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One more block, and I'm safe.
Oak branches arched over the narrow street, contracting it to a dark tunnel. A chilly September rain dripped from sodden leaves onto Jenny Cameron's shoulder-length hair. Her backpack, bulging with textbooks, sagged heavily on her shoulders.
Come on, Jen, we're going out for a snack. We'll give you a ride home after. She could be sitting at a table in a bright, dry room right this minute, munching on pizza. Nope, sorry, Dan's home alone with Paula. He'll never get her to bed without me.
What a lousy night to ride the bus. I just have to buy a car, and soon! Of course her twin brother wouldn't get off his butt and drive her.
Don't be such a wimp, it's only a four-block walk. A wet, dark, deserted four blocks. Still, this Maryland suburb of Washington was as safe as any neighborhood could be these days.
Brushing a soaked strand of brownish-auburn hair back from her forehead, Jenny quickened her pace from a brisk walk to a jog. The backpack thumped against her shoulders, while mud splashed on her jeans and clunky loafers. Wind whipped the trees and lashed her face with rain.
She peered ahead through water-flecked, gold-rimmed glasses at her house. Completely dark.
Power failure? No, the street lights were shining. Other houses were lit up.
Dan knows to leave the porch light on for me. The folks go away for one week, and I can't trust him to do a simple thing like that.
She hitched up the backpack and groped in her purse for the front door key, automatically stepping over the cracked porch step. Damn it,where's the key? She dug through layers of pens, tissues, coins, and crumpled bills–there. Her fingers closed on the key ring.
The door creaked as she eased it open. She jumped at the sound.
"Dan? Paula? Where is everybody?" They couldn't be asleep. Her flaky brother couldn't have coaxed a twelve-year-old to crash for the night this early. Jenny fumbled for the light switch.
The pole lamp next to the door came on. "Dan, if you're playing some stupid trick, I'll kill you."
Her throat tightened. Come on, don't lose it yet. Maybe he took Paula out someplace and forgot to leave the lights on. He was spacy enough to do that, the way he'd been acting lately. She dropped her things on the nearest end table.
They would've left a note. Gone out for burgers, back soon. Jenny scanned the living room, rummaged through the magazines on the coffee table. No sign of a note.
Then she heard–something–from the den, at the other end of the house.
Something–a low, drawn-out rumble of sound. A growl.
Quietly as she could, Jenny slipped off her loafers and tiptoed through the dining room, sidling around the perimeter of the hardwood floor to avoid the squeaky boards in the middle. She edged past the swinging door into the kitchen, her pulse throbbing in her temples.
Her groping hand fell upon the wall phone. What are you waiting for, call 911! She imagined sirens, flashing red lights, a pair of husky policemen barging in. And at the same moment, Dan and Paula strolling up the sidewalk with a video and bag of popcorn.
It's nothing to get freaked about. A stray dog in the back yard, that's all.
Leaning against the refrigerator, she felt along the top for the flashlight. She held her breath to listen closer.
Copyright © 2004 by Margaret L. Carter