Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Today I'm sharing the first chapter of the second book in the Extreme Hauntings series. This follows directly the end of DFF: Dead Friends Forever.

Let me know what you think or if you have any questions about the series! :)


School's Out 4Ever
by J.R. Turner

Chapter One

The car slowed, waking Kaylee from her doze. Heavy traffic clogged the highway as they drew closer to Duluth. Her dad played a CD of some old guy who sang about a shark with pearly teeth, making the big fish sound as dangerous as Spongebob Squarepants. A dense fog drifted across the St. Louis River like huge rolling cotton lit by the early evening city lights. Damp, misty air made those lights prism on her wet window. The wipers beat a slow, steady rhythm to clear the condensation. No wonder she’d fallen asleep.

She yawned and stretched, then laid her forehead against the cool glass. How good it felt to sleep without nightmares. Real life was the nightmare now. Just a few weeks ago nothing truly bad had ever happened to her. Pretty good for a girl going on fifteen. Never saw a pet run over by a car, never got beaten up by anyone, had an okay time in school, and her parents were mostly supportive.

Well, until she told them she was seeing ghosts, demons and angels. Funny how that worked. One minute they’re cheering for her on the soccer field and at swim meets the next they’re packing her off to a boarding school for wayward girls. So what if her dad worked it out so she wouldn’t go to Lincoln Hills juvenile detention facility for grave robbing? That didn’t give him to give up on her like some game system stuck on the red ring of death.

Get over it and stop moping, Reason, the little voice in the back of her head said.

Kaylee thought, Yeah, right, hold on a sec while I get happy.

Maybe leaving everything you’ve ever known and going to a place a zillion miles from your best friend was fun for some people, but given the choice, she would have preferred ingrown toenails. And that meant something coming from her because if she couldn’t skate, couldn’t run on the field, couldn’t snowboard, then she might as well become a nun or something.

But only if I wouldn’t have to wear a dress all the time.

She wasn’t a tomboy, though, not like most people thought. No way would she ever flat out say she loved pink, even if it was her favorite color. Yet she was interested in make-up, admired girls in her class with cool streaks in their hair and who knew how to dress. And that was the whole problem. She could lead her team in goals, ollie high on her board or kick total butt at a swim meet, but put on mascara or get the stupid nail polish not to drip down the side of her toe? That might as well have been rocket science.

Her father put the blinker on and merged left as they neared a bridge shrouded in thickening fog. A horn sounded behind them and he shouted at the rearview mirror, “Up yours!”

“Max!” her mother, Diane, said in surprise. She lowered her voice. “You’re setting a bad example.”

“No, dear,” he said, voice. “If some guy hogs the road, ignores our daughter’s blinker, and then honks at her, I want her to express her anger in a healthy way. Shouting where no one can hear you is healthy.”

“But we can hear you. Do you want her to yell like that in front of her children?”
He didn’t answer and the silence was almost worse than his anger.

Kaylee wanted to roll her eyes, but didn’t. With her luck, her father would see it in the rearview mirror. Max Hensler was a shrink (though she couldn’t call him that to his face or he’d go ballistic.) He never missed an opportunity to evaluate every second of every day—not just at work, but with his family too. How many days had she sat down to dinner only to be psychoanalyzed on the spot? Or how often did she get called into his office and grilled about the most embarrassing stuff? She’d rather face down the Waukesha Blasters on the soccer field than answer another question.

Life is not a spectator sport.

Mrs. Mead, her homeroom teacher had that hung on her wall back in Marsden. Every day she read it, not because she wanted to, but because she sat directly across from the Jackie Robinson poster it was written on. She stared at it when she was bored, which was most of the time. That wasn’t the full quote, and you’d think she’d remember all of it but no matter how she wracked her brain, she couldn’t recall the rest.

I’m just lucky to still be sane, not complaining about a little loss of memory here, Fate or God or whoever listens to this sort of thing.

The sound of the tires changed as they hit the new pavement of the bridge, transmitting the empty space beneath. The fog steadily thickened, oozing between the steel beams. She had the eerie sense something ahead wanted to hide, to keep her from knowing its presence. In her parka, she shivered and forced the thoughts out of her head. That stuff had gotten her in too much trouble already.

Her parents already believed she was having hallucinations and injuring herself on purpose. Which was really dumb. She bet they already talked about how they could keep her from passing on her crazy gene to their future grandchildren. Maybe it would be better if it was a crazy gene. Better than being a witch.

She couldn’t really be a witch, could she? Those were all just made up stories, right?
That’s what I used to think about ghosts.

Her father cursed at a slow driver and merged into the right lane. Her stomach flipped all on its own. He slowed as did the cars all around them as the fog made it impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. She clutched the handle on the door, clenched her jaw, held her breath.

“Mom?” Her voice cracked.

A distant rumbling came from the opposite side of the St. Louis River. Brakes squealed loudly beside her. Kaylee jumped. Tears pricked her eyes and she asked again, “Mom?”

Her mother glanced back, then around, her forehead wrinkled with worry and a nervous hand on her throat. “Max, maybe we should pull over? Wait it out?”

The wall of fog shifted and the whole world went white. The car died, the old guy stopped singing and the heating vents went quiet. Her father turned the key. A faint click, then nothing.

“What happened?” her mother asked.

“I don’t know.” He tried again, nothing. “Great. Just great. Now we’ll never get there in time. Since traffic isn’t moving, maybe someone out here can give me a jump.”

The rumbling grew louder.

“Hurry,” her mother begged. “I don’t like this.”

“Shh,” he said, unmoving, his head tilted down. “Do you hear that?”

Kaylee ran a dry tongue over dry lips and closed her eyes.

It’s coming.

It’s coming.

Oh God no, not again, she thought. Not again.

Something smacked the window by her face and a high-pitched squeak escaped her. She dodged back reflexively, hands coming up to protect her face as she searched for the threat. The glass was clean. Nothing and no one stood on the side.

“Honey?” Her mother asked. “Kaylee, you okay? Max, we can’t just sit here.”

“Be quiet. Do you hear that?”

The rumble turned into an oncoming roar. Kaylee covered her ears. Her mother cocked her head as if the sound was too faint for her to hear.

Please don’t let this happen again. Her heart knocked heavy in her chest. Half expecting the bridge to collapse with everyone on it, she dared a glance ahead.

A little boy stood in the middle of the road. She bit her lip, hard. If her parents heard the scream bubbling in her throat they’d send her to the mental hospital in Chester for sure. She closed her eyes tight.

Go away.

Go away.

She opened her eyes. The roar filled her head, vibrated in her molars. He stared at her through the windshield. His dark hair was cut short and he wore a plain button-up shirt and brown pants. His eyes…

Oh Jesus…

They glinted with a red animal shine of evil. Pasty skin pulled tight across his skull made angular points of his cheekbones. A manic glee danced in eyes staring from sunken sockets.

“What is that? Is there an accident up there?” Her mother’s voice trembled.

“I think so. I can’t see through the fog.” He spoke quietly, still listening.

They just sat there, as if the fog would clear and everything would go back to normal. They couldn’t see the ghost and couldn’t hear that unbelievable roar that made Kaylee want to press herself so far into the seat she ended up in the trunk.

The ghost boy smiled at her, exposing baby white teeth in a pitch black mouth. His lips spread, extending the grin to impossible proportions, then in a flash, he disappeared.

In the same instant, a station wagon in southbound traffic flew across the concrete median. Kaylee heard her mother scream and felt pain in her throat from her own. The wagon T-boned the blue Honda in front of them—a moving grenade of roaring engine and explosive steel. The impact shoved the Honda into their Saturn. Her head snapped back and forth hard, teeth coming down on her tongue.

She screamed again and braced herself on the seat. Twisted metal screeched, the chaos of shattering glass erupted all around her. The back tires of the Saturn hit the wall of the bridge and stopped with a shudder. Something popped and hissed. Steam mingled with the fog, blended, hid the carnage the wagon had left in its wake.

“Diane? Are you okay?” Her father reached for his wife who nodded, eyes wide and wet. Before she could speak, someone screamed near the Honda. The sound morphed into the noise of skidding tires unable to stop. It grew in volume and Kaylee struggled with her seatbelt, ready to run, to get out of the way of whatever was coming next.

Her father looked in the mirror. “Oh, Jesus.”

Kaylee looked back. A jackknifed semi shoved cars ahead of it, forcing them into one another. The Saturn shivered with the bang of every collision.

“Max…” her mother said hoarsely.

Then the car behind them, the driver shouting in pain, rammed into the back of their car and Kaylee shrieked and grasped for anything and everything. The nose of their already damaged car went up the side of the retaining wall that kept cars from falling into the river far below. The windshield shattered as the frame twisted and the bottom scraped along the concrete.

“Max!” Her mother shouted, leaning toward him as the car tilted.

The semi finally stopped. A horn blared constantly somewhere. All around, people cried out and shouted for help. The Saturn creaked and groaned, half on and half off the retaining wall. Kaylee whimpered, afraid a scream would unbalance them and send them over.

Her father grabbed her mom’s hands and pulled her across to him. The car pitched toward the road, throwing Kaylee against her own door. “Hold on,” her father yelled. “Just hold on. Don’t move.”

“Max, we have to get out of the car.” Her mother breathed hard, her voice trembling with panic.
“Shh. Just sit tight. We’ll get out of here. Give me a second to figure this out. You okay back there, Kaylee?”

She nodded, then realized he couldn’t see her and cleared her throat. “I’m okay.”

But she wasn’t, not really. A big part of her had hoped that when she left Marsden the craziness of ghosts and demons would be left behind as well. Somehow, this was all her fault. If she hadn’t been on the bridge…

Through the dissipating fog, the semi-driver’s door shrieked as he opened it and hopped down. He wobbled on unsteady legs, then found his balance and hurried toward them.

Her father must have seen him too because he said, “Okay. Help’s coming. It’s going to be all right.”

He didn’t sound convinced though as a high gust of wind shook the Saturn. Kaylee hissed a frightened gasp between her teeth, pressing herself harder against the far door to keep the Saturn heavy on the bridge side.

“Everyone okay in there?” The trucker, his bald head pink and ears turning red from the cold yelled into her father’s window.

“We’re shook up, but okay.”

“I’ll get you out of there. Just hold on.” He grasped the door handle and yanked, but even Kaylee could feel it wouldn’t budge. Her father’s door had been shoved in and bent closed.

The trucker gave up and moved to the front. “Can you climb out the window?”

Her father shifted to support her mother so she could make a try, but the Saturn leaned precariously toward the river.

Her mother screamed.

“No, we can’t move or we’ll…” he paused. “We can’t move.”

“Okay,” the trucker said, disappeared and then appeared by her door next. “Sit tight kid, we’ll get you out.”

Her door didn’t want to open either, though she couldn’t see where it had been damaged. Please, get me out of here! She didn’t speak, couldn’t find her voice. Trembling, she worried that something more than damage kept her door closed. Were they trying to kill her? The boy and whatever that roaring noise had been?

“I’ll be right back.” He dodged around the end of another car. Sirens rang in the distance.
In the eerie quiet, her father whispered, “He’ll come back. Help’s coming. It’s going to be okay.”

No one moved. The wind gusted again, coming in through the busted windshield. The tears on Kaylee’s face turned icy, her hands went numb. The wait seemed to last forever, but the man reappeared at her window, a tire-iron in his hand.

He yelled at her through the glass. “Turn away, cover your face.”

She started to do as he asked, but the car shifted and she stifled a scream, freezing in place. When it settled, she carefully moved her coat up to cover her head. The window broke with a loud pop. A hand fell on her shoulder.

“It’s okay. Come on out now.” He spoke softly.

She put a hand on the back of her father’s seat to boost herself out, but halted as metal ground on the retaining wall. “I can’t.”

“Yes, you can. Here,” he pushed on the roof of the car, forcing it down a mere half inch. “I won’t let go. Come on out.”

Kaylee nodded and when she moved again, the car stayed fairly steady. Careful not to cut herself on the safety glass, she was surprised to find a circle of people watching. One lady ran forward and helped steady her. “Just lean on me.”

Kaylee did, gratefully. As soon as her feet touched down though, she turned back. “My parents…”

Already her mother had slid back, working carefully into Kaylee’s seat.

The woman tried to hold Kaylee back, but she shrugged her off and rushed forward to help her mom.

“Kaylee,” her mother asked even before she was all the way out. “You’re all right?”
She could only nod as fire trucks, police cruisers and ambulances arrived. With their arms around each other, she and her mother watched the trucker work harder to hold the car steady now that Kaylee and her mother’s weight weren’t helping.

Her father started to move, and the entire weight shifted, lifting the trucker off his feet. He cried out even as her dad shouted for help.

“Dad!” Kaylee cried, her voice raw.

“Oh my, God,” her mother said, sobbing against the back of her hand.

A group of four men, all wearing Green Bay Packer coats, gloves and hats, ran to assist. They added their weight to the back, holding the car down. “We got you, man! Come on!”

Pale, shaking, his glasses slipping down the slope of his nose, he scrambled backward and out the window in seconds. His weight on the door frame wedged the Saturn firmly onto the bridge.

Her mother broke away and ran to him, throwing her arms around his neck. Kaylee embraced them both and bawled into her mothers coat sleeve. “I’m so sorry…”

It’s all my fault…

All my fault.

They weren’t even all the way to school yet. If they were all nearly killed when they were still miles away, what would she find when she arrived? “I want to go home, Mom. I want to go home.”

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