- What is PSYCHO THRILL?
- The Author
- Psycho Thrill — Unholy Night
- I. O Tannenbaum …
- II. It Will be Dark Soon
- III. I’ll be Home for Christmas
What is PSYCHO THRILL?
PSYCHO THRILL is a series of horror novellas — from the classic ghost story to the modern psychological thriller and dark fantasy. Each of the novellas has been first published in German and has been translated into English for the first time. Among the writers are popular German authors, as well as newcomers to the scene. Each story is self-contained. PSYCHO THRILL is produced by Uwe Voehl.
Timothy Stahl was born in 1964 in the United States. He grew up in Germany, where, among other things, he worked as editor-in-chief at a weekly magazine as well as a youth magazine. He moved back to the States in 1999 and has been focused on thrillers ever since. In 2003, his horror series, WÖLFE (Wolves), won top honors in Bastei’s cross-media contest. Stahl is also a sought-after translator. He lives with his wife and two sons in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The cleaning specialist carried the final box from the attic of the old house in which the owner, an elderly gentleman, had violently taken his own life. Apparently it wasn't enough for the man to hang himself or slit his wrists. Oh no, he had even used a makeshift guillotine to decapitate himself. To make sure he got the job done right.
On the street below, the cleaner tossed the box onto the bed of his semi-truck. This box, like the others from the attic, had been gnawed at by rodents and reeked of mouse droppings and mold. All the cleaner really wanted to do was shove the box back in its place and shut the door, but an old journal tucked between yellowed books caught his attention. Its title was in Gothic script and stood out because it wasn’t a published book and looked as if it’d been hidden away among the faded books. Seeing something like that made the cleaner curious.
In beautiful, antique handwriting, a tab attached to the journal’s cover read: Told in the mountains. Underneath, a touch smaller: Collection of Histories. No author was named.
The cleaner lit a cigarette and opened the journal. It contained handwritten entries scrawled in black or blue ink, many hard to make out due to water stains. While he smoked, he began to read one of the unmarred stories …
A man must have suffered something terrible in his past to flee so far from his homeland. He was from the Orient, said those who had met and spoken with him. The look in his eyes, which were as pitch black as his hair and beard, revealed something haunting, as if he’d been pursued relentlessly, perhaps by Boanlkramer himself.
The mountains were his destination, but everyone told him he shouldn’t go, not in winter when he could so quickly get stranded, and the wolves would be so starved in the snow they’d pounce on anything they could.
But the man refused to listen and fled anyway to the mountains so he could be alone with and get as close as possible to the Lord, with whom he had something to talk about. He had a complaint he wanted to be sure would be heard.
But the others were right. At the entrance into a high valley, a pack of wolves descended upon him. He put up a fierce fight with his walking stick, but was overwhelmed. Soon after he lay lifeless in his own blood.
Just as the wolves were about to feast on the man’s warm flesh, still steaming in the cold, four men from the village entered the valley to hunt game. They saw the stranger lying in the brilliant red snow and scattered the wolves with mighty shouts. They went to the stranger, whose garments hung in tatters soaked in fresh blood, blood that had covered the stranger’s face like a mask, sealing his eyes like wax.
The four village men lifted the rigid body. The man had died so gruesomely, they felt he deserved at least a respectable burial.
They carried the haunted wanderer halfway to the village. As they approached its welcoming lights, however, the two holding the dead man’s feet suddenly cried out, lost their grip, and dropped their end. This frightened the other two so much that they dropped him, too, the body falling hard on the frozen soil. But he was no longer dead. With a jerk, he flung himself up into a seated position and looked at his saviors from eyes whose bloody seals had burst open and shone against his dark face like the snow in which he sat, his body full of gaping wounds …
O Tannenbaum …
Munich, December 17
Winter had come early this year, a winter that would prove to be haunted. It snowed and snowed and snowed.
Standing in the aisle of the packed tram, Adrian Zeger stared out the window into the night, glad he and Marie hadn’t driven up here themselves. It had not been easy to convince Marie to take the tram. She was late into pregnancy and any discomfort was nearly unbearable. But now she beamed at him, her arm, like his, encircling a Nordmann fir wrapped up in netting. The top of the large tree bent under the tram car’s ceiling.
Behind them, two teenage girls were whispering, sending shy glances their way. Adrian didn’t have to hear a word to know what they were saying. He knew well they were asking themselves if “that woman, no, her,” was the pop singer. What was her name again, they wondered.
“You would have heard if Fischer were pregnant,” he overheard, the single sentence rising above the din of the train.
The mix-up was happening more frequently. Marie had grown accustomed to it.
Adrian, on the other hand, didn’t resemble anyone famous. The dark window reflected his face. One of his ancestors must have carried on some Mediterranean genes, and after skipping generations, they came out in Adrian — from his hair color to complexion to temperament. He shuddered at the sight of the gathering snow outside — another confirmation of his Mediterranean tendencies — despite the rather sticky warmth in the tram car.
He watched the cars creep tediously through the ankle-deep snow while the tram lumbered ahead.
“Child, please, sit down,” said an older woman to Marie. She wore a red, knitted hat, and pulled herself up from her seat.
“That’s really not necessary,” Marie replied. “But thank you. That’s very kind of you.”
“Oh, now you do me the pleasure,” the woman insisted. “You have much more to carry than I do.” With one hand, she lifted her barely full shopping bag, and with the other took hold of Marie by the elbow, guiding her with surprising strength to the free seat.
“All right, if you insist.” Marie sat down heavily and with a sigh of relief.
“Well, you see? It is better this way, isn’t it?”
Marie smiled and gave an appreciative nod
“And I’ll help you carry your little tree there.” The friendly woman had now turned to Adrian.
“Little tree?” Adrian let his glance travel up the fir. “I’m afraid this ‘little tree’ will hardly fit in our apartment. I didn’t want this monster, but my wife …”
“Now stop with the complaining already,” Marie interrupted him. “I liked this one best of all. And, in a pinch, a little bit can be sawed off.”
“But then it won’t look as good,” Adrian countered. “Besides, with every inch we saw off, we lose a small fortune.”
“Now stop it. It wasn’t that expensive.” Marie was right on one hand, but on the other, in light of their current financial situation, everything was too expensive. Andrian's small advertising agency generated just enough annual income to live in Munich, but the upturn he’d been hoping for during the holiday season had failed to materialize. This was, of course, partially a result of the fact that Marie, due to some early problems with her pregnancy, had not acquired the range of new clients as was necessary. He could never say that out loud to her, of course, but it was true …
“She’s right, your wife,” asserted the elderly lady, taking the same line. “Don’t make such a face, young man, and be pleased with your beautiful tree, your beautiful wife, and your beautiful child.” She looked down at Marie. “May I ask how far along you are?”
Marie smiled, and Andrian found himself somehow put at ease by it.
“Christmas,” she said.
“A Christ child?” Had she not had to hold the tree with her left hand and the shopping bag with her right, the good woman surely would have clapped her hands in delight. “That’s just …”
Beautiful, she probably wanted to say. But her sentence was cut short by what happened in that moment that drowned out everything else.
First, someone screamed. The cry echoed across the tram, growing ever louder and polyphonic, a sound never to be forgotten.
Then, blinding light poured through the windows from the right, illuminating the passengers' faces as if they were bathed in chalk dust. Square, incandescent eyes stared towards them, growing larger and larger as they approached at furious speed.
Before it was over, a truck sliding across the slick street rammed the tram, sending it reeling off the tracks. The cacophony of screaming once again escalated. Shattered glass and snowflakes glittered together in the headlights.
Adrian felt his body peppered with razor-sharp pellets of hail. He heard himself shouting “Marie,” and then, suddenly, there was no floor under his feet. He flew backward, the fir still locked in his arms. As the tram car buckled from the weight of the collision on the right, the windowpanes on the left also burst. Adrian was swept away by the exploding shards.
No answer as he flew, flew, flew.
He again found himself in the blinding light of the truck before plunging into deep blackness and an explosion of pain so brutal and all-consuming he was sure he could not possibly survive it.
That was Adrian Zeger’s last thought …
… until he slowly, painfully struggled back to consciousness and momentarily longed for blackness, away from the white light that stabbed his eyes and forced him to witness the destruction before him — a horror he didn’t want to see:
The ravaged tram car, a wreck submerged in a flat sea of snow. The semi-truck, looming like a keeled black shadow, its headlights like eyes glaring at the overturned wagon.