Today’s Halloween Promotion is for Heart of Ice from my good friend Linell Jeppsen. It will be released the week before Halloween and to give you a hint of what it’s like, Linell has given us a chapter to read, so enjoy. I will post the buy links when it is available.
In this, the sixth installation of the Deadman series, Matthew and Chance run into something deeply evil and terrifying. Supernatural monsters have found their way to the North Idaho woods!
Torn between disbelief and a fierce will to save his family from the beasts’ clutches, Chance mounts a rescue party, armed with special bullets, love and sheer determination.
For silver is the only thing that can stop a Wendigo and its cold, icy heart.
Case File #6
May 18th, 1909
Since I first opened the doors to The Wilcox and Son Detective Agency, I have made a habit of documenting each and every one of our case files. This has served two purposes. First, it is a good way to protect my son Chance and myself against reprisal from an unhappy client. Secondly, good testimony pertaining to the acts performed by this investigation agency stands up well in a court of law, especially signed affidavits when the injured party in a lawsuit – usually the crook involved – tries to claim wrongdoing on our part.
There is another reason. Although I have been a lawman most of my adult life and am even now a licensed attorney, there are good lessons to be learned in the pursuit of justice. As my dear, deceased wife Iris once told me, “People are not always black and white, Matthew. People come in all shades of gray. Some, so-called Good People do heinous things and some Bad Folk are heroes. To be a good marshal, I think you must look into the gray of things…”
On our first case, I put my own son’s life in mortal danger; by the grace of God, Chance survived that encounter. I now know a hundred different and safer things we could have done to bring a dirty boxer and his trainers down. Our second big case was won by luck alone and only with a lot of help from the people involved. Again, I now know that Chance and I ran blindly into a situation that could have gotten everyone I hold dear killed.
That case was resolved more or less satisfactorily but I have learned a few things since starting my detective agency: No. 1 – Get as many facts as humanly possible before rushing into danger; No. 2 – Take copious notes; and No. 3 – Be prepared for anything. This philosophy has served us well so far. But there are some things no man or woman can even dream of, much less anticipate.
What happened to my son on a frigid, moonlit night in October of 1908 is one of those things no human being can reckon or prepare for.
He survived the experience, thank God, but at great risk to both body and soul. My son is not the same happy, carefree young man he was before that night and, I dare say, he will be forever changed…both for the worse and the better. For sure, he is looking into the “gray of things” now.
So, that’s what I am doing…trying to document Case File #6. But I admit to being stumped. This is, by far, the strangest case my son and I have ever taken on, the most hazardous. And now that we have survived to tell the tale, it is a case that remains unsolved and one that will always be kept hidden from prying eyes.
I will share this report with Chance, his wife Hannah and my wife, Annie. After we have studied what happened, separated fact from fantasy, and tried to the best of our ability to report the truth as it unfolded, I will seal this case file away.
Heart of Ice
His huge round eyes
bulge out of his head, lidless eyes
rolling in red blood of pain,
always rolling, blood sockets
Lenny “The Spoon” – named for his habit of pinning two tin spoons to the front of his coat – Turnbull sat on a high branch of an ice-encrusted pine tree, chewing a finger joint and watching thoughtfully as young Miles Manning buried what was left of his cousin’s body in a 12-foot-high snowdrift.
The lad was sawing Samuel Tarley’s limbs off, one by one, starting and staring about in alarm at the slightest sound… the high chitter of a chipmunk, the whispery sound of frail branches giving way under the ever-shifting weight of the heavy wet snow, the sharp crack of larger tree limbs succumbing to the ravages of the latest winter storm.
Lenny knew almost to the minute when the Donner/Reed party had finally resorted to cannibalism. He couldn’t really blame them. One mishap after another had haunted the pilgrims’ passage ever since they had abandoned the famous Oregon Trail and followed the ill-advised Hastings Cutoff trail into the Wasatch Range of the Sierra-Nevada Mountains.
Between losing most of their oxen and horseflesh to Indians while crossing the Great Salt Lake Desert and getting snowed in here along the Humboldt River, the sixty people left to rot away in these high hills were literally starving to death.
Again and again, Lenny wished he could have followed the last wagon train heading over the Oregon Trail into Montana rather than these sorry critters but the teamsters for that outfit were a tough bunch and had chased him off when he approached.
He knew why, although he didn’t think it was either fair or smart on their part. Lenny was a dwarf; at least that was what that doc in Kansas City had said after offering Lenny two-bits a day to be a test study. Lenny had declined the doctor’s offer and ran away but now he had a name for his peculiar condition.
He stood only 4’8” tall and, although his body was as bent and crooked as a gnarled branch, it was lean and strong. His face, however, was a fright and he knew it. His brow protruded over tiny, close-set brown eyes and his jaw was as underslung as that of an old, toothless mule. His mud-brown and gray hair, beard and eyebrows grew as wild as a patch of thistles as he had neither the desire nor the money to visit a barber.
His teeth – or, at least, what was left of them – were rotten and Lenny suspected the reek of them flew away in front of him in a foul cloud. He had often seen members of the party rear away in disgust whenever he came close. Although, he smirked, what made them think they smelled any sweeter, he couldn’t fathom; he could, even now, smell the stench of their meager encampment from a half mile away which was one good reason most of the edible wildlife in the region had fled.
Yet despite the lack of easy game, Lenny was a good hunter… unlike many of the beleaguered people he had trailed after on this doomed trek out west. Over the last few months, he had left many a rabbit, skunk, gopher, and fish close to the main camp to help out though he had never received an acknowledgment or thanks.
Lenny had been born and raised in the Ozark Mountains and, although his pa treated him worse than he did his pack of bloodhounds, Evan Turnbull knew an extra set of hands when he saw one. He had trained his young, twisted son to hunt, fish and scavenge all manner of foodstuffs for the rest of the family members, of whom there were many.
In fact, all of Evan’s children either gathered food together for the communal cook pot, suffered a beating, or – in one case – were kicked out for good and made to fend for themselves. So Lenny had found comfort in heading out on his own to fetch the family meal for, if his father treated him badly, his brothers and sisters treated him worse.
Lenny’s ma, Mary Turnbull, had died from birthing-fever when he was thirteen years old. When she was alive, she protected her youngest son from his sibling’s hatred but now they tormented him with regular beatings, teased him mercilessly and called him names. Often, as he made his way home at night after a successful day of hunting or fishing, his older brothers would set upon him and steal his bounty.
Many a time he did not darken the doorway of his family home at all. He would rather go to sleep hungry than suffer his sibling’s scorn or his old man’s wrath when he showed up empty-handed.
When he was seventeen, his two sisters headed into the nearby township to attend church and, hopefully, catch the eyes of some eligible young men. They were accompanied by Lenny’s oldest brother whose job was to bring grain, flour, lard and horse oats back home after the service.
The day went well enough, although no new gentlemen came to call. Three days later, Maryanne – Lenny’s oldest sister – came down with typhoid; soon after, the whole family lay dying inside the rough-hewn walls of the cabin they called home.
Lenny was not there…he had received such a harsh beating the week before after, once again, having his bounty forcibly removed, he had decided to spend the next week or so in a hidden cave close by a stream. He ate well, slept peacefully, and caught enough pink and green trout to share.
Cheerful, he whistled his way back to the house, only stopping long enough to gaze about and wonder where his older brothers and sisters were. Cautiously, he stepped out from the tree line into the weed-infested front yard.
He stared about the empty yard and felt a chill of foreboding. It was quiet… too quiet. Their old plow-horse nosed his empty grain bucket and their sow, Gertie – seeing him approach – squealed mournfully and was shrilly echoed by her many piglets. Gazing into Gertie’s empty water trough, Lenny wondered why his family members had allowed the pig, one of their best means of stocking up on winter stores, and her brood to run dry.
Walking over to the well, he put enough water in the animals’ troughs to keep them from bellowing and then made his way slowly toward the house. Once or twice, while fetching the water he had smelled a foul odor wafting on the afternoon breeze. He knew that smell and he knew the sound of fat and lazy bottleneck flies as well…something in that house was dead.
Lenny paused outside the front door and then he heard a faint voice say, “Lenny, is that you?” Pushing open the door, he saw his father lying on the floor of the house by a cold stove.
Staring about in shock, Lenny saw that – except for his pa and his little sister, Hester – almost all of his family members were dead. The smell was overwhelming and, even as he watched, a cloud of blue bellies fell over Hester’s face like a black lace veil. The little girl had stopped breathing and, although Lenny brought fresh water and tried to slap the life back into her body, he knew she would not be coming back to breathe air again.
He tried as best as he knew how to keep his pa alive but Evan died later that night. The next day, Lenny tried to bury his family members but the ground was as hard as rock; he broke two spades and their one good shovel before giving up on the notion.
He put blankets over the dead bodies and mumbled a little prayer over each of them, although he doubted whether they would have done much but dance over him had their positions been reversed. Then he prowled about the place and finally found his pa’s meager stash of gold and a few paper dollars.
Lenny packed up as much as his puny shoulders could carry and packed a cloth bag full of food. He tried as hard as he could to keep from fingering things knowing, instinctively, the sickness was anything but gone.
Staring around at the oft-hated but intimately familiar house he had grown up in, he shrugged and poured kerosene on the floors and walls of the cabin, then lit a wooden match. Dropping it, Lenny stepped outside and pulled the pigpen’s gate to the side so Gertie and her little ones could escape before he went to search for the horse’s ancient saddle in the barn.
It took some time and a vast amount of patience to saddle the horse; the old gelding had not been ridden for years. It objected to having the creaky old leather on its back and it didn’t help matters that flames were starting to shoot out the front door and windows of the house. Finally, Lenny was able to climb aboard just as the house went up in a roar and a whoosh of heat.
The horse reared up in terror as sparks and burning ash fell like fireworks on the ground around them and Lenny dug his heels into the animal’s flanks. With a squeal, the old horse took off at a full gallop with Lenny clinging to his back like a burr.
And so, with eight dollars and twenty-two cents to his name, Lenny Turnbull took the first road in a series of highways and byways leading, ultimately, to the fiery gates of Hell.