Sample Chapter

D.  C.  A L E X A N D E R      T H E   O F F I C I A L   S I T E



T H E  L E G E N D  O F  D E V I L ’ S  C R E E K

S A M P L E   C H A P T E R

 



 

The brows of men by the despairing light

Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits

The flashes fell upon them; some lay down

And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest

Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smiled;

And others hurried to and fro, and fed

Their funeral piles with fuel, and looked up

With mad disquietude on the dull sky . . . .

                                    —Lord Byron, Darkness

 

 



 

APRIL

 


 


            ONE

 

 

 

 

        Driving away from Port Baker just after midnight, Tyler Primeau kept his window cracked, despite the relentless rain, to vent the smoke of his cigarette and help clear the steamed up windshield of his rusting Camero.  His route toward the north end of Aubrey Island was flanked by dense coastal forest—walls of second-growth fir, alder, and maple that towered overhead, giving drivers the impression they were passing through a long, dark tunnel.  Disregarding the poor visibility, Tyler tore along the narrow and winding road at reckless speed.
        His hands squeezed the steering wheel and his gut began to tighten as he reflected on yet another evening of humiliation, this time over three ill-fated games of “loser buys next round” pool with his friend Steve back at the tavern.  Steve always beat him at everything—pool, darts, cards, everything.  Worse, this time there were three cute girls at the tavern who, as usual, ignored Tyler and flocked to Steve.  He was sure they all saw him for the balding old loser he knew he was.
        Eager for distraction, he tuned the radio to his favorite late-night program.  They usually talked about cool shit like ESP, demonic possession, or UFO encounters.  Tonight a guest was describing, in a heavy Texas accent, his theory that a government program meant to track cases of avian flu was part of a greater international conspiracy to install an anti-Christian dictatorship to rule the United States.  A simple choice was coming for everyone: do nothing, and pay for your failure with eternal damnation and torment, or join the battle as a soldier of God and be saved.  There would be no middle ground.
       
Tyler drove on toward his girlfriend’s dilapidated trailer that always stank of mildew, cat box, and stale beer.  It sat on a damp lot surrounded by mossy trees that blocked out the sun even on those rare days when it wasn’t already obscured by the endless grey rain clouds of the Pacific Northwest spring.  And she had the balls to make him pay rent to live in that piss hole.  It was such bullshit.  He paid her because he couldn’t find another place where they’d let him keep his pit bulls.  Still, it was bullshit.  Worse, she had a dumb ass four-year-old boy with a hearing problem who took up way too much of her attention.
        
If that little deaf bastard is still up watching Sesame Street videos with the volume on full blast, I swear I’ll smack the shit out of him.
        The closer he got to the trailer, and the more he thought about things, the hotter his face felt.  A muscle along the back edge of his jaw began to tick.  He wanted to punch the ceiling of his car.  But the last time he'd done that, his hand ended up swollen and sore for two weeks.  He settled for a long, furious drag off his cigarette, burning it nearly to the filter.  Reaching to roll down the window to toss it out, he was startled by a thump-thump and simultaneous lurch of his car.  The cigarette dropped from his mouth as he grabbed the wheel.  He thrust his pelvis against his seat belt, hoping to flip the still-burning butt off his lap, but it fell into the gap between his legs as he hammered his brakes, his car shimmying as though the tires were rolling through ice troughs.  But it hadn't snowed in months, and there was nothing on the road but the wet of five days of continuous rain. 
        He struggled to maneuver the car onto the gravel shoulder as it decelerated, and finally brought it to a stop.  Scorching his thumb as he retrieved the smoldering butt, he tossed it out the small opening of his window, then sat for a long moment trying to catch his breath.
        Holy fucking shit.
        He scanned the gauges of his car, searching for any clue as to what happened.  There were no warning lights illuminated, nothing out of the ordinary.  Taking a deep breath, he unbuckled his seat belt, opened the door, and stepped out into the driving rain.  His first thought was to check the front of his car to see if he’d hit something.  Maybe a raccoon or a small deer.  But before he even closed his door, he saw that the front left tire was completely flat.
      “Oh, fuck,” he groaned.  Then it occurred to him that he hadn’t replaced his spare from when he got a flat the previous year.  “Fucking shit.”  Maybe I can just drive it with the flat the last couple of miles to Gina’s.  I’m already so fucking late, that bitch is going to have a fucking fit.
       He decided to check on the spare anyway.  Maybe it would at least hold air for a few minutes.  As he closed the driver’s-side door and turned to walk to the back of the car, he saw that the left rear tire was also completely flat.
       “Fuck!  You got to be fucking kidding me!”
       Tyler exhaled with great exaggeration, put his hands on his hips, and looked up to face the cold rain falling from the black sky above.  Two flat tires.  Un-fucking-believable.  He didn’t have extra money laying around for this kind of shit. 
      
Shaking his head, he got down on hands and knees to inspect the flats, looking for anything that could have punctured them.  Bending down until his cheek nearly touched the wet road, he could see the dim silhouettes of both tires on the other side of the car.  They were flat, too.
       Startled, he hopped to his feet.  “What the fff—?” he asked out loud, his eyes wide.  He took a few steps back from his car and looked around.  What the hell could have flattened all four of his tires?
       With no obvious answer, he began a slow circuit of his car, eyeballing each tire, in turn, and scanning the area for clues.  There were no marks on the front bumper, and nothing on the body aside from old dents.  The engine, still running, seemed fine.
       Returning to the rear of the car, he strained to see if there was anything back down the road from the direction he had come—maybe rocks or some other debris on the roadway.  But it was just too dark to tell, and he didn’t think it would be worth the trouble—if it were even possible—to get the car turned around so the headlights would shine in that direction.  Unnerved, he wasn’t about to investigate on foot.  Fuck that.
      At a loss for what to do, he turned the engine off, then found himself even more unsettled by the sudden, relative quiet.  With his t-shirt and jeans already soaking wet, he got down on his hands and knees to get a better look at the right rear tire.  Positioning himself with his head just off the ground, he waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.  Then he heard something.  A brief rustle of underbrush, directly behind him.  It was hardly audible over the hiss of rain falling on the surrounding woods.  But it sounded close enough to make him turn his head and stare.  He peered toward the misty, dark forest, staring for the better part of a minute.  A tingle of fear pricked at his insides.  All he could make out were tree trunks, branches, and underbrush, all wet with rain.
        At last convinced it was nothing, he turned back to the tire, moving his fingertips along the wet and dirty treads, probing for damage.  Finding nothing out of the ordinary on the front quarter, he began to run his hand up over the top of the tire.  As he did so, he heard the rustle again, then the snap of a twig—this time louder and closer.  Much closer.
        As he jerked his head around to look, he was startled by a loud clap followed by a rapid clicking sound like that of a wind-up timer for a board game.  Fiery pain shot through his body, seizing control of his muscles, causing his vision to tunnel.  He tried to scream, but wasn’t sure any sound was coming out of his mouth.
        After what seemed an eternity, the pain released him as abruptly as it had taken hold.  He found himself lying in a fetal position on the wet ground, facing the tire he’d been inspecting, with an acute burning sensation in the middle of his back.  Before he could take a breath, his brain was rocked by a flash of brilliant blue-white light that hit like a hammer.  Then everything went dark. 

            *****

        Tyler began to emerge from the abyss of unconsciousness when a pungent smell—ammonia?—jolted his nervous system.  Then he thought he smelled fabric softener.  Was he dreaming?  His thoughts were fragmented and diluted.  His head throbbed with pain.  As he lumbered through the process of reassembling his awareness, he realized his clothes were soaked, he was cold, and he couldn’t move.  Suddenly nauseous, he opened his eyes, opened his mouth, and puked.
        As he coughed and choked to clear his throat, fighting through confusion as his body convulsed in the act of retching, he realized he was sitting in total darkness.  Then something pulled his chin upward and jerked his head sideways, causing another wave of pain to crash through his skull.  He almost vomited again.  He squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth until the worst of the pain and nausea passed.  His face basted in puke, he realized someone had just yanked some sort of hood—maybe his own black t-shirt—over and off his head.
        Opening his eyes once more, he could see that it was night.  It was raining.  There was a bright light aimed at his face—probably a big flashlight, maybe ten feet away, directly in front of him.  Squinting as he averted his eyes from the harsh light, it dawned on him that the last thing he could remember was being at the tavern playing pool with Steve.  Now he was somewhere in the woods at night, in the rain, wet, cold and shirtless, with a giant flashlight pointing at him.  What the fuck?
        He was sitting on the ground with his legs splayed out in front of him.  As he gathered his strength to stand up, he realized his arms were standing straight out to either side of his body.  Looking around, he saw, to his horror, that his arms were each duct-taped to a long piece of two-by-four that ran behind his shoulders, while another thick band of duct tape bound his torso, holding his naked back tight against a large wet tree trunk.  What the hell is this?  “Hey!  What is this?” he shouted to the surrounding darkness.
        A bolt of pain shot through his head once again as he strained against the duct tape in trying to move.  But the bonds were strong and tight.  Even if he could get sufficient leverage, he was sure the effort would make him pass out again.  He was still light-headed.
        Shit.  Where the hell am I?  He started to tremble and did his best to keep his teeth from chattering as he was seized by a tremendous urge to urinate.  From just behind him, out of his field of view, he heard what sounded like someone unzipping a duffel bag.  Then came a metallic clanking, reminiscent of a rummage through a toolbox.
        “Hey man, what is this?” Tyler shouted, his voice high and tight.  “I only have, like, five bucks on me.  Hey!”
        No answer came.  Just more rustling, and the sound of someone—probably a man, judging by the harshness—clearing his throat.
        “Steve, is that you, you fucker?”
        Summoning courage, Tyler strained to turn his head to see who was behind him.  But the girth of the great tree blocked his view.
        The rustling finally stopped, and Tyler heard his unseen captor inhale and exhale one long, slow breath.  Then footsteps, coming around on the left—no, the right!  Tyler turned to see blue jean legs and brown hiking boots walking up from behind him.  And suddenly there he was, looming over Tyler, just to his right, but beyond the reach of his legs.  A tall man, his head and face covered by a black balaclava.  He stood half illuminated by the flashlight beam still aimed at Tyler’s face.  He stared down at Tyler.  A cold, hard stare.
        Oh, shit.

        “Hey man, is this—is this, like, a practical joke?” Tyler asked, now oblivious to the pain in his head and very much afraid.  “You win, alright?  You scared the shit out of me.  Okay?”  Tyler’s voice quivered as he spoke.  He shied away from meeting the stranger’s eyes.  “You can have my car, my money.  Whatever, man.  Come on.”  But the stranger did not answer.  Then Tyler’s eyes fixed on a metal object in the stranger’s right hand.  A saw?  He’s holding a bow saw.  Slowly, Tyler’s eyes rose from the saw to at last meet the stranger’s cold stare.  Then he knew the stranger planned to hurt him.  He felt nauseous again.  His heartbeat pounded in his ears.
        “Wha-what do you want?” he stuttered, as his trembling became too violent to conceal.  “Come on, man.  Cut me loose.  Please.  Alright?”  Then, meekly, “Please don’t hurt me.”
        At this, the stranger’s expression changed.  His eyes grew wild and his lips pursed.  His breathing became louder and quicker.
        This guy is insane!

        “Please,” Tyler said in a pathetic whimper.
        The stranger was hyperventilating, hateful fury in his stare.  He bent forward until he was almost nose-to-nose with Tyler—his crazy eyes locking on those of his captive—and let fly a blood-curdling, five-second-long scream that Tyler could feel blowing over his own face.
        “Help!” Tyler yelled with a force that tore at his throat.  “Help me!”
        The stranger leaped forward, grasping Tyler’s bound right wrist with one hand and lining up the bow saw on Tyler’s bare right arm just below his shoulder.
        “Don’t!” Tyler screamed in agony, pissing himself as he watched and felt the first stroke of the saw tear through the tissue of his upper arm, slicing deep.  Split skin drew back from the blade, giving Tyler a fleeting glimpse of the newly exposed strata of his own fat and muscle tissue.  Dark blood filled the wound and began to pour out of it.
        He kept screaming, struggling against the duct tape.  In his hysteria, his vision began to tunnel.  Back and forth the saw went, slow but sure, cutting ever deeper into his arm.  He felt warm blood running down the side of his cold, naked torso.  More and more of it ran in interweaving rivulets down his body and onto the ground.  For a wide-eyed and unbelieving moment, he watched his own blood forming a dark pool on the compressed dirt next to his hip.  He could smell it—almost taste it—salty and metallic.  He squeezed his eyes closed when he felt the saw catch on what must have been the bone of his upper arm.  But the stranger simply bore down on the next few strokes and kept at it.  Soon, Tyler couldn’t feel his arm or hand anymore—just an intense burning sensation at the cut, the mild salt sting of tears on his cheeks, and the warm wet of his own blood running down his side.
        Something landed on his legs.  He cracked one eye open to see what it was.  There, lying across his lap, was his own severed arm.  He screamed again.  But the scream quickly faded to a moan.
        Then the stranger went to work on the other arm.  Tyler looked away as he felt blood pouring from the new wound.  He began to feel tired and groggy, almost drunk.  He continued to moan, but each moan grew a little weaker, a little shorter.
       
Finally, the sawing stopped.  Though terrified and thoroughly disoriented, Tyler summoned the strength and focus to look upon his assailant.  The stranger, seeing Tyler looking up at him, set down his saw and stared back.  Then he stepped forward and squatted down so that he was face-to-face with Tyler, his crazy, bugged-out eyes locked in a stare down with his prey.  He reached up with one hand and slowly lifted his mask, revealing a face Tyler was sure he’d never seen before.  Who are you? he wanted to ask.  But he hadn’t the strength to speak anymore.  His lids had grown heavy, his blinking more labored.  He let his eyes close.  He had the sensation he was sinking.  Everything was quiet.
        “Ha!” someone shouted.  “Look what we have here.  You’re fucked now, aren’t you?  Finally getting what you deserve.”
        The voice startled him.  He opened one eyelid for a brief moment.  It wasn't the stranger speaking.  And there was no one else around.  Bewildered, Tyler was nevertheless certain the voice was that of someone he knew.  Someone long dead—his stepfather, the vicious old creep who moved in with Tyler and his mother when Tyler was only four years old, barely a month after his real father was killed by a drunk driver.
       
“Can’t say I’m surprised.  You were always a worthless fuckup.”
        Go to hell, you old asshole.
        “No, you go to hell, you little fuck.  Didn’t I always say you would end up like this?”
        Tyler's most vivid memories of his stepfather were of the son of a bitch beating the hell out of him with a thick leather belt.  It happened all the time, on any bullshit pretext—especially when he was drunk, which was often.  And he would grin as he beat him, as if it were fun for him.  As if it gave him pleasure.  Tyler never understood why his mom stayed with the bastard, or why she didn't at least call the cops, and remembered feeling bitter relief when he finally died of cirrhosis.
        Tyler felt something hit him in the face.  Struggling to open his left eye just a crack, he thought he saw—through the darkening, narrowing tunnel of his vision—the stranger holding his severed arm upright by the wrist, crouching as if ready to swing at a baseball.  Tyler’s heavy eyelid dropped shut once more.  Again the sensation of being hit hard in the face.  But it didn’t hurt that much, and he didn’t have the energy to open his eyes anymore.  He was so tired.  Tired and sleepy.
        “I let you sleep under my roof,” his stepfather went on, “and all you ever did was bitch and moan and fuck things up for everybody.”
        It wasn’t your roof, asshole.  That was my dad’s house, Tyler thought, now sitting cross-legged on the grey sand of a long and colorless beach, staring out beyond the crashing surf, across the dark water, to the featureless horizon.  Where the hell is he, anyway?  Tyler looked all around but saw no one.  He was alone.  Why don’t you show your face now, fuckhead?  I’m not a little kid anymore, and I’ll fuck your shit up.
       
“You’re getting exactly what you deserve.”
        Tyler
sighed, laid back, and gazed up at the dreary overcast sky.  Whatever, you old asshole.  What time is it, anyway?  It has to be really late.  Gina’s going to have a fucking fit.
       
Comfortable on the soft sand, he let his eyes close.  Man, I’m thirsty.  Thirsty and tired as fuck.  Maybe I'll just take a quick nap here.
       
Experiencing a moment of clarity as his consciousness oscillated and flagged, he wondered why his mother never stepped in to protect him from his stepfather, or why she didn’t take him away to a place where the old man couldn’t have hurt him.  She could see what was happening.  Why didn’t she do something?
        Out of the remnants of his disintegrating memory, the long-forgotten answer rematerialized.  For the first time in many years, he remembered how one day, when he was still only five years old, he realized his mother didn’t want him around anymore.  Didn’t love him anymore.  He didn’t know why, but was sure it was his own fault.
        He’d cried himself to sleep at night for weeks after his realization.  Over time, he learned to repress the memory.  But now it had returned with dreadful force, filling his heart anew with the profound sadness he so long ago displaced with burning anger.  His eyes welled with tears.
        “Exactly what you deserve.”
       
Shut the fuck up and leave me alone.
        “But you are alone, Tyler.”
       
Damn.  I am so damned thirsty.  Cold soda sounds good.  A big orange soda with lots of ice.  Or maybe an orange slush, like the kind my real dad used to buy for me at the drive-in before he died.  Those were good. 
He took a long, deep breath.  I miss my dad.
        A warm, dark tide crept up around Tyler, slowly engulfing and covering him where he lay.  He watched its irregular mirrored undersurface climb higher and higher as he gradually sank away from it.  It occurred to him that he should make some effort to swim to the surface to catch his breath.  But he was just too tired.  And though he still felt terribly sad from revisiting the painful secret of his childhood, he took a certain comfort in a distant memory of his real father—the two of them sitting on a park bench in the sun, smiling, sipping orange slushes through red-striped straws.  Anyway, his arms didn’t hurt anymore.  The pain had gone.  That was good enough.