Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Gryphon Virus preview


Chris Strange


The limousine jolted forward as if it hit from behind abruptly.
Prescott punched a button and lowered the privacy shield, “What’s going on!”
The driver reported gruffly, “We have company!”
Sheppard and Prescott could now see through the tinted windows, a white rental truck pull alongside them and then veer into their vehicle, sending another shockwave of impact through the interior. It knocked both men to the floor and Sheppard’s bag temporarily out of reach.
The limo scraped the guard rail, separating them from the side of the road and a rocky culvert leading down into the water. It sent up a shower of sparks as tires squealed.
The driver of the limo compensated his driving, trying to remain on the road as he pressed his foot to the floor. His dark, bald head pivoted from side to side as the car swerved and surged forward, rocking its passengers with striking ferocity.
The truck kept pace, coming up alongside once again. This time the rental swung in hard, pounding the driver side of the limo once more. Again the car skidded with tires howling into the protective barrier and a dangerous drop into the water’s edge where graying driftwood decorated the shore in a tangled mess of jagged pikes. The back tire of the limo blew out and rumbled as it shredded into the rim, fluttering like a black kite caught in a high wind.
The truck gained on them, almost passing them, then rapidly veered with violent force into the front door. The impact sent the driver’s skull slamming off the side window rendering him unconscious. He slumped on the wheel with his arm caught between the spindles and the vehicle pulled hard to the left, cutting across the oncoming lane as the rental truck dropped back. The car sailed through the guard rail on the opposite side of the road, down the culvert and head-on into the trees where it stopped dead. Sheppard and Prescott were both thrust into the ceiling of the back compartment and then the floor with a savage pounding. The force crushed the front of the vehicle and sent a puff of steam hissing skyward as the engine hugged a tree relieving it of its bark. Both men were propelled into the seat before them as the airbags deployed in the front compartment.
Sheppard wavered, punch drunk, and struggled to pull himself up from the floor. His head swam, and his senses faded in and out. He felt no pain, and around him, everything seemed vibrant yet hazy. He could hear Prescott moaning as if he were at the end of some cavernous hall. He could hear the slow ticking of the heated engine cooling. He could feel wetness slithering down his forehead. He dabbed his fingers into it and returned the reddish smear to his eyes. He rubbed his fingers together to feel the oiliness of the texture as if his blood were a living entity. 
Sheppard could see his bag in the corner and sluggishly pawed at it, flipping it upright. He struggled to unzip it and dig into the compartments until he felt the handle of the revolver, pulling it free of its hiding place. He extracted the gun with as much urgency as he could muster, but the weapon fell to the floor at his feet, dropping easily from the trembling weakness in his hands. He could see sunlight streaming in from a busted window. It was blinding and intense, but a circle of darkness swirled in around him, quickly closing off his vision to a pinpoint of light. The last thing he remembered before he lost consciousness was the indistinct outline of the rental truck parked by the road with the engine idling and the shadow of a huge brute of a man trotting toward them with what looked like a gun in his hand.
If you would like to read more of this novel, please go here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Handmade Heart Preview

Excerpt from Handmade Heart

Wally slowed the Honey Wagon down to a crawl as we approached the third dirt road. It was a tight squeeze, but he managed to get all the wheels onto the path. On we pressed with the occasional tree branch whipping the windshield, slapping the side of the truck’s metal tank and scraping along the length of it.
“I got a bad feeling about this, Sparky.”
“Drive, Wally. These are the directions they gave me.”
Doc let out an audible sigh.
Wally turned on the headlights to cut through the encroaching gloom. There was a sharp turn up ahead where the road became increasingly narrow, and the foliage seemed to smoother us on all sides at once in a dense green carpet of shadow. I could see in the rearview mirror as the branches snapped back, conspiring with the darkness to swallow the road behind us. Wally turned on the wipers.
“What do you hope to accomplish by doing that, Wally?” Doc said.
“Keep the trees out of my way.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“They are only big-leaf small trees.”
Doc’s words dripped sarcasm. “Thank heavens they aren’t the small-leaf big trees, or we’d be in real trouble, Mr. Woodsman—”
“This can’t be right, Sparky—”
“I assure you, Wally, this is the—Stop the truck now!” I shouted.
Wally twisted the Honey Wagon around the bend and then put his foot down hard on the brake. The truck screeched to a halt. He shifted into neutral and lifted the emergency brake.
“Where did the road go?” Doc asked nervously.
“There, you happy, Sparky? There’s no more road anyways,” Wally said. “At least nothing we could drive.” 
“I don’t know. The directions were very specific. They say the studio should be about a couple of hundred yards beyond the turn. I’m sure that’s what I remembered?”
“Well, obviously it’s not.”
“How do you know, Doc.? We can’t see far ahead especially in the dusk—”
“Are you sure this is the right way?” Wally asked.
“I’m sure,” I said as I counted on my fingers, “Third dirt road on the left, after the turn off the highway, two miles from the junction. Guys, according to the directions, this is the correct place.”
“But without the map, we don’t know for sure, do we—?”
“Oh, this is just great. Sparky got us lost.” Wally moaned. “What elks can go wrong?”
“Well, they said it was secluded?”
“Secluded is one thing, Sparky. Having to hack our way through the underbrush with machetes is quite another. Aw, this is lovely,” Doc said. He turned to Wally, “Just fucking lovely.”
“Well, maybe they haven’t had time to cut it back—”
“Oh right, and the grounds-keeper Jason Voorhees doesn’t do that until Wednesday,” Doc spouted. “What do we do now?”
“I think I can speak for everyone by saying we can’t drive any further,” I said.
“You think?”
 “You’re not helping, Doc. I say we walk. It can’t be far.”
“It better be close, it’s getting late, and I’m hungry.”
You, Doc?”
“It’s constantly standing next to Wally. He gets you thinking about food on a subconscious level.”
I also started to feel the grumbling of a cavernous stomach. I hadn’t eaten since well before Doc had arrived at my place. I hadn’t thought of it until Barlow reminded me of his hunger pangs.
Wally shut off the engine, and we all tunnelled out, pushing various tree branches out of our way. The air around us was cooling but maintained the languid aroma of sun-baked vegetation. Wally started to inch toward the bags and guitars to unhook them.
“Wally, not yet—”
“Yeah, let the Bellhop get them,” Doc said.
“I mean, we should make sure we’re in the right place first, right guys?”
Wally squeezed his way back, and we all convened in a small triangle on the over-grown dirt road ahead. 
“If these are the wrong directions, we shouldn’t take any chances,” I said. “We have to find the studio before we go hauling the instruments with us. I suggest that we put all the stuff in the cab and lock it for now. We can always come back when we confirm our position. It’s getting dark quickly. Do you have a flashlight in the truck?”
“There’s one in the toolbox, but if we’re that close—”
“Just in case Wally. Get it.”
“I agree with Sparky. I’m beginning to think someone doesn’t want us to get through this weekend.”
“Maybe it’s the ghost of Wires Whitmire?” Wally said and added at scary woooo to the end of his statement.
“Don’t be stupid. Even if there was such an entity, why would Wires want to obstruct our way? He’s responsible for us being here in the first place.” 
However, Wally’s words had made me shiver. I’d seen Wires in my dreams of late. It was always the same. He was standing near a doorway, blocking it perhaps? His mouth was moving as if he was trying to tell me or warn me about something, but I couldn’t hear any words. Then he’d put his smouldering cigarette in his mouth and draw the smoke deep into his lungs before blowing it out in a huge gust that enveloped him. When I ran to him, waving my arms frantically to clear the cloud, he was gone, and so was the doorway.
We worked together, stowing the rest of our belongings on the front seat and gathered what we needed before starting, hopefully, toward the studio.
Wally seemed concerned. “I should put on the four-way flashers before we leave.”
“Good idea, Wally. You don’t want on-coming traffic to slam into us, or be ass-ended by a deer,” Doc said.
“This is a work truck; I need to think about safety first.”
“I thought with you it was hunger first, safety second? Maybe you’d like time to forage for berries in case we’re gone longer than ten minutes? Get your ass over here and let’s get going!”
We could only walk in single-file as the tree branches badgered us from both sides; it left almost no trail to follow. I took the lead stabbing through the growing darkness with the flashlight, while Doc followed up the rear.
“This nighttime trek seems too familiar,” Doc said. “As I recall, it wasn’t all shits and giggles last time either. We’re getting too old to be wandering around in the middle of nowhere like Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod.”
“Look ahead, Doc, there’s a fork in the trail. It can’t be far now.”
“I can’t see anything with Wally in front of me. It’s like following a huge yellow transport truck with wide load written across the back of it—”
“What are you tryin’ to say, Doc—?”
“I think it was self-explanatory with the wide load comment, Wally.”
We reached the fork. On closer inspection, there were three possible ways to choose from as we inched forward.
“Oh, great! What now, fearless leader?”
“That way . . . To the right,” I said with conviction. After a few minutes, there was another divide in the trail.
“This has to be the wrong way, Sparky,” Doc said emphatically.
“Which way now?” Wally asked. The weakness of his voice told me he was also losing hope.
To the right,” I said again.
“Sparky, if we keep making rights, we’ll end up back at the Honey Wagon,” Wally said.
“Ok, Wally, let’s take the left path and forge on—”
“Did you know that if you put a tiny amount of liquor on a scorpion, it will go mad and sting itself to death—?”
“Doc, please.”
After a few minutes more, the path divided again.
“We’re going to have to leave bread crumbs to find our way back,” Doc said.
“Oh . . . my back!” Wally bellyached, “It’s like a frickin’ maze in here. Shit, I hope we get to the cheese soon. I’m getting hungry too.”
Doc slapped his neck. “So are the mosquitoes—”
“How many insects did you say for each person, Doc?” I said.
“If I had my fishin’ gear we could catch dinner—”
Je-sus Wally, the last stream I saw was an hour ago when we were on the highway. Just exactly where were you planning on fishing? Shit!”
“Well, it is Ernie’s Bay. Logic dictates there would be a body of water around here somewheres—”
“Why am I even talking to you? You have no fishing pole other than the rod and tackle box between your legs, and you probably haven’t seen them in years. What would you use for bait, mosquitoes? You know what? If we have to resort to cannibalism, you’re the first to go.”
“Me! Why not Sparky? He wanted to walk. Now we’re lost. Don’t blame me, Doc. All this walking isn’t good for someone in my condition—”
“Why, Wally? Cause you might lose some weight? Cause your water might break—?”
“That’s enough!” Wally yelled.
I pleaded, “Guys! Stop it. Christ, Grub was right. All this band ever did was bicker. We have to stick together on this—”
“I say we go back to the truck. We can’t keep wandering around here all night—”
“Yeah, Sparky, for a change, I agree with Wally? It’s obvious; this is the wrong way. We need to get help.”
As reluctant as I was to turn around, I had to agree with their logic. “Ok, let’s head back . . . Wait! Look!” 
Through the trees, down the path, there was a twinkling light. With renewed vigour, we pressed on like the journey of the Magi following the star to the Manger. The underbrush began to clear and soon, we found ourselves on the edge of a field looking up to a hilltop on which stood a dark structure.
“The studio, see I told you. There it is.”
“Thank blubbering Jesus H. Christopher,” Doc said.
The path wound up a hillside through the thick matted grass on the far recess of a meadow. Atop, there stood a dilapidated house and a barn in not much better condition. A winding road of gravel veered off in the other direction toward a distant tree line. It appeared to be holding onto a balloon of an orange moon as the glow of the setting sun faded and was snuffed out.
“That’s not the studio. Or at least I hope it isn’t. You said it was state of the art.”
“It is . . .” I said, but now I wasn’t so sure and tried to reassure myself. “Alexander told me it was.”
“Well, that place shouldn’t even be in the State,” Doc said
“It’s giving me the creeps. I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Sparky.”
“You keep saying that. Stop it and stop all the ghost of Wires crap, Wally.”
“Let’s go back to the truck and wait it out until morning. Maybe it’ll look better in the daylight—?”
“But the lights are on Wally, someone’s home. If that’s not the studio, we can at least find out where we are and where the studio is. Get some food. Maybe even sleep here tonight—”
“What happened to, we’re men; we don’t ask for directions?” Doc said scoldingly.
“There’s a lot of maybe in your statement, Sparky,” Wally said.
Doc protested, “I’m not sleeping in that place even if they roll out the red carpet—”
“Anyone see the Texas Chainsaw Massacre—?”
“Wally, please!—Do you really want to keep walking, guys—or go back to the truck hungry, sit there and smell shit all night? Do you know how long it will take to back the Honey Wagon up the dirt road in the dark? And then where will we be? Any town within a hundred miles of this place will be asleep by then and closed up tighter than a virgin convict’s asshole. Let’s at least check it out. We’ve come this far. We can’t turn back now.”

If you would like to read more of this novel, please go here.