Dark and, at times, amusing fiction from award-winning author Dave Zeltserman

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Everybody Lies in Hell -- Chapter 1

Definition of REALITY SHIFT
(noun) A phenomenon that occurs in hell when a soul is absorbed into a more aware reality.

Vera looked up from her romance magazine to tell me that I had some freaky-looking dude waiting for me.

“Did you get a name?” I asked.

She gave me a put-upon squinty look. “He wouldn’t tell me it,” she said. “I never saw the guy before. He’s this real slick fellow, about fifty, bony-thin, and dressed like a mortician, especially how he’s got his hair greased back so it looks like it’s painted on. I think he’s a carny. Or maybe an ambulance chaser.” Her lips pushed into the same sort of small, tight circle she might’ve shown if she had bit into something sour. “He made me nervous sitting out here so I had him wait in your office.”

With that Vera once again disappeared behind her magazine. I didn’t bother asking her anything further and continued on to my private office.

The man waiting for me was sitting in the chair reserved for clients, and on hearing me, twisted his neck around to get a look. He was pretty much how Vera described him, although what struck me as his most prominent features were how overly red his lips were, especially in contrast to his milk-white coloring, and how tightly wrapped his skin appeared to be around his face. If he opened his eyes too wide or sneezed too violently there was a chance his skin would rip open.

For several seconds those overly red lips tried hard to twitch themselves into a smile before finally succeeding.

“Mike Stone?” he asked in a nervous, twitchy voice. “I’m assuming that’s your name since that’s what’s stenciled on your outer door.”

“That’s right.”

“And you really do private investigations?”

“I guess I have to since that’s also stenciled on the door.”

My answer made his lips start twitching again, but this time they didn’t quite manage themselves into a smile. I made my way to my desk and sat down behind it.

“You got a name also?” I asked

“Certainly, but I don’t care to share it presently.”

He was an odd duck, that was for sure, with his funeral-home black suit that matched the color of his greased slicked hair. That same suit was also two sizes too small and his ankles and wrists stuck out from the cuffs and sleeves looking like broomsticks carved out of ivory. As odd looking as he was, there was something else about him that made my skin crawl. The mortuary man. That was what I thought as I stared at him.

“Suit yourself,” I said. “What can I do for you?”

More of his lip twitching. Then, “I came here partly to satisfy my curiosity. I’ve been hearing rumors about a private investigation office operating here of all places, and I needed to see if it was true.” He paused to glance around my office. There wasn’t much to it. A cheap wooden coatrack, three beat-up file cabinets against one wall, an even more beat-up oak desk complete with ink blotter, Underwood typewriter and rotary phone, a wooden swivel chair for myself, and the leather-cushioned one that he was sitting on. “Mr. Stone, if you don’t mind my asking, what do your clients usually hire you for?”

“Any number of things,” I lied. Because it was almost always one of three things. Most of my clients were murdered when they were alive, and now that they’re in hell they want to know who killed them. Some of the less aware ones only want to know how they died. The ones who were deep in denial more times than not want me to tell them what they did to end up here, as if they weren’t only kidding themselves. We all know what we did to end up here, even if we want to pretend we don’t.

“Interesting.” The mortuary man steepled his fingers so that his manicured fingernails touched his still quivering blood-saturated lips. “Mr. Stone, I’ve heard rumors about the fees you charge. That they can be quite steep.”

I shrugged. “If I’m going to do a job, I’m going to damn well get paid for it.”

“Of course. Nobody can say that you shouldn’t. This is hell, after all. We’re all opportunists, are we not? Otherwise we wouldn’t be here. And it’s not as if your clients have much choice on who they hire since you appear to hold a unique position. If the rumors I hear are true, you demand that your more attractive lady clients bare all and engage in flagante delicto—”

“That’s only if I deliver the goods.”

A brief moment of lip twitching, then, “Yes, how utterly chivalrous of you. Besides, what else should they be expecting? It’s not as if there are any white knights here in hell to come to their rescue. But it does beg the question of what you would charge me.”

“I’m sure we could come to an arrangement. So are you going to keep wasting my time, or are you going to tell me what you want to hire me for?”

That seemed to amuse him to no end as his lips began quivering like crazy before finally settling into an impish smile. “I believe we will be doing business in the future,” he said. “But not now. My coming here today was merely exploratory.”

With that he unfolded himself from the chair. He was much taller than I’d realized from him sitting down. Close to seven feet. It must’ve been his beanpole thinness that fooled me. He also appeared unnaturally stiff as he made his way to the door. Once he was out of my office and the door was  closed behind him, I took a bottle of Canadian whiskey and a glass from my bottom desk drawer. My
hand shook slightly as I poured a shot. Here in hell I’ve dealt with more dangerous characters than this mortuary man, but for some reason he crept me out. I had to bite my tongue to keep from telling him not to bother coming back. It would’ve been a mistake doing so. I’d learned long ago it was never a good idea to turn down clients here in hell—that it can cause unforeseen consequences.

I took the whiskey in one gulp. In my hell, the whiskey tastes and smells like I remembered it from when I was alive. It doesn’t get you drunk—hell’s not about to be that kind—but something about its burn on your lips and throat can be comforting. I poured myself another shot, and tried to put the mortuary man out of my mind.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The Interloper on sale now!

"action-packed, darkly witty thriller" Publishers Weekly

"The Interloper is a blast of quick reading...the cold deadness of Willis is right on target with Richard Stark's Parker" Bookgasm

"dark tour-de-force of non-stop action and tension" Vincent Zandri, bestselling author of The Remains

"a swiftly paced story that rewards with tension, suspense, and surprise." Bill Crider, author of the Dan Rhodes mystery series

"Stark meets Ludlum meets Forsyth in this tight and tricky opener to anew series from the always-innovative Dave Zeltserman." Roger Smith, author of Wake Up Dead

"A damn fine piece of work" Ed Gorman, author of Stranglehold and Bad Moon Rising

Sunday, January 5, 2020

nightmare face...

Another short excerpt from my new horror/fantasy/PI/noir novel EVERYBODY LIES IN HELL. PDF arcs available to anyone wishing to review this.

The next morning it was business as usual at the Busted Grill Diner with another squatter taking over Charlie’s role as short order cook and Doris acting as if the guy had always been there. The new cook, whom Doris called Max, was a tall and skeleton-thin sort, with a scrawny neck and the bony, ravaged arms of a drug addict, but what was most prominent about him was his face, which must’ve been either been set on fire at one point or doused in acid. It wasn’t just the grotesque scarring, but that almost all of the skin had been burnt or melted off, and his lips were nearly completely gone. What especially gave me the willies was how large and liquid his eyes seemed as they floated within that mostly skull-like face. Whatever was done to cause the damage must’ve been what killed him, which made it unusual that he appeared this way. Whether you’re an aware or unaware, when you’re in hell you’re projected the way you envisioned yourself in life, and it’s seldom the way you looked at the time of your death. This guy must’ve had to live long enough with those injuries where he grew to think of himself that way, and it was his bad luck he had to bring his nightmare face to hell.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

You never fully die in hell...

A 30-second excerpt from my new PI/noir/horror/fantasy novel EVERYBODY LIES IN HELL:
You never fully die in hell. You might feel as if you’re dying for all eternity, but your existence never ends. I forced myself to look at the severed heads decorating Al Zaoud’s stallion, and I could see their eyes locked on me. Some of their mouths were moving as they silently pleaded with me to help them. Or maybe they were damning me. I was never any good at lip-reading so I couldn’t tell which it was. I looked away from them.