| Chapter 1
Joshua Davis picked out the man in the trench coat again, and he felt a shiver go down his spine. It wasn’t the cool October rain either. It was the fact that the man was hiding on the roof, between the vent hoods on his school. And that he had a gun.
Josh trotted out into the parking lot, weaving between other students itching to get out. No one else seemed to notice him. No one else could feel the glare of the iron sights on their back. He flipped his hood over his head, trying to block out the burning sensation of imminent death.
His organs screamed at him, Yell! Shout! Get someone’s attention before you’re shot! Fear roiled inside of him, threatening to throw his muscles into a sprint. He wrestled his own mind, forcing himself to be calm. Kain had said that the CIA would probably have an eye on him soon.
Josh slowed his pace, trying to look normal. He felt sweat drip down his forehead. His hands shook, and he was afraid he would collapse at any moment. When Kain had pulled him into this, he made it sound so simple. Clearly he hadn’t mentioned the eerie phone calls at 2 a.m., the complete isolation, or the death always hanging over your head.
Finally, he reached Taylor’s blue Toyota. He wrenched open the door and slipped inside. A big sigh burst from his lungs, like he hadn’t breathed since he left the school. Of course, he probably hadn’t.
“Hey,” Taylor said, letting off the brake. The car coasted into the clog of traffic. Holding the wheel in one hand, he leisurely flicked the radio on. His music blasted, and Josh jumped, nearly drawing a curse. Taylor turned it down a few notches.
Josh’s heart hammered. He breathed heavily, drawing a curious glance from the driver. He bit his lip. “I’m all right!” he burst. “I’m perfectly fine.”
Taylor jumped a little. He gave him another cautious look-over. Inside, Josh swore at himself. Self-control was essential in this kind of situation. In the field, a move like that might’ve cost him big.
They pulled out onto the highway. Josh sat with his lip locked, twiddling his thumbs and glancing out the window every few seconds.
Finally, Taylor worked up the courage to ask a question. “Are you feeling alright, Josh?”
“Yeah, of course,” Josh said. “Why do you ask that?”
“You’re all shaky and nervous-looking. Is everything alright?”
Josh almost blurted the truth. There was a sniper on the roof and he’s probably coming to finish us off!
Instead he just nodded. Taylor didn’t look convinced, but at least he stopped asking questions.
They cruised down the road, gaining speed as the Toyota floated over the blacktop. They sped through Wilmont into the open country. The rain clouds prevailed overhead, but the drops started to lessen. He watched the drops wash over the multitude of colored leaves. Josh smiled for the first time since he’d noticed the sniper through the Social Studies window.
Taylor turned onto Butternut road. The gravel crunched under his tires and trees curled over like a canopy. Josh glanced in the rear view mirror.
A polished black crossover turned in behind them. The car didn’t have a single spot of dirt on it. Josh started to feel nervous again. He peered into the mirror. The driver wasn’t wearing a trenchcoat, so far as he could tell. But what did that black car want going down a muddy dirt road?
Josh thought fast. “Hey Taylor,” he said. His friend looked at him expectantly.
“Uhh… would you mind taking me all the way to my house? I don’t want my shoes to get muddy.”
His friend gave him a look that said it all. He was not buying any of it. Any other rainy day he could drop him off at the mailbox and let him walk up. Why was he so concerned about his shoes all of a sudden?
“…Sure. I can do that,” he replied carefully.
They turned onto Maple road. The black car followed, a little more at a distance this time. Josh saw his mailbox coming into view. The mailman turned the corner ahead of them, shortly after depositing his load. Josh though nothing of it. Until Taylor stopped and said, “You want to get that?”
He froze. The crossover slowed. Sweat coated his brow.
“…Of course.” He opened the door and stepped out of the car.
Every nerve in his body shrieked not to go. Josh plodded around the car. He forced himself to stare ahead, but his need to know had other plans. His eyes rolled across the ground and up the side of the black car. They rose until he locked eyes with the driver. He was mid-30’s age with a scruffy beard. His eyes held nothing. Just a cold gray. Was there death etched into those eyes?
Josh turned. He extended his hand, opening the mailbox. Sweat dripped down his side. Inside sat a roll of newspapers secured with a rubber band. What if he died for those newspapers? As he pulled them out, a card slipped out of the bundle, floating to the back of the box. His heart throbbed. Reaching in, he heard a car window roll down. Oh God, oh God, oh God. He grabbed the card but it fell through his shaking fingers. A click seemed to burst his eardrums.
Josh tore his hand away, launching himself backwards. A pistol shot retorted. The bundle in his hand exploded, throwing shreds of paper into the air. The bullet tore through the mailbox, piercing it easily. He slammed into the orange mud, rolled, and jumped into the ditch, narrowly avoiding a second shot. He scurried into the drainage pipe like a wounded rat.
Frantically he whipped out his cell phone. He jammed the Push to Talk button three times. He waited, anxiously. Where was Kain? “C’mon!” he yelled. He hit it again. Above him, he heard the sound of a car door open.
“Taylor, no!!” he screamed. Scrambling out, he saw the man with his pistol on Taylor. His friend’s eyes widened, a look of shock on his face. Josh screamed something, and before he could do anything, the world exploded.
Taylor clutched his chest. He tenderly touched the twin bullet holes, about two inches between them. His legs gave out. Taylor crumpled with the open look of surprise still plastered on his face.
The silence that came next filled the air like fresh cement. It pushed down on Josh, holding him still, holding his jaw shut, sealing his eyes on the last feeble spasms of his dying friend. The pressure in the air didn’t seem to affect the killer. The bloody pistol, that pistol which had probably taken more than just his life, swiveled. It arced until the muzzle locked on his sorry soul, attracted like a moth to the light of the still-living.
There was a shot. Someone collapsed into the cold mud, dead as a doornail.. It seemed natural, after one died another would follow just as easily. It just happened that Josh would remain the one standing today, his shivering frame caked with mud. The killer flopped on his back. Josh gaped, his mouth moving but no words coming out. His knees gave out and the wet mud slapped him in the face. Tears mingled with the rain and dirt, flowing from some bottomless reserve.
He only remembered the strong hands peeling him out of the mud, away from his friend, away from the death, and away from the pair whose eyes wouldn’t close.