Scaring Us. Scaring You.


It’s Halloween, and this year, Maine Crime Writers are sharing some scary moments from our own books:

John Clark from the first story I had published in a Level Best Anthology:

We set a 6 p.m. date and I went back to the business of sorting invoices.

“Thank you, dear, I’m so tired of my own cooking.” Martha cleared away the leftovers and wiped off my kitchen table. I retrieved a flashlight from the utility drawer and we went down the cellar stairs, taking turns brushing aside the musty cobwebs.

A long time ago, my mother had asked dad to build her a small wooden pantry in the back cellar. I had no idea if anything was still stored there, but if I could save Martha a few bucks, I was more than happy to do so.

I pulled the dusty plastic curtain to one side.

“Oh shit! Her eyes, they…” Martha turned and retched

I stared at the gallon jar on the shelf behind the rusty bike and realized I’d never wonder again whether the Dark Lady was real.

Kaitlyn Dunnett from my Liss MacCrimmon Mystery, Vampires, Bones, and Treacle Scones:

            Without waiting for Dan to join her, Liss headed for the parlor, which was designated as the first stop on the tour. The skeleton had worked perfectly the previous day, but the key to a successful performance was attention to detail. Check and double check—that had been the rule the stage manager of her former dance company had lived by. That simple philosophy had prevented theatrical disaster on more than one occasion.
            “Showtime,” she whispered as she opened the door from the hall.
            The eerie greenish illumination she’d installed came on, as it was designed to, but the skeleton failed to sit up. Napoleon Bony-Parts remained in an immobile heap.
            Liss squinted in the murky glow, unable to make out much more than a vague shape lying on the sofa. She wondered why the plaster bones weren’t reflecting the green light. They weren’t florescent, but they ought to show up better than they were.
            Glad she’d brought at flashlight with her, she switched it on and at once swung the beam upward to check on the pulley. One end of the wire hung down, unattached and useless. Liss swore under her breath. “Damn mice.”
            She redirected the beam, aiming it at the sofa and gasped.
            The skeleton was gone. In its place was one of the manikins. It lay sprawled in an ungainly pose on the sofa and someone had painted two bloody puncture marks on its neck, turning it into a “vampire victim.” Fake blood had even been dribbled down the side of the brocade cushions to puddle on the floor.
            Annoyed that someone had messed with her set piece, Liss’s first thought was that she needed to search the room for the skeleton. The eerie, pulsing green lighting effect made it difficult for her to identify even the most common objects. The parlor organ looked positively sinister.
            “Dan!” she shouted as she played her flashlight beam in a haphazard fashion over walls and furniture. Was that more fake blood? “The prankster got inside again!”
            She had to find Bony-Parts. She had enough time to reset this scene and return the manikin to the dining room, but only just, and only if she could locate the skeleton quickly. There! Behind the sofa. She hurried toward the spot, irritated by the way the bones had been so carelessly dumped.
            It was only when Liss bent down to examine the skeleton for damage that she realized she’d got it all wrong. She caught a sickening whiff of an odor she’d hoped she’d never have to smell again. The reek of death was both unmistakable and terrifying.
            She jerked upright and, for the first time, her flashlight beam shone directly on the face of the manikin.
            Bile rose in Liss’s throat. Her knees went weak, forcing her to grip the back of the sofa to keep from falling. What lay there was not a manikin. It was a man. A very dead man. The red marks on his neck weren’t fake blood. The gore was all too real.
            But that wasn’t the worst of it.
            The worst of it was that she knew him.

Kate Flora, from my Thea Kozak mystery, Death Warmed Over:

The building stayed silent. No one appeared in the doorway and said, “Police! Drop your weapon.”

The cavalry wasn’t coming and we were running out of time. I swung up my briefcase, stepped forward, and slammed it into the side of Harriman’s head. As he staggered sideway, I dove past him and went right over the desk, grabbing Trish and pulling her onto the floor as an explosion of bullets slammed into the desk, the chair, and the wall above us. I heard glass on a painting shatter, the antique porcelain lamp on the desk explode.

In the silence after the first barrage, Trish’s breathing was so loud in my ear I couldn’t hear much else. Her breath and a low keening nose. Then I heard a man’s voice. Strained and full of deadly menace. “Dr. Gorham. You have ruined my life. Now I’m going to ruin yours. And I want to see your face when I do it. I want to put a bullet right between your fucking eyes.”

His heavy footsteps lumbered toward the desk. Just like I’d counted bullets, I counted steps. I figured it was about twelve or thirteen steps from where he’d been standing to where we were huddled.

His threat had been to her, but I doubted that he’d spare me.

I didn’t want to go without a fight.

I had no weapons. There was nothing to grab or throw or swing.

Death Warmed Over

Susan Vaughan, from Hidden Obsession, the second book in my Obsession series.

As Sheri approached the door, the dog whined and hung back.

“What is it, Com—”

The outside light shattered. Darkness crashed down with the broken glass.

A heavy weight rammed into her, nearly knocking her over. Her purse fell away. A hand clamped over her mouth. It pulled her back against a hard body. The heavy stench of sweat assaulted her nostrils.

Her heart pounded with painful thumps, and she dragged in air. Why? Who?

Comet launched into fierce barking. It was too dark to see her, but the dog was close. Would he hurt her too?

Adrenaline jolted her into action. She flailed her arms, reached behind, but could get no purchase. She twisted and kicked backward. Her boot heel connected with bone, a shin or a knee.

The attacker uttered only a muffled grunt. The grip tightened on her mouth. Her lips stung, and she tasted blood.

His free arm wrestled with something. He draped the thing over her shoulder. Looped it around her neck. Its movement scratched her throat. A rope.

White noise roared in her ears. No! She wrapped the fingers of her left hand around the rough weave, kept it from tightening around her neck. With her right, she maneuvered the house keys between her knuckles.

As he fought one-handed with the rope, the grip on her loosened a fraction.

Sheri wrenched around and jabbed the keys toward where his head must be.

She hit only air.

But his hand pulled free from her mouth.

“Help! Help me!” Was there anyone nearby? A car passing? Someone. Please, someone be there… She dug in her jacket pocket.

He grabbed at her arm. Caught hold of her sleeve and reeled her in. Comet growled. She set up a fierce snarling near Sheri’s feet. The attacker wrestled the rope around her neck and yanked her against him.

He leaned, off balance. More growls. The sound of cloth ripping. He leaned again, maybe standing on one foot. A big jerking move as he seemed to kick out. Comet, run!

A thump and a yelp. Silence. No!

“Help! Help me! He’s trying to kill me. Hel—”

His free hand clamped down on her mouth. He yanked the rope tighter.

Maggie Robinson, from the first Lady Adelaide Mystery, Nobody’s Sweetheart Now. This is not precisely terrifying, but how would you feel if your late and unlamented husband turned up as a ghost six months after you buried him?

“That dress is ridiculous, Addie,” Rupert intoned from a dim corner. He was wearing the dark suit with the maroon foulard tie she’d had him laid out in, and apart from being rather pale, was still a handsome devil, emphasis on the devil. If he’d been in his uniform, she might even contemplate marrying him again.

She shut her eyes.

“I’ll be here when you open them. And believe me, it’s no picnic for me either.”

Addie opened them, and her mouth, but found herself incapable of uttering anything sensible.

“Yes, I’m back. But hopefully not to stay. Apparently I have to perform a few good deeds before the Fellow Upstairs will let me into heaven. It will be a frightful bore for you, I’m sure.”

She told the truth as she knew it, feeling absurd to even speak to someone who couldn’t possibly be there. “You’re dead.”

“As a doornail. What does that mean, anyway? The expression dates from the fourteenth century. Langland, Shakespeare and Dickens all used it. Dickens was of the opinion that a coffin nail is deader, but there you are.”

Addie reached for her cup of cold tea and downed it in one gulp, wishing it was gin, brandy, anything to make Rupert go away. But if she were drunk, more Ruperts, like those fabled pink elephants, might actually appear. It was a conundrum.

“I’ll try to stay out of your hair as much as possible. Speaking of which, thank God you haven’t cut it into one of those awful shingles. I always did like your hair.”

“What’s wrong with my dress?” Addie asked, peeved. Even though she knew he wasn’t truly there—that he was dead—he still had the ability to irritate her even in her imagination.

“It’s far too flimsy and sheer and short. I can practically see your nipples if I squint hard enough. I admit you do have lovely legs, but everyone and his brother don’t have to see them. Your father would not be pleased.”

“My father is dead.” Panicked, she looked around her bedroom. “My God, he’s not going to turn up too, is he?”

Charlene D’Avanzo, from Cold Blood, Hot Sea, first in my Maine Oceanographer Mara Tusconi mystery series. Snooping around in her sea kayak where she shouldn’t, Mara is chased at night by a madman in a motorboat:

I kept paddling and changed direction, praying he couldn’t find me in the fog. His motor droned on, closer and closer. And like the intense beam of a lighthouse, his flashlight’s beam swept back and forth, back and forth, cutting through the murky darkness. It probed in every direction—toward shore, out to sea, back to the pier.

Suddenly the shaft stopped death and I was bathed in light. The beam had found me.

The whine of the motor grew louder, He’d turned his boat.

And now he sped right toward me.

My mouth went dry. The reflective tape strips on my life jacket, insurance so other paddlers could see me in fog, had turned into a hazard.

He quickly gained on me like a hungry shark. Given his speed, I was certain he was going to ram my boat.

My little kayak would be nothing to a powerful motorboat. He’d run right over me. The grinding blades of his motor would shred the kayak and rip into my body. As if in a movie, I saw it in slow motion. The terrible force of the collision, my boat shattering around me, my screams, the hot pain, the ultimate blackness.

He was very close now—less than a hundred feet. There was no way out.

Then through the murk appeared a row of weird white oblong tubes in a row, bobbing in the water. No matter what the heck they were, upside down the kayak bottom would perfectly mimic one of then.

 I maneuvered my boat next to the end tube. The roar of the motor filled the dense air, and the flashlight probed the gloom.

 I sucked in a deep breath and rolled the kayak.

Sandra Neily : excerpt from Deadly Turn.

“Yip, Yip! Zip, Zip.” I called and waited. Waited and called. If I hadn’t been facing uphill I might have missed his blurred shape speeding across the road above me. Of course my dog was up to no good up on Eagle Ridge. “Texas,” I panted. “Could use Texas right about now. Or Oklahoma.” On a flat plain, I could have dashed from tower to tower, maybe dodging cows, but in Maine’s north woods we all have to go up, up, up.

 I dropped my pack and hard hat, tightened the band holding my pony tail, and tried to jog up the road. Nothing had changed since the last time I’d asked my knees to challenge elevations. Since I’d turned fifty, they just complained.

Stopping where Pock’s dusty prints left the road for the trees, I held my breath and strained to hear real world sounds. Up over the last rise of ridge, machine noise grew loud and ugly. I didn’t hear the familiar whomp, whomp swishing noise. What I heard sounded like a car commercial where inferior models get crushed into walls, and metal pieces fly off to clang away on concrete floors.

Hands on knees, bending almost double to breathe, I hoped for some dog information. A bark. A howl. Partridges flushed from cover. Deer bounding away. Hopefully not a repeat of last spring’s cowardly move when he’d brought me an angry mother moose, her nose inches from his fleeing butt. I’d climbed a tree. Pock had to run for it.

I heard only my hoarse rasp and the calls of chickadees hopping into the nearest tree. They were the forest’s perky bird investigation squad, a winged gang that didn’t feel threatened as they clustered toward activity that promised cheap entertainment. Even when the occasion was a remote dirt road, they always looked dressed up with black hats, throats like black bow ties, and tuxedo-grey coloring over their shoulders.

I heard Pock’s muzzle scrape on gravel before I saw him. Wagging, he nudged a brown tree limb out onto the road. It flopped awkwardly from side to side, one narrow part attached to something that looked like a lump of trunk.

“Quit clowning around,” I said standing up. “We’re working here.”

Yipping with delight, he shoved his find toward me. Too late I realized it was a limb, but not from a tree. It was an arm attached to a shoulder—a chunk of shoulder wearing a tattered, bloody sweatshirt that did nothing to hide stringy tendons wound around splintered bone.

I fainted.

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2 Responses to Scaring Us. Scaring You.

  1. Julianne Spreng says:

    Thanks for all the excerpts. You’ve piqued my interest and now must find and read all of them. Excellent idea and lots of fun!

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