Deadlight Jack

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Worse things than gators lurk in the Louisiana swamp. . . . The author of The Faceless One fuses the twisted imagination of Fritz Leiber with the razor-sharp plotting of Joe Hill in this rollicking horror thriller.
 
Appearances can be deceiving. Take Jimmy Kalmaku. Anyone passing him on the streets of Lake Nisqually, Washington, would merely see an elderly man. But Jimmy is actually a powerful Tlingit shaman, with a link to the god Raven and a résumé that includes saving the world.
 
Or take his friend and roommate, George Watters. Another ordinary retiree, right? Wrong. Like Jimmy, George is more than he seems to be. He too has a link to the supernatural. He too has saved the world.
 
Then there’s Professor Foxfire—also known as Deadlight Jack. Dressed in the garb of a stage magician, he seems a figure of magic and fun. But he isn’t fun at all. He isn’t even human. And his magic is of the darkest and bloodiest kind.
 
When George’s grandson vanishes on a family vacation to the Louisiana bayou, George and Jimmy fly across the country to aid in the search. Once they arrive, family feuds and buried secrets bring George face-to-face with the ghosts of a forgotten past; Jimmy finds his powers wilting under the humid Southern sun; and deep in the swamp, Deadlight Jack prepares his long-awaited revenge.

Advance praise for Deadlight Jack

“Mark Onspaugh’s novel, Deadlight Jack, takes you on an incredible journey that slings you from the far Northwest to the bowels of the Louisiana bayous. And on this journey, with a masterful flare, Onspaugh brings nightmarish folklores to life. The story will haunt you, and the vibrant, unforgettable characters will take root in your heart and refuse to leave. A must read!”—Deborah LeBlanc, author of Voices

“Onspaugh maintains an undercurrent of eldritch terror while keeping the plot buoyed by fast-paced action scenes. . . . A nicely chilling read for fans of otherworldly horror.”Publishers Weekly

Praise for Mark Onspaugh’s The Faceless One

“A stunning debut . . . a chilling dark fantasy with an Alaskan shamanic backdrop . . . The beauty of this weird world is as profound as its terror. I could not turn these pages fast enough!”—Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint It Black

“Onspaugh’s writing captures that same eye-popping strangeness I loved so much in the works of Charles Beaumont and Fritz Leiber. The Faceless One is classic horror from an author who has earned his stripes and knows how to scare you blind.”—Joe McKinney, Bram Stoker Award–winning author of Dead City and The Savage Dead

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Deadlight Jack

Prologue

Green Water, Louisiana, 1946

The funeral was over by 2 p.m., and most of the reception guests were in the Watters home before the rain came, which everyone agreed was a blessing.

George, who was five years old and hurting, believed the rain was angels crying for his beloved Pappaw.

The grown-ups, some family and some not, patted his cheek and complimented his suit, which felt scratchy, and his bow tie, which felt too tight. They all remarked what a handsome young man he was, and how much he had grown, and a couple even said he was now the “man of the house.”

But George had also heard them when they thought he wasn’t listening, how they were sure he had no idea what death meant, and how they wondered whether he knew his grandfather was in heaven or thought he was just “down to the store or other business.”

He knew what death was.

He had found a dead possum once, rotting and crawling with maggots, and his best friend Dougie Kincaid had said that’s what happened to you when you die.

Worms get you.

He had some nightmares after that, worms coming to carry him away from his bed and out into the swamp. He would cry out, and his daddy would come running.

His daddy told him that no worms were going to get him, he was a strong and healthy little boy, and much too chubby for some “weak old worms.” Then he had tickled George and kissed him, and the nightmares had stopped.

Then his daddy had gone overseas to fight the Germans, and he had never come home.

George knew what death was.

You never came home.

After George’s daddy had died in 1945, he and his mama had come to live with her folks. It hadn’t been a long move, just to the outskirts of town, but the new house was strange. He had been there before, of course, for family dinners and special occasions, and his grandfather and grandmother told his folks that they would always be glad to have him come stay, for a week, or a month, or even a whole summer.

But now they were here for good, and living in a house is very different from visiting. You couldn’t leave to go home, because you were home. Your bed was there, and your toys, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But his daddy wasn’t.

Nor were his friends, like Warren Haskell or Pitt Newcomb.

His grandparents told him Warren or Pitt could come visit anytime they liked, but Warren was too scared for overnights and Pitt’s parents didn’t like the idea of his being so far away.

Mama promised he would make new friends at his new school, but that had still been months away.

And his daddy was gone.

And so he had spent a lot of time moping, which he knew was not polite, but he didn’t care.

One day he was sitting on the back porch, knees drawn up under his chin, looking out across the big yard. The chicken coop and the big chinaberry tree were to his right, the small patch of sweet corn that marked the far end of the Joyners’ property to his left.

And ahead of him, beyond the remnants of an ancient stone wall now overgrown with moss and tendrils of kudzu, lay the swamp. Strange and forbidding, it seemed to George it was always steaming, like the primeval jungle in King Kong. He could smell it, even from the porch, a fecund and fetid mélange of smells that was both attractive and repellent. He was both drawn to the swamp and frightened by it. He had never ventured beyond the stone wall if he was unaccompanied by an adult, which was what his grandparents preferred.

George, still four years old at that point, had decided Green Water was probably the worst place in the world to live. Life seemed to be an endless series of disappointments and upheavals, and it was more than he could take.
He wanted to cry but didn’t want anyone bothering him.

And so he had continued to stare out at the swamp, wishing it would go away and wishing he could run into it and disappear.

He had seen a light, then, very small and colored yellow-green. It shone brilliantly through the mist and seemed to bounce a little, like a bird hopping across the grass in search of a worm.

George watched it, wondering if someone was out there with a lantern and what they were doing.

The light came closer, and soon he could see that there was no lantern, and no one wandering through the swamp.

Just the little light, all alone.

Like him.

It hovered, just beyond the stone wall. It bounced just a little, maybe an inch or two lower, then higher.

Like it was nodding to him.

And he heard it in his head, then.

Come play with me.

George had never heard a voice in his head before, and it was new and a bit scary.

But the light was pretty, like a firefly, and he wanted to get close to it. He was pretty sure it wouldn’t burn him.

It was then that his grandfather Boudreaux had taken a seat next to him on the back steps.

“What ya looking at there, Georgie-Porgie?”

George was shaken out of his reverie by the old man. George looked, and the pretty light was gone.

“Nothing,” he said.

The old man nodded. Had George been older and of a mind to notice, he would have seen a worried look pass over the man’s face.

“George, I wonder if I might ask you a favor. It’s a pretty big favor, it surely is, and I won’t be mad if you say ‘no.’”
George had sighed. His mama had said there would be chores, and he could only imagine this was the first in a long, long list.

“George?”

George had just shrugged in the exaggerated way children do, and his grandfather had nodded. He patted George and went around the side of the house, and George figured he meant to get the lawnmower or an axe to chop down a tree or a basket of wet laundry to hang.

George sighed again and rubbed at his eyes.

His grandfather came back with an old cardboard box. He set it down next to George. George just stared at it, not sure what it might be.

His grandfather nodded as if he had won a bet, then opened it and pulled out a small puppy that was part border collie, the rest being anyone’s guess. It was white and black with a little bit of gold and brown, a black patch over one eye.

George stared at it, wide-eyed.

“A friend, he done give me this pup, and I just don’t have the time to care for him or play with him.”

He looked at George. “Would you have time for something like that?”

George nodded, never taking his eyes off the puppy.

“Well, now, first you gonna have to breathe in his face, let him get your scent—that way he always be your dog.”

George picked up the puppy, who wiggled as he wagged his tail and made little sounds of happiness and greeting. George hugged him, and the puppy licked his face.

“You got a name for him yet, Georgie?”

George thought a moment, then smiled. “I’m going to call him Patch.”

In the months that had followed, George and Patch explored the front yard and the backyard and the neighbors’ property up and down the dirt road. Grandfather Boudreaux took George and Patch beyond the stone wall to the edge of the swamp, and Pappaw told him stories about the men and women of their family who had fished and hunted gators and married Indians and made a life there in Green Water.

He also warned George not to go into the swamp alone, not even with Patch or a friend. Not until he was a little older and his mama or grandparents said it was okay.

“What if I throw a ball for Patch, and it goes into the swamp?”

“Will he go after it, Georgie?”

“Not if I tell him ‘no,’ he’s a good dog.”

“Then you tell me, and I will get it, or I’ll buy you a new ball down to the five-and-dime.”

“What if I hear someone who needs help?”

“Then you come get me or your mama or your grandmama.”

“What if I . . .” George trailed off, a little afraid to complete his thought.

“What if you what, Georgie?”

“What if . . . what if there’s a pretty light, and . . .”

His grandfather, who almost never got upset, gazed at him intently. “You listen to me good, George Watters—you don’t never follow no light. I don’t care if it looks like a fairy or a flashlight . . . or an angel’s halo or even the taillight of a brand new Buick. You never, ever follow no light in the swamp. Those lights what they call ‘will-o’-the-wisp,’ and they been luring men to their doom since Moses was a pup.”

His grandfather placed a hand on George’s shoulder. “You understand me good, Georgie?”

“Yes, Pappaw.”

“Damn, but lookin’ at this old swamp always makes me sweat! Let’s go down to the Arctic Bear and get us a ice-cream cone!”

“Can Patch have some?”

“We’ll get him his own. I don’t want no dog lickin’ my ice cream!”

George’s grandfather had made a face, and George laughed.

Pappaw and Patch had become his best friends. Even later, when he was in school and had made friends with Dougie Kincaid and Terry West, Pappaw and Patch were his best friends.

Pappaw showed him how to catch frogs in the creek, lightning bugs in the Joyners’ field, how to make a paper airplane, and how to knock a yellow-jacket nest down without getting stung.

They read the comics together every Sunday, then he and Pappaw would walk down to the Hungry Gator diner and get a hamburger and fries. And every night Pappaw would read to him about King Arthur or Tarzan or Tom Swift.

George still missed his daddy, but he thought Pappaw was the greatest man alive.

And now they had buried him, and he was gone.

Around four, the rain let up but many of the guests remained. Harold Boudreaux had been a popular man in Green Water, and his wife and daughter were excellent cooks, so why leave?

George’s mother could see he had had enough, and she put him to bed. Although the rain had stopped, the sky was still dark with clouds, and his room was quiet and still. She put George in his favorite cowboy pajamas and tucked him in as Patch settled onto the bed next to him. Mama drew the blinds and kissed him.

“Sleep well, mon cheri,” she told him.

George wanted her to stay, but they still had company, and she had to take care of his baby brother, Louis, who was only two.

George had to be the man of the house now.

His room was redolent with the scents of old wood and the cedar and sage his grandmama always placed in a green glass vase on the old bureau. These were comforting smells and had come to mean home.

George snuggled down in his bed, glad to be out of his scratchy suit and alone with his thoughts, except for Patch, who was now his only best friend.

The conversation of the adults just down the hall was a low murmur, like the droning of summer bees. It was soothing.

George fell asleep, surrounded by his toys and his dog.

He awoke two hours later. The clouds had cleared and now the sun was setting. He could see the orange-and-pink light through the side of the blind.

Something had awakened him, but what?

Then he heard it, a slight scratching at the window. Patch might make a sound like that, but Patch was here beside him, his head up, ears cocked.

“Georgie-Porgie . . . puddin’ and pie . . .”

- About the author -

Mark Onspaugh is the author of The Faceless One and more than forty published short stories. Like many writers, he is perpetually curious, having studied psychology at UCLA, exotic animals at Moorpark College’s exotic animal training and management program, improv comedy with the Groundlings, and special-effects makeup. Onspaugh has also written for film and television. He lives in Morro Bay, California, with his wife and two peculiar cats.

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