Under Zenith, page 1
Shannen Crane Camp
Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing, LLC.
Novi, Michigan 48374
The right of Shannen Crane Camp to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him/her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it was published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Cover Design by Rue Volley
Edited by Elizabeth A. Lance
All rights reserved
Published by Crushing Hearts and Black Butterfly Publishing, LLC.
This one is for all of those amazingly imaginative people out there who’ve made movies, games, books, and everything else that inspired me to write crazy dreamscapes that could only exist in my odd little imagination. And for my mother-in-law who gave me much needed breaks from writing with fudge sundaes, ‘Once’, and drives through the orchards just because we wanted to. And, as always, for The Husband.
Also by Shannen Crane Camp
The Breakup Artist
Finding June (The June Series #1)
Chasing June (The June Series #2)
Sugar Coated (The Sugar Coated Trilogy #1)
It was a hard dry pill to swallow that all of those sappy love songs had been right all along. You never knew what you had until it was gone. Just like you never really knew how to feel alive until you were already dead.
At least, I didn’t really know what living was until I had died.
Okay fine, if I’m being fair here I still might not quite know what that felt like since I still hadn’t figured out if I was really truly dead or not. You wouldn’t think it would be so difficult to know, but apparently it was completely impossible to figure out.
Go figure huh?
But I’m getting ahead of myself a little. Or maybe a lot since I decided to start off this whole thing with the I-think-I-might-be-dead, bomb. But standing on the side of the road looking at my own, possibly dead, body could shake a girl up a bit.
On the bright side, the night leading up to my sort of death had been a really good one. So I had that going for me.
In the end, I think I could chalk it up to one sad fact: I had been killed by Mumford and Sons and a dog.
“Is-la,” the hostess called out, completely mispronouncing my name and causing my family to exchange secretive smiles.
“It’s Isla,” I said, hoping my thick southern accent wasn’t preventing me from getting my message across. “Eye-lah,” I said again, this time slowly. “You know, like an Island? You don’t pronounce the ‘s’.”
“Okay, well your table is ready,” the girl continued, just as perky and clueless as ever.
I guess sometimes it just wasn’t worth trying to correct people. It wasn’t their fault my name was impossible to pronounce correctly when you saw it written down.
It was my mom’s fault.
“Thank you, Mama,” I called over my shoulder as my family and friends followed the hostess to our booth in the restaurant.
“Any time, sugar,” she said with a laugh. “Though I really am sorry they said your name wrong today when you got your diploma. Kind of ruined an important moment didn’t it?”
“They even had me write it out phonetically,” I exclaimed, feeling very ‘woe is me’ all of a sudden.
My big moment had been thwarted by my impossible name.
“Phonetically? Watch out everyone, college graduate over here is throwing out big words,” my brother Tucker said, draping his arm over my shoulders and ruffling my hair the way only a big brother could.
“Hate to break it to you, but it’s not that big of a word, Tuck,” I shot back playfully.
“She’s got you there, son,” my dad put in from the back of the group as we all slid into the large corner booth. “And make sure you actually eat something tonight, Isla. You’re looking like a little stick bug.”
“Whose side are you on anyway, Dad?”
“I’m on the side of your sister who worked very hard for four years so that she could end up as a waitress,” my dad replied, garnering a dirty look from our hostess.
“Ouch, that was kind of brutal,” I said, opening my menu and scanning the plastic page.
“Don’t worry, sweetie, there’s no pressure on you. We know there’s only so much you can do with a vocal studies degree,” he said, giving me a fatherly smile that would have been sweet, had he not been making fun of my education.
They didn’t really have room to talk since I was the only one in our family to ever go to college. Sure I’d probably still end up making less money than them, but at least I could say I had a bachelor’s degree from East Carolina University, right?
“Don’t listen to them, Isla,” my roommate Monica said. “You can just move to New York, and suddenly your degree will be like gold.”
“Oh don’t take advice from the Yank,” my dad said. “New York is for people who wear more black than my little girl.”
He had a point, I had to admit.
My friends always said I looked like a ghost since I was the only Southerner they knew who was pale. Of course the fact that I had waist length platinum blonde hair and light blue eyes did nothing to help this comparison. I looked like a T-shirt that had been left in the sun too long and had the color bleached out of it.
“Don’t worry, Hank, I can make her throw out all those white clothes and buy her some black ones,” Monica retorted, smiling in my direction and tossing her short dark hair over her shoulder.
“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen,” I answered with a laugh.
I had a thing for white. With the exception of the ‘little black dress’ every woman was required to have in her closet, and an old pair of blue jeans, most of my clothes were white. I just loved the way a white sundress looked against my pale skin. What could I do?
“I’ll bring you to the dark side yet,” Monica promised, raising her eyebrows at me knowingly.
“I look forward to it,” I responded, raising my glass of water to her and laughing.
By the time we finished dinner, it was pouring rain outside.
I shouldn’t have been too surprised really, since North Carolina seemed to have a bad habit of suddenly opening up the heavens at any given moment and drowning everyone in Greenville.
The only thing that was unfortunate was my insistence on wearing white. My lacey white sundress was instantly soaked through and I was just grateful that lace didn’t exactly become see-through when wet.
That would have been an embarrassing end to the night’s festivities.
“Well, baby, we sure are proud of you,” my dad said after I said goodbye to Monica. My family and I walked through the parking lot, ignoring the rain. “And we got you a little something to show you just how much we respect all your hard work.”
“Oh Daddy, you didn’t have to get me anything,” I said with a smile, secretly hoping they’d gotten me that really expensive leather-bound vocal technique book I’d wanted for so long.
“Your present actually comes in two parts,” Tucker said over the din of the downpour.
We all stood in the rain like we didn’t even notice that we were soaking wet. We were way too used to the spastic weather here to be bothered by a little flood inducing downpour.
“Here’s the first part,” Tucker said, handing over a little flat
We definitely weren’t fancy when it came to wrapping presents.
I tore the paper off quickly and let out a happy little squeal. It wasn’t exactly the expensive vocal book, but I was always grateful for a chance to listen to Mumford and Sons. I just loved accents, and I was secretly hoping they’d let me be in their band one day. It never hurt to dream, right?
“Thank you guys,” I said honestly, hugging my mom, dad, and brother in turn.
“We haven’t even given you the good part yet, sugar,” my mom said with a laugh. “You need something to play that CD in, right?”
“I can just put it on my computer,” I said distractedly, turning the CD over to read the titles of the songs.
“Well, just in case you don’t feel like listening at home we got you this as well,” my dad said, dropping a set of keys into my wet hand.
“Daddy, what is this?” I asked suspiciously.
It was no secret, my family wasn’t exactly wealthy. We got along just fine, but I’d had to save up my whole life to go to college, and the little bit of help my parents had given me had come from Mama working two jobs and Daddy saving all he could after house payments and car payments and everything else real life bogged you down with.
So it was pretty much the understatement of the year when I said I was surprised by the brand new red truck my parents were now leading me to.
“You have to be kidding me,” I practically shouted. “You guys can’t afford this!”
“Oh shut your mouth, we can afford whatever we want if we save for it,” my mom said with a little wave of her hand, as if this amazing gift was no big deal.
“Going to college to become a know-it-all doesn’t sound so bad now,” Tucker teased, poking me in the ribs and grinning.
“Yeah maybe you should try it sometime, Tuck,” I said back before turning to my parents. “Thank you so, so much! I can’t believe you bought me my own truck.”
I didn’t really know what else to say to them to show how grateful I was, but we weren’t really a family of many words anyway so I left it at that. If I tried to expound on my gratitude I’d just end up embarrassing my parents.
“What are you standing around talking to us for? Go test it out!” my dad practically shouted.
He’d never bought a new car for himself. I wasn’t sure I could really accept something he didn’t even have the luxury of owning so I hesitated, wondering what I should do. There had to be a good way to say you appreciated something without actually accepting the gift, right?
“Baby, if you don’t get in that truck right now, I’m gonna give the keys to your good-for-nothing brother,” he finally threatened, seeing my reluctance.
I bounced on my heels a few times in excitement before running over and hopping into the beautiful red truck.
It smelled new, the seats felt soft, and the keys in my hand felt like my ticket to an exciting start.
Rolling down the windows before I drove away I blew my parents a kiss, wavy white blonde hair stuck to my wet cheeks.
“I love you guys!” I yelled out the window, excited to start a new life with my bachelor’s degree and brand spankin’ new red truck.
Things from the driver’s seat were looking pretty good.
“A truck?” Monica practically shouted over the phone.
I was driving on the snakelike back roads of town in the pouring rain, feeling like I never wanted to go home again. This was just too much fun.
“I can’t believe they got you a truck.”
“I know,” I said back, grinning from ear to ear.
“I guess I don’t have to drive you everywhere now, huh?”
“Now I can finally start making it up to you,” I replied as I took a corner, my headlights cutting through the rain and the darkness.
“You can start by running to the store to pick up some cat food,” she suggested. “Ron Swanson won’t shut up. I think he’s hungry.”
“That dang cat is always hungry. He looks like a school bus with how much we feed him,” I replied with a little giggle. “I’ll run to the store and pick something up.”
“All right. Try not to have too much fun in your fancy new ride.”
“Will do, Mon. Bye,” I said, my face hurting from the grin that now seemed to be a permanent fixture.
I hung up the phone and tossed it on the seat next to me, taking another corner a little faster than I probably should have. I could feel the tires skid slightly at the end of the turn, but ignored it, finding that the sensation only made me want to drive faster. I almost never got to drive since I didn’t have my own car and the feeling was exhilarating. Who knew it could be so much fun?
“I think we need some music,” I thought aloud, reaching over for the Mumford and Sons CD Tucker had given me.
It was still wrapped in its impossible to open CD plastic, so I started tearing at it with my teeth, hoping it wouldn’t put up too much of a fight when all I wanted to do was blast “Below My Feet” while driving fast in the best present I had ever gotten.
Beautiful green trees suddenly opened up on either side of me as I crossed over a bridge; the raindrops puncturing the water with little bullets of noise before I was quickly over the bridge and surrounded by trees once more.
I loved Greenville. I knew it was a small town and probably not worth stopping by to most people, but it was where I’d grown up and all I’d ever known. Monica swore that if I went to New York with her I’d never want to leave, but somehow I didn’t quite believe her. Besides, people were always sentimental about their own hometowns.
Still trying to tear the CD open, I turned onto another small road, glad that it was so late and no one was out. I didn’t want my little joy ride to be slowed down by some ancient tractor lumbering along the road.
“Come on,” I said to the CD in frustration, accidentally dropping it under my feet.
Only I was clumsy enough to manage something like that.
“Dang it,” I exclaimed in the darkened truck, reaching down to retrieve it.
All I wanted to do was listen to some new music in my new truck. Was that so wrong?
I took my eyes off of the road for just a second, trying to stretch my fingers those last few inches to where I saw the plastic gleaming under foot.
Apparently a second was all it took.
When I glanced back up at the road I could see a little dog standing a few feet ahead of me, looking like it had no intention of moving out of the road. I knew exactly what my dad would do. He’d say the dog shouldn’t have been stupid enough to wander into the road to begin with, and he’d let nature take its course.
Normally I’d assume that I’d do the same thing as him. I could be logical and matter-of-fact about death if I needed to be. But apparently my instincts weren’t quite as logical as I thought because before I could even stop to think about it, I was yanking the wheel sharply to the right, trying desperately to avoid the dog that couldn’t be any bigger than a chicken.
I felt my stomach drop as the truck suddenly spun around in circles toward one of the big green trees I had found so beautiful only moments before. My hair flew up over my face in slow motion, clouding my vision with long strands of white and I tried to turn the wheel the opposite way to correct my hasty decision.
It was a futile effort as the truck spun out of control, and right before it slammed into the trunk of the large tree I thought, “I can’t believe a new truck doesn’t have better tires than this.”
Maybe I could be logical about death.
The mind is a funny thing, and just at that moment, I was grateful for that fact. I couldn’t remember actually hitting the tree, just like I couldn’t remember crashing through the windshield and landing a good twenty feet away from the truck.
I was almost positive I had buckled my seatbelt before leaving the restaurant that night, but lying face down in the mud with the headlights of my new truck cutting thr
I used my right arm to roll over onto my back, scared to look down and see what condition I was in. Being thrown from a truck didn’t normally bode well for your physical state, and I was sure seeing my white lace dress covered in blood wouldn’t do much to settle the panic that I was trying to keep at bay right at that moment.
It took me a full five minutes to gather the strength to prop myself up on my elbows and I let out a little groan at the effort. My body didn’t feel broken. It didn’t even feel particularly sore. It was just kind of heavy and sluggish, which I guess was pretty good considering what had just happened.
Maybe I would be one of those miracle stories where my belt unlatched itself right upon impact, and I was mercifully thrown from the truck at the exact right moment, causing me to narrowly escape death.
Okay, that might be asking a bit much, but the longer I sat there, feeling like maybe nothing was actually wrong with me, the more it seemed like that was what had happened.
After a little while of sitting in the silent woods letting the rain soak me through, I heard sirens wailing in the distance.
“It’s about time,” I said, rubbing my forehead where a small headache was beginning to form.
Maybe I had gotten a concussion and that’s what was keeping me so calm. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
The ambulance pulled up quickly, followed by two police cars, and I couldn’t help but think that the neighbors would probably be pretty mad at me for the ruckus I was creating so late at night. I’d have to drop off some brownies or something to apologize for my rudeness.
I could hear the paramedics talking to each other as their flashlights illuminated the inside of my truck, although I couldn’t actually make out what they were saying. I knew I should probably get up and walk over to them, but my body just felt too heavy. Even sitting up had really taken it out of me, and I couldn’t imagine what walking would feel like. So instead I sat there in the mud and the rain, waiting for them to realize no one was in the truck so they could come looking for me.
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