Come on over to the Facebook launch page for games, giveaways and prizes! The more people who attend and participate, the more stuff given away!
It’s Christmas in July! Coming July 24, the official launch of The Last Christmas Gift: A Heartwarming Holiday Tale of the Living Dead.
Malcolm’s grandfather is his best friend.
So when Granpap dies on Christmas Eve, Malcolm desperately tries to bring him back by using the cursed fetish doll that Malcolm’s father sent him before disappearing in Vietnam.
But he does something wrong. Granpap revives — but so does everyone in the cemetery across the street…
There’s an official launch event at Facebook, and you’re all invited! Contests and prizes and oodles of fun!
Time for another giveaway! Since this summer will see the release of the second Cheap Caffeine cartoon collection, this giveaway is for one of three SPECIAL SKETCH EDITIONS of the first collection, Ethnic Albanians Need Not Apply!
The Goodreads giveaway for Levels was so much fun, we’re doing it for Shared Nightmares too! Just enter to have a chance to win one of two paperback copies of this horror anthology!
Thanks to reader Amy, who noticed some formatting problems with the print edition of Levels. Those problems have been corrected, and the new-and-improved version should be on sale at Amazon shortly.
(Those who bought the problematic version? It’s now a rare collector’s item!!1!)
If you’re detail-oriented (or obsessive), you may have noticed that, while Levels is listed as having seventeen stories, only sixteen story excerpts have shown up here. That’s not a mistake; one story, “Special Guest Stars,” is a flash-fiction piece, and a five-hundred-word excerpt would contain the entire story. Gotta preserve some mystery, you know.
The doctor’s waiting room smell like toilet bowl cleaner. Meredith sat uncomfortably in a chair molded from plastic, cushioned with a thin layer of synthetic rust-colored material the texture of burlap and bolted to three identical chairs before the row was broken by a featureless table on which were strewn a handful of magazines. There were more seats beyond that, and an identical arrangement on the opposite side of the room. The hands of the clock on the far wall said 10:24 A.M.
She had no intention of touching the magazines, all of which looked well-thumbed and at least two months old. Handling the pages that had been groped for weeks by the sweaty, coughed-upon hands of sick people… The idea gave her a queasy shudder in her abdomen. She had no reading material with her, and there was no TV or radio in the waiting room. She stared at her fingernails. They weren’t very entertaining.
On the other side of the magazine table sat an old man in black cargo pants and a black safari jacket. His arms were crossed over his stomach and he leaned forward, rocking slightly. Meredith hoped those weren’t the signs of nausea. He was more than old, she realized; he was very old. The hair sprouting from his ears was almost thicker than the few strands stubbornly clinging to his spotty scalp, and his eyes were lost in a corduroy sea of wrinkles. His lips were moving but made no sound.
Across from Meredith sat a chubby woman with an infant in her arms, swaddled so completely it might have been wearing a baby burqa. The woman was peering into the blanketed bundle, her unconscious smile waxing and waning. Some people are endlessly fascinated by their own offspring. Meredith had no children, so she didn’t know if she was one of those people, but she suspected she was not. Still, a baby had to be more interesting than fingernails.
The thin older lady in the far corner of the room was the only one browsing a magazine, although from the severe way she flipped the pages she seemed more to be judging the contents and finding them wanting. Her squarish glasses were the size of cathode ray tubes, her makeup was precise and meticulous, and her hair was dyed strawberry blonde to hide the gray and hairsprayed back into a simple straight style. For a moment, Meredith entertained the notion that it was actually the woman’s hair that smelled like toilet cleaner.
The only sounds in the room were the constant electrical hum of the clock and the fluorescent lights, and breathing: the old man’s shallow breaths punctuated by the consonants of his silent monologue, the wordless cooing of the chubby woman to her baby, the dismissive snort from the thin woman’s nose as she flipped the pages of the magazine. Meredith couldn’t hear her own breath along with the other three occupants in the room; was she really that silent a breather? Or do people learn to tune out the sound of their own breath? Experimentally she inhaled more deeply, and was rewarded with the soft whish of air passing up her nostrils, and a tickle of dust. She rubbed her nose with the back of her hand and set it back in her lap…
Malachi and his partners met the Ruk caravan at the trading hill outside the village, after a single Ruk, sweating and nervous, had come as herald into the village square to announce their approach and then scrabbled away as fast as his bandy legs could carry him. The hill was far enough away from the village to be hidden by the rolling land, though it was no secret where the village lay; one only had to follow the wagon ruts back from the trading hill, as the lone herald Ruk had done. But mutant tribes were never invited into a village of the Pure, not with rumors and reports of maidens spirited away by various mutant caravans to help keep those deformed races alive.
And then there was the fact that Ruks stank. Malachi steeled himself and kept from flinching as a Ruk from the caravan, evidently its trade captain, climbed to the crest of the trading hill and bowed. He was dressed, like all those in the caravan, in a plain tunic of scavenged fabric that reach to his knobby knees, and as the wind changed, the smell of him caught Malachi like a fist to the side of the head: sour and dank, like wine that had turned to vinegar mixed with mushrooms. Malachi’s polite smile never faltered, even as he heard his partners behind him shift and cough.
“Welcome to trade, caravaneer,” Malachi said formally. “I am Malachi Asael’s son.”
“Many thanks for your welcome,” the Ruk said. “I am Skuchi Var-Bel Frashaa.”
Malachi wondered idly if he had met this particular Ruk at a previous year’s trade. He never remembered their names, given only as a formality, and they all looked the same to him: short like a child, with a bald and square head squatting neckless on lumpy shoulders, a pot belly pushing the tunic forward, and spindly arms poking out of the armholes to end in spadelike fingers hanging fully to the knees. This one, this Skuchi, had a necklace of horses’ teeth and twisted bits of metal, probably to show his status as chief trader for the caravan. Two of his lieutenants lingered on the slope of the hill; the rest of the Ruks hung back at the bottom with their wagons, their various beasts of burden stomping and whinnying.
Skuchi folded himself to the ground and motioned to his lieutenants, who hurried forward, spread a blanket before him, and dropped several wrapped bundles before retreating. Malachi’s men did the same, setting covered baskets before him on the blanket they unrolled.
In a sitting position, Malachi didn’t have nearly the advantage of height over the Ruk, and they saw almost eye to eye. Skuchi smiled, showing the gapped, rounded teeth common to all Ruks, and Malachi had a sudden vision of this Ruk or one like it slavering over a winsome maid. He pushed this afterimage of old wives’ tales out of his mind.
“Let us trade,” Malachi said…