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Authors: Bryan Smith

Queen Of Blood

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Bryan Smith

Queen of

Blood

This one is for my brother Jeff, a fellow pulp fiction
junkie. Long live femme fatales, rumpled but tough
private eyes, and old paperbacks with yellowing pages.

They Were All Dead.

And soon he’d be dead, too. He held out no hope of divine deliverance, harbored no illusions of the cavalry (police) riding
up to his rescue at the last minute. Violent, painful death awaited him, probably at some point within the next few minutes.
It was a strange and horrible thing, the idea of the remainder of your life being down to a handful of torturous minutes.
Thinking about it elicited another helpless whimper. He didn’t want to die. Quite the contrary. He wanted to be around for
many decades to come, even if that meant living with the guilt of being responsible for the deaths of his friends all that
time. Yes, even then.

All he had to do was get to that axe.

Somehow haul his battered body upright.

And then be ready for the bastards when they came for him.

So he drew in a deep breath and began to crawl toward the axe.…

Headline from the May 1 edition of the
Chattanooga Herald
:

“HOUSE OF BLOOD”CONTINUES TO MYSTIFY

CHATTANOOGA, TN—Nearly a year has passed since the revelation that an old mansion high in the east Tennessee mountains for
years doubled as a house of horrors and a prison for luckless travelers. In that time, remarkably few survivors of the so-called
“House of Blood” have been willing to speak to the press.

The known facts are few. Authorities have been as unforthcoming with details as the survivors. The cloak of silence has fueled
wild Internet speculation, including persistent rumors of a strange, perhaps supernatural element to the mystery. Many have
claimed the house was ruled over by a centuries-old entity, a vampire, perhaps, or an alien creature masquerading as a human
man, a man known only as “The Master.” And while it may be safe to dismiss these notions as obvious hoaxes and flights of
fancy, the truth is they will continue to flourish so long as the public is kept in the dark about what really happened.

A month ago, this reporter set out to learn that truth, only to be foiled at every turn by a seemingly impenetrable wall of
lies, misdirections, and general obfuscation. Each of the top law officers in the county refused to talk to the
Herald
for this story, citing the “sensitive nature of the ongoing investigation.” Authorities at the state and federal level also
refused comment.

Repeated attempts to contact the handful of survivors who spoke with the media in the immediate aftermath of the “liberation”
(as they called it) invariably met with the same stony silence. Dream Weaver, 31, is perhaps the best-known survivor. The
stunning blonde was a media darling in those first weeks, but she has become as reclusive and elusive as Howard Hughes was
in the latter stages of his life. She appeared on magazine covers and was featured extensively in television interviews. Late
night talk hosts famously made fun of her colorful name. She eventually married Chad Robbins, 31, another survivor of the
House of Blood.

Neither Ms. Weaver nor Mr. Robbins could be reached for this story. One source reports that Weaver and Robbins have separated,
though the
Herald
has been unable to confirm this prior to going to press.

We also attempted to contact the man known as “Lazarus,” who functioned as a sort of guru to those imprisoned in the cavernous
region beneath the infamous house, a place known simply as “Below.” He has been described as “charasmatic” and “almost godlike.”

He appears in only a minimal amount of news footage from that time, and even then only in fleeting glimpses, behaving, some
say, like a man deliberately avoiding the spotlight. The blurry images of “Lazarus” have been analyzed and picked apart by
legions of amateur online sleuths. One investigator claims to have identified him as a Virginia businessman missing since
the early 1990s. Others insist the man is one of a handful of long-believed-to-be-dead rock stars, with the majority of theories
centering around Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley. Though these theories are clearly absurd, they will continue to proliferate
in the continued absence of any real answers. No one the
Herald
has talked to has seen or heard from “Lazarus” since shortly after the revolt at the House of Blood.

Most of the Master’s accomplices died in that revolt. However, two have remained missing and unaccounted for, Giselle Burkhardt
and a woman identified only as “Ms. Wickman.” Though both women are regarded as highly dangerous (both have been on the FBI’s
10 Most Wanted List for several months), the
Herald
has learned that authorities are particularly keen to find Ms. Wickman, whose role at the House of Blood has been likened
to that of an SS commandant at a concentration camp….

CHAPTER ONE

Five months later

Blood was everywhere.

Sticky gore was on his face and in his hair, hot little rivulets of it trickling down from the gash behind his ear and the
larger wound at the crown of his skull. The salty tang of it stung his mouth. Dean wiped more blood from his eyes with a shaking
hand and saw bright red splotches on the dirty hardwood floor of the old farmhouse. He lifted his head and saw yet more blood
on the nearest wall, huge crimson smears. It looked as if a crazed housepainter had splashed several cans of dark red paint
all over the fucking place. Here, in the foyer, all over the goddamned floor. On the front door. And over there, the staircase
bannister, it was covered with a slick film of red.

...blood everywhere...

His blood. Some of it. More blood entered his mouth. Check that. A
lot
of it. Lisa’s blood. A fuck of a lot of Lisa’s blood. John’s blood. And don’t forget Debbie. Some of the biggest splashes
had erupted from the stump of the poor dimwit’s neck when the crazy woman with the axe lopped her head off.

The air was pungent with the combined stenches of spilt blood and recent, violent death, with underlying aromas of piss and
shit, the ripest of the latter emanating from the seat of his own soiled britches.

So much blood.

So much motherfucking blood.

Here.

There.

Blood…everywhere.

Then, the absurd capper to it all, the guitar riff from AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood, You’ve Got It” began to echo in his head.
He closed his eyes again and gritted his teeth, trying to will the old song away—but it just kept playing on an endless loop,
that maddening, relentless riff and the dead singer’s voice on the chorus.

Over and over and over. Holy hell, how incredibly fucked up was
that?

His eyes fluttered open again. Drank in the carnage again.

He heard voices. Muffled. He strained his ears and realized the sound was coming from outside. Then came an abrupt burst of
mad laughter. The sound made him shake with fear and anger. How could anyone do the things these people had done and laugh
about it?

But the answer was obvious. These weren’t just people.

They were monsters.

And any moment now they’d be back inside, back to finish the night’s grisly work. Because he was the only one still alive.
He sniffled, the hard reality hitting him again. His friends were all dead. And they had died horribly. After hours of torture
and unspeakable violations.

Suffering beyond quantifying.

The memory of the awful things he’d seen taunted him, a dark promise of the shape of his own near future. For some reason
he couldn’t fathom, they’d saved him for last. He had been beaten. Tortured. Mutilated. Two fingers were gone from his left
hand, the stumps a charred mass of blackened flesh where they’d cauterized the wounds with an acetylene torch. But they’d
spared him the worst of it, measuring the pain and trauma, keeping him alive and forcing him to watch helplessly as his girlfriend
was flayed alive.

He sniffled again, wiped more tears from his eyes.

Something glinted in the periphery of his vision. He turned his head slowly to the left, wincing as fresh jolts of agony sizzled
through his body. His breath caught in his throat at the sight of the axe propped against a side of a broken down old sofa
in the living room. Lantern light flickered in the room. The old house had no electricty. The old Sutton place had been abandoned
for decades. Once in a while kids from town would come here to party and fuck, but even that was a rare occurrence these days.
The creaky, termite-infested farmhouse was just too creepy and gross a place to take girls. But tonight had been different,
of course. What better night to visit the old Sutton place than Halloween, right?

It hadn’t taken much to convince the girls to come out here. The mood of the evening was just right. A clear night sky with
a bright moon hanging overhead. A cool fall breeze rolling in. That and a few Corona Lights did the trick. How promising
the evening had seemed at the outset. A creepy, fun Halloween with his best friend and their girls. There’d be more beers
to drink. Some weed to smoke. Thighs and breasts to grope in the quiet rural darkness. Ghost stories to tell as the evening
lengthened toward dawn. Just like last year at the lake.

Only not like last year, as it turned out. Not even a little bit.

He should have known something was wrong upon reaching the end of the old house’s long dirt driveway. For one thing, another
car was already there, a gleaming black Bentley parked alongside the long front porch. The old car was no abandoned relic.
Its windows were tinted. A silver hood ornament sparkled in the brilliant moonlight, as did the chrome hubcaps. The vehicle
was immaculate in every way, and its sleek lines made it look vaguely predatory. The beautiful antique looked as out of place
parked outside the old Sutton place as a supermodel in a room full of crack whores.

An argument ensued. They had come so close to turning around and leaving.

My fault
, Dean thought, bitterness consuming him as he stared at the blood-smeared blade of the axe.
I had
to have it my way. Had to show them all what a big man
I am. How fearless…

He’d argued more forcefully than anyone, bordering on belligerence. In the end the others gave in. They always did. They did
it to shut him up, not because they’d been swayed by the strength of his arguments. If only they’d stood up to him for once.
If only…

No.

He couldn’t let himself off that easy. Not now. And never again. They were all dead and it was all his fault.

And soon he’d be dead, too. He held out no hope of divine deliverance, harbored no illusion of the cavalry (police) riding
up to his rescue at the last minute. Violent, painful death awaited him, and probably at some point within the next few minutes.
It was a strange and horrible thing, the idea of the remainder of your life being down to a handful of torturous minutes.
Thinking about it elicited another helpless whimper. He didn’t want to die. Quite the contrary. He wanted to be around for
many decades to come, even if that meant living with the guilt of being responsible for the deaths of his friends all that
time. Yes, even then.

All he had to do was get to that axe.

Somehow haul his battered body upright.

And then be ready for the bastards when they came for him.

So he drew in a deep breath and began to crawl toward the axe.
I can do this
, he thought.
I have to do this
.

His hands trembled as the fingernails of his right hand dug into the rotting hardwood floor. He bit down hard on his lower
lip and suppressed another whimper. He willed his hand to be still and pulled himself forward another few inches. Then he
extended his left hand and gained another few inches. That was harder. The mangled flesh there throbbed horribly. He bit
down harder on his lip to stifle a scream. Teeth penetrated flesh and drew blood. The scream stayed inside him, a fire burning
in his chest, aching to explode. He extended his right hand again. Then the ruined left hand. He repeated the process several
more times, progressing with great deliberation but seemingly infinite slowness. It was maddening. The sheer frustration almost
caused him to give up. Then he heard more muffled laughter and anger engulfed him again.

Ignoring the pain as best he could, Dean began to move faster, wriggling forward on bloodied elbows and slightly upraised
knees. He began to make serious progress, passing through the archway separating the foyer from the living room. He focused
on the bloody axe with a single-mindedness that allowed no awareness of anything else.

He began to grin as he neared the blade. Just a few feet away, now. And then he was there, an electric burst of triumph sparking
within him as his right hand closed around the axe handle. He had it, his coveted weapon.

Now he just had to tap one last reservoir of strength, somehow get to his feet and prepare to make his last stand. And he
would do it. By God, he would. He hadn’t come this far to punk out now.

He drew in another deep breath, steeling himself.

His grip tightened around the axe handle.

Then something flashed through his field of vision, a dark blur. He was aware of pressure on his wrist before his eyes could
process the image of a woman’s high-heeled black shoe pinning his hand to the floor. Then the image crystalized, searing itself
into his mind with blazing intensity. The polished black shoe was as elegant as the woman’s finely turned ankle. Black was
her whole motif. Black shoes, black stockings, and black dress—a fitting wardrobe reflecting the darkness dwelling within
the one the others referred to alternately as “Mistress” and “Ms. Wickman.”

She applied more pressure to Dean’s wrist, eliciting another sob.

Her laughter was soft and mocking. “Such a naughty boy. I suppose you imagined you might use this on me.” She wrenched the
axe from Dean’s grip and tossed it across the room. It struck the far wall and clattered to the floor. “I hope you realize
it was intentionally left where you might see it upon regaining consciousness.”

Dean wanted to scream, but he didn’t have the strength for it. His spirits dipped to their lowest ebb yet. There had never
really been any chance for revenge. The hope he’d felt moments ago had only been an illusion. This whole exercise nothing
but another sadistic mindfuck. A game.

Anger flickered within him again. He wrapped the remaining three fingers of his left hand around her ankle and attempted to
twist her foot off his wrist. He burned inside with the need to topple her, get on top of her, rip her flesh with his fingers
and tear her leering eyes out. But he failed to budge her even one millimeter, her leg as unyielding as an iron girder.

Her strength was unnatural. She was a slender woman, about forty, average weight and height. Not unattractive. High cheekbones,
but a gaunt, almost ghostly pallor. Her long dark hair was pulled back in a bun, lending her features a slightly pinched,
severe sexuality. A shade of lipstick so dark red it was almost black painted the thin lines of her lips, which were curled
now in a disdainful sneer. So she was spooky looking, yes, but at first glance she had not appeared to be some kind of evil
superwoman. Not someone capable of lifting a teenage girl above her head and throwing her clear across a room. But he’d seen
it with his own eyes, Debbie flying through the air, then striking the wall and bouncing off it like a rubber ball.

It defied logic. It was crazy. Impossible.

But…

“You’ve underestimated me again, haven’t you, Dean?” She knelt down, pried his fingers from her ankle. “I’m going to hurt
you again, child.”

An anguished, keening wail issued from Dean’s pulped lips. “Noooooo. Please…please don’t. I’ll do anything…”

Ms. Wickman snapped his index finger.

Dean screamed. His body convulsed as the pain arced through him, his feet beating a jittery rhythm on the hardwood floor.
Through the pain, he was only dimly aware of the front door creaking open. Then there were voices. Those young people. Her
followers. They were coming inside, no doubt drawn by the scream.

Ms. Wickman snapped the middle finger of his left hand. The scream this time filled the dust-laden living room like an explosion.
He tried to get up. Pure pain instinct was driving him. But Ms. Wickman planted a knee between his shoulder blades and that
was that. She was too strong. Stronger than any human woman should be.

“One finger left, one stubby little thumb,” she said, leaning close, her voice an insinuating, malicious purr. “I do enjoy
your begging, Dean. Would you like me to spare this one?”

Dean thought about the way this sort of thing usually went in the movies. Your typical cinema hero, facing yet another round
of torture, would spit in his tormentor’s face and say, “Fuck you.” Or some witty alternative.

What Dean said was, “Please don’t do it. I’ll do anything. I swear.”

A brief pause.

“Thank you, Dean.”

She snapped his thumb.

Dean’s next scream mingled with the laughter of Ms.

Wickman’s apprentices. Some of the laughter died off as their Mistress gathered his broken fingers in her hand and…squeezed.

Then squeezed harder. And harder still.

Tidal waves of pain slammed through Dean. His body bucked. The long, continuous scream that ripped out of him felt as though
it might tear his body apart. Dean blacked out for a moment, only to be reawakened almost instantly by the agony blazing in
every nerve ending in his body. At some point, Ms. Wickman relinquished her grip on his broken fingers, stood up, and moved
away from him.

He heard her talking to her followers. There were four of them, ranging in age from mid-teens to early twenties. The oldest,
a thin but tall boy of about twenty or twenty-one, hauled Dean off the floor and deposited him on the old sofa. The sofa reeked
of mildew and rot, and it creaked beneath his weight.

Then Ms. Wickman loomed over him again. A long, thin cigarette was pinched between two fingers of her right hand. She took
a draw on the cigarette, then blew a thin stream of smoke at the sagging ceiling.

She met Dean’s gaze and smiled. “Do you smoke, Dean?”

Dean coughed. “No.”

That strange, wicked smile again. Insinuating. Malicious to the core. “Well, you’re about to start.”

Dean felt terror again, sure, but now another feeling rose to the surface, a weariness he felt from the depths of his soul.
“I don’t care anymore. Please kill me now. Get it over with.”

The woman’s eyes widened in mock surprise. “Oh, Dean, honey, I’m afraid there’s been a misunderstanding between you and me.”

Dean drew in another sharp breath as she sat next to him on the sofa and draped an arm around his shoulders. He trembled beneath
her touch, tried to cringe away from her, but of course was unable to move.

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