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Please enjoy this select sample from my new novella In the Shadow of the Mountain. If you enjoy it, consider picking up a copy, e-book only, at Madness Heart Press. Link for the e-book is below.
Click here to buy a copy of "In the Shadow of the Mountain"
DID DEAN CLINTOC HAVE thoughts? Amber considered if the big, dumb jock had more than a Rolodex of five insults. From what she could tell, all Dean could do was loosely string the words fuck, faggot, shit, dick, and bitch, into semi-coherent sentences. His IQ was pushing 95 at best, and the idea of sitting in the woods thinking didn't seem like his M.O. To that end, she wondered how she let the meandering troglodyte convince her to follow him into the mountains. Amber was prepared for anything at this point. A practical joke, a not-so-practical joke, even a downright "motherfuckers are gonna bleed" joke. Sure, he was captain of varsity football, and, yeah, he was the most popular kid in school, but nothing about that appealed to her. They had sort of an understanding. He'd stay away from her, and she wouldn't insult him in ways that forced him to Google the meaning of words.
But it was the idea. He wanted her to come with him to the place he'd been going to for deep thought. "Deep thought." The knuckle-dragger was deep in thought. No matter how she tried to rationalize it, it didn't seem likely. Still, he'd seemed so serious; he'd missed multiple practices in this season. Sure, he'd missed multiple classes, too, that was normal; but missing practice so late in the season? That was a surefire way, even for Dean, the sheriff 's son, to get benched. Meaning something had become more important than football.
Maybe this was it? Perhaps the pressure of being the coolest kid in school, being the sheriff 's son, captain of the varsity team, had finally caused the kid to crack. Maybe some of it actually got through his skull. Maybe, he realized he'd never amount to anything of value beyond this town, and the most he could hope for was to play professionally. Which, given his grade averages, wasn't very likely. Maybe he'd realized that, in all likelihood, he was going to end up his dad's deputy and eventually take over as sheriff. Maybe he'd realized how small he was compared to the rest of the world; growing up in a mountain top tourist town where the population shrinks from 1,500 people to maybe 70 people in the winter time.
It just intrigued Amber. Not that Dean Clintoc, of all people, might be going through an existential crisis, but that he wanted to share it with her. Frankly, she was just too curious.
"How far we climbing, man?" Amber steadied her gait, trudging up the dry creek bed that descended from the mountains. Autumn leaves fell around them.
"This is just the first climb. I said it was far," he answered, dismissively. "We're gonna clear this here rise and..." There was an uncomfortable pause. "Head east up another rise into the next ridge."
"Whoa, whoa, there cowboy. That's Oliver Town." What Amber referred to was the pet name for the town of Moon. "I'm not exactly familiar to the Olivers."
"It's fine," Dean gave a slight shake of the head, and Amber caught an eye roll out of the corner of his eye. "Most of the Oliver boys knew me before the league said they had to play for the next county over. We're not close or nothing, but I can come and go as I please and they don't bother me."
"Forgive me if I'd prefer to avoid a dangerous pack of known fornicators and inbred mutants," Amber waved the thought off before proceeding back down the creek.
"What the shit! For the love of god, they don't have black veins and crab claws." Dean was clearly cross. "You know what? Forget it. I thought you, of all people, would understand, but you've done nothing but bitch. If you don't wanna see, just fuck off back to those damn faggots at the school!"
Amber fought off the urge to play Dean bingo in her head. All she had to do was get him to say dick, and the scorecard would be complete. She refocused and fought to stop smirking.
"I'm sorry," she stated simply, turning back around, "It's just, that's over another two hours, and we haven't exactly got great history to date."
"I know." Dean gestured back up the hill and Amber obliged. "But. The whole thing is just some damn joke! You'll get a scholarship, and you'll get the hell out of here and never look back. Even if I get into a third-string college on a sports scholarship, what then? I'm not gonna be a doctor or a lawyer."
Amber's thoughts poured out of Dean's mouth. Almost verbatim. Was the guy getting it? Was he actually having a profound revelation? The whole idea threw her off her game. She didn't know what to think or expect. If this was a gag, it was well outside his normal capacity. When was the last time she even saw him so much as pick up a newspaper? Where could all this be coming from?
"I don't want to be a god damn cop," Dean continued. "There's a whole world out there, and I only get to see this town, and maybe spring break in Cancun? I'll waste my life trying to determine if the break-in was a human or a raccoon, then maybe I'll retire and go on a fucking cruise once. Fuck is my life for? Why the fuck am I wasting my fucking time? I've already seen the whole damn thing play out. Fuck that shit! This town can suck my dick!"
And there it is. Amber thought while she tried not to chuckle to herself. Bingo!
"And then I found th-, it. I found it. I found something different, a way out, and I knew you'd understand. You've been waiting to blow this fucking place your whole life. And this is it. The way out." Dean nodded. He started climbing faster.
Far beyond pure intrigue, Amber felt something closer to disbelief. She needed to know what Dean stumbled onto that caused this revelation. She still wasn't comfortable with Oliver Town and certainly didn't want to meet any Olivers. Even Dean's dad wouldn't go to Oliver town. But if Dean knew the Olivers, she was willing to chance to learn for this big secret.
The journey continued as the sun climbed with Dean and Amber. Finally, the westward climb broke to a ridge, and the two could travel easily. Just beyond the ridge was the opening to an old mine.
"Sweet Jesus, tell me you found an abandoned gold mine." Amber's eyes lit up. His secret could be any thing at this point, after all.
"No." Dean sounded annoyed again like Amber was missing something obvious." I think it was herkimer, but that's not the fucking point. Look, paw told me a lot of miners from way back in the days were pretty superstitious. They didn't have no regulations or modern equipment or nothing to keep them healthy. Lot of time, prospectors would start leaning on old witches and shit to help them get rich and stay safe. They'd get into it, too. Almost like black magic or some shit, summoning demons and the like. Lotta hillbilly tradition links back to it."
Dean proceeded into the mine without hesitation, like he was walking into his house. The notion of doing so herself felt uncomfortable for Amber. He practically disappeared no more than a few yards in, like the darkness had a thickness to it.
"Yeah, I... Idon't think I'll be going in there." Amber paused. Something nagged at her gut. Something was off. There was this smell, like a colossal wasp nest.
"Didn't think you, of all people, were afraid of the dark." Dean's voice came from inside, echoing in the chamber. "It's no more than 20 yards, then it just ends. C'mon. You came all this way, just come on back here and see for yourself."
There was that nagging sensation, that awful smell, and the impenetrable darkness. Everything about it smacked of danger, but she just had to know. Why else come all this way? In there was the thing that opened Dean's mind. Slowly she moved in, and the darkness enveloped her. Every step forward was a step toward uncertainty. Just up ahead, something shifted, something barely perceptible. Amber didn't scream. She didn't have the chance.