Rick McQuiston

The April Editor's Pick Writer is Rick McQuiston

Please feel free to email Rick at: many_midnights@yahoo.com


by Rick McQuiston

Timmy inched closer to the window. His belly itched from the twigs and dirt, and despite his desire to scratch, he resisted. It would slow him down, maybe even give him away. He’d heard that the old guy had a couple of dogs, big ones too, that he’d sic on anyone crazy enough to trespass on his property, and he didn’t want to see them up close.

With only the glow of the December moon to light his way, he crawled through the tufts of ankle-high weeds and grass until he reached his destination: Sammern’s house.

Theodore Sammern, world-renowned horror author and creator of 67 novels that were so far beyond his contemporaries in the field that rival publishers steered clear whenever he released a new title. Rumor had it that he wouldn’t sleep or eat for days at a time, not resting until his current project was finished. He’d pass his lonely days in the fortress he called home, alive and yet somehow dead to the world outside. He had contact with no one, and was never seen outside his house.

“Must live on the black magic he writes about,” Timmy mumbled as he approached the basement window. “He probably eats it like it’s food.”

The notion struck him as both comical and terrifying. Who knew? Maybe there was some truth to it. Maybe the guy did actually eat the stuff. Maybe he somehow gained sustenance from whatever dark forces he conjured up in his books.

Stretching out an arm, he felt for the windowpane. He could only see a faint glint of the glass, being as the moon was hiding behind some drifting clouds, but he knew where it was. The glass felt fragile, a barrier that he could easily breach with minimum effort. He’d have to be careful though, careful, and above all, quiet. If he made too much noise, Sammern would undoubtedly hear and releases his hounds of Hell.

Timmy reached into his back pocket and pulled out a small screwdriver he’d brought along. He slipped it into the narrow gap between the frame and glass and gently began working it back and forth until at last the window separated from the frame. A dry creek echoed in the night and he grit his teeth at the sound.

He waited for a moment to make sure it was safe to proceed.

The window was old and in danger of cracking, so Timmy took his time, gradually widening the gap until he was able to squeeze his arm through and grab the tarnished brass latch.

The window opened.

As he crawled through, he couldn’t help thinking about some of Sammern’s books he’d read: Death to All, with its dire implications of voodoo and the walking dead; Severed from Normality, a brutal excursion into a nightmarish realm of demonic figures and winged horrors; and his personal favorite: December 32nd: Impossible Night, the exploration of man’s insatiable desire to annihilate himself.

Powerful stuff to be sure, and Timmy was no exception to its captivating appeal. He’d read the entire novel in two days, flying through chapters with relative ease. And that particular book is what fueled his desire to see the great writer at work. He needed to see him, to confirm that he was in fact the man who wrote such mind-altering words.

Timmy flopped to the cellar floor. He quickly stood up and oriented himself with his new surroundings and was surprised to see how uncluttered the room was. Only a few small boxes stacked against a far wall and an ornate, dust-coated lamp near the steps occupied the space.

For some reason he had expected to find books, writing tables, notepads, anything an author might hang onto.

Shrugging it off, he walked over to the staircase. He grimaced at the creak when he put his weight on the first plank but was relieved when the subsequent steps made no such noise.

The door at the top of the stairs was unlocked so he nudged it open and peeked into a dimly-lit kitchen that was void of any food or cutlery. Only dusty cabinets, all of which were closed, lined the room. There was no fridge, no stove, no oven, nothing to give clue that any cooking had ever taken place there.

Puzzled, he crept into the room. He wasn’t sure what he would say to Sammern if he encountered him, but decided he’d cross that bridge when he came to it. After all, it was too late for him to turn back now.                                                                                           

Looking around, he noticed a flickering light coming from a room at the end of the hallway. The corridor stretched a good twenty feet and the room was near its end, on the right.

Timmy worked up his nerve and stepped into the hallway.

Are you crazy? This is breaking and entering! You’ll go to jail!

He ignored his thoughts. He would simply explain himself to Sammern. He’d tell him how
December 32: Impossible Night affected his life to such a degree that he of all people, a man who wrote horror novels, could appreciate. He’d say that he needed to meet the person behind the pen to understand what drove him to create such masterpieces.

Hopefully, Sammern would listen to him.

He walked down the hallway, never taking his eyes off the room. The house was quiet, too quiet, even for a writer’s home, so he tread carefully. Just the thought that he was only a few feet away from Theodore Sammern himself caused a ripple of excitement to dance through his body, which he had to keep at bay. He didn’t want to appear as some foolish, star-struck kid. Sammern might kick him out of the house right then and there.

No, he needed to come across as a mature, intelligent person who truly admired a fine craftsman at work. Then he could gain some insight into the writer’s technique and inspirations. December 32: Impossible Night would mean so much more to him than it already did. He’d be able to explore every facet of it, every aspect of the characters, every deeply hidden moral story within the story.

Deciding to simply walk into the room, Timmy momentarily stopped in the hallway, took a few deep breaths, and shored up his courage. Sammern would undoubtedly be surprised, but he would make sure to befriend the old man quickly. With his breath held, he turned and stepped into the room.

It was a den. There were built-in bookshelves lining the walls, only interrupted by a fireplace hearth with a small fire burning in it and a painting of a forest or lakeside retreat suspended on the wall. A huge oak desk, complete with stacks of papers and books scattered across its top, was situated against the far wall. It was partially hidden by shadows, and Timmy had to look twice before he noticed that there was somebody seated behind it.

The man, an elderly gentleman who was hunched over in his high-back leather chair, looked diminutive in comparison to his surroundings. He held an ornate pen in one hand and a pair of glasses in the other.

He raised his bald head and gazed straight at his guest. “I trust you are here to see me?”

Timmy was surprised at the calm demeanor of such a literary giant. The man didn’t seem to mind that a complete stranger had broken into his house.

“I… I, I mean, yes. Yes, I’m here to meet you." He fumbled to sound coherent. “I’ve read your work. December 32nd: Impossible Night was a stroke of genius."

He waited for a response.                                                                                                      

Sammern continued to stare at him.

“I mean it, Mr. Sammern. That book really affected me.”

The old man settled back in his chair. It seemed to envelop him, wrapping around the author as if it were alive.

“Thank you for the compliment, young man, but I must cut your little visit short. You see, I’m in the process of finishing my new book. I’m on a very tight schedule.”

Timmy was puzzled as well as curious. Surely an author of Sammern’s status could write at his own pace. Publishers and editors would be on his schedule, not the other way around.

However, he had no right to question the man.

“May I ask the title of your new book?” The words spilled from his mouth before he could stop them.

Sammern leaned forward in his chair. He tilted his head to the side, slowly, mechanically, without purpose, and fixed an indifferent gaze straight through the young man standing in his study.

It was at that moment, at that precise moment in time, when Timmy’s world split apart at the seams. Everything he’d been taught about the world crumbled into insignificance, never to be believed again.

He took a step back. His feet nearly bumped into one another, but the consequences of falling to the ground in the face of such insanity forced him to maintain his footing.

He understood now. Everything was clear, in a manner of speaking, and as much as he tried to deny what he was seeing, he could not. It was reality, and it reared its ugly head right in front of him.

Timmy backed up until he bumped into a wall. He knew the doorway was near but didn’t dare turn his head to find it. He could not risk taking his eyes off the terrifying display before him for even a second.

He pressed himself against the wall and slid an arm out in an attempt to locate the doorway. Fear hindered his efforts, causing him to struggle for short gasps of breath.

Timmy finally found the doorway, and with a frenzied lunge, fell into the hallway. He looked up and saw Sammern standing behind his desk. The old man wobbled on his feet, which Timmy noticed were dangling six inches above the floor. The author’s face was frozen in a demented grimace, a caricature of a grin that reflected the sadistic undertone of his intentions, and his arms reached outward, flapping as if in a stern breeze.

But that was not what frightened him. What did scare him was what was behind the old man.

A dripping form, black as the deepest sewer and sporting myriad of flailing appendages, emerged from behind the author. Its sinewy shape was reminiscent of a spider’s shadow, only more fluid, more intimidating.

As Sammern inched forward in a smooth, unnerving motion, Timmy managed to scramble to his feet and stumble down the hallway.

“I told you I’m on a tight schedule, and cannot waste time with irritants such as yourself.”

The words trailed down the dark corridor like bloodthirsty mosquitoes, stabbing at Timmy with painful barbs.

As he reached the kitchen, Timmy looked back over his shoulder. The old man was sliding down the hallway like a marionette. His face was slack and bloodless; his limbs swinging in the near darkness.

Timmy rushed through the kitchen and flung himself out the back door. He fell onto the porch but quickly got up and disappeared into the cold December night, never looking back.

Sammern stood at the doorway for a few minutes. His sightless eyes didn’t blink; his chest didn’t rise and fall with breath. His body then spun around and floated out of the kitchen, down the hallway, and into the den, where he wound up behind his desk.

Falling into his chair, Sammern sat still for moment, his right arm resting on the desk. The dark form crouched behind him and nudged a pencil over to his hand and slipped it between his fingers. A pad of paper, half a page of wording scrawled on the top page, was pushed over beneath the pen.

The creature then continued writing its latest novel.

Rick McQuiston is a fifty-year-old father of two who loves anything horror-related. He’s had over 400 publications so far, and written five novels, ten anthologies, one book of novellas, and edited an anthology of Michigan authors. He’s also a guest author each year at Memphis Junior High School. Currently, Rick is working on his sixth novel and too many short stories.