“EMO,” I URGENTLY WHISPER my best friend’s name and tug on his arm. “We gotta go before it’s too late and they catch us.”
“No,” he grunts and digs his bare feet into the ground, halting all movement. His face stays forward, staring at the dark house in front of us. “We can’t leave yet. We need to find her.” His voice cracks at the end.
I close my eyes at the pain that I know is gripping him. It is the same pain that sits in my stomach.
I tighten my hold on his arm. “You know she’s not here anymore. She’s gone. We all saw it.”
He finally turns his head and the stark pain in his black gaze is no less than what I expected, but it’s still crippling. “I heard her, Trouble. I swear I heard her screaming last night.” He turns back to the house.
I loosen my hold, but still keep my fingers wrapped around his wrist. If I let him go, he’ll run into the house, and that’s the last thing he needs to do.
I walk around him until my slightly bigger frame blocks his view. My chest feels tight, like there’s a steel band around my torso and it’s slowly constricting.
“You know that can’t be,” I say hoarsely. “It’s in your head. She’s gone.”
An image of a small girl with brunette hair and green eyes races through my head, followed closely with another image, one of the last time that we saw her. Her still body was sprawled out on the gazebo floor with her dark hair fanning out around her. The white sundress with purple flowers was no longer white beneath her. It was a deep red to match the still gushing blood seeping from the self-inflicted cuts on her wrists. The knife she used to take her own life still laid in her limp hand. Except for the paleness of her face, it almost looked like she was sleeping. Even through the pain she endured while slitting her wrists, her lips still carried a small smile. As if she happily bore that pain to get away from the horror we all went through at home.
Her name was Daisy, but we all called her Rella, short for Cinderella. She came up with the nickname herself, saying one day her prince would come and take her away from this horrible place. She was ten years old when she let go of that notion and decided to escape this nightmare the only way she felt she could. That was a week ago, and every day since then my friends and I have felt the effects of losing her like a sledgehammer to the chest.
Emo always had a special bond with her. Probably due to him being with her during the darkest parts of our lives. It was him who endured that pain with her, albeit forced. It was him who took part in her pain, once again, not of his free will. He feels responsible, no matter how much we’ve told him he had no choice. It was either do what they told him or they would both feel the consequences. Those consequences were much harsher than what they were asking of them. He chose the lesser of two evils, which still slowly kills him from the inside out.
Rella was my baby sister, and it was my duty to protect her. Guilt, pain, and rage rests on my shoulders. I failed her over and over again, no matter how much I tried.
They are strong.
They are powerful.
They are bastards from the darkest pits of hell.
Things are changing now, hopefully for the best.
Shouts and screams pierce the night air, and I jerk my head to the side. Dark shadows move across the grass between two houses. Unsure if they’re the good or bad guys, I step closer to Emo.
“We gotta go,” I whisper harshly. “We can’t be here anymore, or they’ll take us away and separate us.”
I tense, preparing to forcefully drag him behind me if I have to. There’s no way I’m leaving him. When he finally lays his eyes on me, the pain that darkened them moments ago is gone. In its place is… nothing. The black orbs just stare at me with not one ounce of emotion. They look dead, hollow, lifeless. The expression isn’t new. I’ve seen it on his face a lot over the years. Out of the four of us, Emo is the one with the blackest heart. He’s the one who suffers the most and has the least amount of reasons to show anything other than hatred.
Leaves crunch to our left, and I swing my head around to see Judge and JW rushing toward us. Judge is the oldest of the four of us at fourteen. He’s also the biggest. JW’s not far behind him in size, despite him being two years younger and the same age as Emo.
I can’t see their expression through the dark, but by the way their chest pumps with their heavy breathing, I know something’s going on.
“We gotta go now,” Judge huffs as he comes to a stop beside us. “Shit’s going down fast and if we don’t want the Peterson’s to get caught in the crosshairs, we have to leave. They’re waiting on us behind The Hill.”
The Hill is the only restaurant in Sweet Haven and is owned by an old couple, Dale and Mae Peterson. It’s several blocks away just on the outskirts of town.
I nod and turn back to Emo, who’s still looking quietly at the house. Pure evil radiates from the brick building. To an outsider, it looks like a normal house with its pretty flowers, white shutters, clean yard, and two rocking chairs sitting on a wraparound porch. But it holds deep dark secrets. Ones that make my skin crawl and vomit to rise in my throat.
I jerk Emo’s arm to get his attention, and thankfully, he turns from the house.
“Let’s go.” He pulls his arm from my grasp and starts stalking in the same direction Judge and JW just came from.
I cast my eyes one last time at the house. My house. There’s nothing that I’ll miss about the place or the people who live there. Now that Rella’s gone, there’s not one ounce of good left, and the farther away I get, the happier I’ll be.
We all hunch over and keep our eyes peeled as we weave in and out between houses and across streets. Despite it being after midnight, many of the houses are lit up as all hell breaks loose throughout town.
As we pass by the Moore’s place, I peek into one of the windows. I spot Mr. Moore in a pair of boxers and a white T-shirt lying on the floor, a pool of blood surrounding his head from the gash across his throat. Mrs. Moore is on her knees by his side hunched over his body. A loud crash comes from the front of the house and she whips around to look at the bedroom door, a look of fright widening her eyes.
Shivers race up and down my body. Not from the grotesque sight of his dead body or worry for the woman, but from satisfaction. Mr. Moore deserved his gruesome death. My only regret is that he didn’t suffer longer. And Mrs. Moore, she earned her own punishment as well. I just hope it’s a harsh one.
“Trouble,” Judge hisses quietly.
I pull my eyes away from the window and dart across the lawn to catch up with the guys. More yells come from a couple of houses down, followed quickly by a gun shot. A man in dark fatigues stands on the porch with a gun pointed inside the house. A couple more men stand to his side with their own weapons drawn.
“Don’t move!” one of them yells before running inside.
All of us dart behind the trunk of a big oak and wait.
“I wonder if that was Mr. or Mrs. Sanders,” JW comments.
“Doesn’t matter. Either would be fine with me. Or better yet, both of them,” Judge mutters as he peeks around the tree. He keeps his hand raised, warding us off from moving. A moment later, he says, “It’s clear.”
We stay close to the back of the houses, stopping at the edge of each property to make sure no one is around. Red and blue lights flash in front of several houses. Luckily, when we make it to The Hill, it’s dark. A grey van sits behind the building facing away from us. At first it looks like no one is inside, but when we’re only a few feet away, a head pops up, and the sliding door opens just as we come to a stop.
“Get in, get in.” Mae hurriedly waves at us.
Once we’re situated inside the van, she slides the door closed, but not all the way. My guess is so it doesn’t make any noise and draw attention to us. We slowly creep along behind the building as Mae climbs to the front passenger seat. We come to a stop where we turn right back into town or left to leave town. Dale turns in his seat.
We all nod, our hearts racing with adrenaline. Dale keeps the lights off as he turns left.
“Where are we going?” Judge, always the level-headed one, asks Dale.
“Mae’s got a place up in Kentucky her great-aunt left her when she died.”
I turn in my seat and look out the back window. I can’t see the town anymore, but the many flashing red and blue lights still brighten up the sky.
Ten minutes later, Dale flips on the headlights. Another twenty minutes pass before we all start to breathe easily. The farther away we get from Sweet Haven, the bigger my hope gets that we’ve finally escaped our prison.
We may not know much about where we’re going or what’s going to happen, but anything is better than the hell we just escaped from.
Releases October 18! Currently on sale on Amazon until release day!