A Between Books Anthology
Edited by Greg Schauer,
Jeanne B. Benzel, and W. H. Horner
Trade Paperback • 6" x 9"
Direct Price: $14.40
Celebrate an iconic indie bookstore!
For thirty years, Between Books has provided the Delaware Valley with the absolute best in alternate entertainment—speculative fiction, comics, anime, and gaming. While other stores have disappeared, this shelter from the tides of bitter reality has remained, enduring by providing the finest in every genre, by stacking every shelf, every nook, cranny and tiny space in between with the strange, the beautiful and the terrifying. Now they have brought together many of the authors who have entertained the visitors to their hallowed walls in a collection so splendiferously diverse, it defies conventional description.
John Passarella brings us a new Wendy Ward story in which a curse meets its match. A scientist opens her personal Pandora’s Box in a tale by Maria V. Snyder. Gregory Frost finds an Old One in the noir. A roving nightmare auditions a new cast member in a chilling tale by Jonathan Maberry. Catherynne M. Valente paints a hauntingly beautiful picture of Hell. Pleasure and longing collide in a story by CJ Henderson. Memory, loss, and comfort coalesce in a story by Jonathan Carroll. All these and more await you in The Stories in Between.
Greg Schauer established Between Books in 1979.
It resides at 2703 Philadelphia Pike in Claymont, DE.
Fantasy / Horror / SF Short Stories
1 2-Page Comic
1 4-Page Comic
Trade Paperback • 6" x 9"
ISBN 10: 0-9713608-8-X
ISBN 13: 978-0-9713608-8-4
Table of Contents
Foreword by Joseph Gangemi
Introduction by Greg Schauer
“The Wrestler and the Spear Fisher” by Lawrence M. Schoen
artwork by Marcella Harte™
“Beneath Between” by Lawrence C. Connolly
artwork by Nathaniel G. Sawyers
“Dr. Time” by Maria V. Snyder
artwork by Mickey Freed
“Squeeze Me” by Don Bethman
“Swift Decline” by Gregory Frost
artwork by Allen Koszowski
“Short Fuse” by Patrick Thomas
artwork by Blair Webb
“Blood Alone” by John Passarella
artwork by Don Bethman
“Beyond Imagine” by Mike McPhail
artwork by Brian Thomas
“Appetite” by Jonathan McGoran
artwork by Mike Oreszczyn
“Doctor Nine” by Jonathan Maberry
artwork by Baron Von Reign
“My Grandfather was Adolf Hitler’s Roommate” by Henry Long
artwork by Mickey Freed
“Janey in Amber” by Jeffrey J. Mariotte
artwork by Nathaniel G. Sawyers
“Vedran” by Jonathan Carroll
artwork by Joe del Tufo
“The Devil You Don’t” by Danielle Ackley-McPhail
artwork by Blair Webb
“The Dungeon Out of Time” by Walter Ciechanowski
artwork by Allen Koszowski
“The Wonderous Boundless Thought” by CJ Henderson
artwork by Nora Schaefer
“Proverbs of Hell” by Catherynne M. Valente
artwork by Burt Hopkins
Afterword in Sequential Art:
“The Legacy of Between Books” by Steve Ressel
“Small press anthologies make me squee, anthologies in support of bookstores make me squee, and a TOC with Greg Frost, Cat Valente, Lawrence M. Schoen, C.J. Henderson, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail definitely makes me squee.”
—Rose Fox, “Genreville” blog on PublishersWeekly.com
“Enough,” said Senjo. “The Kefer are one tribe, one people.”
“That is a story told to children,” said Susk.
“Even if true, it is distant history,” said Deyco.
Wise Senjo painted the mark of the sea bird upon the brows of both men, and the previous lives of their souls returned to them.
“It is true,” said Deyco, flushed with generations of memories, several different childhoods, long dead children of his own, and most curious of all, an image of Fesht teaching him to cast his first fishing spear so very long ago.
“The Kefer are one people,” agreed Susk, reeling under the weight of past lives, previous wives, even husbands, and the faces of hundreds of friends.
“I will unite and lead the people . . .” they both said at once, then stopped, and glared at each other.
“The Kefer can be led by but one man,” said Senjo. “They must war among themselves no longer. At the next moon you two will decide this, brother against brother until only one is standing within the fire circle. He I will name as victor. The other will be claimed by the tide, swept south to the reef, and ground across the coral by a storm of my making. When life has at last been stripped from him, his blood will feed the coral and his flesh will nourish the fish.”
The brothers stared up at the face of Senjo the Wise; they trembled. At last Susk asked, “Mighty Senjo, when I confront Deyco in the fire circle, what rules govern our conflict?”
“We seek to mend history and restore the Kefer,” said Senjo. “Thereare no rules.”
I have to get out of here.
Hugging my load of books and magazines, I headed back to the ladder, which now looked incredibly far away.
The lights flickered again.
And this time they went out.
Darkness fell. I paused and waited for the power to kick back on.
The air thickened, becoming stagnant, damp.
I blinked, waiting for my eyes to adjust, but I was in total darkness, completely closed in, cut off from any source of light.
I pushed on, still carrying the books, wondering how I would know when I came to the ladder.
Have to put the books down . . . feel my way.
The plan made sense. I could always come back for the books when the power returned.
Or I can just stand here and wait for the lights to come back on.
But I didn’t like that option. Perhaps it was my imagination, but the air seemed to be growing thicker by the second, closing in until I felt as if I were suffocating in darkness.
I put the books down. They thumped around my feet, settling loudly as I moved away. I took a step, then paused, paralyzed with ambivalence. Did I really want to leave them behind?
The darkness shifted. I felt myself turning about, getting dizzy in the stagnant air.
Get out of here now!
Standing on gelatin legs, she stared at the bottle. The champagne was the most expensive brand at the liquor store. She had planned to buy the bubbly and relocate it back in time to celebrate her breakthrough.
A fluted glass waited within her desk drawer. Gaye considered sharing the alcohol with her new rat friend for a toast as she retrieved the glass. But when she reached for the bottle, it had moved to the edge. Impossible.
The room felt excessively quiet. The dehumidifier had shut off, but Gaye couldn’t remember when. The water pan must be full. She applied logic to calm her thundering heartbeat.
An unmistakable feeling of being watched hovered in the room. It seemed as if the airborne moisture had condensed into a being, changing the flow and thickness of the air in the lab. She licked her lips, tasting the sudden dryness.
Ridiculous, she chided herself. Paranoid. One minute you’re overjoyed and the next worried that someone will steal the technology. And not just a regular someone, but a water-droplet being.
Gaye shook off her apprehension. But when she headed to the dehumidifier, she caught movement at the edge of her vision.
The champagne tipped over the lip of the desk. Unable to catch it, Gaye watched the bottle fall. Glass and champagne exploded as it hit the floor, splashed onto her pants, and soaked her shoes.
When the dehumidifier kicked on with a roar, Gaye moved so fast she left champagne puddles on the ground. Grabbing her briefcase and the rat’s cage, she raced up the stairs.
I drank a little more beer. The guy beside me had on a suit coat, stained and in need of pressing, but probably no dry-cleaning service remained in town. He looked like a fat used-car salesman, or the mayor. He had a mustache over his pushed-out, fishy mouth, and a bulbous nose. In the mirror behind the bar, his large eyes seemed periodically to swivel my way, but when I glanced at him, he was looking dead ahead, his utter disregard of my existence defying my experience. Nobody was this incurious.
“Cold night,” I said.
Slowly, as if pulling against enormous magnetism, his head, then his eyes, swung in my direction. \Straight on, he looked even more fishlike. The eyes did shift now, as if searching for the memory of speech. “Cold. Nnnh, cold night, sure is.” At once he began turning away.
“Is it always like this in Dogget?”
“Always. And forever. World without end.” A slow turn to face me.“You passing through?”
“Yup,” I said, “on my way up from Lynchburg.”
“Long drive. Out of the way, here.” Big pearls of sweat had broken out on his brow, as if it strained him to talk. I could feel other customers looking our way.
“Yeah, some business in Eccles,” I said.
“I’ve made that drive. State Patrol like to pick you up on the road. Youprolly shouldn’t drink too much.”
“Thanks for the advice.”
“Right. Thanks.” I squashed my cigarette in a tin ashtray and finished off the beer.
The restrooms were at the far end of the bar. I pushed up and headed that way. As I passed each booth, I glanced in but kept my head down as if looking at the floor. Some of them gazed over, big eyes glistening.
“This is all a joke,” he said. “She doesn’t have the brains to make abomb.”
“I know how to use the internet,” Tilly said.
“Maybe, but you don’t have the guts to blow me up.”
“Actually if she blows you up,” I said, “she’ll have all the guts she’ll need.Of course, they’ll be yours.”
“This is all a desperate cry for attention, a ploy for me to take you back.Take the bomb off me and you can come home.”
Tilly stood there, lowering her left hand and the switch. She was reallythinking about it.
“Oh no, girlfriend, you aren’t going back to that,” Bubba Sue said. “He’ssomething that doesn’t deserve to be on the bottom of your shoe. You gotoff lucky.”
Jas and I both looked at her. Sure, he was a nasty piece of work, but ifthis got the bombs off both of them, it was worth the deception. We couldsort the rest out later.
“Lucky? What part of this is lucky?” Tilly tilted her head to accentuateher point.
“You could have married him first,” Bubba Sue said.
Wendy drifted down to the porch level, hoping to catch a glimpse ofthe pale man.
For a moment, her gaze slipped right past him. Then, as his head turned slightly, he jumped into focus. Dark tailored suit, jacket unbuttoned over a white shirt opened at the collar. Dark, shoulder-length hair framed a handsome face, sharp-featured and pale with a Greco-Roman nose and full, sensuous lips. Some part of her warned against looking into his eyes, something beyond Abby’s experience, something instinctual, an atavistic alarm. But here and now, unseen, unheard, un-sensed at all, she had her best chance to fathom what type of threat the man presented, including his eyes. And with that rationalization, she forced her attention up from his strong jaw, across his gaunt, sculpted cheeks to—
His eyes were so luminous she imagined they would shine in the dark. They were flat and bottomless at the same time, inviting and repelling. Ardent heat and complete oblivion churned within their depths. But above all, they were utterly compelling. And as she stared, a strange and hypnotic fascination crept over her.
The man smiled, as if at a private joke.
“Ahh,” he said. “What is this now?” His voice was deep and soothing . . . and almost as compelling as his eyes.
“You wish to dance close to the flame, my little moth.”
He laughed, a thoroughly masculine and enchanting sound. His head tilted back, revealing a flash of white teeth and, at either side of his mouth—fangs.
The troopers’ jog slowed to a walk as they approached their target, cautiously moving beyond the stack of massive storage boxes. Kotov carried his weapon at the hip, moving it slowly from side to side to keep its momentum up; on his display, its targeting reticle and pip floated ethereally out in front of him. Bauer flanked him to his left; his own weapon was up and at the ready. They stopped. Bauer turned so he was standing almost back to back with Kotov.
The death marker was somewhere on the other side of a low wall of a stone-like substance jutting out across their path. To their left, a massive one-story structure extended off into the distance; it appeared to be a glass-enclosed holding area. On their right was the drop off.
“I’m moving up to the wall,” Kotov said, already on the move.
“Acknowledged.” Bauer swung around and aimed past his comrade.
Kotov stood facing the wall. “Suit-mode, gun view.” An inset screen opened at the bottom of his display, showing a live feed from the targeting scopes mounted on the nose of his weapon. He slowly moved it out and away from cover.
The image was surreal; Kotov wasn’t a religious man per se, but he was brought up within the teachings of the Church. At this moment, he truly did believe in the existence of hell. After all, that’s where demons came from.
For the first year I used Napeteine, I was careful to come off it periodically. After a while, though, I noticed some long-term changes.
Skin tone was one—a kind of grayish pallor—but that was a small price to pay for those rock-hard abs. I went back into the lab and created a tanning cream that struck gold again. It didn’t sell like Napetiene, but it sold quite a lot. After that I looked even better; tanned and fit.
The Napeteine also started to affect my thoughts, though. I couldn’t say exactly how, but I had a sense that it did. I became more impulsive.
On a hunch, I sold the Napeteine at the height of its popularity. And I made sure it was to my old employer, Taylor and Rice. I could have gotten a few hundred million more from some other suitors, but I wanted it to be Taylor and Rice. I almost felt guilty about the sum I got from them, but that was another change: I had all but stopped experiencing feelings like guilt.
The biggest change, and the most disturbing one by far, was that food just didn’t taste good anymore. I no longer enjoyed it. And what good is a pill that lets you eat whatever you want if it also makes you not want to eat anything? For a diet pill, it was ideal in a way, but I liked food and I wanted to continue to enjoy it.
That was when I came off Napeteine for good. And that was when I realized the changes were permanent. My taste for food never did come back, or at least not like before. Instead, I felt a sort of deep, constant craving that was never sated.
He exerted a fraction more of his will and the little girl lifted her sad eyes toward his window. He made her see him through the dark glass, and as she turned toward him, she saw him and she knew him.
From dreams she knew him. From dreams that her parents and her sister would have called nightmares; dreams that, had they been unlucky enough to share them, would have sent them shuddering and screeching into the nearest patch of light. As if light could protect them. He knew—could feel and sense and taste—that this little girl had dreamed of him, that she knew his name as well as she knew her own pain. As well as she knew her own need. Doctor Nine looked into her mind and knew that there were no gods in her dreaming world, just as there were none in her waking hell. When she looked into darkness, whether behind closed eyes or under the bed or into the moonless sky she saw only him. He was always there for her kind. Always.
Doctor Nine smiled at her.
The little girl looked at him for a long time with her owl-brown eyes. When she finally smiled, it was a real smile. A smile as hot as blood and as sweet as pain. Her small mouth opened and she spoke a single, silent word, shaping it with her need and her love for him.
Back at their flat, Hitler remained quiet and gloomy. Attempting to coax his roommate out of his funk, Karl made a positive suggestion. “Adolf, why don’t you apply to the academy?”
“The Vienna Academy of Fine Arts?”
“Bah! Why should I?” He paused. “Do you really think I am good enough?”
“Of course! Why not? You’re just as talented as the other artists making a living around here, if not better.”
“That’s what I’m saying! Schedule an appointment, get your portfolio together, and see what happens! You get in, great! If not, nothing changes and you can still try again next year.”
“What about you? Why not apply, yourself? You are a good painter too, in your own way.”
“I’m a house painter, not an artist. I don’t have those kinds of ambitions. My talent is a slight one. But you, Adolf, you’ve got something big to say to the world.”
“Hmmm. I do. Yes.”
“You could become really great.”
“You could change the world!”
“That is not a bad idea.”
“The world is full of far worse ideas.”
“I am going to do it! I am going to attend the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts! I will show the world what Adolf Hitler is capable of!”
“That’s the spirit!”
“You like this place, don’t you?” Jack asked.
“Yes.” Janey answered without hesitation. She sniffed the autumn air, which carried hints of wood smoke and dark spices and enough of a chill to start her nose running. She touched its tip. “Out here, I mean. In the yard, it’s . . . the most like it was. Inside . . . I can hardly find Dad in there at all. Or me.”
“Fortunately,” Jack said, draping a strong arm over her shoulders, “I can always find you, inside or out.”
“That is a good thing.”
“I think so.”
Janey burrowed against his chest for a minute. His other arm wrapped around her, cutting the cold, like rolled blankets against her shoulders and back. “We should go in,” she said, wishing she didn’t mean it. She would give anything to stay here, in Jack’s arms, captured in the dying rays of the sun. Like an insect trapped in amber, she could remain that way forever, watching the eons pass from within a golden cage.
“I’m sure she’s fine,” Jack said. “She’s probably asleep.”
“Probably. But I think we should look in.”
Jack kissed her forehead. He hadn’t shaved that day, and his chin rasped against her flesh. “Whatever you say, darling.”
And Janey thought, idyllic, that’s the perfect word for what this is. Idyllic.
This time he brought out a very sleek, quite beautiful folding knife. “Look at this—it’s my Vedran Corluka.” He held it out for the other man to take, but Edmonds only stared at him.
“Why do you call it that? Vedran Corluka is a professional soccer player.”
Ken nodded and snapped his fingers. “Right! You’re a soccer fan too. Excellent. Yes, he plays for the Croatian national team. But I call it that for a reason. This was the last Christmas present my wife gave me. I like pocketknives; I have a collection. But this one—well, you can see how ’specially nice it is. Victoria had it custom-made for me by a guy in Montana. I liked it a lot when I got it, but only after she died did I really start paying attention to it.”
“Paying attention? What do you mean?”
“I went a little crazy after my wife died, Bill. We were married thirty-seven years and most of them were damned good. Did you have a good marriage?”
“Then you know what I mean. Vedran Corluka was her favorite player. She didn’t know beans about soccer, but she liked his name. She liked to say it. Whenever I was watching a game on TV, she always came in and asked if Vedran Corluka was playing.
“So that’s why I gave this knife his name. It was her last present and he was her favorite player. I always carry it now. When I get really down, I just grip it tight in my pocket and that usually makes me feel a little better. It makes some of the sadness go away.”
“Watch out!” An alert on the drive console went off moments after her shout.
“Campbell, evasive maneuvers!” Sarge snapped out the order as he helped man the controls. “Clear trajectory, two degrees port.”
They barely missed the burnt-out hulk. Eyes still riveted, Kat hit record on her system, catching every frame as the external cameras tracked the wreckage they’d nearly plowed into. There would have been no coming back from that. It wasn’t huge, but according to the data scrolling across the bottom of her screen, it was dense. The images were beyond disturbing.
It drifted there like a recently fissured geode. The exterior was nothing but a rock; the exposed interior was a compact craft smaller than one of the escape pods, the standard kind that had earned the epitaph “The Can” for good reason. What Kat saw on her screen was barely bigger than a sleeptank. The camera panned some more as they passed the obstacle.
Kat gasped and her grip on her computer white-knuckled. From over her shoulder she heard a chorus of “Damn!”s and not a few gulps before Sarge’s voice cut through it all.
“Enough!” he barked. “Break it up.”
She bit back a more vehement “Damn” of her own. She knew what they were looking at, and she felt cheated. “I was wrong; someone else got him.”
Keeping my eyes riveted to the passing forest beside me, I began to craft a Dangerous Dungeons scenario. I could see an unfortunate soul, about the same age as me, although taller and a bit faster, rushing through the trees away from some unseen danger. It would not save him, though, and he knew it. I imagined the unearthly howls of the vicious creatures chasing him, like a huntsman’s dogs flushing out his prey.
The flushing was especially apt, as the young man bolted out of the tree line and raced toward our car. It was all in my mind, but at the moment, that boy was more real to me than the seagulls and the sun. In fact, my mind had edited them out. It was now pouring rain in the dead of night. The poor soul was clad in a drenched Members Only jacket and jeans as he waved his hands furiously for my dad to stop. For some reason I felt I knew this boy, even though he was only a character painted in my head.
And then the dogs burst from the trees behind him. They were horrid reptilian creatures, large and hairless, with glowing, green eyes and foaming, too-large maws. The boy didn’t stand a chance as two of the savage beasts leapt upon him from behind. One dog ripped out his throat and the boy’s blood sprayed across our windshield. A third dog didn’t bother with the easy kill, turning its attention instead towards me. I recoiled in horror as the beast howled and leapt through the window of the car.
From my family’s viewpoint, of course, I’d just squealed and jumped for no apparent reason. My sister found it hilarious.
“See a dragon?” Janet chuckled.
“We have everything we want, correct?”
Again there was a wave of jocularity, but in the end, a consensus was reached that the current age was one of marvels and unlimited access to everything that had ever been imagined in all the long history of mankind. People lived as long as they desired. Everyone had work they could be proud of, some toiling as greatly as eight, nine hours every week. Foods from around the world were obtainable at a moment’s notice. Robots did all minor chores, and most major ones. One could eat endlessly and never gain weight, or not eat at all. One could visit the moon, picnic in high orbit, study the bottom of the oceans, climb the highest mountains, go surfing in the morning and sky diving at night—all without leaving their homes, all without leaving their favorite sex partners.
Anything could be downloaded directly into one’s brain. The entirety of that wonderful organ had been mapped, charted and mastered, so that now it controlled the body the way its owner wished it to be controlled. It was a perfect, utterly delicious world, one with all the learning, sleeping, sex, eating, or anything else one could want at their fingertips twenty-four hours out of every day.
“Well, that’s what this idea is all about. Focus all—I stumbled across this in the oddest place. I was thumbing through the philosophy warrens . . .”
“Do you know what a demon is?” She clenches me between her bony knees, her leathery face keen and dear against mine. The shape of her lips is perfect, a beatific sneer. She closes her eyes and strains against me, her arms thin and strong. She rides me, I can feel myself a beast beneath her, her servant, her chattel. I hear a little slushing sound as her tail makes shapes in the dust. I tell myself she is not like this with the others. That her fingers in my ventricles are more tender, that the taste of my blood is sweetest. Her eyes wheel fire.
“We were all of us angels, once. You can still smell it on us. The seal of heaven on our foreheads, the kiss of God. It smells like silver boiling. The first of us would not bow down to Adam. Then they would not work as menial laborers, wrestling and staying hands and spouting iambic prophecy. Then some few of us said ‘Adam is dead and gone. Can not our friends return, and our lovers, our brothers and sisters?’ ” Noster clears her throat gently, as if recalling a painful thing. “And some of us cried out in the dark, saying ‘We wish to feel your love, O Lord, and we do not, for your face is turned to Earth. Will you not test us as you have tested men, make us to suffer in your Name, ask of us terrible deaths, so that we may warm ourselves at the fire of your Heart?’ And thus we learned, all of us, that to ask a question of the Lord Highest is to be cast out of Heaven—it matters little what the question is. We forgot to submit; we asked at all.”
Her hooked hands grip my cheeks and there is so much blood between us.