Monday, June 01, 2009

In The Belly of the Night Collection by Jonathan Wright

In The Belly of the Night (Collection)
by Jonathan Wright

Cover art by Bryan Keller
ISBN: 978-1-60521-219-7
Genre(s): Collections
Length: Collection


Joe Horn emerged from the twisted mental lapse of 'Nam thirty years ago tired and scarred and a little whacked, running like hell from a nightmare. For the last three decades he's lived life on the edge, never stopping, never making friends, never aging. And never, ever sleeping.
Until he meets Sarah Fenton, a razor-edged reporter with secrets within her secrets. Sarah stalks Horn, hunting for a great story -- and something more. A compelling, voluptuous dream of intense sensual pleasure, she sets off all his alarm bells and makes him sweat with pure passionate hunger for the one thing he knows he can never have.
And there's one more...
Muck Drippy Thing comes from the Other Side, entering through a rift in the curtain between Here and There. He hangs out in the shadowy corner of narrow alleys, moves silently through the quiet night, slides wetly through the open window, delivering nightmarish hell and screaming death. He breathes bile and feeds on his victims' blind terror, and always follows Horn. Always.
Why? Just because.
Their paths cross like bloody trails on a Ouija board, and no place, not Here, or There, or the Netherworld, will ever be the same...

Publisher's Note: This collection contains three previous published novellas, In The Belly of the Night, Nightwalker, and Promises to Keep.


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Miss July, green-eyed, lithe and seductive, had returned.
Joe Horn sat outside the Croissant Place, feet propped up on a chair, reading the Tribune, sipping a mug of steaming coffee. Meat for the predator.
He caught glimpses of the emerald-eyed succubus as she carefully stalked her prey. Stalking me. Yes. Not overtly. Instinctively. It's something she does without thought.
Paranoia, leavened with a measure of grim experience, drove his instinctive assessment. He watched her, surreptitiously, and with a certain amount of prurient interest. He imagined popping the buttons of her blouse and sucking those ripe tits.
In a far, dark corner of his mind, prompted by this line of thought, the Beast stirred.
On Columbus Day the crowd at the Harborside Mall lacked the usual noise and clamor. The usual mess of screaming kids, giggling teenagers and exhausted men and women dragged themselves from one store to the next, but the retailers sweated. The summer had been bad. In a so-called booming economy a lot of people, like Joe Horn, had next to no money.
Unlike those to whom appearance was all, his chosen look was down-and-out chic. Army surplus fatigue pants and a field jacket, thoroughly broken in. Which is to say, ragged, with patches. Beat up running shoes, showing miles of wear. Good quality, though. Major budget item.
A family walked by. Mom with shades perched on frosted hair, Dad looking comfortably rumpled in an Eddie Bauer way. Two kids, a girl in a stroller and a boy toddling. Mom's laser eyes hunted bargains. Dad sighed. Toddler had to go to the baffroom. Made the elusive th into ff and then ffff, a spray of spittle. Giggled at his own rapier wit.
Mom pointed, issuing directives to Dad, who did the sigh thing again. Mom and the stroller arced into Ms Professional. Dad picked up the toddler and headed for the baffroom. He had a bit more lift in his step, maybe thinking of a detour to Sears, where he could spend a few minutes ogling a voluptuous band saw.
In contrast to the slightly paunchy dad, Horn was on the lean side. Unlike the glassy-eyed followers of the latest diet fad, Joe Horn had come by his leanness in other ways. Like sweating in the lee of a bridge abutment while something that breathed bile and moved with the sound of mud flowing searched for him. Like creeping quietly in the dark, hoping to sneak by the place where death was just a sigh. Like running down a pitch-black alley with something fast and lethal on his tail, praying he didn't run into more of the same. A fellow could sweat off a few pounds that way.
Miss July cruised like a mako along the storefronts: Periwinkle's. The Old Bag. The Short Shop. Successfully evaded the Mrs. Fields gill net, focused on her prey.
Horn turned to the sports section. Atlanta came from behind, beat the Pirates in the tenth, evened the playoffs.
It wasn't like he'd never seen her before. That was the problem. The memory lingered, enticing him, like a hint of perfumed cyanide, like a shy smile that hid lethal fangs.
C'mon, Horn, she's a babe, not Muck-Drippy thing. The differences are pretty obvious. Like, you can count her arms...
He'd liked her eyes, from the moment he saw her, even though the initial impact had been frightening. He had a thing about eyes. Windows to the soul and all that.
Yeah, nice eyes. And a killer body, let's not forget about that. Tits to die for… Whoops, bad choice of words… He allowed himself that bit of fantasy. It wasn't every day that a chick with a pneumatic chest chose to hunt him down.
The Beast, on the other hand, regarded her with quiescent, simmering dislike. It didn't care if the stranger looked like Miss July, which in fact she did. Appearances could deceive. Deceptions could kill. The Beast did not parse clever phrases or weigh the potential meaning of a subtle inflection. The Beast's job was simple. Stay alive.
Mom emerged, staggering under captured treasures, went looking for the troops. Somebody's gotta carry all this stuff.
Miss July dodged right and left through the crowd, like Gayle Sayers slipping through the Rams front four. Sato would have liked the way she moved. He had always valued fluidity over power.
Good old Sato. Horn's sensei. Sato had a little dojo in Japan, in the mountains. Very pristine. Very beautiful. Very rugged. Very fucking cold at night. Horn had spent a few nights outside, up there at eight thousand feet, watching for the furtive movement, listening for the delicate step. Screaming obscenities when Sato inevitably caught him napping and beat the shit out of him with the Stick.
When Horn first arrived at the dojo, he'd been afraid. His fear had begun as a child, had grown through adulthood, had blossomed like a blood red rose, in a scummy bog in Vietnam, one night when the moon waned and a hideous stick figure rose out of the black water and ate seven men.
A long time ago, in a land far, far away, but their screams still haunted him thirty years after the fact. Even though they had been about to kill him. No one deserved to die the way they died.
Sato taught Horn how to control his fear. Mostly the fear of Sato, hiding behind trees and bushes, waiting with the Stick.
Horn hated the fucking Stick.
He snapped open the metro section. Man strangled his wife because she served his oatmeal cold. Horn smiled thinly. Human interest stories were his favorite.
Miss July swooped in, took the seat across from him. Let out a sigh. Pulled out her notebook. Brushed a bang out of her big green eyes. Clicked the pen. "I talked to a man who says you blew up a bar in Texas."
"Really." Horn turned the page.
She might have introduced herself, but he already knew her name. Sarah Fenton, a reporter doing a story on the homeless. She'd found him yesterday. She had nice hair, short and thick. Moved like a dancer, accentuating her sleek body. His puerile mind invented means of disrobing her. The possibility of making her do it herself, for his considerable pleasure, momentarily clouded his mind. He noticed she was bra-less under a fairly thin top. His eyes strayed to her rather prominent nipples.
He sensed she was immediately aware, and not repulsed.
But the Beast murmured fear her. He usually listened to the Beast. He resolved to do so this time. Besides, he had other things to do. People were dying.
He'd chased her off last time with one of his wacko routines, mumbling about God's Wrath On Heathen Puppies. But now she'd returned, and she knew about the bar in Texas.
She nodded briskly, checking items off. "Yep. Then there was a truck stop in Nevada. And..." she paused as she confirmed her careful research, "... a warehouse in Seattle."
He grimaced inwardly. The grapevine was unreal. "Well, some architecture is an affront to good taste."
He shrugged. "That's what I just said."
She tried a different tack. "I also found out you're a Vietnam vet --" She frowned, looked up at him, then down at her notes again. "That doesn't make sense."
He raised one eyebrow without looking at her. "Smartest thing you've said so far."
She ignored that. "That conflict ended in seventy-five -- twenty-eight years ago. You'd have to be at least fifty, maybe fifty-five years old."

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