In this monstrous collection of thirteen dark fantasy stories, Rob E. Boley presents a diverse array of imaginative, horrifying tales, including several that have never been published. These works feature familiar creatures such as zombies, demons, interdimensional gods, werewolves, vampires, and even zombie werewolves. Boley also introduces some of his own monster creations, such as the man who knows everything, a cursed hole, a heartsick moon, and the woman whose own body is haunted. Beyond the bloodshed, these poignant stories explore themes of loss, love, and lust.
Bizarre, eerie, and relentlessly compelling, Better Alive Than Dead is a treat for fans of dark fantasy, horror monsters, or twisted tales.
- The Hygienist
- A Clown and a Dragon Walk Into a Bar
- Hungry Like the Moon
- And Then, the Hole
- The Harm
- All of the Above
- The Hole in Me
- Low Hanging Sun
- The Cat and the Goldfish
- The Burning Cycle
- The Stink of Animosity
Read an Excerpt from the never before published story, The Hygienist:
The bell above the glass door chimes. The noise always makes her cringe. Catherine lets go of the door and steps into the standard climate of fake wood chairs and neat stacks of old magazines. The waiting room at Sunset Dental Services is every bit as empty as her heart. The night’s cold breeze blows dead leaves ahead of her. The bell jingles again as the door closes behind her. The sound echoes in her empty heart, taking her back to the last time she saw her son, Connor. Maybe after tonight, she can end the pain once and for all. Maybe she’ll be whole again.
The office smells vaguely of candy, the way watermelon gum tastes like watermelon, which is to say, not at all. She kicks the leaves aside and waves to the receptionist, Darlene, a cheerless crone with severe hair and yellowed teeth. Seems like she’s always here, as much a fixture as the sign on the wall: You don’t have to brush all your teeth, only the ones you want to keep!”
“Full moon tonight,” Darlene says. On her dry lips, the words sound like an accusation.
Catherine nods. “Full house?”
Darlene stares at her through horn-rimmed frames. “I just hope we can make it through the night without an incident.”
“We’ll see, won’t we? What time is the final patient?”
She sighs and pockets her keys—clutching them so they don’t jingle. Through the next door, she walks down the hall. The doors to the restroom and the exam rooms are all open, but Doctor’s private office remains shut. Typical. He hides from the patients until he absolutely has to face them. She can’t blame him.
Catherine doesn’t have an office. She’s only a hygienist. She ducks into the bathroom and sits on the toilet.
The room smells of artificial lemons. She rummages in her purse, pulls out a silver flask, and swallows a generous belt of espresso-flavored vodka. She closes her eyes and savors the clean heat. It burns pure behind her breasts. She imagines white-hot flames gnawing at her empty heart. She licks her lips and pops a wad of gum into her mouth. Watermelon. Sure.
Her first patient is scheduled for 9 p.m. Doctor caters to a very particular clientele, the sort that keep late hours, pay well, and have special needs.
The bell above the door never chimes, but sure enough, Darlene offers her standard raspy greeting at 8:59.
“Good evening. Fill out this paperwork and our dental hygienist, Catherine, will be right with you.”
A few minutes later, Catherine spits out her gum and walks down the hall. She opens the door to find a pale, blond-haired woman in the waiting room. She peers at Catherine over a well-worn issue of Entertainment Weekly. Brad Pitt grins from behind a peeling address label. The patient’s wearing too much eyeliner.
“You must be Lisa,” Catherine says.
The patient flashes a smile. “Yes, I absolutely must.”
“Come on back. We’ll be in Exam Room Two.”
Catherine doesn’t bother holding open the hallway door. Instead, she walks straight back to Exam Room Two. Sure enough, Lisa’s already draped in the dental chair. Catherine ignores the theatrics. Such trickery no longer impresses her. It never did.
The room has no windows, though a set of venetian blinds hangs pointlessly on the outside-facing wall. A mural of cartoon sunshine with a wide smile is painted on the space behind the blinds, for the rare occasions when Doctor sees child patients. Right now, the blinds are closed.
Lisa arches an eyebrow at the blinds. “Am I your first victim of the night?”
“Hmm. You are.”
“It’s a full moon. I was surprised I was able to get an appointment.”
“No, they tend to book the later appointments.”
Catherine puts on her mask first, to hide her breath. She slides her hands—no longer shaking—into blue latex gloves. She learned the hard way that pink gloves make the patients aggressive. Blue is the least appetizing color, after all.
“Okay, open up.”
Lisa opens wide, and Catherine can’t help thinking of a bear trap. Her teeth gleam white. Her flawless skin might as well be airbrushed. Catherine resists the urge to run a blue finger down Lisa’s sculpted cheek. She scrapes her probe at some plaque on the right mandibular central incisor but the night’s final appointment weighs on her mind. Not thinking, she reaches for a dental mirror.
“That won’t do you any good,” Lisa says.
“I know. Sorry.” She fumbles the mirror back onto the instrument tray.
“You sure you’re ready for this? I can smell the watermelon on your breath.”
Except she’s not fine. Clearly. The patient—this night and what lies ahead—have her rattled. She accidentally makes eye contact with Lisa, a big mistake.
The patient’s eyes are the color of marble, flecked with sunset pinks and ocean greens. Her pupils become endless holes that have their own gravity. Catherine’s consciousness falls slowly inside that perfect darkness, a rapturous descent as sensuous as feathers over bare skin. Slices of frozen memories slide across her vision, like the photographs that ooze out of photo booths.
Her son walks alongside her through the nighttime woods. The leafless tree limbs shred the pale light from the bloated moon.
Metal jingles as her son hits the ground. The beast stares at her. Its yellow eyes gleam in the dark.
She runs after the monster that took her son. The leaves crunch under her feet. The beast howls in the distance, and she screams helplessly. Hot tears stream down her cheeks.
The images shatter. The darkness recedes.
Catherine’s back in Exam Room Two’s artificial light. She’s sitting next to the patient on the exam chair. Lisa clutches her elbow, keeping her from falling.
Lisa has closed her eyes.
“Look away,” she says, her voice now much deeper and distant.
The two words act like puppet strings, yanking Catherine’s head to the side. She blinks and lets out what sounds like a stifled yawn. She takes a breath, and the patient pats her knee.
“You’ve lost someone,” Lisa says, her voice back to normal.
Catherine can’t look back, not yet. She tries to recall exactly how much the patient saw. The words come out of her, maybe something she heard in a movie or read in a book.
“It’s like having a tooth ripped out,” Catherine says, “except the roots never seem to heal. Everything’s so fake now. Nothing feels real.” She tips her head back and laughs. Not a pleasant sound. “And now I’m talking in bad rhyming poetry.”
Lisa squeezes her hand, her grip cool and strong like a python. “You think you’ll find him here? Would you even want to know him now?”
“He’d be about college-aged.” She jerks her head, as if shaking free of the phantom puppet strings.
Enough of this. She won’t sit here and have this thing fumble with her mind any longer. She retrieves the dental mirror from the floor—she doesn’t remember it falling—and picks up instead the silver sickle-shaped scaler. The curve of its sharp hook gleams under the synthetic light.
“Okay, open up.”
Lisa shrugs and opens her mouth. Her tongue lies flat and pink. She probably fed recently. Catherine presses her finger into the patient’s mouth, adjusting her pretty lips to better see the molars.
“All the way, please.”
The patient’s upper lip curls into a snarl. Her four cuspid teeth, two on top and two below, slide out of the gum line like a cat flexing its claws. The four fangs each have a pink buildup of hard plaque around the gum line.
“You have to do a better job cleaning these,” Catherine says, now scraping with her silver scaler. “Solenoglyph bacteria thrives below the gum line. This is a real problem for your kind.”
The look on Lisa’s face—wide eyes and furrowed brow—tells her that the patient has something to say. She retrieves her fingers from the open mouth.
“I’ve actually seen victims stare at the stains when I flick my teeth,” Lisa says. “Their faces go from shock and horror to revulsion. I never wanted to be gross.”
“You’ll lose your fangs if you don’t take care of them.”
“It’s hard when you can’t see your reflection.” It doesn’t appear she’s being defensive, just pointing out a fact.
“You do well enough with your makeup.”
“Do I?” She half-smiles. “I worry that perhaps I go overboard with the eye liner.”
Catherine chuckles. “You look great. At least you’re not wearing that damned body glitter. That stuff gets everywhere. You wouldn’t believe the places I’ve found it—sometimes days after a cleaning.”
Lisa snarls. “Ever since those damn books came out.”
The rest of the night is more of the same—a parade of freaks and creatures, some coming from as far as five states away. Doctor has a reputation among this community. By the end of the night, her feet throb. Her flask is near empty. The next to last patient just about slays her. Not even a surgical mask can block the stench of a mummy’s breath.
Her final patient arrives at 4:19 a.m. Their kind is always running late . . .