Wetbones

Wetbones

by John Shirley

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Overview

A flesh-and-soul-devouring addiction runs rampant through the dark playground of the Hollywood elite in this tale of horror from a Bram Stoker Award winner.
 
Welcome to Los Angeles, where every addiction is encouraged. . . .
 
Struggling Hollywood screenwriter Tom Prentice can hardly believe that the emaciated and mutilated corpse lying on the morgue slab was once his ex-wife. Then his roommate’s missing brother turns up in a local hospital having sliced open his own chest and legs for some sick, inexplicable reason. In Oakland, the Reverend Garner, a recovering addict, leaves his ministry in search of his teenage daughter, who was last seen in the company of her ghoulish kidnapper. And the Los Angeles police are meanwhile baffled in their hunt for the elusive “Wetbones” serial killer who leaves nothing of his victims behind except a damp, grisly pile of bones.
 
Though Tom, the reverend, and the LAPD are on separate quests for answers, they are all being led into the darkest shadows of Hollywood, where the debauchery never ceases and pleasure is a drug that devours human flesh, blood, and sanity. But the true source of the all-consuming addiction is the most horrifying revelation of all, for it is not of this rational Earth.
 
From International Horror Guild Award–winning author John Shirley, the acclaimed “splatterpunk” classic Wetbones combines the monstrous inventiveness of H. P. Lovecraft with the exquisite excess of Clive Barker. A true masterwork of modern terror, it’s decidedly not for the faint of heart.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497632301
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 04/01/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 271
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

John Shirley is the author of more than a dozen books, including Demons; Crawlers; City Come A-Walkin’; Really, Really, Really, Really, Weird Stories; and the classic cyberpunk trilogy A Song Called Youth: Eclipse, Eclipse Penumbra, and Eclipse Corona. He is the recipient of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award and won the International Horror Guild Award for his collection Black Butterflies.

Shirley has fronted punk bands and written lyrics for his own music, as well as for Blue Oyster Cult and other groups.  A principal screenwriter for The Crow, Shirley now devotes most of his time to writing for television and film. Visit the author’s website at www.darkecho.com/JohnShirley. 
John Shirley is the author of more than a dozen books, including Demons; Crawlers; City Come A-Walkin’; Really, Really, Really, Really, Weird Stories; and the classic cyberpunk trilogy A Song Called Youth: Eclipse, Eclipse Penumbra, and Eclipse Corona. He is the recipient of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award and won the International Horror Guild Award for his collection Black Butterflies.

Shirley has fronted punk bands and written lyrics for his own music, as well as for Blue Oyster Cult and other groups.  A principal screenwriter for The Crow, Shirley now devotes most of his time to writing for television and film. Visit the author’s website at www.darkecho.com/JohnShirley.

Read an Excerpt

Wetbones


By John Shirley

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1991 John Shirley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-3230-1


CHAPTER 1

Los Angeles, California, 1990


They slid her into view, opening a long aluminum drawer on small, well-oiled rollers. The sterile room was so cold he could see his breath–a little cloud steaming out over her, dissipating, pluming again, vanishing.

She was under a plastic wrapper, like something in a supermarket meat department. The morgue orderly peeled the plastic wrapper back so Prentice could see her face; her torso down to the sternum. Blue gray. Wasted. That's the word the doctor had used. The wasting of her.

She looks like a fucking mummy, Prentice thought.

Less than a day dead, and she looked like a mummy, gray skin clinging to her skull, sharply outlining her jawbone, her collarbone, her ribs. Her eyes—it was as if someone had plucked out her eyes and replaced them with peeled grapes. Lips skinned back, flat and blue, exposing her teeth in a grimace. Gums receded so you could see the roots of her teeth. Long, thick white scars braided her right arm, ropelike scar tissue that pinched the sections of flesh together, and a jagged reddish-white scar bisected her right breast, just missing the shriveled blue nipple.

Self-mutilation, the doctor had said. The body was barely recognizable as Amy, but there was the grinning-bat tattoo above her left breast, a breast flattened, now, to an old woman's droopy pouch.

Ever so faintly, he could smell her.

Acid splashed up into his esophagus. "Okay," he rasped, and the orderly slammed the drawer shut with a clang.

Prentice wanted to belt the guy for not showing more respect, but it would have been absurd. Respect? Life and death had already shown Amy their full contempt.

Prentice turned and walked out, looking for the L.A. sunlight.

* * *

Hollywood, California


"Listen," Buddy was saying wearily, "I've been pitching you heavily to Arthwright, telling him you're not one of these Hollywood hacks, Tom, you're a screenwriter. An A writer fuh Chris'sakes. This guy is special, I'm telling him. He hears that stuff a lot from agents, how's he supposed to know it's true for Tom Prentice? You don't show up, he's gonna think you're a flake."

"Look—if you'd seen her—" Prentice began, his knuckles white on the hotel phone. He was sitting tensely on the edge of the hotel bed.

"She was all ..." He broke off, not knowing how to explain it in a way that wouldn't make him seem, yes, flaky. A whiner. Buddy was his agent, not his therapist.

"I know how you feel," Buddy told him. "But you can't cancel on Arthwright. Isn't done. Especially not you and not now."

Buddy's telephone voice had a distant cave-echo quality that meant he was using his speaker phone. He almost always used the speaker; fussing around his office, scribbling notes and signing papers or maybe mixing a drink while he yelled across the room at the phone's remote mike.

"I don't want to cancel," Prentice said. "I want to postpone."

"It's the same. He isn't gonna have time for you whenever you're damn ready."

"Come on, Buddy. He'd understand if you told him about Amy—"

"He'd understand, but that doesn't mean he'd find time for you later on. You know? He'd promise—but would he do it? Not very fucking likely."

Prentice nodded to himself. In the back of Arthwright's shriveled little producer's heart, the son of a bitch would feel that appointments with him should be more important than anything else in your life. Including grieving for the dead who, after all, were not consulted in movie marketing surveys.

And, really, Prentice had known what his agent would say about canceling the meeting. He knew Buddy, though he'd only actually met him twice, both face-to-face meetings quite brief. Prentice had told himself he was going to cancel the meeting anyway. But now, pressing the phone against the side of his head so hard it hurt, Prentice felt the shaky feeling that meant he was weakening, was probably going to give in. Especially not you and not now, Buddy had said. Like putting a rubber stamp on Prentice's forehead: He was on the Out List. He had to get back in. It was just too good a gig to lose. He couldn't handle the humiliation of going back to the only other work he knew how to do. Bartender. Maybe end up serving a cocktail to Arthwright. "Well Hi, Tom ... Prentice? Right, how are ya, doin' a little moonlighting from scripting huh? Hell, Tom, I may be in here washing dishes or something myself if I don't jumpstart a deal here. We'll have to talk sometime. Ummm—I'll have a margarita and this lovely young lady here takes, I think, a tequila sunrise? Great. Thanks Tom. So anyway, Sondra ..."

"Tell me something, Buddy," Prentice said, venting some steam. "How do people get to be on the Out List in this town anyway, huh? There are all these guys, they write films that make no god damn money, they get no critical recognition, but they still get contracts. Half the time the picture doesn't even get made. Just because they had something produced once? Then I write one bomb and I'm supposedly on the Out List. How's that happen, huh?"

"Look, don't get pissed at me, how the fuck do I know, Tom? It's pure caprice, right? It's gossip or something, probably. Some guys, when things go sour, they don't get talked about, they don't get blamed. Some do. I don't know. Maybe it's because you're out of town until now, you're not here networking, you didn't make Warner's season-opener party, you're not at the Golden Globe receptions, people notice who's there and who isn't—"

"I tried to rearrange my schedule so I could fly out for the Globes reception, but I had this thing—"

"Prioritize, Tom, you know? Got to prioritize. You've got to be here hustling close to the bone, schmooz anytime you can, keep the relationships going so people stay loyal. They're always looking for somebody to backbite. If you're not around, it's your back that gets bitten ..."

"Okay, okay, you're right. I'm here now. But Buddy when I saw Amy's body today—" His voice broke. He swallowed, and got the masculinity back into it. "The guy said she lost fifty pounds in two days. Without liposuction, without surgery, and it wasn't losing blood and it wasn't losing water weight. It was—It was just her."

"Fifty fucking pounds in two days? Bullshit! Somebody screwed up, clerical error in the hospital records, you know? Couldn't have been that much. She lost some weight, well—the woman wasted herself on drugs, you know that—" A double peep in the background as Buddy's secretary informed him someone was on the line for him. "Just a minute, Tom. Lemme—" A couple of dry clicks. Static. Another click. "Tom? I gotta go here, I've got to call somebody back ... But uh ... Well, hey, about Amy: She was probably doing crack or crystal or something. You can't feel responsible."

"She was my wife, Buddy, dammit."

"Not for years, not really. You were divorced, and let me tell you, I know—my therapist, he put me onto this: the secret is, you got to let go. Let go of resentment, responsibility, after a divorce. Just write the checks and write it off." Again, the background peeps of Buddy's secretary, letting him know he had another call. This time there were three peeps, a signal that let Buddy know it was someone important, a key client or a major player. Prentice knew Buddy's phone habits the way another man knows his partner's facial expressions. "Hey," Buddy was saying, "I got to take that, Tom. Look, show up for Arthwright. Pitch him. Then do your grieving, what have you. Work is therapy. And you can't afford not to take that meeting. Got to go—"

"Buddy—"

Click. Buzz. Gone.

Prentice banged the phone down on the receiver. Pitch Arthwright, then do your grieving, what have you.

"What have you?" he muttered. "Christ."

Prioritize, Tom, prioritize.

Prentice stood up. Wobbled for a moment on his legs as the circulation shivered painfully back into them.

He put on his sunglasses, thinking: Go ahead, get self righteous about the way people were in L.A. But you know you're relieved Buddy talked you into going to the meeting ...

Amy. Was there someone he should inform? Her dad had abandoned the family when she was little. Her mother was dead. Cirrhosis. Her brother was a biker somewhere. Where, was anyone's guess. Prentice could call his own parents, but they'd never liked Amy, they'd been glad when she'd left him. His mom had bugged him about finalizing, getting a divorce, settling down with "someone more stable. God knows, you need someone more stable."

He looked at the paper sack that held Amy's effects. Now he knew why she'd sent his last two checks back; why she'd burned her bridges with him. She'd been getting money somewhere else. Even a Gold Card. The card was in the sack, along with her wallet, a gold chain ankle bracelet, an address book. No addresses in the address book, just cryptic scribbles and two phone numbers. It was like her: she kept most of her addresses on little scraps of paper in her wallet. Used to drive him crazy. He was fanatically methodical about addresses. Rolodexes, black leather-bound planners. Now he even had an electronic address book that looked like a calculator.

If he didn't click with Arthwright, he might have to hock that calculator soon. Prentice looked once more at the detritus of Amy's passing on the bed. Like the nest of a dead pheasant found in the tall grasses after the hunter's downed the bird. Nothing left but a handful of feathers and dead grass.

He went downstairs, jangling his hotel and rental car keys together in his hand.

* * *

Alameda, California, just across the bay from San Francisco


Ephram chose a girl he saw working at the cash register in Dresden's Hardware Store. She was at Cash Register Three. Maybe it was the faint pattern of freckles on her cheekbone, the same configuration as the negative constellation. The constellation Kali, that no one saw but him: Ephram Pixie, who saw so much, ha ha, that no one else saw.

The girl was plump but pretty. Soft brown eyes with a little too much eyeliner. Tammy Faye-ish eyelashes. White gloss on lips that carried on the Zaftig theme of her slightly oversized body. Full breasts for a girl, oh, sixteen or so. Her honey-blond hair charmingly ruined by being up in one of those strange do's that teenage girls were affecting lately, a "pump", it was called: a little ridge of hair jutting straight up above the forehead, like a radar scoop of some kind, yet delicate and bound in place by lots of big blowzy curls. The esthetic blindness of it fascinated him. Here was real innocence.

And she wore a little charm bracelet made of small gold hearts about one wrist. He counted them: there were seven little gold hearts. Seven of hearts: his omen card in the Negative Deck. Another sign.

About her neck was her name in gold, hanging from a necklace. C-O-N-S-T-A-N-C-E. Constance? Oh, really? Ha ha.

She wore a raspberry colored dress, with a frilly collar; raspberry Adidas tennis shoes, that looked gauche with the dress, but again she was unaware of that. The sneakers weren't gauche with her dress at her high school after all, ha ha.

Ephram was buying a coil of rope, as a matter of fact, when he spotted her. He felt a warm, sweet tingle when he saw the girl—and at the same time became sharply aware of the rope's texture in his hands. The delicious coincidence of it ...

The rope was quarter-inch soft white synthetic fiber, and it would do very well.

"Hi, how are you today," she said, automatically, not quite looking at him. Looking at the price tag on the rope and ringing it up.

"I'm glad you don't use those machines to read the—what are they?—those atrocious little bar-symbols that computers read," Ephram said. Just to get her to say a few more things to him. To dawdle there as he got a fix on her.

"Hmm?" she said, blinking at him. "Oh, those computer price reading things? Bar codes, I think, it's called. I wish we did have them—" A nervous little laugh like a trill on a toy piano. "—because, um, like, they're faster. The lines get long in here and everybody gets, you know, they want to get in and get out ... That's three-ninety-five."

"Here you are. Yes, well, that's a shame. I like...lingering here, myself. This is a charming hardware store. So cluttered and old fashioned."

She looked at him, to try to decide if he was serious. People didn't talk like that, in her little world, with words like lingering, describing a hardware store as charming. He smiled broadly at her. Not hoping to interest her in him, no, ha ha. He was a squat little man, with a soft wheel of fat around his middle, his oversized head mostly bald, a few colorless hairs slicked across it. An astrological glamour just barely visible, if you looked close, in the back of his deep-set green eyes. And if you looked closer ...

But all she saw, he knew, was a funny looking little fat guy grinning at her from the other side of the counter. She stared at him, beginning to feel the feather antenna of his first probe in her brain. And then another customer came up, and she turned gratefully to him: A black teenager with an earring and a Mercedes Benz hood ornament hanging on a chain around his neck. He was buying spray paint. Fairly obvious, Ephram thought, what the boy was going to do with that, the vandal. Inexplicably, the girl squirmed with pleasure when the boy said something vaguely flirtatious, and shook her head, saying, "I'm sure."

The boy really ought to be arrested, Ephram thought, for stealing that Mercedes ornament off someone's car.

Carrying the rope out to the car, Ephram found himself thinking of calling a cop on the little son of a bitch ...

And then he laughed aloud at himself. Absurd that I of all people should be thinking of calling the police on anyone ... Ha ha.

* * *

When Garner saw Constance coming up the walk, he found himself looking to see how steadily she walked, and if her eyes were glazed.

There was no reason at all to suppose his daughter was on drugs. Really, there was none. She stayed out too late sometimes, she didn't take school seriously—she worked in spurts to maintain a C average—but she was a careful girl, in most ways, and she didn't smoke or drink. As far as he knew.

Probably unrealistic to think she'd never had a drink. It was fucking 1990, man. The kids drank or were scorned.

But when your old man is a drug counselor—three days a week, when he wasn't doing pastoral work—you probably didn't get into drugs. Did you?

Easy does it, Garner counseled himself. Let go, stop obsessing. This is Alameda. She's all right.

Alameda, after all, is an island. An island of safety and an island geographically, neatly packed with houses and parks, with San Francisco Bay on one side and an estuary on the other. There were big signs just this side of the bridges onto Alameda: DRUG FREE ZONE. This community mandates double penalties for drug violations.

There weren't any real drug free zones in America, of course. The signs stood at the ends of the bridges to warn ghetto gangsters who drifted over from Oakland.

The town was mostly an enclave of upper-middle-class safety; tough cops, a big Navy base, half a dozen marinas, a 25 MPH speed limit. The local kids were fairly straight, and stuck to their own community. There was no open drug dealing at all. But there were lots and lots of liquor stores and bars, thanks to the military, and just a mile across the estuary was Oakland's East 14th, and anything could be had, there ...

Stop stressing out, he told himself again. She's all right.

"How was work?" Garner asked, when Constance came in. Knowing how she'd answer.

"Okay I guess," she said. As always. What was there to say about working in a hardware store for the summer?

Without pausing as she bustled by, she slid her purse onto the hall table, making the vase of dusty silk flowers rock. It was a clumsy blue and pink ceramic vase she'd made for him in a sixth grade art class; he grabbed it just before it toppled, turned to ruefully watch her walk into the kitchen to get herself the inevitable Diet Coke. She was absently singing a George Michael song. He thought about telling her that her skirt was too short. He stopped himself, amazed, not for the first time, to find himself turning into his own father.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Wetbones by John Shirley. Copyright © 1991 John Shirley. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Wetbones 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
mel-L-co0l-j on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
the portions of this book i enjoyed most were the very violent parts, because Shirley, true to form, came up with some particularly novel ways to kill, maim, torture, and generally wreak havoc. unfortunately, i didn't want to like this book primarily for its gruesomeness; while scenes stick out that are pretty disturbing, the scenes aren't welded together into anything that's greater than the sum of its parts. the characters are mostly wholly unbelievable, and you don't care too much what happens to them. the fairly poor characterizations made the book slow in places, and i wasn't too sad when it ended, although it's only 332 pages long.the novel, published in the 90s, gets close to capturing the Millennium spirit of paranoia and decadence, with its faddish evil cults comprised of movie stars, and nasty, Bret Easton Ellis-type deaths. however, it doesn't deliver in the way i expect Shirley to deliver.if you're a Shirley fan, obviously, this isn't to miss. however, i don't suggest this as an intro to Shirley -- he's good, and this work probably won't give you the true "Shirley Feel."
NKSCF on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not the greatest novel I've ever read. Not the worst either. Some of the book feels like needless filler, but it was still an enjoyable read.The explanation behind the titular Wetbones was well done and the further investigation behind the people behind the rise of the killer was also interesting. I'd definitely recommend this to any John Shirley fans, though.