Monday, October 18, 2010


In keeping with our theme of chilling reads, we are thrilled to share the first chapter of a new novel called Draculas by Joe Konrath (J. A. Kilborn), Blake Crouch, F. Paul Wilson and Jeff Strand.


MORTIMER Moorecook opened the massive oak door of his hilltop mansion just as the FedEx deliveryman was reaching for the doorbell.

"Hi, Mr. Moorecook, I have—"

"You have my package."

"Yeah. Must be special. Only thing on my truck. Never been called out on a Sunday evening before."

Mortimer looked at the cardboard box, covered in FRAGILE HANDLE WITH CARE stickers and some Romanian customs scrawl. His mouth went dry, and his already bowed knees threatened to stop supporting him.


"Mr. Moorecook?"

The old man glanced up at the buff FedEx driver, thinking how he’d once been that young and vital. Never could’ve imagined how quickly and completely that sense of immortality deserts you. So much taken for granted.


"Just need you to sign for it so I can keep my job."

Taking the pen in his trembling grasp, Mortimer scribbled in the window of the electronic tracker. Then the box was in his hands. It barely weighed three pounds, but the magnitude of its contents made his arms shake.

"Shanna! It’s here! It’s here!"

Mortimer limped through the atrium as quickly as his thin, frail legs could manage, breathless by the time he reached the study. He set the box down on the coffee table in front of the hearth and eased back onto the leather couch just as his legs were about to give out.

His hospice nurse—a zaftig, forty-something woman named Jenny—rolled his IV bag into the study and plugged the line into his arm.

"Oh, stop it!" He swatted air in her general direction. "I ought to get a restraining order against you people. Everywhere I go, you’re always stalking me with that thing!"

But even as he spoke, he could feel the morphine-push flooding his system, like a good, wet dream.

"Mr. Moorecook, you know what happens if we have any lapses between dosages."

"Yeah, I might actually feel something."

"Is writhing around on the ground in unimaginable pain the kind of feeling you want?"

Of course not, he thought. That's the reason I...

"Mortimer!" Shanna appeared in the doorway of the study. "It’s really here?"

He nodded, eyes twinkling, then turning cold again as he glanced toward Jenny. "Leave us."

Shanna walked past the nurse and came around the sofa. Mortimer could smell whatever body wash she’d used in the shower that morning as she sat down beside him, her brown curls bouncing off her shoulders like an honest-to-god shampoo commercial. She was thirty-five, had been single when she moved out to Durango at Mortimer’s request, but in the eight weeks she’d been here, she’d met a sheriff’s deputy and inexplicably fallen for him. It remained beyond Mortimer’s comprehension how this gorgeous biological anthropologist had seen anything in that redneck, who, as far as Mortimer could tell, was the epitome of what made the world throw-up in its mouth when it thought of Red State America.
Then again, he was old and dying, and maybe just a little bit jealous.

"Help me up, Shanna."

With the morphine flowing, it felt like he floated over to his desk.
He opened the middle drawer, glancing out the big windows into the San Juan Mountains beyond a gaping canyon. The peaks were flushed with alpenglow, the snowfields pink as the sun dropped over southwest Colorado.

Lost in thought, Mortimer hitched up his tailored black pants—so loose now he had taken to wearing the gold-buckled belt left to him by his father—and ran his fingers over the Ouroboros insignia sewn into the breast of his red, silk robe. Then he reached into his desk drawer and took out the bottle he’d been waiting years to open, fighting a moment with the wrapper and cork. At last, he splashed a little of the rosewood-colored liquid into two tumblers.

"I’m not really much of a whiskey drinker," Shanna protested.

"Humor me."

Mortimer raised his glass, already catching whiffs of the fierce dried fruits and peat wafting toward him.

"To you, Shanna," he said. "Thanks for spending these last few weeks with me. I haven’t been this happy since my Wall Street days, raiding companies. I ever tell you—"

"Many times."

They clinked glasses and drank.

"That’s disgusting," Shanna said, setting her glass down.

Mortimer shook his head.

"What?" she said.

"Nothing, it’s just that this is a fifty-five year Macallan. I paid $17,000 for that bottle many years ago, knowing I wouldn’t crack it until a night like this came along."

"You paid too much," she said.

"Some things are worth the price. Shall we?"

They returned to the couch, and Mortimer sat down and dug the Swiss Army knife out of the patch pocket of his linen shirt. It shook in his hands as he opened one of the smaller blades.

"Let me," Shanna said, reaching for the knife.

He recoiled. "No!"

Mortimer inserted the blade and gently tugged it through the tape. He put the knife away and opened the box, pulling out wads of crumpled, foreign newsprint until he felt the smaller box within the larger. He lifted it out, set it on the glass.

It was some kind of black composite, sealed with a steel hasp on each side. He’d had the box specially made, then sent it to the farmer to ensure safe delivery of the item. Its key hung around his neck on a gold chain.
He unlocked the hasps and flipped them open, gingerly lifting off the top half of the box, bringing it onto his lap as Shanna leaned in. They could only see the back of the skull, the bone deep brown, heavily calcified, full of hairline fractures and several larger cracks, one square-inch piece missing entirely. He worked his fingers down into the hard black foam that had protected the skull on its journey across the ocean, and carefully lifted it out.

Shanna said, "Oh my God."

Mortimer stared into the hollowed eye sockets, and then the teeth, which more resembled the dental architecture of a shark than a human being.
Not at all what he’d been expecting, and it didn’t match the artist conceptions in any of the scandal rags. This wasn’t a skull from an old Christopher Lee Hammer film. This was an affront against nature. Mortimer found it difficult to breathe. But he also registered something else, something he hadn’t felt since his diagnosis. Excitement.

"May I?" Shanna asked.

Reluctantly, Mortimer handed Shanna the skull. He didn’t like it leaving his grasp, had to remind himself that this was what he’d been paying her so handsomely for.

Shanna examined one of the yellowed teeth.

"Coffee-drinker," she quipped, and then her eyes narrowed and Mortimer watched as her inner-scientist took over. "They’re at least an inch and a half long, every one of them, even the molars. Huh, weird."


"These canines are hollowed."

"What’s the significance?"

"I don’t know. It’s not dissimilar to venomous snakes." She opened the mandible. "Look at the articulation. That range of motion is unbelievable. The jaw structure is…reptilian. There are literally too many teeth to fit in this mouth. See how they overlap? They would’ve shredded the lips off, most of the cheek, exploded the gums, ripped apart the ligaments in the mandible."

"What are you saying? It’s fake?"

"It looks real. No doubt. But it’s just anatomically impossible."

Mortimer leaned closer. "Is it human?"

"Does this look human to you?"

Shanna’s words hung in the air like a crooked painting.

"So...what is it?" Mortimer whispered.

"It’s certainly hominoid. But unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Nothing like this exists in the fossil record. This shouldn’t exist."

"But it does exist. It must be real."

"Look, we’ll have it tested. It’s possible the skull is authentic, but the teeth have to have been implanted."

"Do you know what I paid for this?"

"No, what?"

"Just give it back."

Shanna handed Mortimer the skull and stood up, smoothing out her slacks.

"Mort, I’m really excited for you. Really. And I can’t wait to get started studying this."

Mortimer’s eyes went wide with surprise. "You’re...going? Now?"

"I want to stay. But I promised Clay. He wants to take me—wait for it—to the Tanner Gun Show in Denver. We’re supposed to hit the road tonight."

"Jesus Christ. He must have elephantine genitalia."

"Mortimer!" She gave him a playful bump on the shoulder.

"What? There’s no other explanation. I mean, really? Another gun show?"
"Maybe not."

Something in her eyes...trouble in paradise? He hoped so. He held up the skull, cradling it in both palms. "This is the reason you’re here, Shanna. This is what we’ve been waiting for."

The mandible was still open. The old man grazed one of his liver-spotted fingers across the points of the teeth—razor sharp. He was sure he was only imagining it, but they seemed to send an electrical current through his body.

"Mort? You gonna be all right?"

He looked up at Shanna. Beautiful, youthful, Shanna.

To be young enough again to satisfy a woman like that.

Mortimer smiled. "I hope so."

Then he pulled the skull into his neck, clamped shut the ancient jaw, and the last thing he felt before losing consciousness were those razor teeth sinking through the paper-thin flesh of his throat.


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