I couldn't believe my luck. I stepped forward and pushed my hard-won copy of "Back Door to Hell" across the table.
"This is the last one, Mr. King," Rhonda, the store manager said to the tired cheers of the other three authors.
King gave me a weary smile. "Last in line, huh? That must have been a hell of a wait. We're lucky to have fans like you."
The co-authors, Dean Koontz, Neil Gaiman, and Danielle Steel nodded their agreement with varying degrees of enthusiasm. King was right. It had been a long day for all of them.
"I'd have waited for days to meet any one of you," I said, with a polite smile to Steel. "I couldn't miss the chance to meet all thr... all of you. I've read just about everything you've written. I really liked Faerie Tale, Mr. Koontz. I don't think the critics gave it a fair shake."
Koontz mouthed "Faerie Tale," searching the ceiling for something to jog his memory.
"I think I wrote that one," King said.
"No, you pack of apes," Steel sighed. "That's Card's story."
"No. No, I think I remember it now," Koontz said. "It had the guy with the dog and the shy, telekinetic chick from Atlantis. No, wait... cockroaches!"
King rolled his eyes. "They aren't even drunk, yet," he said under his breath. He hefted his Mont Blanc and opened the book cover. "What's your name?"
"Mark. Mark Greene."
King signed the book, tapping his finger on the cover and murmuring my name.
"Steve, we're waiting," Gaiman said.
"Pass the damned book, King. I'm numb from the ass down, and I need a cigar," Steel croaked.
"Got it! You wrote that story for Horror Hags magazine."
"Uh," I was gobsmacked. Stephen King had read my story. He remembered my name from three years ago. It had been my first and last published story.
"Must be a different Mark Greene," he said when I didn't respond.
"No, I wrote it. I just never imagined that you would have read it."
King jumped up and shook my hand. "Only about twenty times. Guys! He wrote that story I told you about. Apoca... something. It had chocolate Easter Bunny zombies. Achocolypse Now!"
For half an hour King scolded me for giving up writing, and insisted I join their next anthology. We would each collect several items and experiences in a gristly scavenger hunt, and then discuss our findings at a weekly book club meeting at King's Chinese buffet.
Re-reading the list he gave me, I wasn't sure I understood. Could this be for real? I had always wondered if my dream of being a horror writer was just a way to sate my murderous impulses, or if I felt the impulses because I was a horror writer at heart. My strange urges finally made sense.
After a sleepless night of soul-searching, I dove headlong into the project. I ended things with Becky, my girlfriend of three years who had encouraged me to quit writing and get a real job. She gave me a piece of her mind and threw me out, but I stole her heart before I left. I took it with me in a little red picnic cooler.
Some items on the list were easier than others. The jogger's left foot was fairly simple. Runners are creatures of habit. The homeless man's liver-I hope it was his liver-was messy, but also easy enough. Of everything on the list, however, I'd have never guessed finding a married prostitute could be so hard.
I was beginning to see the benefits of really getting into character for a story. There are so many things I would never have considered without literally stepping into the shoes of my protagonist.
The night of our serial killer party, I lugged the heavy cooler across the dark parking lot, through the heaviest rain of the year to the back door of King's Wing Dynasty Buffet.
The others sat around a long steel prep table looking at pictures of Koontz with his smiling victims, and showing some of their own.
"The new guy brought beer," Steel said.
"What's in the box?" said Gaiman in a tormented impersonation of Brad Pitt. Everyone laughed except Steel. She leaned forward to get a closer look at my cooler.
"He's making a good impression," Koontz said. "King stocks only the worst beers of the world in this joint. Whatever he brought must be better."
My face paled. Sweat beaded on my forehead. The pictures on the authors' iPads were all of smiling, unsuspecting citizens, focused on the body parts needed for the scavenger hunt. Pictures? They weren't killers like me, after all. What had I done?
Steel opened my cooler and gasped, horrified.
"Jesus, Greene," Gaiman said in a hollow, disgusted voice.
"I'm going to be sick," Koontz added.
"Guys, I..." I'd have to kill them, too. My heroes. My favorite authors.
Painful seconds of silence ticked by. Gaiman laughed first. "Ahhhhh? The look on your face! Priceless."
"Priceless," King said. "Fucking priceless!" He dragged the bloody cooler into the walk-in freezer where the others' gruesome collections occupied wire shelves.
Steel's face still betrayed a touch of disapproval. Was I going to have to kill her after all?
"This is just sloppy, newbie. Next time use freezer bags."
I let out a relieved breath. "Assholes!" I gasped. "You got me. You got me good." I grabbed the edge of the table as my knees buckled. This was going to be a killer anthology.
I hope you enjoyed this little tale. Feel free to comment (and vote) if you have the urge, or if you've ever carried a body part in a cooler.
My friend ShaunAllan has written a Stephen King story, too, and if you enjoyed this one, you'll love his. Go read it right now! Scoot!
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The Stephen King Book ClubHorror
Flash fiction about a reader who meets his favorite authors at a book signing and goes to great lengths to impress them. Big thanks to @TharronSkylor for the new cover art!!!