Ken was born in the small town of Moose Jaw, Canada, but he figured things out quickly and hauled his family west at the age of 9. Since then, he’s lived in Vancouver, where the winter snow falls as rain. Endless, endless rain…..
Being raised on a steady diet of science fiction and disaster movies, it just seems right that his first published novel be about the zombie apocalypse. In his spare time, Ken tries to paint like Bob Ross and play poker like Doyle Brunson, but results suggest he might have got it all backwards.
Please visit Ken at his Official Website
I’m delighted to be able to host this book excerpt from Ken Stark’s latest novel, Arcadia Falls which has just been selected as a Solo Medallist in the 2017 New Apple Awards as top YA Horror. Congratulations Ken!
Something is wrong in Arcadia Falls.
The first boy vanished without a trace and with just as little fanfare. Even the second disappearance amounted to little more than a few passing remarks and another name skipped over in the classroom roll call. As far as Riverside High and the rest of Arcadia Falls were concerned, it seemed, it was as if nothing had happened at all.
Tyler John was no different. He had barely given the matter a second thought, but then a wrong turn sent him on a path straight into the dark heart of the mystery, and the deeper he peered into the shadows, the more he realized that something was looking back.
Now, the hunter has become the hunted and time is running out. With nowhere else to turn, it’s up to Tyler and his handful of friends to stop the evil thing that’s been preying on Arcadia Falls, and if they fail, they might just be the next ones to vanish.
Yes, something is desperately wrong in Arcadia Falls, and it’s like nothing anyone has ever seen before.
It was just a sound. A typical, everyday, small-town sound. After all, it was still September, just into autumn. The nights were warm, and people left their windows open at night, so a whole host of sounds filled the night air. Music from a radio. Voices from a TV. Couples arguing. Others making love. Children laughing. Dishes clinking. So many sounds filled a small-town autumn night that what I heard barely registered at all. It was only when we crossed into my yard and started up the driveway that the sound rose in volume enough to finally get our attention.
“Jee-zuzz!” Roly yelped, putting a hand to my chest and stopping me dead in my tracks.
It was the sound of a baby crying. A perfectly ordinary sound on a small-town autumn night. Or at least it was, until recently.
A juniper bush rustled at the edge of the road, and we both jumped.
“The wind maybe?” I hoped.
“What wind?” came the reply.
The baby’s cry rose in volume to become a wail, and we both took a wary step backward. We stood shoulder to shoulder halfway up the driveway, breathing heavily and staring wide-eyed at the juniper bush, then the bush moved again, and this time there could be no mistake. It wasn’t the wind doing that. Roly was right. There was no wind.
We eased back another step.
“How can it be here?” Roly tried to hush.
“Dunno,” I managed through lips as cold as ice.
“Should we run?”
“Dunno,” I said again.
All of the fear returned in a wave as I backed us up one more shaky step.
Was this it, I wondered? Is this what all of those other kids experienced just before they vanished off the face of the earth? The wailing rose to an excited, frantic squeal, the bush gave another shudder, and Roly grabbed my arm in his big, meaty hand.
It wasn’t the wind. There was no wind. Whatever was shaking that juniper bush was real. A real honest-to-God thing was in that bush. My mind conjured up the image of the bloated, evil thing with gnashing teeth and white, translucent flesh, and in my mind, I saw it watching us through a tangled filigree of branches as it raised a distorted snout at the scent of prey. But how could that monstrosity be here? Did it follow us from Old Town? No. No way. With lead-footed Amanda behind the wheel of the tamed beast, how could it have followed us? But then an infinitely worse possibility occurred to me, and it was almost too frightening a notion to contemplate. Maybe that horrible creature hadn’t followed us, after all. Maybe it had picked up the scent of those two stupid humans who’d invaded its territory and followed it here. Maybe, I thought, just maybe we hadn’t been followed at all. Maybe we’d been hunted!
I had no idea what to do. Should we run? My front door was no more than twenty feet away, and I’d left it unlocked. But then came the horrifying thought, had I? It was such an automatic thing to do, to unthinkingly bring a key out of a pocket and twist the wrist. I’d done it a thousand times before without thinking. Did I do it tonight? If so, we’d be done. We would come up against a locked door, and even as I fumbled with the key, we’d both vanish into the mist like all the others, never to be seen again. In days, our names would be forgotten. In weeks, our faces would fade. In months, someone would look at a picture and wonder, how did these strangers get into Riverside’s yearbook?
No! Amanda wouldn’t forget! She was more than a friend, and she hadn’t had a lifetime in the boiling water. She’d remember me!
But even as the words came, I knew they were a lie. The longer Amanda stayed in Arcadia Falls, the more she’d fall under the influence of Lamia. It might take longer for her than for the others, but she’d forget me too, just like the others. And once I faded from that last lucid mind like a photograph left too long in the sun, it would be as if I’d never existed.
The realization brought a heaviness to my heart like I’d never felt before, and oddly enough, so profound was my sadness at the thought of being forgotten by that wonderful girl that it quickly overwhelmed my fear. Then, as quickly as fear ceded to anguish, anguish became indignation. And just as quickly, indignation turned to resentment.
If I was to die, then so be it. After all, everyone dies. But to be forgotten? To have my entire existence deleted? To be totally and completely erased from Amanda’s mind? In the scant few seconds I had left to ponder my end, resentment quickly gave way to anger, and from there it was a short, inevitable hop to absolute, blinding rage.
“No!” I shouted into the night, and watched Roly’s face go flush.
“Dude!” he gaped at me as if I’d just doomed us both.
“No!” I shouted again, directing it this time at the rustling bush, “We are not going to be erased!”
This wasn’t the return of the reluctant hero. This wasn’t me trying to be brave. This wasn’t me caring one whit how I was remembered by my friends and loved ones. This was me in a blind, bitter rage at the thought of not being remembered at all.
I looked around for a weapon. A rake abandoned on the lawn, maybe, or a shovel left leaning against the garage. A broom. A stick. Anything! But there was nothing. Out of desperation then, I stooped and picked up a rock from the side of driveway. It was a small thing, no bigger than an egg. Absolutely no use in defence, but at least it would let me strike a blow before we were erased.
Roly emitted a frightened little squeak when he realized what I was about to do, then he took a backward step toward the house and I was silently relieved. When I threw the rock, the monster would come after me and Roly would have a chance. I hoped he took it. I hoped that he took those few seconds to run for his life. Maybe he’d even make it, and then someone would be around to mourn me. At least for a while.
I wound up like a pitcher on the mound and let fly. My throw was weak, but my aim was true, and the rock struck the bush squarely in the middle. A horrible screech tore through the air, and Roly let loose a high-pitched squeal of his own, then he leapt a foot in the air as a shape exploded from the juniper bush and shot straight toward us. Small, lithe, too fast to be anything more than a blur, the thing came right at us, but there was no time to run. It would be on us in seconds. Claws would rake our bodies and needle-sharp teeth would sink into our throats, and all either of us would be able to do would be to stand frozen in horror. But then, just as the creature got to within a few feet of us and seemed ready to lunge, it suddenly twisted its body like a spring and tore away across Roly’s front lawn and back into the night.
It was cat. Just a cat. A stray, scruffy, flea-bitten wonderful cat! And even as it sped away from us, I was just able to make out a mother’s cooing voice above the thundering pulse in my ears, then a window was slid shut farther down the street and the crying baby was suddenly silenced. And just like that, the drama was over.
Roly bent at the waist and panted as if he’d just run a marathon.
I dispelled my fear with a nervous laugh, “Wow! Yeah, that was…..unsettling.”
“Way, dude! I thought for sure…..”
“It was just a cat, buddy,” I cut him off before he could give full voice to his fear, “Just a cat. We’re okay.”
“Dude, I swear, I thought that was it. I figured in another second, a creature from the bowels of the netherworld would be feasting on my bones and savouring my inner chocolatey goodness for dessert.”
We stood there for a moment longer, just catching our wind and letting the last shreds of fear dissipate into the night, but then a movement on the far side of the road caught my wandering eye. It wasn’t much, just a subtle shifting of shadows, but something was there, weaving its way around a wide circle of light thrown down by a streetlight above.
“Is it the cat again?” Roly asked, so I knew that he saw it, too, “I don’t whether to throw a shoe at the little jerk or kiss it right on the tuna-hole.”
I tried to laugh, but it came out as a nervous giggle.
“Animal cruelty either way.”
The thing was keeping to the shadows, avoiding the light. I couldn’t see it clearly, but it certainly wasn’t a cat. Our little surprise visitor was probably a mile away and up a tree by now, and besides, it was too big to be a cat. Far too big. Still, the moving shadow was so ill-defined and enigmatic that I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
Was it a dog, maybe? It was big enough to be a dog, bigger in fact, but it didn’t move the way a dog would. A dog would stroll confidently, stopping to sniff a patch of grass here or the base of a tree there. This thing skittered along in little bursts of speed, covering eight or ten feet in a flash and then hunkering down in the shadows. Street lights shone down in hazy circles of yellow all along the street, but not once did the thing enter any one of those circles where I could see it clearly. Whenever it approached a patch of light, it would freeze, scamper around behind a hedge or a fence, emerge again on the opposite side, and skitter into another shadow. It seemed hulking, massive, but there was something about it that seemed somehow tenuous, angular.
“What is that?” Roly asked, squinting into the darkness.
All I could offer was another, “Dunno…..”
If it was a dog, it had to be the mother of all dogs. If Arcadia Falls had a zoo, I’d even consider that a bear had broken loose, but the closest zoo was a hundred miles away. So what else in the natural world was that big?
And then came the thought, Who said anything about the natural world?…..
I didn’t blink as I watched that hulking shape get closer. There was a moment when the thing nearly brushed against a circle of light and I thought I saw a thick body covered with dark bristling hair, but then it hopped away from the light and vanished again into blackness. Ten feet further along, it appeared out of the shadows and came close enough to the ambient glow of another street light that I was certain I could just make out the outline of one long, spindly leg., but the appendage only flirted ever so briefly with the light before whatever the limb belonged to skittered back and melted into the darkness once again.
“Is it a dog? Sure, it’s just a dog!” Roly forced a weak laugh, “Probably after Mr. Whiskers.”
The thing came to another circle of light barely fifty feet away from us across the road. This time, it lingered in the darkness as if uncertain of its path. A cement retaining wall blocked passage on one side, and a poorly parked car blocked the other, so it had nowhere to go. Several seconds passed as the thing cowered back in the darkness, then in one explosive movement, it launched itself forward, directly through the circle of light.
You can read more about the New Apple Awards here