It’s been a while since I posted an original story here on the old blog and chain. This one is for my sister and brother-in-law, right down to the Cowboys jersey. This is a little flash fiction piece I call “Dinner With Ghost Hunters”. Hope you enjoy it. Please comment away!
It had long been a rule of Tom’s not to go to dinner parties hosted by people he either didn’t know or didn’t like. He gripped the steering wheel a little too hard on the ride to the Gundersons, angry at Carolyn for ignoring one of his cardinal rules.
As they pulled into the driveway, he said, “Okay, call me when you’re done and I’ll pick you up.”
Carolyn playfully slapped his arm, ignoring his discomfort. “At least you’ll get a free meal out of it.”
“Yeah, at what cost?”
Tom was so busy fuming about the night ahead that he didn’t notice the parked van until he walked smack into the rear double doors.
Carolyn was already at the front door, pinwheeling one hand to urge him forward. He joined her side, a tad woozy and holding his nose. Carolyn paid him no mind.
Missy Gunderson answered the door wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey and denim shorts. Hank Gunderson came up behind her smiling in his blue Giants jersey.
“Hey guys, come on in!,” Missy said. “We were hoping you could stay after dinner and watch the game. Hank just got one of those huge plasma TVs and is dying to show it off to someone.”
Casual dress? Plasma TV? Football?
Maybe I’ve been wrong about all of this, Tom thought.
After a round of introductions, Hank led them to the dining room for cocktails. As they walked past the living room, Tom noticed three men and one woman sitting in front of a folding table loaded with small monitors and computers. The quartet never looked their way.
“Don’t mind them,” Hank said to Tom. “They’ve been here for a week and we barely even notice them anymore.”
“Who are they?” Tom asked. Carolyn shot him a cautionary look. Don’t pry her eyes pleaded.
Missy laughed and said, “You’re not gonna believe this, but they’re from that TV show, Ghost Trackers. Hank thinks this house is haunted, so one night after watching the show he sent them an email and, well, here they are. I was dead set against it but they paid us some money, so Tom gets his TV and I get my new laptop.”
“And most importantly, I get some answers,” Hank added.
“Sounds exciting,” Carolyn said.
Missy leaned towards Tom and Carolyn and said, “Trust me, it’s pretty boring stuff. They do a lot of walking around and looking at monitors. I don’t know how they stay awake.”
Hank walked in carrying a tray of margaritas and they settled into the dining room. And true to Hank’s word, they soon forgot about the Ghost Trackers team in the next room. Tom quietly admitted to himself that he actually liked the Gundersons.
Two pleasant hours and one delicious steak dinner later, Tom was startled by the sound of high pitched beeping coming from the living room. That was followed by the shuffling of feet and excited conversation.
“What’s going on?” Tom said.
Hank peered into the living room, his arm frozen in place, drink halfway to his lips. “I have no idea.”
One of the team members rushed into the dining room and turned off the lights. “Get a camera in here!” he shouted.
The rest of the team followed, one holding a little handheld device that whined nervously, another with something that looked like a radar gun and two with large cameras propped on their shoulders.
“It’s right over there,” the woman shouted, pointing towards the area behind Tom.
“Flash!” someone shouted and a camera flash went off, momentarily blinding everyone.
“What’s over here?” Tom asked. He was promptly shushed by the woman.
“Do you see that mist, just over his head?” one of the cameramen whispered.
Tom jerked his head around but only saw darkness.
“Temperature’s dropping. Down five degrees, seven, ten degrees.”
“EMF is spiking at five. It’s right here, I can feel it.”
“Whoa, did you see that blue light? It just went behind him!”
Tom grabbed Carolyn’s hand and knocked over his chair as he jumped to his feet.
“We’re outta here,” Tom shouted. Again, he was shushed.
“It’s following him. Quick, keep a camera on him.”
Tom and Carolyn made their way through the darkened house while the Gundresona sat in mute shock. He slammed the front door on the cameraman that was hot on his heels, leaving the madness behind them.
“And that’s why I have rules,” he said to Carolyn, and promptly smashed face-first, again, into the front of the Ghost Trackers van.
I’m pretty damn good with secrets, but this particular one was killing me. Cemetery Dance Publications just announced the lineup for their newest anthology : Shocklines : Fresh Voices in Terror. My story, Cry, will be surrounded by the work some utterly fantastic writers I admire like Norman Prentiss, Rio Youers and Brian James Freeman, just to name a few. Click on the cover image (makes me think of Sinbad movies) to learn more.
You see, for me, this is no small feat. This is one of the things I had put on my bucket list back when I got the crazy idea that I wanted to become a writer. “Buy a pipe and smoking jacket” was the first goal I put on that list, but I’ve since opted for cigars and motorcycle jackets. I’ve been an enormous fan of Cemetery Dance Magazine for about twenty years now. When people ask me what it is, I tell them, “It’s only the New York Times of horror.” I mean, duh!
If you want a Who’s Who of horror, all you need to do is visit the Cemetery Dance website and you’re in the thick of things. I was just asked by another uber talented writer how I landed a spot in the antho. The key is, it came when I wasn’t looking for it. I was at the Horrorfind convention last September and started talking to a writer who informed me at one point that he was on the Cemetery Dance staff.
He asked, “Have you ever submitted to them before?”
“I sure have, and I have a folder of rejection slips to show for it,” I replied with a sense of pride. Rejection slips are like war wounds to a writer.
“Even though they’re closed to submissions, I’d be happy to take a look at your stuff .If I think it’s right, I’ll show it to the editors.”
So, a few weeks after I got home, I wrote a story and sent it off to my new friend, hoping it would at least get consideration for the magazine. I doubted it would make it, and kept my hope stick mega-limbo-low.
A couple of months later, I get the acceptance email, only it’s going to be in one of their amazingly produced anthologies! Score! The hardest part was keeping it on the DL until they had the final lineup in place. Well, I can finally open my big fat mouth about it.
Publish a story with Cemetery Dance : check.
And I get to check it off because I went to a conference, talked to as many people as I could, and happened to meet one of the nicest guys in the biz who just happened to be connected to the Vatican of horror. (On a side note, going to at least one conference a year is a must and a hell of a lot of fun) That and I had to bust my ass to write the best, tightest story I could dream up.
Now I’m reconsidering tossing the pipe idea out. Hmmm…..
Check out the book that made this possible, Forest of Shadows! You always need that first domino to fall.
This is bittersweet news. My story, Bottom of the Ninth, will be published in the next issue of Ethereal Tales at the end of the month. The sad part is, this will be the final issue. Keeping a magazine running is harder than you can imagine, and I thank Teresa Ford for allowing me to grace her magazine’s pages with a couple of my stories over the years. Finding quality horror magazines is becoming as difficult as the hunt for Bigfoot. Cemetery Dance is still the king of the prom, but lately the chasm between issues has been growing larger and larger (though I was recently assured by a staff member there that things will be picking up soon). I gues this is all part of the changing times in publishing. Anthologies are now the best place to get your horror shorts fix. But man, there’s something about magazines that I love, and miss.
So, back to Ethereal Tales, check it out and lay down a couple of pounds for a copy that will be full to bursting with new stories and great artwork.
One of my never before published short stories, The Dig, is now available for download through Barnes & Noble for only 99 cents. Heck, that’s less than a McChicken on the dollar menu (and much better for you)! It will be available in other formats soon, as will other stories over the next few months.
The Dig is the first in what will be a series of horror shorts with an archaeological theme. Here’s the breakdown:
While digging in the Mongoloian heat, Felicia Tang enters an archaeological mystery. What looks like a normal burial mound is actually the entrance to a centuries old chamber housing countless urns within rough hewn niches. Who built the vast chamber and why? What remains lie within the urns? Most of all, what is still very much alive in the dark?
Click the cover image to learn more or download your copy.
Because this was such a small town and Banks Textiles such a large company, Russell Banks saw his fair share of deceased employees walk through his door. Bob heard that by the third visit from a former employee, Hannah tendered her resignation and headed for her mother’s house inNorth Carolina.
Mr. Banks stuck to his guns, sighting labor laws and hygiene codes to each and every one of them.
Re-ans who worked in different companies had no better luck. In fact, going public like they did was starting to make things worse. A local paper picked up the story that the dead had come back, demanding their old jobs. The reporter called for a government investigation.
Lucky for them the government had bigger and better things on their minds than the concerns of some wacko report in aGeorgia.
But people were starting to talk.
The lobster pot was full and boiling and the lid was itching to blow.
Bob, meanwhile, had grown downright depressed. He barely paid attention at Re-an meetings and spent his days holed up in a mausoleum by himself. Their future was bleak, and that was looking on the bright side.
Then one night, Buford Jackson made an awful suggestion.
“We tried it the old way, and it ain’t workin’. I’ve been thinking a lot lately.”
“Thinkin’ and stinkin’, that’s all we can do,” Miles Welty shouted. A few Re-ans chuckled.
“The way I see it, pretty soon we’re gonna get found out, especially with our growing numbers.” They were about eighty strong now and increasing every day. Some corpses were fresh, others two, even three years old. “And seein’ as there hasn’t been a scientist or preacher among our numbers, it doesn’t look like we’re gonna find out why this is happening any time soon. Some time soon, we’re all gonna run out of places to hide. And then what?”
He scanned the audience of putrescent faces.
“You all remember those Frankenstein movies, right? All pitchforks and torches and angry villagers. That’s what we have to look forward to. And the sad thing is, all we wanna do is go back to being productive citizens.”
For the first time in a long while, Bob spoke up. “So what do you propose we do, Buford?”
A devilish smile crept across Buford’s shriveled black lips. “If we’re doomed to end like a bad movie, we might as well imitate a bad movie. Far as I know, in all those zombie movies, the zombies won.”
“Yeah, but they came back eating and killing machines,” Bob interjected.
“Exactly! So who’s to say we shouldn’t put a little fear of God and the devil into them people that are living and won’t give us a fair shake? They look at us like zombies, let’s act like zombies, dammit!”
“But we’re not zombies. We’re Re-ans,” someone said.
“Zombies…Re-ans…it’s all just words. Just look at the odds. The way we’re going, we’ll be the majority eventually. We want our old jobs back? Let’s just take them. If we have to kill a few people along the way, such is the price of progress.”
A swell of emotion began to grip the crowd, clutching their unbeating hearts and stagnant minds. First a few hands began to clap, then a dozen, then the entire church.
Except for Bob. It’s all over now, Bob thought. No going back. Maybe this is the way it was supposed to be. Maybe this was God’s plan. He couldn’t have expected them to just blend back in, not with the way they were.
It was terrifying, repulsive, damning, but maybe Buford was right.
So they hatched a plan. A bid for their independence. Had Bob had a working stomach he would have been sick.
If luck was a lady, she was certainly one who hated Bob Samson. Bob, Buford and five other former Banks Textile employees peeped through the windows of Russell Banks’ mansion.
There was Russell, sitting in his central air conditioned living room with his ex wife and two boys who were both in their early teens. Bob had heard Mr. Banks was divorced, but it looked as if his former boss was doing his best to make amends.
Could be his visit months back had something to do with that.
“Maybe now’s not a good time,” he whispered.
“It’s now or never. At ten o’clock, Re-ans are gonna strike across the entire county,” Buford hissed. “If you don’t have the stomach for it, why don’t you sit out here?”
“I just might.”
“If you do, don’t bother coming to us when all this is over. You have to make a choice now, Bob. Us or them. Which is it gonna be?”
Before he could answer, Buford’s digital watch started chiming. He whirled his hand in the air and every Re-an standing outside the estate went crashing through the windows. Russell Banks and his family screamed as one, and the Re-ans shouted like war beasts in return.
Across the still night air, Bob could hear the sounds of other living people shouting pleas to the man upstairs while Re-ans descended on them like the cinematic beasts they were supposed to be.
He looked in the window and saw Buford gnawing on Mrs. Banks’s neck. He was covered in blood, his teeth caked with dangling strips of flesh. The rest had attacked Russell and his sons, making quick work of them. In just two minutes, there wasn’t a beating heart in the room.
“Come on Bob,” Buford shouted. “Us or them?”
He held Mrs. Banks’ body out to him as if she were a sacred offering.
Bob clasped his head with both hands.
He had tried to go back, but they wouldn’t let him.
He had formed a group, and they had outgrown him.
The crack of gunshots echoed in the darkness.
With great reluctance, Bob stepped through the broken window and stood before Buford. There was a gaping, red hole in the poor woman’s neck. Buford smiled with crimson teeth.
It would have to be us, then.
Bob buried his face into Mrs. Banks’ neck, mouth open, teeth gnashing. He tore a piece of her skin free and swallowed.
It sure didn’t taste like chicken, but it would have to do.
Check out Forest of Shadows by Hunter Shea : "Dark, intense and not afraid to get down and dirty."
There was a loud thud and Russell turned to see Hannah passed out on the floor. Bob jolted up to help her but Russell stopped him with a raised hand. “Just, just stay seated, Mr. Samson. She’ll be all right.” Secretly, he hoped he was speaking the truth and she hadn’t, in fact, had a fatal heart attack. He felt a ball of vile rocket up his throat and covered his mouth with a handkerchief as he swallowed it back.
Okay old man, time to get off your heels and take charge of the situation, he scolded himself. Bob may be dead, but this is still an employee issue. He’s coming to you. You have the power, Russell. You hold the upper hand. Now deal with it!
Ignoring Hannah’s prone form behind him, Russell adjusted his tie, placed his handkerchief back in his breast pocket and straightened in his chair.
“Mr. Samson, let me first tell you that I appreciate your thirty years of hard work and dedication. No one, not even death, can take that away from you.”
“No, thank you. I think you’ll agree that you’re in a,” here he struggled for the right word, “unique situation. And you most certainly now possess some very intriguing qualities.”
Bob nodded his head vigorously and there was a squishing sound, like pockets of trapped bodily fluids were shifting from the movement of his neck. “You’d sure be hard pressed to find someone else that’ll be able to work a non-stop shift like I can.”
“True. However, there are laws I have to abide by, and one of them prevents me from letting a man work those kinds of hours.”
Russell was beginning to feel more like himself with each passing second. Here was the granddaddy of all conundrums and he was about to whip its ass.
“Plus, there’s the matter of personal hygiene. I know it’s not something you can control, given your state of being. I just don’t think it would be a good idea to have you in an enclosed area with dozens of other folks who might be a tad offended.”
“I was fixin’ to change that by getting some of those colognes.”
Hannah moaned when Russell moved his chair back into her leg. “Mr. Samson, you can put a tuxedo on a sow and bring it to the prom, but everyone will still know you’re planning on fucking a pig before the night is through. You get my point?”
And there it was. The white flag of utter defeat there in Bob Samson’s eyes.
“I do appreciate the offer, Mr. Samson, but we both know it won’t work.”
They sat in silence for a bit, then Bob hung his head and rose from his chair.
“Mr. Banks, if you’re telling me no, I honestly don’t know what I’m gonna do with myself. Working for Banks Textiles is all I know.”
Russell smiled, the head man in charge, and replied, “You have a new lease on life. Now that’s something only Lazarus and Jesus got the privilege of receiving. You don’t want to waste it in some old textile mill. Go out, do things you only dreamed of before you died.” Even he was shocked by the words as they fell from his mouth with such ease. “Hell, start a support group. I hear that’s a great way to get things back on track.”
Two phone lines rang at once and Russell Banks snapped the headset back on.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, duty calls.”
Bob Samson left with stooped shoulders, too polite to argue with the man, too sad to say so long.
Three weeks later, David Benderman, twenty year employee of Banks Textiles, died of a heart attack while attending a minor league baseball game. Four days after that, he returned home, dirt stained and confused, only to be cast out as a leper.
Buford Jackson had passed away a year before Bob Samson, only to “revive” a month after Bob’s failed attempt at re-employment. Buford was the worst for wear, his skin sloughing off at the slightest contact. He was nothing more but a skeleton with bits of hanging flesh within a week. He’d worked at Banks Textiles for eleven years before succumbing to cancer of the balls.
Melinda Wahlberg found herself standing on the outside of her crypt three weeks after a vicious car accident that killed her instantly. It was hard going, what with the twisted legs and torso, but she eventually made it back to her apartment, only to find it had been rented out to a nice Mexican couple. She hadn’t worked at or even heard of Banks Textiles, but she was damn sure in the same boat as Bob, David and Buford.
They had no homes and no one to talk to but each other. They met at the church in the Serene Pastures cemetery every night after closing. It seemed a fitting place to congregate.
As the weeks grew on, more people suddenly and inexplicably came back from what was formerly known as the permanent dirt nap. Within two months, they were over fifty strong. Most folks that had come in contact with them either refused to talk about it for fear of ridicule or sold their story to such reputable tabloids as The Weekly World News.
They had becomeGeorgia’s dirty little secret. For all they knew, it was only happening here, in this run down little town forged in heat and humidity.
It wasn’t until about their tenth meeting when a realization hit Bob Samson.
He had started a support group, just like Russell Banks had told him to.
And though he had found solace in a group of outcasts like himself, it did little to mend his shattered self worth. Here he was hiding by day, lurking in shadows, and congregating by night in a cemetery with its share of hollow graves. He was back, but what the hell was he doing with his time?
“I don’t know about you all,” he said one night, “but I need to find something constructive to do with my time. It wears on a man, all this hiding.”
There were a few murmurs of agreement, then Buford stood up and said, “I feel the same way you do, Bob, but what do you expect us to do? We’re zombies, for Christ’s sake. It’s not like the rest of the world is welcoming us with open arms.”
Now the murmuring was escalating to a chorus and decaying heads were nodding as one.
Bob answered, “First of all, I ain’t no zombie. I think we need to come up with a better term for ourselves, help build our self esteem. Zombies make me think of bad movies and filthy drive-ins. Second, we need to get off our rotting asses and get to work!”
“You already tried that and look where it got you,” someone chirped.
“Sure, I tried and failed. But did you? Or you?” He scanned the pews brimming with the undead. “Before we leave tonight, I say we better have a new name for ourselves and a plan to get gainfully employed. Maybe if we all try, someone will get hired.”
“And maybe we’ll all be hunted down like dogs,” Melinda Wahlberg interjected.
Bob sighed and said, “You’re right, maybe we will be hunted down like dogs. But I’d rather that than skirting around tombstones all day and night.”
And so it came to pass that the twentieth assembly of the recently undead came to officially call themselves Re-ans (thanks to the input of Thelma Donaldson, a former historian before her brain aneurysm) and set forth to win their jobs back.
To Be Continued…
Check out Forest of Shadows by Hunter Shea : "Dark, intense and not afraid to get down and dirty."
For the past several years, zombies have been all the craze in the horror world. Personally, I’ve been obsessed with the subject ever since my father took me to see the original Dawn of the Dead.
Job Security is my little addition to the zombie genre. I’ve broken it up into easily digestible bits (kinda like nice, soft brains) and will post a new section each week. Enjoy!
By Hunter Shea
The sun was out that day for the first time in over a week, but Russell Banks didn’t have the spare time to notice. Every day was the same as far as he was concerned. Wake up, piss, shower, change and go to work until the sun went down, even on summer days when the Georgia sun reluctantly said goodnight at nine o’clock every night.
Banks Textiles was built with Russell’s sweat and blood and while he was still on this earth, he would continue to pour his very soul into the business at the expense of his own social life. Just ask his ex-wife, June, and the two boys he hasn’t seen in close to three years.
Thanks to the cancer that was outsourcing, the textile business in America was fast becoming a by-gone industry. You could hear Russell Banks decry the goddamn foreigners about ten times a day, along with countless other colorful epithets.
So it came to be that Russell was immersed in his duties as captain of the sinking ship on that bright, humid Tuesday when his secretary Hannah barged into his office looking waxen.
“Excuse me, Mr. Banks?”
“Hannah, I don’t have time,” he barked behind his imposing oak desk. A phone headset sat atop his balding scalp and he scanned the data on two computer monitors that sat side by side amidst the clutter.
He was too busy to notice that the old girl looked about ready to faint.
“But, someone’s here to see you and…”
He cut her off with a sharp wag of his finger and spoke into the fiber optic tube by his mouth. “Don’t give me excuses. Call me back in ten minutes with an answer.” He angrily punched the disconnect button on his pone, cursed the entire country of India and began poking through a mound of loose papers.
When he looked up and saw his secretary leaning against the door with eyes as wide and terrified as soon-to-be road kill, he asked, “Why are you still here. I told you, I don’t have time.”
“Bob Samson is here to see you,” she blurted out, her voice rising.
Russell removed his headset and gently placed it on the desk. Hannah had never acted like this before and he prayed it wasn’t some change of life episode. Sometimes women could be as irritating and life draining as the foreigners.
“Who the hell is Bob Samson and why the hell are you getting so worked up about it?” he said in a calm, even tone that barely masked his simmering anger.
Hannah moved away from the door and sat across from him. She looked about ready to jump out the window.
Her chin quivered as she said, “Bob Samson used to work in the factory. He was a line worker until last week. He came to get his job back.”
Ah, a former disgruntled employee, Russell thought. He probably came in all full of piss and vinegar and put the fear of God in her. Well, that was nothing a quick call to security couldn’t fix. As he dialed the extension for security, he said, “If he lost his job in the first place, it was for a good reason. I’ll have security come up and fetch him.”
Hannah leaped up and swatted the phone away. Russell jumped back in his chair, stunned.
“You don’t understand, Mr. Banks. Bob Samson died last week!”
Before he could retort, come up with something to gently suggest Hannah had lost her mind, there was a knock on the door, just three soft taps. The doorknob turned and Hannah dashed behind Russell sitting in his big swivel chair.
The smell made its greeting moments before Bob Samson came waltzing in. He looked as if he’d been black in life, but death had cast a gray pallor to his livid flesh. Removing his baseball cap, Russell noticed a tuft of wiry black hair pull from his scalp and plop onto his floor, weighted down by a small chunk of skin.
“I’m awful sorry about that,” Bob Samson said, reaching down to pick up that small part of himself and stuffing it into his pocket. “Seems I’m still getting used to my, ah, current condition.” He smiled, revealing a perfect set of pearly whites, the end result of Banks Textiles’ superb dental plan. Seeing such a set of choppers in a walking, talking corpse was about the only thing that kept Russell from losing his lunch, for no amount of polite banter could mask Bob Samson’s stench. It reminded Russell of the time he had found a dead deer while hiking in the woods. It had been sitting in the sun, bloated and gnawed upon by bugs and other animals beyond recognition, for close to a week.
Oblivious to their terror and disgust, Bob went on as if talking to a corpse was an everyday occurrence. “Now I know this is a bit of a shock and I don’t have an appointment and all, but I really wanted to talk to you personally, Mr. Banks. I mean, the first time I was alive I never got the chance to thank you for the job you and your company gave me. Why, it kept a roof over my head and food on my table for close to thirty years and I can’t think of anyone else that would do that for a man like myself.”
Russell and Hannah sat in mute silence.
“I know I’m not the most educated man in the world, but I was always a hard worker.”
“But…but, you’re dead,” Russell said. There was no need for a death certificate. His nose and eyes were all he needed to confirm the truth.
Bob laughed and slapped his thigh. “Was dead, was dead. When I woke up in that box, believe me, I was just as surprised then as you are now. Took me a better part of a day getting myself out of that fix. Now, I don’t profess to know how this happened or why. I never was much for goin’ to church and I stopped my schoolin’ when I was about nine. All I know is I’m back and I can’t think of a better thing to do with myself than come back to work for you, Mr. Banks. You might say I’m a new and improved model, because I don’t need sleep or food, so if you’ll have me, you got yourself a 24/7 employee.” He leaned back in his chair and marveled at the possibilities. “Well, maybe I’ll take a smoke break every now and then. At least now I know the smokin’ can’t hurt me.”
Check out Forest of Shadows by Hunter Shea : "Dark, intense and not afraid to get down and dirty."