Welcome to Junction, Texas
Population: 626 and steadily declining
Odd things have been happening around town. Hugh McManus went out to one of his grazing pastures and shot the better part of a fine herd before shooting himself. Luke Casteel crawled into a drainage pipe and never came back. A herd of wild javelina attacked and killed Rod Sawyer. And the thing is, the dying isn't nearly done.
Jared Riley knows there's something sinister about the heat. It's got people acting crazy and it's got him hearing things. A voice keeps whispering, "It's gonna get mighty hot. Yes sir we like our meatloaf and taters well done, served up pipin' hot." Convinced the heat is tracking them, picking them off one by one, he sets off to find help. Trouble is, the people who have the answers are more dangerous than the heat.
Driven by strong characters and a twisting plot, The DROUGHT delves into the supernatural world where ghosts roam the landscape and a voodoo curse floats on the wind.
An engrossing, thrilling and immensely satisfying debut novel that strongly reminded me of the best of Stephen King. If you get this book, and I highly recommend you do, expect to be pulled deeply into the deep and twisting story about good and evil from the first paragraph.
The temperatures are hot and getting hotter, and there’s no sign of rain in Junction, Texas. Many of the old-timers have experienced conditions like this before, and they know what’s coming. A rancher kills his best livestock before turning the gun on himself, just the first of a series of disturbing events in the small town.
Meanwhile on the other end of the drought, the heat is also rising as a small-town sheriff in Louisiana makes a gruesome and surprising discovery. The drought has been here before, too, and some people are worried about what the return of the hot, dry weather may mean.
Scanning the list of semi-finalists for the contest (my novel was also on the list), the premise of The Drought caught my eye; I couldn’t wait to see how the author would deliver on the cover tagline: “Killer heat is only the beginning.” The short answer is: Ms. Fulton delivered a great read that surprised and thrilled me in equal measure.
Ms. Fulton lived through a drought in Texas, and that experience informs her wonderfully gritty description of what happens to the landscape and people during extended and relentless sun and heat. The characters are varied and believable — not an easy feat considering the wide range of ages and backgrounds in her cast — the plot moves relentlessly forward and there are more than a few truly creepy moments.
No spoilers, but the author spends about the first half of The Drought setting the stage, laying out the pieces of the puzzle as it were, and then the pay off starts as the various plotlines begin to come together and the story behind the story comes into focus. The ending is, well, pretty neat.
I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy stories like that.
I haven’t read much of Stephen King’s recent work — The Dark Tower series was the latest for me — but I greatly enjoyed earlier novels like Salem’s Lot, The Shining and especially The Stand. One chapter into The Drought and I was checking Ms. Fulton’s bio on Goodreads to see, sure enough, she considered King an influence. It shows, because reading her debut novel was for me like taking a trip back in time to when I devoured The Stand, reading late into the night because I had to find out what would happen next in that great good vs. evil epic.
I’m not a big fan of comparison (“If you like this, you’ll like that”), but for Indie authors I absolutely understand how making a connection helps potential readers make the decision to try an unknown name. If you enjoy Stephen King or Dean Koontz, I’m confident you will love Patricia Fulton’s The Drought.
But don’t think for a moment you’ll be getting a less-expensive imitation like a Times Square “Rolex.” The Drought stands on its own merits as a great read with thrills and chills — yep, even in all that burning heat, you’ll shiver.Scott Whitmore
Barry Tanner fell asleep with the picture of his mother clasped in his hands. He thought if there was anything worse than a beating it was waiting for it to happen.
He was sleeping when the moment finally came.
The first lash of the belt cut through the darkness and across his bare chest, wrenching him into consciousness. Crying out, he instinctively rolled over and into a fetal position, allowing his back to take the next lash. His father didn’t speak. There was no lecture to accompany the blows, just the sound of the belt whistling through the darkness until it made contact with a stinging smack.
Cringing beneath each lash of the belt, he gripped the mattress with rigid fingers and bit into his pillow to keep from crying out. There was nothing he could do about the tears rolling down his cheeks, but he refused to give his father the satisfaction of any sound that signaled weakness. Instead, he concentrated on the rhythm of the beating. Eight, whistle, smack, don’t scream. Nine, whistle, smack, don’t scream. He counted each lash, mentally recording them, storing them in a vault of hatred he’d created in honor of his father. Ten. The whistling stopped. He drew in a ragged breath and his father spoke for the first time.
“I have a little something extra for you this time, Barry.”
Barry closed his eyes, tensing his body as he waited for the next blow. This time, the breath fled his body in a gasp. The metal belt buckle ripped into his raw back. The buckle descended again and again, until he lost count of the blows.
He floated just below consciousness, noting with bemusement the rhythm of the beating had changed. Under the added weight of the buckle, the whistle had become more of a warble. With each thud of the buckle, the smack had more of a wet sound. The rhythm now went something like, warble, squish, just breathe. Reality, coated in pain, slipped away and he chuckled. Hey what starts with a warble, ends with a squish and is covered completely in red?
The single word, whispered from the walls, emanating from the dull gray twilight of unconsciousness, where he nearly slept.
The voice, melodious, soft, warm came again.
His eyelids fluttered and slowly opened. Tiny red spots speckled the white cotton sheets. He rubbed at one with his finger. Feeling his lids grow heavy, he started to drift away again.
His eyes rolled open, searching the depths of the shadows for the voice. The room was cold. He could see his own breath coming in short, tight, expulsions. These exhalations filled the room with a light mist and through this celestial fog he saw her for the first time.
She waved her hand, motioning for him to come to her. Her movements were languid, and somehow as melodious as her voice. Her dark hair fell past her shoulders. He stopped there, unwilling to allow his eyes to drop beyond those soft shoulders. Barry, bring me the brush, the silver one on the bureau. She beckoned again. Everything in him ached to join her but he was afraid to move. The belt had a way of snaking around the body and finding places that were harder to heal than the back.
Understanding poured from her eyes. She looked past him. He followed her gaze. His father was standing over the bed breathing raggedly, the belt hanging from his hand. Puzzled, he looked down at the bed where his own body lay, a bloodied mess. His arm was outstretched, reaching toward the corner of the room where she waited. He stood, frozen, between the carnage on the bed and the vapory presence of a woman who by all earthly rights could not be there. His eyes passed over the bloodied back of his body and followed the outstretched arm until they made contact with her eyes. Familiar eyes. She opened her arms and whispered, “Come to me, Barry.”
Unwillingly, his eyes dropped away from hers, falling past her soft shoulders and tangled hair. Traveling downward, his eyes followed the gauzy lines of her nightgown until the white material turned crimson. His lips trembled with an old pain, an old memory.
Arms open, she waited.
With a ragged sob, he walked into his mother’s embrace.