Here's a teaser from LONG VALLEY by Robert E Kreig. (Warning: Contains Coarse Language)
The night sky was veiled in thick clouds and the mountains draped in mist. Wisps of snow streamed across the ground like loose ribbons caught in the breeze. The trees swayed and creaked gently each time a gust of cold air blew down from the surrounding mountains. The wind swam through the pine leaves, sounding like a rapid stream flowing violently. Occasionally a branch would creak loudly under the pressure of the building snow and suddenly it would dump the load onto the ground with a thump.
The only other sounds were that of four trucks with large tanker trailers idling by the side of the state highway and the teeth chattering of a young private that was having trouble leaving his mark on a tree.
The highway loomed above the trucks like a great concrete monolith. They had just driven down the exit ramp and onto an intersecting road, which passed under the highway to the right and snaked into the mountains on the left. The trucks were lined up on the side of the road, ready to head in that direction.
“Come on, Private,” the sergeant yelled from the lead truck. “We’re on a tight schedule. You said you needed to go. Now go.”
The private snorted back a ball of snot forming inside his nose and swallowed. It was disgusting. He should’ve spat. Instead, he now had something that reminded him of a cold oyster crawling down his throat.
“Sorry, Sarge,” he called. “I don’t get it. I was almost bursting before.”
“Performance anxiety, sir,” another private called from the second truck.
“Fuck you, Wilson,” the private retorted from his tree.
“That’s enough, both of you.” The sergeant took a deep breath and shook his head. “It’s the cold, son. You’ve been out there so long it’s a wonder it ain't fallen off yet.”
“Nothing there to fall off,” Wilson laughed.
“Shuttup, Wilson,” the sergeant bellowed. “Get in the truck, son. It’s only another twenty minutes to the base. As soon as we get there you can piss until your blue in the face.”
The private zipped his pants and jogged back to the lead truck. He climbed into the driver’s seat and slammed the door shut, closing the cold out and soaking up the heat in the cabin.
“Sorry, Sarge,” he said bashfully as he knocked the truck into gear and pulled onto the road.
“It’s okay. I understand. But you are going to cop some shit when we pull into base. You got it?” The sergeant reached for the radio receiver sitting on the dashboard in front of him.
“Yeah,” the private nodded, hoping he could hold it another twenty minutes before the internal dams burst.
“Okay boys,” the sergeant said into the radio. “We’re about to pass through ‘The Eye’ and then we need to be careful. The road turns tightly until we get to the valley floor. We’ll have mountainside reaching up to our right and river down below us on the left.
“Be careful. The road should be plowed clear for us, but the fucker will be as slippery as ice. Copy?”
One by one, the other trucks’ occupants replied as they followed the little road into a tight gap that wound its way into a wall of rock that rose from the pine forest like jagged teeth.
The road quickly swung to the right, following the mountain range to the north. A metal barrier covered in reflectors hugged the road on the left, giving fair warning of the long drop to the river beyond.
The private kept the vehicle in low gear and as close to the rock wall as he could. There was no way in hell he wanted to stray to far to the left and slip down that embankment.
Over the tops of the trees to his left, lights in the distance outlined the grid pattern of a town. Small islands of lights dotted the valley indicating pockets of civilization in the form of tiny neighborhoods and farmhouses.
“Son,” the sergeant started. The private, who was deep in concentration, suddenly jumped and felt he may have soiled himself. “Did you know these mountains are full of mines from the gold rush days?”
“Ah,” the private appeared slightly confused. This was not the sort of thing the sergeant would usually converse about. “No sir. I did not.”
“Yeah,” the sergeant pointed past the private to the ridge beyond the river. “The first settlers here started digging right over there. More came afterwards and pretty soon there were tunnels going from one side of these mountains through to the other. It must be like a regular ants nest, or bee’s hive under there.
“Then the local natives decided they didn’t like what was happening here. This place was special to them. Isolated and cut off from the outside world. I guess it was somewhat sacred.”
The sergeant pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He plopped one into his mouth and offered the private one.
“No thanks, Sarge,” the private smiled.
“You don’t mind if I do?” the sergeant pulled the cigarette from his mouth.
“Not at all.”
“Okay,” the sergeant put the stick back in his mouth and lit it with a lighter he kept in his coat pocket. He took a couple of drags and breathed deeply. “What was I saying?”
“Sacred,” replied the private.
“Oh yeah,” the sergeant recalled. “So, some fighting happened between the settlers and the Indians. Eventually the army was called in to resolve any disputes.”
“Resolve any disputes?”
“Yeah. They wiped out the local indigenous population. Men, women and children.”
“Shit!” the private shook his head.
“Mm-hmm,” the sergeant took a deep draw on his cigarette and slowly exhaled. “You know the worst of it? They didn’t find enough gold in this valley to pay for one wagon wheel. The only thing this place was good for was the trees and setting up a fucking army base.”
“Wait,” the private’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean ‘the trees’?”
“Logging camps moved in after the idea of gold mining died off. They stopped years and years ago when they nearly destroyed every tree here.”
“But there’s plenty of trees.”
“That was because the army moved base further into the valley back in seventy six. As a good will gesture they planted trees and re-forested the whole valley so the hippies in town wouldn’t protest about the new base.”
“How do you know all this, Sarge?”
“This is my home town, son.” The sergeant raised the radio receiver to his mouth. “Get ready to lay it on, boys. We’ve reached the valley floor. Take care going through the town. Should be a straight run. It’s around three thirty. No one should be awake except the farmers. But take care. Civvies are unpredictable.”
The trucks picked up pace as the ground beneath them leveled out. The land on either side of the road opened, exposing fields and farmhouses in the distance. The river continued to snake through the valley on their left. The mountain range encompassed them on both sides, moving further out on both sides and stretching into the distance ahead where they met some miles away.
The strong, high beam of the headlights connected with a green sign with white writing posted beside the road. It read:
The lights of the town grew larger as they kicked up speed and moved to the center of the road. The snow plow had done a good job. The road was extremely visible, as if it had just been cleared. Still, every now and then, the wind sent small drifts of white across the path before the trucks. But there was no sign of any hindrance to their journey.
Slightly, the private slowed the vehicle down as he passed through town. The sergeant grunted his approval as he lit another cigarette.
It looked like any other town in the middle of nowhere. They passed a gas station, sheriff’s office, fire brigade and a string of stores with large awnings overhanging the sidewalk. There were signs pointing towards the hospital and school and houses lining the streets on either side.
Nothing special. Except that the road widened to an extremity in the midst of the built up area of the town.
“Welcome to Long Valley, Private,” the sergeant said as they drove through. “My home sweet home.”
“Why is the road so wide here, Sarge?”
“Logging trucks,” the sergeant replied as he breathed out blue smoke from his nostrils. “They need the width to take the turn onto Old Mill Road there.”
The private noticed a building with a number of signs indicating ‘Town Hall’, ‘Library’ and ‘Post Office’ as they moved swiftly through the intersection.
The trucks continued through the town and onward. Moving deeper into the valley.
Trees began to fill the scenery on either side of the road as the mountain ranges crept closer and closer. On occasion, he noticed a road or two leading off to the left and right and clusters of houses in the distance.
“Old army housing, Private,” the sergeant explained. “A place for army personnel to raise their families. A strategy to promote a real community spirit and link the base with the town. It didn’t take off too well and army families were forced to move when the housing areas were sold off to civilians back in the eighties.”
The private noticed a sign indicating for traffic to slow down to five miles. He followed the instruction and noticed a chain link fence just beyond the trees running parallel on either side of the road.
Ahead was a checkpoint boom gate with guards on either side. Spotlights burst to life as the trucks approached. One of the guards indicated for the trucks to stop.
The private pulled up next to the guard and wound his window down. The sergeant handed the private some papers, which he in turn gave to the guard.
“Says here you got four trucks,” the guard stated.
“That’s right,” the sergeant replied. “You can count them if you like.”
“I have,” said the guard. “There’s only three.”
“Bull fucking shit,” the sergeant opened his door and walked around the front of the vehicle. “You need to learn how to count. What’s your name, you dumb ass..”
“Oh shit!” the guard called. He was gazing back towards the road.
The private heard the screech of tires but could not see the source. He saw the glow from a fireball on the guard’s shock filled face and felt the truck slide forward with immense force. He felt the warm embrace of urine filling his pants as all self-control escaped him. Finally.
The sergeant disappeared from his view, but he knew the sergeant was somewhere underneath the vehicle and would not be leaving his home ever again. Then the truck lifted skywards as the other vehicles plunged into his. The sound of crunching metal against metal was sickening as he tumbled through the air and watched a wave of flame sweep past the cabin of his truck to engulf the guard station and its inhabitants.
The truck crashed to the ground and threw the private against the passenger window. Glass pierced his face and he fell back to the driver’s side as the truck came to rest on that side. The private hit his head one last time on the steering wheel with a loud crack.
Everything grew dark.
Long Valley is a roller coaster of a read, and will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Robert E. Kreig has a very engaging writing style, and his fast paced thriller of a book will have you hooked from page one. This book would appeal to any reader who enjoys action and adventure, fast paced thrillers, and books that feature military intrigue and misdeeds. Those who enjoy an ending with a twist won’t be disappointed either. I was very impressed with Mr. Kreig’s initial published work, and feel that this author has great promise. I, for one, will certainly be looking for more of his books in the future, and hope he is hard at work on a follow-up!
Tracy A. Fischer
author of 'The Sort of Life of Julie Winterfeldt (The Julie Winterfeldt Series)'
Robert E Kreig's Website