Left In Silence by Sherri Lee Claytor by Sherri Lee Claytor - Read Online

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Summary

When Troy Altmann and his parents become stranded in a haunting valley, they discover an abandoned village with one lone inhabitant, a peculiar boy named Danivar. But what is the truth surrounding this forsaken individual? Many questions linger as strange and unexplained events awaken Troy to the fact that he is somehow linked to a legend and curse set in motion long ago. He has been lured into the midst of supernatural forces, where spirits linger and time stands still, haunted by the valley's dark past. But could he be the key to unlocking the age-old curse? In all things that be, there are many powers, some good and some evil. And in the Valley of the Shadow, Troy will soon come to learn that he should, most assuredly, fear the evil dwelling 'neath the cursed hollow. For the spirits are stirring, calling to Troy, awaiting the fate of one lost soul...left in silence.
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781611606010
List price: $3.99
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Left In Silence - Sherri Lee Claytor

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me…

Prologue

Middle Sixteenth Century

Korlel strode across the blistering desert sand. Heat emanating from the ground rose in transparent ribbons before him, distorting his view. The land was suffering a drought and the waterways had run bone dry, something he’d never imagined he’d be witnessing firsthand.

Passing through a parched ravine, he stopped and gazed upon the dried-up cleft, which should have been a flowing river.

Nothing.

His situation was growing dire, having depleted his water reserve the day before, along with the loss of his mount, forcing him to continue his journey on foot. No matter the dilemmas, he refused to turn back. Possessing extraordinary abilities that enabled him to endure the harsh conditions longer, he could manage another day or two without water; however, he’d conceded that dehydration would eventually catch up with him, the end result being his demise. And at present, that dark fate seemed unavoidable.

Keep moving. He pressed onward, determined to continue for as long as his body would permit. He had no food, nothing for nourishment, but he had his dreams to carry him forward—the very thing that led him into that burning desert in search of his destiny.

Reminders that various small trees once covered the region stood as eerie, lifeless monuments in the desolate sphere of death eager to snare victims. Most plant life had withered away, leaving only a scattering of cacti struggling to survive. Very little life stirred during the long hours of day—a doomful calm.

What? Breaking the silence, the call of a hawk drew his gaze upward.

He followed the bird’s course into the wide-open sky. Can it be? Had he found what he’d been searching for? Was the bird pointing it out to him, the faint outline of a mountain range, indistinctly tracing the lower portion of the sky before him?

Ah! He flung his hands high, his hope instantly rekindled. You have not won yet, he informed the desert that nipped at his heels like a vulture waiting out its next meal.

Picking up his pace, he moved swiftly across the dry, rocky terrain, anxious to reach his destination. Halfway there, he stopped and pressed the tip of his carved staff into the earth, steadying his stance. A pale-colored bark scorpion scampered away from his right foot, one of many he’d seen since entering the desert, but he gave the small predator little more than a momentary glance. His focus was captured by the twelve arcane forms—the mystical range luring him forth. He sensed he’d find the meaning of his plaguing dreams awaiting him within their folds. If he was right, and this was the place of his dreams, then this marked the end of a long pursuing journey.

Korlel looked to the sun, determining the time of day. At present, it was high noon.

I can make it by nightfall.

The temperature seemed to rise another degree every minute, but with heightened stamina he maintained his brisk pace. Vigorous in his course, he made superior time, reaching the range before sunset. The colossal, glowing sphere now lingered low in the western sky as he stood at the foot of the nearest mountain. He should have been afraid, but he was more curious and perplexed than fearful. He wanted answers—why he’d been led to these twelve great giants.

I have come. Why have you brought me here?

With those words, he stumbled back as a ridged passageway unexpectedly appeared and snaked into the mountain, as if drawn right then and there by the hand of God. The rocks cracked and separated as the passageway formed, creating a path he knew was meant for him to follow. So, without hesitation, he started up the narrow avenue. Climbing, he forged his way along the ridged course, amazed how the path continually opened before him.

What? A haunting sound resonated from the belly of the mountain.

He felt movement beneath his feet that came in unison with the sounds, as if the mountain was taking breaths and exhaling. Was the rising mass of rock alive…breathing?

Despite the ghostly circumstances, he wouldn’t allow the supernatural forces at work to deter him from reaching his destination. Nothing would stop him now.

Chapter 1: Reuben

Present Day

Troy stared out his window at the passing desert view. Saguaro cacti scattered about the hilly and rocky land showcased artistic formations. With his vivid imagination in full mode, he thought many resembled shapes of people, swearing he’d even seen one or two move.

Mesquite trees stood predominate amongst several different prickly cacti varieties and brambly creosote bush thriving in the depleted soil, along with other low-growing brush and grasses. This was the Sonoran Desert, a far cry from being the white-sheeted Sahara, but in its own right, treacherously hot and dry.

Many small towns lay along the extensive roadway running through the territory, taking away the fantasized adventurous thought of what the great Sonoran must have been like in ages past, when there were no roads or cars to carry people across it in the comfort of air conditioned vehicles. Poor unfortunate souls left to burn away in the savage heat, decomposing to earth—dust and bone—eventually becoming part of the lifeless sands of desolation. This was a grim, dramatic thought, but it fit with the sorts of things most boys Troy’s age of thirteen would be thinking. Then, continuing his flight of fantasy, he envisioned himself in a scene from an old western movie he’d recently watched on TV. He was a man on the run, attempting to make his getaway across the great desert, soon running out of water. As the scene played out, dehydration set in, bringing mirages and babbling delusions. Lastly, he lost his battle and died.

Still alive back there? Austin Altmann shot Troy a quick glance over his shoulder.

Startled from dreamland, Troy’s unusual green eyes widened before settling on his father. Fine, Dad. He shut down his iPod and yanked out his earplugs.

Day three on the road and Troy was growing tired of listening to his parents’ arid chatter on less than thrilling subjects. En route to San Diego where they planned to stay for two nights, travel was taking longer than intended. From there, the plan was to follow the Pacific Coast north to Los Angeles before heading into Nevada and Arizona along the Grand Canyon route, which would be the highlight of their trip.

Why don’t we traverse off this streaming interstate and catch a scenic route? Austin, forty-two and clean-cut, tossed the suggestion out of left field. Spice up this mundane ride. Brown eyes peered back again with an accompanying grin. We’d see more on the back roads; a little visual entertainment to cure the boredom. He reached for a road map on the dash. I want you to experience the real desert, not just glimpses of it from behind a windshield while rushing across at seventy miles per hour. Who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky and see some wildlife. Jackrabbits and roadrunners are supposed to be abundant in the area.

And coyotes. Lorna, Troy’s mother, cringed.

Those too. But they can’t get you in the car, sweets. Austin exhibited a teasing smile.

Let’s do it, Dad. Troy’s interest was sparked. You think we really could see a coyote?

Austin looked at him in the rearview mirror. Our chances would be greatly increased.

I don’t like the idea of getting off the main road. Lorna wasn’t keen on the thought of traversing into unfamiliar territory.

It’ll be fun, seeing some real desert scenery. Austin slowed the SUV down, flipped on a blinker, and pulled off the shoulder of the road to consult the map.

I’d feel better if we knew a little more about the area, Lorna said.

This will work out perfectly. There’s a road just a few miles ahead. Route 12. It goes out approximately twenty miles to the south, runs west, parallel with I8, eventually reconnecting here. Austin placed a finger on the spot. It’s so close. We couldn’t have planned it better…a perfect alternate route.

It’s hot, probably over a hundred degrees. What if we break down, or can’t find gas? Lorna was reluctant. At least on the interstate there are plenty of places to stop if we need to.

Come on, Mom. Be adventurous, Troy urged, flicking his index finger to-and-fro across the top of his left hand, a habit since he could remember.

There’s no need to worry, sweets. I had the SUV fully serviced before we left, and there has to be a gas station along a hundred-mile stretch of road. Austin eyed the gas gauge. The tank’s half-full, but just to be on the safe side, we’ll find the nearest station and fill up before turning off the interstate. Besides, if anything were to happen, I’m sure some nice desert locals would be more than happy to help us out. Austin winked, folded the map, and set it on the seat. Southern hospitality.

Lorna wasn’t falling for his bull. Urban desert dwellers, that’s more of what comes to mind. And not so friendly sounding.

Troy caught sight of his mom’s camera on the passenger-side floorboard. I bet you’d get some great pictures, Mom.

Austin teamed with Troy in using Lorna’s love of photography as persuasion.

All right, all right. How can I possibly say no to those faces? She gave in, wrinkling her face at Austin as he pulled back onto the road.

Lorna was thirty-nine, with eyes the color of blue delphiniums. Her light-brown hair lit up with traces of gold as sunlight streamed through the window. An energetic woman with a pleasant disposition, when not chauffeuring Troy from one activity to another, she actively participated in several volunteer associations. With Austin so immersed in his law firm, she was left to find things to occupy her time.

Okay, you’ve got me. So let’s embark upon this adventurous journey into the great unknown. Lorna pulled a bag of caramels from the glove compartment and handed a piece to Troy.

What was that? Troy leaned forward. De—li—ver us. He heard a drawn-out, nearly inaudible voice. Is the radio on? Turned down low?

Lorna checked the display. No. It’s not on. What did you hear?

Troy rubbed the back of his neck where hair suddenly bristled. It was nothing. He checked his iPod to make sure it was off, certain of what he’d heard.

Well, today we shall be explorers. Conquerors of the great and mighty Sonoran Desert, Lorna playacted. I bet this is how Christopher Columbus felt.

I hate to disappoint you, Mom, but I don’t think you’ll find much to conquer out here. Troy pushed the eerie voice he’d heard from his mind, convincing himself it was just a fluke. Maybe his ears were picking up on an outside noise – although this didn't explain why he was the only one who’d heard it.

I think the boy’s right, honey. Austin reached for a caramel. Although, you could encounter one of those notorious kangaroo rats that I’ve heard tell of. Savage little creatures, they say.

Really, Austin. Lorna said, laughing. I don’t know where you get your misinformation.

In all seriousness, though, I imagine they probably resemble rabbits, don’t you think? Austin tossed his wrapper onto the floorboards.

They don’t look anything like rabbits. The fact that they have the word ‘rat’ in their name says it all. Lorna unfolded a brochure and showed him a picture. I wouldn’t count on seeing any. I skimmed over this earlier. It says they only come out at night.

Well, there’ll be a lot of other wildlife to watch for—jackrabbits, coyotes, foxes, and those pig things, you know, jav-javlins. What are those things called? I’m sure they’re mentioned in one of those leaflets.

Javelinas. Lorna took the opportunity to educate him.

That’s right, javelinas. Now that might be something to conquer. Austin grinned at Troy over his shoulder.

They’re aggressive. Lorna skimmed the page. If we see one, we’ll keep our distance.

What about roadrunners? Troy broke in.

I wouldn’t mind seeing one of those, myself. Lorna shoved the brochures and candy in the glove compartment.

Waters’ Gas and Mart next exit. Austin pointed out the sign. We’d best stop and gas up. It’s not far to our turnoff.

Austin exited the interstate, continuing less than a mile before spotting an old country store with two red gas pumps standing like ancient monuments in front of the frame building.

Lorna’s brow furrowed. I can’t imagine they’re still in business. It’s awful run down.

Austin rolled up to the pumps and slammed the red Tahoe into park. Troy noticed how remnants of white paint curled on the structure’s exterior siding, a result of years of exposure to the blistering sun.

"It is a bit rickety, but the door’s propped open and the sign in the window says open, Austin indicated and cut off the engine. It’s no 7-Eleven, but gas is gas. We’d best make the most of it. I doubt we’ll find any more stops before the turnoff." He opened his door and swung his cramped legs out.

Do you smell that? Troy breathed in a sweet aroma floating on the breeze.

I do. Lorna caught the scent. Apple blossoms. How is that possible in this heat?

Austin visually scanned their surroundings. I don’t know. The only tree I see is that large juniper standing on the east side of the building. It looks like it’s been there for generations.

The thought of apples brought hunger pangs to Troy’s stomach. I’m starving.

Austin’s attention shifted to the gas pump. There’s no card swipe.

Lorna wagged a finger. The sticker says ‘pay inside.’

What a dinosaur. Austin bent and grabbed the map from the seat. I’ll ask about the road while we get some things. He opened the back door for Troy. Come on, son. We might as well see what they have in the way of snacks. What about you, sweets? Are you coming in?

I’ll wait here. Just get me a caffeine-free Coke and a bag of plain Lays. She pulled her honey-brown hair up into a twist. Don’t be long. It’s hot without the AC.

The stifling temperature teetered just above 100 degrees. Walking at his dad’s side, Troy noticed how the sun beating off the tin roof of the old building sent waves of heat rising as if it were a furnace. He fanned his T-shirt in an attempt to keep cool as they aimed for the entrance—a heavy wooden door held open by a concrete block, exposing a second, screened access that shielded the interior from the unwanted bugs that were numerous in the hot, desert climate.

Troy reached for the handle, but the moment his fingers made contact, a gust of wind whistled through the screen, producing an eerie, ghostly moan. Huh? An icy chill traced his spine and he backed away.

What’s wrong? Austin seized the handle. Let’s go on in. The hinges screeched as the door moved. Are you coming? He held it open for Troy to follow.

Troy hesitated, enveloped by a terrible feeling—a fear that something unnatural, possibly sinister, awaited him inside. Reluctant, he caught the door and stepped inside, peering down when his foot struck wood flooring with a thud. Releasing the door, he jumped as it bounced several times behind him.

What’s got you so jittery? You’re like an antsy cat today. Austin tousled Troy’s hair. The spring attachment’s not working properly. They certainly don’t have to worry about anyone sneaking in undetected.

Troy glanced over the establishment, his attention drawn to a box fan humming in one corner. Stocked shelves filled the open space, but there wasn’t anyone minding the store. No workers or customers. Other than the fan, the place was dead silent.

I haven’t seen anything like this since I was a boy. Austin browsed the nearest shelf.

Where is everyone? Troy turned and peered out the screened door. There aren’t any other cars parked outside.

The employees probably park behind the store. Austin showed no concern. Hello. Is anyone here? he called out.

For several silent seconds they waited, but no one responded.

I feel like an intruder.

It’s a store, Troy, with an open sign in the window. I’d wager they’re in desperate need of business. Austin called out a second time. There’s the register. He moved toward a waist-high counter. Look at this thing. It’s as old as the pumps outside.

Can I help you?

Troy and Austin simultaneously whirled, finding themselves face to face with a clerk.

Darn. Austin’s elbow struck a stand of mints as he turned, knocking it over and scattering the rolls across the counter. I’m so sorry. He repositioned the toppled stand and collected the mints.

Troy couldn’t pull his eyes off the elderly, thin-framed man wearing a knee-length grocer’s smock layered over denim jeans and a green shirt. He stood clutching the wooden handle of a broom. Thinning white hair framed his long face. How had he appeared, undetected, without making a sound? He couldn’t have materialized out of thin air, yet there were no other doors between the front entrance and the counter. Where did you come from? Troy’s gaze meandered to the door. We would have heard the screech from the screened door had it been opened. Like Dad said, no one is sneaking in undetected.

Don’t worry about that. The man waved a hand at Austin who continued to fumble with the display of mints. Reuben Waters at your service.

Hello, Mr. Waters. Austin greeted. You must have been hidden behind a shelf. We didn’t see you.

Call me Reuben. The man gave a friendly nod, grasping the end of a cleaning rag draped across his shoulder.

Okay, Reuben. We need to fill up…and get a few things. I noticed you don’t take cards at the pumps. Austin grabbed a bag of Lays from a stand behind him and tossed it on the counter.

I don’t accept cards. Nothin’ but good ol’ cash here. Hope that’s not a problem.

No. That’s fine. I always carry a little cash. Austin reached for his wallet. I thought everyone took debit cards these days. How do you stay in business?

I do okay. Reuben set the broom aside and moved behind the cash register. I’ve never been one for change. He pulled the rag from his shoulder and shoved it out of sight under the counter.

Troy shivered as the man’s dark gaze settled on him. His stare was cold and penetrating, as if he had the power to reach the core of Troy’s inner being, straight to his very soul.

I’ve been here a long time, managing fine without all of those new age contraptions, and I don’t plan on changing now. Reuben twisted his lip into an awkward smile. I’m afraid time’s passed this old-timer by.

Troy’s sixth sense alerted him that something wasn’t right as he forced a nervous expression in return.

Hurry up and get what you want, son. And don’t forget your mom’s decaf Coke, Austin reminded.

Weighed by a dreadful feeling, Troy moved about the store gathering a few things while the men continued to talk. He listened to their conversation, noticing a hollow effect in the room—how the voices echoed.

What is this place? It felt false.

Could the building be a mask concealing some hidden truth? Was the man deceiving them? Troy didn’t like their situation, but he kept his thoughts to himself, knowing his father would simply bring up his vivid imagination.

Troy reached for a Snickers bar and a board creaked under his weight. He glanced at Reuben and his breath caught in his throat at the sight of the man outlined in a shimmering mist. Troy’s gaze momentarily shifted to his dad who apparently didn’t see the bizarre occurrence.

What is going on?

In a state of unease, Troy gaped as the misty glow faded, but quickly averted his eyes when Reuben shot a jolting look his direction. Shaken, Troy accidentally dropped the candy bar and bent to pick it up.

Who are you?

This was no ordinary man. There was more going on than met the eye. Or was it possible Troy’s eyes, and mind, were playing cruel tricks on him?

Chapter 2: Death Valley Pass

Is it far to Route 12? We’re hoping to see some wildlife, and more of the desert in its true form.

Route 12? Reuben’s brow furrowed, hooding his glassy stare.

The map shows it runs parallel with I8, reconnecting about a hundred miles west.

Saw that on your map? Reuben remarked in the form of a question.

Austin pulled his roadmap from his back pocket, unfolded it, and spread it out on the counter between them. He pointed out the route which showed plain as day beneath the tip of his index finger. Do you know the road?

Yes. I know it. Reuben looked expressionless at the road map. We call that stretch Death Valley Pass.

Troy’s body stiffened, struck by a shiver. Had he heard him right?

Death Valley Pass, the old man repeated, as if he’d read Troy’s thoughts.

Austin cocked his brow, eyeballing Troy, who returned his stare with wide, questioning eyes.

That must be a local thing. The map says Route 12. Austin held his finger on the mark.

Nope. It don’t matter what that map says. The sign will read Death Valley Pass, Reuben insisted.

Troy, leery of the clerk, was disinclined to near the counter, but had no choice but to approach when Austin gestured.

Get those on up here so he can ring it up. Austin refolded the map.

Troy, cradling several items, quickly dumped