Authors: John Conroe
A Novel of the Demon Accords
This book is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2016 John Conroe
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
The Demon Accords:
Cover art by Ryan Bibby.
To Irwin Conroe, who taught me the art of storytelling.
Piscataquis County, Maine
Rusty machinery. That’s the mental image that the just-past peak foliage inspired in Morris Alcombe, IV. Old, useless, rundown metal remnants of the past. The sun was setting on the forest of dying leaves and setting on his chances for a first-day deer. His mood reflected it.
For three years running, he’d bagged a respectable deer on the first day of his annual expedition back to the interior of Maine’s wilderness. It gave him immediate bragging rights among the other hunters in camp, allowed him to kick back for the rest of the week, sleep in, and smoke cigars on the lodge’s veranda while the others all froze their asses off deep in the woods. It was the reason he paid Shorty a ridiculous bonus. And the guide had always come through. Till today. Not only had there been no bucks to select from, there hadn’t been any deer at all. Just birds—blue jays and crows mostly, as well as arrowheads of flying, honking geese, headed south for the winter. Not even the usual squirrels and chipmunks.
The day had been unseasonably cold, the sun weak, and he’d frozen his ass off
from before dawn till now. His chemical pocket heaters had given out hours ago, his bag lunch had been unsatisfactory and insufficient, and the battery on his phone hadn’t taken a full charge the night before, leaving him without even electronic games to distract him. The sun winked out, dropping below the tree line, the light growing too dim for the Austrian-engineered lenses of his Swarovski Z6 riflescope as he tried a final, vain attempt to scope the edge of the forest one hundred and thirty yards away. Nothing.
He stood up, his muscles stiff and unresponsive, which made him wobble a bit. Not a good idea eight feet off the ground. Damn that Shorty. Not a damned deer all day. It would take at least another day of this. Not what he’d paid an extra thousand dollars for. Shorty would be hearing about
as soon as he arrived in the Gator to pick him up.
The early evening woods were silent, not even birdsong, and the temperature, which had stayed in the low thirties all day, now dropped steadily lower. Might as well climb down; at least get the blood flowing. The sky was clear, early stars starting to wink above him, and was lighter in the east as the moon awaited her entrance into the night sky. It would be full tonight and probably bright enough to shoot a deer by… if any still existed in this godforsaken wilderness.
He unloaded his Weatherby Mark V .300 Magnum, not even the sight of those huge brass cartridges able to buoy his mood. The rifle had been his father’s, massively expensive and massively overpowered for this type of hunting. Yet he loved the attention the classic rifle and cartridge combination evoked among his fellow hunters. The rifle had been a symbol for much of his life. Morris III had used it in Africa to bag a gemsbok, an eland, and a big male leopard whose stuffed body used to give the younger Alcombe the shivers. When he was old enough to shoot the Weatherby, the roar of the cartridge and the slam of the stock into his shoulder had made him feel older, powerful, adult. He’d inherited the rifle along with the paper mill and the two houses, and his only change had been to upgrade the rifle’s scope to the Z6. And sell the paper mill.
Tying the drop cord to the stock, he lowered the rifle carefully till the butt hit dirt. His pack normally went on his back but tonight, he just dropped it off the stand’s platform, too pissed off to care. Then he backed his middle-aged body to the ladder and gingerly stepped down the first few rungs. A rustling in the woods behind him stopped him in place. It sounded large. He pulled a small flashlight from his hunting coat and scanned the woods, holding onto the ladder with his other hand as he turned in an arc. Nothing. Yet the eerie wind ghosting through the trees and the feeling of being watched had him unsettled.
Shrugging it off, he started down the ladder. Another noise, this time from the forest on the other side of the stand. He froze. Some of the black bears in this stretch of Maine got pretty big. Everything went quiet… quieter.
“Shorty? That y—” was all he got out when a freight train hit him, ripping him from the ladder. He was aware of fur and of flying, of an irresistible tug on his arm. Then the ground stopped his motion with sudden, final brutality and
in turn, stopped the massive form propelling him, its crushing weight blasting the air from his lungs with a crunch. Unable to breathe, his world circled down to the act of attempting to pull air into his lungs. The mass separated itself from him with a huff and a growl.
Panicked by his inability to breathe, only a small part of him focused on the beast that rose up on four thick legs. Realizing he was dying for a breath, he nonetheless noted that the animal wasn’t a bear. More wolf-like. But bigger, with longer legs and a huge bear-trap jaw, which opened right before his eyes, moving closer. As he struggled to draw another breath, the last one he had taken on the ladder ran completely out. His vision shrank, a decreasing tube of light encircled by growing darkness. The dim spot centered on the jaws, which opened wide enough to span his head. The light disappeared, either blocked by the jaws or vanishing into his dying brain, but his ears heard the snap and the melon-like thunk of his own skull cracking. He did not, however, hear the victorious howl a second later.
Three quarters of a mile away, Shorty Kane took his foot off the accelerator of the John Deere Gator and listened for the sound that had penetrated the thrum of the engine.
The four-wheeled UTV coasted to a stop as the guide strained his ears for whatever had raised the hair on the back of his neck.
Only the idling engine filled the quiet. Still the woodsman listened, hard-learned instinct telling him to wait. The sound came again, but now the engine wasn’t racing and he could hear it way too well. A howl, deep and angry, like a hound of Hell, full of hate and power, victory and awful promise.
Shorty Kane almost shit himself where he sat.
He froze completely for a second, then his hand went to the holstered revolver resting between the yellow seats. His thumb trembled as he pulled the Smith and Wesson model 657 .41 Magnum Mountain gun from its leather scabbard.
He didn’t need to check if it was loaded—it was always loaded, stuffed full of heavy weight, hard-cast bullets. He
need to get his suddenly racing heart under control. The howl had been close—less than a mile. About where his hunter should be. Sudden fear for his client overrode his fear for himself and his foot stamped down on the gas, big revolver still clutched in his hand.
Less than five minutes later, he pulled the Gator to a stop, headlights pointed into the side trail that went ninety yards to the stand. Morris Alcombe hated walking, so his watches were always close to the main trail. The primitive part of Shorty’s brain, the part that had kept his ancestors alive long enough to pass on their genetic material, told him to leave the engine running. His logic-based modern brain directed his hand to shut it off so he could listen. The primitive part bludgeoned the modern part into submission. The engine stayed on.
Hearing nothing, Shorty unlimbered the big rechargeable flashlight that he kept in the Gator. Shaped like a pistol, it projected a beam about like the headlight of a Mini-Cooper. With his real gun in his right hand and the hefty flashlight in his left, he slid out of the Gator and headed into the woods.
Less then five minutes later, he stumbled back out, somehow staying upright. He’d tripped at the stand as well, but that had been on a leg instead of a tree root. A human leg. His heavy camo jacket was stained with vomit and all five-foot, five inches of experienced guide shook with adrenaline and terror.
Shorty had, in his forty-eight years, gutted or helped field dress over thirty moose, nineteen bears, almost a hundred deer, and countless rabbits, squirrels, partridge, and goose. He had seen ten or more coyote kills, a first-year moose killed by a bear, and even the horror of a fisher that slaughtered an entire hen house.
None of that was sufficient preparation for the abattoir of Morris Alcombe’s final deer watch.
Eyes darting in every direction, Shorty slammed his small frame into the UTV’s cockpit and sent the powerful little vehicle careening down the trail.
Two hours and fifty-one minutes later, he was back, leading three ATVs and with a deputy sheriff, Sergeant Buck Thompson, riding shotgun next to him. He pulled to a stop at the same spot as before.
“This the way, Shorty?” the deputy asked. He was tall where his guide was short. Tall and lean, but with wide shoulders. Black hair and black beard, brown eyes. Young for his position at thirty-two, he efficiently wrangled the other guides who had ridden the four-wheelers, at least one of whom was older then him.
“LeClair and Olson, you need to be our security. A bear might guard its kill. Stay sharp. Cort, you’re carrying the camera stuff. Shorty, lead the way. Shorty!” he spoke sharply at the last, breaking through the little guide’s distracted focus on the dark woods.
“This way, Buck,” Shorty said in his trademark raspy voice, reluctantly getting out of the UTV. This time, he carried a short pump shotgun with a barrel-mounted light. His revolver was belted to his waist. Turning on both the gun light and a headlamp, the tough little guide led the sergeant and his fellow guides down the narrow footpath toward the deer stand. Head light and shotgun light swung about constantly as he moved cautiously through the thick woods.
Buck Thompson had known Shorty Kane his entire life. He and his father had hunted with the man for years, and Buck had brought Shorty in to help track down missing hunters on several occasions. The compact woodsman was generally more comfortable in the woods than he was in town. Except tonight.
“Hell of a shock, Short,” Buck said as they moved through the woods, watching the guide as the guide watched the woods. Behind them, the three other woodsmen also kept a close eye on the forest, the last man turning every few seconds to watch their back trail.
Shorty stayed silent, his attention focused on the trees, his breath puffing fast in the cold light of his own headlamp. Just when Buck decided he wasn’t going to answer, he did. “Never seen anything like it, Buck. Never. It’s just up here.
just up here,” he said, slowing down and letting the others go by him.
A few moments later, Buck Thompson came to a stop and studied the scene before him. He decided that Shorty had a point… and a talent for understatement.
Buck had done two tours in Iraq with Uncle Sam in a military police unit. He had seen horrific things: men exploded by IEDs, women and children decapitated by terrorists, bodies that had fallen from helicopters at great height. This was different.
The deer stand was a three-legged, metal, self-supporting model that occupied a little natural clearing at the crest of a ravine. Looking out over the tiny valley, it had maybe ten feet of cleared space around it. That space gleamed wetly in the light of the full moon, covered in black fluid that turned dark red when his high-powered LED flashlight beam hit it.
Morris Alcombe had been pretty much a giant douche bag for most of his fifty years, and Buck was not a fan of the man who had sold the family’s paper mill to a conglomerate that shut it down a year later. But nobody short of a child molester or rapist deserved to die like this.
Behind him, Scott Olson made a retching sound and turned away from the grisly scene to throw up.
“Eyes on the woods, Olson. You too, LeClair. Security, remember?”
His lifelong friend, Cortney Brower, who guided for another camp, handed him the camera, already turned on and with the flash warmed up. Buck started to snap pictures of the scene, moving carefully through the woods on the edge of the clearing to avoid touching anything, face wearing a professional mask.
Buck let his eyes roam over the remains, forcing his mind to catalogue the scene in a detached manner. It wasn’t easy. Morris’s leg, possibly the left one, was lying just across the trail two feet from Buck. An arm was dangling from the ladder, its fist still clutching the upper rung, like it had been torn off the man as he was ripped from his position six feet up. The torso was lying on the left side of the clearing, split wide open like a flattened cardboard box. A wet, mushy cardboard box with splintered ribs.
“What the hell kind of bear does this to a man?” Buck wondered out loud.