“Well this is new,” Cassey said, and the surrounding walls echoed her words. She felt she should be scared, but after what she had been through already? This was tame in comparison. The portal behind her crackled, spilling violet light into a large room filled with shadows, and sinister shapes. She gave off a little violet light herself, had done for a while now. Cassey felt this should scare her too. In the kingdom of the mad, however, the sane woman was queen.
A laugh, more of a cackle really, escaped her mouth. It echoed and bounced off the walls to impact against…
There were dozens of them, large, brutish-looking horrors the size of bears. They had more limbs than a bear though, more limbs than any creature had the right to possess.
Chef Kaets put down the kitchen towel she had in her hand to answer the phone.
“Hello, Chef Marie Kaets speaking, how can I help you?”
The voice on the other side of the phone dredged up her past by asking for the one thing she would never cook again, no matter the fee they offered. Thinking back, she couldn’t believe she’d ever really done that, but it felt like a lifetime ago. In her defense, she was desperate for money at the time and ultimately felt the experience was worth the risk involved to further her budding career.
“I’m sorry, but you’ve made a mistake. I certainly don’t offer a service like that!”
It was the first snorkeling charter since the big hurricane season, and the safety spiel had gone pretty well. Nobody had had too many margaritas on the way to the reef, just enough to be happy, and the warm, clear water sparkled. The anchor was dropped, customers were paired off as buddies, and in they went. It was a beautiful day. Jimmy Buffett said so on the boat’s stereo system.
Jeffrey hated rules, especially on vacation. It was only six feet of water, clear as air and warm as a bath. He was floating in a world of color and motion. Fuck snorkeling buddies. He waited for his chance and broke away to see something himself.
When you tend a bar, you soon learn that the later it gets, the weirder it gets, and I have had my share of weirdoes. There was that vampire romance writer a few years back – a writer of vampire romances, not a romance writer who was a vampire – and then the guy who claimed he was a special ops agent fighting monsters, and of course, the old lady who drank absinthe and crocheted quotes from Nietzsche onto throw pillows. Then there was this guy, our latest creeper, just before we got shut down. He sat at the dark end of the bar, by himself. He was tall and thin, with exaggerated features, what people used to call gaunt – a real Ichabod Crane type, but with this weird pot belly. He was a quiet sort, nursing his third scotch as we approached the last call. He hadn’t said anything about himself, didn’t really have to, the faded, crude tattoo of digits on his arm spoke volumes. I had been in the business, and in this town long enough to know when to talk to people and when to leave them alone. They all come around to talking, eventually. It’s like a church confessional, with booze, and without the guilt.
Just four days out of Rangoon, the SS Murnow‘s chief cook, a fastidious fellow nick-named “Dutch Pete,” to distinguish him from the Boatswain named “Spanish Pete,” was throwing an unholy fit about the stowaway who had ransacked his galley. Dutch Pete unlimbered a stream of profanity concerning the “heathen stink” he would have to scrub off the countertops and floors before the next meal could be prepared. And he wasn’t wrong. There was a stink all right, 3rd Engineer Bill Webb recognized it right off. It was the stink of the bilge. Down below the engines were all the condensation, engine oil, coal dust, and wastewater from the Murnow‘s coal-fired boiler settled in the bowels of the ship before it was pumped into the ocean. The accumulated filth left a greasy trail on the old ship’s wake.
They left the dining hall by another door and followed Fray Joachim across a paved courtyard and into a chapel. If anything, it was darker within than without, though a single tapered candle guttered in the vestibule. Moving like clumsy puppets, the men shuffled past the friar into the musty darkness of the chapel. They fumbled through layers of heavy sailcloth curtains infested with dry rot and moths; and when they had won through to the lightless cavern, they fumbled blindly for the pews and settled into them.
There was a rustling of heavy wool and a scuffling of leather sandals as the last leaden echoes of the bell dissolved in the air. Fray Joachim’s voice came from the altar, the guttural drone so low and slow that it seemed to take a score of minutes for each syllable to pass his lips.
Jason was facing a tree in his backyard, jumping up and down, seemingly alone. His mother watched him from the kitchen window, finishing up the dishes from last night, and smiled. She used to worry about him being an only child, but she didn’t anymore. He knew how to entertain himself and never seemed lonely. The six-year-old suddenly stopped jumping and clapping his hands before suddenly freezing in place. He stood motionless as if waiting then laughed and spun around three times. Dishes finished Jason’s mother made him lunch as she watched him play, putting his hands on his head, then on his knees, before launching into some jumping jacks. Jason started running in place but stopped, laughing and stomping his feet in frustration before falling onto the grass in exhaustion. Apparently, his game was over.
I don’t know where I was five seconds ago, but it sure as hell wasn’t here.
That was the thought that pounded, and pounded very painfully, through my skull as I stared down at the small porcelain cup sitting only inches from my shaking hand.
My entire body hurt. It was a sharp pulsing pain that started at the base of my skull and coursed all the way down my body before the next wave would start. That didn’t change the fundamental truth of my situation, though. My hand wasn’t shaking because of the fire that was racing across my nerves. My hand was shaking because I sure as hell wasn’t here five seconds ago.
Nadja saw the Strigoi when she went outside to fetch snow to cool Stanoska’s brow. It was riding her one remaining cow, drumming its heels into the mooing, stumbling animal’s heaving sides and bending low to snap and nuzzle at her straining neck. The full moon shone on the snow, providing more than enough light to make out the revenant’s darkly discolored face, its bloated naked body. She thought it was Stavra the Miller, one of the first to die from the plague, but she wasn’t sure. Stavra had been a thin man, and the Strigoi, like all its kind, was swollen with the blood it had taken from the living. She knew better than to call out for it to leave the cow alone, for that would surely bring it to her doorstep after her. Instead, she quickly turned around and went back inside, not forgetting to scoop some snow into her bucket.
Prologue: The Madness of Herbert West
Madness is a terrible thing, and an even worse thing to be accused of, particularly if one knows for a certainty that one is truly not mad. I suppose it is the nature of madness to deny being mad, but this was the situation in which my colleague Herbert West found himself. I did what I could to defend him, but the military tribunal would hear none of it, and threatened me with arrest as well, suggesting that I may have not been a simple bystander, but rather a co-conspirator in the rampage that left one of our colleagues dead.