Hello all my readers! :) I've got a special sneak preview of Detour 2 Death to share with you. Enjoy the read!
Book #1: DFF: Dead Friends Forever
Book #2: School's Out 4-Ever
Book #3: Detour 2 Death
In her dreams, Kaylee walked a vast landscape of twisted trees and red sand. The wind pulled at her hair and filled every crease of exposed skin with grit. She squinted toward the familiar squeak of tortured, metal wheels. Davey. Her best friend suffered in this place, his wheelchair melded to his lower half. From one dune to the next, the wind took every sound in a different direction. He could be anywhere.
Up ahead, beyond a swirling veil of dust, the sound came again. A dark shadow, close to the ground, crawled toward her. She sprinted to his side. Davey’s dirty, sweaty hair stuck to his forehead. With hands covered in tattered cloth, he pulled himself across the hot sand. A black twisted tree dipped its dead branches toward them.
Sun beat on her, drawing sweat from her scalp. He saw her and brightened with a short-lived smile. She dropped to her knees and cupped his face. As her hands touched him, he turned to ash. The wind made him a cremation snowfall, spreading him in every direction, far beyond her reach. Ash blackened her hands. Davey covered her trembling fingers and landed on her eyelashes. She blinked, scrambling to gather the burnt tissues together, to make him whole, to heal him.
Too late, Reason, the small voice in the back of her mind, said. He’s gone and it’s all your fault. You left him there and now he’s dead.
Her sobs built, one on top of the other. Not Davey. Never Davey. Hands fisted, she pounded the dirt, her tears turning the sand to mud. She turned her face to the sky and screamed.
The panic from her dream followed her awake. Her pulse thundered. Where was she?
"Jesus," Vincent said. "You nearly gave me a heart attack. You okay?"
“Sorry.” The screams left her throat raw. She rode in a truck, a semi, with Vincent, the driver who picked her up back in Duluth. Her mouth tasted of the false heat blowing from the semi's vents. The dash lights illuminated the night-dark cab. Snowflakes blew vertically into the windshield.
"Bad dreams, huh?" His attention remained on the road, hands tight on the wheel. “Weather’s pickin’ up out there. I’m a good listener, though, if you feel the need to talk it out of your system.”
Kaylee shook her head. The winter coat she wore belonged to a dying woman. Now she really was a thief, a criminal, a crook. All the stuff they said about her, thought about her, came true. Before all this angel and demon business, she had been a law-abiding citizen. Maybe not the best or most popular, but definitely a girl with a future. The ghosts robbed her of that. Only one blessing might make up for it all. If she could help Davey, save him somehow, then this would all be worth the sacrifices.
She unzipped the jacket. What happened back at the girl's reform school couldn't possibly have happened just a few hours ago. Time felt suspended, as if the real world existed beyond a sheer pane of glass. Even Vincent, smelling of wet winter wool and French fries, could be a ghost if she didn’t know how freaky those things were.
“You sure you don’t want to talk?” He glanced at her then, his baseball cap popped back on his head to show warm eyes.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“I don’t know about that. I was young once. Though I wasn’t a girl, but I can guess it’s something we all have to deal with now and again.”
Uh, she didn’t think so.
“C’mon, it’ll pass the time.”
She sighed. “I dreamed about a friend of mine. He’s…was in trouble and I couldn’t help him. I got there too late.”
“Now what wouldn’t I believe about that? Everyone has someone they wish they could have helped. I’m sure your friend knows you will do what you can to help him.”
“I hope so,” she whispered. A sign read Marsden five miles ahead. They were almost there. She straightened in her seat, watching out the window. “I don’t know what I would do without him.”
“Oh, so he’s more than just a friend?”
“No, no. Not at all. Just friends. We grew up next door to each other, is all. It’s not like that. He’s in a wheelchair.”
“So you don’t like guys in wheelchairs?” He softened the question with a sideways grin.
“That’s not what I mean.” She smiled. “We’re just friends.”
“Yep, that’s what they all say.”
She chuffed. “Really, we are. Just friends.”
“Whatever you say, kiddo. See, passed the time just fine, didn’t it?” Vince flipped on his blinker and eased toward the freeway exit. A blue sign with a white H flashed past. "Won't be long now. Just a few blocks up the road. I'm sure your ma will be happy to see you. But you gotta promise me, no more hitching. A pretty girl like you could end up dead or worse."
"I promise." Unsure if Vince would be as eager to give her a ride to see a boy, she had lied and told him her mother was in the hospital. Back in Duluth, she knew when he would exit the freeway to get gas, knew he would take her to Marsden Memorial, knew Fate or Destiny or God, or whatever had its fingers in her life, sent him for her. She knew this the same way she knew things about people she loved, people she didn’t know…people who were dead. Psychic or witch or descended from angels, she couldn’t tell for sure one way or another. She only knew Davey needed her.
As they passed through downtown Marsden, familiar stores appeared strange in the falling snow at this time of night. They passed Madame Maggie's with the large neon hand hanging dark in the window. They passed Schmidt’s jewelry and the library. The hospital loomed large and bright beyond the darkened buildings.
Davey, I’m almost there. Hang on.
“Your town sure rolls up the sidewalk early.”
“Not much to do around here. Mom says it’s better that way. Less chance a kid can get into trouble.” If she only knew, Kaylee thought.
The semi's engine grunted as Vincent switched gears. Kaylee imagined glass storefronts shattering from the vibration. Everything remained in tact, and Vince pulled to a stop at the back of the hospital’s parking lot. The engine settled down to a distinctive grumble.
"Zip up. It's toasty in here, but out there, you'll catch your death." Vince nodded to the blowing snow. "Your ma wouldn't want you getting sick just on account of her."
Kaylee zipped the coat. "Thank you for the ride."
"My pleasure," Vince said, sticking out his hand.
She took his hand. The world tilted and images flickered high speed across her inner eye. A porch with a rocking chair, overgrown willows on a dirt road, a fish swimming in river water, skinned knees and tanned legs, a red bike with a rusted fender, all of this came on the sensation of old fashioned goodness. As she let go, an indefinable shadow clouded the warmth of those images. She put her hand on the door. She didn’t understand fully why she did a lot of things lately and this was another of those times. Kaylee said, “You’re a good guy, Vincent. Don’t let anything change that."
He grinned a little sheepishly. "Will do. You take care, kid. I don't want to see your face on the side of a milk carton one day. Keep that promise, okay?"
“Okay.” She opened the door and hopped down. She waved and slammed the door, stepping backward and burying her hands inside the deep pockets. The difference in temperature was startling. The semi rumbled back into gear and wobbled toward the exit. She faced the hospital, the six floors of glass and concrete and brick. In the whirling snow and whistling wind, the building seemed shrouded with foreboding. Any second now she expected to hear a ghoulish voice tell her to turn back, turn back before it’s too late. A line from some movie, she thought, about a girl beginning a journey into an unknown, dangerous labyrinth.
Kaylee stepped across the snow banks and headed for the emergency entrance to the hospital. She grimaced against the wind-driven flakes and kept her eye on the red emergency sign. How would she get inside? The last time she was there, after a mishap on her skateboard, a security guard manned the entrance and nurses worked a reception desk. They weren’t going to let her just walk inside, would they? Maybe they would.
Whatever messed up her whole life had a plan of its own. If that thing wanted her to get to Davey, somehow, someway, she would get into the hospital before he…got too sick. Her throat swelled closed a little, thinking of him in her nightmare. He suffered so much, but worse, he suffered all alone. Everyone might think they knew what it meant to be in a wheelchair, even she could try to understand, yet no one could know unless they had to live that way.
The doors opened as she approached. The vents between the outer doors and the inner doors blasted her face with heated air and she smelled that hot, desert place once more. Her ears burned from the change in temperature. A video camera, mounted in the corner, blinked a red light at her. She furtively glanced into the lens, realizing too late she should have hid her face. How long did she have before they knew she left Duluth? They could already be looking for her. If they put out one of those Amber Alert things, Vincent would let the police know where she was. Funny, she didn’t mind him giving her up as much as she minded upsetting him once he found out she lied.
That was the problem with good guys. They made you feel guilty if you weren’t as good as they were. Thinking about being bad, what would they do once they found out she skipped out on her sentence? The court ordered her to attend Barclay Hall. That made her a real outlaw, didn’t it? On the lam and she just turned fifteen.
To her surprise, the emergency room was deserted. No patients waited to be seen and no one manned the front desk. She strolled right on in, like they put out the red carpet just for her. Looking left to right for any oncoming security guards, her hyper-awareness picked up absolutely nothing. No sounds, no voices, not even a ringing phone. Her sneakers squeaked on the tile floors as she scurried down the hall and into the rest of the hospital. She peered around corners, growing more frightened by the minute. Where did everyone go?
When Davey first got sick, they put him in the pediatric wing with all the little kids. Since he had the same doctor, he must be in the same place. Near the elevator, she heard voices, finally and dashed for the sign marking the stairs. Part terrified they would catch her before she got to Davey, and part relieved this wasn’t some sort of alternate dimension, she hurried up the stairs.
On the second floor, the lights were all so low, that unless someone looked directly for her, she blended into the shadows. The dying woman's boring grey coat helped. If she wore red or leopard print or something wild like that, they would spot her for sure.
On the right floor and in the right place, she only needed to find Davey's room. She paused, inhaled deeply, and reeled out that sense, that little thread she could send out into the world when she concentrated. She pushed it down the hall, searching for Davey’s essence. Nothing down there. She turned the opposite way. Nothing again.
This is stupid, she thought, who do I think I am? Super Psychic Woman to the rescue? Maybe she needed to be locked up in her dad’s loony bin. She opened her eyes as a familiar sense slid in and out of her notice, the way a fleeting scent gives the expectation of a seeing the person who wears the cologne. She closed her eyes again and aimed that thread in the same direction. There. She knew then, absolutely knew with complete certainty that he was in the third room from the end.
Just in view of the nurse’s station.
Kaylee took a silent breath and braced herself. She started down the hall, moving slow and keeping her eye on the end of the counter. If a nurse came into view, she would freeze. If the nurse looked like she might head toward Kaylee, she would duck into the nearest room, hope the patient inside would stay fast asleep, and she wouldn't have to worry about freaking out some sick kid.
Her back to the wall, she slid closer to Davey's room. Halfway there, at an open door, movement inside the room caught her eye. Something shifted in the darkness, something furtive and not particularly human. Her lungs froze and her heart skipped a beat. Eyes wide, she held absolutely still and waited for the movement to repeat itself. When nothing happened, she exhaled—and saw her breath form in the air.
Not good. Not good. Not good at all.
By sheer force, she managed to sidestep away, her stare intent on where the potential threat came from. In her experience, ghosts were the least of her worries. The things that trapped them here, on earth, were far more frightening. Demons and monsters loved to keep a spirit at unrest. She couldn't risk getting distracted by the thing in this room when Davey needed her so badly.
Kaylee came for Davey, not some stranger. Fate, or whoever, owed her this much. She did what they expected of her, to her own detriment. She freed the ghost girl Isabelle and defeated the demon Asmodeus. She freed the ghost children at Barclay Hall and defeated the monster feeding on their souls. Her turn to use whatever power she had inside her, to help someone she…
Loved. Love, just say it, Reason, said in that practical manner. Reason didn't play games and shot holes in every theory Kaylee tried to trick herself into believing. Her father, Sir Shrinks-a-lot, would have called it her conscience. To her, it was just Reason. The practical part of her mind that didn't pussy-foot around.
So okay, yeah, she loved Davey. Did she love him like a brother, though? At seven, she once promised to marry him when they grew up. He thought it was sort of gross and from then on, they were just friends. Only lately, it didn't feel like that. Not since his voice deepened and he got taller than her. When he stood for those few moments between transferring from his wheelchair to another seat, his height amazed her. They used to see eye-to-eye, now it was more like eye-to-chin.
Once she got into his hospital room, he didn't look very big at all. He seemed shrunken somehow, like they drained him out and left just a husk. His damp hair fell back from his forehead and his olive skin looked deathly. His dark brows and heavy lashes were black slashes on a pale face. His lips were papery, cracked. A small light above his bed burned low.
Kaylee eased the door closed behind her, holding the handle to keep the snick of full closure barely audible. Walking carefully, she went around his bed. Another bed, this one against the far wall, sat empty, to her relief. The last time he had been in the hospital, a burned boy who whimpered and cried all the time shared a room with him. The pitiful mewling always made her feel guilty about how good it felt to leave that sound behind.
Davey breathed so quietly, she barely detected the rise and fall of his chest. His hands lay limp at his sides. His upper arms and shoulders were broad, tapering to a slender waist that ended in slimmer legs. Even with physical therapy, the muscles of his legs had atrophied. From the waist up, however, he was built—mostly from all the effort it took to negotiate a world with a wheelchair. She wished the strength in his upper body meant he would be okay.
Just be okay, Davey. Just be okay.
She gently touched his hand and watched for any sign her cool fingers registered on him, any twitch, any awakening, but he lay unmoving. Though the fear of what she might discover made her shake all over, she sent out that probing thing. She snapped her hand away, stumbling backward. Tears pricked her eyes and she covered her mouth with a trembling hand.
He isn’t there.
Davey had checked out, gone away, left the shell of himself behind and fled the scene. Her heart thudded heavier and heavier against her ribs. This wasn’t like with the head mistress of Barclay Hall, where she couldn't get any sort of read at all. This time, she felt no remnants of a personality she knew as well as her own.
A black void filled Davey, so cold and horrible, the iciness left her breathless.