Welcome to 30 Days of Indie Horror. We’re happy to bring you an entire month of excerpts of horror and dark fiction books from indie and small press authors. And we start with one of our own, from author Peter A. Balaskas. The Grandmaster is part of Peter’s new omnibus collection Triptych: An Omnibus of Wonder. Enter our drawing to win one of three horror bundles that includes digital copies Triptych, Soulmates, and A Game of Blood (an almost $20 value). To enter just read the excerpt and enter the drawing using the Rafflecopter link at the end. Winners will be announced on October 31st.
Welcome to the Wagner Institute for Mental Treatment and Investigations. Since 1966, Dr. Johann Wagner has guided his team of paranormal investigators and psychologists in solving supernatural crimes and unlocking the secrets of the human mind. But now a horror from his past has come back to destroy not only Wagner, but everything he has built. Wagner once used his paranormal powers to escape the horrors of the Holocaust, but can his aging mind and body stop the terror that has returned to claim him?
I arrived in his office and my fear was replaced with curious interest. Reinhardt turned his barracks into a comfortable office. There was no carpeting and the walls were a dull grey, but the large desk was made from oak—with a stone black name placard on the front with ivory white lettering: Karl Reinhardt, Commandant, the pictures on the walls were professionally framed, and the painted landscapes were something to envy. He had an actual bed, not a small narrow bunk. There was a full bar next to the left wall and his lamps were ornate with exquisite lampshades never showing any indication of gaudiness, only sophistication. In front of his desk were two leather chairs, smaller versions of the large revolving one which he sat in. It seemed to fit his muscular stature perfectly, as if it was tailor-made for him.
To his right was a phonograph, with a small shelf underneath containing various records, and to his left was a small table where a beautiful chessboard was placed, with black and clear glass chess pieces complimenting the set perfectly. The chess set radiated, reflecting the lamp light from its polished surface, beckoning me to play a game. Oh, how my heart ached! The record he was playing was from The Rhinegold, the first opera of Wagner’s Ring Series. My longing turned into anger. What right did he have to possess such beautiful items? It was bad enough that the Nazi Party had used my grandfather’s beautiful music for their perverse hate campaign; but the fact this man was playing it right in front of one who loves Wagner’s music made me want to scream. And to flaunt that chess set in my face! But I knew Reinhardt was unaware of my passions. After all, I was nothing to him. I was only an insignificant Jew.
He finished his paperwork, set it aside, and looked up at me. Upon closer examination, the colonel definitely resembled a boxer; his nose was broken, but not malformed. The injury added distinction to his face. He also didn’t look like a typical Aryan; his eyes were a dark brown and his trim, straight hair was black as night. His uniform was snug on his form, never bulging. His mature face gave me the impression he was a man in his middle forties. The sophistication of the office contrasted with his huge, physical features, which stirred my curiosity even more.
He studied me for a few moments, and then turned to the guard. “I’ll be fine. You’re dismissed.”
As the guard left us alone, he brought his attention back to me. “I am very interested in the fact that one of the reasons why productivity is so high here is because your skills as a doctor are unmatched. I looked at your file, Doctor Stein. Very impressive,” he said with an approving nod. “I have a feeling from your look you might have a question or two to ask me. Please, feel free.”
I stood in complete attention in front of him with my cap off, listening to him with an utmost regard for his authority. I have to admit my confusion was increased. He not only referred to me by my name, and not my number, he was giving me permission to talk. He communicated to me like a human being. What is this all about, I thought.
Then, an answer came to me as I looked at his face. I felt the shivers creep up my spine, throughout my entire body. My anxiety, my pain, my loss of powers. I whispered, “How…?”
“…did I take away your powers?” He, then, displayed a small smile. There was no sign of malevolence or wickedness at all within that grin. It was one of understanding, even sympathy. Only a truly evil man can believably smile like that, which frightened me even more. “Herr Doctor, did you actually believe you were the only person in the entire world with supernatural gifts?”
We both looked at each other for several seconds without saying a word. I pondered his question, and I was ashamed to admit it, but I did assume it was indeed the case. With the exception of my father, I never knew anyone else with talents like my own, and Father never indicated there were others. But my confused thoughts were driven back to the music from Reinhardt’s phonograph. Wagner’s lovely aria floated through the room like a celestial spirit. Our mutual silence and my surprise at what was happening were smothering what was left of my soul. I turned away from him and the first place I looked was his chess set. He asked, “Do you play as well?”
I was broken from my trance. “I…I play whenever I have time. I am not a very skilled player.”
But Reinhardt knew better. He didn’t need any powers to see the expression of my face. I stared at the chessboard as a skilled fencer would admire a balanced saber. Such a divine tool, unworthy to be used by mere mortals.
He let the lie go and answered, “I’ve played chess since I was a little one. As I grew older, I became a champion throughout my early school and university years. I have even defeated the master strategist himself: Erwin Rommel,” he added with pride as he leaned back in his chair, totally relaxed.
I frowned upon hearing this. I am embarrassed to say I allowed his physical features to make my judgments. And when he saw this, he laughed. “You didn’t think I was an educated man, did you? Let me guess, I look like a laborer, a man who works too much with his hands to have such superior intelligence. Well, Herr Doctor, you are partially correct in your assumption. While I was growing up, my family and I were poor. I could not even pay for an inexpensive chess set. I made up the chessboard using a cover of a cardboard box. And the pieces? I used paper squares.
“In order to survive, and even attempt to save for school, I worked in the lumber mill with my father as a youth. I was teased and bullied because I didn’t look like a true Aryan. I built up my constitution and strength to ward them off. When I grew older, I boxed for prize money. Although I wasn’t as good in boxing as I was in chess, I became a very formidable opponent. The money from the cash prizes did get me into the University. From there on, I strengthened my mind, along with the powers that were slowly growing within me. So,” he paused with emphasis. “Not everything is what it appears to be.”
I slowly nodded. “I agree. If you would pardon my comments, you look more Russian than German.” I paused, then added, “I wasn’t insulting you, Herr Colonel.”
He gave off a pleasant laugh. “I don’t consider it an insult at all. In fact, you are partially correct. I was told some ancestor of mine was probably a Russian cossack who invaded Germany and raped some German peasant girl, thus producing a recurring genetic hint or code which now appears throughout my father’s ancestral line.” He paused again as he continued to listen to his phonograph. “Do you like Wagner?”
I tried my best to hide my feelings from him, but a small grin peeked through. “Yes, I do. He is one of my favorite composers. Although, I am most partial to The Flying Dutchman.”
He thought about my choice and nodded. “Yes, an elegant piece. Although, too romantic for my taste. The Ring Operas are more to my liking, but all of his works capture the true virtues of Germany.”
“Actually, if I may add, it was hinted that Wagner wrote The Flying Dutchman as an expression of the plight of the Jews and the alienation they face.”
He looked at me with shock, and laughed. “Unbelievable. And people claim the purpose of the Third Reich is to create propaganda. Ah well,” he said with a sigh. “It is a shame the Jews would pervert Wagner toward their own uses.”
“That is odd. I was about to say the same thing about the Nazi Party.”
His face turned to stone. I did not know who was more shocked: Reinhardt for what he had heard or myself for what I had foolishly said. After the shock wore off, I looked down at my feet. I knew I was going to be shot for speaking such disrespect about the Fatherland. It would not have been a surprise if the Commandant himself killed me with his bare hands.
Instead, I heard pleasant laughter. I looked up and saw him lean back in his leather throne guffawing, as if he had heard a joke. He stopped and said, “Well, a miracle has just happened. A Jew insults the Third Reich right in front of me, and I have no desire to kill him.”
He laughed again, making me wonder if it would have been preferable if I had been shot. “Oh, Doctor Stein. I like you. Unlike those simpering, passive cattle out there, you actually displayed honesty and bravery. I wonder if your powers have anything to do with that,” he asked himself. “No, you did that on your own. You still think your powers were taken away from you?”
My eyes widened. The chronic anxiety changed to slight hope and suspicion. “What? I still have…?”
“Oh, yes. You still have your powers. Talents like ours can never be taken away, only muted.” He said as he stood up, walked up to the bar, and poured himself what appeared to be brandy. This was the first time I was really close to him and his stature was immense. I could only imagine how he fared in the boxing arena.