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Authors: Ray Garton

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Vortex

BOOK: Vortex
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Table of Contents

Copyright © 2013 by Ray Garton

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Cemetery Dance Publications
132-B Industry Lane, Unit #7
Forest Hill, MD 21050
http://www.cemeterydance.com

The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

First Limited Edition Printing

Cover & Interior Artwork © 2013 by Russell Dickerson
Cover Design by Desert Isle Design
Interior Design by Kate Freeman Design

Dedicated to
My good friend
Liz Rowell
and
as always
To Dawn
with love

G
ertie Mahler followed the beam of her flashlight into the night to see what had upset the goats. The heavy Mag-Lite wasn’t really necessary; the moon was full and cast a blue-tinted glow over everything. The cold night was still now, but only a few minutes ago, the goats had kicked up a loud fuss. That alone wouldn’t have gotten her out of bed, but in the midst of all their bleating, Gertie had heard a loud cry of pain and distress from one of the goats and knew something was wrong.

As she neared the pen, she could hear the goats moving around and making sharp bleating sounds. They were still upset about something.

It was almost two-thirty in the morning, but she hadn’t been asleep. Gertie hadn’t gotten a full night’s sleep in years. She usually read into the wee hours of the morning. Gertie read a lot. If she still couldn’t sleep, sometimes she worked on one of her jigsaw puzzles or did some crocheting, but tonight she’d been lying in bed staring into the dark. She’d welcomed a reason to get up and move around and had put on her overalls, slipped her .22 pistol into a pocket and found the flashlight. Although she’d tried not to make any noise that might wake her parents, it was impossible to walk through the old house without making the floor loudly creak and pop.

The gate squealed as she opened it and the sound startled the goats. They were crowded into a far corner of the pen.

“Whatsamatter with you guys, huh?” she said. The fence rattled at the other end of the pen and she swept the light toward the sound.

One of the goats was being dragged over the fence, limp and floppy like a rag doll, its head lolling, tongue hanging from its mouth. It thumped to the ground on the other side.

Gertie took the gun from her pocket as she heard the goat being dragged over the ground. She jogged over to the fence and pointed the light in the direction of the sound. A small, hunched figure clumsily dragged the dead goat away. Whatever it was, it moved fast, but she found it with the light a moment before it disappeared around the utility shed her father had built when Gertie was just a small girl. She gasped loudly, then muttered, “What on earth...”

It could not be what it appeared to be. In the moment the light caught the figure, it looked like—No, she thought,
not out here at this time of night—a
small child. She decided the figure was distorted by the combination of the darkness and its rapid movement. She put the gun back in her pocket.

Gertie was by no means a small woman and it wasn’t easy to climb over the four-foot-tall panel fence, but she knew going back through the gate and around the pen would mean losing sight of the predator. She grunted and huffed as she mounted the fence and the wire sagged under her considerable weight. Along with being heavy and out of shape, Gertie was a few years past 50 and didn’t move as fast as she once did. She dropped to the ground on the other side and the flashlight fell from her hand. She picked it up, struggled to her feet and hurried in the direction of the dead goat as she took the gun from her pocket again. She jogged over the rocky ground and up the slope of the hill beyond the goat pen. She tripped going over a clump of low pinemat manzanita but didn’t fall. In her left hand, she kept the flashlight trained on the moving figure up ahead.

The goat was dragged into the darkness of a copse of mountain hemlock trees. Gertie stopped at the edge of the thicket. The beam of her flashlight caught movement in there and she heard something: a snarling sound and wet smacking and chewing.

She moved past the first two trees and settled her light on a pale figure hunkering beside one of the trunks. Its back was to her and she saw the small ridges of its spine, the sharp edge of its shoulder blades. Its skin had a light bluish hue, which Gertie attributed to the moon’s bright glow.

It
was
a child. Naked, its black hair long and shaggy the child squatted by the tree, bent forward, holding the limp, dead goat in its arms, head jerking back and forth as it tore into the animal and chewed noisily.

Gertie stopped breathing as she stared at the child, shocked and frightened. She could not imagine what series of mishaps would result in a child being alone and naked in the mountains and so hungry that he would attack, kill and eat a goat. She didn’t know what to do. Should she
speak
to the child? It seemed unaware of her presence.

She opened her mouth to say something, but her voice was hoarse, so she cleared her throat.

The child’s back stiffened as it dropped the goat. It turned its head to look at her first, then rose as its entire body turned around. He faced her in a crouched position of defense, arms slightly spread. Blood formed a glistening goatee around his mouth and dribbled from his chin.

“Oh, honey, what’s happened to you?” she said, her voice rising in pitch as the sight of the bloody, emaciated boy brought her quickly to tears. His ribs and hip bones stood out sharply and his arms and legs were skeletally thin. The bluish tint of the child’s skin was not from the moon. Gertie assumed it was from exposure, or perhaps malnutrition—surely that was not his natural color. “Where did you come from?” she said, slipping the .22 back in her pocket.

The boy straightened his posture and took a step toward her. His bloody lips parted to reveal long, narrow, evenly-spaced teeth that came to sharp points.

Gertie felt a moment of dizziness when she saw the boy’s teeth and a moment of dread when she saw him moving slowly toward her. When she looked down and saw what was between his legs, she realized that this was
not
a child.

The small creature slowly lifted its arms as it advanced, and Gertie took a stumbling step backward, but—

—it sprang forward as Gertie raised her right arm defensively, and it hit her with surprising force. She fell backward and slammed hard to the ground as the creature buried its teeth in her forearm.

Gertie screamed for her father.

Chapter One

K
aren Moffett frowned as she looked through the small window to her left and saw the airport below. The fluttery sensation she’d been feeling in her stomach since they’d taken off from San Francisco suddenly felt more intense. “Are they equipped to take this plane?” she said.

Gavin Keoph was slumped in the seat beside her, his chin resting on his chest, hands folded over his stomach. He raised a weary brow when she spoke and turned to her. “I’m sorry?”

“This airport. The Redding Municipal Airport.”

“What about it?”

“It looks like they finished building the gift shop and then lost interest and went home.”

“Yeah, not much here, like I said.”

Karen frowned as she continued to stare out the window. “I’m afraid they’re going to ask
us
to help with the landing.”

“It’ll be fine. I’ve landed here before.”

She turned to him. “Can I ask you a question?”

Sure.


Why?

He sighed and sat up in his seat, eyelids heavy. “I told you. I had an aunt who lived here. My favorite aunt, in fact. I looked forward to our visits with Aunt Eileen. She was a lot of fun.” He smiled slightly. “When we went to her place for holiday gatherings when I was a kid, shed sneak me some brandy while nobody was looking. First time I got drunk was thanks to Aunt Eileen. The last time I was here was for her funeral. About five years ago.”

“So you know this town?”

“Not that well. And only because Aunt Eileen lived here.”

“And you’ve flown in a plane that has successfully landed in this airport?”

“More than once, yes.”

“Because from up here,” she said, looking out the window again, “I’m not entirely sure they know that planes are
supposed
to land here.”

“Yeah, it’s small. But it’s adequate.”

“Adequate,” she said with a chuckle, turning to him with eyebrows raised high and eyes narrowed. “That’s fine for a gardener or a manicurist. But when it comes to, oh, I don’t know, nuclear power plants, surgeons and
airports
... I’m not sure it’s enough.”

“You worry too much.” He slumped in his seat again. “The only reason
you’re
so relaxed is that you took two Xanax pills before we left San Francisco. And you were a
wreck
at the time.”

“Only because I’m trying to quit smoking.”


Again.

“Yeah, well, when did
you
ever quit?”

“I’m not a quitter.”

“Tell that to me when you’re lying in a hospital bed gasping for breath as you’re dying of cancer.”

“I won’t be able to because you’ll be dead from an overdose of Xanax.”

Gavin took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Do your friends ever tell you that you’re an insufferable smartass?”

“Not if they know what’s good for them.”

As the plane touched down, Karen grabbed Gavin’s hand and clutched it tightly.

He turned to her with a smirk. “You don’t like to fly, do you?” He watched as she became tenser, then smiled and said, “You’re
scared
, aren’t you?”

It was her turn to take in a deep breath and let it out slowly. Still squeezing his hand, she said, “Bite me.”

The plane landed adequately and the passengers were herded across the tarmac and into the terminal.

Martin Burgess had told Karen he would meet them in the Chinese restaurant at the airport. She was skeptical. The building didn’t look big enough to be an airport terminal
and
house a restaurant. But then, Karen had no experience with small-town airports; for all she knew, this one was standard.

Once inside, they followed the signs to Peter Chu’s. The restaurant was upstairs above the terminal’s small waiting area.

“Will you be able to stay awake long enough to eat?” Karen said as they climbed the stairs.

“With Martin at the table? Who could sleep?”

They were greeted by a young Asian hostess.

“We’re supposed to meet Martin Burgess here,” Gavin said.

She checked her clipboard, then led them through the restaurant. One side was all windows that looked out on the runway. She ushered them into a small banquet room off to the side. It was empty except for Martin Burgess and a young woman sitting at a round table. They were leaning close and talking quietly.

When Karen and Gavin entered the room, Burgess sat up straight, his face brightened and then he stood and spread his arms wide.

“Karen! Gavin! Come in, come in! So good to see you!” He stepped around the table and shook Gavin’s hand. “Welcome to Shasta County! Where Jesus is lord and Sarah Palin is queen!” He turned to Karen and hugged her. “You just keep getting more and more beautiful.”

BOOK: Vortex
8.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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