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Restless Shades
Tales of Lurking Horror
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ISBN-10: 1-89484-127-1
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Supernatural/Horror
eBook Length: 128 Pages
Published: January 2002

From inside the flap

RESTLESS SHADES takes us through ten different tales of lurking horror at its finest. The scarefest begins from the start of the book and doesn?t let the reader off the rollercoaster ride of shrills and thrills until the final page. If you?re looking for a feeling of dreadful enchantment, Paul Melniczek’s book RESTLESS SHADES can satisfy an appetite for horror. His tales are beyond what the generation X?rs are raised on - the typical slasher and gashers... RESTLESS SHADES is sure to send those chills down your back and send horror connoisseurs into a heart-thumping of fun!



Restless Shades (Excerpt)



Table of Contents


Darkest Jungle

Devil Man of the Hollow

Rift

Scary Nights

The Uncertainty

Unwelcome

Stick Men

The Raid

Forsaken


The Uncertainty

Holding the wineglass in my hand, I swirled the contents within, watching the burgundy splash beneath the rim but not quite enough to spill out. I felt a yawn coming, but managed to stifle the reflex as Richard Chanders approached.

?Well, Edward? I can tell by the grim expression on your face, and the sure maneuvering of my vintage in your hand, that you seem a trifle weary at my gathering.?

A broad grin appeared on his mustached face, and he lumbered toward me, snatching a trio of tea biscuits from a dour-looking serving man. I shook my head, taking a sip from my drink.

?Whatever gave you that impression??

?Ha,? he bellowed, slapping me briskly on the shoulder and nearly upsetting my glass. ?You?re not one for such pleasantries. Rather be out on the hunt, with a pack of yelping hounds, wouldn?t you??

?Unquestionably, with a sly fox to the front, and a cool breeze in my hair.?

?I know you too well. One of these days, I will join you in a countryside frolic.?

?You?ve been saying that for the past decade,? I replied.

Richard laughed. ?Business demands constant attention, my young friend. These parties are the mere indulgences I permit myself.?

Although differing in our pastimes, Richard and I remained close comrades, living on adjoining properties for a number of years. It was hard not to like the man, I just preferred more exhilarating pursuits than indoor flippancy. I glanced across the brightly illuminated living room, filled with dozens of guests, the majority of whom I knew well.

In particular, I noticed an odd-looking fellow, standing by himself near the front foyer. He appeared to be in his upper forties, wearing a stark-brown coat with a long scarf draped over his back.His bearded face looked pale in the darker anteroom, and he possessed a quality of uncertainty, which defied my understanding, almost like a shiftless animal, pondering the most expedient method to his next meal.

?Richard,? I said, ?who is that strange-looking chap over there? I don?t believe I?ve seen him at any of your parties before.? Not intending rudeness on my part, despite the newcomer’s scarce-concealed interest, I made a slight gesture with my hand, indicating the need for discretion. Richard feigned a low cough, turning in my indicated direction for a moment, and then answered.

?Oh, that’s Gregory Higgins, lives on the hill in a small estate. He’s an archaeologist.?

?You don?t say? Works in excavations and the like??

?Yes, from what I know, which is little. Seems to be a recluse of sorts, keeps to himself. I?m surprised he accepted my invitation. I met him in town quite by accident, actually. I insisted he come tonight. I told him I would send a servant over to his place if he didn?t show.?

?What did he say??

Richard gave a hearty laugh. ’Seemed fairly startled by my threat. He claimed that it wouldn?t be a good idea, and when I asked him the reason, he looked sharply at me as if in rebuke, then said he would show up. Very odd.?

?I should say so,? I replied. ?Fascinating line of work though.?

?Why don?t you speak to him? I have more guests to entertain, anyway.?

?All right. I won?t be staying much longer, but of course you know that,? I said.

?Right again.? Richard patted my arm and walked over to a pair of merchants from town, their shrewd faces poised to engage him in a long-winded litany of complaints about the slow trade market undoubtedly.

I turned my head, ready to approach the mysterious Mr. Higgins, but stopped in my tracks.

He was gone.



I lingered at Richard’s party for another hour or so, talking briefly with acquaintances about the dry weather and local harvest. The walls closed in on me, and I found the air becoming increasingly thick from the tiny clouds of cigar smoke swirling lazily towards the high-beamed ceiling overhead.

At the moment, Richard was being cornered by a pair of middle-aged widows, and I saw he relished every second of their wide-eyed attention. I waved a farewell to him from across the hall, and headed for the entryway and the short hike home.

I passed the butler, Harner, and we exchanged parting words. He was a decent fellow, a straight card when it came to formalities and occasions. He offered to drive me over, but I wouldn?t hear of it.

?A quiet walk under the autumn moonlight will help me to sleep better,? I told him. He nodded and I left. A crisp breeze ruffled my collar and I inhaled deeply, embracing the fresh air. My house was only a mile away, our two properties separated by a thin stretch of woods in that area.

I trudged along, admiring the cloudless sky above, arching my neck to identify the constellations that were in full regal display. Mighty Orion was splendid as he looked down on me, and I followed the length of his girded belt. Astronomy was one of my many hobbies, and I normally took advantage of such evenings to study the heavens, a much more enjoyable way to spend time in my opinion.

The nocturnal creatures were prowling the woods, and I heard an owl calling from the top of a huge oak tree next to the road. An eerie wail reached my ears, and I recognized it as the mating clamor of a raccoon, cooing to an invisible suitor.

Listening to the night sounds I continued on, reaching the beginning of my own walkway and stepped over the cobblestone path, my hunting boots clicking across the rock. Gaining the front steps, I was startled to see a man standing beneath the eaves of my porch, partly concealed by the thick shrubbery lining the outer walls.

Stopping instantly, I felt a cold shudder run down my spine, as I realized it wasn?t either of my two servants. They returned to their rooms at sundown each day, and would have no cause to lurk outside the home like a prowler.

?Hey, you scoundrel,? I shouted. ’Show yourself now, before my patience is tested.? Reaching into my pocket, I felt the reassuring metal of the small pistol I always carried. Hunting was a passion for me, and my skills at field and gamesmanship were well known.

The figure slunk into the bushes, further bolstering my anxiety. I hurried forward, convinced that a burglar was afoot on the property. I heard a soft rustling and aimed my weapon at the unseen intruder. Standing there for a few moments, I knew he had no intention of revealing himself. I shouted to my servants, hoping they might have a window open, and waited for a sign from either them or the hidden prowler.

Within a minute, Carlton burst through the front door, and I pointed into the bushes. He understood something was amiss, and ran back inside for Stephens. Moments later, they both reappeared carrying lanterns, and I told Carlton to remain there, taking Stephens with me.

I kicked the nearest bushes, sending Stephens ahead. Working through the undergrowth, we saw no sign of the intruder. We made our way around the side of the house, and were greeted by a tremendous raucous from the kennels.

?He’s in with the dogs!? I shouted to Stephens, and we headed across a strip of grass leading to the small barn housing my prize hunting hounds. ?I?ll skin him alive if he does harm to those creatures.?

Stephen’s tall form glided easily next to my own, and he was greatly agitated. He treated the dogs like they were his firstborn, having been entrusted to their care. There was only a single entrance to the barn, and with luck we would find the culprit trapped. Stephens pulled out his own gun, and we bolted to the entry.

The animals were in such distress I thought they were being tortured. Such cries of anguish roared from within that I was terrified for their safety, but then my senses took over and I wondered what manner of person we were dealing with.

?The fiend!? Stephen’s face was etched with tight lines of anger, and he looked ready to fire into the open door.

?Have a care, Stephens. We might have a madman on our hands here.? He nodded and we hesitated, catching our breath. ?He is definitely inside, so let’s not lose our heads. We?ll put him to the ground, and bring in the proper authorities when he is detained. I, for one, would like to know what mischief the man has been wreaking on my property, and if he’s harmed those dogs -?

I never finished, because the noise inside abruptly ended, as if on cue. We looked at each other in astonishment, and Stephen’s mouth gaped open like a fish gulping for air. I grabbed a pair of oil lanterns hanging from a set of place-hooks, since the barn lacked interior lighting. Scratching the tinderbox, I lit one of them and set it on a shelf just inside the door. Stephens held the other, and placed it back on the hook. We didn?t want to enter in darkness.

Gesturing with a nod of my head, we slowly walked forward, weapons in one hand, lanterns in the other. Stephens looked like a grave robber; such was the pallor of his face and the dread expression he wore. The runway was before us, filled with several haystacks and tools. The pens sat to our right, facing the hall and leading deeper into the barn.

Our footsteps were silent and we continued on, nearing the cages. The building was void of sound, the only noise being our nervous breathing. We reached the first pen, but no movement was heard from within. I was dumbfounded. The dogs would become restless whenever someone so much as opened the barn door, but now all was quiet.

It felt like a tomb.

I peered into the kennel, shocked to see that it was empty. The gate was secure, and did not appear to have been tampered with. I glanced at Stephens, and held my lantern close to the metal bars of the pen. My blood froze as I saw what lay inside.

Bones.

Three sets of bones. All that was left of the dogs.

My heart pounded, heavy in my chest and loud in the deathly solitude of that place. Stephens was shaking - I saw his unsteady fingers gripping the pistol in a vise of cold terror.

?Help us,? he whispered. ?What could have done this to them??

I had no answer to his question, still in shock myself. What type of man could do something like this? Or was it even a man?

I went to the next pen, glancing inside. My dusky lantern chased the darkness into the corners, revealing the same ghastly spectacle. ?Impossible,? I gasped. ?Nothing is capable of such quick savagery.? My finger rested on my pistol trigger, and I would not hesitate to fire at our quarry, once he came into the open. We checked the remaining three pens, and were stunned by the same lurid vision. Not a single dog was left. I shuddered in horror, wanting very badly to turn around and leave the barn to the night and the intruder.

Turning to Stephens, I was about to tell him we should leave immediately, but my stomach churned at the look on his face. He was staring behind us at the entrance, and I followed his gaze with loathing. A figure stood before the entrance.

It was a man wearing a familiar-looking brown coat. Higgins, the archaeologist.

The oil lantern swung at his side, perched on the fastening, casting his shadow on the far wall, and that was where Stephens stared. Higgins remained motionless, his arms resting at his sides, head bowed slightly, his eyes vacant.

The shadow, for it could not possibly belong to him, or anything else from this world, bore the semblance of a great black mass of tentacles, writhing vigorously across the wall like a maddened serpent.

Wild and flaying, my darkest dreams could never have fathomed such a hideous monstrosity. We were frozen in absolute terror, unable to comprehend what lay before our eyes. I felt light-headed, as if fighting off a deep slumber. Stephen’s whole body shook like a beaten canine - he was in total shock.

Transfixed, we gazed at the bizarre apparition in stunned silence. My vision swam before my unbelieving eyes, striving to understand what lurked before us. The shadow moved in jerking motions, beginning to grow larger, yet Higgins remained unmoving, the air around him looking mundane, undisturbed. To my utter horror, the shadow surged forward, directly across from Stephens.

He clenched his fists into balls of agony, as if fighting off an unseen assailant, and I was convinced that he fell under attack by the dread phantom. His shrieks of pain were unbearable, and my only thought was to blast the archaeologist.

Higgins was responsible, either bringing with him the hellish creature, or himself being the monster, I didn?t know. Aiming my pistol, I bounded against the wall, not wanting to strike Stephens in his torment. Higgins made no effort to escape, and I fired off several rounds.

A queer look crossed Higgins? face as the bullets struck, a look of quiet resignation. He lurched backwards from the impact, slumping to the floor. Stephens was down also, and what I glimpsed defied any rationalization, as a dark cloud covered his frame for a brief instant, dispersing just as quickly.

There was nothing left of him, just a pile of bones.

I dropped my pistol, hands shaking uncontrollably. I must have gone into shock myself then, because my recollection grows faded. I remember staring at Higgins as he pushed himself back up, and walked towards me in a gesture of supplication. Backing away, I retreated into the far corner, staring at the man and the wall next to him.

The shadow was there yet, but seemed to have settled, probably from being satiated in its horrific appetite. There was no place left to run, and I was unable to move regardless. Higgins approached me, and I felt the caress of something colder than the grave across my face and arms, as if from an icy serpent risen from the abysmal depths of the great sea.

I closed my eyes and lost consciousness.



When I awoke at last, it was to find myself suffering from a dull headache, and feeling unusually weary. I was in my own bed, with Carlton at my side, and a stranger as well. The curtains were drawn, and the aroma of freshly brewed hot tea wafted through the air.

?Feeling better?? Carlton appeared anxious, giving me a hard look.

I felt nauseous and extremely tired, but managed to straighten up, leaning on an elbow. ?What time is it? What happened to Higgins??

He shook his head, the thin gray hair disheveled, his eyes ringed by dark circles. ?You?ve been sleeping for over a day, but the doctor said this was normal after such a shock. You?ve survived a harrowing experience, but I?ll let Inspector Reynolds fill in the details. I?ll be back shortly with something for you to eat.?

Carlton left me alone with the stern-looking detective, a tall man with a hawkish face, and short-cropped black hair.

?And the archaeologist?? I peered into his expressionless eyes.

?We found him, inside the barn. The incident is over.?

?He was no man,? I answered, ?but I?m sure you realize that.?

?A cannibal.?

?What?? I was astounded. ?A cannibal? Are you mad??

?That is the only rational explanation, and the official one, I should add. The case is finished, you are cleared of any suspicion.? I wondered then if he knew something more.

’Something ravaged Stephens before my very eyes! Something unspeakable. What else aren?t you telling me??

His face twitched for a moment before answering my question. ?You are lucky to be alive, for one thing. Higgins was an abomination. From the stress of his trade over the years he buckled under the tremendous strain, deviating into such a grisly existence, becoming a cannibal. Rare, but there is record of this occurring before, in certain regions of the world.?

?That is insane, we both know it,? I replied. From his look, he would concede nothing.

?When you are well, I need you to come down to the station and sign a statement. Right now, you should try and rest.?

I stared at him in disbelief.

?Our concern is for the community. The murderer is dead, the matter ended. Let it remain that way. It would be in your best interests if you did. We wouldn?t want to implicate your good name too, now, would we? Good evening.?

He inclined his head, leaving through the bedroom door.

I lay back on the warm mattress, my mind reeling from the bizarre events. They were covering up the facts, that was quite obvious. Whether from ignorance or knowledge, I couldn?t be sure, but most likely they wanted to forget the whole occurrence, bury it with a human face. I was not of the same opinion.

And Higgins? What was he?

Could it be possible that he had unearthed an ancient curse at some point in his fated career, perhaps opening a tomb which concealed something far more appalling than a crumbling sarcophagus?

I sat on the edge of my bed, staring at the wall.

It was nightfall, and the sun was hidden behind the bordering hills. A dim flame flickered from the bed lamp, and I probed the tiny fire with searching eyes, trying to understand the dark secret of the archaeologist.

I stiffened then, and shuddered in revulsion with the certainty that I would some day comprehend the nature of Higgins? curse.

On the near wall was my own shadow, bulging with unseen tentacles, swaying briefly as if shifting about from a restless slumber.