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Authors: Ronald Kelly

Midnight Grinding

BOOK: Midnight Grinding
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Copyright © 2009 by Ronald Kelly


The following selections were previously published: “Breakfast Serial” in
Terror Time Again
, 1988; “Miss Abigail’s Delicate Condition” in
1988; “Forever Angels” in
Cemetery Dance
, 1988; “Yea, Though I Drive” in
Cold Blood,
1991; “The Web of La Sanguinaire” in
1988; “The Cistern” in
Cemetery Dance,
1990; “Papa’s Exile” in
1988; “The Hatchling” in
Tri-State Fantasist,
1989; “Black Harvest” in
After Hours,
1989; “Dead Skin” in
1990; “Consumption” in
Thin Ice,
1989; “Dust Devils” in
2AM Magazine,
1989; “The Boxcar” in
After Hours
, 1989; “The Dark Tribe” in
Tri-State Fantasist
, 1989; “Old Hacker” in
New Blood
, 1989; “The Winds Within” in
Cemetery Dance,
1990; “Oh, Sordid Shame” in
1990; “The Cerebral Passion” in
Eldritch Tales,
1991; “Thinning the Herd” in
2AM Magazine,
1992; “Blood Suede Shoes” in
Shock Rock,
1992; “Tyrophex-Fourteen” in
The Earth Strikes Back
, 1994; “Scream Queen” in
Hot Blood: Seeds of Fear
, 1995; “Bookmarks” in
, 1991; “Romicide” in
Cemetery Dance
, 1996; “Whorehouse Hollow” in
Dark Seductions
, 1993; “Depravity Road” in
1991; “Beneath Black Bayou” in
Dark at Heart
, 1992; “Exit 85” in
Cemetery Dance
, 1996; “Grandma’s Favorite Recipe” in
Cemetery Dance,
2008; “Midnight Grinding” in
Borderlands 3,


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.


Cemetery Dance Publications

132-B Industry Lane, Unit #7

Forest Hill, MD 21050


The characters and events in this book are fictitious.

Any similarity to real persons, living or dead,

is coincidental and not intended by the author.


First Digital Edition Printing


ISBN-13: 978-1-58767-239-2


Cover Artwork © 2009 by Alex McVey

Digital Design by DH Digital Editions










For my number-one fan and my best friend,

Rob McCoy.

Thank you for making me feel good about

myself and my writing once again.












When first meeting you, folks down South are liable to ask you one of three questions.

“Are you kin to those no-account (insert your surname here) who live down yonder in the hollow?”

“What do you do for a living?”

“Do you attend church and—if you don’t—why the hell not?”

It’s that second one that usually trips me up.

“I’m a writer,” I tell them. Then they get that look. You know, like when you crank up your motor on a frosty winter morning and discover a possum had cozied up against the warm engine block the night before, between the fan belt pullies. It ain’t a pretty sight.

“What do you write?” they ask next.

“Oh, you know…horror. Scary stories.”

The look on their face grows even more severe then. If it’s a church lady you are talking to, it’s even worse.

devil worshiper
, their eyes gleam smugly.
Spawn of Satan.

You wouldn’t believe how many times that comes up in my line of work, although I’m as God-fearing as the next person, or maybe even more so.

Perhaps I ought to just tell them I’m a storyteller. That would simplify matters. Where I come from, folks understand the nearly-lost art of telling an entertaining story. They wouldn’t ask if I was rich or famous; they would merely nod in understanding and leave it at that.

The South holds high regard for storytellers. Not that there are as many around as there once was. Like other rural arts—quilting, canning, whittling—its appeal has waned among the young in favor of television, video games, and the Internet. And that’s a downright shame, in my opinion.

I had some hellacious storytellers on both sides of my family, before they went on to meet their maker…or that other fella with the forked stick. They could curl your hair and your toes at the same time, and stick a generous helping of goosebumps and belly laughs in between. Good storytelling deals with folklore and history, the Jesus-believing gospel and snipe-hunting bull. You hear everything from adultery, thievery, and vice, to tales of backwoods ghosts and things that creep unseen beneath carpets of heavy kudzu.

About the finest storyteller I ever came across was my grandmother, Clara Spicer. She knew how to spin a whopper of a tale, one after another, without stopping to catch her breath. I recall sitting on the front porch of her house when I was a young’un, listening to her for two or three hours at a time, enraptured, as though her words were a portal into a different—darker—time.

And the tales she would tell! The one about the simple-minded gent who carried his empty pinewood casket constantly across his back…the little girl she had played with who had fallen off a stone wall into a thick patch of devil’s ear cactus and died three days later as the quills worked their way slowly toward her innards…the ghostly sound of kindling falling into a woodbox that drifted from a long-abandoned house and the knowledge that a woman had been bludgeoned to death by a stick of firewood there many years ago.

And then there was Green Lee.

My grandmother’s uneasy memories of a deranged handyman with a skeletal hand and a fetish for honed steel were fact, which made the character that much more disturbing. It was that tale…more than any other…that sparked my desire to take on the art of storytelling myself…not vocally, but through the written word. Not that anything in this volume can be considered “high-minded” literature. No, they’re just tales to haunt and mortify, and maybe even gross you out every now and then.

So kick off your shoes and sit a spell. Open your mind to the darkness that a Southern night might bring…out of the hills and hollows…the deep woods…the swamps and the places where shadow never gives way to daylight.

Let me tell y’all a story…






I included this tale because it was the first story I had published and hardly anyone has read it. It is kind of fun, in a twisted sort of way. Just goes to show that you’d better be mighty careful who you share your ham and eggs with in the morning.



Chester Freely had been kicking around the dusty rural backroads of northern Alabama for many days and early that Saturday morning he sat down to breakfast with a charming farm family by the name of Johnson.

“Danged fine cook, my Emma…don’t you think so, boy?” beamed Fred Johnson contentedly. He pushed away from the table and patted his swollen belly.

“Oh, yes, sir,” Chester agreed. He gave Mrs. Johnson an appreciative smile. “Best home-cooked meal I’ve had in quite awhile, ma’am.”

“Glad you enjoyed it, young man. More biscuits and molasses with your coffee?”

“No, thanks. I’m stuffed.”

The twins, Randy and Rita, waved empty jelly-jar glasses at their mother. “Can we have some more chocolate milk, Mama? Please?”

Emma Johnson eyed them in a moment of indecision, then broke into a smile. “Well, maybe just one more glass for each of you.” She walked toward the refrigerator at the other side of the kitchen.

“I sure appreciate you helping me mend that fence along the south pasture this morning,” said Fred. He had already milked the cows and slopped the hogs, when Chester had wandered up the road and offered to lend a hand.

“My pleasure,” nodded the lanky drifter. “Kinda hard to find good honest work when you’re on the road as much as I am. Sure glad to help out folks whenever I can.”

The Johnsons smiled at their guest, unaware of the secret he held. A secret that he concealed well behind a handsome, good-natured smile of his own.

Chester Freely was a serial killer.

He had been at it going on three years now and, by his count, had murdered nearly forty-two families; families very much like the Johnsons. He did one a month, sometimes two if he found the opportunity. And he never murdered in the same state twice in a row. He would do one in Minnesota, then one in California, another in Texas, still another in Maine. He staggered them out across the country, never leaving a definite pattern, never performing his atrocities in exactly the same manner. Perhaps that was why the authorities hadn’t wised up to him yet. Either that or pure dumb luck.

Now he was sitting in a cheerful kitchen in a lonely farmhouse twenty miles north of Birmingham. He liked the South almost as much as he liked the Midwest, for it was there where his victims lived in great abundance. The requirements were always the same: a hard-working, God-fearing farmer and his modest family who lived on acreage so vast that his closest neighbor lived quite a ways down the road. In other words, a small group of people who were totally isolated in their everyday routine. Sometimes his victims were so far out in the sticks that they weren’t discovered for several days. By then he was three or four states away, satisfied for the moment, but secretly contemplating his next massacre.

Chester was rarely treated to such a fine meal as the one Emma Johnson had prepared that morning. After saying grace, they dug in. Scrambled eggs, country-cured ham, big cathead biscuits, and all the black coffee he could drink. At first he had nearly considered letting this one pass, but decided otherwise. It was nearing the end of the month and he was desperately in need of the physical and emotional rush that wholesale murder gave him. The gruesome sight of blood and mutilation intoxicated him much like some potent drug, placing him in the same category as a junkie in constant search of a fix.

A faint whimper and a scratching at the back door drew their attention. Chester grinned. He had been mulling over his execution of today’s bloodletting all during breakfast and now it came to him, suddenly and without warning, almost causing him to laugh out loud.

“Mrs. Johnson, do you mind if I carve off a slab of this ham for my dog?’ Chester asked politely. “He hasn’t had a bite since yesterday.” He had started traveling with a dog during his second year. Mostly he would befriend some stray he came across while he was on the road. People seemed to trust a stranger more easily when they traveled with a dog. Besides, whenever he got tired of them and needed a cheap thrill, Chester just slaughtered the poor mutts, then tossed them in a ditch or stuffed them in a drainage pipe. But it was never the same as doing a human being.

Emma smiled at her guest warmly. “Why, certainly you can! But let me get you a sharper knife. That one there is kind of dull.” She began to rummage through a counter drawer.

“I’d sure appreciate it,” said Chester calmly. He was so wired now that he could barely sit still. He glanced around the table. Fred Johnson sat back, his belt loosened a few notches, thumbing through a copy of the local, small-town paper. The Johnson children giggled at the sad-eyed dog that peered through the screen door, chocolate milk mustaches splashed broadly beneath their pert, little noses.

This is going to be easy
, Chester thought.
So damned easy.

Emma Johnson started across the spotless linoleum floor, holding the large butcher knife by its wooden handle. “Here you go, young man.”

He had it all worked out now. As soon as he had his fingers wrapped around the haft of the knife, he would turn and sink it deep into Fred’s solar plexus, killing him instantly. Emma would stand there stunned for a second, long enough for him to grab that antique iron skillet that hung beside the knick-knack shelf and brain her enough to knock her flat. He didn’t want her dead just yet. Emma was a drab, homely woman, but she had a nice body. She would be repeatedly raped and tortured before he allowed her to join her husband in death.

By the time their mother hit the floor, Randy and Rita would react in one of two ways.

They would either sit there in shock or they would run screaming for their lives. He hoped for the latter. It was always so much fun hunting children, like a hound running a coon. They all had the mistaken notion that they could hide from him. Sometimes it was under a bed, sometimes behind a tree outside or in the hayloft of the barn. The Johnson Twins had been so polite and loveable throughout his stay, that he figured they were deserving of something special. A beheading perhaps. Yes, either that or dismemberment.

As his perfect hostess approached the table, he reached out, the hairs on the nape of his neck tingling with anticipation. “Thank you very much, Mrs.

He didn’t get a chance to finish his statement. With an upward swipe, sweet Emma Johnson slit his throat from ear to ear.

Chester Freely fell backward out of his chair, an expression of utter surprise dawning on his pale face. He hit hard, splattering blood across the linoleum tiles. His

He wanted to say
“What the hell is going on?”
but that was quite impossible. The blade had sliced clean through his larynx, as well as the major arteries. The only sound that he could make was a wet gurgling as blood engorged his severed windpipe.

Then the children were upon him. Little Randy and Rita laughed playfully, running around the leg of the oaken table with sharp implements. They attacked his abdomen with a bloodlust he himself had rarely possessed. Randy jabbed at him with a butter knife, while pig-tailed Rita impaled him viciously again and again with a fork from Emma’s best silverware.

“That’s enough, kids,” laughed Emma, crouching down to hug her bloodstained babies. “He’s dead now.”

“Look, Papa!” the twins squealed as one. “Look, Papa, look!”

Fred Johnson arched his eyebrows and puffed on his pipe. “My, my, now ain’t that a fine piece of work,” he said proudly. “Couldn’t have done it better myself.”

Emma stared down at the butchered body lying across her kitchen floor. “Such a nice young man. Sure wish we could’ve let him go this time.”

“Now, Emma,” said Fred, stretching lazily. “You know very well if we let one go, it’d have to go for ’em all.”

The woman sighed. “I suppose so. Where are we gonna put this one? The root cellar?”

“Nah, we’ve got them stacked like cord wood down there already. I reckon we oughta start stashing them in the smokehouse now.”

Fred winked at his young’uns. “I’ll tell you kids what. You two help me carry this fellow outside and we’ll clean up and drive into town for ice cream afterwards. How does that sound?”

“Oh boy!”


The children’s blood-speckled faces broke into broad grins as they each grabbed ahold of one of Chester’s trouser legs and began to pull him toward the back door.

BOOK: Midnight Grinding
10.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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