Dark Screams: Volume Ten

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Simon Clark, Clive Barker, Heather Herrman, Wrath James White, Marc Rains, Lisa Tuttle, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch unleash the terrifying truths behind love, loyalty, and obsession in a sextet of twisted tales presented by preeminent horror editors Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar.

BASTION by Simon Clark
The Bastion boys were the perfect soldiers: courageous in the face of a fearsome enemy, unwaveringly devoted to each other—and young enough not to ask any questions.

ON AMEN’S SHORE by Clive Barker
Beisho Fie and Rutaluka make their living off of legends and poems, fantasies and rumors. But on the shores of Joom’s harbor, they come face-to-face with the horrifying reality behind the myth.

THE WOMAN IN THE BLUE DRESS by Heather Herrman
Natalie moved to a small Minnesota lake town to relax, heal, and start a family. A chance encounter with a strange old woman shouldn’t change that—even if the woman has something Natalie would do anything to get.

SEVEN YEARS by Wrath James White
Every seven years, all the cells in our bodies regenerate, so we’re barely even the same person anymore. And yet we can’t change our past—or escape repercussions for the things we’ve done.

DARK WATER by Marc Rains and Lisa Tuttle
A chance meeting in a coffee shop. A smile shared over a book. They say the soul of a poet holds unseen depths . . . but certain truths are hidden for a reason.

THE TRENDY BAR SIDE OF LIFE by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
In a back-alley saloon, D tends bar for others like her. She’s been there since the night she stumbled in, broken and alone—just like the man who stumbles in tonight.

Praise for the Dark Screams series

“A wicked treat [featuring] . . . some of the genre’s best.”—Hellnotes, on Volume One

“Five fun-to-read stories by top-notch horror scribes. How can you lose? The answer: you can’t.”—Atomic Fangirl, on Volume Two

“If you have not tried the series yet, do yourself a favor and grab a copy of any (or all) of the books for yourself.”Examiner.com, on Volume Three

“Fans of horror of every variety will find something to love in these pages.”LitReactor, on Volume Four

“[Volume Five] runs the gamut from throwback horror to lyrical and heartbreaking tales.”Publishers Weekly

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Dark Screams: Volume Ten

The Woman in the Blue Dress
by Heather Herrman

It all began with the woman.

She approached me over dinner, and I saw that she was older than me—sixty, maybe seventy at the outside. Gray-haired, with dark-rimmed eyes, she wore a navy-blue cocktail dress, the shoulders folded down neatly. There was something familiar in seeing her, but it was only before I talked to her that I thought this. When we spoke I knew that I’d never met her before.

“Lake trout?” she asked, looking down at my plate. My husband was away working for the night and would be gone, probably until near midnight. He was renovating an old hotel, a good purchase made by us just last year in the hopes of flipping the property to some ambitious foreign buyers. Grand Marais was a tourist town located in the Northwoods of Minnesota—a kind of Nordic paradise resting on the shores of a sealike Lake Superior. In the summer, entire hordes of visitors from the Twin Cities ascended north, seeking a reconnection to their inner wildman.

We’d gotten the hotel for a song in the sludgy economy, but in order to capitalize on the upcoming tourist season, the hotel needed to be up and ready within two months, sold within three. All of this meant that I was spending the off-season mostly alone, albeit alone with adequate spending money and a beautiful rented cabin in town from which to watch that sealike lake.

“Lake trout, yes,” I confirmed. The woman didn’t move away, but stood looking down at my plate. Around her neck hung a fat necklace, its chain gold, a dark blue sapphire hanging like a grub caught in some spider’s filigreed web. It was the very same necklace, though I didn’t know it then, that my husband would surprise me with that night.

“Is it good?”

“Delightful,” I said, digging into another bite with my fork, though it was mostly for show. The truth was, I hadn’t been hungry all night, not for the last several days, though the restaurant was the best in the area.

“I always wonder,” she said. People were beginning to push past her now with irritated looks. The restaurant, named Fish Hash, wasn’t a large one, but even in off-season it was popular, people waiting up to an hour to get a table. I’d come at four, just to miss the wait, but people were eyeing my table hungrily in the huddle by the door, and I knew that I, alone and taking up an entire table, didn’t dare have a leisurely dinner.

“May I . . .” the woman asked, gesturing at the empty chair across from me. In truth, I’d almost forgotten she was there, my mind wandering as I’d found it doing so often in the week since coming here, almost to the day, in fact, me walking around like I had a cotton ball tucked around my brain.

“Certainly,” I said, because what else could one say when asked such a question? Besides, having another person at the table might make my presence at it less offensive to the large groups waiting. The woman pulled out the chair and sat quite comfortably down, motioning for a waiter, quite as if she had been expected all along. The waiter came over, and she ordered a glass of something called Minnestalgia, a sweet, raspberry-flavored wine, and an unexpected favorite of my own.

“I don’t usually go in for such things,” she said, leaning conspiratorially across the table. Her left hand was bare, but I could see a barely discernible line where a ring, very recently, had been removed. When she saw me staring at it, she quickly removed her hand from the table and cleared her throat.

“I usually like the full-bodied wines,” she said. “I’m almost embarrassed to fall into this sweet Minnesotan palate.” She laughed, and there, for just an instant, was that feeling of familiarity I’d felt when seeing her walk in, but just as quickly it was gone.

“I agree,” I said. “I’m a sucker for something chewy, but the Minnestalgia is a guilty pleasure.”

“I’ll never tell,” the woman said. “Do you mind if I order something to eat?”

“Not at all. But to be honest, I was just getting ready to leave.”

“Of course,” she said, seeming for the first time that night to lose something of the steely composure she possessed. “I didn’t mean to impose.”

“You’re not,” I said, though of course she was, and at that second my mind wandered away to my warm bed and Sam, and I wondered how late it would be that night before he crept in to lie beside me, only to disappear again before I woke. Like a gut punch, the guilt I felt at being here, guilt mixed with a sense of dissatisfaction at having abandoned my own career, bloomed deep in my belly. But what did it matter about being a high school teacher if the stress kept you from having any children of your own? Time was running out for us, and I needed rest, time to focus on conceiving. Time.

“Excuse me.” I wiped my mouth with the extremely tiny napkin the establishment had provided, laughable, really, in light of the fried fish and tartar sauce served in liter squeeze bottles. “I think I should get going. It was nice to meet you. Please feel free to keep the table.” It was, after all, what I was sure she’d been after.

“Wait!” she said. “Let me buy you some dessert at least.”

“No, thank you, I . . .”

“They have a secret dessert, you know. It’s not on the list, but it’s to die for. Their . . .”

“Maple syrup shot,” I finished with her, and she met my eyes with a smile.

“Yes, that’s it, exactly,” she said, sounding delighted. “A fellow aficionado. I didn’t realize anyone else knew about it.”

“I come here alone sometimes,” I said. “The waitress, Shelly, took pity on me.”

“The very same dear who enlightened me,” the woman said, and before I could stop her, she had magically waved the waiter down amidst all the hustle and placed the order for the shots. “I didn’t just come over here to bother you, you know,” she said, turning back around and settling herself firmly in the chair. The restaurant was made in a U shape, in such a way that every table was tucked neatly against an outside window looking toward the lake. The water was dark, its day-clear depths now murky with mystery, the waves looking as thick as the maple syrup the waiter laid in front of us. The syrup’s depths glowed in the muted gold light of the restaurant, the light that turned the wood décor and exterior waves into a world quite separate from reality, as though we were floating in a fish tank, a dingy remnant of somebody’s den in which they’d left the aquarium upon moving out, and we few were the last specimens of the once noble pets.

“Cheers,” the woman said.

I picked up my own, the amber liquid warm against the glass. “Cheers,” I said. “And thank you . . .”

“Cassandra,” she said, holding up her glass and clinking my own before downing it in one shot. I followed suit, the liquid leaving a warm, thick trail of sweet down my throat, the maple nuanced with shades of ash and oak, and then, at the end, an unexpected bitterness that I hadn’t ever tasted before. I coughed a little, quickly wiping my mouth.

“Thank you, Cassandra. I love that name, by the way,” I said. I did, too, though I’d been a little startled to hear it fall from her lips. It was the very name I’d always craved having as a child, always thinking it to sound very adult, very grand and beautiful. I had named all of my dolls Cassandra, but until this point had never met a living, breathing specimen.

“Thank you,” she said, and paused. It took me a minute to realize that she was waiting for me to supply my own name. “Natalie,” I told her. “And now I do have to go. My husband will be waiting for me.”

Cassandra raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow at this, almost as if suggesting she quite knew that this wasn’t the truth. “Of course,” she said. “But please do allow me to walk you out, Natalie. I know this must seem very strange me bursting in on you like this, but I really did have something I wanted to talk to you about.”

I agreed only to be rid of her. I was beginning to have my own suspicions concerning Cassandra. Shelly, the waitress, had told me there was a pocket of Jehovah’s Witnesses out this way who liked to prey on tourists, and I thought perhaps I’d seemed an easy target sitting alone like I had been. But my house was only a block away, and she couldn’t very well follow me inside if I didn’t want her to. She uncrossed her legs to stand at the same time I did, and one of her heels caught me sharply in the shin, sending a wave of bright pain up my leg. I hissed an intake of breath.

Cassandra stood and smiled at me, either pretending not to have noticed the contact or choosing to ignore it. “Shall we?” she asked.

We walked out past the crowded tables, stopping at the register to pay. It was another quirk about the restaurant, having you pay up front at the anchor-shaped desk just like you’d pay at the front of a Denny’s or a Perkins. But this gem of a Grand Marais restaurant was far from a Denny’s, and the prices on the ticket reflected this. Before I could hand the gum-popping teen behind the register my card, Cassandra snatched the ticket from my hand.

“Allow me,” she said, and with the speed of a clearly planned action, presented the ticket with a fresh hundred-dollar bill to the girl behind the register. Cassandra was wearing gloves now, I saw, navy blue gloves with a sateen shimmer finish. I wondered when she’d had time to put them on.

She took her change and then hooked my arm. “Ready?” It was funny, but when she touched me like that, I felt like just sinking into her. It was comfortable, that touch. Comfortable and familiar and yet . . .

The cold wind from the outdoor hit us with the pop of the double-sealed door breaking free of its frame as we pushed through. The night was thick and black, but the stars were out and so beautiful that we both paused, as one, to look at them. The waves from the lake behind us slapped at the shore, and we stood, transfixed, looking up into the black sky, arms linked, and the water gently lap, lap, lapping away behind us like a lullaby, and I felt, in that moment, happy.

Cassandra began to walk, and I had no choice but to follow, entwined as we were. We walked up the hill, past a new gaggle of eager diners bundled in their best furs and wools, and up onto the main street, where Cassandra did not turn right but walked straight ahead, toward my house.

“How did you know I lived this way?” I asked, after we’d safely crossed the wide street and stood under the glow of a streetlamp.

The light above caught her face, just so, as she turned toward me, and I saw that she wasn’t as pretty as I’d thought she was. An army of lines worked their way across her face, lines that in the dark light of the restaurant had been hidden by a thick slate of makeup. Here, though, they were completely visible, and I saw one under her right eye that was so deep as to almost look like a scar. It ran itself in a hooked C from the eye’s center out to just short of her hairline.

When Cassandra saw me staring she ducked her head, and I felt horribly embarrassed.

“Cassandra,” I said, having made up my mind to just be rid of her, to tell her that my house was just at the corner and it was so nice to meet her, but . . .

The shriek of tires cutting through the empty night severed my intentions, and I looked up to see a small girl in a red coat standing straight in the car’s path.

Dark Screams: Volume Ten

Dark Screams: Volume Ten

— Published by Hydra —