My first true horror novel is now live on Amazon.com. It’s available free on Kindle Unlimited, $2.99 in ebook format, and $8.95 in paperback. I hope to have an audio book in one month as well.
For your exclusive reading pleasure, here is the opening Creature Feature and the first chapter. Enjoy!
In the southwest of what is now the United States of America, there lives a unique tribe of Native Americans known as the Zuni. Farmers and fighters, they have a language that is unique all on its own, with no relation to any other tribes. They have a number of gods and creatures in their repertoire, too, including the formidable Atahsaia.
The Atahsaia was a cannibalistic creature, demon-like and angry. Picture a giant humanoid figure, sometimes said to be larger than the opening of a cave. It had unshapely skin full of knobs, long gray hairs all over its body, and many other sickening attributes: quills like a porcupine on its huge barrel chest, a swollen red face covered in wrinkles, black and white scales on its arms… It was known predominantly for attacking young women; however, it had been known to attack and eat children, too.
In mythic folklore, the Atahsaia was destroyed by two war-like gods of the Zuni…
The night was silent, save for his breathing. Mark Tyler Watts lay fast asleep in his bed, snuggled and cozy underneath his weighted gray blanket. His breathing was soft and simple: a quick breath out, then a fast and sharp inhale. Each of these was performed in momentous repetition, a parade of oxygenation, and he seemed to be at peace, his eyelids fluttering just slightly as he dreamed.
That singular night in September, his room existed in stillness and quiet. A dresser stood next to his closet door, dark and looming. A writing desk sat to the left of his lone window overlooking the darkness outside. A single swivel chair was pushed up against the desk, sad and stationary. Aside from some book cover artwork on his walls, the only other presence visible was Watts himself, who still lay unmoving in his queen-sized bed.
Yet, something else was there. Something dark and evil moved silently underneath his writing desk. It crept out into the middle of the room, using the shadows as an avenue, and there it stood, random and solitary in the center of the quiet.
Before long, the creature had grown, doubling, tripling, quadrupling in size. As it grew, it crept towards Watts’ bedroom window and opened it, raising the window pane upward and pushing its ever-enlarging self out of the frame. In the darkness, it leaned outward, hanging from the sill by its lengthy claws and peering out into the night air. It huffed, and a puff of steam wafted out into the black.
Moments later, it leapt from the second floor to the ground and began lumbering along the grass to the backyard fence. Now larger than a human being, it reached the fence and simply stepped over it, continuing on its way on the other side. After a few seconds, it was out of sight, but that was alright. No one inside the house was any the wiser.
* * *
In the town of Monaton, it was after midnight, and the town was asleep. Mostly. There was a bar near the northwest edge that stayed open until two a.m., and it was proud to boast that fact. The bar was called WorkHorse, and it was full of dive bar antiques, rock music, and plenty of alcohol to numb away the pain of a hard day’s work. It was a hotspot for all generations, despite being surrounded by nothing for five miles on all sides.
The bar itself was owned by the man everyone called Booze Hound. He was a country geezer, older and wiser than most, with long gray hair that was balding on top. His wizened face bore both the years of his life as well as a short gray beard for decoration. Most people who saw him about town thought him to be a hobo or a hermit, always wearing overalls and a brown jacket, always looking raggedy and unkempt. The only times people saw him were when the bar first opened and when it was closing. Having been around for decades, he chose to live in a cabin just beyond the town border. No wife, no children, no dog, no cat. He was a solitary creature, and he liked it that way.
On the same night the mysterious creature ventured out from Watts’ bedroom window, Booze Hound was across the street from WorkHorse. Anxious to close up that night, he stood across the street, watching customers leaving. There hadn’t been much traffic in or out, and he was simply waiting for the last few customers to call it a night. When things were slow, he preferred to be home, and things were never very busy on a Tuesday night.
As luck would have it, at that very moment, the last two girls left inside WorkHorse came stumbling out, leaving only John and Kendra inside to clean up. These girls were clearly beyond their limit, but that wasn’t Booze Hound’s problem. Let them get an Über or a white taxi. He couldn’t be bothered with every person who left the bar drunk, no matter what the town said. They cut people off from drinking all the time, but that didn’t stop them from drinking their friend’s drink or having a stranger buy one for them. As far as he saw it, Booze Hound thought what happened to people who were irresponsible was their due punishment for it, end of story. Poor innocent victims were simply collateral damage for the dangers other people ignored.
He watched the two girls stumble to their vehicle, a large, very expensive SUV with dealer plates. Ah, he thought. Daddy’s paying for that. Booze Hound spit out his chewing tobacco in disgust and began to amble across the street. He at least wanted to be out of the “danger zone” before the girls took off in their rolling death trap.
He made it across, his bad leg giving him some aches and pains from the trip, but otherwise none the worse for wear. Booze Hound reached the front door to the bar and could hear the girls giggling before one of them began retching out the side of the car. Further disgusted, he headed inside, the door shutting behind him.
As a result, he completely missed what happened next.
* * *
Sandra was drunker than a skunk. Hell, she was more like a skunk with two heads and two left feet, she was so inebriated, and her friend Jessica was no better off. Jessica had just puked all over the parking lot, barely missing the side of her father’s fancy red SUV, and all Sandra could think was, “Eww. Gross!”
Sitting in the tan driver’s seat, Sandra was excited and thankful she hadn’t gotten sick – yet – and was making sure she had her keys again. After all, she had them a minute ago, right? Lighting up seconds later when she found them, she yelled at Jessica to get in the car. She had to drive them home.
Leaning back against the headrest, she closed her bloodshot hazel eyes and then immediately opened them up again. If only things would stop spinning. She was fine, but the world was just moving too fast for her, no matter that she had both of her feet flat on the floor. Maybe she’d had one too many, but she was sure she could get home. Besides, it was only eight miles away.
Sandra eyeballed herself in the rearview mirror, checking her face. Her mascara and eyeshadow had pooled under her eyes and she wiped it away on her black pants. Her red lipstick was nearly gone from her lower lip but smudged around her upper one. Her chocolate brown hair was mussed, and she pushed it back out of her face. Anything on her face right now just annoyed her. Shoving the mirror away, she pulled a hairband off her gear shift and threw her hair back in a ponytail. Ah, that was much better.
After a second, she realized that Jessica hadn’t gotten inside the car. She looked to the passenger door and called out for her again.
“Jessica! Get in the damned car! You can finish getting sick at home. We’ve gotta go!” She turned her head back to face the windshield and closed her eyes again, groaning and opening them back up in moments to combat the swirling sensation. It was like she was going down a drain, spinning with the water and getting sucked into the darkness below.
But Jessica wasn’t there. Sandra was greeted by silence. Nothing returned her request, nothing climbed inside the SUV, and nothing shut the door. The darkest hour was quiet, save for the buzzing and occasional blinking sound of the neon sign outside.
Sandra looked over at the passenger door and let loose an angry growl, irritated that her friend wasn’t responding. She peeled herself off the car seat and stumbled down the step rail to the pavement. Annoyed that she would have to pick her friend up off the ground, Sandra clutched onto the side of the SUV and staggered around it to the other side. When she got there, she wobbled in place a little, her mouth agape as she looked at the spot where Jessica had been.
No one was there.
No one answered her.
Then a scream pierced the night, strong and deafening, raw and guttural. With no visible source, it came from all directions, surrounding the bar like a blanket of terror. Startled, Sandra jumped, whacking her hand against the car and yelping as she broke off two nails. The scream continued on for a few minutes, rising and peaking in pitch until it just…stopped, ceasing as if it was silenced by an unknown source.
And that was even more terrifying than the scream.
As if she could sense the horror that lay in wait, just out of sight, Sandra began to panic, faltering and eventually falling over onto the concrete, skinning her right hand. She whipped her head around, looking for something, anything to explain it away. Adrenaline now coursing through her veins, she pushed herself up and began making her way back to the driver’s side, fear replacing the alcohol and giving her a nudge toward sobriety.
She climbed into the driver’s seat, pulled the door shut, and turned on the car. Shifting into drive, she hit the gas and lurched forward, peeling out of her parking space and through the parking lot towards the road. Once the tires hit the pavement, she heard them squeal before they found purchase, then she leaned into the gas pedal, pushing the SUV to go faster.
She didn’t get far.
About a mile from the bar, something seemed to grab the vehicle and lift it up off the road. Sandra couldn’t see it, didn’t hear it, but it was big enough to pick the SUV up with her inside and hurl them across the road into a field. The car crunched and screeched as steel was bent, crumpling on impact. Rolling over and over again, it eventually came to a standstill, the headlights illuminating the tall grass.
After a few minutes, Sandra came to, feeling the inky blackness fading at the edges of her vision. She reached up and touched the side of her head, wincing as her fingers came away sticky with blood. Moaning softly, she felt panic rising inside of her again, realizing whatever had done this was still out there. Shifting in her seat, she looked around, but nothing could be seen in the darkness, just the tall grass surrounding the SUV.
She had to get out, to get away. Slowly reaching for the door handle, she gripped it and began to turn it, pushing on the door to open it. It creaked like the Tin Man aching for an oil can, and she flinched. Nothing happened, so she pressed on. She fell out, slamming her hands and knees on the grassy field floor and feeling the ache push up into her hips and shoulders. However, she looked around and still saw nothing. Getting a sense of luck mingled with urgency, she quickly pushed up onto her feet and began running in the direction of the bar, the lights illuminating the night in the distance.
She managed to get a good distance away before she tripped over something lying in the dirt. It was big and felt squishy as she fell over top of it. Landing hard, she flipped herself over to see what it was and stifled a scream.
It was Jessica, her friend that had gone missing mere minutes ago. She was lying face up in front of her, blue eyes wide and pink lips open in a silent scream. Her pale white throat had been cut so deep that her body was barely attached to her head, and she had deep lacerations across her bare torso, exposing her rib cage to the bone as well as several internal organs. Several feet of glistening intestine leaked out the side of her belly, staining her white shirt a dark burgundy, and Sandra tried not to vomit.
That was when it attacked.
Something huge grabbed Sandra from behind, yanking her backwards and up into the air. She looked down to see large knobby fingers with sharp black claws grasping her about the waist and shrieked, letting loose a horrible sound from her lips. Her feet dangled above the ground as she was hefted higher and higher, then brought around to face the terrible thing that was gripping her tightly.
Seeing its face, she fainted, then was roused awake again as the creature shook her like a rag doll. It smiled, showing a row of carnivorous teeth, and as she screamed, it seemed to laugh. Its breath reeked like death and fungus, and she puked, spewing all over the fingers that held her aloft. The creature simply shook the vomit off and then brought her forward. Placing her head in its mouth, the last thing Sandra saw was the purple tongue covered in pustules and then nothing. The creature had bitten down and severed her head from her body.
In the dark of the night, it stood quietly, crunching on the sweet, delicate brain matter and salty eyeballs encased within her skull. It swallowed and smiled, then took another bite from the meaty torso of the dead girl. After eating its fill, the creature shook out its quills and flexed its scaly arms, stretching and groaning. It let loose a belch and patted its stomach as if to say it was satiated. Tilting its head back, it let out a large howl, happy to be back in the world, happy to have killed, and happy to have eaten. Its head came back down, and it showed off its gruesome smile once more. Then it traipsed towards the forest in the north, satisfied for now and prepared to come back the next night for another set of females for eating.
* * *
As clearly as he could hear the subtle booms coming from the music inside WorkHorse, Booze Hound heard the howl. He had been taking out the garbage when he heard it, and thus he remained standing, affixed to the spot just outside the back door. The howl seemed to last for eons, then it quickly vanished, disappearing from earshot and becoming part of the still of the night. The vast darkness beyond him seemed more intimidating, and Booze Hound crept closer to the door. Despite his gruff exterior, he was not comfortable with strange noises in the dark, and he wasn’t about to press his luck with whatever he had heard.
After a moment of nothing more, he went inside, ushering John and Kendra out of the bar. He spent another hour or so tidying up before he locked up and went outside again. Locking the front door, he scanned around but saw nothing except his El Camino parked across the street. Cautiously at first then faster, he made his way over to his car and got in, eager to get home. He locked his doors and turned the key in the ignition. Hearing the engine turn over, Booze Hound let out the breath he’d been holding and shifted into drive. He pulled out onto the street and headed north.
He was only driving for a short while before he noticed the rotating blue light of a local police vehicle. Slowing down, he drove up to it out in the field and put the car in park. It was easy to see there was an abandoned SUV up ahead of it, the headlights still on. Booze Hound got out to get a closer look, walking up to where a sheriff’s deputy was examining the vehicle.
On that closer inspection, Booze Hound let out a long whistle that dropped and faded out at the end. Seeing the SUV all beat up and banged up like that blew his mind, especially after having just seen it all brand spankin’ new in the bar parking lot. Clearly those girls got their reckoning, he thought.
“Oh. Hey, Booze Hound.” The deputy gave a nod and tap of his hat in his direction. “Sad thing we’ve got here, eh?”
“Wonder how it happened.”
“Gotta be the drink. Those fool girls…”
“Girls, you say? There were girls driving this?”
Confused, Booze Hound began to say something, but as if he thought better of it, he instead shook his head and started walking back to his El Camino.
“Hey now. Come on back here.”
“Dang it,” he mumbled to himself. Now he was caught up in it. He knew he should have just minded his own damn business. He turned around and shuffled back to the deputy, favoring his bad leg.
Before the deputy could say anything, Booze Hound began spouting off all kinds of things. “Now I don’t know nothin’, Mike. Nothin’ at all. I was just mindin’ my own business, and those girls got in that car right there, and I don’t know what happened to ‘em. I was in the bar, right back there. You know my bar, right? I swear I just heard the howls and didn’t see or hear anything else. I cleaned up the bar and was on my way. I don’t know anything about them girls or how their car got like that. Honest I don’t. Nothin’ at all.”
“What howls, Booze Hound?” Deputy Mike looked intrigued and a little confused, his brown eyes sparkling in the blue light of the police vehicle.
Dang it. Caught again, he thought.
“Wolf, maybe? I don’t know nothin’, Mike. Nothin’ at all.” Booze Hound held up his hands defensively, like he was giving himself up to the law.
“Okay, okay. But you say the girls were drinking?”
“Yeah, I said that.”
“And they got in the car?”
“How many girls?”
“Uh, two!” He held up two fingers. “Just the two.”
“And these two girls drove away in this SUV?”
“Now I don’t know if they did or not. I went inside my bar, like I done told you. I saw them get in the car, but I went in the bar and didn’t see a thing after that.”
“Fine.” Deputy Mike rubbed his clean-shaven chin and looked back at the remains of the SUV. He’d already done a walkaround, but this was new information. He walked back to the driver’s side and shone his flashlight inside. He’d seen the blood on the steering wheel, and there was a single purse on the passenger side floorboard but little else. No evidence of a second person was there, and no indication of where either girl had gone off to. The chance that they had walked away from this wreck was completely improbable but, as of yet, not impossible.
Shining his flashlight back around the vehicle, he thought he could make out tracks leading back in the direction of the bar, so he decided to follow them. Walking easterly, the deputy followed the tracks for a little ways, maybe eighty odd feet. Then he stopped and turned to vomit, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.
He’d found the girls’ remains.
Booze Hound had been following along, and he immediately held up his hand. “Stay back. I need you to just…stay back there, okay?”
Booze Hound stopped where he was, but he could see the shapes in the grass up ahead, shadowy in the distant blue light. He knew the girls were dead. He knew that something awful had happened to them, and while he didn’t know what that awful thing was, he knew he absolutely did not want to know.
The deputy finally stood up. “I’ve got to call this in,” he muttered to himself, then he staggered past Booze Hound back to the police car.
Booze Hound didn’t move, didn’t blink, didn’t speak. He just stood there, staring at the shapes on the ground. It was as if he expected them to move or sit up, to come to life there in front of him. Eventually he sort of shook it off, turning around and heading back to the deputy, who was on the phone with headquarters.
In the darkness, the two men stood there, one speaking into his radio and asking for forensics and the coroner to come to the scene. The other man simply stared off into the treeline in the distance, thinking about that howl he had heard earlier in the evening. What had it been? What made that sound? He lied when he suggested it could have been a wolf. No wolves sounded like that, but nothing human sounded like that either.
What was it?
After he was done on the radio, Deputy Mike looked over at Booze Hound. “I’m going to need to take your statement.”
“So I’ll need you to hang around here for a while, at least until backup arrives with the coroner.”
“That’ll be fine.”
Deputy Mike followed his gaze to the distant trees, both men staring out into the darkness in fear.
“What do you think did it?”
“No idea, Booze Hound. You have any ideas?”
Together, the two men waited in the dark.