From the creators of the #1 bestseller The Box Under The Bed horror anthology and its #1 bestseller sequel Dark Visions, comes Nightmareland . . .
A horror anthology with 23 stories from 14 authors!
In a rundown shack deep in the woods, a high school girl dares herself to try the strange new drug all the kids are talking about. One injection of “Nightmareland” is all it takes to unleash a person’s biggest fears to them – and then they are on their own! But rebellious Jessica thinks she will prove herself to her peers and parents.
Tremble along as she is strapped into the chair and becomes a lost child on a Florida party island, an investigator looking into a circus’ bizarre side shows, an abused prisoner locked away in a desolate concrete cell, and much more as Jessica faces the most terrifying ride of her young life.
Compiled by USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre, this anthology of horror once again unites the minds and pens of more than a dozen amazing authors.
Nightmareland will send you into the foggy twilight of the eerie and macabre, with heart stopping stories from:
The chilly October sky turned cerulean and sanguine as the sun dipped below darkened clouds. Thirteen bats flew across the sinister backdrop, signaling the arrival of Leah, my level-headed, put-together boss, to my chilling abode.
Leah stepped out of her SUV, paying no attention to the avian warning high above her head, and gave me a joyous wave before holding up a bottle of wine. She was just as at home here in my dark den of shadows as she was in her high-rise.
“Welcome to my home.” I greeted while motioning for her to enter. The front door of my ramshackle Victorian home gave a squeeeaakkk.
“Thank you for hosting our monthly dinner, Vivien. The renovations are almost finished, but my house is certainly not ready for company.” Leah kissed both of my cheeks before she stepped over the threshold and took in my Gothic décor. I waited for her to flinch, but her smile remained intact.
“Please make yourself at home. Dinner is almost ready.” I pointed towards the living room and waited for her to be seated. “Would you like something to drink? I’ve some vintage Blood Wine.”
“Yes, Blood Wine, what region is that from? I don’t believe I’ve heard of it.”
“It’s a rare blend. Transylvanian, of course.” I hand her an empty skull filled with wine and gestured for Leah to take a seat on one of my matching scorpion-shaped chairs.
Leah took a deep sip. Her face turned pallid then flushed scarlet. “Viv, this is a thick wine but is full-bodied. You must share your source with me.”
I nodded and headed back to my kitchen. I’d slaved all day cooking my favorite foods to share with Leah. We were complete opposites but had always worked well together. Sharing this part of my life with her pleased me.
I used my trusty hack saw to slice thick pieces of brioche and then topped them with bat brain jelly, laying them out prettily on an old silver tray. To go with this, I made a delightful meatloaf macabre, filled with all manner of chunky, crunchy surprises. And, of course, to drink, I had plenty of Blood Wine. A most filling meal, I believed.
“Come, Leah,” I beckoned her towards the dining table and smiled pleasantly when I noticed traces of the Blood Wine dripped from her mouth.
“Oh, Viv! You’ve outdone yourself. I must make a video to share with our friends.”
My forehead scrunched. To her, “our friends” meant work colleagues. To me, “our friends” meant all of those that lurked beneath the ground of the cemetery out back. But I enjoyed my boss and would humor her eccentricities. After all, unlike me, she was still part of the living.
Trickles of murky water danced between shadows and fractures on the underground wall. Flickering candles twisted wilted blooms and innocent stone angels into a jungle of goblins.
“If you’re still fussing, you should have started earlier.” A redheaded vampire flashed through the arched doorway and scowled at his watch. “This space will never be anything but a tomb disguised as a fancy courtyard.”
“Like the desolate streets above us, masquerading as our city?” A man in a tuxedo slicked his mohawk straight up and adjusted his bow tie. “I thought you said rebirth was near, Mister Steven.”
“It’s so close, I can taste it. You’ve followed my instructions to the final detail?”
“Haven’t I always, sir?”
“As much as humanly possible, I guess.” Steven pointed to a steaming carafe. “Pour.”
The man’s shoulders slumped. “What am I now, your waiter?”
“I didn’t mean…that came out all wrong. Pour me a taste, Zachary. Pretty please.” Silence and a smirk followed his lingering sip. “Ah, silky smooth with a viper’s bite.”
“One coffee blunder was humiliating enough.” Zachary tipped his chin in the air. “That other swill tasted like it was blended with the ashes of the dead.”
“Sure wasn’t chicory.” Steven shuddered. “Ick.”
“Don’t worry. The tool who sold it to me, is at the bottom of the river.”
Steven planted one hand on his hip. “So, where did this brew come from?”
“Cross’ the lake.”
“Hope you’re taking my bodyguards when you leave the French Quarter.”
“So much gloom, even your soldiers can’t tell where the safe zone ends and enemy territory begins anymore. Sun hasn’t come out in years.”
“Yet, the dreadful humidity remains. Just to remind us we’re home.” Steven snapped the cuffs of his dress shirt. He inspected the linen tablecloths, uncovered serving dishes, smiled at the scent of peppermint and turned his nose up at licorice. “My chocolate?”
“All your favorites.” Zachary bowed in front of the dessert tower. “Amaretto, raspberry, almond hazelnut…but, the hazelnut still sucks.” He tapped the artery in his neck. “How bout’ a taste of this?”
“Later. Be available,” Steven said. “Eat a little cinnamon.”
“You…are damn bossy.”
Steven waggled his finger. “Leaders delegate, Zach.”
“Oh well, excuse me.” Zachary plucked a sugar cube from the pristine buffet and dropped it on his tongue. “Will it be the usual guest list tonight?”
“Yes, and I’m sure you’ll hate them all.”
“They turn the room frigid. Swear I can see my breath.” Zachary pointed to the fountain. “Your snooty, light-up water feature was frozen solid after last week’s festivities.”
“There’s a method to my madness. We’ll need the allegiance of all the coven leaders, from every corner of the globe—even the villains—to take back New Orleans.”
“Hmph.” Zachary crossed his arms. “Bastards do seem impressed. You’re still the king of decadence, like in the old days.”
“Just wait for the new days.” Steven leaned over the pastel bubbles and watched glittery fish spinning in circles. “When our family is back in power, all this melancholy will be a distant memory.”
“What about that man with the sapphire eyes?”
“You mean the warrior?” Steven sighed dramatically.
“He’s more than politics to you, isn’t he?”
“Is that a hint of green demon I hear in your voice?”
“After so many years of us…” Zachary shuffled his feet and stared at the fish. “Never mind.”
“His fire, his army—that blood.” Steven spun and pumped his fists. “The warrior is our savior. He holds the keys to an empire.”
Zachary stepped back, but not in time to avoid Steven patting his cheek as if he were a petulant child.
“My empire.” Steven flashed back through the arch. “All mine.”
Ashley’s fork cut through what was left of her tiramisu. Her client’s daughter had been put down for almost an hour. The silence of the house meant that she should be studying but the tiramisu was so delicious. After finishing her dessert Ashley opened her laptop double clicking on her document files.
Now that she had the freedom she was sure she would have the rest of the night to herself to finish her project. As she opened the documents pictures of various newspaper headlines flashed across the monitor. Her assignment that her professor gave would have her follow the trail of supernatural happenings in neighboring towns. Things like “leprechauns in trees” to “ghostly images and sounds ” “unexplained disappearances”.
The point of the assignment was to find why are people wanting these “tales of make believe” to be real? Ashley wasn’t sure what to make of all of this. She believed that if she could see it she would believe it for herself. Her computer monitor flickered for a second before completely darkening. A sharp squawking from upstairs made her blood run cold. It also reminded her that the only person up the stairs was Lauren, the child she was sitting.
The family had no pets, a fact that ran through Ashley’s mind as she grabbed the fork she used to eat her tiramisu. She scampered up the stairs tightly gripping her silverware weapon in her fist. Once she reached the door she flung it open to see little Lauren asleep in the same position she had left her in. Perched at the foot of the bed was a blood red cardinal bird with a thumb sized roll of cotton in between its beak.Ashley flung her arms at the bird predicting that the bird would fly outside of the window across the room in which the bird did flapping its wings through the night air.
Lauren gave a yawn before speaking. “I had the weirdest dream miss Ashley. You saved me from a gigantic female pterodactyl and it was red!” She yelled in excitement rolling over on her pillow which she now found with a gaping hole in the center. “Miss Ashley…” the girl let out.
Ashley grabbed Lauren by the hand and stormed out of the house.
She’d been waiting for nearly an hour.
The paintings and portraits in the entrance to the convent were all the indication that she needed that she was where she should be. She was dark of hair, skin, and eye, a strange beacon in a place that put so much emphasis on purity in the form of light colors. Porcelain angels were clothed in a white so clear they looked like they were covered in fresh sparkling snow, their hair was the color of straw, and the image of their Lord was burdened with eyes so blue they could have been fragments of the sky itself.
She plucked a pomegranate from the bowl of assorted fruits on the table. The thing was red, firm, and in her hand it felt like a hardened heart. A selection of biblical scholars believe that Eve took a pomegranate from the tree of knowledge and not an apple. They would be right.
The symbolism around the fruit is as numerous as its seeds but the truth of the matter is far more sinister. The pomegranate was the literal and figurative representation of knowledge and wrapped up in that was woman’s agency. A pomegranate was not just the beginning of knowledge but the very representation of the feminine.
Was it evil for woman to know who she was? In a patriarchal society, power, agency, and knowledge for the woman, by the woman probably was evil. And that’s why the man who called himself God took woman’s agency away and turned it into a forbidden fruit.
A door behind her opened and a man stepped through. She put the fruit back down in the bowl and turned to face the man. He was dressed in a drab habit and most of his hair had fallen away in his old age. His skin was pale from years of walking the halls of the monastery.
“Friar Lenn,” he said by way of introduction. He did not extend a hand for a shake. Instead he looked her up and down as if examining a reptile that he wanted to squash.
“I was told I would meet with Sister Ruth.”
“She is otherwise occupied at the moment. Follow me, I’ll show you to your quarters.”
The friar didn’t ask her name and she didn’t offer it.
Knowledge is a heavy burden to bear. Ignorance is bliss. This man and everyone in this place would know her name soon enough.
The hallway beyond the main entrance was wide and long. Tall, stained glass windows drew out epic scenes from the Bible on one side and on the other a series of archways built into the wall opened up into a courtyard. A large kitchen garden was being attended by a handful of friars and nuns. At the end of the hall was a statue of Mother Mary herself, her stone gaze downcast with some semblance of sadness and kindness. Her hands placed together as if she were praying. On either side of her were two more stained glass windows butted up against doors. One was Mary Magdalene and the other was John the Apostle. The friar led her into the doorway next to Mary Magdalene and down yet another hall.
She glanced back at the statue of Mother Mary and wished her eyes held more of the kindness and happiness that had been there in her living days.
The new hall wasn’t as bright and colorful as the last instead the walls were lined with doors and small electric lights. Most technology had moved into the realm of LED lights and even plasma filaments, but this monastery was at least twenty years behind.
The friar led her to a door that looked indistinguishable from any of the others.
There was a small pallet with a mat on it. A simple pillow and blanket folded on top. There was an end table with a plain, brown leather bible on top and a little reading lamp next to it. She set down her things on the bed.
“You will attend to Sister Evelyn until you are oriented and given tasks and chores. She will be by shortly. There is an outfit in the closet. Change.” The friar turned and left the room with barely a nod goodbye. She couldn’t tell if the grumpiness was his normal state or because he was probably taken off his normal tasks to retrieve and deliver her to her room.
She took a moment too examine the room closer. There was a painting of Mother Mary on the wall. Again the sad expression on her face. What did the painters think they were capturing by making her look like that?
There was a small closet opposite the bed and she opened it. As the friar had said there was indeed a nun’s habit inside. She took it out and quickly changed. The fabric was rough but well worn. It was probably handed down from nun to nun, so she would not be the first to wear it, but she hoped she would be the last.
There was a knock at the door and it opened. A woman stepped in and stopped in her tracks. The recognition on her face when they locked gazes was apparent.
“Evelyn, I assume? You really need to be more creative with your names Eve.”
“I don’t need to hear that from you. What are you doing here?”
“Exactly what you’re doing.”
“No. You are doing the exact opposite of what I’m doing!”
“Eve, we are both trying to dismantle an institution that has corrupted itself.”
“Be that as it may, Lil, at least I am not going around turning the nunneries into cabalistic epicenters of feminist rage.
“You have to admit that my methods have been more successful.”
“Faster and more explosive but I don’t know about more successful.”
“What are you trying this time?”
Eve rolled her eyes and closed the door behind her. The illusion obscuring her true appearance faded away and the woman who had been created to be Adam’s subservient wife, and unquestioning sex slave after Lilith had rejected those prospects appeared before her once again.
“I’m quietly telling the nuns to follow their dreams.”
“And how’s that working out for you?”
“Some of them honestly believe their dream is to be married to the church.” Eve sat on the end of the bed and sighed heavily. Her hair was a bright blood red, and her skin nearly as pale as bone. The signs that she was created from the blood and bone of another. A smattering of freckles, one for each of the hundreds of children she bore to Adam, crossed her nose and cheeks. Adam and Lilith had been created from the dust and clay of the earth and were both dark featured. Eve hid her pale skin and striking red hair under an illusion that made her look like a plain woman with mouse brown hair.
Lilith, Adam, and Eve were all direction creations of God and therefore perfect in every way and their appearance alone was enough to stop any person in their tracks. Lilith only softened her features a bit. Looking like a supermodel going into a convent usually got more attention then her dark skin so she made it easier.
“If you had let me continue with the free love movement in the 60s all this would probably be a moot point.” Lilith sat on the bed next to her friend.
“You were losing control of it.”
“I had everything under control. You weren’t thinking big picture enough.”
“Big picture? Lil, I have been on the same page with you helping me dismantle the church from the inside but I can’t sit by and let you hurt my children, even if they do it to themselves in misguided hedonism.”
“Even after all this time you still think of them as your children.”
“They don’t know you. You’re a side note in their religious texts, and most of your story has been erased from even the apocrypha.”
“What about you? Some of them are your children too!”
Where Adam had been made from the ridgid rocks and dust of their homeland, Lilith had been created from watery clay. Her adherence to gender was fluid and she could transition between the two as easily as the moon crossed the sky.
At one time, Lilith had walked the earth as a man named Joseph. He had fallen in love with a woman named Mary. They had had a child, and God had punished him for assuming to think he could live a human life, and had changed the narrative around the birth of his son to fit into some prophecy. And then that prophecy had killed their child.
The images of Jesus didn’t even look like the real Jesus. Her real son had been dark of skin and hair as she was. His brown eyes had been bright and intelligent and he had always known more than he should have. Jesus had never had a child of his own, but his brother, born ten years after Jesus had gone on to have many children. She could see it in the faces of some people, reflections of her sons long past, and sometimes even worse, she could see Mary in their eyes. Especially the compassionate ones.
“That’s why I want to free them so badly from this… this dogma of isolation and adherence to a god that no longer exists Their church corrupts, and allows more corruption to rise in the absence of compassion or understanding. They exist saying that they are all children in the eyes of God and yet act as if they are the chosen ones.”
They fell into a mildly uncomfortable silence. This argument wasn’t new. Every couple decades they would cross paths and inevitably have the same argument again. There never seemed to be any middle ground they could reach. Even though they wanted the same thing Lilith thought Eve was too soft and Even thought Lilith was too hard.
“You know,” Lilith said. “We’ve only been going after the small convents and churches, don’t you think it’s time to go bigger?”
“We haven’t messed with anything higher than the Bishops in decades, we ought to try to go after the Pope himself.”
“I did that. Who do you think got Pope Joan into the papal house?”
“I thought that was fiction.”
Eve’s smile was grim. “The Archbishops killed her and replaced her. Like you and me her story was scrubbed out of the history books.”
“Joan was said to have hid her gender and that’s how she got in, we have to get someone in despite her gender.”
Eve shook her head. “These zealous men are hard to work with.”
“So we shouldn’t try? Eve, I’ve never known you to give up! Even after Adam–”
“Leave him out of this.” Her tone was sharp and her expression left no room for argument.
Lilith raised her hands in surrender. “Apologies.”
Adam had abandoned Eve after she had taken Lilith’s side after the death of Jesus. Despite knowing herself and her freedom she had still followed Adam across the earth, indulging his hubris and never taking anything for herself. Until the day after Lilith’s son had been crucified and the heaven and the earth had literally shaken. Lilith had called on the angel Lucifer, her long time friend and companion, and he had helped her storm heaven in her rage. Lucifer had been God’s favorite angel in spite of Lucifer’s love of humanity. In the end, heaven had been broken, God was missing, and the angels still on God’s side out for Lucifer’s blood.
“What did Sister Ruth say to you about your stay here?”
“She didn’t. I was led here by a friar.”
Eve’s eyes widened and she stood. “A friar? Where was Sister Ruth?”
“He claimed she was occupied.”
Eve cussed uncharacteristically and her illusion of being a plain woman reformed. “I’ve been found out again.”
The door opened and the friar and a man in a black outfit stood in the doorfarme.
“You, demoness, I shall exorcise you and this woman! May God have mercy on whatever souls you have left” The man in black said and pushed forwards.
“Stop this, friar! I am no demon!”
“You come into this sacred place and whisper poison into the nun’s ears, who else could you be. Especially knowing that you associate with… that.” The friar pointed at Lilith.
Interesting. Did they know who she was?
“How do you know who she is?” Eve asked.
“We were notified to keep an eye out for her and a red headed witch. We got one of them and you shall both be removed from this world.”
“Adam,” Eve hissed.
“Adam?” Lilith asked.
The exorcist turned the pages of his book quickly reading the words. The poor fools. Lilith and Eve had been created outside the confines of the natural world. Exorcism spells held no power over them regardless of the fact that Lilith and Eve weren’t demons.
The friar realized pretty quickly that nothing was happening and reached into his habit and pulled out an ancient pistol.
Lilith moved quickly and stood in front of Eve raising her voice above that of the frightened exorcist. “I am she that came before Eve, I am she that was cast out of the Garden of Eden for assuming I was equal to Adam. I am she that would not bow, or bend, or break. I was called a demoness, and I was the one who entered the Garden of Eden as a serpent and told Eve to take her freedom back.”
Eve didn’t argue, but Lilith knew the declaration annoyed her. After all these years Lilith knew her like a sister.
The Friar and the exorcist stared at Lilith in horror as she began to change in a dragon. Her form filled the room and broke through the walls. The men screamed in terror as a pair of huge wings arced over them. The dragon licked its lips and snorted at them as if sizing them up for a meal.
Eve didn’t wait for an invitation and dropped the illusion as she climbed on the dragon’s back. The dragon leapt out of the hole in the top of the monastery and flew up into the sky. Eve hugged the dragon’s neck and whispered grateful words into its ear.
“Adam knows what we are doing,” Eve said after they landed in a parking lot behind an outdoor movie theater. The film showing on the screen was a children’s movie about dragons. Appropriate. None of the humans noticed us. We were invisible to their eyes for now.
“So what do you want to do?”
Eve stared at the screen, the light flickering in her eyes. “How keen is Lucifer to come out of hiding?”
Lilith grinned. “You know he’s sweet on you, he’ll come running as soon as you lift your finger.”
Eve nodded and visibly blushed. “Call him. It’s time to go to war again. For my children, and yours.”