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Kelley Armstrong, Stewart O’Nan, Taylor Grant, Jonathan Moore, Peter Straub, and Lee Thomas weave six hair-raising yarns proving that appearances can be deceiving—and deadly—in this horror anthology assembled by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar.
INVITATION TO THE GAME by Kelley Armstrong Vivienne dreams of moving up in the company, and now she’s got her chance. All the company asks in return is that she prove her absolute devotion by playing a simple, silly little game.
SUMMER OF ’77 by Stewart O’Nan Suntanned and bleached blond, the boys and girls of summer never expect anything to interrupt their carefree days. They never see me coming until it’s too late.
THE DEAD YEARS by Taylor Grant Emma was the great love of his life, even after she vanished. So when she reappears at a cocktail party fifteen years later, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her from slipping away again.
THE BLACKOUT by Jonathan Moore When a body goes missing from the morgue, Detective Nakahara is called in to investigate. Despite the storm, it should be a simple case. After all, a dead body can’t just walk out on its own . . . right?
VARIATIONS ON A THEME FROM SEINFELD by Peter Straub At six years old, Clyde noticed that his reflection decided not to show up in the mirror. Whenever it happens, he just needs to go through the mirror and fetch him. The trick is making it back.
TORN by Lee Thomas Luther’s Bend is the kind of place where bad things just aren’t supposed to happen, but even the sleepiest towns have secrets . . . and the full moon can bring retribution for all manners of sins.
Praise for Dark Screams: Volume Nine
“Outstanding tales make Dark Screams: Volume Nine worth the price. . . . Highly recommended.”—Paul Dale Anderson
“Another great collection of short stories.”—Thoughts from Irene
Under the Cover
An excerpt from Dark Screams: Volume Nine
The storm’s eye was still a hundred miles to the southeast, but by five o’clock the wind along the coast was gale force, kicking up waves that broke across the lowest-lying roads, so that traffic patrol was keeping itself busy. They were out there in rain slickers and clear plastic ponchos, setting up cones and roadblocks from Hilo to Puna, turning cars around. There’d been radio calls all afternoon as the calm fell apart and the weather moved in, but that had just been background noise for Detective Nakahara. Interesting, but not his problem. He’d been in the station writing burglary reports. But he’d wanted to see it for himself, wanted to know what the island was in for, so on his way home, he detoured out to Banyan Drive, drove past the condos and hotels, and turned into the park that fronted the bay. A lone officer was at the edge of the soaked lawn, using yellow tape to cordon off the pedestrian bridge to Coconut Island.
The wind pulled at the tape, curving it into an arc between the bridge’s handrails. Nakahara’s headlights picked out geysers of white spray when the waves broke against the rocks under the bridge. Every time it happened, the officer ducked.
Before Nakahara could get out to help the officer, his phone rang. He checked the incoming number—Lieutenant Silva, calling from his cell.
“Sir,” Nakahara said. “You caught me going home.”
“I need you here.”
“The Medical Center,” Lieutenant Silva said. “The basement.”
That meant the morgue.
“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“Come around back—it’s how she got out.”
“She?” Nakahara asked.
But his lieutenant had already hung up.
There’d been lines of traffic outside the big-box stores—on the radio, dispatch was sending units to gridlocked intersections, and to a shoving match inside the Walmart—and it was even worse around the gas stations near the airport. But going up the hill toward the hospital, that all died away. Here it wasn’t just quiet. It was dark. The streetlights were out, and there were no fixed lights in any of the houses. Candle flames glittered in his peripheral vision. Until the storm blew out, the only people busier than the police would be the linemen from the electric company.
When he drove behind the hospital, he saw the lieutenant’s truck first, and then the man himself. The truck was parked in a space near the building, but Lieutenant Silva was at the back edge of the parking lot, where the banyans growing along the riverbank made it even darker. A woman in blue scrubs was next to Silva, and both of them were searching the grass with their flashlight beams. Nakahara parked and got out of his car, taking his own light from the loop on his belt.
“Do your best not to step on anything,” Silva said.
“Yes, sir—what are we looking for?”
Nakahara crouched next to his lieutenant and looked at the illuminated spot on the ground. The grass was bent where someone had stepped on it. The wet soil held a small heel print, the press of bare toes. In the middle, a spot of blood glistened.
“What’s going on?” Nakahara asked.
“Dr. Redstone can tell you.”
They stepped back to the parking lot.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Dr. Redstone said.
The county didn’t have a full-time medical examiner, but she was in the rotation of doctors the chief would hire whenever the law required a postmortem. Like most doctors he’d met, Dr. Redstone’s usual demeanor was that of unflappable professionalism. But tonight, standing in the dark parking lot and listening to the whine from the hospital’s backup generator shed, she’d lost something. Her eyes were still searching the ground, and her salt-and-pepper hair was pulling free of the elastic tie she’d used to put it back in a ponytail.
“Back up and tell me from the start,” Nakahara said. “Why you called me.”
“The power went off at sunset, and the generators didn’t come on right away. It took fifteen minutes, and we were in the dark. In a hospital, that’s total chaos—I was in the morgue, but when the lights went out, I got a headlamp and a lantern, and I ran to the ER to pitch in.”
“And that’s when it must have happened. I pulled the door shut behind me, and I heard it lock. Before the lights went out, everything in there was fine.”
“You’re saying someone broke into the morgue. During the blackout, while you were gone, someone broke in.”
“Or broke out,” Lieutenant Silva said.
“Give me a break, Lieutenant,” Dr. Redstone snapped. “We’ve been over that.”
“I’m saying something else,” Lieutenant Silva said. “Maybe someone was in there with you. Hiding. And after you left, he took what he wanted and broke out. That would explain the glass.”
“What glass?” Nakahara asked.
“God—this is giving me the creeps,” Dr. Redstone said. “Let’s go back inside. And before he sees the glass, he’ll want to see the freezer door.”
She started walking toward the back of the hospital, her light still scanning the pavement around her.
They used the stairs, because Dr. Redstone wasn’t entirely sure the elevators and the backup generators got along. One flight of bare concrete steps, the landings lit red by battery-powered emergency lamps over the fire doors. When they came through two sets of swinging doors and into the morgue, Nakahara would have known where they were even if the lights had been out. There was an untamed smell down here. It was heavier than the air. An invisible fog that spilled off the guttered autopsy tables and ran along the gently slanted floor until it settled in the drains and waited.
“I was over there when it happened,” Dr. Redstone said. She gestured to a small workstation with a desktop computer. A digital camera lay next to the keyboard. “When the lights went out, I mean.”
“And you went out the way we just came in?”
Nakahara looked back the way they had come. There was a clear plastic box bolted to the wall near the door. A yellow, handheld lantern standing there. Dr. Redstone was holding her headlamp in her right hand.
“You said he took something?”
“In here,” Dr. Redstone said. She led them across the main autopsy floor until they were standing in front of the walk-in freezer’s sliding steel door. Overhead, the hanging fluorescent lights were shivering in a current of air.
“This was locked.”
It should have been secured with a brass combination lock that fit through a stainless-steel hasp welded to the door. The lock was broken and on the floor. Nakahara crouched, taking a ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket. He used it to turn the lock over. It hadn’t been cut with bolt cutters. Someone simply pulled on the door until the tempered steel latch shattered.
Nakahara stood up.
“Strong guy,” he said. “What’d he take?”
Dr. Redstone slid the door open, and a wave of frigid air crashed around their feet. She leaned inside and flicked on the light, which blinked awhile before it finally held steady. Then they were looking at two rows of steel shelves. A plastic-shrouded cadaver lay on each shelf.
“When the lights went out, she was right there,” Dr. Redstone said. She was pointing at a sheet of clear plastic on the concrete floor. “And when I came back, she was gone.”
“Now show him the glass,” Lieutenant Silva said.
Kelley Armstrong is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Otherworld series, as well as the New York Times bestselling young adult trilogy Darkest Powers, the Darkness Rising trilogy, and the Nadia Stafford series. She lives in rural Ontario, Canada.
Stewart O'Nan is the author of numerous books, including West of Sunset, The Odds, Emily Alone, Snow Angels, Songs for the Missing, and A Prayer for the Dying. His 2007 novel, Last Night at the Lobster, was a national bestseller and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his family.
Peter Straub is the New York Times–bestselling author of more than a dozen novels. In the Night Room and lost boy, lost girl were winners of the Bram Stoker Award, as was his collection 5 Stories. Straub is the editor of numerous anthologies, including the two-volume American Fantastic Tales from the Library of America. He lives in Brooklyn.