Title: The Angel Baby
Author: Michael Swanson
Publisher: Renaissance E Books
Welcome Michael Swanson. I'm so thrilled to have you here! To get started, what is your latest offering?
My newest horror novel is The Angel Baby
What is The Angel Baby all about?
A district attorney investigating the murder of a little girl, is drawn into a strange alliance with two amateur ghost hunters on the trail of an evil presence. Tracking the origin of the entity back to nineteenth century New Orleans and later to Galveston, Texas during the aftermath of the Great Storm of 1900, in the present day, the ghost hunters and the DA become embroiled in a terrifying struggle for survival.
That sounds spooky and intriguing. Was there anything in particular that inspired this book, or did your muse come up with it?
Tragically, a couple of years ago, the body of a little girl washed up on an island in Galveston Bay. During the ensuing investigation and trials of her killers, the thought came to me, “What If?” “What if” this hadn’t been a sweet child, but a demonic presence? And “What if” her “killers” were actually acting in self-defense, trying to save themselves from a truly malevolent entity that takes the form of a small child?
Okay...that gave me the heebie jeebies. Moving on-- Who is your cover artist and how much input did you have in the design?
The cover artist is David Park of Design Kreative. I had a great deal to do with the initial concept, and provided a number of photographic resources David used as inspiration for his final design.
If you could co-author a book with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Shirley Jackson! Yes, there are pro horror writers out there like Stephen King and Anne Rice, but Shirley Jackson is the Rembrandt of scaring the *%&#$^ out of a reader. Her opening for “The Haunting of Hill House” has to be one of the best pieces of writing since … “To be, or not to be.”
What books are in your TBR pile?
The Ambient E should be out by the end of February. It’s a about a mysterious presence calling in song requests to a popular satellite radio program. When the song requests air, they manifest themselves across society with a vengeance. As a parallel plot, the singer for a small Indy rock group discovers a trove of 13th century musical manuscripts. Each song is destined to become a worldwide hit, launching the band into true international superstar status. Who is making these requests, and why did the singer find these manuscripts? The Ambient E asks the question, can music be a force for good or evil. After all … “Hath not music charms to sooth the savage breast.”
When you begin a new book, do you write it straight through, or do you work on more than one story at a time?
Sometimes straight though, sometimes I have to put it on hold if another “paying gig” comes up.
Tell me a little about your backlist, and which of these is your own personal favorite?
My sci-fi thriller, Farlight was a Fiction Wise best-seller in ‘05, only 1 down from the Da Vinci code for the month of March. Evil Heights has also done well, and is due to be rereleased soon as a two-volume publisher’s special edition. I also write erotica under the pen name: M. Millswan. My collection of short storie,: The Best of M. Millswan has the all-time internet hit Snap Shot. Over 740,000 on-line readers have read Snap Shot, with many calling it not only the best erotic story they’ve ever read, but one of THE best stories they’ve ever read in any genre. After more than four years as number one in its category, the continuing rave response from readers over Snap Shot I find phenomenal. Tabu, recently released by Renaissance E books and available at Amazon.com is another personal favorite.
That's pretty impressive! What are you working on at the moment?
I’m finishing up the final edit on The Ambient E. Then I’ll get to work on the sequel to The Angel Baby. And I also will finish up a new erotic story, Upon the Emerald Isle.
Thank you for joining me, Michael, if I twist your arm would you give us an excerpt? J
In this excerpt from The Angel Baby, the two ghost hunters have their first confrontation with the evil entity.
"Ray?" Noel reached over to grip his partner's wrist. "I got a feeling this ain't no foolin' around. We got us the real thing going on here. There's something down that hall, and it ain't no little half–seen, creepy shadow. I can't believe what I'm feeling. Man, my heart's beating like hell and gone. And I feel like I'm about to shit a brick."
Normally, Ray was hell–on–wheels to rush towards any sound, but when he came to life, he now moved hesitantly. Coming up to peer down into the pitch dark hallway, as he did, the terrible scratching and rasping ceased, but the static and subtle background drone of the organ remained. There wasn't enough room for both men to walk through the doorway side by side. And as they stepped through, Noel followed as closely to Ray's side as possible, each of them swinging the beams of their headlamps from side to side.
Carried with the crackle of static was a hiss, not coming from any one place but seemingly an integral part of the darkness itself. Here in the hall, the walls had once been painted something like a carnation pink, but were now just filthy. Abandoned hooks and wall anchors, and darker shadowy outlines showed were pictures had once hung. Together, Ray and Noel moved up to stand in front of the open door which led into the main bathroom. Flashing their lights inside it was empty; nothing could be seen except for the toilet and the bathtub with its shower rod but no curtain.
"Hey! Hey!" Whispering, Ray nudged Noel with his elbow. "Weren't these bedroom doors all left open?"
Nodding, Noel, too responded in a hush. "Man, you and I both know they were all still open when we walked out of here."
Even more chilling than what they'd experienced in the living room, suddenly the awful cold was back. It closed in around them along with a darkness which was so profound it seemed to swallow up the light from their headlamps.
"Oh, shit, man!" Noel's teeth actually chattered. "Goddamn, Ray! It's cold as hell in here! My meter says it's fuckin' zero degrees. Zero fuckin' degrees! And that radio, where the hell is that sickly organ coming from? What the hell is going on?"
Ray himself was visibly shivering, though if it was from the cold or something else only he could know.
"Don't you feel it, Ray?” Suddenly, Noel wasn't paying attention to the device in his hand. “Man, we're not alone here." He looked all around, even suddenly checking over his shoulder to see if someone was behind them.
The meter in Ray's hand was rattling as he shook. "Feel what? All I feel is the cold. Whatever's going on, something is drawing a hell of a lot of thermal energy out of the air."
"No, not the cold." There was no hiding the grim tone in Noel's voice. "Not even that damn organ. It's a presence … a sickness. It's gone sick all around us."
Ray coughed, looking around before he spoke. "You're right, Noel. I can feel it, too. I've never experienced anything even remotely like this before. It is like a sickness. Like the entire house and air and everything is infected with something … something … I don't know what. And this cold … it's … it's … like a damn meat locker."
"Aw–w–w, shit, man! Aw–w–w, shit! Noel's voice cracked as he repeated himself. "I don't believe what I'm seeing!" Stretching out his arm, he pointed with his entire hand down at the far bedroom door. "Will you look at that?"
Ray added the beam of his head lamp to Noel's, and for the first time since they'd been investigating together Noel experienced the big man take a quick step back.
The closed bedroom door at the end of the hall didn't extend all the way to the floor, and there was a gap of a couple of inches between the wood and the carpet. Gray and grisly there was no mistaking that fingers were extending out from below.
Ray rarely if ever cussed. But he did now, and tthe force in his voice was every bit as strong as his language. "Is that for fuckin' real?"
Somehow, Noel managed to make what he said next come out as both a question and a statement. "Ray, there's somebody in there!"
The noise and awful cold forgotten, in stunned shock they both stood their ground in the pitch dark of the hallway staring down at a set of child–sized fingers reaching out from under the door. Illuminated in the beams of their headlamps was the middle, index and pointer fingers. They were white, fish belly white, and the creases of the knuckle joints and around the fingernails were lined a filthy, inky black. There was no mistaking they were the fingers of a child. And as Ray and Noel watched, they were reaching up from under the door, now scratching and picking ravenously at the wood.
As the scratching increased in intensity, Ray shook his head. "So what do we do, Noel?"
"Shit, man," Noel spat. "How the hell should I know?"
Ray was keeping his attention focused on those fingers. "I thought you'd experienced all those bad–assed ghosts down in New Orleans?"
Noel had remembered his camera and was now looking through the viewfinder as the "record" LED lit up and began to glow red. "I’ve seen some moving shadows and shit like that. But, god's honest truth Ray, I ain't never seen nothing like this!"
"Maybe there really is someone in there?" was Ray's reply.
As if on some kind of cue, Noel took his eye away from the camera's viewfinder and both men looked to each other. What they communicated didn't need saying.
Ray swallowed dryly. "I'm going in."
There was something so rabid and wild in the way the fingers ticked and picked, and scratched. Pieces of wood were being stripped off and scattered about on the floor.
Noel was right with Ray as they slowly approached the door. When they were only a few steps away the fingers snapped back into the darkness, leaving all the scattered bits of wood and fresh chips as evidence that they had indeed seen what they'd seen.
Noel let his camera dangle from the cord about his neck as he reached out for the doorknob.
"No, let me." Ray stepped up. "I'm scared as shit, but I've been waiting for this all my life."
In the light from his head lamp, Noel could see Ray's fingers shaking as the big man's hand reached for the door knob. All about them in the pitched blackness it was bitterly cold. Illuminated by their headlamps, every breath from both men came as plume of frost. With the fingers no longer picking at the wood the static and ghostly drone of the organ had ceased. It had gone quiet now, deadly still, and the knowledge of what they might find when Ray threw open that door weighed as heavy as the awful silence all around.
Wincing, Ray tapped, then gripped the knob. "Cold! Goddamn, it's cold as hell!"
Sometimes, when Noel was truly nervous it wasn't only his French Cajun accent but a wry sense of humor would emerge. "Then don't lick it."
For just a brief second it was as if a semblance of reality returned as Ray looked down incredulously to the smaller man. "Lick it? Have you gone insane?"
Noel gathered himself in a defensive crouch. "Just open the door, Ray!" Having again taken up his camera dangling about his neck, Noel held it in one hand and had his EMF meter in the other. "I'm ready."
In the split seconds just before Ray twisted the knob and pulled open the door both men experienced similar brief flashes of intense imagination. Everything from an empty room to an actual "who–knows–what–horror" held the potential of being seen. Yet surely, deep down, despite the fingers they had both witnessed, based upon years of frustration, all either of them truly expected to see was an empty room, the stained walls, the tired bed and busted chest of drawers. Not this time, though. Ray brought the door open, and there was something in there. It was right out in the open, by the footboard of the bed. It was standing there and facing them; they stared at it, and menacingly it glared back.
No more than three feet tall it appeared to be a girl. Ghastly, grim, her skin a hideous gray–white, she was truly a frightening sight. This wasn't some vague vaporous mist or a quick, fleeting shadow. It was possessed of actual form, a little girl, or what might once have been a little girl. There was no question but that the thing was dead as the sour air in the frigid room reeked of death and decay. Above was an abundance of those nasty moths, and below there she was, not hiding, not shrinking back, not some quick flash of a misty phantom caught only out of the corner of one's eye. Entirely unnatural, from head to toe her skin was gray–white, from under a wet rock, putrid, maggot white. Her yellow eyes were streaked with red, yet her hair was sweet ringlets of golden blonde. And she was entirely naked; the details of her body shockingly exposed, starkly raw, openly pornographic.
With both men crowded in the doorway, Ray, as if mesmerized and in slow motion let his hand fall from the doorknob.
For Noel, just as he had experienced in the bathroom earlier, the power of the details that burned themselves into his mind in these few quick seconds of initial confrontation were entirely surreal. The stalks of her legs led down to her bare feet, the blackened toenails resembling something from the paws of a filthy dog. Beneath her skin the veins were purple, and her belly button bulged out like a disgorged tumor. There was such a ferocity to her eyes; and the way she hung her head with her chin down, glaring angrily up at them was as hateful as a sick, rabid animal. At the sides of her thighs those tiny fingers which had reached out from under the door were now clenched into fists of stone. And she appeared to be breathing, panting; each rib sliding underneath the skin as her rib cage expanded and contracted.
Noel was no longer looking through the camera's viewfinder. He'd come out of his crouch and was standing next to Ray, his mouth gaping open as wide as his eyes. It wasn't simply the sight of the thing which was so terrifying; there was a disturbed sense to the room, as if her presence was infecting everything about her with a hateful malevolence. And as if it could be possible not to look, her nakedness was an affront to everything natural. Perhaps starvation had been the cause of death as the stark exposure of the bones of her hips and pelvis drew the eyes to a sight best left unseen.
It was all so impossibly unreal … it couldn't be real. Seething with a blind rage she sneered at them, her lips black and her teeth and tongue even blacker within. Then suddenly she moved, coughing. Then turning her head she spat blood, the splash of crimson sticking then sliding down the wall.
It was Noel who saved them. In a reaction every bit as quick as a lightening flash he came to life the instant she moved, letting go of his camera and slamming the door shut. It all happened in a blur as but a half a heartbeat later there came a crash of elbows and knees impacting the door, followed by screaming and clawing, which had both men clinging to the doorknob attempting to keep the door closed at all costs.
"Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh Shit!" Noel had even braced a knee against the wall as he and Ray held on. "What the hell is that thing in there, Ray?"
"What ever it is." Ray's arms were straining. "We're not letting it the hell out!"
The noise from behind the door was horrific. It wasn't just the shrieks and screams; there were what sounded to be words, too. Guttural, bestial and heavily foreign, it wasn't necessary to understand the words to know that whatever was behind the door was royally pissed off. Along with the stream of unintelligible rage it was pounding and pounding, twisting at the knob and beating ravenously upon the shuddering wood. Kicking, screaming, tearing with its fingers and nails the guttural syllables became an angry roar, made that much worse as it was from the shrill voice of a child. And though the door was closed, Noel could see it. In his mind he could see the thing in its fury. And seeing what he could see he wasn't about to let it out.
"What are we going to do, Ray?" Inches away Noel peered into Ray's eyes. "We've got no way to keep the door closed if we let go."
From the sharp pounding it was now apparent it was using the flats of its hands to slap at the wood.
Each still gripping his EMF meter, Noel had his free right hand on the knob, and Ray's free right hand was over his. "Go to the van, Noel!" Ray now braced his own knee against the wall. "There's a nail gun! We'll nail the damn thing in!"
Again, both men locked eyes. "Can you hold the door by yourself?" Noel asked. "The last thing we want is for that thing to get out!"
Ray pocketed his EMF meter and immediately placed the free hand over Noel's. At the split second Noel let go, both of Ray's hands entirely swallowed up the knob. "Just go!" Ray hollered. "Get the damn gun!"
Down the hall, through the living room, and out the front door and into the night, Noel raced to the van. Throwing open the side door, amongst the coils of copper tubing and tanks of AC coolant there was a milk crate with various tools. Noel grabbed the nail gun and turned about just in time to see Ray come flying out of the front door. The light from his headlamp bobbing before him, the big man was size in motion. Passing through the door, his right hand clipped the door frame, and his EMF meter burst into a thousand pieces.
"Go! Go! Go!" Ray was screaming. "We're getting the hell out of here!"