It was barely past noon but it felt like nightfall. The pine trees formed a thick, dark canopy over the winding dirt road – sunlight barely pierced the cover of the branches in spots overhead. Burnt, stunted, twisted pygmy pine trees with multiple trunks dotted the sides of the road, needles shooting out at odd, random angles. A few feet past those trees, beyond the scrub oaks, moss, and ferns, sand pits that could swallow a car the same way the Bermuda Triangle consumed ships were hidden by the underbrush. And in other spots the ground was still scorched black from the fires three summers earlier.
Dance grit his teeth as he steered the Jeep down the road. He hit every bump and ditch hard enough to lift him out of his seat, no matter how slowly he drove. His shoulder banged against the roll cage as he jerked the wheel back and forth, trying to avoid the ruts carved deep in the sand but it was useless.
He hadn’t been down this road in a few years; probably not since the fires. It was his bad luck to be the only deputy on duty when Sheriff Cole called.
“Need you to swing by Tilden Brown’s place,” the Sheriff had said. “He hasn’t been seen in days.”
“So? Nothing unusual about that.”
“His Momma’s starting to worry. Ain’t like him not to show.”
“Probably just lost track of time,” Dance said.
“Maybe,” Cole said. “But I still need you to drive out there and make sure everything’s okay. You never know what that boy is into.”
That was what worried Dance. Everything about Tilden was trouble. He just hoped this didn’t have anything to do with the meth lab Tilden kept on his property.
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