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SHORT STORY: Treats at the Aver Residence by AJ Brown

Treats at the Aver Residence
By AJ Brown

1

“They’re going to love this year’s treat,” Cade said, giddily. He moved around the large steel table with a carving knife in hand. His milky eyes dazzled in the yellow glow of the overhead lights.

“What do you think, Mr. Mason?”

On the table lay Mr. Mason, covered by a sheet up to his chin. The man squirmed. His arms and legs pulled on the restraints that held him. His eyes were wide orbs, glassy and full of fear, a bruise beneath the left one. His dark hair was ruffled.

Cade lifted one eyebrow. His face loomed over Mr. Mason’s. “What? No response?” He shook his head, the joy of the time of year—the very day—coursed through his veins. “Brighten up, Mr. Mason. It’s Halloween—the greatest day of the year.”

He checked the I.V. line running into Mason’s arm. The steady drip told him Mr. Mason would be flying high soon enough, but not too high. Mr. Mason certainly didn’t want to miss out on the festivities.

“All those years of being a surgeon come in handy this time of year, don’t you think?”

Cade looked down into Mason’s green eyes. The man blinked, and a stray tear fell down the side of his face. He let out a groan, not one of pain, but fear. Cade was certain if the white cloth shoved into his mouth wasn’t there, Mason would scream for all he was worth—and at that moment, he may not have been worth much more than a cheap bottle of wine to any drunk on the side of the road, but he was worth all the candy in the world to Cade.

“Don’t worry—you will only feel a moderate amount of pain, and for only a few seconds, maybe a minute, then you’ll pass out.” He stroked Mason’s sweaty cheek, lovingly, as if he cared for the man before him. Cade’s eyes grew tender, his smile softened. “Then you won’t feel anything at all. At least until the children arrive.”

Mason shook his head, his eyes filling with tears. He strained to move. The veins on his forehead and along his throat, bulged against his skin.

“Stick around, Mr. Mason,” Cade almost sung, then patted Mason’s face. “It’s going to be a wonderful Halloween.”

2

In their homes, children sang and danced. Their mothers painted their off-colored skin whatever shade of pale, brown or black they chose. Halloween shows like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Monster House, played on the television. Those who were finished with their dinners sat and watched until the sun began to set.

The anticipation made some of them bounce in their seats. Toes tapped. Fingers drummed. Betsy Wallabanger’s teeth fell out twice, and each time she put them back in, she had to adjust her lipstick. Excitement hung in the air like a thick fog on an early fall morning.

3

“Would you like a smiley face or a frown? Or maybe a really scary face?”

Mason shook his head and moaned. His eyelids were heavy, but he was still very much awake … and aware.

“Hmm … none of those? I have templates this year—got them cheap at the WalGreens in town. They practically gave them to me.” Cade rubbed the blade of his knife against the side of his head. A small flap of skin peeled back, and a few strands of dirty brittle hair flaked to the floor. Blood spilled down the side of his face. “Wow, that’s sharp—I guess I should be careful where I put it.”

Cade pulled the sheet away like a magician putting on a show. A pair of red underwear covered Mason’s privates. Other than that, he was nude. His belly was plump, the signs of a man who liked to eat well.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I shaved your body while you were asleep. You had a lot of hair, and you know how kids are—most of them just don’t like hair on their treats. But I didn’t shave your head. Some of them like to keep scalps for souvenirs these days. I wouldn’t want to disappoint the few traditionalists still out there.”

Mason shook his head and let out a yell that was muffled by the cloth. He chewed on the rag as if trying to eat it so he could cry for help.

“I’m sorry you don’t approve, but you needed the shave. What’s done is done—you’ll just have to get over it.”

Cade set the knife on a counter behind him and rifled through the templates. “Frankenstein? Oh, how about Shrek—he used to be popular with the kids.”

After going through all the patterns, he set them down, and picked up a black marker. “None of those will do. Not for you, Mr. Mason. I’ll just have to come up with something on my own.”

He stood over Mason’s ample belly and drew an odd oval just below the ribs. He drew a second oval, then a triangle around Mason’s belly button. Cade tapped his temple with the marker and looked up at the ceiling. Many images ran through his head. Then the right one came to mind. A smile creased his face.

“Oh, you are going to love this.”

He drew the large squiggly line below the triangle, then brought it down close to the waistband of his underwear. Cade picked up the knife and looked at Mason. “Are you ready for this?”

Mason screamed when
Cade plunged the knife into his stomach.

4

“Come on, let’s get into your costumes.”

Children squealed with joy when the mothers beckoned them to get ready for the festivities. They hurried to their rooms and donned their outfits. They were vampires and werewolves, neither of which sparkled or walked around shirtless. They were witches with warts on their noses and brooms by their sides. They were zombies—oh so many of them were zombies. Betsy Wallabanger dressed up as a corpse bride, her hair jutting this way and that way, her outfit a natural dirty shade, complete with stains across the front. Her mother had worn that very costume when she was Betsy’s age. There were no princesses or Batmans or video game stars. There were no cute little lions, tigers or bears, oh my. There was an Alice and she carried a bucket shaped like the tardy rabbit’s head that dripped blood every few steps she took.

They practiced the chants they learned from past Halloweens. Their voices rang up to the ceilings and none were off key.

“Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.”

Some of the older kids added extra verses. “If you don’t, I won’t cry. I’ll slit your throat and then you’ll die.”

Mothers gave approving looks and fathers ruffled the enthusiastic heads of the extra verse singers.

There were no idle threats of ‘behave or else.’ Those were reserved for parents in towns where Halloween was more of a burden than a rite of passage. Besides, the kids in Dreads Hollow knew the parents would never stick to their threats of no haunting the neighborhood if they behaved—it was just as much fun for the adults as it was for the children. Then there was always the one house at the end of Corpse Avenue that did something different each year. If anything, the parents wanted to see how Mr. Aver had decorated. If there were no haunts for the kids, there was no visiting the Aver residence for the adults.

5

Cade pulled away part of the flesh of Mason’s stomach. He bit down on a piece of it, chewed and nodded. “Tasty,” he said. Blood dripped down his chin. He wiped at it absently.

He looked inside Mason’s stomach. He had deadened the nerves and cauterized the flesh where he had carved away the precious meat. Blood still flowed from the chest cavity and Mason still breathed, though shallow as it was. The carved face was gruesome, but Cade hadn’t finished. He left a long slit beneath the reamed-out mouth. A mesh was sewn in place, holding Mason’s intestines in.

Cade looked down at the man who had once said, ‘Halloween is for the devil’s children.’ He wanted to correct him—oh Halloween was so much more than for the offspring of Satan, it was for everyone, young and old, tall and small. The day didn’t so much matter, but the spirit of Halloween, that’s what drove Cade and every other person who loved the day so much, to celebrate it. He slapped Mr. Mason’s face gently with a bloodied glove, leaving four red imprints on his face. “Stay with me, Mr. Mason. Your moment is coming soon, and you won’t want to miss it.”

Cade carefully moved Mason’s body onto a gurney he had procured from one of the medical catalogues he still received, though he hadn’t practiced his once chosen profession in well over seventy years. Mason moaned and opened his eyes. Gray bags clung beneath them, and he seemed to stare off at the ceiling, not noticing Cade at all. A few seconds later, his eyes slid shut and he was unconscious to the world around him. Cade pushed the gurney through the house and onto the front porch.

Out in the fresh autumn air, Cade took a deep breath. The cool air filled his throat but burned his ancient lungs.

“I love this time of year.”

He worked like a cautious burglar, careful not to set any alarms off and give himself away. In Cade’s case, he was careful not to jar Mason’s body and have his efforts ruined by an act of clumsiness. He slid his arms under Mason’s legs and back and carried him down the steps. Cade sat him on a sturdy lawn chair, not bothering to brush off the leaves that had fallen on it or the spider web that hung between one armrest and the seat. The spider on the web crawled from one sticky line to another until it sat on Mason’s forearm.

Back inside, Cade grabbed the accessories, chip wrappers and empty beer cans. He littered the area around Mason with the garbage and placed one of the cans in the man’s hand.

Cade stepped back and looked at his creation. The backdrop of his old house with its warped steps, shuttered windows and flaking paint would give anyone from outside of Dreads Hollow the creeps. Those people would cautiously walk away, their eyes not wavering from the sight before them, or they would run as if their hair was on fire. Cade smiled and shook with something akin to lust. His body tingled. His heart raced with excitement.

6

They walked the streets of the neighborhood, clothed in their homemade outfits and masks. Each child’s eyes beamed with excitement as they went from door to door. The welcome lights shone brightly at each house, luring the kids to knock and speak their chants. Neighbors opened doors, smiled, and played along. They oohhed and ahhed at the costumes; they told the children how scary and terrifying, and even how sickening they were; they gave them treats of lady fingers and animal eyes, of hair necklaces and cooked tongues.

“I got a rock,” one kid said when he left each house.

Tunes of Trick or Treat rang throughout the night until they reached the Aver residence at the end of Corpse Avenue. A dim bulb hung from the porch’s ceiling. It cast shadows that looked like pointy fingers stretching across the ground. Cade stood on the porch, his face covered by a mask made from the skin of Mason’s stomach.

Children approached the house. Their bodies hummed with anticipation and their eyes darted about the yard. Mason sat in the shadows near the porch, one hand wrapped around the beer can. He moaned weakly. The children stopped. Some of the parents leaned into get a better look.

“Welcome one. Welcome all. Let’s not delay this year. I hope you will not be disappointed with this year’s treat at the Aver residence. I call this Drunk Man.” Cade flipped a switch that lit up the yard.

Loud gasps echoed through the night as parents and children alike took in Cade’s work. Mason’s stomach had been carved out as if it were a normal pumpkin face, the lining of his insides burned black. A trickle of blood still washed down into the man’s briefs. Mason’s eyes had been sewn open and crusted blood clung to his face. His intestines, which had been held in by the mesh earlier, now dangled on Mason’s lap. It appeared as if they had been vomited out of the wide mouth of his belly. The cloth that had been in his mouth earlier was gone. Mason’s bottom lip trembled.

Betsy Wallabanger—six past a hundred years of age—approached the creation, cautiously. “He’s still alive,” she said with wide blue eyes that held childish excitement in them. She reached forward with one hand, then pulled it back quickly, uncertainty stretching across her face.

“Go ahead. It’s okay, he can’t move,” Cade said.

Betsy set her pillowcase bag on the ground and leaned down. She sunk her teeth into one of Mason’s thighs. A scream came from his throat as she worked her jaw from side to side. She ripped off a piece of flesh, her teeth coming out slightly. She shoved them back in place and chewed. After she swallowed, she smiled. “Delicious.”

Cade clapped his hands like the young child he no longer was. He motioned with his hands. “Come, little ones. Enjoy this year’s treat from the Aver residence.”

Children squealed as they lit in on Mason. His screams filled the night, much to Cade’s satisfaction. The parents looked on with a happiness reserved for their offspring.

“You really outdid yourself this year, Aver,” one of the fathers said before he walked away with his little boy. Blood soaked the front of the boy’s costume, and he licked his fingers clean of the blood that had been on them.

7

Cade sat on the porch in an ancient rocker that squealed like a wounded rat as it went back and forth. The sounds of singing, happy children had long since faded. What remained of Mason lay scattered on the lawn. There were bones here and there, a clump of hair by the sidewalk—the scalp had not been taken this year. One of the kids had bit off his privates. Or was it one of the moms? Cade didn’t know, and honestly, it didn’t matter. The birds and bugs would come and clean up the mess, leaving only bones behind.

On his lap sat a skull. Part of it was still pink from blood and meat. He pulled a piece of flesh off the cheekbone and popped it into his mouth. He chewed, then swallowed.

“Hmm … Delicious.”

AJ Brown is a southern-born writer who tells emotionally charged, character driven stories that often delve into the darker parts of the human psyche. Most of his stories have the southern country feel of his childhood.

AJ draws inspiration from every day events and conversations. The characters of his stories are drawn from people he has met or seen during his life. Some of the best stories are inspired by his two children.

Though he writes mostly darker stories, he does so without unnecessary gore, coarse language, or sex.

AJ is also a husband to Cate and a father to two kids, who often inspire him in the most interesting ways.

More than 200 of his stories have been published in various online and print publications. His story Mother Weeps was nominated for a Pushcart Award in 2010. The story, Numbers, won the quarterly contest at Wily Writers in June 2013.

Website

GUEST POST: Phil Sloman

Guising
By Phil Sloman

It’s always been a pleasure to be invited along to Meghan’s House of Books Halloween Extravaganza. I’ve enjoyed it each and every time. This year I thought I’d do a short article about guising or, more particularly, masks.

On reading up on guising it seems that the tradition grew as a way for children, and adults, to avoid the dead when they visited on Halloween. Or something along those lines. Now I like that as a concept but there’s a different take I wanted to present to you, dear reader. And perhaps as much to myself.

We all hide our true selves from time to time. Some more than others. Often dependent on the situation we are in. So, your work persona might be very different to your persona with friends which again may be different to your round the house personality and so on. Some masks may be worn for self-protection in a world where prejudice is rife and the anonymity of social media (a mask in itself) emboldens the bigots who are out there. That is not my story to tell.

For many, masks develop in childhood. I was bullied as a kid. A lot of people were and, sadly, continue to be. For me, it was mainly for being a bit of a nerd (bright kid, crap clothes). That was probably the first time I learned to wear a mask. I learnt to dumb down and hide the fact I was clever. I know I am not alone in this.

Now somewhere along the line I got into horror. Probably around the age of 15 or so. I remember having the Gremlins Read Along audiobook as a vague dabbling into horror and progressed from there. Ended up reading the book adaptation of Nightmare on Elm Street long before seeing the films and have to admit my imagination worked far more effectively than the films in the end. So, where is the mask here, I hear you cry. Well, this is the mask from my family. My Dad didn’t really get horror and couldn’t really understand what I got from it. So, I don’t really talk to my family about my horror writing and therefore hide it away. Even when up for awards I don’t mention it. Whether this is really a mask or just hiding from a situation; discuss amongst yourselves.

With the advent of social media, as noted above, it is interesting to see the persona some people adopt and the masks people choose to wear (or indeed the masks people drop behind the distance a screen and keyboard present). So much can be hidden behind that avatar, so much of us presented as the best versions of ourselves. The thing is that you risk getting lost in this other you of your own making; a smiling personality which may be drowning in tears on the inside. And there is a fear of judgement should that mask slip and our vulnerability be revealed.

Okay, so the link to Halloween, and thanks for sticking with me so far, is that this is a day when we get to wear masks as we go out and about on the streets asking neighbours and strangers for treats. Yet, I would claim here that some of the masks out there are people being free to express the true them and drop their day-to-day societal masks. Societal norms are abandoned and we can fully embrace “us”. The same, I find is true of horror conventions. Places where I know I have found my tribe. A place, other than at home with my wife or out with close friends, where I feel I can be me. There is a natural coming together of the like-minded and, what I have found personally, the welcoming.

As said, this was a short musing as an offering to Meghan’s celebrations. There may be pieces in the above which chimed with you. Equally, there may have been rolling of eyes and a note of “just be yourself and let the world accept you for who you are”. This is sound advice. Yet there is something drilled into a lot of us as kids that fitting in is what is required. And it takes time to feel comfortable to let those masks slip – and there are always multiple masks – where that vulnerability dissipates and all that is left is the wonder that is you.

So maybe we should hold on to that freedom that the 31st October brings with it and take that as a mantra through the entirety of the year. I know it is something I shall certainly ponder.

Boo-graphy
Phil Sloman is a writer of dark psychological fiction. His first story was published in 2014 and he has been writing ever since. In 2017 Phil was shortlisted for British Fantasy Award Best Newcomer for his novella Becoming David, and was part of Imposter Syndrome from Dark Minds Press shortlisted for British Fantasy Award Best Anthology in 2018, and edited the 2020 British Fantasy Award shortlisted anthology The Woods. Phil regularly appears on several reviewers’ Best of Year lists.

Richard leads a simple, uncomplicated life in the suburbs of London where anonymity is a virtue. His life has a routine. His cleaner visits twice a week. He works out in his basement, where he occasionally he kills people. Everything is as Richard wants it until David enters his life. What happens next changes his existence in its entirety and the lives of those around him. Is he able to trust anything to be true? And will he be able to escape David or will David take over Richard’s life completely?

GUEST POST: Thomas Smith

Halloween via Time Machine – or – How to Haunt a House

When I received the request to write this post I was whisked away in my mental time machine and deposited smack dab in the middle of Halloween in the 1960s.

Bobby “Boris” Pickett was singing his new song, Monster Mash, on the radio. A day or so before the big day itself, televisions all over the country were following the antics of the Peanuts gang in a new TV special: It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. And in theaters everywhere, there were new movies unlike anything we’d ever seen before, each one guaranteed to make you sleep with a night light:

Night of the Living Dead, The Birds, and Norman Bates as the ultimate mama’s boy in Psycho loomed large on the big screen for those brave enough to keep their eyes open.

And when Halloween finally arrived, a legion of ghosts, goblins, clowns, ballerinas, and hobos came home with bags and plastic jack-o-lanterns filled with apples, oranges, Baby Ruths (regular and minis), Butterfingers (regular and minis), Saf-T-Pops (complete with heavy string loops instead of a stick), Dubble Bubble Gum, Snickers, Milky Ways, Forever Yours Bars, Kraft Caramels, B. B. Bats, wax lips, wax fangs, and boxes of Boston Baked Beans.

And almost every character that wasn’t created at someone’s mother’s sewing machine came from a cardboard box with a cellophane front from either Collegeville, or Ben Cooper. They were the huge Halloween costume companies in the 1950s and 1960s. If you really wanted to be cool, Ben Cooper’s clown, devil, princess, dragon, and spooky monster costumes had flashing lights in the mask. But Collegeville, not to be outdone, had some of the coolest costumes with their Gorilla, Ghoul, Monster, Body Snatcher, and Weird-O, Fink costumes.

Now none of the boxed costumes fit worth a dang, but we didn’t care. A rip here and a patch there (always in the back) and who’s to know? Besides, if you were wearing the Planet of the Apes, Batman, Superman, Hobo, Frankenstein, ghost, and mummy costumes (the very latest and greatest of the day), it was worth it.

Meanwhile, in the middle of all of this Halloween spectacle, my brother and I were waiting in the basement of our house to cap off Halloween in style. We worked for the previous two or three days to get everything just right. Then we went trick-or-treating with the first wave of costumed candy beggars so we could be back in time for the opening of Thomas and Paul’s Haunted Basement.

OK, the title wasn’t terribly original, but for the early 1960s, we were the only game in town (in our particular town at least). We took turns standing in the outdoor entrance to the basement and ushered the unsuspecting costumed customers (admission fee was one candy bar) into a maze of glowing cardboard skeletons, a ghost that moved and floated in the corner of the basement (thanks to an old screen door spring and a string), rubber bats that dropped out of the darkness above onto their victims’ various noggins, a bowl of grapes coated with a little vegetable oil and placed in a black box labeled EYEBALLS with a hole cut out just big enough for a victims hand), a Frankenstein’s monster (each of us in turn, in costume) that would jump out and growl menacingly (as if there’s any other way for the creation of Victor Frankenstein to growl) and watch the guys finch and the girls scream.

Then there was the scary movie.

We would get an 8mm copy of Frankenstein vs The Wolfman from the local Public library (the original movie condensed to approximately five minutes) and coupled with a homemade soundtrack from the Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House record (copied onto a reel-to-reel tape recorder to correspond with the movie scenes), we had the perfect ending to a horrifying (hey, I was nine years old in the 60s) trek through the darkness.

I went trick-or-treating a lot after that. And I’ve been through some really good professionally staged haunted houses. But I’ve gotta be honest.

I’d love to go through Thomas and Paul’s Haunted Basement just one more time.

Boo-graphy:
Thomas is an award-winning writer, essayist, playwright, reporter, TV news producer, and a three-time American Christian Writers Association Writer of the Year. His work has appeared in numerous publications from Writer’s Digest and Exploring Alaska, to The Horror Zine and Cemetery Dance magazine.

He has written for many publishers including Grinning Skull Press, Zondervan, Barnes & Noble Books, Adams Media, Chronicle Books, Borderlands Press, Barbour Publishing, Pocket Books, and Cemetery Dance Publications. Two of his short stories (Mother and Child Reunion and The Heart is a Determined Hunter) have appeared on Tales to Terrify, and his short story, A Rustle of Owls’ Wings, has been adapted for the stage.

Thomas has written jokes for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show.

He is also, quite possibly, the only writer in captivity to have been included in collections with Stephen King, and the Rev. Rick Warren in the same week.

And other than author bios, he rarely refers to himself in the third person.

Rarely.

Something Stirs
Ben Chalmers is a successful novelist. His wife, Rachel, is a fledgling artist with a promising career, and their daughter, Stacy, is the joy of their lives. Ben’s novels have made enough money for him to provide a dream home for his family. But there is a force at work-a dark, chilling, ruthless force that has become part of the very fabric of their new home.

A malevolent entity becomes trapped in the wood and stone of the house and it will do whatever it takes to find a way to complete its bloody transference to our world.

Local sheriff, Elizabeth Cantrell, and former pastor-turned-cabinetmaker, Jim Perry, are drawn into the family’s life as the entity manipulates the house with devastating results. And it won’t stop until it gets what it wants. Even if it costs them their faith, their sanity, and their lives.

Monsters
“I killed my parents when I was thirteen years old.”

And now, with the murder of Missy Blake twenty-two years later, it’s time for Jack Greene to finish what he started.

When the co-ed’s mutilated body is found, the police are clueless, but Jack knows what killed the pretty college student; he’s been hunting it for years. The hunt has been going on for too long, though, and Jack wants to end it, but he can’t do it alone. The local police aren’t equipped to handle the monster in their midst, so Jack recruits Major Kelly Langston, and together they set out to rid the world of this murdering creature once and for all.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Thomas Smith

Meghan: Hi Thomas. Welcome to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. I’m glad you could join us today. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Thomas: When I was younger I used to like setting up a haunted house in our basement with my brother (more about that later in the Extravaganza). I like haunted hayrides and monster movie marathons. And for the last 20 years I have enjoyed the Halloween Express that came through our neighborhood. Some of the parents started with a lawn tractor and attached a couple of wagons full of kids in their Halloween costumes. And as the years progressed and kids became more numerous, it became an ATV pulling five decorated floats with lights and sound. All loaded with trick-or-treaters. Parents and kids all having a blast.

Meghan: Do you get scared easily?

Thomas: Not really. Unless it’s snakes. Then, all bets are off. I will run over an elderly nun to get away from a snake.

Meghan: What is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen and why?

Thomas: I wish I could remember the title. It was probably made in the late 50s or early 60s. It had to do with a serial killer who the police thought had died at the end of the movie. When everyone had left the scene, the killer comes out of the darkness, turns to look directly at the audience (me, I know he was looking at me) and said something very close to, “If you tell them I’m alive, you’re next.” And even though I’ve seen easily hundreds of horror movies since then, that one still gives me the creeps.

Meghan: Which horror movie murder did you find the most disturbing?

Thomas: While this is more of a mercy killing, David Drayton’s killing of his companions (including his son) in The Mist just moments before the military shows up to rescue them is still up there at the top of the list. Especially after his expression/reaction when the unexpected help arrives.

Meghan: Is there a horror movie you refused to watch because the commercials scared you too much?

Thomas: Not really. But there are some (The Human Centipede, a Serbian Film) that the descriptions were enough to make me say no thanks.

Meghan: If you got trapped in one scary movie, which would you choose?

Thomas: Frankenstein (1931)

Meghan: If you were stuck as the protagonist in any horror movie, which would you choose?

Thomas: Quatermass in Quatermass and the Pit

Meghan: What is your all-time favorite scary monster or creature of the night?

Thomas: The wolfman

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Thomas: Watching all night horror movie marathons

Meghan: What is your favorite horror or Halloween-themed song?

Thomas: For fun, it would be Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put a Spell on You and for just general creepiness, Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells or John Carpenter’s Halloween Theme.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Thomas: When The Amityville Horror first came out, that was intense. It took me a while to finish it. Then I didn’t want to be able to see it on the shelf, so I turned it around backwards for a while.

Meghan: What is the creepiest thing that’s ever happened while you were alone?

Thomas: Years ago, we lived in a house on the White Oak river and on this particular night, my wife was working the night shift at the hospital. So, I was the only one at home. I had just home about 12:45 a.m. from visiting a dying church member (I was a minister back then) at a different hospital and thought I’d read a little before going to bed. I had just opened my book when I heard a drawer slide open in the kitchen (they tended to stick, so there was always a scraping noise when we opened a drawer) and heard what sounded like someone rummaging through the drawer as if looking for something. I grabbed the shotgun in the corner and ran into the kitchen. All the drawers were closed, the kitchen door was closed and locked, and there was nobody there.

Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?

Thomas: The Lost Colony has always fascinated me. How did all those people just disappear? In fact, I wrote a story recently about what might have happened to the people on Roanoke Island, the Mary Celeste, the town of Hoer Verde, Brazil, and the fishing village on Lake Anjikuni in Canada (and the editor I sent it to likes the concept). And if my theory is right, we’re all in trouble.

Meghan: What is the spookiest ghost story that you have ever heard?

Thomas: The Haunted Doll’s House by M. R. James

Meghan: In a zombie apocalypse, what is your weapon of choice?

Thomas: A Mossberg 930 SPX Tactical Shotgun and a lot of buckshot. I also wouldn’t mind having an Infantry Kukri-Sword. That 15-inch blade would relieve a zombie of his/her noggin pretty quick.

Meghan: Let’s have some fun… Would you rather get bitten by a vampire or a werewolf?

Thomas: Werewolf

Meghan: Would you rather fight a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion?

Thomas: Zombie Apocalypse

Meghan: Would you rather drink zombie juice or eat dead bodies from the graveyard?

Thomas: Drink Zombie juice

Meghan: Would you rather stay at the Poltergeist house or the Amityville house for a week?

Thomas: The Poltergeist house

Meghan: Would you rather chew on a bitter melon with chilies or maggot-infested cheese?

Thomas: Maggot infested cheese

Meghan: Would you rather drink from a witch’s cauldron or lick cotton candy made of spider webs?

Thomas: Lick cotton candy made of spider webs

Boo-graphy:
Thomas is an award-winning writer, essayist, playwright, reporter, TV news producer, and a three-time American Christian Writers Association Writer of the Year. His work has appeared in numerous publications from Writer’s Digest and Exploring Alaska, to The Horror Zine and Cemetery Dance magazine.

He has written for many publishers including Grinning Skull Press, Zondervan, Barnes & Noble Books, Adams Media, Chronicle Books, Borderlands Press, Barbour Publishing, Pocket Books, and Cemetery Dance Publications. Two of his short stories (Mother and Child Reunion and The Heart is a Determined Hunter) have appeared on Tales to Terrify, and his short story, A Rustle of Owls’ Wings, has been adapted for the stage.

Thomas has written jokes for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show.

He is also, quite possibly, the only writer in captivity to have been included in collections with Stephen King, and the Rev. Rick Warren in the same week.

And other than author bios, he rarely refers to himself in the third person.

Rarely.

Something Stirs
Ben Chalmers is a successful novelist. His wife, Rachel, is a fledgling artist with a promising career, and their daughter, Stacy, is the joy of their lives. Ben’s novels have made enough money for him to provide a dream home for his family. But there is a force at work-a dark, chilling, ruthless force that has become part of the very fabric of their new home.

A malevolent entity becomes trapped in the wood and stone of the house and it will do whatever it takes to find a way to complete its bloody transference to our world.

Local sheriff, Elizabeth Cantrell, and former pastor-turned-cabinetmaker, Jim Perry, are drawn into the family’s life as the entity manipulates the house with devastating results. And it won’t stop until it gets what it wants. Even if it costs them their faith, their sanity, and their lives.

Monsters
“I killed my parents when I was thirteen years old.”

And now, with the murder of Missy Blake twenty-two years later, it’s time for Jack Greene to finish what he started.

When the co-ed’s mutilated body is found, the police are clueless, but Jack knows what killed the pretty college student; he’s been hunting it for years. The hunt has been going on for too long, though, and Jack wants to end it, but he can’t do it alone. The local police aren’t equipped to handle the monster in their midst, so Jack recruits Major Kelly Langston, and together they set out to rid the world of this murdering creature once and for all.

SHORT STORY: Hanuman by David A Riley

Hanuman
By David A Riley

(First published in Phantasmagoria Magazine #16, 2020)

“Did you know the mothers run off into the jungle and hide any males they have because the fathers’ll kill ’em? It’s not till they’re strong enough to stand up for themselves they’re brought back. Then the little buggers’ll have a go at their own fathers if necessary in a duel for leadership.” The stone walls of the distant Hindu temple they were staring at across the muddy river seemed to throb in the heat of the midday sun. Adrian Wilkes drained his gin and tonic before speaking once more, his throat parched. He coughed dryly, then said: “Of course, it’s typical they should have a god named after them – Hanuman. It’s even more typical they should let the creatures roam free to rob and pillage.”

The ironic sarcasm in Wilkes’s nasal Birmingham twang droned through Harper’s oversensitive skull. Stuart David Harper – S. D. Harper as he styled himself in his novels – wiped sweat from his forehead with a sodden handkerchief, crossed his legs on the insidiously uncomfortable restaurant chair, and sighed. It had been a long night that hadn’t ended till six in the morning, a night that had started pleasantly enough with rounds of over-expensive Indian beer, to end chaotically – and not too clearly – hours later with even more expensive drugs. Somewhere along the way there may have been a few women, but he wasn’t sure. It could have been a dream. Harper wrinkled his forehead for concentration, instantly regretting it, and wondered whether he should have stayed in bed.

His fellow guest was pointing beyond the hotel to a large sand-coloured monkey, its naked face staring at them with large, queerly intelligent eyes. “There’s one of the bastards now,” Wilkes said.

Harper sat up in his chair. The monkey was staring at them with disconcerting intensity, motionless – significantly motionless maybe. He grinned back at it, then reached for his glass. The monkey did not move. It even ignored the flies that swarmed across its face.

“You’d almost believe they could think, wouldn’t you?” Wilkes said in a drone. He tipped an ice-cube from his glass, held it between two nicotine-stained fingers, before flicking it at the monkey. The cube skidded across the floor tiles, rebounded off a table leg and missed the monkey by a foot. The animal ignored it. Its eyes, curiously deep, stared at the Europeans as if it were assessing them.

Harper felt drawn to stare back at it as if some kind of empathy had built between them. In a way he felt honoured, which was strange as animals normally left him cold. Even when he was a child, he never had any interest in them, like the shaggy Old English sheepdog his father had given him when he was eight, which he ignored completely. A flea-bitten monkey was the last thing with which he would have expected to empathize.

On an impulse Harper reached into his glass for an ice-cube too, rolled it for a moment between his fingers, then threw it as hard as he could at the monkey. It glittered through the air.

Wilkes howled with laughter as the ice-cube hit the beast hard between its eyes. “Good shot!” he shouted, slapping his thighs.

The monkey shook its head, then chattered something between yellow fangs, before loping away between the table legs.

Harper avoided Wilkes’s eyes as the man gabbled his praise. “If you could aim that well with a gun, you’d be a great hunter.”

Harper stood up, suddenly ashamed of himself. He watched the monkey as it waddled out of the restaurant before lowering itself to the sparsely grassed embankment that sloped down at a steep gradient to the river. “I’ll be back in a moment,” he said. He strolled between the tables after the monkey. He felt through his pockets to see if he had any food he could offer in appeasement, though all he could find was a boiled sweet the airline stewardess had given him during his flight to India five days ago. He peeled off the wrapping paper as he approached the restaurant wall. Leaning over, he saw the monkey sat by the river, scooping its paws into the clay-coloured water. Harper whistled to catch its attention, then threw the sweet towards it. The monkey watched the humbug land on the grass a couple of yards from its feet, then gazed at Harper. Curiously, he felt as if the creature was again assessing him, before it returned its attention to the sweet, climbing to its feet and loping through the grass with a kind of simian dignity, as if reaching for the sweet was beneath it. Almost… but not quite, Harper thought with a silent chuckle, wishing he had something better to throw for it. He turned to Wilkes. “Have you anything to eat on you?”

Wilkes guffawed, before jabbering some lingua franca – some very gross, pidgin lingua franca – to one of the Indian waiters.

“I’ve asked for a dish of peanuts,” he said. “Monkey nuts might be more appropriate if you’re feeding that bugger.”

Harper scowled. He turned to the monkey and their eyes met. He snapped his fingers encouragingly, coaxing it to him with clucking sounds. Behind him Wilkes’s laughter subsided into his glass.


The air-conditioning in Harper’s bedroom was so efficient it made him shiver when he stepped into it late that night after too many hours in the bar. Not bothering to switch on the light, he stripped off and went into the shower. Moonlight shone through the window. A gecko, hunting for insects in the gloom, zipped up the wall in a burst of speed, making him sway as he caught sight of it in the corner of his eye. Involuntarily he followed its path till it disappeared into the shadows.

Then a muffled noise drew his attention.

Leaving the shower, he strode towards the suitcases propped on a small table in the corner. Their dark shapes loomed beside the wardrobe. One of them slid sideways, bouncing with a crash on the floor as the monkey launched itself in the opposite direction.

“Hanuman!” Harper snapped, his reflexes making him reach for the creature as it headed for the door. “Here!” The animal stopped in its tracks and stared back at him. With a sudden, mirthless laugh, Harper reached into his jacket and pulled out a handful of nuts, scattering them across the floor in front of him. “Come on – eat!” He laughed again as the creature picked at the nuts with infinite caution, chewing them slowly one by one, its eyes barely leaving Harper’s face. Despite the monkey’s subservience, there was something about its eyes that disturbed him. He could feel a prickling creep across his shoulders. There was nothing subservient about the animal’s eyes. In fact, little about those eyes seemed right, however intelligent it might be.

“Dumb beast,” Harper muttered. He strode to a pile of hardbound books on a table by the window. Each spine showed his name in large, stylistic letters next to the smaller title of the novel. S.D. Harper. A name that sold, so his publisher said – so his publisher knew! “D’you see this, you dumb little beast?” he said, pivoting on his heel to face the creature again. “This,” he said, “is me.” He raised the book. “This is my soul,” he said slowly, drunkenly, “you sorry-looking animal.”

Their eyes met, and Harper felt stupid, not only for talking to the monkey, but for the pretentiousness of what he’d said. It must be the drink, he thought, watching the monkey as it sidled towards him.

“What do you think you’re up to now?” he asked. Drink always made him aggressive – as two ex-wives had found to their cost. He stared at the monkey. “Piss off,” he muttered, unable to remember why he had ever felt interested in the creature – or why he had encouraged it back to his room. Though had he encouraged it? What happened seemed like a dream to him now. How had the filthy creature got here? He seemed to recall some raucous jokes from Wilkes after he managed to entice it back to the restaurant, where they had played with it for a while, throwing nuts for the monkey to catch while they drank more gin. He remembered Wilkes saying something about the Hindus’ belief in reincarnation, that if there was anything in it what had the monkey been in its previous life – a thief, a murderer, or a priest? All three, Harper remembered joking after he’d looked into its eyes. “What d’yer mean?” Wilkes asked, tears of drunken laughter in his. Harper told him it had probably been the soul of a priest from one of those murderous cults that haunted India’s distant past. He felt clever when he said it, knowing Wilkes, the bumbling salesman, was falling for it hook, line and sinker. “No such thing,” Wilkes retorted. Then Harper told him about the cult of the Thuggees whose followers committed wholesale murder on hapless travellers.

Why he’d said it – why he’d ever connected it with the monkey, he didn’t know. It was odd, because somehow he’d meant it. There was a look deep down inside the creature’s eyes that suggested this to him, instinctively perhaps, or intuitively, or some such nonsensical thing.

“Piss off,” he muttered.

The monkey stopped and stared at him.

“Hanuman,” Harper said, “you’re a filthy, murderous, nasty little thief. You probably killed your own father – and your children – which would be the kind of thing a Thuggee would do, isn’t it?” He chuckled, though he did not know why. “Now piss off and leave me alone!”


Perhaps because of the alcohol he’d drunk he had bad dreams that night, dreams in which he found himself lost in a moonlit jungle. Nearby was a dirt track, grooves worn into it from thousands of carts that had trundled down it over the years. He wasn’t alone. Others were with him. Waiting. One of them gloated that a band of travellers, who set out late from the nearest town, were planning to pass this way before settling down for the night. Some of their comrades had already managed to infiltrate the travellers, he added, masquerading as pilgrims.

Soon, as expected, the travellers appeared, with armed guards amongst them, hired as protection against the Thugs. What none of them knew was that most of their guards were Thuggees themselves!

Harper hunkered down, feeling the familiar excitement building inside him. Soon the travellers would settle for the night, lulled by a false sense of security. At a signal they would be attacked from within and without as their guards turned on them and he and the rest of the gang swarmed in. He held a yellow scarf between his fingers. He would use it to strangle his victims for Kali, Goddess of Destruction. His hands itched with the urge to do it. He could barely wait for the killing to begin. He loved that even more than the spoils they would take, before burying the bodies. It was what he lived for, to feel his victim struggle beneath him, unable to escape from the ritualistic noose that was strangling the life from them.

Hours passed as they followed the caravan before they stopped for the night. Time passed while food was eaten, then the travellers settled down to sleep, relying on their hired guards to keep them safe.

Moonlight shone through leaves overhead on their huddled bodies.

Someone whistled.

It was the signal.

Silently, Harper crept towards the caravan, his scarf clenched ready to be drawn around the neck of his first victim, his first sacrifice to the Goddess, when a gunshot rang out and he realised they had been fooled.

More gunshots followed. In the muzzle flashes he saw men, white men. Soldiers, he realised. British soldiers.

Panicking, he fled between the trees, hoping to find somewhere to hide in the jungle, when a searing pain slammed hard between his shoulder blades, hurling him onto the ground. He realised he had been shot. Air wheezed from his lungs as blood bubbled, choking him, up his windpipe into his mouth, filling it. Frightened, he knew he was dying.

Darkness fell across his eyes.

Darkness such as he had never experienced before, a darkness that seemed eternal.
But wasn’t.


Disorientated, Harper opened his eyes, unable to remember who or where he was. He couldn’t even remember when he was. The only thing he could remember was hiding in a jungle, waiting to kill. Wanting to kill, he thought with a chill. He had wanted it so much it scared him now. That he had wanted to murder someone as much as he had sickened him. He could feel the cloth he clenched between his fingers as a garrotte. He could remember what it felt to wrap it around someone’s neck, drawing it tighter and tighter till it bit into their flesh and strangled them.

Sweating, Harper sat on the edge of his bed, sure he was going to be sick.

Across the room, staring at him, sat the monkey. Had it been there all night? Harper felt impatient at its presence but wary of it too.

Forcing himself to his feet he opened the window. Hot air blew in at him. It was already late morning and the sun was shining with a painful brilliance across the gardens outside.

Grabbing a towel from the bathroom, he shooed the monkey towards the window.

“Get out, you little bastard,” he rasped at it, his throat so dry it hurt to speak. He flicked the towel at the animal as it passed.

With a silent stare, the monkey leapt away from the towel and landed on the windowsill before dropping outside. He watched it lope across the paving stones alongside the garden, before squatting down to gaze back at him.

Grunting his annoyance, Harper shut the window and drew the curtains, blocking out the view. He knew the creature would still be staring, sure it would sit there for hours if need be, though he had no idea why. There was something odd, disturbing, frightening about the monkey, as if a human intelligence lurked somewhere inside its brain.

Harper grunted derisively. He knew he was being ridiculous, allowing his overactive imagination to get the better of him. Too much time on his hands and too much booze (definitely too much booze), that was the problem – the real problem. It was time to return home and put this exotic nonsense behind him.

After talking with Wilkes yesterday about the Thuggees, he knew the subject had preyed on his mind, which was why he dreamt about them. And that was all it had been, a meaningless, stupid dream.

Though that didn’t explain the monkey.

He wished he had never set eyes on it – or, when he did, had behaved like Wilkes, who treated the creature with contempt.

He lay down again, feeling tired, out of synch, as if he had not properly woken up and was still dreaming. That bloody, bloody monkey…

This time he was aware where he was. Luxuriant trees grew all around him and he knew he was in a jungle again. Was it the same as before? He could remember being shot. Hadn’t he died afterwards? Or had he blacked out and been rescued? He tried to look around, but his neck felt stiff and it was painful to move. Even so he could see there were other people nearby. A few feet from him a man moaned in pain. Another man sobbed. There was the smell of blood, and something worse. Was it gangrene? It snagged at his throat and he felt an urge to vomit but managed to control his reflexes as he pushed himself up high enough on the heap of straw he was lying on so he could look around. He realised he was in an encampment of some kind. There were others here, most of them injured. The injured were lying on the ground like him. There were a handful of men walking between them, old men mainly in dirty robes stained with blood.

Suddenly he realised how thirsty he was and called for water. The word came out as “Pani!” which he somehow knew was the same in whatever language these people spoke.

One of the old men, his beard streaked more grey than black, crept towards him with a pail of water. Using a wooden ladle, he dribbled it onto his lips. “Ahista,” the man whispered. Slow.

Harper nodded as he let the water trickle between his lips.

Later he learned what had happened. The fight had been fierce, with the soldiers’ rifles taking out many of their men before the rain started, coming down so hard it was impossible to see, let alone fight. In the confusion, many of the wounded, like him, were dragged into the jungle.

“You were lucky,” he was told. The musket shot that hit him must have either been fired with not enough powder or had ricocheted and lost most of its force. Though it had winded him and bruised his back, it had not penetrated the skin. “You will live to fight another day.”

Or kill, he thought, feeling weirdly caught up between his twentieth century self that was asleep and dreaming and the Thuggee who lived all those years ago, as if somehow he was unsure which was real, though the thought of strangling innocent men, women, and children to that disgustingly barbaric god, Kali, revolted Harper, even as the Thuggee spoke ecstatically about it.

Time passed quickly as if he sometimes blanked out. His injury was soon just an occasional twinge. Having left the encampment his group now moved cautiously through the jungle; aware they were being hunted by British soldiers. There were too many to fight head on, especially with their modern rifles. The Thuggees had to be cunning instead, scouting any caravan they were going to attack until they were certain it was safe to do so. At the same time, they had to make sure no one passed any information on to the British about where they were. Traitors were suspected. The rewards being offered were temptingly high, especially for people as poor as most of them were. Eyes, therefore, were everywhere, and you had to be careful what you said, which added to the atmosphere of paranoia.

When the Monsoon started he began to suffer. The injury to his back worsened again, so that often he could barely stand upright without groaning. Carrying anything heavier than a canteen of water was agony. But their leaders were deaf to his complaints. Kali did not recognise weakness, neither did her chief acolytes. And he knew he would be left to fend for himself if he became a burden. Or maybe worse, he would be sacrificed to their god.

He had to be strong!

Harper sensed the desperation.

He had to be strong!

Weeks passed, though to Harper they streamed by in seconds. He would close his eyes and open them again and days had gone, sometimes weeks. In a way this was a relief from the insufferable boredom and the pain in his back, but it was alarming as well as he could sense the deterioration of his Thuggee self. The injury to his back must have been worse than originally thought because he was hobbling now, doubled up in pain. He could barely imagine the man being capable of murdering anyone now, especially with a noose. That required strength, determination, and a strong back.

Harper felt no pity for the man though. In a way he was looking forward to all of them being caught and paying for their crimes, either by being shot dead or hanged. He wondered what the Thuggee’s fate would be: the bullet or the noose. Though it seemed more likely he would succumb to disease first. He had already developed a nasty cough and spat blood. Thick globules too large to bode anything but bad news.

His Thuggee self was aware how sick he was, and he could sense his wish to leave the cult and find a village where he could live out his days in peace.

It was only days before the Thuggee straggled behind the rest of the gang. Mostly this was because of the state of his health but there was connivance there too. He was looking for an opportunity. And soon it came.

A British patrol, including a mounted officer were heading for one of the small villages on the outskirts of the jungle. As soon as he saw them he hid, watching them as they questioned the villagers. The patrol had a native guide with them who carried out the interrogations. He was a tall man dressed in a uniform like the soldiers except for a turban which showed he was a Sikh.

The Thuggee buried his incriminating yellow scarf beneath a bush, then hobbled into plain sight of the soldiers, several of whom instantly trained their rifles on him.

Spreading his arms to show he had no weapons, he limped towards them. Over the next few hours, he told a rambling tale of being kidnapped by a gang of Thuggees who were marauding through the jungle. He gave them an even more rambling and vaguer story about his escape. When pressed by the Sikh he promised to lead them to where the gang was heading. Within hours a scout was dispatched to the main body of British troops and plans were made to trap the Thuggees and wipe them out or take them to be tried.

Thus it was that the gang was routed, and most were shot. The Thuggee was taken to identify those who had been captured, which was when he met his end. He had hardly finished walking down a line of Thugs when one of them leapt at him with a concealed knife, ignored the bullets that pounded his body to slam the dagger in his chest.

Harper awoke instantly.

He could see the killer’s face even now, filled with hatred.

“Kali will eat your heart, you damned traitor!” the man cried as they died, one on top of the other.

How odd to curse a man you were already killing, Harper thought. You would think the one would cancel the other! He shook his head, puzzled, though relieved that his dream had broken.

He went into the bathroom to wash and get dressed, deciding he needed company. It was another brilliantly sunny day and he knew he would find Wilkes in the bar when he’d eaten his breakfast. The man’s down-to-earth humour was what he needed now.


“No wonder you’re a novelist,” Wilkes said when Harper told him his dreams. though Harper seemed preoccupied, and was hardly listening to what Wilkes said, before he added as an afterthought: “Your imagination must be running on all pistons.”

“Too much sometimes,” Harper said finally.

“I’ll drink to that.” Wilkes laughed.

Harper laughed, but bitterly, then frowned, sitting up. “That damned monkey’s back again!” There was anger in his voice. “I wish the hotel would get rid of the filthy blighters.”

Wilkes turned and looked, feeling a cold riff going up his spine.

“I don’t suppose there’s much the hotel could do. It wouldn’t be politic to send someone out to shoot them. There’d be an uproar from the locals.”

“Shooting their little gods, eh? Ha ha, you’re right, of course. I forgot about that. Bloody idiots.”

Still… Harper thought. He stared at the monkey as it glared back at him, remembering that the Indian god Hanuman was associated with Kali, whose aspects could vary between good and evil, and was always at her worst amongst her Thuggee adherents, brandishing a severed head in one of her four hands and a necklace of skulls hung around her neck.

For one chill moment Harper was sure the monkey bore an uncanny resemblance to the face of the man who stabbed him to death in his dream. Then he laughed. Of course, it was. It was the monkey that inspired it. No wonder there were aspects of his attacker’s face in its. His imagination had used the monkey as a template, as simple as that.

Or was it?

Harper looked up.

“For all of that, they’re a bloody nuisance.”

Wilkes glanced at him, looking surprised at the rage that was consuming the man’s face as if he had gone mad and would gladly tear the monkey to pieces if he could lay his hands on it.

“Are you okay?” Wilkes asked, which seemed to irritate Harper even more, who ignored his question, his lips moving as if he was talking to himself.

Which was what he was doing, Wilkes realised with a shudder, making out the occasional words. Words that weren’t even English but might have been Urdu.

Suddenly Harper launched himself forwards, running towards the monkey, his gin and tonic smashing to the floor. He ran past Wilkes as if he weren’t there, bowling him over as one of his feet entangled itself under one of the legs of Wilkes’s chair, knocking him sideways. It was over in a second. Rolling across the floor, Harper grabbed at the monkey, which leapt beyond his reach, only for Harper to lash out with his fist, catching the creature on its chest. It was a hard blow, for all it was awkwardly delivered, bouncing the monkey into the restaurant wall where, scrabbling on his hands and knees, Harper pursued it with an aggression more animalistic than human. Again, he snatched at the creature, managing to grasp an arm in his hand, encircling its narrow bicep and tightening. The monkey bit at his fingers, tearing out lumps of flesh as it frantically tried to free itself, but Harper was oblivious to pain, his other hand circling the monkey’s throat and choking it.


The doctor was puzzled at his condition, that much Harper could tell, though he was quick enough to give his diagnosis.

“Heat stroke.”

Harper stared at him. He wondered what the man was talking about and why they were in the manager’s office. He was puzzled why the doctor, an overweight Indian in dirty white jacket and dusty trousers, was watching him through horn-rimmed spectacles with a quizzical frown on his face. Two waiters were stood beside him, their expressions wary, as if they were worried what Harper might do.

“You have been suffering from heat stroke,” the doctor repeated, emphasising his words as if to a child.

It was only then that Harper realised he was wearing handcuffs. He stared down at them, trying to remember why and when this happened, then realised the men beside the doctor weren’t waiters but policemen.

“Where’s the monkey?” he asked suddenly, feeling alarmed.

The doctor turned to one of the policemen and shook his head. Images, though, were already returning to Harper. He could see the monkey’s face as he leaned over it, his hand at its throat.

“I did it, didn’t I”?

The doctor nodded, absently. “It was a sacrilege. Many locals are already outside the hotel. They are very upset.”

Harper was sure the gently spoken words were an understatement. He could imagine the uproar that had been stirred by what he did.

But why did he do it?

One of the policemen turned to the doctor and whispered to him.

“He is obsessed with this monkey, yes?”

“It would seem so, Inspector. He thinks it has been haunting him.”

“A ghost?” The inspector uttered a nasal laugh.

“Very much like a ghost.”

“Too much sun and gin,” the inspector said, shaking his head at the handcuffed man.

“Too much sun and gin and too much imagination. A dangerous combination.”

Somewhere nearby Harper could hear chanting. On and on and on… While at the feet of the doctor and the two policeman the monkey squatted, staring at him.

“What’s it doing here?” Harper croaked in alarm, nodding at the creature to draw their attention.

“What is what doing here, Mr Harper?” the inspector asked.

“That monkey! That damned monkey in front of you.”

The men automatically looked at their feet. The inspector shook his head sadly.

“There is nothing there, Mr Harper.”

Even more clearly than before Harper recognised the assassin’s face in the monkey’s features. Why had he come back to plague him? Wasn’t killing him once all those years ago enough?

But he knew. He had known the answer all the time. He had betrayed his brethren to the soldiers. He had sold them out for coins and his freedom. In the end he had neither, just a dagger in the heart – and damnation on his soul.

Harper knew he should never have come to this place. He hardly knew why he had. An impulse? A whim?

Or a centuries old curse that drew him here to this fate?

“There are charges to be faced. Not serious legally,” the inspector added with emphasis, “but serious in the eyes of the locals. And possibly others across our great nation, who hold Hanuman in high esteem. Blasphemies mean more here than in your country. We are a religious nation. What you did is not regarded lightly.”

Harper could imagine. He would be a pariah if that were the right word for what he’d done.

“Tomorrow you will be taken to the magistrates, where you will be charged and sentenced, probably with a fine. I am sure you can afford it,” the inspector said.

“Then?” Harper asked, dry-mouthed.

“Then I suggest you go straight to the airport and return to England. And not come back to India again. For your own safety.”

Harper nodded. He had no wish to stay anyway. He was done with this country. Though he was certain India had done with him too. He had abused its hospitality and outlasted his welcome.

“You are sure his condition is stable?” the inspector asked the doctor, who nodded. “As sure as I can be.”

Harper was released from his handcuffs then accompanied upstairs to his room.

“One of my men will be stationed outside your door overnight,” the inspector said. “To ensure your safety, you understand,” he added.

And to make sure I don’t try to escape, Harper thought, though where to and why he had no idea.

He went for a shower. Sweat had formed a sticky layer on his skin and he felt lightheaded. Had he drunk too much gin and had too much sun, he wondered. He had drunk more than usual, he knew. He blamed Wilkes for that. The man was a veritable sponge, though he never seemed the worse for it.

When he’d finished, Harper returned to his bedroom. Which was when he saw it squatting in the middle of the floor, its dark eyes staring straight at his. The eyes of the assassin.


Police Constable Manjooran, who had been stationed outside Harper’s door, was the first to see him the following day when he unlocked it to tell him it was time to go to the magistrates’ court. Afterwards, to Manjooran’s eternal shame he was unable to convince his superiors he never left his post during the night, letting someone sneak into the author’s room, though he knew that he hadn’t, that no one could have entered, no one at all.

Though how the Englishman came to have been strangled in a room with all its windows locked and no other way in than the door he had been guarding, he could not explain. But strangled Harper was, with an ancient rag of yellow silk knotted around his throat.

Boo-graphy:
David A Riley writes horror, fantasy and SF stories. His first story was in the 11th Pan Book of Horror in 1970. He has had stories published by Doubleday, DAW, Corgi, Sphere, Roc, Playboy Paperbacks, Robinsons, etc, and in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, Whispers, Savage Realms Monthly and Fantasy Tales. His first collection of stories was published by Hazardous Press in 2012, His Old Man Demons. A Lovecraftian novel, The Return, was published by Blood Bound Books in 2013. A 2nd collection of stories, The Lurkers in the Abyss & Other Tales of Terror, was launched at the World Fantasy Convention in 2013 by Shadow Publishing. Hazardous Press published his 3rd collection, Their Cramped Dark World & Other Tales, in 2016. Both Hazardous Press collections have been reprinted by Parallel Universe Publications, plus two new collections After Nightfall & Other Weird Tales (illustrated by Jim Pitts) and A Grim God’s Revenge. A fantasy novel, Goblin Mire, and a horror novel, Moloch’s Children, were published in 2015. He and his wife Linden recently relaunched Parallel Universe Publications, which originally published Beyond magazine in 1995, and have now published around 50 books, including two art books.

Along with the award-winning artist Jim Pitts he edits a twice-yearly anthology of swords and sorcery stories: Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy. The fifth volume will be published as a paperback and ebook in November. Recent publications containing his stories are: Savage Realms Monthly #12 “The Carpetmaker of Arana”; Summer of Sci-Fi & Fantasy “The Storyteller of Koss”; Sword & Sorcery Magazine #118 “The God in the Keep”; Mythic #17 “Baal the Necromancer.” I also have a novelette due in the next issue of Lovecraftiana “The Psychic Investigator.”

Fourteen dark tales of fantasy and horror ranging from 1971 to 2020.

Dead Ronnie and I was first published in Sanitarium issue 44, 2016
Corpse-Maker was first published in Weird Window issue 2, 1971
The Urn was first published in Whispers issue 1, 1972
Gwargens was first published in Beyond issue 3, 1995
Retribution was first published in Peeping Tom issue 3, 1991
The Bequest was first published in Dark Horizons, 2008
They Pissed on My Sofa was first published in Malicious Deviance, 2011
Old Grudge Ender was first published in The Screaming Book of Horror, 2012
A Girl, a Toad and a Cask was first published in The Unspoken, 2013
Scrap was first published in Dark Visions 1, 2013
Lem was first published in The Eleventh Black Book of Horror, 2015
A Grim God’s Revenge was first published in Mythic issue 4, 2017
Grudge End Cloggers was first published in Scare Me, 2020
Hanuman was first published in Phantasmagoria issue 16, 2020