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This new edition of the premiere collection of the year's finest horror stories continues its tradition of riveting tales of terror from some of the best-known contemporary writers. Contributors include Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Lisa Tuttle, Thomas Ligotti, Karl Edward Wagner, and Kim Newman.
Bournouw," to be filmed by either Ridley or Tony Scott ... who were, at last bulletin, fighting with brotherly affection for the privilege of directing Ellison's "disturbing" screenplay.
The author finished the following story on a cruise ship with his wife Susan. "I ain't a cruise kind of guy," says Ellison. "One day, and I was nuts. So I wrote."
During the third week of the trial, sworn under oath, one of the Internal Affairs guys the DA's office had planted undercover in Gropp's facility attempted to describe how terrifying Gropp's smile was. The IA guy stammered some; and there seemed to be a singular absence of color in his face; but he tried valiantly, not being a poet or one given to colorful speech. And after some prodding by the Prosecutor, he said:
"You ever,y'know, when you brush your teeth ... how when you're done, and you've spit out the toothpaste and the water, and you pull back your lips to look at your teeth, to see if they're whiter, and like that...you know how you tighten up your jaws real good, and make that kind of death-grin smile that pulls your lips back, with your teeth lined up clenched in the front of your mouth...you know what I mean...well..."
Sequestered that night in a downtown hotel, each of the twelve jurors stared into a medicine cabinet mirror and skinned back a pair of lips, and tightened neck muscles till the cords stood out, and clenched teeth, and stared at a face grotesquely contorted. Twelve men and women then superimposed over the mirror reflection the face of the Defendant they'd been starting at for three weeks, and approximated the smile they had not seen onGropp's face all that time.
And in that moment of phantom face over reflection face, Gropp was convicted.
Police Lieutenant W.R. Gropp. Rhymed with crop. The meatman who ruled a civic smudge called the Internment Facility when it was listed on the City Council's budget every year. Internment Facility: dripping wet, cold iron, urine smell mixed with sour liquor sweated through dirty skin, men and women crying in the night. A stockade, a prison camp, stalag, ghetto, torture chamber, charnel house, abattoir, duchy, fiefdom, Army co-op mess hall ruled by a neckless thug.
The last of the thirty-seven inmate alumni who had been subpoenaed to testify recollected, "Gropp's favorite thing was to take some fool outta his cell, get him nekkid to the skin, then do this rolling thing t'him."
When pressed, the former tenant of Gropp's hostelry - not a felon, merely a steamfitter who had had a bit too much to drink and picked up for himself a ten-day Internment Facility residency for D&D - explained that this "rolling thing" entailed "Gropp wrappin' his big, hairy sausage arm aroun' the guy's neck, see, and then he'd roll him across the bars, real hard and fast. Bangin' the guy's head like a roulette ball around the wheel. Clank clank, like that. Usual, it'd knock the guy flat out cold, his head clankin' across the bars and spaces between, wham wham wham like that. See his eyes go up outta sight, all white; but Gropp, he'd hang on with that sausage aroun' the guy's neck, whammin' and bangin' him and takin' some goddam kinda pleasure mentionin' how much bigger this criminal bastard was than he was. Yeah, fer sure, That was Gropp's fav'rite part, that he always pulled out some poor nekkid sonofabitch was twice his size.
"That's how four of these guys he's accused of doin', that's how they croaked. With Gropp's sausage' round the neck. I kept my mouth shut; I'm lucky to get outta there in one piece."
Frightening testimony, last of thirty-seven. But as superfluous as feathers on an eggplant. From the moment of superimposition of phantom face over reflection face, Police Lieutenant W.R. Gropp was on greased rails to spend his declining years for Brutality While Under Color of Service - a serious offense - in a maxi-galleria stuffed chockablock with felons whose spiritual brethren he had maimed, crushed, debased, blinded, butchered, and killed.
Similarly destined was Gropp's gigantic Magog, Deputy Sergeant Michael "Mickey" Rizzo, all three hundred and forty pounds of him; brainless malevolence stacked six feet four inches high in his steel-toed, highly polished service boots. Mickey had only been indicted on seventy counts, as opposed to Gropp's eighty-four ironclad atrocities. But if he managed to avoid Sentence of Lethal Injection for having crushed men's heads underfoot, he would certainly go to the maxi-galleria mall of felonious behavior for the rest of his simian life.
Mickey had, after all, pulled a guy up against the inside of the bars and kept bouncing him till he ripped the left arm loose from its socket, ripped it off,and later dropped it on the mess hall steam table just before dinner assembly.
Squat, bulletheaded troll, Lieutenant W.R. Gropp, and the mindless killing machine, Mickey Rizzo. On greased rails.
So they jumped bail together, during the second hour of jury deliberation.
Why wait? Gropp could see which way it was going, even counting on Blue Loyalty. The city was putting the abyss between the Dept., and him and Mickey. So, why wait? Gropp was a sensible guy, very pragmatic, no bullshit. So they jumped bail together, having made arrangements weeks before, as any sensible felon keen to flee would have done.
Gropp knew a chop shop that owed him a favor. There was a throaty and hemi-speedy, immaculately registered, four year old Firebird just sitting in a bay on the fifth floor of a seemingly abandoned garment factory, two blocks from the courthouse.
And just to lock the barn door after the horse, or in his case the Pontiac, had been stolen, Gropp had Mickey toss the chop shop guy down the elevator shaft of the factory. It was the sensible thing to do. After all, the guy's neck was broken.
By the time the jury came in, later that night, Lieut. W.R. Gropp was out of the state and somewhere near Boise. Two days later, having taken circuitous routes, the Firebird was on the other side of both the Snake River and the Rockies, between Rock Springs and Laramie. Three days after that, having driven in large circles, having laid over in Cheyenne for dinner and a movie, Gropp and Mickey were in Nebraska.
Wheat ran to the sun, blue storms bellowed up from horizons, and heat trembled on the edge of each leaf. Crows stirred inside fields, lifted above shattered surfaces of grain and flapped into sky. That's what it looked like: the words came from a poem.
They were smack in the middle of the plains state, above Grand Island, below Norfolk, somewhere out in the middle of nowhere, just tooling along, leaving no trail, deciding to go that way to Canada, or the other way to Mexico. Gropp had heard there were business opportunities in Mazatlan.
It was a week after the jury had been denied the pleasure of seeing Gropp's face as they said, "Stick the needle in the brutal sonofabitch. Fill the barrel with a very good brand of weed-killer, stick the needle in the brutal sonofabitch's chest, and slam home the plunger. Guilty, your honor, guilty on charges one through eighty-four. Give 'im the weed-killer and let's watch the fat scumbag do his dance!" A week of swift and leisurely driving here and there, doubling back and skimming along easily.
And somehow, earlier this evening, Mickey had missed a turnoff, and now they were on a stretch of superhighway that didn't seem to have any important exits. There were little towns now and then, the lights twinkling off in the mid-distance, but if they were within miles of a major metropolis, the map didn't give them clues as to where they might be.
"You took a wrong turn."
"Yeah, exactly huh. Keep your eyes on the road."
"I'm sorry, Looten'nt."
"No. Not Lieutenant. I told you."
"Oh, yeah, right. Sorry, Mr Gropp."
"Not Gropp. Jensen. Mister Jensen. You're also Jensen, my kid brother. Your name is Daniel."
"I got it, I remember: Harold and Daniel Jensen is us. You know what I'd like?"
"No, what would you like?"
"A box'a Grape-Nuts. I could have 'em here in the car, and when I got a mite peckish I could just dip my hand in an' have a mouthful. I'd like that."
"Keep your eyes on the road."
"So whaddya think?"
"About maybe I swing off next time and we go into one'a these little towns and maybe a 7-Eleven'll be open, and I can get a box'a Grape-Nuts? We'll need some gas after a while, too. See the little arrow there?"
"I see it. We've still got half a tank. Keep driving."
Mickey pouted. Gropp paid no attention. There were drawbacks to forced traveling companionship. But there were many cul-de-sacs and landfills between this stretch of dark turnpike and New Brunswick, Canada or Mazatlan, state of Sinaloa.
"What is this, the Southwest?" Gropp asked, looking out the side window into utter darkness. "The Midwest? What?"
Mickey looked around, too. "I dunno. Pretty out here, though. Real quiet and pretty."
"It's pitch dark."
"Keep driving!" Gropp yelled, as his partner-in-flight started to slow for the exit ramp.
Mickey heard, but his reflexes were slow. They continued to drift to the right, toward the rising egress lane. Gropp reached across and jerked the wheel hard to the left. "I said: keep driving!"
The Firebird slewed, but Mickey got it back under control in a moment, and in another moment they were abaft the ramp, then pass it, and speeding away from the nightmarish site beyond and slightly below the superhighway. Gropp stared mesmerized as they swept past. He could see building that leaned at obscene angles, the green fog that rolled through the haunted streets, the shadowy forms of misshapen things that skulked at every dark opening.
"That was a real scary-lookin' place, Looten ... Harold. I don't think I'd of wanted to go down there even for the Grape-Nuts. But maybe if we'd've gone real fast..."
Gropp twisted in the seat toward Mickey as much as his muscle-fat body would permit. "Listen to me. There is this tradition, in horror movies, in mysteries, in tv shows, that people are always going into haunted houses, into graveyards, into battle zones, like assholes, like stone idiots! You know what I'm talking about here? Do you?"
Mickey said, "Uh..."
"All right, let me give you an example, Remember we went to see that movie Alien? Remember how scared you were?"
Mickey bobbled his head rapidly, his eyes widened in frightened memory.
"Okay. So now, you remember that part where the guy who was a mechanic, the guy with the baseball cap, he goes off looking for a cat or somedamnthing? Remember? He left everyone else, and he wandered off by himself. And he went into that big cargo hold with the water dripping on him, and all those chains hanging down, and shadows everywhere...do you recall that?"
Mickey's eyes were chalky potholes. He remembered, oh yes; he remembered clutching Gropp's jacket sleeve till Gropp had been compelled to slap his hand away.
"And you remember what happened in the movie? In the theater? You remember everybody yelling, `Don't go in there, you asshole! The thing's in there, you moron! Don't go in there!' But, remember, he did, and the thing came up behind him all those teeth, and it bit his stupid head off! Remember that?"
Mickey hunched over the wheel, driving fast.
"Well, that's the way people are. They ain't sensible! They go into places like that, you can see are death places; and they get chewed up or the blood sucked outta their necks or used for kindling...but I'm no moron, I'm a sensible guy and I got the brains my mama gave me, and I don't go near places like that. So drive like a sonofabitch, and get us outta here, and we'll get your damned Grape-Nuts in Idaho or somewhere...if we ever get off this road..."
Mickey murmured, "I'm sorry, Lieuten'nt. I took a wrong turn or somethin'."
"Yeah, yeah. Just keep driv - " The car was slowing. It was a frozen moment. Gropp exultant, no fool he, to avoid the cliche, to stay out of that haunted house, that ominous dark closet, that damned place. Let idiot others venture off the freeway, into the town that contained the basement entrance to Hell, or whatever. Not he, not Gropp!
He'd outsmarted the obvious.
In that frozen moment.
As the car slowed. Slowed, in the poisonous green mist.
And on their right, the obscenely frightening town of Obedience, that they had left in their dust five minutes before, was coming up again on the superhighway.
"Did you take another turnoff?"
"Uh...no, I...uh, I been just driving fast..."
The sign read: next right 50 YDS Obedience.
The car was slowing. Gropp craned his neckless neck to get a proper perspective on the fuel gauge. He was a pragmatic kind of a guy, no nonsense, and very practical; but they were out of gas.
The Firebird slowed and slowed and finally rolled to a stop.
In the rearview mirror Gropp saw the green fog rolling up thicker onto the roadway; ad emerging over the berm, in a jostling, slavering horde, clacking and drooling, dropping decayed body parts and leaving glistening trails of worm ooze as they dragged their deformed pulpy bodies across the blacktop, their snake-slit eyes gleaming green and yellow in the mist, the residents of Obedience clawed and slithered and crimped toward the car.
It was common sense any Better Business Bureau would have applauded: if the tourist trade won't come to your town, take your town to the tourists. Particularly if the freeway has forced commerce to pass you by. Particularly if your town needs fresh blood to prosper. Particularly if you have the civic need to share.
Green fog shrouded the Pontiac, and the peculiar sounds that came from within. Don't go into that dark room is a sensible attitude. Particularly in a sensible city.
|Introduction: Horror in 1994 THE EDITOR||1|
|Dead Babies LAWRENCE WATT-EVANS||33|
|Sensible City HARLAN ELLISON||45|
|Blade and Bone TERRY LAMSLEY||55|
|Harvest NORMAN PARTRIDGE||73|
|Sometimes, in the Rain CHARLES GRANT||81|
|Menage a Trois RICHARD CHRISTIAN MATHESON||95|
|Like Shattered Stone JOEL LANE||99|
|Black Sun DOUGLAS E. WINTER||113|
|Isabel Avens Returns to Stepney in the Spring M. JOHN HARRISON||123|
|The Dead Orchards IAN MacLEOD||149|
|What Happened When Mosby Paulson Had Her Painting Reproduced|
|on the Cover of the Phone Book ELIZABETH MASSIE||161|
|In the Middle of a Snow Dream KARL EDWARD WAGNER||197|
|The Temptation of Dr Stein PAUL J. McAULEY||215|
|Wayang Kulit GARRY KILWORTH||235|
|The Scent of Vinegar ROBERTBLOCH||253|
|The Homecoming NICHOLAS ROYLE||283|
|The Singular Habits of Wasps GEOFFREY A. LANDIS||305|
|To Receive is Better MICHAEL MARSHALL SMITH||331|
|The Alchemy of the Throat BRIANHODGE||339|
|Out of the Night, When the Full Moon is Bright... KIM NEWMAN||365|
|Lovers ESTHER M. FRIESNER||425|
|Necrology: 1994 STEPHENS JONES & KIM NEWMAN||431|