My second Delirium Books horror novella is titled HEARTLESS. Release of the limited edition hardcover is scheduled for January 17, but the ebook edition became available yesterday.
I'm very excited about HEARTLESS, because it's not only one of the darkest things I've ever written, it's also a damned good story. You can check out the novella description here or here if you're interested. You can also purchase an ebook copy at either site.
An excerpt is available at the DarkFuse site, but if you'd like to check out a slightly longer excerpt, you've come to the right place. Here ya go:
The bodies of the sacrificial victims were lined up side by side on the massive stone altar, naked and spread-eagled, wrists and ankles lashed securely. Some had been drugged into unconsciousness but most were awake and aware. And terrified.
The sun slid gradually below treetop level, bringing shade but precious little relief from the brutal heat to either the spectators or the participants in the upcoming sacred ritual.
Some of those awaiting sacrifice sobbed and moaned, some begged for mercy to uncaring ears, some few even lay stoically, their faces impassive, their fate understood and accepted. From off in the distance a drumbeat pounded out a slow but steady rhythm, its purpose known only to the holy men at whose command this ritual was to take place.
Despite their nakedness, the victims’ bodies were coated with a sheen of sweat, the result of intense fear and the oppressive jungle heat. Mosquitos and other insects buzzed and swarmed, feasting on the exposed flesh with impunity, adding to the misery of those waiting to be sacrificed.
Almost imperceptibly the pace of the drumbeat began to increase in intensity and a sense of excitement rippled through the crowd of onlookers. Over the rim of the temple a group of holy men appeared, arriving atop the hundreds of stone stairs dressed in colorful ceremonial garb, surrounded by wives, aides and elders. Frightening masks depicting birds of prey and other wildlife covered the holy men’s faces, and the men chanted softly to themselves, their language indecipherable to the majority—but not all—of the sacrificial victims.
The first holy man moved with a deliberate pace to the restrained body occupying the northernmost position on the altar, a young boy perhaps fifteen years of age, a prisoner of war chosen to be the first sacrificial victim. The boy’s features were contorted in terror and his body quivered and shook but he refused to cry. He looked the holy man in the eye, refusing to beg or plead, choosing instead to die with his dignity intact.
In his hands the holy man held a sacred short-bladed knife, its handle inlaid with jewels and precious stones. The holy man lifted the knife to the sky, still chanting softly, his robes fluttering briefly as the barest hint of a hot jungle breeze passed over the temple like the breath of a demon and disappeared. Then the holy man bent over the young warrior and with a smooth stroke, sliced into the boy’s skin, his hand steady and sure, and the boy cried out more from shock than pain.
Blood spilled out of the warrior-child, leaking down both sides of his skinny body and onto the reddish-brown stone of the altar, the discoloration the result of countless similar ceremonies conducted over the course of countless centuries. With shocking swiftness, the holy man plunged his hands into the open chest cavity of the prostrate warrior, and now the boy screamed, his panicked voice loud and horrified, issuing out across the treetops of the jungle, echoing back to the blood-crazed onlookers from some faraway hillside.
The holy man completed the ancient ritual and stepped back, sated, as a second holy man moved to take his place, stopping in front of the next terrified sacrificial victim. In his hands he, too, held a sacred knife, which he brandished to the sky, imploring the gods of darkness to accept this holy sacrifice and remain at bay. Then he bent over the next victim, as sure-handed as the previous holy man had been.
The man lashed to the altar screamed. And the ceremony continued.
1 - Gary
Gary Newton waited impatiently in line, backpack slung over one shoulder, wishing for shelter from the intense heat of the late-summer sun. The ice cream stand—his intended destination—nestled comfortably in the shade, the tiny building ringed by a half-dozen towering fir trees, but the line of anxious customers waiting for service stretched at least a hundred feet across the dirt parking lot. Gary guessed it would be a minimum of ten minutes before the line inched forward to the point where he could take advantage of the shade.
Impatient young children, hands clutched tightly by bored parents, shared the line with teenagers on first dates, young married couples looking for a way to get out of the house without breaking the bank, and entire Little League baseball teams celebrating a win (or a loss) the way Little League wins and losses had been celebrated in small American towns for decades.
And there were girls. Lots of girls.
Some stood in rowdy groups of a half-dozen or more, others in pairs, even a few who seemed to be in line by themselves. They ranged in age from very early teens to very early twenties, but they all seemed to have one thing in common—they were dressed skimpily. Tank tops and jeans shorts seemed to be the uniform of the day, although plenty of girls flaunted their individualism by featuring athletic shorts or bike shorts, and T-shirts.
This incredible array of girls was the reason Gary found himself here today, although the prospect of enjoying an ice cream was just fine with him as well. Gary Newton was somewhat of an expert on girls at small town ice cream stands, having sampled dozens of them—both girls and ice cream stands—over the last few years. It had been his experience that the hotter the day, the better the pickings, and with the thermometer nudging one hundred degrees, today’s outing had the prospect of being damned successful.
The sun beat down on his shoulders and he could feel the back of his neck beginning to burn. A baseball cap protected the top of his head, covering the embarrassing hereditary issue of premature hair loss. Gary had read once that male pattern baldness skips a generation, which he counted as very bad news, since his father still had a thick, full head of hair in his fifties, but his grandfather had been bald as a fucking cue ball.
The line moved slowly, people shuffling forward as those at the ice cream stand’s sliding screen window seemed to be choosing their flavors with agonizing slowness. Aside from the fact he wanted to get out of the sun, though, Gary didn’t care. He had nowhere to go and no particular timetable in which to get there. The heat was uncomfortable, sure, but the slow-moving line provided plenty of opportunity for scoping out the girls. For checking out the merchandise, so to speak.
Members of a girls’ softball team, probably high school age, milled about a few feet in front of Gary and he watched them closely. A couple of the players looked as though they may merit closer observation, but on the whole, the pickings were pretty slim on this team. He had seen plenty of softball teams in plenty of small towns, and Gary was of the opinion that softball uniforms in general did nothing to accentuate the female form. A girl would have to be a real stunner to look like anything other than a bag of potatoes in the typical softball uniform. He knew his attitude was small-minded and sexist. He didn’t care.
So he ruled out the softball players. It didn’t matter; there were plenty of fish in this particular sea. And sitting at one of the ancient picnic tables provided by the owner of the ice cream stand were two of finest-looking guppies Gary had seen in a long, long time. They looked as though they might be college students. Both girls sat facing the ice cream stand, sharing a long wooden bench, leaning with their backs against the edge of the table.
Girl One’s long, bare legs were stretched in front of her and crossed at the ankles, her pink sneakers coated with dust kicked up by cars driving in and out of the dirt parking lot. Her long black hair was tied up in a ponytail and she had threaded it out the back of a baseball cap very similar to Gary’s. Even from this distance, close to a hundred feet, he could see her skin was bronze and flawless.
Her friend—Girl Two—sat next to her, their shoulders almost touching as they worked on their ice cream cones. Girl Two was nearly as pretty as Girl One, with the same olive skin and jet-black hair, the color of a moonless night at three a.m. Her hair was cut short, though, where Girl One’s was long, but aside from that minor difference, they almost looked as though they could be sisters. Girl Two sat atop the bench Indian style, legs crossed beneath her.
Both girls worked their ice cream cones furiously, clearly anxious to finish the treats before they melted away to nothing. Despite their best efforts, thin rivers of melting ice cream—Vanilla fudge? Chocolate chunk? At this distance Gary could not be sure—began trickling down the wafers of the cones. The girls ate faster. The ice cream melted faster, eventually being smeared around the cones by their delicate fingers.
Girl One shook her head and popped her fingers into her mouth one at a time, sucking them clean. Girl Two said something to Girl One and Girl One dissolved in laughter, leaning forward with her elbows on her knees. Girl Two barely cracked a smile. Then, to Gary’s astonishment, they turned at exactly the same time, as if their movements had been choreographed, and stared directly at him. Girl Two lifted her right hand and placed it in front of Girl One’s face and Girl One sucked the fingers clean, one at a time, exactly as she had done with her own hand just moments before.
Both girls continued to gaze directly at Gary, who stood, mouth open, entranced by the semi-erotic display. How the hell had the two girls known he was watching? They were separated by dozens of people, and neither girl had given any indication of being aware of his presence until they turned together. And, in fact, he had only become aware of them seconds before.
The whole thing was almost creepy, but Gary didn’t much care about that. If the girls were trying to embarrass him, to make him avert his eyes, it wasn’t going to come close to working. He locked onto Girl One’s gaze, his lips curling into a sly smile. People walked between them and he didn’t notice. Somewhere in the distance a baby cried and he didn’t notice. The air was filled with the ambient sounds of people talking and he didn’t notice.
Striking up a conversation with two girls rather than one went against every rule Gary had established for himself over years of carefully planning and executing his crimes. There were too many ways things could go sideways with two victims. It was foolish to even consider taking both of these girls. It was also exactly what Gary Newton had decided to do.
If you're interested in reading more, please consider downloading the entire novella. It's 19,000 words in length and is available in all ebook formats, at DarkFuse, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble.
And, oh yeah. You may think you know where the story is going with this excerpt, but you're wrong...
A quick reminder: there are still nearly five weeks remaining in my "Win a Free Kindle Fire" contest. If you'd like the opportunity to win a brand-new Kindle Fire, a $199 value, you can enter here!