The Prologue to THE DIRGE OF BRIARSNARE MARSH

Okay. So it’s no secret. I’m in full pre-release swing at the moment. Yes, that’s right. The long awaited sequel to THE CURSE OF ONE-EYED JACK (Book 1 of The Dark Hollows Mystery series) is almost here. THE DIRGE OF BRIARSNARE MARSH will be officially released in ebook and print formats on October 8 and I absolutely can’t wait! 
Yes, it’s true. I always get ridiculously nervous as I approach that wonderful and terrible release date. Will they like it? Does it make sense? Will my readers get me? And then, miraculously, the manic hysteria gives way to a certain kind of peace and I inevitably come to the same realization every single time…I always write the books that I’d most want to read. With this philosophy, at least I know there’s a least one person in the universe who will relish it. 
But thankfully, I don’t seem to be the only one. During the writing process, I had two or three other sets of eyes on the manuscript as it took shape. These valuable beta readers seemed to have enjoyed the story immensely.
As a matter of fact, bestselling author (RAGNAROK and THE CRYPT OF DRACULA) Kane Gilmour had this to say about Dirge:
Holloway skillfully weaves a back-woods tapestry of Sherlock Holmes with TV’s Supernatural and Justified into a thrilling Appalachian story of magic and mayhem. The Dirge amps up the action, menace, and mojo, for a spookfest of epic proportions, with a layered mystery and surprises at every turn. Join Ezekiel Crane, and bring your ten-demon bag for another Dark Hollows adventure. This series somehow got even better.”
 Couldn’t be more proud of that little blurb! But wait. I just realized something. You might not be familiar at all with what I’m talking about. Maybe you’ve already read the first book in the series, THE CURSE OF ONE-EYED JACK (available for a limited time for only $0.99 in all ebook formats everywhere (also in print). Well, let me share the product description for the new book so you can get an idea of what the story’s about:
A song of mourning…and warning.
From the depths of Briarsnare Marsh, the Yunwi Tsunsdi—the Little People—sing their dirge when death approaches to claim a soul. Sometimes though, even death can be fooled.
The residents of Boone Creek are shocked by the grisly discovery of seven mutilated corpses—their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters—but an even bigger surprise awaits them when the grave gives up its victims.
This miraculous resurrection has not gone unnoticed. The Leechers—thirteen men, doomed to walk for all eternity in the shadowland between life and death, bound by a curse to hunt those who would use uncanny power—unleash their judgment on anyone with a connection to those who have returned.
Now it’s up to Ezekiel Crane, the enigmatic seventh son of a seventh son, to thwart the Leechers’ grisly mission and discover who has sent them to wreak vengeance on the sleepy Appalachian hamlet he is sworn to protect.
The dirge is being sung. Death is coming to the Dark Hollows…with a vengeance.
Intrigued yet? I hope so! But just in case you’re not quite sure yet, I wanted to give you a small taste of the book a few weeks before it’s release. I’m going to post the complete Prologue here for your perusal. I truly hope that if you like what you see here, you’ll be sure to purchase the book on the day it comes out. I hope even more that you might share this page with your friends who love to read fun, spooky books full of mystery, magic, and lore. Most importantly, I hope you enjoy it immensely!
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PROLOGUE

The Crawford Farm
Boone Creek, Kentucky
Liz Crawford couldn’t let herself fall asleep. She couldn’t risk the dreams again. The images. The ghastly phantasms that had haunted her sleep ever since her husband, Tim, had been found dead. Well, ‘dead’ might be putting things mildly. Perhaps slaughtered would be a bit more like it. After having been missing for nearly four weeks straight, there’d not been much of her husband’s remains that were remotely identifiable. Not only had the ravages of decomposition and scavengers played their part in the body’s mutilation, but the funeral director had told her that he thought the remains looked as if they had been hacked up by multiple hatchet wounds—the devastating consequences of an encounter with One-Eyed Jack.
Sheriff Tyler, of course, had denied it all. He’d said her husband, along with six others in the community, had been exposed to a fungus. An especially deadly fungus with spores that had multiplied inside his body, until they’d burst out of his chest with such explosive force that it simply appeared to have been hatcheted.
The very idea was nothing but tomfoolery. Ask anyone in town. No one believed him, which was why he’d been stripped of his title and was soaking away his days inside a bottle. Not that it did her any good. Her husband was still dead.
And now she lay staring up at the ceiling, tears streaking the round contours of her plump face, as she struggled against the need to sleep.
It just wasn’t fair. Her husband had been a good man…a good father. Hard-working. Dedicated. Sure, he liked to imbibe the occasional shot of whiskey from time to time, but she couldn’t fault him for that. That’s just the way his folks had reared him.
But now he was gone, and she was a widow. Her two children were fatherless. And it was all that scientist feller’s fault. That Cian Brennan. Some fancy anthropologist from an Ivy League school, up north. He’d come down here to investigate the strange tales he’d heard about the Dark Hollows—more specifically, the Devil’s Teeth—and his nosin’ had stirred up a monster. One-Eyed Jack. An honest to goodness giant. A spirit guardian of the Cherokee injuns, who walked the mountains of Appalachia since well before her kin had ever set foot here.
Ol’ Jack had attacked Brennan and his research team. The only one who managed to escape was that mean-as-a-snake Leroy Kingston. Her husband had found him on the side of the road, half-crazed and ranting, shortly after Jack had taken his first victim. Though Leroy managed to survive the ordeal, he hadn’t exactly come out of it unscathed. A day after helping the good-fer-nothin’ Leroy, Tim had disappeared…along with six other people from Boone Creek. Four weeks ago, all seven were found dumped in a shallow pit, just off Route 23.
Weren’t even covered up. They were all just found splayed out in the open for the buzzards and maggots to feast on. No thought of a proper Christian burial by whoever had done work on them.
So, ever since that gruesome discovery, she’d silently suffered from the night terrors that gripped her dreams, unwilling to share them with anyone, lest they decided she was too crazy to care for her kids.
But she couldn’t help it, could she? She couldn’t help dreaming about Tim…about him coming home in the wee hours of the morning, climbing the creaking staircase with short, jerky movements, and sliding up to snuggle beside her in bed. That was only natural, right? A wife misses her husband when he’s gone. It shouldn’t matter that the man in her dreams reeked of death or that his flesh was green and marbling. Shouldn’t matter that his clothes were caked with the soil of his own grave, or that fat, squirming maggots crawled in and out of the jagged craters of the hatchet wounds that still marred his decaying face and chest. No, surely it was perfectly natural to dream such things when you were a grieving widow.
Of course, she shuddered to think just how real the dreams always felt. She would never tell another living soul that she could practically smell his rancid breath or feel how cool and wet the skin of his fingers felt, as they stroked the tears away from her face. She had had to remind herself on a number of occasions that it had been only a dream. A horrid and twisted nightmare that taunted her maliciously over the loss of her beloved husband.
It was for these reasons her mind refused to shut down and allow her the much needed sleep her body desperately craved. She just couldn’t risk another nocturnal encounter with him. It would drive her near-mad with grief. And if nosey Margaret Evans were to ever find out about it, there’d be no end to the gossip spreading around…
Wait! What’s that?
Liz sat up in bed, straining her ears to recapture the shrill phantom sound she’d just heard. But all remained still.
Was that a footstep? Is someone on the staircase?
Her heart thumped wildly inside her chest. Surely she’d just imagined it. Her overactive imagination playing harsh tricks on—
There it is again!
She was sure she’d heard it that time. A distinctive creak somewhere in the house…like a heavy-booted foot dragging itself up the stairs. Like every dream she’d had for the last two weeks.
Creeeeaaaaakkk!
The sound was louder this time, more deliberate. Someone had crept up the steps of their little two-story farmhouse and was now standing stock still. Or at least, she thought they were. She couldn’t be sure. All she heard now was the rush of her own blood, pounding through her head like Cherokee battle drums announcing a coming war. Each throb of her pulse echoed loudly at the base of her skull. She tried holding her breath, but the rush of adrenaline made it nearly impossible.
Who’s in my house? she thought with wide-eyed panic. What should I do?
Her mind drifted back to Tim. The dreams. Surely it wasn’t him. No. Of course, it wasn’t. Tim was dead. Her nightly visitations had never been anything more than the cruel betrayal of her own mind. This was something else entirely. There was someone in her house. Someone physical. Real.
Dangerous.
She heard a soft shuffling across the carpet, in the hallway just past her door, the gentle movement of feet trying desperately to avoid making any sound at all.
A lump swelled in her throat. Whoever it was, they had just walked past her door. Past her bedroom. They were slowly making their way to…
Oh dear lord! she thought, as she scrambled out of bed as silently as she could. He’s heading toward the kids’ room.
Tiptoeing over to the closet, she crouched down, shoved a handful of wrinkled clothes and children’s toys out of the way, and fought to recall the combination to the small safe.
10. 34. 12? No. No. That’s not it, she thought as panic continued to build. She was running out of time. Whoever was in the house was surely in the kids’ room now. It’s Isaac’s birthday! That’s it.
With trembling hands, her fingers twisted the knob of the safe right and left until she heard the satisfying click. She then pulled it open, reached in, and withdrew Tim’s .357, still wrapped in lambskin from the last time he’d gone to the range.
Though she’d never much liked guns, she was now thankful her husband had seen fit to make sure she knew how to use one. And use it very efficiently. She checked the cylinder and was satisfied it was loaded and ready to go. She flicked off the safety and crept slowly over to the bedroom door. Her hand hovered over the door knob, indecision slithering into the back of her mind. Was she being foolish? Of course, it never hurts to check…
Her heart thrummed faster and faster, making her wonder if it might abruptly stop from sheer exhaustion. Or fright. But she had to look…she had to act. If there was the slightest chance her two babies were in danger, she had to do whatever was necessary. She had to…
Taking a deep breath, she turned the knob with her free hand and cracked open the door just enough to peek around the edge. The hall was empty. She moved further out and tried peering into the children’s room. The door was cracked open, but that was normal. Little Maggie, only six years old, still insisted on being able to see the warm, comfortable light from the hallway ceiling fixture. But try as she might, Liz could see nothing through the deep shadows of the room beyond.
She stepped out into the hall and held her breath. She could hear the soft sounds of snoring coming from the room. Isaac. Already at age nine, the boy took after his dad when it came to snoring. But there was something strangely comforting in that nasal, growl-like breathing. At least the children seemed safe. Nothing had awakened them. Nothing had begun doing unspeakable things to them, as her imagination had concocted.
She exhaled, and that’s when she heard it…
A gentle “shhhhhh” sound, followed immediately by a hoarse, raspy humming—the humming of a tune, though she couldn’t place the song. There was something disjointed about the sound. Something not quite right.
Dear Lord Jesus, she prayed silently. Someone’s in my babies’ room!
The mention of Christ’s name brought sudden recognition of the song being hummed. “Jesus Loves Me.” Or some strange derivative. There was something just inherently wrong about it. Something that didn’t sit right in the pit of her soul. Something dark. Deadly.
The thought brought a sudden wave of anger flooding through her veins. The song was special. Lovely. It should never sound like that. Besides…it had been Tim’s favorite lullaby to sing the children to sleep, when he was alive. To hear it again, and in this way, after her husband’s gruesome death, it was somehow perverse. Blasphemous, even. The sudden rage fueled her courage, and she stalked toward the room with the barrel of the gun trained at the darkness beyond the door.
The humming increased in volume as she approached. The voice sounded oddly familiar, yet so alien at the same time. Where had she heard it before?
She knew she couldn’t think about that now. There was too much at stake. Her children were in dreadful danger, and she was the only one around now who could protect them. So before her newfound courage abated completely, she nudged the bedroom door open and stepped inside, with both hands firmly gripping the gun.
The light from the hall flooded past her trembling form, filling the room with warm, yellow radiance. Her eyes, adjusting quickly, flashed around the room, spying Isaac’s Hot Wheels cars and Maggie’s collection of stuffed toys, strewn willy-nilly along the floor. Finally, her eyes landed on the back of a rocking chair positioned just in front of Maggie’s bed. A figure sat in the chair, rocking gently back and forth, as it hummed the eerie children’s hymn with a gravelly voice. Liz looked past the figure and saw her little girl, still sleeping peacefully in bed, unmolested by the strange presence in her room.
Isaac lay in his race-car bed, his sheets kicked out onto the floor as he cradled a small pillow between his legs. His mouth hung open, oblivious to his irregular snoring. He appeared to be fine, too. They were both fine. Healthy. Unaware.
Steeling her nerves, Liz stepped further into the room and cleared her throat.
“Who are you?” she whispered harshly. “What’re you doing in my house?”
In response, the figure merely continued humming its disturbingly inaccurate tune. ‘Inaccurate’ wasn’t exactly the correct term. The figure was hitting the right notes, but occasionally, it would get stuck on a single note and hum it over and over again, until, like nudging a skipping record, the tune would suddenly continue again.
“I’m warnin’ you. I’m armed,” she said, her voice a little more forceful this time. “What’re you doing in my house?”
And still, the humming continued, as if she had been as silent as a ghost in the room. A sudden rush of dread threatened to sap the remaining vestiges of her courage, but she willed herself forward. She took another step closer, trying desperately to look around the high back of the rocking chair, to see the face of the person sitting in it. But the shadows were too long. Too dark, despite the flood of hallway light.
To emphasize the danger the visitor was in, she pulled back on the hammer of the gun. “This is yer last warnin’,” she said. “You either answer me or you get yerrself shot.”
Suddenly, the humming stopped. The figure, however, remained perfectly still. Unmoving. A dark statue resting menacingly in her grandmother’s antique rocker. Then, after an ungodly amount of time, it spoke.
“Liz?” Its voice warbled uncontrollably with the single-syllable word, as if unused for a long period of time. It sounded hollow. Out of tune with the rest of the world. Like with the humming, there was just something…well, wrong about it. But her throat swelled three sizes larger in recognition of the strangely familiar baritone.
No. This can’t be real. It can’t be! This only happens in my dreams!
Unlike in her dreams, however, there was no putrid stench of decay. No reek of the methane and ammonia that betrays all things dead. On the contrary, Elizabeth Margaret Crawford could almost smell the all-too-familiar scent of her husband’s Old Spice wafting in the air.
“Tim?” The name all but caught in her throat, but she managed it in a hoarse whisper. “Is…is that you?”
The figure in the rocking chair didn’t answer. He merely began humming that strange eerie tune once more, while he rocked back and forth. It was maddening. Who was this person? What is he doing in my children’s room? It couldn’t possibly be Tim. People didn’t come back from the dead. Those things just didn’t happen.
Liz inched closer, the gun still fixed on the back of the figure’s head. Closer and closer she crept, until she was just beside the rocker…until she could make out the rough, blood-stained hands clutching the arm of the chair. She looked closer, noticing the fingers and nails appeared torn or shredded, as if…oh she shuddered to even consider it. But she’d seen movies. She’d heard the stories. Men, buried alive, digging their way from their own casket into the world above. The world of the living.
No. No. It can’t be.
She knew she had to be sure. She had to look at what the deepest portion of her psyche was screaming against. She had to look up into the face of the man that continued his infernal humming with unnervingly stark dispassion. She kept staring down…down at those horribly mutilated hands, unable to will up the courage to do what had to be done. She suddenly realized that she’d already lowered the gun. She had been completely unaware of it. She brought it up again with a quick jerk and moved further around the chair, her backside brushing up against Maggie’s bed.
And after taking a series of deep breaths, she looked down into the face of her dead husband.


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If you’re interested in getting started in The Dark Hollows series, I suggest checking out book one. Here’s the link to Amazon’s page (it’s also available in audiobook for those of you who might not have time to read much):

And as of today, the ebook edition of THE DIRGE OF BRIARSNARE MARSH just went up for pre-order over at Smashwords. What’s the advantage of pre-ordering? Well, the price for one thing! Normal ebook price when the book is officially released will be $4.99. But act now and pre-order and get it for a dollar off! Here’s the link to Smashwords:


And be on the lookout for Book 3 of The Dark Hollows Mystery series, THE NIGHT OF THE WILLOW HAG, coming in 2014!

Or the series of short story/novella prequels featuring Eli Smith, the doomed Witchhunter introduced in DIRGE. These stories will be released on a semi-regular basis, starting with THE WITCHHUNTER’S BANE (coming in the next couple of months!).
 

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