In the wooded hills of Southeast Missouri, the pace of life is far different than the bustling clamor of the suburbs which surround major metropolitan areas of the country. Even today, the rhythm of the hills, pays little heed to a time clock, or sweep second hand. There is a time of warmth and a time of cold. There is a time when the clouds offer nothing for a dry land, and there are times when the storms come.
In 1961 the bootheel was a world apart, separated from concrete, steel, and neon, by more than just miles. All manner of creatures sought food and shelter under the dense canopy of foliage in the deep woods. The gently rolling hills even offered Mason Powell, a wounded Korean War veteran, a measure of peace. But as the weather heated up in the summer of '61, the small towns bordering the swamps and forests of the bootheel region were rocked by brutal slayings.
Conservation Agent Lynn Moody asks the reclusive Mason Powell to track an elusive killer, a predator armed with razor-sharp talons and lethal fangs. But in the swamps and heavily wooded hills the advantage belonged to the hunted, not the hunter. That advantage became apparent when traps and determined hunters failed to bring down the predator. Reluctantly, Mason resorts to stalking the killer alone, hoping to avoid becoming prey. In the deep shadows beneath the velvet green forest canopy, Mason Powell learns a grim lesson. There is a very good reason people fear things that go bump in the night!
There was evidence of something making a meal at the edge of the trampled corn, the edge nearest the tree line. Marbury stared uneasily at what may have been bits of viscera on the ground. From the edge of the cornfield, there was a flattened trail of grass leading to the tree line where flattened weeds and young saplings pointed at a path deeper into the woods and the foothills of Crowley’s Ridge. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up on end.
He got the distinct feeling he was being watched. He stood stock still, straining to hear anything to indicate that he was not alone. The air was still. He didn’t see any threat or hear any sounds of movement, but there was a palpable feeling of awareness. There was an ominous presence—something dangerous, very near. Its presence nearly held him paralyzed.
He backed slowly back into the cornfield, making his way back toward the tractor, carefully weaving his way through the stalks as slowly and silently as he could manage. Once clear of the rows of corn, he sprinted for the tractor. Kenneth Marbury had no idea how fast his new tractor was, but all of a sudden it occurred to him that now just might be the time to find out!
* The image of the tracks of a mountain lion are thanks to the National Park Service. The cover image is one of my digital photographs with special effects applied using Photoshop. The original photo was of a lion's skull, taken at the Knoxville Zoo in Knoxville, Tennessee.
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Another thriller by Steve Croy is Night of the Beast. Read it on your Kindle, or order a copy in print.