“Trailblazing” appeared in the webzine Grimoire in 1999. I wrote this story after taking a vacation in Shenandoah National Park. If you enjoy hiking and rustic cabins, this is a good place to visit, especially during the off-season. (We went in early June, when it was still misty and cold in the mountains.) Just watch out for the witches.
The red Camaro roared up Skyline Drive, splitting the early morning silence with the growl of its engine. It was going much faster than the speed limit of thirty-five miles an hour, but Kevin figured that was okay. His vehicle really hugged the road.
“There’s another one!” his brother yelled, leaning forward to point out the window at a deer that had been grazing along the shoulder. Now it was scrambling up the steep hill into the forest, trying to get away from the onrushing car. Johnny sank back into his seat, wheezing with laughter. “God, you can’t swing a dead cat in here without hitting one of them things.”
They flew over the crest of a hill, not quite leaving the pavement. This brought them to one of the short, infrequent straightaways along Skyline Drive. Kevin gunned the engine. Trees and patchy mist flew by. As the road dipped and curved, a small white-tailed deer darted out of the woods. Kevin stomped on the brakes. The tires locked and the car skidded to a halt, but not before the startled-looking animal went down beneath it.
“Damn it!” Kevin put the car into reverse. The carcass thumped and scraped against the undercarriage before they finally cleared it. The collision had left a brownish-red smear on the road.
Kevin pulled into an overlook on the right and got out to check the car. Other than the bumper, the damage was minimal. He was bent over and checking the undercarriage when Johnny said, “Hey, Kev, there’s a trail here. Let’s do this one, huh?”
Kevin went to his brother, who stood before a vertical trail map of a place called Virago Mountain. The path ran a twisting line to the summit. “Okay, sure,” Kevin said.
“Great!” Johnny fetched the K-Mart bag full of spray paint from under his seat. He coated the sign with a brown squiggle to cover up the trail map. Then he turned to Kevin, grinned, and said, “Let’s go.”
“Organic Science” is a postapocalyptic tale set on an Earth that has been conquered by a race of reptiles, called “Lizzies” by the remnants of humanity who live as exhibits in zoos. In the original version, the Lizzies were intelligent dinosaurs who had used time travel to escape into the future; in the version that appeared as the January 1999 lead story in the magazine Not One Of Us, they had become aliens. Either way, they don’t waste much.
The stink was particularly bad today. It was the heat; high temperatures stimulated the growth of the bacteria that gave the Lizzies their putrid, rotten-meat odor. In all fairness, he probably didn’t smell so good himself.
Alistair kicked his feet in the lukewarm water of the pond. He took a drink of blackberry wine, then nearly choked on it as a bugship swept in and hovered overhead. The flying machine resembled a gigantic insect, with six spindly legs, multifaceted eyes, and membranous wings that split the sunlight like a prism. The downdraft rattled the heat-shrunken leaves, broke the surface of the pond into ripples, and kicked up stinging dust from the dry earth. Alistair shielded his eyes with his hand.
After a moment the bugship zipped off, the buzz of its wings fading. Alistair shook his head, flinging grit from his hair. The surface of the pond was coated with dust and leaves.
He remembered the first time he had seen a bugship, during the war, when they had made a desperate attempt to understand and replicate Lizzie technology. But their machines were completely organic, and decomposed rapidly when not maintained. Captured Lizzie equipment quickly became useless goo; not that they had ever captured much of it anyway.
Because the Lizzies had won every battle, right from the start.
NIGHT WATCHMAN was my first horror novel sale, to Hard Shell Word Factory, an e-book and print-on-demand publisher. After accidentally signing up to give a reading at the 1997 World Horror Convention in Niagara Falls (hey, the forms were confusing, okay?), I had to call back to my office and have a friend fax me over some pages of NIGHT WATCHMAN and my story “The Short Route” so that I would have something to read from. The readings did help lead to the eventual publication of my second novel, A FLOCK OF CROWS IS CALLED A MURDER, so it all worked out in the end.
Mrs. Barrett rises. “You don’t believe in it,” she says in a whisper, “but be careful. Listen to me! Beware the power of Satan.”
“Don’t worry, ma’am,” Nate says. “We’re pure of heart and noble of purpose. Right, Frank?”
“Maybe you are,” Frank says.
They go back into the hallway. Mrs. Barrett shuts the door behind them and locks it four different ways as they head for the stairs. The air is just as rank on the fourth-floor landing as it was on the first, and doesn’t improve much as they climb. “Do you think we need backup?” asks Nate as they ascend the last flight to the rooftop door.
“Nah. For a bunch of kids? They got knives, we got guns.”
“But what about the power of Satan?”
Frank points to his groin. “I got the power of Satan right here. Now c’mon, or we’ll miss the Black Mass.”
Not merely the answer to a trivia question, this was the first novel I had published. It was actually the third horror novel that I wrote, after an unpublished (but still good!) vampire novel and the infamous (in some circles — very, very small ones) NIGHT WATCHMAN. Currently out of print, CROWS will soon be reissued by Amazon.com’s BookSurge imprint.
He plowed into her, bore her backwards onto the bed. He was trying to kiss her; his lips, dry and cold and leathery, brushed hers, then mashed against them. She squirmed beneath him, trying to break the contact, but his hands shot up and gripped her head like the edges of a vise.
His mouth opened, forcing hers to open, too. She felt the first clammy, sticky bubbles of slime coming out of his throat, dribbling into hers. Salty mucous, gunk. She couldn’t breathe; he had gummed up her nose with snot, her mouth was full of it.
He wanted her to swallow, that was it; swallow, and breathe, and be like him …
I now have two short stories for sale at Amazon.com. Stories at Amazon retail for 49 cents and are split 60/40, which is a much better deal than authors usually get, at least the ones who aren’t famous (yet). Check them out — you can buy two for the price of an iTunes track, and they’ll take longer to read than it will to play a song.
One story, “Cuffs”, is about a couple of thugs who attempt the world’s strangest carjacking. To check it out, click here.
The other story is “The Crying Room”. This is a ghost story in the tradition of some recent, popular Japanese horror movie imports like “The Ring” and “Dark Water” (okay, “Dark Water” was hardly popular here, but still …) I wrote it years ago, before such movies started appearing. Hollywood finally caught up to me, I guess. Buy “The Crying Room” here.
My novel NIGHT WATCHMAN is now available for purchase at Pair-A-Dice games in Vista, California. Pair-A-Dice has a terrific selection of board, collectible card, and role-playing games, as well as comics, miniatures, and, of course, my book. I encourage everyone in the area to stop in and see what they have to offer. Directions to the store can be found here.
I may be doing a signing there soon. An announcement will follow when this is firmed up.
“Singletrack” appeared in Greg Gifune’s magazine The Edge in May of 1999. I used to do a lot of mountain biking in the Adirondack Mountains, and the terrain is based on that (specifically, the trail around Moss Lake). I never encountered any wildlife larger than a squirrel, but the poor souls in this story are not so fortunate.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: In mountain biking terminology, singletrack denotes a trail—usually difficult to ride—that consists of one narrow cleared path.
The big downhill gave Jackson a momentum boost that carried him up the next rise with only a minor loss in speed, so he was still racing fast when he spotted the shelf of rock protruding from the path. He jerked up hard on the front wheel, but the ridge was too high to hop. He rammed it head-on, flying over the handlebars and into the spindly brambles that grew alongside the trail. They snapped and splintered like thin dry bones.
Jackson hauled himself out of the tangle of foliage. He grabbed his bike and dragged it over the spiny stone, then mounted it and began to ride. The bike wobbled and he fell again. He checked the front wheel; its rim was bent out of true.
He looked back up the trail. They were coming, coming through the trees; the wipeout had cost him precious yards, he was still miles from civilization, and now his bike was unrideable.
How on earth was he going to get away now?