They Hunger

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Horror novelist Nicholson (The Farm) offers in his latest a thrilling, romance-free twist on the ever-more-popular subject of vampires, bringing to mind the tagline from Robert Rodriguez's neo-camp bloodsucker flick From Dusk Till Dawn: "Vampires. No Interviews." Far up in the Appalachian Mountains, fanatical antiabortion bomber Ace Goodall and his female accomplice are fleeing the FBI on a path along the Unegama River. Not far away, a group of white water rafters is looking to take on the Unegama, a dangerous run, as part of a publicity stunt for a high-end camping gear company. But it isn't long before class V rapids are the least of their worries, as they're set upon by subhuman, leather-winged, bloodthirsty creatures who seem impervious to the panicked humans' efforts to kill them. Amid the bloodletting, Nicholson dregs up some genuinely dark, creepy moments; his unnamed vampires inspire visceral horror each time they sweep down from the sky. Unfortunately, Nicholson's human characters are less inspiring; though perfectly functional, they never rise above stereotypical monster fodder: the former navy SEAL, the lonely widower with nothing to lose, the single-minded religious maniac, the duplicitous company shill. That said, this vampiric Deliverancemoves quickly and assuredly, offering some fine scares along the way. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786017133
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 4/1/2007
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 4.26 (w) x 6.88 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Read an Excerpt

THEY HUNGER


By SCOTT NICHOLSON

PINNACLE BOOKS

Copyright © 2007 Scott Nicholson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780786017133


Chapter One

Shoulda ditched the bitch back in Marietta.

Ace Goodall was tempted to open his fist and let her tumble down the ravine. She was dead weight, dragging him down, same as any woman. That's all they were good for, except on those cold nights when they opened their legs and gave up their heat the way God intended. It was September, and the nights had definitely taken a turn toward chilly in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. So she might be worth keeping for a little while, despite being a bitch.

He pulled, wrapping his other arm around a maple sapling for balance. She barely weighed a hundred pounds, though she was nearly as tall as he was. Five feet five inches, not much rump to speak of, knockers the size of peaches but not nearly as fuzzy. Her hair was black and stringy, but considering she hadn't bathed since the last rain a week ago, she looked pretty good. Plus she was rich, or had been once. Not that money was much use out here in the wilderness.

He squeezed her wrist a little harder than needed as she scrambled for purchase on the leaf-covered loam. Clara Bannister. An uppity fucking name if there ever was one.

"You think they saw us?" she whispered.

"No, but they sure as hell are going to hear us if you don't shut that trap."

She couldn't. Figured. Anyway, the river throbbed in the background with a white wash of sound, so they weren't likely to be heard.

"Was it some of them?"

"Don't rightly know. It's not like they wore dark suits and sunglasses like the spooks on TV."

"Who else would be way out here on a weekday?"

Ace wondered that himself. They'd encountered a few serious hikers, and those were pretty easy to spot with their worn leather boots, sweaty bandannas, and oily hair. Most had fancy backpacks with aluminum framework, far superior to the ratty Army-surplus canvas jobs that he and Clara carried. He'd been tempted to pull out his Colt Python and ask politely if one of the Greenpeace freaks cared to trade, but then he'd probably end up shooting somebody. Word would get around, and the peaceful back-to-nature bit would go all to hell.

Hikers were no trouble, because even if they knew about Ace Goodall's track record, they would never expect to meet him face-to-face, especially thirty miles from the closest convenience store. Normal people had a hard time believing Ace's kind existed, and probably slept better that way. They didn't understand that Ace was toiling on their behalf, doing the Lord's dirty work himself because they lacked the balls and faith and outrage. No, hikers wouldn't give him a second glance.

These last two had been different. Sure, they packed all the right brand-name gear, sported a touch of stubble, and bore that gritty-eyed look of men who had recently slept under the stars. But something wasn't right. Maybe their steel-toed Timberlands weren't scuffed enough, or their gaits were too precise, like soldiers on a field exercise. They didn't droop. They stood upright, alert, as if paying close attention to their surroundings. More like hunters than hikers.

If Ace and Clara hadn't been resting on a slight rise, under the shade of a lightning-charred oak, they probably would have bumped into the pair on the trail. Ace trusted his instincts, what he called his "little messages from above," and his gut reaction had been that these guys were trouble. Not trouble like Ace, who could cut you open and count your ribs from the inside before your heart stopped beating, but trouble of the long-armed-law variety.

"Something ain't right about them," he said, wiping sweat from the back of his neck. Though the nights had hinted at frost, it was still Indian summer during the day. The woods were rich with the smell of goldenrod, daisies, and ironweed, as well as the ripe odor of rotting leaves.

"They didn't see us, though." Clara gave him a smile, and those neat white teeth irritated him, a reminder of his own upbringing. His family couldn't afford dental care. Though Ace had just crossed that hallowed ground into his thirties, he'd already lost three adult teeth, only one of them from a fistfight. Some of the others were black, and a cavity in his bottom left molar had hit the roots and tongued him with hellfire.

"I told you, The Lord's looking after us. It's holy work."

"I believe you."

"Sometimes I feel like I could drive right up to the biggest police station in the South, park right out front in a handicapped spot, wave my pecker around, and they'd never even give me a ticket." Ace forgot to keep his voice down. A prison chaplain had once explained to him about "religious mania," but though Ace had a fondness for crazy people, he didn't cotton much to maniacs. Besides, the two hikers were probably a mile away by now.

"What do we do now?" Clara asked. "If we go back to the trail, we might run into them."

"We got an hour or so before sundown." Ace squinted through the sparse foliage of the treetops to the smeared patch of purple sunset in the west. "Let's just stick to the ridge and then set up camp when we find a flat spot."

He turned and walked between the towering hardwoods, knowing she would follow without question. The river pulsed with a constant dull roar below them, a white noise that washed over the sounds of birds and small animals. The force of the river made the ridge vibrate. Ace could dig that raw power. Like the bombs in his knapsack. Ace wasn't much of a nature freak, but he'd learned the best way to evade attention was to go where no one else bothered. If that meant hiding out for a while in the ass end of Possum Paradise, then so be it.

They had been following the Unegama for three days, though the trail sometimes meandered away from the river's course because of the steepness of the grade. Ace had seen the foaming brown-green water and, even from a safe distance, he could visualize it churning around rocks and making its mad dash for the Atlantic Ocean. He bent, kicked up a fist-sized stone, and hurled it into the gorge. If he had bigger balls, he'd stand on the rocky ledge and take a piss. Nothing like heights to make a man want to arc a yellow rainbow. But he figured water made its way downhill no matter what, and eventually it all ended up in the same place.

They came to a group of jagged gray stones protruding from the black dirt like the fingers of a premature burial victim. A fine, chilly spray added weight to the air. The trees thinned and Ace could make out the walls of the gorge. Off-white rock plunged eighty feet down, worn smooth by aeons of running water that had probably started as a ridgetop trickle and then cut its way deep into the skin of the Earth. The rock bore the stubble of twisted, stunted balsams, and veins of quartz crystal glittered in the dying daylight. Though they were fifty feet from the ledge, Ace got vertigo from the yawning space of the gorge.

A section of the ledge had recently given way, judging by the dirt clinging to the upturned roots. The rocks were different, too, not worn and splotched with gray moss like those across the rest of the ridge. Clara had told him the Appalachian chain was the oldest stretch of mountains in the world, which Ace thought was dumb, because the Book of Genesis set down the creation date of the heavens and Earth as all at once. So how could one mountain be older than another? At any rate, Ace didn't like the thought of standing anywhere near that ledge. The walls of the gorge looked like so many stacked pieces of rock, anyway, and if a piece kicked out somewhere near the bottom, the whole ridge might tumble down.

He moved away from the ledge, heading into the woods. It would be time to camp soon. Clara stood a moment longer, looking out over the ripples of soil and trees that spread as far as the eye could see before vanishing into a soft, blue haze on the horizon. Ace waited for her footsteps in the leaves behind him.

"Haircuts," he shouted, loudly enough to be heard over the river.

"Huh?" Clara's pretty pink mouth was hanging open. If he were a violent man, he'd backhand her for looking like an idiotic mouth-breather.

"Haircuts. That's what was wrong with them. Trimmed above the ears, the kind that don't need no comb."

She nodded, finally closing her mouth. Ace unclenched his fists and rubbed a palm over his own greasy, tangled scalp.

"Think of the people we've seen out here," he said. "None of them looked like they been in spitting distance of a bar of soap. Pretty much, most of them looked like they had fleas."

Clara scratched her underarm, as if remembering some of their sleazy lodgings of the few weeks. "Those guys looked clean, like something out of the Ivy League," she said.

Ace didn't know fuck about the Ivy League. Sounded like soccer, or some other foreign sport. "Or maybe Quantico," he said.

"Good thing they didn't see us, then."

Ace smiled, curling his tongue in the gap of a missing canine. "Told ya, it's God's doing," he said. Just like God had helped him rig the time-delay fuses on those bombs in Birmingham and Tupelo. A little fire and brimstone for the baby-butchers.

He waved toward a small clearing away from the ledge. "Come on, let's make camp before dark."

Chapter Two

The thrill is gone.

B.B. King sang it as a bluesy lament about lost love. Bowie Whitlock applied the sentiment equally to his dead wife, his profession, and his unfortunate and unwanted habit of drawing the next breath. The breaths were coming a bit short now, and he wondered if his legendary endurance had faded a little with time, rust, and indifference.

A mile deep in the Unegama Wilderness Area and he already felt used up, a wet nurse with a dry tit who had a half-dozen snapping, hungry mouths to feed. The real journey still lay ahead, all thirteen miles of it, not counting the half-day hike to the launch point. Wednesday had broken at forty degrees and died at seventy, Indian summer in the mountains. All of them would be sweating by the time they reached their campsite at the headwaters.

The thrill is gone and still you walk. Alone.

Bowie was in the lead, and the group had fallen into a single-file march, though the trail was several feet wide. This part of the trail was clearly marked, with little change in elevation, and there was no practical need for Bowie to take point. He'd done it as a psychological tactic, wanting the group to know who was in charge.

Even if the trip went smoothly, a time would inevitably come for quick decisions. Probably not of the life-and-death variety, despite Farrengalli's blowhard attitude and big chin, but the remote heart of the wilderness was no place to debate the pecking order. Farrengalli had fallen to the rear of the group, probably fantasizing about all the Vietnam War movies he'd watched.

ProVentures' patsies, Bowie had taken to calling the members of the group. Like him, they each had a reason for being there, mostly having to do with a mixture of moxie, money, and a little bit of madness. Vincent Farrengalli, a loudmouthed Italian from the Bronx, had immediately set Bowie's pulse two degrees above where it needed to be. Farrengalli was trouble, mostly because he was the least qualified to be on the trip. ProVentures and Back2-Nature Magazine wanted him for his dark looks and brashness, which amounted to handsome publicity whether the trip was a success or failure.

Bowie gave an extra tug on his belt. He'd poked a third notch in the leather during the summer, a tribute to the two hundred daily sit-ups and his vegetarian diet. Obsessive routine served him well. One more rep, one more step. Prevented him from thinking, dwelling, remembering. Memory was a thing to be obliterated at any cost, be it through pain, pride, or the simple joy of loathing the jackasses who had hired him.

At least those jackasses paid well. If Bowie survived this gig, he'd be set for a few more years of solitude. Attitude was everything, and a little mystique helped with the hype. Bowie had a reputation, all right, though he only cared when the bean counters made a big deal of it. He knew he was on the downhill slide and soon reputation would be all he had left. But that was just as well. The thrill, after all, was gone for good.

Nothing left but the next step, the next rep.

The next breath.

For perennial Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, it had been all about the bike. For Bowie, it was all about the boots. He'd logged two thousand miles in the personally designed Timberlands that hugged his feet like twin sets of spooning lovers. In the group orientation meeting, Bowie had advised everyone to buy either a waterproof boot or else apply waterproofing themselves. He'd even recommended SealSkinz socks, though he wasn't getting any sponsorship kickbacks from the company. But he didn't think anyone had followed his advice. They'd probably survive, but he wouldn't mind if they were visited with blisters, bunions, athlete's foot fungus, and the odd hangnail thrown in for good measure.

"Yo, how much farther?" said someone a couple of places back. Bowie had to slow his breathing and divert his cynical musings to come up with the name.

Initials.

Something with initials.

Rhymes with "hay."

Okay.

A-okay.

Okay McKay.

C.A. McKay, the golden boy, the next Lance Armstrong. Finished sixth at the Giro del Capo, fourth at the Stazio Criterium, and, with Armstrong's retirement, was expected to soon move to the head of the United States bicycling class. Bowie suspected that if the sponsors had decided on a mountain bike expedition instead of a white-water trip, McKay would be point and Bowie would be watching the sun and moon track the big sky above his cabin near the Missouri Breaks in Montana. Bowie almost wished he were in that remote and personal world, lost in thought, except he knew thoughts would lead to that dark hole, a place his mind sought as persistently as a tongue probed a lost tooth.

Biker boy.

C.A. "Okay" McKay.

The type of catchy name you need.

Nabbed the latest cover of Cycling News, gets laid more than George Clooney, but on this trip, he's middle of the pack. I'm first.

"A mile and a half," Bowie said. The distance to the Unegama headwaters where they would make camp was more like a mile and two thousand feet, but he wasn't sure his fellow travelers would appreciate the distinction. And he didn't want to waste breath explaining. Truth be told (not that he'd ever admit the truth-no use changing old habits now), his lungs were working a bit harder than expected.

"Mile and a half," McKay passed along, so much louder than necessary in the hush of the forest that Bowie suspected he, too, was sucking for oxygen. "With wheels, I could do that in ten minutes."

"Well, next time get your bike company to put up the money, and we'll do it the easy way," Bowie said. "This time we're doing it the ProVentures way."

"The best way," said the man behind Bowie and in front of McKay. Bowie had forgotten the man's name. All Bowie knew was his checks were signed by the outdoor adventure company, which had been started by two stoners with a love for the great outdoors, but now mostly employed computer geeks and business majors. The two founding stoners had made their fortune on a sleeping bag with a "most excellent" logo, one designed to appeal to daybreak rollers, High Noon huffers, teatime puffers, and midnight tokers. The logo featured an infamous five-fingered plant in bold green beneath a jagged red slash. "Just Say Maybe," read that original logo. Over the years, as the rebel teen customers became soft in the belly and no longer lit up before board meetings, the ProVentures logo had transformed first to a five-branched green tree, then an upended peace sign; then the red slash went away, and for the last five years the company was widely recognized for its slanted P logo with a lesser-green image of the globe behind it.

"The best way," Bowie parroted without looking back. Point never looked back, unless there was an emergency.

"The ProVentures way," the company man said, almost as if a cheer were expected.

"Pro-fuckin'-Ventures," Farrengalli shouted from the rear. "You guys fucking rock."

Fuckin' A, Bowie thought. The dude's going to say "Fuckin' A" any second now, because he watched Apocalypse Now ten times.

"It's only natural," the company man said, spouting the slogan the company had adopted after the stock split four ways.

"O-o-o-o-o-nly FUCKIN' NATURALLLLL!!!!!" Farrengalli bellowed in a voice that drowned out the first few whistling birds and scuffling ground animals Bowie had heard since the start of the hike. He wanted to tell the greaseball to eat a dirty root. Because the quiet had been nice. Almost too nice.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from THEY HUNGER by SCOTT NICHOLSON Copyright © 2007 by Scott Nicholson. Excerpted by permission.
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.
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 2, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent book loved it 

    Excellent book loved it 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2007

    A must read!!

    Scott Nicholson takes you on a spectacular adventure with this book! Its not the white water that scares the crap out of you its the things flying through the air screaming SKEEEEEE !! You should read this book it was very well written and full of surprises!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2007

    Scott Nicholson is a Master of Horror

    These creatures are as creepy and unforgettable as the monster in Alien. I don¿t usually like vampire stories, but I thoroughly enjoyed delving into this chilling tale, and not climbing out for awhile. I even slowed down when reading the final twenty pages, just to make it last a little longer. The history and legends of the ancient Appalachian Mountains made these primordial beasts a little too credible. It is the kind of book that intrudes into your day and makes you startle at tree movement. His descriptions have a three dimensional clarity that captured me, clenched my gut and at times gave me a sick gasp. And then there were moments that I burst out laughing. His sex scenes are steel melting hot. I¿ve never read better. I found the characters understandable and uncomfortably realistic as I know there are people like that out there. I found this book a rare treasure, engaging my brain and senses. I have ordered more Scott Nicholson books and am happily looking forward to the experience of reading them.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Scott Nicholson writes horror that scares the living daylights out of the reader

    The primordial world of the Unegawa Wilderness Area is about to be invaded by three different groups of people. The `Boma Bomber, has entered the area with Clara, a woman who is turned on by his menace, enters the area to escape the Feds that are pursuing him because e made bombs that destroyed people and abortion clinics. Two FBI agents Jim Castle and profiler Derek Samdford are following a tip that he is in the area and are in pursuit of him. The last group is led by Bowie Whitlock and sponsored by Pro Ventures to test a new raft as the white waters of the Gregor River.------------ All three groups see a bat winged humanoid figure with grey skin, blindeyes and the need to drink blood. It is believed that the explosives that Ace set and were exploded when an FBI agent stepped on the trip wire awakened the vampire like creatures from the underground depths. When the victims of the creatures die, they come back with the same fierce hunger for blood. As all three groups meet, Ace andClara and one of the rafters Guthrie, take a raft leaving the FBI agent and the other rafters to work together to avoid getting killed. Eventually it will fall one person to make the move to eradicate the menace if he can.---------------- Scott Nicholson writes horror that scares the living daylights out of the reader even if the creatures that are so frightening are non-breathing, winged bat like humanoids with hand and feet. This could be the creatures the vampire myths were based on and they are very frightening. The characters in this bitingly good horror novel are well developed and range from the saint to the psychopathic who sees the vampires as angels. There is lots of action and chase scenes making readers feel like they are on the fastest and most twisty roller coaster ride on earth.-------- Harriet Klausner

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