Σάββατο, 17 Σεπτεμβρίου 2011

Aπόσπασμα από το βιβλίο Supernatural: Night Terror

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FEARnet has your exclusive first look at the prologue for Supernatural: Night Terror, a novel by John Passarella, based on the CW TV series. Bobby sends Sam and Dean to check out nightmare scenarios in Colorado: a homless man being attacked by a giant Gila monster; a little boy chased by uprooted trees; a speeding car with no driver. The Winchesters must save a town who is no longer safe from their dreams, even when they are awake.
The following excerpt is the prologue to the book. Chronologically, Night Terror is set during season six of the series, and falls between the "Frontierland" and "Mommy Dearest" episodes. Night Terrors will be published on September 13th, and the new season of Supernatural begins September 23rd.
Prologue 
Gavin "Shelly" Shelburn ambled along the tree-lined streets of downtown Clayton Falls, Colorado with enough conviction to avoid any charges of loitering. Occasionally, he sat on one of the secured wrought-iron benches to rest his perpetually sore feet, which had worn down the soles of his scuffed boots to the intimation of rice paper. Mostly, he spent the evening hours circling the restaurant district, eight square blocks encompassing the most popular sit-down restaurants, asking for handouts. 
Whether people were about to sit down to a good meal, or returning to their cars after enjoying a fine repast, his strategy was to impart a touch of guilt on these more fortunate citizens. With a notoriously bad economy struggling to right itself, Shelburn remained on the bottom looking up. Not that it was much consolation to a man who had lost his wife to a lengthy illness, his job to subsequent neglect in unforgiving times, and his house to dispassionate bankers, but his current disenfranchised condition lacked the stigma of years past. With record unemployment and housing foreclosures "There but for the grace of God, go I" had become a familiar refrain.
The decline and fall of Gavin Shelburn had begun in advance of the so-called Great Recession, but he wasn't above accepting the sympathy of those still gainfully employed to keep his stomach, if not full, then at least occasionally mindful of its gastric function. To that end, he made his nightly rounds wearing a battered fedora—which he unfailingly tipped to the ladies and regularly flipped over to accommodate folded donations—along with a rumpled overcoat that also served as his blanket and fell to the top of his second-hand combat boots. His gaunt torso gained some bulk from the two button-down shirts he wore, one over the other, though he switched the layers each day in lieu of regular laundering. Combined, the two shirts had a complement of buttons sufficient for one. His threadbare jeans retained a hint of their original black color.
On most nights, the reliable combination of sympathy, guilt and polite panhandling kept Shelly's stomach fed and, yes, his spirits warm, while steering clear of Chief Quinn's holding cell. But the lingering effects of a poor economy led to slow evenings in the restaurant district, especially on weeknights. He'd reached the outskirts of his bread-and-butter zone, near the smaller pizza joints which offered slim pickings at the best of times, and was about to head back, when a middle-aged woman rushed out of Joe's Pizza Shack with a large pizza box and a two liter bottle of Coke.
"Good evening, Madam," he said, tipping his multi-purpose fedora.
"Oh," she said, startled, pausing in her dash to her car, a white Nissan idling at an unfed parking meter. "Alright." She set the pizza box on the hood of the car, fished a crumpled dollar bill out of her purse and dropped it in his hat. "Here ya go."
"Thank you, Madam," he said, graciously accepting the dollar, which he stuffed into his left pocket since the right had a hole that had traveled the entire length of the seam.
With a careless wave she gathered up her pizza box, jumped in the car, and sped off.
A fine white mist roiled in her wake, seeming to seep in from the side streets and roll past him, lending an unearthly quality to the gritty areas that lay beyond the reach of the urban gentrification of the downtown district. More than isolated, he felt… abandoned, as if reality, along with the suburban woman, had decided to move on without him.
He stood for a moment, staring after her car, before pushing the fedora back down over his thinning, prematurely gray hair, and turned back the way he had come. Despite momentary delusions to the contrary, his reality had not changed. Though it had become routine, his life remained unpleasant, with no guarantees. But these days, he thought, nobody has any guarantees.
Over the course of the slow evening, he'd collected enough to pay for a few slices of pizza and a beverage to call his own, but it was too soon to reward himself with a meal or a drink—alcoholic or otherwise. Within the next hour, the last wave of sated diners would be heading home to park themselves in front of their high definition plasma screens. Surely a few would spare a buck or two for a neighbor who had fallen on hard times?
Ignoring a protracted grumble of protest from his stomach, he continued his trek back toward the heart of the restaurant district. He hadn't gotten far, when he heard another sound behind him, a scrape like steel on concrete followed by a sudden, slurping hiss.
Startled, he whirled around. And staggered backward in disbelief.
"What the hell?" he whispered. 
It wasn't possible.
His right hand patted the flask tucked into his overcoat pocket. Almost full. He hadn't touched the stuff. Was saving it for later, when he would hunker down for another fitful night's sleep. But even if he had drained every drop, it couldn't explain what he saw. 
It was easily as long as two Nissans. A giant lizard, with a black pebbled face, its long powerful body and massive tail banded with bright orange. A name bubbled up from his subconscious, planted there in his grade school years and not quite forgotten.
Gila monster.
Its forked tongue, long as a pink yardstick, flickered out toward him, tasting the air. Then its jaws spread open, revealing a row of sharp teeth lining a mouth that could accommodate his head and entire torso in a single bite.
He remembered something else about Gila monsters. They released venom in their saliva, a nasty neurotoxin that would paralyze their prey.
"Sweet Jesus…"
Unable to tear his gaze away from the monstrous lizard, Shelly stumbled back several paces. These creatures were supposed to be slow—but they were also supposed to be less than two feet long. This one was twenty times that size.
It took a step toward him, one set of sharp claws scraping the pavement beneath it. The tongue flicked out again. Then all four legs began to churn forward in an alternating stride that covered ground much too quickly for Shelly's liking. 
Turning his back on the enormous creature, he ran almost doubled over, out of control. Behind him, the raking claws stuck the concrete in a frightening, metronomic rhythm that gained in volume as the distance between him and the creature withered away.
"Help! Somebody, help me!" he screamed breathlessly.
His voice seemed lost in the night, silenced by the blanket of mist and his total isolation. Never had he felt more alone on the streets of Clayton Falls than at that moment. Gasping in a breath to scream again, he felt the monster's long, forked tongue, sticky with what he imagined a lethal dose of venom, strafe his stubble-covered cheek. 
He squealed in uncontrolled fright, his heart pounding so hard he thought it would burst in his chest like a blood-filled grenade. Claws slapped down on his right heel and the combat boot was wrenched off his foot, twisting his ankle painfully to the side. Staggering, he barely managed to maintain his balance, but knew his time had run out, so he veered left, into an alley behind a Chinese restaurant.
The hot breath of the giant Gila monster washed over the back of his neck.
Shelly heard a loud thump as the creature's enormous tail stuck a parking meter.
The alley ran all the way through to Bell Street, but he couldn't outrun the creature here, either. In seconds he would be devoured close to where he often scavenged for discarded food himself, right out of the—
He veered to the left, raised his left arm up to the edge of the shadowy bulk of the restaurant's Dumpster and heaved himself over the lip and down into the damp and malodorous refuse.
No sooner had he landed in the cushion of garbage than something, probably the Gila monster's head, stuck the side of the Dumpster and propelled it down the alley. Metal shrieked against the brick wall opposite the rear of the Chinese restaurant. The Dumpster trundled spastically as its undersized wheels squealed in protest.
Abruptly, the jittery motion stopped. 
Shelly held his breath. All he heard was the thunderous beating of his overtaxed heart. As he pushed himself up to a sitting position, something powerful struck the side of the Dumpster, dimpling the steel right between his feet, and rocking the container back into the brick wall. Another protracted screech as the creature's claws raked the exterior.
Shelly remembered another unfortunate fact about Gila monsters.
They could climb.
And this one was large enough to raise itself over the edge of the Dumpster.
He was cornered.
Frantically, he swept his hands through the slimy and sticky refuse, searching for something sharp or hard, anything that could serve as a weapon. His search became more desperate when he saw the creature's claws wrap around the rim of the Dumpster like a matching set of butcher knives. The trash bin began to tilt forward as the creature's weight pressed down on it. Shelly heard an explosive pop as of one of the wheels sheared off the base. It was only a matter of seconds before the pebbled head, beady black eyes and grotesquely long, forked tongue would rise over him and block out the sky.
Shelly's foraging hand slammed into a wooden slat. He blindly traced its dimensions because he refused to look away from the Dumpster's opening. A produce crate!, he realized. Flimsy, but if he broke it apart he could use one of the slats as a makeshift dagger. Poke its eye out and maybe it would go elsewhere for its next meal.
Abruptly the Dumpster eased back and bumped into the brick wall.
Long seconds passed before Shelly realized the claws were gone. One moment they'd been pressed against the steel, the next they were absent. He waited a minute, motionless, listening intently for any sound. Gradually, he became aware of the ambient noise of the night. The rumble of passing trucks, the hiss of tires on asphalt, the toot of distant horns… his own ragged breathing.
He rolled onto his hands and knees and reached for the edge of the Dumpster, slowing pulling himself up out of the garbage, his head rising above the surface like a periscope in enemy waters. He peered along the length of the alley, left and right.
Nothing. As if the lizard had dropped off the face of the earth.
"I'll be damned."

"This town is so lame."
Eighteen-year-old Steven Bullinger drained his second can of beer, crumpled the empty aluminum can and tossed it into one of the decorative bushes that ringed the tarnished bronze statues of Charles Clayton and Jeremiah Falls at the center of Founders Park. 
Tony Lacosta shook his head. "You say that every night."
"Yeah, Bullinger," Lucy Quinn said. "You need new material." She stood between them, facing the opposite direction, hands stuffed into the pockets of her hoodie, which was hot pink and densely patterned with tiny black skulls. She was the lookout.
The bronze nineteenth-century pioneers were depicted astride their horses, angled away from each other in a V-shape, illuminated by recessed floodlights. Clayton pointed into the distance, possibly indicating the site of the present municipal building, while Falls pulled up on his horse's reins. But the three teens did not choose their loitering spot out of any sense of civic pride. The benches directly behind the bronze horses were obstructed from view and cloaked in shadow at night, beyond the harsh glare of the monument's floodlights.
Steven grumbled, "Making sure you were paying attention."
"You could leave."
"Thinking about it," Steven said sullenly. "Weighing my options."
"Right," Tony said. "Toss me a beer before you drink them all."
Steven slipped his hand into the open backpack he'd set on the park bench next to him and tossed a can to Tony. He looked at Lucy. "You want one?"
She shook her head. "I'm good." Drinking was the furthest thing from her mind.
"You don't drink no more, is that it?"
"No," she said defensively. "It's not that."
"Worried your dad will catch you?" Steven persisted.
"No," she said, then sighed. "Maybe. He is the chief of police."
"And you have him wrapped around your finger."
She scoffed. "I wish."
"What's the real reason?" Tony asked, index finger poised over the tab, waiting to open the can.
"I don't know," she said and shrugged. "The timing."
"What? Not late enough for you?" Steven asked.
Tony heaved an exasperated sigh. "She's talking about Teddy, you dumbass."
"Yesterday was the one year anniversary," Lucy said. "You guys don't think about the accident?"
"Sure I do," Steven said defensively. "Don't see me driving, do you?"
"Jackass!" Lucy said, kicking him in the shin.
"What the hell?" Steven seemed more upset about dropping his third can of beer than about the kick. He scooped it off the ground before much had spilled. A thin white mist had rolled across the park grounds, progressing in eddies and swirls. Steven only gave it a moment's notice. "I didn't mean anything by it!"
"So being a jerk comes naturally?"
"More like constant practice," Tony said, smirking.
"Shut up," Steven said to him. Then he turned to Lucy. "Look, a year ago that's all people talked about. Every time they saw me. Any of us walk into a room or if they passed us on the street. Can't say I miss that. Ever since the factory fire… All I'm saying is, I get to deal with it on my own terms now. Without people shoving it in my face all the time."
Lucy crossed her arms and glared at him. "Excuse me if I don't want to forget about Teddy."
"I don't—I didn't say—Tony, talk to her."
"None of us want to forget Teddy," Tony said. "He was your boyfriend, but we knew him since grade school. And we were all… stupid that night. But dwelling on it? I don't think that's…. What's wrong? Cops?"
Lucy was staring at the statues. Her eyes were wide, her green irises ringed with white. She pointed. "Three—three horses."
Tony followed her gaze. Steven twisted around on the bench, looking over his shoulder. Moving within the V created by the horses of Clayton and Falls was another horse, a black stallion. Its hooves clopped on the marble base of the life-sized monument and it snorted as its rider steered it away from the bronze tableau, between two benches and through a gap in the decorative bushes.
"It's coming for us," Lucy said.
"What?" Steven looked from her to Tony.
Tony dropped his beer can. "What the hell?"
The rider was clad in black, a riding cloak, shirt, trousers and boots. But the first thing Lucy noticed was his head. Rather, his lack of a head. The cloak was tied around the trunk of his neck, but the neck ended in a ragged, bloody stump. No head… and yet she had the feeling he could see everything. He seemed to be staring right at her through invisible eyes.
The rider held the horse's reins bunched in his left hand because his right hand held a gleaming sword.
"Run!" Tony yelled.
Lucy was paralyzed. In that moment, she was sure she would have stood still as the headless horseman shoved the sword straight through her heart. But Tony grabbed one of her suddenly clammy hands and tugged her sideways. She stumbled after him, looking back, unable to take her eyes off the nightmarish apparition that had materialized out of thin air.
Steven trailed behind them, mainly because he had paused to grab his beer-filled backpack.
The horse whinnied and reared up on its hind legs. The rider kicked spurs into the horse's flanks and it dropped down to all fours and galloped after them, its hooves pounding the earth with deadly determination. Lucy could feel the vibration in her shins and thought she would throw up any second. She realized she was sobbing.
Steven hadn't paused to zip up his backpack. Every few strides a beer can slipped free and tumbled to the ground, letting out a protesting hiss of pressurized foam. Finally, he cursed and tossed the backpack aside.
Lucy couldn't help glancing back every other step. She stumbled again and again, but Tony's momentum kept her upright. She saw the horseman bear down on Steven and swing his sword in a whistling arc, determined to reduce the young man to his own headless condition or perhaps remedy his cranial loss by random substitution. Lucy gave an involuntary shriek.
The gleaming blade missed Steven's neck by a whisker.
Steven must have felt its swift passage. He clapped a hand to the nape of his neck, as if checking for blood.
They were near the edge of the park, within sight of the municipal building, when Lucy was jerked to the side. She stumbled and fell against Tony for a moment before he led her to the right. 
"What—?" she began.
"We need to split up," Tony said, his breathing ragged. "Can't chase all of us."
"But Steve…"
The vibration in her legs was gone. She glanced back but could no longer see the headless horseman. In his gray sweatshirt and faded jeans, Steven was a blur of motion running and stumbling toward Park Lane.
"C'mon," Tony said, pulling her attention back. "Think we lost him."
"What was that?"
"Sure as hell wasn't the neighborhood watch."

Steven had never run so fast in his life. At some point, between tossing aside the backpack he'd used to smuggle beer out of the house and feeling the horseman's sword whistle past his neck, he forgot about everything that had led up to the nightmarish chase. He stopped questioning the impossibility of a man without a head riding a horse that had appeared out of nowhere. Every iota of his concentration focused on racing from his imminent death, while suppressing the powerful urge to vomit up every last ounce of beer he had imbibed. A single hesitation, for whatever reason, would mean the difference between life and death. Even so, a man, even a sober man, couldn't outrun a horse for long. Steven veered close to tree trunks, favoring those with low hanging limbs. Unseat the horseman and the chase turned in his favor. But it seemed he couldn't shake the headless rider, only postpone the inevitable. The thunderous rumble of hooves was never more than one false step away.
Face contorted in a rictus of pain, he burst from the edge of the park, bounded across the wide sidewalk and sprinted onto Park Lane. Several steps into his panicked flight across the blacktop, he stumbled and almost fell to his knees. Doubled over, he cringed, waiting for the hard steel to bite into his flesh. Then it occurred to him that the thundering noise of hooves had stopped. He looked back and saw that the headless horseman had vanished. He had never followed Steven out of the park. 
Steven straightened and peered behind him. Nothing moving between the trees. No horse. No headless rider. Looking left and right, he couldn't see Tony or Lucy. Vaguely he recalled them veering to the side, away from his mindless, straight-line flight. Sensible strategy, but he would have had their back.
Or would he?
Staring back at the park, he wondered if the horseman was confined within its boundaries. If his friends remained in the park now, were they in danger? Would the rider seek them out after his solo target had escaped? Steven could go back and warn them… but he had no idea where they had gone. Was the horseman even real? Could they have imagined the whole thing? When you really thought about it, it made no sense. How could it? Unless…something in the beer? Product tampering? LSD in the cans? No, because Lucy had seen it first and she hadn't had any beer. Then how—?
BEEP!
A battered Ford pickup truck swerved around him, the driver leaving behind a string of curses with the truck's pungent white exhaust.
Steven looked down at the painted line and realized that he'd pulled up in the middle of Park Lane. Fortunately for him, traffic was light in the evening. And the white exhaust was really spreading…
Not exhaust. The white, cottony mist he'd barely acknowledged in the park had spread out across the road, swirling around his ankles.
An accelerating motor—a deep-throated roar—drew his attention up again but this vehicle didn't swerve.
He had a moment to register the color red, with a white stripe across the hood leading his eye to the driver, but—
Air exploded out of his lungs as his legs shattered and his body flipped through the air, bounding across the hood of the car, skipping past the windshield and tumbling up and away from the roof as if gravity had suddenly released any claim to his mass. But just as suddenly, it reclaimed him with punishing force, slamming him down onto the blacktop as if swatted from above by a giant hand. His head struck and his skull seemed to lose its rigidity, his vision splitting into two separate views a split second before one side went completely dark and the other began to fade.
Somewhere he heard a woman scream.
A man looked down at him, shock on his face. 
"Oh, God." Steven heard him say.
Steven wanted to tell the man not to worry, but the words came out jumbled and seemed to originate far away. Didn't help that he was shivering as he spoke.
"I can't believe—that guy—he hit you on purpose!" the man declared.
Steven tried to shake his head. Big mistake. Pain knifed through him so fiercely he blacked out for a second. Maybe longer. When the man's pale face returned, this time with a cell phone pressed to his ear, Steven tried to explain what he saw before the moment of impact but only the last two words made it past his numb lips.
"…nobody driving."
"What—?"
A young woman stepped into Steven's diminishing field of vision. She grabbed the man's arm. 
"I—I can't believe it!" she said. Her voice sounded distant and hollow.
"I called an ambulance," the man told her.
"—tried to get the license plate," she said, glancing briefly at Steven, long enough for him to see the horror and disbelief on her face before she looked away. "Blake, I—I couldn't."
"That's okay," he said. "It happened so fast."
"That's not what I mean," she said. Her words were out of sync with her lips, as if she were an actress in a poorly dubbed foreign film. Movement began to leave smears of color across Steven's vision. "I was looking right at the car and it… vanished."
"Vanished how?"
Like the headless horseman? Steven wondered.
"I don't know how," she said. "One second it was there. And the next it was gone."
Steven blinked, but when he opened his eyes there was only darkness. He thought they might still be talking above him but the only sound he heard was a soft, rhythmic thumping, fading and slowing and then nothing…
Supernatural TM & © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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