Description: Some things were never meant to be found.
When a family goes missing in the wilds of Washington State, veteran outdoorsman Ken Holbrook agrees one last time to lead a team of teenage search-and-rescue trainees — a joker, a brain, an Eagle Scout, a cute couple and a bully — deep into the forest to find them. But their compasses point them in wrong directions, their terrain doesn’t match their maps, and their radio — their only link to the outside world — spews only static. They will soon discover that the family they are looking for is not the only thing lost in those woods. Something truly terrible waits for them. Ken and his team of misfits will have to work together to battle a relentless, faceless evil if they hope to get out of the woods alive.
Excerpt: Copyright © 2012 E. Michael Lewis
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Kenneth Holbrook smiled. The river would be all his.
In the darkness, rain lashed Ken’s apartment building with frigid torrents. Rushing wind pressed into his kitchen window and rattled the blinds as he finished his coffee. Not for the first time, his lights flickered.
This was exactly the weather Ken wanted. A perfect Pacific Northwest morning. He could wade into the icy water and stand solitary, casting his fishing line upstream or down. He could smell the clean rain fall into the turbulent Green River and watch as the steady wind made the evergreens wave to him from the banks. The other fishermen would stay home.
With his tackle already stowed in his truck, Ken set the empty cup in the kitchen sink and reached for his backpack. He slung it over his shoulder and took one step toward the front door.
His telephone rang.
For a moment he just stared at it, willing the shrill noise to stop. Each ring brought him closer to memories of lying in bed in the dark, listening to his phone ringing, dread pooled in his stomach. He was wide awake now, but that same feeling returned to him. He didn’t want to answer it, but like all the other times the dread came to him, he did.
“This is South County Search and Rescue calling for Kenneth Holbrook.”
Ken’s jaw tightened. He could barely acknowledge the operator with a grunt.
“I’m putting through a call from the field. Please stand by.”
“What?” This was not usually what happened when these people called. South County Search and Rescue had ruined more than one day of fishing or weekend of backpacking, but never had they patched in a call from off-site.
There was an audible click on the line, then the hiss of static.
Ken’s eyebrows knit together. “Hello?”
A voice answered him, as if from the bottom of a well. “Kenny? Kenny Holbrook, is that you?”
He cringed. He hated being called Kenny. But his annoyance became an undercurrent as he recognized the voice. “Bruce? Bruce Hayden, you old goat. Christ, you sound like you’re calling from Hell. Collect.”
“Yeah, well, you ain’t far from the truth.” There was an uncomfortable pause. “Listen Kenny, I’m up to my eyeballs in some serious shit and I was wondering…”
“Oh, for crying out loud Kenny, will you at least let me finish?”
“No, Bruce, you don’t have to. I know how this one ends. ‘Kenny, I need you, blah blah blah, been lost forty-eight hours, you’re my only hope.’ I’ve listened to this crap since I was fourteen, Bruce. The answer is no.”
“Aw, come on, Kenny. We do need you. I need you.”
“Look, I’m sorry, it’s nothing personal, but I’ve seen enough, okay? Call somebody under twenty-one for a change.”
“Oh, so that’s what this is about? Did you take your name off the active list because you’re afraid you can’t hack it, or because you’re jealous of those teenagers who can pull their own weight when you can’t?”
Ken switched the phone from one ear to the other and threw his backpack on the floor. “Now you wait a Goddamn minute, mister. I was a searcher for over ten years. I can’t count the times going out on searches ruined my personal life. And for what, Bruce? To find some moldy, half-eaten body? To crawl on my knees through poison oak and blackberry bushes looking for finger bones and hair fragments? Jesus, Bruce, I’m pushing thirty. I want to go back to college, finish my forestry degree, get a job with the Parks Service. I want my life back. Can’t you see that?”
“Dammit, I know all that. Do you think I’d be calling you if I had a choice?” The static hissed like the swaying trees outside. “Kenny, I’m up shit creek here, and I don’t have a paddle or a boat.”
Ken sighed. “Where are you?”
“Blackchurch—sort of. We’ve got a missing family—Mom, Dad, twin girls—we found their car at a trailhead. They’re overdue from their day hike and something feels very wrong. These are tourists, Kenny. No outdoor experience. The father’s an accountant, for Chrissake.”
“So? You can’t tell me you’re short on live bodies.”
“No, but I am short on experienced ones. I’ve got a dozen teens standing around because I’ve got no one to lead them into the field.”
“There’s a first time for everything.”
“Oh, come on, I can’t just send these kids out there with a radio and say ‘have at it.’ It’s hunting season out here. Some of these kids aren’t even smart enough to wear safety orange.” The static overwhelmed the phone for a moment. “Look, I know you’ve seen a lot of bad shit. So have I. But do you remember that lumberjack who broke his leg? Do you remember how happy he was to see us? Christ, he nearly French kissed us both.”
Ken remembered. He felt the flush of pride rise within him. After a second he felt an awful twisting inside his chest and the warmth vanished. “That doesn’t make up for it, Bruce. Not for me.”
“Dammit Kenny, you’ve never turned down your duty before.”
“This is not my duty anymore.”
Ken was astonished to hear Bruce’s voice shake. “Kenny, please.”
Ken didn’t speak.
“I swear to you, on my mother’s grave, this is the last time.”
In the next few seconds, Ken’s entire Search and Rescue career tumbled through his mind. Heroic, grotesque, the images rushed through his brain like a painkiller, blotting out his pride and responding to the guilt.
Ken’s voice was barely audible. “When?”
“As soon as you can. I’ll have someone waiting at the old Rocket gas station in Blackchurch.”
“Bring your big pack.”
“And wear as much safety orange as you can find.”
“And Kenny—thank you.”
“Fine.” Kenneth Holbrook hung up the phone and kicked his pack across the kitchen, clenching his fists.
“Goddammit!” he shouted.
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