Read an Excerpt
By James A. Moore
Copyright © 2005
James A. Moore
All right reserved.
The grocery store was a nightmare and Chris Corin wished it
were the sort he could just wake up from. Sadly for him, it
wasn't. It was the type that happened while you were fully
conscious. He didn't usually mind going to the Acme just down
the road from his house, but today the people wandering around
inside the place seemed to be in particularly foul moods.
Like he needed to share their disappointments with the world
around him. He had enough of his own, thanks just the same.
Just of late his life had hardly been peaches and cream, but
he was doing his best not to throw it back at everyone around
him. His little sister Brittany was doing enough of that for
everyone as it was. She was pitching bitches about damned near
every imagined slight in her life and in the meantime he was
using the money that was supposed to be his summer trip to
Europe in order to pay the bills.
Said trip was a goner. Instead of meeting with a few new faces
while hiking through Italy and France he'd spent most of his
summer recovering from the explosion that almost ended his
life just after he'd graduated from high school. Physical
therapy for his knee, and a slew of doctors trying to
understand why his eyes had gone from blue to green at the
Detective MartinCallaghan-slightly lessterrifying than
Frankenstein's Monster but not as jovial-was still sniffing
around from time to time to see if maybe, somehow, Chris had
remembered a little more about the accident that had leveled
the abandoned building he'd almost died in, and was also doing
his best to find out what had really happened to his partner
with the local police department, Walter Crawford, a man who
had vanished six months before and then mysteriously taken the
case for Chris after a simple breaking and entering that
became the start of a sordid mess.
That and other catastrophes. In the three months since he'd
finished school and turned eighteen he'd lost his mother to a
stupid accident and been forced to take on his little sister
as a new burden in his life. The rest of what had happened was
a little more freakish than he wanted to actively think about.
He sorted through the stacks of Hamburger Helper in his cart
and threw in the ones that looked most appealing, fully
willing to pretend that they didn't mostly all taste the same,
despite the promising pictures that adorned the boxes. Next he
was over to the part of the store that sold hamburger. The
cheaper the better.
In theory he was going to be a very, very wealthy man some
time in the future. He'd won the lottery and had over forty
million dollars coming his way. But first he had to deal with
the bureaucracy that ran that sort of thing and so far it had
taken a while. In the meantime the last of his money was going
into buying enough cheap supplies to keep him and his sister
from starving to death. With Brittany around and puberty
kicking her butt, she'd become a human eating machine.
He did a quick mental calculation of funds and decided that
what he had would suffice. With the ramen noodles still
stocking the pantry, he could get a week or so out of it. It
would have to do.
Chris started toward the front of the store, smiling at a
pretty blonde about his age. She was tired and the smile she
returned in his direction was weak. When he saw the toddler
near her leg he understood the reason for her exhaustion. Her
kid? Her little brother? Is she a nanny somewhere? It didn't
matter, not really, but at least she was a pleasant
distraction form the teeming mass of frustrated haus fraus
milling around the entire Acme.
She turned away and he went about his mission to buy and leave
the store as quickly as possible. He'd made it to the checkout
lines-which were as ugly as the mood at a Saddam Hussein fan
club meeting in New York City-before the got the first strange
sensation. He couldn't exactly call it being nauseated, but it
was similar. His skin felt tight, almost drawn toward
something in front of him and to the left.
He looked that way but didn't see anything. He was fully aware
of the people around him-the man whose deodorant had given up
the ghost; the cute blonde coming up from behind with her
toddler firmly attached to her hip; the dour faced cashier
whose face looked specifically designed for sucking lemons
under her too thick layers of makeup-but for the moment they
were almost insignificant. The off feeling running through his
flesh made them dwindle to mere sensory input.
He focused instead on the sensations coming his way, the odd
pulling that almost demanded his awareness. Through the large
windows at the front of the store he saw several cars, mostly
parked a few of them in motion, and he saw a few people here
and there as well. From behind the sign that offered him
"Hamburger at $1.19 per lb," he saw two figures moving fast in
the direction of the Acme. One was obviously running away from
the other, judging by the frantic actions being taken-the way
the partially obscured form weaved and moved indecisively, as
if trying to find an escape route. Wherever he might have been
running the figure finally decided the grocery store was his
Chris felt his entire body tense as the legs and lower body
he'd seen past the white paper banner stuck to the widow came
into view. The man was hardly in perfect shape, either
physically or apparently, financially. His clothes looked like
the sort that Good Will just threw out as useless, and the
filth that covered his flesh looked to have been accumulating
for at least the last month. The man's face was gaunt and
partially hidden behind a thin black beard shot with gray. His
hairline had receded, but what hair he did have was long and
unkempt. His flesh, what could be seen beneath the layers of
dirt and facial hair, was pasty and feverishly sweaty. That
last part could merely have been the overwhelming heat.
The man following behind him looked to be in slightly better
shape, with broader shoulders and less emaciation in general.
Though he too looked like he'd last met with soap sometime in
the last century. There were a few differences beside merely
his bulk, the largest of which was the nearly homicidal
expression of rage on his face. Whatever the skinnier bum had
done, it hadn't made him any friends with the one in hot
Even as Chris watched, the one doing the chasing lunged
abruptly forward and shoved the skinnier target in the
shoulder hard enough to send him rebounding off a support post
hidden in a brick façade. The bum let out a grunting noise and
hit the edge of the support with bruising force. His head
slammed against the chipped brick hard enough to leave a gash
and he fell to the ground, stunned.
Chris started forward, intent on stopping the brutal attack
and then made himself stop. It went against his nature to let
someone get the crap kicked out of him while he merely
watched, but he also had to remember that Brittany was now his
charge. He couldn't very well get himself into trouble with
the police if he intended to keep his sister safe and out of
Child Protective Services.
The taller of the brawling bums, completely unaware of Chris's
dilemma, kicked the smaller, wounded one on the side of his
head. Several people inside the Acme had taken notice now, and
most of them merely made comments under their breath and
watched as the fight progressed. Chris bared his teeth and
thought again of intervening. He even took a few steps in that
direction before he caught himself the second time. He'd only
gotten out of the hospital a little over a month ago and,
frankly, couldn't exactly afford to go back in again.
Nor, for that matter, could he afford gaining the attention of
the police. There was a blown up building in his not so
distant past that at least one detective was still examining.
Detective Callaghan-not Harry, but just as scary-hadn't really
bothered him too much in the last few weeks, but he didn't
feel a sudden need to remind the man that he was alive.
The smaller of the two combatants scrambled across the dirty
concrete and half-crawled into the grocery store, his forehead
bleeding a trail of dark red across the ground to mark his
passage. His pursuer yelled something incoherent and charged
after him, apparently set on finishing the task he had
The short, shaggy man apparently didn't feel like being hit
again and Chris couldn't blame him. This time around the man
pushed himself into a display of Ragu sauces and sent the jars
of sauce cascading across the linoleum floor. Some of them
shattered on contact with the ground, but a surprising number
managed to remain intact.
Somehow through the avalanche of glass and pasta sauce, the
wiry man managed to regain his footing properly. He spun
himself around in order to avoid another attack from behind
and several of the people who were near him backed away as if
his smell alone could cause sudden blindness.
Shorty panted and whined at the same time, his teeth bared in
a feral, frightened expression. Closing in on him the larger
man, the aggressor, charged again. Shorty reached into his
voluminous collection of clothing and pulled out a handmade
knife. The shaggy man chasing after him barely even seemed to
notice, at least until the thin blade cut into the clothing
covering his stomach. The man backed up quickly, clutching a
hand at the gaping wound in his shirt and hissing-not a little
hiss of pain like one might make when stepping barefoot on
glass, oh no, this was a HISS, like the sound of air exploding
from a slashed tire.
Most of the people in the Acme were screaming or protesting
the sudden violence that shattered the calm of shopping at the
local grocery store. More than a few were actually backing
away from the conflict to avoid becoming collateral damage.
Chris watched, and maybe he was the only one who noticed when
the recently cut man's face changed.
For just a moment the features buried under the thick beard
and mustache shifted, warped away from what they were supposed
to be. The mouth opened wide and Chris saw the teeth in that
gaping maw as they did the impossible and changed, widening
and flattening before they reverted to normal. The nauseated
feeling that had been crawling through his flesh since the
moment the two bums came into his visual range flared, grew
far, far worse for a few seconds and then subsided as the
wounded man's features went back to something approximating
Most of his features. Chris had the misfortune of looking into
the man's eyes as they blinked and reopened. He got to see the
flares of light and the odd swirling flashes that clashed
within the overly dilated pupils. The effect was damned near
hypnotic and he stared, his mind not quite willing to accept
what he was seeing. It wasn't a trick of the light, and it
wasn't a funky pair of contact lenses. He was seeing something
that should have been impossible, and the sight was enough to
bring back memories he was doing his damnedest to forget.
His skin tingled, the sensation only worsening as he looked at
the freak in front of him. What had been merely uncomfortable
was rapidly becoming painful, especially on the parts of his
body that had been most grievously wounded in the explosion
that put him in the hospital before.
Chris stared into those eyes and ...
The ice he felt growing on his hand-not truly visible, but he
felt it there, sinking deeper and deeper into his body-spread
itself to his mind and Chris Corin looked on as the thing
began to speak to him without words.
It spoke of endless suffering, torments that would go on for
eternity and beyond, and the new and interesting tortures it
would find to deal with him if he harmed any more of the Keys.
The images it vomited into his very mind in order to
communicate were vivid enough to leave Chris staggered far
worse than the explosion had managed.
He'd felt soiled and filthy when the entity had looked over
his life's memories, but this ... this was far deeper. There was
nothing, no part of the alien mind that spoke to him, that he
could consider remotely human. He tried to look away, to close
his eyes, but it was no good. The darkness of those pupils
seemed to draw him in deeper, to suck his will away and leave
him to drown in a cold void.
... remembered more than he wanted to about what happened in
that damnable house. The eyes he stared into brought it back
in a violent torrent of dark memories. He made himself look
away and stared instead at the shorter of the two men.
Shorty got bold and swung his blade again. This time the other
one was ready for him and caught his wrist, squeezing so hard
that Chris could hear the bones creaking from ten feet away.
The knife fell from a hand that suddenly had no strength and
the shorter man cut loose with a wild scream as he bucked and
threw himself from side to side, trying desperately to escape
the no doubt immense pain. The bigger one was having none of
Chris saw the man's eyes go back to normal, felt an odd
lessening of the weird sensations that were coursing through
his body and at the same time heard the smaller man shriek
again at the same time that something snapped in his wrist.
The man apparently lacked in finer fighting techniques, but he
made up for it by lunging toward his enemy and biting down as
hard as he could on the bearded face of his taller opponent.
The tall man went berserk right around the same time his
shorter adversary sank teeth into his cheek. He let out a howl
and started using his limbs the way Indiana Jones used a
bullwhip, flailing and slashing in an oddly graceful but
seemingly chaotic assault. He hit more often than he missed.
The two brawlers stumbled and staggered across the front of
the store, knocking a few displays over-the cascade of Ragu
spaghetti sauce that hit the floor caused a few people to
scream louder than the actual fighting had managed so far-and
coming closer to Chris.
He would have backed up and kept his promise to stay out of
trouble, he really would have, but then the kid got in the
way, He wasn't very old, maybe three or four at the oldest,
and he looked at the two strange men with absolutely no
comprehension of how much trouble they could cause him. He
maybe started catching on when they fell in his direction. The
short one was still grabbing the taller one's face with his
teeth as they started falling and Chris reacted without
thinking. He reached out and grabbed the blond-haired boy by
the arm hauling him out of the way of the two combatants.
He half expected the little kid to scream or struggle, but
instead the child just looked at him with wide blue eyes and
then ran away. Right around the same time the little munchkin
was splitting, the two men fighting each other ran into Chris.
He staggered back, his eyes wide, his heart pounding.
The men disgusted him. Not because they were dirty, which they
were, or even because they were bloody, which was also true,
but because they seemed to be the source of the strange nausea
he was feeling and he didn't like it. Hell, part of him wanted
to run away and part of him wanted to just lash out at the two
men until he could make the weird sensations vanish.
He was still toying with actually getting into the fight
himself when the police showed up and stopped him from being
He backed away quickly, leaving room for the cops to do their
business, and then went back to his groceries while the
officers sorted everything out. One of the policemen kept
staring in his direction, a short, broad-shouldered man who
couldn't have looked more Irish if he'd tried. He stared long
enough that it made Chris nervous, but beyond that they had no
interaction. The police didn't bother questioning witnesses.
They had all the information they could possibly need from the
employees of the Acme and from the security tapes that were
handed over by the same.
Chris was home twenty minutes later. He dropped the grocery
bags on the scuffed old linoleum kitchen table and sorted them
and put them away. He'd forgotten to buy milk, but at that
precise moment he couldn't have cared less.
There was something about the fight that bothered him, aside
from his own knee-jerk desire to join in, that is. The shorter
of the men had looked familiar. He couldn't have told anyone
why, or when he might have met the bum before, but there was
definitely something familiar about him.
That odd sense of deja vu surrounding the man lingered through
the rest of his day and into his troubled sleep as well. Chris
Corin's sleep was almost always troubled these days. The
nightmares had started when his mom died and simply hadn't
gone away since then.
Excerpted from Rabid Growth
by James A. Moore
Copyright © 2005 by James A. Moore .
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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