Our guest post today is by James R. Tuck, author of the delightful Deacon Chalk series. I really enjoy his work and so I’m pleased to have him back on the blog. Deacon is a rockin’ and rare male urban fantasy lead and I love James’ writing.
We first met Deacon last year in the e-novella, THAT THING AT THE ZOO, and then we got the full-length treatment in James’ first novel, BLOOD AND BULLETS. Today, James is visiting to promote Deacon’s second book, BLOOD AND SILVER. We’ve got a real treat in store for you today because he’s written a fantastic – and exclusive – short story all about Deacon and some hapless campers. Enjoy!
Oh, and stick around for the giveaway from the lovely folks at Kensington!
NATURE TRAIL TO HELL
James R. Tuck
Used with Permission.
Mosquitoes, fleas, chiggers, and gnats, those damn south Georgia gnats. You know, the ones that crawl into your nose and ears and the corners of your eyes with their tiny buzzy wriggly bodies and their pinprick biting mouths.
I hate being in the damn woods in the dog day heat of summer.
So why was I out tromping through some God-forsaken chunk of land outside of Ballsack, Georgia?
For the kids man.
I wasn’t hiking, I was hunting.
Seems that for the last few weeks there had been the occasional missing person. Never anyone who lived in the area, just travelers. A LOT of people drive by Ballsack, Georgia since the highway runs right past it, but the town itself is barely a wide spot in the road. One sad sack gas station, a Dairy Duchess (it used to be a Dairy Queen but apparently the owner got tired of paying franchise fees so he bolted a sheet of plywood over the Queen portion and painted Duchess under it. Yep, classy.) and a deer cooler. That’s it. Almost no one ever stops. Think about it, do you want to stop and hang out somewhere named Ballsack, Georgia?
Neither did I.
So when these travelers didn’t make it to their destination, no one even blinked in the direction of Ballsack, Georgia.
What changed? What not only made Ballsack, Georgia a suspected location of these disappearances, but also required that I hop in the Comet and haul my occult bounty-hunting ass down here so I could stomp through the woods hauling fifty pounds of monster killing gear while my nostrils and ear canals were being violated by approximately nine thousand little bastard gnats?
A troop of Royal Rangers had come up missing.
Royal Rangers are a church version of the Boy Scouts. Same gig, turning boys into men with forestry skills, but with an overt religious foundation. And I was a bit generous with the term troop. There were three boys and one leader. Not so much a troop as it was a pack. When they didn’t show up at their return rendezvous the local sheriff sent out the only deputy in Ballsack, Ga.
All they found of him was his boots, his gunbelt, and his hat.
The Sheriff mounted up and went out with dogs and a posse rounded up from the local good ‘ole boys and they went huntin’. The dogs hit the camp, pissed themselves, broke leash, and ran off. The men tried to go on until one by one they dropped to hysteric convulsions. One was in the hospital, he swallowed his own tongue. The other four were in the psych ward.
I guess my reputation precedes me.
Which is the chain of events that led me to this ridge, in these woods, trying to find three Royal Rangers and their Leader. Now I’m no tracker, but four people running for their lives in a heavily wooded area leaves a pretty wide swath of destruction that even I can follow. Broken limbs, bent saplings, leaves and loam from the ground churned into ruts by terrified feet.
The air around me was thick. Not just the normal humid mugginess of South Georgia summer, where the humidity level will make you feel like the heat has slapped a wet blanket over your head and is dragging you into a dark alley to rob you blind. They don’t call it mugginess for nothing.
But it wasn’t just that. The air was thick with some supernatural shit. It jangled through the Angel’s blood that ran in my veins. Long story short, I hunted the monster who killed my family, got killed, got resurrected by an Angel, came back, killed the monster. You want more than that, talk to me later, right now I gotta find these kids. But because of my blood I can sense the weird and paranormal. The stuff in the air was setting that blood on fire. It was a hollow, pungent magick that sat on the back of my throat like spoiled milk.
I pushed through a briar patch that had been shredded by bodies running through it at high speed. The tiny thorns still bit at me, snagging on my jeans, pulling at my shirt, skritch-scratching along the barrel of the shotgun slung over my shoulder. Stepping through the other side I saw the end of the trail just about fifteen feet ahead.
It ended at the mouth of a tiny cave.
Not really even a cave, it was a hole in the rock side of the ridge I was climbing that was a bit less than three feet around. Too small for me to fit in, but just about right for a pre-teen boy to shimmy through. The trail I was tracking along ran straight up to it and disappeared. There wasn’t any blood but the ground had been shredded around the hole, ripped down to bare rock and hard-packed Georgia red clay.
I said a small prayer that somehow, I would find some of them alive. Normally when I hit the scene the bodies are on the floor already and I am chasing the thing that did it. I didn’t want to find pieces of boy today.
I slung the shotgun off my shoulder and down into my hands. It was loaded with silver-plated buckshot. I also had one of my Colt .45′s under my arm, my backup .44 in the small of my back, and since I was wood walking today I had added a heavy-bladed machete with a silvered edge.
“Hello? Anybody in that hole?” My voice rolled through the woods, bouncing off trees and rocks. It carried through the silence. There were no birds chirping. No squirrels scurrying. Hell, even the gnats had stopped buzzing.
My ears strained to hear anything but my own breathing.
From the cave, muffled by the rock, came a voice. “It’s not playing tricks on us. That’s a big guy with a gun. I can see him.”
As I watched a dirty, pudgy face loomed to the opening. It was a kid, about eight, with a rounded face. His eyes jittered from a lack of sleep behind round, wire-frame glasses and his brown hair hung over them, limp from sweat and dirt. He didn’t come out of the hole, stopping just shy of being outside.
“It’s alright kid. You can come out. How many of you are in there?”
“We’re all in here, even Mr. Davis. It opens up once you get inside.”
“Well, y’all come out and let’s get you home.”
“Is that thing gone?”
“I don’t see it anywhere.”
Which was true. But I did feel something. The magick in the air was getting thicker, curdling on my skin. The skin on the back of my scalp tightened. Something was watching us.
“On second thought, stay put kid.”
I reached into my pocket, pulling out a small vial. Before coming down I had known I was going to be hunting something that ate people. The vial was full of donated blood, just what the doctor ordered to bait a monster. My thumb flipped the rubber cap off. I slung the blood around me in a wide arc, sending it flying through the air. It spattered on the leaf covered ground like rain.
The effect was like uncapping a lightning storm.
The ground exploded at the top edge of the ridge. Leaves, dirt, and rocks rained down on me like an avalanche. It drove me back, my shoulder hitting a sapling as my feet skidded down the hill on loose leaves and loam. I slapped out with my arm, grabbing the sapling to stop myself. It bent, curving under my weight, threatening to pull out of the ground and let me slide fall free.
I swung the shotgun up in my right hand and shook my head, blinking away dirt packed into my eyelids, scratching my cornea. My mouth tasted like rotting leaves and wormdirt. My vision cleared as a hoarse, raw roar blatted out through the woods.
A monster was charging down the hill at me.
It was moving fast, hooved feet ripping the earth. A massive antlered head swung back and forth, spiked bone shredding leaves from branches. Baleful yellow eyes rolled in deep sockets on the sides of it’s skull and its mouth dripped with foamy pink spittle. It was huge, all legs and arms around a hollowed ribcage and a bloated belly. It’s skin was sickly translucent, drawn tight over a weird bone skeleton. Organs pulsed and beat inside it like they were being steamed in a plastic bag.
How did a sumbitchin’ Wendigo wind up in the woods of Ballsack, Georgia?
My finger jerked the trigger on the shotgun. It bucked, spitting a fist-sized wad of silver-coated pellets. I didn’t aim, I didn’t have time, but it’s damn hard to miss something near twenty feet tall only ten feet away. The swarm of buckshot punched through the membrane that stretched from splayed rib to swollen belly, ripping it open. Murky green gore splashed out and a chunk of weird organ slipped down, hanging out of the tear.
The Wendigo hit me before I could jack the slide and load in another shell.
We bowled down the hill. One hand clamped under that shaggy throat, holding gnashing teeth away from my face, the other scrabbled against the gore-slicked skin on it’s side. The shotgun was lost. We rolled, the ground slamming into my back like the fist of God then the sky whirling over as we whipped around. My teeth clattered, my lungs felt like they were being squeezed for juice.
Then we hit the briar patch.
A million thorns ripped across every inch of exposed skin, setting it on fire. I kicked out, driving myself up and away from the Wendigo. It fell back in a flail of arms, legs, and antlers. The world spotted black, pulsing in and out as my heart throbbed in my chest. I sucked air desperately as my fingers closed on the grip of the .45 under my arm.
The Wendigo stood with a scream of rage, briars tangled around antlers, jerking them from the ground roots and all. Unblinking egg yolk eyes stared at me in red-rimmed sockets. It threw its mouth open and bellowed at me, spittle flying. I could feel its seething hunger, anguish to slake its torturous appetite, an appetite that drove it like a cruel, mad slavemaster. It was a creature of desperation, driven to the brink and over by wretched starvation.
It couldn’t help what it had become. Wendigos aren’t born. They are tortured creatures, created by hunger. By need. By lack.
And by cannibalism.
The gun thundered in my fist.
Bullets flew, splitting the air between us before the Wendigo could move. Three .45 caliber slugs smashed into its head, just under the eye socket. The hit as a group, almost as one at that distance, churning through, breaking into devastating shrapnel, and spitting out the top of its skull. Its brain was just an enlarged hypothalamus, all the logic centers gone, devoured by the part that controlled hunger and instinct. The smashing bullets spilled it out in a puree.
The Wendigo choked silent, then toppled over into the briar patch. Its pink tongue stuck out between its teeth.
"That was awesome!"
I looked around. The kid from the hole was standing there. He was short and pudgy, dirty as hell, and bowlegged.
"You the only one left kid?"
"Naw." He jerked a chubby hand over his shoulder, thumb pointed behind him. "Brett, Otis, and Mr. Davis are still in the cave." His face broke into a smile. "You really killed that thing! It was like a movie!"
This kid had spent a night in a hole hiding from a cannibalistic horror show and still had the bravery to come out and watch me kill it. Most of the time when someone runs up against the monsters they spend the rest of their lives in therapy. This kid might be alright. "What’s your name son?"
"Donovan. Everybody calls me Donnie."
"Stick with Donovan. It’ll get you further with the ladies."
He nodded like I had just given him the secret to life. Maybe I had. I pushed myself up. I was gonna be sore in the morning.
Donovan watched me. "Hey mister. You gonna take that head for a trophy?"
"Nah. I don’t do that. Besides, it’ll be decomposed in an hour." I could smell it already, ripening in the heat, the Wendigo’s flesh turning cannibalistic on itself. As long as no one got near enough for it to latch on then it would just dissolve away into nothing.
"Let’s go gather your troop and get the hell out of here kid." We turned and headed up the hill.
A buzzing kicked up around us. The gnats were back.
Dammit. I hate the woods.
More about BLOOD AND SILVER:
He hasn’t met a monster yet that could give him a scare. With ice in his veins, silver hollow-points in his chambers, and an innate ability to rise from the dead, what’s to fear? The answer may be something he doesn’t want to face. . .
Deacon Chalk normally has no trouble telling innocent victims from real monsters. So protecting an abused pregnant were-dog is a no-brainer. . .until a vicious lycanthrope leader and his brotherhood target Deacon, other shape-shifters, and any humans in their way. Suddenly, Deacon is outnumbered, outgunned, and unsure who–or what–to trust. The only edge he has left is a weapon hungry for his soul and his most savage impulses. And using it will exact a price even this hell-raising hunter fears to pay. . .
More books by James:
(click on the cover for my thoughts)
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Ends Wednesday, September 5th, 2012
(like all of our Paranormal Summer Camp giveaways)
James R. Tuck is the author of the Deacon Chalk series from Kensington. He is a former bouncer and a professional tattoo artist. He owns Family Tradition Tattoo in Marietta, Ga. He lives in the Atlanta area with his wonderful wife, two wonderful children, and four wonderful dogs.
He writes the stories that keep you up at night.
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