Slocum 428: Slocum And The Big Timber Terror by Jake LoganSlocum 428: Slocum And The Big Timber Terror by Jake Logan

Slocum 428: Slocum And The Big Timber Terror

byJake Logan

Mass Market Paperback | September 30, 2014

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There’s something evil in the woods...

Caught in a snowstorm in the Cascade Range, Slocum tries to bed down in the heavy Oregon woods. But when he finds himself in the crosshairs of a pair of inhuman glowing eyes—accompanied by a terrifying screech and an unbearable stench—he realizes that he is most certainly not alone. He’s just run into a legendary local nightmare, one that is about to unleash a bloody storm…
Jake Logan is the author of the long-running Slocum western series, featuring the adventures of gunslinger John Slocum.
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Title:Slocum 428: Slocum And The Big Timber TerrorFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:192 pages, 6.75 × 4.13 × 0.54 inPublished:September 30, 2014Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0515154911

ISBN - 13:9780515154917

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1Pellets of snow drove at John Slocum’s bearded face as he reined the Appaloosa to a halt. Squinting from under the low-pulled brim of his snow-caked fawn hat, he searched the darkening gloom for shelter of any sort. The grainy snow had built up over the past hour until the horse, normally a steadfast beast, had slowed his pace to a walk. The thick, dense snow had risen above the horse’s knees, and Slocum knew they had to stop before the elements claimed them.Off to their right, Slocum spied a dark-shadowed stand of pines. It would have to do. He tugged the reins and tapped heels to the tired horse’s barrel, urging it toward the dark copse. They’d made it halfway from the narrow mountain road to the trees when a haunting, piercing howl from somewhere ahead halted them, tensing man and horse as if a snow-caked statue.“What in the hell . . .” A low growl leaked out between Slocum’s snow-crusted lips, a wisp of smoky breath pluming into the stormy sky. Didn’t sound like a wolf, definitely not a coyote or a mountain lion. This was big, bellowing, throaty . . . like he imagined that giant ape would sound, the one that had been painted on the traveling circus banner he’d seen back in the flatlands of Wyoming the previous summer.The sound echoed again, louder this time, and closer, now off to the left. Two of them? He held the Appy still, both man and horse nosing the chill air, scanning as far as they could see. The sounds dissipated into the freezing air, then no more noise came. They resumed their plodding walk to the stand of pines.Sometime later, Slocum sat hunched in his sheepskin-lined mackinaw, stinging snow hurtling in all directions just beyond his campfire’s struggling flames, pushed and pulled with every errant gust. Despite the stormy night, Slocum knew the crazy, every-which-way blasts could be much worse, were much worse, just a few feet beyond the mouth of his hastily constructed safe haven in the pines.Deeper into the thicket of low-hung branches, laden with insulating, wind-blocking snow, the Appaloosa stallion seemed content to stand hipshot and head lowered, well out of the wind, his back still steaming from the last few hours of hard-put effort spent in getting them that far into the mountains.Slocum had cleared a spot in the snow for the horse, and tied on a nose bag and let the horse eat while he cleared his own space and nursed a fire into something he might cook on. Despite the weather, and because of his somewhat decent campsite, he had increasing thoughts of making a warm meal, something he’d not indulged in for the past five days on the trail. The weather had been uncooperative and he’d been just tired—or lazy—enough at the end of the day that he didn’t want to put in the extra effort cooking required.But tonight, he had lip-licking thoughts of flapjacks, or maybe he’d fry up some bread, heat up some frijoles in a can until they bubbled, followed by a few cups of scalding black coffee. Nothing like it. He even had a couple of apples left over from their last visit to a mercantile. He’d split one with the horse as an after-dinner treat.He set about heating the small, much-used enamel fry pan he carried with him, along with the much-battered coffeepot. These were motions he’d run through an untold number of times before, so much so that he suspected he could prepare a simple campfire meal without much thinking about it. For some reason, this journey found him in an increasingly ruminative mood.As the storm whistled and waged, piling up then blasting away drifts of pearly, granular snow, Slocum bent to the task at hand of preparing the ingredients of his simple hot meal, secreted in this grotto-like spot in the trees. And as he did, he fell to musing about the course of events that had led him to this place, high in the Cascade Range in Oregon.It had all begun with that thick-rumped stable girl outside Flintrock, Colorado. Darla had been her name—not an easy young woman to forget, she’d been more than a handful in every way. One of the less-than-ideal traits of being a longtime wanted man—for a crime that he shouldn’t have been persecuted for—was that he had to always keep on the move, had to always keep one eye open, sleep with his trusty Colt Navy revolver close at hand.Worst of all, he always had to move on just when he’d gotten to know interesting people. At most he had become reasonably assured over the years that he could take on ranch jobs for a season. And he liked signing on to a trail drive. The work was tough—long days eating dust, long hours in the saddle, and drinks and women few and far between. But the pay was decent if he signed on with the right outfit, and it most often kept him well away from the usual assortment of busybodies, bounty men, and boneheads he was likely to find in a town. Which suited Slocum to a T, as towns, except for the various conveniences they offered, had throughout his life offered little in the way of appeal. He’d rather camp in a blizzard, with high-country snow stacking up, than spend a week in a town in a soft bed. Well, most of the time.But on this night in the mountains, he had fallen to thinking about Darla, the stable girl. He’d never learned her last name, only that she had inherited the stable from her husband, dead of a mule kick to the head a year or more by the time Slocum had wandered on into Flintrock, trail sore and looking for news about work.It hadn’t been difficult to find the livery stable—Darla’s had been the only one in town. In fact, the town didn’t have much to offer other than a collection of one of each. Slocum had joked with himself that the place should have been called One-ville. There had been one hotel—a run-down rattletrap of a place—one saloon, one mercantile . . . one one one. The saloon had even had one narrow-eyed, too-thin woman who Slocum thought had looked more like a schoolmarm than a soiled dove.He had arrived there a couple of weeks before, during an unusually warm stretch of weather that everyone knew was odd and due to change soon. But they had all, Slocum included, enjoyed the late Indian summer sort of weather.Darla had been impressed with his Appaloosa when he’d ridden into Flintrock that day. And Slocum had been impressed with her. Specifically with how she handled the horse. The Appy was prone at times to being ornery around strangers, and wasn’t usually fond of women getting too close to him—not a trait that Slocum shared with his horse, thankfully. But the rugged girl, dressed in men’s denims and a too-large flannel shirt that had seen much in the way of mending—all patches on the shirt and trousers had been done by a neat, precise hand—was a different sort of woman in most every way, once he got to chatting with her. After he saw her work, Slocum realized that was just Darla’s way. For a big girl, she was tidy and seemed precise in all she did.Little did he know, however, that not everything she did was careful and measured. Later that first night, not finding the hotel much to his liking, Slocum had asked her if she would mind if he bedded down in the empty stall beside his horse, the livery being less than full. Had it ever been full? he wondered.“Not a problem,” she’d said. By that time she had knocked off work for the day and he’d found her out back, sitting in a wooden chair with her boots off and her feet up, sipping a tall glass of well water and shielding her eyes as she watched the day’s last rays of sun shrink down below the western skyline.“Join me if you’d like, Mr. Slocum.” She smiled then, a wide, honest, cheek-bunching smile, and patted the arm of a second wooden chair. “I can’t offer much more than a cool glass of water, but the views are heartwarming enough, don’t you think?” She’d looked at him without guile and winked, actually winked, but not in a lascivious way. In keeping with the attitude he’d seen earlier, the wink was that of one friend letting another in on a secret joke.“With this weather, a cool glass of water and a fine view are just about right, I’d say,” said Slocum as he sat down in the vacant chair and stretched out his legs.She wagged her bare feet atop the rickety old sawhorse she’d propped them atop. “Kick off your boots, rest your feet. Plenty of room!” She giggled then and Slocum did the same as he shucked his boots and let his feet join hers atop the sawhorse. It swayed and wobbled, but held.As the sun inched down below the ragged ridgeline far to the west, the coming night brought chill air down off the mountains. Darla stood and stretched, her flannel shirt tight against her ample breasts, her nipples poking the fabric like little fingers. Slocum caught all this in a glance, looked away lest she see him peeking, but it was too late.To his surprise, she smiled and, staring right at him, rubbed her arms. “I sure could use some heat.”Slocum stood, returning her bold eye-locking stare. “I’ll get you a blanket, if you’d like.”“Only if you’re made of wool, Mr. Slocum.”He didn’t need any more hint than that.She stepped forward. He wrapped his arms about her, and ran his hands briskly up and down her back, feeling the firm muscles beneath. She was no spring flower, but a full-bodied workingwoman. And one of her working hands made its way around the back of his neck and pulled his head down to hers. She mashed her lips to his, then her breath, surprisingly cold, as if the coolness of the well water had remained lingering in her mouth, rose from her throat. But it was quickly chased down by a coiling heat that tasted to him of a musky sort of cinnamon. And he liked it. Like the mulled wine he’d once had at a Christmas celebration at a ranch in Idaho, sweet and spicy, and after a few glasses, you wondered what you ever did without it before then.Somewhere between the stable’s open back door and the sweet-hay-scented stall they collapsed into, Darla had lost her shirt, and managed to peel Slocum’s denims down past his backside, which she kneaded with her work-hardened hands as if he were bread dough. He vaguely wondered what she might do to other parts of him, but he was too distracted shuttling her backward while he fought to keep up with her darting tongue and searching lips, her breath ragged.She collapsed on her back into the mounded hay with a grunt, followed by a throaty giggle. She lay there for but a moment, looking up into his eyes, then drew him down to her. She wiggled and squirmed beneath him, and he realized she was not trying to free herself but to work her way out of her denims.For all her power—and it was substantial—John Slocum, a man well north of six feet tall and with a physique as if he had been formed out of river rocks, did all he could just to keep up with her. But it was worth every second.Rarely had he spent time with such a frantic, but genuinely excited woman. And he appreciated every little yip and shriek and giggle as she positioned herself beneath him. He plunged in with a full, thick thrust, and she appeared to enjoy every gliding stroke. And then she gripped his bare shoulders, rolled quickly to her left, and before Slocum knew what was happening, she was on top of him, emitting a low, satisfied growl close to his face in the waning light. And then she proceeded to ride him hard for ten relentless minutes.He kept up, but there were a few points when he was sure he was about to collapse and whimper “uncle.” Then she rolled off him and they lay side by side panting in the chilly air, in the near dark on the sweet hay.Her voice broke the silence. “Thank you, Mr. Slocum. I haven’t had anything like that since my husband died.”“Glad I could . . . help.”“Oh, you did, sir. But I’m afraid I’m not quite finished. Not just yet.”He was about to protest when he felt her hand working him, coaxing him back to rigid life. She giggled and worked her way down his body, kissing, until she stopped and brought him to full life once more . . .•   •   •A few weeks later and Slocum now found himself in the midst of a high-country blizzard, smiling at the memory of that long, exhausting, but excellent evening, and wondering why on earth he hadn’t just stayed on for a few more days in that otherwise unremarkable little town of Flintrock. He grasped the hot handle of the little fry pan in a gloved hand and slid it away from flame and onto a rock, snow and bacon grease spattering and sizzling together.“Because she likely would have been the end of you, Slocum.” He said this aloud to no one other than the still-munching Appaloosa and the howling, dark, stormy night. The warm memory of that earlier night carried his smile right on through supper. And did not wane until he was on his second cup of piping hot coffee, too full for the apple, though he still considered fetching it for the horse. Then he heard the noise that he’d thought he’d imagined earlier. This time, however, it was all too real, and closer than ever.As Slocum looked beyond the small fire’s light toward the close darkness, what he saw there in the dark, above man height, chilled the blood in his veins. Hovering a good eight feet off the ground were two green glowing eyes, a good hand’s length apart and angled inward, as if whoever it was were filled with a seething rage.And just as quickly as they appeared—moments after the too-close guttural screeching howl, bearing elements of rusted steel grinding on rusted steel, of the horrific terror of a live animal being peeled apart, of a sadness and rage balled together and expressed by someone who doesn’t know how to speak, of the foul offspring of a mountain lion and a grizzly bear gagging out its anger in the sounds—Slocum watched as the eye lights faded backward into the buffeting night’s storm. Then the sounds, too, abated, as if whatever had made them had come to some decision. And that was when he noticed the smell—just a whiff of something powerful, slaughterous, and raw and hot, like spilled blood and hair and rank old meat and more—then the wind shifted and it was gone.But the Appaloosa had smelled it, too. The horse surprised Slocum by standing stock-still, looking almost comical despite the situation, as he stared out over the nose bag.And that was what worried Slocum. He’d seen and heard, felt, smelled things too strange for words in his time, and this was something like all those times but completely different, too. After a few minutes of standing still, too stunned to move, the horse began to fidget and nicker, to shake and stamp its feet. Slocum calmed the Appaloosa with soothing sounds and a fresh rubdown. It seemed to help, but not enough to wipe away the nervousness and fear he still saw in the great beast’s liquid brown eyes.Slocum melted more snow and snapped more close-by branches, toed up more deadfall wood, and vowed to drink enough coffee to keep awake as long as it took for his own nerves to stop jouncing.He suspected that might take all night. But he was fine with that.2“The nerve of some folks! Tellin’ me—me!—Jigger McGee, that I ain’t never gonna be able to get to town and back in three days.” The old man’s reedy voice poked like a thin-bladed knife into the still-blowing morning air, crisp with cold and the promise of more to come. The driving snow of the night before had slowed, but the flakes were still piling up. The objects of his shouted attentions were his two horses, high-stepping well-shod Belgian-cross brutes, bearing the bulging musculature of draft animals.He rode behind them, perched on a split-log rail, his lap and legs covered with a patchy fur robe, more skin than hair, and he gripped the thick strap-leather lines wrapped around his fur gauntlets. “That’s it, boys! Take ’er like she was meant to be took! This trail’s a hard bitch and we’ll give her no quarter!” He loosed a long, wheezing laugh.“Titus! Balzac! You listening to me? Those stumble bums up to camp won’t know what hit ’em when we mosey on back, slick as deer guts on a pump handle, loaded with supplies and liquored up. That’d be me, not you—you understand? I can’t have my boys boozin’ on the job!” His long, cackling laugh spun upward on an errant shaft of breeze as a slip of yarn might in a windstorm.It was the laugh that jerked Slocum’s intent gaze from his wavering fledgling fire to glance up toward the north, the direction he would soon be headed—right after he’d availed himself of a pot of coffee and a warming breakfast. As far as his calendar was concerned—the one he kept in his head, and that was rarely off by more than a day—he was a couple of days ahead of the date he’d intended to report in to the logging camp, still a good ten or twelve miles north. He had only a crude map drawn by the foreman’s nephew, the barman at the TipTop Saloon, in Timber Hills. He’d assured Slocum, as had a handful of others, some of them loggers themselves, that there had been a boom in lumber to points south along the Cali coast, so much so that the various logging operations up north were hiring.And hearing that had been almost as nice as hearing a dove’s soft cries of amorous intent. Almost. For no matter how little money Slocum found himself in possession of, no matter how much time had elapsed between paying jobs, his thoughts were never too far from time spent, or time that would be spent, with a woman.But this cold morning, the caterwauling, even above the somewhat dissipated morning wind, reminded him of the godawful howls he’d heard the night before. “Not again . . .”Apparently the Appaloosa thought the same thing, for he nickered and dumped a steaming pile of trail apples.“You and me both,” said Slocum, fixing his eyes on the trail to the north and the increasing sounds drawing nearer. But this didn’t sound quite like the gut-churning caterwaul of the night before. He heard chains, the telltale clopping of hoofbeats, muffled somehow by snow, no doubt. Though he could see nothing yet, he knew it was coming, whatever it was—likely a team. He stood, poured himself a steaming cup of coffee, and walked the couple dozen yards back to the trail, kicking through the nearly knee-deep snow.With a gloved hand, he pulled back the flap of his thick coat, and thumbed the rawhide thong keeper free of the Colt’s hammer and let his hand hang loose. No sense not being ready. He was barely aware that he’d done so—as a wanted man, he learned long ago to leave nothing to chance. This heightened sense of caution had cost him friendships, jobs, potential trysts with fine women, but since he was still alive while a number of other men—and a few sage women, over the years—were six feet under, it led him to trust his instincts. He must be doing something right.Presently he saw movement through the thick pines, heard the rustling and jangling of chains and the occasional rope of laughter from whoever was crazy enough to be out this early on a stormy morning, driving a team southward.Yep, now he saw it was a team of massive pulling brutes, thick necks bulging and straining under bulky fitted harnesses, the two horses chestnut in color and topped with a steaming layer of snow.“Ho there! Ho there, boys!” the fur-wrapped man’s cries echoed down at Slocum, along with a light wash of snow spray from the great hair-fringed hooves that excitedly clomped to a begrudging halt, the horses’ heads bowed, mouths champing, breath pluming into the morning air.The teamster, perched atop the big log sledge, eyed Slocum through a slit in a hoar-frosted woolly scarf wrapping his head. Finally, just as Slocum was about to greet him, the man spoke. “Who be you? And more to the point, is that real coffee I smell?”The man made no motion that Slocum could construe as threatening, and kept his mittened hands held tight to the wrapped lines, since the big brutes towing him seemed a mass of quivering muscle, on the verge of bolting down the trail. It struck Slocum as impressive that the slight figure above him could contain such power.Slocum sipped his coffee, then held up the cup. “I’m the man who just made that pot of coffee.” He nodded vaguely behind him, to where his small but robust fire still crackled. “You’re welcome to a cup, if you have the time.”Since the man and team obviously were engaged in some sort of logging activity, Slocum hoped the man might at least offer him a bit of friendly advice as to where the Tamarack Logging Camp was located. Mostly he was happy to see a living soul up here in high-timber country after not having seen another human for several days of slow travel. Something about the cold—and if he had to admit it, the freakish noises of the night before—had gotten to him.“Well, right neighborly of you to offer.” The sprightly little man was already setting the long-handled brake and coiling the lines around it, chattering like a camp jay all the way.“Fact is, I’d about kill my best friend’s best friend for a cup of the real stuff. Been a long time up to camp and we’ve had nary a sniff nor a whiff of the stuff. ’Bout thin on other supplies, too. That’s how come I’m headed downslope. On a dead run I am, too. Made a wager with the men, you might say. They don’t believe I can make the run down to town for supplies and get back in time afore they starve. Course, that ain’t likely to happen, what with the deer and other critters we been chewin’ on.”He swung himself off the narrow rail on which he was balanced, hung out over the deep white snow off to the side of the trail, then dropped into it, plunging in up to his waist, still yammering, this time to his horses.Smiling, Slocum led the way to the fire, kicking as much of the snow out of his path as he could so the shorter man might follow with less trouble. He fished his second tin cup out of a saddlebag and filled it with piping hot coffee. By the time he’d stood up from the fire, hot cup in hand, the man was nearly beside him. The stranger unwrapped the frost-crusted wool scarf to reveal a thin, patch-bearded face sporting mostly silver-white hair. Deep creases along his cheeks, around his mouth, and across his forehead seemed to surround the two glinting blue eyes.Slocum realized with a start that this man was no youngster as he had assumed. But whatever life he lived—presumably one in and around the great logging camps of the Northwest—it agreed with him. The man’s ruddy skin looked like leather stretched over a bone frame. Even under all that fur wrapping him, Slocum doubted the man carried a smidgen of fat—he looked to be made of bone and gristle, with an extra helping of grit, all topped with mischief. This man, Slocum could tell, was a genuine, bona fide character.The little man thrust out one mittened hand for a shake, to which Slocum obliged. Though Slocum gave as good as he got, the small man’s impressive grip was like iron.“I’m Jigger McGee, rowdiest log roustabout this here country’s ever seen. Normally I’m in the woods, bucking logs and scaling trees and making sure the girl-men I work with don’t catch a sliver and cry too long.”“Pleased to meet you, Mr. McGee. I’m Slocum, John Slocum.”Before he could continue, Jigger cut in, taking the proffered cup of hot coffee. “I bet you’re up here sniffing for work. Am I right? Course I’m right. Nobody other than a fool or a logger’d be found up here any time of year, much less in a raging blizzard!” He sipped from the cup, wincing as he pulled in the steaming draught.“You have it about right, Mr. McGee. I was in Timber Hills a few days back. The man behind the bar at the TipTop Saloon said the Tamarack Logging Camp, up this trail somewhere—”The little man’s mouth took on a sour, pinched shape.“Coffee not to your liking?” said Slocum.“Was . . . until you mentioned that barkeep. That little rascal is a thorn in the backside of every respectable logger in these parts. Been that way since the day he was whelped, so help us.”“How’s that?” Slocum sipped his coffee, eyeing the curious little man.“You sure ask a lot of questions, young fella.”“I wasn’t aware I had exceeded my limit. Do you happen to know the way to the Tamarack?”“There you go again, asking fool questions!”“Why was that one foolish?”“Because I’m from the Tamarack, just a few miles up yonder. Yep, that’s where I come from. What do you think I been yammering on and on about since I got here?” The old man let loose with a long, slow sigh, shaking his head at the same time.Slocum couldn’t help cracking a smile. He hid it behind his cup and decided to change tactics. “At the risk of you thinking I’m some sort of crack-minded fool . . .”That got the man’s attention. He paused, eyebrows raised above the rim of his cup.“I’d like to ask you about what I heard last night.”“Oh? And what would that be?”“Well, that’s the difficult part. I don’t know what it was, but I can tell you it wasn’t like anything I’d ever encountered.”“Well, out with it, mister!” Jigger growled.Slocum regretted bringing up the subject. But he’d come too far with the silly story to back up now. “It sounded like a great howling bear crossed with a mountain lion crossed with a man—and a whole lot worse and angrier than all of them combined, too.”McGee’s entire demeanor changed immediately, much to Slocum’s surprise. The old man leaned in close to Slocum and, looking around, said in a low voice, “You get a smell of it, too?” Before waiting for a response, he continued on chattering: “Reason I ask is that you ain’t the first. Nor likely to be the last. It’s a . . .” He leaned even closer. “A skoocoom, I tell you.” The last part came out as barely a hissed whisper through his tightly clenched teeth.