Alexis Caine survived an attack in the deserts of Afghanistan. An attack the government denied and discharged him for, leaving him broken and in a mental institution. What Alex saw that day in the desert continues to haunt him.
When a new job working as a bodyguard for a New Orleans ghost tour guide, Micah Richards, opens Alex’s eyes to a world of paranormal possibilities, he’s not sure he can believe his eyes. What if he’s not crazy after all? When a ritual murder in which two fellow tour guides die and a tourist vanishes, Alex wonders if he brought a curse down upon them all.
A shadow from the desert rears its nightmarish head offering Alex something he wants more than anything, but at what cost?
As a treat for this Throwback Thursday, here is the prologue for Stalked by Shadows:
He had no face. Or at least that’s what my brain told me. Rationally there were reasons. It was too dark out in the deserts of Afghanistan in the middle of the night. He was too far away. I was too tired to see properly, maybe I was dehydrated and delusional.
Except alarm bells went off in my brain. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Something wasn’t right. Again, the rational part of my brain tried to parse facts. The cut of his fatigues was familiar. Maybe he was out for a late-night dump, outside base, in the middle of nowhere, without a weapon, or backup.
I squinted through the night vision goggles, pushed them up, rubbed my eyes and then put them back down. The blur of his form didn’t change, just got closer as he headed my way. I radioed to the team, “Alpha Team, possible friendly outside base, Roger?”
The radio crackled back, “Location, over.”
I was on post, stationed behind a dune, flat on my stomach, about two dozen yards outside the base. A glance back through the darkness and I could see the vague outline of vehicles, no movement or heat signatures as those things would give the base away.
“North face,” I replied. “Friendly not accounted for? Over.” I asked. I’d been part of the team long enough to know everyone’s name and face, but in the gear, out here with nothing but sand and wind, everyone looked the same in the dark. Size and shape could sometimes help, but even that was pretty universal with soldiers used to long hikes with hundred-pound packs on their backs.
“No friendlies unaccounted for, over,” the voice crackled back.
But those were our fatigues. I squinted at him some more, trying to make out the face beneath the hat. He got closer, probably four dozen yards or so. The shadows seemed to distort his face, making it look ghoulish in the night vision lens, like it shifted, contorting, but that had to be the play of shadows. Real people didn’t look like that.
“Maybe another base? Any other channel chatter? Over.”
“None,” the radio spat back. “Nothing in our area. Nearest friendly twelve kilometers away. Over.”
What the fuck?
He was really close now, the face still distorted and shifting, a void with slits of contorting darkness where features should be. I’d never seen shadows do that to anyone.
It wasn’t a local, not in fatigues like that. “Advise. Unknown approaching. Not local. Not friendly. Over.” Fear intensified in my gut. I’d shoot if I had to, wouldn’t even be the first time, but he was close and each step made my heart pound faster with a feeling I couldn’t quite place. Dread?
“Drone shows no heat signatures, over.”
I hadn’t even heard the machine when my on-alert senses usually could pick up the heartbeat of the guy standing next to me, but it made sense that they would deploy one at the first hint of something unusual. My night vision gave me a vague heat signal, not unusual in the roasting evening temps, movement and shape, even if it did waver. Fuck.
The day before when we’d stopped in a small village, I’d overheard talk of something in Pashto, which for me wasn’t as fluent as Dari or as it was known internationally as Farsi. A story about jin, mythical spirits who tricked men into following them into the desert, only to kill them, or something along those lines.
My gut rolled over. It was legend. Talk. Probably to scare us. They had no idea any of us spoke the language. Most of the team spoke a few words in Farsi, none as fluently as I did. And none that I knew of could tell the difference between Dari and Pashto. I tended to pick up languages quickly, which is why I was always on point for communications despite being a weapons expert.
“Advise, over.” I aimed for his head, hands tightening around the barrel, of my gun, holding on for dear life while alarm bells screamed in my head.
“Backup headed your way, ETA minus one, over.”
Would he be on me before then? He was still coming. Shouldn’t he have reached me already? I could hear the approach of my team behind me, stealthy, moving quickly, but while the sand hid a lot of footsteps and the rustle of clothing, their whispers tended to echo off the small surfaces of the vehicles and tents when in an enclosed area. The sandstorm earlier in the day had forced the team to base early and in tight formation, which meant keeping a close watch on all sides until morning and we could move again now that the storm was over.
Two team members crawled up beside me, slow enough to not startle me, though I clung to the trigger and the image of whatever the fuck it was headed our way. Both stared out into the darkness, nothing but our night vision to give us clarity.
“Friendly?” I inquired of them.
Neither spoke for a minute.
“Unknown,” the one on the left said.
I glanced toward the guy on the right and through the night vision I could see him frowning as he stared out into the sand. Both men beside me had faces, defined and full of shadows but nothing like what was coming our way. I glanced back. The guy—or thing, whatever he was—wavered again, face distorting almost like he yawned, but opened his mouth too wide. It was something out of a horror movie, the unhinged jaw of a skeleton or some creepy cryptid, gaping into a void, which filled my stomach with rocks and terror.
I heard the two men beside me gasp. The one on the right scrambled back, tugging on my jacket as he went. “Pull back,” he said.
“Advise?” I inquired, confused.
The other scrambled away as well, dragging me back with them.
“Pull back to base,” the one from the right said again. Johnson. I recognized his voice. He tapped his radio. “Team regroup, over,” he said as he dragged me back toward the circle of vehicles. The man, or thing, or whatever the fuck it was, was still coming, filling me with a sense of doom.
Where to find Stalked by Shadows:
Many thanks to Lissa for sharing the prologue from Stalked by Shadows for Throwback Thursday, this week!