The War Beneath, Static Killer Excerpt

From The War Beneath, Prologue

Virgil stepped back from the front door and drew a non-standard-issued sidearm—a large-mouthed weapon of history. A hand-me-down from an officer in one of those wars that were supposed to end all those other wars. For a few long seconds, Paul heard only rain.

Then came the breach.

On cue, multiple doors burst open, and police poured into the house. Crashing and shouting echoed inside, the clamor of arrest-in-progress turning the quiet suburb into thunderous news. Paul sprinted toward the action, his sneakers squicking across slick grass, wet soaking into his socks. One of his legs slipped out from under him as he ran, but he managed to rebalance himself in time to tear through the house’s open-lipped threshold.

A uniformed cop turned toward him as he rushed in but made no move to stop him.

At the center of the noise, the killer sat as a mote of frigid calm. Dressed in full business attire, kneeling genuflective on the kitchen linoleum, hands already behind his head, he smiled. “It told me you were coming.”

“On the floor! Now!”

“You’re all blind to the truth of things. Didn’t you listen to the background radiation? The era of man is over. Look around you, look at the slouch of the world.”

“You have the right to remain silent…” an officer began, hinging the compliant killer to the floor.

“There is a sinkhole under civilization and It starves for us!”

Virgil white-knuckled his pistol. “Somebody shut him up.”

“…have the right to an attorney…”

“Do you think The Hollow One is the only of its kind? That I’m the only of mine?” The killer snickered, lips carved wide over tombstone teeth. “There’s a war going on behind our world, beneath it! We are on the fulcrum of apocalypse!”

“I said shut the hell up,” Virgil snarled. “Somebody get the basement open.”

“Do you see my altar? The window? Did you not hear its hunger in the static prophecy? You can’t—”

Virgil moved with speed and strength a man his age shouldn’t have had, pushed aside the arresting officer, interrupted the Miranda speech, and hauled the killer to his feet. Before anyone could stop him, Virgil had thrown the man into the kitchen table, furniture and body both crashing to the ground. Virgil dove gun-first, cracking the butt of his pistol into the killer’s face, and again, and again. “You think you’re smart?” Virgil growled, grabbing at the killer’s collar. “Think you’ll get an insanity plea out of us? You’re going to rot, you piece of shit.”

Paul joined one of the uniforms in grappling Virgil, prying the older man free of his quarry.

“Get off me!” Virgil yelled.

“Get a hold of yourself!”

After a couple seconds’ struggle, Virgil came loose. The older man staggered backward, breathless, as if waking from a nightmare.

“What the hell was that?” the arresting officer asked.

Virgil glanced around as if only then remembering where he was. “I, uh, I just…” He straightened himself out and holstered his weapon. “It wasn’t right, what I did, but I think we all saw it. The man was resisting arrest. He went right for the door. Somebody had to stop him.”

The killer giggled through grue-specked lips. “They yearn for what they fear for. There’ll be more.”

Paul backed away from the composing chaos, from the babbling killer and the conspiring cops. He turned to head back outside, giving up his earlier ideas, but froze when he saw the pantry.

The pantry doors hung open, painted black. The inside, painted black. The shelves had all been removed and an altar stood in their place, black. The base structure could have been stolen from an abandoned church, more than a few of which dotted Oceanrest’s farther outskirts, but the additions were what caught Paul’s gaze. Long, ebon-painted branches arced up from the lectern to create broken, concentric circles. The top of each arch was missing, a path of notched nothing carved through the spiral and leading into a rough-hewn hole in the back wall, just above the altar top.

Without being told, Paul knew with certainty that the hole looked in on a black-painted, windowless room. He knew with certainty that the parts of the victims that hadn’t been found at the scenes would be inside.

Faint static crackled from the other side of the hole (from the back of his head) and the world quieted around it. Paul took a step forward. The blackness beyond the busted portal seemed to undulate, to squirm. The static rush crescendoed. Was something back there, waiting? Another victim? Something worse? Paul stepped forward. Were there spirits trapped in that windowless room? Was there something hungry pulsing in that dark?

His vision began to blur.