THE THING IN THE IRON COFFIN: An excerpt from TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER by K.H. Koehler

I’m in a dark dungeon-like basement of some kind. There are naked light bulbs hanging down, but they’re all dark. I search the wall beside the door and find a switch, which lights up the bulbs and the surrounding space. It’s a brick tunnel of some sort. I spend a few moments trying to decide why an old brick tunnel would exist under a church. Then I recall the Underground Railroad ran like a labyrinth under many of the cities in this part of Pennsylvania. That makes the most sense.

The place smells moldy, and walls are cobwebby, but I see the dust on the floor is disturbed. Someone has been down here recently. There’s a broken pipe lying against one wall. I heft it up and weight it in my hands before I start down the lighted tunnel. It’s a long walk, and I can hear small things skittering around down here, but I’m not worried about them. I just don’t want to run into anybody who might not welcome me down here.

A few turns later, I find a dead end, but with several rooms off the tunnel. The first one has tall, empty racks and several barrels set up along the walls. I start to rethink my earlier assumption. More than likely, the tunnels were used to store whiskey and bathtub gin during Prohibition. And my assumptions are confirmed when I notice a stack of moldy newspapers stacked up on the floor with some being used to fill in cracks in the aging walls.

Checking the other rooms renders the same results. Racks, barrels, crates. A lot of empty bottles rolling around as though someone left this place in a hurry. Rats have chewed everything to bits, and silverfish dart in and out of the light of the light bulbs hanging down from above.

Finally, I come upon a room at the end of the tunnel, and though it doesn’t have a door, someone has placed a few heavy planks of wood across it to deter people from entering. I’m hesitant at first, but then figure fuck it and move the planks and step into the room.

It’s smaller—and darker—than the others. There are no windows or lights, just dirty brick and cement walls. The only light comes from the weak bulb in the corridor outside. It hardly touches the room, but I can see what’s in here clearly.

 A huge iron sarcophagus lies on the floor. I figure it must weight tons, at least, but it’s lovingly and intricately engraved with a human face and what is supposed to look like cloth flowing over a very female body. The beautiful features and rounded breasts…the attention to detail is mesmerizing. It looks like something you’d expect to find in a pyramid in Giza, but it doesn’t quite have that Egyptian look. I try to stay out of the path of the light from the corridor and still lean over it to examine the carvings. There are engravings of birds and flower all along the sides.

Jolting, I stand up suddenly and drop the pipe at my feet with a clang. I feel sick to my stomach as that horrid dream comes swirling back in Technicolor. I suddenly remember a lot of little details I’d forgotten, like choking on that bloody bird in my throat…

“Shit.”

Suddenly, it feels like it would be a very good idea to get the hell out of here. I turn back to the door and even get as far as the threshold before I stop. What if I need the pipe? Someone could come back at any time and I’d be unarmed. Reluctantly, I go back to retrieve the pipe even though the sight of the sarcophagus scares the living hell out of me. I don’t want to look at it. I don’t want to remember that dream…!

But before I can step outside of the room, a thought occurs to me.

What if she is in there?

She could be, right? And if she is, that means she’s required to rest in there like some second-rate Aztec vampire. She could be asleep and vulnerable right now. Maybe I should try and open the sarcophagus. Maybe I should try and stop her. I have the pipe.

“What’s a pipe against something like her?” I ask myself, my voice dry and croaking in the silence. I want to walk away, but by doing so, I feel like I’m condemning this whole city to whatever her plans are.

I turn back to the sarcophagus and stand there, looking at it. I can feel my heart ticking in my throat and the blood pounding in my ears. I want to leave—I want to run, you bet—but this might be a way to make up for some of the shitty things I’ve done in my life.

This could be my salvation.

So I walk back to the sarcophagus and set the pipe down and put my hands on the lid. I expect a supernatural spark of some kind, or maybe for the sarcophagus to crack in half like a rotten iron egg, but nothing so dramatic happens. It does feel incredibly cold under my fingertips. I wonder how old it is. I wonder what she is. I run my fingertips over the engravings along the side, searching for a seam.

I feel something.

 But it’s useless in the end. When I try to move the lid, nothing happens. It’s way too heavy. Pushing all my weight against it doesn’t budge it even an inch. It was stupid to try, I think, and stand up.

Well, I did try. That’s better than nothing. Right?

Picking up my handy-dandy pipe, I moved toward the exit.

That’s when I heard the lid screek—metal against metal—and then drop like an anvil to the floor behind me…

K.H. Koehler is the author of various novels and novellas in the genres of horror, SF, dark fantasy, steampunk and young and new adult. She is the owner of KH Koehler Books and KH Koehler Design, which specializes in graphic design and professional copyediting. Her books are widely available at all major online distributors and her covers have appeared on numerous books in many different genres. Her short work has appeared in various anthologies, and her novel series include The Kaiju Hunter, The Mrs. McGillicuddy Mysteries, Anti-Heroes, Planet of Dinosaurs, The Nick Englebrecht Mysteries, and The Archaeologists. She is the author of multiple Amazon bestsellers, and was one of the founders and chief editors of KHP Publishers, which published genre fiction from 2001 to 2015. She has over fifteen years experience in the publishing industry as a writer, ghostwriter, copyeditor, commercial book cover designer, formatter and marketer. Visit her website at https://khkoehler.net

Interested in checking out K’s titles? Visit K H. Koehler’s Amazon Page. Follow her author page for updates!

Don’t miss our interview with K.H. Koehler in this month’s issue!

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