"Kirk’s suspenseful and terror-driven novel employs supernatural elements to capitalize on the dread and horror of reality... [his] handling of visceral horror and human drama make for an immersive tale." - Publisher's Weekly
You don’t read the book. It reads you.
Rumors of a deadly book have been floating around the dark corners of the deep web. A disturbing tale about a mysterious figure who preys on those who read the book and subjects them to a world of personalized terror.
Jesse Wheelerformer guitarist of the heavy metal group The Rising Deadwas quick to discount the ominous folklore associated with the book. It takes more than some urban legend to frighten him. Hell, reality is scary enough. Seven years ago his greatest responsibility was the nightly guitar solo. Then one night when Jesse was blackout drunk, he accidentally injured his son, leaving him permanently disabled. Dreams of being a rock star died when he destroyed his son's future. Now he cuts radio jingles and fights to stay clean.
But Jesse is wrong. The legend is realand tonight he will become the protagonist in an elaborate scheme specifically tailored to prey on his fears and resurrect the ghosts from his past.
Jesse is not the only one in danger, however. By reading the book, you have volunteered to participate in the author’s deadly game, with every page drawing you closer to your own personalized nightmare. The real horror doesn’t begin until you reach the end.
That’s when the evil comes for you.
FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing. Launching in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.
About the Author
Brian Kirk is an author of dark thrillers and psychological suspense. His debut novel, We Are Monsters, was released in July 2015 and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in a First Novel.
His short fiction has been published in many notable magazines and anthologies. Most recently, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories and Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders, where his work appears alongside multiple New York Times bestselling authors, and received an honorable mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year compilation.
During the day, Brian works as a freelance marketing and creative consultant. His experience working on large, integrated advertising campaigns for international companies has helped him build an effective author platform, and makes him a strong marketing ally for his publishing partners. In addition, Brian has an eye for emerging media trends and an ability to integrate storytelling into new technologies and platforms.
While he’s worked to make this bio sound as impressive as possible, he’s actually a rather humble guy who believes in hard work and big dreams. Feel free to connect with him through one of the following channels. Don’t worry, he only kills his characters.
Bram Stoker Award Nominee: Superior Achievement in a First Novel - 2015
Read an Excerpt
The book was the last thing on my mind when I got to the gig that night. Though something should have triggered my memory when I saw Solomon. The burn mark creeping up through the collar on his neck. That goddamn glint in his eye.
"Jesse, my man!" he hollered when he saw me enter the hazy room. Solomon's a dour asshole, not the jolly chum welcoming me like some hero returning from war. "How you been?"
We clasped hands, exchanged an awkward hug. He was hot. That could have been another clue. His chest and back were radiating like he was running a high-grade fever, but I blamed it on the summer heat. Nervous excitement before the show.
Caspian was already at the bar, downing what appeared to be his third shot of Jameson. Two dead soldiers were sprawled on the bar in front of him and I knew what that meant, the kind of night it prophesized. Caspian with a bottle of whiskey was more ominous than a clown in a dark alley. And the flashbacks it produced almost made me turn and walk back out the door.
Not that leaving would have mattered. I was screwed no matter what I did next.
The little reunion was brief. We hadn't played together in a decade but we'd all kept in touch. Caspian still tooled around — had a sycophant fan base that followed him wherever he went. Solomon had gone in with a merchandise company, selling concert shirts and bumper stickers and other crap tchotchkes. Kevin's been working as a sound engineer at a reputable studio, making decent money from what I understand.
I've been ... well, I'll get to that, I guess.
I'd arrived just before the show was supposed to start in order to avoid the pre-game festivities. The temptation was still too strong. I know my limits and avoidance is the best way for me to stay clean. Not that the Full Moon Saloon has a backstage greenroom where the heavy stuff goes down. But, still. One slipup and I could kiss the last seven years goodbye. Why take the chance?
The bar manager signaled it was time and we made our way to the stage and got our instruments set up. Solomon took a seat and thumped the bass drum, pattered the snare. Kevin positioned himself on the right-hand side of the stage, me on the left. The guitar strap felt snug on my shoulder, my Jim Root Telecaster thrummed in my hands. And it all came flooding back through me in that moment. That otherworldly energy that comes when the amp is turned on and the audience is tuned in — even in half-empty dives like this.
Caspian, standing center stage, stomped his foot to the beat of the bass drum. Then, right on cue, threw his fist in the air and for the first time in ten years summoned the dead to rise. A chorus of drunken howls came from the meager crowd, the faithful few who had come to watch their favorite cult band from an era they hardly remembered.
I turned to Caspian and grinned at the absurdity of what I saw. The greying hairs sprouting from his armpit were fluttering like the tentacles of some diseased sea anemone. Ten years ago he would have been shirtless, oil glistening off his rock-star abs. But tonight he was wearing a tank top to conceal his sagging gut and fleshy breasts. At least the pentagram printed on the front of his shirt reinforced the rage that still existed in his ageless heart. And the ink on his arm sleeves remained as bright as fresh blood.
Solomon was now pounding the foot pedal, a ritualistic war beat that counted down to showtime. Three, two, one....
I strummed the guitar as hard as I could; a single downstroke that turned time back ten years, blasting a chord of distortion so loud it caused one of our old roadies, Sam Holt, to stumble back and drop his beer. Sam had been fired from three jobs, ditched by two wives, and lost the bus keys more times than I could count. But this was the first time I'd ever seen beer slip though his veteran hands.
We opened the set with 'Coffin Dust', a power ballad about unrequited love that Caspian had written after being dumped his sophomore year in high school. It was a lewd metaphor for what his ex-girlfriend was like in bed. Lance Caspian, always the class act. Next came 'Within a Cage of Hate'. There are no lyrics to this one, only screams and guttural howls. The guitar riff is basically me raking my pick across the E string as fast as I can while Kevin drops bombs with his bass.
I spread my legs and hunkered down, assuming the pose I had always imagined striking in front of an arena filled with screaming fans. That had never come to fruition. This would have to do.
Still, it felt damn good.
The crowd had loosened up by the third song, the sixty-or-so people who were scattered around the stage. Old metal-heads from the Eighties. Still wearing their black concert shirts tucked into too-tight jeans. Heads banging on rigid necks. Clinging to whatever hair they had left. Arms raised riotously in the air, fingers forked in devil horns.
Fuck yeah, I thought. The dead rise again.
Time grew elastic around the sixth song, and a calmness descended upon me like the eye of a deadly storm. Peace inside fury. My happy place. I stood in this pocket of tranquility watching sweat fly from our old fans, their faces contorted into angry sneers of post-hormonal rage.
The burn in my arm had faded several songs ago. I could play all night if needed. In fact, given how the last ten years had gone, that was exactly what I needed. Needed it more than I had known. And, for the briefest moment, I didn't even miss the booze, or mind being at a bar. Even a shit shack like this.
We were nearing our ninth, and final, song when I first saw the chick three rows back, watching me, trying to catch my eye, swaying her hips so hypnotically it could have put a venomous snake to sleep. She smiled when she saw me looking and began to raise her shirt, a faded halter top with our old logo on the front. A fetid zombie crawling up from the earth. RISING DEAD etched across the leaning tombstone behind. Solomon sells these now for $14.99.
She raised her shirt in slow, incremental spurts, teasing me, incorporating the movement into the gyrating way that she danced. She was much younger than everyone else, still in her twenties. Which may have put her around seventeen or so when we'd split up. I wondered which of us she'd slept with. Wasn't me, I would have remembered. That was part of what had brought the whole thing crashing down, anyway. Some one-night stands last a lifetime, I've learned.
Her stomach was flat and tight, with a vertical crease down the middle. Tan. She had a steel stud pierced through her navel and, as I saw when she licked her lips, another through her tongue. She swayed her hips, childbearing hips, the old man in me mumbled, and raised the shirt further to reveal the swollen underside of her breasts. Just a couple of inches more and the baby feeders would be shown.
That's the worst part about having a kid. Tits take on new context.
Her eyelids closed as she yanked the shirt up and over her chest, the fabric snagging for a second on her nipples. I flubbed my next chord but didn't care. We were just producing one big soundgasm at that point anyway. A cacophony of discordant noise designed to invoke chaos. To shatter the walls of what had become our structured lives.
Caspian's voice was fading and starting to crackle, which was just as well. We were building towards the final climax. No encore tonight, we had decided to leave it all on stage. Blow it out in one ecstatic set that would leave everyone dazed and trembling on the floor.
We all pounded our instruments as hard as we possibly could and then quit at the exact same time, letting the combined sound crash against the walls. My eyes were shut, imagining a sea of people. When I opened them, reality hit. Half the crowd had left, the few remaining howled as the last notes faded and feedback screeched from the amps. An anti-climactic conclusion to a show ten years in the making. That's another thing I've learned: we never fully live the dream.
Sure, it may not have been everything I imagined, but it was still mighty fine. And as I looked out on the die-hards who had stuck around, seeing the girl who had flashed me still swaying and batting her eyes, the only regret I had was that we couldn't do it again. This was the final chapter, the last act.
The stage manager cut the show lights and brightened the ones over the bar. The spattering applause petered out and those left turned to stake claims on empty stools.
Caspian stepped beside me. "Tore their fucking arses open," he said, speaking with the affected British accent he had adopted years ago to sound more like Lemmy.
My ears were muffled and ringing. We'd likely given tinnitus to half the crowd. "Fuck yeah, man. Buried 'em in their graves."
I turned to see Solomon smiling while slowly twirling a drumstick with a faintly dazed look like he'd just been lobotomized. On the far right, Kevin had set the bass guitar down and was bent over talking to a frizzy-haired blonde with cleavage deeper than the Grand Canyon. She could have been anywhere from thirty-five to fifty, which was fine for Kevin. His type was anything with a hole.
"You still off the sauce?" Caspian asked.
I set my guitar in its stand, taking a moment to collect myself. It was a stupid question. Then again, Caspian was a stupid man.
"Yeah man. Seven years now."
"Shame," Caspian said, shaking his head. His pale scalp shone through the threads of his long, slicked-back hair. "But, on the other hand, we still get one more round on the house. I'll take yours."
"Knock yourself out."
I stayed on stage as Caspian led the others down and started cleaving a path towards the bar. People patted their backs as they walked by, bleated at them with loose smiles and bleary eyes. This had been our lives once. Crammed into a filthy bus, crawling from town to town, blasting the eardrums off rowdy drunks in dirty, half-filled bars. And I had loved every minute of it. But that time was over now.
Except for tonight.
In this rank hall of misfits, the dead had risen again.
I took one last look from atop the stage and then stepped down. Mortal, once more.CHAPTER 2
The bar smelled like pickled eggs and stale piss, which produced a stinging nostalgia. These were my favorite haunts. Places where you could be your most derelict self and no one gave a shit. I closed my eyes and let the babble of conversation reverberate inside my ears, catching snippets within the general drone. It was a soothing sound, mindless. It conjured memories from the countless hours spent in rooms just like this one, hunched over a cold, sweaty mug of pale yellow beer. Watching sports highlights on blurry screens while the mind melds into the babble of talk so much like a gurgling river. Flowing with whiskey.
The crack of gunfire startled me, and I looked up to see a line of people slamming empty shot glasses down against the bar.
"Keep 'em coming!" Caspian shouted, throwing his arm around the woman on his right. A roar of approval followed, and the bartender turned a bottle of Fireball upside down.
Tastes like heaven, burns like hell.
Takes you to hell, too.
Solomon peeled away from the bar, his eyes watering, and shouldered his way towards me.
"This must suck for you," he said, eyeing my soda water with mild disgust.
"Eh, what are you going to do?" "Is it hard?"
I took a sip. It tasted like corroded metal. "Man, everything's hard."
"For sure." Solomon's once-white concert shirt had yellowed around the collar and under the arms and was now a half-size too small. "Booze makes it easier, though."
I still hear the screams from that night years before. Hers, mine. I swear they get louder and clearer every time they enter my mind. "Not for me. For me, it makes everything much harder."
"Yeah. ..." Solomon drifted off, his eyes losing focus as he watched his thoughts. There's nothing more terrifying to a drunk than someone going dry.
Caspian walked up holding two beers; the cling-on he'd left watched wistfully from the bar. He handed one to Solomon.
"Cheers, mates," he said, and we all clinked glasses; me admittedly feeling like a lame third wheel. Caspian took down nearly half his Miller Lite in three gulps.
"Anyone seen Kevin?" Solomon asked.
Caspian's laugh expelled halitosis. "Saw him take some hood rat outside for a good rutting. Ain't nothing changed with that one."
He looked at me with a scowl of disappointment. "What about you?" he said. "What's it like imprisoned behind a white picket fence?"
I felt the heat rise to my face. "Shit, my life's good, man. Living the American Dream."
Caspian slapped Solomon on his back just as he was taking a sip, creating another stain on his filthy shirt. "More like a fucking nightmare. Cutting jingles for commercials, right? How's that for rock 'n roll."
"Yeah, at least it pays."
"Sure it does. That's why they call it selling out."
Crushing ice cubes between my teeth helped calm me some, but not enough. Strangulation may have done the trick.
"Hey!" Caspian backhanded me in the stomach, and it hurt. "I'm just fucking with you, mate! I don't care if you turn into Mickey fucking Mouse. If it works for you, if you're truly happy, then that's great. You weren't getting anywhere as a lush, that's for sure."
Caspian and his backhanded compliments. I would have preferred warm spit to the fizzy water in my glass, but I took another sip. Anything to fill my mouth with something other than the words that wanted to spill out.
In retrospect, it hadn't been the partying and Cassie's pregnancy that broke up the band. It had been Caspian.
Solomon's eyes were glazed and unfocused. He must have taken something as soon as the show ended, if not before. Then I remembered the book. "Hey man, I read that book you told me about."
Solomon didn't seem to hear me. He was slowly nodding his head as though envisioning some drum solo he never got to play. His black hair plastered to his face with sweat. An oily sheen that smelled vaguely musty and made his face look like warm cheese.
"Dude." I elbowed his arm. "You in orbit?"
A doughy man in a Slayer shirt walked up and tried to enter the conversation, but Caspian boxed him out. We were standing in a loose triangle, and we each took a step forward to close it in. Amidst the drunken mayhem, it had a ceremonial feel. The tightening of a knot.
"Dude!" I yelled right into Solomon's face. "Wake the fuck up."
He blinked from surprise. "What? What's up?"
Caspian was surveying the room in search of better prospects, but I could tell he was listening.
"That book." I enunciated each word slowly and carefully as though speaking to my brain-damaged son. "The one you told me about. I read it."
"Oh." Solomon's face slickened with a fresh coat of oily sweat. "What'd you think?" I shrugged. "Felt bad for that girl. Pretty grim little read."
"Yours had a girl?"
My phone began vibrating against my leg. I could faintly hear the harmonic opening to 'Welcome Home Sanitarium' through the fabric of my jeans. I checked, it was Cassie calling. Normally this would have annoyed me, but I actually felt relieved.
I plugged my outside ear and listened. "Yo, babe. What's up?"
"Hey! How was it?"
Caspian was still listening. That big, droopy, perforated ear angled towards me like a satellite dish. I cupped my mouth for privacy.
"Uh. ... Good, babe." In my mind I saw the woman lifting her shirt, her pert nipples vibrating like doorstop springs. "A little rusty. But a good time, nonetheless. Crowd had fun."
"Of course they did." I could hear Cassie's smile. Could see her perfect, ivory teeth, which were impervious to stain. I wondered if her cravings were still as bad as mine. If so, she hid them well. Seemed to get high off motherhood instead. Her fix coming from morning cuddles, nightly baths, and innocent 'I love yous'.
For me, fatherhood had felt more like a constant come down.
"I'm so happy you were able to do that," Cassie said. "You needed it."
The fog of cigarette smoke was thick, but not enough to account for the stinging wetness in my eyes. "Yeah, well...."
"So, how much later will you be out? I mean, how are you holding up?"
I peered through the dregs of soda water to the bottom of my glass. The burgundy floor was a dime-shaped blur. A hungry black hole with a gravity field that would never stop pulling until it sucked me back in, leaving only a burp behind.
I uncupped my mouth and spoke louder than necessary so that Caspian could hear me. "Yeah, I can shut it down. I'll be —"
His hand shot out like an angry mongoose and snatched the phone. "Is this the lovely Cassie Wheeler? How are you, my dear?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Will Haunt You"
Copyright © 2019 Brian Kirk.
Excerpted by permission of Flame Tree Publishing Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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