Looking for a spooky read for this time of year? Try my book “Dead Moon Rising,” writing as Macy Largo, available from Siren-BookStrand.
The sun had long since set in the distance behind her on I-90, painting the rolling South Dakota plains landscape with deep reds and oranges before it disappeared, setting Sarah’s teeth on edge. Not because it wasn’t pretty, but because her intuition screamed at her as darkness descended.
Bad, baaaad juju.
Destination: Miami, Florida. There, Sarah Aston’s uncle, Eddie, had promised her she could live with him, get a new start on her life, and put her ex-boyfriend behind her.
Unfortunately, her cranky fifteen year-old Subaru didn’t seem up to the trip.
The moonless night was dimly lit by countless stars in a crystal-clear sky. Despite the warm June evening, she shivered.
An exit sign appeared in her anemic headlights, which seemed to lose strength over the past hour or so. She suspected a cranky alternator staging a last stand of General Custer proportions. Unfortunately, probably with the same result.
Swinging off the highway onto the exit, she soon found an unmanned gas station with lights and pumps on for those who could pay via plastic. Fortunately, she still had three hundred dollars left on the pre-paid MasterCard she’d bought before rolling out of Seattle, and almost five hundred more in cash stashed in a plastic zip-top bag shoved inside a wad of dirty underwear in her overnight bag.
Taking a risk to leave it running, she shut the headlights off and anxiously looked around while she gassed up. She resisted the urge to nervously dance from foot to foot as she muttered at the pump to hurry up.
This is bad. Really, really baaaad. Of epic proportions, major horror movie creepies, zombies crawling out of the woodwork baaaad.
When ten, she’d fractured her skull falling out of a tree in their Seattle backyard. In the sixteen years since then, she’d had the intuitions. She refused to call them psychic flashes. They were warnings of a sort, but always accurate. She didn’t want to believe any supernatural explanations. She just knew that something about the accident had put her more in tune with her body’s natural warning signs. Unfortunately, most of her friends and family decided it creeped them out enough that they didn’t want to spend much time around her. Especially when she accurately predicted the deaths of her parents and three friends over the past several years.
The latest prediction before tonight’s creepfest, fortunately, didn’t forewarn of anything nearly as dire, only that her boyfriend had been cheating on her.
True, of course.
Uncle Eddie didn’t care about her “special talent” and had welcomed her with open arms when he found out she wanted a new start after her ex-boyfriend royally screwed her and left her pretty much out on the street. After she’d confronted the louse, he gave her one hour to get her stuff packed and get out. She’d managed to snag the ATM card and empty their joint bank account, most of the money of which was hers to begin with.
Despite the fact that she paid most of the bills, the lease and utilities were in his name, so she couldn’t fight him.
She’d tried not to think about her anger and pain over his betrayal, instead wanting to focus on the new life ahead of her in Miami. But ever since sunset, a deep, dark feeling blossomed inside her, the antithesis of joy and longing. She had two options, both extremely restricted by her car’s iffy performance and limited funds—press on and pray she drove out of whatever the feeling was, or stop right here, lock the doors, and hope someone showed up for work sooner rather than later.
As she finished fueling, a dark sedan heading toward I-90 rolled by, doing slower than the posted speed limit.
The nearly overwhelming dark cloud suddenly engulfing her made her mind up for her. She impatiently waited for the pump to spit out her receipt as her fingers trembled while trying to screw the gas cap on. The sedan had totally disappeared from sight by the time she turned to jump into her car.
A little relief settled. Whoever—whatever—had been in that car had been the cause of her unease.
Or maybe I’m just a nervous woman travelling alone cross-country for the first time and pissing my pants at the sight of the first car I’ve seen in over an hour.
She turned the headlights on, one of her dash indicator lights blipping briefly at her before shutting off again. The voltage light.
Reflected in the dark windows of the gas station’s store, she could tell the headlights definitely looked weaker than they should be.
Maybe staying, now that she felt a little more settled, would be safer.
That won’t get me to Florida.
A check of her cheap-ass pre-paid cell phone showed no service in the area. A brief look around, and the only pay phone holder was missing its phone. Damn.
With a tight grip on the steering wheel, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
What to do?
Finally, she shifted the car into drive and headed back to I-90. At last check, she was less than an hour west of Mitchell. If she could make it there, she could find someplace safe to pull in and wait until morning, get her car looked at, and maybe get a cell signal. She kept the radio and air conditioning off to preserve her battery like her uncle had warned her at her last call and drove on through the lonely darkness.
* * * *
Captain Plato Delaney of the South Dakota Highway Patrol sat in his cruiser on the westbound shoulder of I-90, five miles east of Mitchell, and filled out paperwork. Nerves on edge, he prayed his intuition proved wrong this time.
Unfortunately for him, it usually didn’t.
In the past year, there had been four “new moon murders,” all unsolved, on this lonely stretch of road between Sioux Falls and Rapid City. No one wanted to believe him when he said he suspected they were connected by the lunar cycle. It wasn’t unheard of for stranded motorists to fall victim to foul play in such desolate settings. There were enough differences in the cases, and too few leads, that his superiors didn’t want to put out extra manpower on new moon nights, especially not with the huge Sturgis motorcycle festival less than two months away. While no one had outright said as much, they made it clear to him that such bad publicity right before their biggest tourist season wasn’t welcomed.
In the past hour, only three vehicles had passed him, two of them semis heading east in the other lane toward Sioux Falls. He jumped when his personal cell phone rang.
“You scared the crap out of me, John.”
The caller chuckled. “Sorry, babe. How goes the stake out?”
Only Del’s lover, John Riley, believed and agreed with his theory. A retired trooper himself, he’d looked at the evidence and nodded. “I think you’re on to something, Del, but good luck convincing the brass of that before Sturgis.” And of course John, seven years older than his own thirty-nine, had been right about that, even though Del had thought maybe he could make their superiors listen to his hunch despite a lack of evidence.
Del prayed no one else died before Sturgis ended. Maybe then he could convince someone to take another look at the cases.
“All quiet in my little stretch of hell. I’ve got about ten more minutes on this report, and then I’m heading west again past Mitchell before I loop around.”
“I’m going to bed, but I’ll keep the phone close. I know you hate the overnights, but if it means anything, I think you’re right.”
Del resisted the urge to close his eyes and rest. He normally worked day shifts. He’d volunteered to cover for another trooper out with the birth of his first child when Del realized it would overlap a new moon period. “Thanks. Try to get some sleep.”
“Not easy in this big ole bed without you here. I’ll have the kettle brewing when you get home. Love you, and stay safe.”
“Love you, too.” Del hung up and stared at the phone. John hated his early forced retirement four years prior due to an accident that shattered his legs and hips. Now he worked as a freelance computer consultant and software designer from their shared home in Mitchell. Del knew John missed the job, could see the wistful longing in his face every time he sent him off on a shift and heard the eagerness in his voice when Del discussed cases with him.
His intuition buzzed. It’d been two uneventful new moons since the last killing. This was the third. If the pattern held, there would be a murder tonight. Maybe not on his stretch of highway, but somewhere in the lonely blackness between the lights of the two gateway cities that stood sentry to this ribbon of asphalt.
Finally finishing his report, he shut off the cabin lights and headed west, alone on the interstate.
* * * *
Sarah prayed her luck held. She clicked the headlights off, leaving just her running lights on for safety. Checking her mirrors frequently, she spotted no one coming up behind her on the interstate. She had just enough light to make out the road ahead of her if she took it easy. After fifteen minutes, the dark feeling swelled within her again.
In the distance up ahead, she spotted two vehicles pulled over on the right shoulder. The one in front, a dual-axle Ford truck with a crew cab, hauling a fifth-wheel camper, had its flashers on and a flat on the trailer.
Behind it on the shoulder, headlights dark but his parking lights on, was parked the dark sedan that had passed her earlier.
Sliding over to the left lane, she hunched down and prayed her car didn’t break down. Her stomach rebelled, threatening to upend. As she drew closer, she spotted an older man talking to another one. The older man, she assumed the owner of the rig, held a flashlight pointed down at the ground, although the light illuminated both of them.
The other man leaned against the front left fender of the sedan as they talked. With a dark baseball cap pulled low, and the light from the flashlight below, she swore she spotted dark holes where his eyes should be as he looked up and seemingly right at her.
She gunned it, nerves screaming bloody murder for her to get the hell out of there.
Bad, baaaad juju!
Heart racing, she finally flipped on her headlights two miles down the road and realized she was doing eighty. Thankfully the road was mostly straight. Unfortunately, the headlights barely made more of a dent in the dark than her running lights.
Slowing a little, she pried one hand at a time off the steering wheel and flexed her nearly numb fingers.
Over the next fifteen miles, her headlights dwindled to faint glows. Then, without fanfare, the car simply shut off.
“No! Oh, fuck no, pleasepleaseplease!” Tears rolled down her face as she coasted onto the right shoulder, tires hauntingly crunching in the gravel as she steered to a stop safely off the highway. When she tried the key again, nothing but an ominous click met her efforts.
She dropped her forehead to the steering wheel and cried. The worst of the dark feeling had faded with every mile she put between her and the dark sedan, but it still lingered. Someone in that car was bad news, and the only weapon she had was her scathing sarcasm.
She assumed that wouldn’t be helpful against a psycho with a knife or gun.
Double checking that all four doors were locked, she pulled out her cell phone again and tried to get a signal. Nothing.
There were probably worse places to be stuck in a broken down car in the middle of the night with no cell phone reception and a really bad something out there giving her the heebie-jeebies, but off the top of her head, she couldn’t think of one.
You can find all my Siren releases as Tymber Dalton, Lesli Richardson, Macy Largo, and Tessa Monroe on my Siren page at: