THE BIGFOOT FILES/Chapter Thirty-Five: The Darkness in the Pines

 

The Darkness in the Pines by Harlan Graves is a creature-feature novella about a grieving Vietnam veteran named Howard Ward. Released in May, the story is Book 1 of 3 in a series titled The Beast of Fallow Pines. The Fallow Pines is a mysterious place with a history of missing lumberjacks and miners from the 1900s.

The first sentence – “Howard Ward had seen some shit” – is a perfect opener because it implies Howard is about to see more that he hadn’t seen before. And boy, does he ever.

Howard is an aging former soldier who lives in an isolated cabin amid a primeval forest known as Fallow Pines. Still bitter about the tragic death of his wife, Howard lives a loner’s survivalist life.

The story begins with Howard’s discovery of a decapitated bear soon followed by chickens with their heads torn off, then the inevitable footprint we suspect is Bigfoot’s.

The author Graves incorporates Howard’s Vietnam experience through past memories and dreams without killing the suspense in the present. Graves’ writing conveys the foreboding sense of walking through the woods alone, using the snap of a twig or the silence to effectively heighten the tension.

“The wind hissed through the pines, the branches rasping like dry bones. It carried with it the faint scent of decay.”

Howard’s first encounter with the Beast is watching “a huge black shape” drag away one of his deer kills.

When Howard visits a surplus store to buy a bear trap, the proprietor Tom warns him.

“Careful up there, Howard,” Tom said. “I overheard on my scanner just a week ago how a camper out Fallow Creek way was mauled in his sleeping bag. … Bear ate him like a burrito.”

Of course, Howard is stubborn, at one point telling the darkness, “These are MY woods.”

However, Bigfoot disagrees.

The Darkness in the Pines delivers not one but two epic one-on-one battles between Howard and the Beast. Howard seems to channel Arnold Schwarzenegger from the 1987 film Predator, using his soldier skills to try and kill the Beast.

The three titles in The Beast of Fallow Pines series have generated more than 220 reviews on Amazon averaging 4.2 stars out of 5. I enjoyed Book 1 enough to read the rest of the series. I think fans of cryptid horror will enjoy it, too.

NEXT UP: Chapter Thirty-Six: The Beast of Fallow Pines. I review the 2021 novella by Harlan Graves.

Horror Author Jeff Strand gets Ferocious in 2019

An Interview with Jeff Strand

Horror author Jeff Strand is already having a ferocious 2019 following a productive 2018, which featured five new releases from the four-time Bram Stoker Award-nominated writer.

Strand’s first new release of 2019 is the Kindle version of Ferocious, an action-packed novel about wild zombie animals on the prowl in a forest where Uncle Rusty and his teenage niece Mia live off the grid in a cabin.

Strand’s horror novels, Pressure and Dweller, earned Bram Stoker Award nominations, but the versatile author has also written young adult comedies, horror comedies, and even a romantic comedy.

Check out his website and ridiculously long bio here. Purchase the Kindle edition of Ferocious here.

Strand, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, agreed to an exclusive interview with HorrorAddicts.net about his new book and shares news on a couple of other future projects. He even answers the question if there will be a second Wolf Hunt sequel.

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HORROR ADDICTS: Undead animals? What sparked the idea for Ferocious?

STRAND: I had no story idea when I wrote the first chapter — I just liked the idea of this gruff, antisocial guy living in a cabin deep in the woods suddenly having a baby thrust upon him after his sister died. So, then it became, “Okay, what can go horribly wrong in their lives?” After much brainstorming, I settled on “zombie animals,” which isn’t a unique concept but certainly an under-utilized one.

HA: In the more than 40 books you’ve released, Uncle Rusty and Mia from Ferocious are two of my favorite characters that you’ve created. I love their relationship from the moment she asks her uncle, “Did you get the tampons?” Where would you rank them among your character creations? Do you like certain characters you create more than others?

STRAND: It’s fun to write a really nasty villain like Darren in Pressure or Ivan in Wolf Hunt, but I’ll admit that it’s more fulfilling to create characters that the reader really likes. In a book that has “once it gets going it never stops” pacing, it was really important that you start rooting for these characters early on. I’m honestly not sure where I’d rank them. At gunpoint, forced to choose, I’d say that Kevin and Rachel from Blister are my favorite characters, followed closely by the heroes in Cyclops Road. I switched the order after I typed that the first time. Then I’d cheat and say that it’s a tie between Uncle Rusty and Mia, George and Lou from Wolf Hunt, Todd and Amy from Kumquat, Frank and Abigail from Bring Her Back, the family from Sick House, and Toby and Owen from Dweller. None of these are individual characters — I tend to like my own characters based on how they interact with each other.

HA: What actors should play Uncle Rusty and Mia if there’s a movie version of Ferocious?

STRAND: I never think of actors when I’m writing a book, and this question always has me going “Uhhhhh …” I truly don’t know. Hopefully, actors who are pleasant to work with and don’t lock themselves inside their trailer because their coffee was the wrong temperature.

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HA: Uncle Rusty lives off the grid in a cabin deep in the woods? Does that lifestyle appeal to you or are you one of those city slickers?

STRAND: There are flashes of it when I’m stuck in Atlanta traffic, but no, I’m a city guy.

HA: A story of undead animals run amok could go over the top and off the rails quickly, but you played it fairly straight considering the circumstances. You focused on the human survival element in Ferocious, but did you leave any crazy zombie animal ideas on the editing room floor?

STRAND: The book embraces the idea that not all animals in the forest are menacing, and it’s not only the “scary” ones that are undead. So, I played it straight from the perspective that if there was a zombie squirrel coming after you, this is how it would probably behave, and this is how you would probably react to it. And one of my favorite scenes is when an encounter with a rather non-threatening animal suddenly turns horrific. But there really wasn’t anything where I said, “Nope, that’s going too far.” Especially not with the final beast.

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HA: I described Ferocious in my Amazon review as “pure B-movie creature feature fun.” Is that what you were going for or were you hoping to send an environmental message?

STRAND: No message. The only message would be “forest animals really suck when they become zombies.” This baby is pure B-movie creature feature fun!

HA: Uncle Rusty and Mia battle a number of undead animals in the relentlessly paced Ferocious. Have you ever been attacked by an animal?

STRAND: I’ve been bitten by a couple of dogs in my time, and at any given moment I probably have at least one cat scratch, but as far as “Let me tell you a gripping tale about the time I was attacked …” no, I don’t really have anything. A couple of years ago I was sitting out on the end of a dock on a lake, and a bear stepped out of the woods and walked right up to the dock. My thought process was, “This bear is almost definitely NOT going to come after me, but I’m prepared to dive right into that lake if necessary,” and “I want to take a picture of this, but I don’t want to be the dumbass who took a picture of a bear as it was charging him.” The bear moved along, and I survived the encounter.

HA: Are you a cat or a dog person? Do you have any pets that could one day become zombie animals?

STRAND: I love both of them, but I’ve only owned cats for the past 20 years. You can just leave out extra food and kitty litter and go to a writers’ conference and the cat will be fine. I’m not a world traveler, but I’m on the road enough that it wouldn’t be fair to a dog. Chaos the Cat is a gigantic blob and though he scratches me if I try to rub his tummy for one second after he’s decided that it’s time for this experience to stop, I don’t honestly think I’d fear for my life if he became a zombie. He’s not very ambitious.

HA: If you could be any animal, which one would it be and why?

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STRAND: Being able to fly like a bird would be awesome. Though I probably wouldn’t appreciate it if I were a bird. Am I an animal with human thoughts, or am I full-on animal? Because, like, my cat has a wonderful life, but he doesn’t think he has a wonderful life. He thinks we never, ever feed him. Being a dolphin would be cool unless I was captured by one of those blowhole perverts. This question is too hard. Why do I have to answer all the questions? What kind of animal would you be?

HA: Any Jeff Strand news you can break for us Horror Addicts? Can you give us a sneak peek on any new projects on the horizon?

STRAND: After refusing to answer that last question, I hate to refuse to answer this one, too, but there’s actually nothing that’s definite enough to post on a website. Well, okay, I’m working on a thriller called Stranger Than Normal, but it may be a couple of years after it’s finished before it’s published, and it may not have that title. I know what book I’m planning to write after that, which would be the next one published, but that could change, and I’d hate to lie to your readers. That would reflect poorly on you as well. I’d feel bad if you lost the trust of your fans. How about this? Someday there will be a Wolf Hunt 3.

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