Nate Watson is a cop in a bad section of Island City. Responding to a call from a frightened old woman, Nate and his partner Frank encounter a group of teenage thugs playing at black magic on the decrepit rooftops of the slums. Except they're NOT playing. Defeated by the boys' mysterious powers, Frank meets his death at the bottom of a ventilation shaft. He's the lucky one. The boys drag Nate into a circle of candles and saw him open from neck to waist, playing with what they find inside. When he dies they lose interest, snuff the candles, and depart. The night cools. The crows come to feed on the corpse. But then the candles flare back into life, and the birds take frightened flight, and Nate Watson returns ... with a vengeance.
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
An affiliate member of HWA, James Viscosi has over twenty stories appearing in venues from Blue Murder to Welcome to Nod. He lives in central New York with his wife, two cats that see ghosts, and a dog that was born on Halloween. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit him on line at http://jamesviscosi.11.forumer.com/
"Whew, on a scale of 1 to 5, Mr. Viscosi is hiccuping a thousand! What a tremendous ride Night Watchman is! Thrills and chills, oh yeah! but better yet for the nightmare deprived among us, there are images that jump off the page into your imagination and set up a smoldering, fungoid like growth that won't go away ... This book's got everything a horror book needs. Love and heroism and monsters. There's even explosions and ghosts and wonderful characters, including one who throws fire the way other people throw baseballs."M. Kenyon Charboneaux -- Blackmask Online
NICHOLAS FENTON built the Wright Project.
It's become a home to hundreds of people, dozens of families. They're in their new apartments right now, sleeping in their new beds, thankful for windows that aren't broken and a roof that doesn't leak.
In its month or so of existence, the Wright Project has been good for the poor people of Island City.
And Nicholas Fenton built it.
Now he's going to burn it down.
He parks his car two streets away and walks to the Project. A Mercedes stands out in this neighborhood, night or day, and he doesn't want anyone to figure out he's here. Once the fire starts, and people start to die, it won't matter anymore, but for now it does.
The Wright Project, his project, cost him a lot of money to build. He hopes the locals appreciate it, but doesn't think they do. Seems like they're always yelling about something, always accusing him of having this ulterior motive, that hidden agenda. Sure, he does, but does that mean everybody has to carry on like spoiled children?
Ingrates. They deserve to die.
The tenants are still settling into the Project; he's been watching them coming and going all day, every day, for weeks, with trucks and trailers and bags and boxes. He figures the complex has somewhere over five hundred people in it now and he thinks that's enough. He can expect at least four hundred of them to die in the upcoming fire. He doesn't need to wait for it to reach full occupancy. Besides -- got to be honest -- he's getting impatient. He wants to get this thing done. He wants what's coming to him.
It's a little before two in the morning when he enters the grounds from the northeast. The bustle of the moving-in process is over for the day and the complex is quiet. He doesn't see anybody as he walks down the angled sidewalk leading from the northeast corner to the center of the Project. He walks fast, taking rapid, tight, nervous little steps.
He pauses at the center of the complex, where the five evenly-placed sidewalks come together at a ring of concrete that encircles a small round building made of red brick. The five apartment buildings loom over him, black in the yellow glare of the tall lights. Their dark silhouettes seem to stand in silent condemnation.
Oh, stop being an ass. They're just buildings, and he built them, for God's sake. He saunters to the roundhouse, flouting the judgement of the buildings, parading the fact that he doesn't care what they think of him. Piles of concrete and steel, anyway, how smart can they be?
He pats the side of the roundhouse. The bricks are rough and warm. Yes, the little roundhouse loves him, doesn't it? It approves of his plan. It's got more sense than the other five buildings put together. He trots along the wall, feeling the bricks scrape and tug at the skin of his palm. When he reaches the deep hollow of the recessed iron door, he slips into the concealing depression and waits there a moment, making sure nobody's going to come and ask him what he's doing.
He checks his watch. Two o'clock. At two-oh-five he fumbles a ring of heavy keys from his pocket, undoes the padlock on the door, and goes inside. It's stifling hot beneath the corrugated steel roof; the day's heat has been trapped in the windowless, airless chamber, it's soaked into the walls and the steel pipes that make up the guts of the roundhouse, guts that supply the complex with its vital nutrients -- electrical boxes, the main water and gas valves, the telephone switchboxes. Utility stuff. It all looks kind of grey and ghastly in the hard light of the single naked bulb above the entrance.
He closes the iron door and slides the interior bolt into place.
Made it. He peels off his jacket and drops it on the concrete floor, then undoes the buttons at the wrists of his dress shirt. Should've worn shorts and a tee shirt but that's no way to dress when you're about to become a minor deity. Still, God, so hot!
On the wall beside the door is an electrical switch, a big one made out of metal bent into a square, with a black light bulb in the middle of it. It's like something from a mad scientist's laboratory. Maybe he should laugh maniacally as he throws it. He grasps the handle and moves the lever from the top set of clips into the bottom. The black bulb begins to glow red -- a sinister red, Fenton thinks, bloody. Somebody's idea of a joke, except nobody could know what the switch is really for, he wired it up himself.
He laughs maniacally. Just for fun.
Now he proceeds to the center of the roundhouse, a spot marked by a metal lid in the concrete floor. It looks like a service hatch of some kind but beneath it is more cement; it's really only a marker. If you look at it closely you can tell the hinges are fake, but nobody looks at it closely. Nobody gets into the roundhouse except him. He stands on the marker. A thick black cable ending in a small rocker switch dangles just within his reach. He stretches up, takes the bulb in his right hand, and pushes the switch down with his thumb.
The light above the door dims. A sound like lightning crackles from the big mad scientist switch. The circuit from the lever on the wall is completed. Hidden resistors in the walls of the apartment buildings begin getting juice, heating up. In minutes they will ignite the dry wall, which is sadly deficient in its ability to withstand heat; then the paint will catch fire and the paint will burn like the sun itself.
The completion of the special, secret circuit has the side effect of cutting off power to the electromagnetic catches on the fire doors, causing them all to swing shut. And -- oops! -- they lock. And the smoke detectors and sprinkler activation switches are on the same cut-off circuit. It would be a disastrous design flaw, if it hadn't all been done on purpose.
The fire will be huge and swift and catastrophic and deadly.
He can hardly wait.
Soon people begin to die. Smoke inhalation or burns or crashing into the ground from fifth-floor windows; it doesn't matter how they die so long as they do. Fenton registers each small murder as an electric thrill, a tingle rising up from his feet and sweeping up to his head. Die, he thinks; and die, and die, and die!
Suddenly an explosion outside shakes the little roundhouse. He is startled for a moment, then realizes that he forgot to turn off the gas main. Stupid -- how could he have been so stupid! Explosions! They could snuff the fire beneath collapsing walls and ceilings! And now the process has begun, and the black iron wheel that would shut off the gas stands across the roundhouse, far beyond his reach. To turn it off he would -- explosion! -- have to leave the marker, leave the center of the roundhouse; and then the precious, precious energy would be lost, would shoot beyond his reach and vanish!
Damn, damn, damn!
He tries to keep one foot on the iron lid, stretching his legs to reach out for the valve. It remains beyond his trembling fingers, perhaps a foot away. Another explosion roars its fury, the largest one so far. It deafens him, it shakes the brick walls.
He steps off the marker. Immediately the power begins to leave him, rushing out like water swirling down a drain. His hands find the wheel, but before they can turn it the roof bursts open above him and a chunk of flaming masonry and drywall comes crashing down. He screams and falls onto his back. The chunk of the Wright Project strikes the gas main and the other pipes and bends them down toward his prostrate form, stopping scant feet from crushing him. He can feel the heat of the debris and scuttles backward. Through the hole in the roof he sees the sky bloodied by fire, bruised by smoke. He hears the screams and the sirens. He feels his power trickling away.
Something hit his head. He's dizzy and injured, blood is running down his face. He crawls back to the center of the roundhouse, stares stupidly at the burning chunk of building that intrudes on his sanctuary. He thinks he should do something about it but can't decide what.
The clump of masonry shifts and slides closer to the floor. The gas main bursts. He has a moment to stare at the ruptured conduit, a second to smell the sulfur.
Then the roundhouse erupts into a geyser straight from hell.