Authors: Rick Hautala
Tags: #hautala maine bestseller thriller king wildman killer camp ground mystery woods forest serial killer
This eBook edition by Ghostwriter Publications at Smashwords
Dorchester, Dorset, England
© Rick Hautala 2011
PRAISE FOR RICK HAUTALA!
“Rick Hautala’s work shines with dedication, hard-earned craft and devotion.” - Peter Straub
“A master of contemporary horror and suspense.” - Cemetery Dance
“Rick Hautala proves each time out that he understands and respects the inner workings of the traditional horror novel as well or better than anyone writing.” - Joe R. Lansdale
To everyone at NECon, especially the Booths—Mary, Bob, Dan, and Sarah …
As Stan Wiater says:
Some people have a life. We have NECon.”
De goat never know de use of him tail
till de butcher cut it off.”
You could say it all started with a late-night phone call in July, but that wouldn’t be strictly accurate.
Pre-conditions can be set, and there are always unseen forces in motion long before we become aware of them. It’s rather egocentric or, we might say, “human-centric” to declare that anything starts at any particular point in time simply because that’s when we first notice it.
And we should never forget that there are always things we don’t know, buried secrets that might eventually come to light with or without our help. Like it or not, there are things that will knock us down before we see them coming.
That’s life, and as they say: “Life moves in mysterious ways.” Like an underground river slithering silently through dark caverns deep within the earth, we never know when something long hidden is going to boil up suddenly into the light. Worst of all, we never know what might be drifting on those dark, mysterious currents until they sweep us away.
So to say all of this began about twenty minutes before midnight on a humid night in mid-July last year when Jeff Cameron got a phone call from someone he hadn’t heard from in so long that it might just as well have been a ghost on the other end of the line is as good a point as any to say this is the moment when this particular story begins.
Jeff and everyone else involved—Evan Pike, Tyler Crosby, Fred Bowen and Mike Logan—and even some of the people who were already dead at this point—Jimmy Foster and Ralph Curran and Mark Bloomberg—had secrets enough to hide and reasons enough to hope those secrets would never see the light of day. The late-night telephone call that begins this story was just the first spark of light that would grow brighter until it ultimately revealed much more than anyone involved ever wanted revealed.
It was Wednesday night.
As usual, Jeff had had a hard day at work at the real estate agency. Every day was tough. At least today was Wednesday—“hump day.” Just two more days on the downhill slide to the weekend. Of course, Jeff’s prospects for the weekends weren’t all that thrilling either, but at least he wouldn’t have to put in any time at work. His assistant, Betty Schroeder, was more than eager to cover the few showings they had scheduled on Saturday and Sunday.
Susan, Jeff’s wife, had left him almost a year ago, and Jeff still hadn’t adjusted. The house seemed unnaturally large and empty without her around. More and more, Jeff found himself wondering why he even stayed at his job when he no longer needed to maintain such a high standard of living, much less a big house like this—especially now that Matt, their only child, was off to college. He could probably make a killing if he sold now, but the real estate market, which had been booming in southern Maine for the last ten-plus years, was finally getting a little soft.
How about house prices and sales in free fall?
Jeff thought bitterly.
Just when I’m thinking about bailing out, prices drop through the floor.
For the last six months or more, he had been forced to admit he didn’t really enjoy the peace and quiet at home the way he thought he would. With Susan and Matt both gone, this place with its four bedrooms, huge living room and dining room, family room, and game room in the basement, wrap-around porch, two and a half baths, and three-car garage was much more than he needed or, the ways things were looking, would ever need.
So why not just get a shack somewhere out in the boondocks and save some bucks?
As always, Jeff had eaten supper alone. Tonight, it had been take-home Massaman curry with tofu from the Thai restaurant downtown. He watched the evening news—which was as depressing as ever—and then settled down to read a little before taking a hefty shot of rum—but just
shot to help him sleep—and gone to bed.
He had slept soundly until the phone rang, shattering the quiet.
Confused and disoriented, Jeff sat up in bed and reached for the phone as he glanced at his bedside alarm clock. He’d already taken out his contacts, so the numerals were a bright smear of glowing red lines. Leaning closer, he was finally able to make out the time. His heart jumped.
Shit! … Something bad’s happened … Someone’s died!
His throat felt suddenly parched as he mentally flashed through the short list of people who might have died or been injured.
Dad’s heart finally gave out … Mom had another stroke … or maybe it’s the town cops in Ithaca … Matt’s been out partying with his college buddies … he drove after having a few too many … or maybe it’s Barry … Susan’s new husband … Susan ad a heart attack or has inoperable cancer … or she’s killed herself … or started drinking again … or … or …
“H’lo?” Jeff said, licking his lips. His stomach was churning as he readied himself for whatever load of bad news was about to drop on his head.
There was a long pause at the other end of the line. If there had been a dial tone instead of the long, hollow silence, Jeff might have thought he had dreamed the phone had rung, but then—faintly—someone on the other end of the line took a deep, whistling breath.
Jeff’s panic rose, and he kicked away the sweat-soaked bed sheet that was tangled around his feet. Then he swung his legs over the side of the bed, barely restraining the impulse to get up and start pacing just to be doing
to relieve the tension inside him. In spite of the heavy humidity in the air, a chill wrapped around his shoulders like a drape of thin cloth as he straightened up, preparing to tell whomever this was to
and then hang up.
“’S that you, Jeff?” a man’s voice he didn’t recognize said.
“Yeah, it’s me.” Jeff realized his hand not holding the phone was balled into a fist. He consciously relaxed it. “Who the hell is this?”
Another pause, shorter this time, was followed by a faint, nervous chuckle.
“Sorry,” the voice said. “I was just lighting a cigarette. You’ll never guess in a million years.”
That was all the person on the other end of the line needed to say. A sudden rush made Jeff feel light-headed. In an instant, he was whisked back more than thirty years to when he was a kid.
“Tyler?” he said, incredulous. “No way. This can’t be Tyler Crosby.”
Jeff was amazed to hear himself say the name. A tight smile spread across his face.
“Freakin’-A straight it is,” the voice said. “How’d you know it was me?”
Feeling dizzy from the momentary flood of relief because no one was hurt or dead, Jeff let his shoulders sag as he sat down on the edge of the bed and took a shallow breath. He stared into the darkness as long-forgotten memories filled his mind. When they were kids, Tyler Crosby was always saying a million this or a million that …
“I told you a million times” … “I’ll bet you a million bucks” … “You’ll never guess in a million years” …
Back then, Jeff had jokingly said to him: “If I told you once, I told you a million times—you exaggerate,” but Tyler never got the joke.
“Easy as pie,” Jeff said with a faint chuckle as he dredged up a mental image of his childhood friend. Short, dark-haired with pale blue eyes and a Pillsbury Dough Boy physique. He couldn’t imagine how much Tyler had changed over the years. A moment later, though, his shoulders stiffened again, and he shivered when he wondered why Tyler Crosby was calling him after … how long had it been?
“’S been a helluva long time,” Jeff said, trying to sound a lot more at ease than he was feeling. “And—Christ! It’s late. What’s up?”
“Oh, yeah,” Tyler said. “I forgot. You’re three hours ahead of me. Sorry.”
“I’m guessing you live on the West Coast?”
“Yeah. L.A. I’m a lawyer. Mostly I do entertainment law.”
“No shit.” Jeff was painfully aware of the snap in his voice. Making small talk at this hour was already starting to wear thin. He had to be up at six o’clock to get ready for work. The last thing he needed to hear was that someone he hadn’t spoken to or even thought about much if at all in the last thirty-whatever years was some hot shot lawyer to the stars.
“I just got an e-mail from someone,” Tyler said, “a mutual friend, and was wondering if you’d gotten the same one.”
“An e-mail? I dunno.” Jeff scrubbed his face with the flat of his hand. His skin was oily with sweat. “I—uh, I won’t check my e-mail again until I get to the office in the morning.”
“I’ll bet you this one’s gonna interest you.”
“Bet me a million bucks?” Jeff asked, but Tyler didn’t get that he was poking fun at him. Maybe he wasn’t as conscious as Jeff was of how much he used the expression.
“It was from Evan.”
The instant Jeff heard the name, a dash of cold rippled through him. The surrounding darkness pulsed and subtly pressed in on him, making it hard to catch his breath.
“Evan Pike?” Jeff thought his voice sounded like a faint echo, reverberating hollowly in the darkness.
Evan. And guess what?”
“I couldn’t guess … not in a million years,” Jeff said, barely aware this time that he was imitating Tyler.
“He wants to have a reunion.”
“A camp reunion.”
“A camp reunion.”
Jeff didn’t like the way he kept repeating everything Tyler said, but the shot of rum he’d had before bed, and being awakened from a deep sleep had thrown him off. He was a little embarrassed that Tyler had caught him off guard like this. He liked to think he was always on top of his game.
“What do you mean,
a camp reunion?
“At Camp Tapiola,” Tyler said, “on Lake Onwego.”
Jeff sucked in his breath with a loud
, but as hard as he tried to focus, his mind was a roaring white blank.
He had no idea how to respond.
The first, most reasonable thing would be to read the e-mail tomorrow, assuming Evan had sent one to him, and see what he thought. Evan had to have invited him if he invited Tyler. There was no reason to think otherwise, but then, knowing Evan—or at least Evan the way he had been when he was twelve years old—he couldn’t be sure without actually checking his e-mail.
“I—ah … I dunno,” Jeff finally said. “Camp Tapiola—Jeeze, I haven’t thought about that place in … ages … not since … well … you know—”