Excerpt for In Your Face Horror- Volume 2 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

In Your Face Horror-

Volume 2

Copyright © 2018 by Billy Wells

Published by Billy Wells at Smashwords

Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

Table of Contents

Something in the House


The Tomb

Bride of the Gorilla

Something in the Attic

Cold Calls

Ghost Town

The Caller From Hell

It Lurks On the Mountain

Into the Light

The Dome

Road Kill


About Billy Wells

Reviews Today

Other Books By Billy Wells

Links to Billy Wells Sites


In the middle of the night, a loud noise that sounded like two pots striking each other awakened Gary from a deep sleep. Sitting up, he peered through the open door of the master bedroom into the landing on the second floor.

“Gwen, I heard something,” he whispered, nudging her under a mountain of covers. “I think someone’s in the house.”

He waited for a response but got only an uninterested groan and continued heavy breathing.

“Remember,” he said softly as he rolled out of bed, “you don’t know the passwords to the bank accounts if anything happens to me.”

When Gwen, still submerged in heavy blankets, answered with a snort, and started to snore even more loudly, Gary crept silently to the doorway. Looking both ways down the length of the hall, he listened for more sounds.

Momentarily, he heard the rattle of glasses in the china cabinet in the dining room. Sliding to the floor, he crawled to the railing and peered down into the black living room. He heard the refrigerator door open, then the sound of ice falling and liquid filling a glass. Apparently, whoever was creeping around in the dark on the first level was making no attempt to be silent.

Had Gwen allowed someone to spend the night without telling him? He didn’t think so, but why would someone robbing the house be so brazen to make more noise than a bull in the proverbial china shop? Was this more than a robbery? The thought chilled him.

Gathering his nerve, he took a deep breath and rising to a standing position shouted, “Who’s there?”

After a pause, an unfamiliar voice answered from below, “My name is Randolph.”

“Randolph?” Gary repeated, searching his memory for a connection. Finding none, he replied, “I don’t know any Randolph. What the hell are you doing in my house in the middle of the night?”

With no hesitation, the voice that reminded him of Boris Karloff answered with a lisp, “I used to live here many years ago with my mother and sister. It was a quiet night in the cemetery. A perfect evening for a midnight stroll, and I thought I’d stop by for old time’s sake.”

“Was this some kind of sick joke?” he thought. “Did some lunatic escape from a loony bin?”

“How did you get in my house?” Gary demanded.

“I used the key under the flowerpot on the porch. I always use it when I come to visit. You know you should consider finding a less obvious hiding place. Really, why even lock the door?”

Suddenly, Gary heard something fall and break in the den. “Is someone else here with you?” he inquired more meekly.

“Yes, Donald and Francene, my brother and sister, came with me, and we found a few more hungry friends along the way,” said the creepy voice from the kitchen.”

“Why are you walking around in the dark? You’re making enough noise to wake the dead.” Gary winced as soon as he said the words, and trying to recover, replied, “Why not turn on the lights?”

“We like the dark,” Randolph said eerily.

“Look, enough of this nonsense. I don’t know what planet you came from, but you can’t just barge into someone’s home at this or any other hour just because you lived here years ago. Leave now, or I’ll call the police. You’re scaring my wife.”

Randolph, unperturbed by the threat, chanted in a whimsical voice, “’Liar, liar, pants on fire, hang them from a telephone wire.’ Your wife is here with me, Gary, and she’s not scared. At least, not anymore.”

“Now, who’s lying?” Gary shouted. “Gwen is sleeping in our bed in the master bedroom. I can hear her snoring through the doorway gather your friends and leave immediately, or you’ll spend the rest of the night in jail. This is your last chance.”

“That’s not your wife you hear snoring,” Randolph declared boldly, “it’s my sister, Francene. Your bedroom was hers when she lived here forty years ago. I’m surprised you didn’t smell her.”

Hearing more voices below, Gary turned on the light in the upstairs hall with the wall switch. His jaw dropped when he saw three pale women in hospital gowns shambling into the living room from the kitchen. His blood ran cold as he watched them craning their necks upward toward him like hungry birds, and began to smack their lips menacingly.

“Where was his cell?” he thought, in a frenzy. Then he remembered leaving it to charge on the kitchen counter just before bedtime.

Standing paralyzed with fear at the top of the stairs in his boxers, he watched three more figures shamble into the living room and join the others ogling him with their malevolent, ravenous stares.

“What do you want?” Gary screamed.” Whatever it is, take it and leave. Please!”

At this remark, Randolph and his friends began to snicker, and then burst into a fit of maniacal laughter. The six drooling women with hungry eyes and slobbering jaws lumbered single file up the staircase toward him.

Gary shuddered in terror at the grisly fate that would befall him if they got their hands, or should he say claws on him. He turned to flee into the master bedroom, but moving toward him from the doorway, he saw something surely from the grave. It had a hideous pocked face, rotten teeth, and a long tattered gown clotted with damp, wormy earth.

Recoiling backwards from the horror, his flight catapulted him headlong over the rail of the balcony. His piercing scream drowned out the uproarious Happy Birthday greeting from his wife, friends, and neighbors flooding into the hallway and the living room to begin the celebration. In midair, when someone turned on the lights in the dining room, Gary saw the monster from the master bedroom pulling off her rubber mask and looking down at him from the railing with sad eyes. It was Janine, his next-door neighbor.

In the seconds before Gary lost consciousness after breaking his neck on the ceramic tile floor, he saw the entire room fill with balloons and confetti. Gwen looked ravishing in her favorite cocktail dress blowing a noisemaker and tossing a streamer into the air. A huge banner with the words, “Happy Halloween, Gary on Your 40th Birthday… A Night To Remember” was the last thing he saw before the grim reaper gobbled him up.

Gwen had done it again. She had planned a truly memorable party that no one in attendance would ever forget.

Gary died on the same day he was born, October 31.


George stood in the cover of the stand of trees eyeballing the eight-foot high brick fence surrounding the property. He'd passed the old Nightshade house countless times but had never seen a living soul in the window or in the yard.

He remembered hearing the old timers at the local store say an old woman lived here who married a rich man who owned oil wells in Texas. On their first night at home, after returning from their honeymoon, some psychopath had broken into their house and hacked her husband to pieces with a hatchet. He could be mistaken, but he thought someone said the murderer had put the young bride’s eyes out with a screwdriver before he left.

George was severely down on his luck, and he was desperate. His boss had just fired him from his high paying job as Director of Road Kill in Prince William County. After years of shoveling up hundreds of maggot-infested carcasses all over the back roads of Woodbridge and Occoquan, he had been promoted to director when his mentor, Mr. Harris, had passed away.

None of his so-called friends had congratulated him on his promotion when the commissioner announced it. They were thoroughly pissed off they didn’t get chosen for the job. Larry Donahue, one of his best friends, even told him to his face he was an idiot and would never last as director. He was so mad he threw his paperweight against the wall and stormed out of the office to get drunk. George thought it amazing how his achieving such a lofty position in the county had completely severed his relationship with all his old road kill compadres.

After he moved into his prestigious office with a desk, a chair, and two file cabinets with a panoramic view of the new sewer plant, George waited for something he could use to get even with good old Larry.

Finally, one day, like a bolt from the blue, it occurred to George that Larry was overstating the mileage on his expense accounts. In every case, George found that Larry had doubled the mileage to every location, and over a five-year period, had cheated the county out of $131. He knew this because he had done the same thing for years just like everyone else who drove his own car occasionally on county business. The only difference was that Larry Donahue had made that snide remark about George’s promotion, and he had to pay.

He would never forget the look on Larry’s face when the guard escorted him out of the building on that final Friday. He wouldn’t even let him access his computer after working there for more than ten years.

After five years as director, George ran the Road Kill Department like a tyrant until his fetish for flashing women in the parking lot finally led to his termination.

The coup de gras was when the last woman he flashed, instead of running off screaming like the others, snapped a picture of his manhood in all its glory on her phone and reported him. The first time a woman had filed a complaint, one year earlier, he had disputed the woman's accusations as a malicious attack on his character to advance her own career in the Road Kill department. The Board of Sanitation took George’s word as director over the lowly administrative assistant and fired the troublemaking female without even a hearing.

This time he’d been caught with his pants down, literally, and the picture and the record of the previous complaint in his file had sealed his doom.

Just like Larry, his old drinking buddy, the guard wouldn’t let him access his computer either when he escorted him to the parking lot on his final Friday. Looking back on that pivotal day in his life, he couldn’t stop asking himself the same question. Why had he exposed himself in the parking lot where he worked? What was he thinking? Why hadn’t he driven twenty miles away to the mall in Fredericksburg to expose his penis to a woman in that county? At the very least, why hadn’t he worn a ski mask to conceal his identity?

Try as he may, he could not erase the blemish on his record. Wherever he went, his reputation preceded him, and, consequently, no one would hire him. He had no choice but to pull up stakes and start over somewhere else far away. But, he needed a stake for road money and cash to make ends meet until he found a new job.

George was convinced that robbing the oil heiress would certainly be his ticket out of Prince William County.

To make sure he would not blow this excellent opportunity, he decided to go down to the general store and shoot the shit with the old timers to find out all he could about the mysterious recluse. He didn’t want to go off half cocked as he had in the parking lot. What could a decrepit, blind woman do against a man who could bench press three hundred pounds? Robbing her would be like taking candy from a baby.

To top it all off, tonight would be the perfect night to break in and take the money. The weatherman said a fog bank would move into the area later that evening.

When George entered the store, he saw Harry, Paul, and Ed beating their gums in the back near the vending machines. All of them were sitting on folding chairs drinking coffee that had probably been made early that morning.

“Howdy, gents,” George said, settling on the last unoccupied chair. The three elderly men looked at each other like cats that just swallowed the canary.

“Hey, George, any luck finding a job?” Paul asked politely, even though he already knew the answer.

“No, no one will hire me, now that the bitch has blackballed me.”

They looked at each other again sheepishly, and Harry said, “Did you try the chicken plant; they always seem to have an opening in the eviscerating room?”

“Yeah, I checked with them, and they said there’s no openings right now, but they would put me on the waiting list.”

After a long pregnant silence, George decided to put out a feeler, “You know, fellas, when I passed by the old Nightshade house this morning, I saw a face in the window on the second floor.”

“Really,” Ed said in disbelief, “no one I know has caught a glimpse of the old woman who lives there for nigh on twenty years. Fred Barnes told me he’s been delivering groceries to the back door every Friday for more than ten years, and he's never seen the woman once. She leaves a check under the mat for him.”

“How old do you think she might be,” George asked, pretending to yawn to show his lack of interest.

“Clarese, that’s her name,” Harry said, scratching his head and taking another sip of coffee. “She got married when she was about twenty in 1959. I guess that would make her almost seventy-five by now. She was Albert Wilkerson’s daughter by a second marriage. Her pappy wasn’t rich by any means, but he wasn’t poor either. She met the young man she married at a frat party at UVA as I recall. It must have been love at first sight ‘cause they married right after graduation.”

“She must come out sometime,” George replied.

“Fred said she has visitors once in a great while, but they’re not from around here. Except for him delivering groceries, no one from these parts has stepped foot on her property for fifty years as far as I know,” Paul explained.

“How does Fred get in the gate to deliver the groceries if she don’t come out to let him in?” George asked.

“She has some kind of remote control device,” Paul explained.

“So you think you saw someone in the window this morning,” Harry said skeptically.

“I saw someone peeking out from the second floor window,” George muttered, as the smell of the rank coffee began to make his stomach churn.

After everyone remained silent for a time, George slapped his knee and said, “That woman has to be as crazy as a shithouse rat to stay alone in that old house all these years. Her mind must be like mush.”

Ed looked up from his crossword puzzle, “She's not entirely alone.”

“What do you mean, she’s not alone?”

Fred says there is a sign in several places on the brick wall that says “BEWARE OF FIDO.”

“Fido?” George said in bewilderment.

“I guess the old bitty has a dog to keep her company. She also has an entrance at the back of the property with a loading dock.”

“A loading dock?” George said, totally confused, and then replied, “What a strange old bird.”

“She’s strange all right,” Paul nodded in agreement. “She was always strange even when I pulled her pigtails in the third grade. If looks could kill, I would have died when I was eight years old. She had a mean streak in her that was as plain as the nose on her face. If she’s been sitting there day after day, month after month, year after year never going anywhere, she must be waiting for something, and she’s afraid she’ll miss it if she leaves.”

“Waiting for what?” George asked, his face narrowing into a question mark.

“Dunno,” Paul responded. “Maybe for the maniac who hacked up her husband fifty years ago. They never did find out who did it.”

“That’s insane, where did you ever come up with that crazy idea?”

“Then, you tell me, George,” Paul replied. “Why else would she stay there all these years and never go anywhere. She's got something on her mind, and whatever it is, she doesn't want anyone in these parts to know what it is.”

“Why are you so interested in the old crazy woman anyway,” Ed inquired suspiciously.

“Like I said,” George replied, “I saw someone in that window this morning, and it made me wonder what her story really is.”

George saw the black coating in the bottom of their coffee cups that almost gagged him when he rose to leave.

“Sure you don't want a cup of coffee, George, it's on us.”

“No, Paul, I'll pass this time, fellas,” George said, half smiling.

As he opened the door to leave at the front of the store, he heard the stifled tittering of the three old timers in the back. He knew they knew why he’d lost his job, but they hadn’t rubbed it in, at least, not to his face.

George believed the old woman had money. She probably had loads of cash under her mattress. She even had a loading dock. The brick wall around the property must have cost a fortune.

The only wrinkle he hadn't planned on was Fido. What kind of dog was it? Dogs could be scary. He knew that from catching strays and delivering them to the local shelter. Some dogs could weigh almost two hundred pounds, but Fido sounded more like a cocker spaniel, not a Doberman, or a wolfhound.

George returned to his trailer to settle his nerves before he left for the break-in. He hadn't eaten since yesterday, and he was hungry.

Tonight was the night. He shoplifted a rope from the hardware store and a small flashlight. He forgot the batteries and had to go back to get them. They were harder to steal since they were in a rack right on top of the register, and old man Jacobs kept watching him like a hawk.

He planned to use the rope to get far enough up in the tree to hop on the top of the wall. From there, he would walk along the bricks to where the wall bordered the corner of the house. He was pretty sure he could reach the roof of the porch from there and get to one of the upstairs windows.

Everything would be simple, if not for Fido. No matter how he entered, the dog would sense him and start barking. The old woman might even have an alarm system that could be set off by motion detectors.

Whatever happened, he had no choice at this point. If he couldn't get into the house, he would have to try hitchhiking out-of-town. Once in the car, he would knock the driver in the head, steal his car, take whatever money he had on him, and hope for the best.

As the sun faded on the horizon, a fog bank oozed eerily across the landscape. George’s stomach growled as he stood under the oak tree next to the brick wall, listening for the sound of a barking dog. He hadn’t heard a peep when his watch told him it was time to make his move. He found a branch on the ground under the tree and pitched it over the wall into the yard to see if it would set off a motion detector.

When the branch landed without consequence, George’s head darted in all directions. Could he be this lucky? He simply couldn’t believe no alarm sounded. The night remained as silent as a tomb as the fog continued to roll in.

The old hag could have a silent alarm that automatically called the police. There was no way to tell. He would keep his eyes open, but he didn’t think he would see flashing lights in this fog if the police did show up.

George crept along the top of the wall until he reached the corner of the porch. Standing on tiptoes, he leaned forward, and steadying himself against the wall, he gripped the frame of the only window he could reach and attempted to open it.

He couldn't believe his eyes when the window slid up without the slightest creak. Placing both hands on the sill, he jumped forward and stuck his upper torso halfway inside the dark room. Without knowing what lurked inside, he felt like a man with his head in a guillotine. Wasting no time, he squirmed from side to side until his whole body slid silently to the floor inside the black room. He listened for Fido's bark and braced for an attack, but nothing happened.

The house remained deadly silent. So silent, George wondered if the old woman was really inside. Maybe the old timers and Fred were wrong, and she did make secret trips no one knew about.

George dropped into a crouch, crept across the dark room, and peeked out the open door into the hallway. Hearing nothing from the room directly in front of him, he stealthily crossed the hall, slipped inside the door, and put his back against the wall.

Pulling out the small flashlight, he pointed it into the pitch darkness and turned it on. Recoiling backwards as if hit squarely between the eyes with a Louisville slugger, he saw a floor to ceiling portrait of a young man in a tuxedo smiling back at him about ten feet away. The red boutonniere in his lapel was so striking; it seemed to have a three-dimensional quality against the backdrop of his black and white suit. The portrait was obviously the work of an accomplished artist who had painted a young man so lifelike he looked like a living, breathing person.

As George drew closer, the young man’s eyes seemed to follow him. His foot bumped against the edge of a platform about half as high as a normal bed, lying directly in front of the portrait. George lowered the flashlight and saw the outline of a body covered by a sheet of white linen except for the head. Moving up the length of the torso, George saw the gaping hollow sockets of a skull much like the horrible face of the thing in the rocking chair in “Psycho.” The shreds of flesh that remained looked like ugly patches of dried scabs clinging to the bone. The rictus grin of its yellow teeth weakened his knees like something from his worst nightmare.

Suddenly, the high keening sound of a maniacal screech reverberated in the massive interior, and the rasp of a voice straight from hell shrieked, “I've been waiting for you all these years. I’d almost given up hope when my doctor advised me my leprosy had finally returned as he predicted it would so many years ago. But you're here now, that's all that matters. I’ve prayed for this moment. And now that I know you can’t escape, I can let go at last and die peacefully, knowing you will pay dearly for what you did to me and my poor Archibald.”

George's eyes darted about the shadows cast by the small beam of light like a cornered bird out of its cage. The room appeared to be a perfect square with one window closed off by a black shutter and the door he entered by.

“Look lady, I don't mean to burst your bubble, but I'm not who you apparently think I am. Come and look at me. I'm thirty-five years old, not some 75-year-old ax murderer. I am just a guy down on my luck who needs road money to get out of this sorry town. Grease my palm with some cash, and you can have your life back. At least, whatever's left of it.”

After a prolonged silence, the rasp continued, “Nice try, Satan, but I know it's you. I’d know that voice anywhere. I'm blind, and I can't see your face or anything else since you put out of my eyes with that screwdriver, but I see you in my nightmares every night just like it was yesterday.”

“Someone said the old woman may have been blinded by the fiend who hacked up her husband,” George muttered under his breath, “and damned if they weren’t right.” He suddenly felt a pang of guilt that he had intruded on this pathetic creature. “Hey, I'm sorry about your eyes, I didn't know you were blind. It's nothing personal. I'm just here for the money. If you could see me, you’d see I’m a young man. I'm not the killer. I'd swear on a stack of bibles.”

George heard the sound of a clank from somewhere below and the creak of an ancient hinge moving in protest. Then came the clinking of chains scraping against iron bars and then the rattling on what sounded like a cement floor.

“What could that be?” he wondered.

Suddenly, instead of guilt, another more gut-wrenching feeling gripped him. A creepy, crawly premonition that something terrible was about to happen.

He turned abruptly to retreat to the open window where he’d come in across the hall. Plan B looked better at this point, he’d just rob some motorist and leave the woman alone. As he bolted to escape, his foot tangled in the linen draped across the platform before him. As he fell with a thud to the floor, he exposed the lower portion of what lay on the platform. Struggling to his feet, in the beam of the flashlight, George saw the hideous skull was attached to the muscular torso of a male sex doll like he’d seen one time on HBO.

Its permanent erection protruded from between its bulging, sinewy legs. Nipple rings glinted in the beam of light like golden crescent moons studded with diamonds.

George stood aghast at the mind-numbing erotic image of a seventy something bag of bones riding bareback atop a robotic doll man with the face of a skull.

He imagined the portrait of the young man on the wall was there to turn her on like a man would use the centerfold of an old skin magazine. But what good would the picture do if she were blind? He could only guess the portrait was there before she was blinded, and she could still see it in her memory.

Why had the old woman replaced the handsome face of the sex doll with the skull of dear Archibald? George didn’t know that either, but like his pappy always said, “It takes all kinds of people to make a world.”

Without further analysis, he bolted through the door and sprinted across the hall toward the doorway of the room with the open window to the outside.

Hell-bent on fleeing this death trap, George exploded headlong into an immovable panel blocking his escape route that wasn’t there a few minutes before. The sudden agony of his face flattening on the steel covering the doorway approached the excruciating pain of a three hundred pound lineman kicking him in the balls in his junior year. He slumped to the floor in a heap.

As he lay there dazed from the collision with the panel, he heard a sudden yelp from below that reminded him of the sound someone makes plunging upside down through the loop de loop of a roller coaster. Then, he heard a sickening squish like someone had run over a watermelon with a steamroller, followed by a loud thump like a softball hitting a brick wall. He could only assume the series of snaps and pops emanating afterward were someone’s bones breaking.

George struggled to his feet in a stupor and cowered against the wall, cringing in unbridled fear. He placed his hands over his ears, but he could still hear the slurping, the sucking, and the awful chewing that sent his mind deeper into a maniacal frenzy.

After a series of grunts and belches, he heard the chain rattling across the floor, closer this time… much closer than before. Barely able to muster a voice, he wheezed, “Mrs. Nightshade, are you all right? What are those awful sounds?”

He listened, and the chains stopped moving… as if whatever had made the sounds was now listening to him. George struggled to his feet as the sound of the chain striking each step as something ascending the stairway caused his heart to pound faster and faster until he thought it would explode.

George continued to struggle like a wild man to remove the panel blocking his path to the open window. His fingernails became bloody stumps as he clawed futility on the unmovable steel panel, and then, he gasped when he heard the chain finally clunk on the floor at the top of the landing. A smell like rancid meat began to assault his nostrils.

He picked up the flashlight that had fallen to the floor and pointed it toward the end of the hall. The beam of light fixed on the bloody head of an old woman suspended from a hairy fist attached to a harrier, giant arm.

Suddenly, the head spun across the distance of the space in a strobe light effect as it pulsated in and out of the light until it landed with a splat at his feet. A splash of blood spattered his cheek as he lowered the light and saw the mutilated, eyeless face with only a hank of hair clinging to the exposed flesh above her missing left ear.

George heard the ferocious growl of something born from the depths of hell as a dark, hairy shape filled the space at the end of the hall from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Then, like a herd of buffalo, it came bounding toward him with its hideous bloody teeth and massive muscles bulging.

The last thing George saw was the small dog tag hanging from its neck that read “FIDO.”


Brian Mitchum was fifty and had worked twenty-nine years for the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. During his years of service, his ten expeditions into some of the most exotic places on the globe had yielded nothing the museum considered worthy of putting on display. His father, Angus Mitchum, on the other hand, was a legend in archeology and exploration and had supplied the museum with enormous quantities of priceless artifacts during his fifty years of employment.

Right after Brian’s graduation, Angus had convinced the director at that time to hire his son with no experience. Unfortunately, Brian never lived up to his father’s lofty opinion of his talents, but the museum continued to look the other way to appease their most successful and valued explorer.

The combined cost of Brian’s substantial salary, his well-appointed office, and his secretary was the price they chose to pay for Angus’s ongoing contribution. Brian could read the Post in the morning, the News in the afternoon, and enjoy a three-martini lunch at the Museum’s expense. The board preferred he sit in his office and twiddle his thumbs rather than requisitioning funds for another one of his fruitless expeditions.

Finally, one day, after years of no contact, Brian received a request from Archibald McManus, the director, to come to his office. He had a bad feeling as soon as he received the call. He prayed it would not be an evaluation of his pathetic career performance.

Entering the palatial, fashionably decorated office, Brian saw McManus seated in an overstuffed leather chair behind an enormous teak desk. Feeling completely ill at ease, he took a seat in one of the four lavish chairs that probably cost more than his annual salary. He watched the bushy eyebrows of the legendary curator, and now director, rise and fall over a thick manila folder.

McManus finally looked up over the top of his Ben Franklin style spectacles, and clearing his throat replied, “Brian, I’m sorry to say, the board has asked me request your immediate dismissal based on your inability to secure a single artifact worthy of placing on exhibition in twenty-nine years of employment. To be frank, you’ve been spared all these years due to your father’s great contributions to the museum.”

Brian gave the director his most convincing look of startled disbelief, and then responded with a wounded whine, “You mean now that my father is retiring, you’re firing me?”

“Brian, you know very well your performance has been abysmal. If you were anyone else, we would have fired you three months after your hiring like anyone who did not produce.”

“Archibald, I beg you to give me one last chance. I have recently received a lead to Usercari’s tomb from a reliable source.”

The director looked at him skeptically and smiled, “Is that so, Brian? Can you supply me any evidence that what you say is true? Why haven’t you come forward with this grand discovery before now?“

“I just received the parchment last Friday.”

“Really,” the director said, picking up his pipe from his desk, and breaking the museum’s strict rules against smoking, lit up. A strong, sweet aroma that began to fill the room made Brian’s eyes water. “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I intended to write you a check for one hundred and fifty thousand dollars for your severance pay, but instead, I will appropriate that amount for your expedition to find Usercari’s tomb. If you are successful, based on the strong lead you say you received last Friday; I will reconsider your termination. Would you be interested in such an arrangement or do you want to have Margaret prepare your severance check?”

“One hundred and fifty thousand is certainly a paltry amount of severance for almost thirty years of service,” Brian grumbled, slumping backwards in his chair.

“Not when you consider the money we gave you for accomplishing nothing. It’s certainly more than you deserve. As additional compensation, you can take the meager pots and broken dishes you brought back from your expeditions with you when you leave. They’re only taking up valuable space in storage. Consider this my gift to sweeten the pot.” He paused, and taking a giant puff from his pipe, leaned halfway across the desk and glowered, “Well, Brian. What’s it going to be? The search for Usercari’s tomb or the check?”

* * *

Later that night, Brian called his father and asked him to meet him for drinks at Docks.

After ordering two Ketel 1 martinis, Brian broke the ice, “Well, Dad, Archibald has agreed to give me one last chance to redeem myself. If I fail….” Brian drew a finger across his Adam’s apple.

“Do you want me to speak with him?”

“It won’t do any good this time. The board has spoken. Now that you’re retiring, and they can’t squeeze any more treasures out of you, your recommendation won’t carry any weight. But… there is one thing you can do for me.”

“What’s that?”

“Come with me on the dig. No one in the world knows more about the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs than you.”

Angus shook his head wearily and sighed, “Son, I’m too old and out of shape to trek across the Sahara for a tomb lost for three thousand years. All I want is to find a mountain lake where the fish are biting 365 days a year. That’s all the excitement I need at my age.”

“You know and I know there is no such place. Look, all I want you to do is advise me. You can be a consultant. My crew and I will do all the heavy lifting. In fact, if you can’t walk, I’ll have some of the bearers carry you.”

“Don’t you think my involvement is a no win situation for you? If you don’t find the tomb, you’re out, and if you’re successful, the board will give me credit for the discovery. They still might fire you.“

“I hear what you’re saying, but I’m willing to take that chance. I hate to admit it, but you’re the only chance I have. I can’t make it without you. Look what I brought back the other ten times. I don’t blame the board for firing me. They should have tossed me out on my ass years ago.”

“How long do you think we’ll be gone?”

“The initial advance is only $150,000. If we don’t find something within the first three weeks, it’s over. You know how fast money goes.”

The bartender placed the two martinis in front of them. After draining half the glass the first time he bent his elbow, Angus grimaced and agreed to accompany his son on the expedition against his better judgment.

Brian was relieved, and after two more martinis, they left the restaurant and hailed separate taxis. Brian returned to his apartment. Angus returned to the museum to pack some of his personal items to get ready for his last day at work.

After Brian opened the door to his apartment on the thirty-first floor, he walked to the window, opened the drapes, and looked across the expanse of Manhattan like a man who had just received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. He had lived a wonderful life. Up to this point, his position at the museum had allowed him to eat in the finest restaurants, live in a beautiful apartment near the UN, and to buy just about any gadget he wanted to pass the time. His marriages had failed, and he had never had a child, but he was happy. Unfortunately, he had never put a nickel away for a rainy day. This was the rub. Losing the lifestyle he had taken for granted for so long. One thing was certain; no one on earth would be crazy enough to hire him if he lost the job at the museum.

At that moment, he would’ve sold his soul to the devil to keep the lifestyle to which he had grown accustomed, but damn it to Hell, he didn’t know how to contact the old hellion.

The next afternoon, Brian met with an expert in ancient Egyptian lore. After browsing through the man’s impressive shop and listening to him bragging about the obscene prices he charged, Bomani Bokar escorted him to an office in the back of the showroom to discuss the upcoming dig.

The conversation was cordial at first. The two exchanged small talk about the sites Brian had excavated in Egypt during his career. An exotically dressed woman served the two of them a cup of herbal tea.

Taking a sip of the strong aromatic brew, Brian said, “The museum is sending me to your native land to search for the tomb of Usercari.”

At once, Bokar’s face reddened as if Brian had slapped him.

“What’s wrong, Bomani?”

“Based on your position at the museum, I thought you would be well acquainted with Egyptian lore. Don’t you know about the ancient curse on anyone daring to enter the sacred tomb of Usercari?”

“I’ve read all about the curse, but I’ve never been superstitious. I don’t believe in ghosts, goblins, the boogeyman, and way down the list, avenging mummies and Egyptian curses.”

Bokar stared at him in disbelief. His face reddened even more, and he barked with spit spraying from his quivering lips, “Then you are a fool, sir, and you and everyone with you will surely die because of your stupidity. Please leave my establishment. You are putting my life in peril just being here.”

“Wait a minute,” Brian stammered, pulling his wallet from the inside of his coat and placing five one-hundred-dollar bills on the desk.

Bokar’s eyes widened with fear as he glared at the open door behind Brian’s chair as if he expected something unspeakable to ravage them at any moment.

Leaning closer, he whispered in a rasp, “I can’t believe you fully understand the consequences of what you are about to do. If you did, you wouldn’t have come here in the first place. Risking your life as well as everyone connected to the dig is one thing, but my ancestors believe Usercari’s tomb is the entrance to Hell and breaking the sacred seal will bring the end of all humankind. Did you ever wonder why Usercari’s tomb is the only one not violated?”

“Look I’m not here to debate what your ancestors have believed for more than three thousand years. I know about the curse on anyone entering the tomb, but certainly, you can’t take the extinction of all mankind seriously. Usercari was only a pharaoh for about four years, and due to his brief reign, never even had a pyramid built for him. I assume his tomb is much smaller than any of the others, and that’s why no one has found it.”

Bokar stood abruptly. “You, sir, are a dead man. My ancient ancestors will never allow you to search for Usercari’s tomb, much less enter it.”

Brian rose from his chair, astonished by Bokar’s uncompromising trepidation in getting involved in the project. Placing another pile of money on the desk, he pleaded one last time for his involvement, “I was told that you are the only person who can secure me safe passage into Egypt with the authorities and provide laborers and bearers for the dig when I arrive.”

“I will not lift a finger to help you. What good is money if I won’t live to spend it?”

“How pray tell will this supposed curse be meted out? Will it be at the hands of a mummy who’s been dead for three thousand years or will Anubis, the guardian jackal, be the avenger?”

Bokar’s lips curled in a sneer, “I don’t imagine you’ll find the retribution very funny on your day of reckoning. I don’t think death will come from the hands of a mummy or Anubis, but I know it will be horrible beyond belief. It could be anything, an insidious trap, a fungus, or simply breathing the air that has become lethal from being closed up for so long.”

Looking at the pile of bills in the center of the table and hoping Bokar would change his mind if he left it there, Brian said, ”I appreciate your advice, Bomani. I know you mean well, but I suggest you forget what happened thousand of years ago and update your thinking to the twenty-first century. There is no evidence that any pharaoh’s curse is any more than folklore and legend. If you change your mind, here’s my card. My father and I will be leaving for Cairo on November 23.”

When Brian stood to leave, Bokar said, “Don’t forget your money. To take it would mean certain death. I hope my ancestors will not punish me for talking with you as it is.”

Brian grabbed up the bills and stormed out with deep frustration and disappointment etched upon his face. His last hope was with a man named Mustafa he had met in Egypt on his last dig.

The next day, Brian saw a lengthy article in the Post about Bokar’s mysterious death. The account indicated he’d been strangled the previous night only hours after they had spoken. The merchant’s wife, Nefertiti, heard a loud noise and then a scream. When she investigated, she found her husband dead on the floor behind his desk.

The authorities reported they found pieces of the front door to the shop scattered in the lobby. Robbery was ruled out as a motive since the register was full of cash and an inventory revealed that not one of the artifacts, some worth more than $500,000, was missing. Mrs. Bokar indicated her husband was a religious man who had no enemies she knew of. Consequently, she was at a complete loss as to who could have done this gruesome, premeditated act.

Suddenly a sharp knock on the door startled Brian, and after a momentary thought of impending doom at the hands of a rampaging mummy, Brian realized a mummy would not knock before entering. He would simply tear the hinges off the door like Karloff and Christopher Lee did in the old movies. Then, a gruff bark of authority from the hall further allayed his fears, “Brian Mitchum, this is the police. Open up, we need to talk.”

Brian gathered his composure and went to the door, peeked through the peephole at two figures with hats, and opened the door.

Before him, he saw two men in dark suits with stern faces both holding their badges in his face. Before he could speak, they brushed by him and surveyed the room suspiciously.

Brian muttered, belatedly, “Come in, what can I do for you.”

The taller man said in a brusque staccato, “I’m Lieutenant Jessup and this is my partner, Ben Alexander. We are investigating the murder of an artifacts dealer named Bomani Bokar. His appointment book listed you as the last person he spoke to other than his wife before someone broke down the door to his shop and strangled him. Did you meet with him yesterday about lunchtime?”

Brian stood feeling somewhat naked, as the less than friendly detectives looked him over from head to toe as if branding his image into memory. He cleared his throat and replied, “Yes, I did meet with Mr. Bokar concerning a dig I am planning with my father to Egypt.”

“Are you aware he was brutally murdered only hours after you spoke?” Alexander barked, accusingly.

“I just came across the item in today’s paper only a few minutes before you came to my door.”

“Did he seem ill at ease or seem worried about anything during your conversation?” Jessup continued, making notes on a pad.

“Actually, he was worried about my involving him in the dig. In fact, I’m sorry to say, I may be responsible for his death.”

The two detectives looked at him incredulously as if a light had come on in a dark tunnel, and Jessup finally broke the silence, “”You’re not saying you killed him, are you?”

“Certainly not. I asked Bokar…actually I begged him for his help in securing the necessary papers required by the Egyptian authorities to search for a pharaoh’s tomb, as well as supplying manpower and provisions. I even placed a substantial pile of money on his desk as a deposit.”

“Why do you say you may be responsible?” Jessup asked, not comprehending.

“Ancient legend says that anyone involved in breaking the golden seal of Usercari’s tomb will meet a violent end. There are other preposterous beliefs too ridiculous to mention, but the first premise is pretty universal.”

“Can you spell ‘Usercari’?” Alexander asked, scratching his head.

“U S E R C A R I,” Brian replied, saying each letter as distinctly as possible. He was pharaoh during the fifth dynasty, and his tomb is the only one still not discovered. Bokar warned me that his ancestors would not allow such an expedition to take place. The last thing he said was he hoped that talking to me would not lead to his death. I thought his fears were ridiculous at the time and paid them no mind since I don’t believe in curses, but it looks like he was right about the intentions of his lunatic ancestors.”

“He didn’t mention any names specifically, did he?” Jessup asked.

“No, he said he didn’t know what form the avenger of death would take, but he said it wouldn’t be pleasant.”

“To be frank, Mr. Mitchum, Bokar had the most god-awful look of terror on his face I’ve ever seen, and believe me, I’ve seen some humdingers. Whoever killed him, scared the shit out of him.”

Brian was surprised by Jessup’s comment and wondered why he had told him something about the crime scene that was not in the newspaper.

The detectives saw the questioning look on Brian’s face, and Jessup explained, ”I’m only giving you a preview of what the Post is going to print in the evening edition. Some asshole leaked the details of the murder to the press.”

“Lieutenant Jessup, my father and I plan to leave for Egypt in three days. Am I free to go in light of what’s happened? Am I a suspect in Bokar’s murder?”

The two detectives traded looks, and the hint of a smile formed at the corner of their lips as they put away their note pads, and Jessup asked, ”Let us see your hands?”

Brian held them out, turned them over, and let the detectives get a good look at them.

“Your story jives with what Bokar’s wife already told us, and the imprints of the killer’s hands on his neck was like two catcher’s mitts squeezing a softball. He was not only strangled, but his trachea was crushed and his spinal cord severed in two places. Whoever did this, must have looked like “The Rock” or Hulk Hogan. Your hundred and seventy-five pound frame doesn’t fit the profile.”

“I appreciate your candor. I hope a mummy is not loose in Manhattan.”

“A mummy?” Jessup said, and then chuckled, “Oh, yeah. I get it. Like in the movies, a mummy protecting the tomb of the pharaoh. Very funny.”

Brian didn’t see the humor in his statement now that he was a believer.

“By the way,” Jessup said coldly, “if what Bokar said is true, the killer or killers will be coming after you and your father, won’t they?”

Brian stood before the detectives, pondering his next move. He had no doubt Bokar’s killer would be coming for them soon. In fact, he could be outside the door right now. He faced Jessup and asked for a favor, “If I move into the Marriott Marquis for the next three days, can you provide police protection for me and my dad?”

Jessup consulted Alexander for his opinion, and after he nodded his approval, he replied, “We can provide police protection until you leave the city. After that, you’re on your own. My advice for you is to buy a gun with a lot of stopping power. I’ll call you about coordinating the surveillance.”

The two detectives wished him well, and after checking the hallway before they entered it, left.

Brian called his father and told him about Bokar and his meeting with the detectives.

Trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together, Angus asked, “Did you tell anyone else about the dig?”

“Not really. The only ones who know about it are Archibald and the board. I haven’t seen anyone else to tell. Look, Dad, some psychopathic maniac is on the loose, and he’ll be coming for us next. The detectives have offered us police protection if we check into the Marriott until we leave for Egypt.”

“Do you really think that’s necessary?”

Trying to help his father see the merits of the move, Brian stretched the truth, “Lieutenant Jessup said the killer ripped Bokar’s head off just for speaking with me. What do you think he’ll do to us, the leaders of the expedition?”

“I see your point,” Angus grumbled. “I’ll pack some stuff and meet you at the Marquis in three hours. Be careful, son, I’d hate to lose you.”

When Angus returned to his apartment to pack, he sensed something odd as soon as he stepped inside the front door. Turning on the lights, he peered about the familiar interior with a foreboding scrutiny much like he had when he entered an Egyptian tomb for the first time.

Sniffing the air for clues revealed nothing. Listening for the hint of a peculiar sound, he again detected nothing unusual. Moving like someone walking on eggs, he tiptoed across the living room to the media cabinet. Opening the center drawer, he withdrew the trusty Colt 45 that had saved his life so many times in the past.

Everything in his sight seemed perfectly in place as he inched forward toward the two bedrooms down the hall. After inspecting the guest bedroom, he headed to the master suite, which was the last door on the right. Opening the door that stood ajar wider, he entered in a crouched position, wielding the firearm left and then right. An inspection of the walk-in closet and the master bath also revealed nothing out of place.

He sat on the bed and said, “My son has me all creeped out.” Then he felt something move beneath the covers, sliding from beneath his weight. A slithering mass fell from the bed into a pile at his feet. He pushed backwards and somersaulted across the king-sized bed as the cobra’s fangs sprung like a steel trap and sunk into the mattress. Bounding from the other side of the bed, Angus made a wide sweep around an armchair and fired a single shot, which blew the viper’s head off.

Afterward, he cursed at letting the anxiety of the moment cause him to put a huge hole in his expensive wall-to-wall carpet.

Just as his son had warned, someone had tried to kill him the old Egyptian way. If he had come home after some hard drinking and fell into bed as he normally did, instead of joining his son on his expedition, he’d be on his way to the cemetery.

He called Brian to warn him.

“It’s okay, Dad. The police were already here when I got home. My neighbor next door heard glass breaking in my apartment and called the cops. My place is totally trashed. Someone ripped everything to shreds.”

“Did anyone see who did it?”

“I think my next door neighbor did,” Brian responded.

“What did he say?”

“I’m afraid we’ll never know. Someone found him with his neck broken in the hall. They say the expression on his face was horrific, just like Lieutenant Jessup said Bokar looked.”

“Shit!” Angus cursed, his face reddening with rage. “This dig is more than I ever bargained for. It’s dredged up a raving maniac who’s hell-bent on killing us and anyone else we involve just like Bokar said. Don’t you think we should call it off?”

“After what happened to Bomani, who only talked with me about the expedition and would not accept any payment for providing me information, I don’t think the maniac will stop trying to kill us no matter what we do. Our only chance is to nail him when he makes another attempt on our lives. If we don’t get him now, he’ll come when we least expect it.”

“What have you gotten me into, son? All I wanted to do is go fishing on a lake and drink a few beers until I achieve unconsciousness every night.”

“I’m sorry, Dad. If I could turn back the clock, I’d do it, but it’s too late to think about that now. At least we’ll have police protection until we leave. Lieutenant Jessup has promised me.”

* * *

After three days of hiding out at the Marriott under strict surveillance by the police, Brian and Angus boarded a plane at JFK without incident. After ordering two martinis, Brian asked, “Has anything like this ever happened before on other expeditions?”

Angus thought about it and replied, “There were cases of sabotage where supplies, food, and water turned up missing. I received a number of death threats on strange parchments, some in hieroglyphics, but no one ever physically attacked us. I can’t say the same about some of the less fortunate tomb raiders. I don’t know what really happened, but tales of avenging mummies have always been the reason the locals attribute to violent deaths associated with a pharaoh’s tomb.”

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