Chapter 1

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It was Friday night in the small town of North Temple, Tennessee. North Temple was a town, like most others, where most everyone knew everybody else and football was a big thing on Friday nights. It had all of three traffic lights and four places to eat, three of them fast food. However, the fourth was a small restaurant called Gina's. Everyone considered this the best place to eat in town, so on Friday night, it was the place to be with its big screen TV to watch football on. This Friday, just like all the others, Gina's was slammed with business all night until it closed at eleven and everyone reluctantly went home. Once the doors were locked, all the hired help quickly rushed through the nightly clean up procedure hoping they would be able to leave before midnight.

Melody Johnson was one of those employees in a hurry to get home. It was exactly eleven forty-five when she finished vacuuming her section of the restaurant and put away the vacuum she had been using. She was a full-time waitress at Gina's, had been for almost two years now, and most of that time she'd worked the three to eleven shifts, just as she had tonight. She was now completely exhausted and more than ready to go home and fall into her bed. As she headed for the door to do just that, purse in her hand, she loudly called out to her boss, "I'm going home now, Sally!"

"Alright Melody, I'll see you tomorrow night," Sally yelled back from her spot next to the cash register, giving a quick wave.

Melody stepped outside with a tired sigh and paused under the well-lit metal awning over the door. She stood there for a long moment, letting the cool evening air dry the sweat on her brow, as she took a deep breath. The cool air also helped to revive her a bit after the stuffiness of the restaurant. She then began to make her way to her car as she dug around in her purse for keys. After finding them, Melody hit the unlock button causing her car alarm to beep. Opening the driver's side-door she quickly crawled in before cranking the car and heading home.

She lived on the outskirts of North Temple, almost into the countryside where a lot of the town folk raised soybeans and corn. It normally took her about twenty minutes to get home, but tonight she was so tired she found herself driving faster, and hoping no cops were watching the road. Almost there, the radio blasting to keep her awake, she was brought out of her thoughts of a cool shower when a sputtering sound started coming from the car. Instantly, she looked down and saw the gas hand had sunk down below the empty mark.

"Really Dan? You borrow my car for two days and bring it back to me sitting on empty? This is why I should never let you use my car; I always fill you tank up when I use your truck," Melody grumbled as she steered the car toward the side of the road. Thumping the steering wheel, she wished with everything in her that it was her brother Dan's head instead! With a tired sigh, she carefully steered the car to the side of the road and turned it off, shutting off her headlights as she did. "I don't need a dead battery on top of everything else." Yanking her purse out of the floorboard, she pulled her cell phone out. Holding it up she whined, "Just my luck, no signal! This night just keeps getting better and better."

Laying her head down on the steering wheel, Melody tried not to cry. Here she was, out on a deserted road, having left the small town behind her, at almost midnight, with no way to call her brother. After a moment, she lifted her head back up and stared out the windshield at the empty road ahead of her. It would be nice if one of those cops I didn't want to see earlier would drive by about now, she thought with a heavy sigh.

Then, turning her head, she looked out the side window at the darkened woods and frowned. She'd heard tales all her life of what lived in the woods but didn't believe most of them. Of course, her brother lived to terrorize her with the stories when they'd been younger. To this day, she still slept with a nightlight because of those, usually gruesome, tales her brother had told. Now, here she sat, dreading the fact that she was going to have to walk the rest of the way home along the forest line.

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