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.“I’m sure he’s going to be okay,” I mumbled again.But we both knew he wasn’t.Not “okay” as in he’d be racing up and down a basketball court any day now, and not “okay” as in, he’d be dancing up a storm at Johnny’s by next Saturday night, and not “okay” as in, he would eventually be as handsome and unblemished as he once was.Michael “Hoop” Sinclair wasn’t ever going to be that kind of okay again, and his mother and I knew it.Before she could ask the question I’d been dreading—“How did this happen to my son, Tory?”—I said for a third time that I was sure he’d be okay, muttered something about having to study for a test (on Saturday night? Mrs.Sinclair must have been thinking), and ran for the elevator.And even though she was no longer looking at me when the doors closed, even though she’d returned to her husband’s side and was instead looking down at him as if she wished desperately that he’d wake up so she wouldn’t be alone, I could still feel the incredible sadness in her eyes, and knew that I would for a very long time.But it wasn’t her eyes that troubled me as I hurried the two blocks to my car.Her eyes were sad and bleak and lonely.I still felt eyes on my back, and they felt … angry.An angry stare burned into the back of my neck.I knew I was being ridiculous … there was no one around.No sound of footsteps, either.But I could feel those eyes on me …I tried to shake the feeling.At least half a dozen times on my way to the car I stopped, my heart woodpeckering away in my chest, and turned to peer into the darkness.And saw … nothing.Absolutely nothing but the brightly lit medical center, the trees and bushes surrounding it.No one was following me.Still, I had never been so glad to unlock the door of the Escort and slip inside, quickly re-locking the door.I didn’t even take the time to check the backseat.But, remembering my mother’s repeated warnings, I did check before I left the parking lot.Nothing there but a pile of books and an old sweater that I’d always hated.Wherever the watching “eyes” were coming from, it wasn’t the backseat of my car.Still glancing repeatedly into my rearview mirror, I had just left the business district of Twin Falls, when a tiny red light suddenly began blinking at me from the dashboard.I had no idea what it meant, but it had never been on before and I knew it wasn’t supposed to be on now.All I wanted to do was get safely back to campus and run to my room.I kept going, hoping that the little red light didn’t mean anything important and thinking that even if it did, sheer force of will might keep the car going long enough to get me back to campus.I was wrong, on both counts.The light stopped blinking after a few minutes and became instead a steady, burning red glow, staring at me accusingly.I kept going.And then the car began chugging, something it had never done before.A minute or two later, just as I was approaching gloomy old Nightmare Hall on my right, a terrifying sight met my eyes.There was a thin stream of smoke trailing out from under the hood of my car.Then, just as quickly, it wasn’t a thin stream, but a wide plume, which in seconds became a thick, gray cloud pouring out into the dark night air.I stared at it, transfixed.My car was on fire.Chapter 10IF I HADN’T PANICKED, I would never have been stupid enough to open the hood.But the highway was deserted, there was no one I could flag down to tell me what to do, that creepy old house on the hill was staring down at me, and I guess I went a little crazy with fear.I turned off the ignition, jumped from the car and ran around to the front to yank the hood open.I don’t know what I was thinking.Maybe in my terror and temporary madness I thought opening the hood would keep the car from exploding into a huge ball of flame and smoke.Or maybe I wasn’t thinking at all.One second later, the air was filled with screams of agony.They were my screams, as hot steam scalded my already-seared face.Too late, my hands flew to cover my face and, screaming, I staggered backward to escape the heat.The pain was excruciating.I couldn’t stop screaming, couldn’t stand in one place, kept running back and forth, back and forth, my hands over my face, my mouth letting go of one piercing scream after another.No one in the house on the hill above me heard my screams.The door didn’t open, no one rushed down the gravel driveway to help me.But there was help up there.There had to be.Someone had to be home, someone to make this terrible pain go away, someone to take me back to the safety of my room on campus.Because I still felt someone was after me.And I felt so vulnerable standing there alone on the side of the road.When the excruciating pain eased a little, I let my hands drop from my face and looked up at the house.There seemed to be only a few lights on inside the house.The branches of the huge old oak trees were still bare, their branches pointing like wizened fingers toward the moonless sky.I heard no music coming from the house, no voices or laughter.But someone had to be inside, I told myself.I did not want to go up to that house.I’d been in it once or twice, at parties, and I’d had a good time.But I could remember thinking then that being inside Nightmare Hall while a party was going on, while there were people and music and laughter and talk and dancing, had to be very different from being there late at night when the lights were off and all was quiet.Nothing to distract you then from hearing the eerie sounds the huge, drafty old house must make or from seeing things in the shadows that you didn’t want to see.If I hadn’t been in so much trouble, I would never have trudged up that curving gravel driveway.But I had no choice.My footsteps as I reluctantly climbed the hill crunched softly.The only other sound was my pained breathing.The porch light wasn’t on, and I had only the faint light from several windows to guide my way.But even in that dim glow, I could see that the porch tilted slightly, as if the posts holding it up were different lengths, and the tired black shutters could have used a coat of paint.An old wooden swing moved slightly as the oak tree branches overhead tossed a brisk breeze toward the house.The breeze moved the swing gently backward, toward the white railing, and then forward again before allowing it to settle into place.That was when I noticed that it wasn’t empty.My knees went weak with relief.Someone was home, after all.I wouldn’t even have to go inside Nightmare Hall to get help because here they were, sitting outside, almost as if they’d been waiting for me [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]