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Dark Whispers: An Anthology in Terror

17 stories from today's modern masters of fright! Douglas Clegg, Stephen Dedman, Yvonne Navarro, Gary A. Braunbeck, Michael Laimo, Brian Hodge, Stephen M. Rainey, Nancy Kilpatrick and others.... In Douglas Clegg's "265 and Heaven" meet Fazzo, who holds the key to a very special doorway. A heaven like none anyone has ever seen, and that only a select few are permitted to enter. But not without a price. In Stephen M. Rainey's "Moving Pictures ... Still Life" we find a young girl, brought up amidst religion, who must now face the devil himself for what she has ultimately chosen as destiny. Yvonne Navarro gives us an understanding why some things are better left dead, and Nancy Kilpatrick goes deep into the mind of a savage killer. These tales will leave you teetering on edge, a heavy sense of dread weighted in your gut. And from out of the shadows, ever faintly, there are whispers carrying on the wind, calling out to you. Dare to look inside.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release


Ivan S. Graves

Ivan S. Graves is the senior editor of the popular online horror fiction magazine, FrightNet Online ( http://www.frightnet.com ). He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he is currently working on another anthology.

Reviews

"Yes, I do recommend this book. . It contains twisting, engrossing, thought provoking and emotionally charged stories. There are stories you'll love, like, and maybe not like at all, I suspect your choices will be different than mine."

Christine I. Speakman -- Goblin Muse


"From award-winning authors to an editor who knows his business, Dark Whispers is a horror-lover's banquet, seventeen morsels to be shivered over and savored. The stories are varied, well-written, highly imaginative, and truly frightening. It's apparent that Mr. Graves skimmed the cream for this one--it is an outstanding collection of tales that I am sure, as it says on the title page, Scared Ivan." They certainly scared me--but I couldn't stop reading. Highly Recommended!"

Under the Covers Book Reviews


5 Stars!

"A great group of writers has been gathered by Ivan S. Graves in this masterful anthology. Each story is a self-contained masterpiece. Kudos to Ivan S. Graves for putting this incredible collection together. Booty from the other Genres."

Affaire de Coeur
Excerpt

265 AND HEAVEN, Douglas Clegg

ICE CREAM MAN, Sean Logan

THE SERVICE OF THE DEAD, Stephen Dedman

THE LAYOVER, Michael Laimo

WHAT TURNS YOU ON?, David Niall Wilson

MOTHBALLED, Elizabeth Engstrom

REBIRTH, Dominick Cancilla

THAT'S WHAT LITTLE GIRLS ARE MADE OF, Bob Schmalfeldt

WHICH IMAGE AM I?, Richard Wright

PHALLUSIES, Brian Hodge

THE ENDLESS MASQUERADE, Brian A. Hopkins

GENERATION WHY, Nancy Kilpatrick

REQUIEM IN BLUEGRASS, Steven Lee Climer

DAD BRINGS A DEADER HOME, Yvonne Navarro

IPHIGENIA, Gary A. Braunbeck

A SORT OF HOMECOMING, Michael Kelly

MOVING PICTURES...STILL LIFE, Stephen M. Rainey

Introduction, Ivan S. Graves

YOU SETTLE SNUGLY into your favorite chair. The room is dimly lit (something your mother might have scolded you for in another time, proclaiming you'd wreck your eyes), and in your hands lies the key to another world. Something that defies the time-honored definitions of the traditional norm. Something that, with the right ingredients, and coupled with the outer-lying elements of mood and atmosphere, serves as a terrifying reminder that much in our world is unknown ... and yet closer to truth than we might have otherwise been led to believe.

Those of us who take these fanciful tales into our world heed to the faint messages whispered to us from the dark side, and it's whispering to us all the time. Calling to us.

It is of course, books to which I'm referring. In particular, the horror story.

Horror has captured the hearts and minds--and for some, perhaps even the souls--of generation after generation, and across all borders. Tales of mischief and mayhem. Of bogeymen and vampires. Of little green men from Mars, and of dolls who have an uncanny penchant for flesh. Grandfathers told grandchildren, grandchildren told their children. They lie, almost hidden, throughout our lives. In the soft, comforting tone of our mother's voice as she sang to us--of falling cradles and the following babies they held. In our nursery tales, carefully riddled as to not to clearly define the doom at hand ... Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs. And each night, before we snuggled beneath the warmth of our covers, we'd pray to the lord that if we should die before we wake that it would be He, and not the Devil, who took our souls. It is a world where everything is ever possible, anything wholly plausible, so long as one main capacity thrives in the heart of the reader.

Belief in the possibility.... It is, perhaps, the quintessential ingredient. You must tear away every fundamental teaching, every thread of reality as you know it and allow that sometimes things are not always as they seem. That sometimes things happen for which there can truly be no logical explanation. You have to believe, even for just a moment, that monsters most certainly do exist, that the living-dead have left scratchings in the roof of their coffins to walk, lurking in the dead of night, perhaps searching for a return to life, perhaps searching for the essence of yours ... that sometimes dolls do kill.

Arguably the world's most popular, and undeniably the world's biggest seller, is Stephen King. Of course he would be mentioned somewhere within the fabric of this anthology. His contribution to the genre, and to the ability of millions to believe will be forever affirmed. He is also, perhaps, the world's biggest believer in all things, however fantastical. Such attributes have allowed him to see past the haze at what lies in wait there ... if only you take the time to look. To see through the darkness and define the distorted shapes and images that appear before you.

...and listen to the whispers.

And that is exactly what you will find here. Believers. People whose lives have been touched by the seemly impossible. Those who walk amongst the dark to chronicle its inner workings. You'll find doorways to heaven, pilots under siege by dark forces, dead things that walk amongst the living, and a plethora of people willing to go to great lengths to make their world your world.

So turn out the lights, kick back, we've got a long road ahead of us. The darkness awaits....

265 And Heaven by Douglas Clegg

The first selection comes from an author who has delivered many a shiver to terror hungry horror fans. Over the years Douglas Clegg has authored seven novels, including "Bad Karma" writing as Andrew Harper, "Halloween Man," and has appeared in the "Years Best Fantasy and Horror," edited by Ellen Datlow and Terry Windling, a number of times--his most recent the 1998 "I Am Infinite; I Contain Multitudes." He currently calls the coast of Connecticut home.

1

WHAT DO WE all live for? the bird asks. This. A glimpse of heaven.

2

THE TOWN AT night seemed all crumbling brick and leaky gutters, alleyways washed clean by the summer rain, the stink of underground swamp, and grease from burger joints in the air. He was always on shift at night, and so it was the town he grew to know: the rain, the steam, the smells, the red brown of bricks piled up to make buildings, the hazy white of street lamps. The same haunted faces downtown at night--the lonely crowd, the happy crowd, the people who went from diner to movie to home without walking more than a few feet, the kids in their souped-up cars, the old men walking with canes, the brief flare of life in the all-night drug stores.
All of it he saw, and it was for him the world.
But then one night, he saw something else.

It began as a routine call about an old drunk out at the trash cans. Paul was six-months new to the uniform, having only seen a couple of drug busts of the non-violent variety and one DUI. It was that kind of town--one murder in the past six years, and one cop killed in the line of duty since 1957. He and his little sister had lived there five years, and picked it because it was fairly quiet and calm, a good hospital, good visiting nurses' association, and no one to remember them from nine years before. He had been a security guard back in St. Chapelle right after college, but it had been his dream to be a cop, and now he was, and it was good, most nights. Most nights, he and his partner just trolled the streets for small-time hookers and signs of domestic violence. Sometimes they arrived too late at a jumper out on the Pawtuxet Bridge. Sometimes, they watched the jump.

Paul couldn't shake the vision of his head of the kid who had jumped two weeks ago. Damn lemmings, some of these kids were. Just wan-ting to get out of town so bad they couldn't wait for the bus.

"Some guy's over in front of the Swan Street apartments knocking over cans and covered with blood," the smooth voice of the dispatcher said.

"Christ," Paul muttered. "Swan Street. Why does everything seem to happen over there?" He glanced at his watch. Nearly midnight.

His partner, Beth, sighed and shook her head when the call came from dispatch. "I bet I know this guy," she said, "Jesus, I bet it's this old clown."

She turned left at Wilcox, and took two quick rights until they were on Canal Road. The night fairly steamed with humidity, and the sky threatened more rain. Paul wiped the back of his neck, feeling the slickness.

"He used to be with the circus, a real carny-type." As she spoke, Beth managed to reach across the dash, grab a cigarette from the pack, thrust it between her lips and punch in the lighter while still keeping her eye on the road. "He spends half the year God knows where and then comes back here in the summer. We had to ship him out twice last year."

"What a night," Paul said, barely hiding the disgust in his voice. The flat-topped brick buildings, dim blue windows, dark alleys of downtown bled by as he looked out the window.The streets were dead.

When Beth pulled the patrol car to the curb, Paul saw him. A fringe of gray hair around a shiny bald scalp, the checkered shirttail flapping, the saggy brown pants halfway down his butt. The guy stood beneath the streetlamp, his hands over his crotch.

"He jerking off or what?" Beth asked, snorting.

"Poor old bastard," Paul said. "Can we get him to the station?"

"Easy," she said, "you just tell him we're taking him for some free drinks." As she opened her door, she shouted, "Hey! Fazzo! It's your friend!"

The old man turned, letting go of his crotch. He hadn't been masturbating; but a dark stain grew where he'd touched. He cried out, "Friends? My friends!" He opened his arms as if to embrace the very darkness beyond the streetlamp.

Paul got out, too, and jogged over to him. "Buddy, what you up to tonight?"

Looking at his uniform, the guy said, "I don't got nothing against cops. Believe you me. Cops are gold in my book."

Paul turned to Beth, whispering, "His breath. Jesus."

She gave him a look like he was being less than professional. He was new enough to the job to not want to get that kind of look.

The guy said, "I just been having a drink."

"Or two," Beth said. "Look, Fazzo..."

"Fazzo the Fabulous," the guy said, and did a mock-spin."The greatest magician in the tri-state area."

"We got to take you to another bar."

"You buying?" he asked her.

"Yeah sure. You got a place up here?" Beth nodded towards the flophouse apartments beyond the streetlamp.

Fazzo nodded. "Renting it for thirty-five years. Number 265."

Paul shined his flashlight all over Fazzo. "I don't see any blood on him."

"It's the piss," Beth whispered, "someone reported it as blood. It happens sometimes. Poor old guy."

Beth escorted Fazzo to the car. She turned and nodded towards Paul; he took the signal. He went over to the back staircase. The door was open. He walked inside--the carpeting was damp and stank of mildew. A junkie sat six steps up, skinny to the bone, leaning against the peeling wallpaper, muttering some junkie incantation. Paul stepped around him. The hallway above was narrow, its paint all but stripped off by time. The smell of curry--someone was cooking, and it permeated the hall.

When he got to 265, he knocked. The door was already ajar, and his fist opened it on the first knock.

There was a light somewhere to the back of the apartment. Paul called out to see if anyone was there. He gagged when he inhaled the fetid air.

All he could see were shadows and shapes, as if the old guy's furniture had been swathed in dropcloths. He felt along the wall for the light switch. When he found it, he turned on the light. It was a twenty-five watt bulb which fizzled to life from the center of the living room ceiling. Its light barely illuminated the ceiling itself. The chairs and couch in the room were covered with old newspapers, some of them damp from urine. The old man hadn't even bothered to make it to the bathroom anymore. There was human excrement behind the couch. Empty whiskey bottles along the floor in front of the television set.

Paul didn't notice the strong stink once he'd stayed in the apartment for a few minutes.

Beth arrived at that point. "I got him cuffed, not that he needs it. He fell asleep as soon as I sat him down in the car. Jesus!" She covered her mouth and nose. "I thought he'd been living on the street." Her eyes widened as she took in the other sights.

"Look at this," Paul pointed to the windowsill, shining his flashlight across it.

It was black with dead flies, two or three layers thick.

He continued on to the kitchen. "Should I open the fridge, you think?"

"Sure," Beth said. "Looks like Fazzo the Fabulous is going to end up in state hospital for awhile. What the hell?" She picked something up off a shelf and held it up. "Paul, look at this."

In her hands, what looked like a wig with long, thin hair. "You think Fazzo steps out on Saturday night in pearls and pumps?"

Paul shook his head, and turned back to the refrigerator. He opened the door, slowly. A blue light within it came on. The refrigerator was stacked three trays high with old meat--clotted steaks, green hamburger, what looked like a roast with a fine coating of mold on it. "Shit," he said, noticing the flies that were dead and stuck against the wet film that glazed the shinier cuts of meat. "This guy's lost it. He's not just a drunk. He needs serious help."

Beth walked into the bathroom, and started laughing.

"What's up?" he asked, moving around the boxes in the kitchen.

Paul glanced to the open door.

The bathroom light was bright.

"It's clean in here. It's so clean you can eat off it. It must be the one room he never goes in." Beth leaned through the open doorway and gestured for Paul to come around the corner. "This is amazing."

Paul almost tripped over a long-dead plant as he made it over to where she stood.

The bathroom mirror was sparkling, as was the toilet, the pink tiles. Blue and pink guest soap were laid out in fake seashells on either side of the brass spigots of the faucet.

Written in lipstick on the mirror: a phone number.

For a second, he thought he saw something small and green skitter across the shiny tiles and dive behind the shower curtain. A lizard?

Paul went to pull the shower curtain aside, and that's when he found the woman's torso.

3

PAUL WASHED HIS face six times that night, back at the sheriff's office. He wished he hadn't found it, he wished it had been Beth, or some other cop, someone who could take that kind of thing. It was the sort of image he had only seen in forensics textbooks, never in living color, never that muddy rainbow effect, never all the snake-like turns and twists ... he had to put it out of his mind. He did not want to think about what was left of the woman in the tub.

He had not seen her face, and he was glad. She wasn't entirely human to him without a face.

Her name was Shirley. Fazzo the Fabulous told him. "Shirley Chastain. She was from the Clearwater District. She ran a dry cleaners with her mother. I thought she was a nice sort of girl right up until I cut her. I dug deep in her. She had a gut like a wet velvet curtain, thick, but smooth, smooth, smooth. She had a funny laugh. A tinkly bell kind of laugh." He had sobered up and was sitting in county jail. Paul stood outside his cell with the county coroner, who took notes as Fazzo spoke. "She had excellent taste in shoes, but no real sense of style. Her skin was like sponge cake."

"You eat her skin?" The coroner asked.

Hell, no. I'm not some damn Jeffrey Dahmer wannabe. I mean it felt like sponge cake. The way sponge cake used to be, like foam, like perfect foam when you pull it apart." He kneaded the air with his fingers. "I'm not a freakin' cannibal."

Paul asked, "You were a clown or something? Back in your circus days, I mean?"

"No, sir. I wasn't anything like that. I was the world's greatest magician. Even Harry Blackstone told me, when I was a kid, he said, 'Fazzo, you're gonna be the biggest, you got what it takes.' Didn't mean shit, but my oh my it sure did feel good to hear it from him."

"I guess you must've been something," Paul said.

Fazzo glanced from the coroner to Paul. "Why you here, kid? You busted me. What are you gawking for?"

"I don't know," Paul said. "You kind of remind me of my dad I guess." It was a joke; Paul glanced at the coroner, and then back at Fazzo. Last time Paul saw his dad, his dad's face was split open from the impact of the crash.

"Shit," the old guy dismissed this with a wave. "I know all about your old man, kid. It's like tattoos on your body. Everybody's story is on their body. Dad and Mom in car wreck, but you were driving. Little sister, too, thrown out of the car. I see it all, kid. You got a secret don't you? That's right, I can see it plain as day. You shouldn'ta never gone in 265, cause you're the type it wants. You're here because you got caught."

"I got caught?"

"You went in 265 and you got caught. I pass it to you, kid. You get the door-prize."

"You're some sick puppy," Paul said, turning away.

Fazzo shouted after him, "Don't ever go back there, kid. You can always get caught and get away. Just like a fish on the hook. Just don't fight it. That always reels'em in!" Paul glanced back at Fazzo. The old man's eyes became slivers. "It's magic, kid. Real magic. Not the kind on stage or the kind in storybooks, but the real kind. It costs life sometimes to make magic. You're already caught, though. Don't go back there. Next time, it's you." Then Fazzo closed his eyes, and began humming to himself as if to block out some other noise.

It sickened Paul further, thinking what a waste of a life. What a waste of a damned life, not just the dead woman, but this old clown. Paul said, "Why'd you do it?"

Fazzo stopped his humming. He pointed his finger at Paul and said, "I was like you, kid. I didn't believe in anything. That's why it gets you. You believe in something, it can't get you. You don't believe, and it knows you got an empty space in your heart just waiting to be filled. You believe in heaven, kid?"

Paul remained silent.

"It's gonna get you, then, kid. You got to believe in heaven if you want to get out of 265."

Then, Fazzo told his story. Paul would've left, but Fazzo had a way of talking that hooked you. Paul leaned against the wall, thinking he'd take off any minute, but he listened.

4

I WAS FAMOUS, kid, sure, back before you were born, and I toured with the Seven Stars of Atlantis Circus, doing some sideshow shit like sword-swallowing and fire-eating before I got the brilliant idea to start bringing up pretty girls to saw in half or make disappear. This was way back when, kid, and there wasn't a lot of entertainment in town's with names like Wolf Creek or Cedar Bend or Silk Hope. The Seven Stars was the best they got, and I turned my act into a showcase. I was hot, kid. I blew in like a nor'easter and blew up like a firecracker. Imagine these hands--these hands--as I directed the greatest magic show in the tri-state area, the illusions, kid, the tricks of the trade, the boxes with trapdoors that opened below the stage, the nights of shooting stars as I exploded one girl-filled cage after another--they turned into white doves flying out across the stunned faces of children and middle-aged women and old men who had lost their dreams but found them inside the tent. Found them in my magic show! It was colossal, stupendous, magnificent! I gave them a night of fucking heaven, kid. We turned a dog into a great woolly mammoth, we turned a horse into a unicorn, we turned a heron into a boy and then into a lizard, all within twenty minutes, and then when it was all done, the boy became a rabbit and I handed it to some thrilled little girl in the audience to take home for a pet or for supper.Once, traveling during a rainy spring, the whole troupe got caught in mud, and I used my knowledge of traps and springs to get us all out of there--and was rewarded with becoming the Master of Ceremonies. It was practically religious, kid, and I was the high priest!

But the problem was, at least for me, that I believed in none of it. I could not swallow my own lies. The magic was a fake. I knew where the animals were hid away to be sprung up, and the little boy, bounced down into a pile of sawdust while a snowy egret took his place, or an iguana popped up wearing a shirt just like the one the boy had on. The boy could take it, he was good. Best assistant I ever had. The woman, too, she was great--saw her in half and she screamed like she was giving birth right on the table--not a beauty except in the legs. She had legs that didn't stop at the ass but went right on up to her chin.

When she got hit by the bus in Memphis, everything changed for me, and I didn't want to do the act again. Joey wanted to keep going, but I told him we were finished. I loved that kid. So, we quit the act, and I went to do a little entertaining in clubs, mostly strip joints. Tell a couple jokes, do a few tricks with feather fans--voila! Naked girls appear from behind my cape! It was not the grandeur of the carnival, but it paid the rent, and Joey had a roof over his head and we both had food in our mouths.

One month I was a little late on the rent, and we got thrown out. That's when I came here, and we got the little place on Swan Street. Well, we didn't get it, it got us.

But it got you, too, didn't it, kid? It wasn't just you walking in to 265, it was that you been preparing your whole life for 265. That other cop, she lives in another world already, 265 couldn't grab her. But it could grab you, and it did, huh.

I knew as soon as I saw you under the streetlamp. I recognized you from before. You remember before? Hey, you want to know why I killed that woman? You really want to know?

Watch both my hands when I tell you. Remember, I'm a born prestidigitator.

Here's why. Sometimes, you get caught in the doorway.

Sometimes, when the door comes down, someone doesn't get all the way out. You want to find the other half of her body?

It's in 265. Only no one's gonna find it but you, kid.

You're a member of the club."