Salt Lake Comic Con!

Red-01[1]Cold Fusion Media will have a dealers table at Salt Lake Comic Con today, tomorrow and Saturday. Come by, say hi, and browse our wares! SLCC is also a terrific occasion to see (and get autographs from) many authors involved in previous Cold Fusion Media books, including Larry Correia, D.J Butler, Paul Genesse, Michaelbrent Collings, Howard Tayler, Peter Orullian, Dan Wells, Carter Reid, Robert J Defendi, Eric James Stone, David J. West, and Brad R. Torgersen!

SHARED NIGHTMARES Sneak Peek: “Health and Wellness” by Dan Wells

cover - ebook 2We are so hungry.

A man gets up from his bed; it’s a small apartment in Manhattan—one kitchen, one bathroom, and one bedroom shared between two roommates. The walls are hung with posters of women and motorcycles, and the floor and table are littered with old food wrappers, cans of soda pop and beer, and some undetermined number of computers in various states of disassembly. Maybe they’re radios. We recognize their basic function, but their specific purpose eludes us. Perhaps when they’re put back together.

The man stumbles to the bathroom and pulls on a string, turning on a lightbulb that hangs uncovered from the center of the ceiling. “I had the most wonderful dream,” says the man. The other man, still in his bed, puts his arm across his eyes to block the light, and says nothing. “I was back in Lahore,” says the man in the bathroom. He grips the edges of the sink and stares into the mirror, as if he can see the images in front of him. “I was with that girl, the one from UET that I used to have a crush on. Do you remember her?”

“Shut up, Arjun,” says the man in bed. “It’s five o’clock in the morning.”

“Kalindee,” says Arjun. “She was wearing a blue sari, with gold trim and red birds that seemed to peek out of the folds of the fabric. One here, one here, and one here.” He touches his chest with his finger. “I remember them perfectly. And then she looked at me and she laughed, a happy laugh, like we were old friends, and she took my hand and her skin was soft and smooth as cream.”

“Kalindee talked to you once,” said the man in bed, “in her entire life.” He smiles, his wide mouth visible beside the arm that still covers his eyes. “She called you a fool and asked if you were following her.”

“We were married, Muhammad,” says the man in the bathroom. He pulls on the edge of the mirror and it opens, revealing a medicine cabinet sparsely filled with band-aids and painkillers and battered cans of shaving cream. “We lived in a small house, in a… damn it, why do dreams fade so quickly?” He takes a plastic box from the shelf, the edges rounded like a giant lozenge. “A small house in… well, in Lahore, somewhere by UET, in our same old neighborhood I think, because I recognized the streets, but it was a house, not an apartment.” He frowns. “I think it was a house.”

“Get to the good part before you forget it,” says Muhammad. “Was she good in bed?”

Arjun whirls to yell at him, brandishing the plastic box like a weapon, but as he shouts the first angry syllable the box flies from his hand, hits the wall with an audible crack, and then bounces off the sink on its way to the floor. “Damn it,” he says again.

“What was that?” asks Muhammad, sitting up in his bed.

“I dropped my dispenser,” says Arjun, kneeling to pick it up. “It’s cracked…”

………………..

Read the rest of this story and eleven more nightmare-inspired tales in Shared Nightmaresavailable now!

 

SHARED NIGHTMARES Sneak Peek: “The Quality of Light is Not Strain’d” by Peter Orullian

cover - ebook 2It’s morning. Before dawn. You like to get to the lake early, when its surface is a broad mirror. Glassy smooth. The air is chill, but you like that, too. It feels like anticipation. A whole new day is ahead. And you enjoy the way the lake fogs appear and eventually lift when the sun hits the cold water.

You find your spot on the bank of the small, remote lake. No reeds here to tangle your fishing line. And you’ve had good luck here before. Carefully, you thread a worm onto your fishhook. But before you cast, the early morning stillness breaks. Footsteps on the old dock. Less than a good cast from here.

No one comes to this lake. This spot.

A cry echoes out across the lake. A loon?

Quietly, you sit up and peer over the reeds. In morning’s half-light you see the shape of a man walking the weathered boards of the dock. Slow steps. In oiled workboots. The dock groans. Rusty nails creak. The water ripples outward in tiny waves. Disturbing the glazed water.

The man carries no pole. And the dock is old. Very old. No boat or canoe is tethered there. But the man does have something in his arms.

And your eight-year-old heart begins to pound in your chest.

You would run from here, but the man would hear you.

So, you stay. And watch. And wait…

***

John leaned against the front of his ’72 Ford F250 and looked east toward dawn. Still a few minutes away. From the cab, his Clarion deck played a guitar song after a baroque fashion. He had some Linkin Park in the truck. Some funk, too. But not here. Not his spot. Far from the crowds. High on a long plain of sage. He’d come to relax, to await sunrise. A whole new day ahead.

He traced the aureate rim across the mountains east and the fade of blue toward violet above him. The air was mild, windless. The ground smelled wet with dew. A renewing scent. He came to this secluded spot to be alone. To take in the patient, uncomplicated way of things he only seemed to find here. To get away from mid-terms—art and music double major. And to burn away images that crept up from sleep.

Casting his gaze around, he started at the sudden sight of a stooped figure standing thirty paces to his right and looking toward the same promise of dawn.

“Didn’t think anyone else got up early enough to watch the old disk float up, huh?” the old man said, still facing east.

John said nothing, staring at the man in surprise. The old fellow’s beard fell halfway down his chest, and his knees were crooked. Even from thirty paces away, the lines at the corners of the old man’s eyes and mouth were deep furrows. His back had a soft bend as if he’d never been offered a seat. But his face had a patient, bland look to it. And the slope of his stance made John think of the comfortable way one reclines in a hammock…

………………..

Read the rest of this story and eleven more nightmare-inspired tales in Shared Nightmaresavailable now!

 

SHARED NIGHTMARES Sneak Peek: “U.I.” by Howard Tayler

cover - ebook 2She looks like one of Sedgwick’s neo-fey things, you know? Reptilian humanoid, digitigrade legs, smooth scales like a snake, and just as sexy as those elves that Wilson designed. Lithe, graceful, and dressed in a white half-tee and skin-tight black compression shorts. Oh, and she’s got a knife in one hand. Anyway, she’s brand new, and disturbingly hawt so I totally forget to throw a wardstone. I whip my Mossberg up, and sure enough, the reptilian fey-lady is on top of me before I can fire.

My Turtleskin vest stops her knife, but she’s shoved the Mossberg aside where it’s useless. I pull the trigger anyway, and the shotgun’s report is an explosion just a foot away from my face. Hers, too, lucky me. Repto-elf leaps away from me, screaming, and I see she’s bleeding from one of her ears.

I pump the shotgun and snug it up into my shoulder. Now that I’ve got the barrel pointing in the right direction I can’t miss. And just as I’m putting the bead on that scaly bitch something punches me in the back. Something hot.

A spear point, shimmering with magical fire, bursts out of my chest. A stick of butter would have made better body armor. My hands go numb almost instantly, but I don’t drop the Mossberg. I can still squeeze off a shot, and maybe I’ll get lucky. There’s a trauma phial in my pocket and—

Whatever’s holding the spear lifts me off the ground with it and shakes me. The shotgun goes flying, my coat is whipping up around my face, and I think I’ve got my own arterial blood splashing up into my nose. Then I hit the asphalt, and the rough, blood-spattered pavement is all I can focus on before everything goes dark.

***

“Totally killed me, man. And yeah, it was intense.”

“I bet. Anyway, congratulations. You’re dreaming the game. Now the real work begins. Did you write it up?”

“Not yet. I’m more used to writing up defects.”

“This isn’t a defect, obviously. Log this in Q-Case, and tell the story. And be sure to include as much detail as you can on that reptilian fey chick.”

“You like my design?”

“Actually, I want to run it past Sedgwick and see if he’s already built something like it.”

“Oh. That makes sense. I probably caught a glimpse of that in an image library, and then inserted it into my dream.”

“Right. Most importantly, though, before you head home this evening, get the latest build of the Player’s Quest Log onto your tablet, and then take the tablet with you to bed.”

“…”

“Seriously. Put it on the nightstand. Now that you’re dreaming the game, you need to log these things the moment you wake up.”

“Oh. Right. No problem.”

***

I used to wonder why they’d put an old-fashioned cube farm in a video game. Sure, it’s retro, but not in a good way. People played these games to get out of the cube farms, right? Well, I’m running through a cube farm now, and I totally get it. Wish fulfillment. We don’t just want to escape the cubes. We want to transform them, and nothing transforms fabric-walled office cubes like a flamethrower…

………………..

Read the rest of this story and eleven more nightmare-inspired tales in Shared Nightmaresavailable now!

SHARED NIGHTMARES Sneak Peek: “The Damnation of St. Teresa of Ávila” by Marie Brennan

cover - ebook 2They were on the road from Burgos to Alba de Tormes when she fell ill. The men who escort her were careful not to mutter where she could hear; they knew she would chide them for it. She had suffered worse than the rain which poured down on them unceasing, worse than an archbishop who summoned an old woman miles across Spain and then turned her away. She had endured excommunication, the Inquisition, and sixty-seven years of life. This was merely the latest and least of her trials.

But they did mutter where she could not hear. They were not as holy as she, not as generous of spirit. They resented her ill treatment when it was merely an insult; when her brow heated and she began to cough, they did more than resent it. In low voices they blamed the archbishop and the noblewoman who called for the most revered of nuns to attend her in childbed. The infant was already born when they arrived; once again, she had been brought all this way for nothing.

Not for nothing: that was what she would have said, if she knew of their complaints. God brought her here for a purpose.

God brought her here to die.

She was too ill to be moved, burning up with fever. By the night of October 4th, they knew her end was near. Her last words, whispered to her confessor, were: “My Lord, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my Lord and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It is time to meet one another.”

She was dead come the following morning: October 15th, anno Domini 1582.

The night of her death lasted for ten days.

***

Not since the great illness of her youth has she known such suffering.

Fever permeates her body like a stain, seeping into every fiber of her being. She cannot move her limbs without pain, cannot swallow without agony, cannot even draw breath without that gentle movement jarring her head and making her vision swim. Lying prostrate in her narrow bed, she floats on a sea of fire. The recollection comes to her dimly of a holy man she had admired very much—she cannot recollect his name through the haze—whose response to great cold was to take off his cloak and open the door and window of his tiny cell. He did this, he told her, so that his body might enjoy the meagre increase of warmth when he closed the portals once more. She would emulate him if she could, but she cannot think how she might increase the heat from which she suffers. Perhaps there is a fireplace in the room?

It is foolish of her to lie in bed thus, and so to neglect her duties to God. Has she not learned again and again the futility of giving comfort to her body? She has never fared better than when she ignored her physical wellbeing and turned her thoughts only to the Sacred Humanity, whose suffering was so much greater than her own…

………………..

Read the rest of this story and eleven more nightmare-inspired tales in Shared Nightmaresavailable now!

SHARED NIGHTMARES Sneak Peek: “What Hellhounds Dream” by Steven Diamond

cover - ebook 2I don’t have dreams. I survive them.

It’s been nearly forty years since I made a deal with a crossroads demon and became her hellhound. You have to understand that I was in way over my head at the time, barely treading water. Dying. I still remember that day like a reflection in a still pond. You know, when the surface is like glass in the early morning. You have to understand this part, otherwise none of the rest will make sense.

 ***

I’d been shot twice, once in the leg, and the other in the stomach. Gut shot. I was leaking blood like a faucet, and those that had done the shooting were on my obvious trail. All of this for witnessing a drug deal. Looking back on it, I suppose it’s hard to blame them. Had I survived, I would have brought the whole mess down on them just by being able to identify them.

’Course, I survived.

They didn’t.

I couldn’t tell you how I made it as far as I did. When I finally collapsed, my body running on the fumes of what little blood was still in me, I was on my back in the middle of a road. A crossroads, it turns out.

There wasn’t anything I could do except lie there and wait for my pursuers to find me and kill me. I think at that point I’d just about given up. Next thing I know, standing above me is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Her hair was as white as snow, and cut real short. That normally wasn’t the type of thing I went for, but on her… well, let’s just say I felt every last drop of my remaining blood flowing hot through my veins.

Her eyes seemed all black, and at first I thought it was just that I was near-dead and it being dark and all. Nope. They were all black, no whites. Once I fully took in that tiny detail, that hot blood went ice-cold.

“Looks like you’re in a smidge of a mess, hon,” she said. Lord, but her voice sounded amazing. “You and I need to have ourselves a discussion, I think. You fancy you can stay conscious for a few minutes?”

“People… after me… catch up… soon.” At least that’s how I think I sounded. It could have been a slight more rough.

“Don’t worry about them, hon,” she patted me on the cheek. Gently. Her skin was smooth and cool. “Where we are at, nothing can get to us if I don’t want it to. No, don’t ask. You keep your breath. Right now it’s better suited inside you than out. Turns out, Mr. Jericho Falls, that you landed in my crossroads, and the blood you’re spilling summoned me. Lucky you. Probably.”

“My name…?” I managed.

She smiled at me, and all I wanted to do was lean up and kiss her. Her canines looked just a bit longer and sharper than they should. “Your blood tells quite a story, Jericho. It tells me all I need to know about you. Name. Family. Past. Present. It even tells me a bit of your futures. That was plural on purpose…”

………………..

Read the rest of this story and eleven more nightmare-inspired tales in Shared Nightmares,available now!

SHARED NIGHTMARES Sneak Peek: “To Dream Awake, to Sleep the Real” by Michaelbrent Collings

cover - ebook 2So many people think that dreams die when you wake up.

The reality is this: the dreams begin with waking eyes. It’s just that those dreams aren’t necessarily the good ones.

This was what Booker Nyx knew well, and what he had thought many times in the years since he had married. His wedding stood out in sharp lines and stark, bright colors. A series of moments so real and so clear that they could be nothing but reality, nothing but truth. The flowers, the dancing, the wine, the song. The cake that tasted so sweet and felt so sticky when Lyssa smeared it all over his face and then shoved some up his nose for good measure. The drive home, slow because he was a bit buzzed but still moving as fast as he dared because he wanted to be alone with his bride, the woman who had, for some unknown and unknowable reason, agreed to be Mrs. Nyx.

They made love. They whispered.

A beautiful time. Eyes half-shut in that place reserved solely for those most in love—or perhaps for those most insane, which might be one and the same. Dreamless, every moment experienced to the last atom of its reality. And that is, indeed, the definition of insanity: to understand the world so perfectly that the rest of the universe looks askance. They think you strange, they whisper about you in the dark. They fear you, and what you have.

Booker Nyx started to think he might be insane, early on in his marriage. Perhaps not merely in love, but mad.

Two people, passing through life, eyes half-shut. Existing with one foot in dream, and the other in a place where the world was seen as it truly was: a place of magic, and wonder, and light, and infinite possibility.

Yes, madness, to be sure.

Then the children came. The eyes drifted fully open. The madness disappeared and the dreams began.

Eyes always open when children arrive. There are simply too many things to guard against for a good parent to allow half-closed eyes. That, Booker realized, was why so many parents fall out of love when the children come. They stepped out of the reality of magic and infinite possibility and into the dreamland that came with sleep deprivation and midnight feedings and so many smelly diapers that you took the stench with you everywhere you went. They moved from a place where they heard what was (silence, broken by the real sounds of lovers whispering as raindrops pattered rhythms on the roof) to what might be (ghost cries of a baby who wasn’t really awake, but whom you feared would be awakened by the thunderous crashing of raindrops on the roof).

The children opened Booker’s eyes. They made him tired. He was awake, but dreaming. The dreams killed the beautiful reality.

Lyssa turned from lover to mother. No longer his, but theirs. And though she insisted he was one of the people that still mattered, he knew it wasn’t true. His eyes were open, he was dreaming, and in this dream as in so many others he was always running toward what he wanted but never really making progress…

………………..

Read the rest of this story and eleven more nightmare-inspired tales in Shared Nightmares, available now!

 

 

Fresh for Cyber-Monday: SHARED NIGHTMARES!

cover - ebook 2Available NOW for your reading pleasure — Shared Nightmares! Twelve authors— including New York Times bestseller Larry Correia, #1 Amazon bestseller Michaelbrent Collings, Prometheus Award winner Sarah Hoyt, Campbell Award nominee Max Gladstone, and Hugo nominee Howard Tayler—take you to the dark side of the dream world, where phantasms and fears become frighteningly real.

Contents:
“Father’s Day” by Larry Correia
“Dreamcatcher” by Sarah Hoyt
“Incubation” by D.J. Butler
“The Devil On My Shoulder” by Tom Lloyd
“Onnen” by Paul Genesse
“To Dream Awake, to Sleep the Real” by Michaelbrent Collings
“What Hellhounds Dream” by Steven Diamond
“The Damnation of St. Teresa of Ávila” by Marie Brennan
“Man in the Middle” by Max Gladstone
“U.I.” by Howard Tayler
“The Quality of Light is Not Strain’d” by Peter Orullian
“Health and Wellness” by Dan Wells

Print available for $12.99 at Amazon.com

Ebook for $2.99 at Amazon.com or Smashwords

SHARED NIGHTMARES Sneak Peek: “Onnen” by Paul Genesse

cover - ebook 2Kyoto, Heian Era Japan, 968 A.D.

The body of my infant daughter, Ayumi, is buried in the Emperor’s tea garden beneath a hinoki cypress tree. The men who murdered her did not want to carry a crying baby all the way to the river after she awakened in the darkness of the hot summer night. She must have woken from her blissful dreams because the men’s sandals crunched so loudly on the gravel in the palace courtyard. The instant Ayumi realized she was not in my arms she let out a panicked cry sending that sharp pain every mother knows stabbing through my heart.

I tried to look at her, give her comfort, but she could not see me as a rough hand clamped over her mouth and began to suffocate her. I screamed and begged for her life, but the men had gagged and bound me when they took Ayumi and me out of our room in the courtesan’s quarters.

She’s just a baby. I begged with my eyes for the man to stop smothering her. He ignored my silent plea, and tightened his hand over her face. Her little arms flailed, then slowed, and finally stopped. He held her tiny body up for me to see, as if I were to blame for what he had done. Her head hung limp, her lips blue. My worst fear had come to pass. I wished I could have changed places with her, sacrificed my life so she could live.

The men stopped and her killer dug a shallow hole under a tree. Numb and in disbelief, I watched him bury Ayumi. The man didn’t even bother to cover her face with a blanket. He piled dirt over her bare skin, then tamped down her grave with his sandal.

When I think of Ayumi now, I smell freshly turned earth and the woodsy-sage of cypress leaves.

I left my infant daughter’s grave when the men picked me up roughly and dragged me away. My hands were bound behind my back as they forced me to walk and we left the palace enclosure through the servant gate. They kept to the darkest and most deserted streets of Kyoto and bore no lanterns. Even if the night watchmen saw us, they would not stop servants bearing the seal of the Imperial Regent, Michinaga Fujiwara.

I could not understand why this was happening. Michinaga loved me more than his wives and concubines, and treasured Ayumi above all his children. I was his favorite courtesan and he had said I would join his family and become his third wife. I was the Lady Ryoko of the Sugawara family, not some common whore to be discarded in the middle of the night.

A dog’s sudden bark caught my attention. I caught a glimpse of white fur and remembered Ayumi playing with the tiny brown-faced puppy. Ayumi had laughed and giggled as the dog licked her fingers and toes. Now I would never hear Ayumi laughing again. Tears poured from my eyes, and despite my gag, I mewled and cried.

“Quiet. Or I’ll beat you bloody.” A man with cheap sake on his breath whispered in my ear, but I could not stop. His fist struck my face and crushed my delicate nose. I tasted blood as it gushed down the back of my throat. Stunned and choking, I muffled my sobs, the tears soaking into my disheveled hair…

………………..

Read the rest of this story and eleven more nightmare-inspired tales in Shared Nightmares, coming soon!

 

SHARED NIGHTMARES Sneak Peek: “The Devil on My Shoulder” by Tom Lloyd

cover - ebook 2I wish I had insomnia. It’d make everything so much easier. Sure, there are drawbacks, but there are drawbacks to everything.

I open my eyes and blink. There’s a stack of cheap plastic bins stacked up in front of me and in my hand is a mop, the head wrapped in cellophane. For some reason I seem to have been contemplating buying it, though I’ve never mopped a floor in my life. I look up and there’s an anxious Pakistani gentleman peering at me through the shop window, probably afraid that I’m about to do a runner and steal his mop. Do people do that? I mean, I know round here the thieves are mostly junkies, but would even they bother? It’s a mop. The price tag says £5 but who’d even bother?

I’ve seen a few armed robberies in this area and our thieves are indeed the dumbest fucking animals you ever ran across. Half get seen off by staff and passers-by because they don’t even know what to do with the weapons they brought. They can’t afford baseball bats, let alone guns, so it’s any piece of wood they picked up on the way, once even a plastic juggler’s club. That guy got pole-axed by a sixty-year-old bundle of Jamaican rage with a handbag—still the best thing I’ve ever seen, before and after losing my virginity.

Okay, so the other half tends to fuck people up pretty badly because they do have the first clue about which end of the hammer you hit people with, but the dumb ones are a fun distraction for the devil on my shoulder so I try to keep a lookout for robberies.

I put the mop down and turn around. I think it’s Tuesday, but it’s one of those dull autumn days where you can’t even tell if it’s morning or afternoon. The rain’s barely bothering to come down, it mostly seems to be hanging in the air so people walking under umbrellas still get it in the face. There’s a Chinese restaurant across the road and the tables look empty so maybe it’s early. I can smell something in the air, faintly sour and overripe, but the car fumes render it little more than a ghost scent.

The restaurant doesn’t have a name, or rather doesn’t have one I can read. There’s just a white sign with some characters in black; shiny and new but apparently not wanting to encourage customers too much by having a name most can read. Having met a few landlords round here, I’m not surprised. Half the shops are just fronts, tax write-offs and somewhere to launder the off-the-books cash they get in.

I look down. At least I’m wearing shoes today. It doesn’t matter if I’m asleep or awake; bare feet in a street where students puke and drop bottles most nights is never fun. Something niggles and I look harder. Those aren’t my shoes. At least I don’t think they are. I’m pretty sure, anyway. That doesn’t mean I didn’t buy them, I guess. They don’t look new so I could have picked them up in a charity shop. Let’s just say I don’t remember buying them. That happens a lot…

………………..

Read the rest of this story and eleven more nightmare-inspired tales in Shared Nightmares, coming soon!