I just wanted to announce that my cosmic horror story, “Shattered,” is included, and free to read, in the 11th Anniversary issue of The Horror Zine! Check it out here!
I just wanted to announce that my cosmic horror story, “Shattered,” is included, and free to read, in the 11th Anniversary issue of The Horror Zine! Check it out here!
As an organic writer, I firmly believe in letting the characters dictate the narrative within the plot structure. To that end, I created the first three main characters.
Jack, much like his real-life counterpart, was a former bully in high school, a drug user, and a problem drinker. Turning his life around, he moves out of the fictional Wellington, Massachusetts, and gets a job in construction in the equally fictional Farmington, MA. When he hears about his old friends dying from wild animal attacks, he remembers the curse Michael Matheson put on all of them. A curse they had laughed off. He returns to Wellington to attend a funeral and to investigate the real reasons his old classmates are dying. Writers often use the name Jack for the quintessential hero, but I also had another reason. As I mentioned in part 1, I received partial inspiration from Flatliners (1988), and Kiefer Sunderland’s character in the film. The TV show 24 made me think of Sunderland as Jack Bauer. I decided Jack would be a good first name. In high school, I loved King Diamond’s horror concept albums and took Jack’s surname from the house (Amon) in the albums, Them and Conspiracy.
Michael was bullied which eventually led to him attending Gold’s Tae Kwon Do to protect himself. But Michael had a dark side, dabbling in black magic and the occult. Finding a spell in an old grimoire, he performed a ritual to awaken the Wolves of Vengeance, a corporal curse to attack his bullies. After performing the ritual, nothing happened. Michael chalked it up as a failure. Twenty-something years later the Wolves finally arrive and begin killing their marks. Michael never left Wellington and took over the school when Gold retired. Michael comes from my middle name and Matheson as an homage to Richard Matheson, the author of such works as I am Legend. Like Jack, he’s a composite character, drawn from more than one person, but he’s somewhat based on me.
Katty was an aspiring musician in high school (a guitarist to be exact) and a self-described rocker chick. She, like Jack, has a problem with alcohol. Unlike Jack, she’s a full-blown alcoholic. Her pet name derives from her high school persona (catty) and Andy LaRoche’s (King Diamond guitarist) last name. She’s based on various musicians I knew in high school and a real-life rocker chick from my high school.
I had read Tom Piccirilli’s Welcome to Hell: A Working Guide for the Beginning Writer. Pic suggested newer novelists lightly outline the first half of their novels. I took his advice. Once the outline was complete, I realized the manuscript would only reach novella length. Needing to beef up the manuscript, I asked myself this question:
What characters do I need to tell this story?
Police involvement was a given. Adding a detective made sense.
The only thing I worried about was voluminous research. What experience did I have that I could transfer to the character to make him believable? Turns out, I had more than I thought.
I had worked a decade in private security, part of the criminal justice field. First, as a patrol officer, then as a security manager, and finally as a human resources recruiter. Security work put me in regular contact with police, fire, and EMS. As a security manager, I had performed investigations and later worked for a security and investigations firm, picking up interesting information directly from private investigators.
My dad had also worked in private investigations, safety & security, special police, and fire, along with being one of the first EMTs in Massachusetts. He had been in charge of makeup and effects for emergency response training. When I was a kid he’d sometime practice the makeup effects on me. I grew up with this stuff!
I had also recently visited my local PD to renew a license and got the nickel tour. I used my hometown police station as a model for the one in the book.
The Writer’s Digest Howdunit series filled in many of the gaps.
With the research and experience in mind, I set about creating Detective Adrian Callahan. Originally, he was nothing more than a generic Irish cop. My wife would later express an idea that would help flesh out his character. More on that later.
All in all, I consider my detective a success. I had a former law enforcement officer say as much. He felt my detective was accurate and believable. You can’t get much better than that.
With the decision to include a detective, I then decided that the military in some form might also be involved. I thought about adding a grizzled military captain but not wanting to include another generic character, I cast a woman as my military captain. At that moment, Captain Amanda Rann was born.
Next time, I’ll discuss how Callahan’s changes made him a controversial character, and how Rann becomes a driving force in the novel.
Get Wolves of Vengeance here!
Note: Since most people are sheltering in place, I figured I’d make my first novel FREE for as long as Amazon lets me. You can get Wolves of Vengeance here. If you read it, and you’re so inclined, I’d love for you to post a review on Amazon. Just a few sentences and whatever star rating you feel it deserves would be perfect. Thanks!
Back in 2006, I abandoned my first novel. I had spent four long years trying to wrangle that mess of a manuscript into a cohesive whole, and by the time I figured out how to save it—I had a big problem. My skill level at the time was no match for the complexity of the story. I stepped away from the project.
I decided to develop an idea originally envisioned as a screenplay.
The seed of that idea came from an incident in high school and the aftermath that would stay with me forever.
The “stranger comes to town” motif of Stephen King’s novels, along with the “man and woman come together to defeat a great evil while healing themselves in the process” motif, often seen in Dean Koontz novels, inspired my approach to this story.
Also, the film Flatliners, where Kiefer Sunderland’s character “flatlines” and has a confrontation with the “ghost” of the child he bullied when he was younger, was very influential.
Here’s some background information:
In 1987, after dealing with bullies in my freshman year, I attended an old school Tae Kwon Do dojang (training hall). Our teacher ran the place like a fight gym. The students were motivated adults, mostly working-class men who liked to beat the crap out of each other for fun. It was a rough tutelage. We maintained military bearing, conditioned ourselves like fighters, and lived for continuous contact sparring practiced every night without safety equipment.
Within a short time, the fierce reputation of the dojang, along with winning a few school fights, ended the bullying.
In my senior year, I slacked off a little with my training. Without the constant need to defend myself, I lost my motivation.
Then providence intervened.
Without going into the details, I had an altercation with a student. We’ll call him Jack. After the encounter, he said he would beat me up after school.
I waited for him in the parking lot, but he never showed. That should have ended it.
Instead, the next day, a female student asked if Jack and I had fought. I told her he never showed. And then, stupidly, I added: “He must have been too scared to fight me.”
My comment didn’t allow Jack to save face. I had just been afflicted by the symptoms of foot-in-mouth disease. My remark made it back to him, and this time he was waiting for me after school.
We had a standoff and a shouting match. The principle broke it up. Although we threw no punches, we both declared victory.
Of course, neither of us wanted to fight and is the reason we ended up in a stalemate. But from that point on, I needed to train just in case we ended up throwing down. I went straight back to hard training at the dojang. Two years later, I would earn a black belt. You can watch the highlights of that test here. Skip to near the end for sparring.
Jack and I never had words again. We ended up at the same party once, not long after high school, but we kept to ourselves.
The last time I saw him, he was walking around the downtown area. I was driving my girlfriend’s (now my wife) brand-new car. We made eye contact. That moment seemed like a little victory.
I never forgot about our skirmish, though. Without a resolution, the incident nestled insidiously in my subconscious.
A few years later, my dad called to tell me Jack had died of a drug overdose.
I began to wonder what would have happened if he had turned his life around. That gave me an idea. I could give him a new life in the screenplay idea I had always meant to write. In that instant, Jack Amon and Wolves of Vengeance were born.
In 2006, I decided to develop that idea into a novel.
Next time, I’ll explain how I expanded the idea into novel form and how I developed the main cast of characters.
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I hope everyone is doing well during these crazy times. Just wanted to let you know that Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers is free for a limited time on Kindle. This anthology includes my story, “Malfeasance.” Happy Reading!
If you’re interested in how I wrote and sold this story you can read about it here.
Before I go, I want to let you know I’ve been behind on my blog writing. You probably already know that. Haha! But I will be continuing The Scribes of Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale series. I also want to get back to my NaNoWriMo novel, BLACK MAGIC BULLETS.
On an encouraging note, I just received an acceptance from an award-winning webzine. I’ll have a free story online for you to ready sometime in July.
I’ve been plugging away at the final edits of a 90,000-word horror thriller. Hopefully, I’ll be finished soon and can put it on the market.
The better part of this week was spent rewriting a short story for an anthology open call. I really love the story, but it needed a lot of TLC to bring it up to my current standards.
I also sent out a Lovecraft inspired story to another anthology open call.
That’s it for now. I’ll be back soon. Stay safe out there!
As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
If you’ve been following my blog, you know I started a new novel called Black Magic Bullets (working title) for NaNoWriMo. I thought it would be fun to participate this year and dove right in,—-albeit a little late.
I wasn’t expecting to write 50,000 words in a month, and I knew I couldn’t do it while sharing my first draft with the world. I’d have to write slowly enough that the prose was readable and made logical sense. As such, I only got down a little over 13,000 words. Still, not bad for a busy month while trying to finish up the 3rd draft of another novel.
Stephen King warns about writing with the “door open,” but this has been an enjoyable exercise and I’ve had some fantasy readers reach out to express interest in the story. That’s always heartwarming and encouraging, since most of the time we write in isolation, without any input until we finish and release it to the world.
I haven’t decided what I want to do yet. I know I’d like to continue Black Magic Bullets and post my first draft (at least up to a point) on this blog. I’m planning to share at least half the book, but If I decide to stop at any time, I’ll put up a notice and give you a chance to contact me. I’ll then send the rest of the first draft, in installments, to you directly. I wouldn’t want to string you along and not give you an ending.
If I go beyond publishing half the book on this blog, I worry I’d have trouble selling it once completed.
Anyway, thanks for reading. I plan to get back to Black Magic Bullets soon. I also want to talk about the Honorable Mention I received from Writers of the Future before year-end. Then I’d like to get back to my regular Scribe’s Arcanum posts. I’m also determined to finish the 3rd draft of my horror thriller. It must be completed by the end of this year! I’ve worked on it too long already. Also, stay tuned for my year-end report where I list everything I’ve accomplished this year. It’s going to be a big one!
Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll continue to take this journey with me.
I had momentum behind me from recent sales and figured it wouldn’t hurt to have another story acceptance. I had already tried to sell The Hours of Sleep to all the professional publications but no one wanted vampire fiction. Then I came across the open call for an anthology called You can’t kill me: I’m already dead: A Vampire Anthology. Here was a market tailor-made for my story.
The editor was only offering royalties and a free e-copy of the book, but there was another reason to submit, besides money or placing what seemed an unmarketable story. Cool kids. Yes, I was keeping up with upcoming writers. When I found out that some were submitting or had been accepted, I wanted to be included with that group. I also knew that if they were submitting to this anthology, it would be quality and a worthwhile venture.
Eric J. Guignard, a Bram Stoker Award winner, a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award, and a multi-nominee of the Pushcart Prize has probably had the most success of all the alumni of that anthology. Good company to keep, and pages to share.
I also met a writer in that anthology who has also worked as an editor and invited me to submit to his print magazine and podcast.
Pro Tip 2: Sharing pages with up-and-coming authors and editors can lead to friendships and market invites. You never know.
Here’s the blurb and a list of the authors included in the book:
“You can’t kill me, I’m already dead: A Vampire Anthology” presents the chronicles behind modern vampires and provides a chronological tour through vampire literature. Vampires have long captured the imaginations of famous writers, who wrote novels, stories, poems, and plays about the creatures of the night.
Eric J. Guignard
Rebecca L. Brown
Joseph A. Pinto
Norman A. Rubin
T. Fox Dunham
Denny E. Marshall
Joseph J. Patchen
The editor sent an acceptance on 11/25/12 and then on 12/2/12 sent a contract for me to sign electronically.
In the end, I found a home for my story, connected with other up-and-coming writers within the community, and continued my momentum.
You can’t kill me: I’m already dead: A Vampire Anthology is available for purchase here.
Next time we’ll continue this discussion and we’ll also touch upon editorial feedback and how it can enhance your career.
I was hoping to tell you by now that I made a short fiction sale this year. Although that hasn’t happened yet, I’m pleased to report that I received an Honorable Mention for the 3rd quarter of L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. I’m also told that it puts me in the top 2% of all entrants. I’m awaiting my certificate and will tell you more once it’s posted on their official blog.
Last time I mentioned I would talk about giving your work away or, in this case, gambling on the potential for royalties, and a free electronic copy of the anthology. Think long and hard before you give up “first rights.” Once you give those rights away, you can never get them back, and the next time you sell the manuscript, you must do so as a reprint. Reprint sales are not as lucrative as new story sales.
Pro Tip: It’s never a bad thing to give your work away to a legitimate charity anthology.
The idea for The Hours of Sleep began as, of all things, the original lyrics to a song. Back in 1996, I was working an interim job, and I had some extra time on my hands. My wife had purchased an entry-level keyboard/synthesizer for me to mess around on and burn through some of my creativity. This was a year before I began writing and submitting short fiction. I decided I wanted to write a progressive rock/thrash metal/goth-pop album. All I had to work with was a boombox with a double tape deck, an omni-microphone, the synthesizer, my voice, and a coffee can for reverb and echo.
Back at my parents’ house, I would have been able to use my dad’s DJ and production equipment. But here in our new apartment, I didn’t have access to those niceties. I no longer had a drum set, and I wasn’t hanging around musicians like I had in the ‘80s. Still, I was determined to make an album.
Without going into the full story, I ended up writing a song called Vomit Dirt Cascade. Haha! I know… Great title, right? The title meant to call up the image of the undead exploding from a fresh grave.
The Lyrics that inspired The Hours of Sleep short story:
Numbness kills the pain
The night was black in vain
Urges to kill and win
I’ll make you my slave
Steal your blood from vein
When there is nothing left
You will be twice dead
Thirst in your black hole soul
Carrion has claimed his toll
Now you’ve become the naïve
But if I was the grave
Vomit Dirt Cascade!
Vomit Dirt Cascade!
The original title of my story was Twice Dead, but I took another song called The Hour of Sleep (inspired by John Carpenter’s Brotherhood of Sleep in the horror movie Prince of Darkness) and made it plural.
I’ve been thinking about posting the audio on YouTube. If I do, I’ll provide a hyperlink here later.
Back in the year 2000, my wife and I made a return trip to New Orleans. We hadn’t been back to NOLA since our honeymoon in 1995. We stayed at the Bourbon Orleans, and a bellhop had given us some advice on where to visit and which areas to avoid. The dark and dangerous streets of the French Quarter excited my imagination. Then, in our youth, being adventurous, we had drinks at a vampire bar, as part of a tour led by a self-proclaimed “real-life vampire,” living in what is known as vampire reality, who called himself Vlad. In the center of the space, there was a cage large enough to hold a human standing upright.
When we returned home, this experience (along with my song lyrics) coalesced into the story I eventually titled The Hours of Sleep.
After finishing the manuscript, I sent the story out and began collecting rejection slips. One editor said he thought The Hours of Sleep was the most original vampire story he had read in ages, but he didn’t take vampire fiction any longer and wouldn’t be buying it.
I sent it to the now-defunct Dreams of Decadence and got a great rejection letter. The editor thought the story was original and well written but she also passed. I would later study her magazine to discover why it wasn’t such a good fit. I talk more about this in my posts about the story, Despair.
With The Hours of Sleep returned to my virtual trunk on my hard drive, I gave up on the story and moved on.
In 2012, I noticed an open call for You Can’t Kill Me, I’m Not Dead Yet: a Vampire Anthology and tried my luck.
I’ll tell you what happened next time.
The Scribe’s Arcanum:
Anatomy of a Sale—Malfeasance Part 2
Two months later, I got word that awaiting publisher approval, Malfeasance had made the cut. I was cautiously ecstatic. The editor didn’t think the publisher would kick anyone out, but she couldn’t officially accept any story without the publishers go-ahead.
Here’s what she wrote about the story:
I really liked it. It was a great premise, good writing. I love Law and Order SVU and it reminded me of that but with an evil twist. I liked too that the villain really wasn’t in the story till the end yet he was a huge presence. I have to think that’s not easy to do, but you pulled it off.
About 21 days later, she gave me permission to announce the acceptance on social media. Then in August, I signed the contract. Realizing I could take part in my first reading and signing, I committed to attending the inaugural, but now defunct, Anthology Convention (AnthoCon) in New Hampshire.
I had a fantastic time at the convention.
After the reading, I took part in my first signing. Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers did well, selling out the 100 copies we had on hand. Then it continued to sell at other conventions and at online retailers.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was my first opportunity to share pages with the late great Rick Hautala (sometimes billed as the other writer from Maine, as he was Stephen King’s roommate in college), one of the authors who inspired me as a teenager during the 1980’s horror boom.
Here’s some information on the anthology:
The anthology features 26 stories and poems from the delightfully scary to the deeply macabre.
Epitaphs, edited by author Tracy L. Carbone, includes an introduction by award-winning author and publisher Peter Crowther, as well as a cover by Danny Evarts. The table of contents in this chilling anthology is as follows:
Perfect Witness – Rick Hautala
To Sleep, Perchance to Die – Jeffrey C. Pettengill
The Christopher Chair – Paul McMahon
A Case of the Quiets – Kurt Newton
Build-a-Zombie – Scott T. Goudsward
Not an Ulcer – John Goodrich
The Possessor Worm – B. Adrian White
Make a Choice – John McIlveen
The Death Room – Michael Allen Todd
Kali’s Promise – Trisha J. Wooldridge
The Sequel – David Bernard
Malfeasance – David North-Martino
Private Beach – Stacey Longo
All Aboard – Christopher Golden
Holiday House – LL Soares
Lines at a Wake – Steven Withrow
A Deeper Kind of Cold – K. Allen Wood
Alone – P. Gardner Goldsmith
Pandora’s Box – Roxanne Dent
Chuck the Magic Man Says I Can – Michael Arruda
Burial Board – TT Zuma (Tony Tremblay)
Windblown Shutter – John Grover
Cheryl Takes a Trip – Stephen Dorato
The Legend of Wormley Farm – Philip Roberts
Church of Thunder and Lightening – Peter N. Dudar
Wow! What a talented group! Looking back, I find it humbling to have been part of this project.
Epitaphs is now out of print, but an ebook version is still available. Since you can still purchase the anthology for the low sum of $2.99, I won’t be publishing Malfeasance on this blog. Although, I am planning on recreating my reading, a reading that at one point in the narrative initiated a gasp from the crowd. Once I make a video and upload it to Youtube, I’ll link to it on this blog.
Here’s a mixed review of my story by a reader on Amazon. It’s interesting, I was actually trying to make it feel like the reader was on a train, looking out a window, and seeing that the bridge is out ahead, knows nothing can be done about it, except take the plunge.
Malfeasance by David North-Martino: This was perhaps the most maddening story in the bunch. Just as with the previous story, I knew how it would end very early on. And yet it was crafted so intricately, I kept thinking no, I’m wrong, there’s a twist here I’m not seeing. But then… it ended just how I thought it would. Disappointing in that regard, yes, but it was still very much worth the read.
Still, it’s good feedback, and I’m always trying to improve. Many times, a mixed or bad review can teach you much more than a fawning one. Check your ego at the door.
If you’re interested, you can read a sample and get your e-copy here.
I wanted badly to be in the inaugural New England Horror Writers (NEHW) anthology. Unfortunately, my first attempt was a failure. Then I turned it around.
In 2011 my senior year at University was ending, and I was immersed in finals. I had sold The Language of Ice and was spending a good amount of time promoting the anthology. Then I found out about the debut anthology from the NEHW, a group I had been a member of for a few years. They had floated the idea for an anthology around for a long time, and finally, the project had received a green light. They’d decided on an editor and were opening up for submissions. Wow! I really wanted to be in that anthology. To represent NEHW in their inaugural publication would be an honor. The problem: I didn’t have the time to write something new. At least, that’s what I thought…
Fortunately, I had already written a ghost story, Phantom Chasers, that I was beginning to shop around. Prepping the story for submission, I sent it out and hoped for the best. There was nothing left to do but return to my studies.
Shortly thereafter, the editor let everyone know that the first round of rejections had gone out along with notifications for those placed on the shortlist. They would accept no story until they had read all the manuscripts, giving everyone a fair shot. The only problem? I didn’t hear either way.
Sending a polite email, I awaited a response.
The editor contacted me. My story was indeed shortlisted, certainly publishable, but probably not strong enough to make the final cut. Bestselling writers were slated to send in tales, and everyone had to bring their A-game. Although, the editor encouraged me to send another story.
Clarifying what she wanted, she told me to send in something that was timeless, like Ray Bradbury’s The Dwarf, or something that had more of a gut punch at the end, like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.
Thinking about all the stories I had available, I realized why some of them hadn’t sold. They were missing key ingredients.
Later, based on what I learned writing Malfeasance, I would revamp Phantom Chasers and sell it, but that’s a story for another time.
I felt encouraged, but it seemed like a daunting challenge to write something that would make the cut. Could I write a story that was both timeless and visceral? Despite the time crunch, I was up for the challenge.
I had an idea to use the “ticking time bomb scenario” thought experiment as the basis for the story. Basically, an ethics debate on torture, I worried that my story might be too controversial for the current climate. Never one to back down on sensitive subjects, I went ahead with the story anyway.
A mother and daughter would be the main characters in the story, culminating in a parent’s worst nightmare. If I could affect the editor, I might have a chance of getting into the anthology.
Spending the full month crafting Malfeasance, I sent in the story at the 11th hour. I opted to change the ending, in hopes to give more twists and turns to the story, but my wife suggested I go with the first version as she felt it was more powerful.
Sending it off, I hoped for the best.
Next time, I’ll tell you what happened.
Graven Image by David North-Martino ©2004, 2007, 2019
Graven Image originally appeared in The Swamp, and Afterburn SF
“Our clients all have a peculiar fear. They’re not convinced their loved ones will stay dead,” the Director of Sanguine Mortuary said.
Hatch fought for control, he thought he might go from smirk, to grin, to all-out laughter.
The Director, his face as dead as any of the clients entombed in Sanguine’s walls, stared at Hatch from behind an expensive looking oak desk. The dire need for the job forced Hatch’s expression to the same state as the director’s name.
“Mr. Stone, I——”
“Jonathan, I know what I’m telling you might be hard to accept, but we provide a valuable service to our clientele.” Stone wrinkled his face into his best mortician’s smile.
“Mr. Stone,” Hatch said. “I really need this job. Whether I believe or not, I can watch your building and everything in it.”
“You seem like a good fellow. Pity, companies will throw away employees after a decade of service.” Mr. Stone gently placed Hatch’s resume on the desk. “I’ll give you a chance, just keep your wanderlust to a minimum. The last guard couldn’t contain his curiosity. If he hadn’t up and disappeared, I would have had to fire him.”
Elation! At this point, any job was a good job. He made a mental note to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home. He and his wife would, at last, have something to celebrate. But behind the euphoria and relief, something nagged at him. Later, when he gave it some thought, after half a bottle of wine and with his wife in a satisfied sleep beside him, questions arose, questions he couldn’t answer. They chattered through his mind, lulling him into a troubled sleep.
“Uh——what’s on the monitors?” Hatch asked. The surreal images were better than caffeine, no way he would drift off with those things staring at him.
“Those? Oh go on, take a good look.” Michael Evans, the Second-Shift Sergeant, said. “What do they look like to you?”
“Looks like dead people.”
“Those are our charges, three-hundred, and thirty-eight of ‘em.” Evans seemed proud with the knowledge. “Oh, don’t worry, they ain’t gonna bother you much or entertain you for that matter.”
“Then why are we monitoring them?”
“Just in case they wake up,” Evans said. Hatch felt a chill shoot into his groin. Soon he would be here alone——alone with them.
Then Evans broke into a fit of heaving laughter. “Naw, they ain’t gonna wake up. I’ve been working here for five years, since I retired from the military, and I ain’t never seen a-one so much as wrinkle a nose.”
Hatch stared at the monitors again.
“See, we have some very superstitious rich people around the world, and Sanguine helps alleviate their fear——and a good amount of their cash.” Evans shook his head back and forth in mock disbelief. “Got to show the client something right? Show the client that us security types are watching their loved ones twenty-four-by-seven. Kinda makes me chuckle. But it’s a good gig, especially on off shifts.
“We don’t get no visitors, grieving family members or anything like that. We let the dead lay, play a little poker——you’ll have to play solitaire——and walk around a couple times. Make sure things are safe and secure——for the world outside I guess.”
He laughed again as if the whole thing were ludicrous.
Evans showed Hatch around for the rest of the hour. He saved one piece of trivia for last.
“This is what I call the Bat-Phone,” Evans said, and Hatch understood why. The phone looked like an old model from the 1960s, rotary dial and all, and it was colored red like on the TV show. “In the unlikely chance that——something unusual happens——you pick up this phone and——well, after that I don’t know, but I’m sure you won’t find out. Damn thing probably don’t even have service.”
Evans had a pitying look on his face, like he was about to leave his favorite cat at the Vet to be euthanized. Hatch wondered if he could handle staying at Sanguine Mortuary alone for fifteen minutes, never mind eight hours.
“What happened to the last officer who worked the third shift?”
“Harold Drendle? Shoot——he’d worked here long as I did. We used to talk a little at shift change, and he confessed to me he was having marital problems, problems caused by money, which by the way is how they always start, and then one day, I guess he was sick of it. He up and abandoned post sometime before shift change and he hasn’t been seen since.
“He told me in confidence he was planning to go to Hawaii, had been socking away a little here and there. So, don’t you be letting your mind wander and go thinking nonsense. You’ll get used to this place soon enough.”
Soon enough just wasn’t soon enough. Evans hadn’t been gone ten minutes, and Hatch was ready to abandon post. The ghoulish images only provided unwelcome company.
Hatch turned his attention to the phone. He reached over, touched the receiver’s smooth plastic. Who was on the other end?
What was on the other end?
The thought made him shudder. He withdrew his hand.
He couldn’t just sit there with the monitors tuned to Dead-TV. He grabbed the Mag light, the weight comforting in his hand, and headed out for the first round of the evening.
Hatch’s footfalls echoed through the empty mausoleum. Every fifteen feet the wall receded to reveal a cluster of grave nooks. Accent lights reflected dimly off metal plates, revealing the names of the departed. They surrounded him. Outnumbered him.
He rounded a bend and found the first key-point next to the chapel door.
How long had it been since he had last attended church? He couldn’t remember. He touched the tour recorder to the plastic key, listened for the chirp, and then looked at the LCD screen.
ChapHell, next key point inside.
Hatch shook his head, maybe when he got back to the command center he would fix the typo.
Hatch flicked on the lights. The antiseptic nondenominational room radiated comfort, as if something from beyond could reach out and protect all those who entered.
A feral cat’s mew? A crying child? A vocalized rush of wind raging through the hall toward him?
Hatch crossed the threshold, pulled at the cherry-wood door and held it shut. The chapel shook and the doors threatened to pull from his grasp. Then the pounding shrill scream stopped, and Hatch stood in silence.
“Damn trains,” Hatch said under his breath. Then he remembered he was standing in a chapel. He looked up. “Sorry.”
Hatch continued with the tour. He came to a short stairwell that led down to the basement level. Cautiously, he descended.
Hatch switched on the flashlight and adjusted the beam to full width. The key-point waited at the end of the hall surrounded by darkness. Hatch felt around for a light switch but found nothing. His pulse pounded in his temples.
Making quick time, he passed closed doors on either side of the hall. He touched the tour reader to the key and waited impatiently for the chirp.
A red door to his right caught his attention. He tried the handle.
He glanced back toward the stairs, then back to the door. His curiosity got the better of him, and he tried his keys until one fit the lock.
Match stepped inside a room filled with black metal file cabinets. The beam of light illuminated a unique cabinet——a red cabinet.
He found a jagged hole where the lock should have been, as if someone had cut the mechanism out of the frame. Hatch opened the top drawer and then rifled through musty folders and yellowed papers. Most seemed to be nothing more than death records. Every soul buried at Sanguine must have been stored in that room. But then he found something else.
A letter, age stained and watermarked, written on parchment with what appeared to be a quill pen, ignited Hatch’s curiosity. His eyes widened as he scanned strange sections:
Thank you again for taking this burden from me. I am getting much too old to act as custodian any longer…
The families absolutely insist on having guards. I know it sounds ridiculous, as if flesh and blood could really protect anyone from what is now in your possession…
Feeding time is distasteful, but it lasts a relatively short time. I was lucky to only witness it for two full cycles in the twenty years since I acquired the collection. The dead must feed before they sleep…
The dead must feed?
What the hell did that mean?
A booming metallic reverberation made him jump. The sound had come from the hall. His mouth went dry and his throat tightened, but he had to check it out. That’s what he was being paid to do.
Hatch cautiously stepped out into the hall.
The reflection of his flashlight beam caught movement through a window in one of the doors.
Hatch inched closer, shined the light inside——recoiled.
A man stood, if that’s what you could call the thing that stood before him, dressed in a moth-eaten suit, bending over what looked like a metal cadaver table.
The terrible thing that looked like a man chomped and smacked his lips as he devoured what remained of a body on the table. The head and chest were all that remained of the corpse ——everything else had been consumed.
Hatch hacked and heaved, but nothing came up, as if his insides had turned to dust. He looked back at the window.
The ghoul turned its head and looked at him, still stuffing flesh in-between the stitches that held his lips together.
The ghoul grinned at him.
Then came the screams.
Hatch raced through the halls double-time, the shrieks of the dead nipping at his ears.
Which way out?
He couldn’t remember.
He passed the chapel. Sanctuary wouldn’t do, he needed the command center.
He needed the phone!
Hatch slammed shut the command center door.
The irony sent him into hysterics.
Hatch turned around. The monitors were still trained on the coffins——some were empty.
The cadavers that remained opened their eyes.
Hatch reached for the phone——hesitated——picked it up.
The phone automatically dialed.
The ringing scratched in his left ear, the dead wailed in his right.
“Pick up——damn it! pick up!”
The ringing stopped.
A moment of hesitation on the other end of the line.
“I told you to curb your curiosity, Jonathan.”
The door buckled. Glass shattered. All went black.
Even with his eyes closed, Hatch could sense that Sergeant Evans stared at him, stared at the monitors. Curiosity could be a terrible thing, recognition worse.
The high-pitched chatter from the others Hatch only heard in a sanguine whisper, but he could understand what they wanted, what he also wanted. One last time before the sleep.
The hunger rose in him—-in them——and in unison——and to the terror of Michael Evans——they all opened their eyes.