Volume Ten, page 1
Dark Screams: Volume Ten is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
A Hydra Ebook Original
Copyright © 2018 by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar
“Bastion” by Simon Clark, copyright © 2015 by Simon Clark
“On Amen’s Shore” by Clive Barker, copyright © 1992 by Clive Barker
“The Woman in the Blue Dress” by Heather Herrman, copyright © 2018 by Heather Herrman.
“Seven Years” by Wrath James White, copyright © 2018 by Wrath James White.
“Dark Water” by Marc Rains and Lisa Tuttle, copyright © 2018 by Marc Rains and Lisa Tuttle.
“The Trendy-Bar Side of Life” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, copyright © 2018 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Hydra, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
HYDRA is a registered trademark and the HYDRA colophon is a trademark of Penguin Random House LLC.
“Bastion” by Simon Clark was originally published individually by Cemetery Dance Publications in 2015.
“On Amen’s Shore” by Clive Barker was originally published in Demons & Deviants edited by Michael Brown (New York: Phantom Press/Fantaco Enterprises, 1992).
Ebook ISBN 9780399181979
Cover design: Elderlemon Design
On Amen’s Shore
The Woman in the Blue Dress
The Trendy-Bar Side of Life
About the Editors
by Simon Clark
Bastion Boys’ Motto: GIVE US GLORY! GIVE ’EM HELL!
From Bastion Wars by J. B. Kirklees:
New combatants invariably arrived in a state of confusion. This was one of the most dangerous times for a bewildered newcomer. Their surroundings were outlandish; their new companions were all strangers, and ignorance of military hardware led to horrific accidents.
The average age of combatants was thirteen.
* * *
I didn’t know where I was. Why I was there. I didn’t even know my own name.
The only way I can describe how I actually got there was that I seemed to arrive in a rush.
The first thing I heard was a boy shouting at me. He was aged about sixteen, had wild ginger hair, freckles like a spatter of brown gravy over his face, and these huge green eyes that were full of fury.
The rush of the arrival disoriented me so much I couldn’t even understand what he was yelling at me. At least, not at first.
Then the jumble of sounds pouring from his mouth suddenly became clear: “Hey, stupid! I’m talking to you! Stay back against that wall! Whatever you do, don’t touch that gun!”
He pointed at something that looked like a rifle, sitting on a rack. Instead of having an ammo magazine jutting out from the underside of the gun there was a thick red hose that snaked from the weapon. The red hose had been plumbed into the top of a brass dome that stood about ten inches proud of the concrete floor.
“By the way, stupid. Welcome to the gang!”
“I don’t belong to any gang. I’m—”
“Stop flapping your mouth. Stand back against the wall and keep out of our way!”
This was crazy. My heart slammed against my ribs. I could hardly breathe. This’s one of those panic nightmares, I was telling myself. Just try and wake up. Everything will be all right, just as soon as you open your eyes.
The thing is, I couldn’t wake up, even though I was certain this was a dream.
The sixteen-year-old with the red hair hefted one of those rifles that he’d told me not to touch. A red hose as thick as his wrist snaked from the bottom of the gun down to the brass dome that bulged from the concrete floor.
He hugged the butt tight into his shoulder, leaned forward, and aimed the barrel out through a narrow slot in a wall that was also made of gray concrete. He fired off a shot. The gun didn’t go bang. It sounded more like a sneeze. A shoo sound. As soon as he fired, a white frost instantly formed along the red tube.
This dream was the weirdest dream I’d ever had.
What else was happening? Dazed, I looked around. There I stood in a bunker made out of gray concrete. In size, it was probably just about as big as my dad’s garage where he parked his two cars. Along one wall were long, thin slits in the concrete. There were ten boys in all. Each one wore military combat-style uniforms. And each one was busy as hell. They fired the peculiar-looking rifle at some target on the other side of the slit. The youngest boy would have been around eleven. The oldest sixteen, at the most.
Every so often, the kid with the red hair yelled at me to stay out of the damn way. He was angry with me for moving forward to see what was happening—red-faced, bulging-eyed angry—but he was too busy firing to do anything more than yell.
This is the strangest dream…So real I could smell a chemical zing in the air from the guns. The weapons made sneezing sounds. Shoo, shoo shoo! The noise grew louder as the firing grew faster.
What were those kids firing at? Though I knew I was dreaming, I had to take a look through the gun slits. Those juvenile soldiers were fired up with battle fever. They were fighting a war. Their blood was up. Apart from the red-haired boy, they’d not even noticed I was there. The expressions on those guys’ faces were electrifying. It made me scared and excited.
Now I didn’t want the dream to end. I didn’t want to wake up to the radio alarm beside my bed, seeing monster-truck posters on my bedroom wall, and know that I’d have to get ready for school. No. This dream fascinated me. I had to see what had fired up those kids so much that they had to shoot the guns like crazy.
So who is the enemy?
I put my hands on the concrete ledge, leaned forward, and I saw an amazing sight.
My heart gave a pow! This view really surprised me. No, scrub “surprised”—this amazed me.
When I looked out I saw a huge room. I mean vast…really vast. And vast as in miles long. I found myself staring at a factory. There were big machines…really big machines. Hundreds sat on the factory floor. Dreams mix up images. So I should have expected this. Maybe a quarter of the floor space was occupied by a lake. Machines rose out of the water. Some of the machines were smothered by ivy. There were trees growing from walkways. Big white birds flapped from nests on top of that industrial hardware. The birds glided across the lake toward the far end of the building—but that “far end” must have been five miles away from me.
The school-age soldiers fired their guns in the direction of the lake. I saw fuzzy blobs of white go blurring away from the muzzles. Some of the shots popped against the sides of the machine housings. They left a white smear.
I couldn’t identify the enemy.
Or are the factory machines the enemy? Or are enemy soldiers hiding in the machines, or behind the machines?
What a crazy dream. But get this: It was an exciting dream. Adrenaline blazed through me. I wanted to see what happened next in this wild, thrilli
A hand shoved me. Red Scalp yelled right into my face. “Listen! This isn’t a dream! This is war!”
I stared at him. Yeah…one of those stupid, wide-eyed, slack-jawed expressions. I wasn’t used to being yelled at by people who I’d dreamt up inside my own head bone.
He shoved his finger into my chest. “There’s a war to be won, Soldier. Now snap out of it. And keep out of our fucking way!”
I’m in this amazingly exciting dream. So why not fire one of these awesome sneeze guns? Those were the words pumping through my head as I reached out for the rifle that sat on its rack. The long rubber pipe connected the weapon to the brass dome on the floor. The sense of anticipation I had made me tingle from head to foot. I couldn’t wait to use the weapon. This was one humdinger of a dream—images were so vivid, so precise, so absolutely sharp.
And I was the hero. The gun-wrangling sharpshooter. My finger itched to curl around the trigger. I picked up the sneeze gun.
And POW! A white meteor hit me in the face. The blast knocked me back off my feet. My eyes felt as if they’d been punctured by six-inch nails. Sheer agony made me scream. I kept screaming, and screaming, and screaming…
From Bastion Wars:
New conscripts arriving at Bastion were forced to learn the rules of survival fast. Those that didn’t were short-lived. The casualty rate for newcomers stood at a terrifying fifty per cent. The key problem was that the combatants were so young; what’s more, nobody thought it necessary to introduce a cogent program of education, which would have taught vital skills to the fresh intake. Generally, the new boy would learn what had to be learnt in the field of battle.
There was a lamentable dearth of instruction in combat skills, weapon training, and survival techniques. That is unforgivable. However, what does shine through in my interviews with survivors of the Bastion Wars is their allegiance to their comrades. The boys displayed unbreakable loyalty. They looked out for one another. What they considered to be the worst crime of all was “letting your friends down.”
Loyalty was the shining bond of gold that held this group of boy soldiers together. Without that cult of loyalty not one single child would have survived the terrifying slaughter lands.
* * *
My face burned. My eyes were sore. I thought I was going to vomit.
At least I was awake. The dream was over. No more weirdness of the factory, with its own lake on the factory floor and kids firing sneeze guns from the bunker. I tried to sit up.
“You best take it easy for a while.”
“Nurr…” The words that were supposed to come out of my mouth were: What happened to me? A grunty “Nurr…” was all I could manage. My face felt as if it had been ripped by eagle’s claws. I couldn’t open my eyes.
Panic took over. I thrashed my arms. Blind…I’m fucking blind!
This time I yelled, “Nurrr…ah!”
“Lay still, kiddo. You nearly froze your face off.”
The voice sounded friendly. That helped a little bit.
“Take it easy for a few minutes. Your face will feel stiff. That’s why your mouth isn’t working properly.”
My eyelids were stiff, too. So I used my thumb to push one open.
That stung like ant bites. Though I did manage to glimpse a strip light hanging from a white ceiling.
Not my light.
Not my bedroom.
Am I at school? Which room, though?
And what happened to my face? In the dream I touched the sneeze gun…then wham! Lots of pain. After that, I seemed to be asleep.
“Nurrr?” I managed to make my grunt rise up at the tail end, so it sounded questionlike.
A boy spoke again. “You froze your face.”
“Remember? Like an idiot, you tried picking up the Nitro Musket—after I’d told you not to touch the damn thing. A gas blowout caught you bam! in the face.”
“N-Nitro?” I managed to say the puzzling word.
“A Nitro Musket,” said the kid. “It’s a gun…Look, everything’s going to seem mixed around at the moment. You won’t be able to make sense of anything.”
I tried to sit up again. Also, being upright would be a good idea if I puked. That hard ball of sick tried to ram itself up through my throat.
“If you’ll take some friendly advice, just lie there. Do nothing. Be still. Okay?”
I took a couple deep breaths. The sick feeling passed. So I lay back, keeping my eyes shut. My eyelids still burned like ant bites, anyway. Keeping them shut eased the sting.
“I’ve got to go soon,” said the boy. He sounded almost regretful about leaving. Maybe he realized how worried I was. “But I’ll tell you some stuff first. We all feel like you when we first arrive at Bastion. You know, dizzy, confused? We’re convinced that we’re dreaming. I felt the same. I just kept waiting to wake up and for the dream to end. But never, ever fall into that trap. If you don’t realize that you’re in a real place that has real dangers that can kill you, then…pffft. You’ll be gone in no time at all.” He paused. “Anyway, in a dream would you feel this?”
I felt a stab of pain in my ear. I yelled. This was more through fear than pain. Had I been captured by a juvie psycho torturer? A nutjob who’d got an interesting day planned out for himself that consisted of a helpless victim, sharp knives, a blowtorch, and a hammer?
“Stop being such a twat actor. All I did was flick your ear. I mean…if you felt that, you can’t be dreaming, can you?”
“What have you done to me?” My God. I could speak again. “Don’t hurt me.”
“I’m not going to hurt you. I’m on your side. You’re part of the gang now. You know, chosen? Picked for the team? It’s an honor.”
“No, you’re not. You got the blowback from the Nitro.”
“But I can’t see.” I started to cry. I was so ashamed. The kid would see my tears. How low is that? Crying in front of a stranger. “My face hurts, too.”
“Listen. You got a face full of freezing nitrogen.”
“Oh, shit. Oh, shit.” I sobbed.
“That’s why your face feels stiff and it’s hurting. You’ve got frostbite.”
“You’ve also got yourself a free skin peel. People pay good money for that kind of thing to make themselves look younger. How old are you now?”
“Happy days. This time next week you might pass for a ten-year-old.”
“I want to go home.” Tears rolled down my face. That salt really made my skin sting. My eyelids ignited. “I don’t like being here.” God, I whined like a baby. It was so humiliating to be flopped out on the bed, wailing. “I can’t see—I can’t remember my name.”
“That always happens with new arrivals. Scrambles the brain cake in there.” I felt a finger tap my forehead. “The blowout hasn’t killed you. You’re going to be okay in a couple days. You’ll get your brain working again. Then I’ll show you ’round. Tell you the important stuff. Show you where you’ll eat and sleep.”
“Where I’ll sleep? You’re kidding, right? I live at home with my parents, and—”
“Not anymore you don’t.”
“I want to see who’s in charge here.”
“You’ll see me when your eyes get back to normal.”
“No, I want to see who runs this place.”
“That’s me. I’m in charge of C Division. You’re in C Division. You understand what I’m saying, Frost Face?”
“No, I don’t understand…I’m not staying here. You can’t make me. I’m going home!”
There was a pause. Then the boy spoke in a gentle voice. “You are home. The quicker you accept the fact, the more likely you’ll stay alive.”
From Bastion Wars:
Weapons were limited. Ammunition, however, was limitless. A Nitro Musket handled like a rifle. Hose-fed pellets of liquid nitrogen had a range of five miles. This meant that a round fired from a Bastion bunker could travel the length of the Factory Floor and hit the barrier wall at the far end. Those unfortunate enough to take part in missions onto the Factory Floor itself—an extraordinarily dangerous undertaking—were armed with the Nitro Lance. Brutally effective. Yet its short range exposed the soldiers to the hazards of what would be tantamount to hand-to-hand fighting. Many Bastion Boys perished.
One veteran of the Bastion Wars commented, “Going out onto the Factory Floor was like a suicide mission. You were either hunting Fluke or you were part of the maintenance detail. Generally, Fluke would come after you, or you’d get hit by Bog Hornets. But none of us backed down, cried off, or pretended to be sick so we’d miss the Factory Floor mission. You see, we didn’t want to look like cowards in front of our friends.”
Once again, the golden bonds of loyalty. That ethos proved to be a life-saver—and a life-taker.
* * *
When I woke up, lots of great things happened at once. I could see. I remembered my name. I felt good inside again. Strong, alert, clearheaded. And hungry. Oh, yes, definitely hungry.
So when I opened my eyes, what did I see? Well…something with white walls, white ceiling, a strip light, no windows. A bed: I was lying on that. Clean sheets. So: sort of hospital room–looking. Though a minimalist hospital room. There was another bed next to mine. That one, empty.
I jumped off the bed and nipped across to the mirror above a stainless-steel sink.
“My name is John Karroon. I’m twelve years old. I live in Perryvale. I am not dreaming.”