In the shadows, not all the monsters have claws.
While leading an amateur ghost-hunting expedition in the mountains of North Carolina, the BCPI team gets an urgent call to investigate sightings of a weird, frightening creature in the forest near a remote Smoky Mountain lodge.
The case hints of another interdimensional gateway, and Sam Raintree wants no part of it. The last one nearly took the life of his boss and lover, Dr. Bo Broussard. Now that they’re finally together and working through their problems, Sam wants nothing to jeopardize their progress.
Yet he can’t ignore the fact that he is the only one with the unique psychokinetic ability to permanently close the gateway that could be threatening the lodge and its few remaining guests. If, indeed, that’s the source of the sightings.
There’s only one way to find out—split up the team and hit the trail. Once on the scene, a missing man, a grisly discovery, and a moment of carelessness reveal secrets much different—and far uglier—than anyone expected.
Secrets which not only put their lives in danger, but could provide Sam with an escape from the portals. If he’s willing to take the chance.
(Warning: Contains explicit sex between lovers in an idyllic mountain hideaway, graphic language when they’re interrupted by murderous ghosts, and violent deeds perpetrated by otherworldly creatures.)
© Copyright 2007 Ally Blue
After a brief discussion, they decided to go ahead and investigate the area of the sightings before the threatening snowstorm broke. They could upload last night’s video to the laptop later, along with any video from this morning. The heavy gray sky told them they had a limited amount of time to look around before the snow began.
The three of them stopped at Sam and Bo’s cabin to gather the rest of the equipment, then set off down the path. Bo switched on the EMF detector, saying he wanted to take readings of other areas for comparison’s sake. The reading was roughly the same as it had been in the woods. They passed several familiar faces going the other way as last night’s Lodge guests hurried to descend the mountain before the trails became too treacherous. The older couple from the previous night called goodbyes to them as they passed.
The trail was empty and silent when they reached their destination. They turned off the path and tramped toward the big boulder. Frost-coated pine needles and twigs crackled underfoot, the sound unnaturally loud in the breathless quiet.
When they reached the rock, Bo studied the EMF detector. “Three point four,” he announced. “Just a hair higher than last night. I think we can safely say that’s about baseline for this whole area. We’ll need to get readings around the rest of the Lodge to be sure, but so far baseline EMF’s been a bit high everywhere.”
Just like at Oleander House. Suppressing a shudder of fear, Sam wrote down Bo’s reading. He reached out with his psychic senses, easily finding and latching onto the fine thread of strange energy lingering around the boulder. “Still picking up the exact same thing as I did before. No stronger, no different.”
Dean pursed his lips. “Y’all, this whole thing gets weirder by the second.”
Winding the end of his braid around two fingers of his free hand, Bo gazed into the dense forest with a thoughtful expression. “I wonder…”
Sam glanced at him. “What?”
“Nothing. Just…” Bo shook his head, his brow furrowing. “I don’t want to say anything yet. Let’s just see what we find today.”
Curiosity burned in Sam’s gut, but he knew better than to press the issue. If Bo didn’t want to explain himself yet, nothing short of torture would make him do it. Maybe not even that.
“You want to hike out into the woods, where that thing went last night?” Dean asked, thumbing the video camera on for a quick pan of the area.
“Yes. We need to do that before—” Bo broke off, eyes widening. “There it is. Video and stills, right now.”
Shoving the notebook and pen into his jeans pocket, Sam whipped around, turning the camera on and raising it as he moved. A few feet behind the boulder, something black and shadowy emerged from thin air, paused a second, and scuttled off into the trees. Forcing back the urge to drop everything and run like hell, Sam snapped two photos back to back. His heart pounded in his throat, the rush of blood loud in his ears. His knees shook.
“It’s not coming after us,” Dean whispered, keeping the video camera trained on the thing plunging through the forest. “I’m following it.”
Before Sam or Bo could say anything, Dean bounded after the creature, camera held as steady as possible in front of him. With a swift glance at each other, Sam and Bo followed.
“No change in EMF,” Bo called. “Sam?”
“Energy’s the same too.” Sam darted a concerned look at Bo. “You’re limping again.”
“I know.” Bo stumbled, his features twisting in a grimace. “Fuck. Stay with Dean.”
“I’d rather not leave you alone.”
An odd look came over Bo’s face. “I don’t think it’ll hurt us. Just stay with Dean. Hurry, he’s almost out of sight.”
“Trust me, Sam.” Bo shoved his shoulder. “Go!”
Despite his irritation at Bo for insisting he leave him, instinct told Sam Bo was right. He picked up his pace, darting through the trees as fast as he could. Within seconds, he’d caught up to Dean. Bo limped along several yards behind them.
“It’s just ahead,” Dean panted, leaping over a fallen tree. “See?”
Sam looked in the direction Dean pointed. A translucent black mass moved from tree to tree before them. Fear curled in Sam’s belly.
“I still can’t feel it,” Sam said. “But there it is. Looks just like the others.”
Beside him, Dean slowed to a jog. “It’s stopping.”
Indeed it was. As Sam watched, the thing came to a halt, one black claw poised in front of its body. The level of energy in Sam’s head didn’t change. Feeling reassured by this, Sam raised the camera and took three more stills while Dean filmed it.
An uneven crunch of pine needles under hiking boots announced Bo’s arrival. “What’s it doing?” Bo murmured, laying a hand on Sam’s shoulder.
Dean shook his head. “Nothing. Just standing there.”
In a clump of rhododendrons not far from the creature, something moved. Sam squinted, trying to make it out. A flash of dull orange peeked from between the close-packed branches. Adrenaline jolted through Sam’s blood as he realized what it was. He dropped the camera, letting the strap around his neck catch it.
“Shit!” Without stopping to think about what he was doing, Sam sprinted toward the alien thing and the person it had trapped in the rhododendron thicket.
A string of colorful curses and pounding footsteps behind him told him Bo and Dean were following him. He wanted to order them both to stay back, but knew there was no point. Neither of them would listen.
“There’s a person there,” Sam called as he ran. “I’ll try to send the thing back if I can. Be ready to help whoever this is.”
He didn’t wait for an answer. The creature loomed mere feet in front of him. Focusing his mind on it, Sam searched for the fiery string of energy connecting it to the portal he was now sure must be here.
He couldn’t find it. The weird, blank feeling which had been there all along remained static and unchanged.
Panicking now, Sam opened his mouth to tell the trapped person to run for it. Before he could say anything, the creature flowed like smoke into the cluster of bushes and sliced the person’s head off.