The “Ack!” In Heart Attack. Thanks a lot, Douglas and Lincoln.
Still Life With Crows
I followed Hazen through the twists and turns of the cavern. He was moving fast, pausing only briefly to reconnoiter at intersections, never bothering to conceal the noisy sounds of his passage. I relied on his protection as he was the only one with a twelve-gauge. His knuckles were white, fingers resting against the dual triggers.
I dreaded following him.
We passed by another arrangement of tiny crystals and dead cave animals set near a rock ledge. Hazen assumed it was the work of a psychopath, the cave being the setting to practice his craziness before going topside to do it to real people. I had my suspicions, but kept them to myself. My heart raced as I knew Hazen’s reckless actions would lead to his inevitable death. He was out to kill whoever it was responsible for the recent murders.
I knew he was lost. There was such a confusing welter of footprints that Hazen wasn’t sure what trail he was following anymore, or even if it was fresh. He’s anger was rising. it would get him into trouble. Rash decisions never ended well. I cringed as he charged his way up the debris slope, head down, shotgun pointed ahead. He came out into a soaring vertical space. Overhead, feathery crystals hung on long ropes of limestone, swaying slightly in an underground current of air. Passageways wandered off in all directions. He scanned the ground, fighting to get his breathing and his emotions under control; found what looked like a fresh track; and began following it again, threading his way through a maze of tunnels.
Slow down, Hazen! I kept thinking.
After a few minutes we both realized something was wrong. The tunnel had curved back on itself somehow. He ended up right back where he’d started. He tried another tunnel, only to find that the same thing happened.
After returning to the chamber yet a third time, he stopped, raised his shotgun, and fired. The blast rocked the room, and feathery crystals tinkled gently down on all sides like giant broken snowflakes.
Idiot! Was he trying to get himself killed?
He screamed. “I’m here, come show your face, freak!”
He fired a second time, and a third, screaming obscenities into the darkness.
The only answers that came back were the echoes of the blasts, rolling insanely through the honeycomb of chambers, again and again.
The magazine was empty. Breathing raggedly, Hazen reloaded. This wasn’t helping, hollering and shooting like this. Just find him. Find him. Find him.
He plunged down yet another passageway. This one looked different: a long, glossy tunnel of limestone, little pools of water dotted with cave pearls. At least he had escaped the merry-go-round of endless returning passageways. He could no longer remember where he had been or where he was going. He simply plunged on.
And then, off to one side, he saw a dark, hulking figure.
Eeck! Shoot, shoot, SHOOT!
It was the merest glimpse, just a shadow flitting across his goggles; but it was enough. He spun, dropped to one knee, and fired—long practice at the range paying off—and the figure dropped, tumbling to the ground with a crash.
Hazen followed immediately with a second shot. Then he scuttled forward, ready to pump out the final round.
He stared down, the red glow of the night-vision goggles revealing not a dead body but a lumpy stalagmite, cut in half by his gun, lying shattered on the cave floor. He resisted the impulse to curse, to kick the shattered pieces away. Slowly and calmly, he raised the shotgun and continued down the echoing tunnel. He came to a fork, another fork, and then he paused.
Bad idea, Hazen. You’re leaving your back open to attack. Run man, get out of there!
He saw movement ahead, heard a faint sound.
He moved forward more carefully now, gun at the ready. He swung around a rocky corner, dropped to his knee, and covered the empty tunnel ahead; and in doing so he never did see the dark shape that approached swiftly out of the shadows behind him until he felt the sudden blow to the side of his head, the brutal wrenching twist, but by then it was too late and black night was already rushing forward to embrace him and he didn’t have enough air left in his lungs to make any sound at all.
I screamed, fell off the couch. The book went flying into the air until it landed face down, pages bent from the fall. On the floor, I blinked. It took me a moment, several moments, to get my bearings. I’m…home? I’m not in the cave. I smiled sheepishly to the empty room. I’m safe. It’s just a story. I’m fine.
[DOORBELL RINGS AGAIN]
Flashes of the shadowy figure come forefront to my mind. My heart skips a beat. Scrambling to my feet, I peer through the window and let out the breath I had been holding. It’s only UPS.
As I take one step at a time to the door, I glance back at my discarded copy of Still Life With Crows.
“Stupid book,” I grumble, though secretly it was a blast.
For those of you unfamiliar with the dynamic duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have had years of success in co-authoring best selling novels such as Relic, Still Life With Grows and the most recent, White Fire.
The above is an excerpt from Still Life With Crows, with my own reactions seeped in. The book was one that had me sitting on the edge of my seat (literally) until the UPS driver rang the doorbell. The intense scene that I had been immersed, in combination with the unexpected noise, nearly gave me a heart attack.
You might think it silly that I had such a reaction. Or that it was a one time occurrence. Sadly for me, that has not been the case. I can list a few times in which reading Preston/Child books has been hazardous to my health. 😉 They’ve pulled me into their world, melting the real one away until some noise or action startles me back to reality.
In Relic: It was the scene with the main group following D’Agosta in the sewers… or perhaps Pendergast in the room hiding from the creature. No, maybe it was during the exhibit, before the opening.
In Cemetery Dance: It was the scene with Nora Kelly at night in the museum, encountering Fearing who had died two weeks earlier.
In Dance of Death: It was Margo, lost in the museum exhibit, with the feeling that she was being followed. She was.
Thank you to two of my favorite authors, who make reading such an exciting experience!