Crossfire Sample

Justin was usually attentive in class, but today he was finding it hard to keep his eyes open. He couldn’t understand why, he had slept well, but his brain seemed to have been filled with cotton wool.

He stifled a yawn, his eyes itching. He would only rest them a moment, he told himself. No relief came, and he struggled to open them again. The noises in the classroom now seemed to be very far away. Behind his eyelids, he could see a burning bright blue …

And the dream came, so fast Justin wasn’t even sure what it was. A metal gleam. A scream. Blood. Darkness, and silence.

When Justin returned to consciousness, it felt as if years had passed. After a moment he realised that the side of his face was pressed against a cold lino floor.

His eyes flickered open, and he winced at the bright light, trying to make sense of his surroundings. Finally he recognised the tiles of Darke’s kitchen.

Darke’s kitchen? But he had fallen asleep at college …

The confusion only grew when he registered something wet on his hands. Lifting his head slightly, he saw they were covered in blood.

Justin sat bolt upright, and when he caught sight of the large puddle on the floor, he stopped breathing. Terror filled him, and he jumped a mile as the kitchen lights started glowing. He looked wildly around, seeing no-one but a pair of feet. The lights burned brighter. Justin slowly crawled forwards to see around the table, shaking so hard he could barely stay up.

Robert Darke lay on the floor. Glassy eyes stared up at the ceiling, mouth open in an expression of surprise. His throat was cut.

Justin’s stomach turned, and his hands and knees gave way. He crumpled to the floor, hand clamped over his mouth and his eyes squeezed shut. His heart was pounding, his ears filled with a rushing growing louder and louder, and his thoughts seemed to have frozen.

He jumped again at the sound of smashing, keeping his eyes closed as he felt something falling on him like snow.

How long he lay there, he didn’t know. He may even have passed out again from the shock. But eventually he began to think again, and panic set in.

The only thing that made sense was that it was a nightmare. He had fallen asleep, hadn’t he? This had to just be a vivid extension of his nightmare. He would wake up soon …

Justin finally opened his eyes and got unsteadily to his feet, brushing off glass from the blown light bulbs. He stole one last glance at Darke’s body. And he fled.

Later, Justin couldn’t be sure how he had made the journey home. The memory of it was almost as fuzzy as the ones preceding his blackout. The next thing he knew for certain, he was throwing up in his bathroom at home, knelt on the hard floor as his legs were no longer able to hold him up, having ditched his stained clothes somewhere along the way. The bathroom light began flickering, but he barely noticed.

His eyelids burned as he leaned his head against the bathroom wall, trying to get his breath back, but he wouldn’t let the tears come. Crying was for wimps and never solved anything. And he was afraid that if he started, he wouldn’t be able to stop.

Once he’d stopped shaking, Justin flushed the toilet and got to his feet, wondering what on earth he was going to do now. He couldn’t go to his stepmother. His friends? No. Freda wouldn’t know what to do any more than he would had it been her in this situation. Ed was clever, might have a clue, but was in Thessaloniki with his family. And now Darke was dead, Justin didn’t have anyone else to go to.

He remembered the man from that morning, who had been heading towards Darke’s house. Justin had forgotten him until now. Maybe he was the murderer. Maybe Justin had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time and the nightmare beforehand had been a coincidence. But how had he got there, and the more chilling question, why didn’t he remember? Nothing made sense.

Justin was no stranger to loss. Not even to guilt. But this was something new entirely.

He ran a shower. The temperature wouldn’t stabilise, but at least it allowed him to finish cleaning himself up. He had scrubbed his hands, face and arms raw before allowing himself to turn the water off.

He caught sight of himself in the bathroom mirror: his face was white, making his hazel eyes stand out even more. He dried off, stumbled into his bedroom and pulled on a pair of pyjamas before climbing into bed.

His stepmother’s voice from downstairs prised its way into his consciousness, but he ignored it. Maybe he could persuade her that he was asleep, or unwell.

“Justin!” she yelled again. Justin groaned as he heard her footfalls on the stairs.

Lucia pushed his bedroom door open, wrinkling her nose in disgust as she usually did at the sight of his pile of half-worn clothes. “I told you to come and peel the vegetables.” He kept very still, hoping she would think he was asleep. “Justin!

“I don’t feel well,” he mumbled. “I’ve just been sick.”

She hesitated, but not for long. “Well, I hope you cleaned it up. And if you don’t help out with dinner, don’t expect to be getting any to eat.”

Justin sighed as she left. That could have been worse. He didn’t think he could stomach anything to eat anyway. He just wanted to sleep. With no nightmares—although, really, what could be worse than what had just happened? And when he woke, everything would be back to normal …

Copyright Alex Harlequin 2012

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