Tuesday, December 29, 2015
ONE FOR THE BOOKS (A Jacob Slade Story)
By Daniel Skye
PART ONE: HOWLER
Jacob Slade hears voices.
No, he’s not certifiable. He’s not suffering from schizophrenia or any acute mental disorder.
Jacob Slade is telepathic.
He struggled to cope with the voices throughout his childhood. He was the only one who could hear them and he was convinced something in his mind had snapped. It wasn’t until he got older that he realized the voices weren’t in his head. They were in everyone else’s.
But this rare gift still remains a mystery to Slade. He knows it has something to do with the number ninety-nine branded into the flesh of his forearm.
He knows it’s connected to Project Blackbird, a secret government experiment conducted when he was a child.
He knows others that were volunteered for the experiment. And he knows who volunteered him.
Karl Booth was his legal guardian at the time and signed the release. They had promised a better life for Jacob. And Karl had the best of intentions. He never suspected they’d be turning Jacob into a mutant.
Though, Jacob had made quite a living off his gift. He was the only Supernatural Investigator on Long Island. Hell, he was the only S.I. in New York.
He’d like to think his first brush with the supernatural occurred when he was a teenager. He spent summers as a dockworker. His boss, Alan Smith, let him crash every season in a stationary trailer that had running water and electricity.
Smith’s house was also on the property and he had this huge stone gargoyle on his porch that his wife found repulsive and begged him to part with. But before he could, Jacob had witnessed what others could only see via the use of psychedelic drugs.
He watched the stone gargoyle transform before his very eyes, becoming flesh and blood. It took flight, but not before claiming Smith’s head as a trophy. Jacob never saw the gargoyle again, but after that day, Jacob never looked at these grotesque sculptures the same way again.
But truth be told, his first encounter with the supernatural came as a child, before Booth became his legal guardian.
Charlotte Slade, Jacob’s mother, was murdered. Her body was found gnawed and mangled, her throat slashed to ribbons. It had not been the work of a man. It had been the work of a Howler.
* * *
“I hate funerals,” Jacob heard someone behind him mutter. Or perhaps the words had never been spoken aloud. Perhaps he was hearing voices again. Whatever the case might’ve been, Slade couldn’t help but silently agree.
Funerals gave him the creeps, made him feel like a thousand insects were crawling all over his skin. After every funeral he attended, he craved nothing more than a hot shower and a strong, undiluted drink.
This particular funeral was for Harold Moss. At age seventy-six, Harold was happily retired and Jacob could not deny that he had lived a long, full life. But that didn’t negate this senseless tragedy.
Someone had torn Harold Moss limb from bloody limb.
Everyone knew Harold Moss and his story. He married his high school sweetheart and had three terrific children, all of whom were in attendance on that grey October morning. He opened and operated a successful hardware store and eventually invested in a laundromat. He ran both businesses until he turned sixty and decided to call it quits.
Harold used to dress up as Santa Claus every Christmas and hand out gifts at the hardware store for the less fortune kids of Dorchester. He was even more generous at Thanksgiving when he’d have warm turkey dinners delivered to all the homeless shelters.
There had been quite a turnout for Harold. He was an esteemed man who had touched many lives in the Dorchester community. The mourners were all clad in respectable black attire and Jacob Slade tried to blend in with them, tried to avoid being spotted by the local law enforcement that were in his presence.
He spotted several deputies commiserating in the center of this large gathering and inched his way further towards the back. The deputies mocked and ridiculed him for his status in the community. None of them took him seriously. Only Sheriff Booth gave Jacob any credence.
Although they had established a good rapport, Karl Booth had to keep their friendship and their past a secret from his subordinates for fear of losing their admiration. But Jacob wasn’t interested in their opinions. Not on that day, at least.
What brought Jacob to the cemetery that day was morbid curiosity. The wake and funeral had been closed casket as Harold Moss’s body was in no condition to display.
They had found his body out in the woods, maimed beyond recognition. The deputies had no leads, and no wild animal theories to go on. This wasn’t the work of a herd of deer.
Slade knew whatever or whoever killed Moss would strike again. And he was merely trying to assess what they were truly up against. He saw Booth to his left and they locked eyes, but Booth only gave him the slightest nod of recognition before he looked away.
They had collaborated a number of times in the past. Slade was the one who caught Donnie Zito when the spirit of the Wendigo possessed him and drove him to cannibalism.
And he collaborated with Booth a second time when the spirit of Wendigo awakened from its slumber with a rapacious appetite. Slade had saved the town from vampires and ghouls and mad scientists and everything in between.
But something told Jacob this was no malevolent spirit at work. Something had savagely killed Harold Moss. But this was not the work of a human. This was the work of an animal. A beast. One that Jacob was all too familiar with.
This was the work of a Howler.
As the funeral ended and the crowd dispersed, Jacob caught up with Karl Booth as he was walking to his squad car.
“This is just the beginning,” Jacob warned him.
“What are we dealing with?” Booth asked, looking around to see if any of his men were watching. It hurt Jacob a bit, but he understood Karl’s position. Booth couldn’t afford to lose the respect of his deputies. He couldn’t have them questioning his judgment or looking down on him.
“Is this that Winnebago thing again?”
“Wendigo,” Jacob corrected him. “And no. This is not the Wendigo. We’re dealing with a Howler.”
“Lycan. It’s basically a werewolf. However, unlike werewolves, Lycan’s don’t have to wait for the full moon. They have the ability to transform at will.”
“Why not?” Booth shrugged. “We’ve already had vampires and evil Native American spirits. It was only a matter of time before the werewolves crashed the party.”
“Your men need to be alert at all times. But obviously we can’t tell them what we’re dealing with here. Just tell them we’re most likely dealing with a serial killer and to be on the lookout at all times.”
“And what are you going to do?” Booth asked.
“Lycan’s are not my area of expertise,” Slade confessed. “But I know someone who is a bona fide expert on the subject.”
“That sweet old lady who lives on the hill? She’s an author.”
“And she writes horror for a living. Werewolves are her specialty. She knows the mythology like the back of her hand.”
“Mythology?” Booth said, unfamiliar with the word.
“Just let me handle this,” Slade sighed. “I’ll let you know when I have more information.”
* * *
Lenore Foster’s old redwood house was perched atop a short hill. You don’t see too many like them nowadays. Jacob pulled into her long, sloped driveway and parked his pickup behind Lenore’s Prius.
He rang the bell a few times before she pulled herself away from her typewriter. Lenore was as old fashioned as they come. She couldn’t use a laptop or tablet to write her novels. First she’d write them longhand, then she’d type it up.
“You know I can’t think of your name without thinking of Edgar Allan Poe.”
“Hello, Jacob,” Lenore smiled. She was a gaunt, pale woman who spent more time writing than she did soaking up the sun. But she still had her charms. Her smile alone could warm your heart. “What do I owe the pleasure of this visit to?”
It’d been a few years. Jacob was not the tall, lean, handsome man she had remembered him as. He was still tall as ever, but not quite as lean. He’d been hitting the booze pretty hard and had developed a bit of a gut. His work had taken a toll on him and his looks. He had lines on his forehead, lines and bags under his eyes. But he was still young and Lenore could still see that handsome man she remembered behind that tired face.
He still had that long greasy hair everyone remembered him for. Still wore thrift store clothing and black combat boots. And was still as kind as his mother raised him to be before her untimely demise.
“Harold Moss. Let’s just say his death was no accident.”
“Don’t tell me you think I had something to do with it.”
“Don’t be preposterous. I know you’d never harm anyone in the community. I just came to ask you a few questions about your writing, seeing as how you’re the resident werewolf expert.”
“Why don’t you just read my mind?” Lenore joked.
“You doubt I can?”
“I doubt anyone is capable of such abilities.”
“I know you had huevos rancheros for breakfast.”
“You don’t need to be psychic to know that. I eat huevos rancheros every day for breakfast at Bliss, the café on Clark Street.”
“Fine,” Jacob sighed. “You want me to get personal? A garbage truck ran down your bicycle when you were a kid. It was a pink Schwinn with playing cards attached to the spokes with clothespins. You had just gotten the thing for your eighth birthday. That same day, Blinky, your goldfish died.”
“I never told anyone from around here that,” Lenore gasped.
“I know,” Jacob said. “I read your mind.” He winked.
“Alright, you’ve peeked my interest. What is it you’re here about specifically?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Well, to be technical I think we’re dealing with a Howler. A Lycan.”
“You have to be shitting me,” Lenore said flatly.
“Afraid not. I need to know what can stop it.”
“Silver, but that’s a given. It doesn’t have to be silver bullets, either. Any form of silver will do the damage. It’s like kryptonite to them. But if you want to put them down permanently, silver bullets will do the trick. Oh, little known fact. If you’re looking for a lycanthrope, check their fingers. Their index and middle fingers should be exactly the same length. Rye can also be used against them. It’s like acid to their flesh.”
“Whiskey is one of the most available sources.”
“Thanks, Lenore. I’ll definitely be buying a copy of your new book.”
“And I’ll sign it for you in the blood of a Lycan,” Lenore laughed, feigning amusement. But she couldn’t conceal the terror that existed in her eyes. And something inside that telepathic brain of Jacob told him the terror was only just beginning.
* * *
When Jackie Winters woke up from her nap late that afternoon, she woke with an insatiable thirst. She made a run for the refrigerator and chugged a bottle of water. But that didn’t do the trick. Her throat was dry. It felt like it was closing up on her. So she drank a whole pitcher of homemade iced tea. But she still felt parched.
And her teeth ached. The pain was agonizing. She took one finger and ran them across her gums, which were sore and inflamed. What’s happening to my body? Jackie wondered as she walked to the bathroom. She stood in front of the mirror and gasped.
Her reflection was gone.
She ran her finger over her gums and teeth again and accidentally pricked it one of the sharp fangs protruding from her swollen gums. She flinched, but only for a second as she withdrew and examined her finger in the light.
The sight of the blood didn’t startle Jackie. And this was a girl who couldn’t even sit through Saw or Hostel. The sight of blood usually made her feel faint, dizzy.
But now, the sight of the blood was intoxicating.
Jenny Washburn was Jackie’s study buddy. She had a key to the apartment and let herself in, dropping her textbooks on the living room sofa.
“Jackie?” she called. “Don’t tell me you forgot we made plans to study again.”
Jackie sauntered into the living room, blood trickling from her finger. But Jenny failed to notice.
“Oh, there you are. Hey, did you hear the Hell Cats are in town? Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m missing it. I really wanted to go, but tickets are sold out.”
Jackie just stared at her friend. She had lost all control of her mind, her body. The only thing that was driving her was the thirst.
She walked over to Jenny and gripped her tightly by the nape of her neck, pulled her in, and sank her teeth into her throat. She retracted her fangs and the blood spurted from her open artery in quick jets.
Jackie Winters had quenched her thirst.
But the night was still young…
* * *
“Houston, we have a major fucking problem,” Booth told Slade over the phone. He’d been calling Slade’s office for an hour before Slade got back from his meeting with Lenore. “And you really need to get a cell phone.”
“What’s going on?”
“Just meet me at Hither Hills Cemetery. And bring that bottle of bourbon you keep in the top drawer of your desk.”
Slade hopped in his red Ford pickup and drove down to the cemetery, but not before retrieving the bottle of bourbon at Booth’s request. He arrived to find more than two dozen unearthed graves.
“Somebody dug them up?” Slade asked.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say they dug themselves up,” Booth said. “There are claw marks on the insides of every casket lid. Most of them are busted or split in half.”
“Nobody heard or saw anything?”
“Not one witness,” Booth shook his head. “But I called the boys at the county morgue. Several bodies are missing. One of the toe-tags was involved in a bad car wreck. Lots of blood. They found bloody footprints leading towards the exit. The car victim’s shoe size was eleven. It looks like a match.”
“You’re holding back. What else is there?”
“How do you know?” Booth asked, brushing his hand through his thinning grey hair. He was getting up there in age, and the stress of the job often ate away at him. Every day, he’d find more hair in his sink. Every year his hair grew thinner, his bald spot grew wider, forming that classic horseshoe-like pattern. And if that gnawing feeling in his gut told him anything, he’d be losing a few more hairs before this case was closed.
Jacob didn’t say a word. Just tapped his head.
“Right, the telepathy. Okay, you want to know? First let me see that bourbon.”
Jacob produced the bottle and Booth took a big swig. He passed the bottle back to Jacob who took a swig of his own to brace himself for what came next.
“One of my deputies found Jenny Washburn’s body an hour ago. She had two puncture wounds on her throat. Sound familiar?”
“Impossible,” Jacob said and took another sip. It burned his throat, but the burn quelled his fears. “We killed Cole Winmore and put an end to his followers.”
“So I suppose Cole Winmore is the only vampire in the world?”
“You don’t even believe in this stuff.”
“After tonight, I’ll believe anything.”
“This is getting weird, Sheriff,” Slade said. “Weird even for my tastes. I’m going to have to bring Drake in on this one, with your permission of course.”
“Permission fucking granted. But whatever you do, we’ve got to keep this quiet. There’s a big concert tonight and if words get out, there could be a riot.”
“That’s right, the Hell Cats are in town. Don’t worry, I’ll keep a lid on this. And I talked with Lenore. She gave me some useful advice. We’re going to need silver. A ton of it. And squirt guns.”
“Squirt guns? Why the heck would you need a squirt gun?”
“You’ll see,” Slade grinned. “Just see what you can do with the silver. I’ll get the squirt guns and the whiskey. In the meantime, let me know if any of the bodies pop up. I’m going to find Drake first, before things escalate…”
…Too late, Slade thought a few moments later as he drove up River Street and saw several dark, rotten corpses shuffling through the street. They were heading towards Main Street. Straight towards the Hell Cats concert.
To Be Continued With Part Two: ZOMBIE PALOOZA
Friday, December 25, 2015
THE EYES OF MARCH
By Daniel Skye
“Whatever you do,” Fuller told his friend, “don’t look directly into her eyes unless she tells you to.”
“Gotcha,” Stefano said and rolled his eyes. He wasn’t taking any of this seriously. How could he? The whole thing seemed preposterous to him. It’d seem preposterous to anyone who possesses common sense.
“I’m not fucking kidding around here, Stefano. This broad is no joke.”
“If you say so,” Stefano said, and glanced out the passenger-side window so Fuller wouldn’t see him roll his eyes again. Fuller could be very sensitive for a guy his size. He was 6’3 and built like a brick shithouse, but he certainly didn’t act like it. He was buying into this deal way more than Stefano was.
“You know, you could try to have a little faith, dude. Is that too much to ask for? I mean, you asked me to find this broad. You paid me to do it.”
“Yeah, only I honestly never thought you’d find her. I always assumed she was just an urban legend.”
“Well, guess what? I did find her. And now we’re here. So will you at least see this through? Will you treat it seriously? Everything about this skirt checks out. She’s legit as far as I can tell.”
They sat in Fuller’s brand new 2016 Mercedes-Benz while Stefano took a moment to think about it. The car was an early Christmas present from his parents. But if you think Fuller was spoiled, that’s nothing compared to Stefano’s upbringing. Anything Stefano wanted, anything, it was his. All he had to do was ask. And sometimes he wouldn’t even do that. Sometimes he’d just take what he felt was owed to him.
“Okay, since you went to all this trouble, I’ll see this through. And yes, I’ll go along with the whole charade. I won’t say or do anything to offend her.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Fuller said. “Why did you even want me to find this girl anyway? I mean, not like it’s any of my business. But you can’t blame me for being curious.”
“I’ve had this…feeling lately. I can’t describe it. But I’ve been to the doctors and there’s nothing physically wrong with me. But it won’t go away. I just can’t shake it. I feel like something bad is coming, Fuller. Something awful is about to happen. I can feel it. I can feel it in my fucking bones, man. And I have to know what it is. This feeling keeps me up at night. It drives me crazy.”
“So you think that if you know the future, you can change it?”
“At the very least, I can prepare myself for it.” Stefano looked out the passenger window again and gazed over the house.
There was nothing ominous or unsettling about the exterior. It was just an ordinary two-story house with blue vinyl siding, a flower garden beside the porch, and a white picket fence surrounding the property. Not what Stefano was expecting at all. But then again, he didn’t know what to expect from someone who claimed to be a psychic.
“So what’s so special about her eyes?” Stefano had to ask. “Is she like Medusa or something? Am I going to turn to stone if I look right into them?”
“Staring into her eyes for too long is like staring directly into the sun. It can cause some serious damage. And I’m not just talking about your vision. It can fuck you up psychologically.”
“You remember Bobby Colvine?”
“Yeah, the old man with the lisp. He used to run Causeway Deli. We used to go in there all the time before school. That guy made the best egg sandwiches. What about him?”
“He came to visit Priscilla March once. He didn’t follow the rules. Decided to tempt fate.”
“So? What happened to him?”
“He’s currently up at Smith’s Grove.”
“The sanitarium? No shit.”
“No shit,” Fuller said, his voice flat. He was as serious as a heart attack. And Stefano was rapidly becoming a believer. “Last I heard, he was completely catatonic. They say his hair turned white from shock. It happened overnight. God only knows what he saw in those eyes.”
Stefano was starting to have second thoughts. But he couldn’t tell Fuller that. If his father’s business had taught him one thing, it was that you couldn’t show any signs of weakness. He had to play it cool.
Stefano DiCarlo believed that coolness was an innate quality. And if there was ever a guy that was born with that quality, it was Stefano. Stefano liked to say that he was cooler than the other side of the pillow.
But there was a distinct difference between being cool and being cold. And Stefano could be both.
That’s why Stefano required Priscilla’s services. Stefano had made many enemies over the years. The list of people who hated Stefano was longer than the iTunes user agreement.
He had a mean streak throughout high school that seemed to be reserved for the less fortunate. He cheated on tests. He crammed nerds into lockers and stole their lunch money. He pushed the freshmen around and taunted and heckled students suffering with weight problems until they cried.
But his most heinous act occurred at a frat party back in college. He’d spent five years trying to forget the girl’s name. Fuller had known Stefano for a long time, but he’d never heard the story. And he never would as far as Stefano was concerned.
He was drunk that night. He’d lost all control. He took advantage of a girl whose name eluded him. Five years of hypnotherapy sessions will do that to you. But he vaguely recalled the events. He wrote them off as a momentary lapse of reason. Too bad the courts didn’t see it that way.
Stefano was looking at hard time. But Stefano was a DiCarlo. And the DiCarlo family was “connected” as the papers liked to refer to it. Paul DiCarlo used his power and influence to smooth things over. He paid off all the right people. And those that wouldn’t accept bribes…well, he had others methods of persuasion.
The girl had even testified openly in court against Stefano. But when Stefano tried to recall her name, he couldn’t. Her face–the face he’d seen in court every day–was a blur to him. He couldn’t recall a single detail. Not the color of her eyes or her hair. Nothing.
“Are we gonna do this or what?” Fuller asked.
“Yeah,” Stefano said, pulling himself out of a sea of memories. “Lets’ go.”
They exited Fuller’s shiny new Mercedes and he made sure to lock it and set the alarm.
“You sure this isn’t a scam?” Stefano asked as they walked to the door.
“We’re about to find out,” Fuller said and knocked.
A woman with dark red hair answered, not much older than Stefano or Fuller. She didn’t speak a word, just nodded for them to come inside. She was not exactly what Stefano had imagined. He pictured a gaunt woman with gray hair, possibly with a wart on her nose or some hair on her upper lip, sitting behind a faux crystal ball.
But Priscilla March was young, trim, beautiful. She wore sunglasses with the darkest lenses Stefano had ever seen. He wondered if the glasses were all a part of the bit. But a lump formed in his throat just trying to picture what hid behind those black lenses.
The house was also a lot nicer than Stefano had envisioned. He was expecting a rundown shack that looked like a crack den. But the inside was just as nice and welcoming as the outside.
As soon as they entered, the smell hit Stefano. A smell that conjured up memories from his childhood.
“Baccala,” Stefano whispered.
“Baccala?” Fuller repeated.
“It’s salted cod, fried in a pan with oil. My grandmother used to make it every Christmas. She’d serve it with sautéed onions and Greek olives. It was my favorite dish.”
Priscilla led them to the kitchen, where she had a pan on the stove. “You caught me at a bad time,” she said. “I forgot you were coming today. I’ve got my family coming tomorrow for Christmas Eve. I was cooking and knitting a sweater for my niece at the same time. Hah. I’m quite the multitasker. Let me just turn the stove off and then we’ll get down to business. Please, take a seat.”
Stefano and Fuller sat at the green Formica table and Priscilla soon joined them. She set the half-finished sweater and sewing needles aside. Then she said, “What can I do you for?”
“I’m sorry, but I’ve got to ask–Were you making baccala?”
“Yes,” Priscilla chuckled. “My sister loves it. It’s her comfort food. She was involved in an accident a few years ago. She hasn’t been the same since then. So I do what I can to make her happy. She has a daughter too. The sweater is hers, if I ever finish it.”
“Well, we won’t take up much of your time,” Fuller said. “I’ll cut right to the chase. My friend here requires your unique services.”
“And why’s that?” Priscilla inquired.
“I have a terrible feeling that’s been eating me up inside lately,” Stefano confessed. “I have to know what lies ahead. I need to know what’s going to happen. It’s something bad. I can feel it.”
“I understand,” Priscilla said. “But I need you to understand that I’m not responsible for what you see, and I can’t alter your future. I can only show you what’s to come.”
“Understood,” Stefano nodded.
“Good. Now my fee is five thousand dollars and it’s non-negotiable. And I’m afraid I’ll need it upfront. No checks, no plastic. I only accept cash.”
“If what they say about you is true,” Stefano said, “you can have five grand and then some.”
“I can assure you almost everything you’ve heard about me is true. But before we proceed, I will need that money.”
“We’re good for it,” Fuller assured her. “Maybe you don’t know who this is. This is–”
“No,” she cut him off. “No names. Names are not necessary and most of my clients prefer their anonymity.”
“Have it your way,” Stefano shrugged. He removed his thick Gucci wallet and counted out the money in front of her. She accepted the money and wasn’t the least bit surprised Stefano had it all on him. She looked him up and down and could tell right away that his family had money.
“So how does this work?” Stefano asked.
“I can see the future through people’s eyes,” Priscilla explained in a matter of fact way, the way you’d tell someone you were going for a walk or taking a ride to the store to buy milk and eggs.
“No tarot cards or crystal balls?” Stefano couldn’t help but chortle.
“I don’t need them to predict the future. I see the future through your eyes, and then you see it reflected in mine.”
“Makes sense,” Stefano joked again and Fuller cleared his throat loudly as if to tell Stefano to stop goofing off.
She removed her sunglasses and stared deep into Stefano’s eyes. Deep enough to graze the soul.
He stared back. He felt let down just at the sight of them. Her eyes were a dull hazel color and Stefano didn’t see what was so special about them…that was until her pupils expanded and dilated. Her pupils filled her eyes, devouring her irises. Now he was staring at two tiny projectors that were playing a film of his life.
Reflected in her eyes, he witnessed his future. And it was a brief future that led to his bloody demise. His demise at the hands of Priscilla March.
He tried to look away, but he was mesmerized. He couldn’t even turn his head.
She plunged the sewing needle deep into the side of his neck. He felt the warm blood trickle down his arm and all over his Armani sweater. Then his body crumpled and slid to the floor, the needle still jutting from his neck.
Fuller gasped and cupped his hand over his mouth. “Why?” he mumbled through his hand.
“When he looked into my eyes, he saw his future. And when I looked into his eyes, I saw everything. I saw the past and the future. My sister, Phoebe, she was at a party one night on her campus. Things got out of hand. That sleazy pig–She was drunk and he took advantage of her.”
“Are you saying that Stefano–”
“Yes, he raped her. And he got off scot-free thanks to his old man. I wasn’t sure at first if it was him. I could barely remember his face. I had only seen it in the papers. But when I looked into his eyes, I knew it was him. I saw what that bastard did to her.”
Fuller listened to her words, but the entire time, he was looking down at the floor. He never made eye contact.
“So what about you, Fuller?” Priscilla asked. “You want a peek into your future? I have such sights to show you.”