Gathering the Bones: Original Stories from the World's Masters of Horror by Jack Dann, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Gathering the Bones: Original Stories from the World's Masters of Horror

Gathering the Bones: Original Stories from the World's Masters of Horror

by Jack Dann
     
 

A Chilling new anthology of all-original tales of horror

Includes New Stories by:
Ray Bradbury
Graham Joyce
Peter Crowther
Kim Newman
Sara Douglass
Thomas Tessier
M. John Harrison
Gahan Wilson

The anthology market these days is awash with small, themed works focused on

Overview

A Chilling new anthology of all-original tales of horror

Includes New Stories by:
Ray Bradbury
Graham Joyce
Peter Crowther
Kim Newman
Sara Douglass
Thomas Tessier
M. John Harrison
Gahan Wilson

The anthology market these days is awash with small, themed works focused on very specific markets, like vampire erotica and tales of werewolves, or it features best of the year reprints. It has been years since anyone has dared to bring out a broad-reaching anthology that seeks to define the current state of the genre with all original tales from both masters and hot new writers.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
English is the common language and horror the dialect in this melting pot anthology of 34 new stories drawn about equally from each editor's country of residence: the U.S., Great Britain and Australia. Mixing contributions from seasoned pros with the work of newcomers and showcasing approaches that vary from graphic realism to surrealistic nightmare and cross-genre splices, the contents resist pigeonholing and fulfill the editors' ambition to portray horror as "a field whose boundaries are no longer rigidly defined and where literary values coexist with the leading edge of popular culture." Steve Nagy leads off with "The Hanged Man of Oz," a creepy riff on The Wizard of Oz that subversively sets the "we're not in Kansas any more" tone for selections that follow. Kim Newman excels with "The Intervention," a Kafkaesque black comedy about a deprogramming victim that deftly balances absurdist social satire with paranoid horror. Lisa Tuttle's "The Mezzotint" is one of several stories that evoke classic horror fiction, in this case a tale by M.R. James, whose plot she brilliantly inverts in an account of sinister deceptions that darken a romantic relationship. In most stories the subtle and suggestive trump the physical and gruesome, such as "No Man's Land" by Chris Lawson and Simon Brown, where vividly described horrors of trench warfare prove an avenue to more awe-inducing terrors. Although there are as many competent but unremarkable stories as there are standouts, this book shows that distinctions of national origin and cultural difference dissolve in horror stories expertly cast from a crucible of quality. (Aug. 23) Forecast: Best known as an SF and fantasy author, Dann should help the book cross over to readers of those genres. Traditionalists will welcome the absence of horror's more outrageous and self-consciously strange writers. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
From Steve Nagy's skewed vision of the land of Oz ("The Hanged Man of Oz") to Lisa Tuttle's subtle tale of altered reality ("Mezzotint"), the 33 original tales in this collection explore the varied forms and enduring appeal of horror fiction. Featuring authors from the United States, Great Britain, and Australia and compiled by three masters of the genre (Etchison, Ramsey Campbell, and Jack Dann), this volume includes stories by Gahan Wilson, Terry Dowling, Steve Rasnic Tem, Ray Bradbury, and other genre veterans and newcomers. There is not a bad apple in the bunch, and most of these tales are subtly told without the splatter and gore so common to modern horror. Yet they evoke a real sense of spine-shivering eeriness and uneasiness. One of the strongest collections of the year, this volume belongs in horror and short story collections. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Thirty-three original horrifics from America, Great Britain, and Australia, some from established stars, others from hot new supernovas, as chosen by an editor from each land mass. Not since reading a tale by Clark Ashton Smith in his teens, about some abominable velvety black brain-eaters clinging to the ceiling of a cave into whose darkness the hero must go has this reader experienced "horror" in fiction, that is, a pure state or affect divorced from the supernatural, weird, SF, or dark fantasy. Can it be that nothing that sets out to horrify ever does? Horror comes in the backdoor and is unexpected, though shock cuts in movies, such as the dead twin daughters standing in a deserted hotel hallway in Kubrick/King's The Shining, can have one jump in the seat the first time one sees the film. This sheaf kicks off brightly with Steve Nagy's "The Hanged Man of Oz," about a new figure discovered in the Judy Garland movie, a hanged man in the woods where the live trees are tricked into giving up their apples. And Dorothy and the Tin Man and Scarecrow, as well as the Wicked Witch, are not the characters you thought they were. Fun and inventive, yes, but horrifying? Not really. Kim Newman's truly brilliant chunka kafka, "The Intervention," opens with a man coming into his office and being faced with an AA-like intervention, enjoined by his family and officemates, all his keys taken from him, his computer codes and credit cards revoked, cell phone snicked in half. Humiliatingly, even his kids sign him away, in crayon, as he's stripped naked and put into an ambulance. All of this-for what reason? In "Blake's Angel," by Janeen Welsh, the poet Blake Williams, suffering from poet's block, buys acaptured angel from a grimy angel-trader and takes it home to his grubby apartment for inspiration. Also on hand: Ray Bradbury, the late Cherry Wilder, Tim Waggoner, Gahan Wilson, Graham Joyce, and others. Rapturous fantasy, few chills.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780765301796
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
08/16/2003
Edition description:
REV
Pages:
447
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.99(d)

Read an Excerpt

Gathering the Bones


By

Tor Books



The Hanged Man of Oz
 
BY STEVE NAGY
 
 
Knee-high grass dominated the scene, thick blades uprooting the foundation of a sagging cabin, pushing aside cobbles in the shaded road. Trees circled the clearing and an abandoned orchard lay behind the cabin, straight rows masked by weeds and windrows of dead leaves and forgotten fruit.
A pastoral display except for the people posed throughout--two middle-aged men, one dressed as a hobo, the second clad in a dirty threadbare uniform; an old woman sporting too much rouge and mascara, skinny legs visible beneath the hem of a little girl's dress; and a dead man, hanging from a tree, his feet twitching at odd moments in time with some unheralded tune raised by the wind whistling through the forest.
* * *
Obsession is an art form.
And if you're lucky it's contagious.
Denise and I got together for dinner and drinks at her place. Our first date, although we saw each other in the apartment hall every day. I lived in 2B. She had moved into 2C in February. I'd made great strides, starting with an occasional nod and shared rides to work. I'd eventually thrown out an off-the-cuff comment about her hair, which she'd shorn from its ponytail length to a flapper-style skullcap. Guys should notice changes like that; it's an easy way to score points.
After that first compliment, the progression from casual to intimate was natural. We left in the morning at the same time, talked about our days, compared notes on work. If you practicesomething enough, anything is possible. I knew the boy-next-door routine better than when to observe national holidays. And the Fourth of July doesn't change from year to year.
Besides dinner and drinks, Denise made me sit down and watch The Wizard of Oz.
"You've seen this before, Michael?"
"Lots of times," I said. "Not lately, though. Isn't it usually on around Easter?"
"Until recently," Denise said. "Ted Turner bought the rights and pulled it for theatrical release."
Oz? God save me. I already regretted the date and struggled to keep an interested expression as Denise gave me the inside scoop. It was like a psychotic version of Entertainment Tonight.
When I was in college I worked at a greasy spoon as a busboy. The chef was a compact Italian named Ricky Silva who came across as uneducated, unhealthy and gullible. I stayed late one night, and I found Silva pouring over a stamp collection in a back booth. I questioned him about it, saying something crass because the idea of Silva as a philatelist didn't match my preconceptions. He told me there were an infinite number of worlds. Each existed next to the other, always overlapping and occasionally intertwining. Learning about his deeper reality forced me to change my opinion of him.
Denise and Oz were like that. The places she went and the things she did contained wholly unexpected layers. Up until now I'd only seen her "hallway" face.
But I wasn't in Kansas anymore.
The trivia litany went like this:
Buddy Ebsen--the original Tin Man--almost died from pneumonia, suffering a bad reaction to aluminum dust from his makeup, which let Jack Haley jump into his metal shoes.
The Cowardly Lion's costume was so hot Bert Lahr passed out at least a dozen times.
The Munchkins raised so much holy hell on the set that Chevy Chase mined that aspect for Under the Rainbow.
Shirley Temple led the pack for Dorothy's role. Probably because everyone considered Judy Garland too old and a poor box-office draw. The movie lost money, costing about $4.6 million and earning only $4 million the first time out.
Studio executives cut a groundbreaking dance number that showcased Ray Bolger. They believed audiences wouldn't sit through a "children's movie" if it was too long.
Faulty special effects burned Margaret Hamilton at the end of her first scene as the Wicked Witch. This was shortly after Garland arrived in Oz. Hamilton tried grabbing the ruby slippers, but was thwarted by the Good Witch, an actress named Billie Burke. Hamilton dropped below the stage and right into a badly timed burst of smoke and flame...
It went on and on and on, everything you never wanted to know. Peccadilloes, idiosyncrasies; in other words, crap.
Then Denise told me a story about the man who hanged himself during filming--and she claimed the final print showed the incident.
"What? You're kidding me. I've never seen a dead guy."
Denise licked her lips, imitating a poorly belled cat. "Not everybody does. It's like those 3-D pictures where you cross your eyes."
"Prove it."
Denise paused the video. Onscreen, Dorothy and the Scarecrow were in the midst of tricking the trees into giving up their apples, frozen seconds before stumbling across the Tin Man.
"It's at the end of this section. I'll run it through once at regular speed. Let me know if you catch it."
She hit PLAY. Dorothy and the Scarecrow freed the Tin Man, did a little song-and-dance, fought off the Wicked Witch and continued their trek. I didn't see anything strange and shrugged when Denise paused it again.
"Nothing, right?" She rewound the tape to a point immediately after the witch disappeared in a cloud of red-orange smoke (this time minus the hungry flames), then advanced the video frame by frame.
Our date had progressed from strange to surreal, and I couldn't wait for an excuse to leave.
Then I saw him--the hanged man.
Dorothy, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man skipped down the road. Before the scene cut away to the Cowardly Lion's forest, the jerky movement of the advancing frames highlighted activity inside the forest edge.
A half-shadowed figure moved in the crook of a tree about ten feet off the ground. I thought it might be one of the many birds spread throughout the clearing and around the cabin, but its shape looked too much like a man. The next frame showed him jumping from his perch. His legs were stiff, as if bound. Or maybe determination wouldn't let him go all loose and disjointed at this defining moment. Before his feet touched the ground, they wrenched to the right. Whatever held him to the upper branches swung his ill-lit body back into the shadows. I think I heard his neck snap, although with the tape playing at this speed there wasn't any sound. Even at regular speed I knew the only sound would come from the three actors, voicing in song their desire to see the Wizard.
My heart raced and for a minute I worried that its syncopated thrum might attract the Tin Man, prompting him to step into the apartment and take it for his own.
"I can't believe it," I said. "It's a snuff film."
"Awesome, isn't it?" Denise restarted the film. I couldn't interpret her smile as kind; it seemed too satisfied. "I stay awake some nights," she said, "letting my mind experience what it was like. The studio buried the whole thing. Can you imagine the bad press? I even think Garland started drinking because of it."
On the television screen, Bert Lahr made his appearance. His growls matched the rough nature of Denise's monologue. As the film continued I offered small talk, made Denise vague promises that I would see her in the morning, and left as the credits rolled.
* * *
"I feel as if I've known you all the time, but I couldn't have, could I?"
"I don't see how. You weren't around when I was stuffed and sewn together, were you?"
"And I was standing over there rusting for the longest time..."
I knew I was asleep, sprawled on my couch. The past five days had stretched me to the limit. I always had a headache. Aspirin and whiskey didn't kill the pain. My conversations with Denise were forced; she mentioned the movie at every opportunity.
We'd had a second date. I agreed because Denise invited two friends from her work. Stan and Lora were nicotine addicts, rail-thin and shrouded in a pall of smoke. I think Denise brought them along so she could (one) look good in contrast and (two) so she had someone to turn to if things went sour with me. We hit a club and during a busy night on the dance floor I demonstrated I wasn't a klutz. I guess you could say it was the modern social equivalent of an Army physical. Denise and Lora exchanged approving nods near the end and Stan loosened up enough so that he took a minute between shots of tequila and his chain-smoking to talk to me.
Between all the alcohol and nicotine, I got a contact buzz and found myself obsessing about the hanged man and the way he disappeared into the shadows. Denise was still attractive to me, but I couldn't forget how pleased she'd looked as she talked about the death.
My thoughts hid me beside the Tin Man's cabin, watching the trio skip past. I would move onto the road. The hanged man was visible ahead. They must have turned their eyes to follow the road as it bent to the right because they didn't see him.
But I did.
* * *
Denise had seemed like her old self in the mixed company, and I assumed I was overreacting. So I agreed to a third date. Instead of a rerun with the mystery man in the trees, I got Stan and Lora again and a nice restaurant. I was almost happy when I saw their wan faces.
Almost. Denise and Lora left to powder their noses, and Stan asked me a question.
"How did you like the movie?"
"What?"
"You know what I mean. You look like you haven't had a good night's sleep in a while."
"How do you know that?"
"Denise is predictable. I'd be more surprised if she hadn't shown you the film yet."
I gulped my beer. "You've...seen him?"
Stan shrugged. "What about it?"
"The guy hanged himself. She seems so glad."
"Someone dies somewhere every second. Get used to it. Life will get a lot easier if you do."
Before I could ask what he meant, Denise and Lora returned from the bathroom.
* * *
I had the dream again the next night. It started at the same point. The Tin Man finished his dance, stumbled off the road, collapsed in a heap on a tree stump near the cabin. The others rushed to his side, Technicolor concern painting their expressions.
No one noticed me. I couldn't hear everything they said. It did seem to change from night to night, probably because I could never remember the dialogue verbatim.
The Wicked Witch screeched at the three adventurers from her perch on the roof above, surprising me again. I crouched and prayed she wouldn't see me. She tossed a fireball at the Scarecrow and even from this distance I felt the heat. The Tin Man smothered the flames under his funnel hat, but not before the silver paint bubbled and blistered on the edges and several of his fingers.
The Wicked Witch took off on her broom. Smoke billowed like a tumor in her wake. No trapdoors this time; my position offered an excellent view behind the cabin. Her flight left a rough scar across the sky that traced the road's path toward the Emerald City and beyond to the land of the Winkies.
"I wonder how many she'll kill when she gets home?"
I jumped from my crouch. The Scarecrow stood beside me. Dorothy and the Tin Man remained in the road. Instead of the concern I'd seen earlier, they appeared curious.
"What are you doing?" I glanced toward the trees. The hanged man swung from his rope, as solid as a mirage, flirting with the shadows. I turned back to the Scarecrow. "You're supposed to be on your way to the Emerald City."
The Scarecrow, who looked less and less like Bolger, dropped his gaze and shrugged. The simple gesture produced a sound reminiscent of dead leaves. "I'm not supposed to tell you," he said, his words more rustle than speech.
Dorothy and the Tin Man, poor doubles for Garland and Haley, edged toward the bend. "We have to go, Scarecrow," the not-Garland said. "There's not much time left and we're expected."
The Scarecrow joined them. "I'm not supposed to tell you, Michael," he repeated. "Talk to Stan." He glanced toward the trees one last time as he and his companions moved away. "Stay away from the Hanged Man."
* * *
I woke drenched with sweat. I don't know what had happened after the three left. Maybe they found the Cowardly Lion, became a quartet, maybe not. Stay away from the Hanged Man.
Even the memory of those words hurt.
Talk to Stan.
What was I involved in here? Were my dreams random subconscious processes? Talk to Stan? I didn't even know his last name. I only knew Denise's--Fleming--because the apartment manager had glued labels to the lobby mailboxes. When we met, we exchanged greetings and first names. Surnames never came into it because right from the start we were always personal.
Too many hours remained until dawn. I left the apartment and hit Kroger. The big grocery on Carpenter stayed open all night--and its video selection included The Wizard of Oz.
I wanted a copy because...because I wanted privacy. I'd need Denise soon enough to find Stan, if I gathered the courage to broach the subject. The hanged man was a drug and I was a junkie. If I had my own copy, I might control the addiction. I'd first seen him with Denise and everything stemmed from that. I'd entered one of Silva's infinite worlds; privacy might let me create a new perspective.
The shadowed streets looked different than they did during the day. The late-night wind didn't touch the trees. Each moved on its own, apple hoarders, ready for a rematch.
"Just wait," a voice rasped beside me. "It gets worse."
I shouted and slammed the brakes. My car swerved, shuddered to a halt and stalled. I turned and found myself facing the Scarecrow.
"What do you...what do you want?" I tried sounding angry, but my voice shook.
My Scarecrow smiled and the maw formed by his mouth--old burlap, leather and rotting hay--made my stomach turn. "I won't hurt you, Michael." He nodded toward the back. "But I can't speak for her."
I twisted in my seat and craned to look. A shape huddled there, its outline weird and broken by too many angles. I fumbled to turn on the overhead dome light, but the person in the back actually cackled and I leaped out of the car and into the deserted street.
I tripped before I'd gone a half-dozen steps. Scrambling up, I looked over my shoulder, expecting pursuit--and saw nothing. The door was open and the dome light revealed the empty interior. The only sound was the chime that signaled the keys were still in the ignition.
This isn't happening, I told myself. The Scarecrow was in the passenger seat and the Witch--yes, the Witch--was in the back.
A soft noise broke the breathless silence. I saw something slowly swinging in the shadows of the trees across the way. I knew the noise was a rope creaking under the strain of a dead man's weight. I retreated to my car, more scared of what hid outside than of my elusive passengers.
The residential speed limit was twenty-five. I did at least fifty and ran every red light getting home.
* * *
Two hours more till dawn.
I shredded the box wrap and popped the tape into my VCR. My head throbbed with too many ideas, as if I'd overdosed on coffee and Tylenol. I let it play and tried to clear my mind. I tried to tell myself there was no place like Oz. And this time the scene ran the same as I remembered it from my childhood.
The Tin Man stumbled and landed on the tree stump. Dorothy and the Scarecrow ran over to help. The Wicked Witch made her threats, threw her fireball, bolted in a puff of smoke. The three adventurers danced off down the road.
There wasn't any sign of the Hanged Man.
There was movement among the trees, but I could see it was a long-necked bird moving one of its wings. Was there something different on Denise's tape? I didn't consider myself gullible but I didn't trust my eyes. I rewound the tape and played it again, cursing myself for doing that.
The Tin Man collapsed on the tree stump. But he didn't resemble Haley. His fingers and hat were burned, warped by some tremendous heat, even though the fireball lay moments in the future. Dorothy and the Scarecrow ran to help him. But she looked middle-aged and the Scarecrow was the rotting bag from my car. Once, all three stared at me from the screen. The picture tube thinned, a gauzy sheet no thicker than the dust coating its surface.
And the Wicked Witch screamed to life on the roof--a gangrenous, misshapen version of Denise.
I stopped the tape.
I waited in my car for two hours before Denise exited the apartment. I didn't want to meet her in the hall. She had started the avalanche of fear that buried my senses, and I wasn't ready for a direct confrontation.
Stay away from the Hanged Man.
Talk to Stan...
I stayed at least a block behind her. She worked at a department store in the mall and liked to arrive early. I parked in the side lot. She was inside by the time I walked to the front entrance. I hovered there, wondering if I was too late. Entering the store wasn't an option. If Denise caught me inside, I didn't have any excuses. She'd know I followed her. Besides, I worked at a union job shop, creating ads on a computer, and I caught hell when I missed a shift.
Ten minutes later, Stan entered the lot.
I ran over and hovered as he locked his car. I'm not sure what I expected from him.
"I need help," I said.
"What are you doing here, Michael? Don't you have to work?"
"I'm taking a sick day."
Stan nodded, lit up a cigarette. I could blame my imagination, but I thought his hands shook. "So? What are you doing here?" he asked again. He didn't seem in any hurry to get to work.
"The Scarecrow told me to talk to you."
Stan didn't laugh. His mouth twitched, though.
"You know about it."
He shoved past me. "You're crazy," he said, walking briskly toward the store.
I followed, grabbed his arm. I glanced around the lot to see if anyone was watching. No one was close.
"Don't call me crazy," I said. "The Scarecrow popped in and out of my car like a damned ghost and he brought the Wicked Witch along for the ride and I'm scared. This is all Denise's fault and you know something. You asked me about the movie. Don't dare tell me you don't know what I'm talking about."
Stan jabbed his lit cigarette against my hand as I held his arm. I jerked it away, hissed with pain, put my mouth over the burn. Stan backed up and pinned a sneer on his pale face.
"Get away from me, Michael." He paused. "If you don't, I'll tell Denise."
I stood there, silent, and watched him leave.
* * *
This time I observed the speed limit on my way home. A ghostly Dorothy rode shotgun. Toto sat in her lap. I didn't recall seeing the mutt before. A taxidermist had worked him over, mounting him to a wood base, so he traveled well, no tongue-flapping out the window, no prancing from one side to the other, nails digging into your thighs. The Scarecrow and the Tin Man held the rear seats.
All four were quiet, which didn't bother me. Maybe the daylight silenced them. I parked in my slot and killed the engine. When I climbed out, chaff and aluminum dust and the ripe scent of a dead dog wafted from the empty interior.
The apartment hall was empty. I pressed my hands against the cold surface of Denise's door. The number and letter glimmered in the fluorescent lighting, incandescent with a promise that felt like prophecy. I knew now that I wanted to see. The knowledge might release me.
My fingers ached where I touched the door, as if the wood sucked at my bones, robbing them of warmth. The 2C pulsed and my breath frosted the air, crystallizing in my chest until I forgot to breathe.
Then my legs buckled under fatigue and gravity and the door answered my weakness with its own, selling its solid soul so I could fall through into the reality that lay beyond.
* * *
Dry grass rustled beneath me as I fell to my knees. A brick-paved road ran past, its surface a river of yellow pus baked solid under a neon-strobe sun. Disease festered in the scabbed cracks, more efficient as a contagion than as mortar.
The Tin Man's cabin sat across from my position, wearing its abandonment like a badge. The logs sagged, eaten by dry rot and unable to sustain their weight. Years had passed since glass sealed the windows and thick cobwebs, choked with dead insects, served as the only curtains. The stone chimney wore moss and ivy like a fur coat, its only protection against the cold. Large gaps riddled the roof's green slate like open sores. In the places where there were not yet holes the sun glinted off shallow pools of water.
I stood and crossed the road, glancing left and right along its bumpy length--no one was visible in either direction. Not the intrepid trio nor their hanged observer.
Light fell through the rear windows and the roof, illuminating the room. The sun had almost died in the west, but it was enough so I could pick out the familiar details of Denise's apartment.
From the front window to the door, I recognized the vague outlines of furniture. A mildewed couch slumped on broken legs. Two rickety crates supported several planks that served as a table, with an apish skull still wearing shreds of flesh as a centerpiece. Instead of the entertainment center, a cauldron sat before the fireplace, its mealy contents still bubbling.
A mask hung above the mantel like a trophy stuffed and mounted by a hunter. The facial lines were soft, the cheeks frozen in a perpetual smile, spawning dimples at both corners. But the eyes were empty and soulless, the mouth a toothless hole, and both sucked away whatever resemblance to humanity the mask had ever possessed.
It was Denise.
I backed away from the cabin, dazed. Before I knew it I'd crossed the road to my original entry point, just as a dark shape moved across the cabin roof, catching my eye. The Wicked Witch froze, straddling the peak like an Impressionist vision of the Statue of Liberty, broom held high in place of a torch.
"It took you long enough, Michael," she said, her smile as uneven as the road. "I thought I'd need to send someone out after you again."
"I don't know what you're thinking, Denise, but I'm finished with these dreams."
She cackled. "Stubborn to a fault. I love that. The longer you doubt, the closer I get. Eventually it will be too late..."
I walked toward the cabin, my first steps tentative as loose bricks threatened to turn my ankles. I stopped once, crouched, pulled one broken piece loose, steeled myself against the slimy texture as I clenched it in my fist. I needed a weapon. I didn't think this ball-sized brick would hurt her, but it might serve as a distraction.
"You're right. I don't believe." Debris littered the yard between the cabin and the road and matched the landscape of my chaotic dreams. "You've drugged or hypnotized me, I don't care which. It's over."
From behind the trees, the Scarecrow moved into the clearing. Dorothy and the Tin Man skulked in his shadow.
"Calling in your troops, Denise?"
Age lines shredded each of their faces, turning grins into something as old as the brown apples piled under the trees, something as calculated as the way the trees' prehensile branches reached out, straining against the roots that kept each woody demon in place.
"Her name isn't Denise," said the Tin Man, brandishing an ax that looked freshly honed. "I don't think she has one."
"Names don't matter here," said the Scarecrow.
"Is that why you told me to talk to Stan?"
The Scarecrow cringed, glanced at the Wicked Witch. His companions backed away. I looked at the Wicked Witch too, expecting her to nail his straw frame with a quick fireball.
"You warned him?" she asked.
"No! No! I was only trying to prepare him!"
The Wicked Witch leaped off the roof, black dress billowing behind her like crows hovering around a fresh kill. She landed in the middle of the road, nimble as a black widow.
Forget the rock, I thought. I needed something bigger if I wanted to come out of this alive. I crouched beside rubble from the chimney, dropped my brick and grabbed a discarded ax handle from where it lay half-buried among the weeds.
The Scarecrow trembled and begged. "Please don't hurt me! Please!"
The Wicked Witch formed her hand into a claw. Eldritch flames sprouted from her bitten nails and knotted into a pulsing globe.
"I release you, Scarecrow! I give you your freedom--in death!"
She hurled the fireball and the Scarecrow tried to block it with upraised hands.
The ball hit him and ate his body up in seconds.
The Wicked Witch stepped into the yard, blocking my way to the road, as the Tin Man and Dorothy circled the Scarecrow's smoldering remains. If I braved the apple orchard I'd have to fight them both, one armed with an ax, the other with a dead dog.
"This is taking too long," the Wicked Witch said. "It's time for you to join me, Michael."
"I'm not going anywhere, Denise." I waved the ax handle before me.
"My name is not Denise. I can't remember my name. It's been such a long time since I heard it."
"But if you're not Denise..."
My words trailed off. I let my eyes trace the lines in her face. I barely recognized the woman I'd flirted with in the hallway. She might be there under the thick cheeks, the warts, the bony chin and green skin, but there wasn't enough to convince me.
"Then...I must be the Wicked Witch!" she said.
I swung my weapon and reached for the roof. The handle cracked when it hit, cut my hands as it splintered. The Tin Man was nearest the cabin and he screamed. His voice squeaked. You're going to need to oil more than that, buddy, I thought. My blow shook the roof's remaining boards and the water puddles washed into the yard, striking the Tin Man. He scrambled into the road, metal limbs clanking, joints squealing from friction. The shower streaked Dorothy's makeup, washed her brown tresses blonde and knocked Toto from her arms.
The Wicked Witch smiled.
She raised her claws to meet the deluge that ran across her body, black rags clinging to her stick frame. The shape beneath was suddenly too skeletal and bulged in all the wrong places, cancerous and demonic. She licked the stagnant moisture off her lips with a leprous tongue, slurping at the algae.
"Yeah, right," she said. "Like no one's ever tried water before."
I tried to run but a tree stopped me. Not one of the apple trees. Those were back by the cabin.
The Wicked Witch screamed--"Get him! I won't lose two today!"--and I looked over my shoulder, trying to spot a pursuer. When I turned forward again I ran face-first into a lightning-split oak.
As I lay there dazed, my audience assembled.
"You can't get away, Michael," the Wicked Witch said.
"What do you want?"
"I was thrown out of my land a long time ago and I can never go back." She gestured at the forest, the ramshackle cabin, and the rotting orchard. "This is my home. This is my reality. This is my dream."
I shook my head. "A dream?"
Dorothy wiped her face and left fingerprints in the wet mascara and rouge. "Oh, much more than that. We play our parts here and keep her from loneliness."
"Stan was one of us," the Tin Man said. "He served his time. When she tired of him, she let him serve her outside."
"Be quiet, beehive!" said the Wicked Witch, pushing him aside. "You'll learn my ways soon enough, Michael. You're going to replace him."
"You're crazy." I pulled myself up against the split trunk. "I'll never do anything you say."
"That's why I love you, Michael." She motioned toward the tree. "Lift him up."
A noose dropped over my head and cinched tight. At the other end, hidden among the leaves, an orangutan jumped into the air, guiding its descent with spread wings as it hauled the rope across a thick branch.
My neck snapped.
* * *
The Witch's obsession traps us here, and her magic forces us into these forms. When I dream I'm still in my old life, but it fades as her obsession burns, tarnishing the memory. She watches us as we try to amuse her. When she tires, I may stop hanging myself. And someday I will escape.
Her madness is contagious.
 
Copyright 2003 by Dennis Etchison, Ramsey Campbell and Jack Dann


Continues...

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Meet the Author

Jack Dann has written or edited over fifty books, including the international bestseller The Memory Cathedral, which is published in over ten languages and was #1 on The Age Bestseller list. The San Francisco Chronicle called it "A grand accomplishment," Kirkus Reviews thought it was "An impressive accomplishment," and True Review said, "Read this important novel, be challenged by it; you literally haven't seen anything like it." His novel The Silent has been compared to Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn; Library Journal chose it as one of their 'Hot Picks' and wrote: "This is narrative storytelling at its best-so highly charged emotionally as to constitute a kind of poetry from hell. Most emphatically recommended."

Dann's work has been compared to Jorge Luis Borges, Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll, Castaneda, J. G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, and Mark Twain. He is a recipient of the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Australian Aurealis Award (twice), the Ditmar Award (twice), and the Premios Gilgames de Narrativa Fantastica award. He has also been honoured by the Mark Twain Society (Esteemed Knight). His novel, Bad Medicine (retitled Counting Coup in the US), has been described by The Courier Mail as "perhaps the best road novel since the Easy Rider Days." His latest book is the retrospective short story collection Jubilee, which The West Australian called "a celebration of the talent of a remarkable storyteller." He is also the co-editor of the groundbreaking anthology of Australian stories, Dreaming Down-Under, which won the World Fantasy Award in 1999.

Jack Dann lives in Melbourne, Australia and "commutes" back and forth to Los Angeles and New York.

Ramsey Campbell is described in the Oxford Companion to English Literature as "Britain's most respected living horror writer." He has won more awards than any other writer in the field. He lives on Merseyside with his wife, Jenny.

Dennis Etchison has been called "the most original living horror writer in America." His writing has won both the World Fantasy Award and the British Fantasy Award. He is also the editor of The Museum of Horrors, which won the World Fantasy Award. He has written screenplays for John Carpenter and Dario Argento as well as serving time as a staff writer for HBO's original series, The Hitchhiker. He lives in Los Angeles.

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