Grand Mal Press

forum last stand


by Robert Essig

A one-minute elevator ride for Steve Hallbrooke felt more like a small eternity. It was embarrassing, particularly standing there with Julie Waldorf, a girl he’d been eyeing as far back as high school. He was such a loser back then that she hadn’t so much as looked in his general direction, and here he was, standing beside her in the elevator to her apartment, and he was freaking out. Well, not so much freaking out, but drowning in that familiar state of blissfulness that cramped spaces elicited.

He tried not to look like a doe-eyed loser, but she knew something was up. There was doubt in her eyes, which caused him to wonder if she suddenly remembered him from high school. If she did, their rendezvous to her apartment would come to an abrupt end. Even twelve years later it was tough to shake the stigma high school left him with.

Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! he told himself, but there was nothing he could do.

He’d tried to convince her to take the stairs, but she’d just laughed as if he’d cracked a good joke. He didn’t want her thinking he was scared of elevators--that would ruin the moment in an instant. It wasn’t every night Steve went to the bar and talked to Julie Waldorf who was good and drunk and on the rebound. This was a once in a lifetime sort of deal, and here he was fucking it up.

Steve’s eyes began to shudder as if in a state of ecstasy, and then his pupils rolled into his head and he began to slide, with his back against the wall of the elevator, toward the floor. He loved closed-in spaces such as closets, elevators and compact vehicles. When he was in such a place his body involuntarily withdrew into a state of euphoria.

“What’s wrong with you?” asked Julie.

Oh shit! Oh shit! Steve’s mind convulsed as panic matched feelings of bliss. When he found himself in a tight space it was damn near orgasmic. He’d been like this for as long as he could remember, but now, in the prime of his life, the throes of ecstasy and pleasure cramped spaces gave him was powerful, and being drunk seemed to be amplify the sensations.

“Steve? Is there something wrong?”

She was concerned, and that was the break he was looking for. She should be concerned. He was sitting on the floor in a fetal position, which was strange enough, and then there was the flickering of his closed eyes like REM sleep and the trembling of his jaw. The pleasure wasn’t akin to sexual climax, but something equivalent to that physical sensation pertaining to the mind. It felt as if he was recessing into something deep and dark and cozy.

The elevator bell dinged. As much as Steve regretted having to leave his “happy place”, he was relieved, and hoped he would be finding Julie’s happy place when they got into her apartment.

The doors opened and so did Steve’s eyes. “We’re here,” said Julie, but Steve was firmly planted in the corner of the elevator.

Julie went to his aid, kneeling down almost enough so that he could see up her skirt, not that he was that kind of pervert, and not that in his current state he would try to have a peek.

She just about stumbled into him, all wobble-legged, eyes glassy and bloodshot. She’d had a considerable amount to drink before he’d gotten to the bar, and then he bought her a few rounds. “What’s wrong, Steve?”

His voice was an exasperated whisper, his chest heaving in and out from the wild sensations his mind had just sent through his body. All he said was, “The elevator.”

“I’m sorry, Steve. I wouldn’t have taken the elevator had I known.”

The doors began to close. Julie made a drunken stumble to keep them open. “Come on. My apartment’s on this floor.”

Steve wasn’t budging. Though there was a small portion of his mind that was sane in that moment, his rapturous body remained unmoving, which worked to his advantage.

As it turned out, Julie wasn’t half the bitch he had thought she was when they were in high school. She was very sweet, as he found out when she took the time to coax him out of the elevator and into her humble abode where she lit fragrant candles and fixed them a couple of drinks before seducing him into her bedroom for dessert.

It wasn’t lovemaking but sheer drunken screwery and they both knew it, and neither cared. They were new to one another, she hardly knowing his name, and he living out a teenage dream, and it was just fine that way--for now at least.

Afterward Steve wasn’t sure if she wanted him to leave or stay over night. He wasn’t familiar with the rules of a one-nighter, and frankly he liked the idea of waking beside the woman he had fantasized about all through high school. In fact, he would like nothing more than to date Julie, but he was no fool. She had talked about her ex quite a bit at the bar and it was clear that he was merely a rebound before she set her sights back on the man she couldn’t stop thinking about. She passed out before he knew what she wanted of him. It might be awkward in the morning, but he was willing to stay there in hopes that she would fall for him. Perhaps they could have breakfast and go from there.

But when Julie woke, Steve was gone. Or at least she thought he was. She was late for work and scrambled through the house making coffee, showering, and then getting her clothes from the closet where she made a startling discovery.

Steve woke with a start at Julie’s scream. He was crammed into her closet in a fetal position beneath a pile of boxes atop and beside him, completely closed in.

At her scream, he erupted from the shoeboxes and purses and out of the closet. He had been floating on a cloud when all that was right in his little world had been stomped upon. He saw Julie, and though he remembered who she was and what she meant to him and what they did last night, he couldn’t stop himself before he lurched upon her like some kind if animal, bringing her body down in a mindless rush that resulted in her head hitting the tiled floor of her bathroom like a melon on pavement. She lay there lifeless, her head concave where she hit the floor, the flesh torn from the horrible fracture of her skull.

Steve freaked out. He cried, he screamed, he bit his nails. He’d never seen that much blood before. He wanted to believe that she was still alive, that it was a flesh wound, but...

Julie had died by his hands.

As much as Steve wanted to crawl back into the closet and forget about his atrocious act, he had to make distance between him and Julie Waldorf.




The road could be a lonely place at seven o’ clock on a Saturday morning. Steve was used to loneliness. He’d lived his life in a state of solitary confinement that was more self-induced than anything, though he liked to claim that it was due to his affliction with tight spaces. It was hard to associate with people when he feared what would happen were he to find a good tight space to stuff himself. It was beyond his control. As a child, when he came across a box, a closet, a cubby--anything he could cram himself into--he would do so, often times until his parents found and retrieved him.

As Steve grew older, he learned to control the urge, but it was always there, prepared to take over, and it would do just that, as it had done in the elevator last night, and later when he saw Julie’s closet door opened just a crack. In that crack he saw illustrious visions of nirvana and he couldn’t stop himself.

The open road gave way to even more road, which led to gas stations, trucker diners, and firecracker shacks. Steve made his way to Wisconsin and kept on driving. His mind reeled with fears of prison. As much as he tried to tell himself that he would do well in a small confined space such as a prison cell, he couldn’t convince himself that surrender was a plausible idea.

Nightfall brought with it a sweep of cold air that filled the cab of Steve’s car with a death chill. He wondered if Julie’s body was still lying there in the doorway to the bathroom. How long would it take for all that blood to seep through the floor and make a stain in the ceiling to the unit below?

The cold caused his mind to run wild. He hated being cold. The heater in the car had broken a few months ago, but he’d never worried about the kind of cold that possessed a Wisconsin night. He drove down miles of flat lands and pasture sprinkled with cows, wondering how they didn’t freeze out there (not that the air was freezing temperature--it just felt that way to Steve).

He didn’t want to go to prison, but that was his fate unless he disappeared from existence or took an airplane to nowhere or drove all the way to Canada. There was no way out of this one. The apartment building had a surveillance system, cameras everywhere, including the elevator where he had showed himself to be the maniac that he was, and also showing whom he was with. He was also seen with Julie at the bar, not to mention the taxi ride back to her place.

If he could just get to Canada...

It had been a while since the last gas station. Steve realized this as his car began to sputter and pop, an unmistakable sound that indicated an empty tank. He glided the car to the side of the road where it lurched to a rough stop.

It was dark, but the moon was close to full and lit the sky like a giant lantern, illuminating the pastures. Several cows grazed in the grass, periodically offering a lazy moo. Steve couldn’t help but wonder why they weren’t sleeping.

He sat in his compact car, but the tightness of space wasn’t enough to comfort him, particularly considering the chill in the air. He was a sitting duck, and the more he thought about it the more he could hear police sirens and see the red and blue lights flashing in the distance, but they never made it to him because they weren’t there.

He thought about locking himself in the trunk, but it would be too cold. The darkness and tightness of space would be welcomed with open arms, but the chill was just as severe as in the cab. He needed a warmth and tightness of space that would stifle his mind from thinking and allow him to completely steal away into that euphoric bliss he knew so well. There was some great reward out there for him, he knew it, and the only way to get it was to find the warmest, tightest cramped space he could find. Nothing else mattered. Julie didn’t matter. Prison didn’t matter. Tomorrow didn’t matter.

From the glove compartment Steve produced a pocketknife. He kept it in there for protection. It occurred to him that if he was small enough, say, the size of an infant, maybe he could crawl into the glove compartment.

He took the pocketknife, exited the car, and jumped a rickety wood fence into a nearby pasture. On the other side were a few cows, their nostrils blowing puffs of hot air into the cold night.

Having grown up in the city, Steve didn’t have any experience with these large animals. The closest he’d been to a cow was eating a hamburger, but he had an idea about the mammal’s anatomy. He knelt before a rather large specimen, inserted his pocketknife into the cow’s gut and, dragging it up to its sternum, disemboweled the large animal. It let out cries of agony before falling to the ground on its side, twitching and groaning as it died.

Steve dropped the pocketknife as a lunatic grin spread across his face. The guts of the cow steamed, and though the smell was nauseating, he knew that everything would be all right.

Kneeling on the ground before the cow, Steve began pulling out its stomachs and organs until he’d created a cavity that his miniscule frame could fit into. He took off his clothes and then slipped himself into the cow’s gut as it kicked the final spasms of its dying nerves. Steve curled himself into a fetal position to allow his feet and arms to fit completely inside the animal before he pulled the flesh closed to relish in the warmth. He slipped into that consciousness of mind that had no restrains or control, smiling like a snug child in mother’s arms.

The night was cold, too cold for the other cows, all of which wandered from the pasture to a stable over the hill. The warmth of the carcass was enough to allow Steve to disappear into the recesses of his mind, and when the cold rushed in and the frost began to slow the flow of his blood and eventually stop his heart, he didn’t feel a thing.

He finally reached the nirvana he’d been subconsciously searching for his entire life.


To read more of Robert Essig's stories, check out his novel Through the In Between, Hell Awaits

News & Updates

3/15/18: Plentiful Poison will be out soon in paperback and ebook!

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05/11/15:Invasion at Bald Eagle by Kris Ashton is now out in audiobook format!

11/17/14: We are pleased to announce we will be publishing Justin Coke's novel, DEAD WRANGLER.

10/27/14: New out today in paperback and ebook, ROTATE THE EARTH by Bryan Alaspa!

10/27/14: We are pleased to announce we will be publishing Kris Ashton's novel, INVASION AT BALD EAGLE.

10/20/14: Win a free paperback copy of Ben Johnson's urban fantasy novel A SHADOW CAST IN DUST on Contest ends Nov 7.

6/24/14:We are pleased to announce we will be publishing Bryan W. Alaspa's novel, tentatively titled ROTATE THE EARTH.

5/21/14: Ben Johnson will be signing copies of his new novel at Krakatoa Coffee Shop in San Diego on Sat, June 7 from 3-5.

5/21/14:Now out! A SHADOW CAST IN DUST by Ben Johnson! An epic urban fantasy!

3/20/14:Take advantage of our REVIEW REWARD MONTH, all March, for free ebooks!

1/20/14: DEAD THINGS is now out in audiobook format!

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9/22/13: MALCONTENTS is now out in Audiobook format from!

9/11/13: ANGEL STEEL by Randy Chandler is now out in paperback and ebook!

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7/14/13: THE PACK OF WOLVES LIMITED EDITION is now out in signed hardcover! Only 100 available. More info here!

7/10/13: THE FLESH OF FALLEN ANGELS is now out in Audibook!

7/1/13: SARABAND FOR A RUNAWAY by Robert White is officialy out in paperback and ebook formats!

3/14/13: MUTE by Jeffrey Hale is officialy out in paperback and ebook formats!

2/20/13: SORCERER by Geoffrey James is officialy out in paperback and ebook formats!

2/11/13: On Thursday February 14th, 2013 The Hermetic Hour with host Poke Runyon will interview the distinguished scholar and author Geoffrey James whose historical novel "The Sorcerer" on Elizabethan magus John Dee has just been released by us. It should be noted that Geoffrey James is also the author of "Enochian Evocation of Dr. John Dee," and "Angel Magic', both factual and practical works on the magical art. Geoffrey brings a unique combination of talents to his novel: he is an historian, a magician and a masterful story teller. Tune in here: The Hermetic Hour

1/14/13: We've got AUDIO BOOKS! A Pack of Wolves, Last Stand in a Dead Land, and Dead Dog, are currently available from More audio books are on the way!

12/26/12: We are having a 99 cent Kindle sale for the next five days! Details HERE

12/25/12: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

12/01/12: We will be releasing ANGEL STEEL by Randy Chandler and THE DEAD BOY by Craig Saunders.

11/31/12: Through the In Between, Hell Awaits by Robert Essig is now out! If you like demons this book is for you.

10/31/12: MATT DARST, STEPHEN BRYANT and CLIFFORD ROYAL JOHNS will be sitting on panels at Windycon. Make sure you drop by and say hi to them. Click here for more info: Schedule

10/31/12: Happy Halloween! Grab some of our spooky books to put you in the mood.

6/25/12: We will be publishing Robert Essig's novel Through the In Between, Hell Awaits

6/25/12: We will be releasing the horror novel MUTE from Jeffrey Hale. More info to come.

4/10/12: We've accepted a great sci fi/mystery novel from Cliff Johns. More info to come.

3/01/12: Check out this awesome trailer for A PACK OF WOLVES.

2/23/12: THE FLESH OF FALLEN ANGELS and DEAD THINGS should both be out in March.

1/03/12: Happy New Year! Look for Craig Saunder's hilarious novel, SPIGGOT, due out in a couple weeks!

12/05/11: Eric S. Brown's newest novella, A PACK OF WOLVES, now available!

12/01/11: Iain Robert Wright's ANIMAL KINGDOM now available on kinde. Paperback coming soon!

9/21/11: New novels on the way from Iain Robert Wright and Craig Saunders, two great authors from across the pond!

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5/9/11: The detective horror antho is out. We've also accepted books from Gregory L. Norris, Randy Chandler, and David T. Wilbanks. Our first Mystery Novel is on the horizon, written by Robb White.

4/23/11: The Detective Horror antho is now CLOSED to submissions. Thank you.

3/31/11: We are almost done filling the detective horror antho. Cover design should be up in a couple weeks. And we are still open for novel submissions.

12/15/10: The Detective Horror anthology has been reopened to submissions. If you submitted during the last period we will be contacting you very soon. We apologize for the delay.

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10/01/10: Submissions have closed. Thank you.

8/9/10: Grand Mal Press is now accepting submissions to our first TWO anthologies. Details on our submissions page.