Fatalis: A Novelby Jeff Rovin
The two luminescent eyes watched the long, deserted roadway from low on the gusty promontory. Moist and dark, like large oily pearls, the eyes shifted and widened almost imperceptibly at every movement a hundred feet below. They roamed among the dim lights and deep shadows, the tall waves of the sea beyond, the dark beach, the large sea animals that broke the
The two luminescent eyes watched the long, deserted roadway from low on the gusty promontory. Moist and dark, like large oily pearls, the eyes shifted and widened almost imperceptibly at every movement a hundred feet below. They roamed among the dim lights and deep shadows, the tall waves of the sea beyond, the dark beach, the large sea animals that broke the surface in the distance, the night birds that soared and hovered above the rocks, the flat clouds, the misty raindrops, the signposts rattling in the wind.
Most of these things were familiar; a few were not. But new or old, it was a world of constant movement, a world where any motion could be enemy or prey. Which was why the eyes missed nothing. Nor did the ears, which were shaped like gold tulip petals...
It froze as the scent came suddenly, from the north...The black eyes were met by other black eyes and they all began to move...Quickly and silently they slid through the brush and stones...commanding the foothills simply by moving through them. The smell of the prey was different, the speed was greater than they had seen, but the size was familiar.
They knew just what to do.
"Classic horror style." --Publishers Weekly
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By Jeff Rovin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 Jeff Rovin
All rights reserved.
The bobcat moved slowly through the cool, shallow mountain stream. His stocky torso swayed easily between four heavily muscled limbs, his head slung low between powerful shoulders. The cat's large paws didn't so much rise as slide forward as he followed the westward flow of the stream.
The cat liked moving through water. Unlike the boulders and trees on either bank, water did not retain traces of the cat, odors that another predator could track to his den. Far more important than his own safety were the lives of the cats he had left behind.
When the stream finally disappeared beneath the large rocks and mossy, fallen trees of a wide ravine, the cat vaulted to the largest of the boulders. He took a moment to sniff the air. Then, with a great, sure-footed leap, he set out for the hills and valleys below.
The muddy earth was cool beneath the cat's thick footpads. A stiff wind blew up along the weatherworn crags and tangled scrub of the steep mountaintop. The wind ruffled the cat's reddish-brown coat and carried smells from the distant foothills. His flesh-colored nose wrinkled from left to right as it searched for the familiar scent of a cottontail or wild turkey. Since leaving its small cave the cat had smelled nothing but damp earth, vegetation, and the distant sea.
The cat's short, black-tipped tail swayed stiffly behind it, a sign to other cats that he was hunting. Ordinarily, a rigid tail would have been sufficient to drive rival predators from the territory, both bobcats and coyotes. But tonight was different. Tonight there was hunger in the mountains. If it met another predator it might have to fight for the mountain pass.
The cat's large, rigid ears resembled tawny rose petals. Topped with short black tufts, the ears moved independently of one another as the cat listened for blats from a litter, the crack of a twig, a stone clattering down the slope—anything that might indicate the presence of prey.
But there was no sound. Since the coming of the rains, many of the smaller animals had been washed from their burrows and nests. Even the field mice were gone. Two or three would have been enough to calm his raging belly and a few more would have fed his mate and her litter.
The flooding had forced the cat to venture farther down the mountain each night, closer to bright lights and to strident, unfamiliar sounds. But at least the grass was higher here and there were deep ditches and gullies, both caused by heavy runoff from the peaks. Ground fog was also thicker because of the rains. That made it easier for the cat to hide.
As he neared a long, level patch of stone, the cat suddenly smelled something musky. He stopped and crouched down on his lean, powerful legs. His white underbelly nearly touched the ground as he settled into a springing stance. The smell rose and fell, moved from side to side, grew weaker and stronger. But it always came from the same place on the mountainside. Pinpointing the scent, the cat turned his ears in the direction of the spoor. His luminous golden eyes peered through the mist. Silently he crept forward.
And then he saw it. His prey was a shaggy creature moving at a slow, uncaring pace. The animal was slightly smaller than himself though not close enough to attack with a leap. Not yet. It would have to be stalked.
The cat ignored the loud sound coming from somewhere beyond the prey. Still crouched low, the hunter moved forward swiftly and confidently.
Heather Jackson stood in the open doorway of the small foyer shaking a halfempty box of dog biscuits. Dressed in jeans and a University of California, Santa Barbara, sweatshirt, she shivered as the uncommonly cold fall night wind stirred her long, black hair and brushed her cheek.
"Ruthie, Please! Don't make me have to come and get you!"
The tall, twenty-seven-year-old actress and her six-year-old springer spaniel shared a large, storybook log cabin three thousand feet up in the rugged Santa Ynez Mountains north of Santa Barbara. Except for the security bars on the windows, rooftop satellite dish, electric wires strung to a pole high up the hill, and an attached garage—some mornings it was just too cold to go outside, and lately it had rained every damn day—except for all that, the cabin was straight from a fairy tale. There was a glorious vegetable garden, hardwood floors nearly half-a-century old, a stone fireplace in every room, and an epic view of cliffs, valleys, and ocean that stretched clear out to the Channel Islands. Even on dreary La Niña—bad nights like this, the thick rolling clouds that covered the mountaintops were spectacular.
Heather stopped shaking the box and listened. The only sounds were the rustling of the two-foot-high blackberry hedges that lined the short stone walkway and the muted ruffs and snorts of the spaniel. The little barks were coming from somewhere beyond the driveway, past the white glow of a spotlight mounted above the front door.
Ruthie never went far but Heather didn't want to go out looking for the dog. She was exhausted. And since La Nina had spent the last week slamming the Southern California coast, dog-fetching meant getting a flashlight to pick through the heavy fog, pulling on boots to slog through the mud, and wearing a heavy coat and gloves to deal with the wind-whipped cold.
Not that Heather blamed Ruthie for blowing her off. They'd moved here three months before, from a tiny Tarzana rental. A hit series and a mortgage were wonderful new experiences for the young woman. And for Ruthie, instead of the same old same old—running back and forth on a fenced-in sixth-of-an-acre, barking at dogs she never got to see, napping, and napping some more—the dog now spent the day chasing scavengers from the compost heap and exploring her little corner of several thousand wild acres.
"Ruthie, please!" Heather implored. "I can't let you stay outside, it's too cold!"
Something crunched at the end of the long gravel driveway, just beyond the edge of the spotlight. Heather's spirits perked.
"Come on, Ruthie! Come on, girl!"
The crunching stopped.
Heather gave the box of biscuits another shake. "Come on, La Roo, be nice to Mommy. She's got an early call tomorrow."
A moment later the crunching started again. Heather watched for the familiar hangdog eyes, the droopy smile, and the white-and-brown coat which often came home tangled with burrs.
After a few seconds Ruthie strutted into the spotlight as if she were the star. Her tail wagged in big, sweeping strokes and her license jangled like a diamond from her flea-and-tick collar.
"There's my girl!" Heather said sweetly.
Ruthie didn't hurry and Heather didn't take that personally. The days of being greeted with puppylike leaps and yips were long gone. They'd been replaced with a dignified saunter and a perfunctory kiss-before-biscuiting.
But that was okay. Ruthie still cuddled close to her at night and was more honestly affectionate than any man Heather had ever known.
Ruthie was on the walkway, just a few feet from the door, when the tan streak shot over the hedges. The bobcat landed less than a yard behind her, turned ninety degrees without stopping, and charged the dog.
Heather screamed when she saw the animal. As Ruthie turned to see what was behind her, Heather threw the box of biscuits at the predator. The carton struck his head and caused him to break his stride. Taking a long step out, Heather grabbed the spaniel by the tail and pulled her back. Ruthie barked but Heather got the dog inside and threw her shoulder against the door.
The bobcat hit the door before the latch caught. The impact bumped Heather back and opened the door a crack. The bobcat pushed its muzzle and right forefoot through the opening before Heather could close it. Releasing the dog, she threw both hands and her full weight against the door. Growling and turning her head this way and that, the spaniel tried to bite the bobcat.
"No, Ruthie!" Heather cried.
The door jumped and shuddered as the cat clawed at the spaniel. Heather kicked awkwardly at Ruthie, who continued to snap at the attacker.
"Ruthie, go away! Now!"
Suddenly, the bobcat's leg and muzzle pulled back so quickly they seemed to vanish. The door slammed shut and Heather stumbled against it. The latch clicked. Acting quickly, the young woman threw the deadbolt, pushed herself off the door, and stood back. She was panting, her heart slapping against her ribs.
"We did it," she muttered breathlessly.
Ruthie continued to bark.
"It's okay, Roo," Heather said, only half believing it.
Ruthie stopped barking and Heather listened. The silence seemed thicker than before, perhaps because of all the snarling and hissing that had just gone on. Heather didn't know and she didn't care. She stepped over to the window on the side of the foyer, looked out, saw nothing.
As soon as Heather calmed down a little she'd call the Santa Barbara sheriff's department, ask someone to come up and have a look around. Heather had never even seen a bobcat in the hills and was afraid that this one might be rabid. She had visions of being told that she'd have to ring her mountain retreat with leghold traps, poisoned meat, and barbed wire.
End of fairy tale. Next stop: Brentwood.
Heather walked over to where Ruthie was standing, sniffing the air. The dog's tail had drooped and she was shaking. The young woman picked Ruthie up and kissed her nose.
"You can stop now," Heather said. "You won. The cat's gone. Let's just call the sheriff and go to bed."
Cradling the dog under her chin, Heather shut the outside light and headed up the dark staircase to the bedroom. She put the dog on the bed while she went to the phone on the nightstand.
Ruthie hopped off the covers and slid beneath the bed.
She was still trembling.
It was as though the fast-moving clouds had snagged and torn on the sharp mountaintops. Thick beads of rain fell suddenly, pelting the sandstone crags and beating down the wildflowers and ferns that covered the higher slopes. Rushing water cut deeper into the gullies, washing dirt from the underlying shale and spilling it onto the ridges below.
The rain also pounded the homes scattered through the high foothills. It drummed on rooftops, windows, and decks. It flooded storm drains and garages and uprooted plants.
At one house the rain slashed through the low hedges and dissolved a small, discarded cardboard box that lay beside them. The downpour ate away dog biscuits that were inside the box and washed them toward the house. There, the crumbs mixed with ruddy streams that were swirling off the stone walk, running down the front door, and dripping from the windowsill.
Streams of blood, all that remained of a bobcat on its final hunt.CHAPTER 2
Jim Grand was having trouble sleeping. Again.
Wearing white boxer shorts and lying on a twin bed tucked in a corner of the bedroom, Grand stared up with his arm thrown behind his head. Rain pelted the roof and a streetlight threw gray, watery shadows on the ceiling.
Grand's black Labrador retriever, Fluffy—Rebecca's joke name for the sleek-haired monster—was flopped across the foot of the bed. The dog's legs were pointed toward Grand, his head half off the far corner of the bed. The Chumash had always said that animals were better suited to this world than we were. Fluffy was certainly evidence of that. He was breathing easily, occasionally woof ing softly from somewhere in dog dreamland.
As Grand watched patterns on the ceiling melt one into the other, he couldn't help but think of happier shadows. The ones he lost when Rebecca died nine months before. Those were the reason he was still awake. He thought of Rebecca at their small home, where they hardly ever were because they were always doing things and going places. On her boat, in their plane, across a restaurant table at the god-awful Chris's Crinkles—she loved the fries, the more burnt the better—at the movies, or beside him in the car on a long weekend, a map in her lap and no destination in mind. Whatever they were doing she was as curious and outgoing and fun as the day he met her.
This isn't good, he told himself. Grand's eyes grew damp. He had to stop this and get to sleep.
The ancient Thules of Alaska believed that spirits existed by feeding on belief and that turning away made them go away. Grand forced himself to think about something else. Like the newly uncovered cave he was going to explore above Arrowhead Springs. Or a student he hadn't thought of in years.
But it was night, and because it was dark and quiet his mind went where it wanted to go. Whichever way Grand tried to go his thoughts always cycled back to Rebecca. How the hell could he not? The first time Grand spoke to her, that cold day on the beach near Stearns Wharf—when he was gathering shells to make prehistoric utensils and she was bagging kelp for research—he knew they'd be together forever. She was just so happy, bright, and self-effacing.
Except when someone screwed with her fish, he thought with a smile.
Like the evening she confronted the oceanographer whose deep-sea research with bright lights was blinding shrimp. She threatened to burn his house down if she found one more shrimp with chalky-white eyes and degraded photopigments. Grand was the one with the massive rock-climbing biceps and chest but Rebecca was the scary one when enraged.
And then the smile vanished as quickly as it had appeared, and the emptiness and tears returned.
Grand turned to his left and looked at the clock on the nightstand. It was nearly one-thirty. He had spent over two hours jumping from one thought to the next. This was going nowhere.
Throwing off the top sheet, the thirty-five-year-old paleoanthropologist sat on the edge of the bed and stared at nothing. Fluffy lifted his large head and looked back.
"It's okay," Grand said softly.
Fluffy continued to look at him.
"Go back to sleep."
At the word "sleep," Fluffy put his head down. He knew the drill.
Grand had hoped that things would start changing when he brought this house on Kent Place nearly six months before. A quiet, dead-end street in Goleta, west of Santa Barbara. A different environment. That should have created new dynamics, helped keep Rebecca in his heart and memory.
He was wrong. Grand desperately missed the house on Shoreline Drive, a sunny Mediterranean his wife had picked out for them and decorated. He'd never had trouble sleeping with her beside him. Though he and Rebecca had a king-size bed, they always ended up in a less-than-twin-size space somewhere around the middle. She loved being rocked by him and lullabied by the nearby sound of the surf. If anything, moving here had left him feeling another degree removed from her and he missed her even more strongly. He could still feel her nakedness and warmth in his empty arms—
He put his strong, calloused hands on his scarred knees. He needed to be rested and clearheaded when he went back into the cave, and sitting here thinking wasn't going to help. Maybe if he weren't in bed where Rebecca's absence was so keenly felt. Maybe then he could sleep.
You weren't there for her—
Grand pushed himself up and walked into the short corridor with its framed degrees and photographs on the wall, all of them crooked and dusty. The hall ended in a small living room where there were three walls of bookcases, their shelves overstuffed with books, research videos, and artifacts from thirteen years of digs. The front door and windows were behind two of the bookcases. Against the fourth wall was a gunmetal desk he'd taken from the university, a stationary bicycle, a brass floor lamp, a nineteen-inch television, and a secondhand sofa. Everything but the bicycle and lamp was stacked with folders and cardboard boxes. Between the desk and the TV was the door to the kitchen. Beyond the kitchen was the bathroom and his den workshop.
Grand turned on the lamp. He wasn't hungry and he didn't feel like going into the workshop or drawing a bath and reading. That left the desk, so he walked over and sat down. But he also didn't feel like editing his paper on the Ice Age caves he'd explored three months before in Greenland or logging on and debating human origins with some armchair academic. So he just stared at his dour reflection in the dark computer screen.
Grand's deepset blue eyes were dark and his wavy black hair could use a trim. He also hadn't shaved in two days. He used to shave every day. The chin was still strong but the long jawline had no meat on it. His face looked thin. Or maybe it only seemed thin because the rest of him was so healthy-looking from all the hiking, climbing, and spelunking he did. It was strange. Hammer the body and it became stronger. Hammer the soul and it grew numb.
Excerpted from Fatalis by Jeff Rovin. Copyright © 2000 Jeff Rovin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Jeff Rovin is the author of Vespers.
Jeff Rovin has written dozens of novels, most notably Tom Clancy's Op-Center and its sequels, several of which have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list. He's written nonfiction books about myths, religion, and the Bible and brings that research to bear in Conversations With the Devil. Rovin lives in the New York area.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Good to read during the night
Fatalis is an excellent high action thriller! I finished it in just a few days. It rely keeps you on the edge of your seat. Rovin fills his book with fascinating and well develiped characters. His descriptions of the cats are very interesting and vivid. You can just see them living, breathing and running through the caves and mountains. Definitely for anyone who likes saber toothed cats or gore(it's very bloodey).
I liked this book, but I am easy to please in matters of extinct beasts. Fatalis compares favorably with another recent prehistoric beast adventure that is high on my list: Dinosaur Wars, by Thomas Hopp. Both books bring back ancient creatures to wreak havoc in modern times, and both do so in effective, scary ways. The sabertooths are beastly beasts. That is, they provide quite a bit of story drama by munching people from time to time. However, I agree with others who have found their thawed-out-from-ice origins to be rather cheesy and old fashioned. Compare Dinosaur Wars where the origins of the resuscitated beasts are highly original and therefore as believable as Jurassic Park¿s now discredited cloning trick. Sexism is subtly felt in this book. The heroine, Hannah Hughes, starts out naked in a shower. She is referred to by first name while the hero Jim Grand is referred to by his last name. No biggie, but there¿s a distinct bias in favor of the guy. The romantic couple of Dinosaur Wars are introduced fully clothed and both referred to by their first names, Kit and Chase. They go through their adventure together as equals and each has a role to play in the final resolution of the novel. Refreshing. That takes nothing away from Fatalis's excitement. Though I have griped a bit, I really did enjoy Fatalis.
It has been over two years since Jeff Rovin wrote VESPERS--the story of mutant bats terrorizing New York City--which was a fast pace, action filled novel that kept you sitting on the edge of your seat. I didn't think Mr. Rovin would be able to surpass that novel, but I was dead wrong. When I first saw the blurb on his newest book, FATALIS, I immediately thought that it was the same story as VESPERS, but with different creatures and a different locale. Because of that, I almost didn't buy the novel. It was only because I enjoyed VESPERS so much that I decided to take a chance. I'm glad I did. It only took the first chapter to hook me, then several hours later the book was finished, and I was a very happy camper. The story centers around a pack of saber-toothed cats(yes, cats is the correct term, not tigers)going on a killing rampage in the mountains surrounding Santa Barbara. It starts off with two road engineers disappearing after they are sent out to inspect a sinkhole that has suddenly appeared after heavy rains. Because the sinkhole leads down to some underground caverns, the county sheriff, Malcolm Gearhart, enlists the help of anthropologist, Jim Grand, who is also an expert on caverns. While searching for the missing engineers, Grand happens upon some evidence which leads him to believe that there may be saber-toothed cats roaming the mountains, No one, however, believes him, except for newspaper woman, Hannah Hughes, who is looking for a good story. Over the next couple of days people begin dying left and right, and it appears that the cats are headed to Los Angeles. Dr. Grand wants to try and save the cats, while Sheriff Gearhart, with the help of the National Guard, is determined to kill them. Who will win and who will die? Why are the cats headed to L.A.? The journey is an exciting one, and Mr. Rovin has structured most of the chapters to end with a sentence that hooks you into going on to the next chapter without a break. FATALIS is pure popcorn entertainment, and it is certainly a great book to read on a Saturday afternoon. If you enjoyed VESPERS, then by all means run out and get a copy of FATALIS. You won't be disappointed.
It's been over two years since Jeff Rovin wrote VESPERS (the book's dust jacket stated that it was soon to be a major motion picture; well, I'm still waiting), which was an extremely fast pace, action-filled novel that kept the reader sitting on the edge of his or her seat. I knew there was no way Mr. Rovin could beat that book for sheer intensity. Then, I read the blurb on his newest novel, FATALIS. Instead of mutant bats attacking the citizens of New York City, this book dealt with saber-toothed cats (yes, cats is the correct term to use, not tigers)terrorizing the inhabitants of Santa Barbara and then Los Angeles. It sounded like the same story, just different creatures and a different locale. Because I enjoyed VESPERS so much, I decided to take a chance and purchased FATALIS. All it took was the first chapter to hook me, then several hours later the book was finished, and I was a very happy camper and certainly glad that I had taken the risk. The novel opens in the Santa Ynez Mountains north of Santa Barbara where a good-sized and very hungry Bobcat is trying to make a meal of a spaniel. Fortunately for the dog, however, its owner grabs her and rushes inside their home to safety. The Bobcat isn't so lucky. Something much bigger, meaner, and hungrier gets the cat and the story begins. The next day, two structural engineers disappear while checking out a sinkhole that has opened up due to a fissure in the surrounding landscape. The sinkhole leads to underground caverns. Sheriff Malcolm Gearhart enlist the aid of anthropolgy professor Jim Grand, who also happens to be an expert on caves. Newspaper woman Hannah Hughes smells a good story here and seeks the help of Grand in finding out the truth to what happened to the two engineers. In time, Dr. Grand begins to believe that saber-toothed cats killed the men, but no one will accept his theory, except for Hannah. When more killings begin to take place, the sheriff starts to realize that something is up and is determined to put a stop to it. Dr. Grand suspects that the pack of prehistoric cats is heading to Los Angeles and is determined to keep them from being killed by the sheriff and his men, not to mention the National Guard. How many people will have to die before the cats are stopped, and will Grand be able to keep the cats from being destroyed? Mr. Rovin carefully structures most of the chapters so that the last sentence will hook the reader and propel him/her on to the next chapter, with no room for stopping. You have to find out what happens next! FATALIS is pure popcorn entertainment, and is the kind of book you would enjoy spending a Saturday afternoon with. Buy it and have a day filled with total fun. I should point out, however, that the dust jacket on the book stated that the big screen version of FATALIS is coming soon. Is this deja vu, or what?
They were ancient predators though to have become extinct in the last Ice Age. At least two have survived by being cryogenically frozen in the heart of a glacier. When the glacier melts, the duo makes their home inside the caves in the Santa Ynez Mountains near Santa Barbara. No one realizes they live there even though they kill humans. Sheriff Malcolm Gearhart is determined to hunt down the mass murderer who is leaving no clues at the crime scene save for an enormous amount of the victims¿ blood. Paleoanthropologist Jim Grand studies some ancient Chumish drawings in one of the Santa Ynez caves when he finds some strange looking fur that he brings back to the college lab to be analyzed. Hannah Hughes, owner and publisher of the daily newspaper The Coastal Freeway, interviews Professor Grand. He shows her his find, fur that belongs to a living Smilidon fatalis. Hannah accompanies Jim back to the cave to see if they can locate the creature while the Sheriff tries to flush out the cave dwellers and kill them before the public learns they exist. Nobody realizes how cunning and intelligent these creatures really are or what their true agenda is. Fans of Godzilla and Mothra movies will enjoy reading this modern day horror novel where the villains are prehistoric beings living in the twenty-first century. The audience will chillingly relish how effortlessly the monsters adapt to civilization. Jeff Rovin never allows the audience the luxury of knowing who is hunting whom, a situation that adds to the overall enjoyment of the story line. FATALIS should be a large success for the author whose vivid descriptions make for an easy movie adaptation. Harriet Klausner