Grand Mal Press

forum last stand



To read more of Randy Chandler's stories, check out his contributions in Darker Than Noir and Alien Aberrations

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THE HANDYMAN

by Randy Chandler

Hurricane Jayne blew us a big slobbery kiss as she went whirling by, and we thought we’d got off easy-breezy. Dodged God’s bullet. Cities to the south caught the brunt of the bitch-storm’s wrath as she cut a furious path across the peninsula and then slid off into the Gulf to set her sights on the next tasty bit of coastline. If we weren’t dancing in the streets, it was only because they were flooded.

“The Lord surely smiled upon us, Lon,” Preacher Silas told me the next day as we surveyed the damage to the sanctuary. “Thank you, Jesus.” As handyman and general flunky for The Church of the Holy Ghost, I couldn’t see much need for thanking anybody. All I could see was the hard work ahead of me: the carpet I’d have to rip up and replace, the scrubbing and disinfecting required to remove the floodwater stench from the floor, not to mention the cleanup of the debris littering the church lawn and parking lot. Thanks a lot, Jesus.

The Rev led me out to the tarmac parking lot beside the church and we stood on the broken rim of the big sinkhole and stared down its throat like two bumpkins gawking at the Eighth Wonder of the World. I shoved my hands in my pockets and waited for the bookish man to impart more of his patented homespun wisdom, but he just stood there staring into the hole like a man in a trance. His lips moved but he made no sound. He shivered, though the September morn was sultry.

Down the street a chainsaw whined, then screamed when its teeth met the meat of a downed tree.

“Preacher? You all right?” I asked him.

“You feel it, son?” he asked without taking his eyes from the hole.

“Feel what?”

“I don’t rightly know what it is. But I feel it, sure as sin.”

The ragged hole Jayne had left us was roughly eight feet in diameter and at least nine feet deep. Brackish water pooled at the bottom. There was an odd sweet smell rising from it, not at all like the usual bottom-rot odor of floodwater.

Preacher Silas craned his head over the rim as if he were listening to something down there. He teetered, lost his balance and I grabbed him and pulled him back to safety. “Careful,” I warned.

“Yes, yes, you’re right. We must take care. This is a very dangerous thing. Get some sawhorses, Lon, and block it off. We can’t have our kids taking a tumble down that hole. White rabbit or no.”

He shuddered, still gazing into the sinkhole as if he expected to see something there besides dirty water, broken tarmac and earthen walls. He extended his hands palms-down over the hole like a man warming his hands over a fire and said, “You sure you don’t feel something?”

Playing along, I stuck my hands out too. Then I turned them up in an empty-hands gesture and said, “No sir. Not a thing.”

“I’ll have to meditate on it.” The lines on his face deepened. His expression was so grim I had to look away.

He sequestered himself in his office the rest of the morning. I rounded up a couple of sawhorses and set them by the hole, and then I went to work in the sanctuary, ripping up ruined carpet and scrubbing hardwood floors until the stink was mostly gone. If cleanliness really was next to Godliness, then at least I was headed in the right direction. Every now and then, I’d glance up at the tall crucifix behind the altar to make sure the life-size wooden replica of Jesus was still affixed to His cross. The thing was so lifelike that I often had the creepy feeling that He might slip down from the crossbeams, sneak up on me and put a cold hand of judgment on my shoulder. Such thoughts aren’t all that unusual in a recovering alcoholic. But as unnerving as those notions can be, they beat hell out of the terrifying hallucinations I’d had when I was in alcohol withdrawal. A walking wooden Jesus was a Sunday picnic compared to the Delirium Tremens devils I’d seen.

Mid-afternoon I saw Preacher Silas hovering over the sinkhole again. I dragged the last of the rolled-up, waterlogged carpet to the curb and left it for the trash men, then I started across the parking lot toward him. His back was to me so he didn’t see my approach. He was gesturing with his hands the way he did whenever he delivered one of his trademark hellfire-and-brimstone sermons. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but his inflection was certainly spirited. Curious, I slowed my pace, trying to catch some of his words.

I heard only snatches of what he was saying: “…earth will give back…return what was entrusted to it…and Hell will give back what it owes…”

I stopped a few paces behind him and listened, spellbound, to more of his odd oration: “And I saw another hole below the pit and it had the appearance of blood and pestilence and…No! That’s a damned lie! Defile not my flock! Oh Lord, please…”

Silas dropped to his knees on the broken edge of tarmac and clasped his hands together. He wailed a string of nonsensical syllables, jabbering in tongues unknown.

“Preacher?” I called. His wailing gibberish so disturbed me that I had to make him stop.

He jerked his head around and shot me a look of sheer madness, eyes wildly aflame with desperate passion and twisted religious fervor.

“Are you all right?” I asked him, knowing he wasn’t.

Some of the fire went out of his eyes and he seemed to recognize me. He braced himself on a sawhorse, pushed up off his knees and brushed off his trousers, looking embarrassed. “Lon, I…I don’t know what happened. I…”

“Better come away from there,” I said, taking him gently by the arm and pulling him away from the brink of the sinkhole.

“I don’t remember coming out here,” he said, bewildered. “Darndest thing. I was working on Sunday’s sermon and then…”

“Sounded like you were speaking in tongues,” I said with a mirthless laugh. I wanted to humor him, though I knew there was nothing humorous about whatever was happening to him.

“It spoke to me.” Tears welled in his eyes. “It…”

He shuddered as if he’d caught a chill. I shivered sympathetically, a reflex, like when someone yawns and you do too.

“Why don’t you go home and rest awhile,” I suggested. “Grab a little siesta.”

He glanced uneasily back at the hole. That strange sweet scent was all but gone. A stench rose from the hole. “Yes, I believe I will. I must be coming down with something. Catching some vile sort of bug.”

I walked him to the brick parsonage next door to the church and he went inside. I heard him throw the deadbolt—something I’d never known him to do during daylight hours.

I went back to the sinkhole and stared into it, trying to divine…I don’t know what. An otherworldly presence? That sweet smell was back, though it was much fainter now. Gooseflesh rose on my arms. A ripple of fear snaked through my belly and crawled up into my chest. I stepped back from the rim, trembling. The Rev’s bizarre behavior had spooked me. This was an ordinary sinkhole, a simple geological phenomenon and nothing more. There was nothing demonic about it. The only demons around here were the ones in the preacher’s head. The man needed professional help.

Maybe I did too. My old phobia of holes was coming back.

When I was seven years old I lived in a house across a dirt road from an orange grove. Nobody in the neighborhood had a swimming pool, so we kids ran a garden hose from Gary Willis’s house to a sizeable hole (left by the removal of a tree stump) at the edge of a sandy vacant lot of weeds and sandburs and filled it with water, christening it The Black Lagoon after the creature feature we’d seen at the Saturday matinee. Four feet deep and six feet wide, the hole wasn’t big enough for actual swimming, but it suited our splash-pool purposes just fine.

Until Butch Bailey came along.

Butch was your typical neighborhood bully. He was a few years older than we were, and the only time he deigned to have anything to do with us was when he was bored with his dull-witted self or pissed-off at his old man, a hard-looking bully in his own right.

One day Butch Bailey caught us splashing around in the The Black Lagoon, reveling in the cool muddy water. The Three Mud-keteers—Gary Willis, Ty Gilbert and me. Ty saw him first, climbed out of the hole and ran immediately for home, swimming trunks bagging about his legs. Gary and I stayed put, resigned to our fate, yet hoping Butch wouldn’t think it was worth getting wet and muddy just to wail on such unworthy prey as us.

Butch Bailey grabbed the garden hose, wrapped it around Gary’s neck, dragged him out of the water and pummeled his head and shoulders with his bony fists. Gary took his punishment, and shambled home with a bloody nose, whimpering all the way. Then it was my turn.

Butch lashed me with the hose, raising red welts on my bare shoulders and arms. I ducked underwater and held my breath until my lungs were on fire. I broke the surface just as he jumped feet-first into the hole and pushed me under. I came up coughing and sputtering, and Butch laughed and said he’d give me to three to get out of the hole. He started his count and I started climbing out of the water. Just as I was slithering onto the muddy rim of the hole, he grabbed my trunks and yanked me back into the watery pit. He dunked me and held me under. I panicked and tried to claw my way back to the world of air but Butch Bailey was too strong. I knew then he wasn’t playing; he intended to kill me. I was going to die in this muddy waterhole.

But Butch wanted to play with me some more before he finished me off. He let me up, let me catch some air and started counting again. I dove for the mudbank but slipped right back into my tormentor’s arms. He dunked me again. Let me up again. Counted again. I don’t know how many times he made me run through that tortuous routine before he finally tired of the game and said, “Last chance, squirt. If you can’t get away this time, this shithole’s gonna be your watery grave.”

He started the count and I knew I was dead. Defeated and dispirited, I slumped in emotional collapse and awaited my fate. But here came Gary’s mother, striding on stubby legs to my rescue before Butch Bailey finished the count. She scolded him and he cussed her, but he let me go.

I never went near that swimming hole again. For years I had nightmares of being swallowed up by evil holes. Sometimes the holes chased me, snapping at my heels like giant mouths. Sometimes holes would open up under my feet and I would fall into terrifying darkness. Once a hole fell out of the sky and devoured me from above. In my waking life I avoided anything remotely resembling a hole, be it a tiny cavity or a yawning chasm. In short, I developed a full-blown phobia of holes. Even a hole in my shoe would make me nervous.

I’m not sure my phobia had anything to do with my becoming an alcoholic, but the only time I wasn’t afraid of holes was when I was soused to the gills. That changed years later when a shrink saw a link between my fear and my drinking, and treated the phobia as part of my recovery. That’s a funny story in itself.

I was on a three-day drunk when I fell and hit my head on a St. Augustine curb. X-rays revealed a subdural hematoma—a blood clot on the brain which had to be removed. When the internist told me the procedure entailed drilling a “burr hole” in my skull I panicked, and eventually confessed my hole phobia to the shrink they called in for consultation. It took a week of intensive hypnotherapy to convince me that the hole in my head wasn’t going to devour my brain. Post-op, the doc told me about the ancient practice of trepanning and joked that the burr hole had let the demons out of my head. I didn’t laugh. It sounded about right to me.

I knocked off work just before sundown and retired to my little crackerbox house behind the church. It came rent-free with the job. It met my meager needs and allowed me to keep an eye on the church during my off-hours. After a shower and a microwave dinner of Swedish meatballs, I sat on the front stoop with a mug of coffee and contemplated the weeping willow that stood like a lonely sentinel in front of the little house. The rear of the redbrick church was directly in front of me and the parking lot was off to my right. I avoided looking at the sawhorses guarding the sinkhole because I didn’t want to think about the hole or the preacher’s odd obsession with it. The droopy willow held no unpleasant associations for me and I rested my gaze on it, savoring the cooling winds of twilight.

A lizard darted from the corner of the stoop, paused to check for predators, and then ran along the front of the house and disappeared around the corner. When I looked up, I saw Silas lumbering across the parking lot toward the hole. The belt of his terrycloth robe dragged the ground.

“Damn, man,” I grumbled. I set my coffee on the stoop, got up and went after him. Babysitting the preacher was not in my job description, but he’d lost his wife to breast cancer the year before and I was all he had now. Some might say looking after him was the Christian thing to do. I wasn’t much of a Christian, but I couldn’t sit by and let him break his neck falling in that damned hole.

He moved one of the sawhorses out of his way and stood right on the hole’s edge like the Fool in the tarot deck standing before the precipice.

“Hey! Get away from there!” I shouted.

If he heard me, he gave no sign. He made a bizarre gesture with his hands, and then he jumped into the hole.

I jogged toward him, anxious to get him out of there and equally anxious to outrun my old familiar phobia that was suddenly dogging me, its rancorous breath on the back of my neck.

I was in a veritable footrace with fear. If I could beat it to the hole, I would be all right.

So I thought.

I drew up just short of the sinkhole’s rim and saw Silas on his knees in the dirty water at the bottom of the pit. He was speaking in tongues again. He cupped his hands, scooped up some water and dumped it on the crown of his head as if baptizing himself. The water made a crooked part in his silver hair and dulled its usual healthy sheen.

“Preacher,” I said, kneeling at the edge, “give me your hand.”

He ignored me and went on with his stuttering gibberish. Then he bent down and started lapping the stagnant water.

Leaning over that jagged-edged maw, I felt disorienting wave of vertigo. The hole seemed to be opening wider, like a hungry mouth. It wanted me. Wanted to suck me down into deepest oblivion. I had just enough presence of mind to know that if I didn’t act now, my fear would immobilize me.

So I jumped into the hole.

A man might do a crazy thing when he’s pissed off at the world, but an alcoholic will do something crazy because the world is pissed off at him.

Billy Walking Bird shared that with me the first time I met him. It didn’t make much sense to me then, but I thought it would be bad form to question the wisdom of my AA sponsor so I just filed it away in my memory under Quaint Native-American Sayings. I figured I was too insignificant for the world to be pissed off at me.

Jumping into that sinkhole was probably a crazy thing to do, especially for a man with a phobia of holes. Was it the brave act of a man determined to face his fear or was it the cowardly act of a man trying to escape his old demons? Standing ankle-deep in sinkhole water, I was in no position to fathom the answer. It was a time for action, not a time for deep thought. I reached down and grabbed Silas by the collar and pulled his face out of the water.

“Get up,” I told him.

He looked up at me with wide eyes and said, “You’re Him. The carpenter. Praise Jesus!”

“I’m Lon, the handyman. C’mon, we have to get out here.”

As twilight darkness closed in on the sky, the hole closed in on us. If I could keep my fear at bay long enough to get us out of there, then the defining moment of my actions would be one of triumph. It wouldn’t be easy. The broken tarmac of the parking lot was nearly three feet above the top of my head and the hole’s walls were straight up and down with nothing to hold on to. I thought I might be able to dig footholds in the wall, but that would take time I knew I didn’t have. If I could get Silas to stand on my shoulders and boost him out, then he could reach down and pull me up or at least go for help—if he wasn’t too crazy to follow instructions.

Silas reverently—lovingly--touched his fingers to my short salt-and-pepper beard and said, “I knew you’d find me, Lord.”

“I’ve come to save you from the pit,” I said, deepening my voice to make it savior-like. It was a pretty fair imitation of Charlton Heston’s Moses, and I used it to issue a commandment. “Stand on my shoulders and I shall boost you out of the pit of damnation!”

“I was afraid you’d forsaken me,” he blubbered. “I’m heartily sorry, Lord.”

I squatted down and pointed at my shoulder, giving him my sternest angry-God look. He had lost a lot of weight since his wife died, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to straighten my legs with him standing on my shoulders. Bracing my hands against the dirt wall, I stood erect and boosted him halfway out of the hole. “Climb out,” I grunted.

His weight left my shoulders and I blew a big sigh of relief. I looked up just as he lost his grip and came sliding back into the hole. There was no time to get out of the way. His wet shoes smacked my face and I fell backward into the water. He came down on top of me, pinning me below the surface.

I tried to push him off me but couldn’t budge him. Rancid water rushed into my nose, into my ears and down my throat when I panicked and tried to yell at him to get his ass off me.

Then the hole swallowed me.

The sun was rising in the eastern sky when Fire/Rescue pulled us out of the hole. They took me first because I was still alive. Silas was facedown in the fetid water, dead. I couldn’t tell them how he got that way. I didn’t know, couldn’t remember.

I’d spent the entire night in the sinkhole, lost in a landscape of nightmarish images I couldn’t put together in any sensible way. I could point to no linear cause-and-effect chain of events resulting in the preacher’s death. The nightmare fragments had swirled in concentric circles, conforming roughly to the geometry of the sinkhole—and to the inner contours of my skull. Laws of physics and logic seldom apply in the hallucinatory realm of nightmare.

I told my rescuers that Silas had fallen on top of me when I tried to boost him out of the hole and that the next thing I remembered was waking up when they came to pull us out.

I didn’t attempt to tell them about the nightmares. There was no point in telling them that I’d been trapped in the hole with my childhood nemesis Butch Bailey, or that I’d been locked in a life-and-death struggle with the raging bully. Nor did I tell them of the demons indigenous to that damned hole, demons that had forced their way inside my head. They would’ve thought I was crazy. They would’ve taken me to the nuthouse. I couldn’t have that.

I had too much to do.

They took the preacher’s body away and I went back to my little crackerbox to clean myself up. After a hot shower, I called Billy Walking Bird but got no answer. I thought he might understand what had happened to me and why I had to do what I was going to do. Billy knew about the unseen world of ghosts and demons, and he had at least a rudimentary grasp of the mysterious ways and various aspects of elementals and other earth spirits. He knew the way vengeful spirits could devour a man from the inside out, once they’d found a way inside. But I couldn’t wait to find him. I could already hear them munching away at me, like termites eating the interior walls of a house.

The situation called for immediate action. Delay would be disastrous, if not deadly.

I went to the tool shed behind the church, dug out the electric drill and loaded it with a 1/16” bit. I took it back to the house, stood in front of the bathroom mirror, plugged in the drill and held it against my right temple, finger on the trigger.

A Bible quote Preacher Silas had been fond of using came to me then and I repeated it: “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues.”

Then I pulled the trigger and the Black & Decker whined as the steel bit bore into my skull.

Sunset sanctuary. Alone with my sins. Front-row pew.

Washed in blood and stained-glass light. I mumble in an unknown tongue.

Unclean spirits banished back to the pit.

Jesus stands before me like a cigar-store Indian.

Jesus Walking Wood.

No fear now. Only waiting.

For forgiveness.

Waiting.

To be healed…

His arms creak as He reaches for me with mahogany hands.

END

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To read more of Randy Chandler's stories, check out his contributions in Darker Than Noir and Alien Aberrations

News & Updates

5/24/17: Brothers in Blood is now out in ebook!

4/12/17: With A Face Of Golden Pleasure is now out in ebook and paperback!

11/27/16: San Diego Horror Professionals Vol 2: Holiday Special is now out in ebook and paperback!

11/27/16: A Life To Waste by Andrew Lennon is now out in ebook and paperback!

11/16/16: Dust of the Devil's Land by Bryan Killian is now out in ebook and paperback!

10/7/16: San Diego Horror Professionals, Vol 1 is now out in ebook and paperback!

9/2/16: The Worst Man On Mars by RMark Roman and Corben Duke is now out in ebook and paperback!

7/1/16: Scars of the Broken by Ryan C. Thomas is now out in ebook and paperback!

5/25/16: In Black by Robert Essig is now out in ebook and paperback!

12/19/15: Blood Silver by Ben Johnson is now out in ebook and paperback!

11/10/15: Waiting on a Bridge of Maggots by Robert White is now out in ebook and paperback!

06/01/15: Dead Wrangler by Justin Coke is now out in ebook and paperback!

05/29/15: Angel Steel by Randy Chandler is now out in audiobook format!

05/21/15:Barren Earth by Stephen A. North and Eric S. Brown is now out in ebook and paperback!

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 Goodreads.com. 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!

12/30/13: The Weaponer by Eric S. Brown is now up on kindle.

11/27/13: We're having a big 99 cent kindle sale starting on Black Friday!

10/24/13: Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest updates as well as freebies and discounts.

10/18/13: Angel Steel by Randy Chandler is free on kindle all weekend! Get it Here!

10/01/13: We will be doing giveaways on Goodreads.com this month. Stay tuned for details!

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

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

8/21/13: We will be having a 99 cent KINDLE SALE from Aug 30-Oct 1. Stay tuned!

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 Audible.com 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. windycon.org/ 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!

8/29/11: New books on the way from Eric S. Brown and Nick Cook.

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.

12/08/10: WE ARE NOW OPEN FOR NOVEL SUBMISSIONS. See our submissions page for more info.

12/07/10: We are back to working on the Hard Boiled Anthology. We hope to have the TOC in a week or two. Thanks.

10/12/10: PLEASE NOTE: The Hard Boiled Horror anthology is backed up. We will get back to you as quickly as possible. The Alien Horror anthology table of contents should be released by next week. Thanks!

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.