VEILED Complete Boxed Set, page 1
Books in the VEILED series:
Book 1: Monsters Within
Book 2: Darkness Rising
Book 3: Gathering Shadows
Book 4: The Marked Ones
Book 5: Revenge of Gods
Book 6: The Last Stand
VEILED - BOOK ONE
Copyright © Laudanum House, LLC.
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Grayslake, IL 60030
END OF BOOK I
END OF BOOK II
END OF BOOK IV
END OF BOOK V
VEILED - BOOK SIX
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
Thin fingers of morning fog still wound through Deke Goode’s back yard when the police cruiser pulled into his driveway. Deke stood on his back porch with a mug of coffee in his hands, watching the car roll in. He knew he looked like hell: tired, mad, and scared. Every single one of his seventy-two years showed, magnified by the early morning light.
Behind the wheel of the cruiser, Kara Humphrey frowned. She’d known Deke for most of her life and had never seen him look so weak. As she parked the car and killed the engine, he came down from the porch to meet her.
“Deputy Humphrey,” he said, doing his best to summon a smile.
“Oh God, please,” she said. “Just Kara.”
Deke only nodded. She thought he knew just as well as everyone else in the tiny town of Red Creek that she wasn’t quite ready to fill this position. But with Sheriff Morel out and recovering from a heart attack, the town was her responsibility. She’d have to get used to being called Deputy Humphrey, whether people said it sincerely or mockingly.
Although Kara was considerably younger than the Sheriff, she already had a keen investigative sense. But she knew her appearance could work against her. She was slight in build, wore her red hair wild and tousled - at odds with her carefully applied makeup. Her penetrating blue eyes were the only clue to her expertise - not that they had saved her from jeers along the lines of "Homecoming Queen" in the Academy. A well-aimed kick in the gut usually did the trick where her looks failed, though. She had no patience to spare, especially on idiots.
The very minute Kara had stepped into the Red Creek PD this morning, her phone rang. Poor old Deke was on the other end, his voice as flat and toneless as if the phone line was choking the life from him.
“It happened again,” was all he had said.
Kara had known what he had meant and she had come without question.
Now here she was, following Deke across his backyard to a large pasture, bordered with thick strands of barbed wire. Deke slid on tough leather gloves and grabbed the top strand. He then placed his work boot on the middle strand and pushed down while his gloved hand pulled up. This gave Kara enough space to duck through and into the pasture.
Any other morning, the pasture would have looked beautiful in the early morning light—the stuff of clichéd country calendars. Not today. Several feet from where she stood, Kara saw something that belonged in nightmares, not pleasant country mornings. It was the reason Deke had called. It was why this was the second time she had been out to Deke’s farm in the last month.
Blood. Blood and flesh and bone, all broken and twisted together in a muddy grave. Kara counted four heads of cattle, each bearing uniquely-grotesque wounds. One of the cow’s bodies was unrecognizable. It looked like a deer carcass that Kara had seen on the highway after being hit by an eighteen-wheeler. She pushed down nausea and forced herself to look more carefully at the animals. The other three were in better shape, but no easier on the eyes and stomach: Their innards were splattered on the ground, most of their legs were broken. Each one had its throat cut - deep slashes that left the animals' throats gaping open, now filled with buzzing fleas. No skilled hand had done this, that was for sure. Kara almost hoped no hand had, although she well knew there were no beasts large enough to do this much damage. And for what? No meat seemed to be missing.
Toward the back of the pasture, hidden in the trees that bordered the other side, about twenty cows watched, uncharacteristically silent. Deke stepped up beside her. “I really don’t like to say it,” he mumbled, unknowingly voicing her thoughts, “but I can’t think of any other animal that can do this sort of thing. Even if those black bears the game warden thinks might be in the area are actually here, they couldn’t do anything like this.”
Kara agreed, but didn’t say so. Instead, she asked. “Did you see anything?”
“Well,” he said, followed by a long pause. “Yes and no. I came running out here when I heard them mooing. But I was too late. It was all over.”
“So no bright white lights or little green men?” she asked jokingly, referring to the rumors that Deke’s farm was the location of multiple alien-conducted cattle mutilations.
Deke did not laugh.“Well..." he hedged, "I thought I saw a shadow moving into the woods, but it was weird. It didn’t make any sense. It was in the air, moving fast.”
He peered towards the woods as if the trees might make the memory resurface with more clarity. He shook his head and then shrugged. “Hell, maybe it was a damned UFO.”
“I’ll take a look,” Kara said. “For what it’s worth, I called the game warden, too. He’s on his way.”
“We’ll get to the bottom of this, Mr. Goode,” she assured, putting on her best Cop voice. She meant it, too - this sort of thing was just not right.
“Thanks,” Deke repeated flatly.
Kara watched Deke walk back towards his house, shoulders hunched in defeat. She let out a deep breath and then turned back to the butchered cows in front of her. She took out her kit and set to look for prints - animal, human, whatever. All there was to be found were pools of blood and ripped body parts.
A few miles from Deke's farm, Nikki Galimore sat on the quaint porch swing of the Red Creek Bed and Breakfast. She was technically on her lunch break, but she took at least half a dozen breaks like this throughout the day. She lay on the swing with her skinny legs hitched into upside-down Vs. A book res
Nikki supposed most nineteen-year-old girls would love this cushy joke of a job. The pay was crap, but for what she did, it was a deal. The Red Creek Bed and Breakfast should have been closed down years ago. Red Creek, Tennessee didn’t bring in many tourists or other people in need of a place to stay so it really was a pointless little establishment.
But Lily Hudson, owner and proprietor, had royalty status in Red Creek. Her husband had died in Vietnam and her son had died in one of those wars in Iraq or wherever. She was a nice lady, sure, but Nikki was pretty sure Lily was clinically depressed most of the time. Her gloomy mood hung over the B&B like a truly persistent cloud. Most of the people that stayed at the Red Creek B&B were couples—married people in their 40s, trying to get away from it all and rekindle their romance with a weekend away in the woods. Given that, Nikki knew that neither Lily nor herself made the best of impressions to newcomers. However, Lily had never asked her to change anything about her appearance. Nikki secretly adored the old lady for that kindness.
She saw no reason to dress better or to fix up her dyed raven-black hair beyond its messy condition. Although her face could be called pretty, she didn’t wear any makeup other than the heavy black eyeliner that her father had once called “whore-liner.” She also wore a thin silver ring through the corner of her bottom lip and a stud through her left eyebrow. Honestly, she didn’t like the piercings anymore. They were acts of rebellion meant to piss off her father three years ago; now, they were just reminders of what a miserable little brat she’d once been. Still, she left them in because if she ever did see her dad again, she wanted to make sure she’d piss him off right away.
It'd serve the abusive bastard right.
“You have spunk,” Lily told her once. “You’re unique. I don’t understand it, but I like it. I’m not some dried-up old fart; I get that times change. You’re pretty, whether you work at it or not. And while I know you’re not nice per se, you can fake it well enough to do your job.”
Unique, Nikki thought. Is that what they used to call crazy in your day, grandma? But sure, "unique" works. Whatever.
She was lost in her book and the soft rock music in her headphones. Her old friends would be downright insulted to learn how quickly she'd grown out of the industrial rock they all still thought so fucking badass, the losers. Somehow, having her eardrums almost busted by the shit they called music was not worth it when her father wasn't around to glare and shout and bust break her CDs in fits of douche-baggery. Anyway - actual good music. Now that was a nice way to waste an hour of work.
Whatever the music in her headphones, it was enough for Nikki to miss the large pickup truck rolling into the circular and well-maintained driveway of the Red Creek B&B. She wasn’t aware that someone had arrived until she actually felt the vibrations of a person stepping onto the porch stairs through the swing’s chain supports.
Nikki saved the spot in her book by turning down the corner of the page—another small rebellion, this time against librarians--removed one of the ear buds, and turned toward the stairs. She was relieved to find that it was not someone looking for a getaway in the woods.
The young man that walked onto the porch and toward the swing was far from a stranger. Nikki had spent a lot of time with him after high school. He wore a plain grey tee shirt (sometimes they were black or navy blue) and a pair of tattered jeans, neither of each flattered his slightly-overweight body. The work boots on his feet seemed out of place, but Nikki had a problem picturing him wearing sneakers or flip flops.
“Hey, Jason,” she said.
Jason Eastman took a seat in one of the patio chairs that sat next to the swing. “Hard at work, I see,” he commented wryly.
“I tell you, this is slavery,” Nikki muttered back.
Jason grinned and looked at his scuffed work boots. He had been doing that a lot lately. Nikki hated to think so highly of herself, but she knew that Jason was crushing rather heavily on her. This was worrying, to be honest. If her instincts were to be trusted, the whole thing had been going on for about three months now. It was an odd thing to realize, especially given that Jason and his jock friends had distanced themselves from Nikki and her small group in high school.
But Jason had changed since then. His other friends had gone to college or moved somewhere else, as had Nikki's. Somehow, the two of them had ended up hanging out a lot. Nikki couldn’t pinpoint an exact time it had started. Regardless, she didn’t have any sort of feelings for Jason beyond the platonic and every time she caught him staring at his boots, she was afraid he was going to drop the bomb.
Nikki hoped he never would. It would ruin the best friendship she’d ever had.
Jason finally looked back up at her. His face was serious but there was a boyish sort of excitement there as well.
Good, Nikki thought. No nerves, which means no confessions of the romantic sort.
“So what are you doing tonight?” Jason asked.
“Nothing. Watching TV. Reading. Sleeping. Why?”
“There’s something I want you to see. Something cool.”
“More of your ghost stuff?” Nikki asked. Jason shrugged, an answer enough. She always entertained him whenever he’d found some new unarguable proof of ghosts or anything supernatural—proof that, in the end, she laughed at because it all looked the same to her. Despite the jock persona he had worn throughout high school, Jason was a dork through and through and bought huge into the paranormal; he even had a few gadgets like a thermal imaging device and a swanky EVP recorder for his own little investigations.
“Sort of,” Jason said. “I’m not even going to ruin it for you by trying to explain it. You want to come over tonight and check it out?”
She debated this for a while. They hung out at each other’s apartments all of the time and so far, Jason had made no advances. He hadn’t even said anything to allude to the fact that he was smitten. In the end, she nodded; Nikki was comfortable around him and that was all that mattered to her. He was the only friend she had and she was pretty sure he’d openly admit the same about her. And while she didn’t exactly want to look at more grainy footage of some stupid supposed ghost, it sure beat sitting at home all night where the highlight might be pulling out her vibrator when she retired to bed.
“Sure,” she answered. “I’ll swing by around eight or so.”
“Cool. That’s all I had for you. I have to get back to the garage before my lunch break is over.” Back to looking at his boots; Nikki sighed. “I just wanted to come by and say hi.”
“Thanks. I guess I better get back to work, too. I don’t want Lily figuring out that I take my lunch break four times a day.”
Jason bound down the porch stairs and headed for his truck. He gave her an awkward wave as he got behind the wheel and started the engine.
Nikki walked inside the Red Creek B&B and took in the silence. Even in the daylight the place could be sort of creepy when it was empty. Lily was somewhere in the cellar, cataloguing receipts or tax records or something. But as far as Nikki was concerned, she had the place to herself.
She dusted for a bit, trying to make it look as though she had done something to earn her nine dollars an hour, and then went into the guest lounge which hadn’t been touched by a single customer in over three weeks. She sat on the plush white couch, cracked open her book, popped in her ear buds, and lost herself again.
The change from day to night seemed sudden: Twilight falling suddenly and completely, enveloping the whole of Red Creek in a despondent sort of gloom. In its shadow all became just a bit stranger, a bit unsavory: Buildings, empty streets, trees swaying silently to a brisk breeze. Not a good time to be out and about, if you could help it - not a good time to be anywhere at all.
A man stepped out of the only grocery store in the small town just as the last rays of the afternoon sun diss
Which was pretty much right on the money.
Despite the cautious looks of the few people he passed, the man quite enjoyed times such as this: Strolling through Red Creek as night slowly settled over the town. He found pleasure in the fragrance of a day turning over for the night, of the heat sizzling on the streets fading into something that had always reminded him of the smell pushed across the country by a thunderstorm—heavy but cool. Dangerous, somehow.
The man thought of this as he carried his single bag of groceries back down the street and toward his car. On his way, he passed a woman that looked fifty or so, walking her dog. Although they shared the same side of the street, the woman veered hard to the left to stay as far away from him as possible. Her dog—one of those small pretentious kinds—let out a hesitant bark and let loose a small stream of urine on the sidewalk. The man paid neither any mind.
Red Creek was dead - as it was wont to be just after five-thirty in the afternoon. By that time, its residents had left work, done whatever meager shopping they did, and retired home for the night. Even those that worked outside of town - the vast majority of residents were employed in the neighboring town of Helmside, since Red Creek offered extremely little in the way of employment - would have made it in through Red Creek by five thirty or, at the latest, five forty-five.
It was now six-thirty and the town was downright ghost-like. The man paused in the middle of a street empty of traffic and took in a deep breath. In his grocery bag, canned goods clinked together; a gallon of milk rested along the plastic bottom.
The man smiled. He supposed he did warrant some suspicion - he rarely came into town after all, preferring the solitude of his family’s little cabin tucked away in the woods that surrounded the city. He was not what most would call a “people person.” Even if he had been, he could not fathom making friends with anyone in Red Creek. There was something about him that pissed people off, men and women alike. It took a bit longer with the women, true, but inevitably he would fail to act in a manner that society deemed acceptable, and the whole thing would fall apart.