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4/5 (2 évaluations)
406 pages
5 heures
Sep 13, 2016


It came in the dead of night—a rhythmic creaking sound that only the children could hear.
Jackie and Johnny tried not to listen. But it called to them, whispering of evil, luring them
into the darkness of the attic.

With its brightly colored saddle and painted-on eyes, it was the most beautiful rocking horse Jackie and Johnny had ever seen. But as they took turns riding it, they didn’t see its tail twitch or its lips curve into a terrifying grin. They couldn’t hear the faint whicker that echoed among the shadows.

They couldn’t know that their own innocent eyes had taken on a strange new gleam . . .
Sep 13, 2016

À propos de l'auteur

William W. Johnstone is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 300 books, including the series THE MOUNTAIN MAN; PREACHER, THE FIRST MOUNTAIN MAN; MACCALLISTER; LUKE JENSEN, BOUNTY HUNTER; FLINTLOCK; THOSE JENSEN BOYS; THE FRONTIERSMAN; THE LEGEND OF PERLEY GATES, THE CHUCKWAGON TRAIL, FIRESTICK, SAWBONES, and WILL TANNER: DEPUTY U.S. MARSHAL. His thrillers include BLACK FRIDAY, TYRANNY, STAND YOUR GROUND, THE DOOMSDAY BUNKER, and TRIGGER WARNING. Visit his website at www.williamjohnstone.net or email him at dogcia2006@aol.com.  

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Rockinghorse - William W. Johnstone



Tracy Bowers wanted to scream. Anything to create some kind of noise. She looked at her husband, sighed, and put aside the magazine she had been looking at distractedly. Lucas, how long does this wall of silence stay between us? It’s getting ridiculous.

He lowered his newspaper. Just as well, he thought; he had read the same paragraph four times. Your idea, he said.

He rose from his chair and walked across the den to the wet bar and fixed a strong drink.

You’re drinking too much, she said.

Get off my ass! He poured twice the amount of whiskey he usually fixed.

She ignored the rude words. She knew they weren’t coming from the mouth of the man she had married, knew it was time for both of them to try to tear down the wall between them. "Lucas, it was not my idea. I’ve tried to talk with you a dozen times this week alone. You just turn away from me. I—"

That’s right, Tracy. It’s all my fault, isn’t it? It’s always all my fault. Oh, hell, yes, he added bitterly.

Have I ever said it was your fault? Have I ever said it was anybody’s fault?

You didn’t have to. He drank half his drink and slopped more whiskey into the glass. You’ve been throwing your success in my face for the past three years.

She jumped to her feet. Oh, Lucas . . . I have not been doing that. It’s your imagination.

The look he gave her said silently that, as far as he was concerned, she was lying. I don’t wish to discuss it any further, Tracy. Just drop it.

She flushed a deep red, her blood pressure soaring. Not this time, buddy! she thought. "No. Goddamn it! she yelled at him, startling the man. The hand holding the whiskey-and-Perrier trembled slightly. His empty hand balled into a fist. He stared at her; her eyes caught the movement of hand into fist. It’s come to that?" she asked softly.

He looked confused for a few seconds before he realized what he had done. He shook his head, unclenched his fist. No. No, my God, I’m sorry, Tracy. Of course it hasn’t come to that. I wasn’t even aware I was doing it. Please believe me.

I believe you, Lucas. She came to him and took the drink out of his hand, placing it on the bar. She put a hand on his chest. Hear me out, Lucas; and don’t try to make something out of my words that isn’t there, OK?

His face softened and he smiled. That, my dear, is a habit lawyers develop early. Especially if one starts in the Public Defender’s office. Talk to me, Tracy.

At last, she said.

Etta James. Loved to hear her sing that song, he teased.

Get serious, Bowers. Listen, love, I have an idea.

I am certainly open to suggestion. And I agree: it’s past time we talked.

It was so good for us for so long—our marriage—right?

I can recall one or two high points.

But now, it seems, when we do talk we fight. And it appears what we had is falling apart, little by little—right?

As much as I hate to say it, I can’t deny the obvious signs.

Lucas, I know you resent my success.

That’s not entirely accurate. But, to a degree, yes. Stupid of me, I know it. And I have spent many hours wondering why I feel the way I do.

We’ve got half the battle won, Lucas. It’s out in the open.

It’s a start, he admitted. What idea do you have?

School will be out in a month. And I have the entire summer free. She noticed the surprise on his face and smiled at him. That’s right. I have taken no new jobs. And you’ve got that corporate thing to work on. I heard Joe tell you at the club the other day you could take the entire summer to work on it—don’t even have to come into the office. How long’s it been since you took a vacation, Lucas?

Several years, Tracy. What are you getting at?

This: We close up the house, pack up the kids, and spend the entire summer—even longer if you want to—at the Bowers house in Georgia.

He looked stunned for a few seconds. Jesus, Tracy! I haven’t even seen that place in thirty years. I’m not certain where it is.

She smiled and held up one finger conspiratorially. I checked. It’s ten miles from a little town called Palma, Georgia. Lucas, you’ve been trying to sell that place ever since it came into your hands; that’s been years. I’m . . . curious about that place. We both know—from the amount of taxes paid on it—that it’s valuable property. But it won’t sell. Why? There it is, a big lovely antebellum home, sitting in the middle of hundreds of acres of timber. It’s one of the few houses in that area the Union Army didn’t burn. So it’s got to be valuable. Why won’t somebody buy it? If it needs work—and I’m sure it does—let’s fix it up and see what happens. I think it would be refreshing and fun and good for us and the kids. Jackie and Johnny have no idea about the country.

Do you? Lucas asked her, knowing his wife was city born and city reared.

Damn little, she admitted. How about it, Lucas?

He looked at her through dark eyes. A very slow smile changed his face and created laugh wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. Do we really need to take the kids?

She laughed and kissed him. I don’t think we have to worry about that. I understand the Bowers mansion has thirty-six rooms. There’ll be lots of room for us to . . . well, mess around!

I can’t wait, Trace. He put his arms around her. I think it’s a wonderful idea. I’ll write the caretaker in the morning. Tell him to air out the house and get new mattresses. Damn! I can’t even remember the man’s name.

* * *

Georgia! Jacqueline Bowers said, open disgust in her voice. Georgia! That’s about twelve million miles away, at least."

Actually, Jackie, her brother Jonathan said, it’s eight hundred and fifty-four miles from New York City to Atlanta.

Jackie fixed him with a look guaranteed to send her ten-year-old brother scurrying back to his own room.

Didn’t work this time.

Twelve-year-old Jackie sighed and said, And how do you know all that, short stuff?

If one were speaking with Jackie on the phone, and had never met the girl, a person would think Jackie was an adult. Her voice was husky, with a deep resonant quality. She was trapped now between childhood and budding young womanhood, and it was sort of a confusing time.

Jackie had taken on the physical attributes of her grandmother on her mother’s side. She was small, almost petite, with thick brown hair and very pale gray-blue eyes. Her face was heart-shaped and lovely. She looked more like sixteen than soon-to-be-thirteen, and it was clear she would be a very beautiful woman.

Johnny, on the other hand, took after his father’s side of the family. His hair was sandy blond, his eyes dark. He had not yet begun to sprout upward, toward his father’s height of six feet. He was a very intelligent boy, bookish, but still filled with adventure; not physically inclined toward sports, although he enjoyed watching sports on TV.

I’m as tall as you, the boy countered.

Boys are supposed to be taller than girls, she informed him.

Johnny picked up a bra.

Put that down! Jackie yelled at him.

He dropped it on the dresser. Looks stupid.

She agreed with him, but didn’t tell him so. Her breasts were something of which she was both proud and embarrassed.

"Johnny, what are we going to do in Georgia all summer?"

I don’t know. Be bored, I guess. Jackie? he asked, looking at her through eyes more serious than usual. I had a funny dream last night.

Funny like in ha-ha?


She looked at him. She had experienced a very odd dream the night before. Oh?

Promise not to laugh?

I promise.

Jackie . . . have either of us ever had a rocking horse?

She thought for a moment. No. I don’t think so. I know you never did."

Why, then, he asked slowly, would I dream about a rocking horse?

I don’t know. But this is weird.

He met her eyes. Why?

’Cause I dreamed about a rocking horse last night.

* * *

The backyard barbeque was in full swing in modern suburbia. The martini pitcher had been refilled twice and the steaks were not even on the grill yet. The Bowers’ backyard was filled with milling, talking, laughing people; a few of them grabbing a quick feel whenever possible. Everyone knew who was feeling whom. It was ignored as much as possible.

Suburbia’s code of silence.

Getting away from the city for a full three and a half months! Tracy’s best friend said. God! How lucky can you get?

Tracy looked at Mimi Hudson and smiled. Oh, you and George will be down for two weeks—George promised, didn’t he?

Just like Harry promised, too, Tracy’s second-best friend said.

Tracy glanced at Jan Westerfelt. We’ll all have a great time when you come down. It’ll be exciting. I promise.

New York City born and reared, Jan said. I don’t even know where Georgia is.

Mimi patted her hand. We’ll find it, dear. I’ll drive.

I got lost for the first three years driving from the city to White Plains, Jan said glumly.

Everybody laughed at that. It was the truth.

My stomach is roaring, Mimi said. Are we going to eat?

Maybe you’re pregnant? Tracy teased.

"Don’t even think it!"

Tracy laughed and looked around her. We’d better plug up the flow of gin pretty quick. Maybe then we can get the steaks on.

All right. Jan rose from the chaise lounger. Mimi, you round up George. I’ll drag Harry out of the fray. We’ll leave Lucas to you, Tracy. At least we can see them. We know they’re not playing grab-ass with the neighborhood wives.

Tracy grinned mischievously. That we know of, that is.

Mimi looked grim for a second. I told George some years ago that if I ever caught him fooling around, I’d wait until he was asleep some night, put his pecker in the palm of his hand, and glue it there with Super Glue.

The women laughed and went in search of their husbands.

Gettin’ sloppy out there, Carla Westerfelt said to Jackie.

Yeah, the Hudson twins, Betty and Ruth, echoed. The juice is flowing.

They were all in Jackie’s bedroom, talking. Since Johnny and Peter Westerfelt were the same age, ten, they sat alone in Johnny’s room, watching TV, ostracized by age.

The other girls were somewhat in awe of Jackie. She had boobs, even.

I’m gonna miss you guys, Jackie said. I won’t know anybody down in Georgia. There won’t be anybody to talk to.

Maybe you’ll meet some hunks down there, Carla said.

I doubt it, Jackie said.

You’ll have Johnny down there with you, Ruth reminded her.

That’s what I said, Jackie said glumly. Nobody.

But as the girls laughed, Jackie felt a pang of guilt for saying it.

* * *

As their time remaining in the suburbs grew shorter, the excitement began to infect the Bowers children. Both of them, much to their surprise, began to actually look forward to the summer.

Weird, Jackie confided in Betty and Ruth and Carla. I’m really looking forward to spending the summer in the wilderness.

I tried to find Palma on the map, Ruth said. It isn’t there.

I think it’s only got about four or five hundred people.

Jeez, Carla said. There’s that many people within three blocks of here.

Four hundred and forty-seven people live in Palma, Johnny announced dramatically from the open doorway of his sister’s bedroom.

His sister looked up at the intrusion. "And how do you know that?"

I had Mom take me to the library and I asked to see a map of Georgia. It had the population on the back of the map.

Cute, Betty said.

What else can you tell us about Palma? Jackie asked.

It’s hard to get to Palma, the boy replied. Just one main road. The town’s located in the middle of a big forest. I forget the name. And Grandmother’s house is ten miles from the town—on a gravel road. There’s electricity out there, but only because there used to be a tiny community there a long time ago. But there’s no phones. None at all. Dad told me all this.

"No phones!" the girls cried in unison, their voices filled with horror at the thought of such injustice.

Yeah, Johnny said, enjoying himself. Isn’t that great?

Great? Jackie said. Great? It’s positively primitive.

Johnny grinned. And there’s all sorts and kinds of wild animals, too, he laid it on thicker.

The girls huddled together in the center of the bed.

What kind of animals? Jackie asked.

Oh, bears and wolves and panthers and dozens of kinds of snakes. We’ll probably have to get a gun to protect us.

"A gun!" they cried, appalled.

Yes, Johnny said, pointing his finger as though he held a pistol. Maybe two or three.

In the hall, listening, both of them struggling to keep from laughing, Lucas and Tracy finally had to retreat to the den, where they collapsed on the couch and let the laughter roll.

The laughter felt good to them both; there had not been much in their lives to laugh about the past couple of years. To an outsider, it would appear the Bowers had it all: upper, upper middle class; a comfortable savings account; two intelligent healthy kids; lovely home and fine careers—everything most people dream of.

But behind the walls of the suburban home, a cold war had been taking place. It had started over Tracy’s suddenly skyrocketing career, and then had blown all out of proportion when a well-educated but very ignorant person referred to Lucas as Mr. Tracy after several articles had been written about Tracy and her interior-decorating skills. It had mushroomed after that, finally deteriorating into separate bedrooms and about as much physical contact between man and wife as between a cobra and a mongoose. Recently, they had spoken of a separation; but that was something that neither of them really wanted.

Wiping the laughter from her eyes, Tracy said, Where does he get his imagination? That was hysterical.

Probably from Grandmother Bowers, Lucas replied. I’m told she was quite a writer in her day.

Really? I never heard that before.

I understand most of her work was considered much too controversial. I never read any of it.

I wish I had met her.

Honey, I just vaguely remember her. I can recall visiting at the mansion twice. I guess I was . . . oh, maybe six the first time. The next and last time, maybe eight or nine. She had a very commanding presence. A tall lady, with dark, almost fierce-looking eyes. I remember those eyes. They scared me. He was silent for a moment and she could feel negative vibes coming from him.

What’s wrong, Lucas?

I was just remembering something. Trying to bring back something she told me about the house. I haven’t thought of it in years. I remember now. At the time, it scared the living hell out of me.

Must have really impressed you, she said with a smile. What in the world was it?

He looked into her beautiful violet eyes. "Grandmother Bowers told me to never, never, go into that attic."

At the mansion?


Did you ever?

Ever what? Go into the attic? Hell, no! I imagined all sorts of creepy, crawly monsters and things up there. Rattling skeletons and ghosts and all sorts of things. You know how fertile the mind of a child is.

Anything else you recall?

Yes, he said with a sigh. I remember she told me that someday I would understand . . . something about the mind and the journey it can take one on, if one has the proper mount to ride.

What an odd thing to say. What did she mean?

I don’t know. That’s all she ever said about it. I know that she never left the house—never. She would make Howard Hughes look like a gadfly.

Where is she buried?

I don’t know. She insisted upon being buried at night. Precisely at midnight. And her body was not to be embalmed. And that’s all I know about my strange Grandmother Bowers.

Well, Tracy said. We have another adventure awaiting us.


Going up into the attic.


Crossing into Virginia, Lucas announced. God, I’m glad to get out of that traffic.

Tracy eased closer to Lucas. Virginia is for lovers, she said.

Mother! Jackie spoke from the back. Please remember there are children present, and don’t get icky.

Lucas met his daughter’s eyes in the rearview mirror. Children? Oh?

Yes, the girl said, pointing to her brother. Him.

Blow it out your ear, Johnny told her.

That’s enough of that, mister, Lucas warned. Where in the world did you hear that expression, Johnny?

From Joe Gould, the boy replied honestly.

Good ol’ Joe, Lucas muttered, while Tracy smothered a giggle. Joe Gould, the first name of the firm of Gould, Sexton, Harris, McConnell, Seidman, Barris and Bowers.

The family had gotten a late start, got snarled up in traffic, and were now just outside of Washington, D.C. They were in Tracy’s station wagon, and pulling a rented trailer. Carefully packed in the trailer, unknown to Tracy or the kids, was a Remington model 1100 shotgun and several boxes of #4 buckshot.

While Lucas was not exactly an expert with firearms, he still had vivid memories of the bird hunts his Grandfather Taylor used to take him on up in Vermont, where Lucas had been raised until his parents’ deaths. Lucas had not fired a gun in years—he had missed the draft simply because his number was never called—but when he was a kid his grandfather had told him he showed a natural ability for handling firearms. And then the old man had proceeded to teach Lucas rifle, pistol, and shotgun.

And something had been nagging at the back of his mind about the old Bowers plantation home. He could not bring it into clear focus, but it was . . . well, evil, he felt.

God, how stupid! he mentally chastised himself. Evil. Jesus Christ, Lucas, you’re a grown man, not some silly kid who believes in hobgoblins.

Impatiently, irritated at himself for thinking such stupid thoughts, he shoved them out of his mind and concentrated on finding a motel. Everybody was getting a little cranky.

Then the shotgun slipped back into his thoughts. Why did I buy the damned thing? What am I so afraid of? Jesus! I sneak around like a punk thief and buy a gun without telling Tracy. And not just one box of shells, but four boxes. Why would I do?—

You’re certainly deep in thought, Tracy said. You just missed a very nice motel.

Shit! he muttered under his breath.

Jackie giggled in the back seat.

Wash your mouth out with soap, Johnny said.

Then Lucas told them all about the shotgun.

They all sat quite still and very silently for a few miles. Jackie was recalling what her brother had said about having to get a gun to protect them from wild animals. Johnny was thinking maybe going to Georgia wasn’t such a great idea after all.

A gun, Tracy finally spoke. She said the words as if she were giving the command to nuke Disney World.

She kept her eyes on the road, not trusting her voice to speak on the subject of guns. Tracy belonged to several organizations, nearly all of them involved in civic and/or charitable work. However, she did belong to the Committee for Recall of All Private Handguns.

A gun, Tracy repeated. Careful, she cautioned herself silently. Don’t start a quarrel in front of the kids. But she had to say, Even knowing how strongly I feel about guns, you bought one and brought it with us on this trip?

I grew up with guns, Tracy. I learned as a very young boy how to handle and respect them for what they are. I’m not going to quarrel with you, Trace; but you know I have never shared your opinion concerning firearms. I bought the shotgun, I intend to keep the shotgun, and that closes the matter. He was much more brusque with her than he had intended, but his wife’s attitude toward firearms had always irritated Lucas. All her opinions were based solely upon information gleaned from the national and Eastern-based news media; and if there ever was a more closed-minded and liberal gathering of people, damned if he knew where it was.

Lucas was Republican, Tracy a Democrat.

Jackie and Johnny had wisely remained silent during the exchange between father and mother.

The family rode for several miles. Lucas finally said, Is Virginia still for lovers?

Slowly, very slowly, a smile worked at the corners of Tracy’s mouth. Oh, yes, she said. Even though my husband thinks he’s the reincarnation of Wyatt Earp.

* * *

They could have made it to the mansion on the second day, but that would have been pushing it close—and they wanted to get to the Bowers home with plenty of daylight left them. Before leaving the city, Lucas had contacted an attorney in Rome, Georgia, explained the situation to him, and the lawyer had agreed to see that the lights were on, the pump checked (no city water out that far), and that the Edmund County Sheriff’s Office knew the Bowers home would be occupied for the summer—so they wouldn’t worry about folks seen around there.

The family rolled into the tiny town of Palma, Georgia, at ten o’clock in the morning. The first view was anything but awe-inspiring to the family, all of whom were used to the greatest city in the world.

One small block of stores. A drug store, a supermarket (sort of), a hardware/furniture/feed & seed/ outdoorsy clothes store. Two gas stations.

And a sheriff’s department substation manned by one deputy. There was a town constable who was even less inspiring than the initial viewing of the town.

Jackie and Johnny looked at one another and passed a silent message.


Lucas and Tracy looked at one another and vocalized their first impression, softening it somewhat for the sake of the kids.

Tracy said, It’s . . . interesting.

Lucas said, You took the words right out of my mouth. Lucas pulled into a service station to fill up the wagon and ask directions. A sign on the station read:



Not exactly Manhattan," Lucas finalized it.

The man is clearly and succinctly the world’s master of understatement, Tracy said with a smile. We’d better get several bags of ice and some soft drinks. And get me some cigarettes, will you, Lucas?

Howdy, the greeting came from among the gas pumps.

All heads turned to look at the source of the greeting.

The man was tall and slender, with gray-blond hair. A beard covered his face. His eyes were dark and filled with good humor.

Y’all must be the Bowers family, right?

Lucas got out of the wagon to stretch. That’s right.

The man extended his hand. Jim Dooley. I own this fine-lookin’ establishment here.

The men howdied and shook and grinned.

Jim said, Some different from New York City, ain’t it?

Ah . . . yes, Lucas replied.

Jim laughed.

Lucas, Tracy spoke. It’s been a few miles since breakfast.

Jim picked up the hidden message. Smiling, he said, Restrooms is thataway, he jerked a thumb. They’re unlocked and clean.

Tracy, Jackie, and Johnny headed for the relief stations.

The gas tank filled, Lucas followed Jim into the station building. The first thing that caught his eyes was the open display of unsecured firearms under the glass of a counter. Rifles and shotguns in racks lined the walls. Lucas could see no lock on the sliding back glass of the counter. He looked again. There was no back glass.

Aren’t you afraid someone will steal one of these guns, Jim?

One ol’ boy tried that ’bout three-four years ago. See that hole in the wall right over there? he pointed. Lucas saw it. After I shot him ’tween the eyes, the slug blowed out the back of his head and knocked a hole in the wall. Messy. Used a .44 mag on him. This ain’t New York City, Lucas. Like most rural areas, justice comes down hard and quick. Sometimes right fatal, too.

So I gather, Lucas said. He looked at the rows of pistols. Are these for sale?

Shore. He took Lucas’s twenty, gave him change, and stood smiling at the man.

"To anybody?"

Jim Dooley laughed, full of good-natured humor at the city man’s naivete. It is a severe culture shock for a city person to move south—in more ways than one. Well, Jim, if someone walked in here draggin’ a ball and chain and dressed in prison stripes, I’d have to say no. I’d say no to a total stranger, too. But ever’body ’round here knows you and your family come down here to summer. We know you’re a big city lawyer. Obviously, you ain’t no wanted criminal. You want to buy a pistol, we can do ’er two ways. We can do ’er legal-like and have you fill out a card with your driver’s license number, occupation, home address, and all that mess. Or you can pick out the pistol you want, give me the money, and stick the gun in your pocket and head on out. Don’t nobody else have to know nothin’ about it. ’Cause the way I look at it, it just ain’t nobody else’s business. You know anything about guns?

Lucas shook his head. Not a whole lot, he admitted. I was raised in Vermont and used to hunt with my grandfather. He taught me what I know about guns.

An honest man, Dooley said. Most people would have looked me slap in the eye and said they were experts.

And you would have? . . .

Chances are, ’less I knowed ’em right well, I wouldn’t sell them a gun.

And Lucas realized the rural people of the land—most of them—practiced their own form of gun control.

Lucas smiled. An expert with guns, I ain’t.

Jim Dooley returned the grin. See anything in the case that strikes your fancy?

Lucas pointed. That automatic there.

Jim grunted. You know enough to tell the difference between a revolver and an automatic. That’s a hell of a lot more than a lot of city folks can tell. What you pointed out was a Colt Combat Commander. Forty-five caliber. It’s used, but it’s a fine pistol. Retails new for over four hundred bucks. I’ll throw in the leather and a web belt, a spare clip, three boxes of ammo. Sell it all to you for two and a half.

That sounds like a bargain.

It is, Lucas.


New York City suspicious, ain’t you? Well, do you own a pistol?

Not since I was a boy.

Rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads—that’s three reasons right there. And, well, let’s just say ever’body needs to own a good pistol. And that, he pointed, is a good pistol.

Lucas cut his eyes toward the restroom side of the station. When he looked back, Dooley was smiling at him.

Wife don’t like guns, huh?

That’s putting it mildly. Lucas heard Johnny walk from the restroom back to the car. In only seconds, Tracy and Jackie followed him. Will you put that pistol back for me? I’ll pick it up first time I’m in alone.


Want a deposit on it?


Lucas smiled. This isn’t New York City, right?

Right on the money, Lucas.

Lucas held out his hand and the man shook it. The beginning of a friendship was formed.

A very large shadow filled the doorway. Jim looked up. He lost his smile. Burt, he said. This here is Mr. Lucas Bowers. They goin’ to summer out to the plantation house.

The deputy was young, no more than twenty-five. He was also very large. Perhaps six feet, six inches—two hundred sixty pounds, minimum. Lucas took one look at him and pegged him as very close to being a psycho. Lucas had worked in the public defender’s office for four years before specializing in corporate law and joining the law firm where he was now a partner. Like most good attorneys, he had quickly

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  • (3/5)
    This had me turning pages, had some really gruesome and creepy scenes. Something about it had that 80's horror movie feel. The ending was my only issue. It felt a bit rushed and the dark creepiness of the book became kind of silly. That being said, I did like this author's writing style and would be interested in reading more of his books.