When renowned paleontologist Robert D’Graive goes missing, three friends go searching for him in the mysterious Scottish Highlands. The trio discover that there is a far darker secret to Professor D’Graive’s disappearance than they could have ever imagined—a secret old and nearly unfathomable…

Age Rating: 18+

 

Primal Fears by S.J. Lee is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

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Subgenres:

Mystery & Suspense, Thrillers

 

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Chapter 1

Summary

When renowned paleontologist Robert D’Graive goes missing, three friends go searching for him in the mysterious Scottish Highlands. The trio discover that there is a far darker secret to Professor D’Graive’s disappearance than they could have ever imagined—a secret old and nearly unfathomable…

Age Rating: 18+

Original Author: S.J. Lee

The night air in the Scottish Highlands was always bitingly cold, even more so in fall. Richard Butler glared up at the gathering dark clouds and the ever-present threat of rainfall as he made his way through the makeshift camp.

His path over the uneven and damp ground was illuminated by a number of portable floodlights, the low rumble of their generators drowning out any natural noise. He hated these sorts of research expeditions, out in the wilderness.

They were constantly beset by the whims of Mother Nature, especially in the temperamental weather of Scotland. But with the type of find they had uncovered the Association would want an experienced crew looking into it.

Pulling his dark coat tighter, the dark-haired researcher quickened his pace in the direction of one of the larger dark green tents that made up the camp, a large metal contraption with a small satellite atop it.

Just outside of the opening, the satellite declared the tent the research team’s communication hub. Noise to his left caused Richard to freeze, a shiver running up his spine that had nothing to do with the chilly night air.

Turning toward the noise, the dark-haired man stared warily out into the darkness just outside of the floodlight’s illumination, brow furrowed as he tried to focus on exactly where the sound had come from.

Heart thundering in his chest and breath beginning to fog in front of his face, the researcher’s brow furrowed while his eyes narrowed in concentration.

There, in the deepest part of the shadows, there was definitely movement and if he strained his ears, rapid scraping, almost like something was chittering.

A sudden weight on his shoulder startled a terrified yell from the researcher. As he spun to regard his assailant, he came face to face with a grinning redhead, another researcher within the Association.

“Osborne,” he growled as the ginger-haired man chuckled and slapped Richard’s shoulder again, a jovial light in his brown eyes.

“Sorry, sorry,” the man laughed, throwing an arm around his fellow researcher’s shoulders and turning the pair back toward the communication tent.

“I just couldn’t resist. What’s got you so spooked, anyway?” he continued, curiosity only barely tingeing the question.

Glancing back over his shoulder toward the shadows lining the path, Richard tried to spot the movement again. Failing, he shrugged the other man’s arm off before declaring emphatically, “Everything!”

He gestured at the scattering of large tents around the pair and the ring of floodlights surrounding them, his gaze penetrating further into the woods and mountainside that were just barely illuminated by the light.

Beyond them in the distance and looming over the entire camp was the eerie silhouette of a surprisingly intact ancient castle.

“We’ve been here for weeks now!” Richard went on.

He gestured wildly around him as he turned wide almost manic eyes to the redheaded researcher, “and ever since they brought in the new guy I can’t shake the feeling that I’m being watched everywhere I go.

“And don’t think I haven’t noticed how jumpy some of the workmen have been getting in the caves. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that some have been injured and some have even disappeared!”

One hand grasping his dark slightly messy hair, the researcher shook his head weakly, his shoulders slumping as the energy that had animated him just a few short seconds earlier suddenly left. Wearily he turned back to his friend.

“I haven’t seen hide nor hair of Morriss or MacBride for two days now, and when I radioed it in all I got was a ‘don’t worry.’”

Richard watched as Osborne crossed his arms over his chest, the redhead’s jovial nature replaced with a somber frown as he stared into the darkness, focusing on something that wasn’t there and seemingly lost in thought.

“Yeah, it’s had me worried as well. He isn’t even part of the Association. Last I heard someone pulled some strings to bring him in. Real suspicious if you ask me. MacBride disappeared after he—”

Before he could finish, the lights all around the camp began to flicker, slowly at first then more quickly. The two men looked at them, confused.

Other researchers and workmen stopped what they were doing, some even leaving tents to investigate the strange happening.

Then Richard heard the chittering noise from earlier, steadily getting louder, seemingly coming from all around, increasing in pitch until a high piercing whine filled the air, forcing many to flinch and cover their ears.

The smell of chemical smoke drew Richard’s eyes to the perimeter of the camp, where he saw a shadowy figure stooped over one of the main generators.

Suddenly all the lights shut off, dropping the entire area into pitch black darkness. Even the light of the moon was hidden, cloaked by the dark clouds above.

In the sudden darkness all sound seemed to stop. The chittering whine vanished for a moment, leaving only the sound of the heavy breathing of the researcher and his thundering heart beating in his ears.

As quickly as it disappeared the chittering was back, louder and more insistent, almost a screech. It pierced the darkness and left Richard’s ears ringing and an ache behind his eyes.

A panicked yell could just be heard over the ear-splitting sound. It was followed quickly by others. Men stumbled about in the darkness as the chittering scream seemed to close in from all sides.

For a moment Richard thought he heard a voice calling for help from the communication tent, but it was quickly drowned by the resonating shriek.

Disoriented and terrified, the researcher reached out for the friend at his side only to find the redhead no longer there. It was then that he felt it, something skittering across his boot, then up his leg.

It was not just one thing either, but hundreds—perhaps thousands. Tiny needles poked and dug into his legs as the things made their way up his body. All around him the chittering shriek continued.

As the crawling needles reached his neck Richard opened his mouth to scream, only to be choked into silence by something skittering over and into his mouth.

When the lights flickered back into existence, the camp was empty; the only sounds the rumble of electric generators and the static of a radio transceiver swinging by its cable in the communications tent.

 

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Chapter 2

“He disappeared on a personal excavation about five months ago,” Howard Blake said, his tone worried as he unlocked the oak door, the plaque on the dark wood declaring it the personal office of Professor D’Graive.

As he pushed the heavy door open, he turned back to regard the pair behind him.

On the left was Howard’s long-time friend, Jason Carter, an engineering major, in a blue and gray plaid shirt, the sleeves rolled past his elbows, and a pair of loose-fit jeans.

He towered above Howard, who wouldn’t be surprised if his friend was over six foot in height.

His brown hair was cut short with bangs swept to one side and sticking out from beneath a dark gray beanie, blue eyes bright behind designer monochrome glasses, sharp features and a slender muscular build.

Howard could see how women would consider the taller man handsome, his stance relaxed with his hands placed in his jean pockets and the easy smile on his clean-shaven face giving him an approachable aura.

To Jason’s right stood his elder sister, Stefani Carter, a writer for the occult magazine called Unasked Questions, which he knew for a fact had published some of Professor D’Graive’s more outlandish work.

She was nearly a head shorter than her brother, although still taller than Howard himself, but had the athletic build of someone who spent regular time running.

She was dressed in a black flight jacket, a rose bud emblazoned across its back, along with tight fit black jeans and slim riding boots. Howard could just make out a black turtleneck from beneath the zipped jacket.

Stefani’s hair was a darker brown than her brother’s and cut into a short bob, her dark eyes taking in the hall around them from behind a simple pair of glasses.

Her features were just a little less sharp than Jason’s but just as attractive, in Howard’s opinion. Her perpetually bored expression and the way she stood, arms folded in front of her, made the writer a little unapproachable.

Turning back toward the open door and stepping inside, Howard continued, “it’s not the first time he’s done this, but he’s always stayed in contact in the past.”

Wringing his pale hands together, the paleontology major took in the messy office space of the Professor, and said, “I haven’t heard from him in two weeks now.”

The siblings stepped into the office after the dark-haired young man, gazes drifting curiously around the office.

It was a relatively cramped room with all three of them inside, with two wooden bookshelves off to one side sandwiching a waist-high glass display case which contained several preserved insect specimens.

On the other side of the room was a dark wooden chest of drawers. On it were even more books, ranging from paleontology to the occult. Sitting beside them was a rather large ant farm, its presence making Jason flinch in disgust.

Above the drawers nearly the entire wall was covered with more flat glass display cases, each filled with a variety of preserved insects from tiny beetles to giant moths.

At the far end of the room, in front of the bay window, sat a mahogany desk with papers scattered across it, along with an antique typewriter, a desk lamp, and a phone with a blinking red light indicating voice mails.

The chair behind the desk was of plush worn leather, faded yellow. In front of the desk sat a small round coffee table covered by a large map of Scotland.

Several areas were highlighted in bright red marker, mostly concentrated around the northern part of the country.

Stepping further into the center of the room and away from the display cases, Jason shivered. “What’s with the bugs?” he asked, as his face twisted into an exaggerated look of disgust.

This drew a smirk from his sister, who had moved over to the bookcases to peruse their contents.

Howard turned to face the insect displays, lifting a hand to scratch at the back of his head as he grinned broadly, the nervous energy strumming through him pushed back by the comfort of lecturing on a subject he knew.

“The Professor collects them. He says that he admires their ability to adapt and survive. In fact, many species have been around since the Jurassic period—”

“That’s fascinating and all,” cut in Stefani, drawing the two men’s attention to her as she turned her almost bored gaze to Howard, “but just why are we here?”

As though just remembering why he had invited the siblings there himself, Howard’s nervousness returned, his blue eyes dropping to the desk he now stood behind.

He scanned the documents scattered over it and began to wring his hands in front of him.

“Oh, yes, right,” he mumbled before steeling himself, leaning forward and placing his hands on the desk in an effort to stop his nervous movements.

Then he explained why he’d asked the siblings to meet him, “I’m sure there’s some hint to where he has gone in here and I want you to help me track him down.”

Brows furrowing, the brother and sister glanced at one another, Jason shrugging at his elder sibling before they turned back to Howard.

“I’m flattered,” Stefani said as she arched an eyebrow at the dark-haired man, “but isn’t a missing person more a job for the police?”

“I know,” Howard sighed, his eyes glancing around the room, never resting on either sibling for more than a couple of seconds.

His head and shoulders slumping dejectedly, “Believe me I know, and I have tried, but it’s not the first time something like this has happened.

“Professor D’Graive has developed a reputation with them.”

“You mean they think he’s a crackpot!” Jason declared with a grin, earning a half-hearted scowl from Stefani although it was plain to see that she agreed with him.

Howard smiled weakly at the other man, shaking his head before dropping into the worn leather chair behind the desk, resting his elbows on the polished wood and covering his face with both hands.

“Precisely,” he groaned from behind his hands before dropping them to the desk and regarding the other two with tired blue eyes.

“All they’ve told me is to just wait and hope for the best, but I have this sinking feeling in my gut that something terrible has happened.

“He’s done too much for me to just sit back and do nothing.” He dropped his gaze from the pair and with exhaustion in his tone he almost whispered, “Frankly, you’re my last hope.”

Walking over to his melancholy friend, Jason placed a comforting hand on the other man’s shoulder. Waiting for the paleontology student to lift his eyes to meet his own, he spoke with a warm smile. “Alright, so where do we start?”

Smiling weakly in return, Howard turned his gaze to Stefani. She had moved toward the map on the coffee table, one hand tracing the red markings that had been scrawled over it. She asked, “Did he say what he had been working on?”

Relief flooding through him at the realization the siblings would help, Howard started to sift through the papers on the desk in front of him while speaking excitedly.

“He’d been talking about a new find at West Kirk or West Birk, or something like that.”

“West Burke?” Stefani asked, her finger resting over a point on the map where the majority of the red markings were situated.

There, toward the north of Scotland, written in red marker and thoroughly underlined, were the words West Burke Castle.

***

The rain lashed viciously at the windows of the small, beat-up gray compact as it rumbled along the highland back roads.

Jason leaned forward to stare up at the angry black clouds that blanketed the sky before quickly turning his gaze back to the windscreen as he felt the car vibrate beneath him.

Suddenly all three occupants were jolted in their seats as the wheels bounced over the rough road, a bang from behind him followed by his sister’s annoyed voice asking, “Are you trying to hit every damn bump?”

“Sorry Stef,” Jason said, his tone more amused than apologetic. He glanced briefly at his sister’s reflection in the rear-view mirror before returning his gaze to the road.

He was unwilling to risk more than a split second’s inattention. The car’s headlights barely illuminated the road ahead and the steep dropoff to their right. “But this is barely even a road! It’s more like a dirt path!”

The grumbling coming from the back of the car only made Jason’s smile grow wider.

Howard had his face buried in a partially crumpled road map, his short messy black hair shadowing his pale features, blue eyes seeming to twitch about the map in his thick hands.

Worry gripped the engineering student for a moment. Even if Jason couldn’t turn to his friend fully, the nervous energy radiating from the other man was almost palpable.

Jason knew that the short, slightly overweight paleontologist had never had the strongest of constitutions.

“Hey Blake,” he said, attempting to distract his friend while keeping his eyes on the road, “sure we’re heading the right way? Feels like we’ve been on this road for hours now.”

“Positive!” the dark-haired man declared, a surprising confidence in his voice. He traced a winding path on the map with one finger, refusing to look out of the window at the surrounding darkness.

“I couldn’t find it anywhere on regular maps, but the Professor’s notes are quite clear!”

“If you say so,” Jason mumbled, although he could hear a scoff from his sister that Howard seemed to completely miss, too engrossed in his map reading and the paper notes the much shorter man had taken from D’Graive’s office.

As they rounded another bend, the wheel suddenly jerked in Jason’s hands as the car’s tires struggled for purchase on the slick road.

He could hear Stefani swearing loudly from behind him and the panicked rustling of paper to his left as he tried to power through a skid.

The tall brunette clenched his teeth as he strained to regain control, although for a terrifying second he was almost certain that the rear of the car was out above the deep incline.

With another jerk of the wheel, Jason regained control of the car pulling all four tires back on the road.

He chuckled weakly, his eyes shifting from the sweating Howard to Stefani’s wide dark eyes in the rear-view mirror, panicked as she thrust one arm forward, pointing wildly at the road.

Redirecting his gaze to the road ahead, Jason could see a dark silhouette in the road directly ahead, his own blue eyes going wide as he jerked the wheel roughly to the side and slammed his foot hard on the brakes.

Suddenly they were airborne, and a feeling of weightlessness overtook the car’s occupants as the entire vehicle tilted forward, headlights illuminating a steep drop and the forest floor that was rapidly approaching.

***

Everything ached. That was the first thing that Stefani became aware of as consciousness slowly returned to her.

The second thing: she was upside down, her seatbelt digging roughly into her shoulder and chest while a cold wet breeze chilled her quickly dampening side.

Shaking some of the remaining grogginess from her head, she glanced around herself. The car was on its roof, the rear windshield and window to her right—or is it my left—shattered and letting in the wind and rain.

Turning her gaze to the front of the car she could see Howard, also hanging limply upside down, still unconscious, with the map and paper notes he had been reading laying just below—above—his dangling arms.

His left arm, or the rightshe couldn’t tell with how disorientated she felt—was dripping with something red.

The most alarming thing she noted, however, was that the driver’s door was torn from its hinges and Jason was nowhere to be seen. The fresh wave of panic that shot down her spine quickly cleared the brunette’s mind.

Fumbling with the buckle of her seatbelt, Stefani dropped to the car’s roof, shards of broken glass digging into her arms through her flight jacket as she dragged herself out of the wreck and onto the wet loamy forest floor.

The rain beating down on her prone form and plastering her hair to her forehead.

Pushing herself to her feet and using her brother’s wrecked car as support, she quickly swept her gaze around the forest as she waited for her legs to feel a little less like jelly.

The immediate area was still lit by the light of the car’s headlights.

They were surrounded by thick oak trees, deep shadows stopping her from seeing anything beyond them.

The ground around the car was torn up and muddy from the impact and rain, and she noted rough tracks in the mud leading off into the tree line.

As she stood there contemplating the tracks, the acrid smell of smoke began to fill her nose.

Not seeing any sign of her missing brother, she glanced behind her at the steep incline they had fallen down, craning her neck to see the top through the trees around them, far too far and steep to even think about climbing.

Scowling, she thrust her hand into her jacket pocket to pull out her phone, the screen’s light letting her see more of the crumpled mess that the car had become.

Unfortunately, that was all that it allowed her to do, a deep crack in the screen preventing her from calling for help.

Swearing in frustration, she slammed her gloved fist down on the upturned car, instantly regretting the action as pain shot up her arm, causing her to scowl at the wet and twisted metal as though it had personally wronged her.

Shaking her head, the slender brunette pushed her rain-slicked hair from her eyes while shoving her ruined phone back into her pocket before making her way around the wrecked car and toward the still unconscious Howard.

Kneeling before the partially dented door she was able to leverage it open with a strained grunt, allowing her to see more easily inside.

Howard looked mostly fine, although his dark green winter jacket was rapidly darkening at his right shoulder and his left leg was twisted at an odd angle which made Stefani’s gut churn.

But he was breathing, and she couldn’t see anything obviously life threatening.

She knew that it was probably a bad idea to move the younger man when she didn’t know the full extent of his injuries.

But the weight of her useless phone in her pocket, the cold rain beating at her back and the even more chilling knowledge that her brother was missing forced her hand.

“Come on, big guy,” she muttered as she leaned into the car, bracing Howard’s body with her own as she reached across him to unbuckle his seatbelt, grunting as she was suddenly supporting all of the unconscious man’s weight.

Even though he was nearly a full head shorter than the writer, he was at least a couple of stones heavier.

Slowly lowering the injured paleontologist to the upturned car’s roof, she wrapped her arms around his thick chest and carefully dragged him out of the car into the rain, where he groaned in discomfort.

Sighing in relief as she set Howard down on the wet ground then scowling at the feel of mud and rainwater seeping into the seat of her jeans, Stefani turned to stare at the tracks leading off into the trees and away from the road.

“This isn’t a bad idea at all,” she muttered to the chill air before turning back to Howard, pulling his uninjured arm over her shoulders and levering him up into a standing position so that he was leaning heavily against her.

Grunting with the effort to carry the much heavier man, Stefani began her trek into the wood, in search of shelter, help and most importantly, her brother.

 

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