Crossfades: A Dystopian Novella

Crossfades: A Dystopian Novella

by William Todd Rose

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Overview

In a dark horror novella for fans of Stephen King, Joe Hill, and Dean Koontz, one unsuspecting man faces a mass murderer who’s turned the afterlife into his own terrifying playground.
 
Some men fear their own deaths. Others dream of peace and heaven. But Albert knows exactly what he wants: to be the lord of his own private hell, where his eternal reward will be torturing the souls of his victims. And he knows how to get it.
 
While Chuck’s dream of a promotion may be ordinary, his career is anything but. As a Recon and Enforcement Technician, Level II, at a mysterious organization known only as the Institute, Chuck spends his days rescuing souls that get trapped between this life and the next, caught in mini-hells known as crossfades.
 
Lydia has no dreams—only nightmares. There will be no awakening from the impossible realm of terror and pain where she’s trapped . . . unless Chuck tracks her down. But this rescue will not be easy, not for a mere Level II technician. Because, in this place, Albert is god. And he’s determined that none shall escape his wrath.
 
Praise for William Todd Rose’s Apocalyptic Organ Grinder
 
“With strong echoes of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, William Todd Rose’s Apocalyptic Organ Grinder delivers on all fronts. The action is brutal and the blurring of man and monster intelligently and inventively handled. Rose has written a smart thriller with a ton of heart.”—Joe McKinney, Bram Stoker Award–winning author of The Savage Dead and Inheritance
 
“The book just took me away. . . . The prose is beautiful.”—39 Purple Sunrises
 
“Dark, and definitely not fluffy . . . a no-holds-barred look at what may happen in the future.”—Mrs. Condit & Friends Read Books

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101883686
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/19/2015
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 129
Sales rank: 1,038,777
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

William Todd Rose writes dark, speculative fiction from his home in West Virginia. His short stories have been featured in numerous anthologies and magazines, and his work includes the novels Cry Havoc, The Dead & Dying, and The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People, and the novella Apocalyptic Organ Grinder. For more information on the author, including links to bonus content, please visit him online.

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

The Secret Life of Chuck Grainger

The first warning in the handbook stated, in no uncertain terms, that there was some malevolent shit out there. Chuck Grainger knew this and took a certain amount of satisfaction in that fact. His job wasn’t for the timid or weak. To work in his field, a man needed to be carved from stone; he had to continually face his own mortality and somehow not go insane when out in the Crossfades. The handbook, of course, also had a thing or two to say about those. The official description of Crossfades described them as being like that moment in movies where Acts One and Two briefly coexist; they meld into a composite for a moment—both scenes visible, yet semitransparent—but eventually one asserts its dominion over the other and the plot moves on. Chuck knew that this was technically a term from audio engineering, not film . . . but he also knew the boys in the lab weren’t exactly the types to let facts get in the way of snazzy jargon.

He had to admit, though, that the analogy was pretty accurate since the same thing happened with what people tended to think of as Life and Death. There were borderlands, little pockets of stasis dimpling the surface of eternity, and most departing souls passed through them so effortlessly they didn’t even notice. But some specifically looked for these warrens. They refused to let go of the physical realm and fought against the transition with everything they had, sometimes creating new Crossfades by sheer willpower alone. Others, however, simply became trapped.

For reasons the research scientists hadn’t quite figured out, a portion of these snared spirits came to be linked with moths. Randolph Johnson, the department head of Theoretical Positioning, had told Chuck once that he suspected these creatures had the ability to flutter through both dimensions simultaneously. He compared them to bees in a field, picking up pollen along the way, but openly admitted that the math to prove his hypothesis dangled frustratingly out of reach. Jewel—who should have been a poetess instead of his research assistant—insisted this was why moths continually batted themselves against bulbs; these quantum hitchhikers, she claimed, knew their paths had been diverted and tried time and time again to cross into The Light.

Chuck, being a more practical man, recognized the elegance of Jewel’s notion but didn’t waste much time considering whether or not it might be true. It wasn’t that he thought it was silly; it was simply the way he was wired. When he’d been a freshman in college, he’d signed up for one of the psychological research studies posted on the bulletin board in the student union. At the time, it had seemed like easy money. All he’d had to do was spend a couple hours one Saturday morning answering multiple choice questions on a personality questionnaire. Some of the questions had certainly seemed odd, but he knew enough about basic psychology to suspect that the real goal of the study was buried somewhere among the more inane questions. It was only several months later that the truth of the matter became known; he’d been approached by a man in a gray suit and fifty-dollar haircut, handed a business card, and advised that his results fit the profile for a very specific job. This opportunity, he was told, would prove more lucrative than any career his eventual degree could ever hope to net; and the best part was that he would be able to begin immediately.

There were stipulations, of course; with an offer like that, there always are. He’d have to drop out of school, would be required to move halfway across the country, and would never be able to tell anyone what he actually did for a living. But if he accepted, the rewards would far outweigh the things he’d be giving up; these rewards, he was assured, would go far beyond mere wealth and physical comfort. His entire view of reality would change. He would find the transcendence his test results suggested he secretly yearned for, would be exposed to secrets only a handful of people throughout history had been privy to, and would be able to live out the rest of his days knowing exactly what was to come once he’d closed his eyes that final time.

The recruiter hadn’t told him everything, of course. The man hadn’t mentioned the loneliness or the strain that such secrecy would place upon interpersonal relationships. He hadn’t explained how this job would come to be Chuck’s entire world or how he’d define himself almost exclusively by how well he performed in it. There was no doubt the man had known these things, just as there was no doubt that they were considered desirable in a candidate. The questionnaire had been specifically designed to give the man a complete understanding of a potential candidate’s psyche, revealing things the recruit may not have even known about himself. Coupled with a background check so exhaustive that even his preschool teacher had been questioned under false pretenses, The Institute had known exactly what made Chuck tick; they’d played upon these motivators, tailoring the pitch to match his profile, and almost ensuring that he would say yes.

It was true that their methods had been manipulative, but Chuck was enough of a realist that he couldn’t fault them for it. If they hadn’t been so thorough, he never would have lasted in this job; he would have ended up in some padded cell, rocking back and forth as drool glistened on his chin, babbling incoherently about Crossfades and Cutscenes. In that sense, matching the personality profile had been a blessing.

There was another warning in the handbook—one that warned against attaching emotion to the things he saw and did. He was expected to balance the stoicism of a scientist with the resolve of a soldier. Romantic notions like Jewel’s were bad enough in the lab, but they could get your ass into serious trouble in the field. The slightest hint of emotion was like striking a match in the darkness: All things previously hidden were brought to light. With a mind of pure reason, Chuck was able to see the things that existed within The Divide . . . but illuminated by the passions of the living, they would also be able to see him as well.

His official title was Recon and Enforcement Technician, Level II. When he was being wooed, The Institute had made it sound as though he’d be some sort of cosmic cop, patrolling a metaphysical beat and extending mankind’s reach into the kingdom of the dead. After six months of mentoring, however, he’d gone solo and discovered the truth of the matter: He was nothing more than a glorified janitor, sweeping cobwebs from the corners of infinity. Which is why—despite the handbook’s recommendations to the contrary—people like him were internally referred to as Whisks.

Six years after signing up for that psychological study, Chuck’s life had become routine, just as it would with any other job. He woke up at 6:00 a.m. and had orange juice and whole wheat toast, put some time in on the translocation equation as he ate, and then zipped green coveralls over his street clothes. He grabbed a toolbox from the closet beside his apartment door and left his home no later than 7:00. Letting himself into a rusty gate with a key that dangled around his neck, he caught an unscheduled subway at an abandoned station, acting bored and disinterested as he unclasped the lock.

To other commuters on the sidewalk, he was just an average laborer, on his way to repair a faulty junction box or inspect the rails. No one gave him a second look. They went about their business, strolling along sidewalks with briefcases and overpriced lattes, too wrapped up in their own little worlds to realize that despite his disguise, Chuck didn’t really look like a maintenance worker.

The hands were where it was most obvious. His palms were soft and smooth, the only callus being where hours of holding a pencil had chaffed the inside of his middle finger. Chuck’s mother had wanted him to be a surgeon for as long as he could remember, and he’d been conditioned at a very young age to pamper his hands and keep them safe at all costs. Sports had definitely been out of the question, as the risk far outweighed any perceived payoff in Mrs. Grainger’s opinion. But there had been other activities that had been banned as well. Learning to play the piano was one of them, since Chuck’s mother believed her son’s knuckles might be rapped if he happened to strike a sour note. His free time was expected to be spent studying and he was only allowed to read fiction as an occasional treat.

The indoctrination had been so complete that more than twenty years later, Chuck still hadn’t been able to shake it. He still felt twinges of fear when wielding a hammer and instinctively glanced over his shoulder to ensure no one was watching before cracking his knuckles. His nails were manicured on a regular basis and were buffed until they gleamed like chips of polished glass, and their edges were never darkened by embedded grit or allowed to become jagged. These were definitely not the hands of a man who worked with machinery eight hours a day. But it was okay because, as the handbook informed him, people in a city never really looked that closely.

Once he’d locked the gate behind him, Chuck descended into the tunnels, shuffling down a wide stairway littered with dried leaves and discarded candy bar wrappers. The station itself was so dimly lit that he could barely make out the loops and swirls of the faded graffiti that covered the curved walls; traffic overhead was nothing more than a faint rumble with only the heaviest of trucks causing dust to rain down from the ceiling, adding yet another layer to the musty-smelling patina that had settled upon the rows of plastic chairs. The scent permeated the entire station, seeming to exude from the dank air itself. A person more prone to flights of fancy may have imagined he was in some ancient tomb or forgotten catacomb, a place that hadn’t known natural light or fresh air for ages. Only the tracks themselves dispelled this notion; worn by the secret train that rumbled over them every day, they glimmered bright silver in the gloom, dissolving entirely as the shadows of the tunnel eventually overtook them.

Chuck had just enough time to stow his toolbox and coveralls within the bank of lockers lining one wall and return to the platform, knowing from experience that the subway would be neither late nor early. During the entire time he’d worked for The Institute, the train had never been anything other than punctual.

The interior of the car was cleaner than the ones that serviced the general population and smelled of pine-scented disinfectant. He sat on an upholstered seat that was surprisingly plush and read a complimentary newspaper as the car shimmied and rocked. He recognized the faces of his fellow passengers and had even devised secret nicknames for some of them: Cozy Mystery Lady, Black Tie/Yellow Glasses, and Mr. Ed, to name a few. As a general rule, however, Chuck kept to himself, choosing to shun conversation and camaraderie all the way to the end of the line.

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