Monday, 1:15 p.m.
Dying was the last thing on her mind.
Behind the wheel of her Ford Explorer, Anika Harrington took her lunch break cruising the breathtaking Kancamagus Highway. This winding country road was unlike any other in the area, with its backdrop of New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the eight-hundred-acre national forest, and natural wonders which mystified travelers for centuries. Wildlife frolicked in the woodlands. The anticipation of catching a glimpse of something large and furry lured many to the area.
Today, nature itself offered a peaceful respite from the chaos at work. Especially now, with her fiancé’s new bleach-blonde secretary hitting on him every chance she got. Once Anika became Mrs. Roger Rudolph II, she’d hand the bitch her walking papers. Until then, she stole moments to respire, refusing to allow jealously to rule her life.
Out of nowhere the SUV increased speed on its own. At first she shrugged it off, but then the vehicle accelerated even faster. She stomped the brake. The car didn’t slow.
Oh my God. What’s happening?
The tires screeched around a bend in the road, her death-grip white-knuckling the steering wheel. With both feet, she slammed the brake harder this time, pinning the pedal to the floorboards. The Escalade rocketed into high gear, the engine racing to eighty miles-per-hour. Her heart slammed against her chest wall, blood pumping faster than a subway in an underground tunnel.
Out the window, she hollered, “Help!” She veered right, left, following the winding asphalt at record speed. A Yorkshire terrier wandered into the road unattended, and she swerved into the dirt shoulder to miss him. The Explorer’s backend fishtailed in the sand. Adrenaline spiking, her pulse soared. Thump, thump, thump thrashed in her ears.
“Help! Someone! Anyone!”
With both feet she slammed the brakes over and over. The speedometer read ninety miles-per-hour as black smoke trailed behind her, metal against metal tearing the brake pads clean off.
A gazillion things raced through her mind in the course of a few seconds. Did Roger know how she longed to marry him on Saturday? Did she say “I love you” when she hung up from Mom last night? For cripes’ sake she’d never even had an orgasm. Not a real one anyway, like the girls talked about after yoga class. She couldn’t die. Not yet. Not today. Not like this.
Tears clouded her vision, and she leaned on the horned. If other drivers wouldn’t respond to her call for help, maybe they’d pay attention to earth-shattering noise. With one hand on the wheel, one on the horn, Anika rose, her new Jimmy Choo’s still planted on the brake pedal.
Over the stereo speakers came a distorted male voice. “You will die today. It’s your call on how long you suffer.”
What was that? Did sheer fear cause her to hallucinate? Perhaps she was in the middle of a nervous breakdown. Or maybe, an associate from the OnStar-like feature, Sync, noticed the increased speed and called to help. “Hello?” she asked, a hesitation to her tone. “Can you hear me?”
“Stop with the horn. You’re giving me a headache.”
“Oh, sorry.” She removed her hand, expecting peace, but the brakes kept grinding, screaming. “Do you have my location? The vehicle won’t stop. Please, help me.”
“You will die today,” said the voice. “I’ll wait while the news sinks in. No one is coming to save you.”
“What?” A sob writhed low in her chest, tangled around a rib as tears rose in her throat. “Why are you doing this? Sweet Jesus!” A white-tailed deer pranced across the road, and she wrenched the wheel to avoid him. “Why me?”
“Don’t worry about the why. If I were you, I’d make your last few moments count.”
Every muscle in her body tensed, her elbows locked at an angle, blanched knuckles tightening around the steering wheel. “Please don’t do this. I’m getting married Saturday.”
“Not now, you’re not. I suggest you get right with your God while there’s still time.”
“You bastard! Who made you the ruler over life and death?”
Cool and calm, he said, “Goodbye, Anika.”
As if struck by a Taser, her heart thudded to a stop. “Wait!”
The tires sailed off the grassy embankment. For an eternity of minutes the vehicle was airborne. On impact, her body rocketed through the windshield, and then…blackness.