The Good Fight Vol. 3 For Sale March 21st

March 21st! That’s tomorrow! And by the time some of you read this it’ll be today, or yesterday, or sometime last year when you’ll really wish you’d known about it before all the shit went down. It’s bound to be a wildly entertaining anthology with something for everybody who likes superheroes, funnybooks, movies based on funnybooks about superheroes, TV shows spun off from movies based on funnybooks, or just enjoys slowing their roll long enough in this era of endless infotainment deluge to read crazy genre stuff on the printed and/or digital page.

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Free to Be You & Me, but Mostly Free to You: The Devil’s Right Hand

As I further contemplate the turning of the screw that is achieving a half century of life, I find myself wanting to give away my earthly possessions–well, some of them anyway; definitely not the ones I use daily, like my car or any of my flatscreens or personal electronics–so I figure it’s a fine time to keep it rolling with a digital giveaway of the HandCannon origin story, The Devil’s Right HandSo let your keyboarding fingers do the walking over to Amazon where, from February 15th to the 19th, you can get yourself familiar with the life and times of Duke “HandCannon” LaRue.

And if you happen by today, the book that started it all, The Villain’s Sidekickis available for that same non-price for a few more hours. Makes a great Valentine’s Day gift (for lonely types who like their book-readin’ anyhow).

from the author of -The villain's sidekick-' (1) copy

Blood, Guts and Brains

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“Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet” first came to my attention thanks to “States of Terror” editor/publisher Matt Lewis. Considering I wrote a story about the Florida skunk ape for volume two of that collection, I was instantly intrigued to hear about Adam Howe’s “Damn Dirty Apes,” the first of three novellas in this book. It’s a twisted, pulpy Southern gothic adventure tale peopled with backwoods pornographers, ape-centric biker gangs, cryptid-hunting eccentrics, and a damaged-but-unbroken ex-prizefighter at the center of it all. It caroms from grim brutality to cartoonish otherworldly violence while rarely pausing for breath, and there’s a strong sense that Howe’s introducing one of those gruffly likable protagonist who could keep on having these kinds of reluctant adventures for years to come (and since there’s a sequel novel on the way, I may not be too far off in that guess).

The shortest of the three, “Gator Bait,” is a horror noir that’s equal parts James M. Cain and Stephen King in its Prohibition-era tale of a piano-playing ladies’ man forced to go on the lam after getting the drop on a cuckold bent on ending his adulterous days. Of course, stumbling into a new gig at a swampy roadside honkytonk run by a dangerous bootlegger with a gorgeous battered wife can only lead one way for the hapless ivory-tickler, no matter how often he claims to have sworn off the dames. Especially if the alligator in the pond out back has a say in the matter.

Throughout both of these Southern-fried tales, so steeped in the language and specifics of 20th-century hardboiled Americana, it’s easy to forget that Howe’s a Brit by birth. The stories read quick, funny and fun, with that enviable combination of smart satisfying wordplay and evocative imagery, yet with nary a wasted or extraneous word.

But the one that really grabbed me by the nards and wouldn’t let go is the one that gives the book its title. Unlike the other two tales, which are occasionally crude or violent but essentially accessible, “Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet” is one I would not recommend to the even vaguely squeamish. Easily the best horror movie I’ve read in ages, the less I say about its hardcore horror conceit the better, as I don’t want to spoil the immensely satisfying twists and turns it takes with its simple but brilliant “dammit why didn’t I think a that?!” premise.

Suffice to say, fans of old school pulp with a postmodern twist, over-the-top action-adventure lovers, and sick fucks who enjoy stories with as much brains as blood and guts will all find something to love inside Howe’s twisted little worlds.

Another One in the Can

Update: It being my birthday and all, I figured it’s only right to announce that The Devil’s Right Hand will release on February 29th, just in time for Leap Day. Makes a great gift for that special someone you only think about once every four years…

Available for pre-order right here.

from the author of -The villain's sidekick-' (1) copy

Just over two weeks ago, I typed the final words of the first draft of Citizen Skin, my long-gestating sequel to The Villain’s SidekickNow the hard work lies ahead, of doing a major revision, then recruiting a few beta readers, then polishing the hell out of it, then having an editor fine-tooth comb it, many steps I was confident enough to skip when I threw Villain’s into the world. But that book was less than a third of the length, had a much simpler, more streamlined plot, and poured out of me in a very short time. Citizen I’ve been hammering away at almost since I first finished that one, and it’s a monster by comparison.

Still, in the interim, I did manage to churn out The Eternity Conundrumwhich like Villain’s was born after a quick, mostly painless delivery and a very short period of labor (yeah, I’m running with the pregnancy metaphors, as if there’s any real comparison). It hasn’t been quite as widely read or well-received as my first, but it serves its purpose and I still stand by it as something I’m proud to have made, even if it maybe could’ve used a little more time in the oven. Not that it’s half-baked, just a tad undercooked. And now I’ve got another one of those, a short story, even leaner than Conundrum, that explores Duke’s HandCannon origins, how a war-wounded veteran turned petty criminal found himself swept up in the world of supercrime and metahuman villainy. It’s called The Devil’s Right Hand (at least for now) because I was listening to the Steve Earle song of the same name (“mama says a pistol is the devil’s right hand”) and it was so literally perfect to describe a guy who’s right arm is a machine gun. Of course, in this story he doesn’t even have that bit of his identity yet, but you can get a good glimpse of where his life is headed. Also, without spoiling anything, I will say that this little tale contains possibly my favorite of all the ridiculous superpowered characters I’ve come up with in the HandCannon Universe.

This is an early announcement, as I literally just finished the first draft of the story a few hours ago, so I still have to do my own revisions, let a beta reader or two opine on the story, and then get it as polished as I feel like getting it in time for my publisher, Budget Press, to have it on the table for the L.A. Zinefest in early March. But it’s been such a goddamn productive few weeks on the writing front, I just felt like I needed to share. Plus I knocked out a nifty cover that doesn’t  exactly match the uniform aesthetic I would love all the books to have, but for a guy with absolutely zero graphics skills, I don’t hate it as a placeholder.

Anyway, more news as it comes along in the next week or so, but for now I just wanted to whet your appetites.

The first taste is free:

“Load up on guns, bring your friends…”

                                                                                    Nirvana  “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

El Paso, Texas, November 1991 

Everyone’s got an origin story, but not all of ‘em are created equal. I mean, on one end of the spectrum there’s you, right? Just some regular schlub trying to get through your life and not die before you’re ready—good luck with that, by the way—and on the other end there’s the lone survivor of some vastly superior but still inexplicably humanoid alien race who shows up on our planet and gets to live out his days playing messiah to every hapless fuckwit too useless to rescue their own damn selves. How relatable is that? In between you’ve got your obsessive, vengeance-minded billionaire geniuses, one-percenters who think they know what’s best for humanity and have the toys and means to force their worldview on the rest of us. And then there’s the angry narcissists, despotic freaks deformed by rotten luck or raw nature acting out egomaniacal agendas; a lot of these guys and gals have their own secret bases, their own armies, even their own countries sometimes, full of slack-jawed goose-steppers that willingly follow these id monsters in spite of the fact that they’re usually just cannon fodder or targets for misdirected rage. And that’s not even covering your ordinary Joes with deep personal flaws and devil-may-care life approaches who stumble into industrial accidents or come across ancient talismanic objects that grant them amazing powers and turn them into low-level deities for good or ill.

And then, somewhere below all of them, luckier than a lot of you Jane Does and Joe Six-Packs but unluckier than most, there’s folks like me. Criminal chumps on a downhill slide to the Big Nothing before getting unexpectedly called up to the majors, coasting for awhile on the same thrill that athletes, actors, musicians and politicians must get when their star first starts to rise.

***

I wake up to the sound of snoring—deep, loud, and disconcertingly male—and after a few foggy moments I start to piece together where I am. The hard thin mattress barely protecting me from the metal struts of a cot screwed tight to a cinderblock wall. The overwhelming stench of piss, vomit and despair. The reverberating clang of metal on metal and the murmur of discontented voices.

Jail.

Of course.

Where I else would I be after a string of days and nights spent and wasted on border-hopping bar-crawling culminating in an epic-length blackout? The final hours of my latest self-annihilating binge reduced from a hi-def videostream of crystal memory to a series of time-lapsed Polaroids, like the film ran out of budget and the third reel consists of nothing but storyboards and snapshots of scouted locations. My next question: what side of the border was I on when they rounded me up? I dimly recall an El Paso drowning hole called La Boca del Leon, a couple of mouthy shitkickers who didn’t understand how I could shoot pool so good with just the one functioning arm, and the kind of all-hands-on-deck bar fight you assume only ever happened on a Hollywood soundstage in the heyday of the Western. I get my answer only when my head clears enough so that I can suss out from the nearby voices of jailbirds and law enforcers that most everyone seems to be speaking Texas-accented Americanese.

I try to sit up and literally everything hurts, from my alcohol-drenched brainpan to my war-wounded arm stump. My insides roil and heave with an admixture of every kind of booze, most types of pills and an unhealthy gut-bomb of grease-sealed Tex-Mex. The rust-crusted, shit-stained steel toilet seems impossibly far away, even in this 6×8 cell, so I just roll over and aim for the floor as my body rejects a platter-sized splatter of semi-digested flotsam from deep in my innards. I expel so much I’m pretty sure I’m puking stuff I haven’t eaten in years, like baby food, or even in this lifetime, like primordial soup. It’s only when I go to brace myself to keep from tumbling off the cot that I realize my prosthetic arm is missing.

The queasier among you will not want to hear this next part, so, yeah, spoiler alert: I go face first into my own belly stew and split my chin on the cold cement floor beneath it, which at least does me the favor of giving me an entirely fresh shock of pain to focus on.

“You mind keeping it down over there, pal? I need my beauty sleep before I bust outta here.”

It takes a few to realize that A) the snoring has stopped and 2) that rumbly voice, more amused than threatening, must be coming from my cellmate.

“Yeah, well, pardon me,” is the best I can muster, about 30% sincere and the rest however-much-amount sarcastic.

“S’matter?” my celly asks, and as he sits up and lets the thin scrap of what’s meant to pass for a blanket fall away, I realize he’s at least as big as I am. And at seven feet plus and close to 300 pounds of mostly muscle, I am nobody’s idea of small. “Bed wasn’t cold or hard or vomity enough? Decided you’d be more comfy in a warm puddle of your own sick?”

He’s a black guy, the kind where you actually get why they call ‘em black, with skin the shade and sheen of a well-worn leather biker jacket. 400 pounds easy, with shoulders practically as wide across as the front grill of a ’65 Lincoln Continental. Even just sitting there, in boxers and a wifebeater, I know he’s ex-military, although I can imagine the NFL champing at the bit just to place him on field in the defensive line like an immovable human wall.

“Kelvin Watts,” he tells me, even though I haven’t asked. “Friends call me Battery.”

“Cause you’re so powerful?” I hazard. “Or as in ‘Assault and…’?”

“Pretty much every reason you could think of,” he says, smiling wider than he already was.

“Duke LaRue.”

“I’d shake your hand but…” He indicates the mess I’m still extricating myself from, then tosses me his blanket scrap so I can start toweling off.

“What you get popped for, Kelvin?”

“Same as you, I’m guessin.’ Makin’ more trouble than a man my age oughta be.” He glances, then gestures, at my arm stump. “When’d you get back?”

“What’s it been? Six months I guess. You?”

“Shit, I’m not sure I am back. But about a year, if you go by the Gregorian calendar. How’d it happen?” He taps his elbow to indicate he’s referring to my stump. Guess that’s more of a conversation piece than the facial scars and glass eye.

“Chopper went down.”

Kelvin nods, then, “Friendly fire?”

Helluva guess. “How’d you know?”

“Lotta that in Desert Storm. Plus, the ones it happens to tend to be more pissed off than the ones who came about their wounds the so-called ‘honorable’ way.”

“I seem particularly pissed off to you?”

“You were when you got here. They musta worn out five TASERs puttin’ you at your ease.”

“Since when do El Paso cops have TASERs?”

“It’s the ‘90s, baby. Brave new world. So, how you earnin’ your beer money these days?”

“Sympathy, mostly,” I say, waggling my stump for emphasis. “And when that runs out, cheating. At cards, at pool, with rich guys’ wives. Supplemented with the occasional strong-arm robbery.”

“I see.” He gives me a long once-over, his expression turning 100% serious for the first time since we met. “You affiliated?”

“What…like…am I in a gang?”

Kelvin comes back with a noncommittal shrug.

“Yeah, sure, I’m an honorary Crip. But only because I don’t look good in red. I hope you ain’t a Blood. Nothin’ personal if you are.”

If he grins any wider, the top half of his head might come off.

“I’m not really talkin’ street gangs. I mean, once you been to the other side of the world, that shit starts to seem kinda pedestrian, doncha think?”

My turn to shrug.

Kelvin stands up and finds the county-issued orange jumpsuit folded neatly under his bunk, starts forcing himself into it like ground pork into a sausage casing.

“Well listen, friend. It’s been real nice chattin’ with you and all, but I got places to do, things to be, people to kill. You know the drill. So if you’ll excuse my abruptivity and forgive my shortage of social graces…”

With that, Kelvin “Battery” Watts gives me my first-ever up close and personal demonstration of what it means to have superpowers. Quicker and more graceful than I woulda thought possible, he heaves his enormity up off his cot and unscrews the lone bare light bulb that hangs in the middle of our cell. With nary more than a jovial wink in my direction, he jams two thick fingers into the empty socket, making contact with the live exposed wires inside, a shower of sparks cascading down over him like little electric snowflakes and his eyes glowing yellow, maybe just from the reflected electricity though it seems more like the light’s coming from inside his head. The lights flicker and dim in the corridor and the other cells and the ongoing murmur of voices shifts suddenly to a louder chorus of mild alarm. Without removing his fingers, and reacting to the surge of power coursing through him with a kind of ecstatic shiver, Battery reaches over with his free hand and pounds the cinderblocks once, twice, three times until the back wall crumbles to small chunks and pulverized dust and Texas morning sunlight streams into our tiny shared space.

“You’re welcome to join me, of course.”

The frenzied sounds of human confusion are already swelling in intensity as a gaggle of guards clomps down the corridor outside our cell, and as tempting as the daylight looks, I think maybe I don’t have it in me to move far or fast enough to outrun these chumps and making a break for it would just be turning a pretty minor misdemeanor into something I might not be legally or emotionally ready to handle. Plus, I’m in my skivvies and they’re holding my other arm.

“Not today, man,” I say, settling back onto my cot.

“In that case, I appreciate you not trying to score brownie points by shouting for the uniforms. If you ever get south of the border, look me up. We could have us some fun. Maybe even turn a dime for it.” And with that, he steps through the hole and disappears into the El Paso morning.

“I’ll do that,” I say, knowing full well that I won’t, and that I’ll never again lay my good eye on Kelvin “Battery” Watts.

Funny thing about certainty though: in this life, it’s not really so much a thing.

 

 

 

 

STATES OF TERROR, VOL. 2

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This arrived in the mail last night, just in time for All Hallow’s Eve, Dia de los Muertos and, I dunno, Shlocktober, I guess. Anyway, I’m pretty damned thrilled to be a part of this beautifully packaged anthology of stories meant to tingle yer sphincter, shock yer socks off and give you the fear-shits. Volume 2 in the Matt Lewis’ and Keith McCleary’s States of Terror series features tall tales and cruci-fictions about the ghouls, ghosts and cryptozoological monstrosities rumored to haunt these fifty United States (plus Alaska and Hawaii, I’d imagine–I haven’t read ’em all yet!). My contribution is a lurid, seriocomic tale of a land developer who runs afoul of Florida’s most famous Everglades dweller (not counting the guys on Swamp Pawn or whatever), the infamous, and notoriously stinky, Skunk Ape.

There’s many more stories covering everything from Bigfoot to Batsquatch, plus some truly gorgeous and occasionally gory illustrations. This volume goes on sale at Amazon and other fine retailers on Friday October 30th, and you can bet yer ass I’ll repost all the pertinent info then. But I just couldn’t wait to share.

The first volume is available in such places NOW. Please to enjoy.

http://www.amazon.com/States-Terror-Vol-1-Matt-Lewis/dp/0692317287/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1445449801&sr=8-1&keywords=States+of+Terror

Finding MoMo

Zugspitze, German Alps May Day 1945

As General Public and his men rode the Tyrolean Cable Car that would deposit them at an arête just below the summit, there was much speculation about whether they would encounter any meaningful resistance on the mountain. Though word of Hitler’s suicide a day prior was spreading rapidly, and the war was all but won, Germany had yet to surrender officially, and it was entirely possible that whoever was stationed way up here had no idea that the end was nigh. Worse, maybe they did, and were willing to fight to the last man in some misguided attempt to preserve German honor.

General Public had decided against bringing a sidekick. He’d already lost three Buck Privates during the course of the war, and he wasn’t about to sacrifice another eager youngster to the vagaries of combat with only days, maybe even hours, left in the contest. After all, you could fight-train a teenage kid to your heart’s content, but when it came down to a heavy-duty firefight against challenging, if not impossible, odds, they tended to be cannon fodder. The first Buck died before they even left Camp Turtleton, killed by a live round during a training exercise. The next one was crisped alive in midair during a drop-in behind enemy lines, and the third committed suicide a couple days after the liberation of Auschwitz.

When they reached their destination, it was a quick but dangerous climb around the mountain and down to the cave entrances that led to the secret Nazi labs. With the exception of one frozen German soldier, fourteen years of age at most and probably dead of starvation by the look of him, they encountered no sign of the enemy. That held true all the way through the winding tunnels, which grew smoother and warmer as they approached the main entrance, signs of work and a hint of civilization slowly emerging from the unyielding rock. The men’s nerves began to ease as they continued on their way, some of them even joking a little about what they might find, or who was going to be the token unlucky guy who never made it home after getting so close. The typical dark yet playful humor of guys who’ve seen too much too young and still didn’t know if they’d live to tell about it, or if they’d ever tell about it even if they did. The General had to shush their giggling as they rounded a bend in the tunnel and came face to face with a hinged steel door decorated with a bas relief Iron Eagle and a sign reading:

ACHTUNG! NUR WESENTLICHE PERSONAL.

GEBEN SIE AUF EIGENES RISIKO.

“Whattaythink, boys? We essential enough for ‘em?” the General asked his men.

“Hell yeah!”

“Damn skippy!”

“We’ll show ‘em who’s takin’ the big risky-o!”

“Stand back, fellas,” said an over-enthusiastic corporal. “I got this one!”

“Corporal, don’t!” Public shouted, but it was too late. The corporal let loose with his Thompson and the bullets ricocheted off the reinforced steel, lighting up the cave with muzzle flash and sparks, filling it with auto-chatter and stray lead. The General managed to get the three men closest to him down and out of the way, and the two on the other side of the corporal ducked of their own accord. When the chaos cooled, only the corporal was still on his feet, but his mad grin was gone, replaced by a look of stunned surprise, and creeping fear.

“P…Pubby?”

“Son?”

“I’m sorry.”

The General choked down his fury and tried to say something reassuring, but before he could, the boy turned to him, and Public spotted the wound. Just below the right eye, a black smoking hole that only now began to cry blood, mixing with the soldier’s frightened tears.

“I killed me,” he said, and the rifle dropped first, then the rest of him.

The men were somber after that, unsure of themselves all over again, stealing only superstitious glances at the corpse of their comrade slung across the General’s shoulders like Christ’s own cross. A stark reminder, in war you didn’t always need a live enemy to do you in. Public did his best to keep them focused on the mission at hand. Until the corporal’s untimely death, it looked like a simple mop-up operation. Probably still was.

The steel door opened with a simple twist of the wheel in its center, probably the least amusing irony in history as far as this little unit was concerned, and they crossed the threshold with the tenuous pace of someone stepping for the first time through an interdimensional portal, or the doors of a new homeroom class. Every one of them waiting for the booby trap, the accidental fate-changer that might spell their doom, the invisible Jerry-rigged dealer of death.

From the look of the place, it had been abandoned in a hurry, no time to gather everything, no time to destroy it all, maybe a dim hope that it would remain undiscovered, and its inhabitants could return to their work at leisure sometime after the hostilities ended.

“Quiet as a church in here,” Foster piped up.

“When you ever been in a church, Foster, you fuckin’ heathen?” Spitz wanted to know, but the others shushed them before the exchange could go further.

It was a lab alright, but Public couldn’t wrap his head around what kind of work the Nazis were doing here. It was just glass and tubes and steel all formed into instruments and tech that was beyond his nuts-and-bolts comprehension.

“Lookit the size of these things,” Large muttered, and Public turned to see.

In the West wall of the cave-lab were rows of enormous glass containers, ten across, four high, reaching nearly two stories. Large stepped forward and wiped the glass.

“Oh. My. God,” he said. A second later, he jumped back.

Public was there in a heartbeat, not even pausing as he set poor dead Corporal Risetti on a lab table. He pushed Large out of the way protectively and looked through the glass. Inside the big tube, afloat in some green liquid that looked like dirty seawater, was a man. Or kind of a man. It looked like parts of several men, really, the way it was all stitched together at the joints, the way the skin tone of the forearm didn’t match the hand or upper arm, a mosaic of human pieces, a living puzzle. And it was alive. Its eyes were open and underneath the breathing mask affixed to its nose and mouth it seemed to be trying to communicate something to him, one discolored arm trying feebly to reach for the glass. When the arm rose a little, General Public saw the tattoo, a string of blue-black numbers running upward from the underside of the wrist. That should have been the worst of it right there, that and the lonely terror in its eyes, but there was more. There were dials on its chest and knobs below that and some kind of Frankenstein bolts in its forehead and something that might have been an on/off switch near the armpit, an amperage meter over the heart, tubes coming out of one end and going back into another and a spigot—a goddamned spigot—coming out of its groin.

“Holy shit,” Large said, stepping up beside him. “This is worse’n Auschwitz.”

“What do we do with ‘em, Pubby?” Foster asked.

The General looked deeply into the pleading eyes of the man-like thing in front of him. “We set them free.”

It wasn’t a great idea. Most of the ones that weren’t already dead didn’t last long outside of their containment tubes. Apparently the viscous sewer sludge they were floating in was key to keeping them alive and even Spitz, the closest thing they had to a field medic, didn’t have a clue what to do with them. Even the ones who showed signs of life—mostly feeble twitches and the occasional violent spasm—didn’t register normal pulses or heartbeats or any recognizable hints of genuine mortality. As for the rest…

Three of the test subjects, including the one that had seemed to plead for its freedom, weren’t exactly grateful to be on the outside, if their actions were any indication. That first one went straight for Large, and since Public was determined not to lose any more men today, he stepped in and delivered a one-two punch meant only to pacify the thing, but wound up with one gloved fist sunk deeply into its torso while his other knocked its head almost clean off its shoulders. The stench was incredible, a hellish reek of rot and death, but it kept fighting, so the General, figuring his hand was already in there anyway, reached further in and got a grip on its spine, trying to snap it. To his surprise, he found it was reinforced, a spindle of jointed steel, so he had no choice but to rip the whole thing out from the front, reducing the living dead thing to a jelly-like blob that continued to twitch and writhe until Large unloaded a clip into it.

Behind him he heard a scream, unmistakably Durazzo, and Public sprang into action. But by the time he turned around, Durazzo was gutting another of the test subjects with a Fascist Youth knife he’d picked up in Italy.

“Guys! Help me out here!” Foster this time, frozen in fear and looking down at something.

“Whatcha waitin’ for, Foster! Shoot it!” Large screamed. But Foster didn’t move until the thing knocked him over and they all saw why he couldn’t react.

It was a child, a little girl, at least the head was, maybe nine years old, all done up in the house style with gears and dials and mismatched patches of half-dead flesh.

Spitz jumped on it from behind and plunged a morphine syrette into its neck, which only seemed to make it angrier. It clamped its little fingers onto Foster’s neck not so much to choke as to dig, tearing at the skin like it wanted something inside of it. Maybe it did.

“Spitz, outta the way!” the General roared, as he leapt across the space between them and cleaved the thing in two with his battle sword in one fluid motion.

“Jeezus loweezus,” Large muttered when it was over. “I seen my share a’ weird shit travelin’ with you, Pubby, but that may just bake the cake right there.”

“Can we get outta here now?” Foster asked, as Spitz was tending to the deep but superficial scratches on his neck.

“Stifle it, ya pussy, I’m tryin’ to work here.”

General Public nodded solemnly. “Sure, Foster. We can go. Just as soon as we wire every inch of this place so we can blow it to kingdom come.”

And that’s what they did. Setting charges, rigging detonators, packing the whole thing with enough explosives to take the top off of the Zugspitze. He knew the brass at Strategic Command would be pissed, and maybe if he felt like it he’d even come up with a lie about what happened up here, but whatever there was to be learned from this place, whatever secrets they’d want to send their scientists up to pry out of the mountain rock, this was knowledge that no one needed. This kind of shit couldn’t help a soul.

They were almost done, almost out the door and ready to reduce this living hell to rubble, when he heard Durazzo, shouting from one of the anterior research rooms where he’d been planting his bombs.

“Hey, Pubby! I think you better see this!”

Public and the others stopped what they were doing and made for the small room, where they found Durazzo standing over a metal surgical table, looking down at something—or someone—on the table.

“Is that a gorilla?” Spitz asked.

“Sure looks like it,” Durazzo replied.

“Not like any gorilla I ever seen. Too pink.”

“When you ever seen a gorilla, Foster? Lemme guess. Church?”

“Brooklyn Zoo, you dumb fuck.”

“Save a guy’s life and that’s the thanks.”

General Public ignored them and stepped toward the table, taking in the beast that was strapped there, which did resemble an ape in all the most notable ways, but something about it, maybe it was just that its black hair wasn’t as thick as it should be, made it look very human. Not it. Him, Public noted, glancing down at its impressive nethers. Definitely a him.

He lowered his ear to its chest and there was no mistaking the weak but steady thump beneath the fur and flesh.

“He’s alive,” he informed the others.

Large racked his carbine. “Maybe we oughta fix that,” he said.

“No.”

“C’mon, Pubby, we seen what these things can do.”

“He’s not like the others. Look at him.”

And it was true. There were no gears, no dials, no meters, no tubes. Clearly no spigot.

“You think maybe they just didn’t get finished with this one?” Spitz asked.

“He may be some other kinda experiment. No reason to think he ain’t dangerous,” Durazzo added.

“Look, they already shaved his head. Looks like a friggin’ monk. Why’d they do that? Huh? Bet they did something to his brain, filled him fulla Nazi hate juice or something.”

“How fuckin’ scientific.”

“I say we leave it where it is, blow this shithole and be done with it,” Large said, then spit on the beast. “Fuckin’ Natzees.”

“Not your call,” Public said, cutting a towering figure that blocked the others from the table and made his intentions clear. Just then, the beast’s paw jerked in its leather strap and closed around the General’s wrist.

Large raised his rifle, Durazzo yanked his knife, but General Public held up his free hand to stay them. He turned and lowered his ear again, this time near the beast’s lips.

“Hilf mir,” the ape-thing whispered. Help me.

The cigarette in Spitz’s mouth fell from his lips. “Fuck a duck. That monkey just said words.”

Four hours later, General Public marched with the survivors of his unit into the Tyrol, a dead corporal slung over one shoulder, and a live ape-man on the other.

General Public, Part Two

Aside

BROCK STONE

Detroit, Michigan Thanksgiving 1956

General Public—no, Brock Stone; the General was dead to him now—made it as far as Detroit before the withdrawals started. While there may not have been any magic super-serum that transformed him from regular Joe to G.I. Jehovah, there had been a lot more than extra ammo and mystic weapons tech in those belt pouches. On the streets of Chicago, he’d left a pharmacopia of substances that had made General Public possible. The stimulants to improve his speed and agility, not to mention keep him conscious and in so-called fighting form for days at a stretch. Also the senso-enhancers that let him notice absolutely everything within the parameters of his sight, touch, hearing and smell, the mood stabilizers that allowed him to appear the perpetual paragon of unwaveringly upbeat virtue and fortitude, the constant synth-tosterone injections that increased his strength exponentially but made maintaining that supposed virtue off the battlefield that much more unlikely. Not to mention the powerful painkillers that were meant to dull the negative effects of the sensos, which had the unfortunate side effect of making every injury feel even more profound than it was. Problem was, he had to keep taking that stuff in regular and frequently increased dosages pretty much all the time in order to keep up the image. And if/when his supply went dry, which was wont to happen in the privations of a wartime setting, he was well and rightly screwed, crashing into an exhausted gibbering shivering wreck until he could sleep off the comedown or reach a resupply station. He once hid in a Bavarian barn for nearly two weeks waiting for a drop, more afraid of being found out by his own men than caught out by the Nazis. He finally managed to regain enough strength to make his escape by castrating six of the farmer’s bulls and devouring their testicles as a midnight snack.

Now he was going cold turkey, a strung-out ex-hero on the run, if not from actual justice, at least from the burden of being its living symbol.

He found a hotel—a flophouse really—in the heart of downtown, rented a room with the two dollars he’d found in the hollowed-out bootheel of a snoring hobo on the freight train that carried him away from his final battle and deposited him here. Dragged himself up six flights of stairs, kicking at rats with the last of his strength, their rodent hisses and snarls putting him in mind of Doktor Spleisser’s hideous mutant Dobermenschen. Staggered to the door past a sneering whore who briefly transformed into the uber-bitch Sister Hitler, the hapless sailor boy john on her arm never knowing the tortures that awaited him behind her door. Belly-crawled to the bed across a carpet of the dead and dying, trying not to put his hands in the guts and gore that spilled from yawning wounds. Climbed into the bed using the thin blanket like a hastily made rope ladder trailing from a speeding gyrocopter, a hateful face staring down at him from the cockpit, trying to kick him loose with a savage boot. He made it anyway, and threw himself down on the lumpy mattress before the hallucinations kicked off in earnest.

The neon sign blinking outside his window became the red flash of battlefield explosions, and Brock jerked away in spastic reflex. The shouts of people passing by down on State Street were the shocked and terrified screams of doomed soldiers who just wanted one more chance to see their mamas, or kiss their best girls. Brock prayed for unconsciousness, to a God he was sure had abandoned them all, but open or shut, all his eyes could see were nightmares.

All fighting men were witnesses to the unspeakable, but as the appointed savior of the free world, General Public beheld things that regulation dogfaces could scarcely comprehend.

At the entrance to the Hollow Earth, dead Nazi foot soldiers rose once again from the Antarctic snow, mindless killing machine-men with crudely implanted electrodes sending orders to their otherwise thoughtless brains. In his memory, he’d overcome them easily, knocking out servo-motors and pulling wires and watching them slow and still like unwound clocks, frozen statues in full uniform. But now they surged and swarmed, many more of them than he remembered, and it was they that were undoing him, one piece at a time. And he was helpless to stop them, helpless to reach the laughing bastard that created and controlled them, unable to stop the man as he removed Public’s silver helmet, and then his brittle skull…

As fingers sank into soft gray matter, he was transported to the skies over Luxembourg, onboard a dirigible filled with deadly nerve gas, as Air Marshal Bludwulf pumped round after round from his Luger into his impenetrable chest armor. Only this time, the bullets punched through like his uniform was tissue paper, sinking heavily into his torso and taking on lives of their own inside, not just puncturing organs or smashing against bone, but changing him in some terrible way. Bludwulf took the last parachute and jumped free—again, this wasn’t how it happened last time—laughing and falling away and firing one last shot right into the zeppelin’s hull. Just before it exploded and the world went white, Public saw that he wasn’t alone. The laughing maniac from the Hollow Earth expedition was there again, perfectly happy to sit behind the controls and let this play out, as long as it meant watching America’s Last Best Hope die in searing agony as he failed to save even a corner of the world.

The KamiNazi got the best of him on Iwo Jima, delivering a blast of energy that sent him flying nearly two hundred feet. “I’m okay,” he told the medic that rushed to his aid. “I was carried to safety by the explosion.” That was just as he remembered it. Until he looked down and saw that his legs had been blown off, one below the knee and one at the hip. The KamiNazi cheered his own victory and exploded, an orange-yellow blast of rising sun that swept across the island, flash-frying every hopeless soldier in its path. Even as the mushroom cloud turned the skies to winter night, the laughing man was there again, a strange pair of someone else’s legs tucked under his arms, and this time, he spoke. “Not to worry,” he said, and the General was pretty certain he was speaking German, but he understood the creep just fine. “I can fix you. You will be better than ever when I am through with you.” As he shoved the spare body parts against Brock’s bloodied stumps, they fused instantly into place, and he screamed in agony as his hypersenses felt every bit of the unnatural melding, and his body struggled to reject the unwanted limbs. As the shockwave and heat blast from KamiNazi’s self-destruction rolled over him in agonizing slow motion, his new foreign legs were forcing him to stand and walk…

…into a laboratory, high in the German Alps, enormous glass tubes filled with liquid, skinless bodies bobbing within like tropical fish specimens in an alien aquarium. He’d been here, too, after the fall of Berlin. There’d been no resistance then, no one to fight. Just him and a squadron of exhausted soldiers, hoping to find a comfortable bed to sleep in and maybe a hidden cache of fine European liquor, not more horror. But the horror never ended, even when the war did. And even if they were lucky to be alive, they hadn’t really escaped anything. Just moved to the next level of shit.

“It disturbs you, does it not?” The little sneering Nazi fuck again, emerging from the shadows in his labcoat, peering out from thick goggles, holding something under one arm, not a severed limb this time, but a strange jar of some kind, with dials and switches and an electric crackle emanating from one end, filled with thick green liquid and something floating inside, maybe some kind of mutant monster thing, and in the other hand, a giant steel syringe. “To know that in spite of all of your efforts, you have lost? That your own country has managed to handily snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? But did you ever believe, even if you truly managed to save it, that you would return to the same place you had left? It is not America that changed. It was always a dark and terrible place. It is you. The veil has lifted. For the first time, your eyes are truly open. And you are able to see Hell for what it is. And while it believes it has no more need of you, the hard, sad fact is, America needs you more than ever. But it is too late. And in a way, it always was…”

The Nazi rambled on, even as he plunged the syringe into the neck of the jar and drew some of the green stuff into it. When he did, the thing inside seemed to stir, and rolled toward Brock with a pair of wild staring hate-filled eyes on stalks. Eyes attached to a brain that was somehow miraculously alive in there.

Brock tried to say something. He’d been trying the whole time, but nothing would come. It was like he didn’t know any words. The brain in the jar was alive, but his was dead. And what did it matter, really? This was just a hallucination. In a few hours, or days, or weeks, all of this would end, and he’d be able to go downstairs, outside, grab a pint of whisky, eat some pork chops, find a girl to bang. And everything would be fine. Just fine.

“We are here, you know? Even as we speak—well, even as I speak—we walk and work and live among your people, occupying homes on your streets, enjoying the view from corner offices meant for you and yours, brought here on America’s dime, ready and willing to direct your future, to manipulate it to our own ends. To re-orient the path of history and bring the Reich back on track. This is not your homecoming. It never was. It is mine. America is the Fatherland of the Future. And you are a memory.”

His limbs were weak and heavy and even his new self-determined legs were buckling as the sneering Nazi scientist plunged the big needle into his neck, and Brock Stone let out a scream to beat the band.