From the Slushpile: The Devil & Klaus Kristiansen (Part IV)

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Luke’s family farm stretched along both sides of the rural highway that routed traffic through the north end of our county to the Georgia line. Laden with beer, liquor, and few other party favors, we sought to attract as little attention as possible from the roving county patrols. So we parked in front of one of the cattle gates on an unpaved farm road that led onto their property.

The waxing moon illuminated our awkward climb over the rickety steel gate. Once far enough from the highway, we switched on our flashlights and followed the winding trail through the woods toward the familiar camping site, a mainstay of our freshman and sophomore years. What had been fertile farmland in decades past was now an expanse of rock and red clay covered by an overgrown pine plantation.

Neither Klaus nor Turtle spoke as we moved toward our destination. To my knowledge, they hadn’t spoken to each other since the morning of the incident in Klaus’s apartment. But that hadn’t stopped either of the quarreling friends from using me as a sounding board and occasional go-between.

I hoped Luke would have a rational explanation for his rash decision to return to a state of nature. And if not a sensible reason, at least one fueled by his years of drug abuse rather than the supernatural.

Born and raised in these parts, I took the lead on our silent moonlit stroll. Though my eyelids were heavy, I still took the opportunity to gaze up at the pale beauty shining in the sky above us. My enjoyment was not to last, for one spider web and then another brushed my face, setting me on edge.

My unease turned to alarm when a cry broke the stillness of the night. We stopped walking and panned the beams of our flashlights around to scan our surroundings. Our resolve wavered like a stand of pine trees in the path of a twister. Another scream almost sent us into full flight.

“Is that a woman screaming?” Klaus asked as he backed down the trail.

“Probably a big cat, maybe a panther,” I replied, more concerned about becoming a meal for a hungry hunting cat than anything else.

“That’s reassuring. Glad I’m armed.”

“Armed? What the fuck do you mean you’re armed? I got drugs on me and a record haunting me. That ain’t cool, man!”

“Simmer down, convict,” Klaus quipped, referring to my brief stay in county jail over a possession charge. “I didn’t bring my Glock, so your ass cherry is safe. But I brought this baby.” He opened his leather jacket to reveal a foot long bowie knife. He pulled the blade halfway out of its sheath and gestured to its sheen.

Turtle commented, “I see you dipped it in silver like I said.”

“Yeah,” Klaus answered, “I did it like bluing a gun. Let’s just hope it worked.”

“What do you mean ‘dipped it in silver’?” I asked. “And when did you two start talking to each other again?”

“We haven’t been talking,” Turtle said. “We’ve been emailing. Making plans.”

“Making plans for what exactly?” I asked, my level of alarm rising along with my sense of dread.

“It’s probably nothing, Jay,” Klaus said, returning the knife to its sheath. He used my first name so rarely that I knew that the situation was grave. “But didn’t Boy Scouts teach you to be prepared? Isn’t that your motto: hope for the best; prepare for the worst?”

“Guys, I don’t like where this conversation is going,” I reiterated. “This is not a game; we are not smiting evil. We see where that avenue led us, nowhere fast.”

Another scream from the direction of the firelight shimmering through the trees interrupted any response to my warning. But it reinforced their position. Perhaps this had been an ill-conceived notion. Or could it have been a deliberate manipulation based on their fears, superstitions, and ulterior motives? Had my friends coaxed me here because they thought Luke possessed? Worse yet, could they be right? Was it even possible?

We crept toward the edge of the clearing that contained the camp site, but no further cries assailed us. Instead, a wet sucking sound met my ears that caused me to halt instead of pushing through the wood line.

“Sounds like a wet boot stuck in mud?” Klaus whispered.

Turtle blushed and giggled. “Or something like that.”

Could we be interrupting Luke and one of his dippy hippie girlfriends? I thought. If so, how angry would they be with us for disturbing their nocturnal, arboreal romp?

“What do we do now?” I asked. “Should we let him know we’re here? Don’t know about ya’ll, but I’ve got no interest in seeing hairy man ass by the pale moonlight.”

“You’re in luck then,” Klaus replied. “Luke is pretty hairless.”

I paused in mid step. “And how do you know that?”

“We’ve gone to the gym before,” Klaus explained, “to work out.”

Turtle pantomimed an obscene sexual gesture behind Klaus’s back and caused me to giggle despite the nebulous nature of our situation. The human scarecrow spun around but failed to catch our clownish friend in the act. The frustration and bewilderment on Klaus’s face caused us to share another laugh at his expense.

“Come with me if you want to see your gym buddy,” I said in a horrible mockery of California’s former Governator. I added with a squawking cry, “Get to the clearing!”

Turtle and I were still laughing at my bad impression of Arnold Schwarzenegger when we broke through the pines and into the area cleared for the family campsite. But laughter and mirth died on our lips as we surveyed the shadowy sanguine scene illumed by the flickering campfire. In the coming months, what I saw that awful night would haunt me; I couldn’t laugh or sleep from the time the moon rose until it set. After that punctuated period of insomnia passed, my memories of the silver lady remained forever tarnished by the image of our bloody friend bathed in her light.

Luke crouched over the nude body of a young woman whose chest had been ripped open. Rocking back and forth on his bare feet, he gnawed on the ruined heart clutched in his hands. As my mind reeled, it connected the dots for me. I recognized the similarities between the act of terror playing out before our eyes and the murderous scene from our dreams. The location and victim were different, but the ritualistic nature of the killing was almost identical. Klaus’s darkest dreams had become our new reality.

Luke’s black eyes sought us out across the firelight. He stared at us without blinking for what seemed like an eternity. And then he went back to the hearty meal in his hands.

“What do we do now?” I asked, truly at a loss.

“We do what we came here to do,” Klaus replied.

“And what is that exactly?”

“We end this,” Turtle said. “We send this thing back to where it came from.”

I didn’t like where this was going. “And how do we do that?”

“We kill the host with a sliver of silver in the heart and then burn the body. That should do it.”

“Are you sure, Turtle?”

“Nope.”

“Thanks, thanks a lot, guys.” Not that I meant it. “So what now, brave crusaders?”

Klaus drew his silvered bowie knife and yelled, “We charge!”

In the landscape of his mind’s eye, he saw himself as the shining noble warrior he preferred to play in our Dungeons and Dragons expeditions. But he had less training with a knife than he had experience at stabbing someone in the heart, which was to say zero, to my knowledge.

Perplexed and unarmed, I watched as disaster, born from my friend’s inability to distinguish reality from fantasy, manifested itself before my very eyes.

Luke raised his head and shrieked so shrilly that it halted Klaus’s advance. My friend staggered under the assault on his eardrums and equilibrium. As soon as he was off balance, Luke leapt. He sprung into the air and landed close enough to Klaus to force the taller man back a step.

Klaus dropped the knife as he gazed into the soulless eyes of the being inside our friend. He turned to run but never made it. Luke pounced on him like a blood-soaked Tigger and took the lanky man to the ground. Snarling, Luke clawed and snapped at him. Blood from the cannibal on his chest dribbled into Klaus’s mouth. Gagging and retching, he flopped like a fish underneath the lighter but stronger man on top of him.

Turtle rushed forward, but I put discretion before valor. No way was I facing off against some hellish thing with a sack full of beer and munchies. Looking about the campsite, my eyes settled on a shovel at the edge of the clearing. I bolted for it.

Turtle and Klaus wrestled with our possessed friend as I raced to arm myself. They punched, kicked, and elbowed him but nothing seemed to stop the assault. Turtle’s choke hold ended badly when Luke flipped our hefty friend over his shoulder. Luke tore at Klaus with his fingernails and then latched onto his forearm like a vicious pit bull.

Snatching the spade from the edge of the freshly dug latrine, I looked back toward the tussling trio of men I’d called friends before this insanity began a few weeks ago. I realized at that point I was risking my life for people who’d risked it without any concern for my safety.

Turtle had done so with his psychic parlor tricks gone awry. And then Klaus had led me to the woods tonight under false pretenses with his half-assed plan to stake a man possessed by a murderous being from another world, be it one of dreams, spirit, or fire and brimstone. By all rights, I should have fled.

But I didn’t. And when I can’t sleep at night now, I remember that that was my turning point, the moment that I sealed my fate and decided my future. I hefted the shovel like some medieval pole arm and sprinted toward the tussling trio. As I closed on them, I swung with all my might. The shovel blade rang when it made contact with the side of Luke’s head. He landed on the ground beside Klaus but kept fighting. The handle vibrated in my hands but spurred me onward. So I kept swinging.

Luke’s skull gave way before my arms did, but the mangled body kept fighting me long after its face was no longer recognizable as our friend. Finally, Klaus stumbled forward and jammed the silver knife deep into the possessed man’s chest. The effect was instantaneous. Luke seized and then collapsed backward. He lay there unmoving, smoke rising from the wound. I couldn’t tell if it was the flesh smoldering or the silver boiling.

The smoke from the body of our murdered friend rose up around us. It grew so thick, so fast that it obscured Klaus for a moment. The noxious cloud dissipated quickly, and then it was gone. We were left in the clearing with an injured friend, a dead one, and the ravaged body of a total stranger.

### Stay Tuned. The Final Installment is coming soon ###

This story was written by Jeremy Hicks. It is his original content and cannot be used anywhere else without his expressed written consent. However, this blog may be shared, reblogged, etc. on social media for the purposes of promoting the author, his blog, and his other creative works. 

Any resemblance to persons living or dead, events real or imagined, etc. is entirely intentional. This is a work of fiction but draws on real events and references the real world at times. Any reference, product placement, or pop culture quote is not intended to impinge on any trademark, patent, and/or copyright; rather it is flavor text for the dialogue of characters raised within the context of our pop culture.

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Thanks!

D. Alan Lewis & A Double Dose of Lycanthropy

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With the release of not one but two werewolf-themed anthologies from Dark Oak Press this week, I thought it expedient and enlightening to interview one of the people who made it possible. Author, editor, and good friend D. Alan Lewis has been sweating these two Luna’s Children collections since last year, working diligently to comb through the massive amount of submissions, select the best stories, and then edit them for publication. Though he has not been alone in this daunting task, his drive and dedication have made these anthologies possible.

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This is a glowing introduction and rightly so. But then again, I am clearly biased as Alan saw fit to anchor the first volume, Luna’s Children: Full Moon Mayhem, with my edgy, ultra-violent revenge fiction piece entitled “Beta Male, Alpha Wolf.” As editor, Alan also selected my Cycle of Ages Saga story about dwarves on a submarine powered by a dirty nuclear reactor for Capes & Clockwork, Dark Oak’s recent steampunk superhero anthology.

In addition to his duties as editor, technical writer, and father, D. Alan Lewis is a writer of some of the most imaginative fiction to make it onto my bookshelf. When I first met him at MidSouth Con in Memphis, this unassuming, quiet fellow with the wolfish baby blues sat behind a table with his first novel, Blood in Snowflake Garden. After reading the back cover, I took this absurdist Cold War-era noir tale of murder, mystery, and cupcakes at Santa’s North Pole home with me and enjoyed every page. You will never read another Christmas story like this one. Since then, he has written and published several pulp stories and a few novels. Of them, the gritty, unflinching supervillain tale, The Bishop of Port Victoria, is another favorite. Of course, I could go on and on about telling you about this talented technical writer turned genre author and editor; instead, I’ll let him tell you about himself, his influences, and his projects.

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Q. As writers, we all come from different backgrounds and found our way to this profession in our own way. How did you make the transition from amateur to professional writer? When?

A. I grew up telling stories, some for honorable purposes and some not. As a teen and young adult, I got into roleplaying games and usually ended up running the games, since my friends loved the stories I’d weave for them. I’d toyed with writing for many years, but never got started. This was partly due to procrastination and partly due to a lack of support from family and friends. After my last divorce, I decided to jump in to the writing world with both feet. I hooked up with a writer’s group in Nashville and with their support, I managed to finish my first novel.

From there, it became a matter of networking. I’d been going to SF&F conventions for years, so I started talking to authors and publishers who attend. Those contacts lead to multiple book and story deals. And that leads to the latest work, the 2 Luna’s Children books.

Q. What genre(s) do you write? And do you prefer writing short stories, novellas, or novels? Why?

A. I’m a bit of a writing slut. I write a little bit of everything in all kinds of lengths. I have 3 novels out at the moment; a murder mystery, a pulp/noir tale, and a steampunk adventure. As for short stories, I have steampunk, pulp/noir, superhero tales, horror, and vampire & werewolf stories, and straight-up Sci-Fi.

I don’t have a preference about the length, as long as I have enough room to tell the story that I’m trying to convey.

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Q. What writer(s) has/have influenced your writing the most? How have they influenced you?

A. Douglas Adams has always been a favorite and a major influence. His works were so ‘over the edge’ at times and I loved that. While I didn’t want to be his clone, I did want to write like him. Early on, all my stories were developed as comedies, but I didn’t feel that I could match his level of craftsmanship. And as I worked, I found that my skills were more along a darker path of storytelling. 

Q. Is there a work of fiction that you keep coming back to, one that you read over and over again? If so, why?

A. Douglas Adam’s ‘The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul’. I just love it.

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Q. As a writer, are there common themes or topics that you like to explore?

A. I love surprise twists, so everything I write has something in it that I hope will catch the reader off guard. I also love having tortured, troubled characters. As far as topics, I don’t have anything that I include in every story.

Q. As an editor, where do you find the time and patience to edit something as daunting as an anthology?

A. Patience is needed in ample amounts, some of the time. It never fails to amaze me that some authors will send in a story riddled with errors, but if an editor misses one and it gets in the final product, those same authors will throw a fit.

 As the first reader, I look for a story first. Does it fit a need that my anthology needs? If so, then I look at the errors. If there are too many, I send them back to the authors and explain what mistakes I’m seeing and ask them to rewrite it. Then, once it comes back, I get to work. With Luna’s Children, there were so many stories that I had a team of editors helping me with all the stories, making sure that I didn’t miss anything. 

With Capes & Clockwork, I was dealing with mostly established writers who knew their craft. I also had only 16 stories to deal with, so that anthology fell into place quickly and efficiently. The Luna’s Children books were the complete opposite. While there were a number of talented writes, there are a lot of first-timers. Still, many of those first-timers were giving me great stories, underneath all the mistakes. Luna’s Children includes 43 stories in the 2 volumes, which were drawn out of over a 150 submissions.

 Needless to say, the werewolf stories took much longer to weed through, edit and put together.

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Q. What special challenges do you face in editing an anthology versus a novel?

A. An anthology is a collection of stories from OTHER people. These are not my stories, so I can read it as an outsider and can spot problems and issues. When I edit my own stuff, I have to try and remember not to read it as the writer but as an outsider. While in my mind, I know how a scene is playing out in the words. But as the reader, is that scene playing out in the same way? Sometimes as a writer, you can’t see the obvious mistakes since you’re too close to the story. 

Q. What can you tell us about your newest releases, the two volumes of Dark Oak Press’s werewolf-themed Luna’s Children anthologies? And where can readers find it?

A. Luna’s Children: Full Moon Mayhem and Luna’s Children: Stranger Worlds is now available on Amazon Kindle and will soon be available in print and other ebook versions. All will be available at your local and online book retailers. 

Full Moon Mayhem contains 22 stories that are more based in the real world. While, the 21 stories in Stranger Worlds takes the werewolf genre into new worlds, other times, different realities.

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Q. Now that these collections are finally being released, what will you be working on next?

A. Currently, I am working on the submissions for Capes & Clockwork 2, which is an anthology of Steampunk’d superhero stories. The first volume came out early this year and was such a hit that the second book was green lit immediately.

In addition to that, I’m working on short stories for the upcoming ‘Black Pulp 2’ and ‘High Adventure History 2’, both from Pro Se Productions. I’m also outlining an untitled Steampunk/Noir detective story that I hope to have out by year’s end. In the long term planning, are the next books in the Hawke Girls and the Snowflake Garden series.

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Q. Finally, where can we find out more about you and your other works of fiction?

A.  My website/blog is:  www.dalanlewis.com

      I am on twitter:  @Dalanlewis

      I’m on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/AuthorD.AlanLewis

     And I have an author page on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/D.-Alan-Lewis/e/B006DA9P2U/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_2?qid=1331611519&sr=8-2

 

Thanks for sitting with us for the interview today, Alan. Good luck on your future projects and upcoming appearances. In the proud tradition of tired werewolf cliches, I hope you have a howling good time. 😉