Kristen Houghton’s A Cate Harlow Private Investigation series has been voted one of the top five mystery/thriller series by International Mystery Writers. Her novella, Welcome to Hell is a Horror Book Club award-winning Quick-Read.

She is the prolific author of nine novels, two non-fiction books, a collection of short stories, a book of essays, and a children’s novella. Houghton loves writing horror stories which she terms her ‘strange imaginative gift’ and credits her love of the original The Twilight Zone, and writer Rod Serling, for this passion.

Branded X: The Blonde Society, the fifth book in the Cate Harlow series is due out in Spring, 2023.

Kristen Houghton has covered politics, news, and lifestyle issues as a contributor to the Huffington Post. Her writing portfolio includes Criminal Element Magazine, a division of Macmillan Publishing, Hartford Woman, Today, head writer and senior fiction editor for Mused Literary Magazine, interviews and reviews for HBO documentaries, OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, and The Style Channel.

She and her husband Alan William Hopper, a baseball historian, divide their time between the NYC area and Sanibel Island.


by Kristen Houghton


The Quiet, the Seminole name for the hours from midnight to sunup, was too quiet for Paul. No normal forest sounds of any nocturnal creatures were heard; not even crickets were chirping or mosquitos whining. It was unreal.

And it made him very nervous.

In his left hand was a large knife of a sharpened deer antler that was fastened to a thick wooden handle. Tribal. 

In his right hand, his police-issued weapon. He thought of his patrol partner, Aloomse Hazel Soaring Eagle, a full-blooded Seminole woman, born and bred on a Florida reservation. She’d insisted he hold the knife “for protection.”

Aloomse. He mentally said her name phonetically. A-loom-say. She told him it meant “independent” and that word could pretty much describe her. She seemed to need no one and nothing. And her eyes—they seemed much older than her twenty-six years, almost as if she had lived for centuries and seen many things.

She called him Capoca. Grandfather. He had just turned fifty-four and when he first found out that she was calling him grandfather, he had been annoyed. But an older cop, another Seminole, told him it was a sign of respect, not mockery.

“It’s like in Hawai’i, when they call someone of a certain age Uncle or Auntie. They’re not making fun of their age; they’re honoring their life experience and wisdom. Same with the Seminole.”

Aloomse never spoke much when they drove on their daily patrol through the Apalachicola Forest. When she did speak it was almost a surprise; he never knew what she’d say. Today, as they had cruised slowly through the dark green tunnel of the forest, she’d asked him if he believed in stories about legendary monsters.

“No, I don’t believe in all that bullshit. I believe in humans who do monstrous, horrible things to each other, but legends about fairy-tale monsters? No, there are no monsters from Grimm’s fairy tales. All superstitious crap that people make up.”

“Superstitious crap, huh, Capoca? Okay.” She looked at the road and drove on.


They were in the darkness of the Apalachicola Forest answering a 911 distress call that had been patched through to them from the police sub-station. They’d parked on a dirt road and gotten out of the car to check in the large forest for some camper in trouble. What type of trouble, the caller didn’t say, but their dispatcher said the man sounded panicked and scared as hell. Said the guy kept saying, “Please God, hurry! Please help me!”

Then the line went dead.

The thick vegetation and trees were suffocating in their denseness. Somehow Aloomse had disappeared from his side and Paul wondered where the hell she went. Police protocol dictated that they stay together and not separate for any reason. Now suddenly Aloomse was nowhere near him. He hadn’t seen her go. Where was she?

The silence of the forest was odd and what was odder still was some type of a throbbing breeze that seemed to come from the very tops of the tall trees. Like a pulse. Slow, steady. No sound, just a vibration that was felt and not heard. What the hell was that?

Paul thought of calling out for Aloomse, but they had agreed to radio silence to avoid alerting whoever may have attacked the camper. The silence was deafening. He laughed to himself. Silence. Deafening. He’d read that line in a book once and thought how stupid that had sounded. How could silence be deafening? But that description was right on target now.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw something float slowly down from the thick canopy of trees. He bent to the ground to get a look. Feathers. One black, one gray. They were very long and thick. Probably from some bird of prey, a nocturnal hunter.

There was some sort of substance smeared on them. Mud? Sap?

He squatted down to look closer but because of the dark, he couldn’t make out what the smear was.Aloomse had told him, warned him really, not to use his flashlight. When he’d ask why, she had only replied that if the allapattah—the Seminole word for alligator—sees a light, it will startle them and they will attack. A gator attack here in this unearthly forest. Great, thought Paul who had a very healthy fear of the prehistoric-looking reptiles. Okay, no lights.


Her whisper made him fell backward from his crouch and land in the dirt. He hadn’t heard her or sensed her presence. Aloomse glanced at the feathers but said nothing.

Getting to his feet, Paul was about to speak when Aloomse put a finger to her lips, silencing him. He looked at her. In her left hand she held a large evidence bag. There was a smell, strong and rancid, coming from it. He became uneasy. Blood? An alligator attack on the camper? Evidence of a murder? Had Aloomse found a crime scene?

He decided that his need to know was more important than silence. He needed to find out what they were up against so he could plan accordingly.

He shook his head. “This smells like blood. Are we looking for a murderer here, Aloomse? Was that camper murdered?”

When she didn’t answer but instead held the bag up higher, he said, “This is not our call. That’s under tribal jurisdiction. We have to alert a member of the tribal police.”

Aloomse finally spoke. “I am a member of the tribal police. I will handle it. Take this and put it far under that outcropping of rock. Make sure it’s hidden well.”

She handed him the bag and warned him not to open it and contaminate evidence. Before he could speak again, Aloomse had disappeared back into the darkness.

Greatly annoyed, Paul placed the bag under a rock opening and looked at the forest. The thick vegetation and trees loomed all around him. The forest was hot and humid, thick with moisture. It was almost like being in a deadly cocoon that swallowed everything up.The Quiet was unnerving. God, what I wouldn’t give for the sound of a cricket or the chirp of a frog. Even the annoying buzz of a mosquito would do. Damn The Quiet.

Paul felt sweat drip down his face and into his eyes. Standing here, waiting for Aloomse was too much. The Quiet sure lived up to its name. Nothing but quiet.

Yet in that quiet, there seemed to be something that was ominous. Paul couldn’t describe it but there was a feeling of danger. Quiet. Danger. Was the murderer near here? He fingered the gun in his holster to soothe himself.

A whirl of wind, silent and hot, seemed to start from the clouded night sky above and make its way downward. The wind made Paul look up. Nothing moved above him. Where did that wind come from? He began to think about what Aloomse had told him just before they received the 911 call. Some dumb legend about a creature called the Stikini.

This supposed creature was said to look like a regular human during the daylight hours, and traveled deep into the woods during The Quiet, away from prying eyes. In the forest it vomits up its internal organs and hangs them high in treetops. Then it transforms into an undead owl-monster who attacks humans and gorges on their hearts.

The legend said that at dawn, it must return to where it left its organs and swallow them so it can turn back into human form. The only way to kill it is to steal its organs before sunrise.

Paul looked over to where the large evidence bag was hidden. Could that hold the—he laughed a little uneasily at the thought that entered his mind. Come on man, he said to himself. This is crazy. I don’t believe in any fictional monster. It’s just the darkness and this God-awful silence that’s playing with my mind.

To take his mind off of crazy thoughts about the Stikini, Paul walked ten steps to his right and then walked the same number of steps to his left.He glanced all around as he walked, his mind on heightened alert. The tension built with every second. This quiet could drive a man insane.Why anyone would want to go camping in this humid, closed-in space was a mystery to him. Whenever he’d camped, it had been under the stars in a wide-open area where he’d heard the sounds of night creatures. This place was like a sensory deprived vegetation hell-hole.

He’d gone back and forth about eight times when he felt that something was following him, following his every step. He stopped and he could swear it did too. Paul couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched and watched very closely. But by whom or…what? Looking all around the area, he saw nothing. When he forced his body to stay still and listen intently, he heard nothing. Paul gripped both his weapons tightly.

“Aloomse?” he whispered. “Aloomse!” A little louder the second time. No answer.

He walked carefully to his right, his senses alert to any movement behind him. Something crunched under his foot and he looked down. More of the large, long black and gray feathers.

Paul sighed deeply. Okay, maybe a nighthawk out to hunt. Apparently it had killed a bird. Maybe it had smelled the blood in that evidence bag and come to investigate. It was probably more afraid of Paul than Paul was of it.

He started to laugh quietly and walked back to where the bag was hidden.He practically jumped out of his skin as the silence of The Quiet was broken by the crackle of his police radio. Breaking the radio silent rule, Aloomse’s voice came over, soft but urgent.

“Capoca, listen to me carefully. You are in danger. It’s near you now. I found the body of the camper. His heart was ripped out. Stay alert!” The radio went silent again.

Someone had killed the camper and the murderer was loose in the forest. Paul gripped his gun and turned slowly, scanning the trees and thick vegetation. A murderer is out here.

And then he saw it. A distance away from where he stood, he saw it.

Paul saw a creature that could only exist in a horror movie. It resembled an avian humanoid, a disturbing combination of human and bird-of-prey. Large night-vision owl eyes, tufted half human ears, and a combination of beak and human mouth. It was a creature with wings with feathery tips that ended in sharp talons and human legs, covered in black and gray feathers. A horror, a legend, a death.

It sniffed the air.

“Capoca!” Paul did not turn as Aloomse came up from behind him. He kept his eyes on the creature and aimed his weapon.

But she stopped him with her words. “Bullets are worthless against it.”

“Bullshit,” Paul said. “This defect of nature can be dropped just like anything else.”

Aloomse frantically told him, “This monster, this Stikini, has come to take its organs back, the ones I stole earlier tonight. It knows the sun will rise soon. It has been searching for them and if it does not swallow its organs before first light, it will not return to human form. It will die! Even now it is losing strength, see? Nine minutes until sun rise, only nine minutes! We have to keep it from getting the evidence bag.”

The creature sniffed the air and advanced slowly toward where the bag was hidden. Despite his bravado, Paul was more frightened than he had ever remembered feeling. It was a primal feeling of fight or flight, but he fought it.

The smell from the monster’s body was potent and overwhelming. If death has a smell, thought Paul, this is certainly it.

Soundlessly it glided forward, slow and threatening. Paul could see strips of bloodied flesh hanging from its open beak.

He and Aloomse stood in front of the hidden bag. The owl-man raised its wings and batted Aloomse hard but she held her footing. Blood dripped from the gash the talons had ripped in her cheek as she struck out with the deer antler knife and managed to stab its wing.

The screech of a wounded owl magnified a thousand times shook Paul to his core. The thing came closer to the evidence bag, determined to take back its organs. Paul stood in its way.

The beak aimed at Paul’s chest and as he struck outward toward the creature, the deer antler knife fell from his hand. The owl-man was on him in a second, cutting with its beak, clawing with its talons. Paul was going to die in this God-forsaken place, killed by something he didn’t believe existed.

The sound of Aloomse’s voice stopped the attacker. “Is this what you want?”

In her raised hand was the evidence bag. She swung it lightly back and forth enticing the creature. With a sweep of its dangerous wing that ripped Paul’s side, it left him and started toward Aloomse.

She walked backward in a circular pattern, dodging the creature’s long wingspan. Her eyes never left the Stikini. It followed her, staggering forward, and the strength seeming to leave its body as it stared at the bag she held.

She walked backward until she came to an area where the trees were sparse; there she looked up, smiled and carefully laid the bag on the ground.

The creature lunged for the bag just as the first rays of a rising sun shone through the broken treetops. Ear-piercing screeches echoed through the forest. Paul watched as the owl-like creature writhed on the forest floor, turning into a dried out husk, its avian-human features contorting in the throes of its death.

The Quiet was over.

Never again would Paul say he didn’t believe in monsters.