As a young girl growing up in Maine, Diana Jackman learned the ways of the forest from her uncle, a Micmac shaman. After years living in the city, she hopes to return to a simpler life as a means of reconnecting with her roots—starting with a hunt.
But when members of her hunting party on an isolated estate in British Columbia start turning up dead, strung up like the deer they hunt, Diana comes to the terrifying realization that the roles of hunter and hunted have been reversed. All alone, the party begins to turn on one another—who else could be responsible for these crimes in such a remote area? Now she must find out who is behind this grisly hunt before she herself becomes the prey.
Mark T. Sullivan’s thrilling novel, The Purification Ceremony, takes readers on a gripping and deadly ride through the secluded woods and into the depths of fear.
Read on for an excerpt from The Purification Ceremony, and then download the book.
During dinner I dutifully listened to Butch prattle on about the circumstances of his day, all the while wanting to tell him to shut up, to tell the others about the terrible things that were happening in the woods. And then I’d think: But maybe it’s him. He’s a bow hunter. And I’d bite my tongue.
Just before dessert was served, Earl, who’d been silently drinking most of the evening, announced to no one in particular. “I kind of like my deer. I really do.”
The table fell silent and he said it again.
Lenore regarded him sidelong. “Yeah, you’re a real woodsman.”
“That deer was running with a monster, only they must have shifted positions as they passed behind that clump of trees,” Earl insisted. “I saw horns and a shoulder and I shot. It’s an okay buck.”
“Bamcicide’s what it is.” Lenore sniffed.
“Aren’t you the sweet thing, saying sweet things,” Earl snapped. “Maybe I’ll start in on some things that aren’t so sweet ’bout you, you keep this up.”
I saw something go out of Lenore for a second, the way it had the night before when she’d caught Earl groping me. Then she got strong again. “You’ve got a second tag, hon. There’s always tomorrow.”
Earl smiled. “That’s more like it.”
An abominable spell came over the rest of us. I looked at Cantrell, who glanced away, and then at Griff, who stared at the ceiling. Finally Theresa broke the hex, barging through the swinging doors with plates of strawberry shortcake. I didn’t know if I could stay awake much longer; my head was foggy from the long day and lack of sleep. I relaxed into the nether state that says go to bed or you’ll collapse. As if from far away, I heard Cantrell explain to Phil and Earl the topography of their new hunting locations. I yawned and started to get up from the table.
That was when the screams cut loose. Sheila and Theresa in grinding wails that sucked us all from our seats. Nelson side-slammed through the kitchen doors into the dining hall. He was deathly pale. “G-Grover …” he stammered. “The deer pole … I …”
Cantrell was by him and through the kitchen, shouting to Nelson to keep us back. But Nelson was in no condition to restrain anybody.
My next recollection is that I had traveled 50 yards outside the lodge and it was spit-snowing and there was a powerful flashlight playing in the darkness, resting finally and awfully on the inverted form of Grover, who had been suspended between the deer. Like Patterson, he had been gutted, scalped and suspended by a rope passed behind his Achilles tendons. A white owl feather jutted from his doughy lips.
Theresa collapsed. Nelson tried to pick her up, but she shrugged him off and dragged herself with bare hands through the snow. She opened her mouth and, as I had done the evening before, relieved her mortal awareness.
“Oh, no,” Kurant was moaning to himself. “No.”
Sheila sank to her knees behind her husband. She coughed up sounds like choked burps when he played the torch over Grover’s body, then focused the beam on the slicing wounds on either side of his rib cage.
The rest of us slouched mute before this apparition, forced penitents unwilling to believe in the sacrificial form tossing ever so perceptibly in the breeze. My first impulse upon breaching from that miserable first wave of shock was to flee. Instead, I turned barbarous and screeched at Cantrell. “Where are they, Mike? You said you’d call the Mounties! Instead, you tried to cover it all up, and now there are two bodies!”
They were all looking at me now and I realized my whole body was racked with tremors. I heard myself screech at Cantrell again. “Where are the Mounties, Mike?”
“What’s she talking about—bodies?” Nelson demanded numbly.
Cantrell tried to speak, but no words would come.
“Patterson,” Griff said sadly. “Diana found him last night way out at the end of the property—just like Grover. Mike wanted us to put him in the icehouse so you all wouldn’t lose control. We lied about him having the flu.”
Nelson took that revelation like a slap. “Don just had a baby,” he mumbled.
“I want to go home, Earl,” Lenore whined. “I want to leave right now.”
Earl nodded blankly, then suddenly came alert, the businessman responding in a crisis. “I want me and my wife on that plane going out of here, ASAP. They’re coming, the Mounties, right?”
Cantrell shook his head as if he couldn’t believe it himself.
Arnie took a step forward, his hands balled into fists. “What do you mean, no? This is a slaughter!”
Sheila’s burps slurred into halting phrases. “We … we tried all night … but the radiophone … something’s wrong … I, I told Grover to go check the antenna this morning … he never came back … and … and …” She couldn’t manage any more.
“Oh, Jesus,” Butch croaked. “Who’s doing this?”
“Who?” Phil cried. “We’re in the middle of f-ing nowhere! There’s no one else in here but us!”
I could see it now in the way we all slivered our glances and arched our backs and bent our knees: we were turning on one another, pressing backward into the invisible corners of our minds, an instinctive response so far inside our genes we couldn’t have controlled it even had we wished to.
“You think it’s one of us?” the magazine writer asked in a slow, detached manner that I interpreted as shock.
“One of the bow hunters,” Hill announced. “See? That’s an arrow wound.”
“Through and through,” Nelson agreed.
“Then it’s you,” Earl said, jabbing his finger Griff’s way. “Or Butch.”
Arnie took a step away from his friend. “Hey, I didn’t kill anyone,” Butch protested.
Lenore went walleyed and edged toward her husband. “We should lock the both of them up until the police get here, just to make sure.”
“Absolutely,” Earl said. “One of them’s a psycho.”
They were arguing among themselves now. No trust, no camaraderie, only the response of animals threatened with attack. Suddenly, for some reason, the shaking left me. I felt apart from it, able to act.
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