Table of Contents
NIGHT OF THE BEAST
A novel by
© 2011 Harry Shannon
This novel is actually a golden oldie.
Why? Because I'm ancient enough to remember plastic 45-rpm records, the first drive-through hamburger stands, and the launch of Sputnik. I grew up on horror comics that served up serious morality tales, and super-hero fiction about men who wore masks and tights without exposing themselves to public ridicule. I devoured the dark pulp fiction of Mickey Spillane and John D. MacDonald. Also those old Gold Medal Books, Matt Helm spy tomes written by some guy named Donald Hamilton, and especially — oh,
how I loved them — those cheesy, two-sided Ace Books containing TWO FOR ONE original science fiction and horror novels by Andre Norton, A.E. Van Vogt and several other pioneers. You'd finish one tale, then flip that sucker over and start reading the other book from the back. Damn, I ate 'em up like popcorn.
To be honest, "Night of the Beast" is something of a tribute to those halcyon days and those wickedly entertaining little books. Additionally, it salutes the huge paperback explosion that followed the pioneering work of geniuses like Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, William F. Nolan, Rod Serling and culminated in the arrival of guys like Stephen King, Robert McCammon, Joe R. Lansdale and Dean Koontz. It's omniscient, relentless, rapid-fire, messy, loud and hopefully more fun that having your dick nailed to a burning building (sorry, but that's my favorite Joe R. Lansdale line of all time). It's a put on of sorts, just plain fun.
The bottom line is, high literature it ain't.
Also, you should know that this manuscript arrives in your hands after a long and very arduous journey that began one drunken summer evening around forty years ago. For reasons I cannot explain (other than a vague and irritating urge to write) I grabbed my battered old Royal portable typewriter and banged out several macabre pages. I remember that they concerned an alcoholic sheriff in a tiny desert town who was trying to deliver two corpses to the mortuary on a dark and stormy night. That scene, nearly word for word, appears late in this version of the novel. I managed to scare myself, but unfortunately I didn't have the slightest idea what to do next. The pages went into a drawer.
Over the next few years I typed other scenarios, more or less as they occurred to me. All were intended to take place in the same Nevada town on the same stormy evening. I was unconsciously working backwards from the climax, in a hopelessly disorganized way, but I also knew that something intriguing was beginning to take shape. Meanwhile, I was writing songs with some success, making money, getting married, buying houses and sharpening an absolutely top notch drug and alcohol problem.
In the early eighties, my marriage and career began to fail and my chemical dependency problem reached its zenith. The horror boom was on, thanks primarily to Mr. King, and unfortunately I got it into my head to quit my job, live on credit cards and finish my Great American (Spooky) Novel.
Not too sharp a move, you know?
Yet somehow I found a New York literary agent of some reputation, completed a version of the manuscript and came very close to a hard cover sale on more than one occasion.
Then the horror boom popped, and so did my illusions of invulnerability.
A couple of years later, abruptly bankrupt and divorced but finally clean and sober, I went back into the entertainment industry. I worked in films while concurrently pursuing an MA in Psychology. I eventually settled into a nice, peaceful career as a therapist, re-married and had a baby. When the bug hit me again, I started writing the short horror and noir stories that were eventually assembled into the collection, "Bad Seed." I got a new agent, then spent more than a year on a mystery novel intended to be the first in a genre series.
But one night in 2001, for reasons unknown, I elected to search my cat-hair infested, malodorous, extremely cluttered garage and found the yellowing, rubber-band-encircled manuscript that had nearly kicked my butt in the mid-eighties. I took it down from the shelf and started to read it.
And hey, it wasn't chopped liver!
Actually, it read pretty damned well, despite being overly complex and a tad obese. Now I could see several of the flaws I hadn't perceived all those years before. I had a sense of what needed to change. And even better, to my utter delight, reading it brought back memories of my beloved "airplane books." You know the ones I mean, right? The gory, aggressive kind I'd buy in the shop at LAX for a business trip, and by the time I reached London I'd have read three of them suckers.
The problem was that the one telephone book-sized manuscript was all I had to work with. I had lost the word-processing disc (from the typist I'd employed) and didn't even have another copy of the book. Since I'm a moron about such things, I asked around horror circles. Eventually, I managed to find a guy back east who scanned that one precious copy for me, page-by-page, back into a Word file.
He mailed me a disc, and I set to work again. I cut an awful lot, which will seem hard to believe once you get into the book. I also added the "wrap-around" and the legend of Orunde before finally showing the finished novel
Like I said, it's been a long, strange trip.
To summarize, "Night of the Beast" (original title "Jason's Eye," then also briefly known as "The Talent") just turned thirty this year. It has sections written drunk on my ass, or wired out of my mind on cocaine in the 1980s (a lifestyle I do NOT recommend for creative or any other reasons) and other scenes carefully composed over a cup of coffee with my toddler daughter tugging at my jeans. It's homage, farce and an affectionate rememberence.
Yes...This novel is a tribute to every damned comic, movie, paperback book and campfire horror story I have ever read, heard, seen or told; also to Richard Matheson, Robert McCammon, Joe "Mojo" Lansdale, Richard Matheson, Roger Corman and especially early Stephen King and..and...you get the idea. Those who have scared the crap out of me for years.
Folks, whatever else "Night of the Beast" may be, it is a labor of love. And because of that, I'm absolutely thrilled to see it finally between two covers and in your warm, hopefully friendly hands.
hope you enjoy reading it.
Los Angeles, California
May, 2002/March 2010
PS. By the way, this novel is dedicated to Dennis Kelly, my English teacher at John Marshall Jr. High School in Pomona, California, 1963…Wherever he may be.
Oh, it has many, many names.
It has always been and always will be…
The Native Americans who first roamed this forsaken, barren land called themselves the Horse Humans. They were wise about the Nevada wilderness. They knew hunting and fishing, could create shelter from the chest-deep winter snow, learned where to find water and how to deal with scorching days and bitterly cold nights. And so the Horse Humans flourished and multiplied.
One summer the tribe noticed that the weak and the sick began to vanish, for no apparent reason. They found no track, spoor, or unusual scent to explain these disappearances, just the eviscerated bodies. When some of the very young and helpless were taken, nothing was found but their bones, picked clean of marrow. The wise elders met to share smoke and discuss the situation. They realized that something unknown and unseen now fed upon them.
The Horse Humans called the thing Orunde. They came to believe that Orunde lived deep in the ground, near the root of the tallest cactus, where the lone Two Trees grew; and that its dark hungers were as numerous as the blistering grains of sand. Orunde scattered skeletons about the desert, created thunderstorms to drown men and drought to parch their lips. It haunted the nightmares of their children, and left the Medicine Ones wailing from terrible visions. The people sacrificed to Orunde, so that it would not punish them. They tortured their enemies to death, and then made totems made of arm bones and fingers, wrapped in the hair from a horse. These things they offered unto Orunde, and they stayed on the land.
The legend had it that one blinding, hot summer Orunde was bored and hungry and wanted something to play with. It decided to twist the minds of all of the Horse Humans at one time, to see what would happen. The things that took place that night were beyond description. Bare skin was burned with forbidden symbols from a civilization long dust, and then flayed from screaming victims to be read aloud as they lay dying. Things were said, things were read and unspeakable things were done while Orunde fed upon the horror, smiled and fed again. It was a Night of Nights that seemed to last forever.
Come the morning, there were no Horse Humans left in the valley. Only a handful lived to tell the tale, and the tribe then ceased to be. Orunde saw this, and was pleased. Its hunger had been satiated. It went to sleep for a long, long time to digest what it had eaten.
Hearing of the disaster, the other desert tribes avoided the lands of the Horse Humans, calling it the Valley of the Bones. It was treated as burial ground. They marked and rode around it.
Some white soldiers in blue coats arrived, but when told the legend of Orunde they did not stay. A band of hunters rode in searching for buffalo, but hearing the eerie night wind they broke camp and fled. Three decades later, settlers on the way to California rode wagon trains through the valley without ever pausing to rest.