The monsters live inside of Kate Woodson. Chronic pain and a host of autoimmune diseases have robbed her of a normal, happy life. Her husband Andrew’s surprise of their dream Maine lake cottage for the summer is the gift of a lifetime. It’s beautiful, remote, idyllic, a place to heal.
But they are not alone. Something is in the woods, screeching in the darkness, banging on the house, leaving animals for dead.
Just like her body, Kate’s cottage becomes her prison. She and Andrew must fight to survive the creature that lurks in the dead of night.
FLAME TREE PRESS is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing. Launching in 2018 the list brings together brilliant new authors and the more established; the award winners, and exciting, original voices.
About the Author
Hunter Shea is the author of over 20 books, with a specialization in cryptozoological horror that includesThe Jersey Devil, The Dover Demon, Loch Ness Revengeand many others. . His novel,The Montauk Monster, was named one of the best reads of the summer by Publishers Weekly. A trip to the International Cryptozoology Museum will find several of his cryptid books among the fascinating displays. Living in a true haunted house inspired his Jessica Backman: Death in the Afterlife series (Forest of Shadows, Sinister EntityandIsland of the Forbidden). In 2011, he was selected to be a part of the launch of Samhain Publishing’s new horror line alongside legendary author Ramsey Campbell. When he’s not writing thrillers and horror, he also spins tall tales for middle grade readers on Amazon’s highly regarded Rapids reading app.
An avid podcaster, he can be seen and heard on Monster Men, one of the longest running video horror podcasts in the world, and Final Guys, focusing on weekly movie and book reviews. His nostalgic column about the magic of 80s horror,Video Visions, is featured monthly at Cemetery Dance Online. You can find his short stories in a number of anthologies, includingChopping Block Party, The Body Horror BookandFearful Fathoms II.
A lifetime New Yorker, Hunter is supported by his loving wife and two beautiful daughters. When he’s not studying up on cryptozoology, he’s an avid explorer of the unknown, having spent a night alone on the Queen Mary, searching for the Warren’s famous White Lady of the Union Cemetery and other mysterious places.
You can follow his travails atwww.huntershea.com.
Read an Excerpt
Kate Woodson was dying, and her executioner was her own body.
Her doctors hadn't said as much the past few visits, but even she knew there was a limit to what a body could take. She had been in worse shape before. Much worse. Last rites and funeral arrangements kind of shape. Kate had come out of it like a modern-day Lazarus.
But she was tired. And hurting. And sick. Always so, so sick. She'd forgotten what it was like to wake up and not be in agony, muscles weak as a newborn's. She couldn't even remember the last time she'd just gone out of the house to go to a store or a movie with Andrew.
Though she wasn't dying today (fat chance, Grim Reaper!), Kate was still wallowing in the deep end of the misery pool. What made it worse was the shadow watching her from the kitchen. It moved out of sight every time she turned her head.
"I see you," she said from the daybed in the living room, her voice deep and scratchy.
She chuckled at the thought that the shadow was scared of her. Then she shivered with the realization that she was scared shitless of it.
"Call the cable stations that do all the ghost shows. We have a haunting in Sayreville, New Jersey." Andrew wasn't home to ask her what she was talking about. He was at work, in a job he hated, because of her. That job came with great benefits. Benefits they couldn't afford to lose.
Not that Kate would have told him about the shadow. He was already worried enough about her. She didn't need him thinking she was losing it mentally as well. Or worse yet, he'd blame it on the meds, making her feel like some kind of delusional addict. The few times he'd ascribed her behavior or thoughts to the pills had angered her so much, she'd worried she'd give herself a stroke over it. It was an extreme reaction, for sure. Kate was never one to hold things in.
Though she did hold back the fear that he might be right.
Besides, wasn't it better that the shadow was a hallucination, a construct of her bad feels, rather than an actual, lurking apparition?
She scratched the back of her shoulder, her wrist popping out just enough to make her see stars for a moment.
Yep, better it was figment of her imagination, a bit of spoiled gruel.
If the shadow wanted to stay in the kitchen, let it. She had other things to worry about. Like getting her wrist back in place. She grabbed it with her good hand and gave a slight twist. There came a tiny, muted crack, and all the bones were back where they belonged.
"That's better," she said to Buttons, her old rescue dog and constant companion. He lay beside the daybed, wheezing doggie snores. She let her hand slip over the daybed, fingertips grazing his head. At least with Buttons, she was never alone. A weak smile curled Kate's lips. She stared at the ceiling, consciously avoiding the kitchen.
She'd never even known what an autoimmune disease was until she was told she had one. Thinking she'd passed the ability to be shocked, she was both flabbergasted and devastated when she was diagnosed several years later with a second, more damaging disease. The rare Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and more common but terrifying lupus were a hell of a one-two punch. The old Kate who didn't suffer from unbearable fatigue, swelling, degenerating eyesight, digestive system breakdowns, heart problems, and a host of other horridness was a distant and ever-fading memory. Most days, it felt like she'd always been this way – broken, hurting, and scared.
Nothing in the vast array of pills on Kate's nightstand would make it all go away. With Ehlers and lupus, there were no cures. At best, the pills dulled the pain, controlled flare-ups, and in some cases made her feel even worse.
Kate checked the pill schedule she'd created on her tablet. It was time for one of her nerve blockers. There was her whole home pharmacy in all its bullet-pointed glory: fentanyl (an uber dangerous patch that she changed every three days and was killing people with alarming frequency), Neurontin, gabapentin, Percocet, Ultram, prednisone, and Tagamet for her stomach, which had been utterly demolished by the pills themselves. Monthly checkups were required to measure the damage the pills were doing to her liver and kidneys, heart and pancreas.
Andrew kept trying to get her to migrate her pills into one of those big plastic holders, the ones with a day of the week printed on each slot. But the only one that would be large enough to support her cache of pharmaceuticals could double as an end table if you attached some legs to it. The sheer size of it depressed the hell out of her. And it made her feel like a feeble, old lady.
Instead, she dumped her assortment of pills in a mason jar. She'd even tied a red-and-white checkered bow around the rim to make it pretty. Martha Stewart would have approved.
She dry-swallowed the yellow pill, screwed the lid back on the jar, and shifted her attention to the television. Turner Classics was having a Joseph Cotten marathon. Kate was partial to Joseph Cotten. She especially loved him in Portrait of Jennie. Her mother used to tell her she looked like Jennifer Jones, the mysterious woman who captures struggling artist Cotten's imagination ... and heart. What Kate saw in the mirror now was a far cry from Jennifer Jones. Her long, chestnut hair had gotten brittle, her eyes perpetually ringed by dark circles and puffy bags. It was hard to maintain her weight, so her cheeks had sunk, kind of the way she'd wished they would when she was a kid and thought Kate Moss was the most beautiful woman in the world. I was a stupid kid, she reminded herself. She'd give anything for some cellulite right about now.
Checking the channel guide, she was disappointed they weren't playing Portrait of Jennie today. Oh, but Niagara was going to be on after dinner. No one had ever told Kate she looked like Marilyn Monroe.
Then again, who did? Maybe that poor girl Anna Nicole Smith, and look what happened to her.
Kate had to pee, but her ankles, knees, and hips felt like they were on fire, the swelling pushing the limits of her reddened skin. She could see the bathroom just down the short hall, but it might as well have been in another state.
"Too bad you're not bigger," she said to the dog. "Like one of those Scottish deerhounds. I could saddle you up and ride you to the potty."
Buttons looked up at her with his sad, moist eyes. "But no, I had to fall in love with a beagle."
He licked her hand and snuggled his head back between his paws.
"Can you at least pee for me? You're very good at peeing."
His tail wagged but his eyes remained closed. He was tired and she was disturbing him.
The pill should take effect soon. Once it took the harsh edge off the pain, she could finally sleep. She'd worry about peeing later. The shadow would go right back where it belonged. Into the ether.
If she fell asleep now, she'd only miss Peking Express, not one of her favorites. A nice two-hour nap, or what she preferred to call a controlled coma, would have her waking up right around the time Andrew came home. Maybe she could get dinner started before he dropped his keys on the bowl by the door, which meant ordering up some grub on one of the many apps on her phone.
"But-But, you wanna veg out with Mommy?" she said, patting the daybed. Buttons jumped right up, taking his spot between her legs and the back cushion, always careful not to rest his weight on her.
Kate cut her gaze to the window, grateful she'd asked Andrew to keep the blinds shut before he left that morning. The sun was out in force today, or at least that's what the weatherman had said during the morning news. Kate hated sleeping with the sun on her face. It wasn't so much trying to nap under the sharp glare. She never had problems zonking out at the beach.
It was just a reminder of what she was missing.
Kate closed her eyes, visualizing the rebellious microorganisms in her body dying a slow, terrible death. Her brother, the motivational speaker, had told her that if she meditated on attacking the disease, she could cure herself without the need for medicine or surgery. He'd guided her through countless meditations. Yet she was still on a boatload of medications and had had over a dozen surgeries in the past five years. Still, she loved her brother and believed in him, so she kept trying. Maybe someday it would all come together and she'd rise from her sick bed and go skydiving. Or at least out to a nice restaurant with Andrew.
"Thoughts are physical, sis," her brother had said over and over. "If you concentrate on your intentions with a pure heart and clear mind, you can manifest anything."
"If the answer to life's woes is so easy, how come so many people are sick?"
"Who said it was easy? The Buddhists say it can take many, many lifetimes to even come close to mastering this."
"So you're saying I have no chance. I mean, it's not like I have a clear mind," Kate had said.
There was Ryker with his perpetual smile. "Maybe in previous lives, you've been working toward kicking some serious booty in this one. For all you know, this is your final exam."
"I flunked my finals in school."
"That's because you were always goofing around instead of studying."
"Well, I have plenty of time to study now, don't I?" "That you do."
Part of her felt it was all a load of crap, and perhaps that's why it didn't work as well as it should. She sabotaged herself.
Thoughts destroying diseased cells in your body? Yeah, right. But she had to admit, the meditation part was relaxing. And she wasn't beyond admitting that it might have helped her a few years earlier when she'd gotten that terrible virus that had almost spelled the end for her. When she was at her sickest and barely able to open her eyes, much less talk, Ryker had sat beside her bed, talking her through a visualization of the virus. She'd grown up a huge Star Wars fan (yes, she'd had her tomboy phase). Ryker told her to picture the virus as the Empire's TIE fighters. She chased the TIE fighters in her own X-wing fighter, her trusty droid riding behind her, both of them blasting the viral spaceships to smithereens.
She remembered the day Ryker had whispered to her, bringing her back to the big battle, and there were no TIE fighters left to blast. Within hours, she was up and asking for a cheeseburger, which she was promptly told she couldn't have.
Of course, the virus could have just run its course, but Ryker swore that she had defeated it through the power of her thoughts.
I'm thinking of one of those bamboo huts on the water in Bora Bora.
Even if she couldn't make one appear in her living room, it was nice to just visit. She was too tired to be pissed at Ehlers-Danlos and lupus today.
Settling into her pile of pillows, she thought she saw a gray shape flit from right to left out of the corner of her eye. She turned and stared at the spot in the kitchen where she thought it had disappeared.
It's not really there. Stop thinking about it and it'll go away.
Kate pulled the sheet up to her neck, reflexively snuggling closer to Buttons.
She shut her eyes, turning the volume on the television up so she didn't feel so alone. Voices. She needed voices.
"Keep an eye on me, But-But. I'm going under."
Buttons whimpered in his sleep.
* * *
"Wake up, sleepy peepy."
Kate felt something pressing against her head. She opened one eye, saw Andrew leaning over her, traces of his cologne on his neck.
"What time is it?"
"Almost seven," he said.
She painfully pushed herself up into a sitting position. Grandmas move quicker and more gracefully than me, she thought. "What time did you get home?"
He sat on the edge of the daybed. He'd changed out of his suit and into a Notre Dame T-shirt and jeans. Kate rested her hand on his chest, felt his strong, healthy heart pumping away.
"A little after five."
"Why didn't you wake me?"
He smiled. "I tried. You were out cold. I even checked to make sure you were breathing."
It was impossible to count the number of times her husband had had to fearfully hover over her and make sure she was, indeed, still among the living. According to Andrew, she was no Sleeping Beauty. When she slumbered, she either looked like she was in excruciating pain or stone-cold dead. She hadn't believed him until he took pictures and video to show her – mouth hanging open, cheeks hollowed, arm hanging over the side of the bed, her chest taking an interminable amount of time to inhale and exhale.
God, what she put him through.
She truly believed she'd survived everything and he'd never left her side because they were more stubborn than any ten mules combined. When things got bad, they took turns looking at the sky and saying, "Nice try, but it's not gonna work. You can't break me!" They refused to give up or split up. If her illnesses had given them one thing, it was stark awareness of just how tough they were, and how much they loved one another.
"You don't fuck with Jersey," Andrew had said many, many times, always with a wry smile.
She was so glad to wake up to him. Just his presence made the house ... lighter.
Rubbing crud from her eyes, she said, "I was going to order Chinese."
"Already taken care of. I got a pie from Milano's. And a salad, if we want to pretend we're eating healthy."
Her mouth instantly watered. After a dozen surgeries on her digestive tract, food was not her friend.
However, a thin-crust pizza from Milano's was something she could handle and a true slice of heaven. She and Andrew joked that she lived on their pizza, but they weren't far off.
Kate kissed him on the lips and quickly turned away, covering her mouth.
"You're the best," she said.
"Anything for my little crip."
People cringed when he called her that, but they could never understand. Everyone walked on eggshells around her. Andrew couldn't afford to do that, so they indulged in their fair share of gallows humor. If you didn't laugh, well, she'd done enough crying to fill a reservoir.
"Is my breath bad?"
He kissed her again. "Yep."
She swatted at the back of his legs when he got up – and missed.
Andrew wasn't wearing socks or shoes. Buttons trailed behind him, sensing food was coming. Andrew flipped the pizza box open.
"You want me to warm you up a slice?"
"I'll take it like that."
"Sure. But not too much."
"You can have my cucumbers," he said, grabbing the dressing from the refrigerator.
"Don't I always?"
He prepared her dinner on a folding wooden tray and placed it across her lap. Buttons sat looking up at her.
"No people food, buddy," Andrew said. He opened a can of dog food. Buttons didn't budge.
The dog loved Milano's as much as Kate.
Sighing, Andrew plucked a slice from the box. "Buttons. You want some pizza?"
The old dog bounded into the kitchen, nails skittering on the tile. He couldn't pull up fast enough and skidded into a cabinet. Kate nearly choked on her Pepsi.
"We couldn't have had a child that would end up being more like you," Andrew said.
"Lucky for that unborn child."
Not being able to have children had long since ceased being a sore spot for them. They'd gone from disappointment to sadness, grim acceptance to now, where it was just a simple fact of life. No sense bemoaning and gnashing teeth over what could have been. Besides, Kate couldn't imagine what it would be like taking care of a child now when she could barely take care of herself. That would have been just one more very big thing on Andrew's already full plate.
Andrew plopped next to her, holding pizza and a beer. He hit the Mute button on the TV remote. There was a commercial for a Jean Arthur retrospective.
Kate wanted to wolf down the slice, but forced herself to nibble. Her internal mechanisms did not take kindly to massive food intake.
"How was work?" she asked.
He popped open the beer. Foam ran down the sides of the can onto his lap. He just shook his head, sucking up as much as he could.
"I came, I saw, I left," he said. "It was a meeting kind of day, which means I got nothing done."
"Can't you just tell them you have real work to do and blow off those meetings?"
"I'm not sure if you're aware of this, honey, but in corporate America, accomplishing nothing due to a solid slate of meetings is classified as a job well done."
She snatched a stray cucumber from his salad and popped it in her mouth. "I'd go crazy in a place like that. There's no way I'd be able to keep my mouth shut."
"Which is why Fate glimpsed your future and said, 'Hmm, I better give this chick something that'll keep her from ever trying to work with people. I know, I'll strike her down with anything I can scrounge up that's incurable, therefore maintaining the careful balance between progress and stagnancy we've worked so hard to imbue in this thing we call business.'"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Creature"
Copyright © 2018 Hunter Shea.
Excerpted by permission of Flame Tree Publishing Ltd.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have long been a fan of Hunter Shea's work. Whether it's a short creature feature or a longer work, you always know you're in for a great read. But, for me, Creature transcends all his previous books. This is storytelling that takes horror to a different level. It is scary and suspenseful but it goes much further than that. This is as much a story about a relationship as it is about a monster that terrorises a couple whose only desire is to spend a peaceful, relaxing summer away from it all. Not that it is ever easy for Kate to get away from it all. Her body has turned against her, with a raft of autoimmune illnesses that ensure levels of body wracking excruciating pain on a daily basis. Andrew, her husband, has spent ten years or more trying to do anything and everything in his power to help ease her agony and the trials of her life in any way he can. Her beloved beagle - Buttons - does his bit as well, never leaving his mistress's side. But when terror strikes, he behaves strangely and as the threat ratchets up, Andrew is increasingly at his wits' end while Kate's suffering only gets worse. Then Kate's brother and his wife arrive and the monster comes out into the open. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It has been a few days since I finished reading it and still the details remain sharp and clear in my mind. A triumph.
This is unlike any other horror book I've read. Kate's illness, and its consequences, alone make for disquieting reading, with the author's real world knowledge adding an extra deep poignancy. When, where and how things make an unexpected turn is unclear, you just get the creeping sense of wrongness, menace, until it's obvious the situation is a full-blown nightmare. There's no holding back with this book, not with the heavy dose of truth, nor with the fiction. It hits hard. Many thanks to Flame Tree Press for the ARC. My review is my honest opinion.
Kate has many health problems. She has almost died several times and she gets worse everyday. Andrew, her husband loves her very much and is afraid of Kate dying. Together they have faced so much. Andrew takes Kate to a cabin on the lake in Maine, to spend time away from all the painful treatments that she will need to start again in a few months. Kate wishes that they would never have to go back home. Kate hears things outside the cabin. It's probably just the medications she is on. One night, Andrew hears it and it is frightening especially when rocks are thrown on the roof of their cabin. Ryker, her brother is a motivational speaker and is trying to teach her how to meditate and let go of her pain. Ryker and his wife Nikki come for a weekend visit. Andrew talks to Ryker about what is happening and about all the dead animals he has found in the woods. The sounds get worse. A large creature is seen on the porch. They decide to leave, but the creature attacks and Ryker is injured. Is it Sasquatch or something else? Will they be able to get away with Kate so sick and the creature watching them? This is a must read. It's a tale of love,horror and death. It's a different take on monsters. It's a scary, scary story in more ways than one. If you love horror, it's the one for you. I received this book from Net Galley and Flame Tree Press for a honest review and no compensation otherwise.
WOW! CREATURE is NOT your typical horror story, but an emotional mix of a real life affliction of chronic pain and misery....AND a threatening monster that comes to call. A good portion of the novel is a deeply emotional ride depicting the struggles of a devoted man who is determined to give his ailing wife her dream vacation at a beautiful lake in Maine....but all does not go as planned. "The meds made her imagine things that would send Stephen King running for his blankie and his momma's breast."..... Heavily character driven from the get go, the dreaded evil in the woods slowly creeps into the storyline not making its presence known and intentions understood until the last quarter of the book....but show its disgusting face it does with ear piercing screams and unsettling noises that rock the house......then things turns deadly. Hunter Shea brings to the reader a powerful kind of Fear and Dread you can hardly imagine in his new novel as he takes us on a journey to the dark side. (Best wishes to Hunter Shea and his wife as they fight the CREATURE within.) Many thanks to Flame Tree Press and NetGalley for the arc coming September 6, 2018.
I’ve read many of Hunter’s books. I’ve enjoyed some of his shorter work and several of his full length novels. While I’ve come to expect and eat up his campy horror, I was curious to see how this would go as it appears to be on the more serious side. I’m happy to report that he wrote something above and beyond what I could have asked for. I couldn’t decide which was more horrific. The physical affliction that tortured Kate’s and Andrew’s lives or the supernatural one. It was very difficult to read about Kate’s quality of life. What those two struggled with each and every day was tough to contemplate. And Hunter took me inside each character’s head to reveal their brutally honest feelings of anguish, fear and resentment. This made them live and breath for me. When the supernatural element came in to play I reminded myself this was one of Shea’s books and braced myself for every which way but loose He’s quite creative at and willing to kill off any of his characters. It got very crazy very fast. And I loved the setting. A cottage tucked away in the woods. No neighbors for miles. The perfect setting for some scary stuff. Be sure to read the Afterword Hunter Shea provides at the end of the book. It explains how he wrote his characters so genuinely and how difficult it was for him to write this book. It made me appreciate the story even more. Did I love the book? Yes. Would I recommend it? You know it.