What scares you?
I ask because we seem, as humans of the 21st century, to have an intrinsic need to be scared. Ghost stories and tales of dread have always been among us, from folk tales to Gothic novels, but one can't help but notice the startling proliferation of horror movies and magazines of late.
The magazine that I edit receives horror or suspense submissions four times out of five, and the Swamp is not a horror magazine. The small press seems to be largely driven by horror magazines, whether fiction or poetry. Horror and suspense, dark fantasy and noir have all become their own genres (among others). The last several television seasons have brought us a ridiculous amount of supernatural themes, characters and shows. Horror writers have an association, for God's sake!
So there's obviously a need for humans to feel scared. Sociologists have speculated that perhaps we need an artificial jolt of adrenaline, now that we're no longer out in the forest fighting the beasts on a daily basis, and perhaps this is a point. Perhaps the inundation of the media we face regularly, with the real world horrors right in our faces, has hardened us to the point where we need an over the top dose of badness to entertain us.
Whatever your reason for needing to be scared, I'm happy to report that this book should do the job for you. Gail Davis, Eric S. Brown, and John Grover have all entertained me with their stories in the Swamp, and many other publications, both on the web and in print. This collection of their tales cover a broad range of settings and experiences, and I have no doubt that the depth of the talents of these new stars on the scene will delight and disturb you.
Leave the nightlight on.
Pete S. Allen,
Editor, the Swamp
Exposing The Underbelly
By John Grover and Eric S. Brown
She knew that there was some scary shit in the city of Boston. She knew that very well. Having been on the force for over ten years she had seen a lot of strange things, especially on the vice squad. But what Lindsey Braddish was about to see tonight would change her life forever.
The tip came in while she was wolfing down another one of McMenamy's famous burgers, the ones piled so high that everything but the meat slid out the back of the bun as she lifted it to her mouth.
Her snitch had said a big drug deal was going down on the streets tonight and some key players would be in attendance. This was a career-making bust, something that could launch her into nice promotion or even better. There was no way she could pass it up.
It was that ambition and a giant size ego that found her out here alone, bucking procedure and taking matters into her own hands. She wanted this all to herself. What would her father think? His stone cold face drifted through her mind, hard eyes, trimmed white mustache. He had always been so straight laced and did everything by the book, right down to the last letter and period.
He wouldn't approve of this, no sir. It was a good thing then that he was dead, shot in the line of duty. Yes, do everything by the book really got him far.
Lindsey crept down the seedy streets, slipping into alleys, avoiding the watchful eyes of the streetwalkers that populated the area and finally approached the cluster of condemned buildings where the deed would be done.
Her heart slammed against her chest, the adrenalin pumped through her as it never had before. She loved the rush of it, the chase, the sting and the looks on their faces when she stepped in and took them down.
Most would think her out of her mind. Her co-workers thought she just had something to prove. She took on the roughest cases, pursued the scum of the city and never once showed any glimmer of shock, disgust or stress. She was a good as the good old boys, hell she was even better. And she would make them all see it. See that she was no longer daddy's little girl.
Pale moonlight christened the empty parking lot as she scaled the side of the buildings. She dare not step out into the moon's light; it would make her a sitting duck. She cursed the moon; why couldn't a patch of clouds swallow it? It seemed to be working against her tonight.
Lindsey held her gun tighter then she ever had before, sweat drooled down her wrist as she flattened under one of the windows in the first building. She listened carefully, straining her ear to hear any sign movement or voices.
There was nothing.
A cool breeze slithered up her spine and ruffled her honey blonde hair and it was then she heard the moan in it. Carried on the breeze a faint moan caressed her ears.
Lindsey turned to eye the warehouse across the street. It beckoned to her.
But that was not the building the snitch had told her. Could he have been wrong?
It wouldn't be the first time.
A shadow wriggled in the warehouse windows, illusive, liquid, gone. Something was happening over there.
Lindsey inhaled and cast herself into the street, skimming across it like a fallen maple lead on the night breezes.
She crouched behind the graffiti splattered garbage bins as a car rolled down the street. She watched it pass, its muffler coughing loudly, its body dented, a tail light busted. She wondered how far back her own car was and if it was safe. She wondered if she was making a mistake and if she should go back to call for backup.
The moan caught her attention again.
No. It had made her choice for her. They would shake their heads and elbow each other in jest. No, she needed to take them down herself.
She worked her way around the back of the warehouse and ascended the fire escape. More breezes stirred her as she climbed higher and higher to the pitch-black windows. She could hear mumbling voices now.
With luck there were enough holes in the window that she could slip her hand through and gently ease it open. She crawled onto a ledge on the second floor of the warehouse, letting the darkness swallow her hole.
She peered over the railing and took notice of the dim light that radiated below her. In the light stood a bald black man. What she could see of his face was scarred, gold glinted around his neck and on his chest, and there were strange markings on his clothes. There was a strange air around him; it made her shiver.
What occurred next took Lindsey by complete surprise. Into the light stepped four impeccably dressed men, expensive Italian suits hugging their bodies, their hair sculpted and slicked, perfect to the last strand. She recognized these men. They were the infamous Vincetti family-the mafia that controlled half the city, men that were almost legend and didn't even seem to exist in the sight of the law. Lindsey couldn't believe she was actually setting eyes on them.
This was much bigger than she could have ever imagined. What was happening here? Holy God, if she were to nail the Vincetti family right in the middle of something she would be unforgettable. Everyone would know her name.
She watched as one of the men stepped towards the black man and handed him a briefcase. She was sure there was a fortune in it. "Show us," the Vincetti member said with a gruff.
The black man waved his right hand in the air, gesturing oddly and said something under his breath.
There was rustling in the back, a stirring, feet dragging on concrete, footsteps stumbling in the dark. Forms appeared in the shadows and shambled into the light. Body after body stammered to join the other men and as their faces emerged in the light it was all Lindsey could do to contain her scream.
Dead faces leered, hollow eyes, gaping mouths, mangled limbs and ravaged flesh. A foul stench filled the warehouse suddenly, sweeping upwards and compounding her horror.
Their moans echoed as the black man held the walking corpses at bay with one gesture of his hand.
Lindsey felt a chill run down her spine. This was no drug deal. Those things. . . those creatures were the living dead. The US had barely survived its brush with their plague back in the 80's when the dead had first begun to walk. The dead were so rare now in the states, thanks to the efforts of the CDC and military, that they were almost a myth. No one thought twice about the quick burnings that happened when someone died.
The whole thing was a dark stain upon the past, best forgotten.
The rest of the world hadn't fared as well though. Most of the 3rd world nations were now barren wastelands ruled solely by hordes of the mindless dead. In Europe a darker thing had happened though. As the government fell, the mafia rose to power-tyrants caring only about their own safety and profit, lording over a populace that struggled to survive not only their rule but the horrors of the dead.
Suddenly everything made sense to Lindsey. The American crime families wanted what their European counterparts already had, a free hand and unlimited power, and they willing to loose the plague again on American soil to get it. Of course they would be prepared and be ready as the government turned to protecting lives and stopping the plague, they would make their bid at making a new America under their rule.
She watched as the black man haggled with the Vincetti representatives. Only one thing still haunted her. How could the black man control them? As far as she knew, no one had ever been able to do that before. The dead only had one drive, to feed on the living, and he was most surely alive.
She shook her head as if clearing away the cobwebs of her thoughts. Time enough to worry about that later. She rushed down the fire escape, thinking only of getting to her car. No matter how much she wanted it, she couldn't take a chance on something this big by herself. If she failed, everyone would pay the price with her. She needed help.
She dropped from the fire escape into the alley but even before she could run towards the car, a voice called from the shadows.
"Why Lindsey, how nice of you to join us," the black man said emerging from the end of the alley behind her.
She drew her gun and popped off three rounds into his chest without thinking. The move was a pure reflex. He staggered and fell into the darkness at the alley's back end. She took off at a run for her car then skidded to a halt in shock. "He knew my name," she thought, "and how in the Hell did he get out here so quickly?"
The black man stepped out of the darkness once more, now standing in front of her, his body smeared with blood and a radiant grin upon his lips. "That wasn't very nice," he purred in a soft voice that sounded like an angel singing.
Lindsey jerked her gun up but this time an unseen force knocked it from her grasp and the gun clattered down the alleyway.
"Who are you?" she heard herself ask, suddenly very afraid.
The man's eyes glowed red. "Someone with a vested interest in what the Vincetti's are trying to do here. I cut them a very special deal, ya know?"
He took a step back. "I'm afraid I can't let you stop us. I am much too close to my goal now." As he faded into the night, dissolving into the shadows, his voice echoed after him. "I have worked far too long on it."
Lindsey heard the sound of shuffling feet--the dead stood all around her. They came from out of the walls like ghosts surrounding her and leaving her no place to run. Her gun lay at the far side of the alley, the walking corpses between her and it. She whirled around suddenly, kicking the creature that was creeping up behind her in its putrid face. It caved in under her foot oozing blood and black pus. It's body shambled and fell towards her, knocking her, shoulder first, to the ground. The pain bit into her like cold steel. Her eyes scanned the area around for something, anything to use as a makeshift weapon but there was nothing to be found. She was faced with the choice of fighting her way towards the car or the gun. She chose the car running head on into the mass of walking dead lumbering in front of her. She shoved through the first few, knocking them aside like rag dolls, spittle streaming from their lips, moans escaping their vacant mouths, until she found herself staring into the lifeless eyes of her father. He stood before her in his old uniform, the one he was buried in.
"No!" she screamed. Her mind raced. He'd been dead for years, shot on that cold, rainy night in an alley just like this, a night that no backup had ever arrived. No, it couldn't be...he couldn't be here.
"Your father is in my service now," she heard the voice of the black man cackle in the night. "How do you think he maintained such an impeccable record? His time came up and now his shell is mine. Lindsey, what's the matter aren't you happy to see daddy again?" The mad laughter pounded her head like a sledgehammer.
Lindsey froze, unable to think, feel or react. All of her guts and glory flashed before her like a beam of light as her father's gray, rotting hands grabbed her as the swarm of creatures closed in. They pulled her feet out from under her. She fell awkwardly, her head splitting open against the hard street. Their yellow teeth gnawed at her flesh, tearing her throat to ribbons. Her blood splattered her father's blank face as he pulled the intestines from her stomach.
Other corpses fed on her spilled brain matter while still others plucked her eyes from their sockets and began playing with them like children with marbles.
The Vincetti representatives stood a few feet away watching and laughing, the black man and the fat Vincetti money carrier beside them. The fat man leaned over, vomiting onto the street. When he stood straight again his eyes were filled with terror. He turned to the black man and the rest of the Vincetti men and said, "Take them back. We don't want to buy them anymore. Nothing is worth this."
The black man laughed. "Then accept them as a gift."
"No, we don't want this in the states. We don't want this here, it's an abomination"
The black man cackled. "Too late for that. I already set a few free down at the docks an hour ago."
The black man smiled as the Vincetti men drew their guns and emptied their clips into their fat counterpart. "He never did have the stomach for this line of work." One of them laughed. "Our boss definitely wants this new weapon. You've got a deal."
As they walked away, the fat man's body still twitched until the dead, having finished with Lindsey, turned their attention to his still warm form and opened his stomach.