Jaye Wells

High Lonesome Sound Excerpt

High Lonesome Sound

Secrets won’t stay buried. Neither will the dead. 

“Some of the best horror I’ve read in ages. Feels like Stephen King after he really hit his stride.” –Stephen Blackmoore, author of Dead Things

“A story that will leave you shivering in the dead of summer.” –Cherie Priest, author of The Family Plot

“A masterful portrayal of flawed humanity struggling to hear the song of the sublime. It’s harrowing, haunting, and ultimately triumphant with a deeply satisfying conclusion.” –Kevin Hearne, NYT Bestselling author of the Iron Druid series

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The bear was crying again.

In the cold hours before her sisters demanded breakfast or Daddy got back to drinking, Ruby Barrett lay in bed and listened to the cub down the road holler for its mama. The high, pitiful wails didn’t enter through her ears; they shredded through her middle like icy fingers. Once inside, the sounds crawled up under her ribs and throbbed like a second heart.

The mean old Plott hounds down at Junior Jessup’s farm answered each of the bear’s cries with howls that sounded like hell’s own choir. When she’d first asked Daddy about the bear, he said Junior kept it caged near the dog runs to train the hounds for hunting season come deep fall.

“If Junior’s in a Christian mood maybe he’ll send some of that bear meat our way for the winter,” he’d added.

“But isn’t it illegal to take a cub?” she’d whispered.

Instead of answering, he’d punched her. After living in that house for eighteen years, she should have known better than to sass him. These days, the only sure things in her life were Daddy’s fist, the crying bear, and the Mama-shaped hole in the world.

After he’d hit her, she’d washed the blood from her mouth in the cracked bathroom sink. She sent her anger down that drain, too, because her sanity depended on staying numb.

The memories faded away, just like the bruises eventually did, leaving her alone in the dark with the rain beating on the clapboards like tears and the cold so hard like a winter grave.

That morning, they were gonna bury Mama.

The thought created a crack in the dam she’d built around her heart. She swiped at the first couple of tears, but soon she couldn’t stem the tide anymore. Her sobs weren’t as loud as the bear’s, but they sounded and felt just as hopeless.

Squeezing her eyes closed, she listened hard for the song. She yearned for the sound of wind whispering secrets through the trees and the distant rumble of highland thunder. Mama had been the one to teach her how to listen to the mountain’s music. But when Mama died, so had the songs, and now the only music in her life came from that terrified bear cub.

Without the mountain to tell her its secrets, she had no choice but to turn to God for help. “Please, Jesus,” she whispered. “Bring me a miracle.”

In all her life, she’d only known two people who escaped Moon Hollow. The first was Jack Thompson, but even he hadn’t lasted a full year at college before he lost his scholarship and moved back to his mama’s trailer. Last time she’d talked to him, he’d said he was looking into work down in the mines. Might as well have said he was buying a plot up on Cemetery Hill, which is right where her mama, the only other escapee, would be buried that very morning.

“Please help me leave this place.” Something deep in her chest, some burning knowledge that was not of the brain but of the heart, told her that if she didn’t find her song, Moon Hollow would become a tomb and she’d be buried alive.

But Jesus didn’t answer her prayer that morning. The only response came from down the road.

She wondered if the bear had watched its mama die, too.

Like lightning, an image appeared in her head of Mama’s whole body shuddering as death asked her to dance. The jerky steps of that morbid waltz represented the surrender of Rose Barrett’s body and soul. The remembered smell of cinnamon and grain alcohol from the spilled apple pie moonshine—a perfume she now would always associate with death—filled her nostrils. She swallowed hard and pushed the ugly memory back down into the dark vault where she hid all of her ghosts.

Funny, she never remembered hearing that bear cry once the sun was high and the dew baked off every blade of grass. But at that moment, in the dark, in the cold dark, the world felt impossibly small and filled with the terrible realization that the only thing worse than those cries was knowing that soon enough they, too, would fall silent.

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