Pitch Dark

Pitch Dark

4.5 2
by Steven Sidor
     
 

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"Pitch Dark is a propulsive, layered, and brutal read. . . . A reader can't hope for more than to discover a writer possessed of both true talent and true passion. Discover Steven Sidor."
---Michael Koryta, author of The Cypress House

It's Christmas Eve, and Vera Coffey is on the run. She doesn't know the men who are after her

Overview

"Pitch Dark is a propulsive, layered, and brutal read. . . . A reader can't hope for more than to discover a writer possessed of both true talent and true passion. Discover Steven Sidor."
---Michael Koryta, author of The Cypress House

It's Christmas Eve, and Vera Coffey is on the run. She doesn't know the men who are after her. She has never seen them before, but she has seen the horrors they visit on people who don't give them what they want. Vera has something they want badly. She'd give it up if it weren't the only thing keeping her alive.

The Larkins have known the toll violence takes on a family ever since they were trapped in a madman's shooting rampage. They've been coping with the trauma for nearly twenty years. Now, on a cold and lonely winter morning, Vera collapses at their roadside motel. And she's brought something with her. Together they'll have to make one last stand against an evil that has followed them further than anyone could've imagined.

With a thriller so fast-paced that it's impossible to let go and an ominous sense that everything is destined to go wrong, Pitch Dark is an intense read from a master of suspense.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wyatt and Opal Larkin, who run a small motel in an out-of-the-way Minnesota town, are going through hard times as Christmas approaches, in this so-so supernatural thriller from Sidor (The Mirror's Edge). Almost 20 years earlier, two gunmen entered the diner where Opal worked and opened fire, wounding both Wyatt and Opal, who was pregnant with their son, Adam. In the present, 19-year-old Adam has the misfortune to be picked up after his car runs out of gas by 24-year-old Vera Coffey, who's stolen the Tartarus Stone, reputed to be a kind of compass that can point the way to hell. The victim of the theft, Dr. Horus Whiteside, who believes himself to be part of a murderous cult known as the Pitch, holds nothing back in his efforts to recover it, with predictably gruesome results. Horror fans will find little new. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

Pitch Dark is a propulsive, layered, and brutal read. Sidor reminds you of the terrible violence of which we are capable and the heart that must be called upon to endure. A reader can't hope for more than to discover a writer possessed of both true talent and true passion. Discover Steven Sidor.” —Michael Koryta, author of The Cypress House

Pitch Dark is as relentlessly suspenseful as any crime novel you've ever read, but at the same time it's as scary as the best horror stories. Once you've met the walking nightmare who calls himself the Pitch--and his devoted henchmen--you will never forget them (try as you might). A harrowing, nonstop flight into the very heart of darkness, Pitch Dark kept me up half the night--and when I did go to bed, I left the lights on.” —Robert Masello, author of The Medusa Amulet

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429961790
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
04/26/2011
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
File size:
305 KB

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Read an Excerpt

Pitch Dark


By Steven Sidor

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2011 Steven Sidor
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-6179-0


CHAPTER 1

I'm driving on the dark side of the moon, Vera Coffey thought. She knew precisely where she was: pointed due north in northern Minnesota, at 3:01 A.M., early Christmas Eve morning. A hatcheting wind whistled as it worked over her red Camaro, trying to find a way inside. Vera felt safe for now. The Berlinetta's cranky heater was blowing warmth through the vents, lulling her as she rocketed on a cushion of steel-belted rubber and air.

Don't think about what you're running from, she told herself. Do that and you'll be just fine. She almost believed it was true.

Mostly she tried not to think at all.

The hum of the tires was hypnotic. Gray roadside monotony repeated while she tunneled ahead. Night sloped around her headlamps.

The radio didn't help. After the witching hour, following ten miles of steep and then steeper hills, signals were dropping off. Vera liked classic hard rock. Loud, wildman drums. Power chords. A singer who had some pipes and knew how to use them. Kick-your-ass-and-make-you-like-it music. Her choices were down to four FM stations. Judging from their playlists, the twenty-first century had never arrived. She punched a button. Black Sabbath. "Paranoid." Finished with my woman 'cause she couldn't help me with my mind ... No, not tonight, Ozzy.

Vera turned off the radio.

This particular stretch of road appeared treeless, an experiment in desolation. Even the roadkill disappeared. You had a problem out here, you had it alone. Yet, every so often, a mailbox plastered with reflectors would tip into view. That must be how the scientists did their measurements.

Subject: Vera Lee Coffey

Age: 26

Marital status: Single

Subject has reached mailbox number 1457. She appears oriented to time and place. Exhaustion stage is near complete. Sense of reality likely jeopardized.

Sleep eminent.

How far until the next town? Hadn't she seen a sign a few miles ago?

Her face was drooping, melting wax. She prodded a fingertip into her cheek. The skin felt as if it would never go back to its original shape. She closed her eyes for a beat. Opened them again.

Nothing changed.

The same shadows encroached on the high beams. The unending tattoo of painted white lines passed on her left like code.

Her eyes closed.

Vera was not going to sleep. She promised. At most she would be taking a minibreather, a second or two of visual rest — that's all, before aiming once more through the windshield and pressing onward. A second or two ...

Vera woke.

To the sharp spray of gravel hitting the passenger side, she woke.

She woke as the dashboard bucked. The car fell away. Like rope, the steering wheel turned through her grip. A mile marker spiked up green. Its vertical white numbers edged darkness and weeds. The numbers told her where she was crashing, where they would find her broken body in the morning.

Vera held on as her daddy's old '84 threatened to slam off-road.

The front bumper clipped the sign. Popped it over the way a skier pops flags going downhill. One headlight winked out. The road curved ahead.

The red coupe didn't.

Vera fought for control. She pulled until her shoulders hurt. The right half of the car dropped a few inches. Full-tilt crunch. Two wheels chewed rocks, two grabbed washboard asphalt. Vibrations kicked the chassis. Strapped in for the duration of the ride, she gritted her teeth as she pulled and pulled.

Bald tires skidded over the pebbly glass blacktop.

She had overcorrected.

180.

360.

Spin-out.

Vera heard herself draw in air, and say, "Shit."

Here was Death.


* * *

Death was a snow-packed guardrail and below, a shallow creek layered milky gray with ice. Reeds poked up their hollow stems. An opossum lifted his funneled face from the ditch and blinked at the sudden wall of light.

The moon above vanished as if a hand clutched it.

Vera saw none of those things. Her eyes viewed them. Lens to retina to optic nerve — her brain registered the data collected. Recognition would come later, a memory of landscape reeling across the windshield in black and white.

Vera saw only Death.

Her scuffed cowboy boot pumped the brake. Her daddy taught her that. He bought the "Starship Camaro" in '84, the year she was born. Daddy didn't know much about cars, even less about the raising of little motherless girls. In two years, the Berlinetta model would be discontinued. And although he tried his best to look after his daughter until the day he died, his advice was wrong. Antilock brakes don't need to be pumped.

Vera pressed the pedal up and down.

Up and down.

It shuddered under her toes.

Up, down, up, down.

The interior grew raucous. Frozen brush scraped the undercarriage. Pulverized snow mounds chuffed and blew apart, sending a burst of sparkly crystals drifting up over the hood.

The few remaining tire treads caught a strip of dry pavement. An astonished Vera steered to the middle of the road. She laughed. She didn't think she was a middle-of-the-road gal. The laughter wasn't really meant for her.

It was for Death.

After her second close encounter in the last twenty-four hours, she couldn't hold back the fear. Death had Vera on the run. She knew what to expect now. She had witnessed him up close. Death had shown his face to her in that West Side greystone back in Chicago. Six times over he did it.

Taunted her, saying, Here I am.

His forever grin made her sweat icicles.

Look at me, honey, I'm over here. Here too.

She wouldn't forget.

Now the reaper looked a helluva lot better in her rearview mirror. Fair's fair. Vera got her chance to laugh. No fool, she took it.

Safety arrived as fast as danger. Vera fingered the crucifix she wore on a chain around her neck. It had always been an accessory rather than a religious relic. She wasn't a believer. Silver looked good against her pale skin — that's all. Well, maybe more. Sometimes if stress ran high, or if threats surrounded her, then touching the cross was a way she calmed herself down, a superstition to ward off evil.

Can you believe in Evil without believing in Good?

On an ice-covered road in the middle of the night, Vera thought so.

She knew something evil was after her.

The car sped forward between the lines. No other cars passed. None followed. This road was well chosen for its loneliness.

Vera rolled her window down. She gulped cold air. She smelled a farm nearby. On her left, she watched barn doors slide open and the glow of a buttery light escaping. Cattle moved inside. A man came forward at a brisk pace. The farmer, it must be, in his red-checkered jacket, a bucket swinging in his — no hand — prosthetic hook. He waved to her.

Then Vera was past.

Fences divided the scenery. Ice buckled in the fields. Burning motor oil and wood smoke scented the wind. She licked her teeth. Her mouth tasted like Elmer's glue. Her left ear throbbed. Biting air poured into the front seat. Shivering, she cranked up her window. Maxed the heat with her thumb.

Thirteen hours straight through. Taking the blue state and county highways and staying a tick or two under the speed limit. She was nearing the border now but didn't want to cross it at night. That wouldn't be smart.

It might be suicidal.

Canada was for tomorrow.

Vera judged herself in no shape for scrutiny. She wasn't prepared to answer questions. She wouldn't cooperate.

Please open your trunk, miss.

She'd have to say, "No."

Then what?

Vera needed to get off this godforsaken highway. Her empty thermos clunked under the seat as she rounded each bend in the road. She couldn't afford to stop at a gas station for more coffee. Out here in Nowheresville, someone would remember her.

They'd say: A stringy little thing, pale, hair like a blackbird mashed to her skull, blue-eyed. Couldn't keep her fingers out of her mouth.

If someone showed them a picture: That's her, oh yeah, I'm sure of it. So what'd she do? Must've been pretty bad. Did she murder somebody?

Vera Coffey chewed her thumbnail, thinking about motels.

CHAPTER 2

The doctor stood at the entrance of the old house. Voices within whispered. He turned his back on them. Through an archway window, he aimed his two ebony eyes. A dead cornfield was filling with snow. They'd been fortunate to find shelter this good, this fast. Heat roared through the vent registers. A furnace burned somewhere under him. Snow slid off his boots and dissolved into puddles on the oak planks.

With the warmth, odors roused.

The house attached to a Wisconsin farm. Hills climbed away in three directions. A gravel road swirled into the fourth. Any traveler stopping here in error might conclude he or she was alone in the world. The view offered no relief from the claustrophobic sense of isolation. It wasn't so much lifelessness as a lack of humanity emanating from the place. If the road stopped without notice at a jumble of logs or a collapsed bridge, it wouldn't be a big surprise. Cut off — that was the feeling imparted. Land and hearth slumped together after so many years of neglect. Abandonment, when the time finally came, must have been a blessing.

Leaving ended the suffering.

Or put it on pause.

The sound of water drip, drip, dripping ...

Busted windows; holes punched in the plaster. Leaf matter crunched underfoot. Spray-painted wallpaper: NOBODY'S HOME!!! A pyramid of beer cans stood against one wall. Grimy floors. Fast-food wrappers. Condoms.

The heat smelled musty.

Dr. Horus Whiteside did not mind.

Someday I will have oceans of black and skies to match, he thought. It wasn't the first time he reveled in dreams. The future was his business. He built stark visions into reality. From beyond a locked door came the sound of the thief begging for his life. He had been at it for hours.

Now and again he screamed.

Horus cocked his head and listened for beating wings.

A flying creature had been sputtering around upstairs, rising and diving, venturing bravely down the staircase to the landing and back up again in a fury. The doctor finally caught a glimpse of the thing — like a glove fluttering in midair.

A house bat.

Then it was gone.

So their recent intrusion had not been unnoticed.

They had upset the creature's sanctuary dwelling among silences.

The silences they had broken.

Horus believed in destiny, and in destinations foretold. He didn't believe in maps. Not the kind other people used. He carried a numerical tapestry in his head. It scrolled by constantly. A secret GPS system guided his every move. Longitude and latitude might describe him as crossing the state line between northern Illinois and south central Wisconsin, an invisible barrier he had breached only hours ago.

His real territory was the borderland between worlds.

Illinois towns with legends of haunting, like Bull Valley and Grass Lake, operated under a cloud. Reason could never explain it. Horus knew the source of their unease. Recognizing the situation made him feel superior. Driving through, Horus saw the dead populating the streets. Souls snarled like hungry golden-eyed foxes caught in traps. They were everywhere. Bodies marched along. They sat on snow-covered frozen lawns or stood curbside at intersections. Some were following as close as shadows behind the living.

It was pitiful.

The dead were totally unaware of their condition.

Horus frowned at their predicament. He wanted to help set them free.

Death always held more fascination than life for him. Every time he killed someone his conviction was reconfirmed.

Death begat possibilities.

The dead gave his life meaning. He couldn't have survived without them.

Earlier today, his journey pushed up the asphalt river into southern Wisconsin. The land of Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer. Ghosts flocked the heavens. They perched in treetops and swooped down the valleys. Horus fought the urge to acknowledge them. He had a full agenda of business to conduct.

The American Heartland.

What a poisoned crow's heart it was. Flyover country. Backwater USA — that's what urbanites from the East Coast and Los Angeles thought of it. Under the veneer of ordinariness, plain-spoken accents, and flannel shirts, a grave robber or cannibal could find a nice place to call home.

Horus liked to be underestimated, even ignored.

Today, he and his flock had needed a meetinghouse. Somewhere discreet so the thief's interrogation would not be interrupted. Time acted against them. The passing minutes and hours multiplied, popping and sticking, adding weight until Horus felt a tarry heaviness slowly encasing his body, bogging him down.

At an impasse, the pressure mounting behind his eyes, he had ordered his driver to pull the ambulance to the side of the highway. Passersby no doubt wondered at the sight of a vintage Cadillac from the mid-'70s, built like a hearse but painted shock white and topped with an enormous cherry light. They couldn't see the refurbished engine installed under the hood, or have known the degree of meticulous care given to details inside and out. The Caddy was primitive by today's standards but it was fully supplied and everything was kept in working order. The back doors bore an emblem of a snake twirled around a staff: the rod of Asclepius, ancient symbol of medicine. Yet this retro medical transport remained on-call to only one institution — the good doctor himself.

The company name — Chiron Ambulance, a Private Health Service — was fictitious. The telephone number listed beneath the name: disconnected.

In the back of the ambulance, Horus sat, silent.

Beside him, strapped facedown to a gurney, a bundle of tan canvas whimpered. It was the thief, Chan. He mumbled wet words of contrition.

The doctor disregarded him.

Horus simply let the pressure from behind his eyes do its job. He couldn't make a vision happen. Force it and you lost. He was a receiver, a needle vibrating in space. He opened all channels and waited for the signal.

Tuned in, he listened.

Horus began describing an abandoned farm.

The thief, though he heard, didn't understand. At this point in his odyssey, comprehension would have been premature. He had other worries to occupy his mind. Primarily fear.

The ambulance driver, however, strained to catch every word. He spoke into his cell phone. Repeating to the others, who were speeding miles ahead now in their vehicles, what it was they should be looking for. They split in different directions. Some drove straight. Most searched for exit ramps.

Half an hour passed.

An hour.

The cell rang back. One of them found a farm.

"Ask them what they see, Pinroth," Horus said.

His loyal driver relayed the caller's observations. Horus stared at the thief's bound wrists peeking from under the canvas. Two purple hands opened and closed, as if they were squeezing invisible tennis balls. The caller was running low on details. Pinroth's eyes flashed in the rearview mirror.

In all matters, the flock sought the doctor's wisdom and guidance.

"Yes, it will do," said Horus.

Then they took the thief and forged ahead of the storm.

The first arrivals resorted to crowbarring the plywood nailed over the parlor window. Amazingly, the glass underneath remained intact. Other windows in the house shattered long ago. Winds came and went.

Looking out, Horus was oblivious to his reflection. Those seated behind him fixated on his strange eyewear. Metal goggles with black rubber eye guards and a leather strap sewn across the nose; an elastic band held them tight to his face. He never removed them except for sleeping. The doctor's skin was unlined, his age indeterminate. It was a mannequin's face, or no face at all, like something plastic peeled from a mold. At his throat he wore a velvet scarf. His tailored clothes underscored his angularity. Near the foot of the stairs, a mud-spattered overcoat hung on the banister. Around the room, the improvised lighting was dramatic. The doctor appeared to levitate inside a rippling antique windowpane.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Pitch Dark by Steven Sidor. Copyright © 2011 Steven Sidor. 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

Steven Sidor is the author of acclaimed novels including The Mirror's Edge. He lives near Chicago, Illinois, with his wife and two children.


Steven Sidor is the author of acclaimed novels including Skin River, Mirror's Edge, Bone Factory. He lives near Chicago with his wife and two children.

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Pitch Dark 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Northern Minnesota, Wyatt and Opal Larkin own and manage a small motel in trouble as the new Super 8 chain is just off the highway and being Christmas Eve in a remote part of the state, business is nonexistent. The two Larkin's always look back to two decades ago when two psychopaths entered a restaurant and started shooting. They wounded Wyatt and pregnant Opal. Their nineteen year old son Adam runs out of gas. Slightly older Vera Coffey picks him up. She conceals from her passenger that she stole the Tartarus Stone compass to hell from Dr. Horus Whiteside. He sends his horrific horde the Pitch after her. At the motel, Vera joins the Larkin family in what probably will prove a one way ticket to hell for the foursome. Fast paced with a frozen tundra atmosphere enhancing a sense of imminent doom, readers will enjoy this frightful horror thriller. Although readers will anticipate what next as the plot has few surprises, the suspenseful story line still grips the audience as High Noon with evil comes to a small motel in Northern Minnesota. Harriet Klausner
Ronrose More than 1 year ago
This is a pretty good thriller that grips you with tingly fingers. It covers some old ground, well trodden in many thrillers, but also unearths some new soil that leaves the reader with the smell and lingering taste of the darkness deep in your throat. You won't be able to sleep without that nightlight for a while after reading this book. If you're looking for a story filled with thrills and action, this should fit the bill. The book is written in a style that easily draws you into it's twisted off kilter world, taking you to a white Christmas you'll never want to dream about. After all the build up and anticipation, I did feel the denouement was a little weak. Otherwise, a well written and interesting chiller of a thriller. Book provided for review by the well read folks at St. Martin's Griffin.