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Jubal is the last Carlyle, and lives near Seattle, far away from his Abenaki ancestors. A letter from a lawyer draws him and his best friend, Sal, to Vermont and the town of Whitewater. Soon they are right in the middle of the old conflict that drove Jubal's parents away just before his birth.
Whitewater is suffering and not just from the economic downturn. Unleashed by one man's obsession to call back the spirit of his dead wife, and by the well-meaning but flawed actions of another, dark forces are bringing depression and hopelessness.
Jubal's father had neither the talent nor the wish to attempt the task of driving back the incursion, but Jubal knows he has to try. He must find a way to reverse the process before the malaise spreads. But he has no knowledge, no training, just instinct - and Sal. Always Sal, who is rapidly becoming far more than a friend with benefits. The dangers they face are insidious, and more than their lives and sanity are at risk.
“Was wondering when you were going to wake up,” said the voice.
Since his head currently felt as if an axe was embedded in it, coherent thinking wasn’t an option. Jubal managed a slurred, “Shut up,” and tried to open his eyes. It didn’t happen. His lids seemed to be glued shut. Not that it fully registered with him. The mere effort had been enough to send the pain soaring to a new level.
“You don’t want to think about moving just yet.” The deep voice sounded wryly amused. Jubal decided he hated the guy, whoever he was. “You got a minute or so.”
“Wha…?” he groaned. At the same time he became aware of bruising pressure across his chest and legs. A hard and jagged cage-like something enclosed his body. He heard the pings of cooling metal, the steady drip-drip of leaking gasoline. Smelt it as well. Not good. His memory surged back in a nauseating rush.
He’d been returning home after his shift at the forest ranger station, looking forward to getting out of the deluge that hadn’t let up all day, and into a hot shower. Friday night with the rain lashing down, he’d had the back roads leading from Seattle’s Capitol State Forest to himself. Until a deer had come out of nowhere, dashed in front of him in a flash of glistening wet hide and black eyes. He’d slammed on his brakes and—nothing at all after that.
“You don’t want to hurl either,” the man said. “Trust me.”
“Help me, for fuck’s sake!” Jubal snarled. He tried to raise his right arm so he could scrub at his eyes, but the pain struck again and he nearly passed out.
“Can’t.” The man didn’t sound regretful, just matter-of-fact. “You gotta do it yourself. And if I was you, I’d start right about now. Bastard’s struck a match.”
“Mother-fuck—” A faint crackling sound started up and another smell assaulted his nostrils. Something was burning.
Panic exploded through Jubal in a scorching tide. He tried to simultaneously shove off whatever was pinning him, roll over and get to his feet. He failed at all three. The agony was oddly distant, but the whoosh of flames and heat were not. His fear became a savage beast that clawed at his brain, at any vestige of self-control that remained. There was only the all-consuming need to be somewhere else—
Something tore deep inside him and Jubal howled. He must have blacked out for a while, because the next thing he knew the biting weight had gone from his body and his arms were free. Rain pattered on his upturned face, sliding its chilled fingers across his skin. He had just enough time to register the texture of the earth and grass beneath him before the gas tank exploded. A wave of heat scooped him up and dropped him into a puddle.
The rain did Jubal a favour. It softened and rinsed away the whatever it was gluing his eyes shut. He still couldn’t move his limbs, but he managed to force his eyes open.
Flames painted the night in flickering red light and shifting black shadows. The silhouette standing over him could have been a statue carved from jet and there were no other colours in Jubal’s world.
“Better late than never, I guess,” it said disparagingly. “Why is it always hard work with you, Jubal?”
“What the hell happened?” His voice was a wheezing croak, but he put every ounce of command into it that he could. “Call 911, for God’s sake!”
“No need. You’re outside the Butler place. He’s already called it in and he’s on his way over. See you around.”
Jubal lost track of things then. When he managed to blink his eyes open once more and focus, Pat Butler crouched beside him, swearing in a monotone.
“Jesus Christ, Jubal, hold still, don’t move! Don’t try to talk, just breathe. You’re gonna be fine, I swear.”
“Oh, my sweet Lord!” Ellen Butler bent over him, shielding him from the rain with her body. Her tears fell glittering like rubies. Their touch on his face scalded and froze at the same time. “Jubal, honey, you got to hold on…” She covered him with a quilt, careful not to move him. It did nothing to dispel the ice invading him.
“Heard the crash, saw the explosion,” Pat was saying. It sounded as if he was a long way off, in an echoing place. “You’re a lucky sonofabitch, Jubal. You got thrown clear before the tank blew. Hold on, son…” But the red and the black were swirling, merging into a foggy haze, and Jubal was swamped.
* * * *