It was Dec 22nd. Now you might think running an air conditioner at that time of year is normal, especially for Texas, but when the heat shoots up to ninety, and you know its forty outside, something is certainly wrong.
I glanced up at the outside temperature reading just in case. It still said forty. Pushing back my rollaway chair, I strolled into the front office.
It was black outside. Not the ordinary black of night, but dark black like something was in front of the windows. Had someone put up poster board, or done an unexpected paint job? Determined to get to the bottom of it all, I moved to the front door, inserted the key, and shoved.
To my startled surprise, it shoved back. Curious, I tried to look through the glass, but still saw nothing but black. Black, that is, with a few shinny reflective spots that looked more like scales. It was about that time I heard a yell from my wife.
Her voiced echoed down. She had been on the third floor picking out a few things for the holidays. I knew exactly where she was. She had used the freight elevator to go up.
The elevator was in the rear of the office building, so I locked the door (you can’t be too careful) and moved back toward the kitchen. The elevator was controlled by a push button switch which stayed with the elevator. Staring up the elevator shaft, I could see a reddish glow around the elevator’s platform.
With the elevator above me, I had no choice but to climb. It wasn’t a hard climb, just thirty feet up until I reached the bottom of the elevator. From there I slipped to left, passed into a crawl space, and lifted a floor cover. As I saw the reddish glow was coming from the front of the third floor, a lump formed in my throat.
My jaw dropped as I pulled my feet the rest of the way up. There in front was a creature I had once seen sitting in Kentucky at the La Grange ‘Pitch The Publisher’ event. Four of its heads were sticking through two open windows. I was glad they had been open, it could have been a terrible mess otherwise, though why they were open, when it was forty degrees outside, made no sense. The heads turned at my presence, leaving my wife, and staring with unblinking eyes at me. Now I knew why the windows were so black below. Its body had pressed against them.
“Uh,” I began, though not the best way to start a sentence, “long way from Kentucky aren’t we?”
The hydra just stared at me, and every once in a while breathed out a wisp of fire. I guessed he wasn’t much for small talk, especially being that large, but finally it nodded as if considering the words.
I continued, “Frank Hall didn’t come, did he?” I already knew the answer, but asked it anyway.
The hydra shook his head.
My wife slid over next to me. “You know this, uh, hydra?”
“Sure, you remember love. This is Frank Hall’s pet from Hydra Publications.”
“Sure. Remember? I told you about him.” I stilled recalled the look on her face when I had briefed her on the ‘Pitch The Publisher’ experience: total disbelief . Guess I had her attention now.
Orange flame came from one of the heads, lighting up the room, and she shivered next to me.
“Maybe we ought to get to the point,” I continued, hoping this was not a bad suggestion. It crossed my mind to check and see how up-to-date my fire insurance was. “I take it this isn’t a social call?”
The hydra considered that one. Instead of answering, one of its heads slipped out, letting another in. As it opened its mouth, a waterproof envelope dropped out. I took a moment to dry it off.
After stripping back the plastic wrap, and breaking the seal on the envelope, I slid out some paper. There in black and white was a book contract for ‘Without A Conscious’, the mystery I had submitted to Frank Hall for the ‘Pitch The Publisher’ event. Wow!
A cold breeze blew, and I looked up. The hydra was gone. He had delivered his package and headed home. Rushing to the window, I looked down the street both left and right. Where in the world could a hydra that big have gone?
Then I heard it: sleigh bells ringing from the sky above. The answer was suddenly obvious. Since Santa didn’t need his sleigh yet, he had let the hydra borrow it. Frank must have some great connections!
by James William Peercy
*For more on the previous story, see ‘Stories That Strike Home’ posted December 3rd, 2011.
Note from author:
On December 22nd, 2011, Otherworld Publications did present me with a contract for ‘Without A Conscious’, the first Cliff Fulton Mystery. It is currently schedule to be out late spring. Check out the first back cover draft:
Without A Conscious
They tried to kill a nation...
Revenge and genocide, is that even possible?
Walk into the arena of 'Without A Conscious' where an unsuspecting college student is dragged into a world he never knew. Under a ruthless plot carried out in the name of progress and greed, our nation is attacked. Hindered from the truth by those in power, it's a fight for the right to survive.
When Cliff finds photos of his murdered grandmother under the door of his apartment, his whole world explodes. Haunted by a mysterious caller, hunted by an unknown murderer, this mystery drags an ordinary college boy into a foul formula for genocide.
With only twenty-four hours to deliver what the caller wants, without knowing what it is, Cliff encounters a seductive temptress, a helpful turncoat, a broken heart, and a mystery which started in 1950.
Do you dare?