Last week we announced that Adam Of Albion (A Head of Time) by Kim McMahon & Neil McMahon is our Kids Corner Book of the Week and the sponsor of our student reviews and of thousands of great bargains in the Kids Book category: over 250 free titles, over 500 quality 99-centers, and hundreds more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer a free Kids Corner excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded this one already, you’re in for a treat!
by Kim McMahon, Neil McMahon
Start with a few typical, ordinary teenagers.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
Jason Apostle stared, frozen with horror, at the shadowy figure sneaking up behind Simon Lodestone—with the long thin blade raised high, poised to ram into Simon’s back!
Jason tried to yell a warning, but his voice stuck paralyzed in his throat.
No one else seemed to notice, although there was a huge crowd around. The night was dark and the place was way out in the English countryside, a meadow with a ring of giant ancient stones called the Watching Druids that jutted up eerily out of the earth.
But mostly, no one noticed because they were all watching the stage set up near the stone ring—where the world’s greatest heavy metal band, Dearth, was about to start a concert guaranteed to split every eardrum in the crowd.
The guy with the dagger looked like all the other grungy young Dearth-heads here tonight, dressed in torn jeans and T-shirts, heavy boots, with multiple tattoos and piercings—thousands of them from every country who spent their summers roaming the globe, camping and hitchhiking to follow their idols.
But he must have known the true, hidden purpose of this concert that Simon Lodestone had arranged: Simon, the great rock promoter, master musician, mathematical genius—
And keeper of the world’s greatest secret.
It was the most precious object ever created. Mountains of gold and jewels were worth nothing by comparison. Since the mists of time, legends had sprung up around it. Cults had worshipped it, kingdoms had warred for it, secret societies had pursued it through the centuries.
Now it belonged to The Calculus—a super-covert, super-elite group made up of Simon, Jason, and a very few others. All of them were trained to a razor edge both mentally and physically—martial arts and survival skills, math and computer programming, ancient languages and secret history that wasn’t found in textbooks. All of them were sworn to live and die for the Head.
That had to be what the assassin was out to get—which meant he knew it was here tonight.
And that meant someone in The Calculus was a traitor.
Jason was almost sure he knew who it was.
But now, right this second, it meant that Simon was only a heartbeat away from death!
As the knife started its plunge toward Simon’s back, Jason managed to burst the dam that was blocking his voice.
“Simon! Behind you!” he yelled.
Simon whirled around, his arm slashing upward in a karate block.
But the blade drove home.
Jason was too far away to see exactly what happened. He heard Simon growl in rage and pain. But then, even badly wounded, Simon fought like a wildcat, smashing a kick to the attacker’s knee and then a chop across his throat.
Jason started running toward him to help, but Simon stopped him with a shout:
“No! Follow the plan!”
Jason obeyed. It was the hardest thing he’d ever done, turning his back on the man who had raised him, taught him, loved him like a son. But Simon had drilled it into The Calculus again and again: the Head came first, before anyone or anything else. It had to be protected, kept safe and out of the wrong hands, at all costs.
And it was Jason, not Simon, who had the Head in his backpack.
As he took off in an all-out run, it slammed against his spine like a rock with every step. He leaped over the edge of a steep hillside and stumbled down it, skidding and half-rolling through the brush. His eyes filled with sweat even though the air was cool.
Suddenly, the quiet was blasted by the wild, clashing music of Dearth, the high priests of aural pain. The sound was so startling it made Jason trip and fall headfirst, but his highly trained reflexes took over and he twisted the backpack up in his arms, cushioning it as he fell.
He tumbled a good thirty feet before he was able to stop. Panting, bruised, he swung around to look back up at the concert. Simon’s attacker might be coming after him now—there was no way he could pick the guy out of the army of Dearth-heads, thousands of them like a dark moving blanket, spilling out across the surrounding hills and perching on rock crags like crows.
But Jason had to take the chance. The music was racing toward the instant that Simon had spent his whole life working for. The Watching Druids concert was really only a cover, a means to strike the tremendous, crashing, supreme chord that would awaken the sleeping Head.
All-important success or failure hung in the next few seconds. Without Simon here, Jason would have to witness it alone.
His shaking hands lifted the Head out of his daypack. It was a little bigger than a tennis ball and crusted over with mortar to disguise it as an ordinary rock. But two small indentations showed the eyes—which had been dark and blank since the time of Sir Isaac Newton.
The last seconds ticked off. The music stopped suddenly, hung in a breathless pause for one more excruciating beat—
Then the great chord tore through the night as if a giant axe had split open the sky itself: thousands of decibels of mega-amplified guitar, bass, drum, organ, synthesizers, all perfectly calibrated.
Teeth clenched, heart hammering, Jason stared into the small dark orbs in the rock.
And far, far back in their depths, he thought he saw a tiny flicker, like a lightning flash on a distant horizon.
He almost screamed with joy. But his training took over again. He had to move, get the Head to the safe hiding place that Simon had picked out, an old ruined church at the bottom of the hill.
Especially because his sweeping gaze spotted a car pulling away from the concert—a sleek black Jaguar, picking up speed and coming in his direction.
He jumped to his feet and started running again, concentrating on his stumbling feet and shooting down the hillside in long soaring leaps. Man, he was flying! If he could just keep from getting his own head bashed in. It was almost pitch dark, and as his eyes strained to see the steeple that marked the church, a stone slid out from under him and he fell again, skidding like a wild toboggan with the sharp rocks pounding and jabbing him.
When he stopped this time, he was so beat up and panicked that the sweat in his eyes was mixed with tears. He’d never imagined that he could feel so totally desperate. Noble, kindly Simon was probably dead. The killer was speeding this way to murder Jason, too.
But worse, far worse, the great mission would end pathetically in some forlorn English field—and Jason would be the one who had failed.
No! He could handle this, he’d trained long and hard, and there was too much at stake. He dragged himself to his feet again, but he’d lost his bearings. He stared up to find stars in the cloudy night, the celestial map that Simon had taught them to use like the ancients had. There was Orion, followed by Sirius, the Dog Star. There was Ursa Major, the Big Dipper. There, Merak and Dubhe, the two stars that pointed at Polaris, the North Star. And that was where the church was, to the north.
He lowered his gaze, straining to pierce the night. There it was!—the dark mass of a crumbling old steeple, barely visible a quarter mile away.
But coming down the winding dirt road from the concert, closing the distance fast, was the menacing low shape of the Jaguar.
Jason clenched his hands around the backpack’s straps and ran.
For about the zillionth time in the past few weeks, Adam Keane wanted to wring his cousin Barry’s neck.
Adam got up off the ground, brushed dirt from his jeans, and stared glumly down at the moped that the two boys had just crashed—lying on its side with the engine dead. The headlight was still on, but all he could see in the gloomy night was that they were out in the middle of nowhere.
Oh, man, they were in trouble.
It was all because Barry had insisted on going to a stupid rock concert to see his favorite band, Dearth. The plan, if you could even call it that, hadn’t seemed like a good one from the start, and now Adam could see that it was outright crazy—although he had to admit that he’d gone along with it, letting Barry rope him in, as usual.
For openers, Barry’s parents—who the boys were on vacation with, here in England—had strictly forbidden the concert. But they were going out for the evening, so Barry had come up with a scheme. He arranged to borrow the moped from Reg, the gardener at Blackthorn Manor, where they were staying. They’d sneak away after the grownups left and get back in time.
But now they were miles from the Manor and the bike was down. They were either going to have to walk home, which would take hours, or call for a ride. Either way, they were busted.
They were going to be grounded for the rest of their lives.
Barry came limping over and kicked a tire.
“Damn this thing!” he muttered.
Yeah, like it’s the bike’s fault, Adam thought. The truth was that Barry had been driving too fast, and texting on his iPhone at the same time. This little dirt road was full of ruts and potholes, and they’d plowed right into one. They’d probably have to pay for getting the moped fixed, on top of everything else. Reg was a mean guy who smelled of liquor and didn’t like the boys.
In fact, now that Adam thought about it, why had Reg loaned Barry the moped? But then, Barry was good at cajoling things out of people.
Adam took another look at it, thinking that maybe, just maybe, he could get it running again. The basics you needed for a simple engine like this were spark, compression, and fuel, and it should still have all of those. In fact, the smell of gasoline was strong, so it was probably flooded and that should settle down after a few minutes. He’d helped his father work on pickup trucks and equipment, back on their family ranch in Albion, Montana, practically since he was old enough to walk. He could drive pretty well, too, and he knew how important it was to be careful—if he’d been running the moped, he thought bitterly, they’d be fine—but Barry had claimed the right because he was older.
Adam switched off the headlight to save the battery, plunging them into darkness that at first seemed like the inside of a cave. But his eyes adjusted quickly, helped by patches of moonlight through the shifting clouds. He started looking around for anything that might help.
What he saw didn’t make him feel any better. This place was creepy—a falling down old church and graveyard that looked like they belonged in a Dracula movie. He didn’t spot any bats, but he’d have bet there were some around.
Then he noticed the really strange thing—they’d almost made it to the Dearth concert. He could see it on a hilltop less than a mile away, with pulsing lights shooting skyward and the crowd of Dearth-heads swarming around. Contrasted to the gloomy quiet in this churchyard, it was like another world, a camp of wild barbarians in some movie like Road Warriors. That didn’t make him feel any better, either, especially because the place was called the Watching Druids.
Barry saw it, too, and he clenched his fists angrily against his thighs.
“This sucks!” he said. “We’re so close.” He spun away, looking like he was about to kick the moped again, which pretty well summed up his way of dealing with problems.
“Chill, okay?” Adam said. “I’m going to try to start it in a minute, and beating up on it won’t help.”
“Oh, sure, baby cousin,” Barry said scornfully. “Why don’t you go find a farm and get a cow to ride? You could probably handle that.”
Adam was very close to losing his cool entirely, but he knew from experience that there was no point in arguing. Barry was okay and Adam liked him most of the time. But when he did something stupid, which was often, he’d never admit it. Instead, he’d find something or somebody else to take it out on—like Adam. They’d end up in a scuffle, and while Adam was fairly tall for fourteen and had a wiry strength, Barry was a year older, twenty pounds heavier, and good at fighting dirty. It was a lose-lose all around.
Then, right at that second, Dearth started up with a blast of heavy metal music that Adam could feel in his teeth even from all that distance.
Barry stared up at the hilltop, entranced. Adam decided it was a good time to take a break—to give the flooded engine another couple of minutes to settle down, and to chill, himself. He shouldered his daypack and started walking along the old road.
Well, he was only getting what he deserved, he thought gloomily. He’d broken the rules. He’d been dishonest with Barry’s parents, his Aunt Isabelle and Uncle Giles, who had always treated him kindly. They’d even paid for him to make this trip to England—his own father couldn’t have afforded it in a million years. They were going to be steaming mad, and worse, disappointed in him.
All of a sudden, he was really homesick. He liked England in a lot of ways. They’d spent several days in London, which was very cool, and now they were in Cornwall, not far from the Atlantic Ocean. It was pretty here, and a little like Montana—a lot more than London, for sure—with open countryside and farms. But it was like Montana in miniature. It had a kind of storybook feel, with everything carefully tended and the whole thing as tame as a lapdog. There were hills here instead of the Rocky Mountains that edged his family’s ranch in Albion, where his great-great grandfather had built their rough log house, where wilderness started right at the boundaries of their property, and the wind carried the scent of the pine forests down from the high alpine slopes.
Most important of all, he was the real Adam there, not some stupid American tourist—and the nerdy younger cousin that Barry was forced to hang out with.
He hadn’t really been paying attention to where he was walking, but now he realized that he’d come to the old ruined church. He remembered from one of Aunt Isabelle’s guidebooks—she was always pushing them at the boys to improve their culture, and Adam had actually looked through a couple—that these kinds of churches were built by fierce Norman invaders, a thousand years ago or even earlier. It was small and falling apart—the roof was caved in, the walls were crumbling, and the arched windows were just empty black slits in the stone. But most of the spire was still standing, and there was something, well, elegant about it. It must have been a really impressive sight, back when it was all there. And it was pretty incredible that people could have carved those huge stones and raised them by hand, without electricity or a crane or any other kind of engine to help them.
He walked timidly on into the graveyard, which gave him the delicious scary feeling of actually being in a vampire movie. It was easy to imagine the earth starting to stir over the graves, with shadowy, pale-faced figures rising up. The tombstones were falling down and overgrown with weeds, and the cloud-filtered moonlight made their eerie shapes seem to shift.
A lot of the graves were marked with crosses, which was no surprise. But then Adam noticed something really creepy that he’d never seen anything like before. Several of the crosses were studded with small, carved stone human heads, about the size of a baseball. They didn’t resemble saints or angels or anything like that—they looked grim, like gargoyles. Some were bowed down with closed eyes like they were dead, and others were twisted around or leaning at weird angles with tortured expressions. Adam had the feeling that whoever had carved them had a lot of bad dreams.
Suddenly, he realized that Barry was coming toward him, pushing the moped at a clumsy run.
“Hey, come help me with this thing!” Barry called out—half-yelling, but keeping his voice low like he was scared.
“I’m looking for a cow, like you told me to,” Adam shot back coolly.
“Shut up! Somebody’s coming!” Barry pointed toward the hilltop concert.
Adam looked up there. He could just see the low, dark shape of a car moving toward them, with its headlights out.
“So what?” he said. “We’re not doing anything wrong.” It was true that they’d snuck out, but nobody else knew that.
Although there was something odd about the car. Why was it coming so fast, and all in the dark, down that steep windy road?
“I’m talking about Reg, doofus!” Barry panted, still plodding along in a run. “We’ve got to hide his scooter. If he finds out we took it, we’re screwed!”
Adam’s eyes and mouth both opened wide as he realized what Barry was getting at.
“If he finds out?” Adam sputtered. “You said you borrowed it!”
“Yeah, well, he wasn’t around to ask and I figured we’d have it back before he knew.”
“In other words, you stole it! And then crashed it.”
“We stole it and crashed it. Don’t you forget that—you’re in this as much as me. Now hurry up! We’ve got to stash it and get out of this godforsaken hellhole.”
Adam felt sick. He didn’t even bother to point out—as he usually would have, his vocabulary being one of the things he had over Barry—that “godforsaken hellhole” was redundant.
This wasn’t just fibbing to the grownups—they’d committed an outright crime!
Adam made up his mind. This had gone far enough.
“Barry, no,” he declared. “Let’s just get home however we can, tell the truth, and take what’s coming to us.”
“And make the rest of this stupid summer even stupider? Not me, lame-o. Don’t worry, I’ll think up a story to cover us. And you better go along with it. If you say one word to rat me out—” Then Barry let out a yelp of panic. “Holy crap, they’re almost here!”
He dropped the moped and took off before it even hit the ground, bolting like a spooked deer into the dark fields beyond the church.
Adam spun around to look at the car. It was only about a quarter of a mile away now—and all of a sudden, Adam’s gut was knotting up. The feeling was the same kind he got back home in Montana when he walked through an area where he knew there were rattlesnakes, or he saw the fresh track of a mountain lion.
This time, it told him that Barry just might be right, although it didn’t have anything to do with Reg.
The boys didn’t want whoever was in that car to see them.
He yanked the bike upright and ran with it across the rough ground to the closest hiding place he could see, a space between one of the crumbling walls and a pile of fallen stone blocks. He shoved the moped inside and crouched, frog-walking forward a few feet so he could peer out through the stones.
Stay calm, silent and hidden, he thought, trying to calm his pounding heart by remembering the woodsman’s skills his father had taught him. Watch. Listen. Don’t give yourself away until you’re sure of what’s happening.
Then, a few seconds later, came another jolt.
Adam glimpsed somebody else—a young man with shoulder-length hair—running toward the graveyard in an all-out sprint. He looked scared but determined, and he was clutching a daypack to his chest, cradling it like it was as precious as a baby.
He ran straight to one of the crosses that were studded with the weird stone heads, dropping to his knees and skidding the last couple of feet. He moved his hands quickly over the heads as if his fingers were searching for something—but his frightened face kept turning to look back over his shoulder.
Adam’s skin prickled as he realized that the guy was watching the approaching car—that was what he was running from!
It was close now, only about a hundred yards away. Suddenly, it swerved sideways with a spray of dirt and gravel and the passenger door flew open, with the shadowy figure of a man jumping out. Adam could just see that he was carrying something long and slender, like a baseball bat.
Or a rifle.
The man hunched forward over the car hood, bracing himself—aiming.
No! Adam started to yell.
But a muffled crack! snapped through the night before the word could leave his mouth—the sound of a rifle with a silencer.
The young, longhaired guy was slammed to the ground like a giant invisible boot had kicked him in the back. But he rolled as he hit and came up in a staggering run.
Crack! came a second shot. This one spun him around but he still kept going, lurching another few steps until he disappeared behind a rockpile.
The man with the rifle started walking forward. His head was shaved and he was dressed like one of the Dearth-head fans, but he seemed older and really tough-looking. He moved slowly and carefully, swinging the rifle barrel from side to side like he was ready to shoot anything that so much as twitched. Adam could see the laser night scope mounted on it, and the cylindrical sound suppressor at the end of the muzzle.
He swallowed hard, then got on his hands and knees and scuttled forward through the shadows.
The young wounded guy—he didn’t look all that much older than Adam—was lying curled up on the church’s broken stone floor. His face was pale, his eyes were closed—and a pool of blood was spreading out underneath him.
Adam touched his shoulder gently. He groaned and his eyes opened. They were filled with pain and desperation.
“Hang on, okay?” Adam whispered, although he felt desperate, too. There was no way he could run for help and get back in time, no place to drag the wounded guy and hide him.
But as his eyes focused on Adam, they lit up with hope. “Who are you?” he whispered hoarsely.
“My name’s Adam.”
“I’m Jason.” He stared at Adam hard. “Can I trust you?”
Adam swallowed again, but nodded.
“Quick—take this and give me yours.” Jason feebly pushed his backpack into Adam’s arms.
Adam was startled—it was a pretty strange request from a guy who seemed about to die—but he took it and gave Jason his own. The two packs looked almost alike, both shiny black nylon and the same size.
Jason’s felt like it was empty except for a small hard lump.
“Keep it secret and safe,” Jason rasped. “Be very, very careful. Besides these enemies, there are also treacherous friends.”
As Jason spoke, his hand was groping around on the ground. It closed over a fist-sized rock—the same size as the lump in his pack.
“I—I can’t just leave you here,” Adam stammered. He was breathless with fear, but also sorrow. It was terrible enough that this young man was suffering and probably about to die—but Adam felt a strange kinship with him.
“You must! If you stick around you’ll die, too, and then we’ve lost.” Jason’s eyes settled on the pack hanging from Adam’s shoulder. “That’s the only thing that matters.”
“But what do I do with it?” Adam whispered frantically.
Jason mumbled a few words that he could barely hear.
Heed the head, was what they sounded like—what did that mean? But there was no more time for questions—the gunman had to be almost on top of them.
As Adam backed away on hands and knees, he saw that Jason was stuffing the rock into Adam’s backpack.
Then it dawned on him what was happening. Jason had given Adam the “only thing that matters”—the hard lump in his own daypack—and he was putting the rock in Adam’s pack to substitute for it, as a decoy to stall the gunman.
Adam kept moving as stealthily as a stalking lynx, staying low and darting from one point of cover to the next. When he got to the far wall of the church, he found an opening in the rocks and risked a peek.
The gunman was in front of the stone cross where Jason had paused, twisting at the gargoyle heads like he was turning doorknobs—or like he thought they might come loose. When none of them did, he gave the cross a contemptuous kick and started walking again—toward Jason.
He disappeared behind the wall. Adam heard a thud that sounded like another kick, this time to Jason’s body—as if the thug was making sure that he was dead. Then came the rustling of nylon.
A few seconds later he walked out again, carrying Adam’s backpack. He stepped into a patch of moonlight, slung his rifle over his shoulder, and tore the pack open, groping around inside.
His hand came out clenched around the rock that Jason had slipped in there.
The gunman turned toward the waiting car and held the rock above his head to display it, with a fierce triumphant laugh. Whoever was in there started driving down the hill toward him.
He lowered the rock close to his face, studying it.
“So you’re in disguise, my little friend?” he growled. “We expected as much. We’ll strip your mask off soon enough.”
The car stopped beside him and he got back in. A light came on, but the windows were smoked and Adam couldn’t see inside—only hear the muffled sound of voices, but not what they were saying. He started thinking this was his chance to run for it—but what if somebody behind those darkened windows saw him?
As he tried to make up his mind, it got made up for him.
A woman’s voice suddenly rose, sharp with fury: “Imbecile! You followed the wrong one of them!”
An instant later came the crack! of another gunshot.
Adam’s whole body jerked. He burrowed into his niche, trying to turn himself invisible.
The driver’s side door of the car swung open. A slender figure stepped out—a young woman who was also dressed like a Dearth-head in skin-tight clothes and knee-high boots. Adam could hardly see her face—she had on a tight cap pulled down low, and even in the dark night, huge sunglasses. Coolly, she strode around the car, opened the passenger door—
And the gunman’s lifeless body tumbled out onto the ground.
Adam stared through his tiny peephole, afraid he’d start shaking so hard she’d hear his bones rattle.
She must have been very strong. She picked up the thug with no apparent effort and dumped him in the car’s trunk, slamming down the lid on top of him. Then she stalked back to the driver’s door, pausing to reach inside and come out with the worthless decoy rock in her hand. She whirled and threw it furiously against the old church wall with a force that a major league pitcher would have envied.
Then she slid into the seat, started the engine, and sped back up the hill toward the concert.
Adam collapsed with relief, hardly daring to believe it. Jason’s ruse had worked! The woman thought someone at the concert had whatever was in his pack, and she was on her way back there to find them. It must not have even entered her mind that anyone besides Jason might be here at this lonely spot—let alone a terrified boy.
As the car faded away into the night, he got shakily to his feet, keeping an eye in that direction in case it came back. That slender, enraged woman had scared him more than anything else in this very scary night. She’d shot her accomplice with no more emotion than if he was a sack of grain—just like he’d shot Jason.
Then it hit Adam that he’d just seen two men killed. Abruptly, with no warning at all, his stomach started to heave, and he stumbled away, retching. He felt covered in cold, slimy sweat, and it was all he could do to keep from crying.
But he clamped down on himself fast. Whatever was behind all this, it was bad, it was dangerous, and it was real, as real as things ever got. He could replay every second of it in his mind so clearly it was like a movie. It tore his heart that he hadn’t been able to help Jason. But, Adam decided grimly, he was going to do everything he possibly could to keep his promise and honor Jason’s last request.
If he could even figure out what it was.
Well, one thing was for sure—he had to get out of here. And find Barry. Where was he—still high-tailing it away as fast as his legs would carry him?
Adam trotted over to the moped, wheeled it out into the moonlight, and looked it over, forcing his hands to stay steady and his brain to focus. It looked basically okay and the gas smell was gone. He spotted an exposed fuel filter that was crusted with dirt from the crash. He quickly pulled it loose, tapped it against the crankcase and blew through it, then replaced it—not much of a cleaning, but it would have to do.
That was when Barry came into sight, hurrying in from the fields.
“What the hell’s going on here?” he panted. “It sounded like somebody was shooting. I figured you’d turn to jello so I’d better come back and scare them off.”
Adam stared at him in outrage. Barry was the one who’d vaporized at the first hint of trouble—and now he was pretending that he was a hero?
But he caught himself. It would be even stupider than usual to argue right now. Barry obviously didn’t know what had really happened and Adam didn’t want him to. Not only had Jason warned him to keep this secret, there was another reason. It was kind of strange and he couldn’t really explain it, but the feeling was almost fierce. Whatever the lump in his backpack was, it was his, at least for right now. He didn’t want anybody else messing with it until he’d had a chance to look it over and think things through on his own.
Just play along, Adam told himself. Let Barry think what he wants and thump his chest.
“Thanks, Barry,” he said. “You’re right, I was so scared I could hardly move.”
“So was it somebody really shooting?” Barry asked excitedly.
Adam hesitated, but he couldn’t come up with a good lie that quickly.
“Yeah, but he wasn’t aiming at anything—just up into the air. Maybe he was mad about the concert, or maybe just a crazy guy shooting at the moon. I hid and he took off—he must have seen you coming.”
Barry nodded gruffly. “No problem. Just keep watching how I handle things, and maybe you’ll start learning not to lose your cool.” But even he looked a little embarrassed at his own blustering. Then he slapped his hand on the bike. “So how about it, genius? You got this thing working again?”
“I’m about to try.” Adam straddled the seat, turned on the ignition, and kicked the starter. The engine just coughed.
“Yeah, great,” Barry muttered.
Adam gritted his teeth and kicked the starter again. This time the cough was more of a sputter and lasted a few seconds, with a little cloud of dirty smoke from the exhaust.
“Way to go,” Barry sneered. “Guess we’d better start walking.”
But Adam knew what the sputter and smoke meant—the fuel system was getting primed to go. He gave it one more shot, this time really cranking down. The sputter lingered, almost died—but then the engine caught and smoothed out into a steady purr.
Barry grunted, a sound of annoyance that Adam had succeeded mixed with relief that they were saved.
Adam stepped off the bike and gave the handlebars over to Barry. But then he suddenly had the overpowering urge to go look at Jason once more—to pay his final respects the way people did at a funeral.
“Whoa, I dropped my wallet,” he said, slapping his pocket. “I’ll be right back.”
“Well, hurry, dammit!”
Adam trotted across the church and behind the rockpile where Jason’s body was hidden.
It was gone.
He stared at the spot, thinking he must be in the wrong place. But no—the pool of blood was still there.
He lifted his gaze and scanned the area, in case Jason had crawled away. There was nothing like the shape of a human being that he could see.
But—far out in the field, so faint he might have been imagining it, he thought he glimpsed a cluster of tiny flickers. Maybe they were some kind of glowing insects like fireflies—but moving close to the ground, in formation, at a fast, steady pace?
“Come on, moron!” Barry yelled.
Reluctantly, Adam ran back to the bike and hopped on.
As they chugged back along the narrow country road they’d come in on, the world seemed very dark and silent, and Adam—with the cold weight of the “only thing that matters” bouncing between his shoulderblades—felt very far from home.