The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Volume 13by Stephen Jones (Editor), Christopher Fowler (Contribution by), Poppy Z. Brite (Contribution by), Thomas Ligotti and Many Others (Contribution by)
The award-winning Best New Horror anthology serieswinner of the World Fantasy Award and the International Horror Critics Guild Awardhas now reached its thirteenth spectacular volume and to mark the event, Stephen Jones has chosen only the very best short stories and novellas by the horror genre's finest exponents and by new discoveries in the field.
The award-winning Best New Horror anthology serieswinner of the World Fantasy Award and the International Horror Critics Guild Awardhas now reached its thirteenth spectacular volume and to mark the event, Stephen Jones has chosen only the very best short stories and novellas by the horror genre's finest exponents and by new discoveries in the field. Contributors to this volume include Gala Blau, Ramsey Campbell, Dennis Etchison, Charles Grant, Glen Hirshberg, Chico Kidd, Nancy Kilpatrick, Paul J. McAuley, and Conrad Williams. Also, Stephen Jones once again provides the most comprehensive overview of the field for the year and a full necrology, plus a list of useful contacts among organizations, magazines, booksellers, and more. Whether a reader is a fan of supernatural chillers, macabre fantasy, or psychological terror, the thirteenth Mammoth Book of Best New Horror will appeal to their dark side. "The definitive series of Horror ‘Bests' ... you'll get quantity as well as quality."Science Fiction Chronicle "A formidable line-up of must-read creepers whose merits are indisputable even to entrenched enthusiasts of the genre."Publishers Weekly "Essential reading every year."Hellnotes "The finest horror collection going."Kirkus Reviews
Read an Excerpt
The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror
By Stephen Jones Carroll & Graf Publishers
Copyright © 2002 Stephen Jones
All right reserved.
DAVID J. SCHOW
David J. Schow's latest collection of stories is entitled Crypt Orchids, recently published by Subterranean Press, which includes an introduction for the volume written by Robert Bloch in 1992. A recipient of the World Fantasy Award, his other books include the novels The Kill Riff and The Shaft, plus the collections Seeing Red, Lost Angels and Black Leather Required. The author himself has also created a lavish new edition of his definitive non-fiction guide, The Outer Limits Companion.
Schow has lived in Hollywood for seventeen years, and during that time he has written a number of scripts and teleplays, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Critters 3, The Crow and, most recently, The Furthest Place for James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox.
About the following story, he explains: "Astute readers will note that Chan McConnell, referenced in this story as a writer who occasionally works under pseudonyms, also penned two stories for the Book of the Dead anthology series, volumes 1and 2, respectively. Even more astute readers will note that Chan's buddy Oliver Lowenbruck published several stories in The Twilight Zone Magazine in the 1980s.
"This story represents their only known collaboration and takes place, more or less, within the universe of George Romero's Dead trilogy of films. Rather than recap the mythos, I found that Karl Edward Wagner's preamble (written for one of the zombie entries in The Year's Best Horror Stories) works best: 'It seems that the world has been over-run by flesh-eating zombies, see and then ...'
"As for Oliver's demise, all I can say is that his tombstone can be seen in the motion picture The Crow. The cemetery from that film was blown away by a hurricane, but I do still have the headstone in my office."
The cold ichor of projectile vitreous humor spurted in snotty globules from the zuvembie's punctured eyeball. Steve tried to recoil but fell on his ass, thinking GAAAH, this crap didn't even have body temperature! The monster eagerly trying to gnaw out his larynx was dead, stone cold dead, lacking either a lurching, corrupt heartbeat or a whiff of dogshit breath. The skull-face champed. Steve heard the moist crunch of his own sundering tendons, and knew that pretty soon he would have to choose his own dying words; something quippy and tart, or perhaps just a scream of
"Ahh, fuck it!"
Oliver dealt his monitor a frustrated whack. Processed words goosed themselves, then resettled. The ambient hum of his machine, nicknamed The Damned Thing, goaded him, forever begging the question of input. To punch SAVE would only make Oliver feel worse, as though he was about to suffer a headache he had not yet earned.
Save? Save this anal mung? For what?
For promises. For deadlines now there was an intriguing word, in context. For the bitter truth that in one fleeting second of beery confidence, he had sold his soul and agreed to hock up a chunk of fiction for some goddamned storybook about walking corpses who eat people.
Swell. New Yorker, here I come, and is it Art yet?
The market rate for Oliver's soul this week was six big American pennies per word. Those lacking critical sanction need not apply unsolicited. For a book about zombies, for fuck's sake.
A book about zombies in a world where prose had all but croaked outright, and bookstores went down like the Titanic beneath the gross tonnage of macerated pulp that looked like books, had pages and type like books, but were superficial mimics of books ... the way zombies were mimics of human beings. Between shelves handily labeled according to one inapt genre or other, Oliver felt assaulted on all sides by such "books" artless pastiches, Mad Lib fill-in-the-adjective timewasters with paint-by-the-numbers plots, crutching through bloated chapters gorged on overfed phraseology, from vile cliche to exhausted simile, with all the grace of a piano shoved off a tall building. Here were the lame "beach reads" which aspired to best-sellerdom; over here, another movie script novelized when the so-called writer's lame screenplay failed to strike a spark. There was a reason the technique was called "formula"; like pabulum or biowar poison, lukewarm or toxic, it was whipped up like Nestle's Quik or ground out like hamburger without enough beef, the net product equaling a foregone conclusion that took too many thousands of words to reach.
Where Oliver sought meat, there was only starch, and he was a starving man. Mediocre wordage engulfed and threatened to drown him. Too long had he tread water in a stormy ocean of doorstop books full of typing, not writing. Their only positive function was to serve as negative reinforcement, the eternal dare to do better. To make some kind of Art out of a flesh-eating zombie story, just as Val Lewton had when he interpreted Jane Eyre into I Walked With A Zombie.
Oliver abandoned his miracle of home tech and retreated to his legal pad. For starters, how about a better title? 'I Eat Your Face' was not destined to catapult him into Who's Who anytime soon. Pen in mouth, he pondered. Ruminated. Then wrote:
'Insatiable Hungers'. He muttered the title to himself. Less a sop to category. At least it had not been amputated from some Shakespearian quotation.
Good kickoff. Make sure we hare it by the first of the month.
He sighed and lit a smoke, remembering the seminar on urgency addiction: Work to the task, not the clock.
So, what's it about? Gimme the log line.
It's about time you pounded through this mammy-jammer, he thought. So you can get back to your latest unsold novel. You'll be lauded for your diction and punctuality. Then you can wax proud about Beast at the Gate, The Bullet, and Serpent's Smile.
Consider the possibilities of a novel in which four Confederate soldiers, boyhood friends, slowly betray and turn upon one another in the hell of Andersonville ... that had been Beast, Oliver's notorious but inevitable "first novel".
Unsold and unpublished.
Or trace the origins of The Bullet, a .357 Magnum cartridge, from its manufacture to its ultimate use in a murder, and the assorted lives it touches and corrupts enroute to the gunbarrel, from the ammo maker, sick with self-doubt, to the killer, religiously pure in his purpose ...
Sold, but never published. Book politics.
Or his latest disappointment, Serpent's Smile, nominally a horror chug-a-lug about ...
Published, but only just, its poor track record certain to doom the sale or promotion of Novel #4, yet untitled.
Jezus Christos, he was getting depressed, as one will over deceased or crippled children, one baby step away from bagging the whole writing operation and pouring on the Bass ale. Suitably besotted, he could then drag forth the boxed manuscripts, one-two-three, and drip upon them. Try to magick them to life. To make these dead walk.
Then he could get in another thousand words on Book #4 before bed.
At least the anthologies were still asking for stories. At least 'I Eat Your Face' could lumber forth and make Oliver feel current, the integrity of his wiring intact for one more day, a still-operative force for prose in a wordscape devoid of a good, chewy sentence. Minuscule comfort, and chilly, yet enough to drag him a few pages closer to the end.
THE END. Boyoboy.
He was in fine morbid fettle now. He was writing himself sick, skipping meals, shambling from bed to word processor on yesterday's stiffened pizza. He needed fuel, a diversion, a break. Pool.
Chan's big showoff specialty was the long, baize-spanning V-bank. He parked his cigarette, lined up, stuck out his tongue like a sniper, and plugged the eight ball dead into the side pocket.
"Told you I'd win the next three games." He had, too, the son of a bitch.
"Yeah, but can you shoot the whole rack of balls out your ass in numerical order?" Oliver gathered strays into the wooden rack while Van Halen and Metallica hammered from the PA system linear, thudding, uncomplicated tunes; good junk to shoot to.
Chan fired up a fresh smoke with an Air Force Zippo, one-handed, and summoned a beer refill from a dishwater blonde waitress in a sports getup. The good heft in her tray arm ran to her breasts; she had no problem with people looking at her legs. So far this evening, she had deigned to speak to Chan and Oliver twice as much as the losers playing on either side of their table, and Chan always interpreted this as a positive omen. Her name she told them, but no one else was Kath, and there was much experience in her eyes, little knowledge, and no ring on the deadly finger. Chan fell in love.
Chan himself was a piece of work. His costume plan ran to charcoal gray shirts and black leather ties (authority intimidates, he'd say) beneath a ghost-white brush cut and a dangling axe earring of solid 24K. He could easily afford stylistic affectations by the grace of television residuals. He, like Oliver, had started out as a writer of short stories. I dabble, he'd say.
"Got a real weenie in the mail today," he said. Chan chalked before each and every shot, wore a three-fingered nylon glove to avoid using powder, and liked to fidget with the tip of his cue as though constantly modifying it, bending it into some enchanted shape which would guarantee his next victory. "This'll change the world: Sploot! BODY-BAG HORROR FOR THE NINETIES." He squared his hands, like a director framing a turd. "Edited by none other than Jazz Remora."
"Cutting edge splootmeister of the Nineties", said Oliver. "Bald spot, bay window, flip-flops and all. The master of Hawaiian shirt horror. He once tried to con me into a book he called Grind Up Chuck."
"I remember that UNDIFFERENTIATED MEAT HORROR FOR THE EIGHTIES. I love his approach; he should be a mobster." Chan held off lighting his next smoke until Oliver had missed an easy shot. Cigarette mojo really can work. "Is he still bugging you for a story?"
"Does gum think to pull itself off your shoe?"
Chan sighted and let fly, Robin Hood in the green felt forest. He bagged three lowballs in a row, then finally lit his cigarette. "What're you working on right now?"
"Ah. ROTTING CADAVER HORROR FOR THE MILLENNIUM."
"It's recreational writing, to get me back up to speed." Oliver stranded himself with a pocket-hanger. "Shit, I hate it when it does that."
"I did one for the first volume." Chan enjoyed reaping credit in premiere anthologies and the very first issues of new magazines. "You should give Adrian a holler. Pound out a script for Boneyard. You can write a half-hour teleplay in two days; it's not like real writing. It's cable no Standards and Practices, no censors to worry about." He shrugged and rechalked. "Think of it as subsidizing your next prose epic."
Oliver had been meaning to follow-up on Boneyard. It was pretty much a slam-dunk; Chan was practically walking him in ... and Oliver had not made the call. He thought of it as a cookie, to hold out for that future you read about ... the one that never comes.
"Vampire novel. Vampires are big."
"Vampires are the Star Trek of horror. Sooner would I nail my hand to a flaming building."
"You couldn't nail your hand to a flaming building; how would you hold the nail?"
"Sooner would I nail my penis to a flaming building."
"That's better. Earthier. You must be one of them writer dudes."
Oliver felt the ball skew as soon as his stick kissed it. "Shit. Go ahead and knock that one in for me, would you."
"No chance, Minnesota."
Oliver's newest superstition was that he shot better when he did not banter so much, so he tried shutting up and Chan began to look at him all funny. Chan won anyway.
They toasted the death of prose. Then Oliver winked and said Chan's magnetization back to the printed page was unavoidable. "You'll see the light. In your own novels, you get to direct."
"Maybe we can collaborate."
Chan could not realize how prophetic his words were. When they finished, he promised to call later, not knowing that tonight's disport was the last time he would see his pal Oliver alive.
Oliver caught his latest sneeze. The stuff glistening back from his palm was gross, unnatural, worse each time. Whatever he was coming down with, it was more immediate and serious than his fanciful and comparatively livable literary constipation.
When in doubt, phone real friends in the dead of night. That's what friends were for: psychic storage batteries, support systems, and emotional sponges that could leach away mental toxins as if by biological modem and recharge one's will to work ... or, at least, to continue being a consumer.
Then again, there are those of us with cursed telephones.
Oliver felt the bad vibes working when he lifted his receiver and heard not a dial tone, but a voice already on the line. At least it meant his phone was still hooked up.
"Ahhr ... hallo? Ollie? You there? Hallo?"
Oliver's guts trilled. Fresh stomach acid flushed. He had been ensnared and bushwhacked by his own phone.
"Coney Freewick calling."
The voice coming at him was shrill and anti-masculine, bent into migraine frequencies by the uncomplimentary filter effect of the phone. Oliver felt like rubbing his face, the way Brian Keith used to do on Family Affair whenever Buffy or Jody had really pissed him off, as if when your hand came away you'd be staring at a new day, a clean slate, a fresh start. He began searching his desk clutter for his pocket microcassette recorder and managed a noncommittal grunt to indicate he was still listening.
"I can't believe how lucky you are, dude", Freewick whined. "You're aces, tippy-top on my hit list. I got a new book, and thought I'd call you first a'cause"
a'cause I need a story that goes all the way, break those taboos, dude, cutting edge, state of the art, there are no limits, get splattery, get punky, fuck it till it bleeds, I wanna read something that'll MAKE ME VOMIT!
How about make you die, thought Oliver.
" and fuckin do me, baby, write me something WET. Oh, yeah, and it's gotta be an original."
"A wet original. Like a diaper?"
"Huh? Oh, I get it, that's a good one "
Oliver pressed PLAY and aimed the tape unit at the mouthpiece. A prerecorded click-click issued into the phone, raced along miles of filament, and registered inside one of Coney Freewick's grease-clotted ears. "Oops," said Oliver. "Sorry. Got a call on the other line."
"S'cool, dude, I'll hold, right, I mean, you're the father of "
Oliver hung up on him. In point of sheer fact, he had never sprung for call waiting. He pressed FLASH to clear the line and hit Chan's number on the speed dialer. The only time Chan ever answered his phone in person was when he was engaged in a call on his other line. Chan had owned call waiting from day one.
For Oliver, the game of Which Caller Is Cooler began. Whoever was on Chan's other line, lost.
"How's the weather in zombie-land?"
"Bite me," said Oliver. This is a cry for help from a tortured soul."
"I bet Coney Freewick called you. He called me an hour ago. Wanted a story for a book called Suck On This."
"BRAIN CURD DEVOURING HORROR FOR THE TURN OF THE CENTURY, no doubt. And I bet you were tippy-top on his hit list."
"It's like, when you realize the head bobbing at your groin is Coney's, you wonder if you have enough time to shove a gun in your mouth."
"I'd rather nail your dick to a flaming building."
Chan blew a raspberry. "Burgess called that 'lip music.'"
"We fairly seethe with oral metaphor tonight."
"Don't toss big scientific words at me. I'll quote famous people and then go spend too much money on upwardly mobile trifles to assuage my creative inferiority."
"You have my pity. Listen, Chan "
"It smells like favor time. Have you been good?"
"Correct. You win a favor. Or would you try to care for what Jay is bringing in this box down the aisle ... it's ... it's a severed human head!"
"Just what I always wanted. Now please shut up a minute."
"What's the favor?"
"It's Number Nine of the Ten Stupidest Questions in Writing."
"Will you read my manuscript?!" Chan mock-screamed into the phone loud enough to make Oliver wince. "That's Number Eight, anyway. What manuscript?"
"No conditions. Think of it as exercise."
"Okay," said Chan. "You take that Boneyard meeting on Monday and I'll help you rescue your zombie story."
"Deal. Come alone. No girlfriends."
"Michelle is a wonderful woman."
"I thought it was Holly. Never mind. Where'd you meet Michelle?"
"There's nothing wrong with you."
"I went there for a bit of emergency room research. On a slow night you wouldn't believe what these people will talk about. She looked like a prime-time network TV fashion model nurse, and I caught her undressing me with her eyes, so I undressed her with my hands, then she tied me up, then I cuffed --"
"I think I get the picture," said Oliver. "That's why no lady friends. No parade. If you want me to sign an affidavit saying how manly you are, I will. Would you please just get over here tonight?"
"Soon as I catch a shower." Click-click, for real. "Oops, got a call on the other line."
"That's what I told Coney."
"Good for you."
"See you in, what?"
"Two hours. Just vacuum, okay?"
The other caller was cooler, so Oliver lost. He set his machine, an old one, with dual cassettes, to screen calls for the rest of the night.
Chan favored knickknacks. Emplaced on his work desk, atop a riser of matched plastic file trays, was one of those lucite oblongs that seesawed, simulating an endless ocean wave.
"You left your bag, you know," Chan told his new caller.
"Probably as a sneaky excuse to come back and retrieve it", Michelle said from her end of the line. "But not, alas, tonight. It looks like they're keeping us overtime at gunpoint. The ER is a nightmare; they're double-teaming the berths and one doctor has dropped already from exhaustion. You should see the switchboard."
"Just as well, I guess," Chan said, not believing her story. He watched the glycerine or whatever it was roll to and fro. "I've got a writer emergency."
"That sounds suspiciously like I've got to spend the night with a sick friend."
"Oliver is no competition for you, love. He's stuck in word gridlock. It's my duty to help pry him loose. It's in the union contract."
"You need material, just come here. Tonight's the weirdest it's been in ages. We got our own units, plus freelancers, plus fire department ambulances, plus wagons from our friendly coroner all bi-parked and honking. It's not even a weekend, for shit's sake."
"Chained to the job?"
"Yeah chains are heavy, cold, oppressive and leave marks. Not a pleasure."
Unlike pantyhose, thought Chan, who had thoroughly inventoried Michelle's wayward bag before speaking to its owner. Silk scarves, self-sticking athletic bandages, scissors, two pairs of handcuffs with keys, body paint, Astro-Glide, condoms in various flavors and/or colors, several pre-cut lengths of leather cord, a vinyl mask with a mouth zipper. Plus the pantyhose, for bondage -- much less stressful than metal links, it was true. Plus surgical gloves, catheters wrapped in plastic, an enema bag, and syringes for piercing. After all, Michelle was a medical professional.
"I could just drop it off later."
"That's really sweet, but it's a loony bin. Trust me. I'd prefer a raincheck ..."
He overrode her. "But I stay up incredibly late."
"Say goodbye now, Chan. I've got too many blinking lights to deal with. Call me in the morning. Your morning lunchtime."
"I'll think about you, meanwhile."
They traded good-nights. Chan despised predestination, the feeling of having his own decisions made for him. Tonight it was fated to be Guy Night with the too-tragic Oliver. It was in the stars or something. He tossed Michelle's fun-bag into the back seat of his Taurus, just he case he saw her later tonight after all.
Michelle's duty clock put her off at one o'clock in the morning barely enough time to shed her whites and rendezvous with Jessie at the Shaggy Dog Pub before last call. Jessie was an amazingly virile cowboy who had been Michelle's backup liaison through several "official" boyfriends in a row. By 2:05, with no letup and no relief on the horizon, Michelle capitulated to the compensations of golden time. The world at large seemed to have different plans for her this evening.
Casualties in, casualties out. It didn't take much to make the ER into a circus. Paperwork would kill them all if the stress did not. The coroner's meatwagons had been rolling in and out, two by two. What a gag the DOAs and overdosed junkies were turning out not to be so dead after all. One guy with no heart and a big shotgun blast hole in his chest had still been spunky enough to unzip his own bag and bite a quarter-pounder out of Mitch, the junior pathology resident. Now Mitch was busy throwing up projectile emesis, from some sort of unidentified toxin and getting rabies shots, for god's sake.
Cops, firefighters, virtually every employee of the country coroner's office, and hospital staff (in roughly that order) had become increasingly more vocal and disenchanted with the night's rash of dead body calls since Michelle had started her shift. By three A.M. the flood was relegated to triage priority status.
By three-thirty, Michelle had shifted to a backup plan that might save her a tiny piece of the night. Tired and cranky, but relieved at last, she sought to stealth her way into Jessie's shower. Jessie would not mind. He'd think it was sexy.
If Jessie was not alone tonight, then Chan was probably still up, good as his word.
Michelle had no way of knowing that the amazingly virile Jessie had died of several gunshot wounds at 1:30, and had been left butt-up in a dumpster at 1:32. The parking lot of the Shaggy Dog was no place to dispute with Jamaicans over drug prices. An especially useless death, considering that Jessie had been grooming Michelle, a medical professional, so he could cadge drugs from her.
Having tried to cope with the chaos and madness at the hospital, Michelle now fantasized about the hour or so left to her before dawn. The big punchline of her life would be that she had no way of guessing that she, too, would be dead long before the sun came up.
Because Jessie had returned from his parking lot mishap, and homed back to his apartment. Despite being dead, he had a whole new menu of hungers Michelle would never even guess.
* * *
It was the first time Chan had ever seen his pal, Oliver, naked.
Over the course of several fine drunks and the odd bout of midnight oil-burning, Oliver had more than once mentioned his propensity for writing in the buff. Spoke of grumping awake, grabbing coffee, and attacking the machine before vital post-dream images could be flattened by the time wasted in dressing. Talked about how he was usually good for a fast thousand words on this sort of autopilot. Reasoned, what good was it to have one's own garret, if not to facilitate striding forth in the nude to do battle with the keyboard? A sky-clad literary warrior, was Oliver.
The computer was in SLEEP mode, and as far as Chan could tell, so was Oliver. His left hand was spidered across the keyboard as if frozen in mid-stroke. The right side of his face also rested on the keys, turned toward his hand. His lips were parted. Drool had dried. Chan wondered if his saliva had short-circuited something and electrocuted Oliver.
"You've got to get out more," Chan started in. "This place smells like a jock sock."
No response from Oliver. No startled awakening, no jerks, no twitches of doggy dream-sleep.
"I've come to slap you into obeisance," Chan said, more loudly. Nada. He tilted Oliver backward. The swivel chair squeaked. Oliver's head lolled, unhinged, and Chan inadvertently recoiled, despite every stupid horror movie he had ever seen.
This was starting to stink real, and Chan preferred fiction.
He hung up on 911 after twenty rings. The hospital from which Michelle had phoned was not picking up, either. Average Los Angeles response time for an emergency was forty-seven minutes on a good day, and so far this was a day that classified as the shits.
Oliver's body was, in fact, lifeless and unbreathing. Chan dragged it to the sofa (strictly thrift-shop, and sprinkled with food crumbs) and covered it with a bedsheet (mildewy, dingy, and begging to be laundered). Oliver's entire apartment smelled like gangrene. Chan forced open two of the paint-welded casement windows, which had shade material stapled over the glass. You don't write in the altogether for the world to see, and Oliver had a quirk about letting daylight invade his eyrie. By working strictly under artificial light, he avoided the distractions of the moving sun outside.
In a bad horror story, he would have just been a vampire and that would be that.
Oliver's window obsessions struck Chan as sort of romantic, really the kind of feeling Chan honestly wished he could say he felt more often. Oliver felt things; Chan always provided a correct or witty response, a reaction that mimicked a human feeling. Writing too many scripts could rebuild you that way, until you were always cued for the next line.
Both of them had read most of the scary stories involving writer characters who happened to die in mid-phrase, from Lovecraft all the way to Bloch; stories in which death utterances always transposed to actual type as it's coming ... it's in the room! ... it has its fingers around my throat ... it ... auuuuugggghhhh ...
Or the Bloch one, about the guy whose fingers crumble as he attempts to continue typing.
Figuring a minimum safety net of three quarters of an hour before anything exciting happened, Chan decided to read what Oliver had written the tale now destined to be just another unfinished story by just another writer dead before his prime.
"... what we really need is a poison control 1-800 number for all the victims of shitty writing," argued Shade, who began to fling steatopygous paperbacks from the review stack. "Look at this crap! Gerund titles, drippy letters, black spines that should be yellow. These aren't horror novels, they're the corpses of books that have been murdered by hacks!"
"Zombie literature?" Blake cracked a smile.
Shade lifted another lurid example: Foil, holograms, die-cuts, and a water-weight bloat to the prose that would make Jenny Craig's entire philosophy beg for mercy. The Hosing. She pinched it between two fingers like roadkill, and quoted the blurbs. "Dabney Abbott delivers a big eleven on the fright scale, says the reviewer from Tentacles of Yentacle. Woo, scary! Dabney Abbott is the new Steven King, claim the Horror Scriveners of Providence, which spells King's name wrong. Who the hell is Dabney Abbott?"
"I thought he was the new Steven." At least Blake was finding this entertaining.
"Wrong! He's a yoyo who sold this stiff to Maelstrom Books for $1800, and he needs to be decapitated!"
"Do YOU have a burning urge to write?"
"A small New England town ... after centuries o waiting, the evil was poised to commence afresh ..."
"Please stop, I beg you."
"This is a living dead book, Blake!"
Blake appreciated the notion. "Yes it schlumps out into the world, it preys on you for six bucks ... then it EATS."
"It eats. Precisely."
Chan noticed that Blake and Shade were sounding suspiciously like two guys named Chan and Oliver.
You cunning monster, he thought of the shape beneath the mouldering sheet. You used our conversation to build the subtext of a story you could not write because it had no heart.
Like the Cowardly Lion, Oliver's story had found its heart, its theme the murder and subsequent zombiatic revivification of prose itself!
Got to watch those mental italics, thought Chan. Too frantic, like Dr. Frankenstein, declaiming.
He read 'Insatiable Hungers' through. Blake and Shade, it turned out, were two women, and lovers. Oliver had strategically placed a lovemaking scene right up front, to snag the reader like a pit bull, and not relinquish. It was a seduction, a trick of writing that worked as surely as the synaptic fire of orgasm.
... she rolled her eyes, now glazed in that satiated cat way, as Shade surfaced from between her legs. She saw appraisal, there in the cafe au lait irises; questions, in the arch of jet-black brows.
"God, that must have been five. Six."
"If you can still count them, they don't count," said Shade evilly. "Warm up, before worn out." She grabbed Blake's forearms and trapped her, arching her rudely upward in order that she might observe any and everything Shade planned, while she was gloriously open and wet and helpless.
"I don't think I can make it any more, baby ..."
"Wrong," said Shade, and proved it.
Chan scrolled the story to the point where it broke off in midline.
"It would be very easy to believe we're the only people really alive among all the walking dead out there," Shade said, bleakly, taking care to angle her gaze through the slanted blinds, so that from the outside it would look as though
Interesting term, "scrolling." Hadn't writers been scrolling, so to speak, ever since papyrus? And what was a scroll but rolled up paper? Didn't you smack uncooperative dogs with a rolled-up paper? And weren't writers essentially bad dogs? Didn't publishers and producers constantly admonish them to do it on the paper, like right now?
The zany, loose-limbed Mr. Calm puppet in Chan's brain dropped by long enough to note: Easy. You're losing your fucking mind, Boss.
He paced his breathing and Zenned his cardio back to normal. Control. No commotion of ambulance arrival had distracted him from his read of the story so far.
Oliver had insisted on giving Chan a set of apartment keys two years ago. Perhaps this was why; Oliver had suspected he might wind up unexpectedly dead, tragically youthful. Wasn't that a promotable angle, a guaranteed sale, given talent? Wasn't the lust of publishers for dead writers one of the few ironclads left? It made royalties so much simpler; the dead did not complain or write stiff letters when you skimmed more. This happenstance might garner Oliver an audience when nothing else could. Chan had seen all three of his friend's novels; all were good, each was kinky and original, with memorable and stimulating characters and a twisty-turny plot structure. Each book evidenced exponential growth, and that, too, was a pattern that might be exploited.
Good trick, Chan thought. I've just been appointed de facto executor of Oliver's literary estate, because he knows knew -- I won't let him go down unsung. Congratulations, you fucker!
Chan found himself at the window. He milled about the apartment, trying not to look back at the outline beneath the dirty sheet. Staring through a tear in the shade, he tried to put himself in the place of Oliver's character, also named Shade. There was nothing out in the courtyard. An interloper would have to work hard to peep, only to be rewarded with the silhouette of some naked writer, writing.
Chan peeled the grimy shade off the windowpane. It was dusty; it resisted. There was nothing to look at outside except a sort of anti-view. After a moment, he booted up Oliver's story again and completed the unfinished line.
... so that from the outside it would look as though some stranger was pausing to browse. It was the fishbowl effect in reverse; no one would ever know a naked woman looked out from these anonymous rooms. All the outside world would ever perceive was a pair of shielded eyes, examining them.
Chan left the cursor blinking. He tried 911 again and got a recording. He would not hold, nor was there any message he cared to leave after the beep.
In the bathroom, he splashed water on his face and groped for one of the three towels Oliver had owned since he was seventeen. All were transparently threadbare, and the muggy odor never left them no matter how clean they were. Chan reviewed his own face for a bit in the cataracted mirror, wondering who the hell he was supposed to be.
Until the typing sounds from the front room snatched his attention away.
sounds snatched awy herr notice like cellllophane criklingto simulat fire on some fake radio dramma blake was stufing pages form the deadlyy books into hr mout andeating them shade ws at firrrst shokd then curious blake seemd to be derivin g g nourishmnt from th dead bodysx of fiction so shade e eee abrptly an d shokin ly wondred what blake might t taste lik now
Chan understood that the first rule of the zombie playbook was that walking dead-ires tried to replicate whatever constituted their fundamental behavior in life. Couch potato zombies locomoted to the nearest mall. Soldier zombies herky-jerked through a retarded version of military drill. And writer zombies, well ...
As soon as Chan peered over Oliver's shoulder to read what was on the screen, Oliver orally voided a glurt of pinkish catarrh, twisted his head on squeaking tendons, and tried to bite Chan's nose off. Chan backpedaled and fell broad-assed over the footlocker which served as Oliver's coffee table.
Oliver had been the late Oliver dead for over two hours, by Chan's watch.
But Oliver had asked Chan to help. Chan's definition of help did not extend to providing parts of himself as food so Oliver could complete his short story. There were some things friends just did not let friends do.
A half-hour of wisely invested time turned their situation around quite nicely. If Chan had an inborn talent, it was for finding the upside.
It was no longer carnal desire that Blake fostered for her best friend; not now, no. It was hunger, pure, primal, and elemental. A need of instinct.
And Shade, who had never denied herself any sensation, found that she was not repulsed by the truth. No. She was fascinated.
Michelle's leather and nylon bondage paraphernalia proved adequate to the need to strap Oliver's forearms to his chair at precisely the textbook angle of wrist-slant required for typing. Her handcuffs, attached to the tubular steel of the computer trolley, permitted Oliver's hands the play of the keyboard. The zippered vinyl mask kept Oliver's bite reflex in check. Just in time, too ... since Oliver had apparently forgotten how to space between words altogether.
Chan stood off Oliver's left shoulder, leaning in to correct or complete spelling, insert punctuation, indent new paragraphs, and supply whatever other skills Oliver would lose in the next five minutes due to catching a nasty case of death. He had literally chained Oliver to his word processor, and quite naturally felt like the worst caricature in the world of an overbearing, unfeeling editor. He was forcing Oliver to do it on the paper for the last time.
And when it is a done thing, Chan thought, it'll be time to jam one of Michelle's syringes straight into the dysfunctional cottage cheese of Oliver's dead-ass brain, right through the ear hole, and click him off. Chan imagined the moist noise the penetration would bring. Chan found it tough to rein in his imagination right now.
In this way, together, they grimly marched toward the conclusion of this invented fiction. After THE END ... then what?
Revisions, was what. Polishing.
Chan busied himself in the prettification of 'Insatiable Hungers', annotating the hard copy with red ink marks until the pages seemed adorned with shallow razor cuts. During this, the late Oliver chewed down on bloody, fat-rich ground round, a family-pack.
The 24-hour market had been an adventure in itself. Chan saw much more crowd action than the usual three A.M. gaggle of the city's walking wounded, metalheads seeking munchies, and derelicts pretending not to shoplift. Tonight there were too many normal citizens in the mix house frumps in slippers and bathrobes, weekend warriors in fatigues, skittish young couples with puppies in tow all gazing blankly at the shelves as if awaiting mystic revelations, or stocking up as if a nuclear strike had been announced. Something was askew out here in the real world, too, not just back at Oliver's garret, but it only made Chan more anxious to return to his personal piece of the chaos, the part he could control.
Chan's writing habit was to not annotate work draft copy so much as draw cabalistic circles and arrows on it, visual benchmarks which could remind him of each intended amendment. A private code. While secure in his method, he now doubted the integrity of the end product. This doubt was his rationale for never becoming an editor himself; any changes he might suggest would inevitably slant the story, making it less representative of the author than of Chan himself. The impulse was second nature to anyone who had ever sat staff on a TV show the imposition of a uniform identity on the writing. Chan hated the automatic nature of this, and his own inability to transcend it. Was this all he owed his good friend, his pool-playing partner?
He needed to ask questions. To be directed. Oliver was incapable of supplying navigational tips. Oliver could not do anything except numbly pound the keys, and Chan's reserve tank of inner drive was close to fumes.
Chan owed it a try, anyway: "So, uh ... what do you think?" He laid the stack of copy in Oliver's lap.
Oliver writhed and slobbered and tried to eat the last seven pages. He would have, too, if the mask had not been zipped. Chan accepted this as criticism, and rewrote the seven pages from a new angle. The sun came up. Chan closed all the windows. Oliver's lighting trick worked pretty well, as it turned out.
Chan chained Oliver to the kitchen sink pipe and assumed the pilot seat for himself, repeating the whole process until he, too, slumped face-first into the keyboard, exactly as Oliver had when he died.
"You've painted yourself into a corner," said the Editor, flipping up Page 29 of the story and finding nothing underneath.
"Bite me," said the Writer, who had pounded down about a gallon of the Editor's iced tea and blazed through half a pack of smokes, suffering the desultory read in the silence of the damned.
"I mean, it's kind of obvious this Chan guy bas got to wind up dead, too," said the Editor. "End of story. So how does the fictional story they're writing get to where it's going, I mean, to the poor son of a bitch who's editing the zombie book? Who prints it out, who mails it, who delivers it? Is this trip really necessary?"
"What difference does it make," said the Writer. "Do you really need it tied up into a granny knot? If you can't see the subtext, I can't wave my magic wand and grant you divine sight. The point is there, and why write it past the point? The guts are there. You don't need to spotlight either of them."
"You think readers are smarter than publishers do."
"I'm not writing for publishers, goddammit."
"Humor me. Open it up. Let it breathe just a hair. Don't wire it so tight metaphorical."
"Okay," said the Writer, expelling a long plume on concentrated smoke. "Think TV: Cops burst in and find two dead writers. Like Quasimodo and Esmerelda, except that both Chart and Oliver have chewed each other up pretty good. There are only enough body parts left to make a single person ... but nobody can distinguish which part belongs to who."
"Whom. Why would anyone care?"
"The important part is the writing itself. No one can tell where Ollie leaves off and Chan begins."
"You mean like that Poe story finished by Robert Bloch?"
"'The Lighthouse,'" said the Writer. "All the high-and-mighty literary sleuths assumed Bloch had picked up Poe's unfinished story at the point where the plot makes a radical left-hand turn. In fact, Bloch wrote the section preceding the shift in gears, and I think he did it on purpose, to mimic Poe perfectly, then drop in a false lead for all the nitpickers to trip over."
The Editor waved the stack of pages. Editors frequently waved paper around as though it lent weight to their criticisms. "So, am I to assume here that the double-death of the collaborators makes the story notorious enough to become famous, as in make money?"
"Except that the disenfranchised body parts are all stall moving around. And they're trying to keep writing. The collaboration, you see, is enough of a success that publishers ask immediately for the novel version."
"Which means somebody has to shepherd the zombie parts together and make them behave long enough to produce more output."
"Correct you have the first bestseller written by a dead guy who actually is dead. With a third hand governing the process, neatening the manuscript, making it all presentable to the norms in publishing."
"Who? Another dead writer?"
"No," said the Writer. "Too many cooks. What they obviously need is an Editor of the Living Dead. That character would be you, for example."
"What you need is for one of those friendly West Hollywood sheriffs to shine a baton flashlight up your ruby red asshole to see what drugs you've been pooping."
"Come on. It'll play and you know it."
"I think it needs more development." Editors frequently said this a lot, too.
The Writter rummaged in his briefcase. "I'm way ahead of you. Here's how it works: 'Chan' and 'Oliver' are pseudonyms; they were always secret identities. So no one can say that the narrative did not occur actually as presented."
"You mean the only real need is to get the editor, having gotten the writers."
"This is the beauty part," said the Writer.
Before the Editor could ask what that meant, the Writer's fist came up from the briefcase wrapped around a Sig Sauer 226 and grouped a close trio of nine-millimeter slugs to frame the Editor's heart. At this time of night, nobody would give a shit about gunshots in this neck of Hollywood. The Editor, bearing the ultimate expression of bugfuck betrayal, slumped back onto the sofa without time for a grunt of surprise.
"Welcome to the winning team," said the Writer as he zipped up the Editor's corpse into a sleeping bag brought for just this purpose. "We're all going to be rich and famous."
Murder? Not here, not now.
Not when there were real zombies roaming the sidewalks, eating people, making more zombies. In times of societal stress, people always turned to escapist entertainment, and who was to say their behavior would change just because some of them died? En masse they could form a new and burgeoning audience which would always crave the next book, and the next, any book, so long as they could continue reading, and keep deluding themselves that nothing horrific was happening in their world, that the news on TV must have gotten it wrong somehow. A public that wanted even more stories about the walking dead ... because they had so much in common with them.
There are those who eat, and those who get eaten, thought Chan. Yet all of them were consumers. Herbivores need not apply. He dumped the corpse of his newest collaborator, the Editor, into the trunk of his Taurus, where a set of handcuffs and a recycled bondo mask already had the Editor's name on them.
It was time to go forth into the new world, and feed.
THe en ...
Excerpted from The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror by Stephen Jones Copyright © 2002 by Stephen Jones. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Stephen Jones has won more awards for editing horror and fantasy than anyone else in the field. His more than sixty books include Horror: The 100 Best Books and The Mammoth Book of Vampires. He lives in London.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews