memories too recent and painful. His voice drifted to her as the rush of memories coalesced into panic. “Makes me wonder who you’re running from.” All her resolutions, so carefully constructed to protect this stranger, dissolved. Without waiting for permission, the panic seized her lips and made them active. “Megan Morgan. She took my husband. I switched beds, or I’d be with them now.” A fraction of a second after she spoke the words, she replayed them, and winced at how they sounded. The vagrant raised an eyebrow, clearly amused. “Of course you would. This woman. Close friend of the family, is she?” In her anxiety, she did the last thing she should have, and could feel her grandmother’s disapproving frown echo down to her through the years. She was blunt. With a sceptic. “She’s dead. She died three hundred years ago. She was a witch.” He didn’t flinch. She held her breath, waited for his response. “Right.” Utterly noncommittal. “Good. A witch. And you are?” If
there was damage done, if her questionable credibility had scared him away, then it was too late for subtlety. She opted to continue her accidental policy of blunt honesty, and sent her grandmother a silent apology for wasting so many childhood lessons. “Tanith Pearce. Psychic Consultant.” Still he didn’t flinch, or look away. Instead, he took a long, deep breath, as though preparing for something arduous. Then, in a clean, jackknife movement, he was standing. Taking an abrupt step toward her, he extended his hand. “Matthew Hopkins.” She took his hand in startled reflex, and he pumped it enthusiastically as he stared from too close, making her want to step backwards. “Witchfinder General.” The hand kept pumping. “A joke.” He broke away then, with a fluidity that was out of sorts with the shambling eccentricity of his appearance. Pushing his thermos into his bag, he slung the whole thing over his shoulder. All at once he was back with her, the hand he placed on her arm hardly an imposition at all, guiding her towards the gate of the graveyard. “So,” he said, “tell me about this witch. You say she took your husband?” Despite her resolute determination not to let Megan have this man, she found herself nodding. It was the firm, yet innocuous, way in which he put the question that caught her off guard. “Killed him,” she heard herself saying. “My husband. Nicholas Eldritch. You might have heard of him …” She trailed off. Hopkins evidently had heard of him, for he stopped walking at the mention of the name. Dawning realisation spread from his eyes outwards, dragging harsh contempt in its wake. 31
“Not the ghostbuster? The selfstyled Van Helsing who roams the land slaying spooks and demons, then inflicts godawful books about it on a mostly innocent public?” He snorted. “Well, they say the pen is mightier than the crucifix.” His gaze rested on a headstone. It seemed to remind him that he was speaking ill of the dead, but his apology was brusque, off hand. “Sorry. Go on.”
Matthew held up a hand as he opened the gate for her. “Please. His last stop? Try taking a deep breath.” She did so, stepping quickly through the gate. Beyond this sanctified ground the witch had power. The difference now was that she journeyed with another. She sensed that Megan would not assault her if she kept company with this man and stayed away from the cottage. Her head down, she chose to continue along the grass track, No, her mind had been made up. This man was not her solution. towards the coast road, away from There was no solution. If he was Craven Place. Pulling the gate to, homeless, then life had already Matthew jogged to catch up, and taken too heavy a toll on him. She she started to share the previous was selfish even considering bring- days with him. ing him into her world of hurts. “The last stop on his tour. He “Look, I’m sorry. You’ve been very has—” and that was wrong. Tanith kind, but I can’t involve anybody fought back a sudden welling of else. She already seeks me out, and tears as she corrected herself. “Had that’s bad enough, but if she knows been visiting sites of spiritual unof you she might …” rest across Britain, staying at each “I’ll take my chances.” There was for a few days, soaking up the atno flippancy. He was grave, accept- mosphere and making notes. It was ing. In the space between seconds, for his new collection, The Spectred she changed her mind yet again. Isle.” She was going to tell him. The decision came so suddenly that she found she no longer had words to begin her task, and so she kept walking, buying time. Matthew followed, watching her with those clear, patient eyes. Events lined up in her head, returning to her in a series of shattering collisions, each demanding to be the centre of the tale she was to tell, each blurring the others until her thoughts were a furious, unfocused whirl.
She ignored the sarcasm. “This was his last port of call before returning home to London.” She felt a sudden urge to justify allowing her husband to be here, and she looked earnestly into the eyes that refused to leave her, to miss a nuance. “I’d warned him, of course. I told him that if he stared too hard into the next world …”
“Nicholas invited me. This was his last stop, and he …”
slightly, sweeping across the fields to chill them as she turned her
mind back to her tale. “Did you go on the tour with him?”
“He wanted me to, but I couldn’t. These places have emanations, vibrations, which my gifts make me sensitive to. I’d visited him at one or two, but I could never bear to stay for long. When he invited me to this last, I thought it would be an end to it. Craven Place has a history.” Again he cut her off, but this time he was not looking at her. This time his gaze seemed to track back through time. “Yes.” She barely heard him, so soft and sad was his voice. “I know about its history.”
For a second, she watched him, noting the sudden heaviness that pulled his shoulders in and his head down.
“Then you know why Nicholas came here. It was only when I arrived that I felt the evil of the place, the malignancy. I never would have come if I’d known.”
An exasperated sigh from Mat(Craven Place continues in the thew. “Spectred … Sceptred. Very next Shroud Digital Edition …) clever. Very good.”
Richard Wright is an author of strange dark fictions, currently living with his wife and daughter in New Delhi, India. His stories have been widely published in the United Kingdom and USA for over a decade, most recently in magazines and anthologies including Dark Wisdom, Withersin 3.2, Beneath the Surface, Shroud, Tattered Souls, Choices, Dark Faith, and Reaching the gate, she fought a “Something might stare back. In- the Doctor Who collection Short Trips: new weakness in her limbs, des- deed.” Why did she have so strong Re:Collections. perate not to be seen trembling like a feeling that this man already Richard also authored Hiram Grange a frightened schoolgirl. Matthew knew what she was telling him? & the Nymphs of Krakow, the fifth book sensed her difficulty. His prompt How could he seem to understand in The Scandalous Misadventures of was gentle. “Why were you there?” so much in one moment, so little in Hiram Grange. For more on Richard, visit him at www. It was a rope, and she grabbed it. the next? The wind was picking up richardwright.org.
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Dementis Mortuus Word Games for the Worst of Us Words by Victorya, Blanks by Danny Evarts INSTRUCTIONS: Without peeking at the story below, pick words to fill in the blanks in the word list based on the language parts shown. Or have friends pick (if they’re still living or can otherwise somehow communicate their answers). Then read the story aloud, putting each chosen word in its given space.
Note: If you don’t know the following parts of speech, your editors kindly recommend that you go back to school and get an education.
SPEED DATING Term of Affection
Verb Ending in “ED”
Mythical Creature (Plural)
Term of Affection
is in my backpack right now.
• So, if I was to choose you for a date, do you think you could lose ten • I only date girls a D-cup or • This is my own
scent I created, made from
, and unicorn
internal organ •I
sweat, eucalyptus, rhinoceros
. Pretty awesome, isn’t it?”
the cheeseburger dildo. Maybe we can skip the rest of this charade and go to my
verb ending in “ED”
I’ll bring the meat, you bring the cheese. • Do you mind
• If I said I wanted to eat your •
, would that turn you on?
was a pussy. You never listen to your dog.
Did you know
? I think they’re
Mythical creature (Plural)
, they’re the ones you listen to.
was a chinchilla?
Further Word Games can be found in the pages of Shroud Magazine. Shroud Digital Edition • Version 1.02
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