Ex–Delta Force Davis Holland, now an agent for the Customs and Border Protection, has seen it all. But nothing in his experience has prepared him for what he and the local sheriff find one freezing night in the Minnesota woods.
Investigating reports of an illegal border crossing, the two men stumble across a blood-drenched scene of mass murder, barely escaping with their lives . . . and a single clue to the mayhem: a small wooden chest placed at the heart of the massacre. Something deadly has entered Holland’s territory, crossing the border from nightmare into reality.
When news of the atrocity reaches wealthy cryptozoologist Richard Severance, he sends a three-person team north to investigate. Not long ago, the members of that team—Ben McKelvie, Lindsay Clark, and Alex Standingcloud—were nearly killed by a vengeful shapeshifter. Now they are walking wounded, haunted by gruesome memories that make normal life impossible. But there is nothing normal about the horror that awaits in the Northwoods.
Praise for Northwoods
“[Bill] Schweigart has again penned an entertaining entry in what is a very appealing and original series. With its vivid descriptions and realistic but sympathetic characterizations, Northwoods will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.”—New York Journal of Books
“Hell-Yeah-Here-It-Comes, no-holds-barred, epic action . . . another solid story from a writer whom fans of King and Koontz are sure to enjoy.”—Scifi and Scary Book Reviews
“Schweigart really knows how to write an exciting and surprising narrative and this book takes horror to a whole new level.”—I Wuv Books
“A fast-paced, chilling read.”—Books & Such
“One of the best monster books I have ever read.”—It’s a Mad Mad World
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Resident Agent Davis Holland
They were first detected by one of the sensors dotting the northern border. The sensor, located in a deeply forested area known for previous illegal crossings, sent its signal to the Operational Integration Center in Detroit, which in turn dispatched an unmanned aircraft for a closer look. With its aperture radar and high-powered camera, the Predator B drone sailed several thousand feet above them, unperturbed by the rugged terrain below. The drone then beamed its images back to the agents in Detroit, who were decidedly more perturbed by what the images showed: nothing. Normally, the drones could discern animal tracks from human tracks from high above, but this time the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents scratched their heads. There wasn’t a thing to see. The weather was deteriorating too quickly, snow obliterating any tracks. They sent it for another pass, and again, nothing.
By the time Davis Holland received the notification in the early morning hours, the information—which had bounced back and forth from sensors to operation center to aircraft and back again—could hardly be called intelligence. All Davis knew was that there had been a crossing. Of what, he had no idea. The drone was normally an excellent tool for identifying whether a group was illegal immigrants or armed terrorists. This morning, the images on his laptop were useless, the intelligence barely actionable. For all he knew it was a herd of moose wandering out of Canada. Do moose travel in herds? he wondered.
Davis looked at the clock on the corner of his laptop’s screen: 3:30 a.m. He sighed and put on the coffee. Not like I was sleeping anyway, he thought.
As he waited for the coffee to brew, he went to the apartment’s frosted window and peered into the darkness, watching the snow swirl past. He swiped the glass with his palm and wiped it on his sweatpants. The evergreens at the woodline of his complex were already collecting the wet, heavy snow in their branches, which were just beginning to sag under the weight. It was the first snow of the season, and that made the timing of this crossing a little too convenient.
What a difference a year makes, he thought.
He never saw snow like this in Douglas, Arizona. This time last year, he was still sweltering there, as an agent for Customs and Border Protection. It had been as dry and dusty as Afghanistan and just as deadly. With less than a year there, his supervisors thought it best to draft him into CBP’s Resident Agent Program, and as such, as far away from southeast Arizona as possible. He was in no mind to argue.
It was a matter of risk, they had told him. Risk was a function of threat and vulnerability and consequence. No one ever contested the well-documented and highly publicized threats to the southern border. Davis knew them all too well himself. For every innocent looking to cross into the United States for a better life, there were smugglers, gunrunners, and hardened killers looking to infect America like a cancer. And Davis fancied himself as the baddest white-blood cell around. Then there was Agua Prieta, just over the border from Douglas, which stripped him of his braggadocio and so much else, leaving him a hollowed-out husk like so many cars littering Douglas’s dusty roads.
The quiet risk, they told him then, was the northern border. And as for consequence, after Douglas he hadn’t a thing left to lose. The northern border may seem less threatening, but its vulnerability was higher. In the Grand Forks Sector alone, which included North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, there was nearly nine hundred miles of border, much of it in forested areas broken up by small, isolated towns. Towns with limited infrastructure and spotty cellular service.
Towns like Barnabus, Minnesota.
The town was located on the western edge of Superior National Forest. To the immediate north lay the town of Crane Lake and the Canadian border. Barnabus and its surrounding areas were all considered Davis’s territory. The nearest CBP asset was Station International Falls, located sixty miles to the west as the crow flies. Except traveling wasn’t that simple in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. Even without the heavy snowfall, the region was difficult to pass through, riddled with finger lakes and blockaded by forest. By car, International Falls was eighty miles, and the next-closest station, Grand Marais, Michigan, on Lake Superior, was two hundred miles away. As far as the federal government was concerned, between these two stations Resident Agent Davis Holland was Customs and Border Protection.
CBP couldn’t reasonably construct stations in tiny outposts like Barnabus, so the Resident Agent Program was born. Armed with cellular boosters, and Heckler & Koch P2000 semiautomatic pistols, resident agents were assigned large territories, but lived in these small communities, where they would work out of their homes. Growing up outside of Atlanta then joining the army, Davis had no idea what a black southerner should expect of the “Great White North.” He was surprised to find he actually liked Barnabus. It was calm, quiet, and peaceful—a good place to sort himself out. The people didn’t crowd him, yet they were as warm and open as the folks he remembered from Georgia. They knew his job was to protect them, and in their many small acts of kindness—baked goods, discounts at the diner, a friendly wave or nod from everyone—he sensed their appreciation and that they took pride in protecting him too. The town had taken him under its wing, and though he had been there less than a year, he considered Barnabus his town. He acted as their umbilical cord, their liaison, into CBP and, by extension, into the federal government. He cooperated with the state and locals, performed community outreach, and collected intelligence on area bad guys and suspicious activity. And of course, he patrolled the border.
Which is what I’m fixing to do, he thought, even in this weather.
He walked into his bedroom and paused in the doorway, staring at his closet. There was no need to open the safe. The safe sat inside, draped in a blanket, like a piece of furniture in a haunted house from an old black-and-white movie. No call for it, even if it was some sort of crossing, he told himself. He did a quick inventory in his mind, then thought NVGs. Shit. He pulled the blanket aside and punched in the code without turning on the closet light. He pulled the lever, but rather than swing the door open wide, he snaked his arm inside and patted around until he found the night vision goggles.
He geared up his CBP vest and dialed his cellphone.
After some fumbling, Barnabus’s sheriff answered, his voice groggy, “Ramsey here.”
“Bored?” asked Davis.
“So bored I was sleeping.” Davis heard Gil Ramsey’s mattress creak as he got out of bed and murmured reassurances to his wife. “What’s up?”
“Want to go for a ride?”
“Are you aware it’s snowing cats, dogs, and a goddamn ark’s worth of beasts out there?”
“That’s why I’m calling you. I can’t drive in this shit.”
Gil grunted and Davis thought he detected a smile on the other end of the line.
“What’s up?” asked the sheriff.
“A little recon. I’ll explain on the way. Trust me, you won’t even have to get out of the truck.”
Gil Ramsey was idling in the driveway, the wipers of his Suburban beating fast as Davis padded out into the parking lot of his apartment complex, dressed in tactical gear. Gil took one look at Davis and snorted. “Nice camo.”
“I could sneak up on you like midnight.”
“Shit,” Gil laughed. Pushing fifty, Sheriff Ramsey was more than fifteen years Davis’s senior, but the Army had taken Davis around the world, something Gil couldn’t claim. Fort Benning, Georgia, was as far as Gil had ever gotten out of Minnesota, where a bad landing at jump school banged up his knee enough to cut short a promising paratrooper career in the army. Still, they shared a shorthand and helped each other out: Gil shared all the local intel he could, and Davis returned the favor by bringing him along on recon patrols for a little excitement—something in short supply in Barnabus.
Not far from Barnabus, the water border was at its narrowest, allowing a party with a boat (or boats) relatively easy access to the United States. The land sensors had picked up something on a southwesterly course, heading deeper into the country, the water at its back. That was all the information Davis had and he shared it with Gil as they drove south on Route 24 out of town. Past Echo Lake, they turned left and headed east on Echo Trail, driving right through the heart of Superior National Forest. They pulled off onto a small, unmarked trail and drove deep enough to conceal the vehicle from the road.
“I just want to get a visual and give Detroit a SITREP. I’ll hike in. Just keep the truck warm.”
Gil stripped off his orange hunting parka to reveal his hunting fatigues and his sheriff’s weapons belt.
“Gil, come on. I can hike in and out faster by myself. It’s probably just a herd of animals.”
“Well then, maybe I’ll tag one.”
“It’s turkey season.”
“Maybe I’ll get one of those too.”
“Come on,” Davis said, rubbing the back of his neck and looking toward the woods. “This is kind of an op . . .”
“Does Detroit even know you’re out here?”
Davis looked into the forest, trying to conceal his sly smile.
“I only have one pair of NVGs.”
“Night vision goggles? Please. You’re in my sandbox now,” said Gil. “Last one to put eyes on a tango springs for breakfast.”
As Davis was affixing the goggles to his face, Gil disappeared into the treeline. “Just try to keep up, rookie.”