Read Night Terrors: Savage Species, Book 1 Online
Authors: Jonathan Janz
My first reader is a horror fanatic and an all-around book lover named Tim. He saw
before anybody else and made some crucial contributions to the novel; thank you, Tim, for your invaluable help. Thank you to my incredible editor, Don D’Auria, for his expertise, his kindness, and his continued support. A huge thank you to my agent, Louise Fury. The serial novel was Louise’s brainchild, and it was Louise who encouraged me to use
for this project. Thanks also to Dawn Martin, who went above and beyond for the book. Another thank you goes to Angie Waters, who continues to design excellent covers. I also owe a huge debt to Kevin, a police sergeant who spent several hours patiently teaching me about guns.
There are many authors who influenced this work. They range from Algernon Blackwood to H.P. Lovecraft to Richard Matheson to Stephen King to Joe R. Lansdale to Brian Keene. But no writer had as direct and profound an influence on
as has Richard Laymon. Were Richard alive today, I’d shake his hand and talk his ears off about how much he has taught me and how thankful and proud I am to own his books. Richard Laymon was a true original, and if there is any literary justice in the world, he’ll continue to be read for the next hundred years.
Lastly, I want to thank my family. My wife continues to love and support me despite this bizarre writing obsession, and for that I’m deeply grateful. Thanks to my son, who often listens to excerpts of my books and is always encouraging and excited about what he hears. Thanks to my middle child, a beautiful girl inside and out, for making me feel special. And thanks to my youngest, the amazing daughter who made our family complete. I love you four more than words will ever explain.
This book is for you, Mom. For most of my childhood you were a single mother, and I know it wasn’t always easy. But you were patient and supportive of me. You gave me love, security, and just as importantly, encouragement. You encouraged me to be creative, and you encouraged me to follow my dreams. Thanks to you and the sacrifices you made, I’m now living my dreams. Thanks for everything. I love you, Mom.
“Out there, in the heart of the unreclaimed wilderness, they had surely witnessed something crudely and essentially primitive. Something that had survived somehow the advance of humanity had emerged terrifically, betraying a scale of life still monstrous and immature. He envisaged it rather as a glimpse into the prehistoric ages, when superstitions, gigantic and uncouth, still oppressed the hearts of men; when the forces of nature were still untamed, the Powers that may have haunted a primeval universe not yet withdrawn.”
It was a week before the grand opening. A week before the bloodbath.
Shane Dulin slowly climbed toward consciousness.
There was a smell like raw hamburger juice and a silence so complete he was sure someone had shoved wads of cotton in his ears. Weakly, he pawed at his ears, and though there was a stiff, crusty coating on the side of his head, there were no cotton balls to obstruct his hearing.
Shane opened his eyes, but everything remained black. A sickening dizziness grabbed hold of him. His chest tightened, his breathing grew labored and shallow. Wherever he was, it wasn’t just dim, it wasn’t just
, it was blacker than fresh tar, blacker even than the goddamn slash marks his mom used to make on his papers even when he brought home a
or, on a few glorious occasions, a
. What kind of mother was that? he wondered. What kind of mom graded your papers
they’d been graded and invariably reduced the score?
He felt cold all over. Cold and weak and frightened. He realized with growing distress that his lungs wouldn’t work properly.
Shane tried to suck in air to fight off the encroaching panic, but his attempt was futile. Jesus God, it felt like some huge object, an anvil or his mother, was sitting on his chest, but as the nerveless feeling in his limbs began to dissipate he realized he was lying on his stomach, and that was why his breathing was restricted. He was laid out face down on some rough, moist surface.
What the hell
Shane made to push away from the dank rock floor, but as he did a holocaust of pain gusted through his legs. Shane howled, flopped down on his belly and pummeled the slimy rock with palsied fists, but now that the floodlight of pain was glowing nothing would diminish its merciless brilliance. Shane cursed, thrashed his head in the slime and sobbed harder than he had in his life.
The pain continued to intensify.
A long time later—or perhaps it was only a matter of minutes—Shane grew accustomed to the agony. Or rather he created other pains so his mind wasn’t wholly focused on his shrieking legs. He’d bitten clear through his bottom lip, the teeth easily shredding the soft tissue until his incisors ground together like bits of gravel. He’d awakened a throbbing ache in the side of his head, which told him the crust he’d fingered earlier was dried blood. He knew this should have alarmed him—he couldn’t imagine bleeding from an ear being a good thing under any circumstance—but it did help him stabilize his caroming thought processes and begin to analyze his situation.
You’re on your belly
, he told himself,
and though you’re near water, you’re not in danger of drowning.
At least he didn’t think so. Shane swallowed, made himself go on.
Your ear hurts, you’ve beaten the shit out of your fists and bitten through your bottom lip and on top of that there’s something seriously wrong with your legs
Shane speculated about his legs but forced himself to stop. Things were already bad enough without adding to his catalogue of miseries. A wave of dizziness steamrolled through his head, but Shane forced himself to continue assessing…
Though it’s a struggle, you can breathe. You can’t see, but your other senses are working.
, Shane thought. He realized this was true. His hearing wasn’t impaired—it was simply
quiet. He couldn’t imagine a place this silent existing on earth, but wherever it was…
Shane sucked in startled breath. He had it.
Holy Mary Mother of God
, he thought, his sluggish thoughts quickening.
You’re working on the new state park, the one that’s opening next weekend. You’re behind schedule, and you’re tired of that bitch park ranger Linda Farmer driving you and the rest of the crew like a bunch of damned mules
Shane made a face in the darkness. It wasn’t like the goddamn park couldn’t open if the walking bridge wasn’t completed on time. But to hear Linda Farmer tell it, constructing a rope bridge over a half-flooded river was not only necessary for the park to be complete, it was also the easiest job in the world. As if she’d ever built anything before in her life. The woman wore so much makeup she looked like a deranged clown. If she couldn’t even make herself look presentable, what the hell could she know about building bridges?
Shane shook his head, his anger elbowing away some of the pain. If Patterson, the foreman of the crew Shane was stuck working with, had any balls, he’d have told Linda Farmer to take her demands and her clown makeup and jump in the river. The image actually brought a half smile to Shane’s face, agony and all.
Then the smile vanished and his eyes grew very wide.
He’d shared with Patterson his thoughts on the matter of the rope bridge, and Patterson the Prick had elected Shane to paddle across the river in that damned canoe to find a good spot where they could begin staking out the opposite side of the bridge. Like there was any good place. The river was wide enough to begin with. But with the flooding and the muck it dredged up, Shane had been forced to climb out of the boat and slog an extra fifty feet before he found relatively dry ground. He’d stopped—pant legs soaked to the thighs and his work boots weighted down by water and mud—to take a piss and to curse Tom Patterson and Linda Farmer and his mother, who’d caused him to hate school so much he barely graduated and never even applied for college. He’d been thinking about how unfair it all was, how nobody saw his potential or understood how smart he really was, when he first noticed the cave.
Patterson had told them there wouldn’t be any surprises. Though the land was low-lying, the beady-eyed foreman had informed them, the Peaceful Valley Nature Preserve’s terrain was fairly uniform.
Eyeing the cave entrance, Shane had chuckled.
Uniform, my ass,
He made his way to the cave entrance and peered inside. Seeing nothing, he was about to trudge back through the muddy floodplain when something—Curiosity? A nasty urge to learn all he could about this new discovery so he could shove it in Patterson’s face?—compelled him forward into the gloom. Shane remembered edging forward, stoop-shouldered, while a gleeful momentum pushed him deeper and deeper into the dark…
That was all. Had he hit his head? He must have knocked it against the low cave ceiling and lost consciousness. How else to explain the scrim of dried blood painted on the side of his face or the amnesia with which he seemed to be afflicted?
But what about his legs?
Maybe, he reasoned, he’d stumbled forward—down a sharp decline, perhaps—and skewered his legs on some jagged rocks.
Shane heaved a frustrated breath and peered into the murk. It didn’t add up. None of it did.
He froze at a furtive scraping sound from somewhere behind him.
Shane licked his lips, his pulse accelerating. It sounded like a small animal. A possum, maybe? It made sense. Possums were nocturnal creatures. He’d crossed the river some time during mid-afternoon. That meant it could be dusk or later by now, and the animals that came out at night would be stirring.
Sure, he thought, it was a possum. And though disgusting creatures, they were not dangerous ones, unless of course they had rabies—
“Oh Jesus,” Shane whispered. The wounds in his legs. Had the possums been at him?
A nightmarish image of the black-eyed, white-haired creatures feasting on the meat of his legs with their disease-infested fangs made his stomach curdle. Gasping, he scuttled forward on knees and elbows, but almost instantly the conflagration in his legs forced him to the ground again. Shane moaned, beat the ground with lacerated fists. He wanted nothing more than to escape this stinking tomb and breathe the beautiful river air again, but first he had to figure out why his legs ached so badly, why with every movement, no matter how infinitesimal, it felt as though his shins had been spitted and were roasting on an open flame.
With a sharp tug of misgiving, Shane reached down and inspected the sides of his legs. His breathing stopped.
At first, he refused to credit what his fingers told him. The messy, squishy horrors he touched could not be his upper thighs. Then, though the movement brought on a flare-up so intense Shane felt nauseated, he bent at the waist and forced his fingers to explore his hamstrings.
It was at that point that he realized where the raw meat smell was coming from.
Shane shrieked, clambered forward over the slimy rock, oblivious to the protests of his ruined legs, advancing in a wild series of tortured spasms that only served to heighten his pain and terror. His thoughts churned like turbid gray water, unconsciousness tugging at him like a drowning swimmer.
He’d crawled perhaps ten or fifteen feet when he heard the weird squelching noises echo somewhere behind him. Shane paused, immobile, for a long moment. Then, with a cry, he surged forward again, peering into the darkness for some sign of the cave entrance. If only he could see the daylight or even the starlight, he’d be able to fend off whatever vile animals had been gnawing on him. He imagined the possums chewing on his flesh. Or raccoons, those goddamned garbage eaters. The nasty beasts, they were so unclean they probably carried the goddamned bubonic plague.
The noises behind him grew louder: smacking sounds like bare feet on a wet floor, the clicking of toenails on stone. Shane shivered. If it was a possum or a raccoon, it was one hell of a big one. Shane heard a deep growl.
He crawled faster. His legs were a howling blaze, his heartbeat a jittering jackhammer. But ahead—he couldn’t believe it—there was a faint cone of light. It brightened and clarified as he drew jerkily nearer, and though he doubted his savaged legs would support him, for the first time Shane attempted to gain his feet.