3 Tales of Horror

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3 Tales of Horror is an anthology of horror novellas, and features:

The Solution by Rick McQuiston, The story of a vampire invasion, an evil book, and a strange little girl; ...The Colour of Time by K.R. Gentile, The unauthorized biography of the notorious super-villain, Dr. Peppermint; and Eden Succeeding by Christopher L. DelGuercio, the chronicle of a doomed human colony on another planet.

Phase 5 Elements:

Forbidden Knowledge (Kf111); Super-villain (Sv301); Transmutation (Tm195)

Classification: Horror.

Appropriate for Adult readers: violence; brief, mildly-graphic sexual situations; frequent cursing; death; mutation; death of children; evil object; addiction; suggested insanity; mental manipulation; death of animals and creatures.

ISBN: 978-1-942342-78-6 Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-942342-77-9 e-book (.epub, Apple)
ISBN: 978-1-942342-79-3 Kindle (.mobi)
ISBN: 978-1-942342-80-9 PDF

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Try a sample of The Solution  Download .epub  Download .pdf   or read below

Try a sample of ...The Colour of Time  Download .epub   Download .pdf   or read below

Try a sample of Eden Succeeding    Download .epub   Download .pdf   or read below

About the Authors:

Author:  Christopher L. DelGuercio

Christopher L. DelGuercio is a Resident of upstate New York, where he enjoys spending time with his son, reading, attending film festivals, disc golfing, listening to music, and laughing with friends and family. 

He is a graduate of The State University of New York at Oswego and current faculty member at The Downtown Writers Center of Syracuse as a fiction instructor.

Other publications include Blood, Blade & Thruster; Chaos Theory: Tales Askew; Fried Fiction; Parade of Phantoms; Quantum Muse; Space Westerns; Kaleidotrope; OG’s Speculative Fiction; Forbidden Speculation; and Tabloid Purposes IV.

He can be contacted at www.cdelguercio.com

Author: K.R. Gentile

K.R. Gentile is an unwilling resident of Asheville, North Carolina and enjoys zeppelins, clockwork minions, warbot A.I.s, and secret volcano bases.

Author of: 

  • The Tale-Seller's Night, a tale of The Scorched Earth, originally published in the Phase 5 Monthly Review
  • Lil Red & The Baron, a tale of The Scorched Earth, originally published in the Phase 5 Monthly Review, and reprinted in the Phase 5 Annual Review: Short Fictions Volume 1
  • Drucy's Tale, a tale of The Scorched Earth, originally published in the Phase 5 Monthly Review, and reprinted in the Phase 5 Annual Review: Short Fictions Volume 1
  • ...The Colour of Time, a super-villain novella, also published in 3 Tales of Horror

Author: Rick McQuiston

Rick McQuiston is a resident of Warren, Michigan where he enjoys playing drums, horror movies, football, and spending time with family. He is currently employed at Titan Management.

He has over 300 other publications, including Demonic Visions Vol I, II, III, IV, Miskatonic Press, Source Point, Literary Hatchett, and Beta Noire, which can be found on: Lulu.com, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com.  Visit Many-Midnights.webs.com for more.

Author can be contacted at: Many_Midnights@yahoo.com 

Author of The Solution, a horror novella, also included in 3 Tales of Horror

Free Samples

Free Sample of Eden Succeeding

Prologue

I am the Meatman, and I bring them the meat.

I’ve served three masters in my life. As I speak to you now, I am The Chronicler of Events because I’m the only one left who can perform the task, but when we originally landed on Second Eden, I was to be an Instructor of Knowledges—my formal training. An instructor for a generation that we soon came to realize would never bloom here. A dead end job if ever there was one.

It was then that I discovered my true calling. My people wanted meat, and I provided it. I was good at it. I did it willingly. I made no apologies then, nor do I now.

I am The Meatman. I bring them the meat.

BEFORE THE FALL
 
1

Mud covered my legs and a suction pop of air exploded with each step I pulled out of the muck. It was always like this on Eden after a rain. And there was always a rain. I trudged through it all, my squat body hunched close to the ground, weighted down by an arsenal of edged metals. It was an efficient way for a man like me to travel without the benefit of wide siltshoes to keep my feet aboveground: a slow-rolling waddle, shuffling, the way a drootmunk moves. Besides, when Bean’s deformed feet punched through the wiring of his own shoes, I gave the boy mine. He needed them, being too spindly and sick to drootwalk.

“Keep up,” I called out to the boy, forgetting Eden’s influence had not only slowed his feet but the sound of my voice was becoming lost to him as well. His ears had withered and dropped off, and their canals had narrowed. The growth of shingles over the holes forced Bean to rely on the reading of my lips, but he was not always successful with the wire-tangle of beard I had hanging over my mouth and creeping across my face. I waved him forward and watched him double-time it to catch me. Trotting alongside me now, he labored for breath.

We were still within the safety of the outer bushwoods, a hedgerow of deep, wild greenery sitting atop a mesh of subterranean roots, so I slowed my gait and the two of us began to walk. I took out my journal and surveyed the clear sky of Eden’s phytoplankton-rich atmosphere, olive green at the horizon and darkening as my gaze went up. Its pale sun blazed down on us. Bean turned his head to face me, his neck ratcheting loudly, each diseased click of his vertebrae sickening me to my core. I tried like hell to disguise my groan, but failed. I hastily finished my entry and returned the journal to my coat pocket.

“I don’t think I should work for you anymore,” he said, his dull, gray eyes raised to meet my healthy blues. He was slapping at the leaves and the plump turquoise fruit hanging from the branches of the jimp trees to our right. “It’s useless. I’m only slowing you down anyway.”

I remember when he first came to me two years ago, his eyes had held such warmth. They’d been a deep brown, so soft they looked like a pelt. I would never forget those eyes. Never. The boy was right, of course. I didn’t want him to know that, but my silence said as much.

“For godsakes, why do you even still take me with you?” he continued, a defiance I’d never heard from him before ringing in his voice, almost as if his approaching end served to strengthen him. It made me proud in a strange way.

“I know why my father asked you to take me on,” he said. “But it’s clearly not working; I’m not like you. Eden’s already too much inside me.”

It was good to see someone share in my anger. “What makes you so sure we’re not alike?” I asked.

“Just look at me!” His voice strained and cracked. He massaged his neck, the verdant skin alive with bulging, pulsing rivulets of vein. “You want me to say it? You want to hear me say I’m a goner?” I shook my head. “I’m not like you at all.”

I grabbed hold of his arms. “People believe their eyes,” I told him. “But their eyes only tell them what they already believe.”

I could see that he was shocked that I grabbed him. “What do you mean?” he said.

You can’t even see it, with all the time you spend with me.” I gave a half-hearted laugh. “I’m dying like all the rest.” I let go of him and yanked at my sleeve to reveal a hairy, muscled forearm. Dark dirt encrusted my hands, framing each fingernail. I turned my palm up and while my hand was a permanent black, the inside of my arm was clean and covered with scars that wound up and down the length of me like pink worms.

Bean’s eyes got wide. “Are those from the lissur?”

I nodded. “Those first years as Meatman I found out I’d wear my mistakes for the rest of my life. But that’s not what I want you to see.” I thrust my arm into the boy’s face. “Look closer.”

Bean examined the skin carefully. “You’re jaundiced,” he said with surprise.

I nodded again and rolled down my sleeve. “After that, I’ll green, and then brown and harden.” I squared up my face with his. “Do you see my eyes?”

The boy squinted and narrowed his eyes to chalk-colored slits.

“You see the snow in them?”

“All I see is blue,” Bean said.

“Believe me, there’s white in there too. It won’t be long before they’re as silver as yours. No one’s getting spared, my friend. It just feels that way to you because you’re farther along. We’re all riding on the same train, just in different cars. Just one track though.”

He seemed to take the news of our shared fates with genuine cheer, even fighting back a grin. I allowed him that. It was damn hard being a kid in this place, and no one—kid or not—wants to feel like they’re alone in this, or any, world. We walked on beneath the harsh stare of Eden’s sun, feeling a little better that we’d gotten a scream or two out of our systems.

“You know I was scared when father told me I was apprenticing with you,” Bean said.

A smile rose up on my face. “Am I so scary to you first gens?”

“My friends all say you’re some kind of a witch, charming the dirt dragons and cooking up secret potions, just you and Nessa all alone in the bush.”

“Warlock,” I said. “A woman is a witch but a man’s called a warlock.” I had to chuckle. “So is that really what they say about me?”

“Oh yeah, and that’s not all. I didn’t know if I was more frightened of the lissur or you.” His voice still held some innocence. The child inside that decayed husk glimmered through for just a moment and his words held this dumb, bittersweet smile clinging to me.

“How old are you now, Bean?”

“Thirteen,” he said, puffing out his chest slightly. “What about you? I bet you’re really old, huh?”

“Hey, I’m only thirty-eight,” I told him.

“Yeah, that’s really old.”

I shrugged. When most first gens didn’t see their tenth birthday, thirteen must have felt positively elderly, and I must’ve looked like Methuselah. In the deep distance, clouds coalesced. “We’d better pick it up. We’ve got redfields to cross and there’s another storm coming.” I sank my feet into the mud again.

The boy nodded and quickened his pace. “You talk like my dad sometimes. Were you ever someone’s dad, back on Earth?”

“Nope,” I said. “Me and Nessa, we didn’t want to raise any children back there.”

“So you were waiting until you got to Eden?”

I paused a moment before I took another step. “That was our big plan, all right. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men.”

“The best-laid what?”

“No, I guess you wouldn’t, would you?” I said. “Probably better that way.”

Bean shook at my arm playfully. “Okay, as usual I’m totally lost right now. So tell me what happened,” he said, “with you and Nessa. And stop looking so gloomy, I’m the one who’s sick, remember?”

“Maybe you should concentrate on keeping pace instead of talking so much,” I said.

“I’m sorry. I’m always prying, that’s what father says.” Bean clammed up and kept moving.

But after a while his sullenness got to eating at my gut. I was feeling guilty. After two years with me I guess the boy did deserve something more than I was giving him. But how could I make him understand that we couldn’t bring children into this world either? I finally blurted out the words.

“Did you like growing up here?”

He smiled, pleased our conversation hadn’t ended, paused in thought for a moment, then spoke. “I remember my mom would read me stories and sing to me in bed. I used to love that. Me and my dad would play catch with garva nuts. And, oh, thanks to you my baby brother thinks I’m a medieval knight or something.” He stretched his arms out. “Yeah, I even had a girlfriend once.” He had the far-off look of an older man reminiscing over a spent lifetime. “It’s been better than not growing up at all,” he said.

Christ on a crutch, what could I say to that? Damn this kid! I’ve never heard anyone be so thankful for so little. I guess after almost forty years breathing—half of them spent with the woman I love—I don’t get to feel sorry for myself.

“If I’m being honest, this place scared us,” I told him. “We couldn’t fathom bringing a child up in this place, same as the last one. Maybe we’re cowards.”

Bean shook his head vigorously. “You’re the bravest person I know.”

I placed my hand on top of the boy’s head. “If we knew then that having a kid like you was even possible, I think we might have changed our minds.”

He reached up and wrapped his arm around my shoulder as we walked and my feet seemed to lighten. I imagine this must be what it feels like to have a son of your own. I have to remember to put this is my journal.

But the next moment my thoughts wandered to Nessa and the inevitability of the time we had left together. I wanted to tell Bean how my chest tightened every time I took out that creased and faded picture of her at the lake, looking the way she used to. I wanted to explain to him that I couldn’t accept my life here, or anywhere else, without her. I wanted to say that I was jealous of Eden, how its grip held increasing sway over her. But he’s just a kid, with plenty of his own lamentations. No sense in piling mine on him too. There would be no children for Nessa and I.

“It’s too late now,” was all I told him. “That’s all there is to it.”

2

After galumphing through the strangling brush, we brought our feet down onto a blue-green forest bed, and soon after, emerged at the clearing where my thatched-roof house stood. We passed the white blossoms of the almond tree Nessa and I planted when we first put down stakes and walked to the door I fashioned myself from twistwood all those years before. I laid the day’s catch into a barrow and told Bean, “Wheel this around back to the chop house.” Then lifting the lever, I pressed my weight against the heavy wooden door.

Nessa’s croaking voice called to me from the bedroom. “Is that you, Jon?” She vomited the words out as if they were glass shards. The sound grated against my ears.

From the barrel beside the door, I ladled a jug full of water and brought it to the bedroom. Yellowed photographs, half-covered with a sheet and speckled with mold, cluttered the dresser where her jewelry box stood. I placed the jug beside the bed and untied the harnesses that held her wrists to the bedposts, carefully avoiding the wide pink channels where the bindings had gouged through the toughened skin of her arms. With any lingering shred of strength I possessed, I hoisted her upright on the bed.

Her skin was brown and striated. She snatched the jug from my hands and poured the water down her gullet, letting it spill down her sides. With great zeal, she rubbed the overflow over her leathery flesh.

“How was today?” I asked gently.

“I dreamed,” she said between gulps of water.

“Is that good?”

“I dreamed that I was this enormous thing.” She spread her arms as far as they would stretch and the water sloshed in the jug. “An enormous, living thing, or at least I think I was.”

Each new vision Eden presented to her terrified me more than the last. “And you’re big?” I asked.

“It’s not just that I’m big—it’s how I’m big. I’m all middle.” She screwed her face up. “I’m this greasy, pulsing thing—like an egg sack. It sounds scary, right?”

I nodded.

“Do you know what the scariest part about it was? I don’t think it was a dream at all.”

“Please, Nessa, don’t. It was just a dream.” A rock formed in my throat. “Don’t say that. You know it kills me when you—”

“I heard the voices, too,” she said, not listening to me anymore.

“The voices are lies, Nessa. We’ve been over this.” I touched her hair, softly, for fear of it coming loose in my hand. Most of it had discolored and fallen out already, but there were still patches with roots strong enough to allow a calloused, roughhewn palm like mine to slide over them. “I’m sorry I wasn’t home sooner,” I told her. “I could’ve helped you make sense of this.”

She looked at me, but I avoided her pupil-less eyes. Instead, I caressed her cheek with my palm and felt the rigidity that had taken over her entire body. She was hard, like a corpse, and instinctively I drew my hand away. Nessa’s face sagged as if she were about to cry, but we both knew no tears would come from these new eyes. She trembled as I held her close and my eyes wept, doing the work for both of us.

“But the voices,” she said. “They don’t feel like lies.”

I pulled away then rubbed at my temples. “They… are… lies! Don’t listen to them,” I said. “Bean’s in the back. There’s meat that needs tending. I’ll be a while.”

“You’ll be here, just out back?” she said. “Then you don’t have to use the straps on me this time. I promise I won’t leave.”

“Okay then,” I said as I made for the door. I opened it and stopped there with my back to her. How could I be mad? None of this was her fault. I turned around. “I need you,” I said.

She smiled and poured the last of the water into a cup. “Thank you, Jon. You’re so sweet to me.” I left her in our bedroom and exited the front door. From the outside, I bolted it shut.

I walked over the fallen almond blossoms around back to the small shed I’d built when I first took up hunting—nothing more than a single-room hut with vertical slats set apart for air to flow through, like a gap-toothed smile. At the doorway, I took out my journal and scribbled a few passages in it.

Bean was already elbow-deep in the basin tub, chopping the meat into manageable pieces. He threw each slab into the tub with a wet thwap. I pulled a carafe of berrystain from a crowded shelf of variegated bottles and poured the crimson liquid over the meat. Opaque, clay jars of plant and seed oil extracts, a mortar and pestle, and spice vials were all nearby on the shelves. I stretched out my hands and my fingers made an audible crack.

The creator’s time was at hand.

The preparation of the meat was sacrament. I dyed it in a mixture primarily made of the juice from a common local berry, which transformed the meat’s previous mud-color into a deadflesh scarlet. Once the meat was removed from the tub, the juice sweated out, leaving a deceptively grisly shadow on the cutting board. The berry itself was the blandest sort and offered no clue that the juices within the meat were anything but the sweet lifeblood of an animal everyone knew didn’t exist on Second Eden.

This sight alone brought most of the Alpha settlement out of their caves and hovels on the day of the market, but providing mere sustenance was never enough for me. I was an artisan, a true virtuoso, a painter who worked in the medium of the senses. A magician, but of the best kind because my legerdemain made mouths water and brought forth memories of home. So as countless hours and days here strung together into countless months and years, I collected a mixture of tastes, scents, and textures that would mimic a small piece of what we’d left behind on Earth. And the lissur provided the perfect canvas. This quaggy, utterly tasteless meat would be at the heart of each of my little masterpieces.

There were minute differences from beef, to be certain. The lingering pungency from the soil that encapsulated these beasts their entire lives—centuries, millennia even, how were we to know. Then there was the meat’s consistency—softer, more like that of a scallop than of cattle. Even the dying solution itself, with the slightest hint of citrus, could serve to reveal my ruse. But it never did. Because the most powerful seasoning of all was one I didn’t have to add: The homesick mind. Any imperfect flavor or aroma, any sensation missing or untrue was masked by the customers making them, ultimately, the final chef.

No one knew—I don’t think they even cared to know—how I did what I did. They knew only that I faced the monsters for them.

I was The Meatman, and I’d bring them their meat.

In the final stages of preparation, after brining the day’s catch and applying a spice rub I concocted from jerk root and pepris, I wrapped the lot in sunsplash leaves to preserve them for the long trip to market. Our sojourn was tomorrow and my task was now complete. Red up to my elbows in berrystain and stinking of wormy flesh, I came back into the house.

“Is the meat ready?” Nessa asked. She sounded better. The water had soothed the coarseness in her voice and her short-lived freedom to move about the house had nourished her spirit.

I took her by the hand but felt nothing of the woman I loved remaining in its stiff, cool grip. “Me and the boy are leaving for market.”

“So soon? I wish you could stay a while longer. You spend more time with that meat than you do with me.”

“The meat is our life, Nessa. You know that.”

Her head drooped as far as the disease would let it. “You want me back on the bed, don’t you?”

“You’re sick,” I said. “I can’t have you just wandering off to the bush. We both know what happens when Eden gets inside you.”

She squeezed her hand out of mine. “I won’t listen to the voices, I swear. I’ll stay right here in the house. I won’t—”

“No!” My voice was more of a howl than I’d intended. “I’m sorry. But no.”

She slunk quietly into bed and lifted her arms into the straps. I fastened her right hand in and tightened it. I couldn’t bear to lose her. I needed her that much, even though I couldn’t trust her not to be seduced by Eden’s voices.

Was that still love?

I can’t tell anymore, but it didn’t stop me from tightening the strap around her left hand as well.

3

A clearing existed on our sliver of Eden, where the planet’s crust itself seemed to have grown out of the ground to shape a great hall of sorts. The crag, flattened smooth from constant weathering, poked up from beneath the soil, creating stone tables. The entire field was floored in this same stone. Under the wan light of dawn, vendors marched into the clearing from all directions, flashing between the shadows, and then popping out suddenly from behind gigantic hanging leaves, like funhouse spooks.

We hauled our wares by sack and wagon, meandering through the countryside over the safe passes. There were quicker routes, but few dared to hasten their journey across lands they called redfields or sinks. Those lands belonged to the lissur. We wandered in drunk with fatigue, like soldiers from a Wilfred Owen poem, wearing clothes heavy with rain and painted black with soil that clung like tar to our pant legs.

We did this because it was our chance to be a community again. It was our one chance for something we hadn’t been in so long. It was our chance to be normal.

A canopy of arboreal growth shielded us enough to conduct business even on the wettest days. Market was a time when all the richness of our new home was on display to be sampled and bartered for. Thousands of edible species of flora and many marvelously succulent combinations previously untouched by human tongues—the absinthian croakweed and the sweetgreens, the moist red crellets and the striped jala fruit that positively dripped with flavor—all set up in bushels. The strange and grotesque fauna lined the stalls. Horned and winged creatures hung from pikes while others buzzed and squawked from cages. Fat, hairy drootmunks and flying poppits lay encased in thick tree wine.

The hard-shelled and soft-bodied children of Eden, things without limbs, without faces. Their songs, once so strange, were now all too familiar. But no tastes were in higher demand than those of Earth. And only I, The Meatman, could create the illusion of mammalian flesh. The surface of this planet held none. That it would come up out of the ground was the real surprise.

After all the probes, all the scanning, all the yottobytes of data on Eden’s surface, this spot was chosen for the colony. The plans were made. The ships launched. But we never anticipated what was twisting around in the deep dark just below us.

The lissur—dirt dragons—were a surprise, indeed. Hideous, awful, bloodthirsty creatures. We soon discovered dozens of different breeds, but, no matter which breed, their nature was the same. Mindless, soulless, bottomless wells of stinking death. They fired themselves up from the bowels of this hell to feed on the living. To feed on us. And now, without them, I was nothing in this new world.

Bean and I laid the meat out on the stones for barter.

“You never answered me before. Are you going to send me back to Father Hy?” he asked. “I’m not getting any better.”

“You’re always welcome to stay on, you know that. I told your father not to put his faith in the meat.”

My perceived good health, over many years, gave rise to the popular belief that the less native something tasted, the less it would allow the disease to ravage our bodies. This was rubbish, of course. My body was hairy and I constantly wore a shadow of dirt, so my skin hadn’t appeared to discolor like the others. In mine, the palest of blue eyes, the flecking that always manifested at the onset of the disease did not always show. I was outwardly a healthy, entirely human man. But make no mistake, Eden’s sickness was inside me. I could feel it setting in.

My people didn’t want to see that, though. They wanted to believe in The Meatman, the one who eats the beasts, the one who had escaped Eden’s curse. It was a lie. A lie I never invented or promoted, but one I benefited from nonetheless. I didn’t keep them free from the disease. I kept them free from hopelessness. It was the best I could do.

“There’s nothing miraculous about this stuff, Bean. You know that now better than anyone. It’s just flesh and ingredients. Never put your faith in it.”

“Father always says his faith is with you…not that low serpent.” The boy’s voice deepened, mimicking Father Hy’s baritone. “Work with The Meatman, my son, and your soul will remain always divine.” He laughed and slapped another piece of meat down onto the table.

The boy’s biological had become a spiritual figure in our community, but Father Hy, as he came to be known, hadn’t always been a holy man. He came to Eden, like so many others in Alpha colony, to dig in the dirt. Like me, he only found his calling after a need arose. Eden had a way of doing that, turning us settlers into the people we were intended to be all along. As for myself and religion…well, I never had a strong need to be talked to in riddles.

“Your soul will remain always divine?” I said. “What exactly did he mean by that?”

“As long as my body and mind stay human, my soul survives. That’s what he thinks.” Bean dropped another slab of meat but this one slid across the rock and found its way onto the ground. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right,” I said.

“I can’t even do the simple things anymore.”

“It’s fine, Bean.” The boy was tired. Anyone could see that. “Why don’t you catch a quick nap.”

“Really? You don’t mind? But market’s set to open soon.”

“I don’t mind, go get you some rest,” I said. “Besides, I can’t have you dropping product all day. You’ll be right as rain in an hour.”

I let him sleep on my empty pack behind our table while I finished displaying the meat.

 

Free Sample of ...The Colour of Time

Now…
Buried

Marcus pulled the last of the IV bags from his "emergency" kit, hanging it from the low ceiling of the tiny crawlway on one of the hooks mounted there for just this occurrence. The small light of the battery lamp was growing dimmer as the last needle pierced his flesh and he unblocked the drip feed. Seventeen various bags hung around him, feeding chems through their needles into his flesh, with settings ranging from steady streams to single drops per week.

It had been hours since the last sounds came from above, since the last rubble had settled. But Marcus had seen all this before it had happened; he had been ready for it. He removed his clothing and sat in lotus on the bare stone floor, cold to the touch, but that was necessary as well, and there would be no discomfort in a while. He began deep breaths, cycling his chakra in the desired pattern, an alignment taught only to the most advanced students of Yoga. As he began to breathe deeper, he watched the sands of the small hourglass positioned so he could see it. As he watched the sand flowed as a stream… then a broken trickle… then as individual grains.

Then the sand stopped….

Rewind…
Birth

Donald Jamison paced back and forth, tethered to the desk by the short, black phone cord. “Look… I don’t give a damn what the president said. The appropriation numbers are correct, and he’ll make sure congress forks it over, or he can deal with the damn Russkies without my help… there’s no reason why I can’t sell to them instead!”

A short knock at the door caught his attention and the white-clad nurse came into the room. “Mister Jamison… you should come now, your wife is asking for you. There have been… complications.”

“Well you tell him I’ll call him back when I’m damn good and ready!” the head of Jamison Dynamics shouted as he slammed the phone back into the cradle. “Complications,” he muttered as the nurse led him toward the master wing of the house. “That woman’s been a complication since Dad pushed her into my bed.” The nurse sighed but said nothing else as they walked down the carpeted halls of the mansion. After all, she needed the job.

The Jamison family doctor met them at the door. “Mister Jamison, we should talk before you step in.”

Donald Jamison locked the doctor with a withering stare. “Don’t you presume to tell me what to do in MY house, you quack,” and with that said, he opened the door and stalked into the room. “What the hell is it, Miriam? You know I was on the phone with the Pres-” his voice paused as one of the nurses carefully draped the sheet over Miriam Jamison’s face. The bedclothes were soaked a deep red about her hips and legs. The Doctor stepped into Jamison’s view.

“We did everything we could, but the birth was difficult. Perhaps if we had been allowed to move her to the hospital-”

“Seven generations of Jamisons have been born in this house, in that bed… I’m not about to break that tradition.”

The doctor looked as though he had been slapped, and one of the nurses left the room at a run. “Good God, Donald, your wife is has just died giving birth, and you’re talking about family tradition?”

“Doctor, if I want moralist viewpoints, I’ll buy a priest’s opinion. If the woman had been strong enough, she’d still be here. Now, show me my sons.”

The Doctor shook his head. “Son, actually. The other was delivered with the umbilical around his neck, which was broken. These things… err… can happen without the proper medical facilities.”

Donald stepped past him. “And a good deal more money as well, I suppose.” One of the nurses stepped forward with a baby swaddled in blankets and offered the child to Donald, who made no move to take his son into his arms. “Why is the boy not crying? All babies cry when born, don’t they?” He looked at the child, catching a glimpse of blue eyes from under the child’s eyelids for a moment.

“It’s common, sir, but not always the case. The child cleared his lungs and then quieted immediately. That’s the sign of a strong child.”

“As he damn well should be… he’s a Jamison, after all. Thank God he took after me and not that… weakling.” Jamison turned to one of the servants. “Take the child to his nursery and have the nanny begin attending to him immediately.” He began to leave, when the doctor grabbed his arm.

“Sir, about your wife and other son?”

Donald snorted. “Leave them; the staff will make arrangements to have them buried in the family plots. I suppose it’s the least I should do since she managed to give me one good child in exchange for all the money she spent.”

Donald Jamison returned to his office, sat down and took several peppermint swirl candies from the goblet on his desk, popping them into his mouth.

The door opened, and Robert Smythton entered quietly. The family lawyer opened his briefcase and withdrew several papers. “Donald, a few small matters before you get back to work.”

Donald Jamison sighed, letting the taste of the mint sooth his nerves. “What now?” The lawyer set a form down.

“First, this authorizes the payment of the nursing and delivery staff.”

Donald looked over it and signed it. “Call the medical board as well. If that quack is still practicing in Massachusetts by the end of the week, I’ll have all of them dismissed.”

Smythton nodded, accustomed to the extreme demands of his richest client after years of ministering to his legal needs. “And lastly, the birth certificate. Miriam, bless her soul, did not have time to name the child.”

“Marcus. He'll be named after my greatgrandfather.” He gestured toward the painting of the stern looking military officer dominating one wall. “It’s a good family name, traces back to Rome. He fought as a mercenary in India with the British, during the quelling of the Revolt, you know.” He gazed at the peppermint swirl in his palm and then popped it into his mouth, picking up the phone.

Fast Forward…
Beach

Peppermint made a last adjustment to the silenced THP .22 semi-auto in his ankle holster and smoothed down the velvet crimson trouser leg, taking one last glance at the pant leg’s lay. Its twin already lay sheathed on his other leg. A quick adjustment of the Italian cuffs on his black silk shirt and a brush of the lapels of his trademark jacket and he stepped out on to the deserted strip of beach along the edge of Devil’s Cape and toward the waiting figure of Hans Drumhellsen, impeccably dressed, if slightly ominous, in his black suit and high-tech face plate.

The white tie's a nice touch.

Peppermint nodded in agreement as he approached.

The strip was deserted in the twilight, and plenty of open beach stretched in either direction. More than enough to give someone a sense of security… right before the killing blow struck. But he liked Hans for some reason, and he knew She was there was well. The practiced smile crept onto his face.

Careful, my love… do not underestimate him… his words can kill. I would suggest a single shot through each eye lens, that should disable him and the device he uses for fine control of his ability, then a third through his voice box to take it away permanently, the voice of his mistress sang to him. He smiled a silent thanks for Her advice, reminding her he had been doing this for a while now, but that he was grateful for it all the same.

“So, Hans… I was just wondering if one of us is going swimming?”

 

Free Sample of The Solution by Rick McQuiston

Prologue

The newscaster seemed agitated as she addressed the camera.  Her curly brown hair was tangled with tree twigs and her mascara was blotted around her eyes, giving her a strange gothic look. Her clothes were dirty and tattered, as if she had been in some scuffle. She had obviously not slept in days, and her exhaustion was clear.

“There have been numerous reports from all over the country concerning people, whom some are describing as a type of vampire, having overrun nearly everything in their path.

“These creatures have been reported in areas ranging from rural farmlands to major metropolitan cities. They have been seen in lands as far north as the Northern Territories of Canada and seem to be spreading without regard for human or animal life. The federal government has issued a state of emergency for…a state of emergency-” her eyes widened and all the blood drained from her face. 

Suddenly her head was lopped cleanly off her shoulders. The chalk-white creature standing directly behind her scowled in triumph at his conquest, his grotesque face splattered with blood, sinews straining at his skin, eyes burning like a nightmare as he looked at the camera.  He lunged and the camera canted sideways, the screen went dark.

1

Brad pushed the little girl back, shielding her from the flying jagged glass.  He knew the windows would not keep them out.  He also knew the crucifixes would only have a minimal effect, if any at all. One needed faith for them work, and he could not lie to himself about the strength of his.

Brad grabbed the little girl, tossed her over his shoulder, and darted towards the library at the far end of the hallway. He ignored the bleeding gash in his leg. 

The man who lived in the house had obviously believed in the supernatural; the crucifixes and various religious artifacts filling the walls attested strongly to that. Brad could only pray that he had wooden stakes or something, anything that would stop the bloodsucking nightmares that had overrun the country.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Brad slammed the heavy wrought iron door shut behind them, sliding a thick metal bar across and into its slot. He leaned up against the door as if hearing their approach might delay their pursuit somehow. He knew vampires feared wrought iron; clearly the owner of the house did as well.  

Brad's mind wondered briefly about the whereabouts of the owner.  He was not here, in this sanctuary, perhaps he fled elsewhere.  Brad had not noted any signs of blood or bodies anywhere else in the house, so he assumed the man had made it out safely.

The little girl seemed remarkably calm given the dangerous and frightening circumstances, and seated herself behind the large oak desk that dominated the room. Her long black hair reflected the moonlight cascading down from the series of small, round skylights high in the ceiling. It gave her a somewhat mysterious look he found disturbing on one so young.

She said not a word and showed no indication of fear or worry. Hundreds, if not thousands, of vicious, bloodthirsty vampires trying to get to them and not a trace of panic on a girl of no more than six years old.  Brad still felt compelled to console her. He had lost his little sister, and in an odd sort of way he felt a connection to this strange little girl. 

“Are you okay, honey?” Brad whispered. The air in the room was thick with stagnation. “What’s your name?”

The little girl looked up from the desktop. Saying nothing, she peered past Brad’s shoulder at the heavy iron door. Her eyes were locked onto it; Brad’s words seemed to flutter past her attention like butterflies on a bright, sunny day.

“Honey,” Brad asked while trying to keep his expression calm. “Are you hurt? Do you have any injuries?”

Only silence filled the room.  Brad's attention followed the little girl's vacant stare over to the door and the incredible carvings covering it. His eyes widened at the plump devils reveling within seething cauldrons, the leering demons feasting upon decayed human body parts, swirling storms punctuated by angry jolts of twisted lightening and dancing imps surrounding screaming victims, prodding them with enormous, bloody pitchforks. Such wicked images, so masterfully etched upon the wrought iron canvas of the door, disturbed him.

Brad took a careful step toward the door and its obscene tableau.  He could not explain why it frightened him so deeply, almost as much as the vampires frightened him. Perhaps it was knowing that such a magnificent and equally monstrous door was the only obstacle between them and certain death. 

Brad turned his back to horrific masterpiece and stared at the little girl. He wanted to ask her if she knew anything about what was happening, but restrained himself from doing so.  He had a nagging suspicion that she knew something, something important, but she was only a child, albeit a strange one.  Surely she had no idea what was going on. He crept away from the nightmarish door to the front of the desk. He looked into her large eyes and searched for any indication of pain, anything that would help him understand her or their situation.

“Are you okay, honey?” he asked for what felt like the hundredth time. “I know you’ve seen some pretty scary stuff lately. I sure know I have, and I would guess there’s probably more to come, but if we stick together and help each other out, maybe, just maybe, we can figure a way out.”

Any hope he had for a response was quickly dashed. The little girl merely continued to stare at the door, their only barrier between life and death.

Frustrated and desperate, Brad threw his arms up in defeat.  “Fine. You don’t wanna talk, we won’t talk. I was just hoping you could tell me something to help us out.”

He instantly felt guilty for his outburst.  He did not want to frighten the poor little thing any more than she probably already was.  But his patience was running out, as was their time.  He had other problems to deal with at the moment, such as preparing for when the vampires would find them.

He looked around the room for anything he could move against the door for added support.  The skylights were the only windows in the room, for which Brad was extremely grateful.  The walls were covered by thick, sturdy bookshelves, lined from top to bottom with a large variety of tomes of every size and color.

A suspicion entered Brad’s mind and refused to fade.  Brad walked over to one of the smaller shelves, wedged his fingers behind it as much as he could and pulled.

It moved, but only three or four inches. Brad leaned in as far as he could and peered at the wall. Just as he suspected, it was made of wrought iron.  

2

Brad awoke to a headache unlike any he had ever experienced before.  He attributed it to the combination of hunger, thirst, exhaustion and fear.  His experiences these last few weeks could fill a book. He had lost everyone he had ever cared about and, he feared, more than a small part of himself.

Brad had managed to survive because he was quick and he could think on his feet.  He stayed on the move, always watching, never letting himself get cornered. He never left any traces of his whereabouts or clues which might help them track him.  Yet the vampires had taken a part of him that could never be replaced, leaving a hole that festered and could never be filled. There was no going back to the way things were before. Even if those terrible creatures simply vanished into thin air, the memories would linger far longer than any man could possibly endure. Insanity would forever be tapping on the fragile barrier of his mind. 

Brad looked over at the little girl, who was asleep with her head on the massive desk.  Her tiny arms were splayed out on either side of her, and her dirty blond hair obscured most of her face. She reminded Brad of a statue he had once admired in a church.

The sound was small at first, nearly inaudible, but it was there nonetheless.

Scratching.  

Light, almost gentle scratching emanating from the other side of the door. It sounded like someone, or something, was exploring the impediment to its next meal, testing the structure for any weaknesses.

Brad’s heart was in his throat. He knew they would be done for if the vampires breached the door and gained access to the room. He knew he had survived so far partially because he always thought one step ahead of the creatures. He anticipated their next move.  Now he knew what would happen if he could not find a weapon, or a way to exit the house without being seen.

The vampires' cunning and intelligence were matched only by their savagery. It was as if the greater their numbers, the more strategic and organized they became.  Their complex and carefully planned attacks overtook people by the thousands, decimating whole cites, entire countries in a matter of weeks. Different militaries from across the world tried numerous strategies against them, but only succeeded in delaying their own demise. Their training and tactics had simply never even contemplated such an enemy.  It became painfully apparent early on that the world just was not prepared to deal with the vampires on any level.

Brad carefully, quietly, crawled over to the door and rested his ear on it. At first he heard nothing more than the scratching noises, but then-

Whispers.

Thin, growling murmurs, barely suppressed, sounded as if they were about to burst out at full volume any moment. Brad backed away from the door. Something in his gut, fostered by his many terrible experiences, warned him not to get too close.

And then all hell broke loose on the other side of the door.

The vampires had sensed, or smelled, someone inside the room and their lust for blood erupted with such terrible intensity that Brad fell backwards onto his rear end in a reflexive move to get away from the noise.

He watched in disbelief as the door was assaulted so violently it bent inward slightly, straining at the heavy iron hinges. His eyes and mind searched for a way out.  Leaning back, he looked over his shoulder at the little girl who was now wide awake and staring at him. His desperation overrode his concern for her. 

“You have to tell me if you know anything.  Where to find a weapon.  Or a way out.  Please. Our lives depend on it.”

The pandemonium on the other side of the door grew louder. They were fighting with each other to get at the door, smashing their powerful fists into it continuously. With each terrible hit the door bent minutely.  With each deformation the iron wailed a metallic cry of pain and resistance.  The creatures' assault on the door and each other intensified, creating a chorus of ear-splitting horror. Within a minute huge dents littered the face of it, some looking as if they would rupture with one more hit.

“Please, do you know how to stop this? Can you help me stop this?”  

She continued to stare at him, either ignoring or not understanding his words.

“What’s your name? Do you live here? Where are your parents?” Brad had to restrain himself from losing his temper again. This was definitely not the time for it, and it would only make matters worse.

Maybe she was in shock. Perhaps she had suffered some injury to the head, or was just born with some type of mental deficiency. She appeared to be in perfect health. No fever, no bruises, no bleeding, nothing.

Brad wondered just how much longer the door would hold. Maybe another hour, maybe only another minute.  Either way it did not matter unless he could find some solution.  And then it occurred to him.

What if there isn't one?

3

Brad found himself slipping away from this awful moment. He had survived so much for so long that the idea he might actually be at the end of the line just would not completely register. He began to feel even more helpless than when he first witnessed the vampires' attack. He could never forget the poor teenage girl who was so swiftly dispatched by the creatures. She never even knew what hit her.

So young. So innocent.  And to perish in such a violent and bloody manner.

Brad had little in the way of family. His mother had passed away when he was just a toddler, and left him with only his alcoholic father and his little sister, Amy.

Amy. She was so beautiful and smart, and such a pretty name too. Brad had always been very close to her, consoling her when she was down, spending time with her whenever he could, and generally being like a father to her. He felt someone should take care of her, since their real father cared more for his whiskey and vodka than his own kids. 

The memory of her death stung Brad like a hot needle, probing with its sharp tip, grinding its point into his very heart and soul.

“Brad, help me,” Amy had cried as two vampires dragged her kicking and screaming through her bedroom window. “Braaad!”

Brad ran into her bedroom when he heard her scream, but only got there in time to see his little sister being pulled away to her doom.  He had tried before to talk her out of keeping her bed directly underneath her window.  He should have made her listen.

Not that it would really have made a difference.

His name was the last word he heard her say. He thought it poetic that her final word was his name, the person who loved her most, the one who had tried so hard to give her something close to a normal family life.

But I failed her when it really mattered.  He felt guilty for not jumping through the window and chasing after her, but the shock and utter helplessness had crippled him completely.  He told himself he could not have caught the vampires anyway, they were much too fast. Within a few seconds they had been nearly out of sight. And even if he had caught them, what then?

End of Sample

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