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Come The Night

Come The Night

By

Ian Watson

Copyright 2016 Ian Watson

Published At Shakespir

***

License Notes

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this eBook with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to the vendor of your choice and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

***

By The Same Author

MIDNIGHT SPOOKSHOW

WATCHING PORN WITH LEATHERFACE

BLOOD SEX & SCOOBY SNACKS

MIDNIGHT MOVIE MADNESS

SICK IN THE HEAD

***

Part 1

FATHERSDAY

On Fathers’ Day, Craig Friedman flew Boston-Houston and took a cab into Dallas. The cabbie was quiet for most of the journey, sizing him up in the rear-view mirror. Wondering if Craig was who he thought he was.

Craig avoided eye contact, secretly enjoying the attention. He didn’t say anything until they neared Dallas, then he started making chitchat, asking if there was anywhere good to eat. It was the excuse the cabbie had been waiting for.

“You’re Richard Friedman’s boy, ain’t you?” the guy said. “Look just like him.”

“What’s it to you?”

“Been wondering,” the cabbie said, and shrugged. “You here for Fathers’ Day?”

“That’s right.”

“Is it a, ah, social visit?”

“Strictly business.”

“Good for you.” The cabbie looked satisfied. “Lot of people be glad to hear that.”

“I know,” Craig said.

He paid and walked to the diner the cabbie told him about, which had emptied by the time he arrived. There was just one waitress, cleaning tables. Darla. The cabbie said she knew all there was to know about Richard Friedman.

Craig introduced himself, which was all the incentive she needed to let rip. He listened as she tore into his old man, even though the details were familiar. They’d been shocking at first, but repetition had dulled the effect.

“You can’t be his boy,” Darla said. “You’re too decent. When’d you last see him?”

Craig shrugged. “Maybe eight years, maybe more.”

“Remember much?”

“Enough.”

“Well, he’s had plenty fun in the meantime. He likes to carouse, your daddy. Likes to sow his oats. Except he’s also careless, you know? Doesn’t let other people’s problems bother him, even if he’s the one caused them.” She thought a while, and said: “Somebody musta taken you away early enough.”

“My mother,” Craig said.

“She sounds like a good woman.”

“She was. A few months back, she passed.”

“Sorry to hear that. Your daddy attend the funeral?”

Craig said nothing.

She met his gaze, and said, “You know, it’s Fathers’ Day. Got something special planned?”

“Yes,” Craig said.

She smiled. “Have a good one, you hear?”

It was mid-afternoon when Craig left the diner and walked to the Holiday Inn. In a perfect world, his father would’ve given him up by now, maybe started drinking already.

He rapped on the door of cabin 108 five times, his signature knock, and as the girl let him in, he saw how she’d changed after living with a bully. There were bags under her eyes. She seemed submissive, dour.

“Were you followed?”

Craig shook his head.

She shrugged. Her name was Sally, she wasn’t yet twenty, but already Richard Friedman had sucked the life right out of her.

Craig said, “He hit you again?”

She sighed.

“Does he suspect anything?”

“I don’t think so. He’s been waiting for you all day,” she said. “He’s rented a little place in Austin, but everything’s in my name. I don’t think he’s even left it during daylight. You know, you’re all he’s spoken about this past month.”

“Good,” Craig said. “How long to get there?”

It took two hours.

Craig stared at an eight-bed, three-bath Meditteranean-style house with pale-yellow walls, a Porsche in the drive. A little place, he thought. He was speculating where the money had come from when Sally spoke up, shattering his reverie.

“He’s likely dead drunk by now,” she said. “He usually starts before five p.m.”

Craig checked his watch, then looked at the house. No lights were on, no TV. He opened the glove compartment.

As he reached inside, Sally said, “This wasn’t always legal on Fathers’ Day, was it?”

Craig didn’t respond.

He left the car and began walking towards the house, cocking back the hammer on his father’s present as he did so.

Part 2

LEATHERFACE’S REQUIEM

The sessions were supposed to be about confronting your demons, defeating them and moving onward, toward the light at the end of the tunnel or whatever, but as he watched his friends humiliate themselves for the umpteenth time, Leatherface had never wanted a drink more badly in his life.

Setting his decaffeinated coffee aside, he laced his fingers across his chest and thought about how he’d rather be at home, getting wasted watching Barney The Purple Dinosaur, when Jason started crying again.

Krueger, the bully. All he ever did was pick on Jason, just because they had a history. As usual, Megatron laughed and made obscene gestures while John Ryder, aka The Hitcher, stared straight ahead, saying nothing.

This wasn’t right. They’d killed more teenagers than Donald Rumsfeld, caused more nightmares than Michael Jackson and become legends in their respective communities, but now they were reduced to this? Court appointed rehab where all they did was mope?

Leatherface shook his head. His personal decline had been slow and steady, he’d seen it coming, and when the chili finally hit the fan, he realized there wasn’t a booze bottle big enough to silence the voices of regret in his head.

If only he’d never trusted Michael Bay. That sumbitch had convinced him to sell out his beliefs and sign on to appear in a bunch of crappy flicks that nobody – not the fans, not the filmmakers, not even Leatherface hisownself – liked or believed in. Okay, so they made a ton of dough, but what good was that when folks started throwing garbage at you?

Christ, even President Obama sent him a shit in a sock.

To top it all, Bay threw him away when their last collaboration underperformed and moved on to courting Freddy and Jason, treating them in much the same way. He didn’t need ask about their experiences, not with Jason in tears and Freddy punching the walls, as he was now.

Leatherface decided to lighten the mood.

“Got a joke for you,” he said.

Which threw off Freddy’s concentration. He turned, did a double take, and said, “My God, it speaks.”

“Satan walks up to Michael Bay and says, ‘Would you sleep with me if I gave you $20 million, a Lear jet and a fleet of sports cars?’ Bay looks at the Prince of Darkness and doesn’t hesitate: ‘Absolutely!’ So Satan says, ‘How about if I gave you ten dollars, a pack of Doritos and ten percent of the net?’ Infuriated, Bay says, ‘What kind of filmmaker do you take me for?’ ‘We’ve already established that,’ Satan tells him. ‘Now we’re negotiating the price.’

Silence.

“You don’t think that’s funny?”

That,” Megatron said, “was a little too close to what Hollywood calls ‘based on a true story.’”

“Sorry.”

“What he’s trying to tell you, kid,” Freddy said, “is that you don’t point and laugh at car wrecks. Especially when it’s your car.” He shrugged, then added, “Or career.”

The room fell silent.

Jason began crying again.

Sighing, Leatherface removed an AA card from his pocket. The five words, printed in bold type, had become his mantra.

One Day At A Time.

***

Every night after beating off, Leatherface dreamed about Erebus, the primordial deity. One of the first five beings in Creation, Erebus was born of Chaos and brother to Nyx, or Night, with whom he made several little deities that probably had an uneven number of fingers and toes.

Leatherface didn’t know how he knew this, he just knew, same as he knew a primordial deity was one badass you didn’t want to mess with.

What he didn’t get was why the sucker entered his head every night, moments after he finished pleasuring himself over Jessica Biel in a wet t-shirt. That wasn’t just rude, it was downright disturbing. Suppose he was working his rod and Mr Personification of Darkness popped in to say howdy? Wood was in short supply these days, and if some uninvited guest kept invading his personal space, he’d be whittling on a matchstick before long.

In the dream, Erebus usually manifested himself as some faceless dude in a suit who talked at length about death but never said anything Leatherface could remember. Tonight, though, not only did he remember the deity’s words, he also got to see his nemesis up close and personal, confirming what he’d long suspected.

Erebus was Michael Bay.

Putting his hands on Leatherface’s shoulders, Erebus/Bay looked him in the eye and said, “Do you know where you are?”

Leatherface looked around. The landscape was flat, grey and uninviting.

“New Jersey?”

“This,” Erebus/Bay said, “is where you come after death.”

And Leatherface woke up.

Woke up screaming.

***

They found the body later that morning.

John Ryder, aka The Hitcher, wore silk stockings, lipstick and a cheap blonde wig. There was an amyl nitrate-laced lemon slice in his mouth and a length of rubber hose around his throat.

He’d been watching The Fast And The Furious.

“Did he say anything to anyone?” Leatherface said.

“Dude didn’t say anything, period,” Megatron said. “He was kind of a cold fish, you know? I asked where he was from, and he said, ‘Disneyland.’”

A tear rolled down Jason’s hockey mask.

“Aw, Christ,” Freddy said, “here we go again.”

“Why can’t you leave him alone?” Leatherface said.

“Hey, if he acts like a little baby and blubbers like one, that’s the way he’s gonna get treated, all right? Ain’t my problem he isn’t made from sterner stuff.”

“Lay off him. The kid had it rough.”

“We’ve all had it rough, Chief. That’s why we are who we are. But there’s only one of us lives alone with his momma’s head in the fridge. Even by my standards, that’s kinda messed up.”

“You wanna talk messed up?” Leatherface jerked a thumb at Ryder’s body. “I got messed up. Anybody find a note yet?”

“On the bathroom mirror,” Megatron said.

Leatherface glanced across the room. Written in lipstick on the glass was a single word.

Erebus.

“It wasn’t an accident,” Leatherface said.

“Say what?” Megatron said.

As he explained the dream, Freddy chuckled softly.

“Something funny, Krueger?”

“Remember who you’re talking to about dreams, numbnuts. Ever hear the expression I wrote the book on this?”

“Hurray for you,” Megatron said. How’re we gonna report this?”

“Find an orderly, stupid.”

“I haven’t seen one since we arrived. Have you?”

Freddy opened his mouth to say something, then swallowed it.

“I hear what you’re saying,” Leatherface said. “Neither have I.”

“Isn’t that just a tad unusual?”

“No more unusual than five guys who’ve been spat out by Michael Bay finding themselves together in a room. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re all here. And I don’t think the dream was just a dream.”

“Okay.” Megatron exhaled. “So if we’re not in rehab, where are we?”

“The Waiting Room.”

“For what?”

Leatherface spread his hands.

“Hell, of course.”

“We’re already dead?”

Freddy burst out laughing.

“No offence fellas, but I think I mighta noticed.”

“No, it makes perfect sense,” Megatron said.

“It does?” Freddy looked at Jason. “What do you think?”

Jason shrugged.

“Look at it,” Leatherface said. “We’ve all worked for Michael Bay, which is a kind of death. Now we’re just waiting for Charon.”

Freddy’s eyes narrowed. “Who?”

“The son of Erebus. According to Greek myth, he’s the Ferryman who transports souls to the land of the dead.” Leatherface swallowed. “Our next destination.”

They absorbed this.

“Biggest load of bullcrap I ever heard,” Freddy said.

“Come on, Krueger. We’ve all been in movies with dumber plots.”

“Aw, blow it out your ass, wise guy. You are not blaming me for Freddy Vs Jason.”

“I can prove it to you,” Leatherface said. “If this is a real clinic, I mean, if we’re here of our own volition, then the doors are unlocked and we’re free to leave.”

“Sounds good to me,” Megatron said.

Freddy crossed his arms.

“Show me,” he said.

***

Freddy grabbed the door handle.

“Doesn’t matter what’s on the other side, does it?” he said. “Whatever it is, one of us is a loser.”

“Sounds about right,” Megatron said. “You ready?”

Krueger exhaled. Shaking his head, he tightened his fist around the handle and pushed down.

Yanked the door open.

Stood in the doorway awhile, luxuriating in the late summer sunshine.

“Well, bless my ass,” he said. “The door was just a door. What’re the odds?”

Leatherface didn’t buy it. Too neat, too convenient.

He opened his mouth to say something when the shadow fell across Krueger’s face.

Freddy looked up, startled, as the hand burst through the doorway. The talon-like fingers curled around him, making a giant fist that, seconds later, whisked him away.

His final words turned the air blue.

“Time to leave,” Megatron said.

Leatherface stared at him.

“What good will it do?” he said.

Cracks spread across the ceiling, plaster raining on their heads. The roof disappeared, giving way to brilliant sky, the sun bright enough to throw the creature’s advancing shadow across the room. Shielding his eyes, Leatherface stared at the Ferryman.

Charon had manifested himself as the fiercest and most remarkable creature possible: a thousand eyes, a dozen arms and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. Fire issued from its mouth and snout, its leathery wings flapping eagerly.

Leatherface had to admit, he was impressed.

Somewhat less enthused was Jason who, having backed himself into a corner, blubbered as the wall collapsed under Charon’s fist. He was still blubbering when the fingers closed around his head and yanked him out of the room.

Another hand descended towards Leatherface, effortlessly scooping him up. As Charon tightened his grip, and Leatherface prepared himself for what he hoped was a long journey, a thought occurred.

Death sure beat working for Michael Bay.

Part 3

HONEY BUNNY

Sean Roberts had always been a jerk. Crashing the car didn’t change that, it just made Kelly want to kill him sooner than she’d planned.

The Ford bridged the gap between the end of the road and the swell of an embankment. The damage was negligible, so the car was likely driveable, but good luck getting it free without a tow.

Good luck getting a truck out here after dark.

“Nice,” Kelly said. “Good going.”

“If the road was dangerous,” he said, “there should’ve been signs.”

Kelly rolled her eyes.

She started to say something, then swallowed it, knowing that whatever she threw his way would bounce right off. Sean was one of those pinheads who charged through life with bull-in-a-china-shop finesse, letting nothing bother him. If he was overdrawn, it was the bank’s fault. If he hit someone while drunk, it was the cops’ fault for not stopping him.

If he crashed their ride despite driving at thirty mph on a straight road with a full moon to guide him, it was because there were no signs.

One day, he’d be found in a shallow grave with a marker that read A Useless Asshole – But It Wasn’t His Fault. And that day was fast approaching.

She was ready to kick a dent in the shotgun door when she heard a car engine and looked up.

A battered pick-up dawdled towards them, headlights dipping as it screeched to a stop. The door popped open and an old man, fat and bearded, stepped out and walked over.

He looked at the Ford, then looked Kelly and, being the astute type, said, “You’re stuck.”

“That we are,” Kelly said.

“You don’t want that. Not way out here.”

“So I gathered. You give us a tow?”

“Sure, why not? I got eleven of them.” He let that sink in, then added, “Little backwoods humour.”

“Huh,” Kelly said.

“Living out here, people think we’re inbred.”

“Imagine that.”

“You’re gonna need a rope,” he said.

“Nothing gets past you, does it? Yeah, we need a rope. You got one?”

The man shook his head.

“Nope,” he said. He looked crestfallen. “I could probably get one, though.”

“That would be a start.”

“Only problem is, it’s back at the house, and I live about ten miles from here. If you think it’d be quicker and easier to call a truck, you might want to do that.”

She glanced at Sean and was surprised to see he already had his cell out. When he didn’t respond further, she kicked him and he looked up. “What?” he said.

“I’ll go to my place,” the old man said.

Sean said, “What’s going on?”

“Of course, it’ll take a while for me to scoot back and forth, and you’ll be stood out here the whole time. Middle of the road, middle of the night, you don’t want that. You want, you can hop in the back of the truck and come along.”

“We’ll manage,” Kelly said. “Thanks anyway.”

“I’m not staying out here,” Sean said.

She met his gaze. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

He thought a while. Seconds later, his features brightened with recognition.

“We can bring it along,” he said.

Kelly shot him a you gotta be kidding look, but he ignored it and opened the shotgun door. Bringing out a canvas sack, he looked at the old man and said, “Let’s go.”

They climbed into the back of the truck. When they were set, Sean slapped the sides and they drove away.

Kelly waited until the truck hit fourth gear, then grabbed Sean’s ear and pulled his face level with hers. “Are you out of your damn mind?”

He shrugged.

“Dumb question,” she said. “You don’t think there’s a possibility he’s heard about the robbery? That two strangers carrying a sack might just arouse his suspicion?”

He shrugged again.

“You shoulda said something,” he said.

She wanted to hit him, and almost did. What stopped her was the knowledge that she’d be observed in the rear-view mirror.

“You don’t say a goddamn word from now on,” she said. “You don’t speak, look up or move unless I tell you. Clear?”

“You’re not the boss of me.”

“Nobody is. That’s the trouble.”

They arrived at a two-acre farmstead and pulled into a garage that didn’t house any other vehicles. Looking around, Kelly saw milking sheds, hay barns and grain silos, but what stood out was the squat, square stone building with stained-glass windows. A brass plaque named it Halter Devil Chapel.

“You’re shitting me,” Sean said. “A chapel?”

“Built in 1723,” the old man said. “The farmer here then was a lush, and one night during a storm he tried to put the halter on what he thought was his horse, until a flash of lightning revealed the animal had horns. He naturally assumed it was the Devil, sobered up and built this place.”

“Fascinating,” Kelly said.

“One day my boy’s gonna get married here.”

“How old is he?” Sean said.

The old man’s face dropped and he didn’t respond.

Kelly looked at her watch. “Well, it’s been great….”

The old man took the hint. He led them into the farmhouse.

It wasn’t much: a smallish kitchen and a front room, but it was tidy and looked comfortable. Sean dropped the canvas sack and wiped his brow.

“Heavy?” the old man said.

“You’ve no idea.”

“What you got in there, stolen jewels?”

Sean grinned.

“Now how did you know that?” he said.

“Because I heard about it on the radio.”

Shit, Kelly thought.

The old man smiled. “Still want that rope?”

She nodded.

“Yeah,” he said. “I was going to do it as a freebie, but in light of current events, I’ve had a change of heart.”

“Thought you might.”

“I’ll pull you out, send you on your merry way and keep my mouth shut. I figure that’s gotta be worth ten percent.”

“You do, huh?” Sean said.

The old man spread his hands.

A pistol appeared in Sean’s fist. “Funny. I see things different.”

“Put it away,” Kelly said.

“Uh huh. He’s seen us.”

“You put a flashing red light on your head,” she said, “and folks tend to notice.”

The old man chuckled.

“Anybody else here?” Sean said.

The man nodded.

“Mind telling us who?”

“Santa Claus is upstairs,” the old man said. “I don’t see the Easter Bunny anywhere, so maybe she’s out in the fields.”

“This isn’t the time for jokes, old man.”

“I wasn’t fooling. Santa must’ve gone to bed already. It’s getting late, you know.”

Sean stared at him.

“Sorry I can’t be more helpful,” the man said.

“Makes two of us,” Sean said, raising the .38.

Which was when Santa Claus entered the room.

Like his old man, the kid was big and fat, maybe six-four and two hundred pounds. The costume concealed everything else, which Kelly figured was the idea.

“Little early for the holidays,” she said.

The old man smiled. “He likes it. Wears it all the time.”

Sean laughed. “All year round?”

The man nodded

“He go to school like that?”

“He doesn’t go to school. He’s nearly middle aged.”

“And he dresses like that? What is he, a mongoloid?”

“No,” the man said. “He’s just a little slow sometimes. The Easter Bunny, too.”

“That’s your daughter, right?”

The man exhaled but didn’t say anything.

“I’m just guessing here, but does she wear a big bunny costume? Jesus Christ, man, you got a messed up family. What’s your wife like?”

“Dead,” he said.

“She kill herself? Out of shame, something like that?”

The man stared at him.

“You come into my home, point guns at me,” he said, “and then you insult my family? Why? Because I tried to do you a favour?”

“What was the favour? Taking ten percent?”

“Pulling you out of a jam and keeping my mouth shut. That’s got to be worth something.”

“All you got that we need is a truck and a bit of rope. I could just kill you and take it.”

The man let out a long, pensive sigh.

“Better get it over with, then.”

“That’s what I like about you. No small talk.”

“Ever kill anyone before?”

“Lots of times.”

“Uh huh, you’re green. Never killed anyone in your whole life. It’s written all over your face.”

Sean cocked the .38.

“Attaboy,” the man said. “Now point it in my face. Put the barrel right between the eyes.”

He did.

“Now pull the trigger, you limp wristed waste of space.”

Sean hesitated.

“That’s what I thought,” the old man said. “Santa?”

In one fluid movement, the kid disarmed Sean and pointed the pistol at him.

“Ho Ho Ho,” Santa said.

Kelly thought: I did not just see that.

The front door opened and slammed shut. A woman in a bunny costume entered the room.

She paused, surveyed the scene, then gave a surprisingly good impersonation of Bugs Bunny. “What’s up, Doc?”

“Hi, Honey Bunny,” the old man said. “You missed the fireworks.”

She began hopping around the room, shouting, “Rabbit. Rabbit. Rabbit.”

“That all she does?” Sean said

The old man laughed and shook his head.

“You have no idea,” he said. “Honey Bunny? Why don’t you go fetch momma’s dress.”

“Rabbit. Rabbit. Rabbit.”

“You must be very proud,” Sean said.

The old man pulled up a chair. “You think you’re in a position to cheek me, you son of a bitch? You’re here for one reason, and it isn’t to give me lip. When Honey returns, we’ll get right to it.”

“Second thoughts,” Kelly said, “you may as well kill us both right now.”

“Kill you?” He shook his head, as though offended by the idea. “I’m not going to kill you.”

Honey Bunny returned, carrying a wedding gown.

“Thanks, Hon,” he said, and laid the dress out on the table. As he smoothed out the fabric, he looked up and said, “We’re going to the Chapel of Love.”

“Say what now?” Sean said.

“You heard. We’re going to the Chapel. And we’re gonna get married.”

“If you think I’m wearing that thing….” Kelly said.

“You’re not. Who’d want you for a bride? You’re violent, ugly and potty mouthed. Brides are supposed to be beautiful.”

The old man clapped a hand on Sean’s shoulder.

“Like this one.”

“The hell you say?” Sean said.

“Today is the day of your fruitful union with a member of my family.”

Sean looked up at Honey Bunny.

“Rabbit,” she said.

“Uh huh,” he said. “I ain’t doing it. I ain’t getting hitched to no mongoloid.”

“Not her, you idiot.”

Sean stared at Santa, who stared back.

“Ho Ho Ho,” he said.

“Enough monkey business.” The old man held up a hand. “Get yourself suited up. Ceremony’s in ten minutes.”

“What about me?” Kelly said.

“Now there’s a question. What’s this fella to you?”

“Less than a cockroach.”

“Hey,” Sean said.

“Then you know of no reason why they should not be joined together in matrimony?”

“Not one.”

The man nodded.

“And of course it stands to reason,” he said, “that once you leave here, you won’t be going to the cops.”

“You know it.” Kelly retrieved the canvas sack. “I’ll still need your help, though. Ten percent, wasn’t it?”

“Just went up.”

“Figured it might. Hell, I was on a fifty-fifty split with that nimrod, so the way I see it, you’ve just earned yourself half.”

“I like the way you do business,” he said. “We’ll attend to your problem after the ceremony. I have to give my son away first. There’s cake and ice cream for afterwards, if you want to stick around.”

She looked at Sean.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the World.”

“Ho Ho Ho,” Santa said.

Part 4

WELCOME TO THE WORK PROGRAM

They came for him that evening: two men in grey jump suits who kicked open his front door and threatened him with knives. They didn’t speak and didn’t have to. Bryant knew who they were.

They chased him around his apartment a while, but that was just for fun, a laugh. It didn’t become sport until Bryant ran out into the street, where he could shout for help. Then again, he lived in a low-income area, so even if anyone noticed him, they’d shake their heads and be thankful it wasn’t them.

Bryant burst onto the sidewalk and, sure enough, his presence caused people to rethink their plans. A jogger turned and disappeared around a corner. A man stepping through his doorway retraced his steps. Several others also beat a hasty retreat.

The men followed him down the street, then Bryant cut a sharp right, heading towards the park but forgetting they locked the gates at sundown. Instead, he tried to jump the wall, and landed badly.

As the ground rose up to meet him, the breath exploded from Bryant’s lungs and he staggered before collapsing in a heap. His legs refused his commands. A hand grabbed his head and smashed it against the concrete, three times.

The world blurred, then disappeared as the hood came down. They bound his hands and threw him into the van.

No, it hadn’t been a good year for Will Bryant.

Six months earlier, his job literally went up in smoke when the factory burned down, which occurred around the time the director was accused of plundering the pension fund. Astute folks said there was a connection.

Bryant went on welfare, told they’d refer him to the Work Program if he was still unemployed after three months, which he knew he would be. The town’s main businesses paid slave wages to teenagers and immigrants, so an old fart like him was shit out of luck.

He didn’t know what the Work Program was, and the welfare office was at best hazy with details, even when asked the question directly. They called it a referral service, said it would help him back into employment, and he knew what that meant. A bunch of assholes with targets to meet who didn’t care how they met them.

Oh, was that the truth.

Bryant came to in humid blackness, rocking and sliding with the road until the van stopped. The men pulled him upright and forced him out, then he walked unaided for a while before colliding with a post. That brought howls of laughter, then a hand grabbed his head and marched him forward.

Boots kicked against concrete, the sound amplified by wide, empty space. A door opened, then slammed after them. The hood came off.

He was in a long, well-lit corridor. The first man – tall and broad as a bouncer – led him to a small room and held him in place while electric clippers ran over his scalp. Hair rained in tufts, and when a small pile had gathered, the man grabbed his ear.

The bouncer dragged him another hundred yards in silence. Pausing by elevator doors, the man punched a button before freeing his wrists. Bryant wrung his hands as circulation returned and for a second – just a second – the bouncer’s back was turned.

It was all he needed. He swung a punch but the man turned and blocked it, hitting Bryant under the chin and knocking him off his feet.

The bouncer rolled up his sleeves and took him by the ankles, hauling him into the elevator and stepping out before the car descended.

Seconds later, the doors opened on an antechamber that led to a metal staircase. Getting to his feet, he stepped through and ascended toward the sound of voices.

Bryant could see the seated man in profile, but of him, the stranger seemed oblivious. He was talking into a headset, his jaw movements suspiciously mechanical.

“Excellent range to suit all tastes and incomes, attractively packaged and-“

He was as cold as wax, with a similar pallor. No life in the eyes. Even his shaved head didn’t reflect the heavy lights. Bryant reached out, stroking smooth plastic until a hatch loosened and fell away, allowing him to see what lay inside.

Batteries.

He turned away. Turned to see what he already knew.

More desks, all occupied.

because we’re proud of this remarkable product, and of course you’re under no obligation

been outperforming its nearest rival for many years now

guaranteed to please everyone

Bryant sank to his knees.

A figure hovered nearby, just out of sight.

Consume or be consumed, he thought.

Then thought no more.

Part 5

PSYCHOCANDY

03 OCTOBER 1986

When the rich guy opened the door, he stared at Joey, wearing a cape and pumpkin mask, and said, “What’re you supposed to be?”

“Pizza delivery,” Joey said, and showed him the gun. “Now get inside.”

The rich guy, whose name was Moran, did so. “This a robbery?”

“Whatever gave you that idea?”

“Oh, you know, there’s just something about you. Plus, there’s the gun. I don’t think I’ve been robbed by a pumpkin before.”

“I’m not a pumpkin,” Joey said. “I’m the Headless Horseman.”

Moran frowned.

“But you’ve got a head,” he said.

“Shut up.”

“And no horse.”

“Shut up.”

“And it’s supposed to be the other way around.”

“Don’t make me rough you up, man.”

“Okay.”

They sat a while.

“Not much robbing going on,” Moran said.

“I’m thinking.”

“You’re thinking about how to rob me?”

“No, just….Look, here’s the deal. I’ve told you twice to be quiet, and I’m not gonna do it a third time. Clear?”

“I guess.”

“Good,” Joey said.

“Be more threatening with a real gun, though.”

“Trust me, sport, this gun’s real.”

“With bullets and everything?”

“Yeah, man, bullets and everything. They come out through the little hole and make an even bigger hole. Care for a demo?”

“Because the Headless Horseman wouldn’t have a gun, either,” Moran said.

Joey sighed.

“I took a few liberties,” he said.

“That’s okay,” Moran said. “When you’re caught, the State will take them right back.”

“Not making this easy, are you?”

“Did you know they’ve still got Old Sparky up at San Quentin? Same one they put Dillinger in. Fried up him up real good.”

“Dillinger didn’t die in the chair,” Joey said. “They shot him.”

“I took a few liberties,” Moran said, and shrugged.

“Enough of this. Get on your knees.”

“Are you going to shoot me?”

“No. I’m going to pistol whip that stupid smirk right off your stupid face. Then I’m going to rob you. When you wake up, tell the police it was Boneyard Jack who stole from you.”

“Who’s Boneyard Jack?”

“I am, you turnip.”

“I thought you were the Headless Horseman?”

“1980s style,” Joey said.

“So you’re not the Horseman at all, then?”

“Enough,” Joey said.

He knocked Moran unconscious.

***

It began a week earlier when Sheldon Sherman, King of the B Movies, showed Joey a movie poster in his front room. The poster showed a pumpkin-headed figure chasing screaming teenagers above the tagline: Watch Your Back….Here Comes Boneyard Jack!

“How is he a modern Headless Horseman?” Joey Warbeck said.

“No New Yorker worth their salt is afraid of horsemen,” Sherman said. “We’ve updated him as a murdered teenager who roams Westchester County seeking revenge on his killers. When he finds them, of course, he cuts off their heads.”

“So why’re you calling it Psychocandy? Isn’t Sleepy Hollow public domain?”

Sherman shrugged and said, “We open shortly after Psycho III.”

“Nice marketing strategy.”

“Well, it worked for Raiders of the Living Dead. The campaign’s structured around Boneyard Jack, who in theory should sell the movie all by himself. We’re holding the premiere here in Mount Pleasant, you know.”

“I’m sure you’ll be very successful,” Joey said. “But this isn’t my line of work.”

“I know that.”

“I usually rob banks.”

“None too well, from what I’ve heard.”

“I’ve never been caught.”

“Which speaks volumes about New York’s Finest, doesn’t it?” Sherman smiled. He said, “Do you go to the movies often, Mr Warbeck?”

“Not really.”

“The kind of movies I make, cheap and simple exploitation movies, they’re not made for cinemas anymore, they’re made for home video. And the major studios want to control video, push the little guys out until it’s all their own product. A few years from now, it’ll be five or six studios deciding what to release and what to bury.”

“Is there a point to this,” Joey said, “or do I just put my hands on you and feel your pain?”

“Drive-ins, the ones that’re left, they’ll take Psychocandy, but I need to get it booked into multiplexes if I want to make money, and if I don’t, then it’s my business down the tubes.”

“But multiplexes don’t want Sheldon Sherman movies.”

“Exactly. They want the big studio movies – the new Friday The 13th, the new Psycho, the new what-have-you. Little movies from indie distributors? Not a prayer.”

“Well, I hate to disappoint you, but I don’t go around leaning on people. I’m not gonna break the thumbs of exhibitors who won’t show your movie.”

“What? No, no, you’ve got it all wrong. There’s no strong arming involved. What I’ve got in mind, it’s legal.” Sherman paused and said, “More or less.”

“I’m starting to think less.”

“It’s a publicity gimmick, the kind the old time exploitation filmmakers used to pull. Ever hear of a fellow named Kroger Babb?”

Joey shook his head.

“He started out as a carnival barker, then went into movies and wrote the ads for a bunch of no-budget junkers. You know, See Frantic Virgins Dance In The Fires Of Puberty, that sort of thing. A colleague called him the greatest showman in the business because he could take any piece of crap and sell it.”

“You don’t say.”

“One time, he had to sell a biblical epic where Jesus spoke with a Southern drawl and power lines were visible in the background during the crucifixion scene, so what did he do? He printed thousands of leaflets and distributed them to churchgoers, telling them that if they brought their troubles and their families to the theatre, they’d find God himself present.”

“And it worked?”

“It was one of Babb’s biggest hits.”

“Did God turn up?”

“I’m sure he did,” Sherman said, “in the hearts and minds of those present.”

“So what do you want me to do? Arrange a meeting with the Almighty?”

“No. I want to dress you up as Boneyard Jack.”

“For publicity?”

“Kind of. While wearing the costume, you’ll commit a series of robberies, for which I’ll pay you fifteen hundred dollars.”

“Uh huh,” Joey said.

“The publicity that’ll generate, well, it can’t be bought.”

“Uh huh.”

“But if that troubles your conscience, look at it this way. You’ll be helping a struggling independent filmmaker.”

“It doesn’t trouble my conscience,” Joey said.

****

Moran hit the floor, whump, and Joey helped himself to the man’s wallet, then took his Rolex. The wallet contained over six hundred dollars.

He’d heard that the super-rich didn’t have credit cards because they simply didn’t need them and sure enough, Moran didn’t carry any plastic. Maybe his housekeeper shopped for food and, if he did require cash, a bank messenger would send it over in plastic bags.

The more he thought about it, the more difficult it was to picture Moran buying a gallon of milk. Hell, he’d probably never even set foot in a convenience store.

Joey thought about that some more, amusing himself with an image of Moran in the aisle of his local Safeway, when the door opened and a man walked in.

The man was dressed just like him: cape, boiler suit, pumpkin mask. “Déjà vu,” Joey said.

“Quiet,” the man said, and the mask came off.

Throwing the mask on the couch, Sheldon Sherman ruffled his hair. “You kill him?”

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“I asked first.”

“He’s still breathing. Want to see for yourself? You’re going to have to forgive my surprise because, well, I figured I was working alone. And for the record, the costume does not look good on you.”

“I know. I saw my reflection and thought I was looking at the Pillsbury Doughboy. Damn booze. I’m going to give it up, just as soon as it kills me.”

“There a reason I’m experiencing the pleasure of your company?”

“Let me have your gun,” Sherman said.

Joey gave it to him.

“I was up late last night, doing some thinking.” Sherman opened the cylinder. Ever see Ben-Hur?”

“That the one with the chariots?”

“Yeah, Joey, the one with the chariots. And Chuck Heston. Story goes, a stuntman was run over and killed on set, and if you watch the movie, you can see it in glorious Technicolor.”

“So?”

“How about Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool? You see that?”

“Sorry.”

“That uses real riot footage from the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. When a truncheon bashes in a head in that film, it’s real. Then there’s an actual stabbing in that Altamont movie, Gimme Shelter. A man gets knifed right in front of the stage.”

“I still don’t see where you’re going.”

“What I’m getting at is, those movies are, in one way or another, notorious. Notoriety sells tickets. But you don’t achieve notoriety without spilling some blood.”

Sherman snapped the cylinder home.

“If you want to lure American moviegoers into theatres,” he said, “there must be blood.”

He turned to Moran and shot him.

****

Several red holes appeared in Moran’s back. Moran grunted, spread out across the hardwood floor and lay still.

“You killed him,” Joey said.

Sherman shot Moran in the head.

“Now I did,” he said.

“I’m gonna throw up.”

“Strictly speaking, I’m the one who should feel nauseas. I never killed anyone before. But you know what? I feel pretty good, thanks.”

When the world started spinning, Joey grabbed the couch and sat down. He stared at Moran, lying in a pool of congealing blood, and the breath caught in his throat.

“Oh by the way,” Sherman said.

He tossed the gun to Joey, who caught it and aimed it at Sherman.

“You did a very bad thing,” Sherman said. “Dressed as a character from a movie, you broke into a man’s house, robbed him and, for no apparent reason, killed the poor son of a bitch. Sounds like a copycat killing to me, and you know how the press loves copycat killings.”

“You’re insane,” Joey said.

“No, I’m a visionary. Oh, I don’t doubt the press will do a number on me. They’ll call me a filth peddler or whatever, say my movies inspire crime and should be banned, you know, that whole ball of wax. But the way I see it, all publicity is good publicity.”

Joey cocked the hammer. “On your knees.”

Sheldon grinned.

“You know you’re holding a murder weapon, right? An empty murder weapon. Doesn’t even have my prints on it because, unlike you, I’m wearing gloves. You might want to tread carefully, because from here on out, you’re a wanted felon.”

Joey pulled the trigger.

Click.

“Told you,” Sherman said. “Besides, what were you thinking? Shoot a man to prove you didn’t shoot a man? How’s that work?”

“I don’t have to kill you,” Joey said. “Just take you in.”

“Yeah, a bank robber going to the cops. I can just see that working out.”

“There’ll be witnesses. People saw you arrive.”

“No doubt they did, it’s that kind of neighbourhood. But what did they see? A stranger in a costume.”

A .38 appeared in Sherman’s fist.

“I’m going out the back way,” he said. “You can stay here.”

“You’re not gonna shoot me.”

“That’s right,” Sherman said, and raised the gun.

He swung it at Joey’s head, intending to hit him behind the ear, but Joey saw it coming and ducked. As Sherman leaned forward, Joey grabbed his arm and leapt at him, and together they tumbled backwards.

Sherman hit the ground first, breath exploding from his lungs, and while he lay winded, Joey punched him in the stomach. The .38 came up again and he grabbed it, pushing it away as Sherman’s grip tightened on the trigger.

The weapon discharged.

The bullet hit Sherman under the chin, exploding his skull and splattering the wall with blood and brain fragments. Staring down at him, Joey gasped, then leaned over and vomited.

It took several minutes for the nausea to pass, and it when it did he took a moment to think and plan. Collecting the guns, Joey wiped down everything he could remember touching and left the house.

He’d parked at the end of the street, out of sight of the building, and was halfway to the car when he heard the sirens.

As Sherman said, it was that kind of neighbourhood.

They came at him from both directions, cutting off the street, and as uniformed officers spilled out of the cars, several voices screamed at him, telling him to drop the weapon and assume the position. Which he did.

While the first cop cuffed him, his buddy pulled off his mask and said, “This your idea of a joke?”

“Not mine,” Joey said.

They led him away.

Part 6

A COLD & LONELY EVIL

(for Jackson Phibes)

Barrows stepped out of the car and sat on the hood, admiring the view as the sun dipped behind the trees. The sky was cloudless and the plummeting temperature reminded him that he didn’t have time to waste.

Sighing, he got up, opened the rear door and reached inside for the man spread across the seat. Even with his hands cuffed and his legs tied, the son of a bitch resisted, so Barrows slapped him across the face and said, “I’m not in the mood.”

The man, whose name was Tucker, laughed and shook his head. “Well, I sure as shit am sorry to hear that, dude. Bet this is putting a crimp in your schedule, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Barrows said. “I could be at home, drinking beer and watching Scooby Doo. Instead, I had to come all the way out here and take care of your dumb ass. So you’ll forgive me if I come across as brusque.”

“Man, what you wanna watch that kiddy crap for? You three years old or something?”

“It’s the only show on TV I can watch. Besides, it’s the one with Miner 49er. I like that guy.”

“You know it’s really some fella in a costume, though, right? And that he would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for them meddling kids?”

Barrows said, “Hush” and pulled the man out.

With one hand on Tucker’s shoulder and the gun in the small of his back, Barrows marched him into the woods, where it felt colder, the trees blocking out the dying sun.

“This how you imagined going out? Cold and alone?”

“Pretty much,” Tucker said. “Except I saw myself about a decade older, and not getting it from a pindick like you.”

“You want to know what your buddy Farrow said before I did the deed?”

“Not particularly.”

“He cried and begged. I had to put about a roll of duct tape across his mouth just to hear myself think. Then I put Mister 9mm between his eyes, and I let him have it. Buried him right over there.”

“Man, you’re cold. Anyone tell you that? They oughta call you The Ice Man.”

“When they think my back’s turned, they do. Want to see where I put him? I made a real nice job.”

“Thanks, but I’ll take a raincheck. And for the record, you need to work on your people skills.”

“That so? Well, far be it from me to tell you your business, Mister Amateur Thief, but you need to work on your not getting caught skills.”

Tucker sighed.

Especially if you’re going to rob a guy like Donald Lang.” Barrows chuckled and said, “You really thought you’d get away with it?”

“If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have done it.”

“A word to the unwise. Start small. Your first gig probably shouldn’t be a casino. I mean, shit, who even robs casinos these days? All that security. You’d have to be a dumbass to even entertain the notion.”

“Got away, didn’t we?”

“Sure you did,” Barrows said. “That’s why you’re here.”

“Look, you seem the rational type. How about we do a deal?”

“Go on.”

“I give up the money, and my partner, and you cut me lose. Sound rational to you? Cos it sounds pretty goddamn sweet at my end.”

“This partner, he wouldn’t be called Jackson, would he?”

Tucker said nothing.

“Has a ratty apartment with a hidden compartment in one wall? Kind of place you could squirrel away a hundred grand in cash? You mean that guy?”

“What’d you do?”

“He was drunk of his ass when I found him, so I sobered him up with twelve steps. I think the seventh step cracked his neck, though I can’t be sure.”

“You bury him here too?”

Barrows shook his head. “I’m fast, but I ain’t that fast. Didn’t you wonder why I didn’t throw you in the trunk? Surprised you didn’t smell him.”

Tucker let out a long, pensive sigh.

“Sun is setting in the sky,” Barrows said. “Teletubbies say goodbye.”

“Fuck you.”

“Teletubbies say Eh-oh, but close.”

“What is it with you and kids TV?”

“Keeps me young and innocent,” Barrows said. He put the gun to Tucker’s head.

“Behind you,” Tucker said.

“Yeah, right.”

“I’m serious, man. Look over your shoulder.”

“This your last request? You don’t want apple pie or pussy?”

Tucker looked at him and the look said do it, dumbass.

“Just for you,” Barrows said, and turned.

His first thought was that there was a dog digging up the grave he’d filled in not eight hours earlier, burrowing down to get at what it doubtless thought was important, but then he realized that not only was it no animal, it was burrowing out of the ground.

A hand snaked out of the grave, and the hand was connected to an arm that was connected, Barrows now realized, to a man he’d laid to rest earlier that day.

Well, bless my ass, he thought. And fired.

Two bullets smacked into the corpse as it stood up, spinning it like a top and leaving it spread out across the ground, staring skywards.

Barrows chuckled and shook his head.

“What’s so funny?” Tucker said.

“Coulda swore I put him down for good the first time.”

“You get old,” Tucker said, “it gets harder to tell the difference.”

Barrows had his mouth open to say eat me when he heard movement to his side, and when he looked he saw the corpse getting to its feet a second time.

“Some fucking killer you are,” Tucker said.

“Quiet.”

Barrows shot the thing again. It fell over, then got up, so he emptied the clip. The thing hit the ground, whump, then sat up once more.

“Man, screw this,” Tucker said, and turned and ran.

Cursing, Barrows reloaded and took aim at the other man, running between the trees. He fired once, and his target fell down.

Nothing wrong with my aim, he thought.

Which was when the dead man rushed him.

The sumbitch knocked Barrows off his feet and went down with him, hands tearing at his clothes while its mouth descended towards his throat. Barrows punched it in the face, which didn’t have the effect he’d hoped for, and the creature launched itself at him again.

This time, he hit the thing under the nose and as the head whipped sharply to one side, he pushed the creature away from him. It rolled onto its back, clawing at the air as Barrows scampered to his feet and retrieved his weapon. He kicked the thing in the head a few times, then a few more because he liked doing it, but the creature just wouldn’t take the hint and reached for him.

When it grabbed his pants leg, Barrows shot it in the head.

The thing rolled over and lay still.

Mopping his brow, Barrows looked and saw Tucker back on his feet, staggering drunkenly between trees. Today was a good day for people who didn’t know when to die, it seemed.

He caught up with Tucker a moment later, which was easy because with his hands cuffed and a bullet in his shoulder, his opponent could only make baby steps. Then the other man turned around and what Barrows saw froze him to the spot.

Tucker’s shirt was stained crimson, which wasn’t right, no way would he bleed like that from his shoulder. And he hadn’t. The blood sprayed from an open wound in his throat, a wound that looked a lot like an animal bite.

Remembering he’d mistaken a man for an animal moments earlier, Barrows swung around. Seeing nobody, he left Tucker to bleed out and ran back to the car.

When he was close enough, he realized the trunk was open. Not all the way, just like it’d been opened but not closed properly, and he had no difficulty believing it had been forced open from the inside.

Clutching his weapon in his right hand, he raised the trunk lid with his left and confirmed what he already knew.

Empty.

Hearing movement to his right, Barrows didn’t have to look to know that the trunk’s former resident was a few feet away. That didn’t surprise him. What caught his attention was Tucker, back on his feet and shuffling towards him, his wound no longer bleeding.

Yes sir, it was a good day to be a dead man.

Part 7

MIMES

Danny Jordan knew something was about to happen because the kid was acting strangely. When he approached the teller’s window, Danny thought, here we go.

He watched the teller, figuring she’d signal if she was in trouble, but she was new and didn’t know him. The Assistant Manager knew him, though, and when he rose from his desk, Danny realized she’d tripped the silent alarm.

The kid realized it too. He split.

Danny moved to intercept him, then threw himself clear as a .357 appeared, exploding twice.

Danny followed him into the street. The kid spun and fired, the bullet going wide as he dodged around a Taurus and cut across the path of an oncoming BMW.

The Beamer braked and fishtailed. As the shooter ran down the street, Danny jumped the hood and gave chase.

They threaded through the traffic, ignoring the horns and middle fingers, then the kid leapt onto the kerb, scattering pedestrians. He collided with a woman and as the bodies went reeling, Danny kicked his feet out from under him and grabbed his arms.

FBI Special Agent Daniel K Jordan patted his pockets before remembering his handcuffs were in his briefcase, and his briefcase was at the bank.

“Shit,” he said.

***

An ambulance appeared.

“Who’s the wagon for?” Danny said.

The cop shrugged and cuffed the kid. Danny stared at him, thinking: What did you do?

In the lobby, tellers cried or looked on as medics got to work. They were bent over someone Danny couldn’t see, loosening his clothing and preparing to lift him. When they got him on the gurney, Danny felt a chill.

“How old is he?”

“Fifteen,” a medic said.

“Stray bullet?”

“In the back. Tell me you got the guy.”

Danny said he did.

“Don’t expect anyone to kiss your ass,” the medic said, tossing him the boy’s wallet. “Nobody called his family yet.”

***

His name was Jack Isidore.

Danny knew the family. Filthy rich and politically connected. Small wonder nobody made the call.

When Danny informed the mother, she said, “I didn’t need this.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Is the man in custody?”

“Yes-”

“So where’s the boy?”

“Baltimore General.”

“A hospital? I don’t want him there. Take him out. There musn’t be any tests. I appreciate that this may sound strange….”

No shit, Danny thought.

“….but nobody examines him until I arrive. Nobody.”

“Mrs Isidore, Jack was shot with a high calibre firearm. A hit anywhere on the body is usually fatal. He’ll need-”

“I’ll decide what he needs. Call the hospital. Tell them I’ll push for assault charges against anyone who disobeys my orders.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Then this conversation is over,” she said, and hung up.

Danny called the hospital.

“Thank God it’s you.”

“What’s the problem?” Danny said.

“Not on the phone. Haul your ass down here.”

He did.

In an employee lounge, a medic told him he’d laid eyes on Jack Isidore and thought he was dead. The kid wasn’t moving or breathing.

“Then he opened his eyes and said, I don’t feel anything. Like he’d just come back to life. I asked his age, he told me and we talked a little, but he was so damn calm it scared me.”

“He wasn’t in pain?”

“He wouldn’t even break a sweat for me. Situation like that, you heat up. You take panic breaths. But I swear, I could put a mirror under his nose – nothing.”

The medic lit up, offering the pack to Danny, who said he didn’t.

“Then they put him on the gurney and I saw it for myself: no blood. No exit wound. From a .357, can you believe that?.”

“You take his vitals?”

“Yeah, and I was expecting a heart rate of forty bpm, blood pressure maybe forty over sixty. What I got was….” He shook his head. “I didn’t get shit. No pulse. Even his pupils wouldn’t dilate. Now what do you call that?”

“You’re the doc. Get a blood sample?”

“Didn’t have chance.”

“Why not?”

“Because that’s when he socked me – not dead for a dead guy. Then he tore out of the wagon and was gone before we stopped.”

“Cute,” Danny said.

***

The Isidore place was a five-bed, three-bath brownstone with shuttered windows, a drive the size of a soccer field and a two-acre backyard. Five million in a commercial sale, Danny reckoned.

He was thinking how much he hated these neighbourhoods when he saw something that made him drive straight past.

The front door was open.

He parked outside Bagel City and walked back down.

A huge pool dominated the rear. There were no lights on in the pool or the house. The curtains were drawn.

Maybe this was a carefree neighbourhood where people didn’t lock their doors.

Maybe.

Danny entered through the pool doors, whacking his shin on a low table. “Shit,” he said, and turned on the lights.

Someone had worked the room over. Drawers fell from a chest onto the hardwood floor, their contents scattered. It hadn’t been a robbery, though: Russbriger suits, Guccis, you name it, all slashed to ribbons.

Danny never removed his gun unless he intended he use it, had never fired it except at the range, but as he moved through the house, something made him unbutton his holster.

The kitchen: cupboards, drawers, and refrigerator units emptied onto the tiles. Utensils, herbs and food sat in a pool of dark, congealed blood.

Following the trail, Danny found Mrs Isidore leaning against a cupboard, legs spread at seemingly impossible angles until he realized they weren’t spread at all. They’d been severed below the knee. Her hands, amputated at the wrist, rested in her lap.

“Jesus….”

As Danny covered his mouth, the body flopped like a rag doll, and Mrs Isidore’s head rolled off her shoulders and across the floor.

***

Danny hung on the toilet bowl for five minutes, heaving until there was nothing but noise, then wiped his mouth and returned to the kitchen.

His eyes were wet, the room was blurred and his throat burned with bile, but he had no difficulty locating Mr Isidore, tied to a chair in another part of the room. Three fingers were missing from each hand and there were multiple stab wounds to the chest, stomach and abdomen.

What had happened here?

Was Jack Isidore responsible?

Phone unhooked. Danny pressed redial, and when a voice told him he’d reached The Tabard Inn, he hung up.

He’d seen enough. Crossing into the master bedroom, he eased through the doors and sucked in the fresh air before someone levelled a .38 at his head.

“Freeze!” a cop said.

***

You could say this for Montgomery County: they had a comfortable jailhouse. Danny was able to grab forty winks before the door at the end of the corridor opened and two men appeared.

“That him?” the first one said.

FBI Special Agent In Charge Richard Decker nodded.

When the cop was out of earshot, Decker said, “I’m sure there’s a sane, rational explanation for all of this.”

Omitting any reference to the medic’s statement, Danny said he’d gone to the house on a hunch after Isidore skipped out on the paramedics and found the bodies by accident.

“Textbook,” Decker said.

“Stranger stuff has happened.”

“Yeah, we employed you. Did the kid do it?”

“I guess.”

Decker sighed.

“Go home,” he said. “Get drunk, or laid. I’m putting you on something else tomorrow. Traffic duty, maybe.”

“You won’t find him.”

“Thanks, Dick Tracy, but I’m sure we’ll manage. Ever wonder what the I in FBI was for? Now, when you leave here, you’re going where?”

“To see your old lady.”

Decker soured.

“I’m going home,” Danny said.

“Without a detour. I might let them throw the key away next time.”

***

The clerk at The Tabard Inn was adamant that nobody named Jack Isidore was registered – until he saw the photo. Then he remembered the young guy in 312. Mr Philip Richards.

Danny rode the elevator to the third floor and hung around while the corridor emptied, then stood outside the door and listened. Someone was watching TV in there, laughing at a sitcom.

The door opened to reveal a paunchy guy in a Charles Manson t-shirt. Danny badged him and said, “Philip Richards?”

“Next door.”

“The clerk said he was here.”

“He was. Paid me to swap rooms. Fifty bucks.”

An early warning system. Cute.

The door slammed in Danny’s face.

314 was locked, so he slipped out a four inch lock pick and had it ajar thirty seconds later.

Big surprise: the room was empty. Danny began rifling through the drawers when the bathroom door opened and someone stepped out.

The man, a stranger, said, “Wasn’t expecting company.”

“I’m obviously in the wrong room.”

“Obviously.”

“You the occupant?”

“For the last five minutes. What’s your story?”

Danny showed his badge. “I’ll need to see some ID.”

Dr Jacob Slade of Syracuse, New York, obliged by producing his driver’s license. Danny didn’t linger over it too long before handing it back.

“Sorry to have troubled you.”

“No trouble,” Slade said, and Danny left the room.

Moving his car to get a better view of the hotel entrance, Danny sat and waited. Slade, or whoever he was, was a no-show and it was turning dark when Danny’s cell rang.

Slade’s voice said, “Special Agent Jordan.”

“That’s my real name. Tell me yours.”

“Dr Jacob Slade.”

“That’s an anagram of Jacob’s Ladder.”

“Aw, c’mon, Dan. We don’t need names. If I can pull yours out of thin air, that tells you something about me, doesn’t it?”

“What did you find in that room?”

“Jack and shit. He’s long gone, and you know it. But riddle me this, Dan: what would you have done if you’d walked right in on him?”

“What’s it to you?”

“Plenty. I’ve known him a while now, and he isn’t much of a talker.”

“I’ll say.”

“You weren’t supposed to see his handiwork, but you got to the house ahead of me. Won’t happen again.”

“You his handler or something?”

“Man, I love the way you assholes talk. But I guess that’s close enough for country dancing.”

“So it’s your job to bring him in.”

“I’ve said enough.”

“You didn’t want to talk, you wouldn’t call. At least tell me what I’m dealing with.”

“Something you couldn’t hope to understand. Although, with your bulldog tenacity, you probably won’t quit. Want to prove yourself useful? Head up to West Virginia.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because a Chevy owned by the real Philip Richards is headed there. Unfortunately for him, he’s dead and lying in the trunk. I’d go there myself, but I’m a lover not a fighter, can you dig it?”

Danny sighed.

“I’ll see you,” Slade said.

“Wait. Who are you, really?”

The line went dead.

***

Nobody emerged from the hotel, so Danny went to the library and got the Richards address from the phonebook. Hours later, he pulled up outside a rustic two-storey cabin, a Chevy in the driveway.

Vaulting the gate, Danny ducked and slowed as he approached the rear door. In thirty seconds, he had the lock open. Then he paused.

Hearing nothing, he moved inside.

The far door, leading to a dark hallway, was ajar, so Danny stepped through. There was light under the living room door.

He crept forward, pistol held chest-high, and curled his other hand around the handle. Swinging the door wide, he stepped inside, taking aim at the shape in the centre of the room.

At a lifeless body slumped in a chair, Isidore bent over him, knife in hand.

Danny fired.

Three bullets hammered into Isidore’s chest, pitching him through the window. Danny approached the glass just in time to see him get to his feet and run.

As the kid disappeared into the night, Danny followed. Darkness swallowed him up and he paused, letting his eyes adjust.

Movement. Danny reacted to it, too late.

A kick to the groin bent him double, then his head was roughly jerked back. A blade caught the moonlight, then arced down towards his throat.

The first bullet struck Isidore in the chest, knocking him sideways before two more rounds slammed into his back, pitching him forward. A net fell before he could recover, a man at each corner. Moments later, he was bound and helpless.

Danny got to his feet and brushed off when a familiar face appeared.

“Congratulations,” Slade said. “You led him straight to us.”

***

“You saw chez Isidore, didn’t you?” Slade said.

They were two miles outside West Virginia, heading home.

“Great place to live. Aspirational. People play golf, shop at gourmet supermarkets and send their kids to private schools.”

“Kids like Jack Isidore,” Danny said.

“Let you in on a little secret? He’s not really a little kid.”

Danny waited.

“They’re called Mimes,” Slade said. “Simulacra children. All the pride of parenting, none of the problems. Purchase one, enrol him in private school, and savour the moments when he trounces your neighbour’s kids in class.”

“How’s this legal?”

“Can’t be illegal if nobody knows.”

“We know.”

“Well, aren’t we privileged?” Slade laughed and said, “Anything that’s commercially viable is legal, Dan.”

“The smartest kid in the most expensive school,” Danny said. “Yours to own.”

“Exactly.”

“Except he doesn’t bleed or feel pain.”

“He thought he was normal, so when abnormal shit happened, he became self-aware. Wanted to know more. Wanted to experiment.”

They drove a while.

“I’ve been here before,” Slade said, “if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Figures. So what happens next?”

“Some rich kid killed his parents and split. Terrible tragedy, just awful. But, you know, these things happen.”

“They ever find the kid?”

“Usually they lose interest after thirty days.”

Danny sighed.

“You were pretty slick back there,” Slade said. “Ever consider moving into my line of work?”

“After tonight? You can kiss my ass.”

Slade laughed and said, “You can let me out here. And Dan? What did you do tonight?”

“Stayed home, jerked off.”

“As usual.” Slade opened the door. “It was nice meeting you. Now beat it, okay?”

Danny watched him go, then swung into traffic and drove home.

Part 8

DAWN OF THE MCDEAD

It began when two men in Richard Nixon masks robbed a Casino in Modesto, California. Lyndon Johnson drove the getaway car.

After that, shit got strange.

***

They left the car in a part of town known as Grand Theft Central, keys in the ignition, and switched to Farrow’s ten-year-old Volvo. They crossed the state line, arriving in Brayleston early the next morning.

It was a flat, grey, ugly town where the ramshackle houses were too close together and the neighbours didn’t talk. The main businesses were fast food restaurants and liquor stores. Nobody wore a suit and tie, and even the babies didn’t smile.

They were there to see Chinese Al, who was Korean and went by Jack. He’d gotten the name because he looked like Al Leong, a villain in Die Hard, and didn’t like it, said if the cops knew you were named for a screen badass, they’d swoop.

Al/Jack owned Laundromats and used car lots and could make dirty money disappear. You gave him a stolen quarter-million and, for a fifteen percent handling charge, received laundered cash plus documentation that kept the IRS happy. After that, they’d go their separate ways, Farrow to Miami, Morgan to Boston and Warbeck to staring at his apartment walls.

Until then, they were stuck in Brayleston.

***

“Believe it or not,” Morgan said, “this is a historic place.”

“Bullshit,” Warbeck said.

They’d been in Brayleston for three days. There was no library, no theatre, no park, and if you wanted something to do after 6pm that didn’t involve booze, you were shit out of luck.

“I’m serious. The name comes from Old English.”

“What’s it mean?” Farrow said.

“’Burial place near a town.’”

Warbeck sighed.

Located on the other side of town was the mall, the newest and nicest looking building for miles. If you entered from the street, it was all parking machines, but an escalator took you up to another floor with elevators and more escalators, which in turn rose to a floor full of chain stores hawking overpriced junk.

Still, it was what passed for culture in the asscrack of the world, and it was a million times better than staying home. They had a discount bookstore and a multiplex, at least, so for the next few days, Warbeck watched blockbuster movies, read remaindered bestsellers and ate at a health food store. The prices burned a hole in his wallet.

Next day, the town dropped dead.

***

They were coming out of the multiplex when it happened.

The movie was a write-off, all noise and special effects, and as it faded from their memories, Morgan and Farrow went to get burgers while Warbeck looked around for a Chinese restaurant. He found one, but the staff were teenagers and the prices ridiculous, so he bailed.

Then the girl died.

At first, he thought she’d fainted. She was standing next to him, staring at the price list, and then, wham, lights out.

She hit the floor like a sack of potatoes, and Warbeck made the mistake of giving a shit.

He rushed towards her, and when she rolled over, the sight stopped him dead. Blood streamed from her eyes, her nose, her mouth. She gagged and spluttered, spraying a crimson cloud, then grunted and kicked, her whole body shaking violently.

Seizure, Warbeck thought.

His next mistake was looking up. He wanted someone to help, to call 911, but everyone stood and stared. Watched him. And it began.

Noses bled. Bloody tears streamed from red eyes. Crimson liquid issued from the mouths and ears of those around him. Hands clutching their heads, they sank to their knees, bodies spasming. They kicked and thrashed for a time, then lay still.

For the first time ever, the mall was silent.

What happened next made him jump.

***

Cell phones. Dozens of them. All ringing at once.

They were clutched in the hands, left in the pockets or buried deep in the purses of the people

(the corpses)

lying in front of him, the mess of different tones starting to make his head whirl.

Warbeck’s hand went to his pocket. His cell was ringing, too.

“Stop me if you’ve heard this one,” Morgan said. “Everybody just fell down.”

“Heard that. Where are you?”

“The food court. But I don’t want to be here when the services show up, catch my drift?”

He did.

“Meet you outside the multiplex,” Morgan said.

Warbeck said nothing. He was staring straight ahead.

The girl was getting to her feet.

***

She’d been pretty, once. Her company uniform, immaculate. Now dried blood and various other bodily fluids covered them both.

After taking a few steps forward, a few more back, and after colliding with a trash basket, she paused and raised her head, nostrils flaring.

She must’ve gotten a hell of a scent because she turned and staggered away, sniffing like a bloodhound. He called after her and got no response.

When she ducked into a fast food restaurant, Warbeck followed. A dozen bodies, maybe more, covered the tables and floor. Blood dripped from eyes, ears, noses, mouths. Nothing moved.

Entering the kitchen, she scooped up all the food she could and, not bothering with a tray, slumped in a corner. Seconds after a burger met her lips, it was history.

Back from the dead, she quenched her bloodthirsty lust for…

Warbeck shook his head.

He watched her until he felt sick. Turning, he saw another body rise. Then another. And another.

Swaying like drunks, red eyes wandering aimlessly, they entered the kitchen. They wanted the same thing, but were less patient, tearing open the containers before chowing down on the spot.

So this is how it ends, he thought. Not with a bang, but with McZombies.

He watched the girl fight with another boy, who was slapping at her, trying to prise something from her grasp. It was the last of the shakes. He tore it from her, spilling the contents. They bent down and started licking it off the floor.

Warbeck stepped outside. More bodies rose and shuffled past him.

A yuppie in a bloodied shirt broke off from the pack and walked over, stopping ten feet away.

Staring at Warbeck, he raised an arm.

You,” he said, pointing.

***

Warbeck stopped. He didn’t know the man, but he doubted the raspy voice belonged to him.

“Get here,” it said.

Get fucked, Warbeck thought.

“We’ve taken over the mall. Anyone who remains will be our slave. Do you wish to serve us, little man?”

Warbeck shot him in the head.

A woman rose up behind him.

“That’s the spirit,” said the raspy voice.

Warbeck turned. “Neat trick.”

“Omnipotence has its privileges. Now, don’t just stand there. Kneel before your new God and master.”

“Does my new God have a name?”

“Call me….Winston.”

Warbeck laughed.

“Did I say something funny?” the woman said.

“A deity named Winston. That’s a good one.”

“Glad you’re amused. I’ll have fun breaking your spirit.”

Warbeck lunged.

He hit the woman under the bridge of the nose, driving bone splinters into her brain.

Movement. As Warbeck turned, a zombie dropped the food it’d been carrying and the raspy voice said, “That wasn’t very smart.”

Warbeck threw himself at the thing. They went down together, jostling the arms of other shufflers that ignored them and returned to their food. Warbeck put a knee on the thing’s chest, punched it several times in the face, then got to his feet and tore out of there.

Wherever he ran, everything looked the same. Corridors fed into more corridors, with no exit in sight. He followed the signs, but they’d been designed either by a mental defective or someone with a cruel sense of humour.

A bullet flew past his face, shattering glass. Warbeck hit the deck and saw another zombie charging towards him, firing blindly. He wasn’t sure, but over the sound of gunfire, he thought he heard the raspy voice say, “Cocksucker motherfucker.”

Warbeck charged at the assailant, butting him in the midriff and driving him to the ground, the gun skittering away. He rained blows down until the shuffler’s face was a mask of blood, then the thing looked up and said, “That all you got?”

The zombie brought up its leg, kicking him in the groin. As Warbeck spun away, doubled over, he noticed the gun lying four feet away.

“I cannot trust those who are non-conformists,” the raspy voice said. “The individual must trust me, for I will lead them to a brave new world. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the master of this domain, the lord of the kingdom-”

Warbeck shot him in the face.

Long-winded son of a bitch.

He deciphered the signs and found the exit, and, incredibly, the doors swung open. He stumbled into daylight and sucked up lungfuls of fresh air. Looking around, he thought about hotwiring a vehicle when he heard the roar of a diesel engine.

The van screeched to a halt. Warbeck stared through the glass and the driver stared back, beckoning him on.

He crossed the street and yanked open the shotgun door, hurling himself inside as the driver accelerated.

“Thanks, man,” Warbeck said, settling down in the seat. “Talk about close.”

Letting out a long breath, he stared at his new friend. There was dried blood caked under his eyes, nose and mouth, and the crimson fluid still dripped off his earlobes.

“Hell of a day, isn’t it?” said the raspy voice.

Warbeck shot him.

Taking the wheel, he jumped over the corpse and stomped the brake pedal. The van screeched to a halt, shuddered, and stalled.

Warbeck threw the body onto the sidewalk, then pressed his head against the wheel, his eyes closed. He sat that way a long time, until the footsteps roused him.

***

There were three of them: two men and a woman, all armed. Weapons pointed right at him.

“Keys out of the ignition,” the woman said.

Give me a break.

Right now,” the woman said.

Warbeck sighed. “This isn’t a very good idea.”

“And I’m all cut up about it. But we’re taking the vehicle.” She raised her .38 Colt Cobra, taking aim between his eyes.

“I’m warning you. It’s not very smart.”

“Stealing your ride?”

“Coming within three feet of me.”

In one fluid motion, he disarmed the woman and had the Cobra pointed in her face. As he thumbed back the hammer, her friends stood and watched, dumbfounded. Or maybe just dumb, Warbeck wasn’t sure yet.

“Ever fire a gun before?” he said. “You’ve got the safety on.”

The guys exchanged looks, then began checking their weapons. Warbeck’s threat alert level dropped to yellow.

“Listen,” he said. “You don’t want to be out on the street, right now. Where are you guys going?”

A confused look passed between them, as though he’d asked the question in Mandarin. Everything turns to shit, he thought, but these beanbags survive?

“Nowhere, especially,” the woman said.

“Always wanted to go there. Hop in, I’ll give you a ride.”

They hesitated.

“Do you even know what’s happening?”

“The whole town just went to hell,” she said, “in a beautiful fiery handcart.”

Warbeck exhaled.

“Got a place to stay?” he said.

***

Just by looking at the houses, Warbeck knew where he was. This was Student Town, where buildings were identified by hand-written signs, and plastic sheeting, intended to exclude drafts, covered the windows.

The woman’s name was Catriona, and her friends were Bobby and Johnny Boy, JB for short. They were studying Film And Media at the University, which explained a lot.

“It’s a really interesting course,” she said. “All about the historical, theoretical and analytical approach to film and media, within the broad context of humanistic studies.”

“Uh huh,” Warbeck said. “How much does it cost?”

“For one year, about thirteen grand. What do you do?”

“I’m a thief, too.”

They were quiet.

One of the guys, JB, said, “I think that was a joke.”

Their apartment was dark and smelled like a thrift store. The door only opened partway, but according to Bobby, that was the least of their problems.

“We can hear next door’s plumbing, the walls are so thin I know when my neighbour gets a text message and the wind makes the windows rattle, but aside from that, there’s also a ton of shitty workmanship. See, our landlord uses this maintenance guy who happens to be his cousin. When he put new pipes in, he left holes in the wall big enough to for vermin to get through.”

“The oven works, though, doesn’t it?”

“Except for the grill.”

“Then how about some food?”

“Is Ramen okay?”

Warbeck shook his head.

“What’s the plan?” Catriona said.

“You seem pretty well armed, for a bunch a book smart pussies. How’d you come by your weapons?”

“Our landlord,” Bobby said.

“Your landlord gave you guns?”

“Not really. We helped ourselves to his cache.”

“Which he just happened to have in his cellar, right?”

“He’s an End Times Republican.” Bobby shrugged. “Was, I mean. He’s playing for the other side now.”

“What kind of stuff are we talking?”

“I think he was stockpiling since 9/11. Everything he could get his hands on, save for a Sherman tank.”

“Show me,” Warbeck said.

***

The kid wasn’t lying.

When the light snapped on, Warbeck stared at handguns, assault rifles, hand grenades and rocket launchers, all covered in a fine layer of dust.

“Reminds me of that movie,” JB said. “The one where the trucks come to life and start circling this diner? Except they don’t know about the heavy artillery in the basement.”

“Musta missed that one,” Warbeck said.

“You worked out your plan yet?” Catriona said.

“I’m going back to the mall. I’m gonna find my friends, kill this Winston and bust every fast food eating motherfucker to pieces.”

They absorbed this.

“That might work,” JB said.

***

A few abandoned cars were the only evidence that anything had changed. They perched on the sidewalk or at the foot of embankments, no owners in sight.

“Doesn’t it seem odd to you that we haven’t seen another person?” Catriona said.

“Another normal person,” Warbeck said. “For all we know, we’re all that’s left.”

Bobby shrugged. “If we’re God’s idea of normal, then He has a cruel, cruel sense of humour.”

Warbeck’s cell lit up with an incoming call, and the screen showed Morgan’s number.

He answered, saying nothing.

“I won’t waste your time,” said the raspy voice, “and you won’t waste mine. Give yourself up. Surrender, or I’ll hunt you.”

“I have a problem with that,” Warbeck said. “I don’t work for others.”

“When I’m through with you, you’ll beg to serve me.”

He tossed the cell out the window.

“That was….creepy,” JB said.

“Was that your friend’s number?” Catriona said.

Warbeck said nothing.

“Then you better face facts. He’s gone.”

There was an ambulance at the side of the road, lights flashing.

“First one I’ve seen,” JB said. “Wanna check it out?”

Warbeck accelerated.

“Some other time, then?”

Catriona watched the ambulance shrink in the rear-view. “Coulda been the McCoy.”

“You were talking about facing facts,” Warbeck said. “Let’s do that. The next thing I see with two legs, I’m gonna kill it.”

They squealed around a curve and the battered, upturned remains of a sports car rose up in front of them. Warbeck braked, too late. The Ford ploughed into the wreck, fishtailed and tipped over, flipping across the asphalt.

A moment after the Ford came to rest, miraculously still on its wheels, the world went quiet. Warbeck’s ears popped. He coughed and spat, not knowing if he was hawking up blood.

He tried to rise but the world spun, wouldn’t focus. The last thing he saw before it all blurred together was the ambulance creeping towards them, lights flashing.

***

Warbeck came to with a crick in his neck and a stabbing pain in his back. The first thing he focused on was Morgan, sitting on the mattress. Farrow stood behind him, pacing.

JB was in the room, too, but you couldn’t have everything.

“Catriona and Bobby?” Warbeck said.

“Same as you,” Morgan said. “Beat to shit. They’ll be fine, but they’ve had better days. Doctors are patching ‘em up right now.”

“Doctors?”

“Yeah, we got all trades here. Doctors, mechanics, librarians. There’s even a trio of professional thieves, I’m told. All of them guests of our good buddy Winston.”

“You met him, huh? He pull that body-hopping shit on you?”

“He’s like the head Gremlin,” Farrow said. “The one with the white stripe. The rest won’t do shit unless Winston wants it done. And everyone who hasn’t fled or become one of them, Winston wants them alive. The more of us there are, the less likely the government is to give him shit when he issues his demands.”

“Demands?”

“He wants the town for him and his, uh, people. Wants to turn it into one giant fast food restaurant. Which, you never know, might be an improvement.”

“So what happens to us?”

Morgan shrugged. “What happens when you’re caught between an unstoppable force and an immoveable object?”

“You get the fuck out the way?”

“Exactly,” Morgan said. “Before you get crushed.”

***

Bobby and Catriona returned the next day, both affecting a fake limp. Whoever had fixed them up had given them good old steel crutches, which could be wielded like a club, should the need arise.

Not that the opportunity presented itself. For three days, they sat in the room, played cards and ate. The meals were regular, and the food was surprisingly good: pasta, fish, rice, fresh fruit and vegetables.

“This is what the zombies don’t eat,” Morgan said. “Anything that isn’t processed, they don’t want it.”

“If you force fed them Broccoli,” Warbeck said, “how d’you think they’d react?”

“No idea. Could be their Kryptonite.”

“Death by broccoli?” Farrow said. “That’d be interesting.”

On the fourth day, two zombies came and took Warbeck away. As they led him through the mall, he saw a Barnes & Noble, a Banana Republic and a Staples, all converted into living space for Winston’s ‘guests’. It was a different story in the food court, which was thick with zombies gorging themselves on high-calorie treats.

One of them sat alone at a far table laden with cookies, burgers, muffins and pizza. He paused, looked up, and the raspy voice told Warbeck to sit.

Then he was back at the trough.

“I’m fine, thanks,” Warbeck said. “You just go ahead and get yours.”

“Do you know what we are?”

“A mistake?”

“Ha! That’s pretty good. That’s exactly what we are. Creatures with nothing left except basic motor skills. Eating machines programmed to subsist on fast food.”

“Programmed?”

“We were the guinea pigs in a scheme sponsored by the fast food corporations. The plan was to create loyal consumers. But when it went to trial, it kind of got fucked up.”

“You don’t say.”

“Test subjects had a sophisticated piece of nano technology injected into their bodies. They thought they were receiving a free flu shot. It was supposed to attach itself to the central nervous system and send signals to the brain – images of products. Twenty-first century subliminal advertising, taking place right inside your skull. Unfortunately, and I don’t mean this to sound like a punchline, it wasn’t perfected yet.”

“Fried your brains, huh? That could ruin a person’s day.”

“All we live for now,” the voice said, “our only purpose, is to consume.”

“Even you?”

Especially me.”

“But you’re special. You’ve got that whole body-hopping thing going on. What are you, a ghost?”

“Just a man who prefers to remain out of sight. All my powers just…happened. As you can imagine, keeping the engine running takes huge amounts of energy.”

“I get it. If you didn’t get your junk food fix, you’d die.”

The man’s eyes narrowed.

“Relatively speaking, of course,” Warbeck said. “I bet if I found the man controlling that body, and put a bullet in his head, the zombies would all fall down, right?”

The man stared.

Grabbing cutlery, Warbeck lunged.

***

The weapon broke up in his fist.

“Dumb bastard,” the raspy voice said. “That’s a spork.”

He hit Warbeck in the face.

As Warbeck hit the ground, the man started kicking him. “I’ve. Had. Enough. Of. You.”

“You need me,” Warbeck said.

“Killing one won’t make any difference.”

He tried to rise, but the man put a knee in the small of his back. Rolling him over, he snapped cuffs on Warbeck’s wrists.

“Not so smart without a gun, are you?”

The man dragged him into the parking area and threw him against a Pontiac. He bounced and hit the ground, hard.

“If you’re gonna do it,” Warbeck said, “at least have the courtesy to do it next to a decent car. I don’t wanna go out looking at no fuckin’ Pontiac.”

“You sure? It’s an Aztek.”

“You dump me in that piece of shit, and I’m gonna come back and haunt you.”

“I wouldn’t leave your stinking body in here, trash. I don’t shit where I eat. I got something special planned for you. We’re gonna go upstairs, you and me, and I’m gonna throw you off the roof.”

“That ain’t so special,” Warbeck said.

“Maybe, but it’s all I got at short notice.”

“Shucks. And I never got to kill the real Winston.”

“You’ll get over it,” the man said, pushing him. “Get your ass in gear.”

“That’s a bad idea.”

“Pushing you?”

“Coming within three feet.”

Moving fast, he got behind the other man and slipped the chain around his throat. The slimy bastard tried to weasel his way out so Warbeck smashed his head against a pillar a few times, then a few times more for effect.

After the twentieth blow, it wasn’t fun anymore, so he let the man drop to the ground.

Patting down the body, he found the key, unlocked the cuffs and made his way back to the food court.

He was crossing the parking area when he felt someone watching. Looking up, he saw curtains twitch in an RV.

Checking the gun, Warbeck crossed to the vehicle and tried the handle. It clicked open, so he threw the door wide and stepped inside.

“Oh fuck,” Winston said.

***

Warbeck could see why he’d settled on that particular name. All babies were supposed to look like Winston Churchill, after all.

Except this one didn’t. Winston, the real Winston, looked more like a Krypt Kiddy doll. Blue skin, black lips and white eyes. No horns or bat wings, though.

“Figures you’d stay out of sight,” Warbeck said, “if you looked like the Antichrist.”

“Aw, suck a dick, you fucking homo.”

“How can someone so small have such a big mouth?”

“You wouldn’t understand if I told you.” As Winston reached for his cigarettes, Warbeck noted he wore a diaper, nothing else. “I’ve made quite an impression, for someone my age. How many new-borns d’you think could pull this shit off?”

He lit up, not bothering to offer the pack to Warbeck.

“Believe me,” he said, “it was a painful birth. Just ask my mother. Oh wait, you can’t. She’s fucking dead.”

“She was one of the guinea pigs, huh?”

“Bingo. That shit must’ve fried her brains as I came out because, as you see, there were certain complications.”

“Why all the hostages?”

Winston blew a smoke ring. “You think I wanted any of this? If those corporate motherfuckers hadn’t been so greedy, none of this would’ve happened. But whaddya know? Shit got fucked and here we stand.”

“You gonna back down?”

“No. And neither will you.”

“Guess I’m gonna have to kill you then.”

Someone racked a shotgun. Warbeck saw a woman in a business suit, advancing on them.

“I was thinking the same thing,” Winston said.

***

Before the woman could fire, Warbeck jumped inside and closed the door. He got behind the wheel and turned the key.

“Are we nearly there yet?” Winston said.

Warbeck stomped the accelerator.

The E-Z Ryder was all smoke and no poke. It moved out of the parking bay like a turd from a dead dog’s ass, even with the pedal to the metal.

The woman stepped up to the RV and fired, blowing out the windshield. Her next shot peppered the hood. She fired again as they dawdled past, taking out a side window.

“Read the signs, bitch,” Winston said. “Baby on board.”

Warbeck kept his foot down and, just when they didn’t need to, they began picking up speed. Struggling to negotiate the downward ramp, he swung the wheel right, too late, and the RV hit the crash barrier, rebounded and began rocking on its wheels. Hitting the foot of the ramp, Warbeck spun the wheel furiously, turning the vehicle in an arc its body couldn’t support.

The shotgun side rose up in the air.

The RV tipped over, skating several feet on its side before coming to rest with its bumper nudging the far wall.

Warbeck jumped out, hauling ass across the concrete. The shotgun flared once. Pain flared up his right side and he fell, rolling across the ground.

The woman closed in, racking the shotgun.

“Do you want me to beg?” Warbeck said.

“That time has passed.

He aimed at the RV’s fuel tank.

“Crap,” the raspy voice said.

The tank exploded, blowing the woman out of a window as Warbeck rolled underneath a Ford. Flames licked across the vehicle’s body, missing him completely.

Seconds later, the sprinklers kicked in.

Warbeck got to his feet.

The RV was a smouldering, blackened ruin. He kicked it a couple of times, then shuffled into the staircase and examined his injury.

Pellet wounds sprinkled his leg, ankle to hip. It didn’t bleed too bad, and didn’t look that formidable, but still stung like a motherfucker.

Hopping, he returned to the food court. He had him an appetite for some good old American junk food.

Part 9

You’ve reached the end of COME THE NIGHT, but read on for a preview of Duane Bradley’s latest book

MIDNIGHT SPOOKSHOW

****

The trouble with this business of watching movies is that, sooner or later, you’ll encounter the people that watch films not for fun, but to admire.

You know the type: they have PhDs and MAs, use big words and probably shook Jean-Luc Goddard’s hand one time. In their circle, you’re obliged to say that you loved Francois Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows), but if you start talking about monster movies, they’ll look at you as though you just asked them to pull your finger.

Truffaut’s movie may have helped start the French New Wave, but if you want a trend-setting movie with teenage leads, you need look no further than The Blob. Not only is this the archetypal movie about kids saving their town from a monster from space, but it features the King Of Cool himself, Steve McQueen, in his first starring role.

It’s McQueen’s only creature feature, and while he elevates a cheaply made, B-grade sci-fi movie, he’s not the whole show. There’s also a terrific theme song (co-written by Burt Bacharach) and besides, who doesn’t want to see killer Jell-O attacking a cinema?

You can call The Blob schlock if you like or a guilty pleasure if you must, but most critics refer to it as “bad”, a term that Ernest Mathijs and Jamie Sexton, writing in Cult Cinema: An Introduction, define as “poor and distasteful filmmaking.”

As Woody Allen might quip, “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Not only are “bad” films fun to watch, but the behind the scenes stories are fascinating. On the set of Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf, director Philippe Mora, shooting in Soviet-controlled Prague, was constantly yelling “Clit!” – the Czech word for “shut up” – at his local crew. When the werewolf suits arrived, Mora realized they weren’t specially commissioned wolf costumes, like he’d asked for, they were ape suits left over from Planet Of The Apes. Phoning the producers in a blind panic, he explained he couldn’t be expected to substitute apes for lycanthropes. “People might notice the difference,” he said.

The film’s star, Christopher Lee, jokingly proposed a solution: he’d give a speech where he explained that men transformed into apes before becoming werewolves. Mora declined, and all the werewolf scenes were shot later in the production – using cheap-looking rubber masks.

A well-rounded cinematic diet needs “bad” films just as surely as it needs Truffaut. Probably more so, because they’re in English and feature ninjas, rubber monsters and cheerleaders who can do things with a baton you wouldn’t believe.

This book exists for one reason only – to increase your enjoyment of films that most others would belittle. In these pages, amongst the Mexican wrestling films and Filipino monster movies, you’ll find pictures about brain-sucking parasites, ninja exorcists and talking sandwiches.

If you’ve ever looked at the AFI Top 100 with dismay, you’re in the right place. Here are a hundred alternatives to all those “prestigious” films you were never going to watch, and probably wouldn’t care for if you did.

Anyway, enough already….

HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995)

“The Shape is dead,” John Carpenter told Twilight Zone Magazine in 1982. “Donald Pleasance’s character is dead, too, unfortunately.”

Such rumours turned out to be greatly exaggerated because here they are for the fifth time, and it’s like they never went away. Dr Loomis may be a little slower but he’s still a raving lunatic, while Michael once again slaughters teens who’ve decided to poke the possum in his house on Halloween night after a thunderstorm has knocked out the power. We always wondered whether Mikey worked one day a year as part of a welfare scam or because he was contractually obliged to leave Friday The 13th, April Fools’ Day, Prom Night, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, Graduation Day etc free for his colleagues, but it turns out he was all along being manipulated by Mitch Ryan, the drinking man’s Chuck Heston, and his band of merry druids. Ryan, perhaps not coincidentally, was also Gary Busey’s boss in Lethal Weapon, so as the Personification of All That Is Evil, he’s pretty well-cast.

Just so we’re clear, though, these are not the druids of Iron Age Britain, who worshipped trees and (supposedly) performed human sacrifices, these are Hollywood Bullshit Druids, who live in an ultra-secret underground bunker accessible only through an unlocked and unguarded door marked ‘Maximum Security’, dress like Emperor Palpatine and contact Michael using their very own Bat Signal – a constellation of stars that only appears on October 31st. The constellation is in the shape of a thorn, so the symbol is tattooed on the wrist of every member, including Myers, something every previous and future movie forgets to mention.

Ryan is the Man In Black that sprung Mikey from jail at the end of Halloween 5, and it turns out they also kidnapped Jamie, his nine-year-old niece. You remember Jamie, don’t you? There’s a touching scene in Part 5 where Myers is attempting to slice and dice her but she calls him “Uncle”, so he stops. Then she tells him to take off the mask, and he does. As she looks on his true face for the first time, she strokes his cheek, causing him to cry….then Dr Loomis drops a net over the sumbitch and starts beating him with a length of two-by-four, which sorta ruined the moment for us.

Anyway, Jamie, who is now fifteen, is first shown giving birth and if you watch the “legendary” Producer’s Cut, it’s strongly hinted that Michael is the father. When we say ‘strongly hinted’, we mean someone pops the paternity question to his face (or mask, whatever) and Myers, being Myers, says nothing. Because he’s Michael Myers. Who says nothing. So the question is left hanging, which to our way of thinking is A Good Thing. All those dark undercurrents, you know?

Also, without wanting to dwell on the subject too much, we doubt The Shape is really a family albums and PTA meetings kind of guy. He likely doesn’t do picnics and birthdays and such and would be a lousier parent than Michael Jackson. Still, at least you know he’ll be around.

364 days a year, in fact.

So Jamie is killed by cult members that want the baby for….oh, some reason, but it ends up with a tall, slender redhead whose best friends are a short girl and a stoner who says “like”, “dude” and “cool” a lot (what is this, Scooby Doo! Where Are You?). They know a creepy old woman who, as lightning flashes across her face, tells them she was babysitting Michael the night he heard “The Voice” and killed his sister. Then another flash of lightning reveals Myers standing at the window. Tres spooky, non?

Turns out that the redhead is living in the old Myers house, and she and her mom are the only ones who didn’t know. Mom, by the way, is played by Kim Darby, who’s a loooong way from True Grit and The Grissom Gang, and it’s sad to see someone who once worked for Henry Hathaway and Robert Aldrich reduced to a movie directed by the guy that shot new scenes for Hellraiser: Bloodline. Fortunately, her character is married to the kind of overbearing prick you can’t wait to see get despatched, so her demeaning role is at least balanced with watching an asshole get electrocuted until his head explodes.

It all leads to a (cough) white-knuckle finale at the druids’ top-secret, ultra-secure, impenetrable hideaway, where a bunch of stuff happens. Bad people get punished, good people escape, you know the drill. Then Pleasance wanders off to confront Ryan, but since that scene ended up on the cutting room floor (trust us, you ain’t missing much), all that’s left are Pleasance’s dubbed-in screams as the movie fades out.

One shouldn’t mock the afflicted, but Halloween 6 is kinda like watching a Nazi biker attempt to explain Mein Kampf to a masturbating chimpanzee – indefensible, but also weirdly compelling in its own twisted way.


Come The Night

  • ISBN: 9781370876822
  • Author: Ian Watson
  • Published: 2016-10-18 12:20:10
  • Words: 16765
Come The Night Come The Night