Tavern of Terror vol. 4: Short Horror Stories Anthology
Tavern of Terror vol. 4: Short Horror Stories Anthology
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Looking for a frightfully good time? Your next scream is on us…
Horror is no laughing matter when an antiques dealer discovers a sinister jester costume in an old chest. A trip down memory lane slowly drives a man insane, as he revisits the horrors of his childhood. And evil reaches from beyond the grave, when a famous estate passes on its curse to a new generation…
Welcome to Hannigan’s, the tavern of a thousand screams. What’s your fancy on this dark cold night? Ghosts? Ghouls? Ghastly creatures beyond comprehension? Whatever your taste in terror, Hannigan’s will serve up a bone-chilling cocktail of your favorite frights.
This diabolically delightful new collection features eleven tales of skin-crawling horror. So sit back and relax.
Your next scream is on the house.
As well as the next, and the one after that…
Professor Marcus Mortlake was used to being accosted. Sometimes he was ambushed by oddballs. More often, it was by bores. And occasionally, he was waylaid by people who needed his help. At an academic conference in an obscure city on the New England coast, he had expected a few cranks and a lot of bores. But he hadn’t been ready for the person who sought his help.
The pale, fair-haired young man had been lurking around the exit to the lecture hall, where Mortlake had just presented a talk on medieval witch marks and the tendency to fake them in modern English pubs. The professor was good at spotting potential troublemakers, and the young man staring at him triggered very slight concern. He looked around twenty-five and was well-dressed but disheveled, with untidy hair and rumpled designer clothing. Mortlake glanced down as the young man approached. The stranger’s loafers looked like they would cost Mortlake more than a month’s salary, but they were badly scuffed.
“You’re the Limey professor, right?”
“I am,” Mortlake replied.
“You do exorcisms, black magic, shit like that?”
A few people were staring, and a female student giggled. Mortlake took the young man by the elbow and steered him away from the cluster of people by the lecture theater door.
“I sometimes investigate the paranormal, but no, I do not do exorcisms because I am not a Catholic priest, Mister…”
“With a name like that, you must be old money,” Mortlake said, looking Cardwell up and down. “Boston Brahmin, maybe?”
Cardwell shrugged irritably.
“Yeah, I’m rich, so it’s your lucky day because I need your knowledge—if you’re as good as people say.”
Mortlake sighed. He’d hoped to have a pleasant trip to America, give his talk, network a little, and maybe take in a few sights around this rather dull city. Instead, he was being pestered by someone who was loud and evidently rich, seldom an attractive combination. Sometimes people who asked him for help were plagued by occult phenomena. More commonly, though, they were deluded.
“Mr. Cardwell,” he said carefully, “I am here for a weekend, and if you have a genuine problem, I suggest—”
“I’ve tried all the American occultists and psychics—and some priests too!” Cardwell interrupted, his voice rising. “They’re all useless! I read about you online. You’re supposed to be the real deal. I’m desperate, Mortlake. If I don’t get help, I might do something desperate…”
Aware of more stares and titters, Mortlake asked if there was somewhere they could talk discreetly. Cardwell got the point.
“There’s a bar not far from the docks,” he said. “Somebody told me they can’t get you there.”
“They?” Mortlake raised an eyebrow.
“Demons,” Cardwell said. “Demons are after me. And they have been for months. Come on.”
Mortlake followed Cardwell out of the building and onto the pleasant nineteenth-century campus. He would have liked to linger. It was a warm July day, and they were surrounded by greenery. But Cardwell acted like a man with a target on his back—constantly glancing around, half-crouching as he walked, and always on the alert. A door slammed nearby, and Mortlake saw Cardwell jump. Whatever problem the American had, it had left his nerves in shreds.
Cardwell had a cab waiting just off campus at an eye-watering cost. He snapped out the single word “Hannigan’s” to the driver and then slumped down in the back seat. Mortlake began to ask a few general questions about Cardwell’s problem. A simple when had it begun? How did it manifest itself? The young man gave fragmentary answers.
“About six months ago, I guess, but at first, I didn’t really notice because… well, I partied hard, you know? And I saw some weird stuff. Sometimes you get flashbacks, hallucinations, or a bad trip. And nightmares, well, we all get them, right? But this… this was something else. Next level crazy. Manifest? You name it. Anything that scares the crap outta you, that throws you off balance. That’s how it manifests, Professor. I’m cursed. But I don’t know who cursed me or why.”
Mortlake was about to ask another question when Cardwell froze, eyes bulging, his gaze fixed on the back of the driver’s head. Mortlake couldn’t see what the problem was. Then he got it. The driver had a thick head of black, curly hair. But it was moving, rippling and shifting, as three orifices opened in the rear of the man’s skull. Two red eyes and a mouth filled with shark-like teeth. The face grinned at Cardwell.
“Bloody hell!” Mortlake exclaimed.
The demonic face vanished, only for the driver’s head to turn around one hundred and eighty degrees. He had no face where a normal face should be, only an expanse of unbroken flesh stretched over the front of his skull. Mortlake had seen this kind of thing before and knew it was primarily designed to scare. There was usually no threat of physical harm. But it confirmed, at least, that Cardwell was not deluded.
“Stop!” Mortlake shouted, then added a few words of Aramaic that were usually effective against lesser demons. They were essentially a warning—back off or risk a fight.
The demon’s face reverted to its human guise, and it chuckled.
“You wanna walk the last block? Fine by me.”
They scrambled out of the cab, which drove off into heavy midday traffic. Cardwell paused for a moment, then set off at a brisk pace.
“Demons,” he said. “Everywhere I go, everywhere I look. They make fun of me and jump out at me. They’re in bed waiting for me, hiding in closets—I can’t live a normal life, Professor!”
“Quite,” said Mortlake. “It’s very disconcerting.”
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