The Nightmare Chroniclesby Douglas Clegg
These short stories from a master storyteller of horror "can chill the spine so effectively that the reader should keep paramedics on standby, " says author Dean Koontz. It all begins when a young boy is held captive in an old tenement, and from there 13 nightmares unfold.
- Dorchester Publishing Company, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.22(w) x 6.79(h) x 1.06(d)
Read an Excerpt
Alice lit her cigarette, staring straight ahead at the television set. "If we don't hear anything, the boy dies today. They must've gotten the note by now. I don't like this waiting game."
The clock on top of the television set had stopped at ten minutes to twelve. She tapped her watchit was midnight. The first breath of smoke from the cigarette was heaven. An old mirror, part of its glass cracked and another part empty, leaned against the wall. She saw half her face in it and felt older than her age. She reached back to her hair, blushing it to the side over her ear. She was youngish for her age, even if her two boys had just grown up. She was only thirty-eight, not even middle-aged. The smoke wreathed around her face. It was as if the woman in the mirror knew something that the woman in the chair did not. She looked away.
"I was sitting there having a smoke in that room. Barely in that room. He didn't even open his mouth," Stephen said. "How could he?"
She glanced at Stephen, who stood with his back to her, watching the window. Even though the window looked upon the wall of another tenement, he watched as if waiting to see something emerge from the slim crawl space between the buildings.
"I mean, the tape held. But I stood there and had a dream. Like I blacked out standing up. I saw things ..." Stephen wore his black leather jacket and khakis, practically advertising, in Alice's opinion, that something was not quite right in the neighborhood whenever he stepped outside. "He's evil" Stephen said.
"Stephen." Alice shook her head slowly. "You mustn't go down there. It's better to stay away except when he needs food or water."
"Tell that to Charlie. He's down there more than me. Ask him about the boy" Stephen said. He turned around to meet her gaze, leaning back against the sill. "Charlie is getting too chummy with him. It'll make it that much harder when the time comes. When Lena comes back from the store, someone should talk to her, too."
"She's been gone too long. You don't think she'd betray us, do you?" Alice sucked in the smoke and held it. She closed her eyes. Reached up, rubbing the throbbing along her forehead. Exhaled the ribbon of smoke into the pale blue room.
Stephen shrugged. "Anything's possible with her. She's not one of us. I don't like her."
"She's fine" Alice said to reassure herself. "She's probably just looking for those shoes you wanted."
"They're just a pair of tennis shoes" he said, and she noticed the strain of the night showing in his voice and in the stiffness of his movements.
Trying to comfort him, Alice said, "If we don't get a moment with the parents in the next two hours, it's over. A loss. It won't be hard, Charlie enjoys the kill. I'm sick of thinking about that brat."
"The duct tape held. But! heard him"
Alice stubbed her cigarette out in the ashtray beside her chair. Then she wheeled her chair over nearer Stephen and tugged at his arm. "Baby, don't let him get to you."
He took her fingers in his. She could smell his cologne nowthe Golden Touch, much advertised in magazines, and it reminded her of the citrus groves she'd grown up among. She leaned forward slightly, pressing her cheek against his hand, feeling the coldness of his ring. "He's only twelve, and that whole contest of wills that Charlie had with himwell, boys are like that. I raised a boy once," she said, smiling wistfully.
"Two very wonderful boys," Stephen said.
Alice nodded, turning her face into his leather sleeve, feeling its warmth. "Boys are wily creatures," and when she said this, they both laughed at how silly it sounded.
Their silence afterward was punctuated with the mindless noise of the television,
Then Stephen said, "There's something wrong with him. I could feel it when I was down there. I stood there dreaming something with my eyes open. There's something wronghe's not okay."
"It doesn't matter," Alice said, pushing her wheelchair away from him. She went over to the small kitchenette and opened one of the lower cabinets. "He could have measles, and it won't matter. He'll be out of his misery soon enough."
"No" Stephen said. "I don't mean he's sick. I mean, there's something about him that isn't normal. He ... changes ... somehow."
Alice had become an expert at ignoring his flights of dark foreboding. They'd all been up too long, unable to sleep. "I feel like cooking eggs. Scrambled eggs. And coffee. None of us has eaten all night. It's nearly midnight. A good plate of eggs will help."
"Very suburban hausfrau of you," Charlie said as he entered the room, wearing his slick raincoat, taking his hat off and dropping it on the chair by the door. His grin was infectious, and it made Alice feel better just to see him. "I called twice. No answer. No word yet from the parents."
"None?" Stephen asked. Then, as if he could not utter his next thought coherently, he coughed.
Charlie glanced around from the two beds to the living-room chairs, to the open bathroom door. "No Lana yet?"
Stephen shook his head. "She's supposed to be buying me shoes and some groceries for us."
"What's open at this hour?" Charlie asked.
Alice laughed. "You boys! I can name four all-night stores within six blocks. Don't worry about Lana. She has too much at stake here."
"Yeah, sure." Charlie grinned, his cheeks rosy. "Helluva night out there. First rain, then no rain, then rain, then no rain. I wish God would make up His mind."
Charlie looked from Stephen to Alice, as if he'd walked in two seconds late, on a wonderful joke. "Everything kosher here? You two look like you've been dissecting my sex life again."
Stephen wagged his hand like a vaudevillian shaking a straw hat. "That's showbiz, folks."
Alice brought out the large frying pan and set it on the stovetop. "I know everyone's starved. I know I am."
She didn't want to look at Stephen again, because he was beginning to look haunted. Finally, as she dropped a pat of butter in the pan, she could not control herself. "Stephen, if you're going to go crazy with this, then it's better you just put yourself out of it for the time being. I want you here, but I don't if you can't handle"
"Shut up," Stephen snapped. "It's a boy. A real boy. Flesh and blood. Not a middle-aged banker who deserves to die for aiding the global corporate murder of the individual. It's a little boy."
Then, more quietly, he added, "And there's something not right about him. And about this whole thing. What about his parents? It's been forty-eight hours."
"Fifty," Charlie chimed in. "And Stevie's right. The kid is a weirdo. I think he likes being handcuffed." He took off his raincoat, hanging it across the small bed.
Alice said, "Please, Charlie. The closet."
Charlie nodded and gathered the coat up. He opened the closet door, tossing the raincoat onto the rest of the heap of clothes.
"Two days," Stephen said. "A twelve-year-old boy from the North Shore. No history of drug use, no history of running away. A happy, healthy boy."
"He got a C minus in math last year," Charlie added. "He collects stamps and has an aquarium full of tropical fish. His little girlfriend is named Emmy. His father is a friggin' multigazillionaire."
"Really, Charlie," Mice said, shaking her head. She cracked five eggs into the pan and began stirring them with a wooden ladle. "He's a tool. Remember that, Stephen. He is our tool for changing the world. One person at a time."
Stephen shook his head. "It's weird."
Alice sighed, turning around, nearly dropping the last egg she held in her hand. "This is an unusual line of work. Unusual things happen."
"Remember that woman last year?"
Charlie glanced at Alice. Mice knew: it was starting up again with Stephen. Dear Stephen, whom she loved more than any man in the world.
"She said something before we buried her, do you remember?"
Charlie grinned as if Stephen were barmy. "I'm afraid I don't, sport."
"She said, `I won't be the last for you, will I?' And I thought she was lying. But she wasn't, was she? There's always someone else, isn't there? First the banker, then the wife of the corporate thief, and now this little boy. Christ. A little boy. That woman was smart. I thought she was just saying that to play with my conscience. To buy herself four hours of breathing."
"Ha! I'll bet her conscience didn't bother her when she passed the homeless in the street and then got into her limousine," Charlie said. "And where was her conscience when she married that monster husband who raped environments and economies?"
In a sudden move, Stephen picked up a knife from the block on the kitchen Counter. Jokingly, he raised it to Charlie and hacked the air in front of him. Charlie laughed, but Stephen's face tightened and shone with sweat. "Now," he muttered. He stomped toward the door.
"Stephen!" Alice shouted. "Not now. Stop."
Stephen held the knife up as if it were some alien instrument he didn't understand. He looked at it, then turned and looked at Alice. "He told me things that a boy couldn't know. Couldn't possibly know."
"How, Stephen?" Alice asked, letting the eggs burn on the stove, turning her wheelchair around. "How? His mouth is covered with tape. His hands are bound behind his back. How did he tell you?"
Charlie shook his head, and went and sat in front of the television set. "Stephen, Stephen, Stephen."
Stephen clutched the knife, then dropped it. It clattered on the parquet floor. "I should cut his throat. The piglet. But he ... changes. He's not the same boy we took on Wednesday...."
"Oh, baby," Alice said, bringing her chair over. She reached her hands up for Stephen's and held him. He collapsed to his knees in front of her, pressing his face into her lap. She stroked his soft curly hair. "Stephen, poor baby. This is too hard for you, isn't it?"
"Something about him ... the way he stares ..." Stephen whispered.
"It's all right," she said. "Don't worry."
From his chair Charlie said, "Christ, it's on the news, finally."
Stephen lifted his head, tears in his eyes. Alice pulled her chair back, pivoting it around and wheeling over toward the television.
A reporter stood in front of the house on Grimaldi Street.
"Turn it up," Alice said. "I can barely hear it."
The reporter said, "The discovery of the bodies of John and Paulette Early at six o'clock this evening shocked this upscale neighborhood ..."
Charlie laughed. "This must be a scam! We didn't kill them. Christ, they weren't even awake."
Alice glanced at Stephen. Something in his eyes had changedas if he'd woken from a dream but had not quite come out of it completely.
"They must be trying to flush us out with this, that's all," Charlie said, shaking his head. "Those feds. Christ. I mean, why would we kill the man who we want to pay us ten million dollars?"
The reporter continued, "There is still no sign of their daughter, Rosanna, eleven ..."
A photograph of a little girl flashed on the screen. Golden hair past her shoulders, a ribbon tied about it, her eyes like an owl's eyes, not pretty exactly, but certainly pleasing to look at.
Alice turned to Stephen. "A little girl?"
Stephen grinned, a little too madly, she thought, a little too edgy. "Yes, mother. That's what the man said. And you know what? I believe him. The kid told me he's been everything, he's been girls and women and men and dogs and even flies. Even flies!"
Stephen fell silent for a moment, as if he'd opened some dam within him and had to shut it down so as not to let everything out.
Then he said, "He told me he likes the way life tastes."
Smoke billowed into the room, and Alice realized it was the eggs burning on the stove. She wheeled over and picked the pan up, dropping it into the sink. She turned on the water, and steam spat up.
"He told me," Stephen said. "He wanted us to take him because he wants to taste us, too. He made me see some things. Some awful things."
Was he weeping? Alice couldn't see his eyes, because he'd turned away from her. His shoulder shuddered.
"What could he possibly make you see?" she asked. "Stephen?"
"Where he came from. Those people in that mansionthey aren't his parents," Stephen began. "He's not even a boy, is he? He's a nightmare. He's a ..."
And then Stephen told what the boy had shown him, and told it perfectly as the boy had burned it into his mind, as if it had really happened, as if Stephen had been opened up by what the boy had done to him....
The first story of the night began.
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Great stories, great ideas especially The Ripening Sweetness of Late Afternoon and I Am Infinite, I Contain Multitudes. I judge the greatness of a book by how easily I'm distracted from reading. I was not distracted at all by outside sources while reading these stories; in fact, I was late to work several times because I would get caught up in the storylines. Do yourself a favor and buy and read this book. Move it to the top of your To Be Read (TBR) pile.
Clegg delivers all kinds of different takes on the horror story. All are successful and inspiring. Very highly recomended.