Read an Excerpt
A drunk driver, a deadly accident, a dream destroyed….
The scene seemed to unfold in slow motion, and from the diner where she stood, there was nothing Rae McDermott could do to stop it. The two vehicles careened toward the intersection, then collided. The impact was so explosive it was surreal, like something from a violent action movie. The Explorer spun off the ground in a cloud of dust and glass and shredded metal, and Rae watched it sail across the street and wrap around a utility pole a hundred feet away.
"Dear God," she whispered. She dashed across the diner, grabbed the telephone and dialed 9-1-1.
Only Jenny saw it coming. There was no time to scream, no time to warn the others …. One moment she was looking at Alicia, asking her about Mrs. Watson's English class, and the next, in a mere fraction of an instant, she saw a white locomotive coming straight at them, inches from Alicia's face.
There was a horrific jolt and the deafening sound of twisting, sparking metal and shattering glass. Jenny screamed, but it was too late. The Explorer took to the air like a child's toy spinning wildly and twisting unnaturally before coming to rest.
Then there was nothing but dark, deadly silence.
That night, somewhere between lying awake and falling asleep, Hannah moved her leg and in the process slid her foot under a section of the covers that was weighted down with a heavy book she'd tossed there earlier. Still, for an instant the weight wasn't a book at all. It was Tom, his leg comfortably stretched across the sheets just inches from her own. Hannah stirred and the weight remained. She enjoyed the feeling of Tom's leg on hers, heavy and warm. Suddenly a realization pulled at her. If his leg was here, that meant -
"Tom?" She sat straight up in bed and breathlessly peered through the darkness. Then slowly, as she had at least ten times before, she realized who she was and where she was and what her life had become.
She was a woman alone who had lost everything.
And tomorrow was Christmas.
Jenny narrowed her eyes and studied the stack of sweaters on the closet top shelf. She spotted Alicia's sweater almost immediately and took it gently from where it lay near the bottom of a stack.
She held it up and she could see Alicia, grinning and challenging her to a foot race at Winter Camp last year. Jenny took the arms of the sweater and pulled them around her neck. She held it that way for a while, desperately wishing that Alicia still lived inside it. Her fingers brushed over the soft blue cotton, and she felt the tears again. She folded the sweater gently, tucked it under her arm and moved quickly for the door, suddenly motivated to get to school and log onto the Internet. Her mind traced the electronic paths to the suicide web sites she'd found earlier. Information that would help her resume the most important task of her life.
Finding a way to join Daddy and Alicia.
The bottle was more than half gone, and Brian felt himself losing consciousness. The room was spinning faster, and he closed his eyes. Suddenly a loud noise pulled him from his stupor. This time when he opened his eyes, he saw something that sent a surge of bile into his throat.
Right in front of him was the blond girl and her father, their car wrapped around the utility pole. Only now the girl was crying and Carla was standing over her, trying to help her breathe. In an instant they all turned on him, glaring at him, hating him.
"Go away!" Carla shouted and she ripped the gold hoops from her ears. "You're a murderer and a liar and a loser. I hope you rot in prison."
As quickly as they'd come, they faded away and he could see more clearly. … There was a strange noise, like air leaking from a rubber tire. He tossed the bottle aside and looked up.
Demons filled the room before him.
Dripping blood and spewing venomous taunts and accusations, they crowded in around his face. He swung at them, shouted at them to stay away, but they drew nearer still, hissing and smelling of death and sulfur. They were carrying something, and Brian saw that it was a rusted, black chain. Before he could get up or run away or close his eyes, the demons bound his wrists and wrapped his arms tightly against his body.
He was utterly trapped, and the demons began hissing one word, over and over. Brian's heart beat wildly and he struggled to break free. What was the word? What were they saying? The nose grew louder, each word a hate-filled hiss.
Finally Brian understood.
Forever. Forever, forever, forever.
He was trapped. The demons had him and they would hold him forever.
He wanted to break free, to scream for help and chase the demons away before they killed him. But instead he felt his insides heave. Once, twice, and then a third time, until it seemed his stomach was in a state of permanent convulsion…
Brian woke up, face down in a puddle of pasty vomit, his entire body shaking violently from fear and alcohol poisoning. The room smelled like rotten, undigested food and urine. He noticed his pants were wet, and he realized he must have soiled them. His head throbbed and he recoiled as he touched his hand to his hair. It was matted with crusted vomit. Suddenly he remembered the hissing creatures. Using only his eyes, he glanced from side to side.
The demons were gone.
But they would be back. He knew with every fiber in his being that it was so. He struggled to his feet, wiped the vomit from his eyes and nose so he could breathe better, and staggered toward the phone.
It was time to call the Bible lady.
Matt faced the jury squarely and slid his hands into his pockets. His voice was strong, but Hannah thought his eyes looked damp as he continued. "What happened to Hannah Ryan could happen to me - " he met their eyes - "or you. Any day. Anytime. Anywhere. …It's time friends, please. Find Brian Wesley guilty of first-degree murder, and let's put an end to this madness now. Before it's too late."
The judge finished giving instructions, and the case was handed over to the jury. After just two hours the foreman notified the clerk.
They had reached a decision.