Friday, February 23, 2007

First Review for DE:TGD

Joe Kroeger has reviewed the novella for Horror World. The full review will be up in March. Here's an excerpt:

"If you are hesitating to get your hands on this book because you think this will be just another shambling zombie story, then I am here to tell you that you have never been more wrong. The closest I can come to letting you know the genius of this novella is to say that I haven’t connected this much with a story since I first read THE BODY by Stephen King. DEAD EARTH: THE GREEN DAWN by Mark Justice and David T. Wilbanks comes with my highest recommendation as a reading experience that you cannot afford to miss."

That will having me smiling for the rest of the weekend. Here's a convenient link to order the book.

The Horror Library Volume Two

I have a story in this anthology, which I think is due in March. The story is called "The Losers vs Beelphegor", and it's more humorous horror. At least I hope it's humorous.

I let you know when the book comes out.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Been a while. I finished a longish (15k) story for a pulp anthology the other day, which got my pulpy juices flowing. Pulp stories are my crack, as I may have mentioned before. Over the past two weeks I've read a bunch of pulp novels, including two Doc Savages, a Spider, a Jim Anthony, an Avenger and a Phantom Detective.

The Avenger was the first of that series that I've read in several years. I had forgotten what a good writer Paul Ernst was. The word is he hated the Avenger yarns because he had aspirations of writing for the slick magazines. If it's true, his feeling don't show. The Avenger books are tight, fast paced, with a good amount of characterization for the pulps. The action is non-stop and the stories are logical. I've dug out several more and I plan to get to 'em ASAP.


I'm working on a short story for an anthology. It looks like that will carry me through the weekend. Then it's back to the novel and to Mad Reign of the Plague Master. That book has been back-burnered too long.


I saw Ghost Rider the other day. The bad reviews didn't matter. It was a movie based on a favorite childhood comic book, so I had to see it. And you know what? It didn't totally suck, which is more than I expected. I'd give it a C. Maybe a C plus. There are a few plot holes, and Nicholas Cage lapses into Elvis a couple of times, but it was okay.

The real fun for me is surfing the message boards and reading the verbal tantrums some self-appointed critics are unleashing against this movie. They seem so offended you'd think they expected this to be an Oscar-worthy flick, or that the filmmakers sat down and said, "How can we make a film that will completely piss off Joe Message Board Poster so much that he strokes out while typing his juvenile too-cool-for-the room review?"

Very amusing.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Pod of Horror #29: Tom Monteleone

On Pod of Horror #29, we shave our heads...uh, wait...that’s Pod of Britney. PoH #29 is even better:

* Tom Monteleone talks about his career in his usual quiet, reserved manner...NOT! Prepare to laugh as horror’s greatest entertainer unloads on PoH.

* Our Tom theme continues as Dave reads a story by Thomas Ligotti.

* Scott Bradley reviews three new titles and answers listener mail.

* Anna Nicole Smith reaches out from beyond the grave.

* Grim Rictus reveals anatomical details that we didn’t really need to know.

* All the news that fits in Dave’s Poop.

* And The Tomb of Trivia prize grows bigger.

Pod of Horror is hosted by Mark Justice and David T. Wilbanks. Download it at I-Tunes or direct to your desktop.

And be sure to drop by the Justice & Wilbanks message board.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Greatest Outlaw I Ever Met

Billy Joe Shaver is a helluva guy. Keep rocking, brother.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Another Satisfied DEADNECK HOOTENANNY Reader

"What Shawn of the Dead did for the English, Deadneck Hootenanny has done to Dixie. And what a lively place this undead Dixieland truly is: the jokes in this book come right at you, over and again, like the machete arms of a very hungry zombie -- and you will laugh yourself silly at how much it tickles while they scoop out your brains. But it's the characters that will win you over, and that's what makes this book better than the usual "redneck zombie" fare. I don't know how Mark Justice knows what it's like to live inside the head of an undead hillbilly, but he's nailed it perfectly. Deadneck Hootenanny is hilarious fun." -- Michael Arnzen, author of Licker

The dead are coming back to eat you...then they'll drink beer and watch NASCAR.
Deadneck Hootenanny, this summer from Novello Publishers

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Sun God Comes Home--Part Four

“You’re going back there, aren’t you?”

He didn’t answer her. Sara had strolled out on the patio while Nick was going through his things. Chelsea was taking her afternoon nap. The Ra helmet was on the picnic table next to him.

“Have you seen them before?”

Nick nodded. “They’re called the Tast, a race of builders. Some of their science is amazing. But the ones we’ve seen most often are the drones, the ones who build the nest to protect the queen.”

“And that’s what’s out there?”


Sara crossed her arms over her chest. She was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. “Can they be killed?”

Nick looked down at his battered knuckles. “Oh, yeah.”

Sara crossed he patio and placed a hand on his shoulder. “But so can you, right?”

Nick didn’t know what to say. He carried a lounge chair out into the yard and placed it next to a swing set.

“Can I bring you something to drink?” Sara said.

“No, thanks,” Nick told her. “I’m just gonna catch some rays.”


It was stupid, he knew, coming out here alone. But he had spent a lot of years letting down his family, his town. The least he could do was try to help.

He approached the cave in the fading light. He wore the helmet; its circuitry could help him see better at night. He also carried an older piece of equipment: his government issue Colt .45.

He found what was left of the Tast drone outside of the cave. It was only the vague shape of a body, outlined by a gelatinous substance.

Nick sat down in front of the cave entrance and waited. The Colt in his waistband dug into his back.

In thirty minutes the sun had gone down. Inside the cave, something stirred.

The first drone took a tentative step out of the cavern, its angular heading bobbing back and forth.

“Hi, ya,” Nick said, right before he shot it between the eyes.

The drone dropped to the ground. It didn’t move.

Nick stood and watched the opening. It looked empty. He stepped closer to the cave.

“You all coming out? Or do I have to come in and say howdy to your queen?”

“We are already here, fool.”

The voice came from behind him.

He turned to see dozens of the drones lining the hill behind him. Where the cave obviously had another exit.

“Oh, great,” Nick said.

They came for him.

Nick took his time and lined up his shots. He dropped the first six before he had to dig in his pocket for his spare magazine. He slammed it into place and shot four more of them before they were upon him.

They pushed him to the ground, their teeth and claws digging into him. His skin, hardened by years of alien treatments, would protect him for a short time, but, eventually, he would be torn apart. Their stench was almost overpowering, like being smothered with raw sewage. Nick thought death would at least bring a respite from the terrible odor.

One of the drones had been sawing at his neck with its fangs. Nick felt hot liquid on his throat and he wasn’t sure if it was saliva or his own blood.

Won’t be long now, he thought.

The head of the drone who was chewing on his neck exploded. An instant later, he heard the shot.

The others let go of him as they faced this new threat. Nick staggered to his feet to see who the newcomer was.

And he saw Noodge, Lester and dozens of townspeople–some he recognized, most he didn’t–all armed with shotguns or rifles. Sara stood with them, pumping a round into the police-issue shotgun she held.

“You all right, Nick?” Lester shouted.

“I am now,” he said.

“Sara told us you were comin’ out here,” Noodge said. “Man, them are some ugly characters, ain’t they?”

The drones standing between Nick and the crowd seemed confused, their heads waving in agitation.

“Start shooting,” Nick said. “Don’t worry about me.”

“This is for my little Ronnie,” Noodge said. He sighted over the barrel of his Winchester and blew apart the skull of the drone nearest to him. The other townspeople opened fire. Lester whooped like a warring Comanche. Nick dove to the ground, tackling as many of the Tast as he could manage, using his fists to batter them into unconsciousness.

It didn’t take very long.

Nick was the only living creature standing in the pile of Tast bodies. The thick cloud of gunpowder choked him but it was far preferable to the stench of the Tast. He heard shots in the distance: stragglers being eliminated.

“You look awful,” Sara said.

“She’s right, Nick. You look like dog shit.”

“And I feel worse,” Nick said. He smiled at them. “Thank you.”

“It ain’t nothin’,” Lester said. “We take care of our own.”

The ground beneath their feet shook.

“What the hell–” Noodge said, before he lost his footing and fell.

“The queen,” Nick said.

They turned to the cave, as the earth trembled again. Small pieces of rock above the entrance began to rain down. The darkness inside of the cave was slowly replaced by something else. It was a pale, oozing mass which squeezed out of the cavern’s opening. As long as a city bus, it rose toward the sky, and the assembled crowd could see that its belly was covered by dozens of mouths, all full of sharp teeth.

Nick heard someone scream, just before a volley of shots.

They might as well have been shooting BB guns for all the good it did.

The massive body of the queen towered above them, each of its hundred mouths making a horrible screeching sound. The stink from the creature was worse than any of the drones, and Nick heard someone vomit behind him.

“Get behind me,” he said, hoping he could be heard.

He took off the helmet of Ra and threw it aside. Nick stood directly under the queen, and watched it lower itself toward him. The hungry mouths sang a maddening song in a hundred different voices.

They had told him he was used up.

They had told him he was a dry cell.

But Nick Denton, Ra the Sun God, looked deep within himself and found a reservoir of strength he hadn’t been sure he possessed.

He screamed at the sky, and twin beams of destructive force discharged from his eyes, lighting up the night and incinerating the Tast queen. The screams from its mouths climbed to a shrill crescendo, then was silenced.

Pieces of smoking meat fell to the ground, landing with soft plops all around them.

“Holy shit,” somebody said. It might have been Noodge.

It was his last thought before the blackness took him.


His first day home from the hospital was spent greeting visitors to the house. He sat in John’s recliner, and tried to smile as he accepted the best wishes of the town of Radiance. Late in the afternoon, the party moved to the backyard, where Sara grilled hot dogs and hamburgers provided by Handelman’s grocery as a thank-you to Nick. Chelsea clung to Nick all day long, and he was surprised at how happy it made him feel.

When everyone had gone home, Sara and Nick sat on the front porch, watching lightning bugs play in the trees. Chelsea slept in her mother’s lap. It had been a big day.

“So,” Sara said. “It looks like you’ll live.”

“Looks like it.”

“Is it over for you? I mean...”

“Yeah,” Nick said. “I’m really a dead battery now. Nothing left.”

They were quiet for a spell, just enjoying the hush of the night.

After a time, Sara cleared her throat. “Have you made any plans?”

“Other than making one more trip to Legion headquarters to punch that patriotic s.o.b. in the mouth? No.” It was Nick’s turn to clear his throat. “Except...”


“I spent a lot of years away from home, Sara. I think it’s time I learned how to be a grandfather.” He wanted to look away from her, but he didn’t. “And I’d like to learn how to be a father. If you’ll have me.”

Sara didn’t answer him at first. He could see her tears in the moonlight. She shifted Chelsea from her lap to her shoulder, and she stood up.

“Why don’t we go in,” she said. “I’ll put Chelsea to bed. Then I want you to read something. Your son was a wonderful writer.”

She offered her free hand to Nick. He took it and stood up. Together they walked into their home.

Originally published in 2004 at Adventure Fiction Online.
Revised version © 2007 Mark Justice

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Sun God Comes Home--Part Three


Private Nick Denton woke up in a hospital far from Vietnam. He was surrounded by a contingent of dour doctors and dour officers. They stood over Nick and whispered. Several times a day, different doctors and different officers entered his room. They all ignored his questions. He was too weak to raise from his bed and force them to answer him. On the third day, his door opened and in addition to the usual suspects, there was a new figure. It was a man he recognized, one that every American recognized. Dressed in red, white and blue, Sgt. Freedom, the greatest hero of World War Two, sat down next to his bed.

“Hello, son,” the hero said. He had a smile full of perfect white teeth. His face–at least what showed beneath the mask–was unlined, tanned and healthy. “I understand you’re a special young fella.”

Nick said something. It came out as a garbled whisper.

“What’s that?” Sgt. Freedom said.

Nick coughed. He motioned for the hero to lean closer.

The founder of the Legion of Freedom smiled at the onlookers. Someone took a picture. He bent forward, his ear near Nick’s mouth.

“I said,” Nick croaked, “why the fuck didn’t you super guys end this war in two days?”

Sgt. Freedom jerked upright and looked around to see if anyone had heard the impertinent question. He smiled and patted Nick on the shoulder. “Now, now, son. I appreciate that you’re upset. I really do. But you‘ve got to appreciate something, too. “

”What’s that?”

Sgt. Freedom leaned toward him again, and whispered, “Because, you ungrateful little shit, you’re a ‘super guy’ now.”


They let him go home for a while, before his training was set to begin. They told him that his ability worked like a battery. He’d been storing power, from solar radiation, for eighteen years. Now he was drained, so it was safe for him to be around people. The training, they told him, would include the implanting of devices that would enhance and control his power. He also learned the implants were derived from alien science. Since the Krayll had landed here in the first half of the century, other races had shown up, particularly the Runelleans and the Tast. Some had offered to freely exchange technology. Others had to be convinced. And soon, Nick would carry it around within him.

He came home to Radiance as a hero. The military had told the country that Nick had demonstrated amazing courage and an incredible new ability by stopping the communist threat at the ancient citadel of Hue. The war was nearly over. All that remained was mopping up. And Private Nick Denton, U.S. Marines, had been accepted into the Legion of Freedom training program.

There was a parade. There was a big picnic on the courthouse lawn, where Nick was presented the key to the city (a city that he and his friends had terrorized a few years earlier). There was a commemorative dinner at the Elks. And, finally, he was allowed to be home with his parents. His father was almost gone then, from the cancer. The once-intimidating figure was a frail skeleton on the couch in the living room, drifting in and out of lucidity, surrounded by an odor equal parts medicine and urine. His mother had aged. She was never a very happy woman; now her sadness was worn like armor. Her face held no warmth for Nick–or anyone else. He wanted to talk to her, to tell her about what had happened, about how frightened he had been and how scared he still was. He tried to find his friends, but Talmadge Green had joined the army and was still in ‘Nam. Bart Cooley’s father had moved his family to Canada rather than let the government take his son. Nick ran into a few kids he had graduated with. Most seemed scared of him.

Except for Grace Fleming. She had barely spoken to Nick in high school. Now she was a student at Marshall University, as pretty as she had been when he saw her leading cheers at football games when he was a freshman. She seemed fascinated by Nick’s experiences and wanted to know every detail. He realized that she was only interested in him because he was a celebrity. And that was okay with Nick. He was desperate for companionship. Having a beautiful girl pay attention to him was more than satisfying. So when she let him take her to the lake and show her the caves in the woods, and take off her clothes and lie down next to her, he felt that maybe he deserved all of it.

Weeks later, when he was in the midst of painful testing and training at the Legion’s hidden base in Cheyenne Mountain, he received the telegram. His father was dead.

After the funeral, when family and friends were milling about the house, eating fried chicken and laughing like they were at a birthday party, Grace showed up and told Nick she needed to talk to him.

In the back yard, sitting on the patio in old lawn chairs, Grace said, “I’m pregnant.”

Nick’s head began to ache. Only the implants, freshly installed beneath his skin, and the training he’d already received, prevented him from unleashing a fiery bolt of destruction. He was able to bring his pulse rate and his blood pressure under control. Finally he said, “We’ll get married.”

Grace nodded. They held hands and watched the sun go down.


When John was born, Nick was in Russia, along with other rookies from the Legion, battling a squad of Soviet soldiers who guarded a weapons plant. Nick was now Ra, the Sun God, wearing an elaborate Egyptian-inspired headdress and armor. The outfit was as hot as hell. Nick hated it. But the headdress had a visor which focused his eye beams, allowing him to control the duration and intensity of the blasts. The mission was a success, over quickly, with no casualties on their side.

On the plane ride back, Nick sat next to The Serpent, a skinny kid from California who could produce a dangerous venom from his fingertips. He was useless at a distance, but deadly at close range.“Man, that was some kind of fun, huh? I nailed six of those suckers.”

Nick didn’t answer. He was too busy trying to remove his damned helmet.

"I heard they send all of us rookies over here to beat up on the Rooskies,” The Serpent said. Nick wished the kid would shut up.”It’s easy, and it builds up our confidence. Plus, I hear The Crusader and The Flying Spy watch us from a couple of miles up, just to make sure nothing happens. How many did you kill, Nick?”

Nick finally got the helmet off and tossed it in the aisle. “I need a beer,” he said. “I just became a dad.”


He got back home as often as he could. Grace and the baby were living with his mother. Grace’s parents had wanted her to “move away” until the baby was born, then give it up for adoption. She refused, so they kicked her out. Nick’s mother had taken her in with the same stoic indifference with which she handled everything in those days. Grace went to work at the clerk’s office in the courthouse and his Mom took care of the baby. When Nick was home, he cared for his son, as best he could. While he didn’t love Grace–and he was sure she didn’t love him–they had a certain respect for each other. And Nick had an obligation to provide for them His salary from the Legion was much better than military pay, and he sent most of it to Grace.

When he was working, he availed himself of the affections of the Legion groupies. He wondered sometimes if Grace had another man. He decided that he hoped she did.

On one visit home, when John was two, Nick’s old friend Talmadge dropped by the house with a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The two of them proceeded to get drunk. After the beer was gone, Talmadge pleaded for a demonstration of Nick’s power, which Nick was happy to provide. He intended to vaporize a stump in the back yard, but he stumbled, twisting his ankle and falling to the ground. When the blast was released, it took out the top of Mr. Callihan’s garage next door.

The next day, as he nursed his hangover amid his humiliation, Grace came to him and said, “I don’t think you should come back.”


He still sent most of his check home to Grace. They never divorced. And when his mother died soon after, he made certain Grace got the house.


The years blurred together. Ra and his colleagues fought communists and mad scientists, time-traveling despots and sentient plant life, undead creatures and–during the Reagan years–villagers in small South American countries, whose desire for freedom from oppression ran contrary to the USA’s alliances in the region. Nick quit for awhile after that (preceded by an argument with Sgt. Freedom, which almost came to blows), going freelance. He found out there wasn’t much money in the freelance life, at least until he started doing commercials for a major heating/air conditioning company. The money was good, but the first time he actually saw the spot–which revolved around a family trying to hire Ra to heat their home for the winter–he took the Legion up on their offer to return.

Over the years, he made it back to Radiance as often as he thought was reasonable, always with Grace’s permission, to spend a few hours with John. On his son’s thirteenth birthday, Nick showed up in a Legion shuttle and proceeded to give the kids in the neighborhood a ride across the country and back. As his son got older, during his high school and college years, Nick visited less, though he did make it back for Grace’s funeral (she was taken by cancer, just like Nick’s father), and John and Sara’s wedding. After 9/11, he and the rest of the Legion were too busy to look up for at least two years, tracking down every last terrorist they could find. Over the last few months, Nick had gone from executing Osama Bin Laden in a cave in Afghanistan to the battle with the Runellean Armada. He was told he would never use his power again. And he learned his son was dead.

No wonder he was feeling old.


He walked up the asphalt road, past the turnoff to the boat ramp and the lodge, past the camp ground and the swimming area. He skirted the western edge of the Lake and followed the well-worn path through the woods. He saw no deer, no squirrels, no birds or raccoons. He stopped at the entrance of the largest cave. It was the first time he had stood there since the night Grace had gotten pregnant. The cave wasn’t large, certainly not by Kentucky State Park standards. But it was big enough. Nick cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted, “Trick or Treat, scumbags!”

The only response was the echo of his own voice.

“Okay, one more time. You come out, or I come in. And you won’t like that very much,” Nick bluffed.

He heard a faint shuffling noises and soon spotted the two pinpricks of yellow light, growing larger as they approached. The Tast drone stopped six feet from the cave’s entrance, remaining well out of the direct sunlight. Its skin had the color and texture of a plucked chicken and it smelled like a dead animal. The Tast examined Nick, its head drifting from side to side on the tall stalk of a neck. Two tongues, flicked out of the mouth to caress the long, sharp teeth.

“We know you,” the drone said, its voice like wind whistling through bare-limbed trees.

“Good,” Nick said. “Then you know what I can do. You know who I can bring with me. And you should know that this town is under my protection.”

The head of the alien began to bob up and down. “Yes. And we have heard that you aren’t used to be.”

“Really? Want to test that?”

Nick took a step into the cave. The Tast drone backed up, it’s head swaying from left to right.

“What happened? Did you crash nearby? Are you part of an advance force?” He took another step forward. “And where’s your queen?”

The drone stepped forward, hissing at Nick, reacting instinctively to the mention of the hive’s matriarch. Its tail swung around from its place of concealment behind the body, the razor tip slashing toward Nick’s legs. Nick leaped up and forward, slamming the drone to the ground, the smell of decaying flesh smothering him. He hammered his fists into the alien’s face again and again, until his knuckles were split and his hands were coated with the Tast’s thick, black blood.

He dragged the drone out of the cave, where its pale skin began to redden and smolder in the sunlight. As the alien screamed from its broken mouth, Nick returned to the cave’s entrance. In the distance, he saw dozens of the yellow eyes in the distance.

“You killed my son, you alien pricks. I’m coming back for every one of you and your queen.” He walked away from the cave, stepping over the now-smoking body of the drone. The screams had stopped. He made his way to the path and started back toward town.


Sara seemed a little surprised when he returned for lunch. “Hey, I said I’d be back.” Chelsea ran from her room, Shouting “Grandpa Fly Guy!” When he squatted down to hug her, he saw Sara looking at his scraped knuckles. She didn’t say anything.

After lunch (Campbell’s tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, Chelsea’s favorite), Nick carried his duffel bag to the back patio. He unzipped it, and dug past the helmet of Ra (which had been modified several times since its debut), the rolled up socks and underwear, the other components of his uniform, until he located a small device the size of an I-Pod. He activated it and punched in a seven digit code. The device beeped twice as the display lit up, revealing the face of a young woman in a domino mask. Her blond hair was short and spiky.

“Ra,” she said, without any warmth.

“How’s tricks, Myrtle?”

“Only code names on open channels. You know that.”

“Oops. Sorry.” Nick smiled. “How’s tricks, uh, Dangerous Ass?”

The young woman looked like she’d walked in on her father and sister making love. “Danger Lass! Danger. Lass.”

Nick slapped his forehead. “D’oh! My bad. Getting old, I guess.”

The blond girl absently ran a finger over a bump on her forehead. that makeup had failed to cover. “What do you want?”

“I want to talk to someone who doesn’t use acne cream. Who else is there?”

Myrtle turned red, sputtering something that Nick didn’t hear. The screen went dark for a moment. When it activated once more, Myrtle’s face had been replaced by the red, white and blue cowl of Sgt. Freedom. While the soldier looked decades younger than his true age, the effects of plastic surgery and alien skin care procedures could only do so much. He appeared to be only years older than Nick. “Ra. How are you feeling?”

“What are you doing there?” The Legion’s founder was usually only trotted out for publicity appearances these days. The leadership of the group rotated through the membership. Even Nick had chaired the Legion for a year in the late Eighties. It wasn’t the finest phaseof his career.

“The United Nations Security Commission is touring here today. You know, you quite upset Danger Lass.”

“She’ll grow out of it. Listen, I’m back in Kentucky, looking into what happened to my son.”

Sgt. Freedom adopted an expression of sympathy, honed through many years of wartime visits to families of dead soldiers. “A real tragedy, son.”

“Anyway, he was killed by a group of Tast drones, hidden in the caves a few miles from here. The Tast have nabbed a few other residents, too. You know what that means. They’re feeding their queen. They’re ready to expand their hive.”

Sgt. Freedom smiled contentedly, his eyes unfocused, his thoughts seemingly elsewhere.

“Hey, flag-face, you gettin’ all this?”

The old soldier looked directly into the screen. “I really have to run, Ra. Is there anything else?”

“Hell, yes! I want two assault shuttles, fully stocked. And one of the big guns, Hammersmith. Or Peace Officer. We’ll clean out the nest in no time. Save a few lives, maybe. Remember when that’s what we did?”

“Request denied,” Sgt. Freedom said. “I can’t justify the waste of resources. Besides, we’re monitoring the Tast situation. The Kentucky cell is small and poses an acceptable threat at this time.”

“Acceptable threat?” Nick said.

“Oh, and don’t use this channel again, unless you’re rescinding your latest resignation.”

“Wait! Let me talk to Hammersmith. Or The Corpse–”

The connection had been closed.

Nick was on his own.

To Be Concluded

Originally published in 2004 at Adventure Fiction Online.
Revised version © 2007 Mark Justice

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Sun God Comes Home--Part Two


“Coffee?” Sara carried out the social niceties, even as her body language made it clear she didn’t want him there. Without waiting for his answer, she poured a cup and banged it down on the kitchen table. Some of the coffee sloshed over the side of the cup. She went to the sink and started washing the breakfast dishes.

“Thanks,” Nick said. He took a sip, the warmth spreading through him. His eyes felt swollen. It had been three days since he’d slept. He was once able to go a week without sleep and not miss a beat. The price of getting old, he supposed. He took a bigger swallow of coffee, preparing himself for what he had to ask Sara.

“Mommy! Look!” The little girl ran into the kitchen, waving a piece of paper above her head. She was dressed in a pink Power Puff girls shirt and matching shorts. She had red hair, like her mother. And she had John’s eyes. The same eyes Nick saw looking back at him from the mirror.

The girl saw Nick and froze in place, as neatly as if someone had hit the pause button. Her expression was cautious, her eyes wide with curiosity.

“Chelsea, this is...your grandfather,” Sara said, nearly biting off the last word.

Chelsea’s eyes grew even larger. “The fly guy?”

Sara smiled, for real this time. “She calls all you–all the Legion members– ‘fly guys’”. To Chelsea, she said, “Sweetie, Grandpa works with the fly guys, but he can’t fly.” She looked at Nick, one eyebrow arched. “Can you?”

“Nope.” He smiled at the girl. He knew John and Sara had a child, and seeing her for the first time stirred something inside him, something that he thought was dead. “Some of the fly guys are my good friends, like Peace Officer and Jonni Angel.”

“You know the lady with wings?” Chelsea’s mouth opened in a huge smile. Nick could see the tiny baby teeth, so perfect in their symmetry.


“The magazines all say Grandpa knows her very well,” Sara said, with a shrewd look. Nick felt his face redden. Christ, he hadn’t blushed in thirty years.

Sara took the drawing from Chelsea. “What do you have here, baby girl?”

Chelsea took her eyes off Nick for the first time. “It’s Daddy and Jesus watchin’ us in Heaven.”

Sara put the picture on the table. She squatted down and kissed the girl on the forehead. “It’s great, Chelsea. I think it’s your best yet.”

Nick pulled the drawing over to him. It was a child’s crude crayon depiction of a house with a woman and little girl standing out front. Above the house was a huge cloud. On top of the cloud were two men, both wearing white robes. One had wings and a halo, the other long hair and a beard. “My Daddy’s a fly guy now.”

Chelsea was standing next to Nick.

“He sure is, honey.” Nick’s voice was very thick. He thought about patting her on the head or even hugging her, but he was afraid it might scare her. Displays of affection had never been something he was comfortable with. Just another thing to thank the old man for.

Chelsea reached out and put her small, delicate hand on Nick’s. “Are you going to take care of us?”

“Uh, I...” He looked to Sara for help. There was no expression on her face.

After an uncomfortable wait, she said, “Right now, let’s see if Grandpa wants to stay for lunch.”

“Will you?” Chelsea said, tugging on his arm. “Please? Pretty please?”

“I guess, if it’s okay with your mom.”

It didn’t look like it was okay with Sara, but she said, “Sure. Now why don’t you go to your room and make another picture for Grandpa.”

“Okay!” Chelsea said, obviously delighted with the way her day was starting.

Nick didn’t like what he saw in Sara eyes, so he looked back at the drawing in his hands, noticing something he had missed the first time. Behind the house, Chelsea had drawn a tiny grove of trees, probably woods. Around the trees, she had rendered several dark figure.

“Chelsea,” he softly said, catching the girl before she left the room. “Who are these people?” He held the drawing down to her, and pointed at the area he was referring to.

“Oh,” his granddaughter said. “Those are the Bad Things that killed Daddy.”


After Chelsea was back in her room–encouraged by her mother to draw several pictures for Grandpa–Sara told Nick the story.

“We were out at the lake for a picnic,” she began. The lake separated Radiance from Harmony, the nearest town. Officially named Harmony Lake State Resort Park, it was referred to by locals mostly as just The Lake. Nick had spent many a summer day there, swimming with his friends and trying to get lucky with the girls. “It was a great afternoon. John had just sold a novel, his second, and his agent thought this was going to be his breakout book. He was hoping he could quit the department, though I don’t think he could ever completely give up police work.”

Nick was surprised. He knew John had always like to write stories. His mother used to forward some of them to the Legion of Freedom HQ. But he didn’t realize that his son had pursued it into adulthood. “Was he any good?”

Sara nodded, a sad smile on her face. “He was. As a writer and a cop.”

“What happened?”

“Chelsea was playing, we were swimming. Time slipped away from us, and it got dark. I was carrying Chelsea–she had fallen asleep–and John was behind us, with the picnic stuff and our towels. I heard him yell something. When I turned, he was surrounded by four or five...things. I don’t know what else to call them. He tried to fight, he really did. But I think he was too worried about us. He screamed for me to run to the car. But I couldn’t move. I watched him go down beneath them and I saw them start to tear parts off of him .” Sara stopped. Her lower lip trembled. She took a deep breath and, after a couple of seconds, regained a measure of control. “Seeing the blood–his blood–snapped me out of it. I had to get our daughter to safety. I ran to the car. I could hear one of them behind me, soft footsteps on the grass. We hadn’t locked the car, thank God. I dumped Chelesa inside, slammed the door and hit the locks. One of those monsters slammed into the door on my side. I started the engine and pulled away. I think it held on to the handle, at least until I steered toward the trees. I heard a thump, and I think it was knocked off.”

Sara knotted her hands together. She looked away from Nick. “I looked in the rear view mirror. There was enough light so I could make out what was happening. They were dragging John away. In pieces. And I just kept driving. I told myself it was to keep Chelsea safe. But I was so goddamned scared. I would have run, even if she hadn’t been there.” Sara put her face down on the table and began to cry.

Nick hesitated, then placed his hand on her shoulder. She sat upright and pushed his hand away. “No. You don’t get to comfort me.”

Nick withdrew his hand. He just looked at her, not knowing what to say.

“Where were you?” she demanded.

“I was injured. In a coma for weeks.”

Sara wiped a hand across her eyes. “That thing in space?”

Nick nodded. “The Runellean Armada. NASA’s solar station spotted them a few days out. The president alerted the Legion. We called in everybody and headed up there to meet them. It was a rough one.”

“What happened?”

Nick rubbed one hand over his gun-metal gray crew cut. “We took out most of the smaller ships, but they had one hellacious battle cruiser, with enough power, according to Doc Miracle, to obliterate Earth. The ones who could fly were on the flanks dealing with the scout ships, when the big boy broke away, with just me and my rinky-dink armor between it and home.”

“So what did you do?”

“I opened my visor. I could feel the atmosphere rush out of the suit. My head was pounding, both from the exposure to space, as well as the buildup of my power. I focused on the battle cruiser and hit it with everything I had. Everything. I saw the ship explode and I remember thinking how funny it seemed that the explosion didn’t make a sound. The force of the blast had sent me hurtling away from the battle, and I figured I was dead. I was just happy that you, John and the baby would be safe.”

He took a sip of his coffee. It was cold.

“The next thing I was aware of was waking up in the infirmary at Legion HQ. I was weak and full of tubes. They told me I was lucky to be alive. They also said I would probably never use my power again. And, after a couple of more days of recovery, they told me abut John.” He reached across the table and clenched one of Sara’s hands. “I know I’m not a good man. I know I was never a good father. But please believe me, Sara. I would have been here if I had known.”

She nodded, as if she didn’t trust herself to speak. She took a crumpled tissue out of her pocket and blew her nose. She said, “We were on the back deck, the night it happened. There had been some kind of alert on CNN, but it was vague, as it always was where guys...were concerned. The baby was asleep and John had just finished writing–he tried to get in two or three hours in the evening–and we were just watching the stars. All of a sudden, there was this light, as bright as the sun, and I jumped. I thought it was a nuke, and we were being attacked. And you know what John did? He pulled me close to him and said, “Don’t worry, honey. That’s just my dad.”

“What did the cops do?”


“The cops. When you told them what had happened to John.”

“Oh,” Sara said, startled by the change in subject. “They went out there, of course. They found his -- uh, they found evidence of what had happened. But Radiance doesn’t have a big department. Even though John was one of their own, there wasn’t much they could do. The chief tried to get the governor to place a call to the Legion, but nothing came of that. But now, with the other disappearances–”


Sara nodded. “Sandy Oliver’s brother, Randy. A college kid from Huntington. Arlo Nugent’s grandson.”


“Uh-huh. They all disappeared at the lake over the past few weeks. All at night.”

“Sara what did these things look like?”

She shook her head. “I told the cops, it was dark, I was scared. I just have a vague impression.”

He took her hand again. “Please. Tell me what you do remember.”

She closed her eyes. “They were tall, human shaped, I guess. Their eyes glowed yellow.” A grimace clouded her features. “Tails. They had tails. And there was an odor, too. Like rotting meat.” She opened her eyes. “Does that help?”

“Yeah,” Nick said. “It does.” He stood up. “I’m going out for a bit.”

“You’re going to the lake.”

“Yeah. I’ll be back for lunch, though.”

“If you don’t, Chelsea will be crushed.”

“I’ll be here,” Nick said.



Sara smiled. She had a beautiful smile. “Did you really have an affair with Jonni Angel?”

Now it was Nick’s turn to smile. “Nope. Not that I would have minded. But she thought I was a hick with no class. I never denied that I was, by the way.”

“I also read that you were involved with that kung-fu dominatrix woman. What was her name?”

“S. N. Emma.”

Sara’s smile grew wider. “So?”

“So what?”

“Were you?”

Nick turned away and headed for the front door. “See you at lunch.”

To Be Continued

Originally published in 2004 at Adventure Fiction Online.
Revised version © 2007 Mark Justice

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Sun God Comes Home--Part One


“You can pull over there.” Nick Denton pointed to a spot on the shoulder of US 23, just before an exit. There was a sign of some sort about a quarter mile ahead, but the sun had not quite risen and it was difficult to make out the words. That was okay; Nick knew what it said.

The driver (Stan? Steve?) Gradually slowed the big rig and came to a smooth stop, not far from the sign. Nick leaned forward and dug for his billfold, “What do I owe you?”

Stan/Steve smiled like a little kid. “Nothin’. You don’t owe me nothin’. It was my pleasure. Wait till Edna hears that I gave a lift to a real hero.”

Nick sighed. This was the first time the driver had mentioned it, but Nick figured he knew, thanks to the little sidelong glances the guy was giving him all night. Even without the uniform, this guy had picked him out.

“Alls I ask is that you let me shake your hand.”

Nick put on his hand and Stan/Steve flinched.

What’s the matter? You think I’m going to incinerate you, turn you to white-hot ash? Maybe you didn’t hear; I don’t do that anymore.

The man’s hand was damp. Nick gave it a good squeeze, just enough so he knew it had been shook. “Thanks, buddy. I truly appreciate it.”

“Hell, we appreciate what you fellas did over there in Afganny-stan. And what y’all did up in space, too. You make me proud to be an American.”

Nick grabbed his duffel bag and climbed down out of the cab.

“Hey, can I ask you one more thing?” Stan/Steve said.

Typical, Nick thought. They spend six hours afraid to say anything, then they want to cram the works of Shakespeare into the last two minutes. “What’s that?”

“Well, really two more things.” The driver’s face turned red. He waited for Nick’s approval.

Nick forced a smile and said,”Sure.”

“Why didn’t you, y’know, just fly here in one of them fancy Legion of Freedom jet shuttles?”

At that moment, Nick sort of wished he could fry Stan/Steve. Sort of. “I had some thinking to do. I wanted to take my time, gather some wool.”

The driver nodded, as if he understood. “You know, my oldest boy collects all your toys. He’s got all the models of the ships and stuff. He’s got your doll, too.”

“Action figure,” Nick stressed.

“Yeah, that’s right.” Stan/Steve said. He stared at Nick.

After a couple of seconds, Nick said, “You had another question?”

Stan/Steve laughed again, his face growing redder. “Oh, man. Sorry. I’m a little star struck, I reckon. What I was gonna ask is...well, I mean, I hope this ain’t too personal...”

Here it comes.

“Well, the wife, y’know, she gets People magazine and they was sayin’...well, they was sayin’ that you’re all used up. Is it true?”

“‘Fraid so,” Nick told him. “Thanks again for the lift.” He closed the door, hitched his duffel onto his shoulder and started walking toward the exit. He was stiff from sitting so long and his knee felt like it was going to lock up again. After he covered about fifty yards, the truck pulled away. Stan/Steve gave him a blast of the air horn. Nick threw up his hand in acknowledgment.

The sun was visible over the horizon, Nick felt it wash over him. He stopped and closed his eyes, lifting his face to the sky. Remembering.

After a moment, he smiled. A few minutes later, he passed the green and white sign. It read:


Nick shook his head as he walked past the sign.

“We’ll see,” he said.


The sun was fully up as he entered downtown, all six blocks of it. He guessed it was just a little past six. On the front porch of Kinney’s Feed and Hardware, two old men–one black, one white–sat in wicker rockers and watched him approach. The two were skinny and frail looking, both smoking unfiltered cigarettes. They looked exactly as they had when he’d last seen them.

Nick stopped in front of the store and let his duffel drop to the sidewalk. The three men stared at each other in silence.

Finally, the old black man said, “Noodge, look what the cat drug in.”

The ancient white man leaned forward and jabbed his cigarette at Nick. “And don’t you go thinkin’ I forgot who stole that gnome out of my garden in 1966, Mr. High-and-Mighty Super Hero man.”

Despite himself, Nick smiled. “I’ve been meaning to apologize for that, Noodge. Sorry.”

Noodge rocked back in his chair and stuck his cigarette between his lips. He crossed his arms across his thin chest.

“And how are you, Lester?”

“Tolerable,” the black man said. “Tolerable.”

“You old buzzards don’t look a day older than you did when I had this burg in my rear view mirror.”

The two old men looked at each other, exchanging an unspoken thought. Lester turned back to Nick and said, “You been gone a long time, Nicky. Lot’s changed around here.”

“I know it has, Lester. And it’s not just here.”

Noodge had sucked his cigarette down to a stub, which he flicked over the porch rail, just missing Nick’s head. “We were real sorry to hear about your boy, Nick.”

“Yeah,” Lester said. “John was a good kid. A good man.”

“Thanks,” Nick said. He glanced down at his boots.

“We figured you weren’t here ‘cause you were on one of them secret missions. Was that it.”

“Something like that”

Lester nodded. “It’s good you’re here. This town, it’s got something wrong with it, like a disease.”

“Some bad shit goin’ on, boy,” Noodge added. He spat over the porch rail for emphasis.

“Hey, Nicky,” Lester said, “Everybody saying you ran out of juice. That ain’t true, is it?”

Nick picked up his duffel and slipped the strap over his shoulder again. “That’s what they say.” He walked toward the center of town.

“Hey,” Noodge called after him. “What good is that gonna do us?.”


He passed a young man jogging and two heavy middle-aged women who were power-walking very slowly, their arms pumping up and down in what looked like slow motion. All gave him covert glances when they thought he wasn’t looking.

Nick paused in front of the Radiance courthouse, the place where he took his driver’s license test. He remembered the joy he felt when his father had let him drive the car, a Ford station wagon with that fake wood paneling on the sides.. He picked up Talmadge Green and Bart Cooley and the three of them tore up three counties, cruising the Bluegrass Grill over in Ashland, then taking in a double feature at the old Corral Drive Inn in Flatwoods. They finished up by throwing beer bottles out the window at Old Man Fletcher’s cows. He also remembered his father punching him in the face when he came in after two in the morning.

“Home, sweet home,” Nick muttered. He had wasted enough time. Now he had to get down to it. Nick would rather face an invasion of reanimated dinosaurs than what he now had to do.

He set off again, passing the few remaining businesses in town, all closed save for Libby’s Diner. He had no desire to walk through those doors. In high school, he had lost his virginity to Libby’s daughter, which resulted in a brief pregnancy scare. It was the first time since he was a child that Nick had prayed. It was something he didn’t do again until Vietnam.

He wondered briefly what had happened to Glenda, Libby’s daughter. He had a pretty good idea. She grew up and had a normal life, like everyone else in this town. Everyone but him.

He left the diner behind, traveled down Main two more blocks, then turned right. It was a short street with only three houses, one on each side and a two-story Cape Cod in the cul-de-sac.

The house had a big, wide porch, which held an assortment of outdoor furniture, a bike and a tricycle, along with various plants. It was in pretty good shape; the roof looked just a few years old. And it would need painting next year. All in all, it was better than he’d expected. He hesitated in front of the door, listening for any sounds from within. He heard nothing, but he did smell coffee. Reluctantly, he knocked.

The woman who answered the door was petite, with red hair tied back in a ponytail. There were dark circles under her eyes and deep creases around her mouth, lines that hadn’t been there before. She wore a robe that was too big. She smelled like soap and Maxwell House.

Her mouth opened and closed a couple of times in shock, like you’d see someone do in a movie. She closed her mouth, sighed, then smiled. It wasn’t a happy smile.

“So,” she said, “the goddamn sun god decided to grace us with a visit.”

The knot of tension in his gut twisted around itself. “Sara,” he said. “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it here any sooner.”

“No problem, Nick,” She threw the storm door open. “It was a great funeral. You’d have loved it. Come on in and I’ll tell you all about it.”

She disappeared into the house. He stood there, rooted to the spot.

This was a mistake.

And then he opened the door and entered the house he’d grown up in.


The headaches started when he was thirteen.

His parents and the doctors thought it was migraines, at first. He would be stricken with a blinding bolt of pain behind his eyes, like someone was driving a railroad spike into his skull. When an attack would occur, Nick would have to lie down in the dark until it passed. It had been particularly humiliating when one of the headaches hit during gym glass, and he had vomited on the gym floor. When conventional methods of treatment proved ineffective, Doc Green (father of Talmadge, co-defendant in the future First Night Driving incident) suggested they see a specialist at the University of Kentucky. So his old man loaded them up in the station wagon, and they drove to Lexington and the fancy hospital. When they were finally summoned to see the doctor, it was Nick’s dad the physician wanted to talk to. Leaving him with his mom in a waiting room filled with kid’s magazines, the doctor escorted his confused father to an examining room, where he stayed for nearly an hour. When his dad finally emerged, he crossed the waiting room slowly, never looking directly at Nick. He sat down next to Nick’s mom. She grabbed his father’s hand and squeezed until her knuckles turned white.

“What is it, Roger?”

He patted her hand and looked at Nick for the first time and Nick saw something that was worse than the debilitating headaches. His dad was scared.

“Nicky?” his father said, with a quavering tone in his voice. “You remember your dad’s army stories, don’t you?”

“Sure,” Nick said. “You were a hero. You beat the Nazis.”

“Well, I had some help.” His dad forced a smile. “And you know about the Krayll, right.”

“Everybody knows about them, Dad.”

“Right. Okay. Then you probably know that when the Krayll crashed on earth in the Forties, the Nazis stole stuff out of one of their space ships and made weapons, right?”

Nick nodded, afraid of where the conversation was going.

“Well, some of those ray gun things got used near my squad in Berlin. And they leaked some of what they call radiation.”

“I know what radiation is.” Now Nick’s stomach hurt really bad, like he had diarrhea.

“Okay, okay. Let me finish,” Dad said, his face scrunching up in anger. This was a face Nick was used to. The angry face was a lot better than the scared face. “Anyway, the docs, they know a lot more about Krayll radiation now, and because I was exposed to it, it changed something in my body.”

“Oh my God,” Nick’s mother said. “Are you dying?”

“No. Not anytime soon, anyway.” He patted Mom’s hand a couple of times, then released it. “No, they think I might have passed something on to Nicky here, and that might be what’s causing his headaches.”

“Oh, no,” Mom said. Her eyes were large and wet-looking. “Is it a tumor?” She whispered the last word, then shot a glance at Nick to see if he had heard, which, of course he had.

Tumor, he thought. I’ve got a tumor. Like Belinda Hensley.

Belinda had been in his second grade class. She had been sick for a week or so and, after Christmas break, Belinda never came back to school. Word quickly got around that she had died. She had a tumor.

Nick started to cry in the waiting room; he couldn’t help it. His Mom grasped his hand and said soothing things. His father looked around, embarrassed, to see if anyone were watching them.

A nurse came out and said his name.

“Let’s go,” his dad said, already shutting down, the compassion he’d shown now vanished from his face.


They ran all the tests on Nick that they could think of, and, while the Krayll radiation was present in his blood, they could find no cause for the headaches. They gave him pain-killers and sent him home.

Nick eventually felt better. He played football, dated, got into fights. It was a perfectly normal small town life.

Until he turned 18, and Uncle Sam came calling. It was 1967 and, knowing he would be drafted, Nick signed up with the Marines.

February of 1968 was wet in Vietnam. With the rain and the fog, Private Nick Denton thought he’d never be dry again. As he crept around the outer walls of the citadel of Hue, Nick remembered seeing the city for the first time, just three days ago, and thinking it was the most beautiful sight he’d ever witnessed. It looked like something you’d see in the movies. Somewhere, a hundred or so yards behind him, was a Marine his age, a guy named Solly Kowalski, from Iowa. He might as well be back in Cedar Rapids, for all the good he was doing Nick. Now, with half of Alpha company dead or wounded, and the fetid odor of the Perfume River stuck in his nostrils, Nick was as scared as he’d ever been. Rumor was the NVA had a Krayll weapon up there on that wall. Even now, the technology was tricky, and it was just as likely Charlie would blow everything up trying to using it. Nick had seen a couple of Hueys with Krayll guns mounted on them. It made him very nervous.

The NVA had taken over the citadel in hopes of sparking the victory that would turn the tide of the war. And Alpha company, first battalion-Fifth Marines, had been ordered to take it back. It had been hot work, close work. Nick had taken to using a pump shotgun to get the job done. He seen more blood and spilled viscera these past three days than he had in his entire tour. Two of his closest buddies were dead. Nick was sure, in his heart, that he would soon join them. He had a knot the size of a grapefruit in his gut. He would have given anything at that moment to be back in Radiance, hanging out with Talmadge and Bart, back when getting laid and finding gas money were his two biggest worries.

He was never sure which of them shot him. He only knew that he was suddenly knocked to the ground and his knee felt like he’d been swatted with a sledgehammer. It took another second for the realization to sink in. “I’m hit!” he yelled, not knowing how far away he was from anyone in his unit. Nick had always heard that all you felt when you were shot was numbness. But his knee was on fire, as if the devil himself had rammed fingers of white-hot flame into the wound. “Oh, Jesus,” he screamed, trying hard not to cry, trying not to be that scared little kid in the hospital waiting room, but now two figures had detached from the shadows of the wall that surrounded sad, beautiful Hue and were approaching him, raising what looked like rifles with bayonets, because they had decided he wasn’t worth a bullet, so they were going to stab him again and again until he died screaming his mother’s name--

The pain in his knee was dwarfed by the pounding agony behind his eyes, the migraine of his youth times infinity. His world turned to flame and he was barely aware of the screams–not his–that rose and ended as larynxes were incinerated. And, as his sight returned, before unconsciousness claimed him, he saw the blackened pit that was once the citadel of Hue.

To Be Continued

Originally published in 2004 at Adventure Fiction Online.
Revised version © 2007 Mark Justice

Thursday, February 08, 2007


"If you think Joe Lansdale has gotten entirely too serious - seek justice. If you're not too keen on zombie extravaganzas that lead you on only to leave you hanging with the hero smashing into his ex-wife's house to rescue his son from a horde of ravenous zombies and then you have to buy yourself the next book in the series to find out if he makes it or not - seek justice. If you think the darkest aspect of Romero's outlandish zombie resurrection was Dennis Hopper's nasal rooting over acting beady eyed stare - seek justice. If you're wondering what could possibly result from the genetic crossing of a zombie, an owl and a nanny goat - seek justice. If you hanker for a couple of back-from-the-dead backwoods heehaw my-name-is-earl zombie close encounters of the fifty third variety - seek out Mark Justice's brand new novella from Novello (the folks who put the big "O" in novella) Publisher's Deadneck Hootenanny. The world may never be the same."
Steve Vernon
author of Nothing To Lose by Nocturne Press

The dead are coming back to eat you...then they'll drink beer and watch NASCAR.
Deadneck Hootenanny, this summer from Novello Publishers

Novel Update

I ran into my first roadblock this week (well, second; but my limited writing time was always a given --two days writing out of the last four) when I labored over a scene for a couple of days only to realize this morning that the problem was it didn't belong in the novel. Not yet, anyway. It assumes the reader knows the main character much better than is possible and it reveals too much too soon. So it's gone, hopefully to return about 30,000 words from now.

Now the bad news: I have to put the novel on hold for a bit. As I mentioned when I started this book, I have a couple of other February commitments, including a novelette and a short story. Also, I need to finish a comic book script. I hope to get a series proposal out in the next couple of months and I have an artist standing by.

I'll plug away at the novel in spare moments. I have high hopes for this one.


I just finished High Profile, the new Jesse Stone novel from Robert B. Parker. It was a good mystery, with all the usual Parker hallmarks: short chapters, crackling dialogue and a lot of emotional wrangling over relationships. This one moves along the romance between Stone and Parker's female detective Sunny Randall. In fact, this is almost as much a Randall novel as it is Stone's. I enjoy Parker's crossovers. I've been a nut for heroes teaming up since my first comic book, in which Daredevil saved the Fantastic Four from Doctor Doom. This is Parker's strongest book in a few years.

On the other hand, if you don't like it, wait a few months. Parker has at least two more books coming out this year.

It was a great episode of Lost last night. Elizabeth Mitchell's Juliet is turning out to be a fascinating character. I hope she survives -- unlike most of the new characters added last season.

I predict ABC learns from Fox's success with 24. Forget these split seasons. Start the show in January and run all the episodes without a break or repeat. It seems to be the best way to deliver a serialized show and keep the buzz going.

Over the next few days, I'll be serializing a novelette called "The Sun God Comes Home", a superhero story I published a few years ago at the now-defunct Adventure Fiction Online. I think it's a fun blending of action and horror, and I hope you dig it. It will be slightly revised from it's original appearance, for the one person out there who may have read it.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Buy This Book September.

I don't even know what it's about. No idea. Not a clue. Yet I trust Gary's skill so much that it will be the first thing I buy that month. He's the best horror writer out there. The best. Perhaps the finest writer in any genre. His stories have an emotional impact that very few -- if any -- writers achieve. Braunbeck can get inside your head,touch your heart and tear you to pieces.

If you never believe another word I write in this blog, then believe this: if you buy this book, or anything else by Gary, you will make one of the most rewarding discoveries of your reading life.

Monday, February 05, 2007


"The South will rise . . . from the dead! Just when I thought nothing new could be done with that ole' zombie sub-genre, DEADNECK HOOTENANNY comes shambling along and proves to be the most fun I've had with a book in a long time! Mark Justice writes like a cross between Joe R. Lansdale and Edward Lee, hopped up on some really raunchy rotgut whisky -- don't miss this one, y'all!"
-- James Newman

The dead are coming back to eat you...then they'll drink beer and watch NASCAR.
Deadneck Hootenanny, this summer from Novello Publishers

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Swimming In the Deep End in the Pool of Regret


The voice was distant and familiar. He wondered if he was dreaming it.

“Jimmy? Wake up. Wake up now.”

In his dream the sun had gone nova and his eyes were melting.

“For Chissakes! Turn off the fucking light.”

He blinked and tried to make sense of where he was. The light made his eyes water, and he could see a blurry figure sitting on a chair next to the bed.

“You awake now? Good. We haven’t much time.”

Jimmy lifted his hand to shield his eyes. He was awake now, and he was getting pissed that some guy was here in his bedroom. Where was Robin?

“She’s working over, Jimmy.”

Jimmy was instantly alert.

“Wait a minute. How the fuck–”

The man put a hand on Jimmy’s arm. “Shhh. I’ll explain.”

Jimmy’s eyes were adjusting to the light and he saw a liver-spotted hand, which was missing the first knuckle of the little finger. He held up his own hand and wiggled the same butchered digit.

“Jimmy, look at me.”

The old man was slumped over in the chair. His bad posture made it seems as if his head sprouted from the center of his chest. Liver spots covered the bald scalp. The man’s ears were large, and tufts of white hair sprouted from within them. The eyes were ancient and nearly colorless, the pupils yellow, streaked with tiny red veins.

The same tired, unhappy eyes he saw in the mirror every morning.

Jimmy’s stomach clenched up, and the room began to spin.

The old man slapped him across the face, the hand as hard as a piece of oak.

Jimmy took in a deep breath and regained a small measure of composure.

“I don’, how...”

“Time travel,” the man said. “We have it on my end of the lifeline. But it’s not perfect and it doesn’t last long.”

“’re me,” Jimmy said.

“Can’t put anything past you, boy.”

“But...” Jimmy swallowed while he tried to wrap his thoughts around the situation. “Why?”

“Why?” The old man laughed. It was a wet, wheezing sound that quickly turned into a hacking cough. When he finished, he wiped his mouth with the same hand that had slapped Jimmy. “Because I fucked up everything in my–our–life, and I’ve got this one chance to change things.”

Jimmy stood up. He felt dizzy again, but it soon passed.

“Okay, let’s say I believe you, that you’re me from the end of my life, and not some lunatic who broke into my house–hey, how did you get in, anyway?”

“I remembered the key under the porch mat.”

“Oh. So you’re like the Ghost of Christmas Future or something, here to warn me about the screw ups I’m gonna make?”

“Yep.” The old man stood up, too, his knees popping somebody walkin’ on he peanut-littered floor down at the Sizzlin’ Steakhouse. He sighed. “Let’s start with the biggie, the mess you’re going to make today.”

“What mess?”

“The one you create when you murder Robin.”

Jimmy must have had a funny expression on his face because the old man smiled. It was a frightening sight. The flabby jowls jumped and danced, new wrinkles popped into existence around the mouth and the eyes, and Jimmy saw stained teeth too large and too straight to be genuine.

“Yeah, I know what you’ve been thinking. You’re going to do it today.”

“What, you can read minds now, too?”

“No, dumbass.” The old man wasn’t smiling anymore. “Because I did it. I killed my wife in this room. On this day. And nothing was ever the same.”

It can’t be true, Jimmy thought. I mean, sure, I’ve thought about it, but never seriously. Never for real.

The old man looked around the bedroom. His eyes fixed on the small table by the window, where Robin had set up her computer.

“In a little while you’ll go over there and start checking out porn online, and you’ll remember the way it used to be, when she couldn’t get enough of you. Then you’ll start drinking. From that.” He nodded to the nearly full bottle of Jim Beam on the table, the one Jimmy had opened the night before.

Jimmy stared at the bottle. He smacked his lips, anticipating the thick taste of the whiskey, the way it always burned his tongue.

“And while you drink, you’ll dwell on how she ignores you now, how you never make love anymore, not since you lost your job at the mill. Hell, it wasn’t your fault. It was that bunch of pussies at the union. But Robin doesn’t understand that, doesn’t understand that you were a machinist–a damned fine one–and you can’t go flipping burgers at Mickey D’s for minimum wage. You’d rather starve. But she doesn’t get it. She just knows she has to work double shifts at the hospital and she’s tired all the time and she sees you sleeping till noon ever day. She can’t see how lousy you feel, how helpless. How out of control.”

Jimmy found himself nodding. The old guy was putting into words everything he’d been feeling. The pain, the anger, the humiliation.

“In a little while she’ll get home, exhausted as usual. And she’ll start her bitching. And you’ll snap. You’ll pick up that bottle of booze and cave her skull in with it. There won’t even be any blood. Just wham–” The old man slammed his fist into his palm. “And she’s gone.”

Jimmy could see it–hell, he could feel it. The rage, like a furnace. The impact of the bottle against that bitch’s skull. The sweet relief of finally doing something.

“Did you–did we get away with it?” Jimmy said.

The old man chuckled. “If you want to call it that. I left her on the floor until night, certain that the cops were going to break down the door at any moment. Finally I wrapped her in a sheet and drove out to Barry’s farm.”

Jimmy nodded again, following the old man’s thoughts. His brother was in Florida on vacation. He would have all the time he needed.

“I buried her in the woods, past the corn field. I buried her deep. That’s where you normally screw up. Most people, they’re trying to hide a body, they just dig deep enough to cover it up. But I went down nearly eight feet. Then I dumped her in and covered her up. They never found her. When I finished it was still dark–thank God for January, right?–so I went home, cleaned up, then drove her car to the hospital and caught the bus back here. I reported her missing the next morning. The cops figured she’d been abducted from the hospital parking lot.”

“Didn’t they suspect you?”

“Of course. They always look at the husband when a wife disappears. My grief was very convincing. And you want to know why? Because it was real. When the anger and the adrenalin were gone, I realized that I’d killed the only person I’d ever loved. And it ruined the rest of my life.”

“What do you mean?”

“I started drinking more. I couldn’t find another good job. Robin’s insurance kept me going for a while, but that ran out. I ended up as a janitor.” He held up his gnarled, liver-spotted hands. “I use these to clean toilets. I live in a one room dump and spend every night alone. It wasn’t until I got the janitor’s job at the lab that I saw the possibility that I could change things. Not for me, but at least for some version of me.”

Tears ran down the old man’s cheeks. “I know it hurts, Jimmy. But don’t give in to your anger. Work it out. She’s the best thing that ever happened to you. Things will turn around if you give it time. Please.”

Jimmy walked over to the desk. “ Let me get this straight. This has already happened, right? So what difference does it make what I do?”

The older version of Jimmy shook his head. “No. You can change things. I heard some of the eggheads here at work talking about it. They think the past can be altered. Time will branch off, creating a new past where Robin lives.” He pounded his fist into his palm again. “It has to work.”

“Wait a minute,” Jimmy said. “Do you remember this day when an older version of yourself showed up and told you all this stuff?”


“Then it has worked. Don’t you see?”

The old man’s face brightened. “You’re right. It’s working!” The tears started flowing again. Form happiness this time, Jimmy figured.

“So the past can be changed.”



Jimmy grabbed the whiskey bottle and smashed it against the elderly man’s head. Old Jimmy made a gurgling sound and fell to the bedroom floor. He twitched for a minute then grew still.

A nimbus of yellow light formed around the body. Jimmy took a step back.

The light grew in intensity until the old man’s body was no longer visible. The light broke up into a million shining particles that quickly faded away, leaving after-images like tiny fireflies in Jimmy’s vision.

The old man was gone.

Jimmy examined the whiskey bottle. It hadn’t broken. He liked the heft of it in his hand, even more than he liked drinking from it.

He hadn’t even thought about Robin’s insurance.

She had insisted they both take out hefty policies right after they were married. That kind of money could buy a man a long vacation down south.

Jimmy sat down at the desk and waited for his wife to come home.

Originally appeared in 2005 at The Dark Krypt.
Revised version © 2007 Mark Justice

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The New Novel-Day 12

Here's the count:

Lots going on now. If you want to help us promote Dead Earth: The Green Dawn, hop over to the thread at the Justice & Wilbanks Message Board.

I've secured my reading slot at the Horrorfind convention in August. Last year I read "Deadnecks", a rather lengthy piece. This year I've picked something much shorter to avoid the dreaded pause-for-a-sip-of-water syndrome.


I just got back from my first arena football game and witnessed the wonder that is the Huntington (WV) Heroes.

Tomorrow is the Super Bowl, a busy day around here, so there probably won't be much writing. Instead, I'll post a free story.

In case you're wondering, I'm rooting for the Bears, but I expect the Colts to win.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Here's some news: I have a chapbook coming out this summer from Novello Publishing. I'll turn the floor over to Nick Cato for the big tease:

We can now OFFICIALLY announce our summer, 2007 release:


This 2-story collection features Mark's DEADNECK saga, from the original classic DEADNECKS to the all-new sequel, DEADNECK RECKONING.

This hysterically-horrific hillbilly zombie bash will also feature an introduction by author Scott Nicholson, and afterword by James Beach (the man who helped bring the original tale to the masses), and cover art by the one and only Bob Eggleton.

We'll have a promo page up soon at our website--until then--beware the DEADNECKS...

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Everything Must Perish

I'm part of a new podcast offered by Delirium Books. Everything Must Perish #1 is available now at the Delirium Insider.

It's a podcast devoted to original apocalyptic fiction and I narrate each issue's story.

The first issue features "Iniquities at Her Feet" by Bryan Eytcheson.


The New Novel-Day 10

I didn't post last night. I wanted to leave that Chadbourne cover at the top of the page for a full day.

Here's the latest word count on the novel:

By the by, this weekend I'll post a free short story right cheer (as we say back home).