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CHAPTER LIST

INTRODUCTION

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

EPILOGUE

CHAPTER 1

Stifling a yawn, Frank Hardy realized that he should have double-checked the directions back to New York that had been hastily scribbled on the back of a napkin. The drive to Boothbay Harbour had been straightforward, but that had been in brilliant sunshine. They also hadn't included his friend's little known, but foolproof, 'shortcut'. And he hadn't been so tired. The drive back home seemed to be taking forever and at times he wasn't sure he was still on the right road. Nothing looked familiar in the ground hugging fog.  

Reaching for the controls of the rental car's CD player, Frank raised the volume on a favourite song while trying to squint through the moisture that was forming on the inside of the windshield. The only-sometimes-working defroster hadn't been the most pleasant discovery he had made since picking up the Rent-a-Wreck. The wipers, which had been getting a steady workout and looked like they hadn't been replaced since the car had rolled off the factory line, had been another little surprise the counter-person had neglected to mention. He just hoped they would outlast the rain. The weather had taken a nasty turn in the late afternoon and, so far, had shown no signs of clearing any time soon. The deep blues and greens of the ocean that had lined the road along coastal Maine at the start of the trip home were now hidden in the complete darkness of night. Leaf-bare branches of trees that ran the length of the road formed a moisture-laden canopy overhead that kept up a steady shower of large droplets as the car travelled underneath them. The branches looked like intertwined fingers, blackened and gnarled, as they suddenly appeared in the car's headlights only to fade again into the inky gloom. Watching them, and listening to the hushed swish of the wipers and hum of the heater, had an almost tranquilizing effect that the older Hardy was finding hard to resist as the night wore on. The even, deep breaths coming from beside him weren't helping. 

Frank took his eyes off the dark and lonely road for just a moment to glance over at his brother. Joe hadn't said a word for the last half-hour. For his usually talkative younger brother, that wasn't just rare, but also a little worrisome. Long distance trips with Joe were always filled with bad jokes and amusing stories. Frank was sure that his brother saved them just for those trips. He could count on one hand the number of times that Joe had slept through the drive. 

"Hey, Joe," he called softly, "you okay? I thought you were going to keep me awake." He gave his brother a small grin as sleepy blue eyes slowly opened to blink at him. "Those snores coming from your side of the car wasn't what I had in mind." 

Taking in a lungful of air, the blond teen stretched his cramped body as far as he could in the small confines of the car. "Sorry about that." He peered out through the passenger window, trying to see through the thickening fog, but all he could see was black and more black. "My head's still throbbing. It's just been easier to keep my eyes closed." He hit the light button on his watch, sending up a faint green glow into the car's interior. "Man, it's already 10:00. Any idea where we are?" 

"Back up a minute," Frank said, frowning. "What do you mean your head's still throbbing? I thought you said back there that you felt just fine." His frown deepened, thinking that he'd been an idiot to actually believe his brother where his health was concerned. Joe had to practically be in Intensive Care before he'd admit that he felt anything less than 'just fine'. "That was a pretty good knock to the head you took. Why didn't you say before that you had a headache?"  

"Yeah, I guess stopping that baseball with my head wasn’t the smartest thing I've ever done. But I stopped that guy from stealing home." Chuckling to himself, Joe hunkered down in his seat and leaned his head against the headrest. "I didn't say anything, Frank, because anytime I do it's like you start channeling Aunt Gertrude." He raised his hand as he saw his brother take a breath to protest. "Don't deny it, bro, 'cause you do." Raising his voice slightly in pitch, he continued. "Are you sure you're feeling all right, Joe? Why didn't you say something, Joe? Do you expect us all to guess when you're not feeling well? I sometimes think you never use the common sense God gave you, young man." He laughed again at the indignant look on his brother's face.  

"I do not sound like that."  

"Okay, okay," Joe said in placation, shooting his brother a wide grin to prove that he was teasing. "That was more Aunt Gertrude, but you do do a good imitation of her." Massaging his temple, Joe tried to ease the tension that had started to build there. "You didn't answer my question. Where are we?" 

"Well…" Frank gave his brother a sheepish look. "I'm not really sure." 

"You're not really sure?" Joe's eyes widened. "We're lost?" 

"Not lost, exactly," Frank groaned. "Just not where I expected us to be."  

"And that would be?"  

"Somewhere between Boothbay Harbour, Maine and Bayport, New York." Frank's grin faded as he watched his brother wince. "Headache's a bad one?"  

Nodding, the younger Hardy rubbed at the knot at the side of his head. "I've had worse. I guess I'm just tired and I've been fighting it most of the day. Whaddya say…?" 

"That we pull off at the next town and call it a night? Sounds good to me. I'm beat, too." Frank's last words were muffled by a large yawn. "Can you keep an eye out for the next sign? I think I'm missing them in the fog." 

"Sure, Frank." Keeping his eyes trained on the road ahead, Joe tried to swallow a yawn of his own. "You know, at first I thought that you'd lost your mind when you insisted that we play in that baseball tournament. It's a little late in the year to be playing baseball. Halloween's just a couple of days away. And when was the last time we'd even seen those guys? Two, three, years ago?" 

"And?" 

"And I had a great time. I'm glad I let you talk me into it. Even if we are in the middle of nowhere right now, on a road that looks like it was taken right out of one of those dumb teen slasher movies." Leaning forward, Joe squinted, trying to read the sign that was coming up. "Slow down, Frank, there's a sign up there, but it's a little worn."  

Frank slowed the car to an almost crawl. "Okay, I see it. Cas…cas…something. Can you make it out?" 

"I think it says Castle Rock." Sitting back straight in his seat, Joe turned slowly to his brother. "That's a joke right? There really isn't a Castle Rock, Maine, is there? I thought that it was just some place King invented to torment people."

"So did I. But I guess if it's small enough, not a lot of people would have heard of it." He raised his eyebrows in question. "What do you think? Do you wanna take the chance or keep going?" 

"Can we pass up the chance to say that we spent the night in Castle Rock?" Joe asked.  

"Castle Rock it is, then." Checking that no others cars had suddenly appeared on the deserted road, Frank took the gravel-covered cut-off. Twenty minutes later he was softly cursing the decision to go to Castle Rock. No wonder not many people have heard of the real town, he thought as the tires dipped and bounced into a pothole, you can barely see the turn-off through all the brush. And when's the last time anyone's done anything to this road? He gritted his teeth when the car hit another hole in the road. Maybe this isn't such a good idea after all. "Joe, I think we should …" A soft snore stopped Frank mid-sentence and he shook his head. That kid can fall asleep anywhere and through anything. But his brother's mention of a headache had him a little worried. If Joe's headache was bad enough to actually admit having one, then a good night's sleep in a proper bed was what he needed. Smiling affectionately at his brother, Frank kept travelling towards Castle Rock.

 

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