Last Breath

Last Breath

by Michael Prescott

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Product Details

BN ID: 2940046310917
Publisher: Michael Prescott
Publication date: 09/07/2014
Sold by: Draft2Digital
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 150,281
File size: 293 KB

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Prologue


C. J. Osborn was ten years old when the boogeyman came for her.

Some months earlier she had decided she was old enough to be left without a baby-sitter. A baby-sitter was for babies, by definition, and she was no baby. She rode horseswell, poniesand climbed steep trails in the Big Maria Mountains and explored the shadowed canyons near her home. She shot rifles and pitched horseshoes. She was too much of a tomboy to be satisfied with her given name, Caitlin Jean, and so she had become C. J., a name that suited her better. Certainly at the advanced age of ten, she could be left alone for an evening, even if home was a ranch house in a remote outpost of the Mojave Desert, and the nearest neighbors were a half mile away.

"If there's any problem," C. J. explained to her mom and dad in her calmest, most adult tone of voice, "I can call you. Or the Gregsons. Or the police. I know what to do."

Despite her arguments, for the first half of 1985 her parents continued to hire Liddie Wilcox to sit for them when they went out, even though Liddie, presently sixteen, had begun baby-sitting at the age of twelve, only two years older than C. J. was now.

Finally, in August, after months of sustained prodding on C. J.'s part, her parents relented. They were attending a birthday party at a restaurant in Blythe, the nearest big town, twenty miles down Midland Road. They would not call Liddie. "You'll be on your own," C. J.'s dad warned. "You sure about this?"

"I'm sure," C. J. said with no trace of doubt. What was there to be worried about? What could possibly gowrong?

Before leaving, her parents gave her the phone number of the restaurant, and the numbers of the half-dozen neighbors within a twoU-Umile radius, and the number of the Sheriff's Department, and a great deal of advice, which she only pretended to listen to.

Then they were gone, the old Chevy pickup rattling down the dirt road into the smoldering sunset. C. J. waved to them until they were out of sight. Then she was alone, really and truly alone, and she hugged herself for joy. She was a grown-up now.

Inside the house, she locked all the doors and windows, as her parents had instructed; the swamp cooler in the attic was sufficient to cool the place. She could hear it thrumming through the ceiling as she made dinner. Her mom had left a complete meal in the fridgechicken, peas, and mashed potatoes, arranged in a tray like a TV dinner. All she had to do was heat it up. Not much of a challenge, but she felt a thrill of accomplishment when the meal was ready. "I did it myself," she said smugly, almost persuaded that she had prepared the dinner from scratch.

She carried her food into the den and watched TV while she ate, a custom ordinarily forbidden in the Osborn household. But, as she reminded herself, she was the head of the household for the moment. She could do what she liked.

By nine o'clock she was beginning to get sleepy. Excitement had given way to drowsy boredom. She lazed in an armchair in front of the TV, congratulating herself on having taken her first step into adulthood.

That was when she saw the light.

A dim glow wavered outside the window of the den, not close, maybe twenty yards away or even farther, shimmering like a will-o'-the-wisp. She watched until it vanished beyond the window frame.

A first prickle of fear worked its way through her belly and up her spine. What she had seen was the beam of a flashlight. At least she was pretty sure it was.

There was no reason for anybody to be prowling the grounds of the ranch with a flashlight. And prowling was the right word.

Prowlers were burglarsor worse.

She almost ran to the nearest phone. But she couldn't be absolutely sure of what she'd seen. It might have been some trick of lightthe high beams of a car on the power line road, maybe, or the reflection of a shooting star. Or maybe the product of her overworked imagination. People were always telling her that she fantasized too much.

Still, she took the precaution of rechecking every door and window to be certain every latch and dead bolt was secure. She turned on all the lights in the house. Darkness, she felt, was her enemy.

Finishing her rounds, she stopped in the kitchen to turn on the overhead light and to take a long, sharp knife out of the cutlery drawer.

The knife was not much protection, but if somebody was out there-.-.-.

She turned off the TV and the swamp cooler. She wanted no extraneous sounds to distract her.

In perfect silence she sat on the sofa in the living room and listened.

Was someone out there? A drug addict or some other desperate person? She could picture himhim, yes, it had to be a man, women didn't prowl around in shadows and scare little girls. He would be shaggy-haired and beefy, and he would smell of stale sweat, and his eyes would glitter like small, polished stones.

There were vagrants in Blythe, panhandlers and shopping-cart people, who had that look. Maybe this man was one of them. If there was a man. If she hadn't imagined the whole thing.

She comforted herself with the thought that there was no way a prowler could enter the house without being heard. To get in, he would have to force a door or window. She would hear the splinter of wood or the shatter of glass.

Unless he could pick a lock. But she doubted he could defeat any of the dead bolts on the exterior doors.

She ought to be safe. Anyway, there might not be anyone outside at all. Already the glow she had seen through the window was beginning to seem like an image in a dream. Was it possible that she really had dreamed itthat she had dozed off and-.-.-.?

Wait.

A noise.

The creak of wood.

From the rear of the house, where the laundry room was.

There was a door back there, but it was dead-bolted like the others. He couldn't get in that way.

Could he?

Another creak. Closer than the last.

Footsteps.

That was what she was hearingsoft footsteps on the wooden floor of the hallway that led from the laundry room to the back bedrooms.

He was in the house.

It was impossiblethere had been no soundbut somehow he had penetrated all her defenses, and now he was coming, closing in on her.

Suddenly the knife seemed like very poor protection, pitifully inadequate to the threat she faced. She needed help.

She left the living room, the hasp of the knife gripped in her shaking hand, and entered the kitchen. The phone sat on the counter, a black rotary-dial model. She lifted the handset from the cradle and dialed nine, then one

She stopped.

New footsteps.

In the living room.

He had made it that far.

If she said anything into the phone, he would hear her, even if she whispered. He would hear her, and she would never finish what she had to say.

Carefully, making no noise, she hung up the phone.

He was searching the house room by room. He would look in the kitchen before long.

There was no way out of the kitchen except through the living room, and he was in there now.

Hide somewhere. Under the table? No goodhe would see her easily. In the cabinet under the sink? She looked inside, but the interior was crammed with dustpans and sponges and cleansers. She could never make enough room for herself.

She remembered the crawl space.

It ran underneath the house. Her dad had climbed down there more than once to fix the plumbing. The trapdoor that afforded access to it was in a corner of the kitchen, recessed in the hardwood floor.

She crept to the trapdoor and pulled on the metal ring embedded in the wood. The door was surprisingly heavy, but fear gave her strength. She lifted it, and miraculously the hinge, recently oiled, made no sound.

There was darkness below, and she had no flashlight or matches, and no time to find any. She lowered herself into the pit. Her Keds immediately touched bottom. She set down the knife on a bed of gravel, reached up, and eased the trapdoor shut.

Safe. Maybe.

She waited, huddling in the dark. Her fingers groped in the gravel until they found the wooden hasp of the knife. She drew it close to her.

Through the floor above her head, she could hear the vibrations of his footsteps. He was closenot in the kitchen but maybe in the den. He must have seen her through the window, and even if he hadn't, he would know someone was home. The TV must be still warm, and the remains of her dinner sat on a tray on the coffee table.

He must be a burglar, but she had never heard of any homes being burglarized here in Midland, a hardscrabble town at the eastern edge of California, near the Colorado River, a town of ranchers and miners and people who wanted to be left alone. Nobody out here was rich. There was nothing to steal.

Then why was he here? And why tonight of all nightsthe first night when she had ever been left alone?

Was hethe thought came to her like a sliver of a nightmare, intruding on rationalitywas he after her?

Had he deliberately waited until she was alone? Waited for his chance to get her?

Crazy idea, but she couldn't shake free of it. Fears from earlier phases of her childhood returned to her. The monster in the closet. The bear under the bed. The boogeyman.

That was what he was. The boogeyman, the terror of all children.

And now he was in the kitchen.

She heard the tread of his steps moving closer to where she lay, diminishing, approaching again. He was circling the kitchen. He must suspect that she had gone in there. But how could he know?

Maybe he had searched every other room, and this was the last place left. Or maybe he could smell her, the way a bloodhound sniffs out its prey.

Stop it. Stop thinking like that.

She was safe. She had to be safe. He couldn't know about the crawl space. He couldn't possibly find her.

Nonetheless, she wriggled a few feet away from the trapdoor until she found a vertical plumbing pipe in the darkness. It was thin and provided little cover, but she dragged herself behind it anyway, the knife still clutched in her hand.

The footsteps drifted nearer.

Had he seen the trapdoor? Had he guessed?

She waited, breath suspended.

Thenlight.

A faint but brightening fan of light from the kitchen as the trapdoor was raised.

It lifted noiselessly, as it had before. In the sudden spill of light she looked around the crawl space for another exit or a better hiding place. There was nothingonly the gray spread of gravel, confusions of plumbing pipes here and there, the cobwebby subfloor that made a low roof overhead, and patches of darkness in the far corners.

If she could reach one of those corners she might kick through the latticework and escape outside. It was worth a try.

She started to crawl, and abruptly the light from the open trapdoor dimmed as a human figure crouched over the entryway.

She froze. Any movement and she would be visible to him.

She couldn't see him, only his shadow on the gravel floor. He was squatting down, motionless.

Then the shadow disappeared in a new blaze of light. His flashlight had snapped on.

The long orange beam probed the crawl space, tracking over the dirt and the plumbing pipes and the whorls of spiderwebs. Dead insects littered the dirthusks of beetles, dried remnants of houseflies. A few yards from her lay something small and skeletal, which might have been a long-dead mouse or pack rat.

The beam played over one side of the crawl space, then blurred in C. J.'s direction and finally settled on her. She looked into the bright cone of light with frightened, blinking eyes.

From behind the light came a voicea male voice in a whispery falsetto, the most evil voice she had ever heard.

"I spy," he breathed, "with my little eye-.-.-."

Laughter, soft and mirthless, fading away.

The flashlight wavered. There was movement. He was shifting his position.

Climbing down.

Down into the crawl space with her, and when he did, there would be no place for her to go and no hope and no chance.

Blind terror drove her forward. She saw a slim, trouser-clad leg swinging down, and she lashed out at it with the knife.

He was quick, almost quick enough to anticipate the blow. The knife brushed his calf and tore the trouser leg, and then he was out of reach, squatting above her again.

She retreated a couple feet and waited, the knife held before her in both hands like a talisman.

Silence. Stillness.

Broken by his voice, breathless and mocking, still raised in a falsetto whisper. "You're a fighter, Caitlin."

He knew her name.

"Who are you?" she called out, fighting to keep her voice steady.

No answer.

"How do you know me?"

No answer.

"What do you want?"

This time, a reply. "I want you, Caitlin."

His voice was not what she had expected. She'd thought it would be husky, gravelly, a dark, croaking voice, but instead it was soft and almost soothing, seductive as a python's hiss.

"Want me for what?" she asked.

Laughter.

"Leave me alone!"

"Can't do that, Caitlin. I've waited too long."

She wanted to ask what he meant, but the words wouldn't come. He explained anyway.

"I've been watching you. Biding my time. And now-.-.-. tonight-.-.-. my long wait ends. Tonight, Caitlin. Tonight."

He had to be the boogeyman. Who else could he be?

The knife shook in her hands, but she did not loosen her grip.

In movies, she had seen how a panther or a tiger would coil up, then pounce. She knew he was doing the same thing. Tensing his body for a new attack.

It came. This time it was his arm that was thrust through the aperture, one gloved hand grabbing at her, nearly seizing her by the wrists. She twisted clear of his grasp and stabbed again, missing, and the arm retreated up the hole.

She edged sideways to a new position, then waited for the next assault.

She had seen little in the split second when he snatched at her, but enough to know that his arm was skinny and long. He wore a dark long-sleeved shirt and a black glove. He was not the raggedy man of her imagination. He was thin and sleek and quick.

How old was he? A teenager only a few years older than herself, or an adult? She couldn't tell. His whispery voice gave nothing away, and she couldn't see his face.

She hoped she never saw it. If she did, it would mean that she had lost the battle.

"Why me?" she called hoarsely.

"It has to be somebody, Caitlin."

"Why me?" she repeated.

"Because you're so very pretty. Do you know how pretty you are? Your hair is so smooth and shiny, chestnut brown streaked with sun. I'd like to run my fingers through your hair."

She shuddered.

"I've studied you," he went on. "In town-.-.-. and here at the ranch. You fascinate me. You're a very special little girl."

"Just go away."

"I wish I could. But then I'd never learn the answer to the question that's been haunting me. What color are your eyes, Caitlin? Are they brown or blue? I've never gotten close enough to see."

Her eyes were green, but she didn't tell him. She didn't want him to know anything about hereven though he already seemed to know too much.

"I'll bet they're pretty eyes," he said, and then the gloved hand was upon her again, closing over her right wrist and jerking it back, and she dropped the knife. He grabbed for it, but she snatched it first with her left hand and slashed at him furiously, and she heard a hiss of pain.

He retreated again. In the glow of the flashlight she saw a thin red line painted on the knife blade. She had nicked him in the hand or the forearm. Hurt him.

She had never intentionally hurt any living thing before tonight, but now she wanted to maim and cripple and mutilate. He had called her a fighter. He was right.

"Bitch," the voice breathed.

Droplets of blood pattered on the gravel.

"Go away," C. J. whispered.

But she knew he wouldn't.

She steadied the knife. When he struck again, she would be ready. She would hold him off all night if she had to. She would never give up. Let him try again and again to invade her hiding place. She would inflict cut after cut until he either gave up or died.

"I'm going to kill you, Caitlin Jean Osborn," he said in a deadly monotone. "And I'll do it slowly. I'll make you pay"

"Fuck you," she snapped. It was the first time she had ever said that word aloud.

She waited for the next onslaught. Strangely she wasn't scared anymore. Later there would be time for fear, but now there was only the beat of her heart and the feel of the knife and her total concentration on survival.

Come on, she thought. Try again. I'm not afraid of you. Try again-.-.-.

The flashlight disappeared.

For a startled moment she thought he had switched it off. Then she heard the creak of floorboards in the kitchen, the tread of receding footsteps, and she knew he had left.

Had to be a trick. He was trying to fool her into coming out.

Or was he going to get a gun?

No, couldn't be. If he had a gun, why wouldn't he have brought it with him in the first place?

Well, because he was crazy, of course.

If he was planning to come back with a gun, then her only chance was to get out now, while the kitchen was clear. But suppose it was a trap, and she climbed out only to be attacked-.-.-.

The fear was back. When things had been clear, when there had been only the simple job of fending him off, she had forgotten how to be afraid. Now that there was a decision to make, she was aware again of her terror and confusion, and aware also that she was only a ten-year-old girl, alone without a sitter for the first time ever, and this was all too much for her.

The house was silent. Had he gone? Really gone?

Maybe she could risk emerging. If she saw him waiting for her, she might have time to get back into the crawl space. She

Footsteps again.

Returning.

Too late. He was back.

He must have brought a gun, must have.

No escape now. The knife was useless. She waited in terror until his silhouette appeared above her, his long, scrawny shadow stretched on the dirt floor, and she looked up into his face.

Her dad. Blinking down at her.

"C. J.? C. J., what the hell-.-.-.?"

"Daddy, is he gone, is he gone?"

"Is who gone? Get out of there, it's filthy down there!"

"Is he gone?"

"There's nobody here, C. J. Get out now."

By the time she climbed up, her mom was there as well, staring at her in bewildered concern. "What in the world?" her mom kept asking, over and over. "What in the world?"

C. J. told them what had happened. She told them about the man who had come for her, who had gotten into the house without making any noise, who had known her name, who had said he'd been watching her. "We have to call the sheriff," she said. "Please let's call now before he gets too far away!"

Her parents made no effort to pick up the phone. They merely traded a resigned glance.

"Come on," C. J. insisted, "we have to call!"

"C. J.," her dad said softly, "there was nobody here tonight."

She stood stunned, unable to register the fact that they didn't believe her.

"You got all worked up," her mom said in a gentle, soothing tone. "Maybe it was something you saw on TV. You know how that imagination of yours can get going sometimes."

"It wasn't imagination," C. J. whispered. "I cut him. Look."

She showed them the knife, but the blood on the blade had already dried to a thin dusky line like a gravy stain.

"C. J.-.-.-." her mom said, losing patience.

"There's some of his blood on the floor of the crawl space. You can see it!"

But no blood was visible on the gravel. She must have obliterated all traces when she climbed out.

Still, she wouldn't give up. She made her parents accompany her on a tour of the house. The man had broken in. There would be signs of it. A forced window, an open door-.-.-.

There was nothing. Every door was locked, every window sealed.

"Are you willing to admit that it was your imagination now?" her dad asked sternly.

"He was real," C. J. said stubbornly. "He was the boogeyman." Even as she said it, she knew this was the wrong choice of words. Everyone knew there was no such thing as the boogeyman. Even she had known it until tonight.

Her parents wouldn't listen. When she pressed the point, they lost their patience. They sent her to bed, telling her that she would not be left without a sitter again.

The Sheriff's Department was never called. After a while C. J. stopped talking about the intruder. Meekly she acknowledged that she must have imagined him. It was the safest thing to say. But it was a lie.

That man was real. And he might still be out there. Waiting, as he had said. Studying her. Biding his time.

How he had entered the house remained a mystery for a month or so, until she remembered the doggy door. The Osborns had no dog, but the ranch's previous owners had kept two schnauzers and had built a small swinging door at the rear of the house. It had not been used in years, but when she tested it, she found that the door still opened easily, and the hinges made only a faint squeal, inaudible at a distance.

The opening was small, and she herself could barely pass through it. But she recalled the man's long, skinny arm. He had been bony, almost skeletal, and somehow, by some incredible contortion of his shoulders and hips, he had crawled through the little door. And when he heard her parents returning, he'd crawled out again.

She knew this was so, because snagged on a splinter of wood in the doggy door's frame were a few black threads. She remembered the black trousers he'd worn.

Of course it proved nothing. There was no point in even raising the issue with her mom and dad. They would look at her strangely, and there might even be talk of consulting with a psychologist in Blythe, as there had been for a few days after the attack.

She didn't want to see a psychologist. She kept her thoughts to herself.

But from then on, whenever she played outdoors or rode a pony in the desert or climbed a trail to a high ridge, she kept watch for a tall, lean figure in black.

The boogeyman was out there.

And someday, she knew, he would return.


Excerpted from Last Breath by Michael Prescott. Copyright © 2001 by Douglas Borton. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Last Breath 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 336 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was great. i spent all my free time reading it. i even almost missed my stop on the train because i got into it so much. the way he describes everything and writes just sucks you right in. you feel like you are there, and you can fully imagine everything. i recommend this book to everyone that likes suspense.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read so many books that I seldom remember which was which but this book really caught my attention. My first time reading the author but I will be looking for more. Great read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best book I've read in a long time,I couldn't put it down and I would love to see this made into a movie!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Didn't expect to be pulled in so fast. Was pleasantly surprised to purchase this for .99 and to then get 827 pages without ever getting bored reading it all the way through!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
820 pages. The story starts CJ as a child begs parents to not get a baby sitter. She was old enough to be alone. That decision would not be a good one. Boggy man arrives. She's able to survive but no one believes he was in the home and wanted to kill her. CJ's life changes that night and follows her as she becomes and adult and police officer. Definitely worth reading. You will finish the book
Cherylleigh More than 1 year ago
Was a good read. Did find myself putting it down some. Enjoy Michael's books but this was was not as good as "Stealing Faces." Would read again.
Angela Jarvis More than 1 year ago
Keeps you on the edge.....such a twist that I never saw coming.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It kept you wondering all the way to the very end, which was very poetic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was pleasantly surprised with this book. It usually takes me a week to read a book of this size. However I read this in two days. The time just passed before I knew it. Would recommend it highly. Looking forward to reading more of his books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book had me hooked from the beginning and then i just couldnt put it down
rabelsb More than 1 year ago
I really enjoy a good suspenseful read, I was hooked from the very beginning, need to find more like this
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
680 pages good book read in a few days!!! Thanks michelle!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fast moving suspense, skin crawling terror, no sex and for the most part very little bad language. I will read more of this author's books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this book and was an excellent read. I began reading it Friday and finished it today, however I only read about 60 pgs between Friday and Saturday so overall I read 90% of the book today. The author kept me intrigued it was hours before I realized I hadn't eaten anything becuase I was so captivtated in to the story. For $2.99 it was a steal. Since I have purchased my nook this my third book I've read but it's my first review. I think what also was intruging about the book for was the LA setting. I live in CA so the story seemed more realistic!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a definite page turner,a book has to get me from the begining or i never finish this one did!Loved it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book. If you like suspence, I had a hard time putting it down.
sassypickle More than 1 year ago
I give it 4 stars because at one point the book lost my interest for a brief moment. I love a story when it rolls, keeps my suspense up, this didn't do it for me at some point in the book. Loved the beginning chapter, ending was good as well. This book is not very gory but a great thriller read.
pinkCricket More than 1 year ago
For the 99 cents I spent on this book let me tell you it was worth every penny.I could not put this book down.From the very first pages you want to keep reading.I hauled my nook from room to room because I did not want to put it down.I am going to see what else Michael Prescott has available to read.
cmwilson101 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Last Breath by Michael Prescott has a good premise (the boogeyman appears to a small girl, and she battles fear all her life), and the characters have a lot of potential. However, the plot hinged on coincidences and didn't seem plausible to me.
cal8769 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Good mystery. Creepy serial killer chases child, no one believes her. She grows up to chase criminals. Pretty cliche but a good read.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Good characters including villains. Tension and build up done well and believable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WOW....WOW...WOW!!! Great read! Like thrillers.....this is the book for you! Enjoy!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read. Fast read. Characters outstanding. Script, unbeilievable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
From our introduction to the 10 year old self-sufficient girl who thought she was old enough to stay on her own and soon learned that there are very scary things in the dark, Prescott carries the story of C. J. and her boogeyman into the present, and concludes their story with a bang. Several twists and explosions, as a matter of fact. Creepy and suspenseful, the book introduces us to a gutsy heroine who fights her fears by protecting and defending others in her job as a cop, and I wouldn't mind seeing her in a second book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago