Deadman’s Tome is home to Book of Horrors, a horror anthology loaded with terrifying horror short stories that’ll chill you to the bone!
DISCLAIMER: Deadman’s Tome is a dark and gritty horror zine that publishes content not suitable for children. The horror zine proudly supports the freedom of dark creative works and stands against censorship. Hardly any subject matter is too taboo for this horror zine. As a result, Deadman’s Tome may feature content your mother would not approve of. But she doesn’t control you life, right?
Reinforced – Nick Manzolillo
He knows what’s at stake if everything goes to shit, but there’s no planning for a worst-case scenario. For Tim Sallick, who’s been a locksmith for twelve years, and for anyone that works a job where you’re required to step foot in somebody’s home, there is always a risk that extends beyond the awkwardness of entering someone else’s life. There is something about being in a stranger’s home that makes you vulnerable. The street and the walkway leading to the front doorstep, that all belongs to you, to the way the world works and the order you expect people to follow. When you step foot in someone’s home, you become subject to them and their domain, their rules. You give up all of your control when you leave the road and enter a place you know nothing about.
A homeless man is so curled up beneath his rain jacket on the sidewalk that at first, Tim thought it was just an abandoned coat tossed to the gutter–until he saw the tip of the man’s shoes sticking out from the dripping folds of his only shield against the relentless rain that empties the sky dry. Tim’s windshield is a mess because the rubber on his wipers has run thin and even with them running on full speed, the rain still clogs up his window to the point of near blindness. Even so, he is positive that he has showed up at the wrong address, and now he’s tapping his fingers on his dash faster than the wipers can whip back and forth. His phone is pressed tight against his ear. He is waiting for that fucker on the other end of the line to pick up.
There’s a low guttural moan croaking from the far bottom of Tim’s throat and this part right here, finding the address, it’s worse than anything. Every minute that ticks by becomes a waste of time and using a GPS often leads to more confusion than it’s worth. A banshee’s blast of wind rocks Tim’s truck and then the homeless man amongst the backdrop of run down homes alongside the deli and the closed post office are all swallowed up. The vortex of rain and shrieking means Tim could be anywhere. When it all lets up and the sun creeps back into place, his truck could be washed up anywhere in the world. This strange fear of somehow being swept away from the real world causes Tim to tune out the first few Hellos’ on the other end of his phone call.
“Hi..hi yes, Mr. Allen? I am with Serenity Security, ah, according to the address you gave us, I’m here, but I was just inside the Golden Deli and they said I must be at the wrong spot. Are you across the street at all?”
“No, no, ah…” It’s an older man on the other end of the line, maybe sixties, a little younger and less hoarse than Tim’s dad. Guy’s probably still in the beginning stages of losing his grip on the modern world. “Sorry, I made a mistake, but you’re close, though, your just four streets over. Easy fix.” The man, a Mr. Joseph Allen, then mumbles his new address and Tim punches it into his GPS, not asking for him to repeat it, already through with dealing with this idiot. There are still two hours left on the clock but, tonight’s supposed to be a good one, some old friends are finally driving down to visit Tim and his wife from Cambridge. Like most New Englanders, they picture Jersey to be as distant a drive as South Carolina. Tim, prior to the rainfall, has already been smiling and chuckling himself all through the day’s appointments. He anticipates the laughs, roast duck from a Chinese restaurant, musings of old times and light beer that will dictate the evening before an expensive cigar caps the night off. He can nearly feel that cigar roasting between his lips and pushing his consciousness into the soothing haze of a near dream.
Even with the address punctuated by the client’s mouth, Tim still debates calling the guy back, before trudging through the heavy rain turned cylindrical by the wind to ring the doorbell of the house at the end of the driveway. The place isn’t what Tim expected, because it’s too nice, with its colonial roofing, pointed peaks and deep red wood lining the throat of a massive porch framed by wooden columns. At once it’s historical and flamboyant. The neighborhood is alright, no bums this time. That poor bastard Tim saw goes to show how close the wealthy and the wrecked live almost side by side. Because of the rain and Mr. Allen’s mistake with the address, Tim won’t say no to a tip if one is offered. It’s not customary or even explicitly approved of by Serenity, but there have been times in the past where somebody, usually a rich polo shirt and golf short wearing bastard, will walk him to the door after the job is done and whip out fifty bucks that Tim will take with a grin and a humble thank you.
Unlike all the other homes on the street, this place doesn’t have any porch lights on to act as a lantern, a beacon for Tim to trudge through the rain toward. The other homes are so swamped out, they seem like lighthouses warning him to steer away from the rocks. This house is also the only one that has twice the yard space on either side of its driveway. Rich bastards. It takes Tim a moment to realize, through the rain, that the front door is cracking open and there is a blurry man, standing there raising a hand to him. Ah, no turning back now. He should try and get that tip out of his head before he winds up disappointing himself.
With his raincoat tighter than a straightjacket, Tim flips his hood down over his face so that it feels like a mask and then he raises his arms across his mouth and dives, swims his way through the waterlogged air until he’s unfurling his arms, flinging rain drops from himself when he’s halfway up Mr. Allen’s porch. “What a day!” Mr. Allen’s energy is nothing like the simple voice during the call. His voice cracks but still ripples with confidence and energy. This is the kind of guy that blinks awake at six o’clock every morning and then runs three miles before devouring a plate of pancakes and sausage. His words are one thing though, for his face is bald and wrinkled like a deviled egg and the hand he sticks out to Tim is so soggy and soft it may as well have been left out in the rain. “Come inside, dry yourself off, what a day!” The home beyond Mr. Allen is dimly lit, as if every light bulb is only using half its energy, as if they’re either dying or waiting for one big burst of life.
There’s an earthy smell in the house that reminds Tim of the woods in Massachusetts, after the rainfall, when he was a boy playing with the dogs and throwing storm swept sticks for them to fetch. Mr. Allen gestures for him to take off his rain jacket but Tim insists that once he sees where he’s going to put the lock, he’ll have to run back to the truck and find the perfect fit.
“I insist. You’ll drip all over the place and…some of the wood in the basement is…on the fragile side.” Mr. Allen waves his hands around, emphasizing his caution and Tim’s struck by the unprofessional desire to ask him what he does for a living. It’s almost too hard to imagine. With a face like that, he’s almost too ugly for any corporate business, unless he struck rich when he was younger. No, maybe he inherited this place. He just seems so…soggy, like he’s been out in the rain for too long and he’s done and seen too much in that liquid tundra to ever be dry again. There’s something particular about the way he moves and his elbows rotate in sync with his shoulders and his feet seem to firmly planted at all times. Weird, weird, weird. Tim has set up locks for weirdos before. Makes him wish he had a Purell bottle in the truck.
“It’s not as if I’m asking you to take your clothes off.” Mr. Allen smiles good naturedly as Tim takes his coat off. A weird interpretation of those words is unavoidable. Tim’s set up locks for some real freaks before. Sex freaks, primarily. All sorts of fetish cages and bars and contraptions rigged along the walls and ceilings and in bathtubs. When you do your case filing, it’s the kind of thing you choose “other” for. Tim almost wants to insist on tips from freaks like that if only because he has to actually set foot in their homes, but it’s the unspoken norm of the business. People want locks and security, and people want to get off on the power of simplistic technology. People want to submit, and give up control.
“So, where do you want me?” Tim tries to put some warmth into his smile but today’s already thrown off, pretending to enjoy himself until he gets home is almost a waste of effort.
“Oh, the basement.” Mr. Allen gestures through the gloomy half shadows of the house around Tim. While extravagant on the outside, it feels like some kind of countryside hotel in here. Mixed with that earthy smell is pine, leaking off the wooden cabinets and polished dining table in the living room. House is neat, which is rare. There are paintings of mountains and deer with lamps made partially of antlers. Before a stone fireplace in the corner of the home is some kind of animals skin splayed out as a rug. This place is a lodge, far from the real wilderness. The theme is overbearing. There are half a dozen plates, set on the long dining table and the designs etched around their rims are of moose drinking from streams and wolves beneath full moons. Nearly blending into every corner Tim can see is some kind of rifle.
Without comment, because that’ll only delay the process, Tim follows Mr. Allen’s shuffling footsteps to an open door that seems to lead to the source of the earthy smell. Not pressing but rubbing his hand almost affectionately against the wall, Mr. Allen brings forth the light, as he leads Tim down the narrow basement steps. The subterranean level is surprisingly modern. A pool table with a red, velvet interior catches Tim’s eye. There’s a short stub of a bar table with a humble liquor cabinet propped on the wall behind it and there are trendy, plush barstools scattered around the basement that look like silver metal poles stabbed into beanbag chairs. You never know what to expect. Maybe Mr. Allen has a batty wife that went overboard with her great American wilderness theme and this little man cave down here is his true hideaway. No wonder he needs a locksmith. Tim can’t imagine sharing his life with somebody that forces him to go underground. Him and his wife Marissa only disagree on the quantity of hot sauce that goes into their meals and whose turn it is to scrub the toilet.
“It’s right over here.” Mr. Allen’s shuffling along a violet curtain that runs along the same wall as the stairs. His mushy fingers rub across the material before they rapidly clench and rip the curtains aside in a enthusiastic whirr that reveals a bronze….well…it’s more like a jail cell than a cage, except there’s a dark red leather couch inside along with a short bookcase that doubles as a side stand. The back wall of the cell features a darker, almost crimson curtain. Without the bars, it looks more like a quirky VIP booth or something. Oddly enough, Tim’s come across this before.
The cell, or cage, seems professionally crafted. The bars are sturdy and gleaming, brand new. There’s just a hole on the half-open cell door where a good lock belongs. You’d think whoever built the cage would throw something together themselves but these kinds of people, like Mr. Allen and whoever the hell he’s married to, they want professionalism. They want security. When the submissive whoever (maybe it’s Mr. Allen himself) is locked up in there, they have to feel that it’s the real thing. That they are utterly helpless.
“I’ve been assured this shouldn’t be a problem…” Mr. Allen sounds more nervous that he’ll have to call somebody else than he is embarrassed. Hell, Tim can respect that. Life’s too short to be ashamed of yourself. Still, a pair of fuzzy handcuffs thrown into the mix of things is a kinky as he’s willing to go when things need spicing up with Marissa.
“Not at all sir. Done this before believe it or not.” Tim suddenly has the idea, the impulse to go and say “You’re not a werewolf or anything are you?” but that might encourage Mr. Allen to actually tell him why he has a cage in his basement. Tim sleeps better with the limits of his own imagination and sanity protecting him. Witty comment or not, Mr. Allen’s smiling at him in a slow to form, almost spacey manner that’s immediately giving Tim the willies.
Tim focuses on the cage. “Who put this together for you? They know what they’re doing.” He’s impressed by the glass paneling along the floor that rises about knee high, though it’s the biggest mystery of all. What, so nobody can pee through it? Hell, with the glass panel surrounding the bottom of the cage you could fill it with water and keep an alligator or something in there. Oddly enough, Tim never figures that some of theses cages and cells people have are for animals. That would be almost too normal.
“I forget…” Mr. Allen stares almost longingly at his reflection in the bronze bars. The lights in the basement are fluorescent, in contrast to the nearly useless things upstairs. They probably keep it so dark upstairs so as to better obscure the flaws of their rather corny decor.
“It’ll be thirty minutes tops. I can get everything together right now, should be a breeze and hopefully the rain lets up, huh?” Tim makes his own way upstairs as Mr. Allen just turns and continues to smile at him. Only when he reaches the rain, falling and filling the air thicker than ever, does he realize how clogged up his nostrils are with the earthy scent. Maybe the cell had to be dug out beneath the foundation? That’s risky considering how close it is to being beneath the center of the house.
Fumbling with his tools and rummaging through the boxes in back of his utility truck is every bit as miserable as he anticipated. When Tim re-enters the house he tilts his head back and just stares up at the dry ceiling. Every part of him wants to scream a string of curses up towards the heavens and their ceaseless piss but Tim gets himself together. Sometimes his job is too easy. This is the universe course correcting itself. On his way back to the basement, Tim takes a closer look at one of the mountain paintings on the wall. There’s a weird, black orb dangling over a mountain range. It stuck out even with all the dim lighting in this place. It’s almost like the artist spilled a bunch of ink on his work and tried to cover it up by adding more and making a shape.
Mr. Allen watches while Tim works, offering him a glass of water to which Tim responds; “I’ve had enough water for one day.” He receives not the slightest murmur of laughter in return. Putting his head down and working his trade grinds away the time and awkwardness easily enough, however. After a bit of tinkering, it’s time for the key test and everything clicks and unhinges as Tim opens and closes the door several times.
From behind Tim he hears the dry words: “How about you step inside?”
“What?” Tim turns around, not getting the joke but that’s what it must be.
“To see if you can open it up at all…” Mr. Allen gestures.
“Uh, you can go in there if you want.” Tim laughs, because this is a joke.
“Well, I’m not nearly as strong as I used to be. I’d need somebody with more…hop to their step…to give it a try.” Mr. Allen’s gesturing toward the open door. Tim’s holding the key in his hands and that thing is all the power he needs, if need be. Mr. Allen’s reaching into his back pocket for what looks to be his wallet and that seals the deal as far as Tim’s concerned. He’s got the key anyhow. Tim steps into the cell and lets the door clang loudly behind him. His craftsmanship on the lock is flawless.
Without looking at Tim, who rattles the cage and tries pushing, grunting at the cell door a couple times, Mr. Allen eyes the lock. He runs his slow fingers of mush over it, and then he looks Tim right in the eyes. “May I try unlocking it myself?”
“There’s no trick to it, turn right and pull.” Tim closes his fist over the key as Mr. Allen nods, and smiles. Where did his wallet go? For fuck’s sake. This is enough. Tim reaches through the bars, sticks his key in the lock and then Mr. Allen’s fingers are folding, squishing against his own before Tim can make the lock click and give him up. Tim’s hand is pulled, jerked downwards with sudden speed and the key…his key is falling from the lock and bouncing across the basement’s black, carpeted floor.
“Motherfucker, motherfucker what the fuck?” Tim, whose been lying to himself about uncomfortable this has made him, is erupting into steam and anxiety. Mr. Allen picks up the key and then stands by the pool table. This was all too easy…he got too comfortable with these freaks he deals with day in, day out and now what the fuck, what was he thinking going into the cage?
“What is this? Seriously? Come on…I have other appointments…” Tim lies but Mr. Allen’s lips are tight and his face, his whole bald and droopy mess of a head seems to sag further over himself.
The problem with Mr. Allen giving the wrong address in the first place is that it’s not in the system. It didn’t seem like a problem, the metals and equipment Tim has in the truck at any one time hardly amount to several grand at best, there’s no fear of there being a robbery, there’s no reason for anybody to track him beside formality and scheduling for his appointments. This guy doesn’t know this though. He doesn’t know shit.
“They’re going to come for me…” Tim’s voice feels distant, his mind is whirring and panicking with such frenzy that he can hardly hear himself, feel himself except for his throat going dry and the buzzing vibrations running along his hands.
“Well, then I better hurry up.” Mr. Allen shuffles over to the bar while Tim pleads with him about how silly this all his and then he picks up a bell from between two bottles of vodka and he gives it a high pitched shake of his hand as the ringing fills Tim’s ears. The basement is alive with the dizzying frenzy of what’s coming. There are footsteps upstairs, orderly and flocking towards the basement steps. As they come down the stairs the cage starts rattling and Tim takes a sprinters start from one end of the cage to the other as he bashes himself into the bars and they wiggle but don’t make the slightest indication that they will give. He tries kicking out the glass paneling but it’s on the outside of the bars and it’s too thick anyhow.
Mr. Allen clasps his hands behind his back and stands in front of the cage. Men and women, all shirtless, file into the room. They all wear white dresses from their hips down and their chests are thick with spiraling lines of scars. One of the women is missing a breast. It almost makes Tim nauseous that his attention immediately went to everyone’s nipples, as he stares at their masked faces and feels something he never imagined before. Death could be here right now. This could be what all the people who have ever disappeared and turned up mutilated in a swamp somewhere have gone through. The seven silent guests in the room wear a variety of wooden masks. Some are painted in flashy colors and their carved, false faces reveal fangs and flaring dragon’s nostrils. There are false antlers on the side of blank, triangular faces as well as visors, slashed across buckets of wood plopped over someone’s skull. The seven form on either side of Mr. Allen and raise their arms behind their heads as if a bunch of police officers are leveling guns at them. The seven go still as statues, as even their breath seems to cease as their stomachs go tight.
Tim is muttering an uncontrollable string of curses and incomplete questions. At last he decides the only thing he can do is just turn away and face the curtain and the couch. He then hops over the couch and sits with his back against it. This way they can’t stare at him. This way he’s not so…exposed. He has nothing on him. Not even his wallet. Everything’s safe, dry and useless in the car. “What the fuck do you want!?” Tim screams over his shoulder and there is safety, being unseen as he is. The cell’s so wedged into the wall that the only way they’ll get a good look at him is if they come in here and drag him away from the couch.
“Huh!?” Tim shouts again after waiting for a response.
“Just listen to the rain.” Mr. Allen’s voice is soft, soothing. Beyond Tim’s frantic breathing, the rain is roaring and pattering beyond this fucked up place. Something was wrong the minute he stepped inside and Tim didn’t do anything about it. He stepped into the fucking cage…how the fuck did that old man hit him that hard? Tim’s hand still throbs. His thumb and his index finger almost seem strained, they’ll be swollen soon.
“Shhhhhhh,” Mr. Allen’s voice waivers between soothing and becoming a hiss. Where did those other people come from? Tim has a sudden flash to them hiding in the dim light, ducked beneath the dining table and pressed tight around the corners Tim didn’t look closely at. Those masks mean nothing good is coming.
“They’re going to come…..They’re coming right now. If you let me call them…if you let me go…I’ll just…leave….you don’t have to pay, my treat, it’s okay….” If Tim starts screaming and insulting everyone too much they might get offended, and hurt him.
“The sound of the rainfall is the sky speaking to you. Speaking to the earth. It’s telling us all a story, so we should listen. It’s telling us to stay dry, it’s apologizing for the cold. It’s telling us to stay together, so we are not washed away. It is telling the great, great worms to taste our air and bless us for all our toils.” Mr. Allen, what a preacher.
There’s a popping sound, from just beyond the curtain Tim’s facing. Is there a breeze down here? The curtains rippling amidst another popping sound. Wet, crinkling sounds, like a child’s fingers scooping through a pie. Something plops to the carpet with a wet, static filled ripping sound and from beneath the curtain wriggles a pail form the size of Tim’s forearm. A worm, with too many beady black eyes to count peppered along it’s skull as it stretches back and there’s a pink mouth as the thing wrenches itself back and forth. There’s another plop. A second worm wriggles into view, covered in mud and oozing something sticky. “What is this? What the fuck is this?”
“An exhibit.” Is Mr. Allen’s reply, as the two worms are joined by a third, and then a fourth.
Tim’s hopping to his feet, running to the other side of the couch so he doesn’t have to see those things anymore. “What the fuck are they?”
“They deserve respect. They have noble ancestors in the black ether above, and they have risen from the wretched deep. They are just trying to find a home.”
Tim backs up against the cell door as there’s a volley of pops and the worms are wriggling, creeping around the sides of the couch. “Like the sperm to the egg.” Mr. Allen says. “There can only be one. One that may never return to the earth.” Tim could stomp on these things, bash in their little nubby skulls and black mouse shit eyes. A hand of mush slips through the bars and grabs Tim’s throat, tilting his skull back so that the back of his head wedges lightly against the bars.
“Come on, fuck, fuck fuck.” Tim tries pulling away from the hand’s single grasp.
“You’ll leave, with company. You’ll be let out, I assure you.” The seven spectators are all lined up around the cage to Tim’s left and right. More arms snake through the bars and join Mr. Allen in holding him still. The worms inch forwards, their squirms becoming a unified thrust. One tries latching onto Tim’s boot and nobody’s got his legs, fuck them, he stomps and the worm’s head squishes in just as he hoped but another one of those things is latching on to the back of his ankle and they have little, sharp legs from beneath their tubular bodies. One is on the back of Tim’s leg and in one lurch it’s behind hi knee and at this point Tim’s shrieking and jerking his body as much as the arms around his torso will let him. Plop, plop, plop–more come from the curtains as they partially fall from the corner of the wall and there is earth on the other side. Untamed, unmolded dirt. As the lucky worm ascends his chest, Tim recalls looking into those scattered eyes and down that pink, steaming gullet as the things legs pierce against his chest like he’s been shot by a stapler gun and it crawls towards his open mouth, his skull. As Tim looks to the ceiling, he marvels at how peaceful the rhythm of the rain is.
Four hours later, Tim stumbles home and surprises his wife and their guests, who have been waiting nervously in the kitchen for him to return home. They have the TV on and their night has been ruined, but not entirely wasted, given they’ve drunk some of the beer Tim stocked the fridge with. Tim ignores the questions, insults and half worried fury that immediately confront him. Still wearing his muddy boots that have tracked all over the white carpet of their dining room, and dripping rain from his drenched sweatshirt because his jacket is missing, Tim grabs his wife by the hips and delivers a long, hot kiss across her mouth.
Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes horror short stories and horror flash fiction. The online magazine publishes dark and gritty content from professional horror writers, Bram Stoker award nominated horror authors, along with talented newcomers of the horror writing craft. Deadman’s Tome features chilling, terrifying horror shorts ranging from ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, monster horror, and even horror erotica. Deadman’s Tome is one of the best online horror zines to publish horror short stories, horror flash fiction, and dark flash fiction. The darker the tale the better. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the horror authors.