by Loren Rhoads
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction,
Dark Fantasy Short Stories
Publisher: Automatism Press
Date of Publication: September 20, 2020
Number of pages: 174
Word Count: 55K
Cover Artist: Lynne Hansen
Tagline: Once you’ve done the most unforgivable thing, what will you do next?
In the first full-length collection of her edgy, award-winning short stories, Loren Rhoads punctures the boundaries between horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction in a maelstrom of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.
Ghosts, succubi, naiads, vampires, the Wild Hunt, and the worst predator in the woods stalk these pages, alongside human monsters who follow their cravings past sanity or sense.
Something brushed her leg. Violet kept treading water, legs pedaling below her, but wondered: did the pool have leeches in it? Snapping turtles? Her thoughts darted into paranoia: were there sharks? Piranhas? Anything that might bite?
Not that it mattered. She would stay in this water and be gummed to death by goldfish rather than get out and take her chances with the mountain lion watching her from the side of the pool.
Whatever it was below her tangled in her toes. It felt for all the world like hair. Violet shuddered, losing her rhythm momentarily, but then forced her legs to scissor once more.
She peered down into the murky water. Something below her glowed an icy white color, like moonlight. Like the moon had fallen into the old swimming pool. The temperature of the water around her plummeted. A cramp knotted her left calf. Violet whimpered.
Her head dipped toward the surface of the water. Violet fought to calm herself, to hold herself up by the determined stroking of her arms. She tried to stretch the charley horse from her muscle.
Something very much like a hand touched her thigh.
She shrieked. The sound echoed from the hills surrounding the pool and repeated from the mountain peak on the other side of the valley.
The mountain lion narrowed her eyes and stared at Violet.
Then a girl’s voice said in her ear: “Don’t be afraid.”
Ice flooded her veins and Violet lost the ability to control her limbs. Her head slipped under the surface of the water and she took a breath…and something caught her in its arms and lifted her, coughing, back to the surface. And held her there, safely, until she could breathe again.
Violet’s heart fluttered in her chest, struggling to regain its rhythm. She could see arms around her ribs, holding her up in the water. They were a pale grayish white. Not a natural color. She wondered if it was possible to die of fear.
“Don’t be afraid of me,” the ghost said gently. “I won’t hurt you.”
“I’m afraid to look at you,” Violet whispered. She didn’t trust her own voice, didn’t want to hear the sound of her own terror.
“I’m not horrible,” the ghost promised.
“Did you drown here?”
“A long time ago.”
Violet swallowed hard. Her throat was sore from the water she’d inhaled. She coughed once more, but it didn’t really help. Tentatively, she started to dog paddle.
The ghost released her. Violet turned slowly, to find a girl her own age bobbing alongside her. Her long, long hair was blond, where Violet’s was dark. It was slicked to her skull and green with streaks of pondweed. Her eyes were pale blue, maybe, or green, where Violet’s were brown. The drowned girl wasn’t horrible, even if her skin had gone the color of something kept from sunlight for a long, long time.
“Are you alone here?” Violet asked. The quaver in her voice unnerved her even more, if that were possible. She swallowed again and tried to concentrate on her kicking.
“My boyfriend is here, too,” the ghost said. “He doesn’t like to talk to people.”
“Did you die together?”
“We thought it would be romantic,” the ghost said. “We didn’t realize we’d be trapped here. That’s why I don’t want you to die. You will be trapped here, too.”
“Why are you trapped?”
“A creature roams these woods. A monster. It is hungry for company. It collects us.”
“How many of you are there?” Violet asked, even though she didn’t want to know the answer.
“Lots,” the ghost said sadly. “Lots.”
“I don’t want to be trapped here,” Violet said, “but I don’t know how to get past the mountain lion.”
“There is no mountain lion,” the ghost said. “That’s the monster. It takes many forms.”
About the Author:
Loren Rhoads is the author of the In the Wake of the Templars space opera trilogy, co-author of a succubus/angel duology called As Above, So Below, and editor of Tales for the Camp Fire: An Anthology Benefiting Wildfire Relief. She's also the author of a nonfiction travel guide called 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die. Unsafe Words is the first full-length collection of her short stories.
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