Today's Reading

PROLOGUE

The night was full of terrible things, shrouded creatures with dagger-sharp teeth and ghostly beings that seemed to float on air, their sneaker-clad feet hidden under long white sheets pilfered from linen closets all over town.

The creatures moved quickly, freely; the night belonged to them. It was Halloween, and the quaint mountain town of Cedar Valley, Colorado, held more than tricks and treats. There was a dark energy, a dark spirit, summoned from the past that moved through the roaming packs of shrieking children.

No one saw it, of course, or likely even felt it. We lead self-absorbed lives, after all; we rarely notice when forces of darkness crouch in our shadows.

It was only later that I would be able to name the energy; name it, know it for what it was, and direct my rage and grief at it in equal parts.

It was evil, and it had crept into our town unannounced and unwelcome, though not unexpected. Towns, villages . . . they're living things, and like attracts like.

We had summoned the evil to our town just as surely as if we'd mailed an invitation. We just didn't know it yet, and by the time we did know it, the damage would already be done.

People would be killed.

Lives would be changed.

And Cedar Valley would never be the same again.


CHAPTER ONE

Halloween.

Since becoming a cop six years prior, I'd grown to dread the thirty-first day of October. I could no longer believe the holiday was simply a night of innocent fun. I'd been witness to desecrated graves and smashed pumpkins; violent bar brawls and deadly DUIs. The night gave liberty to all sorts of spooks and ghouls, not only encouraging them to come out and play but practically daring them not to.

I was also a parent, though, and slowly learning that Halloween was a night I needed to tolerate, if not someday even embrace. My daughter, Grace, was nearly a year old and already she was captivated by the glowing pumpkins and toddler-size spider webs that adorned front porches and yards all over town.

Luckily, because Grace was so young, my fiancé, Brody Sutherland, and I still had full control over what she wore. He wanted to dress her as a witch, while I was leaning toward a cute bunny. After a heated discussion in the back aisle of a costume shop on Colfax in Denver, where the three of us had gone for a quick weekend getaway in late September, we split the difference and paid forty bucks for a zombie llama costume.

It was as ridiculous as it sounded. By the time we got her ears on, Grace looked like a rabid camel. But I'm nothing if not stubborn and by God, we were going to get our money's worth. Brody threw on an old monkey suit and I slipped a pair of cat ears over my dark hair and called it good.

We'd been out an hour; it was well past dusk and we were nearly done trick-or-treating. The sky had turned a violent deep purple, a shade of eggplant that seemed both ominous and watchful. The full moon was still low, gradually beginning its climb up past the clouds. We were lucky; though the forecast had predicted an early-morning snowfall, none had come and the night was merely cold instead of both cold and snowy.

Cedar Valley, like most mountain towns in Colorado, was both blessed and cursed with a population that was widely spread out; even our own nearest neighbors in the canyon were a good quarter mile away. And so, every Halloween, the town's city council sponsored a Spooks' Night Out. Up and down Main Street, merchants and shop clerks decorated their storefronts and competed to see who could give out the most coveted treats. This year, word on the street was that Old Man Brewer at the bookshop had a seemingly endless supply of full-size candy bars.
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