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Excerpt of Sleep, My Pretty

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PROLOGUE

 

I’m on the highway to hell...” four young guys belted out, singing along with AC/DC on the car stereo. 

Heads were bobbing and laughter filled the air while Greg Albany, sitting in the front seat next to the driver, Jimmy Holtz, played air guitar to every guitar part in the song.  The brand new, sleek, black Lexus that Jimmy’s dad just bought, glided smoothly along the highway like it was riding on a sheet of glass.

“This car is amazing!” Jimmy shouted above the tunes.  “I gotta get me one of these!”

     “In your dreams, man,” Greg Albany returned dryly, he turned down the stereo.  “I can’t believe your old man let you have this thing.  I thought it was his pride and joy.”

     “It is,” Jimmy said with a smirk.  “And what he don’t know, won’t hurt him.”

     “No way, man!  You stole your old man’s wheels?” Blake Albany blurted out, then busted up laughing.

Seventeen year old Blake, Greg’s little brother, was in the back seat next to his best friend, sixteen year old Alex Eastman.  Alex watched with interest.

     “Borrowed, Blake.  There’s a difference.”

     “Semantics, Jimbo,” Greg scoffed.  “We promise to send you a postcard from Fort Lauderdale this spring.”

     Jimmy’s jaw dropped.  “Damn!  I forgot about that,” he exclaimed.  “I’ve gotta get this car back before my dad notices it missing.”

     Jimmy slammed on the brakes and swung the Lexus in a sharp right-hand turn down a gravel road, muttering something about a short-cut.

     Alex smirked.  Jimmy actually looked worried.  And he should, the idiot; stealing his dad’s new luxury car.  Jimmy could be a pretty cool guy, but he was also a serious head-case; he never learned!  His parents were rich and he had everything, but he had been warned that any crazy antics from him would cost him the trip.  And when your parents are paying for it, you don’t mess with that.

Alex shook his head and glanced out the window, trying to ignore the playful bantering.  Greg was hassling Jimmy about the babes he’d be missing, and Jimmy just grumbled and kept his eyes on the road.

     “Jeeezuz!” Jimmy suddenly yelled, swerving the car sharply to the left.

     Blake slammed into Alex, and Alex saw stars for a moment.

     “What the--,” Alex snapped.

     “Oh my God.  Oh my God!” Jimmy chanted, accelerating.  “Did you see it, Greg?  Did you?”

     “Shut up!  Just drive!”

     “What’s going on?” Alex demanded.

     “Oh my God.  Did you see that?” Jimmy babbled.  “Is that what I think it was?” 

     Forgetting the pain in his head, Alex leaned over the seat near Jimmy’s shoulder.  Jimmy was white as a ghost.  Alex opened his mouth to speak, but was abruptly hurled violently against the back seat.  He shook his head, stunned. 

     Did someone just rear-end them?

     “Drive, dammit!” Greg yelled.

     Jimmy accelerated even more, but again they were rammed from behind.    

Blake wasn’t saying a word, he sat absolutely still, staring at Jimmy and Greg and muttering under his breath.  If Alex didn’t know any better, he’d swear Blake was praying.

Somehow, amidst the chaos, Alex had the presence of mind to yank on his seat belt.  His ears hurt from the roar of the Lexus’ powerful engine.  It screamed over any words, though Alex could see Greg yelling at Jimmy.  Alex gripped the seat with a white-knuckled grip, his nails digging deeply into the soft leather to keep from being flung around like a rag doll.

     The other vehicle rammed them again. 

The Lexus veered off the road and slid sideways.  Mud and grass flew in all directions around their car.  Jimmy tried to recover, accelerating to pull out of the skid.  The Lexus seemed to roar in protest, bouncing everyone wildly in their seats. 

With a cry, Greg suddenly threw his hands up in front of his face.

The impact was mind-blowing. 

Alex felt his ribs break under the seatbelt.  Sounds exploded all around him...the crunching of steel...the crashing of glass...and the screams...oh God...the screams.

 

                *     *     *

 

 Consciousness crept in.  A dense fogginess heavily clouded Alex’s mind making it impossible for him to think straight.

The smell of blood invaded his senses, making his nose twitch.  He felt bile rise in his throat.

He felt disoriented, like he was under water.  Nothing felt real.  It was only then that he realized that something was covering his eyes, or was it in his eyes?

Gingerly, he touched his face — whatever covered his face was wet...sticky...and warm.

Blood.

Fear gripped him.  His brain desperately tried to piece everything together.  Alex could still hear the yelling...could feel the fear that had radiated from Jimmy and Greg and Blake too.

And the screams...they echoed over and over in his head.

Tremors shook his frame.  Suddenly, his pain-receptors began firing all at once and all Alex knew was agony.  The pain was so excruciating he gasped.  He swiped at his eyes so he could at least see, but the blood had created a film and would not release him, blurring his vision.

Alex panicked.  If only that gawd-awful noise would stop.  It sounded like a wounded animal.  It was driving him crazy.

“Alex,” a voice suddenly hissed by Alex’s ear. 

Alex went completely still and the noise suddenly stopped.  He didn’t blink.  He didn’t breath.  Something in the voice froze him to his very soul.  He felt strangely contaminated.

Alex could feel hot breath by his ear and he shuddered.

“That’s right, Alex,” the horrible voice whispered.   “Be a good boy now...and die.

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