Welcome to 2016 October Frights Blog Hop! You’re in the right place, so pour yourself a cup of good strong black coffee, and read on!
Today I am treating you to an excerpt from my big freaking doorstop novel about scarecrow horror – THE TATTERDEMON OMNIBUS!
Genre: Horror (standalone novel)
Author: Steve Vernon
Page Count: 454 pages.
In 1691 the town of Crossfall taught the witch Thessaly how to die. They beat her, they shot her, they hung her – but nothing worked. When they finally tried to bury her alive Thessaly set the field against them. The first man died as a gust of wind harrowed the meat from his bones. A root,flung like a dirty javelin, cut a second man down. Many more deaths followed. The Preacher Fell impaled the witch upon her very own broom but she dragged him down into the field to wait for three more centuries.
Three hundred years later Maddy Harker will murder her bullying husband Vic. She will bury him in the field as she buried her abusive father years before that. The very same field where the revenant spirit of Thessaly Cross lies waiting.
In three days Vic will rise again – a thing of dirt, bone and hatred.
Men will call him the Tatterdemon.
And hell – and Thessaly – will follow
What People Have To Say About Steve Vernon
“The genre needs new blood and Steve Vernon is quite a transfusion.” –Edward Lee, author of FLESH GOTHIC and CITY INFERNAL
“If Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch had a three-way sex romp in a hot tub, and then a team of scientists came in and filtered out the water and mixed the leftover DNA into a test tube, the resulting genetic experiment would most likely grow up into Steve Vernon.” – Bookgasm
“Steve Vernon is something of an anomaly in the world of horror literature. He’s one of the freshest new voices in the genre although his career has spanned twenty years. Writing with a rare swagger and confidence, Steve Vernon can lead his readers through an entire gamut of emotions from outright fear and repulsion to pity and laughter.” – Cemetery Dance
“Armed with a bizarre sense of humor, a huge amount of originality, a flair for taking risks and a strong grasp of characterization – Steve’s got the chops for sure.” – Dark Discoveries
“Steve Vernon was born to write. He’s the real deal and we’re lucky to have him.” – Richard Chizmar
My Mom thinks I’m pretty cool, too.
CHAPTER ONE – Three Hundred Years Later
* 1 *
I’m going to die, Maddy thought.
And the whole thing is all my fault.
She stared at her reflection in the dark kitchen window and her dead mother’s eyes stared back at her. There was a question asked in those ghost window eyes.
What are you going to do now, girl?
Maddy couldn’t say.
Vic stood in the center of the kitchen, waving his arms like a one-man windmill. Zigger slunk beneath his feet, gazing up with eyes pale as rotted moons, hoping to be fed.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Vic yelled.
Maddy felt her bones reaching down through the floorboards into the Nova Scotian dirt. She felt her bones take root, going to seed. What had she been thinking? She should have run a half a dozen years ago.
Now she was trapped.
Just like her mother.
Vic kept yelling, one of the only things he was good at. “I come home a little late and you do a thing like this. What were you thinking?”
Maddy didn’t regret what she’d done, just doing it so stupidly. She’d been angry. She should’ve known there’d be trouble. She told herself that she needed to keep just as calm as possible.
She watched her reflection as she answered.
“A little late? It’s nearly midnight. You could have phoned.”
“The payphone at Benson’s was broke. Somebody buried a goddamn slug in it.”
Vic always had a ready lie. Lord but she was tired of it. She was tired of a lot of things. Marriage with Vic had started out fun, but fun changed fast. Vic grew mean just as soon as he had his cubic zirconium leash planted on her finger.
“You weren’t at Benson’s,” Maddy said. “You were at the tavern, spending your pay check. You probably danced yourself a couple of go-rounds with the shortest skirt in the place, I bet.”
Vic grinned, knowingly.
He was such a total bastard.
He didn’t even try to hide it.
“A man’s got a right to relax. Besides, I was at Benson’s, having a cup of coffee.”
She was tired of arguing, but what else could she do? Divorce him? She couldn’t expect any alimony. Vic would just laugh and drive away and that would be that – which would leave her on meant welfare.
She’d be cold in the ground before she’d lean on the dole.
“I smell bourbon,” she remarked and instantly regretted it.
Vic’s eyes flattened like slices of cut glass.
Maddy had just stepped over the line.
“Maybe your nose is broke and you smell things wrong,” he suggested. “It could happen.”
Stupid. She hadn’t planned to make him angry. She should have stopped right then and there – only she didn’t feel like stopping.
She made herself loose and ready to duck.
She usually could dodge the first couple of swings.
“You could have phoned,” she argued. “It’s a public restaurant. You could have asked Jack to use the counter phone. He wouldn’t have minded.”
Vic bulldozed straight through her argument. “Don’t talk goddamn foolishness, girl. Jack Benson never lets anyone use that phone, not unless the kitchen was burning down.”
“You could have tried.”
“Never you mind. Me being late is no excuse to do what you done.”
“It had gone cold,” she explained for the dozenth time.
“Well what’s a microwave for?”
“The microwave was broke, just the same as the pay phone.”
He nearly laughed. It was too bad he didn’t. It would have been over but out of the blue old Zigger started to bark. Vic booted the hound square in the ribs. The dog yelped in protest.
“Shut up hound.”
Kicking the dog should have cooled him down only Vic never worked that way. A little violence stirred him up like a poker shoved in a fire.
“I just need to know what you were thinking,” he asked, coming back to his anger like a dog after a bone. “Doing a thing like that.”
“It went cold,” she repeated. “It went cold, I was tired and it was near midnight. The dog needed feeding. If you’d put some dog food in the house like I asked, I wouldn’t have had to give him yours.”
“There was a hockey game on,” Vic argued. “Can’t you understand?”
His voice rose at the last like a hurt little boy. Maddy nearly laughed. He was just so dense. He couldn’t realize what an absolute shithead he was being. She nearly laughed, but laughter right now would have been too much like asking for it.
She wasn’t suicidal.
She tried to make peace.
“Look Vic, there’s a stick of salami in the fridge if you want. Some pickles and relish if you’d like. I’d be glad to fry you up a couple of slices and make you a sandwich of it.”
“I don’t want no stinking salami and I’m sick to death of your preserves. I want my supper, damn it, and I want it now.”
From beneath the table’s safety, Zigger barked again. He was always going off, ever since his eyes went. His baying bounced off the ratty gray walls of the kitchen until it seemed the plaster would shatter.
“Quiet!” Vic yelled, kicking at the table and the dog beneath it.
Don’t let him get you going, she told herself, but there was something growing inside her and getting bigger as every moment slipped by.
“So I thought,” Maddy started, still trying to figure how to change the subject.
That instant of lapsed attention was all Vic needed. He grabbed her by the chin and twisted her face around to meet his gaze.
“Thought what Maddy? What’d you think? What have you ever thought in your godforsaken life?”
He pushed his face close to her, looming over her. He really didn’t need to. Vic was large all over, a totem of a man, all forehead and chin framed in a thicket of dark tangled hair. It made Maddy feel small, just standing next to him. It was a kind of slow erosion working away deep in her soul. Every year Vic made her feel a little bit smaller, like he was whittling her down until she was nothing but a shadow.
Some days she felt like she was nothing more than a puppet, dancing on his strings.
“If you learned how to think, then I sure want to know about it.” Vic went on.
The thing got bigger inside her. Every breath cut like a fish knife, her heart banged like a crazy drummer. It’s a heart attack, she thought. I’m having a heart attack.
“Maddy? Are you listening to me?”
Oh god I’m glad it’s over. He can bury me where ever he wants to.
I don’t care.
Zigger bayed and skittered across the tile floor.
“Shut up hound,” Vic snarled. “It’s bad enough you ate my goddamn supper.”
Maddy squeezed her eyes shut. She felt a burst of blue light open like fireworks going off inside her skull.
It’s a stroke, she thought. A stroke or a heart attack or maybe some sort of aneurysm.
Whatever it was it couldn’t be any worse than life with Vic.
Just then Vic snapped his fingers a half inch from Maddy’s eyes, calling her back from the brink of her imagined death.
“Hey!” he shouted.
Maddy opened her eyes, startled to attention.
“Are you listening?”
She stared. It wasn’t a heart attack, but it sure was something. A blue dot of light popped open in front of Vic’s chest. Maddy knew that the blue light had to have come from somewhere inside her. It wasn’t anything she thought. It was more something that she just felt.
The dot hovered over Vic’s heart, flickering like a blue firefly.
She saw her chance and she took it.
“It went cold, Vic. Your supper went cold and the pork chops were greasy and I figured you were out at Benson’s and it’s a restaurant so you must have had yourself some supper, now didn’t you?”
The cavalry rode in just that quickly. She shifted the blame to him. She put him on the defensive. It would work. She had trapped him in his lie and made him feel like he had to hide the whole thing.
She’d beaten him again.
She didn’t care. She didn’t even notice, not really.
She was too busy staring at that blue light, wondering just what it was. Maybe the light wasn’t from her. Maybe it was something else. One of those laser gun sights you saw in movies. What if there was a sniper out in the darkness of the field, taking aim on the kitchen? Getting ready to fire? Would it bother her, watching Vic get shot to pieces?
She decided to wait and see.
“Are you listening to me, girl?”
She nodded vaguely, entranced by the blue dot.
Vic rolled his eyes in disgust. “Wake up, hay-for-brains! Jesus Christ, you look like some kind of sleepwalker. Are you listening, hey?”
“I’m listening, Vic.”
Only she wasn’t listening at all. She hadn’t been for years. Vic just had nothing new to say. As far as their marriage went he had stopped growing a long time ago.
The blue light widened. It was like staring at her Daddy’s old television set, turning off in reverse.
“You ain’t listening. Christ. For the life of me I don’t know why I ever married you. Your Daddy was right, you know. You’re stupid and ugly.”
“I ain’t ugly, Vic. Maybe I’m stupid, but I sure ain’t ugly.”
It was true. Maddy was always pretty. No movie star, mind you. She was a tough sort of pretty like a country weed in full bloom. Straw blonde hair, straight as a beggar could spit – with eyes that her Daddy used to call cornflower blue. A little gopher bump on the bridge of her nose, hooked down like a river running around a bend. Thin in the flanks from work and worry, but living with Vic would do that to any woman.
“You’re skinnier than a bean pole, and if them tits get any closer to the ground they’ll leave skid marks where you walk.”
That was a cruel truth. Maddy’s knockers crept closer to her stomach every year. They nearly hid the row of five tiny circular scars Vic called her rib holes. But what could she do about that?
Nail them up?
“It’s the law of gravity, Vic.” she explained. “Sooner or later we all fall down. I can’t help that. Nothing but trouble ever comes back up.”
She stared at the blue dot, watching it grow. Vic didn’t seem to notice the blue light at all, no matter how large it got. The dot started changing like it was taking shape.
“There you go again,” Vic complained. “If you did some work around here instead of daydreaming, I might come home in a whole lot nicer mood.”
That was a bold lie. Vic didn’t know how to be in a good mood unless he was drunk and even that wasn’t any kind of a guarantee.
The blue shape grew into a form. It looked like some kind of rag doll, getting bigger all the time. Vic thumped the pine table for emphasis. The salt and pepper shakers shivered in their wooden box.
Maddy didn’t notice.
She was too busy staring at the hovering blue image directly between her and Vic.
The hovering blue image of her long dead father.
“How long are you going to let this skid mark with legs get away with that kind of crap?” Maddy’s dead father asked.
* 2 *
Helliard Jolleen drove a Mercury, just the same as his Daddy did. Two shades of red sprayed across a patchy rusted skin of red brown primer. Duane called it Martian camouflage. Helliard liked to think of it as something more like flames or blood.
Today it was both flames AND blood.
Helliard was certain of one thing.
Something his Daddy had told him a long time ago.
“Death is all around you boy. It’s just waiting around the next corner to jump you when you least expect it. Believe in that, and you’ll grow strong. The first thing you got to do is learn not to fear death.”
Helliard’s daddy, who had once picked steel guitar with Hank Snow and could shoot the pussy out of a pregnant flea, taught Helliard rhythm and how to kill.
“So long as you are alive, Helliard, you got to fight, eh? Now most folk, they say fight, they mean hit. I don’t mean hit. Hitting is for playground sisters. When I say fight, I mean kill. The man who goes into a fight ready to kill, he cannot be beat. So you got to learn to kill. And killing is just like a country song. It’s got a rhythm, easy as breathing, easy as dancing, whether you shoot them, knife them, or just beat them to flathead hell.”
It was daddy’s truth and a goddamn lie.
Helliard knew that now, for sure.
He swerved the red Mercury, tumbling half of Duane Telford’s potato chips down his beard.
“Goddamn it Helliard!” Duane swore, while trying to stuff the rest of the chips into his mouth. “Are you trying to kill a man?”
Duane was a fat useless fuck. Ordinarily Helliard wouldn’t have paid him any mind. Only today, after visiting that hospital Helliard felt a long way west of ordinary.
“Shut the fuck up, Duane. You eat too much anyway. That stomach is going to be the death of you yet, I swear.”
Helliard shoved a lock of red hair from out of his eye. The hair was another gift from daddy. He claimed it was the Joleen temper bleeding out.
“Goddamn it Helliard. Ever since you come from that hospital you’ve been acting meaner than a rusty meat axe. What the hell’s got into you anyway?”
Helliard thought about the hospital. He thought about his Daddy. He thought about what he’d been afraid to do.
He couldn’t deal with any of it.
“Shut the fuck up before I kick your ass through your teeth, Duane.”
“Well goddamn it Helly, you made me spill most of my potato chippies,” Duane complained, picking and nibbling the larger crumbs from his beard.
“Chips, Duane. Not chippies. They’re called chips. Besides, you eat too fucking much.”
“I’m growing,” Duane said.
“You’re growing on my fucking nerves is what you’re doing. Now shut the goddamn fuck up, eh?”
Duane shut up. People always shut up when Helliard said to, because Helliard was a tough fucker.
He slid an Export-A cigarette out of the pack in his shirt pocket. He snapped open his Zippo lighter and sparked flame without missing a beat. That’s the way Helliard liked to do things – smooth and tough, without thinking at all.
Only right now he didn’t feel so tough. Not after seeing his Daddy in the hospital bed with no more meat on his bones than a stick of kindling. Not after the way Daddy had stared at him, begging with his eyes for Helliard to find the guts to take Big Fuck and….
A growth, his Daddy had called it.Like it was some kind of fucking weed.
Daddy gave him the lighter on his twelfth birthday. It was supposed to be right from World War II. The lighter had some writing on it. The writing said – SO SHALL YOU REAP in big fancy letters, all hooks and knobs that reminded him of meat hooks hanging in a slaughter house. Antique or not, the lighter worked damn good.
It lit the first time, every time.
None of that plastic butane shit for Helliard.
He puffed in a long hot drag and sparked up a couple of coughs to clear the air track. He ought to give this shit up. It was smoke that killed his Daddy. Sooner or later old man tobacco-weed would let Helliard know his bill was long past due.
He puffed again. He blew the smoke at Duane for the hell of it.
The doctor gave Daddy three months to live. He said Helliard ought to stick around to sort of keep an eye on things.
Sticking around, watching a man die, that was too much like sticking around to watch your house burn down after the oil tank lit off kiddle-tee-boom.
Helliard tucked the lighter back in his pocket. He touched the gun, jammed in his black leather belt. It was a big old Ruger Blackhawk. Way too much gun is what his Daddy called it, but Helliard called the gun Big Fuck, because it made a big fucking mess of whatever it shot. It could put a hole through a man large enough to reach your fist clear through.
He knew that for an honest fact.
The pistol wasn’t legal in Canada, but God bless the U-S-A-holes. Helliard’s Daddy drove it up over the border, tucked in the bottom of a welded over gas tank. He gave it to Helliard as a thirteenth birthday present. Since then Helliard had shot more men dead than he had fingers and toes to count on. And that was counting his extra little toe.
Mind you, Helliard didn’t shoot nobody he knew. That’d leave way too much motive hanging out there in the wind for some lawman to catch hold, like the tail of a kite. No sir, the only people Helliard shot were strangers he met on the road. He buried them deep in the woods a mile out past the town.
Yes sir, Helliard was a real bad fucker.
“Yeah right, goddamn it,” he muttered. “A real bad gutless fucker.”
Helliard felt Duane eyeing him like he wanted something.
“We need some pop, Helly. Some Pepsi.”
Helliard glared at him.
Duane shook the Pepsi can meaningfully.
“Yeah, damn it. I’m dry to,” Helliard admitted. “There’s a Night Owl up the road. We’ll pick up some Coke there. Pepsi is nothing but piss water.”
“I ain’t got any money,” Duane said.
Helliard rubbed the butt of his pistol like it was a woman’s tit.
“Don’t need any,” he said
And he didn’t.
* 3 *
Maddy didn’t get it. There was Daddy, just as big as television. Skinny as a starved rake with that goatish half beard he grew because he’d always been too lazy to shave.
Only he was blue.
He was blue, and he was talking to her.
“I raised you better than this, girl.”
She’d gone crazy.
That was it.
She’d gone absolutely nuts. Daddy was dead and buried. She ought to know. Yet there he was. Was, and wasn’t. He wasn’t more than a tattery blue silhouette, like the light that tatters about a dead stick in a fireplace, just before it bursts into flame. He was Bluedaddy – that’s what he was – glowing like a dime store glow in the dark dashboard Jesus.
“What are you staring at?” Vic asked. “Have your eyes gone buggy?”
Bluedaddy just stood there straight in front of Vic, grinning like a bastard at the tit. She could hear his grinning somewhere deep inside the plates of her skull, humming like the twanging of a guitar string.
Only Vic couldn’t see a thing.
“I asked you a question, girl.” Vic said.
Bluedaddy jerked a crackling blue thumb in Vic’s direction.
“He asked you a question, girl.”
“You’re dead,” Maddy whispered.
“You ought to know,” Bluedaddy replied. “You’re the one who buried me.”
Vic looked confused. It suited him.
“Don’t you be threatening me now,” he warned her. “You’re the only one who’s going to be doing the dying around here Maddy. The only dead I am is dead tired. Dead hungry too. Fry me some eggs, damn it.”
Bluedaddy’s grin danced in the air in front of his mouth like fairy light in a haunted swamp. She could hear the old bastard’s grin buzzing just behind her left ear, like a hive full of crazy bees.
“Are you listening?” Vic asked.
He got tired of waiting. As quick as you could say stick he backed his right hand hard against her cheek.
“Wake up,” he said. “And fry me them eggs.”
He plunked himself down at the big kitchen table. He faced away from Maddy, like she wasn’t worth worrying about.
“Why don’t you kill him?” Bluedaddy asked. “You sure as hell know how to.”
“Why?” Maddy asked.
“Because I’m hungry!” Vic shouted. “Because I fucking told you, that’s why.”
Bluedaddy grinned even harder.
“Because I told you to,” Bluedaddy repeated.
Maddy grabbed her fry pan. She gave it a half twirl to spill any dust that might have grown overnight. She hadn’t stood griddle at a half dozen Halifax greasy spoons for nothing. In a minute she’d have the pan on the burner, the eggs cracked and sizzling.
“Get to them eggs, girl.” Bluedaddy commanded. “Your man has spoken.”
That stopped her.
Those last four words told her that this was her Daddy and not just some figment of her imagination. Your man has spoken. The same four words he’d said to Maddy’s mother more times than Maddy could count. The last four words he ever said.
Your man has spoken.
Maddy opened her mouth and three more words fell out.
“Make them yourself.”
The hell of it was she wasn’t even sure who she was speaking to. Vic knew though. At least he figured he did.
“Are you looking for a pair of homemade sunglasses, Maddy my girl?” he asked, without even bothering to turn around.
He’d do it.
It wouldn’t be the first time he’d blacked her eyes.
“Well?” he asked.
Maddy stared at the homespun wall of Vic’s back.
“I’m waiting,” he said.
She swung the pan over her head like a kindling hatchet and brought it down into Vic’s skull.
He hit the table face first. His hands pancaked out to break his fall but that was only reflexes talking. He was deader than Jesus’s dog, long before he hit the table. The impact launched the salt shaker into flight. It landed with a clatter, spilling salt on the floor. Hell, she thought, spilled salt’s bad luck. She had better throw some over my shoulder.
She stood there trying to remember which shoulder she was supposed to throw it over.
Vic’s brains began to spread like spilled porridge.
Maddy forgot about the salt.
She grabbed for a napkin to blot the mess.
Then realization hit.
She stared at what she had gone and done.
Then she smiled.
“How do you like those eggs, Vic?” she softly asked.
Bluedaddy smiled too.
For some reason he was holding a gray willow broom – kind of like her granny used to use. He passed the teeth of the broom through Vic’s skull. As the broom touched the skull the air crackled like a hairbrush on a dry winter morning.
“Time to clean up, Maddy,” Bluedaddy told her. “It’s time to clean up all of the old messes.”
She let out a long slow sigh.
She thought it was over.
Because a few days later, just like Jesus, Vic rose up.
Available for only 99 cents all the month of October.
Please pick up a copy of THE TATTERDEMON OMNIBUS today. I’ve got the e-book marked down to 99 cents for the entire month of October 2016. The e-book is available from Kindle, Kobo,Smashwords, Apple i-books, Nook and in paperback (for a little over ten bucks, plus shipping) through Createspace.