Sunday, July 1, 2012

REVENANT Excerpt: Prologue

Back in January, I released a novel about a three hundred year old Native American curse holding a tiny, isolated town in northern Maine hostage, called PASKAGANKEE. When I wrote the manuscript, I envisioned at least a three book series of supernatural occurrences afflicting the poor townspeople of Paskagankee, Maine.

The second book in the series in now here. REVENANT is a 75,000 word novel which continues the story of beleaguered police chief Mike McMahon and beautiful young patrol officer Sharon Dupont. In this go-around, a murderous, power-hungry cult leader steals a sacred Navajo ceremonial stone possessing a frightening power. Throw in a Seattle software billionaire and a super-secret software program developed for the U.S. Department of Defense and the result is a terrifying ride through your worst nightmare.

Revenant works both as Book Two in the PASKAGANKEE series, but also as a stand-alone supernatural suspense novel. It is not necessary to read PASKAGANKEE to enjoy REVENANT.

Over the next week I will be spotlighting a chapter a day, so you can check the book out if you think it might be something you would enjoy.

Without further ado, here is the prologue to REVENANT:


Three months ago

Don Running Bear’s brakes screeched out a complaint as he pulled to a stop at the end of his dusty driveway. He shut down the engine and his ancient Chevy pickup kicked and bucked like a temperamental stallion, eventually giving up the ghost and wheezing into silence.

He sat in the cab and mopped his face with a well-worn handkerchief. Faded renderings of sacred Navajo animals covered the light cotton, dulled by the passage of time from white to a sickly greyish-brown. The hankie had been a gift from his grandfather and was now threadbare and clearly past the end of its useful life. Don knew he should take some action to preserve it, maybe store it between the pages of a book or something, but he had used the damn thing for as long as he could remember and could not imagine going through even a single day without being able to touch the only remaining link to the man he so admired.

The temperature outside the pickup had soared to well over one hundred degrees, which meant inside the truck it was probably close to one-forty, but Don was in no hurry to get into his house, despite the fact the air conditioning would provide a welcome respite from this blast-furnace heat. Don needed to think, and to do that he had to be alone. So he sat in his truck, barely noticing the sweat running down his weathered copper face.

Don Running Bear was worried. He hadn’t been sleeping well, being assaulted nightly by dreams filled with violence and bloodshed, nightmares which were clearly meant as a sign. And worse, the problem was not that he didn’t understand the significance of his terrible dreams, but rather that he feared he did. In these visions, all of them disturbingly similar, a beautiful young Navajo girl wrought death and destruction, murdering strangers and cracking open their cold corpses, plunging her tiny hand inside their chests, ripping out the hearts of her victims, then turning to dust and disappearing.

In these horrifying dreams, the identity of the young girl refused to reveal itself to Don, although she seemed strangely familiar and he knew he should recognize her. Each morning he awoke trembling, drenched in sweat, certain that with just a little extra effort he might be able to identify the girl, and maybe then begin to decipher the meaning of the nightmares. But so far, her face had remained elusive.

Don wished he could turn back time and salvage a few hours with his grandfather. Niyol Running Bear had died more than a decade ago, and with his passing, so too had many of the mystical secrets of the tribal medicine man been lost. Niyol had adamantly refused to share his wisdom and knowledge with his son, Nastas—Don’s father—saying only that the knowledge was explosive and dangerous and he would not involve his family in any more of it than necessary.

Nastas had died young, killed in a horrific car crash driving drunk at a high rate of speed on the reservation, leaving only Don and his grandfather, and when Niyol had become seriously ill, he had reluctantly entrusted a very valuable relic—a stone—to Don, telling him only that it was to be hidden and protected at all costs, that it was sacred, imbued with ungodly power, magical and fearsome and terrible.

Don had been thinking a lot recently of both his grandfather and the stone. He wondered if the nightmares he had begun experiencing were somehow related to one or both of them. He suspected they were, but since his grandfather had never gone into specifics regarding the danger the stone represented or its awesome power, Don could do no more than guess. But the very fact he associated his dreams with the stone after Niyol had been gone a decade illustrated the impression the old man had made.

Don Running Bear sighed and stepped out of his truck. Dwelling on the dreams and their possible relation to the sacred stone, long tucked securely away, was pointless without further information, and he had no way of acquiring that information. He vowed to let it go, to forget about the damned stone, but he had made that vow hundreds of times, probably thousands, and knew he would never be able to follow through on it. The hot, dry wind which seemed to blow endlessly across the plains raised little eddies of dust around his shoes as he trudged across the front yard.

He stepped through the front door into the cool stillness of his small home, distracted and upset. He made it two full steps inside the house and then froze in confusion and fear. Seated directly across the room, facing the door so there was no way Don could miss the sight of them, were his wife and teenage daughter. They had been fastened to matching kitchen chairs placed side by side, immobilized by thick strips of shiny silver duct tape wound around their wrists and ankles. Don regarded his family in surprise and they stared back in terror, eyes bulging, utterly silent despite the fact they had not been gagged.

Behind the two women, looming over them in a stool taken from the breakfast bar in the kitchen, was a middle-aged man Don had never seen before. The silver haired intruder displayed a long, curved knife, holding it above Eagle Wing’s and Kai’s heads, turning it slowly in the air so that the sunlight pouring through the window winked and glittered off the polished blade’s surface. If the man was trying to get Don’s attention, his efforts had been terrifyingly successful.

For a long moment no one moved. Time seemed to stretch into infinity. The stranger lowered the knife blade so that its razor-sharp point pressed against the soft skin of his younger captive’s throat.

Eagle Wing gasped softly and Don finally spoke. “What’s going on here?” He worked hard to keep his voice strong and calm, fearing he knew the answer to the question but asking it anyway. Sometimes life’s little dramas must play out according to a script written by fate. He forced himself to direct his full attention at the man, not because he wanted to, but because he suspected that to do otherwise would be consigning his family to death.

“It’s very simple,” the stranger said, maintaining a steady pressure with the knife-blade at Eagle Wing’s throat. “An item of great value was entrusted to your care many years ago. You’re going to give it to me.”

Don had an instant to decide how to respond. What were the odds the man with the knife was talking about anything other than the sacred Navajo stone? Essentially nil. But for the heavy weight of responsibility his grandfather had laid on his shoulders, Don Running Bear was an ordinary Native American man living an ordinary life. He was the proprietor of the reservation’s General Store, a nearly invisible forty year old man who owned nothing of monetary value, certainly nothing worth breaking into his home and threatening murder to get.

Nothing except the stone.

And it was imperative the stone never see the light of day.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said evenly, and as he did, the man’s lips hardened into a thin bloodless line and he flicked his right wrist, drawing the tip of the knife-blade half an inch across Eagle Wing’s throat. Blood welled sluggishly out of a tiny gash. Eagle Wing drew in a breath, a short, panicked gasp, but seemed to realize instinctively that to scream, or even to move, would be to risk suffering much greater damage, perhaps even death.

Kai Running Bear knew no such thing. Don’s wife let loose a roar of rage and fear, thrashing helplessly in her chair in a desperate attempt to launch herself at the silver-haired man harming her child. The man rotated his left arm at the elbow, still holding the knife to Eagle Wing’s throat, and drove his fist into Kai’s face. The crack of her cheekbone shattering was followed by a dull thud as the chair and its suddenly unconscious occupant smashed backward onto the living room floor.

Don rushed forward instinctively, stopping only when the man with the knife leapt from the stool and screamed, “Come any closer and she dies!” and Don knew he meant what he said. The stranger’s eyes were black and determined and devoid of any shred of compassion or empathy. He might as well have been a Diamondback coiled under a rock in the desert, alert and lurking, prepared to strike.

For one second, then two, the men faced each other, locked in a silent standoff. Kai lay motionless on the floor, duct-taped to her toppled chair, her face already beginning to swell hideously. Eagle Wing panted, the point of the knife pressed into her throat, her body shaking as it reacted to the stress and the pain of the knife wound, as well as the sight of her unconscious and badly injured mother.

“Now,” the man said almost conversationally, “the next few seconds will determine the fate of your entire family. Do not make the mistake of assuming I won’t simply murder all three of you. I know that the object I seek is here somewhere; you would never risk storing it anywhere else. If necessary, I will kill you all and then conduct my own search at my leisure. So I ask one final time: Where is it?”

Don wondered what his grandfather would have done. The danger the stone represented was monumental; he could not allow it to fall into this man’s hands. But he would not allow his family to be butchered, either. In the end it was an easy decision; it was no decision at all.

Don held his hands in front of his face, palms out, willing the stranger to relax. He could see the knife blade bobbing in a steady rhythm against the soft skin of Eagle Wing’s throat, keeping time with her elevated pulse. “You win. I’ll do as you wish,” he said quietly. He began sliding sideways across the room, moving on the balls of his feet, hands still suspended in front of his face, never taking his eyes off the man with the knife.

At the far end of the room he stopped in front of a flat-screen television placed atop an imitation wood-grain TV table. The table supporting the television was mounted on casters and Don bent at the waist, wrapped his arms around the table, and rolled it heavily to the side. The intruder watched from behind Eagle Wing’s chair, his face expressionless, his reptilian eyes taking it all in. On the floor, Kai moaned and shuddered and then once again fell still.

Don knelt down on the spot formerly occupied by the TV table and hooked his fingers under what appeared at first glance to be a knot in the oak flooring. He lifted his hand and a hidden two-foot by two-foot hinged wooden square rose noiselessly, appearing as if out of nowhere. Bolted to the support beams beneath the floor with a pair of heavy iron bands was a personal safe, installed so that the safe’s door opened upward into the room upon removal of the trap door.

Don hesitated, still searching for a way out of this predicament that didn’t involve releasing the sacred stone to this stranger. He could think of only one. He glanced up at the man, sighed, and punched a series of numbers into a small alphanumeric keypad built into the safe’s door. Then he twisted a heavy handle and the lock gave way with an authoritative clunk that Don knew would be audible all the way across the room in the heavy silence.

He pulled open the door and reached inside. The safe’s contents were mostly obscured by shadows but it didn’t matter. The heavy steel box contained only two items and Don knew the positions of both in the darkness of the safe like he knew the back of his hand. He bent down, maneuvering his body so that its bulk formed a barrier between the stranger and the safe. At least he hoped it did, or else he was condemning his beloved daughter, his only child, to a sudden and painful death.

Don withdrew the two items simultaneously. One was a perfectly square wooden box, roughly ten inches by ten inches. It could have been a cigar box on steroids. Intricate Native American carvings of Southwestern animals decorated all sides of the box, similar in style and rendering to the ones adorning Don’s treasured bandanna. He lifted that item slowly and carefully with his left hand, while slipping the other item into the right front pocket of his cargo pants, praying the movement would go unnoticed. Then he stood and turned.

The man removed his knife from Eagle Wing’s throat for a moment and flicked his wrist, much as he had done moments ago when he nicked her, only this time he waved the knife in the air, indicating Don should bring him the box. He said nothing.

Don trudged across the room while the man returned the knife to its previous location, nestling it just under his daughter’s jawline. Don noted with relief that the cut the man had made was mostly for show; it had nearly stopped bleeding already. But there was little doubt he could end her life at any moment if he so desired.

Don stopped directly in front of Eagle Wing’s chair. Her eyes were closed and she was making an obvious effort to breathe normally. He was filled with pride for his sixteen year old child’s demonstration of composure and inner strength. He knew his grandfather would have been proud of her as well.

“Open it,” the man commanded.

Slowly, with extreme reluctance, as if by drawing the moment out he might somehow be able to prevent it from happening, Don lifted the hinged lid.

Inside the box was a stone, larger than a baseball but only slightly. The stone was perfectly round and smooth, as though it had been lovingly polished by its owner until it gleamed, although it had not been. He was aware of no more than a small portion of the stone’s history, but the knowledge he had was enough to give Don Running Bear a healthy respect for its fearsome power. He had opened the box only rarely, and never for more than a few minutes at a time, since Eagle Wing was a very young girl.

The man’s cold eyes flicked from the contents of the box to Don’s face and back again. “Is that it? It just looks like a rock.”

“You think I would keep an ordinary rock locked up in a hidden safe?”

The man gazed at Don, taking stock. Don stood impassively, the box held out in front of him, waiting. “You understand what will happen to your family if I am being misled.” It was not a question.

Don shook his head in frustration. “You’re not being misled, I told you that already.”

“Do you understand what will happen to your family if I am being misled?”

“Yes, yes, I understand! Please, if the stone is what you’re after, just take it and go, so I can tend to my wife and child. They need me.”

The stranger’s eyes bored into Don’s and for a long time neither man spoke. Nobody moved. Eagle Wing sat still under the knife blade, although her eyes were now open. They were trusting and guileless as she watched her father. Don loved those eyes. On the floor, Kai groaned and twitched, pulling against her bindings. She was still unconscious but would be coming around shortly and would need medical attention for the shattered bones in her face.

At last the man seemed satisfied. “Put the box over there,” he said, indicating a small butcher-block end table adorned with only a lamp. The table was located between the couch and the front door. Don eased the box’s lid closed, relieved not to have to look at its contents any longer, and turned his back, walking slowly toward the couch and placing the box next to the lamp as instructed.

“Now, go back to the safe. Close it and lock it and lower the trap door.” After Don had complied, the man said, “Roll the TV table back where it belongs,” and he did that, too.

“Now, stand in the corner.” Don moved to the point in the room opposite the front door. He hoped the stranger would not force him to turn around and face the wall. If he did, all would be lost. He arrived in the corner and stood facing the man, who said nothing about turning around.

The man withdrew the knife from Eagle Wing’s throat and Don breathed a sigh of relief. He had feared the intruder would try to kill them all before leaving with the box, but it seemed the man realized he would be in for the fight of his life if he murdered Don’s daughter in front of his eyes, and it appeared he wanted simply to take the box and make his escape.

The stranger slid off the stool, knife held chest-level between his body and Eagle Wing’s. He sidled around her chair and then began backing toward the door, never taking his eyes off Don Running Bear.

Don waited, not moving, forcing himself to maintain his impassive appearance, wondering how the hell he was managing to do it when his heart was hammering in his chest like a freight train pounding across the desert floor. At some point, the man with the knife was going to have to turn slightly to open the door, and Don had decided that was when he would make his move.

The stranger arrived at the end table, moving slowly and cautiously. He bent and hefted the wooden box containing the mystical stone. “It’s lighter than I would have expected,” he announced to Don, who said nothing in return. Then the man swiveled his head to the right, reaching for the knob to open the front door.

The moment the man turned his head, Don snaked his right hand into his pocket and grasped the Colt .38 revolver he had removed from the safe. His plan, if you could call it that, was to rip his grandfather’s gun out of his pocket and fire in one smooth motion, hopefully putting the man down. Even if he missed with the first shot, Don reasoned, the suddenness of the attack should catch the man by surprise, giving him the opportunity to fire again before the man could move in and either gut him with the knife or slice Eagle Wing’s throat open. Not a perfect plan, not by a long shot, but it was the best he could come up with.

And it might even have worked.

Except the gun’s hammer snagged on the metal ring holding the General Store’s keys. The ring hung from his belt loop and as Don pulled the big pistol out of his pocket, the hammer caught on it for an instant, not a long time at all, maybe half a second, but it was enough to twist the barrel toward the floor where Kai lay taped to her chair.

Don cursed, yanking the gun up toward its target and squeezing the trigger. Against all odds, he hit the exact spot he was aiming for, too, but the man with the knife was no longer there. He had dived toward the floor and into the middle of the room the moment he saw the Colt appear. His reflexes were razor-sharp. The wooden box fell off the table and the stone rolled out of it, spinning on the floor like a top.

A loud Boom! shook the tiny house on its foundation and the acrid smell of smoke filled the air. A ragged, splintered hole appeared in the front door where until a split second ago the man had been standing. Don cursed again without realizing he was doing it and adjusted his aim, preparing to fire a second shot, knowing everything was going to hell, knowing he was already too late.

The man rolled onto his back, less than a foot behind the injured Kai Running Bear. He flipped the knife in his hand, grabbing it by the blade without even looking at it, and with one smooth, easy motion, fired it at Don, who tried to flinch out of the way but didn’t stand a chance. The knife rocketed through the air with stunning speed, striking Don in the middle of the chest.

Pain blasted through his rib cage and he felt his arm go numb as he toppled to the floor. He heard the big Colt clatter to the floor as well, sliding across the polished oak and coming to rest in the corner.

The stranger rose and stepped calmly over Kai, whose eyelids were fluttering and who appeared to be on the verge of regaining consciousness just as her husband lost it. Don watched helplessly as the man stopped above him. The stranger stared for a moment, a contemptuous sneer on his hard face, then reached down and pulled the knife out of Don’s chest, twisting it viciously as he did so. Don screamed in pain and saw blood spurt frighteningly from the wound. Somewhere in the background he could hear Eagle Wing screaming as well, like they were performing some crazy duet from hell.

The man wiped the knife blade on Don’s shirt, which was already becoming soaked with his own blood. He retraced his path, stepping over Kai again, and picked up the stone. He replaced it in the ornate wooden box and secured the lid. Then he calmly looked the room over one more time and stepped through the front door.

The last thing Don Running Bear heard before losing consciousness was the rumble of an engine starting up and a car driving slowly away.


Tomorrow will feature Chapter One. REVENANT is a 75,000 word novel which works as Book Two in the Paskagankee series and also as a stand-alone supernatural suspense novel. It's priced at $3.99. Thanks for reading!

No comments: