As a member of the Impractical Jokers team, James S. Murray (a.k.a. “Murr”) tries to have TV viewers in stitches. But the comedian is hoping to inspire tingles down the spine with his new project, a science fiction-horror novel called Awakened about an ancient horror in a New York subway line.
“I’ve always loved the horror/sci-fi genre (some would argue that what we do on Impractical Jokers is horror!),” says Murray. “The idea for Awakened came to me one night on my long commute home to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The subway station was empty and eerily quite, and I could barely see into the darkened tunnel ahead. The further I peered, the darker the tunnel became. I wondered what could live in there…or under there. When the train finally arrived, those thoughts still floated around in my mind. As the train left the station and the bright windows staved off the pitch black tunnel, I imaged a creature’s claws cracking the glass beside my face. Needless to say, I moved seats. The idea lingered for days so I spent a year putting pen to paper. Awakened is the result of that fateful subway ride.”
Read an exclusive excerpt from Awakened, below.
Excerpt from Awakened, by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth
Officers Jim Donaldson and Carl Bradshaw crept silently down the Jersey City tunnel wearing gas masks. The dim orange glow of the emergency lighting illuminated their path, and they rounded a shallow bend that led toward the Pavilion. They could barely see three feet in front of them in the darkened tunnel, but they didn’t dare use the powerful flashlights on their belts. If there were terrorists still here, the cops didn’t want to alert them to their presence.
Donaldson was in front, avoiding the subway tracks in case power returned and they transformed into a death trap. Munoz had given him clear instructions not to use their weapons or engage the terrorists, just to search for survivors and the source of the leak. It made him feel like bait, especially as they were descending into a choking atmosphere, but he understood the importance of the task. By now, the whole world knew about the attack on the Z Train and lives were at stake.
They pushed deeper, closing on the halfway point. Donaldson stopped midstride. “What the hell?”
A few feet to his front, rubble surrounded a gaping hole in the middle of the track that dropped into an unknown darkness.
“No idea what caused this,” Bradshaw said. “But it doesn’t look good.”
Bradshaw pressed his back against the tunnel wall and edged to the side of the hole. He flicked on his flashlight and aimed the beam downward; it speared into the dark, dusty air. Donaldson grabbed a rock from the pile of rubble and tossed it down.
No sounds returned.
“I’m no geologist,” Donaldson said, “but that ain’t right, is it?”
“It’s safe to say we’ve discovered our breach.”
“Call it in.”
Bradshaw unclipped the walkie-talkie from his belt, depressed the transmit button, and pulled away the lower end of his mask. “Diego, we’ve found part of the problem.”
The speaker let out a static squelch. “Go ahead, Carl.”
“We’re by marker 119. It looks like the railroad ties buckled under the track. There’s a pretty deep hole. We don’t know how far down it goes.”
“Did you get that?” Bradshaw asked.
“Roger. Is the track still intact?”
“It’s bent upward on both sides of the hole, but the track hasn’t ripped off the ties entirely.”
“Is there any way you can block or fill in the hole?”
“Not unless you send down a backhoe and a shit ton of dirt.”
“Any signs of life?”
“In that case, you and Jim pull back and return to the station. Don’t forget to keep your weapons holstered and stay alert.”
The men turned to retreat, and Bradshaw’s shoe made a squishing sound. He looked down to examine the ground and gasped.
“We’re standing in a goddamn pool of blood.” He nearly gagged. “And what are those clumps on the floor? Is that . . . ?”
Bradshaw leaned down to get a closer look.
A liver. What looked like a giant hock of flesh. Severed digits.
Bradshaw stumbled back in shock, nearly tripping over his own feet. The walkie-talkie slipped from his hand and plunged into the abyss.
“Fuck!” Bradshaw yelled futilely.
“That’s the least of our concerns,” Donaldson snapped. “Let’s get outta here.”
The officers retreated up the tunnel. At the next marker, the walkie-talkie on Donaldson’s belt crackled. He ignored it and continued until it chirped twice, as if somebody on the same channel had double-tapped a transmit button.
“Come on,” Bradshaw said. “Keep up.”
Donaldson unclipped his walkie-talkie. “Wait. You hear that?”
“It sounded like . . . I’m not sure. Something.” He hit transmit. “Diego, did you just pick anything up?”
“Nothing. What are you hearing?”
“Give us a minute.”
Donaldson slowly walked back in the direction of the hole. The crackling cleared, and in the faintest regions of audible discernment, he thought he heard a faint voice calling out. He drew closer.
The speaker hissed, followed by a whisper. A child’s whisper.
“It sounds like a kid,” Bradshaw said.
Both men froze, silently waiting for another transmission.
“Help me,” a little girl said more clearly through the speaker.
Donaldson pried away his gas mask and raised his walkie-talkie.
“What’s your name?”
“Help me,” she repeated.
“You’re not hearing this, Diego?” Donaldson asked.
“Just hearing you. What’s going on?”
Donaldson didn’t answer as he took in the situation. He knew he wasn’t imagining things, because Carl definitely heard the girl, too. Which meant that Munoz was probably out of her range. And since her voice became clearer when he neared the damaged part of the tunnel . . .
He was pretty sure a passenger who had fallen into the hole had Bradshaw’s radio.
Donaldson sprinted for the hole and lifted his walkie-talkie. “We have a passenger alive. A little girl. May need medical assistance. We’re going back, over.”
“Negative,” Munoz replied through the speaker. “Return to perimeter. Immediately.”
“To hell with that. There’s a kid down there.” Donaldson skidded to a halt by the marker post and flipped open one of the MTA emergency boxes lining the tunnel. He grabbed a basic medical pack and unhooked a coil of orange rope and an LED lantern.
Bradshaw knelt by the hole and raised his mask again. “Sweetheart, can you hear me?”
“Help me,” came through the walkie-talkie.
“We’re coming,” Donaldson yelled. “Carl, tie this end to the track.”
“Are you nuts? You can’t go down there. Hell, you don’t even know how far down it goes!”
“Are you prepared to leave that kid to die?” Donaldson tore off his jacket and slipped on a pair of gloves. “We have to at least try, don’t we? Tie the goddamn rope, Carl.”
Bradshaw hesitated for a moment before he secured an end to the track.
Donaldson cast the other end into the abyss. He wrapped the rope around his gloved hand, latched the lantern on to his belt, and passed Bradshaw his walkie-talkie. “Keep Munoz in the loop. And be careful with it this time.”
“You got it.”
Donaldson planted his feet, leaned back, and lowered himself into the pitch-black shaft. The dim orange light from his swinging lantern bounced off the walls. He descended slowly, careful to avoid brushing against the jagged edges of the rock.
“You see anything, Jim?” Bradshaw called. “Not yet.”
The shaft narrowed toward an opening and he had twenty feet to go.
“Sweetheart,” Donaldson said. “I’m almost there. Can you hear me?”
“Help me,” echoed from below. “Help me.”
Hearing the little girl’s voice directly for the first time struck him as odd. It sounded the same every time, like a talking doll. He paused to catch his breath and listened more intently.
The rock snapped below his boots and gave way. He plummeted a dozen feet, crashing against the sides of the shaft, and sharp outcrops tore into his left side. He clamped his hands around the rope to stop his slide.
Dirt and rock rained on him, showering into his eyes and battering the top of his head and shoulders. The light from the lantern cut. Donaldson winced as strength drained from his body.
The rope slipped from between his fingers.
He plunged toward the opening and braced himself for the moment of impact. His boots crashed against solid ground sooner than he expected and pain seared in his left ankle, and he collapsed in a heap over a pile of rubble.
Bradshaw yelled something.
Donaldson coughed. He shook the lantern and tapped its side. It flickered back on and he held it in the dusty air, illuminating the walls and ceiling of a small cavern. The points of sharp stalactites hung down, making it impossible to stand if he wanted to search the place, but he had enough room to crawl.
“Jim,” Bradshaw’s voice echoed from above. “Can you hear me?”
“I’ll live but I think I broke my ankle.”
“Do you see the girl?”
Something rustled in the darkness.
“Sweetie, is that you?” Donaldson asked. “Are you hurt?”
“Darling, head toward the light. I’m here to help you.”
“Don’t be scared. I’m a police officer.”
Donaldson crawled through the cavern and entered a tighter space where the stalactites scraped his back. His lungs burned and his ankle throbbed, but his determination to save the girl drove him on.
His hand hit something soft, and he lifted a child’s tattered and bloodstained white dress. “Sweetie, my God, I’m coming. There’s no need to be afraid.”
A figure darted across his front. He extended his lantern, inched closer to a dark corner and toward the sound of the girl’s coarse breaths.
“Reach for my hand, honey.”
Donaldson’s shirt snagged on a stalactite. He lowered the lantern and reached back to free his shirt.
In his peripheral vision, the figure lunged at him. With no room to maneuver, there was nothing he could do as hands grabbed his shoulders, nails pierced his flesh, and his body lifted in one sudden movement.
The glistening ends of two stalactites exploded through the center of his chest and stomach and held him in the air. Blood spurted from his mouth and his vision blurred.
“Jim,” Bradshaw screamed in the distance. “Jim, are you there?”
Through the darkness, a snarling face appeared below Donaldson’s torn-open torso. A scaly hand lifted Bradshaw’s walkie-talkie, and a dirty fingernail hit the transmit button.
Not . . . terrorists . . . was the last thing that went through Donaldson’s mind before the scaly hand choked the little life he had left out of his throat.