Fearscape (Horrorscape)

Chapter One

It was one of those days in late April when the weather wasn't quite sure whether it wanted to be hot or cold, and so settled for a cloudy, muggy hybrid of the two. In Derringer, California, this meant stifling humidity and a windchill that made people think twice about removing their sweaty jackets.

Out on the high school's track, Valerian Kimble had already made the conscious decision to knot hers around her waist. Sweat was dripping down her face, blurring her vision and making what was left of her makeup run. During meets like these, Val was immensely grateful that boys and girls trained separately.

Her eyes flicked to the bleachers where a few students sat reading or talking, or waiting for the football team to come out and start their practice. Most of the spectators weren't even spectating. Track wasn't a spectator sport, not really. If you weren't participating, it wasn't all that fun. Who wanted to watch a bunch of teenagers run in a circle, over and over?

Well ….

One person did come to mind. But she wouldn't let herself think about that — not out here, with the wind in her hair, and the silvery light of a cloud-blocked sun shining bright in her eyes. This was no place for shadows.

“Looking sharp, Val!” Coach Freeman said, as she passed.

“Thanks,” Val panted. “How did I do?”

Coach Freeman looked at her stopwatch. “We're at seven minutes now. So I want to say six-forty? Why don't you go ahead and take ten.”

Sounds good to me. Val took a long drink from the fountain and then plopped down on the wooden benches in front of the bleachers. She was uncomfortably aware of her sweat-soaked shirt as the wind reasserted its presence. She untied her jacket and pulled it on, shivering a little as she pulled her hair out from behind the collar.

“You did good today, Val.” Lindsay Polanski sat down beside her with a loud sigh. “What did you get?”

“Six-forty. You?”

Lindsay made a face. “Seven-ten.”

“That's still good. Better than most people. And didn't you get six-fifty last time?”

“Yeah — and my stupid boobs nearly murdered my back.”

“What's this about murder?” Rachel Lopez demanded, squeezing in on Lindsay's other side. “You guys planning something I ought to know about?”

“Breast reduction surgery,” said Lindsay.

“Oh, like when you forgot your sports bra?”

Lindsay glanced over to make sure the coach wasn't watching and then gave Rachel the finger.

Rachel grinned. “Well. I bet it did wonders for our ticket sales. I think you made a lot of fans out there in the bleachers that day. There was one guy staring so hard, I thought he was going to burst a blood vessel.”

“That is disgusting. Don't even joke about that.”

Like the shadows beneath the bleachers. Val shuddered.

They watched the other girls on their team finish up. Some were red-faced and had switched over to a brisk power walk. Coach Freeman didn't shout at them to “hurry it up now, or am I going to have to use a calendar to keep track of you?” the way Coach Able might have back in middle school, but Val suspected that most of those girls probably wouldn't be coming back next year, in any case. Track was all about survival of the fittest; if you didn't clock, you walked.

“Were you the first to finish?” Rachel asked curiously.

“Who? Me?” Val said. “No. There were, like, five others who lapped before I did.”

The last girl—a natural blonde with ruddy features, who was wheezing a little — finally finished and Coach Freeman stopped her timer. “All right, girls — that's it for today. Go ahead