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Chapter One - Travis
“Tell me again why I’m doing this?” Travis huffed.
“Oh come on, it’ll be fun.” Lewis flipped on his blinker and cut into the other lane of traffic. A horn blew behind them.
Travis grabbed the ‘oh shit’ bar, heart pounding. “Christ, did you even look just then? Know what? Never mind. You didn’t hit anybody so we’re calling that win. And as far as fun goes… I’m not sure what you’re talking about qualifies as fun. And Jesus, would you stop? I hate that sound.”
Lewis had finished his drink but was still sucking on the straw which resulted in that hair-raising sound when there was no liquid left in the bottom of the cup.
“Oh? You mean this?” Lewis sucked hard on the straw again.
Travis cringed. If Lewis wasn’t driving, he’d smack the hell out of him for that.
“And what’s your deal, man?” Lewis scowled down at the cup he held as if he suddenly realized it was empty. “You know it’s nothing more than just a bunch kids in masks running around screaming and shit.”
Travis glanced out the passenger side window. “I’m not a moron. I know it’s just kids. It’s just… I’m not a big fan of being scared shitless.”
“It’s a haunted hayride. How scary can it be? I mean, seriously. Besides, this’ll be a good chance for you to meet some of my friends.”
Lewis had a point. He moved in with his friend a little over a month ago. Travis and the asshole he’d been living with for a year had broken up, and since the apartment was Darnell’s, Travis found himself out on street. Darnell had been in his forties and was a lawyer.
He hated to admit it, but he might’ve been slightly dazzled by the older man. Fortunately for him, Lewis’s roommate had just moved out, and Lewis needed help with the rent. Thank God Lewis had been there for him even though they’d fallen out of touch.
“How much does it cost?” Travis reluctantly asked.
“Tell you what. If you’ll go, I’ll pay your way. How does that sound?”
“You got a deal.”
Lewis parked in front of the automotive shop. “You want me to hang around until you leave?”
“Naw, no need. Someone called earlier and said it was ready. All I had done was an oil change.”
“Okay. I guess I’ll see you at home. The hayride starts at dark, but I want to get there about nine. Does that sound good to you?”
“Yeah.” Travis checked the radio’s digital clock. It was only five. “I need to run by the store and pick up a few things, and then I’ll be on my way home. Need anything?”
“Pick up a box of condoms, would you please?”
“Funny how that’s the first thing that came to mind. I swear, you’re such a horn dog.”
“And your point is?” Lewis snickered. “Come on, man. I’ll pay you back at home. Don’t make me go to the store for just that one thing. You’re going anyway. Pleeeeease? Huh? Will you?”
“Jeez, if it’ll stop all the whining, sure.”
“Aw, you’re so good to me.” Lewis punched Travis in the arm good-naturedly. “I’ll split them with you.”
“I just got out of a relationship. The last thing I’m looking for is another relationship.”
“Who said anything about a relationship? You, my man, need to get laid. Badly. What do they say about falling off a horse? You gotta back up on it and ride.” Lewis held his hands up like he was holding reins and made a motion like galloping.
“Now I have that burned in my mind, thank you.” Travis started to say something about pony play, but let that slide. It would take too much explanation. “So, you use that line with the female persuasion?”
“Of course not. Jesus, man, are you insane? I’d never say that to a woman. She’d probably punch me. Probably in the nuts.”
“Can’t say I’d blame her. That was pretty lame.” Travis got out, shut the door, and leaned against it. The weather in the South was just beginning to turn cool, so Lewis had the windows down. “Any more pearls of wisdom?”
“Not the moment. I don’t want to overwhelm you, so I have to dole them out a little at a time.”
“Un-huh. Right.” Travis stood up. “I’ll see you shortly.”
“See you later.”
Travis walked to the entrance of the automotive shop. Behind him he heard a loud radio thumping. How Lewis stood it that loud was a mystery. Dude was going to be deaf by the time he was thirty, which wasn’t too far off. Lewis was twenty-eight and he was twenty-six.
He paid for the oil change and retrieved his key. The guy behind the counter was hot, but didn’t flip his switch. Since the breakup no one had got his motor running. He got in his Jeep and drove to Walmart. He was low on cash so he wouldn’t be getting much.
He and Lewis split the grocery bill and also took turns cooking dinner. Tonight was Lewis’s night. Travis had a job with an advertising agency, but of course it was ground level. He barely made enough to support himself, but eventually that would change. Lewis was a computer tech for a cable and satellite television news channel and was doing pretty well.
After a quick trip to Walmart, he drove back to the apartments. Since he had an armful of groceries, he used his foot to knock on the door. When the door didn’t open, he kicked hard.
“Hey Lewis, it’s me. Little help please? Hellooooooo? Come on, dude, these are getting heavy.” What the hell was Lewis doing in there? Travis kicked the door again.
Still no answer. Mumbling under his breath, Travis kicked the door again. “Probably jerking off, the ass. Swear to God—”
The door opened with a snap.
“Oh good, so glad you could be bothered to….” Travis gulped. That wasn’t Lewis standing at the door. “Who the hell are you?”
Whoever was blocking the door was extremely tall. A board chest stretched out in front of him, and oh man, he loved the good chest. Travis licked his lips.
He looked up into some of the darkest, sexiest chocolate brown eyes he’d ever seen. His hair was a mess of golden red curles and quite eye-catching. He wondered if the rest of the hair on the guys’ body was quite as… fiery. His cock jumped as it slowly filled. Oh jeez. Now you want to show some interest in somebody? Lovely. He seriously needed to get his mind out of the gutter and get his dick under control. He wasn’t sure the guy was even gay.
“My name is Red.”
Of course it is.
“Lewis asked me to get the door since he’s busy cooking dinner. Need some help?”
Of course I do.
“You okay, man?”
“Huh? Oh! Ha! Yeah. I, ah… I, ah… sure. Help. Thanks.” Dear God, this dude had reduced him to stuttering. Been a while since that happened. Travis handed over one of the heavier bags of groceries. “Are you, ah, a friend of Lewis’s?”
“I am.” Red took one of the bags and moved out of the doorway. “Known Lewis since about the fifth grade.”
Lewis came out of the kitchen wiping his hands on a dishtowel that he then threw over his shoulder. “Hey Trav, this is my friend, Red. Red? This is Travis Walker. Trav? This is Red Crawford.”
Travis shifted the bag he held and threw his keys into a little bowl on a table next to the front door. “We just met.”
“I forgot to tell you he was coming over,” Lewis said. “He works part-time for the tattoo shop located on Main.”
“Oh, oh yeah, I know who you are.” Travis followed Red and Lewis into the kitchen where they deposited the grocery bag on the counter. “You did the tattoo on Lewis’s shoulder, didn’t you? You’re that Red. Lewis talks about you all the time.” Travis stuck out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”
Red shook his hand. “Nice to meet you too.”
Indeed it was. Travis freely admitted he had a thing for tall, muscular guys, but this is the first time he’d been attracted to a ginger. Red had a firm handshake but hadn’t tried to crush Travis’s hand. Was it his imagination or did Red hold his hand a little bit longer than was strictly necessary?
“Anybody want a beer?” Travis asked after Red released his hand.
“Sure, I’ll take one,” Lewis said.
“I’ll get them, Lewis. You keep an eye whatever you got cooking on the stove over there. It smells too good to let it burn,” Travis said. “Red? You want one too?”
“No thanks. But I’d take a soda if you got any.”
“Sure thing.” Travis opened the refrigerator door and looked inside. “We got Dr Pepper that’s cold, and I picked up a twenty-four pack of Coke today. Any of that sound good?”
“Dr Pepper, please.”
“You want it over ice or still in the bottle?”
“Over ice, please. And thank you.”
Travis took the drinks out of the refrigerator and shut the door. When he turned around he caught Red staring at his ass. That was encouraging. It was odd, though. Normally he went after men with dark hair. Red’s name—and he assumed Red was a nickname—fit him. After everyone had a drink, he wandered over to the stove.
“What’s for dinner?” Travis asked.
A big pot had pasta boiling, and a skillet had spaghetti sauce cooking merrily away. The oven was on so he cracked open the door and peeked inside. The smell of garlic had his mouth watering.
“Spaghetti. Hope that’s okay,” Lewis said.
Travis shut the open door and straightened up. “Okay? Man, it’s more than okay. It smells fantastic. What possessed you to do this?”
“Red hates pizza,” Lewis said.
“Hey now, it’s not that I hate pizza, it’s just… well, being a bachelor and all, it’s easier to order a pizza than try to cook for one.” Red sipped his soda. “If I had to decide between a home-cooked meal, and a box of bread and tomato sauce, guess what I’m going to take?”
“I’m not sure this exactly falls into the category of a home-cooked meal.” Lewis stirred the pasta. “I bought the pasta, and the spaghetti sauce is Ragu. I just added spices and hamburger meat. Hell, I even bought the garlic bread.”
Red grabbed a hand towel and popped Lewis on the ass with it.
Lewis yelped. “Hey!”
“I’m trying to give you a compliment.” Red twirled the towel as he readied it to deliver another blow. “Shut up take it.”
I’d love to, thanks. Travis coughed then cleared his throat. He barely managed to get his mouth shut before the words popped out.
“You okay over there?” Red asked.
“Erm….” Travis cleared his throat. Lewis held the spoon he used to stir the spaghetti. Red held the towel he used to pop Lewis. Both of them stared intently at him. “What? Why are you two staring at me like that?”
“You, ah, made this weird sound.” Lewis shrugged and then went back to stirring the spaghetti.
Red regarded Travis, one red eyebrow lifted high. He passed by Travis and laid the hand towel on the counter. “Frankly, it’s one of my favorite sounds,” he whispered.
Well, that certainly answered his question of whether or not Red was gay. Or at least bi. He choked back another needy whimper.
“Check him out. He’s as red as your hair.” Lewis snickered.
Travis picked up the hand towel next to him. “Apparently Red didn’t hit you hard enough. Here, let me fix that.” Travis rolled the towel up.
“Hey, hey, hey!” Lewis danced in front of the stove waving the spoon around. “See this? I’m not afraid to use it.”
“Please.” Travis rolled his eyes, but did drop the towel back onto the counter. “It’s a spoon.”
Lewis shot him a glare. “It a wood spoon. You don’t want to know what can be done with a wood spoon, trust me.”
Travis hiked an eyebrow. He didn’t even know where to begin to ask what that meant so he ignored it. Until later. Maybe.
Jeez. A wooden spoon?
Satisfied he made his point, Lewis turned back to the pot of spaghetti. “Not sure if that look is supposed to be one of terror or interest. But that’s a discussion for another day. I’m trying to cook here, so be nice, or all you’ll get is a cheese sandwich.”
Red leaned against the counter. “I think he’s serious.”
“You bet your ass. This stuff is ready. Red? If you’ll get the plates, Trav can get the salad out of the refrigerator.” Lewis turned everything off. “I’ll get the garlic bread out of the oven.”
Pretty soon everything was set up and ready to go.
“Where are we eating?” Red asked.
Lewis picked up his plate and walked out of the kitchen. “Den.”
Travis frowned at his plate. Den? Why were they in the den? Usually if Lewis caught him even glancing in the general direction of the den with food screaming commenced. Shrugging, he grabbed his plate and followed Lewis.
Lewis immediately plopped his ass in the recliner.
Well, hell. The only other seat available was the couch they had. It was apartment sized, which meant it only fit two people comfortably… and Red was already sitting there. His plate and glass sat on the coffee table in front of him.
Travis shot a look at Lewis. O-o-okay, what was going on here? Since when did his friend play matchmaker? Stomping down his nerves, he joined Red on the couch. He no sooner put his plate on the coffee table when Red’s knee touched his. A tingle raced through his body. Jesus, don’t pop a boner. Boner bad. Bad boner.
It was like having a personal electric stove sitting next to him. Aw man. He popped a boner, sure enough. Thank God his shirt was untucked. The heat from Red soaked into him. There was plenty of room, but Red’s left knee remained resting against his. Did he always pump out this much heat? Lucky dude.
Travis was cold natured, and damn near froze to death in the winter. Bet sleeping with him is like having your own personal electric blanket. He shivered at the thought. He barely met the guy, and he was already thinking about sex. Talk about jumping the gun.
I’d rather jump him.
At this rate his cock was never going to go down. After they finished eating—and he talked his cock down—Travis washed the dishes since Lewis cooked. He heard the TV click on. Over the mindless drone Lewis and Red’s voiced drifted to him, but he couldn’t understand hear what they were saying.
The hair on the back of his neck rose. A cool breeze kissed the skin on the back of his neck, and he shivered as chill bumps broke out. A few seconds later he felt the heat of someone standing behind him.
“Need some help?” Red’s breath whispered across the back of his neck.
“Sure.” Damn urge to whimper hit him again.
Red moved next to him finally, and Travis could breathe easier. He handed Red the sudsy plate. Their fingers touched, and once again he felt that tingle bolt up his arm.
Red rinsed it and set the plate on the drying rack. “No dishwasher, huh?”
“Nope. The apartment didn’t come with one. I don’t really mind washing dishes, but Lewis tends to leave his plates in the sink. Half the time he doesn’t clean the food off. Which means I have to really scrub to get them clean.”
“Okay, that’s just gross.” Red held his hand out for another dish.
“I agree.” Travis handed him another plate. “I’m ready to start buying paper plates.”
“I’d take the nasty, crusted things and set them on his nightstand. Maybe if that was the first thing he saw when he first woke up, he’d get the message.”
“Oh, that’s evil.” Cackling, Travis handed Red a glass. “I like it. I may have to try that.”
“Credit me with the idea.” Red shoulder-bumped Travis. “I ain’t scared.”
Travis caught his breath. Every time they touched, his body tingled. Every single time. He’d never experienced that before, and he liked it. “I’ll remind you of that when you get a phone call.”
“He has a ring tone.”
“Like I said, evil.” Travis handed Red another glass. “Lewis roped me into going to the haunted hayride tonight. You going?”
“Now isn’t that funny? He invited me along too.”
“Really?” Travis handed Red a couple of forks he just washed.
Red caught his hand, and Travis looked over at him. “Really. He also told me about his good friend who recently moved in with him—his friend who happens to be gay. Like me.”
Dammit, he knew it. He was going to kill Lewis the first opportunity he got. Then again, that damn wooden spoon of his might be a deterrent. “Aw jeez, he set this up, didn’t he?”
Red squeezed Travis’s fingers before releasing them. “He did, yes, but I asked him to. Does that bother you?”
Oh wow, Travis asked Lewis to set this up? “No, I’m just surprised. I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m glad he did.”
“Good. Now, about this hayride….”
“It’s been years since I’ve been on one, but I’m actually looking forward to it.”
“Me too.” Red tossed the towel he’d been using to dry the plates and glasses onto the counter. “I don’t remember what time Lewis said he wanted to leave.”
“He wanted to get there about nine.”
Red checked his watch. “We have an hour, then.”
“Yeah.” Travis dried his hands on the towel and placed it on the counter too. “You okay with watching TV for a while?”
Chapter Two - Red
Red leaned against the counter. Even from here he could smell Travis’s natural scent. The guy smelled like cinnamon rolls. “Whatever you want sounds good to me.”
“TV it is, then.”
Red was more than okay with sitting on the couch and watching TV. From the moment he’d seen a picture of Travis on Lewis’s cell, he’d been interested. More than interested. That simple look had told him how important Travis would to him. The combination of dark brown hair and icy, light blue eyes intrigued him. It was such a striking combination.
Lewis had flipped through the channels until he found some stupid reality show that totally engrossed him. Red followed Travis back to the den and sat down beside him. Now he found himself in a bit of a pickle. Should he take it slow? Or should he move right in?
He didn’t want to frighten Travis, but on the other hand…. Oh, what the hell. Faking a big yawn, he stretched one arm out, and then flopped it down on the couch cushion behind Travis. Okay, so far so good.
Now, should he leave it like that? Or should he pull Travis in close to him? He crossed his legs, letting his right ankle rest on his left knee. Okay, Travis was still sitting there so that was a good sign. Maybe he should just….
“Seriously, dude? The 80s called and they want their move back.” Lewis snickered.
And there went a blush crawling over his cheeks. It was the one thing he really disliked about having red hair. While the freckles didn’t bother him, there was no hiding that damn blush. Luckily for him, Lewis seemed to be the only one who triggered such a reaction. Well, it was settled. As much as he hated it, he was going to have to kill Lewis.
Red shot Lewis a glare. “I’d tell you to bite me, but you probably do it.”
“I do consider biting foreplay,” Lewis countered. “But as hard as it is to resist your manly physique, I’ll try. So not biting. Sorry.”
Travis patted Red’s knee. “Ignore him. I do. And besides, do you hear me complaining?”
Red shot a glare at Lewis, who just rolled his eyes in return. Yep, murdering him was looking better and better. But then he pursed his lips. Lewis had a hand in throwing him and Travis together.
Well, hell. Maybe he wouldn’t kill him after all. He decided to put that little chore on the Things-to-Consider-Later list. Now that he was sitting so close to Travis, all he could smell was cinnamon rolls. He was so hard he hurt.
He wanted to bury his nose in Travis’s neck and sniff around. Maybe even nibble a little. Yeah, nibbling was definitely going on his To-Do list. He moved his arm off the back of the couch and moved it around Travis’s shoulders.
Seeing he still had the green light, he let his fingers trailed across Travis’s shoulder. That earned him a small smile and a slight giggle. He was so mesmerized by Travis’s soft skin that when Lewis spoke he damn near jumped off the couch.
Lewis picked up the remote and clicked off the TV. “You guys ready to go? I think we better leave now so we have plenty of time to get there. I bet the place is going to be packed.”
“Where where we going?” Travis asked as he patted Red’s knee and stood.
“Cedar Lake Farms,” Lewis said. “They have other things going on out there beside the haunted hayride. There’s also a corn maze. I thought maybe we could do that too.”
“Yeah, just what I want to do. Go run around in a field of corn. Wasn’t there a horror movie based on that?” Travis asked.
Red stood. “Several. And everybody dies.”
“Lovely.” Travis shook his head.
“So, everyone riding with me?” Lewis asked.
“Sounds good to me.” Travis looked at Red. “What about you?”
“Yeah, I can do that.”
Red followed Travis and Lewis out to Lewis’s car. The night had definitely cooled off. Travis immediately went to the back door of the car.
Red laid his hand on Travis’s arm. “Oh hey, I can sit in the back seat.”
“It not a big deal. Besides, your legs are longer than mine, and there’s more room in the front seat.”
“Well, I’d sit the back with you but…” Red glanced in the back seat. Unfortunately Lewis had a milk crate full of odds and ends sitting in the other passenger seat.
“Sorry about that. That’s some stuff I packed up that was in my office. I haven’t taken the time to get it out of the car,” said Lewis.
“Wait, what? You’re packing up your office? Travis asked.
“No, no, no. I’d didn’t mean to make it sound like I was packing up my office. I’m not. I just had a bunch of stuff in there, and it was getting too crowded. That’s all,” Lewis said. He thumbed his keys fob, and the car headlights blinked as it unlocked.
“Thank God.” Travis opened the car door. “There’s no way I could handle the rent and everything else on my own. I just don’t make enough.”
“No worries. My job is solid. Now let’s go have fun.”
Red opened the door and got in the front seat. Lewis had hinted heavily to him that Travis didn’t have a lot of money, so his remark came as no surprise. They listen to the radio on the way there so there wasn’t a lot of conversation.
It turned out to be a good thing they had left a little early since there was a line waiting to get into the farm. There were people stationed in various places with flashlights who directed the incoming traffic where to park.
Once they parked, everyone got out, and Lewis locked the car. “Okay,” he said putting on his coat. “Haunted hayride or corn maze walk. Which one do you guys want to do first?”
Travis looked at Red, then Lewis. “I never said I was going to the corn maze.”
“I’ll be there to protect you.” Lewis winked at Travis. “I won’t let anything get you.”
Travis rolled his eyes. “Great. Who’s going to protect me from you?”
“Me.” Red quickly patted Travis on the ass. “Promise.”
The cute little ‘eep’ sound from Travis made his night as did the perky firmness he felt under his hand. He couldn’t wait to get a hold of Travis’s ass. It promised to be a fine one.
As they walked through the gate to the farm, off to the side, was an old looking yellow tractor. On the ground in front of the tractor was a gigantic weathered board. Written in drippy red lettering were the words Halloween special: Bodies buried $5. Really deep $10.
Travis snorted as he pointed out the sign. “Someone has a twisted sense of humor.”
Lewis busted out laughing but didn’t say anything thing.
Red grinned at the oversized sign. “Appropriate though, don’t you think?”
Travis just shook his head as they long walk along the gravel drive leading up to where they had to pay the admittance fee. “I’ve never been here before, but I’ve heard good things about it.” Travis looked over at the huge hay bale painted to mimic a jack-o’-lantern’s face. “They’ve certainly have gone all out.”
Lewis looked at the numerous hay bales, pumpkins, and mum’s place all around the entrance of the farm. “A doctor here in town and his wife bought it a long time ago.”
“Probably use it as a tax write off,” Travis said as they joined the rest of people in line.
“I heard the wife was pretty much in charge until a couple years ago,” Lewis said. “Apparently the doctor retired, and he and his wife concentrated on the farm, but they turned the running of it over to the son.”
“Wow. How big is this thing?” Travis asked.
“About 120 acres.” Red rested his hand on the small of Travis’s back and urged him to move up in line. “It’s called Cedar Lakes because there are several ponds on the property, and the entire farm is enclosed with a cedar fence.”
“That’s a lot of fence.”
They finally made their way up to a table where several people were taking money and handing out wristbands for all the activities at the farm. Lewis held out the money and received the three armbands which he gave to Red and Travis.
“Thanks, man,” said Travis.
“Thanks.” Red slipped the band on his arm, a slight smile on his face when several of the ladies taking tickets did a double take at seeing him. “Okay, hayride? Corn maze?”
“Jeez, you guys aren’t going to let it go, are you?” Travis zipped up his jacket. “Fine! Hayride, then. We’ll see about the corn maze.”
Lewis lightly shoved Travis. “Ha! I knew it. Man, you’re so easy.”
Travis scowled at Lewis. “I’m easy? Right. I can’t keep up with all the people parading in and out at your bedroom.”
Lewis waved his hand airily. “Spice is the variety of life.”
“Uh-huh. Well, here lately you’ve been rolling in it. And I’m still not sure about going to the corn maze.”
Read leaned in close and whispered into Travis’s ear, “You want to go through the corn maze. Trust me.”
Unable to help himself, Red pressed a small kiss to the shell of Travis’s ear.
“Oh my goodness.” Travis jumped like he’d been electrocuted.
Oh, so sensitive. Where else was Travis sensitive? Red quickly grabbed Travis’s elbow to steady him. “Easy there.”
“Trust you, huh?” Breath hitching, Travis faced Red.
This close he could see how enlarged Travis’s pupils were. The temptation to lean forward and kissed those full lips were strong, but he didn’t. Not yet. Standing so close to the other man, Travis’s scent wrapped around him, teasing him.
“Okay then,” Travis said, beginning to pant. “I’ll go.”
Travis’s sweet breath whispered across his face. He must’ve been sucking on a breath mint or something earlier. “Good.”
He eyed Travis’s lips and was pleased to see Travis respond by licking his lips. The urge to sink his hand into Travis’s hair and jerk him closer was almost a living thing inside him. He wanted to taste Travis, to kiss him senseless, to demand those luscious lips open to his.
He wanted to hear Travis moan and whimper, to feel him rubbing desperately for relief against him. The sizzling need between them was ridiculously insane. He knew what that meant. He hoped Travis felt the same. The urge to bed him was growing.
He never felt such a burning desire for someone, and it was slowly getting the best of him. Hell, he’d bed Travis on the ground if needed. Get a hold of yourself! Instead he stepped back and discretely rearranged his cock. Off to the side he saw Lewis smirking at them.
“One haunted hayride coming up. It’s this way. Come on.”
Chapter Three - Travis
Holy shit. Travis trembled. His body was on fire. Okay, not really, but it sure felt that way. Desire coursed in his veins, and he was so hard he could pound nails. He’d never really understood that phrase until now.
His cock pressed against the zipper, and it ached. It was a damn good thing his coat was one of those long types that came down around his thighs, otherwise everyone who glanced at him would see how hard he was.
When Red whispered in his ear Travis’s eyes threatened to roll back in his head. The soft, warm breath against his skin felt amazing. There were moments he could have sworn Red was going to kiss him. And he wanted him to.
Hell, he wanted to do a lot more than kiss. There was something about the other man that flipped a switch in ways no other man ever had. Not that he’d had a lot of experience, but still. Naughty, naughty thoughts crowded his brain as they waited in line for the hayride.
Red stood very close to him, their bodies almost touching. There were lots of people around, and random electric poles with bright utility lights on them, but the darkness still afforded some measure of cover.
There was the urge to do something wicked, but he dared not. This was the South, after all. They were lucky they lived in a fairly open-minded community, but there was always a chance a redneck was around.
A tractor pulled up with a trailer behind it. There was hay scattered on the floor of the trailer, but there were seats instead of random hay bales passengers sat on. The driver counted out fifteen people then waited as they climbed into the trailer.
Once everybody was seated, the driver went over the rules. The main rule was staying in the trailer, especially when it was moving. Under no circumstances was anyone on the hayride supposed to get out of the trailer. The driver stressed that over and over.
Somehow Travis found himself sitting between Red and Lewis. After the driver finished covering the rules, they were off. The darkness immediately swallowed them up. They weren’t moving very fast, but the trailer groaned and squeaked as they made their way down the dirt road. The smell of a bonfire reached him first as they rattled along.
Maybe it was him, but the woods on either side of the road seemed creepier than normal. Then he heard the moans. Oh God. His stomach tightened, and he grabbed the edge of the seat. Between one moment in the next, Red unclenched his fingers from the bench and held his hand.
The warmth of Red’s hand surprised him. It was a cool night, after all. The trailer grinding to a halt quickly dragged his attention away from Red. On the side of the road sat one of those old, square business-type vans that was used to transport either the mentally ill or prisoners.
It looked like it had caught fire at one point. The entire back of the burned-out van was an awful grayish white. Red squeezed his hand then suddenly the van’s doors burst open. Inside was a partially decomposed zombie in a straitjacket who wailed and moaned.
It struggled up from its knees and slowly made its way to the ground… then lumbered toward the trailer, its eerie moaning rising in intensity. People on the trailer screamed as other zombies slowly and painfully dragged themselves from the woods.
A low, unnatural chant of ‘brains’ rose from them. The sound sent chills up his back. He knew it was just kids with makeup done from kits they probably bought from Walmart, but it still left him panting with the urge to jump out of the trailer and run.
Good thing Red had a hold of his hand.
The tractor started up and pulled the trailer away from the moldy zombies. They made several more stops. One was a shack with a couple rednecks out front; one was paying the banjo while another one held a shotgun.
The guy with the shotgun was talking to the people in the trailer when suddenly someone covered in blood burst out from the shack’s screaming horribly. As the rednecks chased the bloody person, the trailer pulled off from the shack.
They did a couple more stops: one was a graveyard where body parts stuck up from the ground and a casket was partially open with something trying to climb out. Another stop was a pirate ship where a couple of the people jumped off the ship and made a run at the trailer.
They also stopped randomly along the dirt road so creatures could come rushing up to the trailer. There was one guy with a rabbit mask, but the damn thing look like it was a rabbit hyped up on drugs with creepy eyes and awful teeth.
Some of stops were kind of interesting, and made his hair stand on end, but some were kind of lame. There were a couple teenage girls on the trailer who screamed at everything. They were shrill enough to peel paint when they screamed.
They’d been out there for quite a while, so Travis figured the ride was about to come to an end even thought it felt like they were slowing down, which was odd. Then there was a popping sound.
“Are we stopping?” Travis asked. “And what was that?”
Red said something under his voice and then looked up toward the cab of the tractor. The cab door opened, and the guy driving the tractor hopped down. He held a flashlight and walked toward the trailer.
“Dammit.” Red sighed and turned toward Travis. “No, this isn’t part of the ride. There’s something wrong.”
“Red?” The driver continued walking down the trailer calling Red’s name. “Mr. Crawford?”
“What’s going on?” Travis asked. “Why is he looking for you?”
“Well, hell. Short answer is I do tattooing part-time at the shop, and when I say part-time it’s more like just a few hours a week. You see, I run the farm. My parents owned it. That’s why the driver is looking for me.”
“Oh, okay.” Travis scratched his head. “Not really sure why you didn’t tell me that earlier.”
Lewis snorted. “Because dummy, his parents are filthy rich.”
“Um, his parents are filthy rich… doesn’t mean he is.” Travis looked between Lewis and Red.
“Over here, Paul.” Red waved at the driver, and then looked at Travis. “Thank you for that. You’d be surprised how many guys want to date me because they think I’m rich. I do okay, but Mom and Dad’s money? That’s their money, not mine.”
“Don’t forget the inheritance left you by your grandmother,” Lewis added.
“Shut up,” Red said.
“I don’t want to date you because you’re rich,” Travis said.
“But you do want to date me, right?”
“Excellent.” Red pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. “Let me take care of getting somebody out here with another trailer to get these people back, and we’ll talk.”
Lewis acted like he was wiping his hands off as he grinned. “My job here is done.”
It took about a half an hour to get a tractor out there, get the people loaded, and get them on their way. Lewis and Travis stayed behind with Red. The driver went back with the other trailer, but he left his flashlight with Red.
“So what are you going to do about this tractor?” Lewis asked.
“Not much we can do about it tonight. Paul’s going to bring back some reflective traffic cones to put around it. Thankfully he got it somewhat off the main road. The other tractors with trailers can go around it.”
“That’s good,” Travis said.
“Yeah.” Red frowned at the tractor. “I’ll have to call someone tomorrow to either come out and fix it or move it off the path.”
“Well, at least Paul left the flashlight with us,” Travis said.
“Worried?” Lewis joked.
“I’m not fond of the dark, as you well know.” Travis moved a little closer to Red since he was holding the flashlight.
“I’ll protect you.” Red winked at Travis.
Travis started to say something, but he paused. What is that? He glanced around but couldn’t see anything, although he could have sworn he heard something. “Guys? Did you hear that?”
Lewis looked at Travis and then looked at toward the woods. “Shit.”
Travis stared off into the woods. “It sounds like… like… running.”
Red suddenly shouted. Travis’s head stepped around as he stared at Red. “What?”
Suddenly something dark and hairy darted from the woods—something with glowing red eyes and long fangs. Really long fangs. Are those dogs? Wild dogs?
“What the fuck?” Travis stepped toward Red.
Growls and snarls filled the air as the things converged. The next thing Travis knew, one of them flung itself at Red and knocked him down to the ground.
“Shit!” Travis yelled. Desperately he looked around for something to use as a weapon.
Red rolled on the ground with the dog. He had his hands wrapped around the dog’s throat, trying to keep it from his own neck. The dog snapped and snarled, biting at Red madly.
“Lewis! What do we—”
Lewis shrieked as he went down with a dog on top him.
“Oh fuck,” Travis whispered. This can’t be happening. A growl caught his attention. Without turning his head, he stared off to the right. Another dog stalked him. What do I do? Oh God, what do I do?
Travis took a step toward Lewis, but stopped then turned around took a step toward Red. The dog stalked him bared his teeth and barked furiously. Oh God, oh God. He felt sick. His stomach cramped and heaved, threatening to send its contents up.
Panic strangled him as he turned in a circle, unsure what to do. He wrung his hands. He took another step toward Red when one of the most god-awful sounds he’d ever heard froze him in his tracks.
It sounded like bones breaking.
He wanted to gag. Then he wanted to pass out because there, right before his very eyes, Red turned into a dog. His clothes were scattered on the ground. Now he and the other dog were rolling around viciously fighting each other. Spots danced before Travis’s eyes, but they cleared up real quick one when another dog suddenly jumped in front of him.
It backed into him, stepping on his foot.
Holy crap this thing weighs a ton. Unable to move his foot, Travis went down. Next thing he knew he had a face full of furry butt, and he was pinned against the tractor. Facing outward, the dog protecting him barked and snarled at anything that came near.
Only then did he realize that what he thought were dogs, were actually wolves. Fucking wolves. And Lewis was nowhere to be seen, but his clothes were. And there was a blond wolf now in front of him, trying to protect him.
The blinking lights were back and dancing a jig.
The dog—wolf—was a beautiful platinum blond. Just like Lewis. He glanced at where Red had been standing a minute ago. Now there was a huge, dark auburn wolf fighting with another wolf. Jesus God how he wished he’d stayed home and….
Holy crap, he shared his home with a wolf. “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.”
He couldn’t believe it. Any of this. Something tickled his nose, and he glanced up. That was a tail, and the tail was attached to… yeah. It was hard to ignore the furry butt of his best friend in his face. Werewolves, shifter—whatever the hell they were—they existed, and several of them surrounded him.
He heard a sharp yelp, and one of the wolves went flying across the road. He was pretty sure it was the one Red had been fighting. It didn’t get back up. The huge auburn wolf bound across the road toward where Travis sat against the tractor and he recoiled as fear screamed through his body.
He jumped up… and slammed his head against something on the tractor. Grabbing his head, pain howled through his head as his vision wavered. Well, something howled. Oh God, he was going to be sick. He fell to his knees and swallowed repeatedly.
The pounding in his head increased as his vision darkened around the edges. He noticed how large the wolf was compared to the rest in the clearing. It crashed into the wolf barking at him. The two of them rolled across the dirt road.
The other one was a dirty brown and not as large as the auburn one. The sounds of them fighting were awful. Snarls and growls came from the tangle of limbs and sharp teeth. It left his heart pounding furiously as fear raced through his body. Slumping over, everything went black.
* * * *
Groaning, he opened his eyes. Not again. Since the end of September he’d been having that same nightmare over and over. Each time a little more was revealed. What did the damn thing mean?
He crawled out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. His eyes were bloodshot, and he was pale, but other than that he looked fine. He turned on the faucet, cupped his hands, and filled them with water. After he quenched his thirst, he brushed his teeth and showered.
Silently he returned to his room and dressed and then made his way to the kitchen. Lewis was sitting there eating breakfast. He nodded to his roomie, grabbed a bagel, and headed out the door. Last thing he needed to do was be late for work. As he drove one word echoed through his mind…. Red.
Now he just needed to figure out who or what that was.