Volume Two of “Tales From Beyond Tomorrow” is available for pre-order now – and here’s a taste of one of the stories included!
SYNOPSIS: Salt Lake City, 1924: Although prosperous and respectable on the surface, the state of Utah is home to a huge number of speak-easies, illegal hooch production, and racketeering. Brandon Stone, President of the Stone Industries Corporation, leads a double life as the vigilante known as The Pendulum, waging a private war against organized crime.
This uneasy balance of law and larceny is thrown into chaos as a new menace invades Salt Lake City. What fiery curse is striking down the city’s mobsters, turning them into human torches bursting into flames without warning? Why have the Skinwalkers, bestial creatures from ancient mythology, returned to haunt the Indian reservations? Who is the new vigilante that has appeared in the city, even more powerful and merciless than the Pendulum?
Brandon Stone and his allies must find the source of this new evil, before it spreads out from Utah to engulf the United States … and then the entire world …
NOW READ ON!
The Rasmussen Estate Foundation was located on South Main Street, a few doors down from the head office of Zion Bank, and tucked a few blocks way from the all-seeing eye of Temple Square. Alice parked Stone’s Duesenberg Model A outside the imposing Romanesque facade of heavy sculptured masonry, spotless and gleaming in the morning light, and then accompanied her employer as he pushed open the door to the lobby.
Inside was a reception area in warm reds and browns, and a secretary seated behind a Macassar ebony and brass table. “Good morning,” she said, getting to her feet. “I’ll inform Mr. Rasmussen of your arrival.”
She wore the plain cream dress and flat shoes favored by Mormon women, but her hair was longer than usual and her features had a slight half-Indian cast. She disappeared through a door at the back, and Stone and Alice were left to gaze around them.
On the left side of the room across the close-fitted dark red carpet stood a tall display cabinet in dark wood and ivory inlay, with a crowd of china horse figurines pressed up against its glass doors. Next to it was a Brandt console table in wrought iron with a marble top, holding two bronze and ivory figurines of the Angel Moroni blowing his characteristic horn, along with this morning’s copies of the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune and LDS journals. Above it a mirror hung on the wall, with the familiar symbol of the All-Seeing Eye taking pride of place in its pewter frame. Stone picked up one of the journals, sat down in an Art Nouveau leather armchair with oval back and tapered sabre legs, flicking through the pages. He waved Alice to a chair, but she continued to stand.
The door opened, revealing an elderly man who looked to be in his seventies, wearing pince-nez and a funereal black suit, a walking stick straight at his side. He looked somehow puzzled at finding the waiting room occupied, despite the secretary having informed him of the appointment.
He walked slowly into the front room, putting his weight on the stick. “My name is Alvin Boydell Rasmussen,” he said, his voice creaking with age. “To whom do I owe the pleasure?”
“My name is Brandon Stone.”
Stone took in the single-breasted black suit with a shallow-collared white silk shirt, the blue and green necktie with a Three Nephites motif, the wide expanse of wrinkled face surmounted by the short abrupt cliff of white hair, the unsmiling dry mouth and the impressive straightness of the shoulders. The whites of his eyes, which showed all around his irises, gave something massive and statue-like to his gaze. Stone felt he was looking at a marble bust from the Hall of the Elders itself.
“Mr. Stone of Stone Industries? Well now, this is an honor as well as a surprise.” Rasmussen’s eyes flicked to Alice, standing at the doorway. “And who might your … companion be?”
Stone doffed his hat. “Allow me to introduce you to Alice Kawasaki, my chauffeur.”
The old man looked mortified. “Your chauffeur?”
“Well, she’s far more than a chauffeur, really, more like one of my bodyguards. She entered my employment as a kind of debt of honor to her father, and she has saved my life on several occasions.” He turned to smile at her, and Alice gave a deep bow in return. “Alice even beat me at chess once. Only once, though.”
Rasmussen clucked his tongue. “I’m sure you must be a busy man, Mr. Stone, as I am. What business brings you to my door?”
“I’m here to make a donation,” Stone said brightly.
Rasmussen’s scowl disappeared. He studied Stone’s face gravely, feature by feature.
“I’m very interested in the work you’re doing,” Stone continued. “You’re giving our Indian brothers and sisters a new place to live, on your own land, and helping them build a new community. Clean water. Honest work. Helping them find the true way of the Lord. I hold that in high respect, Mr. Rasmussen.”
“Really?” The old man arched an eyebrow. “We’ve tried to contact you before regarding donations, Mr. Stone, but we’ve never received a reply from your office until now. Where has all this high respect suddenly come from?”
Stone’s eyes twinkled. “It might take me some time, Mr. Rasmussen, but I do get around to everyone eventually.”
The clergyman smiled mockingly. “Well, the Book of Moroni says – as the Lord is patient with us, let us be patient with those we serve. See my secretary, and she will take the details of your donation and method of payment on your way out. Good day to you, sir.”
“One moment,” Stone said. “I have a request.”
Rasmussen’s heavy brows went up.
“I would like to see the reservation, if possible. I regard this donation as a kind of … investment.”
Rasmussen made an impatient grimace. “You mean more publicity for you. The philanthropist with flowers in one hand, and guns in the other.”
“I wouldn’t put it quite like that, but if I can see the reservation with my own eyes, I can get an idea of where the funds could be the most useful.”
“I shall be the judge of that. But still …”
Rasmussen smiled, and it was like a crocodile smiling. “Why not? I think this will work out to our ultimate … mutual benefit.”
He crossed slowly to the writing desk and took up fountain pen and paper. “I shall give you a letter to give to the supervisors, and my secretary will call them regarding them your arrival. When do you wish is suitable?”
“No time like the present,” said Stone. “How about this afternoon?”
“You don’t often meet a nut as tough as that one,” Stone observed, as Alice started the car.
“What is your assessment of the enemy stronghold, Tono?” she said, her eyes filling the rear view mirror.
Stone shrugged his shoulders. “Enemy stronghold? Who says he’s the enemy?”
Alice glowered. “He has the stink of death about him.”
“And I thought it was his hair lotion. Seriously, I don’t know what to think yet, but I was glad to get a look at Mr. Rasmussen. Quite a guy.”
“This afternoon, may I ask you to arm yourself with a sword, Tono?” Alice said urgently. “The one that belonged to my honored father himself?”
Stone frowned. “Why would I need your father’s sword?”
“Because we are going to the reservation of the Red Indians. They are a race of brave and fearsome warriors, Tono. Almost as brave and fearsome as we Japanese.”
Stone relaxed back into his seat. “Thank you Alice, I’ll remember that.”
The Rasmussen Estate was small compared to most reservations – two hundred and fifty acres with less than a hundred Indians living there – but it was, as the old man had said in the newspapers, “a modest beginning”. Alice and Stone drove west through Davis County to the foothills of the Wasatch Range, and the banks of the Weber river. As they drove, Stone compared the map drawn by Rasmussen’s secretary with the note found in Wolski’s room. They were almost identical.
The route ended in a narrow road leading to a tall wooden gate with RASMUSSEN ESTATE painted in white Gothic script. As they drove up, a man and woman opened the gates to greet them. They both wore long white smocks, jeans and sturdy boots, and both had long hair tied back.
“I am Jared,” said the man, once Stone had got out of the car and introduced himself. “This is my fellow supervisor, Hannah.”
Stone raised an eyebrow. “Something tells me you weren’t exactly born with those names.”
Jared smiled, but there was scorn in the way his eyes crinkled. “I was born to the Paiute, and Hannah is half Navajo, but we took new names when we were baptized by Elder Rasmussen.”
Jared had a thin face with deep-set eyes, a sensual mouth, and a heavily lined forehead topped by coarse black hair scraped back from his brow and tied in a ponytail. As for Hannah, apart from the dusky brown of her features, there was very little that said she was only part Indian. Her hair was chestnut and hung in braids to her breasts. Her tranquil eyes rode at a slight tilt above high cheekbones.
She pointed to a horse and buggy. “Please step aboard, and we shall give you a short tour.”
“I was expecting something a little more …”
“Civilized?” Jared said. “Elder Rasmussen is not like other white men. He lets up keep our traditions.”
“All of them?”
Jared scowled as he climbed up into the driver’s seat with Hannah, beckoning Stone to follow.
“How did Mr. Rasmussen find you?” asked Stone, as Jared coaxed the horse and buggy into motion.
“He did not. I saw his printed leaflets advertising allotments, fresh food, and clean water. I realized it would be better than the miserable life I was leading at the time.”
“Was it really that miserable out on the plains?”
Jared turned his head to give his passenger a withering look. “It’s not what you think, Mr. Stone. The wilderness is an exciting place for you, but for us it is squalid, and a place of fearful memories. Most of us are looking for a way out.”
Stone wore a suitably humble expression and sat quietly as the buggy trotted along the dirt track through the Estate.
Although the air was cold, it was pleasant riding in the sunshine, and the last of the stubborn snow had gone. Most of the houses were one-story adobe buildings with tiled roofs, whitewashed walls, and blue or brown painted doors or screen doors. Cow sheds and chicken coops were scattered around the allotments, and sheep wandered over the meadows leading up to the thick woods of scrub oak and laurel bordering the reservation.
Through the gaps between the residences Stone noted the comparatively ordered layout of the fields, and distant figures tilling the earth. Men and women walked along the track carrying baskets or leading sheep on hempen cords, but they seemed to give the wagon a wide berth as it passed, not greeting the riders but observing them furtively from the corners of their eyes. An unseen mongrel yapped in the distance. At the screen door of one hut, a young boy with long black hair, in calico shirt, leggings and moccasins, sat moving needle and thread, concentrating on what he was sewing. He looked up as the buggy approached. When he caught sight of Stone’s white face, he hurriedly stood and scampered inside the bungalow.
“How do you make a living here, Jared?” Stone asked.
“Me personally? Cutting wood and weaving rugs, mainly,” he replied, not taking his eyes from the track ahead. “Hannah does bead work and makes baskets. We have enough to lead a life of moderation, which is how Elder Rasmussen wishes it.”
“Then if you’re doing so well, why is it so quiet, and why does everyone here look so afraid?”
Jared glared at him again. “The people here are naturally shy, Mr. Stone. And of course … they have good reason to be suspicious of the white man.”
“Thank goodness. For a moment, I thought it was all these rumors of Skinwalkers.”
At that, both Jared and Hannah stared at him in alarm.
“How do you know about them?” said Hannah. Jared shot her an angry look, but it was too late.
Stone shrugged. “Well, you know … people talk. I guess it’s all superstitious nonsense, right?”
“Not always.” Jared narrowed his eyes. “One thing our people and the Mormons both understand is that devils are real. They exist, Mr. Stone. We call them the Yee Naaldlooshii – the Skinwalkers – and Elder Rasmussen knows them as the Sons of Perdition. If we stay on the reservation, under our Elder’s protection, they do not harm us.”
Stone pursed his lips. “I see. That’s mighty kind of Mr. Rasmussen. As long as you follow his advice, of course.”
Stone looked away, his eyes scanning the land the buggy was riding through. A narrow, deep-rutted track led to a two-story, gray-weathered affair with few windows, and a tall chimney with gray smoke wisping from the top.
“What’s the building over there?”
“It stores old farm machinery,” said Jared briskly. “Nobody goes in there these days. It’s nothing interesting.”
“No, I suppose not,” agreed Stone.
Jared impatiently urged the horses to speed up. “I think that is the end of the tour, Mr. Stone. This road circles back to the gate.”
“That didn’t last long,” said Stone.
Jared looked at him, dark emotions simmering beneath his heavy brows. “Elder Rasmussen asked us to treat you as a guest, and we have done so. We understand you would like to make a donation. We appreciate that. However, we lead a simple life, and we do not want for much. I think there is not much on this reservation that would interest … a man such as yourself.”
Stone looked coolly back at him. “Oh, I think what I’ve seen today has been most interesting.”
The willows and pines of the woods surrounding the Rasmussen Estate were so thick with silence and darkness, it was like looking at a cemetary. Brandon Stone, wearing the distinctive mask and fedora hat of The Pendulum, peered out of the rearside window of the Duesenberg parked on the lonely countryside track, his night vision visor scanning the trees beyond the fence.
“Tono, I should go with you,” said Alice from the driver’s seat. “If we mount a two-point attack, I calculate our losses should not be greater than fifty percent.”
“Fifty percent, eh? That’s mighty comforting.” He adjusted the brim of the fedora. “Thanks for the offer, but …”
“Wakatta. Hai, Tono. I stay with the car. Do you really think Rasmussen is setting the fires and behind the stories of Skinwalker bakemono?”
“I can’t figure it out yet, Alice. I can see that rumors of evil spirits and people bursting into flame could drive some Indians off their own land and onto this Estate. That would make it easier for Rasmussen’s business contacts to acquire the Indian’s land and exploit it. I can’t find any evidence of that being the case, however. And what’s the connection with Carver, and the sudden increase in moonshine production?”
Sighing, the Pendulum pulled a strangely-shaped pistol from the holster inside his jacket. “Well, I’ve been planning for supernatural threats since we came up against the Lake Bear Monster. These Skinwalkers will probably turn out to be men in furry suits, or clockwork scarecrow devices … but just in case …” He held up the large, streamlined pistol. “I’m packing our special ammo.”
“Gambatte kudasai, Tono!”
TO BE CONTINUED …
The entire collection of 12 mind-bending science-fiction/horror/fantasy stories is available for pre-order here …
EXCALIBUR … THE CUTTING EDGE OF SPECULATIVE FICTION!