Those who follow my blog regularly might remember a couple of book review posts I did awhile back for On Dark Paths and Strange World by Andrew Kincaid. Both are great short story horror collections that I would recommend to anyone who is a fan of the genre. Actually, I’d recommend them to anyone who likes to read a good story.

Anyway, I stay in touch with Andrew via Twitter and email and I asked him to post an excerpt for one of his stories to my blog. In turn, he allowed me to do the same on his blog. So, Andrew will be hosting a sample of my short story,
Warleader, while you get to read a sample from one of his short stories from On Dark Paths.

Here’s Andrew:

Regulars to Joshua's blog might wonder what a guy like me - a horror author - is doing here.  After all, Joshua writes epic fantasy, which couldn't be more different right?  Well it turns out I'm something of a genre traitor - I like horror and fantasy. And it turns out Joshua is the same way, as he liked my stuff well enough to be willing to offer me a guest spot here.  So I won't wear out my welcome by rambling on any longer.  To the meat of the matter!

What follows is an excerpt from my first collection of horror stories, On Dark Paths.  It is called Beyond the Veil and it is the first of thirteen stories that, if I did my job right, make you keep the night light on. You know.  Just in case...

Reality as we know it is little more than a veil.  It's thin and porous as an eggshell; it doesn't take much for something from Outside to slip in via some unholy osmosis. 

I don't know who or what designed the world this way.  I once believed in a benevolent God.  Once, but no longer.

I think that if there is a God he is at best indifferent to his Creation.  At worst, he regards us much the same way a kid with a magnifying glass regards a line of ants on a sunny day. 

Do I sound crazy?  Maybe I do.  Maybe I am.  All I know is that not so very long ago I caught a glimpse of something mortal eyes weren't meant to see, something that shouldn't exist in any sane world.

The trouble started the night I met Mary.

I had just settled onto the couch that night after a long day slaving away at my cruddy retail job.  I had a six pack in hand and was looking forward to melting my brain with reality television, my guilty pleasure.  Funny thing that; half of the people on my shows were as brainless and petty as the people I was forced to deal with on a daily basis at my job.  You'd think I would have had enough of it during the day, but I tuned in every night anyway...

...and I'm rambling.  Probably because I don't want to recall the events that followed.  I wish I could have watched my shitty shows, drank myself stupid, and then woke up the next morning with a massive hangover.  I wish my life could have stayed normal, boring though it was.  That just wasn't in the cards I guess.

It was just getting good, one carrot-faced girl with huge boobs had another equally busty carrot face pinned to the ground because one had stolen the other's man, when there was a heavy pounding on my front door.

I had downed a couple by that time so the sound took awhile to register.  I sat and listened a moment, until there was another round of heavy pounding and a voice I'll never forget for the rest of my life.

"Please!  Please help me!"  A woman wailed.  Her voice was laced with a fear the like of which  I had never heard before.  If I don't let her in, she's going to die!  The thought flashed through my muddled brain and my buzz disappeared in an instant.  I all but ran to the door and threw it open.

A pitiful sight greeted my eyes, illuminated by the harsh orange glow of my porch light.  Once she might have been beautiful but that beauty had been stolen.  She stood stark naked, her body caked in filth and laced with angry red burns.  They seemed concentrated on her face, ruining what once must have been a lovely sight. 

"Jesus..." I said.  I gaped like an idiot, not quite knowing what to do. 

"Please.  Please let me in.  It's after me!"  She cried.  Primal fear strained her ruined features. Whoever this guy is (my mind couldn't conceive of anything besides a human that could inflict such wounds)  he must be a psycho, I thought. 

"Yeah all right.  Come on in." I said.  She rushed inside, practically bowling me over in her haste.  She slammed the door and locked both the door knob and the dead bolt.

"Are any windows open?  Do they lock?"  She all but screamed the questions.  I wondered what kind of crazy broad I had let into my house, but then from what I could read of her expression she wasn't crazy.  Terrified, but not crazy.

"Yes they're all locked."  I said.  The weather hadn't warmed enough to warrant opening windows yet, and besides I was never home and my house lay on the bad end of town.

"Check them."  She said. She busied herself doing just that to the window closest to the door.  I stood there gaping like an idiot for a moment.  She drew the blind and closed the curtains on the first window and then moved to the second.  I shrugged and decided to help.  Why not?  At least it might make her feel better.

It wasn't long before the operation was finished.  My house was a one story modular, little more than a glorified trailer, so there wasn't much to check. 

"What is your name, and what the hell is going on?"  I asked when we finished. I admit I was freaked out by that time.  Somewhere in the process of pulling curtains on all my windows I had convinced myself that I had let an escaped mental patient into my house.  Even so I dug out a blanket out of my closet and gave it to her so she could cover herself up.  I prodded her until she would finally sit on the couch.

"Water.  Please.  Could I have something to drink?" She asked.  She sounded so pitiful!  So I poured her a glass of water. She gulped it down as if she hadn't drank a drop in days.

"I honestly wish I knew what the hell was going on."  She said once she finished.  Her face relaxed as much as it could with her scars.  There was a lilting, musical quality to her voice.  I wondered if she'd been a singer before whatever had happened to her.

"What happened?" I asked.  I cracked open a can of beer and took a big gulp. The coolness spread into my guts.  I sighed contentedly.  Good ole beer.

"I don't know," she said, "I remember grocery shopping.  People were worried. They said something about us being attacked.  When I got home I was surprised to find my husband and kids had beat me there.  He said they had let all the teachers and students go early.  He had the news on and was watching with the really worried face I only saw on him when something terrible happened. The kids were really scared.  I remember my little boy asking if a plane was going to fall on us..."

Something clicked in my brain.

"Whoa.  Wait. You don't mean 9/11 do you?"  I stammered. My stomach roiled.  Bile surged up the back of my throat.  I washed it down with another gulp of beer. The whole situation was way too weird, and I didn't know the half of it yet.

"What?" She goggled at me like I had just flown in from Mars.

"9/11.  The September 11th terror attacks.  You know.  The World Trade Center." I said slowly.  No...this can't be real...I thought.

"Yes!  They were showing the Twin Towers on fire.  It was so terrible!  Hey.  What's wrong?"  She looked concerned, or at least as concerned as her ruined face allowed her to.

"This can't mean you don't know?"  I blurted.  My gut did took to doing flip flops.  The room spun.

"Don't know what?" She asked.  Her eyes widened slightly, but her voice was level.  How could she be so calm?  Here she was running naked through a bad part of town at night, covered in scars and burns, and I was the one freaking out!  I forced myself to stifle the feverish giggle building in my throat.

"Mary, the attacks were ten years ago."  I finally managed.

Thunderstruck would be an understatement.  The glass dropped from her nerveless fingers and tumbled to the floor.  Her jaw gaped wide.

"That was....ten years ago?"  She spoke after several long moments of silence.

"Almost."  I said.  She slumped back into the couch, her eyes wide. I gulped down the last of my beer.  It didn't help.  I crumpled the can and tossed it aside.

"I've been there for ten years?"  She said almost to herself.  A single tear leaked from the corner of her eye and trailed lazily down her cheek.

"Been where?" 

"I..."  A soft scratch on the front door interrupted her.  She froze, and her eyes grew wild with fear.  The scratches grew more insistent.  They moved from the door to the front window, and then from that window to the next and so on until whatever it was made a circuit around the house. 

It scratched at the last window, the window to the left hand side of the door as you entered, and then the scratches stopped.  Deafening silence ensued in their wake.

"What was..." I said when my heart dislodged itself from my throat long enough for me to speak.

"Shhh..."  She hissed.  The scratching started again, this time more insistent.  It made another lap around the house.  After what seemed to be an eternity the scratching subsided.

When the silence lasted ten minutes, I whispered:

"What the hell was that?"

"The thing. The thing that took me!" She cried.

She launched into the most bizarre story I had ever heard.  Even to this day, even having seen what I've seen, I still have difficulty grasping that such a place could exist.  She told me in hushed tones that sometime on that day, so many years ago, she blacked out.  When she came to, blackness surrounded her. But the blackness had form and shape and sensation.  A slimy fog, her words, slithered over her like a million worms. It caked her flesh with filth and left her shivering.  While it was dark in that place, it was also light, like the dim light of a gibbous moon obscured by high clouds.

She noticed other people there.  She spoke only a little with them, but enough to realize there were people from all different backgrounds trapped there with her.  Some spoke no English. Some spoke English but in a dialect so far removed from the modern usage that she scarcely recognized it. 

She was there an interminable amount of time when suddenly the slimy fog took on a completely different character.  It oozed malevolence. 

The people around her became frightened.  Some screamed.  Some ran.  Still others huddled in the fetal position, rocking back and forth and babbling to themselves frantically.  The fog became a thing.  A thing of darkness and teeth and claws.  She wouldn't say anymore about it, and she didn't go into much detail about what happened next.  All she would say was that she'd received the first of her scars that day.

"You think I'm crazy?"  She said. She barked a laugh. 

"No! Well...yeah.  But can you blame me?"  I said.

"If you don't believe me how about you poke your head outside?"  She said.  She grinned a devilish grin, the effect amplified by the horrific scars.

"I'll pass." I said.  I shivered.  Her story was unbelievable, but to doubt her was to doubt my own ears.  And my own sanity.

"Whatever it was kept coming back every so often.  I don't know what it wanted.  I think it fed on us somehow; on our anger and pain and fear.  When it was....doing its thing...."  She shivered, "it shared some of itself with us.  I don't know how.  I think that was what kept us alive and sane enough for it to feed.  A few people, surprisingly few actually, did go insane.  When it was done with the rest of us, those people were gone."

"Jesus."  I said.  I crossed myself.  I had grown up Catholic but spent the bulk of my adult life ignoring that sort of thing.  Right then seemed the moment to find religion once again.

"I was wandering around after a feeding when I came across...I can't describe it other than to say it was a door," she said,  "But it wasn't a door like we would understand it.  It was a sort of ragged circle that looked like a pool of water.  And I could see street lights beyond it!  So I walked in and wound up in the middle of a street.  I could sense whatever it was coming behind me so I ran to the first house I saw with the porch light still lit.  And here I am."

"Jesus..."  I repeated the name like a mantra.  How is she so calm if what she's said is true? I wondered.

"Like I said whatever it was kept us sane so it could feed."  She replied.  I yelped, and my face turned hot.  I hadn't realized I had spoken out loud.  She grinned, and continued, "I actually don't remember a lot of what happened.  I...I remember the feelings.  Burning, pain, anger, and terror.  But it's like I was somehow disconnected from it.  Detached in some way.  So I guess that's why."

"So this....whatever it is..." I sputtered.  I couldn't believe it.  Part of me screamed that she was a lunatic.  But she seemed rational to me; more rational than I would have been in the same circumstances.

"...wants me back."  She finished my statement for me.

"But it can't operate a door?  Really?"

"When it was...feeding...." She said, shivering slightly, "It revealed a bit of itself to me.  I don't know if it was aware of that or not.  I know that it has to follow certain rules when it comes into our world.  And one rule is that it has to be invited into a home; it can't force its way in.  But I guess it takes open doors or windows as an invitation to come inside.  That's how it got me I think."

"That makes no sense."  I said, shaking my head. The part of me screaming she's a lunatic! started to look more appealing at that moment.

"I know it doesn't. " She said.  She started to rise, "Look.  I know you don't believe me at all.  Whatever this thing is it can only come out at night.  So at least let me stay here until morning and then I'll be out of your hair."

"I can't just leave you on your own like that.  You can stay here as long as you like."  I said. Crazy she might be, but  I wasn't the type of guy to neglect someone in need.  Especially a woman. 

"Thank you."  Gratitude rolled off her in waves and she smiled.  She sank back down onto the couch with a contented sigh.

As wild as her story was I half believed her.  At the very least I knew something horrible had  happened to her.  I briefly considered calling the police but rejected the notion pretty quickly.  They would have her locked up in a padded room within the hour if she started talking about her "slimy fog" and doorways again.  Part of me wishes I had called.  Maybe she would have been safe in a mental hospital. 

At least then she might still be with us.


Want more? Come on over and check me out at where I talk about all kinds of weird and wonderful things.  You can check out On Dark Paths here and my second collection, Strange World, here. And keep an eye out fantasy fans, I also have a fantasy series in the works!

I'd like to thank Joshua for his hospitality, and you, dear reader, for giving me your time and attention. It's greatly appreciated :)

, ,

Leave a Reply