Alice Deich pulled into her driveway after work
and instantly felt an ominous presence looming behind her. As a rumbling
roar filled her ears, she glanced into the rearview mirror of her car
and saw brown. The mental image of a rabid buffalo came to mind. It was
nearly upon her now. Her shoulders tensed as she prepared for the
But before it came, the brown behemoth geared down and halted with a
squeal of tortured brakes. The truck stopped a foot and half from the
bumper of Alice's red Subaru Forester. It was so close, in fact, that
the heat from the vehicle's engine radiated, like dragon's breath,
through the glass of the back window.
Alice sighed in relief. It was only the UPS man. Sammy Sasquatch.
She and her husband, Jim, called him that as sort of an inside joke. The
guy was nice and friendly, but he was at least six foot nine and as
hairy as the legendary Bigfoot. She couldn't look at him without
thinking of some eccentric monster-hunter making a plaster cast of his
size-19 foot print.
Alice, herself, was quite the opposite of the hulking deliveryman. At
age 55, she was short—five foot four—and slightly overweight,
although not in a way that made people consider her as such. Solid was
more like it. Her father liked to say that she was built like a brick
shithouse... with great affection, of course. Her hair was currently
long and blonde, complimenting her ice blue eyes.
Alice slid out of her car and waited for a moment. Sammy was taking his
own good time, sitting in the cab of the UPS truck, fiddling with
something or other, like most of those drivers did. Then he left his
seat, ducked in the back, and bounded down the side steps to the
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Deich,” he said with a big, goofy grin. His
teeth shown from his bristly black beard like a hungry shark in dark
“Hi, Sammy,” said Alice, smiling back. “How are you today?”
“A-okay. Sort of warm for May, but I'll survive. Got something for
you here.” He handed her a bulky brown envelope.
As Alice took the package, she tactfully glanced down
at the man's legs. Not that she made a habit of checking out men's
legs—other than her husband's—but whenever Sammy wore his
summer shorts, he looked like a satyr with furry goat legs, but
sporting knee socks and Skechers, instead of cloven hooves. She was
relieved to find that he was still decked out in his long pants.
Alice was surprised at the weight of the package. “Awfully heavy for a
“Cookbook?” asked the driver curiously.
“Yes. I rented an old German cookbook from an online book service
called AncientTomes.com,” she explained. “My husband's grandmother
used to prepare a dish for him, something called Kaese Spaetzie, when he
was a kid. I thought I might be able to find it in here. I wanted to
make it for our anniversary. We'll be married 37 years
“Congratulations,” said Sammy. “Yeah, I've heard of Ancient
Tomes.com before. Sort of like Netflix, but with old books. My father
used it to research his genealogy. Our family is originally
The Himalayas? wondered Alice in the back of her
“...Italy. I always wondered how they could ship out valuable books to
just anyone. Seems like a mighty big risk.”
Alice shrugged. “They're probably not that
valuable. You know, some kid probably doodled in the pages or
stuck a wad of bubble gum on them over the years. Even the Dead Sea
Scrolls would lose value if someone left a coffee stain on them.”
“I suppose so,” he agreed. “Sign here, please.”
She took the electronic clipboard and groaned inwardly. Although she
dealt with paperwork all day long—making her living as a
payroll/HRIS coordinator for a global manufacturer of electronic sensors
—signing her signature electronically always made her a bit uneasy
for some reason. It never quite ended up looking like her actual
signature, almost as though a bogus Alice Deich was attempting to steal
Alice scribbled on the narrow display and handed
it back to him. “Thanks, Sammy.”
“Hope you have a nice anniversary,” he said before hopping back into
the panel truck. Soon, he was backing out onto Main Street like a
roaring brown force of nature and heading for his next stop in the quiet
neighborhood on the outskirts of Ridgefield Park, New York.
Alice hefted the envelope in her hand, marveling at its weight. “Must
be one helluva cookbook,” she mused as she fumbled with her keys and
let herself through the front door of their two-story colonial.
As she crossed the inside entry and stepped into the main hallway, her
two dogs, Ruby and Spatz, rushed to meet her. “Hey there, guys!”
Alice said, crouching down to receive furry hugs and an affectionate
face-licking. But before they got within three feet of her, both halted
abruptly and began to whimper. Then, as spooked by something, they
turned tail and ran back down the hallway toward the kitchen.
That was strange, she thought to herself,
wondering what had come over them.
Alice entered the living room and tossed her purse onto sofa, then sat
down and tore open the padded envelope. Instantly a smell like a nest of
dead mice assaulted her nostril. A cookbook that stunk like that
certainly wouldn't whet your appetite for the culinary delights
It was when she withdrew the book from the sleeve that Alice realized
that some sort of mistake had been made. Ancient Tomes.com hadn't sent
the German cookbook she had requested. Instead they had sent her...
well, at first she couldn't figure out exactly what the thing was.
It was a large book bound in dark brown leather and embossed with a
border of strange symbols that Alice had never seen before. The pages
within looked yellowed and brittle. On the very center of the cover was
etched the title of the book in letters the color of dried blood
.XENOPHRAMONICON. The leather that bound it felt strangely cold and
slightly moist to the touch, and for an unsettling moment, the ancient
volume had almost seemed to pulse in her
Just holding the book made Alice uneasy and, truthfully, a little bit
frightened, which was a major task since she was an ardent horror fan.
She owned bookshelves of horror novels and short story collections;
everyone from Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, to Richard Matheson and
Ray Bradbury. Her favorite author was Brian Keene, whose zombie books
she read and collected with a passion. Alice even had Keene's cell
phone number. She had gotten it from a lady she worked with... a friend
of a cousin of a next door neighbor who had hung out with Brian in a
karaoke bar at a Nashville horror/sci-fi convention. Alice had been
tempted to call him several times, but had always chickened out. She
knew she would end up gushing and gibbering and sounding like some
crazed fan-stalker on PCP.
As a matter of fact, she remembered Keene mentioning this very book—
XENOPHRAMONICON—in an interview he did with Cemetery Dance Magazine,
although she couldn't recall much about what he had said. Something
about using it during some research for a novel or something.
Alice opened the book and, instantly, the oddest sensation of
disorientation seemed to grip her. The space within the living room
seemed to somehow expand, then just as quickly
recede. One of her three cats, Hermione was
lounging on the top of an armchair nearby. Its ears perked and it hissed
spitefully, then leapt onto the floor and exited the living room with as
much haste as the two dogs had earlier.
Alice had only flipped through several pages when she realized that
there was something definitely wrong with this
book. It was hand-lettered and illustrated, like many of the old
illuminated manuscripts of medieval times, such as the Irish Book of
Kells. But the calligraphy was less than elegant. It was narrow and
jagged, and the drawings were ghastly and unnerving. One showed a
goat-headed demon with long, spiral horns and a dozen slimy tendrils,
each holding a dagger or lance, performing a sacrifice on a young
virgin. As the thing withdrew her entrails and devoured them, the
helpless maiden stared up from the page with horror and agony.
She heard a car outside and glanced through the big front window to see
her husband, Jim, pulling into the drive. Alice slammed the book shut
and, instantly, that sensory illusion of skewered time and space
“Alice!” Jim called from the entryway.
“I'm in here,” she answered, feeling relieved that he was
Her husband, bearded with longish graying hair, turned the corner and
entered the room. Jim was currently a software engineer for a
telecommunications company, but his passion was for science and
research. Although he had left the world of academia and entered the
commercial rat-race, Alice knew that secretly wished he was back at
Barnard University, doing animal learning and behavioral research.
“How was your day?” he asked, flipping through the mail he had
picked up before entering the house.
“Uh, fine, I suppose,” she said. She stared at that ugly brown book
that set on the coffee table.
Jim looked up from the handful of bills and instantly noticed it. He
stepped forward, his hand outstretched. “Hey... what's this?”
“Don't touch it!” Alice blurted in a
shrill tone that alarmed even herself.
“Alice?” asked Jim, startled by her outburst. “What's
She shrugged. “I don't know. I guess it's this nasty book that
Ancient Tomes.com sent me by mistake. I requested a German cookbook, so
I could make Kaese Spaetzie for our anniversary party
Jim's eyes grew dreamy, thinking of the dish
of pasta, onion, and Emmentaler cheese he had enjoyed during his
childhood. “Well, that was thoughtful of you.”
“But instead of the cookbook, they sent this thing.” She
pointed to the thick book with XENOPHRAMONICON etched in dull red on the
Before she could stop him, Jim picked it up. His eyes narrowed slightly
and she could see his analytical mind was at work. “This is
practically archaic!” he said in fascination. “Early 200 or 300 A.D.
I would say. The binding and materials are incredibly well-preserved for
As he opened the cover, Alice wanted to scream “STOP!”, but of
course she didn't. Jim's excitement seemed to increase, as he
delicately turned one page, then another. “It'swritten in a form of
Latin commonly used before the crusades of Old England. The calligraphy
is unlike anything I've seen before. Not stylish like most illuminated
manuscripts, but almost as though it was transcribed in a hurry. The
illustrations seemed to have been given alot of time and thought,
though.” He smiled at his wife. “Looks like something out of your
own twisted book collection, don't you think?” He displayed a page
that held a drawing of rotten bodies rising from a tombstone-laden
cemetery, their eyes hungry, their gnarled hands outstretched.
“It repulses me!” said Alice.
“Zombies?” laughed Jim with amusement. “I thought you loved
zombies.” He pointed to a nearby bookcase.
Nestled between hardcover editions of Keene's The
Rising and City of the Dead, where
several of her Ooak gothic dolls—just a small sampling of Alice's
growing collection. One was a zombie infant with sunken, skeletal
features and exposed, flesh-chomping teeth. Next to it, sat a clown
holding a butcher knife and a Zuni Warrior fetish doll similar to the
one who hunted Karen Black in Trilogy of
“Fictional zombies,” she replied. She could
almost smell the decay of the living dead reeking from that ancient
drawing, as well as the cold, clammy sensation of their fingertips upon
her flesh. “Not real ones.”
Jim laughed out loud. “This thing has really got you spooked, hasn't
“It's... it's unholy!” she told him.
“Can't you sense that? I think Spatz and Ruby did. And Hermione,
Again, Jim chuckled. “What I see here is a fascinating artifact that
should be on display in a museum. Hey, maybe this could be my
“No way! I'm sticking that thing in the return envelope and shipping
it back out tomorrow.”
Jim looked disappointed and maybe a bit irked by her suggestion. “But
couldn't we keep it for a couple of days? I'd love to dig into
“I don't want that thing in this house any longer than it has to
be,” she said sternly.
Jim shrugged and set it back down on the sofa. He knew how strong-willed
a woman his wife was. “Okay. It just seems interesting to me. Not the
portal to a hellish underworld that you seem to believe it is.”
Alice grinned and laughed. “I'm sorry. It just gives me the creeps,
that's all. I guess because it came today, of all days. I don't want
anything to spoil our anniversary tomorrow.”
Jim sat on the sofa and put his arm around her shoulders. “And nothing
will. The house will be full of friends and family, and we'll have a
great time. And you're going to love the present I got you.”
“I can hardly wait,” Alice said. She gave her husband a peck on the
cheek. Then she laid the return envelope on top of the ancient copy of
XENOPHRAMONICON, as if intending to hide its presence. And for an
instant, she almost thought she saw the paper of the envelope flutter a
bit... as though the thing underneath had shuddered in contempt at its
The following afternoon, the Deich household was, just as Jim predicted,
full of loved ones... all who had come to celebrate their 37th
Some of their closest friends and family were there. Alice's best
friend, Janet, and her husband, Gary, came early to help them set up for
the anniversary party. An hour later, Alice's family arrived.
Alice's biological mother—who she had only met seven years ago—
was a spry 87 years and kept her constantly on her toes. Alice's
sister, Crystal, also attended, along with the brood of four
grandchildren she raised on her own. Alice's grand-nieces were all
girls and all uniquely different in their own way. Emma was the
youngest; a dark-haired, big-eyed, bundle of energy, while Hailey was a
blonde tweenie fashionista who favored stylish clothes and heels. Dawn
was a black-haired teen who looked very Goth in appearance, but
stubbornly claimed not to be. The fourth and eldest was Christie, a
long-haired, willowy blonde with an incredibly sharp sense of humor.
Even though the house was filled with laughter and celebration, Alice
couldn't help but feel an increasing sense of uneasiness. She supposed
it had to do with the events of the night before—after she and Jim
had retired for the evening—or so she had thought.
Alice hadn't wanted to dwell on all that in light of the anniversary
party. But Janet sensed that something was disturbing her and, pulling
her aside, insisting on knowing what was going on.
“You've been in a funky mood since we got here,” she told her.
“What's wrong?You and Jim didn't have a fight, did you?”
Alice wanted to claim that everything was just fine, but she simply
couldn't. “Well, itstarted with a nightmare that I had last
Janet's eyes gleamed. “Tell me. You know I just love to hear about
“I was in a graveyard,” Alice began, “late at night. The place was
choked with tombstones. They were so close together, you could hardly
walk between them. One stone had the name DEICH carved into it and, on
top of it, sat an anniversary cake with black candles. The candles had a
weird purple flame flickering on each and gave off a stench like burnt
sulfur. Brimstone, I believe.”
Janet grinned. “That's so weird. Go on...
what happened next.”
“Well, I was walking through this graveyard, when I sensed something
coming up behind me fast. I turned and, in the moonlight, was... this is
the crazy part... my UPS driver. He was riding a rabid buffalo, but that
wasn't all. His skin was grayish-green and he had these long spiral
horns sticking up out of his head and slimy tentacles like an octopus
coming out of his ribcage. He was dressed in a brown robe—sort of
half UPS uniform and half sacrificial vestments—and held an ancient
book in his hand. He was reading it aloud and, as he did so, the graves
around me began to burst open and all these... well, you know...
zombies began to crawl out.”
Her best friend rolled her eyes. “Zombies! Of course, it had
to be zombies.”
“Are you going to let me tell this or what?” Alice said. “Anyway,
I turned to run. They came after me, slow and shambling, like Romero's
classic zombies, not these souped-up, uber-fast zombies the movies have
today. I knew I was going to make it to my house up ahead, when
suddenly... a huge reptilian foot came crashing down, destroying it and
everything in it.”
“And the giant reptilian foot belonged to?”
Alice grinned sheepishly. “Uh, it was Godzilla. Hey, I was scared to
death of him when I was kid, okay? The big radioactive lizard and
zombies are my favorite monsters, you know.”
“Then what happened?”
“I turned back toward the graveyard and found the zombies all over
me... pulling me downward... their teeth snapping... hungering for my
warm, supple flesh. Then I woke up.”
“Sounds like a typical Alice Deich nightmare to me,” said Janet.
“So what's with the dark mood today?”
“Well, after waking up from the dream, I found that Jim wasn't in
bed with me,” Alice told her with a frown. “I noticed that a
downstairs light was on, so I went down to check. I, uh, found Jim
sitting in the living room... with a book.”
“A book? So what?”
“It was book he really shouldn't have been reading,” Alice said
Janet's eyes widened. “Was it a dirty book?”
Alice thought about it for a second. “Yes! It was!”
“And while he was looking at this book, was Jim... you know... playing
“No!” scoffed Alice. The thought both horrified and amused her.
“It wasn't that kind of book. It was some
ancient tome an online book rental site sent me by mistake. A creepy
book with some really weird and dark stuff in it. Anyhow, Jim has had an
unhealthy fascination with it since it arrived yesterday. And there he
was, in the living room late last night, reading it out loud. In ancient
“Sounds like Jim to me,” said Janet shrugging her shoulders. “So
what was the problem?”
“I don't know... it was the way he was doing it, I suppose,” Alice
admitted. “He seemed to have this gleeful, almost insane, look on his
face as he read. And his hands were running almost lustfully over the
leather cover of the book... sort of like the way he caresses my back
and ass when we make love.”
“TMI! Too Much Information!” said Janet, pressing her hands over her
ears. “I didn't need to know that...”
“Aw hush! Anyway, there he was, fondling that
nasty old book, and I walk in. He seems to be having trouble pronouncing
something... the name of the book, or the name of the demon in
the book maybe... then he stops cold when he sees
me standing there.Jim sort of leers at me and, for a second, I swear his
eyes were glowing red!”
“Are you sure that wasn't a dream, too?”
“No, it really happened! Honestly, I felt a little
betrayed... like Jim was cheating on me.”
“With a dirty old book,” said Janet. “I swear, Alice, you're
getting mucho paranoid in your old age.”
“Well, you wanted to know, so I told you,” Alice said.
“Next time I'll keep my mouth shut,” Janet said, laughing. “Now
come on. Let's get this party rolling. Why don't you and Jim
exchange gifts and then we'll eat.”
A few minutes later, everyone was gathered in the dining room. Jim
opened his gifts first. He was delighted to find an Apple iPad in one
box and a blue swirl Kosta Boda vase for his collection of Swedish art
glass in another. Then it was Alice's turn.
“Happy Anniversary, dear,” he said, handing her a large box wrapped
in jet black paper.
Alice appraised the black box. “Is this a gag gift... like I got for
my 50th birthday?”
Jim thought for a moment. “Gag gift... well, that's a matter of
opinion. Why don't you open it and find out?”
Alice tore into the paper and squealed when she saw the OOAK imprint on
the box underneath. “You didn't!”
Jim nodded grimly. “Yes. Unfortunately, I did.”
She opened it and lifted out a gray-skinned baby doll with a lacy pink
gown and a single, big blue eye set above chubby fanged cheeks.
“It's my Cyclops baby!” she said, snuggling it tightly. “It's
beautiful! I can't believe you bought it for me!”
Jim smiled and shook his head. “Yeah, well, it was either that one or
the one with the nails hammered in its eyeballs. Never mind that we
could have taken an Alaskan cruise with what I paid for it. But I know
how you love the evil little things. It's a testament of my undying
love for you that I would buy something that totally freaks me
Alice kissed her husband, then regarded the Cyclops infant lovingly.
“I think I'll call her Baby Murine.”
Jim raised his fists in mock horror. “Good God! What have I
“Can I hold her, Aunt Alice?” asked little Emma.
“Sure, honey.” Alice laid the eyed baby in the girl's arms with
the care of a mother handing over her own flesh-and-blood offspring.
“But be extra careful with it.”
“Yeah,” said Jim. “You wouldn't want to poke its eye out or
Afterward they set dinner on the table; about everything you could
imagine had been prepared, except Kaese Spaetzie. Alice was helping
Crystal and Mom break out the china and silverware, when she noticed
that someone was missing.
“Where's Jim?” she asked.
“I thought I saw him go into the living room,” said Gary.
Alice excused herself and headed down the hallway. The moment she turned
the corner and entered the room, she knew that Jim was up to his own
tricks again. He stood in the center of the living room, the book in his
hands, reading out loud. Before she could stop him, he closed his eyes
and said “Xenophrabrauix!” in a loud, clear
Almost instantly there was tremendous rumble and the house seemed to
shift on its foundation.
“Jim!” cried Alice. “What have you done?”
Her husband snapped out of it, looking disoriented. He stared at the
book in his hands and found that blood was seeping from the pores of the
living leather. Jim flung it down as though he were holding a beating
human heart. “I... I don't know. I was just trying to pronounce that
name. All I did was say it out loud.”
“I think that's known as “calling forth”, sweetheart,” she
said. “So this dude in the book with the slimy tentacles and the
gazelle horns is this Xenowhatsit-guy. And you've sent him a personal
invitation to the party!”
“You're overreacting, Alice,” he told her. “It's just some
Hailey peeked around the corner, looking more than a little distressed.
“Aunt Alice, there's a bad storm brewing outside.”
Alice and Jim stepped to the big front window and looked out. The sky
was boilingwith dark turbulent clouds where only sunshine and endless
blue stretched before. A strange purple light emanated from beyond the
swirling vapor, reminding her uncomfortably of the violet-flamed candles
on the anniversary cake of her nightmare.
Ever the scientist, Jim studied the strange weather formation with
interest. “This is very peculiar. It almost looks like an odd
combination of rotating cumulus, the North Lights, and...”
“A black hole!” added Alice. “Oh, Jim... what have you
“Alice!” called Crystal from the dining room.
“Alice, I think you'd better get in here!”
Alice and Jim rushed down the hall. Crystal was standing by one of the
room's five windows. “Uh, I thought you ought to know... your
neighbor's dog is eating... well, it's eating your neighbor.”
Alice peered through the gathering gloom beyond the window panes to find
that it was true. The Peterson's basset hound, Mr. Jingles, was
ripping the throat out of Mr. Peterson. The dog's eyes glowed that
same hellish red that Jim's had the night before as it wolfed down
bloody flesh and cartilage.
“Alice!” called her elderly mother from a window in the kitchen.
“Some weird things are happening at your other neighbors, too. Come
She rushed to look in the direction of the Hales. The entire family—
father, mother, and twin sons—where climbing over the retaining
fence and heading for the Deich house. They were dead, that was to be
certain. Their flesh was a pasty gray-green pallor and their eyes glowed
with unholy fire.
“Looks like zombies to me,” said Mom. “There goes the
“I'm afraid you're right, Mom,” replied Alice. She recalled the
many zombie stories she'd read and began to rummage through the
kitchen drawers. She handed her mother a meat cleaver. “Take this. If
one of them comes for you....”
“Go for the head!” she said, her small eyes gleaming. ”Don't
worry. I'll split ‘em from scalp to sternum!”
“That's the spirit, Mom,” mumbled Alice, a little perturbed by her
mother's zeal in the face of otherworldly chaos.
“Alice, your neighbor has come back to life and is eating his dog
now,” Crystal called from the dining room.
“Yeah, I pretty much expected that,” Alice was suddenly aware of
just how many windows the colonial house possessed. Twenty or more in
all. As if on cue, she heard the big picture window in the living room
shatter. “Jim, Gary... they're coming in!”
They rushed down the hall and entered the living room just as three
zombies began climbing through the jagged ruins of the window frame. One
was Mrs. Nelson from across the street. The woman wore a ratty housecoat
and large pink plastic curlers in her honey blonde hair. Her mouth was
smeared with gore where she had been gnawing on Mr. Nelson's right
hand, which she still carried, its stump a ruin of ragged meat and
Alice searched the room for a weapon, but couldn't find one. There
were plenty of books on the shelves, though. She looked for the thickest
and heaviest one of the bunch. She picked King's The
Stand—the uncut version—grabbed it off the shelf with
both hands and swung. The heavy tome collided with Mrs. Nelson's
forehead, leaving an ugly spine imprint in the undead flesh. Alice took
better aim next time and clobbered her a second time. Mrs. Nelson's
brains painted the living room as she flipped backward out the window
and onto the lawn.
Two more zombies—a Direct TV installer and old Mr. Shaw from down
the street were already in the living room. Jim had found an old
baseball bat they kept in the house for protection and stepped forward,
his fists gripping the handle tightly. “So this is what all those
zombie stories and movies are like?” he asked.
“Yeah,” said Alice apologetically. “Sorry.”
“Hey, I'm the one who brought them here. Might as well be the one
who shows them out.” And, with that, he swung the bat so forcefully
that most of the Direct guy's skull was driven out of the back of his
head, while the rest squirted out his ears. Gary gave the guy a kick in
the stomach, sending him the way of Mrs. Nelson. Old Man Shaw bared his
toothless gums and came for them. Jim and Gary looked at one another and
shrugged. Then both took the harmless zombie by the arms and tossed him
out onto thelawn. The elderly man struggled on his back like an
overturned turtle for a moment, then got shakily to his feet and started
for the window again.
“The bookcases!” Alice told them. “Push them in front of the
Soon, the gaping maw of the living room window was covered by a couple
of wooden bookcases filled with Alice's book collection. The sound of
more shattering glass came from other areas of the lower floor.
“We'll take care of it,” said Jim. Brandishing the bat and a billy
club, he and Gary headed to the points of intrusion..
Alice turned to find Christie standing in the doorway, looking scared.
“Christie, take your sisters and the furkids upstairs and barricade
yourselves in a bedroom.”
“Got another Louisville Slugger you could loan me?” she asked.
“Afraid not, sweetie. If you lock the doors, you should be okay. There
are a lot of windows up there, but zombies aren't exactly Spiderman
when it comes to climbing.”
“I'll take care of them, Aunt Alice.” Soon Christie and the other
girls were bounding up the staircase with Spatz, Ruby, Pyewacket,
Esmeralda, and Hermione in tow.
Alice found herself alone in the living room for the time being.
Suddenly a possible source of help came to mind. She went to her K
through P bookshelf and began to rummage through a copy of
“Great, when I'm scared to call, I have
the number,” she mumbled to herself. “But when I really need it, I
can't find the damn thing!”
Suddenly, a slip of paper fell out and drifted to the floor. Alice
snatched it up and began to dial the number on her cell phone. She
waited impatiently as the phone on the opposite end of the line began to
ring. Then, abruptly, a male voice spoke.
“Uh, yes,” said Alice, “is this Brian Keene?”
“This is he,” replied the man on the other end of the line. “And
“I'm Alice Deich calling from New York.”
“How did you get this number, Alice?” he asked.
“A friend of a cousin of a next door neighbor of a lady I work
“Yeah, yeah... I get that a lot. So what can I do for you, Alice? Are
you a fan?”
Glass shattered from the back of the house.
Alice stepped into the hallway to see gray-fleshed arms straining
through the broken panes like something out of Night of
the Living Dead. “Uh, yeah, sure. I love your stuff. But
that's not why I'm calling.”
Keene's voice sounded a tad disappointed. “Okay... so what do
“How do you kill a zombie?”
The horror author chuckled, waiting for the punchline. “Okay, tell
me... how do you kill a zombie?”
Alice began to get impatient with this bozo. “No, this isn't a damn
joke. Really, how do you kill them?”
“Are you serious?”
A wariness seemed to sound in Keene's voice. “Uh, right. Okay, just
shoot ‘em in the head, I guess. Always seemed to work in my
“I'm a pacifist,” Alice told him. “We don't have any guns in
“Hmmm. Tough for you. I guess get a big ass knife and cut their
freaking heads off. Shit, I don't know.”
“Is that all you have to give me? You're supposed to be the big
Keene's polite attitude began to crack and crumble. “Okay, who put
you up to this? Ed Lee? Jesus Gonzelaz?”
“Like I said before.... THIS IS NO JOKE!!”
“Hey, are you that stalker-fan chick I met at World Horror? The one
with the Conqueror Worms tattooed down her arms and legs?”
Alice closed her eyes and counted to ten. She had no idea the guy could
be so infuriating. “Okay, let me explain this to you. Did you happen
to rent a book called Xenophramonicon from Ancient Tomes.com?”
There was a stretch of silence on the other end of the line. “Yeah...
back when I was doing research for The
“Did you read it?”
“To tell the truth, the thing kinda creeped me out. Don't tell me
“Yes,” said Alice. “I got a hold of it, too.... by
“But you didn't read it... out loud... did you?”
“Of course not! Do you take me for an idiot?” said Alice. “My
“Oh. Sounds like a real winner you have there.”
“So, if this demon was called forth, how do we get rid of him?”
“Beats me,” said Keene. “Sacrifice a hamster. Say his name
backwards. Run like hell.”
Behind her echoed the sound of more shattering glass and the ravenous
moans of the undead.
“Uh, do I hear zombies?”
“Yes,” Alice told him.
“Cool.” Then the line went dead with a click.
Alice shook her head in disgust. “Whole lot of help he was!”
Upstairs, Christie and the rest of the girls were holed up in Aunt
Alice's favorite room in the house; the one with five windows and most
of her Ooak gothic doll collection.
“Are those really honest to odness zombies?” asked Emma, holding
Baby Murine in her arms while peering out the upstairs windows.
“No, they're just really sick people,” Dawn told her. “They have
a virus or something.”
“Is that what makes them eat each other?” her little sister wanted
“I'd think you'd believe in all this, Dawn,” said Christie.
“You being as Goth as you are.”
“I am not Goth!” declared the dark-haired,
dark-eyed girl dressed in dark clothing.
“Well you could sure fool me,” her older sister told her.
Suddenly, Emma dropped the one-eyed doll. “Hey, what's going
on?”crawl toward them.
“Now the dolls are coming to life, too!” shrieked Hailey.
Dawn turned to find Elzebethe—a red-eyed, devil-horned baby wearing
an orange “My First Halloween” jumper and black cat booties—
toddling toward her, arms outstretched. “Mommy!” it chirped through
a mouthful of fangs.
“See,” said Christie, “I told you
that you were Goth.”
“Stay away from me, you little freak!” shrilled Dawn, kicking the
evil doll across the room.
“Here come some more!” warned Hailey. She stood backed into a
corner, afraid to move a muscle.
Two of the possessed dolls—one a Frankenstein-like baby named
Kreachur and the other a rusty-furred werewolf named Ulrich—started
toward them. Christie spotted a fake samurai sword hanging on the wall
and grabbed hold of its wrapped handle. Taking a ninja stance, she
brandished the sword overhead, then swung it in a wide arc. The blade
severed the heads of the tiny monsters from their cloth and cotton
necks. One rolled under the bed, while the other landed in the corner
with Hailey, causing her to scream in alarm.
Ruby and Spatz barked gruffly at Baby Sybil, an infant in a canvas
straightjacket with a neck chain, who squirmed on the floor like a slug.
The cats sat on the headboard and hissed as a blue-skinned vampire girl
named Lilith flew around the room like an overgrown bat, dive-bombing
them as she cackled shrilly.
Emma felt a tug on her jeans and looked down to see Baby Murine trying
to pull itself up. The Cyclops' fangs gnashed hungrily.
“Sorry, Uncle Jim,” she said, taking a pencil from a bureau drawer.
“But desperate times call for desperate measures!” And, with that,
she plunged the Number 2 deeply into the pupil of Baby Murine's
single, blue eye.
Downstairs, Alice reached the kitchen to find the back door straining
against the weight of a zombie barrage. She also discovered the meat
cleaver lying, abandoned, on the counter next to the sink. Her mother
was nowhere to be found.
She turned to find Janet and Crystal standing behind her. The pair was
armed with a wooden meat tenderizer and the base of lamp. “Crystal...
“I don't know. She was here one minute, gone the next.”
Suddenly, the back door caved in and a swarm of zombies barreled in.
Alice, Janet, and Crystal began to back down the hallway toward the
living room. The stench of putrid flesh filled the house like day-old
roadkill baking in a Texas sun.
“There's too many of them!” cried Janet. “What are we going to
The zombies were nearly upon them, when the basement door burst open and
Alice's mother appeared. “Look at what I found downstairs!” She
yanked the cord of a chainsaw, sending it into sputtering life, the
barbed chain on its long blade spinning dangerously. It burped and
farted blue smoke as Mom leapt into the midst of the zombies, slinging
the chainsaw deftly, decapitating and maiming everything in its wake.
Alice watched in horrified amazement. Gunnar Hansen had absolutely
nothing on the 87 year old woman.
Alice and Crystal grabbed their mother—careful not to be beheaded
themselves—and dragged her down the hallway toward the front door.
As they reached the foot of the stairs, Jim and Gary appeared, running
down the steps with the girls behind them. “Did you know those blasted
dolls of yours are on a rampage, too?” her husband asked.
“Why wouldn't they be?” Alice snapped back at him. “The whole
world's gone to hell... thanks to someone opening the door to the Void
and inviting Ob to supper!”
“Boob?” Gary asked, a bit confused.
“I don't know if it's Ob as in boob, or Ob as in knob,” she
huffed. “All I know is that we've got to find some way to defeat it!
Does anybody have any bright ideas?”
Before anyone could answer, a tremendous crash echoed from the living
room, sending a hail of books, splintered wood, and bricks flying
through the air. When the dust finally settled, they found the front end
of a UPS truck lodged in the wall where the big picture window once was.
The windshield of the delivery van shattered and out slid a hulking
creature covered with coarse black fur and wearing a tattered brown
uniform. Its face was strangely goat-like and it bore long spiral horns
and slimy tentacles that would have put the legendary Cthulhu to shame.
“It's Sammy Sasquatch!” said Alice.
“Remind me to never criticize your nightmares again,” Janet said
over her shoulder.
The Sammy-Demon unleashed a roar that nearly split their eardrums.
“GIVE ME THE BOOK!” he said. “GIVE IT TO ME NOW, I
Alice saw the offensive tome lying amid dozens of other books. She
quickly snatched it up and tossed it to Jim. “Read the name again,
Jim,” she told him. “This time backwards.”
Jim reluctantly opened the book and began flipping through its yellowed
pages. “But you know I had a hard enough time pronouncing it before.
What makes you think I can do it right the other way...”
“Just do it!” she screamed. The earthly incarnation of the demon
Xenophrabrauix stomped toward them, purple fire leaping from his
fingertips. At the same time, the front door caved in and dozens of
zombies poured in like the waters of a broken dam. More zombies were
crowding into the kitchen, ready to partake of the buffet that consisted
of Alice and her unlucky guests.
“Here goes!” said Jim. He stood tall and, raising his voice above
the den of chaos, spoke a single word out loud.
Luckily, the first time was the charm. A great rumbling shook the house
for a second time and the darkness beyond the windows and doors gave way
to cleansing sunlight. Slowly, the zombies began to lose their
cadaverous pallor and regain the rosy glow of health and life. Sammy
Sasquatch let out a scream of defeat and agony. A swirl of purple fire
engulfed him and, abruptly, Sammy was transformed back into the
good-natured UPS driver he had been before. He stood there, staggering
on his feet, looking dazed and confused.
Alice wasted no time. She grabbed the ancient copy of XENOPHRAMONICON
out of Jim's hands, located the return envelope lying in the rubble,
and, stuffing the book inside it and securing it shut, walked over and
handed it to Sammy. “Here,” she said. “ II have a return I'd
like to make.”
Sammy took it passively. “Uh, yes, ma'am,” he muttered, not at all
sure exactly what had happened. Shaken, he climbed back into his
vehicle, scanned the envelope's pre-paid label, and then backed the
UPS truck back out of the hole in the front wall.
Alice turned to all the would-be zombies that milled around the house.
“You can all go home now,” she told them. “The party's
“I'll say,” said Janet. She grabbed her purse and her husband and
headed for the door. “The next time you consider inviting us to one of
these little get-togethers... please don't.” Then the couple was on
their way to their car.
“You bet your ass it was!” declared Mom. Reluctantly, she set the
chainsaw on the foot of the staircase and, gathering the girls, left
with her daughter.
When they were all gone, Alice and Jim stood alone in the ruins of their
Ridgefield Park home. Nearly every window was shattered and a huge nine
by nine foot hole marred their living room wall. They looked for the
remains of the slaughtered zombies, but upon the backwards reading of
the demon's name, the dead bodies and severed limbs had strangely
dissolved, disappearing into thin air.
Drained, Alice bent down and picked up one of her beloved Ooak dolls.
Gacy the demented clown lay limply in her hands, its garishly-painted
face caved in by a fallen bookcase. She tossed him down in utter
“You know,” she said. “After all this, I'm not sure I'll ever
feel the same about my dolls. I may never collect them again.”
Deep down inside, Jim cheered and gave himself a big high-five. But
outwardly, he simply said “I'm so sorry, dear.”
Alice was turning around to survey the damage in the dining room and
kitchen, when a flash of dark motion drew her attention to the
staircase. “Did you see that?” she asked her husband.
Alice walked to the staircase and glanced toward the second floor. The
riserswere empty, as were the rooms just beyond. “Nothing. Just seeing
things, I guess.”
They walked into the living room and stared through the massive crater
in the wall.
“So... how are we going to explain this?” Alice asked.
“Explain it?” said Jim. “Explain it to who?”
“The insurance company.”
He shook his head in bewilderment. “I don't know, but we'll think
Alice couldn't help but smile. “Happy Anniversary, you old
“And the same to you, my dear,” replied Jim. “Not the asshole
part, of course...”
Together, they set about the task of picking up expensive books and
mangled doll parts off the living room floor.
He hid beneath the bed of the upstairs bedroom. In the darkness.
Alice and Jim were gone. Structural damage to the house had prompted an
unexpected second honeymoon and they were staying overnight in a hotel
in New York City. The backwards reading of his name had been a close
call. Xenophrabrauix had scarcely exited the body of Sammy Sasquatch and
located a new host in the nick of time. A moment sooner and he would
have been sent back into the Dark Place for all eternity.
Now he crouched in the darkness, sharing the company of discarded shoes
and dust-bunnies, biding his time, waiting like a hunter lying in wait
of unsuspecting game. His thin, but muscular body was lithe and strong.
The Zuni Warrior ran a tiny thumb along the stone blade of his spear. It
was sharp and ready for the letting of blood. Matheson had known
precisely what he was writing about when he crafted Prey.
But a mere doll would simply not do and he knew that well. He needed a
human... not for devourment, but for possession. Xenophrabrauix had
inhabited many during the eons of his existence and he was selective
about those he chose. They had to exhibit much of the same qualities
that he, as a demon god, possessed. That was why he preferred lowly
humans of limited morals and expanded egos, such as lawyers and used-car
Soon, very soon, one such individual would arrive at the Deich
household. A man with a smirk of skepticism and a pompous air of
superiority. He would examine the damage downstairs, then slowly climb
the stairs to the second floor. His inspection would eventually bring
him into this very room. And that was when the warrior would strike.
Yes, lawyers and car salesmen were his preferred game... but an
insurance adjuster might do just as nicely.