Jason is on the run.
Every demon in Nevada is after his blood.
Yet he fears nothing so much as the darkness growing within his mind…
THE GRIND SHOW by Phil Tucker
For those who can see demons there is but one maxim: hunt them down until your luck runs out, and then hope for an easy death.
Or so Jason thought until one hellish night in a desert ghost town leaves his life in ruins and his soul tainted with demonic power.
Now the tables are turned and he’s the prey, forced to fight a running battle to keep himself and his friends alive. But at what price is he willing to buy his freedom? The demons care nothing for collateral damage, and as the death toll mounts the darkness within him grows stronger, making it ever harder for Jason to resist the allure of his newfound powers…
Praise for THE GRIND SHOW
“It feels like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez dragged Neil Gaiman through the desert.” – Christina Bryant
“…really well written with great characters, story arcs, dialogue, action, danger and reminded me of an episode of Supernatural.” – Sidhe Vicious Reviews
“If you like stories filled with action, high stakes, great characters and excellent writing, then you owe it to yourself to check this out.” – DC Chick
When you’re hunting demons, you can’t afford to make mistakes. Which is why my blood ran cold when Josh punched his foot through the door instead of kicking it open, and then cut his calf badly when he yanked his leg back out. Three seconds in and our plan had already gone to hell, and right there I almost pulled the plug. Almost yelled at him to go, get out, out of this abandoned house, this abandoned town in the middle of the Mojave, out into the truck to drive as fast as we could before the thing on the other side of the door caught up with us and tore our heads off. But I didn’t. We couldn’t run. There was a girl being tortured to death on the other side of the door.
Instead I rammed it open with my shoulder only to see a mass of angular bones clothed in desiccated leather rushing toward me, two eyes gleaming as if a tank of kerosene had been spilled in its skull and set on fire. I brought up my sawed-off shotgun, yelled something incoherent, and fired point blank at its face.
That’s why I love my shotgun. You don’t need to be terribly accurate, so when a demon is coming at you so fast it seems to blur, you can just point it in the right general direction and squeeze the trigger. Which is exactly what I did, the roar of the shot deafening in the confines of the house, and the demon’s face was torn from the front of its skull.
Josh limped into the doorway, blood soaking the leg of his jeans, and raised his huge hand cannon to try and finish it off, but the demon wasn’t there. Instead, it turned and surged toward the window. Josh tried to track it, firing shot after shot as I pumped the second shell into my shotgun’s chamber, but the demon blew out through the window, taking most of the wall with it, and fell into the night beyond in a shower of shattered glass and broken boards.
This all took place in maybe five seconds. The amount of adrenaline that had been dumped into my system had my heart racing at a thousand miles an hour, and I threw myself after it without thinking, skidding to a stop where the warped floorboards turned ragged and stretched out into nothing, and planted the stock of my shotgun into my shoulder just as the demon rose into view. Its leathery bat wings unfurled, it surged up with one mighty beat, looking to escape, to fly away into the darkness. Without thinking I aimed at its left wing and fired. The gun bucked, the left wing shredded, and with a cry of rage the demon fell down into the darkness below.
Josh reached my side, prepared to fire more shots at it as I strafed the flashlight that was taped to the barrel of my shotgun across the dirt street below. The demon was gone, gone to ground somewhere in this abandoned ghost town, a ramshackle collection of swaybacked buildings and rusting cars out in the middle of the Mojave. No lights, no people, nothing but the merciless stars overhead and the desert wind moaning through the angular wooden ruins.
“Damn,” said Josh, ejecting the clip from his gun. He turned to look at me, his square face pinched, controlled panic in his eyes. Pain made him look older than his thirty-five years. We’d been hunting these things together for the last two of them, and we both had enough experience by now to know how much trouble we were in.
“You need to learn your strength, buddy,” I said, giving the ground below one last pass with the flashlight. Shards of glass glittered in the dry grass that covered the road. Josh snorted, and I turned and looked into the room. An electric camping lantern was fixed to one of the walls, and it lit the room in pale, ghostly hues. The demon hadn’t provided light for its own benefit, but rather for the girl’s. So she could watch while it worked on her, while it played. She lay on the floor, tied up and unconscious, her yellow sundress hiked up around her thighs. Her left arm was covered in a sleeve tattoo, all deep indigos, royal purples and emerald greens. Her black hair looked blue in the light, the blood that had run down the length of her face, black.
Pulling free my machete I crouched down next to the girl and began to work the blade through the nylon cords that tied her wrists together. She was about my age, I thought, maybe a little younger, early twenties at most. Part Asian. A cut ran along her temple, following her hairline. The demon had probably been about to scalp her when I pushed in the door and shot it in the head. Her dress was torn open above her heart, a deep spiral carved into her flesh.
“Damn,” I whispered, as Josh stepped up next to me. “We’re too late.”
“No, ‘too late’ would mean dead. She’s still breathing,” he said quietly.
I looked down at the spiral. “Sometimes I’m not so sure. How’s your calf?”
Josh leaned down and pulled up the leg of his jeans. Dark blood was welling out of a deep gash, soaking into his sock and down over his boot. I crouched down next to him and shook my head. “You going to be able to walk on that?”
“And dance,” he said, smiling grimly at me. I set down my shotgun and gave my sleeve a hard yank, tearing it up the seam and then ripping it right off.
“You holding out for a dance?” I wrapped the cloth around his leg and tied it tight. “I don’t know. I think we might have come on a little strong.”
Josh hissed, and then straightened. “Nah, no worries.” He tested his weight on the leg and then rolled the jeans back down. “Girls like it when you’re assertive.”
I laughed shakily, took up my shotgun. “She did seem a little desperate. Practically threw herself at us.”
Josh stepped up next to me and shot me a look. “At us? She threw herself at you.”
“Guess that means you’re too ugly even for a demon. Come on,” I said. “We’ve got work to do.”
During the two years that Josh and I had been working together, we’d killed twelve demons, roaming back roads in the Midwest, threading our way through the mountain passes in the Rockies, driving our truck through the small towns that were spread across Texas and Utah, stalking them through the neighborhoods of L.A. and Phoenix, Albuquerque and Abilene. Only two demons had ever survived our first attack, and one of those we’d managed to kill within five minutes of its escape, running it down to where it was dragging its mangled corpse along the bottom of a dried riverbed.
The second had escaped altogether. We’d hunted it for hours amidst a mass of warehouses in Denver, and only quit when our nerves finally failed us. We’d driven as fast as we could up into the mountains on I-70, blasting through endless small towns and ski resorts as we fled for Utah. It had chased us for four days, through Utah, into Arizona, and then New Mexico. We’d only escaped by driving almost nonstop, as fast as we could, right into Texas. We’d both been so traumatized that we’d spent the next two months just drinking and moving from motel to motel, unable to relax.
I stood up, slid my machete back into its scabbard and took up the shotgun. Suddenly I felt exhausted. The idea of going out there into the dark town and hunting the demon among the ruined buildings was almost more than I could bear. This was easily the worst situation we’d ever been in. We had about ten minutes before the blasted thing began to heal, and then we’d go from being the hunters to being the hunted.
“All right,” I said. “Let’s find this thing before it grows its face back.” I looked down at the girl once more. “I think we’re going to have to leave her here till we kill the fucker. This room is as safe as anywhere else. Let’s go.” We exited the room and did our best to ghost down the steps that led through the missing front door into the chill night air. I paused to sweep my flashlight up and down the street before stepping out into the open.
I glanced at the buildings that dotted the length of the dirt road. Other than the church the demon had picked the only two-storied house in the whole ghost town for its lair. I looked down the street to where the church stood, tall and gaunt in the thin moonlight. There was a twisted appeal to the demon taking refuge in there, which meant that was what it had most likely done. With a sigh I began to walk toward it, Josh following and watching our backs.
I moved carefully, sweeping the beam of the flashlight from side to side. Shapes suggested themselves in the darkness around me, leering and unnerving. Two years of hunting with Josh had shown me enough to know that the darkness really was filled with monsters, but I controlled the urge to spin around and shine the light behind me. A building loomed on our right, nearly collapsing as it leaned dangerously toward us, all of its angles warped and unnatural. Nothing stirred in the windows though my imagination populated them with demonic faces and blank, hungry eyes.
We reached the end of the street and looked up at the church steeple rearing up blindly into the night sky. It was massive and boxy, its windows shattered. Steps led up to the small portico front where the double doors hung open on rusted hinges. I stopped and played my light over the building’s front. It was in there, I could feel it. Waiting, hurt, bleeding, furious. Wanting to pull screams from our bodies. I felt my brow prickle with sweat, and wiped at it angrily with my sleeve. No matter how many times I told myself I was ready to die, no matter how much I tried to resign myself to an inevitable death, I always dreaded going into places like this. They were just too freaky. I shifted my grip on my shotgun, wiped one hand on the seat of my jeans, and turned to look at Josh.
“Ready for that dance?”
Josh managed a grin, his face wan in the darkness. “I’ve got my blue suede shoes on.”
“I’ll take that for a yes,” I said, and began to mount the steps.
This demon was a big one. Not that it was stronger than the others; size didn’t always translate to power. It had been big, but so skinny that the gaps between its ribs looked like incisions, its vertebrae visible through its withered stomach. Brown hide like sun-cracked leather covered its bones, but despite its gaunt appearance I knew it would be as tough as iron nails. It took a lot of work to keep one of these things down.
I reached the massive front doors and played my light about the inside of the church, gliding the beam over toppled pews, slatted wood walls. The far end was shrouded in darkness and the high ceiling was similarly hidden. But it was in here. Watching me already if its eyes had grown back. Listening, if not.
The plan was a simple one, automatic and perfected through practice. I would walk slowly into the church and wait for the demon to attack me. Josh, being the better shot, would then try to blow its head off from where he stood in the doorway before it killed me. Simple.
“Room service,” I called, pausing to listen. I turned to look at where Josh stood frowning up at me. “Huh,” I said. “No answer. Weird.” Josh stared at me with a long-suffering expression. I grinned at him and stepped into the church.
I walked down the center aisle, shining my light about the interior. I doubted anyone had prayed here in over a hundred years. I shone my light over the exposed rafters, on the altar in the back. Nothing. My heart began to pound once more, and I began to swing my light back and forth, searching—where was it?
A sound—a small scritching, and I spun around, raising the shotgun, the light. There it was. It looked like a vast desiccated bat and hung suspended right above the front door, its wings furled about its body, talons sunk into the wooden beam. As if sensing my light, it turned its head blindly to look at me with its ruined face, baring its fangs into a rictus grin.