Authors: John Saul
Published by Fawcett Books A Fawcett Crest Book
Published by Ballantine Books Copyright (D 1994 by John Saul
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York,
and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 93-50606
First Hardcover Edition: August 1994
First Mass Market Edition: August 1995
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You been wantin' me the way I been wantin' you ain't YOU, kid?
Dawn Sanderson froze, her hand still on the half-open kitchen door Her mother's boyfriend, Elvis Janks, was slouched at the kitchen table, an open bottle of beer in front of him the redness of his eyes a sure sign that the bottle on the table wasn't his first.
Probably not even his third.
But it wasn't the redness in his eyes that scared her. she'd seen that so many times she didn't even pay attention to it anymore.
What scared her was the look in those two bloodshot slits, a leering gaze that seemed to slash through her clothes, ripping away her blouse and bra so he could see She cut the thought off, terrified that he might actually be able to read her mind, and think ... what?
That she was interested in him?
Dawn knew Elvis was a drunk, but was he crazy, too?
What could she ever have done to make him think she might like him? She couldn't even see how her mother could like him he was such a creep! His hair was greasy, and his fingernails were always dirty, and he smelled bad, too. And not just from the beer he was always drinking.
It was like he never even took a bath.
She'd known this moment was coming.
months, ever since she turned sixteen, she'd felt him watching her, staring at her when he didn't think she was noticing. She'd even told her mother about it, but her mother hadn't believed her, had even told her she wouldn't believe her unless she saw something herself. But Dawn knew Elvis Janks wasn't dumb enough to let her mother see anything-whenever Mavis Sanderson was around, Elvis always acted like he didn't notice Dawn at all.
This afternoon, though, with her mother safely at work, Elvis was looking at her in a whole new way. A way that sent shivers down her spine and made her feel sick with fear Her heart pounding, she tried to edge out the kitchen door, but suddenly her knees threatened to buckle beneath her Sensing her fear, Elvis Janks rose from the table and lurched toward her, his lips twisting into a mocking sneer "Come on baby, " he rasped, a rivulet of saliva dribbling from the corner of his mouth. "You know you want it as bad as I wanta give it to ya." An ugly cackle bubbled up from the thick phlegm in his throat. "You want to do it right here, or go into your mama's bedroom?"
Legs shaking, Dawn backed away from him, but before she was out the door, Elvis Janks was on her His sinewy fingers closed so hard on her wrist that a squeal of pain erupted from her throat.
The sound seemed to excite him, and as his fingernails dug even deeper into the flesh of her wrist, Dawn silently cursed her lack of control Maybe if she hadn't uttered the sound, he would have left her alone.
But she couldn't help it-it felt like he was breaking her wrist!
Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God Dawn clamped her jaw Against the scream that was pressing up from her throat. She wanted to scream with the pain and the fear She wanted to scream her head off.
But who would come? The house across the driveway was abandoned, and the people on the other side of Sandersons worked all day. Besides, people around here yelled and screamed all the time, and no one paid any attention anymore. And even if they did, so what? Elvis would deny everything, and her mother would believe him instead of her, and nothing would change.
Nothing at all! Elvis was fumbling with her blouse, and Dawn felt his callused, filthy hand touching her breast.
it was his touch that finally set off her temper, releasing the pent-up resentment that had been building in her ever since her mother had let Janks move in with them. And as a tiger flooded through her, so also did a renewed strength.
She jerked her wrist free from Elvis Janks's grasping fingers and hit him, slapping him hard across the face. It surprised him so much that he let go of her breast.
As he moved to grab her again, Dawn shot out the door, neither looking back nor slowing down until she was out of sight of the house.
Without making a conscious decision, Dawn knew exactly what she was going to do. She walked purposefully toward the mall ten blocks away and the cash machine that would give her access to the secret bank account she'd been building up for almost a year, stashing away nearly all the money she earned from her baby-sitting jobs. She realized now that she'd been moving steadily toward this decision for months.
She wasn't acting on an angry whim or trying to punish her mother over some petty issue.
She wasn't failing in school, or running around with the wrong crowd, or getting into drugs.
She just didn't want to get raped by her mother's boy friend, and she was certain that if she stayed around, that was exactly what would happen. Better just to leave quietly, and begin her own life.
Dawn knew what she wanted to do-she'd known for a long time. She wanted to go to Hollywood and take acting lessons, and become an actress. Not a star-just an actress. She was pretty sure she could do it-she'd been in the school Play this Year, and last year, too, and everyone had told her she'd been really good.
Given a chance, and the right training, she knew she could be even better Good enough, maybe, to earn a living at it.
As she stood in front of the cash machine, taking out just enough money to feed herself while she hitch hiked down Interstate 5, Dawn Sanderson had already mentally left her past in Los Banos behind, and begun to make her Plans for a future in Los Angeles. By the time she walked out of Los Banos, heading for the interstate ten miles to the west, her dreams were already taking shape. She would find a little apartment, and a job, and spend whatever free time she had taking acting lessons and getting her high school diploma. Her stride quickening to keep pace with the rapid working of her mind, Dawn walked along the edge of the pavement, barely aware of the passage of time as she put mile after mile behind her. It was just starting to get dark by the time she reached the massive expanse of concrete that ran straight down the valley as far as she could see, unwavering in its southward route, absolutely featureless.
Should she start hitchhiking now, in the fading light of evening?
Better to wait until morning. It would be safer then, If she wasn't going to be raped by Elvis Janks, she sure wasn't going to be raped by some stranger, either what seemed like endless hours later, Dawn looked up into the first faint light of morning. The sky was clear but the stars, which had been twinkling above her all night long, were fading quickly as the blackness of the night was washed away by the rising sun, until finally there was only one star left.
The morning star She gazed at it for as long as it remained visible, feeling an odd connection with it that she didn't quite understand until the point of light finally disappeared into the brightening of the new day.
Only when it was gone did Dawn take it as an omen After all, this was the first morning of a new life, and in the brightening light, she realized she'd actually survived all the fears that had closed around her last night while she tried to sleep in the semishelter of a bridge over the interstate. All through the restless night, she'd awakened with every sound-every howling coyote and rumbling truck-to stare up into the vast sky while struggling to control her fear of the darkness surrounding her and all the unseen creatures that might be hiding in it.
Demons so close she had sometimes felt she could almost reach out and touch them.
Now, though, after making it through the dark, menacing night, and seeing the morning star, it seemed everything was going to be all right after all. And not only would she have a new life, but she'd have a new name, too!
Dawn Morningstar That's what she'd change her name to the minute she got to Hollywood.
Lots better than Dawn Sanderson.
Dawn stretched her aching muscles and stood up. She was hungry, but there were no fast-food places on this part of the interstate, and she didn't want to waste any of her money on breakfast anyway.
That was one of the fears that had crept up on her in the night. What if her bank account, which had seemed so large yesterday, wasn't enough for her even to rent an apartment? Then what?
She resolutely put the thought out of her mind, stood up and brushed the dirt and leaves off her clothes. What should she do first? Start hitchhiking south, or try to find a place to wash up?
The decision made. When she realized that it was so early there was practically no traffic on the highway.
Hunger gnawing at her stomach, Dawn began trudging southward. Far in the distance she could just make out what looked like a gas station, where at least she could rinse the worst of the dirt off her hands and face, and maybe get a cup of coffee to see her through the morning.
And maybe a doughnut, too.
She was still a mile from the exit leading to the gas station when she heard a car slow down behind her A moment later it passed her, then pulled off onto the shoulder By the time she drew even with it, a man had gotten out.
"You okay?" he asked instantly, all the training Dawn had grown up with, all the admonitions she'd heard never to speak to a stranger, rose up in her mind, and for a moment she was tempted not even to reply, but to simply walk past the car and keep going until she got to the gas station.
But then what?
If she wouldn't even speak to an ordinary-looking man who was asking her if she was all right, how was she ever going to hitchhike?
She stopped a few yards short of the car and eyed the man cautiously, reassuring herself that he looked just like anyone else, like hundreds of men she'd seen in Los Banos every day of her life.
"I'm trying to get to that gas station, " she said finally.
"I slept under the bridge back there last night.
The man glanced back at the overpass, which was barely visible in the distance. "Running away?"
Dawn hesitated, then shrugged She'd never been very good at lying, and besides, what was the point? Still, she didn't think she was so much running away as simply leaving. "guess. I just decided it was time to leave home. "Sort of, move to Los Angeles."
"Did your folks agree?" the man asked.
"I don't have any folks, " Dawn replied, deciding it wasn't quite a lie, since her father had died before she was born, and her mother was far more interested in Elvis Janks than in her. The stranger seemed to accept her words- "Well, if You want a ride, I can get you to the gas station. I got to fill up anyway." He got back into the car and glanced at Dawn.
She hesitated, and a second later the man shrugged The car started forward, pulling quickly away as it moved back into the traffic lane.
"Wait!" Dawn called, breaking into a run as she dashed after the fast-accelerating car. For a second she was certain the man had neither seen nor heard her, but then the car slowed again. She caught up with it, and when it stopped pulled the passenger door open and slid inside. "I guess I better take what I can get, huh?" she asked. The man grinned at her, then started up again and turned his attention back to the road Less than a minute later, just as he had promised, he pulled off at the exit and into the gas station. "Use the bathroom while i fill up, " he told her "And I'll get us both some coffee.
Ten minutes later, when she came out of the women's room he was waiting behind the wheel, the engine idling.
The scent of fresh coffee drifted from the open window.
Sliding back into the passenger seat she found a steaming plastic cup perched on the dashboard in front of her, along with a doughnut. "Thought you might be hungry,,, the man said as he pulled back onto the southbound lanes of 1-5.
"Thanks," Dawn said biting hungrily into the doughnut, and washing it down with gulps of the hot coffee.
A few minutes later, just when the coffee should have been doing its work in reviving her, Dawn realized that she was feeling sleepy.
So sleepy she could hardly keep her eyes open.
'Wow, " she said, trying to shake the gathering fog from her head "What did you do, put something in my coffee? "
The man next to her said nothing. Slowly, he turned his head to look at her The expression on his face had changed His eyes glimmered oddly. A vein throbbed in his forehead.
His hand reached out to her. Dawn Sanderson raised her own hand, tried to fend him off, tried to pull away from him.
But the sleepiness was closing on her, and her whole body felt heavy.
So heavy she couldn't move.
As a blackness even darker than last night's closed around her Dawn Sanderson knew that she had made a terrible mistake.