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LEBANON , TENNESSEE , 1995 The Tennessee night was screaming. Eric Powell ran clumsily through the tall grass behind his grandparents’ house. He stumbled down the sloping embankment toward the thick patch of swampy woods beyond, hands pressed firmly against his ears. “I’m not listening,” he said through gritted teeth, on the verge of tears. “Stop it. Please! Shut up.” The sounds weredeafening, and he wanted nothing more than to escape them. But where? The voices were coming from all around. Eric ran deeper and deeper into the woods. He ran until his lungs felt as if they were on fire, and the beating of his heart was almost loud enough to drown out the sinister warnings from the surrounding darkness. Almost. Beneath a weeping willow that had once been a favorite place toescape the stress of teenage life, he stopped to catch his breath. Warily he moved his hands away from his ears and was bombarded with the cacophonous message of the night. “Danger,” warned a tiny, high-pitched squeak from the shadows by the small creek that snaked through the dark wood. “Danger. Danger. Danger.” “They come,” croaked another. “They come.” “Hide yourself,” something squawked from withinthe drooping branches of the willow before taking flight in fear. “Before it is too late,” it said as it flew away.

There were others out there in the night, thousands of others all speaking in tongues and cautioning him of the same thing. Something was coming, something bad. Eric fell back against the tree trying to focus, and his mind flashed back to when he first began to hear thewarnings. It had been June 25, of that he was certain. The memory was vividly fresh, for it had been only two months ago and it was not easy to forget one’s eighteenth birthday—or the day you begin to lose your mind. Before that, he heard the world just like any other. The croaking of frogs down by the pond, the angry buzz of a trapped yellow jacket as it threw itself against the screens on the sideporch. Common everyday sounds of nature, taken for granted, frequently ignored. But on his birthday that had changed. Eric no longer heard them as the sounds of birds chirping or a tomcat’s mournful wail in the night. He heard them as voices, voices that exalted in the glory of a beautiful summer’s day, voices that spoke of joy as well as sadness, hunger, and fear. At first he tried to block them out,to hear them for what they actually were—just the sounds of animals. But when they began to speak directly to him, Eric came to the difficult realization that he was indeed going insane. A swarm of fireflies distracted him from his thoughts, their incandescent bodies twinkling in the inky black of the nighttime woods. They dipped and wove in the air before him, their lights communicating a messageof grave importance. “Run,” was the missive he read from their flickering bioluminescence. “Run, for your life is at risk.” And that is just what he did. Eric pushed off from the base of the tree and headed toward the gurgling sounds of the tiny creek. He would cross it and head deeper into the woods, so far that no one would ever find him. After all, he

had grown up here and doubted therewas anyone around who knew the woods better. But then the question came, the same question that the rational part of his mind had been asking since the warnings began. What are you afraid of? The question played over and over in his head as he ran, but he did not know the answer. Eric jumped the creek. He landed on the other side awkwardly, his sneakered foot sliding across some moss-covered rocksand into the unusually cold water. The boy gasped as the liquid invaded his shoe, and he scrambled to remove it from the creek’s numbing embrace. Its chilling touch spurring him to move faster. He ducked beneath the low-hanging branches of young trees that grew along the banks of the miniature river, then he plunged deeper into the wilderness. But what are you running from? a rational voice...