Today we’re thrilled to bring you the opening pages of The Troop by Nick Cutter in which a scouting trip goes horribly wrong…
He felt something touch his hand. Which is when he looked down.
For the scouts of Troop 52, three days of camping, hiking and survival lessons on Falstaff Island is as close as they’ll get to a proper holiday.
Which was when he saw it.
But when an emaciated figure stumbles into their camp asking for food, the trip takes a horrifying turn. The man is not just hungry, he’s sick. Sick in a way they have never seen before.
Which was when he screamed.
Cut off from the mainland, the troop face a terror far worse than anything they could have made up around a campfire. To survive they will have to fight their fears, the elements … and eventually each other.
The Troop begins below:
Headline from The Weird News Network, online edition, October 19:
THE HUNGRY MAN OF PRINCE COUNTY!
By Huntington Mulvaney
Fearsome news, dear readers, from one of our loneliest outposts—the tiny fishing community of Lower Montague, Prince Edward Island. A forlorn, foreboding spike of rock projecting into the Atlantic Ocean.
The perfect location for devilry, methinks? Thankfully for you, we have eyes and ears everywhere. We see all, we hear all.
Sadie Adkins, waitress at the Diplomat Diner in Lower Montague, had her late-model Chevrolet truck stolen from the restaurant’s lot last night by an unnaturally emaciated thief. Adkins placed a call to our toll-free tip line after her entreaties to local deputy dawgs were cruelly and mali- ciously rebuffed, deemed—and we quote—“ludicrous” and “insane.”
“I know who stole my damn truck,” Adkins told us. “Starvin’ Marvin.”
An unidentified male, with close-cropped hair and baggy clothing, entered the Diplomat at 9 p.m. According to Adkins, the man was in a severe state of malnourish- ment.
“Skinny! You wouldn’t believe,” Adkins told our intrepid truth-gatherers. “Never in my life have I seen a man so wasted away. But hungry.”
Adkins reports that the unidentified male consumed five Hungry Man Breakfast platters—each consisting of four eggs, three buttermilk pancakes, five rashers of bacon, sau- sage links, and toast.
“He ate us out of eggs,” Adkins said. “Just kept shovel- ing it in and asking for more. His belly must have swelled up tight as a drum. He . . . well, he . . . when I came back with his third platter, or maybe it was his fourth, I caught him eating the napkins. Ripping them out of the dispenser, chewing and swallowing them.”
The unidentified man paid his bill and left. Shortly thereafter Adkins went outside to find her truck stolen—yet another malicious indignity!
“I can’t say I was too surprised,” she said. “The man seemed desperate in every way a man can possibly be desperate.”
She fell silent again before adding one final grisly detail:
“I could hear something coming from inside him—I’m saying, under his skin. I know that sounds silly.”
The unidentified man remains at large. Who is he? Where did he come from? The people who know—and long- time readers know who we’re talking about: the govern- ment, the Secret Service, the Templars, the Illuminati, the usual shady suspects—aren’t forthcoming with info . . . but we’re beating the bushes and scouring secret files, investi- gating every legitimate tip that arrives at our tipline.
Something evil is afoot in sleepy Prince County. No man can be that hungry.
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EAT EAT EAT EAT
The boat skipped over the waves, the drone of its motor trailing across the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The moon was a bone fishhook in the clear October sky.
The man was wet from the spray that kicked over the gunwale. The outline of his body was visible under his drenched clothes. He easily could have been mistaken for a scarecrow left carelessly unattended in a farmer’s field, stuffing torn out by scavenging animals.
He’d stolen the boat from a dock at North Point, at the farthest tip of Prince Edward Island, reaching the dock in a truck he’d hotwired in a diner parking lot.
Christ, he was hungry. He’d eaten so much at that roadside diner that he’d ruptured his stomach lining—the contents of his guts were right now leaking through the split tissue, into the crevices between his organs. He wasn’t aware of that fact, though, and wouldn’t care much anyway in his current state. It’d felt so good to fill the empty space inside of him . . . but it was like dumping dirt down a bottomless hole: you could throw shovelful after shovelful, yet it made not the slightest difference.
Fifty miles back, he’d stopped at the side of the road, having spot- ted a raccoon carcass in the ditch. Torn open, spine gleaming through its fur. It had taken great effort to not jam the transmission collar into park, go crawling into the ditch, and . . .
He hadn’t done that. He was still human, after all.
The hunger pangs would stop, he assured himself. His stomach could only hold so much—wasn’t that, like, a scientific fact? But this was unlike anything he’d ever known.
Images zipped through his head, slideshow style: his favorite foods lovingly presented, glistening and overplumped and too perfect, ripped from the glossy pages of Bon Appétit—a leering parody of food, freak- ishly sexual, hyperstylized, and lewd.
He saw cherries spilling from a wedge of flaky pie, each one nursed to a giddy plumpness, looking like a mess of avulsed bloodshot eyeballs dolloped with a towering cone of whipped cream . . .
A porterhouse thick as a dictionary, shank bone winking from fat- marbled meat charred to crackly doneness, a pat of herbed butter melt- ing overtop; the meat almost sighs as the knife hacks through it, cooked flesh parting with the deference of smoothly oiled doors . . .
What wouldn’t he eat now? He yearned for that raccoon. If it were here now, he’d rip the hardened rags of sinew off its tattered fur; he’d crush its skull and sift through the splinters for its brain, which would be as delicious as the nut-meat of a walnut.
Why hadn’t he just eaten the fucking thing?
Would they come for him? He figured so. He was their failure—a human blooper reel—but also the keeper of their secret. And he was so, so toxic. At least, that’s what he overheard them say.
He didn’t wish to hurt anyone. The possibility that he may already have done so left him heartsick. What was it that Edgerton had said?
If this gets out, it’ll make Typhoid Mary look like Mary Poppins.
He was not an evil man. He’d simply been trapped and had done what any man in his position might do: he’d run. And they were coming for him. Would they try to capture him, return him to Edgerton? He wondered if they’d dare do that now.
He wasn’t going back. He’d hide and stay hidden.
He doubled over, nearly spilling over the side, hunger pangs gnaw- ing into his gut. He blinked stinging tears out of his eyes and saw a dot of light dancing on the horizon.
An island? A fire?
Want to read more? The Troop by Nick Cutter is published by Headline and is out on June 5th 2014.