Tavern of Terror vol. 10: Short Horror Stories Anthology
Tavern of Terror vol. 10: Short Horror Stories Anthology
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It’s Happy Horror Hour at your favorite local haunt…
A WWI U-Boat attack strands a group of sailors on a mysterious landmass teeming with deadly scavengers. Quitting smoking turns out to be hazardous for your health, when a nicotine addict tries to break a shaman’s spell. And an FBI agent hot on the trail of a serial killer finds a string of terrifying clues, all leading to what he fears the most…
Welcome to Happy Horror Hour, where every nightmare is twice as terrifying, and every scare gives you two screams for the price of one.
So grab a seat, enjoy a drink or two. And don’t mind the stranger next to you at the bar. Their skin may look a bit pale, and their eyes hold a devilish gleam, but the crowd at Hannigan’s always welcomes fresh blood.
And we’re sure everyone is just dying to meet you…
Pete Grayson was a catch, and he knew it. By any reasonable standard, hotties should have been beating a path to his bedroom door. He was good-looking, successful in real estate with a cool side hustle in Bitcoin, and possessed great wit and charm. This was Pete’s assessment, admittedly. But he prided himself on being a pretty good judge of character.
“Trouble is,” he told the barman, “American women don’t know a good thing when they see it. They’ve had their minds so poisoned by all this feminist crap in movies and so on that they think homemaking is dumb. They were never taught to please their man. That’s why I have to keep dumping ’em because they get irritating and clingy and talk about themselves all the goddamn time. Yadda yadda, day and night. It’s all about their needs and their space and their jobs and whether they want babies right now or when they turn forty. I want a nice little wife, not someone obsessed with having her ova frozen, for Chrissake!”
The barman, an older guy who gave off an ex-military vibe, made a noncommittal noise. Pete glanced sideways at the other member of staff, a girl of around twenty with green streaks in her hair and an emo-Goth vibe. She was within earshot but pretending not to listen, assuming this place didn’t employ deaf barmaids. He sniffed. The old guy was probably scared to agree with Pete. It was a common situation.
“Stands to reason,” he said, setting down his empty beer glass and pinging it with the nail of his right index finger. “We men—real men, anyhow—are smarter and stronger because nature intended us to be in charge. And females are good at nurturing and nest-making because our species evolved that way.”
The barman made that nothing noise again and took Pete’s glass. It was frustrating trying to vent in a world of wusses. Pete looked around the pub, seeking a kindred spirit, but only one person was within earshot. It was an older guy two stools along. The stranger was dressed so badly, he might have been on the verge of homelessness. Or maybe he’d done it for a bet. Scuffed tennis shoes—white with two green stripes—plus loose-fitting jeans and a plaid jacket at least one size too large over a T-shirt made for a crappy ensemble.
Pete prided himself on wearing smart but not overly formal clothes, always with a tight shirt. There is no point in paying for a gym membership and a personal trainer and hiding the excellent results from the world. The thrift store guy looked like a strong breeze would knock him down. Smiling at the thought, Pete was about to check his phone when the stranger spoke.
“I couldn’t help overhearing your remarks, friend. It’s a common lament these days—the man seeking an ideal partner who finds conventional methods unsatisfactory.”
Pete stared. The worst-dressed man he’d seen all week turned might be the most articulate.
“It’s a bummer,” he declared. “All I want is the love of a good woman who’ll be there waiting with dinner on the table when I get home from a hard day’s work. Is that so strange?”
Plaid Jacket shrugged.
“It seems to me that you want a woman from another historical era or another culture. Perhaps a bit of both?”
Pete began to warm to the odd little guy. Perhaps they could have a decent grousing session, two very different fellas lamenting the decline of American womanhood. Hell, there was a good chance Plaid Jacket was a victim of the feminists. A bad divorce would explain his down-at-heel appearance.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Pete agreed. “I mean, I’ve considered foreign chicks, but there are a lot of scams out there. No way am I paying for some gold digger to fly from Europe or whatever. But you gotta try before you buy, right?”
“It is standard practice these days, I’m told,” Plaid Jacket said. “It seems you are destined to eternal frustration. Unless you are willing to try less conventional methods?”
The stranger produced a business card. Pete took it, feeling mild contempt. His cards were so much classier. He read PEREGRINE STARK and the usual email and phone details. He turned the card over. The other side read DISCRETION GUARANTEED.
“Your business top secret, buddy?” he asked. “Also, is that even a real name? What kind of parents do that to a helpless baby?”
“My business is helping people,” Peregrine Stark said. “And Peregrine is, sadly, right there on my birth certificate. A family name. It’s a kind of falcon, which I believe is the fastest living creature on earth. When diving on its prey, the peregrine can exceed one hundred and eighty miles per hour. Very unsuited to my gentle nature. It’s as if Gandhi had been forced to go through life carrying a Tommy gun. But let us return to your problem. You seek a woman who will be a traditional wife—a homemaker. Someone who will cook and clean and keep you warm at night, so to speak. Yes?”
“Yeah,” Pete said. “And she’s gotta look good. Okay, fat chicks can be great in the sack, but I don’t want to be seen in public with anything less than a nine.”
“A mime?” Stark’s eyebrows shot up. “That is a rather narrow range…”
“No, a NINE,” Pete laughed, “as in nine out of ten—with ten being Hollywood perfect. Nine is a classier TV star or higher-end camgirl type. So we’re talking great bod, beautiful face, not too much Botox or lip filler. Classy and sexy, not just some bimbo. I want a woman like the Western pioneers had—a sexy broad who cooks, cleans, doesn’t answer back, and never has a headache after 10 PM if you catch my drift. A woman who knows her place.”
Stark’s expression seemed to harden slightly, but then the smile was back; if anything, a little brighter than before.
“I see. Well, as it happens, I might be able to help you.”
He fumbled in his pockets again and produced a leather case, like a wallet but smaller. It turned out to be a card case, something Pete had seen in online catalogs but never felt the need for. He could see that Stark possessed dozens of cards of assorted colors. The old guy rummaged a little, then gave a little exclamation.
“Ah yes, here it is. ‘Traditional Ladies’.”
The card was silver-gray with crimson edges. It did indeed read Traditional Ladies in a Gothic font. Below it was the promising sentence, Live Like a Real Man With a Real Woman at Your Side. There was a web address. And that was it.
“So, is this a dating agency?” Pete asked dubiously.
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