Four in the morning in the Illinois countryside. A soft mist was beginning to converge on a tiny white house. The stars above sparkled against a black sky, as they had so many nights before. Only tonight there was something protective about their glow. As if the thousands of glittering lights were somehow keeping watch.
Deep in the forest, an evil lurked behind the trees. Watching. Waiting.
Inside, oblivious to the hidden dangers outside her door, Rachel Edwards was trying to breakfast.
It was difficult—impossible. She gulped and dropped her head in her hands.
She shouldn’t be sitting here now. Her mind spun. She felt like her world should have ended long before this. Time should have stopped.
In the past, Rachel had lived with her parents. Her father was a successful lawyer, and her mother had opted to remain home after Rachel’s birth. Thousands of little micro moments flashed before Rachel’s eyes: her mother’s hugs, her father teaching her how to ride a two-wheel bike…And herself now, sitting alone in a tiny dark kitchen, the sound of her fork making empty clinking sounds against a plate of food she knew she would never eat. She’d taken so much for granted.
She was on her grandparents’ farm now. They kept odd hours. Mr. Edwards worked at a hardware store and his shifts frequently changed weekly. Mrs. Edwards, a long time invalid, spent most of her time sleeping. Rachel found herself alone most of the time.
She’d been fifteen when her parents died and had known no more about their murders than she did now. The police gave up the case after a four-week investigation yielded nothing.
Must be at that point they thought it would be a waste of time to keep looking.
It made her anxious that the police quit on her parents’ case so easily, and that the murderer—or murderers—was still out there. No justice had been executed; no punishment given. Without it, she felt the lack of a certain….closure.
Closure she probably needed more than she knew. Rachel’s jaw clenched. She knew that she wouldn’t be able to rest until the right person was brought before a judge.
And she wanted that for more than just for the reason that he had taken her parents from her, it was also so that she could feel safe again.
Who was to say that that person wouldn’t come for her one day? Ever since that night, she’d felt the presence of some invisible malignant force. She was targeted for something, she was sure of it.
Not that anyone believed her. PTSD, they said. The shock was too much…
Tom strode into the kitchen, his presence pulling her from her reverie.
“Mornin’, sweet pea,” he said as he leaned down and kissed her on the forehead.
“Good morning,” she mumbled.
Tom sighed, “Rachel—”
“Sleeping in. Her heart has been bothering her, lately,” he paused for a moment then continued, “You know, Rachel”—
“Yeah I know, Gramps. Listen, I’m gonna get my chores done now, okay?” Rachel watched him from the corner of her eye as she pushed her plate away and got to her feet.
He didn’t say anything. His face fell a little. Poor Gramps, she thought, looking at his expression with a sudden pang of regret.
But she still couldn’t stay. She couldn’t talk about this now.
She shoved her feet into her boots halfheartedly, grabbed a pail and headed out for the barn without looking back.
He shouldn’t expect her to want to talk about that, not after everything else she’d been through.
She was, after all, the one that found them.
She’d been the main suspect in the case….
She was not the daughter she should have been. Not one for following the rules. Her parents were thinking about sending her to military school around the time of their murders. They’d argued about it the weekend before their deaths.
These were things that the police hadn’t taken lightly.
Rachel’s fingers tightened on the latch of the bucket. She needed to think about something else. The cool night air brought with it an icy chill, unusual for this time of year. Rachel shivered, and hurried to the barn, anxious for the warmth it promised. After releasing the cows to roam the yard, she walked over to the henhouse.
That’s weird. The door was hanging open.
Rachel dropped the pail and ran over. Blood marred the dirt in front of the door. Rachel pushed it open, it banged against the building with a sharp crack. She stared in horror at the blood-spattered interior. Inside, five chickens clucked at her, a meager fraction of the two hundred that were supposed to be there.
The sight of blood sent her reeling back in time. When her best friend Dawn and her cousin thought it would be funny to sneak snakes into her bed. Rachel had come into the room, completely unawares, and sat on the bed….
She’d hated all forms of wildlife ever since.
Rachel’s breath caught. Her heart pounded in her chest as her breaths rasped through her body.
The urge to run was overpowering. But she willed her stiff muscles to move slowly. Slowly, slowly. She backed up to the door.
Her back brushed up against something hard and unstable.
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