Birth of the Beast

As a response to this week’s prompt from my Florida writers’ group, to write a story using the five senses, I’m posting a piece I hope will allow you to see, hear, smell—perhaps even taste and feel—the events portrayed.

The piece is the draft prologue to my next crime novel, my eighth—working title, After the Lake Caught Fire—which I expect to see published later this year (or early in 2022).

No one was there to witness the birthing of the beast.  Speculating afterwards, people said it was most likely caused by a strike from the surly skies overhead—a bolt of heat-lightning that ignited the oily, gummy crust floating on the lake’s surface.  But nobody knew for sure. 

The flames spread slowly across the water, hungrily devouring the layers of filthy grunge, sending a greasy black smoke into the sky to blend with the heavy overcast.  Later on, people figured the fire burned for most of the first day, all that night, and well into the following day before exhausting its run.

Had anyone been there that Saturday, the smell was the first thing they’d have noticed—an acrid, unpleasant odour, distinctly repellent, entirely hostile.  On that sticky, humid day, it saturated the moist air, cloying and pervasive, unmistakably out of place in the forest setting.

Had someone been there that night, they’d have seen greedy tongues of flame, nearly invisible in the daytime—a greenish-blue inferno flecked with orange, like a propane camp-stove turned low.  The fire lent a Dante-esque glow to the darkness, roiling and surging atop the lake like the awakening beast it was.  

The small kettle-lake, unnamed, had been devoid of life for years.  No fish swam in the depths of its half-a-square-kilometre bowl, their remains having long since mouldered on the bottom or rotted on shore.  No ducks, or geese, or iconic loons splashed down on its surface during their migratory travels.  No small animals came to drink from its water, or to hunt the frogs and crawfish that had once inhabited the shoreline.  The lake was dead beyond reclamation, a silent, toxic cesspool, the perfect breeding ground for the catastrophe it was spawning, a poisoned promise to the future.

By the following morning, Sunday, the beast had reached the sloping terrain of the eastern shore, an expanse of granite covered in stiff lichen, furry moss, and low, prickly scrub.  Dead leaves, twigs, and branches littered the rising slope, sere and brown in the summer heat.  Pockets of smoke appeared near the bottom of the grade, and gradually moved upward, tracing the path of the smouldering monster in the cracks and fissures of the rock.  By mid-afternoon, the first small flames sprang to life—not explosively, not aggressively, but languidly, as if the oppressive heat of the day was more than they could tolerate.  The abundance of dead, dry vegetation on the ground allowed the flames to spread, moving in every direction from the centre, climbing the slope, consuming everything in their path.

On the flatter shoreline areas—gravel-covered beaches, bare of vegetation, where no fire should have found purchase—the flames nevertheless spread haphazardly, as if drawing on some unseen source of fuel.  Black tendrils of smoke traced their route from the lake’s edge toward the forest, their odour the same as that arising from the water-borne gunk.

Late on Sunday afternoon, before the fire could spread uncontrollably, the rains came, one of those sudden, summer downpours, appearing almost out of nowhere, lasting perhaps an hour, leaving behind an azure, cloudless sky and setting sun.  For a while, the rainwater on the surface of the lake evaporated as soon as it landed, replacing the smoke with mists of steam, scarcely different in appearance.  But eventually, the rain’s sheer volume quenched the flames, already diminishing as a result of their relentless consumption of the oleaginous scum they’d been feeding on.

From the forest floor, rainwater rushed pell-mell down the slopes of granite to the lake, drowning the smouldering monster before it could reach the treeline, leaving large swathes of black soot across the pink-hued rock.  And the flames creeping across the gravel-laden flats were similarly quelled, with wispy threads of acrid smoke rising lazily from the chemical-soaked ground, pale tendrils striving futilely against the rain. 

On Monday morning, when the men came back in their growling trucks laden with more barrels from the factory—tailings sloshing in a chemical stew—they were startled by the scene that greeted them.  But the fire was already out, the greedy slurry-pits were waiting, and the bosses at the plant would have no tolerance for excuses.  After a few minutes of muted chatter, the men dumped their loads as usual, and headed back for more. 

Most of them, lifelong residents of the Northern Highlands district, understood what was happening.  But no one could afford to lose their job by being the one to sound the alarm and abort the nascent disaster.

And the bosses, who also knew and understood, did nothing.

The beast was born.

Nobody Counts On Dying

Just in time for summer reading, my latest novel, Nobody Counts On Dying, is available for a free preview, or purchase.
Dying Cover Blurb
This gripping tale, intended for a mature audience, carries on the traditions of compelling storylines, wonderfully-believable characters (some admirable, some less so, all of whom will attract and captivate you), and the true-to-life dialogue that distinguished the earlier books in my mesmerizing crime/thriller series.
 
You can find the book, together with the earlier novels in the series, at this link—http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/precept
 
There is a special introductory discount of 10% for those who order a copy during the month of July.  I hope you will visit the site to have a look.
 
You will also find all my books listed under the My Books header in the menu at the top of this page.

Girl Missing, Girl Murdered

A young Indigenous woman is brutally murdered in Toronto, her body left in a back-alley garbage dumpster by her indifferent killers.

Another statistic in a tragic tale of girls gone missing, her death comes under scrutiny seven years later by the nation-wide Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry, which is holding local hearings in Port Huntington, a small resort town on the shores of Georgian Bay.   

Even as the MMIWG committee is doing its work, a second murder is discovered, and yet another young woman goes missing.  Maggie Keiller and Derek Sloan, long-time residents of the town, become directly involved in the ensuing police investigation, which unearths one surprise after another.

As the hunt for the guilty party narrows its focus, Maggie and Derek find they, too, are in danger from the deranged predator who is determined to escape justice.

Girl Missing, Girl Murdered is the fifth novel in my Maggie Keiller/Derek Sloan crime series.  It is a gripping story, told in riveting fashion, sure to entertain readers who enjoy murder mysteries. 

The book is expected to be available online in time for Christmas shopping.

In the meantime, you might enjoy this excerpt from the working draft—

#  #  #  #  #

Processed with VSCOcam with m6 preset

Melanie Garland underestimated both the threat and her ability to counter it, a mistake that cost her dearly.  When she came out of the cottage to put a bag of household garbage in the trunk of her car, and to close the convertible top, she heard a vehicle approaching.  She watched warily as it pulled up behind her.

She knew right away what he was after, of course.  No surprise, given their earlier conversation.  But he adopted an air of unexpected nonchalance at first, probably trying to catch her off guard.

Careful, girl.  Don’t let this go too far.

It didn’t take long for him to get to the point, and as his manner changed, she felt an inkling of danger.  He was not-so-subtly eyeing the scant clothing she was wearing—a denim skirt and faded Queen’s tank-top, neither of which did much to conceal her obvious assets.

Experience had taught her the best way to cut off an aggressive man was to confront him directly—especially this one.  Slamming the trunk lid, she pointed a finger in his face, demanded he leave immediately.  Otherwise, she warned him, she’d call the police—although, belatedly, she remembered leaving her cellphone on the kitchen table.

When he responded with a slow grin, as if amused by her threat, she spun on her heel and headed for the cottage.  Without warning, he grabbed her roughly by the wrist, bringing her up short.  Angered now, and more than a little fearful, she wrenched her arm free and smacked him across the face.  Putting everything into it.

He responded so fast, she didn’t have time to flinch.  His backhand caught the side of her face, driving her against the side of her car.  Leaning into the back seat—stunned, gasping, but infuriated by the blow—she grabbed the first thing she saw lying there, a nine-iron she’d been practising with earlier.

With a primal scream, she swung it full-force at him.  Ducking sideways, arms raised to protect his face, he took the head of the club across his ribs.  As he stumbled to one knee, she dropped it and took off for the cottage.

Get away!  He’s crazy!  Get the phone! 

Halfway to the door, she was felled by a massive blow to the back of her head.  Her legs collapsed, the ground rushed up to smash her face.  Warm blood oozed from the back of her skull, trickling behind her ears.  She could taste a metallic tang in her mouth.

Oh fuck, I’m hurt!  I’m hurt!

She felt herself being rolled on her back, but her eyes wouldn’t focus.  She saw a blurry figure looming above her…heard him wailing…felt a weight pressing on her chest, over and over.  She was sure she was going to die.

No…no…no…

And then, blackness.

When he left, panting from his exertions—utterly astonished and distraught by the violence he’d committed—he didn’t  remember to take the golf club.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

There was no one there to see a different vehicle approach the cottage twenty minutes later, an hour or so before sunset; no one to observe its driver fearfully approach her motionless body; no one to hear his anguished cry, or the scratchy sound of retching as he crouched beside her.

No one else was there to detect her whispered, anguished murmurs for help; nor to notice small bubbles of blood forming at her mouth; nor to spy the fragile fluttering of her eyelids; no one to see him discover the bloodied nine-iron.

And there was no one to watch the man stand up, finally, the club in his hand; no one to witness the sudden, savage blows he rained down on her; no one to shrink from the rage in his voice as he cursed her.

body3

No one at all was there to see the car spraying gravel as it left in a frantic hurry moments later; no one to mourn her brutal killing.

It would be four days before anyone else discovered the decomposing body.