Excerpt: Dead in the Water

This weekend, the eFestival of Words is hosting a little Halloween party on Facebook. As part of the festivities, we’re hosting book excerpts from horror, dark fantasy, and Halloween-themed ebooks.





About the Book


Nick Moore and Terry Banner investigate sleaze and mayhem for “The Investigators”… a website that’s been at the top of the Internet heap for several years. But reader interest has been sliding, and they’re desperate for a new scoop, something lurid and attention-grabbing. Something that will grab their readers by the throat and refuse to let them go.


Thompson Lake, a tiny town in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, seems to fill the bill. Seventeen people have died there under mysterious circumstances — a situation no one wants to talk about.


For good reason.


Welcome to Thompson Lake, Moore & Banner. It’s a great place to visit… but you might not get out alive.


Stalk the Author!



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Excerpt

Terry came to a place she’d spotted the day before, when she and Nick had walked out to the two motels: the town’s small, and obviously very old, cemetery. It sat back from the road a little ways, bounded on all four sides by a wrought-iron fence broken by a simply latched gate over a narrow driveway and another ungated gap meant for visitors arriving on foot. Terry walked around to the latter entry point and stopped just beyond it, looking around at the collection of grave markers, some of them flanked by small flags and other tokens of service in the military. A few were decorated with cones of artificial flowers, others with the emblem of the local fire department, one with an elaborate bouquet of daisies.


One gravesite was easily visible from anywhere in the cemetery: a granite and marble monument rising four feet above the ground, maybe six feet wide, all of it elaborately carved and topped with the stone portrait of a stern, bearded man.


Unsurprisingly, it was labeled THOMPSON.


“Wanted to keep it low-key, huh?” Terry asked aloud, with a small snort.


She’d read a little bit about the town’s founding family in the pages of Lakeside View. Andrew Thompson, no great fan of being surrounded by other people, and suffering a number of after-effects from his service in the Civil War – including the loss of one leg below the knee – had come to the deep woods of the Adirondacks late in the 1870s and had set about building himself a house with a view of the water. He brought with him a long-suffering wife and two children, a similarly long-suffering housekeeper/maid/cook/nanny named Berry, and a deaf boy named Hal, all of whom lived in a canvas tent beset by every conceivable variety of wildlife for the two years it took Andy Thompson to complete a house he deemed suitable to move into.


He might well have been Thompson Lake’s first murder victim, if his wife had been even a single degree less long-suffering. The tent was stifling in summer, offered no protection from the cold in the winter, and by the end of the two years the various members of the Thompson family had been bitten by snakes half a dozen times, had lost a noticeable amount of their provisions to raccoons (as well as losing enough weight that they could all be referred to as “gaunt”), and had forgotten what it was like to bathe in hot water.


For all of that, Andrew Laine Thompson’s family – including the multi-talented Berry and the mostly silent Hal – loved him dearly.


Gradually, other families joined the Thompsons along the shore of the tiny lake Andrew had stumbled upon. The others kept their distance, allowing him his privacy and the peace and quiet he craved, but over the next decade or so, with his okay and the aid of his skill with a saw and a hammer, they built an entire town. They laid down roads, set up a fire department, a post office, and a one-room school, invited a doctor and a teacher to join them, and created a town charter.


Thompson Lake became, by all accounts, a good place to live.


But it hadn’t proved to be so for the Douglas girls, Robert Smith, Dick Baylor, Carol Forester, and the others, five of whom were buried in this very cemetery. Terry visited their graves one a time, pausing at each one to offer a moment of prayer – and hoping briefly that there wasn’t a story here at all, that those seventeen people had simply been the victims of bad luck and coincidence.


It was cool here in the shadow of the trees that surrounded the cemetery on three sides. Terry, on her knees at the burial site of the Douglas girls – the marker etched with both names, although Anna Douglas’s body had never been found – hugged her jacket more tightly around herself and tried not to shiver. Her head had begun to ache again, and she thought about returning to the diner to grab a quick meal in the company of the cheerful and generous Fran.


Somewhere, some distance away, someone was singing.


Terry recognized the song after a moment, an old standard from World War II, the kind of song that would stick in your head, cheerful and upbeat – the kind of song that was meant to improve the mood of people enduring years of conflict, deprivation and loss. She hummed a few bars of it softly as she climbed to her feet, feeling chilled almost to the bone. Coffee, she thought: a big mug of coffee was what she needed. Maybe some hot chocolate, if the diner had that on the menu.


A bolt of pain shot through her head, and for a moment she was sure she was going to vomit.


She glanced down at the Douglas girls’ grave, disoriented and nearly numb with cold, and thought about the scenes in all those old horror movies where the white, bony hand of someone long dead thrust up through the soil, fingers flailing, its only aim to seize the living and haul them down into the earth. Nothing like that was happening, of course; the soil over the grave was undisturbed, but Terry stumbled backward nonetheless, gasping for breath, certain she was no longer alone. Her mind was blank until she reached the narrow gap in the fence. She stopped there, grateful that the gap stood in a pool of warm sunlight, and hauled in air until her heart stopped thundering.


My God. Get a grip, would you?


There was no one in the cemetery. The dead hadn’t risen; no tattered, half-decomposed form was pursing her across the grass.


Off in the distance, someone was still singing about apple trees.


You’re not gonna tell Nick about this. He’ll laugh his ass off.


She was alone, save for a small bird perched on the top rail of the fence some fifteen feet away. The little creature watched her closely as she tried to calm herself. Just a bird, she thought, but its scrutiny unnerved her and her gorge rose, sending her tumbling to her knees so she could dry-heave into the stubby grass alongside the gate.

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