FINALLY IN DIGITAL - Edited by Thomas Monteleone - the breakthrough anthology BORDERLANDS is ready to entertain, thrill, and challenge a new generation of readers. Complete with the original introductions to each story by editor Thomas Monteleone.
The cancer that whistles...
The man who peels souls...
A High-tech corporation's fearsome "Pounding Room"...
The hottest sex this side of Hell...
Prepare to cross over the cutting edge into a hitherto unexplored region—where imagination soars on leather wings, feeding its most loathsome desires...driven by its deepest, most hideous needs. Few writers have had the talent to map this uncharted terrain—fewer still, the raw, cold nerve even to seek it out. But now Karl Edward Wagner, T.E.D.Klein, and many other stunningly innovative masters of the grotesque are ready to lead you beyond terror's farthest frontiers...to confront the unspeakable nightmares that lurk in the darkest hidden corners of the mind. Welcome to the Borderlands.
CONTENTS OF THE DIGITAL EDITION:
The Calling - David B. Silva
Glass Eyes - Nancy Holder
The Grass of Remembrance - John DeChancie
On the Nightmare Express - Francis J. Matozzo
The Pounding Room - Bentley Little
Peeling it Off - Darrel Schweitzer
The Raw and the Cooked - Michael Green
His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood - Poppy Z. Brite
Oh, What a Swell Guy Am I - Jeffrey Osier
Delia and the Dinner Party - John Shirley
Suicide Note - Lee Moler
Stillborn - Nina Kriki Hoffman
Ladder - T.E.D. Klein
Muscae Volitantes - Chet Williamson
The Man in the Long Black Sedan - Ed Gorman
His Frozen Heart - Jack Hunter Daves, Jr.
Evelyn Grace - Thomas Tessier
By the Light of the Silvery Moon - Les Daniels
A Younger Woman - David B. Silva
But You'll Never Follow Me - Karl Edward Wagner
Stephen - Elizabeth Massie
Alexandra - Charles L. Grant
The Good Book - G. Wayne Miller
By Bizarre Hands - Joe R. Lansdale
As its title implies, Borderlands contains fiction that resides out there on the edge, on the perimeters of what's being done in the field of contemporary horror, dark fantasy, and suspense literature (hereafter referred to as HDF). When I solicited material for what I hope will be the first of many volumes, I made it clear I didn't want stories that employed any of the traditional symbols and images of the genre. I wanted writers to expand the envelope, to look beyond the usual metaphors, and bring me something new.
Some fresh meat, so to speak.
The stories you now hold in your hands represent almost eight months of sifting through more than a thousand submitted manuscripts. I suffered through this editing ordeal for several reasons (besides needing the money, of course): the field of HDF needed a market for short fiction that took no prisoners that did not pre-categorize its submissions, and that opened itself up to the new voices as well as those of seasoned masters. Let's face it–most anthologies that appear year after year have tables of contents that can almost be interchangeable with one another. The same list of slick, proficient HDF writers who are well-known to most of us. Now this is not to say I don't like what the Dark Brotherhood of Familiar Names writers (indeed, more than a few of them are contributors to this volume)… it's just that I think the field of HDF needs a transfusion of new blood.
And like I said before, some fresh meat.
Each Borderlands story is unique, presenting a new vision or a new direction for HDF literature. If the authors chose to work with traditional material (werewolves, ghosts, serial killers, etc.), they explored these familiar mythologies from perspectives made fresh and exhilarating–maybe a little skewed, maybe a little depraved, but always in ways that remained intriguing and inventive.
Borderlands stories appear without restriction, prejudice, or taboo. I made certain there is no on "type" of story to be found her, so please, expect the unexpected. Tales of graphic violence, or "splatter," operate alongside internalized, brooding examinations of the human psyche in torment. There are some pieces of grim reality, twisted dreams, and even a few leavening touches of humor. There are stories by award-winning veterans and some by bold newcomers–each tale going its own way, seeking its own unique path to the Outer Banks, to the Farther Shores, to the Gates of Terra Incognita…
The only common thread, the only true connective tissue among them all, is that they are all extremely well-written. You will be treated to a potpourri of styles and viewpoints and techniques. Some stories will dazzle, while others will quietly subvert, but they will all reach down and grab for the soft parts.
So come on now. Get ready to take a different kind of journey–a trip to the places that lie beyond the mapped out regions of the imagination. The wind is starting to snarl and the light grows feeble.
A good time to begin…
–Thomas F. Monteleone
David B. Silva
Dave Silva has, in the space of only a few years, established himself as a very fine writer. His fiction displays sensibility, a lyrical style, and imagery that demands a powerful, emotional response. Silva's work has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including the prestigious Year's Best Horror Stories, and he is the author of several novels. Although he is also well known for his editorship of an excellent magazine of features and short fiction, The Horror Show, David recently terminated the magazine so that he could devote all of his time to writing.
A double-edged sword, that. We lose a valuable fiction market, but we'll be getting more stories from a young master of the genre. The following story, a chilling odyssey across the landscape of slow death and grim revelation, is Silva's best ever.
It never stops.
The sound is hollow, rising from a cork ball enclosed by red plastic. His mother no longer has the strength to blow hard–the cancer has made certain of that–so the sound comes out as a soft song, like the chirring of a cricket somewhere off in another part of the house, just barely audible. But there. Always unmistakably there.
Blair buries his head beneath his pillow. He feels like a little boy again, trying to close out the world because he just isn't ready to face up to what is out there. Not yet. Maybe never, he thinks. How do you ever face up to something like cancer? It never lets you catch up.
It's nearly three o'clock in the morning now.
And just across the hall…
Even with his eyes closed, he has a perfect picture of his other's room: the lamp on her nightstand casting a sickly ray shadow over her bed, the blankets gathered at her feet. Behind her, leaning against the wall, an old ironing board serves as a makeshift stand for the IV the nurse was never able to get into his mother's veins. And the television is on. And the bars on the side of the bed are up to prevent her from falling out. In his mind, Blair sees it all. Much too clearly.
He wraps himself tighter in the pillow.
The sound from the television is turned down, but he still thinks he can hear a scene from Starsky and Hutch squealing from somewhere across the hallway.
Then the whistle.
A thousand times he has heard it calling him…at all hours of the night…when she is thirsty…when she needs to go to the bathroom…when she needs to be moved to a new position…when she is in pain. A thousand times. he hears the whistle, the soft, whirring call, coming at him from everywhere now. It is the sound of squealing tires from the street outside his bedroom window. It is the high-pitched hum of the dishwasher, of the television set, of the refrigerator when it kicks on at midnight.
He has grown to hate it.
And he has grown to hate himself for hating it.
An ugly thought comes to mind: why…doesn't she succumb? Why hasn't she died by now? It's not the first time he's faced himself with this question, but lately it seems to come up more and more often in his mind. Cancer is not an easy thing to watch. It takes a person piece by piece….
"My feet are numb."
"Like walking on sandpaper."
"From the chemo?"
"I don't know."
"Maybe…" Blair said naively, "maybe your feet will feel better after the chemo's over." He had honestly believed that it would turn out that way. When the chemo stopped, then so would her nausea and her fatigue and her loss of hair. And the worst of the side effects had stopped, for a while. But the numbness in her feet…that part had stayed on, an ugly scar left over from a body pumped full of dreadful things with dreadful names like doxorubicin and dacarbazine and vinblastine. Chemicals you couldn't even pronounce. It wasn't long before she began to miss a step here and there, and soon she was having to guide herself down the hallway with one hand pressed against the wall.
"Sometimes I can't even feel them," she once told him, a pained expression etched into the lines of her face.
She knows, Blair had thought at the time. She knows she's never going to dance again. The one thing she loves most in the world, and it's over for her.
The heater kicks on.
There's a vent under the bed where he's trying to sleep. It makes a familiar, almost haunting sound, and for an instant, he can't be sure if he's hearing the soft, high-pitched hum of the whistle. He lifts his head, listens. There's a hush that reminds him of a hot summer night when it's too humid to sleep. But the house seems at peace, he decides.
She's sleeping, he tells himself in a whisper. Finally sleeping.
For too long, the endless nights have haunted him with her cancerous likeness. She is like a butterfly: so incredibly delicate. She's lying in bed, her eyes half closed, her mouth hung open. Five feet, seven inches tall and not quite ninety pounds. The covers are pulled back slightly, her nightgown is unbuttoned and the outline of her ribs resembles a relief map.
She's not the same person he used to call his mother.
It's been ages since he's seen that other person. Before the three surgeries. Before the chemotherapy. Before the radiation treatments. Before he finally locked up his house and moved down state to care for her.
She cried the first time she fell. It happened in her bedroom, early one morning while he was making breakfast. He heard a sharp cry, and when he found her, her legs were folded under like broken wings. She didn't have the strength to climb back to her feet. For a moment, her face was frozen behind a mask of complete surprise. Then suddenly she started crying.
"Are you hurt?"
She shook her head, burying her face in her hands. "Here, let me help you up."
"No." She motioned him away.
He retreated a step, maybe two, staring down at her, studying her, trying to put himself in her position. It occurred to him that she wasn't upset because of the fall–that wasn't the reason for the tears–she was crying because suddenly she had realized the ride was coming to an end. The last curve of the roller coaster had been rounded and now it was winding down once and for all. No more corkscrews. No more quick drops. No more three-sixties. Just a slow, steady deceleration until the ride came to a final standstill. Then it would be time to get off. The fall…marked the beginning of the end.
It had been a harsh realization for both of them.
He began walking with her after that, guiding her one step at a time from her bedroom to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the living room, from the living room to the bathroom. A week or two later, she was using a four-pronged cane. A week or two after that, she was using a wheelchair.
Everything ran together those few short weeks, a kaleidoscope of forfeitures, one after the other, all blended together until he could hardly recall a time when she had been healthy and whole…
She's going to die.
Blair has known that for a long time now.
She's going to die, but…
how long is it going to take?
It seems like forever.
A car passes by his bedroom window. It's been raining lightly and the slick whine of the tires reminds him of that other sound, the one he's come to hate so much. He hates it because there's nothing he can do now. There's no going back, no making things better. All he can do is watch…and wait…and try not to lose his sanity to the incessant call of the whistle.
He bought the whistle for her nearly two-and-a-half weeks ago in the sporting goods section of the local Target store. A cheap thing, made of plastic and a small cork ball. She wears it around her neck, dangling from the end of a thin nylon cord. Once, when it became tangled in the pillowcase, she nearly choked on the cord. But he refuses to let her take it off. It's the only way he has of keeping in touch with her at night. Unless he doesn't sleep. But he's already feeling guilty about the morning he found her sleeping on the floor in the living room.
When he went to bed–sometime around 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning–she'd been sleeping comfortably on the couch, and it seemed kinder not to disturb her. Seven hours later, after dragging himself out of the first sound night's sleep in weeks, he found her sitting on the floor.
She was sitting in an awkward position, her legs folded sideways, one arm propped up on the edge of the couch, serving as a pillow. No blanket. Nothing on her feet to keep them from getting cold. And to think–she had spent the night like that.
He knelt next to her.
Her eyes opened lazily. It wasn't terribly rational, but he held out a distant hope that she'd been able to sleep through most of the night. "I'm sorry," she said drowsily. "I couldn't get up…my legs wouldn't…"
"I shouldn't have left you out here all night." He managed to get her legs straightened out, to get her back on the couch, under a warm blanket, with a soft pillow behind her head.
That afternoon, he bought her the whistle.
"When you need me, use the whistle. You got that?"
"Night or day, it doesn't matter. If you need me for something, blow the whistle." He paused, hearing his own words echo through his mind, and a cold, shuddering realization swept over him. He didn't know when it had happened, but somewhere along the line they had swapped roles. He was the parent now, she the child.
"What if I can't?"
Like everything else, her lungs had slowly lost their strength over the past few months, but she was able to put enough air into the whistle to produce a short, high-pitched hum.
That was–what?–three weeks ago?
Blair sits up in bed. The streetlight outside his window is casting a murky blue-gray light through the bedroom curtains. The room is bathed in that light. It feels dark and strangely out of balance. He fluffs both pillows, stuffs them behind him, and leans back against the wall. Across the hall, the light flickers, and he knows the television is still on in his mother's room. It seems as if it's far away.
Let her sleep, he thinks. Let her sleep forever.
Sometimes the house feels like a prison. Just the two of them, caught in their life and death struggle. The ending already predetermined. It feels…not lonely, at least not in the traditional sense of the word…but…isolated. Outside these walls, there is nothing but endless black emptiness. But it's in here where life is coming to an end. Right here inside this house, inside these walls.
The television in her room flickers again.
Blair stares absently at the shifting patterns on the bedroom door across the hall. He used to watch that television set while she was in the bathroom. Sometimes as long as an hour, while she changed her colostomy bag.
"I'll never be close to a man again," she told him a few months after the doctors had surgically created the opening in the upper end of her sigmoid colon. The stoma was located on the lower left side of her abdomen. "How could anyone be attracted to me with this bag attached to my side? With the foul odor?"
"Someone will come along, and he'll love you for you. The bag won't matter."
A fleeting sigh of hope crossed her face, then she stared at him for a while, and that was that. She hadn't had enough of a chance to let it all out, so she kept it all in. The subject never came up again. And what she did on the other side of the bathroom door became something personal and private to her, something he half decided he didn't want to know about anyway.
If he had a choice.
"How're you doing in there?" he asked her late one night. He'd had to help her out of bed into the wheelchair, and out of the wheelchair onto the toilet. That was all the help she ever wanted. But she'd been in there, mysteriously quiet, for an unusually long time.
"I'm okay," she whispered.
"Need any help?"
"Do you need any help?"
"I've lost the clip."
"For the colostomy bag. It's not here."
"You want me to help you look for it?"
"Na. See if you can find another one in one of the boxes in the closet."
"What does it look like?"
"It's…a little plastic…clip."
He found one, the last one, buried at the bottom of a box. It had the appearance of a bobby pin, a little longer, perhaps, and made of clear plastic instead of metal. "Found one."
He pulled the sliding pocket door open, more than was necessary if all he had intended to do was hand her the clip. The bathroom was smaller than he remembered it. There was a walker in front of her, for balance if she ever had to stand up, and the toilet had metal supports on each side to help her get up and down. It seemed as if the entire room was filled with aids of one kind or another.
"Is this what you're looking for?"
She was hunched over, leaning heavily against one of the support bars, her nightgown pulled up around her waist. Her face was weighted down with a weariness he'd never seen before and for the first time he understood how taxing this daily–sometimes three or four times a day–process had become for her. When she looked up at him, she seemed confused and disoriented.
"Are you okay?"
"I can't find the clip." She showed him the colostomy pouch for the first time. He couldn't bring himself to see how it was attached to her. Partly because he didn't want to know, and partly because that would have been like checking out her scars after surgery. Some things are better left to the imagination. More important, there was a woman in front of him whose ribs were protruding from her chest, whose face was a taut mask stretched across her skull, whose fingers were frail sticklike extensions of her hands; and this woman, looking so much like a stranger, was his mother. God, this was the woman who had given him birth.
"I've got the clip right here."
"Oh." She tried a smile on him, then glanced down at the bag in her hands. The process was slow and deliberate, but after several attempts she was finally able to fold the bottom side of the bag over.
Blair slid the clip across it. "Like this?"
And he realized something that should have occurred to him long before this: it was getting to be too much for her. As simple as emptying the bag might be, it was too confusing for her to work through the procedure now.
"Okay, I think we've got it."
"Ready to get out of here?"
"I think so." She whispered the words, and before they were all out, she started to cry.
She looked up, her eyes as big as he'd ever seen them.
God, I hate this, he thought, taking hold of her hand and feeling completely, despairingly helpless. I hate everything about this.
"I didn't hurt you, did I?"
Her crying seemed to grow louder for a moment. "Mom?"
"I didn't want for you to have to do that."
Lovingly, he squeezed her hand. "I know."
"There's nothing to be sorry about. It's not a big deal." He pulled a couple of squares of toilet paper off the roll and handed them to her. "Things are hard enough. Don't worry about the small stuff. Okay?"
By the time he got her back into bed again, she had stopped crying. But he'd never know if it was because of what he'd said, or if it was because she didn't want to upset him anymore. They were both bending over backwards trying not to upset each other. There was something crazy about that.
The whistle blows.
At least he thinks it's the whistle. Sometimes, it's so damn hard to tell. There's that part of him, that tired, defeated part of him, that doesn't want to hear it anyway. How long can this thing drag on? Outside, all of thirty or forty feet away, a man jogs by with his dog on the end of a leash. People who pass this house don't have the slightest inkling of what's going on behind these walls. A woman's dying in here. And dying right alongside her is her son.
He pulls the covers back, hangs his feet over the edge of the bed.
For several days, she hasn't been able to keep food down. That memory comes horribly clear to him now…
She shook her head, her eyes closed, her body hunched forward over the bowl. Then suddenly another explosion of undigested soup burst from her mouth.
He held the stainless steel bowl closer; it felt warm in his hands. This had been going on for nearly three days now. It seemed like it might never stop. "You've got to take some Compazine, Mom."
"I can crush it for you and mix it with orange juice." No response.
"It'll go down easier that way."
"Christ, Mom, you've got to take something. You can't keep throwing up forever."
"The pills make me sick."
"Sicker than this?"
"They make me sick."
Blair slips a T-shirt over his head, pulls on a pair of Levi's. He tries to convince himself it'll stop. Maybe if he just leaves it alone, the sound will quietly drift into the background of the television set, and he'll be able to go back to sleep again…
"It'll stop on its own," she tried to convince him.
"But if it doesn't, you'll dehydrate."
At last the vomiting appeared to have run its course. At least for the time being. She sat up a little straighter, taking in a deep breath. When she opened her eyes, they were faraway, devoid of that sparkle that used to be so prominent behind her smile.
"Please, just take one Compazine."
Her skin began to lose its elasticity a few days later. The nausea stopped on its own, just like she'd said it would. But now, the only liquid she was taking was in the form of crushed ice, and there was the very real fear that dehydration might eventually become too painful for her.
"We can try an IV," the visiting nurse told him. "It won't help her live longer, but it'll probably make her more comfortable."
"Her veins aren't in very good shape."
"I've done this before."
They had to lean the ironing board up against the wall behind the headboard of her bed, because they didn't have an IV stand. The nurse hung the solution bag from one of the legs, and it seemed to work well enough. Then she tried to find a vein in his mother's right arm. It wasn't as easy as she'd thought it would be.
After several new entries, he turned away.
His mother began to whimper.
"The needle keeps sliding off." The nurse switched to her left arm, still struggling to find a workable vein, still failing miserably.
"That's enough," he finally said. "Let's just forget it."
"Her veins are so–"
There was a tear running down the cheek of his mother, and her mouth was twisted into a grimace which seemed frozen on her face.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I didn't mean to hurt you."
She rolled over, away from him…