Today sees the release of John Shepphird’s Bottom Feeders, a new horror/thriller novel about a killer who haunts the set of a low-budget horror film and dispatches them with a compound bow. To celebrate the release from Blackstone Publishing, we’ve got an exclusive excerpt from the opening of the novel, which you can read below.
“A page-turning whodunit set in the wilds of a remote movie ranch, Bottom Feeders describes the hapless Hollywood cast and crew that eke out a living working on low-budget fare. Their ambitious TV movie needs to be made fast and cheap, but a brutal murder grinds production to a halt. An approaching forest fire forces everyone to evacuate. In the confusion, not everyone gets out. Eddie is the alcoholic director, Sheila the vulnerable camera assistant, Tom the self-centered actor, and Sondra the spurned sheriff’s deputy. Who will survive? Death comes sudden and silent. The camouflaged killer’s weapon-of-choice is a high-tech hunting bow capable of firing razor-sharp arrows four hundred feet per second. The mysterious assassin has an agenda. Those left behind must find out what it is and who is behind this bloody slaughter in the fight for their lives.”
Shepphird is no amateur when it comes to B-horror. The author is also the writer and director of Chupacabra Terror and the director of Jersey Shore Shark Attack.
It had been a year since his last cigarette—before the doctor gave Ted the fright. The message was loud and clear. He’d stopped smoking, tried to exercise more, and worked on eating a low-cholesterol diet. But this was fate; a half pack of Marlboros left behind in the leather console of his rental car, a book of matches tucked snugly in the pristine cellophane. Once Ted caught the scent of the ripe tobacco—what the hell. This was a seductive gift from the gods. His wife would never know.
The only dilemma: there was no ashtray.
Always the problem solver, Ted fashioned a crude paper triangle out of the Hertz rental contract. Proud of his origami ingenuity, he put flame to the cig and savored the smoke, a warming sensation he hadn’t experienced in a long, long time.
Ted was the Vice President of Sales for Artemis Industries, a pharmaceutical research firm, headed to the Advances in Immunodiagnostic Assays Conference. The sky was overcast, threatening rain, and it was getting dark. Upgraded from a midsize SUV to a luxury sport vehicle, he maneuvered the Mazda up the windy mountain road. This car had guts. It made Ted feel powerful.
Tonight, he would go through the tedious motions of pinning on his name tag, flashing his always-professional smile, and making an appearance at the welcome cocktail reception. In his midfifties and carrying more paunch then he cared to admit, Ted would suffer through the speech-laden dinner and, afterwards, obligatory drinks and forced camaraderie in the hotel bar. It went with the job—employment he sensed would not last long. The batch of young salesmen among the ranks would ultimately prove to be a cheaper solution. There had already been one round of downsizing. It was the company’s health insurance he needed most, for his wife’s treatment. Ted long ago came to realize he was, sadly, a slave to medical benefits. With luck, maybe he could squeak out another four or five years before being forced to retire.
He so hated that this year’s conference was up in Lake Arrowhead. The Granite Springs Hotel & Spa, for Chrissake! Did someone’s fat-assed secretary pick the destination? What the hell? Last year the conference was at the Westin in Palm Springs, with golf, so why this sudden change in venue? More wasted time and bullshit.
Now Google Maps on his iPhone wasn’t working. Bad directions had him searching for a street sign. He hadn’t seen another vehicle for a while. Something told him he had taken a wrong turn.
He struck a match and was igniting a second cigarette when BAM!
The deer smashed into the windshield, cracked the glass, and flew over the top of the car. The airbag inflated into his face and he slammed the brakes. The Mazda slid sideways onto the rocky shoulder before coming to a stop.
Getting out, he first heard the deer squealing before he saw the poor, wounded animal writhing on the black pavement. He examined the rental car—its grill was shattered, hood mangled, windshield fractured. There was even bloody fur caught in the satellite-radio antenna.
Fucking thing came out of nowhere.
He approached the wounded animal.
One large, glassy eye stared back at him in pure terror. It was trying to get up but its hind leg was bent back grotesquely. There was blood coming out of its mouth and it was shaking in a spasm.
Ted felt nauseous and wondered if he was going to throw up. He reached for his cell phone to dial 9-1-1. No service. Shit. He stepped closer. The animal’s desperate whine subsided. It was now wheezing, chest heaving, struggling at the edge of death.
It broke Ted’s heart. He felt incredibly guilty. This is all my fault. If he hadn’t gone for another cigarette maybe he could have swerved to avoid the damn thing.
There was a milky secretion coming out of the deer’s eyes. Tears?
Ted felt helpless and didn’t know what to do. Then it came to him. Put it out of its misery. It’s the humane thing to do.
He searched the side of the road, came across a good-sized rock. He picked it up with both hands—figured it was probably heavy enough to crush the animal’s skull. As he approached, the deer tried to scramble away but its hooves gained little traction on the pavement and loose gravel.
With both hands, he raised the hefty rock above his head.
That big eye stared back.
He brought the rock down. The blow was not a direct hit and the deer panicked, flopping like a fish out of water. Ted picked up the rock again and brought it down with even more force. That blow disfigured the animal’s skull but it was still quivering in a violent, horrible spasm.
Tears streaming, he picked up the rock again, hefted it high, and brought it down again with all his might. The sound was crunchy and the deer moved no more.
Finally. Thank God.
Gasping for air and now covered in sweat, Ted turned away and vomited. He could taste the cigarette in his bile.
Bent over, hands on his knees, catching his breath, he looked up, surprised to see a Ford Explorer idling forty yards up the road.
There was a faint silhouette—someone in the driver’s seat.
Wiping his mouth with his sleeve, he found it odd the SUV just sat there. He wondered how much of the incident the driver had seen. Ted moved toward it, waving his arms for help.
The Explorer backed up, spun around, and was off.
Ted watched as it disappeared around the bend. Whoever it was must have seen him killing the deer—probably spooked. The only sound was the wispy wind through the trees. He tried his cell phone again. Still no reception.
Ted returned to the rental car and discovered a flat tire. He decided he better change it before it got dark. In the meantime, hopefully, someone would come along and drive him back to civilization.
He opened the trunk and lifted the carpet. He could not believe how rinky-dink the spare tire was. He retrieved the mini jack and lug wrench, and pried the plastic hubcap off. They sure as hell don’t make cars like they used to. Moments later he had the lug nuts loose and was on one knee, struggling with the scissor jack.
That’s when he heard a loud pop beside him.
An arrow stuck out of the car’s quarter panel. Arrow? Is someone hunting deer? Then a sharp pain ripped into his back.
He spun around, reached back and felt the shaft. Fuck! A second arrow hit him in the chest. He grabbed that one’s black carbon shaft and could feel the sharp point wedged between his ribs, an icy sensation.
Oh, God! Run.
Ted made a break for the opposite side of the road. He reached the tall weeds when the third arrow ripped into his lower back and sent him tumbling. Falling hard, he drove the other arrow deeper into his chest. He tried to scramble to his feet but somehow had lost control of his legs.
I’m going to die.
Ted tried again but his legs failed him, as if stuck in mud. Heaving, in shock, his lungs burned as he heard someone approach behind him. All he could make out was a dark figure, in silhouette, standing over the fallen deer.
He watched as the figure set down the bow and picked up the rock.
Ted crawled, tried to reach the trees. Hide. Get away.
Hearing footsteps near, Ted rolled back. Hands up, defensive, he eyed the silhouette and big rock raised against the murky sky.
“I didn’t mean it … I …”
An explosion—then all went black. After the ringing in his ears faded away, he could hear a peaceful wind brushing the trees.
Then there was nothing.