Chapter 1

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Jake hunched over a small dining room table, his head resting in his hands. His house was too quiet. He’d been sitting there for hours, oblivious to the sound of the incessant tapping of his foot against the hardwood floor. Not even his churning stomach distracted him from his festering thoughts, burdened with indecision and doubt.

Lifting his head, Jake scanned the front of the house, uncertain how it had come to this—him up in the middle of the night with a feeling of dread looming over him…dread that he would make the wrong decision…a decision he might regret for the rest of his life.

The house was dark and quiet, a combination Jake would have welcomed a few days ago but was now unsettling. The bluish haze of dawn filtered in through the barely cracked blinds, casting shadows through the small, conjoined kitchen to his right that was still in disarray from him rushing around over the last 48 hours. The adjacent living room to his left was stark, and with the exception of the twinkling, rainbow lights on the Christmas tree in the furthest corner, it looked like it had been forgotten. There was no noise save for the sound of his own breathing and the occasional creak of the house settling. For the first time, Jake felt utterly alone.

How many hours had he been sitting there, wasting time? According to the glowing, red numbers on the microwave above the old, tan stove, more than four hours had passed since he’d sat down to think. Four hours, and he still wasn’t sure what to do.

Jake shook his head, dispelling the urge to close his eyes and sleep. Why hadn’t the damn doctor returned his calls? Hadn’t he been clear with the receptionist? And he’d left several voicemails in the last 24 hours alone. It had been four days since Dr. Bishop told them Becca’s illness was a simple flu that needed to run its course, four days since he’d prescribed ample rest and copious amounts of fluids, and in those four days, Becca had only worsened. She’d become sleep deprived and delusional and had lost her appetite…she was completely convinced her vivid dreams of blood and death and torture were real.

It wasn’t the goddamn flu, or a simple fever…his sister was losing her mind.

The longer Jake sat there, the more exhausted he became, and he struggled to stay focused. Straightening, he scrubbed his hands over his face and stared at the cordless phone in its cradle on the tile counter beside the refrigerator. With the doctor nonresponsive and his sister’s hysterical pleas to avoid the hospital at all costs, Jake could only think of one other possibility:

Gabe, Jake’s best friend. He knew people, and if there was ever a time to call in a favor, now—when Jake felt more desperate than ever—was that time.

Jake rose from his chair, its legs scraping against the worn hardwood as he scooted it back. Muscles feeling leaden and sluggish, he took two steps toward the phone. He reached for the receiver, pressed TALK, brought the cool plastic to his ear, and paused. There was no dial tone.

Hanging up, he tried again. Still nothing.

Frustrated, Jake hung up the phone and took a few wavering steps into the living room toward the L-shaped sectional situated beneath the picture window. Becca’s purse was on the arm of the sofa, and he hoped her cell phone was inside.

He dumped the contents of his sister’s purse onto the couch cushion. A pink-cased cell phone, among an array of other items, landed on the worn leather with a soft plop. Jake paid little attention to the contents rolling in between the cushions, instead fumbling to turn on the phone.

Luckily, the cell illuminated to life, and a picture of Cooper, their Husky, lying on his back with his tongue hanging from his open mouth, filled the screen. Impatiently, Jake scanned through the icons, searching for the phone function. Finally finding it, he typed in Gabe’s cell number. There was a reason Jake didn’t have a cell phone—they were expensive, easy to break, and after shattering one and losing another, he’d decided they weren’t all that important.

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