Wednesday’s Sampler: The Devil of Light by Gae-Lynn Woods
February 17, 2016
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle is showcasing some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Wednesday’s Sampler features an excerpt from The Devil of Light, a mystery of blood and cult rituals from Gae-Lynn Woods.
As one reviewer said: The Devil of Light is an extremely well crafted mystery, a complex web of treachery and betrayal building to a killer finale. I would recommend it to anyone who likes a good mystery, or just good writing.
When young Detective Cass Elliot responds to a report of domestic violence at the home of a prominent businessman, she finds him violently murdered in the barnyard with his battered wife unconscious near the tool that killed him.
Still raw from her own unsolved attack six years ago, Cass is stunned when confronted with graphic photographs scattered across their kitchen floor, and she wonders if the wife might’ve had cause to kill her husband. Cass and her partner Mitch Stone delve into a cunning world of blackmail and violence – and find a cult concealed for nearly a century beneath the genteel, small town façade of Arcadia in East Texas.
Their investigation triggers a brutal response from powerful men who will protect their identities at any cost. They unleash a ruthless killer whose actions create a media frenzy and destroy the fabric of trust within the police department.
Cass and Mitch circle closer to the cult’s few members, following a slim lead into a night lit by fire. A night that begins with a blood ritual and ends with Cass holding a man’s life – or death – in her hands and struggling to walk the fine line between vengeance and justice.
GOOBER’S BREATH CAUGHT IN his throat as the lawn mower sputtered to a stop in the middle of Possum Creek Bridge. This was a lonely stretch of road, infrequently traveled. Rare farmhouses rested at the end of rutted dirt tracks masquerading as driveways, and the heavy forest obscured the welcome warmth of electric light. Goober hated the dark. Monsters did their dirty work in the dark. They hid in the dark, beneath beds and in closets, under bridges and behind trees, lunging when your guard was down. Cries for help went unanswered in the dark. Alone was worse in the dark.
It was no surprise that he was afraid of the dark, or of being alone, for Goober’s origins were a mystery. He’d been found one morning nearly forty years ago, nestled in the gnarled roots of the ancient hanging tree on the courthouse lawn, sleeping peacefully next to the town drunk. A scandal of magnificent proportions ensued. Who was this child? Where had he come from? And where were his parents? The grapevine drums were beaten, gossip smoke signals went up, and the newspaper and radio made repeated announcements encouraging his parents to come forward. But no one came to claim the gentle-natured toddler whose passion for chocolate covered peanuts earned him his nickname. An elderly widow had taken the boy in, and so his life as Arcadia’s child began.
Goober wasn’t retarded, but he was slow at formal education. He never learned to read or write beyond a fourth grade level and he dropped out of school when he was sixteen, picking up odd jobs and developing a talent for gardening. When the widow died, she left Goober her small trailer and enough money to get by. For years he’d ridden a decrepit tandem bicycle, happily pedaling Forney County’s highways and byways. At some point, a generous soul had given Goober a red riding lawn mower with no blades. And at exactly that point, Goober entered the glorious world of combustible engines, whose maintenance requirements outstripped his abilities. Which brought him to his precarious position on the bridge this evening.
His eyes darted into the murky shadows surrounding Possum Creek as he twisted the mower’s key. Her engine whirred but refused to turn over, and as her groans faded into a desperate click, Goober was flooded with a sudden urge to pee.
Reluctantly, he lifted his long frame from the mower, his imagination running wild. He’d heard rumors of ghosts roaming the woods, the spirits of slaughtered cowboys and Indians seeking revenge for past wrongs. Standing stock-still with his stomach churning, Goober waited. When only the night noises reached him, he gathered his courage, dried his sweaty palms on his overalls and unhooked the small can bungeed to a platform behind the seat. Unlocking the mower’s gas cap, he prepared to tip the can up when starlight shimmered across the fuel tank’s gaping maw. He paused, and the memory of stopping at the filling station this morning streaked across his brain. Confused, he frowned at the mower, forgetting his fear as he struggled to understand why she wouldn’t start.
A sudden clanking rang across the still night and drove Goober into a squat. His heart pounded as he clutched the gas can against his chest and scuttled behind the mower, breath coming in shallow gasps. He tried to listen past the blood thrumming in his ears but the evening remained stubbornly closed, refusing to reveal its secrets. Rattled but reassured that the noise had stopped, Goober rose on shaking legs and relocked the tank before returning the can to its platform. One hand on her seat, he examined the mower with a mixture of dread and affection. His source of freedom had failed him and Goober’s childlike mind cranked through his options. Slowly, he realized that he had no choice but to walk to town, through the terrifying night.
He tried to swallow, but found that his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth. Lifting his baseball cap to run a hand over his thinning hair, Goober turned resolutely away from the mower and sought the city’s glow arcing over the black forest. He firmed the cap back on his head and hummed a jumpy tune, walking steadily toward Arcadia, eyes fixed on the strip of road before him.
The blossoming of an unnatural radiance off to his left spooked him. A bright fire danced among the tall pine trees and the vague silhouette of a distant building engulfed in flames captivated him. A devilish ghost danced between Goober and the flickering light, startling him from his trance. Heart pounding, bladder releasing a warm torrent, he turned and fled from Possum Creek, too terrified to scream.
In the blushing night air, a monster slunk to the edge of the road, taking in the man pelting toward town. He moved to the lawn mower, his amber eyes narrowing. Turning to the fleeing man with a look of recognition, Hitch took two steps forward and then stopped, head cocked to one side, seeming to consider the situation. Reluctantly, the monster left the road and melted back between the trees.