Excerpt: Moon Shadows

The dark highway stretched out before Theo, leading from his friend Marnie’s family farm back to town. Pleasantly weary, he replayed the evening in his head with a stomach full of junk food and a face stiff from too much laughter. He and his friends had been pen-and-paper role-playing lately, but with a complete lack of reverence for fantasy conventions and a heavy emphasis on dirty jokes. It was those jokes he was smiling over when he saw the skid marks sliced across the road.

He leaned forward as he slowed his car. Alone on the highway, he had only his own headlights to see by. He saw the tire tracks clearly head into the dirt and flattened bushes next to the bridge ahead of him. There was an ominous, red glow touching the bridge’s metal railings. Immediately, his mind went clear and his pulse jumped into overdrive. He crushed the brake pedal to the floorboard, bullying the car to a stop. Throwing on the hazard lights, he leapt from the car.

He ran to the railing and leaned over. Below, he could see the rear end of a car in the river. Most of the car appeared to be submerged, nose down. Theo stripped off his jacket, then ran across the bridge and vaulted the railing.

His weight took him deep into the water, frighteningly so. He waited until he lost downward momentum before swimming for the surface. He broke through to discover the car nearly on top of him. Clawing up it, he got onto the trunk and peered through the back window.

Someone’s still in there! The dark figure inside sat at an awkward angle across the front seat. Gritting his teeth, Theo kicked at the rear window. On the third stomp, his boot heel turned the glass into pebbles. He lunged headfirst into the car.

There wasn’t enough room to move around. He made one false start, running out of air before he could get to the front seat. Cursing mentally, he retreated for a proper breath. Then he went in again. The woman in the driver’s seat had her head bowed, her hair floating around it. His fumbling fingers couldn’t unfasten her seatbelt. He growled out bubbles as he forced himself between the front seats for a better look.

The car rocked strangely. Taking the seatbelt in both hands, he snapped it free of its mooring. He wrapped an arm around the woman’s waist. Her limbs hooked on the headrests and between the seats. Lungs bursting, he brought his feet down and pulled mightily. With one last thrust, he sent them both flying out the rear window.

The mass under him tilted as his feet cleared the window. The car began to tip sideways. Panting, his heart beating so fast he couldn’t hear individual beats, Theo found more strength in his thighs and leapt. He twisted in mid-air. The woman’s weight crushed his breath from him when he landed on his back on the surface of the water. He wrapped his arms around her as they went under, then swam upwards. The moment they surfaced he began to kick, swimming backward to shore. When he found support underfoot, he stood and waded through the water. She dangled from his arms in a terrible, lifeless way.

Once on land, he laid her down. Distant noise drew his attention to the bridge, where a parked semi lit up the highway. He could see someone standing near it.

“Call 911!” Theo roared. He couldn’t smell her breath. The first aid Ma had insisted he learn flashed into his mind. The woman’s mouth was cold rubber beneath his, and in the faint light of the half-moon she looked washed out and strange. Theo shook his head and kept trying.

“Come on now,” he whispered to her as he caught his breath. “I was fast enough. C’mon, lady, I was fast enough. Don’t tell me I wasn’t.” Another breath into her mouth. “Don’t tell me I wasn’t.” Two more breaths, and then he jerked back from the terrible croaking sound she made. “Oh, my god,” he whispered. Running footsteps didn’t make him look up; he was too intent on her eyes as they opened.

All at once she was no longer strange and unnerving. Her face took on life and expression. She stared at him, eyebrows knit.

“Hey,” he said hoarsely. “H-how do you feel?”

“Awesome.” Her voice was barely audible. “Who’re you?”

“Theo.”

Her mouth curved awkwardly.

“Nice to meet you, Theo.”

Those words gave him permission to feel relief. He sat back on his heels, letting out a weak laugh. The truck driver arrived, bringing news of an ambulance on the way, and Theo looked up at a half-moon in a charcoal sky.

Thank god it wasn’t full.

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