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Borderlands 6
 


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Borderlands 6


  The Anthology of Imaginative Fiction

  This non-themed anthology of horror features never-before-published works by: M. Louis Dixon, John McIlveen, Jack Ketchum, Rebecca J. Allred, Dan Waters, Michael Bailey, John Boden, Trent Zelazny & Brian Knight, Bob Pastorella, Peter Salomon, Carol Pierson Holding, Steve Rasnic Tem, Darren O. Godfrey, David Annandale, Anya Martin, G. Daniel Gunn & Paul Tremblay, Gordon White, Sean M. Davis, Tim Waggoner, Bradley Michael Zerbe, and Gary A. Braunbeck. Also included, one amazing previously published novelette by David Morrell

  Borderlands 6

  An Anthology of Imaginative Fiction

  Edited by

  Olivia F. Monteleone

  and

  Thomas F. Monteleone

  Dedication

  This one is for

  Douglas E. Winter,

  who edits a pretty mean anthology his ownself.

  Introduction

  We know.

  We know you’ve all waited years—quite literally, a decade—for this next volume of the Borderlands anthology series1. But since we aren’t a cheap date, keeping you waiting has, it is hoped, made you want us even more.

  A lot has changed since last we read for this anthology—not much of it matters, but a couple things do. First off, Olivia (one of the collective “we”) is the newest editor for the Borderlands series—we like to keep it in the family—omertà and all that. Elizabeth decided to leave the small press stuff to us, which would probably explain why now your books are being shipped with three packing peanuts, as opposed to being wrapped in delicate tissue and sealed with a ribbon—what can we say?

  We’ve been reading for this anthology intermittently for a couple years, but we had to postpone things until we got the right stories. Once we knew we had enough of them, the book came together in about a weekend, as do most things in our lives.

  That said, you should probably put this book down if you love stories about vampires, zombies, apparitions, ghouls, slashers, and the rest of the usual horror staples that show up on a regular basis. Don’t get us wrong, we love a lot of the above tropes and icons, but we aren’t buying any of it for our series. We’d rather fill our pages with supremely weird tales, the ones concerned with things you don’t conjure in your most disturbing nightmares. We search out stories with original ideas and unique ways of examining them. Concept and execution. Offering you something you’ve never read before defines the nature of a true Borderlands story.

  It’s been a really beautiful thing. We received so many stories from so many really talented writers that the winnowing process became our greatest, most joyful challenge. Even though most submissions were rejected (as is the way of the publishing world), we always appreciated knowing so many people out there thought of us and wanted to be part of this award-winning series.

  In this sixth volume, we are pleased to showcase very new writers, solid veterans, graduates from the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp2, and of course some genre legends like Braunbeck, Ketchum, and Morrell.

  We loved putting this anthology together for a very special audience—not just for people who read, but for those who search out truly imaginative fiction and when they read it, they get it. In other words, this book is for all you mutants. And you know who you are.

  Now get to work . . . .

  —Olivia & Tom Monteleone

  Baltimore, February 2016

  * * *

  1 We would be terribly remiss if we didn’t tell you that the first five volumes of this historic series are all now available as e-books on Amazon. If you haven’t read them, they await for less than the price of a Big Mac . . . and they will stay with you a lot longer. So what are you waiting for?

  2 If you don’t know about it, you probably should check it out at www.borderlandspress.com

  Anton :)

  M. Louis Dixon

  Michael Dixon was a grunt at an early Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp, and he submitted the following story as the culmination of his weekend assignment. We liked it so much we promised we’d take it for a future volume of our anthology. We never forgot the aching sadness that drives the narration.

  When Anton smiled people always looked away.

  The strong ones shifted their gaze to another point of interest, and the stronger still might chance to look back, but only briefly. It was the timid soul who reacted with uncontrolled reflex: a flinch, a jerk, or a whiplash snap of the head, and always away. Maybe there’d be a bitten lip, a sibilant gasp, or even a full-flung shriek—Tourette’s syndrome born in the radiance of his unfurled smile. And Anton smiled at them all.

  The smile was extraordinarily large and opened from a deceitful bud that unfolded, not like a flower, but a razor cut in corpulent flesh. It widened and stretched around his broad face, hitched up towards his ears, and sat there like a suppurated wound.

  He had been born with a cleft palate. The lips had developed as nature intended but had taken on the added responsibility of masking the chaos within. The teeth were mismatched in size as well as color. From years of neglect and no parental guidance, the already corrupt oral landscape had withered.

  That was until his first serious toothache. It was an incisor and the pain drove him mad. Two weeks of increasing agony and no hint of relief found him stumbling into a storefront dentist’s office. The receptionist tried to do her job of scheduling an appointment, gathering information, and filling out forms, but broke down into tears and begged Harry Conrad, the dentist, into doing “something . . . anything . . . please!”

  Harry was one of the strong types, stronger in fact because of his profession. He agreed to work on Anton’s mouth and regretted it from the moment the patient opened up.

  Anton felt the dentist trembling as he worked over his teeth. X-rays were taken, Novocain was injected, and the culprit was extracted.

  With a mouth numb, packed with cotton and drooling rivulets of thin blood, Anton left the office. He had a handful of papers: pamphlets on oral hygiene, a prescription for Tylenol 3, and a referral to a plastic surgeon.

  The dentist had never scheduled a follow-up visit, nor had he gotten his patient’s personal information for billing purposes. Being always short on money, Anton accepted the work as a gift, studied the pamphlets, and tossed the prescription along with the referral.

  Yet, still the various shades of darkness decorating his teeth stood their ground, but at least he did not suffer from any more toothaches.

  Anton continued to use his smile, under its beam he pushed his way through the masses. There were times when he craved to encounter a face that would not contort and turn. But when the moment came, as it invariably would, he never resisted the urge to smile. In his heart there was no joy rushing its way to his lips; there was only the need to move, to push, and to impact. He was helpless in his need.

  As Anton walked past a bus stop he was halted by a greeting.

  “Excuse me!” A pretty young woman had twisted around from where she sat on the bench. “Could you please tell me the time?”

  He glanced at his watch and saw that it was a quarter past two. As he stepped closer, he felt the familiar feeling flow out with his words. “Two fifteen,” he said and released his smile from the clip of his tongue. He noticed that she did not focus on his face yet she also did not turn away. Puzzled, he moved even closer; his grin broadened with each step.

  “Thank you,” she said then gave him a kind, appreciative smile. “The bus must be late.”

  Anton felt confused as he aligned himself to her. He stood less than two feet away. Her eyes moved but did not settle, not on his eyes or on his mouth, but neither
did she avert her face.

  “Have you been waiting long?” He opened his jaws as if he would bite her and leaned in closer still.

  However, she did not flinch, nor blush, nor start. “Not too long, but long enough. I’m on my way home and I am rather anxious to be back inside.”

  He watched her face, its expressiveness and its candor, but mostly he watched her eyes. He did not recall seeing eyes for this length of time. Sure, he’d looked at the photos in magazines, but here were living eyes that continued to rove over his face.

  He closed his mouth, licked his lips. “My name is Anton,” he said.

  Her smile grew and warmed him. “Hello, Anton, I’m Cecily but everyone calls me Sissy.”

  When he stood to move around the bench he noticed that she did not turn her face to follow him. He stepped to the side and she only tilted her head. That’s when he noticed the white cane she held in one hand. Her smile searched for him.

  The bus pulled up to the curb.

  “Oh my!” Sissy said as she hurried to her feet. “It was nice meeting you, Anton.”

  Anton remained silent as she probed her way to the door of the bus and out of his life. He saw her through the window as the bus pulled away. She was still smiling.

  At home he washed his hands and face and then brushed his teeth. He looked into the mirror and into his eyes. Until today these were the only eyes that he had come to know. Inside he felt warmth that spread outward. Standing before the mirror, he watched as his joy grew on his face. His lips stretched and grew with his happiness. He smiled.

  Anton looked away.

  Eye of the Beholder

  John McIlveen

  John McIlveen is one of Borderlands’ repeat offenders, having published his deeply disturbing story “Inflictions” in volume 5. His return is marked by a tale that feels like a scene from a fifties horror monster film, but resolves into something far more layered, an exploration of faith and love and, of course, dread.

  “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

  —William Shakespeare, Hamlet

  Senator Brandon O’Rourke stopped outside the door to his son’s bedroom and listened to the barely decipherable conversation coming from within. It sounded like a one-sided phone conversation, but Cooper didn’t have a phone, and Brandon had heard his son’s solitary ramblings so many times they had become familiar. His son was odd and a social outsider in school and at church, there was no denying it, but he was a sweet kid and undeserving of the loneliness he suffered. Being small for his age and the son of a pastor certainly didn’t help. Brandon would probably be more surprised if he didn’t have imaginary friends, or whatever Cooper had his chats with.

  Brandon nudged the door open and regarded Cooper’s little pajama-clad form sitting cross-legged on the bed, staring blankly ahead.

  “Hey, Bub,” Brandon said, getting no response, which also wasn’t unusual. He has no clue that I’m here, Brandon thought.

  He set a hand on his son’s shoulder. He found it disconcerting that Cooper never started, but seemed only to slowly return to himself as the empty look faded from his eyes.

  “Hi, Dad!” Cooper said brightly.

  “Hi. Chatting with your friends?” Brandon asked, trying to keep it light.

  “Nah, I was just . . . someplace,” Cooper said dismissively.

  “Apparently,” Brandon agreed. “Anyhow, it’s bedtime.”

  As always, Cooper obliged without a fuss and quickly slipped between the sheets. Brandon tucked him in, kissed him on the forehead, and pushed an obstinate wing of the boy’s blond hair out of his face.

  “The light,” Cooper reminded him.

  “You sure about this?”

  “Yeah. I’ve thought about it a long time,” Cooper said earnestly. “I can’t be afraid of the dark forever.”

  “True enough,” Brandon said, hiding a smile while trying to match his son’s gravity. “But sleeping without a night-light is a big step in a man’s life.”

  Cooper nodded his agreement. His normally light-blue eyes looked huge and dark in the dim bedroom.

  “Six-years-old today. You’re growing up so fast,” Brandon said, shaking his head. He looked at his son, and then widened his eyes in a comical show of surprise. “Wait a minute! What was that?”

  “What?” asked Cooper, a hint of concern in his voice.

  Brandon leaned closer. “You just sprouted a chest hair . . . right here.” He poked his finger against Cooper’s ribs. “Whoa! Another one here . . . and here . . . and here!” he said, prodding playfully.

  Cooper giggled and twisted deeper into the blankets, trying to avoid his father’s barrage of jabs, yet wanting it to continue.

  “My God, you’re practically a Sasquatch.”

  “What’s a sashcrotch?” Cooper asked, catching his breath.

  “Bigfoot.”

  “But I don’t have big feet!”

  “Okay, Bub, you win,” Brandon said. He straightened the sheets and kissed Cooper again.

  “Why does Mommy always have to go away?” he asked dolefully.

  “It’s her job, Bub. You should be proud of her. There aren’t a lot of female pilots, especially ones who fly the big jets.”

  “I know, but I wish she could have been her for my birthday.”

  “I know what you mean. I miss her too. But she did call and promise we’d do something extra special when she got back on Saturday. In six days,” Brandon said brightly, but Cooper didn’t look very encouraged. He was such a solemn child.

  “Tony Hammond says Mommy has humongous boobs.”

  What to say . . . what to say . . .

  “Well, you can tell Tony Hammond it’s because Mom’s heart is so big. You’re a lucky young man,” Brandon said, thinking of Sylvia. And so am I.

  “Tony’s mom never has to go away.”

  “I know” was all Brandon could say. He, as usual, had run out of encouraging words. He reached for the SpongeBob night-light on the bedside table and paused. “You’re sure?” he asked again.

  Cooper nodded and turned to his side, clutching his pillow. In his recent battle for independence over fear, he had retired his favorite toy—a plush minion doll—to a seat of honor atop his bookshelf. Brandon spun the light toggle.

  “Good night, my man. I love you.”

  “I love you too, Daddy.”

  “Door opened or closed?”

  “Open a little.”

  Brandon pulled at the doorknob, leaving a five-inch gap.

  “Daddy?”

  “Yeah, sweetie?” Brandon asked, opening the door a bit wider.

  “Can you leave the hallway light on?” the boy asked.

  Brandon smiled. “You got it.”

  Brandon walked down the hallway to the head of the stairs, and then looked back towards his son’s bedroom. The house was a late eighteenth-century Victorian with enough gothic aesthetic and dark vertical lines to be intimidating to him, let alone his six-year-old child. It was by no means a mansion, but it was larger than average, pushing five thousand square feet, and probably seemed immense to Cooper, especially when it was just the two of them. Sylvia was a mere five three, as sweet as honey-dipped sugar cookies, and perpetually soft-spoken, but she presented a sense of stability and security for the two men in her life that was beyond palpable in her absence. Brandon felt a hollowness about the place when she was away, as if the house regarded her temporary absence as more of an abandonment . . . or maybe it was Brandon who did.

  At first her flights had been mostly short jaunts, the overnights limited to an infrequent two—maybe three—days every two months, but as she built experience and seniority, it turned into five, ten, and then fifteen days a month. It made for a handsome income, but it also had its negative aspects. Through all his encouragements to
Cooper, Brandon kept a noble façade, but he wasn’t without his concerns. Foremost was the fear that with all Sylvia’s travels, her heart might do the same. She must get lonely too, he figured, but what else could a pastor do but leave it in God’s hands.

  In the kitchen, he poured a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, carried it into his office, and set it atop his desk, beside his laptop. He needed to write sermons for the next two Sundays and update his notes for Wednesday evening’s Bible study. He tried to stay a month ahead, but it was approaching campaign time, a time when he needed to shift the weight of his focus from his piety to his party. And a time Cooper would spend mostly with a nanny than with his parents, Brandon guiltily amended.

  He had been an ordained minister long before his first stint in government, and he liked to think it was his charitable actions and his contributions to humanitiy hat had secured his position in both the Senate house and God’s house. In a world where corruption and greed presided over ethics, he prided himself for making it as far as he had without bending under the weight of corporate persuasion or the insistence of party leaders. In politics, it was difficult to maintain a clean image, especially if you were clergy, because someone somewhere, for whatever reason, was aiming to take you down. Smile at a pretty supporter, some opportunistic photographer would turn it into something more. Tip a valet, you’re buying votes. So far, no one had been able to soil Brandon O’Rourke, and there was a good reason. He was clean—moral and honorable, attributes that were becoming rarer in both of his professions. Several certificates and awards hung on his office wall, for his humanitarian work. Sylvia had insisted he hang them, arguing that he needed to differentiate honor from pride.

  Being a Christian, his leaning was naturally towards the conservative. He was registered as a Republican, although he’d have been happier if there were no party associations. He had a similar attitude with religion. Brandon saw many similarities in the modern ethics of both religion and politics, and as far as he was concerned, both were wrought with corruption. Both expected their associates to adhere exclusively to their philosophies, with which many he didn’t agree, and others that he could appreciate viewing from both sides of the fence. And then there was money, which had so much influence in both—in everything, it seemed.

 
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