In the Shadow of the Mountains
In the twilight of the year 2003, a stranger arrives in the tiny town of Burns, Colorado. Whispers begin to fly as bodies appear, savagely mutilated, throughout the neighborhood, and the responsibility falls on two monstrously unprepared high school students to uncover the truth before the undead can destroy their hometown.
Chris Doyle is a slacker and a sci-fi geek, barely eking through his senior year of high school; Aaron Margolis is a child prodigy who could have graduated at age twelve if his parents had let him. They have never had anything in common until a woman is murdered and Aaron comes asking for Chris’s help – he is seeing Texans who cannot be real.
Then the high school’s English teacher disappears and is replaced by Daniel Leland, the sharp and reclusive newcomer, a man already convicted by public opinion. He says that he is a hunted man, and Aaron believes him, but Chris is not as sure. Doubts or no, Chris has no choice but to join up with the teacher when his best friend is kidnapped by superhuman forces, but this adventure is nothing like his comic books.
The sky grew dark, gestating a winter monster nourished by a cold northerly gale. The first stinging flakes, tiny needles of ice driven horizontally by the bitter blasts, whisked across the cracked asphalt and clung to the clumps of parched grass that lined the lonely road. The clouds, pregnant and writhing, bulged downward and in a great final heave gave birth to a howling whiteout.
Far below, a tiny convoy struggled north against the wind, racing the growth of the snow banks that soon would strand it. In the lead, a decades-old, green Lincoln Continental ploughed stoically onward, its windshield wipers battling furiously against the snow. It was followed by an eighteen wheeler, its trailer marked “Anderson and Sons Logistics: Texas’ Best Movers!”
Together, the two plodded on up the road toward the dearly-desired terminus of their interminable journey, the end of a seventeen hour drive.
A stile loomed up suddenly in the road, forcing the sedan to brake hard and then swerve to avoid being butted by the truck. A hard squint through the swirling white revealed a frozen pond to the left, and so the Continental turned right, exchanging the frozen asphalt for a vast expanse of loose gravel, pocked with slush-filled craters but at least free of the treachery of black ice. The car lurched and bumped, swaying from side to side along the pitted path, more cattle trail than road by now, until it came to another stretch of tarmac beyond which rose the first few buildings, snow-encrusted outliers of the hidden town beyond:
Beneath the city limit sign was another, hand-made of plywood and peeling around the edges, which cheerfully proclaimed a welcome from the local chapter of the Future Farmers of America.
The convoy turned and turned again, circling the sad yellow brick courthouse that squatted toad-like in the center block of the quaint town square, guarded by a platoon of bare, skeletal oak trees and a small copse of squad cars, huddled together against the cold in the tiny parking lot.
They passed Phelps’ Grocer, which stood beside Phelps’ Deli, which stood beside Phelps’ Electronics. They passed Einstein’s Salon, which had been named after its first owner a good ten years before the mussed mathematician became famous, its windows darkened but its sign highly visible, sporting a caricature of Albert himself in hair curlers. They passed Barrett’s Consignment and the Magpie’s Nest, an antiques and curiosity shop that boasted the entire Beanie Babies collection in the front window, arranged artistically on a broken rocking chair, a scuffed-up armoire, and a rusted Radio Flyer wagon.
Of all the buildings on the square, only Miz Leanne’s Ribs ‘n’ Burgers was open, a neon-lit bastion of humanity in the midst of nature’s onslaught. The Continental and big rig continued on past, turning from Dooley onto Van Winkle, unnoticed by Miz Leanne’s shivering patrons. The two vehicles proceeded past the high school, the elementary and the junior high, and into the residential area. They ploughed down Macgregor and turned onto Cypress, then onto Mulberry and down to the cul-de-sac. The eighteen wheeler stopped on the street, the scream of its brake lost in the wind’s deafening fury, and the Continental rolled on up the driveway and into the garage of the empty two-story house at the end.
Two men, heavily muffled in scarves and wool hats, got out of the truck and began unloading through the snow. First out was an upright piano wrapped in plastic, then a bookcase, then a big wooden desk in pieces. Four hours later, they packed up and disappeared back into the storm. Within twenty minutes, there was no trace of their tracks.
Mrs. Moncrieff pulled her head back from the window and called Mrs. Simmons, who in turn called Ms. Greer, Mrs. Lyle, and Mrs. O’Toole. By eight o’clock that night, half of Burns City knew that there was a stranger in town. By eight o’clock the next night, rumor had transformed the new person into a whole spectrum of characters, from an evangelical preacher to a professional photographer, but by the end of the week, when the stranger had failed to appear even once, the stories began to die.