Name: Kessie Carroll
Genre: YA urban fantasy
Title: Storm Chase
Carda never intended to total his car.
The drive home from college seemed normal enough--Pheonix traffic always snarled up at the 202 interchange.
Carda drummed his fingers on the steering wheel and whipped from lane to lane. His red Miata was so much fun--like driving a go-kart. And the other guys kidded him about a Miata being a girls' car. No way, man. He was six feet tall and built like a bouncer--he could drive whatever car he liked.
Rayne Mistral's jibes stung the worst, though. "Is that your latest addition to your Hot Wheels set? Or is it a purse on wheels?"
Carda gritted his teeth. Little jerk. It was a good thing he never went in for physical violence. Although a sound whipping in a road race might show Rayne whose car was superior.
The image of his mother's disapproving face flickered in his mind's eye. "Carda, don't race your car on the highway anymore. No mother should have to bury her son." Guilt crept through him. He wasn't racing at the moment, was he? He was poking along through traffic, only changing lanes every few minutes.
As traffic slowed to a crawl, he pulled up beside a white vintage Firebird. Rayne's car. They made eye contact. Rayne sneered and threw Carda a one-fingered salute.
With a surge of temper to match his red hair, Carda held up three fingers and mouthed, "Read between the lines!"
Rayne revved his engine and bumped the pastel-green Beetle ahead of him. The driver looked over her shoulder, eyes wide. She was a cute brunette Carda's age, and the expression on her face filled Carda with protective rage. Nobody treated a cute girl like that and got away with it.
Rayne jerked his head at Carda.
"Oh, you wanna race?" Carda scanned traffic down the road. They'd almost passed the exit and in the distance the traffic jam was breaking up.
Rayne bumped the Beetle again. The girl inside it shot Carda a pleading look.
"Knock it off!" he yelled at Rayne, although his windows were rolled up. "You're scaring her to death!"
Rayne laughed and cut in front of him, nearly scraping the Miata's bumper. Carda hammered the horn and stomped the brake. Rayne would pay for that.
Traffic turned from thick sludge to a fast-flowing river. The Firebird shot away up the highway. Carda shifted into third gear, then fourth, eyes never leaving the Firebird's taillights. The Miata's engine screamed.
The Firebird caught up to three semi trucks passing one another, creating a rolling roadblock. Rayne had to slow down. Carda nudged alongside him and waved. Rayne snarled. They drove side by side, watching the trucks, hovering, ready to dive for the first opening.
The girl's Beetle drew up behind Carda. He glanced at her in the rearview mirror. She crouched over the steering wheel and stared back at him.
Was she wearing cat ears? Carda glanced over his shoulder. Sure enough. She was either a weirdo or incredibly hot.
Taking advantage of Carda's distraction, Rayne cut between the Miata and the Beetle. The girl slammed her brakes and honked. Carda swore.
The Firebird's bumper slammed into the Miata's fender.
The lightweight Miata spun out and skidded across two lanes. Panic adrenaline flooded Carda as he fought the steering wheel. Crap! He was totally roadkill!
An SUV smashed into the Miata. Additional horror kicked Carda in the gut as the car rolled and crumpled around him. Metal bent and glass shattered. The noise was terrifying. Oh crap I'm dead I'm dead--
A semi hit the Miata like a freight train. The car flew into the air, cleared the roofs of three other cars, and plunged toward the pavement. Carda clung to the steering wheel with every muscle in his body. I don't wanna die I don't wanna die!
Carda's palms burned.
The approaching road halted a foot from his windshield. Carda hung upside-down, teeth clenched. He had time to notice the seatbelt digging into his shoulder and stomach, and the multiple throbbing pains where he'd struck the car. Glass plinked from the shattered windshield to the road below.
He must be dead and his brain had stopped. That must be why everything had turned purple. Weren't there supposed to be angels when a person died? Or a bright light? Carda glanced around. No angels, but lightning danced over the frozen cars. Was there lightning in Heaven, or was that a Hell thing?
The road retreated from the windshield, which smoothed over and became solid glass again. The Miata slowly turned over and sank back to the road in its proper lane. The other cars ran backward up the freeway and the Firebird swung back onto his tail. Everything moved slowly, dream-like. Carda gasped long, deep breaths.
Still alive, then. He must have a concussion.
The purple tint and lightning faded away, and the world sprang back into motion. Again Rayne's Firebird cut between the Beetle and the Miata. This time Carda floored the gas before Rayne could clip him, and the Firebird fell behind.
Carda kept driving, scanning his mirrors, heart thundering in his chest. No wreck. Was this real?
Carda deserted the freeway at the next off-ramp. He dropped into a random Phoenix neighborhood composed of two-story houses and gravel yards sprinkled with acacia trees. There he parked at a curb and sat trembling, running both hands through his red hair. He checked his face in the rearview mirror. Green eyes stared back at him, glazed with shock, but there were no bruises. Good grief. Even if he hadn't been in a wreck, something had happened to him.
Carda opened the door, climbed into the desert sun and stood still as his stomach threatened to evacuate its contents. But after a moment the discomfort subsided and he slowly circled his car. It was a Mazda Miata MX-5 Roadster--his first love. No damage marred the body's perfect curves. He leaned against the passenger door and rubbed his face. Encroaching insanity, that's what it was.
Footsteps scraped on the sidewalk. Carda glanced up. A man in a black business suit and silver sunglasses stood on the sidewalk. Heck, in this neighborhood, suits were probably required dress. Where had he come from, anyway?
Carda straightened up. "Sorry, I only parked here for a minute."
The stranger slammed his thumbs into Carda's temples.
Carda yelped and fell against his car. Cold fingers dug into his skin and Carda's eyes threatened to pop from their sockets. Electricity sparked through his head, and for some reason an image of the lightning around his car flashed through his mind. Carda's muscles twitched and turned to water. He grabbed the man's wrists as he sank to the ground.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Carda wanted to laugh in disbelief. First that terrible non-wreck, now a mugger. A sense of unreality drifted over him. This couldn't be happening.
Electricity jolted down Carda's arms, and his palms flashed with searing heat.
The man swore and let go.
Carda's arms fell to his sides. He sat against his car with colored spots swimming before his eyes. His head throbbed and a smell of chlorine invaded his sinuses. Slowly the world swam back into focus.
His attacker had disappeared.
Carda dragged himself to his feet, shaking his head. Home sounded like a really great place to be right now. Home--where he could hide.