Countdown to SHADOWS HAVE GONE: Excerpt 14

Shadows Have Gone, the third book in the End of All Things series, will be released on March 26. I'm doing a countdown during the two weeks leading up to its release with a new excerpt every day. Stop back tomorrow for something new!

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    Justin watched the crossroads at Clayton for a few hours before he approached it, just to make sure there was no one nearby. As he approached, he studied the early morning dew on the grass, looking for fresh footprints, broken vegetation, fresh oil spots on the road, anything that would indicate people had been nearby within the last day or so. He saw nothing. The breeze carried no trace of smoke to his nose.
    At the crossroads was a plastic tote with a snap-on lid. Justin tossed a stone at it and then used a branch to pry off the top, retreating a few paces. When nothing happened, he approached and looked down inside.
    There was a box of Lucky Charms cereal with a note on it. The note was carefully printed in wide, distinct lettering that he could read, even with his dyslexia.
    SOMEONE WANTS TO MEET WITH YOU.
    Justin stared at the box of cereal, an artifact from a bygone era. He hadn’t seen one of these in what? Over a year? He couldn’t hazard a guess.
    It had once been his favorite. As a foster kid, it had been a rare treat. He remembered getting in trouble because he had once stolen a box from his foster mother’s kitchen and hidden it in his room. As an adult, he used to make sure he always had a box of it, one of his own that he never shared. An overnight guest once became very offended when he snapped at her for helping herself to some of it before he woke. The young lady hadn’t dated him again after that. Not that he blamed her, since it did seem like something weird to get mad about.
    His buddies in the Unit had known better than to ask. Most of them had come from broken backgrounds themselves and had their own unusual fixations on personal space or not sharing certain possessions.
    He remembered Carly laughing at his delight when they’d found a box in the first grocery store they’d scavenged. Fortunately, she hadn’t been interested in it, and he hadn’t had to force himself not to make an issue of sharing. He’d savored each bite of it, munching on handfuls here and there as they wound their way through Canada. Some nights, after she was asleep, he’d take the box out beside the camp fire and eat a few kernels, knowing it was likely the last he’d ever have and wanting to stretch it out as long as possible before it was gone. He’d eaten the last bits with real regret and tossed the box into the fire, thinking about how having a box to himself had represented independence and security in ways he didn’t want to fully analyze. He’d sat and watched the flames consume the bright red box until it was nothing but a curl of ash.
    And now Justin held an identical unopened red box in his hands.
    It could be just a coincidence, he thought. Likely, it was. Whomever it was who wanted to meet with them, they had just left a gift as a goodwill gesture. A random gift, not tailored for anyone in particular.
    But the pit of his stomach was cold as he stared at the box, the cartoon leprechaun grinning up at him.
    Justin looked around. The long, unmowed grasses at the side of the road bowed in the breeze. Heat shimmered up from the pavement. Justin looked back down at the box in his hands, and his stomach churned. He wished then that he had listened to Carly and never come to Clayton. Her feelings had been right on this one.
    His instinct was to leave the box with his knife thrust through it in reply, but what if he was wrong? What if it was just an innocent gift?
    It couldn’t be what he was thinking.
    It couldn’t be.


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Pre-order Shadows Have Gone from Amazon, or stop by Goodreads to check out the reviews and add it to your own shelf.
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