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Sure to thrill readers of Stephen King, Joe Hill, and Dean Koontz—William Todd Rose’s new dark horror novella is a tale of bloody retribution that blurs the line between the waking world and the terrors of the night. There’s only one thing standing between humanity and the dark forces of the supernatural: the secret agency known as The Institute. The organization depends on regular guys like Chuck, a Level I Recon and Enforcement Technician who guides tormented spirits into the next life.
From an office deep underground, Chuck projects his spirit into Crossfades, monstrous realms where the souls of the dead, unable to move on due to fear or anger, devise macabre tortures for themselves and one another. He’s always been able to leave his work behind at the end of the day . . . until now.
First in dreams, then in waking nightmares, Crossfades are bleeding into the physical world. And now it’s up to Chuck—along with his partner, a woman named Control—to put a stop to it. Because there’s no telling what might come over from the other side.
Praise for Bleedovers “Rose never lets up when it comes to disturbing concepts. . . . [Bleedovers] has a lot to offer those who love their horror.”—Publishers Weekly “Bleedovers by William Todd Rose is a strong second novella in a series, and readers will want more of this strange world. . . . Rose has a gift for creating believable science fiction worlds that are wrought with real, and even imagined, dangers around every corner.”—Savvy Verse & Wit “I give Bleedovers a five out of five.”—Bewitched Bookworms
Under the Cover
An excerpt from Bleedovers
The school looked like a setting from a postapocalyptic film. The checkerboard floor tiles were vague impressions, rising like black-and-white ghosts through decades of collected dust. Overhead, fluorescent light fixtures dangled from bloated ceiling panels, their tubes flickering as they slowly died. In some places, the panels were missing, leaving darkened holes; tufts of insulation that were yellowed by time and tangles of wires escaped from these cavities and the wires whipped around like headless snakes, popping and sparking as whiffs of ozone-scented smoke drifted into the air. The shower of sparks rained down upon the lockers lining either side of the hallway, winking out just before they touched metal so corroded that it was as roughly textured as stone. Near the top of each locker door, three hooded slits were stacked one above the other. Originally meant to keep mildew from growing in the dark, confined interiors, these vents now served a different purpose: Rather than letting fresh air in, they allowed sound to come out.
Behind every closed door was a rustling noise, as though something inside was wrapped tightly in fabric from which it struggled to escape. The sounds were faint, but definitely there. Approaching one of the lockers, Chuck Grainger cocked his head to the side, closed his eyes, and listened. With less than an inch of metal now separating him from whatever was secured inside, he could hear the sounds more clearly and a chill tingled his spine.
Though not a particularly imaginative man, the image that formed in his mind was so vivid that it almost seemed as though he were peering straight through the door: an emaciated lunatic crammed in so tightly that his legs were pulled to his chest. With eyes silvered by years of wasting away in the darkness, the prisoner writhed within the straitjacket binding his arms to his torso, straining against the belts and buckles as if his efforts could tear through the moldering fabric.
Pulling away from the locker caused the vision to dissipate and Chuck opened his eyes, wondering what such a man would be capable of if finally freed. All traces of humanity would undoubtedly have been destroyed long ago, annihilated by endless hours of frustration, isolation, and despair. Letting the madman out would be like freeing a rabid wolf from a snare; the thing would lash out blindly, unconcerned if the person before it was its rescuer or warden. Anything and anyone in its way would be fair game as pent-up rage erupted in a flurry of aggression. Of that, Chuck was certain.
Yet he still found himself reaching for the combination lock. The numbers and markings had faded into illegibility, but Chuck knew he’d happen upon the proper combination on his first attempt. He couldn’t say how he knew. It wasn’t as if he’d ever attended this particular school and been assigned one of these lockers; he simply knew this with the certainty of fact. Just as he knew the thing inside would look exactly as he imagined.
As his fingers neared the plastic knob, the sounds from within intensified. The subhuman creature twisted and thrashed as though it could sense Chuck’s intentions and had been whipped into a frenzy by the promise of freedom. Muffled grunts accompanied its struggles and a new image burst into Chuck’s imagination: the prisoner’s mouth stitched shut with transparent filament, its chapped lips puckered beneath each suture, suffocating the gibberish that babbled up a throat bulging with veins and muscle.
The knob itself was so cold that Chuck nearly jerked his hand away, possessed by the irrational fear that his fingers would crystalize and shatter. At the moment of contact, the thing assaulted the locker, its knees and head hammering the door so forcefully that dents mushroomed out, showering flakes of rust onto the floor with each bang.
It wasn’t, however, simply this single locker. The hallway echoed with thuds and clangs as each and every door rattled on its hinges. The thin metal hadn’t been designed to withstand such abuse and the doors shook with the impacts. Before long, they’d fly out of their frames and clatter across the floor as dozens of inmates spilled out. They’d rush across the floor in semi-crouches, moving more like charging gorillas than anything even remotely human. They’d descend upon him, ripping free of straitjackets with strength fueled by madness and adrenaline. Pulled to the ground, Chuck’s flailing arms would thrust through the mound of bodies teeming over him and the filament keeping their teeth at bay would fray and snap as their mouths flew open with feral ferocity.
There was no other way it could play out. There were simply too many for him to fight off and they would surround him, cutting off any potential avenues of escape.
Maybe opening the locker wasn’t such a bright idea after all.
Chuck pulled his hand away. The moment his fingers no longer touched the knob, the hall fell silent. There were no residual clangs, no tapering off. No soft scuffling from within. It was as if they’d all dropped dead at the same instant. The only sound now was the thumping of Chuck’s own heart, impossibly loud in the silence. Backing away from the lockers, Chuck noticed that the majority of the floor was no longer solid. He blinked several times as he tried to figure out when the transformation had taken place, but ultimately came to the conclusion that it made no difference. He could waste time asking himself questions for which there were no answers or he could simply accept what had happened and move on. Of the two, the latter sounded more productive, so he turned his attention to familiarizing himself with the corridor’s new layout.
The floor tiles broke off about a foot from where he stood, the edges so cleanly sheared that it looked as though some unseen force had used the grout between the tiles as a guide, cutting away entire squares with precision. Beyond this—where flooring had once been—a narrow swamp was now contained between the hallway’s walls. Vines wormed their way out of the muck and crept up lockers, fanning out near the ceiling like an inverted network of roots; gas bubbled up through the water and popped on the film of green scum covering the surface, releasing the stink of decaying vegetation from the depths below.
Depths somehow felt like the right word. The water was thick and stagnant, making it impossible to visually verify how deep it actually was; however, Chuck’s overall impression was that if he stepped off the ledge, he’d sink into the water until the hallway above was lost in the murky gloom.
As he eyed the water, Chuck caught a glimpse of movement. A dark silhouette slid by, close enough to the surface to leave V-shaped waves in its wake, but not close enough to reveal any real details. The body was decidedly eel-like and moved in an undulating motion that rippled the water as it passed. He tracked it with his eyes and squinted, hoping to get a better impression of exactly what the creature was. The beast, however, dove and dark water washed over it, hiding it once again from view.
Whatever the thing was, it was big. Really big. If it happened to erupt out of the water, Chuck had no doubt it could swallow him whole; one gulp and he’d dissolve within a stomach wider than a mid-sized car, digestive acids roiling and sizzling as his flesh sloughed away, breaking down until he was nothing more than nutrients and waste.
The thought gave him pause. He knew he had to proceed with caution and—if at all possible—avoid any direct confrontations with the thing in the water. Besides, he’d only seen one . . . but how many more might be lurking down there? For all he knew, entire schools could be waiting to fight over the first tasty morsel that happened to splash into their domain.
With his eyes darting back to the swamp at regular intervals, Chuck returned the majority of his attention to the hallway. He noticed that the floor reappeared at the far end, just in front of a set of double doors hanging askew on their hinges. Though the room beyond was dark, a single shaft of light shone down from above, illuminating a plastic lunch table. Dust motes swirled within the beam, swarming around an object that was spotlighted on the table’s top. Though too far away to be certain, Chuck thought it looked like a bag of some sort. If it was, indeed, a bag, it seemed to be imbued with a strange power; the longer he peered at the thing, the more he felt its pull. It called to him on an instinctual level, demanding his full and undivided attention.
The hallway no longer mattered.
The swamp and whatever swam within it ceased to exist.
There was only the object on the table and what sounded like a child’s voice, so soft and low that it could’ve been nothing more than his mind playing tricks on him.
Come and see . . . come and see . . .
Whatever was contained within that bag was the reason Chuck had been brought to this place.
Come and see . . .
It was what the locker lunatics and the swamp creature guarded.
Come and see . . .
Chuck was positive of this.
Come and see . . .
Just as he was positive that he’d have to find a way to reach it.
The sloshing of water broke through the haze that had settled over Chuck’s mind and his gaze shot back to the swamp just in time to glimpse what looked like a tail slapping against the water. The tail fanned out with thin, semi-transparent membranes stretched between bony ridges that tapered to a point. Concentric ripples radiated from where the tail had disappeared, causing rotting pumpkins to bob upon the swamp’s surface.
Chuck was sure those pumpkins hadn’t been there earlier; he certainly would’ve noticed . . . wouldn’t he?
They crested the water like jack-o’-lanterns a week after Halloween, the orange shells looking deflated and wrinkled as they collapsed around gnarled stems. Each pumpkin floated just far enough away from the last that they seemed to form a path. If he were careful, he could leap from gourd to gourd, using them like stepping stones as he made his way across the swamp.
But would they support his weight? Or would he plunge into the water, drawing the creature that lurked there?
Come and see . . .
Glancing at the lunch table, Chuck knew he had no choice. He felt the bag—if it was indeed a bag—reaching out to him across the expanse, pulling and tugging invisible strings that linked the two together. It felt as if something were already moving, some intangible part that threw caution to the wind and wouldn’t wait for his body to catch up.
Normally, Chuck would have thought of this as his soul; however, he was fairly certain he was standing within a Crossfade, which would mean his physical body was nothing more than an illusion. He didn’t remember lying down on the couch in his office and going through the visualizations that allowed his consciousness to project into the realm of the dead. Nor could he remember The Institute giving him this assignment. But that explanation was the only one that made sense. The mortal world didn’t shift into surreal settings where floors became swamps in the blink of an eye; it didn’t have crazed men stowed away in school lockers or a leviathan of prehistoric proportions patrolling a trail of rotting pumpkins.
These types of things were hallmarks for a Crossfade. In a place where a determined soul could construct its own reality from nothingness, anything was possible. So that had to be it.
“Control, if you’re out there, I’d really like to hear your voice right about now.” Chuck’s words rang through the silent school and he waited a moment, listening for the familiar lilt of the woman who acted as both handler and guide for his out-of-body journeys.
There was no response.
Perhaps, however, that was simply an indication of equipment failure. Perhaps the Halo that allowed her to not only monitor his vitals but also broadcast messages into the ether had cut out. The handbook, after all, did say this occasionally happened . . .
“If you’re in a Crossfade, buddy, then where’s your cord?” he wondered aloud.
It was a valid question. Chuck’s silver cord was his lifeline back to his mortal shell, something he could follow to ensure he didn’t become lost in The Divide. As long as it was intact, his spirit was like a cable-ferry and the guide rope bridging either shore would see him safely home every time. Without it, however, he was stuck; neither alive nor dead, but subsisting somewhere between the two.
His cord had disappeared once before, when he’d gone rogue and taken on an assignment that proved greater than the skills he possessed. He’d actually managed to return to his body, but through what could only be described as a miracle. The other Recon and Enforcement Technicians still whispered a story that had quickly become legend and Chuck had even had a trainee ask for his autograph once. He was, above all things, however, a realist; he knew there were astronomical odds against something like that ever happening again.
Crossfade or not, it was best to keep moving. In his experience, if people loitered around long enough, waiting for something to happen, it usually did—what happened, though, was an entirely different matter. Usually an unpleasant one at that.
Taking a deep breath, Chuck focused on the first pumpkin. Holding the inhalation, he envisioned himself gracefully floating through the air and landing on it with ease. He then sighed, releasing the tension that pinched his shoulders, and leapt.
His right foot landed just beside the gourd’s stem and his arms pinwheeled for balance as the pumpkin dipped with his sudden weight. There wasn’t enough room on the shell for both feet, so Chuck’s left leg was raised in the air. He lowered it quickly, his foot hovering an inch above the pumpkin as he struggled to reestablish a center of gravity.
To his right, the creature’s shadow slithered through the swamp, so close that waves lapped against the side of Chuck’s loafer with cold, slimy water. He tried to ignore the fear clenching his stomach, knowing his focus needed to be squarely upon regaining balance . . . but it was hard. With every pass, the creature came a little closer; with every pass, the waves splashed higher upon his leg.
Taking another slow breath, Chuck closed his eyes and placed his palms together as if in prayer. He visualized himself not as something standing on top of the pumpkin, but rather as part of it. His body sprouted from the shell like a stalk, his raised leg being nothing more than a shoot branching off from the trunk. When the pumpkin lolled to one side, so did he. When it dipped into the water, he followed suit; and when it bobbed back to the surface, his balance remained intact.
Opening his eyes again, Chuck held the yoga-like pose for another second as he judged the distance to the next pumpkin. This leap would require him landing with his left foot and repeating the process he’d just been through.
William Todd Rose writes dark, speculative fiction from his home in West Virginia. His short stories have been featured in numerous anthologies and magazines, and his work includes the novels Cry Havoc, The Dead & Dying, and The Seven Habits, and the novellas Apocalyptic Organ Grinder,Crossfades, and Bleedovers. For more information on the author, including links to bonus content, please visit him online.