Read an Excerpt
By Peter Lerangis
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 Peter Lerangis
All rights reserved.
Adam felt cold. Cold and alone. Darkness had swallowed the woods. His path was vanishing fast.
The word died in the air, swept away by a shriek of north wind. Above him, branches waved wildly in the moonlight, clattering like old, brittle bones.
This was a stupid idea, Sarno.
He shouldn't have agreed to play laser tag. Especially here. Especially at this time of year, when the reminders were so strong.
He tried not to think of what had happened. It was four years ago. He had to get over it. He couldn't avoid the lake his whole life.
Adam's heart nearly stopped.
"Ripley?" he called out. "Lianna?"
Maybe they were hiding from him. Listening to his voice. Laughing at how it sounded. Timid. Scared. So very Adam.
(Adam is a wimp ...)
Or maybe they'd left already. The lovebirds running off, not telling anyone.
I know these woods.
I am ten blocks from home.
He slung his laser gun over his shoulder. To his right, the woods disappeared into blackness. To his left, the moon peeked through the trees, dimly lighting a path toward the lake. He could follow the trail along the bank to the big clearing, where his bike was.
Stay away from the lake.
Adam ignored the thought. He was older now. Too old to be afraid.
It was only a memory.
Memories couldn't hurt you.
As he trudged to the lake, his heart began to race.
Warning signs were legible even in the faint moonlight: DANGER! THIN ICE! DO NOT ENTER UNDER PENALTY OF LAW!
Adam glanced beyond the signs. The lake looked remote. Unfriendly.
The last time he was on the lake, the signs didn't exist. You could sneak onto the ice and no one bothered you.
But the last time was four years ago. A January afternoon.
He did sneak onto the ice that day. To practice hockey.
Don't think about this now. Turn away.
But Adam's eyes fixed on a distant spot on the snow-dusted ice. In line with a clump of pine trees at the opposite bank.
That was where it had happened.
Lianna had been there. She had come along with—
Edgar didn't want to practice. I forced him.
They were ten. The hockey net was heavy, and no one was helping Adam set it up. Edgar was skating around, teasing Adam (showing off for Lianna), challenging him to take away the puck, being a total jerk, and (I wanted to kill him) that was it, wasn't it, that was the reason for the fight (it's not my fault), and when Edgar was pulled out of the hole, he had a big bump on his head (because it hit the ice), but Adam couldn't remember because he'd fallen in, too, and blacked out, and if it weren't for Lianna he would have died himself, which would have made more sense, because what did poor Edgar do to deserve what he got, a deadly blow to the head from his supposed best friend?
It's not my fault.
And the next thing Adam remembered, he was in the hospital, screaming (Edgar! Edgar!), while the doctors scratched their chins and told him it wasn't his fault (they didn't see it, only Lianna did), and from then on, everything was different, he couldn't concentrate, and the kids at school steered clear of him—but the rumors got back (Adam killed Edgar, whacked him in the head, pushed him in the ice, and left him for dead), the rumors he ignored even though they were true, weren't they?
He began to run. Away from the lake. Blindly. His laser pack and coat snagged on brambles, but he didn't care. He had to get away. He had to go home.
But where's Edgar? I can't leave without Edgar.
The thoughts were following him. Taunting him.
Edgar is dead.
Dead. Dead. Dead.
Adam stopped in his tracks.
The voice was coming from behind him.
Real. And loud. As if reaching across time.
It's Ripley's voice, you fool. Ripley, not Edgar.
Adam spun around.
"Oh my god ..." he murmured.
It wasn't over.
It was happening.
Adam's feet were flying. He sprinted toward the lake, high-stepping over roots and rocks.
"Ripley! Where are you?"
The light hit him square in the eyes.
Footsteps. Someone was running up to him.
"Uh-oh. Are you okay?"
Adam blinked and looked up. "R-Ripley?"
Ripley Weller was standing over him. His laser pack glowed dully on his chest. "What were you yelling about?"
"It's just that—I thought you were—you shouted for help—"
"Did you really think I was in trouble?" Ripley grinned, clasping his hands to his heart. "Oh, Adam. I didn't know you cared."
He was alive. And well.
And still a jerk.
Ripley's smile vanished. He clutched his gun and spun around.
Too late. A direct hit. Right to the center of his pack.
"Yyyyyyes!" Lianna Frazer emerged from the trees, pumping her fists in triumph. "The winner and new Vermont champion!"
"It was a time-out," Ripley said. "Adam was wounded."
"Yeah, right. I killed you!" Lianna turned to Adam. "You're my witness, Adam. Didn't I kill him?"
Adam's teeth were chattering. "I guess."
Ripley shot Adam a look of disgust. "Thanks a lot. You always agree with her, Sarno."
"Only when I'm right," Lianna said.
"Lianna's own personal slave." Using two different simpering, high-pitched voices, Ripley chanted: "'Nice day, Adam.' 'Yes, Lianna.' 'Do my homework, Adam?' 'Okay, Lianna.' 'Jump off a cliff for me?' 'Right away, Lianna.'"
"Cram it, Weller." Lianna turned and walked away, glancing briefly at Adam.
Say something. Don't just stand there.
Words tumbled around in Adam's head. Defenses. Insults. But they were lame. Ripley would easily swat them aside.
"Not that I blame you, Adam," Ripley said with a smirk. "I mean, hey, if it weren't for her, you'd be a stiff at the bottom of the lake like what's-his-name."
Lianna spun around. "Stiff?"
"Corpse, whatever," Ripley replied uneasily.
"Never. Speak. About him. Like that. Again." With each word, Lianna advanced on Ripley, backing him up until he was trapped against a tree.
"It was a joke," Ripley protested.
Lianna pressed her face close to his. "Edgar died that day. He was Adam's best friend. You didn't live around here back then. You don't know what any of us went through. My advice to you is watch your mouth."
"Fine." Nodding nervously, Ripley slipped away.
Adam forced his gaping jaw shut.
He'd never seen Lianna like this.
She defended me.
Brave Lianna rescues Adam the Wimp.
I will never, ever hear the end of this.
"Thanks," he muttered.
But Lianna wasn't paying attention to him. She was staring at the lake. In the reflected moonlight, Adam could see her face slacken. A slight change, something no one would notice. No one but Adam.
She was thinking about it.
"It was four years ago Saturday," Adam said softly.
Lianna shot him a look.
"I know this is crazy," Adam continued, "but when I heard Ripley yelling, I thought it was Edgar."
Lianna nodded and turned away. "Let's go, Adam. What's past is past."
She jogged off, her footfalls echoing in the cold, dry air.
Adam stole one last look at the lake.
That's all it was. A body of water.
The rest was just memory. Brain waves.
Lianna was turning off the lake path now, onto the narrow trail that led toward the clearing.
Adam ran to catch up. But as he veered onto the trail, something yanked at his foot.
He stumbled to the ground. Wrapped around his ankle was the strap to a small backpack.
"Wait up!" he cried.
Adam pulled the strap away. The pack was small but heavy.
In a moment his two friends were running toward him.
"Eeek. Kill it before it multiplies!" Ripley speared his laser rifle through the straps, lifting the backpack off the ground.
"Leave it," Lianna said.
"No way," Ripley shot back. "Let's look for ID. Send it back to the owner."
"Anonymously, right? With just some of the valuables missing?" Lianna snatched the pack from his rifle.
"Give it back!" Ripley protested. "Finders keepers."
"Adam was the finder," Lianna reminded him.
"Oh, and he won't steal a thing, right?" Ripley said mockingly. "Because he's such a good boy."
It was time to get out of the woods. This argument was ridiculous. "Look, it doesn't matter to me. You take it, Ripley. I don't mind."
Lianna shoved the backpack into Adam's hands. "Mind, Adam," she said wearily. "Stand up for the right thing once in a while."
With that, she and Ripley headed for the clearing.
Clutching the backpack, Adam followed.
He felt about two feet tall.CHAPTER 3
Adam still had trouble calling it that.
The Wellers had lived there for three and a half years. They had replaced the windows. Built an extension. Widened the driveway and relandscaped the lawn.
But Adam saw the old things. The wall that Edgar and Adam had helped paint. Edgar's basketball hoop, still hanging on the garage. The outline of the name HALL on the mailbox where the letters had been removed.
To Adam, it was still Edgar's house.
Even now, as Ripley rode up the driveway, Adam imagined his old friend standing and waving good-bye.
What's past is past.
He and Lianna waved back, then began to pedal away.
"Sorry I yelled at you before," Lianna said.
"Well, Ripley got it much worse than I did." Adam smiled. "I didn't realize you still had a temper."
"When he said that about Edgar, I freaked. Especially after what you said, about hearing Edgar's voice."
"It wasn't only hearing," Adam replied. "I thought I was seeing the accident. Like a flashback."
"Adam, that is weird."
"I still have nightmares, too. All the time. Strong ones, where everything is so clear."
Lianna looked at him. "Everything?"
Edgar's teasing, yes. The angle of the sun and the smell of the air. The weight of the net. The incredible frustration at Edgar.
After that, the dream always became muddy. Fragmented.
Even the fight was a blur.
The fight that had started it all.
I was a hothead. I couldn't control myself back then.
"I can't remember the fight," Adam said, "or the accident."
Lianna exhaled. "You're lucky. I wish I could forget them."
After the accident, Lianna had told him what happened. She'd told the TV stations and newspapers, too. Adam had saved all the articles. Over the years, he'd read them a thousand times, trying to spark a memory. Trying to free what he'd blocked.
The ice broke. Edgar fell in. The crack spread toward me. I tried to run away, but I wasn't fast enough. Lianna reached for us both. Edgar was flailing and almost pulled her in. But I was still. Unconscious. So she pulled me out and ran to get help. The ambulance came and took Edgar and me to the hospital. By then, Edgar was already ...
Lianna was looking at him with concern. "You don't still blame yourself, do you?"
"I shouldn't have been so mad at him," Adam replied.
"Adam, we all get mad. That doesn't make us murderers."
Don't ask her. Don't bring it up—
The words flew out of Adam's mouth. "Did I hit him, Lianna? Is that where the bump on his head came from?"
Lianna's face darkened. "That was a rumor, Adam. Forget it. It's not worth your time."
"What exactly did I do? Did I even try to save him—?"
"Adam, please! You think it's easy for me to talk about this? Be grateful you don't remember."
She's not saying I didn't do it.
They were in front of Lianna's house now. She turned sharply up her driveway.
Adam squeezed his brakes and turned. His bike slipped out from under him. He put out his leg to stop a fall.
The backpack, which he'd hooked over his laser pack, slipped off his shoulder. It fell to the street.
The sound was sharp, metallic.
Lianna turned. "Klutz," she said with a wry smile.
Before Adam could react, she glided over and lifted the pack off the street. Balancing it on her handlebars, she unzipped it and reached in.
She pulled out a small videocamera.
Great. It had to be something expensive.
"Don't fool with it," Adam said.
But Lianna was already flicking buttons. Peering through the viewfinder. The red indicator light beamed above the lens.
"No image," Lianna said, handing the camera back. "You busted it."
"The owner's going to sue me."
"He'll be happy someone found it." Lianna yawned. "Don't sweat it, Adam. You worry too much."
As she pedaled up her driveway, Adam lifted the viewfinder to his eye.
Now the camera was working. Sort of. It was glowing with a blurry image of the street.
He adjusted the focus. The image sharpened, but the street looked totally washed out. The cars, trees, houses—everything was blanketed in white, as if it had snowed.
Maybe it can be repaired.
Adam dropped the videocamera in the backpack, put both packs around his shoulders, and set off down the street.
He'd deal with it tomorrow.CHAPTER 4
"Rise and shine!"
Adam's eyes blinked open.
He was awake.
The last images of his dream still clung to his consciousness. The dream.
It had started the same as always. The walk to the lake. The net. The start of practice.
But this time, it hadn't gotten fuzzy. He had seen what happened to Edgar. And it wasn't the way he'd thought it had been. It was worse. Much worse.
Hold on to it. HOLD ON ...
Adam sat up, groggy and mush-mouthed. As he yawned, his head throbbed. The smell of fried eggs wafting up from the kitchen only made him feel worse.
As his eyes adjusted to the light, the sight of the backpack startled him, black and unfamiliar on his desk. Through an open zipper, the videocamera lens glinted dully at him. Watching.
Adam staggered to the desk. He removed the camera and set it down, facing the wall.
A thick, sealed manila envelope fell out from the backpack onto his desk. Adam picked it up and turned it over.
He examined the backpack for tags. Nothing.
He tilted the videocamera, hoping to see some ID on it.
The red indicator light blinked on.
Must have jolted it.
He held the camera up and peered through the viewfinder. The dark, shadowy confines of his closet filled the frame, along with a string of tiny glowing indicators Adam noticed 7:48 A.M. and January 13. Right on the nose.
"Adam?" his dad called from downstairs. "Are you up?"
"Coming!" He swung the videocamera around, sweeping it across his room.
His eyes focused on a chest of drawers in the corner—his old one, which his mom had thrown out last year. Or so she'd claimed.
When did she sneak that in here?
Adam lowered the camera.
The chest was gone.
Quickly he looked through the viewfinder again.
The chest was back.
He panned the camera around the room, slowly.
A paperback copy of Mossflower was on the bed. He hadn't seen it in ages.
A hockey uniform lay on the floor, identical to the one he'd worn the day of the accident.
A spiral notebook was next to it— marked ADAM SARNO, 5-208.
Grade 5. Room 208.
All my old stuff.
In my old room.
A dream. He had to be dreaming.
Adam set the camera down. He rubbed his eyes, then cast a long, level glance around the room.
Everything was normal. No dresser. No uniform.
He pinched himself. Hard enough to hurt.
Okay, you are officially awake. Do not freak. Look through the videocamera again. Everything will be normal. Then you can go eat breakfast.
He swallowed. Lifted. Looked.
"Adam, you're going to be late for school!" his dad's voice boomed out.
Adam opened his mouth to reply, but no sound came out.
My old pajamas ... the Monopoly game, with the cover still intact ... the radio I threw out last year ...
WHAT IS GOING ON?
His eye shot down to the bottom of the frame. To the electronic indicators.
The correct time. The correct month and day.
But Adam stared at the last numeral. The year.
He clicked the RESET button. He tried to change the setting.
The YEAR setting was stuck.
Four years earlier.
Excerpted from Watchers Rewind by Peter Lerangis. Copyright © 1998 Peter Lerangis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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