"She whispered to him and he wrote down her stories. Tales of dark wonder and awe. Of flesh and fantasy. Of black dogs and gargoyles and cranial holes opening upon other worlds. She showed him wondrous geometries far beyond the four-cornered world of his drab room."
Table of Contents
Deadside In Bug City
Death Comes Calling
Devil In 206
Flesh And Word
The Bone Train
The Kitchen Witch
A Witch In Faerie
At The Edge of The World
Life After Living Death
The God of Broken Worlds
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.84(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Devils, Death & Dark Wonders
By Randy Chandler, Cheryl Mullenax
Comet PressCopyright © 2013 Randy Chandler
All rights reserved.
It found him in the dark.
A cool droplet smacked his forehead and misted his lashes. He switched on his bedside lamp and there it was above him: a wet stain marring the ceiling, another liquid bead bulging from its center like a pink eyeball.
He heard water droning through the pipes in the flat above him, number 10, where she lived. He stared at the stain, fascinated by the pattern it was creating on his ceiling. He watched the pink eyeball detach and fall. It splattered on his forehead.
He phoned the landlord and reported the leaking water in number 10. He pushed his rumpled bed to the side, then lay on his back and studied the ceiling's stigmata.
Events unfolded above him. He listened. He stared at the stain.
They found her dead in a bathtub overflowing bloody water, wearing countless cuts. He tried to imagine how her breasts looked when they found her. Did they still float with puckered nipples above the surface of the water?
The detectives questioned him the next day. How well had he known her? Had he ever had sexual relations with her? Had he heard any unusual sounds coming from her flat? They seemed satisfied with his answers. They looked at the stain. They looked at him. They said they would be in touch. He moved his bed back to where it had been.
He spent hours staring at the dark blemish. He didn't go to his job. Didn't answer his phone. He spent his nights with the light on so he could contemplate the discolored blotch, its spiderlike tendrils reaching out from a dark center. He slept very little, if at all. He stood on his bed and touched his fingers to the stain's rust-colored hub. It was soft, damp, like cold mottled flesh. Her flesh. He licked his fingertips. Tasted her, tasted the damp blotch of her life's culmination, a sad summation of mortality.
But she wasn't dead. She was alive in the stain. She lived for him and no one else.
She was his.
He stared into the stain's density. Night and day. He poked his finger into its mushy center. Punched through. Deflowered, it began to whisper to him. On tiptoes and a stack of phone books on the bed, he pressed his lips to hers. He licked her jagged edges. Tasted menses-flavored sheetrock.
He pushed his bed aside and moved his writing desk directly beneath her. She whispered to him and he wrote down her stories. Tales of dark wonder and awe. Of flesh and fantasy. Of black dogs and gargoyles and cranial holes opening upon other worlds. She showed him wondrous geometries far beyond the four-cornered world of his drab room.
The stories accumulated as his body withered. He drank cheap red wine and pissed blood. He didn't bathe. He shrank to skin and bone. He wrote longhand on a legal pad. His fingers grew as thin as his Number 2 pencils. Flesh diminished. Fantasy flourished.
The stain crooned and cooed.
They banged on his door. He ignored them, scribbling frantically.
They broke in and threw him to the floor. Snapped steel bracelets on his wrists. Arrested him for first-degree murder.
He laughed at their stupidity.
"You can't murder your muse," he shouted at them.
They locked him in a cinderblock cell. He wrote out his confession, recounting weeks of stealthy stalking; in graphic detail he described how he'd sculpted himself a muse out of feminine flesh. "I didn't murder her," he concluded in scrawling hand, "I created her."
Now he writes his tales in crayon. The blemish on his forehead darkens every day, and he feels the way opening. Soon there will be a true in-breathing and his muse will set up shop in his skull.
Then he will create his masterpiece and they will know he killed no one.CHAPTER 2
Jack Talley pulled into Babylon at sunset. He should have been there hours earlier, but he had dallied in his favorite Atlanta watering hole for several hours, tossing back his afternoon quota of vodka-on-the-rocks and brooding over his humiliating assignment in this hillbilly town.
It was his punishment, to be sure. You didn't lip off to the Almighty Maxfield without paying penance. Still, it had almost been worth it to see the look on the City Editor's face when Jack told him he had his head so far up his own ass he couldn't see the forest for the bullshit. Notwithstanding the mixed metaphors, the zinger had been absolutely on target, within the context of their argument. Maxfield had wasted no time in placing him on temporary assignment to the Features Department, which meant Jack was the ditsy Feature Editor's flunky until further notice. Hence his assignment to cover this Southern-fried Bigfoot story in Babylon, Georgia. It was sure to be 100% unadulterated tabloid crap. Junk-food journalism, guaranteed to clog your brain's arteries and make you into a flabby-thinking fathead.
"Alas, Babylon," said Jack. Population: 3,133 — give or take a hick or two. A rock-quarry town nestled in the rustic bosom of the North Georgia hills, Babylon was a prime exporter of marble for tombstones and monuments all over the Southeast. Beyond that, it was little more than a hillbilly hamlet for descendents of moonshiners and semi-literates.
"Payback is hell," howled Jack, tossing the smoldering butt of his last cigarette out the window of his elderly Honda Civic as he pulled up in front of Tudrow's General Store. He stepped out of the car with the intention of buying a fresh pack of smokes from a local merchant, but was stopped short by a lady cop. A meter maid, he presumed.
"Sir," said the shapely woman in a tailored khaki uniform, "I have to ask you to retrieve your cigarette butt. You're in violation of City Ordinance one-two-five."
Jack stopped with one foot on the sidewalk in front of the general store. "One-two-five, is it?" he echoed, turning. "How careless of me. But never fear. Butt-retrieval is my specialty."
The female officer put her hands on her hips and regarded him coolly. Jack saw that she was packing a serious sidearm on her right hip — not the kind of hardware a mere meter maid would be wearing. He bent down, picked up the still-smoking butt, fieldstripped it and stuck the filter in his pocket. "There," he said, dusting off his hands. "Full compliance with the law. Thank you very much."
"No, sir, not quite," she said. "When you shouted profanity from your car, you violated Ordinance one-zero-six. I'm afraid I'll have to cite you for that. You picked up your butt, but there's no way you can call back your curse word."
"Jesus Christ," he muttered. "You're kidding, right?"
"Sir, your blasphemy is technically a form of profanity. You're just making it worse for yourself."
"No, I was praying, not profaning. As in, 'Jesus Christ, have mercy on this wretched sinner. Amen.'" He punctuated this comment with a wounded grin.
The policewoman removed her hands from her hips and folded her arms across her chest, covering the badge she wore on the upper slope of her bosom. "I advise you not to mock me, sir," she said.
"All right," he said, dropping the ineffectual grin. "Write me up, if you must. I'll just wrangle the fine into my expense account and have the paper pay for it."
She was pulling her citation notebook from her pocket when she suddenly froze and said, "The paper?"
"The Atlanta Gazette. Maybe you've heard of it."
"You're a reporter?" Was that a spark of interest Jack saw in her powder-blue eyes?
"Yes ma'am. Jack Talley, reporter-at-large." He offered his hand; she accepted it and gave it a firm shake. "I'm here to do a story on your Kudzu Man."
With his experienced eye, Jack read uncertainty in the flicker in her eyes and in the twitch of the muscles of her jaw. "When we're through with this citation business, I'd like to ask you a few questions about the local bogeyman."
"I have no official comment on that," she responded — a little too quickly.
"No? Then how about unofficially? As a private citizen, not as an officer of the law." Now it was Jack's turn to pull out his notebook. Maybe she would forget about writing him a ticket.
"It's a hoax," she said. "Somebody's idea of a joke. Then the rumors kicked into high gear and Babylon's weekly newspaper picked up the story because it fits right in with their gossip page. Then the TV people showed up and turned it into a circus. And now here you are. On a wild-goose chase."
Jack smiled as he jotted down her comments in his self-styled shorthand. Then he said, "You're probably right. But if some intrepid reporter actually caught the wild goose, that would be big news indeed. The goose in this case being either the Kudzu Man himself or the perpetrator of the hoax."
"I'll bet you hunted snipe as a boy," she said with a hint of a smile.
"Yes, I did, as a matter of fact. And I caught one. His name was Joe Morgan and he lived to regret trying to get me lost in the woods."
She actually laughed, and Jack decided he could stop worrying about getting a citation for public profanity. "You not wearing a nametag and I need your name for the quote," he told her.
"My name's Eve Arthur, but you can't use it. You'll have to attribute my quote to an anonymous source. Babylon's a very small town and I don't need any new enemies."
"No problem. Well, thank you, Miss Arthur. I appreciate your comments." Jack put away his notebook and started for the entrance of the general store.
"Hold up, Mr. Talley."
"Yes?" He turned to see her tearing a pink sheet from her little book.
"Here's your citation." She stuck it in his hand and said, "Have a nice day."
* * *
Jack took the crumpled ticket from his coat pocket, smoothed it out on the bar next to his glass of vodka and scanned it, noting that the citation didn't even have his home address or driver's license number. It did have his Honda's plate number, and he supposed that would be sufficient for the Babylon Police to track him back to his lair if he didn't pay the fine. He chuckled as he touched the flame of his Zippo to the ticket and set it to burn in the ashtray, imagining Officer Eve Arthur at his door, wearing a gun belt and nothing else.
"Hey! What the hell are you doing?" The bartender with a handlebar mustache glowered at him.
"Sorry," Jack muttered, fanning the smoke. "Accident."
Jack lit another cigarette and said, "Seems that the Kudzu Man has put Babylon on the map, what with all the media attention."
The barkeep scowled. "Made us a laughingstock is what it did. Asa Tudrow shoulda kept his stupid mouth shut."
"What? You mean you don't believe it?" Jack goaded him.
"Tell you what I believe, pal. Something's slaughtering animals around here, but it sure as hell ain't no walking kudzu boogeyman. Ain't no such critter."
Two stools down, a bald man with an egg-shaped physique said, "Tudrow ain't the only one seen it. Old Lady Leatherwood seen it creeping round her chicken coop."
"That old biddy's six crows short of a murder, Bob," the barkeep shot back. "Don't tell me you believe this bullshit, too."
"I'm just saying ..." said Bob, scratching his potbelly.
"So what do you think's killing the animals?" Jack gave the barkeep a conspiratorial wink. "If it's not the Kudzu Man."
"Oh, it's a man all right. A big man, judging by the size of the footprints they found. A man strong enough to take on a Doberman and rip it apart."
"Have to be Superman to do that," offered soft-boiled Bob. "And anyway, them footprints weren't no man's, according to Chief Wallace."
"Don't pay him no mind," said the man behind the bar. "Bob here starts running off at the mouth when he gets a few drinks under his belt." "But why would a man go on a dog-killing spree?" Jack queried, keeping the ball in play.
"Not just dogs," Bob interjected. "He killed Martha Scoggins' goat, and — "
"Because whoever he is, he's one sick son-of-a-bitch," the bartender said, carefully twisting the waxed tip of his mustache.
"Maybe it's a man dressed up in some sort of kudzu costume," Jack suggested. "Or maybe it's the Deep South version of England's Green Man." He was beginning to enjoy the barroom banter. He pulled out his notebook and jotted down a few notes.
"You a reporter or something?" asked the barkeep, eyeing him with suspicion.
"Something like that," he said. "Jack Talley, The Atlanta Gazette."
"You should've said so," said the barkeep. "I don't talk to big city muckrakers." He turned his back and started polishing glasses.
Undaunted, Jack spun on his stool to face Bob. "What about you, Bob? You think it's some kind of monster?"
"Well ... it could be something like a Bigfoot. Folks say there ain't no such thing, but I seen the video on TV. It looked real enough to me. Why couldn't the Kudzu Man be a Bigfoot wearing, like, kudzu vines?"
"Why, indeed," said Jack, snapping his notebook shut and sticking his pen in his pocket. "You gonna use that in the paper?" asked Bob, who was beginning to look more and more like Humpty-Dumpty perched precariously on his stool, inches away from a great drunken fall.
"I just might. It makes as much sense as anything I've heard today."
With a decent buzz-on now, Jack paid his bar tab, left The Huntsman's Bar, and went back to his room in the Babylon Hotel. According to the sepia-toned brochure on the writing table opposite the bed, the "Historic" Babylon Hotel had provided lodgings for such luminaries as FDR, Jimmy Carter and Dolly Parton. Soaking up the musty ambience of the room, Jack decided there was a fine line between historic and seedy.
He sat on the edge of the table, picked up the phone and punched a number he knew by heart. His ex-wife answered on the third ring. "Hello, Ruth. It's me," he said.
"Christ, Jack, now what?" Was she actually hissing at him, or was it simply a bad connection?
"Just wanted to let you know where I am, in case, you know, you needed to reach me."
"Why would I need to reach you?" She was hissing at him.
"If something happened. You know. To Alison."
"Allison's fine, Jack. She's not your baby girl anymore, for Christ's sake. She's an adult."
"I know, I know," he said, wiping at the wetness in the corner of his eye. "Anyway, I'm at the Babylon Hotel in Babylon, Georgia. That little mountain village we drove through on our way to Gatlinburg that time?"
"Okay. You're in Babylon. I'm sure you slouched all the way there. Now please don't call me again, Jack. You know it upsets Ronnie."
Jack tried to laugh, but it came out as a strangled cough. "I miss those off-center literary allusions of yours, Ruth. I believe it's slouching toward Bethlehem, not Babylon."
"Whatever. Goodbye, Jack."
He cradled the receiver and stared at it for a long moment. He was seeing Ruth snuggling up to her new husband, reassuring him that her drunken ex meant nothing to her, reaching her long-fingered hand between his loins ...
Pushing the painful image from his mind, Jack got up, opened his suitcase and found his background notes on kudzu. He flopped on the bed and read over the photocopied page.
Pueraria lobata of the Leguminosae family, the kudzu plant was introduced to the U.S. in 1876. Native to China and Japan, kudzu was used in the U.S. as a source of forage for livestock and as a means of controlling soil erosion. Over the years, however, the viny perennial spread its grasping runners everywhere, overrunning forests, drainage ditches, and climbing and covering anything in its path — including telephone poles. Now most farmers and foresters consider it a nuisance weed and employ herbicides to control its growth.
Jack had always rather liked the look of kudzu. Dead trees covered in kudzu reminded him of giant leaf sculptures and surreal hedge animals. Nature's artwork with a misty, Oriental quality. As he saw it, kudzu was as much a part of the South as red clay, cotton fields and magnolia trees.
But this Kudzu Man crap was not something an old-school reporter like Jack should be wasting his time on. A hard-drinking news hawk like himself should be covering the nitty-gritty down-and-dirty world of city politics and scandals, not this asinine Southern Boogie Bigfoot bullshit.
Who am I kidding? If I were less a booze hound and more a news hound, maybe I'd still have Ruth. And I damn sure wouldn't be here in Boobylon chasing down the particulars of this stupid rural legend. Next time Maxfield yanks my chain, I'll bite my fucking tongue.
He smoked one last cigarette, then tucked himself in with the comforter pulled up to his chin. He woke from a bad dream at three-thirty in the morning with a pounding headache and sheets soggy from a bad case of alcohol sweats. He couldn't get back to sleep, so he watched an old Clint Eastwood movie on cable. At dawn he took a shower, turning the water as hot as he could stand it.
After a few bites of cereal that tasted like cardboard and several cups of black coffee in the hotel's cafe, he read the morning edition of The Atlanta Gazette, and then he went to the local barbershop to get his ears raised and to hear what some of the local yokels were saying about the Kudzu Man. A barbershop was usually a good place for putting your finger on the pulse of the small-town public, but this morning the conversation was stuck in the well-worn groove of politics, sports and weather. When it was Jack's turn in the barber's chair, he broached the subject of the local legend. "What's all this stuff about the Kudzu Man?" he asked the cadaverous barber who smelled of talc and stale cigar smoke.
Excerpted from Devils, Death & Dark Wonders by Randy Chandler, Cheryl Mullenax. Copyright © 2013 Randy Chandler. Excerpted by permission of Comet Press.
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.
Table of Contents
Deadside In Bug City,
Death Comes Calling,
Devil In 206,
Flesh And Word,
The Bone Train,
The Kitchen Witch,
A Witch In Faerie,
At The Edge of The World,
Life After Living Death,
The God of Broken Worlds,
About the Author,