Tag Archives: Ben larken

Pit Stop…

30 Jan

Another release from Author of the Week Ben Larken.

Pit-Stop by Ben Larken

The last stop on the road to Hell…

Highway patrolman Scott Alders sits in a roadside diner along a desolate stretch of Arizona highway. He doesn’t remember how he arrived. Neither do the other patrons, although their waitress tells them a bus is coming. It will take them the rest of the way to a destination of unspeakable horrors. The group of strangers unite with a common goal—escape. Each of them feels the weight of their own dark secrets. But personal demons are no match for a crimson-eyed bus driver with a schedule to keep.

Larken’s first novel is still one of his most terrifying. Winner of the Epic Award for Best Horror, Pit-Stop now comes with a mini-sequel that spurs the story in a whole new direction. So sit back, have a cup of joe, and soak in the calming, deadly atmosphere of the Pit-Stop Grill—the last attraction on Route 66 you’ll ever want to visit.

“Pit Stop is a non-stop thrill ride. Right up there with King, Barker and Straub.”
               —John Parker, The Southern Horror Writers Association

“Good novels have a hook in the first few pages, but this premise of cheating the devil’s coachman is a fishing line with hooks all along to the last chapter.”
                                                                 —Compulsivereader.com

“I didn’t want to put the book down for fear of what might happen next.”
                                                               —Crystal’s Book Reviews

Excerpt:

“Can I refill your coffee?”

The question plucked Officer Scott Alders from his haphazard state of meditation, but only slightly. He had been gazing at the spoon next to his thumb, enjoying the gleam of sunlight off its silver. The glare created a crescent of light on his knuckle. He looked up from the spoon and saw a waitress uniform—a pea green dress with a crisp white apron. He scanned her front, pausing at her gnarled white fingers with fire engine red nail polish. He halted again at the throat of her dress, at the way the top button was undone, giving view of a corded neck that he associated with an elderly person. The face was a mental climax. The bony chin. The white little hairs on her upper lip. The lips themselves, also doused in that fire engine red. Her dully arched eyebrows, plucked around the edges. Gray hair with staggering streaks of white. And then the forced smile, revealing teeth the color of old paper.

In another place and time, he would have glanced at the woman in polite acknowledgment and turned away. But at the moment her face fascinated him. It was a landscape of unexplored and somewhat rugged valleys, ridges, and wrinkles. He smiled, noting the way his mustache bristled. He liked that feeling, too. So he smiled harder.

“Can I ask your name?” Scott said, sounding airy and silly and nothing like the man he knew himself to be. It sounded like a pick-up line—one he had used before, no less. Fifteen years ago that had been, the party after graduating the academy. Where he met Stephanie. Geez.

The waitress glanced down at her chest, her pupils lowering in the most intriguingly annoyed way. He followed her gaze and saw a nametag on her apron strap. HOLLY, the plastic tag proclaimed.

“Would you like a refill or not?” she asked, after he stared at the nametag for too long.

He perked up again and nodded, not comprehending the question. No—to anything—simply wasn’t in his vocabulary. Scott beamed as she lifted a coffee pot and poured black liquid into his cup. The smell, he thought, what a luscious smell. The trickling invigorated him even more than the spoon or Holly’s face. When it was over—all too soon, he felt—he looked up again, like a dog at its master. She smiled curtly and turned away.

“Holly?”

She slumped as she heard his voice, as if expecting this. When she glanced back, her eyes almost screamed, What, you idiot? Scott wasn’t offended by it. Offended wasn’t in the vocabulary today either.

“What, hun?”

He tried to remember his question, finding it hard amid the realization she had called him hun. But he sensed her growing impatience, so he struggled to reach his thought.

“How did I get here?”

She turned a little more, looking at him with weary eyes. She smacked her lips loudly.

“You wandered in, hun—just like the rest of them.”

“But I . . . I feel like I just woke from a dream.”

She snorted. “Yeah, that happens sometimes. Not often, but sometimes. Usually they stare at their coffee and never make a peep.” She looked at him pointedly. “I like those customers.”

“But—I . . .”

“Just keep staring at that spoon,” she said, already turning away. “Everything’ll feel better.” With that she continued down the row of booths, stopping three tables away to refill somebody else’s coffee. Scott watched her, his mind swirling with follow-up questions. Wandered in from where? How long have I been here? Why did your parents name you Holly? The questions dissipated as his gaze opened to the rest of the diner. It was a vaguely retro joint with cream-colored chrome-rimmed tabletops, checkered tile floors, and hanging Sputnik lamps. The place emitted a warm Norman Rockwell vibe with its basic streamlined architecture. A line of maroon leather booths adjoined a wall full of panoramic windows, while the center of the diner showcased a grand stainless steel bar flanked by metallic stools. He immersed himself in every detail, remembering a dozen classic movies where good guys sat in diners like this and sipped their cups of joe. The whole scene filled his heart with the best of Americana. How had he spent his whole life in places like this and not taken more notice?

Stephanie, no doubt, would say the same thing.

Scott scanned his table, with the standard formation of ketchup bottle, napkin dispenser, and salt and pepper shakers against the wall. He looked out the window next to him and saw a neon sign next to the highway. “The Pit-Stop Grill” blinked dully in the midday glare, its zigzag font designed to point directly at the diner. Beyond the sign was a brilliant reddish-white landscape. Arizona desert, the Painted Desert. Rugged hills gave way to sudden flatness, making everything look like a huge toasted tortilla. Only the gleaming gray of I-40 and the dark silhouettes of two old-fashioned gas pumps broke up the monotony. And cloud shadows. Scott couldn’t see the clouds, but their shadows slid across the desert floor like sharks beneath the surface of the water. Something about the view sent a chill into him, which he thought odd since it looked hot outside.

He turned and continued analyzing this fascinating-for-no-reason diner. There were other customers. Of course, there were. This was a great place to be. He scanned the faces, all as detailed and unique as his new best friend Holly. He counted eight, and they varied in just about every way. White, black, fat, thin, bald, hairy, male, female, young, and old—they all stared at their tables with the same pleasant dispositions.

According to Holly, they all wandered in. Scott smiled again. He was in the middle of something special. Here were all these strangers pulled into a group for this brief moment. Souls drawn together by the need to eat, the need to refuel, and whether they realized it or not, the need to feel other souls in their midst. How he wished Michael was here. Scott had never felt as wise and at one with himself as he did right now, and it seemed a shame not to pass it on to his son.

You can’t, a tiny voice in the back of his mind whispered. Michael’s not talking to you. And you’re not talking to him either.

Scott’s gaze reverted to the spoon with the magic sparkle. He didn’t like that voice’s tone. It was too critical, and it brought a moment of uncertainty to his serenity. At the same moment tires screeched outside, sounding very close. He turned to the window, but the highway was empty. There weren’t any cars or pickups or big rigs. He didn’t even see his police cruiser, which was unusual and caused him to frown. One thing a highway patrolman never forgot was where he parked his cruiser. You never knew when an emergency call would come in. But Scott had forgotten where he parked it. In fact, he wasn’t sure he remembered driving it here.

Maybe you didn’t, that same voice said, louder than last time. Maybe this isn’t the type of place you can drive to. That means you got here another way.

“I wandered,” he said aloud, though not loud enough for anyone else to hear. “Like Holly said. I wandered in like everyone else.”

Must’ve been a hot walk. As Scott’s gaze dropped from the window he noticed he was wearing his uniform and felt a surge of relief when he saw everything was there. His badge, his belt, his nightstick and his pistol were all where they were supposed to be. But not your radio, the voice pestered. You left it in the car apparently—the car you lost.

Scott grunted and shook his head, getting rid of that prissy little voice, getting rid of the uncertainty that came on the heels of everything it said. He probed the room for something to bring back that magic feeling again. It didn’t take long. Holly dumped another batch of ice into the soda dispenser and the crinkling sound washed over him like a symphony. He smiled, took a deep breath, and told himself he was fine. Everything was fine. Everything was beautiful, as Ray Stevens liked to sing.

Scott’s lazily drifting vision landed on something—eyes staring at him. His spine straightened. The eyes were cold and black and belonged to a young man sitting on a barstool. Or a young body, he thought. The eyes looked older. The man had dark hair, a pointy nose and striking eyes that refused to veer away. How come he doesn’t blink? Scott’s mind chuckled in response. Now that you mention it, Scott, how come you don’t blink? The young man’s eyes narrowed, scrutinizing him harder.

Then he rose from his barstool and started toward Scott.

Fear tickled his gut as the young man approached. Maybe it was an after-effect of that critical inner voice, but something about this twenty-something seemed wrong. It wasn’t his clothes. They entranced Scott as much as everything else. The well-worn Adidas tennis shoes, blue jeans, a black T-shirt with the words Just do it laid out in white, and a red flannel button-up shirt with the arms ripped off. The young man frowned in a way that didn’t match the rest of the Pit-Stoppers’ satisfied smirks. Scott wondered if the young man was holding back a scream. His hands were shoved in the pockets of his blue jeans, and the pockets vibrated as if he had a couple cell phones in each one. Or his hands are shaking. That’s why he’s hiding them in his pockets, Scott reasoned. He can’t keep the tremble out of his hands.

The young man stopped when he reached the table’s edge. They studied each other, Scott looking at the young man in befuddled curiosity and the young man staring into his eyes, searching for something that didn’t seem to be there, which made the young man frown harder.

“You don’t remember, do you?” the young man asked, his voice scratchy and low, like someone coming out of a hangover.

Another tickle of fear ran through him, like fingers over piano keys. Scott swallowed, making his throat click, and knew without a doubt that he was about to have the most important conversation of his life.

“No,” Scott said, and the young man nodded, because that was the answer he had expected

Links:

http://www.gypsyshadow.com/BenLarken.html#PitExc

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Pit-Stop-Special-Hollows-Ben-Larken-ebook/dp/B00FS04K3A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391109539&sr=8-1&keywords=pit+stop+ben+larken

 

 

The Man in the Wall….

29 Jan

Another GSP release from Author of the Week: Ben Larken.

The Man in the Wall (Hollows Part Two) by Ben Larken

Now that David Alders knows time travel is possible inside The Hollows, his mind is set on one goal—to save his wife Elise. He has one chance to get it right and decides to try changing the past on a test subject. A nightmarish spate of child killings known as the Wetzel Murders occurred in the 70’s, and David believes he can erase them from history. 

But The Hollows has other plans…

Excerpt:

Elise’s Journal: March 24, 1999

He should have been back by now.

That’s all I can think. It’s the one sentence that circles my head all day like an annoying song. He should have been back. Like, days ago. Hell, he should’ve been back five minutes after he left. I mean, I’m talking about time travel. I don’t know how he’s making the trip, but if he’s able to make it at all he should find his way back to the same time period, right? He could punch some coordinates into a super-computer, give the Flux Capacitor an oil change and just pop back to the same day he last saw me. That makes sense, doesn’t it? God, I’ve got a headache.

Future David. That’s the name I gave him a week ago, this rumpled guy with the tortured eyes who showed up in my front yard. He’s the guy who knows something too terrible for words is about to happen to me. I know, because I tried to make him say those words and he couldn’t. Part of me wanted to strangle him for that, but another part of me reminded that part that I AM in love with this man.

Well, that might be true. But sometimes love isn’t worth the pain. Or love shouldn’t cause so much pain. Or something greeting card-y like that.

Last night I was thinking of him again, my mind drifting as I sliced apples and separated them into plastic baggies for Mel’s school lunches. Mel was in the front room soaking her brain in Dora the Explorer. Hop (that’s Present David, the man who has absolutely no idea that Future David paid me a visit last week) was enjoying his day off by catching up on paperwork, a task which seems to define a detective even more than detecting. He sat at the kitchen table, scribbling something in triplicate, and I let my brain devolve into the same line of circular questioning that has become the bane of my existence. It goes something like this:

A. Why isn’t he back yet?
B. What if he CAN’T come back?
C. What if he’s in some kind of trouble?

for instance:

D. What if that creepy oily-haired bastard in the Roaming Plumbers van grabbed him?
That’s the question that caused me to put the knife down and grab the counter to steady myself. I tried to stop where my thoughts were headed, but as usual I couldn’t. I saw Future David in a slasher movie, where the audience sees the bad guy sneaking up on the innocent victim. Hop hates taking me to those movies. I’m the viewer who shouts at the screen. DON’T GO DOWN THAT HALLWAY! or TURN ON THE GODDAMN LIGHT BEFORE YOU GO IN THERE! That’s what I was about to do to the movie playing in my brain, the one where Future David walks out of the Candlelight Inn and the red van swoops in and . . . and . . . the rest of the scene brings tears to my eyes. Because it’s never anything good. It’s not like the giggly bastard stops him to hand him a plumbing gift certificate or ask if him if he’s considered being a Jehovah’s Witness. I can see those manic eyes as he said the words that have since been seared into my brain.

You’ll have to learn to share him . . . Just like he’ll have to learn how to share you.

God, I’m putting the pencil down. I need a tissue.

Okay, I’m back. So obviously, Question D is not my favorite question. It always turns me to emotional jelly, and that moment last night was no different. But it gets worse. Question D always leads to Question E, the most hopeless question since God asked Cain if he’d seen Abel around. It’s the one that puts everything in perspective and makes me realize just how insane a situation I’ve found myself in.

E. What do I do about it?

“Those apples are going to turn brown if you don’t bag them up and get them into the fridge—” said Hop, who was right next to me, leaning on the counter.

I jumped. He chuckled, giving me a sideways hug, which I accepted rigidly. The alternative was to melt into his arms, and if I did that I would start bawling and never stop. I’d tell him the whole crazy story and he’d have me committed.

He pulled back, watching my stony expression. “You’re edgy,” he said. “And I don’t blame you. I know I’ve got you worried.”

I let out a bitter chuckle. If he only knew. “Yes,” I replied. “You’ve got me worried.” (I left off the part about him breaking the laws of space and time.)

He nodded and crossed his arms, something I imagine he does every time he’s about to interrogate a perp. But I wasn’t the perp in this situation. HE was—or will be—in ten years, when he decides to come back in time and mess with my head. (Have I mentioned I’ve doubled the amount of weekly headache medicine I buy?)

“You think I’m forgetting you,” he said. “You think I’m getting all caught up in my little world and I’ve left you to fend for yourself.”

“Well . . .” That was all I could say, because it was truer than I wanted it to be.

He had one of those inner conversations with himself. I saw the back-and-forth in his eyes. It didn’t take him long to come to a conclusion. He looked up again and smiled curtly.

“Right, then.”

That was all he said. He turned and exited the kitchen.

“Umm, Hop?” I stood there next to my bruised apple slices and waited for him to come back. But he didn’t, and it wasn’t like him to give up so quickly. I finally lost my nerve and went after him. “Hop,” I called as I crossed the kitchen, “I’m not that upset. We don’t have to make this a big dea—”

I stepped into the hallway. There he was. He hadn’t gone three steps beyond the doorway when he turned and got on one knee. He held up a diamond ring.

“I’m not trying to bribe you,” he said, his eyes large and earnest. “I just wanted you to know why I’ve been working so hard.”

“Hop,” I said, my voice lost after that.

“Five years ago your wedding ring disappeared down the drain,” he said. “I’ve always taken it as a bad omen for our marriage. And I didn’t want a bad omen hanging over us. More than anything else in this life, I want us to work. So I knew I had to take the next step. No more being a beat cop. Even if it meant moving heaven and earth, my wife was not going through life without a proper wedding ring.”

He went silent and waited for my reaction, the ring glimmering in the hallway light.

That thing I said about melting into his arms and bawling? Yeah, I did that. What can I say? He gave me an opening, and I went with it. He tried to give me the ring, but my fingers were too shaky, so we both kind of clung to it for a second. I held him, letting my view of the sparkly thing connecting us dissolve into tears. This diamond ring that on the one hand was just jewelry and on the other meant the whole world. Because he was right, I realized. I want us to work, too. And what did that mean for Question E?

Well, it meant I needed to take the next step.

Tomorrow after David goes to work, I’m cracking open the phone book. It’s time to call the Roaming Plumbers.

Links: http://www.gypsyshadow.com/BenLarken.html#Hollows2Exc

Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Man-Wall-Hollows-Ben-Larken-ebook/dp/B00DOPTGO4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391014834&sr=8-1&keywords=the+man+in+the+wall+ben+larken

The Hollows….

28 Jan

A GSP release from Author of the Week: Ben Larken.

The Hollows by Ben Larken

Former detective David Alders is forced to downsize to an apartment after a decade searching for his missing wife. To avoid staggering debt, he and his daughter Melanie move into the Whispering Hollows, a complex full of older residents, like the charmingly befuddled Eldon or the redneck property manager Charlie. 

On the first night Melanie is terrorized when a burnt corpse crawls into bed with her. And events only get stranger as David finds himself reliving the same day twice! Suddenly, time travel is an all-too-real tool at his disposal, one he can use to finally return to the love of his life. 

But time travel comes with rules. Deadly consequences await anyone bold enough to break them. As David wades cautiously into the past, he learns the awful truth of his existence:

He didn’t choose The Hollows. The Hollows chose him…

Excerpt:

 Elise’s Journal: December 28, 1993

I tried to get my wedding ring back today. I pawned it two weeks ago so we could buy some decent presents for Melanie. David doesn’t know. He started at the police academy last month and he’s barely bringing home enough to pay the utilities. He probably thinks I borrowed the money from my brother, although he doesn’t realize that the idea makes me as livid as it makes him. But I wanted Mel to have some good presents. I know she’s only three months old. I don’t care. This was her first Christmas and our first Christmas as a complete family. I wanted it to be special.

The pawn shop guy couldn’t find my ring. He spent an hour searching the jewelry shelves, the merchandise storage bins, the owner’s desk, everywhere. I don’t know if he did it for show or if he saw a young woman with a baby in her arms and tears streaming down her face and felt compelled to keep going. His compassion hit its expiration after sixty minutes. He stopped at the counter, shrugged, and said something to the effect of, That’s that.

Excuse me? As far as I was concerned THAT most definitely was not THAT.

Look, lady, he said. You gave us the ring. We gave you money. I know you didn’t mean it to be permanent, but sometimes you have to take the trade as it stands.

The jackass.

I spent the rest of the afternoon at home, crying my eyes out, wondering if David would forgive me. Melanie was the one who pulled me back. I watched her in her crib, staring quietly up at her new Beauty & the Beast mobile. She focused on each individual character as it circled past—the princess, the candle, the Beast, the clock. Her wide eyes flickered in amazement for all of them. That’s when I realized the pawn shop guy was right, even if he would forever be known as Mr. Jackass. Our first Christmas as a family had been perfect. I would remember it always. At the end of the day, the wedding band was just something I wore. The trade was worth the memory.

Tomorrow I’ll tell David the ring fell down the bathtub drain.

                                                       THE CLOCK STRIKES
                                                                     ONE

                                                                        1

                                                          The Buckner Farm
                                                              May 13, 1949

For Tess Buckner the only worthwhile activity on that blustery Texas afternoon was standing between two clotheslines in the backyard and letting the sheets billow against her. White cotton sheets lifted on the breeze, tickled her nose, and played dead again. She held out her arms, turning her little body into a T. The sheets rose to the occasion, taking her hands in loose but enthusiastic handshakes. Tess giggled.

Then the breeze quieted and so did she. Momma’s head bobbed over the clothesline on the right, her squinty gaze catching Tess at once.

“I thought my pischouette came out here to help her mother,” she said in that tone, sounding both amused and annoyed.

“I’m only so big,” Tess explained. “These clotheslines are too high for me.”

“Which means I should give you a chore more suited to your size.”

“But Maw-aaah,” Tess said. “I’m helping. I’m looking out for dropped drawers.”

Mare Buckner smiled. “I assure you, my drawers are not in any danger of dropping.”

Tess took a moment to catch her mother’s meaning. “I mean from the line, silly.” She laughed. The sheets thought it funny too. They billowed up in their own silent fits of hilarity.

“Tell me a story,” Tess said. She couldn’t see Momma beyond the sheets, but she didn’t have to see her to know she was rolling her eyes. Tess waited and asked again. “Tell me a story…pleeease?”

“You’ve heard all my stories,” Mare replied, but Tess didn’t believe her. There are endless quantities of certain things. The beach will always have enough sand. The sky will always have enough rain. And Momma will always have a story squirreled away in the corner of memory taken up by childhood.

Mare Buckner grew up in Nawlins. At least that’s the way she pronounces it. Papa insists it’s pronounced New Orleans. It’s only a teensy bit away from Texas, where they live. Tess once put her fingers on the United States map at school, one on New Orleans and one on Fort Worth, and the gap was barely the size of a dime. Part of her longed to see Momma’s Nawlins, but Papa sounded like the distance was too far to be troubled with.

Tess rounded the sheets as Mare pulled one of Papa’s shirts from the basket. Tess tugged on the shirt. “A story, Momma. Story, story, story…”

“Tess Elizabeth Buckner,” Mare said, snapping the shirt back. “You’re about to hear the story of the girl who spent all day pulling weeds as punishment for back-sass.”

“But you haven’t told me one in weeks,” Tess pleaded. Momma didn’t know that Tess repeated the stories at school. She had grown popular retelling them. A small circle of third graders on the playground gawked at her in awed silence as she spun tales of Southern jinxes and Vodun curses. Even big-shot Arnie Fetters occasionally shuddered or gasped in surprise. If the stories ever got back to the teachers she’d be in for an earful from her mother. But for the moment Tess was willing to take that chance.

Besides, Tess loved the way Momma sounded as she told them. That accent she tried hard to simmer down most times came bounding back to life during a story. Tess always thought she was glimpsing Momma in her truest, most beautiful form.

“I’ve got it,” Tess said, holding a finger up like her teacher did when making a point. “If you tell me a story I’ll pull weeds in the flowerbed for a full hour.” She rocked on her feet as her mother looked at her. “You have to admit, that’s a pretty swell deal.”

Mare watched her. From the kitchen window ledge the radio switched songs. I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover gave way to the dreamy Bing Crosby crooning Now Is the Hour. Tess listened, swooning in the breeze, as Bing melodiously said goodbye to a dear loved one sailing away.

“The weeds can wait another day,” Mare decided. “But that doesn’t mean you’re getting a story for free.”

Tess grabbed her mother’s dress. “I’ll do anything.”

Mare grabbed another piece of clothing from the basket. Tess cracked a smile when she saw it was Papa’s drawers. “Fetch that pail off the back porch,” Mare instructed. “If you can go down to the river and make it back with a pail-full of water I’ll tell you a story.”

“That’s it?” Tess bounced happily. Their well pump had gone out yesterday evening, giving Papa a chance to use many of the words Mrs. Gershon said were Paddle Words. “I can do that.”

Mare propped her hands on her hips. “Then why are you dancing around here?”

Tess didn’t need further motivation. She darted for the porch, grabbing the pail by the handle without slowing. Rounding their two-story farmhouse she nearly banged the pail into Papa’s candy apple red Studebaker. She pulled back in time, thankful she didn’t scratch the paint. That wouldn’t have been pretty, for the paintjob or her behind.

She slowed to skip across the flat stones surrounding the circle drive, being careful not to get caught on the rosebushes near the porch. Beyond that was the rusty old barn. Tess hurried past it, hearing Papa’s disgruntled tones echo through the loft window. He was somewhere in there, grumbling to himself and banging tools and getting himself all in a dither. Papa spent whole days dithering in the barn and on those days Tess knew to steer clear. When a matter couldn’t wait it was Momma who ventured into the barn, and she never came out looking happy about it.

Past the barn the forest began. It looked dense and forbidding to a first-timer, which Tess was proud to say she wasn’t. The forest wasn’t as vast as it first appeared. It covered three acres at most and once inside, the trails were easy to follow. Within minutes you emerged from the other side, staring at the Trinity River. But for a few precious moments the woods came to life in that same mystical way Nawlins did in mother’s stories. The silence seemed watchful, as if something unseen waited in breathless anticipation.

Tess was through the first acre when she heard the sound. It was low and barely audible. She cocked her head and stopped, peering up at the canopy of branches and the shards of sunlight that pushed through the leaves like hungry fingers. Her body went rigid as the sound drifted over the breeze again.

A groan. She heard a low, muted, raspy groan.

It was a ragged, withering voice that could have been male or female. She twisted slowly, finding it difficult to move. The sound didn’t come from any one direction. But it was close. The more she listened the closer it felt. She stared at the forest floor, seeing pine needles dappled in sunlight. The shadows were more noticeable.

The groan lifted, becoming a reedy warble. Someone had to be hurt, maybe from tripping over a branch or getting bit by a snake—or worse. Tess wanted to call out. Her lips parted but her voice didn’t follow. Her mouth had gone dry as dirt. The groan spiked again, passing through her like an electric shock. Tess coughed.

“Are…are you okay?” Had she said it out loud? If it made it past her lips it came out as a whisper. Tess tried again, pushing the words out one at a time. “Hello? Who are you? Where are you?”

The groan broke into a series of dry coughs, sounding like the distant gunfire she heard during hunting season. A thump followed the coughs and then silence. Tess waited, realizing the abrupt end to the noise was scarier than the noise itself. The fear put her in motion. “Hello?” she called louder. “Where are you? Tell me where you are.”

No answer. She moved deeper into the forest, leaving the path. Bushes snagged at the blue summer dress Momma had bought last week. She couldn’t stop to disentangle herself from every little branch. Faces of her schoolmates floated in her mind as she imagined each one lying with a broken leg and grasping at the air for help. Tess climbed a small rise and tried again.

“Please call out again,” she cried as she stepped carefully over a trunk and into a small grove of trees. A group of crows took flight, shooting upward from every side. Tess staggered to avoid them. Her foot landed on something that wasn’t ground. Up above a crow cawed in annoyance. She had already forgotten the crows. Her focus was on the large wooden door she stood upon.

The wood was nearly green from years of overgrowth. The metal clasps and the old padlock on the handle were so rusted they looked bloodstained. It was a cellar door or more likely a storm shelter. Spring storms in these parts would justify having one, but why so far from the farmhouse and so well hidden? The surrounding trees were like guardians protecting the door from the outside world.

The groan came again. Tess screamed and leapt back, dropping her water pail. The sound came from directly beneath her. She knelt on the ground and knocked on the door in a panic, not wasting time thinking. Someone was down there, someone who needed her. A cold knot tightened in her stomach.

“Who are you?” she cried, banging the door with her small fist. “Are you hurt?”

The groan lowered to a whimpering. It sobbed, and Tess brought her ear close to the wood, taking in every sniffle. It whispered only one word.

“Mm-mm—momma.”

Tess scrambled to her feet and grabbed the first heavy thing she saw, a fallen branch not two feet from the door. Tess hefted it as best she could, shifting it onto her shoulder, and took a stance over the blood red lock. “Don’t you worry,” she said. “I’m getting you out of there.”

With a squeaky grunt she swung the branch and got it on the first try. The branch hit the heart-shaped padlock, and the metal shattered like an ancient vase. She probably could have kicked it with her shoe and gotten the same result.

She lugged the branch aside and grabbed the door handle, hoping it wasn’t as breakable as the lock. “I’m opening the door,” she announced to whoever was down there. If it was a small child she didn’t want to scare him or her. She squatted and braced herself—and then pulled.

It was hard, but not as hard as she expected. The door didn’t shift from its resting place at first. The roots and weeds at its borders played tug-of-war with her. Tess thought of the cowering child waiting inside and put her back into it. Weeds ripped. Roots cracked. The door swung until gravity helped her, allowing her to let the door fall against a tree. Tess found herself at the top of a staircase, staring down into blackness.

The overbearing stench of mildew forced her to take a step back. Sour air wafted over her, the underground lair exhaling after years of holding its breath. She wondered how someone could actually be waiting down there. She kept looking in the oily darkness, hoping for a sign of movement.

“Can you walk? …Hello?”

No movement. No sound. Had she scared the child? The daylight could be too bright for someone who spent a long time in darkness. She squatted again and held out her hand, like someone befriending an uneasy dog.

“It’s okay. You can come out. I wanna help.”

She waited but no response came. Rising from the squat, she eyed the rotten-looking stairs warily. Only the first four were visible in the light, and there was no way to know how many followed or if they were intact. And yet the toe of her shoe drifted closer to the first one. Her shoe touched the wood and a soft creak echoed in the darkness. She let her other foot follow until she was completely on the step. It sagged a little, but it didn’t break. She was sure of it. She—

Hands closed on her shoulders.

Tess gasped as she was pulled backward. The hands spun her around until she was staring into Momma’s taut face. “Tessie. Tu dèlires? I send you for water and you decide to go exploring instead? Well, I think I have several other chores that need your immediate attention.”

“But Momma!” she erupted. She twisted in her mother’s grip, pointing into the black hole. “There’s someone down there! I heard em crying. I think the person’s hurtin’.”

Mare had started pulling her the other way, but stopped to look back. She eyed Tess first and then the door. It was obvious she had never seen it before either. She turned her gaze to her daughter. “Wait. What?”

“The child’s down there, I promise.” She stared up at Momma, letting the tears come. “I know he ain’t making noise now, but he’s down there. He is. I wouldn’t make this up. Not this.” She tugged on her mother’s dress, praying Mare wouldn’t think she let her imagination get the best of her. Adults had a way of ignoring the important stuff.

Mare’s gaze remained steady. “All right,” she finally said. “Let me take a look.”

Tess nodded gratefully and they turned to the waiting darkness. Mare stepped past her, keeping one hand firmly on Tess’s shoulder to let her know she wasn’t to follow. Momma went to the doorway and stopped at the edge.

“Who’s down there?” she demanded. “Tell me your name and how you found your way onto our land. There’ll be no hiding and seeking.”

Mare waited with hands on hips. Now that she put it in those words Tess wondered if someone had toyed with her for sport. If that was the case there would be a fight on the school playground tomorrow. And if it was Arnie Fetters he could expect to go away from it with a bloody nose.

No answer came. Momma waited a whole minute before turning to look at Tess.

“I heard someone.” Tess looked at the hole in the ground, hoping in vain to see a child crawling off of the stairs.

“I know you did, Tessie, but whoever’s down there isn’t going to fess up to it. We’ll have to go back to the house and ring the police. Allons.”

With a gentle touch Momma took her by the shoulder and turned her around. Tess didn’t need convincing. She was happy to turn her back on the strangely-placed storm shelter. And she was happy Momma was with her too. To think she had almost stepped down into that blackness alone.

“Don’t worry,” Mare said as she squeezed her. “I’ll still tell you a stor—”

Momma’s hand jerked away as she let out a guttural cry. Tess wheeled around to see her mother on her stomach, writhing in the dirt as she flew backward. Her dress bunched around her waist as some unseen thing yanked on her feet. Her fingers clawed the ground, raking at loose leaves and making trails in the dirt. Her eyes blazed panic.

“Tess!” Mare cried. Tess flung her small body toward the dark opening in the ground that wanted to swallow Momma. Nothing happened fast enough. Tess couldn’t make her legs react as rapidly as her heart. Her arms were pitifully short, her hands pushing through air like fish fighting the current. Tess’s index and middle fingers brushed the stony white knuckles of Momma’s left hand. Then Mare was ripped away, disappearing into blackness. Tess heard several hollow thumps as Mare Buckner tumbled down the steps. Then the scream came, so awful and loud Tess thought she had to be in a dream.

“Momma!” she cried back, crawling madly to the edge of the staircase. She saw movement like bugs crawling on the trees at night; a glistening shape one moment, a sense of liquid motion the next. She cried for her mother again and again. And then she saw her, or at least her hands, shaking as they came into the light.

They were much too white as they grabbed the lowest visible stair. Momma’s waxy face came into view and Tess screamed. Her chin and neck were red with blood. Momma’s eyes quivered in their sockets, but they bulged farther when they fell on Tess.

“Run,” Mare said, and the voice might have been the same raspy whisper she heard earlier. “Please, Tessie. Run.”
Mare’s gaze dropped as she gagged. She vomited on the stairs, spraying blood over the mildewed wood. Something else moved in the darkness and Momma was yanked out of view. A sickening ripping sound followed.

Tess ran. She ran so hard she couldn’t remember running later. It was as if she turned from the hole in the ground and ran straight into Papa’s barn. He rose from his workbench on lanky legs, asking what the hell she was doing. Tess screamed something about Momma and a cellar and a voice. She grabbed Abner Buckner by his overall straps and yanked with everything she had. “Help me!” she bellowed. “Help Momma!”

He stopped cussing and followed, grabbing a scattershot rifle as she took off back into the forest. A moment later they were there, looking into the blackness. Abner fished a lighter from his pocket and squatted next to the opening.

“Honey?” he yelled, waving his lighter toward stairs. “Mare, you in there? Did you fall or sumthin?”

“It’s down there,” Tess said through her sobs. “Something hurt Momma.”

Abner braced the rifle in the crook of his arm and started down the stairs. The flicker of the lighter was barely enough to light his way. But he went down the stairs, seven in all, and then a concrete floor. From the edge of the opening Tess saw glimmers of half-rotted shelves lining the walls. She saw stacks of old crates covered in thick coats of dust. What she didn’t see was her mother.

“Are you sure she went down here?” Abner asked, bending over to move the light across the floor. “I can’t even see her footprints in the dust.”

That wasn’t what bothered Tess. What her eyes stopped on and couldn’t veer away from no matter how hard she tried were the wooden stairs. She peered at the grayish-green planks, feeling a lump rise in her chest.

“The blood,” she whispered. “The blood is gone.”

Abner Buckner looked at his daughter’s rigid posture. She was on the verge of fainting, and he hadn’t the slightest notion why. But when he stopped calling for his wife, he heard something. It was oft and easy to miss amid the swaying tree branches, but the longer he listened, the more he thought the sound was there in the cellar with him.

Ticking—like the ticking of a clock.

Links: http://www.gypsyshadow.com/BenLarken.html#Hollows1

Amazon

http://www.amazon.com/Hollows-Part-One-Re-release-ebook/dp/B00CR4I996/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1390932477&sr=1-1&keywords=the+hollows+ben+larken

 

Author of the Week: Ben Larken

27 Jan

Congratulations to GSP Author of the Week: Ben Larken

Ben Patrick Eden, Author of A Beggar in Capernaum

Ben Larken resides near Fort Worth, the city in which he was born and currently works as a police dispatcher. He is the winner of three Epic eBook Awards for Best Horror.

WEBSITE: www.larkenbooks.yolasite.com

Watch this space for releases from Ben.

NEW NEW *** The Hollows ***NEW NEW

13 Aug

Congratulations to Ben Larken on his new release from GSP, The Hollows.

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Former detective David Alders is forced to downsize to an apartment after a decade searching for his missing wife. To avoid staggering debt, he and his daughter Melanie move into the Whispering Hollows, a complex full of older residents, like the charmingly befuddled Eldon or the redneck property manager Charlie. 

On the first night Melanie is terrorized when a burnt corpse crawls into bed with her. And events only get stranger as David finds himself reliving the same day twice! Suddenly, time travel is an all-too-real tool at his disposal, one he can use to finally return to the love of his life. 

But time travel comes with rules. Deadly consequences await anyone bold enough to break them. As David wades cautiously into the past, he learns the awful truth of his existence:

He didn’t choose The Hollows. The Hollows chose him…

Excerpt:

 

Elise’s Journal: December 28, 1993

I tried to get my wedding ring back today. I pawned it two weeks ago so we could buy some decent presents for Melanie. David doesn’t know. He started at the police academy last month and he’s barely bringing home enough to pay the utilities. He probably thinks I borrowed the money from my brother, although he doesn’t realize that the idea makes me as livid as it makes him. But I wanted Mel to have some good presents. I know she’s only three months old. I don’t care. This was her first Christmas and our first Christmas as a complete family. I wanted it to be special.

The pawn shop guy couldn’t find my ring. He spent an hour searching the jewelry shelves, the merchandise storage bins, the owner’s desk, everywhere. I don’t know if he did it for show or if he saw a young woman with a baby in her arms and tears streaming down her face and felt compelled to keep going. His compassion hit its expiration after sixty minutes. He stopped at the counter, shrugged, and said something to the effect of, That’s that.

Excuse me? As far as I was concerned THAT most definitely was not THAT.

Look, lady, he said. You gave us the ring. We gave you money. I know you didn’t mean it to be permanent, but sometimes you have to take the trade as it stands.

The jackass.

I spent the rest of the afternoon at home, crying my eyes out, wondering if David would forgive me. Melanie was the one who pulled me back. I watched her in her crib, staring quietly up at her new Beauty & the Beast mobile. She focused on each individual character as it circled past—the princess, the candle, the Beast, the clock. Her wide eyes flickered in amazement for all of them. That’s when I realized the pawn shop guy was right, even if he would forever be known as Mr. Jackass. Our first Christmas as a family had been perfect. I would remember it always. At the end of the day, the wedding band was just something I wore. The trade was worth the memory.

Tomorrow I’ll tell David the ring fell down the bathtub drain.

                                                       THE CLOCK STRIKES
                                                                     ONE

                                                                        1

                                                          The Buckner Farm
                                                              May 13, 1949

For Tess Buckner the only worthwhile activity on that blustery Texas afternoon was standing between two clotheslines in the backyard and letting the sheets billow against her. White cotton sheets lifted on the breeze, tickled her nose, and played dead again. She held out her arms, turning her little body into a T. The sheets rose to the occasion, taking her hands in loose but enthusiastic handshakes. Tess giggled.

Then the breeze quieted and so did she. Momma’s head bobbed over the clothesline on the right, her squinty gaze catching Tess at once.

“I thought my pischouette came out here to help her mother,” she said in that tone, sounding both amused and annoyed.

“I’m only so big,” Tess explained. “These clotheslines are too high for me.”

“Which means I should give you a chore more suited to your size.”

“But Maw-aaah,” Tess said. “I’m helping. I’m looking out for dropped drawers.”

Mare Buckner smiled. “I assure you, my drawers are not in any danger of dropping.”

Tess took a moment to catch her mother’s meaning. “I mean from the line, silly.” She laughed. The sheets thought it funny too. They billowed up in their own silent fits of hilarity.

“Tell me a story,” Tess said. She couldn’t see Momma beyond the sheets, but she didn’t have to see her to know she was rolling her eyes. Tess waited and asked again. “Tell me a story…pleeease?”

“You’ve heard all my stories,” Mare replied, but Tess didn’t believe her. There are endless quantities of certain things. The beach will always have enough sand. The sky will always have enough rain. And Momma will always have a story squirreled away in the corner of memory taken up by childhood.

Mare Buckner grew up in Nawlins. At least that’s the way she pronounces it. Papa insists it’s pronounced New Orleans. It’s only a teensy bit away from Texas, where they live. Tess once put her fingers on the United States map at school, one on New Orleans and one on Fort Worth, and the gap was barely the size of a dime. Part of her longed to see Momma’s Nawlins, but Papa sounded like the distance was too far to be troubled with.

Tess rounded the sheets as Mare pulled one of Papa’s shirts from the basket. Tess tugged on the shirt. “A story, Momma. Story, story, story…”

“Tess Elizabeth Buckner,” Mare said, snapping the shirt back. “You’re about to hear the story of the girl who spent all day pulling weeds as punishment for back-sass.”

“But you haven’t told me one in weeks,” Tess pleaded. Momma didn’t know that Tess repeated the stories at school. She had grown popular retelling them. A small circle of third graders on the playground gawked at her in awed silence as she spun tales of Southern jinxes and Vodun curses. Even big-shot Arnie Fetters occasionally shuddered or gasped in surprise. If the stories ever got back to the teachers she’d be in for an earful from her mother. But for the moment Tess was willing to take that chance.

Besides, Tess loved the way Momma sounded as she told them. That accent she tried hard to simmer down most times came bounding back to life during a story. Tess always thought she was glimpsing Momma in her truest, most beautiful form.

“I’ve got it,” Tess said, holding a finger up like her teacher did when making a point. “If you tell me a story I’ll pull weeds in the flowerbed for a full hour.” She rocked on her feet as her mother looked at her. “You have to admit, that’s a pretty swell deal.”

Mare watched her. From the kitchen window ledge the radio switched songs. I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover gave way to the dreamy Bing Crosby crooning Now Is the Hour. Tess listened, swooning in the breeze, as Bing melodiously said goodbye to a dear loved one sailing away.

“The weeds can wait another day,” Mare decided. “But that doesn’t mean you’re getting a story for free.”

Tess grabbed her mother’s dress. “I’ll do anything.”

Mare grabbed another piece of clothing from the basket. Tess cracked a smile when she saw it was Papa’s drawers. “Fetch that pail off the back porch,” Mare instructed. “If you can go down to the river and make it back with a pail-full of water I’ll tell you a story.”

“That’s it?” Tess bounced happily. Their well pump had gone out yesterday evening, giving Papa a chance to use many of the words Mrs. Gershon said were Paddle Words. “I can do that.”

Mare propped her hands on her hips. “Then why are you dancing around here?”

Tess didn’t need further motivation. She darted for the porch, grabbing the pail by the handle without slowing. Rounding their two-story farmhouse she nearly banged the pail into Papa’s candy apple red Studebaker. She pulled back in time, thankful she didn’t scratch the paint. That wouldn’t have been pretty, for the paintjob or her behind.

She slowed to skip across the flat stones surrounding the circle drive, being careful not to get caught on the rosebushes near the porch. Beyond that was the rusty old barn. Tess hurried past it, hearing Papa’s disgruntled tones echo through the loft window. He was somewhere in there, grumbling to himself and banging tools and getting himself all in a dither. Papa spent whole days dithering in the barn and on those days Tess knew to steer clear. When a matter couldn’t wait it was Momma who ventured into the barn, and she never came out looking happy about it.

Past the barn the forest began. It looked dense and forbidding to a first-timer, which Tess was proud to say she wasn’t. The forest wasn’t as vast as it first appeared. It covered three acres at most and once inside, the trails were easy to follow. Within minutes you emerged from the other side, staring at the Trinity River. But for a few precious moments the woods came to life in that same mystical way Nawlins did in mother’s stories. The silence seemed watchful, as if something unseen waited in breathless anticipation.

Tess was through the first acre when she heard the sound. It was low and barely audible. She cocked her head and stopped, peering up at the canopy of branches and the shards of sunlight that pushed through the leaves like hungry fingers. Her body went rigid as the sound drifted over the breeze again.

A groan. She heard a low, muted, raspy groan.

It was a ragged, withering voice that could have been male or female. She twisted slowly, finding it difficult to move. The sound didn’t come from any one direction. But it was close. The more she listened the closer it felt. She stared at the forest floor, seeing pine needles dappled in sunlight. The shadows were more noticeable.

The groan lifted, becoming a reedy warble. Someone had to be hurt, maybe from tripping over a branch or getting bit by a snake—or worse. Tess wanted to call out. Her lips parted but her voice didn’t follow. Her mouth had gone dry as dirt. The groan spiked again, passing through her like an electric shock. Tess coughed.

“Are…are you okay?” Had she said it out loud? If it made it past her lips it came out as a whisper. Tess tried again, pushing the words out one at a time. “Hello? Who are you? Where are you?”

The groan broke into a series of dry coughs, sounding like the distant gunfire she heard during hunting season. A thump followed the coughs and then silence. Tess waited, realizing the abrupt end to the noise was scarier than the noise itself. The fear put her in motion. “Hello?” she called louder. “Where are you? Tell me where you are.”

No answer. She moved deeper into the forest, leaving the path. Bushes snagged at the blue summer dress Momma had bought last week. She couldn’t stop to disentangle herself from every little branch. Faces of her schoolmates floated in her mind as she imagined each one lying with a broken leg and grasping at the air for help. Tess climbed a small rise and tried again.

“Please call out again,” she cried as she stepped carefully over a trunk and into a small grove of trees. A group of crows took flight, shooting upward from every side. Tess staggered to avoid them. Her foot landed on something that wasn’t ground. Up above a crow cawed in annoyance. She had already forgotten the crows. Her focus was on the large wooden door she stood upon.

The wood was nearly green from years of overgrowth. The metal clasps and the old padlock on the handle were so rusted they looked bloodstained. It was a cellar door or more likely a storm shelter. Spring storms in these parts would justify having one, but why so far from the farmhouse and so well hidden? The surrounding trees were like guardians protecting the door from the outside world.

The groan came again. Tess screamed and leapt back, dropping her water pail. The sound came from directly beneath her. She knelt on the ground and knocked on the door in a panic, not wasting time thinking. Someone was down there, someone who needed her. A cold knot tightened in her stomach.

“Who are you?” she cried, banging the door with her small fist. “Are you hurt?”

The groan lowered to a whimpering. It sobbed, and Tess brought her ear close to the wood, taking in every sniffle. It whispered only one word.

“Mm-mm—momma.”

Tess scrambled to her feet and grabbed the first heavy thing she saw, a fallen branch not two feet from the door. Tess hefted it as best she could, shifting it onto her shoulder, and took a stance over the blood red lock. “Don’t you worry,” she said. “I’m getting you out of there.”

With a squeaky grunt she swung the branch and got it on the first try. The branch hit the heart-shaped padlock, and the metal shattered like an ancient vase. She probably could have kicked it with her shoe and gotten the same result.

She lugged the branch aside and grabbed the door handle, hoping it wasn’t as breakable as the lock. “I’m opening the door,” she announced to whoever was down there. If it was a small child she didn’t want to scare him or her. She squatted and braced herself—and then pulled.

It was hard, but not as hard as she expected. The door didn’t shift from its resting place at first. The roots and weeds at its borders played tug-of-war with her. Tess thought of the cowering child waiting inside and put her back into it. Weeds ripped. Roots cracked. The door swung until gravity helped her, allowing her to let the door fall against a tree. Tess found herself at the top of a staircase, staring down into blackness.

The overbearing stench of mildew forced her to take a step back. Sour air wafted over her, the underground lair exhaling after years of holding its breath. She wondered how someone could actually be waiting down there. She kept looking in the oily darkness, hoping for a sign of movement.

“Can you walk? …Hello?”

No movement. No sound. Had she scared the child? The daylight could be too bright for someone who spent a long time in darkness. She squatted again and held out her hand, like someone befriending an uneasy dog.

“It’s okay. You can come out. I wanna help.”

She waited but no response came. Rising from the squat, she eyed the rotten-looking stairs warily. Only the first four were visible in the light, and there was no way to know how many followed or if they were intact. And yet the toe of her shoe drifted closer to the first one. Her shoe touched the wood and a soft creak echoed in the darkness. She let her other foot follow until she was completely on the step. It sagged a little, but it didn’t break. She was sure of it. She—

Hands closed on her shoulders.

Tess gasped as she was pulled backward. The hands spun her around until she was staring into Momma’s taut face. “Tessie. Tu dèlires? I send you for water and you decide to go exploring instead? Well, I think I have several other chores that need your immediate attention.”

“But Momma!” she erupted. She twisted in her mother’s grip, pointing into the black hole. “There’s someone down there! I heard em crying. I think the person’s hurtin’.”

Mare had started pulling her the other way, but stopped to look back. She eyed Tess first and then the door. It was obvious she had never seen it before either. She turned her gaze to her daughter. “Wait. What?”

“The child’s down there, I promise.” She stared up at Momma, letting the tears come. “I know he ain’t making noise now, but he’s down there. He is. I wouldn’t make this up. Not this.” She tugged on her mother’s dress, praying Mare wouldn’t think she let her imagination get the best of her. Adults had a way of ignoring the important stuff.

Mare’s gaze remained steady. “All right,” she finally said. “Let me take a look.”

Tess nodded gratefully and they turned to the waiting darkness. Mare stepped past her, keeping one hand firmly on Tess’s shoulder to let her know she wasn’t to follow. Momma went to the doorway and stopped at the edge.

“Who’s down there?” she demanded. “Tell me your name and how you found your way onto our land. There’ll be no hiding and seeking.”

Mare waited with hands on hips. Now that she put it in those words Tess wondered if someone had toyed with her for sport. If that was the case there would be a fight on the school playground tomorrow. And if it was Arnie Fetters he could expect to go away from it with a bloody nose.

No answer came. Momma waited a whole minute before turning to look at Tess.

“I heard someone.” Tess looked at the hole in the ground, hoping in vain to see a child crawling off of the stairs.

“I know you did, Tessie, but whoever’s down there isn’t going to fess up to it. We’ll have to go back to the house and ring the police. Allons.”

With a gentle touch Momma took her by the shoulder and turned her around. Tess didn’t need convincing. She was happy to turn her back on the strangely-placed storm shelter. And she was happy Momma was with her too. To think she had almost stepped down into that blackness alone.

“Don’t worry,” Mare said as she squeezed her. “I’ll still tell you a stor—”

Momma’s hand jerked away as she let out a guttural cry. Tess wheeled around to see her mother on her stomach, writhing in the dirt as she flew backward. Her dress bunched around her waist as some unseen thing yanked on her feet. Her fingers clawed the ground, raking at loose leaves and making trails in the dirt. Her eyes blazed panic.

“Tess!” Mare cried. Tess flung her small body toward the dark opening in the ground that wanted to swallow Momma. Nothing happened fast enough. Tess couldn’t make her legs react as rapidly as her heart. Her arms were pitifully short, her hands pushing through air like fish fighting the current. Tess’s index and middle fingers brushed the stony white knuckles of Momma’s left hand. Then Mare was ripped away, disappearing into blackness. Tess heard several hollow thumps as Mare Buckner tumbled down the steps. Then the scream came, so awful and loud Tess thought she had to be in a dream.

“Momma!” she cried back, crawling madly to the edge of the staircase. She saw movement like bugs crawling on the trees at night; a glistening shape one moment, a sense of liquid motion the next. She cried for her mother again and again. And then she saw her, or at least her hands, shaking as they came into the light.

They were much too white as they grabbed the lowest visible stair. Momma’s waxy face came into view and Tess screamed. Her chin and neck were red with blood. Momma’s eyes quivered in their sockets, but they bulged farther when they fell on Tess.

“Run,” Mare said, and the voice might have been the same raspy whisper she heard earlier. “Please, Tessie. Run.”
Mare’s gaze dropped as she gagged. She vomited on the stairs, spraying blood over the mildewed wood. Something else moved in the darkness and Momma was yanked out of view. A sickening ripping sound followed.

Tess ran. She ran so hard she couldn’t remember running later. It was as if she turned from the hole in the ground and ran straight into Papa’s barn. He rose from his workbench on lanky legs, asking what the hell she was doing. Tess screamed something about Momma and a cellar and a voice. She grabbed Abner Buckner by his overall straps and yanked with everything she had. “Help me!” she bellowed. “Help Momma!”

He stopped cussing and followed, grabbing a scattershot rifle as she took off back into the forest. A moment later they were there, looking into the blackness. Abner fished a lighter from his pocket and squatted next to the opening.

“Honey?” he yelled, waving his lighter toward stairs. “Mare, you in there? Did you fall or sumthin?”

“It’s down there,” Tess said through her sobs. “Something hurt Momma.”

Abner braced the rifle in the crook of his arm and started down the stairs. The flicker of the lighter was barely enough to light his way. But he went down the stairs, seven in all, and then a concrete floor. From the edge of the opening Tess saw glimmers of half-rotted shelves lining the walls. She saw stacks of old crates covered in thick coats of dust. What she didn’t see was her mother.

“Are you sure she went down here?” Abner asked, bending over to move the light across the floor. “I can’t even see her footprints in the dust.”

That wasn’t what bothered Tess. What her eyes stopped on and couldn’t veer away from no matter how hard she tried were the wooden stairs. She peered at the grayish-green planks, feeling a lump rise in her chest.

“The blood,” she whispered. “The blood is gone.”

Abner Buckner looked at his daughter’s rigid posture. She was on the verge of fainting, and he hadn’t the slightest notion why. But when he stopped calling for his wife, he heard something. It was oft and easy to miss amid the swaying tree branches, but the longer he listened, the more he thought the sound was there in the cellar with him.

Ticking—like the ticking of a clock.

About the author:

Ben Larken resides near Fort Worth, the city in which he was born and currently works as a police dispatcher. He is the winner of three Epic eBook Awards for Best Horror.

WEBSITE: www.larkenbooks.yolasite.com

Links:

http://www.gypsyshadow.com/BenLarken.html#Hollows1Exc

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Hollows-Part-One-Re-release-ebook/dp/B00CR4I996/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1376377675&sr=8-1&keywords=the+hollows+ben+larken

NEW NEW *** The Man in the Wall *** NEW NEW

6 Aug

Congratulations to Ben Larken on his new release from GSP.

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Ben Larken resides near Fort Worth, the city in which he was born and currently works as a police dispatcher. He is the winner of three Epic eBook Awards for Best Horror.

WEBSITE: www.larkenbooks.yolasite.com

His book we are highlighting today is The Man in the Wall.

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Now that David Alders knows time travel is possible inside The Hollows, his mind is set on one goal—to save his wife Elise. He has one chance to get it right and decides to try changing the past on a test subject. A nightmarish spate of child killings known as the Wetzel Murders occurred in the 70’s, and David believes he can erase them from history. 

But The Hollows has other plans…

Excerpt:

  Elise’s Journal: March 24, 1999

He should have been back by now.

That’s all I can think. It’s the one sentence that circles my head all day like an annoying song. He should have been back. Like, days ago. Hell, he should’ve been back five minutes after he left. I mean, I’m talking about time travel. I don’t know how he’s making the trip, but if he’s able to make it at all he should find his way back to the same time period, right? He could punch some coordinates into a super-computer, give the Flux Capacitor an oil change and just pop back to the same day he last saw me. That makes sense, doesn’t it? God, I’ve got a headache.

Future David. That’s the name I gave him a week ago, this rumpled guy with the tortured eyes who showed up in my front yard. He’s the guy who knows something too terrible for words is about to happen to me. I know, because I tried to make him say those words and he couldn’t. Part of me wanted to strangle him for that, but another part of me reminded that part that I AM in love with this man.

Well, that might be true. But sometimes love isn’t worth the pain. Or love shouldn’t cause so much pain. Or something greeting card-y like that.

Last night I was thinking of him again, my mind drifting as I sliced apples and separated them into plastic baggies for Mel’s school lunches. Mel was in the front room soaking her brain in Dora the Explorer. Hop (that’s Present David, the man who has absolutely no idea that Future David paid me a visit last week) was enjoying his day off by catching up on paperwork, a task which seems to define a detective even more than detecting. He sat at the kitchen table, scribbling something in triplicate, and I let my brain devolve into the same line of circular questioning that has become the bane of my existence. It goes something like this:

A. Why isn’t he back yet?
B. What if he CAN’T come back?
C. What if he’s in some kind of trouble?

for instance:

D. What if that creepy oily-haired bastard in the Roaming Plumbers van grabbed him?
That’s the question that caused me to put the knife down and grab the counter to steady myself. I tried to stop where my thoughts were headed, but as usual I couldn’t. I saw Future David in a slasher movie, where the audience sees the bad guy sneaking up on the innocent victim. Hop hates taking me to those movies. I’m the viewer who shouts at the screen. DON’T GO DOWN THAT HALLWAY! or TURN ON THE GODDAMN LIGHT BEFORE YOU GO IN THERE! That’s what I was about to do to the movie playing in my brain, the one where Future David walks out of the Candlelight Inn and the red van swoops in and . . . and . . . the rest of the scene brings tears to my eyes. Because it’s never anything good. It’s not like the giggly bastard stops him to hand him a plumbing gift certificate or ask if him if he’s considered being a Jehovah’s Witness. I can see those manic eyes as he said the words that have since been seared into my brain.

You’ll have to learn to share him . . . Just like he’ll have to learn how to share you.

God, I’m putting the pencil down. I need a tissue.

Okay, I’m back. So obviously, Question D is not my favorite question. It always turns me to emotional jelly, and that moment last night was no different. But it gets worse. Question D always leads to Question E, the most hopeless question since God asked Cain if he’d seen Abel around. It’s the one that puts everything in perspective and makes me realize just how insane a situation I’ve found myself in.

E. What do I do about it?

“Those apples are going to turn brown if you don’t bag them up and get them into the fridge—” said Hop, who was right next to me, leaning on the counter.

I jumped. He chuckled, giving me a sideways hug, which I accepted rigidly. The alternative was to melt into his arms, and if I did that I would start bawling and never stop. I’d tell him the whole crazy story and he’d have me committed.

He pulled back, watching my stony expression. “You’re edgy,” he said. “And I don’t blame you. I know I’ve got you worried.”

I let out a bitter chuckle. If he only knew. “Yes,” I replied. “You’ve got me worried.” (I left off the part about him breaking the laws of space and time.)

He nodded and crossed his arms, something I imagine he does every time he’s about to interrogate a perp. But I wasn’t the perp in this situation. HE was—or will be—in ten years, when he decides to come back in time and mess with my head. (Have I mentioned I’ve doubled the amount of weekly headache medicine I buy?)

“You think I’m forgetting you,” he said. “You think I’m getting all caught up in my little world and I’ve left you to fend for yourself.”

“Well . . .” That was all I could say, because it was truer than I wanted it to be.

He had one of those inner conversations with himself. I saw the back-and-forth in his eyes. It didn’t take him long to come to a conclusion. He looked up again and smiled curtly.

“Right, then.”

That was all he said. He turned and exited the kitchen.

“Umm, Hop?” I stood there next to my bruised apple slices and waited for him to come back. But he didn’t, and it wasn’t like him to give up so quickly. I finally lost my nerve and went after him. “Hop,” I called as I crossed the kitchen, “I’m not that upset. We don’t have to make this a big dea—”

I stepped into the hallway. There he was. He hadn’t gone three steps beyond the doorway when he turned and got on one knee. He held up a diamond ring.

“I’m not trying to bribe you,” he said, his eyes large and earnest. “I just wanted you to know why I’ve been working so hard.”

“Hop,” I said, my voice lost after that.

“Five years ago your wedding ring disappeared down the drain,” he said. “I’ve always taken it as a bad omen for our marriage. And I didn’t want a bad omen hanging over us. More than anything else in this life, I want us to work. So I knew I had to take the next step. No more being a beat cop. Even if it meant moving heaven and earth, my wife was not going through life without a proper wedding ring.”

He went silent and waited for my reaction, the ring glimmering in the hallway light.

That thing I said about melting into his arms and bawling? Yeah, I did that. What can I say? He gave me an opening, and I went with it. He tried to give me the ring, but my fingers were too shaky, so we both kind of clung to it for a second. I held him, letting my view of the sparkly thing connecting us dissolve into tears. This diamond ring that on the one hand was just jewelry and on the other meant the whole world. Because he was right, I realized. I want us to work, too. And what did that mean for Question E?

Well, it meant I needed to take the next step.

Tomorrow after David goes to work, I’m cracking open the phone book. It’s time to call the Roaming Plumbers.

Links:

http://www.gypsyshadow.com/BenLarken.html#Hollows2Exc

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Man-Wall-Hollows-ebook/dp/B00DOPTGO4/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375761785&sr=8-1&keywords=the+man+in+the+wall+ben+larken

 

New Release New Release New Release…

14 May

Second new release this month from GSP – The Hollows.

Image

Former detective David Alders is forced to downsize to an apartment after a decade searching for his missing wife. To avoid staggering debt, he and his daughter Melanie move into the Whispering Hollows, a complex full of older residents, like the charmingly befuddled Eldon or the redneck property manager Charlie.

On the first night Melanie is terrorized when a burnt corpse crawls into bed with her. And events only get stranger as David finds himself reliving the same day twice! Suddenly, time travel is an all-too-real tool at his disposal, one he can use to finally return to the love of his life.

But time travel comes with rules. Deadly consequences await anyone bold enough to break them. As David wades cautiously into the past, he learns the awful truth of his existence:

He didn’t choose The Hollows. The Hollows chose him…

Excerpt:

    Elise’s Journal: December 28, 1993

I tried to get my wedding ring back today. I pawned it two weeks ago so we could buy some decent presents for Melanie. David doesn’t know. He started at the police academy last month and he’s barely bringing home enough to pay the utilities. He probably thinks I borrowed the money from my brother, although he doesn’t realize that the idea makes me as livid as it makes him. But I wanted Mel to have some good presents. I know she’s only three months old. I don’t care. This was her first Christmas and our first Christmas as a complete family. I wanted it to be special.

The pawn shop guy couldn’t find my ring. He spent an hour searching the jewelry shelves, the merchandise storage bins, the owner’s desk, everywhere. I don’t know if he did it for show or if he saw a young woman with a baby in her arms and tears streaming down her face and felt compelled to keep going. His compassion hit its expiration after sixty minutes. He stopped at the counter, shrugged, and said something to the effect of, That’s that.

Excuse me? As far as I was concerned THAT most definitely was not THAT.

Look, lady, he said. You gave us the ring. We gave you money. I know you didn’t mean it to be permanent, but sometimes you have to take the trade as it stands.

The jackass.

I spent the rest of the afternoon at home, crying my eyes out, wondering if David would forgive me. Melanie was the one who pulled me back. I watched her in her crib, staring quietly up at her new Beauty & the Beast mobile. She focused on each individual character as it circled past—the princess, the candle, the Beast, the clock. Her wide eyes flickered in amazement for all of them. That’s when I realized the pawn shop guy was right, even if he would forever be known as Mr. Jackass. Our first Christmas as a family had been perfect. I would remember it always. At the end of the day, the wedding band was just something I wore. The trade was worth the memory.

Tomorrow I’ll tell David the ring fell down the bathtub drain.

                                                       THE CLOCK STRIKES
                                                                     ONE

                                                                        1

                                                          The Buckner Farm
                                                              May 13, 1949

For Tess Buckner the only worthwhile activity on that blustery Texas afternoon was standing between two clotheslines in the backyard and letting the sheets billow against her. White cotton sheets lifted on the breeze, tickled her nose, and played dead again. She held out her arms, turning her little body into a T. The sheets rose to the occasion, taking her hands in loose but enthusiastic handshakes. Tess giggled.

Then the breeze quieted and so did she. Momma’s head bobbed over the clothesline on the right, her squinty gaze catching Tess at once.

“I thought my pischouette came out here to help her mother,” she said in that tone, sounding both amused and annoyed.

“I’m only so big,” Tess explained. “These clotheslines are too high for me.”

“Which means I should give you a chore more suited to your size.”

“But Maw-aaah,” Tess said. “I’m helping. I’m looking out for dropped drawers.”

Mare Buckner smiled. “I assure you, my drawers are not in any danger of dropping.”

Tess took a moment to catch her mother’s meaning. “I mean from the line, silly.” She laughed. The sheets thought it funny too. They billowed up in their own silent fits of hilarity.

“Tell me a story,” Tess said. She couldn’t see Momma beyond the sheets, but she didn’t have to see her to know she was rolling her eyes. Tess waited and asked again. “Tell me a story…pleeease?”

“You’ve heard all my stories,” Mare replied, but Tess didn’t believe her. There are endless quantities of certain things. The beach will always have enough sand. The sky will always have enough rain. And Momma will always have a story squirreled away in the corner of memory taken up by childhood.

Mare Buckner grew up in Nawlins. At least that’s the way she pronounces it. Papa insists it’s pronounced New Orleans. It’s only a teensy bit away from Texas, where they live. Tess once put her fingers on the United States map at school, one on New Orleans and one on Fort Worth, and the gap was barely the size of a dime. Part of her longed to see Momma’s Nawlins, but Papa sounded like the distance was too far to be troubled with.

Tess rounded the sheets as Mare pulled one of Papa’s shirts from the basket. Tess tugged on the shirt. “A story, Momma. Story, story, story…”

“Tess Elizabeth Buckner,” Mare said, snapping the shirt back. “You’re about to hear the story of the girl who spent all day pulling weeds as punishment for back-sass.”

“But you haven’t told me one in weeks,” Tess pleaded. Momma didn’t know that Tess repeated the stories at school. She had grown popular retelling them. A small circle of third graders on the playground gawked at her in awed silence as she spun tales of Southern jinxes and Vodun curses. Even big-shot Arnie Fetters occasionally shuddered or gasped in surprise. If the stories ever got back to the teachers she’d be in for an earful from her mother. But for the moment Tess was willing to take that chance.

Besides, Tess loved the way Momma sounded as she told them. That accent she tried hard to simmer down most times came bounding back to life during a story. Tess always thought she was glimpsing Momma in her truest, most beautiful form.

“I’ve got it,” Tess said, holding a finger up like her teacher did when making a point. “If you tell me a story I’ll pull weeds in the flowerbed for a full hour.” She rocked on her feet as her mother looked at her. “You have to admit, that’s a pretty swell deal.”

Mare watched her. From the kitchen window ledge the radio switched songs. I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover gave way to the dreamy Bing Crosby crooning Now Is the Hour. Tess listened, swooning in the breeze, as Bing melodiously said goodbye to a dear loved one sailing away.

“The weeds can wait another day,” Mare decided. “But that doesn’t mean you’re getting a story for free.”

Tess grabbed her mother’s dress. “I’ll do anything.”

Mare grabbed another piece of clothing from the basket. Tess cracked a smile when she saw it was Papa’s drawers. “Fetch that pail off the back porch,” Mare instructed. “If you can go down to the river and make it back with a pail-full of water I’ll tell you a story.”

“That’s it?” Tess bounced happily. Their well pump had gone out yesterday evening, giving Papa a chance to use many of the words Mrs. Gershon said were Paddle Words. “I can do that.”

Mare propped her hands on her hips. “Then why are you dancing around here?”

Tess didn’t need further motivation. She darted for the porch, grabbing the pail by the handle without slowing. Rounding their two-story farmhouse she nearly banged the pail into Papa’s candy apple red Studebaker. She pulled back in time, thankful she didn’t scratch the paint. That wouldn’t have been pretty, for the paintjob or her behind.

She slowed to skip across the flat stones surrounding the circle drive, being careful not to get caught on the rosebushes near the porch. Beyond that was the rusty old barn. Tess hurried past it, hearing Papa’s disgruntled tones echo through the loft window. He was somewhere in there, grumbling to himself and banging tools and getting himself all in a dither. Papa spent whole days dithering in the barn and on those days Tess knew to steer clear. When a matter couldn’t wait it was Momma who ventured into the barn, and she never came out looking happy about it.

Past the barn the forest began. It looked dense and forbidding to a first-timer, which Tess was proud to say she wasn’t. The forest wasn’t as vast as it first appeared. It covered three acres at most and once inside, the trails were easy to follow. Within minutes you emerged from the other side, staring at the Trinity River. But for a few precious moments the woods came to life in that same mystical way Nawlins did in mother’s stories. The silence seemed watchful, as if something unseen waited in breathless anticipation.

Tess was through the first acre when she heard the sound. It was low and barely audible. She cocked her head and stopped, peering up at the canopy of branches and the shards of sunlight that pushed through the leaves like hungry fingers. Her body went rigid as the sound drifted over the breeze again.

A groan. She heard a low, muted, raspy groan.

It was a ragged, withering voice that could have been male or female. She twisted slowly, finding it difficult to move. The sound didn’t come from any one direction. But it was close. The more she listened the closer it felt. She stared at the forest floor, seeing pine needles dappled in sunlight. The shadows were more noticeable.

The groan lifted, becoming a reedy warble. Someone had to be hurt, maybe from tripping over a branch or getting bit by a snake—or worse. Tess wanted to call out. Her lips parted but her voice didn’t follow. Her mouth had gone dry as dirt. The groan spiked again, passing through her like an electric shock. Tess coughed.

“Are…are you okay?” Had she said it out loud? If it made it past her lips it came out as a whisper. Tess tried again, pushing the words out one at a time. “Hello? Who are you? Where are you?”

The groan broke into a series of dry coughs, sounding like the distant gunfire she heard during hunting season. A thump followed the coughs and then silence. Tess waited, realizing the abrupt end to the noise was scarier than the noise itself. The fear put her in motion. “Hello?” she called louder. “Where are you? Tell me where you are.”

No answer. She moved deeper into the forest, leaving the path. Bushes snagged at the blue summer dress Momma had bought last week. She couldn’t stop to disentangle herself from every little branch. Faces of her schoolmates floated in her mind as she imagined each one lying with a broken leg and grasping at the air for help. Tess climbed a small rise and tried again.

“Please call out again,” she cried as she stepped carefully over a trunk and into a small grove of trees. A group of crows took flight, shooting upward from every side. Tess staggered to avoid them. Her foot landed on something that wasn’t ground. Up above a crow cawed in annoyance. She had already forgotten the crows. Her focus was on the large wooden door she stood upon.

The wood was nearly green from years of overgrowth. The metal clasps and the old padlock on the handle were so rusted they looked bloodstained. It was a cellar door or more likely a storm shelter. Spring storms in these parts would justify having one, but why so far from the farmhouse and so well hidden? The surrounding trees were like guardians protecting the door from the outside world.

The groan came again. Tess screamed and leapt back, dropping her water pail. The sound came from directly beneath her. She knelt on the ground and knocked on the door in a panic, not wasting time thinking. Someone was down there, someone who needed her. A cold knot tightened in her stomach.

“Who are you?” she cried, banging the door with her small fist. “Are you hurt?”

The groan lowered to a whimpering. It sobbed, and Tess brought her ear close to the wood, taking in every sniffle. It whispered only one word.

“Mm-mm—momma.”

Tess scrambled to her feet and grabbed the first heavy thing she saw, a fallen branch not two feet from the door. Tess hefted it as best she could, shifting it onto her shoulder, and took a stance over the blood red lock. “Don’t you worry,” she said. “I’m getting you out of there.”

With a squeaky grunt she swung the branch and got it on the first try. The branch hit the heart-shaped padlock, and the metal shattered like an ancient vase. She probably could have kicked it with her shoe and gotten the same result.

She lugged the branch aside and grabbed the door handle, hoping it wasn’t as breakable as the lock. “I’m opening the door,” she announced to whoever was down there. If it was a small child she didn’t want to scare him or her. She squatted and braced herself—and then pulled.

It was hard, but not as hard as she expected. The door didn’t shift from its resting place at first. The roots and weeds at its borders played tug-of-war with her. Tess thought of the cowering child waiting inside and put her back into it. Weeds ripped. Roots cracked. The door swung until gravity helped her, allowing her to let the door fall against a tree. Tess found herself at the top of a staircase, staring down into blackness.

The overbearing stench of mildew forced her to take a step back. Sour air wafted over her, the underground lair exhaling after years of holding its breath. She wondered how someone could actually be waiting down there. She kept looking in the oily darkness, hoping for a sign of movement.

“Can you walk? …Hello?”

No movement. No sound. Had she scared the child? The daylight could be too bright for someone who spent a long time in darkness. She squatted again and held out her hand, like someone befriending an uneasy dog.

“It’s okay. You can come out. I wanna help.”

She waited but no response came. Rising from the squat, she eyed the rotten-looking stairs warily. Only the first four were visible in the light, and there was no way to know how many followed or if they were intact. And yet the toe of her shoe drifted closer to the first one. Her shoe touched the wood and a soft creak echoed in the darkness. She let her other foot follow until she was completely on the step. It sagged a little, but it didn’t break. She was sure of it. She—

Hands closed on her shoulders.

Tess gasped as she was pulled backward. The hands spun her around until she was staring into Momma’s taut face. “Tessie. Tu dèlires? I send you for water and you decide to go exploring instead? Well, I think I have several other chores that need your immediate attention.”

“But Momma!” she erupted. She twisted in her mother’s grip, pointing into the black hole. “There’s someone down there! I heard em crying. I think the person’s hurtin’.”

Mare had started pulling her the other way, but stopped to look back. She eyed Tess first and then the door. It was obvious she had never seen it before either. She turned her gaze to her daughter. “Wait. What?”

“The child’s down there, I promise.” She stared up at Momma, letting the tears come. “I know he ain’t making noise now, but he’s down there. He is. I wouldn’t make this up. Not this.” She tugged on her mother’s dress, praying Mare wouldn’t think she let her imagination get the best of her. Adults had a way of ignoring the important stuff.

Mare’s gaze remained steady. “All right,” she finally said. “Let me take a look.”

Tess nodded gratefully and they turned to the waiting darkness. Mare stepped past her, keeping one hand firmly on Tess’s shoulder to let her know she wasn’t to follow. Momma went to the doorway and stopped at the edge.

“Who’s down there?” she demanded. “Tell me your name and how you found your way onto our land. There’ll be no hiding and seeking.”

Mare waited with hands on hips. Now that she put it in those words Tess wondered if someone had toyed with her for sport. If that was the case there would be a fight on the school playground tomorrow. And if it was Arnie Fetters he could expect to go away from it with a bloody nose.

No answer came. Momma waited a whole minute before turning to look at Tess.

“I heard someone.” Tess looked at the hole in the ground, hoping in vain to see a child crawling off of the stairs.

“I know you did, Tessie, but whoever’s down there isn’t going to fess up to it. We’ll have to go back to the house and ring the police. Allons.”

With a gentle touch Momma took her by the shoulder and turned her around. Tess didn’t need convincing. She was happy to turn her back on the strangely-placed storm shelter. And she was happy Momma was with her too. To think she had almost stepped down into that blackness alone.

“Don’t worry,” Mare said as she squeezed her. “I’ll still tell you a stor—”

Momma’s hand jerked away as she let out a guttural cry. Tess wheeled around to see her mother on her stomach, writhing in the dirt as she flew backward. Her dress bunched around her waist as some unseen thing yanked on her feet. Her fingers clawed the ground, raking at loose leaves and making trails in the dirt. Her eyes blazed panic.

“Tess!” Mare cried. Tess flung her small body toward the dark opening in the ground that wanted to swallow Momma. Nothing happened fast enough. Tess couldn’t make her legs react as rapidly as her heart. Her arms were pitifully short, her hands pushing through air like fish fighting the current. Tess’s index and middle fingers brushed the stony white knuckles of Momma’s left hand. Then Mare was ripped away, disappearing into blackness. Tess heard several hollow thumps as Mare Buckner tumbled down the steps. Then the scream came, so awful and loud Tess thought she had to be in a dream.

“Momma!” she cried back, crawling madly to the edge of the staircase. She saw movement like bugs crawling on the trees at night; a glistening shape one moment, a sense of liquid motion the next. She cried for her mother again and again. And then she saw her, or at least her hands, shaking as they came into the light.

They were much too white as they grabbed the lowest visible stair. Momma’s waxy face came into view and Tess screamed. Her chin and neck were red with blood. Momma’s eyes quivered in their sockets, but they bulged farther when they fell on Tess.

“Run,” Mare said, and the voice might have been the same raspy whisper she heard earlier. “Please, Tessie. Run.”
Mare’s gaze dropped as she gagged. She vomited on the stairs, spraying blood over the mildewed wood. Something else moved in the darkness and Momma was yanked out of view. A sickening ripping sound followed.

Tess ran. She ran so hard she couldn’t remember running later. It was as if she turned from the hole in the ground and ran straight into Papa’s barn. He rose from his workbench on lanky legs, asking what the hell she was doing. Tess screamed something about Momma and a cellar and a voice. She grabbed Abner Buckner by his overall straps and yanked with everything she had. “Help me!” she bellowed. “Help Momma!”

He stopped cussing and followed, grabbing a scattershot rifle as she took off back into the forest. A moment later they were there, looking into the blackness. Abner fished a lighter from his pocket and squatted next to the opening.

“Honey?” he yelled, waving his lighter toward stairs. “Mare, you in there? Did you fall or sumthin?”

“It’s down there,” Tess said through her sobs. “Something hurt Momma.”

Abner braced the rifle in the crook of his arm and started down the stairs. The flicker of the lighter was barely enough to light his way. But he went down the stairs, seven in all, and then a concrete floor. From the edge of the opening Tess saw glimmers of half-rotted shelves lining the walls. She saw stacks of old crates covered in thick coats of dust. What she didn’t see was her mother.

“Are you sure she went down here?” Abner asked, bending over to move the light across the floor. “I can’t even see her footprints in the dust.”

That wasn’t what bothered Tess. What her eyes stopped on and couldn’t veer away from no matter how hard she tried were the wooden stairs. She peered at the grayish-green planks, feeling a lump rise in her chest.

“The blood,” she whispered. “The blood is gone.”

Abner Buckner looked at his daughter’s rigid posture. She was on the verge of fainting, and he hadn’t the slightest notion why. But when he stopped calling for his wife, he heard something. It was oft and easy to miss amid the swaying tree branches, but the longer he listened, the more he thought the sound was there in the cellar with him.

Ticking—like the ticking of a clock.

About the author:

Ben Larken resides near Fort Worth, the city in which he was born and currently works as a police dispatcher. He is the winner of three Epic eBook Awards for Best Horror.

Links:

http://www.gypsyshadow.com/BenLarken.html#Hollows1Exc

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Hollows-Part-Re-release-ebook/dp/B00CR4I996/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1368547291&sr=1-1&keywords=the+hollows+ben+larken