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Cold Fear
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ISBN-10: 1-77115-033-5
Genre: Supernatural/Horror/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Length: 330 Pages
Published: October 2012

From inside the flap

On an isolated expanse of tundra near the tiny subarctic community of Churchill, Manitoba, an ancient evil has been awakened... and now it is ready to feed.

Ben Russell has just lost his young wife, his job, and any semblance of the happiness he once had. His trip to Churchill to visit his former brother-in-law-turned-RCMP-corporal is a last ditch effort to pick up the pieces of his shattered life. But Ben soon finds himself living a nightmare as his trip turns into a terrifying journey that will test the very boundaries of reality ... and his sanity. Someone... or some thing... is slaughtering the unsuspecting inhabitants of Churchill, Manitoba: Something with the ferocious power of a hungry polar bear. And now it's chasing Ben.

Cold Fear (Excerpt)

Chapter One

They called him Crazy George, and sometimes the Mad Trapper, but George McDonald didn’t mind very much. He was a solitary man, always had been, and that was just fine by him. Ever since the first time his pappy took him out on the land to show him how to hunt and trap almost forty years ago, he had fallen in love with the wide-open space of the barren tundra. But it wasn’t barren to George. Oh no. Maybe it looked devoid of life to the throngs of tourists who flocked to Churchill every fall to see the bears, but to George McDonald, it was teeming with life.

He enjoyed the fall and winter for the trapping and hunting that sustained him, but truth be told, summer held a special place in his heart. During the region’s short summers, the arctic flora brought vitality to the land that, for George, was unmatched. And now looking at the slate-gray October sky, he felt a pang of loss for the beauty of those far too fleeting weeks.

Winter’s almost on us now. Surprised she’s as late as she is.

"In’t that right, Samik, old boy?" he asked his companion. But the large lab- shepherd-cross had his own business to attend to as he busily sniffed at the mossy rocks.

George surveyed the bay, tinted gunmetal gray by the foreboding sky. Small whitecaps punctuated the surface of the frigid water. The wind was picking up as well, possibly threatening snow.

We could use some snow. Gonna be a late freeze this year. Last thing we need ’round here’s hungry polar bears.

He shouldered his thirty-ought-six, glad he’d decided to bring it instead of the shotgun. Last week a bear had roamed right into town in broad daylight, just as big as Billy-be-damned. The Department of Natural Resources had gone out with their cracker guns in the hopes of scaring it away, but the creature simply ignored the ruckus and went about his rounds of the local garbage boxes. Finally, someone - probably Randy Sparks - had had the good sense to get the dart gun. They’d knocked the sumbitch out and airlifted it, via chopper, up the coast. Usually the bears steered clear of town during the daylight hours, but lately they had gotten bolder, and he had chosen to carry his rifle now more often than not.

He blamed the tourist trade. Though good for the local economy, it was bad for the bears. They just didn’t possess the same wariness of humans anymore. They had grown accustomed to the sight of all those damn Tundra Buses filled to capacity with ogling southerners. It was a shame, really. It would take a real tragedy before anything would be done about it, and by then it would be too late. Some poor tourist, or maybe even a local, was gonna meet with a bad end; of this he was sure.

A late freeze up of the bay wouldn’t help matters, either. The sooner the bay froze, the sooner the bears ventured out onto the pack ice to hunt the seals that sustained them over the long winter months. No ice meant no seals, and no seals meant hungry bears. And hungry bears were dangerous bears.

Samik continued to huff and chuff as he went about, head bent, sniffing everything he could get his snout on. George smiled. Looking for lemmings again. "You never learn, do ya?" he chuckled. Last time, Samik had managed to capture and eat two of the little critters on an outing just like this one. They’d given him the trots something fierce and he’d slunk about the cabin with a sheepish look on his face for two whole days. But here he was, at it again. Apparently it hadn’t been a lesson learned.

He watched as the dog disappeared over a rocky embankment. He’d let the dog have a few more sniffs before heading back. To tell the truth, he liked their little walks as much - if not more - than Samik did, although on a more profound level than his four-legged friend. You only had to go ten or so miles down the coast, away from town, before you found yourself in a land unspoiled by the encroachment of modern civilization, if you could even call it that. Out here there were no visible power lines, no garbage, and no graffiti-sprayed rocks: CHAZ ’91, RONA LOVES T.J., EAT IT RAW, TINA IS A SKANK HO, and for this he was grateful. It was his sanctuary, his safe haven. And if people wanted to call him Crazy George, or even the Mad Trapper of Churchill, then they were welcome to it. To George, out here was what really mattered. Out here was where he belonged.

Samik’s frantic barking brought George’s thoughts back to the present. He still couldn’t see the dog, but he could hear him clear enough, yipping to beat all hell. Christ, he hoped it wasn’t a bear. Samik was a big dog, but he was a lover, not a fighter.

George grabbed the rifle from his back as he climbed the treacherous rock incline. He was careful not to step in any holes camouflaged by weeds or spongy muskeg, all the while keeping his eyes on the place where he thought Samik might be. The dog was still barking frantically. He sounded more like a small poodle than a large shepherd cross.

"I’m comin’ Samik, hold yer water."

He scanned the rocky embankment as he crested the hill. All but Samik’s tail was obscured by a large rock some twenty feet away; it waved frantically, as if in surrender. George had a vision of Samik with his head caught in the jaws of a hungry bear and chased the thought away just as quickly as it had formed. If Samik had caught a bear off guard, the only thing that would be waving would be George, waving good-bye to the best damn tracking dog he’d ever laid eyes on.

Just the same, he thumbed the safety off and walked a wide berth around the boulder. He could now see the dog’s rump and hind legs. It looked like he was pulling at something, legs straining beneath him. George came around further, and could now see a large mossy mound of carefully piled rocks in front of the dog. It looked like some type of cache that someone had constructed, hoping it would be concealed by the ridge’s rocky outcropping.

He let out his breath, not realizing he had been holding it.

Samik, either sensing or smelling the approach of his master, whined miserably.

"Well look at you," George smiled, more with relief than amusement. "Ya gone and got yerself stuck."

Samik scraped half-heartedly at the paw that was wedged between two football sized rocks. His tail had stopped its frantic dance and was now tucked snugly between his legs, the whole of him shivering with fear, or shame, or both.

Little a both, George reckoned. He knelt beside the dog and carefully laid his rifle down within easy reach, in case he needed it.

Samik licked his master’s ear gratefully, then sneezed twice, loudly, spraying the side of George’s face with warm dog spittle. It was his excited sneeze, something Samik usually reserved for when George would come home from Sunday mass. George didn’t mind too much. After all, it was better than piddling on the floor like some dogs did when they got all fired up.

George slowly lifted the topmost rock, careful not to let it slip and mash the dog’s paw. Samik wasted little time pulling the appendage free, and retreated a safe distance to nurse his wounded paw - and pride.

"There, that oughtta learn ya," he admonished the dog, not unkindly, as he got to his feet. "That lemming sure had yer number, dint he?" He chucked the stone back onto the pile and stepped away just as the side of the structure, weakened by the removal of the supporting stone, fell away in a miniature rockslide.

Samik sprang to his feet, barking frantically at the rock pile as though it were a living thing.

"Samik, hush now! Yer actin’ a damn fool!"

The dog quieted but continued to circle the collapsed pile, eyeing it warily while growling a low guttural sound like the soft purr of an idling engine.

George scratched his beard thoughtfully. He was no expert, but it looked to him like the structure had been there a long time. Whether it was fifty years or two hundred he didn’t know, but he did recognize it. It was Inuit. Not as ornate as the Inukshuks sometimes constructed as markers, but Inuit nonetheless - probably a cache to protect their food from any curious or hungry animals that called the area home.

Or it was a burial cairn.

Christ, he hoped not. The last thing he wanted to do was disturb a sacred burial site; not to mention that Parks Canada would slap a fine on him just as quick as look at him for tampering with an historic landmark. He regarded the mound more closely now. It was certainly big enough to house a body.

Just put ’em back, he told himself. Put ’em back like you found ’em and keep quiet. No harm no foul. Chances are, yer the first person to lay eyes on this thing since it was built. It wasn’t exactly out in broad daylight and this ain’t exactly a high traffic area, so just put it back and git the hell out of here.

George hunkered back down and began replacing the stones. He barely heard the growl that was rising in Samik’s throat, no longer the gentle idle from a moment before, but an alarmed crescendo. He was simply too busy trying to replace the stones in some semblance of their previous order. So intent was he on getting it right that he almost didn’t notice the skull in his hand.

"Jesus, please us!" he gasped in alarm, almost dropping it where it would have shattered into a million jagged pieces on the rocks.

Samik, sensing this new turn of events, went off into a fresh gale of frenzied barks.

"Samik!" George shouted, not turning to look at the dog, but keeping his eyes locked on the small, parchment-white skull in his hands. "Shut the hell up!"

Samik obliged, but it was only a temporary respite. He lowered his haunches and rested his head on his paws, growling miserably to himself.

George turned the skull over in his hands so it was face up. The orifices were partly obscured by moss and filth and he gently rubbed most of it away until what he held in his hands more closely resembled a skeletal face. As he worked away the muck from the right eye socket, he noticed a small stick lodged there. He gave it a tug but it wouldn’t give. Whatever it was, it was in there good. He worked more of the gunk away from the opening and stuck his fingers between the bone and the stick. There was something else in there - something cold and hard.

Just leave it, his mind warned him. Put it back in the rock pile and just leave it the hell alone. Whattaya wanna poke around in there for, anyway? It’s a goddamn skull. You know, as in formerly the head of another human being. Shit, yer dog has more sense than you, so just leave it alone.

But he couldn’t leave it alone. He felt like a smoker trying to throw away that last pack. He just couldn’t bring himself to do it.

He wriggled his fingers some more. It felt like stone, and it felt sharp.

An arrowhead. It must be an arrowhead. Christ, that means -

He almost dropped the skull a second time. An arrowhead. Which meant that whoever this was, was killed. Murdered, not to put too fine a point on it, he heard himself pun.

George felt icy fingers caress his spine, a feeling that had nothing to do with the chill wind that had risen. He had stumbled upon the hidden grave of a murdered man or woman perhaps decades or centuries old. He now wished they had never come out this way. He had actually meant to go out to Goose Creek and check on his small trapper’s shack, take inventory and see what supplies he needed for the coming winter. But instead they had come out here, seemingly on a whim. George wasn’t a superstitious man, but it suddenly didn’t feel like such a whim.

So, what? You were meant to come out here?

He didn’t rightly know.

Realizing he still had his finger stuck in the skull’s eye socket, George yanked it out as if he’d been burned. He rubbed his fingers absently on his coat, trying to wipe the nasty, greasy feel from them.

Put it back! Put it back! Put the fucking thing back, an echoing voice shouted down a long forgotten corridor. His mind was screaming at him now, but it seemed to be coming from very far away.

Samik whined miserably, eyebrows arched in unhappy parentheses.

George couldn’t put it back. Not until he knew for sure.

He grasped the remains of the arrow’s shaft - greasy with age, rot, and mud - and tugged gently. Nothing. He increased his grip and tried again. This time he felt give.

Samik growled with sudden alarm, rose slowly to his feet, and began to back away cautiously. His hackles were raised and he bared his teeth, lips twitching with each renewed spate of growls.

George paid him no mind. All his attention, all his energy, was focused on the skull in his hands and the murderous object lodged in its eye. Had he been able to see himself at that moment, he might have realized that he looked quite insane. And he would have seen the truth, for at that moment George McDonald was completely off his rocker.

Giving it one last tug, the stick came free in his hand. At the end of it was indeed a flat and chipped piece of stone fashioned into a crude but effective arrowhead, caked with mud and slime.

I’ll be damned. I was right, it is a-