The following is a sneak peek from my new, soon-to-be-released book “The Legend of Stuckey’s Bridge.” It is a work of Historical Fiction, but as you’ll see in a moment, it could easily be classified as a Thriller.
Set up: 1900, a foggy night in Mississippi. Old Man Stuckey has opened an inn on the river, and when visitors are unfortunate enough to take him up on his offer of a hot meal and a soft bed, they are often never seen again. On this particular evening, there are two boys staying with him. They were passing through on their way home from selling a load of cotton downriver. They have a lot of money on them, and Old Man Stuckey would like to relieve them of it. They have retired for the night, and Old Man Stuckey has set out to find the loot. If they remain in their beds, it will be a simple task, but in Old Man Stuckey’s world, things are never quite so easy.
He staggered down to the river to inspect the boat, carrying an ax in one hand and a lantern in the other. He realized as he walked that he may have consumed one too many swigs of whiskey, for he didn’t remember the path being this difficult to navigate, and he giggled to himself as he stumbled toward the bank. The cool mist of the fog felt good on his face, but the lack of visibility made him feel a little disoriented. He wasn’t sure if the feeling was caused by the fog or the whiskey.
He reached the river, placed the lamp on the ground next to the boat, and crawled aboard. He searched around the deck, under the seats, and down in the hole, but he found nothing.
“Damn. Why do they always keep the money on them?” he mumbled.
“Hey! What are you doing there?” called the skinny boy as he unexpectedly appeared and neared the boat.
“I was just making sure your boat was tied up securely.” The words ‘sure’ and ‘securely’ came out in a slur, but he ignored them as he climbed out of the boat, back onto the bank. He still held the rusty ax in his hand.
“Why do you need an ax to check on the boat?”
“Oh,” he looked down at the ax, “Just in case I run into something out in the woods. You can never be too careful out here, you know?”
“Don’t you have a gun?”
“Well, yes,” he said as he neared the boy, “But guns make noise.”
Before the boy had a chance to comprehend the meaning behind the words, he swung the ax high into the air and brought it down squarely on the boy’s head, splitting it like a watermelon. The boy collapsed into a mound at his feet, dragging the blade of the ax down with him. He tugged on the ax, trying to pull it free, but it wouldn’t dislodge. He pulled the handle again, but to no avail. He sighed in aggravation as he placed his muddy boot on the boy’s shoulder for leverage and yanked as hard as he could. It suddenly released with a slurping sound, sending him toppling backwards, nearly into the water.
When he regained his balance, he growled at the boy, “Why can’t you people just stay where you’re supposed to? Now, I’m going to have to walk all the way back to the barn to get the shovel to bury you—oh, and kill your freckled friend.”
He heard something rustle in the trees in front of him and looked up. He caught a glimpse of the freckled boy backing into the woods. The boy turned and ran.
“You aren’t going to make me chase you, are you, Freckles?”
The boy couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of him, but he ran as fast as he could, feeling tree branches whipping at his face. He tripped on a fallen log, lunged forward, and nearly hit a tree head-on, but he caught his balance with his hands on the large tree trunk. He swung around behind it, leaning his back into it. He put his hand to his mouth to quiet his panting and felt the stickiness of sap from the tree trunk. He tried to wipe it off his face with his other hand, but that one was full of sap, too. He breathed slowly through his nose and listened for his pursuer. He didn’t hear anything. He was shaking uncontrollably and couldn’t stop himself. He clenched his jaw so his teeth wouldn’t chatter. Maybe he had lost the murderer. Maybe he was dreaming. Maybe this was all a nightmare. Maybe he didn’t just witness an ax splitting his friend’s head wide open. He looked up into the black arms of the tree branches but couldn’t see anything but haunted shadows. He glanced around in every direction, not being able to see more than a few feet in front of him. Where should he go? He didn’t know where he was or how long he would have to run to find safety. The nearest person could be miles and miles away. He didn’t see any place to hide. He would have to keep running. Surely the man wouldn’t follow him all night. He just needed to stay in front of him. He held his breath and listened. He heard nothing. Which way? His breathing had begun to return to normal when suddenly a twig snapped loudly behind him. He gasped.
“You can’t hide forever, Freckles,” came a sing-song voice. “Come out and let’s talk about this.”
Run! He bolted in the direction opposite the voice, straight into the dense fog, running as fast as his feet would carry him. Vines and barbs grabbed at his legs and branches scratched his arms like the claws of an unknown creature trying to rip off small bits of his skin. He ignored them. Run faster!
He instantly stopped dead in his tracks as he felt an immense pain on his forehead, but he knew it couldn’t possibly be the ax of his pursuer. The murderer was way behind him. He reached up to his face and felt something metal—something with a wooden handle. What is this? The thick fog had severely limited his visibility. The sticky, warm wetness dripping into his eyes completely blinded him. He felt his face covered in warmth. Is this blood? He moved his hands over the object stuck in his forehead. A rake? Where did a rake come from? And how did it hit him squarely in the forehead? Confused, frightened, and in pain, he dropped to his knees, and an agonizing scream involuntarily escaped his lips as the long, wooden handle of the rake reached the ground before his knees did. The tines jerked upward, ripping off the top half of his scalp. The last thing he felt was the ax on the back of his head.
Available June 2013 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.