The ominous Rumblings of thunder—dark thunder, was how retired head of police Al Watt thought of it—had started thirty years before on the night that Sand was killed. A good man, that Sand, and when he died, the forces of darkness had taken root in Willowdale, Colorado. Now the isolated little town, nestled in the Rockies, was about to give birth to an evil beyond imagining...a reign of terror so insatiable that Al Watt could do nothing to stop it.
Something bad was going to happen. Eleven-year-old Howie Ingram could feel it in his bones. Of course no one ever listened to Howie Ingram, the twerp. All they did was make fun of him for being so smart he was already high school and college courses. Howie tried not to care. Except now he really needed someone to listen to him when he told them about the townspeople turning into zombies and the strange noises coming in over the sir waves. And the distant sound of thunder. He and his computer didn't stand much of a chance, alone, against a force as powerful and primitive as Satan himself...
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Darkly the Thunder
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1990 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
He was awakened from a restless nap by the rumbling of thunder. He lay on the couch in the silent house and listened to the distant grumbling. It seemed to hold an ominous note. And he knew that was not just his imagination.
He couldn't explain how he knew.
The thunder brought back memories; memories that the retired head of State Police had never been able to push completely out of his mind.
But dear God in heaven, how he had tried to forget that bloody, awful night so many years ago.
"I'm not going far!" Sand had pushed the words past his bloody lips. "I'll be back, Al."
Those were some of the last few words the young man had spoken.
"You don't know it, Al," Sand had said. "You can't see it. But I can. You'll need me someday."
Then the thunder began, and the young man had slipped into some sort of language that sounded to Al Watts like Gaelic.
Alvin S. Watts rose from the couch and rubbed his face with his hands. "Get out of my head, Sand," he muttered. "Get out of my head!"
In the distance, the thunder rumbled.
Watts suddenly shivered, as if something cold and slimy and ... evil had slithered across his flesh.
Watts knew no rain would accompany the thunder. It never did. And he also knew that few people ever heard the rumbling.
Or if they did, they wouldn't admit it.
The rumbling of thunder – dark thunder, was how A1 thought of it – had started thirty years back, almost to the day. And Watts had finally figured out that the only way to stop it was to go to the old deserted mining town and face the invisible rumblings. Acknowledge that he felt their presence, believed that it was real and not just in his mind. And the thunder would cease. He had to acknowledge, silently, that he was listening to some sort of message from Sand and Joey and Morg and the others.
A1 had always felt compelled to warn any tourists he found there that they were in danger.
They usually left pretty quickly, as if he were the danger.
The thunder rumbled.
"Not again, Sand. I'm an old man. Leave me alone, Sand. Go away!" Watts shivered. "Jesus," he muttered, "I'm talking to a person that's been dead for thirty years."
And who talks to me, he thought. In a way.
Watts walked the den of the house. A sixty-five-year-old man who had spent forty years behind a badge. His wife had died two years back. He had never accepted her death in his mind. She had been, and still was, too much a part of him. The rock he had always leaned on for support.
Especially after that bloody night on Thunder Mountain.
His children were all grown up and had moved away. Now he rattled around alone in the big house on the quiet street of the peaceful town.
And talked to dead people. One dead person in particular.
"Damnit, Sand! Don't you know I cried like a baby at your funeral?"
The thunder rumbled. Watts listened carefully. He was sure it held a different note than ever before.
"All right, Sand," he finally said, a weary note of resignation and acceptance in his voice. "What do you want?"
She was sitting in her car at one of the local drive-ins, listening to her radio, and eating a hamburger and fries, and sipping at her Coke. Suddenly, Carol felt like she was being watched.
She looked around her. The place wasn't very busy, and she couldn't detect anyone looking at her.
She shrugged it off and turned her radio up louder. Then she felt something touch her leg, under her jeans. She jerked, spilling part of her soft drink down the front of her blouse. She wiped at the spill with a napkin, set the soft drink on the window tray, then looked at the floorboards, and felt her leg. Nothing. She sighed and took another bite of burger.
The carload of kids parked next to her pulled out, the teenagers waving and calling to her that they'd see her later that evening, at the movies. There was a real good horror movie showing.
Carol hollered back at them and felt better.
She looked around her. The place was deserted. Emptied of other cars and people. The cook and the two girls who worked the outside were inside, listening to the jukebox. And it was turned up loud.
Carol suddenly experienced a horrible, searing pain in her right ankle. She opened her mouth to scream, but the pain was so intense, she felt herself sliding into sudden darkness, unable to push the scream out of her throat.
White-hot pain brought her out of her near-faint and into a world of intense agony. She felt herself being pulled down, out of the seat, onto the floor of the car, to be wedged between the steering column and the floorboards. The bones in her other leg broke under the strain, and she shrieked in agony.
But no one heard her.
The half-eaten hamburger was jammed into her mouth, stilling her screaming. A slice of onion hung out of her mouth.
No one heard the tearing sounds coming from the interior of the car. The sounds of flesh ripping, of bones breaking.
Willowdale, Colorado sat nestled in a large valley in the Rockies. It was surrounded by several farms and ranches; the farms and ranches were surrounded by towering, snow-capped mountains. Sometimes in the winter, the town would be cut off from the outside for several days at a stretch. As long as it didn't last too long, most of the people of the town didn't mind all that much. It was kind of peaceful in Willowdale when that occurred.
There were two paved roads leading into the valley, a state highway and a county road. Half a dozen dirt and gravel roads wound down from the various passes in the high mountains.
About seven miles from town, high up in the mountains, there was a ghost town. One would be hard-pressed to get any of Willowdale's residents to talk about it. They weren't afraid of the town, they just didn't want a lot of nosy tourists coming through. One could find the town on any map dated before 1920. Not on any map since then. Most of the people under sixty in the state didn't even know it existed. A few tourists came through each year to gawk at the silent ruins, and that was it.
It had been a roaring boomtown. A gold rush town. It was called Thunder.
Even back in the fifties, no one went to Thunder. Except for Sand, and those that followed the young man in their noisy hot rods and custom cars.
But everyone with any sense knew that Sand was a rebel without much of a cause. And those that followed him were a bunch of malcontents.
What really happened was, so the stories go, one day back around 1889 – no one is really sure of the date – the people in Thunder just disappeared. Without a trace. Just flat-out vanished from the face of the earth. And there had been, give or take a few, five hundred people in the town of Thunder.
Some reports stated that the town looked like a slaughterhouse, with blood splattered everywhere, along with guts and brains and slick, shiny bones and staring eyeballs.
Some people blamed it on the Indians. But no one really believed that.
Other reports say there wasn't anything left of any human being. It was as if they all, as of one mind, got up and vanished.
No one ever knew the truth. Tb date.
But a lot of folks were about to learn the truth. Some of them to be enlightened only briefly. Others would linger longer. To share the horror.
Willowdale had no police department. All that law business had been contracted out to the county sheriffs department. And a very puzzled Gordie Rivera and his chief deputy, Lee Evans, were studying the carnage at the drive-in.
"Jesus Christ, Gordie!" Lee finally whispered. "What the hell happened here?"
The drive-in had been ordered closed, and the area was sealed off with wide orange tape: SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT – CRIME SCENE – DO NOT CROSS.
Gordie looked at his chief deputy. "We got a head, several yards of guts tied around the rearview mirror – somebody's idea of a very sick joke, like the hands on the steering wheel – and several gallons of blood. Now where is the body?"
Lee opened the right side door. Something slick and white and shiny dropped to the asphalt. He squatted down. "Gordie, come around here and look at this, will you?"
Gordie looked and knelt down, poking at the bone with the tip of a ballpoint pen, "It's a bone. Part of a rib bone." He felt silly after saying it. Anybody could tell it was a bone, for Christ's sake!
"But whose bone is it?" Lee whispered.
"Why are you whispering, Lee?"
"I don't know. I just feel sort of, well, icky."
"Icky? What the hell kind of explanation is that?"
"Damnit, Gordie, it's spooky, too."
Gordie shook his head and looked at the sloppy mess inside the car. "Nobody could have done this without the kids in there" – he cut his eyes to the drive-in building – "seeing it. Surely the girl must have screamed. Nothing makes any sense about this."
Both men looked up as a car pulled over to the side of the street, across from the drive-in, and stopped. A1 Watts looked at the lawmen from behind the wheel of his car.
Gordie waved him over, and the men shook hands.
"What'd you got, Gordie?" Watts asked. Then he looked at the dashboard. He did not change expression. Forty years behind a badge means that a person has seen just about everything horrible that can befall a human being. Only his eyes showed any emotion. "Carol Ann Russell."
"What's left of her," Gordie added.
"I can see what happened," Watts said. "How and why, Gordie?"
Neither current lawman was at all resentful of the exstate cop's presence. The ex-head of state police was known statewide as probably one of the finest investigators ever to pin on a badge. And he never lost his cool.
"We don't know, Al," Gordie admitted.
Watts didn't have to ask if they'd dusted for prints. He could see they had. He could see the camera bag, and knew they'd taken pictures. Gordie was a professional cop; not just someone elected in a popularity contest. Watts moved around the car, to the driver's side, and looked in. He'd seen worse. He circled the car and rejoined the men.
"Surely somebody heard something. Unless someone jammed that hamburger in her mouth to prevent her yelling."
"If she screamed, no one heard it. And no one saw anything. It's puzzling, Al."
In the distance, thunder rumbled. Lee appeared not to notice. Gordie and Al looked at one another. Only in his mid-thirties, Gordie was not old enough to remember Sand; did not know much about the old case. But ever since he'd taken office as sheriff, he'd heard the strange thunder.
He'd always wanted to ask Watts, if he was alone in hearing the rare rumblings.
Now he knew he wasn't.
A man from the coroner's office – in the case of Willowdale, a local undertaker – pulled up. The young man looked at the head on the dash and the hands on the wheel and closed his eyes for a moment. He opened his eyes and glanced at the sheriff. "You have all your pictures and prints, Sheriff?"
"Yes. Bag it."
The head, guts, and bones were dropped in rubber bags.
"Put it all in a cooler and seal it, Mark," Gordie instructed.
A wrecker pulled up, and the driver was instructed to tow the car to the department's impound area.
"You going to call in the state, Gordie?" Watts asked.
"Probably. You want some coffee, Al?"
"Sounds good. I'll follow you to the office."
Thunder rumbled in the distance.
The students from the university, on their spring break, parked their cars and got out, looking at what was left of the old mining town of Thunder. On their way up the winding mountain road, all had seen the barren, odd-looking circle on the plateau below them.
Nothing grew there. Nothing at all.
"That's weird," a girl said.
"All this area is supposed to be haunted, or something," a young man told her, doing his best to look spooky. He almost pulled it off.
"I didn't know this old ghost town was even here," another girl said.
Not too far from where the group stood in the silent town, a wolf howled, the call wavering in the afternoon air. The call touched them; seemed to contain a note of warning.
"I didn't think there were any wolves left in this part of the state," a young man said.
"These aren't pure wolf," the college student who had organized this foray explained. Paul Morris had been bom and reared in the valley. And he had always heard the thunder. 'These are mixed breeds. Hybrids. Wolf/husky, wolf/shepherd."
"Why is this place supposed to be haunted?" Sandy Dennis asked.
"I'll tell you," Paul grinned mysteriously. "Later. Like tonight."
"Oh, wow!" Sandy rolled her eyes. "We're going to hear ghost stories, gang."
"Was somebody murdered up here?" Leon Meeks asked. A law major.
"So the stories go. Let's get the tents set up and build a fire. Bos, you and Hillary gather up the firewood; and try to get a bunch of it. The nights get really cold this high up. Then we'll fix supper and talk. I ..." he paused, a funny look on his face. "I only know part of the story. It's just ... well, nobody in the valley wants to talk about it."
"I love it!" Lynn Stillmore grinned. "I love ghost stories in the night. Especially when we've got lots of wine to drink. Did you remember to bring the Ouija board, Doyle?"
"This is going to be fun!" Pat Irwin said. She paused, cocking her head to one side, frowning. "Did any of you just hear someone chuckling – kind of a deep voice?"
"Yeah," Leon said. "As a matter of fact, I did."
Faint singing drifted to them. "Do bop de do bop de do bop, de do."
Coffee poured and the men seated, Gordie said, "Gomez finally got around to telling me, yesterday, about a missing cowboy of his. Of course, that's not unusual. Last week, Lowman had a man disappear and never come back. Several ranchers and farmers have told me that their dogs just flat refuse to leave the house at night. Just simply refuse to leave the porch. They whine and whimper, until someone lets them inside."
"What are you saying, Gordie? A bear on the prowl? No bear did that to Carol Ann."
"Cowboys have a habit of drifting, Al. No damn grizzly wandered up to that drive-in and tore that girl apart. No grizzly tied that goddamn bow of guts on the mirror, and placed her hands on the wheel perfectly at ten and two. With that much blood loss, Carol Ann was ripped apart. There are bits of flesh all over the car, which indicates to me that she was eaten right there at that drive-in."
Watts grimaced at the thought. "Which leads us ...?" He let it trail off.
Gordie smiled at the us. The old warhoss wasn't about to be excluded from this case, and Gordie – no publicity hound, and with not an ounce of professional jealousy in him – welcomed his help. "I don't know, Al. Yet. Al? What's with this thunder that only a few of us seem to notice?"
Watts's eyes were bright and sharp and alert. "You think some distant thunder has anything to do with cowboys disappearing and Carol Ann's death?"
"Do you?" the sheriff tossed it back to him.
Watts shrugged his still muscular shoulders. He looked and acted more like fifty than sixty-five. "I'll reserve comment on that for a time. Have you notified Carol's parents?"
"They're out of town. Visiting relatives somewhere. We haven't been able to locate them."
"Just our little paper. And I haven't exactly leveled with them. That's the main reason why the drive-in was cordoned off and closed."
"The car hops? Or whatever the hell they're called now."
Gordie laughed. "That dates you, Al. Yeah, I think I put the fear of the law in them. But it'll eventually leak out; you know that."
Watts nodded and met the sheriffs eyes. "You believe in the supernatural?"
"I believe in God and Satan and the hereafter."
"That isn't exactly what I meant."
"You mean like spooks and hobgoblins and werewolves and things like that?"
"Then what the hell do you mean, and what are you getting at, Al?"
Watts rose from his chair and walked to a window. Getting dark. "More and more thunder occurring. It's like ... he's trying to tell us something."
"Long story, Gordie."
"I got the time."
"Maybe you're right."
"Maybe it is time."
Gordie shifted in his chair. "This conversation is getting just a little strange, Al. I've got a dead girl foremost on my mind."
"You're the one who asked about the thunder, Gordie."
"Who is Sand?"
"A young man I killed thirty years ago. Almost to the day."
"I was five years old," Gordie said drily.
Excerpted from Darkly the Thunder by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 1990 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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
A very good read .
If the reader is looking for the torture and maiming of people this is the book for them. As for me I don't enjoy this kind of read. Reminds me of Steven King and I quit reading him years ago.
Love this book.