I glanced at my watch. It was only nine and probably still light outside. It was going to be a long walk without the Gremlin but everyone was walking these days because of the gas prices and I was more than used to it. I shot one more glance at Mel, hoping she wasn’t occupied but she still hadn’t come up for air. And with the way ghetto creep’s hand was manhandling her boob, I didn’t think she’d be breathing anytime soon.

I decided to call her house and leave a message with her mother when I got home, just so she wouldn’t worry about me, then pushed my way through the remainder of the concert goers and past the bouncers until I was outside. The sun had set but the air was still bathed in a sticky golden glow. The thunderstorm had passed though rumbles still emanated in the distance.

I only made it one block before a tan VW beetle puttered up to me. I was immediately met with chills, even though the air was heavy with warmth.

“Excuse me,” a male voice called out from the car. I stopped and gave it a wary look as it came to a stop and the engine turned off. If he was wondering if he could give me a ride, he was shit out of luck. Ever since a few girls had been murdered and beaten on campus (including one from my English Lit class) earlier in the spring, no one wanted to take chances with strangers.

I straightened my shoulders and made sure my arms were flexed slightly. A weakling I wasn’t and I wanted this man to know I could take care of myself.

He got out of the car, dressed in a white tennis outfit and thankfully stood on the other side of the vehicle. He gave me a short wave. He wasn’t a bad looking guy at all, tall and dark-haired, and he seemed harmless, especially when I noticed his left arm was in a sling. But he gave me the heebie-jeebies like nothing else. His eyes didn’t look…normal. They looked predatory.

“My name’s Ted,” he said, giving me an open smile.

I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t about to tell him my name. Normally I would have asked if he needed help, but I wasn’t taking any chances.

I stared back at him. I wanted to look away but that would have been a sign of weakness and he looked like one of those animals who’d pounce when your guard was down.

He frowned a bit, perhaps confused by my stand-offishness, then put another smile on. It was about as fake as Santa Claus. “I was wondering if you could help me, I think my friend and I are lost.”

I looked back at the car. I could see the outline of someone else in the backseat, a thin woman it looked like, but that didn’t make me feel any better.

“Sorry, I have to go,” I told him feebly. I turned to keep walking, though I was entertaining the idea of turning around and heading back to the venue for safety.

“But you’re on the cusp of all your dreams,” he called after me.

I stopped in mid-stride and shot him a curious look. If this was his equivalent of offering me candy, it was working.

“Excuse me?” I couldn’t help it.

He smiled again and leaned a bit against the car. He was looking less handsome now. His eyes were devious and disturbing, his lips too small and twisted.

“Could you tell me how to get to the University?” he asked.

I could. But I wanted to hear more about the dreams.

“Turn around, head down Ruby and turn right on East University Way,” I quickly told him. “What did you say about my dreams?”

He stepped back and gestured at the VW. “Come along for a ride and I’ll tell you all about the journey you’re about to embark upon.”

Goosebumps prickled down my arms. “What journey?”

Walking home? That journey?

He shook his head as if he heard my thoughts. “Step inside. I’ll tell you about how it all ends. In fire. With a man you’ll never be able to save.”

Okay, this was beyond creepy. This was run away, now and fast.

“Or find out for yourself,” he added. He started to get back in the car, much to my relief and bewilderment. “It’s your choice.”

The door slammed and the car started up with a roar. The ending notes of a Hybrid song, “Sky Valley” wafted out from the windows. The VW quickly pulled out onto the road and did a U-turn, puttering away in the direction of the university.

As it went past me again, Ted kept his eyes on the road. But in the backseat I got a glimpse of the woman. She was staring straight at me, a blur of pale skin and long white hair obscured by the dirtiness of the rear windshield.

I held my breath, my heart racing strangely as they drove down the street. I waited until they were out of sight before I booked it home. Running in boots was noisy and hard on my ankles, but I went for a run several times a week to keep the weight off and I had enough stamina to push through it for forty-five sweaty minutes.

By the time I arrived home, it was completely dark out and I was soaked in sweat. I had never been so happy to see the farmhouse before. Even in its scrawny, faded condition it felt like a safety net after the night I just had. Just what the hell had happened with that Ted guy? Was he just someone sinister or had I just smoked too much pot? I made a mental note to take it easier next time, especially as my lungs were extra wheezy.

I opened the screen door slowly, knowing it squeaked extra loud at night, and listened for signs of life. It was quiet and almost dark except for a faint light coming from the living room. I crept toward it and spied my father passed out on the couch, two empty cans of cheap beer beside him. I sighed, though I should have been happy he had just been drinking beer and none of the hard stuff. I took the blanket off of the armchair and put it over him.

I loved my dad to pieces, except when he was drunk, which was often. It was a strained relationship at best, especially since I had been such a daddy’s girl growing up. I was really everything he had until Eric came along six years later. But then Mom died and shit just went downhill. Still, I didn’t blame my dad. Well, I tried not to. It was something I worked on every day. He still managed to keep his job at the repair shop, I just wished he’d pull himself together for Eric’s sake. He needed extra care, more than the average sixteen-year-old, and I was tired of taking care of both of them. I knew that was selfish of me, but...

I tucked the quilt underneath his heavy arms and brushed the hair off of his forehead. It was dirty and graying and made me sad. I sighed again, my heart still thumping from the run, and went into the kitchen for a glass of water before bed. I remembered I had to phone Mel’s mom and leave a message for her. It was getting late but she was used to the two of us calling each other all hours of the night.

I went for the phone and saw there was something addressed to me on the message pad. It was my dad’s writing. For a second I hoped that Ryan had called while I was out and the skin prickled deliciously at the back of my neck.

Dawn! Call Maureen at Cream Magazine. 313-587-2837.

Huh. I brought the pad up to my face, as if that would help me understand it better. What area code was 313? And what was Cream? Did he mean Creem Magazine?

My heart pounded loudly.

I looked over at my dad who was now snoring loudly. I didn’t want to wake him up, knowing he’d probably be drunk and disorderly if I did. I’d have to catch him in the morning.

Unless Eric knew something. I quickly filled up a glass with water and downed it before I scuttled up the stairs to our bedrooms. Eric’s door was closed and I leaned against it, listening. When I couldn’t tell if he was asleep or not, I opened it quietly and peeked in. He was sprawled under his sheets, twitching slightly, the moonlight shining in through the dusty window. God damn it, why was everyone asleep in this house?

I carefully shut the door behind me and once inside my room, I flicked on my lights and collapsed on the bed. I rolled over on my back and looked up at my heaven—the ceiling. My bedroom was my prized sanctuary, always had been. Through my mom’s depression, my father’s collapse, Eric’s affliction, this was the one place I felt…home. Even when a quick ride on Moonglow didn’t wash away the blues, my room did, so as long as I put a record on my beloved orange player and slipped on a pair of earphones. I had a massive record collection that took up one wall of my room, competing for space with riding ribbons and trophies. I kept the walls more or less bare to showcase the concert photos I had taken and deemed good enough to frame. The ceiling was where my posters were, held to it with sticky blue gum. Lying on my back, it was easy to get lost in Pink Floyd’s rainbow or Elton John’s yellow brick road. Jimmy Page stared down at me with a sleepy look in his eyes, while Ozzy made goofy faces. Jeff Beck, The Guess Who, Dust, Wings, The Doors, and Wishbone Ash, jockeyed for position with Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper, The Beatles, Ziggy Stardust, Queen, The Stooges, and The Allman Brothers Band.

Before I had time to wonder what Ryan was doing, if Todd was going to get his interview, who the hell that Ted guy was, and what Cream was all about, I swept away to sleep by the music in my head.

I dreamed of fire.

CHAPTER TWO

I was slowly woken up by sunshine streaming in through my window and the phone ringing from downstairs. Before I had time to fathom that I had fallen asleep in my disgusting clothes on top of the covers, my brother was yelling at me through the house.

“Dawn! Phone’s for you!” I heard him at the bottom of the stairs, a small hoot and bark following the sentence.

I sat up and groaned, feeling it was far too early for anything, then remembered the message from the night before. I sprang to my feet and scampered down the stairs, my boots clunking loudly.

My brother was standing in the kitchen in his pajamas and eating from a bowl of cereal. He gave me a disgusted look as I came near, his head twitching.

“Ew, did you sleep in those?” he asked, placing the phone in my hand. His left shoulder shrugged up in a tic.

“I had a weird night,” I told him. I quickly placed my hand over the mouth piece and whispered to him. “Who is it?”

“Who do you think?”

I put the phone to my ear. “Hello, Dawn speaking.”

“Bitch!” Mel hissed from the other line.

Ah, crap I had totally forgotten about calling her mom.

“Hey, sorry about last night,” I said, rubbing my forehead, trying to get the sleep out.

“Sorry?! You know I spent half my night looking for you? Tiny and I nearly turned the place upside down when I couldn’t find you!”

Tiny was ghetto creep’s real name. Figured.

“I’m sorry. I had to get out of there and I didn’t want to interrupt you and ghet—er Tiny. You looked busy.”

“I was busy, but damn girl you know you come first.”

“Sorry again,” I said. Eric was watching me, amused yet melancholic, cornflakes being shoved in his mouth. The milk spilled a bit from his shoulder tic.

“Well, what happened?” she prodded, sounding calmer.

I told her about Todd and Terry’s supposed interview and how I had a minor panic attack of sorts. I didn’t want to add in the part about Ted though, that would have only made her madder.

“Did I ruin your night?” I asked.

“No, you didn’t,” she said with a sigh. “I assumed you left, and I asked the doorman and he said you did and that you looked fine. I know you can take care of yourself. Still, Dawn, you have to be careful, you dig? You know, 1974 is starting to be a scary year with all them chicks going missing and stuff.”

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