By Carsten Stroud
Four years ago, southbound on Interstate 75, a hundred miles out of Chattanooga and on our way to Savannah,my wife Linda and I saw a Lexus SUV in the ditch on the far side of the northbound lanes, a couple of dazed people standing around beside it. One of them, a puffy older guy in one of those awful canvas boonie hats,was on a cell phone. There was no blue-and-grey Georgia State Patrol car at the scene: it was just another roadside enigma.
Linda and I drove off, but a half-mile down the road, we saw another badly-damaged car in the ditch, and another guy on a cell. Once is incident, twice is coincidence: but again we drove away.
And then, five hundred yards down, a third vehicle—a big yellow Hummer. It was not just in the ditch, but on its side, wheels still turning. There were Georgia blue-and-grays clustered around it, and the scene stayed with us.
And it was still with us when we pulled up to our destination, the Marriott Hotel and Convention Center in Marietta, Georgia.The hotel is an ex-military college across the street from a large cemetery filled with several thousand Confederate soldiers, young wildwood boys killed while trying to stop Sherman from burning all the way through the center of Georgia like a lit fuse. Along our journey to this hotel, we followed Sherman’s trail of fire all the way from Kennesaw Mountain to Charleston and then on into Savannah.
This also stayed with us.
That night in Savannah, under a harvest moon, Linda and I took a walk through Forsyth Park, an old parade ground where Confederate troops did close-order drills before being fed into the bloody hopper of the Civil War. There’s an obelisk in the middle of the park, a Confederate soldier on the peak, and an inscription on the base: “Come From The Four Winds, Oh Breath, and Breathe Upon These Slain That They May Live.” That night, we went to bed, and in the morning we woke up with a place called Niceville on our minds.
Here we are three years later with THE HOMECOMING, the sequel to NICEVILLE, a book about an ex-special forces soldier turned investigator who’s married to a family practice lawyer; two rogue cops who have taken down a bank and killed four fellow officers doing it; a bunch of mob guys from Leavenworth who think that the stolen money is theirs and send a sleek psychopath to Niceville to get it back.
And we have a kid named Rainey Teague who has a guest in his skull who is not very nice; a limestone cliff named Tallulah’s Wall that looms over the town of Niceville like a tsunami,home to a huge flock of unusually aggressive crows;and a thousand-foot deep lake on top of Tallulah’s Wall called Crater Sink, where something that may be Nothing has lived for thousands of years, devouring passing souls.
We also encounter the four Founding Families—The Cottons, The Walkers, The Mercers and The Teagues—who have a tangled history of seduction, betrayal, revenge, duels, kidnapping, and murder by Harlequin Coral Viper that goes all the way back to the French Revolution. Oh yes, and an antique gilded mirror that was taken from the Mercer family during The Terror and used to show each Mercer what their severed head looked like seconds after being chopped off by the guillotine. This mirror is now in Niceville, and full of lost souls.
Now, you may find it interesting that Linda and I came up with these ideas that night in Savannah and that NICEVILLE was already half-way done when we decided to look into the actual history of the Savannah area.We discovered an old Cherokee myth about a demon named Tal’ulu who lived in a river gorge (Tal’ulu means Eater Of Souls), and another Cherokee myth about a demon known as Kalona Ayeleski (“The Raven Mocker”) whose predatory attendance at a dying person’s bedside is heralded by a flock of ravens. Both of this we discovered after we began the NICEVILLE Trilogy.
In THE HOMECOMING, a book that begins where NICEVILLE left off, the history of Niceville grows even darker and deeper. Rainey Teague, the kid-with-The-Guest-in-his-skull, turns out to be the heir apparent to three centuries of Teague Family atrocities that included running a “sanatorium” called Candleford House, where people were routinely murdered for their money.
All of this mayhem is in a way peripheral to the violent collisions between the two rogue cops, an amiable psychopath working for the Mafia, a conniving lawyer, and a string of murders that have to be solved by Nick Kavanaugh, the Ex-Special Forces soldier turned detective and his partner, Mavis Crossfire. I wasn’t trying for ‘genre-bending’ and I’d say that at the heart of this story is a hard-core police thriller, but unseen supernatural forces work their quiet evil in the deep background.
My wife Linda and I aren’t trying to make sense of how this all started with three crashed cars by the side of Interstate 75, a visit to a Confederate graveyard, and a moonlit stroll in Savannah.
Neither should you.
But I hope you enjoy THE HOMECOMING and I welcome you to the mythical southern town of Niceville, where, if you look carefully, you can see EVIL hiding right in the middle of it.
To learn more about Carsten, please visit his website.