Read an excerpt:
Luke entered the ring in the middle of the clearing with the sensation that he was being watched. The clearing had been natural at the center, but the further out from the ashes of the cold bonfire, the more trees had been cut down. The big trees had taken a chainsaw, the smaller ones came out with a pinching device that severed the inch-wide saplings. That the group that Luke was hunting had access to both those devices were worrisome.
He wasn’t a professional deprogrammer. There were people that could be flown in at the cost of a spiffy new car, but Kent’s parents weren’t rich. Hiring a private investigator was the best they could do. They didn’t need Kent kidnapped away from the group, they just wanted a term in the business that was called proof of life.
Lucas had taken their retainer and deposit. He was lucky they’d insisted on it. He wouldn’t have known what to do if they had thought that being Kent’s older brother’s best friend was enough for him to work free. His bachelor’s in sociology wasn’t going to pay the rent.
Kent had always been the weird kid, first to believe in conspiracy theories and questionable ‘science’ that gave water memory. Luke had been mortified when the kid had first come out, as though the fact they both liked cock suggested they had a more intimate relationship. The joke had been on him when they’d ended up dating three years later when Kent was in university.
Even the short time that they’d been together had been a struggle. Kent had believed HIV was a lifestyle problem, not a virus. They hadn’t had sex. And two months to the day they’d started dating, Kent had given the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech and bolted.
That was six years ago. Jacob had died four years ago in a car accident, leaving his wife and two kids alone. Luke had moved into the spare room to help Liz and the boys and had just never left. He’d even tried heterosexuality, as if getting really drunk and trying to sleep with one woman would somehow change his innate nature, but it had been a disaster.
He and Liz had never spoken of it again.
So if Kent’s parents hadn’t insisted on paying him, it would have been majorly awkward; Luke didn’t think he’d have the heart to ask them for the money.
The fire pit was cold. The ashes hadn’t been rained on. It had been a long dry fall, just lately getting chilly. Tonight was absolutely freezing. He had on long underwear and four layers of shirts.
The moon was setting over the trees. He didn’t know why he had broken his cover to check out the fire pit, but it was late and he was tired. He could have sublet the contract; he was paid enough to wait somewhere warm for the phone call that the group was at the clearing, but he owed it to Jacob to make sure his idiot baby brother was okay. No one had seen him in weeks.
Luke lived a rational life full of reality and a healthy dose of skepticism, but he walked back double-time to the farm where he’d paid to park his car. GPS didn’t always work in these woods and when it went haywire, it tried to put him hundreds of miles north.
The forest should have been full of nighttime sounds. He’d heard the unmistakable eerie cry of an owl the first night he’d come out, but ever since then, the woods had been completely silent. Not only still, but holding its breath. He was only a quarter mile from the highway to the south and Edmonton was close enough to stain the night sky with a bright orange smear of light on overcast nights, but it was as if he’d returned from deep in the bush when he stumbled out of the woods onto the farmer’s well-kept lawn.
He told himself that there had never been a wild wolf attack on a human in these parts and any bear that roamed the area would have started hibernating more than two months ago. Human beings were far more of a threat to him, but he would have heard anyone lumbering through the tinder dry woods. The farmer had complained about the group of people Luke had a hard time actually calling a cult, but the forest was government land. The only hope Luke had for official support was the fire ban still in place from the dry summer, but the fire pit could have been unused for months. How much threat could a cult be that observed local bans?
But the group of people that might not have been a cult had some really strange ideas on the scientific benefit of weeks-long fasting, and the last time Kent’s family had seen the kid, his clothes were hanging off him and he was babbling, even for him. That was a direct quote. Whatever he had been saying, his mother chosen not to repeat it to Luke. It was probably too embarrassing rather than too upsetting. Luke had been tangentially involved during the 2012 end-times fiasco, and he understood. Kent had the passion to believe blue was green if enough crazy videos had cropped up on the sites he visited.
Luke’s green car was just a dark color under the garage light. When Luke got closer, he saw it was covered in frost.
It hadn’t been a damp evening and the farmer’s rusted old pickup with the rounded fenders didn’t have a flake of the thick frost on it. Maybe the farmer had had it out that night, even though it looked like it hadn’t moved since the years Luke had wanted a cabbage patch kid for Christmas.
A single handprint was melted onto the middle of the windshield. Despite his carefully cultivated rationality, an answering shiver ran down Luke’s spine. But the car started just fine. With the heater blasting and the help of the snow brush, the windshield wipers swiped the handprint out of existence.