Life has been nothing but smooth sailing for Jason Evans. He has a loving wife, Kayla, a good job, and plenty of friends. There's nothing standing in the way of his happiness, until an unknown enemy starts sending him strange photographs, of a graveyard, with ominous and perplexing messages on the back of each: ‘You are dead. You think you're alive, but you don't exist . . .’ Jason soon finds out that his life is not what he has always believed it to be. He embarks on an incredible search. A search for his own grave.
Dark, tense, and psychologically gripping, Pyrophobia is a fantastic horror story with subtle hints of the paranormal.
|Publisher:||Severn House Publishers|
|Edition description:||First World Publication|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Jack Lance
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2015 Jack Lance
All rights reserved.
Jason Evans was worried. Usually he had scant cause for concern or complaint. But on the day the trouble began, something nagged at him.
On that Monday, July thirteenth, he was making slow progress on a promotion campaign he needed to complete. Was it his client, or was he just having a bad day? Probably both. He had to come up with something original for Tommy Jones's car dealership – or more specifically, for the used-car emporium of the 'Automobile King', a label repugnant to Jason. Tommy Jones had proclaimed himself the king of automobiles and was damn proud of the crown he had placed on his head.
'Genius, ain't it,' Jones this morning had crowed to Jason and his colleagues. 'I should go into advertising myself!'
What new ideas could Jason possibly present to a man for whom, during the past thirty years, every advertising concept imaginable had been cooked up and warmed over, and whose product he detested? Jason's mind wandered back to the days when, as a naive eighteen-year-old, he had bought one of Tommy's second-hand rust buckets. The ageing red Plymouth Road Runner had given up the ghost after only two months. That had been the first and last time he had purchased a car from the Automobile King. And now this auto entrepreneur was his customer, a client with Tanner & Preston, the prestigious Los Angeles advertising agency where Jason worked as an art director.
Of all people, the agency's CEO Brian Anderson had selected Jason to head the team assigned to seal the deal with their newest client who had jumped ship from Foote, Grey & Hardy, a hard-nosed competitor of Tanner & Preston.
Jason brushed strands of unruly black hair from his eyes and stared up at the ceiling, searching in vain for inspiration. But more reveries haunted him instead.
Since forever, or so it seemed, Tommy Jones's dazzling toothpaste-ad-smile had beamed down at him from posters and billboards scattered around town. Today was the first time he had looked the man in the eye and shaken his hand. Tommy, at age sixty-two, had looked a lot different from his public persona. He appeared older, balder and grayer in real life, without Photoshop's false promise of eternal youth. Only his famous grin and plump face – and his indomitable energy – remained the same. He was a short, sturdy little man who stood chin-high to Jason.
'I want something new, something exciting,' Jones had grandly exclaimed during the morning meeting, when he had graced everyone at Tanner & Preston with his presence. 'Make my cars stand out from the competition. Make them more attractive, better looking. Christ, Brian, make them sexy.'
Fuck you, Jason had thought as he sat there, listening, the memory of the rundown piece of crap the Automobile King had sold him assaulting his mind.
Of course, he hadn't said anything derogatory out loud. Tommy Jones carried around a fat wallet and besides, times had changed for Jason. He was far better off financially these days, and the silver metallic Buick LaCrosse CX he was currently driving could not be found on any of Tommy Jones's sales lots. It was too expensive and had too much class, even as a used car.
But since he had assembled his Tommy Jones team, Jason hadn't sketched as much as an outline for a campaign aimed at making the Automobile King's emporium appear sexy – or even viable. His loyal and dependable copywriter, Anthony Wilson, hadn't come up with much usable copy either.
Jason's gaze wandered around and he took note of the desk clock in the shape of two hearts, a birthday gift from his wife Kayla. It was after six o'clock. The other members of the team – Carol, Donald and Anthony – had gone home for the night. He was the last one still at work, and thus had the twenty-fourth floor of the Roosevelt Tower to himself. He stared out the window into the heat and haze of a Los Angeles summer evening. Just four more weeks, he thought, as if with a prayer. Just four more weeks and he and Kayla could finally leave the smog and chaos of this city behind them and immerse themselves in the glorious majesty and intimacy of the Rocky Mountains.
But first he had Tommy Jones to deal with. He sighed with frustration, knowing he wasn't going to pull off a miracle tonight. He stood up and was about to leave his office when George, Tanner & Preston's mail delivery man, entered waving a manila envelope in the air.
'Late delivery,' George said, as he handed Jason the envelope. Without another word, he wheeled around and walked out of the office.
Jason stared at George's broad back as he strode down the long hallway. When he saw the delivery man disappear around a corner, he glanced down at the envelope bearing his name and company's address written in a bold angular script, but with no sender's logo or return address indicated. Frowning, he fished his silver letter opener from the pen stand on his desk and slid open the envelope. Inside he found a Polaroid photograph of a tall, rusty iron gate set between two wide-trunked oak trees. Behind the gate stood rows of gravestones jutting crookedly out of the earth. At first blush it appeared similar to an old graveyard he had once visited in downtown Boston. But on closer inspection this graveyard seemed more unkempt than the one on Tremont Street.
Jason peered into the envelope but saw nothing else inside. His first thought was that Shaun Reilly had sent the photo. It would not have been the first time that Shaun had neglected to add a note. When Jason turned the photograph over, he noticed words on the back written by the same hand.
You are DEAD
He stared at the words, dumbfounded. Then he flipped the photograph back over and studied the gravestones once more.
'What's this?' he mumbled to himself. He flipped to the back again.
The same three words stared back at him.
He was stumped. Struggling to make sense of it, he turned the Polaroid over and over. As he studied the photograph intently, he became convinced of one thing: he had never seen this cemetery. The grass between the headstones was tall; the field surrounding it gave the impression of going to seed; in the background, beyond the graveyard, was a distinct line of small, gnarled trees.
Had Shaun sent him this? No, Jason reasoned; it was not his handwriting. And he would never do anything this morbid. So who had sent it? And why?
He inspected the envelope, but it offered nothing beyond a stamp, his name and his work address. Nor could he make out the postmark, although clearly the letter had been delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.
Jason didn't know what to think. And George was long gone.
He wondered how this letter could have only just arrived. There were no mail deliveries at this hour, were there? As far as he knew, office mail was dropped off early in the morning and again around one thirty in the afternoon. But never at the close of business.
Had George gone home yet? If not, maybe he could shed some light on this mystery. Jason found the extension for the mail room, punched in the three numbers, and let the phone ring a dozen times. No answer. Perhaps, Jason's thoughts whirled, George was still on his way back to the mail room, or maybe on his way out of the building. Acting on that hunch, Jason hurried toward the elevator. It seemed to take forever to reach his floor.
The door hummed open. He stepped inside and pressed the button for the ground floor. The elevator door closed, but only after what seemed like needless delays. It was as if someone was trying to prevent the door from closing by inserting a hand or foot into the opening.
Then, with a barely perceptible jolt, the elevator started its descent. When it reached the ground floor, Jason ran out of it toward the mail room.
'George!' he yelled as he entered the small office, its walls hidden behind stacked-up brown parcels and boxes of paper and stationery. It appeared empty. On a whim, Jason scanned through the neat piles of envelopes and memos on the desk, hoping against hope to find there the solution – or at least a clue – to the mysterious Polaroid. But his search proved fruitless.
God damn it, Jason silently cursed, where was George? Roosevelt Tower had forty-two floors. Going in search of the man seemed a hopeless exercise. His thoughts wandered back to the photograph. Who would do such a thing? Who in heaven's name would go to the trouble of sending him this photo with its bizarre message? It was a sick prank; it made no sense; why then, Jason asked himself, was he so worried?
At that moment George entered the room, surprised to find Jason there.
'Good evening, Mr Evans,' he said, formal as always.
'George, listen,' Jason blurted out, 'I have a question for you. That envelope you handed me in my office. Where did it come from? Who delivered it? The mail truck doesn't usually swing by at this hour, does it?'
'Well,' George said, scratching behind his ear, 'it was in my in-tray. I must have overlooked it earlier.' His bushy brows arched down as he pinched his lips together. 'I could've sworn ...' He shook his head and cast Jason a worried look. 'Was it important? Were you ...' He hesitated. 'Are you all right?'
'What do you mean?' Jason snapped.
'Well, excuse me,' George fumbled. 'But if you don't mind me saying so, you look a mite pale.'
Jason fought to calm himself. George was an endearing sort of guy, a bear of a man who would never hurt anyone. Jason felt guilty for making George apologize to him.
'You only just found it in your in-tray?' he asked in a calmer tone.
George nodded. 'That's right, Mr Evans.'
'And you don't know who put it there?'
'I'm sorry, I don't,' he said contritely. 'I'm always extra careful when I'm sorting mail. Everyone will tell you that. But sometimes something goes wrong and that ...'
He paused and shook his head again.
'I don't understand it, Mr Evans. I could've sworn I had emptied out my in-tray. And then, when I glanced at it a half hour ago, just out of habit, I saw your envelope in it.'
Jason gently gripped the man's shoulder.
'Think carefully, George. Letters don't just appear out of thin air. Someone must have put it there.'
In reply, George hung his head.
'Were you here the whole time?' Jason pressed.
George looked up. 'Not the whole time, Mr Evans. I went out for coffee with Lori. And Mr Albright from Accounting called. I went to his office, as well. He had some questions about our postage expenditures. As you know, he insists on everything tallying up to the last cent. And then—'
'So you were away from your desk a few times,' Jason concluded.
'That's right,' George confirmed.
'And then, suddenly, this letter appeared in your in-tray.'
George nodded. 'That's God's truth, Mr Evans.'
'I believe you, George,' Jason said, releasing his grip. 'Thanks for your help. See you tomorrow.'
Jason returned to his office to see a list of rejected concepts for Tommy Jones's advertising campaign glowing on his computer screen. He ignored them. The king and his clunkers were now in full retreat from the front lines of his consciousness.
He picked up the Polaroid photograph and scrutinized the gate, the headstones and the handwriting. He then slid the photo back into the envelope, tucked it into the inside pocket of his jacket, and grabbed his briefcase. After turning off the computer, he left his office.
You are dead.
Macabre mail. Was this some moron's idea of a joke? Perhaps, but a voice deep within him warned that it wasn't. He felt his face flush. A drop of sweat trickled down his brow. Angrily, he swiped it away.CHAPTER 2
He was awakened by the feel of her hand sliding across his bare chest. Blearily he opened his eyes and found himself looking up into Kayla's sea blue eyes. Her long black hair was mussed and hung down appealingly. Her smile turned the moment soft and endearing.
'Good morning,' she said in that husky, sexy voice of hers. It was her voice that had first drawn him irresistibly toward her.
He pushed himself up on his elbows. 'I see your smile at the crack of dawn, and suddenly I forget to yawn,' he quipped. 'What more could a man want?'
Indeed it was the crack of dawn. The alarm clock on his bedside table registered 6:02.
'Or a woman,' she quipped back.
'You're in a good mood.'
'Of course.' Her smile widened. 'Your deep brown gaze puts me in a daze, and it's your body I craze.'
'The word is "crave", not "craze", and it doesn't rhyme with "daze".'
'It does in my book,' she said, and her hand slid lower.
'Oh good Lord,' he breathed. As his head slumped back against the pillows, she came to him, her long, lithe body hard against him, her mouth open and her tongue searching. Deftly she moved the tips of her fingers to his inner thigh, teasing him, playing with him.
'Your fingers chase away the sleep that lingers,' he whispered in her ear.
'Hmm, not very inspired,' she murmured as her hand found its mark. 'Now this, my dear,is what I call rock-hard inspiration.'
He moaned with pleasure as she squeezed gently.
'Late breakfast today?' Kayla whispered.
'Screw breakfast,' he breathed. 'I'd rather screw you.'
'Then do it, Romeo!'
After showering together, they hurried through the evolutions of getting ready for work.
Kayla served as a management secretary for Demas Electrical, a manufacturer of engine parts. Her boss, Patrick Voight, had told her many times that he would be lost without her – and upset with her when she was late for work.
While she was applying make-up in the bathroom, Jason scrambled a few eggs, heated water for coffee, and popped two slices of wheat bread into the toaster. Their bedroom romps had made him hungry, and he was sure it was the same for her. As he was setting out jam and butter on the table, she came up behind him and hugged him. He turned around. Her hair was still damp, and her cheeks fresh and rosy.
She brushed her lips against his. 'God, how I love you,' she said, from the heart. She gestured at the kitchen table. 'Not only are you a woman's dream in bed, you're a gentleman in the kitchen.'
'I wish I was more like that boss of yours,' Jason allowed. 'You know, I envy him sometimes. You do whatever he tells you to do.'
'Not everything, Jason Evans,' she said, stepping away from his embrace and wagging a finger at him. 'Not by a long shot, and you know it. Some things are just for you. This, for example.' She ran a hand from her ample breasts down to the curve of her thighs.
He reached for her but she spun away.
'No more of that,' she admonished. 'I'm in a hurry. So how's that toast coming? And where's the cutlery? Either give me what I require, or tonight you shall not have what you so desire.'
'Nor shall you, my love, in that case.'
'Oh, yes. That's right. I forgot.'
She smiled at him and sat down.
Jason sat down beside her. 'See what I mean?' he sighed. 'I try my damnedest to organize things around here, to make you happy, and still you give me grief. Isn't it you women who are always complaining that men think you're good for only one thing? That, and cooking and cleaning.'
'Oh, but you're doing such a great job,' she laughed. 'It must be your line of work. You advertising types sure know how to appeal to your target audience.'
'Ah, my sexy target audience,' he said.
'Yeah, but who's complaining? Your product's deft manipulations have once again ensured maximum customer satisfaction. I'm sold on whatever you have to offer.'
'Glad to be of service,' he said in a mock grumble. 'Always good to have a happy customer.' He poured out two cups of coffee. 'Well, if you need cutlery, you know where to find it.'
She arose and started rummaging through the kitchen drawer.
'Another disappointing line,' she teased. 'Your marketing skills need some more work. You're not perfect yet.'
'A man always needs room for improvement.'
Jason plucked two slices of slightly burned bread from the toaster and added, 'By the way, I'm stopping by my father's house after work.'
'Want me to come?'
'Dad probably has everything sorted out for his party, and that means I won't have to do much of anything beyond sitting with him for a while. So unless you're up for a social call, you might as well come straight home. We'll be going there tomorrow anyway, and I won't be long. Just an hour or so.'
They finished their breakfast, cleared the dishes, and then drove in separate cars away from Fernhill, a town nestled in the lush Santa Monica Mountains between Malibu and Santa Monica. Jason had grown up in a town called Cornell, seventeen miles away. Kayla had been born and raised in Palm Springs.
Five years had passed since Jason had bought the house at 160 Cherokee Drive. Truth be told, his father had bought it for him. He knew Jason wanted the house, and so he had purchased it. At the time, Jason had just started working for Tanner & Preston, and the local bank hadn't judged him sufficiently creditworthy to buy the property on his own.
Excerpted from Pyrophobia by Jack Lance. Copyright © 2015 Jack Lance. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Titles by Jack Lance Published by Severn House,
Chapter One: Polaroid,
Chapter Two: Kayla,
Chapter Three: Fuss,
Chapter Four: Edward,
Chapter Five: Doubts,
Chapter Six: Fire,
Chapter Seven: Date of Death,
Chapter Eight: An Old Dream,
Chapter Nine: Dead Ends,
Chapter Ten: Confession,
Chapter Eleven: Torches,
Chapter Twelve: List,
Chapter Thirteen: Noam,
Chapter Fourteen: In the Fire,
Chapter Fifteen: Fire Spirit,
Chapter Sixteen: Mawkee,
Chapter Seventeen: Saddle Peak,
Chapter Eighteen: Mapeetaa,
Chapter Nineteen: Plans,
Chapter Twenty: Mount Peytha City,
Chapter Twenty-One: St James Cemetery,
Chapter Twenty-Two: Chuck,
Chapter Twenty-Three: Funeral,
Chapter Twenty-Four: Separation,
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Chawkins Tragedy,
Chapter Twenty-Six: 'M',
Chapter Twenty-Seven: The Man in Black,
Chapter Twenty-Eight: San Francisco,
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Abduction,
Chapter Thirty: Mitch,
Chapter Thirty-One: Secrets,
Chapter Thirty-Two: Final Resting Place,
Chapter Thirty-Three: Return,
Chapter Thirty-Four: Illusions,