Tired skidding, metal crunching, glass shattering.
Screaming on all sides of him. And running.
No, in almost a decade, there’d never been a crash. It was a wide road, he didn’t let hotheads race, inspected the cars himself at the shop before Saturdays rolled around. He took every precaution, but…Jesus. Jesus, the fire bloomed down at the end of the dark road, reminding him of birds of paradise. Jagged orange and pin pricks of blue.
He dropped the cigar and started to run.
God, please. Please don’t let anyone be hurt or worse.
He’d never forgive himself.
Not a kid with a future. Please.
The flames balled up and exploded, smoke pluming into the sky, the hip-hop music playing in the distance now an eerie soundtrack to…what? Death? A hoarse sound left him and he picked up his pace, sprinting now toward the wreckage. “Stay back,” he shouted at the other young people on the road. “Call nine-one-one. Do not come any closer!”
Thankfully, they listened to him and Tucker kept running, alone now.
But when he reached the crash site, his steps slowed.
Both drivers were lying side by side in the middle of the road.
And there were two men standing above them. Adults that definitely didn’t fit into the crowd. The unnaturally still figures were dressed in black pants and jackets, watching him approach in a way that sent a shiver coasting down Tucker’s spine. There was something predatory in those eyes. And a wealth of…knowledge? If so, it was definitely more knowledge than he had. That seemed to be understood. That they were superior, unafraid of the flames behind them. They made him the outsider, an intruder, with one sweep of those sharp gazes.
These guys couldn’t have been standing at the starting line. They never would have been able to make it here so fast. Who the hell were they?
Tucker looked around for the finish line crowd. The ones who always stood at the end to congratulate the winner and corroborate his claim of passing the finish line first. But there was no one in sight. No one…
A foot was sticking out into the road.
No. More than one.
As Tucker’s eyes adjusted to the dark, after looking into the fire, he saw them. Three young people, lying in a tangle of limbs just off the edge of the road.
“Oh Jesus,” Tucker breathed, raking his fingers through his hair. “Were they hit by one of the cars? We need to get a goddamn ambulance out here.”
This could mean prison for him. These were his races. He was responsible. That was a problem for later, though. At that moment, he was torn between assisting the drivers and the threesome of injured spectators. Getting the drivers away from the fire was most important, right? “Help me move them.” His lips were numb. “We shouldn’t, but I’m worried about them being so close to the cars. There could be an explosion—”
“No need to bother,” said one of the men, quietly, calmly.
The other added, “Not about any of them, really.”
A chill spread through Tucker. “What?” He looked back at the starting line and saw an outline of several heads—the people he’d told to stay back—and he had the sudden urge to warn them to run, run as fast as they could. That instinct was only strengthened when he turned back to face the wreckage and the two men were standing mere inches away from him. He hadn’t even heard them move.
This wasn’t right.
This whole thing, the way the bodies were lying, the way these creepy assholes weren’t even remotely concerned or rattled or anything. It was all wrong. They didn’t even breathe or blink. They could have been made of wax, if it wasn’t for the odd glow of their eyes.
“Did you…have something to do with this?” Tucker asked through stiff lips.
The men turned to one another and laughed. “Of course we did.”
“Oops,” said the second one, nudging his tongue to the corner of his mouth. Was that blood on his lip? “We were starving.”
“And let’s face it, bored. Not much else to do in West Virginia.”
“Amen to that.”
“Who are you?” Tucker interrupted raggedly. “Why…hungry? I don’t…”
One of the men glanced back at the drivers with an eyebrow raised. A moment later, one of the prone figures started to move. He rolled over and groaned, sending a wave of relief through Tucker, nearly staggering him backward. “Tell you what, since we’re bored, let’s play a game,” said one of the men. “We were planning to Silence one of these nasty little daredevils. But perhaps you’d like to trade yourself?”
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