My historical horror novel Andersonville is due out August 18th from Random House/Hydra.
In 1864, 30,000 half-starved men pray for a way out of the disease ridden confines of Andersonville prison, unaware that they are about to become part of a dark ritual enacted by a madman to swing the course of the Civil War.
One man fights his way in to stop him.
Here’s an excerpt.
The exhausted tunnelers were rotated out to disposal and lookout duty. Enderlein went first into the passage with the shovel, then Bill, then Barclay, taking over the relay duty. It was two hours of painful crawling back and forth in the cramped tunnel with buckets of earth. One of the Irishmen, O’Bannon, manned the bellows, and though it did provide a gush of fresh air whenever Barclay neared it to pass the bucket up, he couldn’t imagine the meager air Bill and Enderlein were getting further down the tunnel, if any.
The work was taxing, and the thought of the tons of shifting sand waiting to come down through the crumbling clay ceiling of the passage caused Barclay’s heart to hammer in his chest. He kept his breaths shallow and quick, but the blood pounded in his ears. They worked mainly in darkness, it being too close and the air too precious to burn away with candlelight. The only sign that they were not in the grave itself was the pinprick of light from the flickering candle O’Bannon kept on the dug out shelf in the vertical shaft that was their umbilical to the surface.
They did not speak as they worked, but the huffing of their breath let each man know the others still lived.
Then, when Barclay felt he couldn’t stand the dark closeness any longer, Bill whispered to him.
“Enderlein figures another couple feet and he’s past the outer wall.”
Barclay inched laboriously back to O’Bannon and watched the Irishman smile through his feet when he passed him the word.
Then there was a strange sound from up ahead, and Enderlein shrieked once in alarm. It was the sound of rushing water.
God, thought Barclay. Had they misjudged their direction and double backed to the creek? Had they struck some underground spring they hadn’t anticipated?
O’Bannon reacted quickly, and gripping Barclay by the ankles, yanked him out of the tunnel into the shaft.
They had three ropes made from braided cloth tied around the leg of each man in the tunnel proper.
O’Bannon grabbed one and began to furiously pull.
Barclay sat up and pulled the other.
High above, Skinny’s face appeared over the hole.
“What’s the matter?” he called down in as loud a whisper as he could manage.
“I don’t know! Trouble! Underground spring maybe or….”
At that moment the water gushed from the tunnel and spread across the floor of the shaft.
Except it wasn’t water.
It was blood.
Not some dark mud as Limber had suggested the night he’d pulled the red tipped root from the ground. As before, Barclay could smell the copper taint, feel the consistency as it swiftly rose to his ankles. It was blood, and it was filling the tunnel like a giant capillary.
“My God!” O’Bannon exclaimed, pausing in his work at the sight of the stuff pooling around his ankles.
“Keep pulling, goddammit!” Barclay yelled over the rushing blood, now threatening their calves.
Barclay pulled for all he was worth, and in a few moments he was rewarded as Bill Mixinisaw came kicking and splashing out of the tunnel, entirely painted red.
So O’Bannon had a hold of Enderlein.
“What happened?” Barclay asked, pulling the spluttering Indian up out of the stuff.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” said Bill. “Enderlein was digging and he stopped and stuck the spade in the ground. It all just started rushing in. There’s something in there.”
“I felt something claw at me.”
“Here he comes!” O’Bannon bellowed triumphantly.
The left foot of Enderlein broke the surface of the well of blood as O’Bannon dragged it from the tunnel with effort.
Enderlein’s leg was not attached.
Instead, a terrifying face breached the surface of the frothing blood. It was thin and skull-like, devoid of hair, yet not entirely fleshless, for it had flabby, overlarge ears and a bat-like nose that flared and inflated twin bubbles of blood at the first taste of air. Its jaw was clamped down on the ragged end of Enderlein’s disembodied foot, at the ankle, where the torn flesh exposed a piece of crushed bone to which it had affixed its double rows of triangular, serrated, bloodstained teeth. The brow was downturned in the extreme, the red painted flesh of the forehead wrinkled in astounding, almost mesmerizing patterns, amid a blanket of ugly, tumorous growths so large they flapped independently with every movement of the grotesque head.
Then, from that scarlet mask, the vertical lids covering its two bulbous eyes slid open.
The shaft was filled with blinding yellow light, as if from a theater spot, blazing from the eyes of this horror paddling into the shaft.
“Don’t look in its eyes!” Barclay warned, throwing his back to the well and shielding the glare with his hand.
The blood was up to his thighs now.
The thing screeched shrilly, dropping Enderlein’s foot, and leapt from the tunnel, spreading out impossibly long, thin arms that ended in dramatically curved red talons, like the claws of a digging mole.
It bore down on O’Bannon and dragged him beneath the surface of the ever-rising pool of blood.
Bill screamed and started to climb the shaft, throwing his feet against one wall and his back against the opposite, hopping nimbly up.
The blood covering Bill now drizzled in a red rain down on Barclay, who groped in the pool for O’Bannon, trying to snag hold of his thrashing arms and legs. He gripped a limb and pulled, but found he had gotten hold of the thing’s arm. Its hard flesh was scorching to the touch, and burned his fingers red before he let go with a yelp.
He straightened and looked up. Bill was halfway up the shaft. Suddenly the sandy wall against which his back was braced collapsed inward. Two sharp clawed red hands burst out and wrapped themselves around his torso, pulling the Indian in.
The blood was up to Barclay’s waist, and O’Bannon had stopped fighting.
Now the thing surfaced and stood in the shaft, popping its jaws, rending some unidentifiable hunk of O’Bannon to stringy sinew.
Behind it, the tunnel opening, nearly submerged, expelled a third blood covered thing into the pit with him.