Ghost Danceby Mark T. Sullivan
Outdoorsman and documentary filmmaker Patrick Gallagher had torpedoed a promising career through self-destructive self-pity and procrastination. Now he seeks redemption in tiny, isolated Lawton, Vermont, embarking upon a new project and, perhaps, a last chance. But there is no salvation to be found in Lawton--not for Gallagher, or for Andie Nightingale, the… See more details below
Outdoorsman and documentary filmmaker Patrick Gallagher had torpedoed a promising career through self-destructive self-pity and procrastination. Now he seeks redemption in tiny, isolated Lawton, Vermont, embarking upon a new project and, perhaps, a last chance. But there is no salvation to be found in Lawton--not for Gallagher, or for Andie Nightingale, the beautiful but haunted local policewoman who befriends him...or for anyone living within the borders of the sleepy New England hamlet. For a local history that no one dares to speak about has enflamed a maniac's bloodlust, and his desire for vengeance.
It is Gallagher who discovers the first corpse while out fishing--the body of a large man, tortured, ravaged, and hideously mutilated; a horror despoiling the pristine natural landscape. Nearby is a crudely drawn picture, chilling in its implications, accompanied by a grim, cryptic threat--and a name: Charon, boatman on the river to Hell.
And there are more murders to come--each more grisly than the last--awakening the personal ghosts that haunt Gallagher and Nightingale, while drawing them deeper into the horrors of a past century...and closer to shocking revelations of brutal, shared guilt contained in the lost writing of a long-dead Lakota woman. For evil once rolled into Lawton in the wagon of a traveling show. And here it has remained for one hundred years, taking human form once more as an elusive and terrifying killer who ruthlessly stalks those who guard the terrible legacy of their great-grandparents. And the secrets to Charon's power, obsession and defeat lie in the spiritual place that Patrick Gallagher and Andie Nightingale most fear must enter: theforbidden realm of the Ghost Dance.
"Mark Sullivan combines poetic writing with eerie elements of mysticism to fashion yet another fascinating thriller."( Tess Gerritsen)
"Skillfully plotted...an ingenious story...crackling good...guaranteed to seize and grip your attention from first page to last."( Manchester Journal Inquirer )
"A grisly tale...a web of destruction that includes government assassins, spiritualists, and even Sitting Bull's niece."( Chicago Tribune)
"A master of the art...[of] good old-fashioned storytelling."(Syracuse Herald American)
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.19(w) x 6.73(h) x 0.97(d)
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It is the last day of November, 1918. The Green Mountains rise on either side of the Bluekill River like mute and paralyzed sentinels, aware of festering intrigues, but powerless to intercede. Sleet pelts the valley floor and the stone-faced buildings of the town of Lawton. Up on the peak flanks, wet snow falls and settles on a log cabin in the loft of which a ten-year-old boy sleeps fitfully under thick wool blankets.
Two hours before dawn the boy stirs at racking, wet coughs in the room below. His half-lidded eyes take in the dozens of nailheads showing through the roof planking. The nailheads have conducted the cold inward and stand out frosted and luminescent against the dark wood. Were it not for the coughing, Dylan could imagine himself awakening outside under the stars in a perfect world where there was no such thing as dying.
"Dylan. Dylan, wake up, for God's sake!"
The boy rolls over on the straw pallet he uses for a bed. The woodsmoke is overwhelmed by the stale, sweaty stench of fever. Lantern light throws twisting shadows on the chinked walls, the hooked rug, the plain pine table his father had crafted the year before leaving for war, and the daybed where his twin sister lies. Anna has not spoken an intelligible sentence in three days and now is but a tiny, gasping face cradled in the puffery of their mother's prize star quilt.
Hettie McColl wrings out a washcloth into a washbasin, folds it and places it carefully on her daughter's flushed brow. "Mama loves you, Anna," she whispers to a girl who cannot hear.
Dylan looks down at his mother and swallows hard. Overnight, Hettie's lovely countenance has ebbed with eachdefeat in Anna's fight for life; her eyes are sunken and black; her cheeks have retreated around the bones of her face. Her lips have cracked. But it is her expression that crushes the boy, an air of despair defeating the hope that her love alone could conquer this fate.
Dylan thinks of his father, who died the year before during a mustard gas attack in the trenches of France. Instinctively, the boy retreats inward; and he sees the world as if through cold, flowing water.
"Dylan!" Hettie calls again.
"What do you want, Ma?" he asks dully.
"Take the horse and go to town, get the doctor," she orders. "Your sister's in a bad way."
"Ain't no doctors left in Lawton, Ma," he replies. "They all left 'cause they was scared they was gonna get it, too."
Dylan has heard it said that in the past six months, twenty million people around the world have died of the Spanish influenza. More than six hundred thousand in the United States have succumbed, far more than the number of soldiers who have died fighting Huns during the entire war. Lawton is the hardest-hit town in Vermont. Dylan has lost an aunt, his maternal grandmother and two cousins to the spiking fevers, splitting headaches and convulsions. Now his sister is following.
A friend at school said the end comes when the lungs fill with liquids. Anna will drown in her bed. And then his mother will get it and Dylan fears he will be left alone to face the fever himself. The boy wants nothing more than to pull his blankets over his head and hide from the horror that swirls in the room around him.
"Then go get the priest," his mother cries in desperation. "Anna don't have much longer."
The boy has heard stories about the priest and he has a sudden resurgence of faith that Anna will live. He tugs on leather boots, parka, cap and mittens and races out into the night. He bridles his father's chestnut mare. He mounts bareback and kicks her into the storm.
It is nearly dawn by the time Dylan makes it down out of the snow line to town and to the brick rectory next to St. Edward's Catholic Church. The wind has quickened, blowing wet leaves through a freezing rain. Dylan stumbles to the front door of the rectory and pounds until, at last, a light comes on in the front hall and an elderly woman in a flannel robe answers.
"Land's sake, boy, what is it?" she scolds. "It's not even the crack of dawn with you smashing the door and the good father lying upstairs so ill."
"My sister's got the fever," he blurts. "My ma sent me for the priest folks say can stop it."
The woman scowls and shakes a fat finger. "Didn't I just say he's?"
Before she can finish. Dylan hears a deeper, hoarser version of his sister's slurried cough behind the woman. He sees a tall, exhausted man. The priest puts Dylan in mind of a heron on a spring pond: stooped, gaunt, fishhungering and yellow-eyed. An oval of damp silver hair fringes a bald head so drawn down of flesh it seems a skull. Dylan takes a step backward from the apparition.
The priest coughs again before extending his palm. "What is it, my son?"
"My sister," he stammers. "Momma said you been helping some folks with the fever and we done lost our Gammy and my auntie Kate already . . . Momma hoped"
"I'll come," the priest says.
The elderly woman grabs his elbow. "Father D'Angelo, you're sick enough yourself and the weather . . ."
"I am not important," the priest replies thickly. "The girl is. Help me get prepared."
Dylan lets the priest ride the horse. He leads the mare up through the rain and into the snow falling at the altitude of the cabin. Father D'Angelo says little during the hour march and what support he gives the boy is soon drowned out by the ravages of his coughing. Twice Dylan looks back at the priest, who stares off as if into a bottomless valley.
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