by Brandon McNulty (@McNultyFiction)
Editor: Ellen Brock (@EllenMBrock)
When self-absorbed rock guitarist Ash Hudson suffers a career-ending hand injury, she seeks out the only thing that can heal it—her hometown’s darkest secret.
In Hollow Hills, Pennsylvania, a creek-dwelling demon named Snare collects everything from broken bones to cancerous lungs and in return provides its “Traders” with flawless replacements. But these transplants are no freebies. Stray too far from town and the perfect parts vanish forever, often with fatal consequences.
When Ash attempts to trade her busted hand, Snare steals it off her wrist, leaving her with an empty stump. The demon then offers her a deal. If she helps complete its “collection” of ruined body parts, she’ll get a new hand. As a bonus, she and the town’s anchored residents—including her estranged father—can finally leave with their bodies intact.
Desperate to reclaim her music career and free her father, Ash races to recruit potential Traders. Not everyone trusts the offer, however, and she soon faces a town divided. With Snare’s deadline approaching, Ash lets her morals crumble as she gathers the remaining parts. But even if she succeeds, Snare has never been one to fulfill a guarantee.
BAD PARTS is an Adult Horror novel complete at 100,000 words. It combines the small town suspense of Salem's Lot with the desperation of Hellraiser.
I’ve completed RevPit (2018) and Pitch Wars (2017) mentorships. My fiction has been published in NewMyths.com, The Overcast, and Spinetingler Magazine.
First Five Pages
John MacReady left town and the buzzing started. First in his kidneys, then deep in the center of his brain.
He barely merged onto the highway before hitting the brakes and pulling over to the snow-covered shoulder of I-81 North. Tonight wouldn’t be the night. Maybe tomorrow, maybe the tomorrow after that. Someday, he hoped, there would be no buzzing. When that day came, he’d escape with his healed parts and drive away from Hollow Hills, Pennsylvania.
Hundreds of miles away. Far enough to visit his daughter. Reunite with his wife. Retire in peace.
But not tonight. For now he was stuck with the pine-thick air and the babbling taunt of the nearby creek. A creek that both saved his life and ruined it.
He backed his ’97 Corolla down the highway entrance ramp and the buzzing faded. With a sigh he drove off for work.
Down the road he parked at the Hollow Hills Convention Center and donned his apron. He hurried through a late-November flurry and reached the entrance steps. There Candace Lapinski, his boss and the venue’s owner, took one last pull on her cigarette before tossing it.
“Mac, you’re here. Finally,” said Candace. She was in her late-fifties, stout and hectic with a face like a prowling pit bull. “Need a favor. How about staying late tonight?”
“Late as it takes you to get both ballrooms spritzed and ready for tomorrow. I booked an extra luncheon.”
He wasn’t keen on working late, not after another failed escape. He weighed his options while she opened the front door. Inside, an anniversary party was livening up the main ballroom. The air carried upbeat polka tunes and the smell of chicken dinners gone cold.
“Both ballrooms could take a while,” he said. “My seventy-five-year-old bones prefer to be in bed by ten o’clock.”
“Fine, I’ll double your pay.”
“Why not ask one of the high schoolers instead?”
“Those kids are sloppy,” she said, undoing the knot behind her apron. “You at least I can count on for vacuuming, mopping, the whole bit.”
“Fine, Mac. Triple pay. My final offer.”
He couldn’t refuse. Pension alone didn’t cover the bills, especially after his wife up and left for Florida. “Okay.”
“Great! I’d do it myself, but my son’s driving in from State College tonight. Thanksgiving break and all.” She was in the same boat as him. Couldn’t leave town. Either her son visited, or she didn’t see him. “Thanks, Mac. Just be sure to run all the tablecloths through the laundry. And polish the dance floor. And lug the potatoes up to the kitchen.”
“Jeepers,” he said. “That could take me till sunrise.”
“You’ll do fine,” she said, poking her arms through her winter jacket. “Just don’t forget to lock up. Someone tried breaking in the other night.”
It was going for nine-thirty when he checked the maintenance closet for cleaning supplies. On the top shelf was a bottle of ammonia, and when he reached for it his back muscles screamed in protest.
He leaned against the lower shelf and winced. At eye-level, next to a dented toolbox was a photo frame with a picture from his seventieth birthday. In it, he sat at a red picnic table while his wife and daughter poked plastic forks into his sides. All three of them were laughing, and even now he could feel the plastic tips itching through his shirt.
This was the first memory he thought of when his doctor diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s and said there was some goof-up in his hippocampus, his short-term memory bank. Mac couldn’t stand the thought of forgetting that birthday. It was the last time he’d seen his daughter Jenn in person, and she refused to see him again until he finally visited her in Georgia. Of course, Mac couldn’t leave Hollow Hills, but Jenn didn’t know that. Now he was coming up on his fifth straight Thanksgiving without her.
Behind the photo frame was an iPod Jenn gave him that birthday. Months ago he left it in this closet hoping someone would steal it. That would at least give him an excuse to call her. She always wanted good reasons for his calls.
With a nervous hand, he poked the headphones into his ears. He tapped the screen. No music came.
Good enough excuse.
He dialed her number. Got voicemail.
For a moment he considered hanging up, then stopped himself. With a dry mouth he said, “Hi, Jenn. It’s daddy. Wondering if…”
You’ll be in for Thanksgiving.
“Wondering if you can help me with that music player you gave me. Just trying to—”
A crash sounded down the hall. Metal banged and echoed. He jumped, his heart ramming. It could be that burglar. The one Candace warned him about.
With a trembling hand, Mac wiped the sweat from his brow. Down the hall he paused before the kitchen door and listened carefully. If he heard so much as a footstep, he’d call 911 and find a place to hide.
But there was only silence.
A minute later he dared to open the door. His nostrils clenched at the smell of wet coffee grinds and soggy carrots. Turned out a stack of pots had toppled off the counter and busted open an overstuffed garbage bag.
When he knelt to clean it up, a soft hissing flooded his left ear. The iPod had sparked to life in his pocket. He heard a familiar bass intro. “Break on Through” by The Doors. It put pep in his step as he re-bagged the trash and lugged it outside.
The night was chilly and moonless. One lone floodlight shined across the parking lot. He propped the door open and dragged the garbage to the dumpster. Jim Morrison howled in his ear about breaking on through to the other side.
If only, Mac thought.
He tossed the trash and headed back. When he saw the backdoor was shut, he stopped short. A chill blew through him. He knew he propped that door open.
Heart thumping, he scanned the parking lot. Nothing stirred but the nighttime breeze, which shook the surrounding pines. Nobody here. Maybe he was overthinking things. That door stopper was getting old anyway.
He fished his keys from his pocket. Soon as he turned the lock, the door snapped forward and whacked him like a tennis racket.
He tumbled backward and slammed his hip hard off the wet blacktop. Pain jolted up his side and down his leg. As he rolled over, his headphones popped loose.
He heard footfalls.
Someone in a ski-mask stepped outside, towering over him.
Mac opened his mouth to shout. A fist crashed between his eyes before he could.
MacReady woke up buzzing. His kidneys sang with pins and needles. His hippocampus tingled inside his skull like an itch he couldn’t scratch. The buzzing meant one thing—he was outside of Hollow Hills.
Someone had driven him out.
In his own car, no less. Though it was dark, he could tell by the smell of dog fur and orange-mint air freshener. He was in the backseat of his Corolla.
Sweat flushed his forehead. He tried wiping it and found he couldn’t move his hands. Twine bound his wrists. Ankles, too. A seatbelt was fastened around his waist, pinning him down. He twisted onto his side and saw the shadowy outline of the driver.
He tried unlocking the seatbelt. It clicked free.
“Stop that,” the driver said. There was worry in his tone.
The car jerked along the highway. Streetlights flickered through the windows as snow melted down the glass. The air inside got warmer and harder to breathe.
“Turn this car around!” Mac shouted.
Their speed dipped. The driver seemed nervous. Hesitant.
“Please,” Mac said, watching an exit sign for Scranton flash beyond the window. They were nearing the edge of the zone. “I have a wife, daughter, grandki—agghh!”
The buzzing sensation sharpened to a piercing burn.
“Please,” he said. “My kidneys, they—”
“I know about your kidneys. Now shut it.”
The driver knew. Dear God.
His phone. He had to call 911.
His shoulder ached as he angled his bound hands toward his front pocket. He pinched his phone with two fingers. He had it in his grasp but couldn’t lift it to his face. He’d have to dial 911 behind his back. But how? He couldn’t recall the positioning of the numbers.
Then he remembered the dial button beneath the screen. If he pressed it twice, it would redial his last call—it would call Jenn.
He thumbed the button twice.
No telling if it was dialing.
A pothole rattled the car and shook the phone from his grasp. No!
It clattered to the floor. He had to get it somehow. As he worked on his restraints, his kidneys flared like hot steel in his lower back. He growled through his teeth.
Lying there, he thought about the past twenty years and what little he’d done with them. He’d traded his kidneys so he could quit dialysis and enjoy life. Instead he became the town’s hostage while his wife and daughter left him behind.
Heat rolled through his brain now, as though flaming coals had been dumped down his ear canal. Already the memories started to vanish. He tried to recall his seventieth birthday, but it left him like a balloon floating out of reach.
No, not fully. He still remembered the picnic table. Karen. Jenn. The plastic forks in his side. The laughter in his ears, the smell of their herby shampoos, the smiles on their faces. He had them.
Then began to lose them.
Their faces blurred.
So did Jennifer. No, not yet. He still had her. Still remembered hugging her to his side. Still remembered—
Her smile returned. Gums and teeth and the face around it. He held on tight, trying to remember the rest of her. Her hair tingled against his neck. It smelled of… nothing.
Her hair blurred. Then her eyes. Then her smile.
No more memory. No more Jenn.
The car sped up.
Heat swallowed his kidneys, then his brain. It went blank, but for one thought.
Break on through to the other side.