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About the Author
Gregory Lamberson is the writer and director of the horror films Naked Fear, Slime City, and Undying Love. He is the author of Johnny Gruesome and Personal Demons and a contributor to Cheap Scares: Horror Filmmakers Share Their Experience. He lives in Cheektowaga, New York.
Read an Excerpt
By Gregory Lamberson
Medallion Press, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Gregory Lamberson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLucile Chandler walked faster as the sun set over Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. Returning from church, where she served on a committee dedicated to serving the poor, she had stopped for milk at a corner bodega, where she had spent too much time discussing the sorry state of the neighborhood with the proprietor, Miguel Ruiz.
Now she found herself hurrying home and scanning shadowy doorways for signs of danger. After the Great Recession, New York City had seen its most dramatic crime increase since the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. Lucile remembered those days well, and in her opinion, the current environment posed a far greater threat to senior citizens like herself. At sixty-seven, she had begun to give serious consideration to her sister's invitation for Lucile to move in with her in Florida.
With swollen ankles and creaking knees, the retired bookkeeper crossed the street, passing a blockade constructed of graffiti-covered plywood. The plywood obstructed the entrance to a subway station that city officials had closed in a desperate attempt to help stave off impending financial disaster. A homeless couple covered in filth slept sitting up with their backs pressed against the blockade.
Cut the services and the cops, Lucile thought as she passed beneath the construction awning that ran the length of the block. You might as well cut our throats. After Governor Raymond Santucci's recent cutbacks, Mayor Myron Madigan had been forced to lay off thousands of police officers, which contributed to the crime wave, especially in downtrodden neighborhoods. Lucile had watched Flatbush Avenue rise and fall and rise and fall again.
A scarecrow, tall and gaunt, stood at the far corner, silhouetted by the dying light. Drawing closer to him, she discerned emaciated gray features. Dark, bulbous eyes that reminded her of a frog's locked on her from within sunken sockets. She did not recall seeing him before, but the scarecrows all looked the same, regardless of race. Dangerous new drugs had created a dangerous new breed of criminal, driven to brutal acts by the all-consuming need to get high.
Pulling her purse tight against her bosom, Lucile stepped closer to the metal framework supporting the awning at the sidewalk's edge. The scarecrow's dull eyes followed her, although the addict's head did not move. Lucile slipped her right hand inside her purse and closed her fingers around the cool metal of the tear gas canister.
Just try it, she thought. I'm ready for you.
She had been mugged three times in the last six months-once at gunpoint, once at knifepoint, and once with no weapon at all, just three wild-eyed young men with pallid skin and darkened eyes.
Lucile would welcome death before allowing another one of these fiends to rob her dignity, let alone what little money she carried on her person. She kept her cash in a secret pocket on her dress, not in her purse. If the fiends demanded her money, she would surprise them with a gas blast from the canister, which she had purchased from a sympathetic pawnshop owner. It didn't matter that automobiles traversed the busy avenue beside her; none of the drivers would stop for an old woman taking a beating. And any people with sense had already gone inside and locked their doors.
As she reached her block, her instincts told her to look over her shoulder. Sure enough, the scarecrow lumbered across the street behind her. Quickening her gait, she increased the distance separating them and reached her building's entrance. Inside the vestibule, she withdrew her keys, making it harder to grasp the canister if she needed it, and jammed the longest one into the lock. Her heart thumped from her panicked rush inside, and she almost dropped the keys. If the fiend cornered her in the foyer before she opened the door, she didn't stand a chance.
Entering the lobby, she closed the inside door behind her, making sure the latch clicked into place. The scarecrow stopped outside the front door and turned in her direction. She couldn't tell if he saw her through both doors or not. Then he opened the outside door and entered the vestibule.
You ugly, godless son of a bitch!
The scarecrow crossed the tiled floor, and the first door closed behind him. Praying he didn't have keys, Lucile stepped back as his shadow fell over her. The scarecrow pressed his face against the glass, his eyes locating hers.
He's half dead. She had seen this look many times.
The doorknob turned and she caught her breath, but the door didn't open. Fearing the scarecrow might punch his fist through the glass, she climbed the stairs as fast as her beleaguered joints permitted. At the top, she glanced over her shoulder.
The scarecrow remained at the door but had stopped turning its knob. Stepping back, he turned and stood looking at the front door.
That one isn't locked, Lucile thought, willing the scarecrow to leave. She turned back just in time to see another figure bounding toward her from the shadows. With her heart jumping in her chest, her mind absorbed the teenage boy's appearance: Hispanic, hair cropped close beneath a red hooded sweatshirt, hungry eyes blazing within sunken sockets. Another scarecrow!
She heard the echo of his sneakers slapping the floor as he raced toward her, then saw him raise a pipe high over his head. In that instant, she forgot all about the tear gas in her purse. Instead, she wondered whether or not she would fall all the way down the stairs after he hit her.
He brought the pipe down onto her skull, and she never learned the answer.
* * *
Hearing the old woman's scraping footsteps on the stairs, Louis Rodriguez slid the lead pipe from his belt and gripped it in his right hand. He had been about ready to give up on this building when he'd heard the downstairs door open and close. Now the woman stopped one step below the floor where he hid, and he couldn't control his need for drugs anymore. Emerging around the hallway corner, he saw that she had stopped to glance over her shoulder at the lobby below. She turned toward him, her eyes registering his presence, and looked up as he raised the pipe over his head.
Louis had never killed anyone before, but he found it easy enough to brain the old woman. As the pipe split her skull open, he felt no remorse, only gratitude that she did not scream as she toppled backwards. He watched with perverse fascination as her head struck the stair six feet below and her feet rose into the air. Her body executed a half flip and slid down the remaining stairs feetfirst, her face smashing against each edge on the way down.
Ignoring the blood that erupted from beneath her wig like lava from a volcano, he snatched her purse and dumped its contents on the floor. Lipstick, tissues, compact, keys, metal canister ...
Louis frisked her body, turning her pockets inside out until he found what he wanted: six folded twenty-dollar bills.
Still clutching the pipe, he ran outside, breathed in fresh air as he stepped around a fellow junkie loitering out front, and broke into a run. He did not run out of fear of getting caught but out of pure anticipation. He tried to contain his elation, so the other scarecrows on the street wouldn't suspect he had come into cash.
Shit like that gets you killed these days.
* * *
Louis ran along blocks occupied by fortified buildings until he reached the empty space where the old car wash had been. He had scored coke from a worker there back in the day, but the White Lady was hard to find now. Staring across the rubble at the Dumpster behind the shuttered pizzeria next door, his heart sank.
He glanced at the darkening sky.
Relax. Relax. It won't be long. They only come out at night.
Shifting his weight from foot to foot-the junkie's dance-he dug his fingers into his palms and chewed the inside of his mouth to dull the pain seizing his belly. The shadows in the empty lot lengthened, and his breathing took on a deep, anticipatory rhythm.
A shadow moved along the restaurant's brick wall. It hadn't been there a few minutes ago. A second shadow appeared and then a third. The shadows stopped elongating as their sources stepped into the glare of a streetlight, and at last the things revealed themselves to him. They wore common street clothes-oversized sneakers, baggy jeans, and hoodies like Louis's, their hands stuffed into their pockets.
Louis couldn't discern the things' features, but he knew without question that his connections had arrived. He moved forward, feeling an odd mixture of desperation and dread despite the pipe in his hand. He wished he could score from someone else, but the only other dealers around were the same as these: dead to the world.
The dealers turned their heads in Louis's direction but showed no sign of recognition, even though Louis had been a steady customer for weeks. Standing before the dead things-boys roughly his own age-Louis swallowed. The thing standing in the middle tipped its head back, revealing taut, almost skeletal, features. It didn't blink because it had no eyelids, and its dull, flat black pupils focused on Louis, causing him to shudder. The creature waited.
"I need some Magic," Louis said, holding up his newfound cash. "Three bags."
The creature on the left removed a bony hand covered with leathery skin from one pocket. Opening its coarse fist, it revealed three plastic bags filled with black powder in its palm. The thing on the right took Louis's money and pocketed it.
Louis snatched the Black Magic and fled, as anxious to escape the dead things as he was to snort Magic.
* * *
Louis ran three blocks to the abandoned apartment building he called home. His family lived a few blocks west, but he could not remember the last time he had seen his grandmother or younger brother. He put them out of his mind just like the old bird he had just snuffed. Racing up the grimy cement stairs, he leapt onto the window ledge and pushed the plywood there. The wood bowed inward, allowing him to slip inside, and he heard the board snap back into place as his sneakers touched the rotted linoleum floor.
The haunted eyes of scarecrows loitering in the lobby followed him up the stairs. Once these wretches had been cokeheads, crackheads, and heroin addicts; now they craved Black Magic. Some, like Louis, snorted it. Others smoked it, injected it, or mixed it into their favorite cocktails. They lived for Black Magic. They robbed for Black Magic. And, Louis now understood, they killed for Black Magic. Their DNA demanded it.
Hurrying along the second-floor hallway to the deserted apartment he occupied, he thought of nothing else. He pushed the front door open and entered the one-bedroom flat: no real furniture, just milk crates he had stolen from outside a Korean deli and a coffee table he had hauled upstairs from the sidewalk. Not even a mattress. A layer of soot on the living room windows served as the only curtains he needed, and the streetlight outside provided gray light.
Closing the door, which no longer had a lock, he ran to the coffee table and kneeled before it. He unclenched his fist and dropped the bags of Magic on the table, opened one with trembling fingers, and emptied its contents, like fine black sand, onto the table's chipped wooden surface. He stopped blinking, and his nasal passages opened and closed like the gills of a fish. Taking a half straw from his pocket, he snorted Black Magic without bothering to separate it into lines.
Oh yeah, he thought as his bloodstream absorbed the black powder. Heaven. This is what it's all about. The old woman he had murdered never entered his thoughts again.
* * *
Lost in a world of fantasy, Louis spent the next six hours snorting Black Magic and playing with himself. His mind fabricated the perfect woman, statuesque with a sculpted physique, her smooth flesh as dark as the drug consuming his life. Every time he pictured her, his hand groped for his penis, which he stroked to painful orgasm. Then he snorted more Magic, and the cycle started anew. He ignored the pain from the bleeding fissures on his erection for as long as he could, then dulled the agony with even more Magic.
Finally, when his hand and imagination had given him more joy than any real woman could have, the room spun around him even though he lay on his back. His heart tightened, and he sucked in his breath-
-and pain stabbed his heart, which exploded in his chest and ceased to beat.
Oh, God, please no!
There were so many things he still wanted to do in his life. He wanted to get high, and he wanted to get high again after that.
Too late ...
But even as his body cooled and evacuated its bowels and bladder, Louis's mind continued to formulate thoughts. Lying dead of an overdose on the floor of an abandoned building, covered in his own feces and urine, he experienced shame and despair. He knew that he had met the inevitable and disgraceful fate of a junkie, and yet his consciousness remained intact, trapped within his disgusting corpse.
Oh, Jesus, what's happening to me?
He wondered if he would spend eternity trapped in this filthy shell or if he would pass on to some other form of existence. He had no hope of reaching heaven but held out for purgatory over hell.
Murderers go to hell.
The sudden beating of his ruptured heart caused hope to rise from the bowels of his corpse. Looking inside himself, he saw that this was impossible: the organ in the center of his chest remained a hopeless and unmoving mess.
He heard it, loud and clear, like a great machine reverberating through water.
His mind catalogued the building's tenants. One or two of them might have been musicians at one time but no longer. They were all addicts, like him. If any of them had arrived with musical instruments, they had long since pawned them to buy drugs. No, the more he thought about it, the more certain he became that the drumming existed only in his head. Was his brain liquefying already? What further degradation must he endure?
The answer came in the form of movement within his body: muscles drew tight, and his view rolled over from the ceiling to the floor.
WHAT THE HELL?
He saw his hands flat on the floor. Then his left knee came into view, and he stood erect. But this was impossible! Not only had his dead body risen from the floor, but it had done so of its own volition, without any input or desire from him.
Someone or something had seized control of his body.
Dozens of thoughts crisscrossed his overstimulated brain all at once. Perhaps he could make this work for him. Maybe he could adapt to this new situation. All he wanted to do was get high ...
His naked body pulled on his dirty clothes and crossed the room.
Wait a minute. What's happening? I don't want to go outside like this! I want to clean myself up!
His body ignored him. It reached for the doorknob and opened the door.
You can't do this! You need me!
His body stepped out into the dark hallway, following the drumbeat he heard in his head. Little more than a subconscious thought pattern, Louis screamed.
Excerpted from Desperate Souls by Gregory Lamberson Copyright © 2010 by Gregory Lamberson . Excerpted by permission.
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