REVIEW: GRAY SHADOWS UNDER A HARVEST MOON: SIX TRICK-OR-TREAT THRILLERS by Roma Gray The title tells you: six delectably scary tales to enlighten and scintillator your Halloween enjoyment. But don't expect the ordinary "oh I'm so scared" stories: Ms. Gray' s offerings are genre-bending and genre-expanding. Not "just" short stories to read and set aside, either. Each of the six represents a chapter in an upcoming novel or novel series by Roma Gray, who also cleverly includes interviews with the fictional characters! My advice: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
This time, David was pretty sure he was being followed.
He drew himself back into the shadows of the alley doorway, watching and listening. From all directions came the nocturnal sounds of the Mardi Gras celebration: shrill, hysterical laughter; three different versions of “When the Saints Come Marching In” blended with modern rock; the sound of dogs barking.
What David did not hear was the sound of footsteps. But he knew someone was there.
“Come on out, you bastard,” he growled.
He didn’t appreciate the interruption. He came to Mardi Gras to hunt; it was a vampire’s right. All the stupid drunks, all the pretty young things looking for a good time, all the policemen overwhelmed with the crowds—it was just too easy. Unfortunately, the vampire wannabes had figured out that Mardi Gras was vampire central. They’d watch, ID a vamp, and then do the usual begging to get turned. Most vampires helped them out, but not David. He didn’t like the competition.
Probably a damn girl, too.
Too many stupid movies about vampires over the past few years. Most of the wannabes turned out to be girls these days. And, to David’s annoyance, his physical appearance fit their sick little fantasies. Girls followed him around for days, carrying on and on about his dreamy aquamarine eyes and movie star good looks. So revolting!
Of course, if she turned out to be cute...
He shook off the thought. No! Girl or not, cute or not, I’ve had enough!
David hated stalkers, hated that his evening had been interrupted. All year he had waited for Mardi Gras. All year!
A sudden movement, an odd quiver. With a sharp gasp, David jerked back from the doorway. He looked down at his hands and realized they were the source; they were shaking. Embarrassed, he glanced around and shoved his hands in his jacket pockets. He inhaled deeply, the cold night air filling his lungs, and then exhaled slowly through his mouth. After repeating this exercise for half a minute, the shaking began to subside. Angry with himself, he stomped out of the shadows and began to walk purposefully down the center of the alley. Time to lure the stalker out! He’d rip his or her throat out for bothering him tonight!
As he walked, he wondered about his odd reaction. Nervous tension, he decided. Vampires are a twitchy lot. When you’re turned, your brain stays human—well, mostly—but your body becomes high strung like a cat. And, he had good reason to be nervous. This Mardi Gras seemed odd. In years past, he had seen dozens of vampires, but not this year. This year he hadn’t seen a single one. Yes, that explained everything. Nonetheless, his cheeks warmed, and he hoped that the vampire-wannabe didn’t witness his humiliating case of nerves.
David caught an odd scent, something metallic. He stopped, feeling strangely alarmed. The air crackled with electricity. He heard a whoosh behind him and whirled around. Nothing; he saw nothing. His entire body began to shake violently. But why? It didn’t make any sense. Since the moment he entered the alley, he had been jittery. No, not jittery or even nervous. Afraid! He was afraid!
You are the vampire! his mind bellowed. You are what they fear! YOU FEAR NOTHING!
And then he knew. As if awakening from a dream, he finally recognized the reality of his situation. His mind, like a normal human’s mind, rationalized everything it experienced; but nothis body. His body had cat-like instincts and it sensed the truth. The thing stalking him wasn’t human, it was something else. Something that didn't fear vampires, something terrible! The realization hit him hard. His heart rate spiked, and his chest ached from the powerful thumping.What could it be? What didn’t fear vampires? Is it some kind of supernatural predator? Cold sweat formed on his forehead and a choking fear rose into his throat. He was overreacting, and he knew it. Yet his fear continued to race out of control.
Don’t just stand there, you idiot! Run!!
David stumbled forward, trying to run, trying to escape, only his legs refused to work. They felt numb and heavy like wet sacks of cement. He tripped over a discarded beer bottle and crashed to the ground.
“Get up, damn it,” he sobbed. “RUN!”
There was a shadow, it was fast. Pain, searing pain, on his neck! He could feel his own blood being drained away. He screamed, kicked, and lashed out, but he never made contact with anything solid. He grew weaker, and his mind slipped away into blackness.
He found himself floating through a dark tunnel toward a bright light. Abruptly, the forward movement stopped, and he began falling backwards: spinning, disoriented, a sense of vertigo, and then nothing.
“Wake up,” came a gruff voice.
David opened his eyes. A large bear of a man stood over him. He was hardly an angel, or God, or even that other guy. He looked pretty plain and ordinary, only big with long, bushy hair. Almost a joke, really. The fear was gone, the spell broken. He leapt to his feet, ready to fight. And then he saw something. Right in front of him, lying on the ground, a dead body—his dead body! He stumbled backwards.
“You’re dead, man,” said the guy. “Not undead-dead, pal. You’re all the way dead this time.”
The guy laughed. “Well, I killed you, so I guess I may as well introduce myself. Name’s Gustaf.”
David stared back at Gustaf, blinked twice, but said nothing.
Gustaf suppressed another laugh and continued. “You know, I was a vampire once. About five years back now. Then one day someone cut my head off, and I came back as a ghost.” He pointed to David’s midsection and added with a slow deliberateness, “Just...like...you.”
David looked down to where Gustaf was pointing. He could see through himself! He felt odd, but not scared. Instead, he felt something else. Something was beginning to build inside of him...
“I changed somehow, beyond dying...hard to explain.” Gustaf rambled on. “I still hungered for blood, but not human blood. Not anymore. Now I craved the blood of vampires. No, more than that. I craved their very life force! It’s a high beyond your imagination! What a rush!” He rubbed his hands together and looked like he was on the verge of a serious giggle. “It was a great gig, man.”
“The fear,” mumbled David in a daze. “The mind-numbing fear! Even as a human, I never...ever...”
“Oooh, did I scare the big bad vampire?” Gustaf’s eyes grew large as he leaned toward David, stopping inches from his nose. David took a step back and Gustaf laughed hysterically.
“It’s all part of the package. Like a python hypnotizing a bird. Helped me catch my prey. I loved watching you guys trip and stumble all over the place. Dinner and entertainment!”
His voice sounded distant and David had trouble concentrating on his words. Waves of dizziness passed through him.
It’s getting worse, so much worse!
Gustaf sighed. “The party’s over now. You were the last one, the last vampire. Didn’t worry me much at first. All vampires sire other vampires, right? Guess I was wrong about that one. I watched you for months, and you wouldn’t do it. Why? Why didn’t you sire another vampire? I can’t tell you how frustrated you made me, man. The hunger! I couldn’t stand the hunger! In the end, my blood lust won out and, well, here we are.”
“And here we are,” repeated David. His words came out flat, almost mechanical.
Gustaf shook his head and let out an exaggerated growl. “No more vampires. Damn! Nothing left to eat! I guess we’re both screwed now.”
“No,” said David with a grave finality. “I’m not screwed yet. Maybe in another few years, but not today. Right now the only person who's screwed is you.”
Before he even realized what he was doing, he attacked Gustaf. He sank his fangs deep into the large man’s throat. It was over in a matter of seconds. Gustaf evaporated into nothing.
David turned and continued to walk down the alley. So the vampire race was extinct now, huh? No wonder he didn’t see any vampires at Mardi Gras! And David had become, what? A ghost who fed on other ghosts? He wondered if the ghosts would go the way of the dinosaurs and the vampires. And why had this happened? Had a witch cursed them? Could evolution be the culprit? He didn’t know.
The only thing David knew was that he was hungry.
Roma Gray is a huge fan of Halloween and has been writing horror, sci-fi, thrillers, and mysteries since she was eight years old. She currently lives in Oregon in a haunted house with a ghost cat she named Koko (no, seriously), and three furry “living” friends, Nicky, Roanoke, and Cricket. 10% of the proceeds from this book will be donated to the Animal Care Clinic’s Cat Adoption Program.