You never know who you might meet when you find yourself living on the fringes of society…
A young soldier has fled the horrors of the war in Vietnam. Gone AWOL and now hiding out among a group of transients in Florida, he comes face to face with an unimaginable terror — a man who calls himself Sharkbait Sutter. Is Sutter just an eccentric vagabond who has discovered the Fountain of Youth, or is he something far worse?
A preview of “Life, or Whatever Passes for It” by Durand Sheng Welsh
By the time I reached the spot where the jumbled girders thinned out to a lone tight-walker’s strut, the bottle’s contents were in my gullet and the bottle itself had taken a long dive into the bay below. I walked out onto the steel ribbon, each foot going toe-to-heel like a Russian gymnast.
That was where I met Sharkbait Sutter.
He was perched on the end of the beam, solemn and still, at peace with the night, the long drop beneath his heels and the slow rumble of the ocean. An unlit cigar twitched between his teeth, and he leaned forwards. I thought he meant to jump, probably because suicide and death were never far from my thoughts in those days, but then I caught the silhouette of a rifle.
He was sighting down an old bolt-action military piece.
Having discarded my best manners, along with my sobriety, I sidled closer and asked him what he was shooting at.
“Not communists,” he said, which made me think about the fading tan lines under my shirt where my dog tags had been.
“What are you shooting at?” I repeated, a meaner edge in my voice.
“Thin air,” he said without turning around.
“Try not to miss.”
Sutter laid his head closer to the rifle’s scope and fired off a round so thunderous that I lost my balance. I teetered on the beam’s edge, glimpsed the dark and cracked shell of the ocean far, far below. My stomach butterflied into my throat, and I did a passable impression of a doomed cartoon character teetering on a cliff. Sutter grabbed my shirtfront and yanked me straight again. I doubled over laughing after I’d caught my breath.
Sutter adjusted the scope and hefted the stock back onto his shoulder. He was wearing a snow parka, a bulky nylon get-up that had to be ridiculously hot. If I’d been less drunk, I’d probably have thought harder about his choice of clothing, but right then I was fixated on the fact the lunatic was taking pot-shots at empty water. The rifle stock seemed a hunk of worn and dark-grained obsidian, the barrel a spear of starlit bronze. I followed the barrel’s line out across the ocean, tracking the curve of the earth and the tide that swept out into the Gulf. To my surprise, an orange light swooped and bobbed out there, its afterimage uncoiling like a Chinese dragon dancing with the wind.
The Gulf of Mexico has always had a reputation for the unexplained. In further testament to my drunkenness, I took a tipple from the local reservoir of superstition and wondered if I were indeed witness to a glowing visitor. Then the sharp crack of Sutter’s rifle broke the mystic moment, and a split-second later the light winked out.
“What the hell did you do?” I asked belligerently, as if Sutter had just tossed a puppy onto a campfire.
“Hopefully caught me a shark,” Sutter said. Then he turned around, teeth clenched hard on his cigar, and the look he gave me was sobering. I took the hint and left him to his fishing.
More About PEEL BACK THE SKIN
Peel Back the Skin is a powerhouse new anthology of terror that strips away the human mask from the real monsters of our time–humankind. Featuring a star-studded cast of award-winning authors from the horror, dark fantasy, speculative fiction, transgressive, extreme horror and thriller genres, Peel Back the Skin is the next game-changing volume from Grey Matter Press.
Including all-new fiction from Jonathan Maberry, Ray Garton, Tim Lebbon, Graham Masterton, Yvonne Navarro, Ed Kurtz, Durand Sheng Welsh, James Lowder, Joe McKinney, Lucy Taylor, Charles Austin Muir, Erik Williams, Nancy A. Collins, John McCallum Swain and William Meikle.