The following is a sneek preview of Chapter 1 of THE MOTHMAN MENACE, the second in the new series of Zana O'Savin novels that provide a unique pastiche take on classic pulp characters including Doc and Pat Savage, The Shadow and The Avenger.
ORDER ZANA O'SAVIN #1 THE BLOOD OGRE:
THE RED-EYED DEVIL
(Point Pleasant, West Virginia, 1967)
Zana O’Savin’s craving for “breakfast for dinner” put the bronze-skinned young woman and her longtime companion in life-threatening peril at five minutes past five o’clock on the afternoon of December 15.
The pair were bound for Columbus, Ohio. Zana was currently at the wheel of their Granada Gold, Chevrolet Impala hardtop.
Caving into piercing hunger pangs, ageless Zana was adamant she wanted food now, on the West Virginia-side of the Ohio River.
Her passenger with impossibly enormous fists grimaced.
The giant gave his sleek and slender bronze-skinned driver with copper-colored hair a savoring head-to-toe. “Swear to God, the way you wolf down chow, Tarzana? Christ. You should be built like a long-haul trucker. Holy Jesus, like an NFL linebacker. Anyway but the way you are built.”
The big man didn’t so much say that as rumble it. His deep voice suggested rolling thunder.
Zana’s equally ageless colleague, the towering, glum-faced and big-fisted civil engineer who to this generation and perhaps even the next was known as “Colonel Iain Raven Rauenwich,” was all for pushing on.
Iain, who more often simply went by his former military rank of “Colonel,” was in favor of getting across the Silver Bridge well-ahead of Friday rush-hour traffic. He much preferred to eat on the Ohio side of the river. Say, in Gallipolis, Athens, or some point still further northeast.
Spotting what the Colonel took for a small-town greasy spoon, Zana made a sharp, impulsive curve into a side street adjacent to the post office, palming the Impala’s steering wheel and whipping into a head-in parking space.
It was just a few minutes before four o’clock on an icy Friday afternoon.
It was also ten days shy of Christmas. The streets were crammed with yuletide shoppers, emptying the shelves of downtown Point Pleasant mom and pop merchants.
As the tall woman and still-taller man ducked out of their Chevy, a snow-and-drizzling-rain mix stepped up. Cobra-hooded street lights winked on along a darkening Main Street.
Collars up against the chilly damp, Zana and the Colonel darted toward the diner. From a distant radio or jukebox they dimly heard “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.”
All is lost, there’s no place for beginning/All that’s left is an unhappy ending.
The Colonel held the diner door for a young family—father, mother and daughter. The little girl sported a royal blue winter coat and hat. The child carried a doll with a matching ensemble and the identical shade of blond hair.
The little girl smiled up at the towering Colonel, but then her blue eyes got wide when she glimpsed his outsized hands.
Once inside, the couple drew stares as they tended to, everywhere they went.
The Colonel topped out somewhere over six-five.
Then there was the matter of his massive mitts, each gargantuan hand the size of a small pail, yet capable of imagining and then bringing into being soaring skyscrapers, sublime suspension bridges; breath-stealing and mountain-hugging highways, as well as startling design elements hidden within the iconic Empire State.
Of all of her storied-cousin’s remarkable aides, the imposing engineer’s achievements were likely to resonate the longest, Zana imagined; the most likely to stoke long-cherished memories.
But his giant hands were also capable of committing carnage to stoutly-constructed wooden doors and occasional jackasses’ jawbones.
The strapping engineer had a long, yet still handsome face and dark hair slicked straight back. He was perpetually dour looking. His gloomiest appearance, perversely, was usually an indicator of his underlying happiness. On the other hand, his rare smiles were to be dreaded; even known to invoke fear in those who knew him best.
Yet Zana drew far more attention from the seated diners.
She was strikingly attractive, sure. In a sea of pale West Virginians bracing for the official start of winter, Zana’s sun-kissed bronzed skin set her still farther apart.
But mostly there was the matter of Zana’s intensely exotic eyes.
Their arresting irises suggested flake gold, but layers of delicate gold leaf set in perpetual motion, as if stirred by a soft breeze. Zana’s strange but lovely eyes were naturally hypnotic.
If the low light in the diner had been any better, Zana would have resorted to a pair of non-prescription tinted glasses she sometimes wore to obscure her mesmerizing golden eyes.
The pair were quite aware of other diners studying them as they made their way to their booth and curtly placed their orders. Apart from their looks, they were also clearly out-of-towners in this small riverside community of about four-thousand in which everyone knew everyone else and overnight unlocked front doors weren’t uncommon.
Or at least that was so until recently.
A lone, gray flannel-suited salesman had just finished his T-bone steak and eggs-over-easy. He now browsed the local paper. He was seated at the table between Zana, the Colonel, and the mostly-full lunch counter.
The apparent salesman’s newspaper’s front page boasted a banner headline about “a red-eyed monster” that had “again been spotted,” this time terrorizing hormone-addled teenagers along a lonely Point Pleasant-area county two-lane.
Zana and the Colonel had heard something on the radio an hour before about several such sightings of a gray- or black-skinned “flying thing.”
This was a creature said to have blazing red eyes.
The flying thing was claimed to have the appearance of a tall man, perhaps one even of the Colonel’s rare size, but with vast furred or feathered wings rather than arms. And the thing reportedly had a wing-span estimated at between ten-to twelve-feet.
Or so rattled eyewitnesses insisted.
Presumably also spying the newspaper headline that drew Zana and the Colonel’s attention, a husband and wife sitting closer to the Colonel abruptly launched into an emphatic exchange in clenched-teethed whispers.
“There, ya see,” the husband said, nodding at the newspaper-reader. “I really think I gotta report it, Della,” the man spat. “This monster is real, I tell ya!”
Despite the low light, the man wore dark sunglasses. He raked shaking, callused fingers through graying hair. His wife, whose light-brown hair was even faster graying, shook her head emphatically no.
“Absolutely, not! I forbid it! They’ll think you’re crazy, Ronnie!”
Leaning forward, Ronnie insisted, “But that red-eyed devil? That thing chased me nearly a hundred miles an hour down the road out to the old TNT plant! Thought the truck was gonna throw a rod or bust an axle. If I hadn’t panicked? Hadn’t hit her horn? Hell, if I hadn’t scared that goddamn monster off just honkin’ at the thing? Heaven only knows what might have happened to me!”
He jabbed a thick and trembling finger at his wife. “Wait! Now wait just a damn minute, Della! Now I see what this is! You think I’m crazy, don’t you? You think I made this crap up?”
Mouth agape, he said accusingly, “Good God! You do think I’m delusional, don’t you?”
Della was evasive. “The police will surely think you’re crazy, or you were drunk,” Della insisted. “You only have your word for what you think you saw.”
Husband Ronnie said tightly, “Ya know that’s not true! What about the claw marks on my truck’s roof?”
He next pointed at his face. “And what do ya make of these? Hell, even Doc Teller can’t explain my peepers!”
Ronnie shed his dark glasses, revealing profoundly bloodshot eyes. The skin around each scarlet eye, too, was swollen with a livid red rash. His mauled eyes suggested nasty chemical-caused blisters or at least the wickedest of sunburns.
Yet the rest of the Midwest farmer’s weathered face was December-pale.
Zana and the Colonel together winced at the palpably painful irritation around the man’s disturbingly bloodshot eyes.
Ronnie’s wife hissed, “Put those glasses back on before someone else sees, you fool!”
The engineer and his attractive companion exchanged a look, each arching an eyebrow.
“There it is again,” Zana whispered. “This strange, winged creature with blazing eyes.”
“Which just sounds like an over-large barn owl to me,” the Colonel said, struggling to speak softly, or at least far lower than his usual booming grumble, so that only Zana might hear.
He pointed an enormous index finger at the ceiling. “And that’s the other thing that makes this Mothman so much malarkey to me. Every eyewitness claims this flying thing, this so-called Mothman, takes off vertically. Straight up, like a helicopter. Outside of a humming bird, what’s another flying animal that can move with true verticality beyond a modest, wing-assisted upward jump-leap? Gonna save you the trouble of an answer, sweetheart. Nothin’, that’s what!”
He suggested bird flight with big motioning hands.
“A duck can rise a very few feet straight up over open water, but then has to immediately begin forward motion. The kind of flight these folks attribute to this Mothman? They describe this critter flying straight up for dozens, if not a hundred or more feet. That defies the laws of physics and aerodynamics for any non-mechanical flying thing. At least trust me on that much.”
Zana said, “Then what are these folks seeing, Iain?”
Glum-faced, the engineer shrugged broad shoulders. “Christ’s sake! Who says they’re truly seeing anything? Call it mass hysteria? Too many left-handed cigarettes?”
“But they’ve been reporting this thing since last November, the radio guy said,” Zana pointed out. “Hundreds claim to have seen it.”
“And the newspaper, radio and TV reporters have been salivating all over those supposed sightings, like flies on dung. So, most likely, it’s now mass-hysteria, like I said. I’m sure your genius doctor cousin could make a convincing psychological case for collective delusional contagion—”
The Colonel suddenly cut himself off and waved a dismissive, over-large hand.
He sat back as their smiling waitress with majestic black beehive arrived carrying their twin plates heaped with sunny-side-up eggs, bacon, glistening slabs of ham and a silver flask of piping hot, keep-you-up-all-night (and-then-some-more) black coffee.
From a nearby table, the smiling little girl he’d held the door for waved at the Colonel by wiggling her lookalike doll’s hand at him.
He responded with a big hand wave of his own. That elicited a fond smile from Zana. “You ever think you maybe want a child of your own, Iain?”
He just shrugged big shoulders. “For all kinds of reasons we both grasp, I don’t let my mind go there.”
Zana smiled wistfully and shrugged back. “I suppose.”
They were just starting to savor their ensuing and artery-threatening meal over a mixture of friendly bickering, vigilante shop-talk, and thinly-veiled flirting, when the strange, black-clad men strutted in out of the mounting cold.
The odd-looking men dressed in immaculate and identical black suits marched in eerie lockstep.
Scowling over the rim of his coffee mug, the Colonel grumbled, “Holy cow, now! Forget made-up winged monsters. But do tell me, please, Zana? What do you make of those black-clad freaks?”