The sale is over, but Hometown is still available on Kindle for the low price of $3.99. And as always, it’s still available in paperback and 100% free on Kindle Unlimited. And if you like Hometown, you might consider checking out some of my other work while you’re there.
In the meantime, let’s continue to enjoy our preview:
Part 1: The Last Days of Summer
August 20, 1994 – September 7, 1994
Angelina, Jason, and Kara
Angelina Santos-De La Cruz walked toward the shore, the lakebottom silt squishing delightfully between her toes with each step. She didn’t want to get out, really. It was a bright, hot day, the lake was the perfect degree of lukewarm to be both refreshing and relaxing, and she was the kind of bone-weary that only comes after a day spent picnicking and swimming with your friends. But now the shadows were growing long, and it was time to go home.
As she walked, she used both hands to slick her hair back out of her face, then pulled it over one shoulder and began to wring and smooth the water out of it.
Neither of her companions could help staring at her. Very few people could have, really; Angelina Santos-De La Cruz was a beautiful young woman. Her hair was jet black, her eyes the color of a tropical night, and her skin a rich mahogany after a summer of lifeguarding. Sleek, powerful muscles bunched in her arms and shoulders as she wrung out her hair and flexed in her legs as they carried her out of the water. She wore a simple blue one-piece, but some people don’t care about attracting attention, and others don’t need a string bikini to do so. Angelina was both.
“Put your eyes back in your head, Jay.”
Jason Olsen scowled at the bobbing head of his friend Kara Sauer, who was treading water and grinning a few feet to his left.
“You were staring, too,” he accused.
“Of course I was,” she answered, her grin broadening and turning slightly lecherous, “But at least I blink once in a while.”
“That’s just ‘cause you can’t actually see her from here.”
“Okay, guys,” Angelina called. Both of their heads swiveled in almost perfect unison. She had reached shore and started drying herself with her Bugs Bunny beach towel. “Everybody out of the pool. I told my parents I’d be home for dinner.”
“Ooh,” Jason said excitedly as he immediately started for shore. “Will there be plátanos?” For the first couple of steps, only Jason’s head was visible – cowlicky mop of sunshine-blond hair (currently plastered to his skull), robin’s-egg blue eyes, broad grin seemingly determined to split narrow face in two – but then his body started to rise out of the water. And then it just…kept…rising. He stood well over six feet tall, easily towering above his two friends, but seeing as how he was as slender as one of the reeds at the shoreline, the boy couldn’t loom if he wanted to. In clothes, he would have looked scrawny, but in his swimming trunks, the girls could see the truth of his lean muscle.
As he reached the shallows and started galloping toward the shore, Angelina contemplated that perhaps he shouldn’t have his shirt off. He was as pale as his Nordic heritage dictated, and she could already see the sunburn forming. She winced in sympathy, although she knew he didn’t hurt yet. He’s going to feel that in the morning.
“There’s going to be plátanos, rice and beans—“ She looked at Kara, who was approaching at a much calmer pace. “—I told them that you were coming, so Mom made sure to make a lot of plants.”
Kara grinned at her friend, blinking owlishly. Even at twenty feet, all she could see of Angelina without her glasses was an attractive blue and brown blur. Not for the first time, Kara felt a twinge of envy for her friend. Oh, she had a few admirers of her own. Or rather, her tits did. Her ass was pretty popular, too. Those who could shift their attention up from her body (soft and voluptuous – such a contrast to Angelina’s hard muscle, she couldn’t help but notice as she approached the shore and the attractive blue-and-brown blur resolved itself), even had some nice words about her face. Unfortunately, since it was round and boyish with a spray of freckles across her nose and a short, unruly patch of ginger hair above, the words were most often some variation on “cute”. Maybe that was why the people she wanted to notice never did.
But enough of that.
“Good,” she said as she reached shore. “I’m glad I won’t have to join you barbarians in your feast of death.”
Jason grinned and handed her a towel. “So which dead animal in particular are we eating tonight?”
“Cow. My mom’s making steak.”
Jay was pleased by this news. Evangelina Rodriguez Santos-De La Cruz’s cooking was extremely popular among her eldest daughter’s circle of friends, and Jay had a particular weakness for her steak.
“So is there an occasion?” Jason asked.
“End-of-the-summer celebration,” Angelina replied. “Double sessions start next Monday. Between those and Dad’s work schedule, we’re not going to be able to get the whole family together at one time for a while.”
Jason shuddered at the mention of “double sessions.” “Can I just say how much I don’t miss double sessions? Running around all day in those damn pads in the August heat wasn’t fun.”
“Is that why you quit?” Angelina asked.
“No. Well…it was one reason among the many. You know I was never really a member of the Cult of Football…”
“Heretic,” Kara teased, retrieving her glasses from the rock where she’d left them.
He grinned at her, then quickly sobered. “I didn’t ‘Believe in the team!’ like Coach Siwarski is always shouting, I’m not trying for a football scholarship, and I’m not like Big Dave, who just loves football that much.”
Kara snorted. “What Big Dave loves is the football groupies.”
“Like you’re one to talk,” Angelina said. “Now hush, let him finish.”
“Thank you,” Jason said. Then he went on: “Anyway, I was always just in it to have fun. And it was fun when I was in Pop Warner, or even JV, but when I got to Varsity it stopped being fun real fast. I mean, all football coaches are hardasses, but Coach Siwarski is just straight-up abusive. Remember that story of him shoving some kid’s head in the toilet for screwing up a play and almost costing us the game?”
Both girls nodded.
“Tip of the iceberg. All last year I was counting the days to the end of the season. I would’ve just quit, but I was afraid he would send enforcers around to break my knees. And I’m only kinda kidding. When he found out I hadn’t signed up, he actually called my house. And when I confirmed that no, I was not going to be playing this year, he said ‘You’re depriving the Team of a perfectly good receiver, boy. You’re going to regret sabotaging the Team.’ I was never more glad to be out of there.”
“Can’t blame you,” Kara agreed.
“Besides,” he finished. “Darren and Psycho Mike are two of the tri-captains this year.”
Both girls shuddered.
“Right,” Kara said as Angelina said. “That’s all you had to say.” Then she turned to Angelina, eager to change the subject. “So, querida, how’s field hockey looking? Gonna make it to regionals this year?”
Angelina nodded thoughtfully. “Well, I’m pretty optimistic. We just – “ That was when a sparkle caught the corner of her eye. “Hey, wait a second. What’s that?”
“What’s what?” Jason asked, looping his towel around his neck.
“I think I saw something,” Angelina muttered, pulling on her sneakers and starting across the field. Curious, her friends followed.
“What is it?” Jason asked as they approached.
“Looks like a car,” Angelina reported. Indeed it did. As they approached, the car in question became visible through the trees. It was an ancient, massive dinosaur of a vehicle, and whatever shade of blue it had once been, time had worn it into the powder blue of a bad seventies prom tuxedo. Its nose pointed toward the lake, and they were approaching its passenger side.
“That’s weird,” she said. “How did it get there? None of the brush looks like it had a car run over it.”
“Maybe it’s been there long enough for the brush to grow back,” Jason offered.
Angelina shook her head. “No, that can’t be it. It wasn’t here last time we came.”
“How do you know that?“ He asked.
“That section of woods was the little girls’ room last time,” Kara reminded him. Then she shrugged. “Hey, it’s a Twilight Zone moment. Every life’s got a few. Let’s just check it out.”
Angelina nodded in agreement and advanced. She silently threw a switch in her mind, and her senses awakened. She was a police chief’s daughter; if she was going to check something out, she was going to do it right.
She shivered and goosebumps rose on her skin as she entered the shadow of the forest – she was still wearing nothing but a wet swimsuit and sneakers, and it was cool away from the sun’s warmth.
A bramble scratched her as she pushed it out of her way, drawing a line of blood on her forearm.
A twig snapped under her feet, and it seemed thunderous. Something was wrong about that. She stopped, turning it over in her mind, trying to see all the angles.
“Why’d you stop, Angel?” Jason whispered.
His whisper sounded thunderous, too, and she was about to shush him, when she realized what was wrong. “It’s too quiet.”
The other two paused to listen.
“You’re right,” Kara agreed. “No birds, no small animals running around, no bugs…”
“Which should be eating us alive,” Jason added.
They all looked at each other. “Twilight Zone?” Jason offered after a moment.
“Twilight Zone,” Kara nodded.
“Right.” Angelina turned back toward the car, squared her shoulders, and continued forward. What she could see of the car wasn’t too impressive: in addition to the threadbare paint, it had a rust-eaten underbelly, its muffler was hanging almost to the ground, and the rear bumper was a plank of treated lumber. One thing was odd, though—it was leaning toward the driver’s side, away from them. Was it sitting in a rut?
Without quite knowing why, Angelina held up her hand and signaled for her friends not to follow. Picking her way carefully, trying not to step on anything, she slowly circled the car.
When the driver’s side came into view, she froze in place, and her eyes grew wide.
“Angel? What’s wrong, querida?” Kara asked.
“I want both of you to back up out of the woods,” Angelina said in a quiet, tight voice. “Try to follow your own tracks as exactly as you can. The second you’re clear of the trees, run for the car, and get my cell phone for me.”
With a grim nod, Kara obeyed. But Jason lingered for a moment. “What’s wrong, Angel? Sure you don’t need some backup?”
Under any other circumstances, his reluctance to leave her in a suddenly and mysteriously iffy situation would have raised a smile. Not then. Later, Kara would joke about how the “Twilight Zone” had suddenly become “Tales From the Crypt.” But right then, there was absolutely nothing funny.
The car wasn’t sitting in a rut. The driver’s side tires had been torn wide open, clear to the rim. Deep gouges crisscrossed the car’s surface, and both windows were smashed out.
But that wasn’t the problem.
No, what had caused Angelina Santos-De La Cruz to send her friends scurrying from the woods was the fact that the driver’s side of that car was painted with thick, tacky, blood that was slowly going dry and brown.
And there were still no flies.
Hours later, night had fallen. Angelina, Kara, and Jason’s statements had been taken, and they’d been sent home. The license numbers had been run, and parents had been called. Phone calls to all known friends had found nothing, and now the Belford police were searching the woods for both the missing teens and evidence.
From out in the evening mist, something watched and found it all good.