“There she is, Cletus. Ain’t she a beauty?” Skipper waved his hand over the top of the battered steering wheel. In the distance, a ramshackle cabin crouched on the side of a hill as if it expected to slide into the gully below at any moment. The accompanying outhouse looked much sturdier and more securely positioned, straight and tall on a flat spot of ground surrounded by shaggy pines. Skipper gunned the engine, ground the gears, and let the pickup roll down the rutted dirt road.
“You sure the still is up there?” Cletus sucked the gap where his left bottom bicuspid used to sit.
Skipper bounced the truck through a series of potholes before answering. “Sure as shootin’. Got me a batch of ’shine just last month from it. We got us enough corn to cook up a double batch this time. My granpappy knew what he was doing when he built it. It’ll last ’til Judgment Day and then some.”
The truck slalomed through the gully at the bottom, spewing sand from beneath its tires before lurching up the bank on the far side. A plastic grocery bag slid under Cletus’s foot.
“What’s this, Skip?” Cletus hefted the bag and its load. “A book? This don’t look like your usual reading material.” The book was thick, bound in strangely delicate pale leather. Arcane lettering flowed across the front, penned by hand in dark brown ink. Discoloration from an old water splotch spread like leprosy from the bottom corner.
“It’s for the outhouse. Feel that paper. Ain’t that the softest you ever felt? I grabbed that from a dumpster behind that university what done closed last winter. They had a whole pile of old books just tossed back there. I got more in the back, but that book’s got enough pages to last us the whole season.”
Cletus flipped the cover back. A faint odor of decay and rot clung to the pages. He ran his fingers over the title page. The letters were strangely shaped, square and full of odd angles, as if the person who had penned them suffered from some strange affliction of the musculature system that caused bizarre twitches. Almost as if terror were infused in every pen stroke.
Cletus whistled. “That is the softest I ever felt. Better than that Charmin paper Lucie Mae is always after me to buy.”
“We’re living like kings this weekend. No women, no rules, and plenty of ’shine to keep us warm.” Skipper pulled the truck to a stop in front of the cabin.
Rosebud, the hound who had patiently waited out the bumpy ride in the back of the truck with the bags of feed corn, bounded out before the dust had time to settle. She woofed once before relieving herself on the nearest patch of meadow grass.
Skipper and Cletus banged their way out of the truck, doors slamming and shedding more dust from the rusted body of the vehicle. They grabbed the bags of corn, hefting them over their shoulders as they headed behind the cabin to the hidden shed half-buried in the hill.
“Let’s get her fired up,” Skipper said as he pulled the door open on the shed. “We’ll get the ’shine cooking then do us some hunting. Steak for dinner?”
“Long as it ain’t possum or squirrel again.” Cletus dropped his bag on the floor of the shed. “I got to go test out that new paper, if you catch my drift.”
Cletus headed back for the truck where he pulled the book from the front seat. He crunched his way across the loose grit to the door of the stately outhouse. Rosebud bounded up to him, wagging her tail until she caught a whiff of the book. She backed away, a whine building in her throat.
“Just an old book, girl. Don’t you worry none.” Cletus waved the book at the dog.
Rosebud broke into a long howl before disappearing into the underbrush next to the porch of the cabin.
Cletus studied the hole where the hound had fled. “Huh. Just old paper full of dusty old words. Nothing to be scared of.” He stared a moment longer before answering the increasingly urgent call of nature. The outhouse door banged shut on his heels.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“Just an old book, girl. Don’t you worry none.”[/pullquote]
He checked for spiders before sitting on the wooden seat, polished by several generations of bottoms. Sunlight drifted through the obligatory crescent moon cutout in the door. Dust motes danced in the beam. The light shone on the ancient text. The lettering on the cover beckoned, tempting Cletus to explore the pages within. He hefted it into his lap. His fingers strayed over the odd words. His lips moved as he attempted to sound out the name scrawled beneath the title.
“‘Mis-ka-tonic.’ Huh. Sounds like an imported beer.”
He flipped to a random page. His fingers picked out words as he stumbled his way through the unfamiliar lettering. The syllables fell from his mouth, awkward and angular and unfamiliar. The afternoon air stilled in the outhouse, as if a giant beast held its breath. Though the autumn sunshine was bright and warm, a chill slithered up through the hole beneath.
Cletus finished the final syllable. The invisible presence loosed a sigh, a breath of frigid air that stirred the dusty motes and set them dancing. Cletus gave a final grunt before ripping the page from the book. He slammed the book shut, then shoved it onto the ledge beside the seat before he put the soft page to good use, dropping that into the hole when he finished.
The door banged shut behind him leaving nothing but a lingering odor to indicate his recent visit. The dust motes settled to a slow drift. An icy chill rose from the dank hole beneath the seat. The words had been spoken. A portion of the man had been given to the Elder Gods. Not the most desirable portion, but it had been many long years since their slumber had been disturbed by anything mortal. Any sacrifice was better than no sacrifice…
This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, available now!
And this is the last week to enter to win one of the free copies being given away on Goodreads!
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!