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Genesis of Evil.
My parents, for their continual support.
Arlene Meads, who encouraged me to write that first novel; and Harl Hargett, mentor and friend, for being there every step along the journey.
Writing a novel is never a sole endeavor, and there are many people to whom I owe a debt of grat.i.tude. The following have contributed in more ways than I can describe: Beth Hecker, for your careful reading of not only this ma.n.u.script but others as well, I can't thank you enough. Your insights, critique, suggestions, and encouragement are invaluable.
For their help in reading various ma.n.u.script drafts: Angie Eron (hey Chica, where's the midget with the machine gun?); Doug Duncan (dude, you rock! what an eye for detail); Kristin Glennie; Harl Hargett; Arlene Meads (Arlo!); and Jim Visoskas (Jimmy V. how ya doin').
For their help, support, and inspiration along the way: Tom and Terrie Pawlish; Steven Pawlish; Mich.e.l.le Alford (Adobe Acrobat queen); Marie Lynch; Terry Guriel; the Fishers (Mike, Glenna, Keith, and Jacob); Luke Hecker, Police Chief, City of Loveland; Jeannie Dieffenbaugh; Jean King (Jean-o!); Beth Pelon; Tia Talbert; and Jenn Velie.
Beth Treat, my editor, what an awesome job! Thanks so much.
If I have forgotten anyone, I'll go stand in the corner.
Any mistakes in the text are mine alone.
It was an evil he couldn't explain.
This thought weighed heavily on his mind as he thumbed through a book, the muted sounds in the New York Public Library going unnoticed, as were the words on the page in front of him. He blinked hard, once, trying to erase the image of the shapeless thing that evil he had seen a few months ago.
He was waiting to cross Broadway near Times Square. Cars droned by, and the chatter of conversation filled the air. And then he saw it, hovering above the traffic, watching him. He studied it as he started across the street. It seemed intangible, almost like a faint haze, and yet somehow it had substance. Its very presence threatened him, and he knew it was evil. It spoke and a chill raced through him. Suddenly, he heard screaming, then a car horn blared and tires screeched. He turned just as a taxi plowed into him. His chest exploded in pain and then he blacked out.
The hair on his arms p.r.i.c.kled now as he thought about it. He had felt the evil then, right before the accident, and now, a few months later, it still lingered along with a few aches and pains. He sighed, as if the expulsion of breath could take him away from the apprehension he couldn't escape.
He tried to concentrate on the book again. He'd spent days researching, trying to tie that black, formless cloud to unexplained sightings, ghosts, spirits, anything, but with little success. The closest thing was vampires transforming into a mist was that black haze he'd seen some kind of vampire coming after him? He didn't know, and that troubled him more.
And the fact that he couldn't explain it scared him almost as much as the experience itself. Because he should've been able to explain it. After all, he was an expert in paranormal phenomena; he'd built a highly successful career as a journalist researching not only ghosts and vampires, but other psychic phenomena, people supposedly coming back to life, seances, crop circles, and on and on. He'd spent countless hours exposing charlatans and ferreting out the truth behind "unexplained" things. But he couldn't explain this.
He sighed again and slammed the book closed, eliciting a dirty look from a woman who frowned at him over her minuscule gla.s.ses. He mouthed a "sorry" and picked up another book. He had a stack of them, all about various types of baffling phenomena. He'd skimmed through about half of them, but he'd found nothing about mysterious black forms that communicated with people.
He was about to give up when he saw it, just a chapter heading: Evil presence in Colorado mining town. Curious, he turned to the short chapter and began reading about strange happenings during the 1880's in a small mining town called Taylor Crossing. As the story went, the townspeople had literally disappeared overnight. One day the place was thriving, the next, it was a ghost town.
Impossible, he thought. That type of thing was hyperbole, it never really happened like that. But he kept reading. The chapter on Taylor Crossing gave a brief history of mining in the area, then discussed the town itself, how many people had lived there and so on. He began skimming, and then he saw it.
A year after the town died, an industrious newspaperman found a few town residents living in Boulder, a town northwest of Denver. They reluctantly spoke of others who had seen a mysterious black form, dark and menacing, coming after them. Rumors of an evil presence had drifted through Taylor Crossing. It had been insufferably hot, and this had fueled rumors that the presence was the devil himself, coming to visit a sinful town. Others wouldn't say what they thought it had been, fear keeping them silent. If only their friends had left, the surviving town members lamented. But those who'd seen the mist-like thing had disappeared shortly after talking about the evil presence. None of the survivors could explain what their friends had seen, or what it meant, but it was obvious that the stories and disappearances terrified them, so much so that they fled. That was all they would tell the newspaperman, who concluded that whatever had happened at Taylor Crossing would forever remain a mystery. The chapter ended noting that the town had revived itself in the last fifty years as a tourist town. The author of the book described how she had visited the town, and found that although it was located in the idyllic Rocky Mountains, she'd felt a chill unrelated to the mountain air the entire time she was there. She'd never found anything evil, per se, but she still felt something amiss in the atmosphere of the town. The book had nothing more on Taylor Crossing.
As he finished reading he felt his hands go damp and his heart thumped like a piston in his chest. He flipped through the pages again, and his mind raced. Whatever those residents had seen was too similar to his own ominous experience to dismiss. He had to know more about this mountain town and the black form that had visited there. He took the book, copied the chapter on Taylor Crossing, and left the library.
He spent the evening working on his laptop, organizing the notes he'd compiled over the last couple of weeks. He took the laptop and the photocopies he had made, stored them in his briefcase, and packed a suitcase full of clothes for an extended trip, sensing that he would be gone for a while. The next morning he called a travel agent about long-term lodging, made some arrangements, loaded up his truck, and headed out West.
The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.
- Henri Bergson.
Rory Callahan's Jeep Wrangler bounded over a rickety wooden bridge where he followed the dirt road into the outskirts of Taylor Crossing. He spotted a small car shelter and pulled in, where an elderly woman stood waiting. Behind her, late afternoon sunlight sparkled off a large lake.
"What's a famous journalist like yourself doing way out here?" Myrtle Hester asked with what Rory would soon recognize as her usual blunt demeanor.
"I need some uninterrupted time," he answered evasively, instantly realizing that he wouldn't go unnoticed in Taylor Crossing. Being recognized usually didn't present a problem; he'd found over the years that most people wanted to talk, especially if what they said would end up in a magazine or newspaper. He hoped that if anyone knew about Taylor Crossing's mysterious past, they would be willing to share it with him.
"The travel agent said to expect you sometime this morning," Myrtle went on as she patted an old golden retriever. "I didn't know if you'd make it after all."
Rory rolled up the car windows and got out. "I stopped in Boulder before heading up here." He'd driven into Boulder at ten and spent the better part of the day at the University of Colorado library. He had found a number of books on Taylor Crossing, but the gold mine had been some old Boulder newspaper articles he'd found in the University archives. The research captivated him, and he had soon lost track of time. When he finally realized how much time had pa.s.sed, he hurriedly copied all the newspaper articles that were on microfiche and all the book references that he could find. He threw it all in the briefcase along with the rest of the research material he'd brought from New York.
"I'm just glad I made it before dark."
Myrtle looked to the west. "Sun'll be down in a while, so we better get going. The place you're renting is across the lake and there's no road around, so we'll go by boat."
"By boat's the only way?" Rory asked.
"Yep. The cabin is surrounded by some of the most rugged land I've ever seen." Myrtle pointed southward. "And most of the lakesh.o.r.e isn't navigable because the vegetation grows right up to the sh.o.r.e, and there's more rock outcroppings, boulders, and dead foliage than you can shake a stick at. Too hard to get a road in." She gestured to the carport. "Your Jeep will be fine there." He grabbed the suitcase and briefcase from the back seat, locked the car, and followed her and the dog from the carport, past an old well with a pump and wooden trough, and onto a pier at the lake's edge, stopping at a little powerboat.
"Throw your bags in and we'll head out to the cabin." She got into the boat, helping the old dog get in after her. "Don't mind Boo. He wouldn't hurt one of these dragonflies." She gestured at a blue-green insect that buzzed past them. Myrtle was a pet.i.te woman, not five feet tall, but with enough h.e.l.lcat to take on anyone. A widow from Denver, she owned not only a cabin across Taylor Lake, where they were headed now, but three others, one of which she occupied in the summers.
Rory tossed his suitcases into the boat and gingerly stepped in, and they were soon bounding over the calm water. Myrtle ignored the no-wake rules as they pulled away from the dock at Taylor Crossing, just as she had ignored some glares and a few choice words from irate fishermen who didn't appreciate the disruption she caused.
"No one will bother you out here," she called over the drone of the outboard motor. She had her ash colored hair pulled into a bun, but strands whipped around her face like loose string. "I don't get too many people interested in this cabin, too far from the Crossing, and too much trouble unless you really enjoy boating, or rock climbing, or maybe some serious hiking. That's why it's still available in the middle of the summer." She said the last almost as a question. Her eyes, the color of light brown sugar, watched Rory, studying him.
"I don't mind boating," he said with a smile, sensing that she could tell he didn't know much at all about boats and oars and water. But when the travel agent had found the listing for the place across the lake from Taylor Crossing, Rory had been inexplicably drawn to it, as if it were a place he knew. Now, three days after he'd left New York, Rory felt like he'd been on this journey before. He shuddered as a chill swept over him, even though it felt unusually warm.
As they neared the far side of Taylor Lake, he spotted an isolated cabin that stood surrounded by thickets of trees. Behind it a sheer cliff face rose like an impenetrable fortress wall. The cabin reminded him of a haunted house, gray and uninviting. "You can use that rowboat," Myrtle pointed to a st.u.r.dy wooden boat moored at the dock. "It'll only take about a half hour to row across." She pulled her boat next to it and they got out.
"Thanks," Rory said, still studying the cabin, wondering why it seemed so familiar.
"It's the only place on this side of the lake," Myrtle told him as they walked up the path. Boo plodded along behind, then plopped down near steps leading to a porch on the front side of the cabin. Myrtle climbed the porch steps, past a bin that held some tools and an ax, opened the cabin door without a key and showed him around. The place was simple, just a great room filled with two couches, a recliner, and a huge stone fireplace; a small kitchen; and a dining area with an oak table that sat in front of a window overlooking Taylor Lake. "The original cabin was just one room," she explained. "Over the years, other owners added the bedrooms, kitchen, and bath." She then showed him the two bedrooms and one tiny bathroom with a sink, shower, and toilet. The whole place had just enough s.p.a.ce not to feel cramped, and it should've felt cozy. But a gloom seemed to envelope the entire cabin.
"Electricity might go out on you now and again," Myrtle said. "Is that a problem?"
"I'm not scared of the dark," Rory answered.
"What about your writing?"
He smiled at her. "I'll just have to hope the battery in the laptop lasts." He didn't explain that he wasn't working on an article, nor did he say anything about why he had come to Taylor Crossing.
"There's lanterns in the closet by the door and candles in the kitchen." She told him about a few other quirks of the house, like how to operate the water filtering system, and where there was wood out the back door if he wanted to use the fireplace, just make sure he chopped up more to replace what he used. She even gave him a demonstration with an ax that was stuck in a tree stump by a woodpile behind the cabin. The whole time Rory continued to feel like he was being studied for a science project, her eyes prying for something.
"So, you've seen the place," she said after the grand tour had finished. "Still interested in it?"
"Should I not be?"
She shrugged. "Most people don't like it out here. I figured you might change your mind."
"No, it'll be fine." Even as he said this, he noticed the slight hesitation in his voice. There's something about this place, he thought.
"You want to stay here for the rest of the summer?" she asked as she took a rental form out of a kitchen drawer. They sat down at the table to sign the paperwork and square away the details of renting the cabin.
"I'll take it until October." That would give him over a month here, although he hoped he would find some answers about the town's mysteries sooner than that. And that those answers would shed light on what had happened to him in New York.
She pursed her lips. "You can stay longer, but the winters are tough up here."
"No, I'll be going back home then."
"New York," was all he said.
Myrtle looked at him with a hint of suspicion. "You looking to write about us?" She stared him down, like she was probing for more information about his intentions. "I know you write about weird things."
"You've read my articles?"
"Don't look so surprised. I read a lot of things."
"Should I be writing about you?"
She huffed at him. "I didn't say me specifically. I meant Taylor Crossing."
"What about it?"
She eyed him carefully. "These old towns have stories to tell, that's all."
"Like what?" He tried to sound casual, uninterested, but he was wondering what, if anything, she knew about Taylor Crossing's past.
"Silly tales that I've heard too many times and don't bear repeating."
He smiled at her. "Maybe sometime you can share them with me."
After he'd paid her, Rory turned the tables and asked about his new landlord's life. "Mouthpiece," was how she described her husband, who'd been a lawyer at a small law firm in Denver. "Sure, he knew the law, but every lawyer's just a hired hand who talks for you," she joked. "He made enough money for us to live well, so I can't complain. How many people do you know who need one cabin, let alone four? That's what you do with too much money. But I like spending my summers in the Crossing. I just don't want to spend my time in this cabin. Too isolated for me." Did he detect something more, an apprehension about the place?
"I'll let you know if it gets to me," he said with a smile. "So tell me, why would someone build a place way over here?"
"Now that's a good question." Myrtle sat back in her chair. "There was a miner by the name of Burgess Barton. He'd heard about how much gold folks were finding in the Crossing, so he came on up, intent on getting rich like so many others. Only there was too much activity on the town side of the lake, all kinds of mines going up all over those mountains, and not much left for a greenhorn like him. So he decided that if there was gold over there, maybe there was on this side too. So he got a boat and rowed across the lake, stayed here for a couple of weeks until his supplies ran out, and then he hightailed it to Boulder where he went straight to the a.s.sayer's office and put a claim out on the land here. When he came back to the Crossing, he went on the biggest drunk this side of the Continental Divide, paying cash and tossing around gold nuggets. Said he'd hit the biggest vein of gold ore that anyone had had in a number of months."
"Is there a mine near the cabin?"
She scoffed. "There's no mine and very little trace of any digging."
"But why build a cabin here?"
"Wanted to protect his claim, I guess. Only no one ever saw him with gold, after that first time. But he built this cabin and supposedly was digging in a mine somewhere. Then that first winter arrived and it was hard on him." Her face clouded over. "The story goes that he only came into the Crossing once for supplies, trekked over the frozen lake, and that when the ice finally did melt in the spring and he made it across in his boat, he looked like the grim reaper himself had come visiting during the snowstorms."
"What do you mean?"
"It was like he'd been turned into another man, a crazy man. Folks say he was like a dead man, no essence to him. Like the hard season had sucked the life right out of him."
Rory tried to show no reaction, but his pulse quickened. Did something happen to the miner, something that related to what the townspeople had been discussing? Had the miner seen something like he had? "What happened to him?" he finally asked.
"I don't know," she said, but he felt like she was evading his question. "But I wouldn't want to stay out here. The place gives me the creeps."
"You must've stayed here sometimes."
"Once. I didn't like it and I told my husband if he wanted to stay here he could, but he'd be doing it alone. I washed my hands of this place."
"So you rent it out."
She shrugged. "Usually don't, as a matter of fact. You're the first tenant in more than ten years. People don't like it out here." She shrugged again. "Too far from town, I guess."
His sense of foreboding grew stronger. "So what became of the miner?" he asked.
"He disappeared after that. No one knows what happened."
"They didn't find a body?"
She shook her head slowly. "They didn't find anything. No notes, nothing to indicate he'd been trying to mine, certainly no gold," she paused, "and no body. Ever. He was just...gone."