As a violent Pacific storm crashes ashore, cutting off power and washing out roads-cutting the town off from the outside world--Dan finds himself entering a strange world of myth and magic that was not covered in his police training. He must use all his wits and new-found powers to save himself and his community from the Ni'il.
Dan didn't know how much time had passed. He did know his butt was sore from sitting on the log and that he was getting sleepy. One could only remain fully alert for so long, and the fact that they were in utter darkness didn't help. He couldn't see a thing; there was nothing to concentrate on.
The first hint something was up was the click of Alan Sr.'s safety going off. Dan sat up straight and switched off his own safety. The lamb had stopped bleating and struggling. It was holding perfectly still. “Downhill and to the right,” Alan whispered. “Something's moving.”
Dan concentrated on listening, but could hear nothing unusual. There had been noise the whole time they'd been waiting. He'd always been surprised at how much activity went on at night, animals foraging for food and water, he imagined.
Then he realized what was unusual. The activity had stopped. The lamb was not the only creature who was holding still; the entire forest was holding its breath.
Then he heard a branch snap . . . and another . . . “I hear it,” he whispered back to the hunter.
“Wait until it takes the bait.”
Dan nodded, though he knew the gesture would be invisible in the darkness. The animal moved slowly up the hill. Dan could follow it by sound. Each twig snap, each rustle of a bush, was like a map marker, plotting its course up the hill. He wondered if Tom and Alan Jr. heard it also. It stopped immediately below them.
Dan held his breath.
There was a sound below, but Dan couldn't identify it. The lamb screamed. “Now!” Alan switched on the spotlight and stood, his rifle at his shoulder. Two other spots lit up on either side of them. “What the...?” Alan said, then he began to fire. Dan saw an image centered in the combined light of the spots. It was large and covered with long bronze-colored hair. It's head was huge and strangely misshapen. Its mouth held all but the bloody head and front legs of the lamb. Shots rang out to Dan's right and left. Tom and Alan Jr. had joined their father in shooting at the beast. Dan raised his rifle only to discover the beast was suddenly gone. The others ceased firing.
“Did you see it go down?” Alan Sr. asked.
Dan shook his head. “It was there. Then it wasn't.”
Alan was hurriedly shoving cartridges into his rifle's magazine. “I know I hit it. At least three times.” “Dad!” Tom called over. “Did we get it?" “I hit it. A head shot!” Alan Jr. yelled.
Other than their voices, Dan was keenly aware of how quiet the forest was around them. “Boys, cover us. We're going to go have a look around.” Alan turned to Dan. “Ready?”
Dan took a deep breath and nodded. “But I think I'll leave this behind.” He leaned the rifle against their former seat and pulled his Beretta from its holster and switched off the safety. “I'm better with a handgun.” Alan nodded and led the way down the slope.
They went slow. Even with the three spots, the landscape was a patchwork of shadows and they had to carefully check each before entering or passing it. It made no sense to take unnecessary risks. If whatever they'd seen was wounded, it would be even more dangerous.
They finally reached the other side of the clearing without finding their victim.
“Here we go,” Alan said. “Be ready.” Dan felt like he was on combat patrol. They stepped out onto the small clearing they'd used to stake out the lamb. The metal stake was still where they'd left it, still trailing a frayed length of rope. Nearby, they found a spattering of fresh blood, probably from the lamb.
There was nothing else there. Dan turned to look back up the hill. All he could see were the three spots of light burning holes in the darkness.
Alan pointed toward the tree line on the downhill side of the clear cut.
“Keep an eye peeled. I'm going to look around.”
Dan nodded, swallowed hard and took up a flexible stance facing the woods and started sweeping. He concentrated on spotting movement, rather than any specific object. In the darkness, anything could be in there; he wouldn't have a chance of seeing it until it moved.
Alan Sr. was crouched down to his right, checking the grass and brush for signs that they'd hit the animal. Dan licked his lips and kept scanning. He was very much aware that the forest around them was absolutely silent. “Anything?” he asked.
“Not a damn thing. I don't get it. I know I hit it.”
“What was that thing anyway?”
“Looked like a bear to me.”
“I've never seen a bear like that.” Dan had never seen anything like that before.
Alan sighed and stood up beside him. “Relax. It's long gone.” Someone screamed above them. A rifle went off, then again, and a third time. Dan hit the ground with the first shot. He rolled and looked back up in time to see the second of the three spotlights explode in a fountain of sparks. “Tommy! Junior!” Alan Sr.'s voice edged toward panic. “Are you okay? Tommy!” There was no answer. “Alan?” Dan wanted to find out where everyone was.
“I'm okay.” He heard from his left. “It must have circled around behind us.”
That seemed a reasonable guess. The third light exploded. There was the sound of a scuffle up above and then silence. They were in pitch darkness now. Dan couldn't even see his own hand when he waved it in front of his face. “Junior!” Alan called. “Junior!” There was no answer.
It was picking them off one by one. And now that it had knocked out the lights, they were effectively blind and virtually at its mercy. Their only chance lay in somehow making it back up to the road and the truck. “Alan . . .”
“It killed my boys. My boys . . . Junior! Tommy!”
“Alan, listen to me,” Dan insisted. “We've got to get out of here and we've got to move now.”
He wasn't listening. “Junior . . . Tommy . . . my boys . . . “
Something moved in the darkness above them and to their left. It was circling back. “Alan! We've got to get back to the truck.” There was no answer.
Dan looked over toward the hunter. Alan's was just another irregular shape in the darkness. The hunter was in shock over his sons' death, Dan guessed. But what to do about it? Time was running out.
The thing in the darkness made a sound, the first one Dan had heard it make, and it sounded like chuckling. The hair at the nape of his neck stood. Dan pushed himself to his feet, moved over to Alan and jerked him up by the shoulder. “Are you coming, or am I going to have to carry you?” “I'm coming.”
Dan started up the hill. It was too steep and too rough to run. In the darkness, running would invite a broken leg or a head-on with a tree trunk. But he went as fast as he safely could, pulling himself up on saplings and whatever else he could grab with his left hand. His right still held his pistol.
He glanced back once to be sure Alan was still behind him. Satisfied, he concentrated on climbing. He had no idea where the animal was; it could be anywhere.
It certainly would know where they were; they were making as much noise as a herd of wildebeests. He emerged on the road so suddenly, he lost his balance. He went down, landing on his right shoulder and rolled over onto his hands and knees. A searing pain ripped down the length of his arm. He sucked air through clenched teeth to keep from crying out.
Alan stumbled onto the road right behind him. Dan's gun had fallen from his limp right hand. In the dark, he couldn't see where it had fallen. “You all right?” Alan asked. His breath came in great rasping gasps. Dan shook his head. “I think I broke something.” He clutched his shoulder with his good hand.
“Can you make it to the truck?”
“Yeah,” Dan nodded. He could see the dark outline of the pickup less than a hundred feet to his left. He couldn't leave without his pistol. The first rule of law enforcement: never let your sidearm out of your possession.
“My pistol,” he said, “I dropped it when I fell.”
Something moved in the brush at the edge of the road. Alan spun around and raised his rifle. Dan frantically looked for his pistol, knowing that if that thing was coming after them, Alan would need all the additional firepower he could get. Even a few left-handed shots would be better than nothing. He managed to stand, despite the pain the effort caused, and moved to one side, quickly scanning the gray of the dirt road for his pistol.
“Head for the truck,” Alan said, “I'll cover you.”
The animal, whatever it was, seemed to be toying with them. It remained in the woods, but also continued to make so much noise it had to be on purpose. It was as though it were daring the two men to do something. Dan found his pistol near the far edge of the road. Actually, he stepped on it.
“Did you hear me? Head for the truck.” “I'm not going anywhere.” Dan painfully crouched down and picked up the Beretta with his left hand. He straightened back up and had to take a step against sudden light-headedness. “I've got my gun. We're going together.” Alan looked like he was about to argue when something stepped from the edge of the woods onto the road.
“Junior?” Alan lowered his rifle.
Dan stared at the young man.
“Junior? You're all right?”
Something was wrong. Dan was having trouble focusing on the younger Wright's figure. It was like his vision was blurred. He would have thought it was the effect of shock from his injury, but he wasn't having any trouble focusing on Alan Sr. The figure of Alan Jr. stepped toward his amazed father.
“Junior . . . “
Alan Jr. lifted one hand and with a sudden blow, took his father's head off at the neck. Dan could only watch in numb fascination as the headless body of Alan Sr. teetered unsteadily under a fountain of blood, then slowly tipped over and fell like a tree. The thing that looked like Alan Jr. tipped its head back and screamed at the sky. Dan backed away.
The truck was no longer an option. The creature stood between him and the pickup and Dan didn't think he was up to trying to get by or around it. The creature turned toward Dan now and its shape seemed to dissolve before his eyes, becoming less an object than a dense cloud of...something. Dan glanced once at the pistol in his left turned, and ran for his life. But he was injured and the jarring pace of running on the dark road seemed to open something in his shoulder. It felt burning hot.
Still, he forced himself to run. Something came between Dan and the clouds, something big and dark and moving very fast. He tripped and went down and the blackness swallowed him.
This book captures so much that resonated with me--from the detailed descriptions of the Oregon coast and forests to the mystical aspects of Native American lore and people. The characters are entirely believable and so are their encounters with the bizarre forces that threaten to destroy their entire town. I loved this book and didn't want it to end.