GENRE: Gay Paranormal Young Adult Romance
LENGTH: 38,532 words
Cody Langdon moves to Florida to start over after a failed suicide attempt. His mom hopes the change in scenery will do him more good than the medication he refuses to take, but Cody hates the sweltering summer heat and the loneliness of living in a state without any friends.
With several weeks to go until school begins, Cody sulks alone in the house while his mom works. Refusing to acclimatize himself to his new surroundings, he insists on wearing his usual black clothing and cranks the air conditioning all day.
The odd thing is, Cody hasn't seen a single sign of life since his arrival on Tanglewood Road. The lawns are well-kept, cars are parked in the driveways, and trash is put out once a week, but Cody has never actually seen anyone living on the street. Slowly, his thoughts spiral into obsession and paranoia. Where is everyone?
Then Cody stumbles upon a support group for those who have survived demonic attacks. The posts online only strengthen Cody's resolve when he learns about a murderous demon who has long stalked Southwest Florida. Has this same demon set up residence on Tanglewood Road, or is Cody's cabin fever getting the best of him?
“Aw, man! This sucks!” Cody shouted in case anyone could hear. “I don’t know anything about how lawnmowers work! I’d give someone fift -- uh, ten -- bucks to help me out!”
He looked around, waiting for a response.
The whole thing practically drove him crazy. There had to be someone around. Wasn’t Florida supposed to be full of retirees? Someone had to be home on a weekday afternoon.
“Screw this,” Cody muttered to himself. He stormed onto the sidewalk and headed for the next house over.
The one-story home looked similar to his own, with a large, screened-in entryway. He knocked on the outer entrance and then decided to open the screen door.
“Hello?” he called out. He spotted a buzzer and pressed it. “Just a friendly neighbor in need of some help. That’s all.”
He pressed the buzzer twice more before giving up and moving on to check the next house.
“Not here to murder anyone, just having some mechanical problems. Anyone home?”
But no one answered that door, either, or the next three he knocked at. He even tried the handle of the last door, only to find it locked. He returned to his house, took off his sweaty shirt, wrung it out on the lawn, and then finished mowing.
The sun beat relentlessly down on him, and he felt exhausted pushing and pulling the lawnmower, but he finished the job after another hour, and returned the machine to the stuffy garage.
He pulled the heavy door down and slid the metal lock through the grooves, sealing himself in the darkened room. He headed toward the door leading inside to cool off, but the door wouldn’t open.
“What the hell?” Cody asked. He didn’t think he’d locked it. His chest heaved, still exhausted from the workout. It had to be even hotter in the garage than outside. He tried the door handle again, but the door wouldn’t budge. Sweat dripped off his long hair and chest and landed on the sandy pavement.
He fumbled for the light switch but the bulb didn’t turn on. He felt dizzy and could barely see. Cody turned around and stumbled toward the garage door. He tripped over a toolbox and crashed onto the hard floor. He felt dirt and oil on his chest and legs. His right knee throbbed and he sucked in hard to regain his breath. He got a whiff of a foul stench and he heard something nearby.
The sound had a steady rhythm, like something breathing in and out. A spider skittered over Cody’s fingers. He felt himself panicking -- energy shot through his arms and he heaved himself up to his feet. He imagined large spiders and cockroaches lurking in the dark.
The breathing continued, far too close, raspy and wet.
Cody hurried to the garage door and grabbed the square handlebar. Hands stinging, he yanked up, but the door stuck on the lock. The breathing sounded closer and he felt a presence over his shoulder. Fingers trembling, Cody pulled at the metal lock and then heaved up on the door.
Sunlight poured into the room. Cody leapt into the driveway and spun around to confront the breathing.
The garage looked just the same as it always had, with the addition of a blood smear near the scattered tools. Cody looked down at his own body, grimacing at the scuffed knees and grit on his chest.
Cody lowered the garage door with a bang. He crossed in front of the house and tried the front door, but it wouldn’t open.
“Come on!” He feebly pounded on the door “Please ...”
He checked his pockets. He didn’t even have his cell phone. He dropped to the front step and put his head in his scuffed hands. His mom wouldn’t get back for hours. He considered trying the pool area, but he knew the backdoor was locked. He considered diving in the pool to cool off, but he was afraid to get chlorine in his cuts.
He remembered his bedroom window, and hoped that wasn’t locked.
Cody stood back up and shimmied between the orange stucco wall and the shoulder-high hedge. The branches stuck out and slapped his chest and legs. He pictured the frogs, spiders, lizards, snakes, and bees that probably inhabited the hedges. He could practically feel scales on his ankles and wet slithering across his skinny torso.
He rounded the back of the house one careful side step at a time and finally reached his bedroom window. He quickly put his palms under the wooden crossbeam and pushed up.
Nothing happened for a second, but the window gave way and swept up. The cool air inside sucked out like a nice breeze on Cody’s face.
“Gym class finally paid off,” Cody muttered as he hoisted himself into his bedroom. He crashed down on the other side, bruising his shoulder and hipbone. He rubbed at the tender spots, thankful for the dirty clothes that slightly padded the hard tiled floor. He stood back up, shut the window, and got himself a large glass of water in the kitchen.
Cody’s head spun, so he sat on the couch, panting and miserable. His sweaty back and legs stuck to the couch and he stank, but back inside he felt safe once again.
The water gone, Cody shuffled into the bathroom, shimmied out of his shorts and boxers, and turned the shower on. The water scalded him, but he hung his head, his thick swatch of black and yellow hair forming a triangle pointing at the grit and grime washing off his body. He stood still for a few minutes, staring at the dirty water swirling down the drain.
The moment Cody turned the water off, someone knocked at the front door -- three steady, authoritative pounds. Cody panicked, haphazardly rubbing a towel over his chest and legs.
“One minute!” Cody shouted.
Three more knocks sounded.