Sneak Preview of My Upcoming Paranormal Thriller “The 5″

Check out this sample of “The 5″ -

“The 5″ is nearing completion (of the up-teenth draft) and is almost ready to turn lose on my beta readers. Meanwhile, I thought I’d share with you guys.

What I’m sharing is either 1) the Prologue; or 2) Chapter One. Don’t know which to call it. Some authors and indie publishers say calling the first section a “Prologue” is fine, especially if it deals with something that happens before we get to the meat of the story. Others say avoid labeling a first section “Prologue” even if it does happen in the past because it turns readers off. Instead, just start with “Chapter One”.

Your tasks: First, enjoy the sample (whatever it’s called). Next, let me know your take on the whole “Prologue” vs. “Chapter One” controversy.

Here’s the sample:

******************

The girl ran through the night woods, blind in the dark but heedless of obstacles. Adrenalin fed her flight while terror threatened to close her throat and steal her breath, leaving her helpless before what was coming.

She stumbled over the lip of a slope, crashed through unseen brush, dodged the looming silhouette of one tree before caroming off another. Spinning, she fell headlong into dank forest loam. She whimpered, clutching her throbbing shoulder.

Breath coming in ragged gasps, she fought down the urge to curl up on herself and drift away to another place, some safe haven that existed only in her mind. But the crackling of brush upslope spiked her terror and she lunged erect, staggering on through the pitch-black night.

The thick forest enveloped her. She smelled damp moss and the faint carrion scent of galax. Sensed the huge, old-growth trees crowding in.

A whisper of breeze sifted through towering canopies. Higher still, ragged clouds parted for an instant and a pale shaft of moonlight slanted through. The girl glimpsed shimmering silver just before the ground dropped from under her.

She tumbled down a bank choked with dripping vegetation, slid across a rough rock slab that ripped a pink Rebock from one foot and abraded the skin from her thigh.

Then, a shock of cold as she splashed down in knee-deep water, hissing as the icy liquid clutched at her bare legs. She stumbled on slick rocks and half-sprawled in the creek, soaking her shorts and the front of her blouse. Scrambling on all fours, she managed to reach a sandbar, crawled up the opposite bank and collapsed.

She pressed herself into a bed of damp ferns, trembling.

“Mama,” she whispered.

From the impenetrable dark across the creek came a low laugh.

“I seeeeeee you.”

The voice was rough and vile, somehow distorted, a gargling parody of a voice that sent a fresh wave of terror coursing through her. She moaned and staggered to her feet. Kicked off her remaining Rebock. Absurdly, she felt a twinge of loss. The shoes had been a gift from her father on her 10th birthday.

Daddy, she prayed. Help me!

She pushed on through the night.

The cloud cover was fast dissipating, and in the freshening moonlight she could discern more of her surroundings. She was in a floodplain forest, the understory choked with wiry brush that clutched at her hair and tangled her feet as she wound her way through. Soon the floodplain gave way to a rising upland of mature oaks spaced farther apart. The brush thinned, and she quickened her pace.

She tried to run, but managed only a feeble trot. She was spent. Her shoulder ached, and cold gripped her in an iron vise. Her gasping breaths left clouds of vapor in the air.

She plodded up the slope, striving for stealth, knowing that to her pursuer she must sound like a drunken elephant lumbering through the woods. Tears slid down her cheeks, and she could feel a wet warmth smearing her leg where the rock had scraped it raw.

The slope steepened, and as she climbed her thoughts sparked like fireflies on a summer’s eve.

It was earlier in the evening. Her Mom had sent her on an errand, riding her bike to the store for milk and bread.

There was a van. Parked in an alley and cloaked in shadow. The back door gaping wide. And a man, asking for her help.

If you could just hold this flashlight while I change this tire…

And she’d been happy to, because she knew this man, had seen him many times. He had always been kind and friendly. She liked him.

Things got hazy after that. She remembered approaching the van. Taking the flashlight. Then, something damp and astringent, slapped over her mouth and nose. Panic. Fighting a smothering embrace.

Darkness.

She came to in fits and starts, only vaguely aware of the bare metal floor of the van, the stink of oil and sour sweat, the rough bindings abrading her wrists and ankles and the cloying taste of mold from the rag in her mouth. Muted traffic sounds filtered thorough the van’s metal walls.

She drifted in and out of consciousness, and had no inkling of how long they were on the road, or how far they traveled. The sound of traffic gradually faded. It barely registered when the vehicle braked and turned off smooth asphalt onto a rougher road.

By the time she’d fully regained her senses the van was slowing, then rocking to a stop. The back door opened and the man jerked her out.

From the eerie crimson glow cast by the van’s parking lights, the girl saw that the man had parked on a rutted two-track lane. Trees loomed on either side, the spaces between their trunks clogged with ebony shadows. Terrified, she stood rigid while the man sliced through her bindings with a large knife. He spun her around and ripped the gag from her mouth.

In the backwash from the parking lights she saw that the figure before her had, at some point, donned dark jeans and a black sweater. He wore a bulky apparatus on his head that covered his eyes and made him resemble a preying mantis. She’d played the video game Call of Duty enough to recognize night vision goggles. A whimper started in her throat, fast building to a scream. The man aborted it with a slap that spun her half-around. Shocked, she touched her stinging cheek with trembling fingers. The flare of pain was nothing compared to the unexpected savagery. She’d never been stuck in her life.

“Save your breath for running,” the man said. His voice sounded like a rock slide grinding down a mountain slope.

He pulled an object from the back of the van, then grabbed her by the nape of her neck and steered her further down the forest road, jerking her to a stop at the effective limit of the parking lights’ glow. He spun her around to where she faced the looming, fathomless woods.

“Take off,” he growled. “Run.”

“I…I can’t see,” she started, and then her world went white as the man cuffed her on the side of the head.

“You have five minutes. Then I’m coming for you.”

She risked a glance over her shoulder. His formless bulk was almost lost in shadow. “Please,” she whispered. “Don’t hurt me.” Her lip quivered, and she choked out a sob. “Why are you doing this? You’re supposed to be my friend!”

“Oh, I’m not going to hurt you,” the man said. His voice grated like stone on stone. “I’m going to hunt you.”

He held up the thing he’d taken from the van, and the girl went cold as she recognized the sleek, deadly shape of a crossbow.
With that the man shoved her into the dark.

She ran.

 

The girl reached the top of the slope and paused just long enough to catch her breath.

Which way? In the cloying blackness, everything looked the same.

She started to turn right, along the ridge, and something struck the tree trunk beside her head with a brutal whack. Bark chips stung her cheek and she reared back with a gasp.

There was just enough light to make out the crossbow quarrel, vibrating with a sound like an angry hornet.

She spun away and sprinted as best she could through the trees. She tripped on a dead limb and pain lanced through her bare foot, but she fought for balance and managed to keep from falling.

She hadn’t covered twenty yards before another quarrel smacked into a tree on her left. She twisted away and ran on.

Twice more she was forced to change direction by a crossbow bolt striking a nearby tree.

It came to her with a sickening certainty that the man could see her perfectly in the soot-black forest. He could have hit her anytime he wanted.

He was playing with her.

Then, ahead and higher up the slope, she spotted a patch of grey that stood out in the dark forest like a beacon.

She fought her way up the slight rise, pushed through a clinging curtain of muscadine vines, fell to her knees and scrambled through thorn-spiked brambles toward that section of lighter dark.

Abruptly, she emerged from the trees. She stood on a moonlit road. Far to the left, around a bend, she could just make out the faint rose glow from the van’s parking lights, shimmering through the trees. In her frantic flight, she’d traced a huge arc and come out on the same two track they’d used to enter the forest.

She turned and fled away from the van, keeping to the center of the old road.

Wet weeds slapped at her bare calves. Her legs were like rubber, threatened to fold under her with each step. She seemed frozen in glacial ice, while the hulking black trees on either side of her crept past at a snail’s pace.

But a rising hope kept her moving. She’d outrun the bastard. All she had to do was make it back to the main road. She’d flag down a passing car, and then…

She rounded a tight bend and stopped so abruptly she almost fell. Fear stole her breath like a fist to the belly.

Thirty yards away, a black-clad figure straddled the two-track. The girl blinked, wiped sweat from her eyes. The figure stayed put, as still and silent as death.

No! How had he circled around, gotten in front of her! It wasn’t possible! It wasn’t fair!

A flicker of movement, and a lance of fire slammed into her. She screamed and toppled back, landing hard on the ground, her fingers fluttering at the graphite shaft jutting from her abdomen like an invading parasite. She moaned, felt hot bile spill from her lips. Managed to struggle halfway to her feet, but then all her strength seemed to leach from her at once. She slumped to her knees, fighting to focus on the approaching form.

Her breath came in hitching gasps. She could feel hot blood pumping from the wound to the rhythm of her laboring heart and running in rivulets down her belly as well as her buttocks.

She knew the arrow was sticking out her back. Suspected it had struck something vital. Sensed she had only minutes to live.

The figure stopped in front of her. Raised a gloved hand, and in one smooth motion pulled the insect-like covering from its head.

The girl’s eyes widened. She was hallucinating. She had to be.

Tears sprang from her eyes. Weakly, she shook her head. She held out a hand in as much denial as supplication. “No,” she whispered. “Please, no…”

“Hello, silly girl,” the figure said. The knife in its hand gleamed in the moonlight.

Mercifully, the girl slipped away before the cutting began.

************

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

“The 5″ – coming summer 2015. Keep an eye out for pre-order opportunities. And feel free to share this sample with your friends!

 



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