Part One: Adam, Paul, & Terry
The sun sags below the shoulders of the Ganiyegi Mountains, its purple-orange glow fading onto the tattered blacktop of State Route 17. Traffic is light—a King Grocer truck heading home from a delivery and a sputtering sedan loaded with teenagers heading into the woods for a night of troublemaking. Both vehicles head away from the town of Eden Falls, famed for the series of waterfalls from which the community took its name. Just as the highway opens to a long, flat stretch, the sedan swung out, its engine struggling to provide the power to pass the big truck. The occupants whooped and cheered as their rusty steed slid back into the proper lane, its rear bumper moving within a few feet of the semi.
The truck’s air horn blared through the darkening night, drawing little more than laughter from the rowdy teens. They fell silent as they approached a hill and saw a green glow rising from below. The intensity of the light grew until a black coupe crested the incline, its rumbling exhaust vibrating the air.
“Jeez,” the sedan driver said. “Did you see those headlights?”
“Yeah,” one passenger replied. “You should get some for this hunk of crap.”
A fresh bout of laughter erupted as they drove away.
Bill Kemper stood outside of his gas station, enjoying the peace with one last cigarette before closing up. Just as he prepared to discard the butt, the station’s windows rattled. “What the hell?” A chill ran down his back as the black coupe tore down the road into town. Bill watched the car’s taillights shrink before turning east. The eerie gleam of its headlights bathed the surrounding area with a sickly green radiance.
“Hold up, Adam. You’re not going anywhere until you help clear the table.”
“But Mom, I’m supposed to meet Paul and Terry at Grandpa’s store! He’s gonna give us Moon Pies!”
“Yeah, along with a gallon of soda just to make sure you don’t sleep for a week. Now get in here and help me, it’ll only take a few minutes.”
Adam walked into the kitchen, huffing with each step. “It’s not fair.”
“Neither is life.”
“I mean, you let Jenny go off with her stupid stoner friends.”
“Adam Henry Kemper, how do you know that word?”
“C’mon, Mom, I’m not a baby. I’m twelve.”
She smiled and stifled a laugh. The serious look on her son’s face made it impossible to hold back. “You look just like your dad.” A thin film of tears shimmered in her eyes as her smile wilted.
“I miss him too, Mom.” He walked over and hugged his mother. “I’m sorry I was being a butthole.”
“I’ll tell you what: you go ahead and meet Paul and Terry but, and this is important, you help with the dishes tomorrow and no attitude. Deal?”
Adam rode up to his grandfather’s store and found his friends waiting impatiently. Terry held up his hand and mimicked looking at a watch. “We said eight o’clock, didn’t we?”
“Yeah,” Paul replied. “We said eight o’clock. I mean, we were here at eight.”
“Shut up,” Adam said. “I was helping Mom.”
Paul and Terry shared a look and chuckled; Adam rolled his eyes.
“Evenin’, boys.” Bill stepped through the front door of the station. One hand clutched a trio of Moon Pies; the other held three bottles of Sun Drop. “I trust you’re staying out of trouble.”
The boys nodded and thanked him as he handed out the treats.
“Hell”—Bill scratched his chin—“what better way to end the first day of summer vacation than with a belly full of sugar?” He turned and placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “How’s your mom doing?”
Adam shrugged. A ring of chocolate outlined his mouth. “She’s okay, I guess.”
“Be sure to help her out however you can. The same goes for your sister.” Bill sighed and brought a hand to rest on the back of his neck.
“You okay, Grandpa?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, buddy. There’s nothing wrong with me that a cold beer won’t fix.” He stood still for a moment, his eyes scanning the street. “Be careful on your way home tonight. This souped-up hot rod came through a little while ago. I don’t know what it was, but something about it didn’t sit right with me.”
“Sounds pretty cool,” Paul said.
Bill narrowed his eyes at the boy and Paul shrank down on his bike. “I’d give the lot of you a ride back, but that damned truck is giving me fits.” He stared off into the distance until something in his mind clicked. “Green headlights,” he said, snapping his fingers. “You boys see green headlights coming, be sure to give a wide berth.”
Adam finished a swig of soda and burped. “We will.”
“Good. Y’all be safe. I’m going around back to have a drink before bed.” Bill turned and walked down the side of the station. “Give your mom and sister my regards, Adam.”
“Jenny’s out, but I’ll tell her when I see her.”
Bill stopped and turned toward his grandson. “She’s not out with that idiot Randy Marshall, is she?”
“Yeah,” Adam said.
“Christ, then I’d better make it two drinks. Remember what I said, boys.” He moved past the far corner of the building and disappeared into the shadows.
“Hey,” Terry whispered. He leaned over the handlebars of his Huffy, his eyes wide. “I wanna see that car.”
“Why?” Adam asked. “It’s probably just some old heap.”
Terry sat back, his mouth dropping open in shock. “Why? He said it’s got green headlights!”
“Yeah,” Paul said. “That does sound pretty cool.”
Adam, never hesitant to rain on his friends’ parade, shook his head. “That car is halfway to Asheville by now.”
“But what if it’s not? What if”—Terry grinned—“the driver is a serial killer riding around looking for his next victim?”
“And you want to go find him?” Adam said sarcastically. “That’s not just smart, that’s smork. S-M-O-R-K.”
Sun Drop sprayed from Paul’s nose. This triggered guffaws from Adam and Terry, the latter nearly falling off his bike. After calming themselves, the trio finished off their snacks and rode back toward the center of town. The conversation drifted between topics—Johnny Wise getting a copy of Mortal Kombat for the Sega Genesis, the amount of beer consumed by Jenny and her new boyfriend—but it constantly circled back to the mysterious car Adam’s grandad warned them about.
Tensions grew as they turned onto a tree-lined block of Elmhurst Avenue. A gentle breeze blew limbs around, casting odd shadows across the street. Their heads snapped around each time they heard an approaching vehicle. They issued silent prayers for the absence of green headlights. None of them noticed the black 1968 Mercury Cougar parked in a narrow alley as they rode past.
The boys fell silent for a few minutes, leaving only the sound of their tires humming over the blacktop. Adam guided his bike into Willamette Park; Paul and Terry followed and the group came to a stop next to a rusting merry-go-round. The playground—equidistant from each boy’s home—had long served as a meet-up spot, a place to make plans and preserve childhood.
Adam raised his hands, playing the part of the MC at a circus. “We should have a sleepover tomorrow night at my place.”
“Why?” Paul asked.
“Because it’s summer! What else are we gonna do? We can rent some movies, order a pizza—“
“Find that car,” Terry said.
Adam lowered his right arm and pointed toward his obsessive friend. “Uninvited.”
Terry shrugged. “What if we see it while we’re getting movies?”
“Fine,” Adam said. “Are you good with that, Paul?”
Paul nodded. “Can we get some Mountain Dew?”
Adam smiled. “We can get a two-liter.”
With a vague plan in place, they split up for the night. Adam turned onto his street and slowed when something in the road caught his eye a few feet from his house. He stopped, opting to walk his bike as he approached the object. Bile crept up his throat when the smell hit his nose. The carcass of some animal, horribly mutilated, lay splattered across the road.
A single thought repeated in his mind as he surveyed the carnage: this isn’t right. Roadkill was an unfortunately regular occurrence in Eden Falls, only that’s not what this was. A trail of blood stretched from curb to curb, not following any path that made sense for an animal struck by a car. The body didn’t bear the telltale marks of being run down. This poor creature had been ripped open, its insides spilled out into the night air.
Every cell in his body pleaded for him to drop his bike and run into the house, but fear glued his feet in place. For perhaps the first time in his young life, he was terrified. He’d caught a few horror movies on late-night TV and, while they did put a fright into him, it was nothing like this. The movies were fake, just a guy in a mask with a rubber knife. This, however, was very real, just as real as the dread barreling down on him like a freight train.
Inertia gave way when a car rounded the far corner of the street. Adam barely registered the vehicle when he saw the headlights. “Oh shit.” A creeping, green glow flooded toward him. He pulled his bike onto the sidewalk, flung it into the bushes, and ran through the front door.
The low rumble of a V8 shook the door against his back. His eyes dropped to the floor in time to see that same green light spilling through the gaps in the doorframe. Breath hitching in his chest, Adam crept to a window and carefully pulled back the lower corner of the curtain. A black car crawled down the street, its tinted windows obscuring everything inside. Adam didn’t really know cars; all he could make out was that it was old and might be cool-looking if it weren’t so terrifying.
The car came to an abrupt stop, brakes squeaking, as it reached the dead animal. Adam, sure the driver was staring directly at him, ducked lower behind the window. He heard the transmission click, followed by a moment of silence before the driver’s door opened with a long creak. A man emerged, dressed head-to-toe in black, his face concealed by the brim of a hat. The stranger walked slowly forward, kneeling once he reached the small body.
Adam watched as the man stood up, his right hand gripping the carcass. The man studied it closely, even looking to sniff it at one point. As he held it up under the streetlight, more innards slipped free and fell to the street. Adam smacked a cupped hand against his mouth in an attempt to keep from vomiting. Once the nausea passed, he reached out and locked the deadbolt, flinching as it clicked.
He looked back through the window and his heart nearly stopped.
The stranger was staring right at him.
His hand slammed against his mouth again, this time to stifle a scream. He jumped when he heard the car door close. After a brief internal debate, he peeked back outside in time to see the creepy headlights turn toward the park.
“What are you doing?”
Adam squealed and turned to see his mother standing on the staircase. “I”—he paused, trying to think—“just saw some guy run down a possum.”
“Great,” she said, stepping toward the door. “Drunk fools with no regard for anything.”
“No,” Adam said, moving in front of her. “I have to ask you something.”
She looked at her son, one eyebrow cocked, waiting to hear the request. “Yes?”
“Can Paul and Terry stay over tomorrow?” Adrenaline flowed through him, throwing his words out with increasing speed. “I have some extra money and was thinking we could order pizza and rent some movies. Oh, and get a Mountain Dew, a two-liter.”
“Of course, sweetheart, as long as it’s okay with their parents.”
He rose to his tiptoes and kissed her on the cheek. “Thanks, Mom!” Before she could say anything else, he ran upstairs and into his room.
For hours, he sat and watched through his window, waiting for the strange man to return. No cars drove past. No night owls out for walks. What freaked him out was the absence of the roadkill.