Disappearances, nightmares and a sense of terror
Some 30 years ago, a science-fiction writer named Whitney Striber wrote a novel called Wolfen, and it frightened me badly. The basic premise was that humanity had no purpose other than to provide a dependable food source for a terrifying species called “wolfen” that lived in colonies beneath the earth and only surfaced to feed. For thousands of years, these reptilian wolves lived silently in the sewers of major cities. They could move with astonishing speed and only “harvested” human victims who were never missed. It made a decent movie, too.
Well, Daryl Wayland Nash, a writer from Greenville, S.C., has brought new blood to the idea of silent predators who watch us from the darkness. Like H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu or the Morlocks in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Nash has created an ancient race that has always been with us and which he finds immortalized in the world’s art and religion.
They are alive in the dragons and supernatural beings that are depicted in totems and Native American art. The trouble is, we no longer believe or perhaps we have forgotten. Nash’s predators sleep in deep caves like locusts, waiting for a signal to awake and swarm.
Lived begins abruptly on a remote road somewhere in New Mexico with an unconscious woman, Carla Wilson, struggles in the clutches of something that is ... well, indescribable. The creature (sometimes called a “coco”) is large, has eyes like an owl, and possesses a large number of appendages, some of which are folded like wings against its body. It has injected Carla with some kind of venom that leaves her immobilized. Nearby, Carla’s 8-year-old daughter Emily appears traumatized by what has happened, and Buck, the dog, stands between the attacker and the child.
Eventually, Emily and Buck are found and rushed to safety. However, Carla is the first of a series of victims who disappear: Ty Burnette, who runs a tourist attraction called Wild Rivers Ranch disappears, leaving nothing behind but his Stetson; a Pueblo woman living near Las Tables, two campers and a jogger — all vanished leaving nothing but slight evidence of a struggle and a small splash of blood.
Don Marseilles, the sheriff of Taos, suddenly finds himself in the midst of a media blitz. He fields questions about rampaging bears and serial killers while the search continues. When he visits Carla’s daughter who still cannot speak, her grandmother gives him some crayon drawings, one of which is a grotesque creature with great, black eyes that clutches her mother. When he decides to go public with the drawings, he finds himself answering questions about “The Taos Hum,” a low-frequency sound that can only be heard by a small number of local residents. It has been present since 1993, but suddenly, it has stopped. Is the hum connected to the disappearance?
Meanwhile, several hundred miles away, Dr. Gabriel Peppard, professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona, wakes from a recurring nightmare. He is tormented by dreams of an ancient race called the Solutreans who migrated from Siberia to North America some 15,000 years ago, bringing with them a distinctive culture that predates Native Americans.
It turns out that Peppard is a seer and his dreams are precognitive. He knows that the Solutreans were fleeing a devastating evil that threatened to destroy them. However, ironically, they unwittingly brought this ancient evil with them, and it sleeps now in nests and hives near Taos “waiting to be born.”
Thanks to Sheriff Marseilles’ son, Josh, who is a devoted fan of the internet, the world of archaeological research and the disappearance of an increasing number of people living near Taos come together. Josh finds Dr. Peppard’s blog and reads his theories regarding the Solutreans. The boy contacts Dr. Peppard and he arranges to come to Taos, noting that he can assist Marseilles in locating the missing people (Dr. Peppard has seen the location in his nightmares.) and find a way to stop “the pursuers.”
Marseilles and Peppard make an unlikely team, but they become friends and, by the end of the book, they are making plans to socialize and possibly visit Ty Burnette’s Wild River Ranch.
Lived is a kind of novella, I suppose, since it is too long to be a short story and too short to be a novel. Quite frankly, it seems to beg to be developed into an epic struggle between good and evil. If Lived has a significant flaw, it is simply that it tells us too little (although what it tells us is fascinating.)
As much as I liked Lived, I was disappointed in the little book’s abrupt conclusion. In short order, all of the missing people are found and restored to their loved ones. There is not a single fatality, and I was disappointed!
I yearned for a trip into the hive and perhaps a few partially devoured victims with a great, echoing storage room filled with benumbed victims hanging in transparent bags. (I thought surely that Arnold Lindworm, the Iraq veteran with PTSD, would make an admirable sacrificial victim). Like my peers who were raised on a steady diet of alien invasions, I recall “Them” in which doomed James Whitmore finds himself surrounded by a nest of gigantic ants. I would have appreciated an autopsy, too, one of those scenes in which the “beast” is found to have two hearts the ability “resurrect” itself. Perhaps Daryl Wayland Nash will do a sequel, or an “amended version.”
In reading Lived, I decided to double-check Wikipedia to see if, perchance, there is such a thing as the “Taos Hum.” Yes, there is, and there are possibly a hundred other locales through the world where the same phenomenon is present. I assume that the fact that the Taos hum suddenly stopped heralds the “hatching” of the “pursuers.”
In addition, Wikipedia assured me that the Soluterans are not the product of author Nash’s imagination. The readers of Lived might wish to go online and read the Soluteran Theory. Sounds like it came straight from Art Bell’s old radio show.
When I contacted Daryl Wayland Nash recently, he asked me if I had discovered the reason for the title, Lived. No, I must admit that I haven’t the vaguest idea. Perhaps other readers will figure it out. Incidentally, this book is beautifully packaged, an impressive example of what “self-publishing can accomplish.