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By Ray Garton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2006 Ray Garton
All rights reserved.
The explosion took place on a clear, cool spring night that smelled of honeysuckle, beneath a bright crescent moon.
It was the first time seventeen-year-old Rodney Lepke had brought Heidi Stokes to the place known as Lovers' Lookout. It had been a make-out spot for generations. Rodney's parents had come to Lovers' Lookout when they were in high school. Everyone in Hope Valley – the natives, anyway – had been there at least once. To get there, you had to drive a short way out of town and up Creasey Hill Road. It was a dirt road riddled with potholes that led up to the top of the hill where the Creasey family used to live decades ago. The family had left town after the house burned down long ago. Now, the road was used only by teenagers looking for a place to park. Halfway up the hill, a turnout that provided a nice view. Half of Hope Valley was visible from Lovers' Lookout. From there, you could watch a movie on the big drive-in screen at the northern end of town. North of the town, less than a mile from the turn out where they were parked, just beyond a patch of woods, was BioGenTech Inc. It was a blocky rectangular grey building that had been erected eight years ago. It was a bit of an eyesore sticking out of the sprawling green woods, but it had provided a lot of jobs for residents of Hope Valley and nearby Newbury and Ridgeton.
The crickets were so loud that night, they were clearly audible above the radio playing a song by Evanescence.
Rodney had not yet made the first move. He and Heidi had only started dating a couple of days before.
"I've never been up here before," Heidi said.
She had moved to Hope Valley only a week ago. Her father worked for the Forest Service and had been transferred there from Southern California.
"It's called Lovers' Lookout," Rodney said.
Rodney's white 1972 Mustang convertible had bucket seats, but he reached back and took a big pillow from the backseat and placed it between the buckets. Heidi scooted over a little closer to him.
"Is that why you brought me up here?" Heidi said. "To have your way with me?"
"Well, yeah, I was kinda hoping."
She laughed. "Are you nervous, or something?"
"I don't know, you seem ... kinda stiff."
"Yeah, well ... maybe a little."
"Don't be." She leaned over and kissed him on the lips. It was a brief, gentle kiss and her breath was minty. She pulled back a little and smiled. "I don't bite," she whispered.
Rodney put his arm around her, pulled her to him and kissed her. It lasted longer this time. Their tongues met as he passed his hand over her back.
The song on the radio changed, but they were no longer listening to it.
Rodney put both arms around her and she scooted closer to him. When they separated for a breath, he kissed her cheek, then her neck. He was afraid to appear too eager, so he tried to hold back a little, although it wasn't easy.
Heidi was a beautiful girl – long dark hair, deep, soulful brown eyes, full and pouty lips, and a body that made guys stop and gawk at her like lobotomy cases. And she was with Rodney. He found that more than a little surprising.
The day Heidi had come to Hope Valley High School, Rodney had been walking by the principal's office when he'd heard his name called. Mrs. Kirtney, the principal, was standing in the office doorway with Heidi. She'd called Rodney over, introduced him to Heidi, and asked if he'd be willing to take her under his wing and show her around the school for her first day. Had that not happened, Rodney doubted they would have gotten together. Heidi was the kind of girl who was immediately taken in by the popular crowd, of which Rodney was not a member. But Heidi hadn't known that. He'd been nervous at first, but after showing her around that first day, he'd become quite comfortable with her. He'd made her laugh a lot that first day and she'd actually seemed to like him. They'd been together ever since.
They kissed for a while as the radio played and the Mustang's windows fogged up. She nibbled on his ear and he stifled a laugh.
"What's funny?" she said.
"Oh, you're ticklish, huh?"
She tickled his ribs with one hand. Rodney wiggled and laughed as he tried to push her hand away.
"You've got it bad," she said as she tickled him with the other hand.
Light oozed through the foggy windows as another car pulled up. It was closely followed by another.
"We're not alone," Heidi said.
"Yeah, we are." As he kissed her again, he tickled her ribs, but she didn't react.
"I'm not ticklish," she said, her lips still touching his. "Not there, anyway."
"I'm not telling. You've gotta find out for yourself."
But Rodney wasn't interested in tickling. He passed his hands over her body as their kissing intensified.CHAPTER 2
The first of the two cars to join Rodney and Heidi at Lovers' Lookout was a blue 2000 Volkswagen Beetle. Alan Burgess was at the wheel, and his girlfriend Natalie Williams sat in the passenger seat. As soon as Alan killed the engine, he and Natalie got out of the car, pulled their seats forward, and got in the back seat.
"Rodney's here," Alan said.
"Yeah, I saw his car. You think he's with that new girl?"
"I don't know who else he'd be with. I don't know who's in the other car."
"Yeah, I don't recognize it, either," Natalie said. "Is the beer cold?"
A six-pack of Coors was on the floorboard behind the driver's seat. Alan handed one of the bottles to Natalie and took one for himself. The caps made little phut sounds when they unscrewed them.
"A toast," Alan said.
"To, uh ..." He shrugged. "I dunno."
Natalie laughed as they touched their bottles together, then drank.
"I hope you've got some Binaca, or something," Natalie said. "If my mom smells beer on my breath again, she's gonna freak."
"I've got Binaca and Tic Tacs in the glove compartment."
They drank some more, then Alan put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him.
"Wait till we finish our beer," Natalie said.
"What're you, an alcoholic?"
"No, I just wanna finish my beer. I mean, you don't want beer spilled in your car, do you? The smell sticks around."
"Can I at least feel you up?" he said.
"If you want, sure."
Natalie drank her beer as Alan slid a hand beneath her pale green sweater. She wasn't wearing a bra and he found one of her breasts, cupped it in his hand. He ran his thumb back and forth over her nipple, which quickly became hard.
Natalie laughed and reached down between his legs. "You're already hard."
"When I'm around you, I'm always hard. When was the last time I told you you've got the best tits in Hope Valley?"
"I think it was last night on the phone."
"Finish that beer." He pulled his hand out from under her sweater. He put the beer bottle to his mouth and tilted it back, gulped the rest of the beer. He put the empty bottle back in the cardboard six-pack.
"If I did that, I'd belch until breakfast," Natalie said.
Alan took her beer away from her and gulped it down. "There. You're done with your beer. Take off that sweater."
"You're always in such a hurry."
"I can't help it if you drive me crazy."
"I'm not responsible for that." She pulled the sweater off over her head.
Alan's eyes drank in her breasts for a moment, then he leaned forward and put his mouth on one of them. They were round and full and pert, with pale nipples.
Alan and Natalie had been together since November. They'd met on the yearbook committee and had been unable to keep their hands off of each other ever since.
"Take off the skirt," Alan said as he unbuttoned his shirt.
"Why? I'm not wearing any underwear."
"You're not? Oh, shit, you make me crazy."
Natalie laughed. "I swear, you are so easy to please."CHAPTER 3
In the battered old silver Toyota Corolla that had come in behind Alan and Natalie, Brandon Carr lit a joint. He inhaled the smoke and held it in his lungs.
"Do you, like, have to smoke that?" Tiffany Huff said.
He waited a moment, then exhaled slowly. "I don't have to," he said, "but I want to. I was hopin' you'd have some, too."
"Well ... maybe a little. But if I smell from that stuff when I get home, my parents are gonna, like, shit fire, or something."
Brandon handed the joint to her. She took a drag on it, held it, exhaled.
"Why'd you bring me out here?" she said.
"Just wanted to talk."
"We could've done that at, like, Denny's, or something." She handed the joint back to him.
He held up the joint and said, "We couldn't do this at Denney's." He took another hit.
"I'm serious, Brandon, why'd we come here?"
He exhaled smoke slowly, then said, "I've missed you."
"We're over, I told you. What happened the night of the winter dance – that was, like, a mistake. A fluke."
"It was enough to make me miss you."
"Look, Brandon, we don't have anything in common, okay?"
He smiled and said, "We had plenty in common the night of the winter dance."
"You weren't even supposed to, like, be there. You dropped out of school."
Brandon and Tiffany had dated for a while a couple of years ago, but she'd broken it off. She'd thought he was running with the wrong crowd and knew he'd get into trouble sooner or later. He did, several times, first at school, then with the police. Among other things, he'd been caught playing mailbox baseball with a couple of friends. Since then, his problems had escalated. He'd gotten caught breaking into a gas station convenience store late one night just to steal some snacks, got a few speeding tickets and began to drink a lot. By the time he dropped out of school last year, he'd worked up quite a list of offenses. Tiffany knew he had problems at home; his mother had died a few years ago, and his dad was an abusive drunk. But while he had her pity, there was no way she could start seeing him again. Tiffany was a cheerleader and Brandon simply did not fit in with her group of friends.
He'd shown up at the winter dance, where Tiffany had gotten into a fight with her date. Brandon had taken her for a drive afterward and they'd ended up at Lovers' Lookout, where they'd had sex.
If he's so wrong for you, Tiffany thought, then what are you doing here with him now? You could've told him no.
The truth was, Brandon made her melt inside. He had dark hair that fell to his shoulders, a narrow face with an olive complexion, nice cheekbones, such kissable lips, and eyes that seemed to look inside her. He was tall, with sleek, defined muscles. Even his voice was sexy – low and deep, with a touch of gruffness. It made her angry to admit it to herself, but she found it hard to tell him no.
"C'mon, admit it," Brandon said. "You'd like to drop out with me, but your parents would never let you."
"No way. What do you expect to do with, like, your life if you don't go to school?"
"Something more interesting than going to school."
"I'm sorry, Brandon, but you're just not right for me."
He smiled. "Yes I am. And you know it. Otherwise you wouldn't be here now, you would've told me to get lost."
"I'm not the type of person who, like, tells people to get lost. Besides, I'm worried about you. I heard the sheriff found you drunk in the cemetery a couple weeks ago."
Brandon shrugged. "No big deal."
"Well, I'm just ... concerned."
"Why don't you be concerned about this." He pulled her toward him, put his mouth over hers, licked her lips and pressed his tongue between them as he pressed her hand over his erection.
Tiffany wanted to protest, to push away and insist that he take her home. But she didn't want it enough to actually do it. She went limp in Brandon's arms and became immersed in his kiss.
That was when the explosion occurred.CHAPTER 4
It was so loud – a tremendous, gut-punching ka-BAP! – it made Rodney jump and pull away from Heidi. They both looked out the windshield and saw the flames in the valley below.
"What the hell was that?" Rodney said.
"Oh, my god," Heidi said in a whisper. "It's BioGenTech."
"Are you sure?"
Heidi opened her door and got out of the car.
Rodney turned off the radio, got out and went around the rear of the car to join her. They walked to the top of the bank that sloped steeply down into the woods.
"You're right," he said. "Oh, shit, is your dad working tonight?"
"No, he only works during the day. I don't know how many people they have there during the night."
Black smoke roiled upward from BioGenTech, and flames burned with orange halos at the southern end of the building.
Car doors closed and Rodney turned to see three people walking toward them from the other two cars. He recognized them – Alan, Natalie, and Brandon – and noticed that someone remained in the Toyota.
"Is that BioGenTech?" Brandon said. He had a cigarette between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand.
"Yeah," Rodney said.
"I hope nobody was hurt," Heidi said.
"What exactly do they do there, anyway?" Alan said. "I've never really heard what goes on in that place."
Rodney said, "Medical research, genetic stuff. I think, anyway. They made a big deal about the place when they built it about five years ago, but they were never too clear on exactly what they do there."
Brandon said. "Wonder what blew up."
Another explosion cracked the night open and a ball of fire rose from the building.
"Holy shit!" Alan said.
They watched as more black smoke roiled up into the night sky.
"That's pretty awful," Natalie said.
Brandon turned to Rodney, offered him the cigarette.
Rodney realized it was a joint and he said, "Thanks," as he took it, inhaled some smoke.
"Pass it around," Brandon said.
Rodney handed the joint to Heidi, who took a hit, then passed it to Natalie.
"I got a few beers in the car, if anybody wants one," Alan said.
Brandon said, "I got a bottle of whiskey in my car, if anybody's interested."
"I'd like a beer," Heidi said.
Alan drew on the joint, then handed it back to Brandon and went to his car to get the beer.
"I'll take some of that whiskey," Natalie said.
Brandon took another hit off the joint and handed it to Rodney again, then turned and went around his car to the trunk. He opened it and took out a pint of whiskey, then went to the passenger side and opened the door.
"Why don't you come out and watch the fire?" he said.
"I want to go home," Tiffany said.
"Because we shouldn't be here together."
"You just don't want them to see you with me, right?"
She said nothing, just tipped her head back slightly without meeting his eyes.
Brandon studied her face for a moment. She was a lovely girl with short auburn hair and mesmerizing green eyes. She was one of the most popular people at Hope Valley High and she had a reputation to protect; being seen with him was not the way to do that. It was the only thing he disliked about her, that reputation. Because of it, she behaved like some kind of malicious princess.
"Who's out there?" she said.
"Rodney, Natalie, a couple others I don't know. C'mon out."
"They're not my crowd, I'm afraid."
"Yeah, nobody's your crowd except for those plastic mannequin cheerleaders and jocks you hang out with."
"What's burning?" she said.
She sighed heavily. "Why did I come with you? Oh, this is so bad."
"Why? They won't care that you're with me. If you don't come out, they're gonna think you're a stuck-up bitch."
"Did you tell them you were with me?"
"No, but I will."
With another sigh, she got out of the car, and the two of them joined the others. Brandon unscrewed the cap on the pint of whiskey and handed the bottle to Natalie. She thanked him and took a couple swallows.
"Pass it around," Brandon said.
"Hi, Tiffany," Natalie said. The others greeted her, as well.
Tiffany said nothing. She stood with her arms crossed over her chest.
They drank beer and whiskey and passed the joint around as they watched the fire grow below them.
"You think it was some kind of bomb?" Natalie said.
Heidi said, "Why would someone want to blow up BioGenTech?"
"Wow, what if it's terrorists?" Alan said.
"That would sure put Hope Valley on the map," Rodney said.
"Hey, look," Alan said. "There's a naked woman on the drive-in screen!"
They all turned to the screen and saw a naked woman being attacked by a man with a knife.
"That's Thrill Killer," Brandon said. "A slasher movie. I saw it a few nights ago."
"Any good?" Alan said.
"Well, there's lots of nudity," Brandon said, smirking again.
Excerpted from 'Nids by Ray Garton. Copyright © 2006 Ray Garton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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