Veil of Darkness (Book 1), page 1
Veil of Darkness
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, places, and locations are fictitious products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Especially the dead.
Copyright © 2017 Derek Adam
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced, copied, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical without the expressed permission of the author.
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only.
Cover design provided by AWT Cover Designs
Editing provided by: All About the Edits
This one’s for you, Kara
And the wild things roared their terrible roars
And gnashed their terrible teeth
And rolled their terrible eyes
And showed their terrible claws
- Maurice Sendak
Where the Wild Things Are
Chapter 1 – Emma
It was the longest it had ever taken me to track something.
Even in some of the most heavily populated and remote locations of the world, it never took me more than a few days, at most, to find what I was after.
Then again, I’ve never had to track through such dense forest.
I had been moving quietly and with a deliberate pace along a game trail, taking in the disturbances of the brush and the moss-covered forest floor.
The dense underbrush was cool to the touch as I pushed it aside, adding to the slight chill that clung to me in the shadow of the high canopy.
It might be the middle of summer, but it couldn’t be more than 60 degrees. The damp chill cut through my canvas pants and jacket, and clean through my black leather body suit beneath. After this much time in the wilderness, I looked like a homeless person. Even my long black hair had lost a bit of its luster, frizzing somewhat from the humidity.
As the brush thinned, so too did the massive trees that stretched high around me.
It was rare to see trees so large anymore. They were ancient, and I could feel them breathe as I passed. I was not the type to willingly romp among the outdoors – I preferred civilization.
Things like electricity, a chilled glass of wine, and people.
Not to socialize, necessarily. I wasn’t a huge fan of people. Just the perks that came with populated areas.
Though, I had to admit to myself that I always enjoyed being able to feel the pulse of life and the breath of the earth when I stepped outside of civilization.
It was that hum that made this so difficult.
Like trying to hear, when your heart’s thumping out of your chest and blood is pounding in your ears. It was difficult to turn that off and focus, which left me to visually track it.
As the forest continued to thin, the trail widened and the mossy earth gave way to rock and sand. The thrumming sound of life around me was diminished here, almost gone. It was replaced by the sound of water.
The stream ahead was shallow and slow-moving, pushing among massive rocks and great fallen trees that had long since given themselves over to death.
I never knew Canada had rainforest, or that any part of it was this tranquil. I half expected it to be an expansive landscape of ice, snow, and Tim Horton’s coffee shops.
Ugh, now I wanted coffee.
This was as good a place as any to rest.
Not that I needed to. A benefit, I suppose. I didn’t have to sleep, I didn’t have to eat. I didn’t need water.
‘Couldn’t sleep’ is more appropriate. But the others… even though I didn’t need to, I still enjoyed them. Food is delicious and drinks are satisfying.
The council simply explained it away as one of my abilities. It was part of what made me so special.
I still had cravings though, especially coffee. Coffee was definitely satisfying. I closed my eyes and could almost smell the beans as I fantasized.
Still, I could live without those things.
But I wasn’t the only one here.
I glanced down and behind me as Bella came padding softly out of the brush next to the game trail.
I’d had Bella since she was just a pup. That was a long time ago. Like today, she was always with me. She went everywhere with me.
She wandered as we traveled the trail, but never far. Times like this, I didn’t need to use command words to keep her close. It was more beneficial to let her wander.
She could always be called back because she stayed within ear shot. Even though she didn’t need to be, she was highly protective of me.
In the same way that I didn’t need to rest, but I paused for her. She shook herself out, flinging some of the moisture that had accumulated on the thick coat of fur that covered her squat frame.
She was bushier than other huskies, a bit bigger than most females, and had far more personality – which was both a blessing and a curse.
Bella’s mismatched eyes met my own, one frosty white and one a rusty brown, looking at me as she froze. She was waiting for me.
The whites of her eyes were the cleanest thing on her. A stark contrast to the rest of her, a result of her plodding through the forest.
“You’re filthy.” I pointed to her. “Were you rolling again? Even your snout is covered in dirt.”
Her mouth opened as her tongue fell out, panting a few times before shaking again.
“Don’t lie to me, I can see it all over your coat.” I shook my head, smirking and turned to walk toward the stream. “I’d wash you right now but you’ll just roll again.”
Bella strolled along beside me, head hung just a bit. She grumbled low in her throat and worked her jaw, letting out a muffled ‘raw rawr’ like sound.
She was sassing. I’d give anything to know what she said when she spoke like that.
But then again, it might be better that I don’t.
I stomped a foot toward her, letting out a sharp “bath!” to tease her. That was guaranteed to set her off every time. She lurched forward and tucked her butt deep as she took off running.
She ran up the edge of the stream and turned, crashing back into the brush before emerging again downstream, behind me.
She looped me twice, in a blur of flying husky fur, before I even had a chance to settle onto a large log at the edge of the stream.
We wouldn’t rest long but she needed it. As intelligent and dedicated as Bella was to me, and as much as she truly understood what we did, she was still a husky.
She broke the brush line again and stopped on a dime, staring at me. Her ears were straight, tail slightly curled, posture rigid and poised with eyes wide.
I thought she would bolt again but instead, she stuck her muzzle to the rocks, sniffing her way to the water before lapping at the stream to refresh herself.
I envied her for that.
Despite her training, she could let nature and instinct take over. She could just revert to a husky and be blissfully ignorant, even if only for a little while.
Like flipping a switch.
I didn’t have that luxury. My work for the council meant I was always on. I was always working, sensing, tracking, hunting, and relaying information.
There was no one else to do what I could.
The canopy was a bit more open here and sunlight punched through, warming the area. It also allowed more of a breeze.
I could feel the moisture in the air that moved gently, like water softly lapping at the shoreline in a steady current – like the river.
It carried the scent of the rainforest with it. Bella smelled it, too.
She craned her head like
It was faint, but there was no mistaking it. I knew it was there, and it knew I was tracking it.
Bella glanced back to me and while I didn’t make eye contact with her I knew she was watching me to see how I would react.
To see if I caught the scent.
It was unmistakable, even if faint. Like a struck match and scorched wood. You could easily mistake it for a campfire if you weren’t keen on the subtle undertone of sulfur.
“Bella, hier.” I called her back to me but the German command word wasn’t necessary this time. She was already coming up along my side.
It was sometimes surprising how comforting her presence was. Never could I say that I didn’t need her even, if I could handle myself.
Bella was a part of me.
And there was comfort in that bond. I wasn’t worried, or afraid. I honestly felt nothing more than thoughts rolling, one after another. Tumbling as I processed my senses.
Still, Bella brought peace of mind more than anything. She made it easier to process when she was closer to me.
That was the entire point of a familiar, among other things.
The scent grew stronger, even as the breeze settled. Like a skunk, it blossomed in the air. It was almost stifling.
Nothing stirred in the trees, nothing moved in the brush. There was only the sound of the stream nearby. I sighed impatiently and tucked away a few strands of the long black hair that dangled as my head tilted.
“I can see you.” I settled back more, continuing to rest casually against the moss-covered form of the long-dead tree. “Don’t be so shy. Come say hello to Bella.”
It was just that kind of mind game that typically worked with them. They absolutely hated being mocked or patronized in any way.
Demons weren’t exactly keen on being treated as lesser than humans, or equals. That should have been all that was needed to get it to crawl slowly from among the trees.
Or rush me in anger.
There was a brief flurry of motion among the underbrush deeper into the tree line, and then nothing.
It was gone.
I sighed and my shoulders sank as I shook my head.
“This is unreal, Bella…” I gestured toward the trees as I looked at her. She twisted her neck to look up at me and began panting again, her posture settling.
“He’s gonna make me work for it…” I grunted under my breath and adjusted the zipper of the jacket.
Bella was watching me, her eyes following my movements as her mouth hung open.
“Don’t you start.” I opened the locks of the holsters on each thigh before pulling at the thigh straps of the holsters to adjust the tension. “I’d send you crawling after it if I didn’t think you’d wind up eyeball deep in a rabbit hole.”
She rolled her head to the side and grumbled low, mumbling as she sat down and looked away from me.
“Don’t push it.”
I straightened and looked around again, searching slowly through the tree line. The smell had dissipated to little more than the faintest trace.
It was still out there, though. Not far off, but it was faster than I expected. It would likely come back… if it felt like it had more of an advantage.
But this hunt had gone on long enough. I was starting to feel like I was being led along intentionally, given how quickly it was able to move away.
Eight days was long enough. I wasn’t waiting anymore.
Chapter 2 – Luca
It was the longest it had taken for the money to post after it was already supposed to be there.
I stared at the printout from the ATM and shook my head. There wasn’t much money left. I had enough to get me through a few days without starving, but it was gonna be tight.
I really hated instant noodles, but I didn’t have much choice in the matter when it got down to the bottom of the barrel like this.
That was the problem with this kind of client work. People are quick to search for any solution when they’re desperately in need of help with spooks and shit in their homes.
Clear it out for them, make the problems go away, and no one wants to pay the damn bill. Most people just ghost me, which pisses me off.
It’s not exactly easy to send someone to collections, or take them to small claims court, for not paying a “paranormal investigations” invoice.
The homeowners weren’t really the issue.
Most people were happy as shit that I saved the resale value of their home by helping a spirit move on, or cleansing some darker ick that was lingering.
It was the corporate dicks, like hotels and froofy convention centers, that never wanted to pay up.
Or took their sweet fucking time, like this one.
I crumbled the receipt and tossed it into a nearby trashcan that was already overflowing and spilling its contents onto the sidewalk around it.
The mess of trash blended well with the overall state of the truck stop. Even the windows on the place were filthy, like someone had thrown cups of soda that ran down the glass and dried in a sticky mess.
I brushed off my shirt and checked myself with what little reflection I could see. A half day on the road was showing. My button down was a bit wrinkled and the long hair on top of my head wasn’t sitting quite as flat anymore from the wind-blown ride with the windows down. I brushed it back into place so it lay flat to the left, hanging a bit over the tightly shaved sides of my head.
My beard was filling out a bit more, too. I tried to keep it tight on the sides and just a bit longer on the chin and mustache, but I hadn’t tended to it for a few days.
Whatever… this job didn’t have a PR element to it. I didn’t need to hide my neck or arm tattoos for some suit-wearing jackass.
This was just some tourist spot with a spook problem. And it was Hitch.
I wasn’t prettying up for Hitch. Screw him.
The hot summer afternoon was baking the garbage against the pavement, giving the air a sickly-sweet scent mingled with the oily asphalt and diesel fumes.
The town had taken a nosedive since the last time I was through.
Tourists always loved Partridge. It was a small town with not much to do, and the last stop before crossing north into Canada.
Or the first stop in Washington if you were coming back down.
People loved it.
I hated this place so much. More because of the people than anything else. My opinion of them dropped even further, seeing the amount of trash that was accumulating. That was the fault of both the locals and the tourists coming through.
Hitch knew I hated coming back home. It had been a while since my last trip, and that time, I swore would be the last.
But he also knew exactly how to lure me back here.
Considering all the shit he’d given me over the years about my unique skillset and what I do, I was surprised he reached out. I wasn’t about to say no to him though.
I never said no to money, even if it was Hitch handling the payout. But I was also interested in the basic details he gave me.
Some might classify it as a fetish. I was just a paranormal geek.
I’d taken the job with some enthusiasm even if it meant coming back home, but I was already starting to regret this.
I swiped through the apps, dropping him a quick text as I crossed the face of the truck stop to move around the building. The sooner he would get here, the better.
The stench of this place was unbearable. I feel like he told me to meet him here on purpose.
Such a dickhead.
Just like Hitch. The guy throws tantrums about how I act when I come back to town and then he pulls shit like this.
While the bulk of the lot was full of cars going in and out of the fuel stations, and parking up front because God forbid anyone has to walk more than 10 feet to get into the store… I had to park aro
The old box truck didn’t fit really well in standard car parking, and the reverse was dodgy.
As in… I was lucky if it would go in reverse. Maybe if that five-star hotel would finally pay their damn bill, I could get a new truck.
Until then, it was easier to put it where I could pull through and drive off. Unfortunately, that sometimes put me in less than desirable spots.
No surprise, of course, when I rounded the corner and saw them huddled at the rear roll up door of my truck.
I’d been parked for like… five minutes. Seriously.
I shook my head, crossing to close the distance while they had their backs to me.
“…what the hell are you two doing?
They both froze for a second before straightening slowly and turning to look at me.
Sutter gave me a wide grin and tipped his hat at me, rolling a toothpick in his mouth.
“Sorry, sir.” Virgil shrugged apologetically at me, scrunching his face up and wringing his hands together.
“I told you not to call me that, Virgil.” I stared flatly at him before glancing back over my shoulder at the fueling stations.
At least I didn’t have to worry about anyone else spotting these jackwagons.
“Sorry, Luca.” Virgil sighed and was slumping as I returned my attention to the two of them. It had been a few hours on the road and I know they didn’t like being cooped up in the truck.
“Oh, don’t be hard on him, Rooster. We just wanted to have a look-see.” Sutter crossed his arms and leaned on the back of the truck. He was dressed in old riding leathers and a duster that looked like it was more dust than cloth.
It hung open and you could see the revolver and gun belt hanging low on one side of his hip.
This is how they appeared. Always the same.
Spirits don’t exactly update their wardrobe, no matter how long they’ve been wandering.
Sutter still had the tarnished brass star of a lawman pinned to the breast of his duster and the five o’clock growth of stubble he was sporting when he took a dirt nap.