Condemned, стр. 82

would have been more horrified had the man not been crazy and responsible for Jared's death.

"Get undressed," Trevor said. "Shove the black clothing in the red backpack. We'll throw it away at the rest area on the way to Newman. We'll toss the sneakers too."

The flash of police lights sped along the main road toward the Forest Lake Passway.

"Small town, fast response," Conner said. "We should wait, like, five minutes to make sure no more cops or fire trucks pass by."

"What time is it?" Adam asked.

Trevor popped open the console and handed out the phones.

"Almost three thirty," Conner said. "If we wait much longer, it'll be five o'clock by the time we get home."

"Let's get changed," Trevor said. "Then we'll hit the road."

"You okay to drive?" Conner asked. "Are you tired?"

"Are you kidding me? I'm wide awake now."

A moment passed before Adam released a loud, boisterous cackle. "Sorry. I shouldn't laugh now. But that was effing funny." He slumped on the back seat and repeated Trevor's energetic tone. "I'm wide awake now."

The car filled with laughter, and when their laughs had dwindled to a lingering chuckle, Conner said, "Let's get the hell outta here."

Initially, the drive home was quiet. The transient scents of gasoline and smoke lingered in the air, although Conner was certain that the fumes were stronger in recollection than actuality. The shock of the burning man had diminished as though the rough, jagged edges of the image had worn smooth by the passing of time and detachment. The more Conner watched the scenery outside the widow, the more the bright orange flames faded from his mind.

Trevor never once drove over the speed limit. At a rest area, the three sauntered to the men's room to wash up. On the way back to the car, Adam casually tossed the red backpack into a rusty dumpster.

Once they were within miles of home, Trevor said, "We're never telling anyone about tonight. Not Lou. Not Stella. Nobody."

"Of course not," Adam replied.

Conner agreed. "This is our secret to keep forever."

Their experience that night only further solidified their bond, strengthening their friendship in a way no one could understand. Still, Conner understood that no matter how well kept or infrequently thought, their secret would always linger like the light, discolored outline of a scar.

The three bumped fists. "Always and forever."

"Always and forever."

"Always and forever."

AUTHOR'S NOTE

When I was young, two horror films that freaked me out the most were Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and William Friedkin's The Exorcist. As an adult, they still freak me out. I consider both masterpieces, and I don't believe either can be duplicated or surpassed in achievement. So, I never toyed with the idea of writing my own version of either story.

Yet one night, I found myself watching Youtube "first time reaction" videos to both films. While the reaction videos were interesting and entertaining, they reminded me of why I would never attempt to write a similar novel. I could never write something that was equal to what I considered untouchable classics.

I write stories primarily about people and relationships while dealing with supernatural or other horror elements. Therefore, I recognized that I wouldn't want to write a typical possession/exorcism story anyway.

The seed of the idea for Condemned came to me once I understood that I'd much rather write about how the possession/exorcism affected the people close to the victim. Could I write a novel about possession and exorcism without having the actual possession and exorcism in the novel? I instantly thought of Conner, Adam, and Trevor. From the friendship of those three characters, the idea for Condemned blossomed into a full-fledged plot.

Most of my stories begin with an introductory scene that leads into the buildup of the plot. And my endings typically feature a bit of a character's life following the climax of the main plot. However, I liked the idea of beginning Condemned with the moment that the plot kicks into gear and then ending with the moment that the climax concludes. I know it's a bit unorthodox compared to a lot of novels. I also realize that some readers might be turned off by the sudden conclusion, but I truly believe it was the best way to end Condemned. The experience—the scar—that Conner, Adam, and Trevor share starts with the first line of the novel and ends with the last. And that's exactly how I want readers to experience the boys' story.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thank you to my wonderful editor, Angela Houston. It's always a pleasure working with you. I'm already looking forward to the next project.

Thank you, Dr. Julie Sellers for assisting with the proper Spanish and French in this novel.

A thank-you to those of who you gave me early opinions on the synopsis and cover drafts. Your feedback was very much appreciated.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In addition to being a published author, Christopher Renna is also a developmental editor with a focus on the work of young writers and indie authors. He lives in New York with his husband, two children, and their rescued dogs.

For more information, visit his site www.christopherrenna.com, or connect via social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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