Michael W. Garza is an author with an appreciation for the weird. I like him already.
His novel, The Hand That Feeds, came out late last year through Severed Press. And he's offered up a little excerpt of the first chapter to help whet our appetites. But first, here's a little something about the novel via Goodreads.com:
How far will a parent go to keep their child alive? John and Angela Mason’s lives are brought to a tormenting halt when their ten year old son is reduced to a lifeless shell. John watches his wife slip into madness as his son rises from the dead. He realizes they must escape the terrifying infection in order to survive but how can he choose between the insanity consuming his wife and the undying hunger of his son. An appetite for death will come in one form or another and it will be left to John to decide on the hand that feeds.
THE HAND THAT FEEDS
by Michael W. Garza
Evansville, Kansas …
Alex’s lungs burnt in desperation as he vomited a powerful rush of the rotten, black mulch. Unable to control his body, his bowels released and he felt a warm rush as he struggled for consciousness. In a fit of madness, he pushed with his arms, finding only enough strength to lift
his head. Pain wracked his ten-year-old body.
He heaved with another powerful purge, the force of the motion giving him enough movement to flip himself over on his back. He coughed and gagged on the spewing sludge. The stench clung to him, filling the pores of his skin. He lost the strength to move and laid in the darkness trying to catch his breath, as a slow burn rose from his feet, up his legs, and into his thighs. Terrified and alone, he cried in-between violent purges calling out for his mother.
Alex fought against the pain. His feet were numb and the burning sensation sent writhing throbs into his spine. It reached his waist and he felt like his skin was on fire. He dug his fingers into the ground and turned over.
He dragged through thick muck, struggling with every inch. Shrouded in darkness and guided by his memory, he pulled over piles of bones buried in the ground. By luck, he reached the chamber’s edge below the tunnel entrance. It took every ounce of strength he could muster to get to his feet.
His fingernails bent and split as he fought against his body to get up into the tunnel. The climb ahead felt impossible. In near blinding madness, he wept, his face buried in the dirt. The heat was in his chest and his lungs cooked with every breath. He was sure he would never see his parents again and the pain of it crushed his will.
There was no sense of time down in the hole. Alex lost his grasp of reality as the maddening heat worked its way into his neck and face. He pulled his way into the first chamber without the use of his legs. The final burrow remained and the smell of fresh air hit him with a powerful reaction.
Alex pulled by instinct as the heat consumed his face and stole his sight. Visions filled his mind of death and decay. He pulled free as the burning took control and he screamed wildly in the night. He rolled on his back and howled like an animal baying at the moon. The guttural growls coming from him carried in the air and desperate ears heard his cries.
Angela Mason was consumed by her own madness. Her son was missing and she waited with a frantic hope as her husband, John, searched the surrounding farmland. She heard Alex’s voice like an eagle picking out its young’s first cries for food.
“Alex,” she said, screaming. She ran from the back door out into the yard. Hysterically, she scanned the moonlit grass. “John, for God’s sake, I can hear him.”
She ran out into the grass and found her son. He was covered in a vile mixture of vomit and mud. She collapsed to her knees and grabbed his head. His breathing was shallow and his stare wild.
“I have you, sweetheart,” she said as tears streamed down her face. “I’ll never let you go.”
John Mason kicked open the back door and carried his son in the house. His arms and legs hung limp, dangling lifeless and unresponsive. Horrible cries filled the home as Angela was consumed by agonizing grief. She burst in the house behind her husband.
“God, no,” she said. “Please, not my baby.”
John laid his son on the dining room table and Angela wiped frantically at the black ooze covering the boy’s face and chest. The smell was awful, enough to cause John to gag.
“Watch him,” he said.
John ran into the kitchen and grabbed the phone. His wife was still screaming in the background as he tried to remember Doctor Taylor’s phone number. He knew calling 911 was what he should do, but Dr. Taylor could get to the house a lot faster.
“Shut the hell up,” John said in frustration. He looked at the phone numbers and had a sudden epiphany. “Just let me freaking think.” He dialed the number and waited.
One ring, two rings, three rings…
“Dr. Taylor, something’s happened to Alex.”
“John, John Mason?”
“Yea, Doc, there’s something really wrong. He’s barely breathing, can you get over here?”
“I’m on my way.”
John hung up the phone and walked back to the dining room table. Angela was inconsolable. She looked helpless trying to rub the ooze off Alex’s skin. She held onto a rag covered with the black muck, but her effort was having little effect.
“He’s going to be okay,” She said in a faint voice.
“I know,” John said.
“He’s going to be okay,” she repeated as she climbed up on the table and pulled Alex in between her legs.
John felt useless. He stared at his son’s chest and watched it slowly rise then fall. He felt like curling up on the ground. There was nothing either of them could do, but wait for Dr. Taylor. Angela got down off the table and dragged Alex toward the edge. Her eyes bulged as she stared at John.
“Grab his feet,” she said.
“Honey, what are you doing?”
“I’m going to get this mess off him.”
“I don’t think we should move him.”
Angela’s face flushed red with rage.
“Grab his damn feet,” she said.
John took a hold of the boy’s legs at the ankles. They lifted him from the table and his body hung limp in the space between the parents. John focused on the boy’s chest, praying each time he gasped for breath. Angela’s eyes were wild. She moved in jittery steps as if the processing of what was going on hadn’t caught up with her thoughts. They carried him in the bathroom and Angela struggled to flick on the lights. She balanced Alex’s head and shoulders on her lap as she sat on the edge of the tub and turned on the water.
John watched his wife’s lips. She was talking to herself, her mouth moving silently as she went about her task. Her hands shook violently as she tried to turn the knobs. Water burst from the spout a moment later and she ripped Alex from John’s grasp. She fell back into the tub with the boy on top of her.
“Good, God, Angela,” John said, reaching for her.
She growled at him, pulling Alex’s head up to her chest.
“Give me the towel,” she said.
John did as he was told. He sat on the toilet and watched Angela wipe feverishly at the black smears on their son. When she was done, she picked Alex up and carried him across the bathroom floor. Water covered the tiles as their soaked clothes dripped with her every step.
It was over an hour before the doorbell rang and John rushed to the living room. Dr. Taylor let himself in and met John at the end of the hall. John’s face was filled with dread and the doctor did not bother with pleasantries.
“Where is he?”
John turned to discover Angela was not behind him. He rushed back down the hall and found her sitting on the edge of Alex’s bed. The boy was underneath the covers. The bed was drenched. The look on Dr. Taylor’s face spoke volumes. He approached the bed in a series of cautious steps and peered at Alex with bated breath. The black ooze left the boy’s skin darker than normal. The covers were pulled up to his chin and the boy was shaking underneath.
The doctor sat on the edge of the bed. His silver hair was disheveled and out of place. He’d dressed in a hurry, and the undershirt revealed a bulging waistline normally covered by a crisp suit. He set a small, leather bag down on the floor between his feet and rummaged through it for a moment retrieving his stethoscope. He leaned over Alex and pulled the covers down to his waist. John stepped through the bedroom doorway and closer to the bed, glancing at his wife, then at Alex.
Dr. Taylor checked Alex’s pulse at the wrist then listened to his breathing. His expression was difficult to read. He felt Alex’s throat and then shined a small pen light in his eyes. He rubbed his hand along the edge of his chin and sat back, looking at Angela.
“His pulse is slow, but steady.”
“What about his breathing?” she asked. “He’s going to be alright, isn’t he?” Her voice was controlled, but anxious. “He’s going to be alright,” she said quietly.
Dr. Taylor glanced at John before answering.
“I need to know what happened,” he said.
Angela did her best to explain the events surrounding Alex’s disappearance. John heard little of his wife’s recounting. His mind was focused on the look Dr. Taylor gave him. He knew it had little to do with Alex.
Dr. Taylor was a counselor of sorts to Angela. She’d suffered from severe depression for over a decade. The only thing that kept her on the better side of sane was Alex. They didn’t have the money for good insurance and Dr. Taylor was the best help John could get for her. She’d made progress after Alex was born, although she had her good and bad days. John didn’t want to consider what might happen to her mind if something happened to their son. Silently, John bet Dr. Taylor was thinking that very same thing.
“So you don’t know where this dark substance came from?” Dr. Taylor asked.
Angela shook her head.
“I’d like to get a sample of it and take a blood sample as well.”
“We can’t pay for any tests, Doc,” John said.
Angela scowled at him.
“Don’t worry, we’ll figure something out,” Dr. Taylor said.
He removed a pair of plastic surgical gloves from his bag and a small kit. It took him a few minutes to get what he needed. When he was finished, Dr. Taylor covered Alex with the blankets and put his equipment away. He pulled off his gloves and patted Angela’s hands.
“You can get a little of that black stuff out of the tub,” John said.
Dr. Taylor nodded. He gave Angela a warm smile, followed John out into the hallway, and then to the bathroom. Both men kept quiet while the doctor scooped up as much as he could of the black liquid around the tub drain. Once he had everything he needed, the two men headed for the front door. They stood outside on the porch, their breath circling around their heads as they exhaled into the cold night air. John kept his hands in his pockets, not sure if he really wanted to know what Dr. Taylor thought.
“Alex needs to be in a hospital.”
John nodded. He’d seen that one coming.
“I have no way of knowing what that boy ingested,” Dr. Taylor said. “It could be anything. I saw traces of it in his mouth. He’s not responding like he should.”
“You sure as hell didn’t make that known in there.”
“I didn’t want to in front of…” Dr. Taylor looked through the window in the front of the house, and lowered his voice. “I didn’t want to upset Angela any more than she already was.”
“I can’t afford a hospital bill, Doc. Hell; we can barely pay the mortgage now.”
“Would you rather be homeless or childless?”
John’s gaze fell to the ground. Dr. Taylor took a deep breath. His cheeks were cherry red from the cold.
“I apologize. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“You’re just being honest,” John said.
Dr. Taylor thought for a moment. “Let’s do this. You stay close to Alex. Watch him. I’ll run some tests and once we have the results, we’ll make a decision then.”
“Do you think he’ll be alright?” John asked.
“Just watch him. Call immediately if anything changes.”
Dr. Taylor started to walk to his car. He got halfway across the yard and turned back to John.
John nodded. “I know. I’ll keep an eye on her.”
He gave John a half-hearted smile and waved. John waited until the doctor pulled out of the driveway before going back in the house. He tried to shake off the cold as the heat hit him walking through the living room. He had never been any good at making decisions. Angela took care of most of the major issues in the house. When she went through one of her spells, he was practically paralyzed; with no other family to depend on, she was his only support.
He passed down the hall and reached Alex’s door. Angela had moved herself around the bed and gotten under the covers. She’d wrapped her body around Alex and had his head resting on her stomach. She never looked up at John even as he stepped into the room.
“Dr. Taylor’s going to run some tests,” he said.
Angela didn’t respond.
“He wants us to keep an eye on Alex and call him if anything changes.”
“I’m going to go out to the-”
Angela started to speak. John could see her lips moving, but couldn’t hear her whispers. It took him a moment to pick out the words through the rooms haunting silence.
“Nothing’s going to happen to you,” she said. Her eyes stared at the wall across from the bed with no recognition of her surroundings. “Nothing’s going to happen to you.” She rubbed Alex’s hair across his forehead. “Nothing’s going to happen to you.”
John backed out of the room.
“Nothing’s going to happen to you.”
The look on Angela’s face brought a sudden rush of fear to John. Alex had to be all right, or he would lose both of them for sure.