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:Jump up and down, do a little dance, sing a happy song, one of the rare glimpses into the world of my writing I offer up a free story just for you my wonderful fans.
DISCLAIMERS: 1. This story is for a HORROR anthology. It is goryier than my usual work and has some difficult themes (well admittedly all my work deals with difficult themes I just treat it differently in romance/fantasy vs horror). This is a graphic look at homicidal insanity from the inside.
2. This story has not seen the love of an editor yet. THERE WILL BE MISTAKES AND TYPOS. This is normal. ALL work needs an editor, even when written by an editor...or rather especially then. I am a special snowflake, but only to my family and friends who love me. To the rest of literary world I need editing just as badly as anyone else.
3. This story will be published in the upcoming JEA anthology Fata Arcana. Each of the stories is based around a single Major Arcana Tarot Card. I got THE MOON: The Moon indicates that things may seem somewhat confusing to you now. You may find it hard to understand where you are coming from, much less what others are thinking and feeling! You need to try to sit with the uncertainty, don't try to force things or people to do things before they are ready. This card is the "Pisces" of the tarot deck.
Without further Ado, I give you:
Cyndee in Lunacy
Grey, grey and more grey. A hundred shades burned everywhere she looked. Never quiet white and never quite black. Color ran and hid in the corners until it was just a mirage; a memory of a better time. Cyndee frowned in front of her antique, full length, mirror adjusting the long platinum strands of hair wishing she could color her hair or find something other than grey to wear, but pigment ran dry in this world, faded as everything else. Besides, it was better to blend in.
Blend in with the crazies.
She wasn’t quite sure when it happened. She knew the world was different long ago. There was color, there was laughter. Voices and screams in the night didn’t keep her up long dark grey hours until the pale grey of daylight filtered through the dusty blinds in her room. It was as if the apocalypse happened, the world turned upside down, and she was the only one to see it.
The truth was revealed to her slowly. Flashes here and there until she was convinced for a short time she was looney as a toon. Slowly the world as it is filtered in until all she saw was reality. Death and decay hiding beneath a veneer of grey paint. Color leached from the world as if it never existed. Frightening monsters lurked in shadows looking for anything…anyone different. Strange animals stalked the streets preying on the unsuspecting, the old and the weak. People wandered to and from meaningless jobs like zombies and everyone she talked to expected her to pretend it was all okay. Even Television shows insisted on the old reality, trying their best with script and myriads of grey to convince everyone nothing had changed.
“…joining us now in Olde Towne East, correspondent Matthias Dulaney. Matthias, what can you tell us right now?”
She turned to watch the screen, as colorless as everything else in the world, while the news casters chattered on. Old Towne East wasn’t far from her. Maybe a block or two. It was a hodge podge of dilapidated old buildings owned by either low income housing or yuppies actively fixing them up. The man on the screen was pointing at the carcass of a homeless man…or woman. It was hard to tell. The body had been flayed and field dressed, meat and limbs hacked off like a butcher would do. It wasn’t a bad job. If she didn’t know better she’d say the ropes and knots could have been her work. Still…gross. She shook her head and watched.
Towards the end, while he was questioning police, one of the baahcula’s ran past. She made up the name herself to describe the blood thirsty giant rams that infected the city. Big as men, shaggy and dirty, with bloody teeth always dripping some nasty mix of drool and whatever they ate last. Their crazed eyes and mewling sounds disturbed her to the core. Didn’t anyone see that? The newscasters, police, even the bystanders noticed nothing and looked right past the monster with a glazed look.
“Sheeple,” she muttered before turning it off.
She opened her fridge, the light flickering from some short she hadn’t been able to find yet. There wasn’t much. She would have to hunt again today. Food at grocery stores was like something out of a movie. All optical illusions, facing, and plastic. Sure, some of it was edible, but it was as leached of life as color. She learned long ago that hunting and foraging was the way to go. Not only did it taste better, but she wasn’t sick like everyone else. Sometimes she theorized they drugged all the food and that made everyone complacent and lost in the past.
“Don’t go too far down the rabbit hole,” she admonished herself with a smile, walking to the back room to gather supplies.
She threw the duct tape rope over her shoulder crosswise across her body. The rope was hand braided by her on long nights trying to keep from screaming back at the endless moans. She checked the edge on her machete looking for nicks and making sure it was sharp enough to cut through bone. She prided herself on a clean kill. A tranq gun would have been great, but she had trouble convincing the deluded store owners it was necessary for survival.
Once she tried. Once she spent hours talking to a gun store owner trying to convince him of the truth. Nothing she did convinced him. In the end she left in tears wondering how long this good man was going to live. She truly cared about him and his miserable life, but he called the people. The ones, that for whatever reason, wanted everyone to see the lies. She spent the rest of the day running from men with smiling masks made of skin and preternaturally clean, light colored, jackets. Ironically that was the scariest thing about them. What exactly did one have to do to stay that clean in a world of dirt, gore, and decay? She shivered just thinking about it.
She donned her Alice in Wonderland baby doll dress with the puffed shoulders and the micro skirt that flared almost a foot out with the help of a petty coat, her knee high zippered boots, and thigh high stockings. It seemed ridiculous, but the dress was made out of some stain resistant material. Water and blood beaded right off, and with such a short skirt it was only prudent to make sure her legs were fully covered. The outfit had the added benefit of being easy to run in, and full mobility of all her limbs.
It was time to go. Get this unenviable task done and she could enjoy the rest of her day. Well enjoy it as much as one could enjoy anything in a grey world.
Five flights down. She looked down the kaleidoscope center of the winding antique stair case. Once it would have been beautiful. The sun shining on polished wood banisters, pristine paint a stark relief. Now it was dirty, creaky stairs worn and bowed in the center. Rat holes and spiders the only decoration. She made her way down wishing she could have seen the building in the nebulous before time.
Outside the main doors, barely on their hinges, she staggered and fell back against the brick. Dizziness overcame her and she was rewarded with a rare flash of insanity. For a moment; just a moment, the street was filled with people. They were all dressed in the lively colors that make up a city on a busy day. Smiles, laughter, music, talking, new cars and old cars side by side on a busy street intent on their destinations. Children playing hopscotch while grandma's and elderly aunts looked on from porches. She could even smell the long dead peach roses next door suddenly back to life.
It threw her off balance, and for that moment she wasn't quite sure which world was real. The people started to gather around her in a loose cluster, all of them had horrified looks on their faces, one young man had his brow scrunched up in worry an arm reached out to her. There were gasps and murmurs about gore on her dress…
And then it was gone.
Reality came crashing in, and she found herself surrounded by tired looking pale zombies who didn't quite look at her. They listed as one to the left. Taking a breath she stomped hard and growled at them. They scattered, grey tattered clothing trailing behind them.
"What the hell was that?" she muttered and stole away to the alley. Beasts didn’t like crowds. They cowered in the shadows and attacked you from behind. It was the best hunting ground. In the dark alleys you didn't hear the screams as Baaculas attacked innocent people. You didn't have to see the rare face of a smiling child taken by the dark. Even sheep knew enough not to wander here.
Rusted metal industrial trash cans resting idly by condemned doors made shadows and hiding places. The stench of rot permeated the air. Behind her someone screamed. She spun in time to see a Baacula taking down an old man. It looked up at her, blood oozing down its fur like rivulets caught in time. She decided now was not the time to intervene. She backed up a few steps before turning and running, zig zagging through forgotten yards and the between spaces always left forgotten away from prying eyes. If it followed, it should not have been able to track her. She could hear the frustrated howl in the distance and knew she was safe…for now.
On with the ghastly business of self preservation.
She found herself a nice little hidey hole between two back door stoops. Across from her was another. If anyone came out that particular door, they'd see her, but she was hidden from everyone else. She smiled reading what she could of the rusted out sign on that door. Police. What a joke. No one would be coming out of that door any time soon. Baaculas had long since taken over any enforcement or protection strong hold. Maybe Baaculas were how the people kept order. Scare everyone into submission.
It wasn't too long before one the grotesque cows came galumphing down the cracked pavement eyes red and steam coming from a well chewed nose. It was big. One of the bigger beasts she'd seen. Normally she wouldn't have tried, but she kept thinking, this one would feed for her a good month or more. She wouldn't have to do this again for a long time if she managed. She didn't even think about how she would get it home and store the meat, intent only on the kill. All other problems could wait.
She watched it. Studied how it moved. Gauged speed and size. Judged distance. Watched the long folds of leathery skin hanging off like ill fitting clothing. If she could grab one of those, she could, if she timed it just right, propel herself up onto its back. From there she could make a clean kill by slitting the throat. She gathered herself up on her haunches ready to leap and waited for the last possible moment. It was almost past her.
Her honed reflexes did their job. Without even much thought, she leaped, catching more air than should have been possible, gripping her hands in its skin. Her feet barely touched ground before lifting off again, pulling and lifting herself up its back. Her feet found purchase in another fold of skin and she pushed off scrambling up high enough to grab a tuft of fur at the top of its head. The beast bellowed something fierce and tried to dislodge her. She nicked its neck in her first swipe. She had to get the jugular before it had a chance to fight too hard.
The beast slammed its back, and her with it, against the wall, making as much noise as possible. Poor, sad, beast. It had no concept that no one would come to help. The second slam made her head bang against the brick making the world swim for a moment. It was long enough for it to reach behind and drag her around, leg first. She was dangling there by one leg when she heard the warbling bleats of the Baaculas. The beast dropped her and backed up a few steps. There was a pack of them, staring at her, drool making their chins moist.
Good luck for the beast. It might live another day. She, on the other hand, had to get out of there fast. She got to her feet slowly, waiting for them to descend on her, but all they did was watch, and bleat…and drool. Adrenalin was her friend. She managed to feint left and then make to the top of the stoop on the right. She bounded over to the trash can, it's rubber lid closed on one half, and from there to the ground right behind them. She ran, the maze of between spaces coming to life in her head as she raced. They gave chase for a short while, but she kept going until the only sound was her labored breathing and blood rushing in her ears.
So much for a month's worth of meat. It would be a long time before a score like that came along again. Giving herself a moment to calm down she rested against one of the dirty walls. It was…moist. If her side didn’t hurt so much she would have retched. As it was she choked back bile. Who knew what manner of liquid was decorating the walls.
It was only a minute later, maybe not even a minute, but she heard movement to her left. Checking the grip on her blade and stretching her limbs to make sure they were ready she slowly eased out into the ally. She had to find food fast or she'd starve tonight and who knew when the weather would be right to try again.
A little one, the size of an actual sheep lumbered about in the shadows. Wooly white fleece and little black feet and hands stuck out like a sore thumb in the sea of dirt the city called alleyways. It was almost cute…until it turned around. Cyndee almost let it go until she saw the face. Fangs and bloody drool slid down its face reminding her what it would turn into…what it had already become. Something in her snapped. Normally she didn’t bother with the little ones unable to tell them apart from children, but this one already likely covered in its first kill broke some small part of her.
"Small," she said to the wind. "But at least I'll eat. And at least it won't kill again."
It started to back away, but she lunged, her reflexes faster than this small beast. It only took a moment. Much faster than it should have been, but she wrapped her arms around it and slid her knife along the throat. Warm, fragrant blood, black as oil, smelling of filth poured down her arms as the first few drops of rain started to fall. All the better. The stench would be washed away. The beast didn't scream, didn't utter a sound. It only stared, wide eyed while it struggled for breath. A single shudder was all the fight it had before the head went slack and the eye no longer saw. The rain picked up and she shoved the whole body in her bag figuring it was small enough to butcher at home.
She moved through the streets like a ghoul herself, back and head weighed down by the rain and her inky bloody bag. She wasn't as far from home as she thought, and found herself back at the old staircase in less than a mile. Even so she was drenched like a drowned rat, and felt not much better.
Alone in her apartment, closed off from the world in her bathroom, she emptied the bag into the tub and began the grisly task of breaking down the beast for meat. "At least it's tender, even if it doesn't last long," she sighed cutting through the velveteen meat. It didn’t' take long before it was cut, packaged and stored. She saved a hunk of ham to boil into soup for dinner and threw the head in with the kitchen trash. She showered in part to clean herself and in part to make sure all the black blood went down the drain. She normally didn't do this at home. Too messy.
Showered and changed, the apartment fragrant with herbs and meat she finally relaxed and turned on the TV.
Matthias Dulaney, investigative reporter extraordinaire was on the screen again with his arm around a crying woman. She wore and OTENA t-shirt, either proudly a part of the Olde Towne East Neighborhood Association, or not caring what thrift store shirt she had on. The nearby police station was behind her. She held up a picture of a beautiful boy with bright shining eyes.
"…Please if you know anything call the number," she pleaded. "Brandon is only seven years old and diabetic. He needs his medicine!"
"For those just tuning in, this is Matthias Dulaney live, once again, in Olde Towne East. Seven year old Brandon White is missing. He was thought to have been taken when he wandered into an ally near his home. Please call 1-800-The-Missing if you have any information…"
"Some people," she muttered stirring her soup. In this world you should never let your children out alone. Hell you should never have children in the first place these days.
There was a quick knock at the door making her jump before it opened and Nick walked in. "It's just Me," he announced.
"You scared me!" she laughed at him and brought her attention back to the stove. Nick was one of the few people she could stand to be around. He was a little nuts like everyone else. He sure didn't see reality, but he saw more truth than most and didn't insist she'd lost her mind. He probably thought she had, but he never put in her face. Besides, it was nice to have company on the long nights. With him she could pretend she didn't hear the screams in the darkness. He also sometimes brought her fresh fruit and vegetables. How he acquired them she didn't ask afraid of the answer.
"Did you hear about that kid?" he asked glancing at the TV while the famous Mr. Dulaney rattled off what the child was wearing that day and again how to contact the police.
"Yeah," she sighed. "It's too bad. He was very young."
"So you think he's dead?"
"In this world?" she looked at him mildly.
"Point taken," he remarked walking over and grabbing a spoon out of a drawer. "Whatchya got cookin'…good lookin'." He flashed her a boyish grin and she laughed.
"Soup," she answered while he helped himself to a taste.
"Mmmm, that's good. How do you do that?"
"It's all in the meat," she laughed. "They may be ugly as sin but they sure taste good."
"Moooooooo!" he cackled struck by how silly her comment was.
"Well go look if you don't believe me. Its head is in the trash." She pulled out a good chopping knife and cut up some wild tomatoes she'd found a few days before.
"You have its head?" he crinkled his nose. "Here?"
"I don't normally bring them home, but it started raining," she shrugged.
"In here?" he pointed at the trash with a mischievous smile.
He pulled back the lid and stared for a few minutes completely silent. Hadn't he ever seen one of the beasts before? It was possible she supposed. Most didn't. He put the lid back on slowly and turned to stare at her and then the pot. He started to shake and all the blood drained out of his face.
"Nick? Are you all right?" she asked. He shook his head violently and started retching. "Oh my god, Nick, what's wrong?" She moved towards him with the knife still in hand. He backed away so fast he stumbled over the furniture. "Are you sick?"
"Yes," he managed.
"Why don't you sit down?"
"N-no, I think I need to go home now," he started for the door.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," he said running for the door and slamming it open. "Home!"
"I'll save you some soup!" she called after him thinking some broth would be just what he needed. She could hear his retches echoing down the hallway. Poor guy.
She settled in to an old movie and a bowl of her hard won soup.
It was maybe an half an hour later when someone knocked on her door. Who in the hell? "Nick? Is that you?" she called before getting up. If she didn't know them they weren't getting in.
She heard a cough and then, "Yes!"
"Oh good," she got up and ladled a cup of just broth. "I have that broth for you—"
She opened the door and startled so bad she tossed the cup behind her in a panic to back up. Nick was there, surrounded by baahculas and People in white coats.
"Cyndee? Ma'am?" one shouted at her as Nick was thrust to the side behind one of the slavering beasts.
"No!" she screamed as hands reached for her. There were too many of them. She wasn't prepared or armed. "Let me go!" she pleaded as she was tackled to the ground. Knees pressed the side of her head and her shoulder to the floor with bruising pressure. Noise was everywhere as hooves and booted feet charged into the room. Shouts and growls surrounded her in a swirl until she was unsure if the beasts spoke and the white jackets growled or vice versa.
One of the beasts opened her trash can and screamed. Words seemed to form from the fanged mouth as spittle sprayed over all that were near. None of them noticed or flinched. There was a pregnant pause followed by her being unceremoniously lifted. Beasts held her arms while the people wrapped her up in bindings like a reverse coat.
Cyndee screamed over and over begging for help. "Nick! Help me!" He had to be there somewhere. If there were two of them she might have a chance. "Nick!"
His hands came into view and he took her face in both of them gently, shocking her while her arms were pulled uselessly against her and her feet bound. "I am," he said softly with real tears in his eyes. She kicked and screamed and struggled as they carried her away, not caring if it was useless. If she was going down, she was going down fighting. They half hurled her onto an ambulance gurney and strapped her down until she couldn't move. A pin prick on the side of her neck made her flinch against her bindings.
The world slowly went dark and the last thing she saw was the head of Columbus's own Matthais Dulaney of Channel Six getting out of his van across the street and the zombies of the city crowding around. For a spit second before all went dark they looked like real people and the world was alive with color.
A man in a suit with a long trench coat and a badge hooked to his belt held a hand over his mouth while he looked in the trash can. The apartment was sparklingly clean if old and ill maintenanced, but that was normal in this part of town.
"We're going to have to show the mother," his partner said quietly next to him.
"At the morgue. She doesn't need to know this is all we have."
"I don't envy you," said a uniformed officer shaking his head, holding his mouth in a grimace to keep from getting sick. "I don't know how you do it."
"Do what?" the first detective asked.
"Look at this stuff every day."
"This isn't every day."
A grim faced woman in jumpsuit with the words Medical Examiner and CPD emblazoned on it reached in with gloved hands and carefully packaged the head of a little boy known as Brandon, a red stained white coat, and black gloves and shoes.
This will seem like a no brainer to most people. The title pretty much says it all, however I have seen so many really bad covers, or dumb legal mistakes that I just have to rant a bit. Most of the mistakes are made by regular people who simply haven’t been schooled in cover art etiquette, but when I see a so-called professional make these mistakes I see red. These people should know better and are basically stealing large amounts of money for shoddy work.
In the interest of protecting good artists and authors, both in the publishing and the indie world, here are some things you need to keep in mind.
1. How important are covers? Very. Think about your own practices searching for a new book to read. You go on Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, or your favorite bookstore or library site and scroll through hundreds of books. Sometimes you narrow the field for genre or author, but in general you spend less than 5 seconds on each cover. When a cover stands out you look at the title. If it seems interesting you start looking at synopsis, and then ratings. Always the cover is the first impression any potential reader has of your book. Unfortunately for many brilliant writers I know, a book is judged by the cover, and a bad cover will get you nowhere.
2. Good cover art costs money. If you are going through a publisher they will likely have an artist on staff to make you a good professional cover. If you are working with a publisher and they charge you for cover art, they may very well be a scam. Don’t stick around. If you are an indie author, you get what you pay for. Professional covers range from $100 to $500.
3. A professional will always be able to tell you where the images they used on your cover came from. To use them we have to download them. Stock photography is very expensive, which is one reason cover art is so expensive. If there is a problem with the file, we want our money back, so we always know where it came from.
4. It is illegal to use someone else’s art without permission, even if you just blow up one small part of it.
5. Google images, Yahoo! images, Deviantart, Flicker, are all copyrighted art unless otherwise stated. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, follow the link the search engine provides with the image and find out if it’s useable or not. Most of the time if you really love an image you can just ask the artist or photographer and they’ll tell you their terms. Some are nice about it, and some will charge an arm and a leg.
6. If an image doesn’t say copyrighted on it, it is still copyrighted. The moment it is put out into the world it is copyrighted. The artist or photographer has to expressly state the image is free to use or modify. Creative Commons or Royalty Free are the buzz words you want to look for. Stock photography buys the license from the artist or photographer and you basically rent it for use, but only have to pay once for each image.
7. Video game images are absolutely copyrighted. This means, even if you own a copy of the game, and take a screen shot, the images used in that screen shot are still copyrighted and you cannot use them. Unless of course you were one of the artists who worked on the images for the development of the video game or can provide a letter stating the owner of the franchise is allowing you to use the image.
8. You might be thinking, “But it’s just a really small background image, no one will see it.” Wrong. Twice in my professional life I’ve had to replace covers done by “professional” artists that used copyrighted images. In both cases it was an intern that caught it and sent us into deeper investigation. You don’t want to see the files I have these artists. It would make a grown up cry.
9. “But the artist is the one that gets in trouble, right?” Wrong again. A lawyer will go after who they perceive to have the most money. That goes, publisher (which is why publishers are such sticklers for using their own artists), author, and then artist. If you are an indie author there is no publisher to buffer and protect you. You signed a contract for this cover art when you bought it. Some judges will agree that makes you responsible for putting it out, not the artist.
10. PROTECT YOURSELF! Pick apart the images sent to you by the artist. Look for possible copyrighted images. Ask where they got the images. If they name a stock photography site, go look for the image in their files. Look over the contract for wording that absolves the artist of fault for using copyrighted images. If you get screwed on a cover and have to put out more money to a new artist to fix it, demand your money back and don’t be afraid to consult a lawyer if they refuse. Many lawyers will not advise action unless the copyright owner tried to sue you, but it always helps to know your options.
I have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to these mistakes. First time an outside artist gets caught making them I will never accept their work ever again, which can hurt a lot more in the long run than most of them realize. This business is built on reputation, integrity, and word of mouth. We are a traditional press. JEA has its own in house artists, people trained and/or managed by me. However, we allow authors to use an outside artist at their own expense if they choose. If I have to tell them I can’t accept a cover by So and So, that artist’s reputation has been ruined. Presses talk. Author’s talk.
This is not a PSA for traditional publishing or my own freelance cover work. I know some amazing indie authors and some phenomenal, honest cover artists who charge fair rates for their work. Ask me and I will sing their praises. I am in awe of Paramita Bhattacharjee. I am forever inspired by the horrific visions of Peter Fussey. Good artists are out there; don’t settle for some random dude who plays around with drawing programs. Your work is your child. It deserves to shine. Don’t let a bad or illegal cover kill it. Don’t let individuals who have no business charging for their work sell you a product that could land you in litigation, even if it is a beautiful cover made by your best friend. It’s not worth it.
Susan is a plural writer and artist by day, a child and pet wrangler by night, and occasional crazy person on the weekends.