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ON THE COVER
Undertaker's Moon (Excerpt)
By Ronald Kelly
December, 2007, 16:10

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The distant rattle of chains. Then a long and mournful howl, bouncing off the shadowy walls in the dead of night, penetrating plaster and wood, squeezing like a cold draft through the tight cracks of the floor beneath his bed and prying his four-year-old mind from the depths of a sound sleep.
   
Brian sat up, clutching the edge of his blanket in his tiny hands. He peered into the semi-darkness of the upstairs nursery. Half of his surroundings were shrouded in nocturnal gloom, the other half etched in the silvery moonlight that shone through the window.
   
He sat there, his ears straining against the silence, trying to determine whether he had been dreaming or not. Then the horrible sound came again – a high pitched wailing like some animal torn between loneliness and insanity. Brian was about to call out for his parents, but the noise of rattling chains caused the words to freeze in his throat. There was the sound of metal links clinking one against the other, followed by the tortured screech of steel being stretched beyond its capacity. There came the brittle report of the expected break, and then unnerving silence filled the house once again.
   
Brian closed his eyes and listened for more sounds. He heard nothing at first, but then they came. First there was the faint creak of heavy footsteps on the risers of the staircase, then the noise of harsh breathing. He could hear the dreadful sounds as they reached the top of the stairs and then started down the hallway… toward the nursery.
  
Tears of fright squeezed from beneath his eyelids as he heard the creature halt in front of his door. The coarse breathing continued, sounding like the huff and puff of a fireplace bellows. A metallic rattle forced him to open his eyes. He could see the brass knob of the nursery door jiggling in a slash of moonlight. Whoever was out there couldn't get in. The door was locked. Brian's mother did that sometimes, for a reason the child couldn't quite understand.
   
But as a low growl rumbled from behind the wooden barrier, Brian knew that such precautions could not insulate him from the boogeyman that lurked on the other side. His suspicions were affirmed a moment later. A mighty snarl rang through the upstairs hallway and, suddenly, the top panel of the door split open, sending slivers of wood spinning into the room. A dark appendage of muscle, bone, and glossy black hair exploded through the jagged hole and Brian realized at once that it was the gnarled hand of some horrible beast that was groping through the darkness for him.
   
"Mommy!" he shrieked shrilly. "Daddy!"
   
Abruptly, the door exploded and the beast was inside. It was huge and shadowy, its shoulders nearly as broad as the width of his bed and its height mashing its pointed ears against the plaster of the high ceiling. The spattering of winter moonlight that filtered through the frosty panes of the window brought out the most horrifying features of his unwelcome visitor. The long ivory teeth dripping with glistening slaver, the dark claws twinkling like honed blades, and the eyes. The deep brown eyes that blazed like fire beneath ferocious brows.
   
Eyes that seemed hauntingly familiar to the cowering child.

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