Chief Larry Delafontaine stood beside Detective Stephens and looked through the one-way glass into the interrogation room at Tommy, sweaty and fidgeting. Larry could feel his revulsion tugging down the corners of his mouth and working in the muscles of his chin, and for the first time in years he was thankful Louisiana still had the death penalty.
“Has he said anything?” he asked Stephens, who couldn’t take his eyes away from the twenty-seven-year old taxidermist on the other side of the glass.
“Nothing. Except he did say he’ll only talk to you,” the lanky man shifted his weight.
“He ask for a lawyer?”
“No, and thank God, ’cause then this whole f—” Stephens bit his tongue in mid-word and looked down. Larry knew Doug’s new girlfriend hated the crude language used by Atwood County’s entire police force. Some habits are nearly impossible to break.
“…This whole insane thing would just drag out longer,” Stephens said.
“Can you do me a favor?” Larry asked as he reached for the interrogation room’s doorknob. “Get me a Diet Coke and two Advils. My knee’s killing me.”
“Sure thing, Chief. I thought your knee was doing better.”
“It was, but everything’s fu—” Larry cut short the profane word in a show of solidarity. “Since this morning… well, a lot of things have changed.”
Larry’s hand was on the doorknob when Stephens said, “I… heard a little about all this at Tommy’s shop from Neil Tarbet. Is it…”
Larry closed his eyes, trying to shut out the images that mention of “Tommy’s shop” brought up. He fought to keep them buried. “Doug, it was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Ever.” Larry hoped that the note in his voice with which he ended the sentence would forestall any further questions.
“I’ll go get your Coke and Advil.” Stephens left Larry to do his job.
Larry opened the door and stepped through.
Tommy started from his chair. “Oh, thank God you’re here!” Tommy said he blurted. Larry motioned him back into his seat. There was a small second table against the wall, near an electrical outlet, and Larry pressed the red button on the tape recorder on top of it.
“Tommy, you just sit tight.” Larry pulled a cheap, government-issued chair out from the black linoleum table and took a seat across from the younger man. When he spoke again, his tones were measured and constricted. “And Tommy, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. It is taking everything that makes me human to not pull my gun and blow your damn head off right now. Do you understand?”
Tommy nodded, his breaths coming his short bursts. His lower jaw twitched and he eyes bore into Larry’s. Larry knew the man across from him was terrified, but he didn’t think it was because of what he’d said. He thought Tommy had brought that fear in with him.
“I do, sir. But I didn’t do anything! I swear! It wasn’t—”
Larry held up his hand.
“Tommy…” Larry took in several deep breaths. “Have you been read your rights and do you understand them?”
“Good. Then you just start at the very beginning. Tell me the story, front to back. I’ll stop you if I have questions. Understand?”
Tommy nodded again.
“Okay then,” Larry said, and he could feel and the pain that pulsed in his knee begin to be mirrored by an equal sensation in his head.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“And Tommy, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. It is taking everything that makes me human to not pull my gun and blow your damn head off right now. Do you understand?”[/pullquote]
“The beginning,” Tommy muttered, his eyes darting back and forth across the tabletop. “The beginning… I guess it began two nights ago. Pete Johnson and Clyde Flatts just dropped me off—we’d spent some time at Lucy’s Bar. We got home around 2 A.M.”
“How drunk were you?” Larry asked.
“Just a little buzzed. I was expecting Dave Stoker to drop off a ram in the morning—he wanted a rush job and was going to pay top dollar so I didn’t want a hangover to slow me down. You can ask Pete and Clyde if you don’t believe me.”
“I will. Then what?”
“I got up around 8:30, had breakfast and waited for Dave. Well, I wait for another hour, hour and a half, and he doesn’t show, so then I check the drop-off box to see if he left the ram before I got up.”
Tommy stopped talking and took several short breaths. His eyes darted around the room as if he expected something to attack him.
“Yeah. Yeah.” Larry saw Tommy’s hands begin to shake and wondered if Tommy was about to confess. If so, Larry wasn’t sure if he was prepared to hear it. “Just give me a second,” Tommy said.
“Take your time.”
After a few moments, Tommy spoke again. “I saw that the latch had been tripped so I knew something was there. I thought it must be the ram and I opened the box.
“Except it wasn’t no ram. I don’t know what the hell it was—still don’t.”
This wasn’t the story that Larry was expecting, and in spite of the fact that he believed the man across the table from him was a murderer, he found himself intrigued by what Tommy was saying. Here was a taxidermist, after all—young, but experienced nonetheless. He’d probably seen everything that had flown, swam, walked, galloped or wiggled across south Louisiana.
“What did it look like?” Larry asked after Tommy failed to speak.
“It looked like a squid-thing. I mean, it had a squid head, but it had limbs almost like arms and legs.”
“So, human?” Larry reached into his breast pocket and withdrew a small writing pad and a pen that hooked to the spiral binding. He wrote the word squid, then crossed it out and wrote meth lab? He made sure Tommy couldn’t see what he had written.
“Almost—kind of like a baby, but more grey, like the primer color on my dad’s Jeep—imagine what you’d get if you crossed a person and a fish, but with… you know, arms and legs.”
A knock on the door made Tommy jump. The door opened and Stephens came in with a Diet Coke and two Advils. “Here you go,” Stephens said and put them on the table, keeping his eyes off Tommy.
Larry looked at Tommy. Something had changed in the past few minutes. A small crack appeared in the hard shell of hate he had for the taxidermist.
“Hey,” Larry said to Tommy. “Ah, you need anything?”
“No, no. I’m good.”
Larry nodded to Stevens and the officer left, closing the door behind him.
“So, you found a squid-human thing,” Larry said as he popped the pills and took a drink. “Then what did you do?”
“I took it in the shop and cut it open.”
“You did what?” Larry said, stopping the second Advil halfway down his gullet.
“Yeah, I thought maybe Dave changed his mind and wanted this thing stuffed instead of a ram. So I skinned it, threw the innards in the trash and built the form. I had never built anything like it. It wasn’t like any animal I’ve ever seen. The hide was like rubber, all slimy and tough. I was going to tell Dave—or whoever dropped it off—that I was going to charge him extra, just for the pain-in-the-ass project he’d given me.”
“This animal, you don’t know who sent it? Was there a note or anything?” Larry asked.
“No, but that’s not unusual. Everyone knows that they can drop off a raccoon or boar and I’ll get working on it. They usually stop by that day or the next and let me know it was them that dropped it off.” Larry remembered seeing the drop-off box just outside Tommy’s taxidermy shop, even remembered opening the hatch and looking inside.
“We didn’t see any squid-thing in your shop. What happened to it?”
Tommy stared at Larry and bit his bottom lip. He then began to nervously tap his fingers on the table…
This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, available now!
And enter to win one of the free copies being given away on Goodreads!
Three print copies are being given away through Goodreads! You can’t win if you don’t enter!
Emmett Parson came to the house looking for treasure, and almost as soon as he walked through the door, he kicked over a soup can full of old tobacco juice. It didn’t help the appearance of the room, especially since there had been a layer of mold on top of the liquid, but it didn’t hurt much either. Most of the juice had immediately run under an old gas tank from a tractor that had been cut in half by a torch, and it would soon blend in with all the other stains—oil, ground-in manure, other unidentifiable things—on the floor of what Emmett supposed would be called the living room.
Emmett edged his way between a pile of truck springs and a teetering stack of cogs toward a couch and an old easy chair, both stained and sprouting stuffing from dozens of holes. There was a gap between the two pieces of furniture, leaving a spot on the floor that was clear and almost clean. It was situated for the best view of the old TV that sat atop a milk crate, and from his visits as a kid, Emmett recalled it as Uriah’s chair. He shook his head. It had never been a tidy place, but he didn’t remember it being this bad. It looked like the state troopers had pushed some of the junk aside to form a lane so they could haul Orson through from the bedroom, and Emmett couldn’t imagine why they’d left the can of tobacco spit next to the front door.
The smell in the main room was bad, but it was worse in the bedroom. None of the Speakman boys had ever bathed enough to make a secret of the fact that they worked on a farm, and when you put four of them together, sharing a bedroom—hell, sharing a bed—things got unpleasant. The mattress was stripped of its bedclothes, probably by the state police, Emmett figured, since it wasn’t like the Speakmans to bother changing sheets. The saggy mattress was full of stains and scorch marks from cigarette ash. It was a wonder the boys hadn’t all burned up in a fire before dying for other reasons. Emmett had brought a sleeping bag just in case he wanted to stay and keep an eye on things, but there was no way in hell he was staying in the bedroom. Even driving back to a town big enough for a hotel was losing its appeal. The idea that he was going to find what he was looking for here suddenly seemed ridiculous. He could make it all the way back to Newark before it got too late. Get some dinner at Top’s and forget this whole thing. Try to put Uncle Jake’s obsession behind him.
The bedroom was only slightly less cluttered than the front room, though the clutter had been kicked around by everyone going in and out. There was something odd about it, though, Emmett noticed just as he was about to head for fresh air.
The scraps and leftover parts and twists of rusty wire in the bedroom weren’t piled, semi-organized here. They were formed into… things. Things like sculptures, or maybe devices, though what the devices could have been made to do, Emmett couldn’t say. He picked one of them up, and turned it over in his hands. It was a thick rusty washer arranged against a large drill bit so that it would slide up the spiral of the bit, hauling a piece of wire that was in turn attached to a cog meshed with other cogs. He spun it for a moment, watching the cogs turn. It was clever, if pointless, and when he looked up, he noticed dozens of other pointless machines around the room crafted from scrap and junk. Some were versions of the same twirling object he held, others had their own mysterious purposes. He had a vision of the four brothers sitting up in the bed over long winter nights, manufacturing the little devices by the light of the single dingy lamp in the room. Or they might have made them in the other room, pulling the parts they needed from the piles, then brought them here to where they slept.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The scraps and leftover parts and twists of rusty wire in the bedroom weren’t piled, semi-organized here. They were formed into… things.[/pullquote]
The sound of an engine outside made Emmett realize he’d been standing in the foul-smelling room for a long time, staring at the little creations. He picked his way back through the mess and onto the sagging front porch in the cool upstate New York autumn.
It took a moment for Emmett to see the black Mercedes in the driveway. Like Emmett, whoever had driven it in had needed to weave through tractors and other farm vehicles slowly rusting in place—some so old they seemed to be melting into the dead grass—as well as piles of rusty angle iron, jumbles of frayed cable, and sprawls of oil tanks and axles. The junk started in the front yard and continued out through the forty yards or so between the house and barn out back.
At least some of the junk had been there when he was a kid. Uncle Jake had always sent him out to mess around in the maze of stuff when they visited. Of course, Jake had always had his own motivation for sending Emmett out to explore. He’d go in and talk to the brothers, plead with them, cajole them with a bottle of Old Crow. And when he came away empty-handed and drove them home, knuckles white on the wheel of his truck, he’d quiz Emmett about what he’d seen, what he’d found. “You’re my right hand, Emmett,” he’d say, “I’m counting on you.” But he had never found what Jake was looking for.
Emmett realized that the door of the Mercedes had opened in well-oiled silence and a thin, balding man was standing near it, looking up at him.
He was wearing a thick wool sweater with a fleece vest over it. “Hello,” he said cheerfully.
“Can I do something for you?” Emmett asked.
“Mr. Parson?” the man asked. Emmett nodded. “My name is Laurel, Justus Laurel. I represent parties interested in buying this farm.”
Emmett eyed him for a few moments. “You’re the one who made an offer last week.”
Laurel inclined his head. “For the parties I represent, yes.”
Emmett turned slowly, taking in the farm. “You offered three grand an acre for this.” Laurel nodded again as he turned back. “Why?” Emmett asked.
“Real estate speculation,” Laurel said blandly. “As you can see, it isn’t much of a farm, but combined with some other purchases we’ve made in the area, we may be able to make some money selling residential lots.”
“Well, maybe that’s what I’m planning to do myself,” Emmett said. “Clean the place up and build a few houses.”
For the first time, Laurel’s smile faded. “I wouldn’t recommend that,” he said. “Cleaning up this place could be very unpleasant. And I think we both know you don’t have the assets to start building spec houses. Even if you did, it wouldn’t be as lucrative as it would in Peekskill. Land speculation around here is best left to the locals.”
Emmett came down off the porch. “I was a local, once,” he said.
“Ah. Of course,” Laurel replied, smiling again. “You were related to the Speakman brothers. Third cousin, was it?”
“Second cousin once removed.”
“Of course,” Laurel said, his expression communicating what he thought of the familial ties between second cousins once removed. Maybe he thought it was a relationship not worth inheritance.
“Funny you don’t know that already, what with you knowing about my finances,” Emmett said. “Or that I work out of Peekskill. I live in Newark, after all—that’s where you sent the offer.”
Laurel’s smile faded again. “Due diligence, Mr. Parson. I research business deals I’m involved in. I assumed it would be uncomfortable for you to work as a private investigator in Newark. You’d constantly be running into former colleagues in the police department, after all.”
Emmett walked closer, trying to back Laurel up, but the smaller man refused to be intimidated. “You really have been nosing around,” Emmett said.
“I prefer to call it ‘due diligence,’ as I said.”
Emmett eyed the smaller man for a moment. It wasn’t good, the fact that someone could check into him without his noticing. “Maybe I should do my own due diligence,” he said at last. “See what’s up with you.”
Laurel chuckled. “I’m sure you’re better at it than I am. But not much to find, I’m afraid. I’m just a local fellow, with roots in the area. Hence my interest in the land.”
“Land’s not for sale.”
Laurel shrugged. “Contact me if you change your mind.”
Emmett stood in the driveway, watching him leave. He shivered in the cold breeze, realizing he’d just made up his mind. Someone—Laurel or someone he worked for—wanted the farm bad. Emmett didn’t buy the story about real estate speculation for a minute. Which meant that Uncle Jake had been right. There was something valuable somewhere on the Speakman farm.
He turned to look at the house he’d inherited. A hundred years with only the occasional half-assed repainting had left it, like the barn, a mottled gray-brown that blended into the autumn landscape like it was trying to hide among the piles of junk. It would take months to search the place alone. Roots in the area, Laurel had said. Well, he had some roots himself, and maybe they could help him out…
This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, now available for pre-order!
REDNECK ELDRITCH is officially set to release in ebook form on April 28th, to coincide with its launch at World Horror Con! Print volumes can also be ordered!
And with strange aeons,
Even Death may take a dirt nap…
From the publisher of the SPACE ELDRITCH anthologies comes a flavor of cosmic horror that’s much closer to home!
Sometimes amusing, sometimes horrifying, always unsettling, sixteen authors bring you sixteen tales of white trash meeting dark gods, the yellowed bones of antiquity, and colors that can’t be named.
Including Writers of the Future winner and Hugo/Nebula/Campbell nominee Brad R. Torgersen, Writers of the Future winner Robert J Defendi, Hugo nominee Steve Diamond, and many more!
“A Hole in the World” by Ian Welke
“Recording Devices” by D.J. Butler
“Mine of the Damned Gods” by Sarah E. Seeley
“Blood” by Steve Diamond
“Ostler Wallow” by Nathan Shumate
“Nightmare Fuel” by David Dunwoody
“The Swimming Hole” by Theric Jepson
“It Came From the Woods” by Jason A. Anderson
“Lake Town” by Garrett Calcaterra
“Taxed” by Scott William Taylor
“The Gears Turn Below” by SM Williams
“Slicker” by Robert J Defendi
“A Brown and Dismal Horror” by Jaleta Clegg
“The People of the Other Book” by Robert Masterson
“The Diddley Bow Horror” by Brad R. Torgersen
“At the Highways of Madness” by David J. West
Ebook available from Amazon or Smashwords!
Print available from Amazon!
Carlin Reese had two broken yolks, one headache, and zero bars on his phone. He winced as he mopped up the last of the eggs with a bit of toast and tried to be as subtle as possible as he took in the other patrons of the diner. They all stared into their meals, pushing food around as if ignoring him. At least three glistened with clammy sweat, even in the air conditioning, their skin the texture of freshly washed squid. Something was wrong here. Carlin tasted something bitter on his tongue and realized, unexpectedly, that it was fear.
“Enjoy your meal?” The waitress was a middle-aged woman whose face was a memory of beauty supported by load-bearing makeup. She smiled in exhaustion, the basecoat cracking under the strain of being polite to a New Yorker, like fractures in drying mud.
Carlin cleared his throat and ignored the furtive stares of the other diners. For some reason, he was acutely aware that there were seven of them and one of him.
He looked the woman in the eye. “So the Lone Ranger and Tonto are standing on a mountain,” Carlin said, checking his phone one last time for a signal, finding none, then pulling out his wallet. He didn’t see a phone-pay scanner anyway. “The Lone Ranger looks north and says, ‘Tonto, what’s that to the north of us?’ ‘Five thousand Indians,’ Tonto says.”
Carlin started to pull out a credit card, but he didn’t see a card reader either. He pulled out a hundred-dollar-bill instead, flopping it down. “So the Lone Ranger looks to the west and says, ‘What’s that to the west of us?’ ‘Five thousand Indians,’ Tonto says. ‘What’s that to the east of us?’ ‘Five thousand Indians.”
Carlin scanned down the counter, across a shifting ocean of flannel and bad hygiene. The men glanced back at him with flat glares, then at the waitress as if they wanted her to leave, then down at their meals. They looked for all the world like a group of men preparing to do something drastic. Either waiting for the last witness to leave or for a signal of some kind. He scanned the group to find the leader. “He finally looks south and says, ‘What’s that to the south of us?’ ‘Five. Thousand. Indians.’ The Lone Ranger looks around, the panic just starting to sink in and says, ‘It looks like we’re surrounded. What are we going to do?’” Carlin cleared his throat. “And Tonto looks at him and says, ‘What do you mean “we,” white man?’”
Carlin paused for the laugh, but none came. One of the men farther down the counter whispered, “That was kinda racist.”
Meanwhile the aging waitress just said, “I can’t change a hundred.”
The hell she couldn’t change a hundred. She’d taken in more than a hundred while he was eating. Still, best just to get the hell out of Dodge.
The glares radiated down the counter and he wondered distantly if any of them had ever eaten a city boy on one of those big hick farms they probably had. He needed to get back in his car and back on the road. Next time he got hungry on the road through Oklahoma, instead of stopping he’d eat his coat.
And as he considered the men, the whole image seemed to flash. One moment he looked down the counter, the diner exactly as it should be, the next he was a few stools down, and while the same people were there, they stood in different positions and wore different clothes.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Next time he got hungry on the road through Oklahoma, instead of stopping he’d eat his coat.[/pullquote]
Everything flashed back. Carlin grabbed the counter to steady himself and shook he head. A wave of fear washed over him, so powerful it seemed to resonate through the room. His headache pounded, blinding. He needed to get air. He squinted his eyes. What the hell had just happened?
“Keep the change.” He gathered his Armani wool-cashmere coat and started for the door. One of the men started to move, but another put out an arm to stop him. That was the leader.
“Why you tell that joke?” the leader asked. He was stocky with dark hair well-groomed and moussed, in flannels so sharp they had an actual crease. Carlin blinked at him. He and this man were like night and day in size and breeding, but the hick’s hair was almost identical to Carlin’s own.
His eyes scanned the rest of the yokels and landed back on the waitress. “I have no earthly idea.”
He pushed out the door and into the parking lot of the Ozark diner. Green trees crowded the winding mountain road on either side, the parking lot and diner cut out of the living wilderness. A cool breeze took the grill stink out of his nostrils as he moved to his Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. He opened the back door and hung his coat on the hanger he kept there, then moved to the driver’s, tapping the voice assist on his headset. Lexi beeped.
“Lexi,” he said, the words conveyed to the phone in his pocket via the magic of Bluetooth. “Take me to civilization.”
“The nearest town is 430 feet away,” the digital assistant said in his ear. “Pull out onto State Road—”
“No,” he said. “Real civilization. This place is a shit hole.”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you with that,” Lexi said. Stupid phone app.
“How far to St. Louis?”
“Three hundred and fifty-two miles.”
He slid into the driver’s seat and said, “Take me there.”
The instructions played over the headset, and he tried to start the Escalade, but nothing happened. He tried again. Still nothing. Completely dead. He pulled out the phone. Lexi processed the navigation app on the screen, but he still had no bars.
“Dammit,” he said, staring back at the diner. “Dammit!”
It took ten minutes for Carlin to work up the energy to open the door to the Escalade, and by then his headache had somehow gotten even worse. He didn’t want to walk back into that place, but he really didn’t have a choice.
He spent about five more minutes doing the ritual “no signal” dance, trying to find a location where the phone could contact a tower, but no matter how high he stretched or how he hopped, the phone didn’t so much as ping. Lexi must be working off the new internal cache instead of the central Lexi servers. If he wanted to make a call, he’d have to find a land line.
He slid out of the SUV, but left his coat in the back. It was a cool autumn day, and the altitude left the air uncomfortably chilly, but it wasn’t truly cold. He strode back to the diner, cringing at what the loose asphalt must be doing to the soles of his patent-leather shoes.
He pushed through the door and into a solid wall of disdain. The low hum of conversation ceased the moment he broke the threshold and all the flannel jockeys turned to look at him. The stocky leader in the freshly pressed flannel stood next to a gangly blond man who looked like Alan Tudyk with about ten grand less in lifetime dental care.
Their eyes fell on him, flat and emotionless, the way that creepy kid in the fourth grade had looked at bugs. It was like stepping into seven twin beams of… no, not hate… animal indifference.
And another flash. This time the faces of all the patrons were missing. In their place glistening, bloody muscle. The gangly one’s intestines spilled out onto the floor and the well-groomed one knelt nearby, forming them into strange symbols.
Everything flashed back and Carlin gasped. His headache gnawed at the back of his eyes, scratched the inside of his skull. His heart pounded in his chest and he aborted his move for the counter, instead turning and riding a wave of fear in the direction of the rest room, the gazes burning his skin.
Light gleamed off the metal bands that surrounded the edges of the counter and tables as he moved under the ponderous judgment of the uneducated. He needed to get out. Out.
He pushed into the hall at the back of the diner and through the door into the rest room, then pressed his back against the door and gulped air.
Jesus Christ, what was going on? Was the headache making him see things? Was he having a psychotic break? It had to be fear, but while only one of them had seen the business end of a washing machine, they were just people. They weren’t monsters. All that staring had just spooked him. His mind was playing tricks…
This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, coming this month from Cold Fusion Media!