SHORT STORY: Hanuman by David A Riley

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.

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

CHARACTER INTERVIEW: Grim Reaper #2497 (The Reaper’s Quota, Sarah McKnight)

Meghan: Hi Reaper. Thank you for joining us today. What is one word you would use to define yourself?


Meghan: Do you see yourself as the “good guy” or the “bad guy”?

I was the bad guy. Right now, I really don’t know.

Meghan: What does the plot require you to be? How does this requirement limit you?

Indecisive. It doesn’t leave much room for my own character growth, but I guess I’m supposed to be that way.

Meghan: What is your quest?

All I want out of life – er, the afterlife – is a do-over. I know I can do better.

Meghan: What do you hope to accomplish, find, or become during the course of your book/series?

I need answers. I need to find a way to escape this corporate hell.

Meghan: What do you like about the other main characters? What do you least like about the other main characters?

Reaper #2007 is okay, I guess. I think he really wants to help. The Big Boss can crumble to dust for all I care.

Meghan: When was the last time you lied What made you do it?

I lie every day to try and keep my skull attached to my spine.

Meghan: Who have you betrayed lately? What happened?

I’ve betrayed tons of people who had full lives ahead of them. The only thing is, they don’t know I betrayed them.

Meghan: Would you say that you are an optimist or a pessimist?

Realist, I guess. Life sucks and then you die, and sometimes even then fate isn’t done with you yet.

Meghan: What is your superpower?

My Reaper Magic is pretty fun to play around with. I can’t manipulate anyone’s freewill, of course, but I have been known to cause a few creative… accidents here and there.

Meghan: What is your biggest secret?

I remember. Not everything, but it’s coming back slowly, and I can’t let them know.

Meghan: Do you live in the right world? How necessary are you to your world?

I’m in the right world in the sense that I did something to deserve to be here. I wouldn’t say I’m a necessary part of the team, though. I’m just another faceless Reaper in a crowd of thousands.

Meghan: What is your role in this setting? Are you okay with this role or would you like it to change?

Look, I get that death is inevitable and without us, people couldn’t die, but I really want to quit this lousy job.

Meghan: Did you turn out the way you expected?

No, and I hope I can still change that.

Meghan: What, if anything, would you change about your life?

That one moment that sealed my fate as a Reaper.

Meghan: How do you feel about your author?

If I were real, she’d be next.

Meghan: If the two of you got together for coffee, what would you want to say to them?

I’ve got something extra special cooked up for you. Consider it payback for all the torture you put me through. I hate this job, but I’m making an exception for you since you’re the one who put me here in the first place.

Sarah McKnight has been writing stories since she could pick up a pencil, and it often got her in trouble during math class. After a brief stint teaching English to unruly middle schoolers in Japan, she decided she wasn’t going to put off her dream of becoming a writer any longer and set to work. With several novels in the making, she hopes to tackle issues such as anxiety, depression, and letting go of the past – with a little humor sprinkled in, too. A St Louis native, she currently lives in Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband and three cats. You can find her on Twitter and on her website.

The Reaper Chronicles 1:
The Reaper’s Quota
Meet Grim Reaper #2497. Behind on his work, he must complete his quota of thirty Random Deaths or face termination in the worst way. Faced with an insurmountable task and very little time to complete it, Reaper #2497 struggles to hang on to the one thing he’s not supposed to have – his humanity.


Meghan: Hey, Sarah! Welcome to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. Thanks for joining us today. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Sarah: I think the shorter answer is what isn’t my favorite part of Halloween! I love seeing all the fun and unique costumes (and occasionally dressing up myself), the crisp fall air, and of course the endless supply of horror movies.

Meghan: Do you get scared easily?

Sarah: It really depends. Paranormal things don’t scare me so much because I’ve always had a huge interest in them. It’s the things that could cause direct harm to me, like real people, that really scare me.

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

Sarah: This is a really hard one! Off the top of my head, I think I would have to say Stephen King’s Apt Pupil. There is a particular scene in both the movie and the book involving a cat that disturbed me so much I will never, ever look at either of them again.

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

Sarah: Probably the murders that take place in Funny Games, which is incidentally probably my favorite movie of all time.

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

Sarah: That’s never happened to me!

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

Sarah: I would have to say The Haunting, that terrible 90’s movie based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. It was the first horror movie I ever saw, and I always wanted to explore that gigantic house.

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

Sarah: Anything paranormal! Probably Stephen King’s IT. I want to be in the Losers Club.

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

Sarah: Pennywise the Dancing Clown, of course. Chucky is a very close second.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Sarah: Scary movies in the dark. I will never get tired of it.

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

Sarah: Oogie Boogie’s Song from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Not to brag, but I can really belt that one out!

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Sarah: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. I think the reason it’s so scary is because it’s an extremely realistic situation that could happen to anyone.

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

Sarah: My friends and I had been messing around with a Ouija board (I know, I know…) I went back to my apartment and none of my roommates were home. While I was in my room, I heard something fall and break in the kitchen. I went to investigate, but nothing was out of place, and I was still there alone.

Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?

Sarah: So many! I think if I had to pick just one, I’d want to know what happened aboard the Mary Celeste.

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

Sarah: The classic Lady in White. Can you imagine picking someone up off the side of the road, driving her all the way home, only for her to disappear and discover she was dead the whole time?

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

Sarah: Probably a hammer. Easy to carry and good for bashing brains!

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

Sarah: Vampire, please! Can you imagine having to manage all that fur? Yikes!

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

Sarah: Aliens. Maybe they’re friendly after all?

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

Sarah: What exactly is “zombie juice”? Is it like Bug Juice? I’m probably going with that just to be safe.

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

Sarah: The Poltergeist house. Show me all the paranormal activity!

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

Sarah: Bitter melon with chilies please. I don’t even want the mental image of the other thing.

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

Sarah: Depends, what is the witch cooking up? A potion? A delicious soup? I’ll take the mystery cauldron!

Sarah McKnight has been writing stories since she could pick up a pencil, and it often got her in trouble during math class. After a brief stint teaching English to unruly middle schoolers in Japan, she decided she wasn’t going to put off her dream of becoming a writer any longer and set to work. With several novels in the making, she hopes to tackle issues such as anxiety, depression, and letting go of the past – with a little humor sprinkled in, too. A St Louis native, she currently lives in Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband and three cats. You can find her on Twitter and on her website.

The Reaper Chronicles 1:
The Reaper’s Quota
Meet Grim Reaper #2497. Behind on his work, he must complete his quota of thirty Random Deaths or face termination in the worst way. Faced with an insurmountable task and very little time to complete it, Reaper #2497 struggles to hang on to the one thing he’s not supposed to have – his humanity.


Meghan: Hey, Marc! Welcome BACK to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. It is ALWAYS a pleasure to have you join in our festivities. Let’s jump right in – Do you get scared easily?

SC: Yes, but only if I’m thinking of the future of our current civilization.

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

SC: Two come to mind. The Descent is the first and only movie I ever watched in a theater alone. That mixed with the claustrophobia of being underground made it one of the scariest. The second is The Exorcist. I was young and Regan’s eyes haunted me for a long time after my first viewing. More than the movie itself, it was her eyes.

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

SC: The Strangers. I can’t remember an exact kill from it, but the premise of the murders disturbed me. “Because you were home.” Nothing else. Not revenge. Not an obsessive love interest. Just because you’re here. To think that murder could be completely random disturbs me.

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

SC: No. But when I was a kid, the commercials for Cronenberg’s The Fly gave me nightmares. “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” My mom had me draw a picture of a scary image from the commercial and then we tore it up and burned it. The ritual helped. However, when I got older, I really enjoyed the remake.

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

SC: Something like Zombie Strippers or Strippers vs. Werewolves. Look, if I’m gonna get killed, I want to have a good time before I go out.

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

SC: Ash in Army of Darkness

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

SC: It used to be going to haunted house attractions. I would try to go to as many as possible throughout October. Now, I enjoy sitting in my driveway and passing out candy.

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

SC: Uh, man, this is difficult. “Halloween” by the Misfits is great. “Hellraiser” by Motorhead also gets me in the mood. I think “Hellraiser” was originally on the March or Die album, but I heard it on the soundtrack for Hellraiser III and I’ve associated it with horror movies ever since.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

SC: We Need to Talk About Kevin. The concept of being a parent was psychologically horrifying to me as a younger man.

Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?

SC: The Mary Celeste.

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

SC: Rifle, pistol, and shotgun. That should cover all the bases.

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

SC: Vampire

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

SC: Probably easier to survive a zombie apocalypse, but I’m so damn curious about aliens, I’ll go with the ETs.

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

SC: I just vomited in my mouth

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

SC: Amityville

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

SC: Bitter watermelon chilies

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

SC: I’m slightly arachnophobic so abracadabra give me that witch’s brew.

SC Mendes is the co-host of Horror Business – a podcast dedicated to helping authors make a career of their writing. He produces the Don’t Fall Asleep Podcast with Spencer Dillehay and is also the co-owner of Blood Bound Books – an independent publisher whose mission is spreading hope through dark fiction. Mendes has been publishing dark fiction under various names since 2009. The Order of Eternal Sleep, his sequel to The City, released in January 2022, and he is hard at work on the series finale. SC attempts to keep up with readers on Facebook, his website, and welcomes fan/hate mail in his mailbox.

There is a civilization buried deep beneath our own. A place spoken of only in whispers. If you are desperate enough, you will find it. But remember, all knowledge comes at a price.

The bodies were discovered six months after Max Elliot turned in his badge. All that remained of the victims were piles of flayed skin and organs. The bones of each body had been stolen. This torturous method of execution had only been seen once before, and that case remained unsolved. Confident of a connection between the grizzly murders, the police turn to the one man they believe can help. With the allure of closure to his own personal tragedy, Max Elliot agrees to reinstatement for one last case. But the clues lead the unstable detective down a path he never could have imagined. A mysterious drug, a world beneath our own, sex and violence on an unprecedented level, and creatures as ancient as sin itself.

Three years after Max Elliot goes missing, an anonymous tip brings Detectives McCloud and O’Neil to a residential arson on the outskirts of Chinatown.

The majority of the house survived, but the six bodies inside were reduced to gnarled heaps of blackened limbs.

A hidden door to the basement reveals a strange ritual space. Sealing the room, is the image of a serpent and obelisk, reminiscent of Ming’s scarred palm. On the black altar, they find an unidentifiable language and symbols that lead to more questions. Dark magick. Suppressed news reports. Dirty cops.

Besides the nightmares inspired by the crime, something else from the hidden basement is following them. Infecting them. Providing a glimpse to the mental anguish coming to consume us all.

Meanwhile, a secret order is poised to complete their greatest ritual yet. The Rites of Eternal Sleep will usher in the long night. And when the Black Sun rises, the surface will never be the same.

Under the influence of dark forces, McCloud will need all the help he can get to unravel the many veils of The Order before time runs out.

Discover the true plans of the Mara today!

GUEST POST: Robert Herold

Why We Need Horror

Horror fulfills an important part of human culture. Ancient societies were full of examples: The Chaos Monster in Mesopotamia, the Greek’s Minotaur and Gorgon, the tale of Beowulf, the Gumiho from Korea, and many others.

Confronting fearful mythic figures have been used to inspire, explain the unknowable, and to entertain. But they do more than that. Many times, a monster is pitiable, getting us to confront societal prejudices and unfair practices. For example, while Frankenstein’s monster is depicted differently in book and film, both are victims and cause us to question what is just and fair. So too with many of the figures of horror fiction and film.

While some contend that horror is inherently conservative, as the goal is to return to how things used to be, many times the reader or viewer of horror is actually asked to question the norms of society. When done well, horror can enlighten.

Ultimately, we need horror. Stephen King perhaps said it best: “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”

(This piece originally appeared in the author’s newsletter, The Haunted House of Herold. If interested in subscribing, contact the author at

The supernatural has always had the allure of a forbidden fruit, ever since my mother refused to allow me, as a boy, to watch creature features on late night TV. She caved in. (Well, not literally!)

While other kids my age wanted to grow up to be doctors, firefighters, spacemen, and the like, I wanted to be a werewolf.

I have pursued my interests over the years (including playing the sax and flute, and teaching middle school history for 36 years), but supernatural writing always called to me. You could say that I was haunted. Ultimately, I hope my books give you the creeps, and I mean that in the best way possible!


The Eidola Project – The Eidola Project is a 19th century team of ghost hunters who become ensnared in a deadly investigation of a haunted house. They are a psychology professor, his assistant, an African-American physicist, a young sideshow medium, and a traumatized Civil War veteran, each possessing unique strengths and weaknesses. Will any of them survive?

Moonlight Becomes You – The Eidola Project travels to Petersburg, Virginia, to investigate a series of murders in the Black community—rumored to be caused by a werewolf. Once there, danger comes from all quarters. Not only do they face threats from the supernatural, the KKK objects to the team’s activities, and the group is falling apart. Can they overcome their human frailties to defeat the evil that surrounds them?

Totem of Terror – The Eidola Project, a team of 19th Century ghost hunters, have been tasked with trying to stop a deadly shapeshifting demon attacking the native people of La Push, on the Washington Coast. The team brings their own demons with them, in the form of drug addiction, a werewolf’s curse, and being in mourning from the death of a loved one. Can they rise to this new challenge, or will they face the same grisly end as the shapeshifter’s other victims?

Witch Ever Way You Go
When an ill-fated graduate student and his girlfriend are lured into a terrifying world of witchcraft and murder, they become targets for human sacrifice. Is there a chance they can escape a bloodthirsty coven of witches and certain death until the curse is lifted? A spellbinding story of modern horror.