A mysterious explorer hires a team of adventurers to join him in a hunt for a monstrous beast, in this rip-roaring sequel to Fury From the Tomb.
When Egyptologist Rom Hardy receives a strange letter from his old friend, the bounty-hunting sniper Rex McTroy, he finds himself drawn into a chilling mystery. In the mountains of New Mexico, a bloodthirsty creature is on the loose, leaving a trail of bodies in its wake. Now, a wealthy big game hunter has offered a staggering reward for its capture, and Rom’s patron – the headstrong and brilliant Evangeline Waterston – has signed the team up for the challenge. Awaiting them are blizzards, cold-blooded trappers, remorseless hunters, a mad doctor, wild animals and a monster so fearsome and terrifying, it must be a legend come to life.
File Under: Fantasy [ The Big Hunt | Evil Spirits | Deliverance | Holiday Cottage ]
About the Author
SA Sidor writes supernatural historical adventures. He lives near Chicago with his family. He is also the author of four acclaimed dark crime thrillers.
Read an Excerpt
“O” is for Owl
New Year’s Day, 1920
The Waterston Institute for Singular Antiquities
Manhattan, New York City
The Institute study was cold. The whole laboratory, the entire building, drank in the frigid weather and stored it up despite any fire raging in the fireplace. One had to sit close to the flames to appreciate the heat. I had arranged my reading room around the tidy, soot-black bricks. Here a person could survive the winter, close to a liquor cabinet, books at hand, a gothic window cut into the wall at the other end of the room in case you might want to see if the world still existed.
I never used that window.
Evangeline Waterston stared at me over her shoulder after she slipped a worm-eaten book from the lowest shelf of my private library at the Institute for Singular Antiquities. My library, her Institute. Since Montague Waterston had disappeared many years ago and left his fortune to Evangeline, his only child, she had decided to sink a good bit of that fortune right here. She hired me at the start of things, after my first Egyptian expedition to unearth a cursed sorcerer’s tomb. Her father had financed the dig. Surprising everyone, including myself, I brought the sorcerer’s mummy and those of his servants back to Manhattan, only to lose them on a train ride out to Los Angeles. Banditos robbed the train, and Evangeline and I, along with a bounty hunter named Rex McTroy, and a resilient Chinese boy named Yong Wu, went to Mexico to bring them back. Dead or alive was an apt phrase for that quest.
From the wreckage of the strange desert affair came the unlikely birth of the Waterston Institute for Singular Antiquities. Over our years together, we had built the Institute’s rare collections to a level of both prestige and shocking notoriety. We offered no apologies for our artifacts or our unorthodox methods. People talked about us, and Evangeline said that was better than silent indifference. I think she enjoyed turning heads in the stuffy museum world.
Admittedly, I did too.
Holding the chunky old book in her right hand, as if testing its weight, Evangeline used her left hand to balance a brandy snifter of excellent Kentucky bourbon. I’d poured the drink for her earlier in the evening. We had dined together with our fellow adventurer, and now a distinguished medical researcher, Dr Yong Wu. But he left our company soon after the meal ended, expressing his regrets over his lack of sleep on New Year’s Eve, before catching a cab to his hotel across town. Evangeline inhaled the aroma of her liquor, tilted the glass, and took a sip, rolling the whisky around with her tongue. A dimple appeared beside her mouth and she tapped the book’s well-bumped spine, her smile growing slyer by the second.
“Do you ever think about the beast?” she asked.
“Which beast is that? We have encountered so many in our time.” I flicked my gaze up and away, and sucked noisily at my pipe, emitting a perique-scented cloud. I attempted to obscure myself, trying to appear both uninterested and comfortably settled for the remainder of the evening in my chaise longue, facing the fireplace, eyes fixed upon the richly enflamed logs trapped behind the screen. But her question – indeed, Evangeline herself – made that all but impossible. Oh, how I watched her, always, and how she in return knew it. She straightened, emptied the glass, and set it down on a side table, then stretched and pressed a hand against the corseted curve of her lower back. Evangeline pointed the tattered corner of the book at me.
“Ah, but only one deserved the name,” she said.
She squinted at me through the fruity smoke.
“Deserve is a moral word,” I said. “Are we not scientists? And freethinkers?”
“Dr Romulus Hardy, you know the creature I mean. You’re only playing at not knowing.”
“How dare you accuse me of being a pretender…? Good God, woman!” I said, smiling.
Evangeline tossed the book – a sizable volume – across the library at me. It hit with a bone-drumming thud in the middle of my chest. An ember shower erupted from my pipe bowl. I feared a broken stem! Fiery crumbs spilled down my vest. In a panic, I licked two fingers and snuffed out the spritely shreds of tobacco as they landed atop the buttoned soft green leather of my daybed. Evangeline’s aim had always been precise. The book had expelled a significant degree of dust on me which I distractedly brushed away. I sneezed then and rubbed my eyes.
When my vision cleared, Evangeline was steps closer to me.
“Do you not want to talk about it because talking about it makes you sad?”
“It doesn’t make me sad,” I lied.
“Really? You have a tendency toward sadness even when matters do not trend that way. These events unfortunately do. So, I assumed your reluctance–”
“If anything, it makes me angry.”
She paused to assess how my anger was doing in the moment.
“Well, I understand that too,” she said.
“We went through a lot together on that frozen mountain. I have no wish to relive it.”
“The four of us? You’re talking about our team, our little hunting party?”
“You, me, McTroy, and Wu… we were hardly left unscathed. But there were more than four of us present at the so-called hunt when it all began. Do you remember that peculiar howling wind on the first night as Oscar Adderly laid out his challenge? I certainly do. A trick of the mountainous terrain he said. But it was an unnatural sound. We should have run, there and then.” I felt gooseflesh on my arms, a prickling of the hairs lifting on my neck. “The other hunters, the Adderlys… what happened at Nightfall Lodge should never have happened to anyone.”
“I know you were badly hurt,” she said, her voice growing softer.
“I wasn’t alone. We all received our wounds.”
“And you blame me?”
“It was a long time ago, more than thirty years. I don’t know what I think.”
“But Romulus Hardy never forgets the past. That is what makes him such a renowned Egyptologist. You dust off your artifacts, you catalogue and ponder. You make certain nothing ever dies, even if it only lives in your head.” There was a hard, bitter edge to her words. She was doing her best to draw me out by any means. To what end I was not sure. Even though I was wide awake, I was leery of being pulled into an all-night conversation I would eventually regret.
“This is not Egyptology. When it came down to it, the whole matter had little to do with my areas of expertise.”
“The venture included an element of ancient historical significance, a prize that Oscar Adderly dangled. I recall you being excited once you were received properly in New Mexico. You were enthusiastic, charmingly so, if memory serves.”
I thought about what she said. It was true, of course. I couldn’t wait to get started after our bounty-hunting friend, Rex McTroy, provided me the details. Boosting my interest even more, Oscar Adderly made us an outrageous offer from his throne of manly luxury, Nightfall Lodge – a chalet he personally designed and had carved into the remote mountainside as a monument to, well… himself. How he strutted in front of a wall of antlers and beheaded wild creatures as he enticed us to track a most unusual, and dangerous, quarry. I see him still – that proud rooster puffing on his El Rey del Mundo Havana cigar. Who might’ve guessed his fate?
“I was baited. The Adderlys knew how to draw people’s attention and how to make you believe their family’s interests were your very own. It was their gift,” I admitted.
“They had many gifts. Showmanship included.”
Evangeline also had the gift of showmanship, though hers was less dramatic, and often more effective, at least it always worked when she used it on me. She retrieved the bourbon from the cabinet and refilled our drinks. The decades had been kind to her. From across the room it was difficult to guess her age. She wore her hair pinned in a coiled braid. Crisp silvery white, it brought out her agate green eyes. Possessing a stronger chin than most men in their twenties, Evangeline moved purposefully, even when the purpose might be unclear. You could sense the crackling of her intellectual energy in the air. Her long back stiffened to any challenge. Some women said she was handsome. Others called her haughty. Most men remained hushed in her presence, and that is no small accomplishment. As she passed me my glass, she smiled, and her fingertips lightly grazed my wrist, warming me more than any fire or liquor ever would.
“Why do you want to talk about the beast tonight?” I asked.
“The event is unresolved between us. I think you’ve blocked it off.”
“I agree, but what good will ever come–”
“Look at the book,” she said, settling her hip on the arm of my longue.
I had almost forgotten about the book. “Your weapon, you mean?”
I picked it up from the chaise. I gazed at the cover.
“Do you remember?” she asked. “You once told me the story of its acquisition.”
“I can’t say I recall that at all.” I read the title: “Odd & Ghastly Rhymes for Frightening Young Children. Do you want me to read you a bedtime story?”
“You’re good at bedtime stories. But I am not sleepy tonight.”
“Is this in German? I’m only decent at dead languages. You’ll have to be the reader.”
“It’s not German.” She slapped at my arm playfully. “No, all the words are English. I don’t need to translate it for you. But yes, I would like you to read it to me.”
“All of it?”
“Just one rhyme, if you please.” She cocked her head and looked at me curiously. “You really don’t remember this book?”
I leafed through the old tome and shook my head.
“Wherever did I get this?” I mumbled in absentminded amusement.
Evangeline walked over to the window and stared out at the steely moonlit night. “You know this book, Hardy. Read from ‘An Eerie Alphabet Rhyme.’ It’s near the beginning.”
I found the table of contents and located the page. The paper was heavy but brittle. I turned carefully to the nursery rhyme in question.
“You see how fragile old books get,” I said. “This one’s poor pages have been bent over, again and again, folded to save someone’s favorite spot no doubt, and now the folded piece is missing, the beginning of the poem is but a fragment. The letter ‘A’ might be Anaconda, given the ‘tight squeezing’ that follows. ‘B’ was definitely a Bat ‘a-flitter in the’ somewhere – that bit’s part of what’s been lost. I’ll have to start with the letter ‘C’ I’m afraid.”
“C is fine,” Evangeline said, staring out the window into Central Park.
“Very well,” I said. “Here we go.”
“‘C’ is for Centipede asleep on your cheek.
Stir and you’ll wake her. Those legs! Shriek!
‘D’ is for Dung Beetle rolling ’round her ball.
Strong little scarab – she gives it her all.”
I said, “Oh, I do like dung beetles. The Egyptians loved them. Scarabs are the most fascinating creatures. I once saw a specimen at the Field Museum as big and fat as a ripe plum. And the variety of colors is astonishing, not to mention the iconography. Without the scarab, I scarcely think Egypt would be Egypt...”
“Skip down lower in the rhyme,” she said.
“All right, Miss Impatience.” I dropped a few lines. “Things grow a bit darker farther along the alphabet, I see. The mood alters. Charm disappears. It is all grim business and rough shadows thrown upon the floral bedroom wallpaper.” I tried to laugh, but my throat was dry. I sipped, or rather gulped, from my whisky. My heart was beating emphatically in my chest. I had no conscious idea why that might be the case. “I’ll try this part. Tell me how you like it.
“‘O’ is for Owl who hunts in the night.
Silent and swift is his murderous flight.”
Here I paused for a long while. Had the fire died? I turned immediately colder, much colder, and my skin felt tight across my nose, wind-burned. Every breath I took smelled of musk and pine. My lungs throbbed with an iron cold. I had the waking illusion I was bundled in a weighted coat, I could hardly move, and when I needed to leave here – a great danger was coming, I had to flee or die – I would be too slow to escape.
I shook my head to clear the sensations. My eyes skimmed over the page. It was as if I had scales on my eyeballs, my tears were freezing. The roots of my teeth pulsed, biting on ice.
I read the words Evangeline had been waiting for me to find.
“‘W’ is for Wolf Wendigo Wickedness in the wintery wood.
Hungry and gaunt in the tall trees he stood.”
The scratched out “wolf” – I knew who did that. The word Wendigo I had struck through myself. The “wickedness” substitution was in my handwriting. I remembered this book now. So many years ago... but I zoomed in as if I were twirling the knob of a microscope and focusing on a slide squirming with fundamental yet previously invisible life. My head dizzy, I flipped to the first page. There was an inscription. The book had been a gift, half in jest, and half as a warning. How had I forgotten? I made myself forget. Obviously, Evangeline remembered better than I did.
To My Witty, Shy Rom –
May your nightmares end and your new dreams glitter like stars.
Eternally yours & a Kiss in the Dark –
When I looked up again, Evangeline had seated herself across from me in a wingback armchair. Those agate green eyes watched me without judgment. My face was wet. I touched my cheeks. My hand trembled. I was gasping.
“How long have I been sitting here like this?”
“Too long,” she said. “You need to get it out of you. You’ve bottled it up for too many years and it is killing you, Hardy. You’re a smart man, and you know what I’m saying is true. However much it hurts, it must come out. We need to get it into the open to destroy it. Now. Tonight. You’ve been haunting your own thoughts for far too long.”
I looked away from her. Sometimes she was like staring at the sun.
“What do you expect me to do?” I asked.
Her gaze was direct. So too were her words.
“Tell me what you think happened. The mountain adventure... the whole story.”
“I can’t. You were there too. Why should I have to tell you?”
“Because I think you have gone wrong somewhere in your mind. You’re lost in the woods, terrified. It’s eating you alive. I’m here with you and I’m staying no matter what happens. I’ll help you. You need to know you’re safe. I’m telling you that above all else. You are safe.”
The fire glowed bright behind her, Evangeline, my partner, whom I trusted with my life.
“No one is safe,” I said.
Then I began my story.