Take a Sneak Peek Into "The Pass" If You Dare...

Okay, the countdown to the release of "The Pass" is on! Which means it's time for Sneak Peek Saturdays! 

From here on out, up until the book's release, we'll be bringing you peeks into this brand-new novel (which FYI, is the first installment of a trilogy of books). Originally, Rich and I had planned on just one fairly good-sized book, but soon the story and the characters kept growing to the point we began talking about making it a two-volume tale. But of course, again the story kept expanding to where we finally said "FINE! We'll make it a trilogy... OKAY?" That seemed to satisfy our two muses. At least for now.

There's a good possibility that further stories involving some if not most of these characters may be looming large in the future. But for now, we just have this one rather epic tale for you.

And like any good epic, it contains a number of key and supporting characters. So, we've decided to take advantage of Sneak Peek Saturdays to introduce you to some of those characters and give you glimpses of who they are and what they're like. 

This week I'm introducing you to a number of the more major members of our cast. So without further ado, sit back and dive into a large section of Chapter 1 of "The Pass"... 

(Another of Gabby Callan's beautiful artwork you will find within the pages of this exciting novel)


November 1846

    “Damn you, Hastings,” gasped Jacob Long as he struggled to remain upright in the waist deep snow. The small bundle that hung from his neck let out a pitiful cry.
    “No, no it’s all right, Sweetie,” he murmured soothingly and made for the nearest tree. Once there he propped himself up and made gentle rocking motions. “I’m not gonna let any of them touch you. We’ll get help, you’ll see.”
    As if to mock his words, a howl rose above the blowing wind. They were getting closer.
    Yet in spite of the approaching danger, the baby quieted down. Neither of them was going to last much longer if he didn’t find help soon and he knew it. Catching his breath, he straightened to his full six-and-a-half-foot height and plunged headlong into the storm once more. The snow was deep, but his long legs allowed him to continue forward in spite of the seemingly never-ending obstacle and the torrential breeze which seemed to be trying to drive him back.
    As he struggled, a part of his brain kept lamenting that he hadn’t followed the path the Reed’s group had taken. But Amanda had insisted they try to catch up with Donner and his group. “Cousin Lansford assured me that Mr. Donner will watch out for us,” she’d said.
He’d always done everything he could to make her happy, so he’d listened, and it had cost them... dearly.
    Shortly after the snow began to fall, they came. First they’d gotten the cattle, then the oxen, and finally his beloved Amanda. He’d been out searching for food and had actually shot a deer and was bringing it back when he found them swarming over her like a pack of wolves. One of them had just started towards Sara when he let loose with his rifle. The noise startled the others and caused them to scatter. Especially after they saw how his shot sent their companion flipping head over heel before landing in the snow where it writhed in agony before he put another bullet through its head.
    He’d rushed to his beloved’s side, but she was already gone. Tears ran down his face as he prepared to bury her, but then Sara began to cry. It took him less than a second to realize his daughter was crying not from hunger, but fear. The things he’d driven away were coming back. Grabbing his daughter and what few supplies he could, including jars of milk he’d gotten from the cattle before they’d died, he fled into the night hoping to lose them. But those damned things had given chase.
    However, luck had been on his side. Out of desperation, he’d crossed a stream where his pursuers came to a halt. Whatever evil moved them seemed unable to cross the running water allowing him and his daughter to escape. But their reprieve had been a brief one.
    Within days, they’d found his trail again and now they were closing in. If he could just get to a cave or someplace where he could start a fire, he was sure he could hold them off till morning. They never seemed to follow during daylight, which would allow him to put more distance between them. Unfortunately, he could barely see anything in this storm.
    The roar of the wind seemed to drown out all sound. He could barely hear his own labored breathing above it. For all he knew his pursuers could be practically on top of him and he wouldn’t hear them until it was too late.
    Pushing forward he kept muttering to himself, “Got to keep moving. Can’t let them have Sara! I must get her to safety. Catch up with Donner and his party, they’ll help us, they’ll…”
Suddenly the storm seemed to ease, and the air became still.
    The man paused in mid-step. Until recently, being in the woods held no fear for him. He’d been a hunter and trader most of his life. In fact, he had spent not one but two winters in horrendous conditions and survived. Therefore, he knew how storms behaved and they didn’t act like this.
    Silently he crossed himself. He had no idea exactly what this place was, but it seemed that the law of God and nature did not apply here. He stood there wondering if he should retrace his steps when his ears detected movement nearby.
    Turning towards the sound, he spotted several pairs of glowing eyes staring at him from the darkness. They were low to the ground, so he knew it couldn’t be the ones he’d been fleeing from. Besides, these eyes were animal, not human. ‘Wolves,’ he thought with despair.
    A pack of them, and probably half-starved. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be bothering with him. Then again, they could simply want his daughter, and he wasn’t about to let that happen.
    He started reaching for his gun, then thought better of it. He could definitely nail one or two, and the sound might scare the rest of the pack off. But if they were as hungry as he suspected, even the sound of gunfire might not be enough. Plus, he’d need to reload between shots. No, he’d have to deal with them another way.
    Reaching over his shoulders, he pulled out a pair of wicked looking axes saying, “Wolf meat is as good as any in this weather.” Brandishing his weapons in a meaningful way, he grinned wickedly and added, “And I reckon I’m hungrier than any of you. So, who’s gonna be first?”
    The animals paused in mid-step.
    They were hungry all right. But it was clear that they could sense he would not be easy prey.
    For a brief moment, he thought just maybe they were going to back off. But then Sara gave a little cry.
    Immediately, the animals began advancing once more.
    Realizing they hadn’t known about her, now he was even more determined to keep his child safe at all costs. As the lead wolf drew closer, he took a defensive position: one arm waving an axe in front, while the other was poised to strike with its companion.
    The animal uttered a low menacing growl and started to spring… and suddenly vanished.
Jake blinked in disbelief. It had happened so fast. Something big had shot past him and had taken the animal with it.
    For an instant, he thought about the others, but quickly shook his head. The movement was all wrong. They moved in a strange jerking and hopping fashion. The thing that had taken the wolf had moved in a fast almost fluid motion.
    The eerie silence seemed to close in once again, only to be punctured by an animal’s scream that ended almost as quickly as it came. The other wolves took note and began to look uneasy.
    Soon a slicing sound pierced the gloom, and the smell of blood began to permeate the air.
Jake thought for a moment the smell would drive the wolves into a frenzy, but instead it seemed to frighten them. A few even began to whimper.
    More strange sounds erupted from the darkness then a figure stepped into view. It was a wolf, but far larger than any he’d ever seen. The beast moved on all fours and slowly approached him and the pack. It took Jacob a moment to realize that the beast was walking on top of the snow without breaking the surface, in spite of its massive size.
    The pack seemed to realize that this newcomer was nothing like them and began to back away warily but were not actually turning tail and running off.
    Meanwhile, the great wolf snarled and barked at the pack which clearly outnumbered it.
    To Jake it sounded like a challenge, but none of the wolves seemed inclined to accept and he couldn’t blame them. He could feel his own knees struggling to keep him upright, as one thought raced through his brain. ‘Has this thing been sent from Heaven or Hell? Are we to be delivered or slaughtered?’
    As if hearing his thought, the animal turned its gaze on him and immediately Jake fell to one knee. Those eyes… burning with crimson fire… and age. Great age, coupled with anger…
    Still clutching the axes in his hands, he prepared himself for the attack he was sure was inevitable. Unfortunately, it did not come from in front of him like he expected.
    Instead, it came from behind. The others had found him…

    The great beast had been studying the human with curiosity. How had this individual found this spot? Normally, his kind simply paused and walked around after shaking slightly. But this one had actually entered the area, armed no less. Furthermore, the man had brought wolves with him. Not that it minded. It had needed a new skin and the leader of the pack had been just the right size.
    The animal had put up a good, if somewhat short struggle, but that was mostly due to its being malnourished. The skin, which had been practically hanging in areas on the animal, was now stretched taught, filled with muscle and power it had never known before.
    Yes, this new skin was just right. The other wolves would probably follow. It was hard to say. The scent of their former leader was pouring off the skin, but they would be picking up on the ‘other’ smells as well. Eagle, coyote, rabbit, deer, wild boar, bear… so many scents, but underlying all of them was power. They were in the presence of a new master, one who could reward or punish them without a second thought.
    But right now, its thoughts were focused solely on the man kneeling in the snow before it. He was clutching something to his chest… his offspring? A newborn? No, the scent was wrong. It was several months old, but still too fragile and helpless to be on its own. It needed the protection of its parent, the man.
    Staring into the eyes of the man it could see that he possessed the determination and a willingness to fight, in spite of his fear. Yet there was something else, a hint of awe and hope?
    At that moment, the child gave a cry. It sounded almost like the newborn of one of the big cats, only there was something more in the child’s voice. A warning of approaching danger.
    Immediately, the great wolf raised its hackles as its nose caught the scent of the approaching threat. The dead things were coming!
    A wave of anger swept through the beast’s form which seemed to swell and grow even larger. How dare they invade this place! No matter, they would pay dearly for this intrusion. As for the ones who led them here...
    The beast slowly shifted its gaze back to the man, but instead found its eyes focusing on the little one in his arms. The child had stopped crying and her eyes were fixed on its own.
    ‘So small… so weak… so easy to take… the pack is so hungry…’
    The thought had come unbidden. This was not unusual. The skin remembered the mind that had inhabited it before. The skin always remembers.
    The creature shifted slightly, but did not attack. The… infant? Yes, that was what it was called, was still looking its way and actually reached out a tiny hand…
    ‘So small… so helpless…’
    Suddenly, the moment was broken. The dead things had arrived.
    From out of the darkness they leapt, covering huge distances in a single bound. They were shaped like men and had their arms extended, but there the similarities ended. Their smell was all wrong. They reeked of years old carrion, even though they were perfectly intact. The color of their skin was wrong, and several had long white hair. Their clothing was not like that of any humans the beast had ever seen before. Except that one time some years ago when a stranger came with others who buried boxes not far from here…
    But now was not the time to remember. The smell of blood was in the air.
    The man with the child was hacking at the dead things with the weapons in his hands which seemed to be proving effective. Two heads were already lying on the snow at the man’s feet.
    It was almost like watching a dance. The twin axes seemed to glisten in the moonlight as they arced and curved in time with their wielder, who spun and wove between opponents. Soon an arm and another head fell at the man’s feet, as the blades continued their intricate motions. Yet, in spite of the growing number of fallen body parts, more of the enemy kept appearing on the scene.
    With a low guttural growl, the great wolf turned to the pack and barked a terse command. Several of the wolves began to back up, whimpering like frightened pups, while the rest stood their ground. But none leapt to the attack as commanded.
    Frustrated the great wolf was about to repeat his command when several of the jumping things landed in their midst and began tearing into the pack. Snarls and cries of pain ripped through the night air, as several animals found themselves being rendered asunder by talon-like hands that sliced into their fur and skin with ease.
    Most of the animals turned and fled, but a few remained as they found themselves surrounded.
    The great wolf could stand no more. With a roar that seemed to shake the trees it leapt into the fray. Jaws slavering it grabbed one of the dead things and shook it like a rag doll until it heard the sound of snapping joints and cracking bones. Then it hurled the thing into the nearest tree where it made a most satisfying crunch.
    Without pause the beast took up a position in front of the remaining wolves and took out several more of the dead creatures in the same manner. Bloodlust filled the huge wolf’s mind, yet a small amount of reason managed to find its way to the surface and pointed out that the tide of battle was not changing in its favor.
    Looking about, the beast saw each and every opponent it had hurled aside was getting back up. Dislocated limbs, and snapped necks, were clicking back into place as the things rushed to rejoin the fight.
    Turning to the man with the weapons, it saw that he too was still hard pressed by the onslaught of their common enemy. Yet, the ones whose heads he’d removed, which now totaled four, had remained dead. Others, who had gaping wounds, or had lost a hand or arm, were still attacking. For that matter, so were their dismembered limbs.
     At that moment, the man looked up and cried, “Behind you!”
    Turning, the great beast found its first victim had fully recovered and was grabbing its upper and lower jaws. With a strength it had never known in any human, the great beast found its mouth being forced open wider and wider.
    For the first time, in its long existence, the being who wore the wolf skin began to experience fear.
    As self-preservation kicked in, the beast rose up on its hind legs which elongated and took on a more human shape. At the same time, its front legs stretched and thickened into two fur-covered arms, while the paws took on a more hand-like countenance and grasped the offending hands forcing its mouth open.
    Grasping its opponent’s wrists, the beast snapped them like twigs freeing its mouth. Uttering a monstrous howl, it lunged forward and sank its teeth into the dead thing’s neck and with one great jerk, severed the head from the body.
    Immediately, the headless form went limp and fell to the ground where it lay still and did not get up.
    Still holding the head in its jaws, the bipedal beast began to raise its head in triumph, then stopped. Some of the blood from the severed head had slid into its mouth and the taste caused the beast to retch. Spitting the head out, the creature buried its muzzle in the snow, swallowing great heaps of white, as if to cleanse itself.
    At last the taste was expelled from its maw and the creature began to right itself when it heard the man with the axes scream. Looking up it saw one of the enemy had managed to rip the sling, which held the infant, from him.
    The dead being held the sling aloft and studied it curiously, as the child wriggled within and began to cry.
    “NO!” the man screamed as he struggled beneath the weight of several of the other dead men as they brought him down into the snow.
    Without pause, the great wolf launched itself forward and in one swift movement grabbed and ripped the arm holding the child aloft. It paused only briefly, to throw the still moving appendage away and then stared down at the infant who had ceased to bawl. Instead, she seemed to be staring at him in wonder. There was not the least scent of fear from her. Instead she seemed to be fascinated by his long snout and strange countenance.
    Suddenly, the babe seemed to gasp and without looking, his free hand shot out and grasped the neck of the dead thing, whose arm he’d removed. The thing writhed in his grip, slashing at him with its remaining talon clawed hand. The pain was great, but not enough to make him ease his grip.
    Eyes still focused on the child, he uttered a bark at the remaining three wolves which immediately came to his side and formed a tight circle with their bodies. Into the center of this living warmth, he lowered the baby in its sling. With one final command to the trio, he turned to the thing in his hand.
    At that same moment, the dead human’s nails extended to the length of a forearm and sliced into his side.


    So, there you have it dear friends. Did you like it? Did it grab your interest? Do you want more? 
    If so, there's good news. You'll get more in the next blog post where you'll get your first glimpses of our baddies of the piece, as well as more action and even a little heartbreak as the battle continues and one will fall, only for another to 'take his place'. 
    Until next week stay safe and keep writing and recording dear friends.


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